Sign Up | Log In
BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
TITLE: Serenity Now: Onus - Part 5
AUTHOR: The Irish Cowgirl
PAIRING: Mal/River, Kaylee/Simon, Jayne/OC
SPOILERS: Post-BDM, also spoilers for "Serenity Now," "SN: After The Storm," "SN: Nightmares," "SN: The Thin Line," "SN: A New Life," & "SN: The Means To An End"
NOTES: The seventh installment in the "Serenity Now" series. Mal and River have to deal with a wrinkle in their relationship, and the rest of the crew have to deal with saying goodbye to one of their own, until an old enemy comes back to exact his revenge. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 966 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Rise an’ shine, lil’ girl.”
Cara groaned, instinctively drawing away from the voice dripping into her ear. She felt cold, exposed, though there was the warmth of steady light on her skin. Shaking her head groggily, she tried to remember how to open her eyes.
At last, she pried her lids open, and was greeted with a most confusing sight. The room she was in was small and bright, with faded yellow paint that clung almost wearily to the steel walls. There was a slight curve to the chamber, and glancing around, she could now see that the room was sort of egg-shaped, with a steel blast door at the head. But despite its somewhat cheerful appearance, she was not fooled. This room had a dark purpose. She could smell the blood on the clean white floor.
Pulling at her sore arms, she realized that her hands were tied behind her, and she could feel that her bare feet were in a similar state. She wriggled to her side, opening her view of the strange room. Now she could see her captors, standing at the far end, near the door. Badger, looking rather excited, a grin expanding beneath his now-crooked nose. And a taller man, dressed in a ratted tweed suit and boots that had seen many better days. He glanced at Badger, folding his arms and smiling. “She’s a pretty one, cousin.”
Cara held her tongue, committing herself to only glare at the man with anger while she wrestled with her binds. She didn’t remember being brought here, she didn’t even remember passing out. All at once, she felt a hot flush of panic in her heart, and she looked down at her stomach.
Badger chortled as her eyes finally drew away from theirs. “Feisty, too,” he mumbled, addressing only his cousin. “Raised nine kinds of ‘ell when we ‘ad ‘er cornered.” He raised his voice so that Cara could hear. “I can see why Mal ‘ired ya on.”
“Yeah, I’m a real bitch,” Cara replied. Unable to wrench her hands from behind her, she slowly drew her knees to her chest, trying to feel if her baby was okay. As she felt the bulge under her thigh, she heaved a small sigh of relief, and looked back up at Badger and his partner, concentrating on the more pressing matter. “S’pose that’s why ya’ll had the foresight to keep me hog-tied when I woke.”
Badger opened his mouth to respond, but the other man cut him off. “No.” Both Cara and Badger turned their heads to stare at him. He continued, approaching the woman slowly. “If you was ‘og-tied, your feet an’ wrists would be bound in front, together.” He circled around her as he spoke, squatting beside her legs. “It bothers the ‘ell outta me when people get that wrong.”
Cara looked up at Badger, cocking an eyebrow. “Friend of yours?”
“Kin, actually,” the crook replied smoothly, though he looked a little uncomfortable at Clancey’s behavior as well. His cousin was always so stiff and businesslike, yet now he watched the woman with his arms folded over his knees, like a kid awaiting Christmas morning. But Badger shook off his qualms, looking at Cara with contempt. “See, when you lot framed me for killin’ that cop, then left me to rot in that ruttin’ prison, Clancey ‘ere got a bit worried that ‘e ‘adn’t ‘eard from me. Checked ‘bout Persephone some, an’ found out what ‘ad become of his dear lil’ cousin.”
He stepped forward, leaning over and tipping back the brim of his bowler. Cara could smell his foul breath as he continued. “’E was kind ‘nough to get me out, lil’ girl. Unfortunately me men, an’ me money, an’ that ‘ole empire I worked so ‘ard to build got left be’ind.” His eyes narrowed, and his voice lowered, betraying some of the rage he was feeling. “You lot took ev’rythin’ I ‘ad. I’m jus’ repayin’ the favor.”
Cara turned her head, and though she lay bound and helpless on the floor, she looked at Badger with arrogant superiority. She refused to let this rat scare her. “Well then, you botched it,” she said with a sneer.
Badger laughed softly, not about to believe a word she said. “’Ow’s that?”
