Bed and Wine: Part 14
Sunday, February 12, 2006

In which all hell breaketh loose....NC-17


Bed and Wine: Part 14 By Kaynara

*** In which all hell breaketh loose....NC-17 *** AN: Fight by Grimlock, the shiniest consultant in the ‘verse.

AN2: Thanks for waiting! I know this one took forever. *** At breakfast, he watched her. Huge brown eyes--her mother’s shape, his shade--regarded the mechanic with warmth, the Tam girl with indulgence. Vern wasn’t certain which emotion danced across her irises when she looked at Mal. Slender fingers encircled her tea cup, lifted the white china to lips the same color as her mother’s. She was beauty and grace and dignity. Somewhere beneath he saw fire. “Nara.” Vern scooped a hair-peppered hand under her elbow. “May we talk a spell, my daughter?”     When she turned, her eyes were dark, infused with a remote coldness that belied her name. Inara: ray of light. Her mother named her. As a girl, she was his light. “Please don’t mistake my good manners as an invitation to lay hands on me, Father.” She sat purposely across the table from him, rested her chin on her hands. “It’s a simple consequence of my education and bears no reflection on my feelings for you.” “When did you come to despise me, bao bei? Was it the day I died or the one I came back?” It was neither. The bitter seeds were sown long before he forged his suicide. “I don’t hate you,” she answered, her expression pleasing if not actually pleased. “It’s only that I resigned myself to your death long ago. Accommodating the living you is beyond my abilities.” “I understand your rage.” *This wasn’t rage.* “But you can’t turn your back on family.” *I’m with family.* “Your mother wouldn’t want it this way.* *My mother’s dead.* “Tell me why,” she said at last. “Will the truth enable you to forgive?” *No. But you owe me that much.* “I’m an old man now, Inara. Once I was young as your captain-friend.” “Mal’s not my friend.” She lifted her chin, met his gaze, her own steady. “He’s my lover. And you don’t look old, Father. You face is still smooth, your hair dark and full. You look like a man who has taken excellent care of himself.” “The lines on my face can scarcely speak to those on my heart, child.” “Poetry, Father? Please, I don’t think I can bear it.” “Such derision is hardly suiting a woman of the Guild, my dear.” “Then it’s fortunate I’m a companion no longer.” For a moment, father and daughter eyed each other in silence. “You asked for the truth. This is it: when you were but a child, I lost a great deal of credit over a particularly risky research venture. You understand that Blue Sun is not under Alliance employ exactly; the Alliance merely contracts with Blue Sun and its many subsidiaries. Because of my blunder, BSB lost an important contract.” Her nose crinkled in a gesture so like the child-Inara that Vern winced, as though a dagger were slid deep in his gut. “Which contract?” she asked. “Medical research, nothing of consequence. In any event, I was left practically destitute.” “So you made a trade of sorts.” She remembered her first glimpse of a companion in the woman who visited her father. “I promised to put the choice in your hands. If you refused, the Guild would allow me to pay back my debt over time.” “It was my choice.” She raised her chin. “I don’t pretend otherwise.” “You were always independent, child.” “No I wasn’t.” She met his eyes, her own unwavering. “But my history isn’t the topic of today’s discussion.” “They threatened you, threatened your mother. The men and women of BSB strive to do good, to make this world--all these worlds--better. They’re scientists, doctors. But Blue Sun is a large organization whose fingers dip in many pies. Some divisions are less pleasant.” “Mal mentioned an encounter with the armed forces division.” She moved an unconscious hand to her belly, remembering the scar on his. For a second, she sounded very young. “He was a Browncoat, yes? I’ve heard talk of the man Malcom Reynolds. Even many who wish him harm admire him.” “Who threatened you? Blue Sun? The Alliance?” Once again, the resolve entered her tone, spread to curtain her features in mystery. “I imagine the orders came from Alliance. An urgent situation required my express attention. Should I refuse...well, I shouldn’t. By then I was in deep, too deep for them just to release me.” “For what possible reason had you to be dead to do their bidding?” “I made several breakthroughs in my medical research. The profit potential was astronomical. Morally, however....I trusted them to use my science with superior judgment. They did not. Now, they want the girl.” “BSB?” “BSB. The Alliance. Everyone wants River Tam.” “For what purpose?” His eyes clouded. “That I cannot say. I do know she’s invaluable. At least she was when I first heard tell of her....” Inara held up a hand, her lashes pressing once in silence torment. “Stop...just stop. I don’t want to hear anymore. I--I don’t know what you did or might have done. But I will tell you this, Father. You’d do well to ensure that no one on this ship leans about any involvement you may have had with that poor girl. For your sake, I urge you to heed that advice if no other.” She raced the tears back to her bedroom. *** Rhythm and endurance.  A firm and dedicated grip.  