COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 22. "The Longest Journey"
Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"The news about the baby upsets everybody and Mal becomes frantic looking for Sarah. Zoe picks up on somthing Simon lets slip and goes on a hunt of her own."



SUMMARY: "The news about the baby upsets everybody and Mal becomes frantic looking for Sarah. Zoe picks up on something Simon lets slip and goes on a hunt of her own." 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

* * * * *

Frank Reynolds hardly felt a twinge at all in his shoulder. The wound had healed and the effects of the virus were completely gone thanks to Serenity's shiny young doctor. Despite his own feelings of guilt and loss he had much to be grateful for and he wanted to thank Simon while there was still time. When Monty left he planned on going with him, not wanting to make things any more strained between himself and Mal than could be avoided. Stepping into the infirmary in the early hours of the morning before the rest of the ship was astir he was stunned to see the Captain sitting with his head bowed in grief. Simon turned from a counter to see who it was, River stepping away from the Captain without looking behind her. She knew who it was, didn't have to turn round. Feeling River's eyes on him the Captain looked up and in doing so caught sight of his uncle. His eyes were bleak hollowed out pits of dispair. So full of empty it was painful for Frank to meet his gaze.

Alarmed, Frank Reynolds hurried forward. "Mal, what the good gorram's wrong?"

The Captain couldn't speak, too numb with emotion. Frank was even more concerned up close because he had seldom seen Mal cry yet now here he was with tears streaming down his face. More affecting with him being so silent. It was River who spoke, her voice quiet but clear, sadness coating every word. "It's always hard to lose a son."

Frank blinked, his heart missing a beat. What was the crazy girl talking about? He glanced at her then turned back to Mal, kneeling in front of him so they were pretty much eye to eye. He placed one hand on the Captain's shoulder, the other gently brushing away his tears. "Son, what's *cuode*? You're scarin' the good gorram outta me."

River shook her head. "Wrong son." She said softly.

Simon wanted to say something, take River to one side, but he couldn't do it. All he could do was watch and hope that somehow Frank Reynolds could bring comfort to the Captain. Mal just stared at his uncle as if his whole world was breaking apart and taking his heart with it. Frank frowned at River then looked to Simon for help. "What happened?"

"It's really not my place..."

A flash of anger lit Frank's eyes. "Gorrammit Simon Tam, you're the ruttin' doc! Finest one in the 'verse to hear my boy talk so out with it, *dong ma*? Ain't movin' 'til ya tell me."

Simon swallowed slowly, not sure how much of the conversation the Captain was taking in but realising it hardly mattered now whether he told Frank Reynolds or his sister blurted it out at the dinner table. Better if he was able to control how the man found out. "Sarah came to me yesterday, Mr Reynolds." The man blinked, not comprehending the connection. "There's no easy way to put this..."

"Then just spit it out."

"She wanted an abortion."

All the colour drained from his face. Frank looked at Mal but the Captain said nothing. He seemed to be in shock. Well. That told him who the father was. Frank looked at Simon, his mood darkening a mite. "What you tellin' me?"

"Sarah said she had taken something, something to end the pregnancy. She told me the baby was dying inside her and she wanted it out. I was horrified, upset, tried to talk to her but it was no use. She was near hysterical and I worried what she would do if I refused."

He paused and Frank realised the doctor must have had as little sleep as the Captain and that crazy sister of his. It was hard to accept that all this had been going on while he had been having the best night's sleep in gorram years. Even if it was only the drugs.

"I agreed to do an internal exam. The baby was very premature and in obvious distress. That was when I realised I had to remove it even though that would result in the child's death."

"You couldn't save it?"

"*Bu qu*, Mr Reynolds, though believe me I tried."

At the man's questioning look Simon pointed to something on the counter. Frank stood up and reluctantly walked over to see what it was. When he saw the little incubator and the tiny still form lying inside tears welled up in his eyes and his step faltered. "*Wode ma*!" He could not take another step. After a moment or two he pulled himself together. Baby was dead but he still had a son alive and hurting. He turned and went back to Mal, hunkering down in front of him, one hand cupping the back of the Captain's neck as he leaned forward and rested his forehead against Mal's. "*Wode erzi*, I'm so gorram sorry." He felt the Captain tremble. Frank wrapped his arms around him and hugged him to his heart. "I know you will always see John as your father, Mal," He whispered over his own pain. "But you will always be *my* son to me. To the last breath in my gorram body. No matter how much ya hate me, son, no matter how bad I've messed things up. Wasn't for lack of lovin' ya, don't ever think that."

