HEAVEN AND HELL: 31. "Gravity"
Thursday, June 10, 2004

"The crew of Serenity are determined to get some answers from Book. Things are looking even more dicey for the Captain but all concerned have been overlooking the power of love."



SUMMARY: "The crew of Serenity are determined to get some answers from Book. Things are looking even more dicey for the Captain but all concerned have been overlooking the power of love." 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Simon was not sure how best to handle the shock. River pregnant? He was glad she was sleeping now, that Kaylee had stopped bombarding him with eager questions and that the Shepherd had fallen silent again. But he could feel those eyes on him. Before he could think of something to say he heard the distinct sound of the ramp being lowered and the mule rumbling up it. "They're back!"

The look of relief he felt was instantly mirrored on Kaylee's face. "Good, now we can leave this *lese* planet." She said, echoing his thought without her usual trademark smile breaking atmo.

A couple of minutes later Zoe and Jayne walked into the infirmary. Zoe's eyes narrowed at the sight of the Shepherd bound to the chair. "What happened?"

Simon opened his mouth, shut it, then took a deep breath. Where to start? Zoe looked at Book. A slow eyebrow arched in query. "Shepherd grabbed the gun," Said Simon. "If it hadn't been for River..."


He swallowed hard, uncomfortable in confessing his sister's part in disarming the Preacher but he was not about to lie to Zoe. Not now. Not with so many things happening and so much at stake. "He said he hadn't finished, said that was why he came back."

Zoe turned a thousand year stare on Book. Though he flinched a little inside he managed to show no outward reaction. "Finish what?"

He said nothing. Kaylee looked so sad and that felt all kinds of wrong. "He said he was an observer." She said, voice dull and subdued.

Jayne snorted. "Yeah, an observer who likes to betray folk that once called him friend."

"What isn't finished?" Asked Zoe in a quiet matter of fact tone that was so icy it chilled the Preacher down to his toes.

"I am not at liberty to say."

"You're not at liberty - period." Snapped Zoe. She leaned in close to him, her eyes boring into his. "You used us, took our goodwill. Then up an' betrayed the Cap'n, this crew an' now you return calm as you please 'cause you haven't *finished*? I should just get Jayne to skin the lies from your tongue with his gorram knife." She paused a half beat, watching him with disappointment and distaste while her anger flatlined into something a whole lot deadlier. "But then that's more your style, isn't it?"

Her words hurt more than he wanted to admit even to himself. It was not supposed to go like this. They were not supposed to find out. At least not now when he was so very close.

Simon checked Yen Mah again but still the little girl had not stirred. He was getting really worried that she had slipped into a coma. One from which she might not awaken. River, by contrast, appeared to be simply asleep. Her breathing calm and even, her pale face relaxed and looking almost serene. It was a puzzle to him that he could not wait to solve but so was the Preacher's duplicity and his strange way of acting as if his betrayal was nothing that needed to concern them. He felt like the lunatics had definitely taken over the gorram asylum. "Why don't you do something really novel and just tell us the truth? You never know you might actually feel better for it."

He got incredulous looks from everyone including the Preacher. "Simon, *ni bu dong*."

"*Wo zhidao*." Absent mindedly Simon brushed long strands of dark hair from River's sleeping face as he replied. Kaylee watched him then glanced warily at the Preacher. She had not forgotten how quickly he had grabbed the gun and turned it on them. Would he really have killed them? Thinking back to that look in his eyes she felt her heart shudder. Yes. He would have and with no more regret than one might have in swatting a gorram fly. After all, he had pulled the trigger assuming it to be loaded. She just knew that loud click and echo would reverberate in her memory for months to come along with the bitter knowledge that their lives meant nothing at all to this man she had once called a friend. It hurt more than she could put into words. She had considered his loyalty beyond question. Now she felt as if nothing in the 'verse was solid any more.

