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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
The Reavers have left, leaving Mal, Inara and River stranded on the Nexus waiting for the Alliance to arrive.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1618 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Disclaimer: Characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, as always thanks for letting me play with your toys.
Author's note: The guilt about the last chapter taking so long has meant that this one took less time than any of them. It helped that this time I knew where I was going, rather than having to figure that out the hard way. As a ploy to beg for forgiveness, I hope it works :)
Things Fall Apart – Chapter 12
There was the sound of booted footsteps coming down the corridor, and then hurried conversation just outside the door. A few seconds later, several sets of feet walked away. After that, there was silence.
Inara and Mal looked at each other and back at the door. The silence stretched. Mal stood up and studied the door speculatively, wondering if he’d be pushing his luck to try it again. He almost laughed. Since when had he started thinking of the fact that the ‘verse hadn’t managed to kill him yet as luck?
“Mal, do you think it’s wise?” Inara asked softly.
Without looking at her, he shook his head slowly and said, “Nope. But I ain’t in the habit of lettin’ that get in the way.”
The corridor was empty. Both Mal and Inara stared out the doorway for several seconds in stunned silence. Mal quickly stuck his head out, ready to snatch it back in again if anything moved. Nothing did.
“Well I’ll be….” He murmured. He gestured to Inara. “I think they’ve gone.”
“Are you sure?” She asked, taking a few steps over to the doorway to have a look herself.
“Only one way to be.” Mal stepped out into the corridor, and when he didn’t die he looked both ways and frowned in confusion. “Which way is it to the airlock?”
Inara followed him, poised to bolt at the slightest sign of movement. “That way leads back to the theatre. We can get back to the banquet hall from there.”
They looked at each other, both silently acknowledging the likelihood of getting even that far. Mal wanted to say something comforting, but he was suddenly and uncharacteristically afraid to tempt fate.
“Well, we ain’t dead yet,” he said, knowing it sounded stupid.
“Not for want of trying,” she replied wryly. He half smiled and held out one hand. She took it with a quick smile of gratitude, which made him feel less stupid.
“Come on,” he said, and led the way down the corridor.
The corridor was deserted, their footsteps the loudest thing to be heard in a silence that begged to be broken. They reached the theatre doors without incident. Very cautiously, Mal eased the door open enough to take a quick look inside. He lent back against the wall and frowned.
“Shenme shi?” Inara whispered.
“There’s no-one there,” he said to her, staring into the middle distance and frowning fiercely. “Zhe shi shenmo lan dongxi?”
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“Ever heard the one about rats an’ a sinkin’ ship? Somethin’s up.”
Before they could speculate on what, there was a sound from inside the theatre. Inara and Mal froze. The sound came again, a high-pitched, sobbing cry that they both instantly recognized.
“River,” Mal said, and went through the door with Inara a second behind him.
She was half way up the aisle, sitting on the floor as though her legs had given out, rocking and crying. Mal swore under his breath and ran down the aisle, but before he could reach her a figure rose from the floor further down towards the stage. Inara shouted a warning, and Mal skidded to a halt and reached for a gun that wasn’t there. He swore again and dove to his right between the rows of seats, praying that Inara had taken cover. Panting, he lay on the floor between the seats, trying to remember where the other exits were and bracing himself for gunfire.
“It’s alright, it’s me, Duvenage.”
Mal blinked. He honestly didn’t believe that he’d heard what he’d just heard. “Diyu, tell me that that was the drugs talkin’, ‘cause otherwise I swear I’m goin mad,” he said.
The voice replied, “You heard right, Captain. It’s safe to come out, the Reavers are gone.”
Very cautiously, Mal sat up and peered around the edge of a chair. “What the gorramned hell are you doin’ here?” He demanded.
Duvenage was leaning against a chair as though he was about to fall. In the dim light of the theatre, Mal thought he saw the man smile. “Taking a trip,” Duvenage said.
Mal’s eyes narrowed as he studied him carefully. A few seconds later he relaxed and shook his head in confusion. “You’re spaced,” he said, clambering upright and looking around for Inara. “Mei guänxi, this man’s one of ours. More’n the Reavers, anyway.”
