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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Natalie explains to Paul why they cannot leave yet. The Captain goes from strength to strength. General Franks is faced with a moral dilemna. All the while events are unfolding that threaten to engulf Serenity and her crew."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1010 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "THE GATHERING STORM"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. Paul/Natalie.
STATUS: Sequel to "THE LEOPARD'S SPOTS".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net
SUMMARY: "Natalie explains to Paul why they cannot leave yet.
The Captain goes from strength to strength. General Franks is
faced with a moral dilemna. All the while events are unfolding that
threaten to engulf Serenity and her crew."
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.
"THE GATHERING STORM"
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
They were in Natalie's room in Serenity's passenger quarters. Paul mused that since they had become closer Natalie had not had any further violent episodes. She seemed so much better than the almost feral woman he had first met.
He squeezed her hand, feeling more content than he had in a long while. The tangle of their intertwining limbs making him overlook the narrowness of the bed.
"It's the hormones not just the sex. Male an' female balance each other. Restoration of the natural order."
Paul brushed a tangle of hair from her eyes, his voice a concerned hush, his eyes warmed by his growing regard for her. "We should leave, Nat."
"Can't. They're gonna need us."
His eyes widened in alarm. Hadn't Jordan taken out the threat? "*Weishenme, xin gan*? What do you see?"
"We're in the eye of the storm, Paul. The hidden will become known an' what we thought we knew will be pulled to pieces."
As she finished speaking Natalie shuddered and was pulled instinctively tighter into the comforting circle of her lover's arms. Effortlessly her mind wandered through his thoughts, her feelings revelling in his, a touch of her mind here and there as if she wanted to leave fingerprints on his soul. Whether he knew or not didn't matter. Paul was as open to her as a gift and it was one she cherished.
"We need to be ready, *ai ren*."
Paul pulled back enough to see her eyes. "For what, *bao bei*?"
"Revelations." She gave a sigh then leaned her forehead against his, a look of apology on her face. "It won't be pretty."
At his troubled look Natalie shifted to kiss him but her warm lips could not melt the chill stealing through his body as dread began to overwhelm him. "What can we do?"
"Join forces. What's comin' can't be avoided but we can prevail."
"I'm almost afraid to ask what to expect, Nat."
She looked at the little-boy fear in his eyes, his voice small as if it was wrong to expect miracles from the Devil. "Then don't." Her voice sighed, her lips ghosting over his as she kissed his cheek and jaw. "Let me tell you." Her lips adorned his throat, gently causing the chill inside to slowly defrost. "You saved me Paul an' these folk saved River. Simon too. It's time we paid them back, *dong ma*?"
"So, this storm that's comin'?"
"Ugly, violent, indiscriminate. Desperate acts of desperate men."
Paul managed to swallow round a growing fear with difficulty. "Are we gonna die?"
Her smile was soft, gentle. A look of such unadulterated love in them that suddenly death meant nothing if he could spend what little of life remained with her. "Yes, *bao bei*." Natalie put the fingers of her right hand up to his mouth to stop his protestations. "But only so we can be reborn."
His eyes widened in surprise, dumbfounded at her words. Not yet comprehending. Opening her mind she closed her lips over his and flooded him with images and emotions so intense it took his breath away. They made love slowly. Every touch, every movement, every sigh, an expression of paradise that made him weep with joy even as the sorrow of what was to come invaded his mind. They would be together and in the end of all things, that was all that mattered.
Father Luther Ramos was not angry. A little disappointed perhaps but nothing more. Brother James flushed, a feeling of shame washing through him that he had acted in such an inappropriate manner without first confiding in his father confessor.
"*Wode duibuqi*, Father. I wasn't thinking."
"*Rongyi*, my son. Your heart is in a good place, it is the rest of you I worry about."
