Notes: This chapter also fills joss100 prompt 2.77 - Betrayal.
Five Months Integrated
"*Tama de*," Mal says, staring up at the sight dangling above him. "What in the *tian xiaode* did you two think you were doing?"
Connor does his best to look apologetic, least as much as he can while trying to fend off his brother; Murphy don't hardly seem to notice, thrashing away best he's able with the hand not snarled in the line. "You and your *stupid* rope!" he exclaims.
Mal shakes his head, stooping to lift Murphy's knife where it's fallen to the floor. He cuts Kaylee free first, then River; Kaylee's shaking like a leaf, pale as milk, but she's awake and appears unharmed. River, on the other hand, is out cold, bloody fingerprints smearing up one arm and along her throat. It don't look to be her blood, but they'd've had to subdue her somehow to take her; the adrenaline still lashing through his system prods his pulse into a gallop at the thought. He tosses the knife upward, trusting the boys to catch it, then gently gathers her up.
Jayne and Zoe nod to him; room's secured, not that it wasn't already. As furious as he is at Connor and Murphy for running off without orders and breaking into the warehouse without 'waving Mal first, they'd surely done what needed doing. The bodies of Badger's thugs lay scattered around the storage room like mown wheat, not a one of them still moving.
The boys thud to the floor, still swearing. Mal pays them no mind as they begin searching bodies and placing coins on dead eyes; he's more concerned with the bundle in his arms, slowly stirring to wakefulness. He strokes River's cheek with a callused palm, feeling the echo of Book's hands burning against his own face, begging Mal to *believe*. He believes, all right; believes in *her*. He's survived the loss of a lot of folk dear to him over the years, but losing this one, he thinks, would break him.
A rough voice-- Dyton Colony accent-- breaks into his thoughts. Mal looks up, anger whipping into a bright flame, as the boys prop Badger into a kneeling position. Man must have been playing possum; he's gotten good at that, over the years. Striking only when he thinks he's got the upper hand-- setting up a certain kind of job, making sure only his target and the mechanic were left to mind *Serenity*. But he'd underestimated Mal's crew-- and he's about to reap the reward.
The boys place the muzzles of their guns against the middleman's skull and begin their prayer. From "And Shepherds we shall be" to "and Spiritus Sancti", Mal's heard it all once before; Niska'd tried-- and failed-- to take the ship one night, months after the boys had joined the crew. He'd confronted them about their actions later, disturbed by their killing in cold blood; they'd replied simply, almost in unison. "Destroy that which is evil, so that which is good may flourish."
Mal's found himself strangely comfortable with that.