A/N: The following story can be read in its original format in script form at Virtual Firefly. I started turning these into little ficlets to practice my writing and because I was bored. I didn't write any of the dialogue I just set the scene, that was already there for me. Please, PLEASE google the site and read the original versions because they are AMAZING! These stories are the continuation of the series as if Fox (I spit on them) had never cut short the show! So enjoy as the crew keeps flying!

Here's how it could have been...


Firefly
1x17
Hero Complex

Persephone: Eavesdown Docks

It's a bright sunny day in the bustling bazaar of the Eavesdown Docks. Mal, Zoe and Jayne work their way through the sweaty crowd, talking amongst themselves.

"Three hours," Mal exclaims, "Three hours we wait in his parlour and for what? 'Hello, welcome to my mansion, please won't you have a seat and some smelly cheese too. Oh, and by the way, get out of my house you thief'!"

"Ain't nothin' wrong with free cheese, Mal, no matter how it smells." Jayne grunts.

"He knows we're thieves," Mal continue, ignoring Jayne, "But the second we show him that damn broken laser, he clams up."

"He's got his reasons, sir. If I were him, I wouldn't go near the Lassiter, either." Zoe says.

Mal is off on one and for the large part he's ignoring what Zoe and Jayne are saying to him, choosing to wrapping himself up in his own thoughts.

"Now he's too good to be seen with us. Y'know, Warrick Harrow used to be my very favourite lord with a sash." Mal carries on, shaking his head in disappointment.

It's a particularly busy day in the docks and all three of them are continually getting jostled from all sides by ignorant passers-by.

"Used to be?" Zoe asks.

"Well, he still is. Sometimes he really has a pair, but today was like he was gelded. Just never thought something fits under my coat would be so tough to pass along."

"You could have taken Inara up on her offer to help sell it."

"Inara," Mal smirks, "Would you give that a rest! She so big on helpin' us, how come she ain't here? She was supposed to come by and change his paranoid mind to my liking."

Mal pauses to let a man pass by with two llamas. Jayne eyes the llamas with suspicion, one of them looks right back at him and Jayne looks unnerved by it and he shifts away from it.

Once the llama man has passed they carry on their way and Mal turns back to Zoe.

"She didn't show because she didn't want to show. Made me look like a gorramn fool." he snaps.

"She's scared, Mal. Probably doesn't want to risk running into Atherton Wing."

"Ath! You think he's still holding a grudge against us too?"

"Him and about a hundred others. Maybe you should start killin' 'em, Mal. Wouldn't have to watch out backs so gorramn much." Jayne pipes up having been quiet for most of the conversation.

Mal looks at him and rolls his eyes and shakes his head at Jayne's obvious jump to violence solving everything. Some things would never change and Jayne's cavalier attitude to killing things was a constant.

"Can't kill everyone don't agree with us, Jayne. Badger'd be the first to go, were the case. We walk away and it's their choice to keep a grudge. Nothing I can do about that." he replies.

"You could kill 'em." Jayne repeats with a shrug.

Mal just throws him a look of contempt. Through the busy crowd Zoe spots Inara working her way towards them, cutting a swathe through folks who stop to look at her.

"Speak of the devil." she says nodding her head towards Inara.

Jayne and Mal's hands fly to their guns, looking for targets. Zoe rolls her eyes at them and shakes her head. Sometimes it was like being lumbered with two children. As Inara gets closer, Mal closes the distance between them, his posture and the look on his face belligerent.

"Where were you?" he demands.

"I had some business that tool longer than planned. Did Lord Harrow mention my absence?" Inara asks.

"'Course he mentioned! Do I look like a whore?"

"That's exactly the kind of comment I don't miss when you're not around, Captain." Inara replies managing not to slap Mal for yet again calling her a whore.

Jayne laughs loudly at Inara getting Mal back. Inara and Zoe walk away, smirks on their faces. A small kid carrying a snatched purse rushes through the crowd running towards Mal and Jayne who are beginning to trail after Zoe and Inara. The kid slams into Jayne's back.

"Hey!" Jayne calls out whipping around.

He grabs the kid by the back of the shirt with one hand and the purse with the other. The others aren't aware of his doing this, they're too busy talking amongst themselves, in fact Mal has been talking to the empty space where Jayne was. Jayne looks at the purse which looks expensive then at the kid. The shirt is huge on his little frame and its grimy and dirty, along with his pale face. This kid is dirt poor, his clothes and face grubby, his frame thin. Jayne drops the kid back to the floor.

"Get outta here 'fore I gut you." Jayne hisses.

The kid, now terrified, runs away back into the crowd. Jayne begins to paw his way through the purse, grinning at the spoils.

"Oh, thank goodness!" calls a female voice from behind him.

Jayne looks up at the owner of the voice a woman with short dark hair, attractive and dressed in expensive clothing that matches her purse.

"Thank you for stopping that thief." she says with a smile.

"I was just, um…" Jayne withdraws his hand from the purse quickly, "…Lookin' for some kinda identification."

"Of course. Thank you so much." the woman replies walking closer now.

Jayne hands the purse back, if a little reluctantly. The others have finally realized that Jayne hasn't followed them and they're now cutting their way back through the crowd towards Jayne and his new friend, confused looks on all of their faces, especially Mal who feels like a fool.

"Should be more careful, lady." Jayne grunts to the woman.

"Please, call me Ana." the woman replies giving her a wide grin.

She extends her hand to Jayne who takes a second to realize that she's expecting him to kiss it. Somehow he manages to appear almost gallant in doing so.

"It's so obvious I don't belong here, isn't it? You've already assisted me so much, perhaps I could impose upon you for another favour?" she asks. Jayne looks at her confused by the way she talks to him.

Mal, Zoe and Inara by now have managed to battle their way back through the crowd back to Jayne. Ana smiles coylyat all of them, but her eyes linger on Jayne the longest.

"I'm looking for a ship." she says, not taking her eyes off him.


Serenity: Open Ramp

Shepherd Book is stood right in the middle of the ramp looking rather foreboding, his arms crossed, eyes narrowed. He's looking down at Badger flanked by two of his goons who are trying to look menacing and are failing miserably.

"Got business wi' your captain." Badger replies in his lazy English drawl.

"Already told you he's not here." Book replies in a low warning growl.

"When good Captain Reynolds does get back, you tell 'im I don't appreciate 'im settin' down in my world wi'out-" Badger doesn't finish his sentence.

River pads out onto the ramp to investigate the commotion that Badger is causing, the metal of the ramp warm under her bare feet. She is holding Badger with a soft calm gaze. Badger grins at her, it's not at all a pleasant grin, most of the guys teeth are missing and the rest are a dark shade of yellow. Evidently the smuggling business didn't have a dentil plan.

"Well, luv. Was 'oping I might find you 'ere. Thought maybe we could talk." he says, now ignoring Book.

"Ain't no talking to you. Never listen." River replies, mimicking his accent.

"That's because so few people are worth listening to." Badger replies with a smile.

Simon, who has been looking for his sister all over the ship, rushes down the ramp towards her.

"River!" he calls out, panic raising in him.

Badger gives a little nod to his goons as he looks up at Simon, as if he's presence just confirmed something very important. Mal approaches Badger from behind, a frown growing on his face.

"Thought I made myself clear last time, Badger. You don't come near my ship. You send a wave." Mal yells, practically bristling he's so angry.

Badger turns and Mal is rushing towards him with purpose followed by Inara and Zoe who has her hand on her gun.

"If you answered your waves, we wouldn't have this situation." Badger replies, looking up at Mal who is now almost nose-to-nose with him.

"Maybe you can't see it, but you don't want to be talkin' to me right now, Badger. Walk away." Mal growls.

"Got me 'ands on a priority bulletin a while back. Alliance fugitives. Thought the pretty lass in the picture looked a bit familiar. Miss River Tam, they call 'er." Badger nods his head towards River.

He smiles at Simon who takes an angry step forward, but Book just looks at him and shakes his head. Simon backs down.

"Don't son." Book says, calmly.

"'Ow've you been, Miss Tam?" Badger asks River.

"Been better, luv. 'Ad a right 'ard time lately, what wi' folks chasin' me down like an animal." River replies.

"You ever need protection, luv, you tell Captain Reynolds to give me a call," Badger turns back to Mal, "Good time you're always on the move, Captain. Every time the Alliance sends out a fresh warrant, I know she's okay."

"So you're saying you didn't sell us out, or you won't sell us out?" Mal asks, puzzled.

"Captain, I'm insulted. Alliance money would be tempting, true, but 'aving them nosing around my operation? Can't 'ave that. So you see, I don't make a penny either way, do I?"

"Some folks say silence is golden." River says, tilting her head.

"My silence is certainly worth something, 'specially when it concerns a cute lass such as yourself."

"I've had about enough of this." Simon yells, his rage building. He launches himself at Badger and this time Book has to physically hold him back from setting himself upon Badger.

Kaylee and Wash are now on the ramp, confused by the yelling.

"So what can a lass do to keep you golden?" River asks, smiling at Badger now.

"What did you have in mind?" Badger asks, grinning back.

"We should go dancing." River says, holding out an elegant arm.

Mal watches their interchange, his mouth hanging open in confusion. He doesn't have a clue what's going on anymore and he doesn't much care.

