COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 4. "Picking Up The Pieces"
Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"While the crew begin to celebrate Christmas Day the Captain has one more thing to do before he can join them."



SUMMARY: "While the crew begin to celebrate Christmas Day the Captain has one more thing to do before he can join 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The silence stretched so long that Martin Frye felt more than a mite uncomfortable. He had to admit to finding Zoe Warren one intimidating woman. Not that she threatened him or did anything outlandish it was just her stance, that thousand-year stare, the hard glitter of an implaccable will honing a keen mind until it was beyond rapier sharp. Made him all kinds of uncomfortable. He would not like to be the man to get on the wrong side of her but how could he break his promise to the Captain? It wasn't like anything bad, at least not the way Mal had sold it to him. Just something right personal, sensitive. He could understand the man wanting to visit his folks' grave, not wanting his crew gawping at him or flooding him with sympathy at the one time he would be able to accept it the least. But he was glad he had forced the tale out of him even though it meant staring into Zoe's eyes and telling her not a gorram thing. Instead of taking his word and walking back to rejoin the others she carried on that stare, her look saying she was waiting for the full of it. Her voice dropping so low it made the hackles on the back of his neck rise though he could not have explained just what it was about her that was so terrifying. Maybe it was the deadly calm of her, the matter of fact manner she had that said if she had to kill him she would do it with not a lick of emotion or remorse. "I need to know where the Captain went Mr Frye an' I need to know right now."

He blinked. Wished his wife were with him to deflect the incoming shrapnel but there was no one and he had a good few yards to go before he could reach the nearest tables with the pitchers. Gorrammit, what in the nine hells did any of this have to do with him? Yet he could be stubborn too. Resented Zoe demanding he break what to him was a confidence. Even had he been tempted to tell her he couldn't do it. A man had principles after all. "Best you ask the Cap'n when you see him now I got folk gettin' restless for their ale Miss Zoe an' in case you hadn't noticed this here's a party. I'll thank you to step aside an' not insult my hospitality, *dong ma*?"

For a moment it looked as though she wouldn't move then that impassive face blinked once, the tension eased just a mite and she stepped to one side. He did not meet her eye again but took the opportunity to make for the nearest table as if nothing had happened. Not sure he wouldn't slip up if she stared at him a minute longer. Zoe frowned, following his progress with her eyes. Her mind racing, wondering what was going on and why she knew nothing about it.

* * * * *

His fingernails were bleeding, skin ragged and torn where he had grabbed at the walls of his fetid prison with increasingly feeble attempts to find a way out. Bricked in and left to die only the meagre cracks in the hasty mortar letting trickles of light mock him as he lay dying. He had wanted so desperately to warn them but had been caught, trapped, then pinned in the last betrayal. It hurt but not as much as he thought it would. Leaving his task undone hurt more. There were people to whom he owed a burden of truth. Others he owed a whole lot more. His heart ached, his eyes were sore from weeping nothing but the grit left in his eyes. Unable to see he forced a weak hand to feel for the nearest flat surface, rubbing his fingers over the unyielding brick again and again as if in some compulsive repetitive behaviour that like a drug could calm him. But he wasn't crazy. Not yet.

* * * * *

Kaylee's Aunt Jessica was as sweet as honey but when she chuckled there was a deepness to it that surprised many a smile, conjuring up the kind of images to make many a young man blush and blush Simon did. "I... I didn't mean..."

She waved a kindly hand at him. "Hush boy, was on'y joshin'. Our Kaylee's taken a right shine to ya is all I'm sayin'."

Simon blinked and watched Kaylee over by the fruit punch, laughing gaily at something Jayne was saying. Before he could extract himself from Jessica to join her Inara glided up to the punch bowl with the Preacher in tow and a slightly flushed Jayne moved on to talk with some of the cousins. His lips quirked slightly imagining the kind of polite put-down the Companion might have used. Part of him wished he had heard what it was. Then Aunt Jessica was gone and River came and sat beside him, her pale smiling face clouding over with brief pain. Immediately everything else paled into insignificance and he frowned, trying to hide his worry as he reached for her.

"River? *Shenme shi*?"

She let him put a hand on her arm, it helped to ground the sadness that was flowing through her. Touching her with a poignancy that was so sharp and real it could have been her own. "Daddy's sad."

