HEAVEN AND HELL: 7. "Tangled"
Wednesday, March 3, 2004

"Shepherd Book starts putting two and two together. Simon is surprised to find himself viewing the Captain in a different light. Meanwhile another agenda is unfolding."



SUMMARY: "Shepherd Book starts putting two and two together. Simon is surprised to find himself viewing the Captain in a different light. Meanwhile another agenda is slowly unfolding." 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 was hard to keep it all inside. Contained and locked away. Safe. Feelings kept seeping through the iron grip of his will. It was all that had kept him alive through the War. Driven him forward when his muscles were too weak to propel his body. His fear too intense to get beyond the thunder and burn of the battlefield raging night and day around him. Too far behind to catch up. Praying he had not lost him. Hoping there would still be something worth fighting for when the smoke cleared and the blood was washed from his weary eyes.

Jeb Tanner was looking at him strangely but he ignored it. No time for concern. They were a small elite group. Had to be. Every name added was one more link in the chain that could be broken by Alliance spies. Had enough of that in the War, didn't need them dogging his footsteps in the bitter aftermath. Knew their only safety was in being spread out. So thin on the ground as to be almost invisible to them as sought them. Their own would not look. Would know better. Any rutting fool that tried therefore came from the other side. He and his would send them back a piece at a time for their trouble. Seemed like the thing to do. But now. This news had stopped him in his tracks. Heart thudding with an unyielding spark of hope igniting something that he thought had died long ago. It was almost a physcial pain. A gut wrenching need that drew him against every sense screaming in his head to ignore it. Gorrammit, how could he be asked to do that? To turn his back on the one thing in the 'verse he wanted even more than his next rutting breath?

So he did what he always did at such times. He sent a pair of eyes to do the looking for him. One with no tongue attached to speak out of turn and by some unintended happenstance betray them. T'wasn't exactly fair but then what in this *lese* 'verse was? They had been fighting so long to survive it was a wrench to take that next step. Tremulous and half fearful they would be discovered. Then worried that they had left it so long their own would not recognise them when they did. T'was a dilemna that's what it was. He weren't no fighter and he weren't no fool. He could do other things. And he weren't nothing if not determined that this time they would do it right.

* * * * *

It was amazing where the girl got her energy from less she was stealing it from him while he slept. Ha. Sleep. That would be a fine thing. Not that he was complaining but every time he started to drift off her hands would be on him again. Her lips exciting the parts of a man's body that never slept. So sweetly that it made him ache with need and love for her. Amused him too when she left him sufficient breath to say so.

"What you doin' to me, girl?"

River smiled through her coaxing lips, watching his breath catch in his throat. The smile becoming a grin. "Catching up."

He blinked, his movements lazy. This was the third time she had woken him and at this rate he would be fit for nothing when it came time to rise. Not that he was able to think much on the future right now, with the present robbing him of any true coherent thought beyond her busy mouth and warm hands. He groaned, her soft touch taking him higher and higher. Unable to deny her a gorram thing. "River, I'm thinkin' as much as I love what you're doin' I ain't gonna be able to come again."

"Go to sleep."

He snortly softly. As if he could with her doing *that* to him. He closed his eyes, so sensitive to her touch that he could not stop his body from jerking and trembling. She loved him like this. Putty in her gorram hands. A literal boneless sprawl she could do anything with. His eyes flickered open, partly bloodshot and glazed. "Ain't you sleepy?"

River shook her head and moved up to tease his lips then turned to lick his ear. He turned his head, the jolt of electricity she sparked beginning to reawaken him in a way that was almost painful. "River..."

"Not morning yet, *ai ren*."

"We're in the Black, River. Ain't no night, no day neither."

Her smile was truly glorious, almost blinding him. "Then we have all the time in the 'verse."

His groan deepened, her tongue sliding round and round the shell of his ear before dipping down the ear canal in a warm wet slide that made him shiver. "Gorrammit, *xin gan*, you're gonna kill me."

She pulled back slightly so she could look right into his dark blue eyes. "You got a better way to go?"

Mal laughed lightly then shook his head slowly, hands coming up to reverently brush back her silky black hair. Eyes worshipping her, heart flipping at the sight of so much love gazing back at him. He honestly thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. "Think maybe it's time I wore *you* out for a change."

