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HEAVEN AND HELL: 43. "Casualties of War"
Saturday, July 17, 2004

"Inara finds reality a harsh place to dwell. The past is not her friend and the present is a stranger to her. Jayne tries to escape a fate worse than death while River has her hands full trying to convince the crew that they have to do something that will put each of them in jeopardy."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2181    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

SUMMARY: "Inara finds reality a harsh place to dwell. The past is not her friend and the present is a stranger to her. Jayne tries to escape a fate worse than death while River has her hands full trying to convince the crew that they have to do something that will put each of them in jeopardy." 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.

"CASUALTIES OF WAR"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"Why you doin' this?"

She did not reply straight away. Fussing with the needle then carefully putting it away and avoiding eye contact. Mal was tired, hurting so badly he could hardly think straight. But pain he was used to. It was the Companion's contrary behaviour that confused him. Even in the dimness of his brick cell he could tell she was conflicted and that was unexpected.

"Inara," He said softly. The tone caused her to raise her head automatically before she could stop herself. Then she was trapped in those dark eyes, like being caught in a gravity well she could not look away. The pupils darker than the half light in which they found themselves. "*Weishenme*? If that was poison why use the antidote?"

The question hurt her. Did he really think she wanted another death on her conscience, even his? "They want you alive."

Her answer sent slivers of ice through his veins. It was not what she had meant to say but it was too late to snatch the words back. She should have stayed silent. Should have let him die.

"They?" He already knew who she meant or at least he thought he did.

Inara Serra tried to hide how badly her hands were shaking. Nightmares of her own all but creeping out of the walls of the damp cell. Mal thought it more a dungeon, the kind from tales of old on Earth-that-was. He reached for her hand but she drew quickly back as if his touch would burn her. He gave a small soft grunt and fell backward, the effort too much. His leg on fire choosing that moment to give way under him, the brace feeling like it was cutting through his flesh like heated knives as he cried out in pain. He missed the fleeting look of worry on her face. The Companion hesitated knowing she should leave, watching him covertly as he closed his eyes to block out the agony, his body momentarily going rigid. Almost too surprised to react as a gentle hand brushed back his fringe then withdrew in hesitation. "You're in pain." She said softly.

Another grunt. He did not open his eyes. Too much pain, not enough rest. It was all catching up with him. He needed to be strong but that too was beyond him. Inara was worried. She had to get back to Book. The knife meant for the Captain had been tinged with a powerful narcotic, enough that a single pin prick of the blade would render a man unconscious. It had never been her intention to kill the Captain but then she had not anticipated the Preacher getting in the way of her knife. An accident or was it deliberate? She needed to know but now she was unsure of her own motivation. Seeing Malcolm Reynolds again had stirred memories of her time aboard Serenity and the friendships she had made among this man and his crew. Despite her attempts to distance herself from him the reality placed them all in danger. He was the enemy yet in him she had found more nobility of spirit that among her own kind. It was a painful irony.

Inara grimaced inwardly. Her own kind. What in *diyu* did that mean? Did she even have a kind? Gazing down at the Captain she noticed he had passed out and felt a deep pang of regret steal through her heart. Why did he have to come? Return to the Dauntless? Another half an hour and she would have been gone but no, he had to return. Just like the *wangu shisengzi* to come back. Drawn to his brother's remains and for what? To recover the body for burial? She had no real idea and did not want to dwell on the possibilities but certainly his ulterior motive had been far more noble than her own. And here she was, the product of her oh so superior Core training obediently bringing another lamb to slaughter. A man who had come so close to being her friend. And he unable to fight back or save himself. Inara sighed and looked down at his leg, noticing a crimson patch seeping up through the heavy cloth of his pants. Her right hand seemingly moving of its' own volition to check him over. Gently removing the brace so she could see how bad it was and finding the place where stitches had ruptured and begun to bleed. If they were on Serenity Simon would be berating the Captain while his gifted hands put the damage right. She bit her lip. Serenity.

