THE REFLECTION SERIES: 19. "Homeward Bound"
Tuesday, November 9, 2004

"The Captain proposes a plan to get his crew off the forty-four but not everyone is happy with the arrangement. Back on board the Crazy Goose time is running out."



SUMMARY: "The Captain proposes a plan to get his crew off the forty-four but not everyone is happy with the arrangement. Back on board the Crazy Goose time is running out." 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

* * * * *

The Captain looked down and his frown deepened. "Badger! I should'a known that *goushi* stench was you."

Badger managed to pull himself up into a sitting position. He seemed to be having trouble breathing but Mal didn't rightly care. If Badger was behind what had happened to his crew as he suspected he was about to feel a whole lot worse. A 'verse of pain would be waiting for him, fair recompense for his betrayal. As his face darkened Chung-li rested a hand on the Captain's shoulder and murmured something in his ear the others could not catch. Mal nodded but did not take his eyes off the treacherous kingpin. He waited until he caught Badger's eye. "Later." He promised, his voice soft but deadly.

The Captain looked away from Badger and glanced round at his crew. "Let's get out of here."

Simon's eyes widened as panic crowded in. "But River..."

"I'll find your sister, now go! Rafe, can I count on you to see to it they get to the runabout? If'n half your men can stay with me we'll go find our missin' girl then retrieve my boat. See you back aboard the Goose."

Rafe made no move to go but watched the Captain drag a reluctant Badger to his feet. Zoe was frowning not at all pleased with the idea of being parted from the Captain so soon. She didn't entrust his safety to anyone but herself. Felt all kinds of wrong. Besides, she didn't know these people and it felt strange to see these men acting so naturally around the Captain as if they were cut from the same cloth. Maybe they were but she didn't like the feeling of exclusion that came with it. Or maybe it was just her conscience pricking her for not having faith in him to come for them. For believing Mal would just turn his back on ship and crew and walk away. Kaylee had never doubted the Captain. Since when had her own faith faltered? It disturbed her more than she could say but the Captain was the Captain and it was so good to have him back. She might not like it but if he gave her the order to go on ahead she would do it. She wasn't going to lose faith in him again, no matter what.

"You sure we should split up, Mal?" Asked Rafe cautiously. "Don't know how many of these *tamade hundan* are still on this ship."

"Don't fret Rafe, I know what I'm doin'. Besides," Mal paused to brush imaginary dust off Badger's shoulder making the man flinch. The Captain's lips quirked slightly, happy to be able to discomfit the pyschotic piece of *goushi buru*. "I'll have Badger with me." Mal pushed his face close to Badger's, trying not to inhale the bad odour coming off him. "Reckon he'll be all kinds of eager to help. Work his way back into our good books."

Rafe frowned. He could not imagine the slimey little man doing any such thing but if anyone could change a mans' mind he reckoned it was Malcolm Reynolds. "Okay Mal but give us a wave if things get tight, *dong ma*?"

Mal nodded then watched while Rafe divided his men leaving Chung-li, *Shi* and a couple of others with the Captain while taking Paul Cotton and the rest back with him.

"Best get movin', Rafe."

The rancher nodded and began to ease Serenity's crew into the corridor to get them to the runabout. Shepherd Book gave Mal a look that seemed to ask if this was what he wanted. Mal gave a little nod back. The Preacher accepted that and urged Jayne not to tarry though the big man wanted nothing more than to get to Badger and rip him limb from limb. He peeled his lips back and snarled at Badger as he passed, hoping that when the Captain had finished with him he would gut him. Man deserved nothing better. Kaylee smiled at the Captain and kissed his cheek, Wash and Zoe following a step behind. Simon hung back, an obdurate look on his sensitive face.

"I'm not going anywhere without my sister!"

Mal looked into the doctor's defiant face. "Fine but she ain't here."

Simon blinked at the Captain. The wind torn from his sails by the unexpected comment. He had expected the Captain to argue with him. "*Shenme*?"

"What? You blind as well as deaf? Look around you doc, she ain't here."

"I... I didn't mean 'here' as in this room, I meant..."

"I know what you meant but we don't got time for this, *dong ma*? Longer you drag your gorram heels Simon the more chance I won't get to her in time. Just go, let me talk to Badger an' do what I have to do. I promise I won't come back without her."

The doctor seemed to wrestle with competing emotions, finally he took a long look at the Captain's face and saw the resolve and commitment staring back at him. River trusted this man and so far he had gone to extraordinary lengths to protect and keep him and his sister safe even placing himself and his crew in danger to do so. If he couldn't trust the Captain he couldn't trust anyone but it still came hard. He gave a quick nod before he could change his mind.

