BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JACQUI

Adam's Rib Ch 9: Reclamation.
Thursday, September 15, 2005

It's time these blue bastards learned who they're dealing with.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3202    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: Not mine. Nope. Well, okay, Jonah and the children are mine. All mine. HA. Take that Joss (well, no, not really: Jonah is shiny and I wanna keep him).

Links: I’ve been busy. I started these as a quick reference for myself, but others wanted them, too. So they’re here if you want them. They’ll be updated when I update the chapters, so for easy reference…

- A timeline. - Reports from the Academy detailing what was done to the children and when. - And the memories in chronological order.

Feedback: always craved, always answered: wily_one24@yahoo.com.au (don't make me beg for comments and feedback, people, it's not pretty).

***

Inara sat on the bed and looked at the small pistol in her hand. It was silver, ornate, and had been chosen, like everything else in her life, for its beauty. That and the way it was easily concealed within her robes.

It had been a very long time since she had actually used it.

Her fingers traced the engravings on the handle. It surprised her how readily they had all assumed she would load up and join them. Of course, there wasn't much she wouldn't do for Kaylee, or River for that matter. And it wasn't like she hadn't been joining them on their jobs lately, she had helped with the Lassiter, had stood up to Rance Burgess with Nandi. It was just that they had always, or more precisely Mal had always made sure she was never in the middle of the danger. She'd always considered herself danger adjacent.

Something inside her tightened when she thought about the fact that he hadn't even blinked this time.

She sighed and placed the small pistol back in its wooden box and then placed that back in its hiding place. Considering what they were about to do and who they were planning to do it against, she was going to feel a lot more comfortable with something a little bigger.

Inara wondered just how much it would take for Jayne to part with Vera.

***

Two long, austere, expressionless faces peered down the shaft, their eyes adjusted to the dark quickly. Several figures crouched like ants at the bottom. One face turned up to them, the glow of the metal cutters illuminating the top of his bald scalp.

"She's fused the roof access." He called up to them. "And she's totally disabled the elevator mechanisms."

"She's intelligent." Said the man on the right.

"More so than the lot of you, obviously." Said the man on the left.

"We can't get in." His voice rose up, more than a little fear within it. "There's no way."

"Cut through the floor." Said the first man. "If you have to."

"Find a way." Said the second. "We don't care how."

***

"I ain't playin'."

"Please?" She wheedled.

"No." Jayne folded his arms over his chest and leaned back on the couch. "Stop lookin' at me like that, girl. I said no."

River made her eyes big and wide. She pouted. She even gave a little mewl for good measure. Jayne set his jaw.

"Seven more hours." She whined. "Seven."

"Look, I told you already, I ain't gonna play no gorram cards with no gorram mind reading freak."

Zoe looked up from the kitchen as she stirred a spoon through the pot.

"Good call." She agreed.

River looked him in the face, her eyes moved back and forth and she began to smile. Evilly. She placed her chin on her hands and looked entirely smug. Jayne sat up a little straighter.

"Stop it, y'hear?"

River's smile got deeper.

"Fine." He gritted through clenched teeth and flipped over a card. "Plums are top."

***

Jonah watched Simon watch River from the doorway. He could feel the reverence in the man, the slowly building joy at his sister's teasing, such a normal state of being.

"It's harder for us." Jonah watched Simon spin around, red faced at being caught spying from the shadows. "For you and me."

"I'm sorry?"

"They don't understand." Jonah continued. "They think it's difficult for you because she's your sister, but that's not all."

Simon nodded for him to continue.

"It hurts us more to see her like this," he explained, "because we know what she was like before. They don't have a basis for comparison."

Simon looked down.

"I should have fought harder. Six months, even." He spat the words out. "Jesus, just six months!"

"There's no guarantee it would have made a difference." It was firm, Jonah's voice, and left no room for doubt. "She was the strongest, but also the most fragile out of all of us. She would take anything they dished out, but she'd already started to crack before I left."

A confused crinkle formed in Simon's brow.

"Is this your idea of comforting?"

Jonah came to stand next to him, he let his eyes linger on River as she smiled to herself, quite obviously cheating as Jayne glared at her and handed over another piece of paper.

"She's the only one of us that never gave up, even when it was at its worst." Jonah turned back to Simon. "She always knew you'd come rescue her. Knew, by the way, not believed or hoped. Knew."

Closing his eyes, Simon remembered a shaking hand reaching out to touch the swelling of a black eye. I didn't think you'd come. Even now the words broke something in him.

"I just took too long."

"No, you don't get it." Jonah insisted. "She didn't give up hope, not when I knew her and even if they eventually broke her down, you're the only one out here that never gave up. You proved her right."

***

She lies sideways on her bed. She's all wrong and that's fine by her, because nothing has been right for over a month now and why she should be any different escapes her.

The bed stretches out on either side of her, enough for her to spread her arms out wide if she wants to. Her legs lean up against the wall, straight and long, the generic gown falling down to her hips, and she crosses her ankles in the air, watches her toes point, perfect and dainty. Her dance instructor back in Capital City would have been so proud.

The bed is narrow and it supports her back to just underneath her shoulder blades. River reaches her hands up past her head, revels in the stretch of her muscles, the pull of her body as she bends back. Her hair hangs down and sweeps the floor, her hands twist in air as she tightens for a second, then relaxes into the arch.

Something just isn't right, but she doesn't know what.

What River remembers is a needle in her arm and then nothing until she woke up yesterday. Her mouth is dry and tastes like copper. Her head is tender and she can't move it very fast without causing jolts of pain and bursts of light behind her eyes.

So she moves slowly and stares upside down at the wall.

It's not just the pain that scares her, it's the small slips of feeling she gets whenever someone is near. River can't define it, it's nothing clear or tangible. She thinks it's like a smell she can't identify. Something familiar that she breathes in whole and knowing, but exhales ninety five percent of the very second after, leaving nothing but smoky, almost wisps of nameless scents and color. The more she chases after them, the less she can define.

She hasn't been able to see anyone for nearly two days now and it makes her nervous. She doesn't know what's been done to them, doesn't even know what's been done to herself. It's worse, somehow, the crushing fear. Worse when she can't talk to Jonah or Daniel or Bethany, when she can't be strong for herself because she has to be strong for Peter and poor, scared little Alex.

When she's alone and memories of a brother are enough to make her cry. The deep ache for laughter in a room full of the scent of books and ink and the softest buzzing of the cortex link. Where he pretends to be annoyed and she tries to see how far she can go before he actually gets there.

The locks on her door sound and River crumples into herself, folding her legs down to her body and snapping her head back up. It creates a white hot flash of pain that makes her cry out, makes her breathless with dizziness as she hugs her arms around her knees.

They've come to take her again. They're either going to take her back to the medical lab or back to the group. It's a fifty percent chance, but those are odds she doesn't want to play.

