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Antebellum - Book I: Chapter Twelve
Saturday, June 3, 2006

The twelfth chapter in a Big Damn Sequel series. In this installment: Tension mounts as the law comes knocking at the door.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1713    RATING:     SERIES: FIREFLY

A/N: Whoo doggie! This one was a toughie, I have to say. Please let me know how it turned out, 'cause I genuinely don't know. Candle wax!

P.S. If you're new, go ahead and read the others why don't ya. At the very least, read the last chapter so this makes a shred of sense. Anyway, on with the reading!

Book One – Chapter Twelve _______________________________________________________________

“Mal? Mal, is something wrong?” the Baron asked. He asked this question twice, since Mal didn’t answer the first time. The second time he asked, he becoming understandingly unnerved. The Baron von Jeffery didn’t respond very well to external pressure.

Mal answered, but his attention remained focused on what was happening behind the locked door.

“I think… someone’s at the door,” he said, slowly creeping his away to the door.

He put himself parallel with the floor, and act that created more than a little strain on his muscles, and pushed his ear against the thin crack where the door met the wall. His heart started gaining speed, and he couldn’t make out most of the words coming from the front door, but he did hear James distinctly say a word that ceased his breathing for a second.

“Sheriff.”

“Oh…小狗在酸裡,” Mal muttered.

“Uh, hey, Mal?” The Baron asked, now visibly shaking and glancing side-to-side. “Wh-what’s goin’ on?”

“Shh!” Mal waved him away, trying to bring his voice lower. "I think there’s a sheriff at the door.”

“Oh,” the Baron said, his eyes wide and his voice slowly ascending to a falsetto. “Well. Hey, I didn’t mention this before ‘cause I thought it was a given, but you really shouldn’t be caught with those coordinates I’m sendin’ ya.”

“I don’t really wanna be caught, period, Jeff.”

Mal started to feel a headache coming along. A weird one. It seemed to buzz more than pound. But Mal quickly decided that deciding on adjectives for a migraine was not the best use of his current time.

He moved his hand swiftly to his gun holster, only now fully realizing that he had left it with his coat back on Serenity. His gun also reminded James of the War.

I just can’t catch a break, he thought to himself.

“Yeah, well, I’m probably gonna get goin’ now,” the Baron said. “But, hey, it was great seein’ you, an’ I hope ev’rything works out for ya.”

“You can’t--!” Mal stopped himself from yelling at the CorTex just in time. He returned his voice to a harsh whisper. “You can’t leave yet. We’re not done transferring!”

“What? Why the hell not?”

“It’s an old CorTex, Jeff.”

Mal looked at the status of the coordinates and saw that they were only at 48%. He could feel his hairline gathering up moisture into cool beads. There was little Mal could do but sit up against the door, listen to his breathing over the din of his heartbeat, and hope that James knew what he was doing out there.

***

“James? James, is something wrong?”

James had to consciously remind himself to keep breathing. Then he had to remind himself to look at Sheriff Fox. Then he had to remind himself of the question the Sheriff had just asked.

“Uh… no,” James said. He conspicuously inhaled and greeted the sheriff with a friendly smile. “Sorry, Sheriff. It’s just early I guess.”

Don’t look behind you, James thought. Look straight ahead. Don’t fidget, damn it.

Sheriff Fox chuckled and turned his felt hat over in his hands, running his thumb against the embroidered gold star on the front. He adjusted the bifocals on his sharp, hawk-like nose to get a better look at James.

“Yeah, I guess it is early. I should apologize. It’s just I’m on my way to Ferguson Colony for all of next week and… well, I didn’t want to put off talkin’ to you about something.”

James felt his head nodding and his mouth moving. He couldn’t really hear himself talking, but he hoped that it was something good.

“That right?”

“You have a moment?”

