THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 10. "Helping Hands"
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

"The crew of Serenity get some unexpected help. The Captain alarms Zoe by wanting to go home."



SUMMARY: "The crew of Serenity get some unexpected help. The Captain insists on going home and Zoe tries everything she can think of to stop him." 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 late when Captain Reynolds returned to Serenity. He was a little surprised to see his entire crew waiting up for him including the Companion, Inara Serra. Jayne was relieved to see him return alone. Seeing that lawman getting all cosy with the Captain just didn't sit right with him. Mal did not try to hide his surprise as he closed the bay door fast behind him and locked up for the night. Yen Mah extricated herself from Kaylee and ran to him, the Captain automatically putting an arm around her before continuing up the ramp to where the rest of them were hovering. He paused at the top of the ramp and looked at their faces.

"I do somethin' wrong or have you some bad news needs tellin'?"

Zoe shook her head. "Nothin' like that, sir, it's just we were a little concerned."

Yen Mah tucked herself in tight against the Captain as if afraid he would vanish if she let go. Her sigh of simple content helping relax him. "Concerned about what?"

"That lawman for a start." Blurted Jayne. Zoe shot him a look of annoyance but he ignored her.

"What about him?"

"You and him seemed mighty cosy." Said Jayne suspiciously.

The Shepherd tried to head off any ill feeling Jayne's blunt comments might cause. "Sheriff seems a right fine man so don't take this wrong, Captain, it's just we get a little nervous when the law takes too close an interest in us."

They were all walking up the steps now and fell silent as they reached the commons room. The Shepherd put the kettle on for some tea, cautiously taking in everyone's reactions. Kaylee stayed close to Inara. River sat on the couch next to Simon. Zoe and Wash leaning on the big old table while they waited for the Captain to tell them what was going on. He took a moment to decide what to do then sat next to River and Simon, Yen Mah curling up beside him as if staking her claim. The Captain glanced down at the girl and when she smiled at him he gave a little smile back and half hugged her then looked at the sea of expectant faces.

"Not sure what you want to hear but if you must know the Sheriff was concerned about Yen Mah."

That surprised them.

"Seems he wanted to make sure she had a good home." He paused and looked down at her. Wanting to reassure her. "Offered to take her into his family if she was willing. Give her a home with his sons and wife." He paused as Yen Mah stiffened against him, her hands clutching the front of his shirt, eyes wide with alarm. "It's okay Yen Mah, you ain't goin' anywhere you don't wanna go. Not never again, *dong ma*?"

She nodded, her eyes shiny with unshed tears. "Don't send me away, Mal!"

"Hush now, didn't I just promise you *xiao mei mei*?"

She sniffed, nodded, then buried her face in his shirt and clung to him. He wrapped his arm around her and looked up to find Zoe frowning at him. A hard look in her eyes. "*Shenme shi*?"

"What about Shadow?"

The words were quietly spoken but it was as if someone had fired an arrow into him at point blank range. His face spasmed with pain then sorrow before he could hide it. Zoe was sorry but not enough to take back the words. He did not want to have this conversation especially not now with Yen Mah curled up next to him and trembling. He was dead on his feet and the rest of the crew did not look much better. His head ached something fierce and hardly a piece of him was without a cut or a bruise. The last thing he needed was this third degree. He caught Simon's eye and saw something that might have been sympathy.

It was the Shepherd who interrupted the dark turn of his thoughts. "It's late. I suggest we all get a good night's sleep and talk about this in the morning."

Zoe was about to argue but Wash hugged her, his voice soft in her ear as he kissed her. "Come on, *bao bei*. Captain looks all in. We'll all think better come morning."