Inara’s head appeared around the door, and she stared doubtfully at Duvenage. “Who is he?”
“Xuan’s security chief. He came with us on Serenity.” He turned back and stared at Duvenage, “You didn’t say how it was you got here.”
“We made a trade,” Duvenage told him, trying to push himself upright and swaying on his feet. “Me for the Shepherd.”
“Shepherd Book is alive?” Inara asked hopefully, coming through the door again.
“Last I saw he was climbing into one of the shuttles,” Duvenage said, closing his eyes and leaning back heavily against the chairs. “Something he said is making a lot more sense right about now,” he muttered darkly.
Mal had reached River, and crouched down beside her. “River, are you okay?”
She was deathly pale and stared blankly through him, eyes bloodshot. Mal took one of her hands and found it icy cold. Inara was beside him, and he glanced up at her in concern. “I don’t think she’s doin’ too well.”
Inara dropped to her knees and pressed her fingers beneath River’s jaw. “Her pulse is racing,” she said. “River, what’s wrong xin gan?” River didn’t respond. Inara shot Mal a worried look. “I think we need to get her to a doctor.”
“She took another dose of the drug,” Duvenage told them, managing to take a few cautious steps up the aisle. “It may have been too much.”
“Simon will know what to do,” Inara murmured under her breath, watching Duvenage warily.
Mal nodded. “Gotta find a way of gettin’ in touch with Serenity, tell them to come fetch us,” he said, and looked up at Duvenage. “Did you say that the Reavers have gone?”
Duvenage started to nod, then stopped moving his head and looked sick. “Left about twenty minutes ago,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Why?” Mal demanded.
The security chief glanced from River to Mal. “The Alliance are almost here.”
Mal looked back at River and sighed. “Oh, juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan. How much time do we have?”
“I don’t know,” Duvenage replied. “Less than an hour, maybe only minutes.”
River groaned, suddenly leaned forward and threw up.
“Oh, honey,” Inara said in sympathy. River looked up at her, blinking owlishly.
“Simon,” she said in a broken voice. Her eyes closed and she folded to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Inara gasped and Mal swore, quickly checking for a pulse.
“She’s alive,” he said in relief. “River, wake up. Wake up, xiao mei mei.” He shook her, but she flopped limply in his grasp. “Gorramnit, we’ve got to get her back to Serenity. You got a coms link?” He demanded of Duvenage.
“No. But there should be one at the center point.” When Mal looked at him blankly, Duvenage elaborated. “The point where the spoke from the hub connects to the station wheel is called a center point. They have a communication’s station at each one, to keep track of traffic to and from the hub. We’ll have to go back through the banquet hall to get there,” he added without enthusiasm.
“Right,” Mal agreed, studying River with concern. “I’ll take her. Are you alright to walk?” He asked of Duvenage.
The security chief grimaced. “I’ll have to be.”
Mal gathered River up in his arms, feeling the lingering aftereffects of the drug in his protesting muscles. Inara made sure River was alright before cautiously offering an arm to Duvenage, which he took gratefully. They made their way out of the theatre into another deserted corridor, moving much more slowly than Mal would have liked, but simply incapable of going any faster. Duvenage was managing to stay upright, but he had to lean heavily on Inara and seemed to be having some trouble focusing. Mal had to stop once to put River down and rest, meeting Inara’s concerned gaze when he did so. He gave her a wry smile to reassure her, but he knew that she wasn’t fooled. The thought of what would happen if the Alliance reached them before Serenity did weighed heavily on both their minds.
When they reached the door to the banqueting hall, Mal put River down again, going ahead alone to have a quick look around and make sure that they weren’t going to run into any surprises. His face was grim when he came back, and Inara’s mind churned over what it was that she had seen inside that room. This was where they had left Wai-Lan, and she dreaded both the thought of finding the child – most likely dead – or worse, not finding her. It took an effort of will to make herself go through the door.
Once inside, they all stopped and looked at the Reaver’s handiwork in mute horror. The room was still garishly lit, making every image stand out with horrid clarity. The pile of bodies remained in the middle of the floor, and the slowly swinging corpses strung from the balcony railings gave a brief, disconcerting impression of life in their movement. The stench was enough to make Inara gag. Despite herself, she found she was searching the hall for a small body.
