BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:01, Mistletoe
Sunday, January 15, 2006

The crew of Legacy are asking more of her than ever before as they plunge back out into the black in search of their kidnapped crewmate. Now, they must ask if what they pursue is worth the sacrifice.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1509    RATING: 7    SERIES: FIREFLY

Season Two begins! For a long while, I struggled with what to call this episode, but one line in particular resonated with me, and that, combined with the fact that the end of this episode just happens to take place on Christmas Eve in the Black, gave the first episode its name. Since several members of Serenity's crew are still aboard the badly mauled Legacy, they're being hauled along for the ride, giving me one last chance to see Serenity's side of the situation for a while. Remember, just because something happened that didn't get explained here, don't mean I ain't never getting to it. All your Serenity are belong to Joss, all your Legacy are belong to me. Feedback? GIVE!

Mistletoe

Malcolm Reynolds eyes flew open at that sound, the sound of something docking with his ship. It had been so long, now. He'd gone to the rendezvous point, where Kell had bade them wait. He waited, as the ships showed up one after another. He waited as Kell transferred dishomed crew back to their original ships. He waited as the ships flew off, into the Black, one after another. He waited, and even Kell gave up and left. And still he waited. "Captain, we've got new arrivals," Kaylee's cheerful voice announced, and he was out of the pilot's seat like a shot. He hadn't even realized he'd fallen asleep. He practically jogged down the the cargo bay, almost running down the sweet girl in the process. He paced on the catwalks anxiously as the door was pulled open by the good doctor. His heart fell more'n a bit when he saw Zoe and Fredesa step out. Not who he was waiting for. Not at all. She was out there somewhere, he knew it. River would have told him if she wasn't. He almost marched right back to his seat and continued brooding. "Sir?" Zoe said, above the howling that Hoban was putting up. He was currently flailing about in Fredesa's arms, a definite change for the proud, protective woman. She hadn't even let Mal touch the kid for months. "It's good to have you back, Zoe," Mal said, glancing past her toward the door, which the doctor was swinging closed. "I take it you're alone?" "I count three of us, sir," Zoe pointed out. "Why, are you waiting for somebody else?" Reynolds frowned, unable to look his first mate in the eye for a moment. "Yes. Yes we are. You and Fredesa get squared away." "Dell, sir," Zoe corrected. "Dell?" "Dell." Mal rolled his eyes. Of course, it wouldn't be his ship unless his crew was backtalkin' him. "Fine then, Dell it is. Zoe, you and Dell get yourselves squared away." The two went their separate ways, Fredesa... Dell, headed toward the passenger dorms, and Zoe to her bunk. At least that hadn't got complicated while he wasn't looking. Simon had a look in his eye when he came up, so Mal turned to face him in all his captainy glory. "Captain," the doctor began. "Waiting here isn't going to do us any good." "Well aware of the problems, doctor," Mal responded, "but until we get back the rest of this crew, we ain't budging an inch." "It's been more than a week since anybody saw them, and they were covered in boarding craft and following the Reavers. Even you have to accept the possibility that," Simon seemed to be gaining momentum, a phenomenon Mal really didn't want to deal with right now. He shut him down. "We ain't having this conversation," he said, voice forced into a semblence of mildness. "Ain't never, have my way. We'll wait till the food runs out, if we have to." "Interesting," Simon said. "Because our stockpile won't last a fortnight." The doctor walked past him, muttering a curse about foolish old men as he went. Mal watched him leave. He should just leave. Jayne weren't too big a loss. Hell, with him not around, they'd save hundreds in food, thousands in medical supplies, liquor and deals gone south. River might be a bit forelorn about it, what with the nutty way she been actin' of late, but the crew'd be better off on the whole. He tried to tell himself that, at least. He also tried to tell himself that without... her around, he'd be able to think clear, not get turned about all the damn time. But he couldn't even fool himself on that, and he had it on fairly good authority that he was a master at self delusion. Shrouded in a fog of worry and self-pity, Mal found himself on the bridge. River had taken to staying below unless he specifically called for her. Then, like as not, she'd appear out of Jayne's ruttin' room. He didn't feel like company right now, though. He dropped himself in the