CHECK MATE: Pinned. (19/22)
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Mal and Zoe pay Monty a visit. They don't get along. Kaylee pursues Simon some more, River reads Book's mind and Wash 'meets' an important new person.


Firefly is Joss Whedon's creation. Is there no end to that man's genius?

* * * * *


* * * * *

Zoe takes a deep breath and straightens up. “Monty's ship is a Magpie.”

“Monty?” Kaylee frowns, bewildered. “Monty from the war?”

“The very same. Without whom Cap'n'd be short of more'n a few teeth. Yeah. Monty,” Zoe replies grimly.

Wash takes her hand. “Magpie's are crappy old boats, bao bei. Poor manoeuvrability. Which makes them cheap. Very cheap. Not impossible others might buy 'em.”

Zoe looks him steadily in the eye, her expression deep and unfathomable. “Not impossible,” she echoes, but the words carry no conviction.

Kaylee raises a tentative hand. “Shou'n't we be tellin' the Cap'n about this?”

Zoe is just about to suggest a delay whilst she tries to work out the implications of their discovery when Mal's head pops up above the top of the ladder.

“Tell the Captain what?” he asks expectantly.

“'Fraid I may have oversold my husband's abilities, Sir,” Zoe improvises swiftly, ignoring Wash who's doing a melodramatic mime of being offended. “We got somethin' but he's findin' it hard to distinguish between a couple of models.”

“OK,” Mal says. “Jus' let me know when you got somethin' useful.” And he disappears back down the ladder. Zoe feels the same kind of relief she did in the war when an incoming seeker fell wide of her position. Meanwhile Kaylee chews her bottom lip and wonders why they're lyin' to the Cap'n.

* * * * *

Mal hasn't eaten a meal with his crew since Inara died. Kaylee ain't sure he's eaten much of anything. So it's a surprise to everyone when at 20:00 hours, he appears in the kitchen. Mealtimes haven't felt the same without him at the head of the table and most of the crew have been living off snacks, snatching a bowl of protein here or a hot drink there as the fancy takes them. Refuelling rather than dining together.

Mal looks disappointed and disoriented to see his people scattered around the kitchen and commons area. He'd been hoping for a bit of togetherness. Sometimes your fellow diners provide better sustenance than the food on your plate. He feels guilty too. Shou'n't have let the loss of one crew member make him forget about the well-bein' of the others. This wallowin' he's been doin' jus' proves his point about shipboard romances ... though romance ain't hardly the word ...

Don't think about the 'ifs' and 'maybes'. There's no going back, only forwards. Don't look down. It's the looking down that makes him feel suddenly faint. As if the tightrope he's been walking between the cold fact of Inara's death and the feverish compulsion to find her killer has grown slack and is beginning to sway. If he takes his eyes off his goal he may lose his footing altogether. Lose his sanity, himself. Everything. He sits down at the table, feels its familiar polished solidity beneath his hands and clings onto it as if fearful of being blown away by the raging storm of emotion within him.

“Here, Cap'n, you have this. I'll make some more for myself.” Kaylee's voice offers him something else, something warm and precious, to cleave to. He looks down and sees she's placed a bowl of reconstituted instant soup in front of him. A simple, every-day gesture that brings him back to the present.

“Thankyou Kaylee. Wash ... Want you to set a course for Three Hills.”

“Three Hills, Sir?” Zoe raises an eyebrow whilst Kaylee and Wash exchange a guilty look.

“Got a wave back from Monty. Thought it best we meet there, away from Alliance control. Can't be discussin' spyin' any place with a big fed presence,” Mal explains. “Plus, might be somethin' we overlooked last time. Want you to take another look at the scene, Jayne. See if there's any clues.”

Jayne grunts his assent, glad he ain't prone to gettin' sentimental over women. Best to live for today, take your pleasures where you find 'em. Can't ever rely on tomorrow.

“An' Zoe...” Mal continues, “Want you with me, if you're up to it?” She looks annoyed that he could doubt it. “Monty's a friend. She'll be OK,” Mal goes on, turning to Wash. Not exactly looking for permission to take his second-in-command along but hoping not to encounter resistance. The pilot gives a short nod.

