Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Saffron discovers the cost of upsetting the wrong people. Gradually life gets back to normal on Serenity but with the crew somewhat subdued and grateful for their narrow escape."


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

SUMMARY: "Saffron discovers the cost of upsetting the wrong people. Gradually life gets back to normal on Serenity but with the crew somewhat subdued and grateful for their narrow escape." 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

* * * * *

It was several days before Simon felt confident enough to stop sleeping in the infirmary. The rest of the crew had taken it in turns to relieve him so he could go to his bed but conscientious doctor that he was he couldn't rest unless he could hear the steady beat of the heart monitor and see for himself that the Captain's recovery was continuing on track. Zoe gave up trying to reason with the doctor only too aware of how much they already owed to his dedication and skill. The Captain would surely have died had anyone but Simon been there to tend him and just thinking about it made the first mate go cold through to her marrow. Inara gave Zoe a nod and changed places with her, pausing to glance across at Simon while his face was averted.

Inara watched as Simon finished tidying up and took the seat on the other side of the Captain's bed while Zoe left to check on Wash. The Companion noticed the dark bruises under Simon's eyes from lack of sleep. Before she could speak the Captain stirred. Inara watched the long eyelashes fan the Captain's cheeks as he blinked slowly, eyes adjusting sluggishly to the harsh infirmary lights. She squeezed his hand gently but Mal was not looking at her.

"Gorramit Simon, I'm thinkin' you look worse than I feel. Who tortured you?"

"I could say a certain ungrateful Firefly Captain..."

Malcolm Reynolds cut him off, a serious note in his voice. "Ain't ungrateful, just thinkin' you need to do more than close your eyes once in a while."

He got a startled look back. Momentarily lost for words Simon stared as the Captain's expression of concern was warped by an odd lop sided grin, unsure whether it was caused by the pain or medication. Then Mal's grin vanished leaving a deeper seated worry lingering.

"When was the last time you slept in a bed?"

Inara had to hide a smile. Trust Mal to notice and for Simon to bristle at the unwanted observation as if the wrong person was lying in the infirmary bed. "My sleeping habits are none of your concern."

"Tell me to rest often enough."

"I'm your doctor, it's what you pay me for."

There was no missing the tinge of amusement both in the Captain's eyes and his voice. "I'm payin' you now? As I recall that last job cost us more than we earned."

Simon winced. "Yes, well, once again everything didn't go according to plan."

"At least Niska is dead." Said Inara firmly, determined not to let the conversation get too depressing. They were all feeling the after effects of one close call too many and the last thing any of them needed was to start apportioning blame.

The doctor nodded and forced out a calming breath. He wasn't really annoyed at the Captain just exasperated. It was hard to treat a man who was often his own worst enemy. Simon was a doctor and a damn good one but faced with one of the most stubborn men he had ever met the healing process was often reduced to trying to push water uphill. With a mountain on its' back. The small bubble of irritation burst. "As much as I am sworn to uphold my hypocratic oath I can't say I'm sorry to see the last of Niska."

A laugh started to rumble out of Mal but it quickly turned to painful coughing. Simon quickly moved to ease the congestion in the Captain's lungs, worried that as many times as he drained the fluid away it kept coming back. Easing the head of the bed up as far as it would go Simon fussed until the coughing fit was past and watched the Captain close his eyes. Beneath the dark healing bruises of his face Simon suspected his skin was a sickly pale. Inara's worried look locked on his and Simon sighed, wishing he had better news. "The antibiotics aren't aggressive enough." He explained quietly.

Inara felt her heart miss a beat. No. They hadn't come all this way, surmounted such terrible odds, to lose the Captain to a chest infection. They could beat this, they had to.

"Ain't dead yet." A weary voice slurred.

Simon shook his head and felt a small smile tug at his lips. No matter how dire things were you could always count on the Captain to fight it every inch of the way. "I can give you something to help you sleep."

The Captain's eyes cracked open. Inara was pleased to feel a squeeze on her hand and clasped her fingers around his as if never intending to let go. "Been sleepin' enough."

