GENIUS SERIES: 10. "Biting Back"
Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Book and Inara leave. Slowly things aboard Serenity get grimmer only matched by an encroaching darkness that threatens the soul of each and every one of them."



SUMMARY: "Book and Inara leave. Slowly things aboard Serenity get grimmer only matched by an encroaching darkness that threatens the soul of each and every one of 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.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *


* * * * *

He never thought anything could be this hard. Thought Inara had been the worst of it but this, this just tore what little was left of his gorram heart and fed it back to him. Words shouldn't have hurt him, shouldn't have been any kind of a surprise, but they were. Though not as much as the disappointment he saw in Shepherd Book's eyes.

"You don't gotta go, Shepherd." "Oh, but I think I do."

"What's Haven got that we ain't? 'Sides bein' planet side an' all kinds of borin'."

A faint pained smile touched gentle lips but the look in the Shepherd's eyes was hard. Some might say unforgiving. "You were going to kill that man."

"What man?"

"Simon and River's father."

The Captain snorted softly. They were alone in the cargo bay. It was late and most of the crew had gone to their bunks. Mal had been doing his endless checks, restless beyond words and so tightly wound he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to relax again. This felt wrong, his whole world off-kilter at the slow break up of his crew, though strictly speaking neither Inara nor Book were crew. In his heart crew equated to family and it had been a long time since Malcolm Reynolds had looked on either of them as passengers. "He ain't their father no more than I am."

"Be that as it may," Said Book quietly, his head leaning closer to the Captain's. "You were going to shoot him in front of his family. Doesn't matter that you don't approve or acknowledge it for that." The Shepherd paused, his voice ineffably sad. A quality to it that hurt Mal though he could no more stop listening than breathe atmo. "You've changed, son."

"No, I ain't."

"Yes, you have Malcolm." The Captain did not react to the sudden familiarity. He was hanging on by a hair, what did familiarity matter at a time like this? Book was still leaving and so was Inara. By the week's end there would only be the seven of them and then what? Who would be next?

"I just do what I gotta do."

"That won't work any more for an excuse, Captain. You've become harder, more distant. It's hurtin' this crew, drivin' away those who would stand shoulder to shoulder with you."

"Like you?" Mal whispered out of the ache in his heart.

Book shook his head gently. This wasn't about lashing out or hurting the Captain. It was about putting cards on the table no matter which way they fell. The truth could be a hard mistress but better than the burden of cunningly crafted lies. He felt so tired, weary of seeing what he had first accepted as a challenge appear to spiral out of his control. He could not bear to stay around to see the man finally self distruct, knowing that when he did Malcolm Reynolds would be taking some of his friends with him. "That's not what I meant, I was talkin' about the crew. Truth to tell, Captain, I'm not even sure I like you any more."

That hurt. Got right up under his rib cage like some heat seeking missile seeking his heart. "I'm sorry you feel that way."

"I do an' if it's any consolation I feel a failure."

The Captain raised his head and stared at his friend for a long moment. "From where I'm sittin' that ain't true, not by a long shot. If you're talkin' about savin' me I told you right from the day you first stepped on my boat not to go makin' me your mission. Said you were welcome on my boat, God wasn't."

"I'm aware of that conversation. I just don't see how this journey is going to accomplish anything."

"An' Haven will?"

It was painful to watch the way the sadness on Book's face eased at the thought of the settlement. Hurt that the man could so want to be rid of Serenity and her crew - or rather, her onery Captain. Wasn't something Mal was wanting to see. He found it something of a shock to realise how much he had come to rely on the man and cherish his friendship. Even if he was too dumb and stubborn to tell the man to his face. And now he had left it too late and Book was leaving. He didn't have to look into the faces of his crew to know that each and every one of them blamed him. *Diyu*, even he blamed himself. Weren't nightmares supposed to end when you woke up?

"I don't want us to part on bad terms, Captain."