“Good.” Mal is relieved. He's just about to lift a spoonful of soup to his mouth when ...

“Oh! Oooh! Oh!

“Zoe! Bao-bei? You okay?”

All eyes are on Zoe as her expression of surprise gives way to a slow grin of satisfaction.

“What is it?” Wash is asking, on his feet and dancing nervously around her.

“Started to jig. Like you,” River tells him quietly.

“The baby, Wash.” Zoe takes his hand and lays it flat on her belly. “It's movin'. Feel it.”

Awe-struck, Wash is speechless for once. Kaylee squeals and Jayne grins broadly. For the briefest of moments Mal feels the 'verse pulse like it's all connected instead of breakin' apart.

* * * * *

“After you,” Simon stands aside to let Mal enter the infirmary first. The ship may belong to the Captain, but this room is his territory and in it, he's the host.

Unfortunately this means Mal sees her first. “What the ...?”

“River! Mei-mei ... put that down!” Simon hurries over to where his sister sits at the counter, holding Inara's syringe up to the light and peering closely at the serum it contains.

“Thought you said you had that locked away, Doc.” Mal's tone is even but heavy with irritation. “This here's a recipe for unpleasantness. Again.”

“I did. She must've ....” Simon is saying when River swivels round in her seat, flashing Mal a smile so sweet he can't help but smile back, despite his worries about the poison the syringe holds. Simon looks rapidly from one to the other and his frown of concern deepens into one of annoyance.

“River. Give me that. What were you thinking?”

“Just doing the math,” she pouts as she hands the syringe over. “Put minus one together with plus one and you get zero.”

“Uh-huh.” Simon isn't really listening as he puts the syringe back into its box and locks it securely in a drawer but Mal is. He cocks his head to one side as he regards River – now spinning round and round like a kid with a new toy – pensively and raises a querying eyebrow. She brakes hard with her foot, putting an abrupt end to her revolutions. Another smile, this time of mild surprise and recognition. She points at him. “Top of the class!”

Simon looks confused, but Mal is nodding. Little movements of his head as understanding dawns.

“What?” Simon demands, absurdly angry at being left out of the game.

“Not poison ..,” River says slowly, encouraging Mal to complete the sentence.

“... an antidote.”

* * * * *

Zoe knows he's seen her by the way his back muscles tense and his pace quickens. She stops him with a single word. “Preacher.”

Book turns around. He's on his way back from the passenger bathroom and the towel over his arm combined with his sombre clerical garb give him the appearance of a rather solemn waiter. “Zoe,” he acknowledges. He stands patiently, eyes downcast, waiting for the inevitable.

She takes a few steps towards him. Don't wanna trust him – he was a gorram purple belly of the worst type – but no-one else on Serenity has the answer to her question. Best make it clear only answer she's willin' to accept is a truthsome one. “You killed a lot of people during the war, Preacher,” she reminds him, her tone matter-of-fact. “Well, you ain't alone in that. Difference between you an' me, is my conscience lets me sleep easy at night. Doubt killin' you would trouble it any.”

Book nods. “I appreciate your honesty. Although not a lot.”

She ignores his attempt at humour. Ain't no jokin' between enemies. No truce. Start thinkin' there could be an' pretty soon you'll end at the ribcage. “What d'you know about mind-altering drugs, Shepherd? Any of 'em permanent?”

Book purses his lips. “Not many. Most break down over the years. Seem to recall there was one that was promising ...”

“How'd you know if one was breakin' down?” Zoe interrupts impatiently. She don't want a gorram list of the Alliance's dubious achievements.

Book shakes his head. “Not sure. Slips of the tongue, probably. Changes to behaviour possibly. Maybe even a complete mental breakdown ...” He goes silent, fearing Zoe's response but her face is expressionless. Against all his instincts for survival, he presses her, wanting confirmation they are thinking along the same lines. “Why d'you ask?”

“Jus' collating information, Shepherd,” she replies coolly and strides off down the hall.

* * * * *

“Everything's fine,” Simon says authoritatively, putting his stethoscope away. “Absolutely no need for concern.”

“No worries about me going with the Cap'n then?” Zoe asks as she fastens the buttons of her shirt.

