TITLE: Dude, Where’s My Ship?
SUMMARY: No, you didn’t read it wrong. It really says that. And yes, it really is based on a certain movie...
CHARACTERS: Mal, Simon (with a little of some of the others, too!)
TIMELINE: Fits anywhere post Jaynestown, really.
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. Really, I do. Nothing what-so-ever. No Serenity, no Firefly, and hand to God, I don’t own Dude, Where’s My Car.
DISTRIBUTION: Poke me should you want it for something...
Crossposted to various places...
“’Fraid not.” Mal sighed. He’d known this was coming. “We haven’t exactly been overrun with jobs these last few months, Jayne, if you hadn’t noticed. We can’t afford to be picking and choosing.”
“But … do we have to go there?” Jayne looked mighty distressed, and Mal would probably have found it amusing if he wasn’t so frustrated.
“Fine. You stay inside if you have to.” It wasn’t the ideal solution, but if it would shut Jayne up, it would have to do. “Me and Zoe’ll take care of things, maybe call on the doc again if we need the extra help.”
Jayne’s expression changed from distressed to pissed at the thought of Simon taking his place, but held his tongue for once as the intercom buzzed and crackled into life.
“Captain, you decided on where we’re going yet?” Wash’s voice came floating out into the cargo bay. “I need to be setting a course.”
Mal pushed the button and fixed Jayne with a ‘this is what we’re doing, no arguments’ glare as he spoke. “Yeah. Canton.”
There was a pause on Wash’s end. “Canton, as in … Jayne Cobb, hero of?”
Jayne groaned and walked off. Mal didn’t much care where exactly, as long as he wasn’t making a fuss. “The very same.”
There was another pause. This wasn’t good. Wash should have replied in the affirmative by now. “Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”
Mal sighed. “We’re not that far out. Just set the course.” This was not his day. He pressed a different button on the intercom. “Everyone down to the cargo bay. Now.” He looked at Zoe, who just shrugged, like she’d been expecting this mutiny all along and had forgotten to warn him of it. He pushed the button again. “That includes you, Jayne.”
The rest of the crew slowly appeared, a huffy Jayne the last to arrive. He stood off to the side, arms crossed, an even bigger scowl on his face than usual.
Mal cleared his throat. “This is a memo. It’s a memo because it’s not a thing that’s up for discussion. Few hours from now, we’re going to be setting down at Canton. We’ve had offer of a job there, and we’re going to be taking it.”
Kaylee was biting her tongue, but Inara didn’t even try. “Mal, I don’t think-”
“Good. It’s good that you don’t think, because I seem to recall saying this wasn’t up for discussion. We need the money, end of story. Zoe, the doc and I will be dealing with the job.”
Simon spluttered slightly. “Me?”
Mal ignored him. “Since Jayne’s apparently too worried about his reputation, or some such, he’ll be staying on the ship. And given the events of our last visit to this particular moon, so will the rest of you.”
“I still don’t think that I should-” Simon started.
“Relax, doctor. You’ll just be helping with the lookout. Nothing too taxing.” He turned to the rest of them. “Understood?”
They all nodded, though not a one of them looked particularly happy about it.
The job didn’t go entirely badly - Mal would possibly even go so far as to say that it went well. Handing their payment to Zoe, he smiled. “I’m going for a drink. Think I deserve one.”
Zoe took the money. “Don’t be long, sir.”
Mal laughed. “Who exactly is in charge here?”
Zoe had already started to walk, and called back over her shoulder. “I’ll have Wash get her warmed up.”
Simon hovered in between the two of them. If he was honest, taking part in the crime wasn’t his strong point, and the idea of a drink to steady his nerves wasn’t the worst thing in the world. At the same time, he wasn’t sure if Mal’s drinking plans included him.
Mal was already halfway towards the bar they’d been to the last time when he called out to Simon. He’d be lying if he said it wasn’t in the back of his mind that someone might recognise him and they’d get something free as an acquaintance of Jayne’s. “Coming?”
Simon woke up with his head pounding and his face in someone’s lap. That wasn’t right. That wasn’t where he remembered falling asleep. Though, thinking about it more, he wasn’t sure he remembered falling asleep at all. It wasn’t until he heard a groan from somewhere above him that he sat upright.
Mal’s eyes were squeezed tight shut, and he was rubbing right where his forehead meets his nose. He didn’t seem to be surprised to hear Simon’s voice beside him, and just raised his other finger to his lips. “Shh.”
Simon lowered his voice slightly. “Mal, shouldn’t we be getting back to the ship?”
He nodded but made no effort to move. “Yeah, guess we should.”
“I thought we were just having one drink.”
Mal opened his eyes to look at Simon and laughed a little. “How naive are you? One drink never, ever, means one drink.”
Simon scowled and wished he’d known that at the time. Instead of complaining, though, he stood up and grabbed Mal’s hands, pulling him to his feet. He just wanted to get back to the infirmary, take something for the pain and go to bed for a week.
Mal groaned again, but he didn’t resist. Positioning himself behind Mal, Simon gently pushed him in the direction of the exit and stayed there until Mal seemed to be walking of his own accord.
The sun outside was brighter than either of them would have liked, so they walked quickly back to the ship. Or where the ship had been. At least, where they thought the ship had been.
“Mal?” Simon asked, wondering if Mal was thinking the same thing he was. “Where’s the ship?”