“I ain’t even part of that crew no more,” she replied with a laugh. “Jus’ handed my papers in this mornin’.” She grinned even wider, seeing Badger’s face falter just the slightest bit, and slowed her words as if she were talking to small child. “They ain’t gonna come for me, Badger. You jus’ wasted your gorramn time.”
Badger glanced quickly to Clancey, and his cousin replied with only a small smile and a tiny shake of the head. Then he looked down at Cara again, skimming his eyes over her body. “They’ll come for you, poppet. Badger’s told me all ‘bout that crew. They got some silly ideas ‘bout family an’ loyalty. An’ I’m told Capt’n Reynolds ‘as an irritatin’ noble streak.” He reached out and drew a slow finger down the side of her thigh, and she immediately kicked at him in response. He dodged her and smiled darkly. “When we’re done with you, they’ll come runnin’, mark me words.”
He rose to his feet, beckoning Badger with him to the far end of the room. Cara watched intently, trying to figure a way out of her situation. Planning had never been her strong suit, she was always more content to be given a weapon and pointed in the direction of a fight. But she had to think now, she had to orchestrate her own escape. Her baby was depending on her now, and she couldn’t let it down.
Because if she knew anything, she knew one thing for sure. Badger and his cousin were wrong. Nobody was coming for her.
“What’re you gonna say?” Kaylee asked, pulling a coldpack from the cabinet and snapping it. She could feel the vials inside break, and within a few moments, the pack was freezing in her palm. She wrapped it in a towel and handed it to Jayne, who stood leaning against the opposite counter, holding a rag to his bleeding nose.
Simon had refused to treat the man, seeing that his injuries were superficial, and for the fact that he was still pretty angry with Jayne besides. But Kaylee, being Kaylee, had taken pity on her old friend, tending to Jayne’s hurts with the best of her ability. She continued, folding her arms and resting her backside against the operating table of the infirmary. “When we get back to Aegina an’ find Cara. What’re ya gonna say?”
Jayne removed the rag from his nose and tossed it across the counter irritably, then held the coldpack to his throbbing tailbone. “That Mal’s a crazy yang dao?” he suggested, hissing as the cold penetrated his clothing and went to work on his bruised muscles.
Kaylee shook her head impatiently, wishing that for once he would open up to her. “I don’t think that’s gonna cut it, Jayne.” She sighed, hopping up onto the table and tried to lock eyes with him against his will.
But he averted his gaze, bristling at the thought of sharing his feelings with her. “You got a better suggestion? This ain’t some frontier village. Mal can’t force us down the aisle at the point of a gun, no matter what kinda trouble Cara’s gone an’ gotten herself into.”
Kaylee raised her eyebrows. “You sayin’ the kid ain’t yours?”
Now Jayne did look at her, but he was unreadable, the cold mercenary that Mal had hired all those years back. “I ain’t daft, Kaylee. Who’s else would it be?”
She nodded in return, looking down at her legs as they swung slightly from the table. She could feel him starting to crack, so she kept her voice low and soft, so as not to force a retreat back into his macho shell. “Ain’t the trouble yours, too, then?”
“No,” Jayne replied, with a degree of certainty that surprised her. “She made it more’n clear that she didn’t want or need any kind of my help in the matter. Way I see it, that makes this her problem, not mine.”
“Problem?” Kaylee squeaked. The idea was impossible to her. After all, it’s what she and Simon had been planning for, had been dreaming for. A family, children. Kaylee wanted a child, maybe not right now, but sometime in the distant future. That Jayne could see his blessing as anything but was incomprehensible. She shook her head, trying to keep herself smooth. “You was tellin’ the truth, then? You offered t’help her?”
Jayne scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Offered t’marry her, if ya can believe that.”
She didn’t. Kaylee knew how Jayne felt about marriage. She had hoped he would have changed his mind one day, seeing how close he had been getting to Cara before she left, but she hadn’t been holding her breath. “An’ she said no?”
“Flat out turned me down. Said she didn’t wanna marry me. Practic’lly said she didn’t want me t’have nothin’’ t’do with her or that kid.” He stopped himself abruptly, realizing that he was talking more than he often did. And he wasn’t sure why, but it felt sort of, well... good. “Don’t blame her,” he muttered at last.
Kaylee looked up at him, again surprised. “Whaddaya mean by that?”
Jayne watched her a moment, wondering what kind of woman-witchcraft she was spinning around him to make him speak so openly. Then he turned his eyes away, avoiding her comforting gaze, and continued at the barest mumble. “I mighta, sorta, accused her of sleepin’ ‘round.”
