Safe and Relatively Sound
It made for in interesting picture, River running through the halls, screaming and weeping, Simon following behind and Jack all but throwing punches at the doctor as she followed them through the halls as well. The murring sound of cattle was getting a bit louder, a bit more agitated as they dealt with the screaming and scrambling of the crew. She was without her boots today, as she often was, but she was also more unkempt than usual, lazy and very unwilling to redress or even crawl out of bed. Mal would have bet the entire profit in his hold that River wouldn't have moved if Simon hadn't come in.
“No!” River screamed. Angry, furious even as she kicked the couch. Adrenaline was high in her blood and the couch nearly took Simon down. “No, I don't want to go back...”
“It's okay,” Simon assured raising his hands.
“Ain't going to be close to okay until you back the hell off,” Jack interrupted.
“Will never be okay,” River argued, there was a hand running through her hair, her muscles were tense and unwilling to move. “You can't just dig into me. Shoving needles into her eyes, demanding she tells him what she sees.” she perched on the couch, hunching slightly as her knees pulled together. “Miracles and Max, they have ceased to laugh. The girl has gone.”
“No needles Simon,” Jack shifted slightly closer to River, seeing Inara look closely at River from the other side.
“Okay,” Simon agreed, moving to shut the infirmary doors. “No shots, I'm just going to give you a smoother.”
That was the exact wrong thing to say. River was throwing things again, standing up and aiming specifically for Simon's head as Mal took to standing in the doorway. Inara's eyes widened, not that anyone saw her reaction before moving closer, ammunition for River in one hand and a compassionate smile on her face.
“Oh sweetheart,” Inara sighed as the final object was thrown. “Jack, go get the red bag. Simon, do something useful and get the chocolate from the mess hall.”
“Now just hold on a gorram minute,” Mal began.
“Mal, River is entering her Moon Time,” Inara cut him off. She turned to River, opening her arms to the increasingly frustrated and now tearful girl. When the girl was crying into her sari, still cursing a storm, she continued. “In the four months she has been with us, this is her first bleed.”
Simon looked simultaneously disturbed and revealed, stuck between moving closer to his sister to examine and running fearfully to the kitchen. He moved to the kitchen, opting for the chance to truly be useful. Mal on the other hand was skirting away from Jack as she reentered the room with the Red Box. There wasn't a man on board the ship who didn't know what was in that box. None of them were remotely comfortable with it around, often calling for one of the girls to move said box if it was in the way.
Zoe was following Jack down the steps, smiling lightly as she did so.
“Right, well then, I'll uh,” Mal shifted as Kayle burst through, carrying the chocolate Simon had been sent for and presumably relieved of. “Now River, I understand, ain't got no right to demand anything. Be much obliged if mayhap you might be inclined to not spook the cattle.”
Mal backed out of the infirmary, hand jerking out to grab Simon as he attempted to push his way through.
“She's about to have her first...”
“Womenfolk been knowing all bout their own business longer'n there's been medicine,” Mal shook his head, closing the door to the medical bay.
“But the alliance, I'm her doctor...”
“Women folk. Got four women in there know a damn sight more than anyone what your sister is going through at the moment.”
Zoe and Jack both had joined the boys to help corral the herd. Inara, unsuited to heavy labor and more than suited to compassion and education, had stayed on board with River. Kaylee was making a list of supplies they might possibly need. Including chocolate if at all possible.
“You know, you don't have to smack 'em around to get them to move.” Jack was leading the horses, flinching every time she heard Jayne crack his whip.
“I like smackin' em,” Jayne whipped another.
“And I like not being reminded of my time on Tauron,” Jack slung a wad of dung at him. The wet slap of cow poop on his head all but echoed through the gathered group, even the cows falling silent for a half beat.
The fight only ended when a few wads 'accidentally' hit Simon. Jack hadn't been aiming for him, not really; at least, not so much as Jayne had been. But Zoe had been standing right there, ready and grinning as she eyed her husband coming towards the ramp. An easy enough excuse for well deserved punishment.
“Bout time you got some grit on ya,” Jayne laughed, using a nearby heifer for cover. It was one of the few things around that could hide his body fully.
“Reckon you might pass for a Rim boy wearin' Sunday best,” Mal agreed from his spot behind a nearby bull. The two they'd transported had been fenced off away from the rest.
Wash was grimacing as he pulled the wet dung from his hair, glint in his eyes before he spoke.
“Next time we smuggle stock, let's make it something smaller,” he nodded. He was quick, Zoe didn't fully dodge and her shoulder was now quite greenish brown. “Start dealing in Black Market beagles, less inclined to sling the droppings at one another.”
