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AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 18. "Predetermined"
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

"The crew are unhappy with Book's return but it is nothing compared to what the Captain does next."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2314    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "PREDETERMINED" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: RIVER/MAL. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "THE SECOND SORROW" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "The crew are unhappy with Book's return but it is nothing compared to what the Captain does next." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"PREDETERMINED"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was like some weird frozen tableau at the foot of the ramp. Figures trapped in a landscape, caught up in the pages of a story only the page kept moving and the characters were no wiser in their deliberations than a blind man walking in a snowstorm. Only Malcolm Reynolds knew differently. Call it a feeling, an instinct, a draw on his gut that felt the rightness and wrongness of things beyond anything common sense could weigh or fashion. Some folks said life was pretermined. Destiny and Fate walking hand in hand to the fields of freedom with as much detached joy as they did leading a man to the gallows. Now here it was. The thing of it. This moment in time. A choice hanging in the air above them like the executioner's ax. The crowd hushed and silent scarcely daring to draw breath. Stunned some might say. In ones and twos Pepper and his men drifted down the ramp. Not close enough to intrude but able to claim a ringside seat.

"You got all kind of nerve showin' up again."

The Shepherd looked calm and composed but a hint of sorrow darkened the shadows of his eyes. "I took no pleasure in what happened, Captain."

Mal raised his eyebrows. "*Zhen de? *Haoxiao*, I didn't hear no objectin' on your part." He paused but Book did not respond. "Since when did a Preacher take orders from a whore? Or you sayin' you're God's the biggest gorram pimp in the 'verse?"

An odd look passed over the Preacher's face. Too fleeting to be identified. The Captain took another step towards him. Not too close now. They had tried to kill him after all.

"*Shenme shi*, Preacher? *Diyu* got your tongue?"

"There is no logical way I can explain my actions to you, Captain."

The Captain's voice was quieter now, cold and bitter. "Let me see if I can help you." His voice hardened and increased in volume as if to hammer the painful fact home. "You betrayed me, *dong ma*? That sound familiar?" Mal drew his sidearm in one fluid movement. Book did not even blink. He was waiting. A man with all the time in the 'verse. "You got one good reason why I shouldn't end you now?"

There was a charged hush, the air electrified with expectation. The sudden silence and stillness almost painful. The Shepherd's mild calm voice emerged as a counterpoint to the Captain's anger. "Curiosity?"

* * * * *

Simon could not stop shaking his head in bewilderment. He was in the cargo bay pacing slowly and trying to wrap his head around what had just happened. Davy watched him in silence, keeping his thoughts to himself and observing the crew reactions. The Captain had taken Book up to his bunk to talk leaving the crew in a quandry as to what in the nine hells was going on. Jayne had a look that could shatter planets on his face which for some reason seemed to amuse Pepper Rawlings. Kaylee looked worried and kept trying to get River to speak to her but the girl seemed to be off in her head, that faraway look in her eyes that they had come to hope was a thing of the past had returned with a vengence. Simon wanted to go to her, reassure her, but what the gorram could he say? That their good and noble Captain was completely insane? That her lover was a madman? Not like any of that would be news. What surprised him more was how much he cared. He told himself it was for her sake but it wasn't. He owed the Captain more than his loyalty, he owed him his life. His and his sister's. Not once. Not twice. But over and over again. How could you repay that kind of debt to a man bent on his own self destruction? And was it really selfish of him to worry that the Captain might take them all with him?

He was diverted from his gloomy reverie by Wash's voice. Looking up he saw the pilot leaning over the catwalk rail. "Zoe? What's going on?"

Zoe sighed. Something in her look brought the pilot down the stairs in double quick time, his eyes scanning her face with barely concealed anxiety. "*Bao bei*?"

"Book came back."

She didn't call him Shepherd or Preacher. He was so stunned by her news that he hardly noticed. "*Weishenme*?" When no one answered he looked around at the others and noticed their expressions. No one looked happy and he could not blame them. "Where is he?"

"With the Captain."

A look of alarm came over Wash's face. He focused again on her face, searching for clues. "Is that wise?"

