HELLBOUND SERIES: 35. "Loose Ends"
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"The Sheriff has his talk with the Captain and all manner of interesting things come to light."


TITLE: "LOOSE ENDS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Canon pairings RATING: G. Series **CONCLUSION** STATUS: SEQUEL to "ALLIES" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All "Firefly" stories archived at

SUMMARY: "The Sheriff has his talk with the Captain and all manner of interesting things come to light." 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

* * * * *

"Is Cap'n Reynolds awake?"

Simon hadn't been up and about long enough to fabricate a lie. "Um, yes, though I think..."

Sheriff Bourne leaned on the door jamb to the infirmary, mildly amused by Simon's expression. Boy surely looked too young for the responsibility he carried on his shoulders. "I just need a word with him."

When Simon frowned, Bourne held his hands up - palms out. "Talk, okay?"

Not having a convincing reason to refuse Simon nodded but reluctance was in every line of his body. "Half an hour, no more."

The Sheriff nodded and waited for Simon to move to one side to let him in the room. Bourne paused and looked him in the eye. "This is a private conversation, *dong ma*?"

Alarm bells rang in Simon's head but the Sheriff was already smiling and waving him off. Before he could think straight the door had shut on him. He stood irresolute on the outside looking in, not sure whether he should barge his way back inside the infirmary and insist on being present. For a moment or two he stared through the window and watched as the Sheriff walked up to the infirmary bed, trying to gauge from the Captain's reaction whether or not he was making a mistake. The voice next to his ear made him jump.

"*Shenme shi*, Simon?"

Simon was relieved it was the Shepherd not Zoe. He had a feeling she would not be pleased at this latest development. "The Sheriff wanted to talk to the Captain."

Book's eyebrows rose. "Did he say what he wanted to talk to him about?"

The doctor shook his head and kept staring through the window. "*Bu qu*. He said it was private."

Both men gazed through the window in silence. After a minute or two the Shepherd turned to Simon. "I was going to make some tea."

"I..." Simon paused then made a decision. "I'll wait here for a minute or two."

"Simon, I don't think the Sheriff is going to harm the Captain."

Feeling foolish the doctor nodded then went with Book to the commons area.

* * * * *

Wash loved this. The slow lazy awakening. The sultry warmth of his wife's arms draped possessively around him. The way her body, even in sleeping, reacted to his touch. Her lips describing the kind of Heaven that existed nowhere else in the 'verse. Zoe stirred slowly into the kiss, Wash's warm hands mapping every inch of her until they were both moving in automatic response - the one to the other.

"*Zaoshang, bao bei*." He murmured.

"Mornin', *zhangfu*. What time is it?"

His hands were more insistent causing her breath to catch in a most delicious way. Their eyes met and locked. Wash's voice was husky as he replied, throat dry. "You really want to talk about the time now?"

Zoe mumbled and chuckled deep in her throat trapping him with her limbs until Wash was the one who could hardly breathe.

* * * * *

It was still early but in space everything was relative. Serenity held her position above the planet while her crew began to stir. Malcolm Reynolds felt kind of sluggish but found himself becoming more alert on finding he was not alone. He frowned for a moment, wondering where Simon was. Sheriff Bourne smiled slightly, his expression wry, some hidden amusement sparkling in his eyes. The echo of it relaxed the Captain a little though what in the nine hells the man could want from him he had no idea. The Sheriff moved a chair to the bedside, gave the Captain a nod of greeting, then sat.

"I need to talk to you for a moment, Cap'n."

The Captain's eyebrows rose in query. He still looked a mite sleepy but the Sheriff was counting on that. Hoping the man would answer his questions without the usual wariness. It took seconds for the Captain to disabuse him of that advantage. A sharp intellect flickered behind blue eyes now fixing their firm focus on the lawman. "That a fact?"

"It is." Bourne looked down for a moment at his hands, linking them in his lap to give himself time to organise his thoughts. When he looked up there was a subtle tension in him that had not been there before. "We live in interestin' times."

"I'm thinkin' you got more than an old Chinese curse on your mind, Sheriff."

The Sheriff laughed. It was a brief respite from too much heavy thinking but welcome all the same. "You're right. I've been tryin' to wrap my head around a number of weird things lately, the only common denominator I can find is you."

Mal stared. Not a word slipped from his mouth. His eyes locked on the Sheriff, a world of caution between them. Bourne shifted his feet and forced his body to relax some, his long legs stretched out for comfort. To the Captain's mind it seemed to telegraph his intention to stay for the long haul.

"Here's the thing. You got in a brawl in an Alliance bar - no rare thing I might add - on'y this time you take on the governor of the most secure penal colony in the system." Bourne paused, a look of mild amazement on his face. "That's quite a coincidence even for you." The Captain said nothing. "You then get arrested predictably enough but instead of going to the local goal to be dealt with you go straight to Argent. Maybe not so surprising considerin' you broke the man's nose."

