Summary: Follows my other fic, Spinning In The Dark. Posits a large conspiracy against mankind, the lampshading of demons and other monsters into the series, and ignores shared actors between the shows (as that would just be squicky). Spinning In The Dark gives away the twist.
The night before they reached their destination he said goodbye to her alone, in her room. It was a quiet, subdued goodbye.
He held her in his arms and said it, and she could feel the goodbye cutting into her. It was the worst goodbye she'd ever heard, and it was worse than anything the Alliance doctors had ever done to her.
He touched her face with one hand, the pads of those long fingers seeking some absolution from her. "I'm just a thing that lived too long," he said. "An old man who bought, borrowed, begged and stole his way into too many lifetimes of pain."
As always, she couldn't probe into his mind. All she gets are the little bits on the outside, the bits radiating out. The anger, the hostility. But underneath that is a pure current of affection.
She wasn't sure if perhaps Jayne was right. Was this just infatuation? Just sex? Or is there really love in here, mixed up with everything else? She isn't sure if she's being an adult or if she's being just a kid, here.
She smiles at him. "This war can't last forever."
"There's always something," he said. "A war. A mission. A calling. Duty. I don't know…"
"Will you come back?" she asked plaintively.
He smiled tentatively. "Yeah. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I'll be back."
She sighs, and nestles closer to him. "Good."
As they walked off the gangplank, away from Serenity, their injured crew strung out and limping behind them, Liam glanced down at Blood, a question in his eyes.
"Heart and soul, I'm hers, if she'll wait for me," said Blood calmly.
"What about the big monkey? You must have noticed he was moving in," replied Liam.
Blood shrugged. "If she won't wait, she won't wait. I can't make a woman be more or less true to me by wishing it. She made no promises, and I didn't ask for any."
"Our war doesn't wait."
"Our war won't last forever. Someday I'll be coming back to this ship. Someday I'll be free from our war."
Liam laughed. "There's no freedom."
Blood sighed. "Aren't you a decade overdue for an epiphany that gives you new strength to fight this battle?" he asked waspishly. "Come on. Let's go kill your doppelganger, topple an empire, free the galaxy… ohh, can we blow up the death star?"
Liam chuckled. "No, Spike, I am your father!"
Jayne knew the moonbrained little girl would be sad for a while. He wasn't sure if in his new role as her friend he was supposed to offer her some consolation in the form of telling her she was too good for the monster, or if he was supposed to ignore her and pretend it was all right.
He considered taking his cues here from Kaylee, but she was still more than a little squicked by the vampire, so she was probably not the best lead to follow. But better than Mal, who was cheerful to have no more real monsters on board. Or Zoe, who was stoic. Or Inara, who was also cheerful. Simon had taken cheerful to new heights.
Each of them had their own reasons. Simon's were the worst, as he was just glad that his sister's lover was gone.
But, then, he was just trying to protect River. So Jayne cut him some slack.
So he ended up playing cards with her in the hold. It turned out she knew some of the games he had played back home, and figuring out the rules of the ones she didn't know. Better, she could remember only half-remembered rules that fluttered at the back of his mind.
He didn't want to talk about the deeper things. He wanted to forget, like everybody else. He was only human, after all. But something in the way she sat made him need to dig at it, to open those wounds. To try to make it better.
"Doing okay?" he asked, regretting the turn of phrase.
She shrugged. "He cut below me, into my blood, and found the parts even she…even I couldn't find. And he was a mystery to me. I could see in his eyes but not hear in his head, except those most obvious things, and I wanted answers that couldn't be given."
He waited a beat after she stopped talking. "I don't know what that means."
"Neither do I."
He thought about that for a while. "You always say stuff you don't know what it means?"
"I understand the constituent pieces, and they're all truthful. But the complete picture is reality, and that's a canvas I have no control over."
He grunted. "That I do understand."
There was a long silence between the. Finally she tossed her cards down. "You've won," she sighed. "Your hand beats me in all possible permutations."
He grumbled, not liking the game to be predetermined. She, of course, couldn't see the point of playing out a hand she already knew the outcome of. "Gorramit," he grumbled, gathering the cards to deal them out again. "Can you see the future?" he asked, something he'd always wanted to ask, but always been afraid too.
She gave him a coy look. "She sees worlds of quantum possibilities before her eyelids, but none of them are any more likely than the other, and they fall and collapse so randomly."
He scowled at her. "I mean, the future."
She smiled, that knowing smile she had perfected. "She can't."
"But she knows what she would like the future to be. Forever here, on Serenity. Forever fighting. Forever with her monstrous love. Instead… she won't stay here forever, you know."
He made a face, thinking dark thoughts of guns and tying her up to keep her from running away. "He'll be back. Men like him, they always come back. Whether you like it or not."
