HEAVEN AND HELL: 38. "Coming Home"
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

"The Captain is not the only one to have an epiphany. Meanwhile the agents of Blue Sun learn a very simply and stark fact."



SUMMARY: "The Captain is not the only one to have an epiphany. Meanwhile the agents of Blue Sun learn a very simple and stark fact." 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

* * * * *

Sheriff Martin Bowman was all kinds of stressed. Worried about Mal and Yen Mah, concerned that after everything that had happened the evils of the Alliance would not only continue unchecked but propel a bright and shiny innocent into the kind of hell from which she might never recover. He sat, head bowed, one of Yen Mah's hands held between his two square ones. His eyes not fully focused. Although he did not hear River enter the infirmary he was not surprised when the girl came and stood beside him. For the moment they had the place to themselves. "You're wrong."

He looked up but the smile he would have offered her stumbled on the way to his lips and no words came out.

"You think I'll be lost but I won't. My anchor and my compass are still intact."

"River," He trailed off, not sure how to express his fear. Not convinced it was something he should admit to her anyway. Girl was a thousand times too fagile.

River shook her head. "Won't break. The pieces are returning to the whole."

"*Duibuqi* River, I know you're tryin' to tell me somethin'..."

She gave him a look of quiet compassion then looked down at Yen Mah for a moment. The girl had not stirred since being brought aboard the ship yet River was not worried. "Biding her time." When River looked up again the Sheriff was staring straight at her. "We all are."

"Meanin' what exactly?"

A little smile changed the aspect of her pale face so dramatically he was mesmerised. Was that what Mal saw when he looked at her? "Meaning," Said River leaning towards him as if imparting something very confidential. He fancied he could detect a faint air of playfulness about her, hidden behind those large solemn eyes now holding him in thrall. "You don't have to be strong any more." She whispered.

His breath caught with surprise. Quickly she kissed his cheek then danced back on feather light feet. "They're coming and we must be ready."

He blinked then she was gone.

* * * * *

Inara Serra should have done the deed and left but she couldn't. Tears flowed down the dusky bloom of her perfect cheeks. Her glorious profusion of dark silky strands hung lank and lifeless as if tainted by the doom aboard the ship. The past spiralling through her mind like a spool of film on fast rewind, images emerging from the blur at random. Moments captured that had been either forgotten or long surpressed. She gagged, not on the sweet sickly smell of death nor the metallic tang of dried blood but on a different view through the mirror. Alice and the Looking Glass had never seemed so frightening before yet it made compelling viewing. Slowly Inara slid down the bulkhead and sat on the cold metal deck, her knees drawn up against her chest, her trembling hands hugging them as if trying to compress herself into a ball. Reverting to the womb in mimicry of the foetus that once was not the woman grown and in the fullness of her prime.

Sorrow etched the unmarked features of her beautiful face. The life of a courtesan no longer the glamorous veil she wore like armour. A liquid hush of cloth, rich fabrics and sheer silks flowing round her as if their whole creation was for no other purpose than the adornment of vanity. A glorious sleight of hand designed to trick not only the eye but also the mind. To turn base metals into gold and whores into the companions of the elite. Her heart ached. Emotions unleashed that heretofore had not touched her anything but glancing blows. Her heart teflon coated to the assorted travails visited upon others. She had walked in a rarified atmosphere where wealth and privilege had blinded her eyes as much as her companion training had taught her heart to sail above the pain and suffering of others. Yet she had shared little moments of their lives, letting the painful flutter of ruined hearts rest for a moment in her like butterflies. Their short lives a recompense for an uncaring 'verse that lived side by side with a world created by privilege that had no hold in the real 'verse.

They had been right and she had been wrong. Dancing on the knife edge had not been fun but so blinded had she been that the blade had seemed a broad not narrow road chosen and cherished. The rose whose grace she emulated had not gifted her only with its' fragrant perfume but also its' thorns. The perfume now was fading, her vision becoming keener, her sight unblemished. Leaving the prick of the thorn to echo in her tears falling in a bittersweet wine that tightened her throat with a rare regret. She knew they were waiting for her. Would expect no less than a successful conclusion to her mission but she could not do it. As her eyes blurred again with fresh tears she gazed through the watery veil at the limp hand lying flung out in a pool of congealing blood like some last silent entreaty. A tiny flash of green in silver shone muted upon the third finger and caught her eye. The bird looking fierce and wary, ready to fight. Talons stretched either for landing or for attack. The green jade mocked her as she remembered the Director's words. Green for protection.

