Hey there everyone *sheepish look*. Can I start off this chapter, like I have the past couple chapters, by saying how extremely sorry I am for not posting sooner? Seriously. I can't even joke about it, that's how long it's been. Thank you so much to all of you who have stuck with this and subscribed, reviewed, and favorited even though it's been the fanfiction equivalent of eternity since this was updated. You guys rock. Seriously.
Anyway, because I felt so bad about this being so terribly late, this is at least two times as long as it usually would be. Enjoy :)
All the usual disclaimers.
Mal leaned back against his ship and closed his eyes. This was his home. His Serenity. The one true place in all the worlds in all the verses in all the timelines where he belonged.
Yet he couldn't get in. Nope. Kaylee, and presumably it was Kaylee, she was the only one who had the sense or the know-how to pull it off, had bypassed his override and changed the lock codes. Every. Damn. One. So here they were, come so far, and gotten so close, only to be locked out by his own damn engineer.
Cursing hotly, he pushed himself off the rusted metal and began to pace, ignoring the stares from Beckett and co. from their seats on the dusty ground. He spun around to Zoe, seeing that she was in a similar state of aggravation.
"Don't you have nothin' you can do 'bout this Zoe?"
She glared at him. "Why would I have any idea more than you, sir? If memory serves, it's your ship. I just live on it."
Mal glared right on back. "Well, I don't know, considering you're hitched to the gorram pilot I thought you mighta picked up some info that might be pertinent to our situation."
Out of the corner of his eye, Mal saw Beckett's head shoot up. Having seen that happen over many breakthrough in many a case, he habitually turned to his former partner. Seeing the expectant look on his face, Beckett hesitated and flushed a light pink.
Mal cocked his head. "Something to share, Beckett?"
The detective cleared her throat awkwardly. "It's nothing Mal. We," she glanced around at the others. "or, at least I, was under the impression that you and Zoe were…err…married, or you know…at least together."
It was quiet for a moment before both Zoe and Mal broke into laughter. Beckett's face grew redder as their laughter roared louder, and Esposito and Ryan began to look around nervously, afraid that the noise would draw attention from any people that might be lurking about in the shadows behind one of the massive ships.
Several moments passed before the former soldiers could bring their volume down to that of mere chuckles. Once Mal had caught his breath, he wiped the tears of mirth from his eyes.
"Nah. Zoe n' I aren't hitched. Not all the money in the verse could get me stuck with this stubborn ol' mule for the rest of my life." Mal jostled his old friend playfully.
Zoe mock glared at him and nudged him with her elbow. "And why would I ever condemn myself to spending all that time with this cranky geezer? I much prefer my large, semi-muscular pilot thank you very much."
The whole group was smiling now, though Beckett's smile was tinged with embarrassment. The mood was a far cry from what it had been just a few moments before.
However, it only took a few minutes for the atmosphere to turn awkward and strained as Beckett's blush began to die down and the reality of their situation re-dawned on the travellers.
Suddenly, Alexis shot up from her spot on the ground. "Dad! Where's that keypad that you were fooling around with?"
Mal looked mildly surprised. "Ummm…stuck to the side of the door." He pointed to the small, rusted keypad that was missing 6 out of the 10 number keys.
Alexis strode over to the decrepit device, and within seconds had popped the top off of it and was examining the multicolored mess of wires inside. Pulling out the switchblade that her father had given her earlier for protection she sliced into several of the blue and red casings, pulling out the copper strands that were housed inside.
Carefully the teenager spliced some of them together and much to the amazement of the group, seconds later the gigantic bay door began to descend.
It was all Mal could do not to gape at his genius of a daughter. "But…wha-…how?"
Alexis smirked. "That's what happens when your daughter finishes all of her requirements as well as any interesting elective that her school had to offer. She takes a beginner's engineering class."
Esposito chuckled. "Alexis, I get learning how to hotwire a car in a high school class, but hotwiring a spaceship?"
She shrugged. "The shop teacher wanted me to apply to an engineering school, but I said I had more….refined things in mind."
