HANDFUL OF STARS: 24. "Picking Up The Pieces"
Sunday, March 20, 2011

"In the aftermath of events on Cheverell, the Captain and crew start to pick up the pieces realising pretty damn quick that not all of them fit."


TITLE: "PICKING UP THE PIECES" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: None. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "COLLATERAL DAMAGE". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "In the aftermath of events on Cheverell, the Captain and crew start to pick up the pieces realising pretty damn quick that not all of them fit." 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

* * * * *

Monty was concerned. Mal didn't look so good and as for the Preacher, what in nine hells was going on there? Zoe looked ready to take the man apart. Him being unconscious was probably the only thing staying her hand. He had known Zoe a long time but never had he see her this *fafeng* before. Made a man shudder to see that look in her eyes and all manner of grateful he wasn't the one in her sights. Right now Jayne Cobb was trying to shield the fallen man as much as possible without making things worse. Old Man Ellis took a seat next to Serenity's Captain. They had met up in a clearing big enough for the Firefly to land and while they waited for Wash to bring her down he had a word or two he needed to get off his chest.

"You Kaylee's Cap'n?"

Despite the pain Mal cracked his eyes open enough to look Ellis in the eye. He fought to speak without throwing up. "*Qu*, but you already know that."

Ellis nodded slowly, choosing his words with care while appearing all casual-like, "Never seen a girl more in tune with workin's in my life. Has a rare gift."

The Captain said nothing. Sometimes you just had to wait a man out.

"Not sure I like the way trouble seems to follow ya around, Cap'n Reynolds." He paused and raised a hand when it looked like the Captain was going to speak. "No offence intended, *dong ma*, but a girl like that should be safe."

"Kaylee's the sunshine that brightens our day. Is all kinds of precious to us."

"Good to hear ya say that but I have to wonder the life you lead."

Something in the Captain's look hardened though his voice was mild. "Best spit it our 'fore it chokes you."

"I had a wife, Cap'n. Three daughters, no sons." Ellis paused and fought to keep the pain out of his voice but Mal could see it clear as day in his eyes. "I wasn't in the war but when the purplebellies came they weren't too impressed to find me not takin' sides. Told 'em I had a family to look to. Didn't have no notion to go gettin' between them as wanted to fight. The mine was good to me, gave me steady work an' a wage to live off. Thought if I stayed out of the fight it wouldn't touch me an' mine. I was *cuode*. They came like locusts, chasing some poor Independent vessel with not a hope in *diyu* of outrunnin' their drop ships. I ran from the mine, wanted to get my family an' bring 'em back to the coal face with me. Before I got to the house the bombs were droppin' all around, fiery plumes of death explodin' left an' right. Saw one hit the house. By the time I got there it was ash an' rubble, my family as broken as the bricks an' mortar. Alliance ships screamin' overhead, on'y thing on their minds takin' out that gorram Independent ship. Didn't care who else got trampled an' once it was taken down they fired on it again an' again until the ruin of it was like fine gorram dust so don't think I don't got sympathy with your cause."


Ellis waved him off. "Don't want your sympathy just need you to know. I don't want anythin' to happen to that little girl."

"Not nothin' gonna happen while I live an' breathe."

The Old Man leaned in close. "An' if ya' ain't livin' an' breathin', what then?"

"We look after our own, Kaylee would never be left or be unprotected. You have my word on that."

For a long moment Ellis just stared hard into the Captain's eyes. Mal could feel the dizziness taking hold again and had to shut his eyes, a low groan of pain leaking out between tight lips. Annoyed at his body letting him down when he need to be strong. A sudden downdraught brought relief to his hot skin and a lift to his heart. Serenity. He would know her touch anywhere in the gorram 'verse. When he opened his eyes Simon Tam was staring down at him, Zoe hovering at his side. Mal frowned and took a careful glance around. No sign of the Old Man anywhere. "Where's...?"


He blinked at Zoe. Realised he had not finished the sentence then realised it didn't matter. The man was not in sight anyway. Well, wasn't that shiny? "*Yiwusuoyou*."

* * * * *

Breathing was getting kind'a hard. Vision none too shiny either. Hardy blinked the moisture out of his gorram eyes and tried to stay conscious, sure he had heard a noise or somesuch. Just as he was fading out again he forced his eyes open, his heart stumbling into panic, all his reactions taking a Dragon's Age. What was that? Had Hemmings found him? There was a rustle, the sound of something heavy pushing through shrubbery. Hardy tried to swallow but his mouth was too dry, his face covered with sweat. His lungs labouring to take in oxygen that somehow wasn't quite as efficient in making it round his failing body. Would have reached for his gun but he had lost it, couldn't remember where or when. Gorramit, he was like to pass out before the enemy got to him anyway.

