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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
TITLE: Serenity Now: After The Storm - Part 6
AUTHOR: The Irish Cowgirl
PAIRING: Mal/River, Kaylee/Simon, Jayne/OC (eventual)
SPOILERS: Post-BDM, also spoilers for "Serenity Now"
NOTES: Continuing the story after "Serenity Now," Mal, River and crew try to pull and honest job, with an old enemy close on their tail. If you haven't read "SN," you might be a little confused. Feedback is greatly appreciated! Thanks to all my darling constiuates for their support. You guys rule!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1462 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Inara had come to full consciousness just as Simon was finishing the last stitch on a laceration that traversed her right arm. She listened as the crew discussed their rescue plan, how to get in and out of Ezekial’s compound without getting killed in the process. She took note of the new face among the ones she recognized, a young woman the others referred to as “Cara,” partially hidden from her view behind the infirmary entrance. She saw Kaylee notice that she had come to. “She’s awake,” Kaylee told the others, and they entered the room.
Inara’s eyes widened at the sight of the wings folded against Cara’s back, revealed as she entered with the others. “Oh my...what...”
Cara sighed, very used to reactions such as this one. “Born with 'em, still human, rentin’ your old shuttle, long story,” she summarized.
Inara nodded absently at this, then turned to Kaylee. “How do you feel, ‘Nara?” the young mechanic asked, her eyes red from crying.
“Better,” Inara replied. She glanced around at the others quickly. “Where’s River?”
Mal’s eyes fell to the floor. “She’s back at Ezekial’s,” Zoe answered. “She traded herself for you an’ Mal.”
“An’ now we’re gonna pull sumthin’ even crazier and stupider than normal to get her back,” Jayne continued, his voice ripping with aggravation. Cara glared at him, arms across her chest.
Inara looked at them, shocked. “You...you can’t.”
She yelped as Simon flinched against her, missing his stitch. “Sorry,” he said, sounding as if his sorrow had nothing to do with Inara.
Kaylee stared at her friend in disbelief. “Whaddya mean, we can’t? River needs us.”
“Ezekial’s complex is heavily guarded. He has anti-spacecraft guns, armed patrols, and he probably is well aware that you are coming,” Inara said, arguing her point. She caught Zoe’s eyes. “You can’t just go in, guns blazing. He’ll slaughter you.”
Zoe stared her down with ferocity that scared Inara. “We don’t, he’ll slaughter River.” Simon flinched again, forgetting to apologize this time.
Cara’s heart was heavy with sadness. River had been the only member of the crew to show her kindness and acceptance when she had first come aboard. She felt obligated to repay the favor River had shown her. She didn’t know who this Inara lady was, but she wasn’t thinking too much of her right now. She leaned over to whisper to Jayne. “Again, I’m new ‘round here, so I don’t know. Would the others be mad if I kicked this chick’s ass?”
Jayne glanced around at the group. “Yeah, prob’ly.”
Kaylee backed away from Inara, feeling betrayed. “Inara, we’re goin’ in for River. We ain’t gonna leave her there and let this happen to her, too.”
But Inara’s fear was palpable. She never wanted to see that place again, never wanted to think of it. The horrors she had been subject to in the last day had been worse than she could have ever imagined. She cared about River, but she simply couldn’t bring herself to imagine going back to the bowels of Ezekial’s hell, much less doing so willingly. “I...I can’t. You can’t.”
“We will,” Mal spoke up from the corner of the room. All eyes turned to him. He spoke softly, restrained. “River went in for you without a second thought, ‘Nara. She saw what they did to you, she knew the pain you was in, and she couldn’t bear it.” He approached Inara’s bedside. She looked into his eyes, and saw his love for River there. She couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed. Mal continued. “I understand yer scared, a saint would be, after bein’ through what you been through. And if’n you don’t wanna come along, I’ll understand that, too.”
He leaned in, punctuating his severity. “But you say one more word as to the rest of us doin’ likewise, I swear by God and Buddha and all the fairytale creatures, I’ll finish the job them bastards started.” With that, he turned to leave.
