BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 35. "The Volcano's Edge"
Monday, June 21, 2004

"The Captain goes to the Dome with the Shepherd. Mal discovers something which chills him to his very soul. The Sheriff's protests come too late. But worst of all is the waiting."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2373    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "THE VOLCANO'S EDGE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: RIVER/MAL. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "NOT SO GOOD INTENTIONS". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "The Captain goes to the Dome with the Shepherd. Mal discovers something which chills him to his very soul. The Sheriff's protests come too late. But worst of all is the waiting." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"THE VOLCANO'S EDGE"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Serenity was gripped in something of a surreal silence. No one speaking or causing more noise and movement than was necessary. Shuttle 2 had just departed, Jayne and Pepper having carried the Captain in on a stretcher, the crew making a solemn leave taking. The Captain trying to stay conscious and offer what solace he could to River. "I'll come back, xin gan, believe it. An' when I do not no power in the verse will part us, dong ma?"

Her tear stained face pressed against his, her arms wrapped around him, her lips brushing his so tenderly. So many things she wanted to tell him, to share with him, but this was not the time. She would be able to share nothing with him if he died. That one thought kept her strong. Kept her feet on a path she did not want to walk. Giving him up was so very hard. "Love you, ai ren, more than anything else"

"I know, bao bei, an' when this is over I plan to do somethin' about that."

Her eyes widened and seemed to swallow up his own, their foreheads touching. A tentative smile tugged at her lips. "Words are cheap, Captain."

"Not plannin' on buyin' you, *dong ma*? You belong to your own self not me."

"Yet I am yours."

Her words touched him deep in his heart where he treasured her the most. "Only if that's what you want. You still feel that way when I get back what say we make this official?"

Her vision grew swimmy. Was he really saying what she thought he was saying? "Official?"

Despite the dull miasma of pain rocking him on the edge of the Black, his eyes were focused, a very strong indomitable will keeping him with her just a little while longer. "Want to marry you, xin gan. When I come back," A hand lifted weakly and parted the curtain of hair from her beautiful pale face. He did not want a single shadow to hide her from him. Even ones of her own making. "Will you be my blushin' bride?"

River did not answer him in words or thoughts. Eyes and heart glowing she kissed him gently, putting all her heart and soul and everything she was feeling into it. He sailed on the treasure of her lips, her heartbeat making his stronger just by its' divine presence in proximity to his own. Her touch his anchor. His presence the only home she wanted to call her own. Yet time was fleeting and they had little enough of it to spare. When she drew back to gaze at him, his breath caught at the strength of love shining back at him and engracing his soul. It was getting hard to stay awake now. She knew. His eyes apologised, promised to make it up to her. Then the sluggish tide dragged him down. His eyes closed, taking him away from her and leaving her empty. River's last kiss was lighter than an angel's breath, not wanting to disturb him. She looked up at the Preacher. Noticed the way he was calmly watching them. Taking everything in. And yet, despite all that had happened, she could detect no falsehood in him this time. Almost, she would have been comforted if she had.

Then Zoe was speaking, gently brushing the Captain's shoulder in an almost-accidental touch of her hand as if needing to reassure herself that a vibrant heart still beat within the shattered clay. Simon checked him a last time, the crew reluctant to say goodbye as if to do so would tempt a fate that rarely held them in its' good graces. She understood. Still River stared at Book. As the last people exited the shuttle River lingered long enough to say a few last words to the Preacher. "We're trusting you. Trusting you not to harm but protect him. To keep your word."

Shepherd Book nodded solemnly. "I promise that I will do all in my power to save him. He will receive the medical attention he needs River. He *will* be healed."

She searched his face, eyes locked on his, but saw only calm certainty staring back at her. Whatever else was going on the Preacher was utterly sincere in his promise to save the Captain. River just wished she could see into the rest of his mind. To understand the why of it. Slowly she gave a wary nod. "I'll be watching."

Book almost smiled, a trace of gentleness warming the still planes of his face. A sober look like a vow gazed back at her. "*Wo zhidao*."

