Twin Regrets Chapter 8: Plans and Portraits
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Farscape/Firefly crossover


Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me. A/N: Thanks to mona1347 for her continued beta godliness. Sorry for the delay, but my life has been insane of late and the ending of this chapter wouldn't cooperate.

Previous chapters

Chapter Eight: Plans and Portraits

A bright light forces my eyes open. The sandy beach stretching out in front of me causes me to blink in surprise and rub them. Nope, it didn't go away. Down near the water, I spot Aeryn sunning in a flowered bikini.


That confirms it; this has to be a dream. Still, as far as dreams goes, I like this a lot more than torture sessions or even River's riddles. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts, I think as I start to jog over to Aeryn. A hand on my shoulder stops me, though.

A hand encased in black leather.

"Harvey, you old dog. Go play in the road or something, I'm busy," I say as push his hand away.

"I'm afraid not, my dear Crichton," he replies while grabbing my arm at the same time. I turn, intending to stand my ground, but the person in front of me causes me to stop short.

The leather gremlin isn't wearing any of his normal costumes. No costume at all, except for his own terrifying face.

"Harvey?" I ask. His head shakes. "Scorpius. Great, I dream about Aeryn on a beach. Of course, you'd have to stick your nose in as well."

"Always so melodramatic. That's what I like about you, John, you have such a gift for overstatement," he replies. He turns and begins to walk down the beach towards Aeryn. Curious, I follow. "Of course, I'm not really here, you know that. This is simply your subconscious working out some problem that your human mind is too dense to grasp any other way. It's pathetic."

"Says the man who stuck a chip in my brain because he was too lazy to figure out wormholes on his own," I reply.

"Focus, Crichton. We aren't here to discuss my failings, after all."

"Failings? What the frell are you talking about? I've managed to stay away from you for three cycles, haven't I? And who was it that blew up your Gammak Base? Oh right, me. From where I stand, I don't see where I've failed."

Scorpy points over at Aeryn. "You failed with her." Another figure emerges from the surf and joins Aeryn on her towel. Blue skin, as well as a lack of clothing, identifies her as Zhaan. "And her. Then there's the matter of your failed mission that brought you into their lives in the first place. Need I go on?"

My eyes close against the truth of his words as I choke back tears. Even now, the echoes of Aeryn's desperate cries as her prowler crashed while I sat helpless under the control of the neural clone ring loudly in my head. The images of Zhaan's weakened state as well as her death, both because of the energy she expended to revive Aeryn from stasis, are just as indelibly burned into my brain.

Scorpy puts his arm around my shoulder and leads me away from my friends. "That's why I'm here, Crichton, to remind you. If you don't want the same thing to happen to your new friends, you have to start considering every contingency, every variable. Otherwise, well, let's just say Harvey and I will be very sad if anyone but us vivisects you," Scorpius says.

"What the hell do you think I've been doing?" I ask as I push him away. "Then again, the price of failure is a lot cheaper here, grasshopper. No one's after my brain on this side of the universe."

"Yet," Scorpius says with a smug smile that I itch to wipe off his face with my fist. "Exactly what do you think that these enemies," a wave of his hand calls forth a suited man with blue gloves, "will do when they find out that you…don't…exist?" He walks over to the suited figure and inspects it. "Somehow, I doubt that will buy you a quick death."

"I'll manage. I've kept my mouth shut about wormholes despite your worst, haven't I?"

Scorpius laughs. "Against my worst? Oh, John, you haven't even begun to see my worst. Besides, I was at a distinct disadvantage. One that this man doesn't have."

"And what would that be? The name of your tailor?"

From behind me, Aeryn's voice answers, "Scorpius never understood you. How could he when he wasn't human?"

Aeryn walks over to Scorpius, who welcomes her with an entirely too affectionate embrace. I've just changed my mind. Being tortured is a much less terrifying nightmare than watching my enemy cop a feel with the woman I love. "As much as I hate to admit it, the delicious Officer Sun is absolutely right. If I'd understood you, I'd have wormhole knowledge and you wouldn't be in this mess." He kisses Aeryn before pulling her in front of him, and circling her neck with his arm. "I apologize for that, John," Scorpius says as he snaps Aeryn's neck.

Her lifeless body falls to the sand between us.

"Now then, back to our current dilemma. What will you do when they find out that you don't exist?" he demands.

I can't tear my eyes from Aeryn's body though. Suddenly, I'm aware that I've left her behind, defenseless. Yeah, she has the other one with her. But what will happen to her if he dies? By leaving, have I failed her yet again?

And why can't I wake up from this damn nightmare?

My attention is finally drawn by Kaylee's whimpers. She's seated in River's chair with needles approaching her head. "John, help me," she cries.

His voice audible over Kaylee's screams only because his voice is next to my ear, Scorpius asks, "What will you do, John? Walk away again? Hope for a rescue that will never come? Or spill your guts?"

