Choices - Part 12 A
Monday, April 10, 2006

Wash confronts Zoe about her tactics, Jayne refuses to talk, Inara says the words, and Mal picks a fight he can't hope to win.


Rating: PG13 for violence and light discussions of torture and drug use Disclaimer: Not mine, just borrowing, no money, you know the drill. Word Count: 3618 approx. A/N: Many, many, many apologies for the delay between parts, gentle readers. I lost the ability to write for a while, had to play around a bit to get back into the big stuff, but, here it is, the next part-part at last *G*. Thank-you to all of you who prodded me to update, and encouraged me to keep trying to write when that big Wall got in the way, and extra thanks to those of you who read this even though it’s been forever since the last part was up. This one’s for you.

Go back and read the Other Parts: 1 2 3A 3B 4 5 6 7 8A 8B 8C 9 10 11A 11B 11C 11D

Choices – Part 12 A by 2x2

“Wash? You there?”

Wash slid into the pilot’s chair and reached for the comm. hurriedly as he heard his wife’s voice. “Yeah, baby, I’m here. Where are you?”

“We’re back,” Zoe said. “’Need you to open up.”

Deng yi miao,” said Wash, hands flying over the console as he flipped switches before leaping from his seat and hurrying for the cargo bay.

“Are they back?” asked Book climbing the stairs from the lower deck just as Wash arrived. The pilot nodded.

“Just now,” he said, as Zoe and Jayne hurried up the cargo ramp carrying the limp form of the Lawman’s son between them.

“Woah! Hey! What’s going on?” said Wash in surprise, stepping forward to meet them.

“Shepherd, that room ready?” asked Zoe, ignoring her husband’s confused look as they brushed past him.

“It’s ready,” Book said, punching the button on the control panel to raise Serenity’s bay door, the clang of metal on metal echoing ominously around the empty cargo hold.

“Ready for what? Zoe? Hello? Who is that?” asked Wash, trailing after his wife and the mercenary.

“Is the mule good?” Zoe asked him, putting off the answer to his questions, shifting her grip on the kid’s feet as she and Jayne maneuvered him down the stairs.

“It’s shiny. Who is that?” Wash asked, his frustration increasing as he was ignored again.

“Doc!” called Zoe as they reached the common room. “Where’s your sister?”

“She’s with Kaylee,” said Simon, coming from the infirmary as they passed. Zoe nodded.

“Best keep her out of sight of our visitor,” she cautioned and the doctor nodded back.

“What happened?” he asked, following them into the room Book had prepared. Jayne lowered the kid onto the waiting chair and then, avoiding Zoe’s look, he shoved his way past Simon, Book and Wash, back out the door and up the stairs.

“Nothing,” replied Zoe, as she set to tying the boy to the chair. “It’s the opium.”

“Opium? I… I thought they’d shut down all the opium parlours after the war,” said Simon, coming forward to check the boy’s pupils.

“’Still a few legal ones left operatin’,” said Zoe, tugging on the rope firmly. She looked up to see Wash standing in the doorway next to Book, his arms crossed, wearing a look that demanded her attention. “’Mind finishin’ up, Shepherd?” she asked, rising and walking toward her husband, knowing she shouldn’t put him off any longer. Not unaware of the look that passed between the spouses, Book nodded.

“Of course,” he said, moving into the room.

Wash turned and headed to the common area, waiting for Zoe to follow.

“You want to tell me what’s going on now?” he said when she reached him, hurt and angry at being left in the dark. “Who is he?”

“’One who shot her,” Zoe replied, motioning toward the infirmary where Gabr’elle lay. “’May be the only one who can tell us where Inara and the Captain are. I mean to get answers.”

Wash ran a hand through his hair, not liking the implication behind his wife’s words. “He’s just a kid.”

Zoe crossed her arms, her back straightening as she leveled a stare at him. “Hasn’t stopped him from killin’ folk.”

“So… what? You’re going to interrogate him? Beat on him a little? Just some good ol’ fashioned violence to get what you want?” he asked sarcastically.

“If that’s what it takes. Yes,” said Zoe, her eyes unfaltering.