* * * * *

In one of the guard rooms off the old deserted cell corridor, Shepherd Book slowly came round. His head ached a little but his hand was throbbing. Without thinking he flexed his fingers and winced almost dislodging the makeshift bandage. Memory flooded back and he frowned, sitting up and looking around the small but well lit room. Wondering where Inara and the Captain were. A sense of panic assailed him. Just as he got to his feet the door opened. He froze, not sure what to think when Inara Serra stepped inside and shut the door quickly behind her. He frowned but she made no attempt to lock it. She was staring at him with a look he could not fathom on her face. What the good gorram was she up to and what had she done with the Captain?

* * * * *

Simon Tam stared at his sister in horror. Everyone had trailed behind him as he had half coaxed and half carried her to the infirmary. It took less than a couple of minutes for him to realise where all the blood was coming from. His eyes pricked with unshed tears then he got himself back under control. Zoe was frowning at him, as worried about River as she was at the doctor's reaction. "How is she?"

He swallowed hard, his eyes glued to his sister though she was lying back on the infirmary bed staring straight up at the ceiling, her lips moving silently, her gaze on some scene they could not share. "River has torn a rip in her vagina and a number of smaller ones in the neck of the cervix..." His voice trailed off, sad and shocked and trying to keep it clinical.

Kaylee's eyes widened in alarm. "Will she be okay? The baby, is the baby...?"

"The baby's fine," Simon rushed to reassure them. "And so is River, the tears aren't so great they just bleed a lot. I'll give her something for the pain then I'll need to do some sutures."

The mechanic looked baffled and sad. Her eyes on River. "But why? Why would she want to hurt the baby?"

"River wasn't trying to hurt the baby, Kaylee." Said Simon softly.

Zoe's frown deepened. Kaylee looked confused. "She wasn't? *Wo bu dong*."

"She was frightened, afraid. Wanted to bring the baby out so she could hide it."

Sheriff Bowman paled. "What in the nine hells are ya talkin' about? Best place for that baby is in it's mama's womb!"

"I know that, you know that, we *all* know that, but River," He paused and filled a syringe. "River doesn't. Something caused her to panic so bad she thought it was the only way to keep the baby safe."

"*Wode ma*."

Yen Mah tugged on the Sheriff's hand. "He didn't betray anyone."

"Who, *nu haizi*?"

"Jayne."

The Sheriff blinked. What did that have to do with River? Zoe's ears pricked up. Wash looked as if he wanted to be sick, all that blood and everyone acting as if it was as natural as anything to be having this discussion while Simon was prepping River for surgery. Didn't matter that he was only stitching her up, there was blood all over his hands now and the pilot could not help but mentally flinch at the girl's lack of privacy. It felt wrong but no one else seemed to be noticing that. Minds on what was going on and all too tense and worried to affect normal sensibilities. "What are you sayin', Yen Mah?"

She looked sad. "Thought he was helping. Being clever. Wanted to help the Captain but he just made things worse."

"Worse how?" Asked Wash.

River was still looking straight up at the ceiling. They had almost forgotten that she was still wide awake, the anaesthetic Simon had given her only being a local. "Now he'll join the other tin soldiers."

Simon huffed and looked up with a glare. "I really must insist you all leave *now*."

Slightly abashed they filed out, Zoe being the last one to leave. Hanging back by the door to pin the doctor with wide solemn eyes. "Want a hand?"

He shook his head. "*Bu qu, duibuqi*. This won't take long."

River turned her head and stared right at Zoe. "Have to turn the ship around. Jayne needs help."

Zoe was not feeling in a very charitable mood towards the mercenary right now. Her instinct was to leave him in whatever *goushi* he had got himself into and go look for the Captain. River shook her head gently. "Need Jayne."

She wanted to ask River about the Captain but the words stuck in her throat. It was still more than a little creepifying how the girl knew so much. She just wished it was easier to make sense of her ramblings.

"Not rambling." Mumbled River, eyes locked on the second mate. "He's sleeping. Pain too fierce to stay awake. But Jayne can't sleep. The panic and the mob won't let him."

Zoe opened her mouth to ask her what the hell she meant by that when the girl closed her eyes.

"You should leave now." Said Simon quietly.

