CHECK MATE: Bishop defends black knight. (11.22)
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Mal is released from jail and gets a warmer welcome from one crew member than he expected. Jayne confides in Book about Inara's whereabouts. Xenos looks a scary place. And talking of scary, there's Saffron to worry about. And Badger's dodgy dealing. Oh yes, things are gonna go smooth.


Disclaimer: Firefly and its characters sprang from the brain of Joss Whedon. What a brain that is.

* * * * * CHECKMATE: Bishop defends black knight. * * * * *

It's hardly what she's used to, but Inara feels pathetically grateful for this cheap hotel room at the Eavesdown Docks. At least she doesn't have to wander the streets, trying to ward off sexual advances from drunks, madmen and worse until dawn's light sweeps the streets clean of the trash generated by Alliance rule.

She is grateful too that Monty took the news of her failure with such good grace. She could tell he was disappointed in her despite his best efforts not to let it show. When she apologized, he reciprocated, blaming himself for having expected too much of her on his very first mission. Said he shouldn't have asked her to deceive her friends. The loneliness that welled up at mention of her friends prompted Inara to relate how Jayne had forced her off Serenity. Monty's mood instantly changed to one of anger and concern. He told her she must make her way back to his stronghold immediately so that she could be taken care of.

She looks at the alarm clock beside the lumpy bed. Four hours till sunrise, five till she can catch a ship heading to Three Hills. She should try to rest even if she can't sleep so she opens one of her bags, and digs around inside for a nightgown. As she pulls it out something clatters to the floor.

The sight of the ridiculous wobble-headed doll all but breaks her heart. Hurting too much for tears, she lifts it up from the floor and presses it to her lips.

* * * * *

Between them Jayne and Book haul the last of the long wooden cases up the cargo bag, biceps flexed tight under the strain and sweat trickling down their faces. They've been at this for half an hour, working in silent harmony.

Simon feels jealous. Wishes he had Book's knack of fitting in. Or Jayne's of not caring. The fear that he will always have to watch his step around this crew - always have to apologize for his very existence - is surfacing again when Kaylee skips up beside him. “Hi, Simon. Zoe just sent a wave sayin' she an' the Cap'n'll be back in time for breakfast. Wanna help me make somethin' special? To cheer the Cap'n up after being sprung from jail?” Her eyes sparkle as she flutters her hands like a bird taking flight.

Sometimes he finds her a bit overwhelming but this morning Kaylee is a safe haven and Simon is glad to follow her up to the kitchen.

Out of the corner of his eye Book is watching Jayne carefully. The mercenary is unusually quiet today. Normally he would be cursing the weight of the cargo or bragging about how the ease of the task. Book knows there's something on his mind and can't help but worry that Jayne is still brooding about their argument.

“Jayne,” he begins, his tone carefully neutral. “Hope you're not imaging last night was all your fault.”

The big man jumps as though Book had spattered him with hot oil. His eyes dart wildly from side to side and the muscles in his jaw and neck twitch. “What the hell d'ya mean?” he finally spits. “Wa'n't my fault at all. Anyone says it was'll get...”

“No-one's saying that,” Book soothes. “But tempers did get a little heated. Unkind words were exchanged. I may have been a little hasty...”

Suddenly Jayne guffaws with laughter. “Gorramit, preacher! I ain't worried about your beliefs on punishment. Even if they are all wrong. Eye for an eye, that's the only justice worth a damn. My Daddy taught me that.”

Book tucks his chin into his neck and shakes his head in surprise. “So? We're good?”

“Hell, yes, preacher!” Jayne laughs, slapping him so hard between the shoulders Book has to struggle not to lose his balance.

* * * * *

“You notice how this whole gorram town's starin' at me, Zoe?” a freshly-bailed Mal asks looking from left to right and then over his shoulder. He's right. Every single local is gawping at him. “Don't suppose it's cos I really am that pretty....” His voice tails off as Zoe pulls a face.

“Think it's more that you were on every Cortex news channel last night, Sir,” she tells him bluntly. Maybe even a bit angrily. “An' this mornin' you're on every bulletin. See for yourself.” And she points to the electronic news stand where Mal sees his own face scowling out at him.

He stops in front of the glass panel and quickly scans the article. “Well this here is a load of ruttin' lies!” he fumes. “What in the diyu do they mean “Browncoat extremist”? I ain't no ...” He breaks off as another item catches his attention. Down in the right-hand corner there's a photo of a very blond man. The headline above it reads “Consul Noe to visit garrison on Xenos.”

