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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
TITLE: Serenity Now: Onus - Part 9
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: 1138 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
Ten more minutes outside the hills, the rises started to smooth out, turning from rocky bluffs into rolling hills. River sat in the passenger seat of the Mule, staring out the side as the landscape rushed by. The wind caught her hair, sending it dancing over her face, and she knew it would be hell to try and untangle it later. Still, she gladly let the strands slide silky over her face, hiding her from view. She and Mal had not made eye contact since they had parted, since she had crawled from his lap and turned away.
She dearly wished they could have sat like that forever, heaving deep recuperative breaths against the other in the hot sun. Because there was a single moment of perfection there, where the past and future had ceased to exist, and she had Mal all to herself. But sure enough, they slowly awoke from the dream, and the awkward emotional dance had begun again.
Mal himself was still shaking slightly from the effects of the tryst, and he had to physically quiet his nerves to keep her from noticing. He turned his head to glimpse River, and saw only the back of her head as she folded her arms on the sill of the Mule’s side and tucked her legs beneath her. She lowered her head to rest her chin upon her forearms and sighed sadly, and Mal could only watch her ribcage expand and contract with longing.
He had to wet his throat and lips to speak, and even when he did manage to, his voice was tentative and husky. “River?”
She turned her head only very slightly, and the wind whisked her hair clear of her face and over her narrow shoulders, exposing her still-dewy features to the sunlight. Dammit, Mal thought. Havin’ these kinda talks would be a heck of a lot easier if’n she weren’t so damned beautiful. “Yes?” she replied, her voice a whisper in the wind.
Mal squeezed his palms around the controls of the hovercraft, prying his eyes from the afterglow that lingered over every inch of her skin. He looked forward instead, trying to find his words in the desert around them. “I wanna say... or might be I oughtta say... what....” River sat back in her seat, patiently waiting for him to speak again. But he only closed his mouth, unable to properly vocalize his emotion. Huh, River thought, almost laughing at the irony. Now you understand how I felt.
Before Mal could complete his sentence, the glint of Serenity’s hull began to rise over the next hill, and the town of Boudreaux fanned out behind it. Mal sighed in defeat. “Couldja hand me that comm?”
River stared blankly at him, keeping her eyes fixed on Mal’s face as she bent down, plucking up the earpiece that he had so quickly discarded in the throes of passion. Mal fixed his gaze forward, aware of her scrutiny from his periphery. She extended her hand towards his and passed him the commpiece, inadvertently brushing the backs of her fingers against his palm as she did.
Instantly, they were both struck with lustful memory. The bite of River’s nails against his flesh. The feel of Mal’s rough fingers around her hip bones. Flashes of teeth and come and burning skin. They both felt the flames lick against their hands, and jerked away from the electric touch.
River flushed bright red, then immediately resumed her previous position, turning fully away and leaning back over the side of the Mule. Mal scowled, then popped the commpiece into his ear, tapping it once to transmit. “Kaylee?”
For a moment, static crackled back into his ear, then the connection went dead. Mal furrowed his brow with concern. “Kaylee? You okay?!”
At last, Kaylee’s voice sounded in his ear, sounding like a steady balance between chipper and terrified. “Sorry, Capt’n, dropped the comm. Gettin’ blood all on my hands, an’ it’s so darned slippy.”
“Blood?” Mal asked, skirting the Mule over the edges of the hills and towards the open and waiting Serenity. “Who’s bleedin’?”
“Cara, mostly,” Kaylee replied, glancing across the shuttle. Jayne had lain Cara’s limp body on the rickety cot to one side, and was now using one of Simon’s antiseptic pledgets to clean her facial wounds. The doctor hovered at the other end, using a towel to sop blood from her thigh, then carefully spraying an Insta-guaze over the knife wound.
“An’ Jayne, too, but-” Kaylee added, then cut herself short. The mercenary glanced up at her a moment, but she could only concentrate on the broken skin at his knuckles. For a moment, she recalled the now-dead man he had split them against, but she shook it off and turned back to the cockpit. “Well, that’s nothin’ new, right?”
“What channel’s he on?” Zoe asked of Kaylee. Her eyes were skimming over the console of the shuttle with the ease of experience. But her focus seemed especially drawn to their proximity sensors, and she urged the craft to move faster under her control, then turned back to Kaylee for a response.
