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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Mal's forced to confront his demons, and comes away a better man.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 814 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
“I said no.”
“You need to –“
It had been this way for almost a week. Half-hearted arguments, until Freya walked away or Mal did, each one not wanting to give an inch. It made for an uncomfortable time on board, even during the job on Verbena. At least no-one got shot this time.
In the end Freya enlisted Simon’s help.
“Mal, this isn’t doing her any good.”
“Then she should stop asking.”
“Why not just say yes?”
“No.” His mouth was set, stubbornness making his lips ugly.
“Sir, much as you know I trust you, in this case I think you’re wrong.”
“Entitled to your opinion.”
Finally Freya turned to River.
“Need to,” the young psychic said. “Need to exorcise your demons. Your guilt. Leaving home, leaving family, never coming back.”
“I intended to, albatross,” Mal put in. “Never meant to stay away.”
“Circumstances conspired against you,” she agreed. “But it’s time to let go.”
“Might as well listen to her,” Jayne put in from the doorway. “She’s got one of her crazy days on, and you ain't gonna get no peace ‘til you do. Worse’n Frey.” He shrugged. “Or I could just beat ya up and make that wimp of a man turn us around anyway.”
Mal glared at the pair of them, then threw his hands up. “All right! Fine! Tell Hank to lay in a course for Shadow.” He gave them one last look then stomped out of the galley towards the engine room, but taking the stairs before he got to where Kaylee was beaming at him.
They could hear him muttering all the way down, and the odd word and phrase filtered up. “… my gorram ship … keelhaul … don’t need … wife telling me …”
River smiled widely, and Jayne snuck his arm around her waist, pulling her close.
That night, though, Mal slept in his bunk, not with his wife, swearing the next morning that he’d only meant to put his head down for a moment before coming back to her.
She knew differently, and didn’t speak to him all the next day.
“Frey.” He watched her undress, her swollen body making his breath catch and his guilt grow. “I'm sorry.”
“Shiny.” She didn’t look at him.
“No, it ain't.” He stepped into the room. “It was a childish thing to do.”
“Gorramit, Frey, you look at me!” She turned, buttoning the top of his old shirt over her breasts, but leaving her belly uncovered. “I'm trying to apologise here!”
“You don’t have to go to Shadow, Mal. Tell Hank to turn us back to Lazarus. I can’t take this any more.” She sat down heavily on the bed.
Immediately he was by her side, taking her hand in his. “Frey …”
“I want you to be free of this. You still wake in the night from the nightmares, and I want you … if I learned anything from those sessions with Dr Yi, it’s not to let things fester. Break it open, let the poison out, but don’t let it decay you from the inside.” Tears welled in her eyes that she blinked away angrily. “And now, with Alex and my mother … the past … what I thought …”
“Oh, Frey.” He put his arm around her. “Okay. Please, it’s okay. I’ll go.”
“No, Mal. Not because of this. But because you want to.”
He wrapped her in his embrace. “I don’t. But you do. So we will.” He let her cry it out on his shoulder, just holding her, letting his love apologise for him.
Now Shadow was looming large in the bridge window, and Mal was getting his coat from their room.
“This really is not a good idea,” he said for the hundredth time, feeling the need to make his feelings plain.
“I'm not coming with you,” Freya pointed out, yet again. “I’ll stay on board. Won’t even have to get inocked, or anything. I’ll just be watching from the bridge.” She leaned back on the bed, waiting for the ache in her back to subside a little.
“You know, I’d take it as a kindness if you stayed here,” he said, watching her carefully.
“Why? I said I won’t come out.” She smiled slightly. “Don’t you believe me?”
“Not that I don’t. Though, truth is, I know you.” He raised a single eyebrow. “But that ain't the point. You stay here, in the warm, and I’ll close off the doors. Make sure you don’t get anywhere near anything on this planet.”
“I want to see.”
“Then look through me. I know you can.”
“You’ll be more comfortable.” He sat down next to her. “So will I. Knowing you’re in here.”
“I'm surprised you haven’t decided to lock me in the infirmary.”
“It crossed my mind.” He smiled at her look. “Frey, you can have all the kids in here, ‘cause they ain't setting foot on that place either.”
She glared at him a moment longer, then nodded. “Okay. I’ll stay. For you.”
“Good girl.” He kissed her forehead, smoothing her hair.
“Mal, coming up on Shadow,” Hank said over the com.
“Gotta go.” Mal stood up. “Not far, though.”
“I know. I just wish I could be standing next to you.”
“Me too, darlin’. But you’ll be there. I’ll be able to feel you.”
“That you will.”
He kissed her again then strode out.
“Mama?” Ethan stepped into the room. “Daddy okay?”
She held out her arms to him, and he hurried to sit next to her. “It’s the planet below. This is where he was born, but it’s not the same anymore.”
“Can I cheer him up?”
She kissed the top of his head. “When he gets back.” She smiled into his little face. “For now, could you get Bethany to bring Hope and Ben in here? We’re going to have some play time.”
He grinned, his earlier unease a thing of the past, and scrambled off the bed. “Stories?”
