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HEAVEN AND HELL: 40. "Secrets and Lies"
Saturday, July 10, 2004

"The Shepherd finally tells Mal what he wants to know, the revelation bringing more pain than healing. For both of them."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2152    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

SUMMARY: "The Shepherd finally tells Mal what he wants to know, the revelation bringing more pain than healing. For both of them." 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.

"SECRETS AND LIES"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The Captain and the Preacher were running through pre-flight checks. Part of Mal hated leaving Serenity, not having River within arms' reach. His crew a host to others he would rather have kept a wary eye on. But he could not leave this matter untended. At least the Preacher would understand and honour that. In the meantime he had an ulterior motive which he was sure Book was all aware of. "You check on fuel?"

Book nodded, calmly flicking through switches and getting the engine started. "*Qu*. Topped her up from Serenity. We're ready to go when you are, Captain. With all that back and forth taking ferry jobs we're only a day out from Shadow."

"Never thought I'd be goin' back." The Captain murmured as shuttle two detached from the Firefly. He resisted the urge to shudder.

"Technically you're not..."

The cold look Mal turned on him told the Preacher he had best not finish that sentence. The planet's orbit would be close enough to the mouth of hell as made no never mind to the Captain. The Shepherd blinked a moment or two, slowly regaining his mental equilibrium.

"You know this is foolish, Captain?"

"As foolish as takin' the man who betrayed me along for the ride."

Their eyes locked. Book's voice was soft and barely more than a whisper above the engine's thrum. "Then why did you?"

"I figure it's the on'y way I'll get the gorram truth out of you. You owe me that much at least, *dui*?"

For a long moment Shepherd Book just stared at him. At last he nodded. The sign of his capitulation freeing the floodgates of the damned. The Captain thought he wanted to know, well he would tell him and by the time he had finished Mal would wish he had kept his rutting mouth shut.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb was as nervous as a cat on hot bricks and trying hard to hide it. Not that he had anything to be ashamed of just that Pepper and his men were expecting him to go with them when they reached Hera and that was the last gorram thing he wanted. He had initially played along, not saying he would go but not saying he would not. Hoping to prise out of the man what the *diyu* they were up to. He had spectacularly failed to discover a rutting thing and that had put him in a very bad and unsettled mood. As if that was not enough to contend with River kept looking at him as if she could see right through his head. Simon kept giving him odd puzzled looks and Zoe was watching him like a hawk.

When he finally managed to get some peace and quiet in the commons area he was startled by Pepper's voice just an inch behind his ear. Hadn't jumped like that since he was a boy. Rattled and annoyed as hell he did not try to hide his irritation. "What the ruttin' *diyu* ya wanna go creepin' up on a man like that for?"

Pepper was giving him a sharp intent look. Jayne longed to look away but did not dare, he allowed a little beligerence to spark in his eyes as if resenting the scrutiny. "Seem a mite jumpy, Jayne."

"Yeah, well I don't like nobody breathin' down my neck. Makes me a mite ansty, *dong ma*?"

"Not thinkin' of changin' your mind are ya?"

"Wasn't aware I'd made it up yet."

Pepper gave him a long hard look. "Got a lot invested in ya, Jayne. Don't go makin' me wish I hadn't."

The mercenary frowned, not liking the sound of that one bit. "Ya threatenin' me, Pepper?"

"Do I need to?"

Normally Jayne liked to think things through in a slow methodical manner, viewing things from every conceivable angle, alert always to the hidden snags and pitfalls folk tended to leave out when they wanted him to do something. Right now he felt like a huge chasm stretched before him, so deep it had no bottom and so far it had no end. "Why d'ya want me to go with ya?"

"Why not? Simple offer, ya agreed to come. Wanna know why you're backin' out."

"Didn't agree." Growled Jayne.

"Didn't disagree neither. So which is it?"

The mercenary was aware that others had now joined them. He did not need to turn his head to know that all of Pepper's men were now in the commons area, several blocking his exit. "What happens if I say no?"

"Well now," Said Dizzy Doyle stepping into view from behind the mercenary. Dizzy rarely spoke up and that put Jayne on notice that something unusual was about to go down. "We thought you were like us, Jayne."

"In what way?"