She nodded, gave River one last look then turned and left the infirmary closing the door quietly behind her. Simon looked at his sister and bit back a sigh of pained exasperation. Wondering why the gorram River was so much more coherent when she was with the Captain. The thought brought her earlier assertion tumbling back through his memory like a tide that no power in the 'verse could stop. She could heal him and he could heal her. As he carefully began to stitch up the tears he found himself coming to that same conclusion. She had called the Captain the other half of her soul. He did not even want to contemplate how she would cope if she did not get it back.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book eyed the Companion warily. Others saw what they expected to see but he saw her in her true colours only now they seemed to be blurring, the colours running into each other and making less and less sense. He wondered if there was some drug still in his system affecting his perception, but no, when she moved he only saw one of her and the distinct cadence of her words was too authentic to be part of some hallucination. Something in her expression made him more alert. "What have you done?"

Inara took a moment to speak, her hands dry washing themselves on a cloth. He found himself fascinated by the crimson smear turning the white cloth red. "I'm supposed to bring him to them." She said softly.

He hardly dared draw breath. Them not us? What was going on and why did the Mother of Sorrows look as if she had just received a shock to the system? "You mean the Captain?"

She nodded then to his surprise crossed the room and sat next to him.

"Inara," He said quietly. "What is going on and where is the Captain?"

"I'm supposed to bring him to them. They want him alive." She said in a dull voice.

She was not looking at him but down at the reddened cloth, turning it over and over in her hands. He knew now that she was not seeing the cloth but the colour of the Captain's blood. Book glanced around the small functional room. "Where are we?"

"An old disused prison facility."

"Where?"

"On Sihnon." She whispered.

Shock shivered through him with all the speed and precision of a lightening strike. "Sihnon? There is no prison facility on Sihnon."

Her expression turned so grim it oddly enough reminded him of the Captain. "That's what you're supposed to think."

He paused before pressing on. Surprised to find her so forthcoming. "Where on Sihnon?"

"Beneath House Madrassa."

"*Wode tianna*!"

She looked away from him and swallowed slowly, the cloth forgotten in her hands. "The Director was most specific. I had to recover the rings."

He thought that through for a moment. "If he just wants the rings," He said slowly. "Then give them to him. No need to go further."

"He also wants the Captain."

Book frowned. Curious as well as a little alarmed. "*Weishenme*?"

Inara shook her head. A brief confusion fluttering across her face like startled wings flapping to gain height and freedom, escape from some imagined threat. Soon the Captain's wings like hers would be clipped and he would fly no more. She found the thought a painful one and mused to herself on the reason why that should be. The Preacher leaned forward, watching her closely. "Inara? *Ni hao ma? Shenme shi*?"

She wanted to laugh at the notion of his concern. They might work for the same side but they were hardly partners. Inara was no longer sure that it was the right side and that was all kinds of unsettling. The idea that Malcolm Reynolds and his ragtag band of petty criminals could be right threw everything she had once believed in into a quandry. Yet the more she thought back on her days on Serenity the more her commitment to the cause faltered. Like being in a dark place for so long it had seemed light until someone switched the light on and revealed the shadows reaching for her soul. The disparity was as blinding as any revelation. She only raised her head when Book touched her hand.

"Where is the Captain now?"

"In a cell."

"Cell?"

Inara nodded. "I should report to the Director."

"Is that what you want?"

She hesitated. Book held his breath. "No."

The word was so low and so quietly spoken that the Preacher was sure he would not have heard it had he not been sitting so close to her and listening with such avid attention. "Why the change of heart, Inara?"

She was silent so long that he thought she was not going to answer. When she turned her head bleak eyes stared at him with such intensity it shook him. "I've been remembering."

He said nothing. Hardly daring now to breathe in case she clammed up on him.

"The past was a lie, Shepherd. They altered my mind, made me believe I was chosen. Special. But it wasn't like that. I was torn away from my parents as soon as I showed any sign of paranormal ability. They performed psyche tests and realised they could mould me into what they wanted. A tool. Something to use, barter with, warp to their will. New memories were woven in to crowd out the old..." Her voice trailed off.

"If that's the case..."

She cut him off mid-sentence, her look suddenly focused and hard. "I remembered. Some of the things that happened recently triggered the recall and the more I look at this Alliance of worlds we've been creating the more horrified and dispairing I become. Selling our freedom for the coin of slavery."

