BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 44. "Keeping Faith"
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

"Inara and the Shepherd come to a life changing decision and it is all the Captain's fault. Zoe begins to discover the full horror of what is happening on Hera. River already knows and enlists unexpected help."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2018    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

SUMMARY: "Inara and the Shepherd come to a life changing decision and it is all the Captain's fault. Zoe begins to discover the full horror of what is happening on Hera. River already knows and enlists unexpected help." 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.

"KEEPING FAITH"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

He felt sick, the nausea rolling like a painful tide through his gut. The rising bile making him gag and choke. Gentle hands turned and guided him on to his side, a hand rubbing his back, soothing words murmured in a meaningless babble in his ear. Not fully conscious he was surfacing in a pain ridden sea. Gradually his head began to clear though he felt so weak, his whole body trembling and aching. What the rutting *diyu* was wrong with him and where in the 'verse was he?

Strong capable hands now joined the gentle ones and carefully eased him on to his back once he had been sick and had his airway cleared. A soft cloth wiped him clean then a familiar voice gently chided him for trying to move unaided. With an effort he forced his eyes open, squinting in the dimness of his cell as if the poor light pained him. "Shepherd? That you?"

"I'm here, Captain. Try not to move quickly. You still have some of the poison in your system."

"Poison?" He sounded confused and surprised then memory filtered back into his waking senses. "Inara!"

The softly breathed word was answered. "Yes, Captain, I am here."

That added bafflement to his confusion. Okay. So maybe this was a gorram nightmare after all. He was lying on a cold damp floor but right now that suited him fine. He felt as if he were burning up but the cold seeping up from the floor was helping to ground him in the here and now. If only he had something to clear the muzziness in his head. "What happened? Why am I so gorram *ruo*? An' don't take this the wrong way Preacher but shouldn't you be dead?"

Shepherd Book helped ease the Captain slowly into a sitting position, his back now resting against one damp wall of the cell. Inara had wanted to get him up on to the raised slab of stone that served as a bed but Mal did not think he could make it that far plus he wanted the cold and the damp, it felt good and helped him to stay conscious. To focus. He did not seem to realise he was shivering.

"Inara had no intention of killing me, Captain." Explained the Shepherd.

Mal's vision was clearing now though his eyes were still somewhat light sensitive. He was beginning to remember details. "*Haoxiao*, I thought Inara was aimin' that ruttin' knife at me."

Inara's response was mild and so matter of fact that for a moment it took the Captain's breath away. "I was."

He stared at her. Stunned by the admission. "*Wo bu dong*. What the good gorram is goin' on?"

The Shepherd was getting anxious. They needed to move the Captain and soon. While it was true that the old prison had long been deserted he was not a man to trust overmuch to luck and theirs was pretty thin at the best of times. "Captain, we need to get out of here. The questions can come later."

"Will there be answers?"

Book could not prevent a little smile dusting his lips. "*Yexu*."

"But not now?" He pressed.

The half smiled blossomed briefly into a whole one. "Not so much."

The Captain huffed and closed his eyes as another wave of dizziness assailed him. He felt all kinds of awful. A cool hand on his hot and clammy brow surprised him into opening his eyes, his head now resting back against the damp prison wall. He stared at Inara, trying to fathom out just what she thought she was up to. He was in a prison, no prizes for guessing that much, nor who he had to thank for that fun little fact. What did surprise him was that Book seemed to want to get him out of there and the Companion - *diyu*, he had no idea what the Companion wanted. It did more than confuse him, it made his rutting head hurt. "Thought you were gonna torture me," He mumbled to Inara, his voice slurring slightly.

"*Bu qu*, Captain."

He waved one hand ineffectually as if it would help him find the words that he was looking for. "Then *weishenme*? Why d'you drug me?" Another memory popped into his head. "An' why the good gorram give me the ruttin' antidote? Not makin' much sense here you bein' an Alliance spy an' all."

"It's a long story."

His eyebrows quirked up. "Am I gonna hear it?"

