- Text Size +
Chapter Eight

At first, Jayne jumped to the assumption that nobody had heard his call once again and he'd be damned if that didn't work to irritate him some. This was a time he honestly needed someone to answer him; Jayne had lost count of the hours he'd spent staking out the tavern while waiting for Jethro and his crooks to finally emerge. Not to mention when the rain began to fall once more, it had made Jayne feel like he'd waited even longer. To say he was the slightest bit grumpy didn't even begin to cover it.

"Jayne!" Mal's voiced snapped at him through the speaker of the radio. The captain sounded more than a little annoyed and Jayne was glad the captain wasn't there to see the mercenary rolling his eyes in response. "Where the Hell have you been? I allowed you to stay behind for a Gorram reason, not to drop off the face of the Verse!"

"Ta ma de [Damnit], Mal! Would you lower your voice?" Jayne growled out in return. His eyes held a steady gaze on the building in front of him with a fair deal of contempt. "Been doing my damn job, just like you said to do."

There was a prolonged pause on Mal's end as if the captain was contemplating his response. "You ain't been answering my calls. Now I don't recall that being part of the agreement."

"Had the radio off," Jayne answered him simply.

"Jayne," Zoe's voice cut in sharply and impatiently. He could hear Mal muttering a curse in the background and a startled cry from Emma who was clearly nearby her mother. "We don't have time for games. What's your update?"

"Been trailing a small group of hwun dans [bastards] for the last couple hours. Four of them, far as I can tell," Jayne answered her. "Ran into them at the local tavern."

Mal was on the radio again in a split second. To say he was angry and frustrated put it lightly and Jayne actually winced. "Coulda sworn I just heard you say you was in a tavern."

"Yeah, y'know..." Jayne stumbled over his response and huffed out his chest, his shoulders rigid in defense towards the verbal reprimand. "Been walking around for a fair 'mount of hours and I thought I'd check- Well, Hell, Mal...I was thirsty. And there ain't been no sight of the doc. I was just checkin' my options. Like to keep my options open."

"What part of those options included drinking the time away?" Mal demanded. "Time that we DON'T have, Jayne!"

The button on the radio must have stuck because Jayne could hear Zoe snap at the captain that he was currently wasting just as much time as Jayne had by arguing with him. Not that he had appreciated that assertion much. But Zoe did have a point when she reiterated just what little time they had and Jayne felt smug when she noted that maybe Jayne's visit to the tavern was as good an option as any other. He waited until the radio fell silent before speaking. "Zoe's got her a point, Mal. The whiskey was cheap and more like shiong mao niao [panda urine]."

"Get to the point," Mal barked impatiently.

"There was four of 'em," Jayne started to explain. "Overheard thems braggin' 'bout what they done. Took a poor bastard captive. Buncha low life crooks. Laughin' 'bout how they're beatin' him to a bloody mess. 'Specially the one named Jethro. Think that was his name, anyway. It's the doc, I'm tellin' ya. Described him to a tee. Don't reckon they needed to say his name for me to know they was talking about him. Not that they know his name. Don't think much they bothered to ask him."

"You're sure about this?" Zoe interrogated.

"'Course I'm sure 'bout it," Jayne gruffed in return. "I'm no ruttin' fool."

"Where are you now?" she pressed.

That was a good question and not one Jayne could easily answer. He swept his eyes over his surroundings. "Far end of the shopping district," he assessed. "Dunno much more than that. It's run down. Buildings are thin. I followed 'em to some house like. It ain't much for braggin' though. Two levels. Made'a wood. They went inside a bit ago. Been deciding my options since."

Mal came on the radio again with an authoritative tone. "Stand back, Jayne. Zoe and I are heading your way."

Jayne's brows furled. "I don't need no reinforcements, Mal. Fancy myself goin' in alone. I'll get the doc out and we can finally blast off this piece of luh suh [garbage] rock."