The Shepherd stared at her. Longed to trust her, to let down his defences but the past was too vivid and she too powerful. What if this was a test? A way to trap him? But no, he could see no sign of it either in her face or in the defeated slump of her shoulders. Odd, but he trusted her now for perhaps the first time since he had met her. So many years ago.

* * * * *

Wash Warren looked at his is oh so beautiful but deadly wife and wondered what in *diyu* was going on. "Why are we goin' after Jayne again?"

She sighed and rested a hand on his shoulder. They were the only ones on the bridge at that moment and both savoured the time away from the others however brief it might be. "River says we need him."

Wash's eyebrows rose though his surprise did not distract him from what he was doing. The Firefly turning beneath his expert hand as if born to fly just for him. He never tired of the pleasure and thrill it gave him. "Why? As I recall he left, turned his back on us to go with Pepper an' his men."

"River seems to think he was tryin' to help."

That startled him so much he almost stopped the Firefly's flight. He snorted in disbelief and tried to take his wife seriously. It would be easier by far to juggle geese. "*Bao bei*, you know I love an' trust your judgement, but Jayne? Since when has that big ape thought of anything or anyone but himself?"

"Don't you think that's a little harsh, sweetie?"

"No." He paused. "Remember Ariel?"

She tried to hide her surprise. "You know about that?"

He nodded.

"Who told you?"

"No one, I just watched and listened then put the pieces together. I still don't know why the Captain didn't space him."

Zoe blinked, she hadn't known why either but unlike Wash she had cornered the Captain about it after something River said alerted her to the mercenary's duplicity. It was why she found it so easy to believe he was turning on them again. The notion that she had read him wrong both relieved and worried her. "What do you think he's up to, *zhangfu*?"

"Who?"

"Jayne."

"Oh. Not sure but there has to be a reason Mal let him stay."

"You think he's tryin' to get back in the Captain's good graces?"

The look on Wash's face said *has he got any?* but he did not say it out loud. What might once have been a funny and mildly hilarious swipe at their noble Captain did not seem so funny now. "Maybe. Or maybe they didn't give him a choice."

Now she looked surprised. "*Shenme*?"

He shrugged. "Just thinkin' about River." He paused and flicked his attention back to the readings, trimming the speed and azimuth as he brought Serenity in on a cautious approach vector. "Well here we are, *bao bei*. Hera. The one place none of us really wanna be."

She patted his shoulder then kissed his cheek. "I'll go tell the others."

* * * * *

He was drifting. His consciousness moored far in the black where nightmares walked and were made flesh. A deep depression engulfing him at the thought that he had failed. The hands that had grabbed him were forgotten now. His terror a tentative link to a world he now felt utterly divorced from. He should care but could not remember why.

Time had no meaning. He could not order his thoughts to investigate this place, this space where he seemed to exist. Each time he tried to grasp what it was it slipped further and further away from him, a mist of the mind that evaporated the moment a thought tried to touch it. He sighed but there seemed to be no breath to carry it, no ears to pick up the sound or the vibration that disturbed the air he fancied existed around him. It was dark. Not cold but not warm either. He could not tell if he was lying on something or was suspended. In what? The question meant nothing to him, he had no framework left. Alone in his madness everything lacked the ability to raise even a modicum of concern. Detached from all reality he wondered if he were dead. If so, his mind would soon follow. Did he still have a body or had they taken that too? Was even flesh an illusion that bowed to their sick will? He did not know and for the longest time did not care. The only thing that penetrated was that if he ceased trying to work it out he was at least free of pain.

Effort was not necessary for Jayne to continue in this no man's land where sense and feeling were not so much numb as non existent. The sensory deprivation of his current state was its' own kind of hell. Was he awake in the darkness or closed off to the light? Dead already or merely dying? He did not need to do anything to simply rest in the moment of whatever twisted pause the 'verse had granted him. Was that compassion or the ultimate cruelty? He did not rutting well know. Not sure he even cared.

"Where the *diyu* am I?"

