Pairings: River/Jayne, lots and lots of Simon/Kaylee, heavy doses of Mal/Inara, and a dash of Wash/Zoë
Rating: NC-17, for some heavy angst, some pretty dark spots, a bit of smut, lots of language, violence, some downright disturbing imagery... all of the fun stuff when it comes to me
Teaser: Things are getting complicated for Jayne, and he don't appreciate it... and then things get worse, as can only be expected, especially when some of Inara's unhappy secrets come back to haunt them all.
Notes: This will be a big one, and flashback heavy, for better and for worse. Story itself starts off little over a year and a half following the end of the series, and I'm taking a lot of liberties with everybody, history-wise, which isn't hard considering we only got fourteen episodes, those FOX bastards... anyway, I'm really getting into the sandbox for a few things because my Muse is having a hell of a lot of fun with this one, so blame her if you at any point want to headdesk yourself for getting started with it in the first place. Updates should be slow, but relatively steady -- as is usually my way. First part flips around a bit, and it'll get worse but things will be explained, like onions being taken apart... I love flashbacks entirely too much, or so people have told me -- just thought I'd warn everyone before you get started. —Excerpt from the daily memos sent to Dr. David Isaacs, director of the Second Project, from Dr. Valerie Jacobson, attending doctor for subject 046. - 2501 -
Termination -- a coming to an end of a contract period; something that results; the act of ending something
"The Alliance has no quarrel with me. I supported unification."
-- Inara Serra
"No power in the 'verse can stop me."
— River Tam
"I'm concerned about how the subject's been acting since General Chang brought him back to us, the sedations we've been forced to give him aren't working the way they used to, and he's showing signs of the psychosis again. I'm at the end of my rope with him, and we need to focus on getting the rest of the subjects shipped out. I know that you said to handle it, but I can't devote my time exclusively to his care, not anymore, not with Parliament breathing down our necks and I'd like you to come and do a session with him, I hate the thought of being forced to give an order of termination when he's been such a success before all this."
—Excerpt from the daily memos sent to Dr. David Isaacs, director of the Second Project, from Dr. Valerie Jacobson, attending doctor for subject 046.
Maia was a beautiful woman, she truly was, and Valerie felt horrifically frumpy in comparison in her work clothes and lab coat, and so instead focused on her notes, pen scratching against the notebook. Dark hair falling loose around her shoulders in soft waves, deep eyes that looked black with cool intelligence, finely formed body perfect for her career of choice.
"I'm used to people being intimidated by me, but rarely when I'm handcuffed." She paused, smiled dryly as she set her hands palm-down on the table between them, perfect nails reflecting the lights set above them. "Of course, I can count on one hand the number of times I've been handcuffed."
Valerie glanced up warily, trying and failing to look unbothered by the Companion, pressing the pen into the paper absently. "I'm just working on a few things until Dr. Isaacs gets here, that's all." That was a lie; she didn't know how to handle this, even if everybody including her knew she was Isaacs' favorite, even young as she was, the one most likely to take his place in the Second Project when he shifted his attention more fully towards the Third Project.
It would be happening eventually, if they could just get the damn thing off the ground.
"Is me sitting here taking up that much space in your notes, Dr. Jacobson?"
"I'm just thorough."
"I know, I can tell."
Valerie hesitated, and finally set the pen down awkwardly, raising her head to stare uneasily at the woman in front of her, swallowing. "You wouldn't be here if you had just signed the papers, Miss Serra." The look she got in response was so cold and inhuman that she couldn't help but wince slightly, taken by surprise.
"I'm here because they want to keep me silent, Dr. Jacobson, not because I refuse to sign those papers. That's just the excuse they're using at the moment." A shuttered look with impossibly dark eyes, and a slight smirk as one eyebrow cocked up in response. "'We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.'"
Inara was going to die.
By the time she's done with preparing the tea and is focused on setting it down on the table, checking that it's all laid out correctly with fingers that were too still, she's sure of it, sure that she's going to die. The realization is bitter, but not unexpected; she had known when she had started looking deeper that it would end like this, hers a face that would fade from the worlds like she had never existed.
"You have nothing to be afraid of."