“Shouldn't be a problem. If you're careful. You're hardly like to run into trouble with Monty, are you?” Simon asks with a smile that suggests the very idea is ludicrous. “You've known him a long time, haven't you.”

“Since before the war.”

“Well, there you are then. Nothing to worry about. And I'm sure the Captain is as concerned about the baby's well-being as you are. Next check-up in a month,” Simon reminds her as she opens the door to reveal Kaylee standing there.

“Thankyou, Doctor,” Zoe says as she and Kaylee pass through the doorway in opposite directions.

Kaylee trails a finger along the exam table thoughtfully. “You like babies, Simon?” she asks hopefully.

The question makes him uncomfortable for all sorts of reasons. He's fond of Kaylee, is undeniably drawn to her but she's always rushing him along. Simon craves certainty. And right now he's not certain of anything. Let alone his feelings. “Of course. But I could never eat a whole one,” he jokes feebly.

Kaylee feigns shock that Simon should that kind of joke appropriate after just examinin' a pregnant woman! She grabs him by the shirt front and wags a finger under his nose. “Best not let Zoe hear you talk like that....” And she pulls him towards her so she can close his mouth with a kiss.

“Doc ain't havin' trouble breathin', is he?”

Kaylee and Simon jump apart at the sound of Mal's voice. “That bein' the case,” he continues as Kaylee flushes and shakes her head with an embarassed little smile and Simon's hands flutter to his face, “I'd take it as a courtesy if you'd save it for your bunks!”

Kaylee pokes her tongue out and flounces off. Horrible old tyrant. Every time things are going well with Simon, he comes along and spoils it. Even her own Daddy di'n't police her love life with as much unrelentin' determination as this!

Simon feels his skin grow hotter and hotter. Like it used to when he father had caught him reading something 'unsuitable' or playing with River when he ought to have been studying. He tries to remind himself that – actually – he's done nothing wrong, but it's hard with Mal standing there looking so ... pained.

“Did you...? Were you ...?”

“Lookin' for Zoe.”

“She just left.”


“Mal ... uh, nothing. Sorry.”

Mal gives him one of those withering, contemptuous stares he seems to have reserved solely for Simon and goes off in search of Zoe.

* * * * *

Book is praying and praying hard, even if it don't look like it at first glance. Mal is making coffee and the Shepherd doesn't want to offend his religious insensibilities.

“Doctor Frankenstein,” River addresses him urgently in a confidential tone as she enters the kitchen and takes a seat opposite him. “The monster has escaped.”

Book's eyes fly open. He looks haunted - hunted - as River continues, “You have to stop it. It's your baby.”

Mal gives a little cough. “Stop frightenin' the preacher, River. He believes in all that supernatural fei hua. You'll give him nightmares.”

“Broke the mare's foal himself and now the copper's rusting. Red for red. No good will come of her,” River tries to explain as the images kaleidescope through her brain. “No nightmares, no rest, no forgiveness until you stop it.”

Mal shakes his head. Girl's whimsical beyond words.

Book shakes his head too, as in his heart he pushes the chalice away. The wine has transmogrified into blood and the thought of drinking it sickens him.

* * * * *

Zoe ain't happy. Mal's invested way too much hope in this meet with Monty. Which is why she felt she had to come along. Don't want Mal to sink no lower. Might never get him back. His faith in Monty is kinda painful to her, given what knows – correction, what she thinks she knows. Still can't quite believe it herself, which is why she hasn't told Mal yet. Don't want him getting' all skittish. Not if she's wrong ...

Maybe she's leapin' to conclusions. There's still so much that don't fit together. Inara, Wash, Monty. She can see the how of it, but not the why. The idea that Inara was an Alliance assassin was a shock to her, but it di'n't seem impossible. Core-bred, her allegiance was like as not with the haves. But now, thanks to Pianhu, they know different. Inara was working for the Independents. An' that syringe of hers held an antidote, not poison. An antidote meant for Wash.

They're approaching the encampment now. Two big, off-white tents in the centre, surrounded by smaller green ones. As they get closer, Zoe can see they've been here a while. Paths have been worn by the passage of feet backwards and forwards, and way off to the left, the latrines have been redug several times.