Mal blinked, like a man slowly surfacing from a very deep dive. The black depths of his pain and sorrow touched by Frank's words. "Don't hate you, *shushu*."

"Wouldn't blame you if you did."

"Was a mite mad at you, still am if I'm bein' truthsome on'y..." Mal broke off and had to swallow to get himself back in control. Frank loosened his grip as the Captain pulled back slightly, wanting to look his uncle in the eye. "Don't seem much point to it now."

Despite everything that had happened Simon was glad the tragedy had at least brought the Captain and Frank Reynolds back on to speaking terms. "Did you know, son?"

The Captain shook his head. "Thought Sarah was *gaoxing*, then she started talkin' about leavin'. Got no notion what nonsense was in her gorram head. Wouldn't tell me what in the nine hells was wrong. Then we got to comfortin' each other an' next thing I know I'm wakin' up alone in my bunk. Was still the middle of the ruttin' night so I went lookin'..." He trailed off, eyes distant as if reliving the moment. "Last place I came was here, by then it was too late." He paused. "I would'a called him John."

Frank Reynolds' bit his lip. John. His brother's name not his. It should not have hurt so much but it did. For the hundredth time Frank cursed himself for lacking the courage to put things right all them years ago but would he really have wanted to break them up? Could he really have done that to any of them? No. No matter how much it hurt now it had been the right decision. For while he had never stopped loving Mal's mama she had never stopping loving his brother John. Their night of passion had been just that but even with the grief that was to follow Frank could not bring himself to regret it.

It was the sound of the rest of the ship starting to bustle into activity that brought them to their senses. Mal gave his uncle a steady look. "*Xie xie ni, shushu*."

"*Bu xie. Women qu biede dufang, hao ma*?"

Mal thought for a moment then looked at Simon. "Where's Sarah?"

"I sent her to go get some rest."

The Captain nodded and glanced at the baby, eyes becoming suspiciously bright again. Frank put a hand on his shoulder but said nothing. Mal swallowed again. "Think I'd best find Sarah, doc. Ain't good for her to be alone right now I'm thinkin'." "*Wo tongyi*."

He got up stiffly, his uncle giving him a worried look which somehow made Mal feel a mite better. Not sure how or why but it did. River had fallen very quiet, her eyes large lumunious pools that had no reflection but followed every move he made. She looked as sad as he felt but then she always seemed able to mirror his feelings in the most uncanny way. Not that he would ever tell her brother. Man was like to panic overmuch at the best of times where his sister was concerned. Not that Mal could blame him. Girl had suffered all kinds of bad under those *tamade hundan* Alliance folk. If he ever got his hands on them as had hurt her he would show them what happened to folks as tortured little girls. She tilted her face and for a moment caught his eye.

"Still a knight even if you have no horse."

Mal snorted softly at her. "Still crazy."

But his words were more affection than accusation. A familiar comfort, soft with wear. The fingers of his right hand lightly trailed through her hair as he passed. As if by his touch he could tell her everything would be alright and for River that was enough.

* * * * *

Mr and Mrs Frye were as upset as the rest of Serenity's crew but heard the Shepherd out in silence. Beside him Jayne was itching to be up and doing, all the talking was making him ansty but a look from the Preacher decided against him making an issue about it.

"We'll help anyway we can, Shepherd." Said Mr Frye.

His wife was concerned about the Captain. "How's Mal?"

The Preacher kept his voice low and even but it was obvious he was worried too. "He is taking it very hard."

Jayne's store of patience bled out beyond a trickle. "We figure the sooner we get lookin', the sooner we can find her."

More of Kaylee's relatives were stirring now. Aunt Jessica immediately picked up on the serious tone of the conversation and shooed the younger ones off to do some chores. Charlie, Budd, Rick, Den and Joe all clamoured to offer their services. To Jayne's surprise the Preacher turned to him. "I'm thinkin' this is more your area of expertise, Jayne." Book glanced back at the Frye's. "Jayne is an exceptional tracker, if anyone can find Sarah he can."

