Home Is Where The Heart Is

by Firefly Slash Round Robin 2 Writers: Juli, sf fan, T'Yanna, Den, Gigi Sinclair, J.M. Griffin, Karah, nancy, Emely Raines, Mikou, Mary Kroll, Dariclone, Eleanor K. and skripka

[Story Headers]

Home is Where the Heart Is
(A Firefly Slash Round Robin)

Authors (in order of appearance): Juli, sf fan, T'Yanna, Den, Gigi Sinclair, J.M. Griffin, Karah, nancy, Emely Raines, Mikou, Mary Kroll, Dariclone, Eleanor K. and skripka.

Disclaimer: Firefly and its characters belong to Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended.

Each chapter has individual warnings and ratings.

Feedback choices: (1) Individual author emails are provided at the beginning of each chapter or (2) You can email the entire group of authors at fireflyslashroundrobin2@yahoo.com.

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Chapter 1: Big Mistake
Author: Juli
Rating: PG
Warnings: None
Beta Reader: sffan
Author Email: challisgal@yahoo.com

Translations:

Wang ba dan = dirty bastard sons of...
Shai = handsome
Baobei = treasure/darling
Gou shi = crap
Mei mei = little sister


"You get your filthy hands off her, you wang ba dan ..."

"Whoa there, little Kaylee," Mal grabbed the young woman by the shoulders, preventing her from launching herself in an attack.

From the way his jaw clenched, Mal was in complete sympathy with his mechanic, but he knew it wasn't the right time. The goons guarding them were just a mite too twitchy for Mal's comfort, raising their weapons at the first sign of movement. Even though it was clear that Kaylee wasn't capable of hurting a kitten, they were more than ready to use violence. Until he could answer with more of the same, Mal wasn't willing to take the risk especially not with Kaylee.

"But, Cap'n," Kaylee protested, turning eyes full of hurt on Mal. "They've got their dirty paws all over her, violatin' her."

Mal attempted a smile. "Serenity's a tough old gal, Kaylee. She'll get over it."

"Quite a little spitfire you got there, Reynolds," a voice called over. "Are you sure you got her under control? I'd hate to have to have one of my boys put a bullet into her bloodshed's not my preferred way to christen my new ship."

A figure swaggered into view, moving with the same easy arrogance that was evident in her voice. The woman was about Mal's age and height, her tall form made even more striking by her unusual tri-colored hair. A patch over her left eye gave her a less-than-reputable air, as did the cocky grin she habitually wore.

"Ain't your boat," Mal responded mildly, fingers tightening briefly on Kaylee's shoulders before letting go. "Serenity's mine, bought and paid for. Reckon you can take the cargo since you went to all that trouble to hijack us, but you try and take my boat, this conversation's likely to get downright impolite, real quick-like."

The woman giggled, an oddly girlish sound. "I always heard you had more balls than brains, Reynolds. Glad to see you live up to your reputation." She made a sweeping gesture that encompassed Serenity's entire cargo hold. "I almost hate to point this out to you, but I don't need to try to take your ship; I have your ship."

Mal didn't need to look; he could feel his crew around him. Kaylee was standing close enough that he could smell her unique scent of engine grease and strawberries. Shepherd Book was a solid presence at his back, with Jayne's bulk just beyond. Off to the side, Simon knelt while he tended to Zoe, who had been the only one of their group injured. With Zoe down, Wash was close by her side, holding his wife's hand and glaring nearly as malevolently at Serenity's invaders as Kaylee was. Inara stood to the back, one arm wrapped around River's shoulders. The girl was uncharacteristically silent, although her avid gaze never left the face of the one-eyed woman.

"You have her," Mal reluctantly acknowledged. "Keeping Serenity, though... that might be more than you can handle."

Mal's opponent giggled again as she casually walked down the steps. "Like I said, Reynolds, more balls than brains."

She stopped right in front of Mal, shouldering Kaylee out of the way so she could eye him up and down. "C'mon, Reynolds, I'm not a bad girl. If I was, I'd be selling you and your crew along with the cargo, instead of letting all of you go."

"And such a nice, friendly planet you'll be stranding us on too," Book said quietly, matching Mal's calm vocal tone.

The woman took one last look at Mal's face, shrugged, and then turned to address the preacher. "It's got a town. A bit on the rough side, true, but..." She smiled gaily. "You seem to be a bright bunch, even if a bit nave. I'm sure you'll get by. Besides, it's not really my problem. I'm just a businesswoman."

"Business," Mal repeated, with just a mild touch of sarcasm. "Is that what you call it? Double-crossin' on a deal and all."

She grinned impudently. "That depends on your definition of a double-cross. Me, I kept my bargain with Badger to the letter. If I were you, I might want to have a talk with the little bastard about that. Of course, you'll have to get off this planet first."

Mal's hereto unruffled veneer cracked and he growled at her. The woman blinked and her smile slipped a bit. "Of course, the idea of binding and selling you is getting more appealing by the minute."

The woman turned her back on Mal, nodding at the guards to make sure they knew to keep a watchful eye on him. Briskly, she approached Inara. "Ms. Serra, I want you to know that I have every intention of honoring your contract with Serenity. You paid good Guild money for use of that shuttle and you'll get your money's worth, I guarantee you."

Inara smiled genteelly at the other woman. "I believe you misunderstand the situation, Captain...."

"McGee," the woman provided absently. "Captain Pollyanna McGee and how, if I might ask, do I misunderstand the situation? Ma'am." The latter was an added afterthought.

"My contract is not with Serenity," Inara graciously explained. "Rather, it is with Captain Reynolds and if he no longer holds Serenity, then my contract stays with him until he obtains replacement transportation."

McGee's smile became sickly and fixed. She was obviously banking on the respectability that having a Companion on board would have provided. "Is that so?"

"Yes, it is." Inara tilted her head, pretending not to notice the other woman's increasing agitation. "The contract is filed with the Guild, of course. If you have any questions, you can look it up there." The Companion's smile remained perfectly polite. "And, if certain parties led you to believe that I came part and parcel with the ship, well, you might just want to have a talk with the little bastard about that."

Pol McGee's hand opened and closed, as if she'd like to pull her gun and shoot someone on the spot. Luckily, Serenity's crew saw the gesture for the warning it was and were wise enough not to gloat over the minor victory. The backing of the Guild protected Inara from any payback but not so the rest of them.

After a few moments, McGee got on to business.

"Like I said, most of you folks will be disembarking here. I might, however, be willing to offer a place in my crew for an enterprising gentleman or two..."

"Boss," one of her goons protested, "they killed Tiny and messed Pete up some."

"So they did," she nodded. "Which just proves that they're skilled. I've got room on my payroll for men with skills."

She scowled at Inara again and slid her eyes rapidly past River, shivering when the girl's rabid gaze briefly met hers. From the way her eyes flickered back and forth from Wash to Zoe, she realized there would be little interest there. When her calculating gaze lit on Simon, however, it stopped.

"Hey there, Doc, you're pretty handy with a med kit. Wanna jump ship?"

Simon raised angry blue eyes up to meet hers. "Is that a question or an order?" The female captain had required that he tend to her man before letting him near Zoe a circumstance that still rankled.

"Oh, don't pout, shai," She said flirtatiously. "It's a lot more fun to be on the winning team. Join my crew and find out just how fun it can be."

"I would rather be on the better team than the winning team." Simon managed to look down his nose at her, even though he was still kneeling. "But I suppose if I don't, you'll bind me into your service anyway."

McGee shook her head. "Alas, no. Learned the hard way that a crew needs to be willing, especially the sawbones. It's your loss, baobei."

"I'll go with you."

All eyes in the cargo hold turned to the originator of the gravelly-voiced offer.

"Jayne!" Kaylee protested. "You can't go with them, they hurt Zoe and are fixin' to take Serenity!"

"Sorry, little girl," Jayne said without a single note of apology in his tone, "but me, I like playin' on th' winnin' team."

Pleased, McGee circled Jayne. "Oh, my. Your momma did know how to grow them big, didn't she?"

"My ma didn't raise no dummies," Jayne said, carefully not looking at Mal or the others. "You got work and looks like I need a job. So, what'd my cut be?"

"5%" McGee responded. When Jayne looked grumpy at her answer, she didn't waste time getting defensive. "My crew is bigger than what you're used to. Maybe the percentage is smaller, but you'll find we pull in a lot more loot to be divided up. It'll even out."

Jayne considered. "Do I get to keep my own bunk?"

"There are benefits to sharing a bunk, but if you want to keep your own, I think that can be arranged," McGee answered with a leer. "Is it a deal?"

Jayne had barely nodded when one of McGee's men came in from the direction of the cockpit.

"Captain Pol, Lyle's got the ship all set. We can go any time."

"Excellent. Why don't you have our newest crewmember help you escort these trespassers off our ship." She turned to Jayne. "I'm sure you won't mind, will you, Mr. - ... what is your name?"

"He's the man they call Jayne," Mal supplied in a neutral voice. "Jayne Cobb."

McGee looked from Mal's wooden face to Jayne's scowling one. "All right. Mr. Cobb, your first assignment is to get this gou shi out of my ship."

Jayne didn't hesitate, just moved the few feet to Book and grabbed him by the shoulder. "C'mon." He reached for Mal but one cold look from the captain caused him to drop his hand. "Hell, Mal, you know I was always in it for the money. Said that from the beginning."

"So you did. One thing you were always honest about was that your loyalty was to the money." Mal agreed solemnly. Wrapping an arm around Kaylee, he moved away from Jayne and obediently towards the lowering the ramp.

"I always liked that about you," Mal added, refusing to look at Jayne. "Until now."


Simon watched as Mal watched Serenity lift off without them. Zoe was his more obvious patient but, in truth, Simon knew he had two wounded to tend. For all that Zoe was the one bleeding, Mal was the one who worried Simon most. Zoe had only lost some of her blood; Mal had lost his freedom, his hope, and his home.

In any other man, Mal's calm after loosing to Pollyanna McGee would have been interpreted as defeatism or perhaps shock. Simon knew better. He may have only known Mal for months rather than years, but already understood the man well enough to realize that Mal was at his most dangerous when he went quiet. A blustering Mal, a sarcastic Mal, or a grumpy Mal was safe; the man's bark meant little to those he cared about. When Mal became quiet, however, blood tended to flow.

"Should have killed him."

Startled, Simon looked over to find his sister at his side. He'd been so worried about Mal, he'd barely given her a thought. Now, the girl was staring at the spot in the sky where Serenity had disappeared, a pensive look on her face.

"River? Are you all right, mei mei?"

"She should have killed him," River repeated. "Only a foolish hunter leaves a wounded wolf behind in the forest. Wound festers, pain grows. Then the hunter becomes the prey and finds the wolf's teeth in her throat."

Simon snuck another look at Mal's bleak face and shuddered. "You're right, mei mei. She should have killed him. That wasn't very smart of her, but good for the captain. Good for us that she's a big dummy."

"But the wolf still hurts, Simon," River whispered, tears falling.

"I know, mei mei," Simon comforted her. He used his fingers to wipe the tears from her cheeks. "But that's what big brothers are for especially ones that are doctors. We take care of hurt wolves."

River smiled tremulously and Simon pulled her in for a quick hug and kiss on the forehead. "Now, I think Kaylee needs you. Serenity was home for her longer than it was for us; I think she could use a friend right now."

He watched as his sister skipped off to help Inara console Kaylee. Simon's mind was elsewhere. A lump of ice had formed in his stomach when he realized that Mal Reynolds was not going to pull off another one of his awkward but effective last-minute successes. That ice had thawed a bit when Pollyanna McGee and her minions had not recognized him or River as fugitives but had come back in full force when it sunk in what losing Serenity would mean to its captain.

Luckily for Mal, he wasn't alone. Despite Jayne's unexpected defection, Mal was surrounded by people who cared about him. Simon was proud to realize that meant him too. If Pollyanna McGee could have seen his expression now, she likely wouldn't have offered him a spot to remain behind.

Because Simon Tam had remembered something that McGee would have been wise to consider - wolves always hunt in packs.


(end Chapter 1)

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Chapter 2: Regrouping
Author: sffan
Rating: PG-13, maybe R
Warnings:
Beta Reader: eli
Author Email: sffan@compromisingpositions.net

Translations:

xie'e bi = evil cunt


It was the hardest thing he had ever done, making himself think only of the money, knowing that if any part of his real plan slipped through his mind the Doc's creepy sister would suss it out. There was no telling if she'd be able to keep it to herself for a supposed genius, she had a habit of saying whatever popped into her head. So he thought about the money, about his cut, not about how one of them needed to stay with the ship, how if they let this xie'e bi and her crew take off with Serenity there was no way they'd ever find her again, how he was going to pull Badger's intestines out his nose with a sharp hook and strangle the dirty-dealing motherfucker with them.

He saw their faces when he accepted the bitch's offer. Every single one of them believed he'd just walk away from them even Mal. He thought that Mal would at least have some faith in him, but he supposes that after his past behaviour, it really shouldn't be that much of a shock to him. He counts himself as lucky that Zoe wasn't conscious for that moment, because he's not sure lack of weapons would have stopped her from trying to kill him on the spot.

Of course, Jayne has absolutely no idea how he's going to get the ship back to Mal, he just knows that it's got to be done. He knows he has to be clever; he knows he has to have a plan. So he sits in his bunk, methodically cleaning his collection of guns, and thinks.


"Have you brought us trouble, Shepherd?" asks Abbot Brown, as he settles more comfortably into the chair behind the large, wooden, hand-carved desk in his private office.

"I hope not, Father. It certainly wasn't my intent, but we had no where else to go," Book replies, before sipping the tea he's been given.

"And that is the only reason why I've allowed you to bring women into this House. You do understand that their presence will be very disruptive?"

"Yes Father, I understand. I will ask them to stay in their rooms as much as possible. Please extend my thanks to the brothers that gave up their places to my friends. We are very grateful."

The Abbot waves his hand in the air, "Think nothing of it, my son. It is our place to serve." He eyes Book for a moment and then says, "Why don't you tell me what happened, maybe I can offer further assistance."


Wash knows there's nothing he can do for Zoe right now; Simon explained that she was going to be just fine, that the bullet wound to her shoulder wasn't even remotely life-threatening, but that she needed to sleep off the pain killers that he had given her. But he just can't bring himself to leave her side, so he sits and holds her hand and talks to her. He tells her how much he loves her, how brave she is, how angry he is that she had to try to be a hero and get herself hurt, how he can't live without her, how Jayne betrayed them big surprise, that one how Inara stuck with them. He's babbling and he knows it, and she probably can't even hear him, but it makes him feel better, so he keeps on talking.

He should probably be helping with the plotting. He's sure there's plotting by now. Mal's good with the plotting. He'll get them out of this mess.


Simon enters the small room with the narrow bunk and kicks the door shut behind him. Not for the first time, Simon is grateful for Book's connections and for the fact that even way out here on the edge of nowhere, there was a small abbey willing to take in a group of strangers based solely on his word. Mal is where he left him hours ago sitting on the bunk, staring into nothing.

"You missed dinner. I brought you a sandwich," Simon says quietly. "The brothers make their own bread and grow all kinds of vegetables. And the chicken is fresh left-over from dinner."

"Not hungry," Mal mutters, not looking at him.

"You have to eat, Mal," Simon replies stubbornly.

Mal gives him a small smile, "Isn't that my line?"

Simon smiles back, remembering all the times Mal forced him to eat when he forgot to, and brandishes the tray. Mal sighs softly. "Alright. I'll eat, just put it down there," he says, gesturing to the bedside table. Simon puts the tray down and Mal reaches out and pulls Simon into his lap and buries his face against his neck. Simon strokes Mal's hair gently. Mal sighs heavily and says, "Not my best day ever."

"You'll get her back, Mal. We'll figure something out. But in the meantime, eat. You can't plot on an empty stomach." Simon reaches out and grabs the sandwich off the tray and waves it at Mal.

"Tyrant," Mal grumbles and takes the sandwich.

"And you know it," Simon replies with a grin.

Mal gives Simon a lopsided grin and a quick kiss, and then takes a bite out of the sandwich. It was time to stop feeling sorry for himself and time to start planning revenge.


"He's figurin' something out, right Inara?" Kaylee asks with a worried frown. She turns to River and says in a reassuring voice, "That's why he wasn't at dinner. The Captain will come up with a plan. I just know it."

The women are getting as comfortable as they can in the small room that they're sharing. It's early, but they felt somewhat discomforted by all of the sidelong glances that they were receiving from the Brothers. Book explained to them that this was not only one of the celibate orders, but that most of the members were also cloistered, so it had been a good, long time since a number of them had seen a woman, let alone had to share space with one.

Inara would like to reassure Kaylee, but she saw the look of defeat on Mal's face. The man didn't even kicked up a fuss when Book had brought them to the abbey. It was very disconcerting watching him just follow along without an argument or sarcastic comment and even more disturbing when he didn't join them for dinner. Mal makes a point of them eating the last meal of the day together. The only times he hasn't been there himself was when he was away doing crime or too injured to come to the table.

"I'm sure he will," Inara says cheerfully, determined to keep their spirits up. Kaylee's optimism is a force of nature. If she can keep her thinking positively, then it will rub off on the others. She's seen it happen.

Whatever the next day brings, she will find a Cortex unit and make arrangements for transport of some sort off this world. It might take some doing, and they might have to wait a few weeks, but she knows her connections will come through for her. After that, she isn't sure. She knows that the authorities can't be involved, so she'll have to leave their next steps up to Mal. Inara's certain that Simon can drag him out of the mood he's in. She has the utmost faith in the younger man. Simon is good for Mal he understands Mal in ways she never could. She tells herself that it really doesn't bother her anymore.

Kaylee grins at her and says to River, "See? No need to worry."

"Pack is regrouping. Wolves will hunt soon. But not yet. Not quite ready," River murmurs cryptically in response.


(end Chapter 2)

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Chapter 3: Good and Bad Ideas
Author: T'Yanna
Rating: PG-13
Warning: The bad guys are really bad in this chapter, so there's a mention of rape. Nothing graphic but be warned. Beta Reader:
Author Email: tywiles@yahoo.com

Translations:

Guai = hell
Lese = garbage


Abbot Brown listened intently to the story Book told him. He kept himself from frowning at the illegal aspects of it. After all, these were hard times and even good men couldn't be good all the time. There was something about these people that made him think that they were the good kind, only with very bad luck.

"It sounds like you could use a ship. I'm afraid we don't have one at our disposal. If we did it would be yours, assuming you could bring it back in one piece."

He watched with amusement as the younger man's eyes widened. "You said you had only short range communication. Could we reach New Meniech?"

The abbot scratched his head. His brow furrowed. New Meniech was home to a convent. It was at the very edge of their aging communicator's range, less than a day's travel away. However, the philosophy of that particular convent couldn't have been farther from this monastery. It would be a bad precedent to set for the other monks, but one contact shouldn't harm the order, no more so than the women in Brother Green's room. "We've never had a need to contact the convent there, but it should reach."

Book smiled. Something about that look reminded the abbot of a cat with a very trapped mouse. "It's not the convent I want to reach. There's a man there that owes me a favor."

At the abbot's inquiring look, the Shepard continued. "My flock has always been the lost, but not always the poor."


Jayne Cobb was not happy and he wasn't bothering to hide it. He pounded his bunk until his hand hurt and then sat on the floor with a huff.

No one could say that he was a saint. Guai, most folks wouldn't even say he was a nice man. He was okay with that kind of reputation. That didn't mean that he cottoned to the kind of things that McGee had going on.

They hadn't even had the ship a day and they'd already attacked a transport ship. That hadn't been so bad and Jayne was all for the good haul. That wasn't what turned his stomach. It was the senseless killing.

Jayne liked killing. He was good at it, but maybe he'd been around Simon and Book too long. It just weren't right to shoot people without guns, cowering behind furniture, who didn't fight back. It weren't right to hurt children. And it certainly weren't right what was going on down in the hold with the womenfolk.

Zoe would never stand for that kind of thing, but Pol McGee didn't seem to care. He'd never wanted to shoot someone so bad as he did her. The thought of Zoe, Kaylee, Inara and even that moon-brained River made his jaw clinch. Jayne knew he should just be grateful that McGee's crew hadn't touched them. Otherwise, Jayne didn't think there were enough bullets in the 'verse. He wasn't even sure there were now. He couldn't wait to get all this lese off their ship.

He drew a deep breath and composed himself. A thought crossed his mind and he thumped his bunk again. Gorram it, he was going to have to buy a long bath after he got Serenity back to Mal.


(end Chapter 3)

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Chapter 4: Persuasions
Author: Den
Rating: PG-13
Warning: none
Beta Reader: Lia Van Helsing and skripka Author Email: den@mattschulze.info


Simon rolled over in bed and opened his eyes. The soft glow of candlelight filled the room and the bed was only half full. He propped himself up on his elbow and looked around the small room.

"Mal?"

Mal had folded his tall frame into a chair by the window, one foot propped on the sill in front of him, his fist tucked beneath his chin. His eyes were focused on the star filled sky outside.

Simon stood and winced when his bare feet hit the chilled floor. He stood behind Mal and placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.

"You really should come to bed," he pointed out.

Mal looked up at him, surprise filling his eyes. Simon knew that he wasn't here, but rather still on Serenity, somewhere in the Black.

"I'm good."

Simon pressed his lips together and shook his head. "No. Not only do you have to eat, but you have to sleep, too."

Simon took Mal's hand and guided him to the bed. He was tired himself, and grateful when Mal didn't raise the type of fuss of which he was capable. Instead of arguing, Mal slid under the covers and sighed quietly when Simon lay down on the bed behind him, arm curled around his waist, their bodies together.


Shepard Book nodded as the Abbot closed the door. The communications room was small and cramped, filled with books and radio equipment, but sparse on furniture. It would provide the necessary privacy for the communication. He sat at the large desk and waited patiently for the connection to go through before putting on a friendly expression for the grainy face on the screen.

"Hello, my friend. It's been a long time," he smiled.

The kindly face on the monitor smiled back at him. "Shepard Book. It has indeed. To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"

Book relayed the story he had shared with the Abbot that afternoon. When he finished with his request, he waited patiently for an answer. Relief flooded him when his friend nodded in agreement.

"Of course, we'll be happy to do anything we can to assist. We're familiar with Captain McGee and are eager to end her... tactics."

Book nodded. "I understand. This is most appreciated. You have no idea."

The smile on the monitor grew larger. "I think I do. I'll contact you tomorrow with the final details."


(end Chapter 4)

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Chapter 5: Complications
Author: Gigi Sinclair
Rating: G
Warning: none
Beta Reader:
Author Email: gigitrekslash@canada.com


Kaylee had never been interested in what her father called "women's pursuits." While her mother and her three sisters had been embroidering pillowcases and mending skirts and gossiping about who was sleeping with whom and whose spouse was about to find out, Kaylee had been out in the barn with her father, tinkering with any kind of engine she could find. She'd stripped and rebuilt her first thresher at twelve, and when she was fifteen, she and her father had constructed a fully functioning replica Earth-that-was automobile from a kit he'd picked up from a travelling salesman. Kaylee still remembered that automobile fondly, but not as fondly as she remembered "Serenity." She still couldn't believe they'd lost her, and Jayne, too.