River was not quite finished with the Preacher. She took a couple of steps forward bringing them within inches of each other. He hardly dared breathe in case that breath should part them. "Know this also, if you harm or betray him I will come and find you and death and destruction will stir like a pestilence in my wake. The grotesque and gnawing darkness of the soul will be welcome friends compared to the horrors of fury and vengeance that will cry in my name. If you betray him no place in the 'verse will hide you from me."

He nodded. No smile this time but something else she could not quite grasp. As if he knew better than she the exact price she would be capable of extracting. It was somewhat unsettling to think that he could know her abilities so well. "*Wo dong*."

Then she turned, touched the Captain's sleeping cheek and was gone. Book let out a long measured breath and shut the door. Locking the hatch he paused to oxygenate flagging lungs then glanced down at the sleeping man before settling in the pilot's chair. "You are a very lucky man, Malcolm Reynolds."

Swallowed by darkness the Captain did not reply. An uneasy sleep had claimed him, the shadows of pain dancing and flickering across his face. As Book fired up the shuttle and detached from Serenity, he murmered softly to himself. "Better for you had you died, Captain."

* * * * *

Sheriff Martin Bowman could not believe his gorram ears. Propping him up on his shoulder, Tyrone Garvin stopped as soon as the Sheriff did. The Sheriff was staring at the crew as if they had all gone stark raving mad. "You handed him over to *that* man?"

"Shepherd said..."

Zoe did not complete the sentence. The Sheriff snapped at her, his words rattled out like gunfire. Rapid sharp bursts of angry retort, a verbal shrapnel that flayed her with regret while stirring her own sense of rage. Had he thought this an easy decision? The Captain's life was at stake. No time to get fussy about the means used in saving him. "That *tamade hundan* ain't no gorram Shepherd, *dong ma*? Man may wear a ruttin' collar, carry a gorram bible, but don't make him no man of God. Nor of man neither."

Simon wanted to get the Sheriff to rest but knew he would be wasting both his breath and resources if he tried to interrupt him now. What was it with the men on this ship? Stubborn pig-headedness seemed to be a rutting desease on Serenity.

Ty managed to steer the Sheriff to a chair. To the young man's relief the Sheriff sat down. Deputy Crowther watched anxiously but said nothing. One look at his mentor's face told him all he needed to know but his expression said he did not have to like it. They were once more in the infirmary, a place the Sheriff was coming to hate with a vengeance. "Where we goin'?"

"Behind Atlas. That way we'll be hidden from Alliance radar but able to get back to New Earth quickly."

Jayne frowned. Atlas was the third moon of New Earth, the other two were Luna and Pilgrim. "If we're hidden from Alliance radar how the gorram will the Preacher be able to call us back?"

The Doctor raised his eyebrows and leant back against one of the empty beds, arms folded across his chest. Good question. Every now and then Jayne would say something which reminded him the man's head did contain some moving parts. One or two of which were capable of coherent thought.

None of them noticed River until she spoke, her quiet but clear voice reminding them of something they would rather not dwell on. "I will know."

The Sheriff opened his mouth to question her when for the first time he realised there was another patient. The bed was tucked away on the far side but Kaylee was standing next to it, her hand patting what looked like a rumpled pile of clothes. The air in his lungs seemed to find some place else it wanted to go. Ty looked at him with concern. "Sheriff? *Shenme shi*?"

The man seemed not to hear him. Simon followed his look and wanted to groan out loud. No, not now. He straightened and walked over to the Sheriff, the man's eyes reluctantly lifting to his in query. "Who's that?" He asked quietly.

Simon bit back a sigh. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. "It's Yen Mah."

Something seemed to crack in the man. He went to stand up but Ty put a hand on his shoulder and Simon shook his head. "She's in a coma."

The Sheriff looked about ready to explode. Deputy Crowther wished everyone would leave but the doctor. Typically no one did. The only people not currently crammed in the infirmary were Pepper Rawlings and his men. Simon did not know where they were or what they were doing but was thankful for small mercies. "When were ya goin' to tell me?"

It was River who answered, her head tilted as if listening to something very faint and very far away. "You would have worried and she can't have that. Enough trouble finding the road back. Emotions don't help, just cloud the water and leave everyone lost."

