BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

DUPLICITY Series: 17. "Layers"
Monday, June 30, 2008

"Paul Rinkman discovers more than he ever wanted to know. The Captain hears some straight talking and Badger finds himself in a very nasty place."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2072    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "LAYERS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "ISSUES OF TRUST". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Paul Rinkman discovers more than he ever wanted to know. The Captain hears some straight talking and Badger finds himself in a very nasty place." 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.

"LAYERS"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"Did you think we wouldn't find you? That we wouldn't know?"

Rinkman stared at the unknown figure in confusion. His head was still a mess of obscure competing images none of which resolved into anything resembling common sense. It was as if his memories had been swapped with someone else's. Just the notion of such an absurd idea chilled him to the bone. "Who the *guai* are you?"

The man gave a placid smile. His ebony skin clean shaven, all his clothing matt black as if he was no more than a shadow made flesh. "An interesting choice of words."

Paul blinked. "*Shenme*?"

"To some we are no more than ghosts, to others servants of the devil. Which did you mean?"

This was too confusing. Rinkman looked beyond the Operative to the woman by the door. He still didn't know who she was though there was something familiar about her that troubled him. While the Operative was obviously a clear and present danger it was his curiosity over her identity that distracted him. A thin smile crept over her face, oddly enough it turned her plain ageless features into something less benign. How creepy was that?

The rap on the table made him jump. The Operative was no longer looking quite so serene. "You did a very foolish thing. Some might call it brave, courageous, but I am not so blinded Mr Rinkman and neither are those I serve."

"You came here to threaten me?"

That actually elicited a cold smile. "A comedian as well as a fool."

"Look, whatever it is I've done - *duibuqi*. Can I go now?"

The man moved with lightening speed, drawing the sword from its' scabbard on his back before Paul Rinkman had time to exhale. The tip of the deadly blade rested lightly against his Adam's apple. "You subverted a very important programme."

He wanted to ask what programme. What terrible crime he could possibly have committed that would bring an Operative of the Parliament after him. Instead he said nothing, trying not to swallow with the blade so close that the slightest movement would draw blood.

"You are about to remember everything, *dong ma*?"

He didn't understand. Didn't want to be enlightened even. His eyes flicked to the door but the woman was gone. How strange was it that he felt more in peril with her absence?

* * * * *

Nobody was happy with the plan but it wasn't as if they had many options, not if they wanted the Captain to have a chance of walking again. Not one of them thought the risk too high, each putting themselves in Mal's place and shuddering at the thought of how they would cope if it had happened to them. But risk it was and that needed to be taken into account.

"What ya gonna do, Simon?"

It was the question he most did not want to answer but one he knew he had to be straight about. After all, if this backfired it would not just be himself and River who would be in trouble. A vindictive Gabriel Tam could be a very bad man to cross. It would take some delicacy and diplomacy. Both things he lacked the finesse for. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to try. He took a moment to marshall his thoughts. "I'll need to wave my parents."

When he didn't continue Kaylee screwed up her face then tilted her head, the better to see Simon's face as he was looking down when he spoke. "Ya think they're still mad at ya?"

That made him look up, a flicker of surprise on his face. "Why would...?" The question died on his lips as he realised she was right. Simon flushed slightly. "Oh, *dang ran*, I wasn't thinking." Of course his father would be mad at him. Incandescent with fury even. His father never did things by halves.

They were standing outside the infirmary. Simon's patient now sleeping after a rather rigorous examination. Kaylee didn't like to think of the Captain spending the rest of his life flat on his back but neither did she like the thought of Simon and River going to Osiris. She was pretty sure the Captain would blow his top if he knew what they were planning which was probably why Simon hadn't told him. What frustrated her most though was that none of them could think of a viable alternative. Seeing the look on her face Simon gently brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and cupped her cheek.

"It'll be fine, Kaylee. While father is likely to be a bit difficult my mother will make him see sense."

"Will she?"

Kaylee's eyes were filled with so much hope that Simon didn't have the heart to share his reservations with her. He nodded with renewed resolve. "*Qu*. Just because it will be difficult doesn't mean it will be impossible."

Her eyes were shining up at him like little stars. It made Simon wonder what he had done to reserve such unadulterated love and trust. He silently vowed always to be worthy of it. "An' that makes us mighty, *dui*?"

Simon blinked. "Mighty?"

"Cap'n says doin' the impossible makes us mighty."

"Oh, in that case we are the mightiest of the mighty. Mightier in fact!"