Zoe grabbed the handheld comm from her dash, quickly flipping the dial to the correct channel. “Sir, we got birddogs.”
Mal eased his foot off the gas pedal as they neared Serenity’s lowered ramp. He could see the far-off shape of Cadence as she rose to her feet from where she had been sitting on the ship’s open breast. “Literal or metaphorical?”
Zoe rolled her eyes. “The kind what don’t piss on the rug, sir.” She looked back down at the ground radar, the outline of Badger’s cadre clear as they beat a steady path in the shuttle’s wake. Flicking her eyes back up to the aft sensor, she could make out the unmistakable shape of a lightweight skiff, slowly but surely gaining on the shuttle. “Although, knowin’ Badger...” she added wryly.
The captain smirked in response. “Don’t worry, Zoe. It’s a fool’s run. Me an’ River are back on Serenity already.” Indeed they were, and he was slowing the hovercraft to a crawl as he spoke, sneaking it into the cargo bay foot by foot. He pulled up a bit to avoid the lumber racks, then hit the brake. “We’ll get her runnin’ an’ ready to go, an’ by the time ya’ll are back here, we’ll be off this stinkin’ world.”
“Yes, sir,” came the bland reply, and Mal could hear Zoe cut the connection. He idled the engine of the hovercraft and looked over to where River had been seated. But she was gone, already jumped down from the craft and heading up the catwalks to the bridge in haste. Mal watched her waves of hair bounce against her back as she disappeared into the upper corridor, and sighed. Another opportunity lost.
“’Stinking world’?” a voice came from the front of the cargo bay. Mal smiled over his shoulder at the redhead who was walking calmly to the side of the Mule. “You know, some of us who live here might take exception to that.”
“I didn’t say what it stank of,” Mal replied cooly and he rose to his feet, stepping over the front panel to secure the hoist lines that ran from the ceiling to the Mule. “Could be cinnamon.”
Cadence forced a smile, but her hands wound together nervously before her. “Is Cara...? I mean, you’re smiling, so...”
“On the mend already, Miss Cadence,” Mal answered with a nod, letting the carabiner slip over the metal loop. “She should be back with the rest in a few. ‘Fraid ya won’t have much time for goodbyes, she’ll need to stay with us while the doctor makes his repairs.”
She smiled and sighed in response, looking down. “As long as she’s safe,” she breathed quietly. “You wouldn’t believe how worried I was.”
Mal rolled his shoulders back, climbing into the backseat to secure both of the lines that swung there. “Think I might. Know sumthin’ ‘bout gettin’ fearful for the safety of your own.” Once the cables were firmly in place, he turned back around, hefting Jayne’s rifle over his shoulder and reaching forward to cut the engine. It guttered to a stop, then died, and the Mule pitched for the ground. The cables caught it, drawing taut, and Mal grabbed the seats to balance himself against the rocking.
“I imagine so,” Cadence said, raising her eyebrows as Mal carefully lowered himself from the swaying Mule. Once his boots firmly hit the grates, he strode to the winch controls, and the hovercraft began to rise against the ceiling. “I mean, I can only imagine, but living like this, on a ship, so far from solid ground? I couldn’t do it.”
Mal smiled amiably at her, but he kept his eyes on the Mule until it nestled itself to the ceiling. “Aw, ya get used to it. Some learn t’love it.”
The redhead shook her head, eyeing the heavy craft as it dangled precariously from only four thin lines. “Not me. All that creaking and moaning, and the constant movement? I’d be spacesick within a few hours.”
He circled around the lumber racks as he replied, setting Jayne’s rifle down on some stacked crates. “Well, the ol’ girl’s got some shakes an’ shimmies, but that’s to be expected. In an’ outta orbits an’ atmospheres, things are bound to hop ‘bout.”
“Yes, but even on the ground?” Cadence asked.
Mal opened his mouth to respond, but stopped, peering across the bay at her with a curious expression. “Not sure I get your meanin’, miss.”
Cadence pointed to where she had been sitting on the ramp. “About ten minutes ago, I was waiting there, and the whole ship shuddered. It was only for a second, but the way everything howled in here, it scared the dickens out of me.”
