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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Well, here it is. The last chapter. Warning: character death, but anyone who's read the rest probably already knows that.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1738 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
AN: This is it. I can't believe it's really over. Wow. You guys have all been great, and I'm so grateful for your comments and support. This was the hardest chapter by far to write, so I hope it holds up. You all knew someone had to die, and I tried not to make it too painful. But... enough excuses. You don't care about my excuses.
Here we go.
"I knew you would come. Eventually. I spent thousands trying to find you, but I knew you would come to me." River said nothing in reply. She had dropped, silently, from the vent in the ceiling to the floor of the small, dark room. In the center of the room sat a monster.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, River could see expensive medical equipment.
"You're River Tam," Dillon Saunders said. He was not afraid.
"Yes," River said slowly, prowling around the chair to face him. "And you're the monster." He smiled, his mutilated features stretching oddly to accomadate it.
"Maybe. But I'm not the only monster," he continued, tone growing grim.
"You want to hurt people."
"And you're going to help me." She gasped in a breath, a hand dancing to her breast.
"Why else would you have come?" River did a graceful pirouette, turning on the spin to look at him over her shoulder.
"To save the nice people," she sang. "To stop you."
"Why would you want to do that? These people, the ones I want to punish, they hate you. They wouldn't blink an eye if what was done to me was done to you." River fell out of her extended ballet pose and knelt at his feet.
"Oh, but I'm a girl," she whispered confidingly. "A sweet, pretty little girl. They don't like it when we get hurt."
"You're forgetting one thing," Saunders wheezed through the tubes in his throat. "You're not a girl."
"What am I, then?"
"A weapon, like I was. You were made into what you are, like I was made into this. You have nothing out there."
"I have my Simon."
"Which brings me to my other point. You don't, actually. I do. And if you don't do what you should, he'll die." River recoiled a little, her torso moving sinuously while her bent knees remained motionless and her chin ducked reproachfully.
"I just got the wave. Some thugs working for that moron Tremain picked him up on Persephone." River smiled a secret smile, and rose to her feet.
"So if I blow up the nice planets for you, you'll let my brother go?"
"Sure. I don't even know why that would be a hard decision, River," Saunders went on raspily. "You have every reason to hate."
"Look at what they did to you! It's rich people that did that, rich people with no brains and no compassion." River looked down at her hands, frowning. Encouraged by her silence, Saunders went on. His blind eyes stared past her. "You were made to fight, River. Those hands were made to kill. Turn the tables. Help me punish them for stealing your childhood."
"Turn the tables?"
"Don't fight for them, fight THEM! You'll get your justice, and I'll let you and your brother go free."
"Mmm," River hummed agitatedly, her hands going to press against her temples. "Where is it? Swimming around inside my skull, I know the word!" She stalked around the chair, muttering, her feet making nary a sound. Suddenly, she stopped, bending at the waist to whisper directly into Saunders' ear, "Vendetta." Her lips brushed against the rim of his scarred ear, the word savage and lovely in its deadly glory. "A private, bitter feud. A one-man war. From the word 'vengeance'." She straightened, taking a breath and continuing in a loud, angry voice. "Do you know what the difference is between vengeance and justice, Dillon Saunders? Do you know what the phrase 'mass murder' means? I know! I know because I was taught, all in my head, all these terms and phrases and they all come down to death, death, death!"
"All right! So it's murder," Saunders allowed. "Vengeance. But River, my darling, vengeance is the sweetest dish of all." His voice dropped to a seductive whisper, somehow managing through the mangled remains of his vocal chords. "You had everything taken from you." He paused. She said nothing. "With a catastrophe like what this will be, you and your brother will drop off the radar. No one will come looking for you. You can be free." River, who had been opening her mouth to speak, stopped.
* * *
"We're here to deliver Simon Tam to Mr. Saunders," Mal said as blandly as he could. The slim, hard-looking woman standing in front of him narrowed her eyes.
