HANDFUL OF STARS: 27. "Sheep's Clothing"
Saturday, April 9, 2011

"The crew find a shaken and near hysterical River. Shepherd Book has some explaining to do and to add to the Captain's unease he can't find Jayne."


TITLE: "SHEEP'S CLOTHING" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "SHINY SIDE UP". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "The crew find a shaken and near hysterical River. Shepherd Book has some explaining to do and to add to the Captain's unease he can't find Jayne." 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.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Unsurprisingly, Simon was the the first to reach a sobbing, wide-eyed River.

"*Mei mei, shenme shi*?"

"I thought I was safe, Simon, let the Devil in."

Simon edged slowly closer until he was near enough to kneel beside her without making her more agitated. "Sssh, it's alright. You're safe, River."

In the doorway Kaylee Frye hovered, wanting to help but not knowing what to do. River had been doing so well and it hurt to see her behaviour slide back to the paranoid disconnect of before. River was getting distressed now, shaking her head and trembling from head to foot, her eyes wide. "*Ni bu dong*, he's real Simon. He's here!"

"Who's real an' what's all the weepin' an' wailin' about?"

They turned to see the Captain leaning in the doorway, the Companion beside him. Kaylee gave him a tremulous smile but was unable to make it stick. The Captain gave her a nod then fixed his gaze on Simon and waited for enlightenment but got a lecture instead.

"What part of 'you need to rest for a couple of weeks' did you not understand?"

"Well excuse me for gorram worryin' that one of my crew was bein' murdered."

"No one's been attacked, Captain. River must have been having a nightmare."

The Captain did not look convinced and not just because it was not Serenity's sleep cycle. They were hardly in the middle of what passed as day in the Black and while he trusted Simon above all others in matters medical he was less inclined to do so where River's mental health was concerned. Boy was far too eager to embrace cliches that no longer fit rather than face the fact that something real might be going on. The girl's bouts of crazy weren't exactly predictable and while she was a mite whimsical in the brain pan River was remarkably coherent most of the time, leastways she was to him. Plus he had the unsettling suspicion that the girl was smarter than the rest of them put together and that included her Top Three Per Cent brother. So if something was worrying River he wanted to know. Didn't make no never mind if he couldn't understand right off just as long as he got a general idea to work with. Pushing carefully away from the door frame, the Captain ignored the way Inara looked so anxious in case he fell.

"River? What happened to bring this on, little one?"

His warm coaxing voice seemed to reach through the walls of panic boxing her in. "I listened, ready to believe." River shook her head, eyes fastened on the Captain as if he would understand. As if he was her lifeline to sanity.


"The Devil."

"Ain't no *guai* on my boat, River, 'less you mean me."

"Yes, there is. I should have known. He carries the darkness inside him like a blank canvas. Everything hidden so you can't see the blood. The lies that chain his actions to his deceit."

"River darlin' I got no idea in the nine hells who you're talkin' about. This Devil got a name?"

Calming as she realised she was being listened to, River swallowed back the fear and nodded. "He wears a collar like a man of God but it's only cloth. Hiding in plain sight but he can't be trusted."

Kaylee gasped and stared at River in shock then stared at the Captain. "Book. She's talkin' about Shepherd Book."

Mal tried to keep his voice calm and even. Didn't want to spook the girl worse than she was already. "River, are you sayin' the Shepherd's the one who scared you?"

The girl nodded, her grip on calm starting to slip as she remembered, reliving the moment. "Told me to trust him," she whimpered "I didn't want to but wanted to believe I was wrong."

Simon carefully put his arms around his sister, hating the way she was shaking and wishing he had his bag with him. He looked up to see the Captain looking straight at him, as serious an expression on his face as the doctor had ever seen. "You know what brought this on?"

The doctor shook his head. "I know as much as you, Captain."

Just then Zoe and Wash arrived. "Sir, we heard screamin'."

"Seems Book's been scarin' River half to death." The Captain paused and looked passed her. "Speakin' of which, where's the Shepherd?"

"Last I saw he was liftin' weights with Jayne." Wash offered.

"When was that?"

"A couple of hours ago."

"There's no one liftin' weights now, sir." Zoe added.

The Captain looked from Wash to Zoe, a frown on his face. "Then where's Jayne? Not like him to miss all the excitement."

