THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 11. "Twixt Heaven and Hell"
Saturday, November 1, 2003

"Briny and Ricky take what is on offer. Captain Reynolds begins to remember but not enough to keep him from needing to face his pain and sorrow head-on."



SUMMARY: "Briny and Ricky take what is on offer. Captain Reynolds begins to remember but not enough to keep him from needing to face his pain and sorrow head-on." 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 wasn't our fault." He whined.

"It's never your fault." The man replied. Voice as stony as his closed off expression.

Briny flinched. Even though he was sitting in a cell across from his brother he was more afraid of the cold eyes looking at him through the bars than anything this rutting town could do to him. Life or death did not hang in the balance of their fickle justice. It lay in the depth of grey staring back at him. "What ya gonna do?"

"I don't like problems. Complications."

"We found the girl." Spoke up Ricky for the first time. Both men were nervous and hiding it badly.

"And allowed her to get away."

"Not our fault, it's that ruttin' Captain. Almost had him danglin' on the end of a rope."

"Almost doesn't cut it." The man with the cold eyes snapped. Emotionless, his voice cut through the arguments they were planning to use to plead their cause. They knew as certainly as night followed day that their fate was already sealed.

Briny licked his lips. "Ya could just let us go."

"Yeah," Chimed in Ricky. "Say we broke out, overcame the guards, whatever you want."

"Whatever I want?" Murmured the man slowly.

The brothers stared at him, willing him to take up the challenge. To give them just a ray of hope.

"And what would you do if you so miraculously gained your freedom and cheated death?"

"We'd get as far away from this hell-hole as possible. Wouldn't be no more trouble to ya, we swear."

"Promise like that," Said the man carefully. "Is a mighty serious thing."

"Ya got our promise, sir. Write it in blood if ya want." Said Briny hastily. At this point he was willing to offer anything. His brother Ricky was silent, watching the man intently. Hardly daring to breathe.

After what seemed like an age, the man straightened slightly. "Nightfall's here but town's still restless." He paused. No expression on his face. "Best choose the early hours when folks are in their deepest sleep. You'll get your chance then it'll be time to clean up the loose ends and get you gone, *dong ma*?"

"Anythin' ya say, *laoban*!" Blurted Briny.

The cold eyes held his for an instant then shifted to Ricky's face. He went pale but nodded solemnly. "Yeah, just tell us what you want us to do."

"What I wanted you to do," The man said softly. "Didn't happen. From now on boys, things're gonna go like clockwork. No more mistakes. No more loose ends."

Both men nodded then the man retreated closing the door to the cells quietly behind him. Briny turned his sweaty face to look at his brother in the adjoining cell. A huge smile breaking out in relief on his face. "Hear that, bro? We're home and free!" He exulted.

Ricky just nodded. He did not tell his brother that yes they were free just not in the way Briny thought. *Diyu*, what did it matter how a man died it was how he lived that counted. He understood that now. Yeah. Terrific. Just too damn late.

* * * * *

The silence was almost worse than the gunfire. The rising stench of the dead was overpowering. Filling his nostrils, impregnating its' sickly sweet smell into his clothing and onto his skin. His eyes were sore and dry from crying. Even his heart had no tears left. Zoe looked how he felt except the weight of guilt that would forever plague him was not her burden to bear. Though his faith in God had been badly shaken he was grateful at least for that. He did not want to wake. Did not want to deal with the aftermath but his better angels prevailed. Gentle hands and voices kept him on track when he knew in his weakness he would falter.

"Sir? You alright?"

"*Qu*, just gettin' my bearings Zoe. No need to worry."

"Who's worried?"

But he knew that look. Knew every nuance of her body as well as her words. Could read the subtle shifts in her eyes and the set of her lips. That austere face was a familiar landscape to him. Her heart knew his rythym too well for his sorrow to pass unchecked. Yet she did not push it. Knew he was vulnerable right now. Used her own strength to shore up his defences. Silent and steadfast. Loyal and true. Friendship came no finer than Zoe King. Closer to him than his shadow and a million times more precious. Not that such words would ever pass Malcolm Reynolds' cynical lips. Not now if ever.

