THE LOYALTY SERIES: 1. "Little Mother"
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The crew of Serenity lose one cargo and find themselves with another.


TITLE: "LITTLE MOTHER" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE:

SUMMARY: "The crew of Serenity lose one cargo and find themselves with another." 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

* * * * *

Gunfire ripped up the still and dusty silence like Chinese firecrackers only this was no celebration and the muted little cries and howling that came after were not happy sounds. Rough coarse voices yelled. More gunfire. No more sounds commenting on it. Everything muffled within the tense atmosphere of the building. The men were ansty. Liable to fire at anything that moved. The dog's puppies stood no chance. The mourning bitch had not long given birth. Was still weakened but would not leave the bloody scraps that were her kith and kin. The men laughed at their sport. One gave the dog a kick. She barely whimpered. Did not so much as growl back. The sorrow in her slow cry did not reach the unfeeling ears of the hired hands that mocked her. She bled where a bullet had grazed her head. Another had made a home in her left hip. Dizzy with grief, the dog dragged herself from one bloody bundle to another. Slowly gathering them to her so she could protect them.

The warehouse on Morrow was just on the edge of the pathetic little town. A jumble of run down houses and tented villages. The only visitors were those looking to hide or those looking for them. Trade was a hurried affair that took place in back alleys not the market place. The warehouse was just a mite better than the alley but not a whole notch up in respectability. Silence fell on it. The light of the twin suns faded into evening then nightfall. Morning found it deserted. A new dust kicked up in the harsh light as the door was carefully opened. New faces peering in until the bolder one stepped forward, taking charge. Captain Reynolds entered cautiously, his eyes taking in the seeming emptiness of the place. Noting that the cargo was not where it was promised to be. He cursed. Kicked at the floor in mute fury. They had not been that late but late enough to miss their rendezvous and lose the job. Zoe checked one side. Jayne the other. The Captain knew they would find nothing. He could hear the nothing right the way down to his soul. Yet he carried on walking, right down the middle of the warehouse. Head tilting slightly as he moved, gun still in hand. Poised yet relaxed, as if it came easily to him. Second nature. That was how he came to hear it. Low. Soft. Muffled. In pain.

It was not the sound that drew him so much as the pain. Deep and burning. Soul destroying. A hunger of darkness that he knew well. Recognised in an instant. Zoe found the source a moment before he did. "Here, sir."

He took a few wide steps and looked down. The expression on her face was neutral. The one on his, contained. Seeing their distraction, Jayne finished up quickly on his side and began to walk over to them. Captain Reynolds said something softly under his breath. Zoe glanced at him but he was not looking at her. Probably a swear word judging by the tight expression on his face. The Captain holstered his weapon and hunkered down slowly. Every movement born of care, his manner suddenly gentle, his eyes concerned with a knowingness that spoke of personal experience.

"Hey there, *yidianr muqin*."

His soft voice caused the dog to raise her head. Her eyes looked a little unfocussed but she seemed to drink him in with an acute awareness. He knew it. Felt it like an unseen connection. She whimpered softly to him. A plea for his ears only. He shushed her softly back, a hand reaching out to her so slowly then stopping a hair's breadth from her face. Letting her take in his scent and deciding for her own self whether or not to trust him. Her choice not his.

"I wouldn't touch her if I were you, sir. Dog looks distressed. Likely take your hand off."

He did not break eye contact with the dog. "I don't think so, Zoe. If she was gonna attack me I'd be dead or sore in some really delicate places by now."

Zoe held back a grim smile. Jayne stepped up behind the Captain and peered over his shoulder to see what they were looking at. His expression twisted in disappointment and disgust as the battered dog raised her head and gently licked the Captain's hand.

"Huh, it's just a ruttin' dog." He snorted then frowned deeper. "And a gorram ugly bitch at that."

Something in the Captain stiffened. He withdrew his hand and glared up at Jayne. Jayne was not paying too much attention to the Captain's reaction. He had turned his head to scowl at Zoe. By the time his head had swung back round to look at the Captain the man was on his feet and angrier than he had seen him in a while. Somehow anger that tightly focused unsettled Jayne more than words. "You'll keep a civil tongue in your head around a lady."

Zoe bit down on her bottom lip. Surprise turning to powerful amusement but not mistaking the deadly look in her Captain's eye. Wouldn't do for him to see his first mate smiling. Jayne looked confused, turning his head this way and that. "Lady? What lady?"

"The little lady cradling her dead, that's who."

