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Chapter Nine

Jayne wasn't sure what brought him back into a state of consciousness, but he awoke with such a sharp jolt that he nearly jumped off the cold hard ground he was sprawled upon. If it wasn't for the fact that he was considerably disoriented, he probably would have too, but instead he remained stretched out on his back and blinked groggily at whatever was above him. Jayne couldn't see much though and he had a Hell of a time getting his eyes to adjust to the poor lighting surrounding him. Not to mention that his mind was one big jumbled mess of foggy memories that didn't make a lick of sense. What in the name of all things holy had happened?

Lifting his head slightly off the ground, Jayne brought a hand around back to tenderly prod at the noticeable knot that had formed, the epicenter of where the excruciating pain in his head originated from. Come to think of it, Jayne realized the whole of his body hurt and it felt like he'd tumbled head first down an entire flight of stairs. Almost as if he'd managed to get himself into a drunken stupor, but Jayne couldn't recall drinking THAT much at the tavern. He may have lost count of how many piss poor whiskeys he'd imbibed, but this...this felt like something completely different.

Jayne carefully eased his head back upon the ground again. The movement sent a shockwave of pulsing pain spreading through his skull and he grimaced as his body tensed in response. 'Think, Jayne...' his mind coaxed him but he could come up with very little as far as comprehensive thoughts went. But something he did know was this, his current predicament, was far from right and normal and-

Jayne's mind snapped to attention and he immediately reached for one of his guns, only to find it missing from the holster on his hip. Flipping over onto his stomach, Jayne grappled for the other two guns and knife fastened to his back, but they were missing as well. A hissing curse left his lips and he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, wildly surveying the darkness around him. Those Gorram bushwhackers had- He could hardly control his thoughts at that moment as he came to a full realization. This had definitely not been a part of Jayne's plans.

"Doc?" Jayne croaked out as he turned in a full circle on the ground. His eyes were more adjusted to the darkness now, but he could tell he was alone in the room. Another curse slipped past his lips. "Ta ma de! [Damnit!]" he growled. His voice echoed around him briefly and he took a moment to study the crudely constructed stone walls surrounding him. It had to be that room he'd come upon, right before the surprise onslaught of pain had taken over him and ushered in the darkness. And by the looks of it, Jayne was trapped.

Oh yeah...Mal was really gonna love this one...

Jayne stumbled onto his feet and braced a hand against the nearest wall to give himself a moment to gather his bearings, just long enough until the room stopped teetering from one side to the other. This was definitely not what he'd had in mind. He'd seen things playing out just a little differently, maybe with a bit of gun slinging and a hooray for Jayne saving the day. Jayne figured he could probably not count on either of those things now on account that he was weapon less and by the looks of it would need saving himself.

He sure as Hell wouldn't be admitting to that last one though. He'd go down swinging if he had to and when Mal finally burst in, IF Mal managed to find the place, Jayne would insist until he was blue in the face that it was all part of his master plan. Jayne ALWAYS had a master plan...or so he would say. Scowling at the thought, he reached a hand up to prod at the knot on the back of his head again.

Just his luck, things had gone gone from pretty bad to even worse. Jayne was no amateur, but this was messed up even for him. It wasn't exactly something he was proud of either. He could already imagine what Mal would have to say about it, the lectures, the berating, the general poking fun of. Zoe would probably have something to say about it too, but she had a way of saying it that cut a lot deeper with less words involved.

The sound of footsteps approaching the room caught Jayne's attention and he stiffened in defense as he turned towards the sound. There was a door across the room and within moments, it was yanked open with a thunderous boom before a large burly man entered and Jayne immediately recognized him as Jethro from the tavern. But that wasn't what had the breath catching in the mercenary's throat. It was the fact that Jethro had dragged in the limp body of Serenity's resident doctor and tossed him carelessly onto the ground. The sound of Simon's body hitting the ground heavily echoed around the room, but he didn't move. He was clearly unconscious and Jayne couldn't tell if the doctor was even breathing.