River whimpers when the images get to her before the hands do.

***

"Where have they gone?"

Kaylee looked from the elevator and the darkened hallways that Daniel and Sebastian disappeared down and back again. There were some frightening sounds coming from the doors which they'd jammed open with two tables that were nearby when they first got here. It was only a matter of time before they got through.

"Securing the ground." Bethany said automatically. "Sweeping for enemies. Thoughtlessness will get you killed."

"Enemies...?" Even as she asked it, Kaylee knew the girl was right. The word stuck in her head, along with 'killed'. They'd waged a war and now they were going to have to fight it. The reality of it threatened to crash down on her. "Of course, enemies. Yes. I thought so."

"It hasn't happened yet." Alex took her hand. "Show us again. Please?"

They looked at her, four faces that turned to her eagerly. Kaylee felt a smile tug at the corner of her mouth. Before she finished the thought, the children sat down and she settled herself into the middle of them.

"She laughs a lot."

Kaylee began the narration, letting images of a happy River cascade through her memory. In the darkness, she saw a dreamy faraway look come over Alex's small face, her mouth hanging open. Bethany closed her eyes and a smile softened her features. Minmei's hand slipped into Binh's and Kaylee saw him squeeze it.

Above them, the emergency lights flickered on and off. To the side of them, the sound of power tools cutting through metal scratched through the room. Somewhere in the distance, Kaylee heard a crash, some muffled thumps and a loud crack that might have been a gun.

She paused and her eyes searched the black hallway. A small hand took her wrist and she looked into Alex's gray eyes. The girl nodded and Kaylee felt herself breathe a little easier.

"River loves games." She continued, trying not to hear the sound of dragging. "We chase each other around the ship."

"Yeah?" Kaylee looked over to see Sebastian hauling the body of a man, tied with rope, to the elevator. "What else do you do together?"

"Sebastian!" Bethany's voice both weary and amused. "I told you to leave her alone."

"What?" He dropped the man, ignoring the groans that issued, and raised his hands in innocence. "It's a fair question."

Bethany made a face at Sebastian and turned to look into the dark hall behind him.

"Daniel?" She called. "He's doing it again."

"He's allowed to ask questions. Kaylee's a big girl, she doesn't have to answer if she doesn't want to." Came the even response as Daniel entered into the main room, hauling his own tied man behind him. He stopped to give Sebastian a pointed look. "Of course, the more he asks, the more we really should share with Kaylee. Just to be fair. Let's start with the dream he had last night."

"Dream?" Sebastian grew wide eyed. "I had no dream."

A smile grew on Kaylee's face as she watched them.

"Didn't think so." Daniel replied with a straight face. "Come on, let's get the rest."

***

"Hey honey." Zoe stepped into the bridge and smiled. "I made you soup."

"Soup? You bought me soup?" Wash spun around, he searched the doorway behind her. "Are you mad? If Mal catches us in here with..."

"Mal will have to deal with me." Zoe said calmly and handed him the bowl. "Now eat, before I hold you down and make you."

"But... soup?" He stressed. "All these consoles, one little drop..."

"Husband." She interrupted. "I'm not asking. Eat it."

He made a face, but managed to bring a spoonful to his mouth. One eye was kept firm on the door.

"Relax," she said as she sat in the co-pilot's chair, "he's too busy supervising a high stakes game of top card between Jayne and River to come up here and check on you."

Wash nearly choked on the spoonful of soup he'd been about to swallow.

"Jayne's betting with River?" He laughed. "She doesn't have any chores to bet with."

"She's managing." Zoe chuckled. "By my count, Jayne has to help her draw one pretty picture, apologize to Simon eight times and Kaylee once and learn to dance en pointe."

He grinned.

"Guess she's gonna win every hand, huh?"

"Not so." Her eyes glittered. "She loses when she wants to. I'm just having a hard time picturing the Captain letting River take over sniping duty on our next assignment."

"Jayne bet that?" Wash's mouth fell open. "Mal's gonna kill him."

"And River let him win for it." She nodded.

Wash sighed, deep and heavy as he looked down into his soup.

"Do you think she ever gets bored?" He asked. "Between Simon and Mal, she never gets to do anything."

Zoe glanced at him, then stared out into the black. If he was trying to get somewhere with this, and previous experience told her he was, then it would be a lot easier if she weren't looking directly at him. He hated an audience when he was being serious.

"Do you think...?" She paused when he glanced sharply at her, then continued anyway. "Do you think it's the same for her as it was for you?"

"I don't know." He admitted softly. "I hope not."

They sat in silence for a moment and Wash tried to eat more. The soup had already started going cold and he wasn't even hungry to start with. Not that it mattered, he would eat it, would finish every last trace of it. They had all been through too many food rationings to waste it when they had it.

"I felt like I was in anti-grav." He said slowly. "Where everything takes so long. You know, every step forward takes ten minutes. My brain was there, but it wouldn't do what I wanted."

In the distance, Zoe's eyes picked up the flare of some debris floating through the black, she automatically scanned the radars, but they weren't picking it up. Whatever it was, it was too small and too far away to register.

"You didn't know me." She said it softly and Wash heard the crack in her voice.

"I didn't even know me." He answered. "It was all gone. I had another life, it felt complete, but there were no specifics, no details."

Wash put the half empty bowl down carefully and went to stand behind his wife. He brought his arms down over her shoulders, rested his hands on her breastbone and his chin on the top of her head.

"I know you now." He told her. "I know every little piece of our life together, every detail, even the bad things."

She leaned back and kissed the underside of his chin as she smiled.

"There are no bad things, husband."

"Oh, yes." He leaned over and kissed her upside down mouth. "I remember now."

***

Four guards, no longer armed, sat propped against the wall with their arms bound behind their backs, their ankles tied and their mouths gagged. Next to them was propped one of the doctors and if his binds were tighter than the others, tighter than strictly necessary, nobody pointed it out.

Kaylee eyed them all with suspicion as she listened to the familiar clicks of guns being checked and loaded that sounded behind her.

"Sebastian, here, you take an auto." Daniel said.

"My specialty!" Came the reply.

"One for me, here Bethany, Alex." The allocation continued. "Minmei, Binh, take the shotguns, two apiece, and keep the usual pattern."

A pause.

"Kaylee?" She turned, waiting. "You stay behind us, okay?"

"What?" Her eyes narrowed. "I don't get one?"

They looked at her.

"The twins get two!" She pouted.

"Gun history?" Daniel watched her face flush red. "I thought as much. We'll watch out for you, don't worry."

"Fine." She made a face. "I just want to make an official objection to this."

"So noted." Six voices replied as they nodded as one.

"Well..." She scanned the nearby area. "Can I at least have a chair leg?"

