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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"When the Captain gets stubborn he learns to his cost that the crew of Serenity can be just as stubborn."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3002 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "ALL FOR ONE"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "THE RIGHT THING"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "When the Captain gets stubborn he learns to
his cost that the crew of Serenity can be just as stubborn."
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.
"ALL FOR ONE"
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
It was late when the meeting broke up and everyone knew it would take several hours for them to reach Shadow. The Captain decided to turn in for the night. Yen Mah had been invited to stay in Kaylee's bunk, Jayne sloping off to fetch a spare mattress for her. It meant for the first time since the Captain had been attacked and robbed he got to sleep on his own in his own bunk. It would feel odd but he was looking forward to the opportunity of having some time to himself. His plans were scuppered almost as soon as he made them. Zoe following the Captain to his bunk as if she was glued to his hip. She would not take no for an answer when he told her he needed some time alone. He sighed heavily, wanting to just tell her to back off but one look in those luminous eyes of hers and he just could not do it. He let Zoe follow him down the ladder. As her feet hit the bottom she started in on him just like he knew she would. He reached up and shut the hatch with a sigh. No sense in having the whole gorram boat hearing them quarrel.
"You can't do this, sir, it's suicide. Worse than that it's just plain stupid."
He flinched inwardly. "Don't hold back Zo, say what you mean."
"This ain't funny, Mal. We been through a lot together and I owe you more than I can ever repay in one lifetime but that won't stop me strippin' the hide off you if it's the only way to knock a lick of sense into you."
He sat on his bunk and stared up at her. "I'm not doin' this for fun, Zoe."
That calmed her some but not much. "I know that, sir. I can even understand your argument - holds some merit. Just not enough to lose a life over. Let the past stay in the past. You got a life here, people that need you, that care about you. Don't throw it all away for a handful of ashes."
He paled, his voice going real quiet. "Those are my folks' ashes, Zo."
She had the grace to blush. "Sorry, Mal, didn't mean it how it sounded."
"I know but I have to do this. I'm all twisted up inside, haunted by the things I can't see, the things I can't remember. The thought that it's all gone..." He broke off, gave her a helpless look. "Man can't live like that Zoe. Leastways I can't."
"No way I can talk you outta this?"
He shook his head. "Nope."
She huffed and straightened. "Then I guess you'll just have to do it, sir. Only we're comin' with you and nothin' you say or do'll alter that fact."
He looked exasperated. Before he could argue she flashed him a devastating grin that stopped him dead. His eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"You see you aren't the only *wangu chunren* on this boat."
"Is that any way to speak to your Captain?"
Zoe gave him her sweetest smile and patted him on the arm as if placating a child. "No, but it's the only way I know to make sure you understand. It's simple, sir. Where you go, I go."
"But you're married, Zoe."
She nodded calmly. "That's why Wash's comin' too."
He watched in a half daze as she gave a smug little smile and climbed up the ladder to let herself out. Long after she had gone he was still going over and over everything that had been said, both the conversation with Zoe and the one with the rest of the crew. He had to admit it was a somewhat warm and gratifying feeling knowing they did not want him to go alone. That they worried about him. But it also placed an extra burden of care over his own heart. Risking himself was nothing. Didn't raise a single goosebump or threaten a moment's lack of sleep. Putting anyone else at risk was a different matter. As he started to undress for bed he tried to hide how much that disturbed him and knew he would not sleep a gorram wink.
The land was dark and haunted. Heavy clouds filled a lowering sky, fitful bursts of restless winds rustling the few trees with any leaves still clinging to their bare branches. Autumn was giving way quicker to Winter on Shadow than anywhere else. The man moved as if his bones ached instead of his heart. Looked out over a land that had once been unsurpassing fair. Populated with good honest folk who knew the joy of land husbandry and the energetic bustle of ranch life. He stamped his feet as if by doing so he could warm the chill in his heart. Face grim he rubbed a rough calloused hand through his thick trimmed beard, eyes bright but sad. Mood a sombre tribute to time's past. He was a big man, broad of frame but not an ounce of fat on him. His hair was brown and fine, easily mussed by the movement of the cold air yet settling back into place as if drawn by a magnet.