pilot's chair, staring down the plastic dinosaurs which still guarded the pilot from sudden but inevitable betrayals. He couldn't take it. Not again. Not anymore. With a roar of impotent frustration, he swept the figures onto the floor and threw himself back down into the chair, cradling his head in his hands. "Inara," he whispered. "Where are you?" <> Jacob lurched toward the latest sound of crashing and unpleasantness, supporting as much of the weight as he could on the crutch Friday had helpfully left in the infirmery. It still hurt to walk. Hell, it still hurt to breath, with that gorram fluff shot through him like caulking. Sometimes when he coughed hard enough, some of it came out. Which was more'n a mite unsettling. "I am not liking that sound, Zane," He yelled. Or rather, tried to. It was hard to get any sort of volume with a twitchy lung. "All's fine, boss," Zane said over his shoulder as he darted past the door. "Not to fret." Of course, Zane had to be lying. The gorram engine was on fire. That was not a thing which inspired confidence, seein' flames coming out of any part of the ship, especially the one which makes the ship go. "Zane?" "What, boss?" "Your engine's on fire," Zane cast a glance toward where Jacob pointed, started, and grabbed a fire extinguisher. "Fix it." "Jacob, bao bei, you shouldn't be up," Anne's concerned voice said behind him. He felt her trying to guide him back down the the infirmery, but he was too stir-crazy to stay there right now. He glanced at her, but she'd taken place at his right side. His blind side. "Ain't goin' back down there," Jacob said. "I just can't. Gotta be up and about. Pa always said the best way to cripple a man is let him recover too long." "Your father sounds like an interesting man," Anne said, now dragging him away from the engine room. "I'll have to meet my new inlaws sometime." "Meeting mine is about as likely as meeting yours," Jacob muttered. "Pa had a heart attack two years ago, and Ma got took by a stroke back near a decade." Anne frowned up at him. "Y'ain't never said anything about them before." "Didn't think it mattered. Where are we headed? Miranda?" Jacob asked. "Our path takes us well away from the Burnham quadrent," Anne said. "You're giving up?" his voice grew very tight and low. "You ain't listening," Anne said. "They ain't headed back to the planet. They's headed somewhere else." "Well, this is all kinds of fun," Jacob muttered. She tried to guide him down the stairs to the infirmery, but he momentumed his way into the kitchen, and from there into the fore-corridor. She still tugged at him, but she didn't want to hurt him. He was counting on that. Carefully, he lowered himself into the copilot's seat, wincing as the wound twisted a mite. Gorram if that didn't hurt still, after a whole week. He'd love to get Friday back on his boat. That'd fix him up. Getting Sylvia back, though, would be better. Finally realizing she wasn't getting him back into the infirmery, Anne surrendered and sat herself down in her seat, fixing him with a hot glare. "This ain't makin' a touch of difference." "Anne." "Common sense, bao bei," she said softly. "Them's got took by Reavers either die or are better off that way. She's gone, Jacob." Jacob locked his eye onto hers. "She's not gone. Not until I say she is." "You wantin' don't make it happen," she said quietly. "Why are you fightin' so hard for her?" "She's a part of my crew," Jacob said simply. Anne's look became distant. "And if it was me?" she asked. "Never gonna happen." "If it was me?" she asked again. Jacob sighed, staring off into the black. "If it was you, ain't a power in the 'Verse'd stop me from finding you." Zane appeared then, looking a bit scorched and a bit sad. "Boss," said he, "we've got a problem." "Don't want to hear problems, Zane. What I want is to hear solutions. Get that engine turning. Get us moving." "Not going to happen, boss," Zane shrugged. "We've been runnin' ragged on an engine that had a Reaver monkeywrench tossed into it. It was just a matter of time before it quit. And sure picked a sweet bung of a spot to quit, didn't it?" "It's not a Capissen 38, is it?" Jacob asked. "No." "Then you can fix it, so ruttin' fix it!" he shouted, then succumbed to a fit of painful coughing. "Anne?" Zane implored, but she shook her head. "Look, boss, when I say ain't gonna happen, I really do mean it. The primary grav-couple housing's up and shattered. Without that, we're runnin' on reaction drive only, and that won't barely even outrun one of the shuttles." "Replace it, then," Jacob coughed up another red and white glob. "Use them parts we picked up after Liann Juin." "Da-shiong bao jah shr duh lah du-tze, you're not listening to me," Zane finally shouted. "The housing's damn near the only custom piece this ship's got. Ain't nobody but another Firefly'd have