A Lonely Road: part six
Friday, March 24, 2006

The crew has trust issues regarding Jayne, Simon and River get into a peck of trouble, and Mal has to get help from the last person he wants to see...


It had been a very long day, so Wash was sure his eyes were deceiving him when Zoe, Mal and Jayne walked back into the cargo bay. He screwed his eyes shut and opened them again, but there still appeared to be a little girl on his wife’s arm.

“Um… why is there a kid on board all of a sudden?” he asked tentatively.

“Badger’s daughter. He gave us a really good price back on Persephone if we’d agree to drop her off at Eavesdown next week,” Mal said while he pressed the button that closed the cargo bay door and sealed off the air lock.

“Okaaay… but don’t we have a policy on this?” Wash hurried to fall in line with Mal while the captain headed for the stairs, and ignored the death glare Zoe was shooting in his direction.

Mal stopped walking and turned to Wash. “It was a very good price. ‘Sides, it was either this or no food this month.”

“And I’m not saying that food isn’t a good thing…” Wash sighed. He was looking for the best way to tell Mal that this was a really bad idea without Zoe overhearing him. That woman had ears like a hare and he didn’t much feel like sleeping on the floor for the rest of the week.

“Take us out of the world, Wash,” Mal said before Wash had the chance to speak his piece. Leaning in, Mal added in a soft voice, “The sooner we leave, the sooner this kid is off-ship again…”

“’Sides,” Mal continued, patting his pilot on the back with a grin, “She’s nothin’ but a little girl. How much trouble can she possibly be?”

Jayne just snorted loudly as he passed them on the way to his bunk.


“Aw, would you look at that! Ain’t she a real cutie?” Kaylee said, not really expecting an answer. She flashed Cara a huge grin as she finished braiding the little girl’s hair and tied it with a ribbon.

Kaylee grabbed her handheld mirror, a parting gift from Inara, and held it up in front of Cara. “There, look how pretty you are!” She beamed down at the little girl who was sitting cross-legged on Kaylee’s bed, her back leaning against Kaylee’s shoulder. Cara beamed right back at her before she scrambled off the bed and began trotting around the room and looking curiously at everything that crossed her path.

There was a shudder as the ship took off. Kaylee quickly steadied the teacups on the low ceremonial table that used to be Inara’s. Kaylee’s bunk was stacked with things Inara couldn’t take back with her, and she loved every little trinket. Not as much as she loved Serenity, but close.

She frowned when the shudders didn’t subside as quickly as they usually did. “I better go check if the grav thrust is holdin’ up. Feels like it’s gonna be a bumpy ride if it ain’t,” she mumbled, mostly to herself.

“Oh! C’mere sweetie.” Kaylee quickly grabbed a wrench out of Cara’s hand. “I’monna take you to Simon for a bit, so you can’t get in any trouble,” she added cheerfully, making a funny face. “He’ll look after you proper, he’s real good at that.” She reached out her hand to the girl and they strolled off to the infirmary, Cara’s chubby little hand clinging to Kaylee’s.


“That expensive?” Simon asked, trying to hide the bewildered look on his face. He put down his drink and stared directly at the man sitting at the other end of the table. They were sitting in a booth in a grubby bar in town. It was probably the last place anyone would recognize him or River, but that didn’t mean Simon was any more comfortable.

“Garcia said you was a wealthy boy,” the other man smirked. “Said you paid him good coin to get your sister outta that Alliance facility.” He glanced at River, who was perched next to Simon with her feet on the chair and hugging her knees. “O’course, there could be other manner o’ payment,” he added, leering at River.

Simon clenched his jaw. He knew he probably couldn’t take this man, but he still had to try his hardest not to punch him. He glanced carefully at River, but she was just staring blankly ahead of her, looking up to give the man opposite her a thoughtful glance every once in a while. Simon got the distinct feeling she knew much more about him than he did.

“We’ll pay,” Simon said curtly. “Just get us off of this rock and on our way to Boros.”

The man’s face fell and he nodded. From what Garcia must have told him, he obviously hadn’t expected Simon to be this firm. Simon couldn’t say that he cared much. All he wanted at the moment was to get River and himself as safe and as far away from here as possible. As long as they were still near Serenity, they could still be tracked by their father. Not to mention that Jayne would be near River. And he would be near Mal…

The other man scribbled something on a small piece of paper and slid it quietly across the wooden surface of the table. Then he downed his drink in one big gulp and got to his feet briskly. “Come to that rendezvous spot in an hour. Me an’ mine will be there, waitin’.”

