THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 6. "Adjustments"
Friday, October 10, 2003

"The crew of Serenity adjust to the changes. The Captain has a decision to make but someone else is about to force his hand."



SUMMARY: "The crew of Serenity adjust to the changes. The Captain has a decision to make but someone else is about to force his hand." 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

* * * * *

It was the oddest thing. Jayne sat in the cargo bay cleaning and sharpening Binky. The knife had a wonderful balanced weight to it and felt right in his hand. He was sitting on a crate thinking. The routine maitenance of his weapon helped him mull things over in his mind. Being a mite slower than the others did not mean he was less intelligent just that his brain took the scenic route sometimes. Right now it was meandering, Reliving all kinds of oddments of memory that set off emotions that surprised him. He was not overly given to sentiment. Had no use for bonding and friendship and some such. A practical man he liked to keep his life free of complications which was why he could appreciate the Captain's no nonsense approach except now the Captain was not acting quite himself and it put him off balance. Wary. On edge. He was not yet ready to admit even to himself that he was concerned. After all this was just the latest in a long procession of employers. He went wherever the pay was most lucrative. Always looking for the best deal, cutting himself in on the tightest action. Never thought he'd ever get hung up on a Firefly of all things let alone this rag-tag jumble of crew.

He stared off into the middle distance not really seeing anything, his hands pausing while memories burst in his mind like soap bubbles, each one separate from the others and complete. He recalled the day he had first met Mal and Zoe, the way the Captain had showed not one inch of fear at having a group of armed men with the drop on him. Outnumbered and outgunned he acted as if he was the one in control but not in a confrontational fashion. His mild mannered speech, the lick of humour and his laid back approach quickly turned what was squaring up to be a sudden and bloody demise to a change in fortune with the Captain on the winning side and Jayne with a new employer and a much smarter deal all round. But the man was full of rutting surprises. Not only did the mercenary get his own bunk, ten percent cut of the take and as much gorram food as he could stuff into his mouth without popping, he was treated like a human being. Maybe not top of the food chain but not the rutting bottom either. He had liked that even while it had unnerved him like a man waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sure that Mal would try to twist him, dump him on some desert rock when he wasn't looking or simply shoot him when his back was turned and throw him out of an airlock. He could not figure the man and that had made him uneasy for the longest time. It took Ariel for him to finally realise that the Captain was a man who earnt respect as well as gave it. But that in turn placed a mighty big burden of conscience on a man.

He looked down at the knife only half seeing it, the edge so shiny it dazzled wherever the merest shaft of light caught it. So many little scenes remembered. Moments when the Captain had supported him quietly with just a word softly spoken, a nod, a look that said he trusted him to get the job done or not let him down. Little moments of give in a man whose mild exterior belied the cold steel inside that never gave an inch. Over the months he found himself living for those moments. Losing himself in that relaxed cameraderie that was enough to draw him into the circle without choking him like a gorram noose. Now his touchstone was not there any more. Oh the man was with them still, no two men like the Captain ever walked and breathed. But this new creature. The one without the shared memories. The eyes that held no hint of recognition. Chilled him more than angry pissed off Mal ever could. Because this Mal, as light hearted and easy going as he might be, was a stranger to him.

It worried him. Set a nameless fear crawling through his gut as if their lives hinged on the outcome of a heavy blow to the head. If he did not get his memory back what would happen to them? What would happen to Serenity? The old Mal he could count on to his last dying breath and not even have to look up and meet his eyes for confirmation. This one could just up and leave them without so much as a backward glance or a hint of regret. And if he went what would they do then? Could they hold this boat together without him? And more importantly, would they want to?

It was selfish he knew that. He should be more worried about helping the man but he had gotten so used to Mal being the strong one, the leader, the one who made all the decisions. The one they relied upon to steer their lives on a true course that would keep them safe and still put coin in their pockets and food on the table. He had gotten soft. They all had. Perhaps it was just as well this had happened. A rude awakening was better than not waking up at all. He carefully put Binky away then wondered why the realisation was no comfort to him. No comfort at all.

