Title: Never Goes Smooth Author: THE_EVIL_CLIFFIE Summary: Returning to Jianying for some less-than-legal dealings, Malcolm Reynolds and his crew get more than they bargained for and then some. Timeframe: About two months post-Serenity. There are minor AU elements which will rapidly become apparent. Author's Note: This started out as an excercise in writing Firefly/Serenity dialogue which grew more than intended, but I'm really pleased with the results. ~ The deck beneath his feet shuddered and bucked, and somewhere aft something went clonk. The ship shook again, and Malcolm Reynolds put one hand against the infirmary wall to steady himself. He heard a crash and a string of mandarin cursing in Jayne’s rough tones from direction of the galley. Mal exchanged a glance with his resident doctor. Simon Tam stood in shirtsleeves and his customary embroidered waistcoat, although both were a sight more scruffy than they had been when the doc had come aboard Serenity. The floor rocked for a third time, and Simon grabbed the leather-upholstered medical chair to keep from falling over. The doctor’s eyes were wide with worry. At least, he thought it was worry. As Mal’d told the doctor before, it was sometimes hard to tell. “I’ll just go and…” Simon began. “No you won’t, doctor. You stay here an’ see everything’s stowed, then go check on Jayne. Thought I heard him hollerin’.” Mal exited the infirmary, nodding companionably to the figure sat calmly on one of the overstuffed couches in the common room. “Landing not going well?” Shepherd Book asked, not taking his eyes off his bible. “Hope not. If that’s so, we’re in danger of exploding. Again.” The Shepherd smiled. “Let me know if that happens.” “It happens, Shepherd, you’re like to know.” Mal replied. “I’ll have a prayer ready. Or maybe I should pray that we don’t all die?” Mal snorted and started up the stairs, this time almost unconsciously checking himself when Serenity shook. “Kaylee!” he called as he emerged onto the aft accessway. “Kaylee, what’s goin’ -” “Everything’s shiny cap’n,” Kaylee’s cheery voice cut him off. Mal peered into the engine room. He could see the mechanic’s legs poking out from underneath the engine’s spinning column. “Port synchroniser blew, but I routed the power flow through the secondary life support circuit. Won’t take more’n a minute to swap in a spare when we’re down.” Mal hadn’t understood a word of what she’d just said, so he remained silent as Kaylee clambered out from under the engine. “How’s the landing goin’?” “Don’t rightly know. We’ll get down, an’ hopefully not in a ball of fire -” The ship jerked, throwing Mal against the hatch-frame. There was another clonk, and smoke began to billow from the engine. Kaylee’s eyes widened, and she made a frantic ‘I’ve-got-it-under-control-everything’s-shiny-no-really’ gesture. Mal turned back up the passage. “Jus’ keep us in the air ‘til the Albatross gets us landed.” He called back. The galley was a mess. The motley collection of chairs lay strewn across the floor and a greenish-brown stain now decorated the wal and floor. Jayne Cobb lay against one wall, a hand held to his head. Simon knelt next to him, shining a light into each of the big merc’s eyes. Inara hovered nearby, the little teakettle they used clutched in her manicured hands. “Well, there’s no concussion. Just a knock on the head.” The doctor said, flicking the little flashlight off. “I can give you something for the pain -” Jayne grunted and waved Simon away. “Ruttin’ moonbrain’s gonna get us kilt.” He said to Mal, but without much feeling. After Miranda and Mr. Universe’s moon, any hostility between Jayne and the Tam siblings was little more than habit on the big man’s part. They had all gome within more’n a hair of death that day, and that kind of adversity quickly rid a crew of discord. Plus, after watching Simon’s little sister kill a roomful of blood-crazed Reavers – with a sword and an axe, no less – there was no way Jayne would mess with her, or Simon. Mal sighed. “What happened?” Inara held the teakettle up. “I think this came off the stove when he was cleaning Vera.” The Companion rolled her eyes at the name Jayne had given to his favourite rifle. Mal leaned around the table, and saw the monster weapon lying on the floor, the scope and all the other aftermarket components Jayne had bought in shady markets on Persephone and a string of other nearly-civilised worlds scattered across the floor. Simon smirked. “So, the big, bad mercenary got vanquished by Green Camomile.” Jayne let out another string of mandarin curses describing the doctor’s apparent affinity for anatomically improbably acts involving goats and fish. “Get all this cleaned up.” Mal ordered. “I want the Mule prepped and ready to go when we land. Get the preacher to help you. And Jayne -” he jabbed a finger at the big man “No gun you can’t operate with one hand.” “Grenades?” Jayne asked. Mal paused, remembering the last time he’d said no to grenades. “No more’n three.” “Aw, come on, Mal!” “Things go accordin’ to plan, we won’t need no violence. This one should go smooth.” His crew groaned at him in unison. “Why d’you hafta go an’ say that?” Jayne demanded. “Now something bad is guaranteed to happen!” Simon added. “Honestly, Mal, do you crave trouble?” This from Inara. “I swear, you’re not satisfied with a job