***

River stood up and clutched her two losing pieces of paper, she smiled her thanks at Jayne who only pretended to snarl back. He was all warm on the inside, smooth and flowing like melted butter. She stopped to think about the memory of a kitchen stocked with real food. A wall of intent hit her from the side and she clutched the papers tighter.

"You're not going on sniper duty." Mal sighed. "Jayne should damn well know better. You owe him something else. Work it out between yourselves."

"We'll see." She smiled coyly.

Mal's eyes flickered for a moment.

"What else did he win?"

But River folded the paper into the palm of her hand and held it behind her back. There was no way she was going to let it go. It was the key to getting Jayne to hold his end of the bargain. Her eyes dared him to fight her for it and for a second the energy radiating from him suggested that he would, but he backed down.

"Fine. You just run it by me before doing anything completely stupid, do you hear me?"

"Yes Captain."

She gave a salute and her eyes gleamed as she skipped away. The paper curled into her hand, warmed by it, pressed into the grooves of her skin. She could feel the lines of ink on it bend into the new creases, snapping over folds and creating new shapes. It didn't matter, she knew what it said.

***

The warmth of the engine room surrounded him. Jonah liked it here. Everything in it spoke volumes. He could sit in the hammock and absorb the leftover threads of Kaylee, learn about her straight from the source. It wasn't a Kaylee scared and terrified and in desperate need of comfort, nor was it a Kaylee seen through the eyes of River, tinged with need and adoration and a little bit of hero worship.

Here, in this room, was a Kaylee who spoke to the engine, who cared for each and every piece and part. There were patches and repairs made by someone who couldn't bear waste. Orderly piles of junk on the shelves from one who couldn't part with anything as long as there was some possible use for it.

The colors lived inside these walls, oranges and rusted reds that spoke of joy and peace and heat. The emotions that ran through this space were hard and fast and had been felt to their fullest.

Jonah knew exactly why River was drawn to this woman.

He thought about the coldness he'd woken up to, the sterility and anonymity of the place that had held him for a year and a half before they'd tried to kill him. The prison that had held River for six months after that and the children for another twelve.

Kaylee was everything the Academy was not.

He sat in the hammock, closed his eyes and waited for her. The curiosity of her crept over him well before he felt the dip and shifting of his weight that tumbled him against her as she settled herself next to him, shoulder to shoulder.

That and more. Kaylee. My fun, like before, but not. Never go back.

They shared warmth.

I saw what happened to Magda. River flinched at his thoughts. Show me the other five.

Charles. Col. Magda. She continued the litany of names. Aida. Tyson. Taban.

Jonah let the images pass into him, the faces of the younger ones that had died because of him. It hadn't happened all at once, not on the same day. They'd made it last, gave the full impact to those left behind.

There are eight of us now. He thought. There should be seven.

Hidden in the basement, thirteen made from twelve. Her brain countered. Shouldn't be there. Too many.

We're the variables. It sounded like both of them and River couldn't discern who it was. One of us is included in their plans. The other isn't.

They sat, side by side, not speaking and trying not to think. There were too many thoughts to be had and very few of them were pleasant. Very gently, together, they made the hammock swing.

You called me sweet heart... River picked up his hand and examined the large fingers, the wiry hairs that dotted the back of his wrist. ... still do. On the inside.

"River? Don't."

He said it out loud and she felt him withdraw from her mind more than when he took his hand away. Both acts left her lonely. The hammock tumbled at the loss of his weight.

***

The door opens and River steps inside before they can put a hand on her arm and guide her in. Faces turn her way and several of them call her name. A group of them crowd around something in the corner. Her heart freezes.

Evan runs up to her, shy little Evan who was so quiet in the first week they never thought she'd say anything and now she speaks loud and fast so that they can't see how scared she is.

River! The girl cries and grabs her hand. It's Jonah!

She lets herself be pulled to the crowd in the corner and already knows what she's going to see.

He hit one of them. Daniel explains. After they took you.

They all move, shifting away to make a space for her by his head, and River can't stop the gasp that escapes her lips. Everything about him looks bloody and broken and bruised.

Jonah. She kneels next to him, takes his hand and twines her fingers into his. It's about the only part of him that doesn't look like it will hurt. Why?

He cracks an eye open to look at her and there is a large purple clot in the middle of it.

You're not wrong. He rasps it through cracked and swollen lips. They didn't bring you back wrong.

River feels it and it stuns her, makes her pause. That inhalation of another person, the only difference is that this time she keeps it, she knows what it is. Relief that isn't hers courses through and over her.

She doesn't know if the tears in her eyes are hers for him or his for her.

***

"We'll split up." Daniel said again and they nodded. Kaylee got the impression that they were speaking aloud for her benefit. "Minmei, Binh and Alex, you stay here. Watch these guys and keep an eye out for any breaches of the perimeter."

The sound of the metal cutters continued from the elevator.

Alexandria made a face.

"No." Daniel told her. "You're staying here and you're going to rest. Do you hear me?"

He reached out to her stubborn face and Kaylee saw him touch a gentle finger to the red raw marks at the side of her forehead and along strategic points across the base of her skull.

"It ends today." His voice was deep and tightly controlled as he made the promise. "One way or another. It's time."

They moved then and Kaylee followed him, Bethany and Sebastian down the hall. The three of them had their guns at the ready and she, well, she had a keen eye and a broken chair leg. The hallway split into two and, without a word, Bethany and Sebastian turned to the left.

"What do you mean?" She asked him. "One way or another?"

His eyes sized her up and down.

"You know how we're going to get out of here?" Daniel waited for the slow shake of her head. "Neither do I. There's only one way in or out and that's the elevator shaft. Even the air is pumped in through miniscule pipes. They're going to get in sooner or later."

He stopped in front of a door and turned the handle.

"There are too many of them and not enough of us." A sigh punctuated his speech. "You've bought us time, but we can't stop it."

She stepped into the room behind him and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark. Not each room was equipped with emergency lighting. There were odd shapes along the walls and a distant humming.

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" She turned on him. "What about the others?"

"Do you even know what it's like in here?" He didn't look at her as he began searching the cabinets in the middle of the room. "All those stories River told you? They're nothing. Nothing to what came after. You don't know, you'll never know. You heard what they did to Alex last night! You can see the scars! What makes you think she can take another three years of this? Any of us?"

Kaylee said nothing. One thing she knew about engines was that when one wanted to overflow, sometimes the best thing to do is let it.

"We watched them wear River down and we couldn't do a thing about it! Every time she came back from them she was worse, just a little more gone, a little more cracked. Every single time we knew it would happen to us as well. Jonah got off easy! They left him alone for the past eighteen months."

He was shaking and Kaylee took a step towards him. Daniel couldn't feel anybody but himself at that moment. A bursting of a bubble he hadn't known was there, hadn't allowed himself to, an oozing of resentment at the responsibility he hadn't asked for. Five younger faces looking to him to save them, to make it all alright. Twelve long months of intimidation, fear and pain.

