Disclaimer: Joss Whedon et al own the characters, 'verse and everything else in them. I'm only playing with his toys and not making a single bit of credit off this.
Rating: Teen and up for language
Summary: finding your way can take you to all kinds of places. Post-BDM.
"Shepherd Book once told me: if you can't do somethin' smart, do somethin' right."
The words echoed through Mal's head as River took the ship through Harvest's atmosphere. He could see Jayne sitting at the head of the table, taking a deep drink to muster the courage to face the truth of Mal's little speech then sliding the bottle to Simon. That was about as close to friendly as he figured Jayne would get to the Doc.
This little adventure was about as far from smart as he could get. Wasn't sure if it was right neither, but it was Jayne and crew wasn't about right or smart. It was about faith.
River had been right those few days ago in the kitchen. Book, too.
He shoved the memory of Book's bloody hand tightly gripping the back of Mal's head as he slotted another bullet into the clip. He wasn't entirely looking for a fight, but figured a little paranoia might not be inappropriate.
"Sir, we're almost on ground." Zoe stood in front of Mal as each prepared themselves in the cargo hold. Her words were a statement, but her eyes asked the question: Is this going to work without anyone else dying?
Mal took a longer than normal look down the sightline of his gun. He twirled it twice before holstering it. Staring now at his first mate, they spoke the silent words of soldiers prepping for battle. Both knew that anything could happen, and usually did. "C'mon," Mal broke with, "let's call the troops."
"Simon?" Kaylee tentatively called into his bunk. "Si-" She stopped mid-word as he stepped in front of the doorway. "Oh." She tapped her hands in nervousness.
"Is something wrong, Kaylee?" Simon stood close to her, his voice soft and low, just how he knew she liked it. The voice he used when they were alone and doing their sex.
"Wrong? Oh, no, nothing exactly. Other than a bit a lawbreakin'." She felt her heart quicken. "It's just...well, we're goin' off t'do this rescuin' thing." She bit her lower lip. This conversation had gone much better in her head. "An well..."
Simon reached a tentative hand to her arm and was rewarded with her allowing him the touch. "Everything's going to be fine." He smiled lightly. "We'll get Jayne back."
"I know," she said softly. "But just, in case, ya know, somethin' doesn't go t'plan, I didn't want us." She paused and swallowed. "I didn't want us to part on bad terms, is all."
Simon's fingers were a little stronger on Kaylee's arm. "I know I haven't been exactly...generous with myself the last while. I just get so involved with my work that I lose track. Sometimes it seems like finding a cure for River is all I have."
Kaylee could only look everywhere but at Simon's face. He had said what she knew to be true in those last words. And he said it without maliciousness, without intent to hurt. River was first, he said. Always.
Didn't make it hurt any less.
"Oh, Kaylee, that's not what I meant. I only-"
She stopped him. "Simon, I didn't come here for a fight. Only to say that if somethin' bad does happen, I just wanted us to be good before. Don't want none of us thinkin' that our last words were somethin' we'd regret t'the end of our own days. Dong ma?"
The Doctor nodded and dropped his hand from her arm. "It's good. You're good."
"Well, Doctor, you know yer role in all a this?" Mal eyed the younger man.
"Good then." Scanning the entrance to the first shuttle, he saw Inara glide her way down, appropriately clothed in high-end wealthy wear and sheer veil. His breath caught in his throat before he realised it. Recovering, he spoke. "I don't much like puttin you in th' line a risk."
The Companion smiled. "You're not." She pulled away her outer robe to reveal the small hand gun neatly concealed on her inner forearm.
"Still an all." Mal's anxiety was growing. Outer planets had less than honourable folk that wouldn't take much provocation to kidnapping a bona fide Companion, or worse. Reavers was worse. He tried not to think on how lucky she'd been at Mr. Universe's. The picture of her in anywhere near the same planet as reavers made him sick.
"Sir." Zoe broke his thoughts.
"Right." He faced his little band of jailbreakers. "Y'all know what to do so let's do it. Kaylee, make sure the ship's ready to fly hard outta here."
"Got it, Cap'n." She shoved her hands into her coveralls pockets. "Me an' River'll be waitin'."
Simon made a halting move towards Kaylee, but stopped himself. This wasn't the time. Everyone had a job to perform and he couldn't risk letting any of them down. Even the man-ape.
Mal nodded, eyed Zoe then turned to stride down the ramp of the cargo hold. "Let's be bad guys."
