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AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 20. "Walking Soft"
Wednesday, April 28, 2004

River waits for the right time to act while carefully maintaining an outward calm. Jayne is all kinds of confused over the Preacher's presence on Serenity. Mal slowly discovers more of his brother's plan."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2099    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "WALKING SOFT" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: RIVER/MAL. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "THE CALL OF BLOOD" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "River waits for the right time to act while carefully maintaining an outward calm. Jayne is all kinds of confused over the Preacher's presence on Serenity. Mal slowly discovers more of his brother's plan." 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.

"WALKING SOFT"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"The first time ever I saw your face I thought the sun rose in your eyes And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave To the night and the empty stars my love To the night and the empty stars..."

- 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' sung by Elvis Presley

He felt like a man bound heart and soul in terrible grief so deep was his sense of loss. Echoes of her touch skimmed his senses and touched him deep inside. River. How would he ever be able to make it up to her? To love her so deeply and leave her so easily as this? Yet every time he felt like weakening and turning back he would look at his brother and his heart would flutter with a joy he had long given up ever feeling again. So many memories and emotions were wrapped up in the bond of brotherhood they shared. This was family. This was blood. This was a loyalty that ran through him from head to foot and ruled him from cradle to grave. He had lost so much. So many people he had loved and cherished. He was determined not to lose his brother too. No matter the cost. But oh. The terrible cost.

It was dark now and the men moved by starlight. A pale passive moon shining through whispers of cloud high in the inky firmament above their heads. A trail of stars scattered in the Black. Yet when Mal looked up the stars were empty. A lonely echo of his very heart. It seemed wrong for there to be no rain to wash away the tears that he wept inside. Since when had his thoughts become so poetical? Since when had he loved so deeply? Davy moved up close to him, his expression anxious, his voice pitched low so as not to carry. "Mal, you alright *xiongdi*?"

He nodded because words would have choked him. Davy put a hand on his shoulder, their footsteps slowing. The others matched their pace instinctively knowing that the brothers needed this quiet time together. If there could be no privacy they would at least give them the illusion of it.

"I know this is hard for you, Mal, but when you see what we've achieved already you'll realise why it's the right thing to do."

Mal looked at him. Astonished that he could think a rebellion was that simple. "Davy, what you're plannin' is nothin' short of a slaughter."

He was alarmed to see a smile bow his brother's lips until he realised Davy had misread him. "It's what they've got comin' Mal."

"Not what I was meanin'."

They stopped. Davy stared at him and waited. The others exchanged a look, moved on a few yards then waited. "You think this is a mistake, don't you?"

"Know so."

Davy looked frustrated. "Mal, if you think that what're you doin' here?"

"Hopin' to talk some gorram sense into you before it's too late."

"You've got it wrong Mal, this is no sudden decision. No ruttin' accident waitin' to happen, *dong ma*? This has been planned ever since the end of the War. Ever since the Battle of Serenity."

For a long moment Mal just stared at him. "You think that makes it easy?" He asked softly, voice pained, throat tight. A thousand memories of war flickering like an old movie through his mind. Taunting and mocking him with the cries of the dead and the dying. Not strangers. Not simply fellow browncoats following a shared vision. A cause. Most of these were friends. Every cry attached to a face he knew like the back of his gorram hand. Every wound inflicted on them cut him deep. He still carried the scars. Not one of them would heal until he too lay in his rutting grave. Not nobody could tell him different and be believed. Even if the one doing the telling was his brother.

Davy bit back the threat of tears knowing Mal was upset. "No, *da ge*." He paused to regain control. "I near went crazy after you got took. Didn't know you'd been taken away to that ruttin' Alliance *jianyu*. If moma had let me come earlier not nothin' but death would'a separated us."

His brother shook his head. "That's crazy talk, Davy. If that'd happened you'd'a been took too."

"I was. Later."

The bitter twist of his mouth tore at Mal's heart. "What they do to you?" He whispered.

"*Bu zhongyao*."

"It's important to me." Said Mal.