"No, *mei mei*, father..."

He was about to tell her their father had washed his hands of them but River was already shaking her head. He didn't understand. "No, not father. *Daddy*."

Her brother's frown began to deepen then he remembered when the Hill Folk had kidnapped them and had been about to burn her at the stake for being a witch. She had told him that *daddy was coming*. Then just as they were lighting the fire a beautiful smile had lit her face, she had leaned her head back and murmured in happy, calm certainty *time to go* and closed her eyes. Then before Simon could grasp her true meaning the draft of displaced air and familiar thrum of Serenity's engines had surprised and startled him. The Firefly transport moving into place overhead like the hand of God to protect them just as the Captain and Zoe had stepped through the crowd to rescue them. River's eyes had opened and the serene look upon her face was barely short of sublime. His sister had not been talking about their father but the Captain.

Simon considered her words both past and present and what it was she was trying to tell him. "Do you... do you mean the Captain?"

She nodded, for a moment so sad he thought she was going to cry. In the background he heard Kaylee's bright laughter then watched as his sister's solemn face broke into a happy carefree smile as if her sorrow of a moment ago had never been. "Time to cut the cake!"

Before he could adjust to her quixotic change of mood she was out of his arms and running in a happy tangle of limbs to join Kaylee, the mechanic's mother and father and just about every rutting relative she had on Carousel as her father poised his right hand above the biggest gorram Christmas cake Simon had ever seen.

* * * * *

It was a solemn, silent and emotionally charged leave taking. Monty was just relieved no Alliance cruisers had turned up. That would have been the perfect end to a perfect day. It had unnerved him seeing his friend so upset but once they had lifted off from Shadow the Captain began pulling back from the edge. Monty did not ask him any questions, just wanting to get into the Black and back to Carousel but that was not the Captain's plan.

"Monty, we need to be stoppin' off on the way back."

His friend gazed at him for a long moment. "This place of stoppin' off got a name?"

Mal smiled. Eyes still sad and mournful but a little flicker of something lighter rising to the surface. Monty was so relieved to see it he could have wept. "Don't matter, long as they got someplace for buyin' an' sellin'. Not a dirt poor world though, not for what I'm thinkin'."

"What you got goin' on in that twisted mind of yours?"

He got a little reckless grin back. The Captain told him. Monty's eyes widened and without thinking he stroked his whiskers thoughtfully. "I know where you can get some of them fancies but you got the coin to pay for it?"

His friend's face clouded over a mite. Mal looked a bit uncomfortable. "Not so much."

Monty's eyes narrowed. Was Mal expecting him to fund his little shopping spree?

"I need to be earnin' some coin here."

Now he was intrigued. "Earn? How? You got us beatin' a swift path back to Carousel an' it's already Christmas Day, Mal."

A pained look graced the Captain's face. Morning had broken not two hours earlier. "*Wo zhidao* couldn't be helped, which is why I need some steppin' off place 'fore we get there."

"I know of a few," Monty said slowly. "Hudson ain't pretty but it's safe. Not much though to buy or barter." Mal shook his head. That wouldn't do. Then Monty remembered something and a slow wicked grin spread across his face before he could mask it. Seeing the Captain's look turn to one of suspicion he managed to squeeze the grin off his face until all that was left of it was a mischievous little smile. Now Mal *knew* he was up to something.

"How much coin you wantin' Mal an' how badly you needin' it?"

Hope was a shiny little planet. An oddity in a 'verse bereft of such. To Mal's sharp eyes it looked like little more than a pleasure planet but not at the top end of the scale which made it nicer than most. There were no Alliance trappings that he could see - yet. But the way business was undoubtedly booming it would not be long before some rich Core-friendly whore gave up the telling of it to the wrong set of ears in the height of mock passion. In the meantime though Hope was enjoying something of a golden period. His eyes widened as they walked into the covered market, a thing not seen on the Rim worlds. Markets there were out in the open, trestle tables quickly erected and covered in their wares. Nothing fancy and no protection from the elements. Here though there was a kind of permanence to the commerce that was kind of reassuring.

They were passing a table with jewellery displayed on a soft green cloth. Monty did not say anything, every piece on it far too dainty for his huge hands but Mal's eyes had a kind of interested spark in them even if he was doing his best to hide it from showing. The woman watched his face. Monty was surprised when he asked a question instead of moving on. "This *real* silver?"

