Universes: Firefly x Labyrinth
Disclaimer: Firefly is Whedon's baby, Labyrinth belongs to the Henson estate, though David Bowie owns Jareth's delicious rump.
Characters: Jareth, the entire Serenity Crew
Pairing: River/Jareth, Simon/Kaylee
Timeline: Post BDM, sequel to Tiny Dancer, Sarabande, Red Letter Day, and An Evening At Home. Fifth in the Goblin Queen Series.
Summary: Either Mal has gone crazy or that pesky Goblin King is screwing around with his people…again.
Word Count: 4054
The first inkling Mal had that indicated that the next day was not going to be one of his best ever, again, was overhearing Kylee comment to Jayne about rats in the cargo hold. Little skitterings that sounded like sharp little toes on the metal gratings.
Jayne, typically, suggested that Kaylee just shoot the things and offered one of his guns to get the job done.
Kaylee, typically, turned him down with a horrified face at the thought of murdering fuzzy little creatures, no matter that they stowed away on his ship without permission.
The next thing Mal noticed was the way the shadows seemed to cling to the walls more than they should. Wondering if that was one of the symptoms of oxygen depletion dementia, he stopped by the infirmary and had Simon run diagnostics on him.
No dice because, typically, Mal was doing just fine. Healthier than any shot-up, cut-up, banged-up ship’s captain should be. Reassured that if he were going crazy it was because he was actually
going crazy, not because he was receiving less than the recommended daily allowance of oxygen to his brain, Mal tried to ignore the fact the shadows lurking in the corners seemed to move
when he walked by, rippling in the corners of his vision as if they had wings, or feet, or sharp little toes.
By the time he collapsed in bed that night, Mal was more than a little paranoid—okay, more paranoid than usual—and decided to sleep with his gun cradled on his chest. As he was falling asleep, he remembered with a fuzzy sort of clarity that comes only during the veil of impending unconsciousness that he hadn’t seen River in hours, not since Kaylee commented about the rats over dinner.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
“I swear I heard an owl,” Kaylee said as she slid into her chair at the table. “I went to check on those rats, which I couldn’t find by the way, and there was this hooting noise.”
Face perfectly blank, Mal tried to remember how to swallow.
“An owl? Those are very rare,” Inara said, dishing up a bowl of gruel. “There were a few breeding pairs in the zoo on Ariel, but I don’t think I’ve seen any others. Are you sure you heard an owl?”
“There ain’t no owls in space,” Jayne muttered, “You were imagining things. Like those damn rats.”
Zoe strode into the room with a yawn. “What did you say about owls?”
Kaylee sighed, puffing her hair away from her face. “I said I heard an owl. If you don’t believe me, ask Simon. He was there.”
“And just where is Simon now?” Mal asked, “Please tell me he’s not still there in the cargo hold.”
Kaylee tilted her head as she took a bite. “Yeah, said he had to look for something and to go run on ahead.”
Mal took a deep breath. “Has anyone seen River recently?”
“Not since dinner,” Jayne said. “Come to think of it, that girl usually comes around and bugs me to play with my guns before bed, but she wasn’t around last night.”
At the incredulous faces around him, Jayne added, “I mean real guns, like Vera, you perverts. Crazy girl’s got an unhealthy fascination with firepower.”
Debating the relative merits between flying Serenity as far away and as fast as he could or actually going down into the cargo hold and seeing what Simon had found, and where River was, Mal could only run his hands over his weapon, the cool metal a security blanket he never wanted to need inside his own ship again.
“Captain, you okay?” Kaylee asked, putting her spoon down. “You look awfully spooked, like you saw a ghost.”
“Not a ghost,” Mal said, closing his eyes. “If y‘all will excuse me, I have something that needs takin’ care of.”
Given that the last time an owl had appeared on board Mal had suffered what was either a post-traumatic stress induced hallucination or a flashback from a very bad trip, he forgave himself the anxiety he was pretty sure was seeping from every pore. As he stood and walked from the lounge as calmly as he could, Mal thought it was probably too much to hope that the rest of his crew would stay there and eat their breakfast like nothing was going on.