Simon frowned. "River..."

She shook her head impatiently at him. "No, he needs to know. She needs to rest. We have plans to make, boundaries to keep and weapons to load."

Even more alarmed now, Simon took a step towards her. "Weapons?"

"No touching guns but explosives make a bigger bang."

"What'cha talkin' about?" Asked Jayne. "Ya wanna blow somethin' up?"

Her look brightened as if Jayne was the only one who had been paying attention. "Something not someone."

His face clouded over. "Huh?"

Simon had reached her now. He ignored the Sheriff rising awkwardly to his feet, the best efforts of Tyrone and Andy Crowther null and void in the face of the man's obstinacy. Unable to keep him seated they helped him to cross the infirmary to where Yen Mah lay. Kaylee gave the Sheriff a sorrowful look and took her hand away from Yen Mah's cold one, her sad eyes clinging to some faint hope that the presence of the Sheriff would bring the girl out of her coma. Simon put a hand out to River, her pale face tilting up at him, her eyes focused and bright. Despite the ominious nature of her words she was fully aware of everything going on around her. This was a lucid day. He was not sure that was any comfort to him at this precise moment. "River, what do you mean - something not someone?"

Her eyes became sad. Moist pools that tugged at his heartstrings. "They won't let him go."

Zoe frowned, not liking the sound of this at all. "*Shei*?"

"The Captain."

Jayne swore, Zoe's face began to darken with anger.

"We should never have let him go." Growled Jayne.

River shook her head. "*Ni bu dong*."

"Then explain what you mean." Said Zoe.

"Had to let him go. They can repair the damage, make him whole again. Heart strong and beating. Every step in time. It's all in the timing."

"River," Said Zoe slowly, trying hard not to sound as impatient as she felt. "What are you talkin' about?"

"Book. He made one promise he will keep but it is based on older lies. He thinks he has no choice, that he serves a greater will, a higher purpose but he deludes himself as all fanatics do. Betraying himself so completely what do the little betrayals of friends matter? Everything else is dust. But he is wrong and the wrongness will eat him up until he becomes dust then who will betray who?"

"*Mei mei*, are you saying he's betraying the Captain again?"

She shook her head. "*Bu qu* Simon, in his head it's still the first time."

A sense of shock reverberated around the room. Kaylee's eyes widened in alarm. The Sheriff took Yen Mah's cold hand in his and cradled it between his square calloused ones, his touch gentle, his look one of concern etched deep into granite. The man was not very tall but he was stocky and powerfully built. Holding all that together was an impaccable will. For the moment though he let his ears keep tabs on the conversation while he gazed down at the child's silent form, praying that she would wake and all would be well. His heart going out to her, his mind reeling from yet another shock to the system. Idly he wondered where the good gorram it would all end.

Zoe took a step towards River but Simon angled his body to place himself between them. He did not like the dark flash in her eyes. "*Wode ma*, I can't believe we just let the Preacher take him."

The doctor noticed her face was pale, her eyes wracked deep with guilt. Leaning just inside the doorway Jayne huffed but said nothing. Thoughts slowly filtering through his mind, sifting for clues that would give him answers. Hoping the truth would percolate up through the confusing twists and turns that typified their life in the Black. Gorrammit, he thought the Preacher had changed. Learnt his lesson. But some instinct had kept him on edge around the man even after the Captain had given him a second rutting chance. What in the nine hells had that been about? Captain wasn't *ben* so why'd he do it? Mistake or calculated risk? Or maybe the Captain wasn't as smart as he'd given the man credit for? He did not like where his thoughts were leading. Wondered how Pepper Rawlings figured in all this, remembering only too well the man's not so subtle attempts to keep him from siding with the Captain when Davy wanted his brother to go take part in the gorram *geming*.

"This is *hen zhongyao*." Snapped Zoe quietly, her tight restraint jolting Jayne out of his reverie. "Best you tell us everythin', River. Not in the mood to gamble with the Captain's life." Even angry as *diyu* she could not bring herself to add 'surprised you are' but the inference hung ominously in the air between them.