He was gingerly fingering a fine neckchain, the links sliding over his skin as he raised his hand to see how the metal flowed. No kinks. Mal didn't know nothing about such fripperies but supposed that was a good thing. The woman nodded, smiling, and did not attempt to pick it up for him. Better for the customer to make his own mind up, with a little nudge or too along the right path of course. "*Qu*. From the silver mines on Xanadu."

Mal looked up, impressed. "Xanadu, huh?"

She nodded, pleased with his reaction. Mal looked down at the chain and reverently laid it back on the cloth, looking briefly at the other items but not really noticing them. He knew what he wanted but it needed something. Then he froze. Nestled at the back among the pendants, charms and personalised do-dads was the very thing. The woman noticed and her smile deepened when she saw what had caught his eye. As if realising he was giving too much away he pretended interest in something else, asked the price, nodded his thanks then moved on. Monty didn't say anything until they were well out of earshot of the stall holder. "*Zhubao*, Mal?"

The Captain glared at him. "*Bei chao*, an' don't you be laughin' at me. It's Christmas."

Monty nodded but his eyes were still twinkling. "Wasn't laughin' at ya." He glanced at Mal and noticed his friend seemed to be getting a little depressed. "Mal? *Shenme shi*?"

They stopped walking. "My coins tied up with payin' for the fuel. No way I can spend that not with Kaylee's folk dependin' on the coin." He paused and cast a doubtful eye about him. "But what I got to sell to make up for it?"

For a long moment Monty just stared at him then leaned in towards him, so close his breath fanned Mal's cheek. "Do ya trust me, Mal?"

He didn't even have to think about it. "With my life."

That twinkle was back in Monty's eye. "How about your honour?"

The look he got back was enough to send rumbles of silent laughter shaking through Monty's massive frame but he kept most of the merriment off his face. For now. Convincing Mal to do it would be the hard part but if the man was determined to go buying last minute gifts for his crew there would be a price that needed paying.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book liked Carousel. Liked Kaylee's family, the clean wholesome air and everything he had seen so far but he was slightly concerned. Kaylee's mother saw him looking a mite pensive and brought a jug of home made lemonade over to the side of the house where he was watching the crew and family passing round little plates with slices of cake on them.

"You're not joinin' in, Shepherd?"

He seemed startled to see her there but not guilty. A man used to being apart, when it suited him not them. "Oh, I'm joinin' in, ma'am."

She poured him a glass of lemonade which he took gratefully. In silence she waited until he had taken a drink from it, watching him watching. "You have somethin' on your mind." She stated.

He turned his head and gave her a look she could not read. "Don't we all?"

Her eyebrows rose and his features smoothed out into the practised calm of the pulpit. "This is the Lord's Day. A time for reflection on the things that matter in the 'verse."

"An' what matters to you?"

"Oh, little things." His eyes drifted back to the merry group jostling and chatting, drinking, eating and having a fine old time as they passed brightly coloured packages back and forth. "The thought of people being safe and happy, each trying to help the other."

"Even those that ain't Christian, Preacher?"

He gave her a mild look of admonishment that was softened with a gentle smile. "Now, now, God doesn't choose only those that choose Him."

His comment surprised her, was intriguing. Shepherd Book might carry a bible, spout a bit of gospel and somesuch but he was like no Preacher she had ever met. What had happened to the fire and brimstone? The fires of eternal damnation? "I thought we had to have faith. Believe in God. Follow his Word?"

"And you are right but that is not the whole of it. Consider this. Imagine a world far from the reaches of other worlds. A place where the bible has never been known. Where the word of God is as meaningless as icecubes in the heart of a sun. Would God let them perish? Never know His true face?" She just stared at him and waited. "God reveals Himself to each and every one of us in His own way. We each have a purpose, a reason for being here, even if we don't know what it is. The Greater mystery is not that God cares about each and every one of His far flung flock but that He has the love and patience to let us find our way to Him."

"An' if we don't?"

"Then He gives a little nudge or two, drops a few signposts along the way, helping hands and open hearts."

She shook her head. "You're a mighty strange one, Preacher. Never did know a Shepherd that didn't use more threat than promise to gather a congregation." Now Book's eyes were smiling and he did not try to hide his amusement. "Anyone can gather a congregation, Mrs Frye, but only a man of God can keep it."