Rafe turned his head for one last question before leaving. "Who's gonna fly the runabout, Mal?"

The Captain clapped a hand on Wash's shoulder. "Only the finest pilot as lived an' breathed! Want you to meet Wash Warren. I'll let you folks introduce yourselves aboard the runabout. Now go, get gone, time's a'wastin' an' I'm in no mind to spend a moment longer on this *lese* piece of Alliance hardware than I have to."

Wash gave the Captain a happy but stunned look then smiled. Zoe squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. As they hurried off down the corridor in Rafe Connor's wake Simon kept looking back, his heart and head at odds with each other. Kaylee knew what he was thinking, understood how torn he was about leaving. "It's okay Simon. Cap'n'll find River like he found us." She gave him the most beautiful dazzling smile. It pretty near blinded him. "Ya just gotta have faith." To his surprise Simon found himself smiling back.

* * * * *

Tollan listened to his friend's quiet instructions. One hand in Thomas's the other brushing the damp hair from his forehead. Inara watched with quiet concern while schooling herself to remain calm. The last thing she wanted to do was worry Thomas with her own sadness and distress.

The Counsellor returned to the bridge of the Crazy Goose and checked the controls. The Alliance cruiser was moving into position to fire on the Goose. Tollan waited for the ship to finish its' turn then quickly employed the cloak and dropped height with a controlled but swift descent. On board the Alliance cruiser Lt Commander Hodge could not believe his gorram eyes. They were almost in perfect alignment to take out the Goose's engines and propulsion system when their target suddenly vanished. He blinked, not daring to look up and catch Carlin's eye. Trying not to perspire too heavily he adjusted his controls and checked the sensors. Nothing. But that was impossible. How could a complete ship vanish right before his eyes? He tried to stem the rising panic and calculated they were still on target. Quickly he opened fire with everything they had and just prayed he would hit something.

* * * * *

On board the Crazy Goose Counsellor Michael Tollan watched the impotent fireworks streak above the diving Goose, strafing an empty sky. He chuckled, imagining the rage on Carlin Ferris's face. Easing the rate of descent he levelled off then brought the ship around to edge closer to the mining platform. Not only did he want to be close enough to offer Serenity's Captain air support if things got too hot he also needed to align his ship to a big enough metal structure to mask any stray fluctuations in the field around their cloaking device. It did not hurt that it would also give him a ringside view of the Alliance cruiser's reaction to literally having the Goose slip through their fingers. What he would not give to be a fly on the wall when the vindictive Carlin Ferris realised his father had out manouevred him yet again. But the gloating was bitter edged and tinged with grief. Thomas would survive this encounter but it was already academic. By the time Carlin was on course to his next assignment his father would already be dead.

* * * * *

Zoe had a plethora of competing emotions rushing through her making it hard to think straight. Relief to see the Captain again. Shame and guilt over ever doubting him. Concern at leaving him behind to look for River. It felt all kinds of wrong. She should be there with him, by his side. It was her place after all. Yet she also wanted to be with Wash. Her husband. For now the relief at having the Captian back swamped every other emotion but she knew that feeling would pass.

It was not until Rafe Connor had got them safely on to the runabout that curiosity about their 'new friends' kicked in. Rafe introduced his crew and Zoe reciprocated, liking what she saw and beginning to realise that the Captain had chosen his friends well. It amazed her how quickly Mal made connections with people, how instantaneous the trust he engendered in strangers. A knack she had seen demonstrated time and time again during the war. Yet there was no artifice. No manipulation involved. Mal was simply Mal and when folk saw that they responded in kind. They either took to him or left him alone. With Mal there was no middle ground.

Turning her head at Wash's startled cry Zoe had to smile. His face was alight with childlike glee, joy and awe holding hands as he touched the holy grail of ship's. He was like a kid in a candy store, not knowing what to touch first. Rafe smiled and laughed when Kaylee began to wax lyrical over the ship just as enthusiastically as the pilot. Simon just shook his head in bemused amazement. Jayne watched in silence, looking a mite jumpy and wary but Zoe was not worried about him. Nor the Shepherd. Book seemed to ease into the new company in a way she instantly envied. Wash brought her thoughts back to him.

"Zoe, you have to see this! It's incredible! So unbelievable even I don't believe it."

She smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. Wash babbled happily, flipping through switches and bringing up the laser screens of the targetting system. He was in his seventh heaven. Zoe barely felt the hum through the deckplates as they lifted off, then Wash paused and look straight into her eyes. With a smirk he flicked a switch. Nothing happened. Zoe frowned at the expectent look on her *zhangfu's* face. Wash was beaming at her and Kaylee was practically bouncing on the balls of her feet with excitement.