"Ilya," she called. "Allan. Get your asses over here. We've got the delivery from Tremain." Two other guards approached. One of them took Simon roughly from Jayne's grip, and sneered at the burly mercenary. Jayne's nostrils flared. The woman rolled her eyes. "Come with me, you three," she said to the others. Mal glanced at Simon out of the corner of his eye. The doctor was stone-faced, stiffly cooperating. Good.
Mal, followed by Zoe and Jayne, allowed the female guard to lead him down another corridor off the main landing dock. They entered a long room on the right, and the woman pressed a button on a wall panel. She spoke into the glossy box that protruded from the wall.
"Graves here," she said. "I've got the guys from Tremain. They brought the Tam brother."
"How many," a sexless voice asked.
"Three. Two men, one woman." The voice said something else, but too softly for Mal or any of the others to hear. Graves pursed her lips. "I already- oh. Uh-huh. Red-four-one," she stated into the box, and then released the button. She turned to face them, clapping her hands together.
"Okay, people, just let me see those creds one more time, and I'll pay you."
"Okay," Mal grunted, pulling out the stolen cards. "I'm Tremain's right-hand man. He told me how important this Tam fellow is to you-all, and sent his own creds to make sure everything was all right."
"Huh," Graves said. "If you're his right-hand man, why don't you have your own?" Mal shrugged sheepishly, rubbing his cheek.
"Well, it's a funny story-"
"I'm sure it is. Almost as funny as the story you would have had if we'd fallen for this." With that, Graves reached for her hip holster. Without a second thought, Zoe swung her leg in a high kick that caught Graves in the chin. The guard fell like a stone. As soon as she was down, Jayne cursed. They could hear boots coming closer.
"That code at the end must have been for backup," Mal murmured. "Shit. Okay, people, get ready for some down-and-dirty."
* * *
River cocked her head to one side, listening intently. Then, she looked at Saunders.
"I have to go," she said. "The mice are here."
"You'll be back," Saunders said quietly. River paused as she prepared to use the table of pills to climb back into the vent.
"Yes," she said.
"Mal! On your left!" Mal swung around, ducked, and fired. Someone yelled. The long, narrow room where Graves had brought them had turned into a roiling mass of confusion and gunfire. Guards had poured in, but had seen nothing unusual save for Graves sitting, apparently asleep, at a table in the corner. Then, when the detachment of five that had arrived went over to investigate, Mal, Jayne and Zoe had exploded from their places beneath the two other tables and behind the doors. The doors had been slammed shut, and a stray bullet had hit the entrance keypad, trapping everybody inside. Now, arms and legs and guns were everywhere, and it was all the three Serenity crewmates could do to stay together and standing.
"What’s going on," someone yelled. "Who are you people?"
"Actually, if we could just sit down and talk about it," Mal began, but was cut off by a fist to the jaw. "Ow! Damn it!" He fired again, and a female voice screamed. Mal found himself back-to-back with Zoe.
"Um, sir," she said, "I don't think he wants to talk." She kneed someone in the balls. Mal, panting, punched someone's gut, saw it was Jayne, felt bad for an instant, then shrugged.
"I know," he replied, eyes swinging from one opponent to the next, "they never do. Why must my relationships- oof- always end the same way? 'I can't talk to you'. It's so sad."
"Sure, sir. But you always pick the whiny ones, so-"
"Watch out!" She ducked, came up behind a guard and clocked him hard in the temple with the butt of her gun. There were three guards left, not counting the still-unconscious Graves.
There was a thump and the sound of a struggle from the corner behind Mal, and he risked a quick glance over his shoulder. The apparently not-so-unconscious Graves had risen up directly behind Jayne and, finding her gun missing, socked him hard in the back of the skull. The big man had staggered and spun around just in time for her fist to slam into his right temple. When Mal glanced back at them, Jayne was crumpling to the ground. Graves, breathing hard, looked murderous. Mal shot her in the leg, and she fell on top of the mercenary with an agonized shriek as her shin shattered.