Brother James opened his mouth in surprise then noticed the twinkle in Father Ramos's raven black eyes. The tall lean man was a contradiction in so many ways. In his early sixties the long weathered clean shaven face had seen and experienced more of human life and tragedy than a body had a right to expect and yet none of the darkness of life had touched the light of his soul. It humbled Brother James and baffled him too. "How can you not be angry with me, Father?"
The chuckle was dry but bubbling with a deep mirth welled behind it. "Did you think I was oblivious to the trials and tribulations resting beneath these august walls, my son?" Father Ramos paused and his demeanour became more sombre.
"Gabriel wanted to leave."
"This I know."
"Gardening did not quiet his soul, Father. Even the mass could give no comfort."
"Nothing can do that now, my son."
Brother James gave him a quizzical look but it was ignored.
"Why did you not come to me, Brother James?"
The Brother paused before answering, recalling the soldiers making enquiry of him when he was in the town. What had been a regular pleasant outing to sell their home grown fruits and vegetables had become a trial that sorely tested him. A painfully honest man, it was as hard for Brother James to form a lie upon his tongue as it was for him to walk on water. Now he feared that the transparancy of his responses had jeopardised them all. "I was in a panic, Father, and thought only to warn our guests."
"Knowing their response would be to flee?"
Brother James hung his head. "Forgive me, Father."
Father Ramos waved a hand to dismiss the plea. "*Mei shi*, my son. What we must do now is determine where they have gone, *dong ma*? It is not safe for them outside these walls."
The monk could only nod, his heart and soul depressed by guilt. "Do you think Serenity will find them, Father?"
"Serenity will always find them in the end, my son."
Brother James stared, wondering whether he was being mocked but no. Father Ramos was serious and more farsighted than those in his keeping. He was not simply talking of things secular. Bowing his head, the monk silently thanked God that he was able to serve under the wisdom and tutelage of such a benign and learned man. Quietly he prayed that God's Grace would go with and protect Gabriel and Regan Tam.
It felt good to be on his feet, even if he had to suffer the leg braces to give his healing knees adequate support. Simon's extensive regime of physiotherapy coupled with Shepherd Book's massages and the first tentative steps after getting upright again were paying off. It was only the length of the infirmary but the Captain felt as if he had made major strides, the grin blossoming on his face along with the relief that at long last he could see an end to being flat on his gorram back. Not that he wasn't grateful, he was, it was just a constant aggravation being unable to do anything. Made him feel more than a mite useless and so frustrated he was like to lash out at anyone. Fortunately his better angels, known as his crew, were used to his ways and headed off the worst of any temper tantrums. Now that he was able to walk on a daily basis his mood had brightened considerably. The effect on the crew was as if a big black cloud had been lifted. That was why the Preacher's mood puzzled him so.
"Wanna tell me what's on your mind, Shepherd?"
Book startled, mentally chastising himself for wool gathering in the vicinity of the Captain. The man was sharper than a bag of tacks and that sometimes included his tongue. "Just thinkin', Captain."
"Care to share?"
Simon watched but said nothing. Shepherd Book forced a smile on his face and gave the Captain a keen look. "*Ni juede zenme yang le*?"
"*Wo hao danr le* an' you ain't answered my question."
"I was just mulling over a few things, Captain, nothing to concern yourself over. Now, *ni zhunbei hao le ma*?"
The Captain shook his head and carefully turned around, pleased when he managed to keep his balance without hanging on to any of the doc's work surfaces. "*Bu*, think I'll walk back."
Simon frowned. "You shouldn't overdo things."
"*Wo zhidao*, just feels so good to be on my feet doc. You do good work."
"And you undo it as quickly as I finish."
The Captain paused, hating the little flush of guilt taking the shine off his pleasure. "*Duibuqi*..."
Simon hurried to interrupt, his own darkening mood threatening to undermine his professional manner and that would simply not do. Book's information had worried him more than he liked and telling the Captain was not an option. The man was still in the early stages of recovery and after everything else that had happened he had no intention of piling more worry upon his patient. That was why the Captain had a crew. Family, his mind echoed in a voice so like his sister's that Simon had to resist the urge to turn around and see if she was in the room.
