CHEck MATE: White knight blocks black queen's attack. (8/22)
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Mal and Jayne go after River. There's a bit of gunplay (no needles) and Mal decides life is to short to be shilly-shallying around. But where's Inara?


Disclaimer: I don't know how I got trapped in this 'verse. I blame, and yet somehow worship, Joss Whedon.

* * * * * CHECK MATE: White knight blocks black queen's attack.

* * * * *

Mal runs a hand through his hair as he paces the kitchen floor, trying to formulate a plan, keenly aware that, as usual in times of trouble, all eyes are on him. “OK,” he says at last. “Jayne. I need you to track that shuttle down.”

Jayne snorts. “Can't track a thing through the black, Mal. Trackin's a planetside thing. Shuttles don't leave tracks....”

“Actually they do,” Wash interrupts, surprising everyone, even himself.

Mal looks at him with interest. “What you sayin', Wash?”

“Spacecraft can be tracked using a combination of thermal profiling, void-to-solid ratios and nav sat echo. It's standard military aircraft recognition procedure. And if she hasn't broken atmo, planet way stations will have logged her flight path.”

“Really? Well ain't that interestin'.”

“Ain't it just, sir.” Zoe agrees, scrutinizing her husband's face which suddenly seems a mite unfamiliar. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices a slight shift in the way Inara is looking at him too. “But we don't have a thermal profile of the shuttle..”

“Yeah! Yeah, we do. I just ran one.” Wash grins, embarassed to be taking the lead. “There was a bulletin on the Cortex that the Feds were doin' spot checks on ships with autonomous shuttles. Mention of a hefty fine if you couldn't identify your own shuttle. Seems there's been a lot of petty thieves stealing ....”

“Really?” Book asks. “Petty thieves? In this quadrant? Surely not.” And he gives Mal one of those looks that might earn anyone else a punch.

The Captain ignores him and turns to Kaylee. “You think you can hack into the way station network? Good girl,” he says as she gives him a confident nod. “OK then, let's find out where River's headin'.”

* * * * *

It's been a good few years since Lian Noe's been on a horse. He can't find his seat and his back is aching, so he's real pleased when his guide reins in his own horse and dismounts. Noe does likewise and stands rubbing the knots out of his lower back as he looks around. They've been riding through a dense wood but now they're in a clearing where the trees are more widely spaced. Insects dance in shafts of sunlight and overhead a clear blue sky can be seen.

A crack of branches from behind and to the left catches Noe's attention and he turns to see five men ride slowly up. They stay in the saddle and their leader looks down at Noe, his face impassive but not hostile.

“Consul Noe,” the guide speaks up. “This is Lieutenant Maguire.”

Maguire nods. “Didn't think you'd come.”

“I gave my word, Lieutenant.” He pauses to reflect. “Still using your military title, I see. I hope that is not a bad omen for our project...”

The corners of Maguire's mouth tighten a little. “Don't seem right to drop it now, not after I managed to hang onto it during the war... Although that was due more to someone else's courage than my own ...” Noe sees memories flood the man's mind before he can pull himself back to the present. “But let's get down to business. My cabin's a few miles deeper into the wood.”

Regretfully Noe remounts his horse and joins the line of men following Maguire.

* * * * *

“So, she ain't doin' the grand tour of the galaxy!” Mal breathes a sigh of relief. “Still somewhere on Brownfields. Well that's not nothin', I guess.”

Book has pulled up a planetside map on the Cortex screen. “She's still airborne, but she's headin' in this direction,” he tells the Captain, tracing the shuttle's trajectory with his forefinger. “Pretty lonely place. Only habitation marked is ... here.” And he brings his finger to rest on a small square on the map.

“Right, let's go get our wayward girl,” Mal says decisively. “Think me an' Jayne can handle it between us. The ship is yours Zoe.” He turns to Inara. “I'll be needin' the use of your shuttle...”

“Of course,” she agrees readily. “I'll get her prepped. If we leave at once ... ”

“Whoa! There is no 'we'. You're stayin' here with the others. Don't wanna be puttin' you in the way of danger.”

Inara's mouth sets in a firm line. “Am I behind with the rent?”


“When did you last fly my shuttle?”

He doesn't reply.

“So, if I don't come, you'd actually be putting my business – my home – in the way of danger. I'm sorry but I can't allow that. Particularly as we're going to have to fly fast if we're to catch up with her.”