An hour, Simon wanted to ask. What if the crew came looking for them? What if they were recognized by someone? After a moment he just took a deep breath and nodded. “Thank you.” The man tapped his hat before he stepped out.

Simon exhaled in relief. All in all, it probably wouldn’t be long now before they would be safe. Well, safer, anyway. He still couldn’t shake the gnawing feeling of unrest in his gut though. Serenity had been more of a home to him than anything else ever had; and the crew had become almost as close to him as family… He sighed softly and comforted himself with the thought that they would all be a lot safer without two wanted fugitives on board.

He was pulled from his reverie by River, who squeezed his arm and gave him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Simon. We’ll be okay. Everything will turn out fine.”

Simon shot his sister a surprised look. “Of course it will, mei mei,” he said. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

River just smiled and gave her brother a great big hug.


“Cap’n! Simon and River are gone!” Kaylee panted as she ran onto the bridge.

Mal turned around and told himself very firmly that his stomach hadn’t just clenched in panic. “Did you check the infirmary?” he asked with a frown.

Kaylee was clutching her sides and trying to catch her breath, but she still managed to roll her eyes and give him an indignant look. “Dahn rahn, I’m not an idiot! I looked everywhere and I’m tellin’ ya, they ain’t anywhere on Serenity,” she said, sounding agitated.

Wash turned around and raised an eyebrow in concern. “You want me to turn the ship around?”

Mal considered this for a moment. “Not till we’re sure,” he decided finally. “If we have to break atmo again, it’ll eat up half our fuel. We oughta check the ship first. Zoe, come help me look, will you? We ain’t got no time to spare here.” He realized he was hoping that Kaylee had made a mistake, and that Simon and River would simply be below deck. Part of him knew that he shouldn’t – Kaylee knew Serenity better than anyone, ‘ceptin’ maybe himself. If she said they weren’t on board, they more than likely weren’t…

“Don’t bother.” Jayne’s voice sounded in the front hall as he climbed up the ladder that led to his bunk. He walked onto the bridge, with a piece of paper in his hand and a grim expression on his face. “They’re gone.”


The ground was covered with pebbles. River looked down and smiled at them. When she and Simon had begun walking down the trail that would lead them to the rendezvous point, she'd begun counting them, but she'd gotten bored after she'd reached 1,584,236. They were all the same, anyway. Irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, or so it would appear.

“River, stay close,” she heard Simon say. He was walking a short way behind her on the winding path that led them away from the small settlement and into a nearby grove. There was a storm setting in, she could tell. Paquin is known for abrupt climate changes, including pressure drops and heavy precipitation, she told herself sternly, repeating what a private tutor had told Other River when she was a little girl. She still had the knowledge – but it didn’t matter. They’d be gone by the time the rain started.

She could feel Simon’s sadness as clearly as if it were her own. Every beat of his heart sent a pulsating wave of the emotion; radiating from him and bouncing abruptly against her back. He didn’t want to leave. Didn’t want to leave behind…

River did a few pirouettes, smiling at Simon every time he spun in and out of her peripheral vision. He smiled back at her, and she felt the warmth of his smile wash over her. He was always happy when she was happy. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure if he’d ever been happy all on his own…

She sighed deeply and slowed down to fall in line with Simon’s pace. He never cared about what he wanted. Never thought that he deserved to be happy.

He really could be very stupid sometimes.

“Doctor,” a voice suddenly said.

“Jorge,” Simon responded as the gruff-looking man from the bar emerged from the bushes. Simon was on his guard; she could see all the muscles in his body tense up. She was sure Jorge could hear it in his voice too. It was slightly unsteady when Simon said, “So… where’s the ship?”

“Just through there,” Jorge said, pointing at a small ship that lay half-hidden beneath a collection of leaves and branches.

All at once seven men appeared out of the bushes that sprung up left and right of the trail. River had known they were there, of course. What she hadn’t foreseen was one of them lifting a weapon, aiming it at Simon’s neck and firing a single shot.

It took her a while to realize that the piercing scream that followed was her own. As if in slow-motion, she saw Simon’s body drop limply to the ground, his face landing on the pebbles with a horrible scraping noise.

There wasn’t even time for her eyes to start welling up. Behind her, a second shot sounded. River felt a sharp sting between her shoulder blades before everything went black.