"That's what I thought when the Captain didn't shoot him."

Wash blinked, taking a minute to absorb that fun little comment. "Oh."

For a moment no one spoke. Kaylee was holding one of River's hands, she gave it a squeeze but got no response back. It was a little unnerving but then so was River. "Cap'n'll sort it out, you'll see."

Zoe didn't like to tell her that not all of the Captain's decisions had been good ones. In fact she was hard put to think of a single one that had gone completely smooth. But he was the Captain and her dearest friend. She would berate him in private. That was, if she could hold her temper and frustration long enough. Neither she nor the Captain tiptoed around each other. Something needed saying they just up and said it. Only this was something a lot closer to the bone. More worrying because it was so insidious and therefore something she was not inclined to air in front of the others. Knowing him so well had definite drawbacks. A cost she bore willingly knowing she would follow that man to the depths of *diyu* and beyond with or without his asking. No thought necessary. Closer than family. Friendship was part of it but not all. A word had not been invented to encompass the myriad of emotions she felt for him, the strength of loyalty that bound her to him yet did not blind her to his faults. And they were legendary. Almost as rutting famous as the qualities that made him dearer to her than any other man in the 'verse. Confused husband notwithstanding, the ties that bound them went beyond the sub-molecular. Even beyond the microscopic interstellar dust that seeded the universe.

* * * * *

Tyrone Garvin could not believe it, he really couldn't. The look on his sister's face had devastated him more than his denunciation as an Alliance spy. That they could think so little of him. He had always been loyal. Faithful and true to the cause but somehow that useless *tamade hundan* of a *zhangfu* of hers had convinced them that he had betrayed them. That he had sent the ring and sealed another's fate in a war they could never win. Made no difference that the rebellion would start in premature earnest or that thousands would die on worlds too numerous to count. His tears were anguished bitter threads of a past that had already cost him so very much and was now being ripped from him. His breath hitched painfully. Chest heaving to draw in ragged gasps of oxygen into flagging aching lungs. He could hear the dogs getting closer. Knew the men were armed and would shoot to kill. No refuge now in a home where every hand was turned against him.

There was only one thing left to do. He had to get off world and quickly, before the baying hounds found their prey and ripped him apart. If he could somehow reach Jeb or get word to him perhaps he could stem the tide that was being unleashed. Find a way to proclaim his innocence or at least stem the violent tide that would follow without his intercession. It would be no respect to the honoured dead to see the last of their number fall into the hands of the enemy. When he got to the dock the only ship still on the ground was a prison transport. He would never have gone near it had the baying of the dogs not become more frantic, their eager cries closer as they closed in on their hapless prey. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Time to let the stupid do the thinking for him.

The guard was surprised and more than a mite suspicious. He eyed the breathless tatterdemalion warily. "What do you want?"

"*Keyi bang wo ma*?"

The man resisted the urge to spit in Ty's face. The man was filthy, his clothes hanging off him in rags. It was almost as if he were afraid he would catch something from him if he drew too close. Why did all the crazy ones pick on him? Did he look like a soft touch? "This is a prison ship," He enunciated slowly as if Ty were some particularly dumb *chunren*. "The only place we're goin' is *jianyu, dong ma*?"

"*Wo zhidao* but which one?"

The guard's eyes narrowed suspiciously. The question surprising him and causing him to take a closer look at the man asking. "Why would you be wantin' to know?"

"*Qing, hen zhongyao*."

Not seeing how it could hurt any he told him. "First off we have to go to Porchester then Rochester before we head out to the Argent Penal Colony. You wantin' to be *beibu*, 'cause that's what'll happen to you if you don't *gun ququ*."

"This is *jinji qingkuang, qing jiuming*."

Although he still looked suspicious the guard was beginning to be intrigued by the man's *wangu* insistence. "What kind of emergency?"