But this was his crew, and within seconds they were on his heels, tromping down to the cargo hold and firing off questions like anti-aircraft fire over Serenity Valley. He rounded the doorway and started down the steps before he could see Simon standing in the middle of the cargo bay, staring up at the ceiling. Barking a sharp laugh out at the irony, Mal adjusted his belt and walked to stand next to the doctor.
“Howdy there, Simon. Fancy meeting you here.”
“And I see you brought an audience this time,” Simon said, grimacing. “This is going to go well, I can just tell.”
“Rightly so, I imagine.” Mal glanced over his shoulder to see the rest of his crew playing Greek Chorus on the stairway, watching the two of them like the entertainment at a country circus.
“Kaylee told you what she heard?”
“An owl.” Mal pulled his gun from the holster and spun the chamber. “And as I recall, owls aren’t usually found on starships. Unless, of course, it’s my ship
and your sister is somehow responsible.”
Simon rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache.
“Where is your sister, anyhow?” Mal asked, peering up into the shadows on the ceiling, wishing for all the world that the shadows didn’t look like they had things moving in them, hairy, winged things.
“I wish I knew.” They both turned to look at the stairs when Kaylee let out a small scream.
“Uh…Simon, is there something, um, moving over there?” She asked, pointing at a dark corner behind some cargo containers.
“There ain’t nothing living in here,” Jayne said, but he pulled his sidearm free regardless.
“No, really, look,” Kaylee said, and everyone did in time to see a small scuttling shape dart between the boxes. “Th—that’s not a rat, is it, Simon?”
“No, darling, it’s not.” Simon turned his head and held out his hand to the mechanic. “I don’t suppose I could convince you to go back to breakfast, could I?”
“Not for your life.” Kaylee scrunched up her nose in determination. “Now what’s going on, mister?”
“It’s complicated—“ Simon started, before Mal interrupted.
“For once, I gotta agree with the Doc. It might be better if everyone went back to breakfast.”
“What do you know, Captain?” Zoe asked, walking down the stairs. “You have something we all should know? Something about owls and not-rats, mayhap something to do with that little distress call you gave a few weeks ago, knocking us all from our beds?”
“Pshaw, me?” Mal smiled and tilted his head. “No! Don’t you trust your captain?”
“Not as far as I can throw him, sir,” his second-in-command said, hands crossed over her chest. “Now, spill.”
Mal and Simon exchanged looks, Mal wondering how to exactly explain things that didn’t make him seem even crazier than their resident-but-currently-missing loony. Simon bit his thumbnail, flicking his gaze to the ceiling again, but before either of them could answer, the shadows in the corner of the cargo hold went mad.
Scuttling, skittering, tiny toenails on metal, it was as if the darkness came alive. Mal cursed, wondering which way to point his weapon when a voice came from the writhing dusk.
“You know, I gave you more credit than this—remember how well guns worked out last time?”
And then he was there, that infuriating, bizarre figment of Simon’s and his shared delusion, striding out of the dark wrapped in cobwebs. Behind him, he could hear Kaylee gasp and Jayne mutter something vile. The shadows trailed from the stranger’s shoulders like a cloak, wrapping themselves around the tumbling forms at his feet. The forms separated into individual goblins, just as horrifying as the one created from his gun last time he met the Goblin King and Mal stepped forward, pointing at the stranger.
“All right, I’ve had enough. Where is my pilot?” He frowned. “Again.”
“Simon, he’s wearing one of your vests,” Kaylee said, her voice faint.
“I know,” Simon sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I know.”
The doctor straightened his shoulders and drew himself up. “I have gone well and truly mad, and before I am turned into a toad for my trouble, I may as well do some introductions. Everyone, this is the Goblin King. Goblin King, this is everyone. Now what the fuck have you done to my baby sister, you sorry piece of tacky shit?”
The Goblin King arched a creepily pointed eyebrow and bared his teeth. Mal guessed it was supposed to be a smile when the thing laughed, “I’m impressed with you, little boy. She speaks highly of you but until now I could never see it.”