“Juedui bu,” Mal said softly. Inara glanced at him and followed his gaze. At the far end of the hall where they and the other prisoners had been held was a tiny, curled figure. It was Wai-Lan, her back against the wall, arms wrapped around her legs and face pressed to her knees. She wasn’t moving.
The child’s stillness sent a chill down Mal’s spine, and if he had been able he would have grabbed hold of Inara and made sure she didn’t go near, just in case his worst fears were realized. But he had his arms full. Inara murmured something inarticulate under her breath and pushed free of Duvenage to run across the hall.
“Inara, wait!” Mal shouted after her, but she ignored him. Swearing, Mal started across the hall, but he hadn’t taken three steps before he saw the girl stir and raise her head.
Wai-Lan stared at Inara running towards her as though she was looking at a ghost. Inara could see shock and disbelief, and then the little girl’s face crumpled and she scrambled up, reaching for Inara as she fell onto her knees and scooped the girl into her arms. Inara was in tears, rocking Wai-Lan and saying she was sorry for leaving her, begging the child to forgive her. Wai-Lan was speechless but clung to her with ferocious strength. It was several seconds before Inara thought to ask her if she was hurt. Wai-Lan stared back at her with huge eyes and shook her head.
“They took Annabelle,” she said in a tiny voice.
“Who?” Inara asked.
“Annabelle. She held my hand when the Shepherd went away. They took her with the others. She told me I mustn’t cry, but she was crying.” Wai-Lan took a gasping breath. “She told me they kill girls that cry.”
“Oh mei mei,” Inara whispered, and Wai-Lan burst into tears. Inara gathered her into another embrace and held her as she sobbed.
“Is she hurt?” Mal asked softly from behind her.
Inara looked up, her eyes dark with pain and anger. “I don’t think so. Not physically, anyway.”
Mal closed his eyes briefly in relief. Then he studied River with a mixture of confusion and awe. She lay in his arms like a child, limp and pale. “River must’ve had some pretty powerful influence with the Reavers for them to leave the child alone,” he remarked. “Whatever she put me through, I’ll forgive for that.”
For a moment longer he watched Inara holding Wai-Lan, wondering at the fiercely protective way she did so. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen that look on her face, and it struck him again how much of a contradiction this woman was. Most of the time she was utterly in control, keeping everyone at arms length with a practiced ease that confounded him. But when that armor cracked, she would fight anyone and anything – including him – to protect someone she cared about. As always, he found it baffling to try and reconcile the two aspects and struggled to understand how she did it. Or why.
He heard movement behind him and turned quickly. Duvenage had managed to make his way across the hall and was standing staring at the pile of bodies. Or more correctly, standing and staring at one of the bodies amongst the pile. Mal took a closer look and recognized Lessing. Duvenage’s face was as impassive as always, but Mal saw that the man’s fists were clenched. Shifting River a little awkwardly to ease aching muscles, he went over to stand beside him.
“He was killed when they took us captive,” Mal explained. Duvenage said nothing, but looked up and over at the balcony where Ossa’s body hung, strung up with chains from the railing. Mal’s jaw clenched at the memory.
“He was killed later,” he said briefly. There was no need to elaborate, the evidence of how he died was clearly visible on the man’s body.
“I want my men taken with us,” Duvenage said bluntly.
Mal looked at him and frowned. “It’ll slow us down,” he said.
Duvenage turned cold eyes on him. “If that becomes a problem, I will remain here with them.”
Mal nodded once, already clear in his mind that if it was possible, he would make sure Duvenage’s wish was carried out. There were debts to repay.
Mal looked back towards Inara and the child. She was standing up, about to lift the girl into her arms, but Wai-Lan shook her head.
“It’s alright,” she said, “I can walk. I want to walk.”
Inara brushed the child’s hair out of her face and said gently, “It’s okay, Wai-Lan, the Reavers are gone. We don’t have to run. I can carry you if you’re too tired.”