The mechanic laughed at Simon trying so hard to get it right. He frowned at her. "*Shenme*? Why are you laughing?"

Kaylee hugged him. "No reason, *fengmi*. Just proud of you." She leaned back a little so she could see his face. "Think you're so brave goin' back home. Not sure if I could face my parents after a thing like that even without a warrant hangin' over my head."

He didn't say anything just hugged her back. Pleased that Kaylee didn't know the half of it.

* * * * *

The ship was not enormous by anyone's standards. In fact, in Alliance eyes it probably rated as a runabout but to Badger it was too big. Too shiny and too full of well armed men more than willing to show their absolute commitment to a government built on every twisted expression of power and might in the 'verse. It was as dark and deadly looking as the black ops soldiers that poured out of it and now Badger was on the inside, the gleaming chrome as painfully and incongruously dazzling to his eyes as the matt black exterior had been disturbing to his soul. No one spoke to him. In fact, the soldiers didn't speak to each other just passed a look between them then carried on silently about their duties. It was all manner of creepifying. To his surprise he wasn't taken to a cell and tortured. Maybe they were saving that for the main event. Whatever, he was taken to a three sided room and pushed inside. Inside. That was an odd notion given that it had a wall missing. Badger spun round and glared as best he could at his captors. "Now see here, this ain't right an' proper. I got rights!"

He got no reaction. Even an enemy would at least have jeered at him, snarled, growled or tossed abuse his way like the very crumbs of acknowledgement he craved. But he got nothing. No threats, no advice about keeping quiet or anything he might have expected. Their faces were all different but the look was the same. He was nothing. Insignificant. And it burned him up with anger and resentment and any other volatile emotion he could fan to hide the deep hollow fear settling in his gut. He knew what it was to find himself in a bad place. To be fearful of his own survival. But this. This was that feeling magnified by hundreds. No. Thousands of times. It unsettled him, made him feel as if he was coming apart slowly at the seams.

Just as he was about to step back into the corridor to follow the guards something sizzled inches from his gorram nose. Badger sprang back, his always over heightened sense of self preservation providing the information to his brain bare seconds before the invisible forcefield would have fried him. Shaken, Badger stepped back until he came to the wall. With a shudder he looked around his corner of the room for a seat. There was nothing. Gleaming walls and floor but at least they were not made of chrome like anything else. He touched the wall behind him. It was not cold, not hot neither, yet seemed to carry a distant memory of warmth as if the material had been created by heat and moulded into his cell. Curious but not enough to distract him from one painful and obvious fact. He was in *shen goushi*.

* * * * *

Serenity for once was flying near silent. While her engine hummed the crew went about the ship as if a single word spoken would break their compact. Kaylee hated it but couldn't think what to say to ease the tension. There had been an outcry when Simon had proposed his plan, no shortage of people pointing out how foolish it was. Never one to mince his words Jayne had called it suicidal but this time no one contradicted him. Shepherd Book had been disturbed but thoughtful. Zoe was the only one who did not out and out tell the doctor he was *shenjingbing*. She knew how dangerous it was, a plan born of desparation. Wash was uneasy but fell into line along with everyone else while wishing they had another plan. One which didn't include the possibility of an Alliance *jianyu* for the crew and a torture chamber for River. What they would do to Simon he didn't know and right now it was not something he wanted to dwell on.

Shepherd Book excused himself. Simon headed back to the infirmary to check on his patient and Zoe followed him. Wash and Kaylee exchanged troubled looks. Jayne muttered about needing to check on something in his bunk, no doubt off to converse with his guns and check on his ammo. River tried to reassure them with a smile but it wouldn't stay on her face. Everyone was worried. Wash pointed to the door, trying not to feel like a rat deserting a sinking ship. "I guess I should..."

Kaylee nodded. "Yeah. Think I'll go check on Serenity."

In the infirmary the Captain was beginning to stir. Zoe had seriously been wondering whether Simon had doped him to keep the Captain sedated until after this bout of insanity had run its' course. Mal blinked drowsily up at them. "*Wei*, what happened?"

Simon was pleased that his speech was not slurred. While it could have indicated some residue of the drugs still in his system it could also indicate the aftereffects of a stroke. Not that he had told any of the crew but it was a distinct possibility which was why he had insisted no one tell the Captain what they had planned. Zoe understood but didn't like it and just by looking at her face Mal knew she was keeping something back.

"Zoe, report."