James found himself unable to swallow, like the muscles in his throat and soft palette had just turned to cement. What could he say? No? What if he asked why not? James was never very proficient at improvising. That was always Mal or Zoe’s job. Maybe Carolina could come up with something that would…

Oh, God. Carolina…

Too risky. As much as he wanted this morning to just end, James decided that it couldn’t end here. He had to get some control over the situation. That’s what they taught him in the War. Never let the other man get the higher ground. If he let the other man get the higher ground, then his family’s life was at stake.

He also decided that he had to answer the Sheriff’s question soon.

“Yeah. Yes, of course. Right now?”

“If it’s no trouble.”

“’Course. No trouble,” James said with a convincing smile. “Come on in.”

Sheriff Fox graciously nodded and made his way into the house, lit only by the sunrise coming through the front windows. The two men were walking their way into the dining area when Carolina suddenly ran in from the back window.

“James, you--!” She immediately stopped when she saw Fox standing at the dining room table. “Sheriff. Um, good morning.”

She looked over at James, whose face wore a grin of civility, but his eyes were full of apology. He very slightly shrugged his arms to his wife, as if saying, ‘I had nothing else to do.’ Carolina gradually pushed her lips into a smile similar to James’.

“Morning, Carolina,” Sheriff Fox said. “Sorry to startle you. Is everything all right?”

“Yes,” Carolina said without hesitation.

She couldn’t help herself as her instincts took over for a split second. Her eyes shifted to the back window, which she could just barely see from the dining room. But she could she out of it enough. She could see the pond, where deep ripples rocked the otherwise calm water.

Carolina’s heart began to ache for River Tam.

“Yes, everything’s fine, Sheriff.”

***

Where are you? Are you dreaming?

River felt light-headed. This felt like a nice place to fall asleep, but then again, she wasn’t entirely certain that she wasn’t sleeping to begin with.

She had no sense of dimensions, which was just as she liked it. She was floating in space. No up; no down. She couldn’t breathe. Or wouldn’t breathe, she couldn’t decide. In fact, all her muscles seemed to no longer be attached to her cerebrum. Something was keeping her from moving. Or maybe she just didn’t feel like moving.

Where was she? Was she called there? Was she looking for something? Someone? Was she dreaming? Was she dying?

Water. I smell water.

River was getting more light-headed. Her lungs were getting weak.

***

“Please, have a seat, Sheriff. Make yourself at home,” James said, clumsily making his way around the table. He stopped beside Carolina for an instant.

“Honey, could you get the Sheriff some coffee?” he asked her lightly.

“Mm-hmm,” was all she could reply, brushing her hair past her face, afraid to make eye contact with either of the men.

James put his against her neck, just barely brushing against her skin, and tenderly kissed her cheek. She would always do the same to him whenever he felt worried or overwhelmed. He hoped that their guest wouldn’t read that much into the gesture.

“You have company last night?” the Sheriff asked casually.

If James hadn’t been actively staying healthy the past few years, he was sure that he would have had a heart attack at that moment.

“What’s that?”

The Sheriff leisurely pointed to the two long brass candlestick holders on the dining room table. Carolina had taken them out the night before to treat the crew. She only brought them out for very special occasions.

James bought himself a little bit of time chuckling his way to his chair across from Sheriff Fox.

“Uh, no. No company. We’ve been…” He cleared his throat. “We’ve been trying to cut down on our power usage, you know. So we had dinner by candlelight last night.”

“Oh. How nice.”

James looked past the Sheriff, and past the kitchen, to the locked door of his study. Behind that door was the CorTex console. Not to mention, the fugitive terrorist who was once his friend.

“So, Sheriff…” James spread his hands apart and dissolved into another string of nervous laughter, which Sheriff Fox thankfully joined in on.

“Well, James, I wanted to talk to you about the committee meeting that we had last week, since you were unable to make it ‘n all.”

