THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 8. "Rough Justice"
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Book realises he has made a great mistake and tries to put it right. Jayne begins to piece the puzzle together. Meanwhile the town prepares a necktie party."



SUMMARY: "Book realises he has made a great mistake and tries to put it right. Jayne begins to piece the puzzle together. Meanwhile the town prepare a necktie party." 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

* * * * *

Zoe stared hard at the Preacher. "What are you talkin' about?"

Shepherd Book had a sick look on his face. "This is my fault."

"Your fault?" Echoed Wash, not understanding.

Kaylee could not stop crying. The cargo bay seemed to echo as if empty despite the fact that they were standing in it. Jayne still had not spoken. He was standing by the open bay door, staring off into the distance with a look that said he was not seeing a gorram thing. He looked to be in shock. Hell. They all were.

"Preacher," Said Zoe stepping up close and personal, her eyes cold and hard, calm as the eye of a hurricane. "Best you explain that comment."

He looked a mite uncomfortable but mostly sad. "When the Sheriff and his men came I was still up. Had just finished a last work out and was fixing to call it a night. I went to see who it was and we had a conversation."

Zoe's eyebrows rose. She had not known he had already spoken to them. He looked a little unsettled when she made no comment, her jaws a steel trap to keep stray words from leaking out until he had finished.

"He told me what had happened. The way things were described I realised he was talking about the Captain and Yen Mah. What with the Captain losing his memory and being missing for days I couldn't stop a seed of doubt forming in my mind. Now I know that ordinarily the Captain's a good man," Something hardened in Zoe's expression but she remained silent as the grave. Her eyes just as cold. "But who knows how that blow affected him? We know he lost his memory, leastways of recent years. What if having found himself lost and benighted in a strange place he took comfort where he found it?"

She glared at him. A heartbeat away from pulling her gun and ending his delusion. The Shepherd raised a hasty hand, eyes widening slightly.

"Now I'm not saying anything like that happened, *dong ma*? But how was I to know? How could I be certain?"

"So you believed the first *wangba dan* to speak a wrong word about the Captain?"

The Preacher flushed. "I made a mistake."

"Yeah," Said Wash bitterly. "One the Captain's gonna pay for."

Something flickered in the Shepherd's eye. His back straightened. "Not if I can help it."

"Isn't it a bit late to mount a rescue?" Wash quipped.

"It's never too late to try."

For the first time Jayne moved, his head turning to look back at them. A sceptical look in his eyes. "What ya gonna do?"

"I'm going after them. I have to explain to the Sheriff that they've made a terrible mistake."

Jayne laughed harshly but there was no humour in it. "No offence Preacher but I don't think your legs can outrun a rope."

Wash went white. Kaylee almost collapsed with fear and horror. "They...they aren't gonna hang the Cap'n? They c...c...can't hang the Cap'n!"

Her voice was rising, close to hysteria. Zoe shot Jayne an angry look and went to Kaylee. "Nobody's gonna hang anybody Kaylee."

Kaylee's eyes were round and fearful, tears running down her face. Zoe could feel the girl shaking as she looked up at her. "They can't kill him, Zoe, we can't let 'em kill the Cap'n. Please..."

For a second everyone felt silent then the Preacher moved, walking briskly towards Jayne. "Jayne, I need you to see if you can track those two *hundan* brothers and bring them and Yen Mah back."

The mercenary peeled back his lips, a smouldering deep anger in his eyes. "I ain't your ruttin' slave, Preacher. You want 'em you go an' get 'em."

"I can't be two places at once and I have to get to the Sheriff and stop this madness before it goes any further."

"What do you want 'em for?"

"Because we need Yen Mah to tell her story. If we're to stand a ghost of a chance of convincing them that the Captain is innocent we need her to speak up and tell them what really happened."

"What if she don't want to?"

"She will," Said Kaylee quickly. "Yen Mah would do anythin' for the Cap'n."

"Yeah, well that might be the last thing they wanna hear." Said Jayne ominously.

