THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 17. "Little Things"
Thursday, December 11, 2003

"The shuttle reunites with Serenity. Book suspects that all is not well with Inara. Zoe reluctantly gives the Captain the dubious gift."



SUMMARY: "The shuttle reunites with Serenity. Book suspects that all is not well with Inara. Zoe reluctantly gives the Captain the dubious gift" 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

* * * * *

His head felt like it was splitting apart into sharp stinging fragments of pain that pierced his skull and radiated a heinous shattering of senses whenever he tried to raise his head. A hand on his shoulder and a gruff voice slowly resolved into recognisable words. Or as recognisable as anything that came out of Jayne's mouth could be. "Don't try to move, Cap."

He opened his eyes and instantly regretted it. Shutting them quickly he took a moment to steady himself. A small hand reached for his forehead. Startled he opened his eyes to a cautious slit, squinting up at the little round face hovering above him and riven with anxiety. "You hurt."

"Yeah, could say that." He paused and swallowed carefully. Taking in the fact that they were still aboard the shuttle. Wait a minute. If he and Jayne were aboard the shuttle what the *diyu* was the girl doing there? "Yen Mah, how d'ya get on the shuttle? You should be on Serenity."

She sat beside him and shook her head. "Not safe." Alarmed he carefully sat up. Shooting pains in his head reminding him why he had been lying on the gorram deck in the first place. Jayne steadied him. The Captain's eyes closed just long enough for the room to stop spinning. Wished he could get it in focus as well but any improvement he would take. "What you talkin' about?"

"She's talkin' about Alliance." Said Jayne.

Mal's eyes widened. Shock, surprise and concern vying for ascendancy in a single glance. He turned his head slowly and looked at Yen Mah. Smiling she slipped a small hand in his. Such trust looking back at him that it took him a second to find his voice. "Alliance?"

She nodded. "Big ship, bad men."

Yeah well that summed them up. He went to stand up. "Gotta get back to my boat..."

Alarmed, she tugged on his hand. "No! Wait. Safe here."

He tilted his head at her, the steel band in his head taking a break. Found he could breathe a mite easier now and things were back in focus. "Yen Mah, they're in trouble. Can't leave 'em like that."

"Have to, Mal."

Curiosity got the better of him. "An' why is that?"

"Want you."

He tried to divine her meaning. "You sayin' 'cause I ain't on the boat the others are gonna be okay?"

She beamed a smile at him and he felt oddly rewarded. "Wait. When they leave we return." Her smile if anything got bigger. Reminded him of Kaylee and River rolled into one. This was crazy but he believed her. Girl had a knack of seeing things that came true. He hoped she was right this time.

"Anybody hurt?" He asked.

Yen Mah shook her head then squeezed his hand, a small mischievous look curling up the corners of her mouth. "No. Just you."

He couldn't help but grin back. "Not my blood."

"No." She pointed at his head with her free hand.


Jayne was fidgetting. Watching the two of them didn't settle the rattlers in his stomach. They were wasting time. Alliance was bad news. If they were after the Captain what was to stop them from coming after the shuttle? "We can't stay here." He growled.

Mal looked at him. "Where we gonna go? You wanna go back to Shadow?"

The mercenary shook his head vehemently. That was one place he never wanted to see again. Mal got to his feet, pleased when after a moment the wave of dizziness passed. His head settled into a dull ache, hardly worth a mention at all.

"Where you wanna go, Jayne? We're in the corner of No and Where."

"Hell, I don't know Mal. I ain't no pilot. Just.... not *here*."

"Could do with somethin' a bit more specific."

Jayne got angry, just a flash that spoke more of his frustration than any real annoyance at the Captain. "If I knew I'd tell ya, just don't want them *luimang* purplebellies to find us."

"An' you think I do?" Mal paused. "Look Jayne, as soon as Yen Mah says it's safe we're gonna go find Serenity, *dong ma*? I think it's time this whole picnic came to an end."

Jayne scowled but there was nothing he could really say to argue with that. Was it just him or were they taking their orders from a ten year old girl now? And why wasn't he putting up more of a fight? His scowl deepened but he said no more. Cap's decision anyway. Just hoped it was the right one.

* * * * *

Inara waited until everyone else had drifted out of the commons before heading to her shuttle. She felt terrible but worse than that was the thought of someone spotting her and asking questions she had no intention of answering. Not now, not *ever*. Moving slowly, her head hung slightly down, her robe brushing the deck as she stopped. A noise up ahead stiffened her spine. She paused and straightened with difficulty, reluctantly taking her hand away from the wall so she could walk unaided. Her face a mask she breathed a sigh of relief as Kaylee went to the engine room, a wide smile on her face and a happy nod in the Companion's direction. Inara smiled back and waited until she had gone before continuing.