Reluctantly she backed down. "Okay." She gave the Captain a look which promised to pick up the conversation again in the morning. He resisted the urge to sigh with relief at the temporary reprieve and just gave a weary nod. The movement hurt. He closed his eyes against the sudden stab of pain and felt a small hand squeeze his. When he opened his eyes again everyone was moving. The mood was subdued, the tension draining harmlessly away. They nodded and said their good nights until only Simon, River and Book remained with him and Yen Mah. Simon got up. "I think I should check you over before you go to bed, Captain."

"I'm fine, doc, just need a little sleep is all."

"I don't want you to sleep until I check that head injury in case you have a concussion."

"Simon, I..."

"Just listen to the doctor." Said Book reasonably.

"I've already checked everyone else, Captain." Simon offered.

He wanted to protest. To tell the man not to fuss then realised he was simply concerned. In a way it was kind of comforting. Too tired to argue he agreed. Shepherd Book looked at Yen Mah. "How about you and River go and get ready for bed? The Captain'll be along once the doctor has had a look at him."

Yen Mah hesitated not wanting to leave without the Captain but River sidled up to her and gave her a smile that was simply too hard to resist. Feeling bone weary, Mal got to his feet and allowed Simon to take him to the infirmary. By the time he got there his head was splitting in two, the pain making him feel dizzy and disorientated. Simon noticed he was squinting and dimmed the lights. "Is that any better?"

The Captain gave a little sigh of relief. "Yeah, thanks."

"Looks painful."

The Captain held his breath as Simon ran his cool hands over his head. The touch was light but expert, his eyes taking in the Captain's palor and noticing that he did not look well. A faint sheen was glistening on his face and neck.

"How do you feel?"

"Not so *meimiao de* but I'll live."

Simon told him to sit on one of the beds then began to examine him more thoroughly, gently cleaning the gash above his eye. "Hmm, this could do with a few stitches."

"Just put a plaster on it, doc."

"Hold still, this won't take but a moment Captain."

Simon administered a local anaesthetic and threaded a needle. The Captain watched him through half closed lids. Trying to ignore the brass band playing in his head. "Thought I said I didn't need no stitchin'?"

The doctor tilted the Captain's head and began to sew. "Who's the doctor you or me?"

Silence fell and for several minutes the doctor worked in silence. Once he had tied off the neat row of stitches the Captain went to get up but Simon put a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. "You're not going anywhere Captain."

"You finished and I'm about out on my feet, doc."

"That's why you're not going anywhere."

The Captain frowned then winced as it pulled on the stitches. "Not makin' much sense here, doc."

"You have a concussion."

"No, just tired."

"Your eyes are light sensitive, you have a raging headache, you're disorientated and feeling sick."

"How you know that?"

"I'm a doctor."

Mal squinted at him with a sour expression on his face. "That medacad teach you to be smug too?"

"No," Said Simon only just surpressing a smile. "That comes with practice."

"So what am I supposed to do?"

"We could talk for a while."

"Don't wanna talk."

"I need you to remain awake until the dizziness and other symptoms pass. When I'm satisfied it's safe for you to do so you can sleep."

"And if you ain't?"

There was a few moments of strained silence. "Then it'll be a long night, Captain."

* * * * *

Morning brought a host of surprises. Shepherd Book found it impossible to keep the unexpected smile off his face. Initially wary at being hailed he had been reluctant to open the bay door until the familiar voice of Inara Serra reassured him. As he complied Kaylee and Jayne appeared at his side. Jayne was scowling. "What's goin' on, Shepherd?"

"Inara has returned."

Kaylee looked curious, her eyes squinting through the glass as she stepped back to allow the door to open. "What're all those people doin' with 'Nara?"

"Best ask her yourself."

"Best ask who what?"

Book turned his head as Zoe joined them. "Seems Inara brought some townsfolk back with her."

Zoe frowned, a hand drifting to her gun and resting casually on the handle. The door was now fully open and Inara beamed back at them from the bottom of the ramp. A plump matronly looking woman stood next to her. Inara began to explain immediately, knowing the crew were wound tighter than watch springs and would not take kindly to still more surprises. "I would like you to meet an old friend of mine. Ruby this is Shepherd Book, Kaylee, Zoe and Jayne."