"River got out, too. She left us in here for a year, Kaylee, a full year!"

"It's not her fault." She said softly.

"And it's not mine." Daniel let it out in a sigh, his momentum gone as his eyes scanned the desks in front of him. "Do you think they're just going to slap us on the wrist for this? We either find a way out or we go down in a blaze of glory. You think you can come in here and show Bethany how happy River is and she's just going to accept it and continue to play science experiment? Alex? Sebastian? They all want out. Or they want it over."

His face was calm again and he looked her in the eyes when he repeated himself.

"One way or another."

"River's coming." Kaylee said it quietly, but with enough conviction for him to take notice as she hefted her chair leg again. "They're coming back. And I never agreed to this kamikaze mission of yours. So, I'm not giving up just yet, I don't care how long it takes."

Daniel tasted her hope like bitterness on his tongue and he wanted to like it, wanted to open to it, but he'd learned long and hard. He turned to a handle on the wall and pulled open a drawer.

"You remember those words, Kaylee." Her eyes adjusted to the swirling mist of dry ice that poured over the sides. "Because you're going to need them if that elevator gives way. You're not ready for what they're prepared to do if they get you alive."

***

Jonah's hand swept in broad strokes across the paper, the pencil creating fast lines and sure measurements. Without thinking about it, the plans he drew were to scale.

"Four hours." Mal announced to the table. "We need to organize this thing."

"They know we're coming." Jonah announced. "They have to. It's no use being coy about it, they'll spot this ship the minute we break atmo, because they'll be looking for it."

"Frontal attacks," Zoe nodded. "we're known for them."

Jonah drew little crosses on the outsides of the building and Jayne eyed it warily.

"These are their main defense locations. Discreet, but powerful canons. Take these out from a distance and we've got a good chance of getting close."

"Um?" Wash raised his hand. "Serenity doesn't have external firepower."

"Don't need guns." River stepped into the room. "Canons work on navigation, radar controls, heat, seek, destroy. Block the nav sats. Electricity fields swarm the screen. Needle through a haystack."

"I can do that." Wash replied.

"This is where they're keeping her." Jonah pointed as they strained over to look. "Same as the others. Everything goes our way, they'll all be there."

"Little problem." Mal said. "Nothing ever goes our way."

Jonah's lip curled in amusement.

"We'll know." He looked at River who stayed standing by the door. "When we get closer, we'll know where they all are. We'll adjust the plan then. Best case scenario? They're within easy reach. Just ideal? They're all together somewhere."

"Worst case?" Asked Zoe.

"Training ops." River intoned. "Separated. Guarded. Isolation. Spread out. Too late if it's the med lab."

"Then let's not make it the med lab." Mal felt a chill when he thought of those words connected with Kaylee. "How are we doing this?"

"Three teams." Jonah said. "Jayne, Simon and River will find the children. Mal, Zoe, Wash and Inara will find Kaylee."

Glances were shared across the table.

"That's an interesting line up you got there, three of them and four of us." Mal pointed out. "Exactly what will you and the Preacher be doing?"

"I have my own agenda." Jonah replied, looking mal straight in the eye. "I need cover. Mr. Book can provide it."

"My concern," Mal continued, "is whether Sheppard Book will return from this agenda."

"Mr. Book will be fine. My agenda is River's agenda." Jonah said as River stared at him, her mouth falling open. "Get Kaylee, get our children, make sure they never do this again."

"The unwinnable war." River announced. "You won't come back this time."

"River..." Jonah turned to look at her. "Don't..."

"You never listen to me!"

She shouted the words as she ran out of the room. Mal heard the distinct sound of a bunk hatch opening and knew she'd gone to Kaylee's room. He turned his focus back to Jonah.

"You wanna tell us what that was all about?"

***

When they finally relent and let him inside her room, Jonah finds her pressed into a small ball in the corner, sobbing. He's next to her in a flash, crouching on his haunches and trying hard to resist the urge to touch her as she scrambles away from him and buries her head in her arms.

River? He tries to break into her pain. It's me, it's Jonah.

I know, of course I know. She moans into the wall. I can't not know, can I? I knew when the door opened.

What have they done? It's a question whispered to himself. Jesus, River.

I can't stop it. I tried, but it's all too loud, too bright, I see what I shouldn't. I hear everything. Too much at once.

She brushes her hair aside to brave a look up at him and the look in her eyes makes him stone cold with anger.

There has to be a way, River.

She shakes her head slightly.

It hurts, more than anything you know. She whispers her plea. Don't do it.

Jonah looks at her with surprise.

I didn't say...

It's River that reaches out to him, her hand touching his forehead and he can feel how scared she is, can feel how much she's trembling when she actually makes contact.

I hear it anyway.

It happens suddenly, the breaking of a wall, she covers his face and presses the pads of her fingers into his flesh. He feels her shudder before she climbs into his arms.

Please don't do it.

I can do it, River, for you. She softens against him and begins to cry again. I'll find a way, I promise.

***

"Get back to the others, now." Daniel said, suddenly. He looked at Kaylee's confused face. "Not you, them."

She raised an eyebrow, but nodded. Kaylee could not stop looking at the drawers, six of them, that lined the wall. She couldn't believe, didn't want to believe the tiny bodies that were stored in them, twisted and misshapen. Her eyes fell to one of the tags that stood just to the right of a small foot.

Prototype One. Genus: subject RTx and subject JSy. 1507/2516 - 0709/2516.

Daniel clipped a data stick into the desk screen, his eyes scanned the read out. Next to his hand stood a metal lock box whose lid had been prized open. It was full of data sticks.

"We need these."

He was speaking more to himself than Kaylee, who was looking in another drawer and reading the tag with interest. Her eyes narrowed just a little bit and she bit her bottom lip.

Prototype Two. Genus: subject RTx and subject JSx. 1112/2516 - 2602/2517.

"What are you waiting for Sebastian? I said now!"

***

Alex cried. Her head bent down as she let her hair cover her face. Minmei's hand smoothed over the knobs of the girl's spine, soft and comforting. Binh looked at his sister.

"He doesn't mean it," but the three of them knew Binh was lying, "he won't let anything happen to us."

Alex sniffled and raised her right hand, the butt of the gun rested in the crook of her elbow. She squeezed the trigger without looking and didn't flinch at the loud bursts of fire.

***

Inara knocked softly on the infirmary door. She waited for Simon to look up and gesture her in. He was looking at a screen bright with many colors that decorated a spinal cord. She could only assume he was going over River's file.

"I'm not bothering you, am I?"

He shook his head.

"Bothering? No. I'd have to be doing something for you to be bothering it, wouldn't I?" He made an apologetic expression. "Sorry, it's just, they're up there planning strategies and I'm left out in the cold again. Sure, they'll load me up and expect me to follow, but I can't help strategize..."

Inara gave a patient smile and he stopped.