“Oh, Jayne,” Kaylee sighed in disparagement. She brought her hands to her head, rubbing at her temples. Mal had been right, though he hadn’t known how right. Jayne had gone and done something stupid. “Why’d ya go an’ do that? Cara’s a proud-like girl, ya can’t jus’ go an’ toss sumthin’ like that her without thinkin’.”
“Well, hell, I weren’t thinkin’!” Jayne admitted, his voice high and strained. “It’s jus’, when she told me ‘bout.... ‘bout that thing...” He threw his hands up into the air, at a loss. “I panicked!”
“Aw, jeez,” she replied. Kaylee was usually excellent at sorting out problems, at playing the mediator until things got resolved. But this one was exasperating her more than she could handle. “Why, Jayne?! Why’re you so scared of bein’ a daddy?!”
Without realizing, she had hit the heart of the matter with a six-inch knife. Jayne looked at her, slack-jawed, trying in futility to make the words in his defense clear his throat. But instead he just stood there, feeling limp and helpless and unable to explain his actions. “I...” he started, but the sentence broke in his lungs. He closed his mouth and gathered himself, and Kaylee watched in defeat as his hackles rose. “You don’t know what you’re gabbin’ at!”
He threw the coldpack down onto the floor and stormed from the room, looking a bit like a child having a temper tantrum. Kaylee stared after him, then tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, sliding from the table and picking up the discarded coldpack. She could still make out the indentations from Jayne’s hand where he had gripped it in dismay.
Jayne tromped up the steps into the cargo bay, kicking his weight bench as he passed. His brain fumed, trying to smoke out all the annoying emotions that were trying to pry their way in from his heart. Outlaws don’t have emotions, they don’t want them or need them. And he was an outlaw. I’m Jayne Cobb, he thought. I ain’t scared of nothin’.
The force of his footfalls lessened as he ascended the stairs, making his way up and into the catwalks. As he reached the upper walk, he paused a moment, feeling himself drawn to his old path, to the trip he had made on so many nights before this one. He looked over, and at the far end of the walk was a door, a shuttle blast door, the blast door that led to Shuttle One. The shuttle that had once been Cara’s home. One of the few places on Serenity that he had found respite, that had made him something very close to happy in the last year. And now it was empty, worthless and without, and he had made it so, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
“What the hell kinda Pa would I’ve been?” he whispered sadly into the dark, and no one heard.
“Piss off,” Mal called from inside his bunk. He had heard the knock, and had just figured it to be Kaylee or Simon or someone equally annoying to him right now. They would try to talk him out of his order, try to make him see reason where he wanted there to be none. Mal was perfectly happy acting unreasonably for the moment, and the logic or caring of his crew was not going to change that.
Hearing silence follow his remark, he figured that whoever had knocked had thought better of it and gone off. But instead, there came a few muted beeping noises from the hatch, and after a moment, the hydraulics whooshed, and the door released flat against the ladder into his bunk. Mal grumbled and started towards it. Funny, he thought sarcastically, I coulda swore I locked that.
Before he could reach it, though, two long legs appeared on the rungs of the ladder, lithely making their way down into the room. Mal huffed out an irate breath and turned away. “River, that hatch was locked for a reason.”
“I know,” she whispered in her tiny voice, setting her feet down on the floor. She leaned over and pressed the button on the side panel, and the hatch closed behind her, sealing them off from the rest of the ship. Then she turned her gaze to Mal, who had turned his back to her as he brooded, one hand on his hip and the other cupping his chin. “To close us out. Shut it off. Do not disturb.”
He swiveled to face her, nodding curtly. “That’s right. So, if you’ll be so kind...” He began walking towards her and indicating that she should leave.
But she stopped him, pressing one small yet firm hand to his chest. Mal glanced at her, surprised, and saw resoluteness in her large eyes. She held his stare with her own while she shook her long hair from her face. “I’m tired of being locked out.”
Mal watched her one moment more, than stepped back, sagging his shoulders and letting out a long-suffering sigh. “Now’s not the time t’discuss-”
But she cut him off, stepping forward and closing the distance between them. “You were young, when he left. Disappeared like morning mist. You remember the ghost, not his face. It bothers you sometimes, but not as much as everything else.”
