THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 27. "Dreams of Home"
Sunday, January 25, 2004

"The crew of Serenity decide to trust River in their efforts to find the Captain. With the children rescued the *laoban* will be out for revenge. Yen Mah faces up to the fact that there will be one child who will never go home."



SUMMARY: "The crew of Serenity decide to trust River in their efforts to find the Captain. With the children rescued the *laoban* will be out for revenge. Yen Mah faces up to the fact that there will be one child who will never go home." 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

* * * * *

So weary now. Heart labouring. Breath coming in slow sighing sussurations that barely stirred his cheek in passing. Memories faint auras of things forgotten. Darkness an abiding shadow beckoning onwards. To rest beyond pain. Sleep beyond knowing. Only his obstinate mind clung to fragments almost lost in a sea of agony now dulled in its' constancy, no longer lapping at his shores with the ebb and flow of tides and swells. Calming into a bland stagnant pool of dying senses. It was hard to grasp consciousness. Almost impossible to recall why he must not let go. The murmur of stumbling heartbeats was like a siren song. Images flickered in his mind like fading ghosts. Words without sound carried no meaning to ears that could no longer fathom their purpose to his brain.

He should struggle. Fight on. Only he no longer knew why. His fingers twitched slightly in numb hands. Cool impersonal touches quickly determined that he was no longer capable of reaction. They undid his shirt and offered up the bright point of the needle, injecting directly into the muscle of his heart. Thunder roared through deadened veins. Pain flared like a dragon's breath setting him on fire and teaching him new ways to weep at the gates of oblivion. Bright uneven tempers licked at his determined walls trying to breach the last stronghold blocking them out. They would not be vanquished and would not retreat. Any advantage they could glean from his weakened state they exploited.

A voice shuddered menace in his ear. A shiver of doom rang down his ear canal and bled like poison into his consciousness. They shook him. Slapped him. Upped the dosage then watched as his failing body shook. Not aware enough of their own lack to feel shame or sorrow to thus abuse him as he lay dying. Knowing only that in death he would defeat them. The final victory would be his not theirs. But oh the cost. The terrible unholy cost. He was almost unaware. Almost gone now. The last fashion of his waking soul drifting on its' moorings. Tugging at the tendrils of life to which he had once clung so tenaciously. Then an angel sang to him and his soul wept. Gentle hands reached for him and taught him remembered joys long forgotten. A smile burned him and left him wanting something that had no name. His fingers flexed one last time. His ship of state drifting as a breeze caught the sail. Moorings loosened, the shore growing indistinct. Everything shutting down. At last the pain unable to hurt him. His tormentors had lost the final throw of the die. But oh the price. The terrible awful price. And not one of them with the coin to buy back his soul.

* * * * *

River was frantic. Fear rose in Inara's breast. Her fingers trembled as she finished fixing the short wavy wig. River's long black hair bound and hidden beneath it. The wig was a light brown and changed the aspect of her elfin face. Rounded it somewhat. A judicial use of rouge added colour to her pale cheeks. The slacks and rough homespun shirt and jacket padded her out and masked the tell tale curves of her gender until she looked more boy than girl. Inara smiled at the change. River was fascinated. Staring into the mirror through eyes that did not recognise their maker. Then she felt it again. That feeble tug, less strong than last time. She dropped the mirror not noticing as it shattered into a myriad of pieces. Cried out as if every shard had pierced her soul. Tears sprang from the well of her eyes and she clung to Inara, eyes wide and frightened, her look desperate.

"River, River, what is it?"

She could hardly speak for sorrow. Jumping to her feet she half tugged and half pulled Inara from her shuttle. Simon heard the ruckas and came running. Jayne just a step behind him. They halted at the door as River came rushing out almost barrelling them over. Simon caught her before she could stumble. "*Shenme shi, mei mei*?"

"Hurry, no time, no time. The watch has stopped and we can't rewind it!"