“Suddenly I'm reminded of how close man is to his simian cousins,” Simon huffed. He was at a loss as to how he might rid himself of the slop without actually touching it. Finally, and with eyes closed, he slung it off of himself. And wiped his hand on Wash's shirt. “I think I improved it.”
The laughter that followed was certainly something that they'd lacked in the past few days. A brief run back inside, two at a time so as not to leave the the herd unattended, Mal began to issue orders. Those who could wield a gun were to stay behind and help broke the deal. Wash and Kaylee were going on a supply run, Simon was to offer his services in town to those who might need it. Inara and River had already passed through and gone into town, as had Imam and his family; Mal hadn't even bothered to imply they might do anything they didn't want to. Simon nearly had.
“Captain Daddy is acting strangely,” River grumbled as she walked beside Inara. “Cowed by that which he fears, fears that which is part of nature.”
“All men fear women,” Inara smiled at her as they entered the town. They stood out against the dust. A companion and her ward, colorful gems, veiled and hidden beneath a parasol. “I wish I could offer you more meimei.”
“Willow bark derivative is adequate.” She paused in her steps. “Something is watching. Want, take, have.”
“It could be any one of the males around us,” Inara hummed, glancing around surreptitiously. “It is in the nature of man and beast alike.”
“Man and beast,” River hummed, walking onto the boardwalk with the companion. “The Beast comes. Called out in the dark and trailed them.”
“Kyra mentioned he was like that,” Inara settled on as they entered a small shop. It hadn't taken very long to figure out who The Beast was. “We must find something comfortable for the time you are in.” River paused just in the doorway, gaining Inara's attention. The wordless question echoed between them.
“She thought she was a girl. Thought she would always be a girl, not broken, but stuck.” River stepped fully inside. “She is not stuck. She is not as they made her.”
“No. She is more,” Inara smiled.
Jack watched as the clients rode up on their horses. Certainly not locals. No doubt Jiangyin was little more than a meeting point. She couldn't imagine it being much more. A general store and an inn for those who made it before the meeting times. Judging from the look of these guys, they must have come at least one day before they'd arrived. There was something about them she recognized. Not that she'd lacked for examples of tattooed underlings in her life. She'd known oh too many stoic thugs in her life too. There was just something about them that made her nose itch.
Morning gentlemen,” Mal stepped a bit closer. “You must be the Cain brothers. Hope you're in the mood for beeftsteak.”
“Attractive animals ain't they?” Jayne rubbed the head of the closest bovine, grinning in a way Jack had only seen in what he considered 'fun' situations.
“T'ain't well fed,” the elder shook his head, barely glancing at the animals. His tattoo's reached up to his ears, down his forearms and trailing down the backs of his hands. “Scrawny.”
“Fei hua,” Mal scoffed. “Milk and hay, three times a day, fed to 'em by beautiful women.” He jerked his head at Jack and Zoe.
“They don't mean to eat them, not yet at least,” Jack spoke up, leaning forward. “Ha'la'tha only seek out off planet beef if they're doing rites and need replacements.” The younger of the Cane brothers looked at her with assessing eyes. “Spent some time on Tauron about ten years ago. Ship needed an emergency landing, they weren't expecting the cargo hold to be searched.”
“Acathla,” the elder Cain nodded. “The last slave ship to land on Tauron.” He glanced over at the cattle, truly assessing them this time. “Big step, slave to gunhand.”
“Captain's daughter,” Mal corrected. “Now we got most of the posturing out of the way, what do you say we do our business?”
It was a troublesome thing, dealing with the Ha'la'tha. Particularly when Jayne was sticking his nose in and Mal kept sticking his foot in his mouth. It wasn't until Inara and River came back that any sort of agreement was made. Twenty-five a head if Mal and Jayne helped them to build a fire and re-brand the herd. Which of course the boys were all for, Jayne particularly seemed to enjoy handling cattle.
Jack nodded to the boys before walking into the ship. She had to know if River was going to be out of sorts while the cows were branded. And if River had started, that meant Zoe and Inara were following up soon and then Jack, followed by Kaylee. The ship's fans were spinning on high, Wash must have flipped them on before he left with Simon and Kaylee. The scent of bleach was wafting from a bucket on the catwalk and no few brooms were resting beside it.
For a pilot, Wash certainly enjoyed having all parts but his cockpit sparkling clean.
