The Last Christmas Present
Sunday, December 28, 2008

I was getting a nostalgic as I reread some of my first fics and decided to repost the the first two since they concern the holiday season. I also had the inclination to go back and rewrite the fics but I resisted the temptation. So here it is, in all it's glory.


It was Christmas Eve, late. Even late for Mal to be up and about on Serenity. The memories of Christmas on Shadow kept coming back. He went to his bunk and picked up his pistol and cleaning materials. The routine of cleaning his pistol usually calmed down Mal's brain and eventually allowed him to get some sleep, but not tonight.

Mal had just turned 18 that October. The Alliance had made selling cattle and shipping the processed beef off world almost impossible due at first 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 his own family. But Meg Reynolds knew the seriousness of the situation. She also 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, the stores in town, and even in front of the church after services on Sunday. 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 . 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 he reached down inside and pulled out the contents. ”What are you doin' son?” she said with a bit of irritation in her voice.”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. Pull it out.”

Mal grinned broadly as he held the pistol and holster in his hand.

“I figure a man who is defending his land needs a proper weapon.”

Mal pulled out the shiniest holster and belt he had 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.

Inside the holster, a pistol rested, 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 gun? 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.”

'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. My, he was proud of that house. I've never seen a man so proud of a house like he was. 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 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 so 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' thru the door but it was too late… just too late,” she said sadly. “You decided to come 2 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 the 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 thought he 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, 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.

Mal never really celebrated Christmas again after that last one at home. When you are in the middle of a battlefield dodging all of the go see the Alliance was throwing at you, you don’t feel much like celebratin’ “peace in the ‘Verse”. After Serenity Valley he just didn't feel like celebratin' Christmas ever again.

Well, tomorrow was another day in the Black. Serenity was headed to a derelict ship that contained some sort of goods that Badger wanted. Then it would be a quick run to drop the goods with Badger on Persephone, pick up Inara and maybe take on some passengers for Boros so that they could make a little extra coin.

With that thought, Mal picked up his pistol and cleaning supplies and headed for his bunk.


Sunday, December 28, 2008 5:14 PM


This was soo sweet and sad, but so Mal. I loved each and evvery word.


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