THE NINE HELLS SERIES: 6. "The Small Print"
Thursday, August 7, 2003

"The drop goes without a hitch but Mal learns you can rarely, if ever, make up for lost time."



SUMMARY: "The drop goes without a hitch but Mal learns you can rarely, if ever, make up for lost time." 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

* * * * *

Destiny. Not a name that left shivers of joy on his tongue when he said it. Less now that he could see it for himself. It was a dry dust bowl of a planet with downbeaten unhappy inhabitants clinging to the remnants of their pride. Fitful rags clothing meagre frames. Trying to hide the stark angles where ribs jutted out from too spare flesh. He tried not to notice how emaciated they were, their pleading eyes too proud to beg outright. He knew that look. Had tasted the ashes of that dispair too many times to mistake the bitterness of it now. It left him sad, depleted, shamed that human beings could do this to each other. Worse than rutting animals. At least animals would only kill you and feast on your flesh. Rule of the jungle. Survival. Nothing personal. This was a measured cruelty, slow and exacting. Then he saw something. A glimpse. A spark. Not even a spark really, more a remnant of a once bright ember. An afterglow. Only it lacked warmth. Vibrancy. They were people with the life sucked out of them. Empty shells but somewhere in their miserable existence memories clung of what was. It was all they had. And it hurts him. On some deep dark level he wished he could just take them with him. Find them a better place, a better life, but that was not what he was here for. And dust bowl or not this was their home world. He would not be the one to take it away from them. Not even out of a misplaced sense of compassion.

Understanding did not help. Did not make him feel less helpless, less impotent. It was not his fight. He had his own to take care of.

Anderson had told him he didn't need to stop. No call to speak to folk or mingle. Just drop off the cargo and leave. But it was so gorram hard. Those eyes seemed to follow him everywhere. They were down to the last crate now. Jayne grunting the other side of it as they heaved it on to the mule. Wash drove it down the ramp and the Captain paused. Before Jayne could ask him what was on his mind the Captain turned to him and gave a rough jerk of his head. "Come on, Jayne. One more box to drop off."

The mercenary frowned. He might be slow but he could count. "Twenty three crates you said."

Mal was already walking briskly towards the stairs. Grumbling Jayne followed him puzzled when he headed for the commons room. He paused just inside the doorway and watched the Captain flinging open the cupboards and throwing tins and packets into a growing pile on the table behind him.

"What in the 'verse are you doin', Cap?"

"Droppin' some foodstuffs off."

Jayne's eyes went round. "Weren't no mention of tradin' food."

"We got more than enough to be gettin' on with."

There was a look of shock on Jayne's face as his meaning sank in. "You're givin' 'em our food?"

The Captain paused but only because the cupboard was pretty much empty now. He rumaged through the next one. Picking out the more nutricious goods but making sure he left enough for his own crew until they could restock. He half turned his head and scowled at Jayne. "Are you gonna help or just stand there like an overgrown decoration?"

"Hnuh, just thinkin' this is all kinds of wrong." He grumbled but at least his feet were moving in the right direction.

"No Jayne, for once this is all kinds of right."

Jayne didn't comment. Could see the Captain's mind was made up. He stacked the cans and sorted the packets out while Mal messed about looking for a box then they packed it up tight. The Captain paused and looked at the box. It was a mighty small gesture. In fact now that he looked at it he thought it seemed pitiful almost only he had to do something. Something that would give him the strength he needed to turn his back on this rock. He straightened, felt a moment of dizzyiness and hung on to the work surface. Jayne frowned at him as the Captain closed his eyes. Skin all sticky with an odd sheen to it. They were both perspiring a bit from the humping of cargo but now that Jayne looked more closely at him the Captain did not look so good. Jayne took a step back but kept his eyes on him. "Cap? You okay? You don't look so good."

The Captain forced his eyes open. Room had stopped spinning. Right. That was good. Wasn't it? "Yeah, just a little tired is all."

"You ain't sickenin' for nothin' are ya? Perhaps I should get the doc to have a look at ya."

Mal shook his head carefully and nodded to the box. "Best get that to the surface quick as you can Jayne. Get Zoe and the Preacher to drop off any spare blankets an' such. Might as well do someone good as take up space. Soon as we're done I wanna be off this rock and headin' back to Boros, *dong ma*?"

Jayne nodded, gave the Captain a last wary look, then hefted the box on to his shoulder and walked briskly out of the room. The Captain turned to the sink and braced his hands on it, head dipped a little, eyes closing against the painful light piercing the back of his eyes. He felt his breath become ragged, his gut aching and clawing at his insides. He knew what was happening. Was not sure whether or not he still had time but he had to try. No way he was just going to lie down and take this if he didn't have to. He had a boat to run. Crew to protect. He had surrendered once. Didn't plan on doing it again any time soon.

