Title: Somewhere Down the Crazy River, part 5 (of 10)
Rating: pg, but there is a gruesome part
Pairing: canon, if any
Description: crew fic. In this part, Mal wakes up in jail and, boy, is he not happy. Kaylee deals with a fretful River. Simon's bad day just got worse.
A/N: Thanks to Browncoat 2x2 and Gilliebeans. This was hard getting through and you both helped me so much! Also, thanks to jackwabbit for her expertise with...um...the gruesome part.
When Kaylee first saw the newest issue of Mechanics for Mechanics, her heart stilled in quiet joy as her eyes hungrily feasted on the cover. After all, every able minded engine enthusiast with a love for the Firefly had been rabidly discussing the unveiling of the Jazdon Astro Olomotre for the last six months. She was, however, wholly unprepared for the sheer beauty of the JAO. Oh, what she wouldn’t give to slide herself under that shiny splendor.
Sitting in her favorite lawn chair just outside Serenity, Kaylee studied the black, moonless darkness. Her fingers absently but reverently caressed the magazine on her lap. Even though she couldn’t see the glossy cover in the darkness, she could easily visualize the splendor of the JAO. She had spent a good part of the evening pondering the JAO, trying to figure out if there was any way she could incorporate the newest advances into Serenity’s well worn engine but as the night wore on and the air grew colder, her mind wouldn’t oblige.
Hoping to see the lights of the shuttle approaching, her eyes again searched the horizon. All she saw was more black.
“They are now officially alarmingly late.” River stated. Her tone was rude but Kaylee knew the fear was there. “What are you going to do about it?”
Clinging to the hope that everything was alright and the delay was a harmless one, Kaylee had put off waving Simon and Inara. She almost succeeded in convincing herself that it was probably a good sign that they hadn’t waved. She glanced down at the magazine in her lap, her hand trembled as her fingers again touched the cover. The night was full black and there was no way Simon and Inara would not check in.
Kaylee summoned the energy to rise out of her chair. “Let’s wave them. See what’s up.” Deliberately, she kept her tone light even though it was an utterly useless ploy considering the psychic nature of River.
With a quick smile that was not returned, Kaylee walked back into Serenity, clutching her magazine to her chest. River followed too close behind her but she didn’t quicken her pace. As she ascended the stairs, Kaylee tried conjuring a little positivity. Maybe the business people were nice and friendly and offered them dinner. Maybe they struck up a friendly conversation and decided to have a friendly drink. Maybe…But by the time she reached the bridge, Kaylee could no longer quell her worry with thoughts of fancy new engines or fantasies of friendly illicit business associates.
Sinking heavily in the pilot’s chair, Kaylee hailed the shuttle. The silence was tense as she and River waited for a response that didn’t come. She hailed again but this time she didn’t bother to keep the desperation from her voice. “Simon. Inara. Please answer me!” After what felt like forever, she heard the familiar crackle indicating a received transmission.
“Hello!” The deep voice sounded menacing and not a little drunk. “Excuse the rudeness but I couldn’t figure how to work this thing here.”
“Who is this?” Kaylee’s sudden burst of anger chased away her fear. “That ain’t your ship!”
“It is now, honey!”
Kaylee heard the laughter of his cohorts in the background. “Where’s Simon? Where’s Inara?”
“Haven’t the foggiest who yer talkin’ ‘bout. But if you mean the Fancy Nancys that came in this thing…Well, let’s just say I don’t think they’re with us any longer.”
Unable to bear the man’s heartless cackling, Kaylee abruptly ended the transmission. She stared in front of her, hardly registering River’s fretful whimper. Wearily, she leaned forward, her elbows plopping to the console, her head falling into her hands. Inexplicably, her mind summoned the JAO and she was sad to realize that she would never recapture her pleasure for it.
Tiredness settled over her. She felt like she was a hundred and fifty years old. Her eye focused on the brontosaurus that looked so mockingly happy perched on the console. No. She refused to believe it. No. She couldn’t even entertain the notion that something awful had happened. Again.
The bridge was silent.
“River?” She turned to find River gone but her ears soon picked up the unmistakable sound of agitation in the dining room. Kaylee slowly approached the hatch. Standing just inside the outer bridge door, she watched with increasing dread as River jerkily rushed around the dining room table, her left hand pulling on her hair, her right hand upending whatever was in sight.
Helplessly, she watched as River’s anxiety escalated. She paced in circles, pulling at her hair, gesticulating wildly, mumbling words Kaylee couldn’t begin to make out. With a last violent swipe that cleared the table, River finally stilled before crumbling to the floor.
