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Antebellum - Book I: Chapter Ten
Saturday, May 6, 2006

The tenth chapter in a Big Damn Sequel series. In this installment: After a fine dinner at the Novaks...


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1648    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

A/N: Yep, I'm back writing chapters for this behemoth of a fan fiction after a brief (i.e. long) hiatus. For the full story, read my latest blog entitled: Antebellum: Back and with a Vengeance.

Since it's been a while, I encourage folks new to this series to start from the beginning just by clicking on my name up there. Or read my aforementioned blog which contains a chapter by chapter recap of everything that's happened so far.

In either case, enjoy, friends!

P.S. This one goes out to AgentRouka and everyone else who has been reading. Candle wax, friends!

Book One – Chapter Ten ________________________________________________________________

The stars were different. That put Mal’s stomach slightly to rest.

Everything else about Neo Sombra made him want to unload his newly acquired dinner all over the thick grass. The grass was thickest by the edge of the pond where Mal stood, so of course that made him the most sick. He remembered having a pond like this one very close to his mother’s house when he was little. He would often try fishing by there. There weren’t any fish in it, none measuring more than three inches or so, but he would pretend anyway as the moss on the surface slowly grew around his fishing line.

But the pond was gone. He was sure of it. And this was something Mal was having trouble reminding himself of at that particular moment. Looking into the water and seeing a different face than the thirteen-year-old face that had greeted him in the past made him feel better for seconds at a time.

The dinner was good. That is, the food was good. The atmosphere understandably was less than five stars. Mal did his part to stay quiet, and dutifully finished his meal, thanking his hostess, Carolina, every now and again. Jayne shoveled the steak into his mouth as if his paycheck depended on it. Kaylee chatted small talk with Carolina and James’ two girls, Julie and Emma. Simon and Inara, both being the well-bred Alliance-born citizens they were, were the pictures of politeness and respect.

Simon had even come with a sort of peace offering. He gave the fruits from Three Hills to the Novaks, cleverly avoiding the question of how they came across them. Mal saw the gesture as a cheap way to keep from incurring Kaylee’s wrath, since she was not all too pleased with Simon’s hand in the theft of the fruit.

James didn’t say a word the entire night. Even when his young wife would nudge him on the arm to get him to join her and Kaylee’s conversation, he simply nodded approvingly and returned to his food. Mal figured it was probably for the best. James knew it was, too.

The house even. The house was even an exact replica of the one James had when he was young. The patio, however, didn’t have the hole that Mal “accidentally” burned into the wood, so that was another thing that eased him.

The stars were different. So Mal concentrated looking up at the new constellations, finally convinced he was on another planet. Any planet other than Shadow. Shadow was dead, and Mal was having a great deal of trouble remembering that fact. But then again, he guessed that was the whole point of this planet.

A smile began to form on his face unexpectedly when the stars started moving in tight circles around the pond. Fireflies. About twenty of them glistening off the glassy surface, just like at home. That was a memory Mal was happy to bring back. The first time he had seen a firefly. That was nice.

An arm snaked loosely around his own, and Kaylee leaned her body against Mal’s left side, staring off across the pond at the fireflies with her captain. He was too at ease at that particular moment to be surprised, and she did make him feel more comfortable out there.

“Wha’cha lookin’ at?” she asked.

“Fireflies.”

She smiled at Mal, brushing her fingers through the parts of his hair that had grown little gray hairs, inspecting them. Her own hair was dampened by her latest shower, courtesy of the Novaks. Her clothes clung slightly to her somewhat damp skin, as she didn’t want to wait to dry off completely before getting dressed.

“Bring back memories? This place?”

“Yeah,” Mal said with a sigh.

“Good ones?”

“A couple.”

Kaylee nodded silently for two seconds before starting again.

“I think ‘Nara’s in the shower right now. You know, if you wanna say ‘hi’ or somethin’,” she hinted, although that was about as subtle as Kaylee could manage.

Mal clenched his jaw at his mechanic. “So where’s the doc? I figured you’d be all up and down on him by now. Or are you holding your desires still until after you two break up again for the eleventh time?”

Kaylee dropped Mal’s arm in a huff, and looked at him with a hurt look in her eye. “You see what happens! You see what happens when a girl comes out here tryin’ to make you feel better? Gets her heart all impounded is what,” she pouted.

“All right, all right,” Mal said hugging her close again. “I apologize.”

“I mean, we already did it twice in the shower, so we’re probably done for the night,” she explained.

Mal let go of Kaylee without any hesitation. “O-kay then.”

