Pairing: Canon, if any
Word Count: 4000ish
Disclaimer: Firefly/Serenity do not belong to me.
Description: Inara and Simon go to the job.
A/N: Many many thanks to gilliebeans for the beta and cheering me on!
Inara’s eyes narrowed in concentration as she maneuvered the shuttle past another hairpin curve. The journey to the job had begun boringly enough but after an hour of the seemingly endless flatness the barren landscape had changed drastically. At first, Inara was happy for the challenge the new terrain presented - she needed a diversion to keep her mind occupied on anything other than the idiocy that she and Simon were about to undertake. But her happiness was soon replaced by fear as she realized just how tricky the route was.
Another blast of wind pushed the shuttle toward the wall of the canyon. She heard Simon’s swift intake of breath before she quickly corrected the shuttle’s course. Her hands tightened on the steering column and didn’t relax until they reached their destination.
“We’re here,” Inara said quietly as she circled around the meeting spot before finding a satisfactory place to set down the shuttle. After powering down the shuttle, she unstrapped the safety harness but couldn’t seem to rise from her seat. Neither, apparently, could Simon. In nervous silence, they gazed out the window.
They were in a deep, uneven valley. Brown and rocky still dominated the landscape but whereas the terrain surrounding Serenity had been devoid of any life, here, there were big clumps of brown, tough grass. The tufts littered the landscape, rising to over three feet tall in some places but they were dwarfed by the rise of red and beige rock formations that grew out of the ground. Inara admired the gentle lift of the rocks. The formations made her think of what a wave would look like, frozen in time, curving up on one side, falling away on the other. Her eyes continued to scan the valley until she noticed how low the sun hung in the sky. Almost time for the meet.
“Should we wait here or out there?” Inara asked.
“I think out there.” Simon unbuckled his seatbelt and got up. “That way they’ll know we’re not…”
Afraid. Inara took a deep breath pushing aside the nagging realization that this endeavor was a huge mistake.
“Why don’t you wait here?” Simon asked.
“No,” Inara said, rising out of the pilot’s seat. “We’ll do this together.”
Simon nodded, handing her one of Jayne’s guns. “Ready?”
Inara stared at the gun. What am I doing? Not wanting to dwell on the whys of her decision, she holstered the gun and gave Simon a brave smile. Following him out of the shuttle, she ran her hands over the unfamiliar clothes she wore.
Kaylee had gleefully assembled their costumes. Rushing about Serenity, darting in and out of everyone’s quarters, she managed to scrounge suitable attire for Inara and Simon.
Inara pulled on a faded pair of Kaylee's cargo pants then looked to her friend. "What do you think for a shirt?"
She looked curiously as Kaylee passed her a long-sleeved blouse with pearl buttons up the front. "This is pretty; I've never seen you wear this."
Kaylee threw an apologetic glance at Simon's back. "It's Simon's," she explained.
Inara slid on the shirt, appreciating the feel of real silk. As she tucked it in, Kaylee was behind her quickly braiding Inara’s hair in a thick plait that hung down her back.
“We have hats. Do you want a hat?” Kaylee asked before handing her a gun holster.
Inara shook her head imagining one of Jayne’s hats on her head. Buckling the holster around her waist, Inara stood back and looked in the small mirror. The end result was passable but she couldn’t pull off the aura of careless strength like Zoë. No, she felt like a desperado vixen.
Everything about the hastily assembled outfit felt strange. She didn’t feel like herself. A good thing, she supposed, because never would Inara Serra of House Madrassa ever wear a gun to barter with the less than savory citizens of the universe. She focused on the fact that these were just people. Dangerous people, possibly, but people. People wanting to do business and she had plenty experience with that.
“I think I should do the talking.” Inara said with a quick glance to Simon.
“Yes,” Simon said. “That would probably be best.”
“You just need to stand there and look menacing.”
Simon adopted what he must have considered a menacing look.
Inara laughed nervously. “You look like you’re irritated with your wine order. Just pretend like you’re Jayne.”
