BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 39. "The Road to Recovery"
Tuesday, July 6, 2004

"With physical wounds well on the mend the Shepherd contemplates a confession that if made will rock their new found tranquility. Inara Serra lets the 'verse make her decision for her."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2084    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

SUMMARY: "With physical wounds well on the mend the Shepherd contemplates a confession that if made will rock their new found tranquility. Inara Serra lets the 'verse make her decision for her." 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.

"THE ROAD TO RECOVERY"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Shepherd Book had noticed from the outset that the Captain seemed to understand more of River's crazy talk than even her own brother. He had not thought too much about it at the time. His focus necessarily being on the girl. Now he found himself thoughtfully reviewing the deceptively simple moral rectitude of one Malcolm Reynolds and some surprising correlations hit him with all the impact of Divine Revelation. "Oh my."

The truth when it sunk in practically knocked the breath out of him and that had not happened in a long, long time. Like all good conjuring tricks it had been hidden in plain sight. Book also now realised why he had been so fascinated by the Captain from the moment they had first met. As if some instinct were guiding him. He had fallen so far. He recalled the Captain telling him not to make him his mission and he hadn't. He had found the girl but not for reasons any of them would suspect. He thought of the warrior poet Shan Yu and calmly considered whether it was time to reveal himself to Mal. Let him meet the real man.

* * * * *

Three weeks. Three long tension building weeks of sailing in the Black, steering clear of any planets with even the merest hint of an Alliance presence. They avoided the trade routes and stuck to low paid ferry jobs, goods or people made no never mind. It was honest work for once and the novelty of it made many of the crew's hearts feel lighter than they had in days. Pepper Rawlings had not grumbled or kicked up a fuss at the delay in getting to Hera, he knew that the jobs were needed to keep Serenity fueled and flying plus they were going through supplies like a man with no arms. So many more hungry mouths to feed than just crew. It all took money, coin they didn't have. So he kept his gorram mouth shut and made sure his men did the same. Not long now and they would be on Hera. It was all that mattered.

Zoe Warren was walking the ship - again. Since being in charge while the Captain was incapacitated she had unwittingly begun to sleep less and prowl the ship more. As if needing a constant reassurance that all really was well. Wash had said nothing at first, thinking this was something she had to get out of her system and he just needed to give her space. Then he began to feel put out, not yet hostile but edging a little closer to it each day. When she finally called him on it he could hold on to his frustration no longer. "I don't understand why all of sudden you have to turn into the Captain!"

He winced at her expression. It had been the wrong thing to say. Criticising the Captain at any time to his beloved but deadly wife was always a risky business depending on her mood and whether it had been done in a light teasing manner or in deadly earnest. Doing so even inadvertently while Mal was still in recovery had perhaps not been his smartest move ever. But he couldn't take the words back and maybe they were right where they needed to be - in the open. Her lips compressed and Wash began to wonder whether it was too late to start back pedalling. He had been complaining off and on now for twenty minutes, her responses getting less soothing and more confrontational. "I'm not an' you know why I can't relax, *zhangfu*. How many times do I have to explain to you?"

*Diyu*, she was even beginning to sound like the Captain. Wash decided not to comment on that last observation and made a few placating noises instead. "*Wo zhidao, bao bei* but we're safe now, *dong ma*? Captain's back and getting stronger every day. Simon's making a special brace for his leg so soon he'll be up and stomping around just like before. No one's firin' at us an' in a few more hours Pepper and his crew will be at Hera then it's just the Sheriff an' his men an' Yen Mah..." His voice trailed off at the last name. Yen Mah still had not woken up. He suddenly realised why Zoe was upset and hiding it so badly. He felt like a piece of *goushi*. "*Duibuqi*, what was I thinkin'? Forget that, I wasn't thinkin'. You're worried about Yen Mah."

"It's been almost a month, Wash."