Simon was also dressed in rough homespun clothes, all understated browns. He was almost as nondescript as it was possible to be. Not a thing remarkable about him. "*Ni bu dong*."

"I think you'd better go, Simon. Just hurry." Said Inara.

The doctor looked from his sister's frantic face to Inara's worried one and nodded. "Okay, *mei mei*. Just tell us where to go."

As they raced along the catwalk after her Zoe joined them. Jayne quickly told her what had happened, his look telling her he thought this whole thing was a mistake. You could take the girl out of the crazy but not the crazy out of the girl. Zoe had frowned at him and told him to open the door. Inara watched them go with an anxious look on her face, silent prayers to the merciful Buddha hoping they would find the Captain in time. Preferrably before River did or said something to get them all thrown in an Alliance prison.

It was very late, almost two am, so not many people were about when they disembarked. A fact for which all of them were inordinately grateful. Given River's deteriorating condition Zoe was half minded to heed Jayne and return to the ship. The only thing that prevented her was the sure knowledge that she would never forgive herself if River had been right and they lost the Captain. Simon started to lead the way up but River shook her head and pointed down. He frowned. "But there's nothing down there, River."

"There is. Boxes."

"Yes, the cargo bays. We have to head for the medical facility."

Another more adamant shake of the head this time. "You're not listening."

Zoe took River's hands in her own. "Are you saying the Captain's in the cargo hold?"

River nodded. "Boxes. Crates. Containers. We have to go down."

Zoe's heart missed a beat. She did not like the sound of that but if River said down then down it was. Quickly they hurried down the stairs after the girl's fleeting steps. They went down six flights before they reached the bottom level. As they entered the huge cargo bay everyone took a deep breath in shock. Jayne summoned it up for all of them. "Ruttin' hell, we'll never find the Cap in all this!"

The lower cargo hold was a couple of miles across. Not yards, not feet, not metres, but MILES. For as far as the eye could see huge boxes and crates were stacked one on top of the other. River was not nonplussed, she grabbed Zoe by the hand and tugged. Zoe nodded numbly and had to run to keep up with her. The others followed, River weaving unerringly between the boxes, her feet not missing a step nor pausing for anything. They ran for several minutes when she suddenly stopped. Zoe bumped into her and gave a grunt. River was not looking at her, she was staring at a stack of three large boxes on top of each other. River let go of Zoe's hand and grabbed hold of Jayne. Startled, the big man jumped back and pulled his hand away. "What the *diyu* do ya think you're doin'? Crazy girl."

River glared at him and grabbed for his hand a second time, this time tugging him towards the stack of boxes. "Need you. *He* needs you."

His face paled. Half suspecting who she meant. "Who?"


They looked at each other. Simon took a careful swallow and tried to keep his voice steady. "Are you saying the Captain is in one of these boxes?"

She nodded, her expression anxious. Close to tears now. "Can't breathe, no air. Hurry!"

Zoe looked frantic. "Which box?"

River pointed to the bottom one then tugged at Jayne again. This time he needed no prompting. Quickly he jumped up on another box and pulled Simon then Zoe up beside him. Together they braced themselves then pushed at the top box until it slowly slid off the top and crashed to the ground. For a moment everyone froze and listened, waiting to see if an alarm sounded or guards came running. Silence echoed back at them, even heavier than it had been before if that was possible. They jumped down and worked on the second box, River adding her slight weight to their efforts until with a satisfying clatter it teetered off the bottom box and split open on the floor. Sacks of grain spilled out of it. No one bothered to look, all eyes fastened on the box before them. River was scrabbling with her tiny hands trying to get a handhold. Zoe gently put her hand over the girl's and eased her hands away to let Jayne get access to the crate with his knife.

