BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JAMESTHEDARK

Legacy 2:09, Possession
Monday, February 6, 2006

Jacob's runnin'. When he finds a place to lay low for a spell, he finally learns the truth about his wife's past. But an old foe resurfaces, and threatens to change their lives forever.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1395    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

Episode nine. How long have I waited for you. This one was relatively quick to write, and is paced a bit quicker than I would have liked, but it gets everything I wanted of it done, and leads up to the critical next episode, So Dark A Candle. This also brings in a change to one crew mate, and a possibility of losing one forever. Also, an epiphany which some of you should have seen coming, by now, and a further jab toward the connection on the other ship which I've been bludgeoning y'all over the head with. Firefly is the property of Joss Whedon. Legacy, is pretty much mine. And feedback.... NOW!

Possession

The building was much as Syl had described it. Humble and well looked-after, a two story edifice of dark brown painted wooden boards which could have blended in damn near anywhere in the Border Worlds or Rim. The doors were also wood, of the same rich brown, and bound in iron. They were doors that usually stood open, inviting, but this early in the morning, long after midnight, long before the sunrise, they were closed. And appearantly locked. There was still something of a crowd around, though. The occasional passer by who didn't give so much as a whit of acknowledgement, going about their late night/early morning routines in an obliviousness. Considering the closest thing he'd ever lived in to a city was Port Freud on Jiangyin, he was a bit baffled that not a soul cared to take their measure. Jacob pounded on the door again. Things weren't goin' good for the captain, and it was startin' to show on his face. True, the ship weren't exactly in a good way. Losing two jobs in a row with a ship needin' maintanence the way Legacy did ate through every damn cent the boss had managed to save up. Hell, they hadn't even had enough to buy food. The ship's pantry was gettin' aweful damn empty, and even he was gettin' hard pressed to find something to turn into food. Besides him and the captain, all the womanfolk of Legacy were milling about. Sylvia, as Zane heard, was their ticket in. Friday was here to keep her eyes on Syl, and Anne was the constant shadow of her husband she always seemed to become whenever there was the slightest bit of chance Jacob's eye might wander. Zane felt somebody rudely bump into him, and he felt a jolt run through his arm, where the man touched him. "Watch where you're goin'," the old harridan crowed. Still, there was a bit of a confused look to the old woman, though. Like she suddenly found herself somewhere she oughtn't be. That little jolt, like a static shock, seemed to linger in Zane's arm for a while longer than they rightly should. He checked his pockets. Well, she hadn't robbed him. Probably nothing. The door finally opened, exposing Virginia Brownlee's weathered face. She was a hard woman, staring strong despite her unsteady stature, and her thin-lipped mouth pulled into a hard line. "Well," she said flatly. "I can't say as I expected this sight to pull me out of my bed." "You said that we'd always be welcome under your roof?" Jacob asked instantly, dispensing with formalities on the double. "Ain't that simple, right now," Brownlee answered, not taking her eyes off of him for an instant. Zane glanced around the road. No Feds, thank God, but folk might get a touch suspicious if they didn't get into that building soon. If Sylvia started pitchin' a fit, though... Zane didn't even want to think on that. "Hell if it ain't so simple," Jacob responded, voice a bit rough. "You said you'd give us a place to lay low. Not if'n it works to the day." "We've had a damn hard few weeks," Brownlee stated. "You don't know the ruttin' half of it," Jacob muttered, drawing a hard glare from Brownlee. "We've had a damn hard few weeks," she repeated. "The Feds are sniffin' harder at my threshold then ever they done before. I don't figure on losin' everything I worked so damn hard for to those hun dahn." "Surely, we can work something out," the boss said, taking a step forward. A dangerous look came to the madam's face. "Best be not steppin' any closer, soldier, else I tell my girls to end you," the veteran said harshly. Zane glanced at the side windows. The 'girls', as Brownlee'd called them, were quietly arming themselves. Well, wasn't this a fine little dai liang shi-bu-ki dang de feng kuang? Jacob was seethin' now. "So, you can't even be held to your word with your own kind?" Jacob said, giving a staged glance back to Sylvia, who'd been dressed for the occassion in her brown coat. Still, it was a poor illusion. The woman was glancing about like a mouse in a hawk-tower, mutterin' to herself in no language that he readily understood, and running shaky hands through ill-kept hair. "Look," Brownlee said, putting her metaphorical foot down. Were she to do so with her real foot, she might just topple over. "Ain't no way you're comin' in here right now. There's plenty of other places a body can hide a spell, and you're just going to have to find one