THE REFLECTION SERIES: 15. "Revelations and Sacrifices"
Sunday, October 3, 2004

"Zoe puts the past in perspective for Wash. Peary and Brooks realise there will be no short cut to retribution. Mal finally gets to Delios to find a surprise waiting for him."



SUMMARY: "Zoe puts the past in perspective for Wash. Peary and Brooks realise there will be no short cuts to retribution. Mal finally gets to Delios to find a surprise waiting for him." 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

They sat in the dusty darkness, resting as best they could. Zoe cradled in Wash's arms. One by one the others fell asleep, Wash knowing more by instinct than fact. He could make out their shapes and a little faint detail but not enough to read expressions on faces. Perhaps it was just as well. He knew Zoe was still awake, her back nestled against his chest, his arms around her waist, her hands over his. Wash lowered his head and brought his lips next to her right ear. Maybe the others were asleep but maybe not. "*Bao bei*?" He whispered quietly.

He felt her tense slightly then relax against him. "Hmm?"

He kissed her ear before asking what had been haunting him since their last unsettling conversation. "Why are you so upset, sweetie? Captain's a big boy an' can look after himself, besides if he has left in anger he'll come back once he's cooled off. You'll see. Jayne's right, no way would the Captain leave Serenity."

Wash felt her breath hitch only because he was holding her close. She did not make any quip about Jayne being right. Too solemn and full of sorrow to be funning about.

"An' why is it your fault?" He asked in an even quieter tone.

She turned in his arms to face him. "I should've stopped the vote, Wash." He blinked. "*Shenme*? You think the Cap'n left because we took a vote?"

"*Ni bu dong*."

Wash brushed her hair from her face, his touch as tender as his gentle voice. "Then explain it to me, *xin gan*."

"When everybody voted in the Captain's absence we were in effect tellin' him he wasn't needed any more."

Her hushed words surprised him. If it had been anyone else speaking them he would have laughed. "You know that isn't true."

"I know, you know, but Mal doesn't."

"I'm not sure I'm followin', Zo."

She paused and touched his cheek, her fingers brushing his face as if needing the physical contact to confirm he really was with her. "It's the little things, Wash. The Captain isn't someone who bares his soul, not to nobody." Another pause. Wash let her take her time, sensing this was difficult for her and not wanting to add to whatever burden she was carrying. It made him all kinds of mad at the Captain but this was not the time for such things. "He told me not to call him Captain, did you know that?"

Wash shook his head and waited.

"Told me to call him Mal." Her voice sounded far away and he wondered where in time her thoughts had taken her. A sigh escaped her lips as if it had to be dragged up, too weary and heavy to make it on its' own.

"Said I had no call to answer to a redundant rank."

Her pain was palpable. Wash tightened his arms around her. "It's alright, *bao bei*. He had no right to go upsettin' you just 'cause he was mad at us."

"He wasn't upsettin' me, Wash."

"But you are upset, aren't you?"

Zoe nodded slowly.

"*Weishenme*, Zoe? I know the thought of the Cap'n not comin' back has upset you but I've never seen you like this before. You're the strongest person I know."

"Strong because of him." She whispered so softly he almost missed it, close as they were sitting.

His heart contracted so painfully he was sure it would crack. Surely she didn't mean...? Couldn't mean...? "*Bao bei*?"

She could hear his worry and hurt. A long sigh shuddered through her. It seemed bad timing or not this night was a night for truthsomeness. "You remember when you were first courtin' me?"

Wash smiled. Happy to be on safer ground. "Yeah, wacky fun! I still have fond dreams of the first impression you made on me. An' second, an' third..." Zoe cut him off gently. "I really didn't want to get involved with you at first."

"*Wo zhidao*," Wash paused. "What changed your mind?"

"The Captain did." That sent all kinds of shivery and not very warm and comforting thoughts through his mind like sharp knives. "He did what?"

She shook her head. "Not that, *zhangfu*. He wanted me to be nice to you, not cause waves 'cause he wanted you to be his pilot." He heard a smile creep into her voice and held his breath. "He was so excited, so enthusiastic about how good you were. You should have heard him, *bao bei*. Said you came with a list of recommendations as long as his leg - an' Mal has long legs..."

Her voice trailed off, getting painful again. Was that from mentioning the Captain's name or thinking of those long legs? Wash didn't want to go there but his mind had other ideas. The reason sitting right there in his arms yet as far away from him as the next planet. Or so it seemed. Her mind wherever that *shenjingbing* Captain of theirs was. The Captain that wasn't, if her fears were to be believed. Wash was still having problems wrapping his head around that notion. What in the nine hells was going on? He was startled when she carried on talking.

