HANDFUL OF STARS: 41. "Homeward Bound"
Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Mal is surprised to find himself face to face with the last person he expected to see. Zoe is reunited with the crew but made as hell at Marcus for losing the Captain."


TITLE: "HOMEWARD BOUND" CHAPTER: 41. Sequel to "NEITHER HEAVEN NOR HELL" SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Mal is surprised to find himself face to face with the last person he expected to see. Zoe is reunited with the crew but mad as hell at Marcus for losing the Captain." 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

* * * * *

"Where're we goin'?"

"You'll find out, all in good time."

Mal glanced across at his companion. "You got nothin' to say, doc?"

He got an odd look back but the man quickly recovered his equillibrium. "It doesn't look as if they're goin' to kill us."

"An' you know this how?"

"We haven't been shot yet."

"Good to know."

"An' I don't see anyone buildin' a gallows for us."

The Captain tried to hide a shudder. Didn't need images like that in his brain pan.

"And," his companion added with some satisfaction "they did let you take a shower for which I reckon to be eternally grateful."

"Fancy yourself some kind'a funny man, *dui*?"

He got a little smile back. "No, Cap'n, just happy to be alive an' in one piece."

Mal couldn't really argue with that though bits of his anatomy were complaining loudly at his treatment at the hands of those *tamade hundan* scientists at Blue Sun. Might only be aches and bruises but they still caused some pain and discomfort not helped by the almighty headache raging behind his eyes. He thought of mentioning it to Dr Mathias then again the man didn't have any of his medical supplies with him so he held his peace. Time enough to see about getting some relief if he ever got out of this pile of *goushi* and back to Serenity. Serenity, now there was a balm for every hurt imaginable. Mal sighed and glanced at their dull and uninspiring surroundings. They were sitting on the floor of a small dirt-poor ship. The Captain knew it was old on account of its' not so shiny thrumming through the deck plates. All crotchety and uneven. Kaylee would have a fit seeing a ship in such a state but then she wasn't along for this ride and for that he was grateful. Yet he couldn't stop fretting about Zoe. Some of his concern must have showed upon his face.

"*Fang xin*, Mal. It could be worse."

The Captain squinted at him in an attempt to hold back the wall of pain threatening to make his world go black. "You know somethin' I don't?"

"These men aren't killers."

He blinked. "*Shenme*? You know this how?"

The man shrugged. "They just look more like farmers than hired guns." "Sounds like you know nothin' about the former an' a lot about the latter."

He wanted to laugh but figured the Captain would take it the wrong way and really he didn't want to upset the man. He gave a shrug. "You pick up things."

"Like you picked up me?"

He got a strange look back. "What d'you mean?"

"You took an awful risk gettin' me outta that torture chamber, Dr Mathias, an' don't think I ain't grateful 'cause I am but I have to ask *weishenme*? Why take a risk like that for a man you don't know?"

"They would have killed you."

Mal tried not to nod, not wanting his head to fall right off. "Eventually."

"Doesn't that worry you?"

"Life I lead someone's always tryin' to 'cause trouble or harm to me an'' mine. Just have to stay a step ahead of the crazies, keep flyin'." "That's not much." "It's enough." The Captain closed his eyes a moment, reminded of another doctor he had said those words to. A man he might never see again. He wished he knew what had happened to Zoe, that she was safe, and hoped that the twisted *tamade hundan* who had grabbed them had not gone after Serenity as well.

* * * * *

Marcel was horrified. How could this have happened? He stared at the sparkling figure sprawled in place of the missing subject, Malcolm Reynolds, and knew that his own life expectancy was about to come to a rather sudden and painful end. Or, worse still, a not so sudden one. He turned to stare at the Blue Sun representative. Mr White did not blink, just stared at him while the Project Manager fumed.

"You were supposed to be monitoring the subject, Marcel!"

His mouth dry, Marcel had to force the words passed his lips, all the while sure that they would carry no weight. Truth was a commodity of no current value and damage limitation was not possible. "I was, *shifu*, but they were using a neural net..."

"I can see that!" Snapped the Project Manager.