“I like stories,” he said, hurrying to his task. “’Bout dinosaurs.”
She smiled. Ever since Zoe had given him one of Wash’s to keep him amused he couldn’t get enough of them. That and Bethany still liking pirates, it was certainly going to make for some interesting tales.
Shadow was below them, her dark continent just coming into view. As usual the sight of it made Mal’s heart fill with sorrow, remembering all the people he’d known, people who’d meant so much to him, now just dust.
“Where’d you wanna land?” Hank asked.
“Not sure,” Mal admitted. “My home ain't exactly there no more.”
“Do you think it was … quick?”
Mal put his hand on his pilot’s shoulder. “I hope so, Hank. I really hope so.”
“So … where –“
Mal leaned over, inputting familiar co-ordinates. “There.”
Hank nodded. “Be down in five.”
Five minutes seemed to last forever, but was also gone in a flash as Serenity settled into the grey dust, blowing a cloud up around her that fell only slowly in the still air. Mal looked out, not seeing a single remembered feature, just the cold earth and the unremitting sky. He struggled to centre himself, then turned his back on the view. “Give it five minutes then get to the cargo bay.” He walked purposefully off the bridge, his back ramrod straight.
“Is it … okay? To leave the ship?” Mal asked, letting Simon make the final decision.
The doctor looked at his readings once more. “The inocks I’ve given everyone will stop any damage occurring, and I’ll supply boosters when we get back, just to be on the safe side. But it can only be one hour. Maybe ninety minutes. No more.”
“Won’t need more’n that to say goodbye, doc.”
Simon looked at him, at the pallor that had replaced the healthy tone he’d gained over three weeks on Persephone. “Mal, I –“
“Just make sure everyone’s got their shots. Even Jayne.”
“Got the lower quarters on a separate feed, Cap’n,” she assured him, shimmying out from under the main EC control panel. “Soon as the common area door’s closed, won’t be no air from outside getting in, and when we get back I’ll purge the filters double time. No need to worry.”
“Not worried, mei-mei,” he said, the furrow between his eyebrows saying he was lying. “Just making sure.”
“I know,” she said softly. “You’re always taking care of us.”
He didn’t smile, but there was understanding in his eyes.
“Got it here, Mal.” Jayne flexed his hands. “Think it looks mighty fine, don’t you?”
“It’s good. Thanks.”
“Kaylee did most of it,” the big man admitted. “But I helped some. And it’ll last.”
Jayne nodded, walking back across the cargo bay to stand next to River, her little hand slithering into his.
Zoe was almost at attention to one side, not saying a word, watching her friend with dark, hooded eyes.
Only now it was time. Pushing his arms into his coat Mal crossed to the door controls and rested his hand on the button. “Give me … just a minute, okay?” he asked.
“Sure, Mal,” Hank said, speaking for them all.
Mal let his hand press down, and the inner doors slid open, the ramp descending, and he squared his shoulders. Time.
He stepped down into the dust, little puffs around his feet. He exhaled heavily when he didn’t sink in, then shook his head at the thought. Maybe he had really wondered if Shadow would suck him down, take him back into itself. He’d left, no matter what his intentions. Maybe he should have died with the rest of them right here.
It didn’t feel like home. The smell was all wrong. Where there should be life there was death, and the scent seemed to cling to him like the dust.
“Cap?” Kaylee came up to him, put her arm through his. “You okay?” She hadn’t been able to wait, seeing him with all that weight on him.
“You know, I ain't too sure Frey was right. Maybe this ain’t such a good idea.”
He looked down into her face, her usual sunny disposition hidden behind a cloud. “No, Kaylee. She was right. It’s been eating at me all these years, and … it’s time.” He felt an approval, almost as if someone had nodded inside his mind. “Just don’t tell her I said so.”
Kaylee chuckled. “Figure she knows already.”
“Maybe. But there are times I still like to think I'm in charge.”
“Yes, sir, Captain!” She smiled for him.
Hank joined them, rubbing his hands together. “It’s cold,” he said, looking around.
“It’s autumn.” Mal stared at the hills on the horizon.
“How can you tell?”
“Feels like autumn.” He closed his eyes, seeing the way things used to be … the trees by the creek, the road meandering down towards the town. And his mother, her arm shading her eyes as he walked away for the last time.
“Cap …” Kaylee had felt him tense up.
“I'm okay.” He dropped his head a little. “Just remembering.”
Jayne and Simon carried something out of the cargo bay, Zoe close behind.
“Where’d you want this, Mal?” the big mercenary asked.
“Not sure. Can’t rightly tell where the house stood.”
River ghosted down the ramp, passing him to gaze out at the desolation. “Over there.”
“What makes you think that, little albatross?”
“The hills look wrong from here, but right from there.”
“But you ain't never been here before,” Kaylee said quickly.
“Saw.” The young woman put her head on one side. “In dreams.”
Mal nodded slowly. “Guess maybe I do see it in my sleep. But you can tell?”
“Not far.” She walked off. The others, sharing a quick glance, followed in silence.