“If that’s what it takes…” he stammered, staring back at her, mouth open as he tried to come up with the words to convey his disbelief. She sighed, her hands dropping to her hips as she took a step closer to him.

“I’m doin’ what needs to be done to get the Captain back,” she said firmly.

“And that includes torture now?” exclaimed Wash, waving his hand in the direction of the passenger dorms. “Zoe, baby, please… Think about what you’re saying! Wh-- would Mal even want you to do this?” he added, trying a different tact.

“Torture?” said Simon in concern as he emerged from the passenger dorm followed closely by Book. He turned to stare at the Shepherd in surprise, looking between Book and the first mate. The Shepherd stared back, face impassive as Zoe went on.

“Conjure he’d do the same were it any one of us,” she said. “Let’s not forget we’re talkin’ ‘bout a man who helped run down that mule and kidnap Inara —”

“A boy,” protested Wash.

“—who shot an unarmed woman point blank, and either participated or stood by while two other women were shot dead in the street,” Zoe pressed on relentlessly. “Reckon there ain’t much I’m apt to do he won’t be deservin’ of.”

Wash staggered backwards a few steps, running his hand over his face. “I—I can’t believe I’m hearing this!” he said, staring at her like she was some stranger and not his wife at all. Zoe took an angry step toward him, fed up.

“’You have a better idea, Husband? Because the alternative is leavin’ the Captain and Inara for dead, ain’t no two ways about it! ‘You willin’ to make that choice?” She stared hard at him and he glared back angrily before looking away. She took a step back and turned her gaze to include Simon. “This is the only lead we have. ’Shepherd’ll get his chance, an’ if he gets what we need, ‘won’t have to go no further. But I ain’t gonna trade the Captain’s life for a question of ethics.” She turned back to Wash. “Dong ma?”

Wash shook his head sadly. “I really don’t,” he said, sighing, and with one last disbelieving look he left the room. Zoe drew in a deep breath, letting her gaze drop to the floor.

“I’m fairly confident I can get your answers without having to resort to violence,” said Book.

“I’d appreciate that, Shepherd,” said Zoe without looking up.

“The effects of the opiate should wear off within an hour or so,” offered Simon uncomfortably.

“Good,” said Zoe, finally lifting her head. “Start as soon as he’s awake,” she said, nodding to Book. She turned and headed up the stairs without another word.

Lying in the infirmary, thinking of her girls, Gabr’elle held not one shred of sympathy for what the kid had coming.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Up, exhale. Down, inhale. Up, exhale. Down, inhale.

Jayne grunted with each repetition, the bar rising and falling over his chest in a determined rhythm, biceps contracting, relaxing, contracting, relaxing. He could feel the burn working its way into his muscles, welcomed it; relished it.

Up, exhale. Down, inhale.

He let the repetitive motion take over his thoughts, concentrated on lifting the barbell smoothly in controlled movements.

Up, down. Inhale, exhale.

Finally, when the ache become too much, he let the bar fall back into the rests and sat up, breathing heavily, sweat soaking his shirt, making it stick to him uncomfortably.

“Thought maybe you was goin’ for some kinda record,” said Kaylee and Jayne started, surprised to see her sitting cross-legged on the floor beside him. “Must be awful angry ‘bout somethin’,” she added, face open in invitation.

Jayne wiped his face with his towel, not answering. ‘Last thing he wanted to do was talk about it, but Kaylee just sat there, staring up at him in expectation. He sighed, feeling the anger he’d tried to work off still smoldering within him. “Ain’t nothin’,” he said gruffly, frowning at the way her face seemed to close in on itself at his words.

“Savage place,” came a voice, and Jayne startled again, looking up to see River perched on the railing above them.

“Gorramit! What’ I tell you ‘bout creepin’ around up there when I’m liftin’? Moonbrain,” he cursed. The girl dropped gracefully to the floor and looked at him sadly.

“All the charm is broken,” she said.

“Huh?” said Jayne, shrinking back as she reached a hand out toward him. Her lips twitched as she approached, her hand at last coming to rest on his chest, above his heart.

“River?” said Kaylee, standing worriedly.

