Small Beginnings--Part IV--Three Short
Monday, May 28, 2007

Mal and River begin a frantic search, and Zoe wakes up.


Running the towel through his unruly hair, Mal looked up just in time to see River sink to her knees, bent double in apparent pain.

Instantly on his knees at her side, Mal grasped her by the shoulders. “What’s the matter, bao bei?”

“Zoe,” she gasped, eyes flashing in panic.

A cold knot of dread settled in Mal’s chest. “What about Zoe?” His grip on River’s shoulders tightened slightly.

River began to rock. “Hurt. Then, nothing.”

“Where? On Serenity?”

River turned her gaze inward, trying to focus on the slight wisp of knowledge. “No, on the street. In an alley.”

Mal was already pulling River to her feet. “Get dressed,” he ordered shortly, yanking his own clothes on quickly.

Walking out into the late afternoon sun, Mal asked, “Any idea as to where to look?”

River shook her head miserably, her lower lip beginning to tremble.

“It’s all right, darlin’. Maybehaps you’ll recognize it when you see it,” Mal said, heading toward the docks. He knew that Zoe was partial to the little bookstore and would have gone there at some point, and figured to head in that general direction.

They walked quickly, scanning each alleyway they came to between the little shop and the docks. The shadows cast by the late hour did nothing to aid their search, but eventually, just on the edge of night, River stopped, gazing intently into a small alleyway. “Here,” she said.

Mal’s eyes swept the area quickly for any danger. The alleyway was deserted. He turned to River, who held a book in her hand, staring at it as if the answer to Zoe’s whereabouts could be found in its pages. “River?” he asked.

River looked up with haunted eyes. “Dropped it when the blast hit. Blindsided. No chance to fight.”

Mal began to examine the ground around them carefully, suddenly wishing for Jayne’s superior tracking ability. He followed the muddle of footprints to a small door behind one of the buildings fronting the alleyway. Listening for a moment, he heard only silence, so he pried the door open and stepped inside.

River followed, gliding gracefully into the dimly lit room. Trailing her hands along the dingy walls, she said slowly, “Lots of them. Women, children. Frightened, herded like cattle. Some sick, wounded.” She focused finally on Mal, who was looking at her with a sickening dread. “Slavers.”

Cold fury immediately replaced his horror. “Where?” he asked, his jaw clenched tightly.

“I don’t know,” River whispered helplessly.

“Couldn’t have been too long ago. Slavers wouldn’t be likely to stay dirtside for too long though. Let’s go. Gotta get Simon and Kaylee. Can’t fly without ‘em. When we find her, Zoe may be needin’ a medic.”

River nodded, hurrying to match his urgent stride back toward the city. “What about Jayne and Inara?”

“No time to get ‘em out, and Jayne needs to stay here. We’ll send a message soon’s we’re in the Black.”


Zoe awoke, feeling the pattern of the floor grating cutting cruelly into her cheek. She opened her eyes slowly, making no obvious movement until she could assess the situation more clearly. If that same soldier’s instinct had clicked in more quickly in that gorram alleyway, perhaps she wouldn’t be in this situation now, she thought wryly.

She felt the cold bite of iron at her wrists, and noted as she stretched slightly that the chains were attached to her booted ankles as well. ‘Slavers,’ she thought with disgust.

Hearing the sounds of quiet whimpering and huddled movement about her, she sat up carefully, testing the length of the chain. She looked down to discover that, to her annoyance, the chains were attached both to a wall ring behind her and to her neighbors on either side. Made the possibility of escape a mite more challenging, she thought.

She reached up carefully, running her fingers through her thick tresses to find a pin. Maybe she’d be able to pick the locks, if she were lucky. But as was often the case, she discovered it was useless to depend on luck. The slavers were evidently experienced. They had removed her hair pins while she slept.

“Mama, mama, wake up. Please wake up.” The soft pleas of the little girl made Zoe peer more closely into the murky darkness beside her. It was the little girl from the alleyway, the one who’d made no sound as she’d been dragged along with her mother by the two hundans Zoe had seen.

The little girl shook her mother’s shoulder, the heavy chains making the movement an effort for her tiny frame. Getting no response, she laid her head across her mother’s chest, burrowing into her softness. “Please mama. I’m scared. Please wake up.”