“Yeah, the storm blew down my fence. I had to track down a couple of my cattle. I sent a wave to let them know that I wouldn’t—“

The Sheriff waved him down. “Oh, yeah, yeah. I know you did. I just thought I should let you in on what we talked about. I wanted to tell you personally, rather than have you find out some otherhow.”

Carolina set a tin cup of coffee and a small pitcher of milk in front of the Sheriff, silently.

“Thank you so much, Carolina.”

She smiled warmly. First at the Sheriff and then at James, though the latter smile was different from the former. She then disappeared slightly into the kitchen where she could see out the back window.

James could feel his eyes getting shifty so tried blinking to calm them down.

“Go on.”

“Well, I’m sure you know, Neo Sombra was set up to be a sort of beacon of hope for the Shadow survivors. A sanctuary where they could live outside of the Alliance’s arm of control. For the most part.

“Anyway, the subject of Captain Malcolm Reynolds came up at the meeting.”

All of James’ blood suddenly drained from his face.

“That so?”

***

A sharp pain was starting to form in Simon’s side, but he couldn’t slow down. It was impossible now. He just had to keep running until he got to the Novaks.

The morning moisture that clung to the grass and soil he was running through splashed up and into his shoes. He had to slow himself a couple times before—to keep himself from slipping on the slick ground—but now that time had past, and he had time to fear the worse, he wasn’t stopping for anything, especially gravity.

A small area of trees separated the field that Serenity was settled in and the Novak homestead. It occurred to Simon that this was a huge oversight on the crew’s behalf. Considering the inevitable need for a quick getaway, this forest only put more obstacles in between the two destinations.

His eyes flashed wildly about the scenery, trying to pick up anything, anything at all, that resembled River. He hadn’t seen her that morning; he didn’t even know which colors to train his eye for. He couldn’t even shout for her. After all, someone might hear him.

He was just getting used to not having to go after her like this. She hadn’t done this for over a year. She never just ran off anymore without telling anyone. Without telling him. She was getting better. Hell, she was better. It was all supposed to be better now. Why would she just--?

As he emerged from the forest, he was able to see the backside of the Novak home. Nearby was the pond that River had been telling him about the night before. He didn’t understand why, but she was always saying things that didn’t really make sense to him.

The pond. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the surface of the water, half of it mirroring the morning sun, the other half darkly transparent. He saw a flickering of red beneath the surface of the pond.

River’s dress, was the first thing that sprung to his mind. Kaylee had bought her that dress several years ago. Oh God, she fell in.

Simon breathing stopped momentarily. He nearly fell flat on his face trying to change his direction so quickly, but he maintained his balance and rushed over to the thick grass surrounding the large pool of water.

He was almost to the bank of the pond when he chanced to look up at one of the back windows of the house. There standing at the window was Carolina Novak, her face pale with fear. As soon as they locked eyes, she began shaking her head vigorously.

Simon stopped suddenly, nearly toppling over with inertia, and began to feel his lungs burning.

Through the window, past Carolina, he could see that someone else was in the house. Definitely—definitely—not a good sign. Simon could only assume that Mal was holed up in another room.

God, he thought, we just can’t catch a break.

He took temporary shelter behind a thick brush, his eyes switching firmly from the pond, which he could now only barely see, and the window, where Carolina still stood, full of sympathy and sadly shaking her head.

She knew what he was thinking. Could he risk it? Could he risk getting them all caught to save his sister? For all he knew she could be drowning. Simon knew what that would do to a person. If he jumped in they might hear. Someone would find them out. Maybe if he was very stealthy. Or even if the man inside the house saw them, they could still be all right. They could outrun the authorities if they had to.

The Novaks. He couldn’t risk them. Could he? If anyone found out that the crew of Serenity was hiding there, the Novaks would be held responsible. Simon could tell that this plan wasn't turning out in their favor.

Behind the brush, Simon’s whole body burned, aching for oxygen. No matter how much air he breathed in, it didn’t seem to be enough. A buzzing headache began to fill his temples. He only hoped that Mal had a plan.