on your self-y." Jacob was getting that look. Hell, he ain't never got that look last year, 'cept for a few rare times when somebody really wanted to piss him off, and actually succeeded. Zane took a step towards the boss, but Anne held him back with her fingertips against his chest. Not his fight, he guessed. If that was her meanin'. "You're sure about this?" Jacob asked, voice completely empty, for all the world to seem. Everybody here knew what that meant, though. They knew it meant he was a twitch away from doin' somethin' crazy. Brownlee drew herself up as best she could. "Ain't a way in the hobs of hell," she said, finally casting a glance along Greyson's companions, "that I'm lettin' you, or any a' them's with you, into my..." her gaze fell on Anne at that moment, and her train of conversation derailed. Hell, that damn train went right off the side of the bridge and blew up at the bottom of Awkward Silence Ravine, leavin' poor old Brownlee starin' at the li'l missus Greyson with a slack jaw. "Get inside," Brownlee ordered after a moment, eyes not leavin' Anne for a second. Jacob followed the soldier's gaze, but didn't hesitate in bundlin' his folk into the building. Zane found himself stampeded in with the rest of them, with Brownlee hobbling into that back room, cussin' under her breath. Jacob just stood barely inside the door and watched as Anne made her way to one of the rooms for let. He didn't so much as say a word. Zane shook his head and sat himself down at the bar. Why the hell was his arm still tinglin'? In point of fact, why the hell was that tingle creepin' up toward his neck? <> Jacob watched as his wife vanished into the upper floor. He'd sworn years back that he wouldn't pry into his wife's past. What was done, was ruttin' done, and not a thing in the world'd be wrought from worryin' on it. Only, now he knew he was going to have to know. Something she done pissed off the Alliance right royally, and appearantly, it worked in the opposite wise also, getting her thick with the Browncoats. She had secrets, his little Anne. Zane was already into his cups by the time the captain pulled his gaze away from the stairwell his lover had ascended, and he remembered something which had damn near slipped his mind. He pulled out the bulky communicator and flicked it on. "Early, you there?" Jacob asked. "Depends on what you mean by there," the dark man on the other end replied smoothly. Ever the ruttin' philosopher, that one. "Casher still with you?" he asked. Please, he thought. Let that kid've run off somewhere. Somewhere where the couldn't talk for a few weeks. Like an insane asylum. He contemplated how to get that troublesome element dealt with for the split second it took Jubel to respond. "Not so lucky," Early answered. "Monday's off on a job, though. Who knows, maybe we might get enough money for fuel?" Jacob laughed mirthlessly. "Might want to check that optimism. Might get your delicate heart broke," Jacob paused a moment. "If you see anybody on that ship what ain't us, you shoot him, dong ma?" "I hear you," came the reply, then there was silence. Things had just gone so damn bad the last little while. First that job on Greenleaf went south and he had to drop the money and run, then the Silverhold debaucle, havin' to skunk Fanty and Mingo besides... things were gettin' painful tight on Legacy. Less jobs than ever were open to him, and the jobs what was were weak tea. Hell, he was so far past the redline, he needed a miracle to see the light of day. He must have been broodin' for a long spell, 'cause Anne appeared back beside him, taking up his hand in hers. Just feeling her small, delicate digits betwixt his own... suddenly, things weren't near so bleak. The back-room door opened, and a lanky man lookin' a bit like a darker Zane came loping out. His eyes seemed to be always about half closed, but he never seemed not to be takin' in the situation around the room. He'd seen the face before, somewhere. The fella seemed to recognize him first. "Captain Greyson?" he asked, a lupine smile spreading across his face. "Can't say as I expected to see you here abouts," he glanced at Zane, who was slamming down his fourth shot of whiskey, and clapped the youth on the back, sending the youngling into a peroxysm of sputterin' and coughing. The man had to clap the mechanic a few more times on the back before he continued. "Still workin' for this sour ole bugger?" "Still am," Zane said, his voice a touch... off. Jacob wanted to take a moment to think on it, but the man moved to Friday next. "And the lady doctor. Gotta tell ya, y'worked miracle's on that gash I got on my pi gu," he chuckled. He'd heard that particular voice, with its strong Dyton accent somewhere before. On that ship over Boros. That was it. Kell had gone and renamed that ship the IWS Shadow, snuck it out to that place of nothingness he kept the Alpha Wolf floatin' in. Seemed like the man was workin' toward buildin' himself a fleet. "I don't believe I heard your name?" Jacob said. "William," he answered, opening his eyes for the first time all the way. Jacob almost backed up a step at being stared at with eyes the color of burnished gold. Eyes of the wolf. "William... Kell?" Jacob hazarded. Beside him, Anne was shaking her head with disbelief. "Very same," Logan's solitary son answered. Then he glanced