Zoe gave a wordless yell and shot one of the three other guards, ignoring the pain when a dagger opened a slice in her upper arm. Mal tackled another, head-butting him hard. The man dropped like a stone. Mal rubbed his forehead, wincing as he stood to face the remaining guard. He heard Zoe start to say something, but she only got half a shout out before pain slammed into Mal’s left shoulder, his arm spasming and then going limp. Immediately after the shot, a lithe, silent figure dropped from the ceiling behind the guard and chopped him across the neck, snapping it like a twig. River looked at Mal as Zoe dove just in time to keep his head from hitting the floor.
“Shit, Zo,” he grunted, his right hand pressed to the wound. “How bad is it?” She lifted his torso gingerly before lowering him carefully back down.
“It’s not shiny, sir,” she replied. “Clean, though. In and out.” River knelt beside Mal.
“I wasn’t fast enough,” she said softly, touching his forehead. “Now you’re hit with drugged bullets.”
“He’s what?” Zoe cursed beneath her breath.
“I can smell it. Taste it. They shatter off before going out, spread the sleeping draught.”
“Where did you come from,” Mal asked fuzzily. He’d been shot before, but never so near the heart. And never with drugged bullets. Fe hua.
“Vents. In the ceiling.” She was sounding remarkably lucid, her long, pale hands cradling his face. “You’ll be okay, Captain Daddy. Leave it to us, now.” Her face grew extremely close, and then backed away, blurring in and out, the edges growing watery and translucent as life faded to black.
When Mal’s eyes rolled back and his lids slid shut, River straightened. She went to Jayne, pulled Graves’ bloody body off of him, and rolled him over onto his back. She peered at his face intently, nodded to herself, and then walked back to Zoe.
“It’s ours, now,” she said. “You know that.” Zoe nodded. “I’ll make sure they’re okay,” River continued. “Go help Simon.” She indicated the vent in the ceiling, and Zoe nodded before going to pull a table over to stand on.
* * *
Simon Tam tried very hard not to resist. Every cell in his body was screaming at him to fight, fight like he might be able to now, but he forced his limbs to stay stiffly in the grips of the men who walked him down the hall. His steps dragged, and his teeth were clenched so tightly he feared they might be grinding away the points, but he went along. He played his part.
Only, he wasn’t so sure it was roleplaying anymore.
He’d heard shouts. And gunfire. The guards escorting him had ignored it, but Simon had felt a sick, twisting dread in his stomach. The others had been caught. They had been found out. His plan had failed. They were dead. He was going to die. River was going to…
But no, that couldn’t be. It was going to be okay. He was going to save his sister, and go back to Kaylee, and marry her, and raise their child with her. Mal would see Inara again, Zoe would play cards with him again, Jayne would… hell, Simon was feeling generous. Jayne would maybe, possibly, by the slimmest hair of possibility, talk to River alone again. Or not. He wasn’t sure. But they would all make it out okay. They had to.
“So your sister’s the psycho freak,” one of the guards commented. “Tough break.”
“Your sympathy is greatly appreciated,” Simon said dryly.
“Hey, just making conversation.”
“Shut up, Ilya,” the other man said, sounding annoyed.
“What? He’s probably gonna die, anyway.” The talkative guard, Ilya, turned back to Simon. “You know where we’re going?”
“To see the real psychopath, I expect.”
“No need for that, man,” Ilya reproached.
“Why are you talking to me?”
“Why not?” Simon sighed, and didn’t say anything.
“Think she’s gonna do it? Blow all those ‘nets away?”
“No, I don’t think she’s going to do it,” Simon said in a long-suffering voice. Actually, he was grateful for this man, because annoyance was much better than the nervous terror of before.
“Why not? What’s stopping her? You know you’re gonna die if she doesn’t.”
