BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 10. "Payback"
Sunday, February 6, 2005

"Sarah makes a decision. Alex Trent begins to see flaws in his plan too late to escape the consequences."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2431    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "PAYBACK" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13 STATUS: SEQUEL to "FRIENDS AND ENEMIES" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "Sarah makes a decision. Alex Trent begins to see flaws in his plan too late to escape the consequences." 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.

"PAYBACK"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The spaceport was shabby, pretty much nothing but a landing pad with a few aging ships rotting on the apron. Shara-li pulled a face. "This is *it*?"

Her friend ignored her tone, eyes looking left and right, head tilting up and down, as wary as a cat on hot bricks. "I told you, he'll come."

"Yeah, an' I'm the Queen of all Londinium!"

Sarah shot her a look. "Queen maybe, but *all* Londinium? Dream on, *jie jie*."

"There's still time to go back. We can say you took sick."

"No. You go back, my ride'll be here any minute now."

Shara-li nodded. Truth to tell she was getting as nervous as *diyu*. At first it had seemed like some big gorram joke but her friend was serious and as that little fact sank in she realised nothing she could say or do would stop her from doing this. The least a good friend could do was make sure the ride turned up. If it didn't she could still get Sarah back without them both losing their jobs. The sudden whirr and updaft alerted her to the flaw in her plan. The transport, such as it was, had arrived. Shara-li's mouth dropped open in shock. "You have got to be kiddin' me?"

"Beggars can't be choosers, *jie jie*."

"But you got money, I know you have. Surely you can get better than this girl?"

"Not where I'm goin' I can't. Now, you gonna wish me well or use up all the air arguing?" They said their goodbyes then Shara-li watched her friend of seven years climb aboard the ancient Dogtooth dropcraft. It rose with a lurching motion that made Shara-li feel like heaving in sympathy. She shook her head. Gorrammit either the girl was really in love or she couldn't tell the difference between love and lust. Whatever. Her only regret was not seeing the cause for her girlfriend's sudden loss of common sense. Not a man in the 'verse worth it so far as she could tell. And she should know.

* * * * *

"Of this you are certain?"

Alex Trent swallowed slowly, resisting the urge to step back. To be anywhere but in this man's presence but respect for the ability to draw breath kept him rooted to the spot. Plus he was being well paid. "Yeah, me an' Chet did a thorough search. The cell was empty, one side pretty much in rubble."

The man looked amused not angry but Trent was not fooled. That situation could turn on a dime quicker than a man could blink. Folds of age on a wizzened but surprisingly strong face did not weaken him. The look of the predator was in his eyes. Deep, small and intense, he was very sharp. Missed nothing. The round metal rimmed glasses merely seemed to sharpen his focus in a way that was anything but reassuring. "I have been good to you, yes?"

All the breath stalled in Trent's lungs. He nodded. Watched as the man took a slow step towards him, fear building in him so fast the thunder of the blood in his ears almost drowned out the man's next words. Softly spoken or not they chilled him.

"I do not pay for mistakes, Mr Trent."

"He was bricked up good, *shifu*. Close to death as you asked. No way could he have broken himself out."

Those gimlet eyes bored into him a minute or two longer. Trent was sure he was about to have a gorram heart attack. "Then he must have had help, yes? Yet you said he had no one."

"Just a sister but she wouldn't have anythin' to do with him after he was declared a turncoat."

His employer was smiling thinly now, some dark secret amusement glittering in those implaccable eyes. "Ah, your *qizi*."

Alex Trent almost flinched at the way the word was spoken. So softly yet with all kinds of levels of meaning that made him sweat and freeze with panic at the same time.

"She knows nothing?"

An eager nod was Trent's response. "Not a thing, I swear!"

"So, she also is in a *box*?"

For a long cold chilling minute Alex Trent just stared and tried not to think what he was thinking, what he thought was being suggested. For as much as he decried the Independent cause and sucked up to the Alliance, as much as profit ruled his actions and spite his heart, there was a spark within him that still loved his wife. A burning possessive addiction that could turn charm into a weapon and passion into the ultimate streak of cruelty known to man. "I'm not sure what you mean, *shifu*." It sounded weak, pathetic, even to his own ears but it was all he could think of. "I mean only that she is contained, cannot betray you or *us*?" Came the soft sibilant response.

"She doesn't know about us." Trent said far too quickly for rational thought to act referee on his loose tongue. Too late he realised his error.

"Ah!" The fatherly figure took another step towards him. Like a snake mesmerising him until moving in for the kill. "You understand I must be sure?"

"Wait, we can use this."