“Poor youth who scarcely dar'st lift up thine eyes—” she said softly. The mercenary stared at her in confusion, but she didn’t seem to see him. “Flashing eyes. Floating hair.” She took a step backwards, her eyes searching for something unseen on the cargo bay floor. “Weave a circle round him thrice, and close your eyes with holy dread, for he on honey-dew hath fed…” She paused and, blinking, River raised her head to look at Jayne again. “And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

Jayne’s jaw tightened and he lurched up off the weight bench suddenly, giving the girl a ferocious look. “Stay outta my head, Crazy!” he growled and brushed past her, climbing the stairs angrily.

“Not your fault,” he heard River say after him and he clenched his teeth, giving a shake of his head. “Yeah, it was,” he said to himself grimly, and headed for his bunk.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mal woke slowly, opening his eyes and blinking at the early dawn light, shivering with the chill morning air. Inara was pressed against his side, her head pillowed on his chest, hair draping her face as she slept on. He stretched, his muscles stiff and sore from abuse and a night on the cold, hard floor of their prison, groaning as the motion only brought more pain.

Inara raised her head, peering up at him in concern through sleep fogged eyes and he gasped aloud, his pain forgotten as he reached out to cradle her face in his palm, only now seeing the dark bruises and puffy swelling the night had hidden from him. “Inara,” he exclaimed, his fingers trailing over the curve of her cheek, lingering on her scabbed lips with anguish.

She swallowed and looked away, not wanting to see the ruin of her face in his eyes, but the sudden, jerky trembling of his limbs and the harsh sound of his breaths pulled her gaze back up to see his jaw clenched tightly, nostrils flaring, eyes burning with barely suppressed rage.

“Whelt?” he ground out, grimly cataloging every scratch, every hurt that touched her face.

“No....” She shook her head, looking away again. “He hit me once, but… Most of this happened when the Mule crashed. I think I hit the console, or the windshield. I’m not sure,” she said, sitting up and wrapping her arms around her knees. She drew in a deep breath, holding herself tightly. “Is it… Is it that bad?” she asked in a small voice.

It was bad, but Mal had seen worse. Sensing the worry and fear behind her words, he forced himself to be calm. “’Nothin’ that won’t heal,” he reassured. Sitting up next to her, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a way that already felt as natural as if he’d been doing it for years.

Inara didn’t resist as he eased her against him, letting her eyes close as she rested her head on his shoulder and drew in his presence. She felt tears prick her eyes and she cursed inwardly at how unfair life could be. She had spent so long denying her want and need for this man, only to have him on the brink of being snatched away from her now that she’d finally given in. The knowledge that these could be the last minutes they would spend together, alone, tore at her. She didn’t want to let go. She didn’t want to lose what she’d barely had time to realize she had. As insane as it was, in this place, she felt a kindling ignite deep within her, something more than desire, a need so intense in its suddenness it stole her breath.

“Mal?” she said softly, inching forward until her lips brushed his adam’s apple. He made a small, inquisitive sound in his throat and she traced the movement with her tongue, heard him suck in a breath. He pulled back, his eyes questioning as he stared at her, unspoken words passing between them. Then she was sliding into his lap, hands cupping his face frantically as her lips crashed against his in a desperate kiss. He groaned, more in pain than pleasure, as her hands traveled over the bruised plains of his jaw and cheeks, but she was relentless, ignoring her own wounded lips as they cracked and split under her rough treatment. He wove his hands into her hair, grasping her head, trying to slow and gentle her onslaught. She calmed gradually, allowing their kisses to become tender, dimly aware that there were tears streaming down her cheeks.

They parted to catch their breaths and Mal wiped the tears from her face with gentle fingers, mindful of her bruises, drawing her forehead to rest against his tenderly.

“I love you, Mal,” she whispered, the admission falling from her lips tremulously. It took terrific effort for her to say the words, and she had to close her eyes, even as his flew open in shock He went still, mouth wide with amazement, his heart pounding in his breast so fiercely it was painful. Then, he drew in a ragged breath, chest heaving, and brought his lips down on hers just as forcefully as she had on his moments before.

She moaned, clutching at him frantically, pulling him as close to her as she could and he wrapped his arms around her, his hands sliding over her back, tracing her spine as he held her flush against him.

