Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"There ae times when two heads are more confusing than one."



SUMMARY: "There are times when two heads are more confusing than one." 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

* * * * *

"You need a strategy, River. You have to go slow - be subtle. If you come on too strong he'll run so fast you'll get whiplash."

River smiled softly and for a moment Inara envied her. Had she ever been in love? Or dreamt of it? "I can be patient." The girl in a woman's body assured with a nod as if taking a solemn oath by speaking the words out loud. "I've waited six years."

The Companion's breath caught for a moment. Maybe this would work after all. But if it failed Inara was counting on weeks of highly entertaining amusement at the Captain's expense. Then she saw the frown form on River's face, the happiness momentarily clouding over. A glint of warning sparking in her eyes.

"I don't want to hurt him, *dong ma*? This isn't a game."

And just like that all Inara's notions of petty one upmanship were swept away. No. This wasn't a game. And if she played it like it was not only Mal would pay the price, River would too.

* * * * *

The Captain was confused. Something was different but he couldn't put his finger on it. It was late. Pretty much all his crew had turned in for the night. They were headed for Pacquin following a wave from Badger. Seemed he had something wanting picking up from there and transporting back to Persephone. Fortunately Wash confirmed they had the fuel to cover both trips though they would be flying on fumes thereafter. Kaylee was happy that Serenity was running pretty near the top of her form and Book said the food supplies would easily take them through another four days. They all knew they were on their uppers, the last of the coin pretty near a distant memory now. The big surprise was Jayne not complaining about it. In fact the big man had calmed down so much that for a while Simon had been convinced there was something medically wrong with him.

Chung-li had been philosophical about the delay in getting him to Glory. Meant almost seven days would pass before the Chinaman could bury his sister. Mal did not like the delay but neither could he afford to turn down work that would put coin in their coffers. Couldn't run a boat on goodwill plus the doc needed to replenish the medical supplies, Kaylee needed some more parts for Serenity and all of them were getting more than disenchanted with the dried goods. The thought of fresh fruit and vegetables and mayhap a little real honest to God meat was enough to make any mouth water for the lack of it. Shepherd Book had taken another step after his Big Damn Hero and fashioned a right solid looking coffin. Then, with help from Zoe and Kaylee, had lined it with metal flashing. It had taken a bit of work to make the fit as tight as could be and Inara had insisted on placing some scented stuff she called 'pot pourri' in the coffin before the Shepherd sealed up the lid. Stored in the cargo hold it would help stop the smell of decomposition infiltrating the ship though Mal knew every one of them half imagined the body rotting down every time they looked in that gorram direction.

For now though he was up on the bridge all by his lonesome and relishing the relief of that solitude. The weight of his Captainly duties put aside for the pleasure of letting his mind go free, the black soothing what ailed him from the past as well as the here and now. Everybody had something they wanted from him. Expectations that were no lighter for being unspoken. He carried more than his own hopes into the Black. The Captain did not need to turn his head to see her. Knew the very instant River joined him, standing by his side as if she belonged there. Not that it disturbed him none. As crazy as the girl was he understood her but then he was crazy too. He felt her smile before he turned his head and saw it fashioned on her lips. The quiet happiness radiating off her making a template for a soul he was sorely missing. His heartbeat quickened. What the *diyu* was the matter with him? This was River. The crazy girl. His gorram albatross. Good luck charm. And yet. Though she looked the same as she always did something was different. He frowned slightly and her smile dimmed.

"You're thinking it's me but it's not me."

"Not sure what the gorram I'm thinkin' but that's as near as makes no never mind."

The smile returned, gentler than before. He felt himself relaxing but couldn't take his eyes off her face, still trying to figure what in the 'verse was different about her. "You do somethin' to yourself?"

Her amused look almost made him flush but he didn't look away. Then he noticed, not because she told him or offered a clue but because the turn of her head brought the black cascade of hair swaying across her face like a dark curtain of silk momentarily hiding her from him. Without thinking his hand rose to brush the tresses back so that he could see her face, his fingers lingering as the strands brushed against his fingertips. Her eyes met his. "Inara brushed my hair."

He could see that. Now that he was looking he couldn't look away. Tilting his hand he spread his fingers out and watched in mute fascination how the hair moved, the strands all perfect, clean and shining in vitality. Much like the glow in the gorram girl's eyes. His breath hitched. Girl. Gorrammit, River wasn't no girl, she was a woman. He snatched his hand back as if he'd been burned.