The sound of Emma's whining faded and it became evident that Zoe had left Mal to his own. "You're gonna wait for us and that's an order. Dong ma, [understand,] Jayne? Last thing I need right now is you taking on a buncha savages all hot headed and such 'cause you have a guilty conscious."

Jayne grunted under his breath and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Mal didn't have the slightest about what Jayne really wanted to do at that moment and it sure didn't include nothing about a fair fight. He squared his shoulders and narrowed his gaze at the derelict house. "This is a buncha yuh bun duh fei hau [stupid nonsense]," he gritted out. "Gonna get the doc back before Kaylee pops that kid of his out. Ain't gonna wait around for you and Zoe just to do it."

"Kaylee had the baby hours ago," Mal all but shouted. His words were almost jumbled with movement and Jayne suspected the captain was making his way through Serenity to keep good on his promise to join Jayne in his rescue efforts. "Doc missed that ride."

"Kaylee had the baby?" Jayne stuttered.

"Few hours back," Mal told him.

"And?" Jayne pressed as he looked away from the house.

Mal paused. "...And what?"

There was a flickering of unusual concern within Jayne before his gruff tone returned. "Well, are they okay?"

"The kid is fine. Zoe delivered him. Kaylee's a different story."

Jayne muttered a string of unintelligible curses under his breath in response to Mal's cryptic answer. He didn't have the patience to question him though or the patience to stand around any longer. "I'm turning off the radio now," he muttered.

"Jayne? Gorramit, Jayne, if you-"

Jayne quickly switched the radio off before Mal could say another word and clipped it back onto his hip. There was no doubt in his mind that the captain would be pissed about it, but that was the least of Jayne's worries at the moment. They'd all wasted enough time as it was and Jayne would be damned if he just stood around any longer and didn't actually do something about it.

He started to move forward steadily without another thought and kept his gaze firmly focused on the house in front of him. Jayne couldn't really say he had a plan of action, because he didn't, and he figured with the way their lack of cards were stacking up, storming in guns blazing would be just as conducive to the cause as it would be if he waited around for Mal and Zoe to show up. He'd spent plenty of time sizing up the building from the outside and that gave him a vague idea of what he was looking at. It was once inside that could pose the potential problem. Of course there was always the chance that Jayne was off his knocker by suspecting Simon was anywhere inside anyway. Damned if he did anything and damned if he didn't. Jayne wanted real crime, not this. Give him a heist any day.

Jayne listened closely as he reached the house, but didn't hear a thing coming from inside. There was a faint golden glow eminating from several of the rickety windows, one on the lower level and two on the upper level, though no signs of movement or life as far as he could see. He stepped up onto the porch and inched his way along the front of the house, attempting to assess his best point of entry, but already Jayne could tell his options weren't many.

Eventually, he came upon some uneven siding that was littered with wild weeds growing uncontrollably up the contours of the house. Truth be told, it didn't look like it would take much to destroy the unstable structure. There was no telling how old it was either. Such was the typical hideout for a band of bushwhackers. Affording it a brief thought, Jayne tugged lightly on the siding to assure it wouldn't give way and braced a foot on one of the edges to hoist himself up.

The second landing -a crudely constructed half deck- was approximately eight feet above Jayne's head and he maneuvered his way upwards toward it. It didn't take him long to reach the top and by the time he hoisted himself up over the railing, he could feel the burn in his muscles from the strain of the climb. Jayne took a moment to roll his shoulders before pulling one of his guns from its holster and stepped slowly towards a solitary door that appeared to be the only entry point from the second floor.

Jayne paused just to the side of it and cautiously peered around the edge of the little glass window that was fixed towards the top of the door. It lead into a vacant open room scattered with a few crates, but there was nobody inside it. Gripping the door handle, Jayne found it locked and gruffed quietly as he reached for his knife. It took a little effort to pop the lock on the door before he was able to quietly push it open and slip inside the house.