Inara was shocked. She had only seen Mal as dangerous as this once before, at Haven after he watched Shepherd Book die. She looked hopelessly at the others as they turned to follow Mal, clearly making their choice.
Simon cut his suture and stood, removing his gloves. “We’re done here.” And before Inara could thank him, he turned to leave as well.
The crew gathered in the cargo bay, finalizing their plans. They had learnt from their previous mistake, they would all go in this time. Mal, Zoe, and Simon in the port shuttle, Jayne, Kaylee, and Cara in hers. They would be armed to the teeth, and they would be fast. Jayne and his group would land first, distracting the guards, luring them to the front of the mansion. Zoe and Simon would sneak around back, and mount a second distraction technique from the rear. Mal would go in for River. No one had dared suggest otherwise.
Jayne offered to dole out all his “girls” for the occasion, calling dibs on Vera for himself. “Why don’t you fly up to the roof, Cara, attack ‘em from topside?” he suggested.
Cara shook her head. “Don’t work that way. My wing’s ain’t big ‘nough yet, I can’t get no lift. I can only glide.”
Zoe took this in. “Still, might work to our advantage. Keep 'em hidden at first, climb up into a tree or somesuch. You might be able to get the drop on some o’ the guards.” Cara nodded her consent.
Jayne slapped his hands together. “Well, let’s git this kamikaze bit on the move.” He started up the stairs to his bunk, and the others followed him.
“Mal,” Inara called softly from the doorway.
Mal looked back at her, nodding Zoe on ahead. “Go on. Get me a good one, ‘fore they’re all taken.” Zoe glanced at Inara, then continued up the stairs. Mal descended the last few steps and strode over to Inara, trying not to wince at the stitches in her face.
Inara caught his flinch, and looked away in shame, focusing instead on the horses that still stood tied in the cargo bay. “Where were these headed?”
Mal reached out to pat one of the horses’ neck, and it whickered softly, leaning into his touch. “Paquin. We’re gonna get ‘em there, still. Soon as we’re all together ‘gain.”
She could read him like a book. “You and River? When did this happen?”
Mal glared at her. “Don’t matter when it happened. All that matters is what we’re 'bout to do next.” He turned to leave.
Inara reached out a hand, stopping him. “Mal, please, I’m just trying to understand.”
Mal turned back to face her. “Understand that I love her, ‘Nara.” He caught sight of her beaten face and his tone softened. “I’m sorry for what’s been done to ya, truly. But I ain’t gonna stand by and let it happen to her, too. That girl’s been through hell for me, and I ain’t gonna let her burn in my fires.”
Inara gently laid her outstretched hand on his folded arm. She looked at him, reading his face with the ability years of training had taught her, and knew that he told the truth. “You really love her, don’t you?” she said, sounding more like a defeat than a question. She glimpsed back briefly to her memories of their time together. The passionate way they had made love and the even more passionate way they had fought. When she had left Mal for the second time, she had understood that they could never make it work together, but she had never been willing to let him go. Until now.
Mal only nodded in reply to her question. “With everythin’ I got. An' we both know that ain’t much.”
Inara took a deep breath. If she could give one last thing to Mal, it would be this.
“Let me help.”
Shane leaned against the wall of his torture room, smoking another cigarette. Two things always make him crave the nicotine, sex and torture. River had been a pleasurable subject, too. She was far more vocal than Inara was, screaming and kicking, sobbing as he sliced shallow cuts into her arms and neck. He knew that Ezekial had told him to hurry, but he would no sooner rush an expensive meal. River Tam’s defeat was to be his masterpiece.
He moved to his implements of destruction, choosing a scalpel-like blade, and turning to face River again. She hung weakly from the chair as if it were her cross, tears and blood staining her clothes. Her hair was a mess. “Baby, baby, baby,” Shane taunted. “You’re not lookin’ so good.”
“Go to hell,” River replied venomously.
