BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JACQUI

Adam's Rib Ch 6: Awakenings.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Things are always darkest before the dawn. Strap on your seat belts, kiddies, it's going to be a bumpy ride.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3239    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: Anything of value is owned by Joss, Fox and lots of people richer than me. I'm just the schmoe stuck with ideas.

Feedback: Always craved, always answered from wily_one24@yahoo.com.au

***

His eyes scanned the sheet on his desk. Text scrolled down the page next to the photos. Followed by a number. A contact number. Every medical center that he knew, and probably every one he didn't, had this sheet.

Stephen and Katie Hoffman looked nothing like the pictures of Simon and River Tam. Not even with clever disguises or corrective surgery could his patient be the person they were looking for. The fact still remained, however, that they weren't what they claimed. And they fit the bill of being connected to a Firefly Class transport ship.

Well, they were connected to a Firefly compatible shuttle. It just didn't seem to click into place. From what little he'd seen of her, Katie Hoffman did not seem like a particularly dangerous fugitive, neither did her husband. She had seemed honest in a Universe where that was rare. But she had lied. To him.

Dr. Williams's hand hovered over the com deck as he tried to decide.

***

"Hey." Kaylee stood by the table and watched as Wash turned to meet her. "How are you doing in here?"

"Katie?" He whispered and she had to stop herself from gasping at the dark shadows under his eyes. "You came back?"

She bit on a frown, sat down across from him and looked at the papers he had collected. They were blank pages. A lot of them. Her back bristled as someone walked behind her and she relaxed only slightly when it turned out to be another patient shuffling past.

"Of course I came back." Leaning forward, she picked up his hand and held it in hers. It was cold. "I couldn't leave you here by yourself."

"I thought..." His eyes couldn't focus on her as he looked left to right, anywhere but at her. "I mean... with the..."

"I managed to get the laundry done." She continued. "I found that shirt with the lamb on it. You know? The lamby toes? It's still good."

Kaylee held her breath. He didn't react, didn't even blink, there wasn't even a twitch of the hand she was holding. This was getting to be a little too much. She tried to shake it off, tried to continue the charade.

"I was talking to Dr. Williams just then..."

"The doctor?" This he reacted to. "I like him."

"Yes. He's nice. He was suggesting we try a new drug and I think..." She hoped he'd get her meaning. "I think it should work. I think this is what we've been looking for."

"New medicine?" He managed slowly. "For me?"

His eyes were a good five seconds behind as he followed the up and down movement of her nod. Kaylee found her hands shaking. She wanted to be back on Serenity, all of them, everyone safe and back to normal and not being watched by the orderlies and guards standing in the doorways.

"Yes." She insisted as his hand slowly slipped from hers. "I really hope this one works. It sounds perfect."

"The doctor knows what he's doing." Was his stilted reply as he leant his head back and stared open mouthed at the ceiling. "They'll work if he says so."

"It doesn't need to be this good." She whispered suddenly, so low that she was sure no one else could hear. "You're making me nervous."

***

Jayne lay back on the bench, pressing the weights easily. There wasn't much to do now that they were stocked up and Mal had them all ship bound. He didn't know how Mal expected them to keep living here if they didn't get jobs. Or laid. He was supposed to sit here day after day on a moon without a half decent whore house. Hell, it seemed like everyone else on board was getting their rocks well and truly seen to. As if that wasn't enough, he now had to deal with a budding relationship between River and Kaylee.

"I won't tell you."

He cursed as he opened his eyes to see River's head floating over the rails of the gangway above him. Her hair trailed down around her face, framing it, and she looked at him with a serious expression. He wasn't exactly sure what she was talking about, but he wasn't fool enough to ask.

"Hell, girl, I don't want to know."

"Yes you do." A smile came over her lips and her eyes glittered down. "Ever since you found out. You think about us. Want to know what we do."

Even Jayne could follow that train of thought.

"Ain't none of my business." He grabbed the small towel he kept for his workouts and sat up, intensely aware of her presence in the cargo bay now. "Go away."

"It's prettier than the pictures in your head." She continued. "All soft and..."

"River?" Simon's voice echoed through from some point Jayne couldn't see. "Don't tease the animals."

Jayne watched as she tossed her hair over her shoulders and flounced away. There were reasons Jayne wasn't comfortable with the thought of mind reading. And that there little display was one of them. Her sullen voice carried back to him.

"He started it."

***

The shuttle hovered in mid air.

"I'm sorry." Inara spoke to the screen, her blood freezing. "There must be some mistake, I have a standing appointment with the doctor, if only you could check again."

But the boy didn't even have the grace to lower his eyes and pretend to do as she asked.

"Your name isn't here. There's no record of you ever meeting with the doctor. You might try contacting him, but until then I cannot give you leave to land."

Inara looked at the boy, the same boy that had smiled at her and gave her docking permission in the medical quarters two days running. There was no denying what had just happened. She felt her hand tremble as she turned the shuttle around.

***

River prowled the ship, uneasy, her skin itched. There were currents running through and she shied away from them, her head ducking under waves of air that no one else could see. They were too busy creating them.

Her hand fell onto a large pipe that wound its way around the walls, snaking into spaces and flowing between them. Mal, Zoe and Simon were talking on the bridge and they were idiots. Babes in the woods. For all that they knew and said they understood, River smiled, they still didn't quite grasp that she could. Read. Their. Gorram. Minds.

Secret meetings were useless.

***

She helped him walk back to his room. Kaylee's nerves were growing tighter and tighter as the day wore on. Not once in the hour she had been with Wash had he given her a sign, any sign, that he even knew who she really was, or who he was. The act of Stephen Hoffman was becoming too good for her liking.

"Ah, there you are." Kaylee turned in surprise to see Dr. Williams walking towards them down the hall. "I've been looking for you."

"Here we are." She tried to smile as they stood just outside the door. "I thought you didn't work in the afternoons."

"Hey doc." Wash mumbled, then looked confused at his own words. "Did I...?"

"You're looking better today. Why don't you go have a lie down?" Dr. Williams patted him on the shoulder, before turning a tight smile to Kaylee. "Most of the times, I don't. There's been a few problems with the paperwork, though, minor things. I just need to go over them with you. If that's okay?"

Kaylee's mouth went dry.

"Um, sure, okay."

She guided Wash into the room and gave him a look which he failed to return. More and more she felt she was out on the limb by herself. It terrified her. As she followed the doctor to his office, the echo of their footsteps on the tiled floor matched the growing thunder of her heartbeat.

"Sit down." He gestured for the chair. "These files you gave me, they're correct, yes?"

She nodded.

"As much as they can be."

"Ah, yes, yes." Kaylee couldn't tell if he was agreeing with her or playing with her as he leaned against his desk and scanned what she assumed was Wash's file. "Just traveling, wasn't it? Ran into some trouble. That's right, I remember now."