Jethro sneered in Jayne's direction as he sent a sharp kick into Simon's side. "What are yeh bloody lookin' at?" he demanded with a snort of annoyance. "Can't mind yer own business, now can yeh. Knew yeh was trouble in the tavern."

Jayne's eyes shifted between Simon's crumpled form and the bastard towering over him. "Gotta problem picking on someone your own size?" he gruffed as his hands clenched at his sides.

Jethro's head tilted to the side, his stringy onyx hair dangling and catching reflection of the golden light just outside the room. "Like yerself, lad?" he chortled and stepped around Simon to move closer. "Got a mouth on yeh, do yeh?"

"Don't reckon it matters much right now," Jayne told him pointedly. "Don't reckon you care, either."

"Aye," Jethro nodded, sneering again. "More reason for me to ignore yer little friend for a bit and focus on yeh. S'why yer here, yes? Snoopin' around where yeh don' belong."

Jayne clenched his jaw for a moment, nearly grimacing from the stench of stale tobacco and cheap whiskey that wafted through the air when Jethro drew closer. "Now you listen here, you monkeyshittin' sonofabitch," he growled. "You took what's not yours and I'm taking it back."

"Are yeh..." Jethro drawled. He took a final step closer and swiftly sent a clenched fist colliding with Jayne's stomach. "I don't think yeh are."

Jayne doubled over as the breath left his lungs and dropped quickly to his knees, gasping. "You Gorram yu bun duh [stupid] ugly-" he choked out.

Jethro shoved his boot into Jayne's side, knocking him over. He crouched low to him and yanked his head off the ground by his hair. "I don't take kindly to the likes of yeh," he snarled. "That smart mouth of yers will only kill yeh faster, like yer friend over there. I'm gonna enjoy that."

"Piss off," Jayne grit through clenched teeth.

The corner of Jethro's mouth curled up into a sharper smirk. "Don't get too comfortable. I'll be back for yeh soon enough."

Jayne gasped again as Jethro slammed his head back to the ground. His vision swam around him with the return of the disorientation and he laid there rigidly while the man finally backed away, seemingly pleased with the small infliction of pain. It also seemed to suffice enough that Jethro ignored Simon as he stepped over his still unmoving body and left the room, chuckling to himself. When the door finally slammed shut once more, Jayne struggled to sit upright, ignoring the way the room spun around him.

"Doc?" he called out to Simon and blinked rapidly to clear his vision. Jayne heard nothing but silence in response and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness yet again, he could see that Simon hadn't moved an inch.

Simon's face appeared so badly beaten that at first Jayne had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that the man laying before him was indeed their missing doctor and the same one Jayne went out of his way to annoy and give a hard time at all costs. Simon's usually well kept hair was matted to his head with dried and freshly oozing blood and his right eye was blatantly swollen shut. A deep gash extended from the edge of his right brow down to the crest of his cheek bone and coupled with the other multiple facial lacerations, even Jayne couldn't deny how grotesque Simon's appearance was. The guilt that spread through Jayne was surprising.

Ignoring the dizziness, Jayne shifted onto his hands and knees and crawled over to the doctor. "Hey, doc?" he called out hesitantly. When he still received no response, he pressed two fingers lightly to the pulse point on Simon's neck, hoping above all other that he'd feel something, anything that told him Jethro was wrong about Simon's apparent demise. Simon's pulse was faint and sluggish, but Jayne felt it almost immediately. A still beating heart was at least something. It meant he was breathing too. "Gorammit, doc. What kinda ruttin' fool are ya?"

Jayne started to roll Simon over onto his back but stopped with uncertainty. There was no telling just how badly injured Simon really was and Jayne wasn't a fool enough to not know that moving the doctor could hurt him even more. Holding the tips of his fingers under Simon's nose, he could feel the soft puffs of warm breaths. They were weak and shallow. Jayne placed a hand on Simon's shoulder. "You in there? I know ya are. Won't be thinking I came here for nothing, doc. I know we ain't friends or the like, but this is ridiculous. I told ya to listen to me."