The others exchanged looks but no one spoke up. It felt wrong that with all the ruckass the one person guaranteed to react the quickest was nowhere to be seen. Had a wrongness to it. The fact that Book and Jayne were both absent set off all kinds of alarm bells in Malcolm Reynolds' head. Glancing at Zoe he could tell she had picked up on it. Paradoxically, he was oddly comforted that someone was sharing his growing sense of unease. While he would like to believe Simon that River was just having a nightmare the way their luck tended to run he did not intend to take any chances.


"Yes, sir?"

"Go see if you can find Book an' Jayne. I want everyone in the commons area, *dong ma*?"

River had stopped shivering, her head now hanging down so that her features were hidden behind a waterfall of dark tangled hair. Simon looked up at the Captain who was trying to pretend he was not listing to the right. "Captain, you need to return to the infirmary *mashang*."

Inara moved to his side and he let her put a hand on his arm. Not taking any help as such, just not wanting to offend her by shaking off the offer of assistance. Didn't mean he was weak. "Time enough for that once we solve this mystery."

"And if you fall flat on your face? What mystery will that solve?"

Instead of showing irritation the contrary man smiled. "Then you can say 'I told you so'."

* * * * *

Derial Book was cursing himself. He hadn't meant to alarm the girl, thought his admission would be a comfort but he should have known better. Nothing involving River Tam was ever simple or straightforward. His plan had been to gradually win the girl's trust and then find a way to make a graceful exit with her from Serenity. It was all set up. The monastery at Port Albert near Bellepherone had been quick to offer sanctuary as he knew they would. All the contacts he had spent years garnering were about to bear fruit and now his plans lay in jeopardy. While he could try appealing to the Captain, the man was a lot sharper than he looked and as protective of River as her brother. Ah. The brother. What to do about that particular fly in the oinment? He would have to think of something soon. His time on this mid-bulk transport was rapidly running out.

Just as he was collecting his thoughts he heard Wash give the announcement over the ship's com for everyone to go to the commons area. The germ of an idea was forming in Book's mind a second before he left his room. Hiding himself from the others would just make it look as if he was up to something sinister. No. It was time to lay certain cards on the table while making sure others never saw the light of day.

* * * * *

Wash was about to join the crew when he noticed there was an incoming call. He hesitated for just a moment before putting it through. The face that filled the screen was one he had never seen before but he was smiling so how bad could it be?

* * * * *

Simon did not want River to go with them to the commons area. He would rather have given her a smoother and left her to settle down either in her room or the infirmary but the matter was out of his hands. Though the Captain didn't make it an order, River had taken it as such and gracefully avoided his attempts to hold her back. Frustrated, Simon huffed and watched her hurry off in the wake of the Captain and Inara. Kaylee tried to reassure him.

"*Fang xin*. Cap'n'll make sure she don't come to harm, Simon."

"It's the Captain I'm worried about."

Kaylee paled. "*Shenme*? Thought ya said the operation was a success?"

Inwardly Simon cursed himself for not spelling things out. "That's not what I meant, *bao bei*. I'm worried the Captain will endorse River's behaviour. She doesn't need anyone feeding into her delusions."

Something sparked in Kaylee's mind and her eyes narrowed, the sunny aspect of her face dimming. "River ain't delusional."

"Kaylee, my sister had her brain cut into over and over again. Do you really think she is sane?"

Angry, Kaylee shoved off the hand he reached towards her. "Don't say that! What about all the time's she saved us? Things no one else could know, warnin's that kept us outta Alliance hands. You sayin' she dreamt them up?"

"*Bu qu*, but you can't take everything that comes out of her mouth as gospel."

Kaylee straightened, the look in her eyes hardening like a line in the sand. "River's right, you are a boob. You never listen just judge. Not every answer comes out of your medical bag, Simon. "

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"If you listened more to your sister an' spent less time tryin' different potions on her you'd know what I mean."

Without another word Kaylee left to join the others leaving Simon to stare after her, wondering what he had said to upset her. After all, everything he said was the truth - wasn't it?

* * * * *

Book had one more thing to do before going to the commons room. He was careful not to be seen as he made his way to the airlock. Just to be on the safe side he paused and stood back in the shadows and listened. Everybody it seems had gone to the commons area. Satisfied, the Shepherd peered through the small observation window then unlocked the door, body poised to bar the way just in case. Jayne Cobb was sitting on the floor facing him as the door opened.

