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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"The Captain learns something painful about the past. Niska just learns something painful."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2003 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "GIVE AND TAKE"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: SEQUEL to "TOP THREE PER CENT"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "The Captain learns something painful about
the past. Niska just learns something painful."
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.
"GIVE AND TAKE"
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
She could not believe it was happening. That after everything she had been through it had come down to this. The pain was indescribable. Searing, sharp, invasive. A total breaking down of her self control from the inside out yet she didn't cry. It was too late for tears. Too late for any gorram thing to touch her beyond regret. In looking for revenge she had awakened the kind of monster that should have been left sleeping.
The last thing to cross Becky Trent's mind was that whatever armaggedon she may have triggered at least she would not be around to reap the whirlwind. But as darkness closed over her and bound her in its' deep formless chains it was just one more thing she would be proved wrong about.
His head was clearing fast now. The sharp antiseptic tang of the infirmary grounded him in the where but his head was still arguing with the nightmares over the when. "Simon?"
Simon Tam stepped away from his instruments and stood next to the infirmary bed. He had already released Johnny Carr with a clean bill of health. Frank Reynolds still had a little further to go before he would fully recover. Right now he was sleeping again after rousing for a few lucid hours in which the doctor explained the pathology of the infection. It seemed he would now have to do the same for Serenity's Captain. "Yes, Captain?"
Mal blinked slowly, events unravelling in his foggy mind and becoming sharper. "You drugged me."
"I'm sorry Captain but it was critical you not make a sound."
The Captain's eyes narrowed slightly. "Tell me you didn't enjoy that?"
Simon's poker face stared back at him. After a minute or two of silence a faint smile cracked the corner of the Captain's mouth. He liked it that the boy was not intimidated by him, was less nervous that he had been in his early days aboard Serenity but it also saddened him a touch. Meant the boy was losing his innocence faster than a gifted virgin. Well. A virgin at least. Top Three Per Cent was obviously gifted.
"Tell me what happened."
"Niska wanted to take you back with him. I tried to put him off, told him you were dying, but that didn't change anything so I told him you had a deadly virus. That you, John-Jo and Frank were all succumbing to the ravages of a desease that could not be countered. Then I made a bargain with him."
Mal stared at him. "A bargain?"
A thin humourless smile flashed over the doctor's lips. "I told him he and his men would be susceptible to the virus as well, that it would kill them slowly as my exposure to it was already doing on Serenity."
The Captain paled. "*Wode ma*, doc, you ain't...."
He was quick to reassure him. "*Bu qu*, Captain. That was what I told him. It wasn't exactly the truth."
Simon actually looked a bit shamefaced at the admission but Mal was smiling now. He liked where this appeared to be going. "What happened?"
"I told Niska if you were placed in the cryo chamber it would preserve your lifesigns until he could get you to his own medical facility. In return he promised to let the rest of us go."
For a moment Simon was not sure what the Captain's reaction would be to that little revelation. Mal thought about it for a moment or two, bits of memory like scattered chinks of light in a featureless abyss. Not quite enough to illuminate but it was getting there. "You did good, doc. Mighty quick thinkin' too. Just one thing. If that virus was a lie then why'd we get sick? An' why the good gorram do I feel so weak?"
"The most believable lies, Captain, always have a grain of truth."
Simon took a seat next to the infirmary bed. "You were infected. All three of you. But I had never seen a culture like it, didn't recognise it from my internship or training. The medical database had no record of this particular viral agent..."
His last words caught the Captain's full attention. "*Bi zui*, what you mean viral agent?"
The doctor looked down at his hands, the fingers slowly interlinking then opening out again as if he was choosing his next words with care. Looking up he met the Captain's eyes and told him. The man had a right to know and there would never be a better time. "I know why Shadow was burnt to the ground, Captain." He said softly.
All the air in the Captain's lungs seemed to fail him. Eyes wide, hardly able to absorb let alone take in the possibility that Simon knew something that he and Zoe had never known. His voice came out hoarse with emotion, an edge on it that was sharper than one of Jayne's gorram knives. "Best you tell me what you know an' how you know it."