"Well, either way, you saved our collective asses. It's good enough for me." said Zoe. "Let's get a move on shall we? If I so recall, we were just contacted by a psychic in order to tell us that she, her brother, our mercenary, and my husband were being kidnapped by an unknown party. I'd prefer it if we moved at a bit of a rush."
The group sobered immediately at the reminder of their situation. Mal placed a hand on Zoe's shoulder, and then stepped forward to lead the rest of the group into Serenity.
Everything was quiet as the unlikely crew made their way into the rusted, broken-down ship. Beckett, Esposito, Ryan, and Alexis looked around with interest at this example of future technology, their eyes curious and bright.
Mal and Zoe, however, were different. They walked in with a certain respect, a reverence, as if reuniting with an old, treasured friend. Mal was glad that his back was turned to the others; he didn't want them to see the tears that were filling up in his eyes.
Mentally shaking himself, Mal turned back to the task at hand. Get the ship running, rescue four people from an unknown kidnapper, return people to 500 years in the past. Simple as pie.
Clearing his throat, he silently grabbed Zoe's attention. "Show them around, make sure they know where everything is. I'm gonna head up to the bridge and make sure that the launch codes are still the same."
Zoe nodded and gestured for the others to follow her out of the cargo bay and towards sickbay. Mal nodded at the others as they passed him, and was surprised when Alexis stopped momentarily to wrap her arms around him, squeezing him quickly before following the others.
As soon as they had stepped over the threshold, Mal was off like a shot, dashing up the metal stairs for the quickest route to the bridge heedless of the enormous amount of noise he was making. He could feel the familiarity, the smell, the sight of his ship sinking into his bones and it filled him with an energy that he had not felt for nearly two decades.
As he hurried down the corridor that held the quarters, Mal had half a mind to simply stop and check to see if Jayne had moved into his room during his absence. He was willing to bet that the mercenary would have at least tried to, and he hoped that he hadn't been successful. He couldn't sleep in that bunk again knowing what Jayne would've been doing in it.
Regardless of what had happened to is room, he could feel Serenity coming back to him. Memories that had been long suppressed or forgotten resurfaced at the sight, the smell of his home. River being chased around the ship by Kaylee, Inara's smirk when they were arguing and she knew she was right, the meals with everyone at the table laughing and enjoying their meager supply of food.
And then, before he had a chance to contemplate what was going on, Mal was on the ground.
Zoe was showing the group through the mess hall (which had since been repainted with even more flowers. You'd think Kaylee would have better things to do during a wartime than decorate a sitting area.) when the heavy clangs of Mal's footsteps were replaced by a resounding thud that seemed to echo throughout the whole ship.
Within a second, she had abandoned the story she was telling, her weapon was drawn, cocked, and she was at the door pointing it at the captain's unknown assailant. It was an elderly man who was sticking his knee into Mal's back and had what appeared to be a wooden crutch braced around the captain's neck, holding it up. He probably could have gotten out of it, however had there not also been a gun pressed to his temple.
Zoe silently stepped forward, her gun trained on the elder's head. Just before she was about to take the shot, however, she hesitated, studying the bushy white hair more carefully. And then it hit her, and she mentally cursed herself for being so stupid. Even from behind and with all the time that has passed, Zoe should've been able to recognize him in a heartbeat (though thirty seconds wasn't a bad time, either). He was, after all, well known on this ship.
"Now, son, typically when people go around stealing boats, they have the sense to at least walk around quietly until they're sure no one else is present."
Zoe could feel Esposito and Beckett on either side of her, guns at the ready and pointed at the back of the man. She chuckled inwardly at their confusion when she lowered her gun and holstered it. Looking at both of them, she shook her head with a smile.
Silently stepping forward she called out across the distance, "Hey! Preacher! As I do recall, the Bible has some pretty specific things to say about killing!"
The elder man started, pushing himself off of Mal and dropping his crutch, bracing on the wall for support. Slowly he turned around, revealing his horribly burnt face. But the splotches of red and black scarring that covered the majority of his skin couldn't mask the recognition that his marred features showed.
It was Serenity's resident shepherd, Derrial Book.
Mal coughed and choked as oxygen slowly returned to his brain. His ears could hazily make out a gravelly voice calling out, "May be, may be. But it is pretty fuzzy on the subject of force when used to protect what's yours."