"Sorry again." He clicked off the screen. "What can I help you with?"

"Nothing." Her face was blank, but Simon wasn't fooled. "I was just distracting myself like you were. They don't want my superior strategic mind either."

Silence stretched out awkwardly and Inara smiled again, with interest and concern this time.

"I was wondering, how's your leg?"

He looked down in surprise.

"My...?" Then it hit him. "Oh! The gun shot? It's okay. Still aches a little, especially if I'm chasing River around the ship, but it's good."

"Oh." She nodded. "Good."

Something in her voice made Simon look up. A second revelation hit him.

"You're worried about this, aren't you?"

"I've never been shot before." Voice small and weak. "I mean, there's nothing to say I will be today, is there? It's just..."

"Possibilities for casualties seem a little high?" He finished for her. "The thought had crossed my mind as well."

"Mal does have a tendency to drag us all into danger, doesn't he?" She said with a small, indulgent smile. "Even if we don't want to go."

Simon thought for a moment.

"He also has a tendency to be right sometimes." It was a quiet admission. "He trusts River and Jonah to get us out of this, maybe we should, too."

Inara looked at her own hands, twisting into each other in front of her stomach. Simon looked out to the common room behind her. Neither of them saw the other nod in gentle agreement.

***

"He's very loud." Said the man on the right.

"Loud?" Responded the doctor in front of him. "He's just had a round of bullets put through his eye!"

Screams sounded from the elevator shaft behind them, where several people were hoisting the man up. The two men with blue hands sighed. They had almost smiled when they'd been told progress had been made.

"He shouldn't have put his eye to the hole." The man on the left replied. "At least now we know they're armed."

The doctor looked at the data pod in his hand.

"The guards were armed. There were four of them and Dr. Warne down there."

"Not for long." Said the man on the right. "The children must know by now."

"Nobody can leave that basement." Added the man on the left. "Terminate anything that moves."

***

Sebastian and Bethany entered the main room at a crouch, they kept to the walls as they made their way over to the open elevator doors. It was quiet, the screaming man had been taken away and the gunfire was at a standstill. Alex stood with her back pressed against the wall to the left of the door. The twins to the right. They all had their guns at the ready.

A sudden burst of fire sounded and sparks bounced off the floor. They counted to three. The fire stopped as they knew it would.

Now.

Alex and Minmei turned and fired through the small opening.

***

"Stay there!"

"I don't think so!" Kaylee shouted as they ran down the corridor. "I can hear the gunfire, too."

Daniel skidded to a stop and turned to block her.

"Look. There's no one else down here, Sebastian and I scanned the floor. The safest place for you is anywhere but that room. Do you hear me? I don't have time for this."

She stopped short of barreling into him.

"Then let me help."

"You can help by staying here. Right here. Don't move." He looked at her stubborn face. "River would kill me if I got you hurt. Stay here."

He turned and ran towards the noise. Kaylee clenched her jaw and twisted the chair leg in her hands, muttering under her breath. She hoped he could read her thoughts right then. Boy howdy, did she.

***

"Honey?" Zoe asked sweetly. Too sweetly. Wash sensed danger. "What the hell were you doing to our room?"

"What?" Now, he knew from experience that when she got like this it ended up a lot easier, for everyone, to come right out and admit it. Whatever the hell it was. The only problem now was that he had no idea. Hell, if he knew he would own up to it, he wanted to own up to it. If he knew what it was, he'd say it. "I don't..."

"My clothes are thrown all over the floor. It's a complete mess." Her smile was not friendly. "And I know that I didn't do it. Which, out of the two of us, leaves you."

"I haven't been down there." He pleaded his innocence as he gestured to the bridge controls. "I've been here preparing our incredibly incredible canon confusion defense plan. You know that."

"I can count to two, husband." She wasn't even fake smiling anymore. "Minus me, makes one."

Wash's mouth thinned out and his eyes narrowed.

"I said I didn't do it, sweetie cakes."

"I'm sorry." Inara stopped at the door. "I thought Mal was here, I need to talk to him. Someone's been through my things, my shuttle is a mess..."

Her words trailed off as Zoe and Wash turned to stare at her.

***

She crept down the corridor, inching closer and closer to the main room. Light flared in time with the sound. The firing continued in short bursts and with each one she held her breath. There were no cries from this side of the elevator that she could tell and that was a good thing.

When she got to the corner, she pressed her back against it. Slowly, so very slowly, she peered around the corner. Alex and Sebastian were on one side of the doors, Bethany and Minmei were on the other. She saw Daniel and Binh dragging the guards out of the way.

Daniel looked up and glared at her.

"Stay close to the wall." He sighed. "Bring that table over here. You get hit by a stray bullet and I'm not responsible."

Kaylee dragged the table over and watched him turn it on his side, creating cover for the five captives. She looked at the faces of the men, some scared and some angry, all of them glaring. The question didn't even need to be asked.

"These men are innocent." He explained. "Well, maybe not the good doctor here, but these guards? Haven't done a thing against us yet, we made sure of that. It's not their fault who they work for."

Her eyes flicked to the gun fight.

"Those men?" He answered. "They're shooting at us and are fair game."

"Okay then." That was logic Kaylee could understand. "What do I do now?"

"You stay here and you watch these men, make sure they don't become a problem. And this time do what I say and stay behind the table."

He waited until she got into position.

"I knew you wouldn't stay away." He told her. "And yes, I could hear your thoughts."

She made a face at him and he smiled back.

***

It took great skill to walk in combat boots without making a sound, River had been practicing. Her usually bare feet were tightly bound in the large boots and she could feel the pores of her skin crying out for air. Silently, she promised them great freedom soon.

She had to promise a lot of her body freedom. Her own assortment of clothes consisted of free flowing dresses, loose pants and shirts. Nothing that suited her needs. At that particular moment, only the boots and leggings belonged to her.

There was no time to bend to the flows of confusion and anger that she knew she had caused. They would find ways to move on. She needed to be ready. She needed the strong armor of Zoe's clothes, the stretch and elasticity of Inara's. And a Chinese pendant around her neck from Kaylee, because she wanted it and it meant happiness.

He didn't hear her come up behind him and that was just the way she wanted it. She reached around his shoulder and took the blade from his hand.

"What the...?" Jayne spun in his chair and his face flared in shock for a second before he relaxed. "Gorram it, girl, don't you be takin' my knives."

She set the blade carefully on the cloth with its counterparts and pushed the whole thing aside. In its place she gently laid down one sheet of blank white paper. Disarm.

"Not now." He growled. "We ain't got time. I gotta get these babies ready."

"Two hours." She did not sound worried at all. "More than enough."

She handed him a pencil. He looked down at it.

"I told you, I don't draw pretty."

"You owe me." She pointed out. "Fair and square. I won."

"Weren't nothing fair about it." He mumbled as he glared back at her. "I'm not gonna draw no..."