Kaylee rushed forward to comfort her but before she could enter the dining room, River’s head snapped up. The sneer that River sent her was both vacant and scary.
“All your fault!” River screamed. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
Kaylee took a cautious step backward. She was clearly aware that it was just her and River and no one else for hundreds of miles.
* * * * * * * *
Mal awoke to the sound of a pained groan. As he wandered up to consciousness, he became unhappily aware of a persistent feeling of sickness. Stinging, sapping, and extremely unpleasant queasiness that made him realize the sickly groan he kept hearing was coming from him.
“Zoe?” His eyes were still closed and he weakly called out to her solely out of habit. His mind was a fog, his gut wrenching. It took all his strength to resist letting loose with another pitiful moan. Gripping the edge of the cot, he breathed deeply as he waited for the nausea to subside.
“Zoe?” When he didn’t receive a response, he opened his eyes. After the blurriness and another wave of queasiness passed, his eyes focused on an unfamiliar ceiling. Slowly, he sat up, grimacing at the general achiness that plagued his body. It’d been a long time since he’d been taken down by a stunner.
With that thought, he instantly became more alert. Ignoring the pain and refusing to throw up, Mal stood, wobbling with the effort.
“Zoe?” He called again but this time his voice was slightly panicked. The knowledge that he was in a jail cell was bad enough but when his eyes looked beyond the stout, black gleaming bars across a small window and saw that it was full night, he could do nothing but stare in horror. The job was lost. The gorramn job they so very desperately needed so Mal would not have to drag his crew further down into the treacherous world of crime that he steadfastly avoided. Illicit narcotics, gun running, bounty work…the list got progressively worse as it played through his head.
For Mal, if the choice was anger or despair, he almost always chose the latter but the anger that threatened to take hold of him today was the black, fathomless fury that was so achingly familiar. Familiar in its seductiveness. The foul rage beckoned him. It would be so easy to just lose it. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to not go down that path. Best to stay with anger and avoid the rage.
Shaking his head in disgust, Mal began muttering all the vile and slanderous curses that were his time honored ritual in times like these, not stopping for breath when his eyes finally touched on the sorriest looking tough guy in the ‘verse. Gorramn Jayne! Knew he’d start a…
“Zoe!” Mal bellowed, forgetting about Jayne who for once in his life displayed enough sense to keep quiet.
Again, no answer. Grasping the bars of the cell for support he looked around finally seeing her in the adjoining cell. She sat unmoving, staring at the opposite wall. No way she couldn’t not hear him.
Another surge of hot anger rushed over him. He hadn’t felt anger like this toward her in a long, long time. In fact, he couldn’t conjure the last time he was so gorramn mad at her but here it was. Anger. Hot, raw anger at Zoe. Grieving Zoe. Zoe of the no longer married to the jaunty fellow who brightened her life in the most unexpected ways. Zoe who hadn’t spoke one harsh word to him since her husband was killed following him.
It was the right thing to do, Mal reminded himself for the thousandth time. Despair loomed again but he would have none of that.
“Zoe!” Mal couldn’t keep the fury from his tone. “You got something to say to me?”
“No.” She didn’t look up which made him madder.
“What the huǒkēng happened?” He walked to the bars that separated their cells. “It’s gorramn night and I’m thinking we just missed our gorramn meet.”
“We did,” she said, still not turning around.
He glanced back at Jayne who looked absolutely miserable. Mal took a deep breath again fighting to stave off the impotent rage that threatened to overwhelm him. “Zoe! Best you look at me so we can have this out proper.”
She still didn’t face him but he could see her tense. “I rutted up the job. What more is there to talk about?”” Her tone was one he hadn’t heard in a long time: defeated.
“What more---?” He sputtered, at a loss for words.
He ran his hands over his face. The nausea was fading but one hell of a headache was threatening to take hold. He couldn’t talk to her anymore, couldn’t even look at her. He looked at Jayne who was staring at the floor. Why couldn’t it have been Jayne? He wanted to pound someone, wanted to holler, wanted to let loose the worst of his tempers and Jayne could certainly take it. Mean, cruel things sprang to mind. Words specifically designed to cut to the quick. Mal was good at those, too, but Jayne looked so damned miserable it hit Mal anew how sunk they were. At the bottom and dropping fast.
A door opened. An older woman with a sheriff’s badge on her vest walked in.
“Hello there, Captain Reynolds. I’m Sheriff Dody Alavega. Nice to see you awake. How do you feel?”
Mal glared at her. “When we getting out?”
She smiled, apparently unfazed by his rudeness. “Our magistrate is away so we can’t go that route.”
“And that means what?”
