STOLEN MOMENTS: 14. "Taking Stock"
Friday, April 15, 2005

"Once on Levington the crew concentrate on the job but Simon cannot get beyond his guilt and Shepherd Book tries to find out what is wrong."



SUMMARY: "Once on Levington the crew concentrate on the job but Simon cannot get beyond his guilt and Shepherd Book tries to find out what is wrong." 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

* * * * *

Jayne couldn't understand it. Captain had seemed to be getting better so why was it that when they got to Levington he looked as if he had been pummelled by an army of purplebellies? Man looked about ready to collapse but was too rutting *wangu* to admit it. He could tell that Inara was worried about him though she also looked irritated to *diyu* which probably meant the two had quarrelled. He couldn't wrap his gorram head around it. Getting sexed always loosened him up and made him feel all manner of good. Trust it to have the opposite effect on Mal.

They were in the cargo hold. The Captain giving out last minute instructions at the end of which he turned to Simon. "You an' River stay on the boat, *dong ma*?"

Simon readily nodded in agreement, anything to let the Captain's attention move on and away from him. Zoe frowned. Why did he look so awkward, jumpy even?

"I thought Levington was a peaceful planet, Cap'n?" Asked Wash.

The Captain shook his head slightly, not in disagreement but to try and clear it some. Gorrammit, what in the nine hells was wrong with him? All he knew was there was danger, something to do with Simon. Why Simon and not River he couldn't fathom but best keep them both on the boat to be on the safe side. "Yeah, well there might not be hill folk but let's not take any chances, *dong ma*?"

Wash nodded. Jayne was getting ansty. He was going stir crazy and needed to feel land beneath him and open sky above his head. Living on a ship was one thing but there were times when it was a lot like a gorram prison in space. Didn't make no difference that he was there by choice, just drove him rutting nuts some days.

In the end it was just Mal, Zoe, and Jayne that left to meet their contact. The Captain left the others to tidy the cargo hold for the horses and make sure there was nothing left lying about which could injure the stock. Kaylee was excited, hardly able to wait to see what they would be like. She kept chattering away and glancing at Simon expecting to elicit a smile of amusement or something better but after a few attempts to draw him into her excitement she took a closer look at him. River glanced at her brother. She saw him tense up a little as if expecting her to say something. She sighed and shook her head slowly. "Poor Simon, doesn't know who to trust so he doesn't trust anyone." Kaylee looked confused. "Huh?"

Simon tried to hide the awkwardness his sister's words caused with an overly bright smile and inane comments that Kaylee accepted with a light heart wanting only for him to keep smiling at her and move closer. Better if he'd kiss her too but with the Shepherd watching she couldn't see it happening. Sometimes it just frustrated her more than was natural trying to relax the doc enough to have some serious fun. But once loosened up he was one mighty fine distraction. Book's voice brought them all back on track reminding them they had to get the cargo bay ready. Up on the walkway Inara Serra watched for a few moments before heading back to her shuttle. It took under an hour to get everything the way the Captain wanted with the hold clear and ready for their new cargo. Kaylee was excited and River found her own sombre mood lightening at the mechanic's unrelenting good cheer.

The doctor made an excuse and went up to the infirmary, ostensibly to check his supplies but River knew he was running away. Poor Simon. When would he realise he could not hide from himself? Then Kaylee was talking again, a bright chatter of youthful expectation.

"What d'ya think, River? Think Cap'n'll let us keep one?"

River shook her head, her thoughts still on Simon. "If wishes were horses we'd all be vegetarian." Kaylee stared at her. "Huh?"

"The Origin of Species." River said wisely as if this was something important Kaylee ought to know. "It's really the history of cannibals."

Shepherd Book was silent. When Kaylee and River danced off hand in hand to go up to the commons area he did not go with them but hung back. After a moment or two he went to find Simon. For a full minute Simon did not realise he was being observed, the Preacher's quiet footfall making no impression on his senses. Book noticed how tense the boy was and knew he had been right. Boy had something mighty heavy on his mind. "They say confession is good for the soul." He said quietly.

Unprepared for the doctor's reaction, Shepherd Book was stunned when Simon's head snapped round surprising a guilty expression frozen in horror on the young man's face. *Well now,* thought the Shepherd. *This could get mighty interesting*.