“I can’t even begin to do that.” But a glower appeared on his face. For Simon, it was a step toward a more dangerous look yet nothing approaching the intimidating demeanors shared by Mal, Jayne, and Zoë.
“Hopefully, the uncomfortably big guns we’re wearing will demonstrate our menacingness,” he said.
“It is uncomfortable,” Inara agreed, her hand patting the unfamiliar weight of the gun at her hip. It felt odd and she felt more ridiculous than menacing. Inara unbuttoned another button, leaving the shirt open to reveal more of something she knew men would not find ridiculous.
Simon’s eyebrow rose.
“Distraction,” Inara informed him. “It’s a tactic.”
He didn’t look convinced. “What if they decide they want to keep our money and their…product?”
“We’ll talk them out of that.” Inara hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. “Don’t worry, Simon. I think everything will be just fine. Just remember to look menacing.”
“And you’ll look…” He glanced meaningfully but bashfully in the direction of her chest.
“Distractive.” One thing Inara was confident of was her ability to distract men which hopefully was the main gender of the opposing crew. Glancing at Simon, Inara cheered to realize that if there were any women in the other gang they would be suitably distracted by him. Well acquainted with the male species as she was, Inara couldn’t fail to notice how improbably attractive-looking Simon was and she offered up a brief prayer that if anyone else noticed, they would just think that it's their lucky day.
Simon wore his least fancy black trousers tucked into a pair of black boots left over from some job Kaylee couldn’t remember the details of. Kaylee had tried to find a dashing but dangerous looking black shirt to complete the outfit but all she could find was an old, faded yellow shirt of Mal’s. Inara’s eyes fell on the newly mended shirt and once again she was struck by the sense of the wrongness in what they were doing. The hastily sewn rend mocked her and she resolutely turned her mind away from dwelling on how that shirt had sustained such an injury.
“This place looks like it used to be a lake,” Simon said. He stood with his hands on his hips, studying the landscape. “And over there…a dam?”
He pointed to a huge opening in the wall of solid rock that surrounded the deep basin. The gap fed into an even larger opening that ran along the middle of the valley. The chasm must have been over a hundred meters across. Inara walked toward the chasm. Stopping at the edge, she gasped in surprise.
“Oh, Simon!“ Inara exclaimed. “You’ve got to see this!”
“What?” He sounded worried until he saw what she was looking at. “Wow.”
The chasm was neither empty nor barren as one might expect. Instead, a thick, lush assembly of green leaves rose out of the hole. The top of a dense forest peeked over the edge of the chasm presenting quite a contrast with the rocky ground.
“It’s like a huge green carpet,” Simon observed. He sounded as awed as she was by the incongruous sight in front of them.
“Yes. It’s so thick, it looks like we could walk across it,” Inara mused.
Simon jumped down to the lower ledge. Walking closer to the edge, he lightly kicked one thick group of leaves. “Amazing. The terraforming oddities that crop---“
“What the hell are you doin’?”
* * * * * * * * *
Jayne kept his gaze on the floor, watching the progress of the shadows of the bars on the window as they moved with the sun. The bar shadows had traveled quite a bit since he first started watching. The cell was silent. Mal was still passed out and Zoë… He was very aware of Zoë in the adjoining cell. She sat unmoving and utterly silent. Every time he looked up to make sure she was still there, he would find her sitting exactly as she had been when he last checked on her.
His sharp eyes detected a slight slump to her spine. Ramrod straight was the way she always held herself and the slouch bothered him more than her beating up that kid. He wanted to say something to her. Let her know that he wasn’t mad at her for wrecking their job. The way he figured it, the fault rested squarely on the man that snoozed so peacefully.
Jayne’s gaze lifted again, briefly resting on the still out-cold form of the Captain. When he wakes up there will be much in the way of hell to pay. Jayne actually wished he was the cause of this mess. Mal could yell at him and he could yell back. But Jayne wouldn’t cause a fight with him. Not until Zoë decided she had enough of her war buddy muddling her life. “Punch him for me, Jayne” she’d say. And he would. Gladly. Knock the Captain back into passed outedness and then they’d leave him behind on this gorramn rock. Zoë would become Captain of Serenity. Of course, they would leave Simon and River with Mal. Kaylee might be sad at first but not for long since Inara would stay on the ship. Inara. She and him would….
