TEMPTATION SERIES: 32. "Acceptable Losses"
Sunday, October 30, 2005

"There's a funeral to arrange and Jayne gets suspicious of Milo. River realises that if she wants to have a future with Mal she is going to have to fight for it."



SUMMARY: "There's a funeral to arrange and Jayne gets suspicious of Milo. River realises that if she wants to have a future with Mal she is going to have to fight for it." 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

* * * * *

He found his friend in the cargo hold. The sight of the Chinaman instantly calming the Captain for no good reason he could think of. Chung-li did not have to look up to know who it was. For a good few minutes neither man spoke. The home made coffin a reminder of the matter that lay between them but it was a companionable silence. "You know we got a new passenger?"

Chung-li nodded. Mal watched him for a moment, the man's face so serene it was at odds with the deathwatch vigil he was keeping.

"Missed you at table."

"I was not hungry."

"Have to eat gorrammit."

The big man looked up from the coffin and met the Captain's eyes. "You are troubled, *wode pengyou*." He said softly.

"How did this become about me?" Before Chung-li could answer the Captain rushed on. "Our passenger wants to go to Dresden."

The Chinaman was well aware it was a core planet which meant it would have a heavy Alliance presence. Knew it was part of what was unsettling the Captain. He wondered what the other part was. "Will you take him?"

"Seems like the thing to do." Chung-li did not say anything. Mal felt oddly defensive. "*Shenme*? He paid me already an' ship needs fuel an' such. Ain't like we got payin' jobs linin' up for us, Chung-li."

"Then why are you so ill at ease, Mal? Is this man a danger?"

The Captain thought about it he really did but even his gut instinct was kind'a blurry on the subject. Why the good gorram was he so jumpy? But then he had it. Knew. And the knowing of it was troubling. It had nothing to do with the gorram passenger, the job, or the destination and everything to do with a promise he in no way wanted to keep but couldn't bring himself to break. "We'll be on Glory come mornin'." He deflected.

"There is no rush..."

"No, no." Mal waved off Chung-li's offer to wait until the paying job was done. "Passenger was told up front an' accepted the terms. Ain't no problem, *dong ma*? Just be all kinds of happy when he's off my boat."

It was more than the Captain meant to say but he didn't intend to elaborate. At least not yet. He put a hand on the Chinaman's shoulder. "How about you come have a cup of tea? Maybe we can rustle up somethin' halfway decent for you to break your fast. How that sound?" A slow warm smile bowed Chung-li's lips, the sight of it easing some of the Captain's tension and lightening the heaviness on heart and soul. "Does that mean you wish me to cook, *wode pengyou*?"

The Captain laughed, a good honest sound that rumbled away on a chuckle. "You do that an' I'll have to promote you to *wo zui hao de pengyou* but no, that's not what I meant. Seems to me you need to do some healin' your own self." He nodded to the coffin where Chung-li's sister Shen Ling lay. They needed to move the body soon anyway before the corruption of the corpse inside found its' way through the steel barrier lining the makeshift coffin. Inara had thoughtfully hung cloth pouches of pot pourri around the coffin but you could only mask so much of the smell and death had a sweet sickly odour that stuck in the mouth as well as the nose. Even clung to a body's clothes like woodsmoke if you lingered round dead folk too long. He knew that for a fact. Not all them that died had done so in the war. 'Sides, carrying a dead body on his boat was morbid and creepifyin'. "A wise man once said, *let food be medicine*."

Chung-li nodded then both men walked across the cargo bay to the metal steps and made their way up to the commons area. Milo watched from the catwalk, easing back and out of sight as the men reached the top of the stairs. High up in the metal beams above a small pale face angled across the metal ceiling, River's eyes watching the watcher, her brain dissecting thoughts as alien to her own as another language. But alien or not she knew he was not what he seemed.

