BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 1:19, The Big Damn Job, Part 1 (Flipside)
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

After Jacob meets with a mysterious preacher, he and his crew travel to Hera, to take place in the most daring assault on the Alliance to take place in years. And to protect them, no less.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1827    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

This is it. The Season Finale, a spectacle in two parts. In my everpresent quest to remain unpredictable, I wrote this story from a completely different perspective, telling a story about the crew of Legacy through the eyes of them as ain't Legacy. Only the last snippet was done in a familiar voice. This also backfills what's happened to Serenity's bunch over the course of the season. This episode has it all; Jayne screamin' in confusion, Inara remembering a fistfight, Mal worrying, two weddings and a sharp, pointy sword. All the leadin' up is done with. Now, all that's left is lookin' the devil in the eye. All your Serenity are belong to Joss. Everythin' else is MINE! Come on, would givin' some feedback kill you?

The Big Damn Job, Part 1 (Flipside)

Jayne's eyes popped open as a final snore reverberated off of the walls of his bunk. Gorramit, he thought. Why couldn't they just leave him the hell alone. His damn bunk, they'd agreed on it. 'Sides, he was powerful tired after that last night. Avoiding the little psycho was becoming a full-time gorram occupation. He tugged the blanket closer around himself, trying desparately to ignore the pounding at his bunk's door, of Mal's constant and incessant cries for awake and alarm. Weren't nothin' out this way, so close to Paquin. Not even Reavers on their best ever made it this deep. Just thinkin' of those... things... set Jayne's skin to crawlin'. Finally, as if his monumental will finally told the captain to go g'en hoe-tze bi dio-se, the noise stopped. He smiled cunningly and rolled over. A pair of big dark eyes stared back at him. "GORRAM!" he bellowed, pushing himself away from his bunk and colliding with the far wall. The hiss of the doorlock being manually overridden registered weakly in his drowsy and more than a bit addled mind. "What the hell are you doin' in my gorram bunk?!" "Wanted to be warm," River answered simply, pulling the covers over herself more fully, cocooning herself. "You were very warm. Very comfortable." "Jayne," Mal said, descending the ladder into the bunk. "Ain't payin' you to lay about." "You want warm, go sleep inside the engine, feng kuang de nu hai!" Jayne hissed back, reachin' for the nearest pair of pants. What was inside that little bug's nut? Jayne had almost got his first leg in when Mal reached the bottom and took in the situation. "Jayne," he said, a low anger to him. "Mind explainin' why my pilot's holed up in your bunk, and y'ain't got a pair of pants on?" "I didn't touch her!" Jayne exclaimed. "Well, I might have... I didn't give... It ain't what it looks like." Malcolm took a long step toward Jayne, who with a pair of pants only half on, was in no position to stare him down. "Do I gotta tell you about the special hell, Jayne?" he said, jaw extra tight and words extra short. "Do I gotta tell you, or should I just show you? Hell, maybe I'll just let Simon have you, now he's grown a pair." "Weren't that way, Mal," he said stumbling backward as the captain advanced another step. Weren't right to get shoved out an airlock without pants. "I didn't..." "Ain't in the mood, Jayne," Mal said, turning to River. "Did this gou shi hurt you?" "Wei!" Jayne protested. "No," She said, still cocooned and facing the cieling. "He touch you in any wrong fashion?" Mal asked. River turned to him, hair falling across her face. "Not in any wrong fashion," River affirmed, which just drove that look deeper into Mal's face. "You lyin' little," Jayne began, but he was cut off when Mal's hand came to rest on his gun. "I didn't give'r a prod. Hell, she'r of a mind, she'd have knocked my John Thomas off without s'much as a glance." Mal's eyes lingered for a long moment. "Why are you in Jayne's bunk, li'l albatross?" River smiled. "I was cold. Needed to be warm. Jayne was warm." Mal looked poleaxed for a moment, and River rose from the bed a mite, sheets still wrapped 'round her. "Cold... wait," Mal looked more than a little horrified. "Why the hell'r you naked?" "It's why I was cold," she replied. "Really, sometimes I wonder how you find your head in the morning." She laughed as she rose, her nubile form letting the sheet fall back to the bed. With a pair of strangled yells, both men turned away. "Oh, god, flesh!" Mal grunted, turnin' to Jayne. "This is too damn fong luh to be your fault." Jayne finally had an agreement, and quickly made his way toward the ladder. "Good idea," Mal muttered, and the two men quickly exited while studiously ignoring the half-naked teenager in Jayne's bunk. "Any chance of leavin' her on Paquin for a spell?" Jayne implored as he reached the deck. Mal's back was to him, his shoulders low. "'Tween her and Saffron, I've had a damn unsettlin' few months," Jayne took a step t'ward the captain, noting that his shoulders were bouncin'. "What the hell?" Malcolm finally turned and presented the startled mercenary with a laughing face. "What th'ell's so funny?" Jayne demanded. "Never thought I'd see the day when you'd turn down some trim," he chuckled. "Wei! That's disgustin' Mal," Jayne said, fist tight on his beltloops holdin' his pants on. "She's half my gorram age!" "That ever stop you before?" Zoe said, appearing from the bridge with the runt in tow. Kid looked more than a little like Wash, despite the darkness of his skin. Jayne scoffed. "What about the part where she's feng kuang, and has a startlin' proficiency with firearms?" Jayne responded. Mal let out a final laugh. "Well, this is a lovely little fahng-tzong fung-kuang duh juh, best we save the unravelin' of it till later. How long till we reach Paquin?" "You'd have to ask the pilot, sir," Zoe replied, rocking the infant as it