Mal crouches down to get a better view of the face. Yup. It's that same fella all right. He lets out an anxious sigh.

“Something wrong, Sir?”

“Most like there is. Kinda strange the way our path and the Consul here's keep crossin'. Noticed that shiny head of his in the post office on Demeter. Had the look of Alliance top brass about him. An' I'm pretty sure he was amongst the gang Maguire was with on Brownfields when River got all gun-crazed and homicidal. Now he's headin' for Xenos. Our business relationship with Badger's gettin' a bit of an odour to it, wou'n't you say?”

Zoe bites her lower lip thoughfully. “Think he's playin' us, Sir?”

Mal nods grimly. “Sure of it. Less sure what his game is.”

“Can't really back out of the deal, Sir.” Zoe reminds the Captain. “We don't go to Xenos, he'll be entitled to go to law and get the ship impounded till we pay back your bail money.”

“Oh, I'm all aware of that,” Mal agrees. “We'll jus' have to walk soft and keep our wits about us.”

* * * * *

Kaylee's eyes light up as Mal enters the mess. “Welcome home, Cap'n!” she greets him with a fierce hug that makes him flinch.

“Careful there, Kaylee,” he gasps, pressing a hand to his ribcage. “Found myself on the wrong end of a boot last night.”

“I should take a look at that for you.” Simon steps forward automatically, only to draw back a little as he meets Mal's penetrating stare. For a moment everything else seems to drop away as the Captain and his medic look at each other. Then Mal breaks the tension with the quick flash of a smile.

“No need, Doc. I'll live. Jus' need folk to be a little gentle with me a day or two.” Kaylee pulls out his chair at the head of the table and pushes it under him as he sits down. “No need for you to be nurse-maidin' me,” he complains, even as he thanks her with a squeeze of the hand. He turns back to Simon. “Your sister doin' any better? You takin' good care of her?”

Simon is just about to reply when River pushes past him and approaches the Captain. Placing one arm around his shoulders, she slips onto his lap and gives him a tender smile. “No two-by-two. Captain's blue.” Before he knows what is happening, she takes Mal's face gently between her hands and presses her lips to his. Kaylee eyes pop open wide. She gives a little squeal and claps her hands over her mouth, looking from one face to another, trying to assess the rest of the crew's reaction.

Mal himself is so startled his mouth falls open and quick as a flash River's tongue darts in, sliding over and under his. Then one hand is cupping the back of his head, fingers twisting in his hair, pushing him closer as her kiss becomes more ferocious and her other hand slips under the fabric of his shirt where it is unbuttoned at the neck. No-one speaks. They scarcely even breathe.

Eventually Mal overcomes his surprise and gently but firmly extricates himself from River's embrace. There's a touch of red on his cheeks and his eyes flashing as he turns on Simon.

“Don't jus' stand there, boy! Do somethin'. You can't keep her under control, Doctor, I'll dump the pair of you on Xenos!” Mal is angry. Partly because of the assault on his dignity, but mostly because ... because, well, girl seemed to know jus' exactly how he wants to be kissed. Diyu if she didn't push all his buttons at once. For a moment there.... And that was all manner of creepifyin'.

River's eyes have a far away look even though she is staring at Mal. “Been there. Seen it. I know.”

Yet again Simon has to drag River away. Her protests can be heard all the way down the corridor. “Two by two, Simon. Each one a mate. Doctor's no good without medicine.”

Mal gazes after them and shakes his head ruefully. “Well, craziness notwithstandin', we need to get in the air before noon if we're to make Xenos on schedule.” He looks around at his crew, checking them off one by one. “Inara get back OK?” he asks Kaylee.

“I ain't seen her...”

“Think I may have seen her,” Wash says, frowning with the effort of trying to remember through his pounding headache.

“Yes dear, but you were sure you'd seen Luke Skywalker last night,” Zoe chides him gently. “Not sure my husband's a reliable witness, Sir. Too much ...”

“Inara was definitely here last night,” Jayne interrupts. “Saw her go off to her shuttle with my own eyes.” And he crosses his arms as if defying any one to say different. Book is the only one to pick up on the needlessly defensive stance.

“That's good.” Mal feels relieved, thankful that this last client wasn't the one to tempt Inara away from Serenity for good. “We ready for take off after breakfast, Wash?”

From the bottom of his heart, and the pit of his stomach, Wash wishes the Captain hadn't mentioned food.

* * * * *

“Problem, sweetie?”

“That don't begin to cover it. Parkin ain't gonna be at all pleased. We're dead, you and me both, if we don't clear this mess up.”