"This ain't gonna work, you know that?"

"You fail to see the bigger picture."

"If Mal don't kill ya, I will."

The Shepherd affected an air of sorrow. "I thought we were friends, Jayne?"

Jayne glanced around the airlock, the bruise on his face almost closing his right eye. If it had been anyone else standing there he would have jumped to his feet and gone in fists flying but Book wasn't like anyone else. Man knew all kinds of moves he'd never seen the like of before. Was freakishly fast too when he wanted to be. "Friends don't lock a body in the airlock after knocking seven barrels of *goushi* outta them. What in the nine hells was that about?"

"You were going to speak to the Captain."

"Still am."

Book shook his head sadly. "I was hopin' you weren't going to say that, Jayne."

The big man stood up. "Let me guess, you go outta that door then vent me into the atmo, that it? How ya gonna explain why Jayne ain't Jayne no more?"

"Accidents happen."

The mercenary laughed darkly but it wasn't a happy sound. "You're some piece of work." "I didn't want it to end this way."

"It won't."

The Shepherd spun round so fast that it took Jayne a moment to realise they were no longer alone. Behind Book, Zoe stood with her mare's leg pointing at the Preacher's head, a stern unforgiving look on her face. Jayne had never been so gorram glad to see her.

"Jayne, Cap'n's lookin' for you."

Jayne glanced from Zoe to Book, but Zoe made sure the Preacher stepped aside so he could pass. Jayne paused once he was clear. "What ya gonna do with him?"

"Reckon that's up to the Cap'n."

The big man glanced around but there was no sign of Mal. "Where is he?"

"The commons area, an' we're gonna join him aren't we Shepherd?"

Book said nothing, his lips thinning with barely restrained displeasure. Jayne moved round to flank them as they went, just in case his former friend tried any of that fancy stuff again. Although he had never done any martial arts himself he was well versed enough in the ways of the world to recognise it when he saw it. Wasn't gonna let the Shepherd get the drop on him again.

* * * * *

Wash stared at the monitor. "Who did you say you were?"

The man had a calm serene expression on his face, completely at odds with the over abundance of military insignia on his uniform. He'd seen Christmas trees with less ornamentation.

"I'm the Inspector General, Malachy Harius."

"Don't take this the wrong way but I've never heard of you."

Harius gave a thin but benign smile. Rather like he was humouring the pilot. "That is to your credit. If you knew me this would be a very short conversation."

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds glanced around the commons room, counting off heads as his crew either sat at the table or leaned on chairs. Everyone was on edge himself included. The subject of his concern seemed a lot calmer now. Mal was startled to see Kaylee hurry in without Simon in tow, the look on her face warning him not to say anything to spark her temper. So, the doc had put his gorram foot in it again. Kaylee gave him the briefest nod and went straight to River, her hand reaching out to the girl and grateful when River caught hold of it. The two stared at each other and Kaylee smiled, wanting to reassure her friend. Seconds later Simon joined them. The Captain noticed he started to walk towards Kaylee and River then thought better of it and stopped at the table. Inara wasn't sure what had happened but didn't like to see her friends at odds.

Before the Captain could say anything Zoe arrived with Book at the point of her gun and Jayne pacing them. He stared in shock at the state of his mercenary. "What the *diyu* happened to you?"

River chose that moment to speak. You could have heard a rutting pin drop. "Misuse of martial arts training. Heroes only use their powers for good."

The Captain ignored River. "Jayne, you wanna tell me what's goin' on?"

Jayne thought it a mite odd that Mal didn't ask why Zoe was pointing a gun at Book but had to admit he was glad she was doing so. "Book attacked me, Mal. Threw me in the gorram airlock!"

The Captain's eyebrows rose, his tone turning deceptively mild as he turned all his attention on the Preacher. "Did he now?"

* * * * *

Although Wash did not know what to think he knew *shen goushi* when he saw it and they were up to their eyeballs in it. "You must be Alliance."

The stern man seemed a mite amused though the humour was paper thin. "Must be." He paused just long enough to lean in closer to the monitor. Wash could feel his heart rate triple. "I am here to see Derial Book and I suggest you do not delay me any further, *dong ma*?"