"The reason I didn't recognise the virus was because it wasn't a naturally occurring one. I couldn't be sure of my findings until I examined Ty Garvin again. The virus was genetically engineered, created as a form of biological warfare." The Captain hissed through his teeth but said nothing. His face a tight mask of pain. "Afterwards they needed to erase any evidence of what they had done. That was when they carried out a 'scorched earth' policy. THAT is the real reason why your homeworld became uninhabitable, Captain."
It was hard for him to think beyond the images crowding his mind, memories now seen in a different even more tragic and twisted light. He started to sit up but Simon put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. The Captain needed to rest and Simon had not told him everything yet. What energy the man had was draining out of him with the emotional strain. "*Wo bu dong*, Simon. Still don't make sense." Mal paused. "My folks were burned ALIVE not dead, *dong ma*? Scenario you paint ain't the same."
"They were infected, Mal." The Captain barely registered the use of his name replacing his rank. A sure sign that Simon was trying to let him down gently. "The people were dying anyway but probably didn't know it. Once the Alliance had what they wanted, the planet subdued, cleared of any able or willing to fight, they needed to clear away the evidence which is why there were no survivors. The War was over, the Alliance had won, people didn't need to know *how* they had done it. Even in the early days of the aftermath the chain of command was looking towards the political landscape they would be dominating. They wanted what happened on Shadow to look like the scars of war. Acceptable collateral damage not what it really was, a form of ethnic clensing."
Each word was painful to Mal. Tears pricked his eyes blurring his vision. He did not want to hear this, to imagine what had been done to his friends, his family, and his homeworld but he had to know. Malcolm Reynolds was not a man to bury his head in the sand just because the truth hurt. A thought slowly rose up through his pain and anguish. "If the gorram Alliance burnt Shadow to the ground to destroy the ruttin' virus then how come we got infected?"
"You didn't get infected by the planet, Captain." He paused slightly. "You were infected by your proximity to Ty."
"*Tian Yesu, shi ma?*"
*Qu*, I checked my findings serveral times." His voice softened. "*Duibuqi*."
The Captain blinked, trying to hold back tears. He wasn't going to cry, he wasn't. It was all in the past now, best let those ghosts be but they wouldn't rest. Wouldn't lay down their bloodstained faces, haunted eyes, ragged gunshot bodies. Their pain and their pleading like open sores wounding his heart. Gorrammit, he thought he was finally passed that gorram nightmare. He closed his eyes to shut out the sympathetic look on Simon's face, not sure he could handle the kindly concern much better than the grim reality. Minutes passed. He could hear Simon get up and move quietly around the infirmary, cleaning down surfaces and putting things away. He rubbed a hand over his face and turned his head, his movement stilled Simon's. The doctor looked at him and paused. Waiting for the inevitable question. "Still don't explain why the virus didn't kill us."
"It wasn't as virulent but without treatment you would have died. All of you. I was able to halt its' progress by a series of educated guesses - trial and error - until you could be stabilised then cured."
"So you sayin' that virus was killin' Ty?"
Simon nodded sadly.
"Those *tamade hundan*! I thought he'd starved to death."
"I don't think there was much in it. He *was* starving to death Captain but in his weakened state the virus proved to be swifter."
For a long time neither man spoke. The Captain felt exhausted, emotionally drained, but also glad that they had someone of Simon's calibre and know how on their side. "*Xie xie ni, doc."
Simon blinked. "What are you thanking me for?"
"For savin' my life an' for tellin' me the truth. Couldn't've been easy."
He nodded, surprised by the Captain's insight. "You should try to get some sleep."
"You know Niska ain't gonna forget this, don't you?"
"Hopefully we won't have to worry about that *shengjing wangba dan* any more."
Mal raised his eyebrows in surprise. What other rabbits was the doc gonna pull out of his gorram medical bag? "*Weishenme*?"
