THE LOYALTY SERIES: 2. "Hair Of The Dog"
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Captain Reynolds takes on a job but the rest of the crew are far from happy about it."



SUMMARY: "Captain Reynolds takes on a job but the rest of the crew are far from happy about it." 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

* * * * *

It was later. A few hours after the mid-day meal and Jayne's voice was almost cracking with frustration. The Captain remained calm. Serene almost. They were looking at a wave. Wash had alerted the Captain and Jayne had stuck to him like glue. The desire to find work and get things moving again almost more than he could bear. What the hell was up with the Captain? Couldn't he see that they would soon be breathing vacuum? Zoe said nothing but watched and listened quietly, a hand on her husband's shoulder as they waited for the Captain's response. The Captain shook his head slowly.

"*Duibuqi*, can't do that right now. Not nohow. Surely appreciate you thinkin' of us. A few days now and it would be a different thing."

"In a few days time Captain, I won't want to hire you. *Dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*."

There was silence for just a few seconds after the feed was shut off then Jayne exploded. His face contorted with rage and frustration, just inches from the Captain. "Are you crazy? *Bing le*? We have no work, Mal! This is a payin' job. We need the work to keep flying."

"I know Jayne and I'm sorry. A few days and we'll be right on track."

"Yeah and in a few days there'll be no work."

Zoe quietly spoke what the others were thinking. "Why won't you take this job, sir?"

He held a breath then let it out slowly. "You know why."

"Dog can't captain the ship," Yelled Jayne, finally losing all restraint. "But maybe she can captain the Captain!"

Something tightened in the Captain's face but his voice stayed calm. A deep low growl reminded Jayne that wherever the Captain went these days that gorram bitch of a dog went with him. "No one's holding a gun to your head and makin' you stay, Jayne. A couple of days and we'll take us on a job. Simple as that."

"Yeah? Then tell me why we gotta wait? Just tell me Mal."

"Ruby's still healin'. Couple of days and doc says she'll be good on her feet again."

"*Zhen haoxiao*. Hi-larious, only I ain't laughin'."

"Me neither. Two days, Jayne. Three if you make a fuss."

* * * * *

Inara could not sleep. Tossing and turning just made things worse. She lay on her back and stared up at the ceiling. What was wrong with this picture? Why was she so unsettled by the change in Mal? She wondered for a moment if River was beginning to rub off on her. Tired but knowing sleep would not come she got up and dressed. Decided to take a walk around to settle her down. 3am. Quiet as a graveyard but for the dull creaks and thrum of the engine filling the vessel like a heartbeat. Serenity. The name fit the boat as snugly as the Captain did. She wandered around for a bit. Strolling along the catwalk, pausing to lean on the railing and remember other sleepless nights when she would find Mal doing the same. Funny how insomnia was nothing when shared with a friend. A friend? Was that how she thought of Captain Reynolds? Was it friendship she wanted or something more?

As if thinking about him conjured him out of the night she heard his voice. He was not speaking to her. The voice drifting up from the cargo bay below. Curious, she leaned over the rail and looked down. What she saw made her lips quirk up. Captain Reynolds was standing looking at the dog. He had a patient expression on his face and the dog was totally wrapped up in everything he said as if she understood every word. Maybe she did. Her head tilting as she listened.

"Okay Ruby, we'll do this again. Can't stay if you can't earn your keep, *dong ma*?"

The dog made a soft half whimpering, half grumbling sound. For all the world sounding like she was pleading then agreeing with him. It made Inara smile.

"Now watch and listen, girl." He put his hand out and opened it palm downwards. "*Tingliu!*"

The dog stayed put, watched as Mal turned and walked away from her. Inara could see the dog beginning to tremble as Mal went to the far side of the cargo bay. Straining to go to him but trying to obey. Torn but loyal. A small whimper in the back of the dog's throat the only hint of distress. Mal stopped and turned. Held his silence for a moment or two then made a single compact beckoning gesture. "*Zher!*"

Ruby ran awkwardly. Her injured hip hindering her progress but Mal did not stop her. Go to her. He waited. Let her take as long as she needed to reach him. When she came to him he made a gesture with his left hand and she tucked in neatly beside his left leg, sat and looked up at him. A huge smile blossomed on his face and he bent to fuss her. "Good girl, Ruby."