Jayne had always reminded Kaylee of her brother Ayden. He was the middle son, and he'd never really found his place in the family. Their oldest brother was the athlete, the apple of their father's eye, while the youngest was their mother's baby. Their older sister was a brilliant artist, while the twins were pretty and popular with everyone in town. Even Kaylee made her mark as the scientific, mechanical one, her father's favourite daughter.

There was nothing remarkable about Ayden. He was surly and rude and not particularly well liked by anybody, but when the chips were down and you really needed him, he was always there. He was ungracious about it, he complained a lot and he would frequently remind you that you were in his debt, but he still helped you out. Kaylee had always thought she could say the same of Jayne, but apparently he was just a mercenary after all.

"What do you think of this one, Kaylee?" Inara pirouetted in front of her. Since Captain McGee had more respect for Inara than the rest of the "Serenity" crew, she had been allowed to remove nearly all her trunks from the shuttle before the ship took off. Seeing the shy but helpful monks haul case after case of makeup and frilly dresses into their austere monastery had been something to remember, but Kaylee hadn't been in any mood to enjoy it at the time.

"It's nice," Kaylee answered automatically. And it was, a shimmering, low-cut, blue-black creation that Kaylee was sure would have Mal's eyes falling out of his head, let alone the cloistered monks'. Kaylee knew Inara wasn't planning on wearing it outside the room. She was just trying to entertain Kaylee and River, keep them amused and take their minds off things. Just doing her job.

"Why don't you try one on?" Inara suggested, indicating the trunks. "Whichever you like, although I think the red chiffon would look wonderful on you."

"Red chiffon," River agreed gravely.

Kaylee shook her head. "No, thanks."

Inara's expertly plucked eyebrows furrowed. "Why not? I'll do your hair, and we can have our own girls' night in." Not that there was much choice. But then, Kaylee supposed, Inara had made a career out of putting the best face on things.

"I'm not in the mood, Inara." Kaylee stood. "Thanks anyway," she added, because Inara looked genuinely hurt.

"Kaylee's sad," River announced.

"I know you cared about 'Serenity', baobei," Inara continued, gently. "But it's just a ship. The important thing is that we're all alive, and together."

"Not all together," River countered. "No Jayne."

"Jayne? Kaylee, honey, he's not worth worrying about."

"I'm not worried." That was true. "I'm going for a walk, OK?"

Kaylee was grateful when neither Inara nor River tried to stop her. She closed the door to their room behind her and headed along the corridor.

The abbey was deserted, and Kaylee supposed the monks were all at Matins or Vespers or one of their other prayer sessions. They seemed to have one practically every hour. Kaylee came from a decent, God-fearing family herself, but that seemed excessive even to her.

She was heading down yet another stone hallway, wondering if she'd come across Mal or the doctor, when she rounded a blind corner and ran head-on into someone else.

At first, she thought it was Simon. He looked like Simon: young, dark-haired, not too tall. Then Kaylee stepped back and realized it wasn't. For one thing, this man looked even more frightened than the usually gynophobic Simon.

"Excuse me," Kaylee smiled politely. The man stared at the stone, his cheeks turning red.

"My fault, madam," he mumbled almost inaudibly, still avoiding her gaze.

Kaylee stifled a sigh, but stuck out a hand anyway. It was the way she'd been brought up. "I'm Kaylee."

"Brother, ah, Brother Levi," the man finally gasped out, like he was admitting to an embarrassing character flaw. "Please forgive me, but I will be late for Compline."

"Sorry."

Levi's eyes came up for a split second, then went back to the floor. "If you, ah, if you wished to attend, God welcomes all. Even," he turned even redder. "Those like you."

Kaylee laughed. She couldn't help herself. "Who? Women?"

Levi nodded and repeated, "If you wished to attend." He scuttled off again, and, as she watched him go, Kaylee actually considered following.


"Shepherd Book. It's been a long time."

Book smiled into the flickering, staticky communication screen, thankful that the abbot was far too scrupulous to monitor his usage of their communicator. While Ezra knew McGee and was prepared to help them, Book didn't know if Ezra really knew what he was dealing with. Which was what had made this second call necessary. "Desdemona. You haven't changed a bit."

It wasn't strictly true. Her hair, once a vibrant blonde, had dulled somewhat, and there were crow's feet around her eyes. She had aged more gracefully than Book, however, although he suspected the talent of a surgeon, rather than the benevolence of God, was responsible for that.

Desdemona laughed, a rich, throaty sound that Book was sure had served her well in her former career. "I can't believe this is a social call, Shepherd."

"It's not. I need your help."

"Really?" Desdemona raised an eyebrow. "Now that is surprising. What could a poor convent of reformed sinners have to offer you?"

Silently, Book wondered how Inara would react to that description of the residents of New Meniech. He knew Inara didn't regard herself as a lost soul, but on New Meniech, that was exactly how she would be seen. From the short time he'd spent there, Book remembered the order---composed entirely of former Companions, both male and female- --as a very zealous one, a group of people who liked nothing better than to bring a new member into the fold.

"I need to speak to Amadeus." The founder of the cult---ah, convent, Book corrected himself---and the reformed-sinner-in-chief.

"I think that could be arranged." Desdemona stretched her artificially plump lips into a smile. "Give me a moment to see if he is available."

As she left, Book sighed and rubbed his hands through his hair. Amadeus had never seen the vow of poverty as personally applicable to him, which meant he had the means to assist the "Serenity" crew. Whether or not he had the will remained to be seen. On the other hand, Ezra had the will, but, while he was familiar with Captain McGee and knew just how to plan this kind of endeavour, Book couldn't honestly say if Ezra would be able to offer them the financial help they would need to get the ship back.

The ideal situation, Book thought, would be if he could get the financing from Amadeus and the help from Ezra and his men. Of course, that would only work if Book could manage to get both of them involved without hinting to either that the other was in any way implicated.

Book sighed. And Malcolm thought he lived a staid, uneventful life.


(end Chapter 5)

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Chapter 6: Guts, But No Glory
Author: J.M. Griffin
Rating: PG
Warning: none
Beta Reader: sffan
Author Email: aeriejm@earthlink.net


The brother's cell that had been loaned to Mal was small, containing only a narrow bed, chair, small desk and one tiny rectangle of rug. Simon was sprawled out face down on the bunk, with his right arm trailing down and his hand resting on the floor. Mal sat in a straight-backed wooden chair not so different from the ones they pulled up around the table in Serenity's galley. He'd told Simon to go on down to his own room, but the younger man had said no, and stretched out here. Two surgeries and two days of very little rest had done him in and it wasn't long before he'd fallen asleep.

Mal was tired, too, but he couldn't rest. Every time he tried to get to sleep the same picture filled his brain. Closing his eyes, he saw it now: his crew, seated at dinner, their faces lit by lantern light. In his mind's eye they were all happy - gesticulating with chopsticks and forks, enjoying the last meal of the day together as they so often did. But then the scene changed, and the table in Mal's mind grew longer, and more people gathered there. Now, it was his mother's table, and the faces round it had morphed into those of the hired hands who worked the Double R Ranch.

Suddenly, a loud noise made Mal jump, and, as he looked wildly about, the door to the kitchen burst open. But instead of Miss May and Miss Agatha coming into the dining room carrying trays filled with food, a man's lean shadow filled the doorway. The barrel of the rifle he carried gleamed in the lamplight. Then, with no warning at all, there came another bang, this one much louder than the first. Rebecca Reynolds slumped in her chair, a small dark hole marring her clean white blouse. Slowly, her body began to slump and Mal shot to his feet, shouting, "No," from his sixteen year old lungs.

"Mal, Mal, wake up." Simon had a hold of Mal's shoulders and he was shaking him hard. "It's okay, you were just dreaming."

Mal blinked and realized he was standing on the patch of rug, with Simon, hair disheveled and eyes wild with panic, inches in front of him.

"Simon," Mal breathed, then simply lowered his forehead to rest against the young man's shoulder.

"It's going to be okay, Mal," Simon whispered as he slipped his arms around Mal's waist. "We'll get her back."

Mal raised his head and nodded, because that is what Simon expected him to do. But it was his experience that you rarely got back that which had been taken from you by violence.

There was a knock at the door, and the two men stepped apart. Simon hurried to button up his shirt, and Mal waited until he was almost done before he opened the door.

River sidled in, her gaze flicking back over her shoulder as if she were scared of something out in the hallway.

"River," Simon said as he tucked in his shirt. "Is everything all right?"

Mal stepped past the girl and looked up and down the corridor before he shut the door. There was not a soul in sight.

"Abbot Brown and Brothers Green, Red, Yellow, and Blue are all at chapel," River announced as she stepped between the two men. "Zoe and Wash are talking. Shepherd Book is praying. Kaylee and Inara are sleeping. But I can't sleep and neither can Jayne."

"Huh," Mal grunted as he plunked down onto the wooden chair once more.

Simon shook his head and reached out to snag his sister's arm. "Oh, mei mei, not now."

"Jayne was thinking about the money," the girl went blithely on, "and faith."

Mal looked up sharply, "Say what?"

Simon held his breath.

"Faith," River enunciated carefully, looking from Mal to Simon and back again. "Faith and intestines," she added with a brisk little nod of her head.

Simon sat down on the edge of the bed and gave a long, gusty sigh. Mal just stood there, his jaw clenched and his eyes slightly narrowed.


(end Chapter 6)

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Chapter 7: In Bed with the Enemy
Author: Karah
Rating: probably PG-13
Warning: : I'm mean to Jayne in this part; please don't hate him for what I make him do.
Beta Reader: none
Author Email: chakotaykim@yahoo.com


Jayne sat silently on his bunk. The only sound he could hear was the rhythmic scrape of his whetstone over Binky. The sounds from the hold had finally die-stopped.

If I were any sort of man, I go down there and gut every last one of them. Maybe strangle a few with their own guts.

Much as he may want to hurt his new "shipmates," it was important that he not be noticed as being too standoffish. McGee would suspect him and he'd never get Serenity back to Mal.

He might not have much faith in what Book believed, but he knew he was due penance. And after seeing what he'd see these men do, after not stopping them, Jayne needed Mal to have Serenity back.


"River, you realize that Jayne's the enemy now, don't you?" Simon whispered hoping she'd realize how much Mal was hurt by Jayne's defection and stop talking about it.

River frowned. She shook her head as if the question made no sense. "Simon, you really should have paid attention in school."

Simon looked up at her confused, but it was Mal that asked the question on his mind. "What does doctorin' have to do with Jayne being a traitor?"

River laughed. "Just in bed."


Scrape.

Scrape.

Scrape.

Scrape.

Thud.

Jayne looked up at the sound just outside his door. He wasn't entirely surprised when Pol McGee dropped into his quarters. He was surprised that her back would be to him. One flick of his wrist and he could kill her now...

"What can I do for you, Captain?"

McGee whirled around with a gasp. "I thought you'd be in hold with the other men."

Jayne's jaw tightened but he only shrugged. "Not my thing."

"Oh?"

"I aint never forced no woman," Jayne growled, "and I aint 'bouta start."

McGee smirked. "A mercenary with morals. How refreshing. Good thing they don't include turning your back on your captain."

"Mal and I had our rows. 'Sides I didn't want to leave my beauties behind." He patted Vera before going back to sharpening Binky.

"Yes, it is a nice collection you have here. I was just going to take a look at them."

Jayne raised an eyebrow, something he realized he'd learned from Simon. "With me in the hold with the other men? Didn't nobody tell you never touch a man's guns without his permission?"

McGee laughed softly. She walked over to the bunk and put a hand on either of Jayne's knees. As she leaned forward to look him directly in the eye, her shirt flopped down exposing her bosom to Jayne's eyes.

"I think you're thinking of something else I shouldn't touch without permission." Her hands started slowly moving up his thighs. "Well, do I?"

"What?"

"Have permission... to touch?"

Jayne gulped. There was no denying McGee's curves were in all the right places. But how far was he really willing to go in this charade? Was this a test of his loyalties to her?

Only one way to find out.

Jayne nodded then leaned forward to take her lips in a fierce kiss. Binky clattered to the floor as McGee climbed onto the bed with him.

Forgive me, Mal.


(end Chapter 7)

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Chapter 8: Mobilizing
Author: nancy
Rating: R
Warning: angst, language and Mal-owies
Beta Reader: Eli
Author Email: thetenthmuse1@yahoo.com


The pain wasn't nearly as bad as the fuzzy feeling clogging up her damn head. Groaning as she tried to cut through the red tape inside her own brain, Zoe realized that opening her eyes would be a good start.

" Zoe? Baby?"

Wash. Husband. Good, synapses were starting to fire.

"Can you hear me?"

"I'm not deaf, I was shot," Zoe growled, finally figuring how to open her eyes. Things were definitely blurred, but Wash's anxious and hurt expression was aggravatingly clear. Sighing, she apologized, "I'm sorry, Wash, I didn't mean to take your head off. Help me sit."

He glanced to the side, as if for help, and questioned, "Should you?"

Zoe just looked at him.

"Right. I am fully supporting of the helping you up now."

He eased an arm under her back and shifted her into a sitting position. Her shoulder was a fiery mass of pain now that the drugs were wearing off, but she much preferred it to the sluggishness of before. "What's going on?"

"I'm not sure," Wash answered.

"Not sure?"

"Well, you were injured."

Restraining the impulse to slap him upside the back of his head, Zoe asked, "Where's Mal?"

"Um, not sure of that, either."

"Jayne?"

"Well..."

"No, wait, let me guess. You don't know."

"Technically no, I don't, but that's because he's on Serenity with McGee and her crew."

Zoe was starting to think better of the drugs.


One thing that Jayne was really good at, was concentrating on the physical. It helped that he hadn't done more than got his own rocks off for a good, long while. It also helped that McGee wanted to just get down and do the dirty. She wasn't much for cuddlin' after, and couldn't care less about the no-kissing rule. She fucked him, and fucked him good, coming a few times before Jayne even let himself think about his own release.

Which was why Jayne was able to grin at her and mean it when he walked into the mess the next morning. He'd avoided the hold altogether, not wanting to get anywhere near it until someone else had cleaned it down. Didn't want to think about that. Couldn't let himself, or he'd lose that easy, `just got laid' grin that was on his face.

Grunting at the other men, Jayne dished out his protein and leaned against the wall, not wanting to get in close with them.

"So we're heading to Yslin next."

Jayne's spoon stopped on the way to his mouth.

McGee noticed, asking coolly, "Problem, Cobb?"

"It's an Alliance post."

"And?"

"And they've got Serenity registered to Mal."

"Do you really think they'll care?"

Good point. Jayne shrugged and went back to eating.

"We got cargo there that needs transporting and another contract with Kane."

There were groans and grumbles from all around the table at that announcement. Jayne looked at McGee curiously and she grimaced.

"He's a poncer, but pays damn good. Some of the crew has trouble keeping their..." and here she smirked. "...baskets out of reach. Anyhow, we're going to be bringing him and his kin to Weylin."

"And he doesn't want to take a regular cruise ship why?" Jayne asked. "He likes the rough-n-tumble edge to my ships."

Ships. Plural. Interesting.

"In the meantime, help Rog get the hold cleaned up and then..."

"No." Tension immediately ratcheted up and Jayne continued mildly, "I didn't make the fuckin' mess, I ain't cleanin' it up."

McGee gazed at him shrewdly. "Jackson, Willis, go clean up your mess and I want the place gorram spotless. Kane'll probably do the white glove thing again. Cobb, you're with me in the cockpit. I want to go over some things with you."

Jayne didn't miss the pissed look on her first mate, Qui's, face, or the cautious one on the pilot, Lyle's, face. From what little he'd gleaned, they'd been with her from the start. He tossed the bowl in the sink and sneered at Qui with, "Be sure and clean that up, little man."

Swaggering out of the mess, Jayne was pretty sure he could feel the bull's eye on his back as he followed McGee out.


Simon continued to look at the page he was supposed to be reading, but really, he was monitoring Mal. At the moment, his lover was pacing their small room, bigger than the one Mal had had, but still too small for two people. Probably the point. Abbot Brown was trying to make them so uncomfortable as to split up. Simon almost smiled at the quaint idea that discomfort would move him from Mal's side.

He was betting that it would be about five more minutes before Mal finally exploded and did something...

"Ow!"

...stupid. Like putting his fist through a wall.

Sighing, Simon tossed the book aside and crossed over to where Mal was trying to pull his arm out of the wall. "It's a good thing we aren't in the stone part of the monastery any longer."

Mal grimaced and complained, "Just help me, would you?"

Carefully knocking away the rest of the plaster, Simon helped Mal take his arm out of the hole, then tsked a few times seeing the instant swelling and bruising on his lover's wrist and arm. "Looks like you smashed a few bones. And it's your shooting hand, too, good job."

"Fuck."

"Mmm. Come on, let's get to the infirmary."

Mal didn't offer up any more complaints, so Simon slipped an arm around his waist and guided him out of their room. He had the way memorized, of course, since they'd been there for three days and he was constantly checking on Zoe. He'd been keeping her sedated both because it helped her heal faster and kept her immobile, but also to make sure she and Mal were as close to full strength as possible by the time Mal got out of his funk.

Which, given the fist he'd just destroyed, was right about now. Zoe was sitting up when they got there, with Wash sitting on her bed and River sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor. All three looked over at them when Simon brought Mal into the room.

"Sir! What happened?" Zoe exclaimed.

Wash was right behind her with, "Yeh soo, Mal! What did you do?"

Snorting, Simon replied, "Decided to test the wall strength with his fist."

Mal looked like he wanted to flip Simon a rude gesture, but his hand was held stiffly in front of him. "Wash, make yourself useful and get the others, would you?"

Though startled, Wash immediately hopped to his feet and rushed out of the room.

"Time to go hunting," River announced darkly.

Simon felt mildly queasy at the glittery quality of her eyes, but the confirming nod that Mal gave her caused his stomach to sink entirely.

"So you want to tell me what's going on with Jayne?"

Mal's jaw tightened at Zoe's question and he answered, "He joined the other side is what happened."

One of Zoe's elegant eyebrows rose as she said, "I don't believe that any more now, than the fifth time Wash said it."

"What are you talking about?" Mal demanded.

"Faith," River interjected firmly.

Zoe's gaze flickered over to River, then back to Mal. "That's about right. Jayne wouldn't betray you, Sir. Wouldn't betray any of us like that. Maybe a year ago, but not now. Something changed in him...after Ariel."

For a long moment, Mal didn't say anything. Simon concentrated on moving the hand this way and that, as gently as he could, to see exactly where the breaks were. He was trying not to think that after all the futile arguing the last couple of days, Mal wouldn't just...

"You might have a point," Mal agreed slowly.

More than a little ticked that it took Zoe all of three minutes to change Mal's mind when Simon hadn't been able to at all, Simon's hands moved a little too rough.

"Fuck! Simon, watch it!" Mal hissed.

Simon returned the glare with one of his own. "Pigu."

Mouth open to protest the insult, Mal was cut off by the arrival of the rest of the crew trooping into the infirmary. There were plenty of exclamations and questions and Simon let them wash over him as he worked, still smarting from Mal's defection. Not that it was a defection, really, but it was a constant sore spot for him. He was Mal's lover, his doctor, his friend and oft times his conspirator, but the other man took Zoe's word over his every time.

"All right! Listen up," Mal called over the babble of voices. Things got quiet fast, and he continued, "I know I ain't rightly been with it the last couple of days, but that's done now. We're getting off this rock and going after Serenity. Wash, you got any pilot friends you can ask to give us a lift?"

"I believe I have that problem solved, Captain," Book spoke up.

Mal frowned at him. "How?"

"I have an old...patron...on a nearby moon that owns a corporation. He's agreed to loan us a freighter. She's not Serenity, but I believe it will get us where we want to go."

"What's this patron's name?"

"He'd rather not be known, Captain, if that's all right?"

After a short stare-down, from which Book didn't waver, Mal finally nodded. "Okay. When can we expect this ship to arrive?"

Book smiled benignly. "Tomorrow, matter of fact. I was on my way to see you to discuss it when Wash found me."

"Of course you were," Simon muttered, wrapping a long bandage around Mal's wrist to make sure it didn't move. The cast would have to wait until they had a proper infirmary.

Looking at him sharply, Mal paused then asked, "Zoe? How are you doing?"

"Just about ready to go, Sir. Will be, soon as the ship gets here," she answered promptly.

Mal glanced around the room, sober. "What I'm aiming to do is going to get bloody. Inara, I want you to keep Kaylee and River somewhere safe when your Companion ship gets here. I'm assumin' there is one?"

Nodding, Inara replied, "It will be here later tonight."

"Cap'n!" Kaylee protested. "Serenity needs me!"

"And I appreciate that, little Kaylee, but she'll need you in one piece when I get her back," Mal countered. "I'm not takin' the chance that McGee will smarten up and try and take the best mechanic this side of the `verse."

Somewhat mollified, Kaylee subsided, leaning against Inara.

"Hyenas are crazy, but they still hunt. Still contribute. They like to tear out throats," River informed them.

Simon shook his head and looked straight at her as he said, "Not a chance, River. You are staying with Kaylee and Inara."

"Can shoot better'n you can," River countered.

Mal coughed into his good hand, embarrassed, and agreed, "She's got a point, Doc. It'll be a bonus having her around when things get violent."

Flashing hurt and angry eyes at Mal, Simon stated, "She's my sister and she is not going."

"She can decide for herself," River exclaimed, hopping to her feet. She stalked to Simon and huffed, "She can take her medicine on time. She can think like a human being now. She can outshoot and outfight you!"

Betrayal mixed with the hurt and anger as his lover and sister took sides against him. Simon drew back, his head rising as he said stiffly, "Fine."

The fact that no one called him back when he left the room, hurt most of all.


Mal's head hurt.

It hurt, point in fact, more than his gorram broken wrist. He still wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but he knew that it was his fault. Simon was upset and hurt and Mal knew that he was the problem, as usual. Groaning, he thumped the back of his head against the wall.

"That ain't going to help," Zoe observed, amused.

Not even opening his eyes, Mal replied, "I'll ask Wash later to know for sure."

She laughed, a soft, warm sound that always relaxed him. "The girls are all tucked away and heading for Yslin, which is the nearest and strongest Guild outpost, according to Inara. Kaylee was still pullin' faces about leaving, but Inara can handle it."

"I don't even want to know."

"Probably not."

They were silent then, and Mal felt the warmth of her body right beside him, though they weren't touching at any point.

"What do I do?"

"Groveling usually works. So do jewels, but then, that's me. For Simon, I reckon you're going to need some musty old book and a really nice night on the town."

Mal sighed. "Great. What do I do right now?"

At that, she nudged him and said, "Apologize for one."

"But, what did I do?" Mal exclaimed. "He's so gorram confusin' Zoe! Hot and cold, all the damn time. I never know which way he's gonna blow next."

"So why stay with him?" she questioned.