A little smile tugged at Simon's lips. When his eyes met the Captain's there was a definite twinkle in them that had not been there before. "I can't take the credit, Captain, it was River..."
He frowned. "What the *diyu* has this got to do with your sister?"
"River thought we should give Niska something for his trouble." He paused, watching the Captain closely.
When Simon did not continue Mal had to ask. His voice filled with curiosity. "What did you give him?"
The Captain was unaware that River had crept into the infirmary. Had no idea how long she had been there. Oddly enough her sudden presence did not disturb him. Was it bad that he was getting used to her brand of crazy? Or did his own madness just appreciate the company? She gave him a sweet smile and tilted her head. The Captain held his breath. "Nightmares."
Nightmares? Was that all? Then Mal caught River's eye and began to smile.
The little house was empty and there were no recent signs of habitation. The unit commander was stark in the exercise of his displeasure. "Sergeant!"
A man stepped smartly forward and stood to attention. "Yes, Sir!"
"Burn it to the ground."
His back to the house the Commander gazed towards the main town on Boros. They should have been able to pick something up but the trail was cold. Had Trent's sister lied or was he missing something? With a quick snap of decisiveness he spun round and barked out an order. "*Zhanzhu*!"
The Sergeant halted the action which would have reduced the house and its' shabby contents to rubble and ash.
"I want every inch of this house searched again, *dong ma*? And when you've finished with the house I want the grounds gone over with a fine toothcomb."
"Dogs, Sir?" Asked the Sergeant.
The Commander's lips peeled back over nicotine stained teeth. "Yes. Everything and anything you can think of. Leave no stone unturned, nothing overlooked."
Without a word the Sergeant ordered his men to begin the search in earnest. The acid glare of his Commander burning an unhappy hole in the back of the man's neck underlining what each of them already knew. The Alliance did not tolerate failure.
It was several hours later. Rested and feeling the need to be up and on his feet, the Captain finished dressing then paused by his uncle's bed to see how he was doing.
"Your uncle will be fine, Captain. I expect him to wake in the next couple of hours."
The Captain nodded then almost walked into Kaylee as his engineer breezed into the infirmary. Her face became a wreath of smiles, the happy just bouncing off her like wall to wall sunshine. Not a body could resist the force of nature that was Kaylee Frye. "Cap'n! You're up!"
He smiled back. "Walkin' an' talkin' thanks to the doc an' his sis."
She hugged him hard, face buried in his shirt for a moment or two. Her words beginning to falter. "I thought..."
"*Wei*," The Captain tilted her head up so she had to look him in the eye. "None of that, *dong ma*? Not nobody died, least," He amended. "Not nobody currently in this room."
Kaylee swallowed round the lump forming in her throat, thinking about Ty and wondering what Niska would do when he found the body in the cryo chamber wasn't Malcolm Reynolds. The Captain seemed to read her mind.
"Now don't go borrowin' trouble, little Kaylee. We'll finish up here then head into the Black, *dong ma*?"
A troubled look came into her eye. "What about... What about my folks?"
He blinked then changed gears. Mal gave Simon a level look. "Doc, best you explain that little 'thank you' you an' River left for Niska."
Not comprehending, Kaylee looked from the Captain to Simon. River slid her hand into Kaylee's and smiled at her. Somehow that little act reassured her more than Simon's words, but her eyes still widened in surprise when she heard them.
"Now," Said the Captain trying to sound stern and Captainy. "Where can I find my lazy crew?"
Inara Serra stared at Sarah. The woman had her own kind of beauty, not the sultry gloss of a Companion but the clear lines of a healthy body, hair that shone and a strong high cheekboned face. Her hair was back in ringlets, the dark curls bouncing gently as she lowered her head with a sigh. For the tenth time Inara wondered why the girl had to come to her.
"I.. I'm sorry to disturb you Miss Serrra..."