Protection. Then Inara remembered something else. In the language of jade green was also the colour for compassion. Inara Serra took a shaky breath, hung her head and wept anew.

* * * * *

The first explosion was so unexpected it took precious minutes for the guards to be summoned. By the time the complex was alerted to the danger the other orbs exploded in a chain, as if one set off the next in a growing concatanation. Mr Brown's eyes widened in something akin to fear. His companion was not shocked but he was surprised. "*Wo bu dong...*"

"We are under attack!" Snapped Mr Brown.

Mr Rogers wanted to calm him down, make him retake his seat so they could scan the network of surveillance cameras and seek a glimpse of their enemy. As Mr Brown hesitated an explosion rocked their safe room and suddenly the monitor and all the lights went out. Mr Rogers hardly raised his voice. Heartbeat calm. Voice a careful slow monotone delivering what sounded suspiciously like a death knell. "Make yourself comfortable. When this is over the others will come and find us. In here we are safe. We shall survive."

Mr Brown stared at him as if suspecting he was brain damaged. "If we do not leave now this will be our tomb!" The look he got back, though unseen, was no longer calm and distant but cold and icy. It echoed in his voice. "We must not panic."

"Mr Rogers, we are the only ones protected. Those we rely on are on the outside of this chamber. The loss of power has locked us in this room as a safety precaution which will now seal our fate, *dong ma*? We must therefore find a way out."

"No, we must wait. Stay calm. Help will arrive."

The steely resolve of Mr Rogers made his companion pause. Erratic breathing slowed. He knew they would not get out until someone came and let them out. Everything was electronic, controlled by a master slave unit that ran the complex with all the emotionless efficiency of a machine. Now they were the ones on the wrong side of that technology. Yes, they would be safe. Yes, the others were the expendable ones who would face death or serious injury in the ensuing destruction as the facility rocked again and again beneath their feet. But being safe was not everything. For long before the fires abated and rescue workers picked their way through the debris of broken stone and twisted melted the air in their safe room would have expired. Calm. They would stay calm. He folded his hands in his lap and so they sat like hideous bookends waiting for their gorram world to end.

* * * * *

The Captain regained consciousness while the shuttle was in flight. The Preacher turned his head, surprised at the strength of the man to keep bouncing back especially as he had drugged him to keep him under. Not that he had dared to give him much just enough to make him lose consciousness so he could get him out of the Dome. Had he ever met a more *wangu* man? Noticing his patient seemed to be in mild distress he made sure his course was set then went to see how he could help. Mal licked dry lips and the Preacher nodded, got a water bottle and carefully lifted the Captain's head so he could take a drink. He only allowed him a few shallow sips. "Best go easy for a while, Captain."

Dark blue eyes regarded him silently for a moment as the Shepherd checked his vital signs then sat back in the pilot's chair, turning it to face the Captain. Knowing the man had more than water on his mind. "This where you tell me who you really are?"

A tiny smile paid fleeting homage to his lips. A spark of the old Book gazing back at him. "I'm an Observer, Captain. A Watcher. Not supposed to interfere. Get involved."

"Then why did you?"

"The experiment took on a life of its' own. The permutations were... unexpected. The old rules no longer applied."

Mal raised his eyebrows. "You get to change the rules?" That implied a pretty high level of power.

"Let's just say I have a certain amount of autonomy." He paused to let that little snippet sink in before asking a question of his own. "How did you know?"

"Know what?"

"That you could trust me."

"River told me. Not in words exactly but I got enough for the gist of it."

"You took an awful chance, Captain."

Mal gave him a wry smile. "Took it to mean *better the Devil you know*."

The Preacher frowned not liking the imagery of those words. "Did anyone ever tell you that you have a very disrespectful sense of humour, Captain?"

The Captain's voice was smug. "If the cap fits Preacher..."

Book sobered almost immediately. "How did you know I wasn't going to kill you?"

"Would already be dead."

"Maybe I was biding my time, did you ever think that?"

