BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MAL4PREZ

Back Stories I, Chapter 5/14: Book
Monday, May 14, 2007

Mal gets away from Niska (again), then – Book’s connections are of use to the crew.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2304    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I’m just playing.

Rating: PG to NC17. I will not put warnings on each chapter, because I don’t want to give things away. In general, don’t be getting into any of this if you’re not prepared for adult storylines, violence, explicit sexual content, and - oh my - bad words.

Many thanks: to several fireflyfans.net members: LEEH and VERA2529 for hours of beta reading and entertaining discussions of many things. LEIASKY, TAMSIBLING, and LEIGHKOHL provided additional beta time on the early chapters. The talented MPHILLIPS did the lovely artwork. (Ain’t it nice?) FEI and www.chinesetools.com provided many colorful Chinese phrases. One of AMDOBELL fine fics provided a useful plot bunny. (I won’t tell which yet!) Finally – kudos to GUILDSISTER for her inspirational fic The Blue Sun Job.

Links: Prequels: The Fish Job (FFF) (LJ) and Easy Tickets (FFF) (LJ). Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

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Back Stories, Book 1

by Mal4Prez

SEPbook

Chapter 5/14: Book

Mal gets away from Niska (again), then –
Book’s connections are of use to the crew.


 

 

Mal manages to climb through the shattered window on his own, but once back in Niska’s office his legs fail. The hands that catch him are Wash’s. Dimly, Mal hears the pilot’s voice:

“I’ll help him – you and Jayne are better with the shooting part anyway.”

Hearing Wash coolly assess an action situation would normally call for some snide remark, but Mal’s not exactly in the mood. He’s just glad as hell they came for him.

The pilot tries to pull Mal’s right arm over his shoulder, but Mal musters the energy to resist. “Other side,” he mutters thickly.

“But your ear…” Wash says.

Mal takes the liberty of drawing a gun from the holster on the pilot’s hip. He holds it up, looking Wash in the eye. “Need my shootin’ hand,” he says, and Wash replies with a nod. The pilot tucks himself under Mal’s left arm, taking care not to touch the burning agony on the side of Mal’s head.

“Let’s get to movin’,” Jayne says, spitting the words out quick. “Shepherd’s holdin’ the hall, but that ain’t gonna last.”

“You take point,” Zoë orders the mercenary, then she nods at Wash to guide Mal out of the office.

“Where’s Niska?” Mal asks, the words coming out low and harsh. He grimaces at the effort of walking, but the pain serves to relight his rage, a pure white-hot need to return some of what’s due. This kind of murderous fury doesn’t touch Mal’s heart often, but he knows exactly what needs to be done with it. He keeps the borrowed gun pointed at the deck as his eyes sweep the space, looking for the old man who’s needing a messy end.

No one answers Mal’s question; they hurry along the corridor, Zoë sending a few shots out behind them to keep the station’s defenders at a distance. They soon come across Book and Simon – the Shepherd is calm and cool as can be, but Mal can’t hold back a dry laugh at the sight of the fine young doctor wedged up against the bulkhead, gun held tight in hands that shake. This isn’t the kind of adrenaline rush the boy’s used to.

They pause so Wash can hand Mal off to Book and join Zoë in the rearguard. Simon lowers his gun, the overwhelmed expression on his face replaced by cool assessment as he looks Mal up and down. This is some crew I got, Mal thinks, his derision of the doctor turning to something like respect, and the realization of what they’re doing for him makes his anger collapse. Too late, he finds that it’s been the only thing keeping him on his feet, and he needs help from both Simon and Book as the group continues on.

Everything after that is vague. Mal’s half aware of stumbling on the upward slant of a ramp, and he gets a distant picture in his mind of Kaylee standing in his ship’s cargo bay, shaking like a kitten caught in the snow. She points down at a handgun lying on the deck next to her, like she needs someone else to pick it up, like she doesn’t want to touch a weapon herself. Mal’s glad she won’t. Kaylee shouldn’t be taking up arms, not for any reason the `verse can hand out.

That thought makes him uncomfortable, though he can’t think of why. Kaylee’s never held a gun, not in his memory. (He sees a flash of it anyway, of Kaylee firing and a man falling hard, but he can’t think of when that could have happened...)

After that, the things his eyes see are too disconnected to make any sense, but voices settle into his mind, floating down on him as he lies on the gurney in the infirmary. Simon’s saying that it’ll be fine, that Inara’s bringing something that’ll fix his ear up right. And that makes Mal think,

Inara. Of course – Inara. How could I forget?

(But he forgets again when a familiar voice wakes him.)

* * *

Shepherd Book tapped his fingers against his leg, his eyes narrowing as he contemplated his options. Perhaps the meek shall inherit the earth, but even the most passive lovers of peace occasionally found themselves out in the turbulent Black, facing challenges such as this. The Holy Father would forgive him if he went for the jugular that his opponent was so carelessly exposing. After all, it’s also said that the Lord helps those who help themselves.

He made his move, to Wash’s dismay.

“I only needed two cards!” the pilot moaned in despair, throwing yet another losing hand onto the small, round table. “I was so close!”

“So close, and yet…” Book finished his statement by tallying the score, then brandishing the scrap of paper for Wash to see.

“Oh, yeah?” Wash said in response. “Well… that’s because this game isn’t supposed to be played with two. My strategies – and I have some good ones, let me tell you – need three or four people. At least.”

“Of course,” Book said with a generous smile as he gathered the cards together. Wash settled back into his chair, looking out from the alcove into the empty dining room.