Muted nods then Mr Frye sent Charlie to round up the rest of the menfolk and get them to meet at the barn. Mrs Frye put a hand over her mouth and tried to hold back tears. They had been busy looking for a suitable gift the crew could give their Captain and Monty for Christmas. Right now it seemed wrong to even think of anything happy amidst such sad tidings. There was no need to ask where the rest of Serenity's crew were. Jayne squinted at the sky. "If we're gonna do this best get started."

* * * * *

Ever since the bombshell Zoe Warren had been deep in thought. Most of the crew were tiptoeing around the ship, no one wanting to be the one to disturb or add to the Captain's pain. Zoe figured the infirmary was the best place for him right now and just hoped Simon did not feel the need to sedate him. Oddly enough River's presence calmed the Captain and it was an indication of the young doctor's worry that he did not send her away. Wash tried to get a conversation going but his attempts were half hearted, more efforts to show solidarity than any real need to talk. He was too numb and could not even begin to imagine how he would cope if such a thing had happened to him and Zoe. Zoe leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. Didn't say where she was going and her husband didn't ask. He figured she was going to look in on Mal. With a sigh he turned his pilot's chair and stared unseeing across the bridge console and lamented how much everything that had been so shiny had suddenly turned to *goushi*.

Zoe had asked Book and Jayne to go over to the Frye household and get a few search parties going. No telling what state Sarah had gone off in and no matter what she may or may not have thought of her relationship with the Captain the girl had just lost a baby. Didn't need to be no gorram doctor to know she would be needing medical if not psychiatric help her own self. But something was niggling at her back brain. Something that had not felt right since this whole obssession with Shadow had raised its' ugly head. What was it the Captain had said? Ah yes. He had received a wave from a friend. At the time so much had been going on she had not called him on it and right now was not the time to be asking the Captain any questions. So Zoe had done a little detective work but neither Wash's console nor Inara's had received any incoming waves regarding Shadow. No old friends turning up out of the gorram woodwork. But there was still one cortex link she had not checked and the Captain had to have used one to get in touch with Monty not to mention set up the Christmas celebrations with the Frye's.

Now she had a purpose her stride was brisk, her mind awhirl as she reached the door to shuttle two. Zoe stared at the door dumbfounded when it would not open and tried again. It was locked! Since when did they lock the door to an empty shuttle? Feeling her heartbeat speed up with apprehension she cycled through all the codes she could think of but it remained shut fast. Then she thought of something the Captain had once said to her about hiding things in plain sight, *keep it simple*. This time she keyed in the words *keepout* as if it were one word. The door immediately unlocked. Taking a breath Zoe stepped through then shut and locked the door behind her. Wouldn't do to have Mal walk in on her while she was snooping.

Starting up the cortex screen Zoe found it was easy to bring up the most recent messages and carefully scrolled through the ones with Monty and the Fryes until she came to the one that had started this whole circus in the first place. For a moment she just sat and stared. The caller was a young girl, very young, possibly seven just turning eight years old. Zoe frowned, expecting any moment for the parents to appear behind the child but no one did. There was something familiar and disturbing about the girl staring back at her, something that tugged at a memory hidden far away in the past. Zoe shook her head and pressed 'play', then as the girl's features became animated, face shining, words mimicking those she had heard most all of her life, all the blood fled from Zoe Warren's face. She did not know how this was possible but could feel the pieces of the puzzle make a sickening click as they slotted into place. No wonder nothing would stop Mal from going to Shadow. Niska had found the perfect lure to catch him hook, line and sinker.

* * * * *

"I have to find her!"

Simon understood but the doctor in him was firm. "*Wo dong*. Book and Jayne are working with Kaylee's family to find her and you know what a good tracker Jayne is."

The Captain had gone from utterly listless to taut as a bow string. He was about to get up when River put a hand on his cheek. Mal froze at her words. "She isn't lost."

He could hardly speak. "She ain't?"

"*Bu Qu*. Hiding. Frightened. So full of sorrow."

"I gotta go to her."

"Not yet, she isn't ready to be found."