* * * * *

Inara Serra was curious. Her hands flying over the shuttle controls as she approached Boros. She opened a channel and called the Lightstar. A voice she did not recognise sailed back across the airwaves to her. Was that him? "Miss Serra you are free to dock with us."

She was about to respond when Kaylee's voice chattered excitedly over the com. "Hi 'Nara, glad you're back! How was your trip?"

She smiled. Only Kaylee could make having sex with strangers for money seem no more innocuous than a walk in the park. "Fine. Everybody okay?"

There was the slightest pause before Kaylee responded. "Yeah, see ya soon 'Nara."

A frown put a crease between her beautifully sculpted brows. She docked in silence, beginning to feel a sense of rising apprehension. Carefully schooling her features she stepped off the shuttle into the belly of the Lightstar. Kaylee ran forward and hugged her, River grinning a step behind her. They tugged her hands and then her heart missed a beat as a big bear of a man stepped forward from a small waiting group of men and bowed politely in front of her. When he straightened she saw sparkling eyes, a shock of fine flyaway light brown hair, mostly even teeth flashing through a neat and trim beard. But it was the smile that told her all she wanted to know. It was devastating.

"Ma'am, my name's Frank Reynolds and this here's my boat - the Lightstar."

She almost smiled at his grammar. So like his nephew's it was unsettling. "Pleased to meet you Mr Reynolds, my name is Inara Serra." His grin was swallowed by a wide smile. "Mal told me you were a stickler for time keepin' so I figured it could only be you."

This time she did smile. She realised Kaylee was babbling away alongside her then noticed the look on River's face and her smile froze. She looked up at Mr Reynolds and got straight to the point. "What went wrong?" * * * * *

Hours were a blur of activity and pained slurred silences. The drawn out hum and echo of the ship sent shivers through his system as the noise elongated into one long dull throbbing pulse. Words added became a cacophony that made him reel inside. He was all kinds of pained and numb now. Couldn't stop his gorram hands shaking so he kept them knotted together beneath the kitchen table. They were all looking at him now. Eyes boring holes in him. Zoe's voice was the most strident. Idly he wondered if that was because of all the anger bottled up behind it. Or maybe it was because he knew her so well, could see the gorram punches coming yet didn't have the strength to duck. He had screwed up and now they all knew it.

He hardly felt Simon's hands, cool and professional. Taking his temperature, now his pulse. His silence was unnerving them he could tell but he couldn't open his rutting mouth to speak. Not sure what sort of nonesense would flow from his swelling tongue.

"What's goin' on, Sir?"

Jayne had moved to the farthest end of the table, eyes wide and filling with a dark fear. "He's sick that's what. Shouldn't go touchin' him, doc, might be catchin'."

The others looked at him. Jayne figetted a bit but he did not back down. Simon locked gazes with him, his cool voice as sharp as a scapel. The words slithered down Jayne's back as he spoke. "Perhaps you should go to your bunk then, Jayne?"

"Yeah, think I will." He was half out of his seat when a heavy hand settled on his shoulder. Looking up he was alarmed to see the Preacher staring hard at him. He could not read the look in his eyes and that was unsettling.

"I think I'd rather hear what Jayne can tell us about this job."

Zoe glanced at the uncommunicative Captain, more worried about him than she cared to admit. Wash squeezed her hand in silent support and she squeezed back. They had long since got passed any issues Wash had had over her past with Mal. Funny how sharing a little unfriendly torture made you see things you refused to see before. Now he was just as concerned as she was though for different reasons. Zoe stared at the Preacher for a moment then shifted her gaze to Jayne. Behind her Simon was calmly taking blood samples from the Captain's arm. He was barely conscious now and Simon did not like the sound of his laboured breathing. "What happened Jayne?"

The mercenary frowned. "Nothin' happened. We went to *Pang Zhu Fanguan* on Boros and met Anderson as arranged. Laid on a fine spread..." He started to grin, saw that the others were not amused and quickly continued. "Yeah, uh had a whole pile of good food an' drink. Then the deal was struck, Cap'n an' Anderson shook hands on it an' that was it. The rest you know."

Zoe looked at Wash. "Didn't you say you knew that restaurant Wash?"

"Yeah, it was one of our favourite stop off points in flight school. Well. 'Unofficial' stop off points."

Zoe raised her eyebrows.

"When was the last time you were there?" Asked Shepherd Book.

"Um, coupla years I'd say, why?"

Book looked at Jayne. "Describe this restaurant Jayne."