Groaning, trying to avoid the answer out loud, Mal answered, "I don't know, Zoe. Great sex?"

She laughed, then shook her head. "I think you're going to have to come up with a better answer than that before you go apologize."

"Yeah. I know," Mal conceded. "All right. I'm going to go take my lumps. I'll see you later. Get some sleep for tomorrow."

"Yes, Sir. And good luck," Zoe called after him.

Mal waved back at her with his good hand and headed back to the room he was sharing with Simon.


Sick to his stomach, Simon was rooted to the spot and the only thing that ran through his mind was, What did you expect? Eavesdroppers never hear anything good.

It sounded suspiciously like his mother's voice, which didn't help his nausea any.

He hadn't meant to eavesdrop. He'd been looking for Mal to apologize for overreacting earlier. He'd been planning to make it up to Mal and now Simon honestly couldn't think about what form that apology would have taken.

*I don't know, Zoe. Great sex?*

Sex, not love. That was all they had, according to Mal. He wouldn't lie to Zoe, he never lied to Zoe. His heart was a hard lump in his chest and it wasn't until he tried to breathe that he realized his nose was clogged and tears were falling down his cheeks. Wiping his face with his sleeve, Simon swallowed down the sobs, taking deep breaths to calm down.

He could do this. Simon was a Tam and Tams did not show emotions when they didn't get what they wanted. Tams were built of sterner stuff, even where broken hearts were concerned.

That mantra firmly in mind, Simon slipped off to the infirmary, avoiding Zoe, who was still standing on the balcony looking up at the black night sky.


Jayne walked towards Mal's quarters at his normal pace. If he was caught, he didn't want to get seen slinkin' around. Hidin' in plain sight was what the doc called it when they'd got on the subject of subter...sutep...spying. The boy had had a number of good notions, no doubt about that, and Jayne had taken to using a few of them over the last year or so.

He made it to Mal's quarters without meeting anyone else on the way and breathed a little easier when he closed the hatch behind him. He strode to the plain desk on the far side of the room and flicked on the wave comm. He hit the emergency beacon, which automatically turned on the homing beacon that Kaylee had installed ages ago on the hopes that it was still working. It would send an encoded wave to Mal's private account every ten hours.

Now all Jayne had to do was hope that Mal would check his wave account.

"Well hello lover. Mind if I ask what you're doing?"

Jayne grimaced, swearing silently to himself, then turned to lounge against the desk, facing McGee She sat on the bed, in the shadows, which was why he hadn't seen her. Forcing a smile, Jayne answered, "Just wanted to give my Ma a call and let her know I was still breathin.' Don't have one of these in my room. Mal's a cheapskate."

She leaned forward, gun in hand, and cocked the trigger. "Is that so? Well, I don't rightly know how long that'll be accurate."


(end Chapter 8)

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Chapter 9: It's Never is Easy, Is it?
Author: Emely Raines
Rating: PG-13
Warning: angst, gyp on Jayne's scene. I know... I'm sorry Beta Reader: Peach
Author Email: emel_raines@yahoo.com


Simon had spent all the rest of the night in the monastery's infirmary; silently organizing its contents. Whenever a brother came in for some small treatment, he obliged with a polite smile and simple nod, but he never left the actual room. He found himself frozen in place when he heard the whispered voice, however, "Simon." *I am a Tam. * He thought to himself but his eyes watered nonetheless, threatening to spill over onto his cheeks. *No, I am NOT crying... My tear ducts have become irritated is all... That's it. * He stiffly answered, "Yes?" *what time is it? *, He glanced at the clock but still didn't move his head from the position it had been in at Mal's entrance.

"Simon, its 06'"

"I know, Captain." He answered in the smuggest voice he could muster, the one he used to pull on Jayne all the time. He thought back a moment and smiled at the memory it brought up; Joara had taught him that voice. Joara had taught him many things; his smile became even more wistful before he was brought back to the present by the feeling of a hand nearing him. He frowned again and turned his stare to a stray cotton ball.

Mal jerked his hand back as if he'd been stung... then again, he had. *Captain? * He thought and cringed. This was going to be harder than he thought. "Simon, I..."

"Has the freighter arrived yet?" the doctor asked, cutting him off.

Mal shut his mouth and searched the figure in front of him, The slope of the shoulders that he'd seen so relaxed not but a few ago, the tension in the way he was holding his back, he wasn't leaning in any way; everything screamed prim and proper `I am above you.' The silent man turned expectantly, raising his eyebrows in a way Mal was sure he'd learned from his father.

Mal's mouth fell open at the sight of Simon's eyes, they weren't the eyes of his lover, the eyes that were constantly open and wide, viewing the world and taking everything in, offering everything of himself. No, he'd seen these eyes only a few times before, they were the eyes of Dr. Simon Tam, surgeon.

He nodded simply and Simon brushed past him and out the door. Mal closed his eyes and, bracing himself on a med-bed, slumped down. "Shit!" he yelped, pulling back up straight and cradling the offended wrist... The last place Simon had touched him.


"Gorramit!" Jayne hissed to himself as he sat stiffly on the bed. He hadn't meant for that to happen. How had he not even noticed the bitch was in the room? He shook his head, sighing despondently. He wondered to himself if he'd ever get to talk with the doc again, tease him about bein' a pansy or somethin'... anything. Even if he did make it out of this and the others got to the ship, would Mal understand?

He sighed again, this time a harsh and guttural sound. McGee moaned beside him and he grimaced. He thanked what ever the ruttin' hell was rulin' the `verse that she'd been drunk. He thought at first that she'd figured him out; he even shuffled out a few really stupid excuses as to why he was there right then. It was only when she'd told him to call his ma and THEN introduced herself that he'd figured it out and steered her onto another topic. A topic that was quite cringe-worthy when the words came from her.

She was asleep and he thought for a moment about waving but figured better, he thought two moments about putting a knife in her heart but didn't want to have to throw the thing away, three moments about what the hell he was doing still sitting there and finally stood up, and, pulling up his pants, left the room, forcing on a "just-fucked" grin. He just barely caught sight of the gun as it came down on his temple before he blacked out.


(end Chapter 9)

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Chapter 10: Sleepless
Author: Mikou
Rating: PG-13
Warning:
Beta Reader: Rebecca
Author Email: ultraviolet_xx@yahoo.com


It had been an age since Mal had last slept alone and it surprised him how the empty space at his side could weigh so heavily. It was a simple thing to swap places with River. He cited needing the space alone where he need not fear hurting his wrist again. She looked at him and nodded wisely and he was relieved that she didn't call him on his transparent excuse.

He shifted on the bed and winced. Tzao gao, his wrist hurt! Right about now, he'd give his left kidney to have Simon here. Maybe then he wouldn't feel like it was like his arm was being jabbed by sharp needles--long ones, too. But it wasn't just the pain meds because he could get up and get those himself. Simon's presence would have been nice just for the company. It was amazing how that cool voice and sardonic smile could work their wonders. Instead, Mal was left with his thoughts about his semi-formed rescue plan.

Eventually, when the situational analysis and the physical pain had destroyed the last vestiges of sleep, he dragged himself out of the small room and lumbered to the infirmary. There, he rifled through the cabinets until he found a vial that seemed to contain enough syllables to guarantee that it would numb the throbbing in his wrist. It was difficult to maneuver single-handed, so he was swearing when he dropped the syringe for the third time. He was weighing the pros and cons of just kicking over the table underneath which it had rolled when a sound made him glance over his shoulder.

"I thought I heard someone fumbling clumsily around in here."

"Yeah, that must have been Brother Green. He seems to have ten thumbs and at least three left feet. Personally, I just got here."

Simon stepped further into the infirmary and graced Mal with a small smile. He stooped smoothly and reached under the table for the syringe. He stood and read the label. "Well, either Brother Green has got a habit that's going to get him into trouble or you're lying. My vote is for the latter."

"I didn't bother you because I didn't want to argue."

"I don't recall us arguing at all."

"Mayhap that's because you haven't deigned to speak to me proper for--I don't know--half a day?"

Simon rolled the syringe in his hand and looked at Mal with mild interest. "I didn't think you'd notice."

"Didn't think I'd...? What the...? Haven't we come a bit far to be havin' one of these conversations again? I know you like to dissect and study everything like one of your surgical specimens, but I thought you knew me better. You got somethin' to say, you just come right out and say it and stop torturing me."

"You don't think much of me, do you?"

Mal sat heavily on a chair, the pain between his eyes rivaling that of his wrist. "I swear I don't know where in the 'verse you come up with this. For the thousandth time, I admire you. You're obviously a brilliant physician--"

"Top three percent--"

"So you keep reminding me. Yes, you're talented and smart. And you've got more balls than I would have initially given you credit for."

"Thanks."

Mal sighed and struggled for what else he could say to break through to his lover. With his crew it was easy. Zoe and he were much alike and didn't mince words. With Wash, an uneasy alliance had evolved into a working friendship of sorts. Jayne, when he was there, was best kept on a short leash. Kaylee was the ray of sunshine and what made her happy was written on her face as clear as day.

Simon was work. Always had been and most would keep on being for a good, long time.

The object of his ruminations held up the syringe. "Would you like me to give this to you? It will probably help you sleep better if you're not writhing in pain."

Mal nodded and held out his arm. The cool swab of the antiseptic sponge was immediately followed by the hot prick of the needle into his flesh. Within minutes, the medication had swarmed his system and left him feeling heavy and far away. He looked up and found Simon's bright, solemn eyes fixed on him. The narcotic was making his tongue trip on itself and get tangled in his teeth, but he had one more thing to say.

"When she had that gun pointed at you... it was all I could do to... to..."

"Yes?"

Mal blinked when Simon's face loomed closer to his. He forgot what he was going to say. He reached out a hand and tried to touch his face, but his body didn't seem to be any more cooperative than his mouth and tongue. "I'm awful glad."

"Glad about what?"

"This," he replied and gave Simon a gentle tap on his nose. He might have missed, however, because his fingertip encountered something a little too giving to be Simon's nose. His lover's yelp of pain was the second clue. When Simon clapped a hand over his eye, Mal concluded that something must have gotten into it. Wasn't bug season on this little moon, so couldn't rightly be that.

Simon dropped his hand and blinked several times with tears streaming from his left eye.

"Oh," said Mal. "Did I make you cry?"

Simon muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "It wouldn't be the first time." However, he refused to confirm his statement and Mal couldn't figure out why he would ever say such a thing.

"What were you trying to say Mal?"

"'Bout what?"

"About--" Simon's face creased with puzzlement. "Well, the easiest would be what you were going to say about my face?"

"Oh, that? Just glad I didn't break your nose when I punched you in the face that one time."

"Twice."

"Huh?"

"You punched me in the face twice."

Mal frowned and tried to recall. Somehow that didn't sound right. "Nah. Couldn't be."

"Oh, it could be and I had the bruises to remember it by. I even have a little scar here next to my eye."

"You can't get scars from bruises."

"Well maybe it was your ring."

"I don't wear rings."

"Maybe it was just your hard knuckles smashing into my face," Simon said tightly.

Mal whispered, "C'mere. Closer so I can see."

Simon leaned closer and pointed at the corner of his eye. "See?"

Mal didn't see anything but Simon's face when it had closed up tighter than a drum earlier on. He was attuned to those moments, no matter what the good doctor might think even if he couldn't figure out the reason for each and every one of them. He reached up with his good hand and touched the scar that wasn't there. "I notice. I notice everything about you."

Simon leaned back. "Of course, Mal. Your powers of observation are astounding."

"I do. And I listen."

Simon made a noncommittal grunt in response. "I think it's time I got back to bed. River was feeling a restless."

Mal reached out and caught Simon's hand. "At least walk me back to my room and wait until I fall asleep." He exhaled with relief when Simon helped him up and they navigated their way back to the room Mal had taken over from River. Mal sat on the edge of the narrow bed and lay down with special care to his bandaged arm. The dark and quiet of the room and the pain medication did their work. It was impossible to keep his lids open as sleep drew him deeper and deeper into its embrace. Before he lost all awareness of his surroundings, he murmured, "Always feels better when you're near."

Simon watched his lover sleep for a few minutes. Part of him wanted to wake Mal up and kiss him senseless for those last words. The other part of him wanted to conk the stubborn fool over the head for only saying them when he was floating on a drug high, making Simon wonder how much he could trust these words. He leaned forward and kissed Mal's temple. "Even if you're telling the truth, you're not off the hook that easy, Malcolm Reynolds." He stood and left the room to head back to his sister.


The robed man crept to his destination, hugging the walls to avoid casting a shadow. He pulled the cowl forward over his head, masking his face except for the eyes. The halls of the abbey were dark and winding, but familiarity directed his footsteps until he'd reached the right door that stood at the end, right next to the archway leading to the stairwell. No light edged the doorway, nor was there any sound from within the room. Given the time, he thought it was safe to assume that the occupants were fast asleep. He knocked--light enough so that it wouldn't wake anyone, but loud enough that they could hear it if they were already up. There was no answer--no movement at all, so he took a chance and slid the door open on its well-oiled hinges. He slipped in and was reaching into his pocket when he felt something cold and hard pressed against his temple.

Rather than acquiescing to the silent, but clear threat, he threw caution to the wind and leapt backwards...

...only to collide with another body that expelled a loud and surprised, "Oomph!" before falling to the ground. He would have run down the hallway in the other direction if he hadn't head footsteps coming up the stairs, signaling a newcomer to block that avenue of exit. He turned to jump over the fallen body and nearly made it when something wrapped around his ankle and sent him crashing to the ground. He flipped over and the sight before him nearly made him pass out. The shadow leaned closer and when that it was one of those...women, darkness fell over him like a curtain.


Simon crossed the landing and entered the hallway to find a commotion there. Wash was sitting against the wall, rubbing his head and talking to himself. River was pacing, brandishing her ivory-handled hairbrush as if it were a weapon. Her measured movements kept her within two feet of the monk lying on the ground.

When Simon absorbed that there was yet another injury to deal with, he was galvanized into action. He hurried to the monk's side and pulled the cowl back. He didn't recall the name, but he did remember seeing the man walking with his head bowed and nearly running away whenever he saw Inara, Kaylee, or River. Now, he lay on he ground, seemingly unconscious. Simon searched for any head injuries and pried the man's lids open to check his pupils. An ear to the man's chest proved that he was breathing deeply and comfortably.

After that quick survey, Simon pinned his sister down with a look. "Please tell me you didn't do anything to this man. Attacking Jayne is one thing--wrong, but amusing in a strange way--but this could get us in BIG trouble."

River danced back a few steps and pointed at the fallen monk. "Wrong room. Wrong victim."

Wash groaned and held his head. "I'll vouch for her. Don't know what he was looking for, but he came barreling out of that room like a speeding train." He stopped and his face fell. "Aw. I spilled my cocoa. The one time in a hundred days when I find fresh milk and now I spilled it." Wash looked sadly at the mug that had flown out of his hands when he'd been tackled. The milk sent out liquid fingers that seeped into the crevices of the slatted wood floor.

Simon shook his head. "But what happened?"

"I went to the kitchen because they said there was cocoa--"

"Forget the cocoa! What happened to the monk?"

"Oh, him? He fainted."


The light that pierced Levi's lids was bright and hot... almost as if he were basking in the sun.

Or as if he were tied to a chair with a very bright lamp pointed at his face. There were several people standing around him in a half circle. One of them stepped forward. He probably wouldn't last long in a fight, judging by the bandage wrapped around one of his hands. But he was backed by several shadows. One of them--a tall woman whose proximity made Levi shudder in abject horror--moved forward and held up a very sharp, very dangerous looking knife. His attention swung back to the man should have been dead by now, along with his "companion", to be followed by this unnatural woman. But in an unforeseen turn of events, the would-be victim had gained the upper hand.

Captain Reynolds' voice was frigid and precise. "You have three minutes to explain what the guai is goin' on here."


Jayne wriggled against his restraints, but the rope tightened and made his hands numb. Gorram woman just had to have a traitor on board! He looked across at Polly, who was trussed up just like he was. She'd probably get a crick in her neck with it lolling to the side that way. Served her right that she got a taste of her own medicine.

But there was little time to waste on celebrating that tiny victory. He had to get out before they came to get him...


(end Chapter 10)

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Chapter 11: Driven Out
Author: Mary Kroll
Rating:
Warning:
Beta Reader:
Author Email: marykroll@iwon.com


Kaylee ran to get their captain, only to find his and Simon's room empty. She threw open every door in the corridor where the crew of Serenity had been housed. Empty. Empty. Book.

"Shepard, you need to get up. One of the brothers-"

Book was already on his feet, pulling on his shirt and rushing away from her down the hallway. Kaylee finally found Mal, snoring away soundly. She called his name, to no reaction. In fact, it took three good shakes before Mal's eyelids bobbed up uncertainly.

He'd been having that dream again. He'd had it every night since his feet hit the dusty surface of the planet and occasionally during the day in the still silence of the borrowed cell. Even Zoe's compelling logic could not drive it away.

Dust stung the crew as they squinted and shielded their eyes with their hands. The black speck against the white sun had grown into a familiar shape. Serenity was descending, albeit awkwardly.

"Wo de tien ah," Kaylee was the first to speak, "it's really her!"

"Yeah, but who's at the wheel?" Wash raised his voice, as the approaching engines' roar grew louder. "She's a frog's hair from yawing right into the ground, sharp-ish."

The ship landed with a crunch of underbrush and two tremorous thuds as first one side rested, then the other. The crew held their collective breath, waiting for the cargo ramp to descend. Zo reflexively reached for the empty holster on her hip and Mal took hold of the butt of his gun. He had one bullet, one shot, one chance.

The ramp lowered, as slowly as anyone could remember it moving, and Jayne strode down, heavy boots clanging, smiling broadly. He had not quite reached the planet's surface when the pain in his chest drove him back. The sound of the gunshot made Kaylee shriek and soundly startled the others. Mal stood with his arm still extended, smoke trailing from the barrel of his gun like incense.

"Well," River said in a bland voice.

Simon and Book ran to Jayne as he fell heavily to his knees and collapsed backwards. His shirt was sopping and red as Simon tore it open. The rest of the crew rushed to help, or at least be close. Mal just stood, grinning with satisfaction at the wet, almost slurpy, noise he could hear over Jayne's weakening groans. A sucking chest wound, a thing of beauty as the dust settled and clung to the blood. Simon looked at him in shocked confusion, "Captain! What are you doing?! He's dying, Captain. Captain!"

Simon's voice lightened into Kaylee's as Mal finally focused on her face. The painkiller had sedated him thoroughly and his head was slow to clear as he left the bed and was pulled by an anxious Kaylee down the corridor.

Zoe had negotiated the unconscious body into a chair and bound him there with whatever was handy. It had affronted her gunshot wound, but she gave no indication of pain. `This tableau could stand to confuse a person,' Mal thought as he entered in front of Kaylee to find his crew staring at a monk tied to a chair, River particularly agitated.

"This situation under control, Zoe?"

"In the immediate sense, Sir. We still don't know what the good friar was intending to do or who he meant to do it to."

Captain Reynolds' voice was frigid and precise. "You have three minutes to explain what the guai is goin' on here."

"Captain, perhaps if you would allow me to speak with him?" Book interjected. Brother Levi did not turn to look at the Shepherd. He only glared at Mal a moment, then dropped his head and prayed in a clear, strong voice.

"What's he saying, preacher?"

"It's Latin, one of the ancient languages of priests and holy men". His mouth was open to continue, but River's voice precluded him.

"He had to protect their holy order. We are the instruments of sin," she paraphrased the monk, "the root of greatest suffering, the cause of mankind's expulsion from paradise and the martyrdom of many true believers. Girls, I mean." She stopped to listen for a moment. "He fears Mal for having brought so many women and so much danger to the abbey. ... Kaylee, you may be interested to know that you are the Whore of Babylon."

"What? Why? I ain't done anything-"

Simon leaned into her, "It's the red hair."

"Oh."

Brother Levi droned on, consumed by his prayer, even as Mal addressed him directly. "I appreciate the fact that you brothers took us in in our needy hour and that we're like to have disrupted your daily life, but I can't cotton to one of you pulling a weapon on unarmed woman- folk." The prayer continued without so much as a syllable mislaid.

"It seems like our welcome is wearing thin, Sir."

"It does at that, Zoe. Wash, you okay?"

"Just another skull crack for my collection."

"So you'll live then. Shiny. Book, where are we on our cunning plan to get back to Serenity?"

"I have been told to expect our borrowed transportation just after dawn."

"Near to that now."

"The darkest hour," River opined.

Mal look at her a moment, then nodded. "Could rightly be. All right, get whatever gear you've got and meet outside the main gate as soon as you're ready. Hate for them to wait on us, would seem ungrateful." His order was answered with nods and scurrying feet. He started back toward his room.

"Captain," Simon caught up to him in the hall and gave him his rank since others were still within earshot. "I have to renew my objection to your taking River as part of your frontal assault. As it is, she's been days without her medication and there's no way at all to predict her behavior. She could be an enormous liability, a real danger to-"

"To the shiong-mung duh kwong-run who took away our home."

Simon jumped at River's voice. She had succeeded in sneaking up on him and Mal with astounding stealth.

"Simple Simon, always worrying. I have enough pharmaceuticals built up in my bloodstream to open my own druggist's. My head is clear." She turned to Mal. "Captain, I anticipate that I can be reliable for another thirty-six hours. Beyond that, speculation would be irresponsible of me."

"So noted. Go on and help Inara get her things together."

"Mal, you can't."

"You heard the child genius. I got thirty-six hours before she turns back. Best make good use of them."


Jayne's head pulsed as he came back to consciousness. All he good think through the swirling black haze was, "Ruttin' fool can't mutiny. I'm the one s'posed to turn on McGee. Ruined a damned good plan, the huh choo-sheng tza-jiao duh tzang-huo."


(end Chapter 11)

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Chapter 12: Three To Get Ready
Author: Dariclone
Rating: PG
Warning:
Beta Reader:
Author Email: minako@trondata.on.ca


Kaylee made her way to thw girls' bedroom to find Inara sitting up in bed. "Little Kaylee," she asked, her voice barely above a whisper,

"What's going on?"

Kaylee responded in kind. "Mal says it's about that time. We're gonna take her back, Inara." Kaylee's face showed a mixture of anxiety, hope and determination. "Mal says we gotta get ready... they're gonna be leavin' at dawn."

Senseing the young girl's uneasiness, Inara gently reached out to touch Kaylee's cheek. "It'll be alright, Kaylee. Mal knows what he's doing."

"I know." Kaylee admitted with a weary sigh. "I'm just... I'm scared Inara and... she needs me. Serenity needs me. I wanna be there when it all goes down."

"Shh. It's okay to be scared. There's nothing shameful in being scared at a time like this. And as for Serenity, we all know you love her. Rightfully, she's as much yours as she is Mal's."

"But," Inara continued quickly as she saw Kaylee was about to interject, "She'll need you after it's over to take care of her. You're a member of the crew too, Kaylee, an important one."