It always amazed Simon how Mal and Zoe could slip so effortlessly from Captain and first mate to Sergeant and Corporal in the blink of an eye. It was as if their former lives were closer to their current ones than rice paper.

"Ship's fueled an' Kaylee says the new stabliser is shiny." She paused and tried to lighten the mood some. "She's talkin' about gettin' you to buy a new one for the other side when coin ain't so tight."

Zoe was never more glad of Wash's timing than now as he stepped into the infirmary and came to her side, one hand gently circling her waist in mute support. The Captain never took his eyes off his first mate. "But that ain't what's botherin' you is it?"

They never could keep secrets from each other. Wash noted how his wife was tensing up and had an inkling what was coming. "*Bu qu*. You want the truth, sir?"

Simon tensed. "Zoe!"

She ignored him. Her attention on her Captain. "*Dang ran*."

"You need surgery, sir. Simon's doin' the best he can but he can't grow you new legs."

The Captain blinked. "*Shenme*? You sayin' I'm gonna be a cripple?"

"No, sir, I'm sayin' you *are* a cripple."

Simon closed his eyes and mentally groaned. What part of not upsetting the Captain did she not understand? This was the last thing the man needed to hear yet a part of him was grateful it was Zoe saying the words not him because sooner or later it would have been him and the Captain having this conversation. Wash was tempted to make a quip to lighten the mood but felt too depressed. The Captain was closer than a brother to his wife and what hurt Mal hurt Zoe and that in turn caused a mountain of pain and angst for Wash.

"So I ain't gonna be walkin' again, that what you're sayin'?"

Before Zoe could reply Simon stepped in. Time for a little damage limitation or at the very least a small injection of hope. "No one's saying that, Mal."

"Then what? You got Jayne busy carving me new legs?"

He shook his head. "*Bu qu*, my plan is more creative than that."

The Captain's eyebrows rose. "You plannin' some excitin' new crime, doc?"

"Not exactly. You need the kind of medical expertise we don't have on Serenity and I don't mean better doctors but more specialised equipment and medicines."

Mal narrowed his eyes. "Don't think that ruse we pulled on Ariel's gonna work a second time, son."

"We're not going to Ariel."

When Simon didn't continue the Captain got a bad feeling in his gut. "Best you tell me the where, when an' how, Simon. An' don't think to leave no details out like how dangerous it's gonna be, *dong ma*?"

"*Shide*." Then Simon outlined his plan, watching the Captain's reaction carefully and steeling himself for adminstering a quick smoother if the man's heart rate rose to a dangerous level. This was not how he had intended to tell him. In his mind he wanted the Captain to be unaware of exactly what had happened until he came out of surgery and recovered from post op anaestheia. But just like everything else in Malcolm Reynolds' life the man was proving the only constant was his unpredictability. Oddly enough, Simon realised it was also one of his strengths.

* * * * *

It was surprising how much better she felt now that her decision had been made. The House Mistress had been critically blunt with her but not vindictively so. Inara saw for the first time just how fine the line was between being strict and cruel. Mistress Barbette had always been the former and only seldom the latter. Yet that didn't stop a scathing temper from verbally skinning alive any Companion in her care who dared to flaunt the rules or disobeyed her.

At first her plan had been to find Margueritte and exact a fitting revenge but the House Mother had blocked her. "Inara, revenge will profit you not at all."

"She deserves to be punished for what she has done, Mother!"

"*Dang ran* but you are neither judge nor jury and if you are after information you do not destroy the only sources open to you in petty acts of vengeance."

Inara bristled at the word petty then felt a prick of emotion, remembering how she had used the term to describe Serenity's Captain then called him petty in Chinese when he had objected. Oh yes, she could fence words with the best of them. It was only when she was dealing with the truth that she obfuscated and used distraction to save her blushes. "You are right, Mother. *Wode dubuqi*."

"What will you do?"

Her way now seemed clearer. The course an obvious one. "I must contact Serenity."

"Then be careful, child. If they have gone to such lengths to remove you from that ship there must be a reason."

"I have to warn them!"

Mistress Barbette raised steel grey eyebrows. "Of what?" She said mildly.

"I have the footage of the wave."

"*Qu* but that only explains your actions in leaving, your anger and outburst. It does not explain why Serenity and her crew should be in danger."

Her words made sense which was frustrating. Inara wanted to act on impulse but a wiser hand was guiding her now. "You need to know who is behind this."

"So I should go to Margueritte? Mother, there is no way she would tell me always supposing she knows the answer herself. I think she is probably as much a victim as I am."