She didn't let herself look at him until she was sitting, legs folded beneath her carefully and fingers sliding against the silk of her dress; by the time she forced herself to glance up at him, she was ready to go, however he might decide to finish her off. "I'm not afraid of you, but I am ready."
"I can tell, you have that lovely 'grace until the end' look I see so rarely," he chuckled, and she swallowed slightly, a bitter taste in her mouth forcing her to clench her jaw to keep from wincing. "So often, it's messy and horrid, the end, but every so often I have the honor of meeting one who will head to their death with straight shoulders and a calm walk."
"You know what I do, then?"
"I have an idea," she murmured quietly, and he smiled again, more broadly, a hint of teeth in this one. "Yes, of course you do, or else I wouldn't be here, would I?" She couldn't help the bitter look she gave him but he didn't seem bothered by it, his fingers gliding across the edges of his the tea cup, and she flicked a glance at the slim object at his side, finding him staring at her intently when she caught his gaze on accident. "I don't like guns, Inara Serra, there's no grace to them, and I am a man who appreciates grace."
"So, you're—" She hesitated, and he nodded to her unspoken question, taking a long sip of the tea and nodding to himself. "This is lovely, you're a talented woman, Inara, but I would expect nothing less from a true Companion, especially not from one of your status." He tilted his head, this time flashing clean white teeth in a broad grin that belies the way he sits, ready to break her a hundred ways before she could even get off her knees. "And especially not from your bloodline."
"You don't know anything about—"
"Maia Serra was a woman of grace, I met her just before her end—" Off her sudden jerk, his voice softened, and he leaned forward, reaching out with one large hand to pet her bare arm. "It was a good death, Inara Serra, one of the best I have seen in all of my years doing the work that I do and she raised no fool, I can see that in your face."
"Please, don't talk about her."
"I had to bring her up at least once, you know that." He made a face, something like dry humor flicking across the back of his eyes as he set a hand on the slender object at his side, thumb stroking it absently. "Your mother had a lot of power, even for a Companion, and that's carried over to you as we both know but I am here to handle a matter of great importance—"
"Only if you force my hand," he stated steadily, and she gave him a startled look, something in her gut twisting at the way he was staring at her, stripping her down to the bones, seeing how she ticked. She could do the same thing, was trained to do the same thing, but it's still a jarring experience, making her stiffen, hands tightening into fists in her lap.
"If I'm not going to die, then why did they send an Operative?"
"To let you understand how serious they are about this matter, of course, and to give the warning." Reaching into a pocket of his suit, he pulled out a small object, a slim disc, holding it for her to stare at for a heartbeat before setting it down between them on the table, nodding for her to take it. "The full agreement your mother signed, for you to peruse at will should you decide to."
"You can keep it, have no worries." Finishing his tea, he set the cup back down and dropped his napkin across it, lifting the sword from its place at her side, carefully laying it across the table, allowing her to study the smooth sheathe that hid the sharp edges and long lines that could slit her open and leave nothing but a husk. "I'm here to give the warning that you are entitled to, as per the agreement."
"You have your mother's intelligence, a gift and a curse for a woman in your position, so don't play the fool with me." The Operative paused, most likely for dramatic effect, but it worked, her stomach knotting up as her eyes focused helplessly on the blade, trying not to dwell on the dark quality in his gaze. "She had no doubt you would get it into your head to examine things more closely, and so prepared for it. This is that warning so listen closely because it will not be repeated, not by me."
He waited until she had taken the disc and slipped it away into a pocket, waited until she was looking at him again with full attention before continuing, voice steady with power that was assured him, no matter where he went. "You will leave Sihnon, Inara Serra, and you will remain unbothered. Go wherever you want, do whatever you want, but you will stay away from Sihnon, do you understand me?"
"I can't just—"
"It's already been handled with the Guild, Inara, you will have no problems leaving or finding work on other planets, you will be treated with the same respect that you have always been awarded but your life on Sihnon is over, and that must be understood." When she said nothing, his lips thinned, eyes pinning hers. "You can do whatever you want, it's no care of ours what you do as long as you obey our request—"
"Anything I want?"
That was a lie, and they both knew it. If that was true, he wouldn't be sitting there, content in slitting her throat if she refused to take the warning for what it was, a threat to leave while she had the ability to. "The terms of the agreement are there for you to peruse at your leisure, as I stated before. You'll have a month to leave of your own free will, so I suggest you pack and prepare."
