TEMPTATION SERIES: 27. "Undaunted"
Monday, October 17, 2005

"Chung-li and the Captain discuss the arrangements for Shen Ling. River and Inara join forces to hatch a sneaky scheme."



SUMMARY: "Chung-li and the Captain discuss the arrangements for Shen Ling. River and Inara join forces to hatch a sneaky scheme." 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.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was a solemn gathering back on Serenity. Simon dressed Shen Ling's wounds and cleaned her up as best he could but he was no mortician. After he had done all he could Inara slipped into the infirmary and applied make up with such skill and expertise that even Mal could look upon her and for a moment fool himself into thinking Shen Ling was merely sleeping. Didn't matter that none of the crew had liked her, the woman was dead and their concern for her brother had the residual effect of making them feel more sad than relieved that her life had been ended. More so considering who had ended it.

Chung-li sat at the head of the heavy oak table in the commons area, Shepherd Book placing a mug of hot tea between hands the size of dinner plates. The Chinaman did not look up, his eyes fixed on the table top but not seeing anything. At first everyone moved quietly around him, going to and from the kitchen area to get themselves a drink or something to eat but reluctant to leave him alone. The Captain gave Inara a nod of thanks then sat next to Chung-li, relieved as *diyu* that Simon had declared his friend's injuries had been as superficial as his own. Niska had been playing with them but for once the *liumang* was far from their thoughts. Cuts and abrasions treated, both men were concentrating on a more painfully personal matter. As if the Captain's presence was some kind of signal the crew drifted out of the commons area until they were the only two left in it. It seemed they sat for hours, the silence a cool but undemanding cocoon. The Captain felt no need to talk, content to let Chung-li be silent or speak as he wished. Whatever the man needed that Mal could provide he would have. He just wished he could help in some other way.

After almost an hour the big man stirred, tilting his face to look across at the Captain with a calm and measured eye. Mal almost fancied he could see the tracks where the tears had dried. "We were not close." He said quietly.

Mal took a long slow sip of his cold tea, letting time unwind at the same pace so that his words could ease into the conversation without jolting the man or causing him pain. "It's never easy."

The softly spoken words carried dozens of unspoken ones in their wake. Chung-li nodded slowly. "Even as children we were different."

The Captain was tempted to tease him about the obvious but forebore. It was neither the time nor place. "How so?"

A tiny sigh escaped from the Chinaman's lips. "We had the same mother, different fathers."

Mal did not comment, it explained much.

"My father died young, my mother was lonely a long time. Shen Ling's father was very skilled both in words and his ways." He paused, not putting into words how much he had distrusted the man nor how his own feelings had grown into intense dislike. So much so that he had left to walk his own path. It had been many years later before he heard about the death of his mother. Shen Ling's father having made no attempt to contact him when the fever had taken her. Shen Ling had understood her brother's absence but it had still built a deep resentment within her that reason could not quell. "I tried to mend what was broken between us." Chung-li paused as if the memory pained him. "*Wode suoyou nuli dou baifei le*."

"I'm takin' it that it takes two?"

Chung-li nodded. "*Ta zongshi wo xing wo su*, always the independent one Shen Ling."

"*Wei*! Ain't nothin' wrong with independent folk."

The Chinaman cracked a little smile and Mal's heart was desperately glad to see it. "Different kind of independent, Mal."

"So what you wantin' to do now?"

A heavier sigh this time. It had the sound of someone taking up a heavy load. "I am the last one left."

Mal nodded, took another sip of his tea. Not even tasting it, the action more habit than the need to quench his thirst. The comfort of familiar things, however small, were always the ways in which normalacy crept back into scarred lives. He didn't discount them nor mock their significance. He understood. Was all kinds of scarred his own self. "Whatever you need..."

He did not need to finish the sentence. Chung-li dipped his head slightly.

"How about Glory?"

"My heart would be glad to place her there."

"An' you know Rafe'll give you what land you need wherever you need it."

