Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on characters from the Firefly 'verse created by Joss Whedon. No copyright infringement is intended.
Rating: T (for mature themes and foul language)
Spoilers: None. This story is set pre-BDM.
Add Inara at Zenon, one month
Chapter 1, in which the mighty are brought low
There are the workers of iniquity fallen: they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise - Psalms 36:12
"Hold on to something!" Wash yelled above the increasing angry drone of broken engines as the little shuttle careened towards a snowy mountain range. He was struggling with the steering wheel, face a grimace of effort. Must keep the ship level, stay aloft long enough to find a viable landing spot. He frantically scanned the rapidly approaching ground while directing a silent but continuous stream of Chinese curses at Captain Cheapskate and his 'best not bust, then' philosophy towards essential ship's maintenance. Wouldn't have taken much more than a few extra credits to get the right parts. Wash could have installed them in his sleep. Kaylee could have installed them drunk and asleep. But Miser Mal seemed to think Shuttle 2 was just ornamentation, something attached to the hull to provide artistic symmetry when Inara's craft was in dock –
"Can ya get 'er down?" Jayne shouted, strapping in behind Wash and snapping him out of his reverie.
"Trying," Wash ground out through gritted teeth. And now some very terra firma was rushing towards them. Couldn't crash land in a warm, pretty place, like a wheat field, or a meadow with gently rolling hills, oh no, had to be a jagged, icy vertical surface! An image of Zoë stretched out beneath him, naked and satisfied, rushed unbidden to his mind. Maybe laying in a wheat field...? For God's sake, not the time, Washburne! He pushed the fantasy roughly aside and resumed the hunt for a safe landing spot, fingers not missing a beat in their elaborate dance over buttons and switches his conscious mind just couldn't accept were not working properly.
"There!" he cried triumphantly. It was an awfully shallow ledge, and dangerously uneven. Not quite wide enough to accommodate the shuttle, he knew, but at this point they were too close to the earth to see much else in the window.
The shuttle shuddered and lurched and stopped abruptly with a nauseating crunch. The 'verse disappeared into white at the moment of impact. When it returned, Wash did a quick systems check – two arms, two legs, one head. All properly configured and no leaks apparent. Respiration was a go. He couldn't help but be a little impressed with his own self. That landing was one for the history books. Well, maybe only one for the comic books. But they were down and not dead, which two states of being met all minimum requirements. Through the spider web of windshield cracks, he could see the front of the shuttle was badly crushed, and a quick swivel in the pilot's chair confirmed that its starboard flank hadn't fared much better. As he stood, the ship tilted sideways sharply, and Wash instinctively leaned to the opposite side. He knew immediately.
"Jayne! Jayne, wake up!" Taking his life into his hands (he'd learned the hard way not to startle Zoë from sleep), Wash shook the burly merc, who appeared to have passed out. Jayne reluctantly opened one suspicious eye. "We gotta go. This ledge is too narrow and the ship could pitch off any minute. Careful!" He grabbed Jayne's arm to steady him as he rose, a move that earned Wash a murderous glare. He quickly withdrew his hand. "Careful," he said again, forcing himself to sound calmer this time and indicating with gestures that Jayne should move slowly.
Between the two of them, they had just enough strength to muscle open the badly dented hatch sufficiently to slip out onto the narrow space between the shuttle and the rock face. On the way out, neither man thought to take what the other considered essential. Wash grabbed the radio and Jayne grabbed the guns. Although there had been no discussion, they silently agreed the cargo would have to fend for itself. For its part, the cargo was under the impression it had all the time in the world, and so was still smugly ensconced in the shuttle's belly when the outer ledge gave way and the little ship made the acquaintance of some ill-intentioned rocks below. They shed no tears for the cargo. Served it right for getting them into this mess. But the shuttle was a dear friend and would be sorely missed.