"Inara." Inara might feel little warmth towards the woman but it really was nothing personal. At least personal as regards the woman. The man she was tangled up with however was a different matter entirely. As Sarah brushed the hair out of her eyes and started to explain the Companion realised why she had come to her. Why she was the only one Sarah would and could turn to. The realisation formed a pit inside her stomach that not even the Black could fill. As the story poured out of her Inara wanted nothing more than to stop her ears and turn away from it but she couldn't because this was Mal and what Sarah was telling her had the ability to break him into pieces so small not even the merciful Buddha could make him whole again. Did the girl have any notion of the power she held over the Captain? In the silence that stretched out between them, Sarah began to fidget with her hands, the fingers twisting together making her seem younger than her years. Mid twenties if Inara was any judge.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Sarah nodded. "Yes."
Inara took a steadying breath. "Sarah, have you been to see Mal?"
The woman looked away for a moment then shook her head. "He was sleepin'."
"Not all the time." Said the Companion gently.
A look of panic came into the woman's eyes. "I can't do this."
"Can't or won't?" When Sarah did not reply Inara pushed on, carefully feeling her way in a conversation she in no way wanted to be having. "Are you sure?"
"*Qu*. In my line of work I know."
Inara raised her eyebrows. It was the first time Sarah had alluded to what she had done for a living before coming to find the Captain. "What line of work is that?"
Sarah knew she was fishing and while she didn't mind telling Inara a lot of personal stuff she would not speak of anything which Mal should agree to first. This matter not included. "That's not important."
"Look, Sarah, I know Mal. If you do this you're going to really hurt him, are you prepared for that?"
"I have to. This life," She broke off and tried to hold back a little shudder. "It's so violent an' that man... that Niska." She paused and swallowed heavily before steeling herself to continue. "The things he wants to do to Mal..." Her voice broke and it took a moment or two for her to compose herself enough to go on. "I can't live like that."
After several moments of awkward silence Inara straightened. "Before any decisions are made that cannot be reversed go and talk to Mal. You may find you're making a bigger problem out of this than you have to."
"I... I can't. I don't know what to say to him."
"Would you prefer to talk to the Preacher? Shepherd Book can be very discreet."
"No, no! It's just I figured, with you bein' a Companion an' all..."
Inara understood, she really did, and the knowledge sickened her. "I will agree to nothing Sarah until you have spoken to Mal." The woman started to protest but Inara held up a hand. "This part is not negotiable." She paused, sighed and suddenly felt a hundred years old. She thought about Kaylee's news from earlier, the late surprise Christmas they were going to hold for the Captain and Monty at the Frye household before they left Carousel. She was pretty sure Mal had fallen for Sarah and knowing the Captain it would be no piecemeal thing. All or nothing. It gave him a stubborn, noble kind of strength but it was also his undoing. One crack and he could shatter. Why did Sarah have to be the shatterpoint? And why oh why had she come to her with this knowledge?
Long after Sarah left the Companion's shuttle, Inara stared at the door. Oblivious to the rich plush drapes, the reds and golds of her transitory finery. The place she had made her home under the unlikeliest of conditions. She thought about the people she had made her family and knew with a certainty that she had stayed too long. Slowly she rose to her feet, graceful even in sorrow, and went to the secret drawer of her bedside table. The box was slim and ornate. Touching the catch she opened it with hands that trembled just a little, the silver ornate injector lying inert and innocent on the velvet. Her stomach turning over at the request. She had used it herself several times but this was different. Even if Sarah spoke to Mal, told him her decision and left she was not sure she could go ahead with her part in it. Inara closed the box and tried to stop the lone tear that broke ranks and rolled down her beautiful face. It wasn't often she admitted to herself how much she wished she could take their stubborn Captain in her arms and hold him safe until the cruel twists of fate that seemed to be the man's lot in life had passed him by. But you couldn't protect anyone from life. As a Companion she had learned that bitter lesson better than most.
It wasn't often the mercenary was embarrassed but the Preacher said a couple of silent Hail Mary's in penance for the pleasure of seeing the big man squirm. Mrs Frye was heaping plaudits on the man's head while her husband smiled knowingly beside her. Kaylee loved it, Simon was chuckling and trying not to be too obvious about it. Wash didn't bother being polite but just came out and said what he was thinking. "Are you sayin' the kids hid you an' kept you safe?"
