Masks - Part XI
Monday, December 7, 2009

Maya. Post-BDM. The escaped prisoners are on board Serenity, and Mal has to find a way of dealing with them without anyone getting hurt ... NEW CHAPTER


By the time Mal got to the cargo bay, dressed only in a hastily donned pair of black sleep pants and carrying his gun, Jayne had Betsey trained on the man using River as a shield. He could see panels were open on three of the four containers, and rubble was strewn across the floor, but Mal was more concerned that there were at least four other men in positions ready to fire amongst the cages.

Gos se,” he breathed, a little piece of him thankful that Jayne hadn’t picked up Vera instead. A hull breach would be all they needed.

“You’ll be wanting to drop that gun, Captain,” the man standing behind River said, his own weapon not half an inch from her cheek. “Unless you’d like this little lady here to meet her maker.”

Cursing the fact that Zoe and Frey were otherwise engaged, Mal spoke quietly to Jayne. “Think we can take ‘em?”

“Yeah. But not ‘fore they hurt moonbrain.”

“It’s all right, Jayne,” the young woman in question said. “They won’t hurt me.”

There was a snigger from someone on hearing the big man’s name, but the leader pushed his gun harder into River’s face. “Wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

A sound below indicated Simon was standing in the common area doorway. “River …”

“Don’t,” Mal said warningly, only taking a glance to see the doctor was armed.

“It’s my sister,” Simon pointed out, his natural calmness taking over.

“I know that.” Mal felt rather than heard Hank arrive behind him, out of breath from anxiety rather than running. “Just don’t do anything stupid. Least, not ‘til I say.”

“I’ll try not to.”

“Come on, Coombs,” one of the other men called. “Let’s get this done.”

“You try anything and you’ll be the first with a bullet in your head,” Jayne warned.

Albatross? Mal thought. You okay?

Shiny. And I'm sorry.

What for?

Letting them out.

I’m figuring they were planning on taking over the ship anyway.

Yes, but I'm still sorry.

Not your fault.

River gave a half smile. Or yours.

His lips twitched. Have to see about that. Can you deal with the one holding you?

Yes. But there is a seventy-eight percent chance one of the others might shoot you as well.

Then we’ll try the old-fashioned way first.

No-one else was aware of the conversation, and Coombs spoke again. “Try it.”

Mal felt himself settle, not taking his eyes off the other man but being fully aware of where everyone else was in the cargo bay. “Nobody’s shooting anyone, least not yet.” He put his gun carefully down onto the catwalk.

“Mal?” Jayne asked, his gaze not wavering.

“We got time.” Mal started down the stairs.

“Whoa, where are you going?” Coombs asked, backing up and taking River with him.

“Just feel like we shouldn’t be shouting, not at a time like this.” He reached the bay floor, feeling the cold metal beneath his naked feet. “See? Ain’t that more friendly?”

“That’s close enough.”

“Fine by me.” Mal wanted to hitch his thumbs in his gunbelt or suspenders, but since he wasn’t wearing either of them he had to content himself with clasping his hands lightly in the small of his back. He studied the man in front of him. He was young, no older than River, and only slightly taller, his chin-cropped dark hair in need of a wash. His face, though, showed an aggression that came from hard living, and a willingness to do whatever he thought was needed. “Coombs, is it?”


“You got a first name?”

Coombs smiled slightly. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t. Just making conversation.”

“Sebastian,” River piped up, standing quietly in the man’s grip.

Mal’s eyebrows raised. “Really?”

Coombs jaw dropped. “How did she …” He looked down at the young woman. “How did you know that?”

“She’s a good guesser,” Mal responded. “And no wonder you don’t like telling anyone.”

A redness dappled Coombs’ cheeks. “Old family name.”

“Must be why you went into crime.”

“And what’s your excuse?” Coombs asked viciously, attempting to get his own back, his gun barrel scraping River’s face.

Mal shrugged, for the moment ignoring the faint trace of blood he could see. “Circumstances.”

“That covers a multitude of sins.”

“Yeah, I guess it does. So what’re yours?”

“Nosy, ain't you?”

“One of my failings.”

“Well, since you ain’t gonna be telling anyone … I got pissed at someone.”

“And you killed ’em.”

“Might have.”

Mal had to smile. “And I’m figuring someone took exception.”

“Yeah. They had family.”

“So’ve I.”