He looked her straight in the eyes, his hands clasped together, and his face set coldly. It made her shiver and she knew.

"Tell me, Katie, you ever see a Firefly Class transport ship?"

***

"Katie Hoffman." Inara insisted again. "Is she working here this afternoon? I need to talk to her."

"Look, Ma'am, I just told you." George Webber looked her straight in the eye and didn't blink. "No one by that name works here. I haven't taken on any extra help in months now. I think, maybe, you've got the wrong tech yard."

She couldn't breathe. Inara knew perfectly well this was the yard, she had spoken to this man herself when she had organized the job. He was a friend of a friend and had come highly recommended as reliable and discreet.

"I'm sorry to bother you." She managed. "My mistake."

It wouldn't do to cause a scene right here. She had to get off this world as soon as possible and bringing undue attention to herself was not the way to accomplish that.

A small sound stopped her as she walked past the gate.

"I didn't want to tell them." Inara looked down at a small face, miserable and tear stained. "She was really nice. I liked her. But my mom needs help, too."

***

Panic surged in her. Kaylee honestly didn't know how she was managing to walk straight, to let the doctor lead her back to Wash's room without falling apart. Her knees were putting up a big struggle to hold her up.

"Well, that's about it." Dr. Williams continued to smile, but she knew he was only stalling for time. "Why don't you wait here? I have some colleagues meeting me later and they'll be able to discuss that new treatment therapy with you and your husband in much more detail than I possibly could."

She knew, even before the door closed behind her, she knew that she would hear the hiss of the lock, the beeps of an electronic code. They were locked in and there was no way out.

"Wash." Her hand came up to her mouth, tried to stop the tears. "They know. We're so screwed."

"Katie?" He looked at her, confused. "What did the doctor say?"

"Stop it!" It burst out, voice shaking and she didn't care anymore. "It doesn't matter now, don't you get it, Wash? It's over!"

"Wash?" He blinked. "I already had a bath..."

"Oh no. No, no, no." Kaylee stood frozen. She could feel every last article of heat leave her body as realization came. This must be what it feels like, she thought, to be free floating in space without an atmo suit. "This isn't an act for you is it?"

***

"Mal?" Inara's voice came surging through the cortex. "Mal? Zoe? Please be there! Mal? Someone answer me!"

Mal jumped to attention, his feet falling from their place propped up against the controls as he motioned for Zoe to close the door to the bridge. He grabbed the speaker.

"I'm here, Inara, what is it?"

"We have a problem." He could hear the tears in her voice. "Mal, I'm so sorry."

"What happened? Are you alright?"

"It's not me." She sounded so small. "It's Kaylee. She's disappeared. I can't reach her, they say they haven't heard of her at the yard, she's not at the house, at least she's not answering any messages. It's a wall of silence."

A pause and Mal guessed what was coming.

"I think they know who she is."

***

Simon busied himself with cataloguing the new inventory that Mal and Zoe had bought back, the actions done almost without thought. Restocking medicines. Topping up dressing supplies. It was comforting.

The lights flickered, went out for a second before coming back on. His eyes flew to the window, checked to see River sitting on the sofas of the common room outside. She looked up at him.

He counted to three and the lights flickered again.

His hands shook as he left whatever he was holding on the bench, forgotten, and walked to the door.

"River?"

She was already standing, waiting for him.

"Code. I know." Her face was calm. "Put me in my room."

"That's not..." But he stopped, knew it was useless. "It's just for now, mei mei."

"It's starting." She said and cocked her head to the left. "Crashing down. You don't want me to know. Volatile. Unpredictable."

River took the few steps to the passenger dorms and easily stepped inside her own. When she looked at him, an eerie smile hovered over her face and he felt a chill.

"They want to leave us here. They won't tell us what's happening and we'll be stretched taut with worry. You can't know, because I'll find out." She sat down at the very head of her bed, right next to the blinking panel of lights. "Everyone's so scared of me."

"Not of you, mei mei." He stepped inside and closed the door. "For you. There's so much we don't..."

"Know. I know." River sighed, distinctions that didn't matter, he didn't see. "You don't need to worry, Simon. You can all play your games, but they won't leave without me."

"What did you do?"

Simon didn't have to wait long.

"River?" Mal's voice came tight and angry over the com right next to River's head. "What the hell have you done to my gorram shuttle?"

River smiled.

***

He closed himself off. There had been no other way. He had even given her another chance and she sat there and lied through her teeth at him. Lied. He led the way to one of the viewing rooms. This one had a clear view into the Hoffman room, a two way mirror giving perfect access to the scene inside.

The two men followed silently, ushering in two children. A girl and a boy. Dr. Williams estimated them to be about thirteen or fourteen. They all stopped to watch the room in front of them.

She was pacing, wringing her hands as she walked back and forth across the tiny space. Her husband sat on the bed, watching her, confused.

"He's useless." The children said. "He is who he thinks he is, there's nothing there."

Dr. Williams watched them look through the glass again.

"Kaywinnit Lee Frye." Said the boy.

"They call her Kaylee." Said the girl.

"She's the key." They turned as one and looked at the men. "She'll bring River Tam to you."

***

Mal saw them walking into the bay and up the stairs. He thought it took monumental control on his part not to start shouting then and there. His jaw was set and he glared at them.

"Doctor?" He started.

"I know, Captain, I know." Simon looked helpless. "She must have done it before."

"River? This isn't cute anymore." He noticed that she was watching him, her eyes scanning quickly. It made him uneasy. "I want you fix it now."

She ignored his words and sifted through the eddy of his brain. Worry and fear tainted all of it and it was mixed with everybody else. Zoe, Book and Jayne standing behind Mal. Simon behind her. Fear for the others, fear of her. She grew impatient. She closed her eyes and tried to focus, pushed through the clouds and barriers. Then she found it in his head.

"We're taking Serenity." She told him, slightly flushed with her success. "Shuttle's too small to carry all of us. More firepower. Quicker escape."

"What?" Mal felt himself bristle. "If they've got a lockdown on who Kaylee is, then they'll be watching for us, we can't just coast right in."

He paused.

"And I'm the Captain, I decide!"

River took a breath, she ran the words through her head like a string of beads. They had to come out right or this could all go wrong.

"Then decide to do what I say." She held up a hand to stop his outburst. "Inara walked free, round the world, up and down. She waits. They don't want to stop us. They want us in there."

Everybody was looking at her.

"They want me."

The very worst part about it, Mal knew, was that she was right. Everything she just said was true and there was no way to disagree with her without looking like a stubborn old hun dan or completely jeopardizing their only chance to get Wash and Kaylee back.

"No. That's not it." Simon broke into the stand off. "Captain? They can't have linked Kaylee or Wash to River so soon. It's just a problem with the hospital, right? The files didn't hold up, or..."