“More players,” Wash said, “that’s what I need. Where are they, anyway?” Book didn’t need to ask – Wash meant Mal, Zoë, and Jayne. The pilot’s worry had been building ever since the trio had left the ship.

Book checked his watch. “They’ve hardly been gone half an hour.”

“Which is a long time when Badger’s involved and Mal’s insane.”

Book was used to Wash’s nerves; they were a grating, though understandable, addition to Serenity’s crew every time Zoë was out and Wash had nothing to do. The complication of Mal’s condition only added to Wash’s distress. Book knew that distractions were the best way to deal with the kind of worry that was eating the pilot, so he was doing his best.

“Another game?” he offered. Wash accepted with a shrug.

They only made it halfway through the next hand before Wash started again. “I can’t believe they’re dealing with Badger, after the last few times...” “That’s the captain’s decision to make.”

“Actually, I believe it’s Zoë’s call now.”

Book nodded gravely, ready to hear Wash’s rant about the ship’s changing power dynamic, but apparently Wash was in a mood to take a different approach to the situation.

“So,” Wash said, “if Zoë’s in charge, does that make me the official consort?”

Book laid down a card, but Wash didn’t appear to notice. In fact, he was holding his cards loosely in front of him, and Book could have, with a single glance, assured his victory. But cheating wasn’t the way of a man of the cloth.

“You’d think the partner of the acting leader of the ship gets privileges that a pilot doesn’t,” Wash said thoughtfully.

“Extra dish duty?” Book suggested lightly.

Wash frowned at him. “I’m thinking more along the lines of a say in the decision making process. A voice that actually gets heard.”

“That could be… fun,” Book said dryly, hoping his tone would make the pilot reconsider. The ship didn’t need any more arguments livening things up; they were all under jumpy enough as it was. But he didn’t push his opinion. He’d rather keep his involvement simple: smooth things out wherever possible, including keeping Wash busy with a card game so he wouldn’t start pulling his hair out.

Book strummed his fingers against the tabletop, hoping to call Wash’s attention to the game, but the pilot didn’t notice. He folded up his cards and held them in one hand, tapping them against his other palm.

“Fun is beside the point,” Wash said, completely missing Book’s irony. “There’s clearly a need for some… clear thought. We’ve been running from near disaster to near disaster for months, and it only gets worse as we go. And now – taking Mal, the way he is, to get a job from Badger, is a one way trip to some pretty severe bad.” He jabbed a finger against the table to stress his point. “Hear me now and believe me later, no good will come of it. A big, heaping pile of no good.”

“In that case, maybe we should finish our business before Armageddon arrives.”

Wash frowned in confusion until Book nodded to the cards on the table.

“Oh!” Wash said, and opened out his hand. “Sorry about that,” he added as he picked up the card Book had just set down.

“Quite all right.”

Wash’s eyes were on the game, but not quite focused. After a minute, he added, “And thanks for letting me go on. I can’t really say all that to Zoë right now.”

“I understand, and I’m happy to be of help.”

Wash finally selected a card to play, and slapped it onto the table with relish. “Ha! Take that!”

“Thank you, I believe I will,” Book said, picking up the card. Wash watched him suspiciously, but whatever he was going to say was interrupted by Kaylee slipping into the galley.

“Hey, Kaylee,” Wash called. “How about joining the game? I could use some help here.”

“Sorry,” she replied as she dug through the cupboards. “I got all kinds of stuff to do with the mule and them gadgets the captain got us. No time for playin’.”

“All work and no play makes Kaylee a cranky girl,” Wash said, making Kaylee turn toward them with a look of worry.

“Cranky? Am I bein’ cranky?”

“Not at all,” Book replied, putting a stop to Wash’s misplaced needling. “Wash here is the moody one.”

“Maybe if you’d let me win once in a while I’d be more cheery,” Wash countered.

“Now – would it be satisfying to be handed a victory, instead of earning it?” Book asked, and he set his winning hand down with a smile.

“Well that’s…” Wash started, but he had no argument to make. Of course, he made one anyway. “Actually, any kind of victory would be just fine. Through pity, or cheating, or random dumb luck…. Hey, wanna play war?”

Kaylee let out a little chortle. “You two have fun.”

She found whatever snack she was looking for and went on her way as Book shuffled the cards. He took pity on Wash and dealt out the whole deck for a round of strategy-free war. The pilot did have more than the usual worries on his shoulders, and while that might be true of them all, it was Book’s chosen place to help others bear the burdens that life set on them. He was relieved at how the cards split; when Wash took a decisive victory, he bore the pilot’s celebration magnanimously.

A second game of war was dealt but never joined, because Mal and Zoë arrived in mid-debate. Mal was carrying a box, something that brought to mind the refrigeration tank that Simon had used to smuggle his sister on board. The container in Mal’s hands was much smaller, but had a similar control panel.

“Yeah, it worries me,” Zoë was saying as she followed the captain in. “We got no way to prove this stuff is legal, which we can be pretty sure it ain’t.”

“Not like it’s the biggest problem we ever faced,” Mal replied, and he turned to her after setting the box on the table. “We won’t have to dodge any bullets, just talk smooth to a bunch of high-priced fancy ladies.”

Wash abandoned the game and jumped to his feet, going into the dining room to join in the talk, but Book stayed put. He figured the story would come out, and he’d hear it just fine even if he stayed comfortably settled where he was.

“Sir, it’s a mite more complicated than that. Companions ain’t just fancy ladies. They read people. They got a way of knowing when someone’s lyin’ to `em.”