The silence that answered Jayne was thick and heavy and he found himself frowning. He looked around them for a moment, searching for a way out, but found none other than the door Jethro had entered and exited through. It would be locked, that was for sure, which left Jayne with no Gorram options. He returned his attention to Simon. "Need you to open your eyes or say something," he said. "Don't know much what I'm supposed to do right now."

Simon's hand flexed slightly beside his head and his good eye fluttered beneath his closed lid. Jayne took notice of it and gently squeezed the doctor's shoulder. It took a bit before Simon's eye barely parted open, but it was unfocused and Jayne wasn't sure just how much he really saw. He watched him closer. "Can't have you checkin' out just yet, doc. Kaylee done had the baby and kinda needs you to come back and that moonbrained sister of yours is gonna drive everyone across the Verse crazy if we don't bring you back. Or if you die or something. You hear me?"

Simon's hand flexed again, but it was even weaker this time. His eye started to flutter shut until Jayne suddenly grabbed his hand to keep his attention. Simon's lips, split and swollen, parted as if to speak, but the only sound that emitted was a barely heard wet rattling breath. His pain was evident on his face and it appeared difficult to inhale and exhale each breath he took. Too much blood, Jayne decided. There was too much blood coming from the doctor and there was no telling just how much beating his insides had taken.

"I ain't no babysitter," Jayne growled when Simon's eye finally shut again. He kept the man's hand clutched in his own without giving it any thought. "You die on my watch and that's blood on my hands. I don't want that sorta messy."

Simon didn't respond and Jayne sat back on the ground as the dizziness washed over him. The pounding in his head intensified and made it difficult to remain upright; laying down and shutting himself off was tempting, but Jayne wouldn't do that. So he closed his eyes and mentally willed the pain away. "Mal and Zoe are on their way, doc. We're gonna get ya outta this..." he muttered.


"Do we have a plan or are we going in this blind, sir?"

Mal kept his attention firmly focused ahead when Zoe's voice broke through the wind whipping around them as the mule drew closer to the block of shops. They hadn't spoken a word to each other since leaving Serenity, but Mal figured there wasn't much that needed said at the current. Frustrated didn't accurately describe how Mal was truly feeling right then and the explosive anger festering within him was barely contained just below the surface. He was more than ready to wring Jayne's neck the moment he saw the mercenary and put the man in his place for having defied direct orders. Jayne had a penchant for ignoring things Mal had to say, that was for sure and it grated on Mal's nerves to no end, but this was testing limits none of them could afford to test. They all knew there was no room for error and Mal's renewed determination wasn't a force to be reckoned with. This would end now and Mal refused to return to the ship until he saw to that and his crew was fully intact.

"A little insight would do us both some good." Gripping the controls of the mule tightly, Zoe glanced in Mal's direction in hopes of grabbing his attention. She had no such luck when she found him sufficiently stuck in his own mindset, his forehead creased in that tell-all way that he was thinking too hard and his anger was starting to get the better of him. That in itself wouldn't be pleasant, but Zoe least of all had the patience for it. She was just as frustrated as the captain was and more than ready to get this taken care of so they could break atmo and blast far away from the piece of luh suh [garbage] rock they'd been stuck on, but Mal's silence wouldn't do either of them any good and it wouldn't help Zoe grasp a better handle on the matter. "SIR!"

"WHAT?!" Mal's voice was a little more snappish than he'd intended for it to be and when his eyes locked with Zoe's, he cowered back a bit. Their eye contact didn't last long before Mal returned his attention forward. His expression softened just enough that Zoe noticed it and he grunted under his breath. "When do we ever have a plan?"

"Most times," Zoe answered him stiffly.

Mal released a short sarcastic chuckle. "When do we ever have a plan that goes according to plan?"

"...That would be never, sir."

