DUPLICITY Series: 11. "Lifeline"
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"River calls on all her strength and ability to keep the Captain stable. Mountjoy and his crew get a nasty surprise. Inara learns that the House Mother was not lying."


TITLE: "LIFELINE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash, Kaylee/Simon. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE BLACK". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "River calls on all her strength and ability to keep the Captain stable. Mountjoy and his crew get a nasty surprise. Inara learns that the House Mother was not lying." 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 hard. Seemed to take forever to make any headway or sense through the numbing lethargy holding body and mind in thrall. Pain was a deep dull constant, a background noise making his brain ache in sympathy. He knew not where he was, all sense of the here and now a blur of shattered pieces he had no way of putting back together. Heat sang through his veins and scorched his skin. Perspiration soaking through his bloodied clothing and stinging against his skin. He felt, sensed, heard a sound. A murmur most-like. Not so much words as vowels joined together like some funeral dirge. The dark was dragging at him again, pulling him down and down and down but the murmuring though quiet was inveigling its' way through the pores of his skin and every synapse in his brain sparked with the knowing of it. What did it mean? Ah. Something familiar. He should know, recognise it but the grasp of that knowledge baffled him. It was too difficile and his brain too clumsy.

His body shifted sparking pain like hot needles piercing his body. His mouth sagged but only a gurgle of sound bubbled out through crimson tinged lips. As if from a vast distance he became aware of movement, a rocking sensation that took forever to register as someone cradling him in their arms. But the arms were light, the touch a barely there sensation bathing him in a mist of tears. Some memory sense supplied a name. Someone he needed to look out for. Protect. Someone who was good as family. Knowing he was needed forced him to try to surface, to break free of the chains of oblivion reaching for him with greedy impatient hands.

"*Wei*!" His voice cracked, a whisper like dried leaves rubbing together. Barely audible but still. "Calm down."

The voice that answered was all sweetness and light and a whole 'verse of worried concern wrapped in a relief so profound it kind of stunned him. "Captain daddy, don't go!"

His heart longed to comfort her through a body that would no longer obey him. All he had were words and hardly breath enough to speak them. "Not leavin', *dong ma*?"

River was so relieved, her hands tightening on his with a death grip, her eyes wide and luminous. "It was so dark, I was afraid."

It seemed wrong to him that her voice, her beautiful bird song, was so small. So starved of certainty. The words took a moment or two to penetrate the fog in his brain but when they did he felt a spike of pain that his nightmare had hurt her. "You saw that, little one?"

She nodded, dark hair a ragged matted waterfall half sticking to her tear stained face, half hanging limp and dull from the overhang of her face. "Felt it too. The dead, the dying."

The Captain felt a seeping strength as he resolved to reassure her, the darkness dimming as he struggled to hang on to the light. "Hush now, I'm here. Not figurin' on dyin' anytime soon."

The small hand patted the side of his face then River stuck out her index finger and poked him carefully in the chest as if she needed to be sure he was solid, that his presence was more than a figment of her imagination. He grunted softly and concentrated on forcing more air into sluggish lungs.

"Thought I lost you."

"Then you're a dummy."

His words brought a smile to her lips. "I'm a genius."

Mal felt his heart lighten. "A genius dummy then."

"Simon says I'm gifted."

He did not feel like teasing her any more, his heart expanding with love for her, wanting only to take away her worry and pain. Felt it was his fault that she was grieving and him not even six feet in the ground. Didn't seem right nor hardly fair. "That you are little one."

Reassured, River rested her forehead against his and the Captain kissed her matted hair. They stayed that way for several minutes, both luxuriating in the presence of the other. "Don't want you to die."

"Me neither."

"You saved me."

"Pretty sure that was Simon."

*Qu*. Simon got me out but you kept us safe." River paused, her eyes big and round as saucers. "My turn to keep you safe."