Doubt and relief flashed in Wai-Lan’s eyes, and she glanced around the hall as though to check for herself. When she looked at the bodies, Mal saw an unusually solemn expression settle on the child’s face. Wai-Lan gripped Inara’s hand, still staring at the dead, and said firmly, “I can walk.”
“Okay,” Inara agreed and looked over at Mal, asking a little desperately. “Can we go?”
“Yeah,” Mal said readily, and to Duvenage, “Soon as you can get us to the centre point.”
The security chief nodded and started across the hall towards the main staircase, walking slowly but with a lot more purpose than he had previously. There was nothing like a dose of reality to clear a man’s head, Mal mused, remembering what it had taken to bring him out of his drug-induced nightmares and feeling very glad that it had been a much sweeter experience than Duvenage’s.
They were almost at the top of the staircase, Duvenage stepping onto the landing ahead of the others, when the security chief suddenly froze. He gestured urgently for Mal and Inara to back up, and flattened himself against the wall. Mal carefully set River down on the stairs, not for the first time regretting that he’d lost his gun.
“Stay with her,” he whispered to Inara, who nodded and crouched down so that she could hold on to River and keep her from collapsing. Mal went up onto the landing next to Duvenage, who pointed to the doors – still left propped open by the Reavers – and signaled that he’d seen something.
Mal thought grimly of their options, which were few and not very good. If it was Alliance, which was likely, then the best one would be to surrender immediately and hope that some scared, trigger-happy youngster didn’t shoot them before they could get the words out. How they were going to explain how they’d survived when there were bodies strewn all over the banqueting hall he had no idea. He doubted even Duvenage’s Governor boss or Inara’s Companion status would be sufficient to keep them from being asked some very painful questions, probably from the other side of prison bars. Mal personally doubted he’d be seeing the light of day for a good long while, if ever. Browncoats were under suspicion by default. And as for River….
Now Mal could hear something. It sounded like footsteps, the scrape of clothing against the wall on the other side of the door, the faint rattle of a weapon being shifted. He and Duvenage exchanged a glance before turning their attention back to the open doorway. The business end of a gun appeared through it, and Mal heard a voice say softly, “I’m at the door, goin’ through.”
Mal reacted without thought, grabbing Duvenage’s arm to restrain him, and said in disbelief, “Zoe?”
He heard a gasp, and then there she was, through the door and staring at him with a look that mirrored his own.
“Sir? Diyu…,” she blinked rapidly, and said in a numb voice, “You’re alive.”
He laughed and stepped forward to grab her in a bone-crushing embrace. “I really thought I wasn’t goin’ to see you again,” he said. She didn’t reply, but he could feel from the strength of her grip that she had believed the same thing.
“Ni ta ma de!” A voice said from the other side of the door, and Jayne was staring at him with wide eyes. “Cap’n? That you?”
“Yeah, it’s me, an’ there’s a few more with me,” he said, grinning like an idiot, happy even to see the big oaf of a mercenary.
Zoe suddenly pulled back and said urgently, “Alliance are comin’, sir. We gotta get outa here.”
“I know,” Mal answered. “We got wounded. Who else you got with you?”
“We got a medic and one of Xuan’s men, an’ there’s another two on the shuttle. Who’s been hurt?” She looked over his shoulder.
Mal stepped back so that she could see down the staircase. “River’s not doin’ too well.”
Duvenage, looking a lot paler after the brief moment of tension, said, “And my men. I’d like to take my men back with us on the shuttle.”
“Inara!” Zoe said, a smile suddenly lighting up her face. She went down the stairs as Inara stood up, giving her an equally delighted smile. The two women embraced, Inara saying, “Oh, it is so good to see you again.”
“Likewise,” Zoe told her as they parted again. “You are alright? You’re not hurt?”
“I’m fine,” Inara reassured her, “thanks to you all. You risked your lives to get here, and I can never thank you enough for that.” She glanced up at Mal as she spoke.
“Don’t,” Zoe said firmly. “You are a friend, Inara, none of us be keepin’ score. And who’s this?” She asked, smiling down at Wai-Lan, who was looking up at her with awe.
