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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
Patience double-crosses... well... everybody, and Mal comes up with a ridiculous plan.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2002 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Life’s Too Short- Part Five
These characters, as always, aren’t mine.
Author’s Note: Okay, here it is- lots of shooting, running around, and everything else that makes life interesting. Please comment, though!
* * * * *
“Excuse me, but are you- Inara? Inara Serra?” Inara turned from admiring Kaylee in the pink dress to see a middle-aged gentleman in a finely tailored suit.
“Micah Hughes? It’s been too long!” She stepped forward to give the man a light, formal embrace and two air kisses to the sides of his face.
“Inara. If possible, you look even more radiant than when last we met.” Micah smiled at her, his round, well-featured face creasing as he looked her over. Rather than the act seeming lecherous, it was more like a proud father who hadn’t seen his daughter for many years. Micah Hughes had been a client of Inara’s four years before, but had been one of the rare clients who wanted just what the job was called: simple companionship. He’d contracted her two months after his wife died, leaving him alone on the small moon with all his wealth. They’d enjoyed each other’s company, and Inara had missed him when she’d gone.
“Thank you,” she said. Kaylee stepped up beside Inara, giving Micah her normal wide smile.
“And who is this fine young lady? A Companion, like yourself?” Kaylee giggled, pleased to be compared to Inara.
“Oh, no, sir, I’m Kaylee Frye. A friend of Inara here.” The older man gave a little dip of his head.
“Well, any friend of Inara’s is a friend of mine. Can I treat you two ladies to lunch?”
“Certainly,” Inara replied after a quick glance at Kaylee, who looked delighted.
* * * * * Mal, Zoe, and Jayne took the second shuttle as a precaution. They were going to land on Whitefall in the shuttle and have River land Serenity nearby but out of sight behind a mesa. She would then join the others in time for the rendez-vous. The shuttle would act as a place to run to if they couldn’t reach Serenity in time, and if all else failed, River had spent the last two hours reteaching Simon how to do basic lift-off and flight maneuvers. He’d learned a month ago when it struck the crew that River was possibly not the best choice for pilot, all things considered, but she stayed in the pilot’s chair and no one stopped her. Simon, however, did know how to fly Serenity. At least enough to come to the rescue so River could take over leaving atmo.
Mal landed the shuttle and slid open the door, letting Jayne do his thing by jumping out, weapons up and cocked, a grenade barely inches away from his left hand.
“’S clear, Mal.” Mal and Zoe stepped out of the shuttle, looking around. Dry, red desert. A few scrubby trees, but mostly dust and dunes. A mesa to the left. No sign of Patience.
Then, the sound of hoof beats.
“Again with the horses,” Mal muttered. Patience appeared before them, flanked on either side by four men armed with rifles.
“Just like old times, sir,” Zoe said dryly.
“Patience,” Mal said with a nod. “I hope this large welcome wagon isn’t plannin’ on riddling me with holes on this fine day.” Despite River’s assurances, he’d never really taken to staring down gun barrels.
“Oh, no. These are just for precautions.” Well, that was reassuring.
“What’s this job you want done?”
“Nothing too tricky. Just a few boxes picked up and dropped off. But that can wait.” Patience urged her horse forwards until she was just a few feet away from Mal and the others. “Hear tell you’ve got yourself a passenger the Alliance would really like back.” Mal’s jaw clenched. His hand went to his gun, and he sensed Zoe and Jayne’s movements beside him.
“Was contacted about it myself earlier today.”
“That’s why you changed the time.” He was wondering why they weren’t dead or shooting. Not that that was a bad thing, necessarily.
“Surely is. Now, Malcolm, I don’t take to being threatened. And I don’t take to being sneered at, nor talked down to. This is my world, and I expect people to respect that.”
“I imagine you do,” Mal said carefully. Where was this going? River’s words came back to him: ‘she’s lying to them. Bought and paid for, that’s what they think.’ Could Patience have lied to the Alliance? But why?
“Happens I have a great dislike for the Alliance. Even greater than my dislike for you. So I’m gonna make you a deal.”
“I gave them the wrong time, but the right place. They’ll arrive in about thirty minutes. You don’t get to leave Whitefall until they land. Me’n my people will stand back, not help either side. But I’m giving you a chance, son, a chance to live.”
“Doesn’t seem like much of a chance from where I’m standin’,” Mal said softly.
