Out of Joint by HonorH



Summary: Crossover with Joss Whedon's Firefly. A mysterious incident in the Time Vortex forces the TARDIS to set down on Serenity. Mal finds a few headaches, the Doctor finds a mystery, and River finds someone who speaks her language.
Rating: Teen
Categories: Ninth Doctor
Characters: Jack Harkness, Other Character(s), Rose Tyler, The Doctor (9th), The TARDIS
Genres: Crossover, Humor, Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2007.03.03
Updated: 2007.12.01


Index

Chapter 1: Out of Gas
Chapter 2: Bushwhacked
Chapter 3: Rose
Chapter 4: The TARDIS Invasion
Chapter 5: Love and Engines
Chapter 6: Shindig
Chapter 7: Objects in Space
Chapter 8: The Empty Girl
Chapter 9: War Stories
Chapter 10: The Short Game
Chapter 11: Bushwhacked . . . Again!
Chapter 12: Hearts of Gold
Chapter 13: School Reunion
Chapter 14: The Girl in the TARDIS
Chapter 15: Captain Jack Harkness
Chapter 16: More Objects in Space
Chapter 17: Doomsday
Chapter 18: The Parting of the Ways
Chapter 19: Epilogue: The Doctor Dances


Chapter 1: Out of Gas

Author's Notes: This takes place sometime between "Objects in Space" and the BDM, with Book and Inara still on Serenity for Firefly. For Doctor Who, it takes place sometime between "The Doctor Dances" and "Boom Town."


“Time,” River announced to all and sundry in Serenity’s cargo bay, “is out of joint.”

“All and sundry” included most of the crew, who were admiring the new hovercraft mule, with the notable exceptions of Wash, Inara and Simon. Everyone in the bay looked up at River at least briefly. As had become routine in the case of River making strange and portentous statements, however, they quickly went back about their business.

River, for her part, didn’t seem to mind. She clambered up onto a couple of crates and sat, fixing her eyes on a spot on the opposite side of the cargo bay.

Kaylee pulled herself away from her new toy and wandered over to River. “What’s up, sweetie?” she asked.

“Storm’s coming,” said River. She pointed at the spot she was staring down. “Right there.”

“Oh.” Kaylee was at something of a loss.

“Simon may be needed,” River went on. “Would you mind telling him? I don’t want to miss this.”

Kaylee nodded. “Okay. Just, um, wait here.”

A few minutes later, Simon came hurrying out of the infirmary, making a beeline for River. “River, Kaylee said you needed me. What’s wrong?”

River kept her eyes firmly fixed on the spot she was watching, but her expression said that she was tired of being the only person aboard Serenity with a functioning brain. “I don’t need you, silly. They will.”

Simon blinked. “Who?”

A grinding noise suddenly filled the air.

“What the cao is that?” asked Mal, looking around. “Kaylee?”

“That don’t sound like our engines,” said Kaylee.

“So what’s making that noise?” Mal asked.

River lifted her arm and pointed, answering both Mal’s and Simon’s questions. “Them.”

To the astonishment of the crew, a blue box appeared in the cargo bay.

***

Aboard the TARDIS, things were not going well.

Jack barely caught Rose as the TARDIS listed, almost throwing her into a wall. “You okay?” he shouted over the noise of the malfunctioning engines.

“Think so!” she shouted, struggling to get back to her station.

They had been on their way to the Maldives (not the islands; a pair of planets colonized by humans around 3500 AD) for the Grand Carnival when something blew past them in the Time Vortex. The TARDIS had got caught in its wake, and one huge energy surge later, they were in an uncontrolled fall through space and time.

“We’re still in its wake!” yelled the Doctor. “I’m going to try to bring us out of the Time Vortex. Rose, hold down the green lever!”

“Got it!” She pushed down the lever, bracing her feet.

“Hang on!” The Doctor flipped a few switches and began to ease the TARDIS out of the vortex. The timeship shuddered, and the engine screamed. “Come on, girl,” coaxed the Doctor.

A violent explosion rocked the console. The Doctor heard Rose cry out, but he couldn’t afford to take his eyes off the console. They were falling out of the Time Vortex and into space. They were also losing power rapidly. The Doctor did a quick scan for anywhere they could set down, and when the TARDIS locked onto a ship of some kind, he knew they had no choice but to materialize there.

The console room went almost completely dark as soon as they landed. “We’ve lost power,” said the Doctor. “Are you two all right? Rose?”

“Rose!” Jack’s alarmed cry brought the Doctor’s head up with a jerk, searching for Rose in the dim light.

She looked like a ghost. Even in the dark, he could see that her face was completely white, and she was staring blankly at him. Jack rushed over and caught her as she fell.

The Doctor was at her side in a moment, and it was only then that he realized what had happened: the explosion had sent a jagged piece of metal flying--and it had buried itself in Rose’s midsection. Her yellow shirt was stained dark with blood.

“What happened?” she mumbled numbly before losing consciousness.

“We have to get her to the medical bay,” said Jack.

The Doctor shook his head, trying to push down sudden panic. “We’ve lost power everywhere. There won’t even be light anywhere but the control room.”

“What do we do?” Not a hint of panic came through Jack’s voice, and the Doctor was profoundly grateful for his sangfroid.

“We landed on a ship sometime in the 26th century,” said the Doctor. “They’ll have an infirmary.” He looked up at Jack. “We have no choice.”

Jack nodded once, lips pressed together. He didn’t need to say how dangerous a situation they could be in, but if they stayed in the TARDIS, Rose wouldn’t last long. Go out and risk all their lives, or stay in and watch Rose die--the Doctor was right, it wasn’t a choice. Jack helped the Doctor gather Rose up into his arms, and then the Time Lord was heading for the TARDIS’s doors.

Back to index


Chapter 2: Bushwhacked

Author's Notes: ďCaptain Jack Harkness,Ē he said. ďThe girl is Rose Tyler, and my other friend is the Doctor.Ē

ďDoctor who?Ē asked Mal.

Jack gave him a bit of a smile. ďYou have no idea how complicated that question is.Ē

ďI think youíd best un-complicate it,Ē said Mal.


There was perfect silence in Serenity’s cargo bay. What they were all looking at was quite impossible--a blue wooden box with a light on top and the words “Police Public Call Box” in large letters above the doors. Jayne, naturally, had pulled out a gun and was eyeing the box. Mal didn’t blame him for that; he and ZoŽ also had their sidearms at the ready. For what, no one could have said.

Just as Mal was starting to wonder if this was all a mass hallucination, the doors of the thing opened up, and three figures came boiling out--a tall man carrying an unconscious blond girl, and a dark-haired young man with a too-pretty face. The men glanced quickly around the cargo bay, and Mal had a fleeting thought that they must have military training, because it certainly looked to him like they were sizing everyone up. Mal didn’t even need to look to know that Jayne and ZoŽ had guns trained on the strangers.

The tall man holding the girl broke the shocked silence. “Do you have an infirmary?” he demanded in an odd accent.

“Who are you?” Mal demanded right back, finding his voice.

“I’ll tell you anything you want, but please, she’s wounded,” said the tall man, indicating the girl. Mal saw that her belly was soaked with blood.

Before Mal could begin to formulate a response, Simon was striding across the bay to examine the girl.

“Simon, get your pi gu back!” Mal ordered.

Simon roundly ignored him, choosing instead to speak to the tall man. “I’m a trauma surgeon,” he said. “Follow me.”

The tall man and Pretty-boy fell into step behind Simon as the young doctor headed for the infirmary. Mal moved to intercept them.

“Wait just a minute,” he said, positioning himself in Simon’s path. “I still don’t know who the gorram hell these people are, or how they got on my ship!”

“The girl’s hurt,” said Simon. “I need to operate.”

“You’re doing precisely nothing until I get some explanations,” said Mal. He saw the expression on the tall man’s face darken, but it was Simon who spoke next.

“Captain, I don’t tell you how to fly your ship,” he said in quiet, icy tones. “You don’t get to tell me which lives I can save. If you want to stop me, shoot me now.”

Mal bristled at the insubordination, but he glanced beyond Simon at the tall man and the girl in his arms. The thought that she couldn’t have been any older than Kaylee flitted through his head, and that was all he needed to decide that this was a battle he could fight later. He moved aside. Simon brushed past him into the infirmary, as did the tall man with the girl, but Mal stepped in before Pretty-boy could pass.

“All right, your friend’s in good hands. Now, you’re gonna explain some things,” he said.

Pretty-boy looked at him, but it was obvious he wanted to follow the others. A sharp cry from the inside of the infirmary drew their attention, and before Mal could stop him, Pretty-boy bolted for the door. Mal caught him just outside.

The next few moments were interesting to Mal when he thought about them later. From the way the man tensed and turned his body, he was obviously ready for action and could possibly have given Mal quite a fight. He restrained himself, though, no doubt sensing that would be the worst thing he could do in this situation.

“Please, just a minute,” he said.

Mal wasn’t a hard enough man to refuse the look in his eyes. Inside, the girl had regained consciousness. “Doctor?” she said, voice small and frightened.

“It’s all right, Rose, you’ll be all right,” said the tall man, shedding his jacket. Simon, meanwhile, was rubbing his hands and arms with disinfectant. “I can help,” said the tall man.

“Scrub up, then,” said Simon, tossing him the disinfectant. “Did you say her name is Rose?”

“Yes,” said the tall man.

Simon grabbed a hypo and went over to the girl. “Rose? My name’s Simon. I’m a doctor. You’re going to be fine.” He sedated her.

Pretty-boy relaxed fractionally, and Mal pulled him away from the infirmary door, which Book shut.

“She’ll be fine, son,” said the preacher. “Simon’s the best surgeon you’ll find outside the Core.”

“Thank you,” said Pretty-boy.

“Now, explanations,” said Mal. “Starting with who the hell are you?”

Pretty-boy seemed to pull himself together and offered a hand. “Captain Jack Harkness,” he said. “The girl is Rose Tyler, and my other friend is the Doctor.”

“Doctor who?” asked Mal.

Jack gave him a bit of a smile. “You have no idea how complicated that question is.”

“I think you’d best un-complicate it,” said Mal. “And while you’re at it, tell me what that blue box is and how it came to be on my ship.”

Almost at that moment, ZoŽ swore loudly. She was looking into the blue box, with Kaylee right behind her.

Ai ya, hwai le!” said Kaylee, and she brushed past ZoŽ into the blue box.

“Hey, don’t go in there,” Jack called to them. “It’s not safe!”

“Captain, you’ve gotta see this,” said ZoŽ.

By now, Jayne’s curiosity had gotten the best of him, and he looked into the box. Whatever was in there drew a startled profanity from him, and he made a circuit of the box, knocking on all sides of it with his gun. Then he poked his head in again before quickly pulling out and saying, “It ain’t canny!”

“It really isn’t safe for your people in there,” said Jack.

Mal believed him. He went striding over. “Kaylee Fry, get out of that box. Where’s River? Is she . . . huhwha?” He stopped, frozen, just outside the blue box’s door, and stared into something impossible.

“Ain’t canny,” Jayne repeated.

Jack caught up with him, and Mal pointed vaguely into the box. “It’s bigger inside,” he said dumbly.

“That it is,” said Jack. “As far as I know, it’s the only one of its kind in the universe.”

Kaylee, who’d moved well into the box, looked at Mal, eyes wide with wonder. “Innit amazing, Cap’n?”

“It’s not safe,” said Jack for the third time. “We recently had an explosion, which your doctor is cleaning up after.”

River emerged from behind the console, looking eerie in the low light. “Fold in space and time. The door is a dimensional gateway,” she said.

Jack pointed at her. “She’s got it. This is the TARDIS--Time And Relative Dimension In Space. She travels in space and time by moving between dimensions.”

“Why’s it say ‘Police Public Call Box’?” Mal asked, feeling like he’d just discovered that everything he knew was just plain wrong.

“The Doctor could give you the rundown on that. I gather it was some kind of disguising mechanism that got stuck on Earth sometime in the mid-twentieth century,” said Jack. He looked back into the TARDIS and was instantly alarmed. “Hey, don’t do that!”

Kaylee was on her back underneath the console, fiddling with something. Jack charged in, apparently intent on stopping her, but suddenly, a few more lights went on inside. Mal decided now was as good a time as any to make his feet move again, and he took a few steps into the impossible ship.

Jack looked around, surprised. “How’d you do that?” he asked.

Kaylee sat up, smiling proudly. “Don’t have to be some kind of genius to know a loose connection when I see one. Looks like you could use a hand getting her workin’ again.”

“That we could,” said Jack, smiling back at her and offering her a hand up. “I’m Captain Jack Harkness. Did I hear your captain call you Kaylee?”

“Yeah. I’m Serenity’s mechanic,” she said.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Kaylee,” said Jack, oozing charm. “Serenity’s your ship’s name, I take it. She a Firefly?”

“She sure is. They don’t make ‘em no better,” said Kaylee, looking fit to bust her cheeks with the smiling.

Jack turned his grin up a notch. “Don’t I know it. I’ve seen these birds in museums, and I always wanted to take one out for a spin. I’ll bet you keep her in great shape.” His eyes flicked over Kaylee’s shape as he said this.

Mal decided to break this up before there were babies. “Excuse me, but I still don’t know what this thing is doing on my ship. Care to enlighten me, Captain?”

“Sure, Captain,” said Jack, emphasizing the title. “The three of us were heading to a party at the turn of the fortieth century when we got clipped by something in the Time Vortex and spun out of control. The resulting energy surge caused the explosion that wounded Rose, and we were losing power, so the Doctor decided to set us down on whatever was handy. Your ship happened to be in the right place at the right time. We appreciate it.” He gave Mal a shiny smile.

“I am not even going to pretend I understood a word of that gos se,” said Mal, thoroughly unimpressed.

Just to make things worse, Inara’s voice came floating in. “This is . . . amazing,” she said from the door.

Mal resigned himself to the fact that this day, like so many days, was going to end in a monstrous headache.

“Inara, meet Captain Jack Harkness,” he said, turning to address her as she ascended into the TARDIS. “Captain, meet Inara.”

“Registered Companion, right?” asked Jack. “It’s a privilege.” He took her proffered hand and dropped a kiss on her knuckles.

“It’s my privilege, I assure you,” said Inara, slipping smoothly into her professional guise. “I heard something unusual going on and thought I’d investigate. This place--I’ve never seen its like.”

“The TARDIS is one of a kind,” said Jack, just as smooth. “It travels in space and time. We’ve traveled to some beautiful places, but you put them all to shame, m’lady.” Inara graced his compliment with her most stunning smile.

First Kaylee, now Inara. Mal couldn’t believe the cheek on this guy. “Excuse me, but will you stop that with the womenfolk?”

“Whatever you say.” Jack winked at Mal and then turned his attention to the door again, where Wash was just entering, looking like he doubted he wasn’t dreaming. Jack lit up. “Hey, there. Captain Jack Harkness, and you might be?”

Mal was pretty much fed up with Captain Jack Harkness, but not so fed up that it got in the way of his natural curiosity. He began to check out the control room for himself. The console was like nothing he’d ever seen, and he could make absolutely no sense out of any of it. One of the screens flickered to life briefly, and the text it displayed wasn’t English, pinyin, kana or any other writing he knew. The support struts had a strange feel to them, almost like they were made of coral rather than metal, plastic or ceramics. The design itself felt somehow organic, as if it had grown out of a central point instead of being built. It was disturbing; Mal felt like he was being watched.

He was still puzzling over the console some time later when the Doctor entered. Jack immediately went to him.

“How is she?” he asked.

“She’ll be all right,” said the Doctor, obviously relieved. He looked at Mal. “That’s a fine surgeon you have.”

“Thank God,” said Jack, and he and the Doctor embraced briefly. “I’m going to go see her. The captain wants to interrogate you. Careful--he’s rough.”

“I’m sure,” said the Doctor.

Jack ran down the ramp to the door and collided with Simon, who was just entering.

“I’m sorry,” said Simon.

“I’m not,” said Jack, hands at Simon’s waist and eyes everywhere. Inara giggled and Simon pulled away, flustered. Jack checked out Simon’s backside as he left the TARDIS. The Doctor rolled his eyes.

“How’s she doin’, Simon?” Kaylee asked.

“She should, um, she should be fine,” said Simon, apparently a little rattled by the TARDIS and Jack. “The piece of metal didn’t hit any vital organs, and she’s young and healthy. Barring complications or infection, she should make a full recovery. Wow, this thing is, um . . .” He scratched his head.

Mal decided to step in before things got even further off course. “You have any name, or is it just ‘the Doctor’?” he asked.

“Just the Doctor,” said the Doctor. “You must be Captain Malcolm Reynolds.”

“That I am, and you’ve found yourselves on my bird, Serenity. I’d like to know exactly what’s going on. You Alliance?” he asked.

The Doctor looked faintly disgusted. “Please. You really think you Independents would’ve held out as long as you did if the Alliance had this sort of technology?”

“How’d you know I was an Independent?”

“It’s written on your forehead,” said the Doctor. “Or might as well be. Oi! What’re you doing?” The last words were snapped at Kaylee, who was again on her back halfway under the strange console. “You don’t know--” The console lights suddenly came up, and the Doctor blinked. “How’d you do that?”

“Just splicin’ some wires,” said Kaylee from under the console. She pushed her way out as the Doctor went down on one knee beside her. “You’ve got a lotta damage, though, and some of it’s plain burned out. You’ll have to find patches or reroute.”

“Nothing I haven’t done before,” said the Doctor, looking at Kaylee with something like curiosity. “You’re brilliant!”

Kaylee blushed. “It ain’t nothing. Machines, they just talk to me, y’know?”

The Doctor grinned broadly at her. “I do. This one talks to me all the time.”

Mal cleared his throat loudly. “I’m still shy a few answers.”

The Doctor pulled himself to his feet, the grin he’d worn for Kaylee gone in a moment. “What do you need to know?”

“If you ain’t Alliance, who are you?” Mal asked pointedly.

“I’m the Doctor,” he said. “Free agent, not tied to any human government. Not tied to any government at all, come to think of it.”

“Whaddya mean, ‘human government’?” asked Mal. “What other kind of government is there?”

“Non-human governments, obviously,” said the Doctor.

“Ah, he’s not human,” said Simon, coming over. Mal looked at the young surgeon as if he’d just turned green and scaly. “It’s true. He has two hearts, and his blood proteins are completely different from ours. He let me look.”

“Three-stranded DNA,” said the Doctor proudly.

“So if you ain’t human, what are you?” Mal was completely lost down some rabbit hole, and not entirely convinced he wasn’t insane--or that the universe wasn’t.

“Time Lord,” said a soft voice. River came around the side of the console, eyes fixed on the Doctor, who turned to look at her in utter fascination. She walked to him, stopping when she was quite close. Then she reached up with her hands and set them on either side of his chest. “Bicardial circulatory system. Not without precedent. More efficient, failsafes in place. Logical. Lower body temperature. Continually regenerating cells, resulting in extended lifespan. Mortal wounds create new life.” She looked the Doctor in the face. “Two hearts, both broken. Two hearts, and she holds one.”

What Mal found most disturbing about all this was that the Doctor looked like River was making perfect sense to him.

River reached up and touched the Doctor’s face, and he didn’t pull away. “Soldier after the war, but the war never ends. It never begins. Rages through space and time, always and never, past, future . . . it’s happening now.” River was shaking a little, breathing hard. “There’s fire in the sky. Gallifrey is burning--!”

“Stop that.” The Doctor’s voice was quiet, but firm. He took River’s shoulders. “Stop that. It’s my burden, not yours. Let it go.” He touched her chin gently, gazing into her face. His eyes were sad. “Don’t look too deeply into me, River. You could get lost.”

River sagged a touch. “We’re all lost.”

“Fair enough,” said the Doctor. He let his hands fall. “I wouldn’t have expected to meet someone like you here.”

“No one expects me,” said River, tossing her hair. “And when they think they do, I’m not what they expect. Like you.” She slipped around the Doctor and went to talk to a wall.

“How did you know her name?” Simon asked. “I didn’t tell you. She didn’t introduce herself.”

“Fascinating ship you have, Captain,” said the Doctor, ignoring Simon’s inquiry. “Interesting crew. A couple of old Browncoats, a pilot, a Cro-Magnon,” he looked pointedly at Jayne, who was still outside the TARDIS, muttering about it being “not canny,” “a holy man, a high-class prostitute, and then there’s the skilled trauma surgeon, the mechanical savant, and the psychic. What are the odds?”

“We’re just lucky, I guess,” said Mal, rubbing his forehead.

The Doctor was silent for a moment, as if he was thinking hard about something. Then, suddenly, the bright grin was back. “Well! Thank you for your hospitality and your fine surgeon. If you don’t mind letting out a corner of your cargo bay for a few days, Jack and I should be little enough trouble. We can stay on board the TARDIS while we fix her. As for Rose, as soon as our medical bay is working again, she’ll vacate your infirmary. And if you wouldn’t mind loaning out your mechanic, I doubt we’ll be bothering you for long.”

Kaylee pulled herself out from under the console and jumped up. “Ooh! Can I, Cap’n?” she begged.

“Down, girl,” said Mal. “Not sayin’ yes, not sayin’ no, but we don’t know anything about these people, and I ain’t putting you on the line.”

“Aww!” said Kaylee.

“It’s understandable,” said the Doctor. “Dr. Tam?”

“Yes?” said Simon.

“Would you mind sending Jack back here so the lot of you can talk about us uninterrupted? If he gets grabby, just throw cold water in his face.”

Simon nodded. “I should be getting back to my patient anyway.” He turned to leave.

“Dr. Tam?” said the Doctor again. Simon looked back at him. “I’m in your debt.”

“All right, everybody, back to the real world,” said Mal. His crew gathered, some more reluctantly than others, and left.

River was the last. Before she stepped out, she looked back at the Doctor, and the two of them held eye contact for a long moment. As she finally left, Jack entered. At the Doctor’s word, he closed the TARDIS doors behind him.

Mal walked one circuit around the blue box, scarcely able to credit what he’d just seen. “ZoŽ?”

“Yes, sir?” she asked.

“Am I dreaming?”

“If you’re dreaming, so’m I.”

“Thought so. This don’t bode well.”

“That it don’t, sir.”

Mal looked through the infirmary door. Simon was leaning over the girl, Rose, doing whatever it was doctors do. She and the blue box said that what he saw was real, but . . .

Maybe everything he thought he knew was plain wrong, at that.

Back to index


Chapter 3: Rose

Author's Notes: Mal asked, ďThe Doctor--is he dangerous?Ē

ďVery.Ē The word was out before Mal was finished speaking. River looked at him. ďHeís very dangerous. Last soldier of a war that shaped the universe. The Oncoming Storm, the Destroyer of Worlds. Nothing can stop him.Ē Her brow crinkled. ďHomicidal pepper-pots.Ē


A few minutes later, the crew and passengers (sans the latest additions) of Serenity were gathered around the dinner table.

“Don’t need to tell the lot of you that we have a strange situation on our hands,” said Mal. “I must confess I have little idea what to make of it. ‘Tisn’t every day a blue box appears on your ship with an alien aboard. So, I figure we have to go on whatever information we have. Anything you got, people, lay it on the table.”

“Ain’t canny,” said Jayne, continuing his earlier theme. “A blue box as is bigger on the inside ’n on the out? There’s something seriously wrong with that. Good Lord ain’t meant for things to go that way.”

“Thank you, Jayne,” said Mal, feeling his headache beginning in earnest. “Anyone else?”

Simon was the next to speak up. “Well, the Doctor may not be a surgeon, but he certainly has a working knowledge of medicine and anatomy. Human anatomy, that is; I wasn’t joking about him having two hearts.”

“What about the girl?” asked Mal.

“She’s human enough,” said Simon. “I’d say she’s around twenty years old, in good shape and general good health, aside from the piece of shrapnel I took out of her. The Doctor said she’s his companion.” All eyes instantly flicked to Inara, and Simon hastened to add, “I don’t think that’s what he meant. I mean, I didn’t get that impression. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what impression I got. It probably would’ve helped if she’d been conscious.”

“Doctor seems to like you, at least,” said Mal. “What about the other guy, Jack? Other than the fact that he seems to like makin’ sweet with the women.”

“And the men,” said Inara. “I caught him trying to flirt with Wash, and he checked out your ass, Mal.”

“He did?” Mal felt obscurely violated and flattered all at the same time.

“He definitely hit on me,” said Simon.

“What’s with that? Can’t he make up his mind?” asked Jayne.

“He was trying to flirt with me?” Wash looked flabbergasted. “I didn’t notice. Did you notice, sweetie?” he asked ZoŽ.

“Can’t say I did,” said ZoŽ. She didn’t look too terribly pleased with the idea.

“It was all over his body language,” said Inara. “If I’m right, he’s had training. Companion-level training. He wasn’t just flirting; he was assessing.” As an afterthought, she added, “Though I’m also fairly certain he’d bed anyone willing here.”

“I think he’s had military training, too. Him and the Doctor both,” said ZoŽ.

“I’m with you on that,” said Mal. “The way they was looking around when they opened that door, I don’t believe they missed a thing. Little Kaylee, what about that machine of his?”

Kaylee lit up. “It’s like nothin’ I ever seen, Captain. It’s like it grew instead o’was built. There’s a lot that’s blown out, but what’s there--it’s just pretty. Please, can I work on it?”

“Not sure what I think of that idea,” said Mal. He realized he’d been noticing a very quiet Book for several minutes. “Preacher, you look mighty thoughty over there. Care to share with us?”

Book almost looked startled as Mal’s voice pulled him out of his reverie. “I’m considering a legend, Captain,” said the Shepherd. “An old legend. Obscure, too; I heard it but by chance. Seems that back on Earth-that-was, there were stories told of a man called the Doctor and a blue box turning up when strange events happened. The stories don’t agree on what he looked like--some say he was an old man, others that he was young and handsome--but they all say he was seen around a blue box, and he always had companions with him. Again, the stories disagree on the companions, but they almost all say there was a girl, and some say there was a man as well. The one thing all the stories agree on is that wherever he goes, strange and sinister happenings follow. Or perhaps he follows those happenings.”

There was silence for a moment while they all took this in. Finally, Mal said, “Can’t say I like the sound of that.” He decided to take a chance and looked over at River. “River, are they dangerous?”

“Too many factors. Please specify,” she said.

Silently cursing himself for having started this, Mal asked, “The Doctor--is he dangerous?”

“Very.” The word was out before Mal was finished speaking. River looked at him. “He’s very dangerous. Last soldier of a war that shaped the universe. The Oncoming Storm, the Destroyer of Worlds. Nothing can stop him.” Her brow crinkled. “Homicidal pepper-pots.”

“I can’t say I like the sound of that, either,” said Mal, ignoring the last bit. “Only question is how to get him off the ship.”

“Maybe we could toss that blue box out the airlock,” suggested Jayne.

“If we can even move it,” said Mal. “Not to mention that if he’s as River says, we don’t want him cottoning on--”

“Not dangerous to us, stupid,” River interrupted, looking disgusted. Her eyes flickered away, down toward the infirmary. “For her.”

“For the girl?” asked ZoŽ.

River nodded, eyes distant. “What she’ll do, what she’ll become for the love of him--the Big Bad Wolf will devour her, and she’ll let it. Red Riding Hood, Rose Red. There’s a paradigm. A conundrum. I have to think about it.” With that, she got up from the table and walked away.

Mal looked at Kaylee. “Answer’s no.”

“Aww, but Cap’n, River said they wasn’t dangerous to us,” protested Kaylee.

“Any man as’d be dangerous to a girl your age don’t strike me as trustworthy. I’m not putting you at risk,” said Mal.

“Yeah, but think about what I can learn if I work on that machine,” said Kaylee. “We wanna learn about them, don’t we? ‘Cause right now, we can’t properly do nothing about ‘em. ‘Sides, he was real nice to me earlier.”

“Hate to say it, sir, but she has a point,” said ZoŽ. “One of us can always be with her when she’s working.”