"Shen Ling never set foot on Glory," Said Chung-li softly. "Too poor and uncultured but even had it been a core world she would never have gone there."

Despite the circumstances Mal felt a twinge of curiosity. "That so?"

Chung-li smiled sadly. Not for himself but for the sister who could never love or allow herself to be loved. "Refused to go anywhere I was."

Shock hit Mal hard though thinking on it he didn't know why. The woman had all kinds of sharp edges. Real smart but without any of the saving graces about caring for other folk. In a way she could have been tailor made for the likes of Adelei Niska. Which brought him to another thought. "How long was she with Niska?" His real question, why, could wait.

The Chinaman gave the Captain a long calm look. It was kind'a like having River peer inwards at his gorram soul but he didn't mind. There was something very special about Chung-li. Mal had felt it the instant he had first met him and that impression had only solified the more he got to know the man. If honour, loyalty and courage had a true face then it was staring back at him now. Chung-li put a hand on Mal's forearm. "Years. How they found each other I'll never know, not sure it would help me sleep if I did know. And I don't even want to guess at the kind of things she did for him."

"Like betrayin' folk to their enemies." Said the Captain very softly.

Mal could see the sorry in Chung-li's eyes. The gentle compassionate face seeming to reach out to him with the man's own calm as if the Captain was the one needed comforting.

"*Bu qu*," Mal shook his head. "I'm the one that needs apologisin'. *Duibuqi*."

"There is no shame in honest words."

"Then *chuxianle uixie xiwang*." It was getting late. The Captain stretched slowly. "Think you can sleep or at least fake it 'til mornin'?"

The big man laughed. The first honest sound of humour to pass his lips. "*Xie xie ni, wode pengyou*. Not only my eyes but my heart has missed you."

The Captain snorted, amused his own self as he got to his feet. "Now don't you go all sentimental on me."

"Truth is truth, Mal, and sad though our next duty will be I know a lot of folk who'll be happy to see you again."

Not quite able to voice his feelings the Captain just nodded then slapped a hand on Chung-li's shoulder. "Bed. Right now, *dong ma*?"

Chung-li grinned up at him then put a huge hand over Mal's, pleased beyond saying that Shen Ling's treachery had not cost this man his life. The big man knew many things about Malcolm Reynolds that the Captain like as not did not realise. Things he saw as clear as other folk saw the physical world around them. And he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had chosen his friend well. Once Mal made sure the Chinaman was bound for the guest bunk he headed for the bridge. Wash was sitting in the pilot's chair, Zoe on his lap, their arms wrapped around each other as natural as could be. Their quiet conversation halted as the Captain stepped on to the bridge. "Wei*, don't let me stop anythin'."


He waved her back down. "I came to ask Wash to lay in a course for Glory. Chung-li wants to bury his sister on the Wellspring Ranch."

"Should I wave Rafe, let him know we're comin'?"

The Captain shook his head at Wash, ten times weary but not sure how much he would be able to sleep. Reckoned once the Shepherd had said his words over the grave would be soon enough. Still, wouldn't hurt to go through the motions. Didn't want his crew to start worrying about him not when they had another little mouth on the way. Speaking of which... "No, we can do that when we're nearer. What about..." Mal waved a hand at Zoe and nodded awkwardly. "You an' the sickness thing?"

Zoe smirked. "I'm pregnant not contagious, sir."

Wash laughed, the Captain pretended to take offence. "Not what I was meanin', I meant with the throwin' up an' all."

Her smirk vanished, "*Fang xin*, I can still shout a warnin' before it hits you." Now he did scowl at her. So gorram unfunny he could shake her only he knew who would win that bout and it wouldn't be him. "Huh, everyone's a gorram clown."

"I'm fine, sir," She added by way of apology. "Still got more'n a month to go."

"A month?" The Captain's voice sounded a mite thin as if a month was equivalent to any minute now. Wash wanted to laugh at the man's expression but managed to contain himself. The Captain could be a very bad man to get on the wrong side of, not that he expected to fall foul of violence what with Zoe being his very own Amazon killing machine.