At his look of total incomprehension, Mal glared harder at him then slowly looked down at the dog willing Jayne to do likewise. He did. Realised the Captain was talking about the dog and felt all the tension fly out of him. He laughed and took a step back. "That ain't no lady, it's just a gorram ruttin' dog and..."

He never finished the insult. "I'd best not hear you speak like that in her presence." The tone was deadly. No room for misunderstanding.

The laughter died on Jayne's lips. His eyes widened in surprise. "You're gorram serious?"

"As a heart attack."

Jayne shook his head slightly. "But it's just a dog, Cap."

"Look again."


"I said look again. Just don't get too close and don't attempt to touch her, *dong ma*?"

No. Jayne didn't understand but he wasn't about to say as much to an uptight and suddenly deadly looking Captain. He looked down and tried to see what the Captain wanted him to see.


"Uh, I still see a dog, Cap."

"What else?"

He looked closer then noticed the tiny little bodies all bloodied and ragged scraps. Not so much dead as dissected by bullets. Suddenly mocking the ugly bitch was not half so funny. "I didn't know about the pups, Cap."

The Captain nodded, accepting the apology in Jayne's tone if not his words. "Zoe, get Wash to bring the shuttle in close as he can."

She frowned slightly. "Sir?"

But he was already taking off his browncoat and hunkering down. Over his head Zoe and Jayne exchanged equally surprised looks. Zoe recovered quickly. "Yes, sir."

Carefully the Captain folded his coat and laid it on the ground a few inches from the dog. All the time speaking to her softly. His voice a pliant hush of syllables that soothed the distressed animal. Her eyes fixed on him and him alone. Waiting. Watching. "Now you can't stay here, *yidianr muqin*. It ain't safe. Not for you nor your babies."

"They're dead." Said Jayne firmly but quietly over the Captain's shoulder. He was ignored.

"If you'll allow it, I'm gonna lift you up onto this coat. You and your babies will come with me. How do you feel about that?"

Jayne was getting seriously pissed off with this pantomime. What the rutting hell did the Captain think he was doing talking so crazy to a dog for? It wasn't like it was a person.

The dog licked the Captain's hand. Understanding that he was trying to help. Without a murmur she let him lift her on to his coat. Gently he took the ripped up pups one by one and laid them between her paws. Watched with sorrowing eyes as she tenderly washed them with her pink tongue. When the last pup was with its' mother he folded the coat up around them and lifted them into his arms. Jayne stared at the Captain as if he had never set eyes on him before. The Captain acted as if this kind of thing happened every day. He flicked a glance at Jayne. One that did not waver and held every inch of command albeit the words were so softly spoken. "Make sure the coast is clear, Jayne. Time we were off this gorram rock."

"'Bout time too, Captain." He growled then nodded and moved quickly to the door. Checking it was okay he looked back and nodded. They made their way out to the shuttle without incident. Wash looked curious but said nothing. Jayne looked a bit annoyed but more baffled than anything else. He kept casting puzzled looks at the Captain but he was not looking at any of them. A faint smile on his lips, he gently cradled the dog in his arms as the weary mother drifted off to a pained sleep.

Once shuttle two was back on Serenity, Zoe and Wash followed the Captain in silence. Jayne wasn't sure why but he wanted to hit something. Lash out. Yell and curse and cut the tension in him though he didn't know why. Perhaps it was because he didn't understand. What was so special about an ugly runt anyway? It was just a gorram dog. As they walked off the shuttle the Preacher raised his eyebrows at the little procession. His eyes met the Captain's. "Not a word, Preacher." Book just nodded and let him pass.

Simon and Kaylee stared. Kaylee's face shadowing with concern as soon as she saw what the Captain was cradling so carefully in his arms. "Oh, it's a dog." Her eyes misted over with sorrow. "She's hurt and the puppies..." She could not finish the sentence, the misty look in her eyes quickly turning to tears.

The Captain looked at Simon. "Need you to take a look at her, doc."

Simon peered at the dog and the dead puppies, slowly shaking his head in apology. "I'm a doctor not a vet. Besides, nothing I can do for the puppies, Captain. I'm sorry..."

"Might not want to be mistakin' that for a request." He said quietly.

Dr Simon Tam nodded slowly. Recognising the deadliness of that soft tone. "Of course, Captain."

The little procession followed Simon to the infirmary. The doctor wanted to move the pups but the Captain put a hand over his. The touch oddly gentle. "Leave them be, doc."

"They're dead." Said Simon softly. "I can do nothing for them, Captain."

The Captain nodded sadly. "I know that. Don't leave them for me but for her."

