BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KISPEXI2

CHECK MATE: Endgame (22/22)
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

A (maybe) unexpected outcome to the showdown between Mal and Simon. A revelation. A baby. And a hunt for a cure for River. Oh and one anglo-Saxon swear word.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2186    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: Joss is the one true author. My imitatiion is sincere flattery.

For skripka who showed me things in Firefly I might otherwise not have seen.

* * * * * CHECK MATE: Endgame.

* * * ** *

If it were not for the piercing screams, Kaylee might be able to persuade herself that those two sharp pops were just the engine misfiring after all its recent exertions. But screams mean trouble, an' no mistake.

Zoe, Jayne, Book and now Wash – to his immense surprise – know the sound of gunfire when they hear it. The screaming just tells them which direction to head in. Mal's bunk.

They all pile in, expecting the worst. Expecting River to have shown more deadly prowess with a firearm and fearing for Mal's life. The scene before them is something else entirely.

Simon is half-sitting, half-collapsed on Mal's desk – the blotting pad conveniently soaking up the blood spilling from a wound in his thigh – and trying to fend off the slaps his naked sister is raining down on him. “Stupid boob! Stupid. Thought we loved Daddy? No touching guns. Playing doctors, not doctors and nurses. Gave him the smoother. You said.” She picks up the empty syringe on the table beside him. “The Captain needs to rest.” Simon groans.

Mal has had time to pull on his pants but is otherwise undressed. He's clutching his upper arm tightly and glaring at his medic with ice-cold rage. A thin ribbon of red trickles out between his fingers.

“Want to tell me what's happened here, son?” Book asks mildly.

“Nothin' to earn me a place in your special hell, let me tell you that.”

Jayne isn't interested in explanations. He's on Simon in an instant. Ignoring his cry of pain, the mercenary pushes him to the ground, rolls him onto his front and pulls both arms up behind his back. He sits down heavily on the medic's back, making him wince and moan.

Mal blinks at the big man's speed and efficiency. At the way he never hesitated. If he's sometimes had doubts about Jayne's loyalty in the past, they evaporate now. The big man looks up at Mal, panting slightly. All bright eyes and lolling tongue. Another tug on the Doc's wrists to make him yell – just once more for the sheer pleasure of it – and he asks hopefully, “Want me to space 'im for ya, Mal?”

Mal shakes his head and rubs the back of his neck wearily. “No. Jus' tie him up. Lock him in his bunk.” He's congratulating himself on being gorram merciful considering the circumstances when Kaylee marches up to him and brings the flat of her hand across his cheek. He hears the slap before he feels it.

“You're a monster! You shot him! He's bleedin'. He needs a doctor his own self. You can't be lockin' him up!” Then suddenly the fire goes out of her anger. “Look at all that blood, Cap'n. He could die .... “ Tears. Silent, abundant tears, followed by a determined little toss of her chesnut hair and a steely look. “I'll never speak to you again if ....”

The blow didn't sting but her words do. Mal's can't bear the thought of upsetting Kaylee, although whether that's for her sake or his own he ain't rightly sure. “OK, OK. Jayne – take the Doctor to the infirmary. Guess you an' me better scrub up, Zoe.”

“Might be best to let others handle it.” Book's tone is so gentle he makes it sound like a suggestion. But he's not gonna let the Captain get himself in the path of temptation. Men as've been shot tend to be tetchy. And tetchy can turn violent. “I'll give Zoe a hand. Had some experience of these things.”

Mal holds his gaze. “I'll bet.”

Meanwhile Jayne has slung Simon over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. Through the blur of pain, Simon wonders if he's ever felt more humiliated. It seems unlikely. His arms hang loosely down and he bounces against Jayne's broad back with each step the mercenary takes up the ladder. Just as they reach the top, Jayne adjusts his grip making the doctor yelp. Simon decides he can't possibly feel any more shamed than he already does. And it has to be said.

“I'm sorry, Mal. I thought ...”

* * * * *

With a twist of his shoulders, Jayne dumps Simon unceremoniously onto the exam table and, when the doctor moans, sneers “Quit whinin'. You ain't dead. Yet.”

“Nice bedside manner,” Zoe remarks, snapping on a pair of surgical gloves.

“Hey! He's lucky to be breathin',” Jayne replies with a fierce glare at the writhing doctor. “Used to keel-haul traitors back in the day.”

“D'you even know what that means?” Wash demands, because he can't help feeling sorry for Simon. Who on this boat hasn't toyed with the idea of shooting Mal at one time or another? He know for damn sure that Jayne has.

