BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GUILDSISTER

Blue Sun Job, Part 33: Light and Shadow
Sunday, November 28, 2004

Mal has just had his big tell-all session with Book concerning his and Zoe's history. Now landed at the Shepherd's Sanctuary, they have to deal with the fallout and with Book's mysterious past and plans.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4356    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY


Blue Sun Job, Part 33: Light and Shadow

Sorry for the delay on this chapter… lotta life been taking place.


Blue Sun Job
Sequel to the
Truthsome series (link is to part 1)
Part 1: Plans and Schemes
Part 2: Into the Lion’s Den
Part 3: Going Smooth
Part 4: Return to the Core
Part 5: Life That Was
Part 6: More Life That Was
Part 7: ...and Robberies That Were
Part 8: Zoe’s Tale
Part 9: More of Zoe’s Tale
Part 10: Going In
Part 11: Home Again...
Part 12: Waiting
Part 13: Bushwhacked Revisited
Part 14: Two By Two
Part 15: Give the Devil His Due
Part 16: The Edge
Part 17: Going Through the Motions
Part 18: Never Leave
Part 19: The Bottom


Part 20: Countdown
Part 21: PS1467
Part 22: X1823
Part 23: Fallout
Part 24: The Wrong Side of Normal
Part 25: In Trouble
Part 26: Interactions
Part 27: Caught
Part 28: A Preacher, A Whore, and a Thief…
Part 29: …And the Thief Said…
Part 30: All Kinds of Wrong
Part 31: The Heart of the Matter
Part 32: Revelations



Chinese:

No critical dialog using actual Chinese characters, just exclamatory expressions

他妈的 = ta ma duh = f*ck (used for all variations)
狗屎 = go-se = crap


Blue Sun Job, Part 33: Light and Shadow
靑日 Job: Light and Shadow

Serenity’s ramp dropped to grassy, sunlit slope. A rush of planet-side air swept into the cargo bay, smelling of earth and plants and sunlight. Warm, and a little humid, with a rich life-filled taste, the air was unlike the unvarying processed air of Serenity with her scent of metal, oil and machinery, and occasionally cattle. Some thought spaceships smelled bad. To Zoe, they smelled right. Zoe sniffed the planet’s air again critically. Apparently the Shepherds kept some cattle, too. Maybe they could barter for some beef.

From the angle of the sunlight, Zoe took it to be early afternoon, in contrast to the ship’s late evening. It would make for a long day and a long night. There’d been more than a few of those lately, she thought tiredly.

Zoe studied Mal as Mal studied the landscape. Arms folded firmly across his chest, his stance shouted his resistance to whatever charms this world might hold. The treeline of a forest showed in the distance to one side, the brick and stone buildings of the preacher’s Sanctuary about a half a mile away in the other. Mal appeared fixed on the church spire peeking over other buildings, and trees. The chiming of bells carried lightly on the breeze. Zoe particularly noticed Mal had not yet set foot off the ship. He didn’t appear to be rushing into it.

He’d spent a long damned time up there in the shuttle with the preacher. Wash had speculated out loud with enthusiasm; Zoe silently, with concern. Odds-on they’d been conversing on the dinner table chatter. Her husband had been avoidy as all hell on the topic, but had squeezed her hand in a way that said volumes and was like to melt her heart. No talking. No scenes. No drama. Just… caring and acceptance. It was good. It was right. It was like what Mal had done for her--and she for him--through the years. Maybe Wash could get past the big dark things in her past once he’d seen them and saw they really were nothing but history. Soon as they were settled here on the dirt, she intended to lock the door to their bunk and show him properly how much she appreciated his new-found understanding. Now, about the other one…

Serenity’s engines whined down. Wash would be down in about five minutes, Zoe estimated. At a measured pace, Zoe crossed the cargo bay toward Mal. Pounding feet startled her. She spun in a full circle as River and Kaylee raced by her and on out the ramp.

Zoe frowned as the girls dashed out of the ship heedless of any potential danger that might be lurking. Stepping up beside Mal, he gave Zoe a half-grin and chuckled as he watched the girls run up the slope. Kaylee did a clumsy cartwheel, collapsing in a giggling heap on the grass. River did a handspring beside her, her skirt flopping down over her head until she fell down by Kaylee.

“Do you remember the last time you did that?” Mal asked as Kaylee’s and River’s boots and socks went flying.