"Before you start planning a date for this thing, I'll remind you that I'm not having my best day ever. I still want you gone. Got a passenger wants off Persephone near as much as I do and I don't want your ugly face 'round here scarin' her off when she shows." he says, narrowing his eyes at Badger.

"Should be nicer to me, Captain. Show me a little respect. Persephone's my 'ome. You send me a wave next time you're coming to Persephone, Captain." Badger replies, tipping his hat to River who curtseys back.

He nods to his goons and they turn, melting into the crowd. Mal starts up the ramp at a lick, River, Zoe and Inara in tow behind him.

"I don't want you near that guy. What were you thinking?" Simon snaps at his sister.

She looks at him reproachfully, a frown on her face.

"He's my friend. We talk the same." River replies lightly, dropping Badger's accent and returning to her usual tone.

Simon steers her back into the ship and out of sight. Wash, who is leaning on the open door smiles at Mal.

"We have a passenger? Where?" he asks Mal, scanning the passing crowd.

"She's with Jayne. Gettin' her stuff." Mal informs him.

"Jayne's the one found her." Zoe adds, joining her husband.

"Shiny," Kaylee exclaims, "I love passengers!"

"Jayne found us work," Wash asks frowning deeply, "Does that seem right?"

Badger hasn't made it all that far into the crowd. He walks right up to the kid who snatched Ana's purse who has been waiting for him patiently. Badger tosses the boy a coin. The boy leaves him with a smile and turns, disappearing into the crowd. He glances back at Serenity as her ramp closes up.

"Persephone's my 'ome, Captain." he sighs, shaking his head.


Serenity: Cargo Hold

Mal and Ana approach Jayne and Book who are working out on a the bench press. Jayne's standing whose spotting Book, who stops what he's doing and raises to a sitting position as Mal and Ana approach. Mal is giving her a full tour of the ship and introducing her to his crew individually.

"Jayne you know already and this is Shepherd Book, one of our long-term passengers." Mal says.

Book stands and executes the perfect bow and kisses her outstretched hand, every inch the gentleman. Jayne is staring at Ana, captivated by her.

"A preacher. On a vessel such as this. Intriguing." she says a eyebrow raised.

"All manner of folk like to hear the good word and this ship visits all manner of ports." Book replies.

"Indeed." she nods to Mal, politely indicating she's ready to move on.

Her eyes linger on Jayne and she smiles at him warmly.

"I'll see you later." she says to him with a grin.

Jayne wordlessly nods at her, a small smile on his face. Mal and Ana walk of, making their way further into the ship, leaving Jayne and Book to their workout. Book sighs and raises his eyebrows.

"I'm surprised Mal's still willing to take on passengers." he says returning to the weights.

Jayne laughs and turns to him, ripping his eyes reluctantly from the spot that Ana went out of view.

"This one don't have no bags big enough t'hide a crazy sister." he smirks, returning to spotting the preacher.


Serenity: Dining Area

River and Kaylee are preparing food together, laughing and joking loudly together while they prepare the protein packs. River is almost passing for normal today, no mad ramblings and no taking the labels off the cans of food. Simon is sat at the table, working on a list of drugs onboard. He glances up at the girls.

"You're sure there's nothing I can so to help?" he asks.

"We're okay, Simon. But thanks." Kaylee replies, her tone neutral.

Simon looks back at his work feeling shut down by Kaylee's tone. He glances at her, but she's not paying attention to him in the slightest.

"So, like I was sayin', there was this time my dad took me to town, I couldn't'a been more'n five or six-" Kaylee begins, talking to River now.

Ana and Mal enter the Dining Area, Simon looks up as they walk past him. Mal is in conversation with Ana.

"Meals're taken here in the dining area. You're welcome to a fair share of what we got and expect you might like to join us for sit-down meals, which is what these young ladies is workin' on." he says to her, pointing at River and Kaylee, who look up from their cooking and nod a greeting, "This is Kaylee, our engineer. And River. She's a passenger."

Simon gets to his feet, hoping in some way that it'll draw attention away from his sister.

"Simon Tam." he says, introducing himself.
"Ships doctor." Mal informs Ana.

Simon takes her hand and kisses it gently, without a prompt. He's the first she hasn't had to offer her hand to.

"Where did you train, doctor?" Ana asks.

"Osiris." Simon replies with a smile, dropping her hand.

"Osiris! Delightful! Perhaps you know one of my friends, Quincy Troy?"

"Quincy," Simon exclaims with a wide grin, "Quince! He was a few years-"

Simon stops suddenly after Mal shoots him a look that tells him to shut the hell up before he gets himself into trouble. Simon clears his throat, embarrassed.

"Yes. Well. A pleasure to meet you, Miss-?" he asks.

"Gurick." Ana replies with a nod.

Kaylee, who has been watching the interchange turns back to the food, feeling uncomfortable. She looks like she wants to be jealous but she just can't muster the energy. Mal leads Ana out of the dining area and heads towards the bridge, giving Simon a dark look.


Serenity: Forward Hall

Mal walks down the hall and pauses when he realizes that Ana hasn't followed him, that she's actually stopped a few steps behind him.

"Miss Gurick?" he calls out.

"Captain Reynolds, I must thank you once again for making this trip." she says.

"Price was right, ma'am."

"It's been a trying time these past few weeks…"

"Trying times. You in some kinda trouble, is that it?"

"My mother passed away." Ana says quietly, she looks like she's just about to burst into tears.

She sniffs and looks down at the floor, holding back the tears that threaten to flow forth. Mal stands looking at her awkwardly, not knowing what to say or do.

"Oh," is about the only thing that he can muster, "That is, um, trying."

"Delivering her ashes to her family estate on Sinhon was… difficult, to say the least."

"I'm sure it was."

"And then, with the rumours of the transportation strike, it took me more than a week to book passage and they would only take me so far. Three ships and more than two weeks just to get to Persephone!" Ana rants.

"So," Mal says clapping his hands together and changing the subject swiftly, "How about I introduce you to the pilot? Set your mind at ease as far as timelines are concerned. You've already met Zoe, his wife. Should be on the bridge."


Serenity: Inara's Shuttle

Inara is knelt in front of the small tea table in her room, practicing calligraphy carefully with a traditional brush. She pauses and takes a sip of tea, then returns to her work. She makes a line on the paper and sets the brush down, frowning. She crumples it up and, with an annoyed sigh, throws it towards a small pile of already crumpled paper on the floor.

There's a knock at her shuttle door and her frown deepens. She wasn't expecting anyone to visit her after leaving Persephone and she was rather enjoying the time on her own.

"Can I come in?" Mal asks from outside.

"Ching jin! Come in!" she says, standing and looking towards the door confused.

Mal pokes his head around the door and enters, his thumbs in his braces.

"Mal, are you okay? What's going on?"

"Huh?"

"You asked before entering. Do I need to fetch Simon?"

"Very funny. Actually, I was thinking about y… your shuttle. Was hoping you could keep Ana occupied for a while. She was telling' me how her mother died, and… you know… compassion just ain't one o' my strengths. Figured she might be comfortable with someone like you."

"A whore, Captain?"

"A… look, she's with Wash right now. Don't like having passengers on the bridge. 'Side, what are she and Wash gonna talk about?" Mal gives a shrug.


Serenity: Bridge

Wash and Ana sit in the bridge, both of them looking very bored. He looks over to her in the co-pilots chair and nods cordially. She nods back, a slight smile on her face. Wash opens his mouth to say something and she leans forward expectantly. But believe it or not, the usual talkative Wash has nothing to say. He closes his mouth again and puffs out his cheeks in a sigh. Wash was pretty sure that he could hear crickets on the bridge.


Serenity: Inara's Shuttle

Mal looks at Inara waiting for her to say something. She bats her eyes at him and sighs, shaking her head.

"What do you want me to do?" she asks.

"I don't know. You're both women of expense," Inara raises her eyebrows at Mal's comment, "I mean, expensive tastes. Do what you folks do. Ain't none of my business."

"None of your business? Why, Captain, this is a day of firsts. Are you certain I don't need to call Simon?" Inara says with a smirk.

She turns away from him and returns to her table, picking up her brush again. She looks down at the paper.

"It's funny, Captain. I was just thinking of you before you arrived." Inara says, concentrating hard.

"You were?" Mal asks, surprised and a little bit confused.

Inara points delicately with her brush towards the pile of crumpled paper with a small smile on her face. Mal frowns first at the pile of paper, then at her.

"You saw some garbage and was thinkin' of me?" Mal asks, more confused.

"No, Captain. Calligraphy. It's so difficult to get it just right. Yet even when it's wrong in some small way, it still is a work of art. Sometimes, the flaws make it more beautiful, unique."

"You plannin' to leave that mess behind when you get off my boat?" Mal asks completely missing her point.

Inara gives a frustrated smile and shakes her head. The man is impossible, why the hell does she even bother? She rolls her eyes at him and looks back at the paper.

"Yes." Inara snaps, answering Mal's question after a long pause.

"Yes, you're going to leave a mess?"

"Yes, you can bring Ana here. She seems like she'd be pleasant company. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change." Inara replies, waspishly.

She flicks her eyes to his face and Mal holds her stare for a long moment and then walks out. Inara continues to stare at the spot where Mal was stood just moments before. She shakes her head and looks back at her paper. After a few seconds, she blinks a few time, shakes her head again and puts her brush back on the paper.


