CHECK MATE: Fianchetto. (13/22)
Friday, June 11, 2004

Sometimes having a Shepherd with a mysterious past can really help when you're in trouble with the law and the outlaws.


Joss Whedon. I don't think I need to say anymore than that.

* * * * *

CHECK MATE: Fianchetto. (A Bishop developed in fianchetto reaches deep into the opponent's position and influences two important central squares - which I think is significant_

* * * * *

Alone in his bunk, Shepherd Book is sitting on his bed. His hands are clasped together, forefingers pressed against his lips. Eyes closed and brow furrowed, he looks for all the world like a preacher at prayer. However, his thoughts are of a decidedly un-religious nature. Sinful even. And mortally sinful at that.

Experience shapes the way we see the world. A history of violence makes a man sensitive to the threat of it. Likewise a life full of lies and deceit gives him a sixth sense where trickery is concerned. Book's past is a patchwork of violence and deception, each used in the service of the other. Which is why he is surprised it has taken him so long to see the truth. But then again, there are none so blind as those who won't see. Who don't want to see.

Book decides it's high time he did see. He stands up briskly, purposefully, and exits his bunk, heading once again for the Cortex screen in Inara's shuttle.

-“We must never forget Reynolds' reputation. It might go badly with her if ... Well, let's not go into that.”- The Abbott's words bounce around the inside of the Preacher's skull as he switches on the link. Only now the words don't sound like those of a good, pious man. They sound like they were carefully selected to exploit Book's own sense of guilt about the past. To feed on and into his prejudices.

The Shepherd remembers the way the old man repeatedly brought up Reynolds' reputation for violence when trying to persuade Book to take this mission and the way he hinted at misogyny and a delight in cruelty. Book had no difficulty in believing Malcolm Reynolds could be such a man: he had been one himself.

His face twists into a sneer of self-disgust. He'd been so quick to judge the Captain. Temere non iudicandum. Lest you yourself be judged.

He types in his code and does a quick search of the file the Alliance holds on Mal. The real one, not the official version for public consumption. He has to swallow back his revulsion at what the man has suffered and at the suffering he's inflicted on others. But none of it goes beyond the commonplace atrocities of battle and captivity. The Captain may not be a saint, but he's no devil either.

Book scrolls down through page after page. Nothing about torture. Well, not about resorting to it himself. Nothing about ....

The final page comes as a surprise. A recent update, less that 24 hours old. “Malcolm Reynolds is the prime suspect in relation to the murder of High Consul Lian Noe on Xenos yesterday. The discovery of a weapon links him directly to the Consul's death. Reynolds' vessel has been logged by way stations on three different planets at the same time as Noe's transport. There are unconfirmed reports that Reynolds may be trading in firearms. Federal agents on Xenos are currently looking for Reynolds for help with their enquiries.”

A curse word would certainly be appropriate, but there is more comfort to be derived from several. “He chu sheng he za jiao de zang huo!”

* * * * *

In the kitchen it's Wash's turn to cook. He sets about the task half-heartedly. To cook well, you need a good appetite and Wash has none when Zoe's out on a job. Even the aroma of real food fails to get his mouth watering.

The same cannot be said of Kaylee. “Ooh, Wash!” she exclaims, sniffing the air appreciatively as she enters the room. “That smells real good.” She goes over to the sink and begins scrubbing the grease from her hands. “When're we eatin'? Are we waitin' for the others to come back?” she wheedles with a smile designed to persuade him this would be A Bad Plan.

“No,” Wash says resignedly. “Zoe said we should go on without them. Might take some time to find the settlement and make contact. At least this way we're spared Jayne's table manners. Here, help yourself. Don't think it's too bad.” He pastes on a grin as he passes the serving spoon to her, but the look in his eyes is bleak. “Ah, more customers!” he cries maintaining his false cheer as Simon and River appear.

“Don't want any. Yellow is for cowards,” River says looking into the pan.

“Just try some,” Simon urges, filling a bowl for her.

“I've been slaving over a hot stove all evening, River” Wash points out. “You don't wanna hurt my feelings do you?”

River pushes the bowl Simon is pressing on her away. “Fed up already. Got plenty inside me. Too much. Full to bursting.” She jabs a finger into Wash's abdomen. “Like you. Too much we can't digest.”

“Hey! That's all muscle!” the pilot protests, sucking in his stomach. “I am a muscular man.”

Kaylee's eyes close in rapture as the taste of creamy cheese melts on her tongue. Been so long since they've had dairy. “Mmmm,” she breathes and takes another mouthful. “It's good, River. Corn and cheese and onions.”