“Suit yourself,” Mal sulks. “But you're staying on board when we get there.”

Inara gives him a sweet smile. “Anything you say, Captain.”

“Mal...” Simon begins.

“No! You're stayin' right here. If anyone's in need of doctorin' when we get back, you'll be no good to me if you're riddled full of holes.”

Book steps forward. “I'd like to offer my help, Captain. Picked up a bit of triangulation in my time. Could keep both shuttles under surveillance on the Cortex with a little help from Kaylee.”

“Good plan, Shepherd. OK, Jayne, let's do this.”

* * * * *

Book feels tense. There's something troubling about all this that he can't quite identify. A familiar gnawing sensation crawls around his stomach.

“That you rumblin', Shepherd?” Kaylee asks.

“Afraid it was. It bein' Jayne's turn to cook, I di'n't eat much last night and in all the excitement, I don't seem to have had breakfast either.”

“Oh, you poor thing!” Kaylee jumps up out of her chair. “I'm gonna fix you somethin' right now. You just stay there.”

“Why, thank you Kaylee,” he says, but she's already off the bridge and heading for the kitchen.

Once he's sure he's alone, Book flicks the comms switch and punches in an address. Almost immediately, the Abbott's face appears on the flickering blue screen. “Book, my son! You have something to report?”

Book frowns and leans into the microphone, talking in a low whisper. “River's gone missing. She's taken the shuttle. Jayne and the Captain have gone after her, but I'm worried, Father.”

“And why would that be, my son?”

“Well, I checked to see whether she'd been in contact with anyone before she left. It doesn't appear so, but she did visit the Blue Sun Corporation site. Why would she do that?”

The Abbott's eyebrows shoot up momentarily but he quickly composes his face back into a genial mask. “Who can understand the workings of a young woman's mind? I'm sure it's nothing sinister. But it might be best to delete the details from the hard drive. We must never forget Reynolds' reputation. It might go badly with her if ... Well, let's not go into that. And what of our other girl?”

“Inara is with the Captain.”

Book thinks he detects the Abbott's mouth twist with displeasure, but it could just be the screen's poor resolution because now the old man is saying, “That is good. She will act as a civilizing influence if things should go awry. Contact me again as soon as you have news. Meantime, don't forget to reconfigure your communications log.”

Book can hear Kaylee's footsteps coming up the walkway so he quickly kills the comms and goes back to their shuttle surveillance.

* * * * *

“Told you them 'fugees was more trouble'n they're worth,” Jayne reminds Mal as they survey the wreckage of the shuttle.

“Well, at least River ain't killed,” Mal tells him after a peer inside.

“And how exactly is that a good thing?” the mercenary asks only to be met with a stony glare.”Hey! None of this is my fault, remember?” But he decides there's no point arguing with Mal and starts scanning the area, looking for clues as to where River went.

A scrape in the grass, a couple of snapped twigs and a strand of artificial fibre suggest Jayne has found her trail. A single long dark hair snagged on an overhead branch confirms he's right. He sets off covering the ground quickly -almost as if he can smell her – with Mal close behind.

Jayne suddenly holds up a hand, signalling Mal to stop. There are voices, coming from dead ahead. Their constant volume tells the big man their owners are stationary, maybe seated. He looks over to Mal who points silently to something in the middle distance. Jayne follows his gaze and spots them too. Six fellas – one blonder than a two-square hooker - sitting on the porch of a ramshackle old cabin. He moves forward, stealthy as a cat.

Mal's gut tells him River's nearby. He squints against the sunbeams which slant down from the treetops, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the uneven pattern of dark and light. Suddenly he spots her. She too is moving forward, heading for the cabin.

Mal is just thirty feet behind her when she stops. With her back to him, she reaches into the waistband of her skirt and pulls out a gun. Mal's breath catches in his throat as she raises it. She cups her left hand under her right and takes aim. He knows with deadly certainty that she's going to fire, that there's no time to argue with her. Can he cover the distance between them fast enough to grab the weapon?

“Atchooo!” Jayne's sneeze echoes through the forest sending birds into squawking flight. “Gorram incense! Mal di'n't oughta let Inara use it,” he mutters to himself. At the sound of his voice River whips round, her gun still raised. There's a sickening crack and Jayne goes over like a felled tree. By now Mal has managed to get up behind River but it's too late. Jayne is writhing on the floor, clutching at his chest, groaning and breathing hard. For a fleeting second River meets Mal's eye. There's no sorrow on her face, no apology. She just looks at him calmly and then turns back to the men who have left the porch and are running towards them, rifles at the ready. Mal can't believe it – River is reloading. He spins his own gun round and holding it by the barrel brings the handle down hard on the back of the girl's skull. The pistol flies up and out of her grasp and she crumples to the ground.