One look at Mal’s face answered him. He looked both confused and horrified. “Where’s my gorram ship?!”
Simon’s voice remained calm, though he was anything but. He was positive they were in the right place, and River was still on board. Anything could have happened. “Mal. Where’s the ship?”
Mal was spinning around, looking in every direction for a sign that they’d come to the wrong place, or that there was some other explanation. “Where’s my gorram SHIP?!”
Simon was trying his hardest to be logical about this. “Zoe went back to the ship last night.”
“Your point being…?”
“It’s not funny, Mal. The ship is gone.”
Mal stared at him for a good thirty seconds before dignifying that with a response. “I know the ship is gone, Simon. I’m standing here looking at the big space where my ship used to be.” He paused and gritted his teeth. “Do I look like I’m finding this remotely funny? The ship is gone!”
“We need to retrace our steps.”
“What is there to retrace? We did the job, we went to the bar, the ship is gone. We know where we were, it’s the ship that’s missing.”
Simon tried to collect himself before speaking, instead of just letting go and yelling at Mal. Which was really want he wanted to do. “Do you have any better suggestions?”
“Mal?” Inara’s voice rang out from somewhere behind them before Mal could answer. Turning around, they saw that Kaylee was with her.
“Simon?” Kaylee frowned. “Uh, where’s the ship?”
Mal laughed a little sarcastically. “Yeah, we’re having a little ship trouble.”
“Trouble?” Inara, unsurprisingly, didn’t like the sound of that.
“Yeah. We seem to have… lost it.”
“You’ve lost Serenity?” Kaylee squeaked. “How could you lose a spaceship?”
“Well, I don’t know. I do, however, recall telling you two not to leave said ship, which leaves me wondering what you’re doing here.”
Inara smiled slightly. “And what made you think we would actually pay attention to you?”
Kaylee grinned. “Yeah, I mean. Why start now?”
Mal scowled at her and she laughed. Apparently Kaylee was the only person here who actually found this whole debacle the slightest bit funny. Inara took a breath, realising from the look on Mal’s face that this certainly wasn’t some kind of joke.
“As it happens, Mal, we’re only here because we’re looking for you. As was Zoe, last I heard. Which means something happened that either made them leave without us when they got back to the ship, or made Wash leave without any of us.”
“That would mean Wash left without Zoe,” Simon spoke up. “He wouldn’t.”
Mal sighed and nodded. “So if he did, this is very, very bad.”
Inara pulled a face. “The ship is gone, Mal. How was it not already very, very bad?”
Instead of answering her, he turned and headed back towards the bar without another word.
“Where are you going?” Simon called out, still standing with the girls.
He didn’t stop walking. “Retracing our steps.” He wasn’t going to give Simon the satisfaction of being right about that, though, so he clarified his plan. “See if that asshole of a bartender knows anything. Maybe they came looking for us while we were asleep.”
Simon sighed and started after him, turning back to the girls for a second. “I’ll go with him. The last thing we need right now is more trouble, and that bar is hardly a violence free zone. You two stay here in case the ship…” he frowned, realising how ridiculous this sounded. “Comes back.”
By the time Mal reached the bar, Simon was only a couple of steps behind him.
“Mal, are you sure about this?”
“What harm can it do?”
Simon opened his mouth to let forth a tirade describing exactly what harm it could do, but by then Mal had already reached the bar and was staring threateningly at the bartender. The man appeared to be cleaning the same glass he’d been cleaning when they arrived the night before, and did the cleaning motion itself not involve movement, Simon might have wondered if the man was even alive.
The guy just stared back at Mal. “What?”
“We were in here last night.”
“And?” The man had still yet to make eye contact with Mal.
“Did you see anything unusual?”
The guy shrugged. “Not really.”
Mal gritted his teeth in frustration. “Forgive me for not finding you entirely trustworthy, but how about you walk me through what you do remember?”
The bartender grinned, and Simon grimaced at the sight. The man really needed dental care, his teeth were worse than Jayne’s. What teeth he had, anyway. “How about you walk me through what you remember, and I’ll tell you if I know different.”
Simon could tell that Mal was about to argue with that suggestion, so jumped in before he had chance. “We came in last night, and we ordered some of your…” he paused and curled his lip slightly at the memory of the stuff. “Mudder’s milk.”
Mal rolled his eyes and sighed, picking up the story. “We sat over there.” He pointed at the table where they’d woken up this morning. “And we drank more.”
“And then Simon started looking worse for wear, so I bought him another drink, because it was funny.”
Mal smiled for the first time since they’d discovered the ship was missing. “What? It was!”
The bartender didn’t seem to care whether it was funny or not. “And then?”
Mal frowned, struggling to remember what came after that. “And then we fell asleep, I guess. Passed out. However you want to word it.”
“That’s it. That’s all I remember.”
He glanced at Simon. Simon had to hold back a laugh, because the expression on Mal’s face was clearly asking him if the man was a moron. “Simon, you remember anything else?”
“Considering that I don’t remember most of what you just said, I think it’s unlikely I’d remember anything you don’t.”
Mal laughed a little. “Fair point. It’s clear you’re not such a hotshot when it comes to holding your liquor.” He turned back to the bartender. “So that’s it. You remember anything we might’ve missed?”