Davy had waited hours. Felt worse than a lifetime, his worry for his friend making each minute into an hour and him feeling *goushi buru* for leaving Hardy. Not that there were any good choices to be made, but still. They were friends and in his book that meant they should stick together through thick and thin. As soon as he judged enough time had passed to make poking his nose out fairly safe, Davy emerged from the little cave and took a cautious look around. Gun in hand he crept back the way he had run, hunched and jumpy, but there was nothing only the sounds of crickets and other small creatures. It should have calmed him but it didn't. Slowly he retraced his steps, listening for the sounds of Hemmings and his men as he went while looking carefully for signs of where his friend had gone in search of shelter. It was easier than it should have been to pick up Hardy's trail. Davy blanched at the blood, the way no effort had been made to hide his passage then it hit him. Hardy hadn't been trying to hide so much as lead the others away from Davy. It made his throat close up and his eyes itch with emotion.

A few hours later he found the little hideaway. Not so much a cave as a gap between rocks partly hidden by shrubs and wild grasses. His friend lay face down, the ground beneath him dyed red. Davy dropped to his knees and gently rolled Hardy onto his back. Hardy's eyes were open, staring up at nothing, but there was a faint heartbeat.

"Gorramit Hardy, what's the use of lookin' for somewhere to hide if'n you're gonna die 'fore ya get there?"

Hardy couldn't answer. Wasn't sure his ears worked let alone his tongue. Every breath was longer in coming than the last, organs failing one by one. Body turned traitor. Biting back tears, Davy tore his own shirt and tried to staunch the bleeding, cursing himself for not ignoring his friend's insistence that they split up. It didn't take a doctor to see that the man was dying and him with no medicines or medical know how to help. Davy wanted to rant and rail at him, to shake some sense into his friend, but he could not do it. Instead, knowing time was short, he gathered him up in his arms and hung on tight, rocking Hardy as he cried into his shoulder. All caution thrown to the wind. If Hemmings happened to come upon them then let him. Didn't matter a good gorram now. He was losing the best friend he ever had and even the possibility of freedom no longer seemed so sweet.

* * * * *

Jayne looked stunned, not believing what he was hearing.

"Ya betrayed the Cap?"

Shepherd Book was pragmatic, no sign of embarrassment on his face or in his demeanour which only confused the mercenary more. "I had no choice."

Kaylee had tears in her eyes and was wringing her hands. They were in the cargo bay. Zoe had followed Wash to the bottom of the metal stairs and said something they could not hear, then the pilot had run up the steps leaving his beautiful but deadly wife to turn her attention back to them. Monty and the messenger helped the Captain up the stairs with Simon hovering, anxious to get his patient into the infirmary so he could see what new damage had been added to the old. At the top of the stairs, Inara Serra looked down from the catwalk but did not come down to join them. More concerned by the state of the Captain than what was happening below. Zoe moved close enough to give herself a clear shot should the Preacher try something stupid. Kaylee hardly noticed, her eyes big and wide and trembling on the point of tears hardly able to wrap her head around this unexpected and unwelcome turn of events.

"'Cause he tortured it outta ya?"

Book shook his head, sad for upsetting her but also unable or unwilling to tell her the whole truth. "Petrie never laid a hand on me."

The mechanic stared, mouth hanging open in disbelief. What was he saying? "Then why? It don't make sense."

Before Zoe could step in with questions of her own a quiet voice spoke from the shadows. "To protect me."

They turned their heads and stared as River emerged into the light, her steps tentative, her eyes not leaving Shepherd Book's face. Jayne frowned, wondering what the moon touched girl had to do with this. River's eyes were large liquid pools of disappointment as she stopped in front of Shepherd Book.

"He would never have betrayed you."

The Preacher's voice softened just a mite. "That is his weakness."

The girl shook her head. "You're wrong, it's his strength."

"We're building a better world, River."

Zoe inwardly shuddered at his words. River and Book acted as if no one else was in the cargo bay. River was getting upset. "*Bushi*, you're destroying ours and you don't have the right!"

"Some sacrifices have to be made, you know that."

River's voice became very small but in the silence her wounded words were crystal clear. "You betrayed Captain Daddy."

"It was the right thing to do."

The mild tone vanished, anger sparked as River shouted him down. "*Shuohuangzhe*! 'When you turn on any of my crew you turn on me'!"