Up, down, up, down. Hang on to the point of combustion, then push just a little harder. The philosophy suited Jayne in a surprising number of ventures, from pumping his weights in the cargo bay to pumping his hard manhood into a willing woman. All day he'd been listening to the sounds of her leaving.  He heard her with Kaylee outside his bunk, laughin’ and teasin’, pressin’ the mechanic with last minute words of wisdom.  Instruction 'bout marriage and lovin', lubin' up the cap'n with home-cooked meatloaf. Later, storing some parts, he caught a glimpse of her in the cargo bay.  She'd tied up all that burnished hair in a knot, so as to keep it out of her face while she packed her few possessions, made the rounds for goodbyes.  She and Zoe was set down on an army blanket with Little Raven betwixt them.  He couldn't make out the topic of discussion, and the women were careful to keep their voices low.  But the long hard stares being exchanged told him they were serious.  Every few moments,Caroline would incline her head, gaze adoringly at the wriggling baby. When she did, piece-y bits of her hair fell forward to tickle the flushed skin of her cheeks.  The heat was on too high, and every so often she'd tug gently at the collar of her dress, sending a blast of air down her florid chest. Once she caught him looking, met his gaze with something like regret.   Then she was whispering with Zoe again, leaving Jayne to wonder if he’d only imagined the moment. After the evening meal, Caroline cornered Inara, who'd volunteered for dish duty in what even Jayne knew was naught but an obvious attempt to thwart conversation with her father.  She cupped an easy hand under the girl's elbow, whispered something in her ear that was lewd enough to have Inara's eyes widening with amusement.  Even Jayne considered this a small miracle, as Inara had been wandering the halls like the last virgin on prom night since Daddy Serra's return to the living.  Caroline tugged the smaller girl into a fierce hug, kissed both her cheeks. Jayne thought she murmured 'thank you,' but was too far away to be sure. She saved her brother for last, found him loitering outside the infirmary where Gideon still lingered in some freakish limbo betwixt life and death.  If anyone bothered askin' Jayne's opinion—not ruttin' likely—he'd recommend bumping the boy off ship at the next port.  Kid was trouble, Alliance kind at that.  He didn't like the way River looked on the boy neither, like she was somehow tied to him, the pair bred from the same stock. Carly snuck up on Mal from behind, grabbed his shoulders.  Girl was brave, Jayne had to give her that.  Not many had to balls to sneak up on the cap'n.   Those that did, was liable to get a punch in the jaw for their efforts.  But Mal just yelped, tugged her into a headlock, which for him prolly passed for affection. "Brat," he muttered, shoving her playfully away. "Simon says he's a good chance," she said, face sobering as she eyed Gideon through the glass. "We'll see."  Mal gave her a sideways glance.  "Still intent on leavin' us, I see." "You won't even miss me.  Full house again, huh, Brother?" "You know, when I bought this heap, I actually worried she was too big for us. Couple loners like me and Zoe—what were we gonna do with all these bunks?  Nowdays, ship's like a ruttin' motel." "You could always ask Inara to bunk with you," she suggested sweetly. "Free up a room." "Nara and her dresses move in, I'd hafta sleep out in the hall." "Do you know, Malcom, you're painfully stubborn." "Did hear that rumor," he admitted.  In a spontaneous gesture--the kind Jayne had only seen him show towards Kaylee and Raven--Mal leaned down and kissed his sister on the head. "I'll be okay, Malcom." “Yeah. Yeah, ‘spect you will.” Jayne wandered away, leaving them. In the morning, they dropped Caroline off on Boros. Jayne didn’t ask her to stay. *** Inara smiled warmly, motioned for the slender girl to sit. “Would you like some tea?” River frowned, lay a hand over her belly. “Threw up before.” “Are you sick?” Concerned, Inara pressed the back of her hand to River’s forehead. Satisfied, she helped her onto the bed. “Some tea will settle your stomach, sweetie.” “Just a headache. Thank you,” she added when Inara pressed the steaming mug to her palm. “Of course.” Inara sat on the bed, curling her legs beneath her. “Lay your head back in my lap. Close your eyes.” With her fingertips, she kneaded River’s temples in slow circles. “Better?” she asked after a few moments. “Too much noise.” She opened her eyes, met Inara’s upside down. “Tell me a story? Wanna hear your voice instead of theirs.” Inara didn’t ask to whom River was referring. She just stroked skillful hands over River’s head, began to speak in a tone soft and soothing. “When I was little, my father brought home gifts when I was ill. Books of fairy tales, shiny new dolls.” River rolled her eyes. “You were a girly-girl.” Inara laughed. “I suppose I was that.” With her fingers, she combed the younger girl’s hair back from her face. “I thought the stories true, princesses and princes, young women and men bound forever by their love. In my play, the dolls were fair maidens locked in tall towers. They waited for years, their beauty withering, their long hair turning white....” “Men are always late,” River murmured. Inara smiled. “Some men,” she agreed. “I don’t imagine your brother’s been late a day in his life.” “You