The Last Christmas Present
Friday, December 22, 2006

A/N Thanks for your response to my first fic. This is Part 2 . It's another Mal on Shadow Christmas fic-the last one before he left Shadow.Even though this is a Christmas fic there is a little shooting and a character death so be warned. Thanks again to Girlaskew for the Beta. You helped make a good story even better.


Mal had just turned 18 that fall. The Alliance had made selling cattle and shipping the processed beef off world almost impossible due to excessive tariffs. Commerce between Shadow and other planets and moons came to a standstill after the blockade of the shipping lanes from Shadow to the Core planets.

The few transport ships that ran the blockade were full of guns, ammunition, medical supplies and other necessities. They were bound for stockpiles on various Border and Rim worlds and were then sold by unscrupulous dealers at very inflated prices to whoever had the coin to afford them.

The Shadow militia had been actively recruiting men and women for a year. Mal had joined that summer, without telling his Ma. She didn’t want her son training to be a soldier. She wanted him to run the ranch with her and eventually take over. Find a nice girl, get married and start a family of his own.

But Meg Reynolds knew the seriousness of the situation. She believed as deeply in the cause as her son, so she only made a token protest when Mal informed her that he had started going to the militia meetings since June.

The situation between the Assembly of Shadow and the Assemblies of the other so called “Independent” planets and moons and the Parliament of the Allied planets deteriorated even further during the fall. War was the topic of everyone’s conversation at every gathering place, the dinner table, and the stores in town. Weapons appeared everywhere and were worn with pride and determination.

Preparations for Christmas that year were subdued to say the least. The ranch just couldn’t support as many cattle as it once did because of the Alliance blockade. The ranch had a third of the number of hands it usually had and more hands would have to be let go soon. They were able though, to sell a small number of cattle for planet side consumption so things were just on the right side of desperate.

Christmas Eve service was normal enough except that afterwards small groups of men and women stayed outside the church for over an hour talking in the cold night air. Conversations, especially among the young people, quickly changed from pleasantries and small town gossip to wondering when the Assembly would get off their collective pi gus and declare war against the Alliance.

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear. Mal hurried thru his morning chores and by the time he had finished his Ma had his usual breakfast on the table. There was a biggish package done up in plain wrapping paper sitting beside Mal’s plate of eggs and toast.

“Ma, what’s that?”

“It’s just a little present for you. I want you to open it as soon as breakfast is done. You can open it before you start cleanin' the dishes.”

Without eating a bite Mal reached for the package. He brought the package up to his ear and tossed it around a bit, trying to determine what was in it. As he shook it he had a puzzled look on his face.

Mal then attacked the paper, tearing it off in one big piece. He opened the box and stared down at its contents with his mouth open. It quickly changed to a wide grin as looked some more at what the box contained.

”What are you doin' son?” she said with a bit of irritation. “I told you to eat first.”

“But Ma, I can't wait”

“You never could wait for anything, you're just gotta have your way.” She shook her head with exasperation.

“Go ahead then. Take it out.”

“I figure a man who is defending his land needs a proper weapon.” His Ma said with determination.

Mal pulled out the shinnest holster and belt he'd ever seen. It was utilitarian but beautifully crafted. He immediately knew it was the work of Johnny Lee, who had a small leather shop in town. Johnny crafted the best leather goods on Shadow.

As he held up the holster he saw that a pistol rested in it, ready for use. It was obviously not new but had been well taken care of.

As he pulled the gun from the holster and made sure the chamber was empty he said, “This is the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten,” he said, grinning. “Since I got Lucy,” he added hastily

He looked up to his Ma’s eyes with gratitude. “Where did you get the pistol? I don’t remember seeing it.”

“It was your Pa’s. He bought it when he first came to Shadow from Londinium and moved out here.”

Mal knew she had kept a gun in her bedside table but had never gotten a close look at it.

“Let me tell you the story behind this pistol. It protected you before you were born. I’m hoping it’ll protect you again. You know your Pa was killed right before you were born but you don't know everything that happened.

Your Pa was the younger son of a family from Londinium. Tom didn't expect much of an inheritance, as he didn’t get on with his folks as well as his older bother did. Tom wanted to travel the 'verse. They wanted him in to take a nice desk job in the Core, marry a proper debutante, preferably one with the right family, connections and money and raise proper grandchildren. He left Londium right after he finished the University. He gallivanted around the ‘verse for a while and he somehow ended up on Shadow and for some reason decided it was time to try his hand at cattle ranching.

Poor Tom didn't know much about ranching at first.” she said with a little laugh.

“He came to my Pa and asked for help picking out a small herd for the land he had just bought. Since your Grandpa was the general store owner he knew just about every rancher in the area.

They toured the local ranches and finally got together a decent herd. I had been doing the books for the store so I saw him almost every day for three months. We started talking 'bout things, I offered to help him with the ranch books and we ended up spending' more and more time together…”she trailed off wistfully.