Cold calculation stared back at him. Trent whet his lips but when it was obvious the man was waiting for details he used the only thing left he had to bargain with.

"We can set a trap..."

"Yes, a trap..."

Trent paused, not liking that it seemed as if his employer was thinking along some other lines. "We know Reynolds went back to Shadow - not once but twice."

"Twice?"

"There were signs someone had been to the *jianyu* after it was bricked up but the snow was so deep you couldn't tell how many or where they had come from or gone."

"Then how do you know anyone was there?"

"I don't exactly, just the way the drifts had fallen."

"So, it could have been someone else? Another, yes?"

"Yeah, but who else would be stupid enough to return to a dead world?"

For several minutes no one spoke, the silence grew heavy between them but Alex Trent would not break that silence for anything short of a shotgun placed to the side of his head. This association had been most lucrative for him and had enabled him to settle many a score while leaving others to pay the price for his duplicity. If anyone suspected what he was up to they did not speak on it and that had suited him just fine. But this continuing association was becoming a little too intense for his own comfort. When the man finally spoke, he was no longer looking at Trent, his eyes had taken on a faraway look and his thin fingers threaded together in an almost absent gesture as if he were working something out.

"I think it is perhaps time to reset the trap, yes?"

Trent just stared at him then nodded cautiously. What the *diyu* was the *shenjingbing liumang* up to now? His employer closed the last step between them, his thin lips peeling back in a death's head smile. Eyes glittering coldly behind glass. Reaching right into Trent's very soul with all the warmth and promise of the Grim Reaper.

"I think perhaps a man who returns not one but twice to such a world would return a third time, yes?"

"He's got nothin' to go back for, *shifu*."

"You are wrong I think. Malcolm Reynolds has a very good reason to go back. Yes?"

Despite how unsettled he felt in this man's presence, curiosity began to lap at his mind. "He does?"

Adelei Niska nodded, lips pursing. He seemed to be enjoying himself. "He has lost something. Something very precious. I think he will not rest until he finds it."

"But how does that help us? There's nothing left on Shadow."

"We know this but Malcolm Reynolds does not. Even if he can find nothing the first, second and third time he will keep going back. It will be like an obssession, yes?"

Alex Trent did not look convinced. It seemed stupid to him. "*Weishenme*?"

"Because he is a man who likes answers and I am thinking it will soon be time to give them to him." He paused, the look in his eyes making Trent inordinately grateful that he was not the object of this particular man's obssession. He wanted to get even with Serenity's Captain his own self but his vengeance paled into insignificance compared to what he saw burning in Niska's eyes. It was the complete unadulterated face of absolute evil.

* * * * *

The mood on Carousel was very subdued. Sadness and heartache like identifcal twins fastened so tightly to the Captain's soul not nothing could penetrate his sorrow. Mrs Frye's kindly heart went out to him and even though most of the crew had gathered round none knew quite what to say. Simon had carefully checked the body of the dead man. Tyrone Garvin now lying with a white sheet over him, face covered, hiding his pathetically thin and emaciated body from view. But it was not enough. Glancing sideways at the Captain's grief stricken face he did not think it would ever be enough. It was hard to accept that this man was the same ebullient youth who they had met scant months ago. Months that stretched behind them like long years. Time taking on a surreal quality that made the past part dream, part nightmare. Right now he knew he was looking at the nightmare.

The Captain had been persuaded, coaxed and threatened into sitting at Mrs Frye's kitchen table. Her husband quietly persuaded the others to go hardly noticing River Tam sitting curled up in a chair in the far corner. Zoe hesitated but Wash squeezed her hand, his eyes saying he understood but that it was time to step back if only for a while. Let someone else see to the Captain. A tiny sigh of defeat crept out of her parted lips like an apology, her eyes staring at Mal with a lifetime of shared pain and devotion all mixed up with concern for him and worry about where this latest turn of events would lead them. They didn't need any more complications in their lives, still less ones of such a sensitive personal nature as this. His hurt was her pain too. His family had been hers, taken in as she had been under the umbrella of the Reynolds' care when her father had died. Not a word said about the why of it, the transition as natural and painless as the immaculate conception. But was that myth or reality?

Once through the Frye's front door Zoe stood irresolute for a moment then looked up to find Monty staring back at her. She wondered why he had not left but after checking on his crew Monty had returned with Johnny Carr and a haunted looking Frank Reynolds. The three men waited until she came out of the house with Wash, Book, Kaylee and Inara. Now they all stood in a loose awkward cluster, the heavy silence imbued with a funereal air. Their shared sorrow binding them together in shock and grief. It was Kaylee who jolted Zoe out of her self imposed gloom. "I'm sure *ba ba* will let us bury Ty here on Carousel, an' my folks would be real good 'bout tendin' the grave an' such an'..."