It did not take Kaylee but a minute to figure out what Ruby was. Or what she had been. "You were a Companion too, weren't you?" Ruby looked a little taken aback by Kaylee's candidness. "Yes, but that was before I met my Dillon, got married and had a whole passel of kids."

"How many?"

"Six last count."

Kaylee was smiling, her whole manner one of amusement. "You don't know how many children you got?"

"'Course I know, just don't always know where I put 'em."

Kaylee laughed, Jayne scowled. His eyes constantly drifing to the crowd of people massing just outside the Firefly. She caught his look. "You got no call to worry about these folk."

"Why they gatherin' round us?" Asked Zoe bluntly.

Inara spoke up. "They heard about the fire aboard Serenity. Once they realised we hadn't done anything wrong they were feeling more than a mite guilty for trying to string up the Captain. They want to put things right." Zoe frowned. "They can best do that by going to their homes and lettin' us be."

"You don't understand Zoe." Said Inara carefully. "They want to help with the repairs."

Zoe looked stunned then suspicious. Kaylee's look of surprise turned to one of pleasure and gratitude. "That's mighty fine of 'em but it's not more hands we need."

The Companion's smile broadened but she let Ruby explain. "We haven't come empty handed."

The Shepherd sidestepped the others to get a closer look at the waiting crowd. He squinted then looked at the newcomer. "Are they carrying what I think they're carrying?"

Kaylee moved to stand next to him and see what he was looking at. Ruby smiled slightly. She looked proud and more than a little pleased. "Everyone wanted to help. Inara told us what the damage was and what you folks needed to fix it so we brought new wiring. Enough to re-wire the whole gorram ship if thats' what it takes. We brought a few other things just in case you needed them."

Zoe thought Kaylee was going to cry and had to admit to herself that it was a pretty generous gift. "We're obliged, Inara. I don't know what quite what to say."

"Where's the Captain?"

"Doc stitched him up and kept him in the infirmary overnight to keep an eye on him. Last I heard he was completely out of it."

Inara nodded then turned to look at Ruby. "Sooner we get started the sooner we can finish if that's alright with you Ruby?"

Ruby grinned then addressed the people gathered round. They murmured their willingness to get to work straight away. Kaylee moved next to her so she could explain what was needed and where. Ruby nodded and began introducing people while the mechanic told them about Serenity and what needed doing. Many willing hands turned to the task ahead. Jayne leaned close to the Inara's ear. "I don't like it."

She gave him a look. "They just want to help."

"Cap's gonna go ballistic, Inara."

She smiled sweetly at him. "The Captain's not going to know."

His eyebrows rose in surprise. "You can't keep a thing like this a secret."

"I don't intend to but Zoe says he's sleeping. With all the help we've got we might get the job done before he wakes up."

"Inara, ain't no way all that damage can be put right in a couple of hours."

"Don't underestimate the power of determined folk."

He looked passed Inara and watch the little flood of people carrying their bundles of wiring and spares walking up Serenity's ramp as if they belonged there. Gave him kind of an eerie feeling. Like they were being invaded but he also had to admit it was a novel feeling having so many folks wanting to help them for a change.

Kaylee had no such reservations. She quickly decided she liked Ruby fine and saw much to admire in the people she brought with her. Plain honest folk, nothing fancy. The men were the hard working sort and their open faces told her more than any amount of posturing could have. As she took them aboard she questioned them about what they could and could not do, discovered at least three of them had worked on a Firefly class transport before. A couple of the others were straightforward mechanics but had never worked on a ship of any kind only land vehicles but she could work with that. By the time they got to the engine room she was beaming and had split the people into four working groups of six. Each group had at least one good mechanic among them and others to do the grunt work.

