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AMDOBELL

HELLBOUND SERIES: 29. "Hanging On"
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"The details fo the plan slowly come together meanwhile River tries to reassure the Captain that help is on the way."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1562    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "HANGING ON" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Canon pairings RATING: G. STATUS: SEQUEL to "HELLBOUND" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All "Firefly" stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "The details of the plan slowly come together meanwhile River tries to reassure the Captain that help is on the way." 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.

"HANGING ON"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Hurt and dizzy the Captain was barely hanging on to consciousness but there was some satisfaction in pushing the blue gloved *hundan* to near breaking point. Mal knew it was foolish but what the *diyu*, it wasn't as if they were going to say sorry and release him. Leastways not still breathing. He knew why Brak had wanted him. Had a good measure of what drove the man but the Hands of Blue? Only thing he could think of was River and Simon and he'd be damned to all nine hells before he'd give them up. Even if it was just River, the girl had been tortured and experimented on in ways that sickened him beyond belief. No. That steel core that made him fight when all was lost, the stubborn determination that drove his broken and battered body to rise from his knees no matter how many times he had fallen, was what separated the men from the boys. The true heroes from them as bandied the word around like some talisman but had no more likelihood of earning it than flying.

Mr Brown stared at him. No actual emotion on the man's face. Maybehaps he was just catching his breath. Had to wind a fella to beat a bound man near to death. If he didn't hurt so much he would have made a quip but the Captain was too weary, his energy leaking away quicker than water down a drain. A long low sigh took his consciousness with it, like flotsom born away on an outgoing tide.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb had had lots of bosses but none that he could ever say he had formed any attachment to. He was a mercenary, a gun for hire, but being part of Mal's crew made him kind of like family. At first he wasn't sure he liked it, fearing a trap. Then Jayne realised it was just the Captain's way and had to admit it was kind'a nice being included like his presence on the ship meant something. Like Mal gave a damn. Little by little he saw through the man's prickly exterior, the tough Captain running a tight ship but not so tight that there was no room for laughter, for sitting round the table sharing the main meal of the day and talking over stuff. He would never admit it but it felt good. Looking round that table, seeing those now familiar faces animated and cracking stupid jokes or bitingly sarcastic while they shared whatever food they had. Usually it was just protein but everyone did their best to make it edible and it wasn't as if the others kept the good stuff and gave him the trash. Nope. Whatever they had was what they ate, from him to the Captain. And if he took an extra helping or two no one stopped him, *diyu* they even slid their plates across if they had food left. Made sense to keep the strongest fighter well fed. But even when relaxed and happy the Captain always kept an eye to make sure no one went too far or got too foul mouthed. Jayne had learnt to listen to Mal and now that voice was gone. Stilled. Taken away from them.

He might not be top three per cent like Simon but he knew the ship wouldn't run right until they got him back and his own world wouldn't turn smooth until them that had him were turned to ash. Jayne continued hefting the bar, Book spotting him. He liked lifting weights, it freed the mind to think more clearly and right now he needed to see all the angles. Book's presence was soothing and comforting, their silences companionable. Jayne locked eyes with his friend. "Gotta think'a somethin' if'n we're gonna get him back."

Book nodded, seemingly unpeturbed but Jayne knew different. Saw the little tell tale signs that told him the Shepherd was as mad and upset as everyone else. But where other people's anger might turn hot, Book's went cold. More like Zoe in that regard and every bit as deadly. Jayne did not make the mistake of underestimating the Preacher. Man knew too much about too many things to take lightly. Minutes past in silence then Book gave him a nod and Jayne settled the bar on its' rest, took the proferred towel to wipe the sweat off his face and arms and watched his friend take his place. Jayne watched, spotted him, and let his mind puzzle at the problem of how they were gonna get their Captain back.

* * * * *

In her shuttle Inara finally gave up on the fiction that the answer could be found on the cortex and she didn't dare to use any of her contacts for fear of exposing the crew to the kind of scrutiny and speculation that could easily backfire. It was frustrating and worrying. Inara was a top level Companion. Had even been in line to be House Mistress. She was not used to failure. The bitter taste of it in her mouth did not go down well.

* * * * *

Zoe was on the bridge, she didn't have the time or patience to go after Casey. Let the *guai* take her, time enough to go hunt the ungrateful piece of *goushi* down after they rescued the Captain. Wash bit his lip and wondered how they were going to catch up the prison transport. Big and clunky as it was, being Alliance it had the latest of everything and two pairs of engines making the workhorse vessel fast enough to leave many sleeker ships idling in its' wake. It also had an alternate back-up fuel system in case of emergencies. Zoe didn't speak when Kaylee rattled off the details. Didn't even blink or show a flicker of reaction. Her eyes were on the Black, her right hand almost a permanent fixture to Wash's shoulder. Her touch grounding them both.

