Back Stories II: Chapter 3 (repost)
Monday, November 12, 2007

What was the first U-day like? Zoë tells all…


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: members: LEEH and LEIASKY for beta.

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

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Back Stories, Book II

by Mal4Prez

Chapter 3

What was the first U-day like? Zoë tells all…



Highgate’s second moon

“Jeffreys…” Mal muttered. “Stupid idealistic báifèi of a human being.” He looked up and raised his voice. “Zoë!”

“Yes, sir?” Zoë replied distractedly. She was focused on trying to arrange a tarp over the fire. It was a delicate task – the firepit had to stay dry, as did the woodpile, but she had to leave a chimney for the smoke to get out.

“Would you tell Jeffreys to keep his gorramn looney ideas to himself?”

That made Zoë pause in her work. Mal was hunkered down next to the fire, stirring the large tin pan of soup that hung over the flames. She figured that no matter what point of his life he thought he was in, he’d be hungry, so the vittles would be his chore. When he was up to it, that was.

“What’s he done?” she asked.

“Talkin’ about some ‘education’ bullshit. Like pullin’ kids away from the work they got to do at home and teachin ‘em about the evils of the Alliance will do them a damned bit of good now.”

“It’s of some use to keep the truth alive, sir,” she said stoically.

“We lost the war, Zoë,” he said harshly. “Get used to it.”

“I know it well, Sarge,” she replied. “Don’t need the reminder.”

Mal settled down after she said that, having the grace to look a little ashamed for snapping at her. He finished making his additions to the protein stew, then sat back and let the pot simmer.

“I told you from day one,” he finally said, his voice calm now, “I don’t belong here. I done my fighting, and I got no need for this Underground gōushī.”

“I understand that.”

He sat quietly, and she snuck glances at him. There was a shadow in his face, the mark of ugly thoughts, and she tried to guess exactly where – or when, really – he thought he was.

He made it easy for her. “Gonna be a year since the war ended,” he said. “Next week.”

She took in a deep breath. “Yes, sir.”

“They’re callin’ it Unification Day. U-Day. Can you believe that? Like it’s some great event. Somethin’ to throw a party about.”

Zoë didn’t reply. She saw Book approaching, climbing the hill with slow, deliberate steps, a large pack of wood slung across his back. The rain had come on steady in the past half hour; everything not covered was soaked through, and the wet moss made the rocks extra slick. It wasn’t an easy trip down the hill and back.

“Who’s that?” Mal asked, sitting up and putting a hand to his hip. He had no gun, of course.

“New recruit,” Zoë explained. “He’s all right.”

“Just out of the camp?”

“Nope,” Zoë said, then she improvised easily; she was getting used to this. “Just signed up to help with moving folks off-world.”

“Looks like a man of God,” Mal said, his words sharp, like it was an accusation.

“He is, sir.”

Mal made a sound of disgust, but when Book reached the campsite – wet to the skin, shivering, and out of breath – Mal didn’t say anything. The Shepherd set his load of wood in a hollow next the fire so it could dry out, and moved the nearly dry batch further back. When he was finished, he gave Mal an awkward wave.

“Good to see you,” he said uncertainly.

Mal gave him a dark, nearly hateful look and didn’t reply.

They sat quietly until Book had warmed himself, then he rose to his feet. “I’ll just grab another batch,” he said with a smile, like he was talking about a walk through a field of flowers.

Zoë nodded. It grated her to have the old man doing physical labor, but she didn’t feel good about sending Mal to forage, not with the way he lost track of himself from time to time. She also couldn’t leave the captain alone with Book; she’d rather give the preacher physical labor than the kind of verbal abuse Mal might hand out. Anyhow, Book didn’t seem to mind the work. He always had been spry for a man his age, and he went about his task at a slow, careful pace, like a beast of burden that had long ago accepted the toil of its life.

Before he returned, Mal’d had his meal, and the weight of all that was amiss in his head began wearing him down again. He visibly drooped, his head hanging and eyes confused. Zoë talked him into accepting a shot of Simon’s meds – the good thing about his condition was the innoc explanation would work, time after time – and she watched as he folded himself into his bedroll.

“Can’t say why I’m so gorramn beat…” he said in a fading voice, and then he was out.

She got a dry blanket and a warm cup of soup ready for Book, and it wasn’t long before he trudged over the slippery rocks. She laid out the wood while he warmed himself and ate.