* * * * *

The Captain retired to his bunk ostensibly to sort out the sleeping arrangements for Yen Mah but that was not what he was doing. Kaylee had finally convinced the girl that it was alright to spend some time with her and River and truth to tell she was curious about them and the ship. When Mal had insisted on setting up a bed for her in his room she had finally relaxed and let herself believe that here at least was somewhere where she could feel safe. These people seemed to know and trust Mal. Even so she decided to keep her eyes and ears peeled just in case. Eagerly looking forward to exploring her new home while determined not to lose the man she had chosen as her anchor.

In his bunk Mal looked around slowly like a man in a trance. Zoe had been reluctant to leave him but he had insisted he was alright and in the end she had gone with Wash and left him to get settled in. He stood in the centre of the room with his right hand extended, fingers lightly touching every surface, his eyes trying to take in what he was seeing and make sense of it but nothing looked familiar. Nothing jumped out at him and jogged his memory. He sighed, feeling a headache coming on. Closing his eyes he just stood for a minute trying to make sense of things. The story they told him was incredible yet they seemed truthsome. The pale thin girl seemed especially tense and not quite right though he felt a certain empathy for her and did not know why. The one who calmed him most was the Preacher. He seemed to be the only member of the crew who did not want or expect anything from him. But most unsettling of all was Zoe. He sighed and opened his eyes, swallowed slowly and resisted the urge to cry. Zoe. Looking eight to ten years older than when he last saw her. Could it be true that he had lost his memory? That the last few years were lost to him in the trauma of the attack? Ridiculous. How could he forget an entire war? Not remember something as soul shattering as his brother's rutting death? Impossible! His father's death in battle, his mother, the ranch hands and neighbours he had grown up with burnt to death in their homes while Alliance troops piled on wood to make the flames lick higher?

He shook his head in denial and dislodged a tear. Unnoticed it slid down his cheek, his breath pained, his heart aching. He stared at the ground. The boots the Shepherd had given him. Pinching now but he did not care. He wanted to go home. Wanted to see his mother's face, hug his father, tease his brother until he was blue in the face. Ride from one end of their land to the other until he was saddle sore. Play jokes on the hands and then gather with the family round the fire at night to listen to Cheng on his erhu, Danny on the harmonica, Red and Maurice adding their rich tenors to the songs they would sing as the storms of other worlds raged outside their piece of Heaven and touched not the sanctuary they shared within. Tears multiplied and thickened in a salty stream upon his face blinding his vision to the burden of his heart. It could not be true. They could not all be dead. Yet. What if Zoe was right? What if he had somehow lost all those years and there was nothing now behind him but open graves? What if this was his life now? How could he bear the loss and live?

* * * * *

Another night fell. Ricky was getting impatient. He watched the Firefly and glared at Briny. "What are we gonna do now? How the ruttin' hell do we get the girl?"

"Why don't we just ask?"

Ricky's face contorted with disbelief. "Are you brain damaged, you *yuchun chunren*?"

"No, *ting*. You said earlier about just going up and knockin' on the door."

Ricky peeled back his lips to show his teeth. "It was called sarcasm."

"We have rights."

He laughed harshly. "Rights? After what we did?"

There was a pause and a slow sly smile slid its' way across Briny's face. "We have papers."

It took a moment for Ricky to see where he was going with this. His answer was slow, cautious. Not jeering at him now but not wholly convinced yet either. "They would string us up before they got round to checkin' their authenticity."


He just stared at Briny dumbfounded for a minute or two. "You think they'd just give her up?"

"Why not?" Grinned Briny slowly. "After all, we are kin. *jia*."

A long silence. Ricky sucked his teeth thoughtfully. "We're not blood kin and somethin' tells me that *hundan* she hooked up with would take a mite more convincin' than papers layin' claim on her like some piece of cargo."

"We can't go back empty handed, bro. *Bu hao*. *Ba ba* raised the useless *pofu*, up to us to make somethin' on the loss wouldn't you say?"

"I don't know, Briny. This is gettin' deeper than I ever wanted to go."