It was useless for Marcel to point out that they had known an attempt was being made to rescue Reynolds, one Blue Sun and the Project Management were so utterly and sublimely confident would fail that they had done nothing to stop it preferring to watch and gloat when it spectacularly failed. The expectation had been that Dr Mathias would be caught trying to escape with Reynolds and they would not only keep the Firefly Captain as bait for River Tam but would gain another subject to experiment with. The work would continue and be finessed until they could retrieve River and bring her back into the programme. The fact that none of that looked likely now was seriously turning the whole situation sour.

Mr Smith looked down at the inert figure, noting without any sign of emotion that the body still breathed as the features began to change. The neural net was fading, the energy dissipating after being used for so long without being recharged. As they watched, the illusion broke down and all could see that the man in the sensory deprivation tank was neither Malcolm Reynolds or Dr Mathias but one of their own technicians.

In the deadly silence that ensued all that could be heard was the background hum of the equipment until a knock came on the door and another technician appeared, a white coat in his hands. "Dr Mathias's coat was found discarded, *shifu*."

No one responded. Marcel wished he could close his eyes and be anywhere else but here.

"You have failed me for the last time."

The Project Manager's voice had been spoken so softly that it took a second for Marcel to absorb the full import of what he was saying.

Orders were then barked, personnel hurried to and fro. David Chang was unceremoniously removed from the chamber, two of the facility guards carrying him from the room between them. Idly, Marcus wondered what would happen to the man but could not quite summon up any deeper concern. He felt oddly detached. Mr Smith examined the neural net and quietly folded it. Unless you were looking closely it was hard to see. Whoever had pulled off this rescue must have had at least two more nets, one for Reynolds and one for themselves. The nets were not cheap and were hard to come by but Marcel had no further time to think about how that had been pulled off. The guards returned minutes later and at a nod from Mr Smith they approached Marcel and he knew this was it. He tried not to panic as he was led from the room.

* * * * *

Portree Nelson was relieved. Silverhold was like a second home in many ways and he had several contacts that he trusted. The men were happy to be meeting up with Marcus but got a shock when they did. Nelson gave Zoe a nod then glanced around confused, his smile faltering as he realised they were one short.

"Where's Cap'n Reynolds?"

Marcus looked uncomfortable. "He got caught."

"*Shenme*? How in the nine hells did that happen?"

Zoe looked as far from happy as it was possible to get. "Kind'a curious about that myself."

Marcus spread his hands. "We don't know who took 'em but it wasn't Alliance."

"How can you be sure?"

"There's no Alliance here, Nelson. That's not to say some won't be makin' their way before long."

Nelson looked like he had swallowed a bug. "Yeah well Serenity's on it's way, *laoban*. Hope you know what you're gonna say to the crew."

"I've already broken the news."

Nelson glanced at his men then looked straight at Zoe. "Did you see what happened?"

"I was buried in mud."

"We couldn't bring them both out together, *dong ma*? Alliance had 'em separated, different ends of the facility so I sent Caleb to get Mal while I went to get Zoe out. We were supposed to meet up afterwards."


Nelson turned to Donnie Banks. "Yeah?"

"There's a ship comin' in to land, looks like Serenity."

Marcus and Nelson exchanged a look then Marcus turned to Zoe. "*Duibuqi*. We'll get him back."

Her eyes narrowed. "Thought you didn't know who took him?"

Marcus shook his head, his lips flattening into an unforgiving line that only a fool would cross. "I don't but I'll find out."

Zoe stared at him, hard. "*Zenme*?"

To her surprise it was Nelson who answered, a grim little smile settling on his unhappy lips. "You remember that drink I gave you an' Mal when we was in the mine?"

"What about it?"

"It's got special properties. You were supposed to drink all of it."

Zoe was now beyond suspicious, her right hand itching to touch her gun. "*Weishenme*?"

"It's kind'a radio active."

Alarmed, Zoe felt anger course through her veins. A commotion by the doorway hardly distracted her, then Wash and Jayne were pushing their way through. Wash was so relieved he wanted to run to her but the look on his wife's face gave him pause. "*Bao bei, shenme shi*?"