Mal stared at her, lowering his brow. “What’re you talkin’ ‘bout?” But he already had a good idea.
Now River backed away, giving him space once she had his attention. She wandered aimlessly towards his desk, running her fingers over the star charts, as if she could touch the suns and feel them burn. “You want to forget, but you can’t. It’s always there, like Zoe.” She didn’t meet his eyes as she explained. “She’s your best friend, she always will be. But you see death when you look at her. You see the war. And Wash.”
She ran her hand down and over the surface of the desk, and she could feel the resonance of the object that lay inside. The little medal that Mal never took out, never looked at, but had never brought himself to throw away. His Medal of Valor from Serenity Valley. “Just like him. Can’t forget him, he’s there inside you. When you look in the mirror.” She closed her eyes and turned her face to Mal’s, opening them to see his frowning face. “You have his eyes.”
Mal nodded slowly, feeling himself pulled in by the sound of her voice, though with much reluctance. “My Pa.”
“Yes,” River breathed, and she let out all the air in her lungs, feeling herself filled with Mal’s emotion. She had gotten so used to the war within Mal being fought on the battlefields of own mind and body, but sometimes she still struggled to understand it. Everything was still so logical to River. She had always viewed things as equations, even before the Alliance had gotten a hold of her. But with feelings, not every equation made sense. They were so often without logic, an idea that startled her to this day.
Mal watched as she swooned under the hold of his conflict, and spoke, if only to draw her from it. “What’s he got t’do with this?”
“Everything,” she replied, opening her eyes and staring at the ceiling. “He shaped you. Molded you from clay.”
“No, he didn’t,” Mal replied quickly. “Can’t do sumthin’ ya ain’t there t’do.”
River shook her head, but continued to gaze at the ceiling. She could see the stars through Serenity’s hull, not in reality, but in her mind. “No, he did. He did through his absence. When he left you alone, your mother and you. Forced you to grow up, be man of the house, too young. Left you with onus, and determination.”
“Determination? T’do what?” he asked curiously, momentarily forgetting that the subject was making him mad.
“To be not like him.” River at last turned her view down to him, and locked eyes with him. “To be good, and proud. To protect. It’s what made you go to war. It’s what made you take in Simon, and me. As hard and mean as you think you are, you’re not like him. And he made you that way.”
Mal sighed angrily. “Might be, River. But that don’t give him call t’do what he did.”
She looked at him, shocked that he might think she was absolving his father for leaving him. “No, that’s not.....I....”
He interrupted her, his voice growing with the power of his old wounds. “That man, he left my mother. Left his own son, an’ whatever reason he did it for, it was the wrong one. He left us twistin’ in the wind. I could... I could hear my Ma cry at night, I could hear her askin’ God what she’d done wrong as a wife.” He coughed out a bitter laugh. “Hell, I passed the question by the Man myself, once or twice.”
“But what you’re sayin’ is, what he done was fine an’ good, ‘long as it made me stronger for it?” He stepped towards her, and she could feel the heat of rage radiating off of him. “If a man leaves his kin, without a word or warnin’, an’ they come outta it okay, it don’t erase the pain he caused. An’ no amount of touchy-feely ‘grander scheme of things’ talk is gonna do the same!”
She shook her head in frustration. “That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what d’ya mean, River?! Tell me, ‘cause I’d like t’know!”
River rocked back and forth, growing distracted by the inability to form her confusing thoughts into words. “What’s the point?! You never know what I mean!” She sobbed, making pitiful moaning noises in the back of her throat. It was painful, having something be so clear when it was intangible, only to have it misconstrued as soon as she tried to force it into words. She met Mal’s eyes, helplessly searching for him through her confusion.
Mal sighed, and cursed himself. Mention or thought of his father always put him in a mood like this, and now he was taking it out on River. He cleared his throat and crossed the room, gently taking her by the hand. He led her over to his bed and forced her to sit, then sat beside her, watching her writhe in abject pain. “Shhh,” he soothed, and after a moment’s hesitation, he reached out, rubbing his rough hand along her back. “Okay, okay, I’m tryin’ darlin’.”
She looked over at him and took a deep breath, centering herself in his face. As soon as the noises stopped gurgling in her throat, Mal wrinkled his eyes, and she smiled thankfully back. Unbeknownst to him, he continued to touch her back. “I’m listenin’, okay? Jus’... jus’ think on what you’re tryin’ to say, then say it.” He smirked at her. “An’ I’ll try an’ keep my tongue in reign.”
