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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Simon wants to give Book another scan. On the way to Paradisio to drop off Caleb and Monty, Serenity gets a wave."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1625 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "NEVER LET GO"
CHAPTER: 46. Sequel to "TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT"
SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara
SUMMARY: "Simon wants to give Book another scan.
On the way back to Paradisio to drop off Caleb and Monty,
Serenity gets a wave."
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.
"NEVER LET GO"
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Simon huffed to himself. There was something clumsy and jarring in going from hot vivid sex with Kaylee to sorting out the Captain's predictable complaints about having to keep the bandage on. Fortunately they were having the conversation in the infirmary. The location thankfully helped him keep his mind off the muscle memory sending warming little aftershocks of pleasure through his body.
"There some reason I gotta wear this cloth on my head?"
"It's called a bandage, Captain."
"Know what it is but we got better. There's that spray, liquid skin or some such. Seals the wound, dries clear. No call for me to wear a gorram turban, *dong ma*?"
He wasn't going to lose his temper, he wasn't. Simon also did not want to explain that he didn't use the spray because he didn't want to seal the wound in case he had to go back in. No sense in upsetting the man any more than could be avoided. "I just want to be sure we got everything."
The Captain paled and Simon inwardly cursed himself for being so blunt. "You sayin' there's more bits n' pieces in my brainpan?"
"*Bu qu*, I mean there shouldn't be. In fact I'm fairly certain there isn't."
Mal was watching him closely now, head tilted. "Which is it?"
Simon could feel himself deflate. "I thought I had extracted every bit of metal the first time, Mal. It was something of a shock to find out there were some slithers of wire and fragments in there that I missed. It was why you were in so much pain."
It was a constant amazement to the Captain how much guilt the boy took on, even when none of it was his fault. "Way I heard it the strands were right fine. Hard to see even if you knew they were there which you didn't."
"I'm your doctor, I should have known."
"Simon, Doc Greenway said the pieces acted like they'd been movin' about, buried deep as they were. As creepifyin' as that surely is it ain't your fault. 'Less you was the *wangba dan* put 'em there."
Simon Tam gave the Captain a sharp look. Mal gave a vague wave of the hand as if to release him from undue obligations he had no power over.
"Don't go beatin' yourself up. Most docs wouldn't'a found those fragments an' apart from wearin' a rag on my head you're the best doc I ever seen."
"Um, *xie xie ni*."
"So don't go obsessin' about it, *dong ma*? An' in case you're feelin' a mite slow doc that's a gorram order."
Simon nodded and watched the Captain leave. He leaned back against a counter and could not help worrying. If the pieces were able to shift about then how could he ever be sure he had extracted them all? And even if he had located every last fragment from the Captain's brainpan what about Book?
Sheriff Bourne felt his senses sharpen though no one thing set him off. Cautiously he let his eye wander, noting and dismissing the regular folk going about their business to and from the railway station. On the way here the dock had been busier than usual but nothing to arouse any kind of alarm or suspicion but in his daily walkabout he had gotten used to measuring and reading folk right quick and this one stood out a mile, the more so because of how badly he tried to blend in.
He wished his son had stayed on Paradisio but Caleb was every bit as headstrong as he had been at that age, just a mite more polite about it. This stranger gave the appearance of just ambling along but he had low angled restless eyes, the kind used to hiding beneath the brim of a hat where folk couldn't see where he was looking or what he was watching for. Might be bare headed now but the instinct obviously remained. Then there was that ratty old coat. Fit him about as snugly as a bed blanket and with room to spare. What was his story? What the *diyu* was he doing here and who or what was he waiting for?
The wave was welcome if unexpected. Wash was excited, knew they would soon be flying on little more than fumes and he just knew the Captain didn't have the coin to replenish all their depleted supplies. Carrying extra folk had a cost even though he didn't like to be the one to bring it up. At least with a job in the offing it would sweeten the pill. Zoe joined him and stared at the screen. Neither of them had been expecting to see or hear from Marcus Bole for a good long while. Zoe looked at her *zhangfu*, a mix of wary surprise dusted with a faint trace of hope.
