GENIUS SERIES: 19. "Demons"
Sunday, February 26, 2006

"River tries to warn the crew without giving too much away. Her circumspection does nothing for their peace of mind."


TITLE: "DEMONS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: No specific pairing. STATUS: SEQUEL to "PURSUIT" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE:

SUMMARY: "River tries to warn the crew without giving too much away. Her circumspection does nothing for their peace of mind." 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

* * * * *

Kaylee was not sure how to categorise River's mood. The girl had been more silent than normal ever since the cargo had been opened. It had troubled the mechanic more than a little. They were in the lounge area just off from the commons room. River sat on the settee with her legs folded under her and hunched up as if trying to make herself as small as possible. The notion was painful to Kaylee. She passed Jayne sitting at the big oak table cleaning his knife before going on to the lounge. He glanced at her but said nothing. Kaylee did not speak until she took a seat next to her friend.

"You're worried."

Kaylee stared at River for a moment. It always nonplussed her when River spoke out of the blue, echoing her own thoughts in that uncanny way she had. "*Qu*. Not sure what to make of the new folk if you wanna know the truth."

River nodded. "Everybody fears what they don't understand."

"Do you fear them, River?"

She shook her head. "*Bu qu, wo dong*. Everything has a purpose, some more than others."

"What does that mean?"

"It means we should trust the Captain."

If possible, Kaylee's eyes widened even more and they were pretty much stretched round as saucers to start with. It made her look like a cat after someone had stepped on its' tail. Someone the size and weight of Jayne. "River, you're scarin' me."

River leaned forward. "Fear is the enemy not people."

"Then we can trust them?"

It took a moment of thought for River to reply. Kaylee was unaccountably disturbed by the lengthening pauses between her answers. "Not for us to trust just follow. Everyone always thinks the piper leads but he doesn't."

Kaylee was really confused now. "The piper?"

"Of Hamlyn. That's why he plays the pipe, not to lead but accompany. Our job now."

Before Kaylee could figure out how to respond Jayne stepped through from the commons room. "Figures we'd need the doc the moment he's gone. Crazy girl's makin' even less sense than usual."

As if to prove a point River stuck her tongue out at the mercenary. "Like you'd know. A man who names his weapons and cherishes them because he can't relate to people."

"*Wei*, I can relate."

A little smile flirted with River's lips. "Smarter than you look but still two shades short of a lightbulb."

The mercenary screwed his face up and scowled at her, trying to work out whether that was a compliment or an insult. "Don't hurt yourself."


The sound of someone stomping into the commons room brought River to her feet, Kaylee following automatically as if they were connected on a length of string. Jayne had already left the lounge and gone back to the table just as Zoe reached the middle of the room. They could fair see the agitation flowing off her. Kaylee felt her breath catch, *wode ma* what had happened now? "Zoe?"

Zoe stood with her hands on her hips, anger and control vying for dominance. "I can't decide whether to put them out of an airlock or leave them be."

"When in doubt," Said River softly. "Think once, think twice, and keep both eyes open."

Zoe stared at her. "An' then space them?"

"No. By then you'll know what to do."

Exasperated, Zoe was about to say something sharp to show how totally unamused she was when the Captain sauntered into the room. A happy smile was slopped over his face and there was laughter and content in his eyes. Zoe looked more than a mite surprised not only by how relaxed and happy he was but by the fact that although he had his pants on, his shirt hung open and his suspenders were not pulled up. He smiled at them, doing up the buttons on his shirt as he headed for the stove. River noted it was the red one. Good choice, it would hide the blood.

"Sir, are you alright?"

Mal grinned at his second in command and tucked his shirt in his pants, sliding his suspenders over his shoulders before reaching for the coffee pot. "Shiny, why so glum? Somebody die an' I not know it?"

"No, sir."

"Then what?"

"You're smilin', sir."

The Captain laughed lightly. Such a bright happy sound that three pairs of eyes stared at him. He gave them a look of mock surprise. "*Shenme*? Can't a man be happy, Zoe?"

As Mal grabbed a couple of mugs Inara swept into the room, a smug look on her face. Immaculate and poised she managed to look sedately debauched. Something Zoe was not sure anyone else in the 'verse could have pulled off. Well. That explained the Captain's very shiny mood but it didn't solve her problems of trust. As Mal handed the Companion a mug of coffee, Inara dropped a kiss on his cheek as casually as if they were this at ease with each other every day. Kaylee thought it was sweet, her smile so wide it was like to split her head in half.

"*Xie xie ni*."

"*Bu xie*." Murmured the Captain with a softer smile just for Inara.