She took a step forward staring calmly at him, letting him know she was used to dealing with people like him. “Means since we can’t get the Mag ya’ll just have to serve out your time.”
“How long is that?”
“Release is Saturday morning.”
“Saturday?!” Mal’s voice rose.
Alavega gave him a sympathetic look. “It is too bad you chose today. If you’d started the fracas on Friday, you’d have a much shorter stay. Things turn hot around here Saturday nights. Miners come in and it ain’t rare for hell to break loose when they get here. We end up with a full house.”
“What’s today?” Jayne asked, shuffling up beside Mal. Not too close - man wasn't that dim - but somehow getting close enough that his very existence poured some more mad on the heap of mad inside Mal's gut. Mal clenched the bars tighter. God, he wanted to hit someone. If the sheriff weren’t standing two feet away…
“Seems awful long stint, don’t ya think?” Jayne asked.
Alavega met Mal’s gaze. “We don’t appreciate strangers comin’ to town and beatin’ up idiot children.”
Mal frowned. “Don’t remember no kids in that bar.”
“Children not in the age sense but in the sense sense. The boy that was at the receiving end of your friend’s wrath is a right jerkful young man. That’s a fact…but he is harmless. He didn’t deserve that beatin’ she dished out.” She nodded her head toward Zoe. “And there was property damage. You got money?”
Money was needed for fuel, ammo, and food. Not for frittering on getting out of jail. No, they needed what little money they had if he was going to attempt to salvage this job. Despair creeped in again. He knew the job was lost.
“No.” Feeling sick, Mal sat down on the cot Jayne had vacated.
“Can’t you put me somewheres away from them two?” Jayne begged. “Please?”
“We got the only two cells right here.”
“Tie me to a gorramn tree. I don’t care. Just can’t spend the next three days with only them.” Jayne glanced back at Mal before lowering his voice to address the sheriff. “There’s been trouble and I ain’t up for having to witness the thing that is surely to come between them.”
“They married or somethin’?” She looked curiously between Mal and Zoe.
“Worse…buddies from the war and all that entails.”
Alavega looked at Mal and Zoe both seated on opposite ends of their respective cells. “Jail sometimes can be good for gettin’ your thoughts together.”
Jayne looked confused. “But where does that leave me?”
Alavega grinned before looking at Mal again. “Manny’ll bring your dinner soon. He’s a fine cook. He’s making you something that will help with the sickly feeling.”
She opened the door to leave but paused looking back at her three miserable prisoners. “Call out if you need anything.”
Mal dropped his head in his hands. Why couldn’t it have been Jayne?
In the infirmary, River jerked opened the drawers looking for something that if she’d been thinking straight, she would remember Simon had locked away. Nothing sharp was ever left out in the open in this medbay. But River didn’t remember that detail as she angrily rifled through the medical supplies.
“Killed Simon.” River glanced around the room, so eerily familiar to her. Where were they? Where were those instruments they used to cut into her brain? They were here somewhere. She didn’t want to be here but they killed Simon. Killed Simon and took her back. Big mistake on their part. She rubbed her forehead expecting to find something there.
A door slammed. Whirling around, she realized she was locked in. She ran to the door, pounding and kicking it with all her strength. Her fists hurt. “No! No! No!”
Through the window, she saw Dr. Mathias. She backed against the counter in fear. A jar of cotton balls was closest to her hand and she hurled it at him.
“You killed him!” She screamed before sinking down to the floor.
“River.” A disembodied voice echoed in the room. “Sweetie, please, I need you to calm down.”
“Dead!” River shrieked. “Dead like a dog in a highway.”
The voice wasn’t Dr. Mathias but it was familiar. Comforting. River’s guard went up. It was a trick. They knew everything about her. Knew her weaknesses, knew everything that was in her brain.
“River, it’s me. Kaylee.”
She clasped her hands over her ears. She refused to be tricked. That wasn’t Kaylee.
“River!” The voice was insistent. “Sweetie, come on, look at me.”
Shaking her head, she squeezed her eyes shut.
“River. You need to take your meds.”
Ah, so that’s what they wanted her to do. She wouldn’t take anything they wanted her to. She would fight them like she hadn’t fought before. She could, too. She knew exactly how to kill a person.
“Stop! You’re not her. Just stop with the tricks. Please.”
She heard a deep, exasperated and very annoyed sigh.
“It’s me, mei mei. Just look up and out the window. I’m standin’ right here.”
“It’s not you.” River kept her eyes shut. She didn’t want to see Dr. Mathias again.
“Why don’t you just look up and see me. How’s that for proof?” The annoyance was deepening but the anger in the voice confused her.
