Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Author's Note: This story takes place after the events of "Murphy's Law" and is part of a continuing Mal/River storyline. For those who have not read the entire series so far, it might be marginally helpful to take a look at "Forward Motion" before reading this arc. A special thanks to Midnight Obsidian, for the use of the crew of the Hit or Miss, some of my favorite characters to write. Your crew is a treasure, as are you, kind sir.
The air in the cargo bay was charged with tension, a tension so thick that it prickled along the skin of Marcus' hand as he held his gun perfectly steady.
"You sure you want to go down this road?" Mal asked, his voice low and deadly as he stared at the younger Captain.
"Fair certain I don't," Marcus replied, his own voice coming out flat and deceptively calm. "Don't see as I have a choice."
"A man always has a choice," Mal replied as his finger flexed slightly on the trigger of his own gun.
Marcus exhaled a slow breath. "See, I don't think so," he said, every molecule of his body attuned to the man in front of him, blocking out everything else that surrounded him.
He knew, dimly, that his crew stood at his back, each man poised and ready for what was about to happen. More ready than he was, if the truth were told, he thought wryly. Thin beads of sweat lined his brow and upper lip as he looked at Mal.
Mal held his gaze, but somehow managed to gesture toward the crew of Serenity, standing in various poses of readiness around him. "You aim to do this in front of them?" he asked.
"Would rather you'd come with me, quiet-like," Marcus replied, sadness in his voice. "No need to make this uglier than it has to be."
Mal snorted. "Here's the thing. I ain't wildly interested in making this pretty."
Marcus nodded, his jaw tightening visibly. "Sorta proves my point," he said, directing his words more toward Serenity's crew than her Captain. "When you think about it." Talking once again to Mal, he said, "Last time I'm asking you to come with me without any undue fuss."
Mal stood motionless, and Marcus had a wild moment of optimism. Then, almost imperceptibly, Mal exhaled slowly and Marcus, seeing Mal's trigger finger move, did what he had never imagined doing until this very day. He pulled the trigger.
Mal fell forward, an obscenely neat bullet hole blossoming red on his chest. Marcus blinked slowly, feeling a slight sting as Mal's bullet barely grazed his shoulder. The only sound he could hear was the pounding of his pulse in his ears and River's strangled cry.
To be continued