Disclaimer: I don't own Firefly or its characters. I just play in the sandbox. Joss, boss, etc.

Author's Note: This is part of a planned series of fics revolving around a speculative "Season Two" of Firefly. "Forward" is the overarching title of the entire series, with individual story arcs making up the "episodes" of the series, with a few possible one-shots scattered throughout. This takes place post-Big Damn Movie, and there is very mild AU here regarding the movie, which will become apparent as the prologue progresses.


Part One: Unfinished Business

Prologue: Clean Fun

Not exactly being the artistic type, he didn't really look too much into things like coloration and shading, not like some of his crew. Even so, some tiny bit of Malcolm Reynolds' mind was able to appreciate the way the dim, scattered light hit the imbedded blue and white paint of the bottle a heartbeat before the airborne glass smacked into his face.

He stumbled, spinning and dropping to one knee even as his hand snatched up a metal tray off the bar beside him. There were yells, the shattering of wood, and the meaty impact of one of Jayne Cobb's ham-hands meeting another unfortunate bastard's stomach.

"Another day, another tussle," he muttered as he rose, his sentence punctuated by the ring of his new weapon slamming into another man's jaw. He rose, the chaos swirling around him, and his experienced bar-fighting instincts picked out a bit of movement a bit too close to his backside. A duck kept Mal's head beneath an otherwise painful sucker-punch, and his new best friend the drink tray caught its victim full across the face.

Mal turned to Jayne, just to make sure the burly man wasn't in too much trouble. An instant's glance showed he had both hands, both elbows, one leg, and his forehead engaged in different aspects of rendering inebriated gentlemen unconscious, and Mal whipped back around. His tray met another bottle, and the glass obligingly shattered against the metal plate. A quick thrust with one hand snapped the side of the tray into the attacker's face, and the metal rang like a gong as the man toppled back to the floor.

Said floor was getting choked with a mixture of unconscious folk and bits of broken furniture, but that didn't diminish anyone's enthusiasm for the traditional form of bar-going recreation.

"Enjoyin' yourself, Cap?" called the sweet sunshine voice from across the room, in the only part of the bar that wasn't being happily torn to shreds. Mal blocked another blow, this time a closed-fist punch, and the hand's owner recoiled, cradling his smarting limb for the half-second it took Mal to smash the tray over his head.

"Good exercise," the Captain replied, glancing Kaylee's way as she reclined in the booth, head leaning a little bit on the shoulder of Doctor Simon Tam, who was doing his level best to be as inconspicuous as possible. Both of them continued to take measured sips of their drinks as Jayne rampaged across the bar and Mal toonked his way toward his comrade's side.

It had been going pretty well, a relatively quiet drink over a relatively quiet game of checkers between Mal and the Doctor in the corner while Kaylee watched and Jayne got up to fetch some drinks. The next thing they knew, certain heated words were exchanged over the orange eye-bleeding headwear the wreathed Jayne's head, followed by certain fists, and then certain improvised weapons. Mal took that moment to intervene, as even Jayne couldn't handle half the bar on his own, and now the two were in the thick of it. Thankfully, half the bar was addressing their grievances with one another, affording the pair some breathing room while they sorted the mess out.

Simon watched the chaos with detached amusement. In the past, such things might have bothered him, but between his rough-and-tumble experiences with this crew, the alcohol, and Kaylee's presence, he felt about at ease as he could get.

"Every time we go for a nice quiet drink," he remarked, and then winced as he heard a skull crack. A man went flying over the bar, followed by the tinkles of assorted broken glasses and bottles. He peered down at his mug, to see it almost empty, and with a sigh he threw back the last of the beer.

"Well, I know I'll have something useful to do when we get back home," he added as the liquid burned down his throat. "No doubt a lot of bruises, possible lacerations, and I'll expect some concussions or fractures too."

"Oh, Cap and Jayne are gonna be fine," Kaylee replied, and grinned as Jayne caught a man by the neck and hefted him with one arm, before flinging him into a gaggle of other patrons. She tapped Simon on the chest. "'Sides, I had plans for when we all got back on Serenity."