"What can I say? It needed realignin'."

Bourne tried not to laugh, the Captain's humour tugging at his funny bone when he wanted to keep the conversation light but serious. "What happened next I admit takes some believin'." He paused. "How *did* you get out of that top security *jianyu*?"

"Got good people with me."

"I looked into the records of that place, call it professional curiosity. I don't know quite how your crew did it but no one, and I repeat this in the strongest terms, NO ONE gets out of Argent once the Alliance put them there. You know why?"

"Bad bookkeepin'?"

"*Bu qu*, no one comes out because it's where the Alliance throw people they want to get rid of - disappear."

"That bein' the case why not just kill 'em?"

The Sheriff shook his head. "They need to have a failsafe, just in case the wrong people get suspicious..."

"Or nosy."

"' want to know what happened to a body. This way they have a nice little legal answer. People get locked up for life sentences. After a while no one asks questions any more, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*. Seen it first hand my own self."

"Yeah, about that."

Mal's eyes narrowed, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"'Cause of my interest somethin' caught my eye." He paused as if Mal should know what it was and fill in the blanks only the Captain remained silent. If the Sheriff had a point to make he wasn't going to do the work for him. Still wasn't sure whose side the man was on. The Sheriff sat up in his chair and absently rubbed and flexed his left knee as if it was wont to pain him. "Seems there was a terrible outbreak. Top scientists from Blue Sun have been all over the place. You wouldn't happen to know anythin' about that?"

The Captain ignored his question and asked one of his own. "They find out what it was?"

"No, don't expect they ever will." At the surprised look on the Captain's face, Bourne allowed a wry smile. "Biology isn't my strong suit Cap'n but there must be tons of viruses out there especially with the type of folk they have incarcerated in that place. Never know what one of 'em might bring in."

"You got a point with all this?"

Sheriff Bourne dipped his head and scratched the back of his neck then gave the Captain a long look. "I know you weren't the only one to come out of there." He said quietly. "Can't prove it but it seems a woman went missin' about the same time you did. Course can't confirm a thing what with the security cameras bein' off-line an' no one's talkin'. Heard tell a Firefly vessel had folks infected too, a Captain Cobb reported losin' most of his crew."

It took a great effort for the Captain not to react to that little tidbit. Bourne was finding it hard not to laugh. The man shook his head in bemusement.

"Then just before that little incident on Barclay somethin' else tweaks my interest. Seems a high fallutin' government test facility was destroyed by fire that very day." He paused and watched the Captain closely. Bourne put his hands on his knees and leaned forward. "Took hours to get the blaze under control. Destroyed most everythin' inside except one thing. Was the body of a girl - a woman, only it took some time to confirm as much seein' as there was no head."

That got a reaction. Eyes wide the Captain tried to sit up but the sudden movement pulled stitches and put too much pressure on his abused body. He lay back and panted quietly for a moment, eyes squeezing shut until he had the pain under control. "*Wode ma*, didn't tell me you were gonna tell me horror stories."

"One thing about the Alliance." Said the Sheriff conversationally. "They may be the biggest load of idiotic *hundans* in the 'verse but they are thorough. The head was found hours later, seems it was cut clean off the body."

The Captain said nothing. Not many folk running around with swords and such. He felt a chill go down his spine. "They find out who it was?"

"Not yet but it seems whoever she was she hadn't long given birth."

Mal closed his eyes. Casey, it had to be. Didn't matter a good gorram that she had been a lying, cheating *pofu*. For a time the two of them had been more than friendly and he had the feeling that as twisted up as the girl was inside and out it wasn't all her fault. Once you got involved with the Alliance and their sneaky plans your days of leading a peaceful life came to an end. Casey's was just more abrupt than most.

"You any idea who that woman might have been?" The Captain put on his best poker face. "*Bu qu*, Sheriff, why you askin'?"

Bourne cast a look over his shoulder and seeing no one standing outside the infirmary looking in seemed to relax a bit. He took a deep breath and lowered his voice. "I'm not expectin' you to confirm anythin'. In fact, be better if you didn't."

Mal was part confused part alarmed but held his peace. The Sheriff looked all manner of serious now.

"After our last meetin' I realised you were essentially a good man. But even a good man can get caught up in things beyond his control, make him do things he maybe ought not get involved in. The reason I'm speakin' to you about this is that they found somethin' else at that facility. Somethin' that might be of interest in a purely hypothetical light, *ni dong*?" He waited for Mal to nod then continued. "There were tanks. Incubators they called 'em. Not even kids really, so young. From foetus to infant. Row upon gorram row of 'em and linked up to wires and machines the like of which would give most folk nightmares. This girl wasn't the only casualty of the fire. Everyone in those incubators died."

