Part V—All Things Considered
Authors: justslummin and Midnight Obsidian
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Summary: Mal produces his proof, and Murphy is left in a quandary.
Patience approached Serenity with curiosity and a little apprehension. Though she knew she could handle Murphy if need be, she would prefer not to have to do so. He'd done a fair job of taking the irritating little things off her shoulders and much like her old horse, she didn't feel wildly inclined to break in a new sheriff.
Mal, Jayne, and River walked up Serenity's ramp with altogether too much confidence to just be bluffing, she thought, which could only mean that they did indeed have some kind of proof to give as to the rightful owner of the paintings. Patience's mind whirred with the possible implications of such proof for her.
Murphy dismounted and tied his horse to the large struts on Serenity's ramp. Turning to Patience, he offered his hand to her, a gesture which struck her as both chivalrous and oddly touching. Shaking her head slightly at her foolishness, she slid off her horse and handed Murphy the reins. "So, what you got?" she said to Mal abruptly.
Mal moved to the comm unit. "Inara, could you step down to the cargo bay, please?" he asked pleasantly enough to let Patience know he had the upper hand in this situation.
She gritted her teeth but held her tongue. Murphy came to stand beside her, his hands restless on his gun belt as he looked around the bay. But soon enough, his hands stilled as he caught sight of the most beautiful woman he thought he had ever seen standing at the top of the stairway.
Inara paused for a moment, taking in the scene below her and weighing the situation as years of training had taught her to do. Walking gracefully down the stairs, she smiled pleasantly.
Patience could not help but notice the way Murphy's jaw fell slightly open and she rolled her eyes in irritation. "Let's get on with it," she said shortly.
"Sure you wouldn't like a drink first?" Mal asked, unable to resist needling the old woman. "Or maybe you'd like to have a seat?"
"Maybe you'd like to have some lead," Patience muttered just loudly enough for Mal to hear.
Mal grinned. "No need for threats, Patience. Just trying to settle this thing in the best way for all concerned." He smiled benignly at Murphy, who was still staring wide-eyed at Inara, much to Jayne's annoyance. "Inara, take a look at those paintings if you would and let me know if any are missing."
When Inara moved to look at the paintings, Patience stepped forward. "Wait just a minute," she said. Turning to Murphy, she said, "Far as I can see, the more folks as touch these paintings, the more confused this whole thing is gonna get."
When Murphy started to answer, Mal stepped in. "Matter of fact, Inara here can solve the whole thing to everybody's satisfaction."
"How so?" Murphy asked, pleased to have another reason to look at Inara carefully.
Mal nodded almost imperceptibly and Inara said, "Because they're my paintings."
Patience had somehow not expected that answer. She opened her mouth to speak and Murphy held up his hand. "Do you have a bill of sale for them, ma'am?" he asked politely.
"Well, no, I don't," Inara said.
"Just as I thought," Patience interjected.
Inara ignored the interruption and continued talking to Murphy. "I have no bill of sale because I did not buy them," she explained calmly. "I painted them."
"You painted them?" Patience asked, putting all the sarcasm she could muster in the question.
"Yes, I did," Inara said.
Mal smiled widely. "So, you see, Sheriff, I was just retrieving stolen goods at the request of my client here."
Murphy frowned, hoping that Patience had not somehow gotten herself involved in something illegal. It would be a very awkward situation if he was required to handle such a thing. "Miss Inara, I mean no disrespect at all, but this is important. Have you got any proof at all that you painted these pictures?" He looked pained to be asking the question.
"Of course," Inara said, smiling charmingly. "Perhaps you might like to see the early sketches of the pictures. Or I could show you the contract I signed with the gallery owner on Persephone who was planning to show the pieces in his gallery."
Murphy nodded. "That would be just fine," he said, encouraged to think that there would be some kind of concrete proof of the pretty lady's words.
"So, Patience," Mal said, enjoying the situation way too much for her liking as he watched Inara head back up the stairs to retrieve the damning evidence. "I'm sure you wouldn't want to be involved in the theft of a woman's artwork, now that you know these paintings were stolen."
Patience gritted her teeth. "Of course not," she said, silently plotting all manner of damage to Mal's body the next time they should meet. "Thought I was buying them from a reputable dealer."
Murphy nodded. "I have no doubt of that, Miss Patience," he said, scowling at Mal. "Everyone knows you're a fine upstanding member of this community."
Patience shot Mal a warning look and then smiled more sweetly at Murphy than Mal could have imagined. "Thank you for that, Murphy. Nice to know I'm appreciated."
Murphy's chest puffed with the praise. Turning to Mal, he said, "There is the little matter of trespassing on private property. Now, I know you were just doin' what you thought was right, but it ain't a good thing to take the law into your own hands. You shoulda' come straight to me and we'd have come out here to straighten all this out without any undue fuss."
Mal managed to look chagrined for a short moment. Making a show of ducking his head, he said, "S'pose you're right, Sheriff. But in my defense, I can say that I didn't know Whitefall even had a sheriff. Was a rough and wild place last time I was here. Gunplay and mayhem all around." He looked pointedly at Patience, who snorted.
