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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The ferry ride nears its end.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1788 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Fish Job, Easy Tickets,
BS Book I, BS Book II, BS Book III, Chapter 1.
Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.
Many thanks to desertgirl for the beta read.
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“You really shouldn’t,” Will warned when Inara started to rise from her seat. He opened his jacket to show her a gun on his hip. “Yeah, I took the risk of bringing it along. Not like my partner. She tends to worry about rules, but I know better. Those who buy the expensive tickets get to skip the security scanner. It’s a nice weapon, isn’t it?”
Inara couldn’t begin to form a response.
“Not that I’d harm such a lovely woman as yourself,” he added, his tone light and casual, “but let me tell you what a good shot I am. See the back of your captain’s head over there?” Without shifting his eyes he nodded toward Malcolm, who sat with his attention fixed on the stars outside the ferry’s transparent hull.
Will’s face turned hard. “Wouldn’t it be a shame to mess up his pretty hair with brains and gore? Not to mention what it’d do to his face when the bullet went out the other side.”
The breath caught in Inara’s chest, something between a gasp and a sob. “You can’t… ” She stopped and swallowed hard. “We’re not helpless. We have friends.”
“Like the young doctor? The teary girl? ” He closed his jacket and snorted his disgust. “No, I bet you mean your hired gun. Color me scared. Go ahead and hold your breath waiting for that one to show up again.”
The woman must have known how dangerous it was to sneak up behind Jayne. She stayed at the far bend of corridor, her hands plainly visible, while she waited for his reaction.
It was a good long moment before he found words; this encounter was not what he’d expected, and he was having trouble sorting it out.
“This ain’t by chance,” he finally said.
He meant it as an accusation, but Ginny only shrugged. “Maybe I got lucky.” She eyed his body and smiled, the grin of a women thinking dirty thoughts. “Lucky me.”
Jayne didn’t buy that idea. Slowly, he moved his right hand toward his waist. “I don’t think so.” His voice was low and hard enough to make his meaning clear: he was reaching toward his belt for a reason that didn’t involve a repeat of their previous activities.
“All right, then,” she admitted. “I’ve been following you.”
“Now that rings a' truth. Why?” His hand slid just up inside his coat, getting close to the gun he’d tucked in his waistband.
Her grin turned a shade more wicked. “You’re a damned fine lay.”
He couldn’t stop the corner of his mouth from quirking up. “Plenty of truth in that too, but it ain’t the whole story.”
In spite of her show of pluck, she had to know that he was resting his fingers close to a trigger. She moved slowly, reaching a hand toward a door in the inner bulkhead of the ship. A sign next to it claimed that this wasn’t the entrance to a regular private cabin; this was the way down to the luxury suite on the lowest level.
“I got some nice quarters,” Ginny said with a pat of the door. “Why don’t you come on down and we’ll talk. Or do other things.”
Jayne snorted and got a firm grip on his gun. “You must think I’m a gorramned fool.”
She shook her head and her expression turned sober. “If I meant you harm, I could have seen to it already. Penthouse Suite’s got a security cam of the hallway. I been watching you pass by. I could have slipped out real quiet and clubbed you over the head if that was my purpose.”
“Why ain’t it? What’s your game?”
“Just wanna talk. Or do other things.” She grinned again and reached toward her jacket pocket, but Jayne was faster, drawing his pistol and fixing it on her.
“Oh, come on and stop being stupid!” she said, her voice lowered to a harsh whisper. “I’m not even armed. I don’t have a piece like yours that’d get through a scanner, so I boarded without.” Moving slowly, she pulled something out of her pocket and, with a sarcastic air, held it up to show him how harmless it was. It was a door pass, the luxury electronic kind. “Now, stop waving that thing around. There’s no one here, but that won’t last. Let’s go below before someone sees you with that gun and makes a fuss.” She pressed her thumb against the end of the key and the door beside her softly clicked as the lock released.