“Been there, baby. You been there, too, far as I recall.” He sat astride her thighs again, causing her to buck slightly with disgust. He held firm, and slid the flat of his scalpel between his fingers. “Or maybe you’re there right now.” He showed her the blade, flicking it swiftly to cut a lock of hair that swung before her eyes. He leaned in. “Are you in hell, River?”
River may have appeared to be broken, but fire could still be glimpsed through her eyes. “You don’t know hell.” She smiled softly. “Yet.”
“Big talk, baby.” Shane slid an arm around her back, watching his own hand in fascination as he cut a tiny sliver of River’s skin away from her shoulder. She cried out again in pain. Shane grinned and pressed his lips to the cut, tasting her blood.
River closed her eyes, revolted. And as her lids fell closed, she saw what was to come, what she had known was coming anyway. She began to laugh, and Shane started from his position to look at her. She turned her head to his, practically touching noses. Her eyes were wild and crazy. “You’re going to die so horribly,” she said, hysterical.
Shane was slightly unnerved by this outburst, but he let no emotion show. “You don’t scare me, baby.”
But River grinned like a maniac, which Shane was quickly deciding she might be. “Yes, I do. You are afraid, Shane Johnson. You know what I’m capable of. You know what I’ll do to you when I get free. And it scares you.” She was still laughing loudly, seemingly driven mad by his abuse. “It scares you so much!”
Now Shane was angry. He drove the scalpel into River’s arm, and smirked at her as she screamed. He felt her blood gush around his grip. “Exceptin’ that ESP, there’s nothin’ you and me don’t got in common, girl. You know it. You know it ‘cause I know it. I was trained by all the same men as you. Fed all the same knowledge. I am as fast you, an’ I’m as strong as you. There’s nothin’ you got that I don’t.”
River’s laughter subsided to breathy chuckles as she stared deeply into his eyes. “Not true.” An explosion from the upper level of the house was suddenly heard, and the room shook, dust flittering from the ceiling. River slipped her arms from her chains, grabbing Shane’s head and smashing his temple with her skull. She pulled the scalpel from her arm as he fell, and tackled him, ramming the blade into his eye. Now it was Shane’s turn to scream.
River sprang to her feet and watched him as he rolled on the floor in pain. She pulled her hand from behind her back and held something small and metal between her fingers. “I got the keys.”
Shane growled like an animal as he pulled the scalpel from his eye and tossed it aside. As he rose to his feet, he realized how River had done it. As he had tortured her, while she had screamed and struggled, she had distracted him. It had given her the opportunity to slip her hand into his pocket, relieve him of the keys to her freedom. “Bitch,” he spat, ignoring the pain in his eye as he watched her from his remaining good one.
River smiled. “I thought I was your baby.”
The explosion from Jayne’s grenade ripped through the mansion’s front porch in a blaze of fire. “Nice,” Cara commented. Jayne grinned up at her like a schoolboy. He armed the next grenade, and pitched it into the stone fountain. It splashed into the the purple waters, then ripped the waterworks apart with a muffled boom, sending bit of granite flying.
That grenade was the signal. They knew that Zoe and Simon were making their way around the back now, setting up their own assault. And Mal was dashing toward the hurricane doors, going for River.
“It’s almost sorta pretty,” Kaylee added, joking to keep her hands from shaking violently. “Like a flower blossomin’.”
“Much as I love a good explosion as the next girl,” Cara called from her perch in the tree, “we got company. Ten men, dead ahead, all lookin’ mightily pissed.”
Jayne opened fire with Vera, taking cover behind a tree as they returned his fire. He darted his gun out again, taking out a few of the men before he was forced behind the tree again. Cara fired from her treetop, taking out another. Kaylee aimed carefully and took a single shot, gasping a little as one of the men fell.
“Three more,” Cara yelled an update. “Comin’ from the main house.” She leveled her gun at one of the new men and fired. He started, then fell. “Two more.”