"No, I'm the one who should be apologising, Captain."
Malcolm Reynolds raised his eyebrows and stared at Simon. "I'm dyin', *dui*?"
"Why would you think that?"
The Captain huffed. "You apologisin' to me for no gorram reason."
Shepherd Book tried not to laugh. The doctor's discomfort momentarily taking his mind off of more serious considerations. A little light relief was welcome right now.
"If you feel up to it then walk back, but slowly. I want to watch how your legs lock and the knee joints hold."
"Huh," huffed the Captain "you take all the fun out of everythin'."
"I certainly hope not." The doctor murmured.
As soon as the Captain finished his little walk Book helped him sit up on the bed, Simon dropping to one knee to unfasten the leg braces. A sigh of relief oozed out of the Captain like hot air released under pressure. Book glanced at Simon and both men shared a fleeting smile. Then Simon checked his patient over, pronounced him fit and well but exhausted and left him in Book's capable hands. Now lying flat out on the infirmary bed, Mal had to fight to stop his eyes closing all on their own. It got harder to fight as Book began the massage, the tension bleeding out of him through the Shepherd's magic fingers.
It was said that it was lonely at the top. General Franks privately didn't think much of the lower echelons of power either. It was all about power: who weilded it and how it was used. Those who fell outside that bailiwick fell by the wayside, casualties of a war they didn't even know they were fighting but he knew. He could not get the images out of his head. Part of him wished he had been able to strip the body and check the back as well as the front but another part of him didn't want to know. More of the nightmare would not help. As it was he had a problem. No. Several problems. The first one was that everything, and that meant EVERYTHING, was recorded. Some cameras were obvious, as much for their deterrent value as to un-nerve those under surveillance, remind everyone that their actions needed to be accounted for. To tally with the expectations of those above them. Deviation was not tolerated.
Franks had looked and seen instead of simply obeyed. That was recorded now and there was not a rutting thing he could do about it. Why had he acted on instinct? Better not to know and be able to maintain deniability but now he knew. The more he thought about it the more convinced he became that Captain Foster either knew or suspected something was not as it seemed, not that the man gave himself away. Why else had he come with a change of clothing for the Commandant? Why else the insistence that he alone dress the body for burial and not cremation? Whisk Shair's body to be interred in the family plot? Away from prying eyes and the ever present surveillance, both covert and non covert. Or maybe Foster didn't know. Maybe he was doing what he had not: blindly following instructings imposed on him by a sense of duty and regard for his former commanding officer. It was all a tangle in Franks' mind and the mess was thickening around him. It made his head hurt and he needed to think clearly. *Diyu*, he needed to think more clearly than he ever had before. Lives depended on his getting it right and that included his own.
Inara was deep in thought, reviewing everything that had happened since she came to Serenity. Not only her words and actions but those of everyone around her. How had life become so complicated? She hated that Simon didn't trust her near the Captain. That she had found out about his secret. The knowledge sickened her and tainted her thoughts with a worry born of a deeper fear. It crept through her thoughts and undermined her powers of reason, coming back time and again to nag her conscience to act but how? Any action on her part would only exacerbate a situation she truly had little comprehension of beyond the painful stark fact that Simon had been the first Tam subject not River. Why had the Alliance turned to River? Had they finished with Simon and if so, why let him go? Or had the young man been somehow able to resist the worst of it, make his manipulation too much trouble to complete? Had they abandoned him and turned their attention to the less suspicious and younger Tam sibling?