He stalked forward to stand face-to-face with Simon, this ragged edges of his hair barely stirring as he moved. “And I have done nothing to your sister that she has not allowed.”
Face flushed, Simon took a swing at the creature, only to find his fist swing through air. The Goblin King was simply not there, a figment erased only to reform behind Simon, grasping him by his shoulders. He leaned over to whisper in the doctor’s ear, “Now that was just not polite. Perhaps I should show you a lesson to teach you humility.”
The word rang out through the room, seeping into ever corner like a stain. It was River’s voice, yet somehow more, and everyone froze. The light filtering down from the overheads began to swirl, coalescing into substantial sparkles that moved like a dancer’s limbs, arcing grace of energy. The glints of light gained form, resolving into River standing with her hands on her hips looking very put-out.
“Stop baiting them, right now, Jareth. Their input is on overload and I won’t allow you to crash their calculations.”
As she glided to her brother, she spared a smile for Mal, but that hardly made him feel better. There was nothing good about insane goblins picking fights in his cargo bay.
Jareth dropped his hands from Simon’s shoulders and stepped back, pouting. “You’ll never let me have any fun, will you, my love? It’s just so easy.”
River patted his cheek before turning to her brother. “Are you okay, Simon? The duet hasn’t changed partners yet, but don’t worry.”
Simon closed his eyes briefly, pain flickering across his features. “Mei-mei, please tell me that thing did not call you ‘my love.”
River cocked her head, glancing at the Goblin King. “Isn’t that what one calls a wife? My love? Did I get that wrong, too?” she said, her face crumbling. “She isn’t sure what is right, you know, so please be patient.”
Simon’s face registered only shock as he grabbed River’s hands, holding them close to his chest. “Wife? Did—how—how can you be married? You’re still a baby?”
“She is no child,” Jareth snarled, tapping his fingers on his elbows. “This is a waste of time. You do not need to listen to this.”
He turned to River, pleading, holding his hands up in supplication. “Come away with me; dance with me and leave this all behind, I beg of you.”
“Whoa. Hold on—that thing,” Jayne pointed at Jareth with the biggest knife on his body, “Is married to River? Did I miss something vital when I was asleep? And he’s a king? So, what, River’s a queen now?”
“Goblin Queen, actually,” grumbled Jareth with a wave of his hand. “This is absolutely ridiculous. She has all the power of this universe in her pinky and all you people want to do is focus on the minutia. So typical of humans.”
“Power?” Inara spoke for the first time. “River is just a child.”
Zoe was the one to answer, her face wistful, “Inara, children do not carve up a room full of Reavers with a smile. River has not been a child for a very long time.”
“Why don’t you show them, River, show them what you can do?” Jareth opened his arms wide and spun around in a circle. “Tell that trigger happy captain of yours how the world really works.”
“She can kill you with her brain,” Kaylee said, “Can’t she?”
“Oh, little bird, she can do so much more than that,” Jareth said, stalking forward to the group on the stairs. “She can remake the world in her image, if she wanted. Can’t you, beloved? Come, show them.”
River bowed her head, resting it on Simon’s chest. “Is this the way for them to understand? Do they need to dance with the girl in her own steps to see?”
She tried out a watery smile in Simon’s direction before stepping out of his embrace and spreading her arms wide, palms down and fingers spread. She started to slowly twirl and the shadows along the walls moved
. Mal backed up closer to the group on the stairs, putting himself between the grinning goblins and his crew, but it didn’t matter. Soon it wasn’t only the shadows that swirled, but the light, bending into River’s dance and taking them with it. He felt pressure, like he dropped through the atmosphere too fast, then a pop so loud he saw stars.
When his vision cleared, he stood in a stone courtyard, ringed with potted plants. Jayne, Kaylee and Inara were still standing on stairs, but instead of the comforting, familiar metal stairs of the cargo hold, they were carved granite monoliths. River had moved until she was somehow seated on a stone throne, a twin to the one that Jareth now occupied.
“Welcome to my humble home,” the goblin said, lazily twirling a riding crop in his left hand. “Your wish is her command, blah blah blah.”