It was not until she was about to enter her shuttle that a quiet respectful voice cut in on her sense of relief. Perhaps she had not acquired a stay of execution after all.

"Inara, I wonder if I might have a word with you?"

She composed herself then turned to look back at the Preacher. "Now is not a good time, Shepherd. I would be happy to see you later."

He shook his head with what appeared to be regret. "It is a matter of some urgency and delicacy."

Concerned, Inara gave a short nod and entered her shuttle. Book no more than two steps behind her. Once inside she moved with care disguised as elegant grace and took a seat, turning her beautiful unflawed features towards him. "How may I help you?"

He took a moment to reply, observing her for a moment. "I believe it is the other way around."

She stared at him, her features stilled as if set in a mask. His tone told her what his words only hinted at. He knew. Maybe not what was wrong but certainly that something was amiss. How to mitigate the damage? Put him off the scent? Before she could think of a plausible response he closed the distance between them and gave her the gentle smile of a friend.

"Let me assure you that I have no intention of making things difficult for you, Inara, but I can tell when something is not right." He paused to give her an opening to respond. When she remained silent he continued, concern etched on his face. "You are in pain. Let me help you or if I cannot assist then let me get Simon."

He saw the flash of alarm in her eyes and was more concerned than ever.


She cut him off, her fading strength shored up by something approaching panic but masked. Her resolve wiping out the earlier vulnerability he had so fleetingly glimpsed and acted upon. Her composure was almost enough to convince him he must have been mistaken. "There is no need, thank you Shepherd. I was tired that is all."

"You *can* trust me Inara."

Inara's face softened slightly. "I know, *xie xie ni*. I just need to rest."

Moments later he was standing outside her shuttle door, a little frown settling on his face. Just then he heard Wash's voice over the com. They had located the shuttle and it would be docking shortly. Thus distracted he went to see what had happened on Shadow. He also mused over how he was going to break the news to the Captain that Yen Mah was missing. While he did not think the Alliance soldiers had taken her he was not inclined to rule anything out.

* * * * *

"Trail's not exactly cold," Said Dean Wester.

His brother Jarrod grinned like a loon. "Which means 'a miss is as good as a mile'."

Dean shot his brother a look of irritation. "Ain't neither."

The *laoban* frowned, his features set in granite and making both of them more than a mite afraid. The man had been known to shoot a man through the eye at point blank range just for riling him. What he would do if they couldn't pick up the trail was more than he wanted to think on. "How cold is 'not exactly'?"

He shivered clear down to his boots. "Well, sir," He swallowed in a mouth suddenly dry as the Arizona desert. "Two ways he could'a gone."

Steely eyebrows rose and waited. Dean licked dry lips.

"He either took off an' ain't here no more or folks is hidin' him."

"He ain't on this no-count rock." Said the *laoban* calmly, his right hand slowly coming to rest on the pearl handle of his holstered gun. It was casual but the boy got the message.

"Shuttle took off, reckon that's most likely what he took."

"How many?"

"Two men."


He hesitated only a fraction of a second. "Too muddy to tell."

The gun cleared the holster without a gorram sound. Suddenly Jarrod was regretting ever teasing his brother about his tracking skills. A slide of sweat gathered in his palms matching the slick wet trail forming down his back. This day was all kinds of worrisome. "Suggest you think beneath the mud." The man paused a fraction of a second as if to add weight to the words that followed. "Clock's tickin' son an' I can't afford more seconds."

Dean opened and shut his mouth a couple of times, neither his mouth nor his mind seeming capable of function either independently or in tandem. The *laoban* watched the useless flapping as if detached from the scene. A shot rang out that was so loud and sudden that Jarrod all but filled his pants. His heart so close to stopping as to make little difference. Breathing was a hard ragged fought battle that caused pain to fill in the stunned blanks of what he was seeing as the back of his brother's head passed him in seeming slow motion, the splatter of blood a warm rush of silk against his shocked skin. Red drops merging with clear as his tears rolled down his cheeks. The *laoban* reholstered his weapon in a calm smooth economy of movement like the caress of a lover's hand on skin.

"Now, boy. Seems we need us another tracker."

Unable to speak Jarrod nodded, his head bobbing up and down in anxious acquiessence. He would have agreed to any rutting thing the man wanted just to keep those steel grey eyes from setting him in their ice cold sights. Satisfied that his point had been made the *laoban* gave a little satisfied grunt that made Jarrod tremble with fear and revulsion. The man gazed impassively at the messy disarray of wayward limbs that was all that was left of a man's life. Funny. The useless mouth wasn't flapping no more.