Zoe’s heart began to ache at the pathetic sight. She reached over carefully, shaking the woman gently. But the body was cold, and Zoe realized that the woman was not breathing. Checking rapidly for a pulse, she found none. The little girl looked up at her, eyes filled with hope now that an adult seemed to be handling matters. Zoe swallowed thickly, and opened her arms as widely as she could while hampered by her chains. The child scrambled gratefully into her embrace.

“I can’t wake Mama up, and she needs her pills. She’s not s’posed to go this long without ‘em. Only I don’t know where they are. They’re always in her pocket, but when the big men came…” The little girl paused, her heart beating wildly against Zoe’s arm. “She musta’ dropped ‘em.”

“What’s your name, little one?”

“Anya. What’s yours?” the child asked, wiping her nose on her sleeve.

“I’m Zoe.”

Anya looked up at her with heart-breakingly troubled blue eyes. “Sometimes when Mama doesn’t wake up, I put the little pill right under her tongue. She taught me how. Only I can’t find ‘em in here. I looked everywhere I can reach. Mama says they help her heart go pitty-pat just like mine, and without ‘em, it don’t work so good.”

Zoe swallowed the lump in her throat. “How old are you, child?”

“Five, almost six,” Anya said proudly. “I’m a big girl now.”

“So you are,” Zoe agreed, reaching up to touch her light blonde hair. It felt like fine silk, bringing a painful sense memory of Wash to Zoe’s mind briefly. “Where do you live?”

“Just moved to Greenleaf, on account of Mama found some work here. She didn’t used to have to work, ‘til Daddy got too sick.”

“So, you live with your mama and daddy?” Zoe asked, praying to God that the child had one living parent.

Anya shook her head sadly. “Daddy died on Paquin. Mama and me got real sick too, but she said it was just too much for Daddy’s cons’tution. Mama said ‘fore I was borned, Daddy went and started a fight with some mean folks with purple tummies and when he came back home, he weren’t never ‘xactly the same again. He was always kinda’ poorly since I’ve been borned. And then, when everybody got sick and had to stay inside, he just didn’t never get no better. Mama says he’s gone to sleep somewheres better than Paquin anyhow. Guess that’s why we moved to Greenleaf. Didn’t have nobody to stay on Paquin for no more.”

Zoe nodded, unable for a moment to speak. Pulling the little girl more firmly into her arms, she began to rock her in the age-old motion of comfort. Realizing with a sinking heart that there would never be an easy way to tell the child the truth, Zoe gathered all her formidable strength in one long, deep breath. “Little one, your mama doesn’t need her pills now. She’s gone to sleep like your Daddy.”

Anya stiffened in her arms, her voice muffled against Zoe’s shoulder. “Somewheres better than here, you mean?”

Zoe closed her eyes, feeling the child’s hot tears through her shirt. “Yes, child, much, much better than here.” She sat for some time, stroking Anya’s hair and murmuring small comforts until the child quieted, exhausted from grief.


“But how will we know where to look?” Kaylee asked, eyes red-rimmed and wet.

Simon answered, “River sensed that Zoe’s awake. As far as I can tell, we’re just following River’s best guess.”

“That why the Cap’n sent us off the bridge so fast?” Kaylee asked, still sniffling.

Simon nodded. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to sound so harsh to you, Kaylee. River just needs to be able to focus entirely on where we’re headed. That’s all.”

“I won’t say nothin’ else ‘til we get there, if’n it means we can get Zoe back,” Kaylee declared, wiping her tears earnestly.

Simon pulled her into the comfort of his embrace. “I know, ai ren. I know.”


Exhausted from her morning session with the counselor, Inara wondered if she’d ever be able to fully understand or express her complex feelings for Malcolm Reynolds. Though the therapist had assured her that much progress had been made, Inara herself felt no closer to resolution than before.

She was determined not to spend the entire evening rehashing the events of the morning. Having no great desire to mingle with the general population of Greenleaf, she decided to see about Jayne. When she arrived at his hospital room, she knocked lightly on the door. Receiving no answer, she peered into the room, and saw that the merc was asleep. She tiptoed to his bed, and took a long look at him.

Sleeping, he looked very much like a little boy, she mused. None of the violence of his nature was revealed in the slight smile that played around his lips. She had the odd thought that perhaps sleep revealed the real man. Shaking her head at her own fanciful notions, she called lightly, “Jayne, I’ve brought you something.”

