Choices - Part 13 B
Friday, September 22, 2006

The search for Mal and Inara continues, Mal and Atherton have at it, and necessity makes for strange bedfellows.


Word Count: 3995 words Character / Pairing: Mal/Inara Rating: PG to PG13 Spoilers: Series. Author's Note: It has become apparent that Part 13 is going to be longer than I originally expected, and so, it will be in three pieces, if not more. I’m still plugging away, trying to get everything worked out and wrapped up the way I need to, but the bulk of the next part is already done. I make no promises on when it will be finished though, since I never meet the deadlines anyways. As usual, my thanks go to all of you who continue to read and support my little story, with Special thanks to the Quills INC gals (you know who you are) and to Arcadia for inspiring me to keep writing and finish this thing.

CHOICES – Part 13 B by 2x2

The temperature had risen to an almost unbearable level, the heat shimmering off the ground in rippling waves of heat that made it difficult to make out shapes on the horizon, but after blinking several times and shading her eyes, Zoë was finally certain that she saw something real in the distance. She slowed the Mule to a stop and pointed the structure out to Jayne. The mercenary lifted Vera's scope to his eye and squinted.

"Some kind a' walled in buildings," he said in confirmation. "That'll be the place."

"Ain't no where else they could've gone," agreed Zoë, relieved to have finally found it.

Jayne continued to scan the area through his scope, studying the lay of the land. "Best bet is to go in on the east side, right along side them cliffs over there," he said, pointing. "That'll get us a better view."

"And minimize our exposure," Zoë nodded, approving. She fired up the engines again and cut to the right, bringing the Mule as close into the rocky formations as she could, more than a little close for her comfort, truthfully, but she wanted to take advantage of the cover as much as possible. Three quarters of the distance had passed beneath them when a section of ground sloped up to the east and Zoë banked right, steering the Mule up it, bringing them onto the cliff tops and overlooking the 'valley' below. She cut the engines and they jumped out, crouching low to the ground as they approached the edge of the cliff and dropping to their bellies to sidle up as close as they could get without being seen.

The complex beneath them was a massive, walled-in estate comprised of several large buildings, their red tile roofs vibrant against the pristine white of their bricks, surrounded by lush, green vegetation. A multi-tiered building in the middle of the complex appeared to be the main house and a circular, dome shaped structure sat directly behind it. Several smaller buildings spread out from the house, linked by pathways and gardens between them. Zoë shook her head in wonder. It was as though someone had just dug up a part of the Core and dropped it right here in the middle of no and where.

Jayne peered through Vera's scope again, following an armed guard as he walked along the wall of the complex. "Private security force," he said, pointing.

Zoë lifted her own spyglass to her eye and followed his finger. "I count five this side," she said after a moment. "Be the same number on the other sides most like, probably more within the buildings. I'd guess twenty-five to thirty armed men in there.”

Jayne grunted. "Tha's a hell of a lot more'n four," he said sourly.

"Kao," cursed Zoë angrily, knowing they didn't have a chance against those kind of odds. "How many could you take from here?" she asked.

"With Vera? Four," he said confidently. "'fore they start scramblin' for cover; one or two more after that. By then they'll know we're comin'."

Zoë nodded in frustration.

"Wouldn't hurt to have the Shepherd with us," Jayne said pointedly.

"Wouldn't hurt to have a lot of things with us," she fired back.

"Yeah, well we ain't gettin' in there on our lonesome," he said. "We're gonna do this, we're gonna need more hands. Shepherd's not bad in a fight. Hell, Wash took out his share at Niska's. Maybe even Crazy'd be—"

"Can't rely on her," Zoë argued with a shake of her head. "She ain't safe." She didn't much like the idea of Wash being involved either.

"Neither is tryin' ta go in there with only four men," Jayne protested. "Could use the extra firepower, much as the idea of her with a gun gives me an uncomfortableness."