Mal felt such a slew of emotions. How could Sarah do this? He just wanted to make her happy but had brought her only sorrow. River sat next to him and took his hand in hers, he stared at little tiny white hand and swallowed hard, unable to look up at her. "Even when they look alike they are not the same. Confusion is the coin of betrayal. You know the truth inside."

"River," Mal broke off then forced himself to look her in the eye. Not to start at the cascade of dark hair so like another, the pale face so young and innocent. He couldn't protect her. No matter how many years divided them. It was his fault.

"You couldn't save her, no one could." Said River quietly. "Don't be fooled by the mirror, it isn't true. Just a reflection."

His eyes narrowed slightly. "You sayin' this is a gorram trick?"

She nodded. "Not really magic, just sleight of hand."

The doctor was not sure what to make of the odd conversation but Mal was hanging on his sister's every word. Time to try a little reassurance. "Sarah will alright, Captain. She can't have gone far and Kaylee's family know this area like the back of their hands."

"I don't doubt it doc but not what we're meanin'."

Simon was confused. "No?"

River looked at her brother. She looked so sad. "No. You can't go back but sometimes they force you, make you do things you don't want to do. See things that aren't there. You get rounded up like cattle but it's all lies." She was getting agitated now. "It isn't fair, Simon, it isn't fair." Her hands went to her hair and began tugging at handfuls of it. "They may be playing but it's no game. People always get hurt when the gloves come off."

He blinked. Was she referring to...? River shook her head. Mal gently took her hands in his and she began to calm down again.

"Sometimes an expression is just an expression." She told them.

A thought occurred to the Captain but he was wary of pinning too much hope on it. "River, do you know where Sarah is?"

"Cold, hungry, frightened but has shelter now. So terrified she would lose something she threw it away. Regret is no substitute for thinking first."

"Can you see where she is?"

River shook her head. "*Bu qu* but she'll be home for tea."

Simon's mouth dropped open, the Captain just stared at her. Her brother tried to inject an air of caution, to not build up the Captain's hope. "River, you shouldn't make promises..."

"Not a promise Simon. She knows she was wrong but can't fix it. Needs a Preacher but the corn's too high and it is isn't time for the harvest." She placed a hand on Mal's chest. "She's waiting. For you."

He was on his feet in a minute not listening to a single word of caution from Simon, his eyes shone with a kind of manic hope. He paused in front of River. "I hope you're right, *xin gan*."

River smiled. "Sometimes we go too fast, the merry go round makes us dizzy, it all flies away. Go slowly, *dong ma*? That way you won't spill anything precious."

The Captain leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "*Xie xie ni, River. You look after your brother while I'm gone."

"Captain, I don't think you should..."

Mal stopped Simon in his tracks. "*Fang xin*, I'm obliged for your help doc."

He stood staring at the Captain, not able to think of anything to say that would convince the man to stay in the infirmary.

"If you're determined to do this Captain then I suggest you take a couple of blankets, some food and water. She will probably be bleeding..."

"It's okay, Simon. I know how to deal with folks in shock an' field dressin's are second nature to me. Load me up some bandages an' somesuch, anythin' you think I'll want, *dong ma*?"

Simon nodded, then paused. "Do you want me to come with you?"

He shook his head. "Your place is here, doc. I may miss her an' one of the others'll find her. Need you ready." He paused. "I'll take a com with me, just call if you need me." He hesitated.


"I don't want Sarah to see the baby, Simon. Least not yet, *dong ma*?"

The doctor's expression softened, knew how much the baby's loss had affected the man. "I'll see to it."

"Once everythin's calmed down again we'll find a place to put him to rest. Let the Preacher speak words over him."

The surprise on Simon's face almost made the Captain smile. "I may no longer give my faith to God Simon Tam but I ain't no heathen."

On that confusing assertion the Captain took the supplies Simon had put together while they spoke then with a brief nod of thanks left the infirmary. Simon wasn't sure what to think.

"Still angry with God." Said River in a small wise voice. "But you have to believe in Him to be angry with Him. Hasn't lost his faith just the path beneath his feet." She turned to face Simon now. "That's why he stumbles."

Sometimes Simon had no more clue what his sister was going to come out with next than the man in the moon. Yet every day she taught him not only more about herself and the 'verse around them but also about himself. Self revelation could be a painful experience even when your sister was the closest thing in the 'verse to an angel. Well, a crazy one at least.

