**Part Twenty-Four**

Word Count: 2,205
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #21-Kidnapping

"Where is Inara?"

Mal was already somewhat awake, kind of in that in between state. Thankfully, otherwise he would have been startled out of his sleep by Simon.

"What do you mean?"

"She drugged me!"

"I reckon she had reason to do so, Simon."

"No, absolutely not. I need to find River."

"Sit down, Simon. And tell me what exactly you plan to do in your efforts to find River? You can't shoot a gun. And no offense, but you don't look very threatening."

"I can be threatening."

"Yes, I've seen your threatening."

"Where is she? Her shuttle's gone."

"I had her take the baby."

"You what?"

"I told her to take little Mal. Unsure of just what the situation is currently, I didn't want him in jeopardy. And I don't want to have to worry about him when I've got his mother on my brain."

"If they wanted him don't you think they would have taken him?"

"That's assuming they knew where he was."

"He's just a child, Mal."

Mal took a deep breath and regarded Simon. "There's more to it then what you know. He's special."

"What?"

"It's not important."

"Malů"

"Someone needs to know that child needs protection, and no one else on this boat'll do it. Well, Zoe might, but sooner or later I expect she'll have young ones of her own to look after. Anyway, let's head on out. You're awake, I reckon most everyone else is, too. We should get started."

"What can I do?"

"For starters you have to trust that I do want to find her, Simon."

"Well, of course you do."

"You say that, but I'm not sure you really believe it. And I will find her."

"Captain," Zoe called as he and Simon made their way toward the galley.

"Zoe?"

"Wave's come in for you."

"All right," he said, heading back the direction he'd come from. Simon wasn't too far behind.

He more than likely looked a sight, and just hoped it wasn't who he'd met with yesterday. Not a very good impression to set, looking like he hadn't slept in a week and he was wearing the same clothes as when he'd last slept.

"Audio only," he said gruffly. "Mal here."

"Mr. Reynolds."

"Yes," he said cautiously, now somewhat regretting the audio only route. He liked to see who he was admitting who he was to.

"We hope you had a good night sleep."

"Not hardly. What's it to you?"

"Well, we have something that belongs to you."

"You don't say," he said, muting it and requesting the video only to find they were on audio only as well. "Great," he muttered. "Sound like a woman to you?" he asked Simon.

"A little. It could be distorted."

"So, what is it you want?"

"We expected more from you."

"More from me how?"

"The Malcolm Reynolds we've come to know wouldn't have gone to sleep when his wife was missing."

He winced at that. "That's assuming I slept and wasn't just regrouping, coming up with a plan."

"You have no plan, and even if you did you won't find her until we're ready to let you."

"Great. So, what is the purpose of this wave then? And just what is it you want in exchange for River?"

"You'll get an envelope later with the details."

"I need to speak with her."

"Isn't possible."

"I ain't going nowhere or fulfilling any details until I know you actually got her."

"Oh, we'll give you the proof you need we have her, Malcolm."

"My mother called me Malcolm, you ain't her so I reckon you can stop with that anytime now."

Laugher, Mal grimaced.

"Can't we just get this done with now? You've got me here, have my attention. Is it money you want? Something on board the ship?"

"Please, don't be insulting."

"All right, if not money. Then what? How about a trade? Since you're contacting me, me for her."

"You are of no use to us."

"Just a warning, if I find you first."

"Wait for the information, Malcolm." And then they were gone.

"Well, what the hell does that mean?"

"I'm not sure, but it worries me they wouldn't let you talk to her."

"Yeah, me too," he said, pressing the comm. button. "I assume ya'll were listening in, the galley now. Please," he added since this was getting into personal territory and not ship business.

***

There wasn't much to do but wait. Jayne and Zoe were back in town trying to find out if there was some place yesterday they'd missed or overlooked. Not likely. If there was one thing his crew knew how to be when necessary it was thorough.

Kaylee, Simon, and Wash were avoiding him. Well, Kaylee and Simon were, Wash sat with him on the bridge.

"I've thought of this, you know."

"What?"

"Something happening to Zoe."

"I guess you have. Probably more times than not."

"Yes."

"And you deal with it?"

"Don't have much choice when you love someone, you just have to accept who they are."

Mal opened his mouth to say something, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to say. A denial maybe. "I just wish I knew what they wanted and how they singled her out. It could have been Kaylee."

"Well, no offense, all anyone would have to do is see the way you look at Kaylee and then the way you look at River. It's pretty obvious."

"It is not."

"If you say so."

"This isn't getting us anywhere. I sure wish Jayne and Zoe would get back."

"If there's something we missed, they'll find it."

"It seems like their interest is in River, not me, so I admit I'm a little baffled. They're not Alliance."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because if they were, they wouldn't be contacting me or making it sound as if they might let her go. They'd take her and run."

"Good point. Unless they just want to mess with you."

