BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JACQUI

Adam's Rib Ch 7: Sanguine.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sanguine: hopeful. Point of interest: it also means bloody.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3392    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: They're still not mine, they're still Joss'.

*sigh*

Comments: 1) Sanguine: hopeful. Plus, point of interest, it also means bloody.

2) Italics are thoughts and memories, I tried not to be confusing.

Feedback: Oh, pretty please? With strawberries and engine grease? wily_one24@yahoo.com.au

***

Kaywinnit Lee Frye. They call her Kaylee.

Six tables and chairs sat spaced evenly into three rows. They sat with their backs straight and faces forward, hands laid flat in front of them. The screen at the front of the room flashed with images that burned into their brains. The only muscles they moved were the ones attached to their ocular cavities.

She has brown hair.

Small white dots taped wires to the sides of their heads, their scalps, the pulses in their necks. The wires quivered all the way to the left of the room, to the computers that monitored the electrical impulses of their brains. The spikes rose and fell with the timing of the screen.

And freckles on her cheeks.

Far beneath them, alone and unnoticed, he allowed himself the smile they couldn't, let his brainwaves spike in a pleasure that was denied them. He stretched his hands, let the bones and tendons creak into movement. Blood and expectation pumped sluggish through his veins. A warmth he hadn't felt in eighteen months.

She makes River smile.

***

Simon walked into the kitchen to see them sitting around the table. Nobody was speaking much, but then nobody really had since the night before. It was almost as if Serenity and the people within her were in a stunned form of grieving. The only person who didn't want to be in the company of others was River. She had holed herself up in her room and didn't want to leave. Everyone else stayed in close proximity to each other.

"She wants to go back." He felt numb. "Wants to make a trade, herself for Kaylee."

They took this information in silently. Zoe took Wash's hand and they shared a look as he bent his head towards her. Inara brought her shaking hand up to her mouth. Jayne gave a silent snarl. Book made a steeple of his hands. Mal eyed him carefully.

"And where do you stand on that, doc?"

Simon felt everyone's eyes on him, felt their interest.

"What? Where do I...?" Disbelief and confusion sharpened into anger. "How can you ask me that? Better yet, where do you stand, Captain?"

Mal didn't blink at the hostility in Simon's voice, he wasn't fool enough to take it personally. He kept his eyes and his voice level.

"I'm asking you."

"She's my sister and I'm not going to just hand her back to those... those..." Simon took a breath. "But it's Kaylee. I can't leave Kaylee with..."

He looked straight at Mal.

"I guess I don't stand anywhere."

"Good." Mal nodded. "Right answer."

"So, what's the plan?" Simon asked, still privately convinced Mal was a sadist. "I'm assuming there is a plan?"

"A vague semblance of one, yes."

"We're taking the good doctor." Zoe stressed the word 'good' in a way that suggested she thought otherwise. Vehemently. "We need a contact."

"Kidnapping" Simon's jaw dropped. "You're kidding, right?"

"I know where he lives, where he likes to spend his time, where he goes every third day." Inara shrugged. "Every little thing we need. It won't be too difficult."

"Assuming we don't get caught," Simon countered. "he won't tell us anything, he won't..."

"That," Mal broke in. "is where River comes in handy."

Simon winced.

"Hasn't she been through enough?"

"She ain't made of china, doc." Mal said it softly, but firm enough that he knew Simon would listen. "Matter of fact you keep telling us how much she's been through and how much she's suffered, but what you don't seem to realize is that she's bounced back from all of it. Maybe not a hundred percent, but she's come through. She's able bodied and as long as she is, she's gonna help us get Kaylee back. My way of thinking? If she's willing to put herself back into that hell, it's a mite possible she'd be willing to try a few other things first. Just a mite."

That made a lot of sense, actually, and Simon began to think that maybe he should stop being so reactionary. Think before speaking, Mal had said, and it was true here, too.

"Even if she does help," he noted. "the doctor won't know how to reach them. All he had would have been a hotline, some anonymous message system, not a direct link."

"There is another way." Everyone turned to Book. "I can reach them for you."

***

"No!" Kaylee woke with a start, jack-knifing her body as she fought people that weren't there. She had to stop herself from falling off the small bunk. "Leave me alone!"

Her fingers gripped the edges of the bed as she panted hard and tried to calm herself as she looked around. It was a small room, bare and starkly white, nothing save for herself, the bed and a small basin and toilet hatch. Kaylee gasped and backed herself into the corner against the wall.

A man sat on the floor in the corner opposite her. Watching her. His elbows rested on his knees. He smiled at her, friendly and soothing. Her eyes picked up the strangest details as she allowed herself to breathe again. His hands hung loosely past his knees, exposing thick wiry hairs that dotted his wrists, his shoulders were wide and strong, his hair hung in loose brown curls just past his ears and his dark brown eyes sparkled.

His hand rose up and brushed the side of his head gently. It was such an odd gesture that Kaylee found herself echoing it as she watched him, her hand running through her hair. Metal snagged her fingers and she tugged it free. Her heart ached when she saw the hair clip River had given her.

When she looked up again, the man had gone.

***

"What...?" Simon felt himself hardening just a little, preparing for something he wasn't sure about. "What are you trying to say?"

"I think..." Book spoke slowly, the words were almost too hard to speak, but they also felt good after all this time. "I think it's time I told you the truth."

"I'd say it is, too, Sheppard." Mal tightened his hold on his mug. "You better start speaking."

But Book was looking at Simon.

"You sister already knows and she's made peace with it. I'll understand if you don't." He sighed. "Lord knows I haven't."

"I knew it." Came Jayne's excited whisper. "I knew he weren't a Sheppard."

"Oh, I am." Book replied. "I took my vows, lived in the Abbey off and on, prayed up a storm. But I haven't always acted as one."

