FRIENDS AND ENEMIES: 9. "Million Square Job"
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"With Serenity's injured crew members recovering and everybody back together again the crew take a little time to take in everything that has transpired. Meanwhile, Saffron has a painful epiphany of her own."


TITLE: "MILLION SQUARE JOB" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Mal. Jayne. Crew. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "MAKE AND MEND" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "With Serenity's injured crew members recovering and everybody back together again the crew take a little time to take in everything that has transpired. Meanwhile, Saffron has a painful epiphany of her own." 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

* * * * *

They sat around the big oak table and discussed everything that had happened to not only bring Inara up to speed but to sort out their own emotions. It had been a harrowing time and it wasn't over yet.

"Are we sure Niska is dead?" Asked Inara. She did not want to raise the point but it needed clarifying. If only so she could sleep at night.

Shepherd Book gave a firm nod. "Oh, I'm quite sure. We caught him in a cross fire and I followed him to make sure. We can't afford to have someone like that hunting us down again."

Kaylee didn't say anything, her mind still stuck on the image of Jayne Cobb when she and Simon had found him. They had both been shocked and worried about his condition. Then when they finally got the Captain back he had been even worse. She still couldn't grasp that one evil old man had been responsible for so much suffering. For someone to carry that much hatred inside made her shudder. Inara noticed and touched her hand, a kindly look of concern on her face. "Kaylee, are you alright?"

The mechanic nodded. "*Qu*, just shook me up a bit is all."

Book poured everyone a mug of tea and began to hand them round automatically filling another mug as Simon joined them. He looked tired but not as worried as before. Zoe watched him like a hawk, Wash's hand holding hers and giving her strength. Simon smiled at Kaylee and went to sit next to her then noticed the tension round the table and paused. "Jayne is doing very well, complaining as you can imagine but if he continues to improve like this he should be able to sleep in his own bunk in a day or two."

"An' the Cap'n?"

"He'll be fine, Kaylee, though it will be weeks before he'll be able to leave the infirmary."

"He'll recover though?" Asked Zoe.

"Yes. I admit to being surprised at how well he's responding but then he is the most stubborn man I have ever met." "And a good thing for us that he is." Said Shepherd Book.

Simon sat and took a moment to take in what Book had said, mildly surprised to find he agreed with him. After dozens of jobs gone wrong and hair raising experiences with the crew either having to fight their way out of ambushes or run from feds and purplebellies he could see that the Captain was the cohesive force that kept them together. He did not like to think what would happen if there was no more Malcolm Reynolds. That thought alone was enough to bring a bemused smile to his lips. Kaylee nudged him with her elbow and leaned in.

"What'cha smilin' at, Simon?"

"*Yiwusuoyou*." He glanced around but no one was looking at them, various conversations going back and forth around the table. "It's just that only a few months ago I would still have been horrified by this kind of life and now it's almost second nature."

"That mean you're likin' us a bit better?"

He laughed lightly, little crinkle lines appearing round his eyes. Kaylee loved his eyes, loved the way he was so animated when he laughed. Wished he'd do it more often. "I've always liked you Kaylee it's just..." He hesitated and Kaylee could almost sense the old Simon coming back but then he looked at her and his eyes twinkled and she knew that that Simon was gone forever. "This life was alien to me. My life before Serenity was so well ordered, every day mapped out in advance, my job at the hospital taking up almost all my waking hours."

"Must'a been awful."

"On the contrary." He smiled wistfully. "I was happy there, content." At Kaylee's frown he rushed to explain. "I was a trauma surgeon Kaylee and at the hospital I had a chance to put all my training to good use. I felt like I was doing something worthwhile, contributing, helping to heal people."

"Got a place here, Simon. Saved us time an' again with your doctorin'."

"Yes, *wo zhidao*, I didn't meant to sound ungrateful."

Inara finished her tea and took her cup and saucer to the sink to wash it out. Coming back she paused as she realised someone was missing. "Where's River?"

"My sister's in the infirmary, she didn't want to leave the Captain and Jayne alone which reminds me I should be going back."

Inara put a hand on his shoulder as the doctor started to rise from his seat. "No need, stay and drink your tea. I'll go."

* * * * *

The face on the cortex screen could not look smart if ironed and starched. Even his very fine hat couldn't detract from the fact that Badger was a nasty grubby little king pin pretending he was a gentleman. Businessman. Pillar of the community. Right now though none of that mattered. Badger pulled himself up to his less than impressive height. He always felt more than a little nervous when speaking to this particular high powered contact. "An' what can I be doin' for you?"