Zoë nodded, not arguing the truth of Jayne's words. Their odds weren't looking good and they were going to need every available gunhand they could get for this. But she had to consider the risk the rest of the crew would be taking, and how much was justified in trying to get the Captain and Inara back. They'd done it before, gone into Niska's Skyplex after Mal, and they'd been lucky. But the doc, and Kaylee especially, hadn't been much use. If it hadn't been for River, well, things would have ended a sight less pleasantly. If the girl could handle a weapon like that again, they might have a chance. But there was no sayin' she mightn't end up turning the gun on the crew just as lethally were she to get confused or have one of her episodes in the middle of the assault.

Zoë shook her head. No. River was too unpredictable, but she couldn't deny that having the rest of the crew's help would make better odds than what they had to go on with just her and Jayne. She sighed.

"I'll call Wash."


"River. River, come down," pleaded Simon, hands stretched before him in an unthreatening manner.

"'Tis the heart that's poisoned, not the blade," River explained impatiently, stepping lithely along the thing railing, bare feet curling over the metal as she ran.

"Oh, sweetie! Careful!" gasped Kaylee as River swung around the corner pole gracefully, leaping from one railing to the next.

"Ophelia drank the wine!" the girl yelled back, crouching low on the railing, hands going around her middle.

"River, why don’t you just let me—" Simon said, starting toward her again, but she clutched the pole and backed away.

"No! The Prince of Denmark lies bleeding!" she nearly screamed, growing more and more agitated the closer her brother came, her footing seeming less sure as she moved backwards.

"Simon, maybe you shouldn't—" Kaylee's words were cut off with a gasp as River's left foot slipped from the railing. Simon lunged forward to catch her but the girl was already leaping away to the railing across the walkway, casting a tearful frown at her brother.

"Horatio must find them," River said, imploring Simon to understand.

"Mei mei, I don't—" Simon shook his head.

"Hamlet," said Book, staring up at the girl. "She's talking about Shakespeare."

"But none of it makes sense!" Simon said, frustrated. "She's confusing it all. Queen Gertrude drank the poisoned wine, not Ophelia. She killed herself. And Laertes' sword was dipped in poison, not his heart," explained the doctor."

"Perhaps she's using it as a… metaphor of some sort?" suggested the Shepherd.

"If it is, it's one I don't—" Simon paused mid sentence as a loud banging suddenly echoed through the cargo bay and the doctor, Book and Kaylee all exchanged a glance before staring down into the hold.

Wash stared up at them, startling as the banging came again. Cautiously he crept up to the bay doors and peeked out the window. "Ai ya! Wo men wan le!" he exclaimed, pulling back quickly and casting a worried glance up to the rest of the crew.

"What is it?" asked Simon nervously.

"It's that Lawman," Wash hissed. "And he's brought more than a few friends this time!"

Simon shot Book an accusing stare and then shook his head with a curse. "River—" he started, turning back to his sister only to discover the girl was no longer there. "River?" he called again, turning around in circles as he searched for her.

"Where'd she go?" gasped Kaylee, equally bewildered.

"What thegui are we gonna do?" Wash yelled up to them as the pounding grew more insistent.

"Let them in," Book said finally heading down the stairs.

"What?" protested Simon, following, Kaylee close behind.

"We don’t want them to think we have anything to hide. We'll tell the truth about the Captain and Inara."

"The truth!" sputtered Wash incredulously. "Have we forgotten the part where we kidnapped and tortured his kid?"

"I'm hoping we can skip that part, if he doesn't already know," the Shepherd said, stepping off the stairs to the floor.

"What if they do know? What if they arrest us all? They'll find River," pressed Simon worriedly.

"We can't keep them out there forever, son. We give them enough information to satisfy their questions, they shouldn't go looking for more," assured Book. "We'll just have to pray River knows enough to stay out of sight," he added, eyes scanning up along the catwalks but still finding no sign of the girl. He turned back to Simon. "Perhaps you should go down and keep watch over Gabr'elle. I'll do my best to keep them off the ship, but she is the only witness to the boy's guilt. I don't believe the boy has turned us in. If he has, I don't expect his father would do anything to your patient, but… it's better to be safe than sorry."

"I find your faith astounding, Shepherd," Simon said facetiously, and with a shake of his head, he turned and went down to the infirmary.