She looked so sad. Wash put a comforting arm around her and drew her on his lap. They were in the cockpit, Serenity's bridge. For now it was just the two of them and the pilot had missed that. For the longest time it had been like living in a crowd and though he was gregarious by nature it had been wearing him down a little. He liked the Sheriff and got on with most of the deputies but couldn't quite settle with some of Pepper's people. There was just something about them that put him on edge and he could not figure out why that should be. Sure they had been soldiers, Independents in the doomed war-that-was, but then so was Zoe, so was the Captain but he didn't feel like he wanted to crawl out of his skin if they got too close. What the good gorram was wrong with him? With everything else that had gone on he had pushed Yen Mah to the back of his mind. Now he felt guilty about it. As if it somehow meant he didn't care but he did.

"Simon says there's no reason she can't wake up." He said softly, dropping a gentle kiss on her lips. Her arms tightened round him and he held her close. Inhaled the fragrance that was uniquely Zoe. There was comfort, warmth and love in that embrace. Both profited by it. Sometimes, proximity was all. "River says she'll wake up when she's ready."

"It isn't fair." Murmured Zoe into his hair.

He nodded and kissed the side of her neck. "At least it's givin' time for her to heal. Those knife wounds were pretty deep, *bao bei*. Speakin' of healin' the Captain's lookin' good. Whatever the doc's doin' is near miraculous."

Zoe smiled. "That it is. Could be the extra nursin' is helpin' some."

That surprised a chuckle from Wash as he thought about River. The crazy girl no more than inches from the Captain whether he was asleep or waking. For a time it had annoyed the hell out of Simon and that had just been plain funny. Now everyone was used to it and her presence did seem to have the most beneficial effect on the Captain's temperament. Zoe enjoyed the way Wash's chuckle rumbled up through his chest and felt her own mood lighten. If River did for the Captain what Wash did for her then he was a lucky man.

* * * * *

Right now the Captain did not feel lucky. He felt anxious and frustrated, scowling down at Simon's dark head as the doctor fiddled and adjusted the damn leg brace. "Don't know why you're fussin' with that piece of *fei hua* doctor, leg's healin' fine. *Hen hao* thanks to all that fancy trainin' of yours. An' don't think I'm not grateful but..."

Simon surprised him by looking up and fixing him with a mild but intent gaze. "Then don't complain."

"All I wanna do is be up an' about is that so *cuode*?"

"It is when it's against your doctor's orders, Captain. Impatience could undo all my hard work, is that really what you want?"

He hated it when Simon made him feel guilty. As if he was an ungrateful sumbitch instead of a plain awkward one. A mean old man. As if reading the Captain's thoughts Simon smiled, a fey thing that reminded him of River at her most endearing.

"You want to be up and about, *wo dong*. That is what the brace is for, to let you do that without compromising the healing of your leg. That was a very bad injury Captain and you shouldn't take your recovery lightly." He paused and when the Captain remained silent continued. "One other thing. Having the brace on does not give you carte blanche to be standing and walking on it all day. An hour or so at most for the first day..." He held up a hand as the Captain opened his mouth to protest. "Which I will extend as and when I feel your leg can take it. Refuse and I'll insist you stay in the infirmary under my watchful eye until it is completely healed and you can walk out of here under your own steam."

The Captain scowled at him in irritation not anger. He knew the doctor was right and that was what was irking him. "You sayin' I'm a prisoner on my own boat?"

Another smile this time. The doctor was definitely amused now. "*Bu qu*, just saying you're lucky Captain. By all rights you should have lost that leg."

Mal raised his eyebrows, tried to ignore the creepy feeling of the brace moulding to his leg. The lightweight construction not as cumbersome as he would have expected. "*Xingyun*?"

Before Simon could answer River breezed in, a happy cloud of lightly dancing feet and wall to wall smiles. Even her beautiful eyes were laughing at Mal. So much love and joy emanating from her presence that the Captain's breath caught and heart contracted with love of her. Lucky? Oh yeah. When the doctor was right he was right. As for Simon he was mesmerised by the effect his sister had on Malcolm Reynolds. Gone was the grouchy impatient Captain of Serenity and in his place was a lovesick man with the kind of awestruck look on his face that took more than years off the man. It eased the pain and sorrow of untold sacrifices and horrors witnessed that no eye should ever have to behold let alone witness in the making. It left Simon all kinds of happy which in itself was a wonder considering how dead set against a union he had been. Seemed years ago not bare months. A lifetime in which they had all been different people. Had so much changed? Watching the Captain and River exchange gentle looks and loving touches as naturally as taking a breath he knew they had. And Simon was glad. For River. For the Captain. For *all* of them.