River rolled her eyes and stepped from her seat. “What he really means is welcome to our home.” She smiled a brilliant arc of happiness.
“Your…home?” Simon said, faintly. “But your home is with us. On Serenity
“I know that, brother,” River answered, “I have many homes. The stars are full of them, different movements for different dances. I have come to dance here in these halls for many years, but I couldn’t remember how to get back.”
“Until I came for you,” Jareth crooned, the crop now dangling from his fingers, limp against his leg. “I came for you and brought you home, and now things are better.”
Mal glanced over at the rest of his crew, but instead of not-so-quietly freaking out, they all seemed to be, well, resigned to the situation. He supposed if you spent enough time with River, anything seemed possible. Stone castles with goblins weren’t high on anyone’s lists, but definitely not out of the realm of possibility. Jayne was looking through an open window between two cedars in ornate iron pots and Mal followed his gaze.
In the next room was laid a banquet of surreally delicious stature. Berries, cakes, tarts, pies, luscious red apples, pitchers of dark wine and sparkling fruit juice were laid out on heavy oaken tables.
“That food real?” Jayne asked, sheathing his knife. “Cause, if no one is dying today and Simon gets his knickers out of their twist about River, can we go eat? I’m starving.”
“Our Jayne, always thinking with his stomach,” Zoe said, warily glancing between Jareth and Mal.
“Eating, drinking, being merry? That’s what parties are, no?” River danced her way over to a doorway leading into the next room. “We are welcoming you. Aren’t we?”
She looked at Jareth who nodded, only somewhat sulkily. “Yes, yes, welcome. What ever. Just don’t eat yourself sick.”
Slowly, in cautious fits and starts, the crew of Serenity
moved into the other room. The goblins from the ship were there as well, peeking shyly from the shadows. When no one screamed—Kaylee looked like she was considering it, but stopped herself—they clustered around the table, starting at his crew with wide eyes, chattering to themselves. Jareth didn’t move from his throne, but instead of looking quite as menacing as he had, Mal thought the Goblin King looked just as resigned as he felt. Anything to make River happy, Mal thought as he sidestepped a furry goblin wearing a horned helmet made from a sink.
River clapped her hands in delight that everyone seemed to be getting along and not trying to kill each other. “It’s not so bad, this life. And Serenity
is home, too.”
“River, honey, how did we get here?” Kaylee asked. She took a deep breath before popping a raspberry into her mouth. “These are delicious!”
“I brought you to my castle beyond the labyrinth. Many twists and turns before I could rest, but now you are here and you see.”
Inara poured a slender flute of golden, fizzing liquid and examined it in the light. “Are we really here? This isn’t in our minds?”
Jayne had half a pie on one hand, scarlet juice staining his chin. “If this is in my head, this is one excellent dream. Hey, Simon, pass me some of that whipped cream.”
“If we are really here, who’s running my ship?” Mal asked, arms crossed.
“We won’t be gone, not really,” River said, full of confidence. “It will be no time at all since we left. I made the time stop, gave it a break. Sometimes time gets tired, you know.”
Simon touched her shoulder, moving the hair away from her bare skin. “Is this, I mean, is this what you see? Are you here often? This place is so,” he nudged aside a chattering pair of goblins with tufts of hair obscuring their hands and feet so he could pick up a mug of something that looked an awfully lot like beer, “So strange. This can’t be real.”
“What’s real, Simon? Am I a real girl? Was I ever?” River wasn’t smiling now, and behind her in the doorway Mal could see Jareth watching her, his eyes hungry. “If I were a real girl, they would never have sent me away saying it was all for my own good, that I would become great if only they could fix my flaws, just like the Academy said. They would have loved me like they did you.”
“Our parents only wanted what was best for you, River,” Simon said, putting down the beer. “They loved you. I love you. What can this place do for you that we can’t?”
“It can let her be what she was meant to be,” said Jareth, moving to stand behind River, his hands encircling her waist. “You could never be what she needed, not all of it, or she would never have come to me. Your world is too linear, and my River is full of curves and angles, sharp enough to slice.”