gurgled. River took this moment to make her appearance, clad in Jayne's direly oversized clothing. She took in the group gathered in the hall. "Don't worry," she said, voice as sane as any Jayne'd ever heard. "I am not, and have no intention of, having sexual intercourse with Mister Cobb." Her bare, silent feet carried her up into the cockpit, leaving the three behind her. Just before she took her place at the helm, she looked back at them. "Not for a few months, at least." The look on Jayne's face must have been absolutely hi-larious, 'cause both Mal and Zoe burst out laughin'. <> "So," she asked, watching as Jayne swiftly retreated into the bowels of the ship. "What's the next job?" "A trap," Malcolm answered, striding through the door and into the cockpit. River expertly manipulated the controls, hands sliding over switches and dodging carefully around the plastic dinosaurs which served eternal vigil over Wash's former domain. The small girl in Jayne's oversized shirt gave him an entirely too innocent smile, one that set him no small bit on edge. "A trap?" Zoe repeated. "This is a good idea why?" "You remember our little Saffron?" River said for him, eyes focused on something very far in front of her. "How could I forget?" Zoe smiled. Hoban gurgled in her arms, but still didn't seem too willing to awake, so she lowered herself into the copilot's seat. "At least she got what was coming to her." Mal smiled a bit at the memory. "Yeah, she's never getting that smell out. Point is, our li'l albatross is still a blinkin' target. I'd like to get a peep at him's who's doing this." "Sir," she said. "Normally, I'd be the first to agree. But..." she trailed off. "Y'ain't coming with me on this one," he whispered. "Sir?" "I said y'ain't comin' with me on this one. Ain't the only one sittin' this one out, just so you know." "I may have an infant, but," she began, unsure of how to continue, and obviously more than a little thankful that he interrupted. "Don't make me order you off this boat," he whispered, jaw tight as he stared off into the black. "Already got 'Nara a long job on Paquin to hold her down. As I see it, no way you can fight at one hundred percent." Zoe gave him a look, a I-know-what-your-really-worrying-about look. "Sir, I have no intention of leaving little Hoban as an orphan." "Virge is waiting for us in the world. She'll be able to put you up for a while," he said. River burst into laughter for no readily appearant reason, rising to a sidesplitting affair and petering out into a healthy chortle with the girl wiping tears onto the baggy sleeves of the shirt. "Shuh muh?" he asked, more confused than he wanted to admit. "That was a good one," River said, returning her attention to the Black. "Huh. Still ain't right, you know that?" He smiled and forced himself to a full stand. "How long until we reach Paquin, anyway?" River smiled, and manipulated the controls drasticly, dropping the nose of the craft drasticly and dragging the green-and-brown bulk of Paquin into the front of the ship. "You sneaky little monkey," Zoe said. "Twenty minutes," River said with satisfaction. Mal pondered a moment. It should have taken another day. Gorram if she weren't a hell of a pilot. Hoban began to squirm then, his quiet voice babbling wordlessly as his tiny limbs pressed against her. It seemed, more and more with each passing day, that he'd be as obstinate as his father. He was already contrary as a mule, and he wasn't even half a year old yet. Still, she must have felt the tug of old loyalties, because she pressed forward again. "Still, sir, another pair of eyes won't hurt." "Why are we talkin' on that's already decided?" He said, staring her in the eye. He'd wanted to stare her down, but even at her worst, Mal knew he had a slim chance of achieving that. Still, he settled on a long, significant glance and left it at that. "Now go talk to Jayne and Fredesa. Might'n they'd want to be there, and I'm givin' all's won't want, a chance to take port on Paquin." "Still Fredesa?" She smiled as she rose from her seat. "Ain't any way in the sphincter a' hell, Zoe. Shepherd's dead, and that man ain't Book, whatever his paternity," he knew she was just stalling, looking for some way to reasonably justify staying aboard. He wasn't going to have it this time. He'd already lost to damn many, and didn't feel like he could take anymore. Mercifully, she nodded to him and departed. "You're afraid," River said from his elbow. "Ain't." "Liar. Brittle, afraid of falling. Afraid you'll shatter," she prodded him in his numb spot to prove her point. "Cracked, and falling will break you. But all things fall." Mal dropped himself in the seat, loosing a heavy sigh. "Too many, li'l one. Ain't sure I can take much more." She glanced at him, dark eyes decidedly sad. "You're going to have to. For a while." His brow drew down, and he stared at his hands. "Going away. Can't protect us all." "I never wanted this." "Liar. You wanted, you found, you took. No regrets, even," She was staring at him now. "That's what makes you special." Mal grunted. "Come to think," he said, grabbing the first thing that popped to his mind, so she'dn't get it before he did. "What the hell's with you and Jayne anyway?" "Simple," she answered, turning back to her controls. Was that a hint of a blush? "Predicitable. Four corners. Guns, muscle, sex and thuggery. He's perfect." Mal laughed out loud. "I heard Jayne described usin' a great many differ'nt words, but 'perfect' ain't never been among 'em." "You just don't know him that well," her voice seemed somewhat distant. "Ain't much to know," Mal responded. "Not entirely so. Twenty percent is unmapped. Something he hasn't shown yet. Something he doesn't rightly know is there," River paused for a moment as the craft altered its path a trice. "You know how he sees Kaylee?" Mal had a number of unpleasant images waft through his head, mostly Jayne doin' something stupid, but was cut off by River's head shaking. "That's not it at all," she said. "Excuse me, I have a ship to land." Mal stood and left her to the task he knew she could have