"She's right, Simon." Mal nodded towards River as he spoke. "She obviously knows, so I'll tell you. Inara just contacted us, she's been stone walled: from her own client and from any contact with Kaylee. The people at her job say she was never there, but Inara was able to move freely without being stopped."

"That doesn't mean..." Simon could feel himself shrink. "How would they know Inara and Kaylee...?"

"Long and complicated." Zoe told him. "Essentially, if all's they had figured was Wash and Kaylee's story didn't add up, because of their connection with Inara, then they would have tagged Inara too."

"But they didn't." Supplied Book. "And they know Inara is connected to us. A Firefly."

Simon put all the pieces together.

"Ariel put a Firefly back on our warrant, didn't it?" He didn't wait for an answer. "River, you can't go there. That's just what they want."

"Simon." River turned to look at him, but he was watching Mal.

"We'll stay here. We'll wait for you here. Or... or just River. Don't take her with us. I'll go, I'll help, just not..."

River looked at him sadly, she reached up and cupped his chin.

"Our crew needs us. The tales tell us what to do." She waited until he looked her in the eye. "Orpheus walks into Hades. Mustn't hesitate. Can't look back."

"Zoe?" Mal spoke softly. "Get this ship in the air. Jayne? Disconnect the power and water."

***

Kaylee rocked back and forth as she sat on the end of the bed, working the edges of her fingernails between her teeth. She couldn't look at Wash, but needed the feel of his legs against her hip. Her brain refused to think, she had tried to come up with a plan, tried to think of some way out of this, but all she had been able to do up to this point was cry.

She heard the snick of the door and looked up.

"Kaylee Frye?" She reacted to the name before she could stop herself. "You are hereby bound by law."

"No." She whispered as she stood up and turned to the bed. "Wash? Dammit, wake up!"

He looked at her and smiled dreamily.

"It's okay, Katie. The doctor's going to help."

"You've got the wrong person." It was almost begging, she could hear the plea in her voice as she kept backing away. "I don't know anything."

"If you don't come with us voluntarily," One of them informed her calmly. "we'll have to sedate you."

"No. Please?" She whispered, but she already knew it was too late, she could feel the terror freeze her innards. "I haven't done anything... Wash? Help me!"

She felt them grab hold of her, felt the hypo at her neck as she struggled, really struggled to break free. Her body stopped working. There was no slow going under, just a quick snap and she was falling limp into their arms, unable to move.

Oh god, was Kaylee's last coherent thought, they have blue hands.

***

"There." River sat with her chin resting on her folded arms, her eyes scanned the planetary layout as Book looked over her shoulder. Her hand stabbed at a series of dots. "Glendale Docks."

"You sure?" Mal was standing behind Zoe at the front console.

"Looks solid." Book agreed. "Large enough not to be noticed, far enough from the hospital to provide cover."

"If they let us land." Jayne stood to the side with Simon. "Anyone else expecting a welcome party?"

River looked up at him.

"Not good strategy. Draw us in. Catching flies with honey." She made a clacking sound with her tongue as her eyes began to drift. "Sticky sweet. Don't struggle. Bees can sting."

"Yeah, well." He replied, nervous. "It's the sting that worries me."

She rolled her eyes.

"Bees have hive mentality. Be a bee." River suddenly looked amused at her own words. "Be a bee a bee. A bee."

Jayne scrunched up his face as he looked at Simon.

"She wants me to act like a gorram insect?"

Zoe saw Mal watching River with a thoughtful look on his face. She knew that look, had seen it countless times before, his brain processing the data. He was assessing a new recruit.

"Sir?" She didn't think she needed to ask, but did anyway. "What are you thinking?"

"She has a good military mind." He replied. "Strategy wise."

"You thinking of retiring?"

"Soon as I'm rich, Zoe."

"So, not anytime soon, then?"

"Not in this lifetime." He patted her shoulder. "Call Inara back, tell her where to meet us."

"Already on it, Sir." True to her word, she already had the speaker in her hand. "Inara? This is Serenity. We'll meet you at the Glendale docks in approximately one hour."

"You're bringing the whole ship?" Came her incredulous voice. "What happened to laying low?"

"You know Mal." Zoe tried to smile, but somehow she was just too distracted.

"I'm already half way to Bellaphron now."

"What?" Mal burst in and grabbed the speaker from Zoe. "I told you to stay put."

"Relax." Zoe began flicking switches. "Put her on autopilot, Inara, we'll lock into your nav trajectory and pull you in."

"Got scared." Pointed out River. "Couldn't stay. Guilt and tears like ants. Swarming over skin."

Yeah, well. Mal's stubborn mind wouldn't let it go. Nothing ever went simple, something always had to go wrong. And why? Because no one on this rutting ship ever did what they were told. They always hadda go deviating from the plan. Everybody always wanted to save the day. They couldn't do anything quietly. And they always got caught. And one of these days he was just gonna leave them there.

River looked at him, amusement twitching the edges of her mouth, competing with a good dose of anger.

"Everybody wants to be a hero." She stepped up towards him and poked a finger in his chest. "You love making noise. More than they do. You should leave yourself behind."

Zoe and Jayne gave matching snorts of agreement. Mal folded his arms in front of him.

"You stop that, you hear?" He put on his most fearsome frown. "Stop readin' my mind. Gotta be some way to control it."

A look of desperation flew over her features, gone so quickly he wasn't even sure it had been there. He heard Simon's voice from long ago explaining that she couldn't. He felt like a heel.

"Make more noise." She challenged him, as her hand rose up and wavered near her ear, trembling. "Make it louder. I want to stop it. You get out of my head."

Mal watched her turn on her heels and walk over to Simon and Jayne. He got the distinct impression he was to stay exactly where he was and not follow her. The looks that Zoe and Book were giving him only made him feel worse.

***

His security card popped the lights from red to green and Dr. Williams punched in his code to open the door. When he walked in the room, the man calling himself Stephen Hoffman sat up, as much as he could, instantly more alert than he had been all day.

"Where did they take her?" Stephen was looking at him as if he was going to help. "They took my Katie."

"Now, now, Mr. Hoffman. The nurses told me you were getting agitated." He looked pointedly at the restraints on the man's wrists. "If you don't calm down, we'll have to sedate you again."

"Where is my wife?" Came the question, bitten out of a clenched jaw as the patient leant back against the bed.

Dr. Williams sat down, moving carefully and deliberately, on a chair next to the bed.

"We both know she's not your wife."

"What?" Stephen shook his head. "What are you talking about? She was here, before, you were talking to her! And the men... they took... they had a hypo..."

The doctor didn't react to his words.

"I'm reminded of an old fable. I'm sure you know it. There are two men... Well, let's just say a man and a woman, shall we? It seems to fit. Anyway, to get past them you need to solve a riddle. You see, one of them always lies and the other always tells the truth."