It took only a few minutes for Binky to work the lid loose then four pairs of hands caught hold of it and yanked it off. A stunned silence fell over them. Zoe was horrified, River crying. Jayne was stunned and so gorram angry he wanted to rip the people responsible apart with his bare hands. Inside the box lay the Captain. He was lying on his back, his hands crossed over his chest, stripped to the waist and covered in bruises, lesions and the unmistakable tracks of needle marks. His face was chalk white and there was no sign of him breathing. Simon choked back a cry and levered himself up on the crate.

"What ya doin'?" Said Jayne.

Simon dropped down into the box and knelt beside the Captain. "Checking for a pulse."

No one spoke while Simon checked. His face paled. "There's no pulse."

Jayne closed his eyes and swore softly. River was rocking herself in grief. Zoe was unable to say anything, tears rolling down her face with a sorrow that was almost more than she could bear. Simon could not look at them. River's head jerked up. "Hurry, breath just gone. Chasing the dragon but he is fleet of foot."

Simon stared up at her. "What was that River?"

She peered over the lip of the crate. "You have to breathe for him, Simon."

He nodded, he was thinking the same thing himself. Carefully he tilted the Captain's head back, noticing some cyanosis already where the lips were turning blue. The flesh cold and slightly clammy yet unless he was mistaken he detected a fleeting warmth. Quickly he inserted a couple of fingers into the Captain's mouth to check for obstructions, making sure his airway was clear. Taking a deep breath he leant forward and exhaled into the Captain's mouth, his right hand sealing his nose shut to make a good seal. Turning his head to the left he glanced at the Captain's chest then counted a couple of seconds before repeating the action. The others were silent, a frozen tableau of anxious faces hardly daring to move. After several minutes and no sign of a response from the Captain, Simon balled his right fist and struck him hard on the chest then laid one palm over the other and began chest compressions.

Zoe heard him counting before breaking off to breathe more air into non responsive lungs. She could not seem to stop crying. So many memories of this man. Times shared, both good and bad. Times when it was just the two of them against an unforgiving 'verse. He meant so many different things to her. Almost from the moment they had first clapped eyes on each other they had become inseparable. When her mother died and her father sold their ship to settle on land it had been to Shadow he had come. The small ranch large enough to eek out a livelihood sufficient for him and his daughter. Then one day she had found him dead out by the barn. Cold and lifeless. Mal had come calling as he did every day. Making sure she was okay without ever putting it into words. He had taken care of things without a murmur. No fuss. No song and dance or big parade. Just a quiet acceptance that had calmed her quicker than anything. His hand in hers both firm and solid, something she could always count on. He had taken her home. His mother made her family. From that day on not nothing in the 'verse would ever part them. Not the Alliance. Not the gorram reavers. Not even a loving husband with no small measure of insecurity over the bond that bound them. Mal was the brother she had never had. The friend she could always rely on. All the family she needed. She could never walk away from him any more than she could cut her heart in two and expect the half she kept to go on beating.

It was hard to watch through her tears but she made herself do it. Thus it was that she was first to see the slow rise and fall of the Captain's chest. Choking off her tears she gripped Simon's shoulder. He pulled back and felt a wave of relief wash through him then the Captain was choking and spluttering as he came round. Quickly Zoe climbed in the box and helped Simon turn the Captain on to his side, her tears of sorrow now of joy. Silent prayers thanking every God that ever was for saving him. She wanted to kiss Simon but made do with a brief hug. He caught the look in her eye and just nodded. Not speaking so as to save her discomfort at the rare show of emotion. It took all of them to get him out of that damn box. Jayne took off his coat to cover him, alarmed and disturbed by how weak and pale he was. Frightened that they had come so gorram close to losing him. Looking at River's happy shining face he decided that she might be crazy but she was his kind of crazy.

* * * * *

"What will you do now?"

The Preacher had a calm look in his eye. "Oh, I know where I'm going. No need to worry about me Sheriff."

The Sheriff's eyes twinkled slightly. "Lookin' for a Firefly class ship I'm thinkin'?"