“He don’t really mean it, Shepherd,” she said after a while.

“Yes, he does,” Book replied. “He’s been ill-used by life. He’s not the first to blame God for that.”

“But he don’t mean to blame you. He thinks well of you, as a man. At least, he does when he knows you.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that. I imagine I’d have been off his ship in a hurry if that wasn’t true.” He smiled at Zoë and took another sip of his soup.

Zoë sighed. Book had such a calmness of spirit, a way of soothing rough spots like they weren’t ever there. It eased her, more than she’d expected, and she was glad that he’d stayed with her. It would have been hard to be alone with Mal, the way the captain was.

And, though she wasn’t normally one to chatter, it had felt good to share, to bring her memories to light and see the preacher nod his understanding. She could keep on. He had given her a clean invite to follow up on what she’d started, and tell about the past as Mal wandered through it.

But not everything would be such a romp as the theft on Du-Khang. There were horrors that she didn’t even name to herself now, things she only saw when they forced their way into her dreams. Telling of those would hurt. She may as well take a coal from the fire and clench it in the palm of her hand; that would feel much the same. So maybe it was best to stay clear. She was plenty strong enough to do it. She could sit by and let Mal relive it on his own and, as he forgot, maybe she would too.

Even as she considered it, Zoë knew it couldn’t happen that way. She couldn’t say where the certainly came from. Maybe it was the way the light didn’t change and the sun never moved, maybe it was the rain that didn’t end but came and went in waves, but she felt trapped into the telling, as if it was a confession long overdue.

She folded her hands in front of her, clenching them together so she wouldn’t cross herself.

Bless me father, for I have seen sin, and I have seen it spread like a plague, spoiling every soul it lays hand on.

“He was talking about Jeffreys earlier,” she said.

“Jeffreys?” Book asked.


“Someone from the war?”

“Yeah, Jeffreys was in the war, but Mal and I didn’t know him till after.”

She paused, and Book waited quietly, as if he knew she was planning on talking and no prompts were needed. He was right about that. The ball was rolling, and she had no choice but to go with it.

“You know how I told you that Mal and I did some work on Du-Khang? On rebulding Hăiníng?”

Book nodded.

“We didn’t choose that. It was a work camp, internment after the war. Some politician wanted to make a statement, wanted us to earn forgiveness for our sins, I guess.

“Wasn’t a good idea, and didn’t last so very long. Once we got out, we found that folks in the nice new city didn’t take much of a shine to us. But there were those who set up a safe place. Word got `round – it was best for us Browncoats to turn our backs on the city lights and take an hour’s walk on a dirt road to Èrshuǐ Village. This fella Jeffreys had a place on the edge of it, a big old farmhouse with plenty of room. It was a place to stay till we could move on.

“I was one of the first out of the camp, and I stayed with Jeffreys longer than most. Didn’t have much of anywhere to move on to.”

Well, maybe that last part wasn’t quite the truth. She may have lost all her family in the war, but she’d seen enough of the `verse that she knew of a few worlds she could get by all right. Fact was, she had a particular reason to stay on Du-Khang.

“A few months after I got out, Mal showed up, one of the last to get his liberty.”

She paused again to wonder whether she ought to explain the nature of Mal’s “liberty.” She glanced toward the captain, then shook her head. Wasn’t time for that yet.

“Anyhow, the two of us stayed on for a few more months. We passed the first U-Day there – left the morning after, in fact. May not surprise you to hear that we had to leave in a hurry.”

Book smiled. “Not a bit,” he said.

* * *

Six years ago, Èrshuǐ Village, Du-Khang

“What the hell are you doing?” Jeffreys demands. Zoë turns to see who he’s talking to in such a scalding voice, though she can guess in less than two tries. The Sarge hasn’t exactly been making himself welcome here.

Sure enough, it is Mal making a scene, heading for the door wearing his Independent uniform like it’s still a year ago and the war is raging outside: boots over tan pants with a stripe down the leg, dark brown suspenders over a rust red shirt, and a dark brown coat topping it off.

“It ain’t Halloween,” Zoë says.

“And I ain’t wearing a costume,” Mal replies. He hadn’t paused when Jeffreys spoke, and he doesn’t pause now, just continues out the door like he has a hot date to get to.

Zoë holds a hand out to Jeffreys, motioning him to stay put. There’s no argument there. In the three months since Mal came out of the internment camp, it’s become common but unspoken knowledge that the only one who can deal with him when he’s in a mood is Zoë.

