For The Want Of A Nail - Part Two
Monday, February 4, 2008

Second instalment of a dark tale which introduces some new characters to the Firefly ‘Verse, some of whom will cross paths with our BDHs in the not-too-distant future. As Leon and Jake’s story continues, Jake’s past from the Unification War catches up with him… And we find out whether or not Sheriff Nash is a man of his word.


Disclaimer thingy: Firefly/Serenity are owned by other folks and not by me, though I appreciate being able to write some stuff purely for fun inspired by the Firefly 'Verse.


Second episode in three-part prequel to Hard Times. Angst aplenty. But if you can handle dark and gritty, let me know how you like it…


Jake climbed up out of Mawu’s engine compartment and headed into the cockpit. He glanced out of the screen and frowned at the changed light lying across the landscape, where shadows were beginning to stretch long across the rocky ground. “Goddamnit, Leon, where the hell are you?” He triggered the chronometer in the console, and frowned again at what he saw. “Six hours… You better not be hustling a poker game in some bar.” He sat back in the pilot’s chair, still frowning, unease beginning to crawl over him. Leon wouldn’t be on a spree. He knows we need to get fixed and away as quick as we can. He’d be on his way back soon as he could. Jake looked down at the console, thinking of the powered-down engine. Unless he’s had to dodge some local trouble. In which case we might need to make a swift exit when he gets here, and put off fitting the new converter to another day. He hesitated, then rose and headed back to the engine compartment, to reconnect the power. Come on home, partner. I’m getting to worrying about you.

* * * *

Leon woke slowly in the darkness of his cell, letting out a muffled sound of protest. His eyes opened: he was lying on his side on the bed, wrists still cuffed, arms curled around his head. Unsteadily he tried to raise himself up, getting his elbows under him. The muscles in his shoulders and back shook and he let out a gasp, bowing his head down. Slowly he was able to straighten up then push himself into a sitting position, bare feet finding the floor. For a long time he did nothing except sit there in the darkness, looking into the black. He swallowed and felt a burning rawness in his throat and lungs; wincing, he lifted his cuffed hands and touched his fingers to his face. His hands shook and he lowered them again, his head bowing as he closed his eyes and his breath shuddered out of him. Stop it. Stop it. It’s over. He fought himself for long minutes, hands clenched into shaking fists, head down. A knot of sour fear was wound tight in his stomach but he made himself straighten up: swallowed hard. It’s over and you didn’t tell them anything. He shut his eyes against the darkness and saw Nash’s unrelenting face, heard the cold voice. He said they were running a groundscan to find Mawu. But Jake’s got her powered down so it’ll take them a long time to find her. There was no way of telling in the dark cell how long he’d been in custody. If it’s been hours then Jake’ll know something’s gone guay. Mawu’ll fly without the new converter, he can power her up and get clear before the law pin him down. And I can hold on, I hold on here until Jake finds a way to get back to me. He’ll think of something. Even as these thoughts were scudding through his head, the sour sick fear in his stomach was growing. Even as he was hoping, praying for Jake to get clear of Beylix, to lift off and fly away, he knew that was the one thing his friend wouldn’t do. The groundscan would find him sooner or later and Jake would not take off because he would not leave his young crewman behind. Leon shook his head, trying to drive these thoughts away. No. He has to go. He has to. - War criminal, Nash had said. - Ryder is scum. Leon saw again Nash’s cold eyes. He wants Jake bad. So Jake has to get off-planet. “He has to get away. He has to go.” He heard his own voice, shaking as he repeated the words again and again out loud, as if by repeating them he could make them come true. As if he could reach Jake with them and tell him to take Mawu and get away before the law found him. He pulled his feet up onto the bed and hugged his knees to his chest, shivering. He tried to send the fear inside him away, shut his eyes and thought only He has to go He has to go until the exhaustion of all that had happened took him over and his thoughts sank down into darkness. Some time later the light in the cell flickered on and Leon opened his eyes, jerked awake. He was curled on the bed against the wall, with his knees still pulled up to his chest. The cell door lock clunked as it released and his eyes fixed on it as it opened, revealing two guards. One of them stood at the doorway whilst the other one advanced into the cell. “Get up.” Leon moved slowly to stand, but the man reached out and yanked him to his feet, then pushed him to the doorway. “Get moving.” Leon stumbled down the corridor in front of the guards, heart thudding, breath starting to come shallow in his chest. He thought of the room with the trestle table and his legs grew unsteady: he swallowed down the fear but his throat seemed to be closing up. No no - Not back there - Please no. He staggered, almost falling, as one of the guards speeded him up with a shove from behind. They rounded a corner and turned in through a doorway: it led into a room where several men were donning body armour and shouldering weapons. To one side Sheriff Nash was speaking into a comlink, issuing orders. He turned to see the two guards with Leon. “All right. Put him in the vehicle.” As the two guards began to drag Leon past, Nash paused them for a second. “Well, Leon.” He smiled grimly. “Our groundscan finally found your friend Ryder. Now we’re going to pay him a call, and you can come along. Think he’ll be pleased to see you?” Leon said nothing, held in place by the guard’s grip on his shirt, meeting Nash’s gaze for a moment – then he was pulled away. Nash rode up front in the armoured vehicle, speaking to his driver as they travelled. “Groundscan’s located his ship at the co-ordinates shown; topography leaves us a clear approach from the south-west. We’ll take up position nearby but we’re not moving in until I give the word. I’ve got a plan that should get us Ryder, with a minimum of risk.” He smiled, then leaned back with one elbow over the seat to look into the rear of the vehicle. His grey eyes moved until they found Leon, sitting with a guard’s assault rifle trained steadily at him. “I’d like this to go smooth, Leon. For my men, and for your friend Ryder. No point having an unnecessary firefight and wasting lives.” Leon said nothing, watching the sheriff. The jolting of the vehicle jarred his aching body; he felt cold and sickened by the motion. “When we get to Ryder’s ship, you’ll talk to him. Convince him to surrender. That way no-one’ll get hurt.” “No.” Leon’s voice came out ragged. “I won’t do it.” “You better.” Nash turned back to face the front. “Otherwise I’ll have my men bring your friend Ryder out in little pieces.”