“Kaylee doesn’t get mad. So you can’t trick me.”
“I do get mad and I’m gettin’ madder! We have a situation here and instead of me figurin’ out what to do about Simon and Inara I’m having to chase you all over the ship and convince you that I’m me and I’m getting even madder thinkin’ about all this. So you better open your eyes, look at me, then walk over to where Simon keeps your meds and dose yourself. Now.”
That sounded like Kaylee. Mad Kaylee but Kaylee.
She looked up finally seeing Serenity’s medbay. Rising from the floor her gaze took in the room stopping at the window. Kaylee stood on the outside holding a com pointing to where Simon kept her medication. Maybe she really was here.
“That’s it. Just get to your meds and don’t go anywhere else.”
River opened the cabinet but her glance fell to another open drawer. A drawer which should contain scalpels and other sharp objects, but she hadn’t found any. Who took them? Panicked, she looked back at Kaylee who was watching her carefully outside the window.
“River, just focus. Get your meds.”
“Will you let me out?”
“Not till I’m sure you’re you. At least the you that don’t look like she aims to kick me in the face.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
Kaylee didn’t answer.
“Close it. Now.”
River obeyed. After all there was nothing in the drawer but Simon stuff. “What will I do? He’s the only one who loves me.”
“That ain’t true, sweetie.”
River knew Kaylee meant it, too but it wasn’t the same. Her brother took care of her. She opened the cabinet that contained her medication. “I’m scared.”
“Me, too. But we don’t know nothing so let’s not think the worse, okay?” Kaylee tapped the glass window, drawing River’s gaze to her. “I need you, River. We have to figure this thing out.”
Still not convinced that this wasn’t a trick, River, nevertheless, took her medication. Anything was better than feeling like this. Besides, if she was back at the academy, she didn’t want to be too coherent anyway. Flashes of her time spent in the lab ran through her mind. Shuddering, she injected herself. The warm fuzzy feeling that accompanied the shot soon followed, dulling her emotions.
Simon. Tears spilled down her cheeks. She heard the door open and soon felt Kaylee’s hand on hers. It smelled like Kaylee. Mechanical smell. Oil, engine grime, whatever… River never realized how much she loved Kaylee’s scent.
“I don’t…” Her voice faltered. “I can’t…”
“It’ll be alright, sweetie.” Kaylee hugged her close.
Kaylee would be so proud of the string of expletives that flew about Simon’s brain as he fell. Once over the ledge, he fell away from Inara and the horse, crashing through bendy tree branches. The fall into the ravine felt endless, giving his brain ample time to shout colorful words that only could have been learned from Jayne.
He heard a booming splash before his back stung with the impact of hitting water hard. His hands instinctively reached upward intending to swim to the surface, but found air instead. Simon’s head quickly followed, breaking the surface. He gulped air, retching and coughing out the horrible remnants of the rank water.
“Inara!” Frantically, he looked around. “Inara!”
“I’m over here!” Inara called out, still gasping and coughing.
The trees were dense and tall, obliterating the fading daylight. Simon stood in the thigh deep water and waded towards the sound of her coughing, his eyes slowly becoming accustomed to the darkness. Finally reaching her, he grasped her arm pulling her to her feet. “Lucky for the water.”
“Yes,” she murmured, pushing her wet hair away from her face.
“Are you alright?” He looked closely trying to discern any visible injuries. In the dim light, he could see an assortment of scratches from their descent through the trees.
“I’m soaked and I’m slimy but once my heartbeat returns to normal I’ll be fine.”
“Lulu!” A voice hollered from above. “Lulu! You okay, girl?”
Simon and Inara exchanged a puzzled look.
“Hey, down there! Where’s my gorramn horse, you gorramn horse thieves?” The voice yelled down before shots rang out.
Simon pulled Inara back down into the water. “The idiot can’t even see what’s he’s shooting at!”
They crouched down in the murky water for cover as the man above kept shouting and shooting. Simon heard agitated splashing to his right and looked to see the horse struggle to get up. Another shot and the horse collapsed back into the water.
“You just shot your own horse, you idiot!” Simon yelled.
The sound of the man’s roar of fury echoed. He punctuated his slew of expletives and curses with a few random shots before finally hollering: “Have fun down there, you thievin’ sons-of-bitches!”
Simon shook his head in disbelieving disgust. The utter inanity of people continued to astound him. As he waited, half anticipating another round of shooting by the chǔnhuò above, Simon became more aware of his surroundings. Without the noise of hollering and shooting, he was better able to hear the less than soothing sounds of a swamp.