***

“You got a plan, right, Mal?” The Baron spoke hushed, but still very excitably.

Mal was pacing restlessly, around James’ small study, nervously eying the CorTex screen. Between glances he was thinking about how he would overpower the lawman in the other room. If he had to, that is. That would be it for James, he figured. It wasn’t as if he could say, ‘Oh, sorry, Sheriff, I had no idea he was in there.’

Mal’s previous plan wasn’t going well at all, he concluded.

68%. Time always seemed to slow down for Mal when it was the least convenient.

“Jeff? You with me, buddy?” he whispered.

“Some parts of me are.” Mal could see the kid was actually sweating.

“Okay, I need you to calm down. Is there anyway to make the transfer go faster?”

“Faster?” The Baron asked, exasperated. “It’s a normal transfer system, Mal! My machines sending as fast as it can, but your stupid rock of a CorTex is receiving only as fast as it can. I don’t know what you think this is, Mal, but it’s not the gorramn Future, where we can just press a button and make something go faster!”

“Are you crying?” Mal asked.

“No,” the Baron said, covering up most of his face.

“Stop crying!”

“I’m not!”

Mal sat back to observe his situation. He decided that it was not getting any better than it was five months ago. Then an idea struck him.

“Jeff? Mr. Universe could make it go faster.”

The Baron von Jeffery’s head arose from his hands and looked directly at Mal. His swollen red eyes suddenly got fierce with competition. With determination.

“Do it for Mr. Universe, Jeff,” Mal whispered.

Without a word, the Baron put his hands on his head, pulling slightly at his hair. He looked around him at all his other control panels, his breath still shaky but consistent. And he got to work.

***

“Now let me explain, James—“

“No, you don’t have to—“

“No, please, let me. Now, it’s no secret that it’s a general consensus that the Alliance has no place here. We’ve all lost something on account of them, and speaking personally, I took a whole lot of pleasure in watching a good ol’ Browncoat like Reynolds take them down a notch.”

Sheriff Fox began to chuckle good-naturedly, and James tried to emulate the laugh as best he could. But he couldn’t manage anything above a smile at the moment.

The Sheriff continued: “But the fact remains, that as much as we consider ourselves… for lack of a better term, independent from the Alliance, we are still citizens under them. The only difference between the Core Planets and us is we got ourselves so far out that the Alliance barely even notices us anymore.”

“That, and other differences,” James added.

“Yep, of course,” the Sheriff said with a smile. “That bein’ said however, the Alliance’s involvement on our li’l planet might become a whole lot more intimate should a known terrorist be found hiding out here. Now, I only bring it up with you personally, James, ‘cause you was army buddies wit’ him, right?”

James bit his lip slightly before answering. “Right. A good time before then as well.”

“Yeah. Well, it’s all hypothetical in the most. I’ve even heard some Rim planets reporting that him and his gang have already been snatched up, so… that might be the end of it.”

“Yeah,” James said. “Maybe.”

“And I’ve heard there’s a slim chance he’d even think of comin’ through our space anyhow. My point is—”

“Sheriff.” James sat up in his chair. “I appreciate this conversation, but you needn’t talk about it wit’ me. I understand the situation we’re in, and would be in if Reynolds is found here. But judgin’ from the last time I talked to ‘im—four years ago—the people of Neo Sombra won’t ever have to look on his face.” James paused, staring blankly at the long brass candlestick holders on the table.

“Mal Reynolds would have to a dumb, selfish sonuvabitch to come here, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff also paused and looked deeply at James’ face. James figured he was trying to read it, trying to catch him in his lie. He wouldn’t catch him though. James was bad at improvising, but he was a master at poker.

“That’s what I wanted to hear, James. I think I should get goin’ now.”

James exhaled, he hoped not too noticeably. The blood started returning to his face as he stood with the Sheriff.