He examined the cuticles of his fingers.

"Now, considering you seem to be exactly who you claim to be, where does that leave this so called loving wife of yours?"

"I don't know what you're..."

"No, I don't suppose you do." The doctor raised his eyes and delivered his next words with cold clarity. "You know, Mr. Hoffman, it takes a very cruel, heartless, manipulative type of person to latch onto a helpless, mentally unstable man and use him to fund an interplanetary drug ring. Don't you think?"

"What?" Stephen blinked slowly, trying to follow the words. "Katie? No..."

"Face it. She lied to you. She lied to us all. And now she's left you high and dry, to fend for yourself. Alone. In here."

Stephen let his eyes wander over the stark walls and felt them close in. In his head he saw his life span out, it made sense, his relationship with his wife. Yet, he couldn't bring it to the surface, couldn't articulate the vague threads of his memory with specific details. A date, a place, a time, anything, but nothing asserted itself.

"No." He insisted. "They took her... those men..."

"I'd be very careful," Pointed out the doctor as he stood up. "who you told about that little fantasy, given your history of paranoid delusions. Wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea."

"But..."

***

She hesitated at the door, not entirely sure of the reception she would get. Inara had known she'd been taking a risk, but she had thought the main risk was for her and she hadn't expected everything to collapse so spectacularly so soon. Taking a deep breath, she stepped onto the bridge, eerily reminded of two nights previous.

"What are the plans?" She gathered her shawl more closely around her, as if it could offer her protection. "If any?"

Tracking Mal's expressions was easy, she already knew the way his eyes assessed her in an instant, the relief on his face quickly followed by more than a hint of anger and tension that made him grit his teeth. It was Zoe she couldn't read, the tight face and a nod of greeting, but no smile. Inara wished the woman would just yell at her, get angry, do something.

"No plans as yet." Mal's voice was tight. "Figured you'd know more about the place than any of us."

"I'm sorry..." She began.

"Not now." Was all he said and it hurt.

Small hands, soft and gentle, turned her around and Inara found herself face to face with River. Brown eyes scanned her face, up and down, left to right. She stood still, unsure, the silence of the room unnerved her.

"He doesn't like betrayal."

"No." She clutched her arms tight to her body. "He really doesn't."

"You both lied to him." River met her eyes. "Now Kaylee pays the price."

"River? I..."

Inara raised her hand, she wanted to touch the girl's hair, or cheek, make some gesture to show how sorry she was. She could still hear herself promising to watch Kaylee for River. Before she made contact, River turned to Mal and left her standing alone with her hand in mid air.

"We split up. You, Zoe and Inara to the house." River turned to the doorway without waiting for an answer. "Jayne's with me."

"Uh?" Jayne raised his hand. "Can we, maybe, vote on this?"

"Don't ask me." Mal shrugged as he leaned against the chair. "I'm just the Captain around here."

"Wait." Simon stepped forward. "What do I do?"

"Stay hidden."

River and Mal spoke at the same time, earning looks from everyone. It looked as if Mal was about to say something, but he stopped himself.

"Zoe?" Jayne asked. "You wanna swap?"

She just shook her head and Jayne made his eyes real big.

"Please?"

"I'll be good." River curtsied in front of him. "If you are."

***

Mal found her sitting on the couches outside the infirmary, waiting for the rest of them, he assumed. It wasn't hard to see the misery radiating from her as her arms hugged themselves close to her body and she looked off to the side. She'd distanced herself from all of them since she'd been back and now that they'd landed it was no different. He had to stop himself from melting down next to her and putting an arm around her shoulders.

"What were you thinking?" He forced an edge to his voice.

"Mal!" Inara looked up.

"Where you even thinking at all?"

"I know." She stood and faced him. "It was foolish..."

"Foolish?" He didn't need to force the anger anymore. "It was downright stupid, Inara. That plan was near fool proof. There was no way to connect them to us, not a one! And you had to go and... and... keep tabs on their doctor."

He had to pause to breathe properly.

"When I found out you contracted with a man with a red mark against his name! I..." His mistake, he'd realize when he looked back, was missing the narrowing of her eyes, the way her face began to close off. "... god, Inara, I didn't know what to think!"

"I'm sorry?" Her brows arched and she stepped forward, gathering herself up, and it made him take a step back. "When you what? You've been checking up on me? How dare you?"

There was no way out of this with dignity or grace. He knew it. There was absolutely no way he could deny what he'd just revealed.

"And with good reason!" He blustered. "Not only did you risk the whole operation, you put yourself in danger as well."

"I'm a grown woman, Mal." She looked him in the eye. "I can look after myself."

"Not with that..." He stopped and took a breath. They weren't going to get anywhere with yelling and it wasn't why he'd come to talk to her in the first place. "That sort of client is beneath you, Inara, and you know it."

She swallowed. He always knew how to do that. Build her up to the point where she was ready to explode or slap him. Or both. Then he'd just step back and say something that smoothed it all away. It was one of the more frustrating things about him.

"I had to do something." The flash of anger had left her and she was back to pleading for understanding. "When I saw him on the tender... I knew I could keep an extra eye on them. But Mal?"

Dear lord, she was about to cry, he could tell. He placed a hand on her shoulder.

"If anything happens to them." She whispered as she brought her hand up to cover his. "To Kaylee. Or Wash. I'll never forgive myself. I'll..."

"You meant well." He had to remove his hand, just had to. "Ain't one of us on this ship don't regret doing something that started with meaning well. Just proves you're human is all."

"That doesn't help, though, does it?" She insisted. "River was right. I messed up and Kaylee's going to pay."

"I reckon you're forgetting our secret weapon."

"Our secret what?" She looked up at him. "What could we possibly have that they don't?"

"River." He said simply.

"Are you...?" Back from the edge of tears, she hit disbelief again. "Mal? You can't be serious."

"By her own admission, this is what she was trained for." He gave a nod of approval. "Not that I'd say it, mind you, but she's doing pretty well so far."

"Doing what?" She asked. "Besides annoying you by giving orders?"

"By making my decisions for me. Better than I can and before I can." His voice took on a note she recognized. He was set in his ways over this. "I ain't seen her half as coherent before this as she is now. I don't think she's anywhere near finished, either, if you want to know the truth."

Inara thought about this for a moment.

"You really believe in her, don't you?"

"Yes, I do." He admitted. "And she knows it, Uppity Little Minx."

She let herself smile a little.

"Thank you, Mal."

He narrowed his eyes.

"I ain't finished with you, yet."

"What?" Nerves broke the surface again. "I..."

"About that doctor. You keep any of the money for yourself, or you pump it all into the hospital?"

"I..." She looked down at the floor.

"I thought so." He kept his mouth in a tight line. "Consider your rent paid for the next six months."

Her eyes flew up again as she gasped.

"That's too much!"