With hands that shook Inara carefully and slowly made her tea, ignoring how the cup rattled as she placed it on the saucer. As she worked her hands became steadier, the routine slowly calming her when nothing else would. Once the aromatic flavour touched her tongue her senses embraced it and she felt the first clean breath purge her lungs. The fear and worry remained but it was a background noise now, a hum instead of a strident unchecked alarm. It left her able to think and consider the problem. *Renci de fozu* there had to be a solution because if the Alliance had finished their project with Simon they could all be in danger. By the time her cup was empty Inara's hands were beginning to tremble again. Clasping them together she still had not come to any decision. It was not as if she could confide in anyone. After all the trouble she had caused, however unintentionally, who would listen?
The evening meal came and went but Inara did not leave her shuttle. No one came to see why she had not appeared and that suited her. Dark thoughts did not need company. Closing her eyes Inara readied herself for meditation, breathing deeply of the incense and enjoying the feel of the water cooling on her skin from the clensing ritual. Inara wanted to help, to be instrumental in putting things right even though she did not yet know how. And perhaps, if she could do this one selfless thing, it would prove for once and for all that she was not the enemy. Never had been. Inara Serra had been a fool but not an intentionally malignant one. Manipulated and flattered into actions that now shamed her. That Inara was in the past, this one needed to be sharper, more alert. Focus on what was important and how best to enlighten and protect this most eclectic of families. It was time to leave her ego behind.
Night was beginning to fall on Sihnon. The butter bright clouds underlit by a dipping sun paid obeisance to the coming dark of nightfall. The procession from day into night as elegantly done as everything else on Sihnon. The jewel in the Alliance crown sometimes cast odd shadows but they were fleeting barely glimpsed things, quickly brightened into another aspect, one with a more pleasing and well crafted face for if Sihnon was anything at all it was a magic mirror. The highly trained and exotic beauties of the Companion House left no client unsated and no official in doubt of his or her unassailable place in the 'verse. Everyone knew it was artifice and politely oiled lies but pretended to gravitate towards the newly shaped truths that pleased them most. Coin passed hands. Sometimes priceless jewels and artifacts. Property and real estate, secrets old and new, passions fanned and bound in silk. The scented gardens masked the fair and fowl, the dripping ornaments of excess their unbridled blossom.
Liam looked ready to bolt. "*Wo bu xihuan*."
"Nobody's askin' you to ruttin' well like it, *dong ma*?" Badger turned his head and peered through the darkening gloom, only the paper lanterns swaying and throwing their eratic light showing the clear path from the small landing area to House Madrassa. As he watched the front door was flung open and a crowd of anxious expectant faces huddled in the light of the doorway. Time was up.
Seeing his brother moving swiftly to open up their small courtesy shuttle Liam grabbed Badger's arm. "*Deng*! Don't leave me alone, Steph."
"Body's dead, ain't gonna harm no one. Just get back there an' stay hidden."
"Why can't I come inside with you?"
Badger frowned. This was always the problem when you brought someone into a plan that didn't have the wit to just accept he knew best. Especially when explaining the detail would have had Liam running for the gorram hills. "They don't know you, see? Companions are jittery folk when one o' them dies, best keep it to family."
"I *am* family." Liam growled.
"Yeah, just not one they know an' ain't that the rub?"
While his brother frowned and tried to work out what he meant by that, Badger let himself out and paused to make sure his brother got back into hiding. Wouldn't do to spook the goose that laid the golden egg or somesuch. Couldn't remember where he had heard the ruttin' tale but somehow it seemed appropriate all things considered. He had no more time for contemplation as a herd of women hurried down the path and clustered around the little shuttle. Badger had no trouble affecting sorrow and distress, crocodile tears flowing down a face warped into a semblance of grief that only a Reader would see at a glance was false. They were expecting him to be upset and so he was.
A couple of the older Companions carefully eased passed him, not wanting to be rude enough to actually shove but impatient to reach their former House Mistress and bring her inside. Cries and the choked off sounds of muffled sobbing followed him all the way inside. Behind him Badger was aware of someone closing up the shuttle and hoped they were too distracted by grief to lock it.