“Don't want to get lost in the maze. And onions make you cry,” River pouts sulkily.

.“She's not wrong there. Should have seen me earlier. Crying like a girl, I was,” Wash can't help but grin. “Though they are good for that blood thinning thing. Thin blood - why is that a good?”

“Blood,” River whispers and sinks down into a chair. She pulls her knees to her chest and starts rocking slowly backwards and forwards. “Onion. Member of the allium family. Consumption of which lowers cholesterol levels and thus the risk of clotting. Circulation must be maintained,” she declaims. “ABC. Airways, breathing, circulation. Airways...” her voice begins to rise. “Breathing! Simon! I can't breathe, Simon!!” And then she's clawing at her throat and fighting for breath.

“River, mei-mei, listen to me. You're OK. It's just a panic attack. It'll pass.” Kaylee has risen instinctively from her chair and is now standing awkwardly alongside Simon, not knowing what to do to help. “I'll just get something to calm her. River, I'll be right back. Kaylee will be here with you...” But River isn't listening. Her eyes are huge and terrified, her mouth open in a silent scream.

Kaylee takes her hands and gives them a gentle squeeze. “It's OK, River. It's OK.”

River eyes bore into hers as if she is trying to sift through her thoughts, to reach a part of Kaylee that will understand. “No. Not OK. Needs kissing now.”

Goosebumps chill Kaylee's back and arms. This riddle is too easy to solve, though she wishes it weren't. “The Cap'n?” she asks fearfully. River nods. “The Cap'n's in trouble?”

* * * * *

Fraser Powell throws the rope over the beam and slides back down the ladder. Meanwhile his younger brother has caught the loose end and is dragging on it, trying to pull Mal's body up into the air. But Mal is too heavy for him. Besides, the Captain has crumpled to the floor. Whether that's because his legs have given way or because he's still fighting for his life, Zoe cannot be sure.

Fraser and Angus Powell catch hold of the rope too and start walking slowly backwards, heaving Mal into a standing position.

Zoe can't help him, can't save him. All she can do is be there. Not look away. Hold him with her eyes. Let all the love and respect, friendship and admiration she feels for him flow out and into him. Let him know that his life may not mean a gorram thing to him but it's the centre of her own. She will be strong, will not look away.

And she will not cry.

It's the hardest thing she has ever had to do.

* * * * *

“Oughta jus' block off the exits and torch the bastards,” one young fed tells his colleague as they descend from the armoured vehicle outside the looming barn. “That's what they did at the Jiutan Settlement. Best way to deal with gun-runners and rebels.”

“Wilson!” Commander Harken's voice cuts through the other man's laughter of agreement. “I will not tolerate talk like that from men under my command. We will follow procedure to the letter,” he says with a look that makes his underling jump to attention. “To the letter. Dong ma?”

“Yes, sir!” the private salutes him.

“Fletcher,” Harken says quietly, turning on the other young man. “Perhaps you would explain why to your comrade.”

Fletcher looks confused. “Because it's regulations, sir!” he finally says, also saluting smartly.

Harken sniffs and looks the pair up and down with disdain. Not so long ago he was commanding an Alliance cruiser. Now he's nurse-maiding greenhorns through their first tours of duty carrying out routine tasks. Acting on information received. He's tried to persuade top brass that he's fully recovered from his breakdown but they keep postponing his return to transgalactic duty pending psychiatric assessment. He suspects not everyone believes his account of what happened on that gorram Firefly. Fears that some amongst the upper echelons still regard tales of Reavers as mere superstition.

“No, private. It's because rules and regulations are what differentiate civilization from barbarism. If we disregard the law, we might as well give in to the darkness. Become it. Now, go do your duty.”

Wilson and Fletcher catch up with the other men just as they are entering the barn.

“Federal Marshals! Don't anybody move! By the authority of the Union of Allied Planets you are bound by law to stand down.” Surprise, anger, fear and defeat sweep in rapid succession across the faces of Powell and his entourage. “Every man here - put your hands up.”

Harken steps carefully over the raised threshhold and looks around. “Every man and every woman,” he corrects as his eyes settle on Zoe. She's about to beg for Mal's life but the horror and fury in the Commander's eyes as they register the lynching in progress tells her there's no need. “You men there!” he yells, withdrawing his gun from its holster. “Cut that man down immediately.”

Zoe belatedly raises her hands, closes her eyes and offers up a silent prayer of thanks. The Captain can be as scornful as he likes when all this is over – Zoe needs a little faith just now.