* * * * *

Production of Book's ident card was enough to hasten their passage through all the prelimary red tape. When they were at last whisked into the heart of the complex doctors quickly surrounded the trolley and took the Captain to the nearest operating theatre. The chief medical surgeon stared at Book for a long minute. The Shepherd neither identified himself nor showed his ident again. The two men recognised each other but gave no outward sign of any connection. Yet it shone like some intangible thread caught in the dark glimmer of their eyes. The surgeon broke contact first. Mal was taken into the glass domed theatre and Book was relegated to the sidelines. No position high enough to get him beyond those sterilised and now sealed doors.

So he stood and watched through the tough plexiglass, his keen eyes missing nothing as the Captain was stripped of all clothing. Nurses bathed and washed him with detached care then lifted him from the trolley to the operating table. As they did so everything was being meticulously recorded and could be seen in graphic detail on the overhead monitor that hung from the ceiling. Book watched them carefully mop and clean the gaping wound. He sensed rather than heard the figure join him. Saw a pale wraith-like reflection with a gaunt face and insipid eyes staring through the plexiglass while iv lines and monitors were attached to the patient. Without turning his head, the figure spoke. "You were supposed to bring the girl."

"He is the *yaoshi*."

"*Zenme*?"

Book did not turn his head. His whole attention seemingly on the drama unfolding on the other side of the glass. "She is *huaiyun*." He paused to savour the slight hiss of a quickly drawn breath at this side. "He is the *fuqin*."

The figure was so surprised he turned his head, hollow eyes staring at Book as if he could consume him in flames in the blink of an eye. "She is contaminated?"

The Shepherd resisted the urge to smile knowing it would be misinterpreted. "We underestimated the good Captain."

"Or perhaps," Said the figure in a cold sly dispassionate voice. "We overestimated you?"

Now he did smile albeit briefly. "We were unable to breach his mental defences."

His companion blinked. Silent now. In the operating theatre the Captain was now on oxygen. A special brace was being tailored to fit to his ruined leg. A skeletal framework that would span the hale and hearty sections of his leg and bridge the messy gap where the knee had once been. Tissue samples were taken, blood matched, the patient being kept under heavy sedation while they worked.

"He has mental barriers." Said Book. "Shields."

Another slow blink. Shock. Or was it horror? The Preacher was enjoying himself but careful not to show it. One inkling that he was gloating and he would never leave the Dome alive. No matter his standing within the hierachy. Some transgressions would not be tolerated. "That is... *hen yihuxungchang*."

"*Qu*." Said Book calmly. "Imagine the possibilities..." He allowed his voice to trail off.

When the figure next spoke, his voice actually had a tinge of speculation to it. "And the girl?"

"Will not be parted from him."

"Then you have her too?"

"In a manner of speaking."

This time fire snapped across the synaptic gap, the dispassionate eyes flared. "Explain!"

Book turned and stood facing him. Utterly calm. Controlled. "I made a promise."

"What promise?" The way he said it sounded like he was calling Book all kinds of fool.

"I promised the man would be healed. He would not die."

The figure was about to launch into a vitriolic diatribe when Book sent a quick sharp probe into the other man's mind. The figure's blue hands trembled at the strength of the intrusion. Shocked and disturbed that he would dare.

"You know what I can do?" Said Book solemnly. He did not wait for a verbal response. "This *lese* Captain can resist me. Do you know what that means? What the possibilites of a child born of that will and the girl's potential would yield?"

A slow predatory smile turned the gaunt face into a grinning death's head mask. As Book watched it fold into a cold expression of dark satisfaction he thought the image fitting. Turning back to the plexiglass he watched the operation continue. His stunned companion left on silent feet. Something in the Preacher's look hardened. Yes. The Captain would survive and every second of his life thereafter he would regret it.

* * * * *

"What we gonna do?"