went to the Guild to live the fairy tale.” River’s head throbbed, despite Inara’s careful ministrations. She tried to rise above the pain, bury it down deep where it couldn’t reach her. “Pretty gowns, pretty men.” “No, River. I went to the Guild because I knew it was all a lie.” “Captain’s coming.” River sat up. “He’s hungry.” “We just had lunch,” Inara said, amused. “Not hungry for food.” River climbed the ladder, leaving Inara to mull over this last revelation. Mal lingered outside the door, as though debating whether to knock. “Hi, Captain.” She smiled. “Hey, Lil’ Albatross. You visitin’ Nara? Was just come to borrow some o’ that fancy tea she keeps; thought a cup might help me focus, and there’s just no point in lyin’ to you, is there, Little One?” “No point at all,” River agreed with a grin. Mal shook his head, started down the stairs muttering about lack of privacy. But he was smiling. It was good to have his little mind reader back. “Heard you were missin’ me.” He carried Inara into the shower on his shoulder, slapping lightly at her backside when she squirmed. “Quit wigglin’, darlin’. You’re only hurtin’ yourself.” “I’m going to hurt you if you get this dress wet.” But she slid her arms around his neck when he set her down, stretched on tip toe to reach his lips. “Your eyes are beautiful, Mal.” She tilted her head to better her view. “Clear blue.” “Okay, ‘nough o’ that.” He slid off his suspenders and started unbuttoning his shirt. “You’ll make me blush, kitten.” She turned around so he could unzip her dress, felt his big hands spread the fabric, glide over her flesh. “What made you change your mind?” “Hmm?” He was nuzzling at her neck while his fingers trailed possessively along her rib cage. “I seem to recall you climbing atop your pedestal and refusing to sleep with me with my father aboard.” “Ain’t sleepy,” he answered, flipping on the shower jets. She let him wash her hair even though he dripped shampoo in her eyes. But it felt good when he massaged her scalp, stroked a wet, soapy hand down the length of her torso and then ventured lower. She shaved his face with a safety razor. “Down,” he corrected, amused, when she tried to drag the blade upward. She only nicked him once, kissed it better when he whined about getting cut on. She just smiled and poured some of her olive oil conditioner on his head. “I ain’t afraid of my feminine side, darlin’.” “Oh, I know,” she assured him. “I remember that dress.” He shook his head at her, inclined his face under the hot spray to rinse his hair. She took the opportunity to slide down his body, drawing her lips along his nipples, his belly, the insides of his thighs. “Tyen shioa duh,” he murmured as she took him in her mouth. “Inara.” He fisted his hands in her slippery-wet hair, whispered oaths and endearments as she slid her lips over the hard length of him. She opened her eyes, saw his were squeezed tight, his body almost shuddering with sensation. She tasted him on her tongue, lips drinking in his lust. He almost never let her do this--just another Mal-specific eccentricity. Was it simply his unease with anything intimate? Did he find the vulnerability of this particular act too unnerving to bear? Or did he fear she’d regard him as a client: just another man to please? “Oh, wuh de ma,” he managed, letting out a groan that suggested he wasn’t thinking much of anything. After, he hauled her up by the arms, kissed her long and slow under the spray. “Inara.” He tilted her chin up to meet his gaze. “You know I...I....” She kissed him to fill the silence. He switched off the water, wrapped her in a fluffy towel and wound another around his waist. Still hugging her, he ushered them both into her bunk, stopped short when he saw Kaylee sitting on the bed, swinging her legs. “Oh, God!” She clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, Cap’n, I’m sorry. Heard the shower goin’ and thought it was just Nara. I mean, I didn’t know you was...well, you know, all wet and nekkid--” “No, no.” Mal held up a hand so she’d stop talking, grabbed for his waist when the towel slipped. “You stay right there, Lil’ Kaylee. I’ll just get dressed and--not be in this room.” He grabbed his pants from the floor, nearly tripped in his rush to get back to the safety of the shower stall. When he was gone, Inara sat beside Kaylee on the edge of the bed. The two exchanged a special glance, bit their lips to keep from giggling aloud. When they were more composed, Inara put her arm around the younger girl. “Are you alright, sweetheart?” Kaylee shrugged, lowering her head to Inara’s shoulder. “Well, yeah....” “Did you and Simon have a fight?” “No, not ‘xactly....” Inara’s eyes twinkled. “I need details, mei mei.” “Well, it ain’t really for certain, but I think Simon wants me to--” Kaylee put her mouth to her ear, whispered in a voice so faint Inara strained to hear. “Kaylee Tam!” “You shocked?” “No.” Inara smiled. “I’m just teasing you, sweetie. Though I’m a little surprised at the doctor’s taste.” “Trust me, Nara; I was plenty surprised my own self.” “And he told you this? Came right out and said it?” “Well, no....” Kaylee danced her toes along the floor. “You know Simon. Took him a whole ruttin’ year to sleep with me. I just think he’s too shy to say nothin.’” Inara raised a brow. “Was River told me,” Kaylee admitted. “Wait, how would River...never