“I’ve got men spread out all over here, Reynolds. No funny business. You live, I’ll wave you the job. You die, it’s no skin off my back. I’ll not make it easy for the Alliance to have their way, though, and it gets powerful dull out here running the world. I’m an old lady. I need entertainment.” Jayne raised his arm, but Zoe forced it back down. Jayne curled his lip and said nothing. Mal turned to his first mate.
“You see a choice here I’m missing?”
“Can’t say I do, sir.”
“Even though stayin’ makes the kind of sense that doesn’t?”
“Even though.” He turned back to Patience.
“You shoot at us, we’ll shoot at you.”
“Will you blow up the shuttle if’n we go there?” She paused, considering.
“Not if you just get inside and fly low to the ground. But if you try leaving world, we’ll blow you to kingdom come.” Oh. Wonderful, Mal thought. Just wonderful. I finally get something started with Inara and someone has to come up with another crazy plan that’ll probably get us killed.
“Fine,” Mal said as pleasantly as he could. No sense in being rude when the enemy has guns pointed at your head. Where the gorram hell was River?
“Don’t worry, Captain Daddy. I’m here.” He spun around to see River herself standing there, wearing a pair of Kaylee’s cargo pants and a flowing blue top. She was carrying a pistol. Mal wondered briefly where she’d gotten it, then shrugged it off. At least she was on their side. A quick flicker of worry went through him as he remembered that Simon was on the ship, and that no one knew the safe words should River snap. Still, that was doubtful. She’d been so much better since Miranda.
River stepped up between Mal and Zoe, and he put an arm around her slim shoulders. Patience cocked her head.
“This the little one, then?” River peered up at the woman on horseback.
“You never had a funeral,” she said in a lilting tone. “When he died, you just sent his body away.” Patience drew back, her eyes widening.
“Why do they want her back,” she said after a moment. Apparently, like Mal and his crew in the beginning, she was simply choosing to overlook River’s strange remark.
“They did things to her brain,” Jayne said. Everyone turned to stare at him. He hunched his shoulders defensively. “What?” Mal shook his head, and River smiled up at Patience.
“Made me,” she commented. Then, with a sly grin, “They want their weapon back. Don’t know she’s rusted, not working on command anymore.”
“Ain’t rusted, girl,” said Zoe. Patience swallowed.
“Well, you’ve got… fifteen minutes, I’d guess. I told them I’d have your ship disabled, so they won’t go after Serenity.”
“How do you know they’ll believe you?” She chuckled.
“I’ve seen a lot in my lifetime, son. They can’t pull one over on old Patience. They think I’m just another greedy Rim-worlder who’ll sell out anyone for money.” For a second time, everyone looked at Jayne.
* * * * *
Inara laughed lightly at a joke Micah was telling, sipping at her drink. He’d taken them to a quiet restaurant that made up for its poor location with delicious food and a friendly atmosphere. Kaylee and Micah had taken to one another immediately, much to Inara’s delight. As he finished his joke, Kaylee was reminded of something that had happened to her in regards to Serenity’s engine and some parts she’d needed, and begun a hilarious account of her search.
Lunch was going very well. Inara reflected that she really should visit Orion more often. She wondered how things were going on Whitefall. Knowing Mal, probably not too well. She couldn’t stop the worry. Inara remembered a brief conversation she’d once had with Shepard Book.
“You could pray.”
“I doubt the Captain would appreciate that.”
“Don’t tell him. I never do.” She wondered how she’d deal with it if Mal came back hurt again. Would she run to him? Hide in her shuttle? Would seeing him bleeding yet again flick some switch within her, make her able to sacrifice her walls and admit her love for him? Or would it be just another gun wound, just another hole, just another scar? She really didn’t know. Every time Mal got hurt, Inara felt it. And every time, she hid it. But after touching him, and letting herself be touched, would she be able to hide it?
“Inara, what are you thinking about?” Micah’s steady brown eyes were on hers, warm and open. Kaylee was looking at her too, curious. She thought she knew what the Companion was thinking of, but didn’t know whether she’d tell Micah Hughes.
“No one,” Inara replied. Micah smiled, a slow, pleased smile.
“I said ‘what’, dear, not ‘who’. Is this really possible?”
“Can Inara Serra, the most sought-after Companion in the ‘verse, really be in love?” Kaylee bit her lip. Inara’s mouth opened, but no sound came out.
