Blue Sun Rising
It occurred to Methos that whoever had baptised Whitefall with its name had a really sick sense of humour. The ground was arid and dry, the air parched and hot; it was, in short, a living hellhole. “Why are we doing this again?” he asked aloud as the Captain trundled down the ramp, Jayne at his heels.
“Coz we running short of money and your passage don’t go halfway to covering our bills,” he said shortly.
Methos wondered if it would be even worth pointing out it wasn’t his problem. He was a passenger, not crew; but something told him that the lines had been irredeemably blurred during the last few days. He also couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being tested in some way, although how he hadn’t figured out.
“So…what do you want me to do?” he asked cautiously.
“Jayne mentioned you were pretty handy with a gun when we had the Reaver problem,” he drawled, giving him a humourless smile. “I figure I should put that to good use.”
“Is that so?” Methos asked warily, unconsciously shifting his weight before he knew what he was doing. Damn it, he’d been on the ship for less than a week and he was already picking up their ornery ways. Next thing you know, he’ll be looking to pick a fight in the local saloon. Cabin fever, yeah, that’s what it is, cabin fever.
“Yeah, that’s so,” the Captain said sharply. “You’ve got a problem with that?”
Did he? Methos kept his face bland as he shrugged. “Depends on who you want me to shoot,” he said.
Mal nodded abruptly, and something like approval showed in his eyes. “I won’t ask you to shoot anyone who doesn’t have it coming,” he said. “Just be prepared for the worst, that’s all. We’re in a bit of a sticky situation here; Patience, the woman who runs this moon, is not fond of us.”
Methos smiled wryly, remembering the conversation he’d overheard earlier. “I’m guessing there is nobody else, around these parts, who’d be happier to see you?”
“You guess right.” The Captain said darkly as he gazed at the horizon. “There’s a rendezvous point about a click due west, just outside town. Patience likes to deal from a position of strength, which means she’ll have snipers placed on high ground. Chances are she’ll try to stiff us, too.”
“Sounds like you’re talking from experience,” Methos ventured.
Mal shrugged uncomfortably. “We had a bit of a dust up, last time we met.”
“That’s one way of puttin’ it,” Jayne muttered under his breath.
“Quit it, Jayne, we’ve already been over this,” Mal said flatly. “Give him the rifle.”
Jayne shrugged a rifle off his shoulder with a disgruntled expression on his face. “You be careful with this,” he said gruffly as he handed it to Methos, along with a box of cartridges.
“I promise not to shoot anyone I shouldn’t,” Methos drawled, his voice dry.
“That’s not what I meant. She cost me a pretty penny. I want it back in the same condition I gave it to you.” The ‘or else’ was left hanging unsaid
“Ah,” Methos said, noncommittally, dropping the strap over his head as Mal smirked.
“Captain, we’re ready.”
Methos watched as Zoe ambled down the ramp, cocking an eyebrow as he noticed River by her side. “Is there something you forgot to tell me?” he asked, glancing sideways at the Captain.
“Me and Jayne are going to do the face to face,” he said. “You and Zoe are gonna take to the high ground, and make sure our backs are covered. River is going along for the ride.”
“I see,” Methos said, not sure what to make of the new development. “I can’t help but notice River isn’t armed.”
“Doesn’t need to be,” Mal said simply. “But I reckon you already know that.”
Yes, Methos did, but he didn’t like being reminded of the fact. “I take it we’re on foot,” he said.
“Less chance of her hearing us coming,” Mal said, nodding. “Let’s get going.”
Silently, they trooped away from the Firefly, and Methos sighed as he felt the sweat trickle down his back. There was nothing for it, though; he wasn’t going anywhere without his sword, and that meant wearing the coat.
The terrain was rough, and Serenity quickly fell out of sight behind a low hill. He couldn’t help but feel a tinge of uneasiness as he realised how vulnerable they were on foot. He eyed the horizon ahead and noticed that the hills rose higher as they neared the town. If there were snipers, as the Captain said, they would be sitting ducks.