River leaned in to Mal and gave him a gentle kiss, her lips a warm promise of everything she held in her heart for him. *Missed you, ai ren*

He smiled around the kiss and slowly deepened it. Loving the welcome in her lips, the desire in her eyes, the joy in her heart. *You've only been gone fifteen minutes, fengmi*

*If you didn't miss me too why were you counting?*

His mind showered hers with laughter, his lips with love. *Didn't say that. Don't go puttin' words in my mouth*. He swallowed another kiss and traded it for one of his own. River could feel her toes curling with deepening pleasure. *Or my mind* he added as he tenderly teased her.

Simon coughed to remind them they were not alone and should come up for air. The Captain eased out of the kiss and raised a hand to brush the hair from River's face, not wanting anything to hide her from his thirsting eyes. He glanced at Simon with a mock scowl. "If you got a bad throat best you leave the infirmary *mashang* doctor, don't want to go infectin' them as are tryin' to heal with your germs, *dong ma*?"

"You should test the brace now, Captain. I would suggest you ease yourself upright and see how your leg takes the weight."

The Captain was about to make a smart rejoiner when River touched his hand. His mock scowl melted like snow in sunlight. Simon watched him intently, Mal determined not to wince as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. His left leg was throbbing but so far so good. Slowly he slipped off the bed and stood up. A sudden spike of pain shot up his injured leg so quickly he almost passed out but not a sound slipped passed his white lips. Simon put a hand out to steady him, noticing how the Captain's face had lost all colour. His calm voice tinged with concern. "Perhaps we shouldn't rush this."

"Gorrammit Simon, ain't that bad."

"Not that good either."

"Simon, I'm upright. Can't expect to get no stronger lyin' flat on my back, *dong ma*?"

The doctor gave him a long look. "You are a stubborn man, Captain."

Mal eyed him for a moment, irritation fading into a smirk as the pain in his leg settled into a harsh but bearable throb. "You just figurin' that out?"

"At least let me give you something for the pain."

River squeezed his hand and he acquiessed. Simon got the feeling he did it for her sake not his own. Then those deep cobalt eyes locked on his. "How's Yen Mah? Hear tell she ain't stirred."

A sadness came over the doctor that he could not hide. "She's in a coma though it seems more self induced."

The Captain frowned. "What do you mean self induced? She got stabbed, Simon, don't call that self induced."

"*Duibuqi*, what I meant was there is no medical reason why she can't wake up. Her wounds are healing well, nothing life threatening. She should be up and around by now."

"Could be she's still in shock."

Simon was nodding at that sound possibility when he frowned, noticing that the Captain was edging away from his bed and biting back the pain of putting weight on his bad leg. "What do you think you're doin'?"

"Gotta see her." He mumbled.

"Captain, I don't think..."

It was River who halted him in his tracks. "Captain knows what he's doing, Simon." She said softly.

He could face down the Captain or his sister if he needed to but both of them, together? Not a chance. He had a presentiment of how doomed to failure such an attempt would be. He shut his mouth and got ready to offer assistance or catch his stubborn patient if he fell. But the Captain did not fall, instead he made his slow but determined way over to the medical bed in the corner where the girl lay unmoving beneath the white sheet. Her face pale as any ghost. The Captain felt his heart lurch at the sight of her and moved awkwardly to the side of the bed, taking a moment to steady himself before reaching out to brush a gentle hand against her still white cheek. "Yen Mah," He whispered softly. In the antiseptic coolness of the infirmary his words were like the soft fall of autumn leaves in dreams of Earth-that-was. "You can wake up now, *xin gan*."

Then, to Simon's utter amazement, the girl stirred beneath the Captain's hand. She opened her eyes slowly as if the lids were weighted down, her face gradually taking on colour as if leeched from those who surrounded her. Her eyes fixed on the Captain and a slow smile spread over her moon shaped face. "*Wode Pengyou*, I knew you would come."

River noticed Simon's stunned expression. "Not hiding, waiting." She explained.