done half asleep, half drunk, and with half a mind besides. She'd stabilized quite a bit upstairs since Miranda, hadn't thrown a fit of note in months, and that was mainly due to Saffron trying to sell them all out. Still, though, she was an oddly discomforting presense. Before, she was the broken little girl with moments of unusual grace, insight, or firearms proficiency. Now... now she was a force. No other way to put it. A bit bruised, and cracked no small amount, but a force nonetheless. He ducked out of the cockpit and made his way to the mess. He stifled a groan at finding Inara sitting carefully at the cup of tea. He'd hoped he could avoid her till they'd gone their separate ways. "Oh, ah." he sputtered. "It's... ah... good to see you... again..." "Yes," she seemed equally at a loss for words, an unusualness for her. "I just came up for a cup of tea, when I..." "Tea?" he said, grasping any excuse to avoid conversation. "Might just have me some," he picked up the kettle and poured a cup. It didn't steam. He dipped his finger into it. It was stone cold. "Mmm. Iced tea." She glanced up at him, her dark eyes seeming to indict him for something. "This isn't iced tea, it's," she took a sip and made a sour face. "Cold." Mal pushed the cup aside. "We both know you didn't come here for tea." She seemed a bit disappointed. In him? In herself? Gorram, but she did turn him about. "No. Not for tea." "Look," he said. "Weren't an easy thing to do. 'Specially with the way the House's been after you since Osiris." "You have no idea," she said icily. Still, her gaze had moved onto farther things than him. "You done what you needed done. Ain't no shame in that." "But," she whispered. "It was my life, Mal." "I know, ain't easy givin' it all up." "And I shouldn't have... You know..." she muttered into her cold cup. "Cried?" he asked. "Looked for some comfort? Hell, I done the very same thing with Zoe damn near a half dozen times durin' the war." "I thought she didn't cry," Inara laughed weakly. "Didn't say she's the one doin' the cryin'," Mal offered. "Point is, you needed somebody, and I was the only thing around that weren't Jayne. We do for each other, dong ma?" She smiled at him, small, and he dare say genuine. "What about rent?" Mal offered a wide smile of his own. "Ain't got any doubt that we could use a schemin' and devious mind like yours on this ship," she opened her mouth, and he forestalled her. "Uses outside servicin' the crew. Although puttin' River right wouldn't hurt," he mused. She looked a touch concerned. "What has she been up to?" "Seems she's got her eyes fixed on a man on this boat near twice her age," Mal said, ready to continue but cut off by Inara's smile. Gorram, weren't it somethin'? "I must admit, Fredesa is an impressive man. Must have been what dear Book looked like in his prime," she smiled a bit too long, and Mal took the opportunity. "Ain't after Fred. She's after Jayne," he corrected her. "That poor bastard." Her smile vanished as she let out a grunt as if a fella had kicked her in the chest. "Jayne?" she croaked. "As in, Jayne Cobb, Jayne?" She stared hard at him. "Impossible." He stared back, more than a little pleased to be the bearer of insane news. It began to sink in when she took in the look on his face. "That's..." She stared over his head at the small form barely visible past the pilot's seat. "That girl is... There's no way she actually... This is madness!" Inara said in stunned disbelief. "That's the general opinion," wafted back River's voice. Mal couldn't help but laugh at the poleaxed expression that crossed the exiled Companion's face. <> Simon carefully replaced everything into its proper order as the last of the whores, and the oldest, turned and left the room. It wasn't much, but these were human beings, and deserved some sort of medical care, something they were obviously otherwise bereft of. The situation was far worse here than it was next door at Brownlee's, but he'd had more than enough time to clear through her entire population before the captain even went into her back room, and he was, as hard as it was to admit, feeling decidedly useless over the last few weeks. "Make sure to burn your..." he managed before the door was slammed shut. "Clothes." "Ah, shouldn't say that to them," Kaylee said from the only clean bit of furniture in the room, a chair that didn't seem to get much use. He pointedly didn't look at the bed. It didn't seem to have been cleaned in years. "Ain't like they got much to replace 'em with." "They're all infested with lice," Simon said, closing the bag. "There isn't much I can do unless they deal with the nits and bedding. Even if they take the pills and wash their hair-- something I rather doubt they would-- they'll just get reinfested." Kaylee frowned at him and rose from the seat. "Just 'cause they's dealt a worse hand, don't make 'em..." Simon shook his head, taking her warm hand in his. She always seemed to run a few degrees hotter than he did. A year ago, he would have just attributed it to differences in metabolism. Now, he knew it was from the sunshine she kept bottled up. "I didn't mean anything of the sort. I just... I hate seeing people suffer. Especially when they could... you know... not." The words melted the mechanic's frown, letting out the smile she always had stored up to bring a bit of light into a rainy day. "I know," she said, allowing Simon to escort her out of the room. The building was well maintained, but hardly clean. Flies were buzzing in the hall's corners, both behind him and under the window next to the stairs down. "Ain't right anybody's got to go through this." "No matter how hard you try," he said quietly as they passed the doorman, an impressive fellow who kept a rather large cudgel and shotgun underneath his table, "you simply can't help them all." "But you try," Kaylee said, nudging her hed into his shoulder like a kitten. "I love that about you." "And I love..." Simon ran through the long list of things she did that made his life better, and found one that he should have used earlier, but never managed to find the