THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 4. "Visions of Hell"
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

"It falls to Zoe to fill in the blanks of Mal's memory. Meanwhile Inara faces unpleasant truths of her own while enemies slowly and inexorably plot their move."


TITLE: "VISIONS OF HELL AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Inara/Paul. RATING: NC-17. Non-consensual but not graphic. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "NIGHTMARES" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE:

SUMMARY: "It falls to Zoe to fill in the blanks of Mal's memory. Meanwhile Inara faces unpleasant truths of her own while enemies slowly and inexorably plot their move." 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

* * * * *

Inside the infirmary Yen Mah was getting more and more agitated. The Captain tried to calm her but it was becoming harder to convince her that nothing bad was going to happen. Simon cleaned the wound, administered something for the pain then stitched him up. He winced once or twice but bit back the urge to say anything, not wanting to alarm the girl even more than she was already. Zoe was pacing just behind the Captain, not wanting him to see how on edge she was but he knew. Without turning his head he called her on it. "*Shenme shi*, Zoe? You're wearin' a hole in the deck."

Zoe exchanged a look with Wash. He mouthed 'tell him'. Shepherd Book stepped in the infirmary at that moment. Kaylee and River were in the engine room. Jayne had gone to shower after his workout. Simon watched the tension in Zoe become so pronounced it made him flinch. She huffed as if coming to a decision and stepped round in front of the Captain. Yen Mah gave her a wary look but did not move away. Zoe put her hands on her hips. "How much do you remember, Mal?"

He frowned. "About what? I know everything that happened to you since your pa sold up his boat and stuck to land. What you wantin' to know?"

"Not about the past," She said in a softer voice than the others had heard her use in a long time.

Simon pulled a stool up for Zoe and she sat without thinking about it. The others leaned on work surfaces and waited.

The Captain looked genuinely confused. "Zoe, I don't know what's got you so wired. Don't know why we're on this boat come to that 'cept I guess it's the on'y passage home, *dui*?" When Zoe just stared at him he frowned. "What is it you think I forgot? Your birthday? Like I could any more forget it than my own."

He missed the sharp intake of breath from Wash, his eyes pinned to Zoe.

"You're gonna have to give me a hint if you want somethin' specific. I ain't no ruttin' mind reader when all's said and done."

"When you saw me you said I'd grown."

He smiled. The others were transfixed by the way it transformed his face. The Captain never smiled enough like that. The grim reality of life in the Black kept him settled firmly in the corner of No and Where just to keep everybody safe and free of the Alliance. But none of that seemed to impinge on his mind now. As if the whole War had never happened. "That you have."

Her voice quietened some. Wash automatically squeezed her hand but did not interrupt. "When have we ever been parted, Mal?"

His smile dulled a mite. He began to shake his head then his eyes started to widen with realisation. Zoe nodded back.

"We haven't." Her tone was crisp. Unequivocal.

His voice became quieter. Not yet afraid. "What you sayin'?"

"When you got knocked out it messed with your memories, Mal."

Something cold touched him iniside.

"You lost years, Mal. Not minutes, hours nor days. Years."

He went pale. Simon watched him anxiously, hoping Zoe would not push too much and send him into shock.

"How long?" He asked slowly. Yen Mah burrowed in closer to his side, her eyes round and fearful.

"Let's do this slowly, *dong ma*? That alright with you?" He nodded and waited.

"What's the last thing you remember before the ambush?"

"Leaving the ranch. Turned us a good profit on our cattle sales. I was lookin' to meet up with Davy and the boys and get back home. Why?"

He saw the pain in her eyes but did not understand it. "Mal, there was a war."


She nodded. "Do you remember any fighting?"

He looked worried. "Pa went off with Uncle Frank, some ruttin' Alliance nonsense but everyone knows that won't last, Zo. Mama said."