"That's for me to decide." He waited until she breathed out and he knew she wouldn't fight him on it. "As for this very expensive inside info I just paid for, what did you learn from the doctor?"

She grimaced.

"I learned we should be afraid for Kaylee."

***

She was a pretty one. Best damned one he ever seen. And she was his. The words ran through his head, familiar as anything else in his life. Ever. Callahan. Full bore auto lock. Adoration made the words soft in his head. Customized trigger. He knew the shape of it like he knew his own flesh, knew which switches to jerk and when.

"Not relevant."

Jayne ignored her. He had Vera on his mind. The way her double cartridge thorough gauge made it possible to switch from precision rifle to a smooth bore shot gun. She was consistent all the way through. Had very little kick back. Made his job easy. He took care of her and she took care of him.

"Transference is a classic sign of avoidance..." River continued.

"Girl?" Jayne growled. "I'm thinkin' about guns here."

"I know it."

They kept motoring along the street. The poor abused machine groaned as it rolled slowly forward. Kaylee had gotten as far as patching the mule's engine enough to drive it at half speed and nothing else. It was still a charred wreckage and none too pretty to look at.

"Guns, you hear? And nothin' else."

"I know it."

"Then stop it." He looked at her briefly, before turning back to the street. "'Less you want me thinking 'bout other things."

She shrugged.

"I don't mind. You have nice thoughts."

Jayne snorted.

"Now I know you're crazy. My thoughts ain't nice or sweet like anyone else's."

River let herself smile under the scarf she had wrapped around her hair.

"You think Kaylee's thoughts are sweet?" Her voice obviously said otherwise and he didn't even want to start thinking about what that meant. "You think in absolutes. You don't care about the grays."

"Verse is what it is. Can't change that."

She nodded.

"It's easier with you. To hear it, to block it out." She laid a hand on his arm. "You're scared I won't like you if I see it all."

"Just don't like you knowin' my personal business, is all."

"I don't judge. Thoughts are for selves. I'm no arbiter." She paused as he considered her words. "I don't care what you think, but I won't read it if you don't make me."

The mule shuddered to a stop just outside the fence. Jayne peered through it.

"Just what is my job here again?"

"Your job," She pointed to the man across the yard. "is to distract him. I have to meet a girl. Wont be long. Just pretend I'm not here."

"What?" He turned to her as he stepped down and was surprised to see nothing but a flash of color disappearing around the corner. "Just great."

"Good afternoon, I'm George Webber." The man walked up to Jayne, eyes already scanning the mule. "How can I help you?"

Jayne flashed a grin.

"I hear tell you've got a mechanic can fix my mule up real good, real quick." He slapped the side of the machine. "I need this beauty runnin' by tomorrow."

"I don't see that happening." George Webber didn't even try to hide his amusement. "That thing needs a lot of work and all my men are out on calls for the rest of the day."

"Didn't say man." Jayne bristled. "I asked around, word on the street is this is the place for the job I need. Word is you got yourself a real pretty she mechanic can work miracles."

"That was temporary." George tried to explain.

"What's the matter then?" Jayne shifted, exposing the gun in his holster as he reached for a bag that made some nice jingling sounds. "My coin not good enough for you? I got moneys enough to pay. What's the problem?"

George's eyes flew to the weapon and back up to the man who looked as if he were about to snarl. There was no way in this 'verse or any other that he or any of the men currently on his payroll could fix that mule in one day. He didn't even want to think about how the mule had gotten so misused. It wasn't his job to ask questions and he generally didn't, but he had to be extra careful right now and bringing Alliance attention to his yard for fixing machines that might have been used illegally was not the smartest thing he could do.

"I don't know what to tell you." He shrugged, hoping it came off as sympathetic and not rude. The last thing he wanted to do was antagonize this man. "What you're asking is impossible, if we had a few more days, maybe..."

Jayne was barely listening, his eyes scanned the yard. Damned girl said she wasn't gonna be long, but it was long enough already. This man was a weasely piece of work and all Jayne wanted to do was squash him.

***

"Here, kitty, kitty..." River called under her breath.

She closed her eyes and drifted through the building. There wasn't much energy running through it, a scared man she could block out if it weren't for the way his brain kept flicking back to Kaylee. Scared. Her jaw tightened. Betrayer. She tried to shake it off. He was not her reason. A face from Inara's brain. Small and sad. She had to be in here somewhere.

There. River smiled as the waves hit her.

"Jessie?" She called. "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

***

"Of course I remember you." Mr. Cowan smiled at the three people standing outside his door before speaking to the woman in the middle. It didn't even occur to him to wonder if the man and woman behind her were anything other than hired help. "It hasn't been that long. I don't think Mrs. Hoffman's here right now, I haven't seen her all day. She's most likely at work or the hospital."

Mal felt Inara tense in front of him and placed a hand on the small of her back. He saw Zoe arch her brow beside him, but wasn't all that concerned. What mattered was that Inara didn't seem too pleased to hear news that shouldn't come as any kind of shock to her. All they had to do was shut up and grin.

"Yes." Inara composed herself. "That's why we're here, actually. There's been a situation..."

"Nothing too bad, I hope?" Instant concern. "They're such a nice couple."

"No," She placed a smile on her face and fluttered her eye lashes. "nothing you need to worry about, really. She just can't leave the hospital right now and asked me to pick up some things, but wouldn't you know it? I forgot that little passkey thing."

Mal had to stop himself from snorting. As if a stupid ploy like that was going to...

"Of course, of course." Mr. Cowan hurried to assist. "I have all the access information right here somewhere. If you don't mind waiting?"

"Oh, please, take your time." Inara smiled her thanks and waited until he closed the door behind him. She turned to Mal and Zoe. "See? Simple."

"See, Zoe?" He gestured. "Wiles. Had I tried that he would have laughed me off this gorram rock."

"Oh, undoubtedly, Sir." Zoe shared a look with Inara. "But you do have such pretty eyes."

***

Jayne rolled his eyes as George consulted the stat device in his hand, punching numbers and figures in and twisting his mouth. One more minute and he figured he was gonna just walk away. Wait for River someplace else.

"Now, maybe... if I shift some things... three days." George looked up and Jayne couldn't tell if the hopeful expression was because he wanted Jayne to agree or to take his business elsewhere. "I can have it for you in three days, if you can wait that long?"

But a figure had already made his choice for him, strolling down the street a block away.

"Nope. Can't do it." He shook his head, completely disappointed. "Tomorrow or nothin'."

Jayne climbed up onto the mule and pretended that it was perfectly normal for the thing to splutter and creak and groan as he started it up and drove away. He didn't even need to slow down when he reached River, she just hooked on to the moving vehicle and swung herself up.

"You get what you need?"

"Guilt moves mountains." She replied.

"I'll take that as a yes."

***

"I'll just wait here."

"We won't be long."