It took a few seconds, but after the pounding of blood in his ears subsided and the stars stopped dancing in front of his eyes, Mal pushed himself to his feet.
The captain's eyes widened in surprise and his thoughts raced.
Well aiya huaile. Damn if it wasn't the preacher standing five feet away hugging Zoe like she would vanish into thin air. Behind them, Mal could see the three detectives and his daughter looking on in puzzlement and a tad of awe, though that could've just been from seeing Zoe express an emotion other than anger.
Rubbing his throat he choked out, "What in the name of fay-fay duh pee-yeh was that?"
The shepherd's voice was full of mirth when he answered, "That was me teaching you a lesson on why stealth is always the best school of thought. As well as why you should always respect your elders."
Grabbing the wooden crutch from the ground, he stepped forward and poked Book's back with it. "I suppose I should keep that in mind considering your skill with a crutch."
Book reached behind himself and grabbed the crutch, and sticking it under his arm, had enough balance to let go of Zoe and turn to face the captain.
And Mal was not prepared for what he saw. He had expected that the shepherd who had 'bored' him with many a sermon would be aged a bit, but not this.
Like Mingo, Book's face was marred with a hideous burn scar. One of the holy man's eyelids was completely melted over the now useless organ, and the few inches of skin that surrounded it were a pure, milky white. Hair had been scorched off at random all over his head, and the skin there was marbled a dark, burnt black and the deep, angry red of re-growing flesh. All over his face, there were pockmarks and strips of peeling and burnt skin where flames had licked across it, and his neck was dotted with holes that were presumably left by shrapnel.
Book smirked grimly at Mal's look. "Not pretty is it?"
Mal shook his head. "Nah, but you were always a far cry from pretty, preacher. Ain't that why you never married?"
Book chuckled and hobbled forward to clasp Mal to himself. He was surprisingly sturdy for someone who looked like he had been blown to bits.
After a moment, Book leaned back on his crutch and looked sternly between the captain and first mate. "Now y'all gonna tell me what in the hell is goin' on?"
Mal smiled, and it was genuine. "Sure thing. Seems we've got us some introductions to make anyway."
Ten minutes later, they were all seated in the dining area, and Book had set out tea as he listened to Mal and Zoe recount the story of their capture, time travelling, lives in the 20th and 21st centuries, and their voyage back to the ship.
After their tale was finished, Book just sat silently for a moment, absorbing the new information and sipping on his tea. Mal and Zoe had expected this, and were quietly waiting for his response, but Beckett, the boys, and Alexis squirmed awkwardly in their chairs.
Book looked at the four of them, his good eye sharp and inquisitive. Turning first to Alexis, he studied her appearance, and then smiled. "So you're Mal's daughter?"
Alexis nodded mutely, and Book chuckled. "Gotta say, that surprises me more'n most of this story. The fact that Mal would have a kid." He glanced over at the captain. "He never really was the type."
Alexis felt a surge of protectiveness of her father. "He's a great dad! He gave me everything I needed and more. And no offense, sir, but you haven't seen my dad for over seventeen years. For all you know, he's a completely different person."
Book looked slightly definitely taken aback at her outburst, but then his smile widened, and he looked over at Mal. "Yep. Definitely your kid. Did you at least marry her mother?"
"Hey!" Mal protested. "Of course I did! Marryin' don't always have to be a religious thing, shepherd."
Book smirked. "Yes, but considering the arrangement you had here already..."
The detectives and Alexis were all looking at Mal, their gazes sharp. He rubbed a hand down his face.
"Shepherd, considering she was married seemingly 80 times before me, and a few times after, all without proper annulment, I don't exactly consider it a legitimate marriage."
"Something you'd like to tell us, Mal?" Kate asked.
Mal groaned into his hands. "A crazy bitch sneak attack married me on a junk planet when I was buzzed then tried to steal my ship and kill us all. Twice."
Book sniggered. "'Buzzed' is putting it a bit lightly."
Kate's eyebrows shot up. "Well that explains it." She turned to Book, a smirk on her face. "In that case, you might be interested to know that he's not only been married once, but two times. Well, three I guess if you count the wife from here."