The dog began to get excited and started to bark. Mal touched a finger to his lips. "*Bei chao!*" He said quietly but firmly. The dog immediately fell silent, her tail wagging furiously and beating a happy tattoo against his leg. Pleased, he cradled his hands around the dog's bullet shaped head. Ignored the ugliness that was all Jayne saw and thought her the most beautiful dog in the 'verse. *His* dog. He smiled and dropped a kiss on the top of her head then straightened, his voice hardening in mock severity that did not fool the dog one bit.

"Now. I gotta send you away and you gotta go." He paused and watched the dog watching him. All alert and back to business now. This was the hardest command for a dog to obey. Easy enough to call a dog to you once you had the dog's trust and affection. A different thing entirely to send it away. He had been working with Ruby every night since her leg had begun to heal. Her obedience to him had to become second nature. No room in the 'verse for mistakes. Not his or hers. Lives could likely depend on it. "*Zou!*"

She ran where he pointed. Stopped when he said. Sat at his command. Lay down when ordered. Came back when he asked. All she gave to him willingly. He accepted her service with a humble kind of joy that made Inara's eyes mist a little. This complicated man knew the simple things best of all. Things like love and loyalty and the ties that bound people together. She saw the tie between man and dog and finally understood something. With a smile on her lips she realised she would be able to sleep now. The dog was not just good for Mal. She was an example for them all.

* * * * *

"So how's she doin', doc?"

Simon said nothing for a moment, his competent hands carefully checking the dog's hip and moving the limb for signs of stiffness and pain. Ruby suffered his hands on her because Mal was there. Simon would not like to be the one to touch her if he wasn't. Kaylee had once asked him what sort of dog Ruby was but he had failed to be able to describe her. Actual dog breeds had all but vanished centuries ago. Those that did not end up in someone's cooking pot were mongrels. The tainted strain of many breeds bottlenecked into the half starved dogs that ran feral on so many worlds now. But Ruby wasn't feral. And she wasn't half starved though Simon had noted that the Captain was careful to only feed her from his own plate. Making a point to one and all that the dog was not being given what was theirs. Once she earnt her keep she would have her own plate and God help the man or woman who griped about it. He was amazed how quickly the animal was filling out. So much stronger and fitter than she had been just weeks ago. Back then he would not have rated her chances but now he simply marvelled at the power of a body to heal. Not so hard when a body had the motivation to do so. "She's good. No crepitus in the limb. Good free movement. No apparent pain. Let me see her walk."

The Captain clicked his fingers once and Ruby jumped down to the floor. Simon watched critically and was impressed that the dog was moving naturally as her paws hit the deck. Mal made a little hand sign and the dog obediently walked around the infirmary, eyes fixed on the Captain. He let her walk round twice then made another tiny handsign and she broke into a run. Simon's eyes widened with realisation. It was obvious the Captain had been training the dog. Surprised he found himself watching for the small handsigns as much as he was watching the dog's movements. The Captain opened his hand and the dog stopped running and stood stock still. Another tiny sign and the dog trotted up to the Captain and sat down at his left side, her shoulder touching his knee, her head raised proud and alert. Mal would not have been human if he had not derived immense satisfaction from the stunned look on Simon's face. "So, doc. Will she do?"

Simon shook his head and chuckled softly. "I'm amazed and impressed. You've been training her."

"Ruby, Simon. Her name is Ruby."

The doctor nodded. "Ruby. Yes. Of course."


He looked up, almost startled. "Hmm?"

"You didn't say how Ruby is."

"Oh, *duibuqi*. Ruby is A-okay Captain. I've never seen a patient heal so fast. Maybe you should think about going into medicine?"

The Captain smiled and shook his head. "We both know that wouldn't work, doc. I'd be bringing more patients in than out."