"Can ya stop bein' so gorram polite?" Jayne growled. "That an' the wall to wall smilin' is makin' me wanna shoot someone. Keep it up an' it might be the two of you."

"Now Jayne, no need to be so ornery."

"*Diyu*, Cap we're supposed to be workin'."

The Captain raised his eyebrows, amused. Kaylee chuckled. River just looked at the Captain, an unreadable look on her face. Zoe looked like she might be siding with Jayne. Mal decided to cut his crew some slack. "River, how long 'til we reach Greenleaf?"

"Seven hours and fourteen minutes but we won't land."

All the happy vanished off the Captain's face. Inara frowned slightly but otherwise kept her composure.

"Why's that little albatross?"

Zoe thought River looked sad. Something else in the girl's eyes that she could not fathom.

"The journey's more important than the destination, Captain."

A tentative smile rewarded her words. "You channelin' the Shepherd now? 'Cause I have to say this destination carries a payin' job."

"*Mei shi*."

The Captain took a seat and the others settled round the table even though it was not meal time. "*Weishenme bu*?"

River tilted her head, a faraway look clouding her eyes. It made the Captain want to reach out and hug her. Her eyes sharpened back into focus, bright and intent as if looking right into Mal's gorram brain. "A good man however flawed is still a good man."

He blinked. "Flawed?"

"Good?" Queried Jayne at the same time.

The Captain and Jayne stared at each other. Inara was watching River closely, not liking the way she seemed to be getting more and more on edge. It was subtle but the one thing Inara could read as easy as taking a breath was body language. "River, what's wrong?"

"Something that was lost returns. Something that is found is broken. Pieces make patterns that do not rhyme. No one to lead the children home."

Jayne frowned. "You sayin' we're in danger?"

Something in Zoe's brain clicked. Remembering something Kaylee had quoted River saying earlier. "I thought the piper didn't lead but accompany?"

A smile flashed across River's face but as soon as it was gone it just highlighted how unnaturally solemn she had been of late. "You understand but you don't comprehend."

"As entertainin' as this surely is?" Said the Captain in a bid to stop the confusing bits of conversation from making his head spin. "I'm thinkin' we need to wave our contact on Greenleaf an'..."

River froze and the Captain stopped talking, all his attention now on her face. "No need, prepare to be met half way."

Zoe rested her hand on the butt of her gun. "How does the contact know we're here?" When River did not reply, Zoe turned to the Captain. "Sir?"

He shook himself out of a moment of distraction. "He don't. Wally Benton knows only to wait for our wave then meet us at the drop point. He's got a gorram ton of agricultural parts for shipment to Beaudiclaire. Not nothin' to get even the gorram Alliance excited."

"Not the contact." Said River. "We should get ready. Joy and pain but the pain will need stitches."

"Not likin' the sound of that. Mayhap we should just change course an' take a more roundabout route..."

River fixed Mal with a firm look. "Won't matter. Zig or zag, still get caught."

Jayne spat. "Alliance!"

Zoe was watching River closely and slowly shook her head. "Don't think so, Jayne."

"Who is it, River?" Asked Inara softly. Kaylee held her breath as they all waited for the answer.

"A sheep in wolf's clothing." River paused as if considering something. She shook her head sadly. "Lie with wolves and you start to act like them, even think like they do, but you can't grow fangs."

When it was obvious River had said all she was going to say the Captain straightened, his coffee untouched, his mood as dark as the black outside the ship's hull. All kinds of unsettled and unhappy. River had been so much better of late that his heart had lifted with the hope that it would last but now his mood plunged at the notion that the improvement had maybe been just a flash in the pan. Made him all kinds of annoyed at Simon. Boy should have stayed, faced his demons and stuck by his sister. Not that being in the pay of the enemy would have given that option the prospect of a happy outcome anyway. He sighed. Why couldn't things ever go smooth?

* * * * *

Robert Paxton felt oddly light headed, skin clammy, memory hazy. He blinked and began to straighten when he realised where he was. How in the nine hells had he come to be passed out in a gorram toilet? Too stunned for a moment to be panicked he tried to piece together the recent past, his hands dropping then freezing when instead of rough serge his fingertips slid across genuine silk. Mouth dropping open he looked down at what he was wearing, fingering with awe the shiny waistcoat and the cut of the clothes that were many levels of pay higher than anything he could afford.

He stayed in the cubicle for another ten minutes or so, just trying to make sense of a life with one too many blanks in it. He was so lost in his thoughts he did not hear the door to the ablutions open nor take note of the heavy steps slowly crossing the floor until they stopped outside his cubicle. Some sixth sense sharpened his attention, eyes wide, breathing shallow. He considered lifting his feet off the floor in case anyone looked under the gap at the bottom of the door. Feeling faintly childish he resisted the urge just before the door was kicked open, smacking him in the nose.