* * * * *

Jayne looked across at the Preacher. It was hours later and folk were getting ready to turn in for the night. Milo had joined Simon and Kaylee in a last game of cards but the Captain declined and Chung-li had not been asked. Zoe had dragged Wash off taking the infant and all that baby talk along with them. Something that Jayne found both amusing and a relief to be rid of. Especially as how Kaylee's eyes kept lighting up and fixing on Simon. He might have gotten used to the two of them being together, married and all, but the thought of them having babies together made him shudder. Just something not right about the doc doing that to Kaylee. Like it was all kinds of unnatural.

"*Shenme shi*, Jayne?"

The mercenary shook himself at the Shepherd's query. "Huh?" He then thought of something else as the card game ended and everyone left but him and the Preacher. "What ya think he's got in that trunk?"

The shift in gears made Book blink. "*Shei*?"


"*Wo bu zhidao*, clothes I would expect. *Weishenme*?"

"Huh, too heavy for clothes. I know I had to lift it on board for him."

Book raised an eyebrow. "What do you think is in it?"

"Dunno, don't care so long as it's not another body."

"Jayne, the trunk isn't big enough for that." "Is too," He retorted. "If'n ya cut the bits up real small."

Sometimes the working of Jayne Cobb's mind did not bear thinking about. "I don't think it's a body, Jayne, so stop worrying about it."

"I ain't worried." His frown deepened. "Just curious is all."

The Preacher took his mug to the sink, washed it out then dried his hands. "Well I'm off to my bunk to sleep, suggest you do the same. We'll be on Glory in a few hours."

"Glory." Murmured Jayne sourly, his tone morose. "Won't that be fun. Another gorram body to bury."

Book didn't respond and the mercenary watched him leave before getting up with a huff and lumbering off to his bunk. Once the commons area was empty a slight movement in the corridor outside revealed a figure lingering in shadow. Milo considered the mercenary's words. Well, wasn't that interesting? Providing nobody interfered with his business he would not interfere with theirs but information was a valuable commodity and who knew when the scraps he gleaned from their table would paint a picture worth more than coin? Not that he meant harm to them, he was just being cautious. Didn't hurt to have some knowing up his sleeve in case folk got too nosey. Thoughtfully he made his way on soundless feet to his guest bunk. Only when he had locked his door did he pull out the trunk and spin the combination lock. He eased up the lid and looked down at the messy sprawl of clothing just thrown inside.

Almost reverently, Milo removed the clothes until about halfway down he came across the major content of the trunk. Kneeling he spread his hands and felt for the outer edges then carefully lifted his most prized possession from the trunk. The light in his bunk was subdued, nothing fancy. Enough to see by but not to read fine print. Right now it was sufficient to throw a sparkle of light across the muted lines of the expertly crafted curves. He muttered a soundless litany as he tilted the tarnished metal, sighed, then reached for a soft cleaning cloth. He hummed softly as he worked, determined to win the right to wear it once again. Several hours later it gleamed so bright that the light from a candle would have reflected back and blinded him. Pleased, Milo put it to one side and reached in for the long wooden scabbard, lifting it out with great reverence before kissing the twin dragons engraved and highlighted in gold leaf along the exquisitely lacquered cover, between their great and venerable paws the pearl of wisdom soared bathed in the flames of enlightenment.

Milo was sensible of his duty and vowed to be worthy to bear them again in noble battle. He had come through the fiery trial of his redemption. His terrible injuries witness to the power of the mind to endure over the torment of the body. Soon. Soon he would prove that he had the supreme unadulterated commitment of a true believer. When that day came no power in the 'verse would be able to stop him. But for now his future was on hold. If he succeeded he would no longer be cast out, found wanting. He would rejoin the legions of the elite in carving out a better world. Always there would be sacrifices, he accepted that. Once he was returned to those hallowed ranks others would feel the clensing tip of his blade as he made way for the 'verse to come. Didn't matter a good gorram that he would not live to see it himself. It was a sacrifice he was willing to make.

