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Story Data

Posted June 21, 2006

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    Twisting the Hellmouth

Fan Fiction: Strangely Comfortable

Title: Strangely Comfortable

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Firefly, Boondock Saints fusion. The crew of Serenity rescue a shipload of students from River's Academy. Connor and Murphy McManus are among them. 5x500 words.

Spoilers: General Firefly; "Serenity" (2005); "Boondock Saints" (1999).

Five Minutes Before

There's a part of Mal that's been waiting for this day ever since he first laid eyes on River Tam. He ain't a man ever cottoned to the notion of slavery, and the sight of her, naked as the day she come crying in that frozen metal box, had touched off a rage in him usually reserved for purplebellies.

If the girl's first word hadn't've been Simon's name, the outcome of that first meeting might have been a good deal bloodier. Doc'd had him on a hair trigger already, what with getting Kaylee shot and then nigh on refusing to help her; useful as the boy was, he'd made a terrible first impression. Took Mal months to warm up to him after that, and by then, he was irritating Mal on a whole host of other levels.

River, though. In that first moment his instinct had been to protect her, and despite all he's learned since he's never managed to shake the impulse. She has a mind like the black, wide open and like to craze a man tries too hard to understand her, but also like the black, she's got right under his skin and made to stay there. Not that he gave in gracious-like, and not that he hasn't tried to dissuade her, but that don't seem to matter none. Since Miranda, ain't a body in the 'verse able to pry her away from him.

He shares a weighty glance with her as the docking clamps latch into place. Since Miranda, she's taken Zoe's place at his side often as not; one of 'em's got to hang back and play pilot, and Zoe's not as keen on the action as she used to be. Not that they're like to need River's special skills this time out. Old transport half a day out from the nearest troop ship, loaded down with two dozen genius kids locked up in drugged slumber, only a handful of doctors between them kids and rescue. Easy pickings. No, River's along for another reason today. Ain't no way to undo what was done to her, but those what done it can still be made to pay.

Simon's set up in the cargo bay with the last of the drugs from the Ariel take, ready to deal with any medical emergencies when their guests come aboard. If the kids are anywhere near as fengle as River was at first, they might have to be kept asleep from here 'til they arrive at their destinations. Kaylee'd wanted to help him, but Mal's sent her to the engine room; he's fair sure they'll need a quick getaway.

A knock comes from the other side of the airlock door, ending the suspense. He grins to himself and nods to Jayne, who holds the promised part up to the window. Mal don't usually stoop to sabotage, but this ain't business, and all's fair in love and war.

The door clangs open. Mal lifts his gun, and they explode into motion.

Five Hours After

Five hours from the minute they burst through the door, fifty minutes since they cast off the transport, Mal's got himself a cargo bay full of crazy. The attack went like clockwork-- none of them doctors will ever cause another moment of pain-- and there ain't no record of their presence left in the system to tip the Alliance off who done it. It'll be a lot harder, though, to find those kids places now that they sprung 'em.

River knows which'll be safe back with their families, which are in danger, and which have no home to go to; they'll have to find alternate accommodation for more'n a few. Zoe thinks maybe Haven will serve-- the settlement's still a little tore up, and the graves might spook some of the Readers, but it ain't a place the Alliance is like to look for them, and maybe with them out of sight the hunters'll stop searching. Whole point of the government breaking up the Academy was to sweep the evidence under the rug after Miranda; Mal ain't got no quarrel with the idea of keeping 'em out of the public eye, but at least his way they'll have some chance at maybe living.

First things first, though. They need more drugs, more doctors; Simon's made a few contacts since Miranda, young men he'd known at Medacad picking up defiance like it were a new fad, and Serenity's en route to meet up with two of 'em. Like as not they'll repent of it and be upstanding citizens again within the year, but now is when they have need, so Mal's willing to temporarily overlook their more lily-livered tendencies.

River approaches along the catwalk on silent, bare feet, slipping her fingers quietly in amongst his. Mal squeezes her hand, heedless of the flecks of blood spattering her slim arm, and she leans closer, pillowing her dark head on his shoulder. Together, they look down over their temporary passengers like a pair of guardian angels over their flock.