He looked blank. "Huh? You want me to describe a gorram restaurant?"

The Preacher nodded. Jayne was about to refuse then looked down the table at the Captain. He was slumped in his chair now. Eyes closed. Sweat pouring down his face. An anxious Simon Tam sealing blood sample bottles to take back to the infirmary for testing. Jayne swallowed hard. "Well, at first I thought it was some kind'a joke, you know? We got there and there's this old run down place. Falling apart, covered in dust an' such. I asked the Cap if he was sure we had the right place. He rubbed off a pile of dirt over the door an' that's when we saw the sign. But inside, inside it was shiny. There was chandeliers, thick carpets everywhere, lots of cloth like you see in Inara's shuttle. All fancy an' red an' gold." He grinned briefly at a memory. "Oh yeah, an' the girls, I really liked the girls."

The others exchanged looks. Girls? Wash leaned forward a little. "Jayne? Can you tell us about the restaurant? About Anderson? What happened? You can shake hands with your hormones later."

"Oh, okay." He frowned. "Well, we stood there a bit just waitin', kind'a dazed with the change from the outside to this bordello inside." More exchanged glances but Jayne did not seem to notice. "Then a curtain at the back opened an' this... this giesha stepped out. I ain't never seen a look on a man's face like I saw on the Cap'n's when she sashayed up to us, put her arms around him an' dragged us over to that table. Got me hard just thinkin' about it."

The Preacher sighed. Knowing Jayne this story could last all night. "What happened?"

"Oh, oh that." He shook his head. "Nothin' like that. Even if she had the Cap'n wouldn't have an' this was business." He paused and chuckled. "She kept us talkin' an' eatin' an' drinkin'. Told us Anderson would join us soon so we didn't have much choice but to stay an' wait an' the food was so ruttin' good. Not protein packs neither, you were right about that Wash." Wash nodded but said nothing. "Then after an hour or two of eatin' Cap'n's gettin' mightly ansty, wants to get to the job an' go or just go if they're yankin' our chain. Soon as she sees that she ups an' throws off this wig an'..." He's laughing now. He can't help it. "An' you'll never guess..."

"It was Anderson dressed in drag wasn't it?" Says the Preacher.

Jayne gives him a dirty look. Annoyed because he stole his punchline. Wash puts it another way.

"The woman was a MAN?"

Jayne looked a bit mollified by Wash's reaction. "A damn fine lookin' one too. I almost got off just watchin' her tryin' to interest the Cap'n. She could sit on my lap any day."

They looked horrified. Simon raised his eyebrows and stared at Jayne. "She sat on the Captain's lap?"

"No but she tried to. Would'a poured herself all over him if he'd let her but when he started to get up to leave she dropped the act, lost the wig an' annouced she was Anderson." Jayne slapped his knee in glee, that was a memory he wanted to keep forever. Technicolour preferrably. "Should'a seen the Cap's face."

For a moment no one spoke. Zoe glanced at the Captain, he looked even worse now. The pallor of his his face so pale it was almost like parchment. She exchanged a worried glance with Simon. "I need to get him to the infirmary immediately." He said firmly.

She nodded. The Preacher and Jayne lifted the now unconscious form and carried Captain Reynolds to the infirmary. No laughing or joking now. Once they had him settled Simon went to set up his microscope and do the blood tests. Zoe looked at Jayne's pale face. For all his beligerence and bluster the thought of anything happening to the Captain scared him. "Jayne? What happened after Anderson and the Captain struck the deal?"

He fidgetted, suddenly uncomfortable, not wanting to meet their eyes. "Well I, it was kind'a hot in there an' I'd eaten as much as I could get my hands on. There was some kind of fussy wine too, not bad but a bit on the sweet side." He paused and looked up sheepishly. "I fell asleep."

Wash could not believe his ears. "You fell asleep?" He paused to let the shock of that statement sink in. "In the middle of a DEAL?" Zoe put a hand on his arm to calm him down though she was just as annoyed.

"Hey! Cap had already made the deal an' okay, so I fell asleep. Next thing I know the Cap's wakin' me an' we're on our way back. Ya know the rest." He paused. His gaze settling on the Captain's pale face. "So, is he gonna die?"

* * * * *

Inara was in shock. She heard Frank Reynolds' story without once interrupting. Her heart aching for Mal. She had known he had fought in the War on the side of the Independents. Knew Zoe had served with him. But she had not realised the two went back so far, family almost. It explained a lot. How like Mal to bring her into his family with not a bit of fuss. Even then he had to be taking care of folk, bringing those he thought needed it into the circle of his protection. His crew becoming a second family as fiercely watched over as his own had been. It made her feel mean for some of the things she had said to him. How little she had understood the bedrock of pain and sorrow that ran such deep veins through his heart and soul. She had once thought him shallow. Crass. Unfeeling. Now she saw that the opposite was true. The walls he built were for his own protection. All he had left to guard the tattered remnants of his fragile heart.