"Kaylee, why don't you go with him?" Book suggested, nodding to Wash once the mechanic had gone.

"Wo de ma," Wash cursed under his breath and opened the doors.


Mal swallowed roughly, his throat dry as he watched Atherton descend the stairs to join him on the sword pitch. His eyes lifted to Inara, filled with all the words he'd never said, heavy with the knowledge that he was never going to. She met his gaze anxiously, grimacing as Whelt forced her to sit in one of the seats, and Mal made yet another promise to anyone that might be listening that if he got out of this alive, Whelt too would have some accounting to do.

He brought his focus back to Atherton as the man stepped onto the flat white stone, forcing himself to concentrate and push aside the tired ache in his limbs.

“Seem to recall us bein’ in this situation before, Ath. Might want to take a minute, think on how things ended last time,” said Mal, tingeing his voice with a smugness he didn’t altogether feel as he brushed his broken fingers over his left cheek in imitation of Atherton’s scar.

Wing gave him a sardonic smile, not taken in by his false bravado. “You needn’t worry about that. I make a point of never making the same mistake twice.” Atherton whipped his blade through the air and slowly began circling Mal, a predatory grin of anticipation on his face.

Mal gripped his sword tightly, palm already sweaty against the wire wrapped grip. He knew he didn't have much hope of beating Atherton, especially in his current condition, but a fight always presented some unknown opportunities and surprises. If he could keep out of Wing's range and come up with some kind of plan, he might have a chance. Slim, but better than nothing.

All he needed to do was stay alive long enough to come up with that plan.

High above them, Inara watched fearfully as the two men circled each other. She knew Mal was no match for Atherton with a sword, but he might have a chance if he could get close enough to disarm Wing and bring his fists into the fight. Mal was far more skilled at fisticuffs and she knew that if the sword were removed from the equation, he'd have a lot less trouble with Atherton, even with his broken fingers. The hard part, of course, was getting in close enough without getting himself stabbed in the process.

"Don't let him control the fight," she whispered to herself. "Don't play by his rules." As if sensing her words, Mal parried another of Atherton’s opening plays, but instead of backing away, he moved in quickly, reaching for Wing’s sword hand. For one brief moment Inara thought he might do it, but Atherton, as surprised as he was, still managed to force Mal back with a tight cut from his blade that left a welling red line across the less experienced man’s forearm.

Inara winced and bit her lip, knowing that the longer the fight went on, the less chance Mal was likely to get, and that he’d very likely just missed the only opportunity he’d really have. “Careful,” she hissed as Mal barely dodged another of Wing’s attacks. She watched Atherton move, noting every subtle change in his stance that she could, looking for any ‘tells’ that she might be able to take advantage of and help Mal.

She didn’t see much.

“Don’t think your friend’s like to last very long,” came Whelt’s voice beside her suddenly as he leaned in close.

Inara ignored him, biting back the retort that threatened to spill from her lips, refusing to respond as he chuckled in her ear.

“Whelt!” hissed one of his men from behind them, drawing the bounty hunter’s attention from the duel momentarily. "What the diyu are we doin',? Why don' we jus' shoot 'em all and get this done. Got better ta do than sit around watchin' some yú chǔn sword fight!"

"Bi zui," said Whelt absently, turning back to Inara. She kept her eyes on Mal, but her attention was all focused on the men behind them now, noting their restless impatience with worry.

"Lee's right," said one of the others. "This is bù xiàng huà!"

"I said bi zui, gorramit! We wait an' get our money, finish the job like the man said," Whelt said, turning back to face them angrily. "We get a reputation for killin' our contacts, pretty soon they ain't gonna be no contacts, dong ma? Ya' all've been on this moon for four gorram months. Another hour won't be the death a' ya!"

The two men continued to grumble but the third’s voice silenced them. "Whelt's right," he said gruffly. "Ya' all want yer coin from this, you'd better smart it up."

Whelt gave his number two man a nod. "We wait," he said resolutely and turned back to the sword match while Inara’s mind worked furiously to try and come up with a way she could use the men’s impatience to her advantage.