They stood for a couple of minutes in absolute silence, facing each other. Mal put his hands on his brother's shoulders and just looked him in the eye. Pepper realised they would be covering no more ground this night. Silently he signalled to the others to make camp and quietly they chose a nearby clearing and started to gather wood for a fire. They would sleep beneath the stars this night and every night thereafter for the rest of their lives if it bought them their freedom at the end of it.

* * * * *

Aboard Serenity things were a mite strained. Kaylee had tried to cheer River up but the girl wasn't talking and looking around at the solemn faces around the table neither was anyone else. When the Shepherd joined them Jayne watched him, not bothering to hide the fact or be in the slightest bit tactful about it. Truth to tell he was still mighty angry at the Preacher for turning on them. Still couldn't figure what the gorram he was doing on the boat. Zoe did not say anything but ate in silence. Her eyes not leaving her plate. Fortunately Kaylee had cooked but if anyone had asked her what the *diyu* she was eating she would not have been able to tell them. Wash cast an anxious eye around the table, his hand brushing Zoe's gently as he reached for more mashed potato. She did not react. *Diyu*, since she'd found the gorram box she'd hardly strung a sentence together. He knew, he understood but he didn't like it.

It was Jayne who broke the silence. His eyes still fixed on the Preacher. "Why ya come back?"

The Shepherd raised his eyebrows, expression calm and unruffled. Voice mild. "This is my home."

Anger flashed like a lightening strike across Jayne's face. He got up and leaned over the table, his expression darkenening and turning ugly. "*Jia*? You got a gorram nerve callin' it that after what ya done."

Simon stiffened and glanced at Zoe but she had not stirred. He frowned not sure what troubled him more. Jayne wanting to knock the *goushi* out of the Preacher or Zoe retreating into her own hermit cell. This was not looking good. "Um, maybe we shouldn't get into any arguments..."

Jayne turned and glared at him, hands braced on the table. "An' maybe ya ought'a stay outta what don't concern ya."

"This does concern me Jayne, I just don't think we'll get anywhere losing our tempers."

"Well ya ain't losin' your temper, are ya? Besides, ain't ya curious why he came back?"

Simon fell silent. To tell the truth he *was* curious, he just didn't like the confrontational way Jayne was going about this. The ship was turning into a tinderbox and it would only take one spark to set the whole thing alight.

"Can't see his way. Even by starlight he's lost."

Everyone turned to stare at River. It was the first thing she had said since the Captain had left. Typically none of them knew exactly what she meant or who she was referring to. Simon tried to reassure her. "It's okay River."

She looked up, shook her head and for a moment was completely coherent. "No it's not. You lie, he lies, everybody lies."

Simon felt his heart miss a beat. "Lies?"

River looked at Jayne. "He lies to hide the guilt." She turned to look at the Preacher. "Preacher lies because the image in the mirror frightens him." Her eyes returned to gaze at Simon's startled face. "And you lie," She said gently, a soft loving look stealing over her pale features. "Because you want it to be like it was. To change the ugly and make it all right." She paused then cast a glance around the table. "All lies. Different reasons. Lies are the masks we fashion for ourselves. Wear it too long and you can't recognise what's real." Her voice became sad. "Lose yourself in the reflection."

For a few moments there was a stunned silence.

"Perhaps we should concentrate on where we are going." Suggested the Preacher.

Zoe had finished her food and at last looked up. "Captain fixed us up with a job."

The range of expressions greeting her words would have been comical under any other circumstances. Kaylee looked confused. "He did?"

"Yes, Kaylee he did."

Jayne was so surprised he forgot all about baiting the Shepherd. "What job?" He paused a heartbeat as his brain caught up with her words. "An' when did the Cap have time to do that?"

* * * * *

Pain. Wasn't so bad as people feared. He clung to it now because it helped keep him conscious and he needed to be awake more than he needed the craved for oblivion of passing out. He had to stay focused for as long as possible. The change in tone of the engines, the dip and dive of the transport, told him they were coming in to land. That meant planetfall. Porchester. If he didn't find a way off now he would most like spend the rest of his rutting life on the Penal Colony on Argent.