“What the hell are you doing?” One of the other men had spoken. “We’re wasting time!”

Coombs nodded slowly. “Have to agree with that.” He tightened his grip on River’s arm. “You’re going to do what I say.”

“Look, son –” Mal began.

“I'm not your son!”

“No, I can plainly see that. Mainly because I don’t think my boy would do something quite so crazy.”

“I'm not crazy. And I’ll shoot her if you come any closer.”

Mal dropped his hands to his sides, palms open. “Now that really would be plumb loco, don’t you think? You kill her, you’ve got no bargaining tool left. And that’s beside the fact that Jayne here’d take you apart for it. See, I really don’t think you’ve thought this through.”

“There are six of us,” Coombs pointed out. “All armed.”

“Sure you are. But again, you get maybe one shot each before one of us gets you. Now, I’d surely hate to be one of those as gets hit, but you’ll still end up dead.”

“You don’t think we have the advantage?”

Mal had to laugh. “In numbers maybe. But it’s my ship.”

“I see just the two of you who’ve any kind of comfortableness with this situation, and you left your gun up top.” Coombs was starting to relax, thinking he had everything under control. “The other pair look like they’re gonna puke rather than fight.”

“Maybe I’d’ve agreed with you once,” Mal said. “Not now. The doc back there might be better at taking out bullets than puttin’ ‘em in, but he’s got to be a pretty good shot. And Hank’s crazy.”

“That’s right,” the pilot agreed, his voice under admirable control. “Insane.”

Coombs looked disinterested. “Not sure I care. We’ll still do what we were gonna do, and you’re still gonna end up tossed with the crap into space.”

“So was that the plan?” Mal asked. “You wait ‘til we’re asleep, then you kill us in our beds?”

“It was an option.”

“Were there others?”

“Pretty much no.”

“You really should have some kinda back-up. I mean, here we are, all awake, and at something of an impasse.”

“Not really. We still outnumber you.”

“Yeah, but that’s Jayne’s wife you’ve got hold of, and you harm even a hair of her head you’re gonna wish you’d faced down a whole pack of Reavers instead of us.”

“You think?”

“I know.”

For the first time just a hint of uncertainty crossed the man’s face. “Then maybe we ought to kill him first.”

“You really want to reconsider.”


“Because I’d kinda like to know if Badger set this up ‘fore we find it hard to ask your lifeless bodies.”


“Little weasel of a man. Fancies himself the kingpin of Persephone.”

“King turd if you ask me,” Jayne muttered, his gun not moving an inch.

“Never heard of him.”

“So who was it?”

“No idea. A third party. We got word you were coming in, and there’s a couple of guards more than happy to make sure we got on board safe.” He smiled humourlessly. “You pay enough, someone’s gonna take the prize, not matter what it is. Even you.”

“Nope. Even when we’re down to our last ration pack, there’re some things I don’t do.”


Mal felt the thousand and one things he’d done when desperate prick his mind, but he knew he still had some morals, bent and possibly twisted as they were. Especially now, with a family … “Maybe I’d be tempted,” he said honestly. “A man has to do things he don’t like to survive sometimes, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys them.” Except I think maybe you do, he added silently.

“See? We’re alike.”

“Then maybe as kindred spirits you ought to consider putting down your guns, and we can discuss things in a more comfortable situation. I got a bottle of sake somewhere, and we can talk about letting you off someplace.”

“And I think my first idea was the right one.” Coombs didn’t even glance at his men, but there was a change in the atmosphere.

This was it. Mal knew even before the weapons trained on them lifted. He reached out, knowing Jayne was kicking his gun over the edge, and he caught it before it hit the decking. He twisted in mid-air to land rolling, aiming and firing in one smooth motion, hitting one of the interlopers in the throat, blood spattering over the nearest container.

Coombs ducked down, dragging River with him, his finger automatically pulling on the trigger.

Someone cried out, and for a moment Mal thought it was one of his, then the smell of cordite filled the bay as everyone opened up, the echoes bouncing back off the walls and deafening him, but not enough so that he didn’t hear River’s cry.


Half-sheltering behind a crate, Mal could only watch, unable to help, just keeping the convicts’ heads down as Jayne ran around the catwalk to get a better shot, his accuracy accounting for two others before Serenity’s captain could even take a breath.