Zoë paced the cliff top, twitchy, worry crowding the edges of her thoughts from every direction. Wash's voice, when she'd waved, had been strained and off, there was no other way to describe it. And while some of it could be attributed to his lingering anger, she didn't think that was all of it. At the same time, her worry for Mal grew with every minute that ticked by and she stood up here doing nothing. She'd already been too late once, if she didn't get there in time this time… She shook her head, her steps growing more rapid and forceful. Come on, Wash, she prayed silently.

"Any change?" she asked Jayne, voice clipped. The mercenary didn't look up from where he laid prone at the cliff's edge, eye still pressed to Vera's scope.

"Nope. No shift changes, no extra activity. She's all quiet," he said, whispering even though they were more than well out of earshot of the compound.

She stared down at the grouping of buildings behind the wall, trying to decipher, for the thousandth time, which one was most likely to hold the Captain and Inara. Jayne favoured the dome-shaped structure behind the house, and she was inclined to agree, though they'd clear the house on their way through, just to be sure.

The low roaring-hum of engines drew her attention back to the sky and Zoë's breath caught as Serenity appeared on the horizon, the sun reflecting off her cockpit and solar panels in a shimmer of glittering light as she soared toward them, flying as low to the ground as was humanly possible without touching it, and she smiled at the beauty of it. If nothing else, her mister sure knew how to fly that bird, she reflected, heart welling with hope and pride.

"They're here," she said needlessly, and hurried toward the firefly as it touched down on the rocky cliffs with a gentle bump.

She waited impatiently as the ramp slowly lowered, her body suddenly going cold, shock washing through her as several armed men appeared above her. She dove to the side, hand falling to the butt of her mule’s leg, pulling it from its holster as she took cover behind Serenity’s landing gear with a curse.

She’d known something was off!

But a moment later she heard Wash call her name as he came running down the ramp.

“Zoë! Baby, it’s okay!” he exclaimed, holding his hands out in an attempt to keep the situation calm. He glanced over his shoulder as the men filed out of Serenity, Lawman Williams bringing up the rear. “Lawman an’ his men are here to help us get Mal and Inara back, and nothing else,” he added lowly, meeting her eyes significantly before casting an uneasy grin at the Lawman and then back to Zoë. “Ain’t that shiny!?”

“Peachy,” Zoë said guardedly, stepping out from behind her cover slowly, pistol still held at the ready. She knew Wash and could read the meaning behind his words and understand that the Lawman knew nothing about his son being on board, nor hopefully who River and Simon were. The fact that they were getting off Serenity without, apparently, searching her didn’t hurt none either, but she was a long way from trusting them.

There was a sudden, menacing metal-on-metal sound of a weapon being readied and she smiled as Jayne’s voice called out from behind the mule.

“Jus’ gimme the word, Zoë. I got ‘im,” the mercenary said confidently.

Williams’s men shifted uneasily, hands on their guns but the Lawman held a hand up and they reluctantly settled.

“Look,” he said wearily. “We been through this once before already, and your crew here’s gone a long way to convincin’ me you ain’t directly involved with this business. But I’ve had arson, murder, riots, kidnapping and lord knows what else take over my town in the last two days, an’ I mean to see an end to it. I got no issue with you an’ your people aside from the fact that your Captain seems to’ve been the catalyst for all this. Conjure we find who’s responsible for snatchin’ him, we find who’s responsible for all the rest of it, an’ that puts us at a common purpose. So, whatever it is you’re aimin’ to do, best figure on us comin’ along, dong ma?”

“Reckon we are,” said Zoë, her expression giving nothing away as to whether she was pleased with the development or not, but she let her hand drop, lowering her mule’s leg; she wasn’t about to argue the point. They’d wasted enough time already. It was time to go get Mal, and the more help they had the better. Not that she was about to tell the Lawman that.

“Jayne, stand down,” she called, and could practically see the disappointment on his face as she heard him give a dissatisfied grunt.

Zoë motioned to the cliff side and the Lawman mirrored her actions as she got down on her stomach and crawled to the edge.