The mercenary noarrow his eyes.”Might've known you'd be on his side against Mal. You bein' Alliance an' all.”

“That'll do, son,” Book warns. Jayne grunts and stomps out of the room.

“Never used a general myself. You?” Zoe asks Book as she cuts away part of the leg of Simon's pants in order to clean up his wound. He shakes his head. “Guess we'll have to do without. Dope him up good, Shepherd.”

Wash watches with quiet admiration as his wife and the Preacher set about removing the bullet from Simon's thigh and dressing the wound. The patient, however, is far from quiet. The large shot of lithium Book gave him has loosened his tongue and he's saying the strangest things.

“Two by two ... never get picked ... last on every team ... not weak ... pretty fits ... fancible .. eyes ... not River ... me ... came back for me ... nice eyes... tight p..”

Wash catches his breath and Book murmurs “Oh my!” Zoe merely rolls her eyes. Well that explains a lot of things. She ties off a final suture and removes her gloves. Books tells her to go get some rest herself, promising to watch over the doctor and that he'll call her if there's any problem.

On the way back to their bunk, Wash's mind turns back to his own problems. He stops abruptly and takes Zoe's hands in his. She is so beautiful, so amazing in every way. But she was – and always will be – a Browncoat whereas he was Alliance. More for the thrill of flying than out of any political conviction if he recalls right. But he was her enemy. Mal's enemy. To him she will always smell sweet, but he can imagine the kind of stench he is giving off. Are they doomed now? Star-crossed?

Zoe tilts her head to one side. “What is it?”

“You haven't said anything ... about me being ... on the other side.” Ah, the shelter of euphemism!

“You neither. Guess you're tryin' to work out your priorities.” She looks away. “Sort out where your loyalties lie ...”

Wash flushes excitedly. “Zao cao, Zoe! I don't need to do that. My loyalty is to you. And our baby.” He smiles, a little embarassed. “You know, I used to dream of you, even back then, long before I ever met you.”

Her mouth is smiling but her eyes are uncertain. “So, you ain't fixin' to leave?”

He frowns. “You di'n't really think...?”

Zoe lets out a breath, and her fears about her marriage with it. “Thought you might hate us – me – as much as we hated them.” Now it's her turn to look sheepish.

Tonight is turning into one of the weirdest in Wash's whole life. But the strangest thing of all is the thought that this goddess of a warrior woman is afraid of losing him. He pulls her into his arms and tries to say everything that's in his heart with a kiss.

* * * * *

09.30 hours is late for Serenity's crew to be taking breakfast but no-one slep well last night. Jayne spent most of the night seething at Mal's unwarranted leniency towards Simon and it took Kaylee hours to calm River down. Even then she couldn't sleep. Felt like Mal had ahold of one side of her heart and Simon the other and that they were trying to rip it apart. Wash and Zoe spent most of the night talking, trying to convince themselves everything will be all right. Zoe's still in bed, but Wash is at the table, pasty and yawning. And not looking forward to the talk he needs to have with Mal.

Book enters looking exhausted. His all-night vigil over Simon has painted dark circles under his eyes. Kaylee hopes that ain't a bad sign. “How is he, Shepherd? How's Simon?”

“Totally off his nut,” Mal declares, heading for the coffee pot and pretending not to notice the face Kaylee is pulling at him. “See what happens when you do someone a good turn, Preacher? They turn round an' bite ya for it.”

“Maybe he was thinkin' the very same,” Book replies. “All he's done for you of late an' you take advantage of his sister.”

Mal slams his fist down on the counter, although he looks like he'd've preferred to punch it into the Shepherd's face. “You, Preacher, have a very smutty mind,” he says, wagging a finger at him.

“Uh, talking of River, Mal, I had a thought,” Wash interrupts in the interests of peace. “Things're coming back to me. About where I was when they scrambled my brain.”

“Wha's that got to do with River?”

“Well, I was thinkin' we could track down the people that did it and maybe persuade them to unscramble River.”

“Might make life on Serenity simpler, us not carrying a sleepin' assassin on board,” Book comments.

Mal nods. He ain't forgotten that little complication neither. But .. “How we gonna 'persuade' Alliance whitecoats to help a bunch of nobodies and worse like us? More likely they'll snatch li'l sis and turn her in for the ransom.”

Wash's hope wilts, but Book touches his shoulder. “It's a good plan, son. And as for dealing with the Alliance whitecoats – well I've still got my ID card. What d'you say, Captain? It would be the right thing to do. And I know you're big on doing the right thing.”