"Your body has been through too much trauma Mal, I don't know how else to impress upon you the need to let it recover. You aren't exactly the most co-operative of patients."

"You sayin' I ain't co-operatin', doc?" His voice hitched on the last word. "Not as if I can up an' walk out is it?"

Simon fussed with the blanket, trying to keep an eye on the monitors without making it too obvious but the Captain noticed. "You would if you could."

A stupid idiot smile hung on Mal's face and for a moment Simon worried that he really had given the Captain too much medication. "You're a good man, Simon, an' I ain't fightin' you on this." He paused. "Just..." For a moment the Captain turned his head away fighting back some emotion before continuing. "Ain't used to bein' weak."

"You're lucky to be alive, Captain. In your position I'd take that as a bonus."

The Captain however was no longer listening. Eyes closed, breathing deepening Simon felt guilty at the relief he felt.


He looked up, not realising he had hung his head for a moment. He was so tired and so fed up of having to perform miracles with the minimum of supplies and equipment for the job. "*Duibuqi* Inara, you were saying?"

"The antibiotics, why aren't they working?"

Simon took a moment to make sure the Captain was no longer conscious before replying. "All we have are broad spectrum antibiotics which is fine for the normal run of viruses, the common cold and so on. I was hoping they would be enough."

"If we were near a core planet..."

He nodded. "We could get the medicine we need, yes, but the Captain would never agree to it."

The Companion gave a little cold smile but Simon noted she did not let go of the Captain's hand. Sleeping or not she held it as if it was a lifeline. "We aren't going to ask him."

"We aren't?"

Inara looked down at the sleeping man, her free hand seemingly moving of its' own volition to brush the hair from his face. "Just tell me what you need. I still have connections."

"I should have thought of asking before but I didn't expect the Captain to start getting worse again."

"It's not your fault, Simon."

Simon nodded and went to get a piece of paper, carefully writing down what he needed and including some other medication to help his patient's recovery. Inara took the piece of paper and glanced at it. "Anything else?"

"*Bu qu*, that should be enough."

* * * * *

Badger was all manner of furious and frustrated. The annonymous call that a treasure was waiting for him on the out of the way moon of Clementine had caused him to expend precious men and resorces to retrieve it. Finding that the treasure in question was his erstwhile partner in crime was not what he had been hoping for. As for Saffron, her fury knew no bounds and Badger knew better than to bait her but a man had to let off steam somehow.

"Ah could ya do that? Let yerself get caught out? Ya know how dangerous she is."

Her eyes narrowed. "I haven't forgotten but she tricked me. I had the money an' everythin'."

"Speakin' of which, where is it?"

Saffron huffed and put her hands on her hips, Badger making sure to edge round to the far side of his desk just in case and trying to make it look more of a strategic withdrawal than a retreat. His volatile little *ai ren* had a habit of taking out her disappointments on him with alarming regularity. He still hadn't recovered from the last time she had been thwarted, not that it happened often but even once was once too much. "She must've taken it back."

His eyes widened in anger then he remembered what Lady Niska had said: she was taking what was hers and giving him back what was his. Saffron. As if his smart but over confident *pofu* was worth the cost of a million square job. All things considered he was feeling more than a mite hard done by. Money was useful, something to be hoarded and cherished. Love only took you so far before it became a pain, the loving touches turning to biting sarcasm and the lash of a vindictive tongue. But even when annoyed Saffron knew how to use her wiles to good effect and as many times as Badger wanted to ditch her the gifted little thief would worm her way back into his good graces, her lithe body moulding to his in ways which shorted his brain. Might not remember why he married her but he wasn't likely to forget who owned who. Plus, another thought had just occurred to him and he couldn't hold back a grin. "Still, not everythin's lost, *dui*?"

"You hit your head, *zhangfu*?"

"Nah." Badger felt his good humour rise enough to come out from behind his desk. "You did get the Lassiter an' that's somethin'. Wish I could'a seen Reynolds face when he found out it wasn't simply gone but that his crew had given it to you." Badger laughed until he had to cough to get a sober breath. Saffron was not smiling. Suddenly serious he frowned at her, a horrible suspicion creeping up on him. "*Shenme shi*? Tell me ya ain't lost that too?"