Kaylee waited for some response. When none came she looked from Wash to River, not sure what to say. Kaylee tried not to think about what Simon was doing, getting the infirmary ready in case of an emergency. All those shiny surgical instruments being sterilised ready. As proud of Simon as she was, there were times when Kaylee found it made her go cold. All that remote precision. She knew it was just the way he did his job, tuning everything out but the task at hand, but Kaylee missed the warmth, the humanity. Of course Simon had that too only he showed it less, made folks think he didn't feel things as deeply but he did. It just sometimes chilled Kaylee when he was in full doctor mode, as if Simon Tam didn't live there any more. Turning her head, River caught the mechanic's eye. "He understands but he doesn't comprehend."

The first mate's head snapped round. "*Shei*?"

"The Captain."

Kaylee's heart missed a beat, she had been so caught up in thinking about Simon she had almost forgotten about the Captain. Worry crowded out the spark of guilt. "He alright?" River shook her head slowly, trying to will away the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. There were times when she could feel him as clearly as her own self and right now the pain was riding a dull wave of desolation with odd bright peaks where the Captain's resolve rallied and pure cussedness took over. It hurt her to know he was in the hands of her enemies. Made her feel guilty for being the cause of so much trouble but at the same time she didn't want to be anywhere else but on Serenity. This ship was her home now and the crew had become dearer than family. A tear slipped free and trickled down her cheek. Alarmed, Kaylee went to her.

"Sweetie, you okay?"

"My fault."

Wash shook his head. "*Bushi*, the only ones to blame are those *tamade hundan* who took the Cap'n."

The girl looked so sad, desolate almost. "Wouldn't have happened if they weren't after me. Put you all in danger." Her eyes went from one to the other, giving each a silent apology.

Zoe stirred, some resolve in her hardening and strengthening what was already an implaccable will. "Would rather have you help than give up." She said quietly, voice firm, eyes fixed on River.

The girl looked stricken but only for a split second then it was as if a switch had been thrown, Zoe's resolve now mirrored in River Tam. Kaylee watched as her friend stood straighter, an elegance marrying form and function into someone capable of excelling at both. She wasn't quite sure what it meant. "River?"

River didn't look at Kaylee, her eyes not breaking contact with the First Mate. Kaylee didn't know it but River was picking up Zoe's thoughts, her determination, and the plea to put aside her sadness and do something about it. Something useful. River knew that what Zoe wanted, what she needed, was something the others feared. She was a Reader but River sensed that unlike the others Zoe didn't fear it. "Are you sure?" She whispered.

"Can you control it?"

River did not misunderstand. Confused, Kaylee wanted to know what was going on, what they were talking about, but Wash had a sinking feeling he already knew. His face was glum but he gave Kaylee a little shake of his head. River was aware of their concern, like a faintly buzzing insect on the periphery of her consciousness. As much as she might want to lie River had to tell the truth.

"*Bu qu*."

The first mate blinked but quickly slid that stone mask back in place. "What do you mean 'no'?"

"I can feel him, sense him, but not all the time."

"*Weishenme bu*?"

"I pick up the intensity of his emotions."

The silence was so profound it held them in thrall. Even though Zoe had an inkling of what the girl meant she needed her to spell it out. Let there be no misunderstandings. "Explain."

"When he's in pain, crying out, the connection is clearest. But when the Captain's unconscious I can't pick anything up." She was starting to get upset. His pain, her pain. His confusion, her lost path in the woods. His mind was clouding, darkness looming. His weakness frightened her. She was afraid they would run out of breadcrumbs. "She's right."

Everyone turned, startled to see Simon standing in the doorway, battered but blessedly whole. He moved awkwardly, none of his movements fluid, bruised black and blue in his fall but otherwise little the worse for wear. Bruises would heal, cuts would close, but the memory of what Casey had done would live with him forever. For now though all that was pushed to one side. The crew were together for a common purpose and Simon intended to do what he could. Zoe wondered how much he had overheard but felt grateful the doctor knew what was being discussed. Meant one less person to tell and Simon was important if only because he was River's brother. The doctor stepped through. He did not look happy but neither was he spitting nails. Zoe narrowed her eyes slowly but didn't say anything. Simon looked at their faces then his expression softened as his gaze settled on River. All the love in the 'verse plain for anyone to see shining in his eyes.

"Don't ask me how it works because I don't know." Simon paused then took one pale hand in his. It was far too cool to the touch. "Don't do this, *mei mei*."

Her eyes grew saucer wide, threatening to swallow him up in their sorrowful depths. He saw her anguish, flinched for her pain even though it was not a physical thing. "They're killing him, Simon."

He wanted to say 'sooner him than you' but he didn't really mean it. It was just, if push ever came to shove, he would sacrifice them all - the Captain included - to save his sister. Simon didn't want to have to face a choice like that. These people were their friends, had taken them in, kept them safe and they did so because they followed the will of one honorable but obdurate man. Could he convince them to turn away and leave that man to his fate so they could live on? Even before the thought was fully formed he knew he could not do that. Knew he would not be able to live with himself and the loathing and condemnation he would see in their eyes, mirrored in his beautiful and gifted sister's, and carving a crude cross of dispair inside his own heart. A low long sigh seeped out of him but he didn't look away from his sister. "Are you sure you can do this?"

