HELLBOUND SERIES: 31. "Never Simple"
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"As the Captain slowly recovers and things appear to settle another complication raises its' head."


TITLE: "NEVER SIMPLE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Canon pairings RATING: G. STATUS: SEQUEL to "MYSTERIOUS WAYS" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All "Firefly" stories archived at

SUMMARY: "As the Captain slowly recovers and things appear to settle another complication raises its' head." 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.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

For the longest time he had no clue where he was. In a world of pain where every thought in his head was a jumble of syllables beyond his ability to decipher. Sounds were like clashing symbals, vision a blur of impossible images that moved at the speed of light then resolved into walking nightmares. He could almost taste the darkness. Touch it, ground himself in the root of that madness from which wise men never wake.

It took months, years, eons maybe before clarity came. Not in a rush, not in some conscious kind of order either, but in little blurry bites that coalesced into something familiar. Known. It hurt to wrap his mind about what those images meant. Confused him when they drew near, burned his flesh when they errupted into sound. The noise hurt, made him flinch and pull away. They learnt early on to speak soft and move slowly. Only one person at a time came to sit with him. When the world around him began to steady little snippets of memory broke away from the dark grey sludge where it had been hiding and informed him. He began to know colours. Distinguish shapes. By the time he found his dry cracked voice he could even put names to them. Squinting into the already dimmed lighting he felt a distant humour tease his senses, the face before him waiting for recognition to dawn. Mal licked dry lips, surprised and touched when a cool wet cloth washed his fevered skin. A cup held to his lips and tilted. Just a sip or two. Enough to wet his parched mouth, not enough to drown him.

"Gorramit Simon." He slurred softly. "You look worse than I feel. Who tortured you?"

The grave young man smiled, not able to hide his relief. It had been four long days of the Captain lying insensate and non responsive while his crew tip toed around him as if afraid a sudden noise would finish what Brak had started. "Well, good morning to you too Captain."

The Captain licked his lips again, hoping it would prompt more water. The ruse worked. This time he got a swallow or two of pure Heaven. He closed his eyes to savour it, startled when he opened his eyes again to see worry on the doctor's face. "Didn't answer my question, doc."

"You need to lie still."

That was funny. Did top three per cent think he was gonna jump outta bed and dance naked around the ship? The ship. His thoughts came to a sudden crashing halt. His eyes lifting to look up at the ceiling, refamiliarising himself with the nearest thing he had left to a home. Moisture gathered in his eyes. Worried, Simon leaned over him, face too close. All a blur. Mal refused to consider it might be the tears in his eyes.

"Are you in pain?" Simon asked. Voice pitched low but clear, unable to hide his concern.

The Captain blinked. He was so gorram tired. It felt like even his bruises had bruises. "Not so much. Just. Missed my boat."

Simon stared at him. Missed his boat. Of course. It would be the first thing Malcolm Reynolds would think of. "You almost died."

He let that sink in. The Captain managed to focus on Simon's face. "You sayin' I'm alive?"

A smile. Small, fleeting but still. "Yes, Captain, you are very much alive."

"What happened? I seem to remember some blue handed folk - inbetween the beatin's an' torture."

"*Wo bu zhidao*, we didn't have time to hang around. As soon as Book got you back to Serenity we had to move quickly."

He was fading now. The brief conversation overwhelming his depleted reserves of energy. Simon fussed, making him as comfortable as possible, but the Captain was unaware. A deep healing sleep had claimed him and while it had been reassuring having the Captain awake and lucid the doctor in Simon was relieved to see him genuinely resting. Simon looked at the worried faces crowded in and around the doorway. Zoe made a bee-line for Simon though her confident stride faltered as she came alongside the Captain's bed. She took it as a good sign that the doctor didn't tell her to leave. The man had been very strict about allowing access to the rest of the crew and in matters of medicine everyone took their cue from Simon.

"It's okay Zoe, the Captain was awake for a moment or two."

Jayne scowled and craned his neck trying to see better from the doorway. "He lucid?"

"He was, yes."

Zoe looked so relieved she had to take a seat, her eyes glued to the bed where her Captain and friend lay. Even after days of careful nursing the man was still too pale but he was alive and that was all that mattered. She glanced at the monitors, reassured by the steady beep and looked up at the doctor. "You did good, Simon." "He isn't out of the woods yet."

She nodded and got to her feet, paused beside the bed to look down on the sleeping man as if needing to reassure herself that he was still breathing. The mantle of responsibility falling back in place round her shoulders once she was satisfied. "No, but he will be."