It was hard to breathe. To think. To even form words to speak. A nightmare of hellish proportions. Mal had a dark suspicion that the place Bourne was talking about had to be somewhere like the Academy that River had been in. That meant a whole generation of kids had been hooked up into a similar programme and at an even younger age than River. That being the case what in the nine hells had Casey been doing there? Had she set fire to the place before being killed for her trouble? He wanted to think that in the end she had tried to do the right thing but that didn't track with the Casey he had come to know. It took a minute or two to get words passed the dryness in his throat. "Why you tellin' me this?" The Sheriff stood up, a fleeting sympathy in his eyes. "No reason. Just think it would be sensible for good men to keep their eyes an' ears open. Never know when somethin' dangerous is gonna raise it's ugly head."

Mal swallowed hard and wondered why the Sheriff was going out of his way to warn him. Had to wonder what else the man knew. "There more?"

"Oh, there's always more Cap'n but for now I'll just say this." He put a hand on the Captain's shoulder. "You an' your people dodged a mighty big bullet. If I was you I'd forget followin' Fool's Gold an' look for work further out on the Rim for a while, *dong ma*?"

"I'm thinkin' that would be a wise decision, Sheriff."

Bourne flashed a smile and straightened. "Then on that happy note I'll take my leave."

The Captain blinked. "That it? What about Jayne an' Book?"

"I haven't found anythin' criminal in what they were doin'. Like to keep it that way."

For the first time since the conversation had started the Captain grinned. "You're a good man, Sheriff."

"Yeah well, like I said last time we met I don't have any love for the Alliance but that doesn't mean I can afford to bait 'em either. Might be you should be rememberin' that." "What you sayin'? Was just a honest drink."

"Cap'n we both know you went lookin' for trouble, just consider lettin' it pass you by next time round. Might not be a viral plague to save you next time."

* * * * *

Zoe wasn't the only one surprised to find that River was bringing Serenity down to land on Barclay. Wash got dressed quickly and raced up to the bridge, convinced that something terrible must have happened. The First Mate didn't follow him but made her way to the commons area and turned to the Shepherd. "What happened?"

"The Sheriff has decided to let us off with a warning."

Her frown deepened. Jayne didn't say anything, he was too busy spooning the grey protein mush that masqueraded as breakfast into his mouth. Serenity landed with barely a bump. "I thought you didn't do anythin' wrong?"

The Preacher's deep voice rumbled reassuringly. "I think he was just making sure it stayed that way."

"Where's the Sheriff now?"

Simon paused as he put his dish in the sink. "He wanted to speak to the Captain."

A look of alarm flashed over Zoe's face. River danced into the room and began gathering the dirty dishes, dropping them in the soapy water for Kaylee. "*Fang xin*, he got what he came for. Going now."

Simon looked almost as worried as Zoe. Kaylee turned the tap off and shot them an anxious look. It was her turn to do the dishes with River. "What was he after?"

River realised everyone was staring at her. "Not a threat. Wants to help but his hands are tied. Can't do anything. Just a word to the wise."

"We wise now?" Jayne mumbled, his mouth full of mush as he emptied his dish. River snatched up the bowl before he could refill it earning a scowl. "Can you please not talk with your mouth full, Jayne? There are human beings speaking." Said Simon.


"River," Zoe asked, forcing herself to be calm and speak slowly. "What's goin' on?"

Instead of answering the question she beamed at them. "Dodged a bullet." She looked at Book. "No Special Hell this time."

He raised his eyebrows then turned as the Sheriff appeared in the doorway, Wash appearing behind him.

"Just wanted to thank you for your hospitality an' to warn you two not to return to Barclay."

"*Wei*, that's my gold down there!" Jayne protested.

"It wasn't yours." Book told him calmly. "Besides, it isn't really gold Jayne."

"*Wo zhidao* but maybe some folks don't know. Could make me some coin."

The Sheriff's look hardened. "I hope you aren't plannin' to tell people it's real, Mr Cobb?"

Jayne was about to answer when he saw the warning look on the Shepherd's face and changed tack. "Nah, just would'a been shiny if'n it'd been real."

Once the Sheriff had been dropped off Wash took them back up into the atmo. Simon gave Kaylee a hug then went to check on the Captain. It was only as he walked through the door that he realised the rest of the crew were trailing in behind him. Only Wash was missing, Inara coming out of her shuttle and slipping in behind Zoe. The Captain was tired, all manner of weary. The conversation with the Sheriff had drained him but this now was just plain creepy.

"I suddenly take on a terrible fascination?"

"No, sir. Just curious what the Sheriff had to say."