Mal stopped at the mouth of a small valley. “This is where we part ways,” he said. “I reckon she’ll have at least two up there, maybe a couple more. She’ll be more paranoid this time.”
“I still think this is a stupid idea,” Jayne complained. “It should be me up there.”
The captain ignored him as he caught Zoe’s eye. “You good?”
“I’m good,” she said, pulling out her pistol as she eyed the hillside.
Methos watched Mal and Jayne as they continued down the dirt path, arguing as they went. “Butch and Sundance they aren’t,” he observed aloud as he turned to follow Zoe and River up the incline.
“Who?” Zoe asked distractedly, turning her head to look at him.
Methos shook his head in amusement. He had once thought the two train robbers would remain notorious for all time; guess he was wrong. “Just some people I used to know,” he said. “It’s not important.”
River giggled as she trotted easily beside them. “You’re funny,” she said, before haring off.
“Is it safe to let her do that?” Methos asked eventually, as River pulled further, and further, ahead.
“No way to stop her,” Zoe said, the worry evident in her voice. “We’re too close to the rendezvous point to call out.
Methos risked a sideways glance at his companion. There was no doubt about it, she was stunning looking. He wondered how she'd ended up living this life, but figured the question wouldn’t be welcome. What’s a beautiful girl like you doing in a place like this… He smirked as he pictured her response. It would be very painful, if he was any judge of character.
“What’s so amusing?” Zoe asked, as she looked at his expression.
“Oh, everything,” he said lightly. “I’m easily amused.”
“I’m beginning to see that,” she said dryly. “Although I fail to see what’s so funny about this.” She gestured at the parched landscape, and Methos grinned.
“Oh, that’s easy,” he teased. “The fact that I’m here makes it plenty amusing. It isn’t the kind of place I’d be by choice.”
Zoe smiled reluctantly. “That makes two of us,” she agreed. “But sometimes you just gotta go with the choices life deals you—” She came to a dead halt, and placed a hand on his arm, pulling him to ground. “Eleven o’clock,” she muttered under her breath. “I don’t think he’s seen us yet.”
Methos followed her gaze and spotted him, belly down in the grass, a shotgun in his hands. Quickly, he pulled the rifle from his shoulder and looked through the scope. “Shit,” he muttered, as he realised why the sniper hadn’t noticed them yet.
“What?” Zoe asked.
“He’s got River in his sights,” he said tersely, thumbing off the safety catch.
“Don’t shoot until you have to,” Zoe said. “That rifle doesn’t have a silencer.”
Methos nodded in understanding. If there were other snipers in the area, the gunshot would give their position away. River, meanwhile, was seemingly oblivious to the situation, as she hopped and skipped up the hill. “You should put that girl on a leash,” he complained under his breath. “She’s going to get herself killed.”
“River is as River does,” Zoe said evenly. “Can’t change that.”
“I’m beginning to realise that,” Methos said, aiming for between the sniper’s eyes as he shifted his position, and waiting for the sniper to commit to the target. Maybe they’d get lucky; maybe the sniper was under orders to wait for a signal…
The sniper’s finger pressed slightly on the trigger, and Methos took the shot. “Bugger,” he cursed as the retort echoed through the valley.
“Nothing you could do about it,” Zoe said calmly. “What’s done is done.”
Methos looked up the hill, and let go a breath of relief as he noticed River had ducked into the undergrowth, making herself a less appealing target. “We’d better move,” he said. “Someone will come to investigate soon—”
Heavy gunfire bellowed in the distance, and Zoe shot to her feet. “Mal,” she said, as she dashed ahead, grabbing the sniper’s shotgun as she went.
Cursing, Methos chased after her and wondered where he’d left the last of his commonsense. “It’s the bloody OK corral all over again,” he grumbled.
Suddenly, River was beside him, grinning widely. “Got a plan,” she announced firmly.
