TEMPTATION SERIES: 36. "Unforgiven"
Monday, November 14, 2005

"River is tired of waiting. When they reach Dresden the Shepherd makes a confession."



SUMMARY: "River is tired of waiting. When they reach Dresden the Shepherd makes a confession." 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

* * * * *

She wanted him awake because she didn't have permission yet to touch and River had grown tried of waiting. Was worried her brother would find more obstacles to place in their path or try the Captain's patience so much they would have no option but to leave. And leaving was the last thing River Tam wanted to do.

They were sailing through the Black, the miles to Dresden eaten up on autopilot as the crew slept. Kaylee had coaxed another hard burn before letting Serenity's engines cool and hum on half speed. The alarm rigged in Wash and Zoe's bunk would recall the pilot to the bridge when they were within hours of the Alliance planet. Wash didn't want to time it too close in case there were patrols or the wrong pair of eyes took note of the Firefly class transport coming out of atmo. However reckless their dealings, caution was their watchword. River had moved quietly through the ship until she was sure all of Serenity's crew had retired for what passed as night. Simon wrapped around Kaylee, bodies glistening with sweat as the energetic mechanic set about fixing the doctor in ways that disconnected his mind from his body. Wash and Zoe languidly making love over and over again as the baby slept sound and peaceful to the noises of contentment that rocked him to sleep. Finally drifting off their own selves in happy exhaustion.

Shepherd Book was not asleep but meditating in his bunk. She could not tell what the passenger was doing but he was silent, his mind as empty as a new coffin. It made her wary but she had sensed no danger to ship or crew. He just wanted to be left alone and River could relate to that. Inara was wrapped in her silk cocoon, drifting in and out of dreams she would indulge but never claim. Her mind turning through a lifetime of rituals and lies until it was hard to see her true self any more. Yet Serenity had become more home to her than the Guild ever had, even as she held on to those artificial ties like an umbical chord. Jayne was in a deep and heavy sleep. His workout with the Preacher easing tensions in him that built up the longer the ship was away from solid ground. Unable to ease his itches and urges but happy to expend his energy in keeping his body trim and fit until he could do something about it.

Now she was here, at the Captain's bunk, her nimble fingers opening the hatch so quietly the damn thing could have been oiled. Her bare feet mere whispers on the rungs as she descended into his bunk. Carefully, oh so carefully, she eased the hatch shut and quietly locked it. Freezing for a moment as the lock clicked into place. In the silence it sounded like a bolt exploding. Yet he did not stir. Lying on his stomach, one leg flung out, head turned towards the far wall. She knew he slept naked and imagining the feel of his skin beneath her fingers, the warmth of his arms wrapped around her, lips on hers, River felt the want and the need rising like a tide within her. He drew her to him, from the first moment when he had kicked open the cryo chamber something deep inside had resonated between them. Even as Simon's hands had reached for her, a detached awareness had recognised Mal on the periphery. Made an eerie kind of connection that the two had never lost.

It felt strange to be able to gaze down and drink her fill of him, the Captain not moving more than the calm flow of breath easing in and out of him. The man always seemed to be moving, doing, never still. To her he was beyond beautiful and not in the physical sense either. How could Simon ever understand that she looked beyond her eyes? Saw things that went beyond the limits of the flesh, deeper than the physical architecture of the body? Soul deep. And it was that fundamental resonance of heart and mind that brought her here, fueled by a need that could no longer be denied. Remembering the moment she had emerged from the box, cold and trembling and disorientated. Frightened but also aware, sensing beyond her brother's frantic need to calm and reassure her that she was safe, that she was loved. Another constant hovered on the edge of her awareness, one that accepted her as she was not who she had been. One who would not seek to mould or change her even in the times when understanding failed him there would be acceptance. Compassion.