“So, what’s in the box?” Wash asked brightly.

“You don’t wanna know,” Mal answered, then kept on with Zoë. “You an expert on Companions? You maybe got some history I don’t know?”

Zoë glanced at Wash and Book uncomfortably before she replied. “It happens that… I spent some time with a Companion once.”

Mal’s eyes widened in amazement. He stared at Zoë for a second before turning to Wash. “Did you know about this?” he asked. “Or were you in on it? Didn’t think you two needed guest appearances of that type.”

“Of course not!” Wash replied quickly. “That’s not what she meant.”

“Ain’t nothing like that,” Zoë agreed. “But never mind – I’m just telling you that it ain’t easy to fool those ladies. Pretty talk won’t work. We need some kind of proof that what we got is legal.”

“OK, would someone maybe like to explain this now?” Wash asked, raising his voice enough to finally get a direct answer.

“What we got in here,” Mal explained as he laid a hand on the box, “is some of the finest animal privates that ever got a man in the mood.”

“In the… ?” Book muttered, but no one appeared to hear him.

“In the mood for dancing?” Wash asked.

“I guess some people might call it that,” Mal replied thoughtfully.

“Animal privates?” Book asked, but again no one paid him any mind.

“Problem is,” Zoë told Wash, “the folks we got waitin’ to buy this are a houseful of Companions…” she stressed the word with a meaningful pause “…on Londinium, and we got to convince them the creature involved died old, fat and happy before his precious dangly parts were snipped.”

Wash winced at her choice of words, and Book was inclined to agree with the sentiment.

“Snipped? Dangly parts?” Wash glanced back and forth between his wife and the captain. “This is not the kind of work I signed up for.”

“I don’t recall you specifying any particulars when you signed up,” Mal replied, his humor fading. “Now, we got us a job, and it pays money. The kind of jingly coin that buys fuel and food and really loud, colorful shirts. Best you remember that before you start turnin’ up your nose.”

Wash opened his mouth to reply, but the captain went on before he could get a word out.

“And I don’t know why you suddenly got all nervous,” Mal snapped at Zoë. “This is easy. Easiest job we ever had. And if Badger’s telling half the truth, and if Jayne ain’t making up his own tales about the market for this, we stand to turn a fair profit.”

Zoë looked down at the deck, her face tightening with frustration.

“Zoë,” Mal continued, his voice softer, “if you got some bona fide reason to be speakin’ up against this, say it now. Otherwise…”

“I just don’t like it, sir.”

Mal waited for her to say more, then huffed in frustration. “It’ll get us by for some time,” he said, “and being in the Core and solvent ain’t a bad thing. We can look for a buyer for the Lassiter, and I got no problem with staying away of Niska’s turf for a time. Kind’a like to keep all my body parts attached for a spell.” He lifted a hand to his ear with a grimace, then glanced at Wash before he settled his gaze on Zoë again. “Unless you two have something solid to say, I won’t take any more arguments. What I want to hear is ideas on how we can work this out as smooth as can be.”

The only reply was a stretch of quiet as they all chewed on the situation. Book was actually forming a bit of a plan, but before he worked it out in full, Jayne stuck his head in the hatch, rubbing his jaw with one hand while he talked.

“Hey, Captain,” he said, “we stayin’ in the world a bit?”

“Why you askin’?”

“I got a’ errand to run. Kind’a important.”

Mal considered Jayne for a second, then asked abruptly, “What happened to your face?”

Book looked closer and noticed a patch of pink low on Jayne’s cheek, like he’d been hit. It didn’t seem to bug the mercenary much; he just snorted dismissively. “Misunderstandin’. Ain’t a big deal.”

Mal sighed. “But this errand of yours is?”

“That’s right.”

“You wanna tell me about it?”

Jayne staightened up and crossed his arms. “Nope.”

Mal shook his head. “Sorry, Jayne, we gotta get moving. No time for this.” He started motioning Wash toward the bridge, but Book figured it was time to step in and suggest an errand of his own.

“Captain,” he said as he stood and left the alcove. “If you’re willing to delay a bit, I believe I can take care of a problem for you – the problem with your new cargo.”

Mal gave him a surprised look. “How you plan on doing that?”

“My brethren are located a shuttle ride away. I believe they can help.” Book joined them at the table, explaining as he went, “It may interest you to know that my abbey trades produce with monstaries on other worlds, many of which raise livestock.”

Understanding dawned on Mal’s face. Book might have expected some slight thanks for the offer he was making, but apparently Mal’s mood didn’t include gratitude.

“How long will it take?” the captain asked.

“Including transit time… maybe two hours.”

“You hear that, Jayne?”

Jayne replied with a nod and a grunt before he disppeared. Mal turned to Wash, who guessed the plan.

“I’ll be going to the monastery then,” the pilot said gamely. “Hey, Shepherd, do they still have a garden there? Think maybe we can barter for a few tomatoes?”

“Not this early in the season,” Book replied, “but I’m sure I can arrange for something. Maybe some herbs…” He half expected Mal to grumble over that and demand that they hurry, but the captain only looked thoughtful.

“One of you ought’a get Kaylee to go along,” he said. “She was seemin’ kind’a blue this morning – might do her some good to get out.”

Book felt somewhat sheepish that he hadn’t thought of that himself. Kaylee had indeed been down lately, and a walk in the sunshine could help. While Wash prepped the shuttle, Book stopped by the engine room. Kaylee accepted the offer for a field trip with a grateful smile.

Ten minutes later, Shuttle One departed with the three of them on board, and Book found himself heading back to familiar ground.