"Right." Mal cleared his throat and looked around them. "And on account that Jayne went and muddled up any chance of us having a plan, we can count on it not going smoothly. Well not that anything ever goes smoothly, but-"

"Trap?" Zoe interrupted him. She looked at Mal again just as she began to slow the mule down.

"Anything involving Jayne on his own is a trap," Mal conceded. "Being as he don't listen, I don't see this as any different."

Zoe brought the mule to a complete stop at the edge of the block of shops. "Not that I make it a habit to defend Jayne, sir, but in his defense-" she started to say.

Mal grumbled and couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes openly. "Any statement that starts out with in Jayne's defense is sure to make my ears bleed," he said. "Ain't really something I wanna hear either."

"With all due respect, what were you expecting?" Zoe asked with brows raised. There was almost a hint of disbelieving laughter around the edges of her voice, but it never showed on her face. Her gaze surveyed the area, searching for possible trouble. "I'm just saying, you left Jayne to his own devices. Couldn't have expected that to turn out well. Except he found the doctor."

"He THINKS he found the doc," Mal countered. "What Jayne thinks and what Jayne knows are two completely different things. Would have done him good to wait for us to show up and..."

"And what?"

"Well I'm still working on that part."

Zoe shook her head and sent the mule lurching forward, only slower this time. The street was deserted with very few lights on in the buildings on both sides, but given the late hour, Zoe had been expecting as much. Preferred it that way, really. Less distractions and easier to navigate. And given how much they were up against, Zoe didn't figure they had time for distractions. They had little to work on and even less time to work on it, so it was an absolute necessity that they got in and got out. Simon's life, Zoe suspected, depended on that very fact alone and that was banking on Jayne's hunch being correct. Of course, that was if her and Mal could even locate the two of them. It had been radio silence on Jayne's end since he'd called them earlier.

"Take us to that tavern we passed by the other day," Mal spoke up a few moments later. His tone was gruff and evident that he was thinking along the same lines Zoe was. "Don't suspect it's too far from the end of the shopping district. Best bet is to go in, get our insight, and be on our merry."

Zoe nodded. "Expecting them to tell us what direction Jayne went?"

"I don't expect they'll wanna tell us much of anything," Mal answered her. "But...nothing a little ensuing violence and force can't rectify."

"Of course, sir," Zoe replied. "Let us stir up more than we already have."

Mal felt his patience wane further. "If you got yourself a finer idea, now would be the time to speak it, Zoe."

Zoe didn't answer him. Truth was that she didn't have any better well thought out plans of action to offer. Far as she figured, they were already grasping at straws as it was. So she continued to creep the mule along, keeping her eye out until they eventually saw the sign for the tavern approaching ahead of them. When they reached it, Zoe brought the mule to a stop and looked at Mal. "This is the place."

Mal nodded and hopped out of the mule. His booted feet hit the ground with a loud thud, but he paid it no attention as he swiftly moved towards the door of the tavern. Zoe was quick to follow close behind and they entered the building one after the other.

Inside, the lighting was dimmer than Mal and Zoe had expected and there were very few people inside, just a few drunken patrons slouched over some of the tables while the bar keep busied himself disinterestedly behind the bar. Mal nodded in his direction and began to make his way over. The bar keep glanced up at them as they approached and scowled a bit as he half heartedly wiped clean a metal beer mug.

"We ain't open for serving," the bar keep told them.

"We ain't here for serving," Mal answered. He stepped up to the bar and placed his hand on the counter. "Just have us a few questions needing asked and we'll be on our way."

The bar keep gruffed and started to turn his back to them. "I ain't interested. Now get out."

Mal pulled his gun from its holster, cocked it, and set it on the counter with an expression that remained deadly calm. "Afraid that's not gonna work," he casually said. The bar keep turned back to them, glanced briefly at the gun, and then narrowed his eyes at Mal. "Way I see it is you don't want any trouble and neither do we. We ask the questions, you answer those questions, and there won't be any said trouble."

"Quite the business man, are ya?" the bar keep sarcastically asked as he set the beer mug down and draped the rag over his shoulder.