"For the 'big finish' you mean? Nope, didn't seem your style. Maybe I wasn't trustin' you, maybe just extendin' you a 'professional courtesy'."

The Preacher held back a laugh, his eyes twinkling briefly then sobering again. "From your God to mine?"

"Don't got no God."

This time the Preacher really did smile, his voice amused and surprisingly gentle. "This conversation says otherwise, Captain."

* * * * *

Simon found her in the engine room. Surprised that she was not bouncing around with excitement at the imminent return of her hero. He was absolutely, positively convinced that in Kaylee's eyes the Captain could walk on water. Not that he would say as much to the Shepherd. Spy or not Simon could not shake the image of him as a man of God. Some illusions really gave reality a run for its' money especially out here in the Black. Now all he could think was how little he had seen of Serenity's mechanic. How quiet she was when he did. As if she was holding her breath and praying that all would turn out well. Afraid to speak, to move too abruptly, to do any gorram thing that might change a precarious outcome with all the solemn certainty of the grave.

"I missed you."

That startled her and almost made him smile, only he did not want her to think he was mocking her. "You did?"

Her tentative fishing expedition gave him hope. "Yes. I know I've been distracted with River but I do notice you."

The cloud she had been carrying around began to thin out. He really did miss the sun. A light and warmth she carried that was wholly Kaylee. If Kaylee were a ship she would be just like Serenity and as capable of doing a 'crazy Ivan' as the Captain's precious boat. Personally he still thought it was *lese* only now it was also home. There was comfort in these walls of steel. Companionship and caring in this crew, each bringing something unique to the table. He found he no longer missed his familial home. The Tam Estate where he and River were raised in fairly resplendent wealth and privilege. Their mother and father had always provided financially for their well being but when it came to giving anything personal of themselves like love and affection there was a strange distance between them that ties of blood could not span. Always he had taken it for granted that his parents loved them. Unconditionally as parents should. Only River's disappearance and his subsequent efforts to find and save her had removed the blindfold from his eyes. The painful reality had shaken his faith in everyone but his sister. Now here was Kaylee, a bright uncomplicated armful of love and sunshine. Her presence irradiating him whenever he was within sight or sound of her.

It was true, he had missed her. For all of his life or so it seemed. He cleared his throat carefully. "I thought you'd be in the welcoming committee?"

She hesitated. "I will be, just need to check the engine an' then..."

Uncharacteristically Simon interrupted her. "I'll come with you."

She froze, straightened and looked at him. "Simon..."

Instinctively he knew what was bothering her and closed the distance between them, one hand brushing a damp lock of hair from her grease and oil smudged face. "Come on Kaylee, if anything had gone wrong Book would have told us. You heard Zoe and Jayne enthusing about the way they lit up the Dome with their little pyrotechnic display. So relax, come with me and let's see how the Captain's doin'."

Kaylee tilted her head towards him. Such trust, such honesty and goodness shone from her it almost dazzled him. He smiled and was rewarded with a piece of the sun back. On an impulse he kissed her, Kaylee opening surprised lips before giving a more enthusiastic response. His sigh of content echoed in her mouth as the kiss deepened. It was several minutes before they broke apart, faces shining, eyes a-glitter with unspoken promises and warm with desire. Suddenly Simon felt self conscious with Kaylee looking at him as if he was the shiniest thing in the whole 'verse.

"I... I should probably go check on River." He murmured.

"Probably," Said Kaylee, her eyes laughing and sparkling.

He was so numb he was hardly aware when Kaylee closed the last inch of space between them. Then she was kissing him and he was not resisting but following her lead, not wanting it to end. Letting the touch of her lips transport him to paradise. Her warm hands guiding his, bodies moving in a dance that had no music but where their two hearts knew every gorram step.

* * * * *

Zoe Warren stared hard at Pepper Rawlings. They were in the commons area and after dancing around the subject for the last few hours her patience had finally snapped. Jayne leaned casually against the wall where he could keep everyone in sight. Deputy Crowther stood to the left of the door, a couple of other deputies over by the table. Lenny Goss looked thoughtful but kept his hands well clear of his gunbelt. Dizzy Doyle hid a dark humour in the shadows of his eyes. Some days just drawing breath was highly amusing. Even so he would contend there was no sense in courting trouble. Pepper shook his head. "No call to get defensive, Zoe."