Kaylee couldn't go on, too many tears gathering in her eyes ready to spill down her cheeks, too much emotion choking her. Shepherd Book put a kindly hand on her shoulder. "Perhaps we'd best leave the arrangements to the Captain?"

Inara glanced back at the house. "I don't think Mal is in any condition to make any decisions right now."

"Don't make any difference." Said Zoe in a clipped firm tone. Her voice hollow and cold.

Wash slid an arm around her waist, knowing this was hard for her. She seemed to derive strength and comfort from his touch but could not relax.

"Think Cap'n'll wanna take Ty home."

Shepherd Book's eyebrows rose. "Home? I thought home wasn't safe for him and that's why Ty went to live with the Sheriff on Porchester?"

Zoe gave him a pained but patient look as if he were being unintentionally slow. "I don't think anything on Boros can hurt him now, Shepherd, do you?"

He had no answer to that. Zoe noticed how tired Uncle Frank looked and realised all of them were in need of a rest though how much sleep any of them would get she did not know. All of them too wired and anxious. That was when she noticed something, or rather someone, was missing. Her eyes narrowed, her head turning slowly as she counted heads. "Where's Jayne?"

* * * * *

"My Kaylee-girl thinks you're the shiniest gorram Cap'n that ever sailed the Black."

The Captain didn't smile but he did look up, barely focused on Mrs Frye but gave her a nod of acknowledgement. "Wish I could say I was but I ain't. Keep tellin' her I ain't nothin' but a mean old man but she don't believe me."

Mr Frye's lips quirked a little in humour but Mal didn't notice. In fact he didn't notice a lot of anything. Felt all kind of pained and numb at one and the same time. He hung his head and closed his eyes as if they pained him. The Fryes exchanged concerned looks over his head. Mrs Frye put a hand on his shoulder. "Might help if ya told us what happened, Mal." She said softly before removing her hand.

Simon Tam had retreated to the far side of the kitchen and leant on the wall next to his sister. He watched and listened intently but was careful to do nothing to attract attention. If Mrs Frye could drag anything out of the Captain she was welcome to try and perhaps, just perhaps, it would help him to know how best to handle the often awkward and volatile man. He couldn't exactly call him a friend but there was a closeness, a cameraderie and respect born of shared experiences and hardships. He knew Serenity's Captain for an honourable rogue at best and a stubborn psychotic lunatic at worse. Somewhere between the two extremes was no doubt the real man but he was too complex for Simon to be able to pigeon hole and feel confident of judging his reactions. Like as much to surprise him as not. Complacency was a dangerous pit to fall into on Serenity. Ground was always shifting under you and it had nothing to do with being in the Black.

To his surprise the Captain began to speak. Every word clear as a bell in the silent room as he unburdened himself on his patient and sympathetic hosts. River's eyes were huge and solemn, fastened on the Captain's bowed head. Knowing the thoughts painting the inside of his head a bright crimson. The story unravelled slowly. Simon began to understand just why Mal was so devastated about Ty and why he stubbornly persisted in trying to find out what had happened to the missing coffins and gravestones of his family. Simon had the sudden desire to shield the Captain from any further sorrow and loss but it was out of his hands. He knew to his cost that once the man set his considerable will on doing something nothing in the 'verse would stop him. A cool hand on his arm caused the doctor to turn his head and look at his sister. The Captain had finally wound down and finished his tale with the finding of both Ty, his uncle and Johnny Carr. The rest they knew.

"Not what he thinks." River told him, her whisper so soft Simon was not sure if anyone else had heard her. "Not what you think either."

But Simon was wrong. The Captain stirred, dark haunted eyes looking up until his gaze caught and held River's once more. "What you meanin', *xin gan*? Speak plain, *dong ma*?"

"You think Alliance did this but they didn't."

The Captain held his breath.

"Turn your back on a turncoat and you will never be safe."

His heart missed a beat. "You sayin' a gorram traitor did this?"

River unfolded herself with uncommon grace standing in one fluid motion. She walked over to where the Captain sat between Mr and Mrs Frye then knelt down in front of him, her pale face angled towards him like the head of a flower seeking the light. Her eyes deep solemn pools of wisdom that seemed to sail his turbulent inland sea with all the assurance of a master mariner. There were times when she knew him better than he knew himself. "*Qu*. Once a friend now an enemy."

His lips flattened into a hard unforgiving line. Before he could speak River reached out and put the fingers of her right hand to his lips. Simon edged closer but was careful not to intrude. There were times when his beautiful gifted sister was almost a stranger to him.