"They have bigger things to deal with than me, especially if they'd managed to get their hands on her again."

"Probably true."

"Thanks for the ringing support, Wash."

"Glad to be of help."

"Someone's approaching," Wash said, tapping the screen.

"All right, time for business I guess."

Mal made his way down to the air lock. He'd stayed on the bridge on purpose, didn't want to appear to anxious about the impending visit from whoever.

"Malcolm Reynolds?"

"That's me," he said, gun at the ready in case this was some sort of ambush. "Just hand over what you have for me and be on your way."

"We'll be back to get you later."

"I told you over the wave, I won't go anywhere with anyone until I know she's alive and you actually have her."

"Look inside."

He took the envelope and peaked inside. "Could be anybody's hair."

"You know it's not."

He was right, Mal knew without a doubt it was River's. "Don't mean she's all right, though."

"Read the information, Mr. Reynolds, and then decide."

"I could just shoot you and be done with it."

"You could, but you won't get to see her then. We're being generous giving you this opportunity."

"Generous? How do you all know you aren't doing me a favor by taking her?"

"Be serious, Mr. Reynolds."

"I am."

"We'll return for you at the specified time. Again, we ask you do not have anyone follow us."

"You ask?"

"It sounds more polite than ordering you to follow our instructions."

"Yes, because when kidnapping a man's wife worrying about giving orders is of utmost concern."

Mal opened the envelope and began reading. There wasn't much to read, just basically reiterating what he'd already been told. They had her, she was safe, and that he should come alone when they return for him. At least they hadn't told him to leave his weapons behind, probably knew him better than that anyway.

He raked his fingers through his hair, heading in Simon's direction.

"Recognize the handwriting at all?"

"Why would I? You can't possibly think I'm behind this somehow?"

"Of course not, but if it's someone that knows her, knows what she can do you might know them, too."

Simon perused the letter rather intently, considering it wasn't very long.

"No, I can't say I've seen it before, but it looks like most other handwriting."

"Worth a shot." He read it again. "You know this all just seems very odd. It sounds like they're bringing me to see her, there's nothing said here about ransom or hoops to jump through."

"Maybe they'll hit you with the conditions then."

He grunted at that, Simon was probably right there. Bring him face to face with her and then hit him where it counted, asking him to do some crazy thing to free her. Sadly, he'd do it. If only because it made him sick to his stomach to think of someone holding her captive again.

"You know I'll bring her back."

"I know, Mal. Honestly, if there's one thing about you I do know, it's that much. Any word from Inara?"

"No, and there won't be until I tell her it's safe." He reckoned the fact that they'd come to Serenity and not done a search indicated they weren't interested in the baby, but he wasn't going to risk it yet. "Time to go find some way to put a tracer on me they won't detect."

"Wouldn't it just be more logical to bug their transport?"

"Of course, but if they search me and find one on me they might not think to search the transport. And vice versa."

"Oh."

"We've only got a couple hours, so we've got our work cut out for us. Maybe Zoe and Jayne will come back before then with information."

"You think they'll find something?"

"I had to have someone out there doing something while I sat here waiting for contact."

"It's all right to sit, you know. It doesn't mean you care or love her any less."

"Yeah, I get that. I'm just not used to being able to go in and get what I want out of a situation."

Mal turned at the sound of the mule's approach, his heart picking up a beat at the sight of Jayne and Zoe. If they were back this early that couldn't be a good sign. Either that or they lucked onto something right away.

"What'd ya find?"

"Nothing," Jayne said with a mutter.

"Nothing?"

"Absolutely. We searched and talked and even bribed. If there's someone holding River captive no one seems to know about it."

He handed the note to Zoe who read it.

"You're not really going with them alone, Sir?"

"I am."

"We could follow."

"They'll be looking for that."

"Sir, you can't be looking to go in alone."

"I don't see how I have much choice, Zoe. If I had even an inkling who or what this was about I'd say fine, but I don't. They haven't tipped their hand at all. And I'm not going to do something stupid that'll end in River being harmed."

"Told ya it wasn't a good idea to bring her along on jobs. You'd listened to me, this wouldn't be happening."

"Thank you for that commentary, Jayne."

"What? You bring her along and it's obvious to anyone with two eyes you favor her."

"Jayne."

"Fine, I'll shut up, but this ought to tell you why Wash stays back. It just don't work."

"Wash stays back because we need someone to pilot this boat if'n we get in a situation requiring a quick getaway. Thus the job title pilot. Want me to run down the job description for you."

"No, I know what he does," Jayne said gruffly.

"And you do remember what my job is?"

"Yes."

"Any more questions then on whether I'm in a position to make the decision to go alone or not?"

"Can't help that I'm with Zoe on this one."

"Well, if I'm wrong you can tell me all about it when I don't come back. Now, I'm going to go see Wash about a transmitter."

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