Mal skewers him with a sharp look for his sarcasm but eventually concedes, “Yeah. It is a good plan, Wash. So where we goin'?”

Wash beams at him. At last! A plan Mal di'n't jus' dismiss out of hand. “Greenleaf.”

“Greenleaf?” Kaylee pipes up. “Why that ain't but a day out from Eden. Maybe after we could swing by an' see my daddy?” She's doin' that damn wheedlin' thing that Mal can never resist. “Could we, Cap'n?”

That li'l girl has a way with those eyes that can melt a strong man's resolve at fifty paces. Mal knows when he's beat. He gives her a lop-sided smile and nods. “OK. After.”

She jumps up and hugs him. “See – you can be a nice man!” She gives a little squeal of excitement. “I'm gonna send daddy a wave right now. Let him know we're comin'.”

Jayne coughs. “Eden ain't that far from Argent. Wou'n't mind a visit to my folks neither. I'll introduce you to my Pa, Mal. You'll like him. An' those mares could use some solid ground.”

* * * * *

Zoe finds Mal sitting at his desk, going over Serenity's books.

“Morning, Sir. How you feelin'?”

“He shot me, Zoe. That feng le dumbass doctor shot me.”

“Well, you were in bed with his sister.”

“I was not in bed with his sister!” Zoe raises her eyebrows and pulls an unconvinced face. “She was in bed with me.”

“Thanks for clarifyin', Sir.”

“What you seem to be forgettin' here is that I was shot on my own gorram boat by my own gorram medic!”

“To be fair, Sir, he only grazed you.”

“There was a gun involved. And a bullet. Not much comfort in knowin' I'm only alive 'cos the hun dan can't shoot straight. Ain't got no right pickin' up guns if you can't shoot straight,” he grumbles.

“Sure you'll tell him so, Sir,” Zoe says.

“Oh I will. An' a whole lot more too. He'll have to go.”

“Don't be stupid, Sir.”

“Stupid?! I can't keep him on board after this. How'd I know he won't do it again?”

“You'll have to talk to him, Sir. Sort things out between you.” She's smirking now. Why?

“What things?” Suspicious, and not at all sure he wants her to tell him.

“Think it's the old problem, Sir.” The look he gives her is deliberately blank. “You know, Sir. Kind of trouble you had with Tracey.”

“Human organs? Organs other than his own?”

Zoe clamps her top lip down hard over the bottom one which is curving upward, threatening a grin if not an outright laugh. “In a manner of speaking, Sir. Remember the trouble you had with Tracey durin' the war? An' Bendis? An' what was that other boy called ...”

Mal glowers at her long and hard. “This ain't funny, Zoe.”

At last the smile breaks through. “Oh, I think you'll find it is, Sir.”

* * * * *

“What is this?” Rantoong asks as Parkin slides a sheet of paper towards him.

“A transcript of a wave from Frye's daughter,” his colleague tells him as he paces the floor.

“I haven't got time for trivia...” Rantoong begins, even as he automatically scans the document. “Ah, I see. And we're sure their going to Greenleaf is not merely coincidental?”

“Well, according to data from trials similar to that conducted on Collins, the chemical implant may well have become unstable. Eventually his immune system eliminate it.”

Rantoong sucks his fleshy lower lip into his mouth pensively. “You think that process had started?”

“Possibly. Then again, we never did locate that batch of antidote my former Browncoat colleague entrusted to the whore. Add to that the presence of not only a talented physician but also none other than The Malleus on that Firefly and it's not unreasonable to assume Serenity's crew may be on the verge of a disturbing discovery. Disturbing for the Corporation and by extension, us.”

“That cannot be allowed to occur. We have our other facilities to think of. Besides, the Greenleaf unit has failed to meet its targets for the past three years.” Rantoong taps his fingers on his desk as he considers his options. “Make the arrangement with Tanaka, will you?” “You think he can handle this on his own?”

“I don't see why not. He did serve as bombadier to the best pilot the Alliance has ever had. And from what I've seen of him, he does seem to have picked up a little of Collins' flair.”

“How large a bomb should I order?”

“Large enough to raze the place to the ground.”

“It might be more efficient to coordiante the bombardment with Reynolds' arrival. Wipe out all the birds with one stone.”

Rantoong shakes his head with an almost voluptuous smile. “Oh no, I don't think so. Better get it done before they arrive. Reynolds is a most interesting player and I may need him for another little game sometime. And ofcourse, he still has the girl on board. Too precious a piece to be squandered.”