* * * * *

For the first ten or fifteen minutes no one spoke. Simon worked with calm efficiency, relieved to see that the re-opened wound would be easy to repair. What troubled him was any damage being knocked around might have done to the inside of his brainpan especially as the man was unable to focus properly and was seeing double. Simon realised he might have to operate again, go back inside and see what the problem was. The doctor knew how that fun little announcement would go down and was not looking forward to Malcolm Reynolds' response.

Sucking oxygen into his lungs in low slow inhalations, the Captain managed to get some sort of equilibrium back but knew it was a quick fix, no more. Simon's cool hands continued their examination without seeming to notice which suited the Captain fine. Monty gave him a smile which Mal did not return though he did give the big man a small nod of thanks. Just behind Monty the messenger hovered, the ruin of his face showing so many different emotions it was like a pick and mix choice as to what the man was really feeling.

"Gonna tell me who the *diyu* you are?"

The messenger's face twisted. "Wish I could, Mal. Bits're comin' back, like me knowin' ya an' rememberin' what that *hundan* did to me but..." He shook his head, the apology in his voice. "*Duibuqi* Mal, didn't mean to hurt ya."

The Captain waved his apology off but kept his head still, no sense in making himself seasick by moving it. "Been tryin' to think if I know you, truth be told."

A spark of something lit the messenger's eyes. Was that a flicker of hope?

"All I can think of is the War."

"I get the feelin' we was close."

"You fight with me?"

The messenger nodded as if little pieces were reluctantly falling into place. "On your side not against ya."

The Captain closed his eyes as Simon touched a tender spot, resisting the urge to swear out loud.

A thought occurred to the messenger. "The name of your ship?"


The messenger straightened. "Serenity Valley, that's where we fought together."

Mal opened his eyes and looked at him. He knew and remembered every man who had served with him. Even when the name escaped him the faces he would never forget only there was no gap the size and shape of the man in front of him. "Feel I should know you but..." He waved his hand uselessly, not knowing what to say to reassure him.

The messenger's agitation calmed, as if he was becoming more sure of himself - whoever that turned out to be. Monty was itching to get back to his ship but didn't want to leave Mal with the fearsome looking man until Jayne or Zoe could take his place. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Inara come into the infirmary. Wished she would wait until they knew who it was they were dealing with but it was hardly his decision. Simon finished gently prodding around the site of the head wound.

"Captain, I need to check your responses."

Before Mal could refuse or try to bluff that he was alright, Simon shone a penlight in his eyes. The Captain slammed his eyes shut and groaned in pain.

"You need to let me do this."

"Eyes're sore, doc."

"This won't take long, I promise."

When the exam was over Simon busied himself checking the monitor and putting his penlight away before saying anything. "I need to operate, Captain. I'm pretty sure you have a fragment of bone that is pressing down and causing the double vision and nausea."

Inara looked worried. "Is it serious?"

"If left untreated, yes."

"Doc, we gotta get off this world."

Simon gave him one of those looks that said the Captain would not be winning this argument any time soon. "Wash is a perfectly good pilot, Captain."

"*Wo zhidao*, it's just..."

"You like to be in control."

Mal blinked at Simon and tried not to throw up over him. How come there was three of him? Wasn't one annoyafying doc enough on his boat? "I'm the Cap'n."

"And I'm your doctor. The sooner I operate the sooner you can go back to bossing everyone around."

The Captain's eyes narrowed. Inara schooled her features to hide a smile.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was grateful that Serenity's crew had not tied him up and thrown him out of the airlock but being free to walk around the ship also felt somewhat awkward. He could feel the questions in their eyes as they passed but for now he kept his own counsel and entered the commons room with an inward sigh of relief. It was empty and at least he would be able to gather his thoughts and work out where to go from here. A sound behind him made him spin automatically before he could affect that air of practised calm that had so typified the man they thought they knew. Inara Serra raised her eyebrows in a slow eloquent query.

"You startled me."

There was no humour, no response to what he said. Ah, so, this would be another kind of interrogation. Having left the infirmary to allow Simon to operate on the Captain, Inara had come to make herself a calming cup of tea. Finding Book in the commons room now opened an unexpected opportunity though she doubted the outcome would be successful. If she had learned anything from Shepherd Book it was that he was a wily old man, uncommonly fit for his age and with an agile and crafty mind. It was not what the man said but the things he did not say that struck her as the most profound. Now those thoughts were more disturbing than comforting, knowing how much could be hidden in the silence.

Inara's voice was deliberately mild, non judgemental. "You once confessed to me that you thought you were on the wrong ship. Was that a lie as well?"

"As an accomplished Companion you were the one person who could have seen through the guise, had you wanted to."