*An' I don't want us to part at all* Mal thought, but as a kindness to the man he didn't say the words out loud. Book was being a gentleman about this and it behooved Mal to do the same even if he couldn't quite aspire to the grace of his friend. The Captain stood up from the weight bench he had been sitting on, knowing that sleep would not find him this night. "Then I'll wish you well, Shepherd. You been good for us an' I mean *all* of us. Kept some of my more hot headed notions in check an' proved mighty handy when things have gone poorly. Can't say I like to lose you but it ain't my decision an' I ain't gonna make this harder for you. I realise you got your reasons an' all I can say is our loss is a mighty big gain for Haven."

"Perhaps some day you'll stop by for a visit?"

Mal managed to keep his eyes from tearing up, glad to have this goodbye in private. "I'd like that."

They parted with a nod and a handshake, the Captain resisting the unexpected urge to hug the man. Walking back to his bunk, it felt as if the weight of the 'verse had just tripled on his back. Shepherd Book sighed and went to finish his packing. In a few hours time Haven would beckon and Serenity would become part of his store of memories. Maybe some day he would take them out and brush them off again. For now he just needed to get away, take a break, find a place where he could be out in the world practising his faith. Turning the ears of those who wanted to listen to the hope and promise the Almighty extended to all mankind.

* * * * *

Simon was edgy and couldn't help needling the Captain. The man made such an easy target and it was not as if the crew were as solidly behind him as usual. Losing both Inara and Book so close together had shaken everybody. The Captain had not even put in an appearance when Inara left, a fact that some of the crew had resented not realising Mal and Inara had already said their goodbyes in private. Like Book, there were words needed saying the crew didn't have to hear and Malcolm Reynolds was not a man for baring his soul or explaining himself. Now they were gone he was even less inclined to justify what he said or did, a fact that gave Simon a lot more leeway than normal to chip away at his armour.

Now the doctor was dogging the Captain's steps, a snipe here, a sarcastic comment there. Always with the pecking away at his control. What made it worse was that the rest of the crew listened when Simon spoke, noted how the Captain either failed to answer or gave replies that did not satisfy but then Mal was not trying to win any popularity contest. That simply wasn't him. But what hurt was how Kaylee hung on to every word from the doctor's mouth and it was beginning to royally piss off the Captain. Oddly enough River had been uncharacteristically silent apart from the floods of tears when Inara left then the sorrow of saying goodbye to Book. A sadness in the girl's eyes that left an uncomfortableness. Right now Mal was heartily sick of whatever game Simon was playing. He waited until the two of them were alone.

"I'm fed up bein' cast bad guy to your White Knight, *dong ma*?"

Simon raised his eyebrows and gave the Captain the kind of look that suggested he was in some way mentally impaired. "*Shenme*?"

"You know what I'm talkin' about, gorramit! Don't like you playin' my crew against me."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Captain."

Mal was just a step away from losing his temper completely. If that happened there would be violence a-plenty and he didn't want that. Crew were upset enough already and that was without forcing them to take sides. If push came to shove right now he didn't think a one of them would stand with him against Simon 'cept maybe Zoe and he was starting to feel as if he shouldn't count on her automatic support. Woman had a way of looking at a man like he was all manner of stupid without the words ever passing her lips.

"Yes, yes you do. You don't like it 'cause I'm takin' her on this job."

They had already had this argument and it had resulted in Simon throwing a punch. To Simon's surprise the Captain didn't hit him back, afraid if he did he wouldn't be able to stop. Such was the tenuous thread left on his control. He needed smooth. Uncomplicated. A crew who would obey and not ask questions. Not a snotty nosed Core-bred doctor who kept questioning his orders and baiting him. Didn't help that Kaylee had come crying to his bunk the night before begging him not to drive Simon and River away like he had Book and Inara. Made him mad as *diyu*. Didn't the girl remember all the times he had stood up for them, fought for them? Gorramit he had even hid the ungrateful sumbitch from under the nose of the Alliance and this was the thanks he got.