Mal considered it. He hated the idea of Kaylee being in any sort of danger, but ZoŽ was right. They needed to learn as much as possible about their mysterious visitors. “All right,” he finally said. “Me, Jayne or ZoŽ’ll have to be with you, understand? No going in the blue box without one of us.”

“I ain’t going in that thing,” said Jayne.

“Why, Jayne Cobb, what would your ma think of you letting Kaylee walk into the lion’s den alone ‘cause you got scared?” asked Mal. It was an unfair weapon to use, but Jayne deserved it.

Besides, it worked. Jayne’s ears turned red. “Fine.”

“I think I should keep an eye on Rose,” said Simon.

“You do that,” said Mal.

“I’ll help,” said Inara. “If I can see them together, I should be able to discern their dynamic and how Rose might be in danger from the Doctor.”

Simon looked disturbed. “He just seemed to love her so much.”

“Many men are most dangerous to those they love,” said Inara softly.

***

Later, Inara sat at Rose’s bedside, washing the girl’s face. She was lovely, but Inara thought she wore far too much makeup. She wiped it away with cleansing cloths until Rose’s skin was clean and bare. After that, Inara took some of her own facial cream and gently massaged it into Rose’s face. Even in a drugged sleep, Rose turned her face slightly into Inara’s hands as if enjoying the contact. Inara hummed softly as she worked, hoping to comfort her. A little eye cream and lip salve followed the face cream before she was finished.

“A woman knows what a woman needs,” Inara said aloud. “You can come in now.”

She turned and watched the Doctor enter the infirmary, noting the way he moved and the expression on his face. He was graceful, the Doctor, and surprisingly light on his feet for such a tall man. His eyes didn’t stray from Rose as he walked to her bedside.

Only after he reached her did he look up at Inara. “Thank you. You’re right; it wouldn’t have occurred to me.” He took Rose’s hand in his.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” said the Companion.

The Doctor smiled, still looking at Rose’s face. “She’s a lot more than that.”

“Where did you meet her?”

“London, England, in the year 2005,” said the Doctor. “I blew up her job. In my defense, the place was lousy with living mannequins.”

Inara blinked. “So . . . she’s from the twenty-first century?”

“Yep!” said the Doctor brightly. “I’m sure that given the chance, she’ll tell you all you want to know about the latest fads and pretty men from her time, and probably a lot more that you never wanted to know. She’s young.”

That made Inara smile, as did the affection under the Doctor’s acerbic tone. Given that and the tenderness in his eyes when he looked at Rose, Inara was finding it difficult to believe River was right about the two of them.

Rose suddenly stirred, making a little noise in her throat and slowly opening her eyes. “Doctor?” she said, voice raspy.

“I’m here, Rose.” There was nothing casual or affected about the way the Doctor was addressing her, contrasting sharply with his earlier manner while talking to Inara.

“Wha’ happened?” Rose murmured.

“Little explosion. The TARDIS sincerely apologizes.”

Rose smiled a little. “I 'member that. Tell her s'all right. I know she didn’t mean it.”

Inara thought that she sounded like she was from Dyton. Evidently, the Dyton accent had come from Rose’s home on Earth-that-was. Interesting.

“I’m sure that’ll make her feel better.” The Doctor smoothed his hand over Rose’s hair and let it rest on her cheek.

“Where'm I?” Rose asked.

“We landed on a little transport ship called Serenity,” said the Doctor. “It just so happens that they have a skilled trauma surgeon on board. Lucky break, that.”

Rose’s eyes wandered over to Inara. “You’re beau’iful,” she said, giving the Companion a dopey smile.

Inara smiled at her. “So are you. I’m Inara.”

“ ‘M Rose,” said the girl. She turned her head into the Doctor’s hand where it lay against her face. “Sleepy.”

“Good. You need to rest.” The Doctor’s thumb stroked over Rose’s cheek. “Sleep now. You’re safe.” Rose closed her eyes.

Inara watched the Doctor’s face as he focused on Rose. She recognized the love in his expression, the tenderness, but she also saw something else: need. Raw, painful need. Inara could only guess at the difference between their ages. Though the Doctor looked like he was at least fifteen years older than Rose, there was no way to be sure, given that he wasn’t human. He felt much older even than that, though, almost ancient. Yet he needed this young girl in a very deep and real way.

The Doctor’s eyes flashed to Inara, to her penetrating gaze, and immediately, a mask was in place. He took his hand from Rose’s face and released her hand from his other one. Inara turned and picked up the other item she’d brought.

“I thought perhaps Rose might like a shirt,” she said. Simon had cut away the shirt Rose had been wearing when she’d been injured, and it was currently sitting in the sink waiting to be made into rags. Inara showed the Doctor the garment she’d brought, a silk kimono-style wrap top. “Could you help me get her into it?”

“Certainly,” said the Doctor. He didn’t seem uncomfortable at all lifting the top half of Rose’s body, clad only in a bra, in his arms. Inara slipped the open shirt under her, and the Doctor laid Rose back down. He and Inara worked her arms into the sleeves, and Inara tied it closed loosely enough that it wouldn’t put any pressure on Rose’s wounded belly. The Doctor looked up at Inara. “Thank you for your kindness. I’m sure Rose will appreciate it.”

“It’s my pleasure,” said Inara.

The Doctor stood at Rose’s bedside looking at her for another few moments before turning to leave. Just as he reached the door, he turned back around. “And Inara? Do be nice and let me know if I pass your evaluation.” Then he was gone, leaving Inara blinking in dismay.

Back to index


Chapter 4: The TARDIS Invasion

Author's Notes: ZoŽ took another step into the TARDIS. ďRiver made mention that she thinks youíre a danger to Rose.Ē

ďSo thatís what Inaraís little interrogation was about. Riverís right,Ē said the Doctor. It took ZoŽ a little by surprise; sheíd expected a denial.

ďCanít say I cotton too well to a man asíd do harm to a young lady,Ē she said.


Unlike Inara, ZoŽ wasn’t interested in subtlety when she entered the TARDIS some time later, saying without preamble, “I’d like a word with you, Doctor.”

Jack and the Doctor were both present. They exchanged a look.

“Think I’ll go check to see if we’ve got any power belowdecks,” Jack said. He left the control room at the Doctor’s nod.

Kaylee entered behind ZoŽ, who turned and said, “Wait outside, Kaylee.”

The mechanic reluctantly withdrew. “Don’t shoot him or nothin’,” she said before closing the doors.

The Doctor leaned casually against the console. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from the first mate--and her sidearm?” He looked pointedly at the gun resting on ZoŽ’s hip.

“We’ve decided to let Kaylee help you out,” said ZoŽ. “But you ought understand that I don’t trust you.”

“I’d never have guessed.”

ZoŽ took another step into the TARDIS. “River made mention she thinks you’re a danger to Rose.”

“So that’s what Inara’s little interrogation was about. River’s right,” said the Doctor. It took ZoŽ a little by surprise; she’d expected a denial.

“Can’t say I cotton too well to a man as’d do harm to a young lady,” she said.

“I don’t imagine you would,” said the Doctor. “Let me amend my statement: while I wouldn’t purposely harm her, as long as Rose is around me, she will be in danger. However, it’s her choice to travel with me, even though she knows very well how dangerous it is. This isn’t anything like her first brush with death.”

“Hm.” ZoŽ considered him. If that was what River had meant--that traveling with the Doctor put Rose in danger--it did put a different shine on things. Hell, Kaylee wasn’t exactly safe on Serenity a lot of times.

Still didn’t mean ZoŽ trusted the Doctor. Or Jack.

“Tell me, can a bullet kill you?” ZoŽ asked.

“Quite handily.” The Doctor’s expression hadn’t changed a whit since ZoŽ had come in.

“Then you’d best know that Captain or I or Jayne will always be in here with Kaylee. We feel she’s in any danger, any at all, and you’ll get that bullet.” ZoŽ let that statement hang.

“Understood,” said the Doctor. He didn’t look terribly impressed, which annoyed ZoŽ, but at least he knew where things stood.

Jack re-entered the control room. “Finished threatening him?” he asked ZoŽ.

“I’ve said my piece to the Doctor, yes,” said ZoŽ. “Here’s one for you: hit on my husband one more time, and I’ll make sure you have no such thoughts ever again, dong ma?”

Jack grinned. “Oh, don’t worry--one of my only hard-and-fast rules is that I never sleep with one half of a married couple. Now, both halves, on the other hand . . .” ZoŽ gave him her best un-amused look. Jack cleared his throat. “Noted and logged.”

ZoŽ stepped back and opened the TARDIS door, letting Kaylee and her tool kit in.

“Ready to go to work?” the Doctor asked her, brandishing a little wand with a blue light on the tip.

“Sure am!” said Kaylee, practically charging past ZoŽ toward the console. “Hey, what’s that?”

“This? It’s my sonic screwdriver,” said the Doctor.

“Shiny!”

For the next several hours, she, Jack and the Doctor worked mostly in harmony. Jack and Kaylee flirted playfully and incessantly, occasionally irritating the Doctor, whereupon they’d start trying to flirt with him, too, and the Doctor would start insulting the human race in general, making Jack and Kaylee laugh. ZoŽ watched them carefully and was unable to detect anything sinister in it all. On one hand, she was relieved; she didn’t actually like to shoot people, even if she was quite good at it, and Kaylee didn’t appear to be in any danger. On the other hand, she wasn’t ready to trust these mysterious newcomers. ZoŽ awarded her trust to very few people, but even that aside, the Doctor set her on edge. It was like he wore a mask. She couldn’t see his true face--though she thought perhaps she had in the moments after he’d stepped onto Serenity for the first time.

On another level, ZoŽ thought she was a fine one to be prejudiced against someone for not letting people see his true face. The irony didn’t escape her.

Nonetheless, she couldn’t escape the feeling that this man was dangerous, and it wasn’t just River’s words that made her think so.

***

Rose came to slowly and found herself completely disoriented. Thanks to their many risky adventures, she’d got used to looking at the ceiling of the med-bay on the TARDIS. This wasn’t it.

Closing her eyes again, she tried to remember what had happened. She remembered the trouble in the Time Vortex, and then it was all a little fuzzy and dream-like except for what she thought must be a more recent memory of the Doctor and an exotically beautiful woman. She also seemed to remember a good-looking man with blue eyes that put Jack’s to shame. But he might’ve just been a dream. She tried to sit up.

“Aah!” she gasped as fiery pain shot through her body. That was right--belly wound.

“Oh, honey, don’t try that,” said a woman’s sympathetic voice. Rose fell back against her pillow, and in a moment, a sweet-faced girl about her own age was leaning over her. “I got shot in the belly once, so I know what it feels like. Simon took real good care of you, though. My name’s Kaylee.”

“I’m Rose,” said Rose. “Where’m I?”

“You’re on Serenity,” said Kaylee. “We’re a transport ship. Gave us a real surprise when your ship appeared outta nowhere.” Kaylee’s smile turned up a notch. “But your Doctor and Jack have sure been nice, and I’m having fun helping ‘em put the TARDIS back together. I’m a mechanic.”

“Doctor’s letting you work on his true love? You must be a good mechanic,” said Rose. She noticed, in an absent sort of way, that she was wearing a rather nice top she’d never seen before, but at the moment, urgent biological functions took precedence over questions. “Um, listen, I need--where’s the bathroom?”

“We got a head for passengers just down the hall,” said Kaylee. “Want me to help you up?”

“Please.” Rose reached up, and between Kaylee lifting her and Rose pulling herself up using Kaylee’s shoulders, she managed to work into a sitting position without hurting her belly too much. She felt weak and was grateful for Kaylee’s help standing up and walking down the hall.

When she exited the head, feeling much better, Kaylee was waiting. “Thanks,” said Rose.

“Oh, it’s no problem,” said Kaylee. “Inara--that’s her shirt you’re wearin’; ain’t it pretty?--asked me to look in on you while she took a bath, and Simon’s nappin’. They’ve been watching over you night and day. The Doctor and Captain Jack’ve been in and out as much as they can, but the TARDIS needs a lot of work. Wanna go back to the infirmary?”

“I’d rather go back to the TARDIS,” said Rose.

Kaylee looked a little ambivalent. “Well, I don’t know what Simon’ll say, but if you feel up to it . . .”

Rose wasn’t, in fact, sure she was up to it. She was dizzy and weak and, now that she thought about it, quite hungry and thirsty. Her belly was also very sore. But she was determined to see the Doctor and Jack. “I’ll be all right,” she said.

Kaylee helped her back down the hall, past the infirmary and into the cargo bay. Rose was happy to see the TARDIS on the far side. Just then, a boyishly handsome man came striding over and held out a hand for Rose to shake, all business. “I’m Captain Mal Reynolds. This is my boat, Serenity.”

Taking the proffered hand, Rose said, “I’m Rose Tyler. Thanks for not shooting us on sight. Kaylee said we gave you a shock.”

“That you did, but we ain’t completely uncivilized out here, no matter what anyone might tell you,” said Mal. “Pleased to see you up and about, Miz Tyler.”

“I’m pleased to be up and about. I hope the Doctor and Jack haven’t been too much trouble.” Rose had no idea what the situation was, but knowing the Doctor and Jack . . .

Judging by the look of irritation that passed over the captain’s face, things weren’t going too well. “Jack might wanna look to avoiding my first mate, ‘specially if he intends to ever have children. She ain’t too happy with the attention he’s been giving her husband.”

Rose winced. “Well, I’m not too sure Jack ever plans on having children, but I get your meaning. Sounds like he’s being himself.”

“Aw, he’s just bein’ friendly,” said Kaylee. “I think he’s sweet.”

“I would say he doesn’t mean anything by it, but knowing Jack, chances are he does. I’ll tell him to stay away from the married people,” she promised Mal.

“You do that.” Mal half-turned to walk away before reconsidering. “It’s fine if he keeps on Simon, though; kinda fun to watch the expression on his face.” Kaylee punched his arm. “Ow! My mechanic’s turning against me.”

Rose chuckled, which hurt. “Ow.”

“Might not wanna laugh for a few days,” said Kaylee sympathetically.

A large man, taller than the Doctor and probably half again his weight, came over. He looked Rose up and down.

Kaylee introduced them. “Rose, this is Jayne. Jayne, this is Rose.”

Jayne grunted, still looking Rose over in a way that made her uncomfortable. “So, you’re a whore, are ya?” he said bluntly after a moment.

“What?” Rose drew herself up sharply, ignoring the pain that shot through her belly at the movement. Who had been saying what about her?

The captain muttered something under his breath, passing a hand over his forehead. “Jayne Cobb, did you learn your manners from a pack of wolves?” he asked, and swiftly answered himself. “No; I do believe wolves are more mannerly.”

“Well, Simon said she’s a Companion,” blustered Jayne, and now that Rose thought about it, what kind of man was named “Jayne”?

“Not that kinda Companion,” said Kaylee.

“I’m the Doctor’s companion,” said Rose icily.

“Oh.” Jayne looked disappointed. “So he’s got exclusive rights to the sexin’, y’mean?”

“No!” Rose protested, not feeling well at all and wondering just how she’d gotten into this conversation. “I have a boyfriend back on Earth. The Doctor and I, we’re--we don’t--oh, for God’s sake, is it any of your business?”

Jayne opened his mouth to speak again, but Mal cut him off. “Jayne. Septic pump needs your attention. Now. Argue and it’s yours for a month.” The big man stormed off, swearing under his breath, and Mal turned back to Rose. “My apologies, Miss. Jayne there keeps his brain in his trousers and lets his mouth run unattended.”

“Why did he think I’m a whore?” Rose asked. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.

“Because the word ‘companion’ means something very different in this century,” said Jack’s voice from behind her. Rose turned happily to meet him. “Hey, baby doll,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her. “How’re you feeling?”

“I’ve felt better,” she said. “How’s the TARDIS?”

“She’s felt better, but we’re working on it,” Jack said. “Come on. The Doctor’s been going crazy with his two favorite girls out of commission.”

“I’m pretty sure I come in a distant second,” said Rose, rolling her eyes.

Jack winked, steering her toward the TARDIS with one arm around her. “Wouldn’t be so sure. Hey, you’ve met Kaylee! Isn’t she sweet?”

Kaylee giggled and blushed. Rose decided she rather liked her. “We’ve been gettin’ along,” she said.

The small group, including Mal, entered the TARDIS. Rose could see the Doctor--rather, the Doctor’s backside--halfway inside the console.

“Kaylee, did you bring that spanner?” he asked, voice muffled.

“Brought somethin’ better,” said Kaylee.

The Doctor pulled out of the console and looked over his shoulder, and his face lit up as he saw Rose. “Rose!” In a few long strides, he was pulling Rose gently into his embrace. She leaned into him, letting the familiar feel and smell of him surround her. “Are you all right?” he asked, his breath stirring the hair by her ear.

“Little weak,” she said, understating matters, “but I’ll be okay. I’ll be happier in my own room, I think.”

The Doctor pulled back. “Little problem with that--we don’t have reliable power belowdecks. I want you to stay on Serenity until we do.”

“But Doctor,” Rose protested.

“Don’t argue.” The Doctor took her shoulders. “Once the medical bay here is back online, it’ll be different, but until then, I want young Dr. Tam to be able to keep an eye on you.” His eyes softened. “Please, Rose. It’s one less thing for me to worry about.”

He didn’t fight fair. Rose sagged a little, disappointed and exhausted. “All right. Can I stay here for now, at least?”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You’re white as a sheet,” said the Doctor. He touched her face, his fingers cool against her skin. “You lost a lot of blood, Rose; you shouldn’t push yourself too hard.”

“Hey, Simon,” said Kaylee from behind Rose.

Rose looked to see whom she addressed and was pleasantly surprised to see that the handsome man she thought she’d dreamed was real. He looked like he’d just woken up, with his bare feet and bed-head. Rose didn’t miss the predatory gleam in Jack’s eyes.

“Never fails,” said Simon, yawning. “Take a nap, and your patient goes wandering.”

“I wanted to see the Doctor and Jack,” said Rose. “Kaylee was kind enough to help.”

“She’s not supposed to be up yet, Kaylee. What were you thinking?” asked Simon, evidently irritated. “I’m sorry, Rose, but I need you to come back to the infirmary so I can check your stitches.”

Kaylee turned away from Simon and headed toward the console, visibly upset. Rose instantly felt bad.

“Go with Simon, Rose. We’ll see you later,” said the Doctor.

“Just get well, okay?” said Jack. He kissed her face lightly and went to follow Kaylee.

Rose allowed Simon to lead her out of the TARDIS. “It really wasn’t Kaylee’s fault,” she told him. “I told her I felt up to it. Don’t be mad at her.”

Simon looked deflated and guilty. “I know,” he sighed. “I’m just . . . very stupid.”

“In other words, you’re a bloke,” said Rose, smiling at him.

That got a grin. “Suppose, yeah. Are you hungry?”

“Very.”

“I’ll get you something to eat, then. Sorry it won’t be any good.”

Back to index


Chapter 5: Love and Engines

Author's Notes: Rose is pretty much in the same situation you are. Lovely young woman, stupidly stubborn male . . ."

"Why do they do that?" Kaylee asked. "I mean, me and Simon, Rose and the Doctor, Captain and Inara--should be simple enough, so why ain't it?"


Jack and Kaylee were a level or so down from the control room, lying on their backs working under the console. The Doctor had charged Jack with watching over Kaylee's work and making certain she came nowhere near the time circuits. Knowing Kaylee, she'd try to make one, and the results could be somewhat unfortunate, according to the Doctor.

"The universe could implode," were his exact words.

Jack often thought the Doctor was overstating matters, but why take the risk?

There was one certain thing, however: Kaylee was a damn fine mechanic. Better than fine; genius, in her way. The Doctor hadn't been exaggerating when he called her a savant. Jack was good, and he had experience with the TARDIS, thanks to the Doctor's constant roping of him into helping with maintenance. Kaylee just had a feel for it. She could extrapolate not just from designs she'd already seen, but from an almost instinctual understanding of how things went together.

"You should've been born in my century, Kaylee," said Jack as they rerouted a few of the navigation controls. (The TARDIS had about five different sets of these, and the Doctor wouldn't let Jack, let alone Kaylee, work on all but two of them.) "A woman like you? You could've written your own ticket wherever you wanted to go."

"I've already been more places'n I thought to see. Thought I'd spend my whole life on the little moon I come from," she said. She'd been rather subdued, and Jack was under no illusions as to why. He knew a giant crush when he saw one. He also knew a stubborn man unable to do what was good for him when he saw one.

"How'd you hook up with Serenity, anyway?" asked Jack.

Kaylee giggled. "Funny little story. Captain hired this guy who said he was a mechanic didn't know his ass from a spanner, but he was cute. Captain caught us ruttin' by the engine, and when I knew how to fix it, he hired me on the spot."

Jack grinned. "Sex and engines. Great combination!"

"Glad I ain't the only one to think so. Way the captain goes on, he ain't never caught no one gettin' some trim in an engine room before. Take it you have?"

"Oh, hell yeah! There was this incredible multi-generation passenger ship I landed on about five hundred years from now, engine room the size of the town you grew up in, I bet. I bagged about half the engineering crew before the op was over." He winked. "Being a Time Agent could be a lot of fun."

"I'll bet." Kaylee glanced at him from under her eyelashes. "Say, think you could give me a tour of belowdecks sometime? I been dyin' to see it."

Jack knew a come-on when he saw one.

He sighed and turned on his side a little to look at her. "Trust me, Kaylee, I'd love to show you the TARDIS, my bedroom, and a few positions you never imagined. Problem is, I make it a practice never to sleep with anyone who doesn't want to sleep with me."

Kaylee stopped working and looked stung. "What, you think I go trying to get on every guy--"

"Not what I meant, sweetheart. I'm just saying I think you're upset with the guy you really want to be with, and that has something to do with the signals you're sending. And I never settle for being second best."

"Simon don't want me," said Kaylee softly, brown eyes glistening with unshed tears.

"Yes, he does," countered Jack. "He's just holding himself back, probably because of his sister. Believe me, I've been watching a master in action for the past few months." He gestured vaguely upward to where the Doctor was clattering around and swearing at the time circuits. "I happen to know another sweet, brown-eyed girl who could do him a world of good, and would love to, but he won't let go long enough to do anything about it."

"Rose is sure pretty." There was something else underneath Kaylee's voice.

"She won't poach Simon," Jack told her gently. "And we'll be gone soon, so even if he is attracted--hell, what's not to be attracted to?--she'll be out of his life, and you'll still be in it. Aside from that, Rose is pretty much in the same situation you are. Lovely young woman, stupidly stubborn male . . ."

"Why do they do that?" Kaylee asked. "I mean, me and Simon, Rose and the Doctor, Captain and Inara--should be simple enough, so why ain't it?"

"I thought I caught the scent of unresolved sexual tension with those two. I suppose they all have their reasons that make sense to them, but if you ask me, the issues involved could just as easily be decided in a warm and well-tumbled bed. But then, as the Doctor constantly reminds me, I'm a little sex-obsessed." He grinned salaciously.

"I think you kinda want Rose for yourself," said Kaylee, grinning herself.

"I definitely want Rose. I also want the Doctor. Preferably at the same time."

Kaylee blinked a little, and then her eyes glazed over. "Two boys all at once--boy, howdy that sounds like a hella fun!"

"There's an art to a threesome. You've got to make sure no one feels left out. While I don't mean to brag, I'm pretty good at it. If Simon were up for it," Jack made a dreamy noise, "I'd be happy to show you."

"I'm gettin' pretty juiced."

"So am I. And I'll tell you what, Kaylee Fry," said Jack. "If, while we're here, you decide that torch you're carrying has burned long enough--well, you know where to find me."

Kaylee opened her mouth to say something back, but a new voice interrupted her.

"Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick." River looked down at them from where she was lying on the grate above them. "I'm trying to decide if you fit into my paradigm. Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and got right up after." She tilted her head. "But you two were talking about sex. I'll go now."

And she was gone.

Back to index


Chapter 6: Shindig

Author's Notes: ďSomewhere in the sixty-third century, Iím married to a girl with feathers for hair,Ē said Rose. ďMy mum would be so proud.Ē


Much to Rose’s relief, the TARDIS had power belowdecks the next day, and the Doctor wanted to give her a treatment with the medical bay’s tissue regenerator. It would effectively cut by half the time she needed to recover from her wound. Not that she had anything against Serenity, which was a nice enough ship aside from the fact that Rose had awakened to someone howling during the night–and what that was about, she was afraid to ask–but she was glad to have her own room back.

After her treatment, a bite to eat and a shower, Rose put on a pair of track pants, a white tank top and a red hoodie. She was about to leave her room to go back to the control deck when a person she hadn’t met showed up in her doorway. It was a girl who looked like she was a few years younger than Rose, reed thin, with long, unruly brown hair and sad brown eyes.

“Hullo,” said Rose. “What’s your name?”

“River,” said the girl. “An’ you’re Rose.” To Rose’s surprise, River sounded like she could be from London herself.

“I’m not sure you’re supposed to be down here, River. It’s nice to meet you, though,” said Rose.

“Doctor said he didn’t mind if I had a look around,” said River. “Said I have a chance of gettin’ out again.”

“S’pose that makes it okay, then,” said Rose. Something about this girl was a little unnerving.

River approached her quite closely, looked her over for a moment, and then reached over and drew Rose’s hood over her head. “Little Red Riding Hood,” she said. “Have you found the Woodsman, or the Wolf? It can be hard to tell when you’re wandering in the woods.”

Leaving that puzzling statement hanging in the air, River turned and breezed right out of Rose’s room again, pausing to run her hand along the doorframe and smile, as if at a private joke.

Rose blinked, and then she left her room and made for the control room. When she reached it, she heard the tail end of what sounded like an argument between Mal and Simon.

“All I’m saying is, you need to keep your sister from waking the whole crew makin’ an unholy fuss in the middle of the night,” said Mal. “Don’t care how you do it, but sleep is a necessary thing.”

Simon gave an exasperated shrug. “Fine, but you realize I never exactly know when River’s planning to start howling in the cargo bay. I quieted her down as fast as I could.” He rubbed his forehead. “She said it helped her to think.”

“I’m all for thinking, as long as one does it quietly,” said Mal. “Might wanna have a word with her about that.” He turned on his heel and walked out of the TARDIS just as ZoŽ walked in for her Kaylee-watching shift.

“For all the good it’ll do,” grumbled Simon. He spotted Rose. “How do you feel?” He’d come on board to observe her treatment with the tissue regenerator.

“A lot better,” she said.

“I just wish I had one of those things,” said Simon. “You can get pretty good dermal regenerators in the better hospitals, but a tissue regenerator like the one in your med bay–that would do a lot of good around here when someone gets shot, stabbed, tortured, beaten to a bloody pulp, kicked by a horse, bitten by a pig in one memorable instance--the list goes on. We live a fun life out here.”

“So I gather,” said Rose with a laugh. “We live a fun life on the TARDIS, too. Seems like no matter where or when we go, someone’s trying to kill us.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Um, is River your sister? Did I hear that right?”

“She is,” said Simon. “Look, I’m sorry if she woke you last night. It’s just–the government messed with her brain, okay? I’m trying to help her, but she doesn’t exactly occupy the same reality as the rest of us.”

“S’all right,” said Rose, seeing his agitation. “Maybe we can help.”

Simon looked at her with painful hope in his eyes. “It would be . . . very good if you could. She seems to have taken a shine to the Doctor.”

“If anyone can help her, it’s the Doctor,” said Rose comfortingly.

Just then, River herself entered the control room and walked straight up to Simon, looking mildly peeved. “Apologize to Kaylee,” she told him sternly (and in an American accent to match Simon’s), “or Captain Jack will give her a tour of his belowdecks. You’re dumb as a brick when it comes to women.” She turned on her heel and left the TARDIS.

Simon gave a pained sigh. “And when she does join us in the real world, it’s normally to embarrass me.”