“I’m probably going to die if she does.”
“Yeah, well, she don’t know that.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“How come? Can she read minds, along with everything else?”
“Yeah, she can read minds along with everything else.”
“Believe me, the only shit here is the nutjob you work for.” Ilya laughed, but it wasn’t a nice laugh.
“Yeah, well, you know what they say. If you can’t beat the Devil, work for him.” There was nothing Simon could say to that.
After a few more minutes of being marched along between the two men, Simon was ushered into a small room with a plate of glass as one wall. Through the glass, he could see into a lightless room with a single occupant: someone sitting in a chair surrounded by dim, edgeless medical equipment.
“Allow me to introduce myself, Dr. Tam,” came a voice through a speaker in the wall. “Dillon Saunders.” Simon bit his tongue and stayed silent. Saunders didn’t seem to care all that much. Simon was surprised that, unlike the villains (few that they were) he had actually met, this… thing… did not seem to take pleasure in gloating. In fact, Saunders, after introducing himself, said nothing more to Simon. No explaining his master plan, no ranting about the bastards in the war, no goading about using River to kill so many. Nothing.
It was kind of disconcerting, truth be told.
But Simon was still held in the grip of the guards, and could do nothing but stand around and wait.
* * *
Zoe crept along in the tunnel, ignoring the twinges from her cut every time she moved her arm. River’s mental image of which way to go burned behind her eyelids every time she blinked, so there was no danger of getting lost in the endless air vents. Mal would be okay, River had said, and Jayne seemed fine. Knocked out, but fine. Zoe smiled a little. Jayne always did seem to get beat up by little girls. All right, so Graves was a thirty-something trained guard, but she was still a foot shorter than Jayne and at least fifty pounds lighter.
Was the choice Wash had warned her of coming up? Who was the girl he had spoken of? Her hands felt cold, but she pushed the discomfort away. According to her mental map, she was about thirty paces away from the vent that would drop her down into Saunders’ room.
She wasn’t sure what she was going to do once she got there. Saunders had Simon, but he was also a crippled man locked immobile in a chair who could be killed in an instant with a well-placed bullet.
Zoe crawled faster, not worrying about making noise. It was too late for anyone to stop what had begun, for better or for worse. She reached the vent that was red and swollen in her mind's eye, and took a deep breath. She clenched her teeth and dropped.
“Hello,” Saunders said coolly. “You aren’t River Tam. Who are you?”
“I’m the one who’s gonna kill you,” Zoe replied, just as cool. She raised her gun, but Saunders made a sound.
“Ah,” he said. Zoe paused. “You don’t want to do that, I think. Or if you do, you don’t mind having the blood of the girl’s brother on your hands.” Zoe clenched her jaw.
“What do you want?”
“I want what River pointed out so well. I want vengeance,” Saunders admitted, his voice a hateful hiss. “You can’t offer me money; I have millions. You can’t offer me my life; I don’t really care about it anymore. I want to know these planets burned like I burned. And I will know it. That is what I want.”
“I can’t let you do this. River won’t do it. She won’t kill innocent people.” Saunders, slowly, softly, began to laugh. It wasn’t a particularly evil laugh, nor a warm one. It was, however, disturbing in the genuine amusement that was obvious.
“What,” Zoe asked darkly.
“Won’t she what?”
“Are you so sure that your little girl, your precious little River, won’t do anything she has to, to win her freedom?” Zoe shook her head, horrified.
“She wouldn’t do that.” Saunders didn’t reply, but his soft laughter echoed in the tiny room.
* * *
Back with Mal and Jayne, barricaded in their narrow room, River searched. She searched the bodies of the fallen. She went through pockets and belts until… wait… there. She was lucky (they all were) that the door had jammed shut, or the guard might have gotten her people out and then used the item River cradled carefully in her hand.