Sharp eyes narrowed on his face making Badger feel the urge to twist and fidget as if caught in the cross hairs of a sniper's rifle. "I do not appreciate being played."

He swallowed and could feel the palms of his hands beginning to sweat. "Played? I ain't played no one!"

For a moment there was complete and utter silence. If Badger thought her husband a scary terrifying *hundan* it was nothing compared to the sheer gut wrenching fear his wife induced. She leaned in a little closer to the cortex screen and Badger had to forcibly resist the urge to jerk back from the screen. "I know what you did, little man."

"Don't know what you can be meanin'."

"*Gou le*! Do not waste my time in pathetic denial when I know the truth."

Badger froze and waited for what seemed like eternity for his heart to take another stumbling beat. Afraid to say the wrong thing he fell silent. Some of the anger left her face but what it revealed behind it was almost more frightening.

"What is yours will be returned to you, what is mine I keep."

This was not at all going the way Badger had planned things. "But I got over'eds, see? Gotta pay my men an'..."

She waved an impatient hand in the air. "Then you should not have let your slut of a *qizi* get above herself, *dong ma*?"

He closed his eyes and cursed. Damn that woman, always thinking she could out smart everyone and play the ends against the middle. It was alarming how quickly his shiny plan was unravelling around his ears but perhaps he could still salvage something. He opened his eyes and forced himself to project as much calm and confidence as he was able. "I did set things up."

"*Qu*, acknowledged."

When she did not continue Badger whet his lips then stuck a hand down the front of his collar as if it was too tight and he was in need of more air. "That 'as to count for somethin'?"

"Your lives should be fair recompense, yes?"

Too terrified to try to stand up to what would certainly result in a very messy end for himself and his little operation, Badger managed to nod. Sometimes you just had to know when to cut your losses. Long after the cortex link had gone black he stared at it, not really seeing anything but his well laid plans in tatters. Mouth twisting in an ugly scowl of bitter frustration he cursed the day he had met Malcolm Reynolds. Man was more trouble than he was worth and all manner of irritation to him.

* * * * *

Inara Serra could not hide the horror from her face. Years of training vanished in the winking of an eye the first time she got a really good look at the Captain. He was sleeping, or she assumed he was. His face so badly swollen and discoloured that as well as she knew him she barely recognised him. Her involuntary gasp caused the infirmary's other patient to stir.

"*Duibuqi*, I didn't mean to wake you Jayne."

"Doc says I can go back to my bunk later today."

"That's good."

Jayne glanced from Inara to the Captain. "Cap don't look so good. Doc had to drain him again."

The Companion felt her mouth go dry, her skin paling slightly. "Drain him?"

"Yeah, somethin' 'bout fluid in the lungs."

Inara sat down quick. She looked down at the sleeping man and felt faint as she thought how close they had come to losing him. The man had more brushes with death than a mortician. How he had managed to survive this long was a mystery to her. She was surprised when Jayne spoke just inches from her, alarmed that she had been so lost in thought she had not heard him get out of bed and join her.

"Doc says he ain't gonna die."

"He just looks so..."

"Yeah, Niska did all manner of things to him."

She jerked her head up and met the mercenary's eyes. "Do you know what Niska did to Mal?"

Jayne could have lied. *Diyu* at times he wanted to lie to himself about what that evil sumbitch had done to the both of them but there weren't no point and maybe it was right to just say it as it was. "*Wo zhidao*. Don't think you wanna know though."

"I... I don't think I do either but I *have* to know."

Not sure whether he was doing the right thing or not Jayne drew up a spare chair and sat next to her, then, taking a deep breath began to list everything Niska had done. Many of the injuries he had in common with Mal but there were other nasty little suprises which he only knew about when Simon had checked the Captain and begun the painstaking job of putting him back together again momentarily forgetting that Jayne was still in the room. The mercenary didn't know what some of the technical terms were but had followed most of it with his good eye. As Jayne finished he put a hand out to steady the Companion and felt a flash of guilt for laying it out so baldly but she had asked. "You okay 'Nara? Want me to get the doc?"

Inara shook her head and put a hand on the edge of the Captain's bed, not daring to touch him in case the weight of her hand caused him pain.

"Ain't gonna break."