“Who’s waitin’ down there?” Jayne asked, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Not a soul. We got a chance to talk before my partner shows, if we hop to it. Or are you scared to be alone with little ole me?” She batted her eyelashes and looked about as silly as a plain, dumpy old woman could.
Jayne laughed, short and hard. “No, I ain’t afraid of you.” But still he hesitated.
“So, come on! I promise you won’t be sorry. I got an idea, an offer. You might like it.”
Now, an offer was something Jayne found intriguing. He didn’t expect to take her up on it, not unless she had a pretty profound reason why he ought to trust her, but there could other kinds of gain to be had. If he let her talk, he’d likely find out why she’d been following him from world to world.
Anyway, there couldn’t be much danger in hearing her out. He had the upper hand and didn’t mean to lose it. And she was right: they couldn’t keep talking in this corridor. He couldn’t risk raising the suspicions of other passengers.
He walked to the door and waved her forward with his gun. “You first.”
River tipped her head against the clear outer hull of the ship, as if getting her brain closer to the void outside would make her void inside as well. She wanted nothing more than to be empty, to climb to the very top of this ferry, go out into the Black, and drift away. She’d gotten as far as she could, put as much distance as possible between herself and the ugliness she sensed lurking in the lower levels of this ship, but it wasn’t far enough. She couldn’t escape.
Simon had followed her to this large, silent room where barely a light was on and hardly a passenger stirred. At first he kept his distance, but after a time he moved to a seat close to her corner, close enough that he could lay a gentle, questioning hand on her back. He didn’t ask out loud; he seemed to know that a spoken question now would be useless.
Her brother knew her so well. That was only one of many reasons she loved him.
“What is love, Simon?” she asked as she traced a fingertip along the window, not planning, but waiting to see what shape her inner mind would lead her to draw. “What is it? I care about you, I want to be with you, but I don’t want to be naked with you. Is that still love?”
His reply was a waft of confusion and a tightening of his grip on her shoulder.
“What if I know someone cares for me, but he hates touching me? What is that? Can that still be love? Even if he hates me, too?”
Simon shifted out of the chair and settled on the floor next to her. “Who hates you? You must have misunderstood. No one hates you, River.”
She knew better. She could feel a thick hatred in the air, an emotion so vile it would make her choke if she breathed it too deeply. She’d found disgust in Malcolm’s inner mind, a need to shut her out, and since then the bitter green had darkened into the blackest, darkest kind of hate.
Her finger traced nothing but nonsense on the window, several different shapes that overlapped so that none could be rightly understood.
Jayne never once lowered his gun. His attention didn’t waver, not even when he found himself entering the emptiness of space. The wall he stepped out of was solid, with a pair of doors on either side of him leading to other rooms in the Suite, but in front of him two large chairs, a low table, and a bed floated against the Black.
Ginny walked to the far wall, her outline dark against the heavens. She kept her back to him while he checked those other rooms—a head and a closet, both empty, as she’d told him they would be. But Jayne didn’t relax his guard. He could barely see Ginny in the dim light of the distant stars, so he found a lamp by the bed and, while keeping his aim true, switched it on.
The light was weak but still showed the flaws in the room: faded stains on the chairs, scuffs on whatever material served as the transparent floor, fingerprints on the windows. It also made the faint reflection of Ginny’s face and form appear on the window in front of her.
“Makes me understand how them Reavers got to be,” she said, her voice soft. “Staring into that, with nothin’ between you and it. Makes me feel small.” Jayne shifted his stance, not sure what she meant to gain by talking like this. But she only went on, her voice tired. “Makes me feel like nothing I ever done means a thing. And I sure have done a lot.”
“I can remind you of one or two in particular,” Jayne said, perhaps with more bitterness than he’d meant. He was making connections in relation to Ginny’s presence on this ferry. He was beginning to sense that understanding her sudden appearance, and the full story behind it, wasn’t going to make him feel especially good about himself.