Simon's expression clouded and the Captain wished he could snatch back the words. The trouble was they were true. It was that fact that hurt Simon most.

* * * * *

Everyone was in the commons for the annoucement. Zoe sat in Wash's lap. The Preacher stood with his hands on a chair back, his expression solemn as he listened. Inara and Kaylee sat opposite Wash. Simon and River next to them. Jayne was standing by the hotplate with a mug of coffee in his big hands, a look close to pure happiness stealing over his features. At last. A job! "What we got to do for all this rutting money?"

The Captain did not answer immediately. So far he had told them the name of the planet. The distance they would have to cover and where they had to then take the packages. What he had not yet told them was what was inside the packages. Why the hair was stirring on the back of his neck making Ruby uneasy at his side. He began to pace again, the dog tempted to follow but his silent command held her firm. She followed his movements with her eyes. "The job is sound. Shiny even."

"Then why are you looking like your neck has a noose around it?"

Jayne. Rough and ready and always to the point. But wasn't that what they loved about him? The Captain was still again. He crossed his arms over his chest. Felt the welcoming warmth of Ruby as she settled by his side and leaned against his left leg. "Well now, the job ain't a problem. Straightforward as I see it but the customer makes me a mite uncomfortable truth to tell."

"Who is it?" Asked Zoe. Knowing that Mal's words could be a masterpiece of understatement.

He took a deep breath and prepared himself for the backlash. "Patience."

The room errupted. Everyone had an opinion on the woman. None of them good. Voices were raised in anxious denial that any job was worth mixing with that back-stabbing *pofu*. The Captain glanced across at Inara. She had gone pale and was the only one silent besides himself. After a few minutes he stepped in to stop the speculation getting out of hand. "*Anjing!*"

The sudden silence hurt his ears. "As Jayne reminded me a couple of days ago we need to find work. Boat can't run without parts. We can't function without supplies. The job will bring us both. Otherwise ship don't fly and nobody's safe any more. *Dong ma*?"

Zoe looked worried. "Captain, you can't trust Patience. She already shot you once. Would have done a second time if we hadn't taken precautions."

He nodded. "This I know. I'm not real crazy about her my own self."

"Then why deal with her?"

"Because no one else is hiring right now and we need the work. It's either that or Alliance make-work. I'm thinkin' you would hate that even more."

"You know I would sir, it's just this is most likely a trap."

He knew that. Had wieghed up all the alternatives. Not starving seemed a good reason to do this. "The money's good, Zoe. Buy us enough supplies and parts for Serenity to make the next few months go smooth."

"Not so good if you're not alive to spend it, sir."

"Then best we plan on stayin' alive." He paused and looked at Inara. "You're very quiet, Inara. Got no words need sayin'?"

"Would you listen if I did?"

Her mild reproof stung him slightly but he hid it well. "You got a say just like everyone else."

There was a moment's silence. "I don't trust her, Mal." She paused. "Trusting her is a mistake."

"I'm not planning on trusting her. Just go in, do the job, get paid. How hard can that be?"

For a moment no one spoke. They already knew how hard it could be. None of them were too keen to repeat the experience but as the Captain had so eloquently pointed out they needed a job to keep flying. Bottom line was beggars could not be choosers and a job was a job.

The Captain raised his voice to indicate any discussion was over. "Wash, you set the co-ordinates for Eros. My information is that its' a desert planet but has oasis dotted about that make you think of visions of heaven on Earth-that-was."

"How can a desert be like heaven?" Asked Kaylee.

"Don't rightly know. Guess we have to go down and see."

"So what," Asked Wash as Zoe stood up allowing him to get to his feet. "Does a self seeking witch like Patience have way out in the desert that needs hauling back to Whitefall? And why would she ask you to do the toting?"

"She didn't exactly ask me, Wash."

All eyes fastened hard on his. The Captain tried not to make eye contact with Zoe.

"I was the one that asked her."

* * * * *

It took Inara almost an hour to get Mal alone. Well. Alone except for the dog. They were in her shuttle. The Captain strangely subdued and quiet. Her heart racing in time with the fury pumping through her veins like fire. As soon as the door shut behind them she turned to face him and let her anger show. "What did you think you were doing?"