Mr. Cowan stood by the door and Inara smiled at him again as they entered the house. It wasn't large, but it was a bigger residence than Mal or Zoe had seen in a long while.

"What the hell is this?" Zoe was looking at the wires criss crossing the com deck.

"Some minor adjustments I suggested she make." Inara explained. "Everything's on a timer so they wouldn't know she was gone last night."

"Anything seem out of the ordinary to you?" Mal asked. "At all?"

Inara glanced around.

"Not that I can see, I was only ever here once."

"Okay people." Mal sighed. "Spread out, look around. Grab anything that's ours. Let's not linger if we don't have to."

Mal wandered from room to room, not really sure what he was looking for. He didn't think that they would find much at all, but at least they knew the landlord hadn't been in on the cover up.

He came across Zoe sitting on a bed in one of the rooms.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." Her voice was strangely high and he tried to ignore it for her sake. "Stupid shirts."

Mal watched her stuff a garishly colored shirt into a bag sitting on the bed next to her. There wasn't much in the room, or the whole house for that matter, that could be mistaken for the personal items of a human being. The more she shoved into the bag, the less it seemed Wash had been here at all.

"He'll be fine."

A pause.

"Wish I could be so sure, Sir." She zipped the bag closed, along with the conversation, and stood up. "I think we're done here."

"Mal?"

They looked at each other at the sound of Inara's voice and moved to find her as one. She was standing in a little room off the main house. A storage room that looked, for all intents and purposes, as if someone had begun storing machine parts.

"Well." Mal picked up a doohicky he couldn't even begin to name. "Looks like Kaylee was stock piling."

"She did say she was bringing work home with her." Inara shrugged.

Zoe eyed the carnage.

"Take it all." They looked at her in surprise. "Hun dan sold out Wash and Kaylee. We're taking our share."

***

River sat on the gangway looking over the cargo bay, her legs dangled in mid air. Her eyes stared up at the ceiling. Whispers floated into her, past her, through her. Kaylee and Mal and tea and fear.

The ship cried without Kaylee. She ran a hand over the metal of the grating, River felt for Serenity, the ship clinging to the smallest energy left behind, desperately scrambling to hold on to something that made it warm.

Or maybe it was River.

She spun with the speed of a ten year old brain. Pictures so bright they hurt. Kaylee. A wrench. Fun. Mother. Tears. Blood in a sink. Hospital. Fear. Shouting. Guilt. Didn't want. Escape.

Her legs came up under her, pushed her up and she walked down the stairs to meet the crew. Family. Straining under pressure. They barely noticed her as she walked, softly, stepping between their boxes. The machines smelled of grease and Kaylee.

"It's time." She said and they all stopped to look at her. "Four to go."

"Four?" Asked Simon.

"Seven's too many." She explained patiently.

"Ah." A look of realization washed over his face. "I'm staying on the ship again, I suppose?"

"Top three percent." She agreed.

"Ha. She shot you down, Doc." Mal gloated. "So, how are you fixing on getting us in?"

River just looked at him until his mouth fell open.

"What? I'm not going either?"

Simon gave him a smug grin.

"Gift from a girl." River held up two Official Hospital Family Visitor Passes. "Jessie feels bad."

"Won't she need those?" Inara asked. "To see her mother?"

River shrugged.

"Borrowed. Not stolen." She nodded to Zoe. "We walk in the front door."

"That makes two. You said four." Simon smiled to himself when Mal came to stand next to him, arms crossed, making his stand. "Who else you planning to take?"

River let her eyes roll over the group, standing in a circle, she could see Jayne already shaking his head at her and didn't need to dig further to hear his pleas. Not that it mattered.

"Passes given without question to stature. To families. To healers." She looked at Inara. "Companions."

"She gets to go?" Mal closed his mouth when River glared at him. "Okay, fine. Who else?"

"Sick people need a sermon." Jayne happily took his place next to Mal and Simon as River continued. "Preacher is always welcome."

"I can truck with that, and with Inara and Zoe." Mal wouldn't let it go. "But I don't see how you're a better choice, considering you're the most in danger here, and those passes will let anyone in. I'd be better, or Jayne if there's trouble."

She sighed.

"Mal?" Whispered Jayne loudly. "Quit it. The girl knows what she's doin'."

"They'll lie to you." River tapped her head. "They can't lie to me."

"I'm not sure I agree with that line up." Simon looked up. "Wouldn't a doctor be helpful? I mean, what if I'm needed?"

River slowly stepped to the side of the circle, one foot in front of the other, her hand played idly with the different boxes they'd just unloaded from Inara's shuttle. All the clothes and machines and tools they'd brought back.

"I can't see how a preacher is going to be much use, even if he can get in easily." Simon smiled apologetically. "No offense, Sheppard."

"None taken."

"Don't need a doctor." River smiled.

Without warning, her fist swung around, heavy with the converter she'd grabbed. It made a large arc towards Book's head. It all happened in an instant, voices cried out in confusion, people jumped back, some jumped forward.

The only two people who seemed to be calm were River and Book.

He hadn't blinked, just reached out and stopped the blow, grabbing her wrist and spinning her so that her back was pressed up against his chest and she was pinned, unable to move. The engine part dropped to the floor and echoed in the silence.

"Need training and precision." She informed Simon easily. "And stealth."

"What just happened?" Mal asked as River slipped away from Book. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

***

They walked through the front door. It was that simple. Zoe could barely breathe. Nobody paid them much attention, even though she could feel the targets painted square on their backs and one each between their eye brows. Especially since River had been adamant about not bringing any weapons.

If she were here with Mal, she'd probably be worried at this point. Inara had walked through the doors over half an hour ago and Zoe had no idea where to meet her. Book hadn't been seen in over an hour.

She was beginning to trust River's instincts, though, and the girl didn't seem at all fazed. So Zoe fell into step beside her and kept any misgivings to herself.

"Not really."

Zoe looked at River out of the corner of her eyes.

"Is this a new thing?" She asked as they stepped into the elevator. "Or have you been doing this the entire time you've been with us?"

"That would be telling." River pressed the button for the fourth floor. Her fingers tapped on the panel creating a cadence of urgency that wasn't helping Zoe's nerves. "Secrets are safe. Don't worry."

"I'm not worried, I just..."

She stopped talking as the doors opened and River held up her hand. They stepped out of the lift and Zoe hesitated as River looked left and right, then seemed to decide on the left. Zoe had to walk quickly to keep up.

They stopped at a bathroom and River knocked three times rapidly on the door. A moment later Inara joined them, looking more than a little relieved to see them.

"I'm not even going to ask how you knew I was here."

"Told you I'd find you." Said with a pointed, impatient glare.

"I know, mei mei." Inara smiled softly as she reached out to pat River's shoulder. "It just takes some getting used to, is all. Now where do we meet Book?"