at Anne and his grin faltered a mite. "What?" Jacob demanded. "I'm sorry," William said slowly. "I just thought she was... well, she... Never mind. What are you doin' on this sorry scrap of nowhere?" "Same thing I'm figurin' you on doing," Jacob replied. "Hiding." "Ain't hidin', gov. Just keepin' low for a while." "What did you do this time?" Anne asked, and William went bug-eyed. "I ruttin' KNEW it!" he shouted, taking a long step toward her. Jacob felt himself pushed aside by the slightly taller man, who wrapped his arms around his wife. Jacob's hand immediately found its way to the sword-hilt standing between his shoulder blades. He almost pulled the thing out, only for him swinging his wife up into a twirling hug, and Anne laughing slightly when she was set down. "What's the meanin' of this?" Jacob asked. "Anne Roykerk," William laughed. "I didn't even recognize you. What happened to your hair?" "William?" "Oh, sorry," the young Kell had the decency to look at least a touch abashed. "Annie here was on my crew a few years back." "He's my former boss," she added, somewhat unneccessarily, and a touch too quickly. "Former boss," Kell nodded. "Former captain, former friend and former lover." Anne hung her head. Well... weren't that something? "What?" Kell asked. "Well," Jacob said slowly, "first of all, she ain't 'Annie Roykerk' no more," Kell looked a touch confused. "She's Anne Greyson." "You married her?" he seemed a bit surprised at that. "Tzao gao. Talk about awkward." "Why are you so surprised?" Anne asked. "Just 'cause it never come up when we was..." "Enough!" Jacob said, voice a touch strangled. "What's his hitch?" William asked her. "Typical man. I get dragged to that whorehouse where he done bedded half the workers, and I take it with a grain of salt," she smirked. "He meets one of my former matresses and its the gorram apocalypse." "Matress?" Kell asked. "Can we please not talk about this?" Jacob implored. "How come you ain't tried talkin' to me since..." Anne didn't respond. "Was it because of Jessie?" "So," she asked, grinning for all the worlds like she didn't just put him in a damn uncomfortable place, and obviously not wanting to answer that question. "What's been keepin' you busy since last time?" "Well," Kell scratched behind his ear. "I got married." "Married?" she repeated flatly. "...You?" "What's so strange in that one, luv?" "Oh, I just can't imagine... I'd figure you more for your father's way of thinkin'. Um. Who?" Anne asked. "Who else?" William said with a damn big smile. "Jessica." Anne muttered. "Didn't she shoot you one time?" "Everybody's makin' a fuss," William muttered, a bit baffled. A red-haired woman came out of the back room and took in the gathering, immediately taking Kell's side. She cast a cold glare at Anne. That would be Jessica Kell, Jacob guessed. Kell smiled as she took his arms and set an infant into them. "Your turn," she said, giving Anne another cold glare and walking out the doors. "Let me guess," Anne said. "That's your's, too?" Kell shrugged. "It's what happens. You'll have to forgive Jess. She's a bit..." "Territorial?" Anne laughed. "She still likely think's I'm gonna swoop on down and snatch you back up," she glanced toward Jacob, taking in the look on his face. "I ain't, so's you know. She can keep you." "Pleased to know she meets your approval," Kell chuckled. Jacob finally turned away from the damn disconcerting conversation. So that was her old life? He needed to know, but couldn't ask. He wouldn't dare. Zane was already three sheets to the wind, and Friday was... where the hell was that woman, anyway? Weren't a thing more to be done tonight. He was tired. Damn, damn tired and he wanted to sleep, to get away from Operatives, and insane crewmates, and blue gloves. From every damn thing. He made his way to the stairs. "Where are you going, bao bei?" she asked him. "I'm going to bed," Jacob answered. The room she'd picked was pretty obvious, the last one at the end of the hall, and the door hangin' wide open. He lowered himself into the nearly-too-thin bed and stared at the cieling for a while. There was so much he didn't know. So much he needed to. Why couldn't he just ask her? Why didn't he have the guts? Alone but for his thoughts, he waited for the bleak embrace of dreams. <> She stared at him a while. Despite what she'd heard others say, there weren't a man more suai in all the 'Verse. He had been there when she needed him the most. He'd held her as she shook with fear. She was so afraid, so damn often. It had become as natural and normal as breathing, that fear. A constant companion. She hated it, but there it was. She claimed she didn't cling, but she knew she did. She was always terrified that she'd wake up alone. Alone and in a cold, dark cell. Waiting. Jacob lay in that tiny bed, on his back. She stepped quietly over his discarded shirt, staring down at him. Sometimes, she just wanted to grab on and never let go. She silently let her coat and boots fall to the floor, sliding her body onto his, wrapping her arms around his sleeping form. He'd be there when she woke up. He never weren't. "Anne," he muttered. She tipped her face up to look at him. "We need to talk." "Not now," she whispered, setting her face back against his chest. She never let him know, but she always enjoyed the feeling of being