“What d’you mean ‘they’re gone’?” Kaylee asked, her voice shrill with nerves. “You mean we left them back there?”

Jayne shrugged. “What I said. An’ my guess is they done gotten themselves snatched by the Feds right about now.” He hoped to hell he was wrong. And not even ‘cause it’d cost him his chances of getting that reward this time…

Kaylee’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Maybe – maybe they just went for a walk? Or got snatched by hillfolk again? Right?” she said, looking at Mal and Zoe for support.

Jayne frowned. Hell, she weren’t makin’ this any easier on him. “No, I’m fairly certain they got pinched by the man,” he said calmly, waving the piece of paper in front of their eyes.

Kaylee let out an audible gasp and yanked the scrap of paper out of his hands. “Jayne, what did you do?” she exclaimed before she began to read it, her eyes flying over the page.

“What? Hell, I didn’t do nothin’!” Jayne protested loudly. He turned to Mal and Zoe for support, but they just stared at him blankly, their arms crossed. Jayne sighed. How am I ever gonna get ‘em to believe me on this here matter? ‘Specially Mal. ‘Specially after what happened on Ariel…

He took a deep breath. “River knew they was gonna get snatched. She had that fit or whatever the hell it was, felt it happenin’. She made me promise not to tell you ‘cause it was supposed to happen or some such.” He nodded towards the note, which was now in Zoe’s hands. “Left that there note ‘fore she and the doctor left.”

Kaylee snorted at that comment. “That ain’t even so! You coulda written that your own self!”

Jayne blinked. Seeing Simon and River go after Inara’s departure really wasn’t sitting too well with her. Oh well, if she needed someone to blame, better it be him than someone else; his skin was thick enough, he thought grimly.

“Don’t think so, Kaylee,” Zoe told her, holding up the scrap of paper. “The note uses the words ‘distraught’, ‘invigorating’ and ‘captivated’. And there are no spelling mistakes.”

Kaylee fell silent for a beat, before mumbling, “Oh. Sorry, Jayne…” Jayne muttered a faint protest. What was that supposed to mean?

“Okay,” Mal finally said. Jayne could tell he was losing his patience. “Here’s where I’m fuzzy. Why’d she tell you about it if she didn’t want to stop it from happenin’ in the first place?”

Jayne just stared at Mal for a second. “’Cause we have to go after them an’ get ‘em rescued,” he said. Really, how dumb could Mal get?

Mal pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes screwed up in a tormented expression that was damn near comical, Jayne thought. “Right. Jayne, you’re giving me a xiang muqinban zhaogu tuotong here. You tryin’ to tell me that she didn’t want us to know they were going, but she does want us to come and get her saved? You want me to believe that?”

“Hell, Mal,” Jayne said loudly, “you’re asking me to tell you how that kid’s mind works? The girl’s a ruttin’ moonbrain!” He took a breath. “Either way, we gotta come up with a plan, don’t we? If we wanna get ‘em back?” he said briskly. Mal, Kaylee and Zoe stared at him for a spell and then nodded quietly. “What?” he asked defensively.


Simon woke up feeling like his head was going to explode. Or implode, whichever was more painful. He slowly opened his eyes, but he still couldn’t see a thing. Where was he?

With a jolt, he sat upright, ignoring the shooting pain that coursed through his body and the fact that his hands appeared to be bound. Where was –

“Simon,” River whispered, somewhere close by. There she was, he thought as relief washed over him.

“River,” he whispered back. “Where are we?” He felt himself getting dizzy from having been knocked out and took a deep breath. “Are you alright? Did they hurt you?”

“Still here,” River whispered back. Simon had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but she sounded alright and that was something. He heard her scuffle over until he felt her next to him, putting her head on his shoulder. “Small transport vessel for Aerial and Space Transport Operations; standard sixty-footer; Wren Class,” she hummed.

“Right… River, we have to get out of here. Turn around, I’ll try to reach your binds,” Simon whispered. Now that he knew where they were, he didn’t feel like staying there very much longer.

“You just stay where you are, all nice an’ proper,” Jorge’s voice came as the door opened and light flooded in. Simon blinked against the harsh glare, letting his eyes adjust until he could get an idea of the room they were in. What he saw wasn’t promising. They appeared to be in a small cargo hold, with no exits apart from the door Jorge was blocking with his muscular frame.