River knew it now for what it was. What he meant to her, her lodestone, an anchor amidst the chaos of other people's thoughts and expectations. A calm in the eye of the storm while Simon fretted and searched and tried to pretend that the River he had rescued could be returned to the child she had once been. Innocent and unaltered. Simon thought if he refused to accept what she had become he could mend her, heal what had been done and go back in time. But the answers were not in medicine. That was the cornerstone of Simon's existence not hers. River had seen it from the beginning but Simon loved her so much, had given up everything to find her and found her broken. She did not have it in her to hurt him, to tell him that he was wrong. So River let him lead her, decide what she needed even when everything in her brain screamed and recoiled against the medication knowing it was not the answer. River didn't want drugs to dull the razor knife of her perception, she wanted understanding not oblivion. A quiet mind not one made numb and distant to reality.

Malcolm Reynolds stirred slowly. Warm, vibrant, a ghost of awareness humming in her mind. As comforting as Serenity's engines he was her ship of state. It was the coolness of her body that roused him from sleep. Her body cradling his, her arms holding him so tenderly that he was disorientated at first, her presence not registering as an intruder until the Captain's eyes flickered open and his waking senses informed his sleep befogged mind that he was not alone.


She loved her name upon his lips. The way his warm limbs tangled with her cold ones both bathing in his heat as consciousness slowly fired up his brain.

"River, what the good gorram you doin' in my bunk?"

The words were soft, confused. As if the Captain was not at all sure he was not dreaming. River dropped feather-light kisses upon his face, her body wrapped around him like a second skin. In River's mind the fit was perfect. *He* was perfect. "I'm tired of waiting, *ai ren*."

Mal shifted on the narrow bed to make room for her. A smile of deep content swallowed her heart whole. Accepted not rejected. River felt safe, cradled in his strength: home. She gave a happy sigh, her head tilting so she could see his face, her smile disarming him as easily as her touch destroyed his defences. A yawn cracked her jaw. She had spent so long watching him sleep, loving him in silence. Now that he was awake River could barely keep her eyes open. River snuggled closer, her warmth and his merging, the tangle of their limbs a comfort that soothed her. Body weary she managed to mumble into his chest. "Sleep now."

Her sleepiness amused him just as River's trust overwhelmed him. He sighed softly, watching as sleep engulfed her. Mesmerised by the little smile of happiness upon her lips, the ambient glow of pleasure lighting her face inside and out. Mal watched over her with a kind of silent and stunned awe. All kinds of protective. How long had she been watching him? And why had her presence not wakened him? All the years of that lost war he had hardly slept, the slightest noise or movement rousing him to battle readiness. Yet here, now, this amazing woman crept stealthily beneath his defences and had somehow wormed her way into his heart. Was it right? Was it wrong? Or was this something that was meant to be as surely as night following day? Even if he could deny himself the pleasure of her touch could he deny her the same? Thoughtfully the Captain traced the planes of River's face then dropped a kiss upon those exquisitely bowed lips, ridiculously pleased to see her sleeping smile widen as if in welcome. Carefully he pulled the covers more fully round them and closed his eyes. Their errant souls held heart to heart. A stolen moment of perfect peace in a mad, bad 'verse.

* * * * *

Wash woke not just happy but merry. Not surprised to find his wife already dressing as the alarm brought him out of the depths of a deep slumber. "*Bao bei*?"

Zoe paused to kiss him, her lips lingering more than they ought to, what with Serenity calling him to take over her controls. Right now the only controls he wanted to manipulate were organic ones. Chuckling deep in her throat Zoe eased back out of his arms, the disappointment on her *zhangfu's* face making her laugh outright. "Honey, that alarm means we're only three hours out of Dresden, *dong ma*?"

"I'm sleepy not stupid."

"Tell it to the Cap'n."

He scowled now. "You don't fight fair."

Zoe bent over the crib and lifted their little pile of precious into possessive arms, the smile on her face so tender and loving that Wash would have ripped his heart out of his chest and handed it to her had she but asked him. "Don't wanna fight at all, *bao bei*."