Sparkling eyes laughed back at him then he was teasing her with his lips, firing her up with his hands, cradling and rocking her with his body. The fit so perfect he could cry for the joy of it. The joy of her. Tiny hands wrapped around him she turned and twisted and achieved positions that gave him pain just to look at them. Now she was managing a depth of penetration that made his breathing so ragged he could barely get whole words out. "H... how in *d..diyu* you doin' that?"

Her laughter was merry, her touch bringing him hard and straining. "Double jointed." She sang out smugly.

"Huh," He managed to huff out as she angled her body and his into a seemingly impossible docking manouevre. The rock of her hips had him aching with rising need, her hands getting the position just right to intensify the feelings she was building in him.

"Do you know Tai Chi, *ai ren*?"

He could barely think straight let alone talk. Well wasn't that a woman for you? Here they were, right in the middle of coitus and she wanted to talk gorrammit. "He a cousin of yours?" Mal huffed.

Her light laughter turned him on as much as her pliant and oh so sexy body. "No. You know it's not. Just saying in Tai Chi they have all these positions. Elegant forms for the body to hold. A dancer's grace, a man's strength..."

"River," He urged between laboured breaths as he moved deeper and deeper within her, her legs at an acute angle, his back bowed, hair plastered to his head with sweat. She thought he was the shiniest thing in the 'verse. Her delicate tongue unable to stop flicking out to taste him and absorb the salt in his perspiration as he fought to make a complete sentence. He knew that even as she loved him to within an inch of his life she was laughing tenderly at him. Rutting hell, if he had sufficient breath he would laugh too. "*Xin gan*, this a conversation we need to be havin' now?"

The last thing he recalled was her twisting her body in a way which made him spasm as if his prostate had been gorram electrified. He yelled out as he came, her body riding him and drawing every last bit of fluid from him as he spasmed again and again, her nimble fingers stroking that tight inner wall as he bucked inside her. She took him so far beyond solid ground that he could feel his body trembling with reaction as she continued to coax him until gently guiding him back down again. Her own essence flooding around him. He was hovering on the edge of the Black, her loving face so close to his own that her eyes swallowed him up much as her body had done. Her smile made it all worth it. Her happiness lighting a candle in his soul that would never go out. It took minutes for him to recover enough to move let alone speak. He cupped her face tenderly and gazed at her in something close to adoration. Then his lips quirked tiredly and a little mock scowl distorted his shining face. "You ready to sleep now, *bao bei*?"

She kissed his lips lightly and drew back, eyes smiling at him so gently that it made his heart ache. "*Qu*." She yawned. "You really *are* insatiable."

His eyes widened then he realised she was teasing him. Carefully he cradled her in his arms as they rearranged themselves for sleep, happy to hold her and determined not to let her go. At least. Not for the next fifty years or so. Her thoughts rang in amusement in his head. *You really think you have the stamina for fifty years?*

*Hey, talk like that an' you can say hello to your hand*

*Talk like that,* She responded pinching a nipple so hard he yelped. *And you won't be getting anything to put in your hand - ever again*

A moment of silence fell between them. He just stared at her, his fingers tracing a pattern through the perspiration on her glowing skin. *Now that, River Tam, is the meanest thing you could say to a man*

A happy smile on her smug face she buried herself in close to him and shut her eyes. Mal paused a moment and listened to the steady rythym of her even breath. Her heartbeat rocking his into perfect synchrony. He found himself holding his breath as he watched her. The love of his life already fast asleep.

"Sometimes late at night I lie awake and watch her sleeping She's lost in peaceful dreams So I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark And the thought crosses my mind If I never wake up in the morning Would she ever doubt the way I feel About her in my heart?

If tomorrow never comes Will she know how much I loved her? Did I try in every way to show her every day That she's my only one? And if my time on earth were through And she must face the world without me Is the love I gave her in the past Gonna be enough to last If tomorrow never comes?"

