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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Inara acts. River waits for the right moment. The crew of Serenity slowly realise there is more than one battle going on and forces gathering that will change their 'verse forever."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2666 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "BENEATH THE MASK"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "Inara acts. River waits for the right moment.
The crew of Serenity slowly realise there is more than one
battle going on and forces gathering that will change their
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
* * * * *
He eyed the syringe warily. Tried to back away only there was nowhere to go. Harry's smile held no humour, it was a grim unrelenting mask. There was something almost detached about it as if any pain inflicted was a routine necessity he should surrender to if not embrace. His back stiffened, fingers flexing in the tight steel cuffs that bound his hands behind his back. Harry put his hands on the Captain's shoulders and pressed him down into the chair. Mal swallowed. More afraid of what was in that syringe than any torture he had faced with Niska. He raised his eyes to Inara's and saw no emotion that deserved the name. There was something very creepifying about a woman doing this to him. His brother would have laughed at his distinction and reminded him who had taken the first bite out of the gorram apple. Frustration. Fear. Sorrow. Anguish. All the borders of dispair. To have come so far, suffered so much, for this. He could not bear to have it all ripped away by this scheming black hearted *pofu*. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth but arsenic would.
He closed his eyes on the sharp bite of steel and felt the slide of the needle sink into his vein. He did not want to open his eyes. To see her gloating as the nefarious mixture flowed into his bloodstream. Inwardly he seethed with impotent rage, cried and pleaded out to sleeping gods to wake and save him from this last wall of faith crumbling beneath her cultured fingertips. He felt her breath upon his face but refused to open his eyes. To acknowledge the true face of evil. "Soon," Said Inara with silky confidence. "You will tell me everything."
He wanted to shake his head, deny her but at his core the Captain was an honest man. Unlike others for him the cloth of deception was never an easy fit though there were times when necessity made it so. He did not embrace the lie nor let it guide him through the shadow of the valley of death but at times he used it as shamelessly as they. Now everything he was, everything he had was about to be ripped from him. Resisting the urge to cry out he found himself turning his thoughts back to the Lost Book. The one they called the Bible. *My Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?* Not that he would admit the remnants of his faith to the crew. Best they never know just how far he had fallen. That was a different war, same battlefield. Some things the others did not need to know. His ghosts. His pain. His burden. Carried willingly to hide other scars. Now soon those too would be revealed and there was not a gorram thing he could do about it.
Diamond Harry looked at the Companion. "You want this recordin'?"
She shook her head. What was the use of a photographic memory if you didn't use it? What she wanted from Malcolm Reynolds would do more to crush the Rebellion than a battalion of the Alliance's finest. Elite troops were only called that if they were the last ones standing. That Reynolds had evaded them for so long was a testament that even the Elite could be taken. Could fall. Even a man like Malcolm Reynolds could be broken. Niska had been good but she was better. He had failed because he loved the torture more than the secrets that could be revealed. His concentration was therefore not on the main goal. The point of the exercise. Inara Serra was about to redress the balance. That it would also be painful was a small concession to the man they knew as Father Death. Niska had liked that title, accepted it as an honour that was his due. She had many names as befitted her position but the usual one associated with her was Mother of Sorrows. By the time she had finished with Reynolds he would know each of those sorrows intimately. It would be the sweetest of confections to strip the knowledge from him layer by layer until every cell was exposed and every link was broken. The Rebellion ended here. Even if she had to snatch it from his dying breath.
Wash Warren shook his head. Could hardly bear to meet Zoe's eyes. Behind him Jayne figetted and wondered where the Captain was. Simon was out cold, Kaylee holding his hand and trying not to cry. The Shepherd had a sympathetic look on his face but beyond that Wash could not tell what he was thinking. His thoughts came back to the matter at hand with Zoe's response. "You sure you looked everywhere, *zhangfu*?"
He was a little surprised and hurt that she would ask him that but the look of pain in her eyes stilled his own from forming. She was worried. They all were. Was it any wonder she needed to be sure? "She isn't on the boat, *bao bei*."
Zoe took a sharp breath. This was not good.
"Where would she have gone?"
That was the preacher. They turned to look at him. Zoe shrugged, her heart heavy. "You know River she could have gone anywhere."