The first group had almost reached their hold point. There were seven now, all firing at the crew as they ran. Jayne fired a few more shots into their attackers, and two of the men fell roughly to the ground. He dodged back behind his tree. “I hope the other’s is doin’ better’n us.”
Zoe lobbed a grenade to the rear of the house, and a third explosion was heard as it rent the back wall away. She fired a pump action shotgun, felling one of the men who had run towards the sound. She shouted to Simon, warning him as another man approached at their 10 o’clock.
C’mon Mal, she thought. C’mon.
Jayne turned from his tree to fire another shot point blank into the chest of one of the men who rushed at them. Before he could aim again, a bullet tore through his stomach. He shouted against the pain, whipping his rifle towards the man who’d hit him and discharging a shot through the man’s face. He gripped his side and fell back against a tree, feeling the blood rush through his open fingers. He slid to the ground, suddenly finding it very hard to open his eyes.
“Jayne!” Kaylee cried, and rushed to his side. Two more men were bearing down on them, guns raised. Kaylee lifted her pistol to defend her fallen friend. Her hand shook with terror as she aimed.
Cara slipped silently from the trees, gliding to a soft landing. She stood before Kaylee and Jayne, wings outstretched, protecting. The men stared at the creature, seeming to forget that they were armed. Cara’s eyes bore through them as she gripped the handle of her katana, and she rushed forward with a battle cry. She slid the blade through the air, catching one of the men across the neck. The guard gasped as his trachea was sliced open, and he dropped to the ground before he could take a dying breath. Cara twirled the sword around, but the second guard had regained his senses. He blocked her blow with his rifle, and Cara switched feet to counter. The soldier brought the gun back to his shoulder, aiming at the woman. Cara spun and thrust the sword through his chest, right between the ribs. He fired once, but the shot went wide and lodged itself in one of the trees. Withdrawing her blood-streaked blade as he fell, Cara didn’t give him a second glance as she rushed to Jayne.
Kaylee held Jayne’s head in her palms, slapping him lightly on the cheek. “Jayne...C’mon Jayne. You’re gonna be okay. Keep it together.” She shook him gently. He let out a small groan in response. Kaylee looked up to see Cara watching, bloody sword still in hand. “He’s hurt.” Kaylee said, clearly in shock. She was not one for war.
Cara looked from Kaylee to Jayne. Dropping her sword, she moved to press her right hand against his wound, straddling him in the process. She grabbed his shirt with her free hand and brought his face up to hers. “Now, you listen t’me, Jayne Cobb. You ain’t gonna die. You know why you ain’t gonna die?” Jayne’s eyes opened slightly at this new voice, and he wondered why someone was so angry with him while he lay dying. Cara continued. “You ain’t gonna die ‘cause I got intentions for you, mister. All sort of dirty, sweaty intentions.” Jayne’s eyes shot open at this, and he focused on the woman’s face. Cara smiled. She knew that would rouse him. “And I can’t make good on none o’ those intentions if you go an’ get all dead. So you gotta stay with me, got it?”
Kaylee smiled at the girl. Cara had known what would rekindle Jayne’s need to live, the only thing in the world he would fight death for. Of course, that was promise of sex.
Jayne grinned, slightly delirious from the loss of blood. “Sweaty?”
River and Shane stood squaring off as Jayne’s second grenade sounded. They circled each other, predatory, searching for signs of weakness. Shane knew that River’s psychic ability put him at a slight disadvantage, but she had lost a lot of blood in the past couple of hours, and it was starting to affect her. Shane was older, but he was larger and stronger. He firmly believed he would win.
River knew that he believed this. Not only could she feel it in his mind, she could see it in his eyes. But she knew what Shane did not. She saw what was happening outside. She heard her opportunity. It was coming, it was coming right now.
At the very moment Zoe’s grenade tore away the back of the house, River crouched and sprang at Shane. He had been momentarily distracted by the third explosion, and didn’t see her fist until the last millisecond. It caught him right in his good eye, and his field of vision went black.