And he’s in a mood most of the time.

She hurries out of the rambling farmhouse and through the clearing that surrounds it, catching up to Mal just as he gets onto the narrow path that cuts through the heavy woods. He’s heading toward the village, moving away from the setting sun.

“I’d like to meet her, sir,” Zoë says.

He turns his head to glance at her sidelong. “Who’s that?”

“The lady you’re out tryin’ to impress with those threads. Must be a real interesting gal, if she’s into having her men on the dead side.”

He doesn’t slow his long strides. “I ain’t dead.”

“Will be soon, you go into town lookin’ like that.”

Mal replies in the loud, exaggerated voice of a town crier. “The mighty Alliance defends such personal freedoms as an individual’s fashion sense,” he announces, then he glances back at her. “Ain’t that what we’re supposed to be celebratin’ today?”

Zoë takes a deep breath – so that’s what this is about. “Sir, the rabble is just lookin’ for someone like you to celebrate on. Best you do whatever you’re plannin’ tomorrow. Leave it be tonight.”

Mal keeps walking. The path is too narrow for her to fit beside him, so when she catches up she grabs his arm to make him stop.

“Sarge – I can’t let you do this. You’ll bring attention on the rest of us. It’s part of being in the Underground, you have to lie low – ”

He wrenches his arm free. “I’m out, Zoë.”


“I’m the hell out. I told you before – this ain’t for me. I stay until I get healed up, then I go my own way. That was the deal you offered, and that’s the one I took.” He holds up his right hand and flexes his fingers, showing the bones knitted back whole and moving freely. “I’m healed. Now I’m going. See? Here I go.”

He turns and continues toward a junction where the dirt path joins a larger way. Zoë huffs once, frustration rising at his pig-headedness, then follows. He’s got a head of steam going, but maybe she can get him to let it out here in the relative safety of the woods.

“And what do you think you’re gonna do, farmboy?” she says, deliberately taunting him. “You got no place to go. You gonna hire out your gun, collect up enough credits to sit around some crappy waterin’ hole and drink cheap booze? Tell war stories till you’re fat and useless? Helluva life that is.”

He stops and turns back to her, stepping close with a violence in his face that makes her tense up.

“I don’t give a donkey’s back end what you think of my life,” he says. “You invited me to stay with that bunch till I was on my feet again, and I did. I even helped `em out some. But this Underground struggle ain’t something I ever asked to be part of. You can chase after your cause all you want. I’m done with it.”

He starts to turn away, but Zoë stops him with a hand on his elbow. “Fine. Go your own way. But you’ll have an easier time with that if you don’t get yourself killed by a drunken mob first.”

Zoë’s proved long ago that she can take the sarge when it comes to fisticuffs, but he surprises her this time. He moves in with a quick feint of his right arm and a chop of his left hand that shoves her to the side and down. Before she knows it, she’s lying in the dirt, holding a sore spot in her ribs and looking up at him. Bastard has a gun in his hands; he’s not pointing it at her but she recognizes it. Her right hand slaps her empty holster and she curses.

Before she can do a thing, he has her carbine broken down, the ammo and parts scattered in the dirt at his feet. He turns and leaves without a word. Gorramn man knows she won’t follow without her gun, especially considering what he’s heading into.

He’s out of sight before she gets the gun reassembled, the dirt brushed off as best she can manage. She runs to the main road and catches sight of him just entering town.

It turns out that his plan isn’t complicated. The stupid húndàn walks right up to the most Alliance friendly bar in town, pushes open the door, and strides in like he’s just jumped out of a cake and everyone should be cheering to see him. Zoë has near caught up by then and slips through the door a few seconds after, but no one notices her. The place has gone dead quiet, and every eye is fastened on Mal.

“Shitshitshitshitshit,” Zoë whispers under her breath.

Mal goes to the bar, and with his most charming I’m a nice guy grin, he orders a drink: “Qĭng yī bēi máo tái jiǔ.”

In another situation, the bartender’s reaction would have been comical. He clutches the bottle he’s holding to his chest and shrinks to the back of the bar, like he’s hoping the booze will be his shield against the bloody events that this idiot Browncoat’s arrival is sure to bring.