Leaving the door ajar, Jayne strained his ears to listen as he crouched low to the floor. It took some time for his eyes to adequately adjust to the poor lighting and the longer he stayed in that position, he begun to hear the echoes of several voices coming from a different room. It sounded like they were on the second floor also or at least near by, even if Jayne couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. He didn’t care much to, at that.

Jayne crept silently over the floor to the open doorway across the room. It lead out to a short narrow hallway with one door on each side; both doors were closed. Exiting the room, he listened more intensely and came to the conclusion there were at least two other people behind the door to the right and they were speaking in a language Jayne himself didn't recognize. He passed by the room without thought and when he reached an even narrower staircase, he started to descend it.

The house smelt strongly and oddly of mold and decay, a sure sign that it was rarely ever clean or never had been. It made Jayne appreciate how tidy Kaylee tried to keep Serenity, especially ever since Emma's arrival and once she learned of conceiving a child of her own. Not that cleanliness had ever been a strong suit of Jayne's, but this even had him turning his nose up at the disgusting nature of the house. The quicker he was in and out, the better.

The stairs creaked under each of Jayne's steps, making him cringe and slow his pace. When he finally reached the bottom, he paused long enough to take a good look around, noting every detail he could. The flooring was littered with trash and the air smelt even worse than it had upstairs. Who the Hell were these tyen-sah duh UH-muo [goddamn monsters]? They sure didn't seem to give a damn about their living environment, which shouldn't have come as a surprise given their unsightly appearance.

Jayne muttered his annoyance under his breath as he passed carefully through the next uninhabited room and then came upon what his best guess was the kitchen or really a sorry excuse for a kitchen that he'd ever seen. That room was even trashier than any other part of the house Jayne had seen so far. There was over turned cups and empty bottles of liquor littering the table and counter space and abandoned half-eaten food hanging off of chipped plates. Lazy sonsofbitches these guys were. Jayne shook his head and swept his eyes around the room.

There was a closed door on the opposite side of the kitchen that beckoned his attention and he moved towards it, keeping his ears tuned into any possible movement around him. Jayne heard nothing though and considered the idea that it had been almost too easy to slip into the house as unnoticed as he did. If they had heard Jayne, they certainly weren't making it known, which only made him want to finish scoping the place and get out of there even faster.

Opening the door when he reached it, Jayne's eyes fell upon a steep stone staircase that led down into a thick consuming darkness. Jayne narrowed his eyes and unclipped a small flashlight from his belt. The thin beam of light barely penetrated the black before him, but Jayne pressed forward into it. It was easier to move down them without making any sound this time. The air grew considerably colder the further down he went with a heavier dank stench that lingered in the air. It made Jayne's stomach turn a bit.

The dirt ground was damp when Jayne's boots landed on it after stepping off the bottom stair. He swept the beam of the flashlight around him, surveying his newest surroundings distastefully. There wasn't much to see, just a narrow hallway with stone walls and a few broken wood crates pushed up against one of the walls. About half way down the walk way, Jayne caught sight of a heavy-looking wooden door and crossed the distance to it. It had to be some sort of storage cellar or something of the sorts given the location, but there was also that nagging little voice in the back of Jayne's mind that said it was the perfect place to hide the battered body of a Core doctor who'd gone and gotten himself kidnapped after Jayne had warned him. Not that Jayne was much for kidnapping, not like this.

He gripped the handle of the door when he came upon it, but one solid tug found it securely locked. The door barely budged and the sound of it echoed around him. Jayne cringed and shifted his eyes to the ground around his feet. That's when he noticed the streaks of crimson mixing in with the dirt and leading under the bottom crack of the door. It appeared fresh too, like it hadn't been there that long. The doctor. Had to be. There wasn't a doubt in Jayne's mind, except his determination that he was right about following Jethro and his crooks back to this place. He wanted to be right about it.