"Later, when it became obvious I was serious about makin' a commitment to you he was furious. Told me I couldn't do it, it wouldn't work, but I knew what I wanted an' him sayin' I couldn't do it just made me more determined. That was when he realised nothin' he could say would change my mind. He didn't like it but he hated me not tellin' you even more."

"Tellin' me what?"

She bit her lip. "About the past. Us."

He felt as if someone had stolen the air from his lungs. "Us?"

"Me an' Mal."

There He was right. There *had* been something going on between them. It didn't cheer him up to be proved right. When he made no comment Zoe continued.

"It was a long time ago Wash. I was young, had already lost ma, dad figured sailin' across the Black was no life for a growin' girl. So he sold up the ship an' we settled on Shadow. We were neighbours to the Reynolds ranch though it was almost a day's ride to get from one to the other. When pa died Mal took me back to his folks, I became family. Just like that." There was a touch of wonder at the simplicity of it. The comfort that went beyond words at her easy acceptance into a world that became as precious to her as her own had been. "Over the years close became closer..."

"How close?"

For a moment she did not reply. Memories painting pictures that had no words, a song without rhyme or reason just a haunting melody that bypassed all the senses but one. Striking a chord of belonging in her heart. She knew the ache of it would never leave her, only lessened when she was in his orbit. As if together the two of them could take on any gorram thing in the 'verse and come out of the other side intact. He made her feel bullet proof. Now she felt as thin as rice paper.


She blinked. "*Duibuqi*."

"You were sayin', *bao bei*..."

"It was a long time ago, both of us sufferin' our own kinds of loss but feelin' each others' pain like our own." She paused and looked hard at Wash. Her expression was difficult to see in the dimness but he sensed how serious she was. "We were married, Wash."


"*Qu*. It was as the War was startin'. Mal joined up so naturally I followed but we both knew we could be parted, sent to different units. Could pretty much count on it. Neither of us wanted that so we decided to get married. Pretty much lived as a couple anyway but without the sex part, somehow what we had went deeper than that." Her voice trailed off. When she picked up the tale again her words were worn and ragged with pain. "Through the horrors of war we shared a desperate kind of intimacy. Didn't deepen our bond or make us more or less committed to each other than we had been but it helped keep the ghosts at bay. Reminded us what it was like to feel a touch that wasn't intent on bringin' pain, sufferin' or death." She paused again. "It was comfort pure an' simple because there was no way we could'a loved each other more."

Her words trailed off slowly, lightly, as if turning into ghosts of their own. Ones that would haunt Wash until his dying day. He could not believe how much it hurt nor understand that Zoe had wanted to keep it from him but Mal hadn't. How the *diyu* was he to make sense out of that? "Why didn't you wanna tell me?"

"You think this is an easy thing to explain?" She huffed. "Our love was so new, *zhangfu*, an' what I'd had with Mal was like bedrock. Easy an' familiar an' so much a part of me I didn't know how you'd react. Couldn't stand the thought you wouldn't understand an' I'd lose you."

His voice took on a tone of surprised awe. "You were frightened of losin' me?"

She rested her forehead gently against his, her warm breath fanning his face as her words wafted over him. "Terrified."

"You'll never lose me, *bao bei*."

His gentle words made her eyes prick with tears but she was done crying. Hadn't shed a tear in a good long while and saw no reason to be weak again. Knowing Wash still loved and wanted her was soothing for mind and soul but it couldn't mend the half that was broken. Not nothing in the 'verse could do that. Wash was still trying to come to terms with the fact that Mal had wanted Zoe to tell him they had once been married. A sudden thought shot through him like a lance to the heart.


She lifted her head at the tone of his voice. "*Qu*?"

"When you were married to Mal... You uh, you um, you aren't *still* married to him are you?"

A smile split her face, her heart lightening in a way that lifted them both. "*Bu qu, bao bei*. Only lasted a few months then Mal had it annulled."

His relief was chased away by surprise. "Annulled?" He thought she had said they took comfort in each other? He wanted to ask if they had had a physical relationship or not but couldn't find the words.

She kissed him softly. "Mal is very old fashioned, Wash. Preacher married us, only way we could divorce was through death or failing to consumate the marriage."

"So you didn't...?"

She kissed him again and he could feel the deepening curve of her beautiful smile. "We got divorced, *bao bei*. Made better friends than man an' wife ever did."

He thought on that for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth of her in his arms. Feeling an odd sense of relief that hard as it had been for her to tell him he was finally hearing the truth. "Do you still love him?"