Stunned, his body shook and rocked as a hail of bullets riddled his shiny vest. Eyes stuck on open, he was barely able to take in what was happening before his body shut down completely. Rough hands searched his pockets then the door was pulled shut as Robert Paxton's body slumped in a dead weight behind it, the men responsible pausing to wash their hands at the sinks, each ensuring the other was tidy and presentable. The two exited the toilets and joined a third man waiting outside then all three headed out of the front door. Their steps leisurely until they were out of sight of the main concourse. One of them touched a hidden earpiece and murmured a coded phrase. On the other end of the transmission Gabriel Tam sat back in his expensive leather armchair and linked his hands together in satisfaction. Finally, something was going right. He had been instrumental in creating the child that became Simon Tam. It was only fitting that what he had caused to be made he could also have torn assunder. No one but no one crossed Gabriel Tam.

Turning his chair in a slow thoughtful arc, Gabriel set his sights on a new target, a slow disingenuous smile oiling its' way across his face.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds was not sure what he had been expecting. Kaylee did everything she could to make sure Serenity was in tip-top condition for whatever the Captain might call on her to do but her hands were sweaty and shaky, her heart in her mouth imagining what the Alliance could do to them. Or more accurately, what they would do to River. River. Kaylee blinked and forgot her own fear for a moment, worry and alarm for her friend uppermost in her mind. Yet the girl looked composed, perhaps overly so. What did it mean? Why wasn't River in hiding? And why hadn't the Captain insisted on it?

But no one was moving. It was as if the 'verse around her and everything in it had been reduced to slow motion. Seconds passing and filling hours, minutes covering days, hours describing lifetimes. It unnerved her yet trapped in its' langorous elongated journey through the stretched fabric of consciousness she was powerless to panic. Panic took a quickening of the heart not the slow interminable grind of barely moving limbs and thoughts. A loud jarring noise blared and warped around her eardrums but made no sense, the sound as distorted as her senses until with an almost audible pop everything rushed at normal speed and she realised the noise was the proximity alert. Kaylee blinked and gulped for breath, hardly noticing the fluid grace of River Tam as she all but floated passed her and into the pilot's seat. The Captain was leaning on the console staring out at a looming vessel. Not one of them recognised its' configuration.

"What in the nine hells is that?"

River barely blinked. "Destiny."

The Captain tore his eyes away from it long enough to glance at his young pilot. "Destiny?"

She nodded.

"Kaylee, see if Serenity can help us with a burst of speed, I'm thinkin'..."

"Won't help. You can't outrun destiny, Captain." River intoned.

No one moved. Frozen in the moment, waiting for the ruin of their lives to crash around them with all the weight of a crazy girl's vision. "Why not, little albatross? I'm needin' you to be coherent now, *dong ma*? Not got time for riddles."

"More puzzle than riddle but the solution is near."

Zoe was frowning, annoyed that River was playing games with their lives instead of saying it as it was. Plain enough for even Jayne to understand her meaning. River looked at the first mate. "You don't undertand because destiny does not give answers only destinations."

Inara looked at the girl for a moment or two then glanced at the Captain but he was not looking her way, all his focus on a damaged girl trying to keep them from being broken. "An' what destination would that be, River?"

"Parts that fit together. Understanding dawning so painfully it can only be truth."

Jayne Cobb wanted to shake the girl and yell at the Captain until the man's ears bled. "Yeah, well unless we wanna be itty bitty parts of nothin' we gotta get outta here!"

The Captain ignored him. No time to pay each of his crew their due. They had maybe minutes at best, more like seconds, before reality came crashing in bringing this particular adventure to a premature end. "River, what is that ship an' who's on it?"

The girl's hands moved quickly over the console, doing something the Captain could not follow, before coming to rest in her lap. Turning to him, she gave Mal her full attention. "Do not be afraid." She looked at the rest of them. "*Jide*, shock is natural. Don't let yourselves react before you hear him out even though he deserves the worst you have to give him. Growing up is hard and all his stepping stones have been lies."

Kaylee was about to ask what she meant when the ship shuddered with the metallic clank and shudder that could only mean another ship was docking. The Captain closed his eyes and swore. "*Wode ma*!" He was hardly aware of Inara slipping her hand into his until she gave a squeeze. Mal squeezed back, eyes opening, resolve setting into place. "Okay, best we do what little we can. Kaylee and Jayne you take shuttle one. Inara - you, Zoe and River take shuttle two..."

He was interrupted by River. "Too late, Captain."