"And if I don't…"
He just stared at her with calm eyes, a man without a name or a rank, a man who didn't exist as anything other than an assassin for the cause, and she swallowed, that bitter taste flaring again at the back of her throat. "I understand," she finally murmured, and received a smile, small and dark, knowing that he had frightened her more badly than anyone else would be able to. Even for a Companion, her power was impressive, and being stripped of it—
And it would be diminished, her power, no matter how respected she was—
"You're a woman of power and intelligence, Inara Serra, like your mother was." He stood and made for the door, pausing to glancing at her again, gaze steady as he tapped a finger against the sheathe. "I hate the thought of terminating you, I truly do; the universe could always use more people with such extraordinary grace."
Inara Serra fled Sihnon two days later, finding her contacts silent and useless, and knowing that wouldn't change.
Crazy was staring at him.
Sometime between getting to the mess and laying out his girls, she had fixed an unblinking stare on him, and it was all he could do not to shoot her right between her creepy eyes. He'd done it before in his life and would no doubt do it again, and she looked miserable enough all the gorramn time that he doubted she'd even try to dodge.
He'd done gotten sick of her.
But the knives were locked up, and while he was pretty sure she could get them in her hands if she put her big brain to the task—it's impossible to keep locked doors on the boat, since the little psycho came aboard—he's also pretty sure of the fact that he can take her out before she can get her hands on them.
He ignored her, which was somehow very hard, even with his girls to keep him occupied. She just kept staring, and he'd come to find over the years that being stared at was rarely a sign of good things to come. It usually ended with some new hole in him, or getting dumped on some lifeless moon with no supplies.
No tracker liked getting tracked.
"Your choices in partners are less than adequate to your talents."
From where she was curled up beneath the table to the side, she gave him a chilly look of disgust, eyes following his movements as he followed a bothersome mark across Liz's handle with one thumb, scowling at it unhappily and trying to figure out exactly when it had popped up, since he hadn't had the chance to use her in a few months and there hadn't been a mark on her a few hours before.
"Evolutionarily stagnant ape-man is nonetheless skilled with weapon understanding."
Yes, he most definitely needed to shoot her.
"That's what the puppets did… bullet in the brainpan, saved by the red—"
"Keep talking, and you'll get one in yours."
It was only years of working with gun-toting psychos that kept him from grabbing the nearest object and bashing her head in; as it was, he was forced to set the gun in his hands down and shift his eyes toward her, counting to ten twice before he could even manage to get a word out past the disturbing mix of fear and fury she always dug up in him. "Get."
"I have a job for you, requiring one who can handle weapons—" She went silent suddenly with a painful-looking jerk, blinking like an owl and he blinked right back, watching as she shifted and brought her legs up, hiding her face between her knees, only two unsettling eyes visible to him. "If you know what's good for you—"
The noise she made was low and not in any way human, wrapping arms around her legs and tucking herself even more tightly up into a ball of knife-wielding crazy, eyes narrowing with something he recognized instantly as hate. "Simon refuses to understand the formula, pretends that one and one equals one."
"One plus one is two—"
"My intelligence far exceeds yours, do not speak to me of tactical matters," she hissed, voice muffled by her knees but still clear enough to him to understand, grip on her legs becoming white-knuckled. "The theories have been proven, one and one goes to three, the numbers add up to the desired end, desired results have finally been reached."
"You lost whatever was left of your saneness, didn't you?"
"Do not speak to me of termination orders!" she whispered heatedly, legs striking out in blind panic and he finally snapped, twisting to his feet and striding to the table. "I will not follow the orders, theories must be proven before the results can be reached—" It ended in an abrupt shriek, this one enraged when he got a hand around her neck and hauled her out from beneath the table, yanking her to her feet.
"Out!" he snapped with fury he'd barely felt before even when being double and triple-crossed, even more unnerved when she only hung wilted in his hold, still screeching, and he was finally forced to shift his grip to one bare arm because it simply was that disturbing for her to be screaming up a storm but not putting up a fight. Shoving her out of the mess, he watched with a nervous twitch of one shoulder as she simply dropped into a pile of overly bright cotton and tangled brown hair, limp but still screaming.