"In a mercenary kind'a way."

The response surprised Jayne. "You hire yourselves out for money?"

Charlie and Lenny chuckled as if he were being unintentionally niave. It made Jayne bristle but he bore it, not wanting to make matters any worse. "Why so surprised?" Asked Pepper.

Jayne shrugged. "Don't know, guess it's with you bein' Independents like the Cap. Never figured you'd be hirin' yourselves out to the highest bidder."

Dizzy Doyle's eyes narrowed. "What you really sayin'?" He thought about playing nice for all of a second but he was mightly sick and tired of the high handed attitude being shoved his way. Even so he moderated his anger as best he could, a sharp need growing in his gut to find out just what the gorram was going on. "I'm sayin' I'm confused. Thought for sure you'd all be goin' back to Shadow so you wantin' to go to Hera is all kinds of unexpected. Nothin' on Hera worth the visit so I have to wonder what's so ruttin' important you'd be wantin' to go there. Add to that why ya want me with ya. I weren't no Browncoat, didn't fight in no ruttin' war."

For several seconds no one spoke. Jayne was beginning to think he would have to break the silence himself when Pepper spoke. "Didn't ya ever feel the need to fight for a cause?"

Jayne snorted. "War's over."

The look in the big man's eyes hardened. "The War's never over. Only the battlefield changes."

He swore inwardly. Had been afraid of something like that. Jayne had a choice to make and only a split second in which to make it. He risked one further question. "Why me?"

"We could use a man of your skills. Someone strong, committed. Like us."

"Told ya already I ain't no soldier."

"You're a man for hire an' we can pay."

"Said that before but didn't get paid." Jayne grumbled, his response automatic.

Pepper's eyes glinted as he leaned closer assuming this was the reason Jayne was dragging his feet. His eyes locked on the mercenary's. Carving the equivalent of a promise in stone. "We have a whole store of treasures at our disposal Jayne. Ya ain't never gonna be poor again, *dong ma*?"

Something clicked in Jayne's mind. Parts of a puzzle beginning to slot into place though he had no idea what picture it was building. Had no doubt in his mind that it would be a gorram ugly one, every instinct in his mind and body was screaming for him to turn around and walk away. Pepper Rawlings was pushing hard making it a damn difficult thing to refuse. His heart sank. Was this what they had done to Mal? Manouevered him into a gorram corner until the only answer he could give was the one they wanted to hear? No. His gut told him they had been far more subtle with the Captain. Forcing the issue would never have worked. The man's suspicious and contrary nature would have backfired in their faces leaving no one the winner. They must have played the loyalty card with Mal. Using the common bond of the War to bind him to them. A soldier's coin was paid in blood not money. With him they used the promise of freshly minted coin, more money than a man like him could expect to make in a lifetime. They must be all aware that his need for answers and reassurances was not a good sign. Might even be getting suspicious of him.

Knowing the only viable outcome Jayne decided to turn it to what advantage he could. Wouldn't do to give them too many surprises right now. He allowed a slow calculating smile to slide over his face, his eyes glittering with the seductive wiles of greed. "How much money ya payin' again?"

Pepper smiled back and the tension in the room visibly relaxed. "Enough to buy your own gorram planet when this is over."

Jayne grinned. "Then what're we waitin' for?"

Having thrown in his lot with Pepper and his men there was no time to do anything other than toss a few things in a bag along with his favourite guns and hurry down to the cargo area. Dizzy, Charlie and Turner Watts going with him. The look Zoe gave him when she saw the bag he was toting chilled the blood in his veins. Tight lipped she just stared at him but did not ask where he was going. No one else was in the cargo area when they landed on Hera. Jayne was glad. As Pepper clapped him on the shoulder and followed him down the ramp Jayne fervently hoped that Mal would forgive him.

* * * * *

Wash tried to get his wife to relax as they lifted off and hit atmo. He wanted to know what was wrong but instead of answering his question she hit the com and called everyone to the bridge. Sheriff Bowman looked worried thinking something must have happened to the Captain. Yen Mah and Kaylee followed Simon and River. The deputies hanging back and spilling out through the doorway. Tyrone Garvin stepped back to stand next to Deputy Crowther. Every one of them looked tense, their anxious eyes glued to Zoe's grim expression. What in the nine hells had happened now?