Frank Reynolds watched the play of emotions on the Companion's face. Emotions she would have been horrified to realise were so open to his scrutiny. She was vulnerable right now and he realised that whatever she might say to the contrary there was a strength of feeling there that spoke so eloquently in its' silence of love hidden. Buried deep. Denied. Refused. It saddened him but also gave his heart hope. Inara Serra was a beautiful woman but Mal was a man who looked beyond the surface of things. Saw passed the architecture of a beautiful face to the quality of the soul sheltering beneath. He felt the shift in Inara and knew she was realising it too. What had been an unconscious instinctive knowledge was becoming fact. He was not surprised to see the glisten of unshed tears. Kaylee was already crying. Quiet sobs swallowed up in River's rocking arms. Inara steeled herself and looked at him. Not letting a single tear fall. To Frank Reynolds it reminded him of Mal's mother getting ready for battle. The Reynolds women all had one thing in common. All of them were strong.

"Where is he? Where's Mal?"

* * * * *

Zoe had gone as white as a sheet. No one looked too good now, the doctor's words ringing in their ears and sucking the air out of their lungs. The Preacher considered what the doctor had said. "You're sure?"

He nodded sadly. "Yes, there's no doubt about it. The Captain's been poisoned. Probably in the food or drink."

Jayne looked shaken. He glanced from the Captain to Simon. "He gonna die?"

Simon wished he would not keep asking him that. The others could not speak round the words. He gave a heavy helpless sigh. "If I can't find out what poison was used in time to get an antidote. Yes. He'll die."

"If he dies," Said Jayne slowly. "I'll die won't I?"

The doctor considered him for a moment. "What makes you say that? Do you feel unwell? Dizzy, disorientated? Any wracking pains, that sort of thing? Blurred vision?"

Jayne shook his head. "Nah, but ya said it was probably somethin' in the food or drink. I ate a lot an' drank a lot too. More than Mal. So why ain't I sick?"

They all stared at him. Simon frowned. A good point. Simon sometimes referred to Jayne as a 'trained monkey but without the training'. It tended to overshadow the fact that he was not exactly thick just selfish and thoughtless. Could he be seeing a sea change in the big guy? It was the Preacher who put into words something that had not yet occurred to any of the others.

"If it was in the food or drink and you both consumed the same things it stands to reason if the Captain is dying and you are not that he was targetted."

Zoe did not like the sound of that. "Targetted?"

The Preacher nodded but he was looking down at the Captain, his expression thoughtful. Brows drawn together in an assessing frown. "It could be that Jayne was given the antidote but the Captain wasn't."

Wash felt a flush of anger rip through him. "What kind of *chuseng xai-jiao de hua* would do a thing like that?"

"The kind who wanted to ensure his mark did exactly what he wanted him to."

They all looked at him. Stunned. It was Wash who spoke, his voice hushed and halting, hardly believing what the Preacher was inferring. "Are you saying the Captain knew he'd been poisoned?"

He nodded gravely and met their shocked looks. His voice was calm, his manner studied, but inside he was boiling with a slow rage. "It makes sense."

Wash looked like he wanted to lash out and hit someone. Zoe looked devastated. Slowly she put her feelings back behind that professional mask. The mask of a soldier facing impossible odds but refusing to be overwhelmed by them. "What kind of sense does it make to poison someone who is already agreeing to carry out a job for you?"

Her husband paled. "*Tianna*! What if Mal found out what the job was and didn't want to do it?"

"Nah, ain't that." Said Jayne. "Anderson told us the job, Cap shook on it. Even got money up front."

"Then why....?" Began Simon.

The Preacher interrupted him. "Only one reason I can think of."

They looked at him and waited. He looked unhappy as if there was something bitter in his mouth and he was trying hard not to swallow.

"To make sure he goes back."

A long silence fell. At last someone broke it. Simon not able to accept the Preacher's grim conclusion. "That's crazy!"

"No," Said Book softly, turning sad eyes downward to contemplate the slowly fading Captain as if he could feel the weakening pulse beginning to become thready. A tenuous grip on reality. "Anderson is."