Wash's mouth flapped soundlessly for a moment or two, wishing Mal would walk in right now but of course he didn't. The Captain was in the commons room with the rest of crew, where he in fact should be joining them. "I'll call the Cap'n."

Harius leaned back. "You do that, meanwhile prepare to be boarded."

* * * * *

The warning klaxon drew looks of alarm from everyone in the commons room. Immediately the Captain activated the ship's wall com. "Wash! What in the shiny sphincter of *diyu* is happenin' an' why are all the gorram alarms soundin'? Tell me we ain't about to hit somethin'."

"Cap'n we're about to be boarded!"

"*Shenme*? An' you on'y thought to mention this now?"

A loud metal clanging noise reverberated through the ship. "Um, he didn't give me any chance."


"He's Alliance, Mal."

The Captain's eyes immediately went to Simon and River, the doctor moving with commendable speed to grab his sister and go into hiding. Book shook his head. "That won't do any good. He knows you're here."

It took every bit of control Mal had not to hit the Preacher. "This your doin'?"

"The Inspector General is here to see me, Captain."

"Wash said he's Alliance."

"*Qu* but not in the secular sense."

That drew a baffled look to the Captain's face. Next to him, Inara paled. The Captain obviously didn't know what Book was talking about but Inara seemed to have an inkling. One she hoped to be proved wrong. "What is his name?"

Book paused only a fraction of a second but it was enough to deepen the Captain's unease even further. "His name is Inspector General Malachy Harius."

"An' you would be knowin' this how?"

"I called him, Captain."

The sense of shock and betrayal was palpable. Jayne scowled at Book. "That's why he attacked me, Mal. I walked in on him makin' the wave. We'd been workin' out together like we always do. Book left his towel behind so once I'd cleaned up I went to give it back to him. Before I knew what the good gorram I'd interrupted he attacked me. Ya know the rest."

Simon was frantic. "I can't let them find River!"

"Not gonna be handin' nobody over, doc."

"It won't do any good, Captain."

Mal closed the distance between him and Book in a heartbeat, so angry he had to bite off his words just to get them out. "What. Did. You. Do?"

"River needs a place of safety, Captain. Serenity isn't safe."

Simon stared at him, apalled. "Not safe?" Simon spread his arms. "You decided Serenity wasn't safe so you're handing her over to the Alliance?"

"*Ni bu dong*. I have contacts."

"I just bet you do." Said the Captain darkly. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Zoe was just itching to fill their traitorous Shepherd with lead. Another heavy clang and then a shudder ran throughout the ship. Zoe and Mal stared at each other, a world of meaning in that look. It would be the same look they would share at the verse's ending. Not that either wanted that moment to be now.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mei mei* = little sister *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *ni bu dong* you don't understand *shei* = who *guai* = devil/ghost *dong ma* = understand? *shenme* = what *mashang* = at once/immediately *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *bao bei* = precious/tresure *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *goushi* = dog shit/crap *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shen goushi* = a lot of dogshit/crap (deep shit)


Saturday, April 9, 2011 2:22 PM


wow. *chills* loving the book, can't wait to see the next chapter!

Saturday, April 9, 2011 11:14 PM


In a way, Book is as convinced of his own righteous ends as the Operative was, and I can't help feeling he's going to have his faith shattered just as brutally. Is he a bad man trying to look good, or a good man fallen by the wayside? It will be very, very interesting to find out!

Sunday, April 10, 2011 3:31 AM


Glad you are loving it myownknight. As for Book's motivations, everything becomes clearer just as things get darker Jane0904. Thank you both for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, April 10, 2011 5:43 AM


just love all of your series, AliD, as ever, so true to our beloved characters. so many times whilst reading this one found myself grinning from ear-to-ear
xie xie

Sunday, April 10, 2011 9:06 AM


Thanks for the shiny comments MalsDoxy. Joss gave me such great material to work with and such shiny characters. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, April 10, 2011 11:49 AM


Wow... got me the chills too. I can see this side of Book, almost as much as I see the one we ended the series with... before the movie even was added. The darkness here is shown more and I like that. I do agree with Jane, though. I think he believes he is doing good, but in truth, he is not. Wonderful stuff...

Sunday, April 10, 2011 6:16 PM


Ok this is a interesting turn. I am guessing not everything is as it seems, unless you plan to kill everyone off that is. :)


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.