Title: Yes, They Have the Money
Characters: Crew, Mal/Inara implied
Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss.
Summary: Mal's having a bad day.
A/N: Much thanks to my lovely beta noandwhere
For all Ulrich’s faults, he’d been right about God having no hand in war. On all fronts Mal’s life had become a war zone. It made his mind always on the defensive; he could never be restful. Best to keep on the move, life like this could be outrun on occasion.
Mal was sure that no one looked past the clothes he was wearing. They asked him what brought him to their church, to which he’d reply cheerfully that he’d come on a visit, that he was on a journey. He’d mostly stolen what he could remember Book saying the day that he boarded Serenity. Mal couldn’t recollect precisely what was said, since for the first few days he’d only seen Book as a man of god, but as Inara was more than a Companion and Mal himself much more than a petty thief, Book was more than a Shepherd.
Mal took his seat as he spotted the man that his dealings was to be with. His picture had been attached to the co-ordinates. He closed his eyes, bowed his head and attempted to tune out the sermon, a scary thing when you’re on the outs. He’d kept his distance from churches - hard to believe it was a place he’d once felt at home in.
When the time came for the collection plate to be passed, Mal was discreetly handed the bundle of ident cards. He quickly slipped the package into the pocket against his heart, the weight of it felt like a bible. He’d known people in the war to put one there, as protection against stray bullets. In Mal’s opinion no amount of words could protect the heart, there wasn’t a dense enough book in the whole ‘verse could manage that.
Mal let false amens fall from his lips and waited till the end of the service to leave; no one ever guessed him out of place.
- - - - - - - - - -
Mal threw the bundle onto the table as he walked into the dining room.
"Go alright?" Zoe asked.
"Without a hitch, except a lot of folks kept flocking about me wanting absolution, lots of them having inclination towards sins on the fleshy side."
"Nice to know there’s work for you to fall back on." Wash said.
"Hope the rest of the job is as easy." It was about ten hours travel to the drop off at Jiangyin; if things went well no one would end up shot or kidnapped like last time they visited. He could occasionally be optimistic.
"I don’t like the spot, sir."
"Good thing I got you staying with the ship then."
"You ain’t serious about going alone." He remembered his chat with Zoe and her keep pulling him down. It obviously gone on deaf ears, not that he’d given reason. He wasn’t going to go alone though.
"Maybe alone would be better." Wash said.
"Been awhile since I got to be violent towards anyone." Jayne said, perking up.
"There’s to be no fighting, getting paid relies on not hitting folk." Through letting Jayne smash some people over the head had its initial appeal.
"Might wanna go writin’ that down. ‘Cause, my rates normally depend on how many nose and teeth I’m to be breakin‘." Mal couldn’t work out if Jayne was being serious or not so he gave up trying.
"Here I was thinking violence was it’s own reward."
- - - - - - - - - -
Ulrich sat in a small room, Mal was hard pressed spying a scrap of Ulrich’s skin that hadn’t had some form of punishment inflicted on it. Ulrich’d told them everything they asked, torture was prohibited but not frown upon; still the smell of blood was enough to make Mal ill at ease.
"I left it on the table, it’s your's." Mal looked at him. Ulrich had tilted his head towards a small table, where a glint of metal caught Mal’s attention. "I'm done with it." The cross was in a discarded heap, it not been thrown in a fit of temper. The deliberateness of it seemed so final. "That's what you’re here for, need that, and a damn sight lot more bible verses if we’re ever to win this war."
"We’re to win." Mal shook his head. "You ain’t one of mine, besides I’m the only one that can stomach being near you." Mal sat in a chair across from him. "Don’t be expecting pleasantries."
"I suppose I have you to thank for all the beatings?" Ulrich talked as if constantly out of breath, Mal guessed he was in some pain.