She took off her jacket and dropped it, then raised her arms to her sides and turned around. “You can see I don’t have a gun on me,” she said. Jayne did see; her clothes were fitted enough that she wasn’t likely to be hiding much. “You can pat me down if you’d like,” she offered coyly.
“No, thank you very much,” Jayne replied with some scorn. “I got this situation in hand enough as it is.”
“You’re the boss.”
Her flippant attitude irritated him. She didn’t seem to be taking him seriously. “Damn straight, I’m in charge. I ain’t your boss, though. You work for some crew or another, and you’re following me and mine. Been following us for some time, since Highgate at least. Wasn’t none of this accidental.”
She shrugged at him again, as if all his accusations rolled off her back without touching her.
“Kamath’s people?” he asked. “Or somethin’ from before… You one of Niska’s folk? You seem creepy enough.”
She took a seat in one of those puffy chairs, then leaned forward on her elbows and looked him in the eye. “I don’t mean you harm.”
“Pay attention, little lady. That ain’t what I asked.”
“You recall what we talked about on that station, last time we met?”
“You mean the part where I told you where my crew was headin’? Gorramn it, I did, didn’t I? That was the reason for it all, right? You was out to learn my plans, and I just went and told you.” He sat down heavily on the bed. If he could have slapped himself without disturbing his aim, he would have.
“That ain’t what I’m referrin’ to. I mean when we talked before that. About having a life. About gettin’ away to where we could choose for ourselves. You remember that?” Ginny’s face looked earnest, as if it meant the world to her that he understand what she was telling him.
He found himself wanting to believe that she meant no foul play, but no way was he going to be a fool again. His gun stayed level. “As I recall,” he said, “that was you doing all the talking. Had nothing to do with me.”
Her voice rose. “But you knew what I meant. You knew exactly what I meant!”
He shifted uncomfortably. Yes, he’d known. Her words had draw him to her, even though she was plain, even though she’d had a mystery about her, something he’d known in his gut that he shouldn’t have trusted. But the way she’d talked, like some part of her knew some part of him better than anyone else, had pulled at him. Same as it pulled at him now.
He realized that he’d been quiet too long, that he’d taken his eyes off her. But she hadn’t moved. “So?” he asked gruffly.
“So, I’m asking you: if you had freedom almost in your hands, if you had the peace you’d been looking for all your life right in reach, wouldn’t you close your fingers and take it? Wouldn’t you take that for yourself, Jayne?” She held his eye, and he saw that there was more than the obvious meaning behind her question. She was moving towards that offer she thought he’d like.
It wasn’t his first time in such a situation; he’d had tempting opportunities for drastic lifestyle change before. More than once. And he had taken the leap from time to time. But he’d found out the hard way that the one dangling the carrot wasn’t always being truthful. Deals with strangers could turn very sour very fast, and something like this sometimes ended with a well intentioned man trapped in an airlock with a very angry captain at the door controls.
No, Jayne’d had enough of that. He wasn’t going to be taken in by this woman. Not again. He stretched out his arm, making sure the silver gun in his fist caught the light. “Philosophy is fun and all, but I’m out for intel. You just fill me in as to what you’re about, and what interest you got in my crew, and let’s leave it at that.”
She laughed once, a short, hard bark. “Right, your crew. Why are you so eager to stand up for them, Jayne? You told me that you liked them once, but not anymore. So why are you still bothering?”
It was a good question, one he’d asked himself more than once in the past weeks. It only made him angrier that she put it to him. “I’m doin’ my job!”
“Babysittin’ a lunatic and a little girl.” She shook her head. “Shame on you, Jayne. You’re a better man than that. I spent all of a half hour with you, and I see it. You’re quality, a rare kind. But you let those people run you like you’re nothing but a slave. A stupid, useless slave. You should be demanding respect, not letting them order you around.”