“No,” Zoe said, a little more sharply than she intended. Such casual carefreeness…

Mal peered at her. “What’s eatin’ at you?”

“Nothing.” She gave a short sigh. “Everything.”

“Glad you narrowed it down,” Mal commented flatly.

Zoe fixed a solid stare at him. “What were you and the preacher talkin’ on about?”

He met her stare. Something flickered in his eyes, but for the life of her she couldn’t read what it was.

“Nothing,” he said finally, breaking the contact, “and everything.”

“That leaves a lot of room in between, sir,” Zoe commented dryly.

“That it does,” Mal murmured. He appeared to hesitate a moment before adding, “Turns out them nothing spaces in between all the somethings got a whole helluva lot of not-nothings in them.”

Frowning as she stared at him, Zoe said, “That may be one of the stranger sentences I’ve ever heard you concoct.”

“But it’s a pure truth,” the Shepherd’s voice came from behind them. Both turned their heads toward him. He stopped behind Zoe and Mal, gazing out over the landscape. “Everything, no matter how small, has a purpose. Every moment of every life has a meaning,” he said.

The grimace that passed between Zoe and Mal took no effort on her part to interpret. None of it means a damned thing…

Then she looked at Mal more closely and saw something else in his expression. Though he had it controlled and contained pretty tightly, something else was at work in him. Preacher getting to him? Reopening the old wounds to rub them raw? Or to heal them?

“Hey, cap,” Jayne’s voice boomed across the cargo bay. Zoe glanced around. Jayne and Simon strode side-by-side toward them. “We’re gonna go fetch back the doc’s stuff now, if’n that’s okay.”

“Jayne volunteered to help me,” Simon said, amusement creeping into his tone.

“Jayne volunteered to help tote your stuff?” Mal echoed, staring.

With a snort, Jayne said, “Yeah. Don’t figure there’s much else to do here.”

Book smiled at him. “You could devote your energies to spiritual pursuits,” he said seriously, but Zoe saw the twinkle in his eyes. “Perhaps see about cleansing your soul of worldly desires.”

Mal snorted. Simon laughed outright. Zoe didn’t even try to stop the grin from spreading across her own face.

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” Jayne grumbled. “But there’s a town a few miles off yonder might offer better odds of the cleansing of them desires, I figure.”

“Just try not to get in any trouble,” Mal called as Jayne and Simon stepped off the ramp and headed out.

Zoe saw Mal jerk as the sound of a shuttle launching sounded. “Inara,” she said. “Off to the other side of this rock.” She shrugged. “Clients, I guess. She’ll be back in a couple days. Would have told you but you were…” she cast a sidelong glance at the preacher, “…occupied.”

“Yeah,” Mal said distantly. “Don’t figure this is her kinda place neither.”

“You planning to ever step off the ship, yourself, Captain?” Book asked.

Zoe raised her eyebrows as she waited for Mal’s answer. He turned back toward the landscape stretching out before them.

“Seems like I was promised some sort of answers, once we got here,” Mal said slowly.

Zoe scrutinized Book.

“The answers are out there, if you know where to look,” Book said.

Mal scowled at him. “Takin’ cryptic lessons from River, there, Preacher?”

“The girl says some insightful things at times,” Book commented.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed.” Mal grinned. “And a nice diversion off topic your ownself.”

“Thought you’d like it,” Book answered matching his grin.

Zoe stared from one to the other and back again. “What…?” she started when the clatter of Wash’s boots on the catwalk distracted them all.

“We’re locked down, captain,” Wash called as he descended the stairs toward them. “And Inara’s off.” He reached the ramp, putting his arms around Zoe from behind. She leaned back into his embrace. Felt good. Good again. Good still. “There’s some kind of EM field here on this rock that I suspect would shield Serenity from most any orbital scan, once the jets cool. ‘Less someone does a visual flyover, we’re near invisible parked here.”

“Good to hear,” Mal commented. Zoe saw him eye the Shepherd as he asked Wash, “You figure that’s a natural field?”

“I dunno. Seems too regular, but it could be.” Zoe felt Wash shrug. And she saw the slight ‘no’ Book gave to Mal. Hmmm…

“Okay, then,” Mal said, giving the tranquil scenery another long look. “If you two want to head out, I’ll…”

“We’ll stay with the ship, sir” Zoe cut him off. Wash’s grip tightened on her. She pushed back against him, swaying a bit. “You go off and have…” What would be an appropriate word? “… uh, fun.” Wash snorted softly in her ear. Mal frowned at her.