Ten minutes later and Mal knew she was right. The hills had settled into their rightful places, framing the once hidden swells of land. There were the gnarled remains of a handful of burned trees, and the odd stone to see where the ranch house had been, but nothing else.
Simon went to ask where Mal wanted it, but Jayne shook his head, moving forwards. “Here’ll be good,” he said quietly, like he was in church. They set it down, leaning it against one of the boulders that dotted the place.
Hank was still rubbing his hands, but it wasn't from the cold. “Place give me the creeps,” he breathed to Zoe.
“Think what it does for him.” She didn’t take her eyes off her captain.
Mal had heard, though. “She wasn't here,” he said, low but perfectly audible. “He told me. The man as said he’d seen what happened. An Alliance soldier, but he was okay. After we got the news of Shadow being scorched the way it was, the destruction …” He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. “Near half a year after it happened. Five months. And he’d got posted to the same gorram camp. Recognised my name. Told me about my Ma. ‘Til then I thought she’d … that she’d burned with …”
They could hear the pain in his voice, shocking them all to the core.
“Shadow wasn’t safe, but she wouldn’t leave. The Alliance knew a lot of Independents came from there, decided to take it, make an example, maybe force some of its sons to come home. She wouldn’t be taken. The Feds tried to throw her off her land. She pushed back. That was my Momma: never one to let anyone push her around. Trouble was, someone on the Alliance side was a mite trigger happy – shot her.”
Zoe closed her eyes. On the odd occasions when he got drunk, when it all became too much, he’d told her some. About his life, what he’d planned, but she knew he’d never spoken of it to the crew. And never this.
“She … when I told her I’d signed up, she helped me pack, gave me a bag of food as well as my dad’s old rifle. Day I left, she hugged me, gave me the ring off her finger for – well, said I was to take care, and come home if’n I could. I told her we’d win, that God was on our side, so how could we lose?” He looked back over the years, walking along the road out of sight. “I never saw her again.”
The others stood, waiting. Kaylee was crying softly, Simon’s hand tightly in hers, and River was wrapped in Jayne’s arms.
“Never got the chance. Six years of fighting, didn’t once get home. I think she knew: knew she weren’t gonna hold me again.”
He turned to the headstone they’d bought in a swift stop at a skyplex, that Simon and Jayne had carried from Serenity. He went down onto his knees in the grey dust, his hands running across the letters Kaylee had used her tools to carve, just as he’d said. They were deep – they’d last a good long while. He felt Freya in his mind, looking out through his eyes, giving him her strength, and nodded just once.
“It’s good work, Kaylee,” he murmured. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She sniffed hard, and Simon dragged a white handkerchief out of his pocket, giving it to her. She wiped her face.
“I don’t know where they buried her,” Mal went on, standing back up. “If they did. But I like to think someone put her in with my father.” He nodded towards the back of the remains of the ranch house. “Out there. In the pasture.” He looked back down at the headstone. “Good work,” he repeated, barely whispering.
Alice and Ethan Reynolds, it said. Beloved mother and father. Together for all eternity. Until another day.
There was no date.
“Mal …” Simon began diffidently. “I'm sorry, but …”
The captain of Serenity took a deep breath and turned, looking at the young doctor. “Guess it’s time to go back.”
“It would be best.”
“Okay.” Taking one more look around at what was left of his childhood home, Mal strode away, the slight breeze drying the tears on his face.
“Mama?” Ethan grasped her hand. “Mama?”
Freya pulled herself back, the tears flowing down her cheeks. “It’s okay,” she said, even though she didn’t feel that it was. “But I shouldn’t have done this.”
“Uncle Mal needed to let it go,” Bethany said from the end of the bed, Hope and Ben watching, unsure what to make of things.
“But I made him.”
“Had to say goodbye.” She scuttled up to sit next to her, Ethan the other side. “Had to.”
Back at the ship Kaylee and Simon were the last to board, and the young woman stood for a moment surveying the decayed landscape.
“It must’ve been something to see,” she murmured. “All green and lush.”
“Mal told me once it rained for four months of the year.” Her husband put his arm around her waist. “From what little else he’s said I think it was pretty fertile.”
“Big ranch,” Kaylee agreed. “More’n forty hands.”
“He’ll surprise you.” She dipped her hand into her pocket and pulled something out, scattering it across the grey soil.
“They’re seeds. River gave ‘em to me. Seeds from Lazarus.”
“Bao bei, you know they won’t grow.”
“Don’t know that for sure. Maybe all this place needs is some hope. Maybe if we believe they’ll grow, they will.”
Simon stared at her, then tugged her into his arms, amazed as always at the wonder that was his wife.
“Kaylee, lock it up,” Mal called. “Want to get this air recycled soonest so we can get the little ones out.”
“Frey, more like,” she shouted back, grinning.
“Maybe,” her captain agreed. “Still don’t mean you can dilly-dally. Got that job we got to do on Beaumonde, courtesy of your other half.”
“Dang rahn, Cap’n.” She stepped away from Simon, taking his hand and leading him back up into the cargo bay. Pressing the close button, the ramp lifting to hide their view, she squeezed gently. “Hope, Simon,” she whispered. “Hope and rebirth.”
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