He closed his eyes against the pain. They came in their hundreds with their begging eyes. Limbs torn off, clothing ripped and oozing black blood. Lips fragmenting in the rictus of death even as they smiled. Yet enough rags of flesh and bone peeked through the ghastly images for him to recognise. Friends who had fought beside him, covered his back, taken bullets for him that he might live. Their faith in him absolute as had once been his faith in God. Neighbours whose gentle hands more willingly turned to the plough than the gun. Smiles that had once come from lips and eyes now twisted in pain and unspeakable grief. Voices that had last been raised in song around the campfire cried and wept in a dance that mocked the living with the surety of death. This was indeed the Devil's Playground. The Lord of Hosts carried a scythe dripping in the blood of innocents. Why torture him with living on when so much that was precious to him was lost? Was that not the final cruelty? *God let me go*.

A hand touched his grimey mud splattered and bloody face. He looked up, his bleak eyes looking at the man who stared back at him. Had come so far to find him. The field of the dead vanishing from his vision as loving arms cradled his benighted soul and gave sanctuary to a body wearied beyond endurance. His uncle opening his arms to embrace him. The warmth, understanding and love that flowed from him undoing all the barriers to grief that had kept him sane. *Oh God, Oh Lord, why did you forsake me? Why did you give the field of honour to the enemy? Take our hope, our eager sons and daughters and squander them in a War we could never win?* His strength broke as dispair hit him and he wept.

* * * * *

Dr Simon Tam was worried. He could not rouse the Captain despite the fact that he was getting more and more distressed. Alarmed, he took the man's pulse and checked his vital signs. River stirred but for once was silent. Her large luminous eyes staring at the restless figure on the infirmary bed. A sound by the door made Simon look over his shoulder. He was surprised to see Shepherd Book standing there.

"How is he, doctor?"

Simon felt at a loss. He had medicated the Captain to ensure he got some much needed sleep. That should have done much to put him on the road to recovery. The good news was that the Captain had slept for seven uninterrupted hours giving Simon the hope that his condition would right itself with sufficient rest. He had not expected this reaction. Especially as he could not see what had set off this current bout of distress. If he could not calm him down it could cause further harm, if not physically then mentally. "He was sleeping but now he seems to be in the thrall of some nightmare from which I cannot rouse him."

The Shepherd stepped up to the bed and looked down. There was a look on his face that Simon could not fathom. It was not exactly compassion. "May I?"

The doctor blinked. "What are you going to do?"

A faint smile dusted austere lips. "Pray."

"The Captain lost his faith, Preacher." The smile widened briefly, enough to reflect a flicker of amusement in his eyes. "No, Simon, he didn't lose his faith. He just mislaid it."

Simon raised an eyebrow at that assertion. Not understanding how the Preacher could say that with such conviction. Yet oddly enough it encouraged him to take a step back and let him try. * * * * *

Kaylee smiled into the handsome face, liking his obvious pleasure at being with her. Being able to help put Serenity back on her feet. The work was all done now and most of the helpers had left with just a few stragglers being politely thanked and escorted on their way. Peter Wilkinson had hung back as much as he could so that he could get a few moments alone with the young mechanic. "She'll be okay now, Miss Wynett."

Kaylee's smile was almost as big as all outdoors. "Kaylee, my name's Kaylee."

He blushed prettily and Kaylee thought she had never seen anything so *shuai*. "Kaylee." He murmured, his tongue savouring her name. Kaylee was entranced by the pleasure he took in pronoucing it. "We're right sorry we jumped to the wrong conclusions about your Cap'n an' all."

"It's okay, I'm sure the Cap'n'll understand."

He looked surprised but pleased. "You think so?"