“Right,” Mal said, eyeing them. “I’m sure you’ll be alert and…”

“On point,” Wash interjected.

Mal gave a little shudder. “Yeah.”

“Why don’t I show you some of the outlying areas of the Sanctuary,” Book said quietly, gently urging Mal forward.

Zoe watched them go, then turned in her husband’s arms. “Now what was that you were saying about being on point?” she murmured against his lips.

* * *

Shepherd Book barely suppressed his smile as he and the captain stepped off Serenity’s ramp. The captain’s reluctance to engage this religious place was almost palpable. When they’d landed before embarking on the Blue Sun job, to leave off River and Simon, Mal had pointedly remained on the ship. Book doubted he’d even looked out the windows at the Sanctuary.

“It’s not a battlefield,” Book chided. “There won’t be an ambush from behind those trees,” he said as he watched Mal check for cover and potential sniper positions in a way Book knew was as much habit as any act of conscious volition.

“So you say,” Mal commented dryly. “Ain’t necessarily that kind of ambush I’m suspecting.”

Chuckling aloud as they strode across the tree-dotted slope, Book said, “I assure you, Captain, no one is going to pounce on you and forcibly subdue you to wrestle your soul back to the Lord.”

“Mmmm.” It had a dubious sound to it.

“Tempting, though that may be,” Book added with a twitch of a smirk.

After a moment more, Book carefully asked, “Did you tell Zoe what we were talking about?”

Mal shook his head. “No. Don’t really know how. Or if.” He flashed a quick grin at Book. “You took on the job of professional meddler, guess I’ll leave that call to you.” If he read it right, Book saw more than a tinge of nervous apprehension in Mal’s eyes.

He gave Mal a solemn look. Book had realized all along that Mal and Zoe shared a particular, and sometimes peculiar, relationship, but until a few hours ago he hadn’t fully understood how deep and complicated that relationship truly was. He found himself hedging on giving full disclosure of their history to Wash. Yet even as he thought it, he knew--as the captain now seemed to realize--that nothing would erase what had been, nor its impact on the triangle between the three of them.

Then there was Zoe. Book held her in high esteem. He’d followed her into battle and would not hesitate to do so again. She was a competent soldier and ship’s officer, as leader or follower. Yet she was more--a woman, a wife, and... a mother. A mother with no living children...

Book cast a sideways glance at Mal. It was a new way to think of both Zoe and the captain. They’d been through so much hurt and carried so much still with them. What had he been thinking? How did he ever imagine he could heal or help these two hopelessly intertwined people? With the tales of war, death, and loss, Book had felt himself on stable ground. He had told Mal he would understand and he’d meant it. From his own past, and from the experiences of those he knew, he could reach out to them. But this...? What could he say to a woman about the loss of a child, and now the loss of another, and--had Zoe even thought it herself?--the possibility that there would never be a living child of her own to meet and embrace?

And Mal... He’d hurt for her hurting and the bond of his empathy would be another wedge stabbed between Zoe and her husband.

Book rubbed his temple, grimacing.

“Gave you a headache, huh, Preacher?” Mal asked tauntingly.

“You sometimes have that effect,” Book said.

“Only ‘sometimes’,” Mal said with a wicked grin. “I must be slippin’. Want one of these little happy pills of Simon’s? He weren’t kiddin’ when he said they’d ‘take the edge off’.” He paused. “Asshole,” he added as an afterthought. Book had a hunch that was going to be the captain’s private--or maybe not so private--name for the good doctor for some time to come.

With a low laugh, Book said, “I’d have paid a pretty to see you zonked out on those in Inara’s bed.” At Mal’s raised eyebrow query, Book felt heat rise in his cheeks. He added ruefully, “That didn’t come out sounding quite like I intended.”

“Lots of things don’t come out like they’re intended,” Mal muttered, and Book suspected it was more to himself that to the Shepherd. The captain looked distant for a moment as he regarded the treeline. The breeze shifted and the light sound of laughter and voices carried to them. River and Kaylee. Mal let out a small sigh. Then Book saw him give himself a shake and try to pull his cloak of bitter defiance back around himself. Too little, too late, Book thought. He’d seen well and truly past that. Oh, the bitterness, anger, and defiance were real enough, but they weren’t all there was, and--Book suspected--weren’t a part of the ‘real’ Mal, at least not the dominant part.