* * * * *

John Michael Anderson could be a pretty smug bastard. He knew it. Revelled in it even. Now, for the first time in days he was wondering if he had been over confident. He paced the tiny back office and checked his timepiece. If Captain Reynolds did not get here soon he would not be coming at all. He frowned. Had he got the dosage so wrong? If so it was an annoying setback. Having picked his man with care he wanted to keep him. Having a transport ship and Captain at his beck and call would make his forays to the starved rim worlds even more lucrative. He had not of course divulged the contents of the cases the good Captain had to deliver to Destiny. No sense in getting the man's honour all riled up unnecessarily. But if he did not return that left him with two questions he needed answering. Did he make the drop? And if he did, why hadn't he completed the rest of the instructions?

He took his time with the tea ceremony. This time he chose the Japanese Genmaicha. He loved the way the sweet popped rice offset the bitter aftertaste of the green tea making it pallatable in a most delightful and delicate infusion of flavours. He would give the Captain one more hour after that it would be time to garner information on what had happened. It would take weeks if not months to pick another target. A costly business doing all those background checks and digging into a man's past in ways that would leave no signs of his interest. He was more annoyed that things had not worked out as planned than the possibility that he might actually be dead. Better for him if he were. Nobody crossed John Michael Anderson and lived to gloat about it.

He was halfway down his *beizi* or cup of tea when a commotion in the restaurant brought his head up sharply. His eyes sparkled recognising at least one of the raised voices. It was that big man. Jayne. The one who had come with the Captain. Feeling his spirits revive he decided to err on the side of caution. Knowing his girls would delay them for the few precious minutes he would need, he decided it was time for the geisha to reappear. He had a surprise for Captain Reynolds and a reward for making the deadline after all.

* * * * *

Wash landed as close to *Pang Zhu Fanguan* as he could. They had decided against sending the Captain's uncle a wave. The man was clearly unpredictable and they wanted no complications. Besides. Why worry the others? If this blew up in their faces they would all be dead.

Simon did not like this plan. Bad enough that the Captain was dying and he could do nothing about it but bringing him back here was placing not only the Captain but the rest of them in mortal danger. On the plus side, if they lived through this little charade they stood a good chance of locating the antidote and saving the Captain's life. Only that last slim hope kept his mouth shut. After all the times the Captain had interceded to save him and his sister he was not about to baulk at the chance to return the favour. Even if he was trembling from head to foot at the very idea of what they intended to do. A hundred yards from the restaurant the Preacher stopped everyone and went over the details with Jayne. Jayne scowled.

"I know what I gotta do, Shepherd."

"I know you do but this time it will be just you. You can't rely on the Captain to help you."

"What if he don't fall for it?"

"Then we raise this place to the ground." Said the Preacher darkly.

Zoe gave him a look of surprise. "I didn't think you were allowed to enjoy your work so much?"

"Can't we just burn it down anyway?" Said Jayne.

Zoe looked at Wash. "Stay with the shuttle and get ready for a fast getaway."

"I'm going with you, *xin gan*."

She gave him a level look, her gaze flat and emotionless. "*Bang je li*. Just what I always wanted, a joint cremation with my husband." She paused a half second. "Funny, I always hoped I'd be dead first."

He scowled, a hurt expression on his face. "That's not funny, *bao bei*."

"I know, husband, but if you come that's the reality you'll be dooming us to."

The Preacher put a hand on Wash's shoulder. "We don't have time for this, son. More importantly Mal doesn't have time for it. *Dong ma*?"

He nodded miserably, gave Zoe a quick kiss and trotted back to the shuttle. He sure hoped the Preacher knew what he was doing otherwise him and that God of his were going to have more than a few angry words. Simon checked the Captain over one last time. Hesitated to leave him but if this plan was going to work they could not risk being seen. Zoe helped him roll the Captain off the stretcher. The Preacher lifted him up and carefully set the unconscious man in Jayne's arms.

"This is stupid, I can't get to my gun." Jayne whined.

The Preacher fussed a bit to make sure the mercenary had a good grip. "Exactly! We want Anderson over confident. If he thinks he holds all the cards you won't be in danger."

Jayne snorted. "Is that why you're staying back here where it's safe?"

Book gave him a look so cold he could almost feel ice cubes forming in his veins. "Just don't screw this up, Jayne. There's a very special kind of hell waiting for you if you do."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *Pang Zhu Fanguan* = Fat Pig Restaurant *tianna* = oh God! *chuseng xai-jiao de hua* = animal fucking bastard *beizi* = cup *xin gan* = sweetheart *bang je li* = wonderful *bao bei* = baby/darling


Thursday, October 13, 2011 9:17 PM


Absolutely shiny! "No Jayne, for once this is all kinds of right."
Very Firefly line^^^^^^ you've really captured the voices, and the esscense of the show!!


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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.