Her sister's were exactly where she expected them, River curling around a heating pad as Inara sat at her vanity. Jack sat down beside the younger, offering her sympathies and opening one of the chocolates for her.
“So, this mean you're going to wear your smallclothes from now on?” She teased. River's hand reached out for the chocolate. “First time is always terrifying, even if you know what it is and whats coming.”
“The Beast is coming,” River grumbled. “She did not wish to meet him huddled away in the dark. Neither did she desire to meet him in such a state.”
Kyra opened her mouth only to have Inara answered the question. The whole ship must have been turning psychic.
“Apparently Mr. Riddick found out where we were heading,” she closed her journal. All registered companions were required to record their journey. Once, Kyra had attempted to read it's contents; it was written in code, pictograms and glyphs only known by other companions. “He followed us through the market.”
“Riddick? Where is he?”
“Following Simon.” The grumble that came from River's lips was half a growl and half a sob. “Gege is foolish, trusting, doesn't know any better and the girl, the woman is not in a condition to seek him out.”
Kyra had something that could help. At least in so far as moving around. Tiny white pills, muscle relaxers instead of the mental smoothers Simon insisted on trying to give everyone for everything. River's hand was reaching out before Kyra even reached for the bottle. She wanted out and off the ship as badly as the cattle had. She wanted to see Riddick almost as much as Jack did.
“Are you going to come with us?” Jack asked, slipping her boots back on. River sat in front of Inara, allowing the woman to put her hair up with the instructions to create three tiny braids. Odd, but if River wanted it...
“No, I have the feeling Mal is going to get in trouble before the night is over.” She pulled River's curls up into a high tail. “He's going to need more than just a few people on the outside. Someone with sway and someone with the ability to fire a gun.” Inara squeezed River's shoulder. “A reader wouldn't hurt either.”
“Simon didn't bother to look for Inara to find you, did he?” Jack asked as they made their way through town. They'd been walking about for nearly a half hour now, meandering about and inspecting all the different geegaws and doodads in the shops. They'd stepped into a teashop a few minutes ago, leaving a large tip before exiting with two large iced teas.
“Negative, believes the girl is unaware of her location given the behavior she displayed earlier in the day.”
“Still convinced you're a girl huh?” Jack poked her head around a building, eyes narrowing as she saw the party going on behind. The music had been echoing through town since they stepped foot inside, but hearing and seeing were two different things. “Wanna go check it out?”
“83.6 percent chance it will end better than the last party attended by the crew.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Jayne held the heifer still as the elder Cane pressed the new brand into the cow's flesh. The bulls had been marked almost immediately, Mal and the younger spraying a sort of chemical on the wounds to make them look old. This was the sort of honest work he'd been born into. Herding cattle on his daddy's ranch, branding and feeding 'em as they needed to be fed. His sister would be the one turning and branding while he and his Pa ran the cattle down the chute. Of course, Matty and Ma would be in the house filling out the papers. Depending on the day, an uncle or an aunt would come by, sometimes a cousin lookin' fer work. Cobb ranch was one of the only ones left on his home moon.
“You work well with the herd.” Jayne looked over at Elder Cane.
“Grew up on a ranch,” Jayne admitted. “Always been better with cattle'n people.”
“The girl, the captain's daughter...”
“Engaged.” Jayne cut him off. “Courted her for almost two years.”
Elder Cane looked at him.
“She is one of ours. Perhaps not by birth, but the children of Acathla were ours for two years.”
“Kyra seems to have friends all over,” Jayne shook his head as he grabbed hold of the next bovine.
Jack turned when someone offered her a drink, ready to turn it down until she saw the hand holding it.
She didn't know she could make a sound that high pitched when Jayne wasn't around.
Riddick was smiling down at her, holding his own cup of something as goggles kept him free of pain. He looked cleaner than the last time she'd seen him, dressed in somewhat clean clothes and smelling more pleasant than he had on the ship they'd stolen to New Mecca. He looked older too. There were lines around his mouth that hadn't been there before. She hadn't really expected him to hug her back, maybe a pat on the head or something, but not a hug.
“How's Toombs?” she asked, taking a sip of the offered drink.
“Enjoying a cage on Cremetoria,” he rumbled, moving his head to stare at the raised platform serving as a dancefloor.
Jack watched as River continued to dance. The barbituates may have been a little stronger than she remembered, but on the other hand, she was relaxed and having fun.
“I can't...who do you threaten?”
“Creepy little hacker, Mr. Universe.”
