Steve yelled and yelled and yelled until I wrote this. It's pretty much the longest chapter I've ever written. Also, admit it. I am evil. Or Steve is evil. Whichever.

WARNING: Much violence is about to ensue! Don't read if you can't stomach blood/gray matter splattering/dripping.

Also, a few folks have been asking me who Liam is. He's mine. My creation, so don't go looking for him in canon. You won't find him there.



Fess Higgins stared through the little window, watching the medics operate on his father. His own scars attested to the abuse he'd suffered at the hands of those men. The ones who had come looking for Inara three days ago. He'd barely escaped with his life, but his father wasn't looking to be so lucky. Three days of almost non-stop surgery, and all the old man had to show for it was yet more complications and the discovery of deeper and more severe wounds. Fess winced and looked down at his bruised hands, realizing that he'd unconsciously been clenching his hands into fists.

His thoughts trailed back to Inara. Did she know? Did she know that she had trouble on her tail? Why were they after her in the first place? He'd been fully prepared to die rather than betray her or the Hero of Canton- apparently he had so much more honor and integrity than his father, who could never care for anyone but himself. Fess wondered idly if he was still a hero, even though in the end his silence hadn't done anything.

No. A true hero would give Inara a heads-up. A true hero would make sure that she was prepared, that she was safe. A true hero, like Fess, went to do just that.

-------- -- - - --- -- -- -

Inara Serra gently closed the door after her client, and moved to her seat. As soon as she had activated the controls, a little remainder popped up on the one of the screens, telling her that she had a few new messages- and that one of them was marked 'Urgent'. Inara frowned slightly and opened that one up first. A face appeared on the screen. "Inara…" he said. His face was bruised and bandaged, barely even recognizable, but the voice gave him away. Fess Higgins. "You have trouble. Big, damn, trouble."

--- -- -- -- - -----

Liam arrived on Persephone a few short days after the crew of Serenity had. It hadn't been too hard to track them down- he'd visited the docks they had parked at over Unification Day, and found where they were registered to go next. Then it had been a simple matter of finding a good ship going in the same direction. He exited the August Presence- a ship that really didn't live up to its name- and wandered around the docks, taking care to scan the surrounding ships for a Firefly. This was supposed to be the very same docks Serenity was headed for-

Liam stopped in front of the first Firefly he saw. He snorted. It was a piece of luh sa (junk/garbage)! How anyone could get that thing in the air was beyond him. He was about to pas sit by when he saw the name on the side. Serenity. Of course Malcolm had to pick the ship that would be the most challenging to keep space-worthy! Idiot!

Liam settled down against a small shack with the word 'bathroom' scrawled on the side, and waited to see if Malcolm would come out himself.

He didn't have to wait long. The cargo bay door dropped open, and he could see inside, where Mal and some big lug of a man were loading up a mule. A young girl, probably even younger than Liam himself, was following Malcolm around, apparently begging him for something. Liam didn't pay her any attention. Instead, he was wondering if he could get away with shooting Mal on the spot. Then the girl looked at him, and Liam, who's mechanical hand was halfway to his gun, stopped. He decided to wait. He wanted to looked Malcolm Reynolds in the eyes when he blew his brains out.

---- -- ----- ----

"Said I could go on next job. You! You said!" River complained, hugging herself. "You'll need me."

"What makes you say that?" Mal asked, throwing the last of the cargo up on the mule.

"Bad feelings. Jitters," River said ominously.

Wash laughed. "You're Jitterbug now," he muttered to the girl. She shot him a half-amused, half-exasperated glance. It reminded him so completely of Zoe that for a few minutes he felt frozen there. He was only stirred when River was dragging him out of the way. "They're leaving!" she informed him. "You'll get run over, standing where you are."

Mal nodded to her. "You stay safe, y'here, lil albatross? No more fits, and maybe your brother will be nice enough to let you go on the next job."

"He'll find another excuse to keep me back by then," River scowled, plopping down on the stairs. Mal grinned and drove the mule out of there.

Jayne grumbled beside him. "River only gets jitters when somethin' bad is about to happen. You don't reckon somethin' bad is about to happen, do ya?" he didn't look too pleased at the thought of getting shot again.

"Denver Collase knows us, we've dealt with him before, He ain't gonna cheat us, or shoot us," Mal said.

"That's what you said about Trayce!"

Mal slowed the mule down, complaining to himself about Persphone's crowded streets. "We're here, anyhow." They stopped in front of a small, rickety warehouse, squeezed between one sagging hardware store and another. A handful of men exited the warehouse as Mal and Jayne clambered down from the mule. Mal glanced over them and didn't see Denver among the men. "There a problem here?" he asked. "I was meetin' with a man called Denver Collase."