Rose chuckled in sympathy and moved on. She said hello to Kaylee, who was already hard at work, and introduced herself to ZoŽ. Beautiful woman, ZoŽ, but very intense. Nonetheless, she was polite and kind to Rose. Rose left the TARDIS, then, seeking out Inara to give her top back.

Two hours later, after an impromptu tour of the ship by Shepherd Book, meeting Inara again and learning just why Jayne thought “companion” meant “whore,” and having a chat with the happy-go-lucky pilot, Rose knew what she wanted to do to repay the kindness the crew of Serenity had shown her.

“I’m going to make dinner,” she announced to the Doctor as she returned to the TARDIS.

“You’re going to cook?” asked the Doctor incredulously.

“What, you think I survived on my mum’s cooking all these years?”

“Actually, I was under the impression you subsisted on diet cola and chips,” said the Doctor.

Rose batted him on the arm. “Shireen’s mum is a professional cook, and she taught me more’n a few things. Tell him, Jack.”

“It’s true,” said Jack. “She can cook, which you’d know if you ever joined us for meals.”

“There,” said Rose. “Besides, Shepherd Book’s going to help, and everyone says he’s a good cook.”

“What’re you going to make?” asked Kaylee eagerly.

“Well, I figured I’d use some of the chicken we’ve got in our refrigerator,” she began, but the Doctor cut her off.

“Our food?” he asked, disapproval all over the two words.

Rose folded her arms. “It’s not like they’ve done anything for us, you know–like letting out their cargo bay so we can repair our ship, loaning us their mechanic, not shooting us when we popped up, and, oh yeah, saving my life.” She lifted her shirt a little to expose the still-livid wound in her belly. “Haven’t done nothin’ at all to deserve our gratitude. And it’s not like you’ll just use your sonic screwdriver to convince the nearest equivalent of a teller machine that we have money so we can replace any food we use.”

“And you’d repay them by inflicting English cookery on them?” said the Doctor.

Rose hit his arm again. “You’ll eat your words–and my cooking–at dinner tonight.”

“Sorry, not the dinner-party type,” said the Doctor.

“You’re coming,” said Rose.

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

They might have noticed, at that point, that all work had come to a halt as everyone was watching them in fascination.

“Fine,” said Rose with a lift of her eyebrows that meant no good. She fished in her pocket, pulled out her phone and started to dial.

“What’re you doing?” the Doctor asked.

“Calling me mum,” she said.

“What, to complain to her that I’m not eating your cooking?”

“No, to give her an update. You know, let her know where and when I am, how I’m doing, how your TARDIS tried to kill me and now you won’t even come to dinner . . .” The Doctor snatched the phone, and Rose pouted at him. “And now you won’t even let me talk to my mum.”

“You fight dirty,” said the Doctor with great disapproval.

Rose looked up at him with innocent brown eyes and lifted the hem of her shirt again. “I got a belly wound.”

The Doctor attempted to stare her down. He gave it quite a good try, actually, and it would’ve worked on just about anyone who didn’t know him as well as Rose Tyler did. Finally, he folded.

“Fine,” he said, utterly disgusted with himself. “I’ll put in an appearance.” He handed the phone back.

Rose stood on tiptoes and gave him a peck on the cheek. “You won’t regret it, I promise. Shepherd, mind helping me fetch some food?”

“Not at all,” said Book, eyes twinkling with amusement. He followed Rose belowdecks.

Mal, who’d caught the whole show, shook his head. “Womanly wiles. ‘Taint fair.”

“Look on the bright side, Doc,” said Jack, laughter in his voice. “That was thirty seconds longer than you’ve ever held out against her before.”

“Oh, shut up,” said the Doctor sourly.

***

Even the Doctor would have had to admit later (if anyone in the universe would’ve been able to force him to, which was very unlikely) that dinner was a spectacular success. Book and Rose had come up with a simple, tasty menu of chicken and rice with vegetables and one predictable favorite.

“Trust you to make chips,” said the Doctor.

“Oven fries, and Shepherd Book was the one who suggested them,” said Rose, munching one with evident delight. "I think he's my new favorite person."

"Much obliged, Miss," said Book.

The conversation flowed easily, too, as the two crews exchanged stories. Rose was nearly choking on her food as she told one, barely holding back laughter.

“. . . and they’ve got me in this getup that Queen Elizabeth I would have called ‘a bit much’ with this headdress that I swear weighed six stone. I could barely stand up, and I’m thinking there’s no way I’m going to be able to make a run for it, and I’ll end up married to this alien despot with tentacles, and where the hell have the Doctor and Captain Jack got off to, anyway? And then, just as I’m getting prodded down the aisle toward my groom, Captain Jack comes runnin’ into the throne room, yelling . . .” She was laughing too hard to continue.

Jack picked it up. “I’m yelling that there’s been a terrible misunderstanding, a translation went wrong somewhere, and Rose is actually the male of our species--but I’d be only too honored to become the Emperor’s new wife!”

The table erupted in laughter. Even the Doctor cracked a smile, remembering. Only Jayne looked confused.

“How the ruttin’ hell did he think you’re a girl?” asked the big mercenary.

“Well, you’ve got to keep in mind that their females are cone-shaped with blue tentacles,” said Jack. “He didn’t actually know much about humans, but he wanted to collect wives of as many species as he could since women among his kind are basically status symbols--“

“--and a certain captain had been shooting his mouth off about Rose’s charms to the Emperor’s chamberlain,” put in the Doctor.

“There was that,” Jack acknowledged casually. “Anyway, the Doctor and I decided I’d delay things while he figured out a way past palace security. It turned out to be a really good plan, actually; the Emperor was so horrified that he’d insulted a male human like that that he gave Rose his youngest wife.”

“Somewhere in the sixty-third century, I’m married to a girl with feathers for hair,” said Rose. “My mum would be so proud.”

“So what happened?” asked Kaylee. The fact that the story had actually distracted her from her meal said it all.

“I figured I needed to delay things as long as possible,” said Jack. “So I made up a few crazy customs for a human woman about to be wed, complained about the colors of my ceremonial robes, insisted Rose perform a religious ceremony involving wine and burning herbs and painting my face--“

“Very fetching, kind of Egyptian,” said Rose.

“More like 1980s New Wave,” said the Doctor.

“But anyway, I finally ran out of delays,” said Jack. “Rose was just walking me down the aisle when all the palace lights went out. There’s mass confusion, I had to use that damn headdress--Rose wasn’t kidding about the thing weighing a ton--to knock out a guard, and I finally spotted the Doctor standing in the doorway, casual as anything, flashing his sonic screwdriver at us.”

“It was a terribly-designed power system they had there. Couldn’t isolate the security system, so I just shut everything down,” said the Doctor.

“So we made a break for the TARDIS, and it’s only after we finally got in and took off that we realized Rose’s wife is tagging along,” Jack finished up.

“We dropped her off on her home planet,” said Rose. “She wasn’t exactly devastated to get away from the Emperor, and when she finally understood what happened, I think she laughed for a week. Sweet girl, she was.” Rose sighed. “And she’ll always be my first wife.”

“Accidentally getting married is a hazard of time travel,” said Jack. “Remember that time we went to 1920s London and all of us ended up engaged before the week was over?”

“How could I forget?” asked Rose.

“You two had it easy,” said the Doctor. “I contracted the dread disease known as Honoria Glossop.”

“Captain once got accidentally married,” said Kaylee.

“Oh, God, not this story,” groaned Mal.

“Oh, but it’s so much fun!” said Wash. “I mean, aside from the fact that I got kicked in the head by your sweet little missus. It was very therapeutic watching my sweet little missus deck her last time she turned up.”

“It was very therapeutic decking her, husband of mine,” said ZoŽ.

“Okay, you’ve gotta start this one from the beginning,” said Jack.

So they did, starting with the Triumph settlement and ending with Mal sitting nakedly in the middle of nowhere.

“Nakedness is a perfectly natural state. I am not ashamed,” said Mal good-naturedly.

“Tell me about it. First morning Captain Jack was on board the TARDIS, I walk into the kitchen to get some tea, and there he is, making toast in the nude,” said Rose.

Jack winked at her. “Tell me you didn’t enjoy the view.”

“Startled me a bit,” said Rose. “Not the Doctor, though. He comes in, gets his tea, says hello and asks how we’d like to see a Niven Ring, and if we would, be in the control room after breakfast, walks right back out. Not a word on Captain Jack’s dangly bits.”

“In climate-controlled environments, clothing is superfluous,” said River. “Only the force of custom dictates the wearing of fabrics aboard ships or in houses.” She nabbed one of Simon’s fries.

“That’s exactly what I keep telling these two,” said Jack, indicating Rose and the Doctor. “Yet they insist on remaining clothed. It’s tragic.”

“Such a perv,” said Rose.

“It’s what he’s best at,” said the Doctor.

“They know me so well,” said Jack.

“Well, moral of the story is, don’t trust busty little redheads who’ve married half the men in the gorram ‘verse and can’t decide on a name,” said Mal.

“At least my cons never got anyone hurt,” said Jack. “Well, except for that one time I nearly killed every human being on Earth.”

“Except for that,” said the Doctor.

“What?” asked Simon.

“What?” asked Wash.

Jack launched into the story, helped (and occasionally hindered) by Rose and the Doctor. They’d just gotten to the part where the Doctor had swiped Jack’s sonic blaster and replaced it with a banana--which made Jayne roar with laughter--when the Doctor suddenly got distracted by River.

It didn’t take everyone else long to do exactly the same. River was frozen in place, breathing hard, an expression of utter horror on her face.

Mei-mei, what is it?” Simon asked gently.

“Sharks in the water,” River whispered, and then, much louder, “There are sharks in the water!”

“Aw, hell, has she gone off her nut again?” asked Jayne.

“Wash,” said Mal carefully, “would you go up and take a look at our nav readings? Full sweep.”

“What am I looking for?” Wash asked, already halfway out of his chair.

Mal looked at River. “Sharks.”

Wash went to follow orders, and for a few tense moments, no one spoke. Then Wash’s voice came over the com system.

“I’m picking something up right on the edge of our sensor array. Looks to be heading this way,” said the pilot.

The tension in the room took a sudden jump. Simon asked River, “Is it Alliance? Can you tell?”

River looked at her brother. “Worse.”

“Wash, take a look at their radiation signature,” ordered Mal, getting up from the table.

The words were barely out of his mouth when Wash started swearing loudly and colorfully, following it up with, “Captain, we’ve got Reavers!”

Rose had no idea what a Reaver was, but given the way everyone was instantly out of his or her seat, it had to be bad news. “What is it?” she asked.

Jack looked at Mal and ZoŽ, who were about to head up to the bridge. “I thought Reavers were a myth,” he said.

“They’re not,” said the Doctor grimly.

“What are they?” asked Rose.

“Men gone wild on the edge of space,” said Jack. “Cannibals. It’s a tale to curl your hair. How bad are they, really?”

“Put it this way,” said ZoŽ. “I’d put a bullet to my own husband ‘fore I’d let them take him. You might wanna look to your lady-friend, they get on board.”

Rose felt the bottom of her stomach drop out. She took a quick glance around, saw the fear on every face, even Jayne’s, and looked at the Doctor.

“Captain,” said the Doctor. Mal turned to face him. “When the TARDIS doors are shut, nothing can get through them. And I mean nothing.”

Mal hesitated only briefly before nodding once. “Be obliged, then, if my people could take refuge.”

The Doctor turned to Rose. “Take them down and lock the door behind you.”

“But Doctor,” she protested.

“I’ve got my key; I can get in if it comes to that. First, though, I’d like to see if anything can be done so it doesn’t come to that.” He touched her shoulders. “Take care of the rest right now. I’ll be all right.”

Reluctantly, Rose nodded and fished her TARDIS key out of her pocket.

“ZoŽ, you’re with me,” said Mal. “Everyone else, go with Rose.”

“I should stay out, too,” said Jayne. It would’ve startled the crew to hear him make such an offer if they hadn’t all seen how scared of the TARDIS he was.

“Don’t have time to argue it, Jayne. Either brave the blue box or sit outside lookin’ like Reaver bait. Can’t say I care much which.” The captain strode out of the dining room, ZoŽ on his heels.

The Doctor followed them, and Jack followed the Doctor, who stopped and looked pointedly at him. “I might be able to help,” said Jack. The Doctor appeared to consider it a moment, nodded, and the two of them headed for the bridge.

Everyone else looked to Rose. “Come on, then,” she said, mouth dry, and headed down to the TARDIS.

Back to index


Chapter 7: Objects in Space

Author's Notes: Around them, the Doctor sensed the others the way River did. He saw himself as he was at the end of his last life, his gentlest incarnation forced into the most terrible of actions. He saw Rose crouched on the ground, eyes golden and feral. Book, a question; Inara, sensuality and pain; Kaylee, bright color; Simon, overwhelming concern and conflict; Jayne, a solid mass; and Mal, shot through with colors that were oddly complementary to Riverís own.


The corridor to the cockpit felt a little cramped with the extra bodies, and as Mal wasn’t sure he trusted the Doctor and Jack yet, his tension level had ratcheted up somewhere beyond “astronomical.” And yet . . .

Mal couldn’t explain it, but his instincts told him that the Doctor, at least, was on the level. It had nothing to do with what River had said or not. There was something familiar about the Doctor that Mal couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something about the look in his eyes.

“What’s the word, Wash?” Mal asked as soon as they entered.

“Not good,” said Wash. “They just changed course. They’re coming right at us.”

Mal swore. If the Reavers hadn’t spotted them, there was always the chance they could have shut down, made like a hole in space and gone unnoticed.

“Hope you weren’t exaggerating about that box of yours, Doctor,” said Mal. “We may just need it.”

Jack slid into the copilot’s seat with barely-concealed and thoroughly inappropriate glee. “When we get a minute, I’ll rave about how insanely cool this is,” he said. “What’s the plan?”

“Plan is, we get these bungers off our ass,” said Mal. “Wash, you know those little navsat fakers Kaylee whipped up?”

“Launch ‘em?” asked the pilot.

“You got it. Now, before we’re in visual range.”

Wash deployed the decoys. His viewscreen displayed their trajectories as they shot away from the ship along with the Reaver ship’s incoming trajectory.

“Come on, little Reavers,” muttered Wash. “Follow the shinies.” He eased Serenity away, taking care to move at the same speed as the decoys.

For a moment, it seemed to be working. The Reaver ship continued on its path as Serenity veered off. Everyone in the cockpit held their breath.

“No, no, no,” Wash moaned. “They’re adjusting course. They’ve made us, Captain.”

“What’ve we got around here?” asked Jack. “Planets? Moons? Asteroids?”

“Closest planet is Angel. We might be able to beat them to it at full burn,” said Wash. “Problem is, that’d be shaking the Reavers off by running them smack into a big, tasty population center.”

“Ain’t an option,” said Mal. “Wash, am I right in thinking there’s a big hunk o’ rock around hereabouts?”

Wash checked his computer. “Yeah--a planetoid called X-115 that’s too small for terraforming. Alliance mined its guts out a few years back. Not a bad place to hide depending on where it is in its orbit, and that is,” he clicked through a couple of screens, “in range. If we’re going for a full burn, I’ll need Kaylee.”

“I’ll signal the TARDIS if you’ll give me a moment with your com system,” offered the Doctor.

“Do it,” said Mal. “Wash, we’re going for it. Set your heading--”

“Hold on,” Wash said, interrupting Mal. He was looking at his nav readings with a puzzled frown between his eyes.

ZoŽ peered over her husband’s shoulder. “Are they moving off?”

“What it looks like to me,” said Wash.

Mal took a look himself, and sure enough, the Reaver ship had taken a 45-degree turn away from them. “Where’re they going?”

“No idea,” said Wash, mystified. He checked his readings again. “There’s nothing out there I can see. They’re not even headed toward a planet.”

“Damned peculiar,” said Mal. He watched as the Reaver ship accelerated away from them, finally disappearing off their navigation display. “Well, I guess we get to call off the alert now. All the same, Wash, I’d like you to keep an eye out in case they decide we look tastier than whatever caught their attention.”

“Will do,” said Wash, relaxing fractionally.

“Mind if I stay up here and interrogate you about this ship?” Jack asked Wash. At ZoŽ’s look, he hastily added, “Your lovely, yet terrifying wife is welcome to chaperone, of course.”

Mal turned away from them, intending to head back down to the cargo bay, and caught the look on the Doctor’s face. The alien looked like he was deep in thought, scowling slightly at the starfield outside the cockpit. After a moment, though, he caught Mal’s gaze and the scowl disappeared.

“I suppose I ought to let your people out of the TARDIS, then,” he said, flashing a key.

“That’d be appreciated.” Mal left the bridge, the Doctor close behind. Something was itching in Mal’s brain about the whole incident. That was just not how Reavers behaved, and while he knew he should be relieved, it was something beyond disturbing to think--

“You’re not convinced this is mere good luck, are you?” the Doctor said, interrupting Mal’s thoughts.

“Let’s just say that luck and I ain’t never had much to do with one another,” said Mal. “I’m a little suspicious of it now.”

“So am I,” said the Doctor.

“Suppose it’s possible they seen something we didn’t, but I don’t find it likely,” Mal went on, as much for his own benefit as the Doctor’s. “Reaver ships are mostly older models, retrofitted for speed and power. The way you stay alive out here is to outwit ‘em. Serenity’s sensors are as good as Wash and Kaylee can make them, and that’s good. In other words, I ain’t got a clue what drew them off.”

“I know of one person that might,” said the Doctor.

“Who’s that?”

The Doctor looked sidelong at him. “The same person who sensed the sharks in the water. What if the Reavers weren’t the sharks?”

Mal couldn’t say he liked that idea.

When the Doctor opened the TARDIS doors, Rose almost immediately was in his arms. He held her tight, letting himself relax into her warmth for the moment.

“We were worried,” she murmured.

“No need,” said the Doctor, though he made no move to let her go.

“All clear,” announced Mal. “Reavers buggered off. Guess they saw something they liked better.” The captain’s voice was casual, but the Doctor knew it was entirely for the crew’s benefit. The man had a healthy sense of skepticism regarding unexpected gifts courtesy of the universe. It was a quality the Doctor could appreciate.

“So we’re safe, then?” asked Rose, pulling back.

“For the moment,” said the Doctor. “Where’s River?”

Rose pointed at the console. The Doctor could just see River’s bare feet off to one side, and when he went to investigate, he found her halfway under the console, huddling down like she was trying to hide in it. Simon was nearby, watching her with a worried look.

Mei-mei, the captain said we’re safe,” said the young doctor. “Don’t you want to go back to Serenity?”

“I don’t like sharks!” River snapped.

The Doctor hunched down by her. “River, the sharks--they weren’t the Reavers, were they?”

“Lampreys,” said River, shutting her eyes tightly. “The sharks are still out there.”

“Can you tell me what you sensed?” the Doctor probed gently.

“Can’t say, words aren’t there. The concept defies verbalization.” Suddenly, River’s eyes snapped open, and she grabbed the Doctor’s hands. “Look,” she whispered, bringing his hands to the sides of her face. “Look into me.”

“I don’t understand,” said Simon, worry still creasing his forehead.

The Doctor could relate. “I’m a telepath. River’s asking me to look into her mind for whatever it is she sensed.”

“You can do that?” asked Simon, sitting up straight.

“Yes, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.” The Doctor pulled his hands back a little, but River held onto them. “River, are you sure about this?”

River lowered her head almost submissively. “Look,” she insisted.

The Doctor shifted his weight, kneeling down in front of River. He was still reluctant, but this struck him as fairly important. “You can shut away anything you don’t want me to see, and you can call a halt to this at any point.”

His fingers touched her temples, and he sank in.

Fragments of broken memories, sharper than glass shards. A girl dancing ballet with weapons in her hands, spattered with gore. Minds jabbing like knives on every side.

The Doctor oriented himself among the chaos of River’s mind, disgust welling up within him. They’d unlocked her abilities but left her with no way to shield herself. It was elementary for him to throw up a few mental blocks, muffling the mental noise and softening the edges.

“That better?” he asked.

“Thank you,” said River.

Around them, the Doctor sensed the others the way River did. He saw himself as he was at the end of his last life, his gentlest incarnation forced into the most terrible of actions. He saw Rose crouched on the ground, eyes golden and feral. Book, a question; Inara, sensuality and pain; Kaylee, bright color; Simon, overwhelming concern and conflict; Jayne, a solid mass; and Mal, shot through with colors that were oddly complementary to River’s own. More distantly, he felt Jack, Wash and ZoŽ in the cockpit of Serenity.

He turned his attention back to River. “Show me.”

She took his hand and led him through corridors more Byzantine than even those of the TARDIS. A door suddenly rattled, and the Doctor stopped to consider it. River panicked. “There are monsters there!” she cried.

“Then we’ll move on,” said the Doctor, guiding her away. She felt like a bird caught in his hands. Gradually, she calmed and led him on to where she’d stashed away the impression of her “sharks.”

And he saw.

“You see,” said River. “You understand?”

“Not yet, but I will,” said the Doctor.

“You’re bleeding,” said River. She lifted his right hand in front of him. It was fisted around the stem of a rose so tightly that the thorns were piercing straight through his hand, and blood dripped from it.

The Doctor pulled back, and they both abruptly surfaced with a shared gasp. Two tears were streaming down River’s face. The Doctor wiped them away with his thumbs.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

And he understood. She now had someone who’d seen what was in her mind, and she wasn’t quite so alone anymore. She was like him, he realized--the only one of her kind in her world.

Simon hovered nearby, anxious, and the Doctor felt Rose close to him as well. He released River and stood up, feeling just a little off-kilter. The control room was silent, every eye on him and River.

“Are you all right?” Simon asked River gently. She nodded, smiling just a little, and leaned into him.

“What’s the verdict?” asked Mal.

“It’s what I thought,” said the Doctor, regaining his mental footing. “River picked up on a telepathic signal. I thought I felt it, but it wasn’t aimed at me. Not really at her, either, but she couldn’t help but sense it.”

“So, who was sending it, and who was it aimed at?” Mal asked, and the Doctor found himself appreciating the captain’s no-nonsense way.

“To the first question, I don’t know. Once the TARDIS is functioning properly, I might be able to track it down. As to whom it was aimed at, I think you know.” He cocked an eyebrow at Mal. “The Reavers. Someone or something is attempting to make telepathic contact with them.”

Back to index


Chapter 8: The Empty Girl

Author's Notes: ďDid you learn anything interesting or useful in the cockpit?Ē asked the Doctor.

ďWell, the Ankylosaurus and the Triceratops had a falling out over the Stegosaurus, the Brachiosaur is desperately in love with the Diplodocus, who wonít give him the time of day, the T-Rex continues to scheme for world domination while the Dienonychus and the Velociraptors plot his downfall, and the Pterosaurs just want to party,Ē said Jack.


River lay back on her bed, feet propped high on the wall, thinking. Mostly out loud.

“Red Riding Hood, Big Bad Wolf. No, I’ve exhausted that option. A different trope may be useful. Is she a princess? No, a princess loses her mother, not her father. Not a princess, not a damsel in distress.

“Rose, rose, rose--Beauty and the Beast. Father takes a rose, Beast takes Beauty, Beauty’s love changes Beast into a man. Has possibilities.

“Golden hair. Goldilocks. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Three bears, three pigs. Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. Aha! Correlation via integer. Prime number plus one makes even number. Except for two. Very important. I think I’m onto something. An analogy. Goldilocks is to the Three Bears as Big Bad Wolf is to the Three Little Pigs. Goldilocks devours porridge, Big Bad Wolf devours pigs. Devourers, both. Therefore, Goldilocks is the Big Bad Wolf.

“That accounts for the plus one. Rose is the plus one. But what of the three? I only count two.

“Pig with straw, pig with wood, pig with stone. Hmm. No, doesn’t work. Try the other--Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear. Perhaps have a Papa Bear . . . oh, Mama Bear! Now it makes sense. Heh. Thought I was going crazy for a minute there. We have the three, and we have the plus one. The analogy works, the equation balances.

“But the wolf burns.”

***

“I love the way they talk,” said Rose. “It’s adorable!”

“I’ve always liked the Rim dialect from this century,” said Jack. “There’s a poetry to it.”

Rose, Jack and the Doctor were alone on the TARDIS, as the crew of Serenity had knocked off for the shipboard night. Jack and the Doctor continued their repairs while Rose kept them company.

“Did you learn anything interesting or useful in the cockpit?” asked the Doctor, who was down one level from Rose and Jack.

“Depends on what you consider useful,” said Jack. “Wash gave me a tour of the ship’s control systems. Looks like he and Kaylee have been doing some souping-up, which, hey, I can respect. Other than that, though, it’s a pretty standard 26th-century transport ship. Perfect for doing legitimate business and a little crime on the side. Which they do.”

“They’re criminals?” asked Rose, brow furrowing.

“It’s the only way to survive out here, hon. These people don’t want to work for the Alliance, and strictly legitimate business isn’t gonna be lucrative enough to keep this ship off the ground.” Jack pushed the panel he was working on back into place. “So they do a little smuggling here, an illegal salvage there, the odd bit of theft--nothing unusual for these parts.”

“I’d have guessed as much,” said the Doctor. “Anything else?”

“Well, the Ankylosaurus and the Triceratops had a falling out over the Stegosaurus, the Brachiosaur is desperately in love with the Diplodocus, who won’t give him the time of day, the T-Rex continues to scheme for world domination while the Dienonychus and the Velociraptors plot his downfall, and the Pterosaurs just want to party,” said Jack.

“Sorry you asked yet?” Rose asked the Doctor.

“Very.” The Doctor pulled himself up onto the grate. “Jack, I’d like to make restoring power to the computers our top priority. I want to start analyzing the telepathic signal River picked up on. Belowdecks can wait.”

“How can you analyze a telepathic signal?” asked Jack.

“Ship’s telepathic,” said Rose.

“Well, I know that, but--”

“But nothing. Rose is right,” said the Doctor. “My mind now has a copy of the signal that I took from River’s mind. That’s enough for the TARDIS.”

“It really worries you, doesn’t it?” asked Jack.

“Very much so. The kind of technology it would take to send a signal like that doesn’t belong in this century or even this sector of the galaxy. So, we’ve either got anachronistic technology at work, or alien technology,” explained the Doctor. “Something’s interfering here. And given what’s been done to River Tam’s brain, I can’t think of any good that would come of it.”

***

“I love the way they talk. It’s so cute!” gushed Kaylee.

Serenity’s crew had gathered around the dinner table for one more meeting before bedtime. Mal gave Kaylee a fond look.

“Cute as they may be, bao bei, we still have a mystery on our hands,” he said. “More’n one, it looks like.”

“Did the Doctor say anything else about the signal he said River picked up on?” asked ZoŽ.

“Just said he’d analyze it when he got his computers back. Seeing as Serenity knows zip-squat from telepathy, I can’t think we have too many options but to carry on as before. We land on Angel tomorrow morning, finish the job and hopefully get paid and not shot,” said Mal. “Find out anything interesting about Captain Jack?”

“He likes Serenity,” said Wash. “I’d appreciate it if he stopped talking like she’s a museum piece, though.”

“He says he’s from the 51st century,” said ZoŽ.

“Yet he’s not un-knowledgeable about dinosaurs,” added Wash.

“Says he was a Time Agent,” ZoŽ went on. “Some sort of paramilitary group, I gathered. That goes with what you and I thought, Sir.”

“I’ve noticed that he and the Doctor both move very well,” put in Inara.

“Jack likes to dance.” River had appeared in the doorway, and the grin on her face was downright naughty. “Really likes to dance.”

Her presence sparked the memory of what she’d said concerning the Doctor and Rose. Book spoke up.

“I must say, Rose seems extremely fond of the Doctor,” he said. “She told me about some of her adventures with him. They were alone on that ship of his for months before they picked up Captain Jack, and she says she’s not been frightened of him but for once, when they ran across one of them that slaughtered the Doctor’s people. Said she’d never seen him so scared or angry.”