"Deanna," River says, pointing at one slim girl all luminous eyes and long, curly hair. She's maybe fourteen, whimpering softly under the blanket Simon gave her, pressing the heels of her hands to her ears. Beside her, a young man with skin the color of weak tea rubs his hands over his eyes, rocking slowly and whispering nonsense. "Julian," River names him, the syllables rolling off her tongue like a benediction.

Most of the others are in worse shape. Simon's sticking 'em one by one, Inara acting as his nurse, to send 'em back into drugged slumber. River knows all their names, and points them each out to Mal's notice. The last are a pair of young men maybe her age curled around each other, one darker haired than the other but both the same height and musculature. These, River does not name; she simply calls them "Saint."

Mal knows better than to question. He's sure she'll let him know when he needs to.

Five Days Later

Kaylee slouches into the dining room and drops into a chair next to Simon, exhaustion and engine grease making tracks across her face. As many bodies as they'd had on board the last five days, ship's systems are a mite more cantankerous than usual.

Inara brings her a cup of tea, and Kaylee takes a long sip, settling against Simon's shoulder. The doc slings an arm around her, then wipes at her cheek with the cuff of his other sleeve; she grins up at him wearily, fair glowing with quiet joy. The captain in Mal still don't have much use for shipboard romance, but the Mal in the captain can't help but smile to see it. His meimei deserves all the happiness she can get. Doc hurts her, though, he won't live long enough for repentance.

She blinks up at them after a minute, taking in all the faces around the table; whole crew's here, excepting River. Wash's place, and Shepherd's, still catch the eye like empty gums; Kaylee pauses on 'em a second, then glances out toward the cargo bay.

Mal's got a fair idea what she's thinking. "River took 'em some protein earlier," he says. "They still ain't come out of there, but they ain't goin' to starve on my watch."

She makes a worried face. "They say anything yet?"

"Not so's you can understand 'em."

The rest of the kids had all followed the plan like they were s'posed to, a fact that probably should have alerted Mal there was going to be trouble. Seven of 'em had been put on their way back to family, safe in the hands of Simon's contacts, and the rest of the lot had been herded off ship at Haven that very morning. Them boys had waited, quiet as church mice in the background, then lifted a weapon and bolted for a smuggler's hold soon's they saw the others leaving. They ain't come out since, nor spoke a word of English or Mandarin, just a few phrases of some lingo Mal don't recognize.

Not that he blames them. He knows desperation when he sees it; seen it often enough in his own mirror after the war. They clutch onto each other like there's no one else they can trust, and he knows that, too.

"Crazy girl says they ain't Readers," Jayne grunts, picking at the remains of his dinner. "Don't know we ain't plannin' on hurtin' 'em."

"They must be so scared," Kaylee says mournfully, staring down into her tea.

"I checked the Cortex to see if there were any brothers matching their description listed as missing," Inara says. "And I contacted the Guild to see if they knew of any twins their age among the higher families. Nothing turned up. If we can't get them to trust us..."

"River'll bring 'em around," Mal assures them. Truthfully, he ain't so sure, but even if she don't, they'll come out soon enough on their own.

Ain't no plumbing in the cargo holds.

Five Weeks Forward

Mal looks up from his gun cleaning at the sound of booted feet reentering Serenity. Shopping trip must be over; Kaylee'd took the boys with her today.

Must be about the sixth time they've been off ship in the last five weeks. The way they'd reacted to being herded off at Haven that first time, he'd thought they might maybe bolt someplace else once they saw a chance, and he'd conjured escort duty for a painless way to give 'em the opportunity. They ain't done it yet, though.

He keeps on feeding 'em, Zoe assigns 'em chores, and they do the odd bit of guarding by way of earning their keep. It all balances out, to everybody's satisfaction but Mal's; even Jayne's all right with it, which made Mal a mite suspicious at first. Until he discovered the mercenary cleaning and testing his hardware with them.