Kaylee leaned her damp head against her captain’s shoulder, now entranced by the lightning bugs as well.

“Dinner was good,” she said simply.

Mal couldn’t help but grin at her unrelenting optimism. “Yeah, it was.”

“You think the Baron’ll help us?”

“Don’t know. Certainly hope so.” Mal cleared out his lungs in one long exhale. The air tasted like a memory he once had, and he was eager to get rid of it.

“Look,” he began again. “I’m sorry that I teased you ‘bout Simon.”

Kaylee looked the Captain directly into his eyes. “All the times you teased me ‘bout Simon, or just the most recent time?”

“Just the most recent.”

“I see.”

“But things’re good ‘tween you two now? Beside the whole fruit thing?”

“Yeah,” Kaylee said with a satisfied smirk. “Truth is, we’re always ‘good.’ He makes Serenity warmer, you know? And I’m glad he’s ‘round ‘n all. It’s just… Some parts of him never change. And other parts seem to wanna change more ‘an they should.”

Kaylee opened her mouth again, struggling for more words, but none came out, so she sighed and stared at the fireflies.

“Okay,” Mal said. “So here’s my question: If he’s so difficult and so… ‘Simon,’ why do you crawl back to him each and every time he breaks your heart?”

Kaylee looked up at Mal startled, her attention to the insects effectively terminated. As a smile crept to her lips, her light, high-pitched laughter filled the air around the pond. In spite of himself, Mal joined her with a low chuckle.

“You just don’t get it, do ya, Cap?”

“I really don’t.”

She paused, rubbing his arm and looking at him with admiration.

“You know what the first rule of flyin’ is, Cap?”

Mal smiled and looked back out at the pond.

“I surely do.”

“Well, that’s why. Keeps us in the air when we oughta fall down. Why else do we do what we do? Why else would seven folk stay on a boat that could kill ’em?”

The pond didn’t look too bad to Mal anymore. He didn’t want to stare at it anymore, but it didn’t sicken him really. But truthfully, he wasn’t thinking about the pond at the moment.

“So… you love Simon, huh?”

“Yep.” There wasn’t a hint of uncertainty in Kaylee’s voice.

“You gonna marry ‘im?”

“When he asks me.”

Mal would never say it out loud, but he was happy to hear that. He was happy to know that with all the pain and bad luck he had led Kaylee into, she still had hope for happiness. In fact, she was planning on it.

“Hm,” was all Mal could muster for a reply.

“What?”

“No, it’s just… It’s just I always thought he was sly.”

“Will you stop!” Kaylee laughed, pushing Mal’s shoulder. “I’m going back to the ship. Don’t think about following me!”

“How ‘bout I lead you there, li’l Kaylee?”

“Well… all right.”

***

After taking her long overdue shower, Zoe soon found herself wandering around the house of the Novaks. It was a nice house. Not the kind of house she ever pictured herself living in, mind you, but a very modest, organic house. Having grown up entirely on a space cruiser until she was twelve, Zoe had never placed a white picket fence in her childhood dreamings.

But then, she stopped thinking about that a while ago.

To Zoe, a home was just something that you lived in for a period of time.

On one of the walls in one of the halls, there were horizontal markings grouped close together, carved into the wood. With further inspection, Zoe came to the conclusion that the markings were of the heights of Julie and Emma Novak, both of them starting at age 3. Since Julie was a year older than her sister, she had the most marks and the highest one was about six or so inches above Emma’s highest mark.

If Zoe had seen that a year and a half ago, it would have devastated her. Nowadays, it didn’t phase her one bit.

She was forced to recall, however, how hard those couple months after Wash died were. How she spent each and every day praying that she was pregnant, that somehow Wash had allowed a way for his spirit to live on. But as the months piled onto her mind, Zoe became convinced that it wasn’t going to happen. But the road to that realization was a hard and bumpy one. One that nearly got her killed. But something good came from her near-death. After she recovered from that particular ordeal, she found herself cleansed. Now she was able to accept those certain facts. Namely, the facts that her husband was dead and their child that she once had fantasized about would never live.

A year and a half ago, those horizontal markings would have crushed her. Now she was over it. She was better now.

Passing through to the kitchen, Zoe began to hear the familiar voices of James and River. They seemed to be talking about James’ cattle and such, leading Zoe to believe that River had stimulated the conversation. The young girl also helped James with the dishes, drying them off after he soaped and rinsed them.

“They’re glad you took down the wire,” River said to James.

“I wish I could say it was for them,” he responded. “We had to cut down on our power usage last fall.”

