COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 8. "Collecting the Pieces"
Sunday, January 30, 2005

"When Mal and Monty return to Shadow they find the last thing either of them expect."



SUMMARY: "When Mal and Monty return to Shadow they find the last thing either of them expect." 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

* * * * *

It felt strange landing back on that hell-hole of a planet again. A place that had once been home, so full of good and happy things it almost felt sinful for anything to be that gorram perfect. Now all he saw was the externalised wasteland of his own heart. Hopes and dreams ripped right out of still beating flesh then stripped of everything that had once made life so rich and vibrant. The mess that was left devastating him with a grief that could not be put into words. Monty knew. Understood. His heart crying out with the injustice of it and synchronised in silent accord with the painful beat of Malcolm Reynold's own aching and beleagured heart.

Monty had wanted to tell Mal not to do it. Not to go but his friend meant too much to him for a lie to sit well between them. He couldn't do it to the man. Respected him too gorram much. The only good thing about going back was the heavy snowfall that now left the ugly scars hidden under a deep blanket of white. Perhaps his friend would change his mind? See the way the harsh clime had reclaimed the now ruined world and would let it rest in peace. But no. Whatever else Malcolm Reynolds was he was no coward.

"Don't know what ya hope to find, Mal." Monty ventured quietly.

The man in question showed no sign of having heard him, eyes staring blankly from the hollow walls of his face. His look empty. After a moment the Captain jerked his head towards the door and in silence they stepped down into a snow white world. Monty glanced back at his pilot, gave a nod and waited for the door to clang shut behind him before falling into step beside his friend. They trudged in silence, letting the bitter bite of an icy wind do their talking for them. Memories too painful to bring out into the open haunted the back of their minds. Monty was glad of the harsh clime, the cold and the bitter wind somehow clensing the place of the violence that had been visited upon it and matching their mood. It amazed him how Mal knew exactly where he was, where he was going, his step sure footed, his eyes on an horizon invisible to anyone else.

It took almost an hour to reach the rise where the graves had been. Reaching the spot they halted, Monty's breath white brittle clouds of freezing air. Calmly, patiently he waited. The Captain glanced at him in unspoken thanks. It made Monty's throat tighten with emotion. He just wanted the needful to be done so they could rutting well leave but was careful to let none of that impatience show. For a long time Mal did not move, his eyes slowly scanning every inch of white ground, inhaling the air as if memorising every last atom of it. Monty all but jumped when the Captain finally spoke. "We ain't alone."

The words were so softly spoken that it took a moment for Monty to absorb the meaning. "*Shenme*? What ya mean we ain't alone? Not a gorram thing can live here."

Mal pointed to partly filled in tracks. It showed someone had walked over this ground after the first snowfall but not the second. That meant someone had been here after they had returned to Carousel.

"*Wode ma*, who the ruttin' *diyu* would be out here?"

The Captain looked at him, his eyes turning from bleak to stony. "Best we find out."

It was starting to snow again. Monty was cold but it was not the weather that was affecting him now. He had seen that look in Mal's eyes before and had hoped and prayed he would never see it again. They trudged down the far side of the rise and followed the tracks. Monty's eyes narrowed as he peered down between finely drifting snowflakes. "Looks like two, maybe three people." They trudged for another ten or fifteen minutes in silence then came to an abrupt halt. The Captain's words soft, harsh and affronted. "What *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* did this?"

They had found the small brick built *jianyu*. Mal brushed snow off the bricks revealing the ragged opening. Even through the thickening blanket of snow he could smell the sweet sticky odour of death clinging to the place. Heart stumbling he steeled himself and dug a way in, his hands so cold now he could not feel his gorram fingers yet he would not rest up to warm himself. It was as if a fever of panic had siezed him, he could not stop digging the snow free and shoving crumbling bricks aside so that he could read the ground beneath like brail. Worried, Monty moved closer to help not pausing until they had searched the entire snow covered interior with their fingertips. The little building was empty. He grunted, sat back on his heels and looked at Mal. "What in the nine hells is goin' on?"