* * * * *

Nothing was going the way it was supposed to. Instead of stabilising Mal, the transfusion seemed to be actually making him worse. Pepper could not understand it, he glared at Charlie Watson as if it was his fault. Charlie looked pale. "Don't know what to tell ya, Pepper. The field transfusion kit's workin' shiny. Integral pump ain't malfunctionin', should be stablisin' him but it ain't."

"Why not?"

Charlie shrugged, feeling miserable. "Can't understand the why of it. They're brothers, should be as smooth as sailin' on glass."

Pepper sucked his bottom lip, felt like lashing out at something. He noticed the Sheriff looked a bit out of it and frowned. Maybe the man was just tired. Deputy Crowther followed his gaze and touched the Sheriff's arm. "You okay, Sheriff?" "Huh?" The Sheriff shook himself and blinked. "*Duibuqi*, think I was noddin' off for a moment there." He noticed Pepper seemed tense, agitated. "*Shenme shi?*"

"It's Mal, he ain't improvin'. Charlie says the blood transfusion ain't workin'."

Sheriff Bowman came to his senses as if doused with cold water. Scrambling forward on his knees he took a close look at the fallen man, studiously avoiding looking at the bloody body of his brother lying beside him. The iv line was red with blood, it seemed to be flowing without let from Davy to Mal. He frowned and wondered what the problem was then an unwelcome thought struck him. He looked up at Charlie. "Ain't it fact that not all family got the same blood group, Charlie?"

The man nodded and swore at the implication. "*Dui*, just assumed they'd be a match."

The Sheriff hissed sharply between his teeth. Would this gorram nightmare never end? "Best I can guess Mal's body is rejectin' Davy's blood..."

"Must'a known his brother'd betrayed him." Muttered Slim Redding without thinking. He got glares from everyone and dipped his head a little but there was a hint of resentment at their silent reproach. "Just speakin' truthsome." He mumbled.

"If ya can't help don't make nothin' worse, *dong ma*?" Growled Pepper quietly.

Slim nodded and fell into a sullen silence. Pepper looked at the Sheriff. "What the good gorram do we do now?"

"Same as before but quicker. We gotta find Serenity an' fast."

Turner Watts looked thoughtful. He and Lenny had been quietly discussing the options in a corner. "We could just head for the nearest Alliance facility. They got hospitals a-plenty an' the best qualified doctors money can buy."

"We ain't Alliance," Pepper ground out angrily before the Sheriff could say anything. "An' we ain't got coin to pay nor any pull with the powers that be to get the help we'll be needin'. We turn to the gorram Alliance especially after what happened here an' we won't just end up in a purplebelly *jianyu* we'll be executed while the whole ruttin' cortex watches on through a live feed." He paused, heaved a great sigh and spat out his next words with the last of his defiance. Every word sounding like the ring of doom. "I'd rather put a ruttin' gun to his head then my own before I'd do that, *dong ma*?"

No one had any answer to that. The Sheriff sighed softly and sat on the floor next to Mal, his hands cradling one of Mal's. He was no kind of religious man but from time to time was not above giving God a nod when he needed a helping hand. Closing his eyes for a mite he prayed. Not for his own self, not even for his family, but for the man whose life hung on so precarious a thread that even if they found his boat he could not be sure it would be enough to save him. That doctor was shiny enough but it was looking more and more as if only a gorram miracle could save Malcolm Reynolds.

* * * * *

Inara heaved a great sigh of relief. Sihnon. The old house might be a mite shabbier than she last recalled but it just made it look more homely than before. Odd how no matter where she travelled, no matter what mission took her to far and exotic places in the Black, this was her one and only home. Not where she was from but where she ended up. The door opened on a startled face. Regina Lewis stared at her with wide astonished eyes. Inara smiled, her first real smile since setting out on this mission. "Inara! What in *diyu* are you doin' back here?"

She did not at first notice the response was more fear than welcome. "The mission's finished and I wanted to come home."

