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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Almost AU Maya. Very post-BDM. Another one of these little standalones that wouldn't get out of my brain until I tempted it with chocolate. Twenty years after, someone wants to come home.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1585 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Shepherd stepped out of the Abbey gates and looked at the world. It had been a long time since he’d arrived, hiding from everything inside, but it didn’t look like things had changed that much. Even the Second War of Independence hadn’t touched Southdown, and the scars were healing elsewhere.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” the Abbot asked, his hands clasped gently in front of him.
“I think I have to. Long time overdue.”
The Abbot nodded. “If you decide to come back, there’s a place for you, my son.”
“Might. Not sure. Depends what I find.”
“Then may God be with you in your search.”
He wandered many worlds, hearing tales and seeing ghosts, but never catching up. Then, one day on Prometheus, he saw the Cortex and realised the date. That date. The one he kept etched on his heart, the one that almost killed him whenever he thought of it. The one when the ‘verse all but died. Hiring a horse, he rode out towards the valley.
It was there already. Sitting on the hillside, looking like he remembered, the sunlight glinting off the solar panels and various windows. For a long moment he wondered if he’d be welcome, then spurred his horse. This wasn’t for them, but to remember her.
The Firefly huddled into the ground, and Kaylee pushed her hair out of her face as she waited for the rest to come down from their bunks.
“Momma?” Bethany came out of the common area, her large brown eyes watching carefully. “He’s coming.”
“I can feel him.”
“I know you said he’d be here, but … can’t believe it myself.”
“I knew he’d come. It’s been twenty years.” She crossed the bay and put her arm around her mother. “I knew he’d find his way back.”
“Your Pa know?”
“I told him.” She touched the swell of her belly. “Lots to tell.”
“That’s for sure.”
Ethan walked down the stairs. “Is it true? Is he here?”
He joined the small group, holding his wife’s hand tightly. “I don’t know … it’s been so long …”
“He couldn’t help it,” Kaylee said. “Not the way he felt.”
“I know, but … I don’t know how I feel either.”
“Wait and see.”
He approached the Firefly with some trepidation, running a finger around the white collar at his throat. It had been a long time since he’d been on board, his mind breaking, his heart already lying torn from his chest. Figures were moving in the cargo bay, the ramp letting in the soft air and the scent of grass. He could hear the soft babbling of the stream at the valley’s floor, but all his attention was focused on Serenity.
“You gonna go out and see him?” Zoe asked, heading down the stairs. “He’d probably like that.”
Ethan shook his head. “I … don’t know what to say.”
“Hello would probably be a good idea.”
“I … it’s been too long.”
“He couldn’t cope, Ethan,” Hank said, joining his wife. “Not loving her the way he did.”
“He still left.”
“He died inside that night.”
“And what about us?” Ethan turned on the pilot, see but not acknowledging his sister coming out from the common area. She at least looked as if she was anticipating the reunion. “He left us!”
“Did we do that bad a job?” Zoe asked softly. “Bringing you up? Making sure you were fed, clothed … loved?”
“He didn’t love us. If he had he’d never have gone.”
“Course he loves you,” Ben said, following Hope down the stairs as she carried their child on her hip. “Always did. But when he lost her …”
“Don’t go making excuses for him!” Ethan shouted. “You’re always making excuses!”
Ben didn’t let it ruffle him. “No. Just pointing things out the way they are.”
“I missed him,” Hope said quietly. “A lot.”
Simon joined them. “Is he here?”
“Soon,” his sister said from the catwalk above. “Jayne says –”
Bethany straightened. “There’s a rider coming.”
“That there’s a rider coming,” her aunt finished, smiling.
He wanted to turn, to run away, to go back to the Abbey and hide, not face them, not face his family and ask forgiveness for what he did. But he had to do it. Except there was someone else he needed to ask forgiveness of first. At the small markers set under the stand of trees, he slid from the horse’s back, taking the bouquet of wild flowers he’d picked from the pommel, and walking into the shade.
Going down onto his knees, he stared at the words engraved on the stone. Freya Reynolds. Beloved wife and mother.
“Hi, Frey,” he said, his voice catching in his throat. He rubbed his hand over his greying beard, then up through his hair, and smiled a little. “Maybe I shoulda shaved, since you always did say I never stood close enough to the razor. Ain’t stood close enough for a long damn while. Always afraid I’d make my hand slip and cut my throat.”