"What did you just do, *zhangfu*?"

"I made us invisible. Or rather, the ship did."

Zoe blinked trying to remember whether Wash had hit his head on anything. Then hoping that insanity did not run in his family. If it did it did not bode well for any future children they might have. "*Shenme*?"

"This ship has a cloaking device, *bao bei*."

Another blink. This one more languid as if she was struggling to take in what he was saying let alone make sense of it. "Impossible."

Kaylee laughed. "No, it ain't. It's just not many can afford the upgrades. This is cuttin' edge technology. If Serenity had half the things this runabout's got Alliance would never catch us."

The pilot gazed up at his wife in complete adoration. A puppy dog look coming into his eyes that seldom failed to move her. "Can I have one, Zoe? If I'm really good, eat all my protein cubes and promise to be extra appealin'?"

She gave him an indulgent look. "What would you do with a cloakin' device, *zhangfu*?"

"Well," Said Wash slowly, wanting to savour her reaction. "It would make love makin' even more interestin'..."

Zoe gave a throaty laugh and kissed him. Rafe chuckled behind her, exchanging tolerant looks with his men. "We can't always get what we want, Wash, you know that. Best make the most of this while you can, *bao bei*."

* * * * *

The wet season had pretty much ended on Glory and it was a relief to be able to navigate the edges of the swamp without sinking in. Hal Larkin was tired but content. Wearily he led his men back to the Wellspring Ranch using this short cut. Brooks and Peary were no longer with them so even as tired as they were they made good time. Dusk was beginning to fall as the big house came into view on its' little hill overlooking the bunk house, barn and out buildings. They stopped off at the coral and dismounted, no words passing between them. The creak of saddle leather and jingle of harnesses the only noises punctuating the cough and stamp of their horses. The foreman nodded and his men followed him into the barn, the horses now nervous and reluctant to go back inside. He could not blame them, the musty smell of stale smoke was acrid and filled with the kind of memories that haunted a man's dreams but the horses needed shelter and it was all they had, half ruined though it was. As a concession to ease their fright, Hal ordered the barn doors fastened open so the horses would not feel locked in. It would also help clear the air some while what was left of the walls and roof would keep the worst of the weather out. Looking up he could see great gaps above his head where the fire had taken out part of the roof. Every piece of timber was scorched, some so blackened and burnt that he was not sure exactly what was holding it up. But the main beams seemed solid enough and it was on that strength he now relied. Time enough to think on how to afford another barn after the men and horses got settled and he spoke to the boss. First things first, they had to take care of the horses. He looked at his men, pleased to see them all bending to their tasks without complaint.

Desert Pete paused with the curry comb, leaning in to the heat coming off his quarterhorse as he looked across the top of the beast's withers at the foreman. "Sure is quiet, Hal. Where do you suppose the others are?"

Hal shrugged and brushed his horse down, the familiar routine calming him and bringing an odd kind of peace. "Guess we'll find out soon enough."

"Reckon somethin' happened while we was gone?"

The foreman gave a soft non committal grunt and for a while they lapsed into silence. It was not long before they had company. Hal straightened up and turned, expecting to see Rafe Connor striding towards them. Instead he saw Todd and Molly. He recalled Desert Pete's words and tried to hide the unsettled feeling that was stirring in his gut.

"Where's the boss?"

"The boss and most of the men have gone with Mal."

Surprise then concern flooded the foreman's face. "What happened?"

Todd paused, shared a look with Molly, then launched into a full explanation. Stunned, Hal just stared at him while he tried to take it all in.

"Are you sayin'," Said Pete in something of a daze. "That they went up in one of them ships?"

"Yep, that's about the size of it." Todd sighed. "Seems like the wheel never stops turnin'."

"An' these people reckon they can maybe help the boss keep the ranch?" Asked Hal.

"So it seems," Said Molly. "Everything happened so fast it's still kind'a hard to take it all in."

"You're tellin' me." Hal rubbed a hand through his hair as if it would somehow help him think straight. Get his thoughts in some kind of sensible order. He was still having trouble coming to terms with how Cyrus White had tricked the boss and now threatened to yank the ranch out from under him. He sure hoped Mal's friends could do something about that. "Well, there's nothin' we can do about it right now. Leastways not 'till the boss gets back."

Todd and Molly nodded. Relieved to have the burden shared with the foreman. It had been mighty lonely with everyone gone but the barest of skeleton crews. Mark had taken a couple of ranch hands to check on the herd and the fencing. Should be back soon. Hal realised that Todd and Molly had more they wanted to say but not here. He guessed little Rose was in the house.