"What did you do to her?"
Oh, great, just what he—
And there was Kaylee, trailing after the horrified-looking Doc, rushing up to crouch beside the little crazy; it was the perfect end to what should have been a relaxing few hours with his weapons and instead he gets stuck with a crazy— "I was just cleanin' my guns and she started losin' it, asking me to put a bullet in her—"
"River— mei-mei, stop it— There's a bruise on her arm, what did you do to her?!"
"Orders will not followed!"
"Her neck— Did you grab her by the neck?!"
"If you say my name like that one more time, I swear to—"
"Safety must be found to reach desired outcome!" Slamming back one elbow, she sent the Doc sprawling back into Kaylee and proceeded to take off, slamming past the startled mercenary before he could catch her, darting into the mess and diving for the guns still laid out across the table, one hand wrapping around Liz's barrel and spinning when Jayne made a grab for it, cracking him across the shoulder with her. "They cut you up and take out the important parts and send you off to dance the dances—"
"Mei-mei, put it down—"
"It ain't loaded!"
She had apparently just come to this understanding by herself—with an enraged shriek, she flung it at him, teeth bared; heart leaping into his throat, he made a grab for Liz, managing to catch her with a low grunt of relief as the Doc went running at his sister, wrapping both arms around her as they crashed to the floor. "River, calm down—"
"Actual results may vary, Simon!"
He'd woken up when she started shifting under his arm, but he hadn't worried about it, just burrowed closer and relaxed again—she did a lot of shifting and stretching when she slept, making sure she could move if she needed to, and he had finally adjusted to it, understanding the movements for what they were and unbothered by them.
Anything that kept her calm was on his Very Good Things list, a list that kept growing these days.
Now, though, he cracked one eye and raised his head slightly from his arm, found her staring up at where his guns were hanging behind him, brows wrinkled up in annoyance as she pointed up at the ceiling of his bunk with one thin finger. "She's refusing to comply to your dominance, and it should not be tolerated."
Jayne spent a few seconds watching her before glancing over his shoulder at where Caroline rested, scowling at the small pistol with a childish expression. "Don't worry about it, I'll straighten her out." When she just gave him a look, he pulled her hand down to her stomach, snorting a bit. "Go on back to sleep, or get, I need a few hours of shuteye."
"If you needed sleep, you would not give into your lust every time I stretch," she muttered, and he shot her one last dirty glance before dropping his face back down and pulling the pillow over his head, trying to make the meanest growing noise he can manage. "Don't blame me for getting lusty, Crazy, you're the one who goes prancing around while I'm lifting."
A woman was a woman, but most of the women who knew how to handle weapons even close to as well as he did tended to be too hard for him in some way he couldn't explain, and while there was always an interest in the way female hands stroked metal just right, it tended to fade pretty quickly for him. Zoë was hot as hell, but only in a 'she had curves and they were nice ones' kind of way, not in a 'let's head to my bunk' way.
Of course, Zoë was downright scary, so that might account for part of that.
It probably said something that his first moment of real lust when it came to Crazy had been while she had been watching Book slice protein bars, her own wrist flicking around in quick and perfect imitation, lips moving silently over words that had meaning only to her as she worked at her imaginary cutting, entire body flowing into the movement in a way he recognized deep in his middle, and straight down along his spine. The moment itself had been rather heady in a way that he knew was dangerous and when she'd snapped her head up to simply stare at him with clear eyes and an odd little smirk that only made the whole thing worse for him, he'd slipped off to his bunk with no other solution to ease that particular ache.
When the lust kept coming back, he'd realized that this was different, and much more dangerous.
Hell, if he judged by the fact that she kept slipping into his bunk every few nights, he fancied he had himself a girl.
Which was the problem at hand, now, wasn't it?
"Girl is sick of being seen as a problem," she whispered, and he dared a glance at her as she stretched beneath his arm, tamping down the relief he felt that she looked more pissed at the moment than hurt. Did all kinds of useless things to him when she got that hurt look on her face, things that'd get a man like him killed real quick if he wasn't careful. "Orders are the problem, not the girl," she added, and in the next moment, she rolled against him, back to his side as she tucks her legs up tight against her chest, scowling. "I will not follow the orders."