“So, Preacher. I’ve spilled a whole helluva lot to you about me these past couple days,” Mal said. “Am I gonna be getting my answers about you here now.”

Book cast a long glance over the Sanctuary’s buildings, some clustered together near the chapel, others scatter around the grounds. “I need to put you off just a little while longer. I need to discuss a few matters with others here, and arrange a few meetings. Two hours?” he said, glancing at Mal.

The examination he got was long and probing. “Is this place a danger to my people?” Mal asked.

“No. Trust me on that,” Book said seriously. “It’s better protected than you may imagine, and no one here has ill intent to you or yours.”

This measured look was punctuated by an accepting blink. “All right, then,” Mal said. “Two hours.”

“Why don’t you take a look around the grounds in the meantime,” Book suggested. “It really is quite a pleasant place.”

Nodding his assent, Mal strode away from Book.

* * *

Even though he hadn’t wanted to, Mal had noticed how pretty this place was. And peaceful. Curious, damned thing, that. The sense of ‘peaceful’ radiated out from all around him. Hmph. Radiated. Like an uncontained reactor core?

He ain’t a Shepherd... Ah, hell... He was a Shepherd. Mal couldn’t be reading the man that many kinds of wrong. Book--or whateverthehell his name really was--rode on the side of the good guys, or tried damned hard to. Just... somehow not the fuzzy-wuzzy squishy soft, get smooshed flat whilst turning the other gorram cheek sort of Shepherdy good guy. Did that make any sort of sense? Mal wondered, or was his brain too 他妈的 fuddled up to be making any coherent sense.

Malcolm Reynolds wasn’t so much on the side of the good guys his ownself anymore, now, was he? Not so very much…

No, Book wasn’t lookin’ to trap ‘em, no how. Had he entertained notions on doin’ such a thing, he’d have done it whilst they were stuck there in custody on Harken’s cruiser. And, yet, Mal couldn’t shake the feeling Book had a Big Damned Something he was fixing to aim right square at the captain of Serenity.

Pretty place... Looked a mite bit like... uh, home. No red and gold gas giant fixed in the sky, though. Sky here a touch richer shade of blue, the grass a bit greener. Or had his recollections of Shadow faded into gray over time. Shadows of memory? One of the few pictures he had was black and white. Maybe that shaded his memory. Mal sighed slowly as he ambled along, edging further away from the buildings and closer to the treeline.

Coming over a little rise, he saw barns and pastures stretching out over the rolling landscape. Rich scents of hay and grain mingled with the homey smell of the livestock. Shepherds raised themselves dairy cattle, ‘peared to be. And some hogs. Some truly inspiring gardens stretched out beyond the pasture-land. Dang. Mal hoped this herd of preachers would be willing do some trade. Then he recalled the only money he had was stolen... 狗屎. Did they have anything they could use for barter?

Wandering away from the barns, Mal followed a small stream until he came upon a stand of young trees, just dropping their first yellowed leaves of autumn. The afternoon was warm, but with a hint of future frost in it.

They hadn’t had thick forests on Shadow. More scatter clumps of trees. But there’d been this stand of young trees, down by the creek...

Almost as though drawn against his will, Mal found his feet taking him toward the trees. Maybe it was the doc’s gorram pills making him all mellow and sentimental. Sure, that was it. This weren’t nothing but a clump of foliage. Didn’t mean... didn’t mean...

And when he stretched out on the carpet of fallen leaves beneath the whispery trees, watching the light flicker through their branches, it didn’t mean he was comfortable in this place. Didn’t mean... And when he was drawn back through time and memory to a different ‘verse, when he and Zoe had been young and hopeful and free of the weight of burdens of life and death, it didn’t mean... well, it didn’t mean a damned thing.

* * *


Long Before, On Shadow...

“Good God, Zoe! What in the gorram hell happened to you?”

Zoe couldn’t keep a smile from scoring her face even as she scowled at Mal Reynolds. So this is what it took to crack that no-cussing proper thing of his. Ah, hell, a wonder he just didn’t faint dead away when he saw her come a’waddlin’ down the ramp of Daddy’s ship.

“I would think you could take a good 他妈的 guess,” she hissed. He weren’t actually lookin’ so much at her, as he was starin’ at her tummy with an open-mouthed expression, lookin’ for all the world like he’d just been shot betwixt the eyes and just hadn’t yet had the good sense to drop down dead to the ground.