The subtle inference that she was somehow complicit had no impact on her. Inara Serra was not about to rise to the bait knowing it was a deflection to hide the fact that he had not answered her question. Now she thought about it, Book did that a lot. "Not River?"

The question startled him but he recovered quickly. "River and I have something of an 'understanding'."

"What is your real interest in River and who are you working for?"

A smile of barely surpressed humour tugged at his lips but Inara knew it was as false as the friendship she had once cherished. "I am merely trying to protect her. Is that such an awful thing?"

Inara took a slow step towards him then stopped, the soft swish of her silk dress settling around her. A study in poise and elegance. "And who will protect River from you?"

* * * * *

Monty excused himself at the same time as the messenger left the infirmary, ostensibly to allow Simon to operate on the Captain. Zoe was about to follow them when Mal called her back, his quiet voice raising her level of alertness. "Sir?"

The Captain jerked his head towards the open door and winced at the way his gorram head swam. Ignoring Simon's look, he waited for Zoe to lock the door and come back to him.

"The messenger, you recognise him?"

"No, sir."

"Me neither."

Zoe searched his eyes, looking for a clue as to what he was thinking. Where this conversation was going. "Doesn't mean he wasn't there, sir, an' he did recognise you."

"He may have been there, Zoe, that ain't what bothers me. Just the fact he wasn't on our side."

She went cold. Really. Right down her spine and through the pit of her stomach. "You sure?"

"He said he fought 'with' me as in 'alongside of'. You remember him standin' next to us at any time while we were hip deep in the dead an' the dyin', 'cause I don't."

"No, I don't."

"An' he's the kind'a man that would stand out, an' I don't mean..." The Captain waved a vague hand at his face. "He even makes Jayne look small."

Zoe frowned. "Why would he lie, sir?"

"'Cause he's Alliance, that's why. Nothin' else makes sense."

In the silence that followed, Simon Tam finished getting ready for surgery and filled a syringe. "I really need to operate now."

Zoe's eyes remained locked on the Captain's for another beat or two, something unspoken passing between them. Then Zoe gave the doctor a nod and left, closing the door behind her. Staring at the closing door the Captain gave a startled yelp as the pressurised syringe hissed against his skin. He turned to glare at Simon Tam. "What did I say? No drugs."

"*Zhitong yao*. You'll be conscious, I just saw no reason for you also to be in pain."

The Captain opened his mouth then closed it, because when Simon was right he was right. Calming down he softened his tone. "*Hen hao*, just startled me is all." He paused. "How long will this take?"

Simon helped him roll gently onto his stomach. "Not long."

"An' I won't be dizzy no more?"

"It may take a few hours for the dizziness and nausea to go completely but yes, it will go."

A little sigh, like a flag of surrender, escaped the Captain's lips as he relaxed and gave himself up to the inevitable. "Shiny."

* * * * *

Davy didn't know how long he sat on the ground cradling the dead body of his friend. Hardly even registered when gentle hands began to prise him away from Hardy, the quiet hum of voices somehow telling him that these people were not the enemy but that didn't mean they were friends. He looked up slowly but didn't recognise any of the faces. Guessed they must be town folk though why they should care he had no idea. A woman knelt in front of him, her creased matronly face filled with gentle concern. He guessed she was in her fifties or sixties, not that he expected to live that long his own self. With Hemmings hunting them down he was a dead man walking. He watched the woman's mouth move as some of the town's menfolk carried Hardy away. Seemed to take forever before the shape of the words translated into sound and another age before he caught what she was saying. The tail end of her words at least.

"Let us help you. Are you injured?"

He blinked. How could he tell her that his childhood friend had just died in his arms? That the blood he was soaked in was not his own? They had seen the body, carried it away even, didn't that say it all? But no, he could see it didn't and to be truthsome he wasn't sure he was up to spelling it out for her.

"He's in shock." Another voice muttered. Soft but strong, a man's voice.

Davy closed his eyes, willing them all to go away.

* * * * *

Monty gave Zoe his thanks then stuck his head in the engine room to see Kaylee. Her grease smeared face broke out into a huge grin of pleasure which just melted the big man's heart. Laughing as she launched herself at him, Monty hugged Kaylee and spun her in his arms.

"Not got words enough to thank ya for what ya did to fix the engine of my ship, little Kaylee."

"Wasn't nothin'. Simon did the tricky bit, findin' out what they used an' how we could counteract it."

Monty grinned at her. "Well that was the best bit o' nothin' I seen in a long time."

Her smile hesitated, eyes shadowing with worry. "The Cap'n gonna be alright?"

"Kaylee, that doctor of yours is fixin' him up now. Says he'll be good as new in no time."