"Just give me a minute to finish up here and I'll come by the house."

Molly looked relieved. Todd had a word with a few of the men, making sure they were alright, then went back to the house with Molly. Hal watched them go with a thoughtful look in his eyes, a dusty little smile lightening the lines of worry on his face when he saw them clasp hands. Well. Some things 'were' going right on schedule at least. Then he bent his head and got back to the task in hand. The sooner he finished up here the sooner he would hear the rest of the tale.

* * * * *

It was all kinds of comfort to have Chung-li beside him. The man was few on words which suited Mal fine, but when he did speak there was a wealth of wisdom looking back at him which settled any concerns he was feeling. Not sure he could put how he felt into words but just having him there was enough. He noticed *Shi* was watching him. "*Shenme shi*?"

"How we gonna do this, Mal?"

"Fast but sneaky I'm thinkin'."

"Where do you reckon she'll be?"

"Who, River?" *Shi* nodded. Chung-li kept one eye on the Captain the other on the corridor, ears stretched for the slightest sound that might indicate they had company. "Don't gotta reckon, *wo zhidao*."

The men blinked. Stevie Hill was usually the strong but silent type yet his curiosity was piqued. "How ya know that?"

Mal gave a slow grin, his voice hoarse from so much talking but getting a little stronger every day. Still felt like he had a pile of sawdust and ashes lining his throat though. "On'y place she can be - Serenity."

"That's your boat ain't it?"

"Yeah, *Shi*, that's my boat."

The men smiled then grew serious again as the moment passed. Mal moving on to non verbal commands they all could follow as easy as taking a breath. Chung-li stayed in the Captain's shadow, the others following in an alert crocodile behind, each man with his gun drawn ready to discharge mechanised death on any *wangba dan* who tried to stop them. But there was one more thing Mal needed to do before he found River. Would never forgive himself if he didn't. A sideways glance at Chung-li made him think the Chinaman could damn near read his ruttin' mind. Maybe be could. Didn't matter nohow and wouldn't change a thing. Some things a man just had to do.

There were a couple of more levels below this corridor. Mal made sure the coast was clear ahead when they reached the stairwell then quietly filled the men in on his plan. Ricky looked worried. "Thought we was just findin' the girl an' leavin'?"

"If you had a sister, brother, cousin or somesuch holed up in this *diyu* would you wanna leave 'em here? Knowin' what these *tamade hundan* have been doin' to 'em an' the kind'a future they have in store?"

Ricky could not meet Mal's eyes. He nodded sheepishly. "Nope, reckon I wouldn't."

"Now I know this ain't what you men agreed to so if'n any of you feel *bushufu* I won't take it amiss if you don't wanna do this. Likely we'll see some hard resistance once we reach the lower levels where I reckon they're bein' held."

No one wanted out. Mal had not expected them to. Like him they shared the common sense of outrage good honest folk always felt when something evil and depraved reared its' ugly head. Only solution was to take its' gorram head off and kill it dead. And he aimed to do just that. Just as soon as those folk were off the boat and that was the rub. He had no idea how many there would be or if he could get them all aboard Serenity safe and sound but he figured it was their best shot. *Diyu*, it was their only shot. That only left finding River and getting off this ruttin' slaver's ship just as fast as they could. Not that he would mind the delay if it meant he could set a charge or two. Just a little something to pay them back for all the pain and torment inflicted on the innocent.

It was kind of eerie to have the place so silent. Everybody they came across was either dead or as near dead as made no never mind. They stepped over the bodies and continued on their way, after a while barely registering them. As they descended the staircase they came across no more for they had not come this way when they boarded. Now silence was their watchword. Anxious and wary eyes sought out every shadow, every nook and cranny where the enemy could hide and lie in wait. Mal had no illusions that somewhere the slavers would be lurking waiting to take them out but they heard nothing, saw nothing, and that was all kinds of creepifying though he did not say so to the men. Best not to spook them.

The next level seemed to be mainly stores, munitions and such like. Mal grinned and grabbed a rifle, saving his sidearm for close work. The men did likewise, freely handing extra shells out before moving on. Again the silence was almost deafening. The Captain could feel his heartbeat increase, the blood pounding in his ears, his throat dry. He didn't like this. It was too gorram easy. Again they descended. The last level. That was when he heard it. He froze and felt the men do likewise, each tuned to the other. The sounds were small at first, little cries and whimpers that tugged at the heartstrings with the plaintive sorrow of it all. Agonised screams then etched their shrill excess in hearts and minds in a way that chilled the blood. Malcolm Reynolds' hold on the rifle tightened, his knuckles going white as his lips compressed into a hard unforgiving line. He didn't have to look to see if the men were behind him, as he broke into a run every single one of them kept pace, each man longing to catch up with one of those *tamade hundan* so he could send him straight to every one of the nine hells.