* * *

Eleven Months ago

Shepherd Book is standing over a large pot of steaming tallow when the message is passed to him. He sets aside a rack of half-formed candles for someone else to finish; the abbot has asked that he come quickly.

The summons surprises him, since he rarely gets involved with the larger business of the monastery. His role is that of a simple servant and laborer, moving in the quiet background of this quiet life. He’s left the grounds only a few times in the years he’s been here – humanitarian missions which all able-bodied members of the monastery take part in. Book’s real satisfaction comes from the little tasks involved in monastic life. His garden plot, the company of his brethren, and time for reflection and prayer are all he needs. He has no wordly ambitions; Abbot Thomas understands this and has always left him be.

Book’s instinct that something unusual is afoot strengthens when he sees the abbot’s face. The old man is in the chapel, wiping down the altar with a leather chamois. He turns and gives Book a measuring look, and the loose, wrinkled skin around his mouth pulls tight.

“Shepherd Book,” he says, and he holds out a hand toward the front row of pews. Book nods and takes a seat.

Abbot Thomas joins him, folding his dusting cloth in his hands. He studies Book for a tense moment before he speaks. “I have an opportunity for you,” he finally says, his tone grave. “A task which, of all the brethren, I think you are the best suited for.”

The words makes a worm of uneasiness uncurl in Book’s belly. He’s always known that the abbot does more then tend to a monastery; after all, Thomas’s other activities were what led Book to him.

“I’m a Shepherd now,” Book says hesitantly, not sure if he’s reading too much into this. “I have no wish to be anything else. Besides – you once said that you couldn’t ever trust me–”

He stops when the abbot’s face unexpectedly breaks into a smile, as if Book’s reluctance has touched on a pool of fondness. “I’m not asking you to be anything other than what you are,” Thomas says, “and trust can always be earned. Even by you.”

Book blinks at that – he’s not sure what he’s done in the past six years to change the abbot’s mind. Thomas doesn’t tell him, just explains the task.

“There’s an innocent soul in need of aid,” Thoman continues. “I want you to travel with her, see that she doesn’t come to harm.”

Book knows that he owes this ‘verse a great debt, and though helping a single person won’t come close to evening the score, he’s of a mind to accept without further explanation. He owes the abbot that. But something in Thomas’s eyes makes Book hold his tongue; there’s clearly more to it.

“This may involve going against the law,” the abbot says gravely.

“Whose law?” Book immediately asks.

“Does it matter?”

Book looks toward the altar and considers the question. His jaw begins to ache, and he finds that he’s grinding his teeth. He exhales and forces himself to relax.

“It does matter,” he says softly, almost speaking to himself. “The laws of God and of my own conscience I’ll never break again. But the laws of man… None of those should be followed blindly. The consequences…”

He stops and looks toward the abbot; his words have earned him another smile. “You’re a different man than the one who first came through the monastery gate,” Thomas says. “Come, I’ll explain more while you pack your belongings.”

Two hours later, Shepherd Book tilts his cart down into the dust of Eavesdown Docks. Truth be told, it’s been many years since he faced a crowd of strangers on his own, and he’s forgotten the art of moving through it. His limbs have aged as well – the simple, unhurried chores of the monastery haven’t prepared him for this.

He sits on the firm corner of his suitcase and fans himself for a moment, then reaches into his pocket and takes out the little Bible that’s been part of his life for nearly a score of years. He opens the front cover to look at the name inside: Franklin Jílè Thomas. Up until six years ago, those words were the only ones he’d read from this book. The rest had stayed hidden, pressed in the darkness of their closed pages, waiting for him to be ready for them.

“Shepherd?”

A woman is stepping into the small patch of shade he’s found to rest himself in. She crouches next to him and holds a hand out, palm up.

“Spare a few coins for a lady down on her luck, luv?” she asks. He looks her over; her face is dirty and her clothes torn, and she has the dull, unpleasant odor of a true vagrant. He reaches for the coin purse hidden inside his belt, but his motions slow as the woman continues speaking, her voice softer.

“You’s the one the abbot was sendin’, right?”

Book looks up and hesitates before nodding. Abbot Thomas had told him he’d get more information once he arrived here, but he isn’t expecting a contact like this; the woman is a far cry from the cool professionals he worked with in his former life.

“The boy’s got hi’self transport, and gone to get the girl,” the woman continues.

“Which ship?” Book asks.

“A Firefly.”

He pulls out the coin purse and digs a finger into it. “The name of it? The destination?”

The woman’s dirty cheeks redden. “Never could take in writin’ when I was hurried, and there weren’t no time for standin’. But don’t fret – there’s a girl out front, that’s the one takin’ on folks. Got a swirly umbrella to block the sun. Ain’t hard to find – but you best get to lookin’ `fore they take off.”

Book nods again and hands her a coin.

“The Lord bless you!” she says loudly as she stands up, then she disappears into the milling crowd.

* * *

“You sure it’s all right for me to come along?” Kaylee asked Book. They were seated on a hard bench in Shuttle One, which, Book had to admit, had been a more comfortable place when Inara had lived there.

“I mean,” Kaylee continued, “it’s a home for menfolk, right?”

Book smiled at her concern. “It’s true that no women live at the monastery, but we welcome visitors of all types. We can’t do proper service to humanity if we refuse contact with half of them.”

Wash piped up from the cockpit. “The real question is – are you sure they’ll do this? There’s not many religious types who’ll get involved in the sex trade.”

“No,” Book conceded, “but, like myself, they are concerned with providing aid to people who need it.”