They broke apart suddenly, startled by the sound of the door’s latch, metal sliding on metal, harsh and loud in the morning silence. Breathless, they climbed to their feet as the door swung open and Whelt walked in, followed by two others.

“Rise an’ shine,” their captor said with a mocking smile they didn’t return. He held out a set of manacles, pulling them tight between his fists. “Right. Put your hands in front a’ you,” he ordered, stepping toward Inara.

Mal acted on instinct, adrenaline and emotion still pounding hot in his veins, and he shoved Whelt away from her ferociously, landing a punch across the man’s mouth.

Oh, Mal, Inara sighed inwardly in resignation as Whelt went down, knowing she had no choice but to follow him in his impulsive course of action.

With that in mind, she set aside her surprise and fear, acting with calm efficiency as the other two men rushed them. Her training kicking in, she sidestepped Ulf’s meaty hand neatly as it grabbed for her. Grasping his forearm, she twisted, using his own body weight as leverage, and pushed up under his elbow, popping it out of joint effortlessly. Ulf screamed in surprised pain, dropping his gun as he curled over his arm instinctively and she grabbed his head, pulling it downward into her rising knee, catching him full in the face with a resounding crunch.

He staggered back but didn’t go down and Inara snatched his pistol from the floor, biting back a gasp at the sharp flare of pain in her ribs, shoving it from her mind ruthlessly as she yanked Ulf’s head back by his hair, pressing the barrel to the base of his jaw, just below his ear.

“Don’t,” she warned, twisting out of his way as he reached for the weapon. “You might be able to grab it but I know I’ll be able to pull the trigger first,” she said in his ear fiercely, her fingers tightening their grip in his hair. Ulf gave a tiny nod and let his hand drop, cradling his elbow in surrender.

Mal drove his shoulder into the other man, grunting in pain as his muscles objected, following him to the ground as they stumbled, limbs grappling as each tried to gain the upper hand.

Whelt scrambled to his feet wildly and charged, driving his booted foot into Mal’s unprotected ribs savagely, a long string of Chinese curses spewing from his mouth. Mal collapsed with a strangled gasp, the air forced from him painfully, fire arcing along his side and through his lungs as he struggled for breath. He tried to stand, rolling to all fours and Whelt brought his foot down on Mal’s outstretched fingers viciously, grinding his heel into bones, feeling them snap as Mal screamed and fell again, eyes squeezed shut in agony. “Whelt!” yelled Inara, turning the man’s attention from Mal to her and her captive as she maneuvered him towards the door. “Get away from him!” she spat, cocking back the hammer on her pistol.

Whelt clenched his jaw and dragged a sleeve across his bloody lip, breathing hard. “I ain’t got time for this,” he said, snarling in anger.

“Well, you’re going to have to make—” Inara started but was cut off by the abrupt report of a gunshot as Whelt fired, gun suddenly in hand, the bullet taking her captive in the head before she could finish the thought. She let go of the man’s hair as gravity tugged his dead weight to the floor, her fingers covered in blood and brain tissue, eyes wide in shock. Whelt leveled his pistol at her, his lips pressed in a grim, tight line.

“Put it down,” he said in a voice that promised death if she refused.

“Jesus. You shot Ulf,” said the other man, staring at Whelt in shock. “Whelt—”

“Shut the kao up and watch him!” Whelt yelled, taking a step closer to Inara. Her eyes flicked from Mal to Whelt, to the gun she still held in her hand and back, considering the odds of her being able to bring it to bear on Whelt before he shot. “Don’t try it, princess. I won’t miss,” he warned harshly.

Her eyes went back to Mal as three more men ran into the room with guns drawn, an apology held in them as she sagged in surrender, knowing she had no choice but to release the weapon.

She let the pistol fall from her fingers as two of the other men came forward, one of them smacking her across the face with the back of his hand eliciting a grunt of pain from her before he grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked it forcefully, bringing tears to her eyes.

“Take her to the other room, and get them gorram horses ready!” ordered Whelt as he picked up Ulf’s gun. The two men forced Inara out of the room, her eyes never leaving Mal’s as he watched her go, knowing there was nothing either of them could do. Whelt kicked Ulf’s body and swore. “Sha gua,” he said and shook his head. He looked up at the other two men, noting the distrustful gaze of the man who’d watched him shoot Ulf, filing it away for future study. “Get him outta here,’ he said, motioning to the body. After a moment’s hesitation, the men holstered their weapons and hauled Ulf out of the room awkwardly.

