A/N: I was inspired for this round. I had magically ambitious goals of a big long epic fic. A western! And what the hell, a sci-fi western! A crossover, too - who cares if I only saw the show and not the movie! And it'll probably be about 10,000 words long!

Then the whole thing collapsed around me when I tried to piece it together. I've never had a piece of fiction blow up in my face quite as badly as this.

(Most of the problems were because I put Mai and Joey in it, so they tried to take the whole thing over. Serenity didn't get a chance to DO anything for the first third of it because Mai was there and did everything instead. And I spent too much time researching planet names.)

The following is a short scene from what was supposed to be a much longer fic. I'll expand on it more in the next round, but it's still not going to be as epic as I'd hoped. Alas. I guess I learned something, but it was damned disappointing to spend 8-ish hours trying to rescue this thing and having to post an eighth of it.

Disclaimer: Not mine, not for profit.


Serenity floated into consciousness. A warm hand rested on her shoulder; it was replaced rough fabric on her bare skin and searing pain. It dragged a cry out of her, though she had no strength left to so much as open her eyes. A muffled voice called her name.

Joey…?

She remembered her brother, arms around her. Malik's face contorted with pain; then suddenly laughing and crazed. Gunshots. Both of them falling to the floor. Joey bleeding from more than one bullet wound. Jangling spurs. Malik leering over the both of them, smoking revolver in one hand and picking up her brother's wide-brimmed hat with the other. Another BANG, fire in her arm, and unconsciousness.

The voice called her again and pulled her out of the flashes of memory. She opened her eyes to darkness, and for one horrifying moment, she thought she was blind. Then someone came into view, dimly lit from a torch on the wall. She blinked. Malik looked down at her.

Suddenly awake, she tried to get away from him. She put weight on her right arm, forgetting the wound. She fell heavily back to the ground with a pained shout.

"Don't move," Malik cautioned. Serenity tried to push herself away from him with her other arm. He held his hands out to placate her, but she kicked at him.

"Get away from me!" She shouted. He looked as though she'd hit him round the face, but he kept his tongue. Malik stood, throwing shadows in the dim torchlight. Serenity watched him back slowly away from her, to a large stone sealing the entranceway. They were trapped in the old mine.

Malik opened his mouth to say something, but decided against it. He turned back to the stone blocking the exit, and shoved at it. Serenity watched in silence. His betrayal cut her deeply. Slowly, she sat up, wincing at the pain in her arm. Cautiously, she touched her left hand to the bandage. It hurt, but it felt as though the bullet had only grazed and not done any major damage. She examined it as best she could. Malik, presumably, had tied a red bandana around it. Dried blood stained her arm to the elbow, but it was closed for the time being. She wondered which bandit he'd gotten the bandana from, and again thought of her brother.

Her thoughts were mercifully interrupted by the splintering of wood. The old wall bracket split from underneath the torch, which crashed to the dirt floor and promptly extinguished.

Neither of them moved for a moment. Then Malik swore under his breath and threw himself at the stone. Serenity watched him – or rather, listened. The mine was pitch black. She could no more see a hand in front of her face than she could see him pounding on the sealed entrance.

"It's no good," she said, wondering why she even bothered to speak to him. The pounding stopped. Gravel crunched under his feet. She pictured him turning to face her, even though it was pointless. Both stared at the other, neither seeing.

He let out a frustrated noise. Words failed him now. He turned his attentions back to the stone in vain. Serenity wished she hadn't said anything. He was her enemy now. She silently wrestled with his betrayal. Her brother was quite probably dead. The town would be under Hirutani's control. The sheriff, the deputy, Mai, Bakura, anyone that tried to stand up to him… all dead. Breaking her minute-old resolution not to speak to him, she broke the silence.

"Why?"

"Don't—" he grunted with effort, shoving at the stone. "Don't—talk—to—me."

Serenity fumed. Don't talk to him? Don't confront him after he tried to kill her and stabbed everyone she cared about in the back? She pushed herself to her feet, swaying a bit, but standing all the same. "It's not like I want to, Malik Ishtar," She hurled his real name at him in disgust. "I'd rather never speak to you again. But you owe me an answer."