"That two timin' *pofu* must'a taken it."

"Why in the nine hells did ya take it with ya to that gorram estate?" Badger yelled.

"I didn't!" She yelled back. As the implication hit them a tense silence fell.

"*Wode ma*, know what that means? She knows where ya keep your stash."

Saffron was already shaking her head, no one else knew though Badger wasn't listening. Calling out for his men he was already snapping out orders as heads appeared around the door. His wife sat with her arms crossed, hips resting on his big wood desk, a totally unimpressed look on her face. "What're you doin', hubby?"

"Gettin' back what's ours, that's what. An' don't just sit there like lady muck, go an' give 'em a hand."

"If they need a hand from me you shouldn't have hired them."

For a moment husband and wife glared at each other. After a suitable time had elapsed Saffron dropped the angry attitude though she was still pissed, just not at him. "Call them off."


"Call them off, they won't find anythin'."

He gave her a suspicious look now. "'Ow'd ya know?"

"Because we've just been played by a player an' not just anyone. Best we can do is step away an' plan the next job, *dong ma*?"

Surprised, Badger eased himself back in his chair and pushed his bowler hat back the better to get a good look at her face. Wondering who this woman was and what she had done with his lying scheming wife. It wasn't like Saffron to let anyone get the better of her. "What ya up to?"

"Time to move on."

Saffron swayed her hips and moved to lean up against him. He grinned at her as she took his hat and sat it on her head, a pleased smug smile on her face. "What ya got planned, luv?"

"Somethin' bigger an' better than that little job."

His eyes widened even as his arms slid around her waist with the confidence of long familiarity. "More than a million square?"

A laugh bubbled out of her, all sweet with merry and mocking the doubt in him. Made him almost believe her. "How would you like to own the biggest diamond in the 'verse?"

Stunned, Badger took a moment to find his voice. "Diamond, what diamond?"

Leaning in to kiss him, Saffron wiggled and twisted her hips just at the right angle to turn his moan into an appreciative groan. "There's this cruiser, sweetie." She cooed. "Full of rich dumb folk with too much wine an' valuables for their health. Seems on'y right to relieve them of their burden, wouldn't you say?"

Their laughter was long and hearty. When he was able to get a clear breath, Badger dismissed his men and gave Saffron a wicked wink and a grin. "Best we celebrate our good fortune then, Celia."

For a moment her good mood vanished. "How many times I told you not to call me that?" Saffron took a moment to calm down a little when she realised it was just the two of them but she lowered her voice anyway. "We gotta be careful. Don't want anyone knowin', *dong ma*? Information is power an' we gotta make sure it's in our hands - no one else's." Though she was already plotting her new daring theft, part of Saffron still seethed at being stung. Lady Niska had not seen the last of her. And as for Malcolm Reynolds? Well, something told her that their paths would be crossing again some day. In the meantime there was shiny new crime to be done.

* * * * *

David Townsend was not the most heroic of men but neither was he immune to Inara's charms. With the kind of alacrity normally associated with men half his age he quickly assured the Companion that everything she requested would be provided. Free gratis. That had surprised her though she hid it well, for Townsend was not one to give without expecting something in return. Every instinct in his body was political and driven by self interest.

"*Xie xie ni*, Senator. I am in your debt."

The man visibily preened himself in her regard. Pleased beyond telling to have impressed her. "*Mei shi*, what are friends for if not to help each other?"

Inara's eyebrow rose a delicate inch, understanding sinking in. Of course. A favour for a favour. Giving him a sweet smile she inclined her head just a fraction. "What can I do for you in return?"

He did not pretend to misunderstand her and for that she was grateful. In the end the request was much less than she had expected. A meeting with one of his sponsors. A few well chosen words, the glamour of her presence to ease some awkward negotiations. Inara made a show of polite acceptance relieved when the cortex screen faded to black and she could relax.