Jack had to sigh. Of course he'd go to the best. It was what each of them did. She would have said more, but Riddick was darting up onto the dias, creating a circle around the collapsed River. Jack ran over as well, watching as the convict helped River to her feet and down to stand beside Jack. She was shaking, gripping tight to each of them as they tried to help her stand.
“Something must have spooked her,” Jack muttered as they moved River to sit beneath a tree.
“Wasn't anyone up there,” he grumbled, cast a look towards the dance-floor before looking back at River and Jack. “Smells terrified.”
“Alright, we're going to go home now,” Jack stood slowly, trying to pull the younger woman to her feet. “We gotta stand up.”
“No, no, can't go home, home is not real, home is a prison.” She'd backed up against the tree, holding her hair tight as she muttered to everyone and no one. “Bags over his head and steel at his back.”
“We got enough time to gear up before your brother gets himself killed?”
“No, no killing, in need, need of healing hands and needles.”
Jack nodded, standing up slowly only to see River dart off to the treeline. There was a half beat before Riddick was running off after her, leaving Jack behind in the middle of the dirt. They were both going to start doing that now, she just knew it. She also knew that she was going to need help if River's face and words were any judge. Rising from her place, she began the trek back through town to the ship. Oh, dad was going to be awfully angry. The only upside of the whole thing was knowing Simon wouldn't' be there to squawk at her too.
It was as she began walking back into the square she saw the colorful coral and turqouise Wash driving the quad through town. The damn thing was five minutes from breaking down; hopefully they could get a new one with today's deal. Then again, the look on Wash's face was decidedly sanguine.
“Wash, we got trouble.”
“Don't I know it...wait. Is your trouble different from our trouble?”
“Riv and I were at the party out back and Riddick showed up and...long story short, Simon got snatched up by someone between here and there.”
“Lets get back, your trouble is linked to ours.” Wash scooted forward and continued speaking. “Shepherd got himself bit by some lead pushing Kaylee out of the way.”
“Allah, Mary, and Jesus, what happened?” The pilot turned them dramatically, causing both to lean to one side to keep from tipping. Yes, Jack was the terrible driver.
“According to the local smokies, the Ha'la'tha didn't get all their landing papers in order.”
Jack snorted. Jiangyin didn't have a port, much less paperwork to fill out in order to drop anchor. It was more likely the sheriff had caught wind of illegal dealings and the only way he could pinch anyone was to get them on a traffic violation. Ha'la'tha weren't very trigger happy though, and most days, Mal would rather avoid a gunfight.
“Some greenhorn shot first didn't he?”
Wash nodded. “Now we have to get a rescue party out for our doctor before the shepherd bleeds out.”
The quad revved up, tearing through the scrub oak and the brush. Dust was kicking up behind them but now wasn't a time to worry about leaving a trail. As the mech pulled into the bay, she could see Jayne helping the elder Cane bury a body. Imam stood with them, singing and praying. Two lawmen were standing around, rifles resting on their shoulders as they watched. Both had turned at Jack and Wash's arrival, one leering as the other watched with dead eyes.
Kaylee's eyes were red, her face going even paler when she saw those who'd returned. Inara too looked to be worried. Mal's jaw had fixed itself and Zoe's face had gone even stonier.
“Where's the doctor?” Kaylee stood. “Why ain't he with you?”
“Wasn't in town,” Wash answered.
“Got snatched up by something,” Jack answered, walking to the door of the bay. “Get in here, we need a tracker.”
“Not by the law,” Kaylee's words were questioning and firm at once.
“No,” Wash shook his head. “I went by the office before I ran into Jack. We should have checked the domestic alerts along with the wanted boards. It seems some of the settlers in the hills have been taking people, tradesmen and the like.”
“And now they got themselves a doctor.” Mal waved Jack over from the weapons cabinet. Jayne was entering with Elder Cane, one looking for trouble and the other looking for a fight. “Seems we lost a few to snatchers, we'll help you get your brother to your ship. Wash, get us ready for the black.”
Jack glanced back at the Cane, glad that Inara came to whisper in her ear. Apparently the sheriff had suffered a heart attack during the gunfight. One last hurrah before the man was forced into retirement. The posse had fallen apart, leaving only the deputy and jailer to watch his burial; neither of which seemed too keen on keeping them here.
“Inara, we can't leave River and them behind,” Jack hissed as they climbed into their shuttle. Kaylee had left a shirt in here and the borrowed silks from earlier were piled up on the floor. All in all, the shuttle was a mess.
“No, we can't. Is there any way for you to keep us grounded?”
“Not here,” Jack shook her head. “No landlocks, no system to hack into except our own.”
“I see, maybe...”