Kaylee let a little sob escape her lips. Quickly rising from the bed, Inara pulled Kaylee into a hug. "Come on, let's go pack." Inara said, after a few minutes. Kaylee smiled, nodded and took Inara's hand.


Wash was nervously pacing around his and Zoe's bedroom. His wife was becoming aggrivated.

"Stop that." she demanded.

"I can't, Zoe."

"Well it won't help anything." Zoe snapped. "We're all anxious for this to be over but there ain't anything we can do 'till it's time."

Wash stopped pacing. "I know." he admitted softly. "I love you, Zoe."

"I love you too, Wash." Zoe said, with an amused smile on her face.

Wash came over to the bed and sat next to his wife, wrapping his arm around her.


Simon sighed and looked down at his hands. He couldn't believe that he was still letting this bother him.

After all, if Mal didn't cry about him he didn't deserve him. All he was to the man was a good lay.

He didn't need Mal eithier. He was reckless, grumpy and gods, was he stubborn!

And this business about River fighting with them! What right of his was it to make that decision? After all, Simon was her brother!

Unconciously, Simon made fists.

River called out to her brother from her bed in the infirmery.

"Simon?"

Simon hurried to his sister's side. "What's wrong, mei mei?"

"That's what I was going to ask you."

Simon's brow furrowed in confusion. "What?"

"I can tell something's wrong with you," River declaired. "Now, just tell me what it is."

Simon let a long breath. "River... you shouldn't worry about my problems. I'm your big brother, you don't have to worry about me."

"But I do worry, Simon," River said, matter of fact. "It's precisely because you're my brother that I do worry."

Simon sighed. He never had been able to get away with much with Rivier around.

"Look, you don't have to tell me." River relented. Then she surprised Simon. "I don't know what happened between you two, but whatever it is, I'm here for you."

Simon couldn't say anything. River reached out and gently stroked his hand.


Mal lay awake in his bed. He just couldn't sleep without Simon beside him.

He'd been thinking and he still couldn't figure out what had happened between them. What had he done to upset Simon so? He knew there had to be something, Simon didn't get angry with him for no reason. He was pulled out of his revere when a knock sounded on the door. Book. he thoughr. It was time...


(end Chapter 12)

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Chapter 13: Diplomacy
Author: Eleanor K.
Rating: PG
Warning: none
Beta Reader: Chrissy
Author Email: emungere@yahoo.com


.._..

Jayne stopped struggling. The ropes weren't going to come loose any time soon. He took inventory instead. He was still in Mal's bunk. McGee was still tied up on the bed, out cold. He still had all his clothes and his boots, which was a definite plus. You never knew how you'd end up after you got clocked on the head, which was one of the reasons he tried to avoid it. Look at last time--sealed in an airlock and getting closer to hard vacuum every second.

All in all, things could be worse. His mamma always told him to look on the positive side. Right now, he was finding that the positive side included the knife in his boot that the dumb fucker who'd tied him up must have missed.

He couldn't get at it with his wrists tied behind his back, and that neat trick where you slid your legs between your arms and ended up with your arms in front only worked if there was enough slack to get your legs through. Worked great with handcuffs. Not so great with ropes wound around your wrists and halfway up your arms.

He wormed his way over to the bed and used the leg to pry his boot off. It wasn't hard from there to get the knife out. A little harder to cut the ropes blind without cutting himself, but he managed it.

"Guess you're on my side after all," said a rusty voice behind him.

He finished cutting his ankles free before he turned. She wasn't going anywhere.

"Guess I'm on my own side," he said. "Like always."

Her laughter was cracked and dry. "Your own side, huh? You think I bought all that crap about you calling your mamma? You're taken, Jayne Cobb. You're Mal Reynolds' man through and through. Thought maybe I could turn you, but the first thing you do is slink off and call your master."

"He ain't my--"

"Like a whipped damn dog."

This was the woman he'd had to lie to his mamma about, not more than a few hours ago. First thing when he got out of this, he'd have to call and explain. Couldn't have her thinking he'd take up with anyone like McGee.

He wished like hell he could kill her, but it wasn't in the cards, not until he knew the situation. If it was one lone guy against the crew, that was one thing. If it was mutiny, McGee was likely the only ally he had, and it'd be easier to help her get the ship back and kill her after.

No reason not to make her sweat though.

He stood up slowly, liking that height advantage every bit as much as he had since it kicked in at sixteen. He set the knife at her throat and saw her swallow.

"Less of the insults," he said. "If I was you, I'd be telling me why I ought to let you live right now. People keep telling me I'm slow, so I guess that's why I can't think of a single ruttin' reason on my own."


Kaylee stood in the courtyard and looked up at the sky. Clouds. She didn't like clouds.

She couldn't remember ever minding them back home. She'd loved the thunderstorms that rolled over the plains and made the hair on the back of her neck prickle with all that energy just floating free in the air. She'd loved the look of the clouds, dark grey bellies swollen with rain, and she'd loved the way everything smelled afterwards. It was the best smell in the world.

In the world. The best smell of all was the way Serenity's engine room smelled when everything was working smooth. It was oil and metal and heat, and some of it was the smell of her own sweat. Some of it was just the way Serenity smelled.

She'd gotten used to that. So used to it, in so short a time, that the air everywhere else smelled wrong to her.

She'd gotten used to seeing the stars, too. It was wrong not to see them. And she and Inara would be holed up somewhere, still not seeing them, still looking at these stupid clouds, while everyone else went to get Serenity back. Even River, and River wasn't even crew.

She sighed and kicked at a pebble. Everyone else was off getting ready. Inara was packing her stuff for the second time in a few days. Kaylee had nothing to pack. Her life was back on Serenity. Her tools were back on Serenity, even the old crescent wrench that used to belong to her granddad. She'd had it in her pocket when one of McGee's men grabbed her, and he'd thrown it away like--like it was just trash.

"You're coming," said a voice in the dark.

Kaylee spun around, breath stopped in her throat. River stood just behind her, smiling like she sometimes did after she said something that creeped out everyone else in the room.

River's eyes were dark, and when the bright smile faded, they looked even darker. She touched Kaylee's face briefly.

"You're coming with us."

Kaylee wanted to say yes. Wanted to see Serenity again so bad and make sure she wasn't hurt. But there were reasons Mal didn't want to take her. She still had nightmares about the assault on the Skyplex. She woke up crying sometimes and had to sit in the dark with her hand over her mouth so she wouldn't wake Mal right next door.

Her hands were always covered with blood in the dreams. It made the gun too slippery to hold, and River wasn't there to save the day. She had to watch while Book and Wash and Zoe and Mal and Simon walked back through that door, one at a time, expecting her to protect them. She had to watch when they all got shot. Mal was always last, and sometimes he said he was sorry before he died, sorry he'd dragged her into this, and she tried to tell him it was the life she wanted, but he never seemed to believe her.

River's hand was on her face again, holding her chin, making her look up.

"Stop it," River said. "You're coming. I'll carry you with me under my cloak."

Kaylee frowned. "You don't have a cloak."

"The cloak is metaphorical."

Oh. Of course it was. She still didn't always understand River.

"Mal won't let me."

"That's what the metaphorical cloak is for. Don't worry. I'll protect you. And your girl will need you."

"Is Serenity hurt?"

"She'll need you," River repeated. She cocked her head, listening. "Ship's here. Go tell Inara. She'll understand. Meet me back here, ten minutes."

Kaylee chewed on her lip for a second and then turned to do as she was told.

If Serenity needed her, she had to be there. Even if her hands were shaking so much already that she had to stuff them deep in her pockets and squeeze them into fists to get them to stop.


Jayne crouched on the catwalk above the cargo bay. McGee was just in front of him. He'd been careful to keep her just in front of him since they'd left Mal's bunk. She was armed with a kitchen knife, and he was starting to wish he hadn't agreed to that. Still, they'd made a stop at his bunk, and he had Vera now, so he wasn't worrying. Just not happy that McGee was upright and walking around after everything she'd done.

He stretched out on his stomach and looked over the edge. McGee did the same.

Down below, Jayne saw the tops of a bunch of people's heads bobbing to the music that he could hear even up here. He saw the table dragged down from the kitchen, loaded with bottles. One idiot whooped and fired his gun in the air. Jayne heard it ricochet off the ceiling and didn't flinch when it hit the railing between him and McGee. She didn't flinch either.

They looked at each other, and McGee rolled her eyes. "Idiots," she mouthed.

Jayne grunted, but he had to agree. Bunch of gorram idiots, to mutiny and then throw a party. He drew back from the edge, motioning McGee to follow.

"You got a price on your head or something?" he asked. "Can't think of no other reason they woulda kept you alive."

"Haven't checked lately, but it ain't unlikely. You?"

Jayne shrugged. "Ain't unlikely."

He hadn't checked either, and he was wondering if his name had been added to the Tam's arrest warrant after Ariel. He hoped not. Life was complicated enough with those two on board. He didn't need to give Mal another reason to get rid of him. And that was assuming Mal didn't just shoot him first and not ask questions later.

"Well, Mr. Cobb? What's the plan?"

Plans weren't Jayne's strong suit. He knew that. It was why he didn't have his own ship. It was why he liked his job with Mal. Mal had good plans, mostly. Better, leastways, than a fair number of the plans Jayne had been involved with over the years.

If he could trust McGee as far as he could...throw something real big...he'd say they should split up and search the ship. But that was out. He had a couple of grenades, which would take out the idiots downstairs, but using them on the ship was asking for trouble.

"I got an idea," McGee said. "Want to hear it?"

"Don't wanna hear nothin' you got to say."

"We're on the same side right now, Cobb. They got what we want. They got my ship."

"Ain't your ship."

"Don't matter who holds the papers right now. They've got control."

And damned if she wasn't right. Jayne grunted.

"Fine."

"Fine?" McGee was grinning at him.

"So tell me already."


Kaylee remembered Mal saying something about how no power in the 'verse could stop her from being cheerful. Also something about just wanting to duct tape her mouth and throw her in the hold for a month. Well, her mouth wasn't duct taped, but she was down in the hold of the freighter, listening to the engines rumble and whine and feeling the ship shake as it lifted off, and she wasn't feeling too cheerful right then.

The hold was underneath the cargo bay, and for a while she'd been able to hear everyone moving around up there. That was nice. Comforting. Now there was just the dark and the engine noises--and that engine didn't sound any too good--and nothing else. She wished she had a flashlight.

She heard a clink of metal somewhere to her right and turned toward it, blind in the pitch black.

"River?"

A hand on hers made her jump.

"We're all in the dark," River said. "But it will be light soon."

"I can't stay down here forever. When I come out, Mal's gonna want to send me back."

"It's too late for that. He has the scent. He won't wait now."

River pulled her hand and Kaylee followed, crawling along the hard floor to the hatchway. They climbed through, and it was only when Kaylee sat blinking in the light on the edge of the hatchway, looking down into the dark of the hold, that she saw a pair of legs in front of her. Legs in tight, brown pants. She looked up.

Mal had a hand over his eyes, rubbing his forehead. "What are you doing here, xiao mei mei?"

"Um." Kaylee waved. "Hi, Captain."

"It was my idea," River said.

Mal looked at both of them for a long moment. Kaylee was sure he was going to turn the ship right around and take her back, but he only sighed.

"You stay on the ship, Kaylee Frye. On the ship, you hear me?" He turned to River. "And you better make sure nothing happens to her. Dong ma?"

"Yes, Captain," they said together.

Mal opened his mouth to say something else, and that was when the proximity alert went off. Mal cast a warning glance at both of them. The yellow of the flashing lights that accompanied the siren sent uneasy shadows across his face. He pointed a finger at them that clearly meant 'stay put' and headed up the stairs at the end of the cargo bay.

River jumped up immediately and followed.

"River! We ain't supposed to--"

But River only grabbed her hand and pulled her along. They got to the bridge just in time to see the comm screen flicker from static to a face and a voice they both knew well.

"Permission to dock, Captain?" Inara asked.

Mal just groaned. He cut the connection without a word, but waved for Wash to start the docking procedure. Kaylee didn't wait. She had to guess where the docking bay would be, but it wasn't that hard. She was there and waiting when the door unsealed.

It was only after she'd wrapped her arms around Inara's waist and squeezed the breath out of her that she realized they weren't alone. She leaned against Inara's side and smiled. Everyone was there, River nearly bouncing on her toes, Simon smiling at his sister, Book with his hand on Inara's shoulder, Wash with his arm around Zoe. Only Mal was missing, and he came around the corner as she watched.

"On the bridge, Wash. Jayne set off the emergency beacon. We've got a destination."

"And hello to you, too, Mal," Inara said.

Mal grinned at her. "Get your gun, ambassador. We've got some serious diplomacy coming up."


(end Chapter 13)

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Chapter 14: Gou-shi and Kisses
Author: skripka
Rating: PG-13
Warning: language
Beta Reader: Jes
Author Email: skripka2@mac.com

Translations:

gou-shi: dog shit
hundan: bastard
xie'e bi: evil cunt
yunchun pofu: stupid bitch


The freighter was, in Kaylee's practiced opinion, a right piece of gou-shi. Old hoses, cracked belts, and rusted bolts. Everything held together with no thought, no imagination.

It's bugging her. Her fingers are itching to rebuild the damn thing. But they can't afford the time, much less the parts, so she's taken to stalking the corridors. Up and around the corners, trying not to wince as a particularly bad repair screams at her.

Kaylee finds River methodically cleaning a gun. She stands staring, fascinated by nimble fingers separating tiny bits, the lock of hair absently caught in River's mouth. She can't tear her eyes away from the dark strand.

"I know you're there." River looks up and smiles at Kaylee, who practically jumps. "I can hear you thinking." The giggle that accompanies that statement sounds like chimes. Kaylee smiles back.

"Hey, you. What're you doin'?"

River grins, almost evilly, and leans in as Kaylee sits down next to her. "Piecing the puzzle. Planning the best approach. Plotting."

Curious now, Kaylee bends closer to ask, "Plotting what?"

River clicks the last piece of the gun into place. "This." A soft heat, damp pressure against her lips and then River spins out of the room, leaving Kaylee with her mouth open, all her frustrations about the gou-shi freighter chased away by a kiss.


They're deep in the black, tracing the beacon Jayne set. Simon is lying in the hammock he set up, counting hours.

Thirty.

He's not sure why he believes River's estimate of the amount of drugs in her bloodstream, but it's something to do. The counting, that is. It keeps him from worrying about River, about Kaylee and Inara, about Mal, about the weight of the gun he has strapped to his hip.

Not that not thinking about things makes them go away. Especially on a ship this small. Simon starts at the sound of boots on the grating. He looks up and sees Mal. Cursing, Simon struggles out of the hammock. "What are you doing here?" he asks, irritated.

"Came to check up on you." Mal's voice is shuttered; Simon can't read the inflections. He sighs.

"I'm fine. How's the hand?" The formal attitude is wearing thin on Simon; it's a bit surprising how quickly he's lost the habit. He would have guessed that the propriety would be ingrained permanently after so many years.

Of course, living on Serenity required Simon to adjust to many things. Not the least was Mal himself. He stares at the captain, daring him to answer.

"If my hand was botherin' me, I would've said something sooner." Mal steps closer. Simon has nowhere to go. He frowns.

"No, you wouldn't have. You're a stubborn bastard, who keeps things too close to the chest." Simon's a bit shocked at how bitter he sounds, but he isn't in the mood to shut up now. "You always wait until the last minute to get medical attention and I don't even want to count the number of times I've had to do transfusions."

Mal takes another step. "So, what? I'm too much work for you, Simon? Thought you liked having doctory stuff to do." His face is still unreadable. Simon twitches, and breaks finally.

"You thought?! You don't think, Mal. You improvise. You improvise and you leave all of us up in the air. Hanging, hoping to God that you're still in one piece when all is said and done. And if things don't go according to plan? You turn into a sullen bastard." Simon took a deep breath. "And you snore."

Mal's lip twitches. "That so?"

"It is!" And now Simon's got a twitchy mouth too. Because it's so utterly ridiculous. Because all of that is Mal, all of that is what he's in love with. Mal wouldn't be here if he didn't love Simon. And Simon would have left long ago if he didn't love Mal.

One last step and Mal's arms are around Simon's waist. "You okay, now?"

"Yeah. Don't do that again."

An eyebrow raises. "Simon, I'm an utter bastard who snores. I'm likely to be doin' gou-shi from now until we fall out of the sky."

Simon shrugs and presses a hard kiss to Mal's lips. "Then I guess I'm going to have to stock up on plasma when we get Serenity back."


Jayne lies still on the catwalk, staring at the party going on below. Something's niggling at the back of his mind; a gou-shi thought. He would have paid good money for a cigar to chew on; that would have helped focus.

McGee's glaring at him. Jayne don't much care. He ain't a quick thinker, and he wants to be sure his plan is going to work. At least he knows Serenity better than these hundan ever could. And then it hits him, just as Rog moves into better light to talk to Kyle.

"McGee..." he hisses and nods at the dark man. "How long's Rog been on your crew?"

"What?" Her face screws up in confusion, making her eyepatch shift oddly. Jayne sighs. She's nowhere near as smart as Mal is. Not that Mal is always smart, but at least he's quicker on the uptake than this xie'e bi. And would likely be a better kisser, if Jayne was into kissin'.

"Rog." Jayne forms the words carefully. "How long you had him?"

She shrugs. "Dunno. Picked 'im up on Persephone."

And that's the click. Jayne curses silently. Yeah, McGee is a downright fool. Jayne's seen Rog before--as one of Badger's guards. The yunchun pofu hired a spy.


(end Chapter 14)

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Chapter 15: Jaynie's Got a Gun
Author: Juli
Rating: R
Warning: none
Beta Reader: none
Author Email: challisgal@yahoo.com


"Brains as well as brawn. I'm impressed."

Jayne looked over when McGee's purred her comment and didn't bother to hide his disgust. The woman was like a bitch in heat, always thinkin' with her pussy. It was a wonder that, after the mutiny, her former crew her entirely male former crew hadn't tied her down over the nearest hard surface and took turns nailin' her.

On second thought, McGee probably would've enjoyed that.

"Somebody's gotta do the thinkin' around here," he growled back. "Seems to me I'm the best one equipped to do that."

There was a time on Serenity when Jayne would have been laughed off the boat for making a statement like that. McGee merely nodded, making Jayne feel downright nostalgic for Simon Tam's presence. If there was one thing you could count on the doc for, it was a good snark.

He wasn't supposed to be the one doin' the thinkin' but the plan that McGee had proposed had been pure gou-shi and that was a fact. She'd wanted him to leap from the catwalk into the cargo hold, brandishing Vera and ordering the mutineers to surrender. To Jayne, that had sounded like a great plan for getting his own self shot full of holes. Since that wasn't exactly in his scheme of how things should go down, he'd countered with a plan of his own. Apparently, he'd impressed her.

Lucky him.

The two of them were donning EVA suits. Jayne's plan was relatively simple. He and McGee would suit up and then sneak behind the mutineers to trip the controls that would vent the ship. Since most of the others were still partying in the cargo hold, it would purely be a matter of cleaning up.

Jayne didn't let on to McGee, but he was worried. He wasn't good at planning. The only plan he'd made since joining up with Mal was Ariel and that didn't exactly turn out the way he'd, well, planned. A lot more was at stake with this one. Cobb wasn't taking care of the mutiny for Pollyanna McGee's sake, that was for damn sure. Everything he'd done since pretending to join her crew had been for Mal; this was too and that meant that it had to work. It absolutely had to.

McGee sauntered over to Jayne, moving gracefully despite the bulky suit. "It was my lucky day when you decided to jump ship."

Jayne didn't trust her, just as he didn't trust that she was as stupid as she'd been acting since the mutiny. No one could be that dumb and be a captain. Half of him had the notion that the whole thing was some sort of test....

"Look, woman, I don't like you," Jayne said bluntly, holding her off as she sidled close. "Don't much care if you like me, but we got to work together to get this done."

McGee abruptly stopped the sex kitten act. "A man who's all business I like that." Snapping her helmet shut and picking up her weapon, she strode down the corridor.

"Who's she kiddin'? That bitch ain't met any type of man she didn't like," Jayne muttered under his breath. With one last snort of disgust, he flipped his own helmet shut before taking up his weapon and following her.

The knot in Jayne's gut unwound a little as the first part of the plan went smoothly. Remembering what he'd been told about the way Jubal Early had easily taken control of Serenity, Jayne had insisted on a slight detour to lock down the crew quarters. That way, if any of the mutineers had left the party in the cargo hold for more private digs, they could be contained until they could be dealt with later.

"I don't see why you aren't using that lovely big gun," McGee hissed as they approached the cargo hold. "That'd take care of these traitors right quick."

"Vera?" Jayne scoffed in a hoarse whisper. "Hell lot you know about weapons, woman. Vera'd blow a hole in this tin can like you wouldn't believe. Not safe to use her inside of Serenity." He'd taken out Vera earlier but more for the intimidation factor than anything else; he'd never actually would have fired her in the ship. This time, though, it was more likely than not there would be shots exchanged and he wanted to be prepared.

Like he really would have sullied his favorite gun by using it helping McGee, anyway. Of course, he wasn't really helping McGee, he was helping Mal by pretending to help McGee, even though he really was helping her at the moment... Jayne frowned. All this plotting was making his head ache.

By this time, they'd reached the same perch overlooking the cargo hold that they'd used before and Jayne motioned for his erstwhile partner to be quiet. He settled into position and she gave him a thumbs-up before starting to crawl away. It went against Jayne's grain to cover her, but she was right, he needed her. And he sure as hell wasn't gonna trust her to cover him. That meant McGee would be responsible for getting to the controls and venting the ship. Jayne's part of it was just to make sure no one shot her before she did it. Afterwards, though....

Afterwards was a whole 'nother story.

It was painful watching McGee crouch and make her clandestine way to the control panel. To distract himself, Jayne studied the cargo hold. The kitchen table was still there, only not so loaded with bottles - looked like the ones he'd seen earlier had been used for target practice. Either that or there'd been one hell of a brawl, from the shards of broken glass that were strewn all over.

Drunken bodies littered the area, although several of the traitors were still up and more or less functional. Jayne looked down and winced. The women from transport ship, or what was left of them, were in a discarded pile right underneath his location. Looked like Jackson and Willis hadn't cleaned up their mess, after all. The broken shells of the women were stacked up like garbage. They were naked one and all and the marks on their corpses made it clear how they'd died.

Jayne was a mercenary. He'd seen a lot of death. Hell, he'd dealt a lot of it. Not like this, though. Sure as hell not like this. That bath was lookin' more and more necessary and, from the way he was feelin', he doubted even the fanciest, most expensive bath he could afford would help him feel clean. He'd told Pol that he'd never had to force a woman and that was God's own truth. From the appearance of the bodies, they'd been raped right to death. Men didn't do stuff like that, animals did.

Suddenly, venting the beasts who'd done this didn't seem like near bad enough. Jayne started thinking of ways to hurt them as they died.

Staring at the bodies, Jayne first thought it was a trick of his eyes when one of them moved. A whimper soon followed, however, and he realized that he had seen what he thought he saw. Towards the bottom of the pile, on the far side from him, a young woman was huddled in on her self. She rocked slightly back and forth in a spastic sort of way, a subdued keening coming from her lips. She barely looked to be an adult maybe Kaylee or even River's age.