Simon looked at the dog. The animal had an almost human look of pain in her glossy dark brown eyes. "She knows they're dead."

Kaylee hovered close. Wanting to comfort the dog but knowing she was injured.

"That's not what I'm sayin'. She may know doc but she ain't accepted it yet. Give her time to do that. In the meantime havin' them close'll be a comfort."

The doctor stared at him. Captain Reynolds was a constant surprise to him. A walking talking contradiction. Just when he thought he had him all figured out he would go and do something like this that showed a side of him that was so gentle and compassionate that it sat uneasily next to the gun he wore at his hip. He had seen this man kill without blinking his eyes. Seen him risk his own life for theirs. Endure torture and loss, sometimes in the same heartbeat. Wear his pain and suffering like just another layer of clothes. But this. This was deeper and somehow more true. A memory of the man who was? Or the one trapped by war and death and a swathe of violence that buried everything good where no one would ever find it? He marvelled at that and began to address the dog's wounds. The Captain made to step away. The dog stiffened and growled as Simon tried to work. Simon froze. The Captain froze. The dog looked at Simon's hand, the growl softened into the back of her throat but the warning clear. Simon looked at the Captain.

"I can't heal her if she won't let me touch her, Captain."

He expected the Captain to huff, reel off a string of obsenities or simply tell him to get on with it and stomp out of the infirmary leaving him to do just that. He did none of those things. Instead he addressed the dog not the doctor. His voice softer than Simon had ever heard it. The dog responded by fixing all her attention on the Captain. Silent now except for eyes that spoke volumes. The Captain lowered his hand and the dog dragged herself close enough to lick it, nudging her head against his palm until he gave in and began to gently stroke her head. A tiny sigh fluttered from the Captain's lips like a flag of surrender. "Okay, *yidianr muqin*, I'll stay but on'y if you let the doc see to your wounds. Dong ma?"

The dog angled her head and looked up at him, a soft woof aimed back at him as the spark of intelligence in her eyes sealed the bargain. A startled brittle laugh from Jayne belied his almost awed tone. "Well I'll be damned. The bitch can talk."

* * * * *

Inara Serra got back two days later. She felt more than a little satisfied by the successful accomplishment of her work. Two more satisfied clients now firm members of her extending client base. She liked being successful. Enjoyed being able to ease others and earn a living at the same time. But coming back to Serenity was like coming home and that was a whole other feeling entirely. It was as if this was the one place in the 'verse where her carefully constructed companion mask could be allowed to slip. But only in private. Naturally. No sooner had she locked down that there was a soft knock at the door. She smiled, knowing who it would be. "Come in."

Kaylee bustled in, all smiles and warmth and child-like joy. It spilled out of her like sunshine. Inara felt her spirits lift even further and gave the girl a hug. She loved Kaylee. The girl was impossible not to love. A bundle of goodness and kind thoughts that made everyone else look like morose beggars. She detected immediately the excitement bursting to be let free. Inara smiled and drew back to look at Kaylee's face, a hand brushing the errant locks of brown hair from the girl's eyes. The mechanic did not notice.

"Inara, I'm so happy you're back. You really missed the excitement."

"Excitement?" She paused and nodded. Of course. The new cargo. Her smile widened. "The job went smooth?"

Kaylee shook her head in a dismissive gesture. "No. There was no job."

A tinge of worry settled on Inara's face. "What happened?"

Kaylee shrugged. "The cargo wasn't there but that wasn't the excitement I was meaning."

"Then what were you meaning?"

"We got a new passenger - I mean, member of crew."

Her eyebrows shot up. First they had no job, that meant no money and money was always tight on Serenity. No money, no supplies, no fuel. No fuel and you can't keep flying. When you had no money you did not take on extra crew. "Perhaps you should explain - from the beginning."

Kaylee looked as if her smile could not get any bigger. "Okay Inara but I gotta warn you now, you ain't gonna believe it..."

Inara listened in stunned silence. After a couple of seconds she found her voice. "A dog?"

The mechanic was laughing now. "Yeah, Captain's even got a name for her. Ruby. You should see them together. Like a match made in heaven."

The companion looked amused and a little baffled. "Kaylee, this is Mal you're talking about."

"The Captain's shiny so is Ruby. You'll like her." Kaylee paused as if thinking of something. "Don't be offended though if she don't go to you. She pretty much only suffers the Captain to touch her."

Her eyebrows rose. She had to see this to believe it. "*Wo bu dong*"

Kaylee caught Inara's hand in hers and gently began to tug her to the door. "Come on, I'll show you."