Kaylee looked baffled. Not understanding his meaning. Zoe put an arm around her and gave Jayne a warning glare. He looked unrepentent. Could see no point in tip-toeing around the facts at least now.

"What? Just tellin' the truth."

The Preacher sighed. "Please Jayne, we don't have much time."

The big man grunted, weighing up their options. "I'll go an' find 'em but I ain't doin' it for you, *dong ma*? This is for the Cap. Where you gonna be?"

"Looks like everybody's heading for town so we'll do the same. Shouldn't be hard for you to follow the tracks."

Jayne nodded and walked briskly down the ramp. Zoe looked at Kaylee, her face solemn, her eyes holding the girl's steady as if to exact a promise. "When we're gone I want you to lock the door and not open up for anyone until we come back, *dong ma*?"

"What about Simon and River?"

"You can go and tell them what happened but it might be best if they remain hidden until this is all over. Stay with Inara."

Kaylee nodded. "I wish Serenity was able to fly."

"If Serenity could make atmo we wouldn't be in this mess." Said Wash grimly.

Kaylee bit her lip and nodded. Zoe gave her a brief hug, Wash put a hand on her shoulder and gave her a weak smile. "We'll do everything we can to get him back."

She could not speak, tears welling up again and her throat closing. She watched them leave, all her fragile hope going with them.

* * * * *

Jayne was mad as hell at the Preacher. Wanted to kick himself for listening to the man in the first place but how was he to know everything would go to ratshit? Now he had to hunt down those *qu tamade* and drag their sorry asses into town. He tried to calm down, eyes sweeping the ground for signs of which way they had gone. He had a rough notion and pretty soon picked up their tracks. He noticed something a little odd about one of the sets of boot prints he was following then remembered that one of the brothers had a bit of a limp. Nothing too pronounced but it showed in the tracks. He straightened a little and frowned at something niggling in the back of his mind. Then gripping Vera tightly he increased his step. Knowing there was not a minute to lose. Anxious not just for the Captain but also for little Yen Mah.

* * * * *

Sheriff Bowman did not like the mood of the crowd. The angry hands pushing, reaching out to try to grab his prisoner. He kept a wedge of deputies around him, determined to follow the letter of the law. This was after all his town. But the people were riled up and no mistake. Inwardly he cursed those brothers, aware that whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation he had been manipulated and that plain did not sit right. While he had little option but to accept the allegations placed before him he found himself more than a mite curious about the lean man in Independent clothing who now half walked and half stumbled with his hands cuffed behind him making not a murmur of protest. It was kind of odd now he came to think about it. Shouldn't he be struggling or somesuch? Proclaiming his innocence? Railing against his fate? Yet no. As quiet as a gorram lamb going to slaughter. That parallel unsettled him some and he was not sure why.

Maddie Birch was waving a pitchfork handle at him trying to get his attention. Damn woman. Old enough to be his rutting mother and acted like it too. "Sheriff, why don't you let the good folks of this town handle this now? Take your boys and leave it to us."

He scowled, his eye awkwardly catching the prisoner's. Still the man said nothing. He turned to look at Maddie. "Now Maddie, you know better than to interfere in the workin's of the law. This man's gonna get a fair trial..."

"What kind'a trial did that poor girl get, huh? A dirty *tamade hundan* like that don't deserve a trial. Rope's too gorram good for him!"

"I ain't discussin' this Maddie, now you go home and persuade them as you can to do likewise."

The Sheriff jerked his head towards Deputy Morgan and felt a sigh of relief when he moved Maddie Birch back. This was getting out of hand. The mood of the crowd getting even more restless the nearer they got to town. He was sweating now. Worrying that the man would not survive to make it to a prison cell. He moved closer to him, swapping places with Deputy Crowther so he could talk without having to raise his voice.

"You're mighty quiet mister. Got to wonder at that."

Mal looked at him, a calm sad expression in his eyes. "Would it make any difference, Sheriff?"