"Don’t go thanking me for what you’ve inspired others to doing." Mal was the reason it had not gone beyond a beating, man was going to get his comeuppance this life and the next, next might not be so full of brimstone if he was to repent. "What I’ve figured is all those deaths you’re responsible for, people you knew well, a couple of times my number seemed to be up, there you are looking as conspicuous as hell to it all."
"I stopped believing, or realised that I stopped believing and deep down Mal you have too. You’re smart, bound to figure it out eventually, when the pig-headedness in you dies."
"I’m pig headed, no, no I think you confused on that score. I’ve known nonbelievers, they didn’t go astray to the enemy. God fearing don’t have the monopoly on loyalty."
"Least I’m honest enough not to be planting false platitudes, can’t win the war Mal."
"Even if you believe that, don’t buy it all back." Mal got up. "Nothing is ever gonna fix what you did, you lost your own war." Mal looked at him, he didn’t know what he’d expected, what answer if there was one he wanted to learn on but it wasn’t to be found. Not here.
Mal leant forward and took his cross back and fastened it back into place round his own neck. "I want to know what happened? Know you weren‘t always this way."
- - - - - - - - - -
Mal and Jayne waited in a scrap of woods. Jayne moved back and forth making Mal feel more antsy.
"Could you keep still." Mal snapped at Jayne.
"Do I get paid extra for that?" Mal simple glared, Jayne doing like wise. "Ain’t right them keepin’ us waitin’ like this."
"Sorry about that." The voice came from the opposite direction than they’d been facing. Jayne spun around and hit the man who’d spoken in the face, his nose started spilling blood.
"You remember our chat?" Mal asked Jayne.
"I told you shoulda written a note." Jayne shrugged, grinned as much as he thought he could get away with. The man Jayne hit backed away behind three others, one of them Ulrich, all of them carrying metal.
"Don’t take the clumsiness as any kind of attack." Mal said. He couldn’t see this playing out well of course he’d expected that, always planned for the eventuality of being betrayed.
"You got the Ident cards, no trouble. Pass them to Yeoman." He nodded towards the one Jayne had blooded.
"I’ll do that soon as you pass the money to Jayne." Ulrich tossed the pay load to Jayne and Mal hurled the bundle of Ident cards to Yeoman.
Mal noticed guns were plenty aimed on them. And thought nothing was free in this life that didn‘t stop some from trying to weasel out of paying.
"That was kinda stupid." Ulrich said Mal.
"I thought so too." Mal agreed.
"Throw you're gun down Reynolds." Jayne threw his gun down, grumbling that Mal was indeed terrible stupid.
"Now that would be stupid." Mal held tight to his pistol. "You know the difference between him and you?" Mal’s nodded his head in the direction of Jayne. "Besides having to pay him extra for not beating on folk."
"I don’t trust him, not to turn on me." A bullet sounded as it ripped into Ulrich’s leg, Zoe got up from her hiding spot.
All hell broke loose, Mal fired some rounds off hit one of Ulrich‘s hired guns. Jayne swung for the one with the bloody nose, sounded like he broke it this time.
Mal loomed over Ulrich, his leg bleeding but Mal knew he’d live. "Her I trust." He motioned towards Zoe.
"Nice to say so, sir."
"Wasn’t it?" Mal agreed with Zoe. "I’ll be taking my money now and these, I can get a good fire going with these." Mal said taking the ident cards from the one with the bleeding nose. Mal didn’t care what defenses Ulrich came up with this time and he didn’t much care.
- - - - - - - - - -
Wash and Kaylee were the only ones in the cargo bay when they returned.
Kaylee grinned on spying they were alive and had money, to fix Serenity some.
"How’d it go Cap’n?"
Wash looked at them all. "So they tried to kill you, so not to pay you, so you killed them and then got paid."
"Can get a full tank of fuel for that." He said, handing Wash a chunk of the money.
"I’m glad you're okay." Kaylee said.
"Nothing to worry on, you can go on a buy that catalyser now." He knew naming the wrong part would liven her spirits up.
"It’s a new grav boot I wanted."