“Oh, where’d your pretty wife run off to? I wouldn’t be my gentleman self if I left without saying goodbye.”

“Um, of course, Sheriff,” James said, nervously watching his wife, who was standing transfixed at the back window beside the kitchen in the other room.

“Honey?” he called, but she didn’t move. “Carolina?”

His wife turned, and he noticed how pale she looked. She quickly turned on her beautiful smile and met the two men in the dining room. But on the way there, she couldn't keep from glancing behind her at the pond in the back yard.

***

Can you hear me, River?

It wasn’t really a voice; although River could hear it as clear as crystal. It had no vocal patterns that any sort of science could pick up. It was as if the words were simply written across the surface of her brain in a language that only she could read.

She didn’t even think to speak. Her mind simply said:

Yes.

Do you trust me?

Again, without a single thought, she responded.

Yes.

The voice seemed to cover her completely, fluidly moving over her, around her, and through her. It crawled beneath her fingernails and into her nerves, breathing in and out. She could feel it pulse a heartbeat as it covered her own. She could feel it covering her lungs like a thick blanket, calming the strain.

Please, River. Forgive me. I am so sorry.

Without her control, without her knowledge, River’s mouth and nostrils opened wide as the strain on her lungs was alleviated. Water poured into her mouth and down her throat, enveloping her completely.

Her eyes snapped open and instinct took over. She could see where she was. She was underwater, and she wasn’t breathing. Her muscles contracted suddenly, trying to force the water out, but she couldn’t exhale.

Her arms and legs hung loosely around her so she tried shaking them. She thrashed them wildly to get some control into them.

Her heart was beating outside her chest.

Before she could respond any other way, River found her entire body thrashing in the water, tearing up every molecule of liquid in her grasp.

For the first time in a long while, River Tam’s mind was going blank.

***

“What’s that noise?” the Sheriff asked rhetorically, his head wandering to look out the back window.

Completely without any sense of hesitation, Carolina pushed the metal pitcher of milk on the table over, spilling the white liquid onto Sheriff Fox’s shoes.

“Oh, my goodness!” she exclaimed, rushing over to the lawman feet with a clean rag.

“Oh, don’t worry ‘bout that, ma’am,” he said.

“Hon, you all right?” James asked.

“Just got spooked is all,” she smiled sheepishly. “I think there were some birds outside by the pond.”

***

The sudden disturbance on the pond surface told Simon he had little time to act. If he was going to do something, it would have to be now.

He closed his eyes, thus bringing a brief image of Kaylee to his mind, and then breathed in deeply. Rushing from behind the brush, he threw himself headlong into the direction of the pond.

Without thinking, he jumped, arms stretched out in front of him, into the thrashing white water being created invariably by his sister, trying to tackle her submerged body.

Once in the water, Simon realized that thinking about what he was doing might have helped a little. He had, once again, forgot that his sister, while five years younger than he, was a lot stronger. A flat palm jammed Simon directly in the face sending him backwards in the water slightly, blood suddenly dripping from his nose.

“Riv--!” was all he could get out before swallowing a gulp of pond water and getting a knee in his already aching side.

With a fear of the timetable River and he might have, Simon did his best to ignore the whipping limbs and hooked his arm around his sisters waist. She turned and wildly lashed around her, obviously in a state of deliria. Meanwhile, Simon found he was having trouble breathing through his nose. Breathing, however, was at the bottom of his list of things to do at the particular moment.

Lifting her out of the water, he threw her over the bank of the pond before tossing himself in the same direction, placing him on top of her, pinning her and her arms down as best he could. He looked cautiously above him at the Novak home. No one stood at the window anymore, so Simon took this to mean he was safe for the moment.

From underneath him, he could hear her gurgling and evacuating the water from her lungs. Slowly her body began to calm. Her muscles began to relax. She started breathing again.

Simon knelt above River trying to get a good look at her pupils. She coughed up some more water, but her eyes showed no signs of response.