Before Ty could explain the first of the dogs reached them, big semi-feral beasts with rows upon rows of long sharp teeth. Grinning daggers at him they strained on their guide ropes. As the armed men caught up, a dozen guns were cocked and aimed at him. Heart quailing Ty sank to his knees in front of the astonished and unsettled guard. Other officers peering warily out of the ship to see what all the commotion was about. "Save me," Pleaded the benighted man, not wanting his voice to travel to the ears of his firing squad.

"Now why in the nine hells should I borrow your trouble *moshengren*?"

"Because you're the law," Said Ty throwing the last of his meagre caution to the wind. "A good man an' these people aim to kill me out of hand for somethin' I didn't do. No *shenxun* no nothin'."

Men were piling out of the prison ship now. Guards and prison officers, a few police officials. All armed with high powered Alliance weaponry. On some level Tyrone Garvin thought it was highly ironic. A former independent throwing himself at the feet of the gorram Alliance and asking for sanctuary. If he didn't have bigger things to worry about than his own miserable demise he might have given up and let them do with him as they pleased but it was not about him. Never had been. The lynch party unleashed against him was proof enough of that. For a moment he thought he had bought himself a reprieve but then some *shengbing wangba dan* had to go and let the dogs loose.

* * * * *

Inara withdrew the narrow box from its' hiding place and carefully raised the lid with something approaching reverence. The elaborate syringe lay in its' exquisitely lined box belying its' true purpose. Taking it out with practised care she adjusted the dose in readiness then returned it to its' box. The Inner Circle thought she had failed. Her own House Mother considered she had been weak and made a fundamental mistake in judgement. Withstanding their displeasure had been easy. Taking the reprimand with just the right touch of apology and humility had been enough to allay any suspicions. Known as the Mother of Sorrows it was not her true title. All was unfolding according to plan. Inara Serra gave a cold dispassionate smile. She was not the Queen of Assassins for nothing.

Later would be time enough to re-educate the fools who sought to rule her. She obeyed a higher purpose. A collective so awesome and powerful that it made her House Mother look like a pale *yeyu aihaozhe*. As for the Guild and the Inner Circle both, they were still in the kindergarten by comparrison. The Game was deadly but the reward. She sighed deep and savoured the dark stirring of her thoughts. The reward was the aquisition of a power unrivalled in the 'verse. A power which by all rights would soon be hers.

* * * * *

The Captain stared at Shepherd Book or whoever the *diyu* he was. Names mattered little to him but intent was everything. A man could make a million mistakes. Wound those he loved by accident not artifice. Cause all kinds of destruction through incompetence or plain ill intentioned attempts to help. What this man had done was a cold calculated betrayal that had almost cost him the life of his brother, probably his own life too. What would have become of his crew had that happened did not bear thinking about. And River... His breath caught and he took a moment to still the rising emotions in him. He had to remain calm. Think this through. War had taught him that much at least. The enemy who faced you in battle was not nearly as deadly as the friend you turned your back on.

"I'm havin' trouble imaginin' you as any kind'a guardian angel."

"That's because I'm not, Captain."

"Then what are you?"

"An observer."

He snorted. "Didn't do much observin' in the skyplex as I recall."

"Needs must when the Devil drives."

The Captain raised his eyebrows. "Quotin' your true *laoban* now, Shepherd?"

"*Bushi*, simply makin' a point."

"That point bein'?"

The Shepherd looked at the Captain for a moment, all trace of humour and guile seemingly dropped in a heartbeat as if his next words were all important. "*Xiaoxin*, Captain."

"What's this? Concern Preacher?"

"Call it a 'professional courtesy' Captain, from my God to yours."

Mal's face darkened but his voice remained deceptively mild. "Don't got no *shangdi*, you know that."

"Not believing in something doesn't make it any less real."

"So," Said the Captain taking a step closer. "What I got to be careful of?"

* * * * *

She couldn't put her finger on it but something about the way Pepper Rawlings kept glancing up at the catwalk was getting on Zoe's nerves. If he did it again she was going to call him on it. They were all more than a mite on edge. Wash didn't go back up to the bridge but stayed with Zoe, some instinct telling him this was where he was supposed to be. He knew they should be setting off soon but the Captain had yet to tell him where he wanted them to go so Wash was waiting. Once he got the word he would take off and set off into the Black. He glanced at Zoe, her stiffened frame making him wince as if in pain.