Simon blinked, somehow understanding what she meant then worried about how he could know that. His sister turned back to where Yen Mah was staring up at Mal as if no one else existed in the whole 'verse.

"Missed you." Murmured River softly from the Captain's side. "Prepared to wait until you could bring her home."

The Captain nodded but did not turn his head. He did not need to look at River to know her eyes were misting up with the emotion of it. Reaching with his left hand he took River's hand in his and held it. Yen Mah smiling up at the Captain until recent memories flooded back in and stole the joy from her heart. It was like watching a light go out and icy fingers of dread touched Mal's heart. "Yen Mah, *fengmi, shenmi shi*?"

"*Ye ye*." She choked out, blinking back tears.

Mal did not need to know that her grandfather was dead. Really dead this time, not just a ploy to explain her being where she otherwise should not have been. This time it was for real. The Captain let go of River's hand and opened his arms. Simon watched in mute amazement as his least responsive patient sat up and wrapped her arms around the Captain. Hugging him to her for all she was worth as silent tears poured down her face. River was crying too, feeling all the girl's pain and loss as keenly as if it were her own.

* * * * *

It was somewhat annoying to have someone leaning over him when he was pressing weights but Jayne resisted the temptation to tell Pepper Rawlings to get the *diyu* out of his face. The man was looking more than a mite furtive and that plain intrigued him. He kept lifting but at a slower pace so he could concentrate on what the man was saying. "Cap's been good to me Pepper. I got a place here."

Pepper cocked his head, leaned closer and gave him a level look. "You really want to chance your luck on this *lese* ship with a cripple for a Captain? Runnin' shit scared every time ya hear tell of the Alliance? Why do that when ya could live free an' get paid for the privilege?" He paused and lowered his voice. "You can have that life Jayne." He said, no hint of banter in his voice. The man was in deadly earnest. "Do this an' ya can have it all!"

* * * * *

For once, Inara Serra did not know what to do. She had spent hours aboard the Dauntless until she thought the reek of death would be the only thing she would ever smell again. It clung to her clothes and fixed nightmare images in her fevered brain. Death. Not just to Davy Reynolds but to any who disobeyed. She found her eyes returning again and again to his ring finger. Knowing she was supposed to remove the Phoenix, take it back to the Director. Why was this so hard? She had killed men before. Women too when the occasion called for it. But this, this made her feel unclean in a wholly unexpected way. She wondered if she could ease it off without setting off the triggering mechanism. Inara had no desire to poison herself through clumsiness.

Doubts assailed her. Shock had loosened memories from so far back that they felt like some other lifetime. Without giving it any conscious thought she folded herself into a sitting position farthest from the scene of carnage and lost herself in thought. Calming rythyms embraced to balance the chaos in her mind and block out that which surrounded her. She turned her vision inwards and followed the faint but tantalising trail into the past. To a memory when she was around four years old. The House Priestess examining her for any signs of unwholesome infection, deformity or malaise. Finding the child healthy she had been accepted into a life that would rule her night and day ever since.

Where had that memory come from? Odd fragments, pieces in a jigsaw that didn't fit. Faces that she knew should mean something haunted her. A woman's face overlaid by a lullaby. Cut off by harsh voices. Flashes of vermillion and ripe red berries that dyed her fingertips long before they could make it to her tongue. Harsh masters and gentle mistresses. Knowing hands forming her Companion skills and using her body as the drawing board. No sense of shame or embarrassment at being so used even as so small a child. Moisture pooled in the corner of her eyes but she was unaware. The veil now thin grew thinner still. Diaphanous and treacherous for the truths came stark and unbidden and she could not control what they would reveal to her reluctant sight. Powerless to control the content. Heart aching as every lie she had ever believed was stripped from her. Leaving her weeping to her very soul. One of the most powerful women of her Order, protected by the Guild and guided by a corporation whose links were so secret that the wrong word uttered by the wrong tongue in the wrong place could destroy worlds.