* * * * *

The ball was the highlight of the socialite calendar on Londinium and normally Lady Niska would have scorned attending but several people would be attending who were important to her future plans. Grooming them was something that could not be left to minions. The only thing outstripping the average intellect of her workforce was their inability to grasp the more subtle arts of persuasion. Give them a gun and tell them to exterminate a pest and they were crude but wonderfully effective. Ask them to co-erce or manipulate a person or situation and she would end up with the kind of mess even her money and position would be unable to shield her from. No. Some things had to be done in person.

The venue was the estate of Lord Charles Rothsay. A man so wealthy and powerful that the might of Parliament listened when he spoke. Such a man was worth cultivating but with great care. Men in high positions drew many eyes not all of them friendly and the more attention drawn to him the more notice others would take of those moving in their circle. Yet on the periphery the discerning could often acquire what those in the glare of publicity could not. Yes. The shadows suited the world of Lady Niska. And power was the drug that sustained it.

* * * * *

Simon didn't know how Inara managed to get the medicine to Serenity so quickly but he was grateful. Without wasting any time he got to work, the crew hovering outside the infirmary until River came out to tell them that the Captain was responding well. Kaylee dazzled them all with a smile so bright it outshone every sun they had ever seen. "Told ya Simon would fix him."

River grinned at her and the two girls ran off with their heads together, their happy voices easing the tension that had been hanging over the ship. Wash put his arm around his wife and smiled happily at her, his look giddy and full of affection. She could not help but smile back now that the danger was past, falling into step with him as they headed for the bridge. Shepherd Book smiled as he went off to the Commons area to see what he could put together for their next meal.

"Ah, the Cap'n!" Cried Wash happily as he stepped onto the bridge. "Did I tell you, *bao bei*? We're like brothers."

Zoe frowned. "Wash..."

"'Estranged' brothers." He stressed as he dropped into the pilot's seat. He turned to grin at her then backpeddled when she didn't smile back. "Did I say estranged? I meant strange. Strange an' wonderful an'..."

Zoe closed in on her babbling husband. "Wash!"



Before he could get another word out, Zoe gave him something better to do with his mouth. When they finally surfaced to take a breath his eyes were glazed with lust laden adoration. "I love my wife!"

* * * * *

By the time Inara had paid her dues to Senator Townsend several days later the Captain was sitting up in bed talking to Shepherd Book. Simon looked relaxed and pleased and the Companion didn't need to be told that everything was going to be alright. With a nod to Simon she stood next to Book and smiled at the Captain.

"It's good to see you looking better, Mal."

The Captain smiled. "Good to feel better truth be told. Don't know what rabbit you pulled outta your medical hat Simon but it did the trick."

"You need to thank Inara not me, Captain."

The Captain raised his eyebrows. Book did a hard job hiding his smirk. "Is that a fact? You takin' on doctorin' skills now, 'nara?"

Inara blushed slightly, wishing Simon hadn't said anything. "I just helped Simon get some antibiotics."

Mal could tell it was more than that but let the matter lie. He was feeling too good to get prickly over something that had only been done for his benefit. Plenty of time for the mean old man to appear once he was fully healed and back on his feet. Shepherd Book got to his feet. "If you'll excuse me Captain, I need to go and check on dinner."

"Speakin' of food, where in the nine hells is Jayne? Ain't seen hide nor hair of the man in days."

"I released him last week." Simon explained.


"You've been pretty much out of it, Mal. Jayne has been in and out checking on you but you haven't been awake."

"Saw you didn't I?"

Inara laughed and Simon couldn't hold back a smile. "That's because Jayne usually came night time."

Confused the Captain looked set to argue the point when the man in question stuck his head round the door. "*Wei*, you're awake."

"I can see nothin' gets past you, Jayne."

The mercenary stepped through the door carrying something under his arm. He looked mighty pleased with himself.

"What's that?"

Jayne lifted the board with a flourish. "Chess board."

Inara looked at him with surprise. "I never knew you played chess."

The man actually looked smug then spoilt it by leering at her. "Lot of things ya don't know 'bout me, 'Nara."