Only when Regina did not step aside to welcome her in did Inara take in other little details like the way the girl was trembling. The bruise on her face and the nervous flickering of her eyes. Inara felt a tremor of foreboding.

"*Shenme shi, mei mei*?"

Regina lowered her voice to a frightened whisper. "You shouldn't have come back."

Before Inara could ask why the voice of the House Mother drifted to her ears, echoing in the hallway behind Regina like a cold front approaching at the head of a storm. "Regina, what are you doing at the door? Who is it?"

Inara had only taken a couple of steps back when the door was whipped out of Regina's hand and flung open. The stern visage of her House Mother was as nothing compared to the company she was keeping. Feeling every cell in her body turn to ice, Inara found her powers of speech had utterly deserted her. The cold smile of death stared back at her from the Head Technician. Behind him several men wearing thin blue gloves stood like barely animated cadavers at a funeral. Inara had the horrible, sudden, sickening premonition that the funeral was hers.

* * * * *

Everything was dull. Sluggish. Even the pain had to drag itself through his tormented body. *Diyu*, he was so rutting tired. Something touched his drifting mind, a bright flare of consciousness that made him inwardly flinch even as he reached out to embrace it like a lifeline that would soon be beyond him. He could feel her tears though he had no inward sight to see, no notion of touch to reach out and hold her. All his senses so remote and ebbing that they seemed to bleed out of him with the blood that was leaking from his body and not being replenished. No matter how his friends tried to save him, his body was not complying. He felt her thoughts gently caress his mind. If he had still retained the ability to do so he would have wept for love of her.

*Ai ren, you have to hang on*

*Duibuqi, bao bei, not somethin' I can do anythin' about I'm thinkin'*

She was definitely crying now. It tore his gorram heart to pieces knowing she was upset and he could do nothing to comfort her. *Don't leave me alone, Mal. Not now*

*Nothin' I want more than to stay with you, xin gan*

His thoughts were growing weaker. She could feel him being pulled away from her as darkness clung and deepened around him like some malevolent shadow. A black hole sucking him down. Drawing him further and further away from her. Towards oblivion. Almost hysterical with fear and grief she screamed in his mind. *No! Ai ren, you mustn't give up*

There was no answer. His love hung in the space between their fractured heartbeats, her frantic aching soul chasing the echoes like shadows that vanished at her approach. Tears ran down her sleeping face.

*Mal! Bu yao zou. I can't live without you!*

He struggled to respond. His whole life hanging like a question mark over the yawning abyss of eternity. *So hard, xin gan, an' I'm so gorram tired...*

*Wo zhidao, ai ren. Just hang on, make it your gift to me dong ma?*

If he could have smiled he would have but even forming the mental image to comfort her was beyond him. She was losing him and realising that her mental reach was not enough River woke with a start, sat bolt upright, eyes staring as she cried out. "Simon! He's dying, he's DYING!"

Simon Tam felt a jolt of panic go through him like a gunshot. Kaylee cried out, startled and alarmed by River's sudden outburst as she woke. Zoe felt her heart miss a beat and hurried with Simon over to River. Simon wanted to put his arms around her, comfort her, tell her to calm down if only for the sake of the baby but she knew his thoughts and would not let his well meaning intentions distract her. Instead she fastened on Zoe, gripping her arms with surprising strength.

"We have to find him, he's dying!"

"You can't know that," Soothed Simon.

River shook her head at Simon but was looking at Zoe. "I can help, tell you where he is but we have to hurry. *Mashang*. He can't hold on, Zoe, and all the red is running out turning pale and blue and the cold is seeping in like hands of blue. Darkness is coming and he can't fight it."

Almost panicking herself at River's words, Zoe nodded. Simon wanted to stop her helping River down off the bed but Jayne stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. As Simon stared up at him he was surprised not to see a nasty scowl on the mercenary's face. Instead the big man looked oddly sympathetic. "Maybe River knows somethin' we don't."