Wash sat up and peered at their son as Zoe sat on the bed beside him. "Did we really make something this *wanmei*?" He asked in humble astonishment.

"Yes, *zhangfu*, we did."

For a long moment neither stirred, both of them focusing all their hopes and love upon a future so shiny they were lost for words. Then several things happened at once. A rattle on their hatch and a yell from Kaylee told them the babysitter had arrived, a loud squawking on the com announced that the Captain was up and wondering where the good gorram his pilot had got to, then the soothing tones of the Preacher declared in a voice as warm as honey that breakfast was about to be served. The last announcement was enough to catapult Wash to his feet and begin dressing. Usually the crew sorted out their own breakfasts, the only meal cooked for all of them being the main meal of the day and for that they took turns. Some turns more successful than others. Hearing that Book had cooked them a breakfast was therefore a treat not to be missed. Especially as any dawdling on Wash's part meant Jayne got to eat more than his share. And didn't he already say he wasn't stupid? Nope, not stupid, but making love most of the night to his luscious wife had given him an appetite to rival that of any Reaver.

* * * * *

The pile of his possessions were small. Everything fitting into the one trunk. Milo finished his meditation, his mind scanning only on the periphery of consciousness. Careful not to alert anyone with even the barest amount of pyschic ability that he was on the prowl. The best time to scan was when everyone was busy, their thoughts even a little chaotic. Camoflage. And now was the perfect time to merge, dip into their senses then evaporate. No lingering echo of an alien uninvited presence. No fingerprints. Such a light fleeting excursion, just enough to tell him where everyone was and what they were doing but not enough to set off alarm bells or cause uneasiness. His suspicions were pretty much confirmed anyway and the next step would not be his.

Rising he hefted the trunk and lugged it out of his guest quarters and down to the cargo hold. Once done he turned to make his way up to the commons area to join the crew in the first meal of the day, pausing when he saw Shepherd Book lingering on the catwalk above him. The Shepherd waited and watched as Milo approached. "We never did get a chance to talk."

Milo didn't want to talk. Not now, not ever and least of all to a man in a Shepherd's clothing. Silence had always served him well. Only words betrayed. Thoughts extracted by a silver tongue were a folly he could not afford. When it became obvious that he had no intention of responding Book changed tack.

"Or we could just go and get something to eat?"

The passenger nodded, no clue to his thoughts in his demeanour. This close, Milo would not scan Book. Even without projecting he could feel the man's darkness flapping like a cloak around him, the stolen fragments of his faith were not clothes made for him yet he had adjusted until the fit was so close it was hard to see the join. Yet it was as if the clothes imbued Book with some of the respectablity and forgiveness he craved. If he wore them long enough would the man he used to be fade? Would he be remade in his own image, alike yet different right down to the last cell in his body? If Milo had been staying he would have taken the time to know Book better. To study not revere him. For friend or foe meant nothing in this graveyard of fools. Except as object lessons to learn from.

Chung-li watched them enter the commons room. He was seated to the Captain's right with Simon on his right next to Kaylee. The table was filling fast and Milo and Book were the last to take their seats. River sat on the Captain's left with Wash and Zoe on her left then Inara, Jayne, Book and Milo. The Captain looked at Book, an unspoken question in his eyes. The Shepherd smiled and ladled the soup into bowls and handed the bowls round along with a heavy leaden flat bread which reminded Mal of hard tack, not that he would say so out loud. Once the notion would have just spilled out of his mouth without thinking. A jumble of words not meant to hurt or offend just not considered for their impact first. Expecting everyone to instantly know that no offence was intended. Now he was more thoughtful, still rough edged but with a shine to the edges if not an actual curve.