"What are you up to, Simon Tam, an' why'd I get the notion I wouldn't like the answer?"

Simon just looked at him for a minute then spoke as if there had never been any contention between them. "I just have to protect my sister." The doctor paused, and Mal had a creepy feeling he was missing something vital. "You should sleep Captain. You look tired."

Then the doctor was gone and the Captain found himself staring at the empty doorway. As he moved towards the door he spotted River hovering on the catwalk. It was almost as if she was waiting for him. "What you doin', River?"

"It isn't what you think."

Mal felt his gut twist. Did River know? "You know what's goin' on?"

To his consternation she frowned and shook her head. For some reason that upset the Captain more than the constant bickering with Simon because somewhere along the way he had gotten used to River being his early warning system. All of a sudden he felt vulnerable and exposed. It was not a good feeling.

* * * * *

They were in the middle of hot langorous sex. Their bodies shone, Wash's witty banter jettisoned in exhange for moans and murmurs that heated his blood and set his heart pounding and racing with feelings too intense for words. They came together in a beautiful sustained rush, holding on and bringing each other to climax until the perfection of it crashed over and through them leaving them half conscious but sated. It took long long minutes before either one spoke.

"That was..."

"*Ji hao de*, husband."

"Yeah. Absolutely." Wash turned his head and smiled at her, both of them glowing. Happy and radiant in each others' arms.

Looking back Zoe should have been suspicious. Everything was going so well between her and Wash. They had even discussed bringing little ones into the 'verse and for the first time Wash admitted he could handle it if they had a family in space. It had been a big step forward, a burden lifted from Zoe that could have crushed the happy out of their relationship if denied much longer. Relief. Joy. Then deep content. This though, this was so far removed from those emotions that it was something of a miracle she was still conscious let alone drawing breath. Was it weeks or months? Did it matter? A sparkling rain of tears fell from her eyes, the light fracturing the droplets into hard clear points of tasteless candy. She hurt. Body, heart and soul. They all did. But even injured there was only one place she longed to be. The long slick slide not even making it to a crawl. When she got to him, her heart wept tears of blood. Her exhausted arms reaching, dragging a body that wanted nothing more than to collaspe in on itself and give up the good fight. 'Verse didn't work that way though.

The Captain heard the doctor's words to his sister, believing himself to be dying from his wounds. So stalwart and brave, so all sacrifing even in the spending of his last breath. But it was River's words that broke him. Telling Simon he had protected her for so long. "My turn now."

Then she moved away, a veritable whirlwind of vengeance. Calm, cold, methodical. The perfect killing machine. It chilled the Captain's heart even as he marvelled at a precision so deadly. Didn't know much after. Must have passed out. It was later, much later. The Operative had stepped away after the revelation of Miranda. Stood down those gorram troops and let them live. More than that he had arranged to have them put back together again, ship too. Must have been some gorram guilt trip. Mal mulled over the man's words, still stiff and in pain but walking and talking after the surgery. Not sure he believed the man truly understood the meaning of the word sorry but too tired to fight. They were alive, least most of them were, and for that he could not help but be glad. The only one to escape most of the carnage was the one that made most of it. River. A conundrum wrapped in an enigma. A girl who was not a girl but at times ached with the desire to be normal. It hurt him that he couldn't do more. Had he done enough?

* * * * *

Funerals. Dead empty gestures. Too little, too late, and yet the living seemed to need them. River was blessedly silent. Three memorials to three extraordinary people. Mal made himself step closer and look, the hurt burning him up inside leaving behind hot ash and pain. This was his fault and he knew it though looking back, if he was truthsome, he couldn't see how he could have done anything different. Stepping into the Operative's trap at the Training House, discovering what the good gorram Miranda was then making sure the rest of the 'verse knew too. Losing every friend and contact that had ever helped or sheltered them. That would haunt him as long as he lived. The memory of returning to Haven and finding Book, bleeding and dying. It was the wierdest, saddest thing cradling the Preacher's head in his hands as he lay dying. Was almost like the beloved sumbitch had been hanging on, waiting for him to come. How in the nine hells had Book known he would come? His last piece of wisdom needing to find that reluctant ear before God would let him pass.