The Captain wanted to reassure her that wasn't necessary but the words caught in his throat and he coughed causing pain to radiate through his body and making his chest ache something fearsome. He closed his eyes against the burn of agony. It was more than disconcerting how his world went belly up, all his senses liquidising around him leaving him disorientated and queasy in a murky sea. The darkness now dragging him like some powerful undertow, pulling at his consciousness while every instinct told him to fight. To hang on. Knowing that if he let go he might never find the gorram surface again. Just as the last of the light vanished something reached out and touched his senses. Something gentle and knowing, a light warm breeze stirring his mind with emotions too complex to quantify. A reassuring eddy triggering memories of happier times, faces. People he knew, trusted. Missed. The thundering of his heart began to slow no longer feeding on his panic. Music drifting into his consciousness like some ethereal anchor, the voice of an angel holding him in thrall against the threat of the encroaching darkness. His breath stuttered, the song caught him, stopped him from sinking under. Without opening his eyes he suddenly found that he could see. Her smile became the whole 'verse, the wonder of it a thing he would cherish for as long as he lived.

"Told you." River murmured low and sweet in a matter of fact tone of voice. Only in his mind's eyes the look she gave him was incredibly smug. "My turn now."

* * * * *

Inara Serra could pretty much visualise every word on the parchment from memory. It had seemed inconceivable to her that Mistress Barbette had been right all along. It shook her view of reality to the core but not nearly so much as it made her heart sing with a vain hope too long extinguished. The man facing her was nondescript. A plain rough hewn face, unremarkable in every feature. And yet. There was a way about him that bespoke knowledge and experience far in excess of her own. That he did not speak of it or seek to impress her made Inara that much more intrigued. The monk dipped his head in old world courtesy, the tonsured head harking back to an era remembered only in the history books of Earth's antiquity.

Inside the cool flagstones were a blessing to her hot feet, the heavy stone building lightened by the sandstone colouring of the walls and the many vaulted ceiling. There was a holiness about the place that had nothing to do with religious practice and everything to do with the peace and equanimity the souls within embued it with. It was a sanctuary. A place of spiritual healing. A place of learning and a retreat. Inara breathed in the faint all pervading lingering spice of incense, not heady but perfumed in a way that lifted the soul as well as the senses.

Brother Dominic led her through into the inner courtyard, sprays of roses and every flower and bush that held a scent fragrancing the air in their multicoloured splendour and bringing a smile to her lips and joy and laughter to her overburdened heart. Inara was almost giddy with delight. So much so that she almost missed the moment when Brother Dominic made his polite exit and left her in the company of a small nut wizzened man in a plain brown robe. The Abbott smiled softly, not a hair upon his sun kissed head. He stood no more that five feet tall in his sandles and seemed both ancient and ageless at one and the same time. His voice surprised her, the light musical lilt like a song lost to memory and forever missed until now.

"Welcome to the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul."

Inara inclined her head. "*Duibuqi, fuqin* it is I who must thank you for your hospitality."

Little coal black eyes sparkled in a wise and knowing face. "How can we be of service?"

The crunch had come. Inara wanted to delay the inevitable and get it over with at one and same instant. Recognising the impossibility of it she was surprised when the Abbot spoke again before she could answer him.

"You have no need to be troubled within these walls, Miss Serra, for they have withstood more than the passage of time."

Her eyes sharpened on his, trying to divine meaning out of words both spoken and left unsaid. When he did not elaborate Inara gave a small nod. "Your pardon *fuqin*, the matter that brings me to your door is one which weighs heavily upon me for I have been told and believed one thing and now must face the possibility that the opposite may be true."

"And you think to find the answer here?"

"*Qu*. By your good graces."

"Come, let us sit by the still pool. It is said when thoughts go awry the calm waters can bestill the madness of the chaos within and allow clarity to shine through."

* * * * *

"Ya really think they'll send help?"

Zoe was moving quickly, urging Kaylee back to the engine room to finish the repairs on the damaged stabliser. Jayne hung back waiting for her answer as Wash hurried back to the bridge. Shepherd Book excused himself and went to tell Simon it was safe for him to come out of hiding. They had an infirmary to get ready. Pausing, Serenity's first mate huffed in frustration.

"I'm thinkin' any help they do send will be *after* they get what they want, *dong ma*?"