Without his asking she refilled his glass then looked him dead in the eye. "An' what are you, Shepherd?" She whispered. "Are you a man of God?"

Mrs Frye turned and walked back to the others before he could answer not noticing the strange look that slid over the Preacher's face like a veil. Unaware that as Book lifted the glass to his lips his hand was trembling.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds was nervous. Could hardly stand still for the attack of the fidgets. Monty put two great hands on his friend's shoulders to steady him. "Want me to come in with ya?"

A look of alarm gripped the Captain, eyes widened. "*Bu qu*!" He paused to grab a shaky breath into flagging lungs. "I can do this." At Monty's dubious look his expression turned to a glare. "*Wo neng* an' I will." Another pause. His heart was beginning to rock less erratically but it had still to find a steady beat. He was all manner of afraid and that only added to how unsettled he felt.

"Ya don't have to do this."

The Captain blinked, resolve calming him quicker than a cold shower. Monty marvelled at how quickly the man got himself back under control. Had seen it so many times in battle, was as impressed with it now as he had been then. "Yes, yes I do. Though I stll can't believe they would pay so much for so little."

Monty smiled. "Quality not quantity, Mal."

That made the Captain laugh. They shared a lighthearted moment then the Captain was solemn again. He jerked the lapels of his browncoat and straightened. "Best do this."

Then he turned and strode through the brightly lit door, the neat plush interior almost making him turn and run no matter how much like a girl it would make him look. But he could do this. Besides. Monty was waiting for him outside. A woman immediately came out to greet him, all carefully manicured and made up like some painted doll only when this doll smiled it did not seem to be something that had been put on with a trowel. He felt himself relax a little at her kindly look. She explained the procedure and he began to get all manner of uncomfortable. The woman paused. "Mr...?"

"Mal, just Mal."

She hid the knowing look from her smile. "Perhaps a little privacy would be in order?"

He choked out a thanks then cleared his throat. Gingerly following her out of the glare of the reception room where a couple of men were sitting looking through magazines. He didn't want to think about what kind they were. Sure as he had been of anything in his life that he was going to die of embarrassment. The cubicle was spotlessly clean with a sink at one end, a chair and a small chest of drawers to one side. There was a curtain at one end. She saw him look at the curtain suspiciously.

"This cubicle has another through that curtain."

He looked at her. "*Weishenme*? I ain't no exhibitionist."

She resisted the urge to laugh, amused and oddly charmed by his level of discomfort. "*Ni bu dong*, the other cubicle is in case a donor wishes to bring a partner." She realised she had shocked him, not greatly but enough to rob him momentarily of words. Quickly she pressed on, wanting to get the awkwardness taken care of so he would not change his mind. "Everyone gets nervous when it's their first time, Mal. Sometimes it's hard and they need a little help to get going."

His eyes snapped on hers. "That your job?" He said sharply. Mal regretted the tone but couldn't help it.

She took a step towards him, he wanted to back off but where could he go? He was already the one place he had decided he should be and it wasn't as if he could afford to walk out empty handed. He had convinced himself that going through these doors was the hardest part, now he knew that was just a gorram lie. Hard was yet to come. "I can help." "How ya gonna do that?"

She ignored his snappy tone, her hands smoothly divesting him of his coat. He had not noticed the hooks hanging on the single wall. The other three sides were canvas.

"I can undress myself." He murmured, but his hands stayed at his sides, the fingers flexing nervously. She was way too close.

"You don't have to be naked."

He blinked. "Then you should go now. Just give me the container, *dong ma*?"

For a moment he thought she would not go but after a second she nodded, brushed his lips gently with her smile then turned and opened the chest of drawers. When she turned back to him the container was in her hand. He could not move, something in him relaxing as she looked into his eyes. "I can help... Mal."

Her voice was low, soft, coaxing. He found he didn't want her to go after all but he couldn't find the words to ask her to stay. In the end it did not matter. He was only vaguely aware of her putting the container on the top of the chest, her hands on his waist undoing his gunbelt, her tongue sliding in his mouth as she kissed him. He could not move, could only take in the building sensations, hardly aware that she was undoing his belt, buttons undone then a cool hand sliding down to hold him. He stared into her eyes and wondered what she had done to him but his sluggish brain didn't care. She raised herself up on tiptoe to kiss him again. This time he leaned forward to meet her, the kiss deepening, her hand on him gentle but assured as he hardened in her palm. He couldn't help moaning in her mouth as she increased the pressure, the taste and sensuality of her adding to the slide and pump of her tongue in his mouth and the flexing rythym of her hand. He groaned and closed his eyes, arms wrapping round her as if she was the only thing holding him up. It had been too gorram long.