The Captain's eyes narrowed. "Jayne!"

"*Shenme*? Was just sayin', Mal."

"I'll leave you to it then. See you later, Mal."

"Yeah, *xie xie* 'Nara."

The mercenary scowled at the Captain as he tugged the chair over to the bedside with his foot then dropped into it. "What ya thankin' 'Nara for when I brought the board?"

Mal closed his eyes and counted to ten. With luck he would open his eyes and find Jayne had gone and Inara was sitting there instead. But luck wasn't with him. He wanted to be annoyed at the big man but seeing him happily set up the board he couldn't do it. Especially when he looked more closely at the little carved chess pieces. "Jayne?"

"Yeah, Mal?"

"Where did we get a chess board an' pieces?"

"We didn't, I made 'em."

Simon stopped what he was doing to join them, his sharp eyes taking in the details of the little carved pieces. "They're beautiful, Jayne."

"No need to sound so surprised, doc."

The Captain leaned even closer, noticing something Simon Tam had actually missed. After a moment he started laughing. Jayne glowered at him but Mal ignored the big man's simmering temper. Intrigued, Simon stared at the Captain. "What's so funny?"

"Take a closer look, doc. Notice anythin' about them pieces?"

Simon picked up what he had taken to be a knight, his eyes widening as he realised he recognised the figure of Wash sitting on top of a rearing horse. Quickly he picked up another piece then another, his smile widening as he recognised a fair likeness of Shepherd Book complete with a bishop's mitre on his head. Mal was a heavily smirking king and Inara an elegant aloof queen. Simon's eyebrows almost disappeared into his hairline at seeing himself depicted as another bishop. Jayne was the second knight, Kaylee sitting on the old mule was one castle while River on a shiny new mule wearing goggles was the other. It took a moment or two for the doctor to find his voice he was so stunned by the beauty of the man's work. He would have called it 'gifted' had it been anyone but Jayne, but the compliment was in his reaction whether he intended it or not. "This is incredible, Jayne! You've carved the crew and the detail is breathtaking. Where did you learn to carve like that?"

The big man shrugged and pretended to be intent on setting the pieces up on the board. "Always used to be carvin' somethin' when I was home. Didn't have money for fancies an' pa made use of whatever we had. Plenty of trees so pa made most of the furniture, me an' Mattie made toys for the younger kids an' a board to play on. Weren't nothin' to it."

Mal smirked at Simon, enjoying the astonishment on the young doctor's face. "Did you notice the black figures, Simon?"

One by one, Simon examined each chess piece. The pale wood being Serenity's crew but the black pieces... The doctor looked up, awe struck. "I... I recognise them."

"Congratulations doc," sneered Jayne "twenty-twenty vision."

"No, I'm not trying to be insulting Jayne. I mean here, this one is obviously Badger."

"In his very fine hat." Put in Mal, sounding more like a proud father than Captain.

"And this one," said Simon slowly picking up a nasty looking figure in a broken crown "looks like Niska."

Jayne looked uncomfortable, twisting about in his seat and not meeting the Captain's eyes. "Yeah well, figured he had to be the black king but I can change it if ya want?"

Mal shook his head. "Nah, just gonna have to beat him to a messy pulp."

A look of challenge glinted in the big man's eyes as he raised his head. "Think ya can do it?"

"*Dang ran*."

"How 'bout we make this more interestin'?"

The Captain's eyes narrowed. Without being noticed, Simon drew up a chair.

"What you got in mind, Jayne?"

"Let's play for chores." Jayne moved the black pawns who were Alliance soldiers into place on his half of the board while Mal moved his Independent soldiers on to their squares. No one made mention that every Independent soldier was the spitting image of Zoe. Somehow it seemed too appropriate to mention.

"I'm in my sick bed, Jayne."

Jayne grinned. "I'll think of somethin'."

The Captain stared at him for a long moment then looked at Simon. "Ain't you got nothin' to say, doc?"

Simon shrugged. "I'm just an observer."