Mal's voice called across the air; Jack was needed on the bridge to help find a doctor. She had a doctor for him...right inside her fist. Maybe it was worth it to take over the ship, lock dad up in his bunk. The ship was too quiet without the sound of River's song and Simon's constant hemming. The mood was dour and cold with the shepherd dying on the exam table and the song of mercy echoing through the interior. Jayne was leaning sitting on the stairs up to the bridge, mouth drawn and jaw tight. He grasped her hand as she began to ascend, leaning forward to graze his lips across the palm. Not even the tickle of his whiskers could make her smile. A final squeeze of her hand and she continued into the room.
Mal wasn't looking at her. In fact, he wasn't looking at anything or anyone.
Jack flopped into her seat, crossing her arms and staring at the black screen. A small light was flashing blue; Mr. Universe had called while they were dirtside. She wasn't about to check it though.
“Don't look like you're workin' there Jackie.”
Mal did look at her then.
“What I said isn't it?” Jack looked up at him. “You know as well as anyone on this ship that the nearest med center is at least ten hours and so long as my family is down there, I'm not doing a damn thing.”
“Jackie, I ain't got tim for mutiny, now get on there.”
“You know where you can find a doctor,” Inara's voice joined them. She was dressed a bit oddly, at least in comparison to her normal garb. A pair of Jack's pants and one of her older shirts. Her hair was pulled back into a low tail and despite looking like the rest of the crew, it worked rather well. “You know exactly.”
“Now gorram it,” Mal shouted. Wash remained still as stone behind him. “He was dumb enough to get himself snatched in broad daylight. We don't have time to be beatin; the trees looking for him now.”
“I wasn't talking about Simon.” Inara stepped further into the cockpit. Dressing as crew had forced Mal to actually listen to her words. “I'm talking about medical facilities.”
“That's not an option, nor a discussion I much want to have at the moment,” Mal folded his arms. The look on his face told Jack exactly what Inara was suggesting.
“It doesn't matter what you want. He's dying, and we need a doctor.” Inara looked to Jack. “We're close enough that we can get to Jiangyin if we leave now. Jayne already has his gear inside.”
“Now hold up!” Mal shouted as Jack rose. “This, is mutiny.”
“I believe it's a rescue mission sir.” Zoe entered the room, taking Jack's seat as the two Serra women left. Inara turned before the captain could speak again, Jack following close behind. Of course, Mal wasn't a second behind them, shouting and entirely displeased by the events unfolding.
“You can't just take off with my shuttle!”
“So long as I pay rent, It's mine,” Inara reminded him. “I can contact the guild if you're so worried, they'll pick us up and return the shuttle to you. Or Jack if she's planning to return.”
“And just what are you planning to do once you get there?” Mal took her arm. “These folk ain't the open minded type, more likely to skin you. Especially you.”
He was following her. The beast had her scent, only her face before, only her name. Now her being was bouncing around in his head. The scent of now found the scent of then, faint and half-forgotten, he'd thought it a dream. She'd never doubted him, not even when the needles were piercing her eyes and the hands of blue were tearing into her memories. Sewing the minds of others into her flesh and bone. The beast was silent behind her. Surefooted and silent, waiting patiently for her to make some move, some choice. The spirits were waiting silent, drowsy as they hoped to wake; she was to wake them. Such bother, such nonsense. Her own were lost in the screams, too loud to hear clearly and too hurt to help.
Silly Simon had chosen now to try and disappear. Not earlier when he was trying to stab her with needles but now, when she was to meet the beast and needed him to be there. Needed him there as one of Grandmother's line. Now she had to go and find him. Such a bother.
His arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her tight against his chest.
Just as she was about to step out and scold her gege.
She'd never been held this close by a man trying to protect her. By men trying to hold her down, by men hurting her and cutting into her. Simon had never held her so tight or so close. The feeling of it stole her voice and those of Them. The logic of it kept her from making a sound. His thoughts reminded her of the risk involved with revealing herself. Quiet thoughts, strong, pushing through the roar of blood and the river.
Simon passed, his captors pushing and shoving, angry, desperate, excited. Dying. All of them dying with each breath. They passed, following the trail leading into misery.
“Night's our best bet.” His rumble echoed through her.
“All is silent and still,” she whispered. He was right. Again. “The beast will prowl and the dancer will skip across the rooftops.”
“You've been here before?” he asked. He was amused, laughing silently inside of his mind. Found her willful, strong, Beautiful.
“The beast grew restless, explored. Gathered and presented.” She turned, seeing him from the corner of her eye. “Followed the woman rather than stay with sister.”