Jayne believed somethin' worth doin' was worth doin' right. When he swore at Mal, he did it out loud an' in technicolor. "That ben tian sheng de yi dui rou son of a fei-fei de pi yan soaked in chou ma-niao!" That and more spewed from his mouth as he surveyed the damage. "He picks a fine time ta get all twitchy an' spooked. Should be him stuck stranded an' freezin' 'stead o' me."
The short trek down the mountain to where the shuttle now lay on its side, smashed and useless, had helped keep them a little warm, but now both men were shivering, hands and faces turning red and prickly in the sharp, raw air. Jayne was slightly better off in his army jacket (chosen because extra ammo required extra pockets) than Wash in his red canvas flight suit (picked to compliment his over-shirt's crimson sunset palm motif), but clearly finding shelter had to be next on the agenda.
"Well," said Wash, carefully climbing through the broken windshield to pull out what supplies he could reach, "the Doc said the concussion was pretty severe."
Jayne snorted with contempt as he took the items Wash passed him. "Wouldn't'a had no concussion if he hadn't'a been blind drunk an' fallen off the catwalk." Jayne could tell this was new information to Wash because the pilot stopped in mid-pass. "Zoë didn't say nothin' ta ya?" Wash gave a bewildered head shake that caused Jayne equal puzzlement. Even though he was daily witness to it, Jayne was nevertheless always surprised just how thoroughly Zoë dominated her little husband. Must be that was the attraction, 'cause it sure was mystifin' otherwise.
"This here's Haderon," he said expectantly. Wash nodded, but not with any understanding. He'd stopped moving and his teeth had started chattering quietly amongst themselves. "Some folks calls it 'Hades on Ice', the planet where Hell freezes over." Ain't much of a joke, now we's amidst it, Jayne noted grimly, beginning to stamp his feet to maintain circulation. Still not ringin' any alarm bells, huh? Okay then, ain't my fault she didn't tell him. "The way I hear'd it, they was in a prison camp here after the war. An' Mal took all kinds o' punishment 'fore they was sprung. When he found out this was our pick up location, he hit the bottle an' then he hit the stairs, one by one 'til they run out. Zoë and Doc figured she'd better stay on the ship, else he'd try gettin' all upright an' captainy when she's gone and cause hisself some first class brain damage. Not that there'd be any diff-"
"And Zoë?" Wash demanded apprehensively, the job, the shuttle, the cold, everything else forgotten. "What did you hear about what happened to her?"
Jayne decided under the circumstances to ignore his disrespectful tone. "Nothin'. I only know this much on account o' eavesdroppin' on 'em when they was movin' Mal." That was the gorram truth, but even if he did know somethin' 'bout Zoë, weren't no way he would pass it on ta Wash right now. They had pitiful few resources t'hand, so couldn't afford gettin' their only gadget man's li'l techie head too messed up ta be useful. Not 'til they was off this frozen rock, an' then Wash could grow a pair an' confront Zoë hisself if he liked. Tough as she was, the woman musta been all kinds o' relieved when Mal got his li'l boo-boo, knowin' it meant neither one was goin' down ta Hades.
Wash knew the Tower of Id had a near-perfect poker face (being shameless and amoral had many advantages in the Black), but decided he wasn't wearing it now. Yes, she told the occasional war story – wacky fun about lethal fruit and mustache pranks and lots of fancy hardware going boom. But about what happened right after the war Zoë never spoke. Time stopped in Serenity Valley and started up again when Mal bought the firefly ten months later. She'd led him to believe they knocked around during those months, picking up odd jobs, saving money and figuring out what to do next. Or, Wash realized, maybe he'd led himself to believe that, while she neither confirmed nor denied.
Frog-humping sonofabitch, that explained a lot! Her general bad mood these past few days (Mal's, too, come to that), the hungry, desperate sex they'd been having, and why this morning she'd pulled rank to stay on the ship, even though Simon had doped Mal so high he was clearly gonna be out for hours. Between the prospect of Jayne's delightful company and remembering what happened last time he took her place on a mission, Wash had most definitely not wanted to go. At least not without a reason more persuasive than "Because I'm in command and I say so." But that was the gist of what she offered and so they argued and now, now it turns out... Ta ma de! He hated when she decided for the both of them what he needed to be protected from! After nearly five years of marriage, you'd think she'd have more faith in him.