mind, I don’t think I want to know.” “So can I, Nara? Borrow stuff, I mean?” “Of course. Be my guest.” Inara motioned Kaylee toward her closet, adjusting the knot on her towel. “Though I’m not really sure I have...we’ll find something.” Kaylee flashed a grateful smile. *** Simon caught up with Mal after the evening meal. He found him on the bridge, slumped at the helm with his boots kicked off. “Can we talk, Captain?” “Oh, if we hafta.” He sat a little straighter, motioned for Simon to sit in the vacant pilot’s chair. “Speak your piece.” “It concerns Gideon.” “There been a change in the boy’s state?” “Nothing significant. That’s sort of my point.” “You got a point, son?” Mal smirked, miming a look of surprise. “We’ll be passing by the Picadilly Moon on our way to Crighton; in fact, it’s only a shuttle’s ride away. An old friend from med-school runs a clinic in the Trocadero township. I’d like to take Gideon there for some tests.” “This friend o’ yours. He share your crime-savvy ways?” “We can trust him, Captain.” Mal stared out into the Black, not bothering to respond right away. “You can take your patient, Doctor. On the condition that Zoe tags along.” Zoe off ship, the little chick with her. That was good. Safeguards were good. “No argument here.” “One further condition, Doctor. We keep this little side trip quiet, dong ma? No one needs to know ‘cept you, Zoe and coma boy.” Simon nodded slowly. “I won’t be gone long.” “See that you ain’t. Hell, I’d miss you, Doc.” Mal grinned as Simon rolled his eyes. “Why do I doubt your sincerity, Captain?” “Get outta here.” Mal motioned him away with a wave of his hand. “Think your wife’s lookin’ for ya.” *** Kaylee lingered behind the screen, checking her reflection one last time in her hand mirror. “I’m not comin’ out till you close you eyes.” “They’re closed.” She peeked her eyes around the corner, saw curious baby-blue ones peering back at her. “Simon!” “Okay, sorry!” Dutifully, he shut his eyes, leaned his head back against the pillows. “They’re closed now, I promise.” Kaylee adjusted Inara’s top--just a bit on the snug side--and stepped out from behind the curtain. Envisioning herself sultry as the former Companion, graceful as her sister-in-law, Kaylee crossed the room. She climbed atop the bed, swiveled to sit on Simon’s hips. “’Kay, open up.” He opened his eyes, lips already curving into a grin. When he saw her, he blinked once, twice, his jaw gone slack. Kaylee’s upper half was outfitted in a tight white blouse, starched to crispness and tied just under her ribs. A short blue-and-green plaid skirt barely covered her bottom, and white knee socks ran the length of her legs. He was painfully aware of her lack of underwear, seated as she was atop his pelvis. She’d tied her thick brown hair back in a high ponytail that dripped down over the Nehru collar of her blouse. “Well?” When he just gaped, she patted self-consciously at her hair. “What’s a’ matter, honey? I get it wrong?” “W-well. N-no. I guess I’m just not sure why you’re dressed like...a Catholic school girl?” Kaylee punched him lightly in the arm, smiled. “For you, silly.” “For me,” he repeated. “It’s okay, Simon. I know.” She bent forward to nuzzle his neck, biting softly at the skin above his collar bone. “Do you wanna, like, spank me up or something?” Simon caught her around the waist, pushed up gently. “Shah muh?” “It’s okay, honey. You’re my husband now. I wanna, you know, meet all your desires. So take me, Simon. Have your wild way with me...or should I call you Principal Tam? “ “Kaylee....” Simon opened and closed his mouth several times. “Are you drunk?” “Just on love.” “Kaylee--” “Aw, Simon, you don’t gotta be embarrassed or nothin’. I understand.” “That’s good,” he said slowly. “Because I’m rutting lost.” “I like when you swear,” she admitted. “Gets me all hot inside.” She leaned down to nip at his lips. “ know I think you’re beautiful--in anything, actually. But...did I do something to make you think I wanted all this?” The features of Kaylee’s face shifted subtly from confusion to realization to blind rage. “I’m gonna murder him.” Kaylee sat straight up. “That’s all there is to it.” “Violence. That’s different. Murder whom?” “Weren’t River’s idea, I’m sure. This little plot’s got the much-bigger handprints of our fearless leader.” “Mal planned this? I don’t know, Kaylee....” “You don’t think he’d do it?” “Oh, I’m not putting it past him. It’s just that Mal’s plans never” “Murder. Maybe with somethin’ sharp.” “That sounds fair,” Simon agreed. “Of course, Mal’s not going anywhere. You could kill him in an hour. Or two....” “Simon--” “Listen, bao bei. I don’t need...Catholic school girls or, or spanking...All I need...Kaylee, all I want, is you.” Right now, he realized. “Aw, Simon.” She snuggled down against his chest, wrapping her arms round his waist. “You want me to keep the knee socks on for sex?” “Oh, God, yes.” He captured her mouth on a moan and rolled her over into the blankets. *** She kept it nestled in velvet, tucked in the bottom drawer of her jewel case. Beneath, he found his sketch of her, amateur charcoal lines revealing the artist's own longing more than the true features of her face.  In nearly three years, he'd given her nothing more. An old stone on burnished chain, a scrap of paper.  Neither amounted to protection, security, heart nor home.  