"Finding work?"

"Mal, this isn't a joke. This is real life. Patience isn't going to forget you made her eat dust last time."

"See? There you go cheering me up already." He turned to go. Inara stepped round him to block his path. Ruby watched them carefully.

"Don't do this, Mal. Refuse the job."

"Well now, I can't rightly do that. Already said yes."

She felt frustrated. Worry making her snappy. So angry with him she wanted to give him a shake. "Wasn't almost dying enough for you, Mal? Do you have to try again and maybe this time do it for real?"

His false cheer evaporated at the anxiety in her eyes. The distress. "Inara, I'm sorry." He paused. Tempted to touch her cheek but unwilling to step over the line she had drawn with her first breath on Serenity. "I don't think she'll try anything this time."

She shook her head. How niave was he? "She doesn't have to, Mal. You'll be on Eros."

"You sayin' Patience'll hire someone to kill me down on the planet? Waste money on me?"

Inara did not answer. They just stared at each other. The obvious not needing to be stated.

"Inara," He took a step towards her. She did not back away. "We have the advantage here."

She shook her head. "No. You only think you do."

His voice dropped to barely a whisper. "Do you think so little of me?" He paused, watching the procession of emotions flicker across her face like images in some old hand cranked movie. "I know she's gonna try to cheat us. Maybe put a few new holes in me for old time's sake only it ain't gonna work."

"Mal, walk away while you can. It's not too late. There'll be other jobs."

His eyes searched hers for a moment. "Why so worried, Inara?"

"Who says I'm worried?"

He paused, wishing she would open up to him but not prepared to push her where she did not want to go. If it was important she would tell him.

* * * * *

Two days from Eros. Two days in which the tension was steadily building. Feelings running a little too high and incredulous for comfort. When the Captain did not turn up for dinner Zoe went looking for him. He wasn't in his bunk nor in the cargo hold. She checked the infirmary but it was empty. Everyone else was in the commons room finishing their meal. Book had done the cooking so it was the highlight of the day. Zoe paused, would have checked Inara's shuttle next except that she was at the dinner table with the rest of them so where was he? She checked the engine room and the bridge until the only place left unchecked was the armoury.

He didn't even look up when she stepped inside. The Captain was hunkered down, Ruby lying on the floor at his feet with her head resting on his boot as if this was a routine they went through every day. Zoe just stood in the doorway and stared at him. "Sir? What are you doing?"

He was turning something over in his hands. After a moment he looked up at her and she realised he was looking at her bullet proof vest. "How many of these we got, Zoe?"

She did not even blink. "One." A pause. "You know that, sir."

"We don't got another one tucked away someplace?"

Zoe shook her head and hunkered down next to him. "No, sir." She paused. "Mal, what's this about?"

She knew he was not thinking of wearing a vest. He would complain noon and night at the very idea let alone would he put one on. If stubbornness were armour he'd be bullet proof. "Just thinkin' is all."

"We don't have to do this job." She said softly. "Don't owe Patience a thing."

"Not havin' this conversation. Decision's made, *dong ma*?"

"It's still a bad decision."

"Zoe..." His voice was soft but a definite warning. She changed tack.

"Why you askin' about vests anyway? You'd never wear one."

"Weren't for me."

Her eyebrows rose. "Then who?"

He was mumbling. Back to turning the vest over and over in his hands, poking at the double stitched seams and prodding it. "Know what these are made of, Zoe?"

"No, some hi-tech lightweight mix that prevents bullets from penetrating the material."

He looked at her intently. "So we couldn't make one?"

It was not often he silenced her so effectively.


She sucked in a breath. "What's going on, sir? Why do you want us to start making bullet proof vests? We hit planet fall in under two days."

"I know that."

"Then why? What is it you're not telling us?"

"Just bein' prepared is all."

"If you're thinking of getting vests for all of us, sir..."

He shook his head. "Not all. Just one."