"He say what the job was, *bao bei*?"
Wash shook his head. "*Bu qu*, just that he had a payin' job if we're interested."
Zoe narrowed her eyes a little. "We? He didn't ask for Mal?"
"Maybe he figured the Cap'n would be off his feet still what with Simon operatin' again."
That was a good point but it didn't quite settle right for Zoe.
"Want me to put him through so you can talk to him?"
"*Qu*, an' Wash?"
"Yeah, *bao bei*?"
"Don't mention this to any of the others until I say so."
Puzzled, Wash didn't argue. When it came to ship's business there was no one like his Zoe. He didn't pretend to understand the ins and outs of her relationship with the Captain or the near telepathic way the two communicated, was just glad they were on his side. He had gotten used to it but still didn't understand it. When he put Marcus through he noted how the man's eyes brightened some on seeing Zoe come into view.
"Said you might have a job for us?"
Marcus barely nodded. If he was a mite put off by the cool reception he did not show it, in fact he did not show much of anything which was odd in itself. "Leather an' dry goods."
She raised her eyebrows. Dry goods? "Where, how much an' who's the contact?"
Zoe thought his rather dry smile dimmed a little. Her spine stiffened a mite, her look sharpening but not in too obvious a fashion. Watching him like a hawk. "Paradisio."
Red flags almost made her cut the connection but that wouldn't be smart. Never knew who the good gorram was listening. Didn't matter that they were headed that way to drop off Caleb it was just too convenient. Almost as if they were being set up in some way. Did Marcus know or was he part of it? "Who did you say the contact was?"
A flicker. There! Something in Marcus Bole's face. It was too quick for her to be sure but Zoe knew now that this was not a bone fide job. Marcus was obviously being watched closely, unable to do more than give the tiniest sign that all was not well. Non verbal communciations on a microscopic level which meant whoever was watching or monitoring was using close ups of their conversation. Dangerous. Possibly even deadly. "Name of Jeremiah Pye."
Zoe had never heard of him, would be surprised if anyone on Paradisio had either. "How much an' where to?"
Marcus was perspiring now but seemed strangely constrained, hardly moving even to twitch. It was enough to show he was under increasing stress no matter how much he might try to hide it. He named a handsome price then the rim planet of Greenbay as the destination. Zoe gave a nod as if considering it.
"I'll get back to you once I've spoken to the Cap'n."
Before Marcus could say anything further she cut the connection. Wash shot her an anxious look. "Was that wise, *xin gan*?"
"I'm not the Cap'n, Wash. Whoever's set this up knows it'll have to be approved by the Cap'n. If I just accept the job it might tip them off that we're on to them."
"We need more information."
Wash had no idea where she thought she would get that from. The man to ask was the one person they couldn't, not if Marcus was under surveillance as they suspected. "Where you goin'?"
"To ask the on'y person on this ship who knows Paradisio better than we do."
Marcus could feel the sweat pooling in the palms of his hands. Forearms taped to his chair he couldn't move. With his legs tied and the catgut ligature around his neck he was pretty much damned to stay in one rutting position. The *tamade hundan* had been careful to arrange his shirt collar to hide the catgut but Zoe would know something was off. He was counting on it. What he didn't know was whether he would live long enough to be able to help his friends.
"You want to what?"
Simon had his professional face on but it did not reassure the Preacher. If anything it made Book nervous. "I want to make sure there aren't any nasty surprises left."
"You already scanned me, Simon."
"*Wo zhidao*, I scanned the Captain as well. There were some very fine wires buried deep in his cerebral cortex, one end tapering to almost nothing while the other end was thicker. There were also one or two metal fragments, remnants of nanotechnology. Apparently these tiny remnants can move around which is why they defied detection first time round."
"How did you know to look for them?"
"Remember the headaches the Captain was getting? I didn't have time to scan him but Doctor Greenway did when he was on Paradisio and that's how they were discovered."
Book spread his hands. "*Fang xin*, I feel fine Simon. No headaches or dizziness. No double vision."
"Please, humour me."