until someone’s started shooting!” Mal opened his mouth to retort, but Simon, seeing another of his and Inara’s rows brewing, cut him off. “I’m not entirely comfortable with setting down on this world again, captain.” “It didn’t go so bad last time.” “I was kidnapped!” “Well, yeah, a bit, but -” “Shepherd Book got shot!” “Both of which are the reasons you’re staying on Serenity this time, doc. Don’t got no herd of cows to worry about this time.” Simon sighed. “I still worry about River.” Mal scoffed. “The Albatross can handle herself. Hell, she’s likely the most dangerous person on board. Won’t be no burnin’ at the stake this time.” “I know,” Simon replied, “but I still worry. It’s only a matter of time before she gets hurt.” “And that’s why you’re here, doctor. Anyway, there’s never been any worse’n a bullet wound.” “Which is bad enough! And we’ve had worse -” “Such as when?” “I had to reattach your ear.” Simon stated, his tone flat. “Yeah.” Mal said smirking. “That was -” His smirk vanished, replaced by a grimace. “- so painful.” He stared forward towards the cockpit. “Relax, doc. That’s why we keep you. An’ she can always hide behind Jayne.” “Hey!” Jayne protested. Simon laughed. “Get the Mule ready,” Mal ordered. “I want to be ready to go when we land.” Serenity shuddered again. “If we land.” Mal stepped through the bulkhead and paced up the access corridor. One of the four bunk entrances hissed open and Zoë, his second, climbed out. “Problem, sir?” She asked. Her hair was bound back, and Mal could see the tell-tale bumps of the discreet body armour she wore on jobs under her shirt and leather vest. Her cut-down lever-action hung from her hip on its strap and her knife, smaller than the massive blade Jayne called Binky, adorned her lower back. “Don’t conjure so. Little turbulence is all.” Serenity shook again, and the deck grating rattled. “A little?” Zoë asked, one eyebrow raised. There was a crash from the cargo bay, and yet another string of curses from Jayne. “Gorramit, girl, fly smooth!” Jayne’s voice echoed up from the bay. There was no reply from the cockpit. Mal and Zoë glanced at one another and climbed the short set of stairs to what Mal, in his more nautical moments, called the bridge. “You flying drunk again, husband?” Zoë asked, her tone jovial. “I have never flown drunk.” Wash replied, spinning around in his chair. “Slightly tipsy, ture, but never drunk.” The pilot cut an odd figure: a brown flightsuit underneath a brightly-coloured Hawaiian shirt, a shock of messy blond hair and mischievous blue eyes that always seemed to sparkle with humour. “In fact, I resent the very -” The ship lurched again, and a plastic allosaur flew off the primary pilot’s station and bounced off Mal’s head. Wash spun back around and checked a display. “There’s more far more atmospheric activity than usual. I think there’s a storm brewing.” “Won’t be a problem.” The cockpit’s other occupant said. River Tam sat at the copilot’s station, her brow furrowed in concentration, hands glued to the controls, intelligent brown eyes staring intently out the window. Her hair fell in its usual unkempt tangle, but other than that, she was almost unrecognisable as the terrified, broken girl who had staggered, naked and confused, from a cryo-box in Mal’s hold ten months ago. Back then, she had been insane, scared, unable to communicate in anything other than cryptic babbling and semi-coherent sobbing. Now, though, she was better. Still more’n a little whimsical in the brainpan, true, but confronting the secrets she’s learned from the minds of the Alliance’s leaders had stabilised her, as had finally gaining some semblance of control over her psychic abilities. “Seems there might be, lil’ Albatross.” Mal replied, folding his arms. As if on cue, the ship shuddered, although less than it had previously. “Jianying’s atmosphere is uncooperative” She informed him. “We’re through the worst, though.” “Be careful. We crash an’ get stranded, I’m blaming you.” She shot him a look usually reserved for her brother when he fumbled a conversation with Kaylee, or Jayne at his densest. “In the event of a crash, the chances of survival are one in two hundred thousand seven hundred and sixty three.” She said. There was a beat of silence. Mal didn’t really have an adequate reply to that, so he settled for “Well…don’t.” “I will get us down, Captain.” She assured him. He grunted and left the cockpit. Zoë kissed Wash and followed. “You sanguine about dealin’ on Jianying again, sir?” Zoë asked as they descended the stairs from the fore accessway to thecatwalks that ran the length of the cargo bay. “You like that word, don’t you?” “Certainly covers all our options. Things do tend to end up bloody.” “Look, I didn’t set the location for the handover, Fanty an’ Mingo did.” “I’m not happy about dealin’ with them either.” “Nor me, but we ain’t got a lotta choice. Badger won’t deal with us since we left him in the middle o’ nowhere, and the gorram Alliance killed most of the rest of our contacts. It’s Fanty and Mingo or we go hungry.” Zoë nodded. They’d had this conversation before. “’Sides,” Mal continued, “This one should be a milk run.” Zoë regarded him with a raised eyebrow. “We need to have a conversation ‘bout temptin’ fate, sir?” She asked. “Last few times you’ve said that -” “Everybody’s makin’ a