* * * * *

The cave was cold and damp and hardly big enough to turn around in but it was shelter and Sarah clung to that as if it was the greatest gift in the verse. So tired. She ached with pain both physical and pyschological, half amazed and half terrified she had actually gone through with her insane plan. No tears this time just a backlash of regret she could do nothing to halt. Yet what else could she do? How could she stay with Mal knowing that every day in the Black some viscious crazed *hundan* would want to harm or kill him? Torture the Captain for what Wash had described as nothing but the pleasure of it? She could not wrap her mind around such a definition of evil. It made her shudder and cry but she would have withstood it. Tried to make it work between them because she loved the man more than the breath in her body. But the baby....

Sarah was sitting on the cold dirt floor of the little cave. It wasn't much more than a rutting outcropping, the spongy tuffs of grass rolling unevenly away from her like a pile of unmade beds. While she could withstand the burden of worry each meet would entail she could not do so and ensure the safety of their child to such a precarious existence. So what had she, Sarah Evaline Moore, done about it? She had killed the child. Cold logic could not perform the miracle of making that skewed notion right. The baby had not deserved to die. Mal had not deserved to both lose his love and his child. A sob broke ranks with her resolve, fresh tears tumbling down her cheeks while she just let go of all restraint. How the *diyu* could she ever face him again? The blood of innocents was on her hands. Head bowed, River's words rang in her ears like a prison sentence to the soul. *His eyes. Your hair.*

She was in such deep distress she did not hear the whicker of the horse. Day growing old without any recognition from her own self. When you were already traversing the nine hells what did anything else matter? When Jayne Cobb found her the woman was curled up in a foetal position, damn near frozen. Shepherd Book hurried to her side and looked to see what he could do to stabilise her condition. Dimly he was aware of the mercenary notifying the Captain. Pain stabbed his heart at the foolishness of mankind, the impulsive little acts of self destruction that could all be allayed with the blessing of words. Once the girl was mended as she could be, he intended to have a nice long chat with her. Preferrably while the Captain was off the ship making contact with their next client.

Jayne finished his short conversation with Mal then contacted the others, neither man delaying things with niceties. A variety of emotions greeted his words but he had no time or patience to pander to the crew's need for information. When he got through to Wash he just said what was needed, nothing else. Wash agreed then went to find the doctor. Jayne peered into the little cave mouth and noticed the bandages weren't making much of a difference to blood flow. This was bad but he did not say anything. When Book went to pick her up in his arms Jayne's meaty hand rested on his shoulder. "Uh uh, Preacher. Cap'n's on his way. Says not to move her on pain of death."

The Preacher opened his mouth to argue but seeing the flint settle in the mercenary's eyes realised this was one time when he should let the Captain make that decision. With a sigh he bent his head, closed his eyes and began to pray.

Jayne was about to tell him not to do it but *diyu*, maybe Book knew something he didn't. Maybe the *baichi* girl was gonna die after all.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*cuode* = wrong *dong ma* = understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wode ma* = mother of God *wode erzi* = my son *shushu* = uncle *gaoxing* = happy *xie xie ni* = thank you *bu xie* = you're welcome *women qu biede dufang, hao ma*? = shall we go somewhere else? *diyu* = hell *wo tongyi* = I agree *tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *goushi* = crap/dog shit *wo dong* = I understand *xin gan* = sweetheart *fang xin* = dont won't (lit. ease your heart) *hundan* = bastard


Tuesday, March 22, 2005 3:12 PM


I really can't wait to read the interaction between Mal and Sarah when they finally meet up. You've done a great job of building up so many emotions.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005 4:53 AM


Ah, Jayne ... he's a Big Damn Support, isn't he? I've always loved your Jayne.

So, another agonizing for Mal - through the wringer again. When I first read " too numb with emotion", the paradox brought me up sharp. But it's a perfect, neat description.

I suppose I ought to be feeling more sympathy for Sarah ... I'll try. But I'm fascinated to know who the little girl is. Is she Mal's lost sister? No - don't tell me. I look forward to finding out.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 6:55 PM


So sad, and so well written!! Very good job on all the emotions!


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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.