The girl jumped lightly onto the table Zoe had moved, looking back at the two men lying unconscious at her feet. Then, she hopped down again and knelt by Jayne. River lifted his head and kissed his brow, whispering something in his ear that no other ear needs to hear. She went to Mal, and smiled tenderly at him.
“Believe,” River said above his closed eyes, stroking his sweaty temple. Then, River went back to the table, stepped up, hooked one hand through the vent opening and levered herself up one-handed.
* * *
Zoe stood, gun at the ready, uncertain. She wasn’t used to feeling uncertain. She was used to feeling decisive, strong, prepared. Not wavering, caught between what she knew was the right thing and what she knew was what she had to do. Save Simon or save everybody else? If she shot Saunders, would it even make a difference? Would River… do what he’d insinuated?
Doubt ate away at her, suffusing every pore. Because, Zoe’s analytical mind told her, Saunders was right. If River blew up those planets, no one would care about her anymore. They would be too caught up in the indescribable tragedy. It would be years, if it happened at all, before anyone remembered lost little River Tam.
She would be free.
Would she do it? Would anyone be able to stop her? Zoe hadn’t even considered the fact that River might actually help Saunders. Their entire plan had bargained on River stopping Saunders.
What if they had been wrong? What if River, in all her fractured sanity, decided that it would be better to go along with this equally crazy plot?
And so they were, arranged on the chessboard. Zoe, frozen. Saunders, relaxed. Simon, uselessly watching.
And so they were when River landed behind Zoe, her light feet soundless as she padded around in front of Saunders.
“You came back,” he said, that twisted, disfigured face tugging into a grimacing smile. River nodded. She looked at Zoe.
“You’ve done what you needed to,” she said. “You have to go now.”
And Zoe knew, then, exactly what her choice was.
* It’s gonna be a choice, bao bei. In the end. * Wash’s voiee sounded again in her head, so sad and filled with regret.
River’s big, dark eyes peered deep into her own.
Everything was still.
Go or stay? If she left, what would River do? Would she kill Saunders? Would she kill billions of other people? If Zoe left, would it all be her fault? And if she stayed… what then? Would they just stand here, pawns on a gameboard, frozen in time?
“Help Simon,” River mouthed. Help Simon.
Zoe looked hard into the girl’s eyes, seeing nothing but her own reflection.
It happened in an instant. Simon barely knew what was happening at all before the guards on either side of him dropped, blood seeping from their heads. He had been watching, breathless as River said something to Zoe. Then, Zoe had jumped up and vanished into a hole in the ceiling, and then, just as suddenly, she was right beside him, kicking one of the bodies to the side, her gun still smoking.
“What happened,” Simon asked. Zoe only shook her head. Inside the room, River cocked her own head, listening like she had before.
“Come here, mice,” she whispered. Simon heard cursing and a few groans, and then the doors behind him opened. Mal and Jayne stumbled through, looking like hell.
“How did you-”
“Don’t even ask,” Mal hissed painfully. “I don’t know.” Jayne just shook his head, eyes on River through the glass.
The four watched, helpless now.
It was all in River’s hands, now.
“You came back,” Saunders said again. “I knew you would.”
“I promised, didn’t I?” She was holding one hand behind her back, but Saunders couldn’t see that.
“Don’t worry,” River said quietly, gently. “I’m going to help you.”
Outside, on the other side of the glass, Simon saw something in her hand. He stepped closer, squinting.
“Good, then let’s-” River whipped her arm around from behind her and pulled the pin on the grenade. She spun to face the glass, and screamed two words.
* * *
Fire. Crashing noise. Frozen soundbursts, breaking like ice.
* * *
Glass shattering, flying backwards, peppering faces and arms and chests.
* * *
Simon: wide-eyed, ignoring the glass, disbelieving.
* * *
Jayne: numb, stone-faced, heart-stopped.
* * *
Mal: blank, shocked, mouth open.
* * *
Zoe: poignantly still, understanding, accepting.