* * * * *

They took it in turns to sit with him. Sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours. Unusually enough that included right through the night as well. Simon didn't say anything, knew it had shaken the crew how close they had come to losing him. Shepherd Book had been pleased to see the crew close ranks, bind themselves unconsciously that bit closer to each other. Times like these made the crew stronger not weaker. Simon was talking about the Captain being able to take some soup, a thin broth even, instead of taking everything through the intravenous drip. It calmed them, reassured that everything was slowly turning back to normal. River watched. Listened. Peered in on the Captain from time to time but would not sit with him.

At first Simon had assumed she was still feeling guilty. Considering the whole mess somehow her fault. But River did not react to his reassurances and his attempts to get her to talk about it produced little response. So Simon stopped pushing, busy now with stopping the recovering Captain from undoing all his hard work by trying to rush things. The bellow from the infirmary raised a smile on River's face which quickly vanished. Some distant worry infringing on the periphery of her senses like a shadow on radar. The blip was not imaginary. She could feel it. Almost trace the outline in her mind but then it would vanish leaving River uneasy and agitated. Kaylee noticed her distraction and on the fifth day called her on it while they were in the engine room.

"What is it, sweetie? Ya been actin' jumpier than a cat on hot bricks."

River's eyes rolled from one side of her pale face to the other, almost as if she expected ghosts to walk through Serenity's walls and start stalking them. "Here. Watching."

They were in the engine room and Kaylee was using the lull between looking for jobs to catch up on some critical maintenance. Simon reckoned that in a few more days the Captain would be up and about. Just for an hour or two to start with but everybody knew that once Malcolm Reynolds had his feet under him again he wouldn't be going back to the infirmary unless the doctor sedated him. Serenity had been patient and Kaylee didn't want to push their luck hence lavishing as much attention on her as she could now that she had the chance. They could only handle one crisis at a time." 'Course ya are. How else ya gonna learn?"

River blinked. She had not been talking about Serenity but Kaylee had now crawled under the engine and only her muffled words punctuated the sound of her working. River dipped her head and tried to peer and see what her friend was doing when something made her jump. She turned, thin shoulders shivering, body tense, the fabric of her dress not thick enough for warmth just a veil for her modesty. Her eyes were wide and searching, too restless to stay on one spot, trying to home in on whatever it was that she had almost picked up.

* * * * *

It was weird and wonderful and all manner of frustrating too. Inara Serra sat next to the infirmary bed, the Captain propped up on pillows. His face was almost the correct shape again, the swollen flesh sinking into bruises that dappled his face in shades of blue and black. One eye was still bloodshot but at least both were open, had focus and were twinkling somewhat. Even battered and recovering like this, Inara thought he looked pretty *shuai*, not that she would tell him as much. "You look better."

The Captain grinned and Inara couldn't help smiling back. "Tell the truth I never thought to see this day." He paused, the happy mood muted by recent memory. Eyes serious and steady and locked on Inara's.

Inara felt a surge of anger. If she could get her hands on Casey she would tear her limb from limb. Provided she could get past Zoe and the rest of the crew to do it. "Why did she do it? You saved her, did everything you could to help her and this is how she repays you?"

As much as he would like to agree with Inara he couldn't. He waved a hand at his face. "She didn't do this."

Frustration caught Inara's tongue and for a moment she just stared at him. "How can you be so forgiving, Mal?"

He frowned. "*Shenme*? I miss a whole conversation?"

Inara took his hand, as much to stop it flopping about as to ground herself and try to keep both of them calm. Simon would not be happy with her if she undid his good work. In fact she wouldn't be happy with herself either but Malcolm Reynolds was enough to try the patience of a Saint.

"Lucky you ain't one then."

The Companion blinked and realised she must have spoken out loud. "Mal, I talked to River shortly before we got you back. She seems to think Casey and Brak were working together." "Must be wrong, 'Nara. If they were doin' that then how come we shared a gorram cell? How come they beat on her an' did all manner of things to her? They raped her. What kind'a partner would do that?"

Inara sighed and stroked the hand she held almost absent mindedly. Her look was troubled. "River thinks the deal was broken but doesn't know how or why. I'm not so sure."

For a long moment the Captain didn't respond. "What're you sayin', *xin gan*?"

"Don't ask me to explain but I think this was all planned. There was just something in the way she acted, the ruthless way she took Simon out and lashed out at anyone who tried to stop her." "That don't make sense."

"No, it doesn't if we expect Casey to be like anyone else."