Kaylee looked doubtful. “I guess anything as helps a man with his shēngqí yíshì is a’ act of goodness, but don’t exactly count as charity.”

Book felt a little flustered that she’d mistaken his meaning. “I wasn’t meaning the people who will… use the selesta. I mean the crew. The captain. We can’t do anything to help Mal when we can barely buy fuel, and this is a way I can contribute.”

“And your abbot will see it that way too?” Wash asked.

Book smiled to himself – Abbot Thomas wasn’t likely to be thrilled with the idea, but he wasn’t a man to be bound by the rules.

* * *
The abbot didn’t need to say what he was thinking; he leaned back in his chair and looked at Book with a small smile.

“I know how it must sound,” Book said, “but it’s not a crime. Or, at least, it’s minimal for this group.”

Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Smugglers, I hear.”

“Among other things. There’s even a few who fought in the war – with the Independents.”

That brought a thoughtful look to Thomas’s face. “So you’ve been on a ship full of Browncoats and criminals? For nearly a year?”

Book had to smile himself at the strangeness of it. “There’s been no need to move on. The boy chose his transport well – or got lucky, which is closer to the truth. The crew may not be the most upstanding people, but the ship is, possibly, the safest place for the girl to be.”

“And… how is she doing?”

“Greatly improved since the first time I saw her, which is astounding after what she’s been through.” Book paused to study the abbot; he wasn’t clear on how much the abbot knew. All the man had told Book a year ago was to go with River and Simon, to make sure that no one took advantage of them on these lawless worlds. The abbot had clearly known that the Tams were wanted by the Alliance government, but he had never mentioned any reason why.

“Do you know what was done to her?” Book asked.

“No idea,” Thomas replied. “To be honest, I sent you after her for your own good more than anything.”

Book stared at the abbot open-mouthed, startled out of his thoughts by the man’s casual statement. “Is that so?” he asked.

The abbot shifted in his chair, leaning on an elbow and smiling at Book. “You’re a man of action, Derrial. You were restless here, though you would never have admitted it. Probably didn’t even know it yourself. You needed the isolation for a while, but it was time for you to go back out and be part of the worlds outside. And I was right, it’s done you good – you look well.”

Book wasn’t about to argue the truth of that. The past year hadn’t been easy, but it had strengthened him. “So… you didn’t know about River?” he asked. “About the Academy or the people who got her out?”

Thomas frowned. “I told you that I’m no longer active with any of that. But I still hear tales now and then. An old… associate, you might say, was traveling through Persephone and he stopped by to visit the monastery. He told me that he’d just smuggled a girl out of the Core in return for some much needed funding, and that she seemed to have been greatly damaged. He didn’t think that she and her brother would last long out here on the Bordor worlds.”

“But he wouldn’t help them himself?”

The abbot sighed and shook his head sadly. “He clearly viewed their plight on Persephone as someone else’s problem. It’s funny how a man can commit himself to saving the down-trodden masses of the `verse, but not give a damn for a single down-trodden individual. Not if it’s inconvenient to him.”

“So you asked me to help her,” Book said thoughtfully, then he smiled. “Two birds with one stone?”

“It seemed a timely opportunity,” the abbot replied, then his face pulled into his own crooked smile as he added dryly, “And now you’ve turned to poaching.”

Book tried his best to argue that. “It isn’t a matter of poaching; the creature in question has already passed. And now it can benefit people who need help. This might even … give its existence more purpose…”

The abbot’s raised brows showed his opinion of that bit of reasoning, but he didn’t completely reject the idea. “This is for the sake of the girl?”

“In part. I must admit – I’ve grown fond of the whole crew. Perhaps they aren’t free of sin, and perhaps they don’t repent, but the depth of their loyalty to each other… ” Book paused to take a deep breath and consider his words. “Abbot, I’ve seen more Christian behavior in a year with these ‘uncouth heathens’ than I did during decades of upholding the Alliance’s laws. The good that these people do for each other… it’s from the heart.”

The abbot met Book’s eyes and smiled warmly. “Again you surprise me, Derrial. Of course I’ll help you, and this crew of yours.”

* * *
While a scribe worked up the necessary documents, Book went in search of Kaylee and Wash. The pilot was sitting on a porch with one of the younger shepherds, a man Book recalled as having a lively personality. The two of them were chatting over pints of what looked like the monastery’s very own ale. Kaylee was in the courtyard, wandering through Book’s garden plot. The plants appeared to have been well tended in the past year, and Book was eager to see them for himself.

“I’m glad they’ve kept it up without me,” he said to Kaylee when he caught up to her.

She looked up at him, clearly startled out of heavy thoughts, but then her face broke into a smile. “You put all this in yourself? That’s somethin’.”

“I had several years to work on it – and many willing helpers. The brethren appreciate flavorful food as much as Serenity’s crew.”

Kaylee walked on, moving slowly along the stone path. “It’s nice, Shepherd. It’s real nice.”

Book took a deep breath of the fresh country air and looked over the plot; it brought warmth to his soul to see it again. “This was one of my primary joys here,” he said. “To create. To make something that grows and thrives–”

“Instead a’ destroying,” Kaylee interrupted softly. “Instead a’ killing.”

For an instant, Book thought she was speaking of his own past, because her words were so true of him. But then he focused on her, saw how her head was hanging and her eyes were down, and he understood what she meant.

During the weeks since Niflheim, he’d seen Kaylee’s troubles, and tried to make himself available to her. But she’d always turned away from him, keeping the truths of her plight to herself. Perhaps he’d been wrong to leave her be. This wound she had clearly wasn’t healing, and it wouldn’t as long as she refused help.

