Wednesday, January 28, 2004

"The Captain wakes and finds out that Yen Mah and the Shepherd are no longer on the ship. The *laoban* takes Yen Mah's bait. River has one more secret to keep."



SUMMARY: "The Captain wakes and finds out that Yen Mah and the Shepherd are no longer on the ship. The *laoban* takes Yen Mah's bait. River has one more secret to keep." 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

* * * * *

It was the weirdest thing but a good weird. Dr Simon Tam could not quite get over the way the crew had settled down as soon as the Captain had been found. It was as if they could not function properly without him. Awake or comatose he was the centre of their little 'verse. Not that the man in question had any idea. He was unconscious and it was a good thing too. He looked down at the Captain's pale face. Blood all cleaned off it, little cuts and wounds already treated and healing. But the echoes of deep trauma still visible even as he slept. Simon was keeping him heavily sedated for now. Wished he could find a facility to do a brain scan but did not dare suggest they go in search of one. Knowing the current disposition of the crew they were likely to think the Captain's life depended on it and head off to the nearest Alliance run facility with no thought of the danger to the rest of them. But that was not being fair, he conceded. As he worked he was silently counting in his head. When he got to a thousand the head peeked through the door. Right on time. He had to hide a smile. It was Kaylee.

"How's Cap'n doin'?"

"About the same as he was last time you looked in."

There was no smile, no light hearted banter back. Simon glanced up and caught the look on her face. "Kaylee? He *is* going to recover, you know that don't you?"

Kaylee nodded, moving closer so she could grip one of the Captain's hands. He knew the two were close. Like family almost. At times they were like father and daughter, at other times brother and sister. Yet always friends, sometimes confidants, occasionally combatants when their wills clashed but those battles never lasted and neither of them ever really lost. It was more posturing and play fighting than the real thing. Now he took a good look at Kaylee, the way she clung to the Captain's hand as if afraid to let go. Hating to see him like this but hating not to see him even more. He understood. Really, he did. And part of him envied them their closeness. An easy cameraderie that came hard to him. Even now after all these months turning strangers into friends. Would they ever become family?

He was interrupted from his reverie by the Captain stirring in his sleep. Kaylee leaned closer, her face open and eager. Needing the reassurance that he really was going to be okay. Didn't matter what Simon said, she wanted to hear it from the Captain's own mouth. He felt a slight stir of amazement. The drugs he had pumped in the man should have kept him out for at least another six hours but even asleep it seemed the Captain was nothing if not stubborn. Or perhaps he simply knew when a member of his crew needed him.

Heavy eyelids slowly lifted, lips moving and a low moan leaking out with no strength behind it. Kaylee beamed down at him, all smiles and sunshine. He blinked. His focus sharpening and making sense of the fuzzy image hovering over him. "Kaylee?"

She was all but bouncing on her feet now with excitement. The tears on her cheeks forgotten in the joy of seeing him wake. "Cap'n, you scared us right an' proper." She scolded with a smile.

Weakly he smiled back. "What happened? Feel like I got hit by..." He broke off and focused on Simon standing close on the other side of his bed. "You drugged me."

Simon wanted to laugh. "And a good morning to you too, Captain."

The Captain frowned. "You're changing the subject, doc."

"You had a nasty few days, Captain. It was the only way I could make sure your body got the rest it needed while I worked."

He thought about that. Kaylee was so excited she could not stay put. Leaning down quickly she kissed his cheek. "What was that for?"

"I love my Cap'n."

Before he could respond she turned and skipped out of the infirmary. Two pairs of eyes watched her go. When he looked back the Captain saw that the doctor was watching him closely. "*Shenme*?"

"She wouldn't believe me you know."

"About what?"

Simon fussed with his drip feed, the blankets, anything but look into those intense blue eyes. "I told her you were going to be alright but..."

"She had to see for herself."

The doctor's hands stilled and he looked up. For a moment neither spoke.

"It's alright, Simon." Said the Captain softly. "I'd'a been the same if our positions were reversed but you ever say a word..."

Simon put his hands up. "My lips are sealed." A smile flitted across the Captain's lips then suddenly the infirmary was invaded. Kaylee had gone to tell the rest of the crew and any chance Simon had of trying to find out from Mal exactly what had been done to him was lost. At least for now. River watched the others bombard the Captain with questions, Zoe looking so relieved then giving the Captain a stern telling off for getting himself almost killed. Wash making jokes but saying with his eyes that he was happy too. Jayne grinned and told the Captain how it had been River who knew just where to find him and how everybody had helped. The Companion was watching with a smile on her lips. The only one silent in a sea of excited voices. Missing nothing. Her silence said more than all their chatter. A dialogue that only Mal seemed to hear. Their eyes met across the babble of voices and for an absurd moment they reminded Simon of parents listening indulgently while the children chattered on. He shook his head to shake the image from his mind. River smiled at him.