Mal put his other hand over Inara's stopping the little nervous movement of her hands and making her look up and meet his eyes. "What the good gorram's been goin' on, 'Nara? An' don't tell me *yiwusuoyou*."

"Jayne found something when he was imprisoned."

Searching her eyes and still not finding any answers he tried to lever it out of her with a joke. "You tellin' me Jayne found religion?"

"*Bu qu*, Mal. He found something he values more."

The Captain stared without blinking. Inara unconsciously wet her lips.


The silence stretched. Inara was about to demand he say something when the Captain's face creased up and he laughed. It was a short lived bout of laughter as it pulled on tender stitches but still. Was a mighty humorous thing to be hearing. "Inara, you know I think the Alliance is all manner of stupid but even they wouldn't imprison a man in a cell full of gold."

"*Ni bu dong*. It was a pit, Mal. A big deep hole used for a prison cell, an oubliette. Jayne says it was at least twenty feet straight down, no hand holds, no rungs, just heavy impacted earth all around him. They gave him no food, no water, but above his head he could see the sky."

"The sky, huh?"

"Then he noticed something. Something that caught what little light there was. When he dug it out he found this."

Mal didn't take the piece of ore at first, just stared at it. He wanted to be absolutely sure that what he was looking at was what Jayne had found. "An' this is it?"

Inara nodded, not sure what to make of his muted reaction. "Mal?"

"Where's Jayne? Why ain't he showin' me this?"

"He thought you might be mad at him."

The Captain blinked. Could feel a headache coming on. "Mad? *Weishenme*?"

Inara wished she hadn't brought it up. The Captain was still recovering and Simon didn't want him up for at least another day, something about damage to his right hip. A hairline fracture. "Maybe we should wait until he gets back."

Alarm bells sounded in his head like gorram claxons. Mal pushed himself away from Inara, one hand ripping the needle out of the back of his left hand, the other trying to throw back the covers. Inara put her hands over his. "Mal, you can't get up."

His expression hardened, anger and frustration surfacing making his bruises seem more livid. No doubt to match his mood. "Last I heard I was still Captain of this boat."

"Simon thinks you may have a fractured hip. *Qing*, calm down. At least wait until Jayne gets back."

Now he was openly seething. "Inara, don't you know nothin' about gorram gems an' precious what-not?"

His outburst stilled her hands. "What are you talkin' about?"

It took a visible effort for Mal to calm himself. "Inara, that there piece of ore might glitter mighty pretty but it ain't gold." She stared at him as if he was the one who had taken leave of his senses. "But Jayne said..."

"Jayne thinks with the wrong piece o' his anatomy to be any kind'a expert."

"And you are?"

"Am when it comes to minin', 'Nara, an' seen enough of such to know that ain't it. That's why they call it Fool's Gold."

Inara mouthed the words for a moment, stunned, then threw back her head and laughed. The Captain stared at her, tempted to call for Simon. It took her a couple of minutes to get herself back under control, when she did she took his hand and gave it a squeeze, her eyes shining and smiling back at him. "That explains why he's taking so long. Oh Mal, Jayne left the ship with a shovel and a sack and said he would see us when he was rich."

Whatever she had expected it wasn't the groan and look of almost hopeless dispair on the Captain's face.


"Best you get the rest of the crew or have they all traipsed off to some planet sun bathin'?"

"What's *cuode*?"

"Inara, if Jayne's gone to find more of this it means he's gone back to Barclay. It ain't safe, not for him, not for any of us. Our only hope now is to get him back before anyone realises he's down there."

"You're not making sense, Mal, not that that should surprise me."

"Barclay is their bolt hole, 'Nara, what does that tell you?"

A string of very unladylike curses tripped out of Inara's mouth. "*Duibuqi*, I didn't know and I don't think Jayne realised."

The Captain swung his legs over the side of the bed and had to pause to catch his breath. Didn't want to admit to Inara how weak he was. "That's because he wasn't thinkin', 'Nara. On'y had to see that glitter an' nothin' else would have penetrated his thick mercenary skull. That's why it's called Fool's Gold though why in the nine hells I'm even thinkin' of goin' back for that fool heaven on'y knows."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *shuai* = handsome/snazzy *shenme* = what *xin gan* = sweetheart *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *weishenme* = why? *qing* = please *cuode* = wrong *duibuqi* = sorry


Friday, December 9, 2011 5:01 PM


always love your Mal/Inara exchanges


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

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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.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

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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.

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Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

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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.