Simon blinked. He turned his head and met the Shepherd's eyes as the infirmary quickly emptied until only he, Yen Mah, and the Preacher were in it. The Shepherd made sure to keep eye contact with the doctor. "If you untied me I could help."

The doctor shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Unless I am much mistaken," Said the Preacher slowly. "Soon you are going to need all the help you can get."

Wash was surprised when Zoe walked on to the bridge with River. Behind them Jayne and Kaylee crowded close. He blinked. What was going on? Turning a vaguely troubled gaze on his wife he raised his eyebrows, "*Shenme shi, bao bei?"

It was River who answered him. Her face still wet with tears and her eyes wide and glassy, her voice sounded amazingly calm. "I know where he is. We have to go now, *mashang*."


"The Captain, Mal."

A look of hope sprung up on his face but froze when he saw his wife's expression. He hesitated. "That's good news, *dui*?"

River pushed forward and leaned in close to the pilot, her eyes taking up all his field of vision her face was that close to his. He hardly dared to breathe. "Not much time, *dong ma*?"

Wash swallowed slowly and stared at the crazy girl. "Where do you want me to go?"

To his surprise she did not give co-ordinates or directions as such but stepped back and pointed to the side of the pilot's chair. "There."

His eyes widened, a smile almost swallowing up his face until he saw how serious she was. Confused he looked at Zoe. "*Bao bei*?"

Zoe nodded, her face as white as parchment paper. Wash was beginning to feel the edges of panic. "Do as she says, *zhangfu*."

"You want me to let River fly the ship?"

Keeping her gaze on him steady she said the only thing there was to say. "Captain's dyin' Wash, don't feel much like arguin'."

Mouth dry he got up and let River slip into his seat then stood right next to her, ready to take over if need be or give support. River's hands flew over the controls with such surety that he found it both amazing and creepifying. He tried to take in their new heading and follow what she was doing. For almost four hours they flew at full burn, Kaylee running off to the engine room to coax as much speed out of the engine as she could. Just when he was tempted to gently tell River it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, they got a reading on the screen. Another ship was dead ahead. Surprised he stared at River then glanced at Zoe. "What're the odds?" He mumbled.

Zoe just nodded, her eyes on the screen. All her faith and hope focused on the young girl steering them towards the unknown vessel. Wash leaned over her to check the readings. "A prison ship?"

River did not look up, she was busy bringing Serenity into alignment with the Alliance Prison Transport. Zoe felt her heart constrict, old memories resurrected that were far from happy. Her look was tight and tense, Wash put a hand on her shoulder and gave a little squeeze. Though she did not respond his touch was comforting. River flicked open the com and looked at Wash. "Hail them."

He wanted to ask her why she didn't do that then realised as the pilot it would probably sound better coming from him. "This is the Firefly transport Serenity to unknown prison transport, please respond."

For a moment there was silence then the comline crackled and an unexpected voice floated back to them with something akin to relief in it. "This is Sheriff Martin Bowman of the Alliance Prison Ship Dauntless. We have your Captain aboard and he's in a bad way. Immediate medical assistance is required, *dong ma*?"

Jayne's mouth dropped open. He stared at River as if she was capable of any gorram thing in the 'verse. "*Wode ma*, ya really are a gorram witch!"

* * * * *

Pepper was stunned. He stared at the Sheriff with undisguised amazement. "How did you know they were here?"

The Sheriff felt light headed but figured it was the intensity of relief, though he only had to look down at Mal to feel any comfort vacate his heart quicker than oxygen in a vacuum. He shook his head. "Didn't."

Charlie Watson removed the field transfusion iv and got Lenny and Slim to help him transfer Mal onto a stretcher. He had no painkillers to give the injured man and wondered if they would have had any effect anyway. Man looked more dead than alive as it was not that he would voice such a thought. His over riding feeling was one of relief that soon all the decisions would be taken by someone else. He hoped Serenity's doctor was up to the challenge.