The words stung. Made the Sheriff feel as if his honour had somehow been impugned. "I want to hear your side of the story."

The Captain took a moment or two to take the measure of the man. "Story? Is that what you think this is? A gorram story?" He asked softly.

For some reason the quiet of the man was more unsettling than if he had yelled at him. His words making him flush a little. "You didn't deny the allegation." He defended.

"That don't mean it's true and you know that."

The Sheriff nodded, his curiosity rising. "Tell me your side of it then."

The Captain stared at him. The Sheriff huffed.

"Humour me, son."

"I didn't rape Yen Mah. Wouldn't harm a hair on her head."

"Then why'd they say you did?"

"'cause they're the *chuseheng xai-jiao de xiang hua* who raped her. Beat her too. Not that you wanna hear about that I'm thinkin'."

The Sheriff leaned in closer, hardly a hair's breath between them now. Neither aware of the deputies jostling against them as they pressed forward in the body of the crowd. "That's where you're wrong, son. I want the truth."

"What if I can't prove it?"

"Then my friend, you hang."

Silence fell between them.

"Now," Said the Sheriff softly, his eyes never leaving Mal's. "You wanna tell me what's really going on?"

"I told you."

"Tell me again. From the beginning this time. How'd you meet the child?"

Mal felt a stir of emotion when he thought about Yen Mah and took a moment to calm down again. "Not that you'll believe me but I was jumped, knocked out an' robbed. They stole what coin as I had as well as my gorram boots. Left me in some *zang, chou* alley. Don't know how long I lay there. When I came to there was this girl. She tried to stop the bleedin', brought me water and such. Little more than rag an' bones her own self. I was out of it for a while, barely remembered my gorram name." His eyes took on a faraway look. Such sadness in it that the Sheriff had to wonder what the *diyu* the rest of this man's story was. But there was no time for that. They were up against the wire as it was.

"Then what happened?"

He blinked, got himself back on track. "We spent a day, couple'a days, can't rightly tell how much time passed. Yen Mah dragged some tarp over to cover us from the ruttin' rain. So cold. Then some people found us, said they knew me from before. Don't remember the faces 'cept one." His voice trailed off, a tinge of wonder lightening the sadness and leaving behind a poignant rumour of pain.

Why the gorram did it sound like the man's heart was breaking? Damned if the Sheriff could figure it out. "That the people from the ship?"

"Yeah. Seems that's my ship and they're my crew. Friends even, maybe."

That surprised him. "You don't know?"

"Doc said I got some memory loss." He jerked his head back a little as if to indicate where Simon had stitched his head wound closed. "Can't remember the last few years or so they tell me."

The Sheriff fell quiet. Well if that didn't beat all. Not the story he was hearing but the feeling settling deep in his gut that he was hearing the truth. How could that be so? Them boys had papers and all. The girl was their kin right and legal and even though she had refuted their version of events she nevertheless agreed that they were her brothers. It had been enough to implicate this man in her kidnapping and it had not helped his case one bit that when they searched the Firefly the girl had been found in *his* bed with him. True there was another bed made up alongside but it did not account for what she was doing sleeping in his room in the first place. It had set all sorts of unsavoury notions off in his head. His righteous indignation not ready to listen to anything in the way of explanation. Now he was cooled down somewhat and was able to look at the circumstances more objectively but questions had been raised.

He thought about his instinctive distrust of the two brothers when they had first met but however much the facts seemed to be stacked against the prisoner speaking to him now raised all kinds of nigglesome doubts in his mind. "What you say your name was?"

"Malcolm Reynolds."

"You were an Independent?"

Mal glanced down at his clothes. "Seems like."

"Where you from?"

"You got an awful lot of questions Sheriff."

"Just curious. Where you from?"

"Shadow." Mal looked away quickly, wanting to hide the pain in his eyes. Not wanting the Sheriff to see how badly he wanted to go back. How much he prayed that the things he had been told were untrue. Yet he trusted Zoe and knew that as impossible as it seemed he had somehow lost eight to ten years of his life and seemingly a whole lot more besides. When he mastered his emotions he turned his head and looked the Sheriff straight in the eye. "Ain't nothin' gonna save a man from a rigged trial, Sheriff."