"I owe you, too."

River's eyes sparkled as she leaned close to his ear, her lips stopped just short of touching the flesh of his lobe. Warm breath tickled his neck as she whispered to him. A grin floated over Jayne's face. Disable.

"That's just to start." She straightened up, walked around his chair and primly sat down next to him, placing her own sheet of paper in front of her. "More where that came from. Lots of."

Jayne coughed and looked at his page.

"Pretty? You reckon?"

River hummed to herself as she began to draw.

***

DISARM. DISABLE.

The words flash, white and stark, burnt into her brain by the screen as it flicks images at them so quickly they can barely register what they're seeing. Her eyes, watering with the effort not to struggle against the clamps holding them open. Her hands twitch in the binds holding them down. She can hear the others next to her, behind her, in front of her, can feel them give in.

A split second image of a man with a gun. A sunflower. Disarm. A foot rising fast. A flame. A feather. Blood flying. A hand with a ring on it. Disable. A body falling to the ground. Water. Stars in a black sky. A cry. A book with its pages open.

Over and over again until River sees them behind the lids of her eyes when she can finally close them. She sees it in her sleep. It makes her mouth dry and her eyes ache.

DISARM

It's such rewarding work. River doesn't blink as she speaks, she looks him straight in the eye as the gown falls to her feet. Working with gifted children all day, stretching their minds.

She watches him knowingly and does not break eye contact as she steps into the tank. His pulse is escalating and his eye twitches.

Stop it.

She's so proud of her daddy, she boasts about you to her friends. River gives a wicked smile. But you don't tell her about this, do you? She wouldn't be so proud if she knew about the blood, would she? About the screams?

DISABLE

I said stop it. He can't meet her eyes anymore. Just get in there.

I wonder how much she could take before she screamed. River lowers herself into the water. How long it would take for her big, brave daddy to put a stop to it.

He doesn't answer, but River hears it anyway, sees the truth to the thought he desperately scrambles to cover from her. A contract signed. A deal made concrete. At least this man will fight for his daughter, won't sell her out for any price.

It makes her gasp out loud.

DISARM

River lies back and lets the water cover her, waits for the lid to close so she can weep. A flash of pain hits her forehead, a red stabbing agony that makes her jackknife. Water splashes as she sits up and grabs the edges of the tank. She knows the shape of it now, knows the depth of the cry.

Jonah. She cries the name. Leave him alone.

His hand pushes her back down and the back of her head hits the edge, water gets into her open mouth and she chokes on it as the lid closes quickly. She can't breathe, but she has to take in the oxygen that hisses into the darkness, has no choice, because how else can she sob when she feels the blades in another man's skull?

DISABLE

***

A loud explosion sounded and Kaylee finally took her eyes from her captives. Heat swarmed over her and made her blink. She pushed herself up and struggled to see through the haze.

"Kaylee!" Came Sebastian's voice. "Get back now!"

"What?" She tried to see where he was. "What about...?"

"Leave them!" Bethany's voice now. "They'll be fine."

She felt a small grip on her arm and was pulled away. Her eyes cleared and she saw Alex attached to the hand. They scooted around the corner and back into the hallway, breathing hard.

"The others are fine." Alex said automatically. "But our defense just weakened."

Kaylee looked up at the sound of heavy footsteps.

"Go!" Shouted Daniel as he appeared. "Back to the lab, now!"

She didn't have time to wait for the others to appear, Alex grabbed her hand and began to run. Kaylee had to force herself not to pull back, not to demand they wait for a visual head count of the others.

They burst into the room and Kaylee stopped to catch her breath. Alex scanned the lab and immediately pointed at a door in the far wall. They hadn't gone through that one when they'd been there before.

"Get down!" Minmei hissed as she came running in, followed by Binh. "And it's silence from now."

They dropped to the floor and Kaylee realized her fingers were gripping the steel of her chair leg tightly. She was going to need to have it surgically removed at this point.

As the sound of gunfire echoed through the floor, Kaylee followed Alex as they crawled towards the door on their elbows and stomachs. She turned back to see the twins lying in wait on either side of the door they'd just entered. Binh gestured for her to keep going.

Glass shattered over the floor as a window exploded.

Kaylee breathed in and slowly swept a path clean with her hand. It didn't stop the shards that crunched under her elbows when she pulled herself forward. She bit her lip against the sting of it.

Alex scrambled to a sitting position when she got to the next room and gestured for Kaylee to do the same. They sat with their backs against the wall, waiting for the next move.

She wanted to ask what was happening, but the warning look in Alex's eyes told her to stay quiet. Kaylee picked the small glass pieces from her skin and tried not to look up at the drawers that were significantly larger than the ones in the first room.

***

"Wait..." Mal paused as he leaned over the bridge to look out into the black. "that's it? That little moon over there? There ain't nothing on it."

"No." Simon replied with a straight face. "The top secret government facility that specializes in torturing children is obviously going to be in the midst of a thriving metropolis."

"Are you helping?" Mal turned on him. "'Cause if you're not helping, you can go see to your sister."

***

Jayne frowned at the wall. He bit his lip. Reluctantly, he reached up and edged his fingers underneath the corner of one of the more worn posters. The paper tore easily and he felt something inside him wince. Just one. He could spare one. He didn't need no gorram nudie posters anyway.

Very carefully, he lifted the new sheet of paper and smoothed it against the wall, his right hand finding the tape, stretching off a piece and sticking the picture up.

He hated to admit it, he really did, but there weren't nobody Jayne knew could draw a fine picture like this. It beat any of the pictures he'd had before. Girl knew how to create something worth looking at.

She'd drawn a gun. Damn if she hadn't gotten all the specs right, too. It wasn't Vera, but it might have been a very close relative. Hell, if Jayne ever came across this one in real life, he'd have to be careful not to make Vera jealous.

It made him wonder what River had done with the picture he'd scribbled at.

***

Kaylee swallowed and closed her eyes, she leaned her head back against the wall and tried not to listen to the sounds of fighting that burst over the increasingly small space.

A small hand made its way into hers and she closed her fingers around it, gripped it tight.

"It's gonna be okay." She whispered as quietly as she could. "You'll see."

Another gunshot and Kaylee felt Alex shift that little bit closer.

"That's what River used to say." There was a long pause before the tiny little voice returned. "But she stopped saying it after a while."

***

"Nothing." Wash tapped the screen again, just for emphasis. "No scans, no ID requests, not even a patrol ship."

"They're masking it." Zoe said. "They have to be."

"No." Mal stared at the land they were hurtling themselves at. "They want us there. They won't attack until we're too close to turn away."

The three of them turned for confirmation from River and Jonah who were both staring out at the approaching building. River looked scared and her head shook side to side slightly as her mouth formed words she didn't say out loud. Jonah didn't move, but his whole body seemed to press forward.