The younger Powell brothers look to Angus for a lead. Defeated, he shrugs. “Drop him, boys.” They haven't yet secured the rope and all they have to do is release it. It whips out of their hands with a flick as the weight of Mal's body falling the six inches or so to the floor pulls it upwards.

For an agonizing moment there's nothing. Then a gasp and a cough followed by the nauseating rattle of a man trying to breathe through a broken windpipe.

Zoe is across the ground separating her from Mal faster than anyone can tell her to stay still. She's on her knees, the blade needed to cut through the noose already unsheathed. “Nice goin', Sir,” she whispers into his unhearing ear as she slices through the twists of fibre. “Gettin' caught by the Feds your genius backup plan?” Because bitter irony is better than breaking down in tears.

He may be free of the noose but Mal isn't getting enough air. Zoe's seen enough neck injuries during the war to know he ain't got a lot of time. He's already unconscious, which considering what's to be done, is a blessing ... She presses the point of her knife down into the skin over his Adam's apple. Cutting the noose has dulled the blade some and it takes more effort that she'd expected to cut through and into his trachea. There's a lot of blood and to stop him from drowning in it she has to pull him up so his head and shoulders are propped up against her body. Then she reaches her arms around him and inserts a forefinger at either end of the opening she's made to keep the airway open.

For a moment Harken is too stunned to speak. Awed by her certainty - by the way she never flinched – and more than a little envious of Reynolds ability to inspire such unswerving loyalty. Then he recovers himself. “Caron, get the med kit! At the double!”

Caron, older than the other privates, seems to have had some emergency medical training. He manages to insert a plastic tube through the hole in Mal's throat and attaches a plastic balloon which he pumps rhythmically.

Then a couple of feds grab Zoe by the arms and pull her to her feet. A click, and her hands are cuffed behind her back. “He needs a doctor,” she snarls. “Now.”

Commander Harken clasps his hands behind his back and pauses just long enough to let Zoe know he's the one giving the orders before saying “Fletcher, Wilson. I want full details on every man here. They are to stay here until I return. The rest of you, get these three,” he points with a leather-gloved hand at Zoe, Mal and the still-unconscious Jayne, “back to base. Radio ahead for medical assistance. And see if you can't make a stretcher out of something for this one,” he says with a look down at Mal that is almost of pity.

Because he's seen the bulletins. Knows that this nick-of-time rescue is only a temporary reprieve for Captain Reynolds. The man will face a firing squad before the week is out.

Because it appears that Malcolm Reynolds has moved on from looting and smuggling to gun-running and murder. Can the man who saved Harken's life really have let the place of nothing swallow him whole? It's a crying shame.

* * * * *

Wash is flying the shuttle with all the desperate intensity of a man with Reavers on his tail. Wild-eyed and staring. He catches Book's look of concern out of the corner of his eye.

“So, how wrong is it to want to kill someone?” he asks lightly, conversationally.


“But what if they really, really deserve it?”

“Still very, I'm afraid. Bible's pretty specific. 'Thou shalt not kill.' Not a lot of leeway there.”

“I'm not talking about the doing. Just the wanting. I could just want to kill him, right?” Wash's tone rises optimistically.

“Are we talking about someone in particular?” the Shepherd asks mildly. “Someone we know? The Captain, maybe?”

“Yeah, the Captain. What the hell's he thinking? What the hell is Zoe thinking? Shooting Consuls?! Why in the suo you de dou shi dang can't they forget about the gorram war? Don't we have enemies enough in Niska?”

“That we do, son. But I don't believe the Captain did shoot the Consul. Though I do think there's them as want us and the rest of the 'verse to think that.”

“Huh?” Wash pushes the steering wheel forward and cuts the engines as the shuttle comes to rest in a field just outside the village. “Why'd they want that?”

Book purses his lips. “Because it's ... convenient.”

* * * * *

“What's that, hon?” Saffron stoops forwards and leans her left ear in closer towards Inara. “Speak up.”

“He .. doesn't .. know.. anything,” Inara rasps.

Saffron laughs. “Don't believe you, sweetheart. If that was true, you'd have said so earlier and saved yourself ... all this. You're protecting him.”

“No.” The word is barely audible. “He doesn't know.”

Saffron stamps impatiently. “Yeah, you said that. Well, let's try something else.” She drops to her knees at Inara's feet.

The Companion's eyes open wide in alarm and confusion. “What ... what are you...doing?” she asks her tormentor.

“Moving on. Not much left I can do to your fingers...” She cups a hand under Inara's bare foot. “So tell me, where is the syringe now?”