She did not hesitate. "Always."

Wash did not know what to say to that, how to feel.

"We're family, Wash." She said simply. Wanting so much for him to understand. Mal had been right, she should have told him. Should have trusted Wash. "An' for the longest time Mal was all I had."

"Now you have me." He said softly, all the love in his heart encompassed in those words. The way he said them had the ring of something deep and enduring. Bright and shiny and only for her.

Zoe nodded, so blissfully happy with Wash it made her deep sense of sadness over her absent friend all the more poignant. "I have you *bao bei* but I've lost him."

He hugged her tight knowing she was hurt. Wanted to ask if his love would be enough but was too much the *nuofu* to do so, not sure he would be able to handle it if she said no. After what seemed like hours but was only minutes he pulled back to see her face. "Why didn't you tell me, *bao bei*? I would have understood an' even if I hadn't I would have tried."

She wanted to laugh at the absurdity of her kind but insanely jealous husband being able to do that. "You weren't there yet, *fengmi*."

He raised his brows. "An' I am now?"

"Oh, yes." She said smug and proud as she leaned in to kiss him. The kiss quickly deepened becoming more demanding. Wash had to physically use all the strength and resolve he could muster to resist making ardent love to her there and then, all too aware of the others sleeping in close proximity around them. His restraint amused her. Made her love him even more if that were possible. Zoe trailed warm wet kisses across his face and neck then whispered in his ear, "Love you, *bao bei*."

"Love you too, Zo. Now try to get some sleep."

She murmured what he took to be assent and lay beside him, their bodies wrapped around each other so closely entwined they could have been soldered together. Wash lay awake a long time listening to her breathing. His heart filled with joy and humility that this wonderful, stunning amazon of a woman was his. Her love, her loyalty, her strength. As he felt the edges of sleep tug at his too active mind he actually found himself feeling sorry for their *wangu* but honorable Captain. Had their roles been reversed there was no way in *diyu* he would have been able to let this go. To see her every day, to walk beside her, sit with her at meals as if there had never been anything more intimate between them. To laugh, to joke, to share the hardships that were their lot in life here in the Black. It would have broken a lesser man himself included. That sobered him some. A lesser man. Zoe had called Mal her strength. If that was true then who was Mal's?

As Wash slowly drifted off to sleep he was unaware that another watched and listened in the patient shadows. * * * * *

They would have begged for their lives but what was the use? Hal Larkin's expression said it all. The only thing the man lacked was the black cap on his head and a judge's robes. Not that the law had much of a say out here anyway. Herded before the foreman and his men like common thieves, stumbling on foot on the uneven ground at the pace set, unable to steady themselves with their hands bounds behind their backs while their executioners rode. Bill Peary was not quite the master of stoicism his friend was.

"If'n you're gonna kill us anyway why not do it here an' now?"

Desert Pete spat out a plug of tabacco and leaned over the neck of his quarter horse. "Humiliation."

Peary's face went a confused blank. "Huh?"

"Ya betrayed *us*," Said Hal in a dull voice.

He looked sideways at Harper Brooks but his friend wasn't saying a gorram word and that was beginning to piss him off and no mistake. Like he was in this mess alone. "So? Weren't like we were intendin' ya no harm. Shouldn't'a hired a gorram Browncoat."

Hal shook his head and everyone stopped. Peary took the opportunity to get a bit of a breather. Brooks face was dark with a smouldering rage. The expression on the foreman's face was one of mild amazement. "Ya still don't get it do ya? Ya really are thicker than *goushi* and twice as useless." He paused. "Working a ranch is like bein' part of a family, *dong ma*? Don't matter a good gorram if ya ain't best friends with everyone in it, family is family. We look after our own."

For the first time in a long while Brooks spoke. Eyes flashing sparks he was so rutting angry. "He ain't one of us!"

Dizzy Doyle edged his horse closer to Brooks, "He's more family that you've ever been." "We worked long an' hard for ya, never brought no trouble back." Brooks spat. "Surely that accounts for somethin'?"

A hard silence settled while the men thought about what had happened, the time Brooks and Peary had spent among them, the spiteful actions of unreasoned hatred that had sparked this little hunting party in the first place. Not a legal posse as such though the neck tie party likely at the end of it made it as good as. Hal took a deep breath and kept his temper in check. Knew there was no way he would ever be able to get through to these *chunren wangba dans* that what they had done was wrong. War was over but it seemed the Peace had not yet begun. "Get movin'."