They waited for him to continue.

"I worked for the military before and during the war. Alliance."

"Of course." Mal couldn't resist it.

"Covert Ops, which comes with all the specified training and abilities you'd assume. My field was Undercover assignments, the more delicate ones."

Zoe looked at him.

"You mean wet works? Assassinations, that kind of thing?"

"Not always." He admitted. "But sometimes."

A few more bricks were added to Simon's wall of defense.

"What does that have to do with River and I?"

"My last assignment was just over three years ago. It wasn't my place to ask questions, I just followed orders. I was hired to negotiate... uh... deals if you will."

"No need to be coy at this point." Mal sipped his coffee.

"All I knew was that there was a group of children that were specially selected by this corporation. I had no more information than that. It was my job to make sure the families of these children didn't ask questions."

When he didn't go on, Zoe prompted him.

"How exactly did you do that?"

"Bribes mostly, lots of money, stature, safety. Whatever they needed. Sometimes it took a little convincing. Occasionally threats." He swallowed. "One family was more problematic."

Simon looked down at the table and his voice was soft.

"And my parents?"

"I never had cause to meet your parents, Simon, and that's the truth."

At least it was something. Simon felt himself relax just a little at these words, despite the sympathetic expression on Book's face.

"They didn't know?" Of course he had never met them. They wouldn't have agreed to any terms like that. They couldn't have. "Of course they didn't."

"They knew." River's voice came from the doorway. She stood there pale, one hand holding on to the frame. "They accepted the price readily."

"River, no." He was trying to convince himself as well. "Our parents are already rich, they have everything, they know everyone who counts on Osiris, what could anyone possibly offer...?"

River looked at him sadly.

"A career."

"What? Father already had..."

Then it dawned. He looked at the faces around him and felt the universe fall out from under him. Simon had every confidence in his ability and talent as a surgeon, but now he suddenly doubted the ease and speed of his appointments, the seamless rise to the top.

It could affect his entire career, his mother had warned him when he started asking about River. His father's words came back to him, oddly meaningful now. Being a doctor means more to you than just a position, I know that.

"No, River, they wouldn't..." He couldn't accept it, couldn't wrap his head around it. "If they'd known..."

"They didn't even try, Simon." She walked into the room and sat down. They watched her as she looked at the one empty chair that was left. "They didn't want to know."

"Why are you on this ship?" Inara's voice startled all of them, except perhaps River. She'd been quiet during the whole revelation. "It's no coincidence you chose Serenity when they did, is it?"

"No." Book looked down. "No, it's not."

"You told me you were sworn to protect that Marshall and it didn't even register until now."

"Marshall?" Jayne looked up. "You mean that Fed that shot Kaylee?"

"Like I said, it was my last assignment. I retired and was spending my time at the abbey. I thought... we all thought the job was finished."

"Until I broke her out." Simon finished as his mouth gaped open in shock. "You're here to kill me."

"Was, Son, was." He wasn't sure if the distinction would help any. With Simon, or with Mal who was watching him with calculating eyes. "You might have noticed that I haven't yet."

***

Her hand pressed over the wall, smooth and white, fingers trying to feel for any groove or divot that might explain it, might hide a hidden hatch. Kaylee knew she had seen someone here, knew there was no exit other than the locked door, knew he hadn't stood up to walk past her. She also knew he was no longer there.

Nothing. She trembled and it wasn't because of the cold.

She ran a hand over the basin, her fingers hooking under the rim. There was a space underneath it, a ledge of sorts. It took her all of a split second to decide to hide the hair pin there.

The door opened behind her and she spun around.

"I won't waste time." Her eyes fell to his hands first, noticed the whiteness of them, before she looked up at his face and recognition flared. He looked different, more at home and unspeakably more dangerous. "You're a smart girl, Kaylee, if that is your name this time, I believe we can come to an understanding."

She couldn't stop the shaking. There was no way to get away from him and no one to call for help, she was alone. Her heart sped up and she could feel it pounding fast.

"Stay away from me."

"Now, now. You haven't let me finish." He clucked his tongue and shook his head, already disappointed. "I was going to explain to you how this whole thing works."

Kaylee pressed her back up against the wall.

"What do you want?"

"Me? I don't want anything." He laughed low in his throat and stepped forward. "Them? They want a lot of things, but let me tell you what they don't want. They don't want to hurt you. They don't want you screaming or fighting or making any kind of trouble for them. Do you understand?"

She didn't respond.

"Silence will be taken as express consent. Don't make any mistake, Kaylee, just because they don't want to hurt you, doesn't mean they won't. They are not nice people and they have no love for you. You are a means to their end. You bring them an opportunity they've been waiting for. If you refuse to cooperate, then there are other ways to help them. Other, less enviable, not so pleasant ways."

The way he said it, so calmly, as if he were explaining the instructions on a new prescription left her breathless. She wanted to break down and cry, to call out for River or Mal or Jayne or anyone. She was alone, her traitorous brain kept throwing the word at her, and she knew it.

"It's time to go." He said and reached out to her.

"No!" She flinched from his touch and edged sideways. "Get away from..."

Anger flared in his eyes and he drew his arm up, bringing his elbow hard across the right side of her face. She stumbled, dazed, a blank look on her face as the blood began to pour from her nose and she slid down the wall.

"I said it's time to go." Dr. Williams leaned down and hauled her up by her armpits. "And you'll do what I say."

***

As one, the six of them turned away from the screen. They did not need to see through the wall. Their eyes followed the slow movement of the people behind it. Step after step through the corridor. One set of feet dragged, sluggish against the floor.

The monitors stopped spiking. The lines went flat.

Unnoticed, six pairs of hands bunched into fists, air hissed into lungs, eyes bored through the wall, narrowing.

He's already hurt her.