Mal processed her comment a moment, then his eye grew wide, and he took off towards the ramp’s controls. He hovered his thumb over the retract button, mouthing a small prayer that he didn’t even remember that he knew. Then he pushed down, and turned his head to watch the ramp rise.
He pushed the button again, and then a third time, but nothing happened. “Aiya,” he cursed, rushing past a puzzled Cadence to the intership comm. He picked up the handheld, but before he could speak, River’s voice echoed over the speakers, bouncing from the walls of the ship, sounding like the voice of Serenity herself.
“Dead duck,” River whispered from Serenity’s brain, her fingers flying over the buttons of the console. “We’re landlocked.”
“This way, Jayne. Be careful of her head,” Simon instructed, glancing behind him as he stepped backwards through the blast doors of the shuttle and down the short flight of stairs.
Jayne turned to the side to guide Cara’s unconscious form through the threshold. “I told ya, I got her, doc! Go an’ do your gorramn job!” he snapped. Simon looked to Zoe for help as she appeared in the doorway behind Jayne, but she only shrugged, nodding him off. Simon sighed irritably, then started down the catwalk stairs to prep the infirmary.
Mal met him halfway, walking briskly across the cargo bay. “Get her in there, then shut the doors an’ lock ‘em from the inside.”
As she followed the others out of the shuttle, Kaylee looked down and noted his hurried demeanor. “Ev’rythin’ shiny, Catp’n?”
He looked up at her. “Kaylee, need you in the engine room straight-away. River’s doin’ an emergency patch job on the wirin’ on the bridge, an’ she’s gonna need your help to make sure we’re clear for liftoff.” Kaylee nodded once, instantly absorbing the information, then took off towards the upper corridor to her girl’s rescue.
Zoe doubled her pace down the stairs, coming to his side. “Sumthin’ wrong, sir?”
“Yeah,” he replied, turning his head over his shoulder to address her. “Looks like Badger got ideas ‘gainst us makin’ a sneaky getaway.” He reached Cadence and took her by the shoulders, lowering his voice. “Get back in your house, right now. Hide yourself down in that cellar, might be he won’t think to check for ya.” But she only stared at him in confusion.
“Mal!” Jayne called, craning his neck over Cara’s body to see his boots descend the stairs behind Zoe. “What in the hell’s goin’ on?”
“Landlock,” Serenity replied in River’s voice. The others went quiet, turning their eyes to heaven to hear her reverberate through the metal skeleton of the ship. “It was all planned. Kidnapping Cara, letting us win. Badger wanted the cake, wanted to eat it, too.”
Jayne furrowed his brow, shouting at the ceiling. “Well, now ya tell us!” he continued to clomp down the stairs, now relying on sense memory to guide his feet. “Ain’t that the ruttin’ point o’havin’ a psychic on this boat? To warn us ‘bout junk like that?”
“Not now, Jayne,” Zoe replied steadily, exchanging a glance with Mal. She raised her voice, knowing somehow that River would hear her. “How many, mei mei?”
“Twenty,” River replied, balancing the comm on her chest as she lay under the console of the bridge, her fingers working madly with the wires that hung there. Whichever one of Badger’s men had overridden the system, he was good. He had left the navsat as a muddled mess, and it was taking even River a good amount of time to sort out. “Some are hurt, all are armed.”
Zoe looked at Mal, her career-military mind instantly taking over. “They’re gonna corner us, gonna force a standoff.”
“With those numbers, one we’re fixin’ to lose, River can’t get the ramp up in time,” he replied with the same tone of foreboding.
She nodded gravely, glancing out at the open and vulnerable ground outside the cargo bay. “The blast doors?”
Mal shook his head. “Tried ‘em. Badger musta knocked ‘em out with the ramp. First he made it so’s we couldn’t take off, then he made certain we couldn’t close him out, neither.” His shoulders tensed up, and he drove a fist into one of the crates at his side. “Gorammit!”
Zoe felt a similar urge, but resisted it, taking long and deep breaths to cool her rage. “How long ya figure we can hold ‘em off ‘til River an’ Kaylee fix it?”
“Ain’t gonna be long,” Jayne said. He walked over to them and perked his ears to the world outside. The distant hum of approaching engines could be heard, and Jayne clutched Cara protectively to his chest at the sound. “Those boys’re mercs, trained killers. They’re ornery an’ tough an’, thanks to us, mightily pissed. Holed up in here, jus’ the three of us to make a stand? We’re gonna get humped six ways from Sunday.”