“Where are you taking us?” Simon spat. More than anything else, he was furious at himself for landing River and himself in this much trouble. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid as to trust this man. But Jorge had been one of the middle men Garcia had told him about when he had mentioned some shelters where he and River could hide after he’d gotten her out of the Academy. He was supposed to be trustworthy…

“We go where the Feds tell us, Doctor Tam,” Jorge said coldly. “That reward on you an’ your sister was gettin’ a mite interesting.” He smiled a cruel little smile and shook his head. “You should be more careful about who you trust, doc… Then again, Garcia was just the same, trustin’ folk out of his belief in the goodness of mankind. Which is more ‘n’ likely why he’s pushing up daisies now.”

The ship began to shudder as they broke atmo, and moments later there was the soft rumble of a ship flying next to them. Jorge lifted his head and listened. “That’ll be the reinforcements. Time for me to go collect my payment,” he said with a crooked grin.

With a loud thud, he slammed the door shut behind them, and left Simon and River shrouded in darkness again.


“So, what’s the plan? Do we have a plan?” Wash asked, looking around at the others who were sat around the dinner table.

“Of course we do! We’re gonna go rescue Simon and River! Right?” Kaylee said, not trying to hide her anxiety. Mal sighed. He hoped by all that was right in the ‘Verse that it was gonna be that simple. Kaylee and Jayne seemed to think so, anyway.

“Damn straight,” Jayne stated as he slid the note across the table to Wash. “River left us these. Clues about that Alliance place they stashed her in before; mostly stuff she remembers is my guess. Don’t think we oughta rely on that much though. They fiddled around with that brain o’ hers, I wouldn’t bet my money on trustin’ her memory.”

Zoe nodded. “Even so, it’s of little use to us if we ain’t got a layout of the place to begin with. We need someone who’s actually been there. We need Simon.”

Mal closed his eyes for a second to gather his thoughts. Much as it pained him, Zoe wasn’t wrong about that last bit. Ai ya tien ah, why did that boy always have to land himself in trouble like that? A gorram handful, those two, he thought. Didn’t matter much, he was still gonna go help them. He just preferred not to think about the how and why.

“The Alliance will have separated the two of them,” Book said thoughtfully. “They won’t want to risk Simon freeing her again. My guess is they’re as far apart from each other by now as the Feds could possibly get them.”

Mal nodded. “So we get Simon before we can get River. That implies we gotta find out where he is,” he said grimly.

“That might not be as difficult as it sounds,” Book offered. “All we need is someone who can make contact with a high-placed Alliance officer. We know the perfect person for that.” He gave Mal a meaningful look.

Mal felt his stomach drop. Yeah, that would be just what he needed right now, he thought grimly. Nor was it a complication he much liked to see pop up at the moment. “No, that ain’t an option,” he said firmly.

Jayne frowned. “Why the hell not? Sounds like a right good idea to me.”

“Because… I’m the captain and I say so,” Mal retorted. Yeah, way to go, he thought, immediately fighting the urge to hit himself. That’ll show ‘em.

Kaylee pushed her chair back and stood up, anger written all over her face. “That’s mo min chi meow! Simon and River could be hurt! Sir.” She put emphasis on the last word, staring at him defiantly.

Mal stared at his young mechanic. Right, the girl had a point there. He’d have to put his pride aside… What else was new. “Fine,” he said with a resigned swat of his hand. “I’ll send her a wave.”


“Miss? There’s someone on the Cortex who wants to talk to you,” the young girl said, standing timidly in the entrance to the temple.

Inara looked up and smiled. “Thank you. I’ll be right there,” she said, getting up and straightening her long silk skirt while she walked to her quarters. She sat down in front of the cortex screen, and felt her heart skip a beat when she saw the face that looked back at her. He wouldn’t notice, of course, she had been trained to show only the emotions she wanted to show. That didn’t mean she didn’t feel them.

“Mal, hi.” She smiled kindly. “I hope nothing’s the matter?” Better to stay business-like and get to the point, she thought. She wished she could stop staring at his mouth though…

“Wish I could say that, Inara. Truth of the matter is, we’re in a spot o’trouble and we’d be real grateful if you could help out,” he said. Inara stared at the blue-tinted image of Mal on her Cortex screen. He didn’t look grateful. He wasn’t even trying to put on his usual façade, she though with wonderment.

Not bothering to hide the concern in her voice, she asked, “Mal, what’s wrong?”