As the voices stopped vying with each other for the Captain's attention Mal looked at River. "I hear I have you to thank for my rescue."

Her smile was softer now, a gentle look that said so much more than words ever could. Jayne broke in before she could say anything. "Hey, we were all there! T'weren't just River."

Everybody laughed but the smile on the Captain's face vanished as he looked for a face he could not see. "Where's Yen Mah?"

At a stroke a painful silence fell. The Captain frowned as he realised someone else was missing from this happy little reunion. "An' what happened to the Preacher?"

Zoe cleared her throat, Wash's hand slipping in hers for silent support. "Yen Mah took the spare shuttle. We thought she was going after you."

He looked confused. "After me?"

"Yeah," Said Jayne. "Took that gorram *lese* necklace Harkan gave ya. Seemed to think it would take her to wherever they were takin' ya."

Alarmed, he went to sit up but Simon put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. He glared at Simon but the hand did not move. He sighed, he was so rutting tired. His brief euphoria in tatters as worry flooded back in. "What about the Shepherd? He go with Yen Mah?"

"No," Said Inara softly. "He went with the Sheriff."

That news surprised him. "What? Where they go?"

"They went to rescue the children." Said Wash.

Something in the back of Mal's mind clicked into place. Oh yeah. The children. "Well good, that's good." He paused and looked at the faces of his now subdued crew. "They get 'em?"

Zoe shrugged. "We don't know. Haven't heard a thing since everything went to hell."

"You callin' Serenity hell, Zoe?"

A smile quirked her too-solemn lips. "No sir, wouldn't dream of it."

He frowned in mock severity. "Good, see that you don't."

"Okay everyone, the Captain needs his rest."

Mal wanted to glare at Simon but he didn't have the strength. Gorrammit he hated it when the doc was right. They left with a few words, a pat on his shoulder, or just a look and a smile. As they reached the doorway Jayne paused to pass a comment. "Yeah, Cap'll be back to bossin' us all about in no time."

"I heard that!" Came the grumble from the bed. Eyes closing he could hear their laughter. Sleep dragging on him so hard now that he couldn't keep it away a moment longer. His last thought before he gave in to it was how much he liked the happy sound of his crew. It was the life's blood of his ship. And that meant everything in the 'verse to him.

* * * * *

The *laoban* could not believe it. What the *diyu* were they doing facing a gorram Alliance cruiser? He turned and glared at the battered girl, lips peeling back in a snarl. "Is this what you meant by *ship*?"

Yen Mah was careful not to smile or gloat. It could still go horribly wrong but if she knew Alliance types they wouldn't let a flotilla of luxury yachts go by without inspecting them. Their suspicions would be well and truly aroused as to the nature of such a collection of vessels out here in what the Captain would have firmly called the corner of No and Where. It gave her no little satisfaction to see the *laoban's* face pale significantly when they were hailed.

"Un named vessel, you will identify yourself immediately and prepare to be boarded!"

Swearing all manner of obscenities half under his breath in Chinese, the *laoban* had no choice but to comply. With a dirty look back at the girl he ordered Briny and Ricky to lock her in one of the guest rooms. They were to stay with her and make sure she didn't try to escape but escape was the last thing Yen Mah wanted. She wanted to get caught. Wanted the Alliance *hundan* to find and question her because she had a lot of things to tell him.

* * * * *

Try as he might there was no way Simon could keep the Captain confined to the infirmary once he was fully conscious. Inara smiled to herself at his obstinacy but was reassured by it. A meek and obedient Captain did not sit well on the man she had come to know and respect and develop no small amount of affection for. In exasperation the doctor parted his hands in a helpless gesture. "I hope you know what you're doing, Captain? We still don't know everything they did to you."