But Malcolm Reynolds wasn't listening. Turning slowly in the little cell he saw what his friend did not. He froze. A shaky numb hand reaching out to touch a frosty wall. The fingers not quite able to touch the dark vermillion smear that drew his eyes like magnets. "*Tamade diyu*, Monty!"

Monty got to his feet and peered, nonplussed. "Trent?"

The Captain was trailing hovering fingers over the name. The only Trent he knew lived on Boros. "Alex Trent." He murmured.

"How ya know that, Mal? Could be any number of people..."


His friend frowned. "No disrespect but how can ya be so certain this means that Trent? Ain't an uncommon name."

Mal nodded to the brickwork then when his friend still showed no sign of comprehension he pointed to a small crimson cipher. Monty had initially assumed it was just a smudge.

"What the gorram is that?"

"That," Said Mal slowly, trying to unstick his lips from his teeth as his mouth went dry. "Is a chop. 'less I'm much mistaken that's Ty's mark."

"Ya mean as in Ty Garvin?"

The Captain nodded feeling sick. Ty had made a statement, could maybe call it a dying declaration. One that was incontrovertible. Identifying himself by cipher he had not simply named his killer but the man who had quite literally betrayed him. A number of things were slotting into place in Mal's head, not a one of them pleasant. He closed his eyes for a moment. Wished the lack of a body meant that Ty had been injured not killed, had managed somehow to get the *diyu* out but he had noticed something else. The bricks around the opening had been pulled outward. Someone had dug a way in and he was willing to bet whoever had done that had not gone away empty handed. His lips setting in a firm unforgiving line, Malcolm Reynolds turned his head and looked to see where the tell tale tracks led. Sure in his heart that they would lead to his friend's murderer.

* * * * *

They were huddled and crammed into the kitchen. Serenity's crew listening in silence as Martin Frye explained how the Captain had woken him in the early hours a week ago and outlined his plan. When it came to arranging the fuel depot Wash's eyes widened in surprise.

"Are you sayin' you got enough fuel for Serenity?"

Mr Frye nodded solemnly. "Got paid for it too."

Wash and Zoe exchanged a look. Both wondering how the *diyu* the Captain had managed to pay for that and buy them all expensive presents for a Christmas he in no way was able to embrace his own self. What were they missing here?

"Diversion. Distraction. Affection. Protection." River paused, her voice soft and sad. "Too many ghosts not resting easy. No sleep, no peace," She paused to look at their silent faces. "They drive him on. Won't rest now until the guilty are found. Even if there are no ashes left it's still sacred ground."

Simon looked at his sister in concern, only Kaylee's hand in his anchoring him. "What's sacred ground, *mei mei*?"

She stared at him. "They were buried on a hill. Not high up but where the first had fallen, so long ago." Her voice became even sadder, her look distant. "Should have been all together. Bones and ash and promises." River paused again, her voice taking on a sorrowing edge that burrowed effortlessly into their hearts and pierced them deep. "Nothing left now to carry the pain."

* * * * *

Shara-li stared and stared and stared. "You what?"

A little shrug was her only reply. Even that couldn't shift the smile from her friend's face or the happy from her eyes. Shara-li tried to hide her alarm.

"Girl, you can't want that."

Her smile got smaller, eyes keen and bright sharpened into lasers. "Why not?"

Shara-li took a deep breath, grateful they were having this conversation *after* the doors had been closed and locked for the night. "We got a good business goin' here. Word gets around - but not too loosely mind - to bring in a steady trade. You can't go an' lose yourself in the first pair of soulful eyes you look in."

"It isn't like that, Shara." "Men are stupid."

She shook her head. "Not all men."

A pause. A firm unyielding look. "*ALL* men, girl. Don't make the mistake of thinkin' this one's any different."

"Like I said it's not like that."

"*Bu qu*?" Shara-li folded her arms across her chest. "Then how is it?"

"I want him."

"You had him, be grateful an' move on. I'm sure he has."