“It appears the Alliance got hold of Simon and River,” Mal said grimly. Inara clasped her hand over her mouth. No… “I’m not gonna beat around the bush here, ‘Nara. We need to know where they are, and for that we need someone who can get close enough to the Alliance to get information without being suspicious. Someone… respectable.”

At any other time, Inara would have been astonished at Mal calling her ‘respectable’. At the moment, however, she was too distraught to give it much thought. There were more important things at stake; this was no time for their incessant squabbling. “Of course,” she said quickly. “Leave it to me. I’ll look through the client registry and get back to you as soon as I can.”

Mal nodded, said his goodbyes and closed the connection. When the screen had gone blank again, Inara let out a deep sigh and leaned back in her armchair. There had been something in Mal’s eyes. She hadn’t wanted to call him on it, but they’d looked… empty. Simon and River had been in trouble before, but she’d never seen him look that resigned and guilt-ridden before. He feels that this is his fault, she thought with a jolt of realization.

Her mind drifted to the Tams and the despair they must’ve been feeling. After all the trouble Simon has gone through to keep himself and River out of the Alliance’s hands, she thought sadly. She couldn’t bring herself to believe it had all been for nothing.

And it wouldn’t be, she thought with resolve. Mal was determined to free them, and she would do anything within her power to help him do just that.

Sitting upright in her chair once more, she pressed the button that opened the Guild’s client registry and began her search.


Simon saw lights flashing before his eyes as his face hit the cold stone floor. He rolled over so he was on his back and sat upright. “Where’s River?!” he yelled as the door slammed shut and he was alone in the bluish-gray twilight that came from a small window near the ceiling.

It was no use. Simon knew that. He’d watched them knock River out with one of the tranquilizer darts they’d used on them before. He’d shouted as they dragged her out of the cargo hold; and he’d yelled and cursed even louder as he heard the ship that had joined them in mid-air take off again. They had taken her away.

Sons of bitches, Simon thought furiously as he looked around his cell. It was like no Alliance containment facility he’d ever heard about. On the contrary, it looked very primitive. Its walls, like the floor, consisted of rough stones and there was no glass in the small window, just bars. A cold wind blew in and brought some snowflakes with it. Simon shivered when he felt the icy wind cut through his thin silk shirt like daggers, making his body ache.

Defeated, he slumped against the wall, sucking on his lower lip, which was bleeding after being smacked to the ground one too many times. He had no idea where he was or how long he would have to stay. There was no doubt in his mind that he would be brought to trial. He couldn’t care less though. Everything he had worked so hard to protect, everyone he loved… it was all gone. And the worst part was that it was all his fault. It had been his decision to leave and to rely on himself, and he’d walked right into the first trap that they had set.

He deserved to be in here, Simon thought bitterly. River didn’t, but he sure as hell did… He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. He would just have to face it.

Nobody was coming for him.

----- TBC


Friday, March 24, 2006 9:58 AM


Excellent! I just wish Simon would trust the crew to look out for him and River. I am curious as to how River sees this working out though lovely to have this little drama bring Inara back within Serenity's charmed circle. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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Tumbling -- Act Three
Inara flirts with a stranger in a bar, and then things start to get weird. M/I and some S/K. Act three of three.

Tumbling -- Act Two
Inara flirts with a stranger in a bar, and then things start to get weird. M/I and some S/K. Act two of three.

Tumbling -- Act One
Inara flirts with a stranger in a bar, and then things start to get weird. M/I and some S/K. Act one of three.

A Lonely Road: part 9
The boys blow hot and cold, Kaylee gets all the good gossip, and the crew goes after River.
(M/S slash).

A Lonely Road: part eight
Things heat up, Kaylee hits Jayne, Badger gets a mite tetchy, and the crew prepares for their hardest job ever.

A Lonely Road: part seven
The Companion does what she does best, escape and rescue ops are set in motion, and hiding in a cave during a snow storm is a Great Plan.

A Lonely Road: part six
The crew has trust issues regarding Jayne, Simon and River get into a peck of trouble, and Mal has to get help from the last person he wants to see...

A Lonely Road: part five
Part five: in which River and Jayne face the inevitable, the cargo is, well... different and Simon makes a very stupid decision. Again.

A Lonely Road: part four
After the wave Mal has received, the long journey through the black makes everyone go a little bit stir-crazy, Simon not in the least...

A Lonely Road: part three
Part three: where Inara leaves, the crewmembers drown their sorrows and things somehow get even worse…