"Stubborn and reckless is more accurate," Zoe interjected. "Don't care much for pleasantries either."

Mal shrugged and kept his hand firmly on top of his gun. "We happen to be looking for someone."

The bar keep raised a brow. "It's slim pickin', but..." He motioned to the drunken patrons lingering in the tavern. "What you see is what you get."

Zoe's face stiffened in annoyance and she nudged Mal out of the way. "We don't have patience to be tested," she said in a tone that was harsh in her own steady way. Mal looked at her, almost surprised, but he appreciated her for it. That was the Zoe he preferred. "Now unless one of these yu bun duh hwun dans [stupid bastards] go by the name of Jethro, then we ain't interested in them."

"Jethro?" the bar keep repeated in surprise. "What do the two of you want with the likes of Jethro?"

"You know him?" Mal asked.

"Do I know him?" the bar keep responded indignantly. "Whole town knows him. A waste of breathing space he is. Causes more trouble than we care to deal with."

"Now we're on the same page," Mal nodded. He flexed his hand on the gun just to get his point across. "We need to know where to find him."

The bar keep narrowed his eyes at him. "You're asking me to tell you where you can find Jethro?"

Zoe quickly pulled her gun out and leveled it with the bar keep's head. "We're not ASKING you to."

Mal snorted and leaned against the edge of the counter. "She's a feisty lady."

"Jethro ain't here," the bar keep scowled. "And I prefer it that way."

"But he was here earlier," Mal pressed. "Know it for a fact."

The bar keep narrowed his eyes again with distrust. "I don't recall you being in here earlier to know that."

"We weren't," Mal continued. Keeping his eyes focused on the bar keep, he reached over and forced Zoe to lower her gun. "But a friend of ours was. Over heard Jethro running his mouth about some guy he took captive a few days back. That guy happens to be another friend of ours."

"Heard Jethro saying something about it," the bar keep nodded. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked back and forth between Mal and Zoe. "Didn't give it much thought. Jethro likes to run his mouth. Couldn't get the tavern to listen to him either. Figured it was another one of his tales. Got that gang of his he runs around with."

"Tale or not, we think it's worthy looking in to," Mal told him pointedly. "Both of 'em are missing now and that poses me and mine a problem. That's two of my crew I can't rightfully have gone."

"Man should keep his house in order," the bar keep dismissed. "S'not my problem."

Zoe lifted her gun again, cocking it. "I can and will make it your problem. Won't bother me none."

Mal offered the bar keep a sarcastic smile. "She has no sense of humor. Can't control what she does either. I'd listen to her if I were you."

The bar keep appeared to stumble over his words at first and not very confident that Zoe wouldn't end up shooting him regardless of what he told them. Finally, he shook his head and relented. "Jethro and his gang shack up in a run down house at the far end of the shopping district. Can't really miss the place. Looks like it's on its last leg. Brown. Two story."

"Just like Jayne said," Mal muttered to Zoe.

"This ain't the first time Jethro done ran his mouth about something of the sorts," the bar keep continued. "But if it's true and he's done what he said he has, your friends are already as good as dead."

"Not on my watch." Mal swiped his gun off the counter and returned it to its holster. "Not unless I conjure they are."

"That way of thinking is considered foolish in these parts," the bar keep said.

Mal turned from the counter and started to make his way towards the door without another word spoken. He slammed the door open when he reached it, stepping back out into the cold night air with a muttering of curses beneath his breath. Zoe was soon to join him as she still brandished her gun. "What happened to no violence or force?" he asked her.

"Just playing the part, sir," she answered.

"Thinking we got ourselves an even bigger problem on our hands now."

"More violence and force?"

"...My favorite thing, next to crime."

"Try not to rip Jayne apart until we're back on the ship."

"You don't give me enough credit-" Mal started to say, but Zoe had already stepped past him to climb back into the mule. Making a face, he followed her without argument. Mal was really beginning to hate this Gorram planet.