One of the men snorted derisively as the others drew their guns. Jayne muttered under his breath, something like 'told ya so', and Mal's own hand remained close enough to his gun to draw it in a hurry, if need be. "Collase ran into a bit of a problem," the man drawled, toying with the hilt of the knife strapped to his side. "Now, I hear tell you run with a certain high-bred woman by the name of Inara Serra."

Mal's heart seemed to pick up its pace, but he kept his face smooth and his breath even when he replied. "Dropped her off a week back, when we were on Greenleaf. She's probably found a new transport by now, gone off-world again."

"And you got the smell of a liar. I don't like liars," the man, obviously the leader of the group, spat into the ground. "Now. You're gonna take us back to your ship, real quiet-like, and we're gonna nose around, see for ourselves if your story has any truth in it. It does, we'll leave, no harm no foul. It don't, we kill you and your entire crew, and take Ms. Serra to a meeting which she's several years late for. Dong ma (understand)?"

He could tell that Mal was still unwilling to cooperate, so he applied a bit more pressure. "We already know you fly a Firefly, Serenity, and that you run with a shipful of nine. Five men, four women, one of them supposing to be Ms. Serra. I was hoping to leave you and the most of your crew alive, but you refuse to show us where your ship is, we shoot you, and track down Serenity ourselves, and kill all those you're trying to protect. It will be especially unpleasant for the women-folk." A cold chill ran down Mal's spine at that last, and vivid images of these men hurting River and Kaylee played through his head.

"I suppose you got me at that," Mal relented. "But just so's you know, I've since lost a few. The Shepherd and my first mate… ain't flyin' with me anymore." He phrased this last carefully. "They've been off longer'n Inara." Mal added.

"I'm sure they have," the leader sneered. "Leave that go se (crap) mule behind. We'll take my shuttle. Considerin' that Collase is indisposed at the moment, I'm fair certain he won't mind you losing a few boxes of goods."

------ -------- -- --- - --- - --

Wash drummed his fingers on the console. "I'm thinkin' of getting me a bug. To add to the dinosaurs, for you," he said amiably. River nodded distractedly, her thoughts far away, trying to find Mal's, or Jayne's. "'Cuz I've got a dinosaur for every other crewmember, even still have one for Bester, but I can't believe it's taken me this long to get one for you. Y'see, I needed to find just the right one. The kind of dino that'd fit your personality." River smiled at her friend's strangest quirk. "By the way, did you like that book I read to you the other day? It originated form Earth-That-Was, isn't very popular anymore, dunno why, it's a good book."

River understood why he was talking so much. He was trying to take her mind off the job, trying not to let her dwell on it too much. Wash didn't understand that she needed to watch over the captain, that without Zoe he was far more vulnerable than he thought. "Jurassic Park. Lots of dinosaurs."

"And therein lies its greatness!" Wash enthused. "Ah, nobody gets it."

"I do," River said softly. "Fantastic creatures, feeds the imagination. Lets it run wild, lets the mind escape reality."

"Huh. I guess you understand more than I do," Wash frowned. 'Lets the mind escape reality.' He'd always prided himself on how clearly he thought he saw things, at least, privately, to himself. Maybe he wasn't as focused as he thought he'd been. "Anyway, there was supposed to be some movies based off that book, but I haven't managed to get my hands on them. Yet."

River perked up at this, filing this information away for Wash's next birthday. It should be easier for her to find them than it was for him. She was the psychic genius, after all. "Might soon. Many things have been preserved from Earth-That-Was, to pay homage to the future's past, to never let us forget our origins. To remember all the good, and all the bad."

"I haven't heard too much about the bad," Wash admitted. "They always make that place sound like paradise."

"Not so. That was Eden, in Book's Bible. There were wars on Earth-That-Was, there were massacres and… and racism…"

"Racism?" Wash repeated, shocked. Racism was unheard of. Unheard of!

"Pride of one's own race and the hatred of another's has been replaced by pride of one's homeworld and hatred of another's," River rattled off, matter-of-factly.

"Oh…" Wash said in realization. Could that really be as bad as racism? Yes. He sighed. At least there was no chance he'd ever be guilty of that one. New Canaan didn't exactly have much cause for patriotic feelings. "Well, one thing I gotta say- River?!" She'd left. "That's a little rude…" Wash said out loud, but inwardly he was pretty worried. She could be having another fit, or something could be wrong with the ship, or… something could've gone wrong on the job.