right moment for. "You." She turned to him, smile beaming across her face. "See? Weren't so hard, were it?" "It's not like I haven't said it before," Simon replied, pushing open the doors to Brownlee's bawdy house. "Not unless one or th'other of us was creepin' up on death," she pointed out. "Point taken. Call this the first time without duress, then." Her smile brightened a bit more, something he hadn't considered possible, and she glanced about the room. She broke free of his arm and surged forward, spotting Inara instantly in the near emptiness of the mid-afternoon. The two immediately dived into intense conversation, disregarding him entirely as he spotted the captain talking to the hard-faced woman leaning heavily on a cane. Having run out of things to do, he made his way to the long bar. Before he sat down, though, Brownlee made her slow, painful way over to him. "You'd be Doc Tam, right?" she asked, giving the bartender a look. Telling him to stay at the other end of the bar, maybe? Simon wasn't exactly the most capable at dealing with human subtleties. That was part of why he became a doctor. Things were simpler. "I... ah, well, I..." Simon got out before she scowled at him. "Folk can tell a lot 'bout a fella by his enemies, dong ma? The 'lliance's after you with a powerful hatred, and that tickles me a mite," She shifted her weight as her arm caught the bar. She really did seem to have difficulty standing. "Thank you... I guess." "Don't mention it. You and your Sis've done us more good than we'd ever've reckoned, and way things be shapin' up, might have a need for folk such's yerself." Simon nodded slowly. "If you don't mind my asking... what happened to your legs?" Brownlee glanced downward for a moment. "Legs? Nothin'. Spine's the trouble." Simon must have been showing a baffled look, because Malcolm spoke up. "She took a firefly round to the lower back near the end of the war. Firefly's're damn mean li'l things. Napalm inside phosphorus inside benzene inside glass. Turn your average shotgun into a flamethrower for a while. Cooked her spine right out." "Ai ya, hwaile," Simon muttered. "Doctors then said I'd die in a day. After that, they's said I'd be in bed th'rest of m'damn life. After that, said I'd never go a-walkin' again," Brownlee's voice held a pride Simon had definitely heard before. In the captain. "Showed them right good, and punched them in the kidneys a'sides." "Look, Virge," Mal said. "I've seen a great lot of things in my brief stay, but ain't none of it any problem of mine. War's over, Brownlee. Can't fight it again." Brownlee growled and ground her teeth for a moment. "If you didn't come 'round to join us, what the hell's you about?" "Just droppin' some crew before we go into a hot place. Somebody's got a trap set between here and Hera for us," Mal answered calmly, taking his place on a stool next to Simon. "Figure might be best to leave them's need leavin', Zoe an' the kid. Fred, an' 'Nara. Maybe even Simon here." "What?" he asked, noticing Mal had adopted a small smile, the kind he usually got when bugging Simon. "I don't know why you do that." "'Cause it's so damn easy," Mal answered. "You got yer ear to the ground. Any word on what might be waitin' for us?" Brownlee forced herself back to a stand, leaning forward unsteadily. "I envy you," she said slowly. "Ain't no trap set. Folks out on Ion done sent a Wave to all's think like us, tellin' us to go to the Valley for a pow-wow." "Ion?" Mal said. "Ain't possible. Mister Universe shuffled off comin' on a year ago." "Din't y'hear what I said. All sorts is gatherin' on Hera for somethin'. Somethin' big. An' I ain't got the legs for fightin' anymore," she sounded quite disappointed at that fact. "Who sent the Wave?" Simon asked quietly. Sometimes he wondered why people didn't ask questions like these, especially when even he could see the signifigance in them. Both looked to him for a moment, then Brownlee spoke. To Mal. "Carson was the man on the screen," she said. "Carson? Highest ranked sumbitch fought in that valley 'sides m'self Carson?" Mal seemed a bit flabbergasted. "Very same." "And he's sending a message to who?" "Every-damn-body, seems like. Even sent one to me," she pointed out. "Didn't he proper send one to you?" Mal frowned. "Not so much. Got our message a'nother way," he paced for a moment, thumb hooked in his gunbelt. "Still don't see how this is our business, truth be told." Virginia's expression grew dark. "It's Independant business." "As I said, ain't none of mine," he replied. "Just want to go m'own way." Brownlee sighed. "He asked for you. Specifically. Told me to send you his way. 'Cause of somethin' you know. Somethin' you've seen." Simon was sure he heard the captain whisper 'Miranda', but Mal didn't seem to move an inch. His hard, blue eyes stared into Virginia's own, gauging. Measuring. Simon had been on the receiving end of that look several times. River, more than several. Finally he scowled again. "Kaylee!" he shouted, turning her from her exuberant fare-wells with Inara. She did everything with exuberance, Simon had noted. "We're leaving. Find Jayne and get him back on the boat." "Captain?" she asked, a bit confused looking. "I was just sayin'..." "Shoulda said it faster, then, mei mei," he said. Zoe finally appeared out of the back room, still cradling Hoban. Her glance at Brownlee was decidedly cold, but Simon couldn't tell why. Just as well that he didn't have to, he thought. He wasn't exactly astute when it came to people. "Doc, take Kaylee here back to the boat, make sure she's ready to lift off." "Fine then," Kaylee said in a huff. Her expression was one he'd seen before. Every time he put his foot in his mouth, point of fact. "Come on." Simon wasn't often a man to be dragged... Oh, no, he was a man to be dragged, but he wasn't a man to be dragged by perky mechanics. He pulled free of her just as she let go, almost dropping him onto the ground. "Who does he think he is, bargin' around like that?" Kaylee said, sounding a bit hurt. "I's just sayin' my g'byes. Weren't like I was doin' nothin' wrong." "I