“Can’t say I blame him for that,” said Mal. He thought perhaps that was what he’d recognized in the Doctor--someone else who’d been on the losing side of a war.

“I’ve been watching them as well,” said Inara. “Rose trusts the Doctor completely, and he’s in love with her. He needs her.”

“For what?” asked ZoŽ.

Inara gave a slight shrug. “I don’t know. But he does. He both desires and needs her. As for Rose, I’d say she’s more than a little in love with him, but I don’t believe they’re lovers.”

“They ain’t,” said Kaylee. “Captain Jack thinks they ought to be sharin’ bed. ‘Course, he wants to be in it, too. Anyways, he says the Doctor’s holding back ‘cause he thinks he doesn’t deserve her or somethin’, and ain’t that just stupid? She should be the one makin’ the decision of whether or not he’s worthy of her, and if they want each other, why should anything in the ‘verse stop ‘em from beddin’ down? It’s just dumb, is what it is!” She’d worked up quite the head of steam. Simon very carefully kept his eyes on the table.

“Well, I don’t know about anything else,” said Mal before the silence could get too awkward, “but I don’t believe he’d do harm to Rose any more’n I’d do to Kaylee. Don’t mean he’s not dangerous, of course, but one could say the same about quite a few on this ship.”

“He is dangerous,” said River quietly. “Captain Jack is dangerous. The Doctor is dangerous. But she’s the most dangerous of all. Huai de lang.” She glared around the room accusingly. “She’ll burn for him, and nothing can withstand her flame. You don’t see it. He doesn’t see it. No one expects the girl. No one ever expects the girl!” She practically shouted the last word before whipping around and stalking out of the room.

Mal rubbed his forehead. “Sweet dreams, everyone.”

***

Huai de lang = "bad wolf"

Back to index


Chapter 9: War Stories

Author's Notes: He remembered Riverís warning after the TARDIS appeared--that the Doctor was a very dangerous person. And yet . . . to Malís eyes, the Doctor didnít look dangerous at the moment. He looked sad, tired, lonely, and very old.


Serenity was well into her "night" phase when Mal made his way down to the TARDIS and rapped on the doors. It only took a few moments before the Doctor opened one and poked his head out.

“Hope I’m not disturbing you,” said the captain, putting on his best manners.

“I rarely sleep,” said the Doctor. “Is there a problem?”

Mal got right to the point. “We’re settin’ down on Angel in the morning to finish a job. Me, ZoŽ and Jayne’ll be gone for a few hours. You and yours might wanna lie low for the duration.”

“It’s appreciated,” said the Doctor. “I assume this means we won’t have Kaylee’s help until you’re back.”

“Been thinking on that. Out here, a man can’t trust much but his good right arm and his instincts. I may not know exactly what you are, Doctor, but I don’t believe you’d do our Kaylee any harm. Soon as she’s done her duty to Serenity, she’s free to do as her heart pleases.”

The Doctor nodded, evidently understanding just what Mal was trusting him with. “Again, it’s appreciated. She’s been a great help, and she and Rose have certainly developed a rapport. Sadly, so have she and Jack. I emphasize that I’m not to blame for that.”

Mal gave him a resigned smile. “Little Kaylee’s one for making her interest known when a male catches her eye.”

“So is Rose, unfortunately. Her taste in men is generally appalling,” said the Doctor. “I was well on my way to thinking she was the worst flirt in the universe before we met Jack.”

“He’s sure made the rounds of my crew,” said Mal. “I’ll leave you to your work now.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Mal turned to leave, but found himself giving in to an impulse. “You were in a war, weren’t you?” He turned back to look at the Doctor.

Face a closed book, the Doctor said, “Yes. One that made yours--all human wars, really--look like a schoolyard scrap.”

“You weren’t exactly on the winning side, I take it?” asked Mal.

“No one was. Not the Daleks, not the Time Lords, not the worlds that got caught in the middle.” The Doctor sighed, running a hand along the doorframe. “The only one to survive was the one who ended it.”

Mal barely suppressed a shiver at the Doctor’s implication. He remembered River’s warning after the TARDIS appeared--that the Doctor was a very dangerous person. And yet . . . to Mal’s eyes, the Doctor didn’t look dangerous at the moment. He looked sad, tired, lonely, and very old.

“G’night, Doctor,” said the captain at length, and he withdrew from the TARDIS. He had a lot to think about.

***

Mal’s visit left the Doctor pensive. It figured an old soldier like Mal would be able to spot another old soldier; nonetheless, the Doctor wished he’d just been able to brush the captain off with a sarcastic statement. Nothing had come to mind except the truth, though. It was probably a result of using his telepathic abilities earlier. It always left him feeling a little drained and vulnerable, which was far from his favorite state of mind.

The door suddenly opened, and the Doctor looked up, startled. Who would be entering at this hour? And, for that matter, why would the TARDIS let them in?

It was River. Not saying a word, she walked up the ramp, eyes blazing.

“Hello,” said the Doctor.

She began to pace, agitated, while the Doctor watched, fascinated and a little disturbed.

"Don't think I don't see what they're doing,” she muttered. “They make them all lie down so they can be slaughtered, but they don't see the girl, because they think they've made her safe. Take her away, take her life, take her love, put things into her head and flesh so they can control her. Monsters in her mind, telling her what to do. Stand in one place, be good, do what we tell you, there's a girl--and then--" She laughed. "--and then they're surprised when their little pet grows fangs and claws and blows their house down! Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. It's all written down; they're just too stupid to read." She turned suddenly. "Roses have thorns. Even you'll forget."

And then, as quickly as she'd worked herself into this state, she sagged, a weary little girl. "May I sleep here?" She looked at the TARDIS console. "She drowns out the noises."

“Of course,” said the Doctor. He watched as she climbed up on the jumpseat and lay down, curling on her side. The Doctor stripped out of his jacket and went to lay it over her.

She caught his wrist suddenly. “You can save her. I know you can.”

The Doctor hunched down at River’s side. “Who?”

“Your Rose, stupid,” said River with an eyeroll he’d have been proud of. “Who’d you think I meant, the captain’s fake wife?”

“Save Rose from what?” asked the Doctor, alarmed. “What is it you see?”

River’s brow crinkled. “Not sure. Not yet. It’s a conundrum. I’ll figure it out.” With that, she released the Doctor’s wrist and closed her eyes.

He was dismissed, then. He could have taken another look into her mind, but she hadn’t given him permission, and the last thing the Doctor wanted to do was violate her shattered brain yet again.

“You are a little riddle, aren’t you?” he said aloud, but River was already asleep. The Doctor gave a sigh, not liking the fact that someone could be more enigmatic than himself.

***

Simon couldn’t sleep. He kept replaying in his mind everything River had said and done since dinner. Watching the Doctor take a walk through her mind had hardly been easy. Aside from his instinctive urge to protect his sister, Simon found that he was actually jealous. The Doctor was able to connect with River in a way Simon would never be able to.

That thought made him throw his covers off and go to check on River. She wasn’t in her room, but Simon thought he knew where she might be. He pulled on a shirt before heading into the cargo bay. To his surprise, the Doctor was leaning against the TARDIS, looking almost expectant.

“I was wondering when you’d get here,” said the Doctor as Simon approached.

“Have you seen--” Simon started to ask, but stopped as the Doctor opened one of the doors. Looking up into the TARDIS, Simon saw River curled up on the jumpseat with the Doctor’s jacket over her.

“She seems to find the TARDIS’s telepathic field soothing,” said the Doctor. “I don’t blame her.”

“Telepathic field?” Simon asked. “Your--your ship’s telepathic?”

“That she is.” The Doctor smiled proudly, shutting the door. “Fully sentient, actually. She’s taken a liking to your sister.”

Simon shook his head. “I’m not even going to ask how that’s possible.”

“I’d imagine you have enough on your mind right now,” said the Doctor.

The young surgeon looked at him. “You know what I’m here about, don’t you?”

“Yes.” The Doctor looked sympathetic. “I’m not going to tell you what I saw in River’s mind.”

“But I need to know,” Simon insisted. “I’ve got some brain scans of River, but I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know what it’s doing to her inside. As her physician, I need to know as much as I can in order to--”

“Fix her?” the Doctor interrupted. “You can’t. Not any more than you can fix Rose.”

Simon bristled. “I think I did a pretty good job of fixing Rose.”

The Doctor shook his head. “No. You removed a piece of shrapnel and cleaned and closed the wound, but after that, Rose’s body fixed itself. It’s called the healing process.”

“Fine, if you want to split hairs, that’s what I did,” said Simon, exasperated “Now I’m trying to, how should I put this, facilitate River’s healing, and whatever information you’ve got, I want to know.”

“If River wants you to know, she’ll tell you. I have to respect her privacy.” The Doctor held up a hand against Simon’s protest. “She trusted me with what she allowed me to see. If I were to reveal it to anyone outside of her wishes, it would be another violation. I think she’s had enough of those.”

Simon sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “I just--I just want to help her, and I don’t know how. She won’t tell me anything about what happened at the Academy. What they did to her.”

“They meddled,” said the Doctor. “And not for the first time with your family, I’d wager.”

That made Simon’s insides grow cold. “What?”

“Your parents--rich, right? Intelligent, but not to the point that you’d expect them to have two children along the spectrum of genius, right?”

“Well . . .” Simon thought about it. “Yes, we--they’re rich. As for intelligence, the Tams earned their fortune. I always assumed someone was smart enough to do that.”

“Money and intelligence don’t always go together. In fact, sometimes, they’re mutually exclusive. But that’s off the point. I’m going to make a few guesses, Simon Tam, and you can tell me if you think they have any resemblance to reality.” The Doctor looked at Simon as if to make certain he was following, and Simon nodded. “First of all, your parents are patrons of the hospital where you worked on Osiris. Am I correct?”

“Since before I was born,” said Simon.

“Exactly. When they decided to have a child, they went to a fertility specialist attached to that hospital--probably sent there by your mother’s OB/GYN. The specialist then suggested that people like them shouldn’t settle for a merely ordinary child. He or she intimated that they could have a child--son or daughter, according to preference--who was a step above the ordinary. A few subtle tweaks here and there, and you have a child with greater resistance to disease, greater general physical hardiness, and how about we boost the intelligence as well? And don’t forget to make him a handsome devil!”

“I was almost never sick as a child,” Simon murmured, almost unaware he was speaking aloud. He felt a little queasy.

The Doctor went on. “Nine months later, you were born. Your parents were quite pleased, and when they wanted to have another child some years later, they went back to the specialist. This time, they wanted a girl with brown eyes. The specialist said sure, absolutely, but why not push things a little further? And they did. This time, they created a supergenius, and most likely did a little fussing about with her sense of balance and spatial awareness so she could be a dancer. Ostensibly.

“After that, the government kept a careful eye on the siblings Tam. They decided to give you a pass--you weren’t quite up to their standards--but River was too tasty a morsel to leave on the table. They snapped her up and put her through her paces in the Academy’s public program. Once they were sure of their acquisition’s potential, they moved her to a not-so-public area to begin her ‘enhancements.’ I would guess that very few of her peers survived those.”

“You’re saying,” said Simon, and stopped before starting again. “You’re saying River and I--we’re genetically engineered?”

“Oh, nothing so crude,” said the Doctor. “A few comparatively minor adjustments to your genes could accomplish their purposes, and your parents were just vain enough not to look beyond the possibility of having designer children.”

Simon found that nauseatingly plausible. “So I was just a test case, then?”

“A little more than that. Your parents were well-connected politically, I’m sure. Exactly the sort of people the government would like to have on its side. No doubt they hoped you’d be a lovely poster boy for the Alliance someday.”

“Before River, I’d have dismissed this as paranoid nonsense--conspiracy theories for crackpots,” said Simon. “Now, I don’t know what to think. I do find it hard to believe the government, or a government agency, is messing with genetics on such a level.”

The Doctor leaned back against the TARDIS again. “Believe it. They just get better at it, too. Jack, for instance, has had more than a few genetic enhancements, some of which were bred in on his homeworld--a necessity just to survive on some human colonies--and some of which were introduced by the Time Agency. He couldn’t get sick if he wanted to, his reflexes are twenty percent faster than the average human’s, and I bet you’d never guess his age.”

“Thirty?” guessed Simon.

“Try doubling that,” said the Doctor.

“Wow.”

“Exactly. He’s sterile, of course. Can’t have a Time Agent spreading his seed throughout history, which is an important consideration when it comes to Captain Jack. I suspect all the adjustments might have upped his hormone levels. No one’s that randy by accident.”

Simon shook his head, going back to what the Doctor had posited. “What you’re saying is that what’s happened to River--it was planned for her since before she was born.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” said the Doctor.

A thought and a sudden hope struck Simon. “But you have a time machine.”

“No,” said the Doctor preemptively.

“But if I could just--”

“No.”

“Why not?” Simon demanded explosively. “If I could just stop her from ever going to the Academy, I’d spare her all of this. Why should she have to go through all that torture if she doesn’t have to?”

“Let me explain to you a few things about time travel,” said the Doctor. “I’m not refusing your request just because I’m a mean bastard, you know--though I can be one when I have to be. The moment I step out of the TARDIS, I become part of the time stream. My setting down on Serenity and all the surrounding events, including your presence and River’s, is set in stone as much as anything in time can be. Were I to take you back so you could prevent River from attending the Academy, it would create a paradox. And trust me, you don’t want to find out the hard way what that means.” The Doctor’s expression softened a little. “You saved Rose’s life. That makes me inclined to like you--but what you’re asking is something I can’t do.”

Simon was no fool. Time theory was just that--theory--to him, a fascinating subject from physics class. For the Doctor, it was practice. Even the little Simon knew from his classes told him the Doctor was correct, and Simon believed his statement that a time paradox really wasn’t something he wanted to deal with. “I just . . .” He swallowed. “I need to do something for her.”

“If what Kaylee told Jack is correct, you got her out. You’re doing your best to close her wounds,” said the Doctor. “River’s past is set, but her future is up to her. She’s stronger than you know.” He pushed away from the TARDIS and opened the door to go in. “Get some sleep, Dr. Tam. It sounds like tomorrow will be a big day.”

Back to index


Chapter 10: The Short Game

Author's Notes: Jack suddenly laughed. Everyone looked at him, and he grinned his naughtiest grin. ďIím thinking that what you all need is a dashing conman. With psychic paper.Ē


Come morning, Mal was Not Happy. The primary cause for this wasn’t the fact that Jayne was being especially mulish about taking over-large weapons along on what was to be a simple drop-and-swap. It wasn’t even the fact that Mal had awakened that morning with the absolute certainty that this day would stink like a mudder’s outhouse long before it was over. No, Mal was irritated by the fact that his mechanic was absolutely nowhere to be found, in spite of his clear instructions the night before.

The captain stalked down to the one place where Kaylee wouldn’t have heard his increasingly-profane pages: the TARDIS. He still didn’t like the thing overly much. Gave him the willies, if he were honest, but he couldn’t very well let that show to his crew. He rapped on the door.

Captain Jack opened it and gave Mal a shiny smile. “Good morning! Anything I can do for you?” He looked like he might have ideas in that direction.

“You seen Kaylee?” Mal asked, his mind suddenly flashing back to having to turn the hose on a couple of horny dogs back at the old homestead. Jack tended to have that effect on him.

“No, but I just got up here myself,” said Jack. He looked back over his shoulder. “Hold on--I think I hear something back there.”

Mal stepped into the TARDIS as Jack pulled away from the door, and he could hear the Doctor’s voice coming toward them from somewhere deep in the bowels of the machine. “. . . could get completely lost even if the TARDIS doesn’t interfere, which she might if she decides you’d make a good pet. You might never find your way out, and where would Serenity be then?”

The Doctor finished his lecture just as he steered Kaylee into the control room. She was munching on a plum and looking remarkably innocent.

Mal picked up where the Doctor left off. “Kaywinnet Lee Fry, did the man not tell you not to go belowdecks without one of them?”

“They got plums,” said Kaylee by way of explanation. “Rose said it’d be all right if I helped myself to a snack.”

“Which you’re welcome to, but even Rose told you not to go below without a guide. Do you know how many times she got lost the first month she was aboard?” asked the Doctor.

“I need you in the engine room. We’re gonna be entering atmo soon,” said Mal. “Finish your fruit and start talking to Serenity.”

“Speaking of wandering young women, have you seen Rose?” asked the Doctor.

Mal gestured vaguely. “Havin’ tea with Inara or somesuch in the kitchen.”

“Mind if I join you in the cockpit for the descent?” Jack asked eagerly. “I promise not to flirt with your pilot.”

“Good. ‘Cause ZoŽ’ll be up there too, and I don’t wanna be cleaning bits of you out of the console for the next month,” said Mal. “If we’ve got that straight, treat yourself. Engine room, Kaylee!” Kaylee muttered something Mal would guess to be none too complimentary as she left the TARDIS.

“Jack, be back here before they open the cargo doors, and tell Rose the same,” said the Doctor.

“Yeah, sure, no problem,” said Jack as he left the TARDIS and sprinted for the stairs up to the cockpit. Mal wouldn’t have placed a great deal of money on the odds that he’d actually pass along the Doctor’s message, if it had penetrated at all. Judging by the look on the Doctor’s face, he’d have passed on that bet as well. They shared a look of longsuffering solidarity before Mal headed for the cockpit himself.

***

Angel was a Rim world with delusions of grandeur. The capital city was big, smelly, crowded and noisy, and Mal didn’t like it in the least. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any way to avoid it, since the powers-that-were on Angel didn’t like it when ships tried to sneak past them. Therefore, Serenity set down at the ship docks, and Mal, ZoŽ and Jayne loaded up the mule and headed for their drop point.

The drop was several crates of computer components that were somewhere to the left of legal. Theoretically, the Alliance relay stations made the Cortex available to all. Practically, on a world like Angel that had high levels of electromagnetic interference due to its atmosphere, anyone outside a major city with booster towers had little reliable Cortex access. Thus, anyone who wanted Cortex access had to compensate somehow. The problem was that the components required to even things out were banned because of how they were used by hackers--never mind that on a world like Angel, such activities were highly impractical and nearly impossible.

God forbid the Alliance take things on a case-by-case basis, thought Mal. At least it added up to more business for smugglers.

As they neared the drop point, a junkyard at the edge of the city, something set off Mal’s internal alarms. It was too quiet. The proprietor of this yard, he knew, had several large dogs he kept around for security. Even if the dogs weren’t in the yard at the moment, they should have started barking by now.

ZoŽ shifted in her seat beside him. “Sir, I got a bad feeling about this,” she said.

“Getting that feeling myself,” said Mal. “Let’s get in and get this over with.”

They parked the mule and disembarked, heading for the junkyard office. There were still no barking dogs, and Mal’s nerves were all on edge.

“Somethin’ smell bad to you?” Jayne asked.

Ordinarily, Mal would’ve come back with a comment about Jayne’s bathing habits (or the lack thereof), but something did smell bad. Like death. And when they opened the office door, they found the source of the stench.

Just inside was one of the dogs, a huge mastiff. It had been disemboweled. Nearby was Charley Yang, the proprietor. At least, most of him. There was another human body near the back door. It was missing a head. Gore was splattered everywhere, on all surfaces.

Mal took it all in, grateful for the iron stomach his years at war had given him. “I think we’d best get out of here,” he said. There were no arguments from Jayne or ZoŽ, and they turned around to leave--

--just as a half-dozen police vehicles roared into the yard. “Hands up!” an officer ordered over the loudspeaker.

Mal complied, nodding for Jayne and ZoŽ to do the same. As he did so, he gave his one-word assessment of the situation:

“Crap.”

***

“All available bodies and brains, please come to the cockpit. We have a problem.”

Wash’s announcement filtered into the open TARDIS, where the Doctor, Jack, Kaylee and Rose were hard at work.

“That doesn’t sound good,” said Jack, his head popping up from under the control room’s grate. The rest of his body followed.

“It sure don’t,” said Kaylee. “Hope Captain and them are okay.” Rose helped her to her feet, and they followed the Doctor and Jack up to the cockpit, where Book, Inara, Simon and River had already gathered around the pilot’s chair.

“What’s wrong?” asked the Doctor.

“Captain, ZoŽ and Jayne have been arrested in connection with a couple of murders,” said Wash. “I was monitoring the Cortex when I saw the police report. They were caught at the scene of the crime.”

Jack slipped in beside Wash, all business. After reading the police report, he shook his head. “It’s completely circumstantial. Never hold up in court.”

“No, but a charge of smuggling would,” Wash pointed out.

“They’d have Serenity,” said Inara.

“Well, then, we gotta get them out!” said Kaylee, voice a little shaky. “Maybe we could pull the thing we did when Captain and ZoŽ got caught on that train job, send Inara in for ‘em.”

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t work,” said Book. “They were only being held for questioning then. Being arrested for murder--that’s a whole different ballgame.”

Jack suddenly laughed. Everyone looked at him, and he grinned his naughtiest grin. “I’m thinking that what you all need is a dashing conman. With psychic paper.”

“Excellent idea!” said the Doctor, brightening. “Would you like to come along, Jack?”

“Psychic paper?” Simon asked. “Do I even want to know?”

“What do you two have in mind?” asked Book.

***

Mal had gone through every swear word in every language he knew and was starting to invent new ones as he, ZoŽ and Jayne were herded into a cell. Trust a bunch of jumped-up little tin gods to bungle a murder investigation this badly and still act like they’d made a tremendous score.

“You can’t seriously think we had anything to do with that,” he said as an officer locked the cell door.

“I think you need to find some good legal representation, is what I think,” said the officer stiffly. He went to go talk to his superiors as Mal fumed.

Jayne lay down on the skinny bunk, feet dangling over the edge. “They gotta let us off. Ain’t got nothin’, and they know it.”

“Sure, they’ll let us off for murder,” agreed ZoŽ. “Then they’ll re-arrest us for smuggling.”

That made Jayne sit up. “Hey, wait--with my record, that’ll mean I get sent off to some mining colony to rot!”

“Just figured that out, did you?” asked Mal.

Jayne poked a finger at Mal. “This is your fault.”

“I ain’t the one who got you that record,” Mal shot back.

“You’re the one got me into this!”

Ta ma de,” muttered ZoŽ, pinching the bridge of her nose as if she had a headache.

Before Mal could come up with a suitably cutting reply, there was a commotion down the hall. It caught the attention of the pompous officer and his superiors. Raised voices made their way into the holding room, and to Mal’s shock, he recognized a very distinct accent.

“Are you a federal agent? I don’t think so,” said the Doctor as he pushed past an officer and entered the room, Captain Jack close on his heels. They flashed identical ID holders at the officers. “I’m Agent Smith, and this is Agent Harkness. Thank you for catching this lot, but we’ll take it from here.”

“What the hell?” blurted Mal before he could even think.

“Don’t act so surprised,” said Jack, striding over and displaying his ID for their benefit.

Only it wasn’t ID. It was a white sheet of paper with the words “Shut up and play along” written across it.

Mal’s brain was still playing catch-up. “Hey!”

“Sir, I think we’d better do as the man says,” said ZoŽ.

“Looks like you brought the brains of the outfit along,” said Jack, and he gave them the slightest of winks.

The Doctor was talking to--or rather, at--the officers. “You’ll release these prisoners into our custody immediately. They’re wanted on federal charges.”

“What’d we do?” asked Jayne, still a stage behind. The paper in Jack’s holder erased itself, and then the words “Just shut your mouth, Jayne” appeared on it. Jayne opened his mouth to say something else, and Mal cut him off with an elbow to the solar plexus.

“These prisoners are suspects in a murder investigation,” said the most superior of the officers. “I believe that according to federal regulations--”

The Doctor cut him off. “Ah, yes, the murders. We heard about the murders, didn’t we, Harkness?”

“We certainly did, Smith,” said Jack.

“Lurid, that.” The Doctor gave a theatrical shiver. “Blood absolutely everywhere--floor, walls, ceiling. Everywhere, in fact, except on your suspects!”

Jack shook his head. “Strikes me as a bit strange.”

“Me, too. Fascinating bit of incongruity,” said the Doctor.

“They were caught at the scene of the crime,” the officer insisted.

“Circumstantial evidence at best,” said Jack dismissively.

The Doctor looked at the officer’s name badge. “Officer Graves, I don’t even think you know who you’ve got here,” said the Doctor more than a little condescendingly. “You’ve arrested the infamous Reynolds Gang. Smugglers. Murder isn’t their M.O.”

Graves blustered on. “Nonetheless, they’re being held as material witnesses--”

“Oh, please,” snorted Jack. “We saw the police report. They were there to make a drop of some stolen goods, probably hadn’t been at the scene for two minutes before your people roared up. Take a statement if you need to, but Smith and I want to get this show on the road.”

“We’ve tracked ‘em all the way from the Core, trying to break up their ring,” said the Doctor. “I thank you kindly for keeping them for us. We’ll take them off your hands now.”

“We have a murder investigation going on here,” said Graves, planting his fists on his hips and attempting to look threatening. Considering the Doctor and Jack each stood half a head taller than him, the attempt was more than a little amusing.

Jack looked at the Doctor, deadpan. “They have a murder investigation going on here.”

“They do indeed,” said the Doctor, and turned back to the pompous little officer. “Tell you what--since Harkness and I are such nice guys, we’ll drop by your murder scene on our way and see if we can help you with that.” He stepped just a little closer, forcing Graves to crane his neck to meet the Doctor’s eyes. “You know you have absolutely nothing of substance on these three, so unless you want to be charged with impeding a federal investigation, I suggest you release the prisoners into our custody with all due haste.”

For a moment, it looked like Graves would continue arguing, but then he sagged a little. “Very well,” he said, and gestured at the officer who’d locked them in. The younger officer all but pouted as he came over to unlock the cell while Jack snagged a few sets of handcuffs.

“Put these on the big one,” Jack ordered, tossing a set of cuffs to the young officer. He himself grabbed Mal and pulled his wrists behind him. “You have no idea how badly I’ve wanted to do this,” Jack said, mouth close to Mal’s ear as he cuffed him.

“Hey!” Mal protested. “No funny stuff.”

“Restrain yourself, Harkness,” said the Doctor.

“Yes, Agent Smith,” said Jack, and chuckled lightly as he cuffed ZoŽ. She looked like she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to glare or burst out laughing.

“We’ll also need you to get their mule out of your impound lot,” said the Doctor.

Graves blinked. “But--”

“It’s evidence,” said the Doctor as if he were explaining it to a five-year-old. “The only reason you’d need to keep it is if you were planning on selling off those components yourself and lining your pockets. I’m sure you’re much too good a man to do that.”

“Of course,” said Graves, flushing.

The Doctor clapped his hands together. “Fantastic! In that case, I’m sure you won’t mind bringing the mule--and their weapons--around to our shuttle while we secure these three. Thank you so much for your cooperation.”

“Yes, you’ve been very cooperative,” said Jack, directing a couple of officers to escort the Serenity crew with him.

“We’ll make sure to put it in our report. Shall we be off, Harkness?”

“Let’s be off, Smith.”

A short while later, Mal was aboard Serenity’s spare shuttle, letting the Doctor release him from his cuffs. “Nice performance,” he said.

“Wish I could’ve seen it,” said Wash from the cockpit of the shuttle.

“Just a few elementary theatrics,” said Jack, eyes twinkling. Mal still wasn’t amused by his stunt in the holding room. “People like them will believe anything you say because they can’t imagine doing anything like that themselves.”

“So, back home?” asked Wash, starting up the shuttle.

“I’d like to see that murder scene,” said the Doctor. “Call it an instinct.”

“ ‘Tain’t a sight I’d like to see twice, I’ll tell you that,” said Mal.

The Doctor looked at him. “I can guarantee I’ve seen worse.”

“Your call, then. Wash, take us to the junkyard,” said Mal. He looked back at the Doctor. “There’s something ain’t right about it.”

“There never is anything especially right about murder,” said the Doctor, “but I have the strange feeling this one is more wrong than most.”