“I slice and dice and carve them all up,” River whispered, turning her head to look up at Jareth.
For that moment, Mal could see something real there, as real as River herself. A need that the young woman had was mirrored in Jareth’s eyes, a fiercely protective need, and something not all together human. It twisted something inside him, a sadness he thought long forgotten, and he knew that his albatross wasn’t just his any more.
Simon obviously saw the same thing, and said, “I will always love you, River. These people here, your friends? They will always love you too. You have a home with us. You don’t need
this. You can’t.”
“Simon,” Mal said, slowly shaking his head, “I think River might know what she’s doing. Do I like that freaky sonofabitch? No. But…”
Zoe touched the doctor’s shoulder gently as Kaylee came to stand on his other side. The mechanic curled her arm through his and said, “River, honey, is this what you want? To stay here?”
“Of course she does,” Jareth scoffed, but there was something fragile in his tone, a fear that laced through the words.
River stepped away from the group of people and knelt down. A knee-high bronze-colored goblin with long floppy ears came up to give her a hug, brown eyes huge. Mal thought the things were starting to seem decidedly less creepy the more time he spent around them, and that one obviously liked River.
And she obviously liked him back. She stood up, carrying it like a high-society lap dog. “I have many homes. Some inside, some outside, some all around. This one is just one of many.”
Jareth narrowed his eyes and with a flick of his wrist, soft music swirled around them. River broke out into a huge smile and gently put the creature on the floor. “Our dance! Shall we show them what it means?”
“By all means, precious,” the Goblin King answered, sweeping her up in his arms and twirling her around.
Even Simon had to admit they were stunning: graceful and ethereal, yet somehow still full of menace. The goblins crowding around the table were quiet now, staying well out of the dancing couple’s way, watching every move. His crew watched as well, Mal noticed, though Jayne seemed more focused on the bottles of dark liquid he’d found at the other end of the table. Zoe had an almost unreadable expression on her face, something between memory and pain, and Mal missed Wash a thousand times over. If anyone, Zoe would understand the strange bonds of opposites, the way lives of lovers could intertwine without reason. If she wasn’t shooting Jareth on sight, edicts about guns aside, then who was he to object?
Regardless of what everyone thought, River was no longer a child, never had been, and they had no power over her.
“River,” Simon said again, voice breaking. “River whatever you need, we will support. But please come home to us.”
Jareth have her one final spin and she came to a breathless halt. She cocked her head to the side as if listening to something far away and said, “Of course, silly! I’ll be home by dinner.”
Before Simon could respond, the pressure was back, a spinning pop that sent Mal shaking his head. When he opened his eyes, they were standing in the cargo hold again, all of his crew except River. Simon’s hand was raised, as if to stall the inevitable, but when he saw where he was, it dropped limply to his side.
“This has been a very strange day.” He looked at Kaylee as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “Very strange day.”
“I think you need to lie down,” Kaylee said. “Come on, we’ll get you better in no time.”
“What am I going to tell my parents?” Simon said as she dragged him up the stairs.
Mal wished he had an answer. Inara took one last look around and said, “Tea. I’ll be making tea in the mess. This definitely calls for tea.” She fled after them leaving only Jayne, Zoe and Mal in awkward silence.
The mercenary seemed surprised that tucked under one arm were three bottles of drink and a chocolate cake leaving smears of brown on his chest; in the other hand he was still clutching his pie. He looked at them and back at his booty before laughing. “I’ll be in my bunk if anyone needs me. Not sex, but damn close enough!”
“And then there were two,” Mal said, pleased when Zoe smiled.
“I think we should take Inara up on her offer for tea. I don’t know about you, Captain, but this has been one helluva day.”
Nodding his agreement, Mal decided that while this had not been his best day ever, it wasn’t turning out nearly as badly as he’d feared. He grinned to himself as he pulled a bottle from his coat pocket that he was sure he didn’t put there. River always did know what he liked.
Crazy girl in her crazy world.
He’d raise a toast to her brave new world tonight. After all, she said she’d be back for dinner.