Hal Price stomped across the yard to stand beside him. Wondering why he kept on fretting over the empty ground still blackened and scorched by a vengeful Alliance. "Come on Frank, it's gettin' gorram cold and I got no wish to end up an icicle while you get into a blacker an' blacker mood."
"Not in no mood, just thinkin'."
"Yeah, well think inside. Lizzie's cooked us a stew or so she calls it. Reckon everythin' she had in the pantry is in that pot so if you don't come in and take a bowl you'll starve all week."
The man laughed suddenly at the ridiculous notion and for a moment a handsome grin lightened the features cradled in grief.
"You know my friend," Said Hal softly. "Broodin' don't suit ya. Family would turn in their graves if they could see ya now. Livin' in the past ain't just cold and lonely Frank, it's an open grave waitin' to swallow ya whole."
"It was so terrible, Hal. Can't rightly grasp how so much was lost so quickly an' the War already over and gone. T'ain't right. There should be a reckonin'."
Hal clapped a hand on his shoulder. "So there will be but in God's good time not ours, neighbour."
Frank looked at his friend. Sighed then walked with him to his ranch house a ways back. But thoughts clung along with the memories. Cobwebs in his mind that could not be swept clean. And none of them comforted the pain he carried not one little bit.
Sheriff Martin Bowman shifted uneasily on his feet as he packed a few bits and pieces to tide him over. His wife watched silently. The boys all a-bed where he should be right now had he a mind to be sensible for once in his contrary life. He could feel her eyes on him, silent and disapproving. Knew she would be tight lipped but speak no word of criticism against him. Love could be like that. Easy settled as they were like a pair of old worn shoes they rubbed and scraped against one another with their brittle pride and neither would give in to the other. Yet the love and respect was so deep they would not raise their voices nor use their differences of opinion to drive a wedge even paper-thin between them. He paused and cast her a sidelong glance.
"Don't know how long I'll be gone." He said quietly.
She sensed his unease though knew he would never admit he misliked this assignment. Not that she knew the full of it but bits that had leaked out around his tight lips and stiff manner had led her to believe this was not a thing he should be doing. As if the man would ever listen to sound good sense. Not a man alive knew the fashion of it like a woman did. "I'm thinkin' you'll be walkin' into danger, *dui*?"
He huffed softly at the massive understatement. Glad she did not know the full measure of it. Not for all the rutting gold in the 'verse would he add to her fears and worry she surely would as night followed day. It was the reward for loving a lawman. He reached out a rough hand and graced her weathered cheek. Took in the dusty bloom of wind chaffed skin, the ruddy hardened complexion turning leathery with smiles ripened in hard winds and a life of toil. Twenty four years of marriage and he blessed every single day of it. What she saw in him he could never say but the years rolled back every time he looked into those hazel eyes. No matter the thickened waistline, the hair turning grey, the mark of years upon her. To him she would always be beautiful. The mother of his sons, the queen of his heart.
"You take care now, Mary. Don't let the boys give you no cheek or I'll visit such misfortune on them they'll not sit for a week."
A smile dusted her lips. Affection flitting in her eyes and skating over the concern that studied him in silent appraisal. "*Xiaoxin, zhangfu*."
"Count on it, *fengmi*. You're the only thing holding these tired bones together."
She snorted to hide her emotion. He dipped his head and kissed her softly, both gravitating into a brief but warm embrace. Taking strength from each other even as they gave it. Her disapproval pushed back so as not to overburden him. He straightened. Took the weight of his duty full on his shoulders and smiled gently. She thought he looked sad and that pained her though he tried to hide it from her best he could. "How long do you reckon you'll be, Martin?"
"No tellin'. The trail could take us far an' wide."