"Best I tell you before you find out. Jayne's gone."

Simon looked puzzled. "Gone? Gone where?"

"Left with Pepper and his men."

"What the good gorram is he thinkin' of?" Exclaimed Wash. "There's nothin' on Hera but mass graves and scorched earth. I know Jayne isn't the brightest but I never figured him for a complete backbirth."

"Doesn't matter when he's gettin' paid to go."

The doctor was surprised to hear the bitterness in her voice. Sheriff Bowman looked thoughtful. Behind him Tyrone Garvin was talking quietly with Andy Crowther. Turning his head the Sheriff scowled at them. "If it's good enough to whisper it's good enough to say out loud."

The two men looked up with vaguely guilty looks on their faces. Before they could say anything River spoke. She was staring off at nothing, her voice sounding as if it was coming from far far away. "Had no choice."

Simon gave her an anxious look. "What do you mean, *mei mei*?"

She turned to look at him but it was as if she was seeing another face not his. She sounded sad. "Jumped before he was pushed."

* * * * *

The Captain waited until the Shepherd had locked in their course. Not much to do now for the next twenty or so hours until they reached the Dauntless. Always supposing it was still drifting above Shadow and had not broken up into a million miserable pieces. Should be long enough. The Preacher noticed the way Mal was looking at him and resisted the urge to fidget. He had not felt like that in a good long while.

"What happened to me in the Dome, Shepherd?"

"You died. Came back. Could say you were reborn."

"Could say that. Wouldn't be the truth though." Mal paused. "I'll admit I did have some kind of Road to Damascus. An epiphany you could say."

Book forgot his reticence. "Oh?"

The Captain gave him a level look. "I saw what you did."

The Shepherd blinked, baffled. "Captain?"

Mal's words were quiet but clear. "Hands on. You saved me."

"I think you're still a mite delirious."

"*Bushi*. I know what I saw."

"You were unconscious. Dying. The mind can play strange tricks on you at the point of death."

The Captain was watching Book closely. "Only it wasn't was it? The point of death. You saved me. Breathed for me when I stopped. Got my ruttin' heart restarted better than Niska. Think I'll be feeling that one for weeks."

Shepherd Book was stunned, could feel the blood leaving his face as he tried to hide how the Captain's words shook him. How the good gorram could he know?

"Seems you've had a bit of an epiphany your own self, Shepherd."

"I might at that. The Lord moves in mysterious ways."

"Or not. I'm thinkin' that's one mighty crowded road."

Book gave a little smile. Already beginning to recover from his shock. "Glad of the company, Captain."

*Me too* Thought Mal. "You were gonna tell me the truth, *jide*?"

"Captain, I don't think..."

"Don't think, just tell me."

For a moment the Preacher just looked at him. He knew this conversation was long overdue yet part of him kept hoping it would never come. Now that it had arrived he was surprised at the sense of relief. Knew the Captain would have no such luxury. He bit back a sigh and unburdened himself. The minutes bled into stunned hours. Almost four hours later the Shepherd's story wound to a close.

The Captain stared at him and struggled to process what he had been told. The truth was more painful than he could have possibly imagined. The hurt burrowing so deep inside him that he felt it was a wound from which he would never heal. *Wode tianna*. Could it really be true? "*You* were responsible?"

Book nodded, tasting ashes in his mouth. "*Qu*. Like I said Captain, I was and am a Scientist. The Alliance turned my theories into fact. While I was kept to watch, advise and see my dreams become nightmares. Nightmares that will haunt me forever.

The Captain was choked. "You could have refused!"

The Shepherd shook his head sadly. "*Bushi." He paused. "Just because you *can* do something doesn't mean you should." It was a lesson painfully learnt. But 20/20 vision was only granted in hindsight.

"So you decided to follow River?" The Captain's shock was turning to a slow cold anger. It deepened with every word like bitter nails in a gorram coffin. "Observe your fun little experiment, *dui*?"

"You have to understand Captain, most of the subjects were not missed. No one would come looking for them even if they did suspect all was not as it seemed."

The Captain glared at him. "They're *people* gorrammit, not subjects Shepherd!"