* * * * *

An alarm jerked Jake’s eyes to the console: he reached out and hit the key next to the flashing light. Information came up on the small display screen and Jake’s brows drew down. “Shit.” He keyed in more commands, read the data they brought up. “Tyen shiao duh - ” Rising swiftly he glanced out of the cockpit screen, looking hard into the lengthening shadows for a sign of movement. Nothing. So whoever’s coming is in range of the scanners but not close enough to see yet. Which gives me time to get the hell out of here. He glanced down at the controls, checking engine readouts. The lash-up I did on the drive will get Mawu off and moving, if it all holds. Looks like whoever’s coming is ground-based, no air support. Unless it’s so high up it’s out of scan range. Jake let out a short breath. His hand moved to the controls to start an engine warm-up sequence, then stopped. Only there’s no way I’m taking off without Leon. He could be running at the front of whatever’s coming, with trouble on his tail. In which case he’s gonna need some covering fire. Jake slowly began to power up the weapons, keeping his eyes on the cockpit screen, watching the landscape. But what if he isn’t? What if he’s laying low in town somewhere? Best thing I could do would be take off and get clear now, fly in nearer to Lansing, make the distance shorter so he can reach me easier. A dust cloud appeared on the edge of the landscape: Jake’s mouth tightened. The slowly rising hum of the weapons being powered up was the only sound in the cockpit. He glanced again at the scanners, saw the blip on the screen resolving into a vehicle heading straight for Mawu. “Well hello to the local law. No friendly preliminaries, I’m guessing.” He checked that the top-mounted gun above Mawu’s cockpit was online, then looked back out of the screen. “Let’s have a closer look at you.” He tapped in a command on the console and brought up a camera-scope image of the view before him: tapped another command and the magnification increased. Suddenly he was looking at an armoured vehicle almost filling the scope’s screen, churning up the dust in their wake as it powered towards Mawu. One vehicle, carrying probably ten men max; maybe their vehicle’s armed with cannon. Best option is to lift off right now and leave them eating exhaust, then high-tail it to Lansing and figure on finding Leon there. He’ll be holed up somewhere, he’s smart enough to know to keep his head down if the law caught Mawu during a groundscan. And he’s a tough kid, he can look after himself while I get Mawu clear. Hell, if needs be he can hitch a ride on something leaving Beylix and rendezvous with me someplace else in a couple of days. That’d be safest, for him and for me. Jake watched the vehicle approach and made no move to start the lift-off sequence. As the armoured car came closer he knew he wasn’t going to take off. A heaviness settled into the pit of his stomach as he watched the law approach, all rationalisations dying away as one thought settled with certainty into the centre of his mind. Hell, you’re not taking off. You never left a crewman behind and you’re not going to start now. Whatever’s coming, whatever play you’ve got to make, it happens here. One of the guards in the vehicle shouted to Nash over the engine noise, “Scan shows he’s powering up his weapons, sheriff!” “How about drive systems?” “Reading activity but no signs of launch sequence.” “Right.” Nash leaned forward to check the readings himself. “Bring us to a stop over by that ridge. And have the prisoner ready to move.” “Yessir.” Nash turned in his seat and looked back at Leon. “Your friend looks like he wants a fight. I hoped he’d be brighter than that.” Leon made no reply, meeting the sheriff’s gaze with a dogged look of his own. “Still, I reckon we might be able to persuade him… Then no-one has to get hurt. Which would be the best result for everyone.” Nash watched him. “I’d encourage you to think again, Leon. Help me get your friend Ryder to surrender. The alternative is that it’ll go very badly, for him and for you.” “Tsai boo shr,” replied Leon, setting his mouth in a firm line. Nash shook his head, then turned back to face the front. “All right, get us into position.” The vehicle jolted on a little further, then turned to one side