Inara Serra blinked without seeing. Grief so deep and all encompassing. Sick to her very heart. How could she have forgotten so much? And why was she remembering now? Slowly she became aware of where she was. Hardly registering the space she shared with the twice dead. It did not matter now. Nothing did. Numb to all but the spiteful swirl of revelation. Whoever said 'the truth shall set you free' had not been a Companion. Yet some instinct reached for the bright sharp shards of it and clung to them, greedily consuming all the answers that sent her world spiralling into darkness. *My world. If it is that*. But what to do? She couldn't move on and she couldn't go home. Home. Her laugh was bitter. She had no home. Wearily Inara arranged herself in the lotus position and readied herself for meditation. Opening herself up to Kuan Yin the Goddess of Mercy and Protector of Children she recalled a quote from the venerable I Ching or Book of Changes: 'When one, seeing the peril, can arrest his steps is he not wise?'

Never before had the Companion needed wisdom more than now.

* * * * *

The reaction of his crew was highly amusing to the Captain or would have been but for the pain. Kaylee cried when she saw him walking awkwardly and slowly into the commons area. Simon had fitted the brace so that he could wear trousers on over the top. The slighty baggy trousers were not his usual choice of clothing but he would have worn a rutting skirt if it meant he could get up off his back and feel his boat beneath his feet. The steady throb of her was like a mother's heartbeat lulling her wayward child into that calm safe place where he belonged. Kaylee dazzled him with her smile as she darted forward and kissed his cheek. Over her head he saw the Shepherd beam from the kitchen, something mighty appealing wafting from a curved based pan like an over-sized wok. Simon followed the Captain and River, almost hovering in barely contained anxiety and trying so hard not to show it. A swift smile fleeted across Jayne's lips then vanished. All too aware that Pepper Rawlings kept watching him. The Captain had never seen the place so packed and was tempted to turn around and go to his bunk for some peace and quiet only he was running out of strength. River smiled and coaxed him into taking his rightful seat at the head of the table.

Zoe clattered into the room hardly believing the news that the Captain was up and about. Her smile was filled with a kind of fierce content as if defying anyone to take this moment from them. Wash was grinning from ear to ear beside her. Mal thought he could detect world weary relief in his pilot and almost laughed out loud. Only the thought of Zoe breaking every bone in his body if he did so kept his humour muted. They were all there and for a minute or two it was pretty hectic with everyone seeming to want to say how glad they were to see him up and about or to offer advice. He bore it with irritable affection then noticed the Sheriff had angled himself into the seat to his left, River occupying the chair on the other side. As soon as the Shepherd dished up Pepper and his men took their bowls of stew and went to sit out on the catwalk with the deputies. It was so smoothly done that Mal suspected the arrangement had been in place more than a week or two while he had been too laid up to do more than stare up at the ceiling and curse cautious doctors. Patience was not the Captain's strong suit.

It was a leisurely meal, everyone seeming to savour the mood that settled over them. The Captain looked around at them and listened as each of his crew told him how things currently stood. When it got to the news that Pepper and his men wanted to get off on Hera Mal raised his eyebrows. Tyrone Garvin was leaning against a wall, watching and listening but saying very little. The Captain noticed him now and gave him a nod. "How about you, Ty? Where you want droppin' off?"

Ty shrugged. He would have said 'home' but the thought of Alex Trent just made his fool blood boil. The notion of that man with his sister just eating him up alive inside. But that wasn't the whole of it. Alex had made sure the others all thought he was a traitor too. If he went back he would be stone dead before he could open his gorram mouth wide enough to explain. Nope. Home wasn't home any more. It was the Sheriff who spoke up for the man. "Ty can come stay with me, son. Least till he decides what he wants to do."

Yen Mah was sitting sandwiched between River and Kaylee, Simon sitting the other side of Kaylee and Jayne across the table from them next to Zoe and Wash. Since waking up Yen Mah had progressed in leaps and bounds, so excited to be with her *pengyou* again and enjoying the sense of ease and familiarity she felt with this crew. Kaylee wanted her to stay but Yen Mah had made a decision. One she would not discuss until she had spoken privately with the Captain. Her eyes drifted across to meet the Sheriff's and something passed between them that Zoe half-caught but when she turned to look at Sheriff Bowman he had turned his head, now speaking to the Captain. His tone no longer light and conversational. He was getting to the meat of what was on his mind.