"Need some help tuning up the engine?" Simon asked, with just enough emphasis to make the mechanic's grin widen.

"You're gettin' to be a good hand with some tools, you know," she replied, and then her eyes widened as her hand gripped his chest tighter through his shirt. She pulled and ducked, and Simon followed suit, out of simple experience with these sorts of things. A glass bottle shattered against the wall overhead, but most of the shards toppled down behind their booth's seating.

"Well, ah," he replied, picking some bits and pieces of glass off his shirt a moment later. "Nowadays I can tell the difference between a bolt and a - hold on." He started picking through Kaylee's hair, where little blue slivers of glass had come to rest.

"I got some in me?" she asked unnecessarily, and he nodded, fingers picking through her brown strands with deft precision. Elsewhere, a man yelped in agony before diving face-first through a table, courtesy of Jayne.

"Yeah, just hold still a moment so I can get it all out," Simon said, careful to grip the tiny shards as delicately as possible. Didn't want to cut himself.

"Didn't think doctorin' required bein' so good at picking through a girl's hair," Kaylee said, only moving to pick up her mug and continue watching the brawl. She couldn't see Mal, but the constant toonking of his pilfered tray showed he was still actively part of the insanity.

"Nothing much to do with being a surgeon, really," Simon replied, grabbing the last bits he could find. "I've got more practical experience, mostly in the form of chewing gum and River."

Kaylee giggled, and then caught sight of three men bulling into Jayne, pushing him back against the wall nearest their booth. They started punching on him, even as Jayne retaliated back, knocking one away with a cracked jaw.

"Doc, quit playin' with the-" Jayne's yell was cut off by a fist to the jaw, and he snapped his head forward, meeting another attacker forehead to forehead. Jayne's thick skull won out in the exchange, and the other man was launched off his feet. With only one foe troubling him, the big man grabbed his new victim by the shoulders and spun, smashing the smaller man into the wall. He glanced at the pair as they watched, and then snorted, before turning back toward the battle.

"You two just gonna play hip-buddies and watch all night?" he asked, and Kaylee shrugged.

"You and the Captain seem to be doin' alright by my account," she explained, and Jayne nodded, straightening his cunning hat and grabbing an empty bottle. He swung the weapon straight into the face of another unfortunate standing patron, and the glass shattered on impact. Discarding the broken glass, Jayne waded back into the brawl without another word.

"Good, clean fun," Kaylee remarked, watching the fight continue to rage, and Simon simply nodded, hoping he wouldn't need to treat anything like the wounds Mal and Jayne were inflicting.

The cargo ramp welcomed the quartet as they alternately walked and limped back into their home. The bay interior was marked with scattered crates and boxes, some of it legitimate cargo picked up on this leg, some simply supplies. The real money-makers were in their usual spots behind the bulkheads.

"Both of you should go to the med lab when you've gotten some rest," Simon explained. "I want to make sure you didn't suffer any serious fractures." Mal nodded, while Jayne sneered slightly, muttering about "bein' fine, was just a table leg."

"Take it the locals weren't welcoming?" called a voice from the catwalks above, and Mal looked up, nodding to Zoe Washburne as she came down the steps, brown hair hanging loose and casual.

"They had some objections to our uncivilized ways," Mal replied, and gestured toward Jayne with his head. "Seems some of them felt Jayne's hat was a bit too cunning for their tastes."

"They was crowdin' me anyway," Jayne replied, and fiddled with his hat. "Ya'll know I'm impartial to crowdin'."

"That's not the proper meaning for impartial," Simon remarked, and Jayne frowned at him.

"You a doctor or a schoolteacher?" he snapped, and then pushed past the doctor, heading for the stairs.

"Think he's a bit off that we just watched and didn't help out?" Kaylee asked, and Mal shook his head, then patted the mechanic on the head.

"Doc needs to keep out of the fightin' with his job, and last thing I'd want is to see you mixin' it up like we were," he said, and then nodded toward Zoe. "We get the pickup?"