"Your fault. You failed," River whispers in my ear. Her replacement of Scorpius registers just as a sharp pain penetrates my shock and I look down to see the knife she's stabbed into my chest. "Failed us all."

Like so many times before, I wake panting. Clearly this idea of simply going to sleep isn't working. Still another twenty-four hours before we reach the planet and deliver Serenity's cargo. Obviously, if I'm going to sleep in that time, I need to be too tired to dream so I grab a towel and head to the cargo bay. There isn't a punching bag around, but weights will do.

Kaylee ducked back into the doorway when she heard Jayne's raised voice. "Gorram nut, didn't anyone teach you to use a spotter? Especially when you have a chewed up muscle?" he said, reproaching. She peeked around the doorway to confirm what his statement implied. Sure enough, John was lying on the workout bench. Kaylee took advantage of their distraction and scooted behind a nearby cargo container. Mal might not want her fraternizing with the new passage, but he didn't say anything about looking. Especially when his shirt is off!

John picked up the discarded shirt and mopped at his face after he sat up. He looked tired and frustrated, but then again, so did everyone else on the ship of late.

"I'm fine. The arm isn't as deep as the leg," John said.

Jayne shook his head as he started putting away the weights "Still no excuse to do something stupid like lifting that amount of weight without a spotter. Looked as if you were about to strangle yourself there."

"I got distracted."

"Distracted folk don't turn red from not breathing. Distracted folk stop lifting," Jayne countered. "Besides, it's my hide if you go and screw up some plan of the captain's by hurting yourself…more than you are, anyways."

John laughed. He hadn't done it much since his arrival, but Kaylee already liked the sound. It was definitely something that should be encouraged. "I'm touched by your concern, Jayne. For the sake of your hide, I'll try to avoid paper cuts."

"Where the hell are you going to get papercuts at? Unless you steal one of the preacher's bibles or try to take some of Moonbrain's artwork," Jayne said.

"Sorry, figure of speech," John said with another chuckle.

Both men fell silent for a bit before Jayne spoke again, "So…what do ya figure to do afterward? Assuming we don't get killed or jailed in the process."

Kaylee's gut twisted when she saw the pained look on John's face. It just weren't right for the thought of the future to cause him so much anguish. Then again, maybe he just didn't think much for their chances of saving Simon either. That thought didn't make her feel much better.

"You aren't the first person to ask me that today," John replied.

"So has the answer changed much between then and now?"

John shook his head. "I honestly don't know."

"Well you can always go back to your folks, right? Or someone from before your last job?"

She wasn't certain, but Kaylee almost thought that she could see John tear up even from this distance. His voice was certainly choked up as he answered. "No, there's no one left to go back to. No where to return to, either."

Jayne looked about as uncomfortable with that revelation as she felt. "Yeah, war left a lot of folk like that," Jayne offered. "But well, I mean it really ain't much of my business and you seem like a nice enough fellow. Nicer than the doc anyways. Smarter too. But if you don't plan on hanging around, you shouldn't lead Lil' Kaylee on too much. Captain doesn't like to see her hurt."

Kaylee smiled at Jayne's warning. Cap'n wasn't the only man onboard who didn't like to see her hurt. Heck, all the men onboard were big ol' softies, despite their declarations to the contrary.

"So I've been told. The captain," John said with emphasis, "doesn't have anything to worry about. I've been the cause of enough pain; I wouldn't want to hurt Kaylee in any way."

"Good, just so's you're clear," Jayne said before he turned to leave.

Kaylee quickly retreated through the cargo bay's door before she could be discovered.

"Wait a second, Jayne," I say as I stop him from leaving. "Can you tell me what Simon, the doc, is like? I have to say I feel a little odd helping to rescue someone I've never met."

Jayne smirked. "Not much to tell. Decent enough doctor, I suppose. He bragged that he was one of the top three percent when we met 'im, but the boy still can't stitch up a cut without causing more pain. Got enough of a stick up his ass to keep him from making any headway with Kaylee. Insists on being all proper and everything. He's gotten a bit looser, but he still tends to act like he's better than the rest of us just because he's from the Core and all book learned."

I nod. I'd gathered from the way the others talk of the brother and sister that they were outsiders here on this ship. If they were from a different sector of space and different place in society, it would explain their position on the ship even more than just their age relative to the rest of the crew.

And lack of battlefield experience, Harvey adds.

I push him and his thoughts away. The neural clone has been enough of a bother lately, not to mention causing me to need Jayne to save me from the barbell. "I'm sure he doesn't mean to be that way. Probably just a habit from being a doctor."

"How do you figure?"

"He's a surgeon, right?" I continue after he nods, "Well, overconfidence is a necessity for a surgeon. No one wants to be operated on by someone who doesn't have complete confidence in their own abilities. Everyone wants their doctor to be able to beat the will of God. Sometimes, doctors even start to believe the hype."