As Mal's eyes met River's something in him softened and a calm folded round him that made Inara stare. It took a moment for the enormity of it to sink in. The Captain was happy. Not just with the thought that their odd passenger would soon be departing and they could high-tail it away from this core world but with the happiness of the heart bespeaking a deeper content. She hesitated to call it love. Was a man like Malcolm Reynolds even capable of such a thing? Loyalty, yes. Courage, undoubtedly. Stern, stubborn, noble even. But love? Although she had been complicit in paving the way for the Captain to notice River as a woman in her own right Inara was not sure how long the magic would last. Sure that at any given moment the Captain might open his mouth and shatter the fragile spell. River turned her head and smiled at the Companion, an uneasy thought settling in Inara's mind that River knew perfectly well what she was thinking. Feeling oddly chastened she turned her attention to the soup, her uncharitable thoughts almost souring the exquisite taste exploding with delicate flavours on her tongue.

The Captain's smile widened, travelling to his eyes until his face crinkled with laughter lines and genuine pleasure. "Preacher, you been takin' lessons from Chung-li?"

Book nodded back, only too happy to share the acclaim as he cut himself a chunk of bread. "*Qu*. Chung-li also let me use some of his herbs and medicaments to compliment the meal."

Smiles turned to wary frowns. Milo stopped eating and carefully placed his spoon to one side, only reaching for a piece of the flat bread. Even then he ate sparingly, eyes narrowing as he looked at the Shepherd. If Book felt the man's eyes on him he showed no sign. Jayne hardly paused, shovelling the soup into his great maw of a mouth as if he fretted that someone would snatch the bowl from him before he could finish. He ate his bread as an afterthought, using it to wipe an already empty bowl so clean it shone. Smacking his lips together he frowned at Milo then leaned across the front of the Preacher and snagged the half filled bowl. Before Book could stop him, Jayne was grinning at his good fortune. "If ya ain't gonna eat that I will. Can't afford to waste food in the Black, *dong ma*?"

Milo didn't say anything, he just nodded. His eyes straying to flicker over the Shepherd's face noticing the quick flash of annoyance schooled into calm acceptance. Interesting. While Milo's reaction had been pure instinct the Preacher's reaction had been telling. So. The soup had been doctored. Casting a surreptitious eye around the crew Milo realised that whatever Book was up to the rest of the crew were not privvy to it.

As soon as the meal was over the Captain stood, scraping his chair back. He nodded at Milo. "I'm thinkin' we'll take you down to Dresden in Inara's shuttle. That suit you?"

The man nodded already aware that the Captain and crew were all kinds of unsettled being this close to a Core world. He kept his thoughts hidden and face blank, not hard to do when every expression was lost in the folds of a face only a mother could love. In the end only Jayne went with Inara and Milo in the shuttle, though River could tell the Captain wished he could cram them all inside just to be on the safe side. Chung-li stood next to the Captain, everyone waiting until the shuttle had detached and descended down to Dresden. It was Zoe who spoke for everyone, her laser eyes moving from the Captain's face to Shepherd Book.

"Mind tellin' us what in the nine hells that was about?"

It seemed as if the Preacher had swallowed a pot full of glue. His mouth working but seemingly unable to open or utter a word. Mal stepped right up to him. "Shepherd?"

Book blinked. River slid her hand in the Captain's. He gave it a gentle squeeze but kept his eyes fastened on the Shepherd. The Preacher glanced at Chung-li then sighed. All at once he felt a hundred years old and not in a good way. He sat a bit abruptly making the Captain frown in a flash of concern.

"He was right, I *did* doctor the soup."

Simon stared at him aghast. "You did what? What in *diyu* did you do that for?"

Sounding outraged the doctor's eyes dropped to his own empty bowl then to Kaylee's, the colour draining from his face. Kaylee was in the early stages of pregnancy. Bad enough that Book had put something in the soup but what in the nine hells would it do to the baby? Might only be the size of a tadpole right now but it was a new life. New, tiny, and helpless. Rage began to build in him.

"Are you *shenjingbing*?"

"*Duibuqi*, Simon..."