That also hit a nerve. “I don’t see as you got room to talk, Miss Ginny-if-that’s-your-name. I seem to recall you not feeling much love for your crew, but looks to me like you’re still running about asking them how high you ought’a jump.”
She suddenly sat forward, almost coming out of the chair. “But I got one more jump, Jayne. One more time to do what they say, then I’m free. That’s the end of all of it. Damn near thirty years I’ve been toeing the line, mostly `cause I didn’t know what else to do. But I’m figuring it out.” She tapped a finger at her forehead, like she needed to point out the machine of her brain. “I’m seeing how it really is. I got it now. These fools… these gorramned fools who send me orders go around like they’re lords of all the wisdom in the `verse. Go there, find out that, shoot this one, bring the other in. To what end? You think them folks with big titles really know what they’re doing? You think they care for any but them and theirs? To hell with it! I’m done. One last hoop to jump through, and that’s the end for me. What do you say to that?”
Her defiance resonated with him, made his own anger run hot in his veins. But he’d made up his mind, and nothing would change it. He swallowed down his rising ire and didn’t lower his gun or waver in his aim. “If I’m the last hoop you’re referring to,” he said, “best find another. You won’t be jumping though me.”
She stood up. “What? You gonna shoot me over it? You really gonna shoot me?” He didn’t move, and she snorted a disgusted laugh. “Fine. Keep that shiny pistol on me if it makes you feel better. I don’t give a damn.”
He did, and she didn’t. He held the gun in his right hand, kept it on her as she walked to him, as she climbed onto the bed and onto him. Maybe he moved the immediate aim away from her temple when she started moving against him in a way that made his muscles tense, but he kept the gun cocked. Even when her pants were down and his fly was open and her legs were around him and he was inside her and she panted her rebellious anger against his ear while she rode him, he held that gun ready. He held the muzzle of it against the back of her head while she clenched at his short-cropped hair, pulling his face close to hers. Having one hand held aside like that, the other somehow involved with helping her body move, meant he couldn’t redirect her properly when she put her lips on his, and he could only fight back by tasting her mouth just as deeply as she tasted his. And maybe he moved his finger away from the trigger when he felt his groin tighten, just so as to be safe from accidental discharge that might call attention to the current goings-on in the Penthouse Suite. And he couldn’t deny that when heard her cry out he set the gun on the bed next to him, just so could pull her body down hard onto his, to plumb her as deep as he could. And he’d swear the tremors were still rumbling through her body when she took up that little gun and brained him with it, and how unfair was that?
A soft chirp rose from inside Will’s coat. It must have been a signal of some kind, because he immediately went into motion. He swallowed down the whiskey Inara had ordered for Malcolm, then stood and tilted his head toward the central stairway. “Go on below decks,” he told Inara in a lowered voice, “and don’t try any of your moves. I’ve learned my lesson about you and I’ll stay at a distance you can’t cover, not before I put a bullet in a painful place.”
His threat wasn’t needed; she was too numb to try anything, not with Malcolm sitting so helplessly a short distance away. Following Will’s directions, she moved as quietly as she could and soon found herself passing by her own cabin, pulling open a door in the inner wall of the corridor, and descending to the lowest level of the ferry.
In the room she entered, a man lay unconscious on a bed, his legs bent off the near side, his clothes rumpled, a red stained towel wrapped around his head. It was Jayne.
“I see it worked out right,” Will said.
He wasn’t speaking to Inara. A woman sat in one of large, stuffed chairs in the open half of the Suite, turning a sleek silver gun in her hands. Like Will, she seemed to have an affinity for dark clothes, and her hair was deep black, but her skin was pale and her face looked worn and drawn. Her features seemed familiar, but Inara couldn’t place her.
“Can I check on him?” Inara asked, trying to keep her voice calm and controlled.
“Please yourself,” Will replied carelessly.