Zoe had to bite the inside of her cheek hard to keep back tears. Stay strong not just for herself but for him too. Wash winced at the pain in his hand but said nothing, managing to give a sustained squeeze back so she had something to hang on to. "No, Mal, the War spread."

Horror was creeping on the edge of his sight. His eyes glued to hers wanting to know, needing to know, but fearing what she would have to tell him. "What happened?" He whispered.

"The Alliance were signing up more and more worlds, government getting bigger, greedier, hungrier. More corrupt. They waged war on anyone and everyone who stood against them."

"We weren't at War, Zoe. Just ranchers, farmers an' such. Just protectin' our own."

"I know, Mal, but we didn't go along with the Alliance. You know that saying, those who aren't with us are against us?"

He did not like the way his mind was joining up the dots. "Ruttin' hell, they fought Shadow?"

She nodded. "Every Independent stronghold, every corner of free will that stood against them and even those that simply tried to stay apart. The Alliance wanted to strike down what they saw as the seeds of rebellion. We rose up to defend our freedom, they called us the enemy and set everyone else against us. Many Rim worlds were in the same position as we were and stood with us. Not all survived. In some ways we didn't."

He closed his eyes for a single moment then opened them again. "And Pa?"

Wash let go of Zoe's hand so she could reach out to Mal, the stricken look on the Captain's face cutting right through the walls of his heart. "He died Mal. Uncle Frank made it out but not in time."

He hung his head. "*Tian Yehsoo*." For a few minutes no one spoke then Mal opened his eyes and went to stand up but Simon put a hand on his shoulder to keep him seated on the infirmary bed. He knew there was more to come and was thinking he might have to end up sedating the Captain before Zoe had finished. No one heard Jayne step into the infirmary, his big blocky body filling the doorway with his solid presence.

Zoe cupped a hand against his cheek, not knowing what else to do but tell him the truth. She felt so helpless knowing that every word uttered was a dagger through his heart. The Captain had always been so strong. She counted on that strength, that will of iron to be her fortress in any storm. "*Duibuqi*, Mal." He was almost crying. His father was dead what else could go wrong? He did not want to hear any more but he couldn't stop his ears from listening. His heart from absorbing all the gory details.

"You went off to War Mal, naturally I went with you and so did most of the ranch hands and every able bodied man who could be spared on Shadow. Cheng stayed with a handful of men to help your mama run the ranch. It was the same story on other Rim worlds. We took the simple oath of freedom, wore the brown coats of the Independents and set out to free our lands from the Alliance yoke. You didn't know that shortly after we left Davy followed in your footsteps. He wanted so badly to fight with you only they never sent him to follow us to Hera. He got sent elsewhere. His whole platoon wiped out on the second day. Not one survived."

The Captain stared at her, throat choking with emotion, eyes bright with tears. Wash had to look away. Simon swallowed and forced himself to watch the Captain's face and stand firm beside him. "Davy? *Si? Wu de ma* not Davy..."

Zoe put her hands on his shoulders and held his gaze with eyes slowly filling with tears. That alone gave the stark cold ring of truth to her words. "That's not all, Mal." Her voice was getting lower, softer, more soaked in pain. Dipping into his agony as if it were her own. "When Uncle Frank returned to Shadow the Alliance had already been there. They raised the ranch to the ground Mal, killed everybody."

His mouth dropped open. The shock and pain registering hard. Simon had never seen a heart break before, not in such painful graphic detail. He hoped he would never live to see that look on another person's face ever again. Every piece of joy and light that had so recently shone in the Captain's eyes vanished, a pain so raw, so deep, so feral burned right through his soul and scorched him with the desperate agony of it. Even so, a cool dispassionate part of himself watched as the shield slid into place. Implaccable walls of armour solidifying with hate and sorrow and a vast ocean of terrible grief. In those moments Simon understood so much about the Captain that he had failed to grasp. Depths and sides to him hidden from the casual eye. That any man should bear such sorrow and still have a feeling bone left in his body was some kind of miracle. It also explained his almost fanatical loyalty when it came to defending his ship and crew. No wonder. It was all the man had left. No family. No home. Nothing but bitterness and ashes filling a great yawning pit of sorrow where a heart had once been. No. It was still there. Wounded. Bleeding. Barely surviving but still there. Held together by a single indomitable will. No wonder Adelei Niska could not break him.