"Certain disreputable fellows came on time and dropped it off," she replied, nodding across the room. "Legal portions are already tied down. Less than that is holed up in the bulkheads."

"Well, then," Mal said with a nod, and walked toward the cargo bay controls. Mal closed the doors, hearing the familiar reassuring hiss of the bay locking itself up tight, and headed toward the stairs. "Let's get in the air. Got a powerful need to eat somethin' after dropping a good thirty folk on the floor of that fine establish-"

Black hair tangled up in his face without warning, and the captain flubbed for a second before taking a step back. A mischievous smile greeted him as he stared up, the girl hanging by her knees from the central catwalk platform directly overhead.

"Darlin', aren't you supposed to be helpin' our pilot get in the air?" he asked. River Tam giggled.

"Took care of navigation already," the girl explained. "Wash flies, doesn't need to think and line up the numbers."

"Don't usually accuse him of much thinkin' anyway," Mal replied, stepping around the whimsical little girl's hanging hair. "How long's our run gonna be?

"Two days," she estimated. Her eyes rolled "up" which meant they were staring at his boots. "Well, not exactly. Forty three hours and nineteen minutes, hard burn."

"No rush to get anywhere, little albatross," Mal replied as he made his way toward the stairs. "Take it nice and easy." She watched him walk past, and he felt as if her eyes were lingering on him for a second.

"You broke your face," she commented, and Mal laughed.

"Shoulda seen the other guys," he replied.

Mal passed through the mess a moment later, the scent of the cooking protein mix making his stomach growl. There was a certain amount of spice to it that got his tongue watering. The Shepard knew his trade, and he'd forgotten how pleasant it had been to have him aboard, something that the last month had reminded him of all too well.

"Good afternoon, Captain," Book said with a smile, which quickly shifted to a thoughtful frown as Mal strode past.

"Awful nice concoction I'm smelling there," Mal offered, pausing by the counter and taking a whiff.

"I certainly expect you to be hungry," Book replied. "I suppose you worked up an appetite, destroying a fine drinking establishment."

"Honest brawl between tipsy sorts, is all," Mal replied with a grin, and the Shepard nodded.

"I honestly hope no one was seriously hurt," he added, and Mal waved a hand reassuringly as he headed out.

"Jayne probably got the worst of it, I suspect," he said. "Broke a table leg right across his back. Would have been better if they'd hit him on his head or such. Nothing to, you know, damage up there." Book chuckled at the mild joke as Mal disappeared down the crew corridor.

He heard a familiar trio of clicking switches as he stepped into the bridge, and opened his mouth to ask the usual question.

"Ready to lift?" he asked, and there as a grunt from the pilot's chair.

"Course is set, all systems are shiny," Wash replied, setting about the process of getting the ship ready for launch. "River already took care of our navigation; you sure she's not a machine or something, a robot sent back from the future?" He swiveled about in his chair as he spoke. "I saw a movie about that once - oh." A frown appeared on his face as he scruitized his brutalized Captain.

"Captain, you have this big red thing," he said, pointing at his right eye. "Just about . . . oh, wait, is that your eye?"

"Why's everyone making such a big fuss over this?" Mal asked, crossing his arms. "Just some clean fist-fightin'."

"Not that, its just," Wash paused, looked down at the floor, and then leaned forward, his face hardening up into dead seriousness. "Captain, there's something real important I think you need to know. A concern of mine."

"What is it?" Mal asked, suddenly worried. If Wash of all people was getting serious . . . .

"I am very, very worried about the state of our affairs," he said, clutching his hands together tightly. "Because we just can't run a proper business without a very pretty captain."

I took Mal only a second to bounce off the deadpan.

"Well, I'll talk with Zoe about that," he replied. "I could use a vacation from all this 'command' responsibility."

"Hey, better cut for me, husband's benefits and all!" Wash replied, spinning back around.

"Chow's in ten," Mal added as the ship's engines began to fire.