"I won't let it be rigged." Said the Sheriff firmly, his voice a little rough.

"Best look around you. Crowd's growin' uglier by the minute. Soon they won't even pretend to see reason I'm thinkin'."

The Sheriff fell silent knowing the truth of those words would haunt him long after this day was done. "I ain't about to allow a hangin'."

Mal raised an eyebrow. "Not even for a guilty man?"

He stared at the browncoat. "You sayin' you did it?"

Mal shook his head. "No, just sayin' this isn't about justice no more. It's about a lot of angry folk wantin' someone to string up. Not sure you could stop 'em if you wanted to."

"Don't mind my askin' this son but you seem awful calm for a man about to hang for something he says he didn't commit."

He shrugged slightly. They were approaching what looked like the town square. It would all be over one way or another very soon. "If my friends are even halfway right I've already lost everythin'." The Sheriff only just caught the softly spoken words, the pain in them cutting deep like a bitter after taste. The man looking away from him as if dismissing everything and everyone. Making his own private peace with God. It made the Sheriff so damn mad as if the prisoner had no right to give up. They came to an abrupt halt. Several of the townsmen brandishing rifles and shotguns. A lot of angry faces and even angrier rhetoric. Mal could not quite hide the shudder that went through him. Despite the impression he was giving the Sheriff and his deputies, he did not want to die and certainly not at the hands of a mob for something he did not do but remaining stoic and passive was taking an unpleasant toll.

* * * * *

Inara could not believe what was happening or how helpless she felt. It alarmed her to see the thin veneer of civilisation peeled back so effortlessly in the tide of raw emotion. She had quickly lost sight of Yen Mah, her 'brothers' whisking her away while the Sheriff and his deputies took the Captain away. She could not really say it was a conscious decision to follow but getting caught up in the human tide was like surrendering to fate. Hardly her decision at all. Powerless to do anything but bear witness to the frightening groundswell of opinion that was mounting around her as the crowd gathered in both size and pace. The thought that Mal might die at the end of a rope was too much for her. As for the claims made against him she had never heard anything so absurd. No one knowing the Captain would even entertain the notion of him raising a hand to violate a woman let alone a child.

Her heart ached. Truth was sometimes too clear a lens for the fact was that these people did not know the Captain. To them he was some stranger, a filthy *wanga ban* wanting to take his pleasure wherever he found it and not minding the cost. Inwardly she cursed those two men and wished she knew what had happened to them. Craning her neck and trying to keep her feet as she was half jostled and half carried forward with the crowd, she tried to see Mal but he might as well have been invisible. In fact the phalanx of lawmen seemed to have grown painfully thin, the massing crowd diluting their numbers until it seemed there was no law present at all. She swallowed hard to constrain a spike of fear from overwhelming her as the crowd suddenly surged forward into what appeared to be the main square. Only when they came to a stop was she able to see that many hands were busy constructing a makeshift gallows in the centre. The heavy thwock of metal on wood augmented by the wild and heated calls of the crowd as they got more beligerant and excited, anticipation building and thickening the blood. Inara thought she was going to faint. Only strength of will prevented her allowing the weakness to defeat her better angels.

Inara tried to push forward but it was a forlorn hope. Thinking she was trying to push in those in front obstructed her efforts not wanting to sacrifice their view of the hanging for something as insignificant as justice. In their minds the man was already guilty, what was he still doing living and breathing? It was a rutting scandal and one they intended to correct. Inara felt the prick of tears but bit down on her lip. A Companion never cried. There must be something she could do. She scanned the crowd carefully, searching desperately in that sea of hostile faces for an island of calm. A single ray of hope.

* * * * *

Simon stared at Kaylee as if she had suddenly sprouted two heads, both of which were speaking different languages. None of them known to him. Kaylee shook him. Hard. The movement dislodging the tears from her eyes. They ran down her face like rain down a windowpane. The motion seemed to knock him out of the stunned shock he was in. "Simon! We have to DO something."