“River? River, look at me,” Simon commanded, peering into her face and holding her face still. Her body still shook from shock. Her pulse was normal. “River, it’s Simon.”

River slowly blinked some liquid away from her eyes and looked at her brother. Simon was relieved to see some form of familiarity there. For a moment, he had thought the worst.

“Simon?” she whispered.

A frail smile flittered across her face. But soon it contorted into one of absolute fear. Her breathing became shuddered, and her eyes began to have trouble focusing.

“Simon,” she whispered again, stopping to cough slightly. Her eyes wandered around Simon’s face. “Don’t trust them, Simon. They lie. They’ll kill you, Simon.”

Simon’s blood grew cold seeing the utter lack of emotion on his kid sister’s face. Her skin turned a ghostly white and her lips a pale purple. He could sense her breathing getting thinner and thinner.

“River, look at me. Look at me.”

Her eyes began to glaze, unresponsive.

“River!” he shouted, unconcerned with its consequences. “What’s going on?”

With all her energy, River pushed her body upward suddenly, so that her face was mere inches from Simon’s. Her eyes dug deep into his. He grew intensely afraid of the girl in front of him who resembled his sister.

“Antebellum,” she breathed. “The answer.”

And River’s body went limp in the arms of her brother. Her lungs kept breathing. Her heart kept beating. But looking into her wide, open eyes, Simon couldn’t see a trace of his sister.

***

Mal’s ear was hurting, getting crushed against the door. Something was going on out there. He could feel it. And hear some of it. But all of it was muffled and indistinct.

By now, he hated the room he was in. He figured that James had no sense of foresight, not even putting a window in. But then again, James probably would never have to escape his own house, so…

“Is it workin’?” the Baron asked.

Mal rushed over to see the progress on the CorTex. It was at 89%. 90%.

“You, my friend, are gettin’ a hell of a fruit basket for Christmas next year, y’hear?”

“Workin’ then?”

“Yeah, workin’. What’d you do?”

“Bunches and bunches of illegal stuff. Dicey, illegal stuff. Okay, as soon as it finishes, you disconnect, okay?”

95%. 96%.

“You got it. Thanks a mill, kid.”

“Don’t mention it. Stay out of trouble. And never call me again unless it’s an emergency, ‘kay?”

Mal put his hand on the data cylinder in preparation. Soon this would all be over.

***

“I am so sorry, Sheriff,” Carolina said once more.

“Oh, no need for that. This boots can handle quite a lot. Even the occasional spilt milk.” Sheriff Fox looked up and through the back window, just barely seeing the pond.

“Hmm,” he said softly. “Birds.” He then turned his attention back to his hosts. “Anyway, Mrs. Novak, James. You two have a pleasant morning.”

“Thanks, Sheriff. You know, for your concern,” James said walking with the elderly man. “Be safe in Ferguson, all right?”

“Yeah,” the Sheriff chuckled.

***

“Okay, we’re at 98%, bud,” Mal said.

“All right. Preparing to disconnect.”

“And…” The seconds it took to complete seemed to last longer than the whole transfer. “And we’re done!”

“Disconnecting. Peace, boss! Live long and prosper,” the Baron said with a quick smile. His image then dissolved into the default screen.

The data cylinder sprung from its position in the CorTex console and Mal quickly pocketed into his belt pouch.

“Transfer complete.”

The electronic feminine CorTex voice practically shouted at Mal, followed by a similarly loud chiming sound. Mal’s heart stopped beating as his eyes darted to the door once again. He slammed his hands down onto the console, disconnecting as fast as he could. He couldn’t hear anymore, his heart was beating so hard again.

“Thank you,” the voice shouted again.

***

“What was that?” The Sheriff stopped.

“What?” James was ready to simply push the lawman out the door.

“Was that your CorTex?”