She laughed, a light happy sound that filled his heart with sunshine. "Yeah. Cap'n may act grumpy but he's a good man. He understands the need to do what's right." "Well. Mighty glad to hear it." He paused awkwardly then gave her a sad look. "Guess this means you'll be leavin' us?"

She nodded. "Pretty much as soon as you folks leave the ship."

"I'll be sad to see ya go."

"You will?"

"Surely any man that lives and breathes would!" He blurted then flushed furiously when he realised what he had said. "I mean I..."

She waved his struggle to apologise away. "That's okay, I'm not offended Peter. In fact I take your words right kindly."

He brightened up. "Ya do?"


Just then a man came to the engine room and stuck his head round the door. "Peter, there ya are! What did I tell ya about dawdlin' boy? C'mon, these folk got places to go and none of 'em here."

The boy nodded. "Comin' Pa." He looked back at Kaylee, a look of regret stealing over his face. "Sure was nice to meet ya, Kaylee."

"Was nice to be met."

That made him smile. His father grunted and headed back out. Screwing up his courage Peter took a quick step forward and kissed Kaylee on the cheek, not caring that she was covered in grease and ten kinds of dirt. "Bye Kaylee, maybe you'll come visit again some time?" Then he was running off down the corridor after his father before she could get out a reply. Kaylee called *goodbye* after him, her face shining and aglow with happiness. Slowly she raised a hand and touched her cheek. Fancy that. He had kissed her and her with nothing fancy on and no airs and graces to speak of. Well wasn't that shiny? Zoe came in a few minutes later to tell her that all the folks had now left the ship. Kaylee nodded, knowing Zoe was itching for them to be able to take off. "How soon can we leave?"

Kaylee ran a last series of checks though she knew they would all be positive. "Whenever Wash is ready."

Zoe gave an almost-smile and nodded then commed the pilot. "Wash, we're ready to go when you are."

He paused before responding. "That's good, *bao bei*, but we have one last visitor before we can take off."

She frowned. Sure she was not going to like what he had to tell her.

* * * * *

The Preacher's voice droned on. Something about lost lambs and prodigal sons and all. It did not mean a whole lot to Malcolm Reynolds but the important thing was that the nightmares were receding. He began to feel more settled, calm blanketing him and easing him into a slow awakening. Simon was nudged by River and looked up, smiling slightly when he saw the Captain stir. He was about to get up and go and check on him when he heard the Preacher speak to the Captain. His words unusual enough for him to hold back and wonder what he was talking about.

"The things that have happened to you Captain are visions of grief."

The Captain stared at him, blinking slowly as his eyes came into focus. He felt somewhat disorientated. A memory of the Preacher praying over him being a mite unsettling. "How does that help?"

"Visions are passing things."

Mal looked at him more intently. "Then the nightmares will end?"

"Oh yes, they'll end. Not sure what'll come to replace them though."

The Captain's look darkened a little. "Not a whole lot of comfort in them words, I'm thinkin'."


"Then why speak so?"

"Because you are not looking for comfort, Captain."

That surprised him. "I'm not?"

The Preacher shook his head slowly. "No. You're looking for answers."

* * * * *

Zoe was far from happy. She stormed into the cockpit and stared hard at her husband. "He can't come aboard!"

Wash shrugged. "He's the Sheriff, *xin gan*. Can't rightly refuse him."

She was frowning now. "What does he want?"

"Says he needs to see the Captain. Kind of urgent."

Alarm bells were going off inside her head. "Why?"

"He didn't say."

"Where is he now?" She hoped he was not already on board. She had to warn Simon and River not to mention make sure none of the man's goons came aboard with him. A very good day appeared to be souring fast. Just like her temper.

"He's waiting just outside the ramp. Jayne's keepin' an eye on him."