* * * * *

Even though he had not approved of the dog Simon was pleased with her progress. As the dog got better the Captain got more relaxed. Began to smile and joke and be at ease with them again. Or. As relaxed and at ease as he ever got with the crew. The dog though. The dog was a different matter entirely. It fascinated Simon to see how the animal had found a chink in the Captain's armour. Amazed him that the Captain made no attempt to hide his affection for the dog or the strange overwhelming need to protect her. Was that how he saw them? His crew? As people in need of his protection? The insight made him look at the Captain differently. Still wary of him but getting a glimpse of understanding that he would have missed but for the dog. It was weird but oddly affecting seeing those two together. The dog would not let him touch her still less tend her wounds without the Captain being present. And only when the Captain told her to let him did the dog acquiesse and lie in quiet obedience beneath the blade of his scapel as he felt for the bullet in her thigh. All the while he worked the Captain had gently stroked the dog's head, speaking kindly to her in Chinese. Blue eyes fixed on trusting brown ones. It was amazing. Only hours before the two had been strangers.

Once the operation was over and she was stitched up he tended the graze on her head and then looked at the sad little bodies scattered around the dog's belly. He itched to move them but the Captain was right. It soothed her to have them there. He didn't realise that the Captain was watching him closely until he spoke. In that same soft voice he had used on the dog. "She'll tell you when she don't need them any more doc. Time now to let her rest. You too, I'm thinkin'."

He looked up. Startled in a bird-like way. "I'm not tired."

"You are so. Look hungry too."

The doctor just stared at him. The Captain smiled adding further shock to the poor man's system. On some level he was amazed at how easily the Captain unsettled him but realised it was not the Captain but his own misconceptions of who and what the man was. If he could have he would have thanked the dog for showing him that.

"I'll stay with Ruby." He blinked. "Ruby?"

There was something like tenderness in the Captain's eyes. Simon wanted to shake himself, give himself a pinch and wake up. "That's her name, doc."

"How do you know her name?"

The smile was echoed in his eyes. They were twinkling. Not with mischief but a kind of joy. Joy? The Captain? "I know Simon because I named her."


At his continued blank look, the Captain chuckled then pushed him gently but firmly with his free hand. The other hand still resting on the dog's head. "Go on now." Simon nodded and left them. After a day in the infirmary the dog was willing to let Simon take away the corpses of the puppies. Mal was with the dog, some unspoken bond strengthening by the minute between them. When he got up to go the dog began to drag herself after him with a whimper. He stopped in his tracks and gave the dog a thoughtful look. "We can't be doin' this, Ruby. I have Captainy things to do and you have to heal. Get well, *dong ma*?"

The dog dragged herself to the edge of the bed. Quickly the Captain stepped back to stop her falling off the end of it. Convinced she would let nothing stop her following him. He swore softly and rubbed a hand across the top of her head, his fingers sliding behind a floppy ear to scratch as her head angled in pleasure at the touch. He sighed.

"You are gonna be the ruin of me, girl."

Simon was smiling. Liking the way the dog softened the Captain but knowing it was more than his life was worth to pass comment. "I can't do any more for her here, Captain. Why don't you settle her in your cabin?"

He straightened. Surprised. Shocked. He looked at the doctor. "Simon, I'm the Captain. I can't be havin' animals in my bunk."

"What makes you think Ruby will let you leave her behind?"

He closed his mouth and eyed the dog. Ruby was staring at him. Everything in that look magnified with a determination that told him how prophetic the doctor's words were. Neither of them heard River come in. "*Ru ying sui xing* You are inseparable as each other's shadows." She interpreted unnecessarily for them. She was making a point and they both knew it. "You know you'll say yes." She informed Mal calmly. "You saved her."

The Captain shook his head but he was looking at the dog. "No, I didn't do that. It was Simon. He patched her up, took out the bullet..."

River shook her head and stepped up to him and touched a hand to his chest. Mal looked up and for a second their eyes met. "You saved her," Whispered River softly. "Now she will save you."

* * * * *

Zoe and Wash were in the common room. The combined kitchen, living room, and dining room that formed the centre of their little home in the Black. Shepherd Book was rustling up something for them to eat. It was still a little early for everyone to come to the table but things had been quiet of late. With no job on the horizon they had more time on their hands than they needed yet they recognised the lull as a chance to enjoy a period of calm, a respite, before the 'verse became a complicated ballet of shootouts and the endless seek for work. Serenity wasn't falling apart but neither was she as slick and shiny as she could have been. Only the gifted hands of her mechanic kept them in the sky this long. All knew it. As they entered the commons Simon came in a step behind them with River all but floating in after him. They were all used to her strange ways so never noticed she seemed more distracted than usual. She was just River.