"Doc?" Jayne hissed as he pressed close to the door and listened for any response. "You in there?"

An explosive pain in his head like none other came over Jayne at a moment he least expected it and he slumped to the ground in a crumpled heap, never seeing the burly man that had snuck up behind him.


Inara decided there was something extra peculiar and disturbing about River's current behavior as she moved calmly about her shuttle, immersing herself in the endeavor to light some soothing incense. It was all Inara could really do to keep herself focused and in the moment when the last thing she really felt was collected and not on the verge of falling apart. River, on the other hand, sat rigidly on the foot of Inara's bed and had taken to rocking back and forth as she mumbled incoherently to herself. The nature of her speech was indecipherable and made no sense and the poor girl refused to let the companion come anywhere near her. And to make matters worse, the captain had rushed in moments before, staying just long enough to bark a few orders that let Inara know she was in charge until he and Zoe returned, hopefully with Jayne and Simon in tow. There wasn't much more than that that Inara had been able to get out of him. Mal didn't stick around to answer any of her questions either.

She was about at her wits end and that didn't even begin to cover it. What had started out as stupid decision making had turned into panic and then turned into desperate cluelessness. Of course it didn't help matters any that Mal was proving to be of no use and Inara just couldn't seem to wrap her mind around what had come over the captain to cause him to think letting Jayne handle the situation on his own would be a grand idea. Nothing about knowing Jayne was out there on his own still looking for the doctor set Inara's mind at ease. That was almost as bad as letting little Emma sit in the pilot seat and man Serenity while they were in mid-flight. As far as Inara was concerned, Mal was out of his God forsaken mind.

Sighing, Inara lit another stick of incense and inhaled the sweet scent of vanilla and lavender, willing it to calm her nerves if even just a little. There was no telling how long she could expect Mal and Zoe to be gone. Part of her had been hoping Jayne would have returned long before this point, but that hope had been quickly dashed as the hours passed. That left Inara with her caring abilities tested to the limit and wondering how exactly she was going to handle the situation when Kaylee called for her again. There was only so much she could do for the new mother and only so much she could offer when it came to caring for baby Sebastian. They would need to be moved out of the infirmary soon, though. Inara couldn't imagine Kaylee and the infant would remain very comfortable in the med bay for long. But would Kaylee even desire returning to the room she shared with Simon, knowing he wasn't there to welcome her? Perhaps it would be a better idea if Inara convinced her to take up residence in her shuttle for the time being, at least until other decisions could be made...

Inara pursed her lips tightly together in an effort to keep her dwindling reserve in tact before her increasing concerns could shatter it beyond repair. She was tired too, beyond exhausted actually, and that didn't help matters any. None of them had managed to sleep much over the past few days since Simon had gone missing. It went without saying that the troublesome parallel to their routine weighed heavily on the heart of Serenity and affected each of them differently, yet all the same at the same time. There was no way things would smooth out until things were back in working order with all pieces in place and if that weren't possible, well...

Inara shut the box of incense she held in one hand and turned to carry it back to its storage case. However, a tight gasp left her lips when she turned and she jumped upon seeing River standing stiffly before her. The young girl's stare was blank, void of all expression and it didn't appear like she was even looking at Inara. It was eery on account that Inara hadn't even heard her rise from the bed, let alone cross the distance separating them. Inara inhaled deeply, waiting for the surprised hammering of her heart to subside. "River...?" she questioned with uncertainty.

For a moment, River continued to stare emotionless and unblinking. Then her eyes slowly shifted to focus on the companion. "They lead him to a trap like they lead a mouse to a trap with cheese," she spoke crypticly in an even, unwavering voice. "He didn't listen. Thought he knows, but he doesn't know anything. Thought he can, but he can't."

It was hard to fight the frown that immediately wanted to surface. Inara tightened her grip on the box of incense. "I'm not certain what you mean..."