so close to him. It was a feeling of safety. She felt his fingers lace gently into her hair, pulling her head back up. "No, not later. Now," he said, his one eye flashing in the near morning. "Kell and me were," she began. "Not that," he cut her off. "I know all I need to. That he once held my place in your heart and your bed. That's done with. What I meant was... why..." She stared at him. He was searching for the words. "Jacob." "Why are you so afraid?" he asked, oh so gently. Her eyes dropped. She had something prepared, a lie she'd whipped up years ago just in case anyone'd ever ask that question. She expected she'd have to tell it sooner or later... She hadn't been counting on six years, though. And she hadn't expected she'd ever be telling to her husband. Suddenly, it didn't make any sense. "My first job was for William Kell," she said, not quite able to look her love in the eye. "He picked me up when I was a runt, and him not much older. The world turned for him, it seemed like. Most'd do just about anything for him. Me included. So when he took the notion of fightin' the Unification... we went with him, lock, stock and barrel." "William Kell never fought in the war," Jacob pointed out. How had he figured that out, she wondered? Probably one of his unsettling leaps of deduction, as he called them. She nodded, or tried to, but he still had a rather firm grip on her head. As if realizing that, he finally let her go. She sat up, straddling his middle. "We might as well have," she said. "We picked up Alliance jobs, running Alliance cargo to Alliance instillations. Money was good, since they thought we was 'loyalists'. Course, we always turned right around and Waved the Wolf with every jot we ferreted out." Jacob didn't say a word, nor move a muscle from the hands he still had laid on her thighs. She took a moment. "Then," she continued, "came word of a shifty fella on Bernadette. We'd never got into a depository in the Core, not ever before. We had to take the chance. So, off we go, bribe the hun dahn and raid the place from top to bottom. That's most of the reason that the Valley didn't result in the gorram slaughter the purple-bellies said it'd be. That and the boys bein' tougher than a box of hammers..." "And you're afraid?" he started. "There were a lot of things..." she interrupted. "Secrets, most of which didn't matter none at the time. Only, now I ain't sure now as they was so unimportant. When Terri was found, impaled open on the Zemi..." she caught his odd glance. "Zemiccus the Elf, William's ship. When I found Terri... I knew we was marked. Somebody killed her. With a sword." "A sword..." Jacob muttered. "Ceril was next. We found him dead in the engine room ten minutes after we hit Boros. Impaled. Then was Frankie, dead in the bathroom during supper. Impaled. That leaves me. Of all them's were in that job on Bernadette, I'm the only one left... you know... not impaled." "Damn them," Jacob muttered. She glared at him. "What was that?" "I know who's after you," he said, forcing himself up to a sit, and making her slide down to rest on his knees. He smiled, all of a sudden, wrapping his arms around her. His warmth filled her up, dispelling the cold which always seemed to creep into her. "And I'll never let them hurt you." "Is that a promise?" she asked, her voice suddenly unsteady. To answer her, Jacob kissed her. Not just one of the quick one's he favored her with throughout the day. Something deep and rich, something which reached down into her toes and dragged her backwards out of herself. A kiss which left her breathless and panting, and beginning to sweat. She stared into his eye when they parted, taking in the promise that still echoed there. She shucked off the admittedly oversized shirt that barely hung on her shoulders, and drew herself into his protective embrace. <> Zane found himself to be muttering as he rewired the communications console. He wasn't exactly sure why he was mutterin'. Weren't like he was unhappy with himself. Seemed like the boss was gettin' to trusting him again, which was all manner of swell. He had a job he loved; well, most of the time. Still, he muttered. At least that damn queer tingling went away. He'd gone fuzzy right up to the brainpan, before he started drinking. Sure as sticky grease, once he woke up the next mornin', it was gone. And good riddance. He slipped back out and flicked on the screens experimentally. They turned on. Damn it, he wasn't nearly done. The Comms system was supposed to be pourin' out hash, blindin' the world to Legacy's presense while it was layin' low in the caves well outside town. He stooped to take a look at his work. Huh. That couldn't be. He was sure he'd pulled that connection. He reached down to remedy it, but he heard the screen above him go active. He leaned back up and looked at the face staring back at him. She was a sultry little number, short blonde hair, green eyes, and freckles. And she was smilin' in a most disconcertin' manner. "Hello, Zane," she said, her voice smoky. "Not the face I expected to see, but a pleasant sight, nonetheless." "Um... Boss?" Zane asked. "Do you know what your sin is?" the woman asked, face suddenly serious. "Cheerfulness?" he offered. "Pride," she corrected. "BOSS!" he shouted. Friday stuck her head into the bridge, taking in the woman on the center