know," he reassured her. "It's just that... Sometimes... the captain's like a monster." She snickered a bit, so he continued. "You said he makes everybody cry, right?" She finally broke and smiled again. He wasn't very good with people, but he knew how to make her smile. Most of the time. Okay, some of the time. "Simon," came River's voice. Directly behind him. He started and turned to her. She was standing barefoot in a blue dress almost identical to the one she'd worn back when... he dispelled the memory. "River, what did we say about bare feet?" "Inside only," she said, a small smirk on her face. "Speaking of which, why are you even out here? The captain said you..." "Ship's ready. Had to pick up something," she said, walking in front of them until they caught up. "Something?" Simon asked. "Something for Jayne," she elaborated. "Ahh, ain't that sweet?" Kaylee trilled. "Disturbing, more like," Simon protested. "You're doing this just to disgust me, aren't you?" River just smiled back at him. Serenely. Somehow, everything he was about to say just fell away. He'd fought so long and hard for that look, that peace. Now she had it. Had it for a while, now that he thought back. It felt like he'd finally done his job. Finally fixed her up enough that she wouldn't fall back apart when he turned his back. "River's got a boyfriend," Kaylee sang. "Does not!" both Tams shot back. Kaylee put up her hands in mock surrender. "Well, then," she smiled brightly. "It's good to see you agree on something." As she continued, leaving the two of them to stare after her, it was River, brow knitted in some expression he couldn't quite pick out, who spoke first. "She is... purplexing." Simon shrugged. "She is that." <> She looked out onto the wild grasses of Hera, the way they lay flattened to the ground in the cold. Winter had arrived early on this planet, both because it was well and truly out of sync with the rest of the worlds in terms of seasons, and because it had just been a cold year. Serenity Valley was alive with lights, hundreds perhaps. Each one a ship, a crew. Thousands of people, all here because of what they believed in. She'd believed in something once. Long ago, she believed that the Union of Allied Planets would make a better world for everybody. Better worlds, all. She'd been proven, oh so very wrong. All it took to convince her was thirty million corpses, and a few more thousand who made them. She had been a foolish, ignorant patsy, willing to believe something because it was convenient to do so. She had espoused the beliefs that killed - no, murdered - an entire world. She wasn't going to make that mistake again. The ship landed as close to the other ships as it could, which still put it a fair distance away from the center of the gathering. She had been extraordinarily lucky that Monty was on Paquin when he was. When she said she was going to Hera, he let her on without price or problem. Were all Browncoats like this, she pondered? As naive and guileless as children, as determined to do what they thought was right? It was easier to believe that it was just these two, but she'd seen Brownlee. She saw even now the hundreds of ships, with more coming all the time. Even though they had been utterly annihilated, scattered to the winds, the Independants were legion. The massive ship landed delicately, and the cargo bay began to slide open. "Here ends your ride, 'Nara," Monty said, running his hand along his thick, fuzzy beard. "I really can't thank you enough," she began, but the large man cut her off. "Don't mention it. Mal can be a bit shortsighted by times. 'Specially when it comes to somethin' he don't want to be seein'," He motioned her onto the lift which dropped them to the ground. "And speak of the devil," Monty smiled into the distance. "I should be going," she said, hefting her pack and stepping off the lift. "If he asks," she began. "Ain't never seen ya," Monty said. "Best be goin' before he gets here." Inara had never thought, when she was in the Companion House Madrassa, that she'd be setting foot on a planet in open defiance of the Alliance. She wouldn't have thought she'd ever have worn pants again, either. After decades in dresses, robes, and the like, it was an odd sensation to have her legs encased. Still, she cleared out long before the man with the dark brown duster approached, and was scooped up into a bearhug by, Monty. She knew she had to find her way to Serenity, get back on. She couldn't explain why she had to do this, but ever since she'd seen that message, she knew her life to that point was meaningless. She'd proven that on Osiris. Getting into a fistfight like a scullion girl. It was shameful. And it made her feel more alive then she'd ever been in her memory. She was pondering her situation, or possibly even her insanity at placing herself into it, when she came upon a familiar face. Very familiar, in fact. And exactly the woman she needed to talk to. "Monday!" she called, and the robed shoulders tensed. Inara came closer to the ramp of the Firefly where her old friend was situated. Finally, the woman turned around, a bundle in her arms. She was right. "Excuse me?" the woman asked. "You talkin' to me?" Inara's brow knitted for a moment. "Don't you remember me? We were at the ball on Osiris together? And Persephone, a year ago?" the woman's face shone with utter lack of recognition. "We spoke at great length?" "Not following," the woman replied. "The fistfight?" Inara offered, but the woman only shook her head. "Must have me mistaken for somebody other," the woman responded. "Ain't never been to no balls on Osiris. Too uptight and crotchety for my likin'." "So, you're saying you are not Monday Yiao, of House Celeste?" Inara asked. The woman stared hard at her, face somewhere between scorn and envy. "My name is Friday. Fri-day, dohn luh muh?" Finally, a look of recognition flit across her. "Oh, I know who you are!" "Finally," Inara muttered. "You're that Companion what sexed up the pirate in the burnin' temple!" "What! I... I didn't... He isn't..." Inara took a calming breath. "I didn't ever