Serenity: Dining Room

The crew and Ana are sat around the table, large plates of protein are laid out in front of them. They're enjoying an evening meal in the low light of the dining room. Everyone is having a good time, despite the poor quality of the meal. Simon is deep in conversation with Ana and they are easily the loudest at the table.

"…We had to leave his pants right there, they were such a mess!" Simon says, obviously just getting to the end of a good story.

Most folks at the table laugh loudly as Simon finishes his story. Jayne looks more than a little jealous that the young doctor is hogging all of Ana's attention. He piles another large spoonful of protein on his plate, clinking the spoon loudly against the side of the bowl. Kaylee looks deeply uncomfortable, not laughing at the story. She keeps her eyes on her plate shifting her food around it sulkily.

"No!" Ana gasps still laughing.

"I swear!" Simon replies.

"Goodness, that's quite a story, Doctor. Next time I wave Quincy I'll have to tell him about it." Ana says, smiling wide.

Simon and Mal share a look of a mix between horror and mistrust.

"Miss Gurick, I'd appreciate it if you didn't." Simon says, his smile dropping like a stone.

Ana frowns at him then raises her eyebrows.

"Have you just broken the Hippocratic Oath or something?" she asks in a playful tone.

Simon says nothing and smiles at her awkwardly, looking down at his food intently. River puts her fork down shaking her head and clearing her throat.

"Please do excuse my brother. Family can be so difficult, can't it?" she says mimicking the way Ana speaks perfectly.

She stares right at Ana who squirms uncomfortably under River's steady, intense gaze. It's Inara who breaks the awkward silence that has fallen over the table. She gazes at Ana steadily, a smile on her face.

"So, Ana, you were telling me earlier that you live on Sherwood now?" she asks politely.

"Yes, my family's ancestral home. It was my mother's really… my father's often away on business and I spend most of my time there. My best friend, Mia, lives on the other side of the planet and her parents have set aside a room for me, so I suppose you could say I have two homes. Three, if you count the family yacht." Ana replies.

"Only one place you can call home, miss. Ours is here. 'Cept…" Mal stares at Inara for long enough to create another awkward silence.

Inara glares at him and he looks away.

"…'Cept the preacher of course. He would say his is beyond them bright an' pearly gates." Mal continues, covering up the awkward moment.

"Mal's right. Technically, I'm a temporary resident -"

"- in an alien land, yes?" Ana says, ending Books sentence for him. Book smiles at her warmly and nods, continuing to eat.

Ana shifts her focus onto Mal now.

"So you make me choose, Captain Reynolds? I choose the yacht. That's my home. Yes." she says.

"And that's the ship we're meeting over Sherwood?" Wash asks.

"Yes, I certainly do hope that you'll spend at least a few hours onboard, if not the night. He hasn't said as much, but I am certain that my father will be planning a belated birthday party. We need a reason to celebrate after mother…" she pauses and holds back tears, "…I would love it if you could be there."

Her offer is met with mixed reactions. Simon, Inara and Kaylee seem interested and there is some enthusiasm among them. Some of the others are of the 'when did we become friends' mindset and one of them is Mal.

"That's a very generous offer, Miss Gurick, but I don't know as that we'd fit in all that well with your friends." he says.

"Nonsense! Perhaps Quincy will even be there." Ana says, trying to tempt Simon.

However it's not what Simon wants to hear at all. Meeting Quincy at a party while he and his sister are wanted fugitives, that could cause a major complication.

"That would be… great." Simon replies, his enthusiasm gone.

"What do you think, Cap'n?" Wash asks with a shrug.

Before Mal has a chance to say anything, Ana presses on.

"I may be exaggerating, but I believe that we have the best food in the 'verse on our yacht. No offence to this fine meal." she says smiling around at the crew at the table.

River silently gets up from her place, abandoning her meal. Nobody sees her get up, not even Simon, everyone is too busy looking at Ana. River moves to the galley kitchen without a sound, looking for something. The conversation continues without her at the table.

"None taken. Wouldn't mind something other than protein myself every now and again." Kaylee says, definitely more perky.

"We have a staff of five cooks, a dining room and a banquet hall… you must see the fireplace in the great room." Ana continues.

"Fireplace - on a ship?" Kaylee says in amazement

"Five cooks?" asks Jayne impressed.

Before Ana can respond to either of them, River returns to the table. In her hand is Jayne's hunting knife. She looks like she's in some sort of chance, standing completely still and staring at her reflection in the cold steel blade.

"See how it shines in the firelight?" she mutters.

Everyone moves at once, most people backing away from the table and yelling. Jayne, shy of the last time the kid held a knife and easily her favourite target sat at the table, jumps up and rushes to the far end of the room. He checks his belt on the way over. His knifes sheath is empty.

"Pinky? Gorramnit, how'd she do that?!" he snaps.

Shepherd Book moves very slowly towards River, making eye contact with her and smiling softly.

"River, dear, why don't you just hand me-" Mal rushes at her as Book speaks, seeing that she's been distracted.

River doesn't resist as Mal prizes the knife from her hand, she just stands there and lets him do it. Mal backs away and him and Book watch her, waiting to see if she's still a threat. River slowly lifts her eyes to Mal's face.

"Once, I was laconic." she says softly, a frown deepening on her face.

Mal sighs and his features soften as he looks at her.

"Yes, darlin', you certainly were." he mutters.

He motions for Simon to take a look at his sister and the doctor moves forward, taking her gently by the hand. Mal hands Jayne his knife back, glaring at him icily.

"Didn't I warn you-"

"Was on my hip, Mal! Don't know how she did it!" Jayne protests, cutting Mal's rant short.

Jayne watches darkly as River is lead out of the room by her brother. Mal looks like he's about to say more when Ana intervenes.

"I think that's enough excitement for one evening. The meal was wonderful. Mister Cobb, would you mind escorting me to my room?" she asks, a little flustered by the event.

Jayne glances at Mal for approval, who just nods. Ana holds out her arm and Jayne takes it, guiding her out of the room. Those left at the table, or still on their feet, look around at each other in confusion.

"Good times. I hope she saved some surprises for the party!" Wash says with a grin.


Serenity: Passenger Dorm Hallway

Jayne and Ana stop at the door to her temporary accommodation in the passenger dorms.

"Talk to Mal yet?" Jayne asks her as she slides open the door. Ana shakes her head, a furrow deepening on her brow.

"I don't believe the time is right." she replies.

"Be in Sherwood soon enough. Time better be right gorramn soon," he looks uncomfortable, "I don't like lyin' to Mal."

"A moment, Mister Cobb." Ana says holding up a slender finger.

She disappears into her room and when she reappears a second later, she is holding a neatly folded piece of paper.

"What's this?" Jayne asks, puzzled and secretly hoping that its some sort of money.

"I did this for you." she says, handing it to him with a smile.

Jayne opens it up with a little look of confusion on his face. It's a beautiful piece of calligraphy, with a single character in bold black on the paper.

"It means 'solitary warrior'," she explains, "You don't think it was just luck that placed you in my path on Persephone, do you? It was fate. It was destiny. You are my champion. My hero."

"Don't say that. I ain't no hero." Jayne replies feeling even more uncomfortable.

"You'll do what needs to be done to save my family."

"Tellin' ya, I don't like lyin' to the captain."

"You can convince him to help."

"I can't convince Mal o' nothin'. Captain's a lotta things, not all of 'em pretty, but he ain't no assassin."

"My dear Mister Cobb, it's not an assassination I require. I merely need an obstacle removed. An obstacle that is destroying the family business and driving the family to ruin."

"Call it what you want, he ain't gonna go for it." Jayne replies, shaking his head.

Ana looks at him hard, a slight frown on her face reoccurring.

"But we still have our deal, yes?" she asks in a firm tone.

There's a silence between them, Jayne looking at Ana warily. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. Jayne nods in agreement after weighing it all up in his head, which takes a while. He grimaces and then nods his head.

"I do it alone, you still pay me like the whole crew helped out." he grunts.

"That was our deal, Mister Cobb. I assure you, my word is good." Ana replies.

"Captain ain't gonna go for it, I'm telling you. Ain't his kinda job."

"Perhaps when we get to Sherwood, he'll change his mind. My father can be most persuasive." Ana says with a little small smile.


Office

The office is expensively furnished, but in a very tasteful way none of the guild and brashness of most well to do people who believe that appearance is everything. It's more like a collection of antiquities. There is a massive wing backed chair, turned away from it's desk, pointed at a communications screen on the wall behind the desk. On it is Ana's face, smiling warmly. Brian, a muscular man with out a single hair on his head, stands protectively next to the chair and the man in it.

"Line's secure, sir. Encrypted signal." Brain says, tonelessly.

"Everything is going brilliantly, Father," Ana says fondly, "The locals I contracted did their part and we should be at Sherwood in a little more than a day. It will be so very good to be back home. I can't wait to see you! I trust you'll allow me my party before things turn… unpleasant."

She smiles brightly and the communications screen fades to black.


