Authors: just_slummin and Midnight Obsidian
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Summary: Conclusion. Marcus takes care of business and violence, as one might expect, ensues.
While outwardly calm, Marcus was internally elated to have found the hundan so quickly. He'd barely installed Murdocke's subroutine into the nav console of his hired ship when he got a hit indicating the vessel of the madman had landed and been registered as being on the Eavesdowne docks of Persephone. Going to full burn immediately, he had made it there in record time. While he loved the Hit or Miss, the sleek little ship he'd hired had real speed in its favor. Thinking that was most probably why the madman's little ship had made it to Hera before the Hit or Miss could intercept it, Marcus considered the possibility of purchasing a small ship like it for himself. There was no way to tell when a quick getaway would be just the thing, he thought with a slight smile.
He'd landed on the docks and located the ship easily. Blending into the crowds on the busy docks, he had watched the man disembark and wander down the streets for a long time. Marcus knew that he was no doubt looking for his next victim, and the thought made his hands itch to wrap around the hundan's neck. But he waited patiently for the right opportunity, mindful that this man had captured Mal in an alleyway on Greenleaf without too much trouble. That, in Marcus' opinion, made him dangerous enough not to simply approach in the street.
But then, he'd seen his opportunity unfold before him. The hundan had walked into a bar and sat down to drink. Figuring that the easiest way to catch a rat was to lay out cheese, Marcus hurried back to his ship and donned Mal's brown coat. Slipping into the tavern while the madman was flirting with a pretty little barmaid, Marcus made his way quickly to the bar and ordered a drink. And then, he had settled down to wait.
He didn't have to wait long. Within the hour, the young man had approached him and asked to sit down. And now Marcus was talking to him, seemingly relaxed with a little too much drink.
Robert smiled at him pleasantly. "I couldn't help noticing your coat. It looks like it's seen its share of action."
Marcus ran his hand down the side of Mal's coat. "You could say that," he replied just as pleasantly. He took a sip of his drink, purposely spilling a bit as if slightly inebriated.
"You seem very young to have been in the war," Robert pressed.
Marcus smiled. "I get that a lot. Must be good genes."
"So, you fought in the first war?" Robert asked.
"Tail end of it," Marcus lied. "Little place by the name of Serenity Valley. You've heard of it?"
"Heard of it?" Robert said, feigning excitement. "Who hasn't? Most dramatic battle of the war, or so I gather from my studies."
"Oh, are you a historian, then?" Marcus asked, leaning forward engagingly.
"Of sorts," Robert answered. "I'm not actually being paid for my work, but I have quite a collection of first war memorabilia. It's a sort of hobby of mine. You know, weapons and artifacts, charts of the battles fought, interviews with veterans, captures." He paused, looking innocently into Marcus' eyes. "Say, I just had an idea. Since you were there, perhaps you'd like to see the collection. Maybe look over some of the captures and see if you recognize anybody, or look at the recreations of the battle lines and see if they need to be adjusted, according to what you remember."
Marcus made a show of pondering the offer. "Oh, I don't know," he said finally. "I'm only here for a day or so, and I have some pressing business to take care of."
"Oh, it would take no time at all," Robert said charmingly. "My collection is not far from here. My ship's right at the docks. Only take a few minutes to get there."
"Well, if you insist," Marcus said. "I suppose I could take a look."
Robert smiled. "Wonderful," he said calmly. "How about I buy another bottle and we take it with us?"
"Sounds like a plan," Marcus replied.
Simon looked intently at the monitors over Elizabeth's bed. Her heartbeat, which had been steady for several days, seemed a bit irregular to him. He hastily checked the readouts and frowned. Not trusting entirely in the machines, he put his finger to her wrist, counting her pulse in the time-honored tradition.
Her eyelids fluttered open slowly. Simon stopped counting and leaned down into her field of vision. "Elizabeth?" he said softly. "Can you hear me?"
Elizabeth looked at him in confusion. She moved her mouth to speak, but no words came out.
"It's all right," Simon said soothingly. "You're back on the Hit or Miss. There was an…incident, but you're safe now." He took a penlight and shined it in her eyes, making her wince.
Pleased with the reaction, he continued, "Do you understand me, Elizabeth?"
She looked at him blankly.
He slipped his hand in hers. "Squeeze my hand if you understand me," he coaxed.
Her hand remained perfectly still and her eyes fluttered closed once again. Despite his attempts to rouse her again, Simon was unable to get another response.
Marcus walked steadily beside the murderer, making sure to keep enough distance between them that nothing untoward would happen. His hands itched for the gun hidden under Mal's coat, but he schooled himself to patience.
"Here we are," the monster said cheerfully, opening the hatch of his ship and motioning Marcus to step inside.
"So we are," Marcus growled, shoving the man into the ship and slamming the hatch shut behind them with much more force than was absolutely necessary.
River curled herself gently down onto the bed beside Mal, needing the familiar warmth of his body to dissipate the chill she felt.
"You all right, bao bei?" Mal murmured into her hair, wishing he could wrap his arms around her.
"Worried," she replied quietly.
"Marcus," she said softly. "And Adam."
"What? Not me?" Mal said lightly, trying to get her to smile.
River complied, a small smile curving her lips. "Not you. Too broken to move anywhere else, and I can keep you safe here."
"Ah," Mal said. "I see." His eyes twinkled in the low light of the room. "And Adam. Ain't he safe here?"
River sighed. "Not safe until the man who did this is dead," she said sadly. "And the little boy with him."
Mal frowned, somehow having not thought of the implications of killing the hundan and the effects of it on his son. "You think Adam is still….tuned in to the little boy."
"Don't know," River replied. "His sleep has been restless, but so far, the nightmares have not returned."