As one, the six of them turned back to the screen. They sat with their backs straight and faces forward, hands laid flat in front of them. The screen at the front of the room flashed with images that burned into their brains. The only muscles they moved were the ones attached to their ocular cavities.

The monitors began to spike in time with the images on the screen.

***

Wash stared out to the stars. They looked so different planet side and he wished they were up in the black. He wanted nothing more than to be free of this whole planet, everyone back on board, and nothing said about it. In fact, what he really wanted was to go back about a week and slap Mal when he agreed to the plan.

Hard.

Maybe even a punch. A big, manly punch. Something that knocked some sense into that thick, stubborn skull of his. Wuh de mah, it had all gone wrong and, even though nobody had been crass enough to say anything, Wash held more than a little guilt. Enough to share, really.

Wash? Help me!

And he'd done nothing. Nothing as they'd manhandled her, nothing as she'd fallen limp into their arms. Absolutely gorram nothing. Sat there like some rutting back birth.

"Not your fault."

Oh, sweet jesus. Could a man not wallow in private? Wash let his head drop, chin to his chest, and breathed in before he looked up again. River didn't even wait to be asked in, she stepped into the bridge and strode right to the passenger chair.

"Yeah, well, it certainly feels like it."

"Not you. You weren't there." She looked at him solemnly. "Hidden away from their eyes."

"Oh and have I thanked you for that, by the way?" He picked up a little plastic tree. "That was very helpful. Thanks heaps."

"Saved you." She pointed out and his hands stopped fidgeting for just a second. "They would have taken you, found us, people would have died. Serenity would have died."

He heard the tremor in her voice and he looked up.

"It's not your fault, either, you know."

She drew her legs up onto the chair and sat her chin on her knees.

"She was so scared."

"I know." He could still hear the growing edges in Kaylee's voice over the whole day, her pleas for him to snap out of it.

"And I can't feel her anymore."

Wash was too scared to ask what that meant. There were too many possibilities and he didn't like any of them. He didn't want to think about any of them. He wanted to flick his beloved switches, fire up the ship and just get out of here.

"We'll sit vigil, you and I." She rocked back and forth on the seat, ever so slightly, as she looked out into the same mess of distant stars. "The guilty ones."

***

"No!"

They held her down by her shoulders, pressed her to the table as she tried to free herself. Kaylee felt as if she were going to explode, her heart was beating too fast and she couldn't stop fighting them. Hadn't stopped fighting them as they'd made her change into a hospital gown. So many people in white coats, faces covered with white medical masks, they surrounded her. Her eyes flew from one to the other.

"Lie still, please." One of them said.

She heard the peel of Velcro and felt her wrists being forced into restraints, ankles too. Her head shook back and forth and her shoulders twisted in fear. The side of her face was already swollen and aching. It added to her confusion.

Behind the looming figures in lab coats Kaylee saw him again. The strange man with the brown hair and nice eyes. He nodded to her, but he didn't smile this time. Immediately she stilled, let herself fall back on the table as her head was also strapped in.

He stayed there, kept her eyes focused on him as they stuck needles into her arms, ran hands over her limbs, pushed fingers gently into the muscles of her abdomen, attached machines to the pulse points in her neck and ran scans over her body.

She couldn't look away and found she didn't want to.

***

Basement detail. Piece of cake. All she had to do was sit there and nobody much minded what she did during that time. Books were the easiest solution, she could lose herself in another world and not have to think about what they were paying her not to talk about.

Machines beeped an alarm at her.

Bored, she hit the requisite buttons and the tinny beeps stopped. All her training, all those years, and this is what it came down to. She walked over to the bed and quickly scanned the body lying there. He never moved, never changed. Her job was simple and she changed the lines with ease, flicking away an air bubble here and adjusting the flow rate there.

"You poor, sorry idiot." She'd taken to talking to him as if he could hear her. It got awfully lonely sometimes. "You'd be better off if they just pulled the plug. Pity you're so damned important to them."

She went back to her book.

***

He walks down another hall and pulls her out of her sleep to join him. He allows her a yawn in his throat, his body warms her quickly. She takes the details in, white walls again.

River doesn't want to be here, not after last time. Yet she can't stay away, not after last time. She thinks maybe he's going to take her back to Adam, so both of them can hurt some more. Somebody has to.

In a way, she's right. He shows her the painfully small box. They both feel his hand touch the metal, they both taste his tears.

There are other things to see, other secrets to be witness to and he wastes no time in taking her to them. The room holds a bed. They look through the window and she sees the woman staring up at the ceiling, her body distorted. River feels the anger coil in her belly. He tries to soothe her, tries to stop the rise of her emotions. It's harder to control when she's upset.

His eyes scan the screens and she takes in the data with a gasp. Problems she'd helped solved are now being used against her. They're doing it again. She knows they're doing it wrong. Again.

Landing strained it. Heated into itself. Didn't want to snap so it buckled.

She watches him type the commands on the key pads, watches the screen glow a bright white, sees the information disappear into nothingness. It doesn’t make her feel better. The answers are gone, but the problem remains and they won’t stop.

River doesn't want to know what they'll do with the woman when they're finished with her. When they blame her for their mistakes. She can't think about it. It's too hard. Not even the hum of his thoughts, sliding over her like a blanket, is enough to stop her shaking.

***

Voices and footsteps invaded the silence. Wash looked up to see them all pour into the bridge. His eyes flicked to the figure slumped in the passenger chair and he motioned them to be quiet.

"We're keeping vigil." He informed them.

"No." Mal looked at River then back at Wash. "You're keeping vigil. Technically, she's sleeping vigil."

"She's asleep?" Simon walked up to the chair and stopped short of touching her, checking to make sure she was okay. "I don't think she's slept much during this whole thing."

"No." Wash continued. "So don't wake her."