Back to index


Chapter 11: Bushwhacked . . . Again!

Author's Notes: ďTime is not a river,Ē River said. ďIt's an ocean. Riptides and currents. Breakers on the beach. Sometimes it freezes, all at once. Bits fly off and fall back in, and we'll all drown in it. We always drown.Ē


The junkyard was blocked off by police tape when they returned, but otherwise deserted. The smell hadn’t gotten any better. Wash stayed in the shuttle while Mal’s crew, the Doctor and Jack went back to the office. Inside, the human corpses had been removed, but the dog’s was still there. The Doctor stooped down by it, sorrow in his face.

“This one fought back,” he said softly, touching the mastiff’s head. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the blood around the dog’s mouth.

Jack was looking around as well, all swagger and flirtation gone. His jaw was set, eyes hard, all business. “Whatever did this wasn’t exactly interested in subtlety.”

“Didn’t get that impression myself,” said Mal.

“This is very interesting,” said the Doctor, still with the dog. He instantly had everyone’s attention. “The blood around this dog’s mouth--it’s human, but the human it came from had been exposed to high levels of radiation for an extended period of time.”

Mal looked around at the blood-spattered office again. “I’m startin’ to get an idea don’t make any sense.”

“What’s your idea?” asked the Doctor.

“Reavers.” Mal looked at the Doctor. “They run their reactors unshielded. Gets more power out of ‘em, but they fry themselves with radiation. And this here,” he indicated the blood decorating every surface, “this here looks like Reaver work. But it don’t make no sense--Reavers landed in a town this size, there’d be a lot more dead than just these. ‘Sides, even a little pissant place like this’d have civil defenses. They see a Reaver ship coming in, they’d shoot it out of the sky, unless civil defenses are as dumb as their police.”

“Unless the Reavers weren’t acting like your usual Reavers,” mused the Doctor. He stood. “Let’s take a look at the yard.”

“What are we looking for?” asked Jack.

“I’ll know when I see it. Or when I don’t see it.” The Doctor gave Jack a tight smile and strode out the back door.

Junkyards never smelled especially pleasant, but the air outside was a genuine relief from the air in the office. They fanned out, trying to spot anything that seemed out of place.

“Somethin’ big was drug out of here today,” said Jayne after a few minutes. Mal, ZoŽ and the Doctor gathered around him, and he pointed to a spot on the ground. Mal knew Jayne was right; the indent in the ground was fresh, as were the ruts where whatever it was had been dragged out.

“Doctor!” Jack was calling from over by the half-buried corpse of a helicraft. “I hear something over here.”

As the others drew nearer, Mal could hear a repetitive, high-pitched sound. It was coming from behind the helicraft’s hatch. The Doctor aimed his sonic screwdriver at the hatch’s lock, and after a moment, it popped. Jack opened it up.

A high-pitched, hysterical scream and the barking of a small dog poured out, and as Mal reached the craft, he saw what it was: a girl of no more than twelve or thirteen huddled inside the craft, clutching a pit bull puppy.

Jack was making soothing sounds, body language swiftly going from professional to comforting. “Shh, easy, easy. It’s all right; we’re here to help,” he said. “It’s okay, sweetheart. No one’s going to hurt you. Shh.” He continued talking in the same soft, gentle way until the girl stopped cowering and whimpering against the back of the craft. “I’m Jack. What’s your name?”

“Sh-Shellah,” the girl whispered.

“Hi, Shellah,” said Jack. “Who’s this?” He indicated the puppy.

“Li-Li,” said Shellah.

Jack held out a hand. “Why don’t you two come out of there? It’s safe now.”

Shellah’s eyes looked over everyone gathered as she took Jack’s hand. “Where’s my dad?”

The words punched Mal in the gut. He felt the Doctor’s eyes on him.

“Who’s your dad?” Jack asked.

“Charley Yang. He told me to run and hide. Where is he?” Shellah’s voice was little more than a whimper.

Jack looked at the Doctor and then at Mal. Mal shook his head. Jack’s eyes closed briefly before he turned back to the girl. “Why don’t you come with us? We’ll go down to the police station, figure out what happened.”

“I want my dad,” Shellah said, an edge of hysteria creeping back into her voice. “Where’s my dad?”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” said Jack softly, reaching in to pull her out of the craft. “I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head, tears running down her face, and Mal knew she knew. “Where’s my dad? Where’s my dad?” She tried to push past Jack, who caught her, and the puppy slipped out of her arms and darted away. Jayne scooped it up with one large hand. “Tell me where my dad is!” Shellah shrieked. “Dad! Dad!”

“I’m so sorry,” Jack said again, restraining the hysterical girl with his arms.

The Doctor reached out, fingers brushing Shellah’s temples, and she sagged against Jack, unconscious.

“What did you do?” ZoŽ asked, and even she sounded shaken.

“I just put her to sleep,” said the Doctor. “It’ll be easier to get her out this way.” The lines on his face seemed to deepen. “I pity her the waking.”

Jack and Jayne carried the only two survivors of the massacre back to the shuttle.

***

The only thing to do, it seemed, was to take Shellah back to the police station. Wash discovered via the Cortex that her parents were divorced, and her mother still lived in the city. “Probably thinks her daughter died with her ex-husband,” said the pilot, shaking his head in disgust. “Could they have bungled this any worse?”

The Doctor’s face darkened. “It takes a special talent to be that incompetent.”

By the time they set down outside the police station, Shellah had regained consciousness. She sat numbly beside Jack, responding to nothing until Jayne offered her the puppy back. She hugged Li-Li to her chest, and the Doctor and Jack gently guided her out of the shuttle. Mal decided he’d have to reconsider his opinion of Jack.

About an hour later, the Doctor and Jack returned, neither looking especially happy. Mal signaled Wash, and they took off.

“What happened?” Mal asked.

“Her aunt came for her,” the Doctor grated out. “Her mother’s in hospital. She collapsed when the police told her that her ex-husband had been murdered and her daughter was missing.”

Mal went through a half-dozen swear words at that. “You figure out what happened?”

“She spoke a little,” said Jack. “She said that a man came in and demanded a signal booster her dad was holding for someone else. He refused, and the man started threatening him. She said the man left, but then they heard something from outside, and her father told her to run and hide. She grabbed Li-Li and sealed herself into the helicraft before the screaming started.” He shook his head, eyes dark with anger. “The verbal evisceration the Doctor gave the police was a thing of beauty.”

“Would’ve liked to have seen that,” said Mal.

“Any more ideas on who could’ve done this?” ZoŽ asked.

“A day ago, a telepathic signal drew a ship of Reavers away from Serenity,” said the Doctor. “Now we have Reaver-like murders and irradiated blood. Awfully big coincidence, if you ask me.”

Mal was starting to put the puzzle together in his own head. “Are you thinkin’ someone’s controlling the Reavers?”

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking,” said the Doctor. “Can you imagine it? An army of Reavers under the control of a central command--soldiers who know no fear, no pain, no morality, and who give no quarter to the enemy. I’ve faced enemies like that.”

“Can’t say I’d like that experience,” said Mal.

Very little more was said on the short hop back to Serenity. They disembarked and made their way down to the cargo bay, where Rose and Kaylee were waiting just outside the TARDIS.

“Pulled it off, did you?” Rose asked, grinning. She tilted her head, a look of concern in her eyes. “Jack? You okay?”

“I could use a hug,” said Jack, voice a bit rough.

He didn’t need to say it twice. Rose immediately went to him, arms open, and they enfolded each other in a tight embrace. “What happened?” she asked, leaning against his chest.

“A little girl had to listen while her dad got murdered today,” Jack told her, still holding her close.

“Oh, God,” gasped Rose.

“Oh, God,” echoed Kaylee. “The poor thing!”

“The Doctor’s got some theories on who did it,” said Jack. He kissed Rose’s forehead. “We’ll figure it out.”

The Doctor had disappeared into the TARDIS, but now came striding out again. “Kaylee, did you do anything with the TARDIS while we were away?” he asked.

“Just worked on re-routing the power, same as we were doing before,” she said. “Oh, and that monitor with the weird circles alluva sudden came to life--”

She was cut off as the Doctor suddenly grabbed her in a hug and swung her around, grinning like a madman. “Kaylee Fry, you are a genius!” He dropped her as quickly as he’d grabbed her and dashed back into his ship.

“Well! Guess that’s okay, then,” said Kaylee, stumbling just a little, but grinning as well.

“Wonder what he’s up to,” said Rose. She moved out of Jack’s embrace and grabbed his hand, and both of them followed the Doctor back to the TARDIS.

Inside, he was concentrating on one of the monitors. Mal got curious and moved around so he could see it. He couldn’t make heads or tails out of the display, though; it was all moving geometric designs. He gave Jack a confused look.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the Doctor’s language,” said Jack, moving to his side. “The TARDIS translates everything for us except that display. Last time I asked about it, the Doctor told me it wouldn’t translate and that was that.”

The Doctor cursed in a language Mal had never heard. Some things didn’t need translation.

“What is it?” Jack asked.

“The telepathic signal,” said the Doctor. “The TARDIS took a look at it, and I was right. It’s not just alien; it’s anachronistic. It shouldn’t even exist for another thousand years. Have you ever heard of the Nokti, Jack?”

Jack nodded. “Highly intelligent, technologically sophisticated, telepathic and peaceful. They supposedly got wiped out by the Daleks a few centuries before my time.”

“More or less, yes. The Nokti begged the help of my people. We tried.” The Doctor shook his head. “I was there. We couldn’t save them. The battle ended in a stalemate between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and the Nokti homeworld was destroyed. They died out completely less than a century later.”

“So what’s one of their telepathic signals doing in the twenty-sixth century?” Jack asked.

“I think a piece of their technology must have fallen through time,” said the Doctor. “Might even have been what clipped us in the Time Vortex. They created ways to boost and relay telepathic communication the way the Cortex relays verbal communication. I would estimate that whatever it was that we encountered in the Time Vortex landed somewhere in this system,” he looked at the display again, “thirty to forty years ago.”

Simon looked thoughtful. “Do you have any idea of where it landed in the system?”

“I couldn’t say for certain,” said the Doctor. “I would give good odds, however, that the TARDIS came out of the Time Vortex somewhere close. The likelihood is that the object was found somewhere among the Rim planets rather than in the Core.”

“Thirty to forty years ago, there was a helluva lot of terraforming going on around these parts,” put in Mal. “Angel had just been populated, and Whittier’d just gotten its atmosphere. Anyone found that thing, it would’ve been a survey vessel or maybe a transport. ‘Course, that’s only if someone snapped it up the minute it hit the system.”

“Which I think they must have done,” said the Doctor. “It would’ve taken years just to figure out what it was, let alone how to use it.”

“And how would they use it?” Mal prompted.

“Something like a telepathic relay isn’t meant to generate a telepathic signal,” said the Doctor. “What it does is boost incoming signals by layering in another frequency, which acts as a carrier wave. Think in terms of sound. If telepathy is audible sound, the carrier wave would be infrasound, below audible frequencies. The main areas of the brain it would affect would be the most primitive parts, the parts that control the fight-or-flight response and raw emotions. Normally, the recipient’s higher brain functions would compensate for the lower frequency; reason and logic would kick in and filter out the part of the signal that didn’t make sense. If someone were to adapt the relay to generate a telepathic signal, the only people to pick it up on a conscious level would be either those sensitive to telepathy who lack the ability to shield themselves--like River--or those unburdened by higher brain functions. Like Reavers.”

“So if that’s true, why wasn’t Jayne affected?” asked Wash. Rose snickered.

“The only flaw in an otherwise brilliant theory,” said the Doctor.

“But doing something like that would take, as you said, years of research,” Simon put in. “It would require scientific resources, sophisticated ones. Not to sound paranoid, but especially three to four decades ago, only the government would have had those kinds of resources.”

The Doctor looked over at him. “My thoughts exactly.”

“That don’t exactly line up with the murder scene, though,” said ZoŽ. “The government wanted a signal booster, they wouldn’t need to get it from a junkyard.”

“I agree,” said the Doctor. “Which leaves us with a couple of possibilities: one, that someone other than the government found the telepathic relay; or two, that the government found it and has subsequently lost it.”

“They don’t like losing things,” said River dully, perched on a ledge.

Simon was looking at his sister, lost in thought. The Doctor caught his eyes.

“I’m fairly certain you’re thinking along the right lines,” said the Doctor.

“Are you reading my mind now?” Simon asked.

“I’d have to be touching you. My abilities aren’t exactly in the same class as those of the Nokti. Yes, Rose, I’m admitting that someone might be better at something than I am; don’t die of shock.” The Doctor raised his eyebrows at her, and she withheld comment, though she and Jack traded a grin. The Doctor returned to his previous subject. “Something like that could, in fact, teach an interested researcher quite a few things about the possibilities for psychic ability in the human brain.”

“She ain’t just a reader pullin’ things out of folks’ brains, though,” said Mal. “She sees things comin’.”

“That’s elementary enough,” said the Doctor. He moved to stand in front of River. “Once you start waking parts of the human brain, you never know what you’ll end up with. The Probability Tree isn’t terribly subtle. Everyone but the dullest can predict at least some of the possible consequences for his actions. My people could see more. Far more. As for River . . .”

“Time is not a river,” she said. “It's an ocean. Riptides and currents. Breakers on the beach. Sometimes it freezes, all at once. Bits fly off and fall back in, and we'll all drown in it. We always drown.”

“Exactly,” said the Doctor softly. “Time isn't linear; you just think it is. You catch it as it rolls by moment by moment, and you don't even know what those moments are. Every second of your lives, every millisecond, is infinite. Endless possibilities swirl just under the surface, and all you can see is one. Just one.” He gave a humorless laugh and laid a hand alongside River’s face. “And you lot call her mad. Humans. You always did stone your prophets.”

"Sacrifice the Sacred King," said River. "They turned Delight into Delirium before the universe cooled." She turned her face into the Doctor's hand and held it there for a long moment. Then she looked at him, clear-eyed and firm as she said, "We don't need fixing, you and I."

The Doctor smiled, easing the creases at the corners of his eyes. "No. We don't."

River smiled back, jumped down from the ledge and pirouetted gracefully. “I’m going to dance at the cotillion with the handsomest man in the room!”

“I think I heard someone call my name,” said Jack, grinning. Rose elbowed him, and he laughed before gallantly reaching out to take River’s hand and bowing. “May I have this dance?”

Giggling girlishly, River curtsied. “You may.”

The Doctor pressed a button on his sonic screwdriver, and music started playing, sounding like it came from all around them. It was some sort of fusion between Latin and Indian, very danceable. River tugged Jack down the ramp and out of the TARDIS into Serenity’s cargo bay, and they danced.

It wasn’t long before they had an audience. They moved beautifully together through complex patterns something like a Samba by way of a Tango with a dash of East Coast Swing. Simon looked a little wary, probably due to the frankly sensual nature of the dance, but though Jack held River’s eyes with a warm smile, his hands weren’t wandering, and she seemed perfectly relaxed and happy.

“I don’t know this dance,” said Inara, fascinated.

“That’s because no one does at this point in history,” said the Doctor. “It’ll be all the rage in the thirty-first century. River’s probably pulling it right out of Jack’s head.”

“Don’t like to think what else she could be pulling out of there,” said Rose. She’d come up to lean against the Doctor, taking his hand. “She looks so happy, though. I’ve barely seen her smile since we got here.”

“I try everything to help her,” sighed Simon, pain and weariness in his voice. “Then she dances, and . . . I have my sister back. Just for a little while, she’s back.”

Kaylee came up beside him and slipped her hand into his. “Ain’t they purdy, though?”

Just for a little while, everything else was forgotten as Jack and River danced.

Back to index


Chapter 12: Hearts of Gold

Author's Notes: "If I managed to bed the Doctor without Rose, sheíd be hurt. If I laid a hand on Rose without the Doctorís approval, Iíd get ejected into the Time Vortex and probably land in the middle of the Big Bang. You see my difficulty."


The events of the day had left Jack restless and, unsurprisingly, horny. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen worse--he had--but he’d always had fellow agents to decompress with at the end of the day. Here, though . . . well, the Doctor wasn’t exactly much for decompressing, he didn’t know Mal or ZoŽ (forget Jayne) well enough to go chatting them up about his feelings, and no one else had been part of the events of the day. Holding Rose and dancing with River had helped to work off some of the emotional stress, but what Jack wanted most was a drink and someone to talk to, and perhaps some sex. Okay, maybe he wanted the sex most, but he’d settle for drinking and talking.

Fortunately, there was an option. As Jack always said, “When all else fails, seek a professional.”

Which was precisely why he was exiting the TARDIS with a bottle of fine cognac and the intent to find Inara. As he made his way across the cargo bay, he happened to spot Simon in the infirmary. The young doctor glanced up and gave him a severely disapproving look. Deciding this could end in one of three ways--mutual understanding, an outright fight, or at least one of the above plus shagging--Jack thought it would be worth it to have a word with him. He jogged over and leaned on the doorframe at the entrance to the infirmary.

“Need something?” Simon asked coolly, disinfecting some instruments.

Jack chuckled. “I’m surprised Rose hasn’t told you by now that you should never give me an opening like that.” Simon said nothing, and after a moment, Jack sighed. “Come on, Simon--you’ve been giving me the stink-eye every time I’ve seen you for hours now. What did I do?”

“My sister is very young and very unstable,” Simon said in a clipped tone. “I won’t have you confusing her.”

So that was it. It took great effort for Jack to stop his eyes from rolling. “How? By not treating her like a damaged child?”

Simon stopped what he was doing and glared at Jack. “She is a damaged child. You have no idea what she’s been through.”

“I’ll give you that,” Jack acknowledged. “Don’t you think that sometimes, she might like to forget about it, if only for the space of a dance?” He held up a hand to forestall Simon’s objection. “Look, somewhere in the fifty-first century, I have a sister, too. Haven’t seen her in years because it’s too dangerous for me to go home. So for what it’s worth, I get how much you want to protect River. And for what it’s worth, I give you my word as a semi-reformed conman that I’d never hurt her. Sometimes, in spite of what I tell Rose, a dance is just a dance. Besides--” He gave Simon a lascivious once-over. “--if I’m going to seduce one of the siblings Tam while I’m on board, it’ll be you. Feel better?”

Not waiting for an answer, Jack turned and left. He heard a faint giggle down the hall and caught sight of River poking her head out of one of the rooms. He winked at her, and she winked back. Then he continued on his quest to find Inara.

***

Inara had changed into a nightgown and was having a cup of tea before bed when she heard a knock at her door. Curious, she got up and went to find out who it was. The fact that whoever it was had knocked ruled out Mal, but--

“Good evening,” said Jack Harkness, standing just outside her shuttle. “May I come in?”

“Certainly.” Inara stepped aside with a smile. Jack intrigued her. She’d been wanting to get him alone for some time now, and Inara was never one to pass up an opportunity.

“Oh, now this--this is gorgeous,” sighed Jack, looking around at her dťcor. “Just what I imagined it would be.”

“I’d imagine you’re not unfamiliar with Companions,” said Inara.

Jack gave her a wicked smirk. “You could say that.” He lifted a bottle of liquor--cognac, Inara realized. “I was hoping you might join me for a drink.”

Wondering precisely what this was and rather thrilled at the sensation (men so rarely offered her a mystery), Inara went over to her china cupboard and pulled out two snifters. “I’d be pleased to.”

“Wonderful.” Jack took the snifters and poured the cognac, offering one to Inara.

She swirled the liquor and sniffed it before taking a sip. “Really quite excellent,” she said. “Please, have a seat.” She waved her hand at her couch.

Instead, Jack welcomed himself to a seat on the bed, leaning back against the pillows and sprawling with one bare foot on the covers and one dangling over the edge. He gave Inara a devilish grin, saluting her with his glass. Inara raised an eyebrow. Then she decided to take him up on his unspoken challenge, coming around the other side of the bed and lying across it, propping herself up on one elbow.

“Comfortable?” she asked.

“Very.” He looked around. “Here’s what interests me, Inara: what is a woman like you doing on a ship like this? Not that I don’t like Serenity--I do in ways that would probably dismay her captain--but you don’t quite fit in, do you?”

“I don’t suppose I do,” she said, taking another sip of cognac. “I lived on Sihnon once. I was a Companion of one of the great Houses. There were . . . complications. I moved on.” She toyed with her glass. “What about you, Captain Jack Harkness? Is there any reason you travel with the Doctor and Rose--aside from the fact that you’re in love with them, of course?”

Jack’s smile faded a touch at that, and she knew she’d hit the mark. “There is that,” he acknowledged. “They interested me from the start. A nineteen-year-old Terran girl from the twenty-first century traveling with a 900-year-old alien in a phone box? That’s fun.”

“Wait,” said Inara, nearly choking on her drink. “900 years old?”

“He says he’s been rounding for centuries, but that’s the ballpark. But anyway . . .” He leaned back, eyes going distant. “For a lot of years, I’d been a bit obsessed with something that happened to me. Rose saw something better in me than I’d become, and the Doctor--he challenged me to live up to it. And weirdly enough, I want to.” He smiled gently. “They let me in. You’ve seen them, the Doctor and Rose. They have a bond I just never get tired of watching, but they let me in. I never realized how much I wanted that.”

“There is something wonderful about that, isn’t there?” Inara asked. “This crew is very much a family. I’ve been able to be a part of it and . . . I wonder if I’ll ever have that again.”

“You’re leaving,” said Jack, picking up on her subtext. “Why?”

“It’s complicated,” Inara hedged.

“Complicated as in a Registered Companion falling for a smuggler on the Rim?” Jack raised his eyebrows. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Inara ran her finger around the rim of her glass. “It can’t end well. It’s best that I leave now.”

Jack moved so he was lying just the opposite of her. “For him, or for you?”

“Perhaps for both of us,” said Inara.

“Hm.” Jack looked dubious as he finished his drink, set the empty glass on Inara’s bedside table, and flopped onto his back. He eyed her legs and reached over to idly run a finger over one knee. “So, you trained on Sihnon, did you?”

“Yes. What about you?” she asked.

He grinned, tracing patterns on her leg. “Time Agency. Anyone they think has the, shall we say, potential is trained in sex and seduction. It’s come in handy. Get information, distract the target, get in somewhere--hell, my cover’s been prostitution a few times. Most of the time, it wasn’t too bad. Not the worst part of the job.”

“What was the worst part of the job?”

“Days like today,” said Jack. He propped himself up a bit, fingers skimming down to Inara’s ankle. “You find someone you can’t do anything for. It always gets to me when it’s a kid, y’know? That girl lost every bit of innocence she had today.” He bit his lip. “That shouldn’t happen.”

That told Inara all she wanted to know about why Jack had come to her. “I agree,” she said. “I watch Kaylee and pray that this life won’t strip her of her openness and sweetness.”

“She’s a lot like Rose,” said Jack fondly. “Same kind of adorable sexiness, same kind heart, same way they can make a scarred man smile.”

Inara couldn’t pass up the opportunity. She shifted, sitting up so she could look down at Jack. “Who is the Doctor?”

Jack gave a laugh, stretching. “Isn’t that just the question?”

“River said he’s a Time Lord,” pressed Inara. “What is that?”

“A legend,” said Jack. “Before I met the Doctor, I'd dismissed the Time Lords as myth. What I know isn’t much, and the Doctor hasn’t seen fit to tell me more. Supposedly, they are--or were, since Rose told me the Doctor told her he’s the last--an ancient race who mastered time travel and kept watch over the Time Vortex. Their technology is beyond anything humans will probably ever achieve. You’ve seen the TARDIS; it boggles the mind. They lived on the legendary planet of Gallifrey, which according to myth sat at the nexus of every dimension. They’re the next best thing to immortal, and their mortal enemies were the Daleks, a race of mechanized killers who were the greatest threat in the universe until they suddenly disappeared from space and time. According to myth again, the Time Lords and the Daleks fought the Time Wars and destroyed each other so completely that they never existed. And if you want to know how much of this is true, you can try to wrangle the answers out of the Doctor yourself.”

“What makes you so sure he is a Time Lord?” Inara asked.

“The TARDIS, for one,” said Jack. “Going back to the legends, it was said only a Time Lord could command a TARDIS. For another, I’ve met charlatans claiming to be Time Lords, and there’s just no comparison. The presence the Doctor has--you’ve felt it, haven’t you?”

“I have,” said Inara, nodding. The Doctor wasn’t just charismatic; his very presence had power. “It attracts you.”

“Hell, yeah!” Jack grinned again. “It’s sexy as hell, and scary. Try looking into those eyes of his, and see how long you can bear it. Rose does better than I do, but occasionally, he gets to be too much even for her. Luckily, the TARDIS is big enough that we can avoid him when he’s in an especially bad mood.”

“What is their relationship?” asked Inara

“Aren’t we full of questions!” Jack laughed.

Inara smiled, leaning a little closer to him in a deliberate flirt. “I suppose so. They intrigue me. I can normally tell almost immediately what the relationship between two people is, but theirs eludes me.”

Jack sat up, dropping a kiss on Inara’s knee as he did so. “They confused me at first, too. Still do, sometimes. I thought I had it figured out when we stopped on a planet called Woman Wept. It’s an amazing place. The largest ocean on the planet froze in an instant when something happened to its sun, right in the middle of a violent storm. You have to see it to believe it. It’s stunning. The thing is, the Doctor wasn’t looking at the ocean when we got out of the TARDIS; he was looking at Rose. He’d probably been there before and just wanted to see her reaction.”

“A fresh set of eyes to see the universe through,” said Inara. It made sense.

“That’s exactly what I thought,” said Jack. “I thought she made the universe new for him again, and I still think that’s part of it. Maybe that’s how it started--he found this sweet, brave girl and wanted to show her space and time like she’d never have seen in her old life. I doubt he ever thought he’d fall in love with her--and he’s definitely in love with her.”

“That much, I realized,” said Inara. She finished her drink, and Jack set the glass on her bedside stand.

“He’s the last of his kind,” Jack went on. “Who knows how long he traveled alone? Rose is someone to talk to and touch, someone to care about who cares about him. Maybe it’s as simple as that. I just don’t understand why he doesn’t have sex with her.”

Inara laughed. Somehow, it was nice to hear someone put it that bluntly and not muck around with innuendo or euphemisms. “It does seem like she’d be receptive.”

“Oh, she would.”

“Perhaps there are issues with compatibility,” Inara suggested. “He’s not human; perhaps he doesn’t have the same urges.”

Jack shook his head. “Trust me, desire isn’t a problem, and in my considerable experience, where there’s desire, you can work around issues of physical compatibility.” He winked. “It can be fun. Back to the subject, though--he longs for her. I see it in his eyes every day. They’re best friends, they’re physically very affectionate, they trust and respect each other, and they want each other. Why they don’t just take the final step . . . it’s confusing. I’m confused. And frustrated.”

Inara gave him a knowing grin. “Because if they were bedding with each other, you might be able to get in as well?”

“There is that,” said Jack, twinkle back in his eyes. “There are all sorts of power dynamics and emotional complications with trying to seduce them individually. If I managed to bed the Doctor without Rose, she’d be hurt. If I laid a hand on Rose without the Doctor’s approval, I’d get ejected into the Time Vortex and probably land in the middle of the Big Bang. You see my difficulty.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Inara asked.

“Partly,” Jack admitted. “But that aside, I needed someone to talk to. The Doctor’s not very forthcoming, I don’t know Mal and those well enough, and Rose--I didn’t want to burden her. She’s got enough on her hands just keeping the Doctor emotionally afloat. I knew I could talk to you, and even if you didn’t fully understand, you’d at least let me work it out.”

Strange, how much that touched Inara. Jack truly understood what a Companion was about--not just sex, but sharing. She reached out and ran her fingers through his thick, dark hair. He caught her hand and kissed it.

“I can pay,” he said softly. “Granted, the money I have is a bit old, but that just ups the value. I haven’t lost so much honor that I’d try to cheat you out of your fee.”