"You mean apart from Mal bein' missin'?"

He nodded, suddenly very glad to have Jayne with him. The mercenary was like a one-man army. "*Qu*."

"Seems these 'friends' of ours gave Mal an' me a radioactive drink."

Wash's mouth dropped open in shock. "*Tian Yesu*! Simon's on the ship, we need him to take a look at you, *mashang*."

Zoe shook her head. "Didn't swallow it but Mal did, took a sip or two. Nearly threw up. Now I wish he had."

Jayne scowled at Marcus and Nelson, one meaty paw resting on his gun and just itching for an excuse to draw it.

Marcus tried to calm everyone down. "*Fang xin*, it's low level radiation Zoe. Won't do a body any harm."

"Did you drink it, Marcus?" Hissed Zoe.

"*Bu qu* but I have in the past, many times."

"Why give us that *goushi*? Were you plannin' on double crossin' us all along Nelson?"

Nelson Portree shook his head and bit back his anger that she could think such a thing, all too aware of how it looked. "*Ni bu dong*. We all took a drink or two an' with good reason. Gives us an advantage you could say."

"Don't see no advantage in poisonin' folk." Growled Jayne angrily.

"One of the benefits," Marcus explained "is that bein' radioactive we can track it."

A flicker of hope lightened Zoe's expression though she remained wary, torn between trusting them and letting Jayne introduce them to Vera. "So we can find the Cap'n?"

Marcus nodded, his look serious. He did not want to give them false hope but a chance however slim was better than nothing. "If he's on Silverhold."

Jayne wasn't happy. "An' if he ain't?"

"Then we go back an' search the mud flats where we were hidin' until we pick up a radioactive trace."

Zoe gave him a look that clearly said he was *shenjingbing*. "It'll be crawlin' with Alliance."

Marcus nodded. "An' Blue Sun but we don't leave our people behind, *dong ma*?"

"*Xin gan*," said Wash "before we do that I want Simon to take a look at you."

She shook her head. "After we find the Cap'n, Wash."

* * * * *

It felt weird to be back on Paradisio. Weider still to find himself face to face with Sheriff Bourne. At least they were off the street and away from prying eyes but Mal wasn't sure if that was an improvement, it being the local jail. The good thing was that the Sheriff had thanked the men who had caught them and assured them he would handle things from here. The men had gone without a murmur and returned to their death trap of a ship. Mal was sure he could hear every bit of it shaking in protest as the hunk of rust took off. The Sheriff just looked at him and for several minutes no one spoke. It was almost as if he was waiting for the rattle and thrum of the ship to fade so he wouldn't have to raise his voice.

"You're an interestin' man, Captain Reynolds. Just when I think I've seen the last of you, you pop up again."

"Not my idea, Sheriff."

"No, I don't suppose it was." Bourne was sitting and indicated for them to do the same but Mal preferred to stand. Was afraid if he sat down he wouldn't get up again. The Sheriff stretched his leg out and absent mindedly rubbed his hand over the knee as he flexed it.

"What happens now?"

The Sheriff seemed a mite amused. "What do you want to happen?"

"You could just let us go."

He looked from Mal to his companion and back again. "Us?"

The Captain wondered what he was missing then Bourne smiled.

"I see you've met Caleb."

"Caleb?" The Captain looked puzzled for a moment. "Oh, you mean Dr Mathias?"

Sheriff Bourne chuckled and glanced at Caleb. "What've you been tellin' him?"

The Captain turned to Caleb. "What? You ain't Mathias?"

"Captain Reynolds, this is my son Caleb. Caleb I'd like you to meet Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of the Firefly transport Serenity."

Mal blinked at Bourne. "You seem to know a lot about me. Must be my winnin' personality."

The Sheriff wrinkled his nose and waved a hand in front of his face. "Well, it isn't your personal hygiene."

"*Wei*, that ain't my fault! He covered me in this gorram *goushi* though I did shower it don't seem to make much difference."