Zoe frowned as she crossed over to her husband. He still hadn't spoken to her about it, not really, and even though he let her brush her hands through his hair, submitted to all the little caresses she gave him, she knew there was something wrong. She knew he felt worse than he let on and felt a sudden stab of jealousy. It was obvious he'd spoken to River and she knew that River would have seen a part of him that she never could.

"Where are we headed?" She asked.

"That's it." Inara pointed as she and Book crowded the land layout. "He goes there every three days, takes the morning off terrorizing patients."

"Are you sure?" Book asked and his voice hinted that he'd prefer it a great deal if she told him no.

Zoe came to look and hissed through her teeth.

"Is that what I think it is?"

"What? What is it?" Mal pushed his way into the group. "Yeh soo, tah ma duh..."

"Alliance Military Express Port." Book confirmed flatly. "With clearance into that thing and access to their faster ships, that man could be back and forth between here and anywhere in this galaxy within a matter of hours."

"It doesn't matter." Inara insisted. "He has to return tonight. He'll be in transit between the base and the medical quarters. And that's our opportunity."

She stared Mal down.

***

"You were rude to me before."

Kaylee's eyes snapped open and she realized that she had begun to drowse, having been left strapped to the table after the doctors had left. Well, all except one. She could not move her head to look at the voice behind it and her eyes scanned from left to right, straining to see him.

Or someone else that might be near.

"I was only trying to help you."

She sucked air through her teeth and tried to jerk away when a warm cloth touched the swell of her right cheek. Remembering the last time, she flinched and waited. It was soft, his hand, when it finally came to her good left cheek and held her head still.

"That's better." He continued to wash her face and his thumb pressed into the bone of her jaw. "I offered you a choice before. Do you remember?"

She nodded as best she could.

"You hold the power here, Kaylee. Do as you're told and things will go nice and easy. Make trouble and you'll get trouble. Are we agreed?"

She nodded again. He put down the cloth and cupped her chin with both hands, his head appeared upside down above hers.

"I'm sorry? I couldn't hear you."

"Yes." She managed to say. "Yes."

"How can I be sure you really mean it?" He smoothed his hands down the sides of her neck and over her shoulders. "You've lied to me before, haven't you?"

This time she stayed silent. A tear slid down from the corner of her eye into the curve of her ear and sat there, cold and prickly.

"I don't think you understand the consequences of your actions." He walked around the table and she could finally see all of him. It didn't help her at all, not with the way he was smiling down at her. "What can I do to show you how much you hurt people when you lie to them?"

He ran one finger down the bare skin of her arm.

"I mean, you lie and you lie. To me. To that poor man you've just stranded in that place and left entirely at my mercy."

Kaylee stiffened and a strangled sound came from her throat.

"That's it, isn't it?" He gave a feral grin and leaned down close to her face. "You actually do care about him, don't you? Not enough to not put him at risk, of course, but enough to know to stay quiet right now and be a very good girl."

Laughter, low in his throat, as Kaylee felt him reach down and take her left hand. He wound his fingers around her little finger and began to bend it back.

"Look at you, look how terrified you are." She bit down hard. "And so helpless. It's a heady mix, it really is."

Kaylee heard the door open behind her head.

"Get away from her, Williams."

She couldn't see the boy that had spoken, but by the sound of it he couldn't be much older than River. Dr. Williams' reaction was instant, his eyes flared with anger and his chest puffed up, but his hands sprang away from her and he took a step back.

"You forget who you're talking to." He tried to sneer.

"She's not your toy." A girl this time, younger, Kaylee's eyes flew back and forth, trying to see. "Not this one."

"We didn't bring her here for you." Two voices in unison. "Neither did they."

"You better go." Dr. Williams swallowed and his voice shook, but he kept looking forward. "If they find out you're here..."

"Worry about what they'll do if they find you here." Something edgy in the tone of this one, a boy with a purposefully deep voice, as if he were trying to sound older than he was. "Now leave before we make you. And you know we will."

Kaylee felt herself breathe again as Dr. Williams glared at her and then walked away, she could see him shaking. She felt a sob rise in her throat and couldn't control it.

"Don't worry, Kaylee, you'll be safe now." This girl was much younger than the rest of them, her voice softer, and the only one to address her specifically. Kaylee really wanted to see her. "You haven't been forgotten. Someone will be back to take you to your room. Dr. Williams won't return today."

***

They sat side by side in identical postures, blue hands clasped on top of the desk in front of them, faces unmoving and unreadable as they listened to the little man sitting across from them.

"I'm telling you, Dr. Williams is going to ruin everything. I've been telling you for years!"

"Is he really?" Said the one on the right.

"Have you really?" Said the one on the left.

"Yes and yes." Came the exasperated voice. "If he's tied to one more missing girl..."

"We cleared him of all charges." Was the first reply.

"We'll clear him of these. If there are any." Was the second.

"That's not the point! He was just left alone with her... he's already come close to breaking her nose and scarring her face."

"Really?" One eyebrow raised on the right.

"And the children?" Another raised, this time on the left.

"What do you think?" Just a hint of sarcasm ran into his voice. "They play with him like a cat with a mouse."

"I take it there was no other... damage?" The question came from the right.

He shook his head.

"What about the results?" From the left this time.

"Oh, she's prime." He assured them. "A little nutrient deficient, but that's not uncommon for someone in constant space travel. A few boosters to flood her system and she's our girl."

***

Inara stood by the door of the shuttle with Zoe, watching people walk past. They could no longer see Book or Jayne. She was surprised at the amount of traffic the place generated. Taking a breath, she prepared for her part in the heist, unsure if she had the energy or stamina to pull off such a taxing role.

"That one." She pointed. Done.

Zoe walked up to the man and gave a muffled curse as they knocked into each other. The crowd gave them a cursory glance then left them alone to sort out their petty squabbles. No one was going to get involved in a dispute right outside of a military base.