Williams’ eyes widened as he took in the sprawling complex below them. “Holy Hannah,” he said and Zoë looked at him. He shook his head. “We get settlements out here from time to time, but no way in di yu that’s supposed to be there. Wo de ma, it’s a gorram fortress!”

The first mate nodded solemnly. “Got a security force in there, guessin’ on thirty men; five per wall, the rest inside.”

“Well, that makes things a might easier,” he said.

“Easier? How do you figure?” Zoë questioned, staring at him hard.

"Private security forces are illegal unless registered, and there ain't a one within three hundred miles of town that is. That makes them illegal militia," the Lawman explained. “Means I don’t got to go in there all friendly like an’ get shot for my trouble.” He nodded. “What’s your plan?”

“You got any snipers in your outfit?”

“Not as such,” Williams shook his head.

“Any artillery, demolitions?” she pressed, sighing as the Lawman shook his head.

“We’re a small town. Takin’ on a fortified compound don’t normally fall within the scope of our day to day,” he said.

“Well, Lawman, today’s your lucky day," said Zoë, sliding back from the edge and standing.

"You've an interestin' concept of lucky," Williams said, following suit.

Zoë paused and gave him an impatient look. "You don't like it, town's back that way."

Williams crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow. “Way I see it, you need me and my men a hell of a lot more’n I need you. That is, if your story's true, an' if you’re hopin’ to get your Captain back alive…”

They traded hard, assessing gazes before Zoë finally nodded, conceding the point. Her focus was to get Mal out of there while he was still living, and that wasn’t going to happen if they didn’t act sooner rather than later.

“Jayne, see if you can’t outfit these men with something a little more useful,” she called to the mercenary.

“What? I ain’t handin’ over my personal stash—“ Jayne protested, but she cut him off.

“Just do it!” she snapped, her tone brooking no disagreement. She caught Wash’s eyes and motioned for him to follow her onto Serenity, marching up the ramp briskly.

“What the hell were you thinkin’, lettin’ them on the ship?” Zoë demanded angrily, turning once they were finally in the galley and alone.

“Woah. Uh, did you happen to notice the big shiny badge? Not to mention the very functional looking pieces of iron on their hips? What was I supposed to do? Fly away?” Wash said defensively. "He was here when you called. Besides, you know you could use the help."

Zoë sighed. "They ain’t the kind of help we need!”

“Oh, no! It’s much more heroic and exciting to make the daring rescue all on your own! God forbid we do something on the legal side of the law for a change,” he said sarcastically.

“And you don’t think that maybe havin’ that Lawman’s kid aboard is an issue?”

Wash crossed his arms decisively. “We let him go.”

“You let him go?” Zoë closed her eyes, squeezing the bridge of her nose in controlled anger. “Well. That's great. And whose brilliant plan was that? Yours?"

Wash rolled his eyes angrily. “You know, I’m gettin’ a little tired of always bein’ the one left behind and then havin’ my every action called into question, sweet cakes.”

Zoë blinked slowly. “I’m not second guessing you—"

"Yeah? Well you could've fooled me!"

"Wash… This ain't the time--"

"No it isn't," he agreed. "But it never is, is it?"

They stared hard at each other for a long moment, neither of them backing down. "Finished?" Zoë asked finally.

"Except for this," he said, stepping close and sliding his hands up her arms to her shoulders. "Promise me you'll be careful," he said, his voice softening as he pulled her into his arms. Zoë let herself relax into his embrace, surprised by how much she needed to feel it.

"You get Mal and Inara and you hurry back, 'cause you are coming back, dong ma?” said Wash earnestly. “We've got a discussion to finish. And, I happen to have it on good authority that the make up sex will be fantastic," he smirked, pressing his forehead to hers affectionately.

Zoë shook her head against his with a smile she couldn't suppress. “This isn’t over,” she admonished, grinning slightly.

“You’re damn right!” he countered, but with a mischievous smirk. “You take care out there,” he added, growing serious again.