Jayne takes a moment to consider my point. "Good for you then that all his schoolin' didn't teach him how to be confident with ladies. Otherwise, Lil' Kaylee wouldn't give you the time of day," he says with a smirk before leaving.

His comments about the doctor and Kaylee catch me a little off guard. In retrospect, it's obvious that Kaylee must have some feelings for the missing doctor. It also explains some of River's anger at her. Still, I feel uncomfortable with the knowledge that I've become as much of an interloper in someone's life as my clone was in my own.

At the top of the catwalk, I’m pulled from my thoughts by River. Inara, her minder for the time being, stands a few feet away. “We’re having a tea party,” River announces.

“Great, have fun. I’m getting a shower,” I tell her.

“It’s not a party with just two,” River says. I swear that I can hear Inara giggling even though she seems perfectly composed.

“Really, River, I’m sweaty and smelly. You ladies wouldn’t want me at your tea party,” I say, but River has already grabbed my hand and begins leading me to Inara’s shuttle. I can feel a blush starting as she pulls me into the shuttle and pushes me down on the velvet couch. Conscious of my sweaty state and the immaculate surroundings, I politely get up and move to the floor. Gracious and elegant, Inara smiles and joins me there.

River surveys the tea settings carefully. “Wrong number of cups,” she declares.

“Here’s the third set, River. Come sit down,” Inara says.

River shakes her head. “We need four. He’ll get upset if we ignore him.” Inara pauses as if she wants to argue, but then rises to retrieve the extra place setting. Finally satisfied with the arrangement, River sits on the couch above us and serves the tea.

“I overheard your conversation with Jayne. It was very insightful, especially considering that you’ve never met Simon,” Inara says from behind her cup.

Insightful, I can’t say that I’ve been called that a lot. But I’m not so dense that I can't see what Inara is doing. Apparently, the captain has decided to employ all of his crew in prying into my life and intentions. “It just sounds like I’ve known a few people like him. Take them out of their comfort zone and the only way they can deal is to fall back on the attitudes that have served them in the past.” I can hear Harvey making remarks about that thought, but I force him into the trashcan. The revelation he’d made that he can communicate with River without my knowledge when I was lifting weights has shaken me. I’d prefer that he remain silent when she’s close so that she doesn’t get confused. Or rather, so she doesn’t seem to be as confused to the crew.

Speaking of River, she has abandoned the tea party in favor of drawing. This girl is such a study in odd behaviors that I can’t get a firm grip on which persona is the real one. At times child-like, while at others she’s perfectly composed if cryptic. Then there is the River I see in my dreams, desperate but determined. “Is she always like this?” I ask Inara as I wave in River’s direction.

My question elicits a thoughtful expression. I’m amazed at how Inara is able to make every emotion seem seductive. I still haven’t quite figured out what this whole “companion” thing is about.

“You’ve actually seen her relatively calm. She was a handful at first. Then again, she also single-handedly saved the entire ship from a bounty hunter not too long ago,” Inara answers.

“I’d believe that,” I say, thinking of her performance against the Reavers. One lone man didn’t stand a chance. I think Boba Fett and Greedo would be dead before they even thought about drawing their weapons.

Inara instantly corrects me. “No, you don’t understand. She didn’t use a single weapon. It was a masterful play of deception.”

“If Simon had trusted me, no one would have been hurt,” River says from the corner, indicating that she’s been aware of the entire conversation. She doesn’t get up or join us though.

“Yes, which is more than one can say about the captain’s plans,” Inara adds. “Speaking of which, you need to convince him to change his.”

Since I had been taking a sip of tea when she spoke, I cough instead of laughing. Fortunately, I manage to not spray her with liquid. Clearing my throat, I reply, “I think you have me confused with someone that he’d actually listen too. I’m still amazed I didn’t get thrown off the ship for simply being found with Kaylee.”

Inara smiles knowingly. “Yes, well, none of us would respond well to Kaylee being hurt.” I nod my head in recognition of her threat. “Still, he’ll listen to you on this based on the virtue that you are risking your life. Mal, Captain Reynolds, he wouldn’t allow you to do that and still give you no say in the manner of how you do it,” she explains.

“And exactly what am I supposed to get him to change? His plan sounds fine to me.”

“He’s taking advantage of the fact that you don’t know the history of this crew. Which in and of itself proves that you aren’t an agent of the Alliance. That or you are a very good actor,” she tells me. “If you enter that facility with either him or Zoe, you’ll be arrested before you take another step.”

“Can’t use Jayne either. Two by two, they watch for you,” River adds quietly.

Inara pauses and we both wait to see if River is going to react badly. I’ve known River for less than a month, if you include the times we’ve talked when we’re asleep and in different universes, and even I know that the phrase “two by two” usually precedes some rather crazy behavior.