Serenity: Cargo Hold

Jayne has spruced himself up in his Sunday best, which to be honest, isn't all that much better than his normal attire. He's wearing a black and white striped shirt, it'd pass as smart if he'd actually attempted to iron it before he put it on. He's hovering around Ana's baggage as if guarding it. Book, dressed in his usual simple preachers garb is stood with him. He has an unusual smear of red across his upper lip and cheek. Ana and Mal are walking slowly along the upper catwalk, talking.

"Look, I appreciate where you're comin' from, Miss Gurick, but that ain't the kinda job me and mine normally take." Mal says, his thumbs tucked into his braces.

"Perhaps once you meet with my father…" Ana shrugs.

"I'll hear him out, but I won't make no promises."

"I appreciate your open-mindedness, Captain Reynolds, and also must thank you for your hospitality on this voyage. I hope that I'm able to return the favour on the family yacht."

"A few hours, that's all. Your daddy wants to talk to me, he'd best not dawdle, 'cause I certainly won't." Mal replies.

By now they have reached the bottom of the stairs and have been joined by Book and Jayne. Mal gives Book a look and motions him to the side to talk to him in privet. Ana does the same with Jayne under cover of doing last minute checks of her baggage.

"You were right." Ana whispers to him.

Jayne gives her a 'told-you-so' look as they busy themselves with the baggage. Mal talks to Book in low tones across the cargo hold from Ana and Jayne who are still checking her baggage.

"Thanks for stayin' behind, Shepherd." Mal says with a smile.

Book smiles and gives him a little nod.

"It's the prudent thing to do. Just bring me some-" Book stops suddenly as Mal points to the smear of red on the preachers face.

"You got somethin'…" Mal mutters.

"River…" Book sighs a reply, rubbing his face with a nearby cloth.

"Ain't blood is it?"

"Not today. Make-up of some sort. I'll keep an eye on things here. You call me if anything seems out of sorts." Book replies.

Mal claps Book on the shoulder and turns to Ana.

"Want to head up to watch the approach?" Mal asks her, nodding up towards the bridge.

Ana takes his arm and Book bows as she leaves. As soon as Mal and Ana have gone, Book turns back to Jayne, holding him with a confused stare.

"This is an interesting side of you, son." he says.

"I hate getting like this, all awkward and gentlemen-like. Most women I got no problem with. But her, she never talks down to me, you know? I can actually talk to her." Jayne admits, smoothing down his shirt.

"Never thought you'd be saving a damsel in distress, but here we are nonetheless."

"It's her eyes. She's like a cat. Woman like that could get you in a lot of trouble if you let her." Jayne gazes up to where Ana left the cargo hold with Mal.


Space

In the space high above the leafy green Sherwood, Serenity approaches Ana's family yacht. Its a ship more than five times Serenity's length. The luxurious ship is smooth and shiny in comparison to Serenity's hard edges and grubby panelling.

The side of the ship closest to Serenity has airlocks dotted along its side making room for half a dozen ships to dock. There's an open deck where smaller shuttles can land. In fact half the airlocks are occupied by a few shuttles and a very expensive looking vessel, smaller than Serenity but definitely classier.

Although the yacht is clearly an expensive investment, most of its lights are off on over half of the decks, it's a fair guess that guests are limited to a few sections of the vessel. The others seem to be shut down for the foreseeable future.

Serenity moves forward through the black smoothly, docking with one of the yachts last available airlocks docking silently. Lights on Serenity slowly blink off until the ship becomes dark.


The Gurick: Airlock

The room although designed for a practical use, is decorated with expensive items. Vases, plants and marble statues are dotted around the airlock, a taste of the expense held within the ship. Captain Newstead, a proper looking man in his mid fifties, bearded and dressed in a smart captains uniform, is stood in the airlock. He is surrounded by half a dozen attendants who are all dressed in smart white naval uniforms. A guard, dressed in black, is stood near the airlock door, the only thing in this room that seems out of place.

The doors before him open, they releases a hiss and a cloud of white steam. Ana is dressed in an expensive looking gown of a rich emerald green, she rushes out, a wide smile on her face. She's incredibly happy to be home.

"Captain Newstead!" she exclaims.

Captain Newstead executes a low bow as do the white clad attendants behind him.

"Miss Anastasia. How good to have you back onboard." he says with a warm smile.

Ana rushes towards him and places an excited kiss on the Captains smooth cheek. The attendants surge forward at once and collect her baggage from Mal, Jayne and Wash. Wash is dressed in extremely vague formal attire that he looks almost ridiculous in, but somehow he's pulling it off. Mal has pulled on a smart slightly worn looking tail jacket over his usual attire. Jayne has donned a big white cowboy hat which he, apparently, thinks he looks awfully good in. Nobody has the heart to tell him that he doesn't. The guard by the door has a handheld version of an x-ray device that he swipes over each member of Serenity's crew, checking for concealed weapons.

Inara, Kaylee and Zoe move past the guard freely after being scanned and Ana introduces each of them to Captain Newstead. Inara is looking very elegant in a low cut but classy dress. Kaylee is wearing the only dress she owns, a big pink fluffy dress that looks like a many layered cake. Zoe looks so out of place in her usual plain clothing, which she has neatly pressed. Jayne is looking around him at the expensive decoration of the room, his eyes wide in amazement.

"Even the walls look expensive." he breaths in wonder.

He's trying to work out how much everything cost, but quickly gives up realising that its pointless trying to.

"Welcome to The Gurick. My name is Captain Newstead." Newstead informs Jayne.

The guard scans Jayne and hit's the poorly concealed knife he's shoved down the side of his trousers. The guard looks at Newstead who nods that he can keep the knife on him. Wash frowns and turns to Mal and Zoe.

"The Gurick? She has a ship named after her? How do I get a ship named after me?" Wash asks them in all seriousness.

They just glare at him to shut up. Newstead however laughs at Wash's comment and smiles at him warmly.

"Actually, the ship is named after Miss Ana's mother's name," he informs Wash in a formal voice, "So, who is the captain of the Firefly-class vessel?" he adds, looking around.

Mal spins round to face Newstead from taking in a low voice to Zoe and awkwardly raises his hand.

"That'd be my boat. Malcolm Reynolds." he replies.

Newstead and Mal shake hands like they are old friends.

"Captain." Newstead says with a brusque nod.

"Captain." Mal echoes a smile starting to creep onto his face.

Ana pulls Zoe and Kaylee to one side, away from the group. She looks up and down at Zoe's outfit, which is essentially is just what she's wears normally with a waistcoat replacing her vest, a sceptical look in her eye.

"My dear, we simply must do something about you clothing." she says, shaking her head.

"No, I don't think-" Zoe starts

"Come on, Zoe! It's fun to dress up." Kaylee cuts across her and grins.

She takes a big twirl, her pink layer cake dress swaying a little dangerously as she moves. Wash has been eavesdropping and he now turns to the girls.

"Sure honey. Just look at Jayne." he says nodding his head towards Jayne.

They all turn to look at Jayne, dressed in his big shiny white cowboy hat, which he has tilted up to look up at his surroundings. Kaylee stifles a laugh and Zoe knits her eyebrows together.

"Maybe…" Zoe sighs, looking uncomfortable by the prospect.

Ana smiles and catches her by the arm before she can get out of this.

"Come! Come! Captain, I'll be taking these beautiful women to my chambers. Please convey the gentlemen to the party." she says already pulling Zoe away.

"Party, Miss Ana?" Newstead asks.

"You don't think Father is capable of keeping secrets from me, do you?" Ana asks stopping and tilting her head on one side, eyebrow raised.

Newstead looks down, a small smile on his face. The women walked hurriedly out of the room, Zoe leaving with more than a little reluctance. Newstead turns back to Mal, still smiling. Mal smiles back at him, finding it hard not to.

"Captain, I haven't been on an aught-three in years. I would love a tour of your ship, if you don't mind." he asks politely.

Mal raises his eyebrows, a little shocked, and gives Newstead a genuine smile. He's really beginning to like this guy.

"Funny. Was gonna ask the same thing." Mal replies.

"I would be honoured." Newstead beams.

Simon and River are the last to leave Serenity and pass through the checkpoint. Simon is dressed in as near as damn it to black tie as he can get. He knows what parties like this are normally like and he has dressed for the occasion. River is wearing a short pale pink summer dress and no shoes, the only thing that seems to be letting down her look is the large amount of make-up she is wearing.

"I still think you should be wearing something less… revealing." Simon mutters into her ear.

"Inara tried to do my make-up. Calligraphy on my face. I changed the characters. Don't they look beautiful?" she asks, ignoring her brother.

Simon is distracted by one of the attendants who are looking at River's legs with a very faint smile on his lips. Simon glares at him and the attendant looks away. The airlock closes with a hiss that would sound sinister in less elegant surroundings. Newstead looks over to one of the attendants who nods to him curtly.

"Robert, will you escort the crew to the party? Captain Reynolds and I will take a brief tour and join you shortly." he says brusquely.

"Want me to tag along, Captain." Wash asks with a shrug.

Mal glances at the two guards, assessing them. They look more ceremonial than built for any kind of action, they're not wearing any type of armour or carrying any weapons. Mal smiles at Wash and shakes his head.

"Not this time Wash. Should be okay." he replies.

"Come on, little man. Food's this way." Jayne says, pointing.

"I hope there's a buffet. I love a buffet." Wash says, his mind now on nothing much else than food.