At those words her friend frowned, all the sparkle dimming. Not so certain now that she wasn't trying to tie her bow to a tiger's tail. When no words were forthcoming Shara-li felt her heart lighten some. Good. The girl was listening. She would get over the infatuation soon enough as they all did.

* * * * *

The cabin wasn't much but it was shelter and right now that was all it had to be. While Johnny got a fire going Frank gently laid his burden down on the narrow hard bed. Boy hardly weighed nothing at all, so light in his arms it made him want to cry. Still couldn't believe what had happened and who it had happened to. Heart heavy he could not bear to cover the face with the sheet he laid over him. He dragged a chair close to the bed and sat down, his eyes full of sorrow as he took in what was literally no more than skin and bones.

"Who the good gorram did this to ya, Ty?" He whispered.

Johnny looked over towards his friend but said nothing. Knew this had hit him hard. *Diyu* it had hit him hard and he hadn't known Ty as well as Frank and the others had. He had worked mainly undercover only coming back in the fold when it was obvious that nothing would avert the coming war. Then he had shucked all pretence and donned the browncoat of the Independent cause, trading his nomadic lifestyle for the cut and thrust of life on the battlefield. Had seen many a good man fall and many an evil one rise to fight again. Wasn't no pattern to it. Made him suspect that God was one twisted *tamade hundan* after all. Not nobody should pay allegience to them as couldn't deliver but then wasn't that the Independent cause? A pile of good men, loyal and true, who couldn't deliver? Where was the justice in that? When might was not simply right but ruled the gorram 'verse? Yeah. God was one mighty twisted deity. No wonder so many of his friends and fellow browncoats didn't believe in Him no more. If God existed He wasn't no gorram browncoat.

"When the weather eases up Frank we should go."

The man nodded not taking his eyes off the still pale face locked in death.

"Frank, we can't take him with us."

That got a reaction. Frank looked at him, his lips compressing into a stubborn line. "Not leavin' him behind, *dong ma*?"


He was immediately cut off. "Not leavin' nobody behind, John-Jo!"

That was when the Independent mantra sang in his head with every voice he had ever loved taking up the promise. *When you can no longer walk you crawl and when you can't do that... you find someone to carry you*. Johnny nodded, started to get up to go fetch some more wood when suddenly the door imploded. Splinters of wood fragmented and sprayed passed his face as gunfire shot through the gap where moments before a door had stood. Instinct sent Johnny immediately to the ground, Frank dropping from the stool and reaching for his gun. As the smoke cleared a shape moved in from the snow. Frank's gun cleared his holster as he knelt to take aim but he did not fire. The shock of recognition hitting him a fraction of a second before the bullet did.

For a moment the whole gorram world came to a standstill. Frank's eyes widened first in shock then surprise, emotion slowly bleeding through the pain as tears bedimmed his eyes. The gun released from nerveless fingers. Johnny did not let go of his gun but did not fire it either. Not sure how much he could trust his gorram eyes. Frank managed to to speak through the bright stab of pain threatening to rob him of consciousness. "Mal? What in the nine hells ya doin' here?"

* * * * *

Kaylee was upset, they all were. Though each handled it in a different way. Simon squeezed Kaylee's hand. Wished he could take all that pain and hurt from her eyes. "This is all my fault."

The doctor blinked. "How do you come to that conclusion?"

She sniffed and took the hankerchief her cousin Charlie passed over. They were outside now, a subdued air hanging over family and crew as trestle tables were slowly folded away. Word spreading like wildfire by word of mouth among the family members, all the carefree happiness of hours earlier now muted. Folks not wandering off to find their own pleasures but staying close to bring comfort to each other as if a storm was about to engulf them and only being together would help them weather it. "Cap'n did it for me, Simon."

Now he was more than confused. "Kayee, what are you talking about?"

She gazed at him through a blur of tears. He took the handkerchief from her hand and gently wiped her face. Inara watched but did not intrude, noticed Zoe looking ansty and hoped nobody was going to do anything stupid. Obviously any caution had already come too late for their noble but *wangu* Captain. Jayne took a seat next to the Preacher, Zoe and Wash quietly talking and seeming to have one of those quarrels that happened between the words spoken but so low no one else could hear it. River had oddly enough chosen to sit next to Kaylee's father. If the man noticed the oddity of it he hid it well.