Kaylee begrudgingly smiled as Mal wrapped his arm round her shoulder. It was the closest to an apology Mal would give her for the trouble with Inara.
"And we can get paid? Roughing ups I dealt out ain’t gonna have a difference on my cut is it?" Jayne asked. Mal was glad for a change of having Jayne on his crew, days were filled with empty words people not saying what they meant, himself included but not Jayne.
"Back dated?" Wash asked.
"I’m wealthy for all of five minuets," Mal complained but dolled out everyone’s cut. "No wonder the rich are so uppity." Keeping money was like trying to get a grip on water, couldn’t be done.
"Wash, you best get us to a fuelling station?" Wash nodded. "While you're at it, you can all take a walk about when we get there, spend your earnings, might as well all be poor and in good company, while we're at it."
They all headed up the stairs, except Zoe.
"Why couldn’t you kill him?" Zoe asked. He knew the answer, why he didn’t kill the sneaky bastard. He knew Zoe already guessed she had the answer, that he was a good man. It wasn’t true.
"Because, I’m him, only he got a head start on it. I’m catching up." Most days Mal could only figure the only reason that stopped him was Zoe sticking around.
"Sir, we stuck by him and he turned on us, you ain’t never…"
"Who says I won’t." He grinned. "Nah, take too long to break in another crew." If there was some good in him he guessed Zoe was the one to see it.
- - - - - - - - - -
Mal paused at Inara’s shuttle. He tapped on the door lightly, more hoping she wouldn’t answer for it pained him whenever he saw her. But she answered.
Mal walked half way into the room, nodded as greeting.
"Job's finished." He told her. She turned to look at him, shutting off the cortex screen she had open.
"It went well?" She asked, her brow crinkling slightly.
"If you're definition leans towards there being gun play and almost getting you're throat slit but eventually being paid in a roundabout way, then that might be what you’d call it." She smiled slightly at him, not a real smile to his reckoning but a trained one. "It’s enough to get you to where you’re needed or there’s abouts."
He was stuck for what to say, talking to her wasn‘t easy in the best of circumstances lately. "I’ll leave you be, let you back to your work." She nodded. Mal turned to leave.
"Yeah." He turned back, concealed any hope that might be there.
"Thank you, for letting me leave on civil terms." He nodded.
"As long as you stay paid up, it’s liable to stay that way." He called over his shoulder as he left her.
- - - - - - - - - -
Mal lay on his bunk. The engine hummed softly, a sound that normally put him to sleep, after a day of doing questionable . The drone of turbines would drown out his consciousness. But tonight it wouldn’t put him to sleep.
Inara would be gone soon. She slipped from his fingers he wasn’t sure when; or if she ever been in his grasp at all. There was no use in fighting for what was already lost.
- - - - - - - - - -
Mal lay half-dead on Serenity Valley. It wouldn’t have taken a huge push to see him completely dead. He held his cross in the palm of his hand, a tiny glittering mass. He wrapped his fingers round it, yanked at the chain till he felt the links give way then hurled it as far as he could. He didn’t take note where it landed, for he knew he would never want it back.
He’d known doubt before, softly breezing about him, never enough to chill his heart against his faith. It wavered on days when he’d seen blood, lots of it, from people he knew and people he’d killed, when the terror and the madness of war was all that there seemed to be left.
As a child, he couldn’t recall how old, but he’d wondered why people were always saying his daddy was with God, he thought it odd God to be going about taking some people and not others, seemed no logic to the whole arrangement. It’d faded, for the question had come out of curiosity not the dark place he was at now. It been quickly forgotten in youth.
As tears streaked Mal’s face, he couldn’t help wishing he’d stopped it then - believing, he wouldn’t have felt so bereft of it now. He held to it so tight that it made an unmovable imprint on him. He knew for the rest of his life, he’d look for it round his neck and in his heart but it wouldn’t be there. He couldn’t take it back, but he couldn’t get the bitterness to leave either.