and ground to a halt. Nash rose and opened a side door, getting out with some of the guards whilst two remained in the vehicle with Leon. Nash took a radio from beside the driver’s seat. “OK, I want to talk to Ryder. Patch me into his channel.” Inside Mawu the comlink crackled: Jake turned his head from where he’d been watching the parked armoured car. “This is Sheriff Nash of Beylix law enforcement, addressing Jacob Ryder in ship Mawu. You are hereby bound by law. Deactivate your weapons systems and take your drive offline.” Jake’s mouth lifted at one corner with a bitter smile and he hit the control that would allow him to reply. “No, sheriff. You take your men and pull back or I’ll deactivate your vehicle instead. It’ll be a long dusty walk for you back to town with no transport. And as for being bound by law, all I need’s to take off and you’d be watching my con-trail.” “I can alert the nearest federal outpost and there’d be a bulletin out on the Cortex for your arrest before you cleared atmosphere.” “Maybe so. But the nearest Alliance cruiser must be over a day’s journey away, I reckon… One of the hazards of being in command of an outpost like Beylix, huh, sheriff?” Jake smiled grimly at Nash’s magnified image in his screen, watching the lawman react. Nash looked towards Mawu for a moment, then back at the armoured car. Yeah, that’s right you tah mah duh hwoon dahn, pause for thought. You didn’t figure this one out past the point where you threaten me and I back down and surrender, huh? So used to people wetting their pants at the sight of the big bad sheriff that you don’t have the smallest idea of what to do when shaking your fist doesn’t work. Nash raised the radio to his lips again. “If I were you I’d be reasonable, Ryder. If you try to take off we’ll open fire, your ship’s likely to sustain damage that’ll stop you leaving atmosphere. I don’t want to expose my men to unnecessary risk, but I’m telling you now that there’s no way I’m going to let you leave. You’re wanted to stand trial for war crimes; don’t make things worse for yourself by resisting arrest.” “Well sheriff, I don’t honestly see how much worse I could make things seeing as how you’ve got those kind of charges lined up and waiting for me… So I’m prepared to take the risk. Are you and your men?” Nash cut the radio off and frowned at the Mawu in the distance. Then he turned his head and spoke to the guard beside him. “Have them bring the prisoner out.” As the guard moved, Nash raised the radio to his mouth again. “You’re playing with fire, Ryder.” “Ain’t playing, sheriff.” Jake reached down to the weapons system controls, and began to zero them in on Nash’s armoured car. “Your men got ten seconds to jump outta that nice shiny vehicle before I take it out. I’d stand back if I were you.” “Before you do that, you might want to reconsider.” Nash jerked his head at the side-door of the vehicle. “If what I say doesn’t impress you, maybe a friend of yours can talk you round.” He stepped sideways to reveal two guards hauling Leon out into the light. Jesus no. Jake looked into the screen and felt a cold hand close into a fist inside him. Leon. He stared at his young partner standing cuffed between the two guards, squinting into the low sunlight. Nash turned to Leon, lifting the radio towards his face. “Talk to your friend. He wants to fight. Tell him that’s a bad idea.” Leon just looked askance at the radio, then raised angry eyes to Nash. “Tell him yourself, biaou-tze duh ur-tze.” One of the guards brought the butt of his rifle around and drove it hard into Leon’s stomach, doubling the youth up with a harsh gasp of pain. Nash watched dispassionately as the soldier swung the rifle again, this time smashing the heavy stock against Leon’s head. Leon was knocked onto his side by the blow, falling into the dust with cuffed arms outstretched. “Well, Ryder.” Nash spoke into the radio. “Still want to blow up this vehicle? Maybe we’ll put your young friend back inside it.” He paused, waiting for a reply: when none came he spoke again. “Do I have your attention, Ryder? Or do I still need to get your attention?” He gestured at one of the guards who lifted his rifle butt-first and took a step towards where Leon lay stunned on the ground. “Leave him be!” Jake’s voice crackled out