That at least was some reassurance. She knew Jayne was jumpy as a polecat on hot coals around the Sheriff. No way would he let the lawman aboard unless he had Zoe's word on it and even then he was likely to resist. That thought was somewhat comforting but it did not silence the nest of rattlers writhing around in her stomach. Why couldn't anything ever go smooth? "Okay," She paused to take in a couple of deep steadying breaths. "I'll go see what he wants."

"But *bao bei*..."

She turned a steely eye on him. "If he wants to speak to the Captain he had better have a damn good reason, husband. If he hasn't I don't give a good gorram who the *diyu* he is he ain't comin' aboard."

Wash bit his lip and just nodded. Knowing when pushing Zoe was the last thing a man with a love of life would care to do. He watched her storm away like a Force 10 gale and was glad not to be the one who would be on the receiving end of her wrath. He almost felt sorry for the Sheriff.

* * * * *

Simon stepped up to check on the Captain when the conversation with the Preacher lulled. Wondering just what the Preacher had been intimating. Judging by the look on Mal's face he was thinking along the same lines. Now that was creepy. He started off taking the Captain's pulse. "How do you feel?"


The doctor frowned at him. "A little more information would be good, Captain."

"The headache's gone."

"Good. What about your vision?" Simon held up a finger and moved it from right to left.

The Captain bit back a surge of irritation. "I ain't blind, doc."

"Just follow the movement, let me do my job. It's what you pay me for."

A hint of dry amusement worked its' way into the Captain's voice. "Ya mean I'm payin' ya for all this abuse?"

"Well. Some days you pay me." The Captain's humour vanished leaving behind a feeling of guilt. "What about other days?"

Simon regretted his words but it was too late to take them back. He had not meant them as criticism. "It depends on whether we've found work or not. When we have, we get paid, Serenity gets the fuel and parts she needs, we get fresh food and supplies and sometimes coin to jangle."

"Jangle huh?"

Simon fought a little smile. "Jangle."

There was a little silence. Simon was pleased with the result of his examination so far. He opened one of the Captain's hands and placed it palm down over one of his own, happy to note there was no sign of the earlier tremors. He went to check the other hand. "When's the last time we got paid, doc?"

The doctor wished he had asked any other question but that. "The night you got jumped."

"Remind me, how long ago was that?"

"Ten days."

The Captain spoke slower now as if the words were forming at the same pace as his thoughts. "So supplies must be runnin' low, same as fuel, *dui*?"

"*Dui* but we got *xingyun*."

"Lucky? How so?"

"The townsfolk were feeling so guilty about almost hanging you that they paid for and helped repair Serenity. The women baked pies and cakes and pretty much loaded us with more food than we've seen in months. Could say your brush with death had a silver lining."

The Captain frowned at that last comment not quite ready to embrace that notion just yet. He watched the gifted hands finish their exam and sat up. "Well, doc, am I gonna live?"

Simon smiled. "Yes, just try to avoid lynch mobs in the future."

"I'll do that." He turned and swung his legs off the bed then paused realising he was naked under the sheet. "Where's my gorram clothes?"

The Preacher walked away and returned seconds later with the Captain's clothes in a neat folded pile. He handed them wordlessly to the Captain. Their eyes met briefly.

"I'm obliged."

Shepherd Book nodded then turned and walked out of the infirmary. A little quizzical look drifted across the doctor's face. At his elbow River spoke.

"Games without rules trap the unwary." He shivered and turned to face his sister. "What do you mean?"

She shook her head. "Too many players. Can't see clearly. Board's too crowded. The King has no way out."


She suddenly smiled at him. "Could be a pawn. Top or bottom who can tell when the whole world has gone mad?"

He felt at a loss. The Captain had his pants on now, was slowly buttoning up his shirt, his eyes on River. "Care to speak plain?"

"When the jigsaw pieces get jumbled up no one can tell what the picture should be."

The Captain looked at Simon. "Any notion what she's talkin' about?"

Simon shook his head. "No. Any day without River throwing a fit is a good day."

"Huh. A little more information would have been good."

Simon smiled at the Captain throwing his words back at him. "If I find out I'll tell you."