“Put yer hands in the air!” orders the bulkiest of the men. Out of options, Mal complies. This is not his best day ever.

The group's leader approaches him, staring at him in disbelief. “Sergeant Reynolds? Is it really you? It can't be! It is!!” And out of the blue, a startled Mal is being hugged and slapped on the back. “I can't believe it. You don't recognize me, do you? Maguire. Lieutenant James Maguire. 'Course the last time you saw me I was fretting over the whereabout of my fingers and toes...”

Battle of Du Khang. Nine years ago now. And a whole lifetime away. Yet here is the shell-shocked lieutenant, alive and breathing. And no longer gibbering. Mal is glad. Then he remembers more pressing matters.

“Have a situation here, Lieutenant, so you'll forgive me for not reminiscin' about old times. This girl here ... well, all you need to know is she's gotta be kept out of Alliance hands. And my man here's shot up real good. Need to get them back to the ship. Sooner would be better than later.”

Maguire nods. This man saved his life and reputation. It's a little thing he's asking in return. He looks around in time to see Noe galloping off through the trees and shakes his head. A man sure has to fight harder to win the peace than the war. “My men'll help,” he tells Mal. “Sam! Jakey! Need you to do some carryin'.”

One of the men summoned seems to have just found something interesting which he stoops down to pick it up. A moan from Jayne distracts Mal's attention long enough to stop him seeing what.

“Think I'm done for Mal. Bessht you get away yourshelf an' leave me here,” Jayne slurs, blood loss making him light-headed and irrational.

“No-one's getting' left.” Mal tells him flatly. “You ever listen to a word I say?”

Sam lifts Jayne's shoulders and Jakey takes his feet. Mal slings River's limp form over his shoulder. “This way. I think ...”

Returning to the shuttle takes longer than expected, partly because Jayne is an unwieldy load and but mainly because Mal lacks his tracking skills. Everytime Mal stops to get his bearings, Sam and Jakey lose their rhythm and Jayne gets another painful jolt. “Tamade! Leave me here to die, Mal. Here's as good a place as any.”

Mal gives him a stern look. “If you're tellin' me you ain't got balls enough to withstand a little discomfort, might as well get Simon to cut off what you do have once we get back on Serenity.”

“Ke wu de lao bao jun!” Jayne manages to spit before passing out.

* * * * *

“The autopilot's on,” Inara says, coming back into the shuttle's main room where Jayne is lying still as death on the bed with Mal sitting anxiously at his side. “How's he doing?”

Mal shakes his head. “Not well ... but he's tough. He might make it.”

Inara bites her lip and turns her gaze to River. “I should try to make her comfortable at least....” She pours water from a jug into a bowl and soaks a square of cloth, which she applies to the growing bump on the back of the girl's head.

Maybe it's the unexpected gentle touch or the wet cold. Whatever, River's eyes fly open and she starts shrieking. She's on her feet in an instant and raining blows down on Mal's chest. “Ruttin' fool! Save one to lose another. Your math is fallacious. The sum doesn't balance.”

Mal grabs her arms. Looks like the crazy's back. “Not now, River. I ain't in the mood,” he says coldly. “Wish Jayne had brought those gorram handcuffs of his...” he muses with an involuntary shudder at the thought of what use Jayne puts them to.

“I might have something...” Inara says. She reaches into a drawer and pulls out four short lengths of black silk cord. Mal rolls his eyes. Jayne has handcuffs and Inara a supply of restraints. What is it with his crew? Nonetheless he accepts them and with Inara's help manages to tie River securely to a hard-backed chair.

“Mei ta ma de hun dan!” River snarls and she tries in vain to free herself. “Should have let the train reach the station. Now the damsel in distress is tied to the tracks.”

Mal shoots her a black look. “Bizui! I'll gag you if I have to.”

“God, Mal!” Inara whispers. He looks round to see her forefingers on Jayne's throat and her eyes filling with tears. “I think he's dead.”