Malcolm Reynolds drew his gun the exact same moment as Zoe did, Jayne thumbing the safety off his gun and wishing there was time to get Vera. Swifly the Captain left Inara, a short heated glance full of so many emotions she was left reeling unravelling them all in his wake. Zoe almost glued to the Captain's side with Jayne no more than a step behind them. Kaylee wrung her hands and let Inara wrap an arm around her. Incongruously, River remained seated. Her solemn distant expression folding into a smile. First sad then hopeful. It wasn't until the shouting started that they remembered what had momentarily been forgotten. Their five passengers must have reached the airlock first.

* * * * *

Betheda was silent. Her eyes watching, taking everything in, her brain running a riot of possibilities through a mind trained and schooled in obedience. She served but did not always obey. Regan Tam was not the easiest of people to serve and the woman's elevated status simply made her more dangerous. Some people got complacent as they climbed the ladder of success but not Regan. Her ambition was beyond what could be seen or touched. Why rely on five senses when you activate them all?

"Ma'am, the Director is waiting."

Councillor Tam took her time responding, a tiny pathetic little gesture of power that gave her some small measure of satisfaction. She knew it would irk Betheda and that was enough to placate her thoughts with a smile. Even though the Alliance vessel had failed to catch Serenity and return her property to her she could hardly go running to the Council for aid. If they knew what she had been planning her life would be forfeit in ways that would make the Spanish Inquisition from the past of Earth-That-Was seem like a comedy sketch. No. The left and right hands operated best when they passed first through an interpreter. Better to manipulate and control the information that passed from one to the other.

* * * * *

The Captain skidded to a stunned halt, gun forgotten in his hand. Zoe wasn't sure whether to laugh, cry or open fire. Jayne cocked his gun bringing Mal out of his reverie. "Jayne, let's not do nothin' hasty."

Jayne glared, not turning to face the Captain but the anger and annoyance aimed at him all the same. "Said we should'a spaced 'em."

Mal carefully and slowly reholstered his weapon. Zoe watched but did not copy him. She trusted her Captain and friend but others? Not so much. The scene before them was not one they could have imagined in their wildest dreams.

Thadius Clay was kneeling on the deck just a few feet from the airlock. On the floor lay Simon Tam, immobilised not only by the strong hand wrapped around his throat but by five minds forming a ring of steel around his own closed off thoughts. Their strength alarmed him. Instead of struggling or kicking out, he reserved all his energy for maintaining his own mental shields. One slip of concentration and these readers would be in his mind before he could blink. As Mal stepped forward, Ruben made way for him.

"What's goin' on, Simon?"

Serenity's former doctor and fugitive from Alliance custody stared up at him and waited. Thadius sent a tendril of query into the Captain's mind, his intrusion gentle, careful and could it be respectful? That shocked Simon but he kept his emotions in check, relieved when the pressure on his throat lessened enough to allow him to respond. "Captain? I owe you an apology."

Funny, it didn't sound awfully apologetic to Mal. More like something being read off a cue card than a heartfelt emotion but he let that pass for now. The rising and setting of his gorram days did not rest on Simon Tam's good opinion of him. "Who you bring with you?"

If Simon was surprised at the question he did not show it. At a nudge from the Captain's mind, Thadius took his hand away and allowed Simon to sit up. Simon took care to hide how much that shook him. The Captain was controlling these mental Neanderthals? How was that even possible? This was not good. It made his plan even shakier but his resolve did not weaken, nor would it do so until he had been reunited with his sister. Everything else in the 'verse was negotiable including the casualties of whoever got in his way. "No one, I am quite alone."

Malcolm Reynolds raised his eyebrows and gave a tiny flick of his right hand. Zoe holstered her gun. Jayne was not so trusting but Mal knew he would not fire unless Simon did something monumentally stupid which given his past was possible but in present circumstances highly unlikely. "What you doin' here, Simon? You made it abundantly clear what you thought of us, this ship an' the life we were leadin'."

"I've come for my sister."

"River ain't a piece of luggage for you to pick up or discard, Simon. She's a person, has her own mind too not that I think you're likin' that part."

Simon gritted his teeth, the irritation he often felt at Serenity's Captain rising only too easily to the surface and making him want to lash out. Thadius moved to partially block access to the Captain with Ruben, Michael, Carl and Helen keeping their places around Simon in a loose circle. For a moment puzzlement flickered on Simon Tam's face. "I just want to ask her for myself."

"*Weishenme*?" Asked Zoe. "Wasn't once enough?"

"Circumstances change."