Caleb sighed. "For the hundredth time, Mal, it was mud."

"Yeah, well *goushi* or mud it still stinks an' when are you gonna tell me what I'm doin' on Paradisio?"

The Sheriff dipped his head a moment to hide a smile before tilting his head and looking at the Captain. "Actually that's my fault. When Caleb told me who he was rescuin' I didn't believe it. Insisted he brought you here so I could see with my own eyes."

"You sayin' you sent those farm boys to pick us up?"

"They didn't hurt you, did they?"

"*Bu qu* but they didn't tell us what was going on neither."

Caleb explained. "We needed to get you out *mashang* before the experimentation reached a lethal level. Off planet was the safest option, preferrably before the Alliance you were gone."

"What about Zoe?"

The Sheriff nodded as if he had been expecting the question. "She's safe. In fact she's already on her way back to Serenity."

"She hurt?"

"Not physically. Like you it was mostly mind games, Captain, though I would imagine you will both be sufferin' from some kind of trauma for a while to come."

The Captain was so gorram tired, his eyes were sore as *diyu* and his head was close to splitting in two but he couldn't relax. Not yet. Didn't dare let down his guard in case something else went wrong which knowing his luck could happen any gorram moment. "How come you know so much, Sheriff?"

Bourne smiled, his eyes twinkling a little if Mal was any judge. Caleb seemed content to let his father do most of the talking and now that Mal saw the two men side by side he could see the family resemblance. "Paradisio is a close knit community, Captain Reynolds."

Mal put two and two together. "Nelson?"

The Sheriff nodded. "A good man. He worked the mines for years until he and some friends could get off Paradisio, make a life for themselves but they always keep in touch. They're good boys like that."

"I'm guessin' they still got family on Paradisio?"

"Yeah, an' they send money home when they can." The Sheriff paused and gave Mal a critical look. "Don't take this the wrong way, Captain, but you look ready to drop."



"Name's Mal. No need to stand on ceremony."

"In that case why stand at all?" Bourne contradicted his words by getting up. "You're dead on your feet, Mal. Caleb go an' take the good Captain upstairs an' let him get his head down."

"Shiny as that sounds, *wo buneng*."

Bourne gave him a kindly look and lowered his voice. "It'll be hours before Serenity can get here, Mal. Dependin' on Alliance patrols they might not get here 'til tomorrow. Take the rest while you can get it, *dong ma*? If you wanna be pig headed about it I can always put you in a cell until they get here."

The Captain wanted to quarrel, assert his authority, but he was so gorram tired and every bit of him ached. In fact it was a fight to keep his eyes open. "I could maybe rest for an hour or two."

The Sheriff nodded to his son and watched Caleb escort the weary Captain out of the room. Mal paused by the door and looked back. "You will wake me the moment you hear anythin'?"

Bourne nodded.


"*Mei shi*." "Not to me."

Once they were gone, Sheriff Bourne stared at the closed door thoughtfully then shook his head. Glad that in some small way he and his son had been able to do Serenity's Captain some good. Now he would need to get back to Mr Universe and let him know Malcolm Reynolds was safe so he could let Marcus and Serenity know to come pick him up. It was too dicey to risk contacting Serenity direct but this way everyone that needed to know stayed in the loop.

* * * * *

Inara Serra tried to hide her anxiety. At first she was relieved to see Zoe, as if a great weight had fallen from her shoulders but once it had been explained that Mal had been captured again she sat down fast before she could fall down. Kaylee noticed all the colour had drained out of her friend's face.

"'Nara, *hai hao ma*?"

"*Dang ran*, just a little shocked. I wasn't expecting that." Kaylee knew Inara was worried sick about the Captain but they would get him back. Just as soon as they figured out who had him.. As much as the two needled and danced around each other, in the rare moments they let down their guard it was obvious they cared deeply for one another. The tentative steps towards a deeper relationship were taken at a snail's pace or so it seemed to Kaylee who couldn't see why they didn't just admit their feelings and be done with it. But nothing was ever simple where those two were concerned and they didn't need complications cropping up not when they produced enough imaginary ones of their own.