"Look we're *si* if we go back without her. If we stay on the run we become *go se* like Yen Mah."

"I still don't see why she's so ruttin' valuable."

"Not her, *chunren*, but what's in her head."

"Not much left if you ask me." He muttered darkly but at least he was not openly rebelling. With another night falling and no resolution to their problem the fight was going out of him.

"We're runnin' out of options and at least this way we got us some ligitimacy." His brother jerked his head up suddenly, eyes shining. "That's it!"


"Ligitimacy. We got papers, *dui*?"


"This place got law?"


"Why not let the law do it's job, huh? We get the law to come and make them give her up. Spin some yarn about that *hundan* takin' her away from us an' maybe add some spice to it."


"You know, lot's of folk don't like the sound of men takin' kids to their beds, *dong ma*?"

Briny's eyes widened. He stared at his brother as if he had gone crazy. "They'll never believe that. She'll tell 'em, she'll talk pretty until we're hangin' at the end of a gorram rope."

Ricky was grinning like a loon now. "Uh uh, bro. When we go get the law we tell 'em this *hundan* raped our adopted *xiao meimei*. That he so traumatised her with his wicked ways that she thinks he loves her and will take care of her an' such not realisin' he just wants to use her for his own sick self gratification and the like. We could maybe even stir up some of the good folk round these parts, get 'em all self righteous."

"That's just *meili*."

A wide slimey smile oiled its' way across Ricky's face. "By the time we finish spinnin' our tale that *meiyou muqin de xiao gou* will wish he'd never stuck his ruttin' nose in our business."

They were both smothering laughs now, trying not to make too much noise. Both felt much happier than they had a few minutes ago. Briny wiped the tears from the corner of his eyes and managed to get control of himself. He was smiling at his brother with unconcealed admiration. "This I would pay to see."

* * * * *

Inara wanted to go and see him, talk to him, but she did not dare. What would she do? How would she handle the blank look on his face when he beheld her? How would she be able to bear it? No. Better to keep her own counsel and see what happened. Perhaps Simon would be able to help him or Mal's memory would come back on its' own? But she knew there was also a chance it might never come back. She went into the commons room for a drink to take back to her shuttle. Shepherd Book was making tea. He looked up and noticed the dark circles under her eyes. The paleness of her face not hidden by the makeup. He thought she had lost weight. "I've just made tea, would you like a cup?"

She smiled. "Yes, thank you."

He watched her surreptitiously as he poured a cup for her.

"If you don't mind my saying so you do not look well. Is everything all right?"

She wanted to laugh at the masterpiece of understatment but did not dare. It would only come out wild and hysterical if she did. Instead she shook her head. "No, just tired."

"There's some stew left from earlier, I can heat it up for you? Won't take but a minute."

"No, thank you."

"It has real meat in it." He coaxed.

Something sparkled slightly in her eyes. A memory of a kindly woman coaxing her to eat when she was small. It had been years since that memory had surfaced. Not able to speak she nodded. The Shepherd smiled at her and pushed the tea towards her before turning away to get the stew and put it on a hob to heat through. "Sorry we have no bread left. Low on most supplies I'm afraid."

She nodded and cupped her hands around the hot tea then took a long slow sip, savouring it right down to the tips of her toes. It tasted wonderful. "I don't mind. It will be good to have something warm inside me."

He did not comment on that or how much it revealed of her current state. He must remind himself to have a quiet word with Simon when he got the chance. In private of course. It would not do for Inara to think he was prying into her affairs even if he was. Sometimes the woman simply needed someone to watch over her.

* * * * *

Kaylee was laughing brightly, relief running rampart through her. Yen Mah was smiling and chatting on and off to her with hardly any reservation now. River smiled at the girl and Yen Mah smiled happily back. She liked River. Trusted her. And now that she was getting used to Kaylee she liked her too. It made her feel even safer than before. If these were Mal's friends she would have nothing more to fear. Her smile widened then was cracked further by a huge great yawn. Yen Mah flushed and put her hands over her mouth. Kaylee laughed out loud and River grinned.