Inara knelt next to the bed and felt Jayne’s pulse; it was fast and strong. A large bump rose just behind his left temple, blood still trickling from it, but he didn’t seem permanently damaged. She gently pressed the towel against his injury, then glanced over her shoulder. Will had settled into the open chair, his gun plainly visible in a clear message to Inara, but his attention was focused on the woman.
“Did you get to have your evil way with him first?” he asked, his tone lively with humor.
The woman glared at him.
“So, you’re not the type to kiss and tell?” he teased.
“Oh, I’ll tell a’plenty,” the woman replied. Inara immediately recalled the voice and turned to study the woman again. Of course—Will’s partner, Ginger, who’d been with the hijackers on Niflheim. She looked quite different now: thinner, and seemed years older though her hair color and eye makeup should have made her appear younger.
“I had every bit of my evil way that I wanted,” Ginger went on, her grim tone removing the brag from her words. “That’s how I got him off his guard.” She turned her head to meet Inara’s eye. “That’s how it works, ain’t it? A man’ll lose his senses soon as he gets a whiff a' yīn dào.”
Inara pushed back a swell of anger and tried to focus on Jayne’s injury, at least to keep her hands busy while she thought. These two were Alliance agents, but not the kind who worked within the law. They’d first made that clear when they tried to take Serenity on Niflheim, and it appeared that their methods hadn’t changed in the months since. Inara had known for some time that they were working with the Alliance under Trevor Marone, trying to find Mal, but she’d had no idea that they were so close. And now they had nothing to stop them from capturing him. Nothing but the Tams.
“Did you really?” Will asked in the tone of one speaking down to a stupid child. “Did you really get that big, burly man to sex you?”
“Wasn’t the first time,” Ginger replied sharply. “Just `cause something’s got no value to you, don’t make it worthless.”
“I am going to have to hear this story in detail,” he said, his voice full of delight. “It appears that I’ve underestimated you by a long shot. But it’ll have to wait until we get Reynolds. He’s a sitting duck. The little girl’s gone wiggy and run off somewhere upstairs, the doctor after her. Our man—our boy, I should say—is all alone. Probably confused, and likely with no memory of who you are.” He grinned at Ginger. “Surely he’s got no hope against your feminine allure, but if he somehow resists, tell him how his lady here is in my evil clutches, all helpless. Speaking of that, before you go, do me a favor…”
Inara had been pressing a clean end of the towel to Jayne’s head, but before she could completely staunch the bleeding she was pulled away. At Will’s orders, Ginger removed Jayne’s leather belt and used it to bind Inara’s hands in front of her. Inara was led to the vacated chair and pushed into it.
Will kept to his place, grinning in his victory. “You got a weapon there?” he asked Ginger.
For the first time, something like a smile cracked the woman’s hard face. “Got it off the merc. Go figure this: it’s Hank’s gun.” She held up the silver pistol she’d been holding when Inara arrived; on closer examination Inara recognized it. She recalled Jayne crowing about the weapon after their encounter with Will’s gang on Niflheim.
Willed laugh out loud. “Hank—that bonehead!” he snorted. “It’s been an interesting year out here, hasn’t it Ginger? What people we’ve had the pleasure of working with! Hank had to be one of the highlights. First: the hair. And the beard. Then all his loony ideas of fate and destiny and how gorramned important he was, him and his shiny gun. Then in a snap he’s over and done, a bullet in the forehead.” He leaned toward Inara. “Don’t tell Reynolds this, but I do admire your captain just for the way he took out Hank. Beautiful irony. Couldn’t have done it better myself.”
He sank back into his chair, still chuckling. “God, it’s good to win,” he said. “Ginger. Go!”
The woman tucked Jayne’s gun in her belt, pulled on a jacket, and shuffled out the door.
As soon as she left, Will moved to the far side of the suite and pulled a small comm device from his shirt pocket. He kept his back to Inara and his voice low while he spoke into it; she couldn’t make out his words.