She was above him, better than…what twist of fate made her his?  He slid the ruby in the pocket of his trousers, felt it coil as a snake against his thigh. Nara would hate this, Mal invading her private space, meddling amongst her things. He found Kaylee in her usual spot, half-hidden under the engine, toes tapping along to a rhythm only she could hear. "A word, Missus Tam?" "I'm not speakin' to you jus' now, Cap'n Meany." He supposed it was better than Captain Tightpants. “Hey, I got rules ‘bout people singin’ on my boat. Boy was askin’ for it.” Kaylee swore at him in particularly-colorful Mandarin. “And River? How’d you get that sweet little girl over to the dark side?” “Believe she mentioned somethin’ ‘bout wantin’ to be a bridesmaid.” “Oh.” She sounded so guilty he almost grinned. "Come on out now or I'm crawlin' in after you."  He waited while she shimmied reluctantly into view, engine grease staining high-cut cheeks.  She didn't look particularly cheersome this morning. "Well?" he asked, dangling the necklace in her palm.  "How soon can you have it ready?" Kaylee turned the pendant in her hands. "Ain't exactly my specialty, you know." She shrugged, scratched an itch on her nose that left a grease dollop on the tip.  "Hour or two." "That's why I pay you the big bucks." "Cap'n?  Still feel kinda funny 'bout this…." "That's why you're the sweet one, Lil' Kaylee." He started for the door.  "And I'm Captain Meany." *** From behind, Mal slid his arms around her, locking his hands at her waist. “Feel like a walk, kitten?” Inara turned, flashing Mal a look that very clearly suggested he not call her kitten just then. “I suppose you think you’re hysterical, teasing poor Simon and Kaylee that way. Neen hen boo-tee-tyeh duh nan-shung.” “You know, I actually think we did the boy a favor.” Inara rolled her eyes, though her lips were curving. “You’re incorrigible.” “But...cute right?” “Don’t you have captainy business somewhere? Why don’t you leave so I can wash my hair.” “I feel like a walk. By the by, found this up on the bridge.” He let the ruby necklace coil into her palm. Her free hand flew to her neck. “I--I’m not usually so careless with my things.” She twisted her hair so he could fasten the clasp. “I can’t imagine how I left it....” “No harm done,” Mal said guiltily. “Now ‘bout that walk....” “I--I think I’m still mad at you.” But she seemed distracted now, fingering the ruby at her throat. “Darlin’, if we waited for a time when you wasn’t mad at me, we wouldn’t take that walk’ till we're eighty.” She shook her head, amused. “You think about that? Us and...old age.” “When I get a quiet moment, which amounts to once or twice a year.” “I--what do you see?” “Oh, dentures, shuffleboard. Me and you rollin’ around all white-haired and wrinkly.” “Oh, God,” she said, laughing. “How romantic.” “Darlin’, romance is my middle name.” She let him take her arm, lead her toward the door. “Growing old always seemed...undesirable. I never really planned for it.” “Cupcake, you’re on the right boat.” *** She couldn’t fight anymore. Words like barbs, voices needling, nudging: the pain was excruciating. Dull-eyed and dizzy, she gave in, stumbled down the halls in search of her brother. “Simon?” she whispered, sounding more like his little sister than a grown woman. Didn’t she want to be a woman? Now she wasn’t sure. “Simon?” She longed for his gentle mannerisms, his eyes soft and sympathetic as he arranged her in a chair, brushed back her hair with cool and steady hands to check her forehead for temperature. He’d give her an injection for the pain, pills maybe. Soon she’d be floating, the headache a distant memory. She didn’t like the gray sluggishness that set upon her brain; still, she’d go mad if this kept up. Madder. Through her haze, she smiled. “Simon?” she murmured again. The infirmary was deserted. Gideon was gone. *** The morning star beat hot and heavy over the landscape. Mal lowered his suspenders, unbuttoned his shirt to the waist. He caught Inara smiling. “I’m sorry, darlin’, my makin’ you uncomfortable? Or is the sight of my manly chest in naught but an undershirt just too hard to resist?” “Somehow I’ll manage,” she said dryly. “How ‘bout you? Ain’t you sweatin’ under all those layers?” “A lady doesn’t sweat, Mal. She glows.” “Ohhh. Well.” He scooped her off her feet then, pleased when she shrieked. He dropped them both to the ground, kissed her till she was breathless. “You’re deranged,” she managed. “Have heard that theory. So this is Crighton. Not a bad stretch of Earth-that-Was.” “How long does my father intend us to remain here?” “Just till week’s end, said he’d hear from his contacts by then.” She rested her head on his chest, soothed by his heart’s steady beat. “And then?” “Don’t rightly know,” Mal admitted. “Ain’t for you to worry on, though. I’ll figure somethin’.” “I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head, then.” She met his eyes, amused. “I’ll just leave the planning to the menfolk.” “Always thought your head kinda on the large size,” he said mildly. “Whoa, now. No tickling! That’s just mean.” He managed to catch her hands, trap them between his. “Hey, now, did you hear something?” “Oh, no. I’m not falling for that--” He pressed a hand to her lips. “Listen a minute, I think I--” His body slumped forward over hers, and she screamed. *** They