"Couple of things need sorting, Mal."

The Captain nodded. He knew there was something. River put her hand in his and Malcolm Reynolds felt a surge of deep content. Whatever else might face them it paled into insignificance compared to what he had gained. "Figured as much."

The Sheriff took a deep breath, not wanting the words in his mind to need saying only someone had to do it. "It's about Davy."

A flash of pain and hurt rose in the Captain's eyes but he said nothing. River squeezed his hand.

"He died durin' the fightin' with those Alliance *tamade hundan*, son, an' his body's still aboard the Dauntless." He paused, the Captain had gone pale. "Need to know what you want to do about that."

It took effort to swallow, to hold back tears. He wanted to know how he had died, what the good gorram had happened but part of him didn't want to know. *Diyu* if the rutting purplebellies could pierce a boat like the Dauntless and shoot him up they could take out Davy and any other target they pleased. The only wonder of it was that any of them had survived. "Why d'you leave him there?"

Zoe heard the barely perceptible crack in his voice, knew leaving his brother behind hurt almost more than losing him. It was part of the soldiers creed. "No time." The Sheriff lied. Some things the Captain did not need to know. They had all agreed not to tell him that it was Davy who had shot him, tried to kill him. Or to confess that the Davy Reynolds they had left aboard that ship was not the brother he had loved and lost so long ago. Might look like him. Might own his body. But the original had died, his body taken from the field of his dead comrades along with others selected at random. Taken and tidied up physically while the most gifted and twisted minds in any hell imaginable had fashioned a new mentality to fill it. One completely controlled by his new masters. No. What Malcolm Reynolds did not need to know his loyal friends and crew would never tell him. At the time Pepper Rawlings had wanted them to blow up the Dauntless. Looking at the Captain's face the Sheriff berated himself for not agreeing to it. What Serenity's crew would have made of that he did not know. All that he now saw was the pain he was visiting upon a man as dear to him as any son. "With everything that followed after we decided to wait until you could make the decision yourself, son. Whatever you want. We can take him back to Shadow an' bury him, give him a burial in the Black or blow up the gorram ship."

A long heavy silence fell, so painful it made the ears ache. It was the Shepherd's calm even voice which eventuality broke it. "If you don't want to go back Captain, I can take a shuttle and say a final mass for him."

He did not elaborate further than that. The Captain raised his head, eyes locked on the Shepherd's. A decision forming which would be set in stone. "No, *duibuqi*, though I think you should take a shuttle." The Shepherd's eyebrows rose in surprise. "But I'm goin' with you."

Zoe started to protest but the Captain cut her off.

"Not listenin' to any gainsay on this, *dong ma*? Don't think it would be right to bring him to Serenity. Figure where he died is where he should rest. We'll take explosive charges with us, you can say your words Shepherd, then we'll do what's needed."

Oddly enough it was Jayne who added a final addendum. "If you're goin' then so am I." At the Captain's startled look Jayne stared back with a determination that bordered on beligerence. "Might need someone to watch your back." Shepherd Book began to bristle but Jayne was not looking at him, he was staring hard at the Captain. Though a mite puzzled Mal nodded. Had he been fit enough he would have gone alone. He could tell by the look on Simon's face that he was going to get a roasting from the doctor but he could handle that. With the help of some pain killers and a little luck. Luck. As if she was on his arm this day. A squeeze on his hand drew his attention to River, a knowing smile on the curve of her lips making him inwardly chuckle. *Okay, maybe luck is with me xin gan. Didn't nobody never tell you it's rude to eavesdrop?*

*Can't eavesdrop ai ren when we both share one mind*

*That what we're doin'?*

*Sometimes*

Her response amused him. *On'y sometimes?*

She kissed his hand as if to jog his memory. Mal bit back a chuckle and turned to look around the table, his eyes finally resting back on Jayne. He gave the big man a solemn nod. Jayne did not look happy but he did look content. Shepherd Book frowned and wondered what the *diyu* the mercenary was up to. Zoe had another thought in mind.

"Sir? What about Pepper an' his men? We're supposed to drop them off on Hera."

"*Wo zhidao* an' we will."