Eyelashes fluttering softly, Jayne opened one eye. “’Nara?”

“Yes, Jayne, it’s me,” she answered, laughter in her tone. “What kind of meds did they give you anyway?”

Jayne smiled loopily. “Don’t rightly recall the name, but they did the trick right enough.”

“I can see that,” Inara said. “I hated to wake you, but thought you might like to have some of this.”

She pulled a carton out of the bag she’d brought. Handing Jayne a spoon, she removed the lid with a flourish. Jayne’s eyes lit up as if she’d brought him Vera for a visit. “This what I think it is?”

“If you think it’s chocolate cherry ice cream, it is.” Inara smiled.

Taking a huge spoonful of the creamy mixture into his mouth, Jayne savored the flavor. Inara could swear that for just a moment, his eyes rolled back into his head. Delighted with the reaction, she said, “I take it you approve of my choice.”

Jayne paused, offering her a heaping spoonful. “Best ice cream I ever et,” he said sincerely. “Have a taste.”

Inara hesitated, strangely disturbed by the intimacy of the gesture. But it did look tempting, so she leaned down for a quick nibble.

“See what I mean?” Jayne said, watching Inara’s tongue dart out to catch the last taste from her lips.

“Mmmm,” Inara answered, rummaging around the bag for another spoon. Finding one, she sat perched on Jayne’s bed, snatching a taste now and then, as he finished off the carton.

Wiping his mouth with the napkin Inara provided, he said, “I’m much obliged to ya’, ‘Nara. Ain’t laid my mouth on nothin’ as tasty in a long time.”

Inara blushed, inordinately pleased with the compliment. Somehow, the last few minutes had lightened her mood considerably. Thinking that life still did have some simple pleasures, she smiled genuinely. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

Interrupting the peaceful moment, a nurse knocked on the door. “Mister Cobb, there’s a message for you. It came in a moment ago.” She handed him the transcribed note.

Jayne read it slowly. Inara became alarmed, noting the bleak expression that replaced his earlier one. “What is it, Jayne?” she asked, unaccountably concerned.

“Zoe. She’s gone missing. Crew’s gone to get her. River thinks it’s slavers.” He handed Inara the note. She took it with trembling fingers, looking up at Jayne in shock.

“Looks like we’ll be here awhile,” he said grimly.


To be continued


Monday, May 28, 2007 11:02 AM


I'm really getting into this. Do I smell an "odd couple" coming on?

Monday, May 28, 2007 12:26 PM


You...... horrid little tease. I thought I was bad, based on at least a dozen comments I used to get about leaving things hanging at the best (or worst, depending on your POV) possible moment. I LOVE it.

Slavers? I admit, I didn't see that coming. Like I said before, I like that you're writing isn't entirely predictable. Keep up the good work.

Rob O.

Monday, May 28, 2007 1:31 PM


Oh poor Zoe, but in a way I am glad that she got nabbed by those slavers because now she can give comfort to little orphansed Anya. I wouldn't be surprised if at the end of this awful mess Zoe adopts the precious mite. I am sure you are planning some romance between Inara and Jayne, she is never usually so solicitous towards him and it would be a good way to heal her of her obssession with the Captain. Do hope River can pinpoint where those *tamade hundan* have gone so our Big Damn Heroes can knock seven barrels of *goushi* out of them and free Zoe and the slaves. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, May 28, 2007 10:02 PM


Yikes, this is just all kinds of tense ... I am really intrigued by your Inara/Jayne pairing, as we have discussed, so I can't wait to see what happens as they're both stuck waiting for word.

I feel awful for Zoe and more than a little worried, but I'm glad that she's there for Anya, the poor little dear ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 5:00 AM


Really enjoying this fic from Zoe's point of view. Zoe is usually the one doing the rescuing. Great job!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 10:44 AM


Oh ho! Do I see Zoe gaining a Nordic-coloured moppet in the future, along with Inara realizing that Jayne ain't that bad of a fella once you realize he's just as complex as the next person? Cuz if I do...bring it on, bring it on, bring it on!


Some superb work her, slumming! Definitely struggled with tears as Zoe tried to help little Anya deal with losing her mother, along with smirking like an idiot when Inara brought Jayne some tasty treats to help make his recovery more enjoyable;D



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