* * * * *

Mal was surprised to see nearly everybody waiting in a little cluster as he, Jayne and Yen Mah stepped off the shuttle. The only one missing was Inara. Shepherd Book let out a sigh of relief when he saw the girl. River turned to the Preacher and gave him a smug smile as if he really was not very bright not to have figured it out. "The acorn and the oak."

The Captain did not seem to hear the comment. He was a mite distracted until he noticed that Zoe looked ill at ease. His eyes narrowed. Judging by Zoe's face she was all kinds of unhappy. He wondered what had happened while he and Jayne had been down on Shadow.

"*Shenme shi*, Zoe? I ain't seen you so fearful since the surrender."

"We ran into a little Alliance trouble, sir."

He froze. "What kind of trouble is that?"

"We were hailed by an Alliance Cruiser, sir." She looked at him more intently when he did not seem surprised by the news. "I was taken aboard to be spoken to by the Commandant."

Mal raised his eyebrows, all wary caution now. "Spoken to? You mean interrogated, *dui*?"

"*Bu qu*, spoken to is what I said and spoken to is what I meant - sir."

The sir was tacked on but he got the message. "Go on."

"It was Harkan."

"Who?" He frowned. The name sound vaguely familiar . "Commandant Harkan, you know the *gos se wangba dan* you saved from the Reavers."

Mal did not recall the incident but something tickled in the back of his brain telling him that Zoe was right. Gorrammit he wished he could remember. Jayne looked like he wanted to strangle someone. It was hard to tell if it was the Captain or someone else. "What he want?"

She did not mince words. "You."

His heart missed a beat. He paused a moment. "Best we go to the commons and see if we can't get to the bottom of what the ruttin' hell is goin' on."

"You're the bait, he's the hook." Said River.

The Captain stopped dead in his tracks and looked at her. The doctor put an arm around his sister's shoulder but she seemed to be drifting off again, her eyes becoming distant moons shining on some other planet far far away. Yen Mah stood just behind Mal, her eyes like saucers as she stared round him at River but not a sound passing her lips. Jayne wondered how come she could see all manner of things that were going to happen but could not understand River. Trust them to have crazies with nothing but their addled brains in common. "Bait?"

River never heard him. Puzzled and alarmed the Captain took a breath and briskly made his way to the commons. His throat felt like it was full of dust and ashes. He needed a cup of strong coffee but in lieu of that he would take tea. As thick and hot as he could pour it. The others took their seats round the big oakwood table and waited for him. Mal was frowning as he blew across the hot liquid then let it scorch his throat in a measured slide that helped to ground him in the here and now. His headache was coming back with a vengeance. Simon noticed. "Are you alright, Captain?"

"Just a headache." Before Simon could ask him any more details he turned to River. "Care to explain about the bait and hook, River?"

She blinked and seemed to come to her senses for a moment. "You have something he wants."

"And what might that be?"

"Paths and journeys, route maps to hell. Knows a short cut but can't be certain you'll take it."

The Captain closed his eyes. Quietly he swore softly in Chinese. He really could do without all the cryptic craziness. As if the headache wasn't bad enough. Zoe's voice prompted him to open his eyes. "Sir?"

"Yes, Zoe? You offering to act as interpreter?"

"No, sir. It's about the Commandant. I don't trust him."

He was tempted to laugh. "He's Alliance, what's not to trust?"

Her eyes narrowed slightly and he cut the humour. "He wanted me to give you something, sir."

That rocked him. "*Shenme*? A *liwu* for me?"

She looked almost angry. "Not sure I'd call it that, sir."

"Zoe, just tell me what the gorram happened and quit with the long drawn out storytellin'. My head's about to break apart and the last thing I want to be thinkin' on is what the *diyu* you're talkin' about, *dong ma*?"

Instead of speaking she put her hand inside her vest and took out a grey velvet pouch. Wash sat in silence by her side, a hand moving to touch her shoulder in silent support. That worried Mal almost as much as the way Zoe was acting. There was an oddness about her that screamed danger. He stared at the pouch as she placed it on the table, making no attempt to touch it.

"What is it?"

She kept her eyes on him, not even the ghost of humour in her voice or visage. "Looks like jewellery, sir."

Whatever he was expecting her to say it was not that. He looked at her in stunned silence then began to laugh, the humour bubbling up and ripping through him as much with relief as any reaction to something funny. "Jewellery?"

"Yes, sir, though to tell the truth it looks *lese*."

Simon looked as confused as the Captain felt. "I don't understand why an Alliance Commandant would be giving the Captain jewellery." He looked from Mal to Zoe. "Is this some kind of joke?"

Zoe gave the doctor a level look. "Not laughin', Simon."

"I can see that," Said the Captain thoughtfully. He stared down at the pouch.