He watched the Captain do up his shirt then stand up and pull his pants on. The man studiously ignored Simon's subtle attempt to draw him out about what had happened. The Captain slipped his suspenders up on to his shoulders with satisfaction. It felt good to be up and dressed even if his head did hurt like *diyu*. Crazy thing was he kept hearing River in his head. Not that he would tell the doc that. Didn't want him to go poking around and fill him with all manner of drugs like he did that poor tormented sister of his. He knew the man would be doing so with only the best of intentions but it still amounted to doctoring by trial and error and he was no one's guinea pig. Not now, not ever. Best the doc get used to that fact. It was just the three of them right now and the Captain wanted out before the rest of his crew resumed their incessant rounds of *just poppin' in to see how ya are, Cap'n*. It was starting to drive him more than a little nuts. Inara and Simon shared a brief look of amused understanding behind the Captain's back then schooled their features as he turned back to face them. He looked Simon dead in the eye. "I hear you saved my life, doc. *Xiexie ni*."

"*Bu xie*."

The Captain nodded then turned and left with a brisk step and a murmur about having to go check on his crew. Inara smiled and stayed behind to have a word with Simon.

It was gratifying to see not only relieved expressions on the faces of his crew but also smiles and nods of welcome. Everybody seemed to want to have a few words with him and he obliged, all the while making his unerring way to the bridge. Wash looked up as he stepped through the doorway and looked happy to see him, Zoe starting to get up from her husband's lap then relaxing back into place at a fluttered hand from her Captain. "No need to move, Zoe. Just seein' how things are goin', *dong ma*?" She nodded. A look of concern beginning to settle in her eyes. He shook his head before she could ask.

"I'm fine, Zoe. Better than fine, I'm good. No need to fuss."

"Ain't fussin', Cap'n."

He nodded. "Well, okay."

Wash was grinning and about to make some quip when he was distracted. He looked down at the controls then glanced back up at the Captain. "We're receiving a transmission, Captain."

"We are?"

Zoe got up and the Captain crowded in closer. Wash's eyes widened in surprise. "It's Book!"

A smile lightened the Captain's anxious face. "That you, Shepherd? I heard you went and found yourself another less troublesome flock?"

He could hear the smile of satisfaction in the Preacher's voice. "Yes, Captain. That I surely did."

"An' how did that work out?" The Captain asked cautiously, not sure if it would be good news or not.

"All the lambs are safetly back in the fold, Captain."

A look of joy stole over his face. "They are? Good work, Preacher."

"I had a little help which brings me to why I'm calling."

The Captain frowned. "You got trouble?"

"Not me but the Sheriff was shot you'll recall? The wound hasn't had time to heal and with all this running about saving folk... Captain I won't beat about the bush. He's in a bad way, we could use someone of Simon's skill to take a look at him."

"You got no call to ask, Preacher. Give Wash your co-ordinates an' we'll come pick you up." He paused and spoke again, less certain this time. "I take it you're comin' back your own self or do you got more shepherdin' to do among the fuzzy wuzzies?"

"Oh I'm comin' back Captain, if you'll have me. I got heathens enough pining for me on Serenity."

"Pinin' huh?" The Captain chuckled in spite of himself. "Come back an' be welcome, Preacher. Be good to have you back."

The Captain straightened with a slightly smug expression on his face. He looked happy. With a little nod to Wash and Zoe he turned and walked off the bridge and murmured to himself, "Yep, things're gettin' back to normal." On days like this it felt good to be the Captain. Now all he needed to do once he had the Preacher back safe aboard was find out what in hell had happened to Yen Mah. That thought wiped the happy from his smile and with a troubled look he went to the commons room in search of something not too heavy to eat and a strong cup of tea while he thought things through. He trusted to Zoe to cue in the doc on his incoming patient.

* * * * *

The Commandant glared at the *laoban*. The man's steel grey eyes were dark and determined as they stared back at him. Harkan did not like this. The little armada of rich folks' yachts struck a nerve that set his teeth on edge. The smarmy *hundan* facing him not so much as cowed by the presence of an Alliance cruiser and its' full compliment of elite troops. It irked him and one thing Harkan did not like was *goushi buru* getting under his skin like he was some kind of lowlife himself. The man smelt of money and privilege. His rough workday clothes not fooling him a bit. Even the man's handgun was top of the line right down to the shiny pearl handle.

"What are you doing here?"

The *laoban* did not smile but the haughty smugness oozed out of him anyway. "Going about my lawful business, Commandant. Business which it would be wise of you not to hinder, *dong ma*?"

Fury beat swift and heavy behind the Commandant's brow. He leaned closer to the *laoban*, his anger self evident. Danger sparking in his eyes. "I don't give a gorram how much money you have or who the *diyu* you think you are. What. Are. You. Doing. Here? And where are you going?"

A lazy shrug belied the steel in the other man's eyes. "Going to collect my property."