"Best sleep while you can, Mal." Said Wash sympathetically.

The Captain gave them a short nod and left a mite quicker than he had arrived. Zoe turned in Wash's arms and gave him a wicked smile as he hugged and kissed her.

* * * * *

Inara Serra was stunned. She had been well aware that River had crept into the infirmary and watched with wide solemn eyes as she applied careful make up to the corpse. What had surprised her was River following her back to the shuttle when the Companion went to retire for the night. The Companion turned as River followed her through the door. "River it's late, can't this wait until tommorow?"

River shook her head, her cheeks flushed, eyes a little too bright. "No, time is like sand and even without the timer it soon runs out." For a moment they just stared at each other. "Can you do that for me?"

The Companion blinked. "*Shenme*? Do what, River?"

"Make me beautiful."

Inara did not laugh. Smiling she closed the door and beckoned for River to sit down. Stretching out a hand Inara ran her fingers through the long dark tresses of River's hair. "You're already beautiful, *bao bei*. Though your hair could do with a good brush and it wouldn't hurt to get washed now and again."

The girl's eyes were shining as she looked at the Companion. "I don't want to be a little girl any more."

"But you're not, you're 24..."

River shook her head, interrupting. "He doesn't see me as a woman. I'm all grown up but might as well be invisible!"

"I don't think Simon..."

"Not Simon."

"Then who...?"

Tears rolled slowly down River's face. "I wouldn't have said anything if you had wanted him. I know you love him but love isn't for you. It gets in the way of what you want."

Shocked, Inara stared at her. She knew that River had something of a crush on the Captain but thought that was all it was. It was disconcerting to realise just how wrong she had been. Her lips parted slightly, heartbeat racing as she sought for the right words. "River, I don't..."

"No, no more lies. You love him, he loves you but it won't work. For him it can only be one singer, one song, but you have to have variety. Not be tied to one man no matter how much your heart craves it." River paused, breathless. She took a couple of breaths and calmed down again. "I know what I want unless I'm wrong?"

The words were tentative, a little line of worry creasing the girl's brow. "Wrong?"

"Will you take down your walls and let him in?"

Before Inara answered River knew. Her panic gushed out of her and the one possible error in her calculations vanished. The smile she gifted Inara with was somewhat disconcerting. Briefly Inara pitied Mal. River could be quite a force of nature when her mind was set on something and right now that something was the Captain of Serenity. Then Inara began to see the possibilities and a mischievous glint sparkled in her eyes. "You're right, it would never work between Mal and I. We both know that. We would destroy whatever we had between us and I would rather stay friends." Inara took up her hair brush and began to brush River's hair. "How badly do you want him?"

River's sweet smile belied her words. "So much all my parts ache."

Inara laughed and mentally hugged herself. This was going to be fun. Long into the ship's night the two women plotted and schemed while the object of their machinations tossed and turned in his bunk chasing the elusive promise of a dreamless sleep.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *wode suoyou nuli dou baifei le* = all my efforts were in vain *ta zongshi wo xing wo su* = she always wants her own way *wei* = hey *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *duibuqi* = sorry *xie xie ni* = thank you *chuxianle uixie xiwang* = there appears to be some hope *dong ma* = understand? *wode pengyou* = my friend *shenme* = what *bao bei* = precious/treasure *liumang* = criminal/asshole/bastard/gangster *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)


Monday, October 17, 2005 9:42 AM


Loved the last part, but the Chung-Li/Mal interaction was very deftly handled.

Monday, October 17, 2005 9:39 PM


Been keeping up on your story, nice one so far.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 12:25 AM


Oh that poor Mal! He's helpless, isn't he? Nice to have Inara in on it. Lightened the mood nicely.

Friday, January 12, 2007 6:36 AM


Oh, the sorrow and the sweetness.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

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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.