Jayne frowned. "But River an' the doc ain't on the pirate ship."

She just stared at him until the dime dropped and his eyes widened in appreciation quickly followed by a huge grin. When Zoe didn't grin back he frowned.

"Well that's good, ain't it? I mean, we don't want 'em caught much trouble as they bring."

"Jayne, what do you think will happen when the Alliance realise the Tams aren't on that ship an' never have been?"

"They look elsewhere?"

"They come back to those that told them they were, *dong ma*?"

"*Wode ma*, that can't be good."

"Me an' the Cap'n spent months after the War in an Alliance *jianyu* Jayne for no other crime than losin' the gorram war. We were tortured not for information but for fun. Think what those *tamade hundan* will do when they actually want information."

"I best help Kaylee."

"*Mashang*, Jayne. We still have to meet up with River an' the Cap'n. Best pray Alliance don't find 'em first."

* * * * *

Long after the Abbot left her to her thoughts in the courtyard, Inara found the peace and tranquility a soothing balm for her troubled soul. Although she had been given no information Inara felt oddly reassured as if she was in the right place at the right time. Hours passed. Dusk was hovering, waiting to fall. Still she sat and gazed thoughtfully into the still pool, watching as a lazy ripple flowed out from the point where a Koi carp had surfaced before swimming away to the depths again. Gradually she became aware of a presence beside her. Inara spoke without turning her head.

"I thought I would stay a while longer, *fuqin*."

A warm merry voice made her turn in shock. "And deprive those of us who have thirsted so long to see you from our presence?"

She almost fell in her haste to see who had joined her. The man was well proportioned and half a head taller than her, lean but muscled without any excess bulk. The face was clean shaven and a-glow as if lit from within. Eyes that matched her own stared out with calm amusement, feasting on her surprise and delighting in her presence. "Sendhil? Is that you?"

"No one of that name exists, Inara." He said gently. "I am Brother Martin now."

Inara blinked through sudden tears and engulfed him quickly in a hug, her arms trembling as she sobbed into his habit. Her brother bent his bead and kissed her cheek, returning her embrace without any trace of embarrassment. He did not seem surprised to see her. After a few minutes Inara drew back so that she could see him, a hand rising to brush gently against the well loved cheek. "*Wo bu dong*, how can this be?"

Brother Martin smiled, his look gentle. "It was the War, dear *jiejie*."

Inara allowed herself to be led to a nearby stone bench then the siblings sat side by side, their eyes not leaving the other's even to blink. "I was told you had been killed. Murdered. I was even given the name of the man who killed you."

"In a sense I did die." Her brother raised a hand to stop Inara from interrupting. "It was at the Battle of Serenity Valley. I had never known fighting like it. Even though the Independents had clearly lost and we had superior forces they would not give up." There was a note of wonder in his voice. "They fought with such fierce determination that even though we threw heavy artillery at them and overwhelmed them with drop ships and more troops they continued to fight. It was only when their generals surrendered and ordered them to lay down their arms that the War was officially over."

"You said you did die?"

He smiled gently and took one of Inara's hands in his, raising the hand to his lips so he could kiss it. "Up until then I had fought without question. Proud and determined to see the Alliance victorious against that unmannered rabble. I believed everything I had heard about them and longed only for the war to be over and for civilisation to return to all the worlds. But it was the end of the War that opened my eyes, Inara. It was only then that I understood."

"Sendhil, what do you mean?"

"I didn't know their names but those that were left standing were rounded up and we took them aboard our ships for transport to the internment camps." Brother Martin paused a moment as if the words, even now, stuck in his throat. "We were told the Independents who had surrendered would be part of a re-education programme run by the government so that they could be integrated into Alliance society. Be given houses, jobs, be worthwhile members of society. I believed them Inara, God help me, I did."

"What happened?"