“And then?” The bartender wasn’t even looking at them any more. He seemed to have fixed his eyes on one of the customers sitting in the corner, a man who was swaying back and forth and looked incredibly close to falling on the floor and passing out.
Mal banged his fist on the bar, trying to get his attention. “There’s no ‘and then.’ That’s it. The end.”
There was a small pause before the man finally looked back at Mal. “And then?”
Mal’s eyes had widened with anger. “Look, I’m done playing your games. I suggest that if you don’t want to see my foot up your ass, you tell me if you remember anything. I’d quite like to get out of this hellhole, if you don’t mind terribly.”
A beat. “And then what?”
Mal launched himself at the bar, trying to scramble over and beat the bartender senseless, but Simon managed to get behind him and hold onto his arms to stop him, though it was a struggle. “Is there anything that you remember after that? Did anyone come looking for us? Anything at all.”
The bartender opened his mouth to speak, but Mal got there first.
“And if you say ‘and then’, I swear I’ll -”
“Mal.” There was a warning tone in Simon’s voice. “You’re not helping.” He looked back at the bartender. “You were saying?”
He shrugged slightly. “Yeah. There was a woman. She came looking for you earlier. Think she said her name was… I don’t know. Zola, or Zonta or something. I wasn’t really listening.” He still looked unbelievably disinterested. “Said something about some people looking for your ‘you know who’.”
“And she didn’t stick around to wake us up?” There was something about this story that didn’t quite sound right to Mal, and he had a bad feeling that this particular ‘you know who’ was probably Jayne, given their location, and that was most definitely not good.
The bartender shrugged again. “Didn’t tell her you were here. I ain’t no gorram babysitter.” He was lucky that Simon still had his hands on Mal’s arms, because the captain suddenly needed restraining again. He held up his hands. “Hey, you’re not my problem.” He turned away at that and headed out of sight and reach before Simon and Mal could interrogate or attempt to beat him up respectively.
Shaking free from Simon’s arms, Mal turned away from the bar. Simon frowned.
“So, what now?”
Mal started to leave the bar. “Now we have to find Zoe.”
Inara and Kaylee were still hovering around where the ship used to be. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t reappeared. Kaylee sighed; this whole situation had lost its initial shine, and she was starting to get upset. Serenity was gone, and they had no idea where. It was entirely possibly that they’d never see her again. Inara was doing her best to keep Kaylee calm, but she had to admit, she was feeling more than a little worried herself.
“We’ll figure this out, Kaylee.”
Kaylee raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. She could tell the difference between genuine confidence and someone who was just telling her what she wanted to hear.
Inara sighed. “Mal and Simon will be back soon, and I’m sure they’ll have found something out. Maybe they’ll even have Zoe with them. She might be able to shed some light on all of this. Wash wouldn’t go anywhere without consulting with her.” She smiled and put a hand on Kaylee’s shoulder reassuringly. “If there’s one thing I’m positive about, it’s that.”
Kaylee knew Inara had a point. Wash might be one of the least confrontational members of the crew, but he would certainly put up a fight if anybody tried to take him away from Zoe.
The girls both turned sharply at the voice behind them. Neither of them had heard anybody approaching, so they were more than a little surprised to see a small crowd of people standing there. Kaylee recognised a few of them from the crowd at their failed Jayne-day celebration, and she wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.
Inara paused, surveying the crowd. “Yes?”
A slightly chubby, balding man stepped forward and continued to speak. “You both fly with the Firefly class ship Serenity?”
Kaylee nodded slightly, frowning, and Inara took a small step towards him. “What is it? Can I help you with something?”
She gasped as the man strode forward and grabbed her by the wrist. Another two men appeared behind Kaylee, holding onto her arms as she struggled to get away from them. “Hey! What’s going on?”
“You’re coming with us.”
“What? No! Why?” Kaylee was still struggling to pull away from the men, while Inara remained still. She knew how to react in situations like this.
“Kaylee, calm down,” she muttered. She tried to turn to face her captor. “What do you want from us?”
His mouth twisted into a grin. “We want your Captain.”
Inara sighed. Typical. This was all about Mal. “We don’t know where he is.”
Another man spoke up this time. “Yes. We know. But he’ll come looking for you.” He nodded to the three men holding Kaylee and Inara. “Take them.”
Simon trudged out of the bar after Mal. He was cold and tired and achey from the way he’d slept, with no idea if he’d ever see his sister again, and he still just wanted to go to bed. He sighed and half-ran for a couple of steps to catch up with Mal.
“Where exactly do you plan on looking for Zoe?”
Mal kept walking. “Anywhere. Everywhere. It’s not like we have anything better to do.”
“Maybe we should go back for the girls.”
“The girls can take care of themselves. Somebody should stay with the big empty space where our ship used to be.”
Simon snorted. “Why, in case it goes missing?”
Mal heaved an irritated sigh. “If you want to go back to Inara and Kaylee, then go. I didn’t ask you to come with me.”
Simon shook his head. “Somebody has to make sure you stay out of trouble.”
Mal laughed bitterly and stopped so suddenly that Simon almost walked into him. He turned back to the doctor. “Right, of course. Because that worked so well last night when we got drunk, passed out, completely missed Zoe coming to get us, and now the ship is gone.” He turned away from Simon and continued to walk. “Now come, if you’re coming.”
Simon rolled his eyes and followed after Mal again, muttering to himself.
“To wherever it is we might be going.”