Thankfully, River remains focused on her drawing.

“Then who am I going to take? You? Kaylee? You’ve just eliminated the three fighters on the ship and I think we need the pilot to fly us all out of there for us to have any chance in hell of escaping.”

Inara refills both of our cups before replying. “Shepherd Book.”

My eyes widen. “And exactly what will they think that a preacher will know?”

“It’s not what they think that he will know. Simply telling them that he was associated with Serenity or the Tams will be enough to attract attention,” she says. “Rather, it’s about the value of the person you give them. Kaylee has no value, therefore there wouldn’t be anything left of her by the time you found Simon. Me, I’m too visible. There’s too much risk that they would detain you while they contacted the Guild.”

“But Shepherd Book is just right?”

Inara nods. “Not too long after he joined the crew, Shepherd Book was shot when a job went bad,” she tells me. “For reasons that aren’t important, Simon wasn’t available to operate on him. He was dying.” I wait as she pauses. Whatever this story is or its meaning, she obviously thinks that it will have an impact on the attempt to save her friend. “It wasn’t easy, but Mal was finally convinced to seek Alliance help in order to save Book’s life. I don’t know if any of us other than Zoe will ever understand exactly what that meant to him or how hard the decision was to make.”

I can sympathize with the man’s plight more than a little. To cooperate with something that you fight against every day in order to save the life of a comrade. In the Uncharted Territories, that was a position that had almost become a daily event after the Aurora chair.

“When we reached the Alliance cruiser, they refused to help. In fact, they were going to cite us for a meaningless violation and send us on our way without rendering any help at all. Before Mal could respond with his normal chivalrous violence and get us all killed, Book asked that they look at his ident card,” she continues. “As soon as they scanned it, he was rushed into emergency surgery while the rest of us were escorted to a VIP lounge to await news of his recovery.” She pauses for me to absorb that revelation. “As you might imagine, such a powerful ident card may afford Shepherd Book a certain hospitality that no one else on this crew is likely to receive.”

I look down at the Persian rug on the floor as I think about it. My gut says that she’s being too hasty in her assumptions. Such power might also mean a faster death for him under some circumstances. Sadly, none of us possesses any information on exactly who is behind what happened to River so it is impossible to make a prediction. It’s a card worth playing. Never undervalue rank, Harvey advises before falling silent again.

“I assume that you’ve already discussed this with the shepherd?” I ask.

Inara nods. “He actually mentioned it to me. However, Mal is likely to dismiss any advice that we give on this subject.”

“Or maybe actually expect that the shepherd explain his magic card?” I suggest.

Inara regards me with some surprise at my statement. “Again, with that insight,” she replies. “I wonder at the trials you’ve been through to gain it so young.”

Young? I haven’t felt young in three years. I think I stopped feeling young after I lost any awe in the Uncharted Territories when I had the first alien stuffed in my body. I know I didn’t feel young at all when I had a lie-detecting crab with a taste for brains on my head.

I come back to the present when I feel Inara’s hand on mine. “I would have also liked to have seen you before you were so tortured.”

Her comment detracts from the effects of her soft, manicured hand. Both cloud my mind enough that I'm surprised when I hear loud banging from the shuttle's door. In my seated position, I nearly fall over as I try to turn and go for my gun at the same time. I manage to right myself, but not before spilling my cup of tea.

"Hope I'm not interrupting anything," Mal says from where he stands.

Inara rises gracefully as she starts to clean up the tea I've managed to spill. "You always interrupt something, Mal, it's your gift. And you're supposed to knock BEFORE you enter the shuttle."

"Just so long as no gifts are being given in here. Thought you had a policy about that," the captain counters. "But no matter. Wash's done with his work and ready for you."

Inara ignores what Mal has said and turns to me. "Thank you for joining our tea party, John. It's so nice to have the company of a gentleman for once. River, do you want to help me with Wash?"

River nods and comes to join me as she waits for Inara to gather whatever materials are needed. She hands me her drawing and the second I look at it, I feel like I'm in the vacuum of space without a spacesuit again. Frozen, I stare down at the perfectly rendered darkness of Pilot's cavern and the details of D'argo's tattoos. Jool, Chiana, Rygel, and Aeryn are all present too. The illustration is so perfect that I can almost see the tufts of Rygel's eyebrows move in the breeze created by his thronesled and hear the laughter of my friends. So absorbed in the past, that I miss the fact that Mal has joined me to look at River's gift.

"They miss you too," River tells me before whispering the rest softly in my ear, "Pip hopes you remember her advice."

Stunned and heartsick, I fail to say anything as the women leave the shuttle. Mal manages to shake me out of my reverent state though. "Well, if there was any doubt, that thing proves the girl's crazy," he says before roughly pushing me toward the door of the shuttle.




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