Harkan's eyebrows rose. "And what property would that be?"

The *laoban* raised his brows, his reply mild but drawing a line in the sand. "Mine."

For several seconds the two men just stared at each other. The mounting tension in the room was quickly broken by a couple of his soldiers coming in dragging Briny, Ricky and a tearful badly bruised young girl. The *laoban* swallowed carefully not wanting Harkan to pick up on his growing unease. He was pretty sure the brothers would keep their worthless mouths shut but the girl? He should have killed her but the temptation to take what he wanted and gloat had been too strong. He did not dare say anything. Yen Mah though had no such reservations. She turned tearful eyes on the Commandant. "*Qing* you save me, bad bad man. He hurt, torture, do terrible things! He slave trade man, very bad."

The Commandant's eyes narrowed. The *laoban* had lost all his bluster now. Harkan saw the man's face pale significantly and hunkered down to speak to the girl. He could see how battered and distressed she was. If what she said was true... "*Nu haizi*, do not be afraid. What happened?"

She moved closer to him, as if for protection. Without thinking Harkan put a hand on her shoulder to steady her. The girl looked into his eyes and told him everything. All about the child slave ring, the abuse and pornography, her rape at his hands, the role the brothers played in selling her to this man then hunting her down when she escaped then joining in the rape and abuse. He felt sick but let her finish. One thing puzzled him even as he had more men brought up to ensure the *laoban* and his men did not try to escape.

"Why here? There are no planets nearby and this is not a trading route."

Yen Mah's spke quickly not giving the *laoban* time to come up with a suitable lie. "He have map. He think he find treasure. Greedy man look for treasure, find perhaps justice?" The questioning lift of her voice as she said the last word did it. Harkan closed the distance between himself and the *laoban*, ready to rip him apart with his bare hands but first there was something he wanted to see. "Map? What map?"

The *laoban* tried to brazen it out. "I don't have any map, the crazy girl's lying."

Harkan's next words snapped out of him like the crack of a whip. "Search him! Strip him if you have to, I want that map found!"

Protests were useless. The look he gave Yen Mah was full of rage and spite and so malignant Harkan moved to stand in front of her. When they found the grey pouch the *laoban* closed his eyes and silently swore at his luck. Harkan's eyes widened, recognising it. Carefully he opened the neck and tipped the contents into the palm of his hand. It was one of a kind, made for a single purpose to his exact specifications. This was the *liwu* he had given to Captain Reynolds to lure him into his trap. But what the *diyu* was it doing in the hands of a child slave trader? Another darker thought troubled his consciousness. "Where are the children?"

What blood the *laoban* had left in his face drained away. "Surely you're not going to believe a lying, dirty *nu haizi*? She's trouble that's what she is. I have papers and no small amount of wealth. You will find I am a perfectly respectable..."

Harkan cut him off in fury, eyes blazing. "You're a gorram CHILD SLAVER! The Alliance does not tolerate your kind of filth so save your words for the Devil. We're going to send you to meet him very soon."

"You can't do that, I'm..."

"Trying my patience." Ground out the Commandant. "The children, where are they?"

It was Yen Mah who spoke up. "Gone, rescued."

The *laoban* turned his head in surprise, almost forgetting the presence of the Commandant. "What are you talking about?" How could the girl know? It was impossible, unless...

She was not listening to the *laoban*, her eyes fastened like limpets on Commandant Harkan. "Parents and lawmen worked together. Found the children and rescued them from Venture. Many had been beaten, raped, some tortured too. He was going to get them, take them away in the yachts to escape the law, keep them from their families. Use his money to buy safe place to hide and take more children. Very bad man."

Harkan nodded solemnly then looked hard at the *laoban*. "It still doesn't explain how you came by this necklace."

The *laoban* realised he had been well and truly set up. He glared at Yen Mah but kept his mouth shut.

"You see," Said Harkan in an almost conversational tone of voice. "I gave this to Malcolm Reynolds, the Captain of a Firefly transport called Serenity." Harkan saw the flicker of recognition on the man's face. "I see you have heard the name before?"

The man said nothing, his jaw clamped shut so tightly it had to be hurting.

"How do you know Reynolds?"

The *laoban* shook his head. "I don't know him."


"We've never met."

Harkan considered him. "But you've heard of him?"

Silence. When it was obvious he was not going to get any more out of the man Harkan had him and the brothers taken to his cruiser. He wanted all three men kept in separate cells. His *friends* were always looking for suitable guinea pigs. It would be only polite to let them see what their methods could extract from these three *wangba dans*. Once they were gone he looked at the Chinese girl, a sharp look of assessment in his eyes. "Now, *nu haiza*. I want your name and your story. *All* of it. Then I want to know your connection to Captain Reynolds."