"McGee!" Jayne whispered hoarsely into his helmet radio.

"What is it, lover?"

"We got a change of plans," he said quickly. "One of the women from the transport ship is still alive."

"And?" McGee sounded impatient.

"And if you vent the ship, she'll be sucked out too," Jayne explained impatiently.

McGee laughed, the transmitter on the radio making it sound sick rather than sexy. "And this is a problem because....?"

"She'll die!" Jayne whispered hoarsely, as loud as he dared given their proximity to the mutineers.

"I'm beginning to think that a mercenary with morals is somewhat less than refreshing," McGee responded.

Jayne's blood turned to ice as he saw the cargo doors begin to open.

"NO!" He shouted, leaping from the catwalk.

Jayne landed in a pile of corpses, their limbs rigid with the aftermath of death. As he felt the press of atmosphere being violently vented out into space, he scrambled over the stack of dead flesh, desperately trying to reach the one he was still capable of helping. Her wide blue eyes stared back at him and she scuttled away, obviously recognizing him as male despite the bulky suit and identifying him as a threat.

"C'mere, sweetheart, I ain't gonna hurt ya," Jayne cajoled, gun cradled in his arm as he held out a free hand to the girl. A few months ago, he would have let her die without blinking. Now, though, now all he could think of was trying to explain her death to Mal and knowing that no explanation would ever be enough.

At least, that's what he told himself, as he heard the voices of confused mutineers over the increasing whistling of air rushing out of the boat. Pieces of glass and other small objects flew by as his damnable plan began to work.

Jayne had almost reached the girl by the time the decompression had reached the level needed to lift bodies. The girl screamed but Jayne couldn't tell if it was because he'd almost managed to grab her or if she finally recognized the real danger. He made a last desperate lunge and tried to get a hold of her by her hair, but it was too late. The decompression had already lifted the poor girl and was carrying her towards the opening into space, those blue eyes, so much like Simon's, staring fearfully back at Jayne until she was finally lost to the vacuum.

"YeeHA!"

The shout was accompanied by the crack of a fired weapon. Jayne turned around. Some of the mercenaries had figured out what was happening and were trying to hold on to whatever they thought could anchor them. Their former captain was having none of that.

"Betray me, now, Jackson, will you?" McGee fired again and the hapless man screamed and let go of his grip on a catwalk support. Still screeching, he was sucked outside.

"Think you can mutiny against Pol McGee and be successful, Willis? Let's see what the black thinks about that, why don't we?" Another shot and another mutineer was gone.

McGee looked fiercely at Jayne, grinning ear to ear. "This is easier than shooting mountain lions running from a forest fire. Great plan, Cobb!"

It was a great plan all right, although Jayne doubted Mal would appreciate it. Since McGee was having so much fun playing with the mercenaries, Jayne took it upon himself to man the cargo door controls. He sure as hell wasn't needed to cover anyone.

Pushing the buttons that closed the doors and refilled the boat with atmosphere took more energy than Jayne thought he had left. By the time he undid his helmet and paid attention to his surroundings, he found Pollyanna McGee looking at him appraisingly.

"What's a big bad mercenary like you caring about a nothing like that girl, anyway?" She asked him.

Jayne shrugged, not about to tell her that he thought that some of Mal's crazy honor had rubbed off on him somewhere along the way.

"You know what I think?" McGee asked, coming close. "I think you're still Mal Reynolds' boy, that's what I think."

"If that's so, why'd I help you?" Jayne asked. He cursed himself silently. He'd put his gun down while working the door controls but McGee had hers right at hand and pointed straight at him.

"I don't rightly know, but I'll figure it out. Right now, I'm more interested in having a conversation with Rog didn't see him amongst the aerialists that just took their leave of us. He must be locked in the crew's quarters." She looked at Jayne and cocked her head. "That was another good idea locking in all the stragglers so they couldn't make trouble. What say you go with me while I ask Mr. Rog why he didn't tell me he worked for Badger?"

"Sure," Jayne said easily. He did his best to conceal his relief. Still the fool, McGee wasn't going to spend more time questioning Jayne's loyalty.

"But first, stud, why don't you explain this to me?"

McGee was holding up the emergency beacon, the one Jayne had triggered shortly before the mutiny so Mal could trace them.

Damn. Maybe McGee wasn't such a fool, after all.


The crew gathered in the freighter's cockpit, waiting for Mal to react.

"I'm sorry, captain, the signal just went 'plink' and it was gone." Wash almost cringed. He'd never seen the frozen look that was currently on Mal's face and he was certain that he didn't want to see it again.

"We couldn't get a fix on it, sir, before the emergency beacon's signal stopped," Zoe said, hoping to deflect the captain's attention. She had seen that look on Mal's face and wanted his focus away from her husband.

No emergency beacon signal meant no sure way to track Serenity's location. None of the others dared to breathe. No, that wasn't entirely accurate. Simon stepped up to Mal's side and wordlessly put a hand on his shoulder.

Finally, Mal took a deep breath and opened his mouth.

"Wash, set a course for Persephone." He ordered quietly, then turned and left.

"Aye, aye, captain," Wash said to Mal's retreating back. He would have set a course for Earth-that-was itself, he was so relieved to have escape Reynolds' reaction unscathed.

"Sir?" Zoe made to follow Mal.

Simon stopped her. "Persephone. Remember, McGee said that she'd kept her bargain with Badger."

"Daddy wants to ask the little bastard about that," River chimed in.

Zoe shivered. She'd seen that look on Mal's face before. She almost felt sorry for Badger. Mal wasn't going to be asking nicely. Not if he thought Badger had anything to do with him losing Serenity and all that it meant to him.

No, Mal wasn't going to be asking nicely at all.


(end Chapter 15)

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Chapter 16: Just a Moment Behind
Author: sf fan
Rating: PG-13
Warning:
Beta Reader: skripka
Author Email: sffan@compromisingpositions.net


Jayne knows he can't lie his way out of this one. If he were a quick thinker, he might be able to come up with something McGee would buy, but he's not, so he decides to brazen it out instead. He loops his hands in his belt and shrugs. "Looks like an emergency beacon to me."

McGee scowls. "Don't play dumb with me, Cobb. You turned this on so Reynolds could find us, didn't you?"

"Don't matter, does it?" Jayne asks. "You turned it off, signal's lost, he ain't gonna find us now."

"Tell me why I shouldn't put a bullet in your no-good, lying head," McGee says, aiming her gun at Jayne's head.

Knowing that he's dead if he shows one ounce of fear, he looks her in the eye and replies, "Well, if you kill me, you'll have to deal with good ol' Rog on your own. `Course, you could kill us both, but then you'd have to try and run this ship on your own until you make port. You'd be lucky to make it. Or, you could keep me alive and we can convince Rog to get us in to see Badger and you can find out why he planted a spy on your crew."

McGee thinks about it for a few moments and then lowers the gun slowly. "You might have a point, Cobb. I don't trust you. But I ain't got much choice, do I?" Keeping an eye on him, she reaches down and snags his gun up off the floor. She offers it back to him.

"I'm only givin' this to you `cause you're a hell of a lot more intimidatin' with it than without it, and I need you to scare the shit out of Rog. Can't see him tellin' me squat `less he's scared near to death."

She waves him ahead of her with her gun. "You first. I ain't letting you get behind me with a weapon. If you do one more thing out of line, your brains will be pasted on the bulkhead before you can so much as breathe, dong ma?"

Jayne holsters his gun, suppressing a sigh of relief he answers, "Yes, boss," and takes the lead to the crew quarters.


On his way to the small galley for some tea, Simon rounds the corner of the freighter's narrow passageway worrying about exactly how effective he's going to be when they arrive on Persephone the next day. Mal's shown him the basics, and on a good day he can actually hit the target, but he's still uncomfortable with the idea of killing another person. He's afraid he's going to hesitate at a crucial moment.

Lost in thought, he absently adjusts the gun belt Mal insists he get used to wearing, and stops dead in his tracks as he passes the engine room. He did not just see what he saw. He did not see his sister kissing Kaylee. He did not. Simon takes a silent step backward and peers into the opening, feeling a fool, knowing that his eyes must have deceived him. They had not. Time stops for Simon and his mouth falls open as he just stares at the scene before him.

River holds Kaylee's face between her hands, fingers stroking her cheeks slowly as she tentatively brushes her lips against Kaylee's, stopping between each soft kiss to adjust her angle or to shift closer. Kaylee is pressed back against the wall, her hands resting lightly on River's hips. Her fingers clench River's hips when River closes the last minute distance between them, and their bodies connect from breast to thigh.

That small movement snaps Simon out of stunned shock and straight into anger. "Kaywinnit Lee Frye what the HELL do you think you're doing?" he shouts as he strides into the cramped engine room. He grabs River by the shoulder and pulls her away from Kaylee violently.

The look on Kaylee's face is one of dazed surprise as she attempts to answer him, "I..."

"I can't believe you! I can't believe that you would take advantage of her like this! She's barely nineteen. How could you possibly..." Simon's rant is cut off when River hauls off and smacks him on the back of head. "River! What the hell?" Simon turns and glares at her and then shouts, "Oww!" and starts hopping on one foot when she kicks him hard in the shin.

He doesn't think he's ever seen River so angry before, at least not at him. She pokes him hard in the chest and states firmly, "My idea, MINE. My life, my lips, my heart. None of your say who I share them with."

Simon gapes at his sister and then grabs the hand still poking him in the chest. "But mei mei, you're so young..."

River wraps her fingers around her brother's and grins wickedly at him, "Older than you and Mary Elizabeth Bright in the study, much older than you and Steven Chen in the pool house..."

"River!" Simon squeaks, turning bright red. Kaylee bursts into laughter that she quickly muffles behind a hand when he looks her way.

"Well I am! Just because I'm broken, doesn't mean I'm a child, Simon. I know what I want," River says and looks at Kaylee, her eyes going soft and a gentle smile spreading across her face. "I want her."

Simon sees the look the two women exchange and knows when he's been beaten. "All right mei mei, you win. Just...be careful?" he says, not sure what he means, but positive he should say something.

River laughs and tweaks his nose, "Not like I can get pregnant."

Simon's mouth gapes open and Kaylee turns bright red and exclaims, "River! I can't believe you just said that." She turns to Simon and says quickly, the words stumbling over each other in her efforts to reassure Simon, "You know we're not...not even close. We were just kissin'. Honest."

"Calm down, Kaylee," Simon says kindly after he sees the gleam in River's eye and realizes she is just trying to wind him up. "I know that was just my sister's sad attempt at humour. I keep telling people she's a brat and no one believes me."

River grins at them and pulls her hand free and gives Simon a gentle shove with it and points down the hall with the other, "Go. You are distinctly ruining the mood. Shoooo."

He can't help but laugh. "Okay, okay! I'm going. No need to get pushy."

Kaylee joins River and River takes her hand, twining their fingers together. He smiles wanly at them and leaves the engine room.

He wanders into the galley and spends the next twenty minutes, convincing himself that he's done the right thing. He knows he over- reacted when he first found them together, and he knows from first- hand experience that Kaylee will not push River into anything she doesn't want to do, but he can't help but feel uncomfortable about the idea of his sister in any kind of physical relationship.

And that's where Mal finds him. He takes one look at Simon's body language and gets a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He had hoped that Simon had forgiven him, but seeing Simon like this, he's not so sure. Mal doesn't think he can do this without Simon he hadn't realized just how much he had come to rely on Simon's calm support. The last few days without him had been sheer agony. Mal approaches Simon slowly and puts a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, thought we were okay?"

"Huh?"

"You look...tense. Figured you must still be upset about," Mal waves his free hand in the air, not wanting to put their misunderstanding into words.

"Oh, no," Simon replies and reaches up and touches Mal's hand. "We're good. It's something else..."

Mal slips an arm around Simon's waist and pulls him into a loose embrace. "Want to tell me about it?"

Simon puts his arms around Mal and leans against him, taking comfort in his presence. Mal shifts and puts both arms around Simon, holding him close, waiting for him to talk.

"It's River. She and Kaylee..."

"WHAT?" Mal shouts and starts to pull away, stunned to the core. His brain just doesn't want to grasp what Simon has just told him and then it suddenly provides him with what `she and Kaylee' might entail and he mutters ferociously, "I'll kill her."

There's no doubt in Simon's mind that the `her' in question is Kaylee. He curls his hands around the waistband of Mal's pants, preventing him from pulling away. "It's what River wants, Mal. I've decided to accept that. It's just... difficult to process," Simon says with a sigh.

"Oh. Okay. Then I won't kill her," he replies and puts his arms back around Simon. Mal strokes his hair and Simon rests his head on Mal's shoulder.

"Why does everything have to be so hard?" Simon asks.

"Hey, it could be worse, you know," Mal replies. "It coulda been Jayne."

Simon goes very still and he takes a step back. "Don't even joke about that, Mal." Simon shudders visibly. "It's not funny."

"Aw, c'mon, it's a little funny," Mal says with a charming smile, holding the thumb and forefinger of one hand just millimeters apart. Taking in Simon's dead expression, he closes the space a bit more and says, "Not even that much?"

Unable to resist, Simon cracks the smallest of smiles and says, "Okay. Maybe that much."

Grinning, Mal kisses Simon with a loud smack and then wraps his arms around him once again. "So, about this make-up sex..."

"What make-up sex?" Simon asks with a grin.

"You know, the stuff that Wash is always saying is the best sex ever," Mal replies.

"What about it?" Simon inquires with mock innocence.

"Well, by my reckoning, we had a pretty horrible fight and I more or less apologized for being a complete ass, and then we made up, correct?"

"Yes, that's my assessment of the situation," Simon replies.

"So I ask again, what about make-up sex? We haven't had any yet."

"You know?" Simon pauses, pretending to think, "You're right about that."

Mal's hand drifts down to Simon's ass and he pulls him in tight against his body. "I think we should have our make-up sex."

"Right now?"

"Right now." Mal rocks his hips forward and squeezes Simon's ass slowly.

"Mal, it's the middle of the day." Simon wiggles deliberately against Mal.

"Why, yes, I believe it is. A time when the communal bunk area on this piece of gou-shi is delightfully empty," Mal says with a naughty grin spreading across his face. He's covering his anxiety with a joke, and Simon knows it.

Their life is so unpredictable, and Mal knows that careless words can destroy what little happiness they gather. Who knows what might happen on Persephone? They were walking boldly into danger and he's not crazy enough to think that they will come out of it completely unscathed. He can only hope that he can keep Simon safe and whole. In the meantime, Mal needs to distract Simon; he knows it will keep him from worrying. And if that distraction involves `make-up sex,' then all the better. They both need to reconnect after their time apart.

"I like the way you think, Captain Reynolds," Simon replies in a low voice before arching up and giving Mal a long, slow kiss that fills Mal with heat and desire. He gasps at the display of passion, and pulls Simon close wanting nothing more than to take him right here, right now and show him how much he needs him, wants him, loves him. He pulls away from the kiss and groans, "Bunk, now," in a desperate, lust-laden voice.

Simon gives him a slow, down-right filthy smile that sends a shiver down his spine and leads the way.


(end Chapter 16)

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Chapter 17: Not Exactly Hansel and Gretel Author: T'Yanna
Rating: PG
Warning: It got a little morbid at the end so be warned. Beta Reader: Karah
Author Email: tywiles@yahoo.com


It really pissed Jayne off that Rog was hold up in Zoe and Wash's quarters. Not so much that the man actually was in there. He just didn't want to have to own up to having broken some of their stuff. Zoe was likely to shoot him anyway.

He suppressed a sigh as McGee pulled the hatch and he jumped down, Vera at the ready. He wasn't expecting to see Rog sitting quietly on the bed. Jayne was so stunned he didn't move and McGee nearly landed on him as she followed.

Rog actually smiled as Jayne and McGee. It wasn't the fact that he smiled that bugged the hell out of Jayne; it was the superior, knowing way he did it. The little hairs on the back of the mercenary's neck stood on end. In his opinion, this was worse than being around River where at least a person could expect strange.

He narrowed his eyes and got out his big-scary-man voice. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way."

The bastard's smile grew. Jayne barely kept himself from squirming his every nerve on edge.

"I'll take the easy way."

Jayne blinked. He knew he wasn't a smart guy but he really hadn't expected that nor the pleasant-dinner-conversation way in which the man said it. He glanced over his shoulder at McGee who shook her head.

She stepped forward. "Okay, what are you smiling about?"

"This."

As if by command the ship rocked, sending Jayne headfirst into the bulkhead.


Wash sat in the quiet of the cockpit. He knew he should go to bed. The ship had its own pilot and computer to get them to Persephone. He just didn't relish another night listening to Zoe pace and plan gutting Jayne. It just wasn't good for the digestion.

She was far from convinced that Jayne had set the emergency beacon, no matter what River said. Either way he did not want to be in Jayne's shoes if... when they caught up with the Serenity. She'd probably hit his just for the hell of it.

He wiggled about in the seat. Wash knew it was stupid but most of all he missed the chair on Serenity. He had it broke in to perfection. Sitting in it gave him a sense of home that he couldn't get with Zoe in their quarters. Not that he'd ever tell her that. If asked he'd say his wife could walk in space without a suit.

Wash held back another squirm. When they got Serenity back, he and Zoe were going to show his chair the appreciation it deserves.

Grinning at the thought, he decided it was time to interrupt his wife's plotting. Wash rose with a lazy stretch. He'd taken a single step when a loud thump had him whipping around to stare at the window. He wasn't sure what they'd hit until it happened again.

Before his eyes, a crate with the Badger mark on it crumbled against the freighter. Wash watched in fascination as rare silk fluttered through space, though they couldn't really flutter in the vacuum. He stepped forward mesmerized by the way the fabric clung and rippled against the window.

His reverie was broken when another loud thump had him turning his head. He leapt away from the window. It was a body and as his horrified eyes took in the smushed face, Wash recognized one of the hijackers. The silk and the body slid off the haul at the same time and Wash stared in horrification at the scene before him.

Then it hit him.

"Breadcrumbs."


(end Chapter 17)

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Chapter 18: Breadcrumbs
Author: Den
Rating: PG
Warning: It got a little morbid at the end so be warned. Beta Reader: skripka and Lia Van Helsing Author Email: den@mattschulze.info

Translations:

Made = fuck


The door to the common sleeping area slid shut, sealing Mal and Simon off from the rest of the ship. The room was dimly lit and the beds that had been crowded in didn't leave room for much else.

Simon hooked his finger through the belt loop of Mal's pants and tugged him close before grazing his lips over Mal's earlobe. "About that make-up sex you were talking about," he breathed. He popped the buttons of Mal's shirt one at a time. The noise they made as they clattered to the floor echoed in the oddly-shaped room.

"What about it?" Mal asked breathlessly.

Simon chuckled softly as Mal's breath hitched in his throat. He slid his hands in under the material, fingertips lightly touching here as he nibbled, sucked and licked gently there. With one hand, he cupped the side of the other man's neck as he kissed him and began fighting with the buttons of Mal 's trousers with the other hand.

Simon slid his hand inside, taking hold of Mal's erection. Mal backed against the wall of the chamber, quivering under Simon's touch. "There was a scientific study done on the topic of make-up sex and it was determined that it provided significantly superior orgasms to both partners," Simon said softly as Mal pressed himself into his hand. "We should test that theory," he continued. "Don't you think?"

Simon fell to his knees slowly in front of Mal, eyes never leaving his face. He wrapped one hand around the shaft of Mal's cock, used the other hand to brace himself against the wall behind Mal and slowly took him inside his mouth.

Mal inhaled sharply and wrapped his fingers through Simon's hair. "Made!" he hissed.

Simon grinned around his mouthful and pulled back to the head, teasing it lightly with the tip of his tongue. "We'll get to that eventually," he teased.

The com unit on the wall above them crackled to life. "Mal," Wash called out.

Mal had to swallow before answering. "Yes?" He gasped as Simon teased the head of his cock with the tip of his tongue. He shuddered and whimpered quietly as Simon began licking his cock from base to head and down again on the other side.

"I think you'd better come up here," Wash requested.

Simon took Mal in his mouth again, squeezing with his lips and slid his mouth up and down Mal's shaft repeatedly. What finally pushed Mal over the edge, however, was the tip of Simon's finger slipping along the rim of his hole.

"Now?" Mal choked out, grunting quietly as he filled Simon's mouth.

"Now, Sir," Wash answered.

Simon stood with a self-satisfied smirk on his face and kissed Mal smartly. "You'd better go see what Wash wants."

Mal groaned as he attempted to put himself together. He scowled at Simon's smirk as he searched for his wayward buttons. "Don't say a word," he bit out. "You say anything, you're going to owe me, big time."

Simon pulled Mal close, and pressed a hard kiss to his lips. "You make sure you're around to collect, Mal."


The bridge was lit only by the console lights when Simon and Mal joined Wash and Zoe. Wash looked from Mal's flushed face to Simon's mussed air and laughed.

"I'm sorry sir, were we interrupting?" he laughed. He turned to Zoe. "Honey, I think we were interrupting."

Mal cast him a dirty look. "What did I need to rush up here for?" he asked.

Wash indicated the debris floating in front of the ship. "This."

Mal frowned as he studied it. "What about it? It's debris."

"Not just any debris, Sir. We also had the body of one of the pirates crash into the screen," Zoe added. "Breadcrumbs."

Mal stepped closer to the window and stared. "Jayne?" he asked.

"Hard to say, but don't know who else it could be," Wash replied.

"Huh."


(end Chapter 18)

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Chapter 19: Apes and Snakes
Author: Gigi Sinclair
Rating: PG
Warning: None
Beta Reader:
Author Email: gigitrekslash@canada.com


When Mal hired Jayne, he knew he was getting into. Jayne liked to think he was one-of-a-kind, but Mal had known a hundred guys like him, first on the ranch and then in the war. They were brawny all over, including between their ears, and understood two things: money and muscle. Concepts like loyalty and honour were as foreign to them as good personal hygiene was to rim worlders, and at first, that'd been fine. Mal hadn't been looking for a bosom buddy, he'd been looking for the kind of hulking intimidation that Jayne possessed and Mal, no matter how hard he tried, didn't. Mal had been confident that as long as he paid Jayne on time and let him have his own room, Jayne wouldn't sell them out.

Until he did.

Well, he didn't sell out Mal personally, although that would probably have followed. It was all details. Mal was the captain of "Serenity" and Jayne's boss, and by trying to give up Simon and River on Ariel, Jayne showed his true colours. And they were even uglier than Mal had suspected.

But Jayne's plan failed, and the only thing that kept Mal from dropping Jayne on the nearest penal colony, one of the wild ones where even the guards had given up and it was ruled by cons who'd give the reevers a run for their money, was that Jayne was the one who'd changed his mind.