* * * * *

Tired. Weary beyond the body he could not sleep. Malcolm Reynolds lay awake and stared up at the ceiling of his bunk. He wished he did not feel this way, that the complex tangle of emotions could be folded away and placed where they could never betray him but how could you hide your thoughts from a gorram mind reader? And one who knew the content of his heart better than he did his own self? That the girl was now so manifestly a woman full and grown was no help to salve his conscience for the feelings he could not curb no matter what her brother said. He flung an arm over his eyes but the vision of her washed until her face and hair shone as she paraded in her finery gave lie to the fiction that this was something he could close his eyes to and ignore. Gorrammit, what in the nine hells did Inara think she was doing encouraging River that way? The girl - no woman - was all kinds of fragile and damaged her own self. She needed someone whole and sensible and able to give her all the things he could not. Not that he was advocating some core bred *qingwa cao de liumang* because he wasn't. But this whole 'unable to think of anything but River' was driving him *shenjingbing*.

So wrapped up in his thoughts was he that it took a moment or two before he realised someone had opened his hatch. Propping himself up on his elbows he squinted at the dazzling square of light and prepared to chew out the *chun baichi* disturbing his sleep before he had even gotten any. At least that was the plan until with a squint of the eyes he made out the slim familiar form dancing light as air down his hatchway steps. Gorrammit, talk of the *guai* and she would appear. "River! What the good gorram you doin' in my bunk?"

She sailed on feet that scarce touched the deck. Was he dreaming? Then she was there, smiling gently and tilting her head just so until his breath caught. *Wode ma* he was a dead man. "Sssh, too much talking."

He tried to shoo her away, ward her off, anything but what he wanted most of all. Not no way could they so much as touch, fear inching its' way deep inside at the knowledge that if their lips should meet he would be lost. "We can't be doin' this, River. I made a promise..."

"You were tricked."

The softly spoken words seemed to reach her eyes, he froze spellbound as her hand reached for him. Body all a-tremble with the effort to not react, to not sink into her touch and gather her to him. "This ain't right."

She heard the ache in his voice echo the one in his heart and loved him the more for it. "*Fang xin, wode xinzang*. Love is not a sin."

"Your brother..."

"My brother is a boob."

"He worries about you."

Her fingers touched his lips stilling the flood of words crowding on his tongue to silence whatever folly of apologies he would unleash. Mentally he groaned, her touch so innocent setting him on fire. This was bad, he was bad. Almost he could feel the flicker of the Shepherd's Special Hell coming to claim his soul. Then River's lips rose to meet his, trapping the words inside and taking away his breath in one fell swoop. She was gentle, invasive and tender and it was glorious. A groan leaked out but she swallowed it down, her small but amazingly insistent hands pushing him down, her tresses framing his shocked expression as she straddled him, only the thin worn woollen blanket between her presence and his desire.


"Hush, *ai ren*. I mean to have you."

His eyes widened. "Um, don't think that's such a good idea, *xin gan*...."

Sweetheart! Mal had called her sweetheart. River's heart soared, her eyes glowed. He caught the look in them and felt his resolve weakening. *Diyu* he was lost. From somewhere a fragment of self control flashed through him just as River tugged the blanket off him. He gasped and caught her arms in his hands, teeth gritted with effort as he sat bolt upright taking her with him. "River, you don't know how hard this is but we can't be makin' out like kids rollin' around in the hay , *dong ma*? I ain't any kind of man to get tied up with. You deserve someone better, someone who'll treat you right. I ain't him."

Her eyes moistened but there was strength in them too. "I don't want anyone else, Mal, and Simon is wrong."

"About you yes, me - no. Reckon he's got the right of it."

The threat of tears became reality. She wailed, a soft tragic sound that tore at his heart and made him feel all kinds of a heel. "River," He begged softly. "This is hard enough an' I don't got it in me to hurt you but you keep pressin' an' that's what I'll have to do."

"How can you do this? How can you break my heart?"

"Darlin' that ain't what I want an' you know it but this can't be happenin'."