A small smile settled on the House Mother's thin lips. "Always so quick to defend those you love." Inara flushed. "I do not mock you, child, but yes. You should go to Margueritte but do not tell her what you have found."

*Weishenme bu*?"

"Inara, she will better receive you if she thinks you turn to her in distress."

Inara didn't say anything for a moment, some of the colour fading from her cheeks. "I am not sure I can do this, Mother."

"Explain."

"We have known each other since children. If I lie she will know it."

The House Mistress gave a slow but brilliant smile, her eyes gentle and wisely knowing. "Then do not lie, child."

"*Shenme*?"

"Go, take comfort. Project your very real pain and confusion. That and nothing else."

Inara frowned, not seeing how any of that could possibly help. The pat on her hand startled her. Mistress Barbette seldom touched anyone.

"You already said that you did not believe your childhood friend was involved?" Inara nodded, wondering where the House Mother was going with this. "Then take patience with you and spend some time with your friend. It may prove more revealing than you could possibly imagine."

"*Wo bu dong*."

Another pat on the hand. "Your instincts are blurred by emotion, Inara. Mine are not. Go. Speak only of how upset and angry you were at her news. Let her console you and you may find her unburdening the source of that material without realising it. Or."

When she paused and did not go on Inara felt her heart miss a beat. "Or what, Mother?"

"Or the hand behind the scenes may reveal itself to you."

For several minutes the two women just stared at each other. Inara in stunned confusion and the House Mistress with the patience of Buddha. Inara felt her mouth go dry. "Why do you say that?"

"Because, child, whoever put this in motion has a plan. One that does not involve hurting you in any physical way. Therefore your presence on that ship was an obstacle to some other purpose. Removing you from harm's way suggests a connection between you and the person responsible."

"But no one I know would do such a thing! And to let me believe my brother was executed? What greater act of cruelty could anyone do to another?"

"Oh child, you should already know the answer." Inara just blinked. For the third time the House Mistress patted her hand. Inara was beginning to think it was an unconscious act. "The lies you were fed could have been true."

* * * * *

Even though no one felt much like eating everyone assembled round the big oak table for the main meal. Shepherd Book had cooked a dish of rice and tinned vegetables with added fresh noodles and some chopped tofu sausage he had found in an unlabelled tin and added a generous helping of chili and pepper sauce. It made a medium hot and spicy change to protein cubes and the crew found their appetites returning in short order. A smile of satisfaction on his face the Shepherd made up a bowl to take to the infirmary when River surprised him by jumping up to take it from him. "I'll go."

Simon was about to say it was alright and to let the Shepherd do it but he was already waving the doctor's concerns aside. "That would be very kind of you, River. *Xie xie ni*."

Her smile was incandescent, her face luminous. Kaylee squeezed Simon's hand to reassure him. As River skipped out on light feet the Preacher turned to fill his own bowl and join them.

"Sure is tasty, Shepherd." Said Kaylee.

Book nodded then chuckled at the way Jayne was hoovering the contents of his bowl and smacking his lips. Simon was much more sedate, identifying the contents as he ate them, his look thoughtful. "Where did you get the sausages, Book?"

"Aaah, I believe that was one of the mystery tins."

Everyone around the table smiled at that. Jayne noticed a bowl untouched and leaned over to grab it but Kaylee snagged it out of his reach before he could claim it. "That's River's, you've already had yours."

"Still gorram hungry, 'sides she ain't here."

"River will be back in a minute," Book interjected, voice calm and serene "and there is more in the bowl on the counter."

Jayne's face lit up. "Well why didn't ya say so?"

* * * * *

In the infirmary the Captain had been dozing. Not asleep but drifting on the edges of it. He awoke properly the moment River stepped inside the infirmary. Her grin was infectious. "What you doin', little one?"

"Bringing you something to eat."

"Not sure I feel like eatin' though 'preciate bein' remembered."

"You're the Captain, have to eat."

Her pointed assertion made him smile. Funny how such a little waif like girl could be so polite and bossy at the same time.

"Not polite."

"Well ya ain't as bossy as that fussy brother of yours."

"Simon has to put his foot down sometimes. Can't have his patients walking all over him." Her smiled dimmed with horror as she realised what she had said. "*Duibuqi*, I mean..."

Mal waved her apology off with a smile. "Don't pay it no mind, ain't like you was meanin' the words to pop out, *dong ma*?"

She smiled back. "But they always do."

"Don't they just."