River startled them all by jerking her head up suddenly, eyes wide and staring at nothing. Simon took a step towards her. "River?"

She seemed to hear him but it was hard to tell, her head angled as if listening but she did not look at him. "Lost, all lost, and not even the found can find them."

"Who's lost, *mei mei*?"

"Tin soldiers every one but there was no one left to wind them up."

Simon knelt beside her. Kaylee put an arm around River's narrow shoulders but she seemed oblivious. Her sensitive face was sad and wistful. All heads turned at the sound of footsteps on the catwalk. Jayne straightened up from his position by the wall, alert and wary. Pepper caught his eye and the big man seemed to relax again but the look in his eye was bright and missed nothing. They watched the Captain and Shepherd Book negotiate the stairs in silence. The Captain took a moment or two before speaking, his eyes flicking over the faces both known and not so well known. He steeled himself for the storm he was about to unleash.

"Shepherd wants to stay."

Predictably Jayne sounded off before any of the others could react through their sense of shock. "*Ni bu neng*! He betrayed us Cap, ain't no way any of us'll want him on board again."

Just behind the Captain that same sense of shock was mirrored on Book's face though he adjusted quickly. While it was what he wanted he had not expected the Captain to acquiesse without a struggle or at least a lot of rutting persuasion on his part. It wrong footed him and made him feel a stirring of guilt. He tried to push the unusual emotion aside. Malcolm Reynolds was not his Captain any more than Inara Serra was the head of his order. Zoe was frowning, holding her fire until she had more facts. Always was ten times more careful than any of the others. She was a good compliment for the Captain, each balancing the others' excesses in a way that came as natural as night following day.

Simon was watching the Captain closely. "Captain, what makes you think the Shepherd won't betray you again?"

You not us, Zoe noted.

"Not gonna be here to betray."

The silence this time was so profound Simon almost forgot to breathe. River shut her eyes and went completely quiet and still.

"Where ya goin'?" Asked Kaylee in a small voice. Sure she must have misheard him.

The Captain looked at Davy. Zoe was getting a horrible empty feeling in her gut. All kinds of alarms ringing and drowning out her ability to accept what she was hearing. She stared at Davy Reynolds as if by will alone she could see through bone and tissue and read what was in his mind. But she could glean nothing. It was like trying to read a blank slate. She looked at the Captain. "Sir, we need you here." She hoped she did not sound as desperate as she felt.

"I'm all aware of that, Zoe, but seems I'm needed elsewhere an' the time for makin' decisions is fast slippin' away."

Simon shook his head as if the contents were loose. "I'm sorry, did I miss a vote or something?"

"Davy's goin' with Pepper an' his people. Seems they got some Alliance trouble needs sortin'."

"What's that got to do with you?" Asked a curious Wash. "I mean," He stumbled in his rush not to sound as if he was criticising the Captain's brother. "Surely what Davy wants to do is his business? I thought Serenity was yours."

"Thought so my own self until a while ago, but sometimes a thing just needs doin', *dong ma*?"

"*Wo bu dong*," Began Wash.

Zoe rolled over whatever he was intending to say next like a steam roller. A look on her face that stole the breath from his lungs. "*Wo bu xihuan*."

"What's not to like? You get an instant promotion an' I have your next job lined up for you." The last part of his sentence surprised every one of them, Davy included. So far he had kept silent, happy to see that his brother was not going to need the kind of coaxing he was dreading. It made him wonder whether Mal had known all along what he was really after and that thought did not sit well with him. Jayne opened his mouth to make an angry protest then caught Pepper's eyes and closed his mouth without a sound. Only Simon caught the brief exchange. He frowned slightly and wondered what the *diyu* was going on and why had his sister, his brilliant gifted sister, gone all silent at the one time she should have been ranting and raving? Too many things were wrong with this situation for him to feel even a modicom of comfort or reassurance. Not that he minded the thought of Zoe playing Captain. He was sure she would do a great job. It just felt all kinds of wrong. As if they were missing a whole month of explanations. If the Captain left now they would not hear any of them and suddenly that felt vitally important.