"Tell me there's nothin' more, Zoe."

His voice sounded cracked and torn. The words bruised and bloody as they staggered from his mouth like casualties of war. "That's it Mal. After that we wandered for a while, taking whatever work we could find and staying clear of the Alliance while you vowed to find us a place they couldn't take out from under us."

Numb he just stared at her. A bitter smile cracked her pained lips. Even now a fierce part of her heart and soul was so damn proud of him. Not that she would ever come right out and say so.

"You scraped together every bit of coin you could get your hands on until you had enough to buy this."

Somehow the meaning of her words penetrated wits dulled by grief and shock. "I did what?"

"This boat, Serenity, it's your ship Mal."

His mouth flapped open a couple of times before he could find any words. Stunned. "Mine? But I don't own a boat."

She almost smiled, tired and sad as she was. "Look again, *Captain*. You're sitting on it."

His eyes widened. The dime dropped with a loud hollow clang in his head. He closed his eyes as if he had just realised he had done something monumentally stupid. "What in the nine hells was I thinkin' of?"

"Don't think thinkin' came much into it, sir." Said Zoe a mite too smug.

Simon noticed how exhausted the Captain was looking. All the revelations taking their inevitable toll. "I think the Captain needs to get some rest now."

People started filing out of the infirmary. The Captain's eyes opened wearily. They looked huge and haunted in his pale face. Yen Mah tugged his sleeve urgently and he bent his head low to catch her whispered words. "*Zei sher shui jiao anquan ma?*"

"Don't think you got to worry, *xin gan*. Seems this boat belongs to me."

She stared at him doubtfully. He tried a smile out for size. Her eyes were wary troubled pools reflecting back at him. "*Women zai sher ting duojiu*?"

"For a while at least, Yen Mah. If it's true this boat is mine it changes things a mite but we're both *leihuai le*. Maybe we can even find time to find your no-good *xiongdi* in a day or so."

Alarm spread over her face like a forest fire. Panic hot on its' heels. Mal quickly put his arms around her and hugged her close.

"Sssh, *duibuqi* Yen Mah, just call me *baichi, dong ma*?"

That made her giggle. Relieved that she seemed to have forgiven him Mal looked up and saw that everyone had left the infirmary except Zoe and Simon.

"I still don't know what to think of all this, Zo, but I know it can't have been easy for you to tell me. *Xei xei*."

She bit her lip. It was the last thing in the 'verse she wanted to be thanked for. Zoe looked at the girl sitting on the infirmary bed next to him, her hands gripped tightly in his shirt as if all the undead in *diyu* would get her the moment she let go of him. "No problem where you're gonna sleep, sir. You got a bunk. Not so sure about the girl. She could sleep with Kaylee."

Yen Mah hung on even tighter to Mal. He shook his head. "*Bu qu*. Right now Yen Mah needs to feel safe so she stays with me, *dong ma*?"

Zoe started to protest. "I don't think that's a good idea, sir..."

"Not carin' what kind of idea it is, Zoe, not discussin' this. Yen Mah stays with me, we can fix up another bed near me."

"Um, your bunk's kind of narrow sir."

"Then it'll be a narrow bunk and what's with all the 'sir'? Got the same name I was born with."

A first smile started to crack Zoe's grim expression. Simon began to feel as if they might actually be getting over the worst but he was not about to relax his guard just yet. It was good to hear the Captain begin to tease Zoe.

"Besides, thought you said I was the Captain of this boat?"

"You are, no thought about it."