Mal shrugs. “I’ll just help myself then.” He doesn’t seem to hear the squeak of chairs sliding on the floor behind him as several of the saloon’s patrons leave their tables, or the soft footsteps as the loose mob moves toward him. Mal just reaches over the bar, takes a glass, and fills it with something from a nearby bottle. Then he sets a coin on the bar and winks at the cowering barkeep.

“You keep the change.”

Zoë’s busy picking her spot; when the blows start she’ll need to make herself useful. She’ll have to draw as much of this crowd off of Mal as she can.

This ain’t gonna be pretty, she tells herself.

Mal turns around and does an exaggerated start of surprise, then he smiles and raises his glass. “Hell, since you’re all up,” he says, “how `bout a toast?”

The mob’s response is the kind of silence that comes before a bomb explodes. Mal doesn’t seem bothered.

Băi zú zhī chóng sĭ ér bù jiāng!” he says, and tosses back his drink.

He barely gets it swallowed down before they’re on him.

* * *

Zoë looked across the dying flames at Mal’s sleeping form. It was quiet now; the drizzle had tapered off. There was only a soft trickling of water in the gulley and the far-off murmur of a larger stream further down the hill.

“I should have known,” she said in a low voice.

“What’s that?” Book asked.

She glanced toward the Shepherd; she’d almost forgotten he was there. She sighed, then went to the pile of supplies, rummaging around until she found a flask. She returned to her seat by the fire and took a long drink before she offered the flask to Book. He poured a little splash into his mug – not much, just enough to be polite. That was good. Someone should stay sober.

She took the booze back and took another draw, then stared into the coals of the fire. The glow was pale and sickly against the diffuse light of the unchanging day. She lifted her eyes; everything looked washed out and dull, like it wasn’t a real place. It was more of a limbo. Or maybe a purgatory.

But this didn’t feel like a confession anymore; it felt like she was telling the story to herself, just to be sure that she still remembered. When Mal woke, he wouldn’t know it anymore.

“A man who does what Mal did that U-Day is out to die,” she finally said, “and there’s no one can fight like a man out to die.

“It don’t help any to land a blow on him, because he don’t care about bein’ hurt. He don’t care about pain and scars that’ll stay with him for the rest of his days. He don’t think about the months of healing that follow a broken bone. A man with a death wish just wants to deal out as much rage as he can before he goes down, and that rage tends to fall hard and fast.”

* * *

Which is the only way to explain how it ends. Zoë takes down her fifth opponent – or is it sixth? – and looks around for more, but there aren’t any. There’s just Mal, standing with his bloodied fists up, the bar a gorramn disaster site and the floor littered with bodies that groan in pain or just lie still and quiet.

“What?” he asks, dropping his arms and looking around for more foes. “That it? Ain’t you people supposed to be the victorious Alliance? Ain’t it Unification Day?”

No one answers. Mal wipes at his face; he’s caught a few punches, but nothing so bad as what he’d got the day he was set free from the internment camp. He laughs unsteadily and returns to the bar, pausing to shove a foot at a body on the floor, someone who’s had the nerve to fall in his path.

That’s something Zoë’s never seen before – the sarge, kicking someone who’s down.

He finds an unbroken glass and pours himself another drink, though he spills half of it because of the way his hands are shaking. He drinks what he’s got, then drops the cup when he hears a small sound from the back of the bar.

Mal has his gun out before the glass shatters on the floor – he never even had to use it in the fight, Zoë notes – and he aims it at an overweight rabbit of a man who’s avoided the brawl and is now hoping to slip out the door.

“Sarge…” Zoë says nervously.

Mal ignores her. “What’s your name?” he asks the man, who’s frozen with his hands raised.

“They… call me P… Paddy.”

“Well, Paddy,” Mal says, “you weren’t gonna go home without sharin’ a toast with me, were ya?”

The man stands with his mouth hanging open. When Mal cocks the gun with his thumb, Paddy nods vigorously.

Mal motions with a tip of his head. “Come on up here.”

Zoë isn’t liking this. Not one bit. “This ain’t a good idea,” she says.

Mal grins in a dark way that has an edge of crazy in it, but he doesn’t look at her. All his attention is on the terrified man. “Zoë,” he says. “Glad you joined the festivities. Why don’t pour us three a round?”

“Sarge, this man ain’t done a thing to you.”

“Which is why I’m offerin’ him a drink,” Mal says, slow and reasonable, but Zoë knows he’s not seeing much reason at the moment. He still has the gun pointed at the man’s chest, but he talks to him like he’s trying to charm a stray mutt. “You want a drink, don’cha Paddy?”