River who has been looking around the room, walks up to Jayne and stares at him, a slight furrow in her brow.

"What?" he asks, looking at her shiftily.

She just looks up at him sadly and shakes her head disapprovingly at him in a motherly way.

"Get oranges this time. Apples make me sick now." she says with a sad little sigh.

Jayne stares at her, eyes wide.


The Gurick: Hallway

Mal and Newstead walk at a leisurely pace down an elaborate hallway lined with several expensive pieces of artwork, a pleasant conversation has sparked up between them. Mal seems to be enjoying his company.

"So you see, Captain, it's apples and oranges. You walk The Gurick like you're planet-side, but you can't manoeuvre. At full speed, it takes the better part of a day to fully come about, there's so much inertia on this thing." Newstead says lightly.

"Yeah, we're a bit more nimble'n that." Mal replies with a nod and a smile.


The Gurick: Great Room

The great room is exactly as described, great. It's an elaborately designed chamber four times the size of Serenity's cargo hold. The furniture, including a fair number of comfortable chair and tables, are all made of a dark wood, rich cream leather and pale blue silk.

The room is filled with just under a hundred guests. They are dressed in expensive clothing and jewellery, clearly all of them from a wealthy background. Almost all of them have a glass of champagne in their hands and are either sitting down eating slowly or standing and chatting in large circles.

Wash and Jayne are stood at one of the long tables that is covered with a magnificent spread of food. Wash has a large plate which he piles with really anything he can get his hands on that he likes, including a large portion of curly sweet carrots which are really for the children at the party. Jayne has given up on the plate and is eating directly from the buffet. Some guests find it amusing and are pointing him out to their friends, other turn away from him in disgust, returning to their conversations.

Simon, champagne in hand is talking at ease with a group of guests, which include Mia's father. Simon has slipped into place like a hand into a glove and he is beginning to enjoy himself for once. He's also a little distracted as he tries to keep a close watch on River as she mingles with the crowd. He clears his throat and smiles at Mia's father, returning his attention to the group who wait patiently for his answer.

"So the Alliance won't intervene?" he asks, inserting himself back in the conversation.

"Too expensive," Mia's father sighs, "My Mimi over there had reservations to go skiing, but everything was cancelled after the incident. The whole region is a red zone now. Population too low to move troops in…"

Ana, Inara, Kaylee and Zoe walk into the room, all of them looking elegant. Zoe especially looks fantastic in a black, long slinky dress with silver sequin details. Her hair has been tied back into a simple but elegant knot and there's even a hint of make-up on her face. Ana spots Mia and runs to her, kissing her on the cheek and embracing her best friend.

"Mia!" Ana yells joyfully.

Across the room, Wash is one of the many men in the room who are staring at Zoe. Wash swallows hard and blinks, hardly able to believe it's Zoe. "Whoa." he manages to gasp, lost for words. Not taking his eyes of the vision of beauty that is his wife, he sets his heavily laden plate down. Jayne leers at Zoe behind him, then spots the plate. He takes another good look at Zoe then scoops up Wash's plate and walks off with it. Wash approaches Zoe slowly, taking her in. He's smiling like a smitten schoolboy.

"I should have bought you a slinky dress a long time ago." he mutters.

"Yes you should have." Zoe replies with a smile.

They share a long kiss, much to the disappointment of several of the male guests.


The Gurick: Bridge

The bridge is a large, comfortable space, designed much like the rest of the ship with practicality in mind as well as splendour. There are huge windows looking out into space and in front of them are six positions, three on each side of the largest window. Only two of the positions are currently occupied by white uniformed officers wearing headsets. Two more of the black clad guards are stood near the door, these two seem much more competent that the guards Mal passed at the airlock. They watch him enter the bridge with an air of distrust.

Mal and Newstead stand close to the largest window which overlooks Sherwood. Newstead is looking out deep into space, but Mal is giving the two guards the once over with a beady eye.

"Never thought I'd like it, but now I wouldn't go back to a standing bridge. You have all you controls close at hand-"

"You got an awful lotta guards for a yacht, Captain Newstead." Mal cuts in.

"Perhaps Miss Ana didn't explain what her father does for a living," Newstead says, turning to Mal, "He's a merchant and trader, and has made a number of enemies. The guards here give him a sense of security, particularly with respect to Miss Ana's safety."

Mal opens his mouth to comment further but is interrupted by one of the officers on the bridge.

"Sir? Miss Ana's father would like to thank Captain Reynolds personally for bringing his daughter here," the officer pauses, listening to his headset, "He would also like to remind the Captain that his crew is enjoying our hospitality."

Mal doesn't say a word, but his face becomes tight as he sees everything so clearly now. He doesn't know how or why, but he definitely knows that he's just been sucker punched and there is no way out. Not right now at least. The door to the bridge slides open and four guards more guards enter, these ones with weapons.

When Mal looks to Newstead for an explination, he looks very tired and very old. He doesn't look at Mal, but just sighs looking slightly ashamed with himself.

"Captain Reynolds… if you would please come with us…" he says, holding a hand out to the door.


The Gurick: Great Room

The party has become more sedate, more people are sitting and eating now than before. Simon has found himself sat in a large comfortable chair with Kaylee across from him and River beside him. They're sat in front of the magnificent marble fireplace, which is glowing with a roaring with a large fire. Kaylee is looking at it in complete awe, eating from a bowl of strawberries on her lap.

"We used to have a fireplace like that on Osiris." he says to her.

"Wasn't like this one, you can be sure of it. We're on a ship. You can't imagine the amount of rigging there must be behind that brick wall. Must've cost a fortune. They must have to filter it all. Your fireplace just blew the smoke into the atmo…" Kaylee sighs in wonder.

Simon turns to look at his sister and realises that the chair is empty.

"Where's River?" he asks, a little panicked.

Across the huge room, furthest away from the fire, Ana approaches Jayne. She looks at him intently. He is still eating from Wash's plate, nods and pats his hip. His knife's sheathe is empty and his eyes widen as he realizes it.

"Where's Pinky?" he asks in complete panic, his mouth still full of food.


The Gurick: Hallway

River has managed to slip out of the party, unnoticed by anyone, even her brother who has barely taken his eyes off her since they arrived on the ship. She walks slowly, but silently sure footed and alone down the hallway. In her hand is Pinky, Jayne's hunting knife, which she managed to swipe just after they arrived.


The Gurick: Great Hall

Kaylee has left Simon to look for his sister and is talking to a group of Ana's friends, which include the very beautiful Mia. The girls have accepted Kaylee into the group as one of their own. They seem to be as interested in her as she is in them.

"Thanks so much, but it was bought in a store you know." Kaylee replies to an elegantly dressed blond haired girl who has just complimented her dress.

Kaylee seems a little bit embarrassed in admitting it. She looks down at her hands, waiting for the girls to say something mean.

"So was mine. We worked on it a bit. My mother loves to 'design', but I don't mind as long as it makes a few heads turn." Mia replies with a little sexy pout.

They all giggle and look across the room to Simon who is talking to Zoe and a few even look over to Jayne. Simon's face is etched with worry as he talks to Zoe in a hushed tone, Wash has returned to the buffet table. She doesn't look too happy with the young doctor.

"What do you mean you can't find her?" Zoe snaps.

She means to go on, but trails off as Brian enters the room, tall, bald and definitely sinister looking. Brian makes a direct beeline for Zoe, who turns to face him, her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed. Jayne spots what's happening and moves towards them, through the guests.

"Good evening, Mrs Washburne. I need you to listen very carefully. If you want your captain and the shepherd to live." Brian says in a low voice.

Zoe looks around the room for exits to see that there are two guards at each door. She glances at Jayne, who has made it to her side and looks ready to bound into action, but she shakes her head at him.

"Not the place. Not the time. They have the Captain." she informs him.

Jayne backs down and glares over at Ana, who doesn't meet his gaze. Jayne narrows his eyes and grunts in anger.

"We will escort you out of this room quietly, one at a time…" Brian says calmly in his monotone voice.

Jayne looks back at him and grits his teeth.

"This wasn't part of the plan." he mutters to himself.


Serenity: Cargo Hold

Book wanders out onto the upper catwalk having heard something below. He scans the lower cargo bay for any sign of life.

"Captain? River?" he calls out.

"Sorry, Shepherd." River whines out of sight.

Book looks down as three red spots from laser light sights that appear on his chest hovering over the spot where his heart is. He looks back up, his jaw clenched. There are four guards in the cargo hold, three pointing their rifles trained on Book and the fourth is holding Jayne's knife to Rivers throat. She looks up at Book, scared and a little sad.

"Should've locked up Pinky with the others." she mutters, a quiver in her voice.


The Gurick: Security Door Hallway

Captain Newstead, Mal and the four black clad guards that are following the two Captains, stop in front of a large airlock security door. Mal looks around, a slightly nervous look on his face. He's searching for a way out but the weapons the guards carry are trained on his back and with no gun at his side, he knows there is no escape. Mal glares at Newstead with a mix of betrayal and disgust. Newstead looks down at the floor, ashamed and unable to make eye contact with Mal. The huge security door in front of them opens with a hiss of steam and through this mist, two more guards emerge. The mist clears until a small figure is visible through the mist. The figure steps forward into the light.

It's Adelai Niska, dressed to kill in a smart black suit with a green cravat. He's practically bouncing with excitement, a smug look on his face.