of the com. “He has nothing to do with this.” “On the contrary, he’s an associate of yours. That’s how we found you.” Nash watched the Mawu in the distance, his eyes calculating. “That’s why we brought him with us, Ryder. I thought perhaps you would be less…trigger-happy.” There was a silence. “So now we’re both clear and I’ve got your full attention, this is what you’re going to do: power down your weapons systems, and take your main drive off-line. Then come out of your ship with your hands up on your head, unarmed, and lie face-down. Then you’ll be arrested.” Stirring in the dust, Leon managed to raise his head. His head was spinning, but he looked to where Mawu was. His breath caught in his throat, then he began to cry out. “Jake! Take off! You have to go! Wo mun wan luh, you have to go, go now, go - ” His words were choked off as the guard drove his rifle butt down, slamming it into the back of Leon’s head. In the cockpit Jake’s hands clenched into fists on the console. Nash’s voice came from the com. “Ryder. You’ve got one minute to follow my instructions. If you haven’t powered down your weaponry and engine by then you’ll be resisting arrest. I’ll order my men to open fire.” There was a long silence. Standing beside the armoured car, one of the guards spoke to Nash. “Are we going to move in, sheriff?” “Wait a moment.” Nash was watching the Mawu grimly. “He’s a stubborn sonofabitch, this one.” He took a step forward, lifting the radio to his mouth again. At the same time he took his handgun from its holster. “Ryder! If you intend to resist arrest, I’ll assume that you’ll also attempt to rescue this prisoner. That being the case, I’ll have to prevent you from doing so.” He raised the handgun and levelled it at the back of Leon’s head. “You have thirty seconds to comply.” In the cockpit of Mawu Jake sat absolutely still. Then he briefly shut his eyes. When he opened them again his face was suddenly weary. His hands moved on the console; the hum of the weapons systems died away. He spoke into the radio. “Complying.” His eyes held on the image of Leon face-down in the dust, Nash’s gun trained on his head. A guard spoke from the armoured car’s cab. “Weapons systems and drive powering down on the ship, sir. Looks like he’s surrendering.” Nash kept his eyes on the Mawu, his gun hand steady. He watched the ship silently as the side-hatch opened and Jake stepped out, hands resting on the top of his head, and advanced slowly across the ground. Nash triggered a control on his radio that switched it to loudspeaker mode. “That’s far enough, Ryder! Down on the ground.” Jake halted; slowly went down onto one knee, then the other, then carefully lay on his stomach. Nash jerked his head at one of the guards beside him. “Davis, take two men and put him under arrest. He makes any kind of wrong move, shoot him.” Jake was brought unresisting back to the armoured car, arms cuffed behind him. He walked slowly under the shoves from the guards around him: his face was set and unreadable as they brought him up to where Nash waited. Leon had been pulled back up to his feet by two of the guards and lifted his head unsteadily as Jake approached. Jake was halted by Nash. His eyes moved sideways and met Leon’s, then turned to the sheriff. Nash waited, but Jake said nothing. At last Nash spoke. “My men will be boarding your ship to deactivate it. They better not be walking into any surprises, Ryder.” “They won’t.” Jake’s voice was quiet. “It’s powered down and nothing’s rigged.” “And the ship’s logs and computer?” Ryder kept his gaze on Jake. “What are the access codes for them?” “Been having computer trouble for a while.” Jake shrugged. “Everything keeps crashing, losing all kinds of data. Wouldn’t surprise me if that had happened recently, what with all the engine problems she’s been having.” “Right.” Nash’s mouth tightened, then he gestured at the guards. “Put him in the vehicle.” They began to pull Jake away. “Jake!” Leon tried to step forward. “I didn’t tell them where to find you! I never told them anything - ” He was yanked back by the collar, choking. Jake twisted in the grip of the guards hauling him away and tried to keep his eyes on his young friend. “I know. An jing, di-di. Fahng sheen - ” He was pulled away before he could say anything more.