"One?" She was even more puzzled now. Then alarmed. "You're going to wear a vest, sir?"

"No, not never nohow! Zoe, you been drinkin'?"

"Not yet sir but this conversation's makin' me think now might be a good time to start."

The Captain stood up, vest still in hand, and Zoe got to her feet with him. Eyes locked on him as if afraid he would vanish if she so much as turned her head. Ruby sat up and watched them. "Reckon Inara's probably the best with needle and thread."

Zoe blocked the doorway and crossed her arms. "You're not going anywhere until you tell me what this is about, sir."

"Zoe, don't have time for this."

She did not budge. He could tell from that look in her eye that she was prepared to wait him out however long it took. He bit back a sigh. "I tell you then you gotta promise not to laugh."

She searched his eyes. There was nothing about this whole set up that amused her. Why would he think she'd laugh at him? So he told her. Reluctantly but she had the truth out of him even so. Her eyes were suspiciously bright and there was definitely an air of utter disbelief in them but she kept her word and managed not to laugh in his face. Well. That was something. She would have quizzed him harder but that would have meant opening her mouth. Opening her mouth would have meant breaking her promise so she kept silent. Mal glared at her expression then gave a sharp nod. "No need to pass this conversation on, *dong ma*?"

Unable to speak she nodded and stepped aside. He gave an abrupt nod back and stepped briskly passed her, Ruby following in his wake like a shadow. She glanced at the dog then hung on to her self control until both were out of sight, stepped back inside the armoury and closed the door. Then Zoe let rip, the laughter bouncing off the walls as she hung on to a crate just to keep herself upright. Tears squeezing out of the corner of her eyes until she thought she would surely go blind.

* * * * *

The Captain found Inara still in the kitchen. The mess hall come commons room was filled with light banter and good natured arguments flowing back and forth. Simon and the Shepherd were deep into some philosophical discussion and Jayne was finishing up the dishes as Mal joined them. Heads turned. Wash smiled at him. "Missed you at dinner."

"Not hungry."

Immediately there was a subtle shift and his crew watched him more closely. He seemed distracted. Simon noticed he had something in his hands and nodded to it. "What's that?"

"Oh, bullet proof vest."

Every eyebrow rose but he seemed not to notice. Still a mite distracted. He looked at Inara who was sitting next to Kaylee and River on the sofa. "Glad you're here Inara, got a minute?"

She started to get up.

"You too, Kaylee. Could use your input on this."

Shepherd Book straightened from his position behind the sofa where he had been lounging. "Are you feeling alright, Captain?"

"Fine, thanks Preacher."

"You didn't come to dinner." Added Simon, now watching the Captain more closely. Was he sickening for something?

"Just thinkin' is all."

"Something you wanna share with us?" Asked Jayne.

"No." He looked at Inara. "You ready?"

She nodded. He looked at Kaylee, she nodded and gave him a tentative smile. "Everythin' okay, Cap'n?"


Reassured her smile brightened. The others watched the three of them leave. Jayne stared after them. "Now that was downright unsettlin'."

River smiled from the sofa. "Captain's gonna fix and mend."

Simon stared down at her, leaned over the back of the sofa and stroked her hair. "Fix and mend what, *mei mei*? Is something broken?"

She looked up at him, a beautific look on her face. "Not so you can see the joins. Captain's gonna fix the joins, not let anything get through. Even daylight."

Simon shook his head then smiled gently at her. His look loving and indulgent but none the wiser. The Shepherd was still looking towards the door, his expression thoughtful. Wash excused himself. He needed to get back to the bridge. He idly wondered as he made his way to the cockpit where his wife was.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = sorry *dong ma* = understand *wo dong* = I understand *bing le* = ill *zhen haoxiao* = that's funny *tinglui* = stay *zher* = here *bei chao* = not so noisy *zou* = go away *pofu* = bitch anjing = quiet *mei mei* = little sister


Friday, October 14, 2011 1:19 PM


Shiny!! Body armor for Ruby?XD love Mal and Ruby!! Great story!:D


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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.

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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.

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Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

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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.