“No. I ain't losin' him.” Mal declares, climbing up onto the bed to straddle Jayne. He leans forward from the knees and puts all his weight into pumping Jayne's heart. One, two, three.... seven... fifteen. Inara watches with fascination – awe - as he moves round, pinches the mercenary's nose between thumb and forefinger and places his mouth over Jayne's, forming a seal with his lips. Two deep exhalations and then back to the heart massage. Over and over. Inara is transfixed. It seems to go on forever. Mal driving the blood through Jayne's still heart, breathing life into his lungs. Mal seems to have the knack of forcing life back into hearts that have shut down Inara thinks ruefully. Her breathing has synchronized his and her mouth has fallen open slightly. As Mal lifts his mouth from Jayne's, he's surprised to see Inara gazing unguardedly at his lips.

Then there's a cough and a splutter and they both realize that Jayne is back from the dead. The spell is broken and Inara quickly averts her eyes. Mal rushes to the shuttle's comms. They're nearly there. “Serenity, do you read me? Wash? We're gonna need a stretcher. Get Simon on standby. Shuttle docking in ten .....”

* * * * *

The shuttle's hatch opens just as Zoe and Book arrive with the stretcher. Simon comes running along at full pelt, his face white and taut.

“Is she very badly hurt?” he cries as Mal emerges.

“No, son. It ain't your sis. It's Jayne.”

“Not River? Only Jayne? Thank God for that!”

And for the second time that day Mal knocks a Tam to the floor.

* * * * *

“I can't believe you hit her,” Simon says coldly, his jaw clenched, as he finishes stitching up the wound on Jayne's chest.

“Don't be mad,” River says gently in a sing-song voice. “The King he has four Marys but soon he'll have but three.”

“You see what you've done? Just when she was getting lucid again...” Simon is so angry he could punch Mal, regardless of the consequences.

“I'm sure the Cap'n had his reasons....” Kaylee says quickly. She's been assisting Simon as he operated on Jayne, and quite frankly she can't cope with any more unpleasantness just now. “Right, Cap'n?”

“Now's not the time for discussin' it,” Mal declares, folding his arms across his chest. “Best you keep River confined to her quarters till I've had time to think on what's to be done,” he tells Simon.

“I ought to stay with Jayne...”

“Think he might be better with me. Don't worry, I'll call you if needs be.”

Reluctantly Simon takes River by the hand and leads her out of the infirmary.

“You run along too, li'l Kaylee. Think you've seen enough of this room for one day.”

Kaylee gives him a weak smile and looks sadly at Jayne's unconscious body. Looks like a battered old teddy bear lying there. “He'll get well again, won't he?”

* * * * *

Mal has been awake for almost forty-eight hours, so it's no surprise to Inara to find him, head slumped forward, leaning against the exam table. But he's not so deeply asleep that he doesn't hear her enter the infirmary.

“Mal, you look awful. Why don't you go and lie down. I'll stay here.”

“Can't. Gotta be sure he ain't gonna die ...”

She might have known he'd say that. She walks behind him and rests her hands on his shoulders. “You're awfully tense. These muscles are all knotted up...” It's almost a reflex response to start massaging him. She moves her thumbs in small circles are the base of his neck and across the shoulder blades, deepening the pressure with each rotation.

Wo de ma, it feels good! Mal closes his eyes again and leans his head back allowing it to rest against her belly. Her touch is warm and sure and .... A small moan escapes from his lips and he's suddenly embarassed at how much he's enjoying this. At the direction his blood flow is taking.

“Better stop that, 'Nara,” he advises, moving out of her reach. “Don't think I can afford your rates.”

The words sting like a slap in the face. “Ni huang chong,” she hisses under her breath and sweeps angrily out of the room.

Mal sighs heavily and stands up to look at Jayne. Seems impossible a man so strong could be struggling to hold onto life. The wound on his chest is still red and black stitches sprout amongst the gingery hairs. Mal can't bear the thought of losing him. No more than he could bear losing that vicious brute of a dog he kept at home on Shadow. He lays his hand over Jayne heart, taking comfort from the feel of it beating.

Jayne stirs under his palm and opens a curious eye. “You ain't takin' advantage of me being doped up to feel me up, are ya?” he asks with a leer.

A wide grin breaks over Mal's face. “In your sad and lonely dreams.”

* * * * *

Back in her shuttle Inara gives herself permission to cry. It's not only Jayne's heart that Mal has worked on. She wishes she didn't love him, but she does. She knows she can never have him, but the knowledge doesn't prevent her from aching for him. Sobs shake through her.