“Jack is doing just fine.” She was bleeding, the scent worried him. He knew why, figured it out only after he was running behind her. “I know how she gets about family though.”
“Remembers what she taught him.”
“I found one trail, the doc and those what took him. Fainter one, runs a bit parallel. River-child and Riddick must have made that one.” Jayne was standing in the door of the shuttle, glancing back and forth between the two women he'd come with. He'd run to the end of the galaxy and back for Kyra. Already he was thinkin' on dropping the title of mercenary, she had a powerful dislike of them and there wasn't a single job he was looking to take without her say so. 'Specially when she knew how to find the best cashy-money jobs.
“The fainter one is less likely to get us spotted,” Inara hummed. “I don't suppose you brought any explosives?”
“What kind of question is that?” It was downright insulting.
“Inara,” Jack was sitting on the table. “This, this can get you kicked off the ship. You aren't registered anymore.” Jayne turned to look at his girl. “She had me send off a retirement form on the last stop.”
“Good start to bein' crew,” Jayne shrugged. “Disobeyin' Mal, wearing pants on a job. All ya need now's a gun.” He looked around. “Also a damn sight better at doin' business.”
“I suppose now we just need a tactician.”
Inara's joke had all of them smiling. Their little mission seemed less daredevil now, less anxious.
Book knew he was in bad shape, as much as Zoe might try to make light of it. The only upside to this was his shoulders matched now. Matea moved above him, changing water as Zoe removed her gloves. This was a dream once, being tended by beautiful toffee skinned nurses after a gunfight. Once. Long ago. Now, now it was his daughters, trying to keep him from leaving before it was time. The family he'd considered having, once or twice, in the middle of the black, in the center of the jungle. When he was alone. He wasn't alone now. The family had shown up without so much as a by your leave. And he was glad for it.
“That bad?” he asked. Zoe's lips were pursed, brows drawn tight. Matea was having a hard time looking at him.
“Battle wounds are nothing new to me preacher.” Zoe began applying the gauze, Matea coming over to supply tape. She was squeamish around blood, but she was trying. “I've seen men live with a dozen holes in 'em this size.”
“That right?” Book asked.
“Surely is. Knew a man, had a hole clean through his whole shoulder.”
“Crissan?” Matea asked, smiling. “He keeps a spare handkerchief in it now.”
“Where's the doctor?” Book hated to break up their conversation. Zoe smiled in a way he'd not seen before. “Not back yet?”
“Jack and Jayne went to go and fetch him,” Matea assured him. “You know how they get.”
Round and around, his trail led up and down, through and forth. Always in sight of the quarry. The quarry was below them, sprawling across the dead earth. The sorrow did not rise, instead, it clung to them. Crawling along the earth like dung beetles. She could feel them creeping along her skin.
Those were creeping along her skin as well. Ghostly touches, shy, wanting. They were blue. Bright blue and dreaming. He hadn't woken up yet. Grandmother had not awoken his Spirits. She wanted him to become strong on his own, wanted him to be worthy of becoming a consort.
“Grandmother liked you.” Liked him very much. She knew he carried moonlight within him. It was known of his clan.
“Shirah. She never told me much about you.” He leaned forward. “Taught me everything else.” Except who he was. Gave him a name needed to exist. Gave him skills needed to survive. Gave him knowledge needed to live.
“She teaches what she will. It is our way.” River looked across the town. “I can hear the people dreaming. Dreaming of death and redemption. The entirety of the town will fall into it's sleep mode within the next three hours. There will be three deaths when Simon is reclaimed.”
“Still not sure why I followed you here.” He was. He was very sure.
“She is Beautiful. It has been a long time since you smelled Beautiful.”
Mal was used to being disobeyed by his crew, of course, most times it was something small, something easily resolved and forgotten by the end of the night cycle. This was not one of those times. This was, in fact, one of those times when he needed to start sharing his plans. Especially with Jack. She was the one he planned on giving the ship to, crew and all if they so chose. Only thing, he'd been teaching her the less tricky parts of the business. Hadn't taught her to get her men healthy before launching a second attack. Zoe knew. Imam knew. Hell, even Jayne knew. But the war was over and guerilla tactics only worked sometimes these days.
Doo's head came to rest on his knee and Mal's hand was scratching his ears without a half thought. Dog didn't understand either, but he wasn't yellin' or running off. Just pacing around and wondering where the rest of them had gone.
“We'll go get 'em soon as can. Need to let the alliance fix our shepherd up first. Then we'll turn 'round and hope they didn't do something foolish.”