“I know,” she said, and she did.

He kissed her hand again. “Bed with me, Inara Serra. Do me that honor.”

Inara hesitated. On the one hand, if Mal found out, he’d be furious. On the other hand, she wasn’t about to run her life by what Mal wanted. Jack respected her and what she did, and she couldn’t remember having a client who was as comfortable with his own body as Jack was. The casual sensuality he exhibited intrigued her. Inara had no doubt he’d be a generous and adventuresome sex partner.

She leaned forward, making her decision, and kissed him. His lips were warm and soft, and his mouth tasted of the cognac they’d shared, and he kissed like a professional. She drew back just far enough to look into smoky blue eyes.

A Companion is trained to intuit what her partner wants, what will truly satisfy. It was no mystery with Jack.

“Why don’t you tell me what you’d like to do with them,” she murmured. “Every detail.”

Jack smiled and did just that.

Back to index


Chapter 13: School Reunion

Author's Notes: ďEmmy, meet the Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness. Doctor, Harkness, meet Captain Emmaleta Chao.Ē

ďThe Doctor?Ē asked Emmy. ďJust Ďthe Doctorí?Ē

ďJust the Doctor,Ē the Doctor confirmed.

Emmy lifted an eyebrow. ďWell, that ainít pretentious.Ē


It was perhaps very fortunate that ZoŽ was such a closed-mouth type. Early in the shipboard morning, she’d run into Jack making his way back to the TARDIS, smelling of sex and sweat and Inara’s perfume. He’d been casual and friendly and would likely have happily confirmed her suspicions without the slightest qualm, but ZoŽ not only didn’t want to know, she actively prevented herself from knowing. Whatever it was between Mal and Inara was none of her business, thank you very much, and she fully intended to keep it that way. And if that meant ignoring whatever had happened between Inara and Jack last night so as to prevent throwing a match on the powder keg, ZoŽ was more than willing to do so.

Besides, they had more important things to worry about. Wash had picked up a distress signal shortly after leaving Angel, and they were going to investigate.

“Has to be a small ship,” said Wash. “Anything bigger would have the ship’s vital statistics embedded in the signal. And there she is!” He pointed at the sensor readout. “She looks like a Firefly.”

“Let’s make contact,” said Mal. He opened a communications channel. “Unknown vessel, this is Captain Malcolm Reynolds of the transport ship Serenity. How may we assist you?”

For a long moment, there was no answer. Then the comm crackled to life. “Mal? This is Emmy Chao. I’ve got to be brief, ‘cause we’re running on auxiliary power here. We could use a tow and your medic, if you’ve got one. Glad it’s you out there, Sarge. Angelet out.”

“What’s going on?” asked Jack’s voice as he entered the cockpit. He’d been spending every spare second he could there.

Except when he’s makin’ Inara, thought ZoŽ sardonically. She was glad to see that his hair was still wet from a shower. Wouldn’t do for Mal to smell him as he’d been that morning.

“We picked up a distress call from another Firefly,” said Mal. “The Angelet--it’s captained by an old war buddy of me an’ ZoŽ’s, Emmaleta Chao. Sounds like they’ve got some problems, so we’re gonna lend ‘em a hand.”

“Shiny!” said Jack, flashing his dimples and helping himself to the copilot’s chair.

It didn’t take long to figure out just what was wrong with the Angelet once she was in visual range. Wash swore softly. One of her thrusters was all but torn off, there was carbon scoring along one side of the vessel, and she had absolutely no sign of engine function.

“Looks like she got in a fight, Sir,” said ZoŽ.

“That it does,” agreed Mal.

“Question would be how she got out of it,” said Jack. “You’d think an unarmed little transport ship wouldn’t stand a chance against anyone who’d be able to inflict that kind of damage. I’ll bet your friend’s got an interesting tale to tell.”

Mal nodded. “Lookin’ forward to hearing it myself. Wash, it looks like you’ll not have much help with the docking, their thrusters like that.”

“I’m not sweating it,” said Wash cheerfully. “Well, maybe a little.”

“Can I help?” Jack asked, eyeing the controls like he was about to molest them.

“Only if you do exactly what I say,” said Wash.

Jack chuckled. “In deference to your lovely-yet-terrifying wife, I shall not make any of the dirty jokes that are coming to mind at this juncture. Tell me what to do.”

Wash did just that, and Jack proved that he could follow orders when necessary--and that he knew what he was doing when it came to piloting a ship.

Meanwhile, Mal left the cockpit and went to brief the rest of the crew on what was happening. He called Kaylee out of the TARDIS, and when Jayne, Simon and Book appeared, he made his announcement.

“We’re docking with a ship in distress,” he said. “It’s the Angelet, captained by an old war buddy of mine, Emmy Chao. Those of you who don’t know, we’ve had dealings with them in the past, and we’ve no reason to distrust them now.” Jayne made a rude noise. Mal glared at him. “An’ you might wanna steer clear of Emmy and especially her little sister; Delcie don’t want none of you, and Emmy mightn’t have stood down her shoot-Jayne-on-sight policy.”

“Was jus’ bein’ friendly,” muttered Jayne.

“Friendly don’t require groping,” said Mal.

“That’ll be news to Jack,” he heard Rose say, and Kaylee giggled.

Mal turned his attention to Simon. “Simon, Emmy mentioned they’ll be needing a medic. Seems they got injuries, and either their medic is injured, or they’re injuries she can’t treat.”

Simon looked worried. “I don’t object to treating injuries, Captain, but if they figure out who I am . . .” He trailed off, his point hanging in the air.

“There’s anyone I’d trust to keep a closed mouth, it’s Emmy and her crew. They’re all old Browncoats, save for Emmy’s little sis Delcie and their mechanic. None of ‘em’s likely to trust the Alliance’ll cough up the reward for you and River.” Mal gave Jayne a pointed look. The big mercenary had the grace to look abashed. “Emmy’s good people. Better’n me, but that’s no stretch.” He turned to Kaylee. “See what you can do to get ‘em limping again if you would, li’l Kaylee.”

“What’s wrong with the ship?” asked the Doctor, appearing behind Rose and Kaylee.

“Looks like they’ve been in a fight. Emmy didn’t have enough juice to stay on the comm long, so I’m thinkin’ we’ll have to wait to dock with them for more explanations,” said Mal. “Might wanna keep that box of yours shut, you don’t want tourists gettin’ in.” The Doctor nodded, looking thoughtful.

It took about a half hour to dock with the Angelet. Once they were connected, Mal waited by the airlock that would let Emmy Chao and her people through. Finally, the hatch opened.

“Permission to come aboard, Sarge?” Emmy asked. The best word to describe Emmy would be “compact”--she was short, but built like a brick. Mal knew from personal experience that she could lay out men twice her size when she had to.

“Permission granted.” Mal held out a hand. “What the hell happened to you, Em?”

Emmy shook the proffered hand. “Gotta warn you, it’s a strange story. Not sure I’d believe it, someone told it to me. First, though, you got a medic?”

Simon stepped up. “What sort of injuries do you have?”

“Bumps and bruises, mostly, ‘cept for my mechanic, Copper. She got electrocuted and hit her head pretty hard,” said Emmy. “Our medic’s got a sprained wrist, and our medical bay ain’t in much better shape than the rest of the ship. I was hopin’ we could borrow yours.”

“I’d be happy to help,” said Simon.

“Great.” Emmy turned back to the airlock and yelled, “Shaz! Get ‘er up here.”

Next thing Mal knew, two more crew members carried a stretcher bearing yet another through the airlock. One was a wiry blonde; the other was a very dark-skinned woman who was almost of a size with Jayne. The woman on the stretcher was older, but still very attractive with her strong-boned face and coppery red hair.

“Mal, you know Dasha and Annie, don’t you?” asked Emmy. Without waiting for an answer, she addressed Simon. “Meet my first mate, Danya Kirova--” She indicated the blonde. “--and Annabelle Taylor. That’s Copper, my mechanic, on the stretcher.” Emmy clapped a hand on the shoulder of yet another woman emerging from the airlock. She resembled Emmy a little in the face, but was taller and slimmer. “This is our medic, my cousin Shao’Xandra Yee.”

“Call me Shaz,” said the medic. She was cradling her left wrist close to her body in a protective way. “I helped your captain keep his insides intact during the war.”

“You were a combat medic?” Simon asked, looking Copper over before nodding Dasha and Annie toward the infirmary.

“Nurse in a combat hospital, actually,” said Shaz. “Comes in handy from time to time with this crew.”

“If they’re anything like this crew, I don’t doubt it,” said Simon. “Come on down to the infirmary; I’ll take a look at that wrist and see what I can do for Copper.”

Kaylee arrived just as Simon and Shaz cleared out. The Doctor wasn’t far behind her.

“Hiya, Emmy!” said Kaylee with her brightest smile. “How can I help?”

“Take a look at our engine, and you can tell me,” said Emmy. “Annie ain’t half-bad with engines; she’ll be along to help after they get Copper settled, and Delcie’s working in the cockpit.”

Kaylee headed over to the Angelet, and Jack and ZoŽ came down from Serenity’s cockpit as Mal asked Emmy, “What happened?”

“Reavers,” said Emmy. She gave a shiver. “They came outta nowhere. Fired on us, then grabbed us in a tractor beam. We thought we were goners; I was about ready to put a bullet to Delcie so’s she’d be safe from ‘em.” Emmy spread her hands. “And then they just let us go. Buzzed off like they was in a hurry to get elsewhere. I can’t explain it, and I wouldn’t blame you in the least, you didn’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” said Mal. “Coupla days back, we had Reavers chasin’ us down before they suddenly peeled off, and there’s some mighty peculiar goings-on on Angel.”

“What did you see on your sensors?” the Doctor asked.

“Dunno. Haven’t exactly had the time to check my sensor logs recently,” said Emmy. “Who’re you?”

“Passenger,” said Mal. “Emmy, meet the Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness. Doctor, Harkness, meet Captain Emmaleta Chao.”

“The Doctor?” asked Emmy. “Just ‘the Doctor’?”

“Just the Doctor,” the Doctor confirmed.

Emmy lifted an eyebrow. “Well, that ain’t pretentious.”

Jack laughed. The Doctor glared. Mal smothered a grin.

“If you wouldn’t mind terribly,” said the Doctor, heaving a sigh, “I’d like to take a look at your sensor logs. As the captain noted, there have been some peculiar incidents recently, and your sensor logs might have one of the missing pieces of the puzzle.”

“Wouldn’t mind having a look myself,” said Mal. “Okay with you, Emmy?”

“Sure,” Emmy said, shrugging. “Can’t say I’m not a little spooked.” She led the Doctor, Jack and Mal onto her ship, which was cold and smelled of smoke. “Delcie, how’s things going?” she asked as they entered the cockpit.

Delcie Chao was over a decade younger than her sister, roughly of an age with Rose and Kaylee. Though she resembled Emmy in the face, she was even shorter and had a far more delicate build. Most thought her quite pretty. Mal agreed with them.

“Think I managed to work around the shorts,” said Delcie, pushing herself out from under the console. She blinked at the visitors. “Hello?”

“You know Mal, and this is the Doctor--just that--and Captain Jack Harkness. Y’all, this is my little sister Delcie, the Angelet’s pilot. They want a look at our sensor logs,” Emmy explained. “Mind pulling ‘em up?”

“Not at all.” Delcie sat in the pilot’s chair and retrieved the information. “Take a look.”

“Back up to the attack,” said the Doctor. Delcie complied, and they watched as the Reaver ship bore down on the Angelet. A few evasive maneuvers later, the Reaver ship was almost on top of the Angelet, but--

“There,” said the Doctor.

“Well, ain’t that interesting?” murmured Mal. Just at the edge of the Angelet’s sensor range was a shadow. It wasn’t much, the sort of blot that could be anything, but at the moment it appeared, the Reaver ship peeled off and headed toward whatever it was. It disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, but the Reaver ship kept on its heading, away from the Angelet.

“Can you put this on a data chip?” the Doctor asked Delcie.

“Sure,” said the young pilot. “But why?”

“I’d like to look the data over with some specialized equipment,” said the Doctor. “It might give up a little more information.”

Delcie looked up at her older sister, who nodded, and Delcie began to download the sensor information onto a data chip. In a few minutes, it was ready, and she handed it to the Doctor.

“Thank you,” he said. “Jack, do you want to look this over with me?”

“Actually, I was hoping to get my hands on the engine here,” said Jack, practically salivating at the prospect.

The Doctor turned to Emmy. “He’s not bad with engines. Just whack him over the nose with a rolled-up newspaper if he gets too obnoxious.”

Jack ran gleefully from the cockpit at Emmy’s nod, and the Doctor went back to Serenity and his TARDIS to analyze the data chip.

***

It took a day to get the Angelet working again. Her crew slept in shifts on Serenity, as the environmental controls on the Angelet weren’t working reliably and the air tended toward the freezing. Simon pronounced Copper’s injuries not life-threatening--a few electrical burns and a mild concussion--and discovered that Shaz had, in fact, fractured her wrist. He treated both women, and Copper was back on her feet by the time Serenity was ready to tow the Angelet to Angel, the nearest planet.

“Always comes back to Angel for me,” said Emmy as she ushered her crew back to their ship. “I was born there. Mama decided to settle there because of her name, Angelet.”

“Never realized you named your ship after your ma,” said Mal.

“First thing that came to mind when I bought her. Just park us in orbit. We’ll take the shuttles down to get parts, do as much repair as we can so’s to not burn up when we enter atmo.” Emmy stuck out her hand. “I owe you one, Sarge.”

Mal shook her hand. “I’ll remember that. Good seein’ you, Emmy.”

“Good to be seen, Sarge. Gotta tell you, those Reavers attacked, I didn’t think there’d be much of me left. You got all your people off my ship?”

“Think so.” He thought a moment. “Wait--anybody seen Jack?”

“Believe Kaylee dragged him back here ‘bout an hour back,” said ZoŽ.

“Good. I hate misplacin’ passengers.” Mal grinned at Emmy. “See you later, Em.”

“See ya, Sarge.” Emmy withdrew to her own ship, and Mal closed the hatch as Wash disconnected the ships at the airlock. They’d hooked up a tow cable earlier, and at the signal from the Angelet, Serenity moved forward, groaning a bit as the cable went taut and they started towing the other ship.

As soon as they were under way, Mal headed down to the cargo bay and knocked on the TARDIS’s door.

“It’s not locked,” came the Doctor’s voice from inside.

Mal stepped in. “What did you find out?” he asked. The Doctor was looking at the monitor that apparently displayed his own language.

“Interesting things.” The Doctor looked up at him. “The ship that the Angelet’s sensors caught was using a kind of cloaking technology. Very primitive, but effective enough. Essentially, they were putting out enough electromagnetic interference that most shipboard sensors wouldn’t be able to get a fix on them. Unless you were expecting them, you’d likely think it was a sensor glitch. The TARDIS was able to filter through the interference to spot the ship. Unfortunately, since the information is second-hand, there’s not much even she can tell.”

“But we know what to look for now,” deduced Mal.

The Doctor nodded in confirmation. “There’s also one other thing: the TARDIS filtered through the white noise and found evidence of a transmission from the unknown ship. It’s nothing your sensors could make any sense out of--it would just be another bit of white noise. The TARDIS could detect it; however, at the moment, she’s a bit hobbled. Without full power, her sensors are passive. If the transmission came our way, she could pick it up, but she can’t actively search for it.”

“D’you think Serenity could do the lookin’, she knew what to look for?” Mal asked.

“I was getting to that. If you’ll let me, I can connect the TARDIS to Serenity’s sensors, and she can tell Serenity what telepathic transmissions look like. It would still be a little rudimentary as compared to the TARDIS’s abilities were she at full power, but--”

“--but it’s still a damn sight better than sittin’ around waiting for something to happen,” Mal said, finishing the thought.

“Precisely,” said the Doctor. “You strike me as someone ill-suited to waiting.”

“Your suspicion is correct. Ma never did manage to beat much patience into me, though Lord knows she tried.” Mal rubbed his chin. “All right, then. Once we’ve dropped the Angelet off, you can do the necessary, long as it don’t interfere with Serenity’s workings.”

“It won’t,” said the Doctor with one of his grins. “You’re forgetting: I’m brilliant.”

“Not to mention humble,” drawled Mal. “I’ll be in the cockpit, you need me.” He left the Doctor to his work, wondering how all of this had managed to become something like normal.

Back to index


Chapter 14: The Girl in the TARDIS

Author's Notes: ďWere I to advise you, Doctor, I would tell you to go to her. Be close to her physically, whatever that means to you. Let your barriers down. I donít think youíll be displeased with the results, and so few can say that. So very few.Ē


In retrospect, the Doctor wished he’d locked the TARDIS doors.

It was night on Serenity. The Doctor was continuing his work on the TARDIS, Jack and Rose having trundled themselves off to bed some time ago. The Angelet incident had cost them some time; Jack and Kaylee had been wrapped up in the other ship’s repairs, much to the Doctor’s irritation, leaving him to work on the TARDIS alone. Not that he minded too terribly, but it was the principle of the thing. One couldn’t have one’s help wandering off. Set a bad precedent, that did.

Still, there was something almost meditative about working on his ship alone. It gave him time to think. While he was running a few tests on the console, he plotted out how he’d connect the TARDIS and Serenity.

The TARDIS doors opened quietly behind him, and the Doctor turned, expecting River. Instead, the doors admitted Inara. Her face was bare of makeup, to no appreciable detriment to her beauty, and she wore a gold wrap over a mauve silk nightgown. Perhaps it was just the mauve, but the Doctor found himself suddenly wary as her perfume wafted through the cool, dry air of the console room.

“Hello,” he said, for lack of anything else coming to mind.

She smiled, walking toward him on silk-slippered feet. “Hello, Doctor.”

“Looking for Jack?” he asked. He was fully aware of their tryst the previous night, and had frankly been expecting it from the moment he met her.

“No,” she said. “I thought I’d take the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity.”

The Doctor gave a short laugh. “Careful with that. When I say those words, trouble is never far behind.”

“If even half of Jack’s and Rose’s stories are true, that’s not far from the truth,” said Inara with an amused quirk of her eyebrows.

“Well, out with it, then,” said the Doctor, tightening down a panel.

“Out with what?”

“The subject of your curiosity, of course.” He looked over his shoulder at her. “What are you curious about, Inara Serra? Life? The universe? Everything? If you can name the question, I understand the answer is forty-two.”

“Douglas Adams,” said Inara. “I read some of his work in my youth. Does your TARDIS run on an Infinite Improbability Drive?”

“Not exactly, but close. You know, about a thousand years from now, there’ll be a whole Galactic Hitchhikers movement, complete with electronic thumbs and the requisite towels. I’ve even ferried a few on the TARDIS. Amazing what you humans get up to once you achieve faster-than-light travel.” He toggled a switch experimentally. “But that’s off the subject, of course. What curiosity would you like to satisfy?”

Inara moved gracefully to the console, running her hand lightly over a repaired portion. “Not to put too fine a point on it,” she said, “but you’re the subject of my curiosity. It’s not every day that I meet an alien.” She lifted her eyes to his face. “You look so human. How alien are you, Doctor?”

“Very,” he said, meeting her gaze before turning his attention to the console again. “Looks can be deceiving.”

“I don’t doubt it. Simon mentioned a few physical differences--two hearts, he said, and your blood proteins--but I’m more interested in non-physical differences.”

“How so?”

She put her head to the side a little in a rather fetching way. The Doctor wondered idly if it came naturally, as it did with Rose, or if her training was so ingrained that every move she made was calculated to evoke the reaction she was looking for.

“Relationships,” she said after a moment. “How different were your people from humans in that regard?”

He might’ve expected this. His mouth twisted into a smirk. “What kind of relationships in particular? Family? Friends? Enemies?” The Doctor looked at Inara directly. “Sex?”

Her returned smile was knowing. “Very well, then--I admit I’ve been rather at a loss concerning your relationship with Rose. I can normally deduce a great deal about a relationship between any two people in moments, but you and Rose . . . I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a relationship quite like it. I thought at first you might be like Mal and Kaylee, but that doesn’t fit. You’re not fraternal or paternal toward her. You’re more than friends, but not lovers. It occurs to me that your people might have had a word for your relationship that’s lacking in any of the languages I know.”

“My people’s language was painfully exact,” said the Doctor, skirting the edges of his most painful memories. “However, it concentrated less on nebulous concepts like relationships between two people and more on hard maths and science. And time, of course. Every verb had a dozen conjugations or more to suit at what point in time the action took or would be taking place.” He fiddled with another switch, not meeting Inara’s penetrating gaze. “They wouldn’t have approved of my relationships with Rose and Jack. Weren’t all that fond of humans, the Time Lords.”

“Yet you are.”

“Think you’re all right. You’re a troublesome lot, and I can respect that. One day, you might even be great, if you don’t do yourselves in through sheer stupidity first.”

Inara gave a light laugh, but there was a little strain behind it. The Doctor knew instinctively she was thinking about the Unification War (now, there was a grand example of oxymoron) and how destructive it had been. The most destructive war in human history . . . until the next one.

“I’m glad to hear we have our charms,” she said at length. “My curiosity, however, is still unsatisfied. Did your people have romantic or sexual relationships in the same way we do?”

“Depends on how far you go back,” said the Doctor a bit flippantly. “The Time Lords were well on the way to becoming the stiff-necked old blowhards they were before your kind crawled out of the primordial ooze.”

“Let’s try the last, say, 900 years,” Inara said dryly.

The Doctor silently cursed Jack. He considered--quite strongly--warning Inara off of this line of questioning, but in a fit of masochism decided to give her an answer. He turned to look at her.

“Interesting phase of history,” he said. “By the time I came around, Time Lords had, for the most part, given up on sexual reproduction, not that we were all that fertile to begin with. That was one price of our long lives. After me and a few of my peers, there were very few children born what you’d consider the natural way. Very few.”

Inara considered that. “Such as yours?”

That was when it occurred to the Doctor that he’d seriously underestimated this woman.

“Such as mine.” He turned away. “If you’ll excuse me, I have things to do.”

Inara didn’t move as the Doctor started fussing with switches again. If it was to be a war of attrition, he knew he could win, and he determinedly ignored her.

“I wonder if that’s why you hold yourself back from Rose,” she said after the silence stretched uncomfortably.

He snorted softly. “Humans. You think sex is the answer to everything.”

“I know better than anyone that it isn’t,” Inara parried, “but I actually wasn’t talking about sex, in this case.”

“Oh?” He quietly cursed himself for making assumptions--and exposing his own feelings.

“I’m talking about touch and intimacy that’s not necessarily sexual. I watch the two of you, and while Rose is utterly open and vulnerable to you, you keep her at a distance--though I think she’s gotten a lot closer than you realize. You keep yourself apart when you don’t have to.”

“Don’t I?” he asked, looking directly at her again. “I am alien, Inara Serra. Don’t think I have the same urges or needs as human men.”

She looked him up and down. “Perhaps you don’t, but . . .” She reached up, cupping his cheek with her hand. “I recognize skin hunger when I see it.”

As her hand slipped down his face to his neck, the Doctor realized he was instinctively leaning into her touch. He stepped back quickly.

Inara’s smile was amused. “I’m not the one you want touching you, anyway.”

“It would be a mistake to allow Rose any closer,” he said.

“Why?”

How the conversation had got this far, the Doctor wasn’t sure. He decided it was time to put an end to it.

“Do you want to know what a Time Lord is?” he asked, stepping just a bit closer, forcing Inara to look up at him. She met his gaze steadily, lifting her eyebrows in silent assent. “I don’t foretell the future. That’s a parlor trick. I see time for what it truly is. The first and last lesson I learned was, ‘There is no past. There is no present. There is no future. There is only Time.’ And it all passes through my head. All that was, all that is, and everything that could be. I see every possibility, Inara. I see what is possible, and what is probable. Do you want to know what’s ahead for Rose?”

“Tell me,” said Inara.

“There are dozens of futures in which we part by choice. She sees too much, or she discovers that she wants a normal human life with a husband and a mortgage and a dozen children, and she leaves me. Or I leave because it’s best for her. Sometimes I even send her away because things get too dangerous--got a whole emergency program and everything just for that eventuality.” He paused briefly. “Then there are the scores of futures in which I have nothing to bring back to Jackie Tyler but her daughter’s corpse. And then there are the hundreds in which I can’t even do that. Disintegrated, incinerated, lost to space and time, swallowed by a black hole, fallen into the Void--so many ways for a young woman to meet her end in the universe. So very many ways. That is what could be, Inara.

“There is no future in which she and I live happily ever after. Not one.”

Inara nodded after a silent moment. “I see.”

“Then you know why I can’t allow Rose any closer.”

“Do I?” Inara smiled a little, sadness in her eyes. “What I know, Doctor, is that you have to make the decision as to what you’ll regret more--what you did, or what you didn’t do.”

The Doctor gave her a hard smile. “Interesting that you say that to me, considering the situation between you and Captain Reynolds.”

“Perhaps I’m simply bad at taking my own advice,” said Inara with a shrug and a wry smile, one the Doctor couldn’t help but return. “Or perhaps the situation is different between us. Mal will never accept what I am--but Rose accepts you completely. You should know the value of that better than any of us.” She turned and began to move toward the exit.

“Rose doesn’t know what she’s accepting,” said the Doctor, voice heavy.

Inara looked back at him. “If she did, do you truly think she’d reject you?” She watched him struggle with the concept for a moment. “Were I to advise you, Doctor, I would tell you to go to her. Be close to her physically, whatever that means to you. Let your barriers down. I don’t think you’ll be displeased with the results, and so few can say that. So very few.”

Just before she got to the doors, the Doctor realized something. “You remind me of someone,” he said.

She turned back to him with a slight smile. “Who?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t met her yet.” He gave her one of his bright grins. “Time Lord thing. Dťjŗ vu in reverse.”

Inara’s soft laugh followed her out the doors.

Alone again, the Doctor suddenly couldn’t concentrate on his work anymore. The fact that Inara had seen through him so easily . . . perhaps he was worse than he thought at keeping the world at bay.

Maybe he was downright lousy at it. Maybe he was sick of keeping up the effort.

Suddenly, the thought of touching Rose was almost irresistible. He’d done such a good job of keeping that bit of distance between them early on--holding her hand and occasionally hugging her, even though she was an incredibly tactile person and had made it clear that his touch was more than welcome. In a few cases, his need had won out--like after the Dalek, when he’d pulled Rose almost violently close, burying his face in her neck as she wrapped her arms around him, trying to give him the comfort he demanded--or hers had, as when he’d cradled her in his arms in the Cloisters for hours after her father’s death.

Then Jack came on board. He was more than willing to give Rose the physical closeness she craved, though to his credit, he’d never pressed the issue of what he might want from her. The first time the Doctor found them cuddled together on the couch watching some godawful movie, jealousy had almost overwhelmed him. If Rose had noticed that the Doctor more readily hugged her or put his arm around her since then, she’d not said anything.

Leaving his coat slung over the railing, the Doctor headed down the halls to Rose’s room. He thought he’d just look in on her, as she was likely asleep, but when he opened the door, oh so carefully, she shifted and lifted her head from the pillows to look at him.

“Doctor?” she asked.

Giving in to temptation, he moved fully into the room, closing the door behind him. A soft, warm glow, as if from firelight, prevented the room from being totally dark, and he could see her quite clearly. Her eyelids were heavy, but she wasn’t displeased to see him.

“You should be sleeping,” he said, sitting on the edge of her bed. “The tissue regeneration takes a lot out of you.”

“I know. I was just thinking . . .” She trailed off, biting her lip. “What you said about River yesterday, that she sees so much more than we do, but we call her crazy--you’re right; I just thought she was, you know, off. And . . . I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he asked.

She shrugged a little. “Jus’ after all you’ve taught me, I feel like I should know better than that. I don’t want to let you down.”