The noise assaulted him, a swamp of its own hanging menacingly in the air. Sounds pulled at his attention, sounds of things he could not identify. Birds, Simon figured, but nothing like the pleasant, cheery little voices of the finches around his boyhood home. The birds in this hellhole screeched mindlessly, gratingly. And to Simon they sounded hungry. Hanging lower in the swamp of sound were other, subtler disturbances. Slithering noises, Simon realized with fresh disgust. He listened for a moment, hoping that the sound he'd latched onto was that of a slithering retreat, rather than an approach.
Then there was the smell. The water that was too close to his nose didn’t smell like water. Not the clean odorless water he knew and loved. This water had a lingering scent of death. Simon grimaced as he realized things died in here and lay rotting.
“I think they’ve gone,” he said, standing up.
Inara rose, too, her nose crinkling in distaste. Her hand again went to smooth back her now drenched hair away from her face. They didn’t speak as they took in their surroundings and their predicament.
The swamp noises were soon drowned out by the sound of the shuttle powering up.
“My shuttle!” Inara exclaimed, looking not only frightened but offended. “They’re taking my shuttle!”
The shuttle roared overhead before the sound faded in the distance. Simon stood gazing up at the small glimpse of darkening sky through the trees.
“Well,” Simon said, “here we are.”
“That went well, didn’t it?” Inara asked, sighing heavily but she managed a weak smile.
Simon thought it best not to point out to Inara that she had streaks of green muck in her hair.
“Do you think we can climb out of here?” Inara pointed to the walls of the canyon.
They made their way toward the side of the canyon. Running his fingers along the stone wall, Simon said, “I don’t think so. The cliffs are too steep and slick with that green stuff. I think we’re going ---“
Simon was interrupted by a miserable whinny. It took him a few seconds before he realized what it was. He glanced at Inara. Her horrified expression mirrored his own. The horse wasn’t dead after all. They waded toward the weakly thrashing animal. The horse had found higher ground of a sort. Lulu was lying on her side, her belly barely visible above the water. She whimpered miserably, her head rearing up only to fall listlessly back in the shallow water.
“Poor Lulu. She can’t even rest her head properly.” Inara knelt down in the knee level water, trying to comfort the wretched animal. “She doesn’t look very good.”
Simon, too, knelt down. His fingers felt along the animal. “She’s been shot. More than once. I suspect that’s why she bolted over the ledge.”
“What kind of sick person shoots a horse?” Inara asked.
Simon navigated around the horse’s weak flailing. “Her front leg looks broken, too.”
“How do we get her out of here?”
Simon stared at the horse, unable to believe he was going to do what had to be done. “We don’t.”
“We can’t just leave her…Oh.”
Oh is right, Simon thought. He spied the rifle comfortably tucked into a holster on the saddle. “We have to...”
Inara shook her head trying to deny what needed to be done.
“Inara, the poor thing needs to be put out of its misery.”
“But…” Inara looked sadly at the horse. “Yes. You’re right.”
Simon contemplated the rifle versus the gun resting heavily on his hip. Was the rifle the best for the job? How far away did he need to be to ensure a quick death? Sure, he knew all about the end result of guns but he hadn’t paid proper attention to the specifics of what weapon made what kind of injury. What was the result of the distance from the shot? Next time someone showed up with a gunshot wound, Simon would make sure to note the details of how it got there.
“Pistol or rifle?” Simon asked.
Inara cleared her throat. She looked like she was seriously considering the question. “Uh…Rifle?”
“Yes, that’s what I was thinking.”
“Shall I hold her head?”
“Well, no…That’s where I’ll be….shooting her.”
“Oh, of course.” Inara looked at him again and they stared at each other. “Tell me when you’re ready.”
He nodded. For the first time in a very long time, he was actually pleased at the seemingly endless stretches of empty time on Serenity. He had poured through the pitiful array of books. The only one that held any lingering interest for him was a book on farm animals.
“Okay” he said. His gaze on the horse was clinical, he visualized the location of the horse’s brain and the best place to ensure a quick death. “I’m ready.”
Whispering something, Inara patted the horse once more, smoothing her ears back. She avoided Simon’s gaze as she eased herself from under the horse’s head before coming to stand behind him.
Lucky for Simon, Lulu had a white patch of hair directly between her eyes giving him a visible target in the dim light. Pointing the barrel of the gun at the white patch, he lifted it a few inches higher praying his target was correct. The horse looked up at him, pain clouding her eyes. Simon imagined she was giving him her approval. Taking a deep breath, Simon pulled the trigger, watching as the horse’s head fell back into the water, her body twitching before becoming still.