screen. The woman took in Friday as well. "Ah, the good doctor," the woman laughed. "Yours is lust, isn't it?" "Jacob," Friday said. "You're going to want to get in here." "A captain not at his helm?" the woman chuckled. "What a disordered ship." "Don't even think of trying to get a location trace off of this Wave," Jacob bellowed as he stormed onto the bridge. "You know this hu li jing?" Zane asked, surprised that he defaulted to that tone so quick. It was almost like somebody else was talkin' for him. "Janet," the captain made the name seem like a profanity. Zane glanced around. Every damn screen on the bridge was showin' her smiling at them. That kinda smile weren't no kind of sane. "You're on a planet, aren't you?" she laughed. "You can't hide from us." "I never did credit the Alliance with an overabundance of brains. Or marbles, for that matter," Jacob said harshly. "Are you trying to make me angry?" Jane asked, so innocently. "Is it working?" Janet's face became very flat and, if Zane could say so, frightening. "You can't beat us, Jacob." "Ain't got no need to beat y'all," Jacob replied, somewhat smoothly. "Just want to go our own way." "And you can," she said, voice flat, eyes burning emeralds. "When you give us..." "Not," he said strongly. "Going. To. Happen." "You can't run from us. We have ways of tracking you down. Ways of finding you no matter where you hide. I will run you down, Jacob. I will show you a world without sin," her savagely intent glare vanished when the connection ended, dropping all of the screens into blackness. Zane damn near threw himself under the panel, pulling out every ruttin' connection that he had impossibly missed. It wasn't like him to make that matter of mistake. "She's insane," Friday said. "I didn't know..." "Well, now you do," Jacob said. "Lock this ship down. Where's the preacher?" "Ain't rightly sure. Boss, if they can contact us here..." "Don't you start frettin' on that," Jacob said. "Just keep Syl among the quiet. I'll deal with the rest." "And when you fail?" Zane found himself asking. "What was that?" "Ah... nothin' boss..." This was gettin' damn disconcerting. "Exactly. Keep it shut, if'n y'ain't got a thing to say," Jacob swept his cyclops glare across the people in his cockpit. "Get to work." <> She knew what he was trying to do. She had thought a long while on the topic and it was blatantly obvious. Well, a relatively long time. Several minutes, in point of fact. It was a long time for her, now. When they put the slow into her, it was no time at all, but when they left her be, let her find her own balance, it was more than she'd thought possible to give. He was afraid. More afraid than he'd ever been. He once thought that anything could be fought, but then he saw the will behind those eyes. Brown and green. He'd learned different, now. If run away and don't succeed, run away some more. Foolish, but well meaning. And perhaps might even keep him alive. For a while. Until the farmer got him. Then he'd die. The farmer man was going to kill the Jacob. She didn't understand how she knew that it would happen, but she knew. And it would happen. She couldn't stand to stay in Dom. Too many people in the city. She found her way into the country any time she could, despite how badly it frightened the Jacob. He didn't understand. No... he understood, he didn't comprehend. She felt more alone than she'd ever been before, in that place. Dom, population two point four million. Two and a half million whispers. Two and a half million embers. She had to escape. So she came here. The city ended rather abruptly, with low income high-rises giving way to trees and plains without any sort of fade down. Most cities, at least, cities of the standard variety, had a cluster of suburbs surrounding them. Dom, with its gypsy heritage, had a feeling that a group of them simply knocked the wheels off their wagons and decided to build a city. This was furthered by the fact that there was pretty much nothing anywhere near it that usually brings about a city founding. No rivers. No hot-springs. No metal deposits. Nothing. Just a big flat piece of land, with a city which expended every few years on one side or another. "Something is coming," Elias said behind her. She glanced over her shoulder at the man behind her. Eyes said one thing. Everything else said another. She smiled as he kneeled down beside her, staring off into the air. "Soon. Going away. Back down. Down to the place she came from," she affirmed. Elias stared at her with blue eyes, running a hand through blonde hair. "You don't have to," he said. "Why are you here?" she asked. "Not your place. That belongs to Zane." The Elias/Zane person rubbed his head. He didn't look well. Like he was sick. "Did she tell you?" "Didn't need to," she muttered. "Didn't finish. Had to leave." He thought she didn't know about his talent, slipping out of his own body. That he burned the bridges on his way out. That he was slipping from mind to mind until he reached Zane. That he had become so weak that he couldn't go any further. That he was only now dying in truth. She could feel his uneasiness, his worry. She could feel Zane there too, but right now he was mostly confusion. A bit of frustration, too. Two minds. One brain. Disconcerting. She knew, though. She knew. "I wanted... to tell you myself," the