have sex with him. All he ever did was rent out a shuttle and be annoying. Very annoying. He isn't even a pirate! And for the love of Ye-su will people stop believing that one?" This Friday was now grinning at her. There was no way that two women of such grace and beauty could exist in the 'Verse. Unless... "Look at it this way, lady, ain't a schoolgirl in the 'Verse don't know of Inara Serra." "So, I'm a pirate now, am I?" came the last voice she ever wanted to hear right now. "Burning temple, gotta say, that's a nice touch." She spun to face him, taking in the smirk on his face as it hovered over his brown dust coat. "Mal," she began. "Can't say as I understand what you're doing here," he said. "Can't say as I'm particular calm about the same. Why am I seein' your face here?" "I," she began, but her every excuse suddenly sounded so hollow, so false. "I don't know." Mal rolled his eyes a bit. "Not a very good answer." She was about to speak again when a man with a rather unpleasant scar running through his right eye stepped into the group. His hair was long, and relatively ill-kept. Of the two men in the group, this one looked infinitely more pirate-like than Malcolm. "Captain Reynolds?" he said. "It's time. Carson's waiting for you." "We don't have time for this, Inara," he said, striding off after the other captain. She couldn't for the life of her remember this man's name. She was sure she saw him before; one does not easily forget a face like that. Mon... Friday followed after this man, and Mal caught Inara's arm. She protested a bit at first, but he'd gotten that look she'd seen on Haven, right before he started Reaverizing Serenity. He was fighting a war again. She was almost afraid to pull away, and more than a little reluctant to miss the chance to see him in his element. The group wove through the ships, coming at last after at least a half hour to the center of the encampment. Towering over all of the other craft around it, this ship seemed markedly out of place. A lion in a room full of kittens. She looked at the name, written high on its bow. Alpha Wolf. She'd read of the capers of the Alpha Wolf during the Unification War. It was the only ship in Independant Navy that had ever stood toe to toe with the Alliance and won. At least, the only time they admitted to losing, now that she thought on it. And a humiliating defeat it was, losing four ships to prize by a single Independant Blockade Runner. "Would this be?" she said aloud. Mal turned back to her, that infuriating smirk on his face again. "Logan Kell?" he offered. That was the name which had been uttered in fear by the soldiers of the Core. The group continued up and into the large, sleek craft, into its heart, where the massive holotank stood. "Malcolm Reynolds," said the man Monty'd described as Carson. "It's good to see..." That's when Mal punched him. Right in the jaw, knocking the smaller man to ground. "I suppose," Carson said, as he looked up, "that I deserved that." "That was for my mother," Mal said. He then offered his hand, hauling Carson up. "That was for trying." Carson nursed his jaw for a moment, then waved to the other captain. "This is Jacob Greyson," he said. "We've met. You can leave," he ordered the scarred captain. Carson was about to speak a long-bearded man, hair all shot through with grey, appeared from some other part of the ship. He regarded them all with eyes that caught the light in the room and reflected with a lupine burnished gold. She instantly recognized him, his description was still handed out regularly, and he was regarded even now as one of the most dangerous men in the 'Verse. "Actually," Logan Kell's voice was deep and gravely, a man who gave orders all of his life and didn't knuckle under to anyone, "Jacob's a guest of honor in this." "He ain't seen Miranda," Mal pointed out. "They've seen something else," Kell pointed out. "The new Reavers." New Reavers, she thought. What did that mean? Carson flicked on a few switches. "We're just about ready for the broadcast," Carson said. "New Reavers?" Mal asked. Kell nodded. "It explains a lot of what I've been seeing out in the Burnham Quadrant. Captain Greyson, you understand the concept better." Greyson nodded to Friday, who pulled out an armor suit out of the parcel she was carrying. It was all leather, and to be specific, pale leather. Inara almost gagged when she realized what creature that type of leather would come from. She wondered just how many people were a part of that suit. "This is the armor of a new type of Reaver, one we ain't seen before," Greyson explained. "Syl's been translating their 'bible', and seems like the Reavers call them the Eyes of Pax. Far as she can tell, these Eyes are universally female, and they can literally be anywhere. I've got Syl and River circulatin' through the fleet." "River?" Mal asked. "Why?" "Because a telepath can spot one at ten yards," Jacob said. "We've already found one. Where there's one, there's probably others." "Wait," Mal muttered. "That blonde's a...?" "Yeah," Jacob affirmed. "Thought River was all by her lonesome?" "Actually, that explains more'n a few things." "What do you do when you find one? A Reaver spy, I mean?" Inara asked. Jacob's face grew cold. "It's a Reaver. Don't matter what face it wears," he turned back to the armor. "These Eyes also lead the hordes once they land. We ran into one on Whitefall, trying to sell out the town to a raiding party. Another cleared out a community on Kerry and left a clutch of them to attack any hun dahn what came near. Fact is, they're smart, they're strong, and they're all manner of dangerous." "And this matters why?" Mal asked. "'Cause they're on their way," Kell said. The holotank activated, showing the system in three dimensions. He pointed at a black body at the edge of the 'Verse. "Time of year what it is, Miranda's on its way out of the Burnham Quadrant. Also, notice this," the view zoomed in, showing the black of Miranda, then a whole lot of nothing, and at the other end, Boros. "You see?" "Not particularly," Mal said, but Jacob had gone pale. "There's