"My unit was on the Alliance troop carrier August Moon. We had just over fifty Independent soldiers herded on board. They were dispirited and filthy. We disarmed them and bound them then had them sit on the floor in the hold the better to watch over them. Not enough room to incarcerate them on board. I thought the precautions were to prevent any of the enemy soldiers from seeking revenge, mutinying." He broke off and gave a bitter laugh. "I was so very wrong. It was part of the humiliation. I'm not proud to say that we were not nearly so graceful in our victory as they were in their defeat. We jeered at them, some struck out with fists, boots or the edge of a rifle. It didn't matter, they were scum, not people just the enemy. At first I was buoyed up by the same insane euphoria. We had won the War! But by God Inara those Independents had made us fight and bleed for every inch of ground they lost. By the time we got to the internment camp some of the weaker ones had died. Didn't realise it at the time that many were wounded. None were given any medical aid."

"Oh my God!"

He nodded, his expression grim. "It got worse, *bao bei*. Once at the camp they were separated and put in cells. Every day I could hear the cries of those being beaten, tortured. What the 'Alliance' called re-education. It made me sick but you should have seen them. Bloody but unbowed even when their fingers were broken and they were made to swallow their own excrement..."

Inara covered her face with her hands, tears glittering in her eyes at the horror of it all. Unable to believe that her brother had been party to such a thing.

"It wasn't as if we had much of a choice." Brother Martin said quietly, one hand reaching for hers and pulling it away from her face. He hated the look in her eyes, the same one he had worn when the truth had hit him. "We were taught they were the enemy, monsters, less than human. We were encouraged to hate them, to blame them for everything that had ever gone wrong in the 'verse but Inara. I saw something that I never expected to see. I saw men and women too proud to beg when they were denied food, water or medicine. People just like you and me who refused to leave their humanity behind while the men and women I had served with became monsters before my very eyes. That was when I realised that the real evil wasn't them or us, we were just people, all of us. The real evil was fostering the belief that some life is more sacred than others. We won the War Inara but at a cost that shamed me."

For a long time neither spoke, both too full of emotion to form words. They took comfort in each other and as darkness fell muted lights flickered on in the courtyard. Nothing so harsh as to interrupt their quiet time. Inara took a deep breath and wiped the tears from her face, trying to find some way to lighten the atmosphere after her brother's revelation. She tugged at his habit and gave him a small teasing smile. "So this is penance?"

Inara was gifted with a radiant smile, so joy filled that her breath caught in her chest. "No Inara," he said with grave wonder "this is my reward for coming to my senses."

* * * * *

The Cumberland was making good time and Mountjoy found his sour mood brightening the closer they got to their destination. The thought of the coin they would earn from Reynolds' hijacked cargo was something he would savour. Tristan began to slow ready for the ship's descent. "Thirty minutes from landfall, *laoban*."

Mountjoy nodded and turned to go check on the cargo. Styl joined him on the way to the hold and the two men grinned at each other. The drop was an easy one. Mountjoy had smoothly told the buyer, a man named Thomas Greaves, that the original transport ship had developed engine trouble and Badger had contacted him to finish the delivery. Greaves had sounded relieved and impressed. Mountjoy was even hoping there might be a bonus in it for them. Never knew what would come your way with a fair wind blowing.

The klaxon sounded to warn them they were about to make landfall. Mountjoy and his men braced themselves for the lurch and bump then they were down. "Untie the crates, *mashang*. Don't wanna keep the man waitin'."

Moving over to the cargo bay door Declan Mountjoy stuffed a half smoked cigar in his mouth and opened the door. His self satisfied grin froze as the door opened to reveal Alliance troops and local law enforcement officers waiting for them, all of them armed with weapons pointed at them. Mountjoy was careful to slowly raise both hands, out of the corner of his eye he saw Styl and Carl and the others quickly follow suit. Not one of them stupid enough to go for their guns. "Now officers, what appears to be the trouble? Just honest men goin' about their business."