Next came the tears. Not bitter streams of hurt accusations as he might have expected but the heart-torn excess of sorrow so poignant it was drowning them both. Taking a chance he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, rocking and soothing her with his voice and the reassurance that he did have feelings for her but it wasn't right for him to take advantage and act on them. He begged her to understand, to forgive him for causing her pain. After a few minutes River eased back in his arms and he let her, a world of sorry in his eyes. She saw him through a glassy shimmer of tears and a smile trembled on her lips. She loved him, had waited for him for so long and now Simon was going to spoil it all. Take her chance of happiness away in the mistaken belief he knew what was best for her. Mal was noble, a gentleman, no matter how much he might try to deny the words the fact was part of who he was. Why he got himself and his crew into such dire situations.

Gently she touched his face, her fingers outlining every feature, her eyes memorising him. When he would speak she hushed him with a look. At last she was controlled enough to risk words. "I've waited so long, Mal, I can wait a little longer."

He wanted to cry. His beautiful, gentle River. So trusting, so faithful, so much more worthy than he was. "River, some day you'll meet the man you were destined to love..."

She cut him off with a watery smile that shattered his heart with aching for her. "Already have." River placed her small hand over his heart. She could feel the warmth of him, the steady deep rythym of the heartbeat that synchronised the rise and fall of her own as surely as the night followed day. "I will love you forever, *ai ren*. Whether you send me away or I go willingly. You can't shut me out forever, Mal."

The Captain blinked, stunned and heart sore. "It's not that I want to, *xin gan*, but it's what I gotta do."

It felt strange to see how calmly she accepted his ruling, not pushing him beyond the point where he could not resist and still be a man. Knowing it would hurt him and she would not do that for anything. She knew the sticking point wasn't him and it wasn't her. Even as River bent to drop a last gentle kiss on his parted lips a plan was forming in her mind. "I'll leave but only because you asked me to and I know you mean well."

"*Xie xie ni*, River."

She shook her head. "Don't thank me, Mal. My brother may have won the battle but he can't win the war."


A smile dazzled and confused him. She hugged him this time then pulled back and dropped a playful kiss over his heart. Pausing she became serious once more. "Won't give you up, *ai ren, dong ma*?"

In a daze he just stared at her. This incredible, beautiful, sexy and courageous young woman wanted him. Was prepared to wait, to fight, to do anything to win him. Not that he was struggling exactly on that account. No, his problem was with the whole right and wrong of it, the notion that anything they had between them would be sullied by his fingerprints on her soul. River shook her head and kissed him again, this time coaxing him to return the gift. The sigh from his heart touched her own and made her smile. She had been right. The Captain loved her too.

"Go to sleep, Mal. Tommorow is another day."

"It is?"

River smiled at his expression. His hair was touselled and she thought he looked adorable with that confused and concerned expression on his face. He might try to hide it from her but she knew the measure of his heart, the depth of his love and the future they could have if they were willing to fight for it. She was no dummy and he was no coward. If Simon Tam thought this was the end of her feelings for the Captain he was an even bigger boob that she had taken him for. Because River hadn't even begun to fight. And she was a genius after all.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wode pengyou* = my friend *shenme* = what? *dong ma* = understand? *wo zui hao de pengyou* = my best friend *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *shei* = who? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *weishenme* = why? *qingwa cao de liumang* = frog humping sumbitch *shenjingbing* = crazy *chun* = stupid *baichi* = idiot *guai* = devil/ghost *diyu* = hell *wode ma* = mother of God *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wode xinzang* = my heart *ai ren*/*xin gan* = sweetheart *xie xie ni* = thank you


Sunday, October 30, 2005 7:21 PM


Three cheers for River. But what is she ignoring while she deals with Mal and Simon?

Wednesday, November 9, 2005 1:11 AM


Ah, such sweetness. Really lovely scene between Mal and River.

Meanwhile Milo is beginnin' to damage my calm.


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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.