Inara excused herself and went to find Simon. She found him in the infirmary sorting through his supplies and tidying up, one cautious eye drifting over to the single occupied bed where the Captain lay sleeping fitfully. He had toyed with giving him something to deepen his sleep but knew the Captain would not want him to do that and tempted though he was he had to respect the man's wishes. Some instinct made him pause then turn to look behind him. He was surprised to see Inara standing there. Quietly he went over to her and took her outside to talk. Without being asked he updated her on the Captain's condition. "He has a concussion and numerous cuts and bruises. There was a nasty gash above his eye which has been stitched and a crack to the back of his head. Unfortunately that one was near the place where he was hit when he was first ambushed. He has post-concussional syndrome and there's evidence of compression."

Inara frowned. "Is he going to be alright?"

"Eventually, he's in no danger providing I can get him to rest but he's getting increasingly violent headaches and though he's tried to hide it he tires easily and is showing increasing irritability and some depression. I kept him awake for several hours last night as I didn't like the look of him. He was vomitting and showing signs that he was losing some mental acuity. There were some body spasms but not full convulsions. His heart rate is good and he has good blood pressure."

"What about the memory loss?"

"It looks like there's some cranial damage. Bone has been depressed and is putting pressure on part of the brain. It's too early to say if or when his memory will return."

Inara looked upset. "Can you do anything for him?"

"I kept him awake for several hours until I could alleviate the worst of the pain and the double vision and sickness had passed but was reluctant to medicate him beyond pain relief."

"What can you do?"

He looked at her for several moments as if judging how much he should say. "I haven't discussed it fully with the Captain yet but what he really needs is complete bed rest."

"You know he won't agree to that."

"Then I'll just have to find a way to be more persuasive."

"What if he doesn't listen?"

"I won't let the Captain play Russian roulette with his health, Inara." He said calmly.

A small fleeting smile drifted over her lips. "*Xei Xei*, Simon."

"Perhaps if you had a word with Yen Mah?"

She paused mid-step as she started to go and turned back to face him. "Yen Mah?"

"The Captain seems to have taken a very protective stance where the young girl is concerned. If Yen Mah begged him to do as the doctor ordered he just might be coaxed to be sensible."

Inara laughed lightly, eyes twinkling. "Has anyone told you how sneaky you are?"

"I do believe it has been said once or twice." He deadpanned.

Inara nodded and left with a lighter heart. Simon watched her go then quietly went back into the infirmary and watched over his twitching charge, the brief humour overtaken by his concern for his reluctant guest. River sat quietly unobtrusive on a chair in the corner, her sad eyes watching. Simon hoped the twitching would not develop into convulsions. The thought of having to strap the Captain down did not appeal to him. He just hoped there was no internal haemorrhaging.

"Too many demons to let the angels take over." Said River.

Simon started. He had forgotten she was there. "What do you mean?"

River got up and stood beside the bed, her pale face angled like a mirror to catch his reflection. "Haunted by the past how can he walk in the present? He has to come back Simon."

Simon felt a little stab of fear. "How do I do that?" He whispered.

"You don't."

He turned his head and looked at her. "I don't?"

"No. When George slayed the dragon he was really killing his faith to set up a new one. He didn't realise that ideas don't die at the point of a sword."

"So how do we slay the Captain's demons?"

She shook her head and reached out a pale hand, brushing the hair gently from the damp and restless face. "Better to make peace with the demons so the angels can come in. War just makes casualties of us all." * * * * *

Wash Warren was lost for words. Zoe enjoyed the stunned expression on her husband's amiable face. People were everywhere but they were going out of their way to be polite and helpful, hands busy and voices muted as if they did not want to alarm the crew of Serenity by their presence. He blinked again and stared at his wife. "Zoe? Am I dreaming?"

"No, *bao bei*."

"Pinch me."

She obliged.

"Ouch!" He pulled back his arm and frowned at her. "That hurt."