River swallowed and nodded, pressing her lips together, then closed her eyes, forcing her mind to stillness. If she didn’t look at Mal, she found that the words were easier to construct. So she kept her eyes tightly shut, and tried again. “Jayne,” she said simply.
Mal grunted, then took a breath. “Okay. What ‘bout him?”
“That’s why you’re mad at Jayne. Feel like he’s abandoning Cara, and that Cara’s abandoning him. Worried, not about them, about the baby.” She opened her eyes and stared deeply into his, finally finding the right words to say. “The baby’s the only thing that matters to you. And you’re right.” She titled her head forward, on the very brink of getting her point across. “That’s what he taught you.”
He eyed her a moment, processing what she had just said. Then a sad smile crept across his face, and he drooped his head. “S’pose you’re right,” he chuckled.
River grinned wide, and suddenly felt like dancing. “I’m right,” she repeated, and she slammed herself back against the bed, wriggling with exhalation.
Mal stood, looking over her with concern. “River?”
But she continued her maniacal grin, and began to roll across the sheets jubilantly. Her laughter filled the bunk, cheering and scaring Mal all at once. Pulling her knees to her body, she rolled over, bouncing against the creaky springs. At last, she leaned forward, wrapping her arms around Mal and kissing him full on the lips.
He stared at her face, pressed so close to his, wide-eyed. Reaching up, he gently pushed her away, trying to decode the joy she suddenly felt. But she just shook her head, bracing herself against his shoulders. “I’m right! I figured it out! Don’t you see?”
Mal pulled his head to the side, looking at her from the corner of his eyes. “No, I very much don’t.”
She giggled again, then took his hands from her arms, inviting him to sit beside her. As soon as he did, she turned to face him, crossing her legs and leaning forward excitedly. “You don’t know what it’s like, Mal. Too see into people, but to only see the bits, the fractions. The puzzle pieces, upside-down, concealed from view.” She spoke hurriedly, thrilled by her sudden eloquence. “But you, why you’re so mad at them, the equation makes sense! It has an explanation! And I found it.”
“Okay,” Mal ventured slowly. Her sudden happiness was welcome, but still somewhat puzzling. “An’ that pleases you, does it?”
“Yes!” she cried, waving her hands at him, which caused him to lean back a bit. But she ignored the movement, still elated with her discovery. “If I can do it then, I can do it again! Strain them out, peas and carrots. Make sense of nonsense.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, darlin’,” Mal began, shaking his head. “But I don’t get it.”
River sighed, but held on to her smile. She held up one finger, drawing Mal’s attention in the silence, then tried again to explain. He watched as her eyes clouded over, and she searched through the alien memories and feelings that rushed through her. “You are avoiding me. You say it’s because you want to give me time to grieve over my father.”
Mal shifted uncomfortably on the bed at the mention of the man he had killed. “I do-”
“But it’s not,” she argued, shaking her head. Her eyes cleared, and as they did, Mal felt them penetrate into his, not through clairvoyance, but with utter respect and love. He sat, transfixed by those great big brown eyes, and River tenderly reached out a hand, resting it against his cheek. “You’re angry with me, for lying to you. You don’t want to be. You think I’ve been through enough, and you’re trying to protect me from your wrath. You want to forgive me, but you can’t yet. But someday, you will. And no matter what, you’ll still love me.”
She smiled wide, feeling a tear start to roll down her cheek. Before, it had been too inconsistent, too illogical for her to comprehend. How could Mal love her and hate her all at once? How could those two emotions coexist without destroying each other? It made no sense. But now, as though some unseen door had been opened into River’s head, she understood. She could comprehend. She was in possession of the knowledge most people, most ordinary people who had not been prisoners of fortune their entire childhoods, would have learned long ago.
Oh, it felt wonderful to have such clarity. Right now, she could feel him, watching her with wondrous eyes as she spelled out his heart for him. She could make sense of his confusion, and his realization that perhaps the basic common instincts of emotion had been robbed from River. She could feel the flood of lucidity flow through him, and she understood it. For the first time in her entire life, River understood the complexity of the human heart. Not the physical complexity, not the anatomical complexity, the real, honest-to-goodness madness that was inside every single person in the ‘verse.
And it felt wonderful.
“Ji du,” Mal breathed, looking at her in astonishment. “You’re right.”