* * * * *

“Did he really just tell us everything we wanted to know and then let us go?” Wash runs a hand through his hair, spiking it up on end and making himself look even more agitated. “Why would he do that?”

“Think it's the outfit,” Book says, touching his dog collar. “Soldiers – young soldiers in particular – are often quite religious. In a simple “Please God, don't let me die!” kind of way.”

“Not in my experience.” Even Wash does a double-take at the words but quickly rationalizes them to himself. “My wife, I mean. And Mal.”

“Not exactly young soliders,” Book points out, filing away this conversation for future reference. He touches the pilot's arm. “At least we know your wife is safe.”

“Oh yeah. Can always rely on Mal to keep my wife safe.” Wash averts his eyes from Book's look of reproof. “How far now d'ya think?”

“'Bout another mile.”

“What if they won't let us see them? Mal being all wanted for cold-blooded murder and such?”

“Oh, they'll let us see them.”

Wash's disbelieving grimace is met by a smile of calm certainty from the preacher.

* * * * *

Kaylee is doing the only practical thing she can do to help the Captain. She's checking the engine meticulously. Every last wire and connection. Brushing away rust, lubing up joints and wiping off excess oil. At least when he comes back they'll be one hundred percent ready to get off this gorram ke wu planet.

If he comes back ....

“Coming back.” Kaylee is so tense, River's voice makes her jump and bang her head off the engine casing. It takes her a while to process the words.

“You can't know...” Kaylee is as wary of tempting fate as she is desperate to believe her friend. “The bulletin said they found his gun at the scene. Why would they just let him go?”

“They think the fire will be worse than the frying pan,” River says earnestly. “That's why.”

Kaylee allows a spark of optimisim to ignite. “He's really coming back?”

River nods. “But no kissing,” she wags a stern finger at Kaylee and then smiles.

“How can you be sure?” Kaylee asks. Hope is good, certainty better.

River looks at Kaylee for a moment and then her focus alters, as though she can see right through her. She cocks her head on one side and seems to be listening to distant voices.

“See them all. Feel him.”

“How? Is it what they did to you at the ...?”

“My brother. Just follow the vibrations. Love is the channel and need the boat.”

* * * * *

“I would like to speak to your superior,” Book tells the guard, his manner polite yet authoritative.

“You got an appointment, Granpa?” the young guard asks insolently. He's lolling against the wall, chewing gum and looking very, very bored.


“Can't speak to 'im then. Them's the rules. Can't be breakin' the rules for every Tom, Cheng and Hari who comes by.”

“Oh, I think you might be able to bend them for me, son,” Book says, pulling his ID card from a pocket.

Reluctantly the guard accepts it and feeds it into the reader. There's a beep, the guard looks down and suddenly feels the need to be a lot more deferential, more accommodating. “Get him for you right now, Sir!” he says hastily before scuttling quickly off down a corridor.

Book waits patiently whilst beside him Wash is jigging from one foot to the other, twitching with nervous energy. A couple of Feds engaged in desk work glance over at them, but soon lose interest.

Finally Commander Harken appears. He recognizes his visitors immediately as the men they are as well as the men they purport to be. His search through the news bulletin archive after interviewing the crew of Serenity all those months ago had taken a few hours, but his time was not wasted. He'd finally unearthed the reason the ship's pilot looked so familiar. Wash Warren was none other than the legendary Tao Collins, he was sure of it. Never mind that the bulletin told of Collins' death. Harken quickly came to the conclusion that it suited the powers that be to have people think the Alliance war hero dead so that he could be used for special missions. As for the man is clerical attire – well, not many had seen his face so there was no disgrace in not having recognized him during the interrogation. But his name ... well, that was another matter entirely.

“What can I do for you, Malle..?” he asks, inviting them to sit in the armchairs that furnish his office.

“Book. They call me Shepherd Book,” the preacher reminds him pointedly. “I want you to release the Captain and his colleagues into my custody.”

Wash's eyebrows shoot upwards and he gives a little gasp. Harken has to admire Collins' commitment to his cover. He plays the part of goofball pilot to perfection, almost as though he believes it himself.

“Of course.” Harken agrees without argument. “If you would fill out the paperwork, Ma... Shepherd.”

Book takes the proferred pen and scribbles a signature in several places on the triplicate sheets.

Wash's mouth is opening and shutting and his eyes dart from one man to the other like someone watching a magician and trying to see how the trick is done.

“Reynolds has been stabilized,” Harken tells Book as he files away the forms. “But will need medication for some time.”

“We are picking up a medic en route,” Book assures him. “Will your men be able to take him to the ship?”