"But it's worse than that."

Mal blinked. Mr Frye looked worried and confused. What did the girl mean and how in *diyu* could she know what even the Captain apparently didn't know? Mal swallowed slowly, his mouth suddenly too dry. "Worse how?"

"The turncoat has visited the volcano but the flames don't touch him. The Devil called him and he came, not knowing he can't leave when the fire get too close. He wants to burn you but doesn't know it will cost him more than his soul."

The Captain shuddered. Volcanos? What the good gorram did any of this have to do with rutting volcanos? Only time he heard mention of such it was to do with that twisted *tamade hundan* Niska. What was it Book had said about living with a man for forty years, speaking to him on every subject, then tying him up and hanging him over the gorram volcano? On that day you would meet the real man. Another shudder hit him, deeper this time. When it died away there was no warmth left in his body only dread. He had to be wrong. Just a gorram coincidence. River had not taken her eyes off him. Knew the fashion of his thoughts. Slowly she shook her head. Mal could feel himself begin to tremble as if his 'verse was starting to unravel. Concerned, Simon could not keep quiet a moment longer.

"Captain, are you alright?"

It took a moment for Mal to break eye contact with River. When he looked at Simon there was a bleakness in his eyes that scared the doctor. Mal's voice was oddly calm and even as if nothing untoward had happened. "Not nothin' for you to worry about Simon, *dong ma*?"

Simon Tam brilliant doctor, gifted trauma surgeon and Top Three Per Cent of his class didn't believe him.

* * * * *

Sarah Moore only managed to keep from retching by sheer force of will. The old dropship was well named but not for its' original purpose. The title too accurate a description of the lurching rise and fall of a brick in flight. But it did the job. Her enquiries had given her a pretty good lead or two and while she contemplated the madness that had caused her to throw away years of planning to the four winds a spark inside of her was fanned and excited by the flames of her reckless quest. It was beyond stupid yet she could not bring herself to regret the folly ruling her. For the first time in a long while she felt alive. Not simply living and breathing, going through the motions. Why now? Why this man? Did it actually matter who the good gorram had lit the flame that led her to taste this freedom? It was a heady mix and one she savoured knowing it could all be snatched away from her without a moment's notice.

* * * * *

He couldn't explain his moment of weakness only that it was like having his mama back. The sturdy reassuring comfort of her presence an anchor through any storm. The stern but knowing eyes, the good honest heart of her tempered by compassion. Hadn't poured his heart out like that in a good long while. Not since the War. Not to no one, not even Zoe.

Malcolm Reynolds blinked and raised his head to find that River was still kneeling in front of him. Gorrammit, he had forgotten all about the crazy girl. Forgotten about her brother too. Mrs Frye did not speak but he could feel her presence, solid and all kinds of comforting. Mr Frye the other side of him. Neither speaking nor feeling the need to break the mood with idle chat like City folk did. In the country folk let time unfold at its' own leisurely pace. Didn't force round pegs into square holes. River smiled at him. "Back now." She murmured.

"I go some place?"

"Very nearly, son." Said Mr Frye softly.

Simon's concerned face hovered in polite hesitation. It was all kinds of amusing how the doctor managed to balance so many conflicting emotions in just one look. Brave and nervous one moment, calm and anxious the next. Boy was a regular tangle as if he didn't know which way his head and his heart were pointed. He hoped he would get his bearings before his lack of direction rubbed off on Kaylee. Couldn't be getting his boat lost in the Black. Simon seemed to come to some inner decision and spoke. "You need to rest, Mal."

The Captain did not react to the familiarity. Indeed he did not react at all, his mind drifting and not fixing on any one thing for more than a heartbeat. Simon frowned when the Captain did not argue.

"Let me give you something." The words must have penetrated because now the Captain was looking at him in silent query. Simon hurried to reassure him. "Just to help you sleep, *dong ma*? Nothing invasive."

To the doctor's relief and surprise Mal nodded whether with acceptance or defeat he could not tell but he was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Mrs Frye watched as Simon quickly and efficiently adminstered a dose of sedative. The Captain did not so much as flinch. His acquiessence worried Simon. River leant forward and kissed Mal gently on the forehead as if he were the child and she the adult. "Worst is over now."

Mal stared at her, not quite focusing on that pale angelic face. How the good gorram could his little genius say that? But he didn't have the strength to disagree and oddly enough it felt good to think they had reached some kind of watershed even if it felt like the slippery slope of madness. Glad that the worst was over. But that was not what River had meant. Sometimes the thoughts in her head never chose the right words. They felt right in her mind but then tumbled out all wrong and mixed up and no one ever understood her the first time. Sometimes the Captain did and she would reward him with her sweetest smile but the flash of understanding never lasted and the frustration of being on the outside looking in would fill her heart with emptiness and a sad dull ache that pained her like the heart's amputation.