Zoe and Inara watched as River just spun on her heels and began walking back to the elevator.

"Is she okay?"

"I think this place is making her edgy." Zoe frowned. "Don't blame her. It's not doing wonders for me, either."

They shared the elevator with four other people. It wasn't overcrowded, but it felt to Zoe as if there were too many bodies, too close together. The closer they were to strangers and medical personnel, the closer they were to being caught.

As the door opened and let a young couple out, Zoe let her eyes linger on the increasingly agitated figure of River. The girl was mumbling to herself now and her head kept making small, jerky movements. She shared a look with Inara over River's head and they stepped closer to her. Inara rested a hand on River's shoulder. The door beeped and a pair of orderlies stepped out, leaving them alone again.

"They were here." River whined, her eyes bouncing around the small space, face cringing. "Two by two. Two by two."

Breathe in. Her brain hurt. Breathe out. Synapses threatened to explode. River wanted out and she wanted out now. Terror flooded her and she could barely move.

"River?" Inara took River's chin in both her hands and forced the girl's frantic eyes to meet hers. "It's okay, you hear me? Just a little bit longer, okay? You can do it."

River nodded tightly, but her throat was making keening sounds.

"Come on." Zoe urged the display that flashed the floor numbers at them. "What's taking so...?"

It beeped and the doors opened. River let out a moan and hurled herself out of the elevator. Both Inara and Zoe reached out and grabbed an arm each, keeping a close hold of River, flanking her and stopping her from running down the corridor. As it was the three of them, walking so close together, were drawing a few looks.

"Which way?" Zoe asked, jaw clenched as their passes gained them access to the main psych ward.

"To the door, the door, the door." River managed. "The door."

"There are a lot of doors, sweetie." Inara kept her voice calm, though she didn't know how. "Try a little harder."

River let her face fall to the right, her eyes looked straight into a large room that held tables and chairs and a screen showing bland images to several blank eyed people.

"It's everywhere." She whispered. "All over, it doesn't go away. Stays on you for days."

"River?" Zoe kept her voice low, but it wasn't any where near as calm as Inara's had been. "We need you now. Wash needs you. Kaylee..."

"Can't see, can't look." River forced her hands up and dug them into her eyes as she shook her head back and forth. "Can't see."

"I'm sorry." Came a voice and Zoe's heart sank as she and Inara turned to see a nurse standing next to them, eyeing the situation with suspicion. "Can I help you?"

Inara's mouth fell open for a second and she stood there mute.

"Yes, you can." River flipped her hair back over her shoulders and smiled at the woman, face calm and polite. "We're looking for Stephen Hoffman."

Inara choked back a gasp and her hands were shaking. She could see Zoe's eyes wide with surprise and relief. Nerves made her tingle and she suspected that if things kept going the way they were she was going to burst out into severely inappropriate laughter.

"Let me check." The woman consulted the device in her hand. "Yes, right this way."

They followed her around a corner and down a bleak corridor to a door. The nurse frowned at the little security screen and then checked her notes again. She pressed a few buttons and they all heard a string of beeps.

"That's odd." She told them. "He was bumped up to level two security this afternoon. I'm afraid you can't visit him, not with those passes."

River laid a hand on the door, clutching at it and Zoe saw her fingernails bend back with the pressure she was putting on them, the beds stretching almost painfully. She winced in sympathy.

"I'll handle this, Sister." Came a low voice and Zoe turned to see Book standing next to them. "I'm their pastor. I've been waiting for them."

The woman looked nothing short of relieved to be rid of this burden as she gave her thanks and hurried back to her growing list of duties.

"We need to get through that door, Sheppard." Zoe insisted softly. "If I heard right, my husband is in there."

"It's too late." River pressed herself up against the door. "Too late. Too late."

"Now would be good." Zoe continued, very close to the edge herself.

"It just so happens," Book said as he produced an ID out of his bag with a little more flourish than strictly necessary. "that I've been very productive since I walked through that hospital entrance."

The red lights beeped to green.

***

He heard the door open and looked up, expecting the see the doctor, or a nurse. They'd want to give him more meds, something else to make him weak and slow and unable to process the day.

That wasn't exactly what happened.

A young girl burst into the room. She stopped suddenly, became very still as her face seemed to stretch out and she screamed silently as her eyes slid over the walls and the ceiling. A priest and a stately woman followed, faces tight and nervous, they began to talk softly to the girl. Then came a tall woman who rushed right over to him and reached out to touch his face.

"Honey? Are you okay?"

He jerked out of her reach.

"Who are you?"

***

Zoe reacted as if she'd been slapped.

"Honey? It's me, Zoe." She tried again, as if he were just a little bit slow and needed reminding, even though her heart was freezing. "Your wife."

Wash laughed at her.

"You're not Katie. What's happening here?"

"I’m not listening! Shots never heard." River recoiled from being touched, swerving right and then left as she tried to get away from the violence of the air. "She cried."

"River?" Inara tried once again to catch hold of her, throw her arms around her. "Calm down, okay?"

River let out a moan, angry and pain filled as she shrunk into herself. Her head spun around faster than her body, eyes darting form surface to surface. Then she stopped still.

Silence.

Everyone held their breath. Inara was closest and she was the first to see what River looked at. On the side of the bed Wash was lying in, nearly invisible, was a small red dot.

Blood.

"It doesn't mean anything." Inara tried to convince herself more than anyone else.

"We need to get out of here as soon as possible."

"How, Sheppard?" Zoe asked him. "How are we going to get these two out of this room without being noticed, let alone out of this hospital?"

"Out?" Wash echoed. "I'm not going anywhere with you people."

“Wait!” Inara’s voice shook and it didn’t escape her notice that Book and Zoe didn’t meet her eyes. She didn’t know if she wanted the answer or not. “What about Kaylee? We can’t just leave her…”

“It’s too late.” River’s voice was oddly voice of any emotion. Eerie in its monotone. “They took her. She’s not here.”

She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t help herself. There was too much in the air, flickers and darts and jolts that swirled and threatened to make her scream. She had to make it clear, she had to know.

River leaned over the bed and splayed her fingers over the sides of Wash’s face, holding him still as she looked into his eyes. It hit her with enough force to make her cry out loud. The cold voices, arms that held Kaylee so tightly as she fought them that there’d be bruises, Kaylee crying, begging for help, the crack of her elbow against the bed even though she never felt it.

Terror with clarity.

“What… what is she doing?”

Wash’s voice broke into the memory and River looked at him, her head cocked to the side, eyes scanning his face. She placed a finger on his brow, directly between his eyes.

“Remember who you are.”

“River?” Wash paused and then looked around the room, frantic and horrified by the images in his head. “Oh, jesus, Kaylee!”

“Honey?” Zoe reached out again and this time he let her run a hand through his hair.

“Zo?” He pleaded. “I let them take her…”

“Not you.” Supplied River.