"They don't know." River said. "Not even watching."

"That's good." Wash looked from her to Mal. "Isn't it?"

"I don't think so." Mal replied softly.

"Something's happening on the inside." It was Jonah who spoke. "Something big."

"Not good." Confirmed Wash.

"Fry them anyway." River ordered, then pointed to the right of the building. "Land there."

"No."

They looked at Jonah, but he wasn't talking to River, he was still staring forward.

"Yes." Contradicted River, matter of factly.

Mal looked between them.

"No, yes, what?"

"My question, exactly." Wash launched the landing gear.

"They're not together?" Zoe guessed.

"They're together," Jonah told them, "but they're in the basement."

"Dead tunnels." River whispered. "No one comes out. Not twice. Shouldn't go in."

"That's never stopped me before." Mal tried to lighten the mood.

"Not you." River rolled her eyes.

"What does it mean?" Mal moved the conversation along. "That they're there?"

"It means," Jonah clarified, "that to get to them we have to go through every single person in that building, fifteen floors worth of armed guards and several feet of solid steel. They've barricaded themselves in."

"Oh." Was Mal's reply.

"That's why nobody's looking for us. We have to go straight through them to get what we want."

"If we can't get to them," suggested Zoe, "that means that no one else can either. Doesn't it?"

"Brick by brick." River recited. "London bridge is falling and down will come baby, cradle and all."

"That." Agreed Jonah.

***

Kaylee felt Alex jolt, she looked down to see the girl's eyes wide with surprise. It scared her, stopped her heart for a second, until she made out the beginnings of a smile on the small face.

Alex jumped into a crouch and gestured for Kaylee to follow her again. Minmei and Binh were already making their way down the main corridor. They walked in a crouch, close to the ground. Far ahead, closer to the main room, Kaylee thought she saw a flash of color in the dark, a glimpse of Bethany's red hair.

***

"Five minutes, people." Mal ran down the stairs into the cargo bay, his feet thundering on the metal. "Time to get organized."

Zoe was already unlocking the weapons cabinet. They were joined by Jayne and Book. Simon stepped in from the door to the infirmary and Inara from her shuttle. Wash entered from the stairs leading to the bridge.

"First and foremost," Mal declared as he reached in and grabbed hold of a weapon or two. "This is a rescue mission. We get in, we get Kaylee and the others, we get out."

He looked at each of them as he handed the guns out. They nodded in response.

"No need for heroics." He cocked a small pistol and handed it with reverence to Inara. "No fancy moves. Everybody in agreement here?"

Mal went to ready the next gun, a large semi automatic, it jammed in his hands. He gave a small, patient smile.

"Zoe, Wash, Inara, you're with me. We're the draw, we provide cover and we hold the exit." He bit his lip as he used the heel of his hand to bat at the mechanism. "Jayne, Simon and River you're the... River? Doc, where is your sister?"

"Here." Mal jumped as River appeared next to him. She reached out and took the gun from him.

"Hey now, I don't think..." River gave him a look and he gave her one right back. "No guns, remember?"

She looked him straight in the eye and, without watching what she was doing, clicked the bolt into place, adjusted the trigger mechanisms and fired the gun up. It whirred in her hands. Her eyebrows rose in amusement and with a carefree dangle of her wrist, she handed it over to Jonah who was behind her.

"New rules." She told him. "No killing Kaylee."

River leaned forward, bending past Mal's unmoving form, to reach into the cabinet and pick out the weapons of her choice. She stepped back and stood up straight between Zoe and Jayne.

Mal blinked.

"You know, I just can't argue with that." He handed some grenades to Zoe. "Fine. You three head straight for that elevator shaft and get those people back."

The ship shuddered. Wash scanned the walls.

"Looks like we've hit land."

***

He remembers when River first woke up she was quiet, that she shied away from them a little. He remembers that it took several more operations before she cried with the strength of it, until she could barely stand to be in the same room with them.

Jonah wakes up once and he knows what they’ve done. Knows that the onrush of sound and light and voices are not his. There’s nothing gentle about the way they’ve stripped him back, nothing to ease him into it.

He barely makes it to the sink before he throws up, deep and trembling. It doesn’t help, because it’s not physical, what his body needs to purge.

It doesn’t help knowing that he asked for it.

When they come into his room, it’s like a hundred different screams in his head. He knows what River means by too loud and too sharp, it makes him cry out in a way that they hadn’t been able to find before.

How do you feel, Jonah?

Such a smug question, so sure of itself. He wants to hurt them, wants to make them see what they’ve done, to him and River, to poor little Charles and what they’ll likely do to the others.

I can’t… He begins and then stops. It’s too much.

There’s something in there, he feels it for a second. A thread of disappointment. He knows in an instant that one of them wanted him to succeed, wanted him to break from it and show them how it was done.

Jonah breathes in and tries to find it again, pushes past the countless meaningless images he gets of faces and paperwork and meals not eaten and the horrid possibility of other children before them that didn’t even make it this far.

You’ve done this before.

The accusation is heavy and instantly a current runs through the room, dark and dangerous. He has to be careful, Jonah knows that if he says too much too soon that they’re going to do something he won’t like.

This is what you did to her.

Again a flash of disappointment, a sudden excitement smothered with reality. He wants to examine it, wants to know what it really means, but he can’t decipher it. Everything is crowded and thin and he can’t grasp hold of any one thing let alone the one that he wants to.

She’s so still when they lead him into the large room. He knows even without looking for her that she’s sitting in the corner, watching the door. Her eyes seek him out and run over him, top to bottom, but it’s the openness of her that makes him gasp.

Where everyone else is closed and hard to see, River shows it all. He’s not sure if it’s because of what they’ve done to her or if she’s always been like this. He can feel the twist of emotions in her, the relief and the anger, building up and winding into each other. She begged him not to do this and he’s done it anyway, but she’s glad he’s back and that he’s not hurt. Not on the tip of the iceberg, anyway.

If he tries hard enough, he can block out everyone else and focus on her. Jonah knows that if he can do that, he can learn to control it like he promised her and if he can do that, he can teach her to do it, too.

***

There was an explosion in his brain, Jonah felt it hit him like he hadn't felt it since those first few months. Hard and fast and painful, red hot and sharp. It took his breath away. He had to stop himself moaning out loud as he closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. Six of them reaching out to him at once, eager and relieved, worn and ready to snap.

He tried hard to push them back, to tell them to be patient. It wasn't time yet and it was too much for River. Jonah felt her stumble under the onslaught. It took everything he had to break through to her from this distance. Simon and Jayne were with her and he could feel them holding her up.

You wait! It was harsher than he'd meant it and he felt them recoil as if he'd slapped them. He toned it down a little. Let her adjust. Just hold your positions, wait for us and clear the shaft.