He hated it when she started talking about the orders, since it usually set her off something fierce, and he was getting to the point where he hated her getting set off more than he ever thought possible, would be forced to hide out in his bunk while she went tearing through the ship screaming, refusing to follow whatever damn orders she's talking about, threatening herself permanent damage if the Doc didn't leave her alone..
At least she ain't going on about the Blue Hands, or whatever they were called, which was always a plus…
Wincing, he hooked his arm more tightly around her, tugging her back against him, and blew out against the back of her neck, sending already messy hair flying around; she made a frustrated noise, twisting in his hold to press the heel of her hand against his lips but it had worked, she was back to being pissed off at him and he could handle her when she pissed off, at least usually.
"I am angry at my neural processes," she muttered and he went glassy-eyed at the word 'neural,' mostly because it was usually the beginning of bad things for his head when she started saying words like that; she made a disgruntled noise in protest, tapping one finger in annoyance against his arm but she didn't sound off anymore, voice slightly lazy. "My neural processes are keeping me from connecting to the soldier toys, keeping me from thinking right—"
"Do I gotta kick you out of my bunk?"
"You will never kick me out of your bunk," she muttered darkly but she was half-asleep, he could hear it in her voice. He'd need to wake her up before the Doc made his morning rounds to dose her up, but he had a few hours left, and he intended to get what sleep he could while he could.
"Ina will be cooking breakfast for the boy."
"What for the who, crazy-girl?"
"No one and nothing and nonexistent and inconsequential, like the steps without the dance…"
"Yeah, right," he snapped quickly, resisting the urge to knee her out of the bunk for her nonsense but that's the price to pay for bedding the gorramn crazy girl, listening to the crazy babble before she finally fell asleep. Usually, he could ignore her but every time he got close to drifting off, she'd started murmuring again.
"Can't sleep, he changed the medications again and if I sleep, chances are high that I will vomit and drown in it until it can work more easily through my system."
Oh, Jesus— "All right, Crazy, out—"
The look she gives him as she twists around is downright lethal, but he brushed it away, scowling, needing the damn sleep but no longer interested with how damn twisty she is now, long legs sliding against his, breasts brushing across his skin as she rolls and tucks close and, yes, this is a problem, he knows it is because he shouldn't already be hooking one of her legs up—
This is going to lead to trouble he ain't prepared to deal with—
"You like trouble, like the boy who cried wolf—" and before he could stop her, she managed to skim lips across the mark across his chest, hot breath causing all kinds of trouble before he could push her face to the side, pulling her tighter in the same move. "Don't touch there," he muttered, but he didn't mean it.
Never meant it anymore, gorramn it.
Ana was common, but not in an unkind way, not at all.
Not big but not tiny, blonde and brown-eyed, nicely proportioned, okay shot with a gun when she had the real need to be.
Ana always exhausted Inara to the point of emotional and mental exhaustion.
She never stopped, the woman just never stopped, as if she had some type of unending power core implanted within her—from the second she woke up in the morning to the second she headed to her bunk late at night, she didn't stop. When Inara passed by her bunk in the night, she could often hear movements within, inspiring more disturbed awe for the never-still and never-silent woman.
Ana was frightening, she truly was.
"Did I ever tell you about that pilot in the war?"
A blessed moment of silence as Inara worked on the tea, counting down the seconds until she could get away from the mess and back to her rooms, listening to Ana move around behind her at the table, and then— "He made shadow puppets after our ship went down, did I tell you that?" She was already a bit drunk, just enough to start sharing the same three war stories over and over again, until she drank enough to pass out.
"Yes, you did."
"That's good… I loved that guy… you know, the entire time he flew, he never lost a man… not, you know, not on the ship, at least… of course, we got shot down, so…."
Inara glanced slightly over her shoulder, noting with a slight touch of relief that the never-still woman was beginning to sag a bit, head propped up on one hand, eyes wider than normal as she apparently tried to see. "I'm sure he was a lovely man, really." She replaced her tea supplies in the cabinet carefully, one of the many allowances captain Lyons afforded her, and carefully lifted the tray, turning just in time to see Ana's head hit the table with a heavy-sounding thud.
"Apparently you were more far gone than I thought you were."