“Think we've been keepin' Monty waitin' long, Sir?”

“Must've got here a few days back,” Mal replies. Zoe lifts an eyebrow. More like a few months back.

“That you, Zoe?” a voice exclaims and she and Mal spin round to see the grinning face of Rudi Tang. His eyes fall on Zoe's bump. “Gorramit woman! What kinda fightin' weight d'ya call that?”

Zoe always liked Rudi. Plain-speaking fella, more talkative than most but careful with words. Deep. Sensible. And good fun too, no denyin' it. Soon she's engaged in reminiscing about the old days and catching up on each other's lives.

Mal looks twitchy. “Gonna go on ahead, Zoe,” he tells her. “No, you come when you're ready. Ain't no hurry.”

Zoe hesitates but Rudi's called Brandy Jackson – one of the few women Zoe's ever met as career-minded as herself – to join the conversation and it suddenly occurs to her that Monty ain't their only war buddy here. Maybe not the only one with information to share. “Won't be long, Sir.”

Claiming pregnancy makes it hard for her to stand or sit in one place for long, Zoe suggests she, Rudi and Brandy go for a walk. One that conveniently takes them away from them as might eavesdrop. One that gives her old comrades space to speak their minds.

“It's real good to see you both again,” she says warmly, meaning it. “Any more of the old platoon here?”

A dark look passes between Rudi and Brandy. “No, not any more. Used to be, but they all left. Been replaced by a load of mei yong de le se paid men. Men with no principles, no commitment other than coin.”

“Why'd the others leave?”

Brandy spits out the plug of tobacco she'd been chewing and grinds it into the dust. “Monty's gorram wife came back.”

* * * * *

“Mal. Come in, come in.” Mal's reminded of Monty's enormous strength as the bearhug greeting he receives all but squeezes the oxygen right out of his lungs. “Terrible business. How ya holdin' up?”

“I'm OK.” But Mal's face is saying otherwise. There are dark shadows under his eyes and deep lines around his mouth. Guilt prods Monty sharply. He pours them both a glass of contraband whisky and starts jabbering about how the smuggling trade's getting harder every year. Relates the details of a long list of failed jobs. Curses the feds for their high-tech surveillance equipment. Asks Mal how business is for him. Anything to avoid mentioning Inara.

Mal interprets this as a misplaced kindness. He feels his friend's pity on him like a heavy, damp blanket and struggles out from under it with a sudden forced smile. “Let's get down to business. Found out 'Nara was workin' for the Independents. You know anythin' about that?”

Monty fiddles with his beard. Wishes Bridget were here to handle this. Don't wanna say the wrong thing an' get caught out. But if he don't say anythin' that might get him found out too. Never had Mal's brand of smarts. So he opts for the truth – half of it anyway.

“Well, yeah, I do, Mal. Came to me lookin' for an introduction to a Browncoat cell a coupla years back. Tried to put her off, but she wou'n't be told.”

Mal smiles wryly. “Sounds like 'Nara. Know where this cell was based?”

“Uh...” Is it Mal's imagination or is Monty trying to hide something. Man has an uncomfortableness to him that's all kind of wrong for someone offerin' help. Sweatin'. Avoidin' eye contact. “Some moon off ... gorramit, memory's shot to pieces, Mal. Can't recall the name ...”

“Wa'n't here was it?” Mal asks, cutting to the chase. Monty looks shocked but Mal continues, “Cos that wave you sent – sounded like you knew her pretty well. You called her 'exceptional'. Di'n't sound like no passin' acquaintance.”

Monty presses his palms together, touching the forefingers to his lips, and puffs out a long breath. In a way, it's a relief to get it off his chest. He gives Mal a reluctantly admiring grin. “There you go again. Always thinkin'!” He takes a seat and invites Mal to do the same. “She came to me lookin' for vengeance after the Alliance hanged Red Doran. Guessed he must've been her lover. Thought she'd cool off with time, but she was so focused. It was like a religious thing with her.... Mal! What ya do ..?!”

Suddenly the muddle of questions and answers begins to resolve. Mal has seized Monty by the lapels and is dragging him to his feet. “What did you ask her to do, you gou cao de hun dan?” he demands, shaking as he struggles to contain his fury.