Zoe let a smile come to her face, wondering if James was seriously discussing this with River or just humoring her.

“They suspected that. But they’re grateful anyway. The wire was giving the little ones nightmares.”

River turned her head to see Zoe standing in the doorway to the kitchen and smiled her light, weary smile. James looked as well, but a smile was the furthest thing from his lips.

“River sweetie,” Zoe said. She still had a habit of talking to River as if she were a child. “You should probably take a shower now if you’re going to take one. We don’t want to keep the Novaks up all night.

River smiled at James and walked toward Zoe leaning close by to whisper:

“Help him with the dishes. And be nice. He’s very afraid right now.”

And then she left, leaving Zoe alone with her former brother in arms. Dutifully to River, she pulled up beside James to dry the ceramic plates and bowls. Carolina had taken out her finest dishware for her guests.

After a prolonged silence, James surprised Zoe by saying the first word.

“She’s a cute kid.”

“Yeah. Yeah, she is.” Zoe concentrated on not looking at James; rather focusing just on the plates and the dish rag.

“A little strange, but…” James chuckled low for an instant, but then falling solemn once again. “Is it true what they’ve been saying about her?”

“What?” Zoe asked, unsure of a better response.

“That she’s a governmental spy. A genetically engineered Reader that those people on Haven were slaughtered for protecting?”

“James? Do you really want me to answer that question truthfully?”

A sad smile spread James’ lips. “I guess not.”

Another silence hung between the two.

“Where’s Carolina?” Zoe asked.

“Putting the kids to bed.”

Zoe swallowed deep, wondering how many more dishes they had to wash.

“This place really looks nice. You must be proud.”

“Yeah,” James spoke quietly. “Did you ever see Shadow, Zoe?”

“Only on viewscreens. I visited it once on the recruitment trail, but I stayed in the ship.”

“It was truly a beautiful thing to behold. I never quite understood why the Core planets were always labeled the ‘pinnacle of human excellence’ and all that… Shadow. Shadow was human excellence.” He grew silent and washed the cup in his hands a second time. James smiled an ironic smile. “I remember the first time that I told Mal about this place. I said to him, ‘The survivors of Shadow are setting up a new planet. It’s gonna be just like back home. Same air and everything. We’re using our reparation accounts to pay for it. It’s gonna be our own landscape. Forever.’ You know what Mal said to me?”

“I think I can imagine.”

“’He said to me—as if he wasn’t even listening to me—he says to me, ‘James, I’m using my reparation account to buy a ship. We’re gonna own the sky. Zoe’s my first mate and we need ourselves a pilot. You in?’ I tell you, Zoe,” he chuckled a little more in a desperate fashion, “I wanted so much to just beat that son-bitch’s face in with a tire wrench.”

It truly pained Zoe to hear James laugh in such a way. But his tacked on mirth soon dwindled.

“Why did you do it, Zoe?”

“Do what, James?”

“Why did you follow him? Why did you let him do that to himself? To you? To that poor girl?”

“You don’t know our situation, James,” Zoe said with restrained emotion. “You never did.”

“Don’t you dare throw that ‘you never leave Serenity Valley’ excuse in my face!” James was yelling now, but he softened his voice enough so not to disturb his young daughters. He swung his body to face Zoe. “I knew Mal years before you did, and I didn’t feel the need to follow him into the depths of Hell! Why didn’t you help him? Why didn’t you help him like you helped me?”

“You would’ve done the same.” Zoe’s voice was harshly even. She interrupted him before he was able to respond again. “If you were on our crew and seen what we had seen, you would’ve followed Mal exactly where he was leading you.”

“Zoe, if I were on your crew, it would’ve been me with a gorramn Reaver harpoon through my chest!”

If Zoe were any other woman, she probably would have remained silent, possibly excusing herself before the conversation escalated even further. If Zoe were any other woman, she would have ignored the comment, she would have stayed silent, recognizing James’ hurt and his depression regarding the topic.

Zoe wasn’t that kind of girl.

She socked James in the stomach with enough force that sent him reeling on top of the sink to catch his breath. His inhales came in long, whistling scratches for a while but he soon regained his steady breathing. However, he stayed hunched over the sink, unwilling to look back up at Zoe.

“I apologize,” he said finally. “That was out of line.”

“Yeah,” Zoe said softly.

Wearily, James looked up at her and saw her still bristling somewhat.

“This is the part where you apologize for punching me.”

“I’m not sorry for that,” she said simply, causing James to chuckle once more, stopping to tend to his sore stomach muscles.

He lowered himself onto the ground and leaned against the floor cupboards, breathing in and out, sending oxygen to his damaged tissues.