"I'm guessin' wherever the music's loudest." Said Jayne.
He almost flinched self consciously when all eyes turned to him.
"*What? I'm sayin' music draws her. I say we should look round the markets an' such. Any place bright an' noisy."
"I'm not so sure that's a good thing." Said Zoe frowning.
Wash slid his arms around her waist. "Why not, *bao bei*?"
She shrugged. Not quite able to put her feelings of disease into words. "Let's see what the Captain thinks. Which reminds me, I best go see what's keepin' him."
"Should we try to rouse Simon first?" Asked Book.
The question delayed the Captain's first mate a few seconds. "Why? Boy's out cold, Preacher."
*That's not the only thing that's cold* thought Book. "I'm sure the first thing the Captain would want to know is what the doctor remembers. Seems to me he was remembering something just before he lost consciousness."
Her frown deepened. What was wrong with this picture and why couldn't she grasp what it was? "Not seein' how he's gonna be much help but we can try."
The Preacher inwardly sighed with relief and hoped Inara would hurry things up. If the crew got suspicious now it could ruin a great many things that had been a long time in the planning. And he still had to find the girl. He hid a secretive smile. Let them search every market place on every *lese* world he did not intend to be going anywhere. The best lure in the 'verse was lying flat out on the bed in front of them. River Tam would never desert her brother. Sooner or later ties of blood would bring her back to them.
He was tired. Hungry. Wet and cold. The planet was a nightmare for him. Rain lashed him like cold wet needles and stole the little body warmth he had taken with him off the ship. Lauren. Who in their right mind would call a rutting planet Lauren? Should'a just called it Purgatory and have done with it. He pulled his rags tighter round his shivering body, but not so tight as to tear them further. Camoflage was all well and good but right now he was missing his own clothes almost as much as food in his belly. The old wounds had healed well but the damp played havoc with his system, sparking off dull throbbing pain through every joint in his body and licking a trail of remembered agony along every scar. Still. Leastways he was alive. Still breathing. And that was a miracle in itself. A fire of determination stoked his chill soul into movement, memories providing lamps to light his way in the gathering gloom as night crawled in behind the heavy clouds like enemy soldiers sneaking up on his position under cover of darkness. Metaphors. Gorrammit, it was the last thing he needed right now but he could not stop his mind from ticking over and at least it held the nightmares at bay.
Ty wasn't here of course. Probably had never set foot on the rutting planet but his information was good. Sound. *Solid*. His descriptions too vivid for invention. A crack of lightening seared the sky with its' bright flash like a demon sword severing the darkening veil that would hide him. He did not care. Already the eyes of the people passing, hurrying to find shelter and somewhere warm and dry out of the rain, took no more notice of him than the bits of trash that had been discarded by careless people on every world ever terraformed by the hand of man. He coughed and cursed inwardly. Could not afford to get sick. Had to get out of the damnable rain, gorrammit. That was when he saw the man. Big fellow. Stocky and solid as the side of a mountain. The eyes were steady, level, like calm pinpoint lasers slicing through the stinking stench of borrowed rags to the proud man concealed within. The tatterdemalion not fooling his keen sight one whit.
It was almost a relief when the big man turned his head and aimed that searchlight away from his thrice damned soul. Then he looked back at him and a ghost of a smile teased weathered lips. He moved quietly but swiftly, a hand reaching out to touch him almost reverently on the shoulder. Such a gentle touch, not at all what he would have expected. He frowned. Disadvantaged by the look on the man's face, the burden of care briefly shown one stranger to another. "You look frozen, *pengyou*." The man said softly.
He started at the words, eyes now glued to the stranger. Not even air passing his lips as he held his breath.
The tentative smile became warmer. A living ghost not a dead one. "Come, let's get you in the warm where's there's food a-plenty and a place to lay your head."
"Why would you be doin' that for a stranger?"
The man stared at him for a moment as if his face should be known. Then he nodded slightly when he saw no sign of recognition. "You're right, you don't know me but that will change."
He raised half amused eyebrows, trying not to shiver and ruin the effect. Now completely soaked to the skin. His rags clinging to him and sealing in the wet and cold. "That a fact?"