"You're afraid."

"No, it's not that." He mumbled, knowing it was. But not completely. Part of it was the whole going to *diyu* bit. He might have told Book he wasn't talking to God but that didn't mean he no longer believed. It was still all kinds of confusing to him but being brought up to heed the good book and bend his knee at mass he wasn't too fond of throwing all that religiosity out of the window much as he pretended otherwise. He was still angry at God. So gorram mad he wanted to strike out and hurt Him as much as the mainstay of his belief had hurt his own self. But he couldn't do it. Even after the last battle had killed his faith he could not deliver that final blow. Mayhap if he had he wouldn't have been the only one shattered.

"Yes, it is."

How did the girl get so close they were touching and him not aware? The patron on that crappy planet of hillfolk had called her a witch but he had said she was his witch. Is that what this was? Had some spell been cast over him? Or was the crazy rubbing off in ways that would leave no sane way back? "River, we can't be doin' this." He said gently. Not sure what exactly it was he was apologising for but instinctively knowing it had to be his fault. He was the Captain after all.

River tilted her face, the luxuriant strands of hair parting. Her milky white face shining up at him like a full moon. So full of promise, innocence and... Gorrammit! He stepped back, a shudder going through him as if he had been in the hairs of a snipper's rifle and only just dodged the bullet. "What you doin' to me?"

"Nothing. Everything."

He frowned, his confusion deepening. Taking advantage of his distraction she closed the distance again, letting herself lean into the heat of his body without laying hands on him though it was so very hard. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I couldn't sleep."

He blinked. Another glancing blow just missed his heart. "Oh." He knew what it was to have nightmares. To lie awake pretending to sleep when sleep was the last thing his tormented mind could tolerate. Sympathy washed through him. "You havin' nightmares?"

"Not now." She said lightly. It wasn't a lie just not the whole truth.

Her reply relaxed him. What was he so gorram afraid of anyhow? It was River and he had always liked the girl, even in crazy mode there was just something about her. Ever since he'd looked inside that rutting box. Knew in that first instance that some kind of destiny was staring back at him. That protecting her meant protecting her brother made no difference. Wouldn't alter his decision no matter how the boy pushed him. Simon. Another damaged soul only he managed to pour substance into what was left of himself. Able to project all the caring and skill of a surgeon while inwardly he carried wounds that would never heal. Kaylee was a great step back in the being part of humanity stakes and the two of them were shiny together. Hard to equate the confident and honourable young man with his snippy and untrusting former self. Which left his legacy. River. Mal's albatross. Precious to him in ways he couldn't number still less understand.

She frightened him even as she redeemed him. All he knew was what he had known then, he had to protect her. Even if doing so meant he wouldn't survive his own self.

"You won't die." River said softly, a hand reaching up to cradle his cheek. Her eyes locked on to his. So much tenderness and understanding in them that it made his heart ache. Maybe she wasn't the broken one after all. Mayhap it was him.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book did what he could but it wasn't much. Even so, Chung-li was profoundly grateful. "*Xie xie ni,* Shepherd Book."

"*Bu xie*, not that I did much."

The big man sighed.

"Your heart is troubled."

It was not a question but the Chinaman acted as if it was. They had met at breakfast, most of the others not yet up. Book was a little surprised not the see the Captain up and about and hoped it meant the man had actually got some sleep. "*Qu*. I killed my sister, Shepherd, when I should have saved her."

Book nodded. He knew all about burdens. "Then it is as well we will be able to help you lay her to rest."

Chung-li gave him an odd look but did not elaborate. Instead he just nodded, rose smoothly to his feet and made for the cargo hold. Curious, Book followed. When Chung-li began to practise Tai Chi the Shepherd smiled gently and took up a wide paced stance, watched the man for a moment or two then fell into the calming rythym and ritual matching the man step for step. Graceful, elegant lines. Each position and movement named and cherished and held in mind, body and soul until there was no distraction. Nothing to deflect the seeker from the heart of the Tao.

* * * * *

It was kind of funny and kind of disturbing but mostly too damn frightening for either. Wash held the bowl as Zoe threw up, most of the contents missing and dousing him. Not that he could blame Zoe, his hands were shaking so bad the bowl wasn't where it should have been. Panic flared in him and overtook every vestige of common sense he had ever possessed.