After walking in what Simon was fairly convinced were large circles for around an hour, Mal stopped suddenly in front of what looked worryingly like a brothel.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Simon sighed. “Mal.” He paused. “Mal, what are you doing?”
Mal was frowning at the building. “Simon, does this place look familiar to you?”
Simon sighed and shrugged. He wasn’t in the mood for games. “I don’t know. No, not really. But then, I’m not the one who tends to frequent these kinds of places.”
“And you’re implying that I am?” He strode towards the door. “This is hardly the time to get into all of this, Simon.”
“All of what, exactly, Mal? It was a simple comment.” Mal was inside before Simon had finished his sentence, so he sighed and followed the captain in. He’d sworn to keep Mal out of trouble, and if trouble was going to find him, it was likely to be in a place like this.
The thing that worried him the most was that as he walked inside, he realised Mal might be right. This place did seem vaguely familiar to him. And that was never good.
His fear was realised when they were surrounded by girls as soon as they walked in the door. “Mal,” one of them smiled, trailing her finger down from his forehead to the tip of his nose.
“And Simon.” A second girl turned her attention to Simon, snaking a hand round his waist and squeezing his backside. He jumped in surprise and sidled towards the bar, standing with his back to it so that it couldn’t happen again.
“How lovely to see you again.” A third girl walked towards them, breaking the crowd of girls in half as she did so. “We didn’t expect you’d be back so soon.” She paused, staring at Simon. He shivered slightly as she did it. Her smile seemed genuine, but there was something in her eyes, something cold. He was glad when she turned her gaze onto Mal. “How are you doing with the little job that I gave you last night?”
Mal glanced over towards Simon and swallowed slightly. Yeah, this was not good. “The job?” He coughed. There was something about these women that made him think they probably had dangerous contacts. People who worked in these places generally did. He didn’t want to make them mad. “The job. Right! Yeah. We’re, uh. Working on it.”
“Well then,” she smiled, draping an arm around Mal’s shoulders and turning him back towards the door. Simon followed without having to be told, he wasn’t letting Mal out of his sight. “I suggest that you keep working on that, and don’t come back here until you’ve got him.”
She gave Mal one final push back out into the street and shut the door firmly behind the two men. Neither of them said anything for a minute or two, until eventually Simon spoke, a thoroughly puzzled expression on his face.
“What just happened?”
Mal scratched the back of his head. “I, uh. I’m not exactly sure.” He paused. “Apparently we left the bar at some point, though. Our friendly neighbourhood bartender left that part out.”
Simon laughed slightly. “Yes, well, I can’t say I’m surprised. He was hardly the trustworthy type, Mal.”
“Thank you for that, Simon.” Mal smiled at him sarcastically. “I never would have figured that out by myself.” He sighed. “I think we should go back to the girls.”
Simon let out a sigh of relief. “Finally.” He paused slightly. “No more brothels?”
Mal cracked a genuine smile for the first time in a while. “Not promising anything.”
His smiled faded as they approached the area where both the ship and the girls had been seen last, only to realise that the ship was no longer the only thing missing. He sighed. “What is this, the rutting Bermuda Triangle of Canton?!”
Simon felt awful. “I knew I should have stayed with them.”
Mal snorted. “Oh, right, so that I could have lost you too. I don’t think so.”
A man stepped out from the shadows. “If you’re looking for your girlfriends, I can help.”
“Our who?” Simon blurted it out without thinking. “Oh, no, they’re not -”
Mal glared at him as he interrupted. “Yes, we are.”
Simon bit his lip and stopped talking. The man nodded. “I can take you to them.” He started to walk. “Follow me.”
As they followed, Mal dropped back slightly to walk close beside Simon. “Stick close to me, and for god’s sake, don’t say anything.”
As they reached a clearing, Simon spotted a large crowd of people, and he could see Inara and Kaylee in the centre. They didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, and he was just glad to see that they were safe. They approached the crowd, and their guide dropped into it and joined them.
Inara’s captor stepped forward and sneered at Mal and Simon. “Which of you is Captain Reynolds?”
Simon opened his mouth to answer, but closed it before speaking, remembering Mal’s words. The last thing he needed right now was to piss Mal off.
“Depends who’s asking.”
“That isn’t important.” The man paused. “We’re looking for Jayne Cobb. We believe he rides with you.”
Mal nodded. “You believe right. Doesn’t mean I can help you, though.”
Four men stepped forward, pulling Inara and Kaylee with them. For the first time Simon realised that they were cuffed to the other men, stopping them from escaping. This was even worse than he’d thought.
The man speaking to them gestured towards the girls. “If you don’t deliver him to us, your girlfriends are history.”
Kaylee gasped. Inara didn’t react at all outwardly, but Mal could see the fear in her eyes. She was obviously genuinely worried that they would follow through on the threat, which worried him more.
Simon cleared his throat. “Uh, they’re not our -”
“Simon.” Mal’s voice had a slightly threatening edge to it, and Simon looked at the ground, saying nothing else. Mal turned back to the man. “We can’t help you. Don’t know where he is right now, and that’s the truth.”
The man seemed to consider this, and then nodded. “Fine. You two go and find him. We’ll keep your girlfriends here. For insurance. They won’t be harmed.”
Mal nodded. He wasn’t sure he trusted the man much, or at all, but he didn’t see that he had much of a choice. “We’ll be back. And soon.” He paused. “But if you’ve done anything to harm either of them -”
“You have my word.”