Problem was, the whole darn venture seemed foolish from all angles.
“Doo, If I even get invited to a party again, bite me, will ya?” He made a huffing noise before he propped himself up on the arm of the couch. “Yeah, alright then. Get up here.”
“Either, they can run, or, we found a coyote trail,” Jack huffed as she followed Jayne up the hill. “I'm leaning towards, them running.”
“Oh?” It was the first word Inara had said in almost twenty minutes.
“Yeah, back on Hades, and, on Kublai.” Jack pushed herself, huffing. “Ran, faster than, most...could keep up.”
“You girls gonna stop yammering soon?” Jayne was having little to no trouble.
“Ain't like, we're trying.”
“To hide,” Inara finished.
Jayne grunted, slowing ever so slightly. The brush began to clear the higher up the hill the went, until Jack nearly collapsed at seeing River and Riddick. It was now Jayne chose to be helpful, taking hold of each girl and helping them to a fallen log. River was grinning at her, fingers twisting around a curl as she came to crouch in front of the two Serra women. Riddick was laughing outright, Jayne turning his head to hide a smile she knew existed. He better be hiding it.
“Too soft,” River smiled up at them. “the companion does not run. Do not seek that which will not come to her. Not used to collecting what she can not use.”
Inara turned her head to River, brows raising and the faintest rise and fall of hr shoulders.
“Daddy will come.” River sat down. “Sharing is not his strong point.”
“Plan?” Jack breathed out. “Shut up.”
Riddick only grinned at her before turning to size up Jayne. Oh sweet allah, not now. Not when she couldn't at least try to stop him from killing her man.
“No, not now,” River shook her head. “Impressed, need two large men to carry out plan. Chances of rescue have risen from 89 to 95 percent.” She tilted her head. “Assuming the sisters do not enter cardiac arrest.”
“Hush,” Inara huffed out. “I just, a minute.”
“Up here 'til nightfall as is,” Jayne called over. “Ain't such a good plan, placin' charges while folk can see ya doin' it.”
Jack caught her breath as she and Inara listened in on the plan. The new plan according to River. It had been a simple snatch and grab before. Before Jayne showed up with his explosives and Riddick had thought about trying some of them out. Inara had bit her lip, internally protesting only to have River assure her it was kinder to force them into the town at the base of the hills. Many of those in the town were too fearful to head back.
“The patron kills those who would disobey him. Women and children first. The center of town is stained with their hopes.”
River's morbid words were not made less so by her hanging from a tree.
“I don't suppose we could set him on fire,” Jack's lips pursed.
“Cleanse the devil out of him with fire.”
“Sounds absolutely delightful to me,” Inara agreed.
Jayne leaned over towards Riddick, lifting a hand and whispering something. The result had the bald man whispering back, a grin on his face. In that moment, as the two of them made comments back and forth, Jack wondered which was worse, Jayne and Riddick at one anothers throats, or Jayne and Riddick making friends. River gave her an uncertain look. Jack didn't seem to be the only one unsure of the result.
“You two seem to be getting along,” Inara spoke up.
“Hell, I ended up in the clink with this hundan back on Caloca.” Jayne pulled a cigar out, patting his pockets down for a lighter. His eyes lit up when Jack tossed it to him. “I get snatched up for...well, ain't important now, but I get thrown in a cell. Next time the door opens, this fella walks in, cuffed up with a bit. Ain't right, taken a man in like that. So I get up, hit a few buttons, next thing I know we're haulin' ass outta there and grabbin' a ship to Merrick.”
“Merrick, you mean we picked you up just as...”
“Took close on two years baobei,” Jayne assured her. “Didn't miss nuthin' cept seein him kick my ass out of a shuttle.”
“Hope you don't plan on collecting,” Riddick rumbled. He was grinning.
“Pfft, no how. Figure it's karma,” Jayne put the cigar out on his boot. Night was falling and a coal was a giveaway.
They watched the orange sun dip down between the hills. The torches in the township went up, casting a light glow on the quickly emptying streets. From their location, they could see a woman and three armed men escorting someone to a shack across the town. It was a bit nicer than the rest in the town, save one large building, a church, and the house right next to it. Perhaps the only building that could be defined as a house.
Riddick and Jayne were taking the lead. River would follow while Jack and Inara crept about and planted charges. The creep down the hill was much easier than the trek up, neither Jack nor Inara losing breath as they made their way down. They did leave quite a bit so far as silence went, but nothing that could be picked out by the average night watchman. Not that it didn't stop the heckling she and Inara caught. Whispers and faint giggles, honestly it was amazing they weren't caught.