The soldiers quickly boarded the Cumberland while the officers stood across the cargo bay door to prevent anyone leaving, Mountjoy frowning and more annoyed than he had been in a long while. How dare they board his ship without so much as a by-your-leave. Had to be at least thirty men all told and that was thirty more purplebellies and gorram lawmen than he liked. Just as he was turning to face them Mountjoy spotted a tall lean man in a black suit. Had kind of a haughty air to him as if he was running this perverse little shindig. The man had hollowed out cheeks as if he hadn't had a good meal in a long while and the kind of cold dead eyes you normally see in fish. Point of fact he was right creepifying, especially when the man turned his head to look back down the ramp and another man in almost identical dress stepped up to join him. The first suited man then took his hand out of his pocket to hit the button and close the ramp. Mountjoy couldn't help but wonder why the good gorram they were wearing blue surgical gloves.

* * * * *

Jayne kept cursing, his normally dextrous fingers slipping in his attempt to be as quick as possible. Kaylee paused and slapped his shoulder, a frown on her pretty little face. "Quit that Jayne, the more you rush the more mistakes you'll make an' we ain't got time to put 'em right, *dong ma*?"

"*Diyu* Kaylee, I'm goin' fast as I gorram can."

"Ain't speed we want right now but accuracy. Stabliser has to hold 'til we can land."

"I know that, ain't a ruttin' retard."

"Never said ya was, just... just stop tryin' so hard."


Her look softened making Serenity's mechanic look even younger than she was. "We're all worried about the Cap'n Jayne which is why we have to go slow enough to do it right first time 'cause we ain't gonna have time to put it right again."

"I ain't worried about the Cap'n."

Kaylee stared at him. "Ya ain't?"

"*Diyu* no, I'm worried about that gorram Alliance Cruiser comin' back when they find out we lied to 'em."

Silence fell for a moment or two, Jayne concentrating as he welded the last piece of metal in place. Carefully the two of them put the jury rigged stabliser back, Kaylee making sure it fitted properly and was secured right. Impatiently Jayne waited for her to fire it up but Kaylee had to do some checks first and only when she was satisfied did she open the com. "Wash?"

"Yeah, Kaylee?"

"We got the stabiliser fixed as best we could. Ain't real strong but it should hold just start her up slow, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*. Hold on everybody!"

Jayne braced himself, Kaylee patting the stabliser before stepping back and grabbing on to something. In the infirmary Simon Tam hoped it would be a smooth landing otherwise everything he had got ready would be thrown all over the floor and he would have to sterilise the instruments all over again. Up on the bridge Zoe straped herself into the co-pilot's seat and gave her husband a smile. With a grin Wash flicked a few switches and slowly brought the engine on line. Shepherd Book joined them and gave Zoe a nod before bracing himself in the doorway. The landing was perfect. Shepherd Book smiled at Wash and congratulated him. Wash was pleased, happy to be in one piece and to have found the valley River had sent co-ordinates to without any trouble. They had to wait for dusk and had come in from the far side but other than that everything had gone like clockwork. Zoe pointed.

"Look *zhangfu*, it's the shuttle."

Wash nodded and the three of them exchanged anxious looks. Zoe activated the ship to shuttle com. "River, can you hear me? It's Zoe."

The voice that sailed back to them made her want to weep in relief. Although his voice was slurred Zoe would have recognised it anywhere. "'Bout time my lazy crew got here."

"You're welcome, sir."

River's voice came on next. "We need Simon, *mashang*."

They could hear the Captain slurring softly in the background, "everybody's makin' a fuss".

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wei* = hey! *dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *duibuqi* = sorry *fuqin* = father *wode ma* = mother of God *jianyu* = prison *mashang* = on the double/at once/immediately *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *jiejie* = sister (older) *bao bei* = precious/treasure *laoban* = boss *diyu* = hell *shenme* = what? *wo dong* = I understand *zhangfu* = husband *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard


Tuesday, June 3, 2008 5:03 PM


I see you were finally able to post this. I realy like this. My favorite is still the interaction between River and Mal. Though, I did like Inara in Abby.

You are so very talented.....

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 4:37 AM


Can Inara make things right in time?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 6:22 AM


Excellent, as always. You have the most wonderful grasp of descriptive language! Eagerly awaiting the next installment!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 6:34 AM


So Inara was wrong all this time! Can she make it right? I don't know - she's hurt Mal so much. And I'm not sure Mal could recover fully from the physical injuries he's sustained, either.


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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.