fuss.” Mal protested. They stated down the central haning stairwell to the cargo bay floor. As they did, the throaty roar and low vibration of a ship in flight was replaced with a dull thump as Serenitykissed dirt. Jayne grunted at them as he rounded the Mule. The hovercraft was prepped ad ready. Shepherd Book nodded at them as he finished affixing a fire extinguisher to the craft’s rear. “I hope your crime goes well, Captain.” He said. “Thank you, Shepherd. So do I, although, I don’t rightly know whether today’s dealing’s are actually criminal in nature.” Mal replied. He pushed one of the buttons on the bay terminal, and the big doors began to open, bringing with them fresh air and birdsong. Zoë turned to Jayne. “Those grenades?” “Mal said I could bring ‘em!” Jayne protested. “That true, sir?” “Yeah.” Mal confirmed. “Better to have ‘em and not need ‘em…” “Than need ‘em and not have ‘em. You plannin’ on bringing River?” “If she wants to come.” “I do.” River’s voice sounded from just behind him. It took an effort of will not to jump. He turned, slowly. River wore her usual clothes for a job: one of Zoë’s armour vests under a wispy dress which ended high and loosely enough to allow her to kick up to head height. This one was a deep blue, and was the same one she’d worn in the Maidenhead bar and on Miranda, Over it, she wore a harness Inara had had made for her. A diagonal strap ran from right shoulder to left hip, where a simply-made but elegant sabre hung. River hadn’t wanted to give up the sword and axe she’d taken from the Reavers on Mr. Universe’s moon, but Simon and Kaylee had managed to convince her to hand them over to the Alliance officials who’d patched them up on the Operative’s orders. Upon their next visit to Persephone, Inara had taken the girl to a reputable swordsmith, who’d talked at length on balance and weight, before shutting himself in his forge for a week and emerging with what he declared his finest work. Inara had insisted Mal pay for it. The thing had been fifty gorram credits, but, as inara had pointed out, they had the money. They still hadn’t spent the money from the payroll job, which was a rare piece of luck. Opposite the sword, on the other side of a black leather belt, hung a holster containing one of Jayne’s best pistols. The little semiauto shot fast, but with enough punch to be effective if shot straight, and River could shoot straight, even with her face turned and eyes shut, according to Kaylee. Mal knew there was a slim-bladed knife in her left boot, and another in a sheath over her right shoulder. He always got uncomfortable seein’ her in combat gear. Despite his sarcastic comments to her brother when he’d taken her on the payroll job, the idea of taking a seventeen – eighteen in a few days, but even so – girl on bank heists and illegal transactions had never sat right with him, even if she did seem to take a slightly worrying interest. But gorram it, River was useful. In addition to being a mind-reading genius, their little Albatross was probably the most skiled fighter on the crew. The same government experiment that had broken her mind and cut into her brain had given her enough combat ability to single-handedly take down a whole bar of Beaumonde’s hardest criminals and go unarmed against a shipful of Reavers and win. He’d never admit it to anyone, but the sight of her standing over the Reavers’ corpses dripping in their blood, cold expressionlessness, preparing to do it all over again to the squad of Alliance commandoes who had burst into the room, still gave him nightmares. Mal was fair sure she knew, was certain that was why, when the nightmares of Haven, Miranda and the war woke him and he went to the bridge to stare into the starry Black, she looked at him with sorrow in her eyes as she padded silently up to join him. That night-time vigil was a quiet, still one, shared between the Captain and the Albatross and them alone. Nothing was said, and , for once, nothing needed to be. They just sat, and watched the stars burn and listened to the music of the turning worlds, although he suspected that music was a sight less metaphorical for River. Mal pulled himself back to the here and now, and nodded at her. “Good. Always nice t’have you along, Albatross.” She smiled at the nickname. “I’m a good luck charm.” “Yeah, assumin’ you don’t get shot.” She grinned. “I’ll try not to.” Simon hurried out of the common area carrying an emergency medkit. He handed it to Zoë. Then turned to River. “Take care, mei-mei. Don’t-” “Get kidnapped. I know.” River rolled her eyes and pointedly ignored Jayne’s muttered comment about puking. She hopped up on the Mule and settled in a back seat, across from Jayne. Mal clambered up in the driver’s seat as Zoë checked her mare’s leg. His first mate pulled the lever on the gun, powering it up with a whirring noise. The Mule started with a throaty purr. Mal turned to his crew. “Close everything up after we’ve gone. Don’t want anyone getting’ nabbed.” He paused. “Or burned at the stake. Wash, you’re in charge. We’ll radio in hwne we get the goods, tell you we’re coming.” He released the catches that kept the Mule hanging in the cargo bay and eased the hovercraft into Jianying’s woods. “Good luck, cap’n!” Kaylee’s cheery voice bounced after them. Quietly, Mal hoped that, for once, they wouldn’t need it.