She put her hands on her hips just a twitch away from the butt of her gun. "Is if you're thinkin' on causin' any grief. We're gonna pick up the Captain an' that's final. Shuttle should be dockin' any minute. Thought you'd be pleased, bein' old war buddies an' all."

His look darkened knowing as well as she did that the only time he had fought alongside Malcolm Reynolds was during this ill conceived and poorly timed revolution. Had to be one of the shortest gorram rebellions in history. Might have all fought in Serenity Valley but not in the same unit. Only one person on the ship could claim that right and she was staring at him with eyes as hard as nails. Jayne tensed slightly. "I am pleased Zoe, we all are, just been too far from our homes for too long, *dong ma*?"

"Soon as we get the Captain back we'll drop you an' your men off on Shadow."

He shook his head and corrected her. "Hera."

That surprised her. Zoe's eyes narrowed with a hint of suspicion. What the *diyu* was on Hera? "Not the destination I was thinkin' of."

"I know but..." He paused awkwardly. "It's where we agreed to meet up if any of us got parted. Have to find out who else is left."

Zoe felt herself relax a little. She could understand that and her gut told her that in this instance Pepper was being truthful though she planned to keep a bullet in the chamber of her gun just in case he wasn't. "Okay, once the Captain's back Hera it is."

* * * * *

It was quite a welcoming committee when shuttle two returned to its' berth on Serenity. Making sure there were no nasty surprises lurking within scanning range Wash hurried to join the rest of the crew crowded on the catwalk. He could not see River or Simon and assumed they must be near the shuttle door. Zoe spotted him and walked over to him, accepting the arm around her waist and trading a kiss as he gave her a loving squeeze. "What do you think happened, *bao bei*?"

"About what?"

"You know."

She huffed at him. "Wash I know as much as you, *dong ma*?"

"No, I meant the Preacher. Book. Whatever we're supposed to call him now. What are we gonna do with him?"

"Let's take one thing at a time, *bao bei*."

He nodded and leant in for another kiss. "Sounds good to me."

A ruckuss up ahead got their attention. It seemed everyone wanted to make sure the Captain really was okay and it was impeding Jayne and Book's efforts in carrying the stretcher. Sheriff Bowman was good as new now that the poison was out of his system. With all the drive and efficiency of a drill Sergeant-Major he had the catwalk cleared and followed the stretcher just behind a harried and anxious Simon Tam. When they got to the infirmary Simon ordered everyone out except the Shepherd then began to check his patient and stabilise his condition. Mal was drifting in and out of consciousness when River appeared, pale face anxious, eyes fixed on the injured man. Simon felt a familiar mix of relief and anxiety. He wanted her to wait until he had checked the Captain more thoroughly but knew without needing to ask that it was not going to happen. Whatever else the bond between his sister and the Captain might be it wasn't weak.

River did not get in her brother's way. Knew it was essential that she let him do his job but she needed to be near Mal. The closer the better. Inwardly fretting she only calmed down when Simon finished his critical appraisal and stepped back to talk to the Preacher. Taking advantage of the opportunity River drew a seat next to Mal and trailed a gentle hand over his face, her touch seeming to give him ease.

Simon Tam watched his sister with the Captain for a moment. "Those surgeons have done a very competent job. I have to admit to being more than a little impressed."

"They are the best in the Core." Said Book.

"You were right."

"I was?"

Simon turned his head and looked at him. "*Qu*. I don't know how they could do it so quickly but the Captain's knee is well on the way to being rebuilt. I can't believe how the torn tissue has been regenerated. I've never seen anything so incredible occur in such a short amount of time."

The Preacher allowed a ghost of a smile to touch his lips. "Could say it's a miracle."

"I don't believe in miracles though after this," He paused. "I could be persuaded to think about the possibility. I believe in things I can see and touch."

A familiar voice mused aloud over his words. "That so, doctor?"

Startled to hear the Captain's voice Simon moved next to his bed. The man looked worn out and very pale but other than that he seemed in remarkably good condition. "*Ni hao ma*, Captain?"

"Like *goushi*."

"You've had quite a traumatic time of it and what your body needs now is rest."