* * * * *

At the sound of footsteps, Simon tries to slither further under the sheets. Like a bug seeking sanctuary under a stone. The footsteps pause and he tries not to move at all. Silence.

The footstep begin again, doing a circuit of the bed. Simon wishes the floor were made of paper and that each footfall would punch a tiny hole in it so that when they finally stop, the floor will drop away into the Black taking him with it.

“Know you're awake. Nobody lies that still 'less they're awake. Or dead.” Mal. Well it would be, wouldn't it?

Simon slowly opens one eye and starts. Mal's face is nearer than he'd expected and for a moment his eye seems huge. Like how the eye of the kid who lifts the stone must look to the bug underneath it. He stares back at Mal, gritting his teeth and waiting for the boot to come down and squish him.

Mal can't help it. There's something about Simon's body language that has always screamed 'prey'. The way he freezes in the headlamps of Mal's eyes. All twitchy and tense, like a gorram rabbit waiting to be killed. Boy might as well pin a cotton-tail to his ass. Because as soon as he loses his nerve, Mal will have to chase him. It's only natural.

“Uh. Mal. I'm ...”

Yup. That'll do it. Mal leans in closer. “What, Doc?” he asks, all wide-eyed interest and false smile.

Somehow Simon manages to sit up and avoid actual physical contact.

“Stay where y'are Doc. No need to be upstandin' on my account.” Mal prowls around the exam table again and dodging the overhead light, leans in, staring the younger man in the eye. “Although I mus' say – glad to know every member of my crew is ready to serve.” The slightest hint of a leer underlines the double-entendre.

Just once, Simon would like Mal to take him seriously. But Mal finds his medic endlessly amusing, in a bumbling, misfit kind of way. And it's damn annoying. In his life before, back on Osiris, Simon was a man to be respected. Powerful, even. If Mal had know him then ... well, he wouldn't be smirking and mocking quite so often.

Simon stands up, trying to ignore the pain in his leg, because upright is less vulnerable. Mal leans back against the bed, arms crossed over his chest and looking smug. “Zoe tells me we need to talk.” He pauses, because it's all manner of entertainin' to watch the flush that's creepin' up the doc's neck and over his cheeks. “Seems to think you've been entertainin' some inappropriate – and downright tweaked notions about you an' me.”

A landslide of emotion hits Simon. Embarassment, shame, loss, sorrow – yes. But also indignation and anger. “That's right, Mal. Make fun of me. It's what you've been doin' every day since I ended up on this le se junker! Thought you were a lot of things, Captain, but I never thought you were prejudiced. Should've realized someone from a backwater planet would be small-minded and petty...”

Suddenly Mal's not finding it quite so funny. Calling Shadow a backwater and using the word 'petty' with all its painful resonance makes him lose his composure. “You don't wanna go down this road with me, boy,” he growls.

“I am not a boy! And don't tell me what I want!” Simon hisses. “You don't know what I want! Ow!”

Mal has seized him by the shoulders and is propelling him backwards into the wall. He slides him up, so that their eyes are on the same level and Simon is on tiptoe. “This what you want?” he demands. “Is it?” He pushes forward so that he is propping the younger man up with his body, hip bone under hip bone and slaps his hands down either side of Simon's face, holding it trapped between his forearms. Simon tries to shrink back, but there's nowhere to go. “Better not be, boy. Not when you're beddin' my mechanic.”

Kaylee. Oh God. Where Kaylee is soft and sweet and adoring, Mal is hard and sharp and demanding. Suo you de dou di shang – what was Simon thinking? Kaylee smells of honey, hay and engine oil; Mal smells of salt, smoke and rust. Her skin is soft and downy whereas Mal's is rough with stubble. Kaylee looks at him with kisses in her eyes. When Mal looks at him, he fears he might bite.

As these thoughts rush through Simon's mind, Mal's keen eyes are boring into his. Following every flicker, every shadow. Watching for any little sign that his gut instinct is wrong. A tell-tale hitch in his breathing or a change in muscle tension. Because, if he's wrong, things could get mighty complicated. And Mal's not ready for complicated again yet.. But there's no sign, nothing. He steps back. Simon's face is a study in misery and confusion. “Think I do know what you want, Doc,” Mal says quietly, almost kindly. “You jus' treat her right. Or you'll wish I'd let Jayne space you.”

And with that, he's gone, leaving Simon struggling to regain his balance.