Not that it stopped River. She somehow shimmied out from Coombs grasp, kicking at the same time. His knee cracked. If anything, the man was too shocked to scream, which was fortunate, since it meant the roundhouse she delivered to his jaw didn’t split his tongue in two.

One of the other prisoners peeked around the cage he was hiding behind, and Mal took advantage, his bullet unerringly finding the man’s chest. He dropped like a stone.

Another fell, not so quiet this time, victim to a bullet from Hank. He rolled on the bay floor, his hands clasped to his belly, shrieking in pain.

That left Coombs, staggering back away from River, chest heaving, trying to keep his balance with only one good leg and bring his gun to bear at the same time.

“You shot him,” she whispered, unheard. Ice glittered in her eyes, and she pivoted on one foot, her free leg whipping around behind her. Her foot connected solidly with the side of his head, and the snap of his neck was very loud. A look of confusion crossed his face, just for a split, then he pitched forward, dead before he hit the deck.

Mal stood up slowly, ready to shoot again if necessary, but only the screamer was still alive.

Jayne strode down the stairs, but Mal was already there. Just a glance at the blood and slippery pink flesh protruding through the man’s fingers was enough, that and the look in his eyes, and the captain leaned forward, cocking his gun. The single gunshot was shockingly loud.

“Simon?” River ran to her brother, going down onto her knees without thought for herself, ignoring the coup de grace behind her.

“Are you okay?” Simon managed to ask, trying to focus on his sister from inside the pain of the bullet in his leg, seeing her cheek bleeding slightly.

“Me?” River’s eyes filled with tears. “You’re asking me?”

“I figure he’s okay,” Mal said, coming up behind them. “Only Simon’d ask if someone else was all right while he’s bleeding to death.”

River shot a glare over her shoulder. “Not bleeding to death.”

“Well, no, maybe not,” Mal backpedalled. “But I’m sure he’d like something of a painkiller ‘fore one of us starts digging around for the bullet.”

If anything Simon went even whiter, but he managed to say, between gasps, “I might have been able to save him, you know.”

“Who, him?” Mal glanced at the body he’d ended. He shook his head. “Nope, doc. Not where he was shot. Looked like it hit a rib at the back, bounced around some and mulched his insides. No way back from that, not even with you to look after him. And you ain't in the best of health.”

“Mal’s right,” Jayne confirmed. “Guy would’ve taken a while, but he’d’ve ended up dead, and not pleasant either. It was a piece of mercy.”

Hank swallowed hard, his face almost as pale as the young doctor’s, but he managed to say, “Hadn’t we better get Simon to the infirmary?”

“Prob’ly a good idea,” Mal agreed.

“I’d be grateful,” the patient muttered, sweat on his brow and a greyness around his eyes.

“Jayne.” River’s voice was low, but her meaning was clear.

“Sure, moonbrain.” In a moment the big man had swung Simon into his arms, his muscles barely straining as he stepped through into the common area, River fluttering behind.

“Mal.” Hank stopped the captain from following with a hand on his arm. “What about ... what about them?” He glanced at the bodies, tasting bile in his throat.

Looking at the pilot Mal felt a tug of understanding. Hank had never killed easily, and knowing his bullet had done what it had was likely to affect the man for a while. It was one of the reasons Zoe loved him.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to tell Fogarty we found his prisoners,” Mal said, going to push his gun into his holster then realising at the last moment that he wasn’t exactly fully dressed. “You’d better get to the bridge, let ‘em know at Dundee, see if he wants us to bring back the bodies.”

Hank nodded gratefully. “I can do that.” He hurried up the stairs, wanting to be away from the smell of blood and cordite, and feeling guilty for it.


“Dump ‘em.” Fogarty’s face was clear on the vidscreen.

It was an hour later, Simon was resting comfortably after having the bullet extracted from his thigh and enduring Jayne’s jokes about it being the same leg as the time the bounty hunter had got on board.

“Pretty much in the same place too, doc,” the big man had teased. “What, didn’t you want to sully up your lily-white skin with another scar?”

Simon, feeling more than a little light-headed from the local anaesthetic, had sworn at his brother-in-law, which had only made Jayne laugh the louder.

Mal, by virtue of having had battlefield experience of taking more bullets out than Jayne, had ignored the banter as much as he could, concentrating on using the probe to remove the slug and allowing River to wipe his forehead periodically.