The Captain might have known they would be anxious about that and he did owe his second in command an explanation. "Seems our Sheriff has far reachin' interests."

Jayne scowled. "What's that mean?"

"It means," said the Captain carefully, wanting them all to mind his every word "that though he didn't come right out an' say so he knows what happened."

Simon looked alarmed. Kaylee squeezed his hand and tried to reassure him with a smile. "How would he know that?"

Mal shrugged. "*Wo bu zhidao* but I know this. Sheriff's a good man. Let me an' Zoe go at Paradisio..."

"You returned the medicine." Simon put in.

"That we did, could've still arrested us though. Red handed you could say. I'm thinkin' he realises we got us a similar situation. Ain't done no harm but he did say might be a good idea to work closer to the Rim for a while."

The mechanic shot him a look of alarm. "But if he knows then that means he knows who Simon an' River are..."

"Kaylee, *fang xin*. I got the feelin' long as we don't advertise the fact neither will he."

"But he's Alliance."

"No, *mei mei*, he ain't." The Captain paused, more weary than he liked to admit. Inara wove her way through the others and stood next to his bed. He managed a tired smile for her then continued explaining what he meant to Kaylee. Girl was like to work herself up into a terrible state if he didn't and if Kaylee was upset it would upset River. "Alliance took over his world, forced all them on it to their rule. Them as didn't do as they were told ended up in the mines."

"Huh, could'a still fought back." Muttered Jayne, unimpressed.

"In case you ain't thinkin' clearly Jayne, man had family to consider *dong ma*? Women an' children. You ask me he took the braver option, stayin' an' doin' his job. Protectin' them as couldn't get out best he could."

"Don't see nothin' brave about bein' a little bitty coward."

The Captain sighed, almost spent. "That ain't how it was. Don't take courage to run when the goin' gets tough. But a man as stands firm, won't be beaten or bowed? That takes real courage."

"Sounds like you admire the man?" Said Book, his deep voice mild.

Mal's eyelids were fluttering, becoming too heavy to keep open. He was barely aware of Inara taking his hand. "Just recognise a good man when I see one, Shepherd." He mumbled.

Book smiled then Simon was shooing them all out of the room. Inara lingered and Simon relented, letting her stay. Once he was satisfied that the Captain was okay he couldn't help asking her a question. "Do you really think we're safe? That the Sheriff won't turn us in?"

"Simon, the Captain might play fast and loose with his own safety but he would never do that to those relying on him."

Simon took a moment, mulling over her words while gazing down at the sleeping Captain. When he looked up at Inara there was a little twinkle in his eyes. "Define fast and loose."

* * * * *

The sleek black vessel was fast. It's outer skin a shiny black unrelieved by any markings, name or logo. It flew like an arrowhead. Inside the small craft, the Operative handled the controls with the ease of long familiarity. Beside him a cradle sat upon the floor, the baby wrapped in a soft blanket and lost to sleep. Innocence abiding while the 'verse turned around it, not knowing what role it would be asked to play in trade for a lost childhood.

He was content, satisfied. Course now locked in the Operative took his hands from the controls and gazed for several minutes at the sleeping child. This was the first, the start, the building block upon which they would build a better world. He wouldn't live to see it but the child would. And if by some mischance the infant failed to rise to the promise being placed upon it then a swift death would prevent the long agony of a lifetime's disappointment. If that unlikely scenario should come to past all would not be lost. There was another, more problematic because she was older. A girl child almost full grown. Her name was River Tam. The Operative dismissed the idea. There would be no failure whatever the cost. He knew he was a monster but he did what was needed. The things others would baulk at and be unable to finish. It was the price for perfection. For a world without sin. But in the heart of a fanatic he saw all the flaws of others, all the myriad weaknesses and lost causes. The bleeding hearts looking for love and peace but unwilling to stand up and fight for it. He saw all their faults, their excesses, but was oblivious to his own. And because he believed the price could never be too high.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *zaoshang* = morning *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *jianyu* = prison *wo dong* = I understand *wode ma* = mother of God *hundan* = bastard *pofu* = bitch *ni dong* = you understand? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wei* = hey! *wo zhidao* = I know *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *mei mei* = little sister


Wednesday, November 28, 2007 3:24 AM


I always knew Sheriff Bourne wasn't truly Alliance. Out there on the edge he wasn't likely to be. And the description of the Operative's ship is great! Will this be continued? I hope so.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 3:41 AM


Jane0904 this is it for this series but that is not to say that elements will not reappear further down the line. I loved the idea of bringing in the Operative without our heroes actually getting to see and meet him, like a distant doom crossing orbits before colliding at some future point in time. Glad you have the same thoughts about Sheriff Bourne that I do. Shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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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.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
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.

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.