He put his hand onto the warm earth. “Shoulda been by sooner, too, but … couldn’t. Not knowing I’d remember you lying there, not able to stop what happened, not able to take the bullet for you.” His voice cracked. “It was my fault, Frey. If I’d listened to you, you’d still be alive to be annoying me. Why didn’t you make me listen to you?” Tears rolled down his cheeks and fell to the ground. “Why’d you have to die on me, Frey?”
He wept for a long while, the images of two decades before scything through his mind. The job gone wrong, the gunfight, the pain in his chest that should have been the bullet tearing into his heart, and finding it wasn’t. Finding her, eyes wide, holding on by a bare breath until he took her hand, then the light going out. He’d killed them, all of them. Ignoring the wounds in his own body, he took them to pieces, then waited to die. He wanted to die. Begged Simon to end it for him, to let him go. Hated him for not allowing him to slip. Seeing his children without a mother, knowing he was close to taking his own gun and … leaving. Going to Southdown that night, banging on the gates and pleading to be let inside. Running away.
He looked up, his blue eyes swimming, a young woman standing over him, looking so like her mother that his heart threatened to stop beating. “Jesse?” he whispered.
She went down onto her knees next to him, holding him, until his arms came up and grasped at her, like a drowning man clutching at a lifeline.
“Oh, Daddy,” she cried, her tears falling to join with his.
“Jesse, I’m sorry,” he whimpered, emotion tearing him apart. “I’m so sorry.”
“I understand. Oh, Daddy, I understand.”
After a long while he realised there were others behind her, faces he recognised, even if they were older, more lined. He pushed himself to his feet.
“Zoe,” he said, nodding slightly.
“Sir.” His old first-mate looked pretty much the same, even if her hair was short now, tightly curled. “Good to see you.”
“You too. And I see you ain’t got rid of Hank yet.”
The pilot grinned. “Nope. Not for lack of trying.”
“Captain.” The psychic, even more beautiful than when he left, smiled at him, while the mercenary, bald as a coot, held her close.
His eyes turned to Kaylee. “Mei-mei.” His lips twitched. “Not sure I’m allowed to call you that no more.”
Kaylee glared at him, then launched herself into his arms. “Cap‘n, why’d you leave us?”
“Had to, Kaylee. Or take you all down with me.”
“We’d have gone. Saved you.”
“Took something more than that to save me.” He pushed her away so he could look into her eyes. “Pretty as ever,” he said, ignoring the silver in her hair.
“Never.” He looked over at the man standing waiting, the only sign of the years passing being a slightly thicker waistline. “Simon.”
“He’s being stupid,” said a young man, his arm around a petite blonde. “And in case you’ve forgotten I’m –”
“Ben. With those grey eyes, how could I forget? And that’ll be Hope next to you.”
“That it is.”
“Always did figure you two to stick together. The way you always held hands.”
“And this is our son. Malcolm.”
Mal had to laugh. “Not a bad name.”
“That’s what we thought,” Hope said.
“If you’re looking for Cal he’s inside,” Jayne put in. “Broke his damn leg coupla weeks ago, and he’s in traction. Asks you’d go and see him in the infirmary, if you’ve got the time.”
“Okay.” Mal felt his heart beat faster, harder. “Does he still hate me?”
No-one answered, knowing he wasn’t talking about Caleb, then Jesse squeezed his hand. “Not hate. Afraid. That you’ll leave again.”
“I don’t …” His voice drained away as he saw Bethany walking towards him, a child of about five holding her hand. “Hey, short stub.”
Bethie grinned. “Papa.”
“I told you, I ain’t your –”
“Yes you are. And this is your grand-daughter.” Bethie looked down at the little girl, her wide brown eyes and long brown hair. “Frey, this is your grand-daddy.”
He couldn’t breathe. “Frey?”
“Ethan and I got married, Papa. When we knew we were having a little girl, he … he wanted to call her after his mother, but thought I’d be upset. I told him I wouldn’t be, but he didn’t listen. Then he saw her born …”
The little girl looked at him, then a sweet smile crept across her face. “Grandpa?”
He went down onto his heels. “I reckon maybe I am.”
She gazed at him, her eyes seeing into his soul, then she ran to him, letting him pick her up. “Grandpa!” she said, patting his beard. “Missed you.”