The man nods again, then stumbles over a prone body. He looks like he’d prefer a visit to whatever passes as a dentist around here than a drink with a suicidal and homicidal Browncoat.

Mal’s voice hardens as he orders, “So pour us a gorramn round, Corporal.”

Zoë decides to ride this out. Given the way Mal’s hands are shaking, it isn’t like he’s in control of the situation himself. She uses her sleeved arm to clear broken glass from the bar, then finds three glasses and something to fill them with. To hurry things up, she hands them out. Mal reaches with his left hand to take his drink without disturbing his aim. The man at the wrong end of the gun manages to take his cup too, but not without spilling a splash of what fills it.

Mal raises his glass. “Băi zú zhī chóng sĭ ér bù jiāng,” he says softly.

The man’s eyes never left Mal as he studders half of it back: “Băi zú zhī chóng …”

“…sĭ ér bù jiāng,” Mal prompts.

“…sĭ ér bù jiāng.”

Then poor Paddy drinks what there is in his glass, gulping it down like it’s the last bit of tasty he has left to him before he gets forcefed a bullet or two.

But after Mal finishes his own drink, he tips his gun back and smiles brightly. “Aw, hell. That’s all I wanted!” he says. He digs into a pocket, pulls out a few more coins, and adds them to the mess on the bar. The bartender isn’t around to notice; Zoë figures he’s made it a good half a klick into the woods by now.

“Y’all have a nice night,” Mal says as he walks past a trembling Paddy, then he pauses at the door to add, “All hail the great Alliance!”

Zoë follows Mal down the dirt road, staying back because he seems to be heading out of town and she sure as hell doesn’t want to get in the way of that happening as quick as can be. Once they’re on the narrow path and out of sight of any other foot traffic, it’s a different story. She doesn’t give Mal a chance to sucker punch her this time, just grabs a few handfuls of his coat and shoves him off the path.

Bèn tiānshā de shăzi!” she yells at him. “Do I have to knock sense into you?”

Mal neary trips over some fallen branches, but he keeps his balance and pushes her away. “Not now,” he says; the shake that had been in his hands is in his voice now.

“What is wrong with you!” she yells, deliberately ignoring the threat of Malcolm Reynolds advancing on her, teetering on the edge of his control. “You could’a died in there!”

He leans over her, his face nearly in a snarl. “I didn’t,” he says through gritted teeth.

“Might have if I hadn’t followed you in!”

Just like that, he backs off. “Well then, ain’t I lucky?” His mouth pulls back in half a grin, and he steps onto the path and turns his back to her.

She’s helpless; there’s no way she can fight him when he’s like this. But she can’t let him go either. “Sarge,” she yells after him. “Mal!”

She’s a little surprised when he actually stops and looks back at her. “What?” he asks.

“Where you gonna go?”

The resignation in her voice gets to him more then her threats. He stands in the deepening shadows of the trees, taking long, slow breaths until his shoulders relax a little, and when he speaks again it’s the sarge talking to her, not the crazy man he’d been a few seconds before.

“I figure I’ll work a freighter,” he says. “Maybe get a ranching job if I find a good spot. Save up some coin, get my own place.”

“You’re just gonna waste away like that?”

He lifts his hands out to his sides. “I lost, Zoë. What else have I got to do?”

She has no answer to his words, nor to the despair in his voice. She’s had her own struggles with that question since she’s left the camp, but she was ready for them. She was raised military – from her earliest days she understood the rules her parents lived by. She understood the life they chose, the one she’d inherit, and she accepted the risks that came with it. Loss wasn’t wanted, wasn’t held high in some insane fantasy of martyrdom, but she at least had been prepared for what would come with defeat, and she’d never had any expectations of a life of settled peace.

When she lost her family and her purpose in the war, she mourned them as she should, but now she’s set to move on. For a time, she’s kept herself busy finding a place for homeless Browncoats, but that need is passing. The internment camp is emptied out, and the Underground has taken care of most of those who need it. Leaders like Jeffreys have all kinds of plans for doing more, for keeping the struggle alive; but, as Zoë stands on the narrow path and questions Mal, she finds that she has no more heart for the ongoing struggle than he does. It’s been beat out of her.