“Certainly.” Harken's face breaks into a rare smile of admiration. A stroke of genius to infiltrate Reynolds' crew and to bide their time for so long. He has to shake these men by the hand.

* * * * *

The ramp closes behind them with a hiss of hydraulics that echoes Zoe's sigh of relief as she and Jayne stretcher the Captain back on board.

Simon rushes forward with a trolley on which they carefully lay their sedated patient. Kaylee approaches slowly. “Good to have you back, Cap'n,” she whispers, a little catch in her voice. She bends down to kiss his left cheek, right in the centre of that pattern of moles which has always reminded Simon of the Eros constellation and the doctor is surprised at the hot rush of jealousy he feels.

“Kiss it all better,” River laughs, and she too comes forward to plant a kiss on Mal's cheek.

“OK, visiting hours are over.” The rest of the crew take Simon's sharp tone for professional concern. “I need to get him to the infirmary.”

“Let's get off this rock,” Zoe says to her husband, softening the order with a kiss on the cheek.

“Suits me, lamby-toes.” And he races up the stairway towards the bridge. “Where to? Persephone.”

“No,” Book says firmly. “Best take us somewhere by the scenic route. Under the radar. For a while.”

Jayne regards the Shepherd through narrowed eyes and scratches his head. “Don't make no sense. One minute the Feds is all for putting us on trial, an' the next they let us go. Jus' like that. What the hell you say to 'em, Preacher?”

Zoe cocks an eyebrow and puts a hand on her hip. “Yeah, Shepherd. What d'you tell 'em.”

The smile of content at being back home fades from Book's face. “My name,” he says solemnly. “My real name.”

* * * * *


Friday, June 11, 2004 3:14 AM


oooh, do we finally find out who book is....anticipating the next update!

Friday, June 11, 2004 4:24 AM


“My name,” he says solemnly. “My real name.”

I got shivers up both arms!

Friday, June 11, 2004 5:04 AM


I've had a soft spot for this story, how everything is by design, not accident. And you don't dissappoint!

Friday, June 11, 2004 5:34 AM


Oh wow, excellent fic! And just *who* is Book really? Has to be pretty high up to be able to pull so many strings with so few words. And poor Mal, he really does go through the wringer something fiercesome. It makes sense the Alliance wanting to use him as the fall guy for crimes he did not commit and kind of chilling how easily those lies are believed. And Saffron? I think she is more evil than any of them. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, June 11, 2004 8:25 PM


There are no words! Except maybe... absolutely great story! (even that doesn't quite cover it). Please, please share more soon!!!!

Friday, June 11, 2004 9:52 PM


Zowie! I think I forgot to breathe a time or two myself while reading. Wonderful work!


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HOLDING ON: Ch 2 - Tangential
Much to his annoyance, Sanzo's urgent quest to find Goku gets diverted. Meanwhile Mal meets someone from Inara's past. WARNING - slashy but not graphic

The Wheel Never Stops Turning
Mal meets a blonde in a bar. Violence ensues. And Mal discovers religion has its uses.

This is primariy a <i>Firefly</i> fic, but the character Mal ends up doing a job for is from the manga/anime <i>Saiyuki</i>. It's also <b>PG-13 nothing-explicit SLASH</b>. Because that's who I am!

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 7: 'til the day you die.
Inara leaves Serenity for a new life. Mal gets a job with a couple of new employers, but sinks further into despair.
Slash so lite you'll probably scarcely notice it.

MAKE ME A STONE: Chapter 6: You just learn to live there.
Another job goes less than smoothly. Meanwhile River takes matters into her own hands and Mal has a brainwave.

SLASHFIC. SPOILERS for the comics, novelization and movie.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 5: Chickens come home to roost.
Mal has to accept Badger's offer of a job. Meanwhile old enemies seek to take advantge.
Spoilers for the comics. Very light slash.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 4. Some residual heat.
SPOILERS for the comics/BDM. Mal has to accept Badger's job offer. Not much else in his life is going right either.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 3: It's complicated.
Mal decides to pull a job of his own. Simon offers to help. It doesn't go smooth - but that's not entirely Simon's fault.

Non-graphic SLASH.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 2: And who exactly could fix you?
Simon'a altruism leads to a job going wrong. Mal's not happy.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 1: Pray there ain't any more surprises.
Warning: SLASH, but not graphic. Mal and Simon both find that the other has hidden talents. It kinda piques their interest ... *g*

TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 23. Two by two.
Four years have past since Mal was forced to blow up Serenity and Simon disappeared with River and Book. A lot has changed since then. But a lot has stayed the same. The CONCLUSION to this series.