"Can't keep the sleep from sliding out of your mouth." River said.

Yen Mah chuckled. "Long day."

Kaylee nodded, her laughter muting a little as she looked at the painfully thin girl. "You've had a hard time I'm guessin', Yen Mah."

The girl sobered and looked down at her hands. Kaylee felt instantly guilty and put her arms around her to give her a gentle hug. "Hey, *duibuqi*. I never know when to keep my mouth shut."

"It's okay. You spoke truth, just hurts sometimes."

"Wanna talk about it?"

Yen Mah shook her head. River took the girl's hands in her own and smiled gently.

"No talking just sleep." She cautioned.

Yen Mah nodded. "*Lei*

Kaylee got up off the floor of the engine room and helped Yen Mah get to her feet. The girl yawned again and all three girls laughed. "C'mon, we'll take you to the Cap'n's bunk. He should have your bed out by now. Unless you wanna talk some more?"

She shook her head.

"No more talking." Said River as if interpreting for her.

Kaylee smiled. "Okay, no more talking."

When they got to the Captain's bunk Yen Mah's bed was all laid out. It was little more than a single matress laid alongside the Captain's bed but he had piled a second one on top of it then added sheets, blankets and a pillow. Yen Mah smiled when she saw that he had also laid out a pair of old but clean pajamas. Judging by the size of them they were probably Kaylee's or River's. He was already in his sleepware and getting ready for bed his own self. He smiled when three heads ducked down to peer over the top of his ladder.

"You ready for bed, *bao bei*?"

Yen Mah nodded. She turned and hugged Kaylee then River before scrambling down. Kaylee hung her head down and looked at the Captain. "You just yell if ya need anythin', Cap'n."

He nodded. "*Xei xei*."

It still felt odd being called Captain but he was slowly getting used to it. He looked at Yen Mah for a moment, a tumble of thoughts going through his head. "How you feelin', Yen Mah?"

"Shiny. Safe."

He smiled. How did she manage to take so few words and say so much? "Best get to bed now, *dong ma*? You snore?"

She muffled a chuckle and shook her head. He mock frowned at her.

"I gotta warn you now you snore and there's an airlock with your name on it."

Her eyes smiled at him and he smiled back. Yen Mah hugged him and sighed with deep content into the soft fabric of his pajama top. He felt so solid, so warm. Like home only she could not remember what home had ever felt like. It seemed all her life had been spent fleeing from one terrible nightmare to the next. Now, for the first time in a long long time she felt as if everything would be alright. She had made the right choice. Her *pengyou* would protect her and she would watch over him. Further than that she could not see.

* * * * *

The pearlised handle of the gun was an exquisite finish to a very fine weapon indeed. The man was tall, starkly elegant in a minimalist fashion. Even had he not been wearing an Alliance uniform his allegiance screamed from the folds of a very definite kind of cloth. Unlike those who bore the yoke as the lesser of a great many evils all of which carried the threat of sudden death should they not be embraced in the fashion expected by their masters, he carried his austere duty with visible relish. His eyes glittering with pleasure whenever any of the Independent scum were given their due and crushed underfoot. *To the Victor the spoils* indeed. Every movement bespoke his supreme confidence. His arrogance and belief in his own superiority. He stood a little over six foot, had a stocky frame with powerful shoulders and a broad chest. His face was clean shaven but bore a permanent nine o'clock shadow below eyes of storm grey. His dark brown hair was worn short and cut in a close brush that underlined the military precision he so craved and helped to stamp his hard line attitude into every line of body. No hint of humour warmed the cold planes of his face nor animated the ever watchful eye.

They were late. He drummed the fingers of his right hand on his desk and gazed across the bridge of his ship. The Alliance vessel had a rendezvous to meet and this simple task had already been delayed three times by the incompetent leading the foolhardy. He should have chosen another method but this one was deemed to draw less attention to both their presence and their charge. *Softly softy catchee monkey* the General had said. Short, sharp and swift was his preference. He bit back the audible sigh that rose to his lips. Control was everything. He would give them another twenty four hours. If there was still no news they would become yesterday's news. Not even a footnote on the sidelines of history.