* * * * *

When the armoured cars arrived back at the Alliance garrison in Lansing both prisoners were unloaded and put into separate cells. As Leon’s cell door shut behind the guards Leon stumbled to the bed. His legs gave way as he reached it and he fell to his knees on the floor, arms outstretched across the bed, head bowed. No. Jake. His breath caught in his throat and both hands clenched into shaking fists. He lifted his head and pain scissored through it: he caught his breath again and forced his eyes open, stared into darkness. They’ve got Jake now. Got us both. Got Mawu too. The thought of the guards swarming through Mawu, through their ship, their freedom, their home, made him bow his head again, fighting despair. His mouth shut, lips setting in a hard line as he made himself get up from the floor and lie on the bed. He lay still, cuffed hands lying on his stomach. Waiting. Jake was only in his cell a short time before guards reappeared and took him to Nash’s office. Nash was busy at his desk, but looked up as soon as they came in. “Have a seat, Ryder.” Jake made no move, and one of the guards pushed down to sit in the chair opposite Nash. The sheriff looked across at him. “My men report they’ve encountered no obstacles on board your ship. Luckily for you.” Jake said nothing. “Apart from the fact that the ship’s logs are wiped. A power surge appears to have destroyed the ship’s computer.” “That so?” Jake’s voice was calm. “Did warn you it’d been unreliable lately.” “Yeah, you did.” Nash continued to watch him. “Of course, I reckon you sabotaged it yourself, erasing the data. Which is of course destruction of evidence. Obstructing federal justice. A serious offence.” “More serious than war crimes?” Jake raised an eyebrow. “Thought you were going for the big ones on me. Doesn’t seem worth your while to add anything less impressive to the charge sheet.” “Oh, there’ll be plenty you’ll answer to in court, Ryder. Plenty.” “Yeah? Anything someone’s actually got any evidence for?” Jake met Nash’s gaze squarely. “War crimes is a major accusation. Better have something to back it up or I might just walk away.” “Dream on, Ryder. I checked on the Cortex: the federal authorities have got a dossier of statements about your war crimes. Sworn testimonies from Alliance officers who’ll give evidence against you in court. Make no mistake, Ryder, you’re not going to walk.” Nash’s eyes were gloating. “You’re going to pay for what you did in the war, I’m going to make sure of that.” “ ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,’ ” responded Jake. “So things haven’t changed much in the Alliance these days.” He shook his head. “Maybe you wish you could’ve just shot me out there and saved on paperwork. Only I guess that wouldn’t have looked too good, in front of all your men. Or to the feds. And I’m betting you’re hoping handing me over is going to buy you some brownie points with the authorities. Maybe you’re hoping it’ll give you a leg-up off this rock.” “Everything’ll be done legal,” said Nash shortly. “You’ll be shipped out and stand trial in a federal court. There’ll be justice.” “Alliance justice?” Jake let a brief, grim smile twist his mouth. “I bet.” He shook his head. “But witness statements or no, without any corroborating evidence it’s gonna take a long, expensive trial to bring me down. And you know what? I can be a pretty talkative witness myself. Saw a lot of things in the war. Alliance troops killing civilians. Alliance officers giving orders to take out non-military targets. I have a long, clear memory.” His tone now matched Nash’s for coldness. “They want to make me pay, they can go ahead. But I plan to have my day in court. I can recall faces and names. Some of them left the military now, of course. Making a career in politics these days. Men like to leave their dirty pasts behind them, move on… But the truth is, the things they did can come back to haunt them. Bring their whole lives crashing down.” He held Nash’s gaze and let one corner of his mouth lift in a mocking smile. “Hate to spoil your fun, sheriff… But maybe I’m not going to be the gift horse you were betting on.” Nash sat motionless, his eyes fixed on Jake’s face. A silence stretched between them. Then Nash leaned back in his chair. “That’s the way you want to play it?” he asked. Jake shrugged. “I don’t exactly have a lot of options. Or future. So I figure there’s no point holding back.” He held up his cuffed wrists. “You put a man in a corner, he’s gonna fight. I’m not going to lay down and go quietly under your justice. Because it isn’t justice. It’s muscle and power and vested interests, holding on to everything it can grab. I may not be able to do much to ruin your day, sheriff, but what I can do, I will.” “Or you could co-operate.” Nash rested his chin on his hand. “Give a sworn statement about your wartime activities, and smuggling operations since. Make a full confession.” “The hell I will.” Jake shook his head, his mouth set in a bitter grin. “Why should I do that, Nash?” “Because if you don’t, I’ll make sure your young friend Rachid stands trial alongside you.” Nash’s tone was steel. “Leon?” Jake’s expression changed swiftly. “He had nothing to do with any of this! Jesus, he was a child when I was flying around during the war! He’s barely eighteen now.” “Which makes him old enough to stand trial for a Category One offence. And to face the full penalty.” Nash kept his gaze on Jake. “He has no part in this!” shouted Jake. “Christ, he’s just a kid! You can’t hold him responsible for things that happened over a decade ago!” “He’s your crewman.” Nash smiled thinly. “Your loyal associate. And he can and will stand trial alongside you. I’ll personally ensure it. Unless - ” He leaned forward over the desk. “Unless you give me a signed confession to, shall we say, oil the wheels of justice. Then perhaps I could arrange for him to be facing lesser charges.” Jake sat motionless in the chair, his eyes dropped away from Nash’s face, his hands clenched into fists. Leon. Wuh de ma. He saw in his mind’s eye Leon sitting in the pilot’s chair in Mawu, sleepy-eyed and grinning. Saw him again, at gunpoint at Nash’s feet, beaten to the ground. No. No more. It has to stop here. Nash looked expectant as Jake lifted his gaze. “Well?” “You give me your word. Your promise that Leon will be freed.” Jake’s voice was low. “Give me your word, and I will sign your goddamn statement. But he goes free.” “It’s a deal.” Nash nodded. “My word. You co-operate fully, and Leon Rachid goes free.” Jake’s shoulders bent forward and his eyes shut for a moment. When he opened them they seemed to be looking far into the distance. “Then I’ll sign. But I want one more thing.” “What?” Nash frowned. “I want to see him.” Nash snorted. “No - ” “One hour, sheriff. You can give me that. Just one hour. Then I’m all yours.” Nash hesitated, then shrugged. “You get thirty minutes.”