“How is everyone doing?” A cheery voice called out.
Irritated because his fantasy was getting to the good part, Jayne refused to answer.
Sheriff Alavega walked in holding a tray with several glasses. She looked expectantly at her prisoners, waiting vainly for a reply. “Now, now. Just cause you’re incarcerated doesn’t mean you have to be rude,” she chided, placing the tray on a small table against the far wall.
Jayne walked to the edge of the cell. Folding his arms, he glared silently at her.
“Thought you might be thirsty.” She handed him a big plastic glass.
His thirst outweighed his need to be obstinate. Jayne watched her as she watched him glug down the water. When finished, he handed the sheriff the glass infusing as much insolence as he could in the simple movement.
She just gazed at him, her amusement apparent. For an older woman, she had an attractiveness to her but she looked tough and Jayne liked his ladies sweet and soft.
“Think you need to send someone to check on Mal there.” Jayne nodded his head toward the cot that adjoined Zoë’s cell. “He don’t look like he’s stirring anytime soon.”
“Guess the boys forgot to adjust the stunner from Big Bear of a Man setting.” She grinned at her own joke. “He’ll come to. If not tonight, then tomorrow. He ain’t the first that had to sleep off a stun.”
“Tomorrow?” Jayne frowned. “Think we got to get out today.”
“Not today.” Alavega walked to Zoë’s cell, placing another big plastic glass of water on the floor. “You alright?” She looked at Zoë who remained staring at the opposite wall.
“She’s fine,” Jayne answered.
“You her man?”
Jayne glanced at Zoë, alarmed that even that question didn’t get a response from her. He debated saying “yes” just to get a rise out of her. “No. When we gettin’ out?”
“Not soon.” The sheriff continued looking at Zoë, concern growing in her eyes. “You can’t just waltz into a town and beat up our most annoying citizens. This here is what we call consequences.”
Consequences. As of late that was all Jayne seemed to be acquainted with.
“He okay?” Zoë finally spoke. She continued looking at the far wall.
“He’ll live,” Alavega said. “I’ll be by later to check on ya’ll.”
With a quick inquisitive look at Jayne, she walked out, shutting the door firmly behind her.
“Zoë?” Jayne called out softly. The fact that she hadn’t balked at someone confusing him for her man worried him. Plus, she hadn’t even checked on Mal. Maybe she was well and truly sore at him. Despite his earlier fantasy about her turning on the Captain, Jayne didn’t like thinking that these two were divided. “You alright?”
“Just shut up, Jayne.”
Jayne sat back on the small cot and resumed watching the shadows on the floor.
* * * * * * * * *
“What the hell are you doin’?” An astonished voice exclaimed.
Simon and Inara spun around to see a dirty, wizened man of about fifty years. He was flanked by four other unkempt but large men. Simon hurried to stand beside an equally discombobulated Inara.
Everyone stared at each other for a moment before the older man spoke again. “Ya’ll sightseein’?” His bad teeth were visible because of the astonished gape he was sending their way.
“It’s an unusual sight,” Inara said, gazing at the man without the slightest hint of fear.
Simon tried channeling Jayne but he couldn’t. His brain registered that he and Inara were outnumbered, outgunned, and, boy, was this a bad idea.
“I’ll say so.” The man rocked back on his heels. His hands were curled into his belt, his fingers lightly touching his two holstered guns. He shared an amused glance with one of his cohorts before a quick flick of his head had the rest of his crew fanning out to take positions around Simon and Inara. “What kind of outfit is this? We ain’t here for a tea party.” His shrewd gaze slid over Inara before resting on Simon. “You ain’t Reynolds, are you?”
“No,” Simon said. “The Captain is…around.”