"STOP!" he bellowed. He paused his efforts again, breathing heavily. "You don't know—"

"My brother is—" Serenity couldn't form the word. It hovered in the air, unspoken. "He… "

"So is mine," Malik snapped. He slid to his knees, grunting with some other effort. He put a hand to his head as he had before, trying to hold the other back. He pounded the rock again with the other hand, but his fist bounced back. He yelled like a wounded animal. "My-!"

"What's wrong with you?" Serenity didn't want to show concern, but he was unnerving her. Malik kept hitting the rock like he was trying to distract himself. His heavy breathing turned to harsh laughter.

"Nothing—" He chuckled in the deep voice from before, then broke out in a yell. "STOP IT!"

"Malik…?" Serenity took a hesitant step towards him. He jumped to his own feet.

"I didn't want to hurt you!" He yelled, both hands on his head now. "I can't stop him—the dark—he loves the dark—" Laughter again, wild and free.

Serenity stumbled back, fumbling for her pockets. Malik had planted them on her himself. How could she have forgotten? Her hand closed around the box, and she pulled it out, desperately trying to keep from trembling. The other half of him approached her. She remembered the wild eyes and the bloodlust as he shot her brother in the back. She managed to slip a match out of the box and twisted it against the box, shooting fresh pain up her arm. Nothing.

Malik heard the scratching and let out a cry, jumping at her. She slammed the match head to the box again, tripping and falling backwards in her haste to get away. The fire caught and lit up his twisted face for a moment before a shocked Malik regained control. Serenity landed flat on her back, but held the match in front of her, warding him away.

Malik froze, staring at the bit of light and at her. Slowly it burned towards her finger. She dared not move, lest it burn faster, and they waited for it to count the seconds till total darkness returned and the killer emerged again.

"I'm sorry," Malik blurted before it could go out. Serenity chucked the match at him. It sailed through the air, still lit. In one motion, she pulled another from the box, jumped to her feet, and struck it. The first landed to the ground as the second burned bright. Malik's face twitched, but he stayed in place.

"Get the torch," Serenity demanded. She would not let that other one come out again. Malik seemed less sure.

"I can't control him anymore," he said, shaking.

"You can," she said firmly. "You've done it before."

"I can't!" he insisted. The flame reached her fingers. Serenity flinched, but held on as long as she could.

"You can, Malik!" she shouted, dropping the match. They were thrown back into darkness. He cried out, but stayed in place. Serenity lit a third match. Malik was bent over, breathing heavily, but he was himself. He staggered towards the fallen piece of wood. Serenity pushed herself up again, gripping the match tight in her right hand. He dropped to his knees, grabbed the torch, and flung it. It skidded along the dirt, and Serenity snatched it up, lit it, and raised it over her head.

Malik collapsed to the ground, panting, but in control once more. Serenity leaned against the wall, sighing with relief. Malik flopped over onto his back, utterly spent. This was not the face of the man who tried to kill her. But it was the face of the man who double-crossed them and would have let Hirutani kill them. Only he went crazy and tried to kill them first.

"I'm sorry," he repeated after a silence.

"You betrayed us." Her voice was unforgiving.

"Joey killed my father." Malik stood his ground.

Serenity bit her lip. There was no denying her brother had a hand in Nassor's death. "Is revenge worth handing Hirutani the town?"

Malik let out a frustrated sigh. "I…" he kicked at the dirt, like a child trying to distract himself. His hand clenched into a fist. "The mine was my home. I would've done anything for it." He struggled to find more words.

"Was," Serenity repeated.

Malik slammed the fist into the dirt once. "…I know." He didn't bother finding more words this time. None were needed.

"Now what?"

A tremendous explosion rocked the mine, sending dirt flying at them. Serenity put an arm over her eyes. When the dust settled, she lowered the arm to find Malik kneeling in front of her, shielding her. He held her gaze for a moment, before looking down, embarrassed. A voice from the now-open entrance interrupted.

"Serenity!" Mai shouted. "You okay, hon?"

Malik screwed up his courage and looked Serenity in the eye.

"Domino," he said firmly, grasping her good hand. "Is my home now."


A/N: Nassor is a shout-out to MMF's "Retrograde Motion" and "Retrograde Inversion". I think it was Retrograde Inversion that made me want to write such a long epic genre fic in the first place. Maybe someday I'll finish and post the other parts of this story.