Digging Through Memories
Monday, February 19, 2007

Post series, pre-BDM. The crew remembers little things about the one person who keeps this ragtag gang together. A bit long, but not long enough to break into my opinion. Comments welcome, as always. All characters belong to Joss, usual disclaimers apply.


The explosion rocked the ground, sending Zoë and Wash flying. The fireball that erupted over their heads only committed them to their prone positions, kissing the dirt and holding precious little air tight in their lungs. When the air was only mildly tangy and the sound was still watery in their ears, Zoë was the first up and looking towards the general direction of where the building had been. Soundlessly dropping her jaw, she began making her wavering way to the rubble.

Mal had only just entered the ramshackle building moments before the explosion.

Wash was still on the ground, shaking his head in disbelief. He wasn't sure his heart was still beating, despite the pounding he felt in his chest. The frame was still burning and there was his wife, now running towards it, calling for Mal to answer. He was up, stumbling, running, suddenly unable to catch a breath. The smoke was pouring out of the building. It looked like more smoke than fire...was that possible?

Why was Mal not answering Zoë? Wash realized he was now calling Mal's name between coughing and curses.

The townspeople were running with water. Zoë was pushing at debris. She moved fluidly now, systematically, pushing aside boards that were keeping her from going into a burning building that was still collapsing on itself.

Wash grabbed his wife around the waist and pulled back at her, just as flames leapt out to engulf her.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Wash shouted.

"The Captain is in there!" Zoë insisted. Wash looked back at the flames and smoke and burning wood.

"Then..." he gulped for fresh air, the cacophany of townspeople throwing buckets of water and shouting for more overpowering his shaken mind. "Then, we have to get him out."


Inara had been delighted to find a client here. She had been trying to prepare herself to leave Serenity, but lately Mal had been finding planets on which they could both work more and more, even on the Rim. This particular gentleman had been cultivating a vineyard, as they had done on Earth-That-Was, as the climate had been more than perfect. Roland had been a gracious host and insisted on showing her each corner of his large estate in person, often on horseback and more often with a surprise picnic in the shade waiting them.

He had been so glad to find someone from the Core, someone with an education in philosophy with whom he could banter courteously, that he had begged another few days from her. When she had 'waved Serenity to see what plans the crew had, she was surprised to discover Mal was willing to stay on a bit longer. So, remain with Roland she had.

After all, how often did she have the opportunity to enjoy real wine in the company of such a finely educated and well-mannered man?

Today, her final day with him, she was quietly relieved to return to a little chaos on the ship. She had docked her shuttle and found Kaylee keeping Simon company while River kept the two busy enough to claim business on ship. Upon further questioning, she learned that the Shepherd, Captain, pilot, first mate and merc had all gone into town for final supplies. Thinking she, too, could pick up some small item as keepsake, she began her way into town.

"Don't let the Cap'n forget he's to bring back exactly what's on my list!" Kaylee called after her. "No exceptions! He promised!"

She had just made it to the town when the building furthest from her exploded into flames.

Inara stood, not realizing she had been knocked to her knees and saw the familiar forms of Zoë and Wash run towards the building. Feeling a cold fist clamp around her heart, she tried to walk, but ended up running with the crowds towards the blackening frame of what was once the repair shop.

She grasped Wash's arm as he was heaving another full bucket at the flames.

"What happened?" she gasped. It was Zoë who answered.

"The Captain went in there. It exploded. We have to get him out." Inara saw the control in Zoë's posture, heard the tightness in her voice. The first mate was tying her hair back and wrapping a wet cloth around it to keep it from catching fire.

"What was he doing in there?" Inara demanded, unaware she still clasped Wash's arm. He pried her fingers from his skin and patted her hand tenderly.

"He was going in to get the last of Kaylee's list," he picked up the bucket and went to fill it again.

"And you let him go in ALONE?!" Inara choked out. The smoke was heavier here. She looked helplessly at the heap that still smoldered and smoked as the townsfolk doused it again and again with water.