He gave her a mock glare. "Then how come I got such a narrow bunk?"

Zoe actually smirked. "That's because you gave me and Wash *your* bunk when we got married, sir."

A string of Chinese curses streamed out of his mouth. Simon smiled. Yen Mah laughed with her mouth hanging open and no sound coming out, her eyes crinkling at the corners. Oh yes. Simon thought things were going to work out fine. It would just take a little time that was all.

* * * * *

Inara was sore, only her years of training and experience keeping her from crying out with the pain as ribbons of blood ran between her legs while Paul rode her hard and furiously, a hand between her legs to widen the breach as much as possible as he rammed again and again to make his claim on her body. She had known it would be bad but the *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* had been determined to take everything he could in blood. Yet she had agreed the terms. No fool bigger than her in the whole 'verse for agreeing to it. Yet as she smothered her cries and swallowed her tears she thought of only one thing. A shining temple in her mind called Freedom. Once this was over she would never have to set eyes on Paul Santo again. And if she did she would take great satisfaction in killing the *wangba dan* in the most painful and public way possible.

The long hours of night seemed endless. At one stage she wondered whether she would die before morning came but her determination was the equal to this challenge. She would rise and overcome. After this no man would ever be allowed to reach a position where he could hurt her again.

Morning light filtered like sharp shards through the open window. Paul Santo sat in the embrasure looking out over his ornamental pond, his manicured lawns, his sculptured hedges and the exotic and convoluted maze. He gazed towards a gold embellished gazebo, inhaled the rich fragrance of roses through the open window and saw only the results of his petty lust, his nostrils rich with the smell of blood and sex. It charged him, made him feel strong, powerful, alive. Inara shifted painfully on the silk sheets. He had pulled the top sheet off to leave her naked and bloodied so he could rake a cruel eye over his trophy. She would not be with him for long but he did not care. No one else would want her now. The rips where he had forcibly taken her with as much violence as possible would take months to heal preventing her from plying her trade or attracting a suitor powerful enough to protect her. Yes. He had thought most thoroughly about what his response would be prior to agreeing her terms.

She watched him, gathering her strength and trying not to cry out as she eased her bruised limbs chasing nonexistent comfort. Inara wanted to leave as soon as possible but right now movement was too painful and she did not want an audience. Instead she used her voice. "I believe our pact is concluded."

Paul nodded almost absent mindedly. He was still looking out the window but Inara knew he was watching her on the periphery of his vision. Very little got passed this man. "Yes. To a most satisfactory conclusion."

Inara bit down on her lip almost drawing blood. Angering him now when she was so close to getting what she wanted was not an option. "Where is it, Paul?"

He turned his head and smeared a false smile of affection on his handsome face. "I will get it for you now. Do you also wish your travel robes Inara?"

Oh how she did yet she wondered how she was going to be able to move from this bed to clean herself up and dress. "Yes, thank you."

He could be gracious to her now that he had what he wanted. He knew she was suffering but was too stubborn and proud to admit it. Well. If she wanted to pretend she was stronger than she was he would fetch the certificate for her now and have her off his premises within the hour. Let her see how stiff necked she would be then when the ability to walk across his lawns to her shuttle all but defied her strength. He could hardly wait to see how the mighty were fallen. Turning his head away to hide the smirk he left the room. A decided bounce in his ignoble step.

* * * * *

Briny looked self satisfied. They clung to the shadows and kept an eye on the Firefly class shuttle. It was quiet, little activity and hardly any people moving about. Yet it paid to stay sharp and not get sloppy. The last few hours before dawn were always best for such underhand deeds. Watchmen grew wary. Streets deserted. Access easier to accomplish.