“Don't sweat it, hubby. I'll tidy away this little problem for you. Think of it as my wifely duty. Besides, it'll give me the chance to even things out between Mal an' me. Not to mention Inara. Do you know she had the nerve to tell me I looked horrific last time we met? Well, I figure she'll look pretty horrific too when I've finished with her.”

Monty stares at his wife. He's not going to ask her what she means. Doesn't want it on his conscience. Keeping the war going, hanging on to his little scrap of power is one thing. Wet work's another.

Saffron gives him a beguiling smile. “She'll never see it coming.”

* * * * *

Simon stiffens as Mal enters the infirmary. The Captain has a way of filling a room, so that you can't get away from him, even if you wanted to. All Simon can do is brace himself for one of their “personal chats.”

“Captain,” he says warily. “What can I do for you?”

There's a long pause whilst Mal considers. Then he strides over to the exam table and sits down, unbuttoning his shirt. “Guess I could do with a bit of patchin' up after all, Doc. Wanna be prepared for whatever's waitin' for us on Xenos.”

“You don't think we'll run into trouble, do you?” Simon asks, running expert fingers over Mal's ribs until he finds the breaks. For a body that's suffered all that Mal's has, the skin is surprisingly smooth. But then again, for all he's been through, Mal really isn't that old. Scarcely ten years older than his doctor.

Simon takes a roll of bandaging from a drawer and lifts Mal's arm out slightly to the side so that he can start winding it tight around him.

Mal gives a short laugh and looks his Doctor in the eye. “How long you been on this boat, son? You not noticed how we always manage to run into trouble?”

Simon pushes away his anxiety and continues with his task.

When he's finished Mal asks, almost conversationally, “River not here?”

“No, I ... I gave her something to help her sleep. Mal...” his hand flutters up to his mouth. “I'm sorry about what she ... I don't know what ...”

“It's all right, Simon. I ain't sayin' I want it to happen again, but there's worse things in the 'verse than bein' kissed by a pretty girl,” Mal interrupts with a grin before sauntering out of the infirmary.

Simon watches him go, not at all sure he wants to know that Mal thinks his sister is pretty. And not at all sure why it bothers him.

* * * * *

“Di'n't you have enough of a work out with them crates, preacher?” Jayne yells down into the cargo bay when he catches sight of Book on the weight-lifting bench down below.

“Not nearly!” Book calls back up to him, adding straight-faced, “Though I can see how you might have found it tiring.”

Jayne is down the stairway in a trice. He picks up a towel and stands behind the shepherd. “Oughta know by now you should have someone to spot you,” he mutters.

Book doesn't reply, just continues with his reps. It feels good that things between him and Jayne are right again.

“You lifted the weight all wrong.” Jayne looks round to see River tiptoe-ing barefoot towards him. “Chased away the dream.”

“Huh? Whadya...” River comes up real close, standing inches away from him. She taps his chest with two fingers. “What's in here's not all rotten. Just misguided, operating under misapprehensions and out of ignorance.”

“I ain't ignorant,” Jayne hisses, his hands balling into fists. Why does everyone assume he's stupid?

Book gets up from the bench, worried Jayne may snap. “River, sweetheart, would you like me to take you back to Simon?”

She ignores him as she tries again to make Jayne understand what to her is clear as day. “Made it worse to make it better. Jayne,” her voice drops to a whisper. “I know what you did.”

“Chou wang ba dan!” Jayne explodes, striking River hard across the cheek with the back of his hand. Ruttin' mind-readin' freak! The blow knocks her screaming to the floor.

“Jayne! Leave it!” Book orders, his voice resonant with sudden authority. “She doesn't know what she's saying.”

Jayne stands stock still, breathing hard whilst the shepherd kneels down at River's side. “It OK, River. He won't do it again, I promise. Let me get you back to your brother.”

River allows herself to be helped back onto her feet. She looks sadly at Jayne. “I know what you did. I understand. He won't.” Panic fills her eyes and she turns to the shepherd. “Make him tell you. Find the words to stop the axe from falling.”

“Of course,” Book comforts her. “Now let's get you upstairs.”

* * * * *

“Whadya want?” Jayne growls in response to the tentative knock on the door of his bunk.

“Brought you some lunch,” Book replies. “Real food. Can I come in.”

“If you have to,” Jayne sulks.

Book descends the ladder and puts a tray loaded with bread and cheeses and a bowl of meaty-looking soup onto a table. He stands quietly and waits for Jayne to speak.

“Tian xiao de, Preacher, spit it out!”