Jayne glared at the pilot. Zoe patted Wash's arm, "Now, now, *bao bei*, play nice. Jayne's just been revisitin' his childhood."
The big man flushed and was saved from further needling by the arrival of the Captain. He glanced at his crew, got some satisfaction from seeing the happy look flash over their faces at seeing him up and about. His smile became overcast, eyes searching but coming up short. "I thought Inara would be here."
"She's in her shuttle, Cap'n." Offered Kaylee.
No one quite knew what to say. It had become obvious that since Niska she had been keeping clear of the infirmary though Simon was hard pushed to know why. It wasn't as if the two of them had shown any intimacy problems. In fact he had never seen the Captain happier and more relaxed than when he and Sarah were together.
"I think she was doin' her hair." Said Mrs Frye.
The Captain bit back a sigh of exasperation. "Oh." He turned his head and looked at Zoe. "Where did Monty go?"
"Said he had to check on his crew, Sir. Somethin' about leavin' in the next day or so." She paused, reluctant to bring it up but wanting to know anyway. "How's Uncle Frank?"
"Sleepin'. Doc says he's okay now. Just had to get it all outta his system."
"I would suggest," Said Simon with a pointed look at the Captain. "Not overdoing things for a few days. Your body's been through enough. A little rest will pay you back later."
He nodded absent mindedly, then the Preacher offered to make coffee and the chatter normalised but for Mal it was as if all their voices receded from him leaving him isolated in his own kind of hell. What the *diyu* was going on and why did he have a feeling he was not going to like it when he found out? Shaking his head at the offer of a drink and something to eat he turned and left the room, determined to find his missing girlfriend and find out just why in the nine hells she was suddenly treating him as if he had Rim Plague. He wracked his head for anything he might have said while he was under the doc's medication but all he could remember was her holding his hand, her tears on his face, the love in her eyes. He would only relax when he found her so it was a shock for both of them when they met on the catwalk, Sarah coming from Inara's shuttle just as the Captain was about to turn for the stairs down to the cargo hold.
He smiled, willed his heart to slow down so that he could talk normally. "*Wei*, thought for a minute there I'd lost you."
The words were light and teasing so he was unprepared for the shine of tears in her eyes. Swiftly he closed the distance between them, bringing her into the circle of his arms. Sarah closed her eyes and allowed herself to relax into his warm embrace. He felt her trembling and gazed at her in concern. "What the good gorram's the matter, *xin gan*?"
"Oh Mal, I was so frightened. Terrified of what he would do to you..."
Her words put a warm glow in his heart. So that was it, she was worried about him. Niska had scared her and no one but a *baichi* ten years in his gorram grave would not be frightened of that twisted *liumang*. He kissed her gently and held her close. She could feel the steady beat of his heart under her head and savoured it as she relished the contact and dreaded the moment of parting. "He's gone, *bao bei*, an' he ain't comin' back, *dong ma*? Not nothin' for you to be worryin' about."
She opened her mouth to empty her fears but his warm mouth brought her home, the kiss deepening gently as he put his heart and soul into saying what his clumsy words never could. He pulled back gently when he tasted the salt of her tears.
"Hey now," He said softly, his thumbs gently wiping the tears off her face. "No cryin' now. Cryin' definitely not allowed on my boat."
He smiled gently at her and dropped a soft kiss on each eye, waiting until they fluttered open again to speak. "Let's take this to my bunk."
Sarah nodded because despite all the things she had said to Inara Serra she really didn't want to hurt the Captain. Especially when she knew she would love him until the breath in her body was gone.
Adelei Niska was impatient but Dr Tam had been very clear about the threat of contamination and while violence in any form did not frighten him he had a fear of anything microscopic. The unseen enemy was always the one that had the deadliest potential. So he bit back his impatience and found his steps taking him back to the hold, one hand lightly tracing along the top of the cryo chamber. His imagination devising a hundred and one ways to make Captain Reynolds' last days in the 'verse the most agonising possible. He did not simply want his pound of flesh he wanted to make it weep.