"Oh, sorry." Dr. Williams rushed to exclaim. "I didn't mean..."

His words trailed off as he felt the barrel of a gun pressing into his back, just behind the kidneys. Two men had closed in behind him when he had been distracted and they now held each of his arms still against his body.

"You be quiet now, doc." Jayne growled low. "And there won't be a problem."

He knew that shuttle, a cold slice of fear slid down his spine, and he damn well knew the woman who held open the door for them.

***

She was taken into a room that held nothing but a chair. A memory flared in the back of her brain and Kaylee could hear the Captain and Zoe telling a story about being captured. Mal's voice echoed in her ears, telling them all that if you're lead into a room with comfortable seats, it's them that's gonna want to sit down, but if it looks uncomfortable as all hell, you better park yourself down and shut up.

Kaylee looked at the stark wooden chair and didn't need to be told.

Her eyes scanned the room and all the white hurt her brain. Nothing but white, the walls, the clothes people wore, the floors, everything. She longed for color again.

The door opened with a loud crack and she gasped to see the two men walk in, blue hands swinging at their sides. Behind them, faces blank, six children filed in. They wore identical medical gowns, white like hers, and walked in bare feet, their knobbly ankles lined up in a row. Their faces stared straight ahead and did not look at her.

"She's scared."

Ah, more geniuses. The thought came into her head before she could stop it and Kaylee thought she saw the hint of a smile reach the face of the boy who had spoken. He was blond and blue eyed, he wasn't as tall as the boy next to him, but he looked stronger and there was an air about him that screamed danger, an energy she likened to Jayne even though he looked about fifteen. She recognized him as the one who had threatened the doctor.

On his right, taller and obviously older, stood a boy in his late teens who had dark chocolate skin, with black hair and black eyes. He held his hands behind his back and stood slightly forward and she took him to be the leader.

"She's a jumble of fear and pain and anger. She's thinking about the man in the hospital."

The girl who spoke had bright red hair and even brighter green eyes. She had to be in her early teens, Kaylee thought, just old enough to have the long legged coltish look of young girls. No, Kaylee thought, I'm not a toy.

It wasn't hard to figure out who the two voices speaking unison had belonged to. An Asian boy and girl who could be nothing short of identical twins stood together. They were small, with blue black hair and almond shaped eyes, and each movement was made mirrored with the other.

"She cries for her family." The youngest girl began. "Her daddy said she had a natural talent."

The child couldn't have reached her teens yet, Kaylee mused as she looked at the piercing gray eyes and light brown hair that was streaked with shining silver. She was pale and slight and easily the most striking of the six of them. Something about that thought stuck in Kaylee's brain.

She thought about it, scrambled to figure out why it disturbed her. The elusive sound of River's voice echoed around her head and Kaylee tried to remember exactly what the girl had said. It hit her then, seven, River had said there should be seven. She thought about the man who had sat in the room with her.

Six faces snapped a warning to her that she couldn't miss.

"She's thinking about the farm back home." Said the tallest boy. "She misses her dog, her brothers and sister. Wants to be back with them."

Kaylee had been thinking no such thing, she had no dog and he'd gotten her family all mixed up, and she knew they knew it.

"What about River Tam?" The first man asked, the tone of his voice suggesting very little patience.

They hesitated a little too long.

"Children?" Said the second man. "Take Alexandria to room four."

"She knows River." The red haired girl rushed to say. "Plays games with River."

Kaylee watched as the very youngest girl took a step back and the others stepped around her, shielding her from the men.

"River called her green." The twins broke in. "Gave her a strawberry."

"She knows River." The blond boy repeated. "But she doesn't know about River. She doesn't know why she's here."

"I said take her to room four." They were not persuaded.

Slowly, the children walked out of the room and Kaylee was left with the two men. They watched her carefully and any comfort or security she had just gotten from the group began to melt away.

"We know they're lying for you." Said the man on the right.

"We will know why soon enough." Said the second man simply. "They don't like the young girl's cries."

***

"You're only making this worse!" Dr. Williams stumbled as Jayne hauled him from the shuttle and onto the gangway. "Once they find out I'm gone, they'll..."

"Oh," Inara walked past them. "I'm sure they'll manage."

"You have no idea what you've done." He spat struggling against the rope that bound his hands behind his back. "They're going to kill your friend now."

"I don't see why we ain't gagged him yet." Jayne grumbled. "He hasn't shut up."

"We didn't have anything." Book supplied.

"I coulda pulled out his tongue."

"Jayne." Zoe was the last out of the shuttle. "Enough. We still need him to talk."

"I'm not telling you anything." Dr. Williams claimed again.

"Welcome back." Mal walked up to them. "This the doctor causing so much fuss, is it? Take him to the interrogation room."

Jayne cocked his head.

"The what?"

"The spare passenger dorm," Mal shrugged. "interrogation room, whatever."

"I don't care what you do." Dr. Williams continued as they began to walk. "You can kill me, it won't change anything."

"Really?" Jayne got excited. "Can I do it, Mal? I'm just about in the mood, I got a real nice knife for..."

"Ain't nobody killing anybody." Mal sighed. "Not yet anyhow."

"Go ahead." The doctor challenged as Jayne pushed him a little harder than strictly necessary down the stairs. "Kill me, it won't help, you've just signed her death warrant."

"Aw, Mal." Jayne grumbled. "Well, can I do it when it is time?"

Mal thought for a second.

"Sure, why not?"

"They're going to kill her slowly. Then they're going to come after you and kill everyone on this ship. Also slowly. So kill me, go on, just do it before they get here."

"Does he ever shut up?" Mal asked.

"Not yet he ain't." Jayne answered and pushed the doctor into the common area towards the rooms.