River broke into Jayne's room, hearing the men land their shuttle outside Serenity. She snatched a couple of his guns off the wall, hurrying herself along as she listened to them dragging Mal and Jayne toward the ship. She then slipped back out, not bothering to close the hatch behind her. River raced gracefully out of the bridge and onto the catwalk in the cargo hold.

She felt her stomach flop about uncomfortably when she saw Mal's face covered in bruises and cuts. The ear Niska had cut off was hanging off the side of his head. The hun dans (bastards) pushing him along had apparently found the remaining scar, and decided to reopen that particular wound. Jayne wasn't in much better condition. River raised her guns, taking aim at the backs of the intruders' heads. No feeling, no attachment, no empathy, she told herself. Weakens the weapon. Doesn't let it work right.

She heard Wash coming up behind her too late. "River? Something's up?" the alst wasn't a question, but now the men knew she was there. She half-turned to Wash, wanting to tell him to get out, that she could handle this. She heard the guns firing, and watched in horror as Wash stumbled back. The Weapon kicked in and screamed at her to turn around, to shoot the men who'd hurt Wash, WHY COULDN'T SHE MOVE?!

Wash raised his hand up to his chest, just above his heart and just under his collar bone. He stared at the blood on his hand, then looked back at River, reaching out to her. His hand brushed against the hole in River's own chest, the wound she hadn't felt. The bullet nestled in Wash's chest had torn straight through her to get to him. They collapsed together, Wash forgetting his own injury and trying to stem the flow of River's blood.

Their blood mingled together and dripped through the holes on the floor of the catwalk, some of it landing on Mal's face, as if mocking him for this, reminding him of how much this was his fault. A roar of pain and rage tore form his throat, and he surged against the men holding him back, screaming, cursing and struggling until they beat him into unconsciousness.

--- --- - -- -- --

"Hand me that wrench, would ya Simon?" Kaylee asked from under the engine. Simon glanced down at the toolbox.

"Which one?" There were several lying around.

She pointed again. "The one with the big red handle. Big ol' scorch mark on the side, came from when her back-up started fussing at me."

Simon found the one she had indicated and passed it to her. "This is just a routine check-up, right?"

"Yeah, figured as long as we was parked I could take a peek under her engine, and make sure there isn't anything she's needing. If there was, then maybe I can try sweet-talking the captain into letting me pick up a replacement," Kaylee chattered, her explanation somewhat muffled under the engine. They heard gunshots coming from another part of the ship. A loud thump let Simon know that Kaylee had been startled enough to hit her head. "OW- Simon, what was that?"

"Sounded like…" Simon stepped out of the engine room. "From the cargo bay," he told Kaylee.

"Whatcha reckon is happening?" Kaylee asked, sliding out from her spot and following him.

"I- I don't know. Stay here," Simon gently pushed her back into the engine room and stealthily sneaked down the hall, following the gunfire down the stairs. Just as he was rounding the corner, about to pass the medlab, someone stepped out from the shadows behind him.

"Might wanna hold still there, pretty-boy," a low, hoarse voice growled. Simon froze when he felt the gun nuzzle the back of his neck.

"Who are you? What's-"

"Shut it!" the man snapped. Simon clenched his jaw with an audible snap. "Step real quiet-like back up them steps," the man instructed.

Simon turned hollowly, his fear for River and Kaylee's safety warring with his angry desire to fight back. Seeing as how there wasn't much he could've actually done at the moment, Simon quietly let the man push him along, at least until he figured out where River was and how to warn her and Kaylee- and the rest of the crew, if he could.

The man dragged him into the common room, where he saw Kaylee, Mal, and Jayne already held up and bound to the chairs around the table, each of them turned away from the table and at different ends. Mal's head was drooping, and he was definitely out. Then Simon's eyes focused on the two limp figures that had been thrown so callously to the floor, left to lie in the growing pool of blood. His heart stopped, his throat tightened, and the entire 'verse just seemed to freeze in that one moment. Cold sweat poured down his face and back, and for a longest of times he lost the ability to think coherently. River…

"No…" Simon choked out. Then his wits returned, or most of them. "No! River! No, no, River! NO!" He jerked away from his captor and raced toward her. One of the other men standing free in the room tried to grab him, but with the strength and fury born of adrenaline rush and desperate concern, Simon was able to beat him away, brutally. He reached the bodies and automatically checked for pulses. He found that both of them were still alive, but barely hanging on. It was then that the other men finally caught up with him. They dragged him up and away, kicking and screaming. "I need to help! I need- I need to see to them, I'm a doctor, they're hurt, please- gorramit, let me go!"