"Didn't see no reason not to," Zoë said quietly. She looked behind Inara and nodded towards the building. There were men shouting orders to one another, calling for more water, calling for more help. Somewhere a bell was ringing. Inara could hear none of it. All she could hear was Mal's voice.

"Inara, I ain't looking for anything from you. I'm just feeling kind of truthsome right now. Life is too damn short for ifs and maybes."

"The fire's still burnin', but there're no bodies come out. They must be somewhere. Let's start diggin' where we can. Find 'em and get 'em out!" she called to the unseen help. Inara half-turned and saw Jayne and Book running towards them.

"Heard the explosion," Jayne puffed. "What happened?"

"Don't know yet," a passing townsman called over the noise. "But I'd bet Mags tried to light up his smoke while the fumes were still foggin' his vision."

"That fool deserves t'die in his own stupidity!" another fire fighting passerby shouted angrily.

Book's face hardened at the comment but he turned to Zoë.

"Where is the building most stable?" he asked. Zoë pointed. He and Jayne started to make their way there.

Zoë stopped Inara from following.

"Inara, go back to the ship. Get the doctor. I've a feeling we'll be needin' his service," she said grimly. Inara glanced again at the building, tears forming in her eyes. She nodded and turned, running back to Serenity for the doctor.


Jayne pulled back another blackened board and handed it behind him to Wash, who staggered under the weight of it. It was Wash who saw the blood on it. His head began to swim.

He hadn't wanted to, but his wife had woken up and insisted they turn the shuttle around, return to the Serenity. The minute they saw it, all of them knew the engine was back on.

"Wasn't he going to call us back when he got his miracle?" Simon asked from Zoë's side. Wash nodded.

"Maybe he's on his way there now?" Wash offered. He kept an eye on the sky around him as he deflty settled the shuttle back in its place. They still had not heard so much as a cough from Mal's ship.

"Hurry," River whispered. They all looked at her; she had been silently watching the stars go by for most of the short trip. Now she was curled up in the corner, eyes wide and frightened.

"It hurts," she gasped. Zoë looked to her husband with fresh worry in her eyes.

"I'll go out first," he said bravely. In his head, he wished Jayne were available to send out first. But, four to a shuttle, Mal had instructed. And if Jayne had been with them, that meant one of these three would not have been there.

"Take a weapon," Zoë insisted. He nodded, his mouth going dry. This was not his area of expertise. It was hers. But she was still laid out from before. He didn't want her getting any worse.

He held the gun in his sweating hands as he stepped out as quietly as he could into the shuttle bay. His eyes searched high and low...and saw the bloody handprint.

His slow and painfully loud footsteps echoed around him as he followed the blood. He heard only the silence, and he knew once he saw the ravaged infirmary that he needed to hurry. He gave up on the possibility of danger and his attempts at being quiet and ran forward, dropping the gun and searching for a bleeding captain.

Wash found him on the floor of the bridge, an arm's reach from the red button.

"Mal!" he gasped. He slammed his palm against the button, calling the other shuttle back and, using the comm, demanded the doctor get to the bridge.

"Mal's hurt!"

Book caught Wash as he swayed.

"You need to sit down, son?" Book asked carefully. Zoë was now helpign Jayne pull away at the debris. The fire was under control, but the acrid smell of smoke still hung in the air.

"Blood," Wash moaned, pointing at it. "I found him that time...there was...blood..."

"I know," Book said, helping Wash to a seat on the ground. "I helped clean it up."

A familiar shout brought Wash out of his nightmare. He saw Kaylee, Simon, Inara and even River making their way towards them.

"Kaylee," Zoë admonished when they were close enough to hear. "You take River back to the ship. We don't need someone recognizing her."

"We couldn't stop her," Kaylee gasped. "She heard the explosion and took off runnin'!"

Inara nodded, gulping for air. "They were halfway here when I found them."