Mal liked to think he knew people pretty well, and that was the last thing he'd have expected from Jayne. "A trained ape without the training", Simon called him, but that was because Simon was from the Core and, although Mal would never have said it to his face, at least not now Simon was giving him regular nookie he sure wasn't getting anywhere else, Simon was nave. Jayne wasn't an ape, he was a rattlesnake, and the good thing about a rattlesnake was you could always tell when it was about to strike.

Unless you were a fifteen-year-old ranch hand drunk on your first hooch, and you stumbled outside desperate for a pee, only to see, as you did up your fly, a wet, pissed-off snake hissing and reaching for your ankle.

Mal didn't know why Jayne had changed his mind about Simon and River, and that worried him. Mal kept his friends close, his enemies closer, and people who confused the hell out of him even closer than that, so he kept Jayne on board ship. And lived, just barely, to regret it.

"Mal?"

Mal looked up at Simon, to see Simon looking back. Along with Wash and Zoe.

"The breadcrumbs." Of course, they were Jayne-style breadcrumbs, debris and dead bodies. "What the hell's he playing at?" He knew it had to be Jayne, but he didn't know why.

Simon shrugged. "Maybe he's not as yellow-bellied as we thought."

Mal smirked at that. Some people just weren't made to use frontier slang. Simon "Elocution Lessons Until the Age of Eighteen" Tam was one of those people.

But Mal's amusement didn't last long. "It could be a trap." Maybe McGee wasn't satisfied with the ship. She'd been pretty cut up at losing Inara; maybe, Mal thought, McGee wanted her, or her income, enough to kill the rest of them to get it, and maybe Jayne had been offered a big enough cut of the profits to accept.

Zoe piped up. "We won't know that unless we follow the trail."

"You think we should?" Mal trusted her judgement, and Lord knew she didn't have any soft spots for Jayne.

"I do," Simon agreed. Then again, Mal thought, Simon didn't know about Ariel.

"I don't think we have any choice," Wash put in. "Anyway, what're they gonna do that we haven't already had done to us?"

Mal winced at the reminder of the torture he and Wash had gone through. They were still suffering the effects.

But there was an answer to that question. "Kill us."

There was a moment's silence as the four of them considered it. It was Wash who finally spoke up. "Well, I'm always up for a new experience."

For a brief moment, Mal was grateful he had a crew like this one. Sure, they drove him nuts more often than not, but at times like these, there was no one he'd rather have on his side.

"Then let's get on it."

He smiled at Simon, who smiled back, then turned back to the window.


(end Chapter 19)

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Chapter 20: Cold Hard Dreams
Author: J.M. Griffin
Rating: PG?
Warning: None
Beta Reader: sffan
Author Email: aeriejm@earthlink.net


Jayne was dreaming. He might have been holding Vera in his two hands he thought he could feel the familiar length of cold, cylindrical metal, and he savored it, enjoying the power the pretty weapon lent him. `Cept then the dream changed on him, and what was in his hands was warm flesh, warm female flesh, Pollyanna McGee's flesh to be exact. McGee laughed in his face and Jayne shuddered and released his hold on her tits, staggering back so he could look into the captain's face.

Instead, he tripped on something and fell, landing down on his knees. When he finally brought his eyes back up to look at the captain, it was Mal who stood before him, his face a mask of anger and disgust. Jayne simply couldn't abide that look on Mal's face and he opened his mouth to protest, to tell the man that he weren't no cheat, that he'd learned his lesson and he wasn't about to do the captain or Serenity wrong, not this time, no way, no how. But no words would come out and Mal's flinty blue gaze stabbed straight to Jayne's heart. When he couldn't stand to look into Mal's accusing eyes any longer, he drew his own gaze down and found himself staring at Mal's crotch. In a crazed, desperate attempt to alter Mal's assessment of him, Jayne grabbed the captain's hips and pulled him close, until his face pressed against the fly of the man's breeches. He could feel Mal's length stir as he breathed hot, moist breath into the fabric. Suddenly, Mal's flaring heat burned his cheek and Jayne flinched back, and the eyes he looked up into next were blue, alright, but they weren't Mal's. They were Simon's.

"You betrayed us," Simon announced in his severe, slightly snooty voice. "Yes, I do know how you betrayed both me and my sister. So, why shouldn't we think you're betraying Serenity?"

"Oh, no," the words rushed out of Jayne. "No, boy, no. I promise, not this time. Ya gotta believe me. I don't wanna be on Serenity under the command of Pollyanna the bitch queen from hell, believe you me."

"Why should we believe you?" This time the eyes Jayne gazed up into were River's, deep and inky as space. Kaylee squinted at him from her stance behind River's left shoulder, eyeing him with distaste, but he ignored that.

"You gotta believe me, River. Tell Mal I didn't betray him this time, okay? Tell him if he don't hurry, I won't be able to help from the inside. I'm losing the upper hand here, so to speak. He's gotta hurry. Tell Mal for me," Jayne pleaded.

A moment later, Vera's pebbly stock was back in his hands and Jayne came to full consciousness with a jerk and a gasp. He was still in Zoe and Wash's quarters and McGee was standing over him with a look of pure evil on her face.

"Tell Mal what?" she demanded.


(end Chapter 20)

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Chapter 21: Binky Takes a Bow
Author: Karah
Rating: PG-13
Warning:
Beta Reader: none
Author Email: chakotaykim@yahoo.com


"Uh... what?"

"Tell Mal what?"

Jayne shook his head. "I was dreaming, woman; I don't remember."

"Somehow I don't believe you."

"Well, tough shit. For all I know I could have been asking Binky to tell Mal to pick a lock with his teeth."

"Binky?"

"The big knife you liked so much in my quarters."

McGee glanced at his groin. "I wouldn't call it a knife..."

Jayne froze, not sure if he was disgusted or just plain horrified. "The seven inch knife with the razor fine edge and glossy black handle. Not my... equipment."

McGee just shook her head, still not looking like he believed her.

"Where's Rog?"

McGee snorted. "Over there." She inclined her head to the opposite corner.

The man's body lay crumpled in a pile with a growing puddle of blood seeping out from under him.

"What the hell did you do?"

"Shot him. He was trying to get passed us."

Jayne nodded. Not much he could do about it now. "What caused the ship to lurch like that?"

McGee cocked her head to the side. "Dunno. I thought I'd wait for you to wake up so I could take you with. Don't want to go without my protection, now would I?"

Jayne swallowed. His ruse was getting out of control. He only hoped River really had been in his mind so she could hurry Mal's sorry ass up.


River frowned slightly before heading for the bridge. She'd always enjoyed sharing Jayne's dreams, especially when Mal was in them but this last one...

She just hoped Mal wouldn't be too hard on Jayne when they got back. He was only trying to help afterall. Still she could deal with that later. Right now she was to "hurry Mal's sorry ass up."

She grinned. Jayne was just as funny sounding in his head as in real life. That's why she liked him so.


(end Chapter 21)

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Chapter 22: Bluffs and Assumptions
Author: nancy
Rating: R
Warning: angst and violence and bad language Beta Reader: none
Author Email: thetenthmuse1@yahoo.com


Jayne grunted at the impact of Badger's boot to his chest for a third time and felt another rib crack. Glaring up at the crime lord, he growled, "You better be long gone by the time I get free, little man."

Sneering, Badger replied, "You ain't never going to be free, Cobb. Seems like you've gone and got yourself a price on your head, on account of those fugees Reynolds is keepin' on his boat."

Uh oh. That's bad, Jayne thought. "So you're just going to sell me to the Feds?"

"Better believe it."

Jayne summoned the best sneer he could and spat, "Ni ta ma de."

"I'm think the same thing, Badger. That, and you really might want to reconsider, now that I'm here to kick your ass, you Liu kou shui de biaozi he houzi de erzi."

Jayne's head whipped around at Mal's voice and all he could feel was relief. He could stop thinkin' and plannin' and worryin' about what was coming next, because Mal was there to do all that. He could go back to just bein' muscle and scarin' folks.

Thank God.

Badger grinned outright, an unpleasant sight, as he took in the fact that Mal was by himself. Twirling his hat a couple of times, he asked, "You got a death wish, Reynolds?"

"Nope. Just comin' by for one of my crew and my ship. Where's McGee?" Mal answered, his voice almost pleasant.

"McGee's on your crew now?" Badger countered, still grinning.

Meeting Jayne's eyes, Mal answered, "Not her, no. And while I don't rightly mind you messin' Jayne up a bit, as he's gotten a bit out of hand lately, selling him to the Feds just ain't going to work for me."

Still crew! Thank God, he thinks I'm still crew, Jayne thought in abject relief.

"You got brass ones, I'll give you that," Badger allowed. "But now I got you and Cobb. What do you think of that?"

Mal pulled out a small device and held it up for everyone to see. Jayne's stomach dropped as he saw that it was a bomb.

"You ain't going to blow yerself up, Reynolds," Badger snapped.

Lips pursed, Mal touched something on the device that make it start blinking and replied, deadly serious, "If I got no ship, I got no life anyhow. You really think I'm going to be planet-bound the rest of my life and not go crazy? You think that I'll let that happen? Oh and don't think to be shooting me, over there in the corner, I die prematurely, it goes off prematurely. You do know what that big word means, right?"

Badger's tongue flickered out to wet his lips and he said, "Look, Reynolds, I don't have any control over McGee and what she takes. I don't even know where she is right now."

"Wrong answer. Now you've got two minutes," Mal informed him calmly.

"Ah, Mal? How's about you make them let me go first?" Jayne suggested.

Mal shrugged. "Sorry Jayne. I like you and all, but the only thing I want right now is my ship. If I have to blow you up too, well, I'll make it up to you in the next life."

Jayne howled, "You're a gorram atheist!"

"Oh. Yeah, I expect that's true. Well, I'll just say I'm sorry now, then. One minute, twelve seconds, Badger. Where's my ship?"

Badger gripped his hat so tight the brim was crushed. "I don't know!"

"Fifty-four seconds."

"Reynolds, come on! I don't know where that woman or your ship is!"

"Tzao gao. Sorry to hear that," Mal drawled, utterly unrepentant. "Thirty two seconds."

Jayne had seen Mal bluff before. He'd seen it when the stakes were high, and when they were low. He knew the shaded look in the Captain's eyes that weren't rightly visible to anyone who didn't know him. He knew the way the jaw set just so and how Mal's expression held a pleasant cast to it, all for deceiving folk.

The good news was that in about twenty seconds, Jayne wouldn't have to worry about Zoe peeling his skin from his body while he was still alive and screaming. The bad news was that Jayne really didn't want to die.

"Twenty-four seconds."

"All right! McGee got took by one of her own crew, Rog. He had some kind of booby trap that your man and McGee tripped, which let him get hold of Serenity and them. He's bringing Serenity to a chop station outside Nigan IV!" Badger shouted.

Mal's finger slid across the device and the blinking stopped.

If Jayne had been standing, he'd've dropped to the floor from relief at still breathing. He wasn't one to piss his pants at the thought of death, but being trussed up helpless on the floor while a bomb went off wasn't how he wanted to go. Bullet in the brainpan, maybe knocked off a roof in a chase, knifed in the back. All of those were perfectly acceptable ways to die. Of course, if he had his way, and he'd never breathe a whisper of it to a soul, he'd die doing something heroic, like one of Mal's last-minute rescue things gone-wrong.

Big Damn Hero was a title he'd love to take to the grave.

His attention returned to the present situation at the cocking of multiple guns and the whine of lasers being readied.

Mal looked completely unconcerned, though, and just said, "Come on in, boys."

The room flooded with local lawmen, all bearing really big guns that would give Vera a run for her money. One of them grabbed Badger and shoved him against the wall, exclaiming, "Elliot Wilson III, aka Badger, you are hereby bound by law for extortion, racketeering, murder, illegal slavery, drug running, gun running, black marketeering and a whole host of other things I ain't got time to list!"

From the floor, Jayne watched with a weird sense of unreality as Badger and his crew were cuffed and dragged away. When the last of them were gone and it was just him and Mal, Jayne demanded, "What the gorram hell just happened?"

Grinning, Mal crouched down by him and started undoing his ropes. "What happened was a citizen's arrest with backup. I'm not normally one to do my civic duty, but since our goals coincided, I figured, why not?"

Mal helped him to his feet, keeping him steady once he got there, and Jayne asked, "Is Zoe going to flay me alive?"

With a snort, Mal shook his head. "Actually, I was the one who last let go of that plan, and with some great reluctance, I'll tell you."

"What changed your mind?"

"I was still thirsting for your blood when we landed yesterday," Mal explained, sliding an arm around Jayne as they started walking out of Badger's underground hideout. "Then, come to find out, one of the good Shepherd's fellow Shepherds, uh, you know what I mean, he got word to Book that some girl had been found amidst a bunch of space trash. Seems like you tried to save her life and succeeded."

Jayne's mind flashed back to the girl who'd been spaced and frowned. "She didn't have no gear on, how's she still alive?"

"You know those ten or so seconds you get before your brain boils out your ears?"

"Yeah."

"Well, she saw you trying to get to her and it gave her some hope that not all the `verse was filled with murdering rapists. She grabbed hold of the edge of Serenity for them ten seconds or so and snagged a suit as it floated past her. Got some minor brain damage, hearing and motor loss and the like, but she's going to live and the sisters of the Shepherd's brothers, uh, well, a buncha nuns are going to take care of her until she gets all self-sufficient and such."

Jayne was still confused. "But what's that got to do with not skinnin' me alive?"

Stopping, Mal let him go and faced him, serious again. "Jayne, most folk who steal a ship, shoot up its crew, strand them, and betray their friends to do all that, don't leave no witnesses. It's bad for the whole getting caught thing."

"So, uh..."

Mal arched an eyebrow. "How'd you get away from McGee again?"

"Mal," Jayne whined.

Shaking his head with what looked to Jayne to be an almost fond expression, Mal said, "Come on, Jayne. We still got people for you to hurt so we can get Serenity back. What else did Badger do to you, aside from the kicking? Just in case I have to pick up supplies for Simon on the way back?"

Jayne accepted the arm around him again and listed, "I been blowed up, knocked out a couplea times, beat up, and dropped down some flights of stairs. Though I think that were accidental-like on account of the boot to my ass."

"So you're good to go then."

"Yep."

They were silent a bit while climbing the stairs, Jayne's head swimming from the exertion on top of his injuries. Topside, a thought occurred to him and he asked, "You were bluffing back there, right?"

More silence.

"Uh, Mal? You were bluffing, right?"


"He'll be all right."

Inara's soft statement startled Simon and he dropped the syringe that he'd been holding. It shattered on the metal floor of their borrowed transport and he stared at it, momentarily fascinated by the glittering pattern it made. Dragging his eyes from it to Inara, Simon replied, "I know. As long as no one sees myself or River, as usual, we should all be fine."

"That seems a little more bitter than usual," Inara observed, moving further into the tiny infirmary. "Did something happen?"

Sighing, Simon pinched the bridge of his nose and tried not to think about the date. It was impossible, of course, because as soon as he'd realized what day it was, it had occupied his every other thought.

"Simon?"

Simon shook himself from the morose thoughts and managed a faint smile at Inara. "Today is an anniversary of sorts; the day I broke River out of prison. Three whole years as fugitives and look at how very far we've come. We've gone from on the run to, let me see, still on the run. Only now, we have no ship and no safety and no jobs because there is no ship. Mal is running perilously close to becoming manic regarding Serenity's return. River is almost back to her normal, undone self because I have no meds to give her and she'll be drug free in approximately three hours. And what will happen then, is anyone's guess."

"But you have to look on the bright side, too, Simon," Inara protested. "You and Mal are together, and you and River are still out of Alliance hands. That counts for a lot."

"I know, I do," Simon agreed, half-hearted. It was just the date depressing him, not the hopeless tint his life had taken.

She brushed light fingers through his hair and said, "I think you need some rest. Mal isn't the only one who's on the edge."

"I can't sleep," he admitted. "My brain won't shut down long enough to allow even a doze."

"Just when you think things can't get any weirder."

Both of them turned to look at Zoe, who stood in the infirmary door with an oddly bemused expression on her face. Frowning, Simon asked, "What is it?"

"Wash was just on the Cortex, hunting through the usual security channels, taking a look-see as to what's going on in the great big `verse around us and a little something caught his eye."

Simon didn't even think that Zoe was conscious of the fact that she was drawing things out like she was. There was no tell-tale glitter of amusement present, anyhow. Impatient, he demanded, "What did he see, Zoe?"

Dark eyes flickered to his and she answered, "Your Father's just been appointed to the Senate House on Sinon. At first Wash thought it was just someone with the same last name, but it's really your Father."

Stunned, Simon croaked, "The Senate!?"

"Yeah," Zoe confirmed. "He's been put in charge of an oversight committee on government spending, specifically, covert military projects. Simon, it sounds like he raised Holy Hell when he saw the warrant out on you and River. There's a ton of interviews with just about every news agency out there. He made so much noise about the fact that both of his children went missing and then put on fugee status for no legitimate reason, that he was given a Seat."

"But...no, no, he said, he said I was on my own with this, that he wouldn't help me!" Simon exclaimed, remembering that conversation with his father. The older man had been quietly furious, embarrassed and there had been dead certainty in his voice that if Simon didn't go home with him then, there would be no home for him thereafter.

Inara gripped his shoulder and pointed out, "I'm sure that he was angry at the time, and probably scared. And knowing you as I do, he was proud, as well. Too proud to admit that his son was right and he was wrong, perhaps."

Looking back at Zoe, Simon demanded, "If this has been going on all along, why did we hear nothing about it?"

Uncomfortable now, Zoe shrugged and answered, "We've been pretty far out on the rim. News don't travel so well out there."

"Gou shi! The Cortex has no range. Why didn't I know about this?" Simon snapped.

"Simon, don't go jumpin' to..."

"Someone filtered it out," Simon whispered, instantly thinking of Mal. If there was no reason for Simon and River to be on the run, then Mal would lose his doctor and his bed-warmer. It was possible that he'd done it before they became lovers, but it didn't explain why he didn't undo it once that had happened. Anger rose and he snapped coldly, "He hid this from me! He deliberately...damn him!"

"Simon!"

"Simon, wait!"

But he ignored the women's calls after him and ran out of the infirmary, down the short hall of the ugly ship, and headed straight for the cargo hold. Fury beat his blood into a rapid tempo and Simon literally couldn't think beyond putting his fist through Mal's face for the betrayal of everything they'd ever had. The trust that he'd thought he'd won from the other man had all been a sham, as had been their relationship.

Mal had been keeping him and River prisoner far more effectively than the Alliance; it had just been a nicer cell.


There were all of five seconds between the time that Mal caught sight of Simon's furious expression as he ran down the stairs into the cargo hold, and the impact of his lover's fist into his face. Lurching back as agony slammed into him and blood sprayed out of him, Mal let go of Jayne. The big man promptly keeled over onto the floor of the freighter, groaning. Mal, unfortunately, was still in too much shock at the attack to avoid another blow, and this time Simon drove his fist into Mal's stomach.

Not knowing what the hell was going on, Mal rolled to the ground and got out of Simon's range, fast. Catching his breath, Mal eyed the other man warily and demanded, "What the hell are you doing!?"

"Me!? You qingwa cao de liumang, Mal! You liar!" Simon shouted.

That was when Mal saw the tears streaking down Simon's face and the betrayal etched into the refined features and knew he was in serious shit. Why, could wait. Holding up his hands, Mal warned, "Whatever you're thinking, best you reconsider. I ain't done nothing, Simon, I swear it."

"Nothing?" Simon spat. "Nothing? Oh, I suppose `nothing' includes not fixing Serenity's connection to the Cortex so I remained oblivious of my Father's attempts to find River and myself and to get our warrants rescinded over the last three years! I bet that `nothing' also means you haven't been lying to me about the trust and love you supposedly feel for me!"

Baffled and growing angry, Mal exclaimed, "Did someone drug you, or just knock you about the head while I was gone? `Cause I got no idea what you're talking about!"

Simon eyed him suspiciously for a long moment then announced, "Someone filtered access to the Cortex on Serenity. Someone made it so that any news regarding my family, good or bad, never appeared!"

"And you instantly assumed that that someone, was me," Mal observed, struggling not to lash out from his own sense of hurt that Simon would condemn him like that, without a second thought. It wasn't like the boy didn't have good reason for his suspicions, given Mal's repeated past behavior, especially his recent past behavior.

"You're saying it wasn't?" Simon questioned, calming down somewhat.

Mal nodded emphatically, glad that Simon wasn't so far gone in doubts about them that he was at least willing to listen. Serenity meant a lot Mal, but Simon meant everything. "That's exactly what I'm saying. So just keep your fists to yourself while we straighten this out, okay?"

It was clear for Mal to see, the very second that Simon believed him. The high flush of emotion drained right out of the other man and dismay and regret centered squarely on his face. "Oh Mal, God, I'm so sorry. Can I, will you let me look at that?"

Ignoring the residual hurt from the entire encounter, Mal offered a wry grin and, "At least those lessons you been takin' have sunk in," as a peace offering.

Simon crossed over to him and gently felt the still bleeding nose. Mal winced, but could tell from the amount of pain that it hadn't been broken this time. Simon confirmed it a moment later with, "Not broken, thank goodness. Tilt your head back and pinch here to stop the bleeding."

He did pinch his nose, but took Simon's hand in his, not missing the gasp of pain as he did. Typical of Simon to ignore his own injuries to see to someone else's. "Looks like you sprained it."

"Well, it's official. Your head is harder than my fist," Simon teased with hesitant humor.

Mal smiled and pressed a kiss to Simon's forehead, not immediately stepping back. He knew just how close, yet again, he'd come to losing the other man. This time, at least, it wasn't his fault.

"Hey! Injured over here, gorram it!" Jayne called out, irritated.

They both looked over at the fallen man and Mal grinned at Simon's hastily suppressed laughter as the other man cleared his throat. "Right, of course. Mal, will you assist me?"

By then, the rest of the crew had arrived and Mal shook his head. "Zoe, help Simon out in getting Jayne to what passes for an infirmary on this ship. Wash, set course for Nigan IV and be ready to leave in an hour. We got to hotfoot it over there before Serenity gets chopped into little pieces. Kaylee, get this tub ready to move as fast as she can go. Book, will you see to River?"

"Where are you going, Sir?" Zoe questioned.

Grim, Mal announced, "I'm going to buy us a whole passel of weapons with the reward money we just got for Badger."


(end Chapter 22)

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Chapter 23: The Calm
Author: Mary Kroll
Rating:
Warning:
Beta Reader:
Author Email: marykroll@iwon.com


'Resting' would not have been the proper word, but Jayne, badly bruised and slightly bloodied, was laying still on a raised cot that served as the infirmary of the borrowed freighter ferrying the crew of Serenity. He had never realized how soothing her engine had been. This one seemed to rattle and exacerbate his taxed nerves. Surrounded by people not bent on killing him horribly, Jayne felt somehow safe in the unfamiliar vessel. He had not even realized his eyes had drifted closed until they flew open to the sound of soft footsteps almost upon him. Eyes blurred by fatigue, it took a second to recognize River. She moved to his bedside and set one hand on the edge of the cot, the other hand was, discomfittingly to Jayne, behind her back.