stormed the ship; she didn’t make a sound. Someone had disabled her alarms. Jayne got off two rounds before they hit him with a stun gun. The blast had him sprawling to his knees, cracking his head on the metal floorboards. Through his haze, he saw clean pants and good shoes pace. “She’s in the infirmary.” “And the boy?” “He should be there as well. He’s comatose, as indicated in my last report.” “River.” Jayne growled the name through gritted teeth before everything went white. *** Kaylee couldn’t find Simon, not nowhere. Zoe was gone too, taking little Raven with her. She didn’t fight when two purple-bellies grabbed her by the arms, frisked her hurriedly before leading her into the infirmary. River sat on one of the beds, her eyes lowered to slits, chin resting in her hand. “River,” she murmured. “Oh, God.” One of the feds shoved Kaylee forward, sent her sprawling down beside her sister-in-law. “Couldn’t hear over the whispers. I couldn’t!” “Oh, sweetie,” Kaylee whispered, smoothing River’s hair back from her glistening face. The others were arguing, their voices strained with checked fury. “You were intended to weaken her, Mr. Serra. We couldn’t even get the manacles on her.” “Please understand that I hold you and your employers in the highest regard. So it is with great deference that I say the following. You’re all fools. The Tam girl’s abilities grow daily. I had to double my efforts with the subliminal broadcaster just to keep her from finding me out. Even then, it seemed only to cause her pain, headaches and the like. The creation has surpassed her creator; you’ll never be able to control her.” “With all due respect, Mr. Serra, we no longer mean to try. You’ve done your part. Take the companion and leave us.” Vern hesitated, as though on the verge of saying more. At the last moment, he changed his mind. “Where is my daughter?” “On your ship.” “And the captain?” “He’s in our custody. You needn’t concern yourself with the details. Thank you, Mr. Serra.” Vern nodded slowly, eyeing the Tam girl, the wide-eyed mechanic who’d befriended his child. “Do you mean to kill the others?” “Their fates lie not in your hands. Good day, Mr. Serra. You’ve done your part; our association ends here.” With a last glance at Kaylee, Vern left the room. One of the feds spoke into his hand ‘com. “Alright, we’re clear here.” They came then, a trio of fresh-faced youths, clean and shiny with pale blue body armor and stockings and matching white boots. At first glance, Kaylee thought they resembled River, slim-bodied and smooth-skinned and very young. Two boys and one girl. Not a gun or sword amongst ‘em. All three watched River, but they weren’t lookin’ at her like a girl. They didn’t look scared or pleased or anything, and long as she looked, Kaylee couldn’t pull a single human emotion from their gaze. They didn’t have the look of people. They looked like weapons. The one with the long brown ponytail stepped forward. “Hello, River.” “Project Odysseus. Class Alpha-Alpha. 1487-01-01-06. 1487-01-01-02, 1487-01-01-11.” River addressed them all in turn, speaking to the one with the long pink scar last. It ran the length of his face, from eye to chin. “The mark--you didn’t have it before,” River murmured. “We're here to bring you home, River.” The blond boy stepped forward, extended a hand. “That is the end. The means are yours to choose.” “Will you come willingly?” Scar asked. River shook her head. “Not this time.” *** She strode down the ramp ahead of them like a creature of uncommon bravery and preternatural grace.  Gone was the frightened girl-child; in her place stood a warrior.  A girl-warrior in flowy pink skirt and combat boots. Kaylee watched River survey the three figures arranged before her. She didn't need Simon's med-acad training, Inara's innate intuition, to know somethin’ weren’t right here. The subliminal whatever-it-was mayn’t have had its desire effect. Still, the headaches left her weak, weary.  In the moonlight, River’s smooth skin took on the pale sheen of death, her eyes glowing with a wild, unnatural luster.  The girl was hurting. "Honey, no," Kaylee murmured helplessly. River just met Kaylee's eyes, her own an apology.  She moved into the clearing, further and further from Serenity.  The three circled River like pack animals, intent on naught but the capture of their prey. River tried to keep spinning, maintain visual for at least two of the trio. Couldn't she anticipate their blows, sense the coming shifts and turns 'fore they came? Kaylee didn't pretend to understand the mystery that was River's brain.  But she knew this weren't right. No matter her movements, the trio maintained a perfect equilateral triangle, with River at its center. When the attack came it wasn't like something men did. Too cool, too methodical: a hand squeezing a grape with the sole intention of extracting its juices.  The trio functioned as a unit, three fingers working as one to pop the meaty center, break the fruit.  River could deflect one member, maybe even two.  But three, coordinated attacks—Kaylee missed the deaths of Shepherd and Wash, wasn't herself privy to their final gasping breaths.  And she thanked God and Buddha for that.  