“The shuttles,” Zoe offered. “We could fire up the shuttles, make a run for it.” As the words left her mouth, she could already hear Mal’s response.
He glared at her dangerously. “Then what? We’d be leavin’ Serenity with that lao shu yao wan. We’d be stranded on this rock.”
Jayne shifted Cara closer to his chest. “Can’t stay here, Mal! It’s ruttin’ suicide!”
“Sir,” Zoe added firmly, though there was sympathy in her voice. “It’s our best bet.”
Mal stepped up to them, gaining height in his unwavering resolution. “I ain’t leavin’ this ship t’be ferried away by ruttin’ Badger, of all men.”
“There’s another way,” River said, her voice falling like gentle rain from the ceiling. She slowly removed her hands from Serenity’s brain, working over the probabilities in her head. There were a great many things to consider, a great many things to take into account. The question of what did and did not factor was moot: every detail was an important one.
Giving herself over to her new appreciation of human nature, she threw everything into the equation this time: the people, the machines, the emotions, the math. She sifted through the information swimming about her brain and accounted for everything, every variable, every unknown, the logic of hard facts and the madness of men’s hearts. If her calculations were correct... but they were. They had to be. She had been wrong, this wasn’t just another way. It was the only way.
Mal looked up, keeping his voice steady as he answered her. “What’s that, River?”
“No time to explain,” River replied, rolling to her feet and starting across the bridge, catching the comm deftly in one hand as it slid from her chest. She hurried into the corridor, making for the cargo bay as quickly as she could. “Puzzle pieces, ticking bombs. Have to hurry, to make it work. They’ll be here soon.”
“River-” Mal started.
But she cut him off, stopping abruptly in the hallway, just out of sight. She leaned against the wall with one hand, taking a deep breath before she could speak. It was his mistrust again, breaking its way into her brain with sledgehammers, trying to smash her scheme apart. She fought against the pain, scraping her nails over the metal walls. I believe it, she cried out in silence. I can do this. I just need your help.
She lowered her thumb onto the comm, and her soft voice filled the cargo bay. “Please, Mal. Trust me.”
Mal took a deep breath, seething with frustration. Trust her. River had no idea of what she was asking. This is not how Mal had wanted to handle this. This is not the forum in which he wanted to undergo this conversation. This was a matter better suited for a slow build, for a quiet moment, for ample time to consider and mull.
But in a roundabout way, this was the only way it could have honestly been faced. He and River could hem and haw, could continue their irritating dance, until doomsday. And in the end, it would come down to the same decision he was being asked to make right now. Could he trust her?
In the blink of an eye, Mal would have to risk everything he loved, everything he owned and worked for, on his waxing and waning belief in River. Because if he didn’t, the only other options were death or surrender, and Mal was not about to accept either.
“Okay, River,” Mal whispered, but she heard him anyway. “I trust you.”
When Badger and his newfound army rolled up on Serenity a few moments later, they met a sight that the crime boss had half-expected. Mal, River, and Zoe, guns in hand, standing defiantly at the top of the ramp, spread out across the opening of the ship. Jayne stood just behind them, the unconscious Cara still cradled in his arms, as he stared down at the opposing forces with rage. They were there, ready to defend each other and their worthless old ship to their deaths, and Badger couldn’t help but laugh.
They could have run. It made no matter that Badger would have eventually caught up with them, they could’ve fled as any sane person would have done. But instead, there they were, playing the heroes until their last breath. Badger’s laughter settled into an evil smirk as he regarded them from the passenger seat of his skiff, and he found himself wondering if Malcolm Reynolds would ever learn.
His men closed around the open cargo bay, forming an impenetrable wall of guns. Each and every last one pulled their weapon, pointing them at the crew who had caused them such trouble in the last few hours. And like Badger, they could feel the taste of revenge run, sticky like blood, over their tongues. Badger called to the trio from his skiff, using the aid of a speaker to make his voice boom across the hills. “Give it up, Reynolds. Ya ain’t got a prayer.”