"He doesn't listen to me."

"Who, Mal?"

River nodded. "I wanted to tell him, but he wouldn't have listened, "Crazy River" spouting nonsense and gibberish about dreams and telepathy...lacks credibility."

"So you're full-on crazy right now?"

She smiled in a bashful way, "Most assuredly."

Jayne levered up on one elbow. "Well, I don't guess its right for me to say that to you, seein' as how-"

"If it walks and quacks," she shrugged. "You could learn tact, but there`s no fault in honesty." River touched him gently, cautiously, on the shoulder and pushed a little. "Lie back."

"I'm fine."

"Lie back, please."

Jayne surveyed her critically. Demented, unpredictable, and undeniably dangerous when armed, River did not threaten him now. While the question of "why" niggled in the back of Jayne's mind, he slouched back onto the cot.

"There are great battles yet. You will need power if you are to prevail." River dropped her voice to a whisper and leaned in. "It isn't real, it`s symbolic. You'll have to pretend, like in the theatre. Just go along with it, and for the love of Tien, hold still." She produced from behind her back a sake glass of ink and a kanji brush. "I anoint you with the blood of our enemy, as a badge of your fealty..." The ink was cool in its myriad of short lines and the surety of River's sentiment was as strong as her brushwork. "...to give you strength, to bring you victory..." Tiny lines and curves became characters meticulously and artfully assembled on the cheek below Jayne's left eye. "...to keep you safe." The narrow end of the brush danced through Jayne's field of vision and then disappeared. River set the ink dish and brush on Jayne's chest, which was immobilized by his held breath.

(I couldn't make the kanji convey, so here's a link: http://japanese.about.com/bl50kanji2_eiyuu.htm)

She blew across the ink, her breath warm on Jayne's cheek. He held even more rigidly still now than he had when she was working, fearing perhaps she might try to kiss him, her lips already so close to him. "There. Hero." River smiled and in that surreal moment Jayne smiled back.

The muted thumps of footsteps and a worried voice wafted through the open door. "Stuffy ol' Shepherd, crashing our heathen ritual," River sighed disappointedly. "You rest now. I hear the drums. Won't be long." She patted his shoulder and strode out. Jayne looked down at the items she had left on his breastbone. He lifted them carefully as he sat up, ribs protesting, and scanned the room. Not a mirror in sight to see what she had tagged him with. Jayne dug through cluttered drawers until he found an un-framed mirror about the size of his palm, speckled black where the silver backing had been scratched away. He could not help but smile as he stepped into the light. Sure enough, in perfect Chinese lettering, his face now sported the word 'hero'. "Biggest damn hero ever."

Simon gingerly held the disposable cold compress to the swelling of Mal's upper lip and nose. I still can't believe I punched you."

"I'm fairly incredulous on that myself."

"I'm so sorry. I don't know why I assumed-"

"Don't worry on the punching. I seem to recall you being on the receiving end of my fist pretty regularly when you first came on."

"Trust me, I remember that." Simon lifted the compress off and delicately palpated the face he had soundly clocked two hours earlier. "It doesn't make me feel any better."

"I can take a hit."

"It's not the punch, well, not exclusively the punch that I feel so bad about."

Mal took Simon's hand in his as it retreated. The look in his eyes was at once hard and wounded. "Why was I first in your mind?"

The shame and regret was heavy on Simon and he hung his head. "Mal, I'm sorry. I just don't know. All I can say is that it made very sound sense to me at the time, that you might hide the truth from me to keep me with you."

Mal cupped Simon's chin and raised his head until their eyes met. It was important to Mal that they be eye-to-eye, equals, whenever they were intimate, be it physically or emotionally. "You mean a lot to me, Simon, enough that I want you to stay, but not enough for me to lie to you or hide things like that. You've shouldered enough ugly truth in the last few years, you don't need me to shield you-"

"I did it," came a shaky voice as the door swung open. Mal released Simon quickly and stood, an instinctive action born of battles and ambushes. Kaylee stood in the doorway as if terrified to enter but wholly unable to retreat. Her erstwhile alabaster skin was splotched and her eyes were red. "I did it. Simon, I'm so sorry."

"You ought to come in and explain yourself, little Kaylee. What did you do?"

A few hot tears down Kaylee's cheeks as she crossed to Simon and knelt next to his chair. "I'm so sorry. I'm the one set up that filter on Serenity's cortex. I did it right after you and River came on, when we all started being friends. Your parents were so horrible to you, not even helping to save their own daughter, I just didn't want you to have to be dealing with them anymore, or remembering them any more than you were on your own." She wiped at the tears, which were now flowing freely, though she succeeded only in smearing engine grime across her cheeks. "I did it so long ago that I completely forgot about it and I never dreamed there might ever be any good news and I'm just so sorry."

"Kaylee." Simon wrapped his arms around her shoulders and tried to swallow around the lump in his throat. "Its alright. I know you were just trying to help River and me."

Kaylee clung to Simon. They were still dear in love as friends, even if she had lost his romantic interest to, of all people, Mal. "And it set you two to fighting, and what if I made you be fugee's longer than you had to be?"

Mal stroked her hair in the brotherly manner that was his way. "It sounds like you were the foreman of the crew that paved the road to Hell."

"I forgive you," Simon whispered and squeezed her tightly.

A staticky crackle broke the moment of absolution. "Captain?"

"Go, Wash."

"I wouldn't have believed it, but we're almost caught up to Serenity. I've got her on long-range scan."

"What's her ETA to the chop shop?"

"Um...gorramit, I hate the layout up here....okay, we have less than two hours."

"So noted. Page Zoe, Jayne, and River to meet me on the bridge, I'm coming directly."

"As good as done." The com crackled loudly as Wash opened all the channels and repeated Mal's order.

"Kaylee, we need to get caught up to Serenity now. Can you squeeze anymore life out of this wreck?"

Back on her feet and mentally back in mechanic mode, Kaylee set her jaw and thought hard. "Maybe. I only got ten-percent more power last time, but I'll try."

"Don't try, do. Go on. We've got to get ready."

Kaylee left immediately and Mal made to follow her out the door, but Simon grabbed his arm. "Mal, you can't take River. She's been off her meds for days. She represents a real danger."

"Kinda what I'm banking on, Doc. I just need to figure on how to convince her to use her mysterious proficiency on the right folk."

"That aside, I can't let you take my sister into a gunfight."

Mal peeled Simon's fingers from his bicep and gave them a quick kiss. "She'll come back safe and sound. You have my word on it."

"You'd better come back safe and sound, too."


(end Chapter 23)

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Chapter 24: Stone's Throw
Author: Eleanor K
Rating: PG-13
Warning: none
Beta Reader: Chrissy
Author Email: emungere@yahoo.com


.._..

River can feel herself slipping as the drugs wear off. It's a little like falling, a little like flying. Same thing until you hit the ground. Maybe it's good. She can see farther like this.

"We're almost here," someone says.

"Almost where?" Kaylee asks.

If Kaylee's asking, it means River's the one who spoke first. They're the only ones in the room, and Kaylee doesn't talk to herself. She talks to the ship sometimes, but not this ship. This ship isn't her baby.

So River should answer.

"Almost where we are." She stops and forces herself to think through those words again, Captain Dummy talk, easy speak, speakeasy. So many words. "Almost...where we should be. Where we're going."

Kaylee looks concerned, but River's almost sure she's gotten it right this time. She doesn't want to think about it anymore. There's still time.

She slips her hand under Kaylee's shirt, resting

against the warm skin of her stomach. The other hand curves around Kaylee's back to bring her close, kissing distance. Damp, eager mouth, hair tickling the side of her face, Kaylee's hand on her breast. Falling and flying.


In space, you fall forever. This is what Simon thought when he stared out the front window of Serenity's bridge, and it's worse in the freighter. Glass on three sides, and one solid wall behind where it does the least good, because he can't see it. There are stars up and stars down and stars to either side. He has no perspective, and the ship might as well be falling nose-first straight down into nothing.

Mal pinches his ass, and he stifles a yelp.

"Don't know why you come up here if you hate the view so much," Mal says.

Simon turns toward him. Mal is wearing a faded blue shirt, slightly rumpled. Smudges of grease stain the knees of his pants. He hasn't shaved since they came on board, and he wears a light coating of honey-colored stubble. Simon looks him up and down slowly.

"I don't hate the view at all," he says, smiling.

Mal's hands settle at his waist and turn him fully away from the black.


River falls asleep on Kaylee, on the floor of the engine room. She dreams of waking up on a narrow bed with a sagging mattress. Jayne's bed, back on Serenity. She dreams of looking in the mirror and sees blonde hair and a face that isn't hers.

They're catching up, she thinks. Have to go to hard burn soon. She meets her eyes in the mirror, and they're not her eyes.

She steps sideways, out of McGee's body, and can think her own thoughts again. She sees ghost-shapes moving around the room, and the walls go translucent. Gunshots. People running. Kaylee bleeding.

Mal said she had to look after Kaylee.


Jayne paces the corridors of the freighter, stepping carefully to avoid the rust patches that might not bear his weight. The ink or paint or what the hell ever River painted his face up with itches as it dries, but he's not trying to wipe it off. No, he's trying to understand how, with less than an hour until they catch up with Serenity, more than half the crew is screwing like rabbits.

Zoe and Wash are at it in their sleeping quarters, Mal and the doc on the bridge, and Kaylee and River in the engine room, except not anymore. It's dead quiet in there, so he guesses they've gone to sleep.

He's been loading weapons like Mal told him and hoping Mal has some kind of plan beyond getting down and dirty with his boyfriend. Or if Mal doesn't, then Zoe does. That might be better. Zoe's plans usually work.

He's loading Vera when River ghosts past him, silent until she walks right in front of him. He drops the hollow point bullets he was loading and hears them clink as they hit the deck. She walks on, so silent he wonders if she's really there, heading through the door that leads to the life pods.

Jayne's picking up scattered bullets when Kaylee runs through a few seconds later. He stares after her, wondering why--

Life pods. Crazy girl.

Jayne lets the bullets fall again and passes Kaylee, but not in time to stop the life pod launch.


River woke up walking. She was already nearly at the hatch of the life pod, and it was easy to work the controls.

Now she's far enough away from the ship that it's safe to turn the jets on. Life pod jets burn fast and hot. They're meant to get you moving in the direction you want to go, not actually get you anywhere. But Serenity is fifteen minutes ahead now, and the numbers add up right in River's head. The life pod's fuel should get her there if McGee doesn't go to hard burn first.

She hits the button and waves goodbye to the blur of the freighter behind her.


Mal and Simon come running from the bridge and nearly crash into Kaylee as she barrels toward the engine room.

"Kaylee, what--"

"River's gone!"

Simon looks at Mal and they both run after her. She's already under the engine, hands working quickly.

"What's going on, little Kaylee?" Mal asks, in that calm, things-are-going-to-hell voice of his.

"River took a life pod, and she's gone. Don't know why. Gonna make us go faster."

"Thought you couldn't make us go any faster."

Kaylee's hands stop moving. Her face is still hidden by the bulk of the engine.

"Can't. Not safely. But..."

"But?"

"If I tie in life support and nav to the same channel, it'll leave a conduit clear to carry more power to the engine, but if it blows, we'll lose everything. And, um." She pauses, fingers fiddling with a loose wire. "And it's more like when it blows, than if. Engine'll overload. But we'll catch Serenity up pretty quick. Just have to be real sure we get her back."

Simon looks between Kaylee's pale hand and Mal's pale face.

"We'll get her back," Mal says. "Do it."

A few more seconds of watching Kaylee's hands move so fast they almost blur, and it's done. She slides out from under the engine and flips a switch.

The freighter moves forward with a kick of speed. Metal groans around them, and the deck is shaking under his feet. Kaylee puts a hand out to touch the bulkhead and frowns.

"What?" Simon asks, meaning What now?

Kaylee glances up and bites her lip. "Engine might not be the only thing overloading. This ain't the best designed ship ever, and she's old."

"How long?" Mal asks.

"Ought to be there in five minutes. She won't hold together much longer than that."

The three of them stare at each other for a moment, and then Mal hits the comm button by the door. His voice sounds through the ship.

"Get yourselves together, people. We're off this ship in five. Nobody stays behind, and if you got anything you want to keep, best see you bring it with you. Be at the port side hatch in three."

Mal stalks out of the room without looking back, but his hand brushes Simon's on the way past.

Simon looks at Kaylee, who says, "Go. I gotta stay till we get there." She smiles at him. "Just don't go leaving without me."

Simon smiles back and hurries toward the infirmary to collect supplies. He doesn't need to answer. There's not a chance anyone will get left behind, not on this crew.


The life pod's fuel isn't quite exhausted by the time it hits Serenity, and there is no way to slow down. It hits the top hatch with more force than River had calculated--enough to send her flying across the small space.

Her head slams against the padded wall, and colors spin behind her eyes.

The numbers are right, she thinks. She didn't get it wrong. McGee must have slowed down. There must be reasons why, numbers that work, but her head aches, and her eyes are closing, and she can't think.

She slides down to lie on the floor and listens to the hiss as the pod seals itself automatically to Serenity. Pressure equalizes. In a moment, the hatch will open. River's eyes blink open once and then slide shut.


(end Chapter 24)

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Chapter 25: Entropy Increases
Author: skripka
Rating: PG-13
Warning: none
Beta Reader: sffan and Eleanor K
Author Email:. skripka2@mac.com


Jayne knows he ain't that bright.

He knows he's not stupid, either, but it takes some time for things to filter from his ears to his brain to his mouth.

They're lined up at the hatch of the freighter, meters away from crashing into Serenity. Wash has assured everyone that Serenity will hold up under the damage, but he's making no guarantees about the freighter.

The pilot is up there, trying to make it as gentle as possible. He's going to grab Kaylee on the way down, and they're all going to rush into Serenity's airlock.

Everybody's in suits. No telling if they can crack the airlock quickly. Kaylee was about to pull her hair out, but couldn't be in two places at once. She had to monitor the engine, or else it might have burned out earlier.

Everybody's armed, too. Jayne'd be trying to wrap his mind around the easy way Inara's holding her loaner pistol, except he's got something else niggling at his brain, and it's talking in Badger's annoying voice.

McGee got took by one of her own crew, Rog.

Apparently, he was a bit focused on Mal's bomb. Didn't occur to him to mention the pieces of brain he had last seen spattered around Rog's body.

"Um, Mal." His voice crackles through the suits' comm system.

"Jayne, this'd better be important." Even distorted, Mal sounds anxious. Wound-up. Jayne swallows nervously.

"It ain't Rog that's on our boat."

"Shenme?" Mal turns to Jayne just as the two ships collide.


It's enough to nearly jolt everyone off their feet. The freighter's death rattle vibrates through the mag-soles of their environment suits. There's no time to process Jayne's comment. Mal whips around and punches the deep override code on the access panel, praying to hope that whoever has his ship now hasn't bothered to reprogram it.

The door groans open as Wash and Kaylee come pelting down the hall. "Mal!" Wash yells. "Go!"

It's a damned weird sight. And one Mal never hopes to see again.

Behind the two of them, there are pieces of ship collapsing. Bits of wall pull away and wiring starts flailing in the air, sending sparks dancing. It's beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Mal stares for a long second, then pushes Simon into Serenity's airlock. "Go! You heard him!" Jayne and Inara and Book don't hesitate. Wash pushes Kaylee into Mal's arms, and Zoe grabs Wash just before a girder rips a hole in the floor behind his heels.

With their crew safe, albeit trapped and crowded in Serenity's airlock, Mal and Zoe shut the outer door on the freighter's self-destruction. He turns to see Kaylee's face through her mask. "Aw. She weren't such a bad ship."

Mal bites back the hysterical laughter. His breath echoes ragged in his ears. "Well. Now we go forward. Kaylee-bird, can you crack the codes and get us inside?"

"Oh!" Her mouth opens in surprise. "Nearly forgot that bit." Mal grins to himself as Kaylee turns to the panel and gets to work. He glances over his crew. Simon looks pale and taut even through the protective layers, but he and Inara have taken up guard over Kaylee. Book, Jayne, and Zoe are crowded up against the door, with Wash close behind.

"Sir." Zoe's voice cuts through the intercom. "We got movement."

He steps up to the diamond pane. "Well. Not too many."

Zoe's wry look is almost visible through her helmet. "That we can see."

"True. So, Jayne, want to fill us in on your big revelation?"

There's a small noise over the comms as Jayne shifts uncomfortably in his suit. "Rog ain't alive."

Mal grunts. "You know this how?"

"Saw the mess." Jayne shrugs. "Kinda hard to pilot a ship without half your brainpan."

"Can't argue with that," Wash pipes up.

"Uh huh." Mal bites his lip. "Not that it matters much at this point, but I am kinda curious about who's flying my ship."

"You think Badger lied to us?" asks Zoe.

"Or he was lied to," observes Simon quietly.

Mal shoots his lover a sharp glance. "Now, who would have done that?"

"McGee." Jayne answers for all of them, tapping his borrowed gun on the glass. Mal spins and sees the pirate, harried and looking a bit worse for wear, but holding a trump card.

River.

"Tamade," he curses.


Simon braces himself for bad news. "What?" There's a certain tone in Mal's voice, one that he only uses around River. It's a mixture of annoyance, frustration, and care.

Unfortunately for his nerves, Kaylee pops up and says, "Got it!" Mal's attention goes forward when the door opens.

"Goddamn it, Reynolds." The blood drains from Simon's face as he sees his sister at McGee's feet, collapsed in a puddle of blue fabric and dark hair. One hank is wrapped around McGee's hand, and River's head bobs as the pirate gesticulates. "You and your fucking crew are like burrs. Why the hell can't you just let it go!"

Simon has to forcibly restrain himself from running to his sister's side, despite all the guns pointed at their group. Beside him, there's movement. Kaylee rises, an animalistic whine of anger coming from her throat. He grabs her arm as Inara blocks her forward motion.

"Now's not the time, baobei," she murmurs.

Mal's talking. "I'm attached to Serenity. What can I say?" The words are light, but nobody can mistake Mal's tone for a joke. "Give it up, McGee. You've already had one crew mutiny on you. Buying yourself a new crew doesn't guarantee any better loyalty."

"I got your goddamn ship! I got it fair and square!" She's losing it. Simon is less worried about her hired guns than he is about McGee doing something to River while she's unconscious. Her eyes are getting more and more wild by the minute.

Everybody else realizes it too at about the same moment. Zoe shoots Mal a look, Jayne shifts uncomfortably, and Wash, Book, and McGee's hired hands relax their posture minutely in confusion.

Mal doesn't, however, and Simon's glad for that. Getting the ship back looks like it'll be no problem; they outgun the mercenaries well enough, not to mention they know the ship better. The question, however, is whether or not they can get the ship back without River getting hurt.

Simon will force Mal to not attack McGee if he has to. He doesn't want to do that, but he will not allow River to get hurt. Never again. Simon tenses when Mal does, and then he sees what Mal's looking at.

River's eyes are glinting from underneath her hair.


(end Chapter 25)

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Chapter 26: Be It Ever So Humble
Author: Juli
Rating: R
Warning: none
Beta Reader: none
Author Email: challisgal@yahoo.com

Translations

Baobei = darling/treasure
Shai = handsome
Xie'e bi = evil cunt


Tiny little rivers, red with life. Flowing underneath a sky of flesh, surging and ebbing with the pulse of the quartered sun....

The irony wasn't lost on River.

Rivers of life.

River Tam.

Life.

Death.

The girl's thoughts were jolted when the not-captain above her gesticulated wildly. Since River's hair was still wrapped around the woman's hand, her head bobbed as it was slung around. The motion pulled at her scalp and pain skittered along her awareness before fleeing.

Cowardly pain.

River tried not to pout. Good girls didn't pout, even when their shipmates thought they were crazy. No, that wasn't quite right. The others, they didn't think she was crazy. They felt she was crazy.

It didn't matter what the others thought or felt about the not-captain. She was crazy, independent of anyone's opinion on the matter. River could feel the woman's insanity, pounding against her brain like a battering ram.

Battering ram... ram... a ram was an animal.

River breathed a sigh of relief. Simon didn't like for her to hurt people. If the not-captain were a ram, then maybe her brother wouldn't mind.

When River opened her eyes, she saw that Captain Daddy had arrived. He wasn't supposed to be there but Captain Daddy was always doing things he wasn't supposed to do. In his own way, he took almost as much looking after as Simon did. With him were the bright presences of Kaylee, her strawberry girl, and Simon, looking worried. For a long while, River had thought that worry was all that held Simon together, but then he'd mingled juices with Captain Daddy. That was all right. Captain Daddy would keep Simon together. Simon would keep her together. And Kaylee would taste like strawberries.

The not-captain pulled her hair again and River decided it was time. Beyond Captain Daddy, she could see Jayne-the-painted man and the others. She gave Captain Daddy a look, which was so much easier than trying to translate a concept into Captain Dummy talk. He nodded and she could sense the quartered sun within him speed up in response. Her message had been understood.

With the right angle, velocity and muscular rigidity, human fingers were capable of clawing through any number of surfaces. That was the theory, anyway.

River's plan was to test it.

She saw Captain Daddy's finger tightening on the trigger of his gun - and good girls didn't pout so she wasn't going to sulk about her second favorite man in the 'verse touching a gun - and River leapt. In the eternity before the bullets started flying, she pirouetted, admired the way the not-captain's tri-colored hair glinted in Serenity's artificial light, and struck.

River freed the tiny rivers within the not-captain, bathing Serenity with a warm, crimson rain. She danced in the resulting shower, catching the salty raindrops on her tongue as Captain Daddy and the others took care of the not-crew. She stopped only when the popcorn sound of the gunfire was over and she got a good look at Simon's face.

Simon didn't understand about rams, after all.


"You okay?"

Simon looked up at Mal's concerned voice. With a last, automatic gesture, he smoothed River's hair off her face. The girl's medications had been so fancy that the pirates had left them alone, not knowing what they were for. Before Pollyanna McGee's body had become cold, Simon had dosed his sister again. In fact, he'd added a little extra, sending her into what he hoped was a calming sleep.

"I'll take care of her," Kaylee whispered. "You go on."

The engineer was curled up with River on River's small bed and had wrapped herself around the other girl's slight form. Kaylee hadn't taken her eyes from River's face and Simon found himself smiling down fondly at her earnest words.

"I know you will," he responded warmly. With a pat to Kaylee's shoulder, he got up, moaning when his knees creaked a protest.

Being River's brother was making him old.

There were compensations, fortunately. A strong arm wrapped around his waist, both supporting him and leading him away from his sister's room. Mal didn't speak, just walked Simon to his own quarters and gently urged him down the ladder. Only when they were on Mal's bed, in almost the same position as Kaylee and River, did the captain ask the question again.

"Are you okay?"

Simon thought about it a moment. "Mostly, I'm tired. It doesn't hurt."

He'd been the only one of Serenity's crew to be hit by a bullet, but it'd just nicked a shoulder. He'd hardly bled at all. The same couldn't be said for Pollyanna McGee and her crew. Jayne and Book were supervising the survivors as they swabbed the blood off Serenity's deck.