"What do you mean he's not here?" Simon stared dumbfounded at the local sheriff.
"Like I tol' ya, Cobb was sent his way with'n the Officer near on a week past." The sheriff chewed on a tough piece of jerky and gave Simon a look like he was speaking to a three year old. "He's done gone 'way."
Simon turned to Inara, frantically thinking on the implications of what the sheriff was telling him. "Well, Sister," he continued, "it would seem that our dear brother has disappeared once again."
Inara approached the rough man. "Sheriff, would you happen to have the destination papers of the prisoner transfer? Afterall, how is a family to retrieve its lost son if one doesn't know where to look?" Her smile was only one wile she used on the hapless man. The gentle touch of her hand on his bent elbow, the ease of her voice and her low cut top all served her purpose well. Within minutes, the Doctor and the Companion stood outside the jail with Mal and Zoe looking over the transfer orders.
"Ta ma duh!" Mal cursed under his breath. "Had to be Persephone."
Flying four days knowing that the destination was less than desirable had the effect of putting the entire crew on edge. People barely spoke to each other as they each thought on their experiences on Persephone and Core worlds in general.
Simon took to hiding in his medlab, though Mal suspected it had more to do with Kaylee than with the bounty on the Tams' heads. He supposed some turn of events had split the pair and was both happy and saddened by it. The one rule he knew to be the best, besides always listening to the captain, was no shipboard romances. Life was too difficult to throw in that spanner. But little Kaylee had made her choice, short-lived happy as it may have been. His heart sank a little as he heard less of her cheerfulness as the days progressed.
Zoe paced. She felt pent up energy that had no adequate release so she lapped the halls and walkways of the ship. The more she moved, the less she thought. The less she thought, the less she worried. And worrying was Wash's job.
There was very little to do and it made everyone fidgety and nervous.
When River called Mal to the bridge, he was grateful for the distraction. "What's up, Albatross?"
She pointed to the comm screen. "Message for you."
Mal flipped the switch, failing to see the dark expression on his pilot's face.
He would soon have the same as he watched the recorded message. By the end, his fingers were nearly breaking into the leather seat and his temple throbbed.
"You knew?" he asked through clenched teeth.
"Bits. Parts," River answered. "Not the whole." She now sat with her legs drawn close, arms wrapped around them and her chin on her knees. She felt the Captain's rage. "Nee ta ma duh tyen-shia suo-yo duh run doh gai si," she whispered.
Mal stared unbelieving at what he just heard little River say. It took some of the hate away and he breathed out loudly. "Yeah."
The orders had been clear enough, Kaylee knew, but she couldn't help but wonder what was happening. "Stay on the ship and keep her ready," the Captain had said. "Do not leave under any circumstances."
So many times she was left behind to keep the ship in the ready. It left her to imagine how the deal was going down. Most times, she could find something to occupy herself, some repair or overhaul, but not now.
Only two things were in her brain as she swung slowly in the hammock listening to the sounds of the ship: Simon and Jayne. She felt rather foolish for her words to him when they thought Jayne was on Harvest. Sounded so melodramatic. Yet she'd said them just the same. And he'd told her very clearly what she suspected and didn't want to admit. Since then, they'd done their best to avoid each other, only making her feel that much more foolish.
The Captain and Zoe were most like to be gone a couple of hours. Inara had left, this being a Core world, likely doing her private business, which left Kaylee very nearly alone. Maybe she could talk to Simon to clear the air and make life more livable for them on ship. It wasn't a conversation she wanted to have, but it needed to be done.
She jumped at the quiet voice that called to her. "Simon!" She very nearly fell out of her hammock. Simon was instantly there to help. Gulping, she melted at the dark eyes staring at her. Eyes that were telling her what she most did not want to hear.
He hated the waiting. Four days was a long time for nothing to happen. His medlab was impossibly clean, his eyes were going buggy from looking at scans and printouts and he had precisely nowhere else to go.
Except the engine room.
Simon knew that he had to speak with Kaylee, to deal with the new situation they found themselves in. He had put it off hoping that it would go away, foolish as he knew it to be.
Putting down his reader, he stood and took a deep breath. Yes, this was the time for him to see Kaylee, to lay it out and see what comes. Very little was going to happen until the Captain, Zoe and Jayne made a chaotic and hostiles-chasing return. If he wanted privacy, this was the only time he would likely receive.