Suddenly he weren’t lookin’ at Zoe at all, but stared up at the ship like he expected it was gonna sprout arms--with claws, damned sharp ones--to reach down to gut him. What Mal was thinkin’ was written all over his face, clear as could be. Zoe didn’t need to turn to look to see the smirks of the rest of the crew, nor strain to hear their snickers. She’d been living with them for months. “Can’t wait to see the look on that dirt-kisser’s face,” had been the theme onboard for quite the little while.

“Umm… Zoe…” Mal said hesitantly, still staring at the ship. “Should I be expectin’ your daddy to be marchin’ on down here to kill me right at this very minute?”

Zoe bit back a smile. Dang him, anyhow. She’d come out all fixed on bein’ stern and angry, and here he was sounding so utterly and sincerely convinced that her daddy was gonna whoop his ass that she couldn’t help herself of being amused. Ah, gorramit… there was just something so 他妈的 charming about this boy.

“Damn you, Mal Reynolds,” Zoe snapped, then let out a short sigh. “He ain’t gonna kill you just yet. Though your momma’s like to,” she added.

“Oh, hey, don’t you go worryin’ ‘bout Momma,” Mal said, tearing his eyes off the ship to stare back at Zoe. He didn’t seem to know quite where or how to look at her so ended up talking to her hair. Zoe fought back a grin.

“And why’s that?” Zoe asked. Momma Reynolds had yelled a whole helluva lot louder than Daddy had when they’d caught their younguns grapplin’ in the hay mow some-odd months back--well, truth be told, she knew exactly how many months back.

Mal’s face radiated blank innocence. “‘Cause we’ll sure as certain stop on by the preacher’s and get properly hitched before we introduce this predicament to my momma,” Mal said.

“What?!” Zoe squawked.

* * *

“Can you ride?” Mal asked once Zoe settled down a mite. Gorramit. What was wrong with this gal? Shows up swolled up like a poisoned pup then balks like a stubborn ol’ mule when he fixes to make things right.

“Yeah, I can ride,” she said sullenly, but then couldn’t manage to mount on her own.

Mal tried to help but it was damned hard to do (and what was with all these cuss words suddenly floating ‘round in his head, he wondered ruefully) without actually laying hands on her anywhere. Guessed he’d done gone and touched her more than entirely enough already. Good God Almighty (beggin’ your pardon, Lord)... how had this happened? Well. Guessed he knew too good and well the answer to that. Yikes.

Grabbing his hands, Zoe planted them firmly on her so he didn’t have to decide where to touch her. Once they managed to land her on his horse’s back, Mal wrestled with the next conundrum--whether to walk while he led the horse, or mount up behind her. Again Zoe settled the issue by saying... well, snappin’ kinda testily, “Just get on up here, you gorram fool.” Mal obeyed, thankful she couldn’t see him cringe when she wrapped his arm around her... well now, couldn’t quite call it a ‘waist’ anymore, could ya?

“You weren’t so 他妈的 shy when we was makin’ this critter,” Zoe muttered as they rode slowly away from the ship.

“That was different,” Mal said defensively.

Zoe chuckled. “Yeah. Reckon so.”

“Anyhow,” he said, “I figure you’ve had some time to cotton to this notion, whilst it’s just’a smacked me right out of the blue... or Black.”

They rode silently for some time, Mal aiming them almost without thinkin’ on it to the little stand of trees down by the creek. It was a still, peaceful place, where a man could get his bearings and do some clear thinkin’.

“You ain’t asked,” Zoe said suddenly out of the quiet.

“Asked what?”

“If it’s really yours.” Zoe paused a split, then added, “Or if I’m sure it’s really yours.”

Mal pondered on that for a solid minute or more. “Don’t guess I gotta ask such a thing. Guess I trust you to tell me straight out if such a notion merits askin’ on.”

He saw Zoe’s lips twitch and noticed she was blinkin’ hard. “You are a curious one, Malcolm Reynolds,” she said quietly after a moment.

Managing to help her down with less visible consternation, Mal tied his horse to one of the slender trees, then walked beside Zoe down toward the creek. She settled herself heavily to the ground, sitting amidst the fallen leaves and twigs. Picking up a fallen twig, she idly pulled the last clinging leaves off of it. Avoiding lookin’ at him, Mal reckoned.