An open grin now plastered itself across the big man's face as the rain lashed down his windburned cheeks. Eyes twinkling with a concealed joy. "I've waited a long time to meet you, not gonna waste it now *pengyou*."
He let himself be half led and half coaxed across a muddy street. Hardly aware of the strange looks occasionally sent their way. The warm dusty interior of the saloon was welcome to him. So weary now yet cautious still. The place was not empty. A rag tag assortment of men were seated at a couple of tables, two others leaning on the bar counter but all looking expectently in his direction. The big man turned to him and seemed to visibly puff out his chest. Maybe it was his imagination but every man in that bar seemed to straighten. If they had all been on their feet he would have sworn they were coming to attention. "My name is Pepper Rawlings and these here are my men." He paused, a look of quiet pride shining in his modest brown eyes. "Out of the ashes of defeat..."
Every man in that bar rose to his feet and finished the affirmation with him, their solemn voices ringing in a cadence of Independent commitment, eyes shining, conjoined in a single purpose. Bound to him with ties as strong as those of blood. "...we will rise again!"
Like a beggar at a feast he could not speak for the tears in his eyes. Too moved for words. Pepper ordered hot food, had Lenny go get a hot tub prepared and fresh clothes for him. He finally reclaimed his voice.
"You could be making the biggest gorram mistake of your life, Pepper."
The big man laughed, a warm happy sound that somehow suited this ill-lit place. "I wasn't sure it was you at first but you look like him. Knew then that you would come. Didn't matter the where, the when or the how, *dong ma*? One thing the valley taught us was patience."
The soft answering smile was all the reassurance Pepper needed. His heart could not have been more full had the war never happened. He was back and they were never going to lose him again.
She was distraught. Could feel the tugging curtain of his mind being ripped from him. His soul crying out to her and she unable to answer. Could not risk them knowing she was there until she struck. Had to keep her mind screened to avoid detection. On the periphery she was aware of Book, knew he was waiting though it would do him no good. Was worried about Simon but her *ai ren's* danger was more imminent. Simon would heal, what had been done to him was a temporary affliction. If she failed to do this right the Captain would not be the only one to suffer. She knew his mind. Would keep his secrets. But the people they were up against were ruthless. Like the criminally insane they thought everyone but them was mad. River knew different. It was a dance she knew well which is why she knew that with every step it was the timing that was most important.
The shuttle seemed so much smaller. Not intimate but claustrophobic. He tried to shut Inara out, he really did, but the strength of his body was being used against him to devastating effect. His will systematically being dismantled while he was forced to watch. His resistence crucifying him with agony.
"Tell me what I want to know and this will stop."
He gritted his teeth. The implacable slide to conformity drawing heart and soul towards a pact with the Devil that he would never sign. Rather his rutting heart stop beating than give an inch. Her laughter was light and musical but so false. He knew the ring of it now and like knives it cut him to the quick. How could he have ever thought her beautiful? She picked up the stray thought before he could quash it and the edge of her smile added cunning to the polite veneer of her Companion's mask.
"Mal," Her voice trailed off, the whispered name making his ears ache and tears prick his eyes. His reaction made her pause. Slightly puzzled. "Malcolm Reynolds." The reaction was gone now. Fey. A thing half glimpsed and thus unreal. Or was it? "Where are the others? I want names. Locations. The whole network."
"Go to *diyu* you an' your ruttin' *qingwa cao de liumang* henchman."
That was when she pushed. Her mind a sharp needle of pain that cut through every barrier erected to keep her and her kind out. He screamed, the sound ripped from his lungs like blood from his veins. It echoed in the small space. Harry looked uncomfortable but stood firm. Inara ignored his pain, his growing distress, her mind searching, seeking, tearing down his walls as he cried and fought and struggled to keep her out. Heard him willing the beat of his heart to stop, his breath to fail, anything to deny her the thing she wanted most. She almost gasped. So close to the answers she could almost wrap her hands around them, her mind exulting even as she became more ruthless in her eagerness to grab the prize. It was at that moment that River struck. The Companion so lost in her distraction that River spotted the chink in her armour. Her mind a piercing shard that attacked with such force that Inara's hold on the Captain shattered, her mind in turmoil and sudden panic. She wavered, staggering from her captive to hold her head in hands that shook with the pain of it. Screaming as River drove her to her knees, Harry frantic to aid her but not knowing how.