Giving him a subdued smile, she leaned in for a slow kiss, meeting his eyes for a long moment as they drew apart. Then, she nodded firmly, pulling in a deep breath as she prepared to meet the coming battle.

“Always do.”

Chinese Translations: kao = fuck mei mei = little sister Ai ya! Wo men wan le! = We’re in big trouble! gui = hell wo de ma = Mother of Jesus diyu = hell yú chǔn = stupid bi zui = shut up bù xiàng huà = unreasonable; shocking; outrageous dong ma = are we clear? / understand?

Go to Part 13C


Friday, September 22, 2006 10:12 AM


Mini-review for *happiness*

Friday, September 22, 2006 1:00 PM


Love this and I like it that the Sheriff and his men will actually be on Serenity's side for once! Oh I hope they make it in the nick of time because I love it when folks do the impossible. And we still have to see that twisted *wangba dan* Whelt and Atherton Wing get their come uppance. Shiny story, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, September 22, 2006 6:16 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER it wrong of me to want to believe Mal would have tried learning fencing after Ath's little funfest in "Shindig?" Cuz Mal strikes me as someone who doesn't make multiple mistakes unless he's put under a lot of pressure that's not direct or initially fatal;)

Still...I have been slavering for this endlessly, 2x2. I certainly hope we can see the next part of ch. 13 sooner than this one came along;D


Friday, September 22, 2006 6:31 PM


yay more choices! agree that the wash/zoe was perfect/funny/true to character(s). can't wait to see what inara's planning--hopefully something dangerously brave that will infuriate mal and ath both hehe. give us more soon!

Saturday, September 23, 2006 4:51 AM


So glad to see more of this fabulous story unfolding. You really know how to build the tension. I can imagine how much work and effort went into this story, but it's well worth it! Thanks!


You must log in to post comments.



History of an Object
There’s no reason to keep it, damaged as it is. Save one. Doesn’t matter that it’s finer than any other cup on the ship, even with the crack. Doesn’t matter that it would never hold liquid again without some of it seeping through. Burning your fingers. Was only one reason he still has the cup.

Five Years' War
The night was warm. Clouds, low on the horizon, blue black in the last light of the setting sun. Nothing but the breeze and the buzz of the cicadas breaking the stillness. A perfect evening.

The Close Shore, At the End, Untenable
“Dead ’re in my head tonight,” he said finally. “Can’t get ‘em out. Don’t got the booze or the bar to distract me. Don’t know why I’m here ‘cept I don’t think I can go through it alone.”

The Slower Path: All the Difference - Part 15 - Sequel to The One Less Traveled By
She let out a breath, saying nothing for a long moment before she raised her eyes again. “There are some things I want you to know,” she said softly. “Things I want you to understand.”

Much as he wished he could ignore it, he could see it was important to her that he know whatever it was she wanted to tell him. He knew he wouldn't have let himself see it in the past, but that weren't where they were anymore, or at least, not where they wanted to be, either of them. Their relationship had changed, was changing, and he weren’t so stupid he didn’t recognize that. He didn't know that he wanted to know it, much less understand it, but she was reluctant enough to talk about any aspect of her life as it was; could be he might ought not stop her when she wanted to.

Unlucky at Cards...
“I… You can’t be that lucky!” Mal moaned as Inara beat him again, laying out her cards with a flourish.

The Slower Path: The One Less Traveled By - Part 14 - Sequel to Regrets
They fell silent again, struggling to find the ease that they had found, before; before the argument that had almost ended things.

"I feel like-," she started.

"This is-," he said at the same time.

They looked at each other. "Awkward," they both said, laughing lightly.

Always Had Faith
Faith in a higher power? That was always Mal's thing, the Captain, back in the war.

Loved and Lost
Love’s the biggest kind of hurt there is.

And I wouldn't trade that love for nothin'.

The Mood That Passes Through
He felt the first trembling shudder go through her, heard her breath hitch and felt her fingers grip his skin; knew it was comin', the wave that was cresting the walls she'd built to hold it back, whatever it was. Knew they were about to come crashing down around her. The first sob still hurt though, still lanced through his heart like a searing hot blade to hear her make that sound.