His leg finally trussed and elevated, Simon lay back on the infirmary bed and breathed a sigh of relief.


He lifted his head enough to see his two daughters standing side by side in the doorway, holding hands tightly. “Hey. You should be in bed.”

“Hope wanted to see you,” Bethie explained, as if it was all her sister’s idea. “Make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine, pumpkin.” Simon smiled. “Daddy’s just going to be sore for a few days.”

“Good,” Hope said quietly, her eyes suspiciously moist.

River dropped the last of the soiled swabs into the medical waste bin and turned to look at her nieces. “You hid. Which was the right thing to do.”

“S’what we always do,” Bethie said simply. “Fiddler wanted to come out and bite ‘em, but I said no.”

Simon struggled to get more upright, leaning on his elbows and ignoring the throbbing in his thigh. “You haven't gone into the cargo bay, have you?” he asked seriously.

“No, Daddy.” Bethie shook her head hard. “Don’t want to.”

“Hey, what are you two doing up?” Mal asked, coming up behind them and putting his hands on their shoulders. He’d gone to put on a shirt and his pants, and hadn’t been surprised to find Ethan in with Jesse, looking after her like a big brother should, rolled up together in her small bed with Maoli asleep around their feet. Mal could still feel the warmth that had flooded through him at the sight and filled the empty hollow in his gut caused by having to kill.

“Checking on Daddy,” Bethie explained.

“Well, you can see he’s okay, so back to bed.”

“Can’t we stay here with you?” Hope asked, staring at her father, her golden curls seeming to radiate concern.

“I’ll be fine,” Simon assured her. “And you’re only a few feet away in case I need anything.”

Hope still didn’t look convinced.

River smiled slightly. “Come on. Let's go and check on David Gabriel, then I’ll read you a story.”

“About ...” Bethie was about to suggest, as usual, one about pirates, but the events of the night held her back.

“How about dinosaurs?” River held out her hands. “Your Uncle Wash knew some good tales about a place he called ‘this land’. I can try and remember if you like.”

The two girls tangled their fingers with their aunt’s.

“’Kay, Auntie River,” Hope said, letting her lead them back to their bunks.

“And you need to get some rest,” Mal said. “Always did conjure doctors made the worst patients.”

“Oh, believe me, after seeing you digging around in my leg, I may never sleep again,” Simon deadpanned.

“You rather it had been Jayne?”

Luckily the com squawked, saving Mal’s delicate ears from hearing more of the doctor’s rapidly improving command of Chinese curses.

“Mal, Fogarty’s on the vid,” Hank’s voice said. “He wants to speak to you in person.”

And now Serenity’s captain was looking at the manager of the Dundee Correctional Facility, and his eyebrows raised. “Dump ‘em?”

Fogarty nodded. “Yeah. We wouldn’t do anything else but bury ‘em, and I could do without the hassle. Can you confirm they were the six went missing?”

“Well, the only one I can be sure of naming was a feller called Sebastian Coombs, but if you want we can send you their DNA profiles. I think I can manage to do that, at least.”

“That’ll be shiny. I just need the proof to send to the owners, and the reward is yours.”


Even Hank, slumped in the co-pilot’s seat, sat up straighter.

“Yeah. It’s automatic, when a prisoner escapes. Not much, but I reckon there’ll probably be enough for a drink or two.”

“How much not much are we talking here?” Mal wanted to know.

Fogarty named a figure, then grinned at the expression coming across the Cortex. “That enough for you?”

“Sounds ... reasonable,” Mal agreed.

“Just send me the details of where you’d like it posted.”

“No problem.”

“Oh, and when you have that conversation with Badger, would you mind hitting him from me?”

Mal pulled himself together. “It’ll be a pleasure.”


Back in his bunk, Mal reviewed the events of the previous few hours as he stripped out of his clothes for the second time, dropping them carelessly on the chair and climbing back into the cold sheets.

Jayne had been more than happy to dump the bodies into the bomb bay, thumping his hand down on the controls to send them out into the everlasting night, and not even bothering to say a prayer over them. River had taken pity on her captain and collected the blood samples before her husband disposed of the corpses, making short work of organising the profiles to be sent to Fogarty the next morning.

Now the ship was silent again, everyone in their bunks, either sleeping or tossing and turning, depending on their natures.