Her eyes widened slightly. It was rare he travelled much in the Black. Had work a-plenty on Porchester without looking for it on other worlds. A few more quietly spoken words passed between them then he was out of the door and striding quickly away. She did not watch him go but listened to the fading tread of his boots and prayed as she always did that he would return safe and sound to hearth and home. A small sigh escaped her then she turned and fastened the house up for the night. Her duty now to those who slept. And a watchful eye on those who could not.
The Captain was already climbing up the ladder from his bunk when Wash hailed him to tell him they were just an hour from Shadow. His heart missed a beat and the breath caught in his lungs. He took a moment to collect himself, to make sure no sign of his nerves or emotion seeped into his voice. No sense in making this harder on his crew than it was. "*Xie Xie*, Wash. On my way."
"Want me to call the others?"
"*Bu*, give them a few more minutes."
"Whatever you say, Captain."
A smile found its' way to his face then slowly faded. By the time he reached the cockpit he was looking sombre and a little tense. Wash did not call him on it, knowing how much the Captain had already been through he would have spared him this if he could have. Yet he also understood the compulsion that drove him.
"Anyone following us, Wash?"
"No. I checked again and again just to be sure."
The Captain frowned slightly but said nothing to that. Wash watched him intently, one eye on his heading the other on the Captain.
"What you thinkin'?"
"I'm thinkin' they may be waitin' for me on Shadow." He said honestly.
Wash raised his eyebrows, surprised the Captain would just come out and say it. Normally he would try to make light of any danger. Anything to alleviate the worry to his crew. This was a new trend. The open admission of things that worried him. The sharing of sorrow or pain however slight, the inclusion of others in plans and thinking that normally went unsaid. While Wash liked the more open aspect of the Captain it was also more than a little unsettling and left him worrying about him more than was good for either of them. Now if that wasn't a scary thought he didn't know what was. "We don't have to do this, Captain." He said softly.
Mal looked at him. "You're a good man Wash and you're right. *We* Don't have to do this but *I* do."
"Why walk willingly into what is almost certainly a trap?" Asked Wash, his voice somewhat strained.
"That's what I tried to tell him." Said Zoe stepping into the cockpit behind the Captain.
"Huh," Huffed the Captain. "Haven't we already had this conversation?"
"Had it, yeah. Settled it? No."
The Captain turned to look at her then shook his head. "Ain't gonna change my mind. Told ya once ain't gonna tell ya again."
"Then I don't need to repeat my response, sir."
For a moment exasperation warred with impatience on his face then the expression cleared and for a moment she got a glimpse of weariness and sorrow that cracked the walls of her heart though she would never let it show. By now the others were up and stirring. Jayne could be heard minutes before his bull head appeared in the doorway, the Shepherd just a step behind him. "We eatin' first, Cap?"
The last thing Mal felt was hungry but he could not and would not ignore the needs of his crew. This might, after all, be the last time they gathered round the table together. "That we are, Jayne."
Jayne grunted something unintelligble that might have been "good" turned and stomped off to the dining area of the commons room. The Shepherd did not follow him, he was watching the Captain. "What do you suppose you'll find waiting for you on Shadow, Captain?"
"Don't rightly know, Shepherd. Not gonna find out hanging around in the Black."
Zoe frowned slightly as she tried to keep her tone light. "Then best we eat first."
He looked at her for a moment then nodded. Zoe followed the Preacher but Mal hung back. He turned to look at Wash. "Go get somethin' to eat, Wash. I'll mind the boat 'till you finish."
Wash shook his head. Zoe stopped in the corridor outside and turned back to see what the delay was. "Not gonna happen, Captain. I'll cut her to idle in autopilot and we'll all go to breakfast."
Zoe cut him off, picking up on his intention but softening her voice to make her words more palatable to his reluctant ear. "Crew needs to see you at table, sir. Discuss any concerns and such before we land."