Silence echoed back at him almost like a physical wall. The question reverberating round and round inside his trapped thoughts. He tried to remember just what had happened, fragments surfacing slowly from uncharted depths. Faces. Voices. Light and shadow. Warm and hard. Friends? Foe? Everything became twisted up inside his mind, such a well fashioned deceit of the soul. And tempted he had fallen. Hadn't he? Yes. Deeper than he had ever fallen before. *You turn on any of my crew and you turn on me!* His imagined equilibrium swayed. Thoughts tilted as he tried to place the voice. Mal. His name was Mal. Who was Mal? Ah, yes, the Captain. Captain? His or theirs? His. Only he had betrayed him, hadn't he? *You did it to me Jayne* The words hurt him but he didn't know why. Why would the Captain want to hurt him like that? He had been stupid. *Chunren*. The notion cut him. Was there blood? Did he bleed?

Other images swam before his inner vision like unquiet ghosts. Pale faces silently accusing. He had failed. Failed. Failed. Failed. Each one tormented him with his inability to save them. Were they the dead ones not he? Were they even now hovering in limbo? If so, where was he? What was this place and how the good gorram could he get out of it? Didn't matter if he fell into darkness or woke to the light just so long as it ended. Fluid silence wrapped around him, senses lapping at a corridor of time with no hands and no true face. The tick and tock of the seconds of his life lost to the nether world that had claimed him. Then he felt something tickle in the depths of his mind. Not a thought he realised with sluggish deliberation. Why had everything slowed down? Just as he tried to grasp the significance the bright searing pain hit him. A mouth he could not feel opened as he tried to scream. The sound swallowed up in unfeeling darkness but threatening to drown him in a deep yawning pit of dispair.

* * * * *

Kaylee was nervous but anxious. Needed to know that River was alright. She watched Simon clean up and her eyes strayed once again to her friend's pale face. Quietly she approached and looked at Simon, her eyes asking a question.

"It's alright Kaylee, you can hold her hand."

"Is she...?"

He smiled. A little strained but real enough that she felt somewhat comforted. "Yes, she'll be fine. The baby isn't harmed."

Kaylee let out a great puff of air as if daring to breathe before gaining the doctor's reassurance might have tempted fate. Taking River's hand in hers she was startled when the small hand squeezed hers. Surprised she stared at the girl. River opened her eyes and smiled. "Timing's not right."

"Timin'? What timin'?"

"Baby wants to stay until the alarm goes off but she can't sleep in."

Simon frowned. "River?"

` Her focus shifted abruptly and she sat up, Simon putting a hand on her shoulder ready to push her back on the bed when her words froze him in place. "Now, we have to go down now or he'll drown!"

Kaylee looked at River in alarm, eyes wide and fearful. "Who? Who's gonna drown?"

"Jayne."

Simon opened his mouth to speak but River shook her head. "No time, ready or not here we come!"

* * * * *

As Jayne Cobb began to forget everything one thought lodged in what remained of his mind: this was *not* his best day ever.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*weishenme* = why *diyu* = hell *wangu* = stubborn *shisengzi* = bastard (not as an insult) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wode ma* = mother of God! *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *duibuqi* = thanks *goushi* = crap/dogshit *nu haizi* = girl *shenme* = what *wode tianna* = my God in Heaven! *ni hao ma* = how are you? *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *chunren* = fool/jerk *zhangfu* = husband

COMMENTS

Sunday, July 18, 2004 3:15 AM

ARTSHIPS


Yeah, the character who has to smell and touch and taste everything under sensory deprivation would quickly become... Quite different. Hope our heroes get to him in time! And poor Inara, having to re-evaluate her world. This was was so shiny, Ali!

Sunday, July 18, 2004 5:36 PM

GUILDSISTER


Well, that's just about the least friendly whorehouse ever! Zoe really should have locked the captain in his cabin--I blame her ;-)

Very creepy for poor Jayne. Did I just say "poor Jayne"? By golly, I did--amazing.

Sunday, July 18, 2004 10:33 PM

KISPEXI2


Excellent. I love the way Inara's certainty and focus is crumbling as her emotions take over. "She bit her lip. Serenity." Liked that a lot.

Very relieved the baby's OK. That bit was a bit gruesome but raised some interesting questions.

And the Jayne sections were fabulous. Made me feel all protective for the great lummox!


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