Hearts heavy, the Doctor reached out, touching Rose’s face like Inara had touched him not long ago. “Rose Tyler, I never want you to be other than what you are.” Rose’s hand covered his, and her eyes glistened in the half-light. Giving in to impulse, the Doctor said, “Shove over.”

Rose made a questioning noise, but moved over a bit. The Doctor kicked off his shoes and settled against the pillows next to her.

“What’s this about?” she asked, sounding a bit confused but not at all dismayed.

“I need to sleep sometimes, too,” he said. “Your room’s prettier than mine. Did it go like this after we visited the 1920s?” The room was all warm tones and dark wood with a distinct art deco feel.

“Yeah, came back and the TARDIS had redecorated,” said Rose. She moved closer to his side a bit tentatively, and the Doctor slipped an arm around her. Taking that as encouragement, Rose snuggled against his side, pillowing her head on his shoulder and resting her hand on his chest. “This is nice.”

He didn’t say anything. She was so warm and soft, and he felt like she was somehow sinking into him, filling the hollow space between his hearts. He could sense her thoughts like butterflies flitting at the edge of his mind, feel them settling as her breathing deepened and she slipped into sleep.

Letting himself settle and drift, he reflected that whatever else she was, Inara Serra was worth listening to.

Back to index


Chapter 15: Captain Jack Harkness

Author's Notes: ďCaptain Reynolds, how do you feel about picking a fight?Ē


It didn’t take long for the Doctor to begin to regret listening to Inara Serra the next morning.

He actually slept very well, and for much longer than he usually did. That wasn’t really a surprise, when he thought about it; between repairing the TARDIS, watching over Rose and investigating this new mystery, he’d been pushing himself hard and not sleeping at all. While he could go much longer without sleep than a human, it did catch up with him after a while. Still, he rarely slept quite that well. Rose’s warmth and the gentle rhythms of her mind and body in sleep had been incredibly soothing.

Unfortunately, that same warmth, coupled with her scent and the softness of her body against his, had another, entirely different effect on him as well. Being, as he was, a Time Lord, master of his own body and mind, controlling that reaction once he awakened hadn’t been, well, too hard--and by the Other, when had he started thinking in Jack-esque innuendo? Still, it was disturbing. He didn’t think of Rose like that, didn’t want to think of her like that, yet that was exactly where his subconscious had happily gone. The dream he’d had with Rose cuddled against him . . . suffice to say, he hoped she never knew.

She was still deeply asleep, so he carefully disentangled himself from her, ignoring the part of him that really, really wanted to stay just where he was, and picked up his shoes on his way out of her room. As he exited, closing the door as quietly as he could, he made three resolutions: first, to never again take the advice of a professional sex worker; second, to never sleep in Rose’s bed again, regardless of how good it sounded at the time; and third and most importantly--

“Whoa! Look who had a good night!”

--keep Captain Jack Harkness from ever knowing where the Doctor had just spent the night. The Doctor winced and cursed to himself as Jack, managing to maintain his sex appeal even with a severe case of bed-head, unexpectedly popped around the corner.

“God bless the two of you,” said Jack, smiling ear-to-ear and clasping the Doctor’s shoulders warmly. “I am so happy for you both. ‘Bout time you did something about all the sexual tension on this ship! So, did you seduce her, did she seduce you, or was it more of a,” he made a slightly-obscene gesture with his hands, “meet-in-the-middle kind of thing?”

The Doctor rolled his eyes, groaning inwardly, and gave Jack a baleful look. He knew he shouldn’t leave Rose to deal with this on her own, should disabuse Jack of any and all lascivious mental images he might have pertaining to the previous night, but even the thought of such a conversation left him craving another few hours’ sleep. So he did the cowardly thing and brushed past Jack on the way to the control room, leaving the other man with only a muttered “None of your business.”

Upon reaching the control room, he breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Working on the console--it was solid, it was concrete, it was something he could focus on that didn’t involve, in any way, shape or form, soft and warm little blondes with beautiful smiles.

A soft sound caught his attention, and he turned to discover that River had again curled up under his jacket to sleep on the jumpseat. She was just stirring. He smiled.

“Good morning,” he said softly.

She smiled back at him. “Good morning. Did you like sleeping with Rose last night?”

A sharp clanking sound and a muffled curse drew the Doctor’s attention. Much to his dismay, a pair of big brown eyes, followed by Kaylee’s bright smile, appeared across the console.

“You an’ Rose done sex?” Kaylee asked eagerly.

The Doctor decided right then and there to give up on having a good day.

***

It didn’t take much longer for Mal to follow suit. His first mistake had been invading Inara’s shuttle under some pretense or other. That normally would’ve turned into a nice bit of bickering before Inara summarily kicked him out, and honestly, Mal couldn’t say but that he liked it.

Unfortunately, his visit happened to coincide with Captain Jack Harkness’. Mal got there just in time to see money changing hands. Ma Reynolds hadn’t raised a fool, and Mal recognized the transaction for what it was. Inara had given Jack a slight nod, and Jack had discreetly withdrawn before sparks could fly.

And oh, they had. Mal’s opening volley had been something degrading about servicing the guests. Things had gone downhill from there, finally bottoming out when Inara threw Nandi in Mal’s face. Mal stormed out of the shuttle before either of them started breaking things aside from each other.

He paused a moment on the catwalk over the cargo bay, regaining control. There was a flurry of activity below. The Doctor was pulling miles of cable out of the TARDIS and passing it to Shepherd Book, who handed it up to Kaylee, perched on a mountain of crates. Kaylee then passed it up to Rose on the catwalk. The two girls were giggling about something.

“Seriously, nothing happened,” Rose insisted, blushing prettily. “We slept. That’s all, nothing else. Jack was very disappointed in us.”

Gorrammit, if hearing that name didn’t get Mal all het up again.

He passed Rose, ignoring her cheerful “Good morning,” and followed the cable already laid out leading to the cockpit. In the cockpit, halfway under the console alongside Wash, was the object of Mal’s ire. Zoe sat in the pilot’s chair, taking readings. She froze in mid-motion when she saw Mal.

It didn’t take but a moment for Jack to see Mal. His eyes narrowed briefly before he went back to what he’d been doing.

“Wash, would you mind going down and finding out what the Doctor wants us to do with the blue cable here?” Jack asked, voice carefully casual. “If he starts talking over your head, just make a few ‘ook-ook’ noises. Annoys him to death, but it gets him to slow down.”

“Sure.” Wash jumped up and brushed past Mal on his way out of the cockpit, giving no sign that he noticed the stormclouds building.

ZoŽ followed her husband, pausing just long enough to murmur to Mal, “Don’t do anything stupid, sir. You’ve got that look about you.”

After she was gone, Jack pushed out from under the console and stood in one smooth motion. He said nothing, but looked at Mal, raising one eyebrow in a silent challenge.

Therefore, Mal hit him. Hard, right across his pretty jaw.

Jack took the punch like a man, reeling with it and then coming back upright, dabbing at a bit of blood at the edge of his mouth. He considered it a moment before looking at Mal again, eyes hard. “Feel better now?”

Mal swung again. This time, Jack almost casually batted his fist aside, but made no offensive moves.

“You get one freebie, Captain,” said Jack. “If you’re really wanting to turn this into a brawl, though, I’d suggest we go somewhere with a bit more room and not as much breakable equipment.”

“You come on my ship, help yourself to my hospitality and my crew and now my gorram navigational system!” Mal raged. “And now you’re--”

Jack interrupted him. “If you’re going to even try to say something remotely possessive about Inara, I’m going to have to break your face. I get enough dog-in-manger crap from the Doctor.”

“Least I’m not trying to buy her for a little coin,” said Mal contemptuously.

“And that makes you better than me, do you think?” asked Jack. “At least I respect Inara and what she does. You’re the one who treats her like trash for her chosen profession.”

This time, Mal found himself shoved up against the wall with his arm twisted behind his back before he could do much more than make a fist.

“One freebie,” hissed Jack, breath warm in Mal’s ear. “Was I not clear on that? Now, you’re going to listen, and listen hard, because I’m not going to say this again: I like Inara, I respect her, and neither of us saw anything wrong with what passed between us the other night. You do, that’s your problem-–not mine.”

Jack released Mal as abruptly as he’d seized him. Mal stumbled a little, feeling the beginnings of a fine bruise on his cheekbone, possibly with an accompanying abrasion. It was at that point that his higher brain functions finally shouted down his temper, informing him of three things: first, that given Jack’s level of training, this was a fight Mal might not be able to win; second, that no matter how a fight ended between himself and Jack, Mal would look like a right fool to Inara; and third, that no matter how the aforementioned fight went, the reason for said fight would make him look like a right fool to his crew.

Individually, none of those factors had ever stopped him before. Collectively, and added to the suspicion that Jack was entirely correct that the only person who had a problem with the situation was his very own self, they were enough to awaken the lick of sense his ma had always insisted he had.

Mal turned slowly, touching the sore spot on his cheek. Damn, but that would leave a mark.

Jack stood just across the cockpit from him, not obviously guarded, but Mal knew very well that only a fool would take him for being unprepared to fight. And Ma Reynolds claimed she hadn’t raised any fools, a point that Mal occasionally took issue with, but decided to concede today.

Still, he had one thing to get off his chest.

“She’s worth more than coin can buy,” he told Jack.

“I’m not the one who needs to hear that from you,” Jack said.

Another point Mal was willing to concede.

Wash, thankfully, chose that moment to burst back into the cockpit, scattering the accumulated tension. “Hey, you were right about the monkey noises,” he told Jack. “Got the Doc right back on point, and . . .” The pilot trailed off as he spotted the rapidly-forming bruise on Jack’s jaw. “What happened?”

“Slipped,” said Jack.

Wash looked over at Mal, eyes narrowing suspiciously at the wound on his cheekbone.

“Fell,” said Mal. He nodded tersely to Jack. “Captain.”

Jack nodded back. “Captain.”

Mal left the cockpit then, feeling he and Jack had reached a resolution. That was a good thing. He went down to the cargo bay, where the Doctor seemed to be a mite irked with Jayne over some cut cable.

“Dadgum fei-oo tripped me up!” Jayne was saying.

“So you cut it,” said the Doctor, sarcasm dripping from every syllable. “Congratulations. You got your revenge on an inanimate object. Must make you feel downright manly!”

“Jayne, you yu chun de da xing xing!” Mal snapped as he approached. Not that the Doctor wasn’t doing a fine job of verbally flaying Jayne himself, but after the scene in the cockpit, yelling at Jayne was downright therapeutic.

The Doctor grinned brightly. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” He plopped down on the cargo bay floor, working on the cable with his sonic screwdriver. Jayne stomped away, muttering vile things under his breath.

“How’s it comin’?” Mal asked him. “Aside from the life-and-death struggle between your equipment and my merc, that is.”

“We should be ready any time,” said the Doctor. Mal watched in wonder as the sonic screwdriver repaired the cable in seconds, leaving no indication it had ever been cut. The Doctor glanced up, eyes immediately finding the mark on Mal’s cheek.

“Little disagreement between my face and a wall,” Mal explained, figuring Jack wouldn’t be one for talking big about a fight that was resolved. “Once you get this thing up and running, what can we expect here in the real world?”

“You shouldn’t have any interruptions in your systems. The TARDIS will be able to use Serenity’s navigational array to search for the source of the telepathic signal, only with a much greater range than Serenity alone would have.”

“Like how big?”

The Doctor finished reconnecting the last bit of cable and stood up. “Like the entire solar system with space to spare. Want a look?”

“Shiny.” Mal followed the Doctor into the TARDIS. He noticed River had pulled a crate up to the console and was sitting on it, staring in rapt fascination at the monitor that displayed what Jack had said was the Doctor’s own language. “You makin’ any sense out of that, little ‘un?”

“Not a word,” answered River, never taking her eyes off the display.

The Doctor didn’t seem worried about her, making his way around the other side of the console. Mal followed him and watched as the monitor lit up with, indeed, the entire solar system.

“Have you got visuals down there, Doc?” Jack’s voice asked from an intercom somewhere.

“I do,” said the Doctor. Rose and Kaylee entered the TARDIS and crowded around the Doctor and Mal to look at the display.

A small display with a large solar system on it couldn’t display much detail, but the Doctor pointed out Serenity’s approximate position. And then, just outside of Angel’s orbit and well outside Serenity’s usual sensor range, there was a flash of light. The Doctor pounced on it.

“There you are,” he murmured, and the screen zoomed in on the flash. “What does that look like to you, Captain?”

“Looks to me like a ship,” said Mal.

“Exactly,” said the Doctor. He narrowed in on it, and information started coming up on the display.

“Looks like a Xanadu-class, Cap’n,” said Kaylee.

“That it do,” said Mal. “Thought you said this was alien tech, Doctor.”

“It is. Alien tech being used by humans and apparently housed on a contemporary spacecraft. Were I to make a guess–-and my guesses are brilliant, incidentally–-the relay tower Charley Yang was killed for is now being used to augment the signal of the telepathic booster,” explained the Doctor.

Mal looked over at the Doctor, not liking the sound of that. “So it’ll have a wider range, you mean.”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” said the Doctor. “But at least now, we know where they are and what they’re flying.”

“What’re we going to do now?” Rose asked.

The Doctor looked over at Mal, eyes suddenly twinkling. “Captain Reynolds, how do you feel about picking a fight?”

Mal gave him a lazy grin. “Been known to do a bit of that in my time.”

***

fei-oo = garbage
yu chun de da xing xing = stupid ape

Back to index


Chapter 16: More Objects in Space

Author's Notes: ďBookís right,Ē said the Doctor. ďHe gets a chance--one chance. After that, what happens is on his own head.Ē

ďAnd what exactly will happen?Ē Inara asked, voice low.

Riverís soft voice came from the doorway. ďThe storm breaks.Ē


“Sounds powerful stupid to me,” said Jayne, sharpening his favorite knife.

“That would be an ‘aye’ vote, then,” said Wash.

Everyone on Serenity was gathered around the dining room table as they discussed what the Doctor had learned, and just what he and Mal were planning to do about it. A ripple of laughter made its way around the table.

Jayne, unamused, glared at Wash before gesturing at the Doctor with his knife. “You’re so smart, explain to me how walking into a nest of Reavers with your trousers ‘round your ankles is a good idea.”

“Sir, I hate to admit it, but he does have a point,” put in ZoŽ. “There’s any number of ways this could go wrong.”

“In that case, we go to Plan B a mite early,” said Mal.

“Why are you so certain they’ll talk?” asked Simon.

“Because anyone smart enough to be able to use that transmitter will have enough curiosity to at least listen to what I have to say,” said the Doctor.

“ ‘Sides which, whoever’s on that boat weren’t directly involved with what went down on Angel,” Mal pointed out. “Doc got a look at the traffic reports. Anything as big as a Xanadu-class woulda shown up, even if it was just in orbit.”

Jack shifted in his seat a bit. “It’s still pretty risky, counting on whoever this is to have even a rudimentary sense of honor.”

“Still say you should jus’ meet ‘im planetside with a gun,” muttered Jayne.

“He should be given a chance to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t take it,” said Book. “Summarily shooting him down makes us no better than him.”

“Book’s right,” said the Doctor. “He gets a chance--one chance. After that, what happens is on his own head.”

“And what exactly will happen?” Inara asked, voice low.

River’s soft voice came from the doorway. “The storm breaks.”

***

Shortly thereafter, the Doctor stood in the cockpit alongside Mal and ZoŽ as Wash piloted Serenity on a trajectory that took them ever closer to the mysterious ship--and possibly a whole pack of Reavers. Mal tried hard not to think about that. The Doctor seemed fairly confident that the captain of the Xanadu-class vessel would parley, but Mal’s nerves were on edge.

“We’re within their sensor range now,” Wash announced.

“Run up the white flag and open a channel,” said Mal.

Wash flipped a switch, and a light on Serenity’s exterior flared to life, blinking out what had become the universal signal for “I come in peace.” The ship also sent out a simple, coded wave indicating surrender or a request for parley. Another couple of switches, and Wash said, “You’ve got your channel.”

“Unknown vessel, this is Captain Malcolm Reynolds of the transport ship Serenity, requesting parley with your captain,” Mal announced.

After a moment, a reply came through. A man’s face filled the monitor. He was a rather handsome, middle-aged man with graying chestnut hair and eyes that indeterminate shade known as “hazel.” His smile was genial enough, but Mal saw something cold in his eyes. This was not a man he trusted.

“This is Captain Joel Hendricks of the Ambrose,” said the man in a smooth Core accent that was the twin of Simon’s. “Parley granted. What is it you wish to discuss, Captain Reynolds?”

“I’ve got a passenger wants to discuss some matters with you face-to-face,” said Mal, following the script he and the Doctor had prepared. “Will you guarantee us safe passage under Accord 315?”

Accord 315 was generally used during wartime. The gist was that any captain who requested a parley would be under a flag of truce until one hour after the parley was concluded.

Captain Hendricks’ mouth quirked. “We’re not at war, Captain Reynolds, but I agree to the terms set down in Accord 315. Your passenger and any party from your ship will be safe aboard mine.”

“Thank you kindly,” said Mal. “My pilot will send yours rendezvous coordinates.”

“Acknowledged. I look forward to the meeting. Ambrose out,” said the other captain.

Wash closed the channel. “Do we trust him?”

“Not as far as I could throw him and his ship,” said Mal, “but I do believe the Doctor’s right; he’ll talk.”

“He will,” said the Doctor. “We’re safe enough for now; I’m an unknown quantity, and he doesn’t know what I might have up my sleeve. Or in my pockets. I have a lot in my pockets, actually. Banana?” He offered one to Mal.

“No, thanks,” said Mal, nonplused.

Wash grabbed it. “Gee, fresh fruit–I wonder if I remember what it tastes like?”

“ZoŽ, you’ll be with me,” Mal told his second-in-command. “ ‘Bout how long will it be, Wash?”

Wash swallowed a mouthful of banana. “Half hour, give or take. This is good. Tastes real.”

“It’s from Villengard. Best bananas in the galaxy,” said the Doctor. “I’ll be in the TARDIS. Come get me when it’s time to go over to the Ambrose.”

***

About half an hour later, Mal met the Doctor, Jack and Rose in the cargo bay. Rose had her hair up and was wearing a tailored jacket, and Mal realized she intended to go with them. He was a little surprised that the Doctor wasn’t objecting.

“You sure you want to go with us, Miss Rose?” Mal asked. “It’s bound to be powerful tense.”

“That’ll be new and different for us,” said Rose dryly. “Don’t worry ‘bout me.”

Mal and ZoŽ escorted them to the secondary shuttle, where Mal took the controls with Jack more or less breathing over his shoulder.

“This is Shuttle Two heading out, Wash,” said Mal into the comm. “Wait here for us, and if Jayne tries to take over the ship, have Simon slip him another mickey.”

“Acknowledged, Captain. Have fun, and Serenity out.”

It was only a short hop over to the Ambrose, which was, in contrast to Serenity, one of the sleekest, shiniest models to come out of the shipyards of Hephaestus. Not that it was terribly new–Mal had seen very similar ships during the war–but it was still a damn sight more powerful than a Firefly.

He docked the shuttle, feeling like he was performing for guests, and sighed as he cut off the engines. “Okay, Doc, this is your show. You’re on point now.”

“Good.” The Doctor had done that thing where he got very quiet and cold and alien, and Mal suppressed a shiver.

***

A lieutenant–he had the insignia, though his uniform wasn’t standard Alliance Navy–escorted the small group to a briefing room. Captain Hendricks rose as they entered, gracing them with a genial smile.

“Captain Hendricks,” acknowledged Mal.

“Captain Reynolds,” Hendricks said in return. “May I be introduced to your guests?”

“This is ZoŽ Washburne, my first mate,” said Mal, indicating ZoŽ, “and this here’s the Doctor.”

“The Doctor.” Hendricks looked intrigued. “Interesting. I’ve never met a man with no name before.”

“Oh, I have plenty of names,” said the Doctor. “Speaking of which, these are my associates, Captain Jack Harkness and Miss Rose Tyler.”

Hendricks sized them up briefly and nodded. “Please, do have a seat. May I offer you some tea?” He indicated a silver service on the polished table.

The Doctor, Rose and Jack sat. Mal and ZoŽ didn’t, preferring to remain on guard.

“Thank you for the offer, but we’ll be brief,” said the Doctor. “You have aboard your vessel a piece of technology that belongs to neither this time nor this place. I’m here to retrieve it.”

“And if I were to say I have no idea what you mean?” asked Hendricks.

“If you were to say that, I’d be forced to call you a liar, and I don’t believe either of us wants this to become unpleasant,” said the Doctor.

“You may not. Wouldn’t count on him,” said Mal, jerking his chin at Hendricks.

“I’ve agreed to your terms for parley, Captain Reynolds; I do hope you’re not questioning my honor,” said Hendricks. “I’m a civilized man.”

“Couldn’t tell that by Charley Yang,” said Mal icily. “You tellin’ me you and yours aren’t the reason he ain’t in one piece no longer?”

Hendricks tensed visibly. “Unfortunately, the member of my entourage I sent to negotiate for that booster took liberties. He has since been . . . disciplined.”

“I’m sure that’s a real comfort to Charley’s daughter,” sneered Mal.

The Doctor raised a hand. “Enough of this. I’m here to request that you turn over the item in question. It’s already done enough damage.”

“And who are you to be making such a request?” demanded Hendricks. “Are you Alliance?”

“I’m a Time Lord, and no, I don’t belong to your government or any other,” said the Doctor. “It’s my business when something falls through time and into the hands of people who shouldn’t have it.”

Hendricks looked interested, but unimpressed. “What gives you the authority to make the decision of who should or should not have it?”

“I’m the only one who can make that decision. Time is mine to protect, and I will. This is your opportunity to do the right thing,” said the Doctor.

“And believe me, you’re lucky it’s the Doctor who’s come for it,” put in Jack. “The Time Agency–which I used to work for–would just destroy you, your ship and the object in question without warning. You go on the way you have, the likelihood of attracting their attention goes up.”

“Hm.” Hendricks sat back. “If what you say is true, why didn’t you come for it forty years ago when the Alliance snapped it up? You should have seen what they did with it when they figured out what it could do. I was there, Doctor; I was on the research team. It’s part of what caused my disillusionment with the Alliance in the first place.”

“That why you stole their toy?” asked Mal.

Hendricks looked him up and down. “You of all people, Captain Reynolds, should respect that. You fought in the war, didn’t you? You were an Independent.”

“Still am,” said Mal with a smirk.

“Good. You should be. I’ve been in deep; I’ve seen the underbelly of the Alliance. I’ve seen what goes on behind the faÁade, the things the citizens don’t know and don’t want to know.” Hendricks leaned forward. “I’ve seen things that would make your skin crawl, Doctor, things you did nothing about.”

“It’s not my job to dictate how your government should run itself,” said the Doctor. “We got here when we could, and even that wasn’t easy. Captain Reynolds was gracious enough to offer us transport out this far. And now I’m asking you, very nicely, to hand over what you’ve taken. Stage your coup some other way. Preferably without the cannibals. That is what this is about, isn’t it? Once you’ve got your fleet of Reavers, you’ve actually got a chance against the Alliance Navy.”

Hendricks gave a humorless smile. “I like to call it ‘Operation Chicken Roost’. And to extend the avian metaphor, it’s really killing two birds with one stone–the Rim will no longer be terrorized by the Reavers, and the Alliance gets what’s coming to them. Win-win. In other words, Doctor, the answer is no.”

The Doctor’s face might as well have been carved in stone. “Then I’ll stop you.”

“Hardly a wise thing to try, unless you have a fleet of your own hidden away somewhere,” said Hendricks. “Considering you had to barter transport with a smuggler, I seriously doubt that.”

“No, no fleet,” said the Doctor almost cheerfully. “Just us kids. Unfair odds, I’ll grant you, but I did offer you an opportunity to surrender. What happens from here on out is on your head.” Abruptly, he stood, Rose and Jack following his lead. “I don’t believe we have anything more to say.”

“I should say not,” agreed Hendricks. “Reynolds, I’m giving you one last chance. Whatever he has in mind, it’s not worth the loss of your ship and your crew. Do you really want to stand against me? With the Alliance?”

Mal gave him a lazy grin. “Ain’t standing with you, ain’t standin’ with the Alliance. I’m just standing. S’all a man can do.”

With that, he followed the Doctor back to the shuttle.

Back to index


Chapter 17: Doomsday

Author's Notes: ďButóbut whoíd do somethiní like that?Ē Kaylee asked, eyes wide.

ďA shark.Ē Riverís quiet voice came from just inside the TARDIS. ďI saw him. They showed me to him, their little captive bird trussed up for a feast. I saw him. The things in his brain.Ē She was getting agitated. ďI didnít want to see them, but now theyíre in my brain, and I canít make them go away. I donít want to know!Ē


“Heads up, people, we’ve got less than an hour,” said Mal as he entered the cargo bay. Jayne, Book and Simon looked up at him. “Wash, you listenin’ in?”

“Affirmative,” said Wash cheerfully over the intercom.

Mal outlined the situation briefly.

“Don’t get it,” said Jayne as Mal wrapped up. “Why do we gotta put our asses on the line for the Alliance? Far’s I’m concerned, the more purplebellies and Reavers kill each other, less I’ve gotta deal with ‘em.”

“First of all, you really think this guy’s gonna be able to keep his pet Reavers in line once they make the Core?” Mal asked. “That much tasty food on the hoof–powerful temptation for them as aren’t used to restraining themselves.”

“Aside from which, what if the Alliance destroys his ship and the telepathic booster?” asked the Doctor. “That’s his backup plan, you know; his hatred of the Alliance is downright pathological. If he gets deep enough into the Core before the Alliance kills him, they’ll be unleashing almost half a million Reavers upon worlds like Ariel, Osiris, Sihnon and Londinium. Enough to throw everything into chaos.”

“But–but who’d do somethin’ like that?” Kaylee asked, eyes wide.

“A shark.” River’s quiet voice came from just inside the TARDIS. “I saw him. They showed me to him, their little captive bird trussed up for a feast. I saw him. The things in his brain.” She was getting agitated. “I didn’t want to see them, but now they’re in my brain, and I can’t make them go away. I don’t want to know!”

Simon moved to comfort her, and the Doctor followed. “River, when things get goin’ here, it’s going to be the worst for you,” said the Doctor. “There’s a place on the TARDIS where you should be safe. Do you trust me?”

“Someplace quiet?” River asked.

“Someplace quiet. It’s called the Zero Room. I go there myself when I need some peace.” He held out his hand, and River took it, allowing him to lead her away.

Mal, meanwhile, took Kaylee aside. “Listen, mei-mei, I’m gonna need you with the engine, but if I say the word, you drop whatever it is you’re doin’ and make for the TARDIS, you got it? Promise me you’ll do that.”

“Promise,” said Kaylee, a little pale but ready to work. Mal knew she could be counted on.

“Kaylee, that thing we talked about–did you get it done?” Jack asked from the TARDIS doors.

Kaylee lit up again. “Yeah! Did I do it right?”

“I’ll take a look,” said Jack. “You’ll want to start getting Serenity ready, though–right, Captain?”

“Man’s right, Kaylee. You’ve got a load of work to do an’ not much time to do it in.” Mal gave her upper arm a reassuring squeeze. “Lucky for me, I got the best mechanic in the business.”

Mal left her to do her work. He had something difficult he needed to do himself.

***

Inara was surprised when the knock at her door was followed by Mal’s voice. He rarely asked permission to enter. She opened the door and stepped aside.

“We’re, um,” said Mal, obviously nervous. “We’re gearing up down there to do the necessary. Thought you oughta know things are lookin’ to get rough soon.”

“I surmised as much when your shuttle returned.” Inara forced herself to look at him. “Thank you for the warning, however.”

“Inara . . .” Mal distracted himself with some objects on a table. “I want–I’d like you to go down to the TARDIS. Stay there until this is all through.”