For a moment the silence was painful then the Captain nodded and without a word the three of them headed into the commons. Kaylee, Simon, River, Yen Mah, the Preacher and Jayne were already in the room and settled round the big oakwood table. The Captain hesitated just a fraction then took his place at the head of the table. Yen Mah squeezed his hand and he managed a smile for her. Gorrammit he was so nervous it unsettled him. He could feel his palms beginning to sweat and hated himself for his weakness. What in the nine hells was wrong with him? Inara joined them just as everybody started to eat. She took very little in the way of food homing in on the Preacher's pot of tea and pouring a generous mug. It was Jayne who broke the silence.
"What's the plan?"
"No plan, Jayne. I just wanna visit the ranch."
"And?" The big man pushed as he shoved some protein mush into his gaping mouth.
The Captain stared at him, words almost failing him. Simon knew how he felt. The mercenary often had that effect on him. "And nothin', Jayne. Ain't no call for everyone to follow me on down."
The mercenary scowled at him as he chewed. "Then why're you wired so tight you gonna snap?"
The Preacher frowned hard at Jayne. "There's no need to be confrontational, Jayne."
Jayne glared at the Preacher and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand which for him was the height of manners. "Like *diyu*. I ain't pussyfooting around this like the rest of ya. Cap wants to go and get himself slammed in an Alliance prison that's up to him on'y it ain't just him an' never will be. We all stand or fall with him an' that's somethin' he's gotta face whether it's polite talk or not."
The Captain's face paled. He had not touched his bowl of food nor sipped his drink. Both hands placed on the edge of the table as if it was all he had left to cling to but his face was set, his voice firm and clear as he replied. "No one says you have to stay or go, Jayne, leastways me. This is somethin' I have to do an' I thought that was understood."
"Mal..." Jayne broke off, not sure how to make his point without getting the whole crew riled against him. "Wasn't sayin' that it's just this feels wrong, *dong ma*? No way do any of us want ya goin' down there alone. Don't care if it is your home world. That Sheriff is the last person in the 'verse I'd trust an' ain't just 'cause he's a lawman. There's somethin' sneaky an' crafty about his ways that don't sit right with me."
"Sheriff's a good man, Jayne."
Jayne snorted, starting to get angry. The Shepherd laid a hand on his arm to calm him. Zoe spoke to still any other contentious outbursts. "You're not helpin', Jayne, but you do have a point." She paused, saw the big man calm as if he had found an ally. She turned her dark solemn eyes on the Captain. "How *do* you intend to handle this, sir?"
"I'll take the spare shuttle down. Visit the ranch, see what happened for my own self."
"Then?" She asked quietly.
For a moment their eyes locked. No one dared hardly breathe. Wash slipped a hand in Zoe's.
"Then we'll see." He said. Not wanting to make promises he might not be able to keep. He took a breath and pushed his chair back from the table. "Now I need to get ready. Don't want everybody goin' down to the surface."
"I'm comin' with you, sir." Said Zoe.
He shook his head, lips compressed into a tight hard line. "No ya ain't, on'y takin' one person with me."
She frowned. "But..."
He cut her off. "Jayne."
Startled, the big man's head came up then a slow look of satisfaction stole across his face. At last the Captain was thinking sensibly. Taking his best shot and strongest fighter with him in case there was trouble. Made sense. Finally, something that did.
"I need to be with you, sir." Zoe persisted, a breath short of a plea.
"No, ya don't. 'Sides if you're right an' the Alliance is waitin' down there you're in as much trouble as me. Jayne's a free man, they got no call to have any interest in him an' I'll be grateful of his firepower if things turn ugly."
They all felt uncomfortable about it but there was no stopping the Captain once he made up his mind. Memory loss or not it was one thing about him that had not changed. And the one thing about him Zoe would have if she could have.