Out in the hallway, Mal smiles to himself a little ruefully and snaps his suspenders. Job done. Zoe would be impressed.

* * * * *

When Zoe comes to check on her patient later, he's in self-flagellating overdrive. “I am so stupid. No, delusional. Delusional is the term. Whatever made me think that he ...? Or that I ...? Tian xiao de! I know how he felt about Inara ... And then there's Kaylee ... ” He presses his hands to his face in despair.

Zoe half-smiles and sits down next to him, putting a comforting hand on his uninjured thigh. “So you made a fool of yourself. Not many of us ain't. You thought you had feelings for him – well you wou'n't be the first. An' we all got feelings for him. Think we're all jus' a little bit in love with the tian sa de wangba dan. Even Jayne. Great leaders inspire them sort of feelin's. In battle, sometimes it takes more than fear or courage to make a man fight. Sometimes it takes love.”

“He knew, Zoe. He knew that I wasn't ... how could he be so sure? I mean ... even I wasn't sure....”

Zoe shrugs non-committally. “Been out in the world a lot more'n you.” Then she looks him in the eye, considering what to tell him. “You acquainted with the word 'sparkly'.”

Simon frowns. “As in something that sparkles? Something shiny?” Is it the drugs or the blood loss that's making this conversation so surreal?

A slow warm smile steals across Zoe's face. Her eyes twinkle. “Yeah,” she nods. “Same as shiny. The Cap'n's shiny.”

The drugs and the blood loss, Simon decides, lying back on the bed and closing his eyes. Because all of this is making a kind of sense that isn't.

* * * * *

Wash is on the bridge, distracting himself from larger issues by concentrating on the journey to Greenleaf. Entering coordinates, checking fuel guages and engine performance. Mal takes the seat next to him. “How long? Till Greenleaf?” he asks, as though nothing has changed between them.

“Five days, maybe four after that engine upgrade Kaylee did.”

What Wash wants to do is broach the subject of his future as Serenity's pilot cautiously, evaluate Mal's reaction and decide how to proceed. What comes out of his mouth is: “You wanna fire me, I'll understand.”

“Don't wanna fire you. I'm only gonna say this this one time, so listen up. You're the best gorram pilot I've ever known. Probably the best in the 'verse. Plus ... you make Zoe happy. Whatever else I done for her, God knows I never managed that.”

Wash is contrite. “I was jealous of you – you know that?”

“Said you're a good pilot. Never said you was bright.” Mal takes a flask from his hip pocket. “Wanna drink?”

“Simon is gonna go crazy if he sees you drinkin' so soon after ...” Wash warns.

Mal snorts softly and takes a swig. “It's medicinal. Anyhow, think the Doc's lost interest in my body. Leastways, hope he has.”

There's a layer of meaning in the remark that Wash knows he's not getting, but he lets it go. Because he wants to clear the air between him and Mal, if not once and for all, at least for now.

“All this between you and Simon – it was all my fault.”

Mal raises his eyebrows. “Not that I'm not grateful for it not being my fault for a change - but how'd'ya figure that?”

“If I hadn't used the syringe ...” It's still too painful to think about.

“Life ain't about ifs and buts. If you ha'n't used the syringe, if 'Nara ha'n't gone to Monty, if the Alliance ha'n't messed around with River's brain ... It is what it is. We jus' gotta work out how to deal with. Tha's the tricky bit. Sometimes I feel like an itty-bitty chess piece, slapped down in the middle of a game I got no idea how to play. An' then, jus' when I think I've got the rules all figured out – Wham! They change 'em.”

Wash looks surprised. “You? You try to play by the [ilrules?”

“Gotta have rules, Wash. Otherwise the Black'll swallow you whole. But now I play by my own rules, not theirs.” There's a moment of silence whilst Wash digests this. Then Mal finally gets to the point. “Which rules you playin' by now?”

Wash wishes he had a fancy speech about loyalty, autonomy and priorities. All he's got is: “Zoe's.”

Mal chuckles. “Wise man. An' not cowardly neither.” He looks away as he grinds the words out. Handin' out compliments ain't never come easy. “Must say, Wash, I admire you for takin' that serum.”

“You do?”

“Not sure I'd've wanted to know. Might've left that stone unturned my own self.”

“No, you wouldn't. You'd've done it too. Because the not knowing ... the not facing it .... Mal, I think I understand now. Newhall, I mean. And Inara. And I jus' wanna say...”

Mal holds up a hand. “No need.”

“So ... we're good? What with my past an' all?”