Moments later the two ships docked. The seal hardly broken when Simon Tam stepped through the airlock with Zoe, Jayne and a frantic River. Sheriff Bowman was about to speak when River rushed passed him and dropped to her knees beside Mal, her hands fluttering out like ghostly butterflies, gently touching his face as she cried. Her mind calling out to him but getting no response. Simon's hands on her shoulders carefully eased her away from the Captain, his voice calm to hide his worry, adopting a soothing cadence she was hardly aware of. Zoe helped move River back to give her brother room to see to Mal. A choked sound behind her made Zoe turn then it was her turn to catch a painful breath. Davy. *Wode tiana* what the good gorram had happened to him? She only recognised him by his clothing, the head almost completely blown to pieces. Jayne pulled a face as his foot slipped slightly on something. He looked down, realised it was a lump of gorram flesh and stepped backward, trying to hide how much the sight unnerved him.

"We need to get him to the infirmary." Said Simon quickly. Many hands took up the stretcher and Mal was quickly taken aboard the Firefly, Pepper and his crew following the Sheriff. The deputies following on in their wake taking the pilot with them. Suddenly no one wanted to be left alone on the Dauntless. Alone but for the blood soaked body of the Captain's brother. Each careful where he stepped, not wanting to carry bits of Davy's head into the other ship on their gorram shoes.

* * * * *

Only years of control stopped the tears from falling. How could they say she had failed?

"I gave you what you wanted."

"We wanted victory over the rebels." Corrected the Head Technician.

Inara resisted the urge to yell at him. "I told you where they were, I don't understand why you count that a failure."

One of the blue handed men tilted his head at her. "He escaped."


"The experiment."

She felt as if she had taken a step only to find nothing underneath her foot to bear her weight. "*Shemne? Wo bu dong*. I thought the girl was the experiment?"

The Head Technician nodded. "*Qu*. But Malcolm Reynolds was intended to lead us to the rest of his rebel spies. The rest of the conspirators. We killed or captured nearly all the rebels at Shadow but he escaped along with the most of the leaders."

"You killed over 2,000 browncoats. Even if the few that got away wanted to carry on fighting the rebellion is over. They have nothing left to fight with."

The House Mother gave her a pitying look. As if Inara had completely missed the point. "You were always so bright, Inara. What happened? Did that *lese* ship and crew drain all the sense out of you?"

Inara resisted the urge to defend Serenity's crew. Odd that she should even want to. It had come as an almost automatic response. Just as well she had left when she had done so. Maybe the House Mother was right. Maybe they had been beginning to rub off on her.

* * * * *

"How bad is it?" Whispered Zoe, her face taut, dark shadows under her eyes.

River sat next to Mal's bed and watched Simon checking the Captain over. Mal had not moved a muscle since being brought back aboard Serenity and it worried Zoe more than she could put into words. Wash squeezed her hand but said nothing. He had seen the Captain in more deeply bad situations than he cared to count but this time he really wondered if the man's time was up. It did not look good. "*Bu hao*," Simon said, seeming to echo the pilot's thoughts. "But there is a slim chance we can save him."

She blinked. River did not react, she was gazing down at Mal's face as if the answers to every question in the 'verse were hidden on his gorram face. Her look so tender that it almost made Zoe choke with emotion. Mal didn't even know she was carrying his baby. She blinked hard to hold back tears. It was not rutting fair. "What's that?"

Simon did not look at her, he was looking at Wash. "Captain's lost a lot of blood, do you feel up to giving a pint Wash?"

The pilot did not even have to think about it. "Sure."

The doctor was already rigging the line, his eyes casting about to flit over the anxious faces both in the infirmary and staring through the glass windows. "Zoe, find out how many people would be willing to give blood then I'll do tests to see how many match the Captain's blood group."