Wash stood and tossed the bloodied board on the pile they had started forming.

"Then let's keep digging," he ordered grimly. They all nodded.

Soon, they had an assembly line made up of townspeople and crew alike, each pulling and handing off some blackened, drenched bit of wood or twisted frame. Kaylee and River remained towards the back of the group, Kaylee's tears slipping quietly down her face, as she contemplated life with her captain once again confined to the infirmary.

People continued to call out names of those believed to have been in the building when the foolish drunk of a mechanic had struck a match with fuel leaking around his shoes. The sun was setting and Kaylee wondered if they'd ever get to the bottom of the mess. The stink of the burning was getting worse now, making it harder and harder to breathe. She started coughing and, unable to stop, was forced to sit down. She felt River's hand grasping her own and was overcome with a memory of her own.

They had just pulled off a Crazy Ivan and Simon had allowed Kaylee to rest in her own room. She had been sleeping, but woke when the weight of another blanket was placed over her shoulders. She stirred, opened her eyes and saw Mal looking concerned.

"You were talkin' in your sleep," he whispered. "Came down to keep you company for a spell."

"What time is it?" she asked.

"Late," he answered, standing. "You go on back to sleep. I'll leave you to it." He turned to go.

"Wait," she said, moving to sit up. He stopped and looked back at her.

"I'm glad you let them stay," she smiled. "It's a good thing. You'll see."

"They're crew now," he nodded. "Don't know how good a thing they can be, though. More mouths to feed. More bodies to hide."

"They'll grow on ya," she offered cheerily. "Same as me."

He chuckled at that.

"Didn't take no growin' with you," he smiled. "You jus' took to us as quick as we took to you. Now get some sleep. I ain't payin' ya to laze about, milkin' this for all it's worth and then some."

She grinned as he tucked her in again and watched him go.

And now she was trying to dig him out, but helplessly crying while little River squeezed her hand in an attempt to comfort. She stood up, her determination newly restored. They went back to the assembly line.


It was dark before long. Jayne's arms were feeling rubbery as he reached for yet another piece of charred wood. This time, as he pulled at it, he heard a moan from someone beneath.

"We got someone here!" he shouted, almost joyously at the people. Spirits were lifted, people began to work with him to pull the heavier pieces away. There was a small, balding head revealed with the next piece. Jayne looked up to see Zoë's eyes. He shook his head.

An easily flustered wife came flying to her husband's little bald head, weeping with gratitude that his death was still far off. Several of the people who had been helping pull away the debris worked around the woman to get the rest of her husband out of the rubble and carried him to Simon, who now could feel useful.

Jayne watched a moment before returning to the work at hand. His mind switched to autopilot as he remembered...

Mal had looked an absolute, rutting mess. Blood dribbled from everywhere. He had remained conscious long enough to watch the bullett-ridden torturer fall into the mining shaft, but if Jayne hadn't caught him, he probably would have fallen over, as well. Wash had rushed over then, and taken most of the weight of the captain on his own shoulders. Jayne caught a look of pride in Zoë's eyes. Between the three of them, they managed to get Mal back into Niska's office and then position him so his weight was balanced between Wash and Jayne. Zoë took point and led them back through the hallway.

Mal mumbled incoherently a few times, and Jayne heard Wash respond with witty remarks as they half-carried, half-dragged the man back to his ship. When they caught up with Book and Simon, the Shepherd had taken Jayne's place - Wash would not move from his position.

Jayne watched as the crew's hope lifted when they each saw the bloodied, beaten man returned to Serenity. He had wondered if they would do such a mission for him...especially if they knew.

Mal knew, though, and he hadn't told any of 'em. Jayne realized he was glad they had saved him. He saw he held them together.

Wash finally relenquished his hold on Mal to Jayne and ran to get them safely away. Jayne and Book deposited Mal in the infirmary and stood back to let the doc do his thing. The doc even went so far as to order everyone out but Zoë as he began tending to the wounds. Jayne had never seen markings like that, and he'd worked this business long enough to see his share of markings. Simon probed one gently and Mal's hand shot out, grabbing the wrist, his eyes open, but unseeing.