“How could you miss me?” he asked, trying hard to control the tears that wanted to fall. “Don’t know me.”
“Yes, I do,” she said, laying her cheek against his. “Mama told me. Lots of things.”
“Did she now?”
“’Bout puppies, and horses, and getting into fights …” She giggled. “Lots.”
“Seems like maybe she’s told you too much.”
“No.” She put her head on one side. “Are you staying?”
“Not my ship no more,” Mal said softly. “Not sure I’d be welcome.”
“I never did get around to changing the title deeds,” Zoe said. “Still in your name. Well, Harbatkin’s on some of ‘em, but she’s your ship.”
“No, Zo. Gave her to you.”
“I don’t take gifts from insane people.”
“You figure I was that bad?”
“After Freya died? Worse.”
She always had said what she thought, and didn’t appear to have changed. “Thanks. But … by rights then the ship belongs to Ethan.”
“Serenity belongs to all of us,” Bethany said.
“Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down,” River reminded him.
“Still not sure I’m welcome.”
“Hell, Mal, you think we’re gonna let you get away again?” Jayne asked, slapping him so hard on the back he almost staggered to his knees.
“I might not want to stay.”
There was silence.
“Don’t you, Cap?” Kaylee asked finally. “Stay with us?”
“I have a life at the Abbey. People who know me, who –”
“You’re leaving again?”
Mal looked up, and saw what appeared to be a mirror image walking down the hillside towards him. Tall, brown hair and blue eyes, it was like seeing himself from half a lifetime back. “Ethan.”
“Pa. Or should I say Shepherd?” The young man was stiff, formal, even when Bethany linked her arm through his.
“Either. Both apply.”
“Why are you here?” Ethan asked suddenly.
“Ethan!” his wife chided.
“No, it’s a valid question,” Mal said, holding up his free hand. “I’m here to ask your mother to forgive me.”
“I know.” Pain flashed through him, and it must have shown on his face because Kaylee cried out. “I know she’s dead, son. I buried her here. With my own two hands. Next to your sister.”
“Then how can she forgive you?”
“It’s the asking that’s the important thing.” He took a step forward, but his son was radiating stubborn pride. “I was wrong in leaving you, both of you, but I felt there was no choice. If I hadn’t, there’d have been a morning when you’d’ve found me lying with my gun in my mouth.” He heard Kaylee whimper again. “And that would’ve been worse.”
“Why didn’t you try it and find out?”
“Ethan.” Zoe’s voice was firm.
“No. No, this ain’t right. He left. Ran away from us, from the only family he had, and expected other people to pick up the pieces. And now he’s come back, wearing that damn collar, and wants to be welcomed into the fold with open arms? Well, it ain’t happening!” He pulled his arm free and strode away towards Serenity.
“Ethan!” Bethany called after him, running to catch him up.
“Sir, I’m sorry -”
“It’s okay, Zoe. He’s right.” He managed a smile, a bare memory of those he used to have, handing the child in his arms to River. “I’ll wait. You say your goodbyes, whatever you want to say. I’ll wait until you’ve gone to say mine.” He turned and headed back towards his horse, climbing easily into the saddle. “It was good seeing you again. Glad you’re all still breathing, and such. God be with you.” He nodded and pulled on the reins, the horse responding and cantering away.
“No …” River breathed. “Not like this.”
Mal made a fire, gathering enough wood to last the night, then sitting down with his coat wrapped around him. The darkness gathered, and still he stared into the flames, at one point pulling the white collar from his shirt and turning it over in his hands.
“It isn’t his fault,” River said, coming out of the shadows and sitting down next to him.
“Kinda wondered when you’d be by.” He didn’t look up at her. “Thought it’d be sooner.”
“Everyone was talking, trying to make Ethan see sense.”
“Didn’t work, huh?”
“Not really. He’s hurting too much.”
“Not the only one, albatross.”
She grinned. “No-one ever calls me that anymore.”
“Don’t be. I like it.”
“You seem sane now.”
“No. Still crazy. I just hide it better.”
Mal chuckled. “Done a good job.”
“He’ll come around.”
“No. Hurt him too much.”
“You had to do it.”
“Did I?” He half turned to look at her, the flames making the shadows on her face dance. “Really?”
“Bullet in the brainpan, squish.”
He sighed. “Maybe.”
“Probably. You loved her so much.”
“Still do, xiao nu.”