one. Only way we're gettin' another is if another Firefly just happens to come along, or if I make one m'self." "Then make one!" Jacob ordered, forcing himself to his feet. "I intend to run down those bungers. I intend to get back my crew, the way it was. And I ain't havin' that coasting in the Black, dohn luh muh?" "Fine," Zane said loudly. "Fine!" Jacob shouted back. His voice left him after that, so his next words came out quiet and gravely. "Get to work." Zane cast one more glance back, somewhat hurt, it looked like, and vanished back into the ship. Jacob lowered himself back into the seat. Anne dropped herself on his knees, facing him. "What the hell?" "So you don't get up again and do something stupid," she explained. Her eyes were beginning to glimmer. "I thought I was losing you, back there. I don't want that. If that means I have to hold you down, I will." "Ain't leavin' you in this world, bao bei," he whispered, his throat still achin' him somethin' fierce. "Ain't never gonna." She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him tight. He struggled to hold back a hiss of pain as her admittedly meager weight pressed against his injury. Her fingers began to bite into his shoulder blades, the way she did when she was sleeping. "I was just... so afraid I was going to lose you." "Not in this 'Verse, ki zi, not in this 'Verse." She remained in that position a good long time, simply clutching herself to him and trembling. Her head was buried against his shoulder as she shook. Was she crying? He couldn't tell. She wasn't one for weeping, usually, but once she started, she had a tendency to go on for a while. There were a lot of tears stored up in that little frame. "Oh, I'm sorry, I just thought," Inara said as she noticed the two. "What is it?" Jacob asked as if nothing were out of the ordinary. She didn't seem to need to be pushed further, making him wonder if the crew over on Serenity got grapply or weepy more often than he gave them credence for. "I heard from Zane that you were up and about. Which, by the way, I disapprove of." "If I wanted a medical opinion, I'd talk to a doctor," he said. "What are you here about?" The Companion sighed. "You have to accept the possibility that Sylvia might be dead." "Why does everybody think I need to hear that today?" he asked, eye hard and sharp on Serra's own. "She's alive. I know it, and more important your own pilot, River, knows it." "Oh, yes," she scoffed. "Let's bring that little vision of River into this, shall we? A vision that tells you exactly what you want to hear, that none of the rest of us, conveniently enough, can't see." "Jayne seen it, too," Jacob pointed out. "Jayne," she began, and found herself caught between entirely too many negative things to say, and not enough time her natural lifetime in which to say them. "Jayne is a fool." "Shouldn't be talkin' 'bout folk behind their backs," the mercenary said as he entered the cockpit. "Might hurt their feelin's." "We both know you don't have feelings," Inara snapped. Jayne scowled. "I didn't come here lookin' for a fight," he retorted. He then seemed to notice the position Anne had taken. "What in the hell's she doin'? Shouldn't you to be doin' that in yer bunk?" "Does this disturb you?" Jacob asked flatly. "More'n a little." Jacob rolled his eye. "What's this about, Jayne?" "Done cut the last of them things loose. Patched up the hull, too. Weren't easy with the li'l 'un flyin' us so crazy." "Might want to watch your tone around my wife," Jacob pointed out. "What's next?" Inara asked. "We're dead in the water 'till Zane fixes up a part. Till then, ain't really nothin' to do," Jacob said quietly. "Shiny," Jayne muttered. "I'll be in my bunk." "You don't have a bunk," Inara said. Jayne paused in his turn. "Right," he said slowly. "You know where I'll be." As the last of them left the room, Jacob shifted his weight, drawing another spike of pain from his chest, to get a look at his wife. She was crying, eyes shut as she sobbed. He wondered if she was even aware of what was happening around her. Sometimes, when she lost control of one thing, a lot of other things went buggy too. "Anne?" he asked. She tilted her head to glance at him. Her cheeks were quite damp. "I'm sorry," she said. "I just..." "Don't ever apologize," Jacob said softly. "It doesn't matter what you do. I'll be here for you. It's what I signed up for," he grinned somewhat. "I accepted you, strangeness and all, four years back when we started sharing a bed. Have I ever asked why you get clingy when you go to sleep?" "I do not get clingy," she protested. "Oh, you most certainly do." She smiled then, a weak, uncertain smile, but a smile nonetheless. She rested her cheek against his shoulder. "Do not." "Boss, I can f..." Zane announced as he charged up onto the bridge. Then, he saw the pair of them in their