Just as quickly two bodyguards enter and peel Mal off their boss, twisting his arms up behind his back. “Wan' us to kill him?” one suggests idly.

To his credit, Monty looks appalled. “Kill him? No, you yu ben de wangba dan! This is Malcolm Reynolds. We went through the war together!”

The bodyguard shrugs and loosens his grip. It's clear the bond of shared suffering Monty's alluding to is beyond his understanding. The bodyguards shuffle out, leaving Mal and Monty facing each other like boxers in the ring.

“Talk,” Mal orders coldly.

“I di'n't kill her, Mal,” Monty begins earnestly, looking Mal in the eye. “Like I said, she was lookin' for vengeance. I ... I told her the Browncoat resistance movement was crumblin'. Hell, even a few of my men've deserted. Told her they needed a leader, a real hero – not an old has-been like me.” He pauses, trying to assess the effect of his words. “Told her she was the only one who could help us.”

“Huh. What I'm still uncomprehendin' of is what all this has to do with my pilot.”

“Told her he was the war hero. That he'd been pumped him full of drugs so's he'd forget who he was as part of some filthy Alliance experiment. All she had to do was inject the serum an' he'd be back to his former glory. Ready to lead the insurrection.”

Mal blinks and shakes his head like he's trying to dislodge water from his ears. “Wash? A war hero?”

Monty nods. This is going better than he'd hoped. Everyone's comin' out of this real shiny. Him especially. Somehow he's managed to convince Mal he was acting for The Cause. Di'n't need that scheming bitch after all. Now to tie up the loose ends. Finger a suspect. “Reckon the Alliance must've found out an' killed her,” he concludes neatly.

The loose flap of canvas behind him is pulled aside and Zoe appears, gun in hand. “You're a liar, Monty Gordon,” she says flatly, her voice all fire and ice. “Inara was killed here, on this damned planet – your little empire.” She trains her weapon on him and waits for Mal's order.

Monty shifts uneasily. “Alliance is all powerful, you know that, Mal ...” a pleading glance ... “They can kill you on any damn planet.”

“No arguin' with that,” Zoe concedes. “But they'd have to land first. Ain't a ship landed on this rock for four months bar'n yours.” She narrows her eyes and lines up her pistol sights on Monty's chest.

Something inside Mal bursts. A dam of pain and loss and rage so powerful he can only ride its wave. He lands a punch on Monty's jaw and another on his nose. An uppercut to his solar plexus send the big man tumbling to the floor.

“My men,” he gasps, “They'll ... they kill you Mal. An' Zoe too.”

The red mist in front of Mal clears some. Gotta keep Zoe safe. She cocks her gun and winks at Mal. Their old signal that things were under control. That they've got backup of some kind. “Always intended followin' you to hell, Sir.”

Monty tries to take advantage of their distraction to get to his feet. A kick to the groin puts him back on the ground.

“Mal!” he pleads, “Zoe! I saved both your gorram lives durin' the war. Don't that earn me nothin'?”

Mal grabs a handful of his hair and yanks him to his knees. Then, in a slow deliberate movement, draws his gun from its holster and presses it to Monty's temple. “Earns you a quick death, rather than a slow one,” he tells him dispassionately, judge, jury and executioner.

Zoe holds her breath, waiting for the shot. Prepares herself for a gun battle with Monty's men. Monty whimpers and a dark, wet stain seeps across the front of his canvas pants. Mal's blood pounds in his ears and his hand trembles. He looks down at his former friend. Watches the sweat drip from his face. Breathes in his fear ...

Tamade! He can't do this.

Instead he pushes Monty face first into the dirt and re-holsters his gun. Zoe sighs, then does the same.

Monty pushes himself up onto all fours. “I di'n't kill her,” he repeats piteously. “It was ...”

“Saffron,” Zoe says quietly, watching Mal's reaction carefully. His gun-hand flexes involuntarily. “You let that lan dong xi de jian huo interrogate her. You set that vicious xi niu e mo on Inara. Knowin' what she'd do. Makes you as guilty her in my book. Lucky for you, the Cap'n's more literal-minded. Why'd you do it Monty? What did you want her to find out?”