In the end everybody wanted to help. Simon was quietly impressed and when he had finished the tests found they had eleven viable blood donors. The Sheriff was upset that he was unable to give blood and of Serenity's crew only Wash and Jayne were the right blood group. Once he got the first line going with Wash, Simon turned to address the others. "This is going to take some time and I'm guessing none of you have eaten properly or had any sleep."

"You let us worry about that," Said the Sheriff.

Simon shook his head. "I can't do that. I need to know that you have all been eating properly and are rested before I can allow you to give blood. Remember how weak the Captain is, he doesn't need to be given blood that is even weaker than he is."

That got through to them better than any threat or challenge would have done. Muted apologies sang back to him then the men filed out to go and get some rest until it was their turn to give blood. Simon turned his head to find Zoe looking at him. "*Shenme*?"

Zoe blinked slowly. Both crews seemed equally dead on their feet. "*Xiexie ni*, Simon."

"What for? I have no intention of letting my prospective brother in law die."

Zoe gave him a nod then let her gaze drift back to the still form of the Captain. Mal. The closest and dearest friend she had ever had. As stubborn and intransigent as he could sometimes be she would be lost in a 'verse without him. River raised her head and looked at Zoe, a moment of complete understanding passing between them. Then River smiled. "He won't die. Serenity is calling him back."

Despite how grim the circumstances were Simon could not keep the amusement out of his voice. "Serenity?"

His sister nodded as if it was obvious. "Like gravity, Simon. He's home now and she won't let him go."

"The Captain's lost a lot of blood, *me mei*." He cautioned gently, not wanting her to get her hopes up just in case. Wanting to steel her in case despite their best efforts he died.

"*Wo zhidao* but you'll put the blood back just like Serenity will put the hope back and I'll be here to help put everything back together. Not the way it was but the way it should be."

He thought of asking her what she meant but was way too tired and he had many hours still to go before he would be able to sleep. Again he felt the Preacher's eyes on him. No longer bound to the chair, he had his hands bound behind his back with Jayne keeping a watchful eye on him. It had surprised Simon when the Preacher had all but pleaded to be allowed into the infirmary. And still little Yen Mah had not woken. Part of Simon was grateful that the Sheriff did not know about the girl. He had looked so shaken and exhausted over the Captain he was not sure the man could take another shock. Time enough to break it to him tomorrow. For now he had a job to do and a ship's Captain to try and save.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*lese* = crap *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *wo zhidao* = I know *duibuqi* = sorry *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *dui* = correct *dong ma* = understand *jianyu* = prison *diyu* = hell *mei mei* = little sister *ai ren*/*xin gan* = sweetheart *shei* = who *bao bei* = precious/treasure *bu yao zou* = don't go *zhangfu* = husband *qu* = yes *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *wode ma* = mother of God *wode tiana* = dear God in Heaven *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bu hao* = not good *xiexie ni* = thank you


Thursday, June 10, 2004 9:14 PM


Whew! What a ride--you had me up and down, sad/happy, hopeful/worried. Great work.

Thanks for the integral pump ;-)

Thursday, June 10, 2004 11:50 PM


Hi Guildsister, in my mind I had already imagined they would have something like a field transfusion kit in one of those sealed blister packs like they have for the pure adrenalin Mal makes use of in "Out of Gas". And just like the latter item would have it hoping never to have to use it. Glad you are enjoying the story and thanks for the shiny feedback! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, June 11, 2004 3:36 AM


*breathing again*

I feel mangled!

As usual, really enjoyable ... can I use enjoyable to describe all that pain and misery?

To pick out just one good bit:
"Behind him several men wearing thin blue gloves stood like barely animated cadavers at a funeral. Inara had the horrible, sudden, sickening premonition that the funeral was hers."
The "barely animated cadavers" made me smile but then the smile froze when I read "sickening premotinion that the funeral was hers." Nice volte-face.

Friday, June 11, 2004 4:40 AM


I liked that you made Inara a little more sympathetic earlier, so that we can feel a tad sorry for her now. Book, on the other hand... Really looking forward to hearing his story.


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.