"It sounds as if you have made up your mind, Captain."

"*Wo you*."

"Then perhaps you will do us the courtesy of telling us why you have to go and when you will be coming back?"

Davy and Mal exchanged an awkward look. "Well now, the goin' ain't no problem Simon. Not so sure about the comin' back part, that's why Zoe's gonna take over the runnin' of the boat. Figure you can keep yourselves outta trouble while I'm away."

"And?" Pressed the doctor.

The Captain did not answer. Kaylee bit her lip. Hard. "Ya ain't comin' back, are ya?"

He could have lied to her. Lied to them all. But suddenly he did not want the last words they exchanged to be false ones. "Nothin's set in stone, little Kaylee, but there is a chance our paths may not cross again. Gotta be practical about these things. I sent a wave to a friend on Richmond. Got a fetch an' carry job to Porchester, may have another to follow on from that one if you can make the time window. I promised him you'd pick up the five day trip with time to spare."

A deadly hush descended. When no one spoke Davy stirred carefully. "We should make a move, Mal."

In that moment Kaylee hated him. No reason for it other than he was taking her Captain away and if that happened nothing would ever be shiny again. She glanced anxiously at River but her eyes were still closed. As if knowing that Kaylee was looking at her, River spoke quietly. In the hushed cargo hold the words rang quiet but clear through each and every one of the listening ears. "*Ta bu yao zou*."

The Captain felt his heart crack a little more. Knew he had no way to say what he should say to her even though no one knew his heart and mind better. All the barriers he raised to keep others out had no effect on the genius that loved him. His heart was torn but loyalty was something that could not be compromised. This was his brother and he had vowed from childhood to protect him. No way could he let him walk into danger without being right there at his side. When the bullets started flying he would be where he was needed. And when the bullets ran out he would physically stand in front of him if he had to. Anything to keep him safe.

*And who will keep you safe, ai ren?* Whispered River's words from her mind to his.

He could hear the tears she did not shed. *If I can, bao bei, I will come back to you*

In the lengthening, strained silence Wash raised a tentative hand. The Captain gave him a nod. Wash pointed at Book. "Um, am I the only one wondering why we're gonna leave the Captain behind and take Judas with us?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*zhen de* = it's true/really *haoxiao* = funny *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *diyu* = hell/devil *dong ma* = understand *bao bei* = precious/treasure *qing* = please *weishenme* = why *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *zhangfu* = husband *keyi bang wo ma* = can you help me? *chunren* = fool/jerk *jianyu* = prison *wo zhidao* = I know *hen zhongyao* = very important *beibu* = arrested *gun ququ* = get the hell out of here (lit. roll away out of here) *jinji qingkuang* = emergency *jiuming* = help *wangu* = stubborn *moshengren* = stranger *shenxun* = trial *shengbing* = sick *wangba dan* = bastard (lit. turtle egg) *yeyu aihaozhe* = amateur *laoban* = boss *bushi* = not so *xiaoxin* = careful *shangdi* = god *mei mei* = little sister *ni bu neng* = you can't do it *wo you* = I have *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wo bu xihuan* = I don't like it *ai ren* = sweetheart *ta bu yao zou* = he doesn't want to leave

COMMENTS

Wednesday, April 21, 2004 11:16 AM

ARTSHIPS


Sure don't like the idea of splitting-up Mal and River. Gotta hope Mal finds a way out of all this. Yes, I'm obviously quite caught-up in the story. Thanks!

The Destiny and Fate line was particularly effective. You're really very good at this, Alison.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004 2:28 PM

MALSDOXY


my heart is breaking...

Thursday, April 22, 2004 4:24 AM

KISPEXI2


" In that moment Kaylee hated him. No reason for it other than he was taking her Captain away and if that happened nothing would ever be shiny again."

Says it all for me. Gorram Davy!

Thursday, April 22, 2004 10:25 AM

NEROLI


oh my...~speechless with worry for our poor Captain~


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