He stared at Simon before nodding in approval. “Good plan.” The man looked up over the cliffs.
Simon and Inara exchanged a quick glance pleased with the man’s assumption. With a smile, Inara stretched out her hand. “My name is Monica and this is…John.”
“Well, John and Monica, I’m Levon. That there’s Bo, Freddy, Ali, and Dickie. Now that we got that out of the way let me ask ya’ll something.” He folded his arms, looking at them sternly. “Don’t ya’ll know how this works? Didn’t your gorramn Captain tell ya’ll anything other than to stand around actin’ stupid and lookin’ pretty?”
Inara grinned. “Actually, those were his precise instructions.”
Levon laughed, his tense stance relaxing. Taking a cue from their leader, the other men started chuckling. Soon, Simon and Inara joined in. With a look at Simon and Inara, Levon stopped laughing. Again, taking a cue from their boss, his men also stopped leaving only the sound of Simon and Inara’s nervous giggling.
Clearing her throat, Inara said, “The Captain thought it best for us to meet with you while he and the others kept watch.”
“That’s right smart thinking. We didn’t even see them on our way in.” He looked up again vainly looking for something that wasn’t there. “He really should’ve given you some pointers, though, ‘cause you two look like babes in the woods.”
Walking to the edge of the chasm that had transfixed Simon and Inara, he gestured for them to come closer. “Like when you’re meetin’ folk you don’t know, don’t never give your attention to nothing but the meet. I don’t care if the Egyptian’s Pyramids suddenly appear, your eyes gotta be set on business.”
“We’ll remember that for next time,” Simon said. Now that the danger had seemed to pass, Simon grew impatient with the lecture Levon felt compelled to deliver. “So, where is the…stuff we’re buying?”
“On its way. See, best not to bring your ‘stuff’ right away. Gotta get a sense for the meet else you’ll get robbed and murdered right quick.” He nodded to the satchel slung over Simon’s shoulder. “That includes not affixin’ the money on your person.”
Levon smiled again, shaking his head. “Ya’ll really are lucky you didn’t meet me in my wild days. Bullets would be in your brain and I’d be off with the booty. And your little ship there. But, I’m in what you’d call a transitional phase. Workin’ on my karma, ya know?”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Inara glanced up toward where their imaginary backup might be before gazing steadily at Levon. “That makes things far more pleasant.”
She smiled at him again. It was the kind of smile she would bestow on the Crown Prince of Londinium. Simon couldn’t believe she could maintain such a serene demeanor at a time like this. Even though he strongly suspected these men didn’t intend to kill them, he couldn’t possibly relax until they were back on Serenity.
Levon responded with a gap-toothy grin of his own. “You’re something else, woman. I can see why your Captain sends you to do the talking.” He lightly punched Simon’s arm before looking out over the mass of trees peeking over the cliff. “It is a sight, ain’t it. Can’t begrudge you too much for your interest in the Crazy River.”
Simon inhaled in shock. “The wha--?”
Levon pointed to the trees. “That there’s the Crazy River.”
“The what?” Simon repeated.
“The Crazy River.” Levon looked confused at Simon’s astonishment. “Used to be called something else but over time the river just turned crazy.”
A whistle sounded. “Looks like the stuff is here,” Levon informed them, pointing toward a small hovercraft pulling a hover-trailer. He gestured for the mule to head toward the shuttle.
“So, the river turned crazy?” Simon asked. “What does that mean?”
“Means that once upon a time that there was a bona fide regular river. Now, I hear it’s just a swampy mess down there. Nobody goes down there on account that it’s haunted.”
“Haunted?” Inara asked.
“Natives. Them that were here before the planet was terraformed.”
“That’s not possible,” Simon insisted, peering over the edge of the canyon, trying to see through the thick foliage. “The terraforming process---“
“Do I look like I care about that?” Levon frowned at Simon. “Son, go make yourself useful. Whyn’t you oversee them stowing?”
Simon darted a glance at Inara. She smiled and nodded. As he walked away, he heard a loud exasperated sigh from Levon.