Jayne was surprised by how desolate the place was close up. The flight down in the shuttle had been uneventful and the Captain was a competent but not creative pilot. Once on the ground the tension level was a lot higher. He flicked a glance across at the Captain's face, trying to read what he was thinking and only picking up on the tension he carried coiled like a snake ready to strike. He approved the soldier's mentality and gripped Vera tight, his trigger finger like a lover's caress. His eyes sharp and watchful. They were in a kind of clearing only closer examination of the blackened uneven ground revealed that once a substantial stand of trees had stood there. Now it was denuded, its' blackened face like a weeping sore across the land.
Mal paused and stooped down to touch the burnt soil. Something shifting in his eyes that Jayne could not quite catch. He wanted to hurry him, get him to move into cover only there wasn't any. That was when the second thing hit him like a blow to the gut. The silence. "I don't like it." He said quietly.
The Captain nodded but did not speak. He stood up and moved more briskly, light on his feet and wary as a man walking across hot coals. Jayne followed a couple of steps behind him, watching for any sign of movement. Anything that might indicate they were being watched but there was nothing. It was like tiptoeing through a gorram graveyard. They walked on in silence for near on a quarter of a mile, Jayne beginning to feel a mite ansty. Where the gorram was this rutting ranch anyway? Suddenly the Captain stopped in his tracks. Already keyed up, Jayne's nostrils flared, his eyes widened and his body tensed for action. "*Shenme shi*?"
Then he saw it. The ashes powdered now but still christening traumatised earth. The outline of the building was easy to see. The mounds set to one side marking stark graves set in a neat if pathetic row on a small rise in the ground. A place swept free of the sickening ash. Mal went to the site of the ranch first and walked through the remains. Gazed with hollow eyes at the black little splinters of wood that were all that remained of the walls and roof of his family home. His hands shook as he reached out to touch them. Jayne could not bear to watch him, to feel the emotion coming off his contained body. Knew no words could bring the man comfort so he didn't speak. Slowly the Captain covered the whole area, eyes looking, remembering. Putting pictures to the gaps where walls had stood, rooms had been sectioned off, the range had burned in the kitchen. His throat closing up painfully, the Captain felt the last shred of hope collapse under the weight of a sorrow almost too great for his heart to bear.
It seemed to take forever to Jayne yet he had all the patience in the 'verse. Something like this touched every man. Hurt every soul with a common bond of loss that went bone deep. At last he moved out of the remains of the ranch and over to the graves. Jayne hung back for two reasons. One was simple respect, the other was to watch the Captain's back. His trigger finger itchy, the gap between his shoulder blades pricking in silent warning yet there was not a gorram thing to see.
Mal stopped and looked down. His mama's grave was basic, a rough hewn stone set in place with the words chipped out with her name, date of birth and death. The words a knife through his heart. 'Beloved Mother and Wife, taken in violence against the will of God and Heaven. R.I.P. Loved forever.' His father's grave right alongside it. 'He died as he lived, defending the right. Much loved and ever missed.' Little Gracie's grave was no longer a solitary stone. Seven years old she had been when she had passed on. Now his brother Davy kept her company, the words on their stones a dim blur. Mal bowed his head and wept, a hand on his brother's headstone. Whether for stability or comfort Jayne did not know.
A cool wind rising urged Jayne to edge a little closer. Wanting the Captain to move. Time was passing and they had done what needed to be done. Time to move on. The Captain looked like he was not going to move for hours. It was awkward and Jayne did not like to intrude but this was no safe place to be. They were far too exposed and the Captain still wore his Independent clothes, the brown coat flapping against his legs as if it too were in mourning. "Cap, we gotta go now." Murmured Jayne softly.
The Captain heard him. Took a moment or two to steady himself and rose to his feet. It was as he was rising that the first shots rang out. Without thinking Jayne propelled himself across the ground that divided them flattening the Captain and bringing his weapon up to return fire. As automatic as thinking. He heard Mal grunt softly under him and moved carefully sideways to ease his weight off him. The Captain had a graze to the left side of his face, blood running a vibrant trail of crimson down his cheek but missing his eye by too close a margin for comfort. But for Jayne's quick thinking it would have taken his head off. Whoever it was did not intend the Captain to leave this patch of ground alive. Anger welled up in the mercenary, his eyes darkening with a desire to find the *wangba dan* and send him on to *diyu* in the most painful way possible. But again, there was nothing to see.