“Glad to see somebody has,” he said as he scrambled to the top of the ridge and looked down. “Oh, for gods sake,” he snarled as he lifted the rifle to his shoulder and looked down the scope at the dozen men that were swiftly making their way from the hillside to Mal’s position. “What happened to ‘two, maybe a couple more’?” He watched as Mal and Jayne made it to cover behind a rock.
“Guess Patience is a little more paranoid than we thought,” Zoe said flatly. “Though they’re not shooting to kill.”
“They want us alive,” River piped up. “Bigger bounty.”
Methos groaned as he pulled the cartridges from his pocket. “How good a shot are you?” he asked Zoe.
“At this range, better than you,” she said.
“You shoot, I’ll reload,” Methos decided, as he slid a cartridge into his empty barrel. “Better give River the pistol, to cover our backs.” Wordlessly, Zoe handed the pistol to River and took aim. She dropped the first gunman at fifty yards from Mal’s position.
Methos watched in satisfaction as Patience’s other men slowed and looked up; one aimed at their position and Zoe dropped him. “Two down, ten to go,” she said as she swapped weapons with Methos. She aimed again and fired. “Nine.” The next bullet missed. “Damn.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Methos said as he handed her the now reloaded shotgun. “You’ve got them running for cover and that’s what—” Methos gasped soundlessly as the bullet ripped through his chest and staggered back. His sight dimmed, and he fought the urge to giggle as he felt himself slip away. He felt hands catching him, trying to ease his fall, and a voice calling him, as if from a great distance. “Caruthers, hold on, damn you, you’re not dying on my watch.”
Zoe felt something inside her go cold as she felt his pulse stop in his wrist. Damn it, she barely knew the man, why was she so upset?”
She felt River’s hand drop gently onto her shoulder. “Zoe?” she said. “Mal’s still in trouble, Zoe.”
Zoe left Caruthers’s wrist drop to the ground and rose. “You load, I fire,” she said.
“No,” River said firmly, taking the shotgun from her hand. “I don’t miss.”
Accepting the truth of it, Zoe nodded as she picked up the rifle and started to load. River aimed down the valley, not even bothering to look down the barrel, and effortlessly dropped two more henchmen. She watched as the remains of Patience’s lackeys suddenly broke, and started retreating.
“Shall I keep firing?” River asked, suddenly unsure.
“No, there’s been enough killing for today,” Zoe said softly as she watched Mal and Jayne pull out from their position and fall back. “Time to get back to Serenity.”
“What about him?” River asked, pointing at Caruthers’s corpse.
“He’s dead, River,” Zoe said calmly. “There’s nothing we can do for him.”
River shook her head slowly as she bent down beside Caruthers’s body. “No, not dead, playing possum,” she said solemnly, as she shook the corpse by the shoulder. “Come on, stop pretending, we have to go now.”
Zoe opened her mouth, then closed it as she noticed Caruthers’s chest slowly rise. No, that was impossible; she’d felt his pulse stop. He was dead...wasn’t he? Zoe spun the rifle’s butt around and dug it into the corpse’s stomach.
Dazedly, Zoe watched as Caruthers’s eyes popped open. “Hmm, guess that gave the game way, eh?” he asked warily, not moving as Zoe suddenly remembered herself and aimed the rifle at him.
“What the hell are you?” she asked lowly.
Caruthers’s sighed, and let his head drop back onto the ground. “That is a very long story.”
River giggled and Zoe shot her a disapproving look. “It ain’t funny, River, he could be anything.” The import of her own words suddenly sunk in. To think she’d actually been warming up to him towards the end. She was such an idiot. “I’ll ask again,” she ground out. “What are you? Answer or I’ll give you a bullet for your trouble.”
“Won’t help,” River supplied. “He’ll just come back again.”
“River, not helping,” he murmured, not taking his eyes off the rifle aimed at him.
“Just saying,” she said, shrugging as she got to her feet
“I’m still waiting,” Zoe said. “Make it good.”
“You’re not going to believe me.”
A small smile suddenly hovered on his lips. “I’m immortal?” he said, quirking an eyebrow.
Zoe blinked, then smiled grimly. “Try again.”
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