- 'If Tomorrow Never Comes' - sung by Garth Brooks

Mal dropped a tender kiss light as the merest breath of air on her forehard then closed his eyes, determined to make the most of the hour or so he had left before his Captainly duties would stir him out of this most fragrant piece of Heaven.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was deep in thought. Not pleasant thoughts but the slow steady consideration of clues becoming fact in his mind. Everyone else had gone to their beds and the ship was quiet and still apart from the background hum of Serenity's engines idling the night away. He went into the galley area of the commons room and made himself a mug of tea, his thoughts a world away from what his hands were doing. He was thinking about the ring. Inara had been so insistent that he search the Captain's quarters. Her directive vague but unique enough to be sure he looked for the right thing. The Phoenix. Had she not been so insistent he doubted he would have been quite as thorough. Diligent. Was sure in fact that he would not have found it. But it was her response to finding it that he remembered with the most troubling distinction.

He had told her that the ring was so well hidden he had almost missed it. Yet the Companion did not ask *where* it was. Where he had found it. He realised a split second later that she did not ask because she already knew. That made him all kinds of nervous, unpleasant alarm bells ringing in his head until he had sense enough to block and shield his thoughts. A lifetime of building mental barriers kept all but the most accomplished telepaths fooled. It took a special kind of distraction to fool the one woman he feared the most.

* * * * *

Jeb was concerned. "You can't go!"

He fumed. "Not for you to say, Jeb."

"T'is so, 'specially when you're thinkin' with your heart not your head."

"Jeb, I *have* to go. Have to know if it's true."

His friend saw the agony in his eyes and faltered. "It's been so long." He said softly.

"Too long an' if I don't go now I'll never forgive myself, *dong ma*? What we fightin' for if not this?"

Jeb Tanner had no answer to that. After a moment he allowed words of caution to tumble from his lips. "Could be this is a trap an' you're just hearin' what you wanna hear."

He nodded. "I thought of that which is why I'm goin' alone."

Alarmed, Jeb put a hand on his arm. "You can't be doin' that."

He looked at the hand hold. Jeb didn't let go. "No need for hands on, Jeb."


A hint of steel reinforced the quietly spoken resolve. "Best you unhand me while we're still friends."

A long sad look followed then the hand was shifted. He knew he was hurting him but this was something he had to do. No question about it. Jeb watched him throw a few clothes and such like into a backpack. "Let me come with you. Watch your back."

His look softened a mite. "*Bu qu*, not that I'm not grateful for the askin', Jeb, but I don't wanna risk more'n we have to. One ruttin' fool is still one fool too many."

"Then don't be a fool." Whispered Jeb.

"Ain't no way I can be anythin' but. This is a chance I gotta take." He started to take his ring off. Jeb shook his head.

"Ain't takin' your ring."

A smile quirked on sardonic lips. "Ain't givin' it to you."

"Then what you think you're doin'?"

"That chain your momma gave you, you still got it?"

Jeb nodded.

"Can I borrow it?"

Jeb grinned and took it from the inside pocket of his shirt waister and gave it to him. It was silver and matched the metal of the ring. He watched as the ring was threaded onto the 30" inch chain and without a word saw his friend carefully hide it under his vest. There was a thoughtful look on his face. "What if they search you?"

"Gotta catch me first."

He sobered. "Still think this is a gorram mistake. We got so much still to do, can't afford to lose nobody, leastways not on a fool's errand."

"Then don't. Count me out of the equation. If it's a trap then at least forewarned I can take precautions, not come at this head on *dui*? But I gotta know."

"An' if it ain't no trap?" He felt his heart contract, hardly daring to hope. "Well now," He said. Voice husky with emotion. "That happens we'll add another to the inner circle I'm thinkin'." Jeb raised an eyebrow at that piece of wish fulfillment but wisely made no comment. Watched as his friend left a few last minute instructions then they hugged briefly and he was gone. For a long, long time Jeb sat in uneasy thought. Decided to grant his friend a few days to check this out. If he heard nothing back then promise or no he was going to track down the source and rutting well kill him. It wouldn't bring him back but it was the least he could do for his impulsive friend.