It was on the tip of Book's tongue to say 'over my dead body' but that was rather the point, wasn't it? With a sigh he realised there was no easy way out of this. He wanted the crew to trust him again, to accept that their friend, Shepherd Book, was back and in control of his mind and body. That the interloper was gone for once and for all. Refusing Simon's very reasonable request would set off the kind of alarm bells it might take decades to silence undoing any chance he had to get them to accept him again. Really, in the end he had no choice. Book gave a nod. "Very well though I don't think you'll find anything."
Simon gave a polite smile and accompanied Book to the infirmary. "Then we'll both be happy men."
The Sheriff was puzzled. Where in the nine hells had he gone? One minute he had been surreptitiously following the stranger, the next he had vanished. It wasn't as if Paradisio was that big or heavily populated and he was not exactly an amateur. He took a while to scour around, check out various stores and any little hidey hole he came across. The mines were some distance from the railway not out of choice but because of the topography. It meant the man hadn't ducked into a tunnel system, not that anyone in their right minds would want to unless he had no choice. Bowden's Malady was no joke and without regular injections of Pescalin D the prognosis was always fatal, the only variation was in how long it took the illness to kill you and how much it would hurt as it tore you apart.
Kaylee couldn't help it, there were times when River was so funny it made her sides ache. Didn't help that her friend looked so solemn and downhearted. Given the subject matter she should have seen it coming.
"Simon would have me die a virgin!" River wailed.
It took effort not to laugh outright and Kaylee did have some sympathy with her friend. "No, no, he just wants to protect you, *mei mei*."
River pouted, dejected. They were sitting on Kaylee's bed in her bunk, River tugging at the fibres of the rough blanket. "Should have left me in the box. Unable to interact with anyone."
The mechanic's gentle heart melted and wriggling closer she put an arm around her friend. "He loves you, River, we all do."
She looked up. Large luminous eyes pale with imagined sorrow, as if her life were laid out in a long lonely highway she was doomed to walk forever. "He loves his idea of me. That's why he can't accept me as I am. Always searching for a way to turn back time. Make me into the little girl he remembers, the sister he loves, not the one who is."
A soft warm honeyed voice drifted down to them from the open hatch. "But you can't go back can you, little one?"
River didn't seem surprised to hear the Captain's voice. "No."
The Captain climbed down the ladder. "Wanna hear somethin' *shenjingbing*?"
River nodded even though she knew what was in his mind. She liked to hear him say it anyway.
"Kind'a like you just the way you are."
Smiling for the first time since she had bewailed her fate to Kaylee, River's upturned face shone. "You do?"
The Captain nodded then reached out and gently wiped the tears from the girl's face. Kaylee beamed at him. "Yup." He paused. "Guess that makes me crazy too."
River gave him a big grin. "My kind of crazy."
"Best not let your brother hear you say that."
Kaylee gave her Captain a big smile, her eyes shining. "That was real nice of ya, Cap'n."
"Just speakin' the truth, little Kaylee. Guess that means we're all crazy now."
The girls fell silent until the Captain had retreated back up the ladder, listening for a moment to his fading footfalls.
"Seems almost good as new." Said Kaylee wistfully, voice tinged with hope.
River wasn't actually listening to Kaylee, something else having caught her attention. She tilted her head as if listening intently. Kaylee noticed and frowned.
"River? *Shenme shi*?"
The girl turned and looked at her friend, all the happy wiped off her face. "Trouble."
Kaylee's eyes widened. "What kind'a trouble?"
"They never let go." River whispered.
Kaylee felt a cold shudder go through her body as if someone was walking over her gorram grave. She hoped River was wrong, the last thing they needed was anything else to worry about.
Malcolm Reynolds was surprised to find Inara playing Tall Card with Monty, Caleb and Jayne. If anyone had asked him to predict what she would be doing in what passed for the mid of day it would not have even made his guess list. The big oak table in the commons area had been cleared and the players had all the room they wanted and more. The Captain was tempted to join in but found watching an unexpectedly enjoyable pastime. Wasn't often he got the chance to observe Inara's decision making process, not that she was transparent but still. He was hoping to pick up some pointers his own self when Wash asked him to come to the bridge. Something in the pilot's tone alerted him to not delay though for Wash he was remarkably low key about it. Inara looked over her cards at him.