“Leave the cash.”
Handing the man the satchel, Simon gave Inara a last look before walking back to the shuttle. The rest of the Levon’s crew were standing around the hover-mule waiting for him to unlock the shuttle. The shuttle hadn’t been locked but Simon made a show of complicated hand movements he hoped would persuade them that the shuttle had indeed been secured. He didn’t feel like getting lectured again.
“Can I help?” Simon asked after opening the shuttle’s door.
“Thanks, but we got it.” With a meaningful look down at Simon, the burly man grinned in a manner very similar to Jayne. “Come on, Dickie, hop to it.”
Dickie cast a nervous glance behind him before helping the others unload the barrels. As the last barrel was loaded into the shuttle, Simon noticed Dickie, again, look around. For an instant, the man’s nervous gaze met Simon’s. Simon tensed. He knew that look; had seen it before on Jayne’s face. The look of guilt.
“Hey!“ Simon called out as Dickie walked behind the shuttle.
Simon glanced around realizing no one else seemed to notice Dickie’s defection. Wanting to get Inara out now, Simon started toward her. She stood talking with Levon, laughing at something the older man was saying until Levon’s head exploded showering her face and Simon’s last nice shirt with brains and blood.
“Inara!” He called out before the gunfight began in earnest. Simon dropped to the ground as chaos erupted. The thunder of horses and gunshots echoed through the valley. The burly man crouched behind a rock shooting and wildly calling out orders to the rest of Levon’s crew.
Simon crawled toward where Inara lay on the ground struggling to push Levon's almost headless body of of her.
“Lay still. Pretend we’re dead,” Simon whispered, trying to look around without moving. Satified that no one noticed them, Simon took a moment trying to get calm and figure out what he needed to do. The Captain, Zoe and Jayne would shoot their way out of this but Simon strongly suspected that if he started to do that, they wouldn’t survive this fiasco.
The shots soon died down. Levon’s men were all dead. Except for Dickie.
“They got others surrounding the place, Larry,“ he told his new boss, pointing up to the cliffs that surrounded the valley.
“What the hell are they waiting for?” Larry looked up trying to see who was out there.
The plan to play dead was a good one until Simon heard Larry call out: “Check the bodies, boys. Might find something of value.”
“Ok, now we run for it.” Simon furtively looked around. There were about half a dozen men milling about. Some stayed on their horses laughing at the carnage.
“Where?” Inara asked, her voice sounded small and afraid. Simon took her shaking hand in his. Anger swelled in him as he looked from her bloodied face to the body of Levon.
Simon lifted his head studying what the others were doing. One guy was taking Levon’s hover-mule, two others were getting into the shuttle, the rest began checking bodies and congratulating themselves on a job well done. One of the other men stopped his horse not too far from where Simon and Inara lay. After sliding off the horse, he walked over to the body of the burly man, checking his pockets. Less than six feet away, his horse stood calmly.
“The horse!” Simon whispered urgently. “Now!”
They crept to the horse as fast and as quietly as they could keeping low to the ground. Simon risked a look behind relieved to see that no one had noticed them. Placing his foot on the stirrup, he swung onto the horse pulling Inara up behind him.
“Hey!” the other man called out. “That’s my horse!”
Not knowing which way to go, Simon kicked the horse just wanting to escape. More shots rang out. Frightened, the horse bolted into a fast run. It had been a good fifteen years since Simon had ridden a horse and it seemed as though the horse sensed Simon’s inexperience.
“Hang on!” Simon yelled. Inara buried her face in his back squeezing him tightly. He clung to the reins hoping the horse could outrun the bullets. Or that the others were bad shots. The horse ran along the edge of the Crazy River. Simon tried to gain control to steer the horse away from the cliff. Another shot rang out causing the horse to buckle. Screaming in pain, the horse staggered toward the edge of the ravine. Simon frantically pulled the reins but there was another shot. Finally losing its footing, the horse, Simon and Inara fell over the cliff plunging into the Crazy River.