“She didn’t want this.”
“Lying in the cold earth? No, pretty sure she didn’t.”
“You, hurting yourself like this.”
“I killed her.”
“I didn’t listen to her. She said it was wrong, that there was gonna be trouble, and I didn’t … I did what I always did, and she died. My fault.”
“And if you could change it?”
He shook his head. “I spent twenty years praying I’d wake up and she’d be lying next to me, that I could have the chance to make it right, and every day the bed was cold. I think I’ve come to realise I can’t go back.”
“Don’t you think I’d give anything? Just to hold her again? Tell her I love her, tell her I’m sorry, that I was so stubborn, that I … River, I might as well have fired the gun myself.”
“You don’t understand.”
“If Jayne died I’d die. Of course I understand.”
“Then why –”
“Do you want to change it? Go back? Listen to her.”
The look on his face changed. “Can you … do you know how …”
“It wasn’t meant to be like this, Captain. The pain, the loss … Not meant to be.”
He sat forward. “Not meant …”
“You were meant to be together for a long time yet. To reach a century and still be in each other’s arms. And on that final day, to walk into eternity hand in hand. Not like this.”
“Close your eyes.”
He stared at her. “Can you –”
He searched her face, seeing only honest truth, and nodded slowly. He let his eyelids fall. “Is … is it going to hurt?”
“Then make it quick.”
She inclined her head, even though she knew he couldn’t see, and brought the blade he’d glimpsed in her hand up quickly. Blood spattered the ground, and the white collar fell from his dying fingers into the fire …
- - -
He gasped, sitting up, his hand going to his throat.
“Mal?” Frey sat up, instantly awake, turning to him.
“Frey?” He looked at her, then pulled her into his arms, holding her tight.
“What is it?” she asked, feeling his heart pounding in his chest as if he’d run a mile.
“I just … God, Frey.” He couldn’t let go, couldn’t bear to lose the heat of her against his skin.
“Mal, please, you’re scaring me.”
Finally he pulled back a little, looking into her confused eyes. “I dreamed I’d lost you,” he whispered, memorising every centimetre of her face. “I lost you, ai ren.”
“You haven’t,” she said, cupping his cheek. “I’m here.”
“Can’t lose you,” he muttered, dipping his head to press into her hand. “Can’t.”
“Mal …” She gasped as he climbed quickly from the bed and went to the com. “What are you –”
“Saving you.” He thumbed the switch. “Hank.”
After a long moment the pilot’s voice echoed through the cabin, sounding more than a little annoyed. “If it ain’t Reavers I’m gonna be mightily pissed you got me out of a warm –”
“Turn us around.”
“Get to the bridge. Turn us around. We’re taking the other job.”
“Turn us –”
“No, I heard that. Shoulda said … why?”
“Mal, it’s the middle of the gorram night! I think I need a little bit more than you asking me to laugh.”
“We’re taking the job from Harrison. Not Ling Chow.”
“He’s gonna be angry if we don’t –”
“Not really caring about that right now, Hank. Just get us on the right heading.”
“Couldn’t this have waited until the morning?”
There was muttering over the com, and Mal could hear another conversation going on.
“He’s your friend,” Hank was saying. “You tell him he’s fong luh.”
“He’s captain. He’s allowed to be.”
“Well, he’s starting to seriously damage my calm. And if he doesn’t start acting more sensible –”
“Hank, the com’s still open,” Mal said in a normal tone of voice.
“Cao.” The speaker went dead.
Mal turned to see Freya sitting up in bed, the sheet pooled around her hips.
“What to explain what that’s all about?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
He sat down facing her. “You were right. Ling Chow’s job will go wrong.”
“I didn’t say that. Just that it felt off.”
“And I’m agreeing with you.”
“You didn’t yesterday.”
“Had me time to think on it.”
She gazed at him. “This have anything to do with your dream?”
“Might,” he admitted.
“Something I should know about?”
“But there was?”
He took hold of her hand, pressing it to his chest. “Not gonna lose you, Frey. I saw what’d happen if I did. Not gonna.”
She shook her head slowly. “I think Hank was right.”
“Probably.” He smiled. “And according to … well, to sources, we’ve got about a century to prove it, one way or the other.” He leaned forward, capturing her mouth.
Monday, November 26, 2007 7:48 PM
Tuesday, November 27, 2007 6:24 PM
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