"You're fools, all of you. Stupid, ignorant fools who don't know what you're getting into. This whole thing is bigger than you realize and you're nowhere near ready to..."

His words trailed off into thin air and he stopped so suddenly that Jayne walked into him and he stumbled.

"Hey, doctor." Wash grinned and gave a little wave. "How are you feeling? I'm just great, by the way, couldn't be better."

"It's you!" The doctor quickly recovered. "You're all in on this! Not that it matters, it's too late. You won't be able to save your friend and I'm not telling you anything. Nothing you can do will make me."

Mal opened the door and Jayne pushed the doctor inside. Neither of them were expecting the high pitched scream that followed. They shrugged at each other and looked inside.

River was sitting on the bed, all innocence and light as she smiled up at them and gave a little wave. The doctor, however, was cowering against the wall on the opposite side of the room.

"River?" Mal asked softly. "What are you doing in here? We haven't called for you, yet."

"Getting your answers." She shrugged.

He looked at Jayne, looked at the shivering man, then looked at her.

"What's going on here?"

"Look," the doctor pleaded, a note of hysteria in his voice. "you're obviously a very smart man, Captain...? You are the Captain, yes? I'll tell you anything. Anything at all. You want money? I've got money, lots of it, it's yours! The girl? Yes? Yes! I'll get her back for you, good as new..."

"Not new." River said and they heard the malice in her voice. "Blood on her face, tears in her eyes. I see it in you."

Mal felt his jaw clench.

"You hurt Kaylee, did ya?"

"No! I mean..." River stood up and he stepped closer to Mal and Jayne. "..you don't understand!"

"I understood the words 'blood' and 'tears' just fine." Jayne glared at the quivering doctor. "Didn't you, Mal?"

"Clear as day." Mal crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. "What I'm wondering is why a grown man like yourself is so scared of a little slip of a girl like this?"

"Leave us alone, Mal." River didn't take her eyes off Dr. Williams. "Please?"

"She's not a girl." The doctor was down to begging now. "What do you want? Just tell me, I'll do it. Don't leave me with her. Please? You can't..."

"But what I really want to know," Mal continued. "is why you'd think I'd care after what you've done to my crew?"

They stepped back free of the room and, at Mal's signal, Jayne closed the door.

"You just gonna leave her in there with him?" Jayne asked.

"Yup." He answered. "I have a feeling she'll be fine. An' we'll be just out here if she wants to call out or cry for help or some such."

Jayne looked to the door and heard a series of slight thuds, the sound of a man falling to his knees, his expression suggested that it wasn't really River he'd been asking for.

***

"All those years." River watched him as he sat on the floor, dazed. "You enjoyed it. The pulling and the stretching and poking and pain."

He didn't answer her.

"With us. With those women." She let her face harden. "With Kaylee."

"No." He rushed in. "I didn't hurt her! I didn't..."

She stood up and took a step towards him, pushing through the taste of blood, old and new, that radiated from his skin. Waves of agony that weren't his laced with the pleasure that was. The ugliness of it.

"Because they stopped you." A sudden frown of confusion stopped her. "Only six. Who else?"

"What?" He looked up at her. "There are only six left."

"Seven." She insisted, faltering when she couldn't find it in him. "There has to be seven."

"Six. Bethany. Daniel. Sebastian." He rattled the names off easily, trying to buy time. "Alexandria and the twins. It has to be you. There is no one else."

"Then you don't know enough," River echoed his tone of voice from hours before as she continued to move towards him. "but enough to know to stay quiet right now and be a very good boy."

***

Kaylee had curled up into a fetal position on the small bed, she rocked back and forth and hummed to herself, wishing for it to be over soon. It had been going on for too long already. She couldn't tell if it had been twenty minutes or three hours.

When she looked up again, he was there. The mystery man. His expression was pained and his face was pointed in the direction of the sound that scratched through the walls. She crawled off the small bed and came to sit by him. She didn't let her mind wonder about the fact that it was impossible for anybody to actually be there.

"Who are you?" She whispered. He looked at her and she could see how upset he was, but he didn't answer. "It's okay, you don't need to talk. Just stay with me."

The men with blue hands had not lied.

Nobody liked the screams of the youngest girl.

***

"Mal?"

He stood up from the table where he was playing cards with Jayne, Simon and Book. Wash and Zoe were in their bunk. Inara hovered by the edge of the common room holding her arms close to her body. Taking her elbow, he led her into the infirmary and closed the door.

"You left her alone with him?"

"She's getting the information we need." He insisted, already tired of explaining himself. "And quickly, I might add. We don't have a lot of time right now."

"You know what you're doing, don't you?" He wouldn't meet her eyes and she continued. "Whatever she does in there, you're advocating it. You gave her carte blanche. You're turning her into..."

"Inara." His voice was tight. "She asked for it. She asked me to leave her there. It was her choice."

"A choice which didn't need to be made!" Her eyes flashed anger. "Jayne said he was going to tell us everything."

"And you believe him, do ya?" Mal flung his words out. "Just because you bedded him once or twice, does not mean you're qualified. He would have lied and we both know it."

She looked at the timepiece on the wall.

"Five minutes. That didn't take long." Her eyes narrowed and she all but hissed the next few words. "Don't you turn this around on me, don't you dare, Mal, because we both know what this is about. You want to see what will happen, you want to know what River's capable of and you don't care what it will do to her!"

His hand slammed down on the bench.

"I don't...?" Mal turned away and breathed, his back straight. "River said he's already hurt Kaylee. She said something about blood and tears. Yes, Inara, I care. I care a lot, but not about that sorry excuse for a man. I hope she gets her vengeance."

Inara bit down on any retort she was about to make, her brain surging.

"Is... is Kaylee...?"

"I don't know." He said. "She didn't give details."