James was stunned speechless as the Sheriff traveled right by him and back into the dining room, where James followed anxiously. Sheriff Fox looked around momentarily, looking for the source of the sound. He saw a door down the attached hallway

Behind the door.

“Uh, yeah,” James pushed out.

“Kind of early, ain’t it?”

“Um, I’m expecting a wave.”

The Sheriff turned to James, looking over the rim of his glasses at the man.

“Must be important. You said you were conserving power lately.”

James swallowed hard and concentrated on his heartbeat.

“It is,” he said with a smile.

The Sheriff returned the smile graciously, but only for a second. His eyes switched from James, to the door, and then back again.

“Do you mind, James? I’d like to check the CorVue waves.”

James found he couldn’t move.

“The CorVue…?”

“I just want to check… you know, see if there’s any follow-up on the Captain Reynolds situation. You understand?”

James looked over at Carolina. She was hiding her fear a whole lot better than he was. When he looked back at the Sheriff, his face twitched up into a smile. He couldn’t think of anything else to say:

“Of course… Sheriff.”

“Good.” And the Sheriff began walking down the corridor. James noticed right away that his hand began to gravitate to his gun holster.

James head was drowning. The door was locked. Mal must have locked it. What would the lawman say when he got to the door? James couldn’t explain his way out of it. He couldn’t think of anything. His life suddenly seemed to be crumbling right before him. He had to stop it! How? He wasn’t good at improvising. Could he stop him from getting to the door? How?

It was strange the way impulse took over James hand. Without him even knowing it, it seemed, his hand moved silently but quickly to the long brass candlestick holder on the table.

His fingers wrapped around the cool metal grooves. The grooves that seemed to be a simple part of the design now served a practical purpose, looking exactly like a handle. He lifted the heavy object off of the table and felt its weight at the bottom. At its blunt and pointed base that tapered out into five sharp corners.

He stared intensely at the back of the Sheriff’s head. He knew what to do.

He was back in the War. The Sheriff was now a Purplebelly scout, who didn’t even see the Browncoat Lance Corporal sneaking up on him. The Alliance scouts wore armor, so you had to be very precise when trying to beat one. Right where the skull met the spine was left uncovered. A hard enough hit with pretty much anything could sever the connection. If anything hit armor, you’d have a fistfight on your hands. Or if the scout got to his weapon in time, it’d be all over. James had to make it count.

But the Sheriff wasn’t wearing armor. That freed up James’ options.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Carolina. She didn’t move. He knew she wouldn’t move. She wanted to, but there would be no turning back if she stopped him. He could almost hear her whispering his name, but he probably just imagined that. This had to be done. It had to be done now.

He stepped lightly, quicker than the Sheriff was moving. It wouldn’t take much. Just one hit.

The Sheriff was almost at the door.

James lifted his weapon about an inch into the air.

“Mornin’ mommy.”

James stopped in his tracks at the voice of his five-year-old daughter. He turned, and saw that he wasn’t on a battlefield anymore, and instead was looking into the face of his little girl, Julie, her beautiful blonde hair tussled at many different angles.

“Mornin’ daddy.”

His voice a bit shaky, he smiled at the girl. “Morning, sugar.”

“Well, hey there, kiddo!” Sheriff Fox breezed right by James, who stood stiff in the hallway.

“Hi, Sheruff Fox,” Julie greeted the lawman, then squealed with excitement as the old man lifted her into the air.

His head pounding, James silently and slowly lowered the candlestick holder onto the ground against the wall. He looked over at his wife. She looked gorgeous smiling through the sunlight that was coming through the window. Looking closer, he could see that she was smiling just to distract from the tears in her eyes.

“We wake you up, honey?” she said kneeling down to her daughter.

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, let’s get you washed up, okay? Then we’ll wake up your sister.”

“Okay, momma.”

Smiling at the Sheriff, Carolina led Julie away to the bathroom. James walked slowly to the lawman, working on a weary smile.