She sighed. "I hope so."
Eva stayed on board Serenity for another month. In that time she refused to explain any of her plans to any of the crew.
When she finally found a destination port and left, she did so without telling any of them where she was going or why. They were relieved to see her go, and take her prisoner with her.
The first report they heard was on Unification Day, of all days. Mal had found a bar and was looking to pick a fight, but nobody was up to it today. They were all demoralized and scared.
He stared at the screen for a long minute, not even hearing the words that went with the images. It was hard to imagine a Core world being burned up, even harder to imagine somebody taking down half the Alliance military leadership.
But he knew who had done it without even having to think very hard about it.
He glanced to Zoe, who had a quizzical look on her face. "Did you think they could?" he asked her.
She gave him a dry look. "Did you think they couldn't?"
The job was a simple snatch and grab. It turned sour nearly halfway in, and Jayne found himself dangling on the end of a long rope over a canyon that was deeper than his rope was long.
He clutched the tiny rope, trying not to look down. It was wrapped around his chest three times, and it kept digging deeper. He was sweating like a stuck pig, and kept trying to get a grip on the cliff wall with his boots, but it was too sheer, too much smooth rock.
River dangled from her rope several feet away from him, but she appeared to be having fun. She was grinning widely, and swinging and swaying on the end of the rope like a yo-yo.
He snarled at her. "Gorram it, girl, can't you do something?"
"Stop being afraid; the fall can't kill, only the landing," she said glibly, which didn't help his fear at all.
"Help me!" he snapped.
She sighed. "The rope's length is terribly less than I would need; and even if I had the length, and besides that, isn't it like a day at the carnival? Or a green field, waiting for daddy to give you a push, make you fly?"
"I ain't yet mastered the rudimentaries of flight!" he snarled.
"Flight is falling with the rug yanked out from under the bottom. If you aren't falling, you don't need to fly. If you aren't bound by gravity, ropes don't pull so tight. Silly!"
He wanted to swear. He wanted to swing himself over to her, take hold of her, and let her save him. He wanted to save her.
He was pretty sure he also wanted to kill her.
So he stopped trying to quantify it, just trying to get a better grip on the rock wall of doom. "What if they don't come down here to fetch us?"
She smiled indulgently. "Cap'n always gets his man. Even when it isn't a man, properly. Especially then. I suppose I have less to worry about than the Jayne-beast dangling on his leash."
He grunted. "I guess I just don't trust him that much."
She made a mock pout in his general direction, still swinging as if she didn't have a care in the world. "And him never having dropped you."
He searched his brain for a distraction. "Do you think your monster-boy will come back now that he's done with his blowing stuff up?" he blurted out desperately. He didn't want to think of Mal, and falling, and being saved. That way laid the trap of all the things he was coming to owe Mal, and the ever-growing camaraderie between them. That way lay friendship and a host of other things Jayne was trying to avoid thinking about.
She laughed, a surprisingly normal laugh that sounded a bit fake. "Oh, the man they call Jayne. More afraid of the captain's smiles than the death he carries at his fingertips. William, dear, mysterious William, will come back, I'm sure of that. I don't know when, and I don't know what he'll do then. I don't know if I'll be young or old. Uncertainty kills, man with a girl's name."
He struggled to get a little slack in the line. "Can't you climb up to the top?"
"Where those who tried to kill us will be waiting? No."
He heaved a sigh. "He give you an address for contactin` him?"
"I gave him ours, and he assured me he would leave a unique package there for me at least once. I suppose I could leave a letter there, in hopes he drops off that package himself…"
Jayne grunted. "Fool monster-boy."
Silent and stealthy, Mal reminded himself. Silent and stealthy.
He ducked his head out.
The bounty hunters were still in the door of the ship. Neither of them had given chase to River and Jayne, or tried to cut the rope anchoring them.
Which made about as much sense as the way they'd come walking up here.
Kaylee stood between the two of them, stonewalling.
They had come in with guns drawn, but they hadn't tried to kill anybody until Jayne had gone for his gun. And Mal was fairly certain they'd shot wide, or else his big mercenary would be dead. They were good, whoever they were.
Too good. That kind of skill cost money.
And he had an idea they weren't here for River, or for anybody else on the crew.
Kaylee wondered where Simon was. Probably halfway to town, along with twenty other people, in that terrible bus she hadn't trusted one gorram bit.
He'd invited her to come along, but, no, of course not. The engines needed work. The engines always needed work! Next time he was going shopping and invited her along, she was going to take the opportunity. She was not going to waste it.
She could be laughing at some lame joke with him right now, instead of standing here with these two very dangerous-looking people.
One was a tall man, with slanted eyes and reddish skin. He smiled a lot, but his eyes were cold and dead. She didn't like him much.