While he made his call, the stars began to shift behind him. Above his right shoulder one point of light came into view, a bright blue-white orb that outshone the rest. Inara knew what was happening: the ship was rotating so that the bottom of it pointed toward their destination, and soon the engines would begin firing to slow them down. Oeneus was not far away—she didn’t have long to act.
She began working her wrists against the leather binding them, but before she could make any progress Will turned back to her and smiled. He wanted her to hear the end of his conversation. “All right then,” he said. “I’ll see you on the docks. Bring the troops. Besides Reynolds, I have some accomplices you’ll need to take into custody.”
As he shut down the comm and tucked it in his shirt pocket, Inara realized something horrible: this was about more than Mal. Simon and River were about to be taken by the Alliance as well.
River’s finger continued to outline muddled, interfering shapes on the window. The different pictures in her head also overlapped, blurring each other. She couldn’t separate them. “Need to do the right thing,” she whispered. “Need to do the final thing. Need to escape. Need to make them pay. Hate so thick and dark I could cut it with my hand. Afraid to do harm. Wants to do harm.”
Simon sat beside her on the carpeted floor, one hand still pressing against her shoulder. “River, who are you talking about?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know!” But she did know how this had started; it had been her own mistake that brought it on. “I’m not telling. It’s my fault.”
“I’m such an idiot! Worse than you, a hundred times worse.”
“How can you say that?” She felt her brother’s arms encircle her. So familiar. So different from Malcolm’s heated embrace. “How could you possibly think that?”
“Made fun of you with Kaylee. I didn’t know how easy it was to do everything wrong.”
Simon held her close. “I wish you would tell me.”
“Can’t. Can’t think. All I can feel is… wrong. Hate and evil and wrongness. Wish I hadn’t let it in. Wish I could shut it out!”
Simon patted her back and shushed her. “Focus on me,” he said. “Feel how much I love you? Focus on that. Don’t think about anything else.”
Ginger moved slowly, taking advantage of the dark and quiet that still ruled the ship. She stayed in the shadows while she located her target, then checked the dining room carefully for any sign of the doctor or the dark-haired girl. A few passengers were beginning to stir, but none of them appeared to pay any attention to Reynolds. He sat by himself, his expression one of thoughtful worry. So deep was the captain’s concentration that he didn’t stir until Ginger stood barely half a meter in front of him. When he finally lifted his gaze, he did a double take and his eyes and mouth opened wide.
“I know you,” he said.
“How do I know you?”
She smiled. “We’re old friends.”
He stared another long moment, then his expression turned dark. “Call me crazy, but I don’t find myself feelin’ friendly.”
“You know me well enough for that?”
He frowned. “No. Gut feeling.” He folded his arms across his stomach and spoke thoughtfully while he continued to study her. “Follow the gut,” he murmured. “The mind can reason out some mighty fine things, but the gut says what needs to be known.”
“Smart gut.” Ginger pulled her right hand out of her jacket pocket, keeping it close but making sure he could see what she held.
He dropped his arms and his mouth fell open again. “I know that, too. I know that gun.” His eyes turned soft, like he was seeing something far away, and she could barely make out words he added in a whisper: deep niú shĭ.
She had the feeling he wasn’t talking to her, but she figured she’d best take it as if he was. “That’s right. There’s a pile of niú shĭ and you’re right in the middle of it.” A small wave of the pistol brought his attention back to her. She tucked it back in her pocket but made sure he could see where the aim was. “You’d best do as I say. If you feel any temptation to make a fuss, keep this in mind: we got your whore.”
“Whore. The dark-haired pretty one. Come along if you got any concern for her.”
There was nothing to be said. Asking Will to leave Simon and River alone would only guarantee that the sadistic psychopath would go get them, so Inara sat silently, praying that the siblings would stay clear. Perhaps River would sense the danger and hide herself and her brother in the remotest corner of the ferry. Perhaps Will would leave them there. He didn’t seem to know who they were; so far he’d only shown interest in Mal.