A small hand touched his elbow as he stepped in through the front door. Looking up he saw Annalise and could have kissed her, if he was one for kissing plain matronly women who usually regarded him as a lifeform so far down the food chain it made single cell organisms look educated. This time the look on her face was more generous, caring and sincere in offering her condolences for his loss. Badger didn't overplay his part but let her do the talking, her small capable hands guiding him without pushing, the other Companions parting effortlessly round them until he and Annalise found themselves alone in the House Mother's study. Badger tried not to shudder at being back in that room again, memories assaulting him and pricking at his non too shiny conscience.
Without any fuss at all, the capable and often underestimated Annalise had singled him out and brought him to the one room in the house that was completely sound proof.
Jacob Rosenbaum's mouth was so compressed into such a thin line that his lips all but disappeared, his anger and disapproval a dark heavy cloud. He glared at the soldier as if the man had single handedly dismantled the Alliance and sold it off as petty cash. To give the soldier his due he neither flinched nor hung his head.
"When was this discovered?"
The solider, David Mars, stood to attention and did not slip into parade rest. Even without the obvious fury seething through the Minister he had not been given permission to relax. The inference unspoken was that it was his lack of vigil that had allowed this breach of sercurity in the first place.
"As soon as I returned from escorting Captain Foster to his temporary quarters, *shifu*."
"Why was no one monitoring the live feed?"
"It was change over, Minister. With the increase in exercises we have insufficient security officers for full time live monitoring throughout the day and night."
Minister Rosenbaum clasped his hands behind his back and began to walk around the soldier. Mars stiffened even further. It always upped the tension when the Minister did that and Rosenbaum knew it. Nothing like keeping the troops on their toes especially when standards were slipping. Even though he knew the criticism was unfair, given that he had ordered the cut backs to allow for more soldiers to be deployed on various assignments and training programmes, it would not do to admit as such. "So you left General Franks alone?"
Mars nodded curtly. "Yes, *shifu*."
Mars did not point out that Franks was one of the most senior Generals in the Alliance army nor that the Minister himself had chosen him for this position. Rosenbaum stopped in front of the soldier and let out a heavy sigh. "At least you had the wit to alert me once you had reviewed the footage."
The soldier said nothing.
"Where is General Franks now?"
"The General is waiting outside to see you, *shifu*. He seemed agitated and anxious to talk to you."
Rosenbaum raised his eyebrows. That was unexpected. Most officials finding themselves in such a circumstance would have done one of two things. Warned Foster or made themselves scarce. Disappearing would be a neat trick but possible for a man of Franks' experience and authority. By the time an order for his arrest circulated he could have gone to ground. Not that he could hide for long. Rosenbaum's arm was as long as his reach was deadly. Wondering if he had misjudged the man, the Minister nodded to the soldier. "Show the General in."
Mars nodded and left, returning seconds later with General Franks. As soon as Franks was in the office the soldier snapped off a sharp salute and made a smart exit. Rosenbaum knew the soldier would stand sentry outside. No one in or out without his express permission. Rosenbaum looked at his most senior General and noted that the man looked concerned more than anxious, little worry lines impinged upon that weathered skin but eyes bright and sharp with intelligence. Well. This would be interesting. Peeling his lips back into a disingenuous smile the Minister turned on the political charm and invited Franks to take a seat.
It was harder than he expected. The running, the hiding, the constant fear of discovery before they could get to a place of safety. The not knowing if such a place even existed any more for them. Regan's breath was becoming laboured, her lungs well into oxygen deficit, her body flagging as she fought to pull more air into her lungs than she was getting. Gabriel wasn't any better though hid it through sheer stubbornness. She stumbled and caught herself on the corner of a building and seemed to hang there, the rough brickwork holding her up when her body no longer could.
She shook her head and took a minute before she could answer. "*Wo bu neng*."