nothin' between them and the Iskellian Shipyards," Jacob whispered. "How many?" Kell scowled. "Too many. I outran them all the way in, and they'll be on Boros in two days." "Wait, they're going to take on the Alliance?" Mal said. "Well that'll be all manner of slaughterous." "Indeed," Kell agreed. "Almost a hundred ships. And not the Trans Universals they usually use. We're talking Cutters, Crab-Colos, and Hornets, along with a few frankenships of defied description. This is not a raiding party, captains. This is a war-band. If our numbers are the nearest thing to right, they've bloated to almost a hundred thousand strong. That's a thing of worry to me. Worse, 'cause of a scheduling error, in two days, when the Reavers reach Ares, the Magellan'll still be a few hours out. That'll give the Reavers all kinds of time to take over whatever they got a wantin' for." "What's our part in this zhe sha di jing shen shi chang?" Mal asked. "Our job is to protect that yard," Kell said bitterly. "Much as I'd like to destroy it out of hand, I'd rather be not Reaverbait. We piss off the Alliance, make them cover their ass, and get the hell out of dodge." "Don't seem like your usual job, do it?" Jacob asked. "Ain't," Carson said. "But we got an inside track to a rather gargantuan sum of money from an Alliance slush fund, provided we do this. Fella seemed kinda adamant about it, and whatever stops the Reavers from gettin' new toys..." he shrugged. "And if we can, um, commandeer, one of their ships in the process, all the better, dong ma?" Inara watched Mal's face as he pondered. He knew it was the right thing to do. That meant he was going to play the brigand, as that operative once put it. Demand payment. "What sort of figure is gargantuan?" he asked. Carson quoted a figure. Mal stood, stunned. "And that's?" he began. "Per ship," Carson completed. Mal stared. "Huh." <> Jayne spat on the whetstone, running his knife along it. He hadn't been invited to the powwow on that sexy piece of ship, and hadn't bothered listenin' in on the broadcast they'd made to the crowd. Didn't much care for that. All he cared for was that ten percent. And that was ten percent of a mighty big number. Still, he shuddered a bit at the thought of having to face them... Reavers again. "Penny for a kiss?" came River's sing-song voice from over his shoulder. "Bwah!" he shouted, turning with the knife clutched hard in his hand. With a scowl he returned to his position, jaw tight and knife drawn across whetstone. "Shouldn't sneak up on folk. 'Special when they carryin' weapons," he glanced back at her. "Might not be safe." "You're harmless," she said, tousling Jayne's hair before he swatted at her hand. "Harmless?" he asked, tryin' mighty hard to sound intimidatin'. She just smiled and moved in front of him, a box held in her small hands. "When one sun collides with another, two solar systems are destroyed," she explained patiently. "Compared to that, you are harmless." "Set your standards awful damn high, din't ya?" he growled. "What is that?" "Christmas present," she said. Jayne's brow drew down. "Christmas ain't for a couple weeks, crazy girl." "Christmas present," she repeated, seeming to be a bit distressed. "Fine, I'll take the ruttin' present," Jayne said, slashing through the brown paper covering the box, then through the box itself. He weren't much a fella for unwrappin'. "What the hell?" Jayne held up the metal pants, and River beamed. "Do you like them? I got them special for you." Jayne glanced up at her. "Metal pants?" The crazy girl's face began to fall. "You don't like them?" "Ah, hell, girl. Don't be lookin' at me like that. I'll take 'em. Just... don't... start cryin' on me," Jayne said, puttin' them silly pants back in their box. As he said the last words, River burst into a radiant smile, one he sorta expected to see on Kaylee. She was a very special kinda crazy, he thought. "Your kind of crazy," she pointed out. "What did I say about my brain?" Jayne groused as he slid the knife back into its holster. Simon and Kaylee came through the door then, noting the two of them, and a pair of metal pants between them. "You got him platemail leggings?" Simon asked. He shrugged, looking entirely too relieved for Jayne's likin'. "And here I thought it would be something more..." "Simon," Kaylee warned gently. "You're right," River said to Jayne. "Rayne is a good name." All three stared at her as she departed the room. Where the hell had that come from, he wondered? Simon and Kaylee must have gotten a different idea, because she went all beamy faced and Simon went a mite shell-shocked. The pair was funny, so Jayne started laughin'. He laughed even more when he realized that they was both wrong. "You didn't touch her," Simon said acidically. Kaylee's beaming cut off like a gorram switch. "Because if you did..." "Her? She was talkin' 'bout me!" Simon's face screwed up for a second, then went shell shocked again. Jayne just kept on a-laughin'. Nothin' else, the crazy girl was good for a laugh. For once, he got the joke, and he was laughin'. Mal came upon the scene, with the annoyed mechanic, the shell shocked doc, and the endlessly laughin' mercenary. He glared all around, but none seemed to be payin' him any mind, even as the henpecked doc got led down to the sick-room to no doubt perform a pregnancy test. Mal watched them leave. "What in the sphincter a' hell was that about?" Mal asked. "Just River jokin' with them. Or maybe not, which is all manner a' frightenin'," he admitted. "Gotta admit, ain't lookin' forward to facin' down them Reavers again." "Your lucky day," Mal said, eyes lookin' more than a bit hard. "Y'ain't going to be with us." "Where am I," he started. "Inara is goin' on another ship. Someplace safer. You're going to keep her safe, dong ma? You make sure ain't nothing gets ahold of her," Jayne'd seen Mal in rough shape. But never so rough as this. "Money's too good," Jayne said. "I guess its time I get stupid." Mal smiled. "She's moved into Legacy, across the way. You keep her safe." The two men locked eyes for a moment. He tried to think of a