Mal narrowed his eyes at the man, but held his tongue, glancing at the young woman at his side. She took a deep breath and stepped forward. A thunder of clicks could be heard from the mercenaries’ guns as they armed their shots. But River stood tall, finding the capacity in her lungs to shout up to Badger. “We want to bargain.”
Badger laughed again, and this time his men joined him, taking sick delight in this tiny girl’s gumption. “Love to, darlin’. But see, you an’ that capt’n o’yours, you’ve caused me an’ me boys ‘ere more trouble than we fancy.” He lifted his arm, signaling for his men to take aim.
But River held up her palm, stopping him. She was so stately just then, so proud and fearless as she straightened her back and squared her jaw, the desert wind waving her hair back like a curtain of darkness, that it gave Badger pause, and he slowly lowered his arm without thinking. He didn’t feel himself being drawn into her power, but he went all the same. She spoke again, and this time her voice was like fire in every man’s ear. “It doesn’t have to end this way.”
Badger stared at her for a few long moments, then shook his head, clearing it from the spell she was casting over him. He looked at Mal with a superior sneer. “Ya lettin’ your lil’ witch talk for ya nowadays?”
“Yep,” Mal replied without hesitation. “So maybe you oughtta listen t’what she’s got t’say.”
River stepped forward again, ignoring the gleam of the metal barrels pointed her way. Her large brown eyes burnt into Badger’s, and for a brief moment, he remembered the first time he had met her, had sensed the strange confidence that billowed around her little body. “We have to talk.”
Badger shook his head again, wondering if he had been more than vaguely accurate when he had referred to River as a witch. “Well, love, that sounds like a gorramn load o’fun. But takin’ into consideration the fact that ya’ll got maybe three, four gun’ands down there, an’ I got a bleedin’ load more, I’d say talkin’ is outta the question.” His hand rose once again, and the men raised their guns up. Mal and Zoe aimed out, fingers hovering over their triggers, ready to defend girl and ship to their demise.
But River did not move. “Okay,” she called, then looked off into the distance. Against their better judgment, many of the other eyes in the posse followed hers, even Badger’s. But all they saw was the form of a woman, kneeling on the ground before the small blue house in the background, her hands pressed tightly to the ground. Cadence shook her firey hair from her face, feeling the sweat start to bead along her flesh. Pushing herself into the earth, she felt her life-force spark and flash into the soil, so hard that it made her gasp.
River smiled. The key.
Suddenly, two long vines shot from the ground, piercing the ground that had once been scorched bare. The men lowered their guns, gazing at the frightful exhibition of what could only be sorcery. The vines rose like phoenixes into the sky, casting themselves over Badger’s skiff and wrapping it tight. The craft sputtered and groaned against the force, but the earth was stronger, and its green tentacles pulled the skiff from the sky, sending it nose-first into the ground. Badger tumbled out, end over end, finally rolling to a stop onto dust, then metal. He raised his head, wiping the dirt from his face to see.
And was met with the barrel of Mal’s gun.
Focusing his eyes past it, he caught the smirk on Mal’s face as the man thumbed back the hammer, pressing the nose of the gun into the nose of his soon-to-be victim. River’s face appeared at his side, looking down on Badger with calm stoicism. “Now can we talk?” she asked serenely.
Badger coughed, looking around at the stunned men behind him. “Uh, yeah,” he finally sputtered, managing a cocky grin through his timid surprise. “Let’s caucus, lil’ girl.”
River smiled up at Mal, then squatted on the balls of her feet, tucking her dress modestly between her legs. She tipped the brim of his bowler back to see his face, and kept her voice low, the conversation only needing two parties for now. “You have seen much bloodshed today, Badger. Red rivers on yellow steel. No sight more welcome.”
He slid one of his hands out beside him, pressing his chest up. “What’re ya sayin’, lil’ bird?”
She condescendingly cupped his chin in her palm, meeting his eyes with a twinkle of knowing. “I see you, Badger. Hating us for taking your life from you.”
“You’re damn right.”
River smiled harshly. “Well, now we’ve given it back. All that you once had and more. Clancey is dead, you are the new king of the hill. Got what you were waiting for.” Her eyes narrowed, and Badger saw a touch of psychosis there, shining through the still-healing cracks of River’s mind. “Don’t go complicating things.”