“No! Not in love,” she said hastily. “You know better than that, Micah!”
“Perhaps I am mistaken,” he said with a wink. “But I doubt it.”
“I am not in love,” she reiterated. If word got out that she felt this way about anyone, it could ruin her career. And besides, Inara couldn’t bring herself to tell someone else before she told Mal himself.
“Inara Serra?” Inara felt a chill run down her spine at the cold voice. She turned with a smile, though. As trained.
“Yes?” Her voice trailed off a little at the sight of an armed Alliance soldier standing before her, the stripes on his shoulders ranking him as a private.
“Will you come with me, please?”
“I’m having lunch,” she said with a wave to Micah and Kaylee. “Can it wait?”
“I’m afraid not. I’m sorry to interrupt your lunch, but….” He gestured for her to get up. Micah, ever the gentleman, stood first.
“I am Micah Hughes of Hughes Estate, and I am entertaining this young lady for lunch. May I know exactly what you need with her?” His tone was frosty. Inara rose gracefully, glancing from Micah to the Alliance private. Kaylee, looking anxiously from one person to another, stood as well. The pink dress, which Inara had purchased for her as they left the shop, fell in folds around her feet as she braced herself on the table edge and waited for someone to speak.
“Please, Miss Serra, if you’ll just come with me. Mr. Hughes and young miss there, you are welcome to come along if you like.” He sounded exasperated. Inara smiled graciously and extended her arm to wrap it around Kaylee’s in a comforting squeeze. Micah came around the table to take Inara’s other arm, and, flanked by two friends, she followed the Alliance private out of the restaurant.
* * * * * Zoe and Jayne stood on either side of the shuttle door. Mal leaned against the blunt shuttle nose, and River was crouched just inside and out of sight. Jayne was muttering darkly.
“Why we have to go along with this, Mal? We should get the hell out of here.”
“They’ll shoot the ship down. Patience came prepared,” Zoe said calmly.
“Still think it’s a dumb plan.”
“I don’t pay you to think, Jayne.”
“Thank god for that,” Zoe murmured. Jayne looked at her quickly, as if gauging her ability to take a hit.
“Don’t see you jumpin’ for joy over this stupid idea, either.”
“That’s because I don’t generally make myself such an easy target.” Mal’s lips twitched up at the corners, but then they heard a whir. Two sleek Alliance shuttles landed smoothly, and doors slid open to reveal several commandos dressed in black, guns raised. Mal did his best to look surprised. He put up his hands, making sure not to flinch away from the shuttle nose. One of his guns was pinned there between his body and the metal, making for an easy draw without looking like he was going for a weapon.
“Hello, gentlemen,” Mal called. The commandos surrounded the shuttle, and another one rounded the mesa with his back to the ship.
“The other shuttle is gone, just like she said it would be,” the man shouted. “It’s just these three.”
A man stepped out of the second ship, holding a pulse rifle.
“Captain Reynolds,” he said by way of greeting.
“Is there a problem? We’re just here for a job. I captain a-”
“Yes, we know. Where’s River Tam?”
“Our contact assured us that she would have the Tams out of your ship and the ship herself disabled. This appears to be as she said. Where are they?”
“Ain’t got no River Tam on board, Commander,” Mal said with a glance at the man’s uniform.
“We all know that’s not true, Captain Reynolds. I will ask you one more time. Where is River Tam?”
“You threatening me, Commander?” If the Alliance man noticed the danger in Mal’s eyes, he didn’t let on.
“It appears so.” Mal looked quickly at Jayne.
“Jayne,” he said with a nod. Jayne slammed a fist down on the door to the shuttle, alerting River that it was time for their plan to begin. As if she didn’t already know, psychic that she was.
Mal dropped low as the shuttle rocked and lifted from the ground just enough to allow him, Zoe and Jayne to slide beneath it. They slid into the makeshift straps they’d made out of Inara’s canvass fencing jacket that had been left in this shuttle from when she stopped giving lessons to one of her more interesting clients a few weeks before, leaving the three of them hanging from the bottom of the shuttle. River flew them low, so that each of them could get a good shot off, but Patience wouldn’t shoot them down. If everything went as Mal thought it might, the Alliance commander wouldn’t let the shuttle be shot because that would crash it and kill River, who was now clearly in command of the vessel. The Operative had been willing to kill her, but these were not that high in the chain of command and wouldn’t destroy River Tam unless it was absolutely necessary.