She jumped and jerked her hand back. Jayne resisted the urge to laugh but grinned instead.

"You gonna speak or just struck dumb by my pretty face?"

Inara took a moment to make sure she didn't cry. The Captain was awake but his eyes were still closed. "I didn't know you were awake."

A little smile tugged at bruised and bloody lips. Mal cracked his eyes open enough to see her. "Fella can't sleep for all the traffic in this place. Feel like I'm a gorram exhibit or somesuch."

She snorted and put a hand over her mouth. "Somehow I don't think you'll win first prize, Mal."

He raised his eyebrows and barely flinched as the stitches caught. "You sayin' I ain't a handsome *hundan*?"

"You got the *hundan* part right so I suppose I should give you a point for trying."

Instead of coming back with a witty retort the Captain closed his eyes and winced. Immediately concerned, Inara leaned forward and peered down at him. Turning her head but not moving away she looked at Jayne. "I think you should get Simon."

The big man nodded and shuffled out of the room. Turning back to look down at the sorry state of Serenity's Captain, Inara carefully cradled one of his hands between hers. "What am I going to do with you, Malcolm Reynolds?" She whispered.

But the Captain had passed out, the pain swept away on a dark and sluggish tide.

* * * * *

It wasn't fair. Pain was something that happened to other people not her. The second thing she noticed was the darkness. Saffron groaned and cradled her head in her hands as she curled in on herself, the cold stone beneath her an unforgiving bed. What in the sphincter of *diyu* had happened and where was she? Her head felt fit to burst yet when she tentatively checked her skull she could find no contusion, no cuts or obvious physical injury.

With an effort she rolled to her knees and lifted her head. It wasn't pitch black after all, just night time. Saffron realised she was lying in the street with only the light from a moon above. Where was she? This wasn't Sentosa, of that she was certain. For a start it was not cold, there was no snow or rocky ground, no howling winds or mines in sight and certainly no distant seashore with waves crashing against the rocks. No. This place was dry and oddly barren. She put a hand on the ground to push herself to her feet and froze. Looking down she saw the compressed tarmac. A pavement of sorts. So this was a town but where were the buildiings? The houses? It was like no place she had ever been and that included the sordid underbelly of Londinium, the salt mines of Beron and the buzzing cultural hive of Sihnon.

Puzzled, Saffron stood up and ignored the way she listed until her balance evened out again. Walking slowly she followed what she took to be a path, the lack of landmarks more disorientating than she would have imagined. With no other thought in her head, she walked for a good ten or fifteen minutes then stopped, her eyes adjusting to the low level of light from a partly cloud obscured moon. Slowly she turned and gazed all around her, a light wind sifting through her hair as if it too was looking for answers.

"*Jao jile ji aode*!"

To her consternation Saffron found herself standing in the middle of a huge landing platform in the middle of a wide empty landscape. Not a tree, not a boulder or bush interrupted the horizon in any direction. Where was she and how in the nine hells did she get here?

* * * * *

Simon Tam tried not to think about the countless times he had been called upon to pull their stubborn Captain back from the brink of death but he couldn't complain about any lack of variety. There were the usual bullet wounds, broken bones and contusions, cuts from knives and even swords but Niska was nothing if not an inventive *liumang*. At least this time Mal still had all his body parts. No ears, hands or feet cut off and wrapped in tissue for sewing back on later and for that at least he was grateful. Now he just wished the Captain would keep still long enough for him to reinsert the drain. "Captain your condition is bad enough, try not to move."

There was a hitch in the Captain's breathing. "Ain't dead yet."

"Not for the lack of you trying." The doctor murmured drily.

"You fixin' to be Coroner too? Ain't doctorin' enough for you Simon?"

"Not today. Now are you going to lie still or do I have to sedate you?"

The Captain tried to frown but his face wasn't working right and truth to tell he didn't feel too shiny. Closing his eyes he tried to calm the staccato beat of his heart, all manner of weary. In the end he just didn't have enough fight left in him to argue. "Do what you gotta do."

Simon didn't respond, wanting to get the drain in place as quickly and efficiently as possible and cause as little distress to his patient as he could. By the time it was done Mal had already lost consciousness. A shadow stirred in the corner of the infirmary and River stared at her brother with big round eyes. "Fading in and out. Needs an anchor."

Inara had moved back to let the doctor work but now moved closer. "I thought he was getting better, Simon?"