He fought back with wild abandon, but there were too many of them. They grabbed his arms and legs and threw him into a chair. Simon bucked frantically against their strong grips, but they inexorably twisted his arms around the chair and bound him there. Then they did the same to his legs, and stuffed a dishcloth in his mouth to keep him quiet. River…

Angry and frustrated tears welled in his eyes, but he blinked them away. He didn't want those men to see this weakness. Simon now hated them, hated them as much as he hated the men who'd held River at the Academy, as much as he hated the Operative who'd methodically killed all in his way when he was after River, diyu (hell), he hated them as much as he hated his own father, for abandoning River and for rejecting him. Simon's chest heaved with the screams he couldn't voice because of the gag in his mouth.

Kaylee bit her lip, trying unsuccessfully to hold back her sobs. She didn't want to look at Wash and River, or at all that blood, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the horrific sight. One of the intruders seized her by the jaw and jerked her gaze from her friends to his face. "We got us a call coming in from Ms. Serra. You're gonna be a good little girl, and tell her park her shuttle. If you can't act well enough to hide your fear, then lie and tell her something went wrong on the job. Well… that ain't exactly a lie, so no sin against you today." The man laughed coldly and cut her bonds.

"Don't do it Kaylee," Jayne blurted. This earned him a quick and cruel blow to the face. He spat out a mouthful of blood and glared defiantly at the man who'd hit him, daring him to do it again, even if he couldn't respond in kind.

Kaylee stood up, trembling. She couldn't see Simon's face- they had him turned away from. She gave the leader a teary nod and followed him onto the bridge. She settled down in the pilot's chair, pulling up Inara on the cortex screen. She half-hoped that the man would be stupid enough to stand in full view of the camera, but that was pretty wishful thinking. "Hey, 'Nara," she said miserably, stifling yet more hysterical sobs.

"Kaylee? Kaylee, what's-" Inara's face flooded with concern when she saw the tears on her friend's face.

"Somethin' went wrong- very wrong… on the job, is all. Just- just land the shuttle an'… an'…" I'm like that Judas fella from Shepherd Book's Bible, she thought to herself. The thought brought on a fresh wave of tears. "P-please, 'Nara…"

"I'll see you soon," Inara promised quickly. The man behind her was obviously satisfied with that, and reached over and switched off the link, being careful to keep every inch of him out of sight. I was gonna break, an' beg her to stay away, Kaylee pouted.

"There ya go. I done it," she said quietly.

"Good girl," the man chuckled dryly and pinched her cheek. Kaylee grimaced and flinched back from his touch. This caused his face to flash with anger. He back-handed her across the mouth. "I been good to you so far. Ain't damaged you none. Don't make me hurt you more," he threatened.

Kaylee nodded frantically, too stunned for anything else. She stumbled blindly back down the hall and collapsed in her chair. They re-bound her. Then, most shockingly, the leader tipped his hat to her, Simon, and Jayne, and backed out. His thugs followed suit. "Wait!" Kaylee called. None of them listened.

"Kaylee, what in the good diyu (hell) d'ya think yer doin'?" Jayne demanded.

"Why's they leavin' us?" she asked, bewildered, frantic, and scared.

"D'ya want 'em to stay?" Jayne said in disbelief.

"Why would they just go, though?"

"Could be they was just after 'Nara," Jayne reasoned.

Kaylee struggled to grasp that concept. "I… she gonna be okay?" she asked in a small voice.

"Well I dunno," Jayne mumbled.

"And what about Wash and River? They gonna make it? And the captain? Are we just gonna be left to die?" Kaylee rushed on, her voice gaining volume as she went.

Jayne was getting alarmed by her questions. "Kaylee, slow down would ya? Ya don't know-"

"And that's it! That's it exactly! I don't know! I don't know what's going on, I don't know if we're all gonna be fine!"

A few of their captors stomped back in. One of them looked right at Kaylee. "Quiet, little girlie, and I'll make this quick." He raised his gun and aimed directly at her face, not even three feet in front of her. Jayne heard the gun fire, and felt blood and gray matter splatter across the side of his face, but couldn't bring himself to see the corpse that toppled to the ground at the foot of Kaylee's chair.


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MUCH THANKS TO: Edenfalls81, DemonSong10, wrenbailey, just slumming, and NajaMoonShadow for reviewing. Also, thanks to everyone who read, but didn't review, I love you guys too, anyway! Please R&R!