Zoe was kneeling on the floor stark naked. They had been sleeping, each curled around the other as if in a human version of a lover's knot. Appropriate but not particularly helpful in a woman eight months pregnant. The sickness had been getting worse and though usually confined to mornings could hit at the most inconvenient times but this was the first time Zoe had brought up blood.

Wash hit the com, not mindful that in his haste it was an all ship broadcast. "Simon, this is Wash! Zoe's throwing up blood!"

The part of Simon Tam's brain that never slept jerked him out of bed before the words penetrated his sleep induced mind. Kaylee moaned and flung out an arm, eyes snapping open when she felt no comforting body lying alongside her. "*Shenme shi*, Simon?"

Simon was hopping on one foot, dressing in a hurry. He paused only long enough to drop a quick kiss on his wife's lips and mumble a quick explanation. "It's Zoe, she's coughing up blood."

Immediately awake, Kaylee sprang out of bed and scrambled for her clothes. Simon was already gone before she found them.

By the time Simon reached Wash and Zoe's bunk the rest of the crew were stirring. Book and Chung-li met him on the catwalk and moved to one side to let him pass, falling in step behind him without a word spoken. Simon flung open the hatch and shinned down the ladder, stopping abruptly at the bottom to prevent ploughing into Zoe as Wash tried to bring her to her feet. It would have been an easy enough feat had she not been fighting him. Seeing Simon, Wash could not hide his relief. "Thank God!"

Simon immediately took in Zoe's state, the blood and vomit making him a little queasy but nothing he couldn't shut his mind off to. Carefully he knelt in front of Zoe, then looked back up to the open hatch. "Book, would you get my bag for me?"

A quick nod and the Shepherd retreated. Chung-li watched from the open hatch, the Captain joining him a minute before the rest of the crew crowded round. He could hear Jayne in the background wanting to know what the good gorram had happened. The murmur of anxious voices floating down from above quietened abruptly and Simon assumed that meant the Captain had told them to shut up. Wash turned an anxious face to the doctor, his heart in his mouth, fear for Zoe followed closely by panic about the baby. Simon had one hand on Zoe's stomach, the other brushing the matted hair from her face as he got his first good look at her. "How long have you been bringing up blood?"

She panted, trying to stay calm for Wash's sake. "This is the first time."

"How many times have you been sick in the last 24 hours?"

Zoe gave him a sharp look but rather than finding it disconcerting it reassured him. Told him that Zoe was in control, even if her stomach was rebelling. "Four times."

"So this now is the fourth time?"

"No, this is the fifth."

He thought about that for a moment then an idea struck him. "Have you done or eaten anything that didn't agree with you?"

Wash turned away from Zoe just long enough to glare at him. "What the good gorram has that got to do with anything? She's coughing up BLOOD!"

As the words left his mouth, Wash stared at his wife in stunned silence for a moment. The last meal playing inside his head. He gaped at Simon. "Oh God, it was something she ate wasn't it?"

"I'm not saying that Wash but it's a possibility. Zoe may be allergic to something in the food. I'm guessing her body - or rather the baby - couldn't tolerate it."

The rattle on the ladder announced the return of Book, the red doctor's bag in his hand.

"So," Said Wash, trying to tamp down his rising panic. "It's just an allergy, *dui*? Nothing to worry about."

Simon couldn't bring himself to lie outright. "It could be an allergic reaction, the vomitting the body's defense mechanism trying to expel something it sees as harmful."

As Simon helped Zoe to her feet, Wash fussed with a dressing gown. Simon still had one hand splayed over Zoe's stomach. Their eyes met as she straightened and he finished his first rudimenatry exam, a painful look of understanding passing between them. Though Simon said nothing he had not once felt the baby kick.

* * * * *

Kaylee was upset. After joining the others and following Zoe and Wash to the infirmary she had waited helpless outside while Simon got Zoe on a bed then began a more thorough exam. Unable to hear what they were saying she was watching Wash's face, reading in his solemn expression all manner of terrible things. A big old tear started to run down her cheek, her head stuffed with childhood prayers muttered over and over again in a litany against anything bad happening. She was hardly aware of the Captain until he put his arm around her shoulders and drew her close. His comforting warmth was all kinds of reassuring but the look on Wash's face made her heart flip over with dread.