Jayne absentmindedly sniffed the air and frowned. Wind's changed. An' pickin' up speed. "Whatever we got's gonna have ta do, Wash. Storm's brewin'. Ya can sulk on the way."
"So you're both okay and the cargo's salvageable?" Zoë on the radio, all business, her voice cool and efficient. "What about the shuttle?"
"It's pretty banged up, but a few weeks of intensive Kaylee TLC and it should be space-worthy again."
"Any way you can fix it up enough to fly out of there now?"
"Not with what I have down here," replied Wash suspiciously, taking a dislike to where this conversation was headed. "Why? You're not planning to pick us up?"
"Well, there's a problem with that."
From the far corner of the cave they had commandeered, Jayne hugged his jacket closer and let out a disgusted groan. 'Course they's a problem. They's always a gorram problem! Hard ta conceive a ship so ill-favored.
"Our contact in the city was pinched right after he handed the goods off to you," Zoë continued, "and he spilled his guts. The local authorities know everything – your names, what ship you're with, where the goods are headed. Everything. It's too risky to fly Serenity in there 'cause they're watching for us. Have to wait 'til Inara gets back and use her shuttle. It's small enough, maybe we can slip through."
"But she ain't gonna be back from Sihnon fer near a month!" Jayne roared over Wash's shoulder. "Wash ain't gonna last a week, Zoë."
Wash and Zoë spoke as one. "And why is that?"
"'Cause I can't hardly stand 'im now, an' I swear, two more days o' his yap flappin' 's gonna send me over the edge."
Make like it's a joke. Give a little laugh, just enough to be convincing but not enough to provoke a bullet. Don't worry about the trembling – you can blame that on the cold. In truth, Wash was genuinely uneasy. He knew that behind Jayne's bluster was a remorseless killer, a man who put self before sentiment and who did not find him the least bit funny or charming. Or useful, in this particular situation, which called for wilderness survival skills that Wash, having grown up in an industrial city and lived his whole life among machines, didn't have. He wondered if the threat of Zoë and Mal's wrath would be enough to deter Washward violence for seven whole days of Jayne's World. Probably not so much...
"Perhaps I can offer a solution." Shepherd Book's honey velvet voice floated through the receiver. "Winterset Abbey is about a day's journey down the mountain from you. I have a friend there, William Archer. Brother William. He owes me a favor and he's a good man besides. I'm sure he'll help you lay low there once I explain the situation."
"Us, pretend to be monks? For a month?"
"No ruttin' way! Ain't doin' nothin' that involves shavin' my head or alterin' my man-parts."
Book's good-natured laughter filled the small cave. "Not necessary, I assure you. It's not that kind of Order. You should use aliases, though. The authorities are looking for Washburne and Cobb, and I'm afraid Brother 'Jayne' would be a bit conspicuous in any case."
Wash snorted. "As opposed to all the other 6'4" illiterate holy men who spit, cuss, scratches themselves with gusto and bench press 360?"
"You have a point," Book conceded.
"Well," Wash shrugged to shake off the chill and embrace the inevitable, "I can go by Robert. It's my middle name. There's a funny story behind that, remind me to tell you sometime. And Jayne..."
"If I can't have my front name, ain't using what comes after."
"Um, didn't quite catch that."
Erupting volcanos evinced more calm. "Marion, okay! Name's Marion!"
There was a moment of silence for Jayne's shredded dignity. And then:
"Your mother was that desperate for a girl?"
"Ya best shut yer mouth 'bout my ma, Hoban Robert, else we'll see some man-parts alterin' after all. An' I'm tellin' ya right now ain't gonna be no Brother Marion."
"Use Vincent," offered Book. "It's my middle name. Means 'conqueror' in Latin."