"Get that medlab prepped, Doctor," Mal had instructed. "We're walkin' into th'mouth a hell and don't figure on comin' out near a pretty as goin' in." Simon thought the comment strange given that his lab was always ready for any emergency. That the Captain thought the rescue might be a more than dangerous seemed obvious. They were, so he was told, breaking into a high level security prison. The Doctor had wracked his brain trying to see how it could come out anything other than dangerous.
But he was no longer the criminal mastermind. He had no moustache.
He chuckled lightly on the memory of Book asking about his new career. There were times when he missed the companionship of the Shepherd. He knew that Book respected what Simon had done to get River out, all the sacrifice he'd undergone. He had become an assistant in trying to discover the extent of the damage done by the Alliance to his sister. Sitting in the cold lab was lonely without him.
Putting down the print-out, Simon left his lab, went up the stairs and instead of going left went right without thinking. He stood just inside the door of the cockpit, marvelling at the world rotating below him. A world not unlike that he used to call home.
It had been only a few hours earlier, when they had first come close to Persephone, that Simon had stood in the same place, watching his sister and watching the world become larger and larger.
"We won't get caught," River had said, answering his silent question. "Keep the sun between us and the planet and sensors can't gain a solid lock. I've also re-configured the pulse beacon to transmit a different frequency modulation." She grinned over at him. "Playing hide and seek."
Simon grinned. For all her killing talents, his sister was still just a girl.
"Not a girl anymore," she continued then stuck her tongue out at him.
"River, you've got to stop reading peoples' minds. Or at least not comment on what you know. They tend to not like it." He now stood next to her, still gazing at the blue planet. He wondered if this is what the first travellers felt when they first looked down on Earth-That-Was. It was just so calm and awing. He felt like he was in a temple.
"Then stop being a boob."
"Being a...what did you...what?"
"Stop playing hide and seek. Talk to her." She pointed in the direction of the engine. She re-positioned herself at the helm. "I'm busy."
Simon gaped. Was he just being ordered out by his little sister? "Don't answer that," he said aloud. Having a reader on board was going to take considerable thought control.
The Doctor sighed. Maybe that control could help him salvage a relationship with Kaylee. Taking one last look at the world, he left the bridge.
He watched her swing in the hammock for a long moment, seeing her feet dangle over in her Chinese sandals. He followed the line of her legs to the bend of her hips and the curve of her breasts as they sat closed in by her arms. He remembered the skin around her neck being especially sensitive and soft to his touch. His fingers ached to touch it again.
The orange light above her head made her seem an angel. A beautiful, passionate angel. He knew then what he had to say, what he had to do and it was the antithesis of what his heart was telling him.
Mal walked the crowded streets of the port, his focus sharp and his mission clear. Even Zoe had to nearly trot to keep pace, but she wisely made no comment. She knew the look in her Captain's eye and it very clearly said "Don't fuck with me."
The pair worked their way through the multitude of vendors in a dozen languages. They dodged children and livestock and turned their faces when Alliance grunts passed them. Getting pinched now would be not good, to say the least.
Finally, Mal stopped. He scanned the now thinned crowd until he found what he was searching for. Without a word, he went left into a darkened tunnel, Zoe continuing to follow. At the end was an office-type space, very similar to Badger's haunt. The first mate cringed on the thought of that weasel.
Mal stepped through the opening and stopped. Zoe surveyed the new environs and was impressed. A real crystal chandelier hung above them and provided the sole light. The carpet they stood on was probably worth more than Serenity. The large desk was made of real wood, cherry coloured and thick. Along the walls were a variety of modern paintings, some pastoral landscapes, and other dark and horrid death images.
Flanking the desk were four very muscular and dumb-looking bodyguards, two of them with no shirts to showcase how big their muscles were. Zoe would have laughed; bulk meant little in a street fight. Hell, she could take them down with her little finger. She suppressed the smile of Wash being intimidated by her comment early on in their courtship.
"You got somethin' I want," Mal started, coming straight to the desk, ignoring the standing meat.
Information Man smiled with closed lips. "Captain Reynolds." He gestured to a seat. "Please, sit."
Mal made no move.
Information Man sat back in his oversized leather chair and interlaced his fingers. "The least you could do, Captain, is be a little more hospitable. After all, we are not animals."
"You got somethin' I want," Mal said again. Zoe tensed herself, knowing that the Captain did not like repeating himself.
"Tea?" Information Man nodded to a guard who then offered the captain a cup from a hidden stand. "It's not laced with anything, I assure you." He waited then shrugged and took the cup for himself. "Now, let us begin again, for the third time."
"No, let's finish this for the last time."