“I regard you as a friend, Jayne,” Book begins. “So please understand I am asking this out of friendship – you know what River was talking about, don't you.”

Jayne grunts. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“Oh, I think you do. And I think it has something to do with the Captain. Something you've done that he won't like. You seemed a bit ... uneasy ... about Inara's whereabouts last night. Is it something to do with her?”

Jayne kicks at the leg of a chair a couple of times before puffing out a sigh. “Well, you ain't wrong, Preacher.” It's a relief to be able to get it off his chest. Get another man's perspective on the situation. Books listens intently as Jayne tells him all about Inara and Wash and the needle. When Jayne is finished, he lays a hand on the mercenary's shoulder.

“Think you did right, son. She couldn't stay after that. No saying how the Captain would have reacted. Best we keep it from him.” Book's first instinct is to protect Inara from the Captain's inevitable wrath. At least until they know for sure whether she really was trying to murder Wash. Book has been around long enough to know things are not always what they seem.

“I told him she was on board. Well. Good as.” Jayne hangs his head. “Mal's gonna shove me out the airlock when he finds out she ain't.”

“Surely not,” Book tries to reassure him. “Let me handle this. There's someone I need to contact. I'll use the Cortex screen in Inara's shuttle. You keep watch, make sure no-one disturbs me.”

* * * * *

Parkin storms into Rantoong's office, his face livid with fury. “Gorram, ruttin' whore let us down!” he declares, slamming a fist down on the heavy oak desk. “Bitch let us down!”

Rantoong strokes the leather armpads of his chair reflectively. “Well, that's unfortunate,” he agrees at last. “But not exactly the end of the 'verse.”

Parkin stares at him in disbelief. “You're not even the slightest bit annoyed? I thought you were relying on the high profile murder of an Alliance hero to stir up a bit of profit-generating universal hatred?”

“I never rely on anything, Parkin. Call me a pessimist, but I always like to have more than one iron in the fire. And whilst I must admit I was hoping that Reynolds might put a bullet through his pilot's skull once he discovered his true identity, it was never a foregone conclusion. Flexibility, that's the key to a good plan.”


“Yes. Now do cheer up. Looking at your miserable face is putting me off my gin. That little bar-room brawl did wonders for endorsing Reynolds' rebellious credentials. When he gets caught gun-running on Xenos, no-one is going to be surprised. Doubt they'll even bother putting him on trial.” Rantoong chuckles wickedly into his drink. “Be swinging from a gallows before you know it.”

* * * * *

It's late in the PM six days later when they touch down near the rendez-vous point on Xenos. The sky is low and overcast and the breeze is picking up, snatching dust from the dirt-track up into little twisting clouds. Jayne, Zoe and Mal descend the ramp on the loaded mule.

“Zhu yi!” Wash shouts after them. Watch your back. And watch that new – well, second-hand – mule. Don't go settin' it on fire this trip. If Wash worries about the mule maybe he won't have to worry about his wife or the baby.

After a mile or so, it begins to rain. Jayne starts to cuss. “Ta ma de! Zhen dao mei!”

Mal shoots him a withering look. “It's only a spot of rain, Jayne.”

“Not the rain. That.” Jayne points to the crossroads ahead of them.

Hanging by the neck from a rope, the decaying body of a man twists in the wind, silhouetted black against the silver grey sky.

“Seems like a nice planet, Sir,” Zoe remarks drily as they pass underneath. “Pretty strong on law and order.”

Mal looks up at the body. Dangling from the feet at about eye-level there's a board bearing the words “Double-crossing hun dan.”

Oh yes. This job is bound to go smooth.

* * * * *


Tuesday, May 25, 2004 6:58 AM


Things just keep getting more complicated. At least we know some of the why, but I'm real curious about the rest. A good read!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004 1:49 PM


Excellent! Had to laugh at Mal's reaction to River kissing him in front of the crew. Love how you are writing Simon and his reactions. Wish that Monty would stand up to that *pofu* of a wife of his and poor Jayne, trying to do right and getting himself all in a fix. Very shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, May 26, 2004 12:20 AM


Did the captain jump bail when he took the collateral (the ship) and flew off to another planet? You addressed that issue but I didn't quite track the reasoning.

Totally enjoying the story! Nifty bit with River ;-) Thanks for sharing.

Thursday, May 27, 2004 5:08 AM



No, the Captain didn't jump bail. His bail money was paid by Badger whom he now has to repay, which is why he can't just tell him to stuff the Xenos job up his pigu.

Thanks to you for the nice comments. And to everyone who takes the trouble to give their response.


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