Book smiled. "So, Detective Beckett, what made a lady pretty as you want to work for the government?"
Beckett's face immediately sobered. "Listen…Shepherd, from what I've seen the government of our time is nothing like what you guys are fighting."
"Well, we have a few corrupt politicians," stated Ryan matter-of-factly. "But it's our job as cops to make sure that they get taken out of places of power."
Book nodded. "When Mal said he was working with cops, that's what I figured. The man hates feds so much, every time there's an inspection I'm shocked someone doesn't leave on a stretcher."
"Preacher," Mal broke in, a lopsided smile on his face. "Since we all seem to be telling stories, how about you inform us as to what the hell happened to you?"
The shepherd grimaced. "Like I said, ain't pretty. We were over on Oberon restocking platoons when suddenly the Alliance had us under fire. A few boys were trying to rig up some explosives to launch over when two of them had their feet shot out from underneath 'em. I couldn't just leave them there, so me and the third one started to drag the other two to where they could be treated. It was a mistake though, we weren't 30 feet away when the explosives got hit and blew up anything in a 50 yard radius." He pointed at himself. "Hence, this."
Everyone winced in sympathy, but only three of them knew firsthand what it had to have been like. Book turned to Esposito and just looked at him for a moment.
"You were in a war too, weren't you, son?"
Espo nodded. "Two tours in Afghanistan." Pausing when he realized that Book probably wouldn't know what that was, he clarified. "I served for ten years fighting a war against religious terrorism."
The preacher nodded, understanding lighting his mangled face. He was about to speak when Zoe cut across him.
"As fun as storytime is, we've got some business to be tendin' to." She stated grimly. "River, Simon, Jayne, and Wash have been kidnapped."
Book's eye widened in surprise. "And just how do you know that?"
"River and her weird psychic- thingy. She contacted us telepathically and told us what was going on." Mal said. "She said they couldn't escape or else everyone would die, or something along those lines. Which is why," he punctuated the word by sliding his chair back and standing up. "we're gonna need to start mounting a full on rescue mission." At Book's look, he felt the need to justify himself. "What? No better way to get me and Zoe back in the groove then to go back to our old routine of thrilling heroics."
"Need I remind you," Book started, "that you have civilians on board? Civilians who aren't even from this time period? Including your daughter?"
Mal shrugged. "Beckett, Ryan, and Espo can handle themselves. And as for Alexis, as much as I'd prefer like hell she was elsewhere, she is the one that got us aboard. She's got as much a right as anyone to try and earn her stripes." Alexis grinned with pride, and he winked at her. "'Sides, how else are they gonna decide whether or not they'll want to stay here? Good exposure and whatnot to what living in this time will require."
Book just raised his eyebrow and pushed himself out of his chair.
"Excellent, then if we're all in agreement, let's get to work. Alexis," Mal addressed his daughter first. "I want you to go down to the engine room with Zoe, see if you can't figure out how things work. Just don't break anything I can't replace. And that would be…anything. So just…don't break anything." She nodded and rose, seconds later both she and Zoe were out the door. He then turned to the three detectives. "Ryan and Esposito, I need you to go get Jayne's stash of weapons. His quarters are just through that door, in the corridor to the right. Just open doors until you find the one that smells like feet and has a piece of cloth hanging on the wall next to the bunk. Take down the cloth and grab whatever weapons you deem useful." The two men nodded silently and took off. Mal then turned to Beckett. "Kate, I'm assuming that you guys popped into sickbay real quick, right?" She nodded. "I'm gonna need you to go down there and familiarize yourself with the equipment. There may or may not be some instruction manuals, but seeing as our doctor's been kidnapped, you're gonna have to make do with what you've got. If you find a tablet that has a little stylus with it, that's a link to the codex. Don't download anything, just work with the info that's already stored on it." Beckett nodded and opened her mouth as if to speak, but closed it again and left.
"That leaves you 'n me, preacher." Mal smiled. "Let's go get this ship warmed up and ready to roll."
There was a comfortable silence on the bridge as Mal and Book went through the starting sequences, readying the ship for whatever hell they were about to face.
And then a noise broke through the reverie.