The metal decking shuddered heavily beneath him as they landed. He was actually grateful for it as the motion gave impetus to his attempts to get on his feet. He stumbled to the metal door and listened intently, waiting to hear footsteps near his part of the vessel. As soon as he heard them he began banging, adding his voice when the steps seemed to come no nearer. He was almost crying now. Convinced they were going to let him rot and die before he could do a gorram thing about it. Then suddenly the door was thrown open. He fell into the arms of the guard, hardly able to hold himself upright. The guard saw the tears on his face and actually looked a mite uncomfortable at his distress. "We're on Porchester."

"I have to get off."

The guard looked at him. Took in the bloody rags that had been clothing before the dogs had torn into him. But for the actions of the guard and other prison officers Tyrone Garvin would already be a dead man. "Why'd them men come after you?"

"Told you, they wanted me dead so I couldn't talk."

The guard, Michael Flannery, considered him for a moment. "Then talk."

Ty felt suddenly wary. Not at all sure that one good deed would beget another. The guard looked sincere but that didn't mean a thing out in the black. Who knew how many paymasters the man had? "You the decision maker?"

"Could be."

Ty wet his lips and tasted blood. "And could be not." He paused and watched the guard's reaction, half expecting him to lift his nightstick and hit him. When the guard didn't he began to feel a glimmer of hope.

"I'll give you this," Said Flannery. "You stand your ground."

"It's all I got left, officer."

"Look, I'm sorry you got torn up. Had to shoot most of the dogs just to get 'em off you. But if you're coming off here it has to go through channels, *dong ma*?"

Despite all the cuts, bruises and lumps taken out of him Ty still managed a frown. "What kind'a channels?"

"Legal ones."

He took a few moments before speaking again. His mind trying desperately to think straight. "Am I under arrest?"

"Protective custody you could say."

He thought about that. "Is that a yes or a no?"

Michael Flannery chuckled. Ty's frown deepened. With an effort the guard became serious again though there was a slight smile now on his taciturn face. "It means you haven't committed any crime we know of but under the circumstances we don't feel we can just let you go." Ty felt his heart sink and closed his eyes. Gorrammit, he was gonna live and die on Argent after all.

"Once the local law come see you, it'll be up to the Sheriff whether to let you stay. His jurisdiction if you follow me."

He forced his eyes open and tried to steady the thundering echo of his frantic heart. "Speak plain."

"Just relax and let the law take its' course."

Then the door was closing on him, shutting out all the light apart from a crack at the bottom. Ty didn't understand. Was too beat up and heartsore to try to figure it out. He had given it his best shot and lost. Rutting hell. He hung his head and with a sob sank down onto the metal deck and let the tears fall unchecked. Thousands would die and there would not be a thing he could do about it.

* * * * *

River could feel eyes on her. Knew who it was, even knew why, but she could not afford to be distracted. With the scorpion in sight she was not in danger. They were discussing the job, weighing up tactics. Minds occupied on what was before them not staring them right in the eyes. Simon glanced across at her but she ignored him, Kaylee's hand in hers a welcome comfort. Then everyone was breaking up, Wash giving Zoe a quick kiss before hurrying off to the bridge. Kaylee squeezed her hand and River looked up through her curtain of hair. "You have to go."

It was not an accusation just a statement of fact. Kaylee nodded. "Yeah, have to see to the engine."

As Kaylee left Simon hesitated then hunkered down next to his sister. "*Mei mei*, perhaps you should go to your bunk? Try to rest."

She wanted to shake her head, tell him it was the last thing she wanted but it would get her away from those eyes. Eyes that saw too much and wanted more, much more. But if she went who would stand watch? Not Zoe, she didn't understand and River knew if she tried to explain the words would come out all tangled on her tongue. More often than not the Captain intuited what she wanted to say, enough to get the sense of it, but he wasn't here and that was another problem. She nodded and let Simon help her up, guiding her with a protective arm around her thin shoulders. The Shepherd was watching them and Jayne was watching the Shepherd. "Do you need some help, son?"

Simon shook his head. "No, *duibuqi*."