The Captain blinked slowly up at him then looked at River, a slow smile of quiet joy transforming his normally stern visage and taking years off him. If anyone doubted that those two loved each other then they were blind. Simon decided to do the decent thing and glanced at the Preacher. "Mind if I have a word with you, Shepherd?"

Book nodded and followed Simon out of the infirmary. He watched the doctor quietly close the door behind him to give the Captain and his sister a little privacy. It was time for some straight talking. "I don't understand how the Captain is healing so fast. Perhaps you could explain it to me?"

The Shepherd gave him a mild look. "I'm not a doctor."

Simon was looking at him thoughtfully. "That would have been my first thought but the Captain's had some very advanced surgical techiques applied to his injury and I have to say I couldn't have done better. This is skilled work."

"Your point being?"

"There are signs of very recent surgery." He paused, not wanting this to come out wrong. "I'd say within the last few hours."

"The Alliance has some very gifted surgeons."

Simon nodded. "*Wo zhidao*. Most of whom according to Zoe and Jayne are now dead."

"I'm not sure what it is you are trying to say."

"Not to put to fine a point on it I think I'm looking at the surgeon."

For a long moment the Preacher just stared at him. The expression on his face unreadable. "I'm a Preacher not a surgeon, Simon." He said at last.


A silence fell between them. Neither giving an inch.

"You weren't always a Preacher." Said Simon softly. "So I have to ask myself two questions. If you have this level of expertise why did you stop and how the good gorram did you learn such advanced techniques in the first place? From what I've seen this goes beyond cutting edge technology. The rebuilding of torn and in some places missing tissue and cartilege is nothing short of astonishing. In fact, I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen the results with my own eyes. How do you explain such accelerated growth?"

"Those are a lot of questions, doctor."

He nodded, his voice dropping. "Questions I notice you are not answering."

The Shepherd did not respond.

"Does the Captain know?"

"Doctor, I merely brought him back. The healing an' such I leave up to you."

Simon blinked feeling suddenly foolish. Of course Book had not been responsible for the surgery. What in the nine hells had he been thinking? A wave of weariness washed over him. The Captain was not the only one who needed to rest. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed feeling more than a mite foolish. "*Duibuqi*, Preacher, I didn't mean that. I'm tired and all the excitement is starting to catch up with me."

"That's alright." Said Book with some warmth. "I wasn't offended. Flattered yes, offended no."

The smile on the Preacher's lips made Simon smile in return. He wondered if he had given River and the Captain long enough then as he glanced back through the window of the infirmary he saw his sister leaning down to kiss the Captain. It seemed a long time before either of them came up for air. Perhaps he would give them a little longer, then *mei mei* or not he was going to have to insist that River leave the Captain to rest.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = sorry *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *dong ma* = understand *lese* = crappy *wangu* = stubborn *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = precious/treasure *qu* = yes (lit. no go) *ni hao ma* = how are you? *goushi* = crap/dogshit *wo zhidao* = I know *mei mei* = little sister


Tuesday, June 29, 2004 5:08 PM


Arrggh....when will someone put a gun to his head and force Book to come clean already?? and I'm thinking he pulled a jedi mind trick on simon there. Still more intrigue w/ monty..trip to hera looks to be interesting.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 10:08 PM


Alison, probably the best chapter of yours ever. Not just the story, which is looking to wrap things up better than things started, but how you write it. You're amazing, so much so that I almost missed the minor incongruency of "The look he got back" in a room where the "monitor and all the lights went out".

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 11:37 PM


Artships, I really appreciate you pointing that error. It is fixed with my grateful thanks. So glad you and jebbypal are enjoying the story. Only a few more chapters to go. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, June 30, 2004 6:35 AM


Another brilliant installment Alison, thank you!

I agree with jebbypal about the Jedi mind trick. Will we learn the truth about Book in this story, or is that another series??

Thanks again

Wednesday, June 30, 2004 7:52 AM


Whew... you leave me feeling drained after some chapters! Good one. And a relief that things seem to be turning up for our gang--uh, *seem* to...

Ditto Jebbypal on forcing Book to spill it!

Monday, July 5, 2004 11:04 PM


Lovely. Liked the rose/Inara analogy.

Utterly confused as to what to think about Book. One minute I hate him, the next - not so much. Now I'm very worried about his surgical expertise. Hope it doesn't mean Simon's going to have to kill him ...


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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.