They stood unspeaking for several seconds. Inara could see the tension radiate from his back, the way he held himself a little too carefully. She lifted a hand up to him, about to touch his shoulder, offer some sort of reassurance. He broke away from her before she made contact and went to open the door.

"Jayne!" He roared. "Just 'cause I'm sitting out the hand, don't mean I'm out of the game. You put every one of them papers back in my pile or I will ration each and every single parcel of food that goes into your mouth for the next six months. Do you hear me?"

"What?" Came the voice. "I didn't do nothin'."

"Mal..." Inara began.

"Just drop it, okay?" He looked back at her. "What's done is done."

"Yes." She looked behind him. "I'd say you're right."

Mal turned and his face showed nothing, but his eyes tightened slightly when he saw River standing just outside the passenger dorms. There was a faraway look in her eyes, a distant expression on her face and she had trouble concentrating.

"River?" Simon stood up, but couldn't seem to move any further.

She walked over to Mal and looked up at him, holding her right hand out in front of her. It was red. As was a streak that ran down the left side of her neck. Her left hand came out and took his, opening his fingers out and tracing a circle in his palm.

"He has no more words." Mal looked into her eyes and felt lonely. Something wet and solid fell into his open hand. "Better see to him."

Nobody spoke as she walked up the stairs, away from them all. Mal looked at what he was holding. Two whole teeth, roots glistening pink under all the blood that smeared on his skin.

He ran to the dorm and couldn't stop the moan. He felt Inara come up behind him and heard her gasp as she twisted away.

"Doc?" He called and looked to see Simon half way up to the second floor after his sister. "Simon! We need you here, NOW."

***

After a night like this, they let one of them stay with her. To no one's surprise Alexandria chose Bethany and they waited until the door was locked behind them. She collapsed on the bed and let Bethany run a hand over her shoulders and arms. Her breath came in small pants and her movements were jagged.

"Shh." They didn't need to speak, but they liked to when there was no one else around. Bethany remembered a phrase she had pulled out of Kaylee. "It's okay, mei mei, you'll be better tomorrow. It's just like the last time."

And the time before that. And all the other times before that. As Alexandria eventually calmed down and her breathing slowed, her eyes falling closed, Bethany let her brain go over the pictures she had stored in there. The memories she had found in Kaylee's head. Happy people, laughter, excitement, passion, River having fun.

Her thoughts drifted to the man who had kept Kaylee calm, the man she'd thought of when she wanted them to be seven in number. It seemed impossible, because they would have known. It was unthinkable that they had not known.

Yet they hadn't.

***

"She didn't do this." Simon couldn't stop saying it as he worked on the man on his table. "River couldn't have done this."

"Simon." Mal handed him another compression package. "I think..."

"She's..." He flailed for the right words, but they were failing him. "It's unfathomable, Captain, she doesn't have it in her."

"Fine." Mal clipped his words short. "She sat there and watched as he did this to himself, then played with his teeth when he was done. Does that make you feel any better?"

Simon's hands stopped moving and he counted to five.

"No." He said finally. "No, it doesn't."

"Just patch him up," Mal continued. "and let's hope we don't need him as a bargaining chip just yet."

Inara didn't say anything, she leant against the bench far away from the action in the middle of the room and waited until she was needed again. Her arms were crossed and she glared at Mal.

"You were right." It was the only concession he gave to her. "Is that what you wanted to hear? I didn't think she'd..."

But he didn't have the chance to finish that sentence.

"Mal?" Jayne burst into the infirmary, red faced as if he'd run all the way from one end of the ship to the other. "The shuttle's gone! Shuttle number two is gone."

"Tamade." He hissed and he had to ask, even if he already knew the answer. "Where's River?"

Jayne's look said it all.

"You stay here, Simon." He didn't need to look to know that the doctor had been about to leave his patient. "Inara will finish helping you."

***

Wash was already at the helm, Zoe standing behind him, when Jayne and Mal thundered onto the bridge.

"Wash?" Mal breathed heavy. "You turn that shuttle around, now. Call it back!"

"Can't." Was all Wash said.

"What?" Mal made a face. "What do you mean, 'can't'? Just lock into her nav trajectory or whatever the hell we did with Inara."

"She's been here." Wash pointed at the blood on the dials. "Left her mark, too."

"I don't believe..." Mal pushed past Zoe and grabbed the transmitter. "Then fire us up and we’ll go after her.”

"Can't." Wash said again and pointed to more blood on the wires underneath the control. "She got the whole ship."

***

There was red. And noise. So much noise. Shards of sound that broke into her ears like the snap of bone. Silent screams. Back to red. Stop it, stop it, stop it. But she couldn’t. His thoughts stained her skin. Faces and tears. The cut of leather through skin. Back and back and the sound of a small child sobbing.

“River?” She jerked at the sound of his voice. “You turn that shuttle around, you hear me?”

Time stretched out like elastic, taut and about to break. River closed her eyes, shied away from the flow that slithered through the com, waited for the heat to trickle into fear.

“No.”

She hung a teardrop on the word and offered it to him like a present.

“River.” Mal’s voice shattered and she thought she might cry for him, too. “Don’t go there alone. Let’s talk about this.”

“Need to.” Flashes in her head. “No time for Kaylee.”

A pause.

“What did he tell you?”

Another pause.

“Enough.” So quietly she could only tell she’d spoken by the change of his energy. “All I need.”

“River?” Oh, he was so much brown that her tears would make him mud, thick and sludgy and hard to see through. “Is there anything I can say to get you to change your mind?”

She reached up and ran a hand over the glass, over the scenery that flew by.

"I scared you, confirmed what you all thought."

"We weren't scared,” he rushed to say. “it was just..."

"Liar." She didn’t give him the chance to finish.