The mercenary's eyes narrowed, not liking the fact that Simon was treating Book as if nothing had happened. Only it had. Once they had gone Book turned his head and looked straight at Jayne. "Best spit it out Jayne before it chokes you."

Anger once more flared on his face only this time there was nothing and no one to restrain it. "Why'd ya come back? An' don't try an' give me that *fei hua* that this is your home."

"Maybe it's the closest thing I have to one."

"Uh uh, ain't buyin' that."

The Shepherd considered his options, some more colourful than others. "Jayne, I am not going to betray anyone, *dong ma*?"

"Why should I believe you?"

"I didn't betray anyone the first time." He said softly.

"Ya were workin' with Inara that makes ya as guilty as she is."

"It might have looked that way but..." His voice trailed off and he fell silent realising he had already said too much. Jayne was slow but not stupid though sometimes his moral compass gave stupid a run for its' money. Quite literally.

"But what?"

"Let's just say I don't agree with everything Inara does."

Jayne huffed. "For a man that don't have sex that ain't no surprise, unless that too is a gorram lie? You say you're a Preacher, wear the clothes, carry the book but ya don't look or act like any Preacher I know."

That seemed to amuse Book which in turn annnoyed Jayne even more. The Preacher's eyes even sparkled a little as he looked at the mercenary. "I will make you a promise."

The big man said nothing. He wasn't going to agree to a damn thing.

"I am no danger to anyone here."

"Huh."

"You don't believe me?"

Jayne thought he sounded a little sad, disappointed even but shoved the notion to one side. "Nope."

"Then why did the Captain trust me?"

He frowned. It was something that had been puzzling him and driving him crazy since Mal had left. There were times when he was convinced that man was more damaged than the crazy girl. But the Captain was also one of the smartest people he knew. Not academically smart like the doc, nor body smart like 'Nara, nor even mechanically smart like Kaylee. Nope. Captain was smart in the way he thought about things, the way he saw stuff and figured 'em out. If he was trusting the Shepherd in this then there was something else going on. Something he couldn't see and that worried him even more than what he could put into words.

* * * * *

Porchester was a pale wash of colours in the fitful early morning light. The last rain had dribbled away to a fine mist leaving muddy puddles and a partly overcast sky. But the air. Now that was nectar, clean and fresh and FREE. Ty stumbled as he came off the transport, hardly aware of Flannery beside him or two more guards - Purdy and Mitchell - behind them. Flannery was the only one who had taken the trouble to even talk to him. He was sure the others thought he was some kind of gorram spy.

"Who in the nine hells are you?"

Ty looked up into the steady gaze of a thickset man. He had short dark brown hair and a pock marked face but his eyes were knowing and sharp. "Tyrone Garvin and I need your help."

He blinked in surprise. Not often a prisoner turned to him for help. But then Flannery had said over the wave that he wasn't exactly a prisoner. "What makes ya think I can help ya?"

It took Ty a few moments to compose his next sentence, his eyes locking on to the shiny badge on the Sheriff's chest. Slowly he raised his eyes. "I need you to help me stop a gorram blood bath."

The Sheriff stared at him nonplussed then realised a lot of ears were straining, hanging on their every word. He frowned. "Hmm, not sure how much of your tale I'll be believin' but that don't mean I'm gonna let ya hold up this transport. Good folks still got duties to perform, *dong ma*?"

Something in the Sheriff's eye made Ty want to trust him. At least he was not refusing to let him get off the ship and that was the first step. He stayed silent, sensing the lawman did not want to speak where anyone could overhear them. To his surprise a young deputy appeared with a blanket and draped it around his shoulders then helped steer him off to the sheriff's office. Michael Flannery was eaten up with curiosity. "What do you suppose his story is, Sheriff?"

Sheriff Bowman shrugged. "Who knows, Mike? All I know is that boy needs a doc. You say they set hounds on him?"

The guard nodded. Mitchell huffed quietly and went back inside the transport as a slew of prisoners were being led towards them. More guards spilled out of the ship to aide the transfer. Soon there was just the Sheriff and Flannery standing out in the mud washed landing zone. "Yep. Said they was accusin' him of somethin' he didn't do. Wanted to kill him to stop him talkin'."