crippled embrace and hesitated, making as if to leave. "I ain't cuttin' in on a moment here, am I? "Life is but a series of moments, Zane," Jacob recited. "What is it?" "I can rig up somethin' that'll work like a grav-couple housing, but it won't last long. Might only take us out the day, might last us a week. Sure as hell won't run for a month, though." "If it'll work rig it up," Jacob said. "Here's the kicker. Full burn is out of the question. We try pipin' more juice through this thing than one hundred percent, it'll fry faster than you can say... don't full burn or the thing'll... fry..." "Then do it. I'll take whatever you can give. How long to rig this up." "It'll take the rest of the day, at least," Zane said. Jacob sighed. "Then get started," every hour they spent coasting along was an hour that they were getting farther away. As the mechanic left the cockpit, Jacob found himself running his fingers along Anne's short, curling hair. He tried to remember a time when things was simple. <> Kaylee frowned at Mal as he stared bleakly at the slim fare which had been set before him. As edible as it looked, he didn't have the slightest inclination to touch it. He knew that no matter how good a cook that Friday was, it'd just taste like ashes. Weren't much left to him, nowadays. "Captain?" Kaylee said quietly. "Y'ain't touched your dinner." Mal gave her a level glance. "Looks awful tasty!" she said with a hopeful smile. Mal didn't even look up. "You should eat," Simon said in the breach. "Starvation might take days to set in, but malnutrition can make it difficult to..." "Simon," the other doctor's voice sounded, smooth and sensual. "I ain't exactly what you'd call couth, but that ain't proper dinner conversation." "We're tryin' to get him to eat," Kaylee whispered, more than a bit too loud to be confidencial. Friday frowned, pulling off the slim spectacles and frowning at the captain for a moment. "If you don't eat," Friday said. "You'll get stupid. You get stupid, you won't find her." Mal frowned at her, but still couldn't bring himself to eat. The doctors both shook their heads in almost the exact same disdainful way. The crew exodused around him, leaving him staring at the admittedly somewhat attractive dinner the other doc had whipped up. It also marked the last of the canned food. Now, all they had left was protein in all the colors of the rainbow and that scum in the water-purifiers. "Sir?" the no-nonsense voice that had stood beside him for entirely too long to be ignored. He looked up, seeing Zoe staring down at him with a more than slightly unimpressed look on her face. "What is it?" "Are you really going to do something this stupid, sir?" Zoe asked. "Stupid?" "Yes, stupid. As in where you stop eating because someone you care about isn't around." "I don't think we ought be havin' this conversation," Malcolm said. Of course, that was when Zoe caught his shirt and hauled him to his feet, then pitched him forward into his dinner. "Gorramit, woman, what in the hell're y'doing?" "If you don't want to eat, I'll shove it down your rutting throat, sir," she said flatly. "Trust me, I've gained a lot of experience feeding uncooperative infants." Malcolm struggled for a moment, but even with a kid on the ground, she was still more than able to manhandle him. "Fine, I'll eat. Just let go of my gorram neck." Zoe let him flop back into his seat and pick off the vegetables which had become stuck to his face. "You didn't need to do that," he muttered. "Yes, I surely did, sir." her back was still perfectly straight, but there was a sense of her loosening. It was something she only did around two men that Mal could remember, and he was one of them. "Sir, I know what this is about." "I surely think you don't." Her face went blank. "We were both there. We got chewed up and spat out. I didn't have much keepin' me going. Then you brought that annoying pilot with his plastic dinosaurs, which I noticed you spread out onto the floor, and I found myself a husband. We got tore up plenty again after Miranda, and I lost my mister. Things got bleak. But I'm still here. I've lost more than any-damn-body on this ship. I lost my family twice, lost my man, near lost Hoban, but I'm still here. So are you. You didn't die in Serenity Valley, sir, so stop the hell actin' like you did." Mal stared his first mate in the eye for a long moment. "Is that all?" "For now, sir." "Well," he said, picking the last of the food from his mug. "I'll just finish my dinner then. Y'ought maybe be seein' to that rugrat of yours." "Just maybe ought, sir," she said, waiting until he'd actually bitten into something before leaving. Friday brushed past her in the other direction. Mal noticed she was carrying a guitar with her as she dropped herself down in the puffy chair. Mal must have been giving a what-the-hell look, 'cause she slid them glasses back up onto her nose and smiled at him. He was shocked at how much it reminded him of Inara, despite the fact that the two women had only the barest resemblence. "I've got to keep practicing, don't want to get rusty," she said, tuning her instrument. "Got any requests?" "Not as such, no." Friday plucked a few experimental strings, then glanced off pensively. "I've got one. Writ by a soldier from the Valley." she began to strum the chords of a tune he felt he'd heard before, a song which was a part of him. "Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand," she sang, her voice ringing clean and clear throughout the closed space. "I don't care, I'm still free, 'cause you can't take the sky for me. Take me out into the black, tell 'em I ain't comin' back. Burn the land, and boil the sea: you can't take the sky from me. Take your war, I've found my peace, to soar where I find my release. You lock me up, but I'm still free, 'cause you can't take the sky from me. No one place that I can be, since I seen Serenity. You can't take the sky from me, no, you can't take the sky from me." As she continued to strum, Mal glanced over his shoulder, spying River standing at the theshold of the fore-corridor. She was draped in Jayne's Fighting Elves shirt, and her hair was in even more marked disarray than usual. Feet, as they often were, bare. He stared. She stared back. At long last, she nodded slowly. "I'll set a course," she whispered between the notes. <> "So," Inara said, breaking into the long, awkward silence that had invaded the dinner table. It had been almost a week since Zane's little mishap with the engines that sent them limping on their ways. Each day saw the crew getting more and more pessimistic about their captain's plan. The man ate his meal mechanically, despite the surprising quality of it. "How about something to dispel the mood?" "What've you got in mind?" Zane asked, instantly chipper. "Tell me," she swept her dark, penetrating eyes around the table, "what you find most attractive in a mate." "The eyes! No, the nose," Zane said. "Wait, that's not it... you know that spot on a woman's lower back? Just above the pi gu?" She tried to focus the cycle the other direction, simply to avoid Jayne being next, but he stomped right into the spot, conversationally speaking, without hesitation. "Soft lips," Jayne said, sprawing a bit of food onto the table in the process. Inara looked a bit surprised by his answer. "I thought you never kissed them on the lips?" she asked. "I don't," he said, a lascivious grin on his face. "Ugh. Remind me never to talk to you again," Inara grunted. "Anne?" "Weight," she said, staring at Jacob. "Excuse me?" "Solidity, substance. If you got that, you can fall asleep and know that they'll still be there in the morning." Inara nodded to concede the point. There was certainly something to be said for not waking up alone. Some of her clients paid extra to be cuddled. A great many more simply walked away, which made very little sense to her. "And what about you?" she asked the captain. His gaze swung from his wife to his passenger. "The ability to look a man in the eye and say 'no, and no amount of money will change that'." Jayne burst into raucous, messy laughter, almost falling out of his seat. Zane looked at the mercenary next to him for a moment. "Did I miss something?" he asked. "That's almost 'xactly what Mal said when she asked that," Jayne managed to say between guffaws. While he was snickering, he seemed to have his attention diverted to the currently empty nook. Inara simply shook her head beautifically. "I was refering to physical attraction," she said softly. "Oh, well then," Jacob pondered for a moment. "Nothing." "Excuse me?" "Physical attraction is learned. Before I met my dearly beloved, I had a set of physical cues which got me all hot and bothered, and not a one of them is shared by my Anne," he placed his hand on her far shoulder and drew her toward him. "However, in the time since, everything I find attractive is in her. The height, the weight, the skin, the hair, the eyes. It's all secondary to what's under 'em." "Well," Inara muttered. "That's somewhat romantic." "Ah hell," Jayne muttered, his face shining with terror. Jacob stared at the mercenary for a long moment. From what he'd heard, there was only one thing the man feared. "What is it?" Jacob asked, his question ending just as the proximity alarms began to call from the cockpit. Usually, since the sensors were so damn powerful on this ship, they didn't start up till somethin' was damn near at spittin' distance. Out here, Anne had rigged them to start singin' the instant anything popped onto the screen, at any distance. She'd pulled free and ran up into her domain in a heartbeat. Jacob followed a few steps behind, leaning over her shoulder as she interpreted the readings the ship was feeding her. "What is it?" he asked quietly, knowing full well that there weren't nothing else this far out. Even though they'd been headed in a direction markedly not toward Miranda for a hell of a while, by which he meant. "Hold on," she muttered, her face deapan as she concentrated. "All I'm reading right now is moving metal. Could just be a rogue comet." "Then why's Jayne actin' like we're about to get hit by..." "Reavers!" she shouted, turning in her chair. "Zane, get your skinny ass up here!" "Anne?" he said. "We've got a pair of Crabs coming from dead forward," she growled as she readied Legacy for whatever they needed of her. "We gettin' Reavers?" Jayne's booming voice sounded from the back of the cockpit, sounding more that of a child than the foul-mouthed mercenary it belonged to. A glance back showed he'd already gotten his weapons. "River?" Jacob asked. Jayne nodded. "Will somebody get this rou di-duo mao di kiang out of my way?" Zane muttered, having to sqeeze himself between Jayne and the doorframe. "Reavers?" Anne nodded. "Where are they?" Jacob asked, staring off into the Black. He couldn't see anything. "They're a ways out. Zane?" "Ready," He said, seating himself in the 'gunners' chair. "Where they at?" the mercenary muttered. There was a brutal silence as the 'Verse collapsed to about ten square feet. "There!" she shouted as the first of them was hit by the light she'd started swinging around. Two of them, bearing right down on them; 'Crab' landing craft. Those things'd ram the ship, dig in with their claws, and dump their cargo of Reavers inside. Legacy was already tore up plenty from her last run in with Crabs. "I've got it," Zane muttered, eyes locked forward. He let out a laugh as the missile shot free of its launcher, streaking through the black toward the closer of the Crabs. It was about to strike when the craft jerked away, letting the thing streak past it. As the missile tried to loop back around, it slammed directly into the second. "That was... lucky," Anne muttered. The Crab began to drift erratically, and the one which had dodged the attack looped back around, headed back toward its wounded fellow. Another contrail reached out into the void, still streaking toward the first. This time, its target dropped itself behind the already wounded craft and halted, sacrificing the debilitated craft. As the ship began to drift apart, the remaining Crab thrust straight at them. Anne drew the craft away, setting the ship into overburn and throwing everybody not holding onto something into the back wall. "What's the plan?" Jacob asked, holding his chest where the wound tore at him from his wife's mad maneuvering. "Sometimes," she said with an odd smile, "you gotta roll a hard six." Jayne frowned. "What th'hell's a hard six?" "Y'all better hold onto somethin'," Anne said, which was all the warning she gave before flicking some switches and sawing at the controls. The ship lurched painfully, metal screaming as it was stressed beyond tolerance. A loud bang sounded from the engine room, no doubt Zane's replacement part quitting with great gusto, and the stars spun in front of the ship. Finally, when the ship, and Jacob's head, for that matter, stopped spinning, the Crab was directly in front the ship. Zane didn't hesitate for a second, letting fly another missile. That's when the damndest thing happened. The gorram missile exploded early, hittin' nothing but Black. The Crab streaked past it, latching itself to the spine of the now crippled ship. Zane leapt up from his seat, sprinting past the wretched sounds of tearing metal and to his engines. Jacob dragged the hulking mercenary down the corridor and pointed his Mauser at the hole which had been torn into the cieling of the kitchen. The shrieking stopped. And they waited. "Not that I ain't relieved," Jayne said, staring down a particularly large rifle, "but ain't them supposed to be comin' on?" The hole remained. Vacant. Jacob loped painfully to the side of the table and looked up, trying to gain a glimpse of what could be inside. That was when the black blur dropped out, landing awkwardly on the table. Jayne had the gun pointed at the figure in a moment, but Jacob swatted the weapon away as he beheld a pair of blue-green eyes staring out of a blood-coated face. "Syl?" he asked. Her clothes had been shredded badly, and no small amount of that blood appeared to be hers. Her eyes flit around the room, and her lips writhed. Her hand, scarlet from fingertips to elbow, where her clothing extended no further, reached up toward him. "H...H..." Jacob leaned closer. Sylvia's hand pressed against his cheek. "Home." "Son of a bitch!" Jayne muttered, and Sylvia's eyes rolled back and her brutalized form became limp. <> It had been a week since they'd left the rendezvous point. Seven days. One hundred sixty eight hours, give or take a few. Every damn one of them felt like an eternity. He hadn't asked the li'l albatross where she had him headed. With Zoe and F...Dell on board, weren't no reason to go back to Paquin and Brownlee's. He'd spent most of his time below decks. In the cargo bay, when it was dark, in his bunk when it weren't. Just couldn't face down them newlyweds, all happy and such, mood he was in. It didn't seem right for everything to be going right for everybody but... not him, he guessed. Things never went smooth for him and he didn't expect that'd ever change. Still, every second he spent flying through the Black felt like another second he'd abandoned her. River wouldn't even talk to him anymore, and she didn't look too good. Like she hadn't had any sleep in a week. She wouldn't talk to anybody, but she always seemed to be muttering, always too low for anyone to hear. Zoe tried to confront him again, but with his door locked, all she could do was call him an idiot and wait. She must have given up at some point, 'cause when he went up for something to nibble on, she was nowhere to be found. He hadn't taken much, yesterday, but he still hadn't gotten around to finishing it. He just wasn't hungry. He was so far beyond desparation that he was willing to sell his soul, had he believed he had one, or a convenient forum at which to sell it. Having nothing else he could do, Malcolm Reynolds tried something he hadn't done in years. Malcolm Reynolds got down and prayed. He had drifted off at some point during this last, most desparate ploy, his head coming to rest on his bed and everything else on the floor. The hiss of the door becoming unlocked pulled him back into conciousness. "Gorram it, Zoe, I ain't in any sort of mood for this right now," he growled, leaving his head against the mattress. The sounds of boots falling against the ladder vexed him. He grumbled again. "For the last time, I," he said, pulling his head off the mattress and rising to his feet. Suddenly, he felt all the words falling away. <> Jayne stared at the door as the shuttle locked into place. Looked like it were the middle of the night on Serenity, and was about as good a time to show up as any. Christmas present, River had said. Well, smack him around if it weren't Christmas Eve. The captain a' Legacy, that Greyson fella, had taken the duty of runnin' the two of them back to their home. He weren't too bad a fella, Jayne thought. Not nearly as crotchety as Mal, didn't have nearly the problems with the womanfolk. More'n welcome a change to that damn tension Mal and 'Nara always seemed to throwin' around. Inara pulled the door open, glidin' through in one of Jacob's doc's robes, confrontin' the woman herself what owned the robe. Friday, her name was, smiled as she beheld the two of them, and beyond them, Jacob. The Asian woman leaned in close to Inara, whisperin' something Jayne couldn't quite catch. She also slipped something into the Companion's hand, paper, looked like. Jayne frowned. Not worth thinkin' on. "Well, this is your stop," Jacob said slowly, still favorin' that hurt in his chest. Jayne couldn't rightly blame him. Closest he ever got to somethin' like that was when the crazy one came at him with a butcher knife. Jacob stared at the merc, makin' him all manner of uncomfortable for a while. "She might not be all there," Greyson said quietly, more'n like just between the two of them. "But she don't have to be." Jayne glared at the smaller man. Jacob smiled disarmingly. "Pa always said I shoulda been a shrink. Don't be a stranger, mister Cobb." Jayne was shaking his head as he went out the door. He made it about four steps on the catwalk before he got hit by a flying weight. A little flying weight with arms and legs. And long, black hair. He felt another mouth pressed against his own, and he struggled a bit to shrug her off. Weren't no good, though. She had him good. Finally, when she was done, River pulled back with a beaming smile. "What the hell?" he asked loudly. Without breaking eye contact, the little girl... little woman, he guessed... pointed straight up. "Mistletoe," she said brightly. And damn it if there weren't a sprig of that crap right above their heads when he looked up. Appearantly sated, she let go and skipped away, leaving one very baffled mercenary staring after her. Inara also stared after the young pilot, possibly every bit as confusticated as he was. "I didn't," Jayne began. "Just," she responded, "too insane... to be your fault." Jayne nodded in agreement. Doc might say she was on the mend, but that girl was gettin' more feng kuang every time he looked at her. The shuttle was already liftin' off, Jacob and his doc in tow as they headed back to their ship what done parked a short ways off, and Jayne shuffled the confused Companion out in front of him. Just as they reached the top of the stairs, River's head popped around the corner. "Captain wants you," she said to Inara. "What does he want?" she asked, somewhat miffed soundin'. "Captain wants you," she said again, not seemin' to understand why Inara didn't get it. "Go to him." Inara rolled her eyes and glided past the pilot, no doubt on her way to trade words with that contrary capt'n. Now, though, River was staring right at him. "What?" he demanded. She just stared at him and smiled that little, creepifyin' smile. "I ain't gettin' you a Christmas present." "You already did," she responded. Jayne grunted, not feelin' like dealin' with this right now. As he pushed past the li'l 'un, he growled to nobody in particular. "I'll be in my bunk." <> "River said you wanted me?" Inara said as she beheld the confounded looking Mal standing in front of his bunk. He was, she was surprised to see, stripped to the waist, and had a from his mattress pressed into his forehead. He just stared at her. "Well," she began. "I've been aboard five minutes and you haven't called me a whore yet. That must be a new record. Whatever it is you want, I assure, you, I can explain." Mal blinked, standing unsteadily in the middle of his room. "I believed in the Alliance, Mal. I always did. I never questioned what they were doing to make my life the way it was. But since... then... I haven't been able to... Back on Osiris, that girl was being... She made me so angry, and I just... I hit her." Mal didn't offer his opinion. "I know, you keep saying that one should never hit another with a closed fist, however hilarious it is. That's what tipped the scales. I had to do this, Mal. I had to be on the right side, instead of the winning one." She paused for a moment. "Mal?" He hadn't said a word since he caught sight of her, just stared at her. Staring, and smiling. She wasn't sure whether he scooped her up or she leapt into his arms, but before she knew it, their lips were locked and she felt the 'Verse disappearing around her. All that remained was the two of them. She felt herself being placed, oh so gently, on the tiny cot against the wall of the room. "Wait," she said, pushing Mal away for a moment. "What does this mean?" Something happened to Mal's eyes, a fire that had burned so bright and so hot, doused. His smile dropped away and he stood up. "I don't know," he said despondently. She grabbed his arm and pulled him back down beside her, an act a great deal easier than she thought it would be. She caught his chin between her fingers and stared into those eyes. "Good answer," she said, kissing him again. She broke away for a moment. "Just promise me one thing." "What is it?" he asked. "No pirate jokes." Mal smiled very wide as she undid the belt to her robe. "Yarr," he said. It was the last word he said for a very long time. <> "That'll do you," Friday said, pulling the stitches closed on his wounded chest. "Should be right as rain in no time flat." Jacob nodded gravely. He pulled his shirt down over the wound and stared out onto the slab, to where Sylvia had been laid out. Since she had literally dropped in on them, she hadn't regained consciousness. When they'd cleaned her off, they discovered she had taken very few wounds during her stay. "What about her?" he asked. "Excuse me?" she muttered. "Sylvia. Have you figured out what's wrong with her?" "Not yet," Friday said. "It's a good thing you saved her stomach contents, though. I found these." She slid the pan toward him, and he looked inside. "Ai ya, tyen ah," he whispered as the partially digested human fingers rolled in the pan. He looked back at his friend, laid out and looking so helpless. If he was right, she was anything but. Never before had he hoped more that he was wrong. "What?" she asked, putting the last of her things away. "Don't leave her alone, not ever. Tie her down," he said. "Take everything sharp or pointed out of this room, and lock it when you leave." "This is insane," Friday said. "You're making her sound like a..." "Reaver," Jacob finished grimly. "She spent fourteen days endurin' what drives the strongest insane inside four hours. Ain't got any proper idea what's going to be greeting us when she wakes up." "Boss?" came Zane's voice from behind him. "What is it?" "Legacy's hurtin' bad. We've got to get some place to patch her up," the mechanic answered. "Ain't no place anywhere near here," Jacob swore. "Not quite, boss," Zane interjected. "There's Mister Universe." "Zane, that place is abandoned." "I wouldn't offer it if I didn't know what I was talkin' 'bout, boss." Jacob sighed. "Tell Anne where to fly," he said, suddenly feeling very exhausted. "You should get some rest, Jacob," Friday said gently. Jacob nodded. "You know," he whispered, pulling out his gun, "I really should."

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