Shepherd Book turned to look at him, a faint smile on his face that was echoed in his eyes. "A man embarks on a mission, Sheriff, he ought to be prepared to finish it."

That surprised him. He raised his eyebrows, a look of amusement on his face. For a moment he almost forgot how much gorram pain he was in. "You got a mission on Serenity?"

His surprise made the Preacher chuckle. "And what about you, Sheriff? I take it you still have some work to do with regards to the slave ring?"

Sheriff Bowman blinked. Gorrammit the damn wound was killing him. Breathing was becoming a luxury he could ill afford. Talking was not making it any easier. Seeing his difficulty Deputy Crowther eased him into a semi-recumbent position and would not let him speak. He looked anxiously at the Shepherd. "The Sheriff needs a doctor bad."

The Shepherd dropped to his knees and began to ease off the padding to see how bad it was. "I have had some dealings with injured folk. Let me see what I can do."

* * * * *

Wash and Inara were shocked at the state of the Captain when they brought him back but relieved they had found him. Wash noticed how upset Zoe was and wiped her tear stained face with a gentle hand, his eyes full of love and concern. "He'll be alright, *bao bei*. Simon'll fix him up good as new."

She could not speak but turned her head and buried her face in his shoulder. Wash put his arms around her and held her tight, whispering gentle words of love into her ear and giving Simon an anxious look that begged him to give them some good news. Simon looked worried. The Captain was in a bad way and there was no telling exactly what those *tamade hundan* had done to him. They were all crowded into the infirmary. The Captain lying bloodied and silent on the operating table. Inara standing white faced and silent at his side, a cold hand clasped in hers as if she could encourage him to hang on just by her simple presence. River stood with Kaylee, the two girls taking comfort from each other as friends do. Jayne could not see what all the fuss was about. They'd got him back and now Simon would fix him so what was with all the long faces?

"Come on, *xin gan*. What do you say we break atmo and get out of here?" She gave him a watery smile. Simon nodded to her to go ahead and watched the two of them leave then shooed River, Kaylee and Jayne out of the infirmary. That just left him, Inara and the Captain. He considered sending her out as well but it occurred to him that thinking and worrying about the Captain might be just what she needed to take her mind off her own hurts and trauma. "Do you want to stay?" He asked quietly.

Inara did not think she could move unless she was crow barred away from him. She gave the doctor a grateful nod. Simon looked down at the sorry state of his patient and any confidence he had felt began to seep away. Quietly he began the process of cleaning him up and addressing each of his visible wounds in order of seriousness. He set up a drip and worked to get him stabilised then when he had done all he could made the Captain comfortable and covered him to keep him warm. Wearily he raised his head and looked at Inara. She was still holding the Captain's hand. Only one thing on her mind. He gave her a slow smile. "He's going to be alright, Inara. He needs a lot of rest after what his body's been through but I'm not worried about that part."

Her look sharpened. "What is it you're not telling me, Simon?" For a moment he looked down at his patient, trying to find a way to tell her without alarming her anew. "I found what look like needle marks." He looked up and met her eyes then indicated the left and right side of his own temple. "Here and here."

Inara frowned.

"I think they were doing to the Captain what they did to River."

She gasped. All thought of maintaining control vanished. Horror in her eyes turning to pain. He hurried to reassure her, hands reaching out to clasp hers.

"No, no, they didn't cut his brain. Nothing like that."

"You said..."

"I know, I know and I'm sorry. What I meant was... River had injection marks in the same place. I'm not sure what it means yet. We'll know more when he wakes."

Her look said *will he?* Simon smiled gently and gave her hands a squeeze, ignoring the fact that she still had the Captain's right hand clasped in hers.

"He *will* wake, Inara. That I can promise you."