"Captain," Zoë had kept her voice low and calm. "Captain. Let go. He's helping." Simon's mouth was open, he was obviously in some pain, but he was letting Zoë do the talking.

"Zoë?" Mal gasped, finally.

"You're safe," she said. "Just let go of the doctor's hand so he can fix you up."

"Oh," he mumbled and let his hand drop. Simon, cradling his wrist, turned to Jayne, who still hadn't left. Mal's eyes were closing again.

"Would you mind-?" he nodded towards the counter, where the dope shot lay waiting. Jayne handed it to Simon willingly.

"Let 'im sleep," Jayne muttered, uncomfortable around this side of a torture victim. He was more comfortable inflicting the torture...not seeing someone try this hard to still not break...not someone he knew...

Jayne shook himself out of his memory as he heard another groan make its way from the rubble. He called for help again and was met with dozens of people rushing forward to get another survivor out.


Four people later, Simon was beginning to think Mal had either not entered the building at all, or was lost forever. He watched the families and neighbors gather around their loved ones, and sought out River. She was still sifting through charred wood and ashes. Seeing his patients were all being tended to by their wives or daughters, he hurried down to River's side.

"Mei mei, you have to rest," he insisted. "I'm not sure we'll be needed here much longer."

River looked at him with that look he seemed to bring out most often.

"You worry too much," she said flatly.

In truth, if they didn't find Mal soon, he wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to stay with Serenity. Jayne was never comfortable around the Tams, but Mal had always been there to balance the odds. While he had every faith that the rest of the crew would keep Simon and River safe, he wasn't sure how long Jayne would remain loyal to the cause.

He remembered the captain's words after he had doubted Mal would return to rescue the siblings from the town of kidnappers.

"You're on my crew."

"Yes, don't even like me."

"You're on my crew. Why we still talkin' about this?"

A cough cut through Simon's thoughts. He saw Book, Jayne, Wash and Zoë pushing at the last few boards and smiles cut through the darkness.

Then he heard a familiar voice croak out:

"What took you so long?"

He doubted he would ever find a captain quite like that again, no matter how long he looked.


Monday, February 19, 2007 6:21 PM


Loved this-- you're dead on with the characters' voices, and the way you filled out the flashbacks with missing scenes was great.
The story was tense enough to make me sweat, but the ending made me smile. "What took you so long?"...tee hee!

Monday, February 19, 2007 11:12 PM


Excellent! I loved the infill bits, particularly after Mal is saved on Niska's skyplex, because it always did seem somewhat pat that, injured as he was, he's walking around so soon after.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 1:08 AM


Absolutely brilliant! I was holding my breath and praying that they would find Mal alive. If anyone could survive an exploding building it is the Captain and thank goodness he did. I loved all the little sparks of memory from different members of the crew and found it very moving in many places. Kudos to you and thanks, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 2:16 AM


Really loved this fic! Wonderful writing and a rare glimpse at a few old memories. Very original!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 10:42 AM


Ok, I just want to know if there's gonna be more. You have a wonderful gift, Kacidilla, and I wanna read a lot more from you. Keep it coming!


Tuesday, February 20, 2007 9:36 PM


There's more to this, right? We still need to get remaining BDHs' memories of Mal to ensure equality...right?


Still...amazing work here, kacidilla! Definitely could imagine this as a "missing" episode before "Those Left Behind" and after "Objects in Space" ;D


Wednesday, February 21, 2007 4:02 AM


i hadn't thought to write out more with this particular story...i wrote it all at once and posted and then had my usual freak out of "OMG WHAT DID I JUST DO?! I DIDN'T EVEN PROOFREAD!" and then you all surprised me by actually liking it...

i'll think about doing a follow-up...just for you folks. :)


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