"Welcome aboard, Captain Reynolds. Thank you for bringing my daughter home." Niska says with a wide evil grin.

Mal's mouth falls open and his eyes widen in shock. The penny slowly drops, a set up, he should have known. It takes him a second to gather himself and then he's angry. Very angry.


The Gurick: Torture Room

Niska is illuminated by a stark white light, the room around him inky black. He stares deep into the eyes of Mal, who is being kept in a room next door, a pane of glass between the two of them. There's a look of deepest loathing between them, Mal winning their stare off with all of his heart.

"Ah, Captain Reynolds. So good to see you are up and about. This is a very exciting day, yes?" Niska asks, beginning to grinning wildly.

The small gray walled room he is looking into is lit by the single light and there's only one point of entry, a gray door to the left of him. Mal is in the centre of his equally illuminated room, strapped into a metal contraption that pulls his arms up and out, stretching him out to the point where it's painful to move. Mal glares at him through the window, willing it with every once of his being for Niska to drop dead.

"What's gonna be exciting is when I get outta this thing and stop that voice box of yours from squawking… permanently." Mal growls, straining against his bonds.

Niska laughs to himself, genuinely delighted by Mal's response.

"This is not what will happen, Captain Reynolds. Perhaps you do not understand that your crew is under my power. Your entire crew." Niska replies calmly, his voice sounding tinny through the small speaker in Mal's room.

Niska smiles to himself as he watches Mal comprehend what he's said. He sighs happily as it dawns on Mal's face.

"You are a simple man, Captain. You live in a world of gray, but you see things in black and white. So, perhaps you will not understand what this is about. You are thinking this is vengeance, yes?" Niska asks.

"Gonna be when I'm loose." Mal growls back, straining against the straps.

"Because of you, I am no longer respected. No longer feared. My reputation, yes, is dust. Because of you, my business is no longer good. But today is not about you. Not about vengeance," Niska pauses and takes a deep breath, "Vengeance will not bring my business back, or return my beloved Veronica to me. If I break you, however… if I destroy the good hero Captain Malcolm Reynolds, whose crew so valiantly stood up to the terrible Niska… then… then my reputation is solid again. Then Adelai Niska is to be feared, yes? But we have a dilemma, do we not, Captain? When we met last, I killed you-"

"And yet I let you live. Not a mistake I'll be repeatin'."

"So," Niska continues, beginning to clean his glasses, "How to break a man who has died once already? You see what we will do, yes? Today is not about you, Captain…"

As Niska trails off, lights around him flicker on until the whole room is brightened. Behind the old man is Wash and Zoe, strapped into torture devices, facing each other. Wash looks terrified, sweaty. Zoe on the other hand looks at Niska with cool calculated hate. Between them stands Brian, a wicked smile on his face.

"Today is about your valiant crew." Niska says grinning again.

He hit's a button turning the window into a one way mirror, Zoe and Wash are hidden from Mal's sight. Screams begin to echo around Mal and his face tightens.

"No, no! Don't touch her! Me! Hit me! Please!" Wash's voice yells desperately, his voice choked with fear.

Mal's jaw is set and he pulls hopelessly on the straps, his eyes fixed on the point where Niska's face was looking at him as the screaming echoes around him, Wash's screams now joining Zoe's.


The Gurick: Bridge

Newstead and Ana are on the large walkway on the upper level of the bridge looking out into the vastness of space. They speak in hushed tones as attendants hurriedly pass them attending to their daily duties. Newstead flashes worried looks at them.

"…First time I've seen him since you left. The upper decks have been off limits for weeks. The cooks are afraid to even cook for him since Maurice disappeared. Morale is so low among the crew, and Brian… he walks around the lower decks as if he owns the very world beneath us." Newstead explains with a shake of his head.

"Captain…" she sympathises laying a hand on his arm.

Newstead looks over Ana's shoulder, nervously checking on the guards at the door of the bridge. His eyes flick back to Ana, full of complete fear.

"I hate to speak of your father so, but since your mother…" Newstead trails off.

"He killed her as surely as if he pulled the trigger himself." Ana replies coldly.

"Miss Ana, I don't know how we'll keep the ship afloat. We can barely afford fuel and all he does is order more and more equipment that Brian brings to the upper decks. Heaven knows what he's doing up there. I suspect he may be building some sort of gulag-"

"Captain!" Ana exclaims.

Newstead takes a deep breath realising that all his panic and fear of the past few months has crept into his voice. Ana is looking up at him, a sad look on her face, eyes brimming with tears.

"Eddie, please…" she whispers, "Stay with me on this. I have a solution. Things are going to change around here. It's going to be alright."

Newstead takes another steadying breath and nods.


The Gurick: Torture Room

Wash and Zoe have been replaced by Kaylee who is unconscious, her face already beginning to swell with bright purple bruises. Niska and Brian look at each other in disappointment and at her in annoyance. On the other side of the mirror, Mal is breathing hard, his mouth dry and his eyes wet, but he refuses to cry in front of this tyrant.

"That was certainly disappointing," Niska mutters, "Next, Brian, please bring me someone with some stamina. We want to have a little fun, yes?" he adds.

Brian grins and flexes his fingers.


The Gurick: Ana's Room

Ana is clearly a girl of expensive taste as everything in her room is beautiful from the thick ruby red carpet to the silk sheets on her bed. There are many pieces of art decorating the walls and even the ceiling is painted to reflect Michael Angelo's Sistine Chapel from Earth-That-Was. Jayne is asleep on the golden silk of her bed, snoring loudly. A loud beeping noise across the room wakes Jayne and he sits up quickly, blinking hard and looking round for the noise.

"Whuh?" he mutters, confused.

Across from him on the dresser the mirror transforms into a screen and Ana's face appears. She gives him a fleeting smile, which he returns with a frown.

"I can only speak for a moment before the guards become suspicious." she says quickly.

"What the gorramn hell happened?" Jayne asks angrily.

"You were stunned. The entire crew was-" she flinches back as Jayne jumps off the bed and comes up close to the mirror.

If he could he would reach right through it and strike her down. She gives him a pained look, her lip quivering.

"It was the only way to get you here. An unavoidable complication." she explains.

"Better uncomplicate it." Jayne grunts.

"I need to explain a few things, Mister Cobb. I was not entirely honest with you."

"Yeah? You think?"

"The obstacle that needs to be removed… the man destroying my fathers business… it is my father." Ana replies.

Jayne's eyes widen.


The Gurick: Cell Block

The cell block is really a short dead-end hallway that contains five barred cells on either side. Simon, River, Book, Inara, Zoe and Wash are in a cell each. Zoe and Wash are worse for ware already covered in bruises and cuts. Wash is looking through the bars at his wife grasping her bloodied hand, worry in his eyes.

The door into the cell block opens and every one turns to see Kaylee being wheeled into an empty cell. Some turn away, horrified by her appearance, but Simon presses himself against the bars of his cell his hands outstretched.

"Let me see her," he yells desperately, "I'm a doctor. Please."

The guards ignore Simon and slam Kaylee's cell door shut, leavening her in a heap on the cold floor breathing rapidly. Brian turns to the guards and nods his head towards Simon, a sadistic smile on his face.

"He'll do." he grunts.

The guards approach the cell and wrestle the squirming Simon out of his cell. Try as he might, he can't break free of them. He's dragged kicking and biting from the holding cells, yelling to be let go to tend to Kaylee.


The Gurick: Ana's Room

Jayne is still staring at the mirror and Ana's image, his arms folded a mixture of fury and hurt on his face. He's been played, he doesn't know how, but he definitely knows he's not happy about it.

"Mister Cobb, please stay with me," Ana pleads, "As I say, I only have a few moments. I convinced him to give you to me as a gift-"

"A what?" Jayne snaps.

"But the rest of your crew are currently enjoying his, shall we say, hospitality. Eliminating my father is the only way to free them."

"Where's the old man?"

"The upper decks. I'll come and get you shortly. Don't worry."

"Make it quick. I don't sit well in a cage." Jayne looks around the room.

Ana visibly relaxes, her shoulders dropping a little. She risks a slight smile at him.

"Do we still have a deal? You'll go through with this?" she asks.

"Don't seem like I got a ruttin' choice, do I," Jayne pauses, squints at Ana, "But I want double."


The Gurick: Torture Room

Niska and Brian are looming over Simon who is gritting his teeth in pain. Not a sound passed his lips, despite the pain he is in. Niska has a bloody scalpel in his hand and there are several rows of tiny cuts on Simon's hands and arms.

"You're the ship's physicion, yes," Niska asks looking down Simon's arm, "So, tell me please, when you are injured, who it is who heals you?"

He picks another spot on Simon's arm and adds another cut to the collection that is growing. Simon glares at him, his face tight in anger.

"Go to hell." he mutters.

"Ah, yes, I will meet you there, as they say." Niska replies with a nasty smile.

He looks up at Brian and gives his friend a genuine smile.

"This, this is the fire I was looking for. This was a good selection." he says.

"Shall we bring his sister in next, sir?" Brian asks carelessly.

Simon's eyes widen in horror and he begins to try and wrench himself free of the chair and launch himself at Niska.

"No! Don't you dare touch her, you bastard!" Simon yells.