Jayne, Mal and Zoe started firing at the commandos, who didn’t start moving until four of them lay dead. They quickly got over the fact that the three people shooting at them were hanging so awkwardly from the bottom of a rusted, ugly shuttle and still managing to aim, and began trying to shoot back.
“Stop it, damn you! Don’t hit the shuttle! DON’T HIT THE SHUTTLE!” Yup. Mal felt a tingle of satisfaction that he’d been right. Then, he heard Zoe hiss in pain and twisted his head to look at her. Blood was staining her pants leg, but she was firing away.
“Just- a- scrape,” she grunted. Mal nodded and went back to business. River was circling carefully in the shuttle, weaving enough to make it difficult for the people on the ground to get off many good shots. Mal felt a breeze by his head as a bullet flew past, just missing the undercarriage of the shuttle, but he barely even paused. He heard a sliding sound, and then suddenly there was a rapid barrage of bullets flying down from above them. Men were falling with every shot. River closed the shuttle door again and was back in control of the shuttle in mere seconds. Beside Mal, Jayne whistled through his teeth. Gorram girl was taking them out like ants. Damned if it weren’t arousing as hell. Stop this, Jayne, he thought angrily. Don’t think about her like that. Don’t think about her at all.
The only one left now was the commander. It had happened so fast that none of them had even attempted to get back in the sleek new Alliance ships. He turned to run for one of them, but Mal used his switchblade to slice through the canvass straps and dropped to the ground in front of the man. Before the commander could raise his rifle, someone- Jayne or Zoe- shot it out of his hand. Mal caught it deftly and cocked his own gun, aiming for the man’s head.
“How many more will be coming?”
“There’s a fleet in orbit around Whitefall,” the commander said with a feral grin. “You won’t get away alive.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot.” Mal wasn’t smiling. He was in the cold, his eyes dark and bleak. “You know what they did to her? You even know that?”
“I don’t need to know,” the man said with the same contemptuous tone that the Operative had used all those months ago.
“Humped her brain around. Stole her youth and made her a weapon. I ain’t gonna let you, nor anyone, take her back there,” Mal said. River let the shuttle hover in the air behind him, Jayne and Zoe dangling from beneath.
“It doesn’t matter,” the commander threw at him. “You’ll never make it past the fleet. You for certain.”
“Why’s that?” Almost before Mal had finished speaking, the commander whipped out a tiny gentleman’s pistol, the kind that can be hidden in shirt-cuffs, and fired.
* * * * * “So you are unaware of any of the inner dealings made by Serenity’s captain and crew?” Inara clasped her hands. She was sitting in an interrogation room with a man in a plain suit who was asking her about the ship. Kaylee and Micah were waiting outside. Kaylee had apparently not been recognized in her fancy clothes and newly-done hair. (Inara had convinced her to let her style it before they disembarked on Orion.)
“Oh, yes. I simply rent the shuttle. I’m rarely on the ship, and I have little to do with the crew.” It gave her bitter satisfaction that she was such a good liar. Mal was right: her entire life had been a lesson in lies.
“And you know nothing about the fugitives on board?”
“I knew there were passengers. I’d seen them several times. They’d been there, after all, for a year.” It was too late to lie about Simon and River, though- the Alliance man had known perfectly well that they were on Serenity.
“And you didn’t recognize them from the warrant?”
“I don’t pay much attention to those things,” Inara said with a laugh. It was easy to play the part of the rich, coveted courtesan with more skin showing than brains. Even if it made her sick inside.
“I see. And your business on Orion?”
“I’m with a client,” she said. Micah wouldn’t mind. “What’s this all about, anyway? Have the fugitives done something new?”
“Oh, no,” the man said with a wave of his hand. “There’s a fleet waiting to pick them up just off Whitefall, so we thought you should know that you can’t return to the ship.”
* * * * *
“So what was that all about?” Micah, Inara and Kaylee were sitting in his fine home at Hughes Estate after Inara had been released. She was standing by the fire in the grate, staring into the flames.
“Micah,” Inara said slowly. “I need to ask you for a favor.”
TBC: sorry for all the suspense regarding Mal, guys, but it was fun to write! I’ll update soon, don't worry! Next: big space battle, and Inara has a talk with Mal. S/K, M/I (of course), R/J
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