The Sheriff did not like the sound of that but he had no intention of telling Flannery that. Man was curious enough and that would absolutely not do. Not if his instinct was right. Tyrone Garvin would not be the first such puzzle to land in his lap. He clapped a hand on Flannery's shoulder and gave him a disarming smile. "My Mary's been a-bakin' an' I swear I put on four pounds just breathin' in. You're welcome to come fill up before ya go."

Flannery wanted to, he really did, but they were on a tight schedule and the Alliance were nothing if not ansty about keeping to rutting schedules. Especially for prison transports. Didn't pay to let them get twitchy. "*Bu qu*, Sheriff. Not that I don't wanna but you know how it is."

He did know. Had been counting on it in fact. "I'll send my boy over with a carry out. We got cake an' buns an' reckon we can spare some of the homemade bread, that suit you?"

The guard laughed and felt himself relax. All thoughts of Tyrone Garvin consigned to another man's worry board. "*Duibuqi*."

"No need to thank me son, I'll be expectin' fair recompense on your next stopover. That girl of yours has fair taken my eldest son's eye if you catch my meanin'."

He grinned, thanked the Sheriff again then went to help with the signing over of papers. The Sheriff called out and Deputy Andy Crowther hurried over to him. "What's up, Sheriff?"

"Nothin' just promised to pass off some bakin' before the boys take off. Seems their schedule's a mite tight. Mind runnin' over to my place to oblige? Tell Mary to put a little of everything in a container. Seems a shame to let those boys eat dry rations all the way to Argent."

The Deputy grinned and nodded, moving with some alacrity knowing that if he played his cards right Mary Bowman would not let him leave without a right gernerous piece of her pumpkin pie.

* * * * *

River smiled at her brother then sat cross legged in the middle of her bed, assuring him that she didn't need a smoother she just needed to meditate. Seeing that she was calm he decided to leave her be. In many ways his sister was still something of a mystery to him. Tormented genius or not he would do anything to keep her safe. Once he was gone she got up and quietly locked the door. It would not take much to force the tatami screen but the noise would alert her if anyone tried to do so. She only needed seconds, minutes at most, and the little lock would give her that. Her thoughts turned to the one who should have been there but couldn't be. Too tied to his austere duty to allow a little thing like love to make him forsworn. But River was not just gifted. She was a genius. Gently her lips bowed in a tender smile as her thoughts reached out for him.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*xiongdi* = brother *da ge* = big brother *bu zhongyao* = It's not important *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand *jia* = home *goushi* = crap/dog shit *mei mei* = little sister *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *duibuqi* = thanks *fei hua* = garbage/nonsense

COMMENTS

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 5:22 AM

BRITCHICK


Ooh its good to see Sherrif Bowman appear again.

Alison - does this take place AFTER the events of your previous series, or should we assume the previous series did not take place?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 8:14 AM

ARTSHIPS


Even in extraordinary circumstances you still make the characters react believably. And I know you won't let it last, but right now I like how things are going. Good work!

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 10:35 AM

AMDOBELL


Britchick, this series happens *after* The Forgotten Realm series. All the stories with semi-recurring characters are in the correct sequence unless it is being told in flashbacks. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, April 29, 2004 9:20 PM

GUILDSISTER


AliD--Good heavens! This follows "Forgotten Realm"?! You are very, very mean to your characters. That's a compliment, BTW--makes for good reading. But when this is done you really should write these people a nice holiday somewhere. A few pages where nothing goes wrong. Maybe a nude beach ;-)

Thursday, April 29, 2004 10:26 PM

NEROLI


I love the irony of it being Jayne most bothered by Books "betrayal" and Mal giving him a second chance. \

Another awesome chapter!! :-)

Wednesday, May 12, 2004 11:06 PM

KISPEXI2


Another great chapter. I realise I like the way you often remove Mal from Serenity so that his character doesn't overshadow the others and they get time to shine in their own right. Particularly Jayne. You have totally convinced me that he's a good guy at heart.


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