Her lips quirked slightly and relieved the grim sadness from her eyes for just a moment. It made his heart glad that there was some light among all that terrible darkness. Now why in the nine hells did he think that?

Inara helped the Shepherd get him to his feet then she hesitated. "Take my transport."

The Preacher looked at her in alarm. "What are you saying? You can't stay here Inara."

If she noticed the concern in his voice she showed no sign. The Captain looked on the verge of passing out again. They did not have time for this. "Go, I will follow when I can."

"Where we goin'?" Mumbled Mal, his eyes closing.

The Shepherd braced the Captain against his side and put an arm around him to take his weight. "Inara, why? You know what they will do to you."

"The Director wants the rings. Someone has to deliver them into his hand."

Book gave her a deep searching look, not entirely convinced. "If he thinks you are holding anything back..."

She nodded, wanting to cut him off from finishing that sentence. The Captain looked out of it but she did not want to risk him overhearing the full of it. Not until she had a chance to explain. Maybe not even then. There was something she had to do. "Now go! Take the long eliptical route when you take off, it will keep you beneath their sensors until you break atmo."

"Inara..."

She hushed him with a look. A plea almost if he was one to believe Companions ever pleaded. "When you get back to Serenity give Simon this." She handed him a small vial. "It will help flush the poison out of his system."

"But you gave the Captain the antidote."

"I gave him *an* antidote. This will make him violently sick and help to purge the rest of the poison from his system. Only time will tell if it will be enough."

"Are you saying...?"

"I don't have the antidote for this particular poison."

Book glanced at the Captain with concern, not at all liking what he was hearing or the man's rapid deterioration. "How virulent is it?"

The Companion could tell the Shepherd was worried and with good reason. The Captain did not look so good though it could have been worse. "I don't think the ring held a full dose."

"What makes you say that?"

Her pause was minor but Book noticed. "He is still alive."

Before he could respond Inara was showing him the quickest route back to the surface. As she turned to go Book stopped her with a softly spoken word. "*Duibuqi*."

She looked at him, hesitated as if to say something then noticed the Captain's flushed and perspiring face. He was barely conscious now, only the Preacher's strength holding him upright. "If you want to thank me don't stop for anything, just go. Find Serenity and save the Captain."

Book had so many questions he wanted to ask her but there was no time. Maybe there never had been. With a solemn nod he let her go, sad eyes watching as she hurried down a dark corridor. Then taking a deep breath he adjusted the Captain's weight and moved as rapidly as he could in the opposite direction. More worried than he liked to admit even to himself about the unexpected turn of events.

* * * * *

Zoe Warren had been intending to speak to the rest of the crew about how they would handle this when River came hurrying on to the bridge with a flustered and annoyed Simon close behind her. "*Mei mei* you should be resting..."

She ignored him, her manner agitated and distracted. Zoe frowned, this was the last thing she needed. For River to become unglued. Why oh why couldn't anything ever go smooth? As if hearing her thoughts the girl spun elegantly round and fixed her with a sudden coherent eye. "Force cannot overpower superior numbers."

The others all crowded in behind them. Zoe did not like the sound of that. "What do you mean?"

"Army is massing but they don't obey the chain of command." Simon reached for her but she danced a few feet away, her eyes skimming the sea of anxious faces. Wash felt sorry for her but also concerned. She blinked at him. "Your toys are harmless but theirs' are made to kill, *dong ma*?"

The pilot looked unsettled. "What toys?"

"Soldiers."

"You said we had to save Jayne, what did you mean?" Asked Zoe.

"They plot and plan, tinker and alter." She paused and looked at Yen Mah. The girl's eyes were wide and sorrowful. "Tell them." River urged.

Yen Mah nodded wishing her *pengyou* were there. She always felt safe and confident when he was around but River needed her now and helping her would be a step towards restoring what was lost. She took a step nearer to the Sheriff and felt herself calm as his hand rested gently on her shoulder easing a sigh out of constrained lips. "He caught, not move. Suspended but in liquid. Hurry before he no longer remember."