Pepper seemed to be unpeturbed by the growing unease of his men. They were in the cargo bay talking in undertones and whispers. It amused Pepper Rawlings that these big, strong, death-defying browncoats were now afraid of being overheard. And by what? By whom? A pathetic group of losers. True, they were Malcolm Reynolds' crew but that didn't make them supporters of the cause. They had failed. As totally and comprehensively as it was possible to do so. There would be no resurrecting the *geming* now. For a while back there he had relented. Seeing what had happened he regretted getting the Captain and his crew into this mess but the regret was beginning to fade. Other considerations coming to the fore. "What d'ya wanna do?"

"Go home. War's over." Muttered Lenny. Several of the men murmured their agreement.

"War's never over." Said Pepper.

Every head lifted. All eyes now on him. Silently Pepper enjoyed his moment in the spotlight. "You heard what the ruttin' Alliance did to our men? How they picked out them as they wanted to torture, experiment on an' such like?"

Charlie frowned. "Yeah. Not seein' where you're goin' with this."

"I got me a destination. What I'm sayin' is this shiny medical facility is most like the same kind of ruttin' horror house they used on us in the war."

He sensed them holding their breaths.

"Maybe we can't bring our people back but ain't nothin' says we can't avenge 'em."

He could feel the stir of deep emotions raked over and burning anew. Knew if he planned an assault every one of them would feel honour-bound to follow him. Peter Bailey looked uncomfortable. "What about Reynolds? The Preacher took him down to fix him up. We go stormin' the place the man's like to die. Don't want his death on my gorram conscience, *dong ma*?"

Pepper's lips compressed into a hard thin line. Eyes glinting like flint striking flint. "Man's good as dead already or I'd not suggest it. Not nothin' we can do for Malcolm Reynolds now."

"But the Preacher..."

Pepper Rawlings snorted in derision. Eyes blazing. "Preacher?" He spat on the ground between them. "He ain't no gorram Preacher."

For a moment no one spoke. Stunned by Pepper's outburst. The man had always been evenly tempered. What was known as a 'long thinker'. Not taken to sudden fits of decision making. Something dark seemed to inhabit the space they stood in. Some began to shift, feeling more than a mite discomfitted. "If he ain't no Preacher," Asked Charlie warily. "Who the gorram is he?"

A humourless smile graced Pepper's lips. The big man looking far from happy. "They call him The Angel of Death. Also known as the Chameleon 'cause he can be whoever the ruttin' *diyu* he wants to be. Man has more faces than a diamond none of 'em bearin' his true reflection."

Peter Bailey could feel the palms of his hands sweating. "What're ya sayin, *laoban*?"

"Just sayin' ya don't send a wolf to protect sheep. This gorram crew are sheep. They follow the Cap'n without standin' up for what they reckon is right. Trustin' another to do their thinkin' for 'em an' them not knowin' the first thing about what's happenin'."

"Pepper, ya can't run a man down for bein' loyal." Admonished Peter carefully. He respected this crew and did not like the way this conversation was going. Felt all kinds of wrong.

"Ain't doin' that," Said Pepper. "Just sayin' they ain't got no backbone. Don't believe me what about that gorram mercenary? Supposed to be part a this crew an' what's he do when I tempt him with coin? He'd give up his ruttin' grandmother. Ain't no bond like the one we got. No loyalty 'cause they got no cause."

Several of the men did not seem to like what they were hearing. "They helped us."

"*Wo zhidao*, Charlie. Not sayin' we do 'em any harm, not sayin' nor wantin' that at all. Just we got us a chance to strike back for them as can't, *dong ma*? For the thousands lying in early graves. For them as were tortured. Their children an' old folk put to the torch while they was made to watch. I got a long memory, boys, an' don't wanna return home without at least strikin' at them as took so much from us."

"So," Said Lenny as he draped his long lanky body against a bulkhead. "What ya wantin' to do?"

He leaned closer. "We go down to that ruttin' planet an' show 'em what it's like. Got plenty of gorram ordnance to make a pretty fine 4th of July."

Peter frowned. "*Shenme*?"

"4th of July. Don't you know no ruttin' history? Always had fireworks on Earth-that-was to celebrate the 4th of July. Independence Day."

That raised a throaty cheer. A shake of Pepper's head was all that was needed to quiet them. For a couple of minutes they were silent, ears stretched for any that had heard them but there was no sound. No pad of feet approaching. Nothing. A smile returning to his face Pepper began to warm to his theme.