"I don't care what you believe," Book gasped, trying to hang on to Mal's gaze before sight and sense left him. "Just... believe it. Whatever you have to."

Mal was cradling that grisled old face gently but firmly between the palms of his hands. Willing him to hang on, to fight back, to LIVE. He didn't want it to end like this. Had lost too many people he cared about already. Didn't want anyone else to pay the price of his vengeance, his determination to get to the bottom of the pile of *goushi* destroying the 'verse. Blue Sun, the Alliance, Reavers, the gorram Operative and the Parliament that made him. All of it was too much yet not worth a single hair upon Shepherd Book's head. He saw it now. And somewhere broken deep inside he thought he understood.


Book went limp in Mal's hands and the last spark of hope died with him. Death could do that to a man. Hollow him out and leave him so empty not nothing would ever fill that space again. Looking across at Zoe he could see the desolation in her eyes, backlit by pain and a terrible sadness. This was his fault and they both knew it. Didn't matter a good gorram that they had willing followed him into the mouth of hell. And in the end was it worth it? Was the truth worth putting his crew, his friends, through this?

* * * * *

Simon Tam should have been relieved. Grateful it was over. Everyone was in a state of shock. Senses stunned, bodies healing but minds so far from catching up that he wondered if they would ever get over the trauma. The terrible loss. But he was clinical. Pragmatic. He was the best.

A light breeze ruffled his hair. Even outside the air had the taint of death on it. The man moved closer but was respectful of observing the correct distant. An elegant but repectful bow. Courtly almost. "I did not think you could do it."

A bitter little smile twisted Simon's lips. "I told you, you just have to know how to manipulate people."

"Yes, but you took a gamble. Malcolm Reynolds is unpredictable. What if it hadn't worked? What if you had been thrown off his ship?"

The young doctor turned his head and gave the Operative a calculating but mainly honest smile. "I had the rest of the crew in the palm of my hand." His laugh was small, sharp and bitter. Self mocking in the extreme. "By the time we were coming up to the end game he would not have been able to get me off his ship without a mutiny."

"Even though you threatened to leave?" Said the Operative softly.

A genuine chuckle now but no less unpleasant than the ones that had come before being the gift of artifice. "Just setting the scene. I had to keep the others interested enough. Of course Kaylee was a bonus."

Simon almost sounded sad. His colleague picked up on it. "Regrets?"

"Only that he let you live."

This time the Operative laughed and oddly enough it sounded almost wholesome. "*Qu*, I was surprised at that. After what I'd done I expected to be executed at the very least, probably with my own katana."

"*Mercy is the mark of a great man*." Simon murmured.


"Just something the Captain quoted to Atherton Wing. The Companion told me about the sword fight. Sounded entertaining. I was sorry to have missed it."

"I cannot go back." The Operative mused after a moment of contemplation. His eyes scanning the distant mountains, hands clasped behind his back.

"Neither can I."

That surprised the Operative who turned to look at him. "But you..."

Another bitter laugh. "I set my father up, what did you expect? Come home all is forgiven?"

"That is no longer your home."

"*Bu qu* but for a time it was." Was that a tinge of regret?

"What will you do?"

"The War is over but there are other battles to wage."

"You will be retired."

"Words. Ink on a page."

"You would defy Parliament?"

The Operative's words amused Simon. His father was finished, but his mother - Regan Tam - was a rising star. With his abilities and her status they could go far. "You forget, I'm a hero now."

No response. Simon looked at his colleague in mild amusement. Knowing his words unsettled him.

"You do not approve?"

"Where is the honour in it?" He said softly.