It was obvious to them all that the Captain was mentally and emotionally exhausted and that in turn had taken a toll on his body. As he began to sway in his chair Martin Frye placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Come on Mal, I'll show you up to your room."

The doctor watched as they left, part of him still amazed that Mal had let him help him. Mrs Frye turned a big slow smile on River, her solemn eyes beginning to twinkle with amusement. Before she could say anything River spoke. "He really is such a child but his heart is good."

She was so surprised at the solemn little declaration that she laughed. Simon grinned, his look indulgent as he took his sister's hands.

Mrs Frye's laughter died off, a flicker of sadness in her kindly eyes. "That boy is carrying way too much burden I'm thinkin'." Simon blinked. Boy? The *Captain*? Then he realised that in her eyes they were all little more than children.

* * * * *

While Carousel slept the stars came out. One by one lighting the Black in place of the many lanterns that had until recently hung from every branch and bush around the Frye house. Zoe and Wash caved in to the inevitable and tried to hide the spark of playful calculation in their eyes as they went off to bed. Frank Reynolds watched the comings and goings. Politely refused the offer of a bed being made up for him in the barn. He and John-Jo elected to go with Monty to his ship and bed down with him and his crew. Besides needing time to heal there were other things needed repairing that only straight talking and confession could fix. Whether Mal would find it in his heart to forgive him for it afterwards remained to be seen but the weight of it was pressing down on him some and with everything else that had happened it was time his boy knew the truth. No matter how much it would cost him.

Shepherd Book nodded his goodnights to one and all as people drifted off to get settled for the night. Kaylee's Aunt Jessica came looking for her and took her inside, telling her that everything was alright and she wasn't to worry. Yes, everything was fine with Simon and River. And yes, the Captain was shiny just tired. He let the drifting conversations float by him and concentrated on something Zoe had said earlier. Something now niggling on his mind and making him a touch uneasy. Where the good gorram was Jayne Cobb?

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*jie jie* = sister (older) *diyu* = hell *shifu* = sir *qizi* = wife *jianyu* = prison *shenjingbing* = crazy *liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster *weishenme* = why *ba ba* = daddy *xin gan* = sweetheart *qu* = yes (lit. go) *dong ma* = understand

COMMENTS

Sunday, February 6, 2005 11:47 PM

BRITCHICK


Where is Jayne?

This is all manner of intriguing, and I'm desperate for the next installment Ali. Please hurry!

How DO you do do this? One long story after another, each of them really well written, well planned and well executed with numerous twists and turns to keep us readers guessing.

Thank you for sharing with us
Hazel

Monday, February 7, 2005 12:08 AM

MAI


Ali,
You've done it again. This story contiues to amaze me. I knew something creepy was comin', but Niska? Yikes! Now you've really got my attention.

Monday, February 7, 2005 8:54 AM

KAYSKY


Let's hope if Mal comes face to face with Niska he will shoot him this time!

Monday, February 7, 2005 9:09 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


Niska!

Good God, this is a great story! So many twists and turns, all executed perfectly. You've pulled me in here. What will happen when Sarah finds Mal, and what will happen when Mal finds Alex?

And where in the good gorram is Jayne Cobb?

- Soul

Monday, February 7, 2005 9:55 AM

OLDFAN45


I kept hearing Niska's theme right from the beginning of the Trent/Niska scene.

Well handled. This is, or very shortly will be, a full novel...about 15,000 words shy of it now.

Thursday, February 10, 2005 5:42 AM

GUILDSISTER


Niska... oooh, shivery twist.

Monday, February 14, 2005 12:43 AM

KISPEXI2


The appearance of Niska - very exciting, no? Can't wait to see what the vicious old hundan has to do with the wider plot.

Speeding onto the next chapter.

(hope you got my email Ali)

Sunday, April 17, 2011 6:01 AM

MALSDOXY


Her eyes deep solemn pools of wisdom that seemed to sail his turbulent inland sea with all the assurance of a master mariner.

I so love the way you write, AliD

Sunday, October 30, 2011 8:34 PM

SHINYZOEKAYLEE


He knew Serenity's Captain for an honourable rogue at best and a stubborn psychotic lunatic at worse.
Yup, that's Mal alright!


Simon blinked. Boy? The *Captain*? Then he realised that in her eyes they were all little more than children.

I love that, it's so meaningful about different perspectives... And Mal really is so young...
SHINYSHINY*SHINY*!!!


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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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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?

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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.