Lasky watched his *laoban*, his face expressionless. Ready to execute any order on a moment's notice no matter how bizarre it was. Right now it took all his skill to keep his expression blank as the rich fancified man stepped in with his shiny shoes and metal suitcase. In moments he had flicked the case open and with a flick of the wrist the integral tripod unfolded and set up the camera to film the moment when the crate was opened. Niska did not want to miss a thing. Knowing he could only kill the man once he wanted to be able to replay the death throes over and over again. He smiled thinly and waited as they approached the medical facility. His technicians would be able to further stablise the Captain's condition, enough to make it safe to acquire proximity without personal risk and to extend the man's life long enough for some exquisite torture. As the ship docked with the research station, the *liumang* turned and waited. Excitement building until he fairly hummed with it. The door seal hissed open and the technicians came aboard briskly. Niska nodded to his men to manouevre the cryo chamber as the techs directed then followed in their wake.
It was only later, when they were inside the sealed decontamination unit, the lights on high, the camera recording every gorram frame, that the lid was finally unsealed. Leaning close so that his face rested against the glass, Niska watched closely. The white smoke of dry ice momentarily obscured his vision. Niska blinked then felt a jolt of surprise go through him. It turned to shock then anger, the realisation that he had been duped hitting him just before the sign taped to Ty Garvin's naked body registered in his furious brain. *Surprise, Surprise!*
The detonation was far more powerful than anything he would have expected. The concussive blast shattering the reinforced glass as if it was paperthin parchment. The lenses of his glasses cracked, his head snapped back, the contents of the decontamination chamber reduced to slivers of metal and plastic and chunks of glass less than a millimetre across. The body exploding outwards in a ragged spray of blood and bits of bone, the flesh shredded and splattered like the spume of a volcano during eruption. Niska hardly had time to react to the shock and there was nowhere to run, nowhere to take cover or hide. His last thought as his body was riddled with the debris that would bring death raining down on him was to curse Malcolm Reynolds to every one of the nine hells. And to everylasting torment.
Oddly enough as silence fell, bits of flesh slapped to the floor in arcs of slow motion. Sound vacuum packed returned to senses no longer able to register them. The camera still rolling, its' digital eye impassive, emotionless and uncaring that the mechanised death it was recording was their own. Alarms rang, the thunder of many feet ran in regimented rows then came to a clumsy horrified halt. The facility head sealed the airtight doors to the viewing chamber then did what had never been done since the facility had first gone on line. With a containment breach and possible viral contamination there was only one response. A loud hiss and clanking of metal gears under high pressure and the whole unit disengaged. The chamber with its' viewing room and monitoring facilities met the cold disapassionate vacuum of space. Bodies in motion freezing before death robbed the horror of its' last glory. The Section Head of the Facility turned to his new Major Domo and spoke with a hint of sadness. "Pity we didn't get to save the camera."
No one responded. A cold nod then they turned away from the demise of one of the biggest most feared *liumang's* in the history of the 'verse. But they were not worried. There were plenty more where he came from. A pair of blue gloved hands shut the blast doors that would add another layer of protection to the facility while emergency measures cycled into place to re-establish perfect containment of the rest of the complex. Across the cold expanse of space not even the distant stars blinked.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*wode ma* = mother of God *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *bi zui* = quiet/shut up
*wo bu dong* = I don't understand *dong ma* = understand *qu* = yes (lit. go)
*tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *shi ma* = is that so/oh really? *duibuqi* = sorry
*tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *xie xie ni* = thank you
*weishenme* = why *diyu* = hell *zhanzhu* = stop *xin gan* = sweetheart
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *wei* = hey! *baichi* = idiot *laoban* = boss
*liumang* = asshole/bastard/criminal/gangster *shenjingbing* = crazy
Wednesday, March 16, 2005 5:18 PM
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