River puffed a couple of pillows behind him so the Captain could sit up, half recumbent but able to take his food without choking. She thought the not choking part was important. Instead of leaving she sat on the end of his bed and curled her legs up under her, watching him eat. They sat in silence until the Captain's bowl was empty then River took it from him before he could ask and set it carefully on a counter out of harm's way. The Captain watched her every move. "I'm guessin' you didn't just come by to make sure your Cap'n didn't starve?"

She shook her head. "Book was going to bring it for you but I wanted to speak to you."

"Best spit it out then before the doc comes lookin' for you."

"We are grateful, you know that Captain?"

He blinked, feeling he had missed a lifetime of conversations. "What you talkin' about?"

She glanced around. "This. Serenity. A place of safety. You. Taking us in when others would have walked away or still worse, sold us out."

Her gratitude made him feel a mite uncomfortable. Part of him had always known she appreciated her place on Serenity for both her and her brother. That it had been unspoken suited them both. "*Wo zhidao*, so why speak of this now? Not that I don't appreciate the thanks 'cause I do."

"Simon will probably never be able to say the words."

The Captain smiled. "I don't think you need to worry about your brother, *xin gan*."

"*Bu qu*, not what I meant to say. This is his way of saying thank you. Repaying a debt."

Something struck a chord with him and the Captain's smile slipped. "You sayin' this whole shaky plan to go to Osiris is 'cause he feels he owes me somethin'?"

River nodded. "We both do."

Now the humour completely fled, a dread crawling inside him that he wanted to stifle right quick. "River, neither you nor your brother need to go doin' any crazy fool thing as a thank you for bein' taken in, *dong ma*? Your brother's skill as a doctor aboard my boat has saved this crew more times than I can count - myself included. Fact is, I'm prob'ly more in his debt than he is in mine."

Her eyes seemed to be bigger and more expressive than he remembered them, so many emotions glimpsed and paraded before him. Her small hand reached for his, soon lost among the callouses and long fingers wrapped carefully and protectively around her own. "Have to help you, keep you safe."

Mal realised the girl was close to tears. Made his heart ache to think any words of his had caused her pain. "*Wei*, no need for tears, *dong ma*?" He said softly, opening his arms when the girl climbed up on her knees to get a little closer. Gently he folded his arms around her, noting that even while she sought his comfort she was careful not to lean her weight against him.

"Don't want to lose Captain-daddy." Her voice was small and trembling.

"You ain't gonna lose me, just don't want you an' Simon to get caught tryin' to put right somethin' that was in no way your fault."

"You made us crew." She snuffled, her face buried in his shirt.

Embarrassed, he patted her awkwardly on the back. "That you are."

"Family."

He paused slightly. "I ain't your daddy, River, but I am your Cap'n an' ain't no one gonna hurt you or your brother while I live an' breathe, *dong ma*?"

River eased back and Mal let his arms fall away so she could sit back on her heels. Her face was damp but she wasn't crying any more and he hoped there would be no more tears. "We feel the same."

"River..."

"No!" Her soft but firm word stopped him. "You can't change how we feel any more than we can change the way you do. We're crew, family. And you always said, family takes care of family."

The Captain gave a soft inward sigh, his own words coming back to ham string him. What could he say? When the moon touched girl was right she was right.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*guai* = devil/ghost *shenme* = what *duibuqi* = sorry *dong ma* = understand? *dang ran* = of course *qu* = yes (lit. go) *dui* = correct *fengmi* = honey *shen goushi* = deep shit *shenjingbing* = crazy *jianyu* = prison *wei* = hey! *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shide* = yes *wode dubuqi* = I'm sorry *duibuqi* = sorry *weishenme bu* = why not? *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *xie xie ni* thank you *wo zhidao* = I know *xin gan* = sweetheart

COMMENTS

Monday, June 30, 2008 4:05 AM

HOPERULES


Great as always!!

Monday, June 30, 2008 6:47 AM

WYTCHCROFT


not a miss-step, wonderful:)

Monday, June 30, 2008 6:08 PM

SLUMMING


Loved the Mal River scene! Wonderful, as always!

Monday, June 30, 2008 9:41 PM

JANE0904


Of course Zoe would tell him! He's captain, after all ...

As for the Mal/River scene, I think it expresses things so well. And I can't wait to see how you tie all these threads together.

Thursday, July 3, 2008 3:18 PM

ANGELLEMARCS


I'm impressed. Was easy to follow, but has that sense of mystery as well. Oh, and that Mal and River scene. Was awesome as always. You write those two especially well. Love it!!


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