Where River was made a weapon, it's plain these boys were taught to use them. They ain't as quick as her, but there's a level of conscious thought behind their skill River just don't have, and there's two of them. They move like there's only one brain between 'em sometimes, which might even be the truth after what all they been through; Mal's fair sure if they took up against River, his little albatross wouldn't survive it. Might take one or the both of them with her, but she wouldn't walk away from it.

Good thing, then, they all seem to get along so well. She runs and plays with them like she ain't done with no one else but Kaylee; sometimes they all three get down on the floor and wrestle like a pile of puppies 'til they ain't got no breath left in their bodies, filling Serenity with their laughter. Mal don't think he's ever heard a more heartening sound.

Round about their third week aboard they'd finally given up their names; the dark-haired one is Murphy, and the lighter one, the leader of them, is Connor. They speak English after all, and Mandarin enough to curse in; from their accent, though, it's plain that neither one's their native lingo. Mal figures them for old dirt, Rim settlers forgot on some bare world generations ago, left to develop-- or redevelop-- their own culture.

They burst into the dining room then, grinning and jostling each other. Strings of beads dangle around their necks, each one suspending a cross: Mal recognizes them for rosaries. Kaylee's been shopping for 'em again, he thinks, abruptly missing his own necklace as he hasn't in years. They're sporting new tattoos, too, words written on their gun hands and knotwork crosses on their forearms.

"Etching into their skin all the things the Alliance tried to take from them," River murmurs suddenly, somewhere behind him.

Mal jumps a little, then settles, thinking of his own tattoo of Serenity. "Can't take the sky from me," he murmurs, and begins to ponder seriously on offering the boys a place on his crew.

Five Months Integrated

"Tama de," Mal says, staring up at the sight dangling above him. "What in the tian xiaode did you two think you were doing?"

Connor does his best to look apologetic, least as much as he can while trying to fend off his brother; Murphy don't hardly seem to notice, thrashing away best he's able with the hand not snarled in the line. "You and your stupid rope!" he exclaims.

Mal shakes his head, stooping to lift Murphy's knife where it's fallen to the floor. He cuts Kaylee free first, then River; Kaylee's shaking like a leaf, pale as milk, but she's awake and appears unharmed. River, on the other hand, is out cold, bloody fingerprints smearing up one arm and along her throat. It don't look to be her blood, but they'd've had to subdue her somehow to take her; the adrenaline still lashing through his system prods his pulse into a gallop at the thought. He tosses the knife upward, trusting the boys to catch it, then gently gathers her up.

Jayne and Zoe nod to him; room's secured, not that it wasn't already. As furious as he is at Connor and Murphy for running off without orders and breaking into the warehouse without 'waving Mal first, they'd surely done what needed doing. The bodies of Badger's thugs lay scattered around the storage room like mown wheat, not a one of them still moving.

The boys thud to the floor, still swearing. Mal pays them no mind as they begin searching bodies and placing coins on dead eyes; he's more concerned with the bundle in his arms, slowly stirring to wakefulness. He strokes River's cheek with a callused palm, feeling the echo of Book's hands burning against his own face, begging Mal to believe. He believes, all right; believes in her. He's survived the loss of a lot of folk dear to him over the years, but losing this one, he thinks, would break him.

A rough voice-- Dyton Colony accent-- breaks into his thoughts. Mal looks up, anger whipping into a bright flame, as the boys prop Badger into a kneeling position. Man must have been playing possum; he's gotten good at that, over the years. Striking only when he thinks he's got the upper hand-- setting up a certain kind of job, making sure only his target and the mechanic were left to mind Serenity. But he'd underestimated Mal's crew-- and he's about to reap the reward.

The boys place the muzzles of their guns against the middleman's skull and begin their prayer. From "And Shepherds we shall be" to "and Spiritus Sancti", Mal's heard it all once before; Niska'd tried-- and failed-- to take the ship one night, months after the boys had joined the crew. He'd confronted them about their actions later, disturbed by their killing in cold blood; they'd replied simply, almost in unison. "Destroy that which is evil, so that which is good may flourish."

Mal's found himself strangely comfortable with that.


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