Inara had to find out. She had to at least try.
“How… how are you here?” she asked, her shock still strong enough to make her words jumble together.
Will grinned. “On vacation with my girlfriend. She’s a doll, isn’t she?”
Her breath suddenly came fast. Having a conversation with this man was going to be one of the hardest things she’d ever done. Fortunately, his buoyant mood made him continue talking without further prompts.
“Okay, I’m lying. Been tracking the bunch of you for a while now, but that looks to be over. Time to spring the trap.” He plopped back into his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him, crossing his ankles comfortably. “Not that it hasn’t been fun, watching your boyfriend lose his mind. Seems to have lost his way as far as the girl too. Honestly though, I think she’s a bit young for him. Tell me, does it hurt to know you got beat by a younger woman?”
Inara clenched her bound hands into fists, trying to steady herself. She wasn’t going to play games with him. “What do you want from us?”
He looked her up and down with obvious scorn. “What do men ever want from the likes of you?”
She remembered their previous encounter, his attempt to cow her with threat the violence a man can do to a woman. She’d seen something in him then which she understood more clearly now: it wasn’t rape that excited this man. He fed on fear.
She wasn’t about to give him satisfaction. Her cheeks flushed with anger as she met his eye. “Trying that again, are you? Perhaps you didn’t learn your lesson after all?”
His smile fell for a fleeting second, then stubbornly returned. “Here I am lying again. You seem to bring it out of me. Actually, what I want from you isn’t what every man wants. I have no desire for that. I have other ideas of fun.”
Her reply was full of scorn. “That much is clear.”
Something in his eyes crackled, but his response was interrupted by the sound of an opening door and steps descending the stairs. Inara turned toward the room’s entrance, hoping not to see Serenity’s captain, though she’d already recognized the sound of his tread.
As soon as he entered the room, Ginger just behind him, Malcolm’s eyes fixed on Will. He immediately went pale. “Billy,” he said. “Or… “ He tipped his head, the posture of one digging through faint memories.
“Now, don’t hurt yourself, son,” Will said. “That’s my job.”
“You leave him alone!” Inara snapped. “I know who you work for. You may not have principles, but they do!”
Will shifted his gaze off of Malcolm and tilted his head at Inara. “What exactly is it you think you know?”
“I know you work for the Alliance, and they have rules. You can’t abuse people you’re arresting!”
“Arresting?” Malcolm asked faintly. He face hadn’t recovered any color. He stayed where he was, just inside the door with Ginger beside him. His eyes flicked about the room, taking in Ginger’s gun, Jayne’s injury, and Inara’s bound hands, then his wide stare returned to Will. “You’re Alliance?” he asked in an incredulous tone. “You’re arresting me?”
It was a easy shape to make out. It was a familiar love, River realized, one she knew down to its smallest facet and tiniest cranny. She’d known the structure and color of it her whole life, but in recent weeks she’d taken her eyes off of it. In her confusion she’d created obstructions, planted seeds and then fed them, nourished them with her determination and need until they expanded, large and bloated, to hide everything else. Her fantasies had hidden this beautiful, familiar thing that had once been her foundation.
“I lost my way,” she said.
Simon leaned back, releasing her from his comforting hug. “Let’s go back to the cabin,” he said gently.
“No!” She dove into his arms again, clinging to him. The other shapes, the hurtful ones, were still out there, somewhere, below her. “I can’t go near him!”
“What is it, River? What happened? You know you can tell me. You can tell me anything.”
She shook her head. “Not this. I can’t ever tell you what I did.”
He put his hands on her cheeks and held her face up so she had to look at him. “Do you really think that anything you do could scare me away? Remember—I grew up with you.” His mouth curved in a smile, one River found herself answering. But then tears rose in her eyes and she sniffled.