Before Simon's temper could get the best of him the Captain intervened. He was no happier than Simon but if he had learnt anything about the Preacher it was that the man would never do such a thing lightly. Which still left the why of it. "Think you got some explainin' to do."

Book nodded. "It was Milo. There's something *cuode* about him."

"Wrong?" The Captain looked upset, only too aware that he had let the man leave with Inara and Jayne in the Companion's shuttle. *Wode ma* he felt sick. River kissed his hand as if to reassure him but his eyes were glued to Book.

"I don't know what it is, Captain, but I felt uneasy all the while he was onboard and yet no one could get close to him. Most of the time he all but barricaded himself in his room. You can't tell me that isn't suspicious?"

Zoe's eyes were hard narrow flints. "Think he's Alliance?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* and that's what worries me."

"I'm not sure I follow you," Said Simon slowly. "You're worried because he might be Alliance or because he might not be?"

The Preacher shook his head. "I'm pretty sure he isn't regular Alliance. Perhaps something less official."

"As interestin' as all this conjecture is," Said the Captain quickly. "I need to know what the good gorram you put in that soup? 'Specially as your Alliance spy or whoever the *diyu* he is hardly touched it an' both Inara an' Jayne ate their fill. In fact, Jayne ate more than his fill. I sent him to make sure Inara was alright but if that concoction messes with their health then we just handed that *tamade hundan* a shiny shuttle an' two gorram hostages." Alarmed, Kaylee put her hand over her mouth. Eyes wide as saucers and filling with the threat of tears. "Ya don't mean, ya don't think..." She gulped a mouthful of air as if it had stones in it. "Ya don't think he's gonna hurt 'em do ya?"

"Nobody's saying anything of the sort, Kaylee." Book frowned at the Captain but even Wash was giving him dark looks. Trying to shift the blame wouldn't work. "It won't hurt them but if it makes you feel any better only Jayne ingested the drug."

Normally that would have raised a smile and some derogatory banter but the Captain was far from happy. "Jayne ain't expendable, Preacher."

Book raised an eyebrow, mildly surprised that Mal would be upset at the thought of anything happening to the big man. They had come a long way since becoming crew. "The drug just makes a person more inclined to be loquacious, talkative..."

Wash chuckled. "You put a truth serum in the soup?"

"Yes, if you want to call it that."

"What were you hopin' to find?" Asked Zoe.

Before he could answer River spoke up, everyone but the Captain having forgotten she was there. "He isn't here to cause us harm, just wanting to get back. Be whole again. Not dangerous until his next mission."

Everyone stared at her.


"It's alright, Simon. His secrets will die with him."

The Captain put a hand under her chin and gently raised her face so he could look her in the eye. "You know, *xin gan*, as helpful as that is it ain't exactly comfortin'."

"They'll be safe."

It was Simon who asked what the others were silently thinking. "What about Milo? What's he up to?"

"He went through the fire. Punishment. Retribution. Now he goes back to be healed, forgiven."

Silence rang until it almost hurt their ears. The emptiness an echo that felt all kinds of ominous. Wash looked thoughtful, his arm wrapping around his wife's waist, ever protective. "Forgiven? If the way he looks now is his punishment what the *guai* did he do?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*ai ren*/*xin gan* = sweetheart *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *diyu* = hell *duibuqi* = sorry *shenjingbing* = crazy *cuode* = wrong *wode ma* = mother of God *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *guai* = devil/ghost *wanmei* = perfect


Monday, November 14, 2005 10:23 PM


You know, Mal and River is the last possible Firefly relationship to cross my mind, but you make it believable and that much more fun to read!

Friday, November 25, 2005 6:29 AM


Ooh er, and the plot thickens nicely. Very sweet Mal and River too. I'm trying to trust Book but the man's being doing all kinds of bad in this series. Haven't forgotten what he did to Mal ...


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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.

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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.

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Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

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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.