“What did you do?” Inara asked her.

“She hypnotized him.” Book answered, slightly awed. “Probably for the duration of the hospital visit.”

“Drugs. Psychotherapy. Truth is a danger to all of us.” River looked at Book as another tremor ran through her. “Can we leave now?”

“Ah, yes.” He reached into his bag and produced a doctor’s white coat and security ID pass for Wash. “The quicker the better.”

“What the hell were you doing in that last hour, Sheppard?” Zoe’s felt only marginally more at ease now that Wash was safe.

He gave a tight smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“Practicing precision and stealth.”

***

Cherries were top and, by Jayne’s calculation, both Mal and Simon had passed through winning hands twice over without noticing. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Big fish. Really slow moving fish.

“Was that the shuttle?” Simon looked out to the cargo bay and another cherry card passed into Jayne’s hands.

Big, slow moving fish with bulls eyes on ‘em.

“I think it was.” Mal stood up and left his cards unguarded.

In a very small barrel.

“Shall we check?” Simon let his cards fall to the table, half of them facing up.

With Vera.

It just wasn’t fun anymore. Jayne looked down at the table and saw the top card. It was lime. He dropped his hand full of cherry cards and hurried after them. Perhaps he was the biggest, slowest fish of them all.

They reached the shuttle as the door opened and Zoe began helping Wash out. Mal felt a sigh of relief even as he noticed how gentle she was being with Wash. It reminded him of Niska and the days afterward. Inara and Book followed and it occurred to him, then, that none of them would meet his eyes. All four of them moved aside as River pushed through and ran down to the passenger dorms without saying a word.

“River?” Simon called and began to follow.

“Leave her be, Simon.”

Inara’s quiet voice scared Mal, scared him senseless. He looked vainly at the shuttle behind her.

“Where’s Kaylee?”

***

Simon knocked softly. He didn’t wait for an answer, didn’t really expect one. She had probably known he was coming before he did. If she had wanted to slip away before he found her then there had been plenty of opportunity to do it, just as she had been doing since they’d gotten back.

River lay listless in the hammock, unmoving, her eyes watching the throb of the uncased engine as it whirred around. He sat on the floor next to her, cross legged, and rested his cheek on the soft pouch of her belly.

Their eyes met and they stayed like that until a tear rolled down her cheek.

“We’ll get her back, mei mei.”

She sucked her top lip in under her teeth, biting hard, and he watched the skin pull slowly back into place.

“You don’t know that, Simon.”

“Yes, I do.” And they both knew he was lying. “I’m your big brother and I know everything.”

In that moment, that was all he was, her brother. She was three years old again and he was trying to juggle the scrambling bundle of her shaking body in his own small arms after a nightmare, insisting that monsters weren’t real. He couldn’t say that anymore, but she needed the sentiment.

“I felt her.” River raised her hand and lightly touched the skin of his exposed ear. “She was so scared.”

He closed his eyes and tried to think of something, anything that didn’t hint at the possibilities. His brain searched for medical terms. The levels of keratinization of the dermal layers of the skin, but that only lead to the healing processes of the skin, which lead to all the ways skin could be injured.

“They won’t kill her, Simon.” She waited until he opened his eyes. “They’ll use her to teach me.”

It sent a chill down his spine.

“Drain her. Like the others.” She grew distant with each word, shrinking into herself as she drew her hand away from her head. “Leave her empty. Even when she’s back, she’ll be gone.”

“River?” He sat up straight, unable to stop the question. “What? What are they going to do?”

She closed her eyes and shuddered.

“I have to go back, Simon.” His breath caught in his throat at her words. “Me for her. It’s the only way.”

***

The wheels rolled smoothly on the polished tiles, clinking rhythmically as they hit the crevasses between them. Shoes, two pairs, walked steadily as hands, two pairs, pushed the cot and its passenger along the corridor.

They passed one door and green eyes snapped open, wide and suddenly awake as a smile appeared on smooth, white cheeks. Behind the next door they passed another set of eyes, charcoal black, followed the sounds. A buzz went through the air behind the third door as blue eyes looked up from a sheet of paper. By the time they passed the fourth door, gray eyes were eagerly waiting for the passage of sounds.

The fifth and sixth rooms were empty and waiting.

Several stories beneath them all, well below anything that could reasonably be called earth, several dusty machines began to beep, coming to life reluctantly after such a long hiatus. Their wires tangled into each other as they snaked onto the bed.

The brown skin of his eyelids crinkled and his large mouth cracked open, the skin of them swollen and split. The forefinger of his right hand twitched. Deep brown curls lay lank against his scalp. The buzz from above slowly invaded his consciousness, as did the feeling that leeched into his weakened limbs. Long lashes forced themselves open and he pushed air out of long neglected vocal chords.

“River Tam.”

*** End, chapter 6.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 7:55 AM

ARTSHIPS


You can't stop now! Who is this stranger? How will our heroes be reunited? Please don't make us wait to find out!

*deep breaths*

Very, very shiny story.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 12:30 AM

AMDOBELL


Fabulous, creepy and emotionally edgy to the point where I can't wait to see what the good gorram happens next! Poor poor Kaylee but more delighted and relieved than words can express to get Wash back. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 11:19 AM

REALLYKAYLEE


gee. . . that was wicked awesome.
um, transport ships don't have firepower.
so magnificent!

Saturday, August 20, 2005 9:49 PM

MISSJASADIN


OMG.
This was the first chapter i read, and already i am emotionally involved, even coming in partway through the story.
More please!! They need to get to Kaylee!!!

Monday, March 6, 2006 4:49 AM

BURNANDBOIL


Super! *goes to read next bit*

Monday, October 20, 2008 3:25 AM

RIVERRED


great chapter to further this beatiful story.


POST YOUR COMMENTS

You must log in to post comments.

YOUR OPTIONS

OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

The Best Deceptions: Ch 9
The crew of Serenity touch down on Kaylee's home planet. Hi-larity ensues. Jayne/Kaylee.

Something From Nothing 12/12.
FINAL in the series. Kaylee Frye is out of time.

Something From Nothing 11/?
Sometimes you... oh, you all know what it's about. James. Kaylee. The horror, the angst...

Something From Nothing 10/?
Sometimes all you can do is make the best of a bad situation, sometimes you find you're better for it.

Something From Nothing 9/?
Sometimes all you can do is make the best of a bad situation, sometimes you find you're better for it.

Something From Nothing 8/?
More story, more backstory, the usual...

Something From Nothing 7/?
James talks some more, maybe his parents can learn from his example?

Something From Nothing 6/?
Nightmares, truths and comfort, oh my.

Something From Nothing 5/?
A little confrontation, a lot of truth, the usual.

Something From Nothing 4/?
Sometimes you have to make the best of a bad situation and, sometimes, you find you're better off for it.