The distancing technique that works so well with her clients is useless against Mal. He has a way of sneaking round her defences. So if emotional distance can't be had, she must have physical distance. She puts all her strength into composing herself, into pushing him out of her head. Then she switches on her Cortex link.

“Inara! I was just thinkin' 'bout you.”

“Were you, Monty? I hope you've found me a mission at last. I can't stand another day on this boat.”

“My old pal buggin' ya, is he? Never fear. I do have somethin' for ya, but we'll need to discuss it in person. Meet me on Three Hills. How soon can you leave Serenity?”

“Right now.”

* * * * *

Jayne is out of the woods, Mal is exhausted and yet rest is elusive. Serenity seems noisier than usual. He tosses and turns on his bed, unable to get comfortable. His mind is racing. Jayne nearly died today – indeed did die for a while. Anyone of them could die tomorrow. Nothing's certain. Ought to make the most of living whilst you can ...

Mal abruptly sits bolt upright as the realization hits him. What in the diyu is he playin' at with Inara? True enough, she's a fancy lady, used to better things than he can offer. She may laugh in his face. But she may not .... The love of a good man – well, a man who's OK – ain't nothin'. She might be glad of it.

He pulls on his pants and climbs bare-footed up the ladder from his bunk. Nothing ventured ...

Heart pounding, he mounts the steps to the airlock between Serenity and Inara's shuttle and puts a hand on the door. It's locked. He peers through the glass.

The shuttle has gone.

It's like a recurring nightmare.

* * * * *


Tuesday, April 27, 2004 1:39 AM


There will be a brief hiatus between this chapter and the next, as I'm GOING TO BLACKPOOL TO MEET THE CAPTAIN (squeal!) this weekend and will be snowed under with work when I get back.

But there will be more. Whether you want it or not!

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 7:09 AM


Fabulous! This is so good and I can't wait to see where you take the story next. Great news that you are off to Blackpool, hopefully see you there! I'll be the one with the big gorram grin on her face, shiny - Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 7:30 AM


Can hardly wait to see what River was up to.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 3:13 PM


Wonderful Kispexi2, have fun in Blackpool!!

I'll be hanging on the edge of my seat until your return and struggle out from under the workload...hehehehe

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 8:36 AM


This just keeps getting better and better. I love the way you have set this story up, and now I am so into it I can hardly wait for the rest!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004 8:49 PM


I'm enjoying catching up on this. Been a while since i've been so hooked on the fanfics. staying up all night to read 'em 8-)

Xiexie, Kispexi2!


You must log in to post comments.



HOLDING ON: Ch 2 - Tangential
Much to his annoyance, Sanzo's urgent quest to find Goku gets diverted. Meanwhile Mal meets someone from Inara's past. WARNING - slashy but not graphic

The Wheel Never Stops Turning
Mal meets a blonde in a bar. Violence ensues. And Mal discovers religion has its uses.

This is primariy a <i>Firefly</i> fic, but the character Mal ends up doing a job for is from the manga/anime <i>Saiyuki</i>. It's also <b>PG-13 nothing-explicit SLASH</b>. Because that's who I am!

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 7: 'til the day you die.
Inara leaves Serenity for a new life. Mal gets a job with a couple of new employers, but sinks further into despair.
Slash so lite you'll probably scarcely notice it.

MAKE ME A STONE: Chapter 6: You just learn to live there.
Another job goes less than smoothly. Meanwhile River takes matters into her own hands and Mal has a brainwave.

SLASHFIC. SPOILERS for the comics, novelization and movie.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 5: Chickens come home to roost.
Mal has to accept Badger's offer of a job. Meanwhile old enemies seek to take advantge.
Spoilers for the comics. Very light slash.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 4. Some residual heat.
SPOILERS for the comics/BDM. Mal has to accept Badger's job offer. Not much else in his life is going right either.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 3: It's complicated.
Mal decides to pull a job of his own. Simon offers to help. It doesn't go smooth - but that's not entirely Simon's fault.

Non-graphic SLASH.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 2: And who exactly could fix you?
Simon'a altruism leads to a job going wrong. Mal's not happy.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 1: Pray there ain't any more surprises.
Warning: SLASH, but not graphic. Mal and Simon both find that the other has hidden talents. It kinda piques their interest ... *g*

TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 23. Two by two.
Four years have past since Mal was forced to blow up Serenity and Simon disappeared with River and Book. A lot has changed since then. But a lot has stayed the same. The CONCLUSION to this series.