Mal stood over her, staring down, struggling to deal with the tangle of conflicting emotions surging through him. This situation sure as hell weren’t in the plans. Not that he’d picked out one’a the neighbor gals to settle down with yet, but--他妈的--he sure as certain knew the list of likely candidates down to a one--good gals Momma and the preacher approved of--and… hell, Mal reckoned he could love any one of ‘em well enough if he had to…

Then there was Zoe. Took a shine to her right from the start. Sparkly gal outta the Black. Fierce. Tough. Kinda gal legends are made of.

He watched her break some of the small twigs off the stick. Mal swallowed hard. Looked for all the world like a gun she was shapin’ outta that stick. Permayhapsbe it was Zoe, not her daddy, ponderin’ on shooting him for gettin’ her in this fix. Hell.. it was just a stick and she was just’a fidgety and nervous her ownself. Didn’t mean what he thought. Mal shook it off. But how was she gonna do here on Shadow, settled down on the ranch, raising younguns? Mal frowned. Somehow he couldn’t see Zoe in an apron with a passel of critters hanging off her. Tied down. Not that it weren’t a good life, but it weren’t her life. Mal glanced up and around. But, then, weren’t no other choice. Not like he could go off roaming the stars with her.

He’d had the peculiar little notion right from the start with Zoe that they’d be together a long time. Destiny, might say. Or like the good Lord had a plan and a couple dumb kids just got a jump start on kickin’ that plan into motion. Path don’t always lead where a fella thinks it’s gonna. Might could be that was the case. To everything there was a season… Everything had a purpose. Everything was part of the plan. Everything had a meaning. Even this. Some way, somehow, this innocent little accident they’d made meant something. Something big. Something forever. Forever. Him and Zoe, together forever.

Turning his face upwards, Mal studied on the light flickering through the leaves and branches. Just gotta have faith, he thought. Don’t matter how dark it gets, the light still shines through, showing the path.

Suddenly, Mal grinned down at her.

Zoe met his eyes warily. “What you grinnin’ ‘bout?” she demanded.

“That there is gonna be one beautiful baby,” Mal blurted out, grinning even broader. Couldn’t help it. He’d let the Lord fill him with His serenity, and the certainty that the path through this woods was clear. Mal just knew everything was gonna turn out as it ought.

Shaking her head, Zoe stared at him. “You are a tweaked one, you are,” she said slowly. “Figured you to be bitchin’ an’ moanin’ ‘bout now and there you are looking for all the ‘verse like you are actually happy ‘bout this situation.”

With a long sigh, Mal sank down onto the ground beside her. “Can’t say it didn’t catch me as a big dam-- dang surprise. But it’ll be okay. It’ll work out. I’ll take care of you. You and the youngun. Forever. You can trust me on that.”

The second big shock of the day came to Mal when he looked into Zoe’s eyes and saw, clear as could be, she didn’t believe him.

* * *


Now…

Mal blinked his eyes open, squinting. Sunlight flickered across his eyes through the leafy canopy. Moaning softly, Mal shaded his eyes. Had he dozed off? Pleasant enough dreams, though he couldn’t remember exactly what they were about. Peaceful. A golden leaf spiraled slowly down from the trees.

“Falling…” a soft voice nearby said. Mal turned his head sharply. River sat, legs crossed, a few feet away. She caught the drifting autumn leaf, staring at it intensely. “Falling,” she repeated, to the leaf. “The sun came out. But it always goes dark again. From light into dark. Life into death.”

“River…” Mal started. How’d the gorram girl sneak up on him like that? That was unsettling. More’n the words she was babblin’.

Flinging her head backward, River peered upwards. “Light and shadow, light and shadow,” she chanted. “Shadow of death.” Crumpling the leaf, River dropped it to the ground, then quickly buried it beneath a pile of its fallen comrades. Mal groaned. Too gorram easy to read too much into what that girl said and did. Shoulda stuck with ignoring her crazy ramblings. Easier. Simpler.

“River, what are you doin’ here?” Mal demanded.

She smiled over at him. “Followed the path,” she said. Mal scowled. He hadn’t seen no path. She picked up a stick beside her, holding it up. Mal stared at it. She’d broken off bits to make it gun-shaped. “It doesn’t mean what you think,” River said meaningfully.

“I think it’s a stick, River,” Mal said carefully.

The girl stared back down. She turned the stick over and over. “Oh,” she said, seeming surprised. “Then I guess it is what you think,” she said in a puzzled tone.

“I think you ought to get on back to your brother,” Mal said nudgingly.