"Huh, all of sudden you're struck dumb. Have to mark that down in my gorram diary, doc."

Jayne leaned over the chess board and grinned at the Captain. "Talk is cheap."

As the two men locked eyes on each other Simon felt a little surge of excitement. This should be good.

* * * * *

Saffron could not have planned things better if she tried. Badger had been true to his word in providing a couple of men to create a little distraction so she could get into the grounds. The estate was almost manicured to death, the grass trimmed so low as to be almost bare. The bushes and hedges making fantastic shapes while the box hedge had been carefully and painstakingly made into a rather intricate maze. She knew better than to take a short cut, that would only lead to disorientation and possibly detection. No, she hadn't come this far to fail now and besides. She had a score to settle.

* * * * *

The evening meal was a merry affair. Shepherd Book and Simon helped the Captain to the commons area and once he was ensconced in his usual chair the banter around the table became more and more lively, with laughter and tall stories flying back and forth as plates were filled with food and empty bellies began to fill. Inara looked across the table at the Captain in the candle light and her breath caught. Seeing his animated face softened in the light she felt a tug inside. He was relaxed, laughing, and she had a glimpse of the man he had been before war and loss had changed him. At that moment he turned his head and time froze. A smile danced in his eyes, a look of affection cast in blue held her in thrall until Kaylee's voice broke the spell. The Captain smiled, she smiled back. Maybe, just maybe, the man he was hadn't been lost after all. Maybe, just maybe, he had been hiding here among them all along.

* * * * *

Badger hissed in the shadows. More nervous than he cared to admit and cursing Saffron to every one of the nine hells for getting him to agree to this madcap scheme of hers. He was rapidly beginning to reassess their life expectancy and did not like the new calculations one bit but it was too late to back out now. If anything went wrong he didn't expect there to be any pieces of him bigger than a fingernail left for the authorities to identify. Badger shuddered and tried to ease the stiffness out of his limbs without making any noise when he heard the faint sound of a dog bark. Minutes later a figure coalesced out of the darkness almost stopping his gorram heart.

"*Tianna*, you tryin' to give me a gorram heart attack?"

She grinned, her dirty face reflecting no light. "*Fang xin*, you'll live *zhangfu*."

"You get it?"


His eyes sparkled with greed. "*Gei wo kankan*."

"Not here!" Saffron hissed.

Despite how impatient he was Badger knew she was right. He grunted begruding acceptance and got his men to cover them as they slunk away. Once they were safe Badger rubbed his hands together. "Well? Let's see it."

Saffron finished washing her face, dried her hands then lifted the hem of her skirt and wriggled a hand inside her pants. With a flourish she showed her husband the biggest diamond he had ever seen. Shock for a moment over ruled his inate greed.

"*Qin ai de*, you're ruttin' *piaoliang*!"

Her grin and pleasure was a perfect match for his. "I could have got the Lassiter back but this is better."

For a moment he thought he had misheard her. "The Lassiter? You left it there?"

"Had to. If I'd taken it she would have known it was me. This way, she'll always wonder..."

Badger laughed then leaned forward to catch her lips in a deep kiss, eyes sparkling as he pulled back. "Knew there was a reason I married ya, luv."

* * * * *

While out in the Black the crew of Serenity celebrated a treasure of their own. Every one of them together again and counting their good fortune that it was so. Inara had been intending to leave but was glad she had not said anything. How could she leave all this? When had this battered and oddly noble little crew become family? And why was it that this shabby little Firefly was more home to her than Sihnon? A measured footfall joined her on the catwalk, the Captain carefully easing his forearms to rest on the rail beside her, a companionable silence settling between them with the comfort of old friends. They could still hear the laughter around the dining table, Kaylee's voice teasing Simon with such open affection, the poor man's stuttering turning slowly firmer as he adjusted, Jayne's laughter barking while Wash chipped in and Zoe dropped the occasional word in like a ripple on a not quite still pond. Mal turned his head and looked at Inara. Shepherd Book's deep resonating voice a background timber making the symphony of their lives complete.

"So." He said.

Inara raised her eyebrows in query. "So?"