Mal stared into the darkness above him, wondering at the vagaries of living in the black. And, if truth be told, wondering what was going to come next. For once it had been someone else who’d been shot, and not himself, which was a wonder, but he couldn’t help feeling he was waiting for the other boot to drop. Things had been good for them in the past couple of months, and now this extra cash about to be burning a hole in his ... well, Inara’s account, actually, since he didn’t exactly want anything traceable to Serenity .... just seemed like icing on the cake. Something was bound to go wrong, and the longer the good times continued, the worse it was likely to be.

He sighed deeply, wishing Freya was next to him, warming her side of the bed and chasing his worries back into -

Mal? It was her voice inside his head, sounding more than a little peevish. Do you have the time now to tell me what the diyu was going on?

He had to smile. Even thousands of miles away, his beautiful wife was more than capable of making her annoyance felt.

to be continued


Monday, December 7, 2009 2:16 PM


Yes! Bad guys dead. Simon's only shot a little and they got coin outta the deal.

Now Mal only has to deal with the mental tongue lashing he's gonna get from Frey...

Monday, December 7, 2009 3:41 PM


Knew it was going to be bad, but I'm sure this isn't all the crew will have to cope with until Freya., Kaylee and Zoe get back.

Monday, December 7, 2009 4:39 PM


Nice answer to a hostile takover. Glad it had a happy ending. It was a nice contrast between a real baddie and Mal - what Mal would or wouldn't do to keep his family safe. Very interesting. Now he has even more to worry about than ever. And you are slowly building to the climax - looking forward to more!

Monday, December 7, 2009 4:58 PM


Always a good thing, though the last bit was extra funny and special. River still rocks and Simon is okay...looks like you've got things settled after all....

Monday, December 7, 2009 5:28 PM


I like when Jayne knocks Mal's gun from up above right to him. Very nice, cinematic.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 6:22 AM


I am grinning from ear to ear because for once our Big Damn Heroes came out on top without too much in the way of injury to themselves and wonder of wonders, Mal isn't full of holes. Good to know that Simon isn't badly hurt though I am sure it hurts. Can't help worrying though about the people who set this all up. The unnamed 'third party'. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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Now and Then - a Christmas story
“Then do you have a better suggestion? No, let me rephrase that. Do you have a more sensible suggestion that doesn’t involve us getting lost and freezing to death?”

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little standalone festive tale that kind of fits into where I am in the Maya timeline, but works outside too. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Epilogue
"I honestly don’t know if my pilot wants to go around with flowers and curlicues carved into his leg.”
[Maya. Post-BDM. The end of the story, and the beginning of the last ...]

Monied Individual - Part XX
Mal took a deep breath, allowing it out slowly through his nostrils, and now his next words were the honest truth. “Ain’t surprised. No matter how good you are, and I’m not complaining, I’ve seen enough battle wounds, had to help out at the odd amputation on occasion. And I don’t have to be a doc myself to tell his leg ain’t quite the colour it should be, even taking into account his usual pasty complexion. What you did … didn’t work, did it?”
[Maya. Post-BDM. Simon has no choice, and Luke comes around.]

Monied Individual - Part XIX
“His name’s Jayne?”

“What’s wrong with that?” the ex-mercenary demanded from the doorway.

“Nothing, nothing! I just … I don’t think I’ve ever met a man … anyone else by that name.”

“Yeah, he’s a mystery to all of us,” Mal said. “Even his wife.”

[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank's not out of the woods yet, and Mal has a conversation. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVIII
Jayne had told him a story once, about being on the hunt for someone who owed him something or other. He’d waited for his target for three hours in four inches of slush as the temperature dropped, and had grinned when he’d admitted to Hank that he’d had to break his feet free from the ice when he’d finished.
[Maya. Post-BDM. The Fosters show their true colours, Jayne attempts a rescue, and the others may be too late.]

Snow at Christmas
She’d seen his memories of his Ma, the Christmases when he was a boy on Shadow, even a faint echo of one before his Pa died, all still there, not diminished by his burning, glowing celebrations of now with Freya.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A seasonal one-off - enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVII
Jayne hadn’t waited, but planted a foot by the lock. The door was old, the wood solid, but little could stand against a determined Cobb boot with his full weight behind it. It burst open.

[Maya. Post-BDM. The search for Hank continues. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XVI
He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Kaylee finds the problem with Serenity, and Jayne starts his quest. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XV
“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]

“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]