“This is Wai-Lan, Lieutenant Xuan’s sister,” Inara explained. “I understand that the Lieutenant has already been taken to Serenity.”
“He has, and he is safe and well,” Zoe told Wai-Lan, who smiled tentatively, holding tightly onto Inara’s hand. Zoe then crouched down next to River and looked her over. “She had a bad reaction to the drug?” she asked.
Mal looked surprised, “How’d you know about that?” He asked.
“Preacher told us what happened after you were caught,” Zoe said briefly, and looked up at Duvenage, her expression rapidly sobering. “Where are your men?”
It took them a little while to work out how to break the chains that held up Ossa’s body, but they did it. Before long, they were making their way back through the passageways of Nexus Section A with Mal carrying River and Zoe, Jayne and Xuan’s men carrying the two bodies between them. The shuttle was crowded, but no one was disposed to complain about it. When they were all on board, Zoe put a call through to Serenity.
“Wash, we’re on our way. How far away are the Alliance cruisers?”
“Their long-range scanners’ll have us in ten minutes or so,” Wash’s voice came back over the com. “Who’s with you? D’you get the Cap’n?”
“Yeah, she got me,” Mal said, leaning over Zoe’s shoulder. “How’s Serenity?”
“Gorramnit, an’ there I was thinkin’ I could sell this heap of junk and buy me an’ Zoe a little farm somewhere nice an’ peaceful, raise a few chickens, maybe some geese.” Wash quipped. “Good to hear your voice, Cap’n,” he added. “You okay?”
“I’m not dead,” Mal told him. “We gonna be able to outrun the Alliance?”
“Not this time,” Wash replied sounding a lot more serious. “Best we can do is try an’ fly innocent and hope they don’t board us. We may get lucky.”
“I been thinking we’ve about worn our luck out on this one, sir,” Zoe said quietly.
“An’ then some,” Mal agreed.
They made the rest of the trip back to Serenity in silence. A few minutes from docking, Wash told them that he’d been hailed by one of the Alliance cruisers and told to keep Serenity where she was or be shot down. When they opened the shuttle door, Simon was standing in the corridor outside. His gaze flew to River, lying senseless in Mal’s arms.
“What happened?” he demanded, “How long has she been like this?”
“Mind getting’ out of the way?” Mal asked impatiently. Simon backed up enough to let Mal through.
“Give her to me,” he said as soon as Mal had straightened up.
“Glad to,” Mal told him, and handed River to her brother. As Simon disappeared down the catwalk, he shook his head and said, “Good to see you too,” to the man’s back.
“He’ll remember to thank you later,” Zoe said as she stepped out, carrying Lessing’s feet.
“Not if the Alliance board us he won’t,” Mal muttered grimly, and headed up towards the bridge.
Inara stepped out of the shuttle and watched him go. She waited until Duvenage came through onto the catwalk, the last one to exit the shuttle. She still held Wai-Lan’s hand, and the child regarded Duvenage solemnly.
“Can you help?” Inara asked him quietly.
He looked a little puzzled. “In what way?”
“Can you keep the Alliance from boarding?” She asked. It was a dangerous question. Duvenage regarded at her for a long moment, and she had the distinct impression he did it to see how much she would fidget. She didn’t, of course.
“What influence do you believe I could have?” He asked eventually.
Inara noted his lack of surprise that she would ask such a favor from him. Even having spent such a short time in his company, she believed that there was far more to this man than any of them suspected. For one thing, he had something similar to her own training in reading people. The fact that he was so difficult to read himself made that obvious. Very rarely, she had met men and women like him. Usually they were Alliance, but she had decided to risk the appeal anyway. Something about this man suggested to her that there was a human being behind the mask, a distinction she was only able to make having met others of his kind. And unlike everyone else on Serenity, Inara had some autonomy provided by her standing as a Companion. Her loyalty to her House first above all else would not be questioned, and if she was wrong about Duvenage, then she could always defend herself by saying that she’d made her appeal out of a sense of gratitude towards those who had saved her life. Given the circumstances, that was perfectly plausible.