The two men glared but had no choice, Hal and his men urging their horses forwards and making them continue on the long walk back to the ranch. They stopped only to feed and water the horses and sleep. Hal didn't give a good gorram how long it took. Days. Weeks. It made no never mind. The journey back was meant to give Peary and Brooks time to reflect on their actions, to maybe feel some sense of remorse, see the wrong of it but it had been a foolhardy hope. As the good book said, some fell on stony ground.

* * * * *

Thomas was so ruttin' tired. As hard as he tried to hide it from Inara he knew he was doing a poor job. Inara wanted to fuss over him, make him more comfortable, treat him like a gorram invalid. Only his deep affection for her stayed his tongue. Over Inara's shoulder he met Tollan's eyes. The Counsellor nodded gently. "We'll be at Delios soon, Thomas."

It was his way of imposing a semblance of normalacy. Thomas was grateful, pleased. "How many men did Mal get to come?"

Tollan smiled, "Around forty last count." He let his right hand reach out and gently graze his friend's cheek. Inara settled back a moment then excused herself to give them a little privacy. It would soon be in very short supply for all of them. Thomas smiled and kissed the fingertips that touched him with such love.

"I like Inara's Captain."

Tollan laughed, it was a light joyful sound that Thomas simply could not get enough of. The laughter faded as he looked deep into his friend's eyes. Knowing the powerhouse that kept him running was winding down. An inevitable decaying orbit that measured his slow decline. He was vaguely amazed that Thomas had lasted this long. It occurred to him that the distraction with Inara's friends had oddly enough benefitted his friend. Thomas was hanging on to the precipice of life by his fingertips and even though it would kill him Tollan could not help but wonder if he himself would survive the fall.

"Penny for your thoughts."

Tollan looked at him with an aching heart. Even through the impending pain of future loss he was so gorram proud of him. It was not fair that such a vibrant life would be cut short. "I hate this, Thomas. We should be able to do something."

A tiny sigh fluttered from Thomas's lips. It was not a flag of surrender but of acceptance. To Tollan it amounted to the same thing though he would not dream of saying so nor by word or deed imply any hint of criticism of his friend. Whatever decisions Thomas made would be respected. No matter how they might rip his own heart into tiny pieces. "We each have a finite amount of time, Michael. To lament that it is not longer is to ignore all that has been given, crammed into what we have. It takes the shine off what has been accomplished."

Tollan kissed him tenderly then settled back on the chair beside him. He had already spent several hours on the Cortex sorting out the legal chicanery that threatened to lose Rafe Connor his ranch by default when Cyrus White reclaimed the land it was sitting on. Only now Cyrus would not be inclined to go down that road. Too many of the undead rattling in their coffins, only too eager to let others tell their stories. Stories that could but serve one purpose for none of them had surviving kith and kin. Cyrus White had broken a simple cardinal rule and tried to eat something that was bigger than his own head. Now it was ready to bite him back and *nuofu* as such men invariably were, he would rather cut his losses. All the Counsellor needed now was the completion of that strategetic withdrawal. Backed up naturally by legally binding documentation which would cede the land to Connor and his family in perpetuity. He judged another twenty four hours would seal the deal.

He looked at Thomas and settled one hand over his. No. He did not need to consider what had been accomplished. His whole life and all the joy and pain within it was worth it for these last few weeks. A look of understanding settled between them as they lost themselves in their thoughts, carried forward on the gentle hum of the Crazy Goose's engines.

* * * * *

It was organised bedlam but Inara Serra was mesmerised. She watched Mal move with ease among Rafe Connor and his men, taking undisputed lead in the planning but also listening to the views and suggestions of this small but loyal army. They seemed so comfortable together as if these were men who knew each others mind, understood what motivated and moved them. Shared experiences and shared beliefs. A code of honour and conduct not handed down but bred in them. Salt of the Earth-that-was. Inara smiled softly to herself then turned quickly at the gentle hand on her arm. The man looked at her with such a calm serene expression on his face that any alarm she might have felt instantly vanished. He reminded her of paintings she had seen of Sumo wrestlers but Chung-li's bulk was muscle not fat and he was not Japanese but Chinese. In the aftermath of reconstruction the boundaries between races had blurred. Japan and China had been quarrelsome cousins centuries ago each vying for dominance, wars errupting, and cultural cross contamination causing each to absorb much of the philosophy and thinking of the other.

"I think, Miss Serra, you have no doctor aboard?"

She looked startled. "No, *Weishenme*?"

"Mal has told me there is man who may need assistance. I am unworthy to offer my humble help but such skill as I have is at your service."

Her eyebrows rose. "You are a doctor?"