Afterwards he felt a mite sheepish at the noise he had made as he came. The woman, Sarah, smiled gently at him and papered his face with kisses. Her lips on his cheek, his brow, her tongue lapping at the beads of sweat glistening on his skin savouring the taste of him on her warm tongue. It took a moment for his ears to catch up with her softly hushed voice. The warm fan of her breath on his ear making him shudder. "*Ni hao ma*, Mal?"

He swallowed slowly. "*Hen hao. Ni*?"

She was amused he would ask but liked that he did. "*Hen hao*."

Then she told him to wait and left through the adjoining cubicle. The Captain could feel his heart racing, wanted to sit down but needed to clean himself up first. Before either thought could become action she was back, a smile on her face. He frowned. Was she mocking him? "What the good gorram you smilin' at?"

Her smile grew into a laugh, but it was musical and pleasant. He liked it. "I wasn't laughing at you Mal, I was pleased."

That was.. unexpected. "Oh."

"We had to check the quality of the sample, Mal."

"Why you gotta do that?"

"It affects the price."

He absorbed that in silence. Monty had said nothing about that. "So what you decide?"

She stepped closer to him but not so close that he could not see every expression on her face. "It all depends on the sperm count."

It felt way too hot in here. "Oh yeah?"

She nodded and took another step. "Low sperm count, low price."

"An' that would be 'cause...?"

"The higher the sperm count the better the chance of fertilising the female. It makes it more valuable." At his expression she laughed softly and leant close enough to steal a languid kiss. The warmth of her lips on his and her proximity made him think the gorram air was getting thin. "Yours is high, Mal." She said in a dark sultry voice. Sarah closed the last little bit of distance between them. He was hardly aware of her sliding his suspenders off his shoulders, nor those quick expert fingers unbuttoning his shirt then peeling it off him. Her lips glued to his, her tongue no longer coaxing and gentle but demanding. The suction and pump of her tongue aided and abetted by her hips making him groan.

"I don't think I can..."

She pulled back just enough to be able to look him in the eye and this time he definitely recognised the look staring back at him. It was lust. "This isn't for the sperm bank, Mal."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *shenme shi* = what's that matter? *mei mei* = little sister *wo zhidao* = I know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *zhubao* = jewellery *bu qu* = (lit. no go) *wo neng* = I can *weishenme* = why *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *ni hao ma* = how are you? *hen hao* = very good *ni* = you


Wednesday, January 12, 2005 10:29 AM



Well, I guess that's one way to make a few bucks...

Nicely done, Ali! I'm curious as to just what he plans on buying with that money...


Wednesday, January 12, 2005 10:36 AM


Hehehe. Always gotta put Mal in a difficult situation. Good one, Ali. Liked Book's philosophy and his reaction to Mrs. Frye's question, too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005 3:11 PM


Great! A fella doin' what it takes to make things swell. Even if the results, as I suspect, turn out to be received in an iffy manner, the intentions are pure.

Yet another terrific tale. Ali, I'm almost embarrassed by the readily available quality of entertainment you provide.

I think that means: thanks!

Thursday, January 13, 2005 9:13 AM


Well, that went to a sort of disturbing place there at the end. I'm thinking Mal should be a little less judgemental henceforth to Inara about her selling her body! And, so, now there's gonna be little Mals roaming the 'verse...

Very curious as to what he's buying, for whom, and why. And as to the whos and whys of the mysterious person trapped and dying. Good writing!

Sunday, January 16, 2005 6:57 PM


A day in the life of Malcolm Reynolds is never boring.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005 5:25 AM


Lordy me! That must be one very expensive thing Mal needs to buy!


Sunday, March 27, 2005 11:34 PM




But my eye was also drawn to the Preacher's bit with Kaylee's mother.

Very good, that one.

Keep flyin'

Thursday, February 9, 2006 3:41 AM


Wonder how much she gets paid for that.


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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.