It was a loud, clunking sound coming from the Serenity's right side that seemed to echo throughout the ship. But there wasn't something wrong with the ship.
On the contrary, in fact; the ship was supposed to make that sound.
But only to herald the return of a shuttlecraft.
Mal whirled around in his chair to stare at the quietly cursing Book. He raised his eyebrow.
"Something you neglect to tell me, preacher?"
The old man looked guiltily down at his pants and fingered the gray material for a minute, silently, before speaking. "In my defense, son, I'm an old man, and there's been a lot of excitement today. Bound to happen that I'd forget to say something." The look on Book's face said more than his words ever could.
That was all Mal really needed to understand. There could really only be one situation at hand, once you put the facts together, and the second it clicked, he was flying down the hall. He wasn't all that surprised to see Zoe running towards the catwalks as well, a confused looking Alexis in tow.
They got to the door of Shuttle One just as it started to slide open.
Inara Serra slowly guided the shuttle into its docking station on Serenity. As per their new system, she hadn't radioed the ship beforehand, it was too dangerous to have channels open most of the time what with the Alliance listening into every other broadcast. Nope, now that they weren't only a smuggler ship, but a supply ship for the Second Independence War, they couldn't afford for any screw ups.
Getting up and moving through the silken curtains, she silently padded over the richly colored rug to the bed that lay against the back wall of the shuttle. These were some of the few relics that she had left of her old life- times being what they were, and given the unique situation of the ship, she had sold off most of her belongings to keep Serenity flying. Where her home had once been ornately decorated in the deep golds and reds that she loved so much, now there were only a few bolts of cloth left to cover the cold looking steel walls. Her bed, rug, and a few small statues of the Buddha were the only personal possessions she had left.
Despite this, Inara smiled as she shook the napping woman who lay sprawled out across the bed gently awake. When that only caused her to roll over, she began to murmur softly, "Mei-mei, we're back. You have to wake up now." No response. "C'mon mei-mei." No response. "Kaylee!"
Kaylee Frye's eyes snapped open, and she shot up off the bed. She turned and glared at her smirking friend. "There was no need to shout."
Inara's grin widened. "If you had woken up when I first called, I wouldn't have had to shout." She playfully shoved at the mechanic's shoulder. "Now let's head on out."
Her look turned stern. "We have to do another quick scan before you can go back to the engine room."
As Kaylee groaned, Inara grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the door. "It won't be that bad!" She was still looking at Kaylee when she pressed the button to open the door. "And just think what-"
Inara looked out onto the catwalk that she had just been about to walk on. About a foot in front of her was a man. Not that seeing a man would be that unusual, there were plenty of men around (and she would know).
But this man couldn't be here, he had been gone for years. Her eyes had to be playing tricks on her.
Inara blinked frantically, hoping that she could clear her mind of this vision.
But then, he reached out to her and spoke, his low baritone sending shivers down her spine. "Inara…"
It was him. Malcolm Reynolds was back.
She barely registered Kaylee's scream of delight as Inara fell to the floor in a dead faint.
River slowly gained consciousness, but made the decision to keep her eyes closed. She evaluated her surroundings. The floor was a cold metal, meaning the floor of a ship. There were vibrations shaking it from the engines, and River concentrated on those for a moment. They were "running hot" as Wash would say.
She smelled the air. It was clean, sterilized no doubt. Her clothes were emitting a faint odor from the chemicals that had been used to gas them, but she wasn't horribly worried about it. What she was worried about, however, was the lack of other smells in the room. She couldn't smell her brother's light cologne, Wash's 'lucky socks', or Jayne's 'man-stank'. That meant she was alone.
Taking a deep breath, the young psychic pried open her eyes. The room looked like she thought it would, empty with walls of clean, polished steel. River rubbed her bare arms and wished she had thought to wear something with sleeves.
Then it occurred to her. Why was she rubbing her arms? Her hands should be cuffed together- cuffed to the ground or a table or at least something.
River smirked. Our captors are assured in their victory. Soon they will learn from their mistake.
She sat down, cross-legged on the floor and began to reach for the special place in her mind. Yes. This will be their undoing.
Alrighty! That's all for now folks! Mosey on over to that review button and tell me what you think :)