A toothy smile was flashed, one that needed some dental work. "We agree. Tell me the name and I'll let your man go." He took a sip. "It really is that simple. No tricks, no hidden agendas. No hidden bombs." He huffed. "Bombs," he whispered to himself. "Now that would truly be uncivilised."
Placing the cup delicately on a coaster on the desk, Information Man stood and slowly walked around until he faced the Captain. "No answer again? Very well." He looked to his right and the guard there pushed a button. A moment later, the sound of water was heard faintly from the back. A moment after that, a muted scream came forth. It continued as Information Man looked Mal in the eye.
Mal didn't blink. He couldn't. He knew what this slime was doing and who he was doing it to.
Ten seconds passed before Information Man signalled a stop. The cry ended.
"I've no idea how much longer he'll be able to do this, Captain Reynolds. He's been through so much already." He leaned against the highly polished table. "Come back tomorrow."
Zoe blinked. This hwoon dun was letting them go? This made no sense.
Mal leaned over the man. "I'll go when I get what I came for."
Information Man continued to smile his annoyingly sick smile. "I don't think so." On cue, all guards raised their weapons and cocked the bullets into place.
"Kill me, you lose your precious information."
Information Man eyed Zoe and Mal caught the implication. His eyes narrowed dangerously close. "You don't touch him or any other of my crew." His voice was barely audible. "Or you'll wish to whatever high and mighty that I do kill you."
"Have you ever read the works of Shan-Yu?"
A minute later, Information Man was rubbing a sore jaw from where Mal had punched him. Hard. All guns were now very close to the Captain and First Mate, but held until given the order. No order seemed coming as Information Man began laughing.
"Oh Captain. I was wondering how long it would take." He now stood behind his desk. He flicked a switch opening a comm channel. "Shan-Yu, Mr. Green." The smile on his face grew then receded as the counter-reply did not come forth. Information Man nodded his head towards the nearest guard to have him determine why Mr. Green had not responded.
Zoe felt the silence keenly. With three other guns trained on her, she was attuned to every stir and disturbance in anticipation of a showdown. Silence would help her in that regard. She continuously shifted her gaze across each bodyguard and Information Man. She made no gesture or motion for her sidearm. She was too good for that.
When a reply was still not heard from, Information Man called again to Mr. Green. Nothing.
Suddenly, a scream came forth and Information Man smiled. "You see, Captain Reynolds, what happens when you don't co-operate?"
Mal smiled his own self. "Guess I don't play well with others."
Information Man indignantly threw off the comment. He turned his back and whispered to his closest guard who then left.
"Trouble in paradise?" Mal inquired, eyebrow raised. His question was left unanswered and he looked to Zoe. Neither had made a move to their guns.
Silence once again reigned and Mal could see a fine line of moisture across the thinning brow of his captor. "It gettin' a mite warm to you, Zoe?"
"Not especially, Sir."
"Huh." Mal held his hands in front of him. "Seems like your boys are havin' a gatherin' in the back. Maybe aimin' t'do ya in."
"Bi-zui," Information Man spit. "This isn't your day. It's mine."
He put a finger to his mouth in mock thought. "Or maybe somethin' ain't quite kosher back there. Best check it out."
"Remove the smug look, Captain. My men are full competent and completely loyal to me."
Mal shrugged. "If'n ya say so."
Another scream, mixed with a gurgle was heard. "You see?"
"Guess you were right," Mal replied with a smile. He saw Information Man's thumb twitch. Apparently so did the two remaining guards and they gave each other a worried look.
"Take their weapons," Information Man ordered. "Take them-"
"Boss?" the comm interrupted.
He rushed to the intercomm. "What's happening?" he asked in a desperate voice before he regained control. "Is the prisoner...fine?"
The blood drained from his face. He employed no females.
Before he could say anything, the rear door opened and a semi-automatic machine gun came through. Followed by a slight, long-haired girl that hardly looked strong enough to pick up the gun let alone fire it.
"What is the meaning of this? What have you done-"
River pointed the gun and Information Man stopped. "Orders, Captain?"
"Zoe, grab theirs." Mal pointed to the guards as he walked quickly to River. "Hold him here until we get Jayne out."
River stared at him with wide eyes, but said nothing.
"You can't do this!" Information Man began yelling. "You're nothing! A petty thief on a piece of go se ship!"
"Shhh," River admonished. "Don't let Kaylee hear or you'll be in real trouble."
Mal couldn't help but grin. "Maybe I can't do this, but here's the proof otherwise."