“Not sure exactly how much that’s worth, but it doesn’t look like there’s much I can do about it.” He glanced at Simon, an idea forming, and tried to suppress a smile. “Don’t know where Jayne is, though I know someone who might be able to help.”
Simon frowned. “Mal -”
“He’s a bartender. Heard tell he might have seen Jayne early this morning.” He gave directions, and two of the burliest looking men were sent away in the direction of the bar. Once they’d gone, Mal started to trudge away, and Simon followed, whispering loudly.
“Why did you send them to the bar? Where are we going? We have no idea where to look!”
“Shh!” Mal hissed, and then lowered his voice. “We’ll keep looking for Zoe. Something’s bound to turn up.” He stopped for a second and turned back to the crowd surrounding Inara and Kaylee. “Oh, and they’re not our girlfriends.”
Simon sat down on the floor. He didn’t care how dusty it was, he was already a mess, hot and sweaty from walking round all day, and his eyes still a little bloodshot from the previous night’s heavy drinking session. Mal was a few steps ahead, and took a while to notice Simon was no longer following him.
“What’re you doing?”
Mal came a little way back towards Simon. “I can see that. Question is, why are you sitting? We’ve got things to do! People to find!”
Simon was exhausted, frustrated, and just the tiniest bit angry with himself for letting this happen in the first place. He shook his head. “I don’t care. We’ve been walking in circles for two hours, Mal. There’s no sign of Zoe, or Serenity, anywhere on this rock. I really think we’re more likely to find her by staying where we are and letting her come to us, at this juncture.”
Mal sighed. He was just as tired as Simon, but refused to sit down for fear that he wouldn’t be able to stand up again. “I don’t know if it’s slipped your mind, but things have a tendency to disappear somewhat around here, if they stay in one place too long.”
Simon opened his mouth to reply to that, but didn’t have time to say anything before he was interrupted.
“How right you are, Captain Reynolds.”
Mal turned around to be faced with a man he was sure he’d never met, flanked by a small group of lackeys. The fact that this man knew his name was cause for a certain amount of consternation on Mal’s part, but not for too long. Two of the men jumped forward, and Mal and Simon had both been knocked unconscious before they’d had time to question anything at all.
“Reynolds sent us.”
The bartender wasn’t paying attention. He continued cleaning the same glass he’d been cleaning for the last ten minutes. “And then?”
“He said you knew where Cobb might be.”
“You don’t know what we plan to do with him.”
One of the men reached forward and grabbed the bartender by the collar, while the other pulled back his arm, ready to throw a punch. “You don’t want to mess with us.”
There was a longish pause before the bartender spoke again. “And then?”
Simon came to a while later, unsure where he was. He glanced around and realised he seemed to be in some kind of basement … and he was inside a cage. The day’s events all came flooding back to him as soon as he saw Mal, sitting against the wall opposite him, looking equal parts miserable and angry. Still, he managed to almost crack a smile when he realised Simon was awake.
“’Bout time,” he muttered. “How’d you feel?”
Simon sighed as he gingerly poked the lump that was fast appearing on the back of his head. “Well, it gives me an odd sense of satisfaction to realise that I would have gotten this headache whether I agreed to go drinking with you or not.” He winced and stopped poking, pulling his hand away and checking for blood. “It makes me hate you slightly less.”
Mal laughed. “How sweet.”
A new voice joined the mix. “Do you really think this is the time to be flirting, Sir?”
Flustered, Simon jumped to his feet, realising for the first time that there was a second cage next to their own. He blinked twice and rubbed his eyes before speaking again, making sure that his possible concussion hadn’t resulted in hallucinations first.
“Zoe?” He looked from Zoe to Mal and back again. Clearly Mal had been awake a while, since he didn’t look at all surprised by this development. “How did you…?” He trailed off.
“Got snatched looking for you two. Somebody was looking for Jayne, told them I couldn’t help. That was the last I saw of an actual person ‘til you two were hauled in here, looking pretty close to dead.”
“We’re not dead.”
Zoe raised an eyebrow. “I see that, Captain States-The-Obvious.”
Simon snorted and tried to push himself to his feet. “Any idea why they’re all after Jayne?”
“Not a clue.” Zoe shrugged. “I didn’t have time to ask, and I-”
Mal cleared his throat, interrupting her. “Much as I’d like to know why the people on this damn moon seem to see Jayne as some kind of second coming, there’s a much more pressing question right now.”
“What would that be, Sir?”
Simon knew what Mal was about to say, and closed his eyes before Mal came close to reaching a pitch only dogs should hear. “Where’s my gorram ship?!”
“Oh. I told Wash if I wasn’t back in two hours that he should take off, stay safe in the air until we contacted.”
Mal gritted his teeth. “You - what?”
“Took some convincing, but he promised to do it.” She smiled slightly. “Glad to see he still listens to me, even if he is becoming slightly feisty now we’ve been married a good while.”
Mal stared at her in disbelief. “I don’t care if Wash is feisty! In fact, I think I’d go so far as to say I care a negative amount.” He paused, and tried to gather himself. “Have you contacted him since, to let him know what’s happened?”
“Right, of course. Why didn’t I think of that? I’ll just use my cortex-enabled cage and get right on that, shall I?”