But he didn’t need to see River. He knew her. He was her. He blindly grabbed her foot as she pulled into a spin kick, using her own force against her and hurling her through the air. She crashed roughly against the wall as Shane’s vision came to. River landed on her feet, and rushed Shane, ducking quickly to dodge a punch, then sweeping her leg under him, knocking his feet away from the floor.
Shane set his arms back to catch his fall, kicking his left leg over to catch her in the jaw. River used to blow to her advantage, twirling to her feet and catching Shane in the chest and neck with a double side kick as he stood. She moved forward to complete the combination with a southpaw, but he caught her wrist and pulled it up, behind her head, and pinned her left shoulder under his arm. As he held her there, arms immobile, he whispered in her ear, ooze from his wounded eye dripping to her shoulder. “You can’t win, baby. I know every move you make ‘fore you make it.”
He moved to turn, trying to break River’s right arm, but she whipped her leg back into a scorpion kick, smashing him in the face. Her years of ballet training had finally come in handy. Blood rushed from Shane’s broken nose as he backed up a few steps from the force of the kick. River righted herself, preparing for the next attack. “So do I.”
Ezekial Butler rushed through his mansion as the sound and fire of the third grenade shook the building. He caught himself on a table in the hallway to keep from falling.
Looking back now, he saw that he had made the same mistake three times. He had underestimated Malcolm Reynolds and his crew when he sent the Scudder to apprehend them. He had underestimated them again with the shoddy attack on Beaumonde. When Mal had come to rescue Inara, he thought he had finally figured out Malcolm the man. But the Tam girl, she had been the wild card that set him free.
He had known Reynolds would come for her. He had seen it in the man’s eyes. But he had not expected the attack to come so quickly, so strategically, or with such deadly force. He had underestimated Reynolds a third time, and Ezekial had a sneaking suspicion that Mal wasn’t about to give him another chance.
Ezekial made his way to his study, hearing the steady streams of gunfire and the shouts of his men outside. He sped into the plush reading room, lit only by a fire in the hearth. Rounding his mahogany desk, he opened the top drawer, furiously searching for the pistol inside. He finally found the gun, and closed his hand around the grip.
Just as he was pulling the pistol from the drawer, he heard the click of a gun’s hammer being thumbed into place. He froze, head down, clutching his weapon, and smiled. “Sergeant Reynolds.”
A shot rang out across the room, and Ezekial felt the pistol in his hand jerk from his grip as the bullet struck it. He darted his hand away, and looked up. What he saw was the very face of rage. “Wrong,” Inara said, leveling her revolver at him for another shot.
Ezekial stared at her as she stood in the doorway. Her torn and tattered face, now stitched up, was lit by the roaring fire. Yet she stood tall, bowed by neither god nor man. She once again slid her thumb over the revolver’s hammer and clicked it back, loading the next shell. Then she cocked her head, ever the temptress, and smiled. “Hello again, Ezekial. It’s so fine to see you,” she said, running through one of her patented companion greetings.
“Inara,” Ezekial whispered, still extremely startled, both by her presence and by her exceptional aim. His eyes shifted from her face to his pistol on the floor, then back again.
“Is it fine to see me, Ezekial? I realize my visage may be a little disquieting at this particular time.” Her voice began to shake with rage over these words, so she paused, composing herself. She met Ezekial’s eyes with another dazzling smile. “Do you know what the Companions Guild does to clients who hurt their companions?” Inara asked politely, as if she were simply making conversation. “Horrible things, really. Back when I was training, at House Madrassa, I heard dreadful stories. One man, he had gotten into an argument with his companion, and he lost his temper. He punched her,” she held up a single finger, “just once. And broke her nose.”
“Inara, please believe-”
But she continued, not hearing him. “They sent him to prison for assault, of course. He could not afford a lawyer, nor bail, because his accounts had all been mysteriously frozen by a software virus. He was tried, then sentenced, and sent to hard labor for twenty years.” She lowered her voice then, growling like a hellcat instead of purring like a kitten. “On his first night in jail, the Guild paid his cellmate to castrate him with a butterknife.” Her revolver remained steadily trained at his skull. “Be glad I have decided to treat you more humanely.”