“Ain't no good livin' in the past, Wash. S'now that matters. That an' the future.”

“But the past is what makes us who we are.”

“Now you're quoting the Preacher. Myself, I don't hold with that view. S'what we do makes us who we are. The decisions we make every day of our gorram lives. Tha's who we are.”

* * * * *

They're a day out from Greenleaf and River is pushing Simon away as he advances on her with yet another syringe full of drugs. “Come on, mei-mei. I'll be quick.” He smiles at her. “Who knows, it might be the last injection ever if the Captain can find that hospital.”

“Stocking's empty,” River tries to explain. “And there'll be no holiday.”

“Think we might have a situation here, Doctor.” Simon looks up to see Zoe clutching the door frame and gritting her teeth.

River takes advantage of this distraction to break free of her brother. She saunters across to the counters, crouches down and opens a cupboard. “Too small,” she comments, peering into it. “For dancing.”

Simon guides Zoe to the exam table. “River, mei-mei, go and tell Wash he's needed in the infirmary right away.”

River sighs and rolls her eyes impatiently. She leaves her scrutiny of the cupboard's interior and walks over to the doorway where she punches the comms button and announces loudly into the mic, “Wash, please come to the infirmary. Ma shang. Don't have to leave to speak to him, boob,” she points out to her brother. The corner of Zoe's mouth twitches. “Top three per cent, huh?”

“One pilot reporting for infirmary duty,” Wash salutes Simon. Zoe gives a little gasp as another contraction twists through her abdomen and Wash's eyes grow wide with alarm. “What is it?”

“Tomorrow,” River sighs as if it were obvious.

Wash runs a hand through his hair. “Wo de ma! Zoe? This it?”

“Seems like.”

“But it isn't due for weeks yet!”

“Wants space,” River explains. “For dancing.”

“There a problem here?” Mal asks. River must have been broadcasting to the entire ship. Simon shifts uneasily. He'd've preferred a few more days – or indeed a few more lifetimes – before having to face the Captain again. “Doctor? Zoe?”

Zoe is studiously panting, having remembered reading this is a requirement of a woman in labour although she can't think the diyu why. It ain't helpin' none. Mal regards her with a mixture of irritation and suspicion. What is the woman playin' at now?

“Havin' the baby, Sir,” she puffs.

Stunned, all Mal can think to say is “Tamade!”

* * * * *

Mal is chewing the skin around his thumbnail and staring out in the Black. Zoe has been in labour for twenty-four hours already – Mal blames that big ol' head of Wash's – and her husband has refused to leave her side. Somebody has fly this ruttin' boat. Otherwise Mal would be down in the infirmary too, making encouragin' noises. Really, Birthin' don't worry him none. All that mess an' screamin'. Seen far worse in the war. Nope. Don't worry him.

He checks the monitor and realizes they're going to be breaking atmo within the hour. Which puts the flyin' firmly back in Wash's court. He ain't sayin' he cou'n't do it – he'd jus' rather not have to pay for the repairs. Nor deal with Kaylee's wrath at his hurtin' her baby girl.

“Wash, we're comin' up on planetfall. Need you up here on the bridge,” he says into the comms.

“Shi a, Mal,” Wash crackles back. “But will you do me a favour. Can you take over with the brow moppin'?”

Mal swallows. Not worried. Nope. Not one bit.

* * * * *

“Tamade!” Since her demotion to Medical Records (Filing) Clerk at the Blue Sun Corp R&D facility on Greenleaf, Lenna Jeffries (formerly matron at the Blue Sun Special Projects unit on Osiris) has stopped bothering about trying to moderate her language and now swears like a veteran purplebelly. “Zao cao! Pi, pi, pi!” The publi-chronograph on the side of the building shows she's already ten minutes late and it takes a good fifteen minutes to walk from her remote parking spot to the clocking-on scanner.

Resigning herself to the loss of an hour's pay, she lights up a cigarette and takes a deep draw. Blue vapour issues from her nostrils accompanied by a slight nasal whine as she breathes out. Funny thing is, the whine keeps going, getting louder and shriller. And it seems to be coming from overhead.

She looks up and at first it's just a dirty speck against a cloudless blue sky. Then it's big enough to be a bird. Ofcourse, no rutting bird flies at that speed. It's an aircraft of some kind. The noise from its engines is deafening.

Lenna's spine tingles and all her instincts tell her to run, but she's rooted to the spot. Even though she has the uncanny certainty that something terrible is about to happen. The aircraft is losing altitude fast and seems set to collide with the Blue Sun building. Lenna can only watch in horror.