Jayne leaned in close to his shoulder. "Ain't ya gonna open it?"

"Not sure I want to."

The mercenary leaned passed the Captain to grab the bag. It was the Shepherd who stilled the stir of greed surfacing in Jayne's midbrain. "You might want to think before you touch that, Jayne."

An uncertain look flittered across Jayne's face. He eyed the Preacher as if he knew all the secrets in the 'verse. "What is it? A bomb?"

Kaylee shook her head. "Nope, no bomb. At least as far as we could tell."

"Did you handle it, little Kaylee?"

She shook her head at the Captain. "No, Zoe didn't want us to handle it until we found out whether or not it's safe."

He looked at his second in command. "And is it safe?"

"Not rightly sure, sir. Looks harmless enough but..."

Mal looked down at the bag again. " came from the Alliance."

Zoe nodded. Wash swore under his breath. Mal looked at the pilot.

"What was that, Wash?"

"Just saying perhaps we should shove it out of the air lock."

"Hey, if ya don't want it Cap I'll have it." Jayne grinned. "Don't mind dyin' rich."

"It's the dyin' part I'm not so fond of." Said the Captain.

"We examined it as best we could." Said the Preacher slowly. "It's not a bomb. At least. Not the kind that goes 'bang'."

Mal gave him a baleful look. His head was really causing him a lot of pain. He wanted this meeting over and done with but didn't want Simon fussing over him. Right now he would settle for some peace and quiet and no interruptions for the next eight hours. Which would be a first for Malcolm Reynolds. "What other kind is there?"

"The kind that doesn't go bang?" Ventured Wash.

Everyone ignored him. Kaylee wriggled in her chair. "Are ya gonna open it, Cap'n?"

He reached out and instead of grabbing the neck of the drawstring pouch he pinched the bottom of the bag and lifted it slightly then with a little shake watched as the silver chain clattered out of the bag onto the wooden table. Everyone leaned forward and stared at it. Jayne looked disappointed. "Huh, is that it? Ain't worth all the ruttin' fuss." He looked at the Captain. "He's makin' fun of ya, Cap, sending ya a piece of *gos se* like that."

They were so busy staring at it that for a moment no one noticed River. The girl's eyes had gone round and wide, her breath shallow, her body straining towards the table. Her voice caught them all unawares. "Bait. Looking for a bigger fish."

Her words interested Mal. "What's he hoping to hook with it, River?"

She looked at him briefly then fixed her gaze back on it. "You."

"Yeah, well, I don't think that pile of *gos se* is gonna turn my head."

River shook her head. "Not your head he wants."

"Then what? My boat?"

Another head shake. "Could have had Serenity, let her go."

The Captain frowned, not liking the direction this conversation was taking. "What's he after, River?"

River looked like she was not going to answer then suddenly looked up, her eyes locking on to the Captain's with doom-laden certainty. "Me."

For a moment everyone was too stunned to speak. Simon looked as if he were on the brink of a heart attack. Mal could not blame him. He tried to think of a way to lighten the mood. "I hate to point out a flaw in your argument but if he wants you why send jewellery to me? And why jewellery?"

She turned her head and looked at the Captain as if he was being intentionally slow. "Bait."

The Captain lifted his head and gave a single slow nod as if with comprehension. "Ah, you would be the fish then I'm thinkin'?"

A brief smile flashed over her face but it was clothed in sadness. "They're coming. The message is sent, there's no escape."

Alarmed everyone stared at River. Then out of the blue her mood changed yet again and she stood up, Simon reaching out a hand to her, his face drawn and anxious. "It's not jewellery." She said.

"Ya can say that again." Muttered Jayne.

The Captain was watching River intently. Saw something in her look that told him she knew exactly what is it was. "Then what is it River, 'cause right now I'm thinkin' I don't need no more cryptic clues."

River nodded and looked at him. "It's a map."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster *dong ma* = understand *xie xie ni* = thank you *laoban* = boss *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *dui* = correct *bu qu* = no (lit. not yes) *gos se* = crap *wangba dan* = bastard *shenme* = what *liwu* = gift *lese* = garbage


Saturday, December 13, 2003 1:02 AM


Oh the plotty goodness!

Nice M/J exchange:

"Hey, if ya don't want it Cap I'll have it." Jayne grinned. "Don't mind dyin' rich."

"It's the dyin' part I'm not so fond of." Said the Captain.

I love the way you do Jayne. Hell, I love the way you do all of them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003 9:13 AM


Thanks for the feedback kispexi2, you are no slouch in the writing stakes either! Don't worry the next part will be up soon.
Thanks also to you Hazel, your reaction is the way I feel when I find a story I can immerse myself in. Characterisation is very important to me as it is the characters who breathe life into the story. Shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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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.