Ezekial listened to her threats with all manner of seriousness. He held out his hands in an effort to placate her. “Inara, I never touched you. I...I’m sorry that I was the one who allowed it, but Shane hurt you, not me.”
“Oh, he’s being taken care of,” Inara said dismissively. “I told Mal who had tortured me, the one who was torturing River. He didn’t seem too pleased with Shane after that.”
She took a few steps toward Ezekial. This was the second time today a woman had held a gun at his head, and he was enjoying this time about as much as the previous. He took a step back, holding up his hand in warning. “Inara, you don’t want to do this.” Her gaze fell to the extended hand, and Ezekial surreptitiously reached for his gun on the floor.
Inara fired a single shot, sending the gun skittering across the floorplanks like a spider. Ezekial looked up at the smiling woman. “Mal told me a little about you, too. Big, bad, Ezekial Butler. Millionaire war profiteer. Sells parts from his own men’s ships right out from under them. Grinds their bones to make his bread. Mal wanted to rush in and kill you himself, until I told him about Shane.”
Inara began to slowly walk towards him, the picture of grace. “But the truth is, Ezekial, it wouldn’t be right if Mal killed you. He sees you as some big, bad monster of a man. But I’ve seen you, Ezekial. I’ve seen you naked, in every aspect of the word.” She stopped to stand before him, the barrel of her gun planted firmly against his chest. “You’re weak. You’re a sniveling little thief who couldn’t take war, so he sold his soul for the profit. A tiny coward who orders men to beat and abuse women, and then can’t even watch.”
She thumbed the revolver’s hammer back one last time. “Truth is, Ezekial, you’re just not worthy enough to be killed by Mal.” She pulled the trigger, and the bullet tore through Ezekial’s heart like cupid’s arrow.
The man dropped to the floor, looking up at Inara’s radiant, vengeful face as he lay dying. “I, however, am less picky.” As Ezekial Butler’s eyes slid closed for the last time, he could still her Inara’s lyrical voice in his ear.
“And to think,” she told his corpse, “I almost didn’t come tonight.”
River was doing her best to hold her own against Shane. The two had been fighting for a solid ten minutes as the battle raged outside. River was used to seeing an opponent's strategy, his every move before he made it. But she had never fought someone who could do the same of her. Furthermore, all the fighting had caused her heart to start beating like a drum, and the deep wound in her arm was bleeding profusely. She was dizzy, and found it harder to concentrate with each passing minute.
Shane swung his leg around, catching River in her stomach. She lifted off the ground slightly, slamming into the implement table. Without looking, she reached back and took hold of one of the larger knives. She hurled it at Shane, but he zipped his body to the side, catching the handle of the knife in midair.
River faltered, exhausted from loss of blood. There, that was his chance. Shane dashed forward, grabbing River by the hair and slamming her head into the tabletop. She cried out softly at the blow, and then again as Shane threw her to the floor. He leapt atop her, straddling her stomach, knife pressed to her throat. His knees pinned her arms against the cold stone floor, and her mind reeled with the impact of the table. This was it. She had nothing left.
Shane ground his body against River’s, and she was disgusted to find that he was growing hard at the thought of her defeat. He pressed the blade closer to her delicate neck, drawing blood. “Tell me, baby,” he whispered. “Was it good for you?”
He leaned back to take in the sight of this tiny warrior woman. It had been an honor and a privilege to fight her, and it would be a sublime pleasure to end her life. “I’m sorry, River. Shouldn’ta been this way. Wanted to make it last when I killed you. Make it special. But this is how it’s gotta be. Our time’s up.”
River looked into the wild eyes of her tormentor, and for a moment, it was as if she looked through him, down into the very core of his mind. She tightly shut her eyes against what was to come. “Yes,” she replied. “It is.”