"*Duibuqi*." The Shepherd paused as if choosing his next words with more care. "River had Simon though and rarely have I seen a sibling tie so strong."

The men just stared at each other. Momentarily speechless, thoughts too emotion filled to put into words just yet the Captain had fallen silent. The tangle of feelings pulling them each which-way. Even though it was probably a lost cause Book burned with the need to make the Captain understand. He knew it was folly but he could not help himself. He might pay lip service to a higher God but right now he needed forgiveness from the realm of the mundane. His salvation lying in the hands of the one he had betrayed. Had not known it for the longest time though there had been something about the Captain, some tiny inward tug when they had first met, that alerted him that this man was not all he seemed. Ironic. For he had not been all he appeared himself, not for the longest time. Now. Before this traumatised man he wanted nothing more than to peel away every layer of artifice and drop the cycle of endless charades. He had once thought his cause just. No longer did the man who called himself Shepherd Book have that excuse.

The Captain's voice sounded a mite rusty when he eventually spoke, cracking a little mid-way. "What you really doin' aboard my boat, Shepherd?"

There was a long moment's silence before the Preacher made his last confession. "Penance."

* * * * *

Inara Serra came out of her meditative trance slowly. More like surfacing than waking to full consciousness. Her heart and mind were divided. Any sense of self preservation scattered to the solar winds. Time was neither friend nor foe. Her past was a minefield of unexplained trauma and small gifts of happiness. The present showing her that those gifts had all come at a terrible price. She forced herself to look across the bloodied deck to where young Davy Reynolds lay. The blood a dark congealed mass of essential body fluids smeared along the deckplates and coagulating along with the sprayed ragged debris of what was left of his head and brains. She had felt sick before, now she only felt numb. Numb was good. It blocked out having to feel, inured her to physical sensation. Barred her from the debilitating effects that would stop her completing this most onerous of tasks. Inara had already left the drifting mausoleum once. Not knowing where to go she had only been gone a week when some kind of irresistable pull dragged her back. She was loathe to call it duty.

She did not want to do it. Hated the path she was committed to. But what else could she do? If she refused they would only send another and another and another until the job was done. And who knew what trail of horror and bloodshed each new trail would leave behind it? No. Better to finish this. Now. Before she lost her nerve. Draw a line underneath what had happened before making any decisions. It would not assuage the complicity of her guilt but it might give her enough breathing space to reason out how to move forward. If that were not possible she had other ways. The Queen of Sorrows was nothing if not inventive.

With slow deliberation she walked up to the prone body, blanking her senses to the smell of death. The air was thick with it and if she thought about it she would choke on it. She looked down at the ring finger, considered her options and made a purely pragmatic decision. Removing the small concealed knife from her person, Inara Serra knelt beside the body and cut off the ring finger. It was the only safe way to remove it. Swallowing down the threat of bile she steeled herself and once the brief nausea had passed placed the beringed and bloody finger in a small wax coated box and put it in her pocket. As she was rising to her feet she paused, frozen in place by an unexpected sound. As she recognised it Inara Serra moved swiftly. Another ship was approaching. If she did not move quickly she would end up as dead as the cadaver she was robbing.

* * * * *

Hera was nothing like Jayne Cobb had expected. For one thing it was filled with rutting people. No. Scratch that. Soldiers. It was filled with soldiers. And not just any soldiers but Browncoats. A ragged much abused army but not one of them looked ready to surrender. What in the nine hells was the matter with these people? When would they get it through their *baichi* heads that they had lost the gorram war? The sooner they got over it the sooner they could go back to living their lives.

But Jayne was being niave. By the time Pepper Rawlings had inducted him he would not be niave ever again.

* * * * *

"We shouldn't have let the boy go." Said the Sheriff in a quiet pained voice.

They were in the commons area, some standing, some sitting around the great oaken table that had been the centre of the crew's lives for so long. Now it still drew them together in times of crisis as well as peace. It made Kaylee ache inside to look at it, seeing again the laughing happy faces of the crew at meal times. The Captain sitting at the head of the table smiling, joking in his terse but softly spoken way, or reprimanding them. All done with a patrician's touch and a good heart. Now she wondered if they would ever share that sense of family again. She shot River a guilty look but her friend seemed to be focusing on Yen Mah. Since coming out of her self-induced coma the girl had been praeternaturally quiet. Speaking from time to time to the Sheriff and occasionally River. Just nodding when anyone else spoke to her.