Gabriel stopped and leaned forward, hands on his knees, head hanging down. Both of them were spent and he knew it. What had he been thinking?
"Gabriel, *wo duibuqi*. We can't keep running like this."
Nodding, her husband took a moment to marshall his fragmented thoughts. Focusing on what had caused the panic in the first place. He wasn't ashamed to admit that the news that Blue Sun agents had been making enquiries about them in the town sent his mind tumbling into free fall. The Alliance might have set it up but it was the Blue Sun Corporation who had used their technology and foul expertise to operate on his daughter. It mattered not that he had been instrumental in what had happened. The deal he had made so long ago to protect his son had ended up endangering all of them and to what end? No, this could be allowed to go no further. One way or another he would stop them but first he had to make sure he and Regan were as far away from their enemies as possible. And if they could not do that with physical distance then it would have to be through guile. "We need a safe house, *fengmi*."
His wife blinked back at him, the colour in her face ruddy with exertion but her breathing recovering. "*Nar*? They destroyed our home, Gabriel."
"*Wo zhidao*. We couldn't go there even if it was still standing."
Her eyes widened.
"We need somewhere they don't know about."
"Gabriel, we can't endanger the few friends we have left."
"I wasn't thinking of relying on friendship."
For a moment she was lost. What did he mean? Then something tickled the back of her brain, a memory from so long ago that it caused a different kind of worry to raise its' ugly head. Her face paled. "You can't mean...?"
"It's the only way."
She shook her head. "They'll kill you."
His expression was grim but determined. Straightening up, the resolve on his face reminded her of the passionate young man she had fallen in love with only now she knew the price he had paid to get there. It chilled her even as her heartrate sped up, adrenaline kicking in whether she liked it or not. "We're wiser now."
"We were betrayed Gabriel, *jide*?"
"This time we know not only the stakes but the players. I won't promise that it isn't going to be dangerous, Regan, but I've made so many mistakes. Hurt those I love in ways that I never imagined possible but there is at least one debt I can repay."
Confusion numbed her to his meaning until it was too late. The needle in her neck hardly registered, a faint distant prick carried away by the drug immediately shutting down every defence her body had. As she crumpled in his arms, Gabriel dropped a gentle kiss on her forehead, tears in his eyes. Slipping the empty syringe into his pocket he picked her up, alarmed by how light she seemed, and carried her to a nearby alleyway. Gently he settled her against the wall, taking advantage of the shadows to hide her from casual view. Gabriel rumaged swiftly through her pockets to make sure there was nothing incriminating in them, then paused, brushing the tumble of brown wavy hair from her eyes.
"Forgive me, *xin gan*, but you need to forget about me for a while. Forget everything until I come back to you." Tears slid slowly down his face. He touched her cheek lightly as if he no longer deserved to do so, every line of his body an apology. "If I succeed I'll make it up to you, I promise. If I don't?" He paused and gave a heavy pained sigh. "If I don't you won't remember anyway, my love."
Forcing himself to stand up, Gabriel brushed himself down and tried to straighten his rumpled shirt and jacket then gave his wife a last rueful look before stepping out of the alleyway and making his brisk way towards the nearest public cortex terminal.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*weishenme* = why? *xin gan*/*ai ren* = sweetheart *dong ma* = understand?
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *wode duibuqi*/*wo duibuqi* = I'm sorry *rongyi* = easy
*mei shi* = it doesn't matter *ni juede zenme yang le* = how are you feeling?
*wo hao danr le* = I'm feeling better *ni zhunbei hao le ma*? = are you ready?
*bu* = no *wo zhidao* = I know *duibuqi* = sorry *dui* = correct
*diyu* = hell *Renci de fozu* = merciful Buddha *dungdeng wo* = wait for me
*wo bu xihuan* = I don't like it *deng* = wait *shifu* = sir *jide* = remember
*wo bu neng* = I can't do it *fengmi* = honey *nar* = where?
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