“I was dumb, Simon. I made myself believe that he could love me, when really…” She let herself sense it, a touch of that hate, wanting to feel it again just so she could describe the horror of it to her brother. She had to make him understand how the captain felt…
But that wasn’t right. That wasn’t the captain.
Simon was still studying her face and he saw the change in her thoughts. “What is it?” he asked. “River, what—”
All that disgust and hate, those overlapping pictures… she searched through them. She did know these voices, though not as well as she’d thought. She recalled the dirtiness of these minds, remembered how they’d invaded her peace once before. She’d been on a different ship then. She’d been curled up in Serenity’s engine room, hiding from bad people who’d come into her home and hurt her family…
The shapes separated, from her crew, from the background murmur of strangers, and from each other. She could finally see them, whole and complete, for what they were: two minds she’d sensed before. Two bad minds. One horrible. Very, very horrible.
“Lăo tiān yĕ! I’ve made a mistake!” she said, and she shook her head. “Bad, bad mistake.” She met her brother’s eye. “It wasn’t the captain. It’s the bad one. The one that hurts people. The one that hurt the captain. He’ll do it again!”
She jumped to her feet and ran, her brother and his unanswered questions on her heels.
“That’s right!” Will spat at Malcolm. He didn’t appear relaxed now; he leaned forward in his seat, gun still tightly clenched in his right hand. “I’m arresting you, but not in the usual way. There’s no warrant here. The people that sent me after you are far beyond police, and they didn’t share their reasons for wanting you taken in. They didn’t have to. You have no rights, and—” His eyes fixed on Inara again. “—there are no rules. I can do as I please, as long as I do it neatly. Now, what do you suppose I please? Go ahead. Make a guess.”
The glint in his dark eyes was twisted, wrong. Goading him on was the last thing Inara intended, but the words slipped past her lips in a whisper, “Nĭ bú shì rén.”
He jumped to his feet. “Lady, you’re in no place to pass judgment on me. I may be a touch… unusual in my habits, but that’s something you and I have in common, isn’t it? Just like you, I’ve found a profitable way to make use of my particular… skills.” He leaned over her chair and hissed the word in her face. “I’m a man of the law, whether I choose to follow it myself or not. Wanted fugitives, especially a whore and a lunatic Browncoat, have no right to criticize me. Unless you want me to give you something to criticize. You want that? You really want that?”
Inara didn’t reply; she felt how close this maniac was to losing control. Or perhaps he had lost it already. Perhaps it was too late. He straightened and flicked his eyes toward Malcolm, who still stood frozen, his mouth open and stare unwavering, though his cheeks were beginning to flush red.
Will took in a deep breath, then exhaled away the hard edge of his tension. His shoulders slumped, but his mocking smile returned. If anything, Inara feared this side of him more.
“Sit the nice captain down,” he ordered Ginger. “Tie him up. I want him not able to move. Not unless I do something to make him move.”
Inara’s eyes were fixed on Will, her mind full of horror at what he could be intending, so she hardly saw how it happened. She was dimly aware of some small movement to her side, perhaps Ginger reaching toward Malcolm, then a sudden flurry of motion made Will look toward the pair.
A spray of warm wetness hit Inara’s face at the same instant that Will’s eyes widened with surprise. Thick blood dribbled from a hole in the center of his forehead for a long moment before his body slumped to the floor.
The sharp crack of a gunshot came to Inara then, as if it’d taken a few seconds for her to realize that she’d heard it. She turned toward the source of the sound. Mal was holding Ginger’s right wrist in his left hand, her arm twisted cruelly, and Jayne’s gun, once Hank’s, smoked in his right fist.
Through the doorway behind Malcolm, River suddenly appeared with Simon just behind her. She pulled up short, her eyes on the dead man and the pool of blood that spread across the transparent floor, making a red stain that easily covered the approaching globe of Oeneus.
The girl nodded shortly. “Good.”
niú shĭ: shit
yīn dào: snatch
lăo tiān yĕ: god
nĭ bú shì rén: you're not human
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