The Captain's eyes narrowed. "I don't trust you, Simon, best we get that out in the open, *dong ma*? An' much as I may sympathise with what happened to you an' River, the kind'a life you had thrust upon you, it don't mean I wanna risk me an' mine to your loose description of loyalty."

"What are you saying, Captain?"

"I'm sayin' I'm all kinds of suspicious an' puttin' you on notice. River's part of my crew an' I ain't gonna allow you to force her to do anythin' she don't wanna. Won't let you hurt her neither."

"Captain - Mal - " The Captain's look sharpened at the familiarity that sounded so awkward on Simons' tongue. "I haven't come to cause any trouble."

"An' if River still don't wanna go with you, what then?"

For a moment he considered his options then realised none of them would work. With five readers on the ship - not counting his sister - Simon was more than outmatched. He was not sure what to do or how best to handle this. Before he could speak, Thadius glanced back at the Captain.

"What you wanna do with him, Cap'n?"

Again, Simon heard respect in the man's voice and wondered at it. Oddly enough it made him feel bitter. Or was it jealous?

"Much as he's an annoyafyin' sumbitch he's River's brother. Also a shiny doctor when he ain't bein' *dai ruo mu ji*. Let him up. We'll let River decide."

Thadius stepped back to make a gap big enough for Simon to pass through. Feeling somewhat unnerved Simon walked passed Thadius then the Captain, Zoe and Jayne flanking him as he began to walk towards the bridge. Mal hung back and looked into Thadius Clay's eyes. *You done good but have to say you still unnerve my crew*.

The man smiled. His light flyaway hair picking up some miniscule flow of air from the life support system, the fine strands stirring as he moved his head. He had a clean unshaven face with light brown eyes that held a flicker of green in them. Depending on the light they seemed to change colours. Like a chamelon changing its' gorram coat. Mal wondered if that was a clue. Thadius wanted to laugh at the thought running through the Captain's mind but did not want him to think he was being mocked. "We have kept ourselves to ourselves as much as possible."

Mal nodded, feeling unhappy that such a thing was even necessary. He trusted these people, why couldn't his crew do the same? Thadius moved beside him.

"Give them time, Mal." He said softly.

The Captain nodded, wanted them to come with him not hide themselves away any more. Knowing his mind they fell into step alongside him and for the first time since forming his friendship with Zoe the Captain felt he was among people he could rely on. Who understood him without him having to spell everything out. In some indefinable way it made up for many of the things he had lost along with his innocence. The crew of Serenity was his family and these people were quickly becoming pieces of his soul. He hoped that the advent of Simon Tam's return wouldn't ruin everything.

Thadius could have warned the Captain but didn't want to hurt him. Silently he touched the minds of his friends, all five of them united in one simple accord. They do would everything in their power to minimalise the effects of what would follow. Many people kept their ugliness hidden away on the inside while showing the 'verse a goodly face, the better to curry favour and get what they wanted. The Captain didn't do that, he was as he was and saw no need to hide it. It didn't make him as many friends but those he had were lifelong. They were the ones who saw beyond the hard assed facade of Malcolm Reynolds to the warm caring man buried deep beneath where his loyalty and nobility of spirt lay but never slept. Those who carried their ugliness within ran the risk of it turning into a festering sore, a canker that would spread from body to soul. Like a reversal of the gorram Reavers such folk would rot from the inside out. Thadius wondered which category Simon Tam would ultimately choose for himself.

For now though, it was Thadius' self appointed duty to protect the Captain from the demons both without and within. Especially those that had once worn the face of a friend.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo dong* = I understand *wei* = hey! *wode ma* = mother of God *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *xie xie ni* = thank you *bu xie* = you're welcome *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *jide* = remember *weishenme bu* = why not? *dong ma* = understand? *weishenme* = why *dai ruo mu ji* = dumb as a wooden chicken


Sunday, February 26, 2006 5:37 AM


Loved seein' Mal so *happy* for a bit, even if it inevitably had to be ruined... and loved Inara's casual, comfortable kiss in front of them all...
Still not sure what to make of them readers... have to say I'm more on Zoe's side regardin' them, but I'll wait an' see. Ah, and sometimes I really wish I could shake a coherent answer outta River!! ;o) love her seemingly not so coherent ramblings...
Worried about the implications of all the pain needin' stichin' and the hurt comin' from those once friends...

Sunday, February 26, 2006 5:51 AM


"If they knew what she had been planning her life would be forfeit in ways that would make the Spanish Inquisition from the past of Earth-That-Was seem like a comedy sketch"

Despite the gripping drama this line immediately made me crack up laughing. Absolutely fantastic :-D

Sunday, February 26, 2006 8:58 AM


And again...!
Awesome, things are beginning to unfold and it's got me hooked!


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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.