"Before or after you leave in the shuttle?" Asked Wash.

"Shepherd, how long will it take you to get ready?"

"I was born ready, Captain."

"Me too." Chipped in Jayne. "Sooner we leave, the sooner we'll be back."

The Captain frowned. He was not the only one wondering at the speed of the big man's comment.

"I've changed my mind," Said the Captain smoothly. "It'll be just me and the Preacher. Jayne, I want you to stay on Serenity. Make sure things go smooth when our 'guests' leave, *dong ma*?" Jayne did not look happy, in fact he looked ready to protest. The Captain ignored him as he got painfully to his feet, River and the Sheriff helping him stand.

"Huh!" Said Jayne, using disgust to hide his concern. "Ya can't even stand unaided. Ya need me."

"Not sayin' I don't but right now I need you here, Jayne. Not discussin' this." He looked at Shepherd Book. "Preacher, think you can get the shuttle ready?"

"I'm on it, Captain."

He left quickly to do just that. River tugged on his hand and the Captain paused to look at her. *Be careful, ai ren, things are not always what you see*

*Don't you mean what they seem, xin gan?*

*I know what I meant*

"I'll be careful, xin gan." He murmured out loud, dipping his head to give her a gentle kiss.

Zoe accompanied the Captain on his slow painful way to shuttle two while Simon rattled off a list of instructions for the Captain which she did not even try to follow. She could tell by the Captain's slightly glazed look that he had stopped listening to the doctor a few minutes ago. When none of Simon's words elicited a single protest he glared at the Captain. "You haven't listened to a word I've said!"

"Did listen just didn't take it all in that's all. But I promise you this much, I won't stand where I can sit and if anything comes a-flyin' through the air at me I'll duck. *Gaoxing*?"

Simon shook his head. "You're impossible, Captain!"

He chuckled. "Impossible but oh so shiny." He paused at Simon's glum expression and huffed slowly, letting his worry for a moment show through his weariness and physical pain. "This is just somethin' I have to do, *dong ma*? Davy's my brother. Promised all the days of my life to keep him safe. I failed him, Simon..."

"*Bu qu*," Said Simon gently. "You didn't fail him, Mal."

But the Captain was shaking his head sadly. "I have to go."

Simon nodded, for a moment wishing he could go with him. The man had only been on his feet a day and already he was going off into the Black with only the Great Betrayer for company. True, Book had seemed to rehabilitate after that last traumatic episode but the doctor had no idea how much they could really trust him. He knew Zoe didn't trust the man at all, would as soon shoot him as say 'good morning'. She only kept her powder dry because the Captain seemed intent on giving the man a second and a third chance. He could not help but wonder why. The road to recovery looked anything but a smooth one.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*zhangfu* = husband *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand *wo zhidao* = I know *bao bei* = precious/treasure *duibuqi* = sorry *fei hua* = garbage/nonsense *hen hao* = very good *cuode* = wrong *wo dong* = I understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xingyun* = lucky *ai ren/xin gan* = sweetheart *fengmi* = honey *pengyou* = friend *wode pengyou* = my friend *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *ye ye* = grandfather *lese* = crappy *gaoxing* = happy *tamade hundan* = fucking bastards

COMMENTS

Tuesday, July 6, 2004 7:45 PM

ARTSHIPS


Things seem to be so good right now, but there are too many people involved to let it stay that way, as in real life. Aside, it looks like some of our heroes need to sink a little further before they bob back up into back-to-normal. Soon, Alison?!

Tuesday, July 6, 2004 11:28 PM

GUILDSISTER


Kind of a relief to have a chapter without direly awful things happening to them. Though, one suspects, that Mal's & Book's trek together might not be all happiness.

Waiting for Zoe to act. She seems on the edge. Like that. Eager for more!

Wednesday, July 7, 2004 12:46 AM

KISPEXI2


Is Inara going to be redeemed, I wonder? Is Mal going to put a bullet between Book's eyes?

As always, looking forward to the answers!
Thanks, Ali.


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OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

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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.

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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.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 6. "Friends You Choose"
It was a sound he recognised from the War, didn't forget the sound of a man drowning on his own blood.