“Maybe that ain’t enough,” he replied coldly, flicking his eyes up to Mal’s face, envisioning his wretched smile twisting into absolute pain. “Maybe there’s sumthin’ more I want.”
But River shook his eyes back down to hers, and now he saw that they had become threatening, protective. “You can’t have it. Can’t have him. He’s mine, and I’ll not have anything that’s mine taken away by you again.” She leaned in close, her sweet breath washing over his face like poison. “You always underestimate us, Badger. You see us as dogs, but we’re not. Me, Mal, all of us, we’re wolves. Angry and rabid and tameless. The rat cannot fight a wolf and win.”
Badger tore his chin out of River’s grasp, and she let him go, resting her forearms on her bent knees. Mal smiled down at River, stiffly kneeling down by her side, his gun still trained on Badger’s broken nose. “There’s a deal t’be made here, Badger.”
River nodded, and the man felt his eyes drift back to her. They spoke one right after the other, and never was there a more perfect representation of teamwork. “You’re a businessman, so you will comprehend.”
“You’ve got a bright future here on Aegina, a whole new level of lowlifes to rule,” Mal added immediately, glancing out over the mercenaries under Badger’s command. “But if’n you keep comin’ after me an’ mine, you’re gonna see that taken away quicker than you can piss.”
“Stay out of our lives,” River suggested, though it was not a suggestion at all. “We’ll stay out of yours.”
“We think it’d be better that way. No more checkin’ under our step for a stray snake in the grass,” Mal nodded thoughtfully.
River drew back her lips and clenched her teeth, hissing in Badger’s direction, and he drew away from her automatically.
Mal grinned at the reaction. “We made the mistake of goin’ into business with each other, Badger. But the fact is, yours an’ mine are jus’ too damned unpredictable to have a stable partnership.”
“And we’re both too crazy to fight without ending ourselves,” River agreed. “Destruction’s not what we’re after.”
“And we don’t reckon it’s what you’re after, neither.” Mal waggled the gun in his palm, his finger twitching dangerously over the trigger. “So me an’ River, we figure ev’ryone makes out this way. You get your empire of dirt, we get a hoe-tze off our backs.”
River pursed her lips rather seriously. “Of course, you can disagree. But you’ll be turning on truth, living a fool.” She squinted one eye down at Badger, cocking her head. “Live as a fool, die as a fool, dong ma?”
“So, them’s the terms,” Mal finished, pressing the mouth of his pistol into Badger’s face. “D’we have a deal?”
The man ran his eyes slowly over the two, cautiously weighing his options. In all her rambling, River had said one thing that made sense. The crew that Badger had met all those years ago was not the one he had seen today. No, the men and women of Serenity seemed to have lost their minds, to have gone far enough into the black to lose themselves in it. And as mad as Badger was, he was not one to tempt fate when the irrational were involved.
After a few long moments, he gave a terse nod, and Mal and River grinned in unison, looking as much like the maniacs Badger had decided they were. They rose to their feet as one, backing away and allowing him to stand.
Badger stumbled to his feet, brushing the dust from his coat. “’Ope ya don’t expect me t’shake on this,” he spat at the pair spitefully.
They exchanged a look of amusement, then together, shook their heads. Badger stared at them a moment longer, then rolling back his shoulders, he gave them a smirk and tipped his bowler in farewell. Then he turned to his men, striding grandly to the first empty ATV seat in his path. “Come’n, boys!” he called, trying to savor his one victory of the day. “The king is dead,” he voiced to River, and in his own odd way, she knew that he was sealing the deal. “Long live t’king.”
The men all snuck one more glance at their previously intended targets, then followed his order, gunning their engines and lowering their weapons. And for all the trouble Badger had caused the crew, his exit from their life was brief, for it was only mere minutes before his posse rolled out of sight into the hills, leaving only a cloud of dust to remember them by.
“That was fun,” River said softly, watching the dirt settle back over the ground as Badger and his men disappeared from view.
“Yeah, it was,” Mal agreed, glancing over to the now-dead vines, still wrapped in a death grip around Badger’s scuttled skiff. “Let’s never do it again.”
River nodded once. “Never ever.” She pressed her lips together, meeting his eyes with a look of mixed feelings, then turned towards the ramp, climbing up. “I’ll have us out of atmo in ten minutes.” She passed Zoe with a smile, who grinned and gave her a congratulatory slap on the back as she went by.