The smile was back, relief so strong and pure it was kind of addictive. "You really gotta go?"

"*Qu*, gotta crew of my own to look to, *dong ma*?"

She nodded before giving him another hug, using his big shaggy coat to hide her face as tears slipped down her face. "Tell me it's all over, Monty?"

"Sssh, hush, little Kaylee. That twisted *tamade hundan* Petrie ain't gonna be hurtin' no one else ever again."

Kaylee sniffed and clung a moment longer, then pulled away. The watery smile on her face making Monty's heart ache. How come someone so kind and trusting as Kaylee Frye hadn't been turned bitter and sour like the rest of them? Or maybe it was the way Serenity's crew had become family that was the answer. Whatever it was he hoped Kaylee would never change.

As soon as Monty left the ship, Zoe told Wash to take off. They didn't go far, just high enough to be able to see that Monty was able to get airborn his ownself before heading into the Black. Not one of them was sorry to shake the dust of Cheverell off their boots. In the shadows of a fast falling night, Old Man Ellis watched both ships go. A mix of emotions stirring up inside him before he turned his head and spat out a plug of tobacco.

"They gone?"

Ellis nodded.

"All of 'em?"

The Old Man didn't turn his head. "Yeah, *weishenme*?"

A man stepped out of the shadow of a tree. "What happened to the man without a face?"

"Didn't get off."

The man seemed to think of that for a moment, a sour twist coming to his lips. "Huh, that's unexpected." Now Ellis was beyond suspicious especially when he saw the man was practially covered in blood. None of it seeming to be his own. "What does it matter to you anyway?"

Davy Johnson looked more disappointed than angry then turned his head to look Ellis in the eye. "*Yiwusouyou*, was just gonna get me an eye."

Ellis opened his mouth to ask a question then closed it again when he realised the man was walking away from him. He yelled after the retreating figure before he lost sight of him. "*Wei*! What's your name?"

The man paused, half turned to stare with bleak eyes back at him. "Nobody. Anybody asks? You didn't see nothing."

Long after the man had gone Ellis stared. What the good gorram was that about? A sudden cold gust of wind made him shiver and pulling his coat tight about him he made his way back up to his place. It was only once he was home with a big old fire rattling in the grate and sending flames of heat up the chimney that he realised that in all the excitement he had not seen Ritchie Thomas. Maybehaps the man had decided to leave them to it once he had helped him lay the explosive charge? Well, wasn't like Ritchie wasn't a grown man and if he'd decided he'd had enough he couldn't blame the man. Turning his hands to the flames to warm them up, he gave a sigh and went to fill the kettle. Wasn't nothing in the whole 'verse a good mug of tea couldn't fix and that was a fact.

* * * * *

"You ain't a Reaver?"

The messenger stared at Jayne Cobb. Monty had followed the man until they met up with Jayne, then with a knowing nod Monty had left them to say his goodbyes to Kaylee leaving the mercenary to keep an eye on the messenger. Didn't need to be no top three per cent to understand Monty's meaning and he was happy to oblige. Mighty curious too.

"*Bu qu*. You think I'd do this to myself?"

Jayne huffed, unimpressed. "Seen worse."

In the shadows Zoe watched, listened, then seemingly satisfied that the messenger was not being left to his own devices went to go and find Shepherd Book. Too many things weren't adding up. The messenger was one big question mark, the Shepherd another. Didn't matter a good gorram now that they had once called him friend.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*fafeng* = mad *qu* = yes (lit. go) *dong ma* = understand? *cuode* = wrong *duibuqi* = sorry *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *bushi* = not so *shuohuangzhe* = liar *hundan* = bastard *wo zhidao* = I know *zhitong yao* = painkillers *hen hao* = very good *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *weishineme* = why *wei* = hey! *diyu* = hell


Sunday, March 20, 2011 7:57 AM


Ain't you just a woman with a plan. I am definitely ready to read some more of this. I am not sure I want to be Book when Zoe finds him though.

Sunday, March 20, 2011 9:16 AM


This is getting interestingly complicated. It still seems to me like Mal and the crew are in the middle of a fog, and so far there's no sign of a cleansing breeze. Book and River fronting each other off, the messenger who might or might not be Alliance, the people who saved Davy Johnson ... so many threads - I can't wait to see how you tied them all together!

Sunday, March 20, 2011 10:12 AM


Thank you for the shiny feedback. As for Zoe catching up with Book, Angellemarcs, it is kind of like peeling a gorram onion. Always another layer. The threads are going to start coming together Jane0904 and when they do that fog will be blown clean away! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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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.