“She gets bigger each time I see her,” the Sheriff said, patting James lightly on the chest.

“Yeah,” James said weakly. “Her sister’s gettin’ the same way.”

“I bet.” The Sheriff paused for an instant. “You know, James? I can probably check the waves once I’m in Ferguson Colony. I feel that I’ve taken up too much ‘a your time.”

“No, no… well, maybe.”

The Sheriff laughed good-naturedly, the way he always did.

“Come on, walk me to the door, son.”

James could feel his blood returning to his body. Oxygen filled his arms and legs again, and he felt cool all over.

“You know, James,” the Sheriff said, before he left the doorway. “You got a very beautiful family.”

James shook his head thoughtfully. “No argument.”

“You take good care of them, y’hear?”

James thrust out his hand and Sheriff Fox eagerly shook it.

“It never occurred to me to do otherwise.”

The Sheriff smiled once again. “You have a good one, James.”

After he saw the Sheriff get into his automobile, then drive off, James closed the door. He then walked back into the dining room, found the candlestick he had placed on the floor, and returned it to its place on the dining room table. He found a chair to sit in, and let the bitter sting of tears pour out of his eyes.

In between his sobs he prayed. He prayed to God for forgiveness, though he never got the words out. He rubbed his tender eyelids until they were red and raw.

The door of his study opened slowly, and Mal Reynolds walked out. Mal found that he had to keep inhaling just to keep the emotions out. Any emotion. He couldn’t handle any kind right now. Looking at his friend, seeing what he had done to him. He couldn’t handle any kind of emotion at the moment.

James didn’t even lift his head to acknowledge Mal.

“You… you get the hell out of here. I don’t want to see you again. Never. This is my life. This is my family’s life. You ain’t welcome.”

Mal swallowed deep and clenched his jaw firmly together. His headache still hadn’t passed him. He wanted to say something, but he knew it would be useless.

Without saying good-bye to James, or to Carolina, or to their daughters, Mal Reynolds went out the back door and left the Novak homestead for the last time.

COMMENTS

Saturday, June 3, 2006 7:05 PM

LEIASKY


Wow! I was on the edge of my seat through this whole chapter!

The tension was so well done and the intercut with River/Simon/Mal/James/Carolina kept me panting to reach the end!

Well done!

Now, who does River not want Simon to trust...wherever the Baron is sending them?

Oh, please finish the next chapter quickly!

Saturday, June 3, 2006 7:18 PM

LEIGHKOHL


WOW! Lots of great moments here! I am all a flutter as to what will be in the next chapter! YOu have woven some intense scenes together and I was on the edge of my seat as to what would happen! Can't wait for oyur next post!

Saturday, June 3, 2006 7:48 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Wow....now this was a thrill ride worthy of Joss himself, thesoapboxer! Honestly though James was gonna have to knock the sherriff out:D

And River? Oh God....she can't catch a break, can she? Now she has some more horrific knowledge floating around her casaba:(

BEB

Saturday, June 3, 2006 9:48 PM

AGENTROUKA


PS: That was me, accidentally logged out.

Sunday, June 4, 2006 12:32 AM

AMDOBELL


Wow, this was brilliant. So full of tension and drama and gorramit I was almost crying with James by the end of it. And poor River, I really hate that something or someone has burrowed into her brain and have this aweful dread that whatever it is may be starting to affect Simon and Mal, giving them both those odd headaches. It is so evil when friend is turned against friend out of such mind numbing fear. Hope we don't have so long to wait for the next part, I want to have some fingernails left by the end of this! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, June 4, 2006 2:07 AM

TAYEATRA


Wow that was tense. Very skillfully written to maintain the suspense of both plotlines.

It's nice to see more regular updates on this story. It's one of my favourites.

You really managed to capture the reasoning and fear in your OC's without going overboard on the exposition or leaving the readers to fill the blanks.

I'm very much looking forward to your next chapter!
Taya


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