River laughed, and reached up to dry the tears of happiness from her cheeks. “I know it,” she said quietly, though her rapture was still evident beneath her voice. “I knew it when you pushed Jayne down the stairs. Saw your father in your mind, and everything clicked. The puzzle pieces turned themselves over, and I could put them together again.”
Mal nodded, and they sat in silence a moment, looking down at the bed. They were both happy for her, but there was still the wall, the wall that Mal had erected and refused to bring down. River could feel it there, standing tall and insurmountable in his brain, looming over her like a mountain. But she knew something the wall did not, and it made her smile.
It cannot see me down here from its great height, she thought. So it cannot see that it’s starting to crack. That the stone is starting to crumble and open, beaten away by Mal’s endless love for her. And in due time, it would be destroyed, and he would put her betrayal past him. Then they could go on, and the wall would be nothing but tiny pebbles in their wake.
Still, that didn’t prevent her from helping with it’s downfall. She snaked her hand out, taking Mal’s much larger one in hers. He glanced up at her, and she returned his look, her face solemn and sincere. “I’m sorry, Mal.”
He pursed his lips. “I know,” he said. His tone was mournful, his words an apology for his continuing reservations. He squeezed River’s hand in his. “So am I.”
River nodded once, holding his hand a second more. Then she let go, rising to her feet and heading towards the ladder. She held Mal’s eyes with her own as she reached over, pressing the button to release the hatch. She turned her eyes up to watch it fall flush with the ladder, then smiled once more at Mal and started up the rungs.
“River,” Mal called quietly. She stopped, and looked at him through the the empty space of the ladder. He glanced over his shoulder, hiding the smirk that was on the far side of his face. “You’re right ‘bout sumthin’ else.”
She leaned forward and rested her chin against one of the rungs, the gleaming metal framing her face in reflected light. “What?”
“Might not be ready t’forgive ya right now,” he said, shifting on the bed so that she could see the earnest in his eyes. “But I will be.”
River smiled a little, nodding with understanding. “Then I’ll wait.”
Mal nodded back, letting his shoulders sag with relief. “Okay, then.”
She let her vision drift over his perfect face once more, let it bask in the glory of his sharp blue eyes. Then she continued up the ladder, pushing herself up and into the corridor with ease. Reaching forward to pull the hatch closed, she sighed in completion and spread her fingers over the metal.
But then something burrowed into her mind. Something that she had been unconsciously pushing away while she had been rejoicing over her newfound cognizance. Something dark and terrible, so horrifying that she gasped as the image found its way into her head. And when Zoe appeared in the threshold of the bridge, her face white as a sheet, River knew exactly where to look before the first mate even spoke.
“Better open that back up, River,” she said, her voice deep and steady. “We got a situation.”
“What ‘xactly am I lookin’ at here?” Mal asked, staring at the cortex screen before him. On it was a video image, a strange grid of yellow steel, beyond which lay a white panel of plastic, backlight by a bright light. The image was stationary and bizarre, and it confused Mal to no end. He didn’t really like that.
He looked over at Zoe, seated in the pilot’s seat with a grim expression. River was hovering somewhere behind him, but she didn’t speak. She already knew what was to come. “It’s a wave from Aegina,” Zoe said finally, glancing at the screen with dread.
“Huang boys?” Mal asked, raising his eyebrows. He hadn’t been expecting them to contact the ship so soon after its departure.
But Zoe shook her head, then reached forward to press a button on her screen. “Jus’ watch.”
Suddenly, the image came to life, focusing and shaking under the unsteady hand of an operator. Mal could hear muted voices in the background, but before he could recall them, the camera panned down, revealing the rest of the strange room. It was the same yellow color as the grates of ceiling, and was occupied by two people, the sight of whom made Mal’s blood run cold.
The first was instantly recognizable. There was no mistaking the antique bowler hat, the arrogant sneer, the cheap suit jacket. The broken and crooked nose was new, but Mal recognized it all the same. After all, he had caused it, back when he had crushed it beneath one jarring blow back in the jail on Persephone. This was Badger, alive and well and apparently no longer incarcerated, much to Mal’s displeasure.
The second person was harder to recognize from her position. She knelt doubled-over on the floor, hands bound behind her back, her tousled brown curls obscuring her face. But she was naked from the waist up, and one look at the long parallel scars that ran down from between her shoulder blades provided Mal all the identification he needed. He leaned forward in his seat, watching as Cara labored to breathe, resting her forehead against the white plastic floor.