River shook her head. “He’s such a boob.”

With a chuckle, Mal said, “I can think of better words.”

Fixing a solemn gaze on him, Mal saw clarity and coherency return to the girl’s eyes--the cryptic crazies vanishing as quickly as they came. River said, “But he’s not stupid. He’s making me better. He is,” she added defensively when she saw the dubious look Mal gave her. “Can make you better, too,” she said, “if you let him.”

Struggling to sit upright, Mal said evenly, “I don’t need no fixin’, sweetie.”

Mal didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe when she gave him the ‘you’re such a boob’ look she sometimes gave her brother. Damnably pesky having a mind reader around sometimes.

“I remember everything,” River whispered, her eyes going distant, but not vacant, again. Mal frowned. He more’n a little didn’t want to be dealing with her just now. “Remember too much.”

“Don’t we all,” Mal injected in a whisper.

“All the bits. She remembers everything too.” River refocused on Mal, shaking herself all over. “Confession time,” she announced loudly. Mal felt his insides tighten despite himself. Too damned many ways to take that little pronouncement.

“Yeah,” Mal said distractedly, climbing to his feet. He brushed the leaves and twigs off himself, then reached down to help River up. No need. She sprang to her feet effortlessly and twirled away in a dance to music Mal sure as hell couldn’t hear. Then, with a sudden chill, he did. River was dancing in time to the breeze swaying the treetops. Dancing with the trees. Gorramit. He really, really preferred it when he didn’t understand a thing she said or did.

At a slow trudge, Mal climbed up out of the stand of trees to the sunlit slope. River stopped halfway up the rise and turned back toward him.

“Two by two,” she chanted, but stopped before finishing the rhyme. Her huge eyes stared into him. River quirked a tiny smile. “Time to conquer the ‘verse.”

Mal scowled and continued on toward his meeting with Shepherd Book. He didn’t know what that gal meant, but something about it was all manner of disturbing.

Part 34: Of Many Books

COMMENTS

Sunday, November 28, 2004 2:37 PM

RELFEXIVE


Ahhh... shiny

Can't wait for the next one... hope it's not so long a wait!

Sunday, November 28, 2004 2:42 PM

AMDOBELL


I absolutely adore this series and the way you write Mal just makes me want to up and hug him. *Xie xie ni*, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, November 28, 2004 2:45 PM

JEBBYPAL


Mal’s face radiated blank innocence. “‘Cause we’ll sure as certain stop on by the preacher’s and get properly hitched before we introduce this predicament to my momma,” Mal said.

“What?!” Zoe squawked.

OMG, that was the best line ever!!!!!

And I'm w/ Mal, River isn't make alot of sense but I can't wait till it does!

Sunday, November 28, 2004 3:42 PM

POTEMKINVILLAGER


Gush!

I'm going to have to sparingly mete out the superlatives, on account of there's so much here to enjoy, and, it seems, so much more to come.

Hope you're not seeking (more) incisive commentary. That would be a kick in the butt to the lazy lurker feasting on your tasty stories.

Mixed metaphorically,
PV

Monday, November 29, 2004 12:27 AM

KISPEXI2


As usual, totally gobsmacked by the tightness and poetry of your writing. So much detail in so few words.

Loved the opening section - the way you set a concrete scene that had all those layers of history in it too. Particularly liked the image of Mal "his stance shouted his resistance to whatever charms this world might hold".

And the twig/gun thing was all manner of creepifying - and utterly right. As was Mal's "I think it's a stick." Funny.

Lots of funny. Jayne and Simon. "Asshole" (*g*!!) Pregnant Zoe. Adored "lookin’ for all the world like he’d just been shot betwixt the eyes and just hadn’t yet had the good sense to drop down dead to the ground".

All intertwined with the chilling "when he looked into Zoe’s eyes and saw, clear as could be, she didn’t believe him" and foreboding "“Time to conquer the ‘verse.”

Mal scowled and continued on toward his meeting with Shepherd Book. He didn’t know what that gal meant, but something about it was all manner of disturbing."

Shiny, so very shiny!


Wednesday, December 1, 2004 1:53 AM

CASTIRONJACK


Don't think I'm not taking notes there, Guildsister. I've really been impressed by your insight into Book, and now it's his turn to shine, as all the characters have had in your series, and I can't wait to see what you're going to do with him. Book is the one character that I absolutely dread writing for because there was so little to go on from the series.

Good job,

And keep flyin'



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