Whelt dabbed at his lip, examining his thumb as it came away bloody. He ran his tongue over the cut and then spat a wad of blood and spit at Mal. He crouched down next to his prisoner. “I’d advise you to listen real careful-like. You’re bringin’ me to a point where I’m about ready to cut my losses,” said Whelt seriously, rubbing his lip again. “So I’m gonna lay it out for you. I’m gonna put you on horses. You run an’ I’ll shoot her. She runs, I shoot you. Dong ma? Otherwise, I put her in that slaver’s yoke an’ you can see how she fares, trussed up like that.”

Mal’s eyes shot up to Whelt’s, measuring the weight of the threat. Finally, he nodded, concluding that the other man was not bluffing. “Conjure we’re clear,” he said through gritted teeth and Whelt nodded back, standing.

“Thought that’d be the case.” He turned away but paused as Mal spoke.

“Although, you shootin’ either of us might be a mercy, considerin’ who you’re sellin’ us to,” he said roughly.

Whelt’s lips twitched in a smile that didn’t touch his eyes. “Don’t know who I’m sellin’ ya to, an’ I don’t care to. I’ll jus’ have to content myself with the belief that your sense of self-preservation and will to live’ll hold you stronger than that. After all, if you’re alive, they’s always a chance, but if’n you’re dead… You’re jus’ dead.” He gave Mal a cunning look. “Even so, think I’ll have your pretty friend ride alongside me, jus’ to be on the safe side, like. Wouldn’t want nothin’ to happen to ‘er ‘fore we get where we’re goin’, now, would we?”

Mal looked away, cursing inwardly, knowing he’d probably just ruined any opportunity he would’ve had to give Inara the chance to get away.

“Best see to them fingers,” Whelt said smugly as he pulled the door shut behind him, sliding the latch home with a screech of metal.

Mal cradled his crushed fingers against his chest, fighting a swell of nausea as he looked down at their awkward angles. Three were broken for certain and had already begun to swell. Closing his eyes and drawing in a deep breath, Mal steeled himself, knowing he was going to have to pull them back into alignment.

Mal’s scream echoed through the room, and on the other side of the door, Whelt dabbed at his lip and smiled. . . . . . Chinese Translations:

Deng yi miao=just a minute Dong ma=understand / are we clear? Kao=fuck Sha gua=idiot

Go to Part 12 B


Monday, April 10, 2006 11:41 AM


I really REALLY want terrible nasty things to happen to Whelt. I'm hoping Jayne will be the one to exact a fitting revenge. Where's that gorram rescue? And Hooray, Inara finally admits to Mal that she loves him! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, April 10, 2006 12:00 PM


This is really good- thanks for writing again! I hope Mal or somebody introduces Whelt to a really big gun, or maybe some freakish torture thing Niska has... but Inara admitting she loves Mal! Yay!

Monday, April 10, 2006 1:08 PM


Thank God (or Joss as he's sometimes known) that someone finally wrote a fic that has Inara actually capable of being useful in a fight.

Good to see another part to this story.



Monday, April 10, 2006 1:25 PM


Wow. This is your best chapter yet. I thought your Wash dialogue was amazing in the first part, and then when you got to Mal and Inara you blew me away.

"She calmed gradually, allowing their kisses to become tender, dimly aware that there were tears streaming down her cheeks."

Ending that paragraph with the image of the tears falling down her cheaks as they kissed was amazing. The entire scene, when she said "I love you", when they tried and failed to escape, broke my heart.

I loved Inara's little line to her capture. I always like it when she is more than just the damsel in distress (a role she is cast into at times) and does some ass-kicking of her own. It was suck a shock when it didn't work out and Whelt shot the guy. Not because I thought it would work, just because it was very violent, very powerful stuff. Excellent chapter.

Monday, April 10, 2006 1:29 PM


This is the best Mal/Inara fic I've read to date :)

I can't wait until you write some more.