"No longer remembers what?" Said Wash.

Yen Mah did not blink, her solemn face growing even sadder. "You."

Zoe was about to tell Wash to land but Yen Mah shook her head. "No, not land!"

"Then explain, we don't have time for twenty questions Yen Mah."

The girl was not offended by Zoe's snappy attitude. Knew the first mate was tense, anxiety a weeping sore that would not heal. She needed to be doing something. Anything but play the passive observer. She wanted this over and settled. Needed to find the Captain. Mal. Her friend. As much a part of who she was as who she had once been. Because of him she had been able to love again, to find Wash and feel complete for the first time since the war began. But sometimes the past would invade her soul, crowd out the joy with echoes that consumed her and filled her with a darkness she knew too intimately to want to revisit any time soon. She had to be moving, doing. The longer the delay in moving on the more likely that darkness would take her friend to a place from which he could never return.

Yen Mah kept her concentration on the Here and Now and for that Zoe was thankful. "Many many soldiers. Cannot defeat in battle, too many, we too few. Must be sneaky, fast. In. Out. Gone!"

"Neat trick if we can pull it off." Mumbled Wash.

It was the Sheriff who asked what they were all thinking. "How in the nine hells we gonna do that?"

Yen Mah looked at them, her eyes not settling on any one face. As if her next words were important for all of them to understand. "Hera is a dry world. Too much heat. No vegetation, no crops. A wasteland."

River nodded then smiled sweetly. "We're going to give them the one thing they lack."

The pilot raised his eyebrows hopefully. "Freedom?"

River shook her head. Yen Mah smiled. The two girls for one creepifying moment looked like bookends. "Water."

Sheriff Martin Bowman did not laugh though he could see that several of his deputies were hard put to keep a straight face as dire as their situation was. Even Ty looked dubious and that boy should know better. The Sheriff knew how absurd it sounded but did not doubt it could be pulled it off. The others didn't know Yen Mah like he did. Didn't understand the tormented genius of a girl like River. No. Not girl. Not any more. She was a woman and a gorram beautiful dryad of one at that. He knew better than to mock any word that fell from their mouths. "How we gonna do that?"

River turned a truly radiant smile on him and gave a happy grin as if her answer was the key that would unlock every door in the 'verse. "We're gonna make it rain!"

Everyone stared at her. Dumbfounded. Stunned. Convinced that the poor girl had finally gone over the edge of sanity into irreversible madness. Simon gave her a worried, quizzical look. "River, *mei mei*, that's just not possible."

She shook her head with a tolerant look of deep affection. Sometimes Simon was such a boob. "Yes, it is. I'm a genius."

"I... I know you are *mei mei*. But how do you propose we do what you're suggesting?"

"Chemicals."

His eyes widened. The others looked from River to Simon then back again. The Sheriff looked down into Yen Mah's pale moon face. She had fallen into her natural silence, everything she wanted to say was in the look she gave to River. Simon was working out what his sister meant when he took a sudden step back, a look of horror creeping over his face. "No, no, you can't do that!"

His sister nodded as if that would ressure him. "I know how."

"What are you plannin' to do, River?" Asked Zoe slowly, her voice wary. Alarmed more by Simon's reaction than what River had actually said.

"We'll use chemicals to form clouds which we will burst over the enemy encampments."

"So what?" Said Wash trying to fathom out her masterful cunning plan. "We drown them to death?"

"No. The chemicals in the water will kill them."

Wash's mouth dropped open in shock. Mass murder. River was talking about taking out over two thousand people with not a flicker of regret on her face. She shook her head at him well aware of what he was thinking. Right now he was more afraid of River than the Alliance *hundan*.

"Not men. Women. People." Her voice grew sad. "Not any more."

"River," Said Tyrone Garvin in a small strangled voice. "I thought you said Jayne was down there?"

She nodded. "He is." A pause, then in a quieter voice. "Casualty of war."