The idea of watching Simon's sister die had the bile rising in her throat. Later, curled in her hammock, Kaylee would marvel at how badly this battle--this one in particular, apart from all the others--shook her. Finally, she got it, in the quiet morning hours, while she warmed her cold bones under the shower spray, cried salty tears as her shoulders heaved.  Usually, folk had motive for beating the go suh outta one another. Power.  Coin.  Old and bloody grudges.  Fists flown in anger, bullets strewn in heat.  This fight was horrible because it was so ruttin' stolid.  The trio didn't hate River, didn't wish her pain or harm.  But they was still willin' to stomp on her face if it came to that.  That was the power of the Alliance. Ponytail struck first, coming in high-right with quick jabs to her face. While Scar tried to sweep her legs from the left, Blonde snapped a swift, cutting sidekick at her kidneys.  River swerved left, hopping over the leg sweep, only to find her head directly in the path of Scar's fist. She managed to reel back, but even the glancing blow was enough to disorient. They never let up none, refused to tire.  The next attack came high-low again with another crisp leg sweep by Scar, a coordinated flying-spinning- back-kick by Blonde.  River jumped between them, tucking her long, limber body into a ball to avoid the two-pronged attack.  She lashed out in desperation, wanting it stopped, wanting it over. She stomped her combat boot hard on Scar's ankle, applied an upward pressure to Blonde's leg.  Kaylee saw the one with the ponytail strike out with side kicks, winced as River doubled over, shielding her rib cage with her arms. It lasted mere minutes but felt to Kaylee an eternity. The yellow-haired boy beset upon River next, snapping a long kick to her ribs.  His robust leg recoiled, snaked out for a second strike only to be met by River's hands. Tightening her grip, River twisted her attacker's leg. Blonde used the momentum to spin his lithe, elastic body on a long axis, intending to turn that energy into a kick.  River reversed her turn while Blonde was still rotating in the air.  A sickening crunch sounded through the still morning air as River shattered her former classmate's knee.  Kaylee just stared, unable to blink for illogical fear that her slip would cost River. As the blond boy crawled away on his knees, the one with the scar seized River's wrist, yanking her away from his fallen comrade. He jerked her face into direct line with his fist. River heard rather than felt her nose shatter against his knucklebones.  Then it came: hideous, glaring pain that had her doubling over with nausea.  Kaylee watched the blood streak down River's beautiful face, coating that lovely, white skin, and wanted to scream. This girl—her sweet, sensitive sister-in-law—shouldn't be here, party to this. Weren't right, her doing these things, suffering this life.  This girl should be dancing somewhere, spinning in a pretty dress while the boys watched longingly from the sidelines, felt their new short-pants grow tight in the crotch.  Scar spun her in close for a curved knee strike before shoving her away. Between the broken nose, cracked and battered ribs, River was having trouble breathing. For the first time, the two Odysseus-Alpha-Alphas betrayed an emotion: shock. Neither could believe this slip of a girl was still standing. The one with the ponytail threw a short punch, which River caught, held fast. She twisted her arm until they were standing in a clinch, stunned the young woman with a scorpion kick to the head followed by a blow to the back of the leg that sent the her stumbling to her knees. Locking the other girl's right wrist in both her hands, River hooked her right leg behind his head and pushed. Ponytail resisted for mere seconds before River tore her rotator cuff to shreds. A hammerfist to the base of his skull dropped the gasping woman face-first in the dusty landscape. River tried to drag a wheezing breath through her searing lungs, and Scar saw his opportunity. He had a running start into his flying side kick and there was no time for her to dodge. Even in a parry, River couldn't deflect enough energy from his kick to protect herself. The snap of her forearm sounded like a gunshot to Kaylee's ears. The pain had River retching, and she sank to her knees, wet, curling hair falling forward to curtain her face. "Stay down, River," the one with the scar entreated, in a voice so pleading that Kaylee gaped. River made deliberate eye contact with Scar before planting her foot on the ground to rise. His foot swung up, then down in whirling arc. The axe kick snapped her tibia. "Stay down…Please." When River made yet another attempt to rise, Scar collected all his wiry body’s power into a haymaker punch to the side of River Tam’s head. Even River couldn't force herself to endure under this much punishment; for once her body overruled her awesome mind, and the world went black. *** Mal woke strapped to a stretcher, hands bound in his lap. “Nara.” His throat burned, tongue dry and swollen. “Inara.” “Rest, Mr. Reynolds.” “Not...gorramn...likely,” he managed. Where were they taking him? If he lifted his head, squinted hard, he could make out a clearing in the distance. There was a ship, gleaming in the morning sun. “Where my goin’?” A voice, calm and melodious. “Dope him.” The last thing Mal saw was his own shuttle, gliding down through the treetops. “Angels,” he murmured reverently before the darkness overtook him. ***