Monday, April 10, 2006 7:35 PM


And the lady is back in saddle! Welcome back to knocking our collective socks off, 2x2;)

Loved this entire chaper! Found the Zoe/Wash conflict over toruture pitch perfect, espcially cuz Wash being a victim of violent torture makes him strangely sympathetic to the boy, the private moments between Mal and Inara just were completely pitch-perfect for a Joss-written storyline (especially the admission of feelings by Inara) and the the escape attempt. I too like how you had Inara actually seriously contribute to the fight...cuz a fight against Saffron and a mismatched attempt to disable the Operative don't give us the greatest perspective of Inara as a martial artist;)

Really top notch stuff here, 2x2...and I strangely liked how you ended this chapter with a fade out on Mal forcefully resetting his broken fingers. So Mal-like in the way it's just done with honest effort and pain.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006 2:39 PM


Yay! glad you got over to writing block. I hope Wash comes around. I mean first of all the kid killed in cold blood, and second of all he may have the luxury of being able to complain, but Zoe has to do what she has to do and that's got to be hard on her. Loved the M/I of course, can't wait for more. You said we'd do a round of nes btw. I'm ready when you are.

Sunday, April 30, 2006 3:39 AM


Well, color me embarassed that I have been selfishly enjoying this story and, I realize, never left a review. I do apologize. I love your voices, obviously. I love the way you write action. The way you write tenderness. They way you plumb angst. I love how deftly you mix in the entire crew, their motives and reactions. I love the hints you drop. I love the way you use language. And, of course, I love the Mal and Inara. I always look forward to squeeing at updates, and now, I have finally remembered to tell you so. Great, great stuff.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 5:58 AM


*imagines putting whelt in thumbscrews*



Thursday, June 21, 2007 10:40 PM


Great interactions betweem Zoe and Wash. I love all the moments of tenderness with Mal and Inara... and you write River and Jayne very well. Excellent.


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History of an Object
There’s no reason to keep it, damaged as it is. Save one. Doesn’t matter that it’s finer than any other cup on the ship, even with the crack. Doesn’t matter that it would never hold liquid again without some of it seeping through. Burning your fingers. Was only one reason he still has the cup.

Five Years' War
The night was warm. Clouds, low on the horizon, blue black in the last light of the setting sun. Nothing but the breeze and the buzz of the cicadas breaking the stillness. A perfect evening.

The Close Shore, At the End, Untenable
“Dead ’re in my head tonight,” he said finally. “Can’t get ‘em out. Don’t got the booze or the bar to distract me. Don’t know why I’m here ‘cept I don’t think I can go through it alone.”

The Slower Path: All the Difference - Part 15 - Sequel to The One Less Traveled By
She let out a breath, saying nothing for a long moment before she raised her eyes again. “There are some things I want you to know,” she said softly. “Things I want you to understand.”

Much as he wished he could ignore it, he could see it was important to her that he know whatever it was she wanted to tell him. He knew he wouldn't have let himself see it in the past, but that weren't where they were anymore, or at least, not where they wanted to be, either of them. Their relationship had changed, was changing, and he weren’t so stupid he didn’t recognize that. He didn't know that he wanted to know it, much less understand it, but she was reluctant enough to talk about any aspect of her life as it was; could be he might ought not stop her when she wanted to.

Unlucky at Cards...
“I… You can’t be that lucky!” Mal moaned as Inara beat him again, laying out her cards with a flourish.

The Slower Path: The One Less Traveled By - Part 14 - Sequel to Regrets
They fell silent again, struggling to find the ease that they had found, before; before the argument that had almost ended things.

"I feel like-," she started.

"This is-," he said at the same time.

They looked at each other. "Awkward," they both said, laughing lightly.

Always Had Faith
Faith in a higher power? That was always Mal's thing, the Captain, back in the war.

Loved and Lost
Love’s the biggest kind of hurt there is.

And I wouldn't trade that love for nothin'.

The Mood That Passes Through
He felt the first trembling shudder go through her, heard her breath hitch and felt her fingers grip his skin; knew it was comin', the wave that was cresting the walls she'd built to hold it back, whatever it was. Knew they were about to come crashing down around her. The first sob still hurt though, still lanced through his heart like a searing hot blade to hear her make that sound.