“Greetin’s an’ salutations, Capt’n Reynolds,” Badger’s voice began, and Mal pried his eyes from the woman’s form to see his old sometimes-employer and always-adversary. “It’s your ol’ pal Badger ‘ere. Seein’ as I’m no longer a ward of the state, I thought it was ‘igh time I dropped you a line.”
“This came from Aegina?” Mal asked of Zoe, glancing away from the screen.
She nodded. “I remember him sayin’ sumthin’ ‘bout havin’ a cousin there. Musta sprung him.”
“More’s the pity,” he grumbled in reply, but his voice came soft as he watched the message as it continued to play.
“From what I ‘ear, it’s been a busy few months for you lot. An’ I’ll admit t’ya, I’m a bit impressed,” Badger went on, walking slowly towards the camera. “Caught a replay of that lil’ bird’s transmission. Whew! What a mouthful she ‘ad.” He grinned salaciously, leaning forward as if what he said were he and Mal’s little secret. “’Course, I imagine she’s always got a mouthful witcha, ay mate?”
River rolled her eyes, disgusted with his attempt to be humorous. And as she did, she caught sight of Jayne, easing his way silently into the cockpit. He had heard the sound of Badger’s voice from the galley, and had seen the flickering light of the transmission. And now, as River felt him enter, she could see his recognition of Cara’s body through his eyes.
“Girl’s right scary from what I ‘ear on the street. Got the Parliament quakin’ in its boots.” Badger smiled, laughing softly. “I’m sure they’d love t’get their ‘ands on ‘er ‘gain. Prob’ly wouldn’t mind trackin’ down your whole gorramn ship.”
Mal shot his eyes to Zoe. “Are we bein’ tapped?” he asked quickly.
“No, I checked soon as I saw this the first time.” She pointed at the screen. “’Sides, that’s not his game.”
“No worries, Reynolds. I’m not gonna send ‘em after ya,” Badger went on to say, reaffirming Zoe’s statement. But the glint in his eyes was still filled with malice, and he sneered, cocking his head at the camera. “That’d ruin all my lov’ly plans.”
“What plans?” Kaylee asked quietly. She and Simon had entered shortly after Jayne, and were now staring at the screen with the same trepidation as the others. “What’s he talkin’ ‘bout?”
Badger’s prerecorded voice cut her off before the others could respond. “See, it occurs t’me that the Alliance might not go as ‘arsh on ya as I would fancy. I got what ya might call a... personal investment in ya, Reynolds.” He reached out, pointedly scratching at his damaged nose. “Got me own score t’settle with ya, man t’man.”
“Funny, that lil’ tu zi cao callin’ himself a man,” Jayne growled, inching forward menacingly and balling his fist, as if Badger were in the room with him.
And Badger smiled eerily, almost as if he had heard the man’s threat. “So the quandary is, ‘ow t’get you t’pay me a visit without alertin’ the Feds? After all, we ain’t ‘xactly the best of mates, innit?” He turned back, continuing his speech as he crossed the room to Cara. “Fortunately, your pal ‘ere was kind ‘nough t’solve me problem.”
“Look away, Kaylee,” River said suddenly.
The young woman turned her head towards River, but could not tear her wide eyes from the screen. Simon exchanged a look with his sister, and she nodded to him tersely. He reached out and took Kaylee’s shoulders, forcing her to face him.
Just in time. For the moment Kaylee’s eyes left the video, Badger straddled his legs over Cara’s bent form like he was mounting a horse. He grabbed her hair roughly, weaving his fingers into the roots, and forced her to look up into the camera. “I think you left this on my ruttin’ planet.”
If the others had not seen the scars first, they would not have known it to be her. Her face had been beaten out of all recognizable shape, and now loomed in the frame of the camera, purple and bruised. Blood had dried in duel tracks from her nostrils, and still lay wet and flowing from her broken lip. Her right eye was swollen shut, the black and bloated skin around it preventing it from sight. And her other eye was red-rimmed and bloodshot, filling with the blood from a burst vessel.
But she was alive. She was breathing hard and angry through her nose, wheezing with every exhale. Her good eye stared at them through the screen, blank and emotionless yet aware. But her mouth remained firmly shut, and through her flush and the bruises on her skin, the crew could see her jaw muscles clench. She wasn’t saying a word.