TBC in Part 15. Feedback?


Sunday, February 12, 2006 2:55 PM


Can't believe I'm first--guess that's what I get for haunting this place while I've got a broken leg...

This was superb. Absolutely wonderful. You take the characters to places both dark and light throughout this saga, and I'm looking forward to where they're going from here. The fight--that was incredible, though I have faith in your River to overcome the odds. At least, I sure hope so.

Sunday, February 12, 2006 3:08 PM


If want to reach me privately, now you can.

Sunday, February 12, 2006 3:12 PM


Wow, you are incredibly mean to Mal in this part. And I just want some really awful terrible things to happen to Inara's father in the most painful way possible. My heart is in my throat over poor River and I can't begin to imagine what manner of hurt you have in store for the next part. Gulp. Please don't kill off any of our Big Damn Heroes. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, February 12, 2006 3:43 PM


A great chapter Kaynara, loved the Mal and Inara moments, and loved the final scenes, especially the River fight scene - those super-soldier types are so creepy, and I thought the blue-hands men were bad! Can't wait to see what happens next!! Don't leave us in suspense too long

Sunday, February 12, 2006 3:49 PM


Oh. Man. *gulp*

So very, very intense. I don't know how you keep this up, chapter after chapter. You continue to impress me.

Mal! River! Mr. Serra! Your plots and characters are so good - and you still manage to hit all the right funnies.

[It’s just that Mal’s plans never]

Buha. I think that was my favourite line this chapter.

Sunday, February 12, 2006 4:32 PM


Oh my... that hun dan, knew we couldn't trust him but at the same time, I really didn't want to think he'd do it... damn Vern Serra to hell! Inara may have claimed she didn't hate him before, but I think that's gonna change after this... poor River... they never woulda taken her if she'd been in top form... oh, when Gideon wakes up.....

Great as usual, and so scary! What's going to happen to Mal??? and River??? and everyone else!

Sunday, February 12, 2006 5:11 PM



The drama! The anticipation

DAng it all.....

lol, some great lines in this one but this one stuck out

“Captain’s coming.” River sat up. “He’s hungry.”

“We just had lunch,” Inara said, amused.

“Not hungry for food.”

That and him callin' her kitten.

Oh, lordy, what oh what will happen?? *bites nails*

Sunday, February 12, 2006 10:15 PM


OH heheh mal is such a bad bad man, hehe i luv'em to death! I am enjoying this so much, and now i am on the edge on my gorram seat, wanting inara to kill or hurt her own dad and wanting the captain to be ok. Hope'n so much that inara can get to zoe and simon so they can get together and help put the rest of the crew. please dont kill any one off, at least not yet. its still to soon i am not over wash and book... yes you actually have me worried that you might kill some one off, please don't if you are thinking about it.

Monday, February 13, 2006 3:01 AM


I knew it was going to be good simply because it had your name on it. Also...'all hell breaketh loose' is an awesome description.
Always makes me grin when a new part of this series come out! Type faster!


Monday, February 13, 2006 3:57 AM


That school girl thing was mean.
Funny and really hot, but mean

Monday, February 13, 2006 4:19 AM



I so love your writing!
Please hurry, cause this is killing me!

Monday, February 13, 2006 4:42 AM


*hides under desk*

Now I'm not going to be able to concentrate on work for the rest of the afternoon... well done...

Seriously, that was by turns sexy, brilliant and creepily scary. I hope you don't keep us waiting long or the suspense may lead me to kill you. Politely, of course.

Monday, February 13, 2006 4:45 AM


*hides under desk*

Now I'm not going to be able to concentrate on work for the rest of the afternoon... well done...

That was by turns sexy, brilliant and creepily scary. I hope you don't keep us waiting long or the suspense may lead me to kill you. Politely, of course.

Hey, I just had a thought - though River's been captured, Gideon hasn't. I wonder if Inara, Simon and Zoe could persuade him to help them rescue River and Mal? Just a random plot-bunny.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 3:02 PM


River River River River!!!!!!
omg she is so tough!!!
mean ol Alliance kids....
*beats that Scar one senseless*

Thursday, February 16, 2006 5:00 PM


oy! that was me....and now im on a third gonna go away and figure out where i put my life....has to be around here somewhere.....

Saturday, February 25, 2006 6:57 AM


*screeches like a deranged banshee* this is why you should never trust fathers!!!! and you better save our river or i'm gonna...i'm gonna...hell, i don't know. probably join browncoatgal in the search for our lives...



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