* * * * *

He was slipping from his moorings. The darkness gathering round him with greedy hands and sucking mouths. Winds of hell roaring in his ears like hungry flames but without the heat. Unaware of the Shepherd's deepening concern as he was all but carried on to Inara's ship. Book laid him out gently on the floor, a feeling of panic settling too close to his own thrice damned soul. He could not let this man die but neither could he leave Inara with no way off this land of deceit, this cradle of depravity dressed in all the finery and trappings of wealth and privilege. Inara had told him to get the Captain back to Serenity. Let Simon save him. But if he did that, who would save Inara Serra?

* * * * *

River flinched while all about her the others were loudly discussing and arguing over what they should or should not do. River ignored them, her gaze fixed on Yen Mah's calm face. "Every ship needs an anchor." She said softly.

No one seemed to pay her any mind but Yen Mah understood and closed her eyes. The Sheriff placed his free hand on Yen Mah's left shoulder. To the casual observer he seemed to be simply offering comfort, showing affection, but he was not. He was grounding the girl so she could do what was needed. Draw on his strength. Do something that would leave River free so that the genius could implement the plan that would prevent Armageddon. But at what cost? Was it possible for the dead to die twice? Would they be lost souls or freed? Was the price of Jayne Cobb's death enough recompense for using the enemy's tricks against themselves and casting all into oblivion? Could they be permitted to play God to defeat the Devil? The Sheriff found that River's focus had shifted slightly. The noise of others' conversations was a dull dim babble in the background. A descending hum of dischordant voices trying in vain to find concensus. There was only River. In that moment of crystal clarity he heard her sing, not in words spoken but in his mind. A place where all the acoustics were perfect and no one could interrupt nor interfere with the burden of the song.

*Where is the faith when faith is failing? Or gold in dust that glitters most? I give you words, your limbs still trailing Uncertain and bereft of hope. Be not discouraged nor be faithless Only folly does betray For I am with you, leading gently Let others fall to watery grave*

He gave her a soft gentle smile. He did have faith. In her. In Yen Mah. In that proud stubborn but noble Captain they all loved so much yet fretted over. But for River that was not enough. The faith had to be absolute, without a single crack in it, not one flaw to undermine the perfection of their true regard. He needed not simply to know it but to believe it. Breathe it into every cell in his gorram body. It would make him strong and his truth inviolate. Then. Then he could touch the articles of faith that brought all the pieces back together.

*Where is the faith when faith is failing? Or gold of knowledge turned to dust? I give that hope that you must carry In blinding love we call it trust*

* * * * *

The mercenary could feel his lungs flagging. His head bobbing and dipping beneath the clear semi-viscous fluid in the huge glass tank. He felt like a gorram cork, the tubes in his nostrils and the clamp buried in the back of his neck keeping his vital signs steady while he inwardly quaked with the kind of fear that went beyond anything he could have imagined. Gorrammit, he had been such a rutting fool. How had he thought he could defeat them? He was one man among many and they were a whole lot smarter than he was.

The tickling sensation resumed in his back brain. He wanted to pull away from it, strike out at the glass chamber that was like some living gorram coffin standing on end with him trapped in it. Mind screaming, heart thundering like cattle in a stampede. Yet they even manipulated his heart rate, bringing it back into a calmer rythym, forcing him to acquiesse when all he wanted to do was fight. Fight it and them. He didn't want to be no gorram zombie. Just wanted to destroy all this *fei hua*, get the Captain back and get the *diyu* back into the black where they rutting well belonged. All this creepy *goushi* was not for him. He had known almost from the start that Pepper Rawlings was up to something but never in his wildest dreams - and he had some pretty *wild* dreams - had he suspected something like this.