But there is no collision. The aircraft suddenly veers off to the left and heads for the horizon. Eyes trained on it, Lenna doesn't notice the bomb. First she knows of it is when the thunder bursts and shockwave knocks her back against her car.

Where the Blue Sun facility stood there is now a pillar of blue smoke and dust, coiling up like dragon's breath into the unnaturally quiet morning. Scraps of paper rise and fall in silent pirouettes.

Lenna drops her cigarette. “Fuck!”

* * * * *

Three hours later Mal and Book pull up in the mule. The bomb-site and surrounding area have been cordoned off and there's a heavy Fed presence. In amongst the debris, the fluorescent tabards of rescue move with painstaking slowness.

Mal remembers that first Christmas when it was jus' him and his Momma. Remembers his childish greed for toys and candy and the taste of ashes when there was nothing under the tree.. Recalls the look of shame and sorrow on Momma's face as she witnessed him lose his faith in magic. Hope is the cruellest emotion. Better to expect nothing and not die these little deaths of disappointment.

He's failed her. There are no presents under the tree. Only coal.

* * * * *

Simon is waiting at the open cargo bay door when they return, his eyes bright with expectation. “Did you find them? Will they help?”

Book shakes his head sadly and lowers his eyes.

“What happened? Mal, what ..?” Simon grabs Mal by the arm, making him wince as his finger close around the still unhealed wound.

Mal's eyes are as deep and empty as the Black. “It's gone. Everything. Not a damn thing left.” Simon is bewildered. Doesn't want to believe it. Can't believe it. Mal must be mistaken. They went to the wrong place, the wrong planet ...

“Simon!” Kaylee yells from the entrance to the infirmary. “Come quick! River says the baby's coming!”

* * * * *

Zoe's cheeks are flushed and damp with sweat but she's wearing a smile of pure joy. She's curled around her baby a mare around her foal. The carving Mal gave her all those weeks ago stands on the table beside the bed. Mal's throat tightens.

“It was for the baby ... Hope,” explains unnecessarily, rolling the name around in his mouth, getting accustomed to its unfamiliar shape and feel.

Zoe picks it up. It's pale and smooth against her palm. A mare and foal. Past and future. Shadow and light. She smiles. “Very poetical, Sir. An' generous, what with you other gift as well.”

“Huh?”

Wash grins, so full of paternal pride he could burst. His joy makes him playful. “You gave us the ship. Remember? When you were planning to take out half of Londinium?”

Mal's expression darkens. “That was for if I never came back...”

Zoe and Wash burst out laughing at his indignation. “Never thought you wouldn't, Sir,” Zoe says, and there's such thankfulness in her eyes that Mal has to blink away the stinging in his own. “Would you like to hold her?”

“Me? I don't ...” But Wash has already laid his warm, wriggling daughter in Mal's arms. There's more heft to her than he'd been expecting. She looks up at him with solemn, blue eyes out of a face framed with dark curls - an echo of a fantasy Mal once nourished. There's a smell of flowers and spices, woods and oils and he can almost feel her haughty presence, see the accusation of cowardice in her eyes. He aches to tell her this is what he wanted for them, but the bitter voice in his head tells him it's too late.

“Mal?” Zoe's concerned tone breaks his reverie and Mal hands the child back to her mother. “You OK?”

“Fine,” he says briskly. “Now, I got things to be doin' ...”

At the top of the stairway he pauses and looks down. Things ain't so bad. Wash an' Zoe are makin' googly eyes at each other an' cooin' over their baby. Out in the cargo bay Kaylee, Simon, Jayne an' Book have opened a bottle of somethin' to wet the baby's head. Kaylee looks so gorram happy as she leans against the Doc and an' – ta shi suo you diyu de biao zi de ma! - Jayne is hangin' on the Preacher's every word and noddin' vigourously. Those two are lookin' to become inseparable.

A cool hand settles over Mal's on the railing. River. Poor little broken girl he couldn't fix.

“I'm sorry we di'n't manage to ....” he begins but she silences him by placing a finger on his lips.

“Can't go back, Mal. Eaten the apple, both of us. Took the red pill. Can't undo what we know. Glue and love will never make us what we were. Only something new.”

His eyes go wide with surprise. Because what she jus' said makes perfect sense.

* * * * *

COMMENTS

Thursday, September 2, 2004 2:11 AM

RELFEXIVE


Whoa... Good myth.