Mal was about to retort when the door swung open and the gentleman who’d led to them being knocked unconscious in the first place stepped into the room. “Mutiny in the ranks, Captain? Oh dear.” Mal glared, and he smiled, which unnerved Mal more than a little. “I’m afraid that we weren’t properly introduced earlier.” He extended his hand through the bars, something Mal took as both a taunt and an insult. Trying his hardest not to take the bait, he shook the man’s hand. “Magistrate Higgins, at your service.” He sneered slightly. “Or rather, you’re at mine.”
Mal’s heart sank. He knew of the dealings Inara had had with the man the last time they were here, and if he was involved in looking for Jayne now… this probably wasn’t going to end well.
Magistrate Higgins started pacing the room outside of the cages. “I’m a busy man, Captain. It’s already been made clear to me that your first mate knows nothing of Cobb’s whereabouts, and I have much more important uses for my time than questioning the three of you.” He paused and looked back at Mal and Simon. “Lucky for you, Captain, I’m an honourable man.”
Zoe snorted from her cage and Higgins glanced towards her before looking back at Mal. “I have one question for you. Give me the correct answer, and I’ll let the two of you go.”
Higgins hadn’t expected Mal to speak. “I’m sorry?”
“Three. There are three of us - or don’t they teach counting on your fancy moon?”
Simon cleared his throat nervously. He somehow doubted that taunting Higgins was the way to go.
“I see perfectly well that there are three of you, Captain. However, only two of you may leave.”
Mal shook his head, arms folded tightly across his chest. “Zoe comes with us, or there’s no deal.”
“Then there’s no deal.” He pauses. “One of you needs to stay behind as insurance. Besides,” he smiled again. “You’re assuming you’re going to answer me correctly.”
Mal smiled cheekily. “I’m fairly confident.”
Higgins cleared his throat. “Very well. Tell me. Where is Jayne Cobb?”
Simon rolled his eyes and sat down again. If Higgins wasn’t letting them out unless they produced Jayne, they were likely to be in here a long while. Mal laughed loudly. “Come on, that’s the best you can do? I was at least hoping for some trivia!” He grinned and turned to look at Simon before smiling back at Higgins. “I’ve got a doctor on my team, I would totally have won.” He pauses and smiles more, irritating the hell out of Higgins. “He’s smart, you see.”
“Enough!” Higgins yelled. “Answer the damn question. I know he’s on your ship.”
Mal shrugged. “I’d help if I could, honest. Don’t really care that much for Jayne, ain’t like selling him out would be too much of a hardship. But I really have no idea.”
Higgins frowned suspiciously. He clearly wasn’t sure whether to buy this or not. “What do you mean, you have no idea?”
Mal shrugged again, smiling. “No clue! Zoe here lost the ship.”
“I did not, Sir. I had it …removed. In the interests of safety.”
Higgins rubbed his forehead in frustration. “Fine.” He pointed at Zoe. “You can leave. I’m keeping these two here until you return with Cobb.”
Mal glanced at Zoe and nodded. “Okay.”
She raised an eyebrow at him and Mal nodded ever so slightly at her. Higgins watched the pair of them before stepping towards the padlock on Zoe’s cage, twisting the key in the lock and standing back as the door swung open. She stepped out and stood in front of him.
“So you just want Jayne?” She paused. “I bring Jayne, I get these two idiots back?”
Higgins nodded. “That’s the deal.”
She nodded and walked past him, heading for the door. He turned back to Mal and Simon, opening his mouth to speak when Zoe turned back towards him.
“Oh, and Magistrate Higgins?”
He turned around, irritated that she was even still there. He was just in time to see her fist connect with his face, and dropped to the floor, unconscious. She bent down to remove the keys from his hand and stepped over him, unlocking the cage holding Mal and Simon.
She smiled. “Might wanna invest in some bodyguards.”
Simon stepped over Higgins while Mal and Zoe dragged his unconscious body into the cage. Locking the door, Mal grinned and dropped the key into his pocket. “I’m keeping this.”
It wasn’t until they were back out in the open and had a better idea of where Higgins had taken them, that Mal began to feel like some kind of balance was being restored to his life. He had Simon and Zoe beside him, and he knew where Kaylee and Inara were. Five out of nine, while still not making for his best day ever, meant that he was three crew members better off than he had been when he’d woken up, and that had to mean something.
He was able to breathe another sigh of relief as he walked back towards town and spotted Serenity touching down in the distance. It was all he could do to stop himself from running over there, but if the ship itself hadn’t already attracted enough attention, he didn’t want to draw even more people to it. Not until he’d decided what would be the best thing to do about the ‘everybody loves Jayne’ problem they seemed to be having.
Not that loving Jayne seemed to be exactly the problem this time. He couldn’t even say for sure whether the people were planning on kissing or killing the thug when they laid eyes on him, which only added to his headache.
“Mal?” Simon was staring at him, and Mal realised that the doctor had been talking for a few minutes at least.
Simon rolled his eyes. “I said, do we have a plan?”
Mal laughed quietly. “Oh, so now you want to be in on the plan? I seem to recall a fair bit of resistance on your part at the start of this whole hullabaloo, so I suggest that you do what you wanted all along, get yourself back onto the boat and make sure that your sister is still acting relatively like a person.” He paused. “Zoe and I can handle this.”