* * * * *

Lauren was still a boring uninteresting ball of rock but they had made this last delivery and he had promised Pepper Rawlings that if he could they would return and have a few celebratory drinks with them. He went back to the ship with Jayne and gave Wash final instructions. Insisted River, Simon, Kaylee and Wash remain on Serenity with Inara. He would take the spare shuttle down with Jayne, Zoe, and the Preacher. Book had given the Companion a surreptitious glance but her look clearly warned him to go along with the Captain's plan. He did not like leaving the ship especially now but he could not disobey her. The Companion listened in silence and for once there were no barbed comments between her and the Captain. To Book there was almost a surreal quality to the conversation. As if they had called an unspoken truce since Mal's relationship with River had deepened into something more serious than either had forseen. Mal had no idea what Inara thought about it and frankly didn't care. He was too many kinds of happy to be needing to toss such joy away in the face of her disapproval.

The Captain left Zoe, Jayne and the Preacher to wait for him while he went to have a word with Simon before they left in the shuttle. Walking the doctor back to the infirmary so they could at least have a semblance of privacy. Simon arched a brow at the Captain, surprised and wary. River kissed Mal's cheek then went to find Kaylee, knowing that the Captain needed to talk to her brother alone. For a moment Mal stared after her, lost in his thoughts until Simon quietly cleared his throat. "You wanted to speak to me, Captain?"

And there it was. The *something* that stood between them large as life and twice as ugly. Mal ignored the almost cold delivery and turned to shut the infirmary door behind them. Not much concerned with what the doctor thought of him personally but all kinds of worried about River. She had become the single most important thing in his *goushi* life. "Shouldn't be gone long, doc. A few hours or so at most."

Simon nodded. Silent, cautious. Eyes tracking the Captain's uneasy stance and wondering why the man was so tense.

"I know you'll look out for your sister but you may need to be sharper this time round."

The doctor's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"

Mal stepped closer to Simon, voice dropping so he had to concentrate to hear him. "Lower your voice, doc. This boat ain't sound proof."

He raised an eyebrow. "Why would it need to be?"

Mal blinked. "Let's just say things're a mite more complicated than you might think. Don't wanna be takin' no chances, *dong ma*?"

"I would understand you better if you explained what you're talking about, Captain."

"I love your sister, Simon, an' hard as that may be to witness ain't nothin' gonna change that. But these are dangerous times an' I need you to stay sharp an' not assume that just 'cause somethin's familiar it ain't gonna rise up an' bite you."

Simon took a few moments to respond, his eyes boring into the Captain's, carefully sifting the words spoken with the worry and warning glimpsed in the man's eyes. That the Captain was allowing him to see his concern unsettled him more than he could say. He dropped his voice to a soft hush of syllables. "Are you saying we're in danger?"

"Not so much you, doc."

His eyes widened, his breath halting in his chest. "River?"

The Captain resisted the urge to nod. They were standing in the infirmary and he was all aware that it had glass windows. From the shadows anyone could see in. "*Dui*. I already spoke to Wash but no need to worry little Kaylee an' as for River ain't nothin' I could keep from a girl that can see inside my gorram head any time she wants, *dong ma*?"

"Why go down to the planet again if you're this worried?"

"Because not goin' could be more dangerous than goin'."

Simon blinked. "*Duibuqi*? Not sure that made sense, Captain."

Mal resisted the urge to lay hands on him and shake him. "Don't need to make sense as long as you stay sharp. First hint of trouble you look to your sister."

"And do what?"

The Captain's eyes caught his in a firm look that sent a spiral of dread down his spine. "Whatever you have to, doc. Whatever you have to."

His mouth opened then closed. Empty. Soundless. Stunned. He needed to be sure he was reading the Captain right. "You expect us to leave you and the others here?"

"Not sayin' that. If somethin' happens look after your sister, Wash'll know what to do."

"Am I allowed to ask what I should be watching for?"

Mal felt a physical pain in his chest. A visiting sorrow that he had acknowledged a long time back now but had hoped would prove false. Being right left bitter ashes in his mouth. "What you least expect."

Before he could ask him what the gorram that meant the Captain was turning and striding away, jaw set, eyes narrowed and pace brisk. In seconds the infirmary was empty and Simon found himself strangely on edge. Wondering what in the *diyu* their noble and *shenjingbing* Captain had got them into now.

* * * * *

The Captain knew they were being followed long before Jayne sidled close enough to whisper the fact. Without breaking his stride his soft voice acknowledged his mercenary's concern. "Ignore it, Jayne."

The big man felt anger rising but something in the Captain's demeanour killed the rage. He frowned. Confused. "What's goin' on an' don't give me any *goushi* about it bein' nothin'."