way to calm the other man down, but the only words that'd come out were, "Yeah, Mal." <> "But I thought we was," Kaylee began as Simon changed direction and headed out the ramp. "Hey, don't you run..." Simon turned back to her, a broad grin on his face. "I don't need a test. I don't want it to get in the way of what I'm about to do." Kaylee got that suspicious look, and Simon pressed onward. "This is River, remember. She wasn't wrong with Zoe, and she isn't wrong with you. I'm going to do something I should have done months ago." He got down on one knee, letting the rising morning sun frame her in a radiant aura. Her face took on equal parts of joy and astonishment. "You askin' me to?" she managed. "Kaywinnit Lee Frye," he said. "Will you marry me?" Her eyes were wide as she almost managed to speak at least twice. "When?" she asked. "Right now," he said. "Before we leave, even." She smiled again, bright and wide. "Yes!" she said. "Where?" Simon grinned like a schoolboy as he dragged her willing self through the crowds. "Here. I'm sure I saw a Shepherd somewhere over here..." Suddenly, they were forcing their way through a crowd, which had pressed itself tight around the form Simon had seen earlier in the night. An Asian Shepherd was conversing with another captain, one he recognized. Greyson, if memory served. "Excuse me, but I'd like to speak to the Shepherd," he said. Jacob shook his head. "Not until I'm done with him," Greyson replied. He then turned to the blonde woman standing nearby. "She is coming, isn't she?" 'She' appeared then, in a black dress and her hair worked into a cap of curls. Unless Simon totally missed his guess, this would be Anne, Jacob's pilot. "Wow," Jacob said with a beaming grin. "Ain't wedding dresses usually white?" Anne grinned impishly. "Virgins wear white." The Shepherd looked at Simon, holding Kaylee's hand, and nodded. "Wedding?" he simply asked. Simon hadn't even answered when he turned back to Anne. "Ah, ain't that just shiny?" Kaylee said. "Everybody's gettin' married. Next Mal'l walk Inara down the aisle." "We... don't have an aisle, bao bei," Simon pointed out. "You're no fun," she said, planting a kiss on his cheek as they were pushed back into the crowd. <> "Boss," came an unwelcome voice in his bliss. "Boss, you can stop kissing the bride now." It was hard to let go of this stunning creature in his arms, but when he opened his eyes and beheld Sylvia smirk behind her. Anne frowned at him as he finally pulled back. "Good," Sylvia said. "If you'd gone any further, they'd've had to keep the children away. Hell, s'it is, you've already missed most of the other wedding." "There was another wedding?" Anne asked. Sylvia forced the two to arm's length with that small smile, reaching into her pocket. "Seeings how neither of you has a ring, I had Friday make these," she held up the leather necklaces. "In some of the Border Worlds, when folk can't afford gold or silver for wedding bands. They use what they've got. Leather, in point of fact. They wear this 'round their necks, usually with a bauble of some sort," She slipped one over Jacob, then the other over Anne. She held up her own contribution. "A bullet?" Jacob asked. "With lettering," Sylvia said. She gave Anne the one with Ya ge bu, and Jacob the one with An nih. Each went into a cunningly crafted cup which snugly held the munition in place. Jacob with Anne. Anne with Jacob. Jacob smiled at the idea. Sylvia spoke again. He wasn't sure, but he could have sworn she said 'You'll know when to use it.' "What was that?" he asked. "Wedding presents, from the whole crew. Well, not from Early, I guess," Syl shrugged. He looked the thing she held toward him from one tip to another. "It's a sword," he pointed out, pulling the slender, hiltless blade from its scabbard. It looked wicked sharp. And he, even with it in his good hand, wasn't sure he wasn't going to stab himself in the foot. "Your powers of deduction astound me," she said sardonically. "You'd better practice with it." "Shuh muh?" Jacob asked. "What about me?" Anne interrupted. Sylvia motioned them to follow her, bringing the pair with her as she made her way back to Legacy. The ship, not too far away, was upon them in no time at all. And there were some new arrivals. One of them was a glamourous woman in a shirt and pants, the other was Jayne. "What's with them?" Jacob asked. "Inara Serra. Companion, kicked out of House Madrassa," Sylvia said. "They can do that?" Anne asked. "Rare, but it does happen. Jayne's here because if she doesn't come back, he's sure Reynolds will castrate him with a spoon," Sylvia finished. Better than a Cortex hacker, she was. "And my present?" Anne sounded excited again. Jacob paused just long enough to point Miss Serra and the hulking man-ape to their rooms for the duration of their stay. After that, he ran after the women, just managing to catch them as they reached the cockpit. Her chair had been turned around, and a tiny model was resting on it. A tiny little Firefly. "You didn't?" she asked, picking the small thing up. Jacob was smiling as he slipped his arm around her waist. He could see, even in its reduced dimensions, an identical facimile of the 'Legacy' on its neck. She laughed, tears in her eyes. Sylvia gave Jacob a small nod, and left the two alone. "You know," Jacob said, "Really shouldn't be so weepy on your wedding night," Anne was smiling as she looked up at him. "Might give a husband second thoughts." She grabbed his hair over his ears and hauled him down for a long kiss. "Tomorrow we leave for Ares," she said. "We go to war against the Reavers. Today, we are wed, and I'm having my gorram honeymoon." "You are so beautiful," he said, scooping up her meager weight and carrying her out of the cockpit. He had a momentary snag as he realized he couldn't carry her down the ladder, and had her climb down on her own, then picked her up again at the bottom. She smiled up at him as he delicately laid her onto their bed. "Wo ai ni, Jacob." "I love you too, Anne." And the living was glorious.

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