Jayne nodded at the transmitter. He didn't hold with book lernin' in gen'ral, but Moonbrain said Mal meant 'bad' in Latin an' here he was gonna be a conqueror, so he reckoned Latin was okay then. Latin an' him saw eye-ta-eye. "Fine," he huffed impatiently. "'s gettin' dark. I'm gonna try findin' us somethin' ta burn." He shot Wash a nasty look that seemed to say, somethin' else, fer the moment.
"Thanks, Shepherd," said Wash into the radio as Jayne exited. "I think you just saved my life."
"Well, saving is my business. Now you two head down the mountain in the morning. I'll wave Brother William and arrange a rendezvous point outside the abbey. Good luck, Brother Robert."
"Thanks," said Wash. "It's gonna be interesting. Over and – "
"Wash?" Zoë's voice was back, tinged with a worry that could only mean she was alone. Book must have gone, discreet as ever, to allow the couple a private moment.
Tightness gripped his chest. "Honey, I'm so sorry for what I said. If I had known about Haderon – "
"No, baby. We're not gonna do it like this." He could hear it through the transmitter – Zoë struggling to determine just how much emotion she could safely unleash, aware that he prized her vulnerability above her strength but needing to maintain the control that was so important to her. Some uneven combination of the acting captain and the yearning wife spoke next. "You're gonna come back, safe. That's an order. And then," her voice dropped so low, he could hardly hear the quaver in it, "I'll tell you everything." Wash was touched, knowing what it cost her to say those words, open that door, even for him. And more than a little disquieted, knowing that she meant them. "Should have told you before, but..." Her voice trailed off. "But I ain't saying nothin' to a frozen husband," she rallied after a moment, armor back in place. "So you stay close to Jayne and follow his lead. He knows how to make do out there."
"Yes, dear. Whatever you say, dear. I mean, whatever he says, dear. As long as he keeps his popsicle to himself." He tried to sound light and playful. And confident. He was keenly aware that she already thought him plenty vulnerable.
"Don't worry, Wash. Jayne knows you come back less than mint and Vera's got a date with the airlock. And won't be no amnesty for his popsicle, neither."
Banter, banter was good. Maybe there was even a little grin in her voice. His breathing eased but the shivering resumed, triggering an internal klaxon that his body temperature had dropped too low and it was time to move around again. He ignored it and they shared the silence for another minute. And then another.
At last Wash gave a melancholy sigh and watched it linger, white and misty in the air. Mustn't let the transmitter battery run down. "Some anniversary, huh?"
"My man's off to become a monk. Gives a whole new meaning to 'for better or for worse'."
"We don't salvage some of this cargo, there'll be a whole new meaning to 'for richer or for poorer', too. See you in a week, bao bei. I love you."
He signed off, now feeling a warmth against which the outside cold was powerless. Mal and the others could have her damn stoicism. That smile – he could imagine he heard it and he would hold on to that.
End chapter 1.
Author's Notes: So last time it was Firefly meets Shakespeare. This time, it's Firefly meets the Bible. What can I say - if you're going to steal, steal big. For the most part, I'll be drawing on Catholic monastic practices to describe life at Winterset Abbey, with the understanding that they might be a bit different 500 years into the future and transplanted to another 'verse. I'm also experimenting with Jayne-think, and particularly interested to hear what people think of my efforts. Those who are curious about Wash and Jayne's middle names can find more information in my double drabble Stuck in the Middle, which you should read anyway because it's short and "ruttin' hilarious" (at least, according to my friends). Reviews are love and they're free, too! So please partake early and often of that free love as the stories goes along.
Concerning the story title, the quote is from Isaiah 65, which begins "I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not...a people that provoketh me to anger continually...which say, Stand by thyself, come not near me, for I am holier than thou." Food for thought as our tale progresses...
Ben tian sheng de yi dui rou – stupid inbred sack of meat
fei-fei de pi yan – baboon's ass-crack
chou ma-niao – stinking horse urine
Ta ma de – dammit!
bao bei – sweetheart