Niska jumps back in surprise and laughs.

"Oh, ho!" he yells almost jumping in excitement at the fire he's brought forth.

He holds his hand out to Brian who hands him a small silver antique salt shaker. Niska sprinkles it over the bleeding incision he's just made on Simon's arm and the doctor winces. Brian puts his hand over the wound and twists his wrist, grinding the salt deep into the cut. Simon screams in pain and beside him Niska claps gleefully, hopping from foot to foot.

"Excellent. Oh yes! The more you scream, doctor, the easier, perhaps, it will go for your sister." Niska yells over Simon's screaming.

Simon screams louder, tears jumping into his eyes.


The Gurick: Ana's Room

Ana's brow furrows slightly, but she doesn't miss a beat.

"Double? Yes. Done. A final request, however. The crew members in white uniforms are retainers of my mothers family. They are my father's prisoners as surely as your crew is. Please promise me you won't hurt them." she says quickly.

"Listen, lady, I don't make no promises I ain't gonna keep." Jayne grunts.

"I'll come for you shortly, but please look under my pillow. I've left you a present. It was the best I could do with security being what it is." she sighs.

Her face disappears and the mirror becomes once again, a mirror.

"Gorramn it." Jayne huffs, shoving the dressing table hard as he storms across the room to Ana's bed.

He picks up one of the pillows and tosses it over his shoulder. Underneath it is his hunting knife, Pinky.


The Gurick: Torture Room

Niska has moved onto his next victim after Simon passed out. It's now River that occupies the chair. Niska is beginning to look dishevelled, his shoulders rounded, showing his age. For the first time looks vulnerable and tired. River is staring deep into his eyes, unblinking and most definitely, unnerving.

"I know you." she mutters.

"Stop saying that!" he snaps. He smacks her across the face with the back of his hand for the umpteenth time leaving a fresh mark on her cheek.

She slowly raises her head and looks back at him and deep into his eyes again, boring into his very soul it would seem.

"I know you." she mutters again.

"You don't know me." Niska replies, a little on edge.

"I know the real you." River says with a smile.

Niska is getting nowhere with her, it seems that he's unable to break her in any way. In fact she has hurt him more than he could ever hurt her and he's beginning to fall apart at the seams.

"Brian?" Niska says looking up at him.

Brian moves forward to strike her himself. She looks into his eyes now.

"Apples, oranges. Doesn't matter. All the same. All red." she says.

Brian slaps her hard with the back of his ringed hand. Her head snaps back and she begins to giggle uncontrollably. Brian flinches away from her, deeply disturbed by her reaction. She swings her head forward again, her hair covering her face.

"You're hands will bruise but not scar! They aren't blue!" she snarls, then throws her head back and screams with manic laughter.


The Gurick: Quarters

Another of the black clad guards is positioned by one of the doors along the long hallway. Ana walks towards him and looks up at him with bright eyes.

"I would like to see my guest." she says breezily.

The guard looks down at her swiftly, then looks straight ahead again.

"Your father's orders are you're not to be left alone with him." the guard replies.

Ana rolls her eyes and nods giving him a sad little look. The guard sighs and opens the door, one hand on his firearm. He's stupid enough to keep his eyes off Ana and she reveals a palm sized device that was clenched in her hand. She touches the back of the guards exposed neck and with an electric sizzle the guard drops to the ground stunned, eyes wide. Ana pokes her head around the door.

"Alright, Mister Cobb-" she stops short as she looks at the room around her.

She is completely flabbergasted. The whole room has been practically destroyed, bed sheets are torn, curtains shredded, anything and everything that could be broken has been broken. It looks like a tornado has ripped through it.

Sat on the end of the bed amongst the chaos is Jayne, casually cleaning his fingernails with Pinky. He flicks his eyes up at her and then around the room at his handiwork, grinning from ear to ear.

"Told you I don't sit well in a cage." he replies with a shrug of his shoulders.


The Gurick: Torture Room

Mal has his eyes closed tight and he's shaking from head to toe. Whatever is going on in the next room, it's brought him close to his limit. He breaths heavily as the speaker unit in the room crackles.

"Shan Yu was five foot six. Just like Napoleon. Did you know that?" Book's curious voice asks.

These's the sound of another punch hitting the shepherd.

"Inferiority complex, I say." Book continues, unfazed by the blow.

There is another blow. Another blow is quick to be administered. Book coughs for a few moments, the wind knocked out of him by the fresh strike.

"Exactly how tall are you, Mister Niska?" he asks.

On the other side of the glass, hidden from Mal's eyes, Book is being held up by nothing but the chair. He's badly battered with a bloody nose and one of his eyes already swelling shut. He is taking the brunt of Niska's frustration of not being able to break River.

Niska seems to be ageing several years by the minute. This run in with the shepherd and his inability to break him too, seems to have made him fall apart at an alarming rate. His hair is dishevels and his clothes ruffled. He flings his hand out to Brian who hands him a sizzling electric prod. He savagely pokes at Book with it, who screams as it touches him. Niska smiles and he hands the prod back to Brian, feeling a little more composed now. Niska straightens his hair and takes a second to walk around to Books other side, surveying the damage.

"How familiar are you with the works of Shan Yu?" he asks.

Book lifts his head with effort and looks Niska in the eye a smile growing on his face. Niska takes a deep breath, ready for whatever he was about to say next.

"How familiar are you with the Gospels," Book asks, he turns his head, "Go on. Here's my other cheek."

Niska's eye twitches. That, he was not expecting.


The Gurick: Ana's Room

Jayne picks up the unconscious guards gun with his free hand, Pinky still grasped in his other . He looks up at Ana, his face unreadable.

"Got some kinds cunnin' plan to get me to your daddy so's I can kill 'im?" he asks shrugging.

"I have a route laid out. You should be able to avoid most of guards, until you get to the upper levels-"

Ana is so busy laying out her plan to him, that she doesn't really notice him circle her until he's stood behind her. He gabs her and whips her round to face him and places his knife to her throat.

"S'okay, I got a plan of my own, little lady." he says with a grin.


The Gurick: Torture Room

Niska stands in front of the mirror, he smiles through to Mal even though he can't see him. Inara is sat in the chair behind him, she's crying slightly, her face stained with her make-up. She has deep purple bruises up and down her arms.

Brian is stood over her menacingly, holding a tray of acupuncture needles in one of his beefy hands. A flaming torch flickers beside him. He passes one of the needles through the fire until it glows a hot red. He leans over Inara's body and sticks it into Inara's neck next to two others already embedded in her. She whimpers in pain but doesn't cry out, scrunching her eyes as tightly as she can. Niska looks at her, excitement in his greedy little eyes that glint coldly in the firelight. Niska looks back to Mal.

"Brian is… quite the man. Not of your calibre, Captain Reynolds, but quite effective. I told him not to scar her beautiful face. Her beautiful body. But beneath the surface, all is, how you say, fair game, yes?" he says.

He hit's a button and the mirror disappears. Mal's jaw is so tight in anger that his teeth could crack at any minute, the muscles working hard. He can now see Niska with Inara behind him, her face twisted in unimaginable agony.

"You do not need to worry, Captain. She will live. She will appear… undamaged. And after Brian has finished his work, she will feel no pain ever again. Of course, she will feel no pleasure as well. Unfortunate for her line of work, but this is the trade-off, yes," Niska smiles as Brian twists a needle and Inara calls out in pain, "She will feel nothing when I let my troops have her - those poor little boys have never known the love of a companion-which should be a comfort to you." Niska strokes her dark hair back, revelling at it's silky softness and smiling as Brian places another needle in her neck.

Mal rages against the straps that hold him in place, pulling at them hard, his eyes on Inara's face. Blood is dripping down his arms, his wrists are raw and bloody from trying to break free. His chest is ready to explode with pain and his heart is threatening to burst free from his chest.


The Gurick: Security Station

The security station is located on the far side of Niska's security controlled door. Three guards are lounging there, inactive and bored, they have their feet up and are drinking coffee from shiny tin mugs. One of them glances at a console with Ana's face on it and sits up, nudging his companions. She looks awfully nervous and her usually pale cheeks are flushed.

"I'm here to speak with my father. Open the gate." she says, a little waver in her voice.

The guard looks at the others, who shrug back and just lean back in their seats sipping their coffee again. The guard hit's a few buttons on his computer and the security door hisses open in a burst of steam. Ana steps through and behind her is a much, much larger silhouette.

It's only now that the guards realize that something is most definitely wrong. They rise to their feet dropping their coffee mugs, reaching for their weapons as Jayne steps through the steam firing blindly through the mist of steam. White cowboy hat on his head, Alliance blaster in one hand, knife in the other, he's all space cowboy right now.

The first guard drops, then the second, but when Jayne aims at the third, the blaster seems to just make him wobble. The other two get back up to their feet looking a little dizzy and very much not knocked out. Jayne set his face into a scowl, where did the Alliance get off selling this rubbish?

"Gorramn piece of-" Jayne growls.

Jayne storms into the room and fires at the first guard repeatedly until he finally drops and stays down. Jayne turns and smashes into the second guard who is still, swaying dizzily. He hits him with the butt of the gun and he falls back to the ground definitely out of it this time.