"But you think that he is still connected with the boy somehow," Mal said, understanding dawning. "And if Marcus kills the hundan, you're afraid that Adam might inadvertently see it."
River nodded miserably.
Mal drew a long, slow breath. "Don't see any way around it, bao bei. Man needs to die, and Marcus is determined to do it. Can't do a thing to stop him, and I personally wouldn't want to if I could. Question is, what can we do for Adam in the fallout?"
River shook her head, no answer to the dilemma occurring to her.
Shocked by the sudden turn of events, Robert quickly rolled back up onto his feet and out of the range of Marcus' hands. The voices, relatively quiet until now, began to howl in anger in his head. Letting out a howl of his own, he rushed toward Marcus, drawing the knife from its scabbard in the process.
Marcus, seeing him through the red haze of his own fury, met him halfway. The two men grappled for the knife, rolling over and over across the small entryway of the ship, each seeking the dominant position.
Finally straddling the howling madman, Marcus slammed the man's hand against the bulkhead repeatedly until he heard the satisfying snap of the man's wrist. Howling with pain, Robert bucked against him, throwing him off balance. Unable to use his right hand, he used his left to grab Marcus by the throat and squeeze tightly.
Marcus struggled beneath him, seeing red as his lungs began to scream for oxygen. His mind flashed to the image of Elizabeth's throat, abused in just this way, and his heart filled with a murderous rage. Throwing the monster off of himself with a massive effort, he scrambled quickly onto his feet and jumped away from the monster's wild stab of the knife.
Robert, with an unearthly growl, rushed forward, his good arm driving his blade into the meaty part of Marcus' shoulder. Marcus roared in rage and knocked the man backward. Robert's head hit the edge of doorway and his motions slowed for one crucial moment.
He shook his head, trying to regain his equilibrium. The voices shouted in his head, demanding the blood of the Browncoat. He staggered to his feet and looked up. His forehead connected solidly with the barrel of Marcus' gun. He blinked slowly, unable to face what was about to happen.
Marcus saw the slow blink. Though he did not know what the blink signified, he did not hesitate. His finger bent, and he pulled the trigger.
The monster, caught in the second between personalities, fell soundlessly backward. Unaware that he was standing over an empty shell, Marcus pulled the trigger once more, the sound reverberating loudly in the small entryway.
"It's done," Marcus said flatly, looking at Mal through the Cortex screen. "And when the ship's been there a little while, the authorities'll be looking in on it, I'm sure. Made certain to leave the door open for them, matter of fact."
Mal nodded. "You left everything like it was, right? Plenty of evidence to persuade them that his death ain't worth too vigorous an investigation, I assume."
Marcus nodded somberly. "You should have seen it, Mal. The things he had saved from his victims. His…trophies, I guess. There should be enough there to tie him to multiple murders all across the system. I would imagine they won't mourn him overmuch."
"You all right?" Mal asked quietly.
Marcus took a deep breath. "Won't be all right again until Elizabeth's awake," he admitted. "I'm heading home now."
Elizabeth moaned softly, her eyelids fluttering open. She squinted up at the bright light on the infirmary ceiling. Recognizing the ceiling as her own, she licked dry lips and tried to talk.
"Marcus," she rasped, her throat dry from days of unconsciousness.
There was no answer, and she moved her head dizzily to look around her. She saw Marcus' head a few inches from her hand. He was asleep. She focused on his face, the dark shadows under his eyes, the stubble on his cheek and chin. She wondered how long she had lain like this for him to look this way.
She slowly moved her hand to stroke his cheek. "Ai ren," she breathed out.
Marcus raised his head, instinctively knowing her touch. He blinked rapidly, wondering if he was hallucinating. "Elizabeth?" he said, covering her small hand with his.
"How long?" she asked.
"Too long," he said, jumping up to call Simon. Rushing back to her side, he leaned down and kissed her. "Too damn long," he murmured against her lips, his heart finally beginning to beat with a normal rhythm again.
River slid into bed beside Mal. "Adam all right?" he asked, shifting slightly to accommodate her position.
River yawned. "Fell asleep right away. Third night this week with no bad dreams." Mal felt her lips curve into a smile against his chest. "Dreaming of a puppy," she said.
Mal made a show of groaning, though actually the idea that his son was dreaming of something pleasant made him mightily happy. "Ain't gonna be a puppy on this boat," he said.
"Not even if it helps Adam get over the trauma of what's happened?" River asked, batting her eyes at him innocently.
"Now, that ain't in no way fair," Mal grumbled. "Using wiles and such."
River laughed, the sound free and altogether music to Mal's ears.
"All right," she conceded. "No puppies….at least until you're up and about."
"And for about twenty years beyond that," Mal said. About to add something else, he was stopped by River's soft kiss.
And in his room, Adam curled contentedly around his pillow and blessedly dreamed once again the innocent dreams of the very young.
Author's Notes: just_slummin: So, here we are, once again at the end of another adventure. Many thanks to Midnight Obsidian. You, kind sir, are, as always, a pleasure to work with and a source of constant joy to me. And to those kind souls who have read this story to its end, thank you as well. Your thoughts and feedback make the journey all the more pleasurable. Happy reading and writing to you all!
Midnight Obsidian: I bet you folks thought that we weren't going to be writing any more.,didn't ya? Well, your days of underestimating us have definitely come to a middle if you think that true. I have been blessed…truly blessed with finding a partner in crime who is able to bring my thoughts and ideas into such loving, breathing reality as just_slummin. I'm humbled and honored to have you as a co-author, although I think the lion's share of the credit should honestly go to you. And to our readers, we honestly would not have gotten as far without you. All of your reviews breathe new life into our endeavors. And just so you know, yes, we might have one more ace up our sleeve. You didn't really think we would leave you out of the wedding of the year, did you? Well, shame on you...*grin*