He blinked at her. "You say these people just dragged the Captain off?"

"Yeah, they took him an' Yen Mah. It seems some men are tryin' to say the Cap'n raped her."

His face went pale. "Why would they say that?"

Kaylee was getting more than frustrated with him. "It don't matter, Simon, we gotta do somethin' an' do it NOW!"

"I thought you said Zoe told you to stay here? Keep the door locked until they get back?"

"I ain't gonna let 'em hang the Cap'n. You can either help me or stay outta my way."

"Kaylee," He said gently, a hand reaching out for her arm. Wanting to calm her down and give his addled brain time to think of a reasonable way out of their current dilemna. "They know what they're doing."

Kaylee shook her head, tears flying off her cheeks. Face flushed with a fear that reached right in and squeezed her heart so hard it was a wonder she could breathe. "No, they don't. They're as panicked as the rest of us."

"It'll work out okay, you'll see." He soothed.

His attempts at reassuring her were all shot to pieces as River came flying into the commons room, her hair sticking out in all directions, her eyes wide and fearful and full of pain and sadness. He resisted the urge to close his eyes and groan. When River got like this he needed his eyes open and his hands free to grab her and hold tight until he could get her to the infirmary. River skidded to a stop next to Kaylee, just out of Simon's reach. "Rope burns, kills before the fire can reach him."

Alarmed Kaylee stared at River. "The Cap'n...?"

She was shaking her head, hands picking at each other in distress. "Too many people, hands closing in, can't get free. No one listens..."

Without waiting for Simon to come to his senses Kaylee turned and ran full pelt for the cargo bay door with River leaping like a manic shadow beside her. Muttering over and over again that help was coming but it would be too late. Simon swore and ran after them. Not sure what he could do but knowing he would never forgive himself if he stayed safe and sound and anything happened to River or Kaylee. Funnily enough as he raced after them he felt a sense of relief that regardless of the danger they were at least trying to do something. If all else failed it might at least help them to sleep nights when this was all over.

* * * * *

Yen Mah was struggling. Panic lent her thin wiry frame strength. The vehemence of her struggle surprised the brothers. Almost breaking free from their hold, Briny kicked out at her the boot landing in the side of her ribcage and bringing her tumbling and swearing to the ground. Ricky punched her in the side of the face as she went down, the force of the blow stunning her enough so that they could begin to tie her up. Over and over Ricky kept swearing, his fingers slipping in his haste to tie the knots.

"You useless ruttin' *sagua*. Do you know how much trouble you've caused us?"

She spat at him, her spittle tinged red with blood where they had kicked and beaten her. "*Ying er*, you are nothing but a *nuofu*. I hate you! You are *goushi buru*."

Ricky struck her with his open hand this time, not wanting to permanently damage her but needing to inflict pain to teach her that she could not talk to him like that. "You ungrateful *wuneug de ren*. We took you in, gave you a home, fed you and this is how you repay us?"

Dizzy from the blows she said nothing, trying to stay conscious and keep what wits she had left about her. Being dragged and kicked did not aid that goal. Briny put a hand on his brother's arm. "Softly, brother. She's no good to us if she dies."

"I don't intend to kill her just teach her some manners."

Briny gave him a cruel smile that was half leer. "No, Ricky. Let *him* do that. I guarantee it will be the last time she tries to defy him."

Ricky grinned back and dragged Yen Mah to her feet once more, his hand almost solicitious. She noticed nothing except how truly and utterly screwed she was. Stumbling between them she let tears wash the blood from her eyes.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *wangba dan* = bastard *hundan* = asshole/bastard *qu tamade* motherfucker *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *zang* = dirty *chou* = smelly *chuseheng xai-jiao de xiang hua* = animal fucking bastard *diyu* = hell *sagua* = idiot *ying er* = baby *nuofo* = coward *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit



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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.