* * * * *

Zoe was amazed at the sight of the Crazy Goose. Somehow the name had conjured up some jury-rigged junker patched together with spare parts from the trash heaps of a hundred worlds. This sleek, technology rich vessel was nothing like she had imagined. Wash was speechless, his eyes as round as saucers, hands itching to get hold of the controls. Kaylee thought for sure that she had died and gone to heaven. Rafe Connor was not in the least affected, he had seen it before and though it was mighty impressive he preferred solid ground beneath his feet. Not that he would offend their host by saying as much.

Counsellor Michael Tollan met them when they came aboard. Rafe looked closely at the man's face, noticed he looked kind of tense and pale. At least that gorram Alliance vessel was gone. He had no words to express how relieved and pleased that made him which was why the Counsellor's subdued welcome felt so odd. What the good gorram had happened?

"My name is Counsellor Tollan, welcome to the Crazy Goose."

A round of introductions was swiftly made and Tollan nodded politely before Kaylee could stand it no longer. "Is it true 'Nara's aboard?" The first crack in Tollan's stoic facade appeared, a slight smile that just seemed to make him seem even sadder than he had a moment ago. "*Qu*, Inara Serra is indeed aboard."

Kaylee craned her neck looking around, disappointed not to see her friend right there and then. "Where is she?"

Did he hesitate? "Inara will be with you shortly. Now, I understand you would like a tour of the ship before you get settled?"

Wash's face lit up at the magic words but Zoe had been watching the exchange carefully and sensed something was wrong. Simon was as jumpy as a cat on hot bricks, no doubt worrying about his sister. Jayne and the Preacher were talking quietly together. Zoe walked over to Rafe. "*Shenme shi*? I thought these were friends?"

"They are but they have troubles of their own, *dong ma*?"

Her look darkened. "Those troubles involve Inara or the Captain?"

He shook his head firmly. "No." She stared at him and wondered what he was holding back but then Tollan was talking to her, telling her that Inara would join them after the tour. Unable to politely continue the conversation she followed Tollan in silence. Wash kept up a happy chatter with Kaylee and Book chipping in with occasional comments. Jayne looked at Zoe's tense face and kept his mouth shut, his right hand sliding along his belt to rest on the butt of his gun. This ship might be all kinds of shiny but it wasn't Serenity. He wouldn't relax until every last one of them was back aboard the Captain's boat and heading into the Black where they belonged.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*goushi* = crap/dog shit *tamade hundan*/wangba dan* = fucking bastard *goushi buru* = lowest of the low/lower than dogshit *dong ma* = understand *shi* = ten *shenme* = what *lese* = crappy *zhangfu* = husband *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wo zhidao* = I know *bushufu* = uncomfortable *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go)


Wednesday, November 10, 2004 6:40 AM


The premise of this whole story - That Mal could be made to abandon Serenity and his crew - Is almost as interesting as the new wrinkle, that Zoe could lose faith in Mal and must now deal with that. Excellent storytelling!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004 8:16 AM


Glad to see the next chapter at last (not that I'm impatient or anything. Nice on Zoe's reactions to Mal's new friends. I loved Wash playing with the high-tech equipment too - very Wash. And found myself nodding at this bit:
"Mal was simply Mal and when folk saw that they responded in kind. They either took to him or left him alone. With Mal there was no middle ground."

Saturday, November 13, 2004 10:46 AM


Loved Wash in this one. Very nice. Now to find out what BAdger's punishment is.

Saturday, November 13, 2004 3:17 PM


"It amazed her how quickly Mal made connections with people, how instantaneous the trust he engendered in strangers... They either took to him or left him alone. With Mal there was no middle ground." Yup. They either ally with him immediately, or try to burn him alive. Really, really no middle ground! ;-)

I agree with Zoe--felt all kinds of wrong that she left Mal.

Loved Wash with the pretty ship.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 12:45 PM


The pilot gazed up at his wife in complete adoration. A puppy dog look coming into his eyes that seldom failed to move her. "Can I have one, Zoe? If I'm really good, eat all my protein cubes and promise to be extra appealin'?"
LOL!!! you do a great job of writing Wash!! I love his and Kaylees reaction to the shiny ship;D

Hal shrugged and brushed his horse down, the familiar routine calming him and bringing an odd kind of peace.
VERY Well written! That's exactly how it feelsXD

I love how you've written all the Wash/Zoe, and all the hints of Simon/Kaylee, and Mal/Inara, very well done! :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.

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.