Ana gave no response, to Inara's great relief.
The unstoppable woman was stopped, at least for the next few hours.
"Thought it would take forever for her to drop out this time, guess we got lucky," Lyons muttered, pulling the bottle out of Ana's hand and leaning back to take a swallow of it, offering a grimace of a smile to the Companion. "What I wouldn't do to get rid of her, I swear to God, Ms. Serra." Off the Companion's sympathetic smile before she left the mess— "Last time we tried to dump her, she popped up two weeks later in the cargo hold, wanting to know how we'd forgotten her and where the next gorramn stop was."
Even for Mal, he was moody as Hell.
Mal was always moody, and while his sullenness had reached a new level when Inara had left for the Training House, he'd recently reached a whole new level to that previous level of piss-poor irritability. The rest of the crew didn't know much, but from what Wash had shared one night in the mess over a bottle of sake, the Captain had decided to call on their missing little Companion, worried about her lack of waves to Kaylee.
No one was sure what had gone down, only that the message back itself had been relayed through another Companion.
Unfortunately, it wasn't just Mal they were dealing with at the moment.
When Mal was moody, Zoë got worried and when Zoë got worried, she tended to get a bit bitchy to anyone and everyone in her concern over her captain; the whole ship tended to suffer emotional upheavals when Zoë got her panties in a twist about Mal. At the moment, the emotional upheavals had started up after a particularly nasty tangle with Badger the night before.
Mal was moody, Zoë was fretting and everyone had long since grown sick of it all.
"I'm sick of it."
River made a noise of sympathy as she sat on a corner of the infirmary counter, watching the light reflect the colors Simon was projecting as he cleaned his already clean work area, shades of blue and red, worry and irritation flickering like pale lightning over his head and around as he exorcized his emotion the way he always had, simple cleaning.
It was pretty in a frightening way, like everything else that existed.
"Kaylee was in tears."
"He feels like green, but it's not as pretty."
"That doesn't give him any right to attack Kaylee over it," he muttered sullenly and when he went to walk past, she leaned forward, hooking an arm around him and pulling him back against the counter, dropping her head to his shoulder. "River, is something the matter?"
Bluer, this shade not unlike the nasty green the captain was laced with, and she sighed deeply, wincing at the sudden force as she dropped her arm and let him go, regretting the choice to offer him sympathy. "Captain is a boob who excelled in Boob Academy, and is not your responsibility," she stated, shifting her attention down to her crossed legs and shifting the pieces of her carefully-created safety in the front of her mental field.
"But, are you okay?"
Blue was not to be trusted.
River managed a sincere but small smile, smoothing her skirt across her legs, not loosening the tightness in her arms until he had shifted away, moving to clean the sink again, the red beginning to fade across the blue again. It was always blue or red with Simon, more blue and red, always blue and red.
Destroying the blue and red pencils whenever she got a new pack had yet to ease her frustration.
River couldn't yet grasp why purple didn't bother her.
"I have a new mix for—"
"Simon, I don't want to."
He sighed, exhaled, but glanced over his shoulder cautiously, forcing a slight grin. "I know, I know you don't but… but you've been doing so well, and we want that to last, right?" She gave him a bland look, and he smiled more brightly, looking not unlike an electrocution victim to her. "I just… you've been doing so well."
"Yes, girl has been doing very well," she murmured, fluttering fingers against her thighs absently, listening to him drift around, unfocused now while the sky went dusky blue, worried for her and Kaylee. "Tired of projectile vomiting when I want to dance, Simon," she finally added, giving into her needs, straightening her spine; he offered her a tremulous little smile, trying, like he always did. "One of these days, I'll come up with the right mix, and there won't be anymore bad days."
River hadn't had a bad day in months, not really, but his fear was always present, little lines of black threading through all the other colors, the always-present panic that she would crumble again, that he would lose her more than he had before. "Fear itself," she muttered quietly, too quietly for him to hear, slipping off the counter and out of the infirmary, heading for the cargo bay where she felt Jayne's growing annoyance.
Jayne was always annoyed by Mal, bull and a rancher in a red coat trying to show each other up, but at the moment, he was giving real thought to the idea of throwing his weights at the captain to see what would happen.
Not for scientific reasons, though.