The third guard, the one that let Ana into the security station in the first place, has hit a few more buttons on the computer. Jayne grabs him by the scruff of the neck and smashes his head into the computer. Hard. There's a horrid cracking noise as the man's face seems to implode and the computer screen sparks intermittently.

Ana is almost at the door now and she's backing out slowly, shaking her head in horror. Jayne cuts her off in two long strides. He grabs the top of her arm, stopping her from going anywhere, especially back from where she came.

"Where's Mal?" he growls.


The Gurick: Torture Room

Brian looks down at a small beeper device on his belt as it vibrates. The little device is flashing red. He looks up at Niska, his jaw set.

"Sir, there seems to be a situation. I'd like to check it out." he asks in his monotone.

Niska barely hears Brian. He's staring at Inara with a glimmer in his eye, he is enjoying this crew members suffering very much. She has more than a dozen long needles sticking out of her neck now. She looks blind with pain unable to even whimper.

"Yes, yes." Niska replies absentmindedly.

Brian puts the last of the needles down and leaves the room swiftly. Niska moves forward and savagely twists one of the needles in Inara's neck.

Inara's scream comes through the speaker into Mal's holding room. He's breathing hard, as if he's the one that's sat in that chair having needles put in his neck. He is as far forward as he can reach.

"Did you know what Brian did during the war, Captain? He was in intelligence. He asked people questions, yes, and they gave him answers." Niska explains.

Inara screams again, louder, longer this time.

"This beautiful creature, she must only answer one question for me," Niska turns from Inara and looks right at Mal, "Has she seen the real Malcolm Reynolds?"


The Gurick: Upper Deck Hallway

Jayne races down the hallway at top speed. He doesn't pause as he reaches a four way intersection and he sure as hell doesn't see Brian waiting for him until he's been clotheslined and is looking up at him from the flat of his back. The hat on Jayne's head goes flying as he lands on the floor, as does the knife, leaving him unarmed and more than pissed off.

Brian smiles down at Jayne as his eyes narrowed and studying him hard. This man might be a slight challenge. He takes a step back and drops into a defensive martial arts stance. Jayne gets to his feet slowly, gasping for breath. Brian smiles and licks his lips expectantly.

So focused is Brian on Jayne, he doesn't see Ana step out into the hall armed with one of the energy guns and she plugs him square in the chest half a dozen times. Brian dances back and topples over, possibly dead. Jayne whips round and gives Ana an admiring grin.


The Gurick: Torture Chamber

The door of Mal's chamber opens wide and Jayne rushes in. He never takes his eyes off Mal as he runs across the room.

"Jayne?" Mal exclaims, eyes wide.

Jayne tries to cut one of the straps holding Mal with his recovered hunting knife, but the straps are too tough to cut through and his hands are shaking too much with the adrenaline of the fight. He takes a look at the locks and grimaces, they're far too complicated for him to bust without his pistol. Jayne grunts in frustration, but he keeps trying to free Mal, working on the straps.

"I didn't know." Jayne says shaking his head.

"What are you-"

"In earnest, Mal, I didn't know when I took the job!" Jayne says, not waiting for Mal to finish.

Mal's face goes from confusion to a steely gaze in a flash, but Jayne doesn't see, he's trying too hard to Mal free, blunting his knife with every saw of his blade. There's another scream from Inara from the other room. Mal and Jayne both look up and Jayne's face drops, no way did he see this one coming.

"Niska?!" he exclaims in shock.

He turns back to Mal, trying even more desperately to free him with the dulled blade. There's a whimper from Inara, a racking sob.

"Go." he yells loudly to Jayne.

Jayne doesn't have to be told twice.

Niska passes another needle through the torch until it glows, oblivious to Jayne trying to free Mal in the other room.

"I am not expert in the nervous system like Brian, but I believe…" Niska trails off as he places the needle in Inara's neck, his hand shaking nervously.

The door behind him jiggles a little but it doesn't open.

"Brian? So difficult to work with such distractions, yes?" he mutters, shaking his head.

Niska moves to the door, starting to open it. Jayne slams it open wide and the door hits Niska in the face and sends him flying across the room with a loud crack. His glasses fly off his face and are flung into a corner of the room, smashing as they hit the wall. Jayne is relentless a force of nature as Niska tries to run from him, an tired, cowardly old man.

"Brian," Niska gasps helplessly, Jayne grabbing him round the neck, "Brian where are you!"

Mal watches helplessly as Niska is slammed against the window, his face smashing against it and leaving a bloody smear on the glass. Once. Twice. He's pinned against it and lifted off his feet from behind. He looks pathetic, an old confused man, his eyes sunken and dark, his nose and mouth bleeding.

This is the real Niska and he stares at Mal through the glass, just a sad old man forever alone, betrayed by his own daughter. He coughs up a splotch of blood onto the glass. His eyes close and he drops out of sight. Jayne stands above him, his hands covered in the old mans blood, holding Pinky tight in his gore covered hand. The blade, although streaked with Niska's blood, gleams bright in the light of the flaming torch.

Jayne smiles a little and nods at Mal as if to say, 'I took care of it'. Mal's face is unreadable, he's breathing slowly now. He doesn't nod back, but glares at the merc with increasing haterid in his eyes.


Serenity: Dining Room

Mal is glaring, fierce and angry at a forlorn looking Jayne who is sat down the table from him, his shoulders rounded and hunched. It's just the two men in the room, glaring at each other in silence. When Mal finally opens his mouth, it's in a savage low tone in which he speaks,

"Shepherd's gonna be laid up for near a week, others'll have scars for life. You don't learn a damned thing, do you?"

Jayne nods, accepting what is being said, not attempting to put into words how sorry he actually is. He knows that he's made a damn big mistake… and he might not be able to fix it this time.

"You lied to me, Jayne. Took a job behind my back, endangered my crew. You got anything to say for yourself," Mal growls.

Jayne shakes his head, not taking his eyes off the tabletop.

"What did you think? You'd kill Niska, bring us the coin we need? Save the day? Be a big hero?" Mal shrugs, shaking his head.

"Mal, it wasn't like that-" Jayne starts, but Mal silences him with a look.

"You know Shepherd Book spoke up for you. Kaylee too. Even the doctor. Said you're too stupid to try to play hero. Me? I don't know. Give me one good reason not to leave you on that yacht. Or maybe just outside it."

"You killed Niska last time, none of this woulda happened." Jayne replies defiantly.

Mal's eyes go hard and his jaw clenches tightly. Rage bubbles just below the surface of his glare.


Serenity: Cargo Hold

Newstead, hands high above his head, stands over a small, heavy looking case a little bit larger than a shoebox. His face is sympathetic and truthfully upset with the way things have turned out between himself and the crew of Serenity.

Wash and Zoe are there, both with guns trained on him, both of them look dog tired and more than a little worse for wear with their matching bruises.

"Miss Ana sends her apologies-"

"Probably for the best Miss Ana sent them 'stead of coming herself. Captain said not to shoot you if you showed." Zoe says, cutting across Newstead.

"I think he has a soft spot for you. Might be the uniform." Wash shrugs.

"Miss Ana-" Newstead starts again.

"Captain said not to shot YOU." Zoe says pointedly.

"Miss Ana hopes that, when wounds have healed, you might understand that there's no need for our crews to be enemies." Newstead finally says.

Zoe looks at Wash who just shrugs and waves a hand towards the Captain for him to go on. They might as well let the guy speak his piece seeing as he's not going to shut up until he spits it out.

"She wishes it didn't have to be this way, as do I, but Adelai Niska needed to be eliminated. Had she not led you into this trap, someone else would have and it's quite likely your crew would not have walked away-"

"Yeah, yeah," Wash butts in, getting bored of the specifying much quicker than he thought he might, "Great. Just take your coin and go."

Newstead sighs and nods understandingly, bending down to pick up the case. Zoe waves the gun at him, motioning for him to put the box back down and back away from it.

"You go. Leave the money." she says coolly.

"But, honey, it's blood money. Right?" Wash protests.

"Our blood, our money." Zoe reminds him, pointing at a particularly deep cut on her cheek which is still bleeding slightly.

Wash nods, a defiant look on his face, slight tears in his eyes.


Serenity: Dining Room

Mal is stood glaring at Jayne with the looks of a man who could flip out at any second and end up punching something or maybe shooting it several times, and that includes people. His breathing is heavy and his eyes narrowed he glares at Jayne every ounce of anger on his face.

"You're off my boat." Mal says, his voice calm.

He walks off, his shoulders hunched over, tired, weary from the torment that he's been through over the past few hours.

"You screw up one more time and you're off my boat. This is your last chance. Ain't no more." Mal adds.

Jayne looks up, wanting desperately to say something. To stick up for himself, to apologize again, to say something that can smooth all this over. But Mal is already out of the room, heading to his bunk and Jayne honestly doesn't know what to say. He closes his mouth and juts his jaw forward sullenly. He unsheathes Pinky, looking at his reflection in the grimy pink hue of the blade. He spits on his reflection and begins to clean the blade with his shirt, wiping away the blood and dirt ready to sharpen its blunted edge.


Space

Serenity's lights flicker on and she disengages from The Gurick smoothly. Serenity turns away from her, her rear glowing with a soft yellow shimmer. She speeds out into the black and quickly looses sight of the smooth lined yacht, more than happy to leave its expensive hallways and dark memories behind.