Jack chewed her lip as she and Inara tied a twine to the grenade pins, running them around tot he back of the house. Then only fuzzy part of the whole plan was whether to blow the house before or after Simon was rescued. Either way it would cause a commotion and all six of them could get out without notice. Of course, if the house blew first, the townsfolk might try to fetch Simon. Sadly there was no way of knowing when River and Riddick got Simon out. Or knowing when Jayne had finished locking up the weapons store the township had.
Well, Jack had always liked to take initiative.
Inara took two of the pullstrings, a strangely excited smile on her face as she jerked them.
“We need to run now.” Jack let the twine fall, grabbing Inara by the elbow and dashing towards Simon's prison. Simon was groggy, trying desperately to question River as Riddick tried not to knock him out.
“He will be silent or she will shoot him.” River snapped. “The woman has not forgiven him for this morning.”
The explosion cut anything he, or anyone else for that matter, might have said. Two frag grenades, a stinger, and a crimson had turned the Patrons house into a veritable glimpse into hell. Great lobs of reddish orange and bursts of bright red, the roar of the flames drowned out any sort of screams the patron might have made, along with waking everyone in town. The explosion of another building had all of them holding back a shout. Jayne must have found the weapons closet.
They were dashing towards the exit when Jayne caught up with them. Covered in dirt and soot, debris had taken up residence in his hair and his cigar was more than done for.
“Ol' hundan had hisself a drop mine stored,” Jayne huffed. “Tripped over the damn thing tryin' to place a charge.”
“I can't let you kids go anywhere!” Mal was standing on the catwalk, arms crossed and grinning. “I take the shepherd out for one night and the whole of you turn into hooligans.”
“He will stop touching her!”
“Simon, stop messin' with yer sister!” Mal was working his way down the steps now. “Preacher needs lookin' after.”
“But River is-”
“Women's problems,” Mal cut him off. “Infirmary. Now.”
The doctor made to speak, stopping as he saw River leaning against Inara and asking petulant questions. It was normal. How many times had he seen nurses sequestering themselves away from the world, angry words coming from their mouths when normally they were honey sweet and kind? This was one thing he really could do nothing about. Something he'd never even considered to be an issue before. Maybe his mother was right. Just a little bit. Maybe he did depend on her a little much.
“Most cruiser medics don't know a bullet wound from a zit,” he finally nodded.
The rumbling voice of the strange rescuer made him pause in step. A little much...well, there would always be something he couldn't control, and maybe he couldn't heal every little cut and scar, but that didn't mean he couldn't posture and act like a big brother. He might have to find a subtle way of doing it, a way that didn't involve hand to hand combat, but he was intelligent. He could find some sort of way to intimidate a strange, likely dangerous, probably criminal, large man. Sure.
“So then,” Mal had his thumbs looped through his belt loops. “Seems as we got ourselves two more fighters. Assuming of course Miss Serra continues along this downward spiral into deviance.”
Deviance suited her. Dirt smudged across her cheeks and the look that only came from blowing something up. The look of healthy exertion and honest kidnapping flushed her skin in a way he'd never seen before. Yes, Inara Serra was a beautiful woman. Much too good for a life like his.
“There's a bit too much running,” Inara smiled.
“Most days there's a few too many bullets,” Zoe smirked from her place beside Wash.
“And less explosions,” the pilot added. “Who's idea was that? Saved us half the trouble of trying to find you guys.”
“Point is,” Mal broke in. “We seem to have picked up yet another family member.”
“You make it sound as though you were a godfather,” Imam chuckled.
“Not nearly so vengeful as all that. Jackie's still alive ain't she?” Mal's face grew a bit more serious. “Now, we'll be passing through a system soon enough, hear tell there's a few crislam settlements, plenty of protection 'gainst those who might wish you ill.” Mal took a seat, feeling rather his age and fifty years more. Crew nearly dying every job and when they weren't dying they were getting kidnapped or stealing shuttles. “Other option. You stay on. We become a family business. Take on bigger jobs and the like.” He was thankful when a cup appeared in front of him. Tea, but still something hot and soothing. “Includes you Mr. Riddick.” Nearly everyone was silent. Thinking, deciding. “Now, it's well past the captain's bedtime and I still got folks to talk to. If the Serra's wouldn't mind meeting me on the bridge, I need Jayne to walk down to the weapons locker with me.”
“And there's the godfather,” Wash spoke as the four departed.