Information Man now shook with rage. Lunging, he went to the nearest guard and ripped a gun from the man's holster. Before he could aim, three shots from three places ended his existence. Mal and Zoe then aimed their weapons at the remaining guards.
"Now you boys gotta choice," Mal began. "Drop your arms and leave or drop your arms and leave. Up to you."
Without hesitation, both men lowered their guns to the ground. Zoe continued to train her sights on them while Mal removed any other armaments. "Your boss may a told you that this wasn't personal, that it was just a way a doin' business." He hefted the guns onto the large desk and dropped them with a crash. "But he lied. On your knees."
"You said we could leave," one guard said after settling down.
"Oh yeah." Mal flipped his revolver and butt-ended the whiny guard in the back of the head, knocking him out. "Guess I lied, too." He stared at the other, who was now shaking his head no. Mal nodded yes and the second one then joined the first to lie sprawled on the expensive rug.
"C'mon," Mal instructed his group. They headed back not stopping to see the damage done to the large men by River. He hoped that they weren't dead, but he wasn't about to lose sleep over it if they were.
What he did see, though, was going to make him lose much sleep and many daylight hours. He swallowed his disgust and hurried to Jayne.
"Wait!" River cried.
Mal stopped and looked at her. She pointed to the long cable hanging from the ceiling and had to swallow his disgust a second time. That was likely a live wire and given the water near enough to Jayne, Mal put two and two together. "Where's the switch?"
Zoe found it first and cut power. It had the effect of turning out the only light leaving the group in darkness.
"Fuck!" Mal bellowed. "Can't any ta ma duh thing work, gorram it!"
A second later, Zoe's penlight was flashed towards him. He made a note to thank her later. Reaching Jayne, he reached up to pull on the chain holding the mercenary's arms above his head. With a hefty tug, it came down, slumping Jayne further onto his knees until Mal caught him. "Grab his legs," he instructed Zoe. "River, get the light and find us the gorram door." He re-positioned his arms underneath Jayne's. "River?" Where in hell was she? "River!"
"Here, Captain," she announced. "Made sure." She reached Zoe and took the light. "No one'll know," she added now aiming the light to the door.
Not bothering to wonder what she meant, Mal lifted Jayne and Zoe followed with Jayne's legs. With a struggle, they burst through the door and were blinded by the afternoon light.
Mal leaned against the nearest wall to rest. "Where's the shuttle?" he said between breaths. Jayne was not an easy man to carry.
"Around the corner," River pointed. She bounded ahead then motioned for them to come. They rounded the corner and saw Inara patiently sitting in the cockpit. She opened the hatch immediately upon seeing the group.
"How is he?" she asked as they lugged Jayne in.
"Just get us flyin'," Mal instructed. He sealed the hatch and felt the shuttle lift off. Zoe was there with bandages and gauze to begin administering basic first aid. She simply went into soldier mode, opening packs without thought as to who it was lying on the floor. She couldn't look to Mal, couldn't see the horror in his face over what he saw. She couldn't either and instead focussed on small parts, imagining that he was some grunt.
But he wasn't a grunt. He was family.
River was the only one who looked at Jayne, who saw the red and pain. She sat next to his head, searching through, unsure of what she was looking for or what she would find. Placing a light finger to his brow, she slowly dragged it down and over the wounds, feeling the heat and rawness. She smiled at this. Heat meant heartbeat. And heartbeat meant living.
Mal saw River's smile and wondered how in the 'verse she could be smiling at the mess in front of her, but he didn't question it. All he could do was watch Zoe press and wrap as much as she could. Unable to watch any longer, he went to the cockpit and slumped into the empty chair. He saw the sky turn to black and was thankful. Serenity would come into sight very soon and he would be home.
As the shuttle docked and the hatch released, Inara remained at the controls. She heard rather than watched Simon jump inside and do a preliminary exam of the patient. Kaylee's concerned voice reached her ears, but still she sat. Until the shuttle was empty and all sounds gone did Inara let herself lose control. Tears fell as she bowed her head, staining her silken dress. How could anyone do something so horrible to someone? With reavers, she expected it. But with men?
She breathed in, wiping her cheeks. Swallowing and calming herself, she rose and went to the exit. She stopped abruptly upon seeing Mal blocking her path. Even in the shadow, she could see his pained expression. Within a beat, he was with her, arms holding her in. She reached her own around him and felt him tighten his hold.
There was no anger between them. No argument. There was only shared, silent grief.