The small device was cunning concealed to blow through the side of the engine. Not enough to destroy the ship but more than enough to cause at least a day's delay if not more. It all depended on the skill of the ship's mechanic and the access they would have to the parts. Time enough for them to lift off the cargo they had been tracking these many weeks. How many times would they have to catch her, beat her and drag her back again? Yet she was a good source of income. A job that kept cropping up again and again. In a way Briny would be sorry to lose this one. They had been getting lazy. But not for much longer.

* * * * *

River and Kaylee were in Kaylee's bunk sitting on the bed talking. Kaylee had stopped crying hours ago and River had patiently explained in her own jumbled way in a manner which actually made the mechanic feel much better. She was still upset only now it was not making her too miserable to function.

"So you think everything will be shiny?"

"You will always be his *mei mei* even if his head isn't right yet."

"But Cap'n will recover, *dui*?"

River nodded, solemn and suddenly serious. "Not yet, be patient. Hard times. Sad times. Times for friends to help each other."

Kaylee smiled but with sad eyes. She did not like to think of the Captain hurting or having sad times. Did not like to think of anyone suffering if she could help it. She knew all about friendship, she could do that. "I'll help, you'll see. Cap'n'll be back to normal in no time at all."

Her friend shook her head and took Kaylee's hands in hers. They were slightly sweaty from all the worrying but at least they were clean. "No, not soon, not normal. *Huai le*."

Her heart missed a beat. "Broken?"

River nodded. "Sharp pieces like in his mind."

"Yeah, but we'll help River. We'll all help..."

She was cut off before she could get carried away with the passion of her good intentions. "Too much, too much." She said softly, trying not to hurt Kaylee's feelings. Knowing she needed to help so badly. "Captain will heal slowly, don't push. Think of the glass."

Kaylee furrowed her brow in confusion. "Glass?"

"Shards, remember? Bright sharp shards in his memory."

"Oh," Kaylee did not really understand but thought she got an idea of what River meant. "Shards of glass?"

She nodded. "If you push the glass cuts. Too sharp."

Now she understood. "I mustn't push is that what you're sayin?"

River beamed, happy and pleased with her. It made Kaylee feel a bit more confident. They said their goodnights and River went off to go to her room to sleep. Kaylee lay awake on top of her bed thinking. So it was that she was the only one still awake when the massive explosion ripped through the side of the engine setting off the emergency alarm. Her heart in her mouth, Kaylee raced up the ladder from her bunk and ran along the corridor, only to be stopped by thick black smoke and over-arching flames coming from her beloved engine room. It was Shepherd Book who came up behind her and dragged her back. She was crying and yelling for him to let her the gorram go, Serenity needed her. Couldn't he see that? But right now Serenity needed all her crew to get off in one piece before they suffocated. Somewhere in the muddle of that panic driven hour it penetrated her foggy brain that you had to survive the explosion in order to fix the damage afterwards. Sick to her heart, Kaylee bowed reluctantly to the inevitable.

Face smudged with soot not tears this time, it was a glum looking mechanic who stared at the damaged Firefly as the crew abandoned ship. She could not help wondering if things could get any gorram worse.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme me* = what's the matter? *dui* = correct *dong ma* = understand *xei xei* = thanks *tian Yehsoo* = sweet Jesus *duibuqi* = sorry *si* = dead *wu de ma* = mother of God *zei sher shui jiao anquan ma?* = is it safe to sleep in this place? *xin gan* = sweetheart *women zai sher ting duojiu?* = how long will we stop here? *xiongdi* = brother *baichi* = idiot *bu qu* = no *wangba dan* = bastard *huai le* = broken *leihai le* = exhausted *diyu* = hell *chuseng xai-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard


Wednesday, October 1, 2003 11:25 PM


Dear God, this story is getting more painful with every chapter! Convincingly painful. The kind of painful that makes me want to chop the villains into tiny pieces.
I'm looking forward to you giving the wangda bans their come-uppance!

Friday, October 3, 2003 12:55 PM


It's been three long agonizing days... I sort of need THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 5... I don't need to suffer another Firefly withdrawal...


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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.