Inara looked at Kaylee. Had expected to see the Captain there. "Where's the Captain?"

The mechanic smiled and nudged her towards the table. "You'll see. Now sit."

She turned. "What are you up to?"

Her sweet smile made Inara smile back. "Captain'll be along. We got a minute or two."

She looked up and noticed the others were looking expectantly at her. "*Shenme*?"

Wash pulled his wife into his lap. "Nothing."

Book was frying something in a pan. She did not know what it was but it was making pleasing smells that were a mite distracting. "I take it you haven't met Ruby yet?"

"No. What's so special about a dog?"

She heard a harsh snort as Jayne came ambling through the door. The man's nose was keener than a bloodhound. As soon as he smelt the beginnings of a meal he was on his way. "Nothin'. It's just an ugly ruttin' bitch but the Captain's gone overboard on her." He groused.

Inara blinked. Kaylee patted her arm and they took their seats at the table. "Overboard?"

The sneer on the mercenary's face was not intended to be cruel just stating a fact he could not wrap his head around. Made no sense to him at all. His choice would have been to kill the dog, skin and stuff it, then have himself the best gorram roast he'd eaten in forever. River looked at Jayne coldly. "Eat what isn't yours and you'll choke on blood and bile. The water's hot not cold and your hands are red."

He felt a shudder go through him. Jayne glared at Simon. "Keep your crazy sister away from me."

It was the Captain's voice that stilled Jayne's flash of anger. "River ain't crazy, Jayne. Leastways not how you imagine she is."

The comment confused Jayne too much for him to form a reply. Besides, Book was dishing up and he planned to get himself a goodly plateful before the platter went down too far. Inara turned her head and stared. No other word for it. As calm and natural as you please the Captain was walking towards his place at the head of the table with a dog in his arms. Kaylee got up and pulled a spare chair close to the Captain's and placed a worn but threadbare cushion on it with a smile. He smiled back and kissed her on the forehead. "*Xiexie*."

"*Bu xie*."

Inara just stared and watched dumbfounded as the Captain settled the dog he was carrying on to the chair. The dog licked his hand and began to settle. The Captain fussing until the animal could sit up without pain from her injured hip. Once the dog was set he sat down and acted as if nothing had happened. Still Inara stared. Words not quite coming to mind. He noticed. A tiny little smile dusting his lips with amusement. "I trust you had a successful few days, Inara?"

She nodded. Only when the serving platter passed to him and he began to fill his plate did her tongue find words to speak. "You have a dog?" The words sounded inane even to her own ears. What was she thinking? Of course he had a dog. The damn thing was eating out of his hand.

Humour quirked his lips up. The others remained silent, ears stretched to follow the exchange. "So it seems."

"I thought you didn't take on animals?"

He looked up as he passed the serving platter on to willing hands. "I took on Jayne, didn't I?"

Jayne looked up from the massive pile of food he was shoving on his plate. Book tugged the platter from him before he could empty it. "Hey! I think I'm insulted."

Without missing a beat the Captain responded in the same mild voice. "I'll apologise to Ruby later."

That stirred little murmurs and guffaws of laughter which petered away when Jayne glared at them. Now he knew the Captain was mocking him. Just wasn't sure how to respond. Inara noticed the Captain did not fill a plate for Ruby. Curious, she took sparingly of the food on offer and watched him while trying not to make it too obvious. Conversation began to flow around the table. Muted. Calm and kind of cosy. She could not remember the last time she had seen everyone this relaxed. No fighting. No bitching. As Mal ate he alternated between putting food in his mouth and siphoning off the choicer bits for the dog. If she had not seen it with her own eyes Inara would not have believed it. The Captain had gone soft over a dog! Kaylee nudged her and whispered in her ear. "Told you."

Inara shook her head slightly. Eyes fixed on the Captain's head as he dipped it to say something quietly to the dog. "I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes." She murmured. "In fact," She added, still sounding a little stunned. "I still don't believe it."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*yidianr muqin* = little mother *dong ma* = understand *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *rui ying sui xing* = inseperable as each other's shadows *shenme* = what *xiexie* = thanks *bu xie* = you're welcome


Friday, October 14, 2011 12:09 PM


Aw I feel so sorry for Ruby!!!! But I love the bond between her and Mal, so beautiful!!!!

Friday, October 14, 2011 1:14 PM


Thank you, ShinyZoeKaylee. I am glad you are enjoying my stories and I appreciate the feedback. 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.