People started talking 'bout us and wonderin' when the wedding going to be. He was working from sun up to sun down with the few hands he could afford to hire. He nearly worked himself to death trying to get the ranch going.”

Finally after 'bout a year he wanted to talk to Pa alone. He came out of the store just grinnin' like a cat that had gotten a mouse.

The next day he took me out and showed me around the house that had just been finished. Kept showing me all the tiny details. Afterwards we walked down to the lake with a picnic basket, he sat me down on a log and proceeded to get down on one knee and ask me to marry him. He was so nervous and I guess I looked shocked because he asked me again. I had to practically shout yes.

We got married a couple of weeks later. His family weren’t too pleased about him stayin’ and marryin’ me. They didn't come for the weddin' and we didn't hear much from them ever again.

We worked ourselves to the bone but the ranch doubled in size and inside of two yeas we had twelve hands. The beef had gotten a reputation and the restaurants of the Core kept wanting more and more so we kept raisin' more and more.

Then your Pa got shot.” She paused and tried to collect herself.

“It was the evening after payday for the hands. Ulysses O’Rourke had been caught drunk on the job again by Chi Linn, so Tom fired him that afternoon. Ulysses skulked to town like the vermin he was.

I don't know for sure but I was told later that Ulysses, drank or gambled away all of his pay that night. And he was talkin' about getting back at Tom for firing him for no reason.

Ulysses got to the house about 3 am. Neither of us heard him come up the stairs to the door. All of a sudden we woke up to hear some hun duhn a poundin' on the door.

Your Pa wouldn't let me get outta bed, me carrying you and you just about ready to pop out. Before I knew what was happenin' I heard Tom and Ulysses arguin' and for some reason I'll never know I picked up the pistol that you’re holdin’ right now.

All of a sudden I heard a shot and I knew somethin' bad had happened. Tom was on the floor with a shot to the gut. And oh my, was he bleeding all over the place,” she finished, her voice breaking with emotion.

“I started out the bedroom door and Ulysses swung his gun over toward me. I don't know what came over me but I squeezed the trigger. Now, I'm a pretty fair shot but I gotta aim. This time it happened so fast that I don't know what happened. I hit him square in the chest. He slumped to the floor and he died right there.

Tom was so still” she said in an anguished voice, still full of emotion after all these years.

“I begged him to stay with me. I didn't know how to live without him.I think I held him for what felt like five hours but was more likely five minutes. Some time in that five minutes he took one breath, let it out and I felt him just go all limp. I kept begging him to come back to me but he didn't. The next thing I know Chi Linn and some of the hands came bustin' through the door but it was too late… just too late,” she said her voice breaking a little..

“You decided to come just two days after your Pa's funeral. My goodness you looked just like your Pa from the get go. You came out squealing, naked and with your Pa's blue eyes. Those eyes 'bout did me in. You were the spittin' image of him.

I put that pistol back in the bedside table and I never took it out again except to clean it.

I thought I’d give it to you when you needed it. I figure that’s now. Mal, things are bad and you’re just about man grown now. It scares me sometimes that you’re so like him.”

She hugged Mal tightly, stepped back and put her hands on his broad shoulders so that she could look directly into his eyes.

“It’s time for you to do what you have to do to protect this ranch. I hate it, but war is coming faster than I thought and you’ll have to go. I've tried to keep this ranch running for you but now I don't know if I'll be able to. The Alliance has made times pretty hard. No matter where what happens remember where you came from. Just, just remember.” her voice broke a bit.

She took the pistol, put it in the holster and buckled it around Mal’s waist and gave him another hug.

Mal spied a tear in his mother’s eye. It slid slowly out of the corner of her eye and she quickly wiped it away.

For once in his life Mal was speechless. He loved his mother so much and there was nothing he could say that could have equaled the emotions he was feeling.

“Now eat your breakfast before it gets too cold.” She turned away and started to reheat the coffee pot.

Four months later spring started to come to Shadow. Mal strapped on the holster with the pistol in it. He put on his new brown coat with the green, black and gold triangular patch on the shoulder and red scarf and left Shadow with the rest of the Shadow militia. He never saw the ranch or his mother again.


Friday, December 22, 2006 3:36 PM


Oh that is so sad but I can see it happening like that. I really like Mal's ma and her hope that the gun would protect Mal as she had used it to protect him in the womb. That is some history. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, December 22, 2006 4:17 PM


You made me cry! That was so bittersweet!

Sunday, December 24, 2006 10:08 PM


Ya know, ncbrowncoat...I so wanna be pissed at ya for nicking (even unintentionally) a major plot idea about Mal's backgroud. But I can't. It's Christmas where I am and that's not very Christian or giving of me;)

Still...amazing work here! Definitely loved how you gave Mal's rather antique pistol a significant history, and how you described earlier version of Mal's current behavioural quirks:D



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Quick fic done at the request of a friend as a Christmas present. Enjoy!

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