Promises: Bent, Not Broken
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Next in the Keeping On 'Verse. Lilah has an emotional breakdown, and gets some insight from the one person she never thought would give it: Mal.


Promises: Bent, Not Broken

Disclaimer: Firefly, Serenity, and all related characters are copyright 2002-2005 Mutant Enemy, Inc., Universal Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. This is a work of fanfiction. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This is a small one-shot. Lilah takes center stage in this, with help from leading male Mal (in true Mal fashion). The crew is here too. Hopefully you all will enjoy this.

Six years ago…

“Guess who?”

A pair of hands wrapped around her face from behind, blocking her vision. With a sigh, she put her knitting down and brought her hands up to cover the pair on her face. The hands beneath hers were warm and calloused and if she inhaled just the right way, they smelled like cedar.

“Whoever could you be?” She asked.

“I’ll give you three hints, okay?” The voice whispered by her ear, low and thrilling.

“Okay then.” She’d play along.

“Hint number one: I married you. Hint number two: I’ve been working in the shed all week. Hint number three: I just finished making our new bed and I think it’s time we test it out.”

The hands peeled away from her face and she turned her face up to see the face of her husband, who was grinning wickedly with heat in his eyes. She shivered at the look he was giving her… he never failed to make her feel like she was the focus of his universe.

“Those where horrible hints, Wendell,” she teased. “It’s a good thing you’re so damn wonderful and lovable.”

“Yeah well, subtle seduction has never been my strong point, Lilah.” He cupped her cheek with one hand and caressed her shoulder with his other.

“You mean subtlety, period, has never been your strong point.” She leaned up to kiss him, ignoring the awkward angle and what it would do to her neck if it went on too long.

“So, are you going to help me carry the bed in so that we can properly break it in?” Wendell asked, breaking the kiss gently and leaning his forehead to hers.

Lilah stood and turned to face her husband. He had cedar chippings all over him – some even in his black hair. Sweat glistened at his temples and made the t-shirt he wore cling to him. She took his calloused hands in hers and moved to pull him to her.

“Carry it in?” Her lips turned up in a wicked, seductive smile. “I say we break it in out in the shed, while it’s still fresh.”

“Damn, I love you.”

They hurried out to the shed set off to the side of and slightly behind their home. They both waved winningly over at Mr. and Mrs. Busard, the elderly couple who lived across the street from them. Out of the corner of her eye, Lilah saw Mr. and Mrs. Busard give each other knowing looks, probably reminiscing about the days when they had ravished each other out in a shed in the middle of the day.

“Well, what do you think?” Wendell asked, when they stood in front of the bed he had built.

“It’s… it’s perfect.” Lilah said, almost awe-struck.

It was a large bed, king-size, even. It had four massive posts, each spiraled. The head