* * *
ONE MONTH LATER
The bar was noisy, cheerful. It wasn’t late yet, but it was late enough for the good-humored after-work crew to be in, telling bawdy jokes and playing sprawling games of cards. Mal banged his fist on the table, calling attention. From his left, Zoe glanced at him. From his right, Jayne swung his head around and looked at him. Beside Jayne, Simon and Kaylee peered around to see their captain.
“Well, folks, I’d make a toast, only… damn it, ‘Nara, where are you?” He turned around in his chair, seeing the elegant ex-Companion leaning casually against the bar as she waited to bring a tray of drinks back to their table. She should have looked out of place, but instead, she brought a sense of class to the establishment that could not be ignored. She looked back at Mal, a tiny smile curving her lips. One eyebrow arched as if to say, ‘you called?’
“To be continued,” he said with a tired smile. Zoe went back to cleaning her gun, and Jayne went back to inspecting his fingernails, and Simon went back to talking quietly with Kaylee. Suddenly, Jayne spoke up. He didn’t raise his head.
“I, uh, it’s been a month. Since… Anyway, I just wanted to say something. I… I dream about her. She talks to me, I mean. In my dreams.” The big man chanced a look up, connecting by chance with Zoe’s dark eyes. The quiet woman said nothing, but her lips curved gently into a smile.
Zoe turned to Mal, and said,
“I seem to remember a certain promise you made. A while back. Something about a Buttercup song?” Mal gaped.
“I, uh, what? Wait, no. Not a chance.”
“You said you’d sing it, and I’d bear witness.”
“I think you’re mistaken,” Mal began, but just then Inara swayed over and set down her tray.
“What’s all this about a song, Mal?” He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Everybody else at the table looked over at him. Jayne had a funny little smile on his face that would never have been there BR. Before River.
So Mal did the manly thing.
He grabbed his beloved around the waist, sat her down in his lap, and began to sing.
“If I could be anything, anything at all,
I know I’d choose a buttercup for you…
I’d lighten up your days and I’d cheer you when you cried,
I just know I’d be a buttercup for you.
If I could choose a gift from any planet in the ‘verse,
I know just exactly where I’d go…
I’d go straight to Sihnon, where the skies are clear and calm
For that is where the buttercups do grow.
Buttercup, buttercup, you’ll always be my buttercup,
Through fights and smiles and danger, I’ll be true…
For if I could choose a single thing, any, any, single thing,
I know I’d choose a buttercup for you.” Inara’s face broke into a smile as bright as the sun, and the rest of the table had to smile as well. It felt… well, surprisingly good after all this time. Mal pulled Inara in for a kiss, and Simon bent his head to Kaylee’s. Jayne looked across the table at Zoe. They glanced, in unison, from one couple to each other to the other couple and back. They sighed. Jayne pulled out a deck of cards.
“Think you can beat me, old lady?”
Zoe raised one dusky eyebrow.
“So is it going to work?” Mal nuzzled Inara’s neck. She shrugged with a laugh, trying unsuccessfully to make him stop.
“Now that they can’t possibly get her back,” she replied quietly, “Simon’s a free man.”
“What with Kaylee being in the family way, I’m surprised he decided to stay on.”
“Well, this is his home.” Mal nodded into the curve where her neck met her shoulders, and then paused. He breathed her in for a second before continuing. “You know what… what Jayne said? About River?” Inara nodded. “Well, I see her too sometimes.” Inara bent her head to rest her forehead against Mal’s, and closed her eyes.
“We all do. She won’t ever leave us, Mal. We’re-”
“Her family. I know.” They were silent for a moment, remembering. Then, Mal bit his lip and heard River laughing at him. “Speaking of family,” he began at the silent urging, “some people waved me today. Something about wanting to find out if I was a good candidate to adopt a munchkin. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
P.S. Let me know if you want a sequel, in which River, Book and Wash would be making appearances...
Tuesday, November 21, 2006 6:30 AM
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