“Zoe, after tomorrow, after Mal makes his call, I don’t want either of you to come back here. All right?” She didn’t answer, so he asked again. “All right?”

“All right.” Zoe wasn’t completely sure what the silence was for, but she knew it wasn’t because the two of them had run out of things to say. “James?”

“Yeah, Zoe?”

“I’m going to wait in the living room for River to come down from the shower. Then I’m going to take her back to the ship.”

“That’s fine. Make yourself comfortable.” James leaned his head against the cupboards.

As Zoe was about to leave the kitchen, she turned to see her old friend, sitting on the floor of his perfect house, and she started wondering if coming to Neo Sombra was really worth it.

“I’m sorry I hit you, James.”

James smiled to himself but refused to look up at her.

“No, you’re not.”

“No, I’m not. Not by a long shot. You hear me, James?”

He didn’t look up at her.

“Yeah, Zoe. I hear you.”

When she left, James heaved a hearty sigh and pushed himself off the dirty floor, mumbling to himself.

“I’m not all too sorry neither.”

COMMENTS

Saturday, May 6, 2006 5:11 PM

LEIASKY


Oh my god! You updated! I just read the entire series today and was so depressed when i got to the end and there hadn't been updates for a while!

I hope you keep posting regularly!

Mal and Kaylee's conversation was just SPOT ON! I could see both actors saying those lines.

Zoe and James were lovely as well.

Hop Simon gets the chance to give that necklace to Kaylee. I assume it will be along with a wedding proposal?

Eager to see what kind of action is coming up too!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 12:03 AM

LEIGHKOHL


I'm totally addicted, I've read this whole series when I should've gone to bed!!! Now I will be so lethargic at work, I won't be worth a damn! The Kaylee Mal convo was just perfect, the end made me squeal, quietly since I don't want to wake any one up! You've got a new, devoted fan in me!!! Awesome and can't wait for your next post!!!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 1:04 AM

AMDOBELL


At last, another part of the story. I was beginning to think you were just going to leave us hanging and I did love it so much. Loved the way Neo Sombra affected Mal and Kaylee coming out to him and helping cheer him up and I really liked Zoe putting James in his place. All that lovely house and beautiful location not putting a patch of understanding on that man's soul.
Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, May 7, 2006 1:26 AM

ANA


Thank God! The patron saint of WIP's (namely, St. Jude ;) ) has not abandoned the faithful in their hour of need.

All of which means I'm really really glad that you're still working on this. I hope your schedule becomes a bit easier, too. You're good, and we need all the good stories we can get.

Frankly, I thought Zoe's reaction to James' comment was too mild by half. Army buddy or not, she should've punched him in the face.

As for Mal, well, I'm starting to believe that man's scars run so far into his soul that they won't ever heal. Which makes me very sad, because such a good man shouldn't live with that kind of monkey on his back for the rest of his life.

And I really liked Kaylee's observation that he was starting to go a bit gray. They are getting older, aren't they?

Sunday, May 7, 2006 1:28 AM

AGENTROUKA


Ah, a new part, and what a lovely one at that!

I can't decite what it the more powerful image... Mal struggling with the world he's buried and finding comfort in the good memories, aided by the unbelievable sweetness that is Kaylee, who is probably the epitome of pure, childlike happiness...

... or Zoe, caught between the two extremes, a man who made himself a slave to escaping the world or one who went a built a shrine to a dead planet. Not that, you know, there is much of a question for her...

I love the last line most especially. They are both right and while they may say the right things to keep things smooth (eventually), they just can't reconcile that gulf between them. James' anger is one of my favorite things about this story because it's so justified. What right do they have to put his family in danger like that?

And yet, who is he to judge the life they chose?


Pretty, pretty, pretty.


Now I'm all hungry for more. Where's the next course? *g*

Sunday, May 7, 2006 1:45 AM

TAYEATRA


A welcome return to this series... and thanks for the handy recap.

I love the way you wrote Zoe, it just felt really true to character.

Your Mal, pondering the memories by the pond was very beautiful. Softly written and showing just the right amount of soul scars.

Very, Very good!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 7:16 AM

BRAINSPECIALIST


'You gonna marry him?'
'When he asks me.' Great line.

Well done that man.
Keep it up!

Thursday, May 25, 2006 7:47 PM

THEABYSS


Damn...both of my favorite Firefly fanfic series' go into retreat for a few months. College beckons, I know, but....damn. Oh well, both are back up and running now. Running very well at that. Great story so far, I loved the talk between Mal and Kaylee.


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