“You are Governor Xuan’s most trusted employee,” she said in answer to his question. “He is highly regarded among the Alliance senior staff. The crew of Serenity were here at his request, and they have saved the lives of his grandchildren. If you were to suggest it, Governor Xuan could be persuaded to intervene on their behalf.”
“It was a business arrangement,” Duvenage replied bluntly. “They are being well paid. The Governor does not need to involve himself any further.”
Inara smiled. “They walked into a Reavers’ den. Your Governor knows that you could not have found another crew in the ‘verse willing to do that, whatever you may have offered to pay them.”
He smiled just a little in return. “The fact is, Companion, that the Captain was looking for any reason he could to persuade his crew to take the risk so that he could rescue you. If his need happened to coincide with the Governor’s, then that is a fortuitous incident. It certainly places the Governor under no obligation.”
Inara stared at him, momentarily speechless, and in that moment knowing there was nothing more she could say. She felt a quick stab of doubt. This man was very, very good. If she had made a mistake in appealing to him, then she had made a bad one.
The Companion had only a second’s warning before she was practically knocked from her feet and enveloped in a bear hug. Wai-Lan yelped in surprise, and would have run for it if Inara hadn’t been holding on to her hand.
“Kaylee!” Inara gasped, struggling to breathe. “Kaylee, careful-”
“Oh, oh, are you hurt? Did I hurt you?” Kaylee rattled off, letting go as quickly as she had grabbed hold, her face a picture of worry. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean-”
“No, I’m fine, you didn’t hurt me. Just surprised me, and after the last couple of days I’ve had about enough of surprises,” Inara said wryly.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Kaylee said, stricken. “I didn’t think. I’m always doing things without thinkin’, it’s a really bad habit and I promise I’ll stop-”
“Kaylee!” Inara said, catching hold of the girl’s waving hands. “It’s alright, I was only teasing.”
“You were?” Kaylee was astonished, then raised her eyes heavenward and shook her head. “Of course you were, how silly of me. But are you alright? Really?”
Struggling to gather her scattered thoughts, Inara realized that in the middle of all of this, Duvenage had slipped away. She sighed inwardly, hoping she hadn’t just made Serenity’s problems any worse, but certain nothing she could do now would make them any better. She looked back at Kaylee, who was looking at her with such open concern that Inara couldn’t help but reassure her.
“I’m really fine, Kaylee. I need a bath and a change of clothing, and I think Wai-Lan here could do with the same, but other than that we’re both fine.”
“Well, there’s only the shower if you remember, but you can borrow some of my clothes. Hey there, Wai-Lan,” Kaylee turned her infectious smile on the child, who glanced up at Inara to check whether this person was safe before smiling tentatively in return.
“You know what I think would do Wai-Lan the world of good right now?” Inara said to Kaylee. “Her brother was one of the soldiers they took off the station, and I think she’d really like to see him.”
“I’m sure we can manage that,” Kaylee said cheerfully. “I’m friends with the doctor, you know. I bet I can persuade him to let you see your brother. Come on,” and she held out a hand to Wai-Lan.
“Just friends?” Inara asked Kaylee under her breath as they made their way down the catwalk towards the infirmary.
Kaylee groaned and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, just friends. The man’s as dumb as a post.”
Inara laughed, and felt a sudden, overwhelming relief so profound she was almost in tears. Kaylee looked at her and her eyes went wide.
“Oh, Inara,” she murmured, and quickly took her in another hug. “We thought we had really lost you this time. I was so scared.”
“Me too,” Inara replied, allowing herself to lean on her friend for just a moment. “Me too.”
“But you know what?” Kaylee said to her gently.
“What?” Inara asked, sniffing slightly.
“You were right about the shower.”
Shenme shi? - What’s the matter?
Zhe shi shenmo lan dongxi? - What the hell is this?
Mei guänxi – It’s okay
Oh, juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan – Oh, this really is a happy day
Juedui bu - no way
Diyu – hell
Ni ta ma de - motherfucker
Sunday, March 28, 2004 10:51 PM
Monday, March 29, 2004 6:21 AM
Monday, March 29, 2004 8:04 AM
Monday, March 29, 2004 8:05 AM
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