Silence closed like an uneasy blanket around them. He hated this. Could not see where the rutting hell they could be hiding. The Captain nodded. "Quick thinkin', Jayne. *Xie Xie*."
He hardly acknowledged the thanks. Eyes roaming warily. "Where are they? You see anythin'?"
The Captain shook his head. "Nope."
Jayne was scowling now. "There isn't a blade of grass high enough to let a sheep graze let alone any cover for a man to hide." He grumbled.
Something tickled the back of the Captain's mind making him uneasy. "Soldiers."
Jayne risked a quick look at him, not understanding. "What? Where?"
"In open ground we dug trenches for cover. Only thing we had. Made them purple bellies fight for every gorram inch of ground."
"That means we're pinned down?"
"Huh." Jayne was feeling more than a little pissed off now. Trenches. How were they supposed to pick them off if they couldn't see them? It irked him that whoever was firing on them was snug and safe in a foxhole while he and Mal were lying exposed and vulnerable on the small rise.
"Have to use the headstones for cover, Jayne."
"As long as we don't end up needin' one ourselves."
The Captain said nothing. Eyes bleak and empty only the knowledge that Jayne was with him kept him focused on survival. Had he been alone he was not sure he would have had the heart to press on. They waited for almost an hour but there were no further shots. No movement at all. Then a creepy thing happened. A solitary bird warbled on the thin cold air. It sounded mournful and matched their current mood too closely for comfort but Mal gave Jayne a grim little smile that was all kinds of creepifying and began to move away from the graveyard. Jayne scowled at him, ready to shove him back to the ground. "What you think you're doin'?"
"Gettin' outta here."
"Sniper's still out there."
Mal shook his head, more confident now. A cold set expression sliding into place as his hands steadied on his gun. Back in command and control. "No he ain't. He's done his job."
"What the *diyu* are ya talkin' about?"
"Reckon he was meant to unsettle us some, otherwise he'd have stayed to finish the job."
"Who says he didn't?"
The Captain gave him a humourless smile. "Our little songbird."
"Come on," The Captain urged, straightening up and taking the initiative.
Jayne followed him cautiously but no one else took pot shots at them all the way back to the shuttle. That in itself unnerved him more than he could put into words. Seeing the way the Captain's back stiffened he knew he was just as uncomfortable about it as he was whatever he said. It was as they were closing in on the shuttle that a movement to the right of it drew Jayne's eyes and gun. Mal had already seen it. His hand quickly snaking out to push the barrel of Jayne's gun down to spoil the mercenary's shot. His eyes glued to the man walking calmly towards them. He could almost hear Jayne's teeth grinding with frustration.
"Thought I'd find ya here, Martin." Said the Captain softly.
Jayne had never wanted to put a bullet in a man's head more than he did at that moment. The Sheriff ignored the mercenary and concentrated on Mal, carefully keeping his hand away from his gun as he began to close the distance. "Told ya not to come."
As if to punctuate the repeat of his warning a high whining shot rang out and the Sheriff lunged for the Captain. Jayne tried to pinpoint the sniper, his cheek fanned by a spray of crimson as he turned his head and cried a warning too late. Rolling on the ground he came to a half crouch safe and sound, not a mark on him. Fearfully turning to take in the widening patch of red staining the dark and troubled earth with blood.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*wangu* = stubborn *chunren* = fool, jerk *dui* = correct *xiaoxin* = careful
*zhangfu* = husband *fengmi* = honey *xie xie* = thanks *bu* = no *diyu* = hell
*shenmi shi* = what's the matter? *wangba dan* = bastard *dong ma* = understand
Sunday, November 16, 2003 6:17 AM
Sunday, November 16, 2003 7:09 AM
Monday, November 17, 2003 9:25 AM
Monday, November 17, 2003 11:57 AM
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