Finally he felt River give her okay. They were waiting in place. Jonah nodded at Mal and a small stunner grenade was thrown around the corner, down the hallway towards the large group of armed men who weren't even looking their way. He counted twenty men as Zoe and Wash slipped across the mouth of the corridor to the other side.

The guards reacted immediately, lining up with their backs against the wall, ten on either side. They weren't too worried. It was a straight hallway and their directive was clear: all they had to do was prevent anyone making it past them to the elevator shaft and down to the kids. The men in front knelt down, guns aimed and ready, those behind aimed over their shoulders. Those in the very back got onto their coms and called for backup. Slowly, the first few in line began approaching their attackers and the group moved forward.

***

River, it's time.

She nodded to Simon and Jayne.

Silently, River opened the door. Her gun was armed as she slipped into the hallway and faced the guards. Jayne slid up next to her. She rolled her eyes at him and he rolled his back. Babes in the woods. Not one of the twenty armed men was looking their way. They both aimed carefully anyway.

Behind them, Simon carefully applied the sealant to the stair access door next to the elevator. He set the fuse and stepped back.

Jonah. Now.

Another grenade was launched and it exploded at the same time as the door. River nodded at Jayne and looked back at Simon, she grabbed his arm and spun him to face the guards. Shouts and heavy pounding from the now obscured door called attention back to them.

That's when the gunfire started.

***

You heard him. Clear the shaft. Any way we can.

"Kaylee." Alex said. "Stay against the wall, but stay close."

They ran into the main room. It did not take Kaylee long to locate all six children. She wasn't sure why there had been such a sudden shift in their tactics, but it had to be drastic and it made her heart race. It made her wish she could read their minds, too. Just for a moment. They were firing heavily now and not aiming to merely wound. Kaylee saw Sebastian pistol whip a man and take him down.

Bethany turned, eyes wide, and began to shout a warning. Kaylee spun to see the doctor staggering towards her, having freed his arms from the ties. It happened in slow motion and, as she raised the chair leg, Kaylee saw his left arm hanging oddly. The leg came down hard on his dislocated shoulder and he crumpled into a moaning heap.

"Ha!" Kaylee crowed. "I don't need no stinkin' gun!"

***

"Zoe!" Mal yelled.

They turned and fired again. Jonah had to hand it to them, they had taken out a few of the guards already. At an unspoken signal they pressed back against the wall on either side of the corridor and moved aside, letting Wash and Inara take over as they reloaded. Wash puffed up his chest.

"Inara!" He called in a deep voice and she let a wry grin float over her face as they took aim and fired.

"Cover us." Jonah grabbed Book's arm as Mal and Zoe came to the fore again. "We're going in."

They ran doubled over as the bullets whizzed past them. The first door was locked, but the second was open.

"Make sure no one comes in." He said as he sat on the floor and then laid himself out. "No matter what happens."

***

River heard them coming.

"Eyes front." She ordered. "Thirteen left."

Jayne and Simon closed ranks as she stepped back and turned to face the elevator shaft. She was ready when the doors were prized open. The first two fell back with her bullets. The rest were more cautious, but she still had the advantage as she aimed upwards and sent a volley of ammo ricocheting around the shaft.

Their screams were punctuated by a spike of desperation from Simon. River looked down at the guns she had left, one of which was almost out of ammo, then back up at the half open doors. She felt them swarming into position.

"Here." She thrust one into his hand. "Eight rounds left."

"River, no."

"Simon." She whined until she felt him relent and take it from her. She reached around Jayne's waist and slipped a large blade from its sheath. Her eyes gleamed. "Thanks Jayne. Follow me when the bullets stop. Get down to them."

And then she was gone through the door.

***

“Zoe!”

Wash jumped forward as she was blown back and hit the wall with a thud, he grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the line of fire. She was okay, he told himself that before even had a chance to run his eyes over her, before he heard her strained voice reassuring him. He had to keep telling himself that after he saw the blood.

“How many are left, Mal?” He asked without looking up.

“Six.” Came the response. “Only a matter of time, we’re pickin’ them off like flies now. She okay?”

“I’m fine.” Came Zoe’s voice. “Just a graze.”

“Let me go to…”

“You stay behind me, Inara!” Mal ordered. “She says she’s fine.”

***

Jayne stepped backwards. There were two men facing them, three facing Mal and the others at the end of the hallway and another man who’d just gone down. Far as he could tell there had been very few casualties on their end. It was a good day. Another step backwards.

There was a click as his gun ran empty.

“You heard the girl, doc, jump in after her.”

They slipped through the thin space left by the doors, Simon first and Jayne coming after, to find what looked to be an empty shaft. No sight of anyone. Nothing but a sheer down and several ropes careening down.

And several groaning bodies lying in a heap at the bottom.

“Where’d she go?” Simon asked.

“Through that hole down there, I guess.” Jayne shrugged and wound one of the cables around his wrist. “Same place we’re headed.”

Simon gave a little whimper and reached for one of the abandoned climbing cables. Next to him, Jayne gave a cry and Simon looked to see the rope around his wrist pulled tight. They looked up to see several more men above them.

“Doc?” Jayne dropped his empty gun. “Gimme that gun.”

Simon hesitated and Jayne frowned.

“You know how to climb and shoot at the same time? Do ya?” Simon shook his head and Jayne snatched the gun. “Then gimme!”

“You don’t know what you’re doing!” Came a voice from above. “You don’t even know who you’re dealing with!”

“Huh.” Jayne answered through gritted teeth as they began making their way down. “Wouldn’t be a bunch of untrained goons, half of whom are lyin’ on the floor pissin’ their pants, would it?”

“We’re talking about River Tam, you fool. You have no idea what she can and will do.”

Jayne felt Simon pause beside him.

“You mean that ninety pound little slip of a thing that put half your men on the floor? We don’t rightly care.” He called up and aimed straight. “See, we just call her that weird girl.”

And then he let some more bullets fly.

***

There weren’t many of the men left, Kaylee watched the six children advance on the few that were left. It had gotten quiet suddenly, all the noise from above them had stopped, the fire and the explosions and the smoke had died down. She felt a movement behind her.

Kaylee spun with her arm raised.

A small hand stopped her wrist on its downward spiral and Kaylee’s eyes widened. She dropped the chair leg.

“River!”

***

End of Ch 9.

COMMENTS

Thursday, September 15, 2005 5:18 AM

ARTSHIPS


Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. So heroic, so... Wonderful. Tragic about River and Jonah's kids.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 11:55 AM

REALLYKAYLEE


i love it! more than ever!
"'that weird girl'" *hehehe*

Thursday, September 15, 2005 10:14 PM

MISSJASADIN


WOAH. Intense chapter.

Cant wait for more

Monday, March 6, 2006 9:31 AM

BURNANDBOIL


The last bit was so funny! Great action!

Monday, October 20, 2008 3:28 AM

RIVERRED


Yay river and kaylee united once again.


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