"That's not what I meant and you know it," Mal chided him. The captain was curled up behind Simon and he reached around the doctor's waist to pull him closer. "It must have been mighty unsettlin' to see your baby sister claw out McGee's throat like that."

The doctor shivered and he felt Mal's hand come up to stroke his hair. It always made Simon feel like a little boy when Mal did that but the gesture never failed to soothe him. "It was... a bit disconcerting."

"Not half as much as hearing Kaylee egg her on," his lover murmured.

Simon continued as if Mal hadn't spoken. "And I can't for the life of me figure out why she was talking about rams."

"It makes sense," Mal reassured him. "To River, anyways."

"I suppose it does," Simon sighed. "More's the pity." Deliberately changing the subject, he commented, "You have Serenity back."

He felt Mal's lips touch the back of his neck. "That I do." His arms tightened around Simon. "You okay?"

Simon turned in Mal's arms and nuzzled against the bigger man, burying his face between the juncture of neck and shoulder. Mal took the hint and pulled Simon closer.

"No, I'm not." the doctor finally admitted. "Hold me until I am?"

"Oh, baobei," Mal responded. "You didn't even have to ask."


Book watched with satisfaction as the last of the pirate survivors were herded into empty quarters and safely locked in. It hadn't been much of a fight after McGee went down and the shepherd had been afraid he'd have to plea for their lives. Mal had been surprisingly cooperative about letting them live. Then again, McGee had been the leader and the one Mal had been focused on, so maybe it wasn't so surprising after all. The other pirate scum were so much chaff as far as Reynolds was concerned and Book was determined they would get a trial.

Once the prisoners were taken care of, he turned to his companion. Jayne Cobb was not a subtle man and it was clear something was bothering him. Given what Jayne had been through, that was not surprising, even for a mercenary with an emotional skin as thick as Jayne's.

"Something on your mind, son?" Book asked as they made their way to the kitchen.

Jayne slid a sideways look at Book. "Why you ask that, preacher?"

The shepherd smiled. "Because in the time you've been back with the crew, you haven't made fun of either of the Tams yet."

The big man's shoulders slumped. "Aw, hell, never been good at lyin'. Only reason that McGee bitch believed me was because she was crazier than that moon-... er, River."

Book stifled a shudder. The way River had dealt with the unlamented Captain McGee had been profoundly disturbing but, apparently, had garnered the girl some respect from Jayne.

Jayne looked at Book again and, for the first time, the older man noticed how haunted his eyes were. "I never lost much sleep before over right and wrong, preacher, but that McGee woman, she did some powerful evil things... and I was part of it."

The first twinges of conscience. A part of Book rejoiced, despite the mercenary's obvious pain. That Jayne felt it meant there was hope for him yet.

"Did you kill anyone?" Book asked gently.

Jayne shook his head. "Killin's clean, preacher, but what they did to those women, that weren't right."

It figured. Book had seen Jayne kill before without batting an eye but rape... the shepherd hated to admit it, but Cobb was right. Being shot in a gun battle was a lot cleaner way to die than being raped to death.

"Did you... participate... in assaulting the women from the transport ship?" He asked carefully. Book knew that Jayne had been desperate to maintain his undercover status but surely even the big man had limits.

"Hell, no," Jayne said indignantly. "My mamma raised me better than that." He roughly scratched at his cheek. "But I didn't stop 'em either."

Book knew that feeling all too well.

"You were one man, son. You couldn't stop a whole ship full of men Hell bent on doing harm." When Jayne didn't look convinced, he added, "Besides, you did try to save one."

"Fat lot of good that did, she saved her own self," Jayne growled.

"But you tried, Jayne," Book pointed out. "At great personal risk. That counts for something."

"You think so?" Jayne's face had lit up at Book's words but then he looked apprehensive. "What about 'you know who'?" He asked as pointed up.

"God?" The shepherd asked. When Cobb nodded, he tried to reassure him. "The fact that you tried means everything to him."

"Good." Jayne seemed to relax. "Was thinkin', mebbe there's more I could do to make it right."

"Really?" Book was pleasantly surprised and a little gratified. He'd been working with Jayne on morality isues since coming aboard Serenity but had no idea he'd made that much headway. "What did you have in mind?"

Jayne looked unusually shy. "I was wonderin', that bit about shepherds not being able to have sex, is that a rule or is it more of a guideline? Or mebbe there's a type of monk that's allowed to do more than get friendly with his own hand?"

Book felt his heart stop and then start again with a faltering beat. "You... you want to become a man of God?"

The mercenary scratched his cheek again, the one below his belt. "Well, if'n there's a way to do it without givin' up the ol' spread and thrust - that going without, that's just unnatural."

The shepherd thought faster than he'd ever had to in his life. "No, Jayne, I'm sorry but celibacy is a requirement for all types of clergy."

"Celery?" Jayne asked, confused. "Aw, hell, I hate vegetables. You mean no sex an' I gotta eat my greens too?"

Book pinched the bridge of his nose, asking his savior for patience and the willpower not to laugh. "No, celibacy, Jayne. It means going without sex. You have to agree to give up sex if you want to be a shepherd or a monk."

"Oh."

"However, I am sure there are other ways for you to work off your sin, if you feel you need to, ways that aren't so... drastic," Book suggested. "Perhaps, when we return to report our success to Abbott Brown, you could offer to do some repair work around the monastery."

Jayne seemed profoundly relieved. His expression, in fact, looked almost as relieved as Book felt. "Thanks, preacher, you're all right."

As the mercenary walked ahead of him towards the kitchen, Book said a silent prayer. He hated to guide a man away from the Lord's service but he doubted that even God himself was ready for Shepherd Jayne.


Wash loved looking at Zoe. It was his second favorite thing to do, the first being touching Zoe. Wait a minute, make that his third favorite thing to do, behind touching Zoe and kissing Zoe.

"Well, look at that."

Her tone would have sparked all sorts of romantic inspiration, had she said that phrase about him or, more specifically, a particular portion of his anatomy. Unfortunately, Zoe had been pouring over McGee's diary since discovering it on the woman's body and her comment had been directed towards its contents.

"What, O wife of mine?" he asked. "Whose beauty is eclipsed only by her keen intelligence, not to mention, courage."

Wash had learned that outrageous flattery sometimes got Zoe in the mood even better than making her laugh did. Unfortunately, at the moment, the damn diary had her full attention and so the flattery was wasted.

"We'll have sex in a little while, dear," she reassured him. "First, though, look at this."

She pointed out one of the latter entries in the diary and Wash felt his eyes grow wide.

"Well, will you just look at that," he said, echoing his spouse's words.

"We better tell Mal," Zoe said. "He'll want to know."

"Aw, hon," Wash whined. "Can't we have sex first? If Mal sees that, he'll get all mad and be on the warpath and delay our nookie something awful."

Zoe looked at the diary and then at her husband. It grated to delay telling her captain some important news but, then again, Mal had been ensconced in his quarters with Simon since shortly after they'd regained the ship. If she knew her captain, it was a fair bet the man was already 'busy' and wouldn't welcome an interruption anyway.

Tucking the handwritten book into her shirt, she agreed with her husband. "All right, sex first and then we tell Mal."

"Goody," Wash said, clapping his hands before reaching out to his wife. Now he'd get to enjoy all three of his favorite activities - kissing, touching and looking at Zoe.


There was lint on the tablecloth. The young man sniffed with disgust. Had it been a proper table linen, there would be no lint. He'd learned, however, that there rarely was such a thing as "proper" on the dirty puddles that passed for a world on the Rim. The term certainly didn't apply to the restaurant he was waiting in, nor to the woman whom he was supposed to meet.

"Ath, old buddy, old pal! How the hell are you doing?"

He knew that voice - knew it and hated it. Atherton Wing could only watch with horror as Mal Reynolds crossed the dining room, sat himself down in the chair directly opposite from Atherton, and arrogantly plopped his dirty, booted feet on the table.

Lint was no longer the only thing the tablecloth had to worry about.

"What are you doing here?" Atherton asked with a sneer.

"What, don't you believe I'm here for a spot of tea?" Reynolds smiled at him in that inane way of his, making Atherton clench his teeth. Wing barely noticed the man who'd accompanied his nemesis, only noting in an offhand way that Reynolds' arm was loosely slung over the smaller man's shoulder.

"Hardly," he retorted. "Cleaning the facilities, maybe, but not a paying customer."

Wing looked around for the major domo. It should be easy enough to get the captain and his sidekick thrown out. Despite his opinion of the restaurant, it was the best the dirty Rim world he was visiting had to offer and Mal Reynolds stuck out in its environment like a sore thumb. Surely, even a Rim establishment had standards. Finally, he saw a woman dressed in a black jacket. She was not the host who had seated him, but the uniform marked her as an employee. He waved to get her attention, vulgar but apparently necessary in such an uncouth place, and she sauntered over. The woman was tall and athletic, which Atherton would have thought out of place if not for her beauty. Her coffee-with-cream colored skin seemed to glow and her curly hair was pulled back from her face in a loose ponytail.

"He botherin' you, sir?"

Her question was gratifying but it was addressed to the wrong man. The hostess looked Mal Reynolds right in the eyes when she asked and her hand lingered at her hip.

"No, thank you, miss." Reynolds said smugly. "I'll let you know if he does."

The woman nodded and moved to leave but Atherton grabbed her jacket sleeve. Up close, he could see that the garment was much too big. He dropped his hand quickly, though, when she glared at him. He wasn't used to glorified servants looking at him like that.

"I'll have your job for this," he hissed, insulted.

"Oh, I don't think so," she said confidently. After sweeping her eyes over him with a blank expression, she sauntered away.

"Was I that bad?" Reynolds' companion asked. "If so, no wonder you hit me a lot when I first came aboard."

"No, baobei, you weren't in the same league as ol' Asserton here."

At the captain's self-satisfied words, Atherton turned back to his unwelcome table companions. He could barely stand to look at Reynolds, so he finally gave his attention to the man's cohort.

He immediately wished he'd looked at the man sooner.

Where Malcolm Reynolds was uncouth, this man was refined. Where Reynolds was rough, the stranger was smooth. This man was cultured enough to easily fit in to the most sophisticated of Core environments, although the clothing he currently wore was a year or more out of fashion. Wing normally gravitated towards women but his mouth started to water almost immediately at the sight of enchanting stranger. Inara had been successful in blacklisting him from dealing with Companions and, although he went through whores at a rapid pace, none came close to fulfilling his need for a refined, elegant partner. This man would fulfill that need... and then some.

"Well, hello there," he purred. "Are you with this... man? Shai, you can do better, I assure you. We'll get you some new clothes, pretty you up some and you'll outshine even the most accomplished Companion. Whatever he pays, I'll double."

The young man's head cocked and his lips pursed as he considered Atherton's words. Finally, he sighed and turned to Reynolds. "I was wrong, Mal. For that offer alone, he deserves to get shot."

Reynolds lifted one eyebrow. "You're not even tempted?"

Atherton fumed as they talked about him as though he wasn't even there.

"Not the littlest bit," the other man said firmly. "I think I'll leave you to the rest of your plan."

"Wait..." Atherton cried out as the dark-haired stranger got up to leave. Stretching an hand out towards that tempting form, he soon found his fingers slapped by the captain.

"Ah-ah-ah, You can look, but you can't touch." Reynolds chided him. He then turned to address his associate. "Go back to the ship, baobei. Have Book go with you."

Atherton watched the young man walk out of the restaurant, his movements as precise as his words had been. Wing noticed when the curly-haired female host nodded slightly at Reynolds' companion as he left and knew he'd been set up. He never should have agreed to meet McGee so far from civilization.

When he swiveled back to face Reynolds, he found the other man looking at him gravely, not a hint of a sarcastic smile on his face

"I take it you met Captain McGee?" Wing asked, deciding to go on the offensive.

Reynolds nodded slowly. "I had that distinct displeasure. What was a fancy gentleman like you do havin' dealin's with a xie'e bi like that for, anyway?"

"Because you took something I loved from me!" Atherton yelled, slapping the table. He was beyond caring about 'proper' anymore.

"You mean Inara?" Reynolds asked, forehead wrinkled in obvious confusion.

"Of course," Wing spat the words of confirmation at him.

Reynolds looked disappointed. "Son, that weren't love. My mamma taught me two things about love. One, you can't buy it and, two, you have to work at keepin' it. Love ain't about possessing."

"Words of wisdom - from the likes of you? Not likely." Atherton laughed bitterly. "You took something I loved, so I determined to take something you loved. Your ship."

"Could have hurt a lot of innocent folk along the way." Mal said quietly. "I knew Badger couldn't be behind the whole plan to steal Serenity, he had no need for her. He was just the middle man, wasn't he? The contact between you and McGee." Wing just looked at him steadily and Reynolds began to look angry. "Pollyanna McGee was a pirate. Do you know what that means?"

"That her services were for hire, just like Inara's," Wing stated. "Only she worked with a gun instead of on her back. You tell me which one is less noble."

Reynolds leaned forward. "You know, it's talk like that that gets you poked with a sword." He looked up at a point somewhere beyond Atherton. "He's all yours."

Atherton felt a hand clamp down heavily on his shoulder. He lifted his head to see who it was but he smelled the man before he saw him. The newcomer was short and dumpy, with a fringe of lank, blond hair around his bald head. A scent of stale tobacco and Tabasco sauce lingered around him. When he saw he had Atherton's attention, he smiled, revealing teeth that were both crooked and yellow.

"Atherton Wing, you are bound by law." The man's voice had a stentorian quality that was at odds with his scruffy appearance.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Wing sneered.

"I don't know about that, Ath. Folks around here take a pretty dim view on pirates," Mal said cheerfully. "Most of 'em's got a friend or relative that's had their throat slit or been raped. In fact, the only folks they hate as much as pirates are the scum that hire them. McGee, she was the worst of the lot. Too bad she was insane and botched the job. You picked a real winner, Ath. Not only did she mess up but doing business with her has not endeared you to the locals."

"I've broken no law. This man here, he's a smuggler." Atherton appealed to the diners around him, trying to shift the blame. He didn't like the gleam in the bald man's eye.

"That true?" Wing closed his eyes at the fetid breath that wafted in his face as the man holding him spoke. "I got me this diary of pirate captain Pollyanna McGee herself. Got names and dates and shipments... and how she got a bonus from a Core fella by the name of Wing for stealing a ship from one Malcolm Reynolds. Seems to me, Mal, that you're clearly the wronged party here."

"Why, thank you, Sheriff Ezra." Reynolds said. "It happens that I totally agree with you."

"Atherton Wing, I repeat: You are bound by law." The sheriff addressed Atherton. "You want to come quietly or do I need to hogtie you?"

"This is ludicrous," Wing sputtered. "Once I contact my father, he'll have so many legal councilors here that you won't be able fit them all into one room. Even think about trying to arrest me and it'll be the end of your career."

"I guess we'll go with the hogtieing, then."

The sheriff gestured and suddenly he was surrounded by other people, equally dirty and equally smelly. He protested and struggled, but within a few heartbeats he was bound by both arm and foot.

"May I?" Reynolds asked.

The sheriff nodded and the others stepped back, giving Mal a little privacy space. Reynolds stepped close enough to whisper in Wing's ear and Atherton was bound too tightly to do anything about it.

"Let me tell you what happens now, Ath. You're going to jail and not just any jail, either. You're going to a prison so dark and so deep that your daddy ain't never going to find you." Mal said hoarsely. "Did I mention that Sheriff Ezra's daughter was caught in one of McGee's pirate raids? I doubt he'll see the necessity of you standing trial and he's not likely to take any of those bribes you're sure to offer. Of course, the bribes, they'd be empty promises anyway."

"What?" Atherton mumbled, beginning to feel numb.

Reynolds grinned. "I got me a crazy genius and an engineer who's real good at hijacking the Cortex. By the time your cellmate's telling you to bend over and say 'boo,' your accounts will be emptied."

"You thief!"

The captain stepped back. "Now, there's a fine thing for you to say, considering you arranged for my ship to be stolen But, where you're goin', you're not gonna need the money and we need to pay some debts. There's a friend of a friend that needs to get reimbursed for a ship he loaned us and a girl who's going to need fulltime care because she survived what your Captain McGee's crew did to the rest of the colonists on her transport ship."

Mal nodded to the sheriff. "Take him away, boys."

"You, you can't do this!" Wing cried out as they started to drag him away.

"Should have thought of that before," Reynolds said implacably. "Hope your revenge was worth it."

Soon tired of struggling, Atherton let himself be pulled out of the restaurant, past the unrelenting stare of the curly-haired woman in the ill-fitting jacket, and dumped unceremoniously into a transport. He looked up with dull, stunned eyes as Reynolds popped his head in the door.

"Oh, boys, do me a favor," Mal said the sheriff and his minions. "You be sure to tell Mr. Wing's new friends in prison that he likes to the called Asserton. I'm sure they'll find that appropriate."

Looking at Wing, the captain winked at him and whispered. "That was for trying to touch Simon."

And then, whistling a merry tune, Mal Reynolds walked away.


Mal Reynolds couldn't rest. Instead of being curled up in bed, he instead sat in the pilot's chair on the bridge of his ship. The black was cold but Mal always found it to be a good companion when he had heavy thinking to do.

By rights, he should've been sleeping like a baby. He had his ship back and those responsible for taking her were either dead or in prison. His crew was intact, including a surprisingly subdued Jayne Cobb. He even had some of Atherton Wing's money left over from paying off debts. Not much, but it'd be a few weeks until they had to worry about food or fuel.

Everything would appear to be normal. Shinier than normal, even. Appearances, however, could be deceiving and there was one thing nagging at Mal.

Gabriel Tam was a member of Sinon's Senate House.

Not only that, but Gabriel Tam was on the oversight committee on government spending on military projects. To a young man who hated being a fugee and was sick with worry over his sister, Gabriel Tam would be an appealing refuge to flee to.

And Mal couldn't even ask Simon to stay.

He'd meant what he told Atherton Wing - love was not about possession. Even if he had been inclined to clutch Simon close and not let him go, Wing would have been the perfect of example of why that was so wrong. It would hurt like hell, but if Simon wanted to take advantage of the safety his father's position offered, he'd have to let his lover go with his blessings.

It was the right thing to do but not an easy thing to do. That's what had driven him out of his warm bed and Simon's arms - the knowledge that the frustrating, sexy, opinionated, too-nave-for-his-own-good, compassionate doctor would soon be gone from his life. Unlike Serenity's rescue, there would be no bringing him back.

"It's funny, how you always come here when you need to think."

Mal stiffened at the sound of Simon's voice. He didn't turn around to look at him but he could follow his lover's progress by the muffled slap of bare feet against the floor. To his mild surprise, Simon didn't stop at the chair. Instead, he walked past Mal to peer out at the view through the observation port.

"It's so dark and lonely out there," Simon said softly, his eyes fixed on the sight of the blackness that so interested the captain. "Cold."

"Free," Mal corrected. "There's no fences in the black. She's a heartless bitch but if you treat her with respect, she'll do all right by you."

Simon had turned to look at Mal while the captain spoke and smiled sadly at the other man's words. "I prefer a nice, cozy infirmary in the middle of the ship, thank you very much."

"That's because you're a people person," Mal explained solemnly. "And not some antisocial bastard like me."

Simon paced a couple of steps closer to Mal, stopping uncertainly an arm's length away. He looked down at his feet and the bare toes peeking out from underneath his soft flannel sleep-pants. He wiggled them a little against the cold of the floor before lifting his eyes to meet Mal's gaze.

"River and I... we're not going to Sinon." Simon said. His voice started out firm and then became more tentative. "If you're still willing to have us on Serenity, that is."

Mal closed his eyes as he heard those words, a piece of news that meant the world to him. Then he steeled his heart to try and talk his lover out of it.

"You sure about that, Simon?" He asked quietly, forcing his face to be an expressionless mask as he opened his eyes to look at the younger man. "Your father can provide you with more safety than I ever could."

Simon shook his head. "After what happened on Ariel?" He looked at Mal in consideration. "I forget, you only saw the end of that and weren't there when River's 'men of blue' showed up. They'll never let us go, Mal, no matter how powerful my father becomes."

"You think it's a trap?" Reynolds' eyes narrowed and he flushed, embarrassed that he hadn't thought of that possibility himself. "Could be, but it'd be a mighty expensive and public one."

"Not really," Simon shrugged. "All they'd have to do is wait until we got complacent and then find a way to... trigger... River or make it look like she became violent. A little blood and the public will turn against her."

"I'm sorry, baobei." And Mal was. As much as it would have hurt to have Simon leave, knowing he was safe would have been worth it. "I know how much you miss your old life and I know you want a way to cure your sister."

Simon stepped closer, trailing one finger along the console as he walked. "I don't know. I wanted to go with you when you met Atherton Wing because I had a hard time believing someone from my former social standing could stoop so low. But... seeing him, listening to how he talked and regarded the world... that's not home anymore." He smiled suddenly, deep enough to show his dimples. "Besides, I kind of missed this place. Serenity has become home. You have become home to me."

"C'mere, you," Mal said, holding his arms out. Simon gladly went to him, curling up with Mal on his chair, mostly on his lap due to lack of room. Mal held him fiercely, kissing him once, hard, before snuggling Simon closer.

"I'm glad we got her back," Simon whispered, as though it was a secret. "Serenity's part of the family."

"So she is," Mal agreed. "Funny thing was, I always thought Serenity was my last thing in the 'verse to hold on to. My home. But then, when we went lookin' for her, I found out that the people are what make it a home." When Simon looked surprised, he tried to explain. "I'm glad to have the old girl back, that's damn certain, but as long as we were together, I think I would have been okay."

Simon smiled and laid his head on Mal's chest, content to hear the man's heartbeat. He yawned hugely before saying, "Remember that night, when you told me that River and I could stay on Serenity? Was kind of like this."

Mal started stroking Simon's hair. "Not quite," he disagreed. "This is better."

"Mmmmm...."

The captain took that last noise as a sound of agreement, although truth was, Simon was mostly asleep. Deeply contented, Mal looked around the bridge and decided against moving them into his quarters. They'd come full circle; the bed might be more comfortable but Serenity's bridge was where they belonged at the moment. Besides, once he knew that Simon wasn't leaving, a wave of exhaustion crashed over Mal. He probably couldn't move if he tried and, as his eyelids grew heavier, even the thought of it slipped away.

With his ship surrounding him, his lover next to him, and the black ahead of him, Mal Reynolds finally slept.


~ the end ~

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Title:  Home Is Where The Heart Is
Author:  Firefly Slash Round Robin 2 Writers: Juli, sf fan, T'Yanna, Den, Gigi Sinclair, J.M. Griffin, Karah, nancy, Emely Raines, Mikou, Mary Kroll, Dariclone, Eleanor K. and skripka   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  NC-17  |  *slash*  |  211k  |  08/25/04
Characters:  Malcolm, Kaylee, Jayne, Simon, River
Pairings:  Mal/Simon, Kaylee/River
Summary:  The unthinkable happens.
Notes:  This story is a completed round robin - each chapter is individually rated.

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