River didn't know how it would end and that was really what Simon wanted to know. She could do this. Do it with her eyes shut but she also knew that once they found a way to board the transport the fragile membrane of control that kept her lucid would be too thin. Anger and vengeance would key into codes and commands written into her cerebal cortex and turning her into the thing they had made her. A killer. Assassin. Only now did that truth surface in her mind, skating across her consciousness like a sickness. River had felt the symtoms in a mild and much diluted form, too distant and shadowy to understand. But the closer she got to the Hands of Blue and the deeper her connection to the Captain's pain, the more aware she became of the deadly knowledge she carried. It would take very little for the switch to activate but Simon didn't know that and she hadn't told him because until now it had been hidden from her. Like a redundant system it didn't ping her radar. Now that system was coming on line but would she be able to switch it off again afterwards? And more importantly, while the switch was thrown would she have enough presence of self left to recognise friend from foe?

It was that uncertainty that gave River pause but weighed against what would happen if she did nothing it was not an option. The Captain had saved her and Simon many times. It was time to return the debt. "Yes, I can."

Simon wasn't happy with his sister's decision but knew she would never abandoned someone who had helped them. He turned to Zoe. "What do we do now?"

"We find a way to catch up with that prison transport."

They held the meeting in the commons area. Inara listening with fascinated horror as the plan unfolded. Shepherd Book was thoughtful. Jayne had brought Vera and the look in his eye promised an untimely death to anyone aboard that prison ship who wasn't the Captain. It disturbed Inara to hear them blithely talk about using River's gift as a Reader . It wasn't fair and it wasn't right. She was a girl and should be allowed to grow up in her own time into the beautiful intellegent woman Inara knew she could be. She was startled when River appeared next to her chair, her pale face angled in something close to sympathy.

"*Ni bu dong* but you will. He keeps us safe. Without him the girl can't grow up, won't become what she should have been only what they made her."

Inara brushed back a dark lock of hair, her voice as gentle as her hand. "Haven't you got that the wrong way round?"

River shook her head. Knew what Inara was trying to do and why but didn't agree. "If you sacrifice the King you lose the game anyway. We'll all be pawns."

"No one's sacrificin' anyone." Said Zoe. She gave Inara a look warning her to back off, not to mess this up.

"I think I may be able to help us get aboard that transport." A deep calm voice interrupted.

All eyes turned to the Shepherd. Zoe found herself thinking about the Shepherd's ID and how it had turned a reluctant and potentially hostile Alliance officer into a suddenly efficient and concerned man. That turnaround in attitude had saved Book's life. Could something similar now be used to save the Captain? Zoe was a soldier. Had a soldier's heart and mentality which meant she would listen to anything that could aid their cause. "What do you have in mind?"

* * * * *

The cold metal beneath his cheek was the only luxury afforded him. Everything hurt. To his vague surprise the blue handed man did not return to wreck more havoc upon his failing body. It was a gift that left him silently holding his breath until he had to let it out. Still the man did not come and the relief that sent coursing through his veins was a rush that brought the Captain close to tears. Too weary to rail against his weakness Malcolm Reynolds did not turn over but lay on his side in a parody of the recovery position. He remembered somewhere being told about positional asphyxiation and how a man could fall unconscious and die from it if care was not taken. That's what they did with Alliance prisoners. Not that the Independents had that many to care for but they were at least humane about it. Didn't use the brief internment to kick the living *goushi* out of a man who couldn't fight back. They'd kept their prisoners of war fed, watered, sheltered and clothed. He had been in enough Alliance *jianyus* to know the compliment was not returned.

To the Alliance all Independents were scum, war criminals. Barely fit to walk the outer rim worlds let alone set their unclean feet on a Core planet. Gorramit the whole rutting Parliament would probably be up in arms if independents began settling on their shiny Core worlds. Can't let the sweat of an honest man soil the pristine wealth garnered from exploitation of those less fortunate. Wouldn't be civilised. He began to drift again when a thought that wasn't his intruded. He only knew it was alien because this one was gentle, tender almost, and carried something he had all but lost sight of. Hope. Unable to stop himself, the prick of tears gathered in his eyes. He wanted to speak the name of this angel but she forebore, told him it wasn't safe. No. She wanted something harder from him. She wanted him to stay as he was, let them think he had passed out, but stay awake. Conscious.

*You don't want much li'l one* His mind mumbled.

*If you can't do it for me Captain, do it for Serenity*

Serenity. His thoughts fragmented but that one thought, that one word, that one ideal, shone like a beacon through a mind bruised with pain and sorrow. So he reached for it. Mind and soul committed to the one thing left in which he could believe.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*hundan* = bastard *diyu* = hell *guai* = devil *goushi* = crap/dog shit *shei* = who *bushi* = not so *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *weishenme bu* = why not *mei mei* = little sister *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *jianyu* = prison

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