Monty covers his face with his hands. “It's been so hard since the war. You must know that. Nobody wants to give a Browncoat a job. Stay on Alliance territory an' you end up a bum. Made my way out here. 'Course, you don't get nothin' for nothin'. Had to grease a few palms, make a few deals. This fella ... there was a contract. Anyhow, the serum was his. When Inara ... when she di'n't ... Well, we had to get it back. You don't know this fella. He's heavy-duty, Mal. I was scared....”

Mal turns his back. Ain't no sympathy left in him. No point askin' for it.

“Inara wouldn't tell you,” Zoe guesses. “Thought you might try to use it on Wash again. Figured there was more to it than you were tellin'. So you handed her over to Saffron. You're pathetic,” she snorts. Then, to Mal. “Saffron's crazy. Dangerous too. Rudi and Brandy been tellin' me a lot of interesting tales about her. Seems she stole a shuttle a week back. I'm thinkin' she docked with a larger vessel so she could get far away from here. Leave this mess behind. So, what we gonna do now?”

“Do?” Mal blinks and his mouth twists. “I'm gonna kill her. Track her down an' kill her. An' she ain't earned no quick death.”

* * * * *


Wednesday, July 28, 2004 7:06 AM



Wednesday, July 28, 2004 7:37 AM


Thanks for the encouragement, folks. Really struggled with this chapter.

Forgot to say, I'm away for a week so probably a fortnight til the next instalment.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 7:37 AM


Well, this is going well - Excepting, of course, the other subplots that promise even worse trouble for our heroes. Good chapter, this one!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 9:59 AM


Poor Mal, every time he learns something new it's even more weight for him to gorram carry. Was surprised Monty got to live through all that revelation and such like. As for Saffron, I think that *pofu* still has a lot of ugly up her sleeve. Shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 11:39 AM


Aaaah! So good. Every word worked for me. All the actions and events too. I particularly liked that Zoe fully expected Mal to blow Monty's brains out--that's what really sold that scene.

Thanks for sharing your writing!

*and if you wondered, yes, I put Mal & Zoe's meet with Monty in Blue Sun Job 17 on Three Hills 'cause of your story ;-) Though 'my' Three Hills is more industrial.


You must log in to post comments.



HOLDING ON: Ch 2 - Tangential
Much to his annoyance, Sanzo's urgent quest to find Goku gets diverted. Meanwhile Mal meets someone from Inara's past. WARNING - slashy but not graphic

The Wheel Never Stops Turning
Mal meets a blonde in a bar. Violence ensues. And Mal discovers religion has its uses.

This is primariy a <i>Firefly</i> fic, but the character Mal ends up doing a job for is from the manga/anime <i>Saiyuki</i>. It's also <b>PG-13 nothing-explicit SLASH</b>. Because that's who I am!

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 7: 'til the day you die.
Inara leaves Serenity for a new life. Mal gets a job with a couple of new employers, but sinks further into despair.
Slash so lite you'll probably scarcely notice it.

MAKE ME A STONE: Chapter 6: You just learn to live there.
Another job goes less than smoothly. Meanwhile River takes matters into her own hands and Mal has a brainwave.

SLASHFIC. SPOILERS for the comics, novelization and movie.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 5: Chickens come home to roost.
Mal has to accept Badger's offer of a job. Meanwhile old enemies seek to take advantge.
Spoilers for the comics. Very light slash.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 4. Some residual heat.
SPOILERS for the comics/BDM. Mal has to accept Badger's job offer. Not much else in his life is going right either.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 3: It's complicated.
Mal decides to pull a job of his own. Simon offers to help. It doesn't go smooth - but that's not entirely Simon's fault.

Non-graphic SLASH.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 2: And who exactly could fix you?
Simon'a altruism leads to a job going wrong. Mal's not happy.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 1: Pray there ain't any more surprises.
Warning: SLASH, but not graphic. Mal and Simon both find that the other has hidden talents. It kinda piques their interest ... *g*

TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 23. Two by two.
Four years have past since Mal was forced to blow up Serenity and Simon disappeared with River and Book. A lot has changed since then. But a lot has stayed the same. The CONCLUSION to this series.