“Kaylee,” he said gently. “Destruction isn’t pleasant, but it’s a natural part of life.”

She looked up at him. “Like murder?” she asked, her voice suddenly sharp.

“Murder is… ” Book stopped, unsure of how to answer that. “Murder is a strong word, Kaylee.”

She turned away, but, to his relief, she didn’t try to hide the true direction of her thoughts. “I shot him and he died, Shepherd. What else was it?”

Book shook his head; she couldn’t mean to be calling what she’d done murder. “It was the only thing you could do,” he told her earnestly. “Ray was hurting Inara. And with the Alliance after the ship – we could have all died if Mal hadn’t been able to take over the controls. You saved us, Kaylee. I understand that you might not want to celebrate that, but surely you shouldn’t be carrying this kind of weight over it.”

Kaylee wasn’t moved. Her jaw jutted out tensely, though she replied in a soft voice. “Shepherd, I may not be a gunhand like Jayne, but it ain’t like I can’t aim, from just a meter away. It ain’t….” She drew in a deep breath before she finished, but her voice still came out a bit unsteady. “It ain’t like I didn’t know where Ray’s heart was. I could’a missed. I could’a just hurt him, if I’d meant to. I know it.”

Book exhaled softly – he hadn’t realized she thought of it like that. “Kaylee…”

“You ever murder anyone?” she asked before he could go on.

“I… I have,” he admitted, forcing the words out with difficulty.

She turned away from him, looking past the gardens to the low stone buildings. “And you came here and said a few prayers and made a nice garden and it was all forgiven? Just like that? Like it never happened?”

“No, Kaylee,” he said, unable to lie, though it might have been better if he had. “It never goes away completely. Not really.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said, and she turned her back to him, walking away with quick, tense steps.

Book didn’t follow, though letting her go caused him pain. He knew that what she needed couldn’t be given, nor could it be forced on her. She’d have to find it herself, the same as he once had.

* * *

Seven years ago

Derrial paces outside the closed door to the chapel office, waiting to be admitted. Or turned away, which seems more likely, given what he’s here to confess.

He can’t make himself be still, and that’s something completely new to him. It isn’t like him to be nervous, to have this kind of gut-curdling dread drive him to the edge of panic.

He’s not entirely sure who he is anymore. It’s been coming on for some time; he sees that now. The doubts have been brewing, bubbling up in the back of his mind as he watched this war build. He’d once believed in the work he did, believed so hard that the acts of immorality and cruelty he was sometimes required to take part in didn’t trouble him. It was necessary, or so he was told, and he’d accepted that. But the war brought new things to light, so many horrible truths that he could longer silence the inner voice from asking questions he couldn’t answer.

And, finally, just a month ago, he saw something that he simply could not abide…

“I’m sorry I kept you waiting,” a gravelly voice says. The man looking out from the chapel office is old. White hair floats in thin wisps around a face that has changed since Derrial first saw it in a capture so many years ago. The thick, weathered skin has sagged with age; the overall effect is one of softness, with a backbone of wisdom.

The man looks kind, and his sympathetic eyes take in Derrial’s troubled state without any show of judgment.

The abbot waves him in to the office and offers him a chair. Derrial doesn’t sit; he’s not yet sure of his welcome. He reaches into the deep inner pocket of his coat and pulls out a small book – a Bible. Carefully, he sets it on the large wooden desk. The abbot’s warm smile fades a little as he picks up the book; he doesn’t check inside the front flap for his name, just runs his hands over the worn leather cover with a gentle familarity.

“That’s yours?” Derrial asks, though he knows already.

The abbot looks up and nods. “I lost it many years ago. Where did you get it?”

Derrial meets the old man’s eyes. “I took it from your home. Confiscated it.”

The abbot’s eyes harden with understanding, but he doesn’t appear to be angry, nor frightened. He leans back in his chair and leafs through the pages of the Bible as if reintroducing himself to an old friend.

“Are you here to arrest me?” he asks evenly.

“No,” Derrial says, the word coming out with an unexpectedly heavy rush of air. “No,” he repeats, “I’m not. I don’t work for them any more.”

“I’ve always wondered…” the abbot says, “why didn’t you arrest us back then? You must have had all the proof you needed.”

Derrial draws in a deep breath and finally takes the offered seat. He hadn’t expected calm discourse; it’s almost harder to handle than attacks and accusations would have been. He needs a moment to gather his thoughts.

“It would have drawn attention, arresting members of a religious order. You and your men were known for doing charity, and well loved in your community. We only needed to shut you down, make you leave the world before you did any real damage.”

“And at that you succeeded.” The abbot sets the Bible on his desk and focuses on Derrial again. His face is still soft, but Derrial can see the strength behind it, the inner mettle of a man who, for decades, took part in acts of civil disobedience that verged on rebellion.

“Why are you here?” the abbot asks, and now his voice has a slight edge to it.

Derrial drops his eyes; he can’t meet that righteous stare. “I don’t know,” he replies truthfully.

The abbot’s voice doesn’t soften. “I’m not active anymore. If you’re here to find my contacts–”

“I’m not – I quit. I don’t think they even know where I am. I’ve been traveling for weeks, looking for you. Looking for the owner of that book…”

“Why did you quit? It’s a time of war; your government needs you.”

“I can’t…” Derrial has to pause, even his breathing again. Who is this? he asks himself. Who is this man I’ve become, struggling not to sob?