The Captain gave him a measuring look and slid his braces up on his shoulders. Fully dressed he felt ten times better than he had in days. "Be sure you do, Simon."

Just then Zoe's clipped voice came over the com. "Cap'n, you awake?"

He was instantly on the alert. "*Shenme shi*?"

"Got yourself a visitor."

The Captain frowned and looked at Simon. "Who?"

"The Sheriff. Says it's urgent he speak to you right away."

"Where is he?"

"Trying to push passed Jayne. Best come to the cargo hold *mashang*."

"On my way. And Zoe?"

"Yes, Cap'n?"

"Don't let Jayne do anythin' stupid."

"Hey, I heard that!" Came a gruff voice in the background.

The Captain smirked. "Fine, saves me repeatin' myself." He paused by the door to look back at Simon, his expression one of concern. "Best you and River go hide yourselves. Might be just a short visit but let's not take chances, *dong ma*?"

Simon nodded only too happy to agree on that score. River looked at the Captain. "He won't go away."

"What's that?"

She shook her head at him as if to underline her words. "Won't go away, Captain. Like a shadow."

"Don't need no shadow."

"He can't leave empty handed."

The Captain walked back to her, aware he would be keeping the Sheriff waiting but wanting to understand what she was saying. If there was danger ahead he needed to know about it. "River, *hen zhongyao*. Do you know why the Sheriff's here?"

She nodded. Simon resisted the urge to speak, not wanting to deflect her from whatever revelations she might have. "He's here for you."

"*Wo*?" His voice sounded faint even to his own ears. He would give a year's pay just to know what the hell was going on. "What does he want with me? I thought he was interested in Yen Mah?"

Her eyes took on a far away quality as if seeing something from a very great distance. "The girl gives him access to you and you give him access to the girl."

He tried to tamp down his irritation. "What kind of riddle are ya spinnin'?"

"It's not a game, Captain. He means you no harm unless you oppose him."

Totally baffled he wanted to shake her, demand she make sense, but one look in her rapidly clouding eyes took all his anger and irritation away. He remembered only that River was damaged. Broken. Just a child. He put his arms around her and gave her a quick hug, the action saying what his tongue could not. He would protect her. Protect them all. As he pulled away her eyes met his in a rare moment of supreme clarity.

"But who will protect you, Captain?" She said softly, raising a hand to cup his cheek.

He dropped a gentle kiss on her brow, her hand dropping as he turned to Simon. "Best go now," He said quietly. "Don't surface until one of us gives the all clear. Don't care if it's minutes or hours, *dong ma*?"

Simon nodded, suddenly fearing for the Captain's safety though he did not know why. Surely the Sheriff was no danger to him? He did after all try to stop the mob from lynching him. Confused he just hoped and prayed that River was right when she said he meant no harm to the Captain. As he hurried his sister out of the infirmary to hide he wondered just what it was the Sheriff really wanted and what price the Captain would be forced to pay.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *laoban* = boss *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes *bao bei* = precious *xin gan* = sweetheart *dui* = correct *xingyun* = lucky *shenme shi* = what is the matter? *mashang* = immediately *hen zhongyao* = it's important *wo* = me/I


Saturday, November 1, 2003 11:01 AM


Alison, I have just found this site, and it's wonderful to see you writing Firefly Fanfic. I was a big fan of your Farscape Fics, and look forward to ready more of the same sort of quality work

Sunday, November 2, 2003 4:45 AM


Oh hurray! Another twist. So there will be plenty more of this to enjoy.

Monday, November 3, 2003 12:54 PM


Thanks for the comments folks and nice to see you here Ysrith. I love this site, lots of fanfic and as easy as falling off a log to post fic. What could be better? Hope you enjoy the rest of this tale, I have tons of stories still to tell. Hugs, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, November 5, 2003 7:51 PM


Oh this is fun! I like twisty bits. Keep us posted.


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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.