"He was but my guess is the Captain spent too long in that freezing water and who knows what bacteria and other muck was in it. That, coupled with being repeatedly beaten and cut upon, lowered his immune system."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying the Captain has pnuemonia." Seeing Inara's shock he hastened to reassure her. "Luckily for us we got to him in time."

"Which is why you're having to drain his chest and lungs again?"

"It isn't that unusual, what's important is being close at hand when and if it needs to be repeated but the good news is the Captain is responding well to the antibiotics."

"Don't look like he's respondin' to me." Grumbled Jayne. He was sitting on his infirmary bed having just changed into a clean set of clothes. Simon had said he could go but he was reluctant to leave until he knew the Captain was really out of the woods. Not that he was worried or anything.

"He's just sleeping Jayne."

"He gonna wake up?"

"Yes, Jayne, the Captain is going to wake up and when he does he isn't going to be happy at you spreading alarm and despondency."

"*Shenme*? Ain't done nothin'."

Inara was quick to insert herself between the two men. Simon said the Captain needed peace and quiet so that he could rest properly and recover and she intended to make sure he got it. "Jayne? Don't you have somewhere to be?"

The big man stared at her for a moment, his expression blank.

"I heard Kaylee say it was Shepherd Book's turn to cook and I just thought..."

She did not get a chance to finish her sentence, the big man moving fast when the mood took him. Simon waited until silence had once more descended on the infirmary and looked at the Companion. "It isn't Book's turn it's Zoe's."

A little smile teased Inara's Serra's lips as she pulled the chair close to Mal's bed and settled in for the long haul. "Did you really think he would leave if he knew that?"

Surprised, Simon laughed, his sister's lips curling up into a smile. Gently Inara took the Captain's hand in hers and watched as the doctor got control of himself. Before anyone could say anything they heard Jayne Cobb bellowing in rage from the commons room. Simon gave Inara an amused look. "Jayne can carry a grudge for a long time Inara."

"Oh, I'm not afraid of Jayne Cobb."

Before Simon could pounce on that little tidbit his sister spoke up. "Also, I can kill him with my brain!"

* * * * *

Night in the Black was a non existent affair yet aboard ship they kept the illusion by dimming the lights. Jayne Cobb couldn't sleep. Not that he wasn't all manner of relieved to be back in the privacy of his own bunk because he was. It was almost embarrassing how much pleasure and pride he got from having a place to call his own, even if it was just a place to lay down his head. It was his and something he didn't have to share with no one. Didn't have to keep it clean and tidy nor shove his stuff outta sight to make room for another smelly *hundan*. Had his girls neatly afixed to the wall above his bed, a rough old bit of blanket tacked over it to keep them out of sight until he needed them. It weren't no secure locker but he'd rather have them close to hand in his bunk than under lock and key in Serenity's little armoury.

Jayne shifted, the aches and pains that were the aftermath of yet another near death experience didn't divert him from his thoughts, mind roaming where it fancied rather than where he would have led it, yet for this moment of quiet time he mulled over everything that had happened. Past and present. The thing with Serenity was how everything got all bound up together, like the passage of time made no never mind and the present was whatever little bit of precious you could cling to at any fragile moment in time. He huffed to himself. Knew his ma would laugh at his fancfiul thinking but she weren't here to tease him and of all the things he had done in this life his stint on this ship was one he had some pride in. And weren't that a shock to the system? Him being a deadly mercenary an' all. A gun for hire with no loyalty but to the next pay cheque and no time or inclination towards sentiment of any kind. Lying there, thinking, he couldn't help but worry about Mal. He knew better even than the doc what Niska had done to him. Had been forced to listen to the *heishoudang liumang* gloat about what he was going to do, describing in intricate and sickly detail every bit of torture he was planning. Had even tried some out on Jayne, his henchman teaching the mercenary to hate that thin sharp flaying knife with a vengeance. But Bran had only cut on him. Hadn't gone to the bone nor left his body in pulpy stips of flesh hanging by flaps of skin and... Jayne shut his eyes, tried to block out the memories and worst still the way his imagination had played out Niska's sick little game inside his head. When they had thrown him into the sea and breath had somehow come slamming back into his reluctant lungs, he was sure the *guai* was laughing down at him. Another level of torment on the road to *diyu*. Expecting the water to lead him to the River Styx he had been all manner of confused, and grateful, to wake up in Serenity's infirmary. Even the prissy doc had been a sight for sore eyes and wasn't that a gorram revelation worth dying not to confess? Shepherd would be proud of him.