* * * * *

Even with allowances for the drab almost hostile atmosphere of the saloon, the Captain's mood was going sour quicker than week old milk in a gorram heatwave. Zoe was frowning at him and about to call him on it when Jayne spoke up. "Reckon ya should'a stayed celibate." Mal and Zoe froze. The Captain stared at him as if he had never seen Jayne in his life before. Zoe looked at the big man as if he were seriously brain damaged, something Mal had suspected on more than one occasion. "*Shenme*? What the gorram you talkin' about?"

"You. You're wound tighter than a virgin's purse." The Captain's eyes narrowed in warning. It always amused and surprised Zoe how puritanical he could be when it came to any kind of talk about sex however obscure the reference. "Jayne!"

"Well, it's true! Ya been gettin' meaner an' angrier by the minute an' don't try an' say it ain't so. If I done somethin' wrong just tell me, *dong ma*?"

The Captain blinked at him, genuinely confused now. What the *diyu* was he talking about? "You ain't done nothin' wrong."

"Okay, then it must be Zoe."

Zoe's look darkened like an impending storm. The Captain spoke quickly before Zoe could rip his head off. "Ain't Zoe neither, just feel a mite muzzy is all."

His second gave him a long searching look. "You gonna be alright, Sir?"

He could not stop the sigh huffing out. "Don't fuss Zoe, you're beginnin' to sound like Simon."

The look of shock on Zoe's face would have amused him but the Captain's attention was diverted by the sight of their contact weaving his way between tables towards them. Jayne had caught the brief look on Zoe's face and wondered at it. Their contact was casually dressed but so clean and mannered that he could have been hand picked by Harrow himself. Mal smiled at him and was saved the discomfort of getting up by the man pulling a chair over to join them. He leaned forward on the table and instinctively Mal and Zoe inclined towards him. Jayne leaned back in his chair, giving every sign of relaxation though the opposite in fact was true. While Mal and Zoe talked business he let his eyes wander, the brim of his hat shielding his face in shadow the better to appear to be intently following the discourse and not drawing attention to his own alert and careful observations.

"I hear we have a friend in common?"

"So it would seem." Mal agreed easily. "I think the shiny sash is a little overdone my own self." He paused then rushed on when his contact's eyes narrowed in a most unamused and dangerous fashion. "Though I must say it looks perfect on Lord Harrow. Very fine upstanding gentleman."

The man relaxed slightly though his eyes were wary. He had heard some colourful things about Serenity's Captain. Somehow the notion of this washed out Browncoat besting one of the monied classes in a swordfight seemed so preposterous it was laughable and yet the confirmation had come from none other than his own esteemed employer Lord Harrow. That in itself was enough to make him extra careful in Malcolm Reynolds' presence. A flicker in the Captain's eyes confirmed that the man was at least as sharp as a sword blade. Remained to be seen if he was as bright. "You are prepared for the packages?"

"*Qu*, got a space all marked out for 'em."

"Captain Reynolds," Said the contact softly. "My name is George Hatcher. It is the only thing you need to know about me." He paused and Zoe resisted the urge to shudder.

The man seemed so cultured he appeared to have an aura of softness about him but the acceptance of that veneer was the hair's breadth between alive and dead. Man had all kinds of depths to him and a hint of steel as sharp and ready as any rapier. Something told the Captain that in certain circles the man's name would strike fear. For him the not knowing was more troubleseome. Name didn't mean a good gorram to him but he had no notion of forgetting it. Tucking the information away he moved on to the business at hand. "Got no problem with that," He said smoothly. "I'm here to do business. I do business, get paid. Keep flyin'."

Hatcher kept eye contact for another minute before giving Mal a slight nod. A weighty purse was pushed towards the Captain as Hatcher slid his glass across the table. The Captain reached for the glass and covered the purse in the same movement. Hatcher's hand brushed the Captain's lightly as both men moved away and a fragment of memory teased the back of Mal's brain. He paused, a little frown drifting across his face. Zoe looked at him, trying to figure out what had just happened but it passed in the blink of an eye and the next thing she knew the two men were talking amiably. An address was passed, Hatcher rising to leave first. Mal, Zoe and Jayne remaining long enough to down another drink before easing out of their chairs and into the harsh light of mid-day. Zoe looked at her friend.

"What was that all about?"

Mal was not looking at her. He seemed a mite distracted even though he was walking in the right direction and seemed more focussed than before. "What was what all about?"