The abbot doesn’t relent. “By your laws, I’m a criminal. Isn’t it your purpose to uphold the law and stop those like me?”

“I used to believe so.”

“But now you don’t?”

Derrial can’t look up; he doesn’t know what he believes. “I’ve seen things,” he finally says. “I’ve seen the things they do… to innocents… children.” He has to cover his face with his hands.

The abbot is quiet for a moment, then he asks again, “Why are you here?”

Derrial realizes that maybe he does have an answer to that. He lowers his hands, allowing the man to see the wetness on his cheeks. “Your book – I’ve been reading it. Ever since I saw… There are things in there that I need to know about.”

“I can never trust you,” the abbot says flatly. “An organization that has done the things yours has wouldn’t hesitate to send someone here to watch me.”

“I know,” Derrial says softly.

“If you stay, it will be as one of the brethren. You will go to services, do chores, and take part in the small things we do to help those around us. That’s all I can offer you.”

“That’s all I want,” Derrial replies. It is what he wants, he realizes. It’s what really brought him here, and it’s the only hope he has left.

“Please,” he adds. “I have no where else to go.”

The abbot studies him for a painfully long moment. “Keep this,” he finally says, and he pushes the Bible across the desk. Derrial hesitates before he picks it up; this is a kindness he hadn’t expected. The leather of the Bible’s cover feels good in his hands, soft and supple and comforting.

It’s really his now, he realizes, given instead of stolen.

“What shall we call you? ”the abbot asks, his voice soft now.

Derrial has to consider this. He hasn’t had a name in a long time; it hadn’t been needed in his former life. When he left the Core a month ago, he reclaimed the first name of his childhood, but that’s all he wants from his past. Nothing else about his life is innocent.

“Book,” he replies. “Derrial Book.”

* * *

Zoë met them in the cargo bay, eager to hear the news.

“Here you are,” Book said, pleased to hand over the paperwork. “A death certificate for a male elephant seal, which passed while in the care of my brethren on New Melbourne. Also, permission to make use of its remains as we see fit.”

She gave the forms a lookover, then raised her eyes to Book. “I mean no blasphemy when I say that you are a miracle, Shepherd,” she said.

“I’ll pass on the complement on to He who deserves it,” Book replied.

Zoë left quickly, calling Wash to follow her to the bridge so they could put Persephone behind them as quickly as possible. Book was in less of a hurry – he was feeling that particular kind of satisfaction that comes from doing a good deed. The mood provided a boost of energy, so he decided to continue to contribute to the crew’s well-being by fixing a meal.

He found Jayne alone in the dining room, sitting at the table with one foot set up on the opposite knee so he could pick at the ragged sole of his boot with a knife.

“Did you finish your errand?” Book asked, but Jayne hushed him and waved his knife toward the alcove. Mal was laying across the chairs there, fast asleep. He didn’t look particularly comfortable; in fact, it appeared that sleep had caught him by surprise.

“How’s long he been like that?” Book asked in a whisper.

“Dunno,” Jayne replied, getting back to work on whatever he was doing to his boot.

Book stood next to the table, unsure of what to do. The captain napping in a public place was something he’d never encountered before, and Mal didn’t appear to be sleeping well. He had a hand clutching his chest, as if he was in pain.

“Perhaps we should do something,” Book said.

“`Bout what?” Jayne asked stubbornly, but he glanced over at Mal quickly after he said it. Book saw enough in that look – just a glimpse of worry in Jayne’s eyes – to wonder if the merc had been sitting here for a purpose that he’d never admit to: watching over the captain.

“Why don’t you go get Simon,” Book suggested.

“You think Mal needs the doc?” Jayne asked. “He’s just sleepin’.” The words were dismissive, but his tone held just a small hint of doubt.

“It’s best we be safe.”

Jayne nodded, then put his knife away and disappeared through the aft hatch. Book quietly crossed the room; Mal had shifted onto his back. He was mumbling, two words spoken low and dangerous through clenched teeth: Where’s Niska?

Book sat down next to the captain, not sure whether to rouse him or wait for the doctor. Mal laughed, a grim, ugly sound, then he slowly quieted. It still wasn’t natural sleep – it was more like the captain was collapsing in on himself. His face went slack and body limp, his breathing shallow and pained.

Book looked around in alarm, but no one was coming yet. Gently, he touched Mal’s arm.

“Captain?”

Even though he spoke softly, Mal woke with a start and sat up.

“How could I?” he asked, his eyes not quite focused. “How could I forget?”

“What did you forget?”

Mal looked up, focusing on Book but not seeming to really see. “Her. You know.”

Book wasn’t sure how to reply; he felt a small flutter of hope in his belly – perhaps Mal was finally regaining his memories…

“Who you do mean?” he asked cautiously.

The captain stared at Book blankly. He looked almost comical with his hair flattened on one side, his mouth hanging open, and his eyes still bleary with sleep.

“I have no idea,” he finally said, then he shook his head. “I was having some crazy dreams, Shepherd. Crazy, crazy dreams.”

“About what?”

About Niska, Book answered for himself, recalling Mal’s words, but the captain wasn’t so clear about it. He patted at his hair with a clumsy hand and spoke thickly.

“I was… we were leavin’ someplace. Fightin’.” Then he laughed. “You were carryin’ a gun, Shepherd. So was the doc. And I… Gorramn. I died. Just died.”

The captain’s eyes were faraway; Book wasn’t sure that Mal was even talking to him anymore. “In your dream?” he asked, and Mal looked up, startled.

“What was I sayin’?” he asked, then he shook his head again. “Sorry, Shepherd. Must be half asleep still. What the hell was I sayin’?”