* * * * *

The light in the cell flared bright white and Leon’s arms raised automatically, shielding his eyes. The sound of the door opening made him push himself up from where he lay on the bed, dragging himself up into a sitting position and fixing his eyes on the opening door. His mind was slowed by weariness and pain: he expected guards to step into the cell and order him to his feet, take him away for more interrogation. So when Jake was pushed into the cell instead and the door closed behind him, at first Leon didn’t react; just gazed at his friend as if he was unreal. Jake looked at his young crewman sitting with his knees drawn up on the bed, eyes wide and dark in the pallor of his face. He took a step forward. “It’s okay, di-di. It’s only me.” “Jake?” Leon’s voice was a croak. His hands, clasped on his knees, were white-knuckled. “It’s okay,” said Jake again. He came forward and reached out with his own cuffed hands, touched Leon’s shoulder. His fingers tightened as he sat down on the bed, looking into Leon’s face. “How you doin’, partner?” He tried to smile, but it was a crooked effort. Leon looked back at him, breathing unsteadily. Jerkily, he moved his hands from his knees to where Jake’s hand rested on his shoulder, and then the two of them gripped hands and held the grip tight. Jake saw Leon’s chin lift and his jaw set, as the youth took a sharp, deep breath in. Their eyes held each other and for long moments nothing was said. At last Jake broke the silence. “I’m more than sorry I got you into this, Leon. You’re paying for my mistakes and that shouldn’t be.” His grip tightened on his young friend’s. “No.” Leon’s reply was unsteady but instant. “Ain’t you doing this. It’s that hwoon dahn Nash and the rest of his good ol’ boys - ” He broke off, swallowing. “Hell, Jake, if it’s anyone’s fault it’s mine. They got the drop on me in Lansing, I messed up and that’s how Nash figured you were here - ” “No. It’s not your fault. They’d have tracked me down sooner or later, somewhere.” Jake shook his head. “The feds have wanted me bad for a while now. I’ve been working on borrowed time, and I knew it. Only thing I should’ve done different was to get you clear, send you away before something like this happened.” “I wouldn’t have gone!” Leon stared at the older man. “You think I’d run out on you, just when you needed me the most? Is that what you think?” “No. That’s not what I think.” Jake kept his voice calm and steady. “I know you, di-di. But I did wrong, getting you involved in this.” “You gave me a life, Jake,” Leon responded. “Back when you took me on board: you gave me a future. And I aim to pay you back. When Nash wanted to know where you were touched down in Mawu, I didn’t tell him.” His mouth trembled and he set his lips tight. “Kao - ” He took a shaking breath. “I thought if I could hold out, I could buy you some time and you might be able to get away - ” “I wasn’t taking off without you.” Jake spoke quietly. “You should have - ” Leon’s hands were beginning to shake. “You should have taken off – and gone - ” He took an unsteady breath in. “I wouldn’t talk to them and they kept – asking me - and I was praying you’d take off - That you’d go - ” “Not without you, partner.” Jake still held onto his young crewman’s hands. “Not without you. I wouldn’t do that.” “Shit - ” Leon tried to stop himself shaking, his body tensing up. “What’re they going to do?” “Ship me out to the feds, and put me on trial.” Jake kept his voice level. “Don’t think it’ll take them long.” “You?” Leon looked at him. “Both of us?” “Just me.” Jake watched his young friend, seeing the pallor of his skin; the dark shadows underscoring his eyes. “The charges they’ve got are just for me, Leon. Dating back from the Unification War. The Alliance have been waiting to settle that score a long time, and now they’re going to do it. But you’re clear of that. It’s nothing to do with you. They’re not going to make you testify, or hurt you any more.” “Those bastards can try to hurt me all they like, I ain’t telling them one thing! Not one thing!” Leon was staring at Jake now. “Nash said they were going to get you for being a war criminal - ” He caught his breath. “What’s that mean?” “Means the winners write the history, after the war is over,” said Jake softly. He held his young partner’s hand firmly in both of his own. “They’ll try me, then convict me, real soon. Then for me, it’s game over.” “What… What do you mean, game over?” Leon’s face was growing pale. “They’ll be trying me for capital offences.” Jake spoke quietly. For a moment there was silence. Then Leon took a sudden, ragged breath. His lips moved, his eyes on his friend, but no sound came out. Jake said nothing more but just waited, watching as Leon’s eyes filled with horror. “ – No - ” It was a plea. “ – No - ” Leon shook his head jerkily. “They can’t do that - They can’t - ” His voice broke into pieces and he fought to bring it back, his eyes shutting tight. “They can’t do that to you - ” His eyes opened again, wide with fear. “You have to fight them, Jake, don’t let them do this, we have to fight – “ “I can’t fight this, di-di.” Jake put all the strength he had into making Leon hear him. “Do you understand? This is something neither of us can fight. It’s over for me.” His young partner shook his head again, breath catching harsh and angry. “My time’s up. I knew this was coming, someday. I knew it was something I was going to have to face. I could only keep on running from it for so long.” Jake held on to Leon’s hand. “But not for you, di-di. It’s not over for you.” “It’s not over for you either – if we fight them - ” Leon stared into Jake’s eyes, “We can stand up to them together - ” He caught his breath, his eyes flickering shut for a moment; then opened them again. “You wouldn’t leave me behind - I’m sure as hell not leaving you to face this alone.” His face was growing paler, his fists clenching as his agitation grew. “When that tzang-huo Nash puts you up in court – then I’ll be right there with you! I never ran out on you in a fight – I’m sure as hell not going to start now!” Jake’s mouth tightened and he let go of Leon’s hand. He reached forward and gripped his young crewman by the front of his shirt, pulling him towards him. Leon was silenced by the sudden movement. When Jake spoke his voice was low and harsh. “You want to help me? You want to do something for me?” He jerked on Leon’s shirt, holding him still. “Is that what you want?” “Yes - ” “Then do this.” Jake fixed him with a burning gaze. “Walk away from this. Survive. As soon as the law lets you go, get the hell away. Take off into the ‘Verse and keep going… And don’t look back. Get on with your life, and live it. Live every day of it, do you hear me? Be free.” “Not without you - ” Leon’s voice began to break up. “Without me. Do it on your own. I know you can do it.” Jake’s voice lost the harshness, but kept its force. “You don’t need me any more, di-di. You can fly on your own now. And there’s a whole universe out there for you to stretch your wings in. Go out there and be free, for me. It’s all you can do for me now.” Leon let out a single harsh breath. Then his eyes closed, his head bowing forward. For a moment he held himself rigid: then his shoulders began to shake. Jake managed to reach up with his cuffed hands and draw Leon sideways, until the youth’s head rested on his shoulder. He held him there for a long time, saying nothing more. After a long time Leon sat up. He wiped his sleeve across his face, then looked at Jake. His mouth was set in a crooked line. “That’s what you want… Then I’ll do it.” His eyes shut briefly and he wiped at them again with his arm, took a shuddering breath. When his eyes opened again they were bleak. “For you, Jake.” “I know you can do it.” Jake tried to smile at him. “You never let me down.” “Damn right.” Leon let out a shaking breath. “Tyen-ah…” He swallowed hard. “How… how long have you got?” “Not long, if Nash has his way. Suits me.” Jake looked down for a moment. “I never did like putting off.” He lifted his gaze again, with a deep breath. “But whatever happens, remember you made me a promise: to survive. To keep on going. To live your life. You keep that promise, Leon, whatever happens. You keep it.” “I promise.” Leon met Jake’s eyes. The last four years were there in their look: the dusty ports; the laughter and the learning and the hard work on Mawu; the lucky breaks and the jobs that went wrong; the wide universe falling behind; working together to keep Mawu always flying through the stars, not looking back. The cell door lock sounded and Jake looked at it. “We’ve run out of time.” He stood up, but turned to face Leon. “Don’t know if we’ll get a chance to talk again. Don’t think we will, di-di.” His hand reached out and Leon took it as the cell door opened and two guards appeared. “Fahng-sheen. Keep strong, and keep your promise.” Leon nodded, his eyes on his friend. “You’ve been a brother to me, Leon.” Then the guards were taking Jake from the cell. He looked back over his shoulder as the door began to shut, and smiled. Then the door shut and the light went out. Leon sat motionless on the bed for a long time. His tongue felt numb, slack in his mouth. Wuh de ma. He’s gone. Time stretched past until he grew cold and stiff from sitting still, but he couldn’t move. He stared into the dark and thought, Maybe they’ll let him come again. I didn’t say so many things. It can’t be too late. I’ve got to talk to him, to tell him. The cell door stayed shut. His eyes grew tired. At last he fell asleep where he sat, leaning back against the wall.