Her eyebrows rose and he could not read the look in her eyes. Privately he was impressed by her poker face and her determination in dealing with the likes of the odious and slimey *laoban*.

"And don't think to lie to me. I may not have placed this in Reynolds' hand but I had it made for him, *dong ma*? I know he got it so I want to know how that *liumang* got hold of it."

She nodded. The game was up but that was no bad thing provided the right side won. "I gave it to him." If he was surprised by the confession he did not show it. "Why?"

"He was going to kill me. Not quick, but slow. Lot of pain, much rape, much torture. Cruel, bad man. I too weak to fight him but I plenty smart." He half smiled at that but did not interrupt her. "So I trick him. He big man, little brain."

Then Harkan simply could not help himself. He threw back his head and laughed. The Commandant called for his major domo. "I want every yacht impounded." Once the man had left and it was just him and the girl again he gave her a level look. It was time to end the game. "Now, your name and the truth, *dong ma*?"

She grinned at him and held out her hand. "Yen Mah."

He shook it and smiled at her then quickly put his stern face back on as he straightened. It would not do for anyone to think he was going soft.

* * * * *

He found her oddly enough in his bunk. She was sitting cross legged in the chair, her face calm and expectent looking for all the world as if she was expecting him. Which, given what he now knew, was absolutely correct. She watched him silently, large liquid eyes shining with an innocence more potent for the casual knowledge she wielded with such grace and power. But he was not afraid of her. There was an understanding between them that might be creepifying but not in a bad way. He was not sure what it meant but knew the one person who held the answers was River Tam.

"How you do it, *bao bei*?"

The softly spoken words caressed her waiting ear. River tilted her face and watched the Captain watching her. He did not look angry or tense or any of the dozens of up-tight expressions she was used to seeing on his face. "They altered me." She said simply. "Altered you too."

He nodded. Made sense. She watched him kneel in front of her bringing their eyes virtually level. "This mean I'm crazy too?" He asked quietly.

A smiled flashed across her sombre face. A look of affection a fleeting gift she gave him freely. "You were crazy before." She said with a hint of smugness.

"An' now?"

She looked hurt for a moment and he regretted his words but her small hand reached out and touched his cheek. Tinged with sadness then a look came into her eyes that made him feel as if their roles had suddenly reversed. Just for a fraction of a second. A glimpse no more. He saw into her mind. All the pain and sorrow, the loss and confusion. The brilliance and wonder vying with the cruelty of all that had been done to her. It pained him. Made him furious for her, a great need to protect this tender child from harm all wrapped up in his natural captainly duties. "Now you will know my nightmares but also hold my dreams." She explained. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. Not sure how he felt about that. "I ain't crazy." He asserted.

River laughed and took his hand, both gazing at each other for a moment in perfect understanding. "Your secret is safe with me, Captain." She said softly.

Nodding he smiled, leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead. Somehow he knew his secrets would always be safe with her. "You did good, River."

She grinned up at him as he stood, her hand still holding his, allowing him to draw her to her feet with him. "I *am* a genuis."

His smile widened. "That you are. Come on, let's go get you somethin' to eat and feed that brain of yours."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what *lese* = crap *diyu* = hell *laoban* = boss *xiexie ni* = thank you *bu xie* = you're welcome *hundan* = asshole/bastard *dong ma* = understand *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *qing* = please *nu haizi* = girl *liumang* = asshole/bastard/ganster/criminal *liwu* = gift *shuohuangzhe* = liar *wangba dan* = bastard *bao bei* = precious/treasure


Wednesday, January 28, 2004 8:52 PM


^_^ happy ending! I really like it... or is there more? Can't tell.
If it is the end, I want to thank you for a wonderful story. It always brought a smile to my face when I saw that you had posted another chapter.
I'll be sure to check out any new story you start. Keep flying!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004 9:31 PM


Thanks Squee, there is one last part to come. I appreciate every bit of feedback from all those who have troubled to comment. So happy you have enjoyed this outing. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, January 29, 2004 1:43 AM


Marvellous. That was SO good. I love the relationship between Mal and River and ""You were crazy before." She said with a hint of smugness." really made me smile. Beautiful! I'm so glad there's another chapter....And I really hope you've got plans for another story soon (although you must be about as spent as poor Mal by now!)


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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.