Simon came clattering in the door just then, Jayne a few steps behind him. The doctor saw Mal sitting up and stopped, seeming unsure of what to do.

“Doctor,” Mal called out, shrugging off his disorientation with obvious effort. “You in a hurry for lunch?”

“No – I just, I heard that… uh…” Simon looked back at Jayne doubtfully.

Mal stood up. “Jayne, you messin’ with Simon again? Cut it out. Ain’t time for it today. Work. We got work…” Mal paused, casting about, then he muttered to himself as he walked toward the hatch. “Oh yeah – Ezra. The last of those meds from Ariel – drop’s on Ezra. Milk run, easy job. Me and Zoë’ll go it alone.”

Mal nodded, like he’d just convinced himself of something, and left the room.

“What exactly was that?” Simon asked.

“I believe… I believe I just worked something out,” Book said slowly. “The things he forgets – it’s while he sleeps. It’s in his dreams.”

Simon looked after the captain once, then came into the alcove to hear Book out.

* * *

Translations

shēng qí yí shì:   flag raising ceremony

* * *

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COMMENTS

Monday, May 14, 2007 5:19 AM

MAL4PREZ


BEB - Inara's chapter is last... I have no other comment. Except you're going to laugh at next Monday's chapter!

Katesfriend - our discussion will have to stay in PM's now. :)

Monday, May 14, 2007 7:11 AM

LEIASKY


I really love Book and Wash's banter while playing cards. Threw me right into the middle of what I could clearly see being part of a filmed episode.

And what you've revealed so far as your take on Book's past is just perfectly mean. But - it's exactly how the show was doing it. Revealing little bits at a time.

Book's conversation with Kaylee was just heartbreaking. Someone needs to help that woman, and soon, or she's going to withdraw further - or snap. Both would be fun to see! :)

Again, I love how you're moving the story along in little bits while still giving us your version of each character's histories, or expounding on some of the things we already know (and have seen in the series) about them.

Monday, May 14, 2007 2:26 PM

NBZ


The Plot Thickens!

Just wondering how far back the memory loss would go. (don't answer!)

Being a closet anarchist, I know where I want this to go. But I also know no sane writer would do that! (Nor would (should) anyone like it).

Really enjoying this. The small expose of Book was really good. Always was a mystery why he came (and stayed) on board the ship and I am not much of a believer in coincidence.

Next chapter should be interesting.

Monday, May 14, 2007 2:41 PM

HEWHOKICKSALOT


I clearly see why this has recieved a rating of 10 thus far. Your insight into Book and the formulation of his history are fantastic. I can clearly see your vision played out on the screen. I truly enjoyed your card game between Book and Wash. The little things, the details. They're wonderful.

Keep it up!!


Rob O.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 3:24 AM

KATESFRIEND


It’s funny how a man can commit himself to saving the down-trodden masses of the `verse, but not give a damn for a single down-trodden individual. Not if it’s inconvenient to him.”

That's why I love your fics - awesome chapter on this one! You took a mysterious character and fleshed him out believably and plausibly. Loved how Book's ministrations to the crew were so subtle they never even caught on. And Book's past blended perfectly with Joss's clues as to who he was.

Kaylee is starting to break my heart - hope someone can help her before she disappears. Another fabulous piece of writing that keeps me eagerly looking forward to Thursday!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 5:41 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


As I though, mal4prez...only makes sense to have Inara be the last one of the BDHs to have her moment in the spotlight, since I suspect what will be contained within will be related to dealing with the Captain's and Kaylee's issues:D

Now...to minister my praise for this chapter;)

Utterly fantastic work here, mal4prez! The level of skill and brilliant you've shown here and in the other chapters when it comes to getting Joss' characters to dance to your tune and how the plot is unfolding in concerns to both the characters' backgrounds and exploring how things are getting less and less shiny.

It's strange though...I actually have to compliment you on something that made me feel uncomfortable: Book's though about Wash's behaviour during the card games. I personally would have wanted to give Book a much more saintly attitude about how Wash was carrying on - once again - while Zoe was off-ship, but I would imagine that for all of Book's recently-found peace and compassion...Wash's usual schtick would grow wearying after a while. Especially if you were the only usually accepting the brunt of it;)

OH! And the revelation at the end about Mal's dreams being linked to his memory loss? Fabulous idea! Really can't wait to see how you expand and explore this concept:D

BEB

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 3:54 PM

PLATONIST


Oops, I think I missed commenting on Jayne’s chapter. (Progress report time) Anyway, I really thought your back-story and characterization of him was spot on and not romantized in a depreciating way. He is what he is. A practical self-serving, say what everyone’s thinking, gun-toting mercenary. River’s flirtatious attraction is definitely understandable.

I also found your Book scenario plausible, and I liked the way it came full circle with him now helping Mal in return for providing the Tam’s a safe harbor.

And, Mal, poor Mal,...him only remembering Inara in his dreams..nice capraesque quality there. In the deleted sconce, from the original script, Inara had to humiliate herself and practically beg for the councilor’s help to get that ear reattached. If he only knew!

I love the way the back-stories and the plot are unfolding and intertwining together. I want to say “ scaffolding” rather than sequential, but I’m not sure if that is the correct narration term.

Thanks for the read!

Thursday, May 17, 2007 3:57 PM

AMDOBELL


I really loved the flashbacks in Book's past and how he tries in the Here and Now to be useful and help the crew as and when he can. Very much the way I saw him in the series. Good work. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.


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Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

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Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

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The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

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The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.