Unable to think of anything else he stumbled for the door. He had to get to Book as quickly as possible. Something had gone wrong and unless they acted now the Companion could die. Screw the Captain. Screw this *lese* ship of fools. They could not afford to lose one of their own. Not like this. Not ever.
"What do you mean I look like him?"
Pepper smiled, an amused look on his face as their guest straightened his clothing. The tan pants fitting where they touched. He watched him slide the suspenders up onto his shoulders and met the little frown with a hint of smugness. "You don't remember me but I remember you. Followed you into the Valley. Not your platoon, your unit, but I was there."
He frowned, holding back the pain of it but not wanting to block out the memories. Those memories were the only monument left to the fallen that he could carry with him and he would be damned if he would forget them just so he could sleep nights. Rutting hell. None of them would sleep right until the gorram Alliance was overturned. Not that it would happen in his lifetime but he was not a man for lying down or leaving the difficult decisions to others. Not when injustic was running rampant through the 'verse and walking over the ashes of the honoured dead like some sick trophy to the vainglory of war. Would that every *tamade hundan* could be hung, drawn and quartered for what they done. Wouldn't make it right he knew but he liked the Old Testament. An eye for an eye seemed the only way to repay them as had done this. Even if he didn't owe it to himself he owed it to them as had died for the cause, those who had believed in them and offered succour even though they knew the Alliance toadies would kill them for doing so. Couldn't wipe out honour and loyalty and good men and women by tyrrany and fear. Just made folks go underground. Hide their disfavour beneath smiles that didn't even go skin deep.
Nope. A reckoning was coming and he aimed to see it was hand delivered.
"What was that?"
Zoe's head jerked up in momentary distraction, trying to hear what Jayne had heard. At that moment Simon stirred, Kaylee bending over him with such concern on her face that it almost made the Shepherd smile. Zoe looked at the mercenary. "Best check it out."
The big man nodded and started walking towards the door when Diamond Harry burst in brandishing a rifle. "No one move a gorram muscle, *dong ma*?"
They stared. Jayne's eyes narrowed dangerously. Zoe's voice was quiet, calm, deadly. Sometimes she and the Captain were so alike in their ways it chilled Wash to the bone but not now. He approved and noted where everyone was. Book stiffened but otherwise stayed put. Kaylee ignored the intrusion, a hand brushing back the damp hair from Simon's face. She had changed her top after he had thrown up over her and apart from a quick wash had not left his side. Weary eyes blinked up at her and tried to focus through the haze. His mind rapidly clearing as he returned to full consciousness. "What happened?"
Her finger on his lips hushed him. Although she did not look up Kaylee knew something bad was happening. Wanted to keep it from Simon but he was top three percent. As disorientated as he felt he knew something was wrong. For the moment he lay there and watched the play of shadows in Kaylee's worried eyes while he tried to grasp what was going on. Diamond Harry was not so patient.
"You, Preacher! Come with me."
Book looked surprised. Was about to argue then realised it must be serious for the man to risk blowing their cover. Instead he nodded and moved slowly and calmly towards him. "No need for the gun."
"I'll be the judge of that now hurry. Don't know what went wrong but it don't look good."
Simon wanted to sit up. Kaylee wanted to keep him lying down. He glimpsed something odd on the Shepherd's face as he moved away. He sat up slowly, Kaylee watching him anxiously. "I'm alright, Kaylee." He murmured quietly, not wanting to draw the gunman's attention. His mind was clearing faster than fog in a hurricane. Zoe noted he seemed more like himself. Hopefully he had evacuated most of the drug when he was sick. She just hoped he wasn't about to do anything stupid.
Blue eyes narrowed. Pepper watched the man's unconscious grace as he got to his feet. He looked a different man now that he was dressed and armed. It looked right. Another piece slotting into place, right where it belonged. "What's happenin'?"