Mal was reminded of Jayne's chessboard and realised their little dance was more than a little like that game. Move for move, each trying to weigh the other up, gain some small advantage without losing anything precious in the doing. Time to be bold and make a new move of his own. He reached out and took her startled hand, pleased that she had not been able to read his intention from the look on his face. It took more effort than he would have admitted to keep his voice light. Tone steady. After all, this was the first step on an uncertain path for both of them and he didn't want his clumsy attempts scaring her off. "We land on Bellerophon in three days."

Inara tried to hide how good the warmth of his calloused hand was in hers. "*Qu*. Do I take it you have shiny new crime waiting for you?"

His eyes sparkled, his long dark lashes captivating her as they beat a slow happy tattoo on his cheeks. When he was quietly animated like this he was beautiful. The Captain looked down at their hands and opened his fingers, knitting them between hers for a firmer fit. When he looked up again he looked almost shy. Inara felt her mouth go dry, her heart thundering so loudly in her chest she wondered if her ears had stopped working. "Not yet but I do hear tell from Simon they got a mighty fine eatin' establishment."

For a moment she looked at him in shock, his meaning percolating through the silence as he waited for the penny to drop. Annoying man, why couldn't he just come out and say what he wanted? "Are you asking me out?"

The Captain looked smug, as if getting her to say the words was a victory in itself. "Folks gotta eat."

She smiled. "I'm sure Kaylee and the others will be delighted, Mal."

It was fun to watch the expression on his face, mouth opening and closing on empty air as he tried to shift mental gears and regain control of the conversation. "That's not what I meant..." He broke off as he caught her smile and shook a finger at her. "That was a mean thing to do."

"I didn't do anything!" She laughed.

Before Inara knew what was happening the Captain leaned close enough to touch his lips to her own. A frission of fire sealed the kiss and before she could react he was already pulling back, just enough so he could see the reaction on her face. Only he was not gloating. He was offering a challenge. "Not yet."

Who knew a man of such rough grace could be so gentle or so deliciously confounding? Inara Serra, Companion and the glittering jewel of any man's crown, gave a slow smile on lips too plump and shiny to be brittle. Wanting the memory of that kiss to linger. For Malcolm Reynolds the look in her eyes was answer enough.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = sorry *ai ren* = sweetheart *pofu* = bitch *dui* = correct *zhangfu* = husband *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *shenme* = what *wode ma* = mother of God *dong ma* - understand? *xie xie ni* = thank you *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *bao bei* = precious/treasure *wei* = hey! *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *xie xie* = thanks *dang ran* = of course *tianna* = oh God! *qu* = yes (lit. go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *gei wo kankan* = show it to me *qin ai de* = dear/darling *piaoliang* = beautiful/pretty


Saturday, April 19, 2008 3:31 AM


I've been reading's a brilliant story!! But the ending was even more =)

Keep flying ;)

Saturday, April 19, 2008 4:33 AM


Glad you enjoyed it KiMbEr, I was actually worrying in case the Submit My Comment went missing on this part of the story as it did in the last chapter. So annoying and no idea how you get hold of the people running to site to iron out the glitches. Thanks for the feedback, it was shiny! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, April 20, 2008 3:53 AM


Glad to see a happy ending to this saga and Mal finally back to being himself. After all that suffering he did - nice reward!

Sunday, April 20, 2008 9:43 PM


Good tale! For a moment - just a single split - I wondered if you were going to do something evil like kill Mal just at the moment he was about to get better, but I'm so glad you didn't. I have the feeling that Lady Niska may make a return in your stories, but my favourite piece of this one has to be the chess board, with all the major pieces carved in representation of the crew. Good work, Jayne!

Monday, April 21, 2008 3:27 AM


Lovely as ever! And the ending was so very tender and sweet! :D

Monday, April 28, 2008 11:38 AM


A well written tale and so entertaining.

Saturday, March 5, 2011 6:29 PM


No one made mention that every Independent soldier was the spitting image of Zoe.

LOL so very shiny, xie xie, AliD


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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.