The honest truth of it, she realizes, is that she’d stayed on with Jeffreys for one reason, and that reason has just done his best to get himself dead. He’s like to try it again, if he goes off in the Black on his own. Looking at it like that, Zoë sees that maybe she has one bit of family left, and the best thing she can do is to hold onto that.

“So when we leavin’?” she asks.

She’s prepared for an argument, but she doesn’t get one. Mal steps off the path and stretches one arm out to catch hold of a low branch. He leans there, and there’s a long silence while he idly wipes at blood on his upper lip with his free hand.

“I think it got broke again,” he finally says, gingerly touching the bridge of his nose.

“I’d be happy to fix it for you,” Zoë offers in a dark, threatening tone.

Mal looks up and smiles when he sees her raised fist. “I guess I earned that,” he says. “I could’a got you killed.”

“Hell, I was fine. You’re the one can’t fight worth a damn. You’re just lucky they were all drunk.”

“Yeah,” he says wearily, “guess I’m lucky.” He doesn’t sound like he means it.

“So what’s the plan, sir?”

He looks up when she calls him that. Then he gives a little nod, accepting the role she’s just given him for a second time.

“There’s a freighter leavin’ first thing in the morning. I’m sure I can wrangle a job carrying cargo on it.”

“I take it the ship ain’t Alliance.”

“Not a bit. Run by Monty. Guess he bought himself a carrier, soon as the war ended. Won’t matter what color I’m wearin’ with him.”

Zoë nods her approval. Monty’d been in a different unit and hadn’t seen the hell of Serenity Valley, but they’d fought with him a few times before that. He’s a good man.

“We’d best get a move-on then,” she says, “if we want to get that nose of yours straightened out before we go. I got my own stuff to pack, too.”

Mal grins, this time with an edge of mischievous in his face, something she hasn’t seen since Serenity Valley. “You ain’t got any stuff worth keepin’,” he teases.

She walks over to him in a tough-girl saunter. “Course I do. You think I’m wearin’ these old clothes out in the Black?” She looks down at her dull denim suit with a grin to match his own. “I always did look good in brown.”

She stands for a minute, then offers him a hand. He takes it and lets her pull him out of the trees and back to the path, but he lingers there a minute longer.

“You don’t have to come, Zoë,” he tells her. “You got a place here. A job to do.”

“There’re other jobs, sir,” she says. Like keeping you alive.

Mal nods and turns to continue on his way. Zoë follows quietly behind.

* * *

“So we left,” Zoë said. “Worked for Monty for a time. I think Mal did mean to find himself a world to settle on, to get back into ranching. But most places we went had the Alliance, and the way of life they brought with them. Any place still free tended to be hard and dead. A home on one of those meant long years of toil.

“Truth be told, I think the biggest problem, for Mal, was that nowhere was equal to the home he’d left and couldn’t ever go back to.”

She stopped talking, the words ending like their source had dried up. That was surely the case; she felt emptied out and barren inside. She needed the warmth of her bedroll and hours of sleep to strengthen herself.

Book didn’t seem ready to call it quits. “Yes, I’d heard that the captain was from Shadow,” he said. “It must have been hard for him, to find out what happened.”

“Story for another time, preacher. I’m thinking it’s close enough to evening time, no matter what the sky says. Maybe we ought to grab some shuteye while Mal’s out.” She rose to her feet and moved to bank the fire, but Book waved her away.

“I’ll get that,” he said.

Zoë shouldn’t have let him do it, not after all the work he’d done already, but she didn’t have it in her to argue. She left the clean-up to him and went to her sleeping pad.

She wished like hell that Wash was waiting for her there. For just a moment, she considered the comm unit tucked inside a plastic bag, but then she pushed the idea away. Any signal coming off this deserted moon could be easily seen. Waves had to be kept to a minimum; that was an order she’d made herself.

So she curled into her cold blankets alone, and hoped her dreams would be of her present life with her husband, and not of the past that was still waiting to be dredged through.

* * *


báifèi:   waste
gōushī: crap
húndàn: bastard
qĭng yī bēi máo tái jiǔ: a glass of maotai, please.
băi zú zhī chóng sĭ ér bù jiāng: a centipede dies but never falls down (Old institutions die hard)
bèn tiānshā de shăzi: stupid damned fool
* * *

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Pre-hack comments:

mal4prez       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 07:30 Following my last chapter, which probably resulting some huh?’s and maybe even WTF?’s, I must say: don’t think that because you usually say nice things about my fic that you can’t be critical when you don’t like something. I can take negative comments – and I don’t mean take them personally LOL! It’s all good. Really. Don’t be shy!