River fidgeted in spot and looked down at the floor. "Lure him in with the promise of a prize," she told Inara. "It's not a prize. It's a trap and he didn't listen."

Hesitantly, Inara reached a hand out to place it on River's shoulder, but the girl flinched away from the touch. "River...perhaps we should sit down again."

"It's just more darkness!" River insisted sharply as she began to pace back and forth. "Over and over! It hurts! They come two by two! Can't breathe! They like red!"

"Who likes red?" Inara asked. Carefully, she set the box of incense down without taking her eyes off of River.

River tugged her loose fitting sweater tighter around her thin frame, shaking her head anxiously. "Can't breathe. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to move. Dig a grave. Say goodbye."

Inara removed the silk shawl from around her shoulders and carefully draped it over River's shoulders, hoping to provide her with a slight resemblance of comfort. "Honey, what you are saying right now is not making much sense," she replied calmly and turned River to lead her over to the bed. She carefully made River sit and took a seat beside her. "Take a deep breath."

"Tick tock. The clock slows down." River drew her feet up onto the bed and hugged her knees to her chest. She clenched her eyes shut, grimacing as she pressed her face to her knees. "What am I saying? I don't know what I'm saying."

Inara gently rubbed River's back, much in the same way she would to sooth a client, but this was far different. "Is this...about Simon?" she questioned her quietly. "River...are you able to feel him?"

"It's too much pain. Red from the inside out," River cried out. Her body trembled with the words she spoke and she hugged her knees tighter to her chest. "No way out. Another one in. Trapped."

"Jayne is looking," Inara tried to assure her. "The captain and Zoe are doing the same. Jayne may have found Simon."

"Jayne can't find himself," River insisted. "His ego gets him in trouble. Sees red now too. Won't talk. Too quiet. It's too quiet."

Inara wrapped her arms securely around the trembling girl and was surprised when River sank into her embrace willingly. "Do you know where they are, River?"

River clung to her. "Jayne is with Simon. He looks asleep, but...but he's not sleeping."

"Jayne found him?" Inara clarified as her lips curled into a frown.

River lifted her head to look up at the companion. "Jayne wanted to be the hero. Now he needs a hero too."

Mal's vague explanation of his actions with Zoe replayed in Inara's mind and now they made a little more sense. Jayne HAD found the missing doctor, but more troublesome was River's view on the matter. And just like that, River's incessant mutterings started to make more sense too. It should have come as no surprise that the young girl would see more into it, but it seemed even her insights were limited this time, which didn't make Inara feel any better. It didn't sound good. It COULDN'T be good. River's reaction told her that.

River pulled away from Inara and fiddled with the silk shawl that was draped around her shoulders. Her eyes were squinted with anxiety and she appeared to do her best to look anywhere but at the companion. "There's no time," she mumbled. "Won't last long. Too much hurt."

"I'm choosing to believe in a different outcome, River," Inara answered her as she stared down at her hands for a moment. "The captain will see to it."

"Captain is determined," River huffed, but her voice quivered all the same. "But Simon's too tired. I can't hear him. I can always hear him, but now I can't."

Inara's mouth opened to respond, but her words failed her and she sighed quietly. What could she possibly say to express her sympathy when there was no way for her to comprehend what it was that River was experiencing? Without being able to see into River's thoughts? Slowly, Inara rose to her feet and paced away from the bed, losing herself to her thoughts.

"Baby..." River murmured absently before she curled onto her side in the middle of the bed and threaded the material of the shawl between her fingers.

Inara looked back at her, distracted. "I'm sorry?"

River pointed to the intercom on the wall across the shuttle just as it came to life and the sound of Sebastian's wails filtered through with Kaylee's distressed voice calling out for Inara. Inara nodded at the young and turned swiftly to leave the shuttle with her troubled thoughts.

'Wuh de tyen ah, Mal, [Dear God in Heaven, Mal],' she thought as she left. 'May you return with the doctor soon.'