Inara sighed. “I’d rather stay in my shuttle, if--”

“It’s the safest place,” Mal interrupted. “Please, Inara. It’ll be a load off my mind, knowin’ you’re not in undue danger.”

Startled, Inara blinked at him. It was the “please” that got her; Mal so rarely said the word, let alone to her.

“All right,” she said at length. “I’ll go down to the TARDIS.”

“Thanks.” Mal nodded tightly and stepped through the door.

“Mal?” Inara called after him. He turned around. “Be careful.”

Mal summoned his usual cocky grin for her. “Ain’t I always?”

***

“We have contacts.”

Rose’s voice came over the intercom, briefly halting all work in the cockpit. Jack and Wash, who were busy with some hasty rewiring, looked at each other.

“How many, Miss Rose?” asked Mal.

“Five. Oops–six. One more just popped up,” she said. “They’re coming in from behind us and to the left.” Jack heard Book’s voice in the background. “All right, abaft portside, whatever.”

“Thanks, sweetie,” said Jack. He looked over at Mal. “That gives us about five to ten minutes until they’re into Serenity’s normal sensor range, depending on how fast they decide to go.”

Mal nodded and flipped on the intercom to the engine room. “Kaylee? Doctor? You got five minutes, to be safe.”

“We’ll be done before then,” came the Doctor’s voice.

“Sure is fun down here!” added Kaylee, sounding like she was having the time of her life.

Wash hopped up from under the console. “Done!”

“How’s it lookin’?” asked Mal.

“Like the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done.” Wash rubbed his hands together and plopped down in the pilot’s chair, grinning like a lunatic. “It’ll be fun! And terrifying!”

Jack slid into the copilot’s chair. “Weird how many people think those concepts are somehow contradictory.”

“I know,” said Wash. “Take my wife, for instance–completely terrifying, yet a great deal of fun under the right circumstances.”

“You can stop right there, husband,” said ZoŽ mildly.

Jack grinned and winked. “Please, not on my account.”

***

Rose, Simon, Book, Jayne and Inara stood or sat around the TARDIS’s control room in varying states of anxiety. Jayne looked the most nervous; he’d stationed himself near the entrance with Vera, twitching at sounds only he heard. Rose thought the TARDIS might be playing with him.

The door flew open, and Jayne instantly had Vera up to his shoulder and pointing at the Doctor.

“Rose, I–oh, stop that, you!” He reached out and gave Vera a shove. “Shoot up my ship and you’ll need a proctologist to recover that gun. Rose, you’re sure you know what to do?”

Rose sighed, walking over to him. She took his jacket lapels in her hands and looked up at him. “We’ve been over this a dozen times, and you did up Post-Its all over the console–in English, even–so yeah, I think I got it. Quit worryin’ about me.” Her eyes dropped. “You promise you’ll get in here if it gets too dangerous?”

“Rose Tyler, do I look like the sort of man who’d like to meet a Reaver?” he asked. “I’ll shove Jack out of the way getting in here.”

Grinning, Rose reached up and hugged him. “Good luck. Take care of Kaylee, too; I like her.”

“So do I.” The Doctor hugged her back. “Promise me this will be the day you actually do as you’re told.”

Rose pulled back, giving him a teasing look. “I’m always good.”

“That was never in question.” The Doctor gave her nose a quick tweak and let her go, leaving to rejoin Kaylee in the engine room.

After he was gone, Jayne shook his head. “If he ain’t got it bad. You must give some quality trim.”

Rose preferred to not understand him.

***

“And there they are,” said Wash. “Captain Crazy and his merry band of lunatics. The Ambrose is bringing up the rear.”

“Don’t surprise me one bit,” said Mal. “Time for us to skedaddle.”

Wash hit the throttle, and Serenity leaped forward.

“They’re pacing us,” Jack announced calmly. “And now gaining. This’ll be skinny.”

“Always is.” Mal braced himself and glanced over at ZoŽ, who was, as usual, rock-solid.

Several tense minutes passed. The Reavers were gaining every moment, but Serenity’s goal was in sight.

Serenity plunged toward the surface of planetoid X-115. It was about half the size of Earth’s moon and pockmarked with meteor strikes. More to the point, there was a network of tunnels the Alliance had dug into it while mining every mineral and metal it offered up.

“Rose, baby, please tell me you’ve got something,” said Jack into the comm.

“Headed your way,” said her voice.

A moment later, a complete, three-dimensional map of the planetoid popped up on Jack’s viewer. He whooped. “Time to fly our tight little asses off, Wash!”

“Just as long as we don’t fly my wife’s off,” said Wash with considerable sangfroid, concentrating entirely on the controls. “I’m very fond of it.”

“Don’t blame you one bit,” said Jack, furiously feeding coordinates and directions into the flight computer. “I could worship an ass like yours, ZoŽ. I say this with all due respect. Speaking of great asses, Doctor?”

The Doctor’s voice came over the comm. “Bit busy at the mo’!”

“Just checking. Think that’s your cue, Wash.”

As Serenity reached the surface, Wash opened the engines wide, letting loose a small inferno into the faces of the Reavers on their tail.

Jack grinned wolfishly. “That oughta distract ‘em.”

Wash couldn’t be distracted as he flew Serenity down one of the access tunnels. Luckily, the Alliance’s miners were a good deal bigger than a Firefly, but there still wasn’t much room for error. He had to trust Jack’s navigation implicitly. Not to mention the Doctor and Kaylee in the engine room.

“Anybody on our backside?” asked the pilot.

“Looks like one, maybe two,” said Jack. “Hard to tell with all the mineral interference. I’d suggest we lose them.”

“Noted and logged.” Wash followed Jack’s coordinates down a branching tunnel, a single deft movement avoiding crashing into a wall. “This will be very, very tight. Kaylee? Cut engines on my mark.”

“Got it,” chirped the mechanic over the comm.

The fore lights hit a wall, and it was approaching fast. “Three . . . two . . . one . . . mark!”

For a moment, everything seemed to float as Serenity dropped into the planetoid’s weak gravity well, falling into the tunnel just before it could hit the wall.

The Reavers weren’t so lucky. The first one tried to pull up, only to be rammed by the second. They were gone in a ball of flame.

The thrusters flared to life, slowing Serenity’s fall and guiding the ship into an alcove.

“Jack?” said Rose’s voice. “I’ve got it.”

“We’re parked, sweetie,” said Jack. “Get it done.”

***

Inside the TARDIS, Rose pulled the brake as Simon tripped the dematerialization circuit and Book hit the stabilizers. The central column roared to life. Though the time circuits were still offline, the TARDIS could make lateral moves through space, thanks to Kaylee’s help, and that was exactly what it was doing.

“Inara, pull the lever I showed you,” Rose ordered, hoping she didn’t sound as nervous as she thought she did. “Carefully.”

Inara eased the lever down as if she’d been born to the life of a Time Lady, and the TARDIS began to materialize.

Jayne swore loudly and creatively. As the TARDIS materialized, something was materializing inside it.

“Do not shoot!” Rose snapped. “I swear you’ll be missin’ bits if you do!”

A smooth silver cylinder with one closed end was fading in. The cables connecting it to the Ambrose fell limp as the TARDIS severed them.

Unfortunately, the TARDIS also managed to snag a technician. The man blinked at the abrupt change of scenery, but he recovered quickly and went for his weapon.

Book stepped in, and in one smooth movement disarmed the man and turned his weapon on him. “Consider yourself a fortunate man, son, though it may not seem so at the moment,” said the preacher.

“Simon, now,” said Rose, and Simon hit the dematerialization circuit again while Rose flipped the fast-return switch.

A few seconds later, the TARDIS was back on Serenity, and Rose heaved a relieved sigh. “We did it!”

The doors opened, and the Doctor charged in, sonic screwdriver at the ready. The cylinder flared back to life.

“It’s safe to take off now, Wash,” said the Doctor into the comm. “We have the booster. I set it to tell the Reavers we aren’t here.”

“Wait!” The technician they’d accidentally kidnapped looked alarmed. “Without the transmitter, the Ambrose is a sitting duck. You can’t--”

“I can’t stop the consequences of your captain’s actions,” said the Doctor, voice hard. “The transmitter was never supposed to be in this place or time. I’m correcting a mistake too many people have paid the price for. Your captain and shipmates are only the latest.”

***

Captain Joel Hendricks listened helplessly to the panicked report coming in from his technicians. One of his hands curled into a fist.

As you sow, so shall you reap. He remembered hearing that in church a lifetime ago.

No one had ever mentioned how many others would reap what he sowed.

The captain looked around the bridge, meeting the eyes of the people he’d led into this battle, the ones who had trusted him and his foolproof plan. They wanted to know what to do, how to get out of this one.

On the nav screen, the remaining Reavers turned their ships toward the Ambrose.

Calmly, Hendricks keyed the comm. “Mr. Sanjay?”

His chief mechanic’s voice answered. “Aye, Captain.”

“Set the engines to overload.” Hendricks swallowed hard and opened the channel so the whole ship could hear. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been an honor to serve with you.”

“Aye, Captain,” said Sanjay.

“Aye, Captain,” murmured the bridge crew.

“I’m sorry,” Hendricks whispered to his crew, to River Tam, to the universe in general. “I’m sorry.”

***

Up in the cockpit, Wash gently guided Serenity through the tunnels and up to the surface of the planetoid. He, Jack, Mal and ZoŽ watched silently as the Ambrose flared into a fireball, destroying the remaining Reavers in its death throes.

Back to index


Chapter 18: The Parting of the Ways

Author's Notes: River froze, eyes going wide. ďSleeping BeautyóBriar Rose. It fits. My conundrum has an answer!Ē Her face lit up. ďCaptain Jack, youíre a genius!Ē She ran to him, gracefully leaping into his arms, and as he caught her, she kissed him full on the mouth.


The Allosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus were having relationship difficulties.

“You devoured my dad!” screeched the Allosaur.

“I didn’t know he was your dad,” said the Tyrannosaur. “I was hungry. Come on, I’m a carnivore–I thought you liked that about me!”

“I do like your carnivorous ways!” replied the Allosaur. “The way you tear herbivores apart is one of the things that attracted me to you in the first place. But my dad, Tyr!” She burst into sobs.

“Now, now, everyone needs to just calm down here,” said the Archaeopteryx. “It seems to me the two of you are having a conflict over whom to devour. What you need to do is find someone to devour together. It’ll remind you of why you fell in love in the first place.”

The Allosaur turned to the Tyrannosaur. “He’s so right. Remember how we met? The way we tore that Dienonychus limb from limb?”

“How could I forget?” asked the Tyrannosaur. “I love you, Allie! And I’m really sorry about your dad.”

“Eh, he was old and weak anyway. I probably would’ve devoured him myself sooner or later. Now c’mere, you big lug!” The two plastic dinosaurs kissed passionately.

“Am I interrupting anything?” Mal asked?

Wash, holding the Tyrannosaur and Allosaur, and Jack, holding the Archaeopteryx, looked up from their plastic Jurassic.

“Ah, no,” said Jack.

“Nothing at all,” said Wash.

“Good. ‘Cause I was under the impression the two of you were supposed to be in the business of getting us up and running again,” said Mal.

“Yeah, well, we’re disconnected from the TARDIS and our nav system is up,” said Wash. “Unfortunately, the fact remains that the engine went ‘poing!’”

Mal swore a bit in Mandarin. They’d rather overtaxed Serenity with their recent maneuvers, and the main engine went down as soon as they were free of the planetoid, shorting the nav system with it. The Doctor and Kaylee were working on the engine.

The console bleeped. Wash spun about, giving it his full attention. “Nav contact! Doesn’t look like a Reaver.”

The comm crackled to life. “Sarge! You got yourself in trouble again?” came Emmy Chao's voice.

Mal let out a sigh of relief. “Hey, Emmy, I think I know how you can say thanks for that tow we gave you . . .”

***

Later, after getting a tow to Angel, where they dropped off the technician they'd accidentally snagged from the Ambrose and bartered the computer components they were smuggling for some shiny new engine parts, Jack headed back down to the TARDIS. Along the way, he passed the Doctor, Mal and ZoŽ, who were in a serious discussion.

“Be real nice to have out here on the Rim,” Mal was saying. “Not like we’d know how to get it to do what Hendricks was, anyway. Well, Kaylee’d have to be restrained, and we might have to watch River, but--”

The Doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s out of the question. The technology shouldn’t be in this time or place, and it would be irresponsible of me to leave it here. Can you honestly tell me there’s no chance the Alliance would ever board your ship and find it?”

“Sad to say the man has a point, sir,” said ZoŽ.

Jack continued on past them and down to the TARDIS. Inara, Book, Simon and Rose were chatting in the control room. Rose immediately jumped up and ran over for a hug, which Jack happily provided.

“Have fun?” she asked as she pulled back.

“Oh, lots,” he said. “I got to help fly a Firefly! And then Wash and I played with his dinosaurs, who have surprisingly complicated personal lives. I’m telling you, it’s better than Eastenders.”

“You’re very strange,” said Rose.

Before he could say anything to that, River entered the control room from belowdecks, yawning and rubbing her eyes, obviously just having woken up. “Well, hello, Sleeping Beauty,” said Jack.

At that, River froze, eyes going wide. “Sleeping Beauty–Briar Rose. It fits. My conundrum has an answer!” Her face lit up. “Captain Jack, you’re a genius!” She ran to him, gracefully leaping into his arms, and as he caught her, she kissed him full on the mouth.

Jack had absolutely no idea what brought this on, but a pretty girl was kissing him, so all was right with his world. He returned the kiss with interest.

Just as suddenly, she released him and wiggled away with a shriek of glee, running down the ramp and out of the TARDIS. Jack followed her progress with his eyes–and then turned to meet Simon’s glare.

“Oh, fine,” said Jack in an exasperated tone. He grabbed Simon’s face between his hands and soundly snogged him.

Simon sputtered as Jack released him. Book smothered a snicker. Rose and Inara fell into each other’s arms, laughing.

“Gee, that was pretty,” Kaylee commented.

***

River ran through Serenity, mind alight with the knowledge Jack’s statement had unlocked. Her conundrum was solved; all the factors fit, the equation balanced. All she needed to do now was find the Doctor and give him her findings.

She felt his presence. It was somehow heavier and more real than the others around her, like the gravity well of a planet as opposed to a moon. It drew her in.

“Doctor!” she cried, running up the stairs to him. “Doctor, I figured it out!”

The Doctor turned and saw her, reaching out to catch her before she could run into him. She joyfully embraced him.

“What exactly did you figure out?” he asked, hugging her back and chuckling.

“My conundrum! I saw it, I know–Captain Jack gave me the key.” She giggled.

“Now I’m a little scared,” said the Doctor.

River swatted his arm. “Don’t be silly.”

The Doctor looked at her a little more seriously, taking her aside, a little way away from Mal and ZoŽ. “You said your conundrum was about Rose–how I can save her.”

River nodded, taking his hands and holding his gaze with her own. “Yes. You have to remember this: It takes a kiss to save the princess.” The Doctor blinked. “You’ll understand when it’s time. Kiss the Wolf, save the Rose.” She leaned up and brushed a kiss against the Doctor’s cheek.

Then she whirled away, feeling joyous and light. “I kissed Captain Jack!” she sang out, and flew down the stairs to where Jack pulled her into a grand Viennese waltz. They swept gracefully through the cargo bay as if it were a ballroom on Londinium.

For a little while, River Tam was perfectly happy.

***

“So, you’re gonna be off soon?” Mal asked a few hours later.

“The Time Rotor’s almost completely repaired,” said the Doctor. “That means we’ll be able to move in both time and space. We still need a few components we can’t find in your time period, and then we’ll have to refuel–Earth’s the best place for that–but yes, we’ll be going shortly. Rose hoped your lot would be able to join us for dinner on the TARDIS this evening.”

“Wouldn’t turn down a chance for real food,” said Mal. “Don’t suppose you’ll be givin’ up my mechanic anytime soon?”

“Absolutely. She--”

The Doctor was interrupted by the sound of Jack’s voice coming through the open doors of the TARDIS into the cargo bay.

“Come on, baby, do it for Captain Jack. That’s right, you gorgeous thing, you–yes! Yes!”

Mal and the Doctor shared an alarmed look. Jayne, intrigued, ventured nearer the suspicious blue box, and as Mal and the Doctor also approached, the sound of the Time Rotor came spilling out.

“Yes! Yes! Do it, baby!” crowed Jack.

“I take it it’s working?” asked the Doctor.

Jack powered down the rotor, flushed and smiling. “Oh, yeah. She’s working great.”

“Do I wanna know where Kaylee is?” Mal asked.

“She and Rose went down to the wardrobe,” said Jack, vaguely indicating the direction they’d taken. “Sounds like they want to dress for dinner.”

ZoŽ entered with Wash. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“We’re ready to go,” said the Doctor.

“They were hopin’ we’d eat with ‘em again tonight,” Mal told her.

“Real food, twice in one week?” Wash shook his head. “I don’t know–I might break out in hives or something.”

The Doctor pressed a button on the console. “Rose, get up here, would you?”

A minute later, Rose and Kaylee appeared, but not as Mal had last seen either. Rose was swathed in pink satin, and Kaylee floated in a cloud of peach-colored tulle.

Kaylee’s brown eyes sparkled. “We was tryin’ on dresses!”

“Females and their frippery,” muttered Mal. “Least you’re a sensible one, ZoŽ.”

ZoŽ, however, wasn’t paying attention to him, but giving Rose a calculating look. “You got anything slinky down there?” she asked.

“We’re a go for dinner,” said the Doctor before Mal or Rose could say anything.

“Good!” Rose looked over at Book hopefully.

“I’ll be happy to help again,” said the Shepherd.

“Great! I’ll get back into my regular clothes, then, and we can get started.” She cocked her head. “By the way, Doctor, d’you know where the TARDIS put my room? There’s a closet of cricket gear where it used to be.”

The Doctor obligingly checked a monitor–and then gave a great sigh. No one was being subtle anymore, including his ship. “It’s next to mine,” he said wearily.

Kaylee giggled and Rose blushed. The Doctor groaned.

“Jack?” He looked at his newer friend. “Yours is right across the hall.”

Jack promptly grabbed one of the coral support struts and snogged it messily.

The Doctor wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Don’t do that to my ship!”

“But she loooves me!” Jack embraced the strut in a none-too-platonic manner.

Rose got control of her laughter long enough to speak. “ZoŽ? I’ll show you to the wardrobe. There’s a dress I think would look stunning on you. Shepherd, I’ll meet you in the kitchen. Kaylee’ll help out, too.”

“So will Jack,” the Doctor announced with a baleful glare at the former conman. “Go on, you, before my ship gets you pregnant.”

Jack shuddered. “Oh, no. Not doing that again!” He followed the others belowdecks.

Mal blinked. “Did–did he just say what I think he did?”

The Doctor sighed. “Trust me, there are things about Jack that no one wants to know.”

***

Dinner was served in the TARDIS’s grand dining hall. The Doctor had to evacuate the dust out of it, but no further preparation was needed. Kaylee decided to wear the 1950s-style ball gown she’d worn up to the control room earlier. Rose chose an empire-waisted, apricot-colored evening gown. River came down to the wardrobe and immediately left again with an aquamarine silk satin sheath that flowed around her like water. Inara, of course, came in one of her own gowns.

ZoŽ was the standout. Rose had indeed found the perfect dress for her–a creamy white gown that skimmed her curves with a back that dipped dangerously low, leaving her dark skin bare except for a few crisscrossing strands of crystal beading. She wore her hair loose, and the effect was such that even Mal nearly choked when he saw her. Wash barely even ate, his attention was so fixed on his wife.

As the wine flowed, so did the stories. The TARDIS crew learned how each of Serenity’s crew had come on board. Rose told the story of how she first met the Doctor. Jack finished the story of how he almost destroyed the human race.

Mal had a question. “Hey, Doc, maybe you can answer me this: are the stories about the Preservers really true?”

“Preservers?” asked Rose.

“Folk as never left Earth-That-Was,” Book explained. “The legends go way back that some refused to leave their used-up home and stayed behind to preserve what was left of her.”

“The stories are true,” said the Doctor. “Jack, you probably read about it at the Time Academy, correct?”

Jack (resplendent in a 1930s-style tux) nodded, swirling a little wine in his glass. “Yeah. They kept amazing records of their restoration efforts.”

“Exactly.” The Doctor folded his hands under his chin. “The Preservers have done remarkable work in the last few centuries. Earth’s population currently stands at 1.5 million humans. They’ve been bringing back the forests, repopulating species that were nearly extinct–and even a few that were completely gone–cleaning the oceans and atmosphere, and preserving and restoring all the great artwork and architecture that you colonists didn’t or couldn’t take with you. They’re in the midst of what’s possibly Earth’s most peaceful period in human history.” He looked at Rose. “Cardiff’s a garden spot. We should go there to refuel.”

She looked puzzled. “Cardiff?”

“Remember the Rift there? It emits energy the TARDIS can use for fuel,” the Doctor explained.

Rose lit up. “Can we go to the twenty-first century? S’been forever since I’ve been home, or close.”

The Doctor looked set to argue, but Jack spoke before he could. “Just say yes. It’ll be more dignified if you give in now.”

That earned him a glare as laughter ran around the table. “All right,” the Doctor finally said to Rose. “Call up your mum and Rickey and tell ‘em we’re on our way.”

The evening eventually wound down, and it came time for the Doctor, Rose and Jack to leave. Rose insisted that each of the ladies keep the gowns they’d chosen as they emerged from the depths of the TARDIS.

Kaylee was already crying as she embraced Rose. “I’m gonna miss you!”

“I’ll miss you, too,” said Rose, blinking back her own tears. “Didn’t realize quite how much I missed havin’ girls my age around ‘til we came here.”

The Doctor shook Mal’s hand. “Thank you for your hospitality, Captain.”

“S’been an experience,” Mal said with a wry grin.

Wash and Jack shook hands, too. “Wash, it’s been a privilege,” said Jack. “Thanks for letting me help fly this bird and aid your dinosaurs with their relationship difficulties.”

“They can always use the help. Unlike me.” Wash took another appreciative look up and down his wife.

“Indeed.” Jack winked at her. “ZoŽ, thanks for sharing your husband with me.”

“You watch yourself,” ZoŽ told him, but there was no heat to it. She favored him with a teasing smile. “Couple more days, who knows what would’ve happened?”

“Don’t taunt me with the possibilities,” said Jack.

Rose said a round of goodbyes to everyone, even Jayne, who still remained unconvinced she wasn’t some kind of prostitute. She decided he could think what he wanted.

“Thanks for savin’ my life, Simon,” she said as she got to the young doctor.

“I’m glad I could,” he said simply.

After Jack kissed Inara’s hand, she turned to the Doctor. “I’ll always remember this,” she told him. “Meeting you has been extraordinary.”

The Doctor grinned cheekily. “It usually is.”

She smiled at that. “Do remember what I told you.” She took a sidelong glance at Rose. “I think you’ll find she’s worth it.”

“She is.” River was suddenly beside him, eyes on his face.

The Doctor embraced her gently. “River Tam. You sure you wouldn’t like to come along for a little while?”

“No,” she said. “I have Serenity, and I have to take care of my friends.” She pulled back to look at him again. “But maybe we’ll meet again, when you have a new face.”

“Maybe we will.” The Doctor let go of River and reached for Rose’s hand. She and Kaylee hugged one last time, and then the Doctor, Rose and Jack withdrew into the TARDIS and shut the doors.

The crew of Serenity watched in wonder as the TARDIS dematerialized, disappearing as if it had never really been there.

“Been a powerful strange few days,” said Mal.

“That is has, sir,” ZoŽ agreed.

He looked at her and smiled. “Think I liked it, though.”

She smiled back. “Think I did, too, sir.”

***

EPILOGUE FORTHCOMING

Back to index


Chapter 19: Epilogue: The Doctor Dances

Author's Notes: Finally, we reach our end! This is the uber-'shippy epilogue, not necessary to the rest of the story, but if you love Nine/Rose, well, I certainly hope you'll like it. Thanks to all who've followed this story, and especially to those who reviewed!


Something was coming, whispering, “Bad Wolf.”

The Doctor could feel it in every cell of his body, in all his senses. Something was bearing down on them like a train, and he knew he couldn’t stop it. All he could do was minimize the damage. Somehow, he had to make certain the worst fell on him instead of Rose or Jack.

He stood in the doorway of the library. Rose was inside, sitting on one of the sofas, reading the book Finding Serenity by the Honourable Inara Serra. The Doctor had acquired the book after they’d left their friends in the 26th century, and Rose, eager to find out what happened to them, was in the process of devouring it.

The library’s soft lighting made her skin and hair glow. She was dressed for bed, wearing a pair of soft cotton pajama bottoms and a white tank top, with her hair pulled off her face and not a speck of makeup on. To his eyes, she had never looked more beautiful.

“You have to make the decision as to what you’ll regret more–what you did, or what you didn’t do.”

Inara’s words rang in his head. He let his mind wander down a few of the paths of probability, weighed his options . . . and made his decision.

“Rose?” he called softly. She looked up, startled, and smiled at him. He held out his hand.

She was so very trusting. Without even asking what he wanted, she set down her book and went to him, taking his hand. Her eyes held a question, but she was content to let him lead her. He led her through the halls to his bedroom, where he shut the door behind them. Needing a moment, he turned from her long enough to slip his jacket off and settle it on the back of a chair.

“Doctor?” Her voice was soft, tentative and a little nervous, but not afraid.

He took a deep breath and turned around. His room was large, almost cavernous with its arched ceiling, and she looked very small. Vulnerable. For a moment, his impulse was to make up some lie about why he’d brought her here; surely she couldn’t bear the darkness in him, and it wasn’t fair to ask her to.

His longing for her overcame the ingrained taboos of his people. He walked over to her, stopping and looking at her for a moment before he reached up and removed the clip from her hair and dropped it on a side table. Then he did as he had dreamed of and ran his fingers through the soft waves. His hands settled at the sides of her face, and she watched him, her eyes growing wide as she recognized the need in his eyes.

“Is–is this happening?” she whispered.

“Only if you want it to.” He drew her into his embrace, savoring the feel of her in his arms. “If you don’t, it’s all forgotten. Just say the word.”

She let out a shuddering breath, melting against his body, wrapping her arms around him and smoothing her hands over his back. “Doctor, I’ve wanted this for so long. I want this. I want you.”

He wanted to say something to that, but he couldn’t, his words stolen away by her closeness. One hand skimmed down her back while the other ran up into her hair, and he bent to breathe her in. She was so warm. How did it feel, he wondered, to hold such warmth inside? “Rose,” he breathed, just to hear her name.

She tipped her head back, and his lips moved across her forehead, feathering gently over her eyes and down to her cheekbone before he pulled back to look into her face again.

For a long moment, he just looked. Her eyes were dark, her skin flushed, her love for him and her need naked on her face. Then he slipped a hand around to cup her face, leaned in . . . and he kissed her.

She held on, pressing ever closer, opening her mouth to him and sliding her arms up to hold his head where it was. He could feel her life, her energy, leaping from her body to his like a flame. Light bloomed behind his eyes. He grew lightheaded, joy stabbing almost painfully between his hearts. Centuries fell away in a moment, and somewhere inside, he laughed like the little boy he might never have been.

A kiss might save the princess, but right now, it felt like she was saving him all over again.

She saved him as they kissed again and again and again. She saved him as their clothing dropped away, piece by piece, and skin found skin. She saved him as he worshipped her body with his own. She saved him with every cry, every gasp, every moan.

She saved him as she held him in the afterglow, head pillowed on her breast.

And when the remnants of the Time War finally caught up with him, she saved him yet again, this time by letting him return the favor. He saved her, letting his soul find peace in giving up for love a life that had begun in devastation.

No fairy tale ever ended better.

***

A/N: Incidentally, I did write a very short follow-up in which Ten and Martha run into the Serenity crew: On the Rim. Enjoy!

Back to index



Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story archived at http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=10564