Suvie       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 07:46 Won't have any negative comments from me, I've completely enjoyed your storyline and very much looking forward to reading all your future works.

kittykat26       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 09:13 OMG that was intense, I could so have seen that in a second season of Firefly if there had been one. Your writing is so descriptive.

Chazzer       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 09:28 Every chapter makes me a little happier that I started reading this! I'e never found Mal's history so interesting.

And I love Zoe's perspective. She's not my favourite character but her devotion to Mal is pretty damn intriguing.

Ten out of ten!

And this comment better stick!


nbz       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 10:43 Perfectly times with my rant elsewhere. maybe I am psychic.

You want hate? Well, you got it. I hate it. The fact that you are such a good writer and I can't write worth a damn. It is just not right.

Apart from that it still had the warm and fuzzy feel of Zoe spinning a good yarn. And the edge of the first U-day was really there. "How bad could it get?" and "Does he call that a PLAN?" did go through my head.

I also like both the uncertainty and clarity of vision in both of them.

AMDOBELL       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 12:12 Absolutely excellent characterisation of Mal and Zoe coping (or not so much) with the afermath of losing the war. Made sense Mal having no care for his own safety after losing the war and his home and family. But for Zoe he never would have lived long enough to buy Serenity let alone find such a shiny crew to fly it with him. I like that they were the only family either of them had left so stuck together like gorram glue. Now Zoe has Wash, hope it isn't too long before Mal's memories come back and he realises he has more family too - a whole surrogate mixed bag he calls crew. Ali D :~) You can't take the sky from me

Katesfriend       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 15:48 Wonderful peek into Zoe's thoughts and such a plausible storyline. You keep stringing us along backwards to the begining and each dose of fic is just as delicious as the first. Still looking forward to when Mal and Zoe meet Inara....

Platonist       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 17:05 This has a beautiful natural flow to it. You've covered this post war ground and their togetherness well with stong characterizations and plausible bonding scenarios.

I was totally engrossed in Zoe's retelling of the 1st UDay and Mal's reaction to it. And it makes sense with the canon material that is available on this time period.

And Inara, the humble street urchin. Yeah,... I can see that, too. And how it differs from Mal's more secure childhood.

Desertgirl       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 19:26 Love it - What's more to say???

Leiasky       Friday, August 31, 2007 - 05:25 I really love the pacing of the story, how it goes from Zoe telling Book about what happened, to showing us what happened and then back again.

I like the back history that you've developed for Mal and Zoe, and how, by what's happened to them, they've become closer friends.

Now, when are they getting off that planet that never gets dark and never stops raining? LOL!

nosadseven       Saturday, September 01, 2007 - 21:32 I seriously had to stop reading every few paragraphs and revel in the beauty and efficiency and poignancy and just over all awesomeness of your writing. You introduced so much information so elegantly and naturally through the dialog. I found it just amazing. So much depth and emotion and information, and all completely fresh and in character, but different enough to demonstrate their different place in time... And just the beauty of it!

Mal stopping and shouting out his town-crier sarcasm of the mighty alliance - so, so very Mal. But I hesitate to point out a particular line, because they were all so very Mal! You've captured the parts of him that would remain constant, while altering the tone and feel to suit the time period and circumstances so exquisitely, that it alone sheds light on where he is mentally. I am just in awe. And, most importantly, touched by his struggle. A lot of times I feel a little abashed about my enjoyment of fanfic and Mal's pain, but here it is done not overly-done, not sappy, not cheesy, not even especially angsty. Not indulgently. Just honestly and compassionately.

God I love Mal, and his attitude, tragic though it may be. Best. Toast. Ever.

I also love the way the setting of Highgate's second moon interweaves with the mood and Zoe's telling of the story so beautifully and fittingly.

But really... what they are saying, how they are saying it, why they are saying it... all so perfect. You get so good at showing these folks' motivations - like why Zoe sticks with Mal. Also, you tell not just the story, but the story of telling it. All the emotions that draws from Zoe. And tying it in with thier setting. So freaking good. Oh, and that little push for Wash at the end... *sigh*.

Ok, I need to stop now, because I'm embarrassing myself, and probably you too! But thank you. If you couldn't tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter.



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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.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

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

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
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.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
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.