Simon gaped at Mal for a split second before regaining his composure. “Fine.” He sped up slightly, leaving Zoe and Mal a little way in the distance. Zoe walked a little closer to Mal and lowered her voice.
“Handle what, exactly, sir?”
Mal looked at her and raised an eyebrow, trying to look annoyed that she was questioning him, but he was aware that he was probably looking more like he didn’t have a clue. Which, in fairness, would be about the size of things.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”
Zoe nodded. “Of course, sir.” She matched her speed to Simon’s, keen to get back and see Wash before Mal decided on a course of action for finishing off this increasingly bizarre day with all of their crew members in tact and on board.
Mal, on the other hand, was deliberately walking slowly, aware that as soon as he stepped onto the boat, he was going to need to have a plan. Part of him was tempted to just throw Jayne at them and see what happened, but he wasn’t certain that was exactly the best plan. Or indeed, a remotely good plan.
The other option, of course, was to ask Jayne what he thought would be the best thing to do. But when did that ever go well?
“Reynolds!” He didn’t need to turn around to realise that the man speaking was the man holding Inara and Kaylee hostage. Looks like the original option was going to have to be the only option, since there wasn’t going to be time for chit-chat or strategising. He turned around and forced a smile, only to be confronted with what appeared to be the whole of Canton, as well as Inara and Kaylee. At least the man seemed to have stuck to his word - neither girl seemed to have been harmed in any way, and right now, Mal was taking his blessings wherever he found them.
“Thought we’d already established my name.” He paused. “Though I don’t think I recall catching yours.”
“Doesn’t much matter what mine is.”
Mal was stalling for time, and he was sure the other man knew it. “I beg to differ, see. Because I-”
“Answer him, Mal.” As Mal watched, the girls from the brothel emerged from the centre of the crowd. He sighed. There was really no way that this was going to end well.
A different girl, the one who’d been focussing her attention onto Simon earlier, stepped forward. “Where is he?” She practically purred the words, in a way that made Mal just want to offer her Earth-That-Was on a silver platter. He’d only ever known one other person who’d made him want to do that.
“Say, you don’t happen to know a Saffron, do you?” He paused. “Or maybe you’d know her as … hell, you could know her as anything. She’s about so high,” he indicated with his hand, “and she’s got this red hair-”
“Where, Captain Reynolds?” Inara’s captor had obviously had enough of the games. “Just tell us where we can find him, and all of this will be over.”
“I’m here.” Jayne stepped out onto Serenity’s ramp, unarmed, hands raised. Mal was confused, but after the way that the rest of the day had gone, he couldn’t say the feeling was one he was unfamiliar with. He stepped to Jayne’s left hand side, and let the thug take centre stage. Zoe had already reached the ship and boarded, whereas Simon had turned at the sound of Jayne’s voice, and was now hovering behind and to his right, almost level with Mal.
The ringleader smiled his toothy grin. “Excellent.” He pulled his gun from his holster and pointed it at Jayne. “Now you can come with us.”
“Whoa, hold on there-” Mal began, but Jayne held out a hand to silence him.
“I got this one covered, Mal.” He turned back to the waiting crowd. “You can put that down. I’ll come quiet. But we want the girls first.”
He stepped forward slowly, until he was within touching distance of the gun - which was still being pointed at his face. The man carrying it nodded slightly to his companions, and they released Inara and Kaylee, pushing them roughly in the direction of the ship. Not wasting any time, the girls ran forward, Inara into Simon’s arms and Kaylee into Mal’s.
Jayne waited just long enough to make sure the girls were safe and then grinned, slamming his fist into the man’s jaw. Mal rolled his eyes and turned to Simon, pushing Kaylee gently towards him. “Get the girls inside, and send Zoe out.”
While Mal launched himself into the fight, Simon grabbed for Kaylee’s hand and headed quickly into the ship, an arm still loosely around Inara’s waist. Neither girl needed telling twice, and would have hurried back to the ship even without Simon guiding them. Once they were safely on board, Simon called for Zoe, who grabbed her gun and was in the centre of the action before she’d even had time to think.
The leader of the pack was still lying on the floor, trying to get the blood that was gushing from his nose under control. He watched as Mal and Zoe took down his favourite henchmen, scrambling to his feet just in time to have Jayne throw another man into him, and they both fell to the floor in a tangled heap.
Mal was beginning to tire when he realised that the fight was becoming distinctly one-sided. He was all too aware that neither him nor Zoe had managed a whole lot of sleep, so Jayne was doing most of the fighting. It wasn’t long after that until Mal found himself knocked to the floor, without the energy to get up again, and Zoe looked like she wouldn’t last much longer, either.
He was right. She stumbled to the floor beside him soon after, and Jayne looked at them both before straightening up, holding his hands in the air again. He knew he couldn’t win this one. “Fine,” he yelled. “Fine.” He paused, grinning. “You can’t blame a guy for trying, though.”
Two men reached for his hands, quickly cuffing them together before turning back to the head honcho. “Shall we take him?”
Mal managed to muster the energy to push himself into a sitting position. “Wait,” he called, still trying to catch his breath. “What exactly is it that you want with him? I thought he was your hero.”
The leader of the pack stepped towards Mal, sneering. “Oh, he was. Until the last time you were here, and then everything went down the drain. Some messiah he is. Woulda been better for everyone if you’da never come.”