"Hope its edible tonight," Wash called back as Mal stepped out of the bridge.

"Doctor's not cooking," Mal replied. "Might want to hurry, though. Me an' Jayne gotta powerful hunger after all that workout. Might end up eating the table."

"I shudder to imagine," Wash said as he took Serenity into the sky.

The office was dark, quiet, and reeked of danger. Not directed danger, but simply a scent of imminent peril for whomever walked inside. It had been that way for several months, ever since the raid, and while the man inside had survived that attack without permanent injury, the massive blow to his pride had left scars, both mental ones on his ego and physical ones on the surviving minions he took his rage out on.

Though he kept it under control enough to handle his business, no one would be fool enough to deny that he was rapidly slipping into obsession. After all, none had chosen to defy him in such a blatant manner. Even the Alliance afforded him some respect, due to the money and influence he wielded. But these people . . . they had humiliated him.

He kept watching the videos from the battle over and over and over. He had memorized their faces, their voices, their movements and actions as they battled past his troops. The woman soldier with the steel spine, the goofy-looking pilot who had screamed so much, the burly, cold and controlled mercenary. The man in shepard's cloth, alongside the young man who couldn't aim to save his life, and the frightened brown-haired girl in mechanic's overalls. And the Captain. He would never forget that man. He had seen them all on his cameras, had recorded their faces in his mind, and he fantasized over his vengeance.

He could hear their screams now, taste the blood in the air, their delicious pain and agony.

The door to his office slid open, and he looked up, momentarily considering torturing the man to death for the intrusion, but dismissed the thought. It was his new second-in-command, a slim little fellow named Volsky.

"Sir, I apologize for the intrusion," he said, standing at attention before his desk, his voice wreathed in a thick Russian accent. With a nod, the man behind the desk indicated that Volsky should continue.

"One of our contacts on Beaumonde just got in touch with us," he continued. "We've tracked down Serenity, and have its destination, cargo, buyers, and estimated travel time."

For the first time in several months, the man behind the desk gave an honest smile, and he sat up straight.

"Do we have teams ready?"

"They're heading for Triumph, sir. We can get a strike team in position just before they land, if we move immediately."

"Then go, quickly!" he said, laughing, his happiness finally returning at the prospect of getting his well-deserved revenge on Serenity. Volsky bowed and quickly departed, leaving his boss to play the videos again, now savoring the chance to hurt them all.

Which one would he start with, he wondered? Who would pay first for crossing him? So many choices . . . .

Author's Notes: This prologue was pretty much intended to establish the setting for the fic. I wrote it partially as an experiment with writing Firefly dialogue, and it was actually written before "One Gorram Reason" was written. Once I got done with this chapter, I knew I was going to have fun writing all these characters.

As you can tell, Book and Wash are both alive and apparently survived the Big Damn Movie. I did this partially because when I originally wrote this prologue (and some of the subsequent chapters) that it was missing "something." It wasn't until I included Wash and Book that things started to feel "right" again, and since they're as much a part of Firefly as any of the BDM survivors, I wanted to include them. Plus, Wash and Book rock hard. One is a JRPG-haired priest who can peg you in the leg with a rifle one-handed at the perfect time to make you smack your head on the still-smoking remains of a destroyed ATV, and the other wears Hawaiian shirts. And they're just fun characters, so nya, they're alive for this story. How they survived and what they did for the rest of the movie's events may be eleaborated upon later.

Don't let the prologue fool you; though this series is definitely going to have its light-hearted arcs and events, the "Unfinished Business" arc is going to be a little bit dark, on the same level as "Bushwhacked" or possibly even the Big Damn Movie. Also, expect River to be a central character for more than half of the "episodes" of this series; she's easily my favorite character, and she's such a versitale walking plot device that I can't help but play with her.

Next chapter may be a bit slow, but trust me, the action in this particular arc will pick up quick. Updates may be sporadic, as I'll be taking a lot of care with each chapter I'm writing to ensure I put out the best work I can. Let me know what you think!

Until first chapter . . . .