Kaylee felt a tremor run through her. Noticing, Simon clasped her hand. She managed a weak smile. Zoe and Wash were standing apart. The set of the second mate's shoulder precluding any kind of intimacy. She was in full battle mode and only a complete *chunren* or someone with a death wish would risk touching her right now. It did not stop Wash from hovering as close as he dared though. Trying unsuccessfully to keep his body from vibrating with tension. Zoe's eyes had turned a flat black as she listened to the Sheriff's sorrowful words. "Jayne made his own decision. No call to fret on it."

The Sheriff looked at her in surprise. "I wasn't talkin' about Jayne."

As realisation hit Zoe, River spoke. Her eyes fastened on the Sheriff's sad face. "Safe not sound."

Zoe spun to look at her. "What do you mean?"

River blinked. Yen Mah moved to stand next to her, reaching for River's hand. "Mal's safe - for now."

"I'm needin' more than that, River. Is he in trouble?"

She tilted her head. "Yes, but not how you think."

Before Zoe could demand to know what she was talking about Yen Mah spoke. Whether she was channeling River or speaking from her own creepy insight Zoe could not tell. "One down, one to go."

Simon was alarmed. "River, what's happenin'?"

Yen Mah looked at Simon as if speaking for his sister. "Another ship. Another story."

Bad enough to have to deal with River and her psychic ramblings now they had Yen Mah doing the same. Would things never go smooth? He felt rather than saw the Sheriff go passed him. He put a hand on Yen Mah's shoulder and the girl let go of River's hand and turned to him. "What do you see, *nu haizi*?"

"Not see, sense. The danger he fears won't hurt him."

Zoe was frowning. Wash was baffled but feeling a stir of optimism. He just wanted something to hook his faith on to. As long as it would float they wouldn't drown, would they? "So the Captain's fine?"

River's eyes slowly came back into focus. She looked so sad. While they gazed at her pale solemn face, tears rolled silently down her cheeks. Simon hurried to her. "Alive but trapped."

Alarmed, Zoe put her hand on the butt of her gun, an unconscious action that spelt death to any that would harm the Captain. "You sayin' the Preacher's turned on the Captain?"

She shook her head. "No. Different box."

For a moment silence fell. Between alarm and confusion no one knew quite what to think. Tyrone Garvin kept silent until he could not stand it any longer. "*Wo bu dong*, River. If the Captain's in danger an' it isn't from the Preacher then what the *diyu* happened?"

"He didn't trust her but she left."

Something clicked in Zoe's mind. "Inara?"

River nodded.

Wash's eyes went round as saucers. "Are you sayin'...?"

"She came back."

Before anyone could ask any more questions Yen Mah spoke. "He shouldn't have gone back." She said quietly. "Leave the dead to the dead. Let the living stay free."

Stunned they simply looked at her. As they tried to sift through their depressing thoughts River felt something stir inside her. Something growing out of love and reacting to her distress. She let go of Simon's hand and placed it over the small swell of her belly. A sad soft smile gracing her pale face. *Hush baby, be brave. We have to go and save daddy..."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. no go) *dui* = correct *diyu* hell *dong ma* = understand *mei mei* = little sister *jide* = remember *wode tianna* = dear God in Heaven *bushi* = not so *duibuqi* = sorry *chunren* = fool/jerk *nu haizi* = girl *baichi* = idiot *wo bu dong* = I don't understand

COMMENTS

Saturday, July 10, 2004 3:27 AM

ARTSHIPS


Damn fine story, as ever. I can see you've been building to a satisfying resolution, but it sure would be nice to include poor Jayne. And I like how you've made "good" characters bad and bad ones good.

Saturday, July 10, 2004 4:32 AM

KISPEXI2


Quick, go save Daddy! And save poor Jayne whilst you're at it.

Another exciting chapter. Just when I think we're coming to the denouement, you're off again with another fascinating twist. Amazed at how you keep track of all these subplots and characters.


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