* * * * *

Simon woke so suddenly that he lay for a moment trying to gather his wits. What had waken him? He rose automatically, his hand lifting to gently draw back the tatami screen separating him from his sister's bunk. She was sitting up in bed, eyes wide as saucers, her breath a ragged staccato of panic and fear racing each other for some distant finish line. He reached her in three long strides, his hands gentle as they eased her into the warm protective embrace of his arms. Her pale shocked face still walking in some nightmare that held her in thrall.

"Sssshhhh, *mei mei*, it's alright. I'm here. You're safe. Go back to sleep."

Her tense body started to relax as he murmured soothing words over and over and cradled her next to his heart. Suddenly she jerked in his arms, her eyes blinked and words stumbled to break free of her nightmare visions. He tried to calm her, alarmed by her distress and wishing he had a smoother with him. He did not dare let go of her while he went to prepare one. When River was like this she could do anything and he did not want her to get any worse. First he needed to calm her down.

"What is it River? *Shenme shi*?"

"Greedy hands take without asking. Hurt without thinking. They don't care, grabbing, grabbing, grabbing. Taking what isn't theirs." A small sob caught in the back of her throat. Tears threatened.

"River, what is it?" He wracked his brains trying to think what had set her off.

She turned her head and stared at him. Suddenly lucid. All the sorrow in the world reflected in those eyes. "Like Judas but no kiss."

* * * * *

Mal slipped off to sleep with a smile on his face. Yen Mah had kept him talking for what seemed like rutting ages. He knew she was trying to put off sleep, hanging on to the cosy feeling of safety that was seeping into her bones the longer she stayed on Serenity. It was odd how comfortable he felt here even though he had no intention of staying. At last he convinced her to snuggle down in her blankets and let him tuck her in. They were both desperately tired, neither having let down their guard enough to do more than cat nap for days now. This was the first time they felt safe enough to take that opportunity. Yet breaking the habit came hard for Yen Mah. Mal gave her a goodnight kiss on her brow then climbed into his own bed, stifled a yawn and switched off the light. He had left the hatch door open for her so that light from the deck above filtered through and would comfort her if she got scared in the night. Also it occurred to him she might have a fear of being boxed in. Many folk who lived by their wits on the streets could not bear enclosed spaces. Found themselves entering every new place with an eye first on marking each exit. Survival after all was the strongest instinct.

She watched him drift off to sleep. So happy that it seemed her heart could hardly contain the joy. He had a good heart and she liked it here. The folk were not like any she had ever known before but they were growing on her though oddly enough she found the Preacher all kinds of terrifying. There was a subtle kind of darkness about him that cautioned her not to get too close. Mama had always warned her not to get burnt. Sleep began to pull at her lids more insistently now, dragging them down until she could hardly keep her eyes open another second. She pushed back her blankets and blinked a couple of times, paused then listened. Watched the steady rise and fall of the Captain's chest. The way the shaft of light from the hatch above cast weak rays of light over him as he slept. Carefully she got out of bed and clambered into his, pausing when he shifted in his sleep or sighed. Unable to hide a smile she wriggled under the bedclothes and curled up against him, her little hands resting on his chest as if in prayer, her head angled to chase the steady rythym of his heartbeat as a contented sigh brought her own heart into rythym with his. Heavy eyes gave up their fight to stay open as she let herself sleep for the first time in a very long time and for once she did not dream.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*yuchun* = stupid/ignorant *chunren* = idiot/jerk *ting* = listen *yexu* = maybe *jia* = family *hundan* = asshole/bastard *bu hao* = not good *ba ba* = daddy *pofu* = bitch *si* = dead *go se* = crap *shenme* = what *dui* = correct *dong ma* = understand *xiao meimei* = baby sister (not blood related) *meili* = beautiful *meiyou muqin de xiao gou* = motherless fucker *duibuqi* = sorry *lei* = tired *bao bei* = precious *xei xei* = thanks *pengyou* = friend *mei mei* = little sister *shenme shi* = what's the matter?



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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.