* * * * *

Some days later Nash was working at his desk. He was filling in the same routine weekly reports, but now the job didn’t bother him. He didn’t plan to be doing it much longer. There was a knock on the door; without looking up, Nash grunted, “Come.” The door opened and Somers came in. “Thought you’d want to know, sheriff: we got a wave from the federal authorities acknowledging Ryder’s transfer.” “Good.” Nash leaned back in his chair. “There’s an additional personal message for you as well, came with the wave.” Somers tried not to look too curious. Nash just nodded, although inwardly he was one big broad smile: he’d read the message already. He’d been waiting for it. It had contained a nice warm thank you and personal commendation for a job well done, from the regional authorities. Plus approval for his application to become a federal marshal. “Guess Ryder’ll be dealt with pretty quick,” Somers said. “Especially with that confession you got out of him. That went smooth.” “Yeah.” Nash allowed himself a brief smile in public this time. “Anything else you wanted right now, Charlie?” “Uh… Well, what about Rachid, sheriff? Will we be releasing him soon?” “Releasing him?” Nash frowned. “I thought that you made an – arrangement – with Ryder…” Somers tailed off uncertainly at the look on his superior’s face. “Arrangement?” Nash raised his eyebrows. “There was no arrangement.” His eyes became cold. “We don’t make deals with war criminals. We’ll hand Rachid over to the federal authorities, and he’ll stand trial for conspiracy and aiding a fugitive from justice.” “Yessir… Of course.” Somers blinked. “I’ll make the arrangements right away.” “You do that, Charlie.” Nash turned back to the work on his desk. “You do that.”


Monday, February 4, 2008 4:43 PM


Alliance lowlifes never change. Great read! Not nearly as horrifying as the first one, looking forward to some BDH's soon. You caught the remorse between Jake and Leon perfectly. Keep up the great work!

Monday, February 4, 2008 5:33 PM


I am curious to how this ties into Hard Times, although I have a few ideas and dang if you aren't the darkest and grittiest writer posting here.

Nash makes the Operative look like a Girl Scout.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008 3:32 AM


Thanks Katesfriend & Platonist - glad you're enjoying it (if enjoying is the right word!). It is all kind of dark at the moment, but things will lighten up in the future. Elton Nash surely is a real hwoon dahn. My guess is he'll go far as a federal marshal...


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Hard Times - Part Thirteen
Serenity’s been taken by some unwelcome visitors, with Kaylee still on board… While the rest of the crew try to figure out just how to start out in pursuit from Athens with no transport and no money. (Sorry about the wait for this episode, folks...)

Hard Times - Part Twelve
While most of the crew are enjoying shore leave on Athens, someone has taken Mal out… And now they plan on taking Serenity too.

Hard Times - Part Eleven
On the way to Athens, River’s insights make Leon uncomfortable but he gets a reminder of his promise to Jake. Our BDHs reach their job and meet Jing Mei’s customer, who is somewhat lacking in social niceties… Oh yeah. This is gonna go great.

Hard Times - Part Ten
Mal fills in everyone on the latest developments with Serenity’s stowaway: Jayne isn’t happy, and River has an insight into Leon’s recent past. Meantime, Leon gets some new clothes and an invite to join the crew for dinner. More talk than action in this slice of story... but hope folks enjoy it anyway.

Hard Times - Part Nine
Serenity’s crew get underway to Athens - then Mal and Zoë discover that their non-paying passenger has an unexpected connection with their own past.

Hard Times - Part Eight
Jayne and Simon have an argument over breakfast; Kaylee tries to plan ahead; and Serenity and her crew finally reach Beaumonde, where Mal handles a negotiation for work in his own particular style...

Hard Times - Part Seven
Leon gets some doctoring, and Kaylee and Simon have a heart-to-heart.

Hard Times - Part Six
Kaylee gets a shock when Serenity’s stowaway comes out of hiding, Jayne gets handy with a wrench, and Mal has to make a difficult decision.

Hard Times - Part Five
Serenity gets a stowaway, and Inara decides it’s time to have a few words with Mal… Whether he wants to hear them or not.

Hard Times - Part Four
Our BDHs have to put on their company manners when they get invited to dinner… Meanwhile, we catch up with how Leon (For The Want Of A Nail) has been faring in prison.