Murphy turned to look at Patience. "It's up to you of course, Miss Patience, but if these paintings turn out to belong to Miss Inara, I'm inclined to let these good folks go their way in peace. Don't seem right to hold 'em considerin' the circumstances."
As if on cue, Inara floated back down the stairs with the contract from the gallery owner. She presented it to Murphy with a dazzling smile. Murphy took it, pulling a pair of glasses out of his pocket and looking at it carefully. After a moment, he handed it back to Inara. "Looks to be in order," he said, looking at Patience expectantly. "The paintings are hers. No doubt about it."
Cursing inwardly, Patience said, "Reckon that's it then. No need to hold 'em, I suppose. Though I want it known here and now that I don't cotton to trespassers on my land. I see you again…." She paused, giving Mal a glare. "I'm like as not to shoot first and not even bother with the questions later. Dong ma?"
Mal smiled sunnily. "Understood," he said. Holding his hand out to Murphy, he added, "Pleasure meeting you, Sheriff."
Murphy pumped his hand energetically. "Good to meet you too, Mr. Reynolds. And just remember, you come to Whitefall, just let me know if I can do anything to help you."
"Will do," Mal replied, feeling the heat from Patience's sharp eyes boring a hole between his shoulder blades.
Murphy nodded and turned to Patience. "Reckon we should head on back," he said, motioning her down the ramp. "There were a couple of things I wanted to talk to you about."
Patience sighed and climbed into the saddle, thinking that the last thing she wanted right now was to have to hear about the problems of the other settlers when she had problems aplenty of her own.
"They're up," Pierre said, looking at his sensors.
Marcus breathed a sigh of relief, seeing the reassuring blip of Serenity on the console. "Wait until we're a ways from Whitefall before we hail them," he said.
Pierre nodded and Marcus left the bridge, headed to his cabin. Halfway there, he ran into Elizabeth.
"So, Captain Reynolds and his people are in the Black?" she asked.
"How'd you know?" Marcus asked.
"Ship's moving," she replied. "I didn't think you'd leave before seeing them safely away."
Marcus grinned. "True enough," he admitted. "Can't help but feel a little responsible for this whole mess."
"You had no way of knowing they were Inara's paintings," she said kindly.
"Still, I'm glad we were able to make things right," Marcus said. "Inara is really trying to make a go of this whole artist thing, and it would have been a shame for a year's worth of work to be destroyed."
Elizabeth smiled. "You're a good man, Marcus Hazzard."
Marcus felt a blush rising to his cheeks and cursed his fair skin. "Don't know about all that," he murmured.
"I do," Elizabeth replied, her eyes shining with a light that left him oddly breathless.
Clearing his throat, he said, "So, where were you headed?"
"To the galley," Elizabeth said. "Somehow in the rush of things today, I seem to have missed a meal."
"Me too," he admitted. "Think we can manage to find something?"
"Hope so," Elizabeth said, smiling as they walked along together companionably.
"So, you'd best be careful of Patience from now on," Mal said, looking at Marcus on the screen. "She ain't slow, and she ain't forgiving. Sorry it went like it did. I meant for her to never suspect your part in this."
Marcus shrugged. "Couldn't be helped, I guess. And I'm not too worried about Patience. Big fish in a little pond, I think."
Mal nodded. "Maybe, but a fish with teeth, nonetheless." Grinning, he added, "I won't be going back to Whitefall for a good long while. Don't conjure she'll hesitate to shoot me again next time she sees me."
Marcus returned the grin. "Imagine there's a bulls-eye on my head as well. But, at least we got paid for the first job, though it's a shame we won't be offered a reward for retrieving her nephew's paintings when they go missing."
Mal pondered the changed situation for a moment. "'Nara's got a contract with the gallery owner. If we can get the paintings back to Persephone before time for the showing, he'll have to honor it. And since there's no profit in it, don't see why you even have to bother with gettin' rid of the nephew's work now."
"Good point," Marcus said, thinking that he might like to get going on that vacation Patience's coin was paying for. "If you got no objection then, I imagine we'll say our good-byes and see you in the 'verse."
Mal smiled. "Sounds good. And by the way, thanks for staying about until you knew we were clear. Nice to know someone's got our backs."
"No problem," Marcus said, reaching to cut the transmission. He stared at the blank screen for a moment.
"So," Pierre said, breaking the silence. "Where to?"
Marcus closed his eyes, imagining what Elizabeth might look like in a swim suit. "Someplace with a beach, I'm thinking," he said. "And palm trees, and little drinks in funny shaped glasses and such."
Pierre smiled beneath his mask, reading his friend's thoughts as easily as if he had said them aloud. "Sounds like a plan," he said, plotting a course as Marcus walked away whistling a little tune and heading toward the infirmary with a spring in his step.
Author's Note: Thus ends another adventure with the crews of Serenity and the Hit or Miss. Many thanks to those brave souls who have stuck with this storyline so far. There is, of course, another story to tell, and it will begin very soon. For those who have been wondering, BlueSun's intent will be made clear in the next arc, entitled "Stormfront". In the meantime, happy reading and writing to you all!