The other was a very cold-looking woman with blonde hair. She looked familiar, though Kaylee was having trouble placing her.
There was something going on between the two of them. Some kind of struggle of wills. Kaylee knew her best chance of getting out of here alive was to exploit it, but she was a little distracted just now.
The blonde woman sighed. "We came here for information, not a fight."
The tall man smiled. "We can get both."
"You know he'll be mad."
"Let him be mad. We got a lead here, eh?"
Kaylee swallowed, looking around. No sign of the Captain nearby, nor Zoe. And if her favorite mercenary and scary-crazy girl were to pop back up now, she was fairly certain they'd be killed.
"I'm calling him," said the woman. "Let him know we found what he was looking for."
"It's the barest trace!" protested the man. "Let me just torture this one, please? She'll tell me right where they left them, right where we can pick up the trail!"
Kaylee licked her lips, wondering how far away the captain was. How long it would take for him to get here.
It was Inara who came to her rescue, oddly, walking out of the ship briskly, as if she hadn't heard the shots earlier. "Is the captain back yet, Kaylee?" she asked, fluttering her fan serenely.
The tall man smiled wickedly, biting his lower lip. "Oh, what have we here?" he breathed softly.
The blonde woman shook her head. "You keep your wits together! He'll be here shortly, and we don't need any slip-ups at this point!"
The tall man shook his head. "He ain't gonna be here for another day or two. I have time. I have plenty of time. Hey, sweetie."
The blonde swiveled, pointing her gun at her companion. "You just back down, gorram it! We are not having any more incidents!"
He pouted. "You hurt one hooker one time on some godforsaken wasteland planet…."
She fired, shooting him point-blank in the chest. He howled, falling to the ground. The wound, however, wasn't bloody. Kaylee tried backing away, but the woman turned, aiming her gun at Kaylee and Inara. "Don't try it!" she snarled. "Brock, get up. Next time, we're going to kill you, you know that, right? You're too gorram dangerous!"
He struggled to his feet, breathing heavily. "You rutting shot me!"
"I'll do it again if you look funny at either girl!" snarled the blonde woman. "Maybe you missed the memo; you're not supposed to be the bad guy, here!"
He shot her. Unlike him, the wound was bloody, spattering blood all over Kaylee. She shrieked, trying to scramble backwards out of the blood. The blonde woman's corpse fell to the floor.
Brock was smirking. "I wondered how much faster than you I was. I did wonder. Now we know. You're just a punk, a poser. Some lady with a gun you think you can use. Sorry, but this job really only needed one man anyway."
That was when the Captain and Zoe advanced. Kaylee dove down as they started firing, but Inara didn't. She lunged forward, throwing a knife at his head.
It bounced off.
The hail of bullets had no effect on him, besides making him stagger few feet back. "Oh, come on!" he snarled, aiming his gun out at Mal and Zoe. Seeing that, they both dove, continuing to fire until they were both out of ammunition.
He waited a beat, then carefully fired. It hit Mal in the shoulder, and he let out a yelp, dropping his gun.
Brock sighed, aiming at Zoe. "I do hate to hurt a lady," he said, his voice oozing insincerity.
There was another gunshot, this one from the fallen blonde lady. The bullet again knocked him cleanly off his feet, and he roared in pain as he went down.
Kaylee had landed right beside what she had thought of as a corpse; only now it was moving, squinting through the blood flowing from the head-wound. "Gorramit, Brock! I don't have a lot of patience left for you. I will kill you—and I know how!"
He sniffed archly, holding his gun up in the air. "Sorry I shot you."
She rose jerkily to her feet. "There's fair and there's foul. Gorram! You are a foul son of a whore, Brock!"
Kaylee knew there were good things, and bad things. Having enemies that could withstand a hail of bullets?
Also, considering that Liam and Blood had both apparently had that ability, and had been on their ship not so long ago?
Definitely more than coincidence.
River continued taunting Jayne quietly while they dangled at the end of their line, wondering how long it would take the captain to realize what she already knew.
These attackers weren't really human. They weren't Reavers, and they weren't monsters like Blood, but they were definitely not ordinary. Their thoughts were almost closed to her, who could read anybody, and she knew that she had shot the big man right in the left kidney before falling off the edge.
He hadn't even flinched, and his thoughts had barely registered any pain.
They were monsters made by whatever organization Blood and Liam were trying to take down. Monsters whose intention was to track down those two and stop the mayhem they were unleashing upon a universe.
She'd been content to sit and wait forever for Blood to decide if he could come back to her, if there was a place in his world for her.
But if somebody needed to rescue Blood, if he was being chased by assassins…
Well, she was willing to play White Knight to his Damsel in Distress. Any day.