Thursday, September 2, 2004 2:52 AM

JEBBYPAL


Great job as usual. Loved mal's interaction w/ .... well everybody:)

Thursday, September 2, 2004 5:23 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


See, the only problem with a really good story is that is ends. I really enjoyed this one, and I hope you've got another one all lined up and ready to go!!!

Thursday, September 2, 2004 6:29 AM

ANONYMOUS


Good work on this one from start to finish. The characters went places I never expected they could go and I still believed it. Keep it up!

Thursday, September 2, 2004 8:03 AM

GUILDSISTER


*sniffle*!

Aawww... that was sweet, sad, funny, hopeful, satisfying... sparkly/shiny. I read slowly so as to savor in detail, knowing it was the last chapter. You brought a literal tear to my eye at the end--very powerful writing, so well done.

"Who on this boat hasn't toyed with the idea of shooting Mal at one time or another?" --Delightful way to express it, and express why they're all concerned that Simon's bleeding but no one seems much concerned that Mal got shot too.

The Wash/Zoe interaction played out well--each concerned that the other would hate him/her for the past allegiances.

"Organs other than his own?" --Total LOL moment--almost choked on my coffee! I did see you foreshadow the Simon/Mal thing in the last chapter (and quite deftly, I might add), just wasn't sure where/how you meant to play it out. I thought the whole bit was right on target, from Zoe's 'wake up moron' hint to Mal, to Mal's pushing the issue with Simon, uncomfortabling him into realizing he was off kilter about it.

"But the past is what makes us who we are" --plus Mal's hearty dose of denial that followed that line. Many layers and character depth in that small exchange. Nice.

"Mal regards her with a mixture of irritation and suspicion. What is the woman playin' at now? 'Havin' the baby, Sir' --dang! Could you have said that any better? I don't think so. It hit the mark on the characters and their relationship so precisely, concisely, and amusingly, that it struck me as a just outright masterful bit of writing.

And then the end scene... Mal seeing the others, happy and healing with he and River off to the side, disconnected, isolated, estranged, still damaged but reforming (reglueing) into something/someone new. *sniffle* again--that's the moment that really got me.

Super job, Kispexi2, thank you so much for sharing the story and sincerely hope to see more!



Thursday, September 2, 2004 8:06 AM

GUILDSISTER


And my review is darned near as long as some stories posted here! *blush* Ah, well--hit 100,000 words on my BSJ story today, guess I'm just wordy. ;-)

Thursday, September 2, 2004 9:38 AM

AMDOBELL


Excellent, and so gorram shiny I may be blinded for WEEKS! Loved this, so many subtle little layers just adding to the whole gorgeous confection of it. Well done, can't wait to see what you come up with next. Adored the way you wrote everybody especially River. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, September 2, 2004 11:18 AM

ANONYMOUS


Wow...wow. I must say, hon...that this has been one hell of a ride. Never has a story pulled me from one emotion from the next, laughter, anger, sorrow. All weaved together beautifully. The character interactions on spot, and I loved your Mal. And damn it, I need another one. Cause its damn too pretty to end here. ~LOL~ Bravo and xiexie for writing this story.

Cassandra E ~who is too lazy to log in.~

Tuesday, September 7, 2004 3:06 AM

HURRYSUNDOWN


First of all, ditto what Guildsister said. This was one amazing story. Now for my own part, the thing that's staying with me is Zoe's bit of wisdom: "Think we're all jus' a little bit in love with the tian sa de wangba dan. Even Jayne.” Explains an awful lot about Mal's relationships with each of his crew, and the crew as a whole. Also, about "sparkly": I got the sense that "sparkly" doesn't really mean "shiny" - more that a person who is sparkly is someone who attracts everyone, sly or not, but for whatever reason, Zoe decided that "shiny" was close enough ... Anyway, this was just tops.

Thursday, September 9, 2004 1:51 AM

KISPEXI2


Thanks to everyone for all your kind comments which sustained me when the damn words wouldn't come out right. Particularly for the detailed comments.

And yes, sparkly doesn't really mean shiny.

But that's a story that's crawling around in the darker reaches of my imagination. Not sure I want to go there yet.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004 1:59 AM

HEB


Thanks so much for such an amazing fic!

Heb

Sunday, October 24, 2004 12:34 AM

ANONYMOUS


You pulled me in, flew me places and made me a very happy fan.

Thank you!
Ceri

Tuesday, October 3, 2006 10:23 PM

JANE0904


Just read this only now ... and, damn, I might as well give up writing now!


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