"Ain't nothin, just can't rightly tell you now. Stay sharp but don't let on you know he's there."

Jayne accepted the instruction easily. A thought occurred to him. "I'm guessin' you know who the *tamade hundan* is?" "Nope. Not a gorram clue."

His frown deepened. "Then why can't I just drop back and break his ruttin' neck?"

"'Cause dead men don't tell tales, Jayne, an' we wanna catch this *wangba dan* and squeeze every last lie outta him until the truth comes a-squeakin' out. Need to know who sent him an' why."

The mercenary could not stop a grin breaking out on his face. The Captain risked a sideways look at him and just managed to stop a smile tugging at his own lips. "I'm takin' it you like that plan?" "Oh yeah, Cap. I got all kinds of ideas on how to do that."

They were coming in sight of the bar where they had agreed to meet Pepper Rawlings. A couple of paces behind him the Captain could sense the Shepherd tensing. Knew he must be wondering what they were whispering about but there was no time to clue the Preacher in. Might even be that him and Zoe already knew. He just hoped no one would scare the tail away before it could wag the dog.

* * * * *

Simon was anxious to get River alone but it seemed wherever his sister went Kaylee stuck to her like glue. And was it just his imagination or was Inara watching him? It was ridiculous of course. Then he thought about his odd conversation with the Captain and his concern about being overheard. What in the nine hells did it mean? And why couldn't the man ever come right out and say what was on his mind?

After an hour had passed Inara went to her shuttle and Simon found himself relaxing. The Captain was cracking up that had to be the answer. One too many knocks on that *wangu* head of his. He was startled so much he jumped when a voice spoke low in his ear. "Not *shenjingbing*."

"River, do you have to creep up on me like that?" He quickly got over his shock and looked at her more closely. "*Ni hao ma*?"

"*Hen hao*. We have to be *xiaoxin*, Simon."

"*Weishenme*? What the gorram is going on, River?"

"Someone isn't telling the truth."

"The Captain?"

She shook her head, a flicker of anxiety creeping into her eyes.


"It isn't safe here any more, Simon." She said softly.

Her words stirred the hair on the back of his neck. He resisted the urge to look behind him. "Why do you say that?"

River's eyes widened suddenly, her mouth opening to cry a warning but it came too late. Thin, narrow and deadly. Bright and shiny as it caught the light. Quiet and fast acting. Silent feet, rapid hands, and cold staring eyes caught River's in a look that made her mouth go dry and her heart falter as Simon slid to the floor with a look of surprise on his face before losing consciousness. Tears welled up in her eyes. *Oh Simon* She cried inwardly, her sorrow overflowing. *Why didn't you listen to the Captain?*

Round and round inside River's head a child-like voice kept repeating over and over the same phrase. *Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Child-like or not it was no comfort to her now.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*lese* = crap *ai ren*/*xin gan* = sweetheart *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = precious/treasure *qu* = yes (lit. go) *dong ma* = understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dui* = correct *goushi* = crap/rubbish *duibuqi* = sorry *weishenme* = why *shei* = who/who is it? *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *shenjingbing* = crazy *wangu* = stubborn *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wangba dan* = bastard *ni hao ma*? = how are you? *hen hao* = very good *xiaoxin* = careful


Wednesday, March 3, 2004 12:34 PM


As always, Alison, it ends too soon. Yet there's always tons of plot and mountains of emotion. By way of thanks I'll just say that I hope that River/Mal is written from experience.

Thursday, March 4, 2004 10:51 AM


You always deliver such an involving spin on the 'Verse

A joy to read as ever

Thursday, March 11, 2004 4:56 AM


Thanks for the kind comments folks, much appreciated. It will be a few days before the next part is ready as sadly my dear dad died and I have just got back from the funeral. As to why the system won't recognise you Kispexi2 this happens every so often to me as well, you have to login again. Just keep an eye when you first come on to see if you are addressed by your name or as anonymous, if the latter then log on and your name will come up. Hugs now, keep flying Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, June 12, 2004 1:42 AM


Quick comment to 'annonymous'. Thanks for picking up the typing error, this has now been corrected. I don't need a dictionary just a gorram keyboard that will let me type faster without loss of accuracy. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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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.