River closed her eyes, but she could see her friend’s face still staring at her behind her lids. She could still see the anguish, the rage she was trying so hard to hide behind her cold glare. And the worry, the ever-present worry that flowed through every one of Cara’s veins, that her child had been harmed.
No one spoke. There was nothing they could say.
So Badger spoke for them. “Soon as I get word that you lot’re back in me orbit, I’ll wave ya a location. If I you ain’t ‘ere by midnight t’morrow, she dies. You got ‘round twenty-four ‘ours.” He lay Cara’s head back against the ground with mocking gentleness. “But I wouldn’t dally, were I you. There’s still a lot can be done t’her in twenty-four ‘ours.” Then he nodded to the unseen camera operator, and the screen went black.
Silence hung like thick fog in the room, circling every member of the crew within it. At last, Zoe spoke, already knowing what had to be done. “We’ve got a head start. We oughtta be back on Aegina in two hours.”
“We can’t...” Kaylee started, and the others stared at her. “We can’t just go in, guns blazin’. It’ll be a trap, won’t it?” No one knew it, but she had peeked from Simon’s chest, while he had been distracted by the broken face on the screen. And she had seen Cara’s hurt from the corner of her eye, for only a split second. It was enough. “Won’t it?”
Simon looked from her to Mal. The captain stared at Jayne, who was still watching the black screen, the image that had previously occupied it seared into his memory. Mal turned to Kaylee and answered her softly. “Reckon so, mei mei. But I don’t believe we got much of a choice.”
River crossed the room, laying a tender hand on Kaylee’s shoulder. The mechanic looked at her, eyes shaking with the effort of holding back her tears. “I need you in the engine room, Kaylee,” was all River said, but it did the trick. Kaylee nodded, breaking from Simon’s grip and rushing from the room, snuffling as a bevy of tears rolled down her cheeks.
River watched her go, then moved to the pilot’s seat. Zoe stood, relinquishing it without protest. “I can get us there faster,” she said quietly, settling herself at her post and getting to work on the console.
“What’s the plan, sir?” Zoe asked of Mal, shooting a quick glance at Jayne’s wooden face.
Mal shook his head, unsure, but River answered for him. “The woman. Cadence. Hu li jing.”
The captain leaned over, looking around Jayne to see her. “What’s that, lil’ albatross?”
“She’s Cara’s friend,” Simon interjected from the rear of the room. “The one she was staying with on Aegina. She gave me her signal address before she left, in case we needed to contact her.”
“Wave her,” River said, drawing the attention of the others back to her. “She’s the key.”
Mal watched her cautiously, unfamiliar with the sensation of having his little pilot giving the orders. “River?” he asked, and he knew that she knew what he was asking.
She turned her head to face him, her expression one of absolute certainty. “I know what I’m doing.”
He peered at her a moment more, then nodded. “Good ‘nough for me,” he whispered. He shared a look with Zoe, nodding her off the bridge. She complied, taking Simon by the arm so that they could both go check on Kaylee.
Mal rose to his feet, walking slowly towards Jayne. He saw black in the man’s eyes as he stared out into the darkness of the cortex screen. And in the quiet of the room, Mal could now hear that he was breathing hard through his nose, in the exact manner and rhythm that Cara had been earlier.
Sneaking a glance at River, who was absorbed in her work, Mal circled around Jayne, finally cutting the screen from the man’s view. “You with us, Jayne?” he asked quietly, unsure of what the answer would be.
But Jayne only looked at him, and his eyes said it all. They blazed into Mal’s, alive with rage and ferocity and malice, and more than a little evil. Then he turned away, slowly walking from the cockpit and down the stairs. He clomped through the corridor without a word, forcing open his bunk’s hatch and descending into the light below.
“Oh, this ain’t gonna be pretty,” Mal mused softly.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006 10:23 PM
Wednesday, November 29, 2006 2:09 AM
Wednesday, November 29, 2006 2:27 AM
Wednesday, November 29, 2006 4:03 AM
Wednesday, November 29, 2006 4:48 AM
Thursday, March 21, 2013 6:27 PM
You must log in to post comments.
OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR
All FIREFLY graphics and photos on this page are copyright 2002-2012 Mutant Enemy, Inc., Universal Pictures, and 20th Century Fox.
All other graphics and texts are copyright of the contributors to this website.
This website IS NOT affiliated with the Official Firefly Site, Mutant Enemy, Inc., or 20th Century Fox.