* * * * *

The *laoban* was delighted beyond all expectations. Truth to tell he had never expected Briny and Ricky to find Yen Mah let alone send a wave to the little fleet. It was a small enough detour to go to Latimer. Could almost say it was on the way to Venture. If you took the scenic route. He landed only long enough to let them board then took off to head his group of yachts to fetch the rest of his property. Leaving Bob Crow at the helm he had the brothers take Yen Mah to his quarters. Now all four of them stood in the luxury suite, Yen Mah trying to stay brave and defiant but too close to tears for it to come across as she had hoped.

He grabbed her hair and yanked her head back, the other hand skimming her dirty face and making her tremble with fear. Hating those fingers trailing suggestively across the planes of her face, down her throat and making her wish for death. Anything but this. He was smiling at her and somehow that was the worst insult she could imagine. "You should not have run away, Yen Mah. You belong to me, *dong ma*?"

She wanted to spit, kick out, swear at him, bring every curse imaginable down upon his foul head but words would not come out of a throat that could not function properly. Her breathing too rapid and chaotic to properly fill her lungs as she began to panic big time. His smile grew, enjoying her helplessness and the oh so beautiful satisfaction of the revenge he would take on her for defying him. Of all his little pleasures she was by far the most troublesome. He gave the boys a nod and Ricky and Briny each gripped an arm and held her. Yen Mah could feel the tears running down her face, trying not to look at the *laoban* as his hand brushed down from her neck to her waist then up again. "You know what I do to girls that defy me, don't you?"

Yen Mah could not answer. The *labaon* began to touch her more intimately now, not to despoil her - not just yet - he wanted to watch the fear build. Drive her to utter panic and despair before taking her until her blood washed the floor. It would clense her of her sin and take the edge off his own perverse desires. He paused and savoured the terror trapped in the *nu haizi's* eyes then grabbed the top of her tunic and pulled downward ripping the material off her body. She screamed, he laughed and the two brothers grinned. But the *laoban's* laughter was cut off by something catching his eyes as it fell. Torn from the pocket that had kept it hidden. He let go of her to reach for it, his fingers catching the soft plush velvet pouch just before it could hit the ground. Puzzled he looked up at Yen Mah. She bit back her tears and held her breath.

"What's this?"

A germ of an idea was forming in her head. "A *liwu* not for you. Give it back!"

His eyes glinted. "*Liwu*? You holding out on me, *bao bei*?"

She fell silent. The *laoban* nodded to Ricky and Briny. They pushed Yen Mah down into a chair and waited. The *laoban* opened the pouch, carefully tipping its' contents into the palm of his hand. When he saw what it was he threw back his head and laughed. "What kind of *choulou liwu* is this piece of *goushi*?"

"It not *goushi* it's a map. Not for you."

His laughter cut off abruptly. "A map?"

Yen Mah clamped her mouth shut and turned her head. Angrily the *laoban* grabbed her chin and made her look at him. In his other hand he held up the chain of spheres, the dull silver metal hardly gleaming. "A gift for who?"

"No one you know."

"The name, I want the name!"

"Not know the name."

He let go of her hair, drawing his hand back to hit her. Alarmed she yelled out the only thing she could think of. "I stole it, not mine, not mine, not mine..."

A cruel smile sliced his face in half. His eyes glinting darkly. "Who did you steal it off of?"

She shook her head. "Not know. I saw, heard men talking, stole it, ran. They follow, I run more. Very frightened. They *feng le fafeng*."

"Why would they want such a useless bauble?"

"Not *xianglian*. Made to look like *zhubao*. It really map."

"This is not a map. What kind of *baichi* do you take me for?"

"Is map, look, I show."

Reluctantly the *laoban* drew back a little. Nervously Yen Mah pointed to the necklace. "You see these balls? Not design, all different. Look! Some smaller, some very heavy - see? These planets. Distances from each ball different, like planets. Map."

"What use is a map you can't read?"