His movements were growing ever sluggish. Mind so numb that every thought in his head crawled with agonising slowness, its' message corrupted by the time he got it. Fragments. Memories broken up like hardcore waiting to be used as ballast, a base for another mould. Waiting for the concrete of another lie to be poured in it. A faint dull pain throbbed through him but he had no way of knowing if he was hurting physically or mentally or whether he was sensing someone else's pain. Gradually the intensity of his panic faded, a kind of calm descended and began to percolate through incoherent thoughts. It was as if someone else was putting him back together again. Funny but he was not worried, did not concern himself with the picture that would be left. Nothing mattered but submitting to the process. Soon enough he would wake. Be reanimated. Then the world on which he stood would thunder to his command, the air would tremble when he spoke, and he would rise again. He would be invincible.

* * * * *

The Director's eyes narrowed. Inara knew she was taking a huge risk but it was all she had left. This one hand would decide her own fate but more important than that was what it would do for the fate of others.

"You found the rings?" He reiterated with cold but impersonal deliberation.

They were in his office on Sihnon. House Madrassa had many secrets. The Director knew them all. But this Companion, this Inara Serra, was intriguing him and that was not a good sign. Not a good sign at all. Behind him stood two pale faced men. Slim and austere in their black suits, hands bound by thin blue gloves folded demurely in front of them. No one else was in the room for which Inara was thankful. She would have preferred it if it had just been her and the Director but that would have aroused too many suspicions, his most of all and that she could not afford. "Yes, *shifu*."

He held out a hand. "*Gei wo kankan*."

Inara carefully took a box from the fold of her robe and placed it gingerly in the palm of the Director's hand. He flicked his eyes from hers to the box.

"Why so nervous?"

She let a small shiver run through her body. "I had to cut it off his hand."

The Director's eyebrows rose. Impressed. "Whose ring is this?" He asked opening the box and gazing at the silver phoenix and the imperial green jade stone now marred with blood. The blackened finger had no affect on his sensibilities at all. It simply confirmed his assertion that the Companion had been the right person for the job.

"Davy Reynolds."

She resisted the urge to shudder as he quietly clicked the box shut and passed it to one of the pale men behind him. "Dead?"

"*Qu*."

"And the other one?"

Inara removed a silk handkerchief and unfolded it to reveal the second ring, the double of the first. Only this one was clean and the jade appeared almost as if it had been polished. The ring gleaming as if it had been newly struck. The Director looked suspicious. "You cleaned it?"

She inclined her head slightly. "Of course."

He was frowning. Not best pleased. "You were not asked to do that."

"How could I hand you something soiled, *shifu*?"

For several moments he just stared at her then relaxed. Inara did not offer the ring but waited, the Director let his eyes fall back to her opened hands, the silk cloth forming a little altar across her palms with the ring her sacrifice. He liked the imagery he drew for himself in his mind not knowing everything had been calculated first by the Companion. The Mother of Sorrows was subtle. But was she subtle enough?

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *ruo* = weak *haoxiao* = funny *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *yexu* = maybe *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *duibuqi* = thanks *mei mei* = little sister *dong ma* = understand *hundan* = bastard *fei hua* = garbage/nonsense *goushi* = crap/dogshit *shifu* = sir *qu* = yes (lit. go) *gei wo kankan* = show it to me

COMMENTS

Thursday, July 22, 2004 2:59 AM

KISPEXI2


I think that was one of the best chapters yet. You've got me warming to Inara even more ... I like the way that change has been so gradual.

And River's plan. To quote Giles "Bloody brilliant!" If a little morbid ...

I am really hoping you're not going to kill off Jayne, because you write him so well it will break my heart!

Thursday, July 22, 2004 7:32 AM

ARTSHIPS


I'm hoping we can catch Jayne safely in the bunker. Inara... It's wonderful to see her want o trisk all to support her new loyalties.

Thursday, July 22, 2004 8:42 AM

GUILDSISTER


Inara may not have tortured the captain but you sure as heck are! You're *mean*. ;-) Nice to see Inara going for a little redemption--if it holds.

Is the cap'n gonna remember the out-of-body floating thing at some point? He doesn't know yet about River's baby, does he? Lots & lots of plot points yet to wrap--looking forward to them all retwining.


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