"Had a man come in the saloon after Serenity's crew left, *shifu*." He noticed the slight raised brow at the term of address. The ghost of a smile making a brief welcome to solemn lips. Pepper continued to explain. "Made out he was one of us."
"I'm takin' it you didn't believe him?"
"He had a ring."
Surprise flared in those eagle sharp eyes. "*Wode ma*, where'd he get the ring?"
Pepper shook his head. "Don't rightly know *shifu* but don't reckon it was fair means. I had a man track him."
He nodded. "Where'd he go?"
For a moment Pepper was silent, his eyes solemn. "Serenity."
Alarm flashed on his *lingdao's* face. "We gotta go now, *mashang*! How many guns you got?"
Pepper's eyes hardened into battle lines. "How many you want?"
Something implacable stirred in those dark blue depths. Both men walking quickly out of the back room to join the others. All business now. "Enough to put Reavers to shame."
Zoe exchanged a look with Jayne and they went to follow the Shepherd. Wash's hand lightly touched Zoe's shoulder to get her attention. Their eyes fastened on each other. He gave the slightest shake of his head and whispered. "Don't do it, *bao bei*."
Her eyes flashed, hard and bright as diamonds. "We have to get the Captain, Wash."
He nodded. "I know, but not that way."
She was frowning, frustrated and impatient and all on the edge of confusion. "*Weishenme*?"
They just stared at him. Kaylee and Simon could not hear what was being said. Simon used Kaylee to help him stand up then they joined the others. Zoe gave them a quick glance, the look in her eyes more assessing whether the doctor was capable of walking unaided than imparting information. He looked steady enough for her not to ask. Jayne was scowling darkly at Wash. "What about him?"
"I don't like it, it's as if he knows that man."
Wash nodded. "*Qu*. And doesn't it seem funny how Book and Inara seem to be on the same wavelength?"
Zoe's last bit of patience evaporated. "You got somethin' to say *zhangfu* say it now 'cause I'm all for goin' in guns blazin' if needs be to get the Captain out of there."
It was Simon who picked up on what the others had missed. "The man said it didn't look good, that something had gone wrong. Why would you think the Captain's in danger?"
The pilot stared at him. "The gun? Remember the gun? The one with rifle sights aimed at us?"
"I saw the gun Wash, that wasn't what I meant. It's just if something has gone wrong that doesn't mean it's a bad thing for the Captain."
"Well I ain't waitin' no more," Growled Jayne. Before anyone could stop him the big man was out of the doorway and hurrying off towards Inara's shuttle, Vera unsheathed and cradled in his hands. Zoe ran after him. Wash was about to follow but Simon stopped him.
"I think you'd better get the ship ready in case we need to get out of here in a hurry, Wash."
Kaylee looked frightened. "What do you think's gonna happen?"
"I don't know but Wash is right. Whatever is going on Inara and Book seem to be in it together."
She frowned. "'Nara wouldn't do nothin' like that Simon, you know that."
He knew she was upset. That Inara was her friend. In fact he thought of both the Companion and Preacher as part of their little family aboard Serenity but something was twisting him up inside and warnings were flashing in his head he could not ignore. Images of what he had seen when River tried to warn him. Images that had not made any sense at the time. As the gunman had said, something had gone wrong. It was significant to him that the gunman had wanted the Preacher to come with him and sort it out as if they were on the same side of whatever trouble was brewing. And the Preacher, though startled, had gone willingly. As calm as you please. Just what game the man was playing he had no idea but he didn't like it. Maybe Kaylee was right and Inara was not involved but he did not want to bet anyone's life on it, even the Captain's.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*pofu* = bitch *zhangfu* = husband *bao bei* = precious/treasure *lese* = crap
*pengyou* = friend *dong ma* = understand *ai ren* = sweetheart *diyu* = hell
*qingwa cao de liumang* = frog humping sumbitch *shifu* = sir *wode ma* = mother of God
*mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *lingdao* = leader
*qu* = yes (lit. go) *weishenme* = why?
Wednesday, March 24, 2004 5:13 AM
Wednesday, March 24, 2004 9:32 AM
Wednesday, March 24, 2004 2:19 PM
Thursday, March 25, 2004 6:04 AM
Monday, March 29, 2004 4:39 AM
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