"Is everything alright, Mal?"
He gave his most disarming smile. The one that had her wanting to check all her valuables were where she had left them. "Everythin's shiny, Inara. Captain-y business."
"Then don't let us keep you."
It made him want to stay just to be contrary but he didn't. Never could take to letting Inara think she could order him around even when all she was doing was agreeing with him. Why did women have to be so tricky? Then she smiled and every other thought left his head for warmer climes. It was Jayne clearing his throat and grinning that brought him back to the present. The Captain frowned, gave a curt nod and left before he embarrassed himself. He could hear Jayne guffawing like a braying mule in the background and Monty telling him to put up or shut up. At least the braying stopped.
Zoe was waiting when he entered the bridge. "Sir, we've received a wave."
The Captain looked from Zoe's tense expression to Wash's concerned one. "Who from?"
He frowned. Since when was a wave from Marcus bad news? "What did he want?"
"Said he had a job for us." Wash paused. The Captain pounced on his hesitation.
"An' what? There somethin' you're not tellin' me Wash? 'Cause I have to say River's the on'y mind readin' genius on this boat."
"It was more his manner, sir." Zoe explained. "I told him we'd call him back once I'd spoken to you."
He nodded. Could always count on Zoe to do the sensible thing. The Captain moved to stand beside his pilot. "Tell me you recorded the wave, Wash?"
"Yeah, Mal. Ever since we had all that trouble I've been recordin' every wave. Easy enough to wipe them when they prove to be not worth keepin'."
"Good man, now let's see what the good gorram we've got."
Wash hit the replay button and for a few minutes the three of them watched and listened in silence. The tension in the air was even more intense than first time round. The Captain stared hard at the screen. "Play it again Wash an' can you," he rolled the fingers of his right hand in a tight circle "slow it down?"
Mal had the recording replayed four times before he was satisfied with what he was seeing and hearing. When he straightened Zoe did too, every line in her body taut with expectation. Waiting to hear his verdict. "That ain't the call of a free man."
"My thoughts exactly, sir."
As worried as Wash was he was also a mite baffled. "*Wo bu dong*, what's the point?"
"The point," said the Captain darkly "is to get us to go to Paradisio."
"That doesn't make sense. We're headed there anyway."
"Maybe, maybe not."
"Sir, the smart thing would be to give Paradisio a wide berth. At least 'til we know what we're dealin' with."
"An' if the answers are on Paradisio? Runnin' away won't make us any the wiser, Zoe."
"*Bu qu*, but what's that sayin' sir? 'He who fights an' runs away..."
"Lives to fight another day." Added Wash helpfully, a hopeful look on his face. Perhaps this time his *wangbu* Captain would take the hint.
Malcolm Reynolds was lost in thought for a minute. "Let me think on it."
"He'll be expectin' us to wave him back."
"An' so will whoever set this up, Wash. Just thinkin' from now on we move to our own agenda, *dong ma*?"
"Sir, what are you gonna do?"
"What I ain't gonna do is rush to a decision, Zoe. Need to think this out, from every gorram angle. See what it is we're not seein'."
"We could give Nelson a wave..."
"*Buneng*. If Marcus is compromised we have to reckon the same for Nelson an' his people."
Wash looked really troubled now. "D'you think this has anythin' to do with us losin' contact with Mr Universe?"
"*Wo bu zhidao*. Gonna think on it some, suggest you do the same."
"What if he calls back?"
"Then Wash, you tell him I'll get back to him."
Mal wasn't surprised to find Zoe dogging his steps as he left the bridge. He waited for her to choose her moment, noticing she picked somewhere they would not be overheard.
"You got somethin' to say Zoe, spit it out."
"I was goin' to ask Caleb about Paradisio, sir. Seems to me he's the on'y one might have some insight we could use."
"An' how's that gonna help us with the wave?"
"Don't know, sir, but Nelson an' his men are all from that planet an' when you were rescued you were taken to Paradisio. Have to wonder what the common denominator is, sir."
"You think Caleb's mixed up in this?"