Her mouth opened and closed but nothing came out. The *laoban* leaned in very close. His handsome face made ugly by years of cruelty and the pleasure he took in other people's suffering. Suspicion did not enhance his features one bit. "But I'm guessing you know where this goes, *dui*?"

She would not look at him. He grabbed her chin and forced her to look up into his stormy grey eyes. "*Dui*?"

Reluctantly Yen Mah nodded. For a long moment he just stared at her. "Where does this lead? What planet?"

She shook her head. "Not planet. Ship."

He was even more suspicious now. "Ship? What ship?"

"Much treasure. Gold, precious jewels, very ancient artefacts. Many soldiers protect."

"You're lying!"


He shook the necklace at her. "You said these spheres were planets not ships."

Yen Mah nodded. "Necklace lead to place treasure hidden. Bad men get there first. I see. Follow but they get on big ship. Too frightened to follow. Lots and lots of boxes. Many soldiers. Yen Mah run. Hide."

The *laoban* weighed the ugly necklace in his hand while he looked at her. They had a job to do, children to collect. But this. If it was what the girl said it was he could amass a treasure chest the like of which no man had ever seen before. He looked down at the necklace, examined each sphere and noticed - just as Yen Mah had said - that each one was different. *Diyu* in fact they were different weights too, none of them equidistant either. Could the girl be telling the truth? And if she was, was it worth a detour to find out?

"Do you know where I can find this ship?"

Her eyes widened, she shook her head. "Me know, not tell. Too *weixian*."

She was babbling now. Loosing all patience with her the *laoban* drew back his hand and struck her hard across the face. Yen Mah went flying backwards out of the chair. The brothers hastened to pick her up and dump her back in it. Ignoring the blood running down her face the *laoban* held up the necklace and glared at her. "Do you know where the ship is?"

She nodded, not having to feign the fear she was feeling. "*Qu, wo zhidao*. Show not tell."

He stared at her hard for another minute or two then spun round and barked off an order to Briny. "Tell Crow we're changing course. I'll be there in a moment or two."

Briny nodded and hurried to carry out his order. The *laoban* leaned in very close to Yen Mah's face. Worse than seeing him was smelling him. For all his pretty features the ugly just shone through and with it came the stench of the truly sick in mind and body. All the expensive perfumes in the Core worlds could not mask what he was nor the odour of the truly foul that clung to him like an unclean shadow. Others couldn't see it, couldn't smell it, but she could. And worse still she had touched it and feared the taint would soil her until the breath in her body was gone. She hated him. Feared him. "If this is some kind of trick, *nu haizi*, know this. I *will* kill you but slowly long after I have raped you to within an inch of your life, *dong ma*?"

She could not speak. Terror only allowing her to nod incoherently. Satisfied that he had got his message across loud and clear he flicked his tongue out and began to lick the blood off her face, Ricky holding her down so she could not avoid his touch. She felt a hand slide down her chest and closed her eyes knowing only too well what was coming. But it would be a small price to pay to bring him down.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme shi* = what's the matter? *mei mei* = little sister *ni bu dong* = I don't understand *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = precious/treasure *xin gan* = sweetheart *laoban* = boss *dong ma* = understand *liwu* = gift *choulou* = ugly *goushi* = crap *bu* = no *qu* = yes *feng le* = crazy *fafeng* = mad *xianglian* = necklace *zhubao* = jewellery *dui* = correct *bushi* = not so *weixian* = dangerous *wo zhidao* = I know *nu haizi* = girl


Monday, January 26, 2004 9:38 AM


Don't let-up yet. You're ending it so deliciously.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004 3:50 AM


Gripping. Painful. Thrilling.

I wonder, Ali - do you have all the intricacies worked out in advance or do they just come to you as you go along? Whatever, you're so very shiny!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004 9:35 PM


I always have in my head what I want a story to entail and how it will end, the fun part is the scenic route I take to get there. Even shinier when that brings joy to those along for the ride. Thanks for all comments, 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.