Chung-li shook his head. "*Bu qu* but I know some healing and have brought my medicines with me."

She smiled and led him to Thomas's quarters, hoping in her heart of hearts that this man could succeed where all those before him had failed.

* * * * *

They were sitting on boxes, crates, pieces of equipment, tables, chairs, any gorram thing handy that would bear their weight. And when they had run out of things to sit on they sat on the floor. Forty five men including Rafe Connor and himself. It meant a lot to Mal that they had all wanted to come with him to help free his people. Had a notion the slaver ship had more than a mite to do with that decision. Not a one of them would stand for such a thing and call himself a man. All he could think of was his people in the hands of folk like that. Little Kaylee and River subjected to the kind of evil appetites it did not aid a man to think on. Made him sick to his gorram stomach. He knew the others would fight and that included Simon which was a worry in itself. Boy was no coward and the things he had gone through for River had earnt Mal's respect plus he was the finest doctor he had ever seen. Many a time he had wished they had him in the Valley with them, then hot on that thought was the mercy that they hadn't. It would have scarred the young man for life, haunting him with horrors and atrocities that would turn the gift of life to a gorram nightmare. Not nobody should have to suffer such a fate.

Mal was cleaning his gun for perhaps the third time, his hands moving over the pieces with the ease of familiarity as the soft cloth finished its' circuit and he slid the pieces back together. It helped calm him some while he discussed the sort of things they could expect when they got to Delios. Rafe got up and moved quietly among his men, making sure they were alright and had enough ammunition. His voice was calm and steady, soothing. It made Mal smile like a memory of home-that-was. These were good people. *Shi* moved to take the seat Rafe had vacated. "Ya sure are a powerful lot of trouble, Mal."

He grinned at him. "That I am an' those *goushi buru tamade hundan* are gonna find out just how much."

*Shi* laughed. "Anybody tell ya you're *shenjingbing*?"

Before Mal could answer Tollan's voice drifted out over the ship's com. "We'll be in sight of Delios in five to ten minutes."

Mal sprang to his feet and hurried off to the bridge, Rafe quickly falling into step beside him. Mal wanted to get a good gorram look at that rutting mining platform and confirm for himself whether or not they had a forty-four pressed into service as a slave ship. Even though he'd been told that they had he still needed to see it with his own eyes to believe it. "We got visual, Michael?"

"In a minute or two." Tollan adjusted some of the controls, watching their approach vector and speed as he cut back on the engines. The blur of stars solidified back into pinpricks of light but they were dwarfed by the great ugly monstrosity hanging over the mining platform like a bloated preying mantis.

"*Wode ma*! I was hopin' you was jokin'." For a moment longer Mal just stared, unable to take his eyes off the forty-four. "Can you bring us in closer?"

Tollan was about to do just that when a proximity alarm went off. Mal looked at Tollan, the man was shaking his head. "It wasn't me, Mal, I didn't do anything." Tollan froze, staring at his screen - a frown forming.

Already on edge Mal leaned in to see what the *diyu* was wrong. "*Shenme*? What is it?"

"We have company, Mal." Stunned, the words did not at first penetrate Mal's brain. "Company?"

Tollan looked up, unable to hide his concern. "It's an Alliance ship and it's hailing us!"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme* = what *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *xin gan* = sweetheart *weishenme* = why *wo zhidao* = I know *diyu* = hell *zhangfu* = husband *shenjingbing* = crazy *duibuqi* = sorry *yihun* = marrried *qu* = yes (lit.go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *nuofu* = coward *wangu* = stubborn *goushi* = crap/dog shit *dong ma* = understand *chunren* = fool/jerk *wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wode ma* = mother of God *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *shi* = ten


Sunday, October 3, 2004 7:45 AM


Dandy! Zoe's confession to Wash was just lovely.

"Now she felt as thin as rice paper." An absolutely ideal way to express the depth and intensity of what Zoe's feeling, and what her relationship with Mal means on an internal level, in a lovely bit of phrasing.

And the great cliff-hanger ending! Great.

Sunday, October 3, 2004 4:11 PM


Great work, love the suspense for Mal and the others, and with Zoe and Wash and who the is...'another watched and listened in the patient shadows.'
Can't wait to read what happens next! Keep it comin'

Monday, October 4, 2004 11:14 PM


Everything moving along nicely. Lovely scene between Wash and Zoe - a lot of undercurrents lightly touched on. And Action!Mal very stirring.

But the thing I'm really enjoying about this story is the Thomas/Tollan relationship. A beautiful study of loving support and optimism in the face of death.


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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.