"Honour? Do you think YOU acted honorably 'my friend'? No, you saw your opening and took it the same as I did. We have done the government's work you and I, now it is time to look closer to home."

"I will not be a part of this."

A funny little smile quirked Simon's lips. As Simon began to speak the Operative tilted his head to catch the strange unfamiliar words, neither English nor Mandarin. His expression turning to one of query. Feeling magnanimous Simon translated for him, his polite words deceptively soft. "It means 'goodbye'."

Then a blur of motion confused the eye and the Operative took a step back. Eyes wide, mouth open but unable to cry out. A thin vermillion line formed a collar round his throat, a coloured shadow having whisked past until it settled next to Simon. Simon Tam watched as the Operative's eyes became dull, the movement of a falling body dislodging the severed head until it rolled to a stop at Simon's feet. Turning he smiled in satisfaction as River looked up at him. Her eyes were bright, shining but distant, unaware of the sword in her hand dripping with blood. Her mind well honed and tuned to Simon's every command, even the ones she fought through fitful sleep. With a murmur like a lover's caress on her ear he gave the command to stand down as he divested her of the sword and watched the girl relax. Slowly becoming the one thing she had always wanted to be. A normal girl.

Confused, River stared at the dead body but Simon was there. Whole, unharmed, his face tilted towards hers in concern and compassion. Such love in his eyes that she put her whole trust in him. "Come on, River. It's over, time to go."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand? *shenme* = what? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ji hao de* = perfect *bu qu* = no (lit. no go *goushi* = crap/dog shit


Sunday, January 22, 2006 1:01 PM


Uh....can say "Holy shit!" cuz this is a right creepy thing you be showin' us. But it's a really good creepy. Lord Joss-level kinda of spine-tinglin'

I hope there's more to the story cuz I got a large hankering for what comes next and an explanation of what in the ruttig diyu is going on with Simon and River.


Sunday, January 22, 2006 1:12 PM


Huh. I'm interested to see why Simon was put up to this mission, if it was so damaging to Parliament (as we assume Miranda was). Or did he plan it himself to bring down his father and bring himself up at the same time? Crafty.

Sunday, January 22, 2006 2:11 PM


Ahh bother bother bother, I had to stop myself from reading the bottom part of the story because I haven't seen the film yet (shock horror!) so I'm going to have to wait :( Ahhh!

Sunday, January 22, 2006 2:21 PM


Ooops, sorry Burnandboil, it had not actually occurred to me that there might be any Browncoats on the planet that had not seen "Serenity". Should have flagged that at the top. Which means you might want to give future chapters a miss until you have seen the film. How in the nine hells did you manage to miss it? Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, January 23, 2006 2:29 AM


Funny story actually, when it was released over here (over here being the UK) I was in the process of watching the series and I was busy with Uni so by the time I had been able to watch the entire series and was un-busy it wasn't showing at my local cinema, which I might add only has two screens. Well, not so much a funny story. It's showing again here in two weeks (don't ask me why!) so I'll be able to see it then! Phew! I'm bummed about not being able to read it, I love this series!

Monday, January 23, 2006 2:54 AM


Simon is the manipulator? Wow. great chapter. Can't wait to find out what happens next.

Monday, January 23, 2006 3:09 AM


Oh. My. God.

Simon is a baddie? Oh wow. Oh no. Oh gosh. Um. Shock.

Can't wait to see how the rest of this turns out.


Monday, January 23, 2006 5:10 AM


That was an awesome twist, you gotta write more!

Monday, January 23, 2006 7:02 AM


Oooo. Tingles and chills. Nice character twist. I did not see that coming. More please

Saturday, February 4, 2006 10:02 AM


Muha! I have just seen the film (within the last three hours) and I am diving right back into this series! Wooooooooooooo!

Sunday, February 12, 2006 8:06 AM


Now that is all kinds of disturbing.

Thursday, July 6, 2006 12:39 AM



Most creepifying. I can say that I've always likes Simon but this is a little tooo much...

I have to read more.


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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.