“That’s it?!” Jayne asked loudly from the cargo bay, addressing River as she walked peacefully by. Met with silence and an uninterrupted stride from her, he looked at Mal and Zoe instead, growling in disbelief. “Ya’ll’re jus’ gonna let that lil’ bastard go?”
Mal smirked and braced a palm over Zoe’s shoulder, squeezing it gently. She smiled at the ground, then looked up at the scowling mercenary. “It was the only way, Jayne.”
“It’s bullshit, is what it is!” He bellowed back. “Pisser ain’t caused us nothin’ but trouble from day one, an’ now he’s jus’ gonna ride off into the sunset like a ruttin’-”
“Jayne...” Cara whispered, her eye twitching open. But he didn’t pull his angry gaze from the other two until she reached up one tired palm and pressed it against his chest. At last, he peered down at her face, and saw a helplessness in her features he had never known her to admit. “It hurts.”
Jayne glanced back and forth between the captain and the woman in his arms, torn between the desire to ream Mal and the need to protect Cara. A last he shot one more dirty look in Mal’s direction, then turned from the two on the ramp, his face instantly softening along with his tone. “Where’s it hurt, darlin’?” he murmured huskily, starting towards the waiting infirmary.
“Everywhere,” came the chuckling reply.
“Well, don’t you worry, kid,” he said, hurrying her down the steps into the common room. “Doc’ll fix ya right up, good as new.”
Zoe laughed silently as she shook her head, then began moving off towards the catwalks. “I’ll go an’ check on Kaylee. See if I can lend a layman’s hand.”
“Good,” Mal replied, forcing the smile from his own face. He turned around, gazing out over the desert as the sun began to creep back down from its zenith, crawling towards the shelter of the horizon. A tall, fluttering figure was approaching the ship, and he folded his arms, stepping down the ramp to meet her.
Cadence smiled weakly, and Mal whistled softly in appreciation, seeing the physical toll her work had taken on her. The redhead was quite a bit paler than she had been only hours earlier, and her cheeks seemed to sink into her face. “You gonna be okay?” he asked.
She nodded, but only had the strength to do it once. “How about you folks?”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll be hearin’ from him ‘gain.” Mal said, darting his eyes out to the hills that Badger and company had faded into. “Reckon between me an’ River, an’ that lil’ botanical show of yours, we may’ve struck some fear into his twisted lil’ heart.”
Cadence smiled to one side, straightening herself with pride. “I do what I can.”
“An’ then some,” Mal added. “You’ve got our thanks for as much.” He extended his hand, and she reached out one of her trembling ones to shake it. “If there’s anythin’ we can do-”
“Take care of my bei lang,” Cadence said sadly, gazing past him to the door that Jayne had brought Cara through. “And her baby. It’s all I’ll ever ask.”
Mal smiled in understanding, and nodded. “That I can promise. I think Jayne’s comin’ ‘round to havin’ that one covered, anyways.” She sighed deeply, faltering slightly as the oxygen filled her lungs. Mal caught her by her arms, helping her steady herself against the angle of the ramp. “You sure you’re gonna be okay? You ain’t lookin’ so good.”
She waved a dismissive hand at him, swallowing hard. “It’ll wear off in a day or two. I can take care of myself until then.” She looked over her shoulder at her cozy little home, hiding the sadness on her face. “Then I can start thinking about moving to more secure surroundings.”
“Two days on you’re own?” Mal asked, twisting up his face. He didn’t like the thought of leaving this woman, who had been so willing to expose herself to help his crew, on the same planet as Badger with no promise of protection, especially in her current condition. He released his hands from her arms, tucking his thumbs into his pants as he looked around in thought.
As his eyes caught sight of the cargo that lay waiting in the bay, Mal felt a brilliant idea wheedle its way into his mind. After all, the Huang boys had said that if there was anything they could do...
“Miss Cadence?” he asked, turning to her with a shrewd smile. “You ever thought of goin’ into the lumber business?”
Thursday, December 07, 2006 5:39 AM
Thursday, December 07, 2006 2:27 PM
Thursday, December 07, 2006 2:44 PM
Thursday, December 07, 2006 3:30 PM
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 6:51 PM
Sunday, March 24, 2013 10:41 AM
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