"Well, okay, maybe a little.” His hesitation spoke more than his words. “You really hurt him."

"Didn't want to do it." River let the words free. “Took from him what he took from them.”

Her eyes found their destination and she steered the shuttle with ease, even as she couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t stop the noise or the fear.

“River?” Her whole body turned to the direction of his voice, curled into his acceptance. “You be very careful, dong ma? You get yourself killed and I’ll be fit to burst.”

“I’ll bring her back, Captain.” She gave him the word, because he rarely heard it from her. “I have no choice.”

“You see that you do.” His voice carried a lot of static and she couldn’t read it anymore. “’Cause I ain’t got no other choice but to sit here and wait.”

***

A military base on a large core planet will have several officers patrolling the grounds. More than enough to oversee any after hours visitors. This is exactly what she counted on as she approached the port. The more the merrier.

Every single one of the guards posted at strategic positions along the grounds was so confident in the capability of the other officers that they didn’t feel the need to over exert themselves. The man in front of the security monitors had long ago glazed over with boredom.

Not one of them was going to raise an eyebrow to someone who walked straight up to the front door and punched in a valid pass code, not someone who knew exactly where they were going, who had proper take off clearance and flight paths.

Or, at least, someone that would have such things as soon as they had access to the express shuttle cortex link.

Not one of them would bother checking the access codes and compare the face of the doctor on their screen to the figure of a girl.

They were to o busy cataloguing the hours of pay versus the painful boredom an after hours shift put them through, trying to remember the grocery list, the name of the girl they slept with the night before. Some energy was spent keeping an eye and ear out for any suspicious activity, but they would not see any.

River counted on it.

***

Mind numbing terror. Memories hit her, too many and some of them were hers and some of them weren’t and some of them couldn’t be quantified and some of them made her heart beat fast and her skin burn.

River struggled to step forward.

It hit her the instant she passed into the building, through a laundry hatch into a deserted corridor. Everything all at once. Twelve months of being absent, missing the outcomes. Pain shared, thoughts, memories, misery. From all angles it burrowed into her.

Kaylee. She pushed her brain out and tried to find her. Kaylee. A spark, six floors up, the smell of green. Her eyes lifted and she smiled as she began to run.

River.

No. She skidded to a stop and her mouth fell open. No.

I need you, River.

Her breath caught in her throat, threatening to burst hotly in her lungs. She had to get Kaylee. She couldn’t listen, couldn’t know. Only six floors up.

I’m in the basement.

Up. Kaylee was up. River whined, a whimper coming from her chest and up through her mouth. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t think.

You can’t get to her now.

Kaylee. A tear feel down her cheek. Here for Kaylee, she needs. River pressed herself against the wall.

They had Alex in room four. The guards are doubled tonight.

Bright pain hit her and River tried to shake the screams from her head. Her hand clutched the wall.

She’s safe for now. I need you more.

No. River felt bile inch up her esophagus.

They realize I’m awake, River, and everyone is dead. They won’t need you, any of you. They’ll kill the children. They’ll make you watch as they kill Kaylee. They’ll make me watch as they kill you. You know it.

She couldn’t do it. Couldn’t move in either direction.

You get me out, take me with you, and they’ll have nothing. They’ll have to keep Kaylee safe. You know it’s true. The others will watch her. We can finish it all, you and I. Set them all free. This is what you want.

River slid down the wall.

Get up, River, get up right now and help me. You owe me that much.

***

They all gasp, their thoughts explode with fear and confusion, pictures fly through her brain. They can do nothing but stand up a little bit straighter, keep their eyes forward and keep their tears from spilling hot like lava.

River doesn’t.

She falls to her knees, doesn’t care about the blood that seeps into her gown as she puts a hand on the hole in his chest. He is warm, but that’s changing fast. Stillness and cold seep into him and he’s no longer able to share the space in her head.

A loud scream rips through the air and River realizes that it’s her as she feels the hands pull her up and away. Her legs slip in the pool of blood and she can taste it through her skin.

It dries sticky as they slide the needle into her veins.

***

“What’s the verdict, Doc?”

Simon sighed as he closed the infirmary door behind him.

“He’s stable for now.” He met Mal’s eyes. “She knocked him unconscious, broke his nose and the bones of his right cheek, which is how she got the… uh… the teeth. That’s not the worst of it… It looks as if she tried to disembowel him.”

Book frowned at the words, but he didn’t say anything.

“Tried?” Mal grimaced. “She had tools in there?”

Simon breathed and tried to control the shaking of his voice.

“No.” He looked down at the floor. “She didn’t.”

Inara sat down. Wash put a hand on Zoe’s shoulder and she reached up to cover it with one of her own. Jayne looked vaguely ill at ease as his hand rested above his belly. Nobody spoke for a very long time.

“Simon?” River’s voice sounded loud over the speakers. “Meet us at the shuttle. The plan needs a doctor now.”

Simon was not the only one who raced out of the common room and up the cargo stairs to wait for the sounds of docking metal. Everybody held their breath as the door opened.

“River?” Mal was the first to speak. “Who the hell is this and where is Kaylee?”

She didn’t look up at them as she helped support the weight of the weakened man.

“This is Jonah.”

COMMENTS

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 11:57 AM

REALLYKAYLEE


you=wicked awesome!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 1:51 PM

AMDOBELL


Good gorram this is compellingly good! Can't wait for the next part but boy were things gruesome for a while there. That'll teach Williams to hurt Kaylee. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 9:02 AM

ARTSHIPS


Another splendid chapter. Thank you. And you kept the italicized parts from being confusing, too.

Monday, March 6, 2006 5:29 AM

BURNANDBOIL


Woooo!! :D

Monday, October 20, 2008 3:26 AM

RIVERRED


Wow river really kicked the doctor dudes but i wonder what she did to get his teeth out of his mouth???


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