"My fault." Kaylee muttered miserably as she looked away from Simon's troubled face and took in the house all decked out and trimmed for the festivities, the faces of her family and the crew of Serenity, the blend of good people coming together in celebration. A celebration that she knew the Captain would normally have no part in but had suffered for her sake. Wanting to make everything shiny for her and the rest of his crew. No matter how much he was crying and hurting inside. Made her feel so selfish now, wishing so hard they could do something to put this right. Something for the Captain.


She turned her head back and looked at Simon's face, he looked so worried and so serious. In that moment she realised he really did love her and that just made her want to cry all over again. She bit her bottom lip hard to keep it from trembling. Simon raised a hand and cradled her cheek, his eyes gentle.

"This isn't you're fault, *bao bei*. I can't confess to understand a tenth of what goes through our *shenjingbing* Captain's head but I know you didn't do anything wrong."

"Yeah but if I..."

"You didn't."

She paused at his certainty and he took advantage by placing his lips tenderly to hers. Not a kiss of passion but love and comfort. "I can't bear to think he's hurtin' Simon." She sniffed again. He handed the hanky back and let her blow her nose. "While we was all havin' so much fun, I can't imagine what it was like."

"You mustn't distress yourself." Said Book.

"An' now," Kaylee stumbled on. "He's gone back to Shadow an' all his folks is dead an' the Alliance'll put him in *jianyu* if they catch him an...." She broke off on a sob and stared into Simon's eyes with a whole world of borrowed hurt crowding out the happiness she should have been feeling. "It ain't fair, Simon, it just ain't,"

"No, it's not."

That made Kaylee look up, startled at the hard edge to Zoe Warren's voice. Zoe walked over to them, Wash remaining in his seat as his eyes tracked every move she made. He knew what was coming and much as he didn't like it he could not argue with her. Not when every instinct he had was screaming out that she was right. Jayne's eyes narrowed. Zoe gazed from face to face then she looked at Mr and Mrs Frye and gave them a solemn nod.

"We're all much obliged for the welcome an' for sharin' your home an' celebrations with us. It's been a good long while since we've eaten so well or been in such good comp'ny." Zoe paused and straightened a bit. Mr Frye found her mannerisms somewhat reminiscent of the Captain. Absent or not his influence was palpable among his crew. "None of us like what's happened an' like even less the feelin' of helplessness that goes with it. Can't say I didn't try to talk the Cap'n out of goin' back to Shadow even if he does have Monty with him." She paused. "But that don't mean we can't do somethin' to help."

Shepherd Book's eyes narrowed slightly. "The Captain told us to stay out of this, Zoe. This is something he has to do, something we have to let him do."

She nodded. "*Wo zhidao* an' this is somethin' I have to do. Me an' Wash discussed it an' with the fuel put by for Serenity we're gonna go an' make sure that whatever the *diyu* happens on Shadow the Cap'n's got a way off that rock."

Jayne scowled. "What we doin' that for? He's got Monty with him."

"Yeah, but who knows what else might be waitin' when they go back? Don't hurt to have a back up plan, *dong ma*?"

"So we're going to land and bring the Captain back is that it?" Asked Simon.

Zoe shook her head. "*Bu qu*. Not gonna interfere just be there if needed. Everythin' goes the way the Cap'n plans we'll leave him be, if not we'll be there to help any way we have to."

"Cap's gonna be mighty mad at ya for goin' against his wishes." Said Jayne.

"Not askin' you to come, Jayne."

"That's not what I'm sayin'."

"Way I figure it'll be just me an' Wash. The rest of you should stay here, rest up while you can. Shouldn't be more'n a couple of days." Shepherd Book stood up and walked towards her. "I'll come with you."

"No offence, Shepherd, but I sure as *diyu* hope they ain't needin' a Preacher."