She heard the barely disguised disbelief in his voice and had to admit it seemed unlikely but so were a lot of bad things that happened to them. Didn't stop the bad from happening. "Just sayin' is all an' there's somethin' else you should know. When we picked you up Doc Greenway insisted on comin' with you to Serenity to speak to Simon about what he found on his scanner. Caleb was determined to come too, said he might be able to help. Have to wonder if he was expectin' somethin' like this, sir."
"I can't believe any son of Sheriff Bourne would be involved, Zoe."
"Not every child is his father's son, sir."
That raised an eyebrow but the Captain said nothing. Everything he had seen of Caleb so far he had liked. Boy had a direct manner about him and an intelligence that spoke to a bright and agile brain. He just hoped Zoe was wrong as to which direction the man's moral compass was pointing.
Book hated this part. "Do you have to put me under?"
"It's the safest thing to do. I can't risk you moving once I open you up."
The Shepherd quailed inside. He was not a man normally mortally afraid of anything but since having the other consciousness take him over it had left him nervous of anything to do with tampering with his brain.
"Not tampering. Keeping you safe."
Simon turned from the scanner and saw his sister crouched over Book, her eyes wide as saucers and with an odd luminosity that gave her something of an ethereal air. "River, what are you doing here?"
"I can help."
Book blinked up at her, realising she could actually be the answer to his prayer. "River, can you tell if there is anything else inside my head that shouldn't be there?"
Simon was about to discount any such notion but River gave him a look that stopped the words before he could say them. "The pieces are meant to work together. Their pathways were disrupted and Simon was able to remove the nanobots."
"Yes, but was anything left behind?"
The girl blinked slowly, a far away look in her eyes. It gave Book the creeps to sense her delving into that most secretive part of himself but blocking her would not simply be counter-productive. It might also no longer be possible for him to do. She had seen too much, been too deep, and for once he was grateful. That knowledge might be the one thing that could give him real peace. She was silent for several minutes. Just when Simon was about to speak she came back to herself and blinked. A normal girl again.
"Did you find anything?"
"We emptied it but didn't remove it."
"River, I extracted all the nanotechnology, you know that."
"But not the Box."
Something clicked in Book's memory. "Where Brooks trapped me?"
River nodded. "It was also where he hid until he was ready to take over."
Simon wasn't quite sure what his sister was saying but he had to know. To be sure there was no misunderstanding. "Are you saying that Brooks has gone back into hiding?"
She shook her head. "No, he's gone but the mechanism he used is still there. Just inert."
Shepherd Book went cold. "*Wode ma*, then it could be activated again?"
"Unlikely, the moving parts were destroyed." River smiled. "Some secrets were lost but not all."
"What do you mean?"
"Not ours to know, Simon."
Book felt a flush of relief. While he knew River could dip in and view whatever she liked he was inordinately grateful that the girl at least had some control over her curiosity.
Simon frowned. "What isn't?"
River shook her head, she hadn't been speaking to Simon but he didn't need to know that. Sighing, Simon decided he needed to get on with the scan. To his surprise River turned to go. "I thought you would be staying, *mei mei*?"
"No need. He's safe now."
"Then why am I scanning him?"
Her smile was brilliant, lighting up the room and all of them in it. "Reassurance. You and him. You won't believe there's nothing else to find until you check for yourself."
"Those filaments inside the Captain were very fine, *mei mei*. I have to be sure I didn't miss anything."
"The two aren't the same."
Then she was gone, but the echo of her confident smile enabled something in Book to relax. He smiled up at Simon. "You can put me out if you need to now, Simon."
The doctor nodded, hoping his sister was right and that there would prove to be no need after all.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*dong ma* = understand? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *bao bei* = precious/treasure
*xie xie ni* = thank you *diyu* = hell *zhangfu* = husband *qu* = yes (lit. go)
*wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *xin gan* = sweetheart
*wo zhidao* = I know *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)
*mei mei* = little sister *shenjingbing* = crazy *shenme shi* = what's the matter?
*wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wangu* = stubborn *buneng* = can't
*wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *wode ma* = mother of God
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