"Now boys, this is what we're gonna do..."

* * * * *

He was drifting in and out of a vast sea of pain. The agony was bright and sharp not throbbing and dull as it had been before. What the *diyu...? He could feel red hot needles of pain lance through his tormented flesh. The burning agony of it making him cry out only there was no sound. Even his tears evaporated before he shed a one of them. Something touched him, a stealthy fleeting thing that even through his pain penetrated. He fought. He struggled. Marshalled all his strength to push open eyes glued shut in his extremis. Wherever he was the light was harsh, everything in its' reflection shone back ten times the magnitude of any sun. A groan stole passed his lips. Alerted the one who hovered over him to his sluggish consciousness.

"Captain, can you hear me?"

The slur of speech was so drawn out he could not catch it. His ears numb, his thoughts tumbling over each other in a nonsensical mix of staggered words. None of them amounting to a whole let alone coherent sentence. He barely registered the touch on his face, the large cool palm almost cradling his tear stained cheek.

"Captain," The voice was more insistent now. Low timbered and anxious. "You have to wake up. It is too dangerous for you to stay here. I regret to say I miscalculated."

A garbled murmur tried to push passed non responsive lips. The result was a dribble of drool sloughing from the corner of his slack mouth. The hand wiped the moisture away with an almost gentle touch.

Shepherd Book stared down at the Captain. This was not going as he had planned. The medics had stabilised the Captain's condition and begun to build the framework for the new knee. Tissue and blood samples had been taken. The growing tanks had been set up and started but beyond that - nothing. Frustrated he needed to get the Captain conscious, impress on him the urgency of their situation, then make an alternative plan. Quickly. Before his own position was so comprominsed that his agenda would not be met. That could not be allowed to happen. Blue Sun had its' fingers in every metaphorical pie. It would be only a matter of minutes before they put all the pieces together. Just as he was beginning to think he would have to find another way to rouse the Captain, Mal opened eyelids that kept sticking. Blurred vision making it difficult for him to focus. As he tried to process what Book was saying the Captain managed to form a few badly slurred words.

"Preacher? That...you?"

"*Qu*, Captain. We have to hurry - *mashang*."

If he had the energy Mal would have laughed at the obsurdity of it. "*Mashang*? Got....a....be... kiddin' me." A long pause as breath shuddered through him. His meagre control slipping. "Not goin' nowhere...."

Book was quietly impressed he could manage that much coherence. Then he did an unforgivable thing and gave the Captain a hard shake, his hands grabbing the Captain by the shoulders but not letting go. The Captain's head lolled from side to side. He was drooling again, but once again tried to respond. The eyes stumbled open, gazing without really seeing. "*Shenme shi*?"

"You have to move quickly Captain. River is relying on you."

The name. *Her* name jolted through him like an electrical current. As if he had been brought back from the dead the Captain stirred on the bed, tried to sit up but the action was beyond him. Book wanted his eyes open. Prodded him into struggling to comply with promises that River was waiting. She was upset, thought he did not care any more. He needed to see her. Reassure her his own gorram self but his body was weak, in pain and not obeying him. How the rutting hell was he going to reach her? The Preacher. Would he help? Bloodshot eyes now stared at the large shape looming over him. Book kept his voice calm and even, the tone coaxing as he questioned the Captain. He did not understand the question or why he could not see River, sense her gorram presence. Had something happened to her? Was he too late?

With a broken cry on cracked lips he called for her, "River! *Xin gan* where are you?"

He had him as near conscious as he could get him. Too many drugs in his system to risk more. Book leaned in close, his breath hot against Mal's eardrum though he was pretty much still out of it. Some sense told him to pay attention though all he wanted to do was reach River. To leave this rutting world of pain far behind him. But he couldn't leave River. Not now. Not never. "Captain. Mal. You can't give up, she needs you. The baby will die if you don't get to her."

His heart faltered. Baby? What gorram baby? He was hearing things, wasn't he? "*Ying er*?"

"Yes, Mal. Your baby. Your's and River's."