He slept in snatches. Fragments of memories replaying. He saw again the incident with Mal and Zoe's war buddy Tracy. Felt the same rage rush through him when the *hundan* went crazy with that gorram gun, then Kaylee getting gut shot and Simon wrangling over saving the shiny mechanic's life just to save his own liver coloured neck from the Alliance. And the Cap had backed down. It had enraged him at the time, made him resent the man's weakness but after. When Kaylee recovered he had to admit the Cap had been right. Serenity without Kaylee would be like the sun without light. Yet even after all Tracy had done the Cap had taken him back to his folks as he had promised, him and Zoe carrying the coffin all sorrowful-like. Jayne hadn't understood how they could even give the man's memory the time of day after what he'd done but Zoe had explained, "and maybe he's a friend of ours."

It made him think back on the aftermath of Aerial in a different light. Realised that on some level the Captain hadn't wanted to really flush him out the airlock, was just all fired up with righteous indignation and something he now recognised as the anger of bitter disappointment. Jayne hadn't recognised it at the time, hadn't expected to survive the gorram airlock. Yet, and this was the bit that rolled around inside his brainpan more times that he wanted to admit, Cap had forgiven him. Hadn't forgotten mind. Never that. What he thought might have been weakness he could see wasn't. The thing with Tracy had shown a side to the Captain's loyalty that made him all manner of ashamed at what he had tried to do his own self. It wasn't weakness that made Mal relent in either case, not really compassion neither. No. It was the fact that both he and Tracy had been sorry in the end and that little bit of humanity had saved them both in a manner of speaking. Anyone but Mal would have got rid of Jayne after the whole thing with Marco but he hadn't. Man had made a promise to Jayne - "Come on over to this side an' you won't get no seven percent..." - and gorramit if he hadn't kept his word.

Sighing, Jayne could feel the pain and heaviness in his body. The twinges and muscle spasms when he moved a bit too quick - or tried to. The swelling in his face had finally gone down but the bruising had turned all yellowy above the black and blue. Least he could open both eyes with 20/20 vision. Simon said the Cap would recover and Jayne had learned to respect the doc's medical expertise. *Diyu*, even the man himself though nothing short of a hangman's noose would induce him to tell him. A disturbing thought inveigled its' way into his brainpan. River. It would be just the sort of thing that moonbrain would tell her brother. But he couldn't bring himself to care, sleep finally tugging at him with all the irresistability of a fate well earned.

* * * * *

Lady Niska was not an overly vindictive person especially if she got what she wanted and when all was said and done the loss of Adelei was more bonus than tragedy. That she had been instrumental in sealing her *zhangfu's* fate was an added little perk. Over fifty years of marriage had seen them weather many a storm but what they had in common far outweighed what they did not. The problem was Adelei's hobby had become his obssession. Reputation becoming more important than family commitment and in the end it had been his undoing.

The servant stepped back from the wall opposite her desk in the study. Lady Niska gave a thin cold smile of satisfaction as she viewed her latest acquisition. The display box was made of the finest mahogany, a rarity among so many worlds that it was as expensive ounce for ounce as gold. The sides and back of the display were of wood but the front was glass, the better to show off the contents. Inside, framed against black velvet, the Lassiter hung in antigravity suspension. The finest high tech alarm system had been installed for its' protection, the sliding wall retracting at the press of a concealed button to reveal the laser gun in all its' glory for the gratification of its' new owner. Lady Niska gave the servant a nod and he touched the button, the false wall sliding back into place and securing the gun's hiding place. For Lady Niska was no heathen. She knew the gun's worth but also treasured the fact that now, no one else but her would. It made a fitting salve for her irritation at that little thief Saffron. Yes, recompense to round off a job well done.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. go) *yiwusuoyu* = nothing *wo zhidao* = I know *diyu* = hell *hundan* = bastard *gou le* = enough! *qizi* = wife *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *jao jile ji aode* = that's great, perfect *shenme* = what? *liumang*/*heishoudang liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster *guai* = Devil/ghost *zhangfu* = husband


Tuesday, April 8, 2008 3:33 PM


All I can say is I always eagerly await the next installment. I love the way you balance all the characters, never forgetting to keep them all engaged.

gentle journey,


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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.