"Ssssh, easy now. Simon'll help Zoe, you'll see. Nothin' but a bout of mornin' sickness, right Preacher?"

Book would have liked to agree with the Captain but couldn't bring himself to lie. "Zoe's in the best possible hands."

The Captain frowned at him but Book just gave him a level look. Inara joined them with River in tow, the girl hanging back with eyes round as saucers. Mal spotted her and hoped she wouldn't say anything. As she met his eyes he realised she already knew the worst. Inwardly he cursed and closed his eyes, pain contracting around his heart. Kaylee seemed to sense his distress and looked up, her tear stained face angled up to him, her eyes searching his for an explanation. "Cap'n?"

He swallowed slowly and opened his eyes, trying to nail a weak smile to the flagging ship of optimism he was attempting to keep afloat. "Yeah, what is it little Kaylee?"

"Ain't nothin' bad gonna happen, is it?"

Mal hugged her then brushed the damp hair from her face, putting on his most positive expression. But it didn't travel to his eyes and Kaylee had known her Captain long enough to know what that meant. Before a word could pass his lips she wailed and clung to him, face buried in his shirt as she began to sob. Jayne turned his head away from the glass to frown at her. "What in the nine hells is wrong with her?"

The Captain glared at him but Book took the mercenary aside before things deteriorated into an ugly scene. Inside the infirmary Wash hung his head and let the tears run unchecked down his pale face. Simon felt worse than useless. It did not help that Zoe was so quiet and stoic. Tears, anger even wailing would be preferrable to this. The stony silence lasted a few minutes then she spoke, every word a shard of agony piercing Wash's heart and soul. "I want it out of me."

Shock. Wash stared through his tears at her, his hand squeezing down on hers. "No, *bao bei* you can't...."

Her eyes were hard as diamonds, nailing him with the certainty of her intent. The words came out cold, ugly, twisted by emotions turned from joy to sorrow to a sickly kind of horror. "It's dead, I want it out of me, *dong ma*?"

The pilot could no longer look her in the eyes, his heart quailing in the face of her grief. It was Zoe's body, her decision. Numbly he hung his head and murmured, "Whatever you want, *xin gan*."

Zoe turned to look at Simon. "Do it now, don't care if you cut me from stem to stern, I want it out."

"Um I'll have to give you a general anaesthetic and..."

She leaned back and stared up at the ceiling. Her whole world turned empty and cold, reflected in the flat dead tone of her voice. "Don't wanna know, don't care. Just do it."

Simon hung his head and took a moment to gather his mental reserves. Looking up he turned to face Wash, unable to hide the sympathy in his eyes. It would only take a look and the man would crumble and Simon needed him strong. "Wash, I'm going to operate. Think you're up to staying?"

Fear flooded the pilot's face then he glanced at Zoe and nodded, his expression turning grim but determined. It reminded Simon of when Wash had come back with Zoe from Niska's skyplex, the Captain still being held and tortured by that insane madman. The happy go lucky affable man had shown then that he had a core of steel. That same strength flooded through him now. This was not for him, not even for their dead child. This was for Zoe and he would do anything in the 'verse for her.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *xie xie ni* = thank you *bu shi* = you're welcome *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *dui* = correct *bao bei* = precious/treasure *xin gan* = sweetheart


Wednesday, October 19, 2005 4:00 PM


dang it man! why did you have to go and kill the baby... but good story so far...

Thursday, October 20, 2005 10:07 PM


OMG! Poor Zoe. Poor Wash. Argh. Can't bear it.

Now, as you know, River isn't my preferred choice for Mal (*g*), but the scene between the two of them was very sweet. And I liked Mal's reflection on Simon's unhealed wounds. Especially as the two of them are very similar in that respect - and in the way they try to fix others to the neglect of their own selves.

I loved Kaylee in this - I'm sure she really would be like that, praying in a child-like way.

But the baby dying? Ouch.

Monday, November 20, 2006 7:52 AM


Yep, not a very good reviewer at all, but I had to comment on the beauty of the scene between Mal and River on the bridge. Lovely interaction. Like how incorporate the Albatross nickname into this story. And it's really sad about Zoe loosing her child. Especially her reaction to it. :(

Friday, January 12, 2007 6:41 AM


Ohhhhhh. Beautifully captured agony.

Thursday, November 3, 2011 4:05 PM


OMG.... poor Zoe:((((((!!!


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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.