"Don't meddle. The pieces know their place, they just take their time *dong ma*?"

Kaylee almost jumped at the words whispered into her ear. River was standing no more than a couple of inches from her, a big grin on her face. "River! Where have you been? I been lookin' all over for ya."

"Not *all* over." Said a warm familiar voice.

Kaylee and Inara turned their heads and stared in shock. Shepherd Book smiled, his eyes kind and understanding but somewhat enjoying their stunned reactions. The man could have gone on the stage. Fortunately they were the only ones currently in the commons area, everyone else was congregating in the cargo bay. Last Kaylee had heard Monty was on his way. Pretty soon Serenity was going to get awful crowded but she didn't care. They needed to find out who took the Captain then plan how they were going to get him back. In the meantime she wasn't sure whether to be relieved or terrified seeing the man she had once called a friend on his feet and smiling at her as if nothing creepy had happened.

"Simon know you're up an' about?"

She hated the way her voice squeaked. Inara instinctively went to stand with Kaylee. "*Wo bu dong*, what's going on?"

River spoke before Book could explain. "The parasite is gone."

Kaylee risked taking her eyes off Book to stare at River, eyes wide and verging on hopeful. "Ya mean...?"

River nodded, excited at sharing the good news. "The Shepherd has returned to his flock."

The loud click of a gun being cocked made them all turn towards the doorway. Jayne Cobb stood with Vera in his hands, cocked and ready to fire. "Don't make me shoot you."

A look of sadness flitted over Book's face. "It's really me, Jayne."

"Yeah but me who? Evil body stealin' Book or our Book?"

Just then Wash's voice came over the com, he sounded excited. "You might wanna get up here, *mashang*. Just got a wave."

For moment Jayne looked torn but decided keeping his weapon on the creepy-assed ninja fightin' *hundan* who'd hi-jacked his friend's body was the biggest threat.

"Jayne, you can trust him." Said River, her voice calm, her eyes locked on his and surprisingly sane and knowing.

"Huh, how'd I know that?"

"I saw into his brain."

For a moment the mercenary's gun hand shook a mite. "You can do that?"

Her smile was just another level of creepy. "I'm a genius, I can do anything."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dui* = correct *goushi* = crap/dog shit *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *shenme* = what *weishenme* = why *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shifu* = sir *laoban* = boss *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *zenme* = how *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *wei* = hey! *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *hundan* = bastard *shenjingbing* = crazy *xin gan* = sweetheart *diyu* = hell *wo buneng* = I can't *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *hai hao ma* = are you okay? *dang ran* = of course *wo bu dong* = I don't understand


Saturday, August 20, 2011 8:18 AM


loving where this is going...excellent chapter, AliD

Saturday, August 20, 2011 8:26 AM


Loved this, Ali D. Things are beginning to work out for our crew. Glad that Mal is in the hands of Sheriff Bourne and not somebody much worse, although perhaps he's not entirely out of the woods. Looks like the crew's reunion with Book (the real Book) is going to be happy.

Saturday, August 20, 2011 9:49 AM


Thank you for the shiny comments MalsDoxy and ebfiddler. It is nice to know there are folk in the 'verse willing to step in and help our Captain. As for Book, he is mighty relieved to have his body back. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, August 20, 2011 5:45 PM


I am detecting a very indepth and intertwined plot in this one or it sure is coming off that way.

Sunday, August 21, 2011 12:59 AM


As we know nothing is ever straightforward in the Firefly 'verse, Nutluck. Thanks for the feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, August 28, 2011 12:44 AM


Love this! Now, is your twisty brain going to take us down another rabbit hole or is Mal going to be reunited with the crew? Great stuff, Ali - keep writing!

Thursday, September 1, 2011 6:04 AM


Finally started to figure this out right when they mentioned Caleb going to get Mal and before the Sheriff revealed that wasn't Dr. Mathias. Good work.

Although technically, Paradiso is a town on Regina. It's the second planet out from Yellow Sun (Georgia), with Ezra (with Niska's skyplex around it) being the first.


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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.