He would have frowned had he sufficient strength. "Don't got no kids."

The man was beginning to drift again. The Preacher shook him then slapped his cheek with the flat of his hand. Had to keep him awake. Startled into opening his eyes again, the Captain blinked hard trying to focus. "Book? That you?"

A smile formed on disingenuous lips. Ah. That was better. Much better. "Captain," His voice oozed like honey but carried a hidden barb. "Can you feel it?"

"Feel what?"

"The heat."

The Captain did not understand. That much was obvious but the Preacher did not mind. Among his many talents was that of teacher. "...live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject..."

He was opening and closing his mouth in confusion now. A fish out of water had more co-ordination, yet on some level the Captain understood what was happening. Just could not articulate a reply right now.

"Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge." He paused and gave the Captain another little shake, not taking his eyes off him. "Can you feel the heat?"

"Vol..ca..no," Mumbled the Captain.

Book was absurdly pleased. "That's right. On that day you will finally meet the man."

"Don't wanna meet him..." He slurred heavily through a mounting wall of pain.

"Oh but you will. You can't avoid it. And I must say you are quite a man. An extraordinary man."

Something clicked in Malcolm Reynolds' brain. The horror of it raising its' ugly head and staring right at his soul. He almost missed the sliding knife edge of the Preacher's darker thoughts trying to pierce the veil of his own cloistered consciousness. As internal alarm bells started to trip he slammed down on the intruder, all his senses shutting down.

"You cannot keep me out." Said the Preacher calmly. Voice flat and hard.

Mal was trembling now. So hard. So weary. So much gorram pain. Yet his memory was teased by the familiarity of it. "Shan Yu..." He managed.

Shock stopped the onslaught in its' tracks. Shepherd Book stared at the slowly writhing, struggling man. A man who's indomitable will was the most formiddable he had yet to come across. A man who had actually managed to strike fear in the cold black heart of Adalai Niska. A man he was supposed to hate to the last breath in his body but who - against all odds - he could not help admiring. "You've heard of Shan Yu?" He asked quietly in a hushed voice.

The Captain fell silent. His gyrations stopped. His breath a rough galloping staccato of shallow inhalations battling against the shuddering ruin of pain wracked lungs. Slowly steadying into a stumbling uneven clutch of breaths like an arythymic heartbeat. Not enough to inflate his lungs but enough to maybe stop them collapsing. Just when Book thought he would hear no more from the Captain six words staggered out of the sagging drooling mouth. "What? You startin' a book club?"

Exhausted the man lost consciousness. This time Book did not try to revive him. No threats, no promises, no more mind games. A tentative attempt to slide into his mind was enough to tell him the Captain's mental shields were as strong as ever. A veritable vault. And he - gifted though he was - had no rutting key.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*xin gan*/*ai ren* = sweetheart *dong ma* = understand *bao bei* = precious/treasure *wo zhidao* = I know *wo dong* = I understand *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *shei* = Who? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *mei mei* = little sister *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wode ma* = mother of God *geming* = revolution *hen zhongyao* = very important *diyu* = hell *yaoshi* = key *zenme* = how? *huaiyun* = pregnant *fuqin* = father *hen yihuxungchang* = very unusual *qu* = yes (lit. go) *lese* = crappy *laoban* = boss *shenme* = what *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *ying er* = baby

COMMENTS

Monday, June 21, 2004 5:37 PM

JEBBYPAL


wow, every time I think you are almost done, you throw in another 20 plot twists and developments. Can't decide if the preacher works for the same folk as inara or not, but either way i'd say cappy and river are in for it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004 8:35 AM

ARTSHIPS


Love the story as always, maybe moreso this time as we get a little of Book explained and, try as he might, Book didn't make things worse. Loved River's curse!

Wednesday, June 23, 2004 1:03 AM

KISPEXI2


Golly gee! That was a good chapter. And I even seemed to follow what was going on! Smiled a lot at Mal's proposal - not exactly a romantic, is he? Very worried about the poor baby. Liked the line about Simon remembering Jayne's brain did have some (though not many!) moving parts.

Crossing my fingers that no-one will die. Except the baddies, of course.


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