* * * * *

Whatever Malcolm Reynolds had been expecting it was not this. He froze, gun still smoking in his hand, eyes burning through his shock. "*Shushu*? What the good gorram you doin' on Shadow?"

Frank Reynolds' slumped, the bullet in his shoulder hurting but not enough to chase away the pleasure of seeing his only surviving kith and kin in the flesh. Living and breathing. Walking and talking. Didn't matter that it had cost a little lead to have that dream come true. Pity it had to hurt so gorram much. He was getting too rutting old for all this *goushi*. That was when Mal realised he had hit him. In a rush he was across the floor and kneeling in front of him, face creased in worry and as sorry as a man could be. For the moment oblivious to the still figure lying on the bed behind his uncle. He quickly holstered his gun.

"*Duibuqi, shushu*, didn't mean to gorram shoot you. Thought you were gonna be one of them Alliance *wangba dans*."

Frank let Mal rip his shirt and get a look at the wound, closed his eyes against a brief dizzy spell as careful fingers pressed around the wound. "Looks like it missed the bone." Mal paused then looked into his uncle's face, waiting for the man to open his eyes again. "You never said what the *diyu* you're doin' on Shadow." He prompted.

"You ain't gonna like it, son."

Before Frank could tell him a stream of invective from Monty interrupted them. Mal turned his head and was alarmed to see that his friend had gone white. "Monty, *shenme shi*?"

Monty did not look at him, all his attention fixed firmly on the bed behind Frank Reynolds. Mal got to his feet and stepped around his uncle, his eyes widening in horror. "Ty?" He reached out and touched icy cold flesh, his mind recoiling at the confirmation that his friend was dead. But how could that be? Ty was supposed to be living safe and sound on Porchester. As he gazed down at the emaciated body tears of grief and sorrow filled his eyes, his heart aching for what the man must have gone through to bring him to this. Though the hand on the sheet was cold Mal put his hand over it and looked at his uncle. Not content to wait any longer. He wanted answers and he wanted them now.

"What in the nine hells is Ty doin' here an' how did this happen? An' don't try tellin' me it's all coincidental 'cause I won't believe it, *shushu*."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what *wode ma* = mother of God *diyu* = hell *bushi* = not so *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard *tamade diyu* = fucking hell *mei mei* = little sister *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand *wangu* = stubborn *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenjingbing* = crazy *wo zhidao* = I know *shushu* = uncle *duibuqi* = sorry *goushi* = crap/dog shit *wangba dans* = fucking bastards *shenme shi*? = what's the matter?


Sunday, January 30, 2005 8:14 AM


"Rollicking good fun!"

*wipes a tear or two from an eye or two*

Absolutely no disrespect intended. Mere (immature?) defensive reaction to emotional outburst. You sure know how to pull on those heartstrings.

Truly enjoying this. Thanks!

Sunday, January 30, 2005 10:38 AM


This story keeps on getting better and better with every new segment.


Sunday, January 30, 2005 3:08 PM


The image of a desolated Shadow as representing Mal's own state of being worked very well.

Still not sure of the whos and whys of the extra characters but happy to see some of them coming together.

And good on Zoe!

Monday, January 31, 2005 6:08 AM


Ali, you've got a talent at creating seemingly seperate events and characters and then brilliantly bringing them all together with heart-wrenching perfection. I know it's already been said, but this just keeps getting better and better. More!

- Soul

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 12:49 AM


Lovely Simon/Kaylee scene - so very gentle and sweet. Some great Jayne in there too. Have always loved the way you portray him.

Fascinated to see what transpires with Shara-li's friend and the Captain. Think the poor man's in for a few more shocks before this tale is done!

Thursday, February 3, 2005 2:27 PM


I have a feeling this thread could become canonical. As in, adopted into the Official 'Verse.

You are that good. This is that good.

Sunday, October 30, 2011 4:27 PM


O.M.G. So. Gorram. SHINY!!!!! The Simon/Kaylee scene was so sweet, amongst all the sadness! Well done!


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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.