Jayne snorted. “Been trying to tell ‘em that ever since we left.”
“Ain’t been the same since we found out he didn’t do none of it on purpose.” The man sniffed, and glared at Jayne as though he were something he’d trodden in. “What kinda hero does what he did? Ain’t no excuse for betraying your crew.”
Mal laughed quietly - that was probably going to be one of those lessons Jayne never learned, and he knew it. “What does it even matter? You all got the money, whether he intended it or not. There’s no reason for you all to be wanting him dead.”
“Dead?” The man was sneering again, and Mal did not like the look on his face one bit. “Who ever said anything about wanting him dead? Soon as he heard you all were here again, Higgins put the word out. Crazy big reward for whoever catches him.” He shrugged slightly. “’Course, it’s entirely possible that Higgins’ll want him dead after we hand him over, but guess what? That ain’t my problem.”
Zoe glanced over at Mal he nodded slightly. She moved slowly backwards towards the ship, hoping that nobody would notice. With any luck, Higgins was still locked in his own basement, unconscious. This was going to be their only chance of escape - if they left it much longer, people were going to get suspicious and go looking for him.
Mal sized up the crowd. He knew if it came down to another fight, they wouldn’t stand a chance. Much as he hated to do it, they were going to have to make a run for it. He chanced a quick look towards the ship - Zoe was almost back on board. With any luck, Wash would have the engines going before too much longer.
The only problem now was how to get Jayne’s attention without also alerting the angry mob to what he was planning. In the end, he went for what seemed like the only option - keeping the man distracted with inane chatter until the ship was running.
“This man was your hero for years. You’re telling me you’re happy to just let him be killed?” The man shrugged, so Mal stepped forward slightly. He picked out one of the weedier looking members of the crowd, a short, blonde guy who appeared to still be trying to catch his breath from their scuffle, and pointed at him. “How about you? You’re okay with this?”
He looked around him. “Me?”
“Yeah, you. We’re talking murder here. You really think you could live with that?” He didn’t wait for an answer, and turned to one of the girls from the brothel, taking another step towards the crowd. “Or you? You might be a whore, but how do you feel about homicide?”
“I -” she started, just as the engine roared into life. Mal grinned. Perfect timing, Wash. I think somebody just earned himself a raise. He turned around, and was standing right in front of his new nemesis. Before he had chance to stop Mal, the captain’s fist smashed into his face. Shaking his stinging hand slightly, he turned back towards the ship, yelling at Jayne.
Jayne didn’t need telling twice, and the two men took off fast, making it up the ramp and onto the ship before the people of Canton had time to decide what to do, or even realise what had happened. Slamming his palm against the button, Mal stood with a grin, waving as it began to raise up, leaving the crowd choking as dust was blown into their faces as they took off. Before the door closed, he was also satisfied to catch a glimpse of Higgins running towards the ship, shaking his fist, his face red with rage.
As he turned to face into the cargo bay, he found half of his crew standing there, staring at him, arms crossed and faces stony. Zoe was standing against the wall, her finger hovering over the intercom button to that Wash could join in. He could even see River watching from the catwalk, her face peeping over the side as she lay flat across it. His smile faltered, but only slightly. “What?” He kept his voice cheerful, trying to make out like everything had gone perfectly to plan.
Simon snorted with sarcastic laughter. “Oh, I don’t even know where to begin.”
Zoe opened her mouth to speak, but Inara stepped forward, clearly angry. “Then let me. Mal, you went out and got drunk, you got Simon drunk, you lost the ship-”
“Not my fault.”
“- you got Kaylee and me kidnapped -”
“Also not my fault.”
“- you almost got Jayne kidnapped and possibly killed, Zoe got locked in a cage while she was looking for you -”
“Zoe was in a cage?!” Wash’s voice floated out from the intercom, clearly startled.
“You just keep your eyes on the road,” Mal yelled back. “Or, whatever it is that pilots are supposed to keep their eyes on.” He turned to Inara. “I’ll take the blame for the Jayne thing, but that’s my final offer.”
Simon stepped forward, his hands on his hips. “Oh no. No. You’ll take the blame for all of it, Captain, because every single one of us expressed the belief that even going to Canton was a bad idea. And look what happened? We were all right!”
“Hold on a second-”
“No, Mal.” Inara spoke up again. “Even Jayne knew this one was a bad idea, and that’s saying something!”
“Hey!” It was the first thing Jayne had said since they got back on the ship. He was just looking sulky. “I ain’t the one who got captured.” He glared. “I’m not the stupid one.”
Mal glowered at him. “Inara, Kaylee and Zoe all got taken, too. That make them stupid?”
Inara looked indignant. “We were looking for you! If you’d just come back to the ship like you were supposed to, none of this would have even happened.”
Jayne let out a satisfied snort, and turned to leave, muttering something about needing to get his handcuffs cut off. As long as people weren’t going around thinking this was his fault, he didn’t much care what else was said. Mal stared at the three people standing in front of him. “Well,” he started, speaking slowly. “You’ll be pleased to hear I’ve decided we won’t be returning to Canton.”
Inara and Simon stared at him in disbelief, while Zoe hid a small smile before leaving. Simon followed her, while Inara stayed behind, looking like she was trying to form words, but nothing was coming. After a while of gaping at Mal in a completely unladylike fashion, she turned and left without saying another word, leaving Mal alone in the cargo bay.