She shrugged, unrepentent. "You said to pinch you so I did."

"I said pinch not crush all the veins in my arm."

Zoe smiled at him and he melted.

"You could of course kiss it better."

"Sweetie, not in front of the lynch mob."

He pulled back slightly. Recent memories crowding back in. "Oh."

Out on the catwalk Jayne stood and scowled. Seeing strangers moving around Serenity like so many busy ants made his skin crawl. Where the gorram was the Captain when he needed him? He'd soon shift them off his boat. Yet a tiny voice in the back of his mind was pleased. The people were helping repair Serenity which meant they would soon be able to leave this place. Get back into the Black and leave that creepy Sheriff behind. All his instincts were joining hands to tell him to be extra careful. He did not know why or what to watch out for so he suspected everything and everyone. The Shepherd sidled up next to him and leant on the railing. "What's up, son?"

"Not your son." He grunted.

The Preacher fell silent and waited. After several minutes of heavy silence the mercenary let out a long troubled breath.

"Somethin' don't feel right." He paused and glanced around to make sure they could not be overheard. "An' I ain't just talkin' about all these creepy *let's be good folk*. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Serenity'll soon be fixed. The sooner we're back in atmo the better."

"Then what is troubling you?"

"Don't know and that's what worries me. I can't put my finger on it but it's like we're trapped in the crosshairs of someone else's rifle sights an' I don't like it. Can't see where the danger's gonna come from or who'll pull the gorram trigger."

The Preacher turned to look at him. "Has it ever occurred to you that you're simply paranoid?"

"It ain't paranoia if they're really out to get ya."

"And if they're not?"

"Ain't hangin' my hope on that much good fortune, Preacher. Been disappointed too many times."

"That's what faith is for."

"No, Preacher. Faith is for people too weak to think for themselves. No offence intended but the only God that watches over me is the one I see every day in the mirror."

Shepherd Book tried not to shudder at that image. "I thought you were a God fearing man, Jayne?"

"Huh. I believe in what I can see an' hear an' feel an' taste an' touch, Preacher. Momma believes an' that's enough for me."

"I've heard you whisper to God when you thought no one was listening."

"Never said I ignored Him." Was the gruff response.

"Then you *do* believe?"

Jayne gave him a level look. "I know there's many thing's I don't know or understand that don't mean I gotta believe in everythin'. I'm willin' to believe there might be a God but I ain't yet ready to believe he has any special interest in Jayne Cobb, *dong ma*? Just don't wanna push it either way."

"Sounds sensible."

"Damn right. Now. How long we gotta suffer all these people crawlin' around the ship? Anybody warn the doc?"

"Yes, he knows and we're keeping these people well away from the infirmary. Simon and River won't come out until everyone has left the ship. Kaylee says they'll be done in another two or three hours."

Despite his grumbling Jayne looked impressed. His mood lightened considerably. Maybe things were looking up after all. "Any word on how the Cap's doin'?"

The Preacher sighed and looked out over the empty cargo hold. "That may take a little longer."

Jayne thought about that for a moment then shook himself and straightened. "Cap'll be alright. Once we're flyin' an' put this behind us things'll get back to normal, you'll see."

The Preacher said nothing and did not look up as the big man walked away. He stared out across the hold seeing nothing, his mind walking the kind of empty paths that nightmares were made of and marvelled how all their lives were bound up so intricately with that of one man. "I hope so." He murmured quietly. Then he said a silent prayer for all of them. Whether or not Jayne believed in God was a moot point. The Preacher knew they needed Him.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Manadarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *xiao mei mei* = baby sister (not related) *shenme shi* = what is the matter? *bao bei* = precious *meimiao de* = great *xei xei* = thank you


Thursday, October 30, 2003 6:18 AM


Nice little humourous touches. Like smugness coming with practice and "not in front of the lynch mob."

I used to want you to get a move on and get to the end of this. Now I never want this tale to end!


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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.