“You fought like a champ, baby. You was-” Shane’s closing thoughts were cut short as a bullet blasted through his chest, imbedding itself in the stone floor, inches from River’s head. Shane’s blood spattered against her face and neck like a painting. She felt the spray end, then safely opened her eyes, seeing Shane’s eyes wide with shock as he turned to face his killer.
And there, in the doorway, stood Mal. He held his six-shooter aloft, smoke still swirling from the end of the barrel. His hair was mussed, his arm bleeding from an unseen wound. His face was like granite. And, River noted with pride, he wore his browncoat. It was exactly as she had seen it in her mind. She knew he would come.
“Wha-” Shane began to say, but Mal didn’t allow him to finish. He just coldly pulled the trigger. The shot ripped through Shane’s forehead, breaking his skull. He body was thrown from the force of the bullet, and he fell on his back to the floor, coming to a rest at River’s side, dead.
Mal looked at River where she lay, and she propped herself up to see him for clearly with her own two eyes. His eyes were frozen and dead as he took in the sight of her, laying bloody and beaten on the basement floor, blood rushing from the injuries to her arm and temple. He looked back towards Shane’s dead body, raised his gun and fired again. The corpse shifted slightly as the bullet struck it. Mal fired again. And again, emptying his gun into the lifeless body of his lover’s tormentor until the chamber clicked empty.
But Mal wasn’t finished. Not by damn sight. He strode to Shane’s body and grabbed it by the shirt, smashing the limp face with the stock of his gun. He pulled back his arm and struck again, over and over, finally discarding the gun and smashing at Shane’s busted skull with his bare hands. He dropped to his knees over the corpse, screaming with primal rage, blood and brain matter coating his fists. He was determined to beat every last scrap of life out of this man. Destroy his face the way he had tried to destroy River’s. Show the world the monster that he knew lay inside.
River struggled to her feet as she watched him. She had told Shane the truth. This was a horrible way to die.
Mal finally slowed his punches, panting for breath as he stared at Shane’s head, now lain open like a smashed melon. River bent to pick up Mal’s gun, and walked slowly to his side. She lay a gentle hand on his shoulder, feeling it twitch with residual anger. Mal felt her touch, and turned his face up to her.
She looked like a saint, Mal thought, as he gazed into her sad brown eyes, wet with tears. Not tears for herself, or for the horrors she had gone through. No, these tears were for Mal alone. Mal dismounted the broken corpse, sitting back on his knees before glorious River, worshipping in the fact that she was still alive. River smoothed her fingers over his cragged face, relieved to feel the heat of life under his skin. She glanced at Shane’s lifeless form, his skull in pieces, its contents spilling out onto the dungeon floor by Mal’s hand. “You made a mess o’ his mind,” she stated, echoing Shane’s earlier comment about himself.
Mal stared at her for a very long time, then allowed a morbid smile to creep across his face. If River sounded this crazy, she must be okay. He choked out a wet laugh, grasping River’s hips and pressing his face to her stomach, equal parts laughing with joy and sobbing with grief. “Never again, River. I’ll never leave you behind again.”
River ran her hands through his hair, marveling at the simplest touch of him. “I told you to,” she argued, weakly.
Mal lifted his head, and she had expected the fierce determination she saw in his eyes. What she had not expected was the fear, the fear that anything would happen to her. That she would go away, taking the little bit of starlight he had left in his life with her. Mal stood, holding River to him, kissing the side of her head gently. “Never, ever again,” he repeated.
River smiled, and collapsed into his embrace, finally succumbing to the exhaustion of a long day of pain. Mal caught her in his arms, lifting her vulnerable body into his arms, cradling her tightly to his chest. She sighed as she folded her injured arms over her stomach, tucking the empty pistol she held safely in her lap. Mal watched as she gave her trust to get them out safely over completely to him, instantly falling asleep in his arms.
He kissed her forehead, and started out the door of River’s hell.
Monday, May 01, 2006 3:05 PM
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