"That. You lookin' like you just seen a gorram ghost."

He stopped, stared at her then shook his head. "You been drinkin'?"

"Same as you."

"Huh. Next time I take you out you're drinkin' water."

* * * * *

It was blessedly quiet in her shuttle. Inara Serra felt a deep sense of peace envelope her as she lit her candle and incense then knelt in front of the warm bowl of scented water. Taking up the natural sponge she loosened her robe until it fell from bare shoulders then slowly began the ritual washing that would presage meditation. She had meant to go. Leave. Protect her isolation and stand apart but circumstances had conspired against her. Connections had been formed which she was loathe to sever. Indeed. This motly crew had become family.

Kneeling was perhaps not the most comfortable position but her internal injuries were healing fast now. Her youth and good health coupled with Simon's expertise working in tandem to optimise the speed of her recovery. She sensed that the young doctor knew she and the Captain had been intimate but also that Mal was not the one responsible for the injuries. How could she explain why she had done what she had done? Why she had initially allowed the violation until the last brutal invasion had ripped the polite mask of her profession from her horrified mien and caused her to take the only action open to her. So she had walked away. Run, as the Captain would have put it. Only the fact that she had laid no formal charges ensured her ability to continue to practice as a fully registered Companion with the Guild. The all-powerful Guild could have struck her from the register and she would never have been able to work again. Knowing they owed her the price of that silence had guaranteed that no one would seek to coerce her into returning to House Madrassa. They had acknowledged that she was now freelance and Inara had politely but firmly refused their offer to make appointments for her and find a place for her to live.

Finding Serenity had been an escape and a place to lay down roots as deep or shallow as she wished without being under the keen eye of both superiors and peers. That she had chosen a ship captained by a former Independent amused her sensibilities like some subtle play on words. Her sisters would have been horrified. How could she seek to make a place of her own away from the riches and comforts of a Core world? Outside the purview of the Alliance of Planets she had a freedom never before indulged. At first it had frightened her, made her wary and uncertain of her decision. But Serenity was everything Sihnon was not. Her crew as diverse and filled with rough warmth and pauper's humour as House Madrassa was with preoccupations about such lofty matters as clear skin, beautiful clothes and the pleasuring of wealthy clients.

With a jolt she realised the water was now cold, her skin shivering slightly, the candle burning low. Inara had no need to dry off. Gracefully she put her robe on and emptied the water. Methodically settling into the calming ritual of the tea ceremony. The delicate scent wafting up from exquisite bone china. A smile to match forming upon her beautiful sculpted lips as she accepted that she had the better part of the bargain. As tempting as it was to run from her emotions there was something even more satisfying in finding the strength to face them. This was her family now and they had taught her that family stuck together.

* * * * *

Simon stared, agog. Eyes wide, breath catching, mind numb and struggling to regain its' former agility. "C... confession?"

The Preacher acted as if they had this conversation at least once a week. "Best start at the beginning, Simon."

He blinked. Stunned. How could he...? Surely he didn't know? Unless the Captain had said something to him? But that was impossible, wasn't it?

"Simon, perhaps we should sit down?"

Simon sat, unable to find anything to say. Vaguely he was aware of Book leaning back against a counter, seemingly content for him to begin in his own time. When minutes passed and Simon still had not spoken Book decided to get the ball rolling.

"If you don't want to start at the beginning start with why you did what you did."

It was hard to imagine anyone looking more stunned but Simon managed it. Flushing, he felt a mix of emotions, torn between horror that his secret was out and relief that he could at last explain himself and in some small way find a kind of redemption.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wangu* = stubborn *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand *shenme* = what *qu* = yes (lit. go)


Friday, April 15, 2005 6:18 PM


How did Book know Simon had a confession? Don't tell me Book is a reader now too!

Another excellent installment, Ali. Can't wait for the next. Keep up the good work! =o)

Saturday, April 16, 2005 1:04 AM


No KaySky, Book is *not* a Reader just a keen observer. He picked up on the doctor's discomfort and guilt. He does not know the why of it but is astute in letting Simon think he knows more than he does so that he will open up. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, April 21, 2005 9:48 AM


I'm really enjoying the style of this fic, Ali. I like the way you're dropping the lightest of hints and then moving on. It's intriguing and involving.

Very convincing on Inara's back story.


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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.