Zane/Elias said. "But... How can I tell you now?" "She is caged," Sylvia whispered. "The girl queen is back in her cell. Needles and blue light." The Zane/Elias scowled at her. "I don't understand." "Don't understand. Comprehend." "I know what they did to you," they whispered. "And if I could just... take one more step." "Don't." "But..." She shushed the man of two minds, laying a gentle hand on his knee. "It's alright. Can't run forever." "I don't..." "Miss Witherell?" an outsider asked. Dark. Cold. One by one, consume the sun. A darkness waiting out in the Black, out of the light and the life and the hope and the soul. She turned to the spot from which the voice came. Nobody was too quiet to slip past her, now. Nobody but the dead. The Zane/Elias spun about, facing the spot, but he saw nothing. The Elias was the telepath, the Zane... not so much. The Elias could only do what the Zane was capable of, and telepathy was not amongst the mechanic's gifts. "Don't hide," she said softly. "Not nice. Against the spirit of the game." She felt his unease at being spotted, at being read. Their kind was unused to being read. Used to being aloof, above. Used to being... in charge. She watched as her mind matched her eyes, the air pulling out from around them, as if he was shaking off a cloak. With the Fade gone, even the Zane/Elias could see him now. See his pristine suit, his dark skin and shockingly blue eyes. Gloves of... blue... Not supposed to be blue. Supposed to be black. Blue. Agent. Contractor. "What do you want?" the Zane/Elias demanded. The Elias was enraged, the Zane, still confused, but now also afraid. The Zane was not a confronter. He was a laugher and a lover and a smiler. Not that it would have done any good. "My objective is extremely specific, mister... Zane," Agent Blue said, bringing his gloved hands to his chin, steepling them. "It does not include you." "Unless I conjure it does," The Elias spoke defiantly. Agent Blue sighed disparagingly. "This is not wise," Agent Blue said flatly, taking a step toward the Sylvia. The Elias moved the Zane into the way. "Very well," his words were soft, almost kind. He flicked his left hand away, and the Zane was thrown through the air, slamming hard into the rocks. Shockingly blue eyes slowly panned from the youth's smashed frame and back to hers, jerking back when the Zane rose again. The Elias had already given in to defeat, and the Zane took his place. "Y'ain't takin' her, lio cho jwei neong hur ho deh yung duh buhn jah jwohn," Zane muttered, aspirating a bit of blood out as he did so. Agent Blue stared in shock. The way the youth landed was brutal, and nobody ever expected he'd be capable of withstanding such punishment. "That was a rude thing to say, Zane," Agent Blue whispered lethally. "Surely was, you go neong yung duh," Zane took a damn unsteady step toward her. Damn you, Zane. Give up. Lie down. Nothing wrong with lying down. "You can't win," Agent Blue stated. "Don't matter none," Zane said, taking another step. Jie-jie, he called her in his mind. Something had changed in him. Something between the Elias and the Zane, a fusion of the two. The Elias was gone, she realized. Dead. "Still gotta be done." "Very well," He said again, flicking now his right hand, and sending the mechanic through the air in the other direction, dropping him onto the otherwise pristine turf with an unpleasant thud. The Sylvia moved quickly to him, kneeling beside his battered form. She laid her hands upon him, but he shook his head. "No... Keep your strength," Zane said. "I'll tell them. I'll tell them about River." "She will try to hold on," the Sylvia said. Zane reached up with his unbroken arm, cupping her cheek in the way the Elias used to. Fusion. "He loved you," Zane said. "He knew you didn't love him." She smiled down at him. He would find her. He would make sure. "I do hope he isn't going to do something... foolish," Agent blue muttered, laying a hand on her shoulder. She smiled up at him, at the dark face of her destiny. "He lies down," she said simply. "Very well," he said, pulling her up. "Tell him. Tell him to... stay away." Zane simply gasped, blood dribbling down his chin. She held onto him as her body was taken away, to that shining ship. Held onto him as he stared into the sky, alone but for his wounds. As he slipped into and back out of the dream worlds. As the large one found him. She smiled then. Just a matter of time. <> Jacob paced for a long time. It had been hours since they'd found Zane's broken and bloody body out in the planes, and even Friday said there was slim chance he would come out of it. Whatever smashed him, smashed him good. Weren't but a bone in his body weren't broken. He was still pacing when the door opened, and Friday dropped the bloody gloves into the trash beside the portal. "Well?" "I've done the best I could. If he comes out of it... I don't know how he survived this long, truth be told," Friday growled. "Do you think...?" "I don't think," Jacob said sadly. "They found us." "The... Operatives?" she whispered. Jacob shook his head. "Then who?" "The Operatives would have come after me, not Zane. They wouldn't give a good gorram about my mechanic, and if they did run him down, it'd be to take a shot at me. This is somebody else," Jacob said. "Boss?" Three eyes turned to the surgical slab. "I thought you said he weren't comin' round any time soon?" Jacob said, stridin' hard for the infirmery. "I thought he wouldn't," she answered. "They got her, boss," the mechanic rasped. "They took her." "Who?" "Blue... I tried to... stop him..." the blood-covered mechanic sputtered at the end. "Weren't exactly bright, little bud," Jacob said, forcing a jolly voice. How could he not be dead? How could he still be talkin', after all the punishment his frame had suffered? "Gotta... follow..." the mechanic whispered. Jacob and Friday shared a look. "And why would we be doin' that?" Friday asked. "The... the dream... worse..." Zane managed. Jacob felt his stomach drop into his feet. He remembered the dream. Sylvia had been sure it meant something. If it was getting worse... He turned to Friday, and she took in the look on his face. "Where do we go?" Jacob asked. The mechanic opened his eyes, staring at him with eyes red or blue, or rather some combination of both. "Persephone," the mechanic said, words slow and unsteady. "They'll be there. Know where to look." His blue eyes drifted closed. "Zane?" Jacob said. "Zane?" "Jacob..." Friday said, guiding him away. "He's just undergone a lot of trauma. Let him rest." Jacob scowled. Goh huong tong, he muttered inward. He'd had enough. He'd run as far as he could. He smashed his fist into the intercom button, and damn near shouted into the damn thing. "Anne, set us a course to Persephony. We leave in twenty minutes. Tell Monday to meet us over Dom," he growled. Casher leaned out of the room Jacob still hadn't quite gotten around to kicking him out of. A job for another day. As he turned, he noticed Job standing at the ramp of the ship. Jacob vaulted the stairs and made his way to the Shepherd. "Might be a good idea to get off right about now, preacher man," Jacob said. "I understand that you are following your taken crew mate," Job said, pulling off his spectacles. "This is a path which will take you where I cannot follow." Jacob was about to ask him why he hadn't got off yet, but he felt something else on the tip of his tongue. "Because of who you were?" Job didn't speak. "You weren't ever a Shepherd, were you?" Jacob asked. "No," he affirmed quietly. "But I needed to understand how he did it. How he... kept going. This seemed like the proper thing to do," Job pulled off his collar and let it fall to the floor. "But it is not enough." "What were you?" Jacob asked. "I was... a monster," the dark man said, staring at the sunset. From Jacob's place, the man was a shadow against the sun's great radiance. The captain took a few long, loping strides to look the man in the face. He pulled the sword from over his shoulder and held it out, hilt forward. "Is this?" "I can't accept that," Job said haltingly, eyes still affixed on the discarded collar. "It is not mine to accept." Jacob shrugged out of his brown coat and tossed it to the man, who automatically caught it, despite not even registering what it was. "How about that?" "This is..." "Anybody who fights for the Independants is worthy of it," Jacob quoted. "You fought for us, in your way. You've earned that, by my word." Job's face finally rose, blasted by the warm light of the dying day. Job's was the face of an epiphany. "It might not be enough," he said. "It's something," Jacob said. "You'll need a weapon." Job reached into his shirt, right behind his neck and pulled up. The hissing of metal sliding across metal filled the open cargo bay, and the jack-preacher hefted a weapon almost identical to Jacob's own. Job's gaze drifted between the dust-colored folds of fabric in one hand, and the stark weapon in the other. Finally, he shoved his arm through the coat's sleeve. "You know what to do?" Jacob asked. Job stared at him with eyes that burned. "I'm going to show them a world of sin," the soft voice answered him. He suddenly looked more alive than Jacob had ever seen him. Driven. Focused. Of purpose. "You do realize that you are headed straight into the pits of hell?" "I can say as I have," Jacob replied, putting his own weapon back into its place. Job smiled at him, then. Not a condescending smile. Not a patronizing smile. A simple, honest smile. "Then, I shall see you on the other side," Job said as he strode confident off of the ship, crushing the spectacles under his heel on his first step. He moved straight out of the caves, into the dying sun. Jacob heard Early walk up beside him as the ramp began to draw closed. "Not a word," Jacob said, as watched the daylight finally die. "Not a gorram word." <> "Well," Malcolm said, a wide grin on his face. "That weren't so bad." "You got shot, sir," Zoe was kind enough to point out. "Just a little." "Still, weren't too bad a day," she admitted. "We did get paid." "And I got shot," Malcolm quipped. "Right here. Wanna see it?" "Not particularly, sir," she rolled her eyes. Mal knew he was starting to get on his folks' nerves, but he was feelin' particularly turned about of late. With the little albatross spookin' at the slightest thing and sleepin' in Jayne's bunk, of all the ruttin' places, with Kaylee's young'un rearin' to make an appearance, despite God's every gorram attempt to keep it from happening, with Zoe and Dell's... whatever the hell a body could call it. Weren't a romance, for damn sure. With all that... he was a touch on edge. But that wasn't what had him snappin' at his folk. They didn't deserve such, and truth be told, that weren't what had him scramblin'. That night, Christmas Eve, if memory served. It had been perfect. She had given up her old life, and let herself be a part of his. In that glorious night, she stopped being some gleaming treasure, something set up on a pedastal and guarded by... rule and laws and lasers and such. She was just the woman. Then everything went south. As it always seemed to, nowadays. Two months later, Inara started gettin' all crabbed on something. Kept to herself, mainly, and made all manner of use out of her 'private line'. He should have been suspicious. Hell, he should have torn out that gorram line and tossed it out the airlock. But he trusted her. Idiot he was. She was gettin' back into the game. He tried to tell himself that it weren't personal, but that's the way it burned him. Serenity still sat where he left her, a thing of beauty amongst the long grass of the plain they put her down on. He remembered growin' up on a plain kinda like this one. Only it had a herd of steers keepin' the grass nice and low. He didn't think too long on that, though. Shadow was gone. Another planet, literally killed by the Alliance. How many more would they kill, he thought? He shook his head and continued slogging through the grass. Somethin' weren't right. "You noticin' what I'm noticin', sir?" Zoe said, hand instantly to her hogleg. She drew the weapon up with a flip of her wrist, and made the rest of the walk staring down iron. Mal pulled out his pistol for good measure. Wouldn't do if Zoe was the only one to get a shot off. He overlayed the scene with what had been goin' down when he left. Kaylee, swollen belly and all, was under the Mule, tryin' to get the ruttin' thing workin' again. Ever since they run it through the wall of that bar on Newhall, it ain't exactly been trustworthy. Simon wouldn't be too far away, and Jayne'd be watchin' over both of them. Wouldn't know it to look at him, but the mercenary had a hell of a protective streak to him. The cargo hold was empty of people. Oh, sure, the Mule was still there, held aloft by chains from the cieling, but there wasn't nobody nearby, and Kaylee sure as sweet bung wouldn't have left it there if she'd gone off to do whatever else. Then he saw Jayne's weight bench. The damn thing was torn in half. Either his mercenary killed it in a firey passion, or... He leaned up, looking down into the common area. Inara. He was runnin' before he knew it, almost trippin' over Dell before reachin' her. Her eyes was all sorts of unfocused, but she seemed like she was coming around. For an instant, when her eyes focused on him, she smiled. Then that smile went cold and vanished. But she had smiled. "What happened?" he asked, glancing around. He saw something that didn't look to belong. "And why the hell is there a little girl on my boat?" "Guild business," Inara said flatly. Of course it was ruttin' Guild business. Meant, none of his. "And... I don't remember. Just two men in suits. Came aboard. They knocked Jayne out, and locked the doctor and Kaylee in the passenger dorms," Zoe grunted a moment in respect. Not too many folk could beat up Jayne, his current pilot excluded. Her dark eyes rose to meet his, and for a second, he thought she was about to cry. "I tried to stop them." "That weren't smart," Mal said. "No, it most certainly wasn't," Inara agreed. She forced herself up, holding onto the beams of the wall for support. "I think they were after River." Mal spared one more glance to Inara, another to the as-yet-unnamed fourteen year old girl, and a final one to Zoe and Dell, then strode quick to the passenger dorms. All empty. With a growl and a Mandarin profanity, he threw himself up the stairs, gun out before him. He marched straight up to the cockpit, takin' in the chair all turned about. A data-disk sat on it. He picked the thing up, and spun it 'tween his fingers for a second. Then he popped it into the slot. Jayne's face, bleedin' and a bit bruised, stared back at him. "They got 'er, Mal. They got River," he said, his blue eyes flashing awful fiercely. "She's still talkin' to me, but they've got her... And I'm goin' after her." "What?" Mal asked the recorded image. It didn't bother explaining to him. "I tried to keep her safe, Mal. I really did," in that moment, Mal knew the merc was bein' sincere. "Humped it up good. I'm gettin' her back. Don't think on followin' us, Mal. River girl say you do that, all's goin' to hell. I got to do this by my lonesome. If I don't come back... make somethin' up. Don't tell them I died like some jackass." The screen went blank for about a second. "Oh," Jayne said, as his now stitched visage reappeared on the screen. "I'm takin' the doc and Kaylee with me. Those blue gloved hun dahn ain't gonna know what hit 'em. Teach them to mess with my River." The screen went blank again. "Sir?" Zoe said, supporting the still extremely groggy Dell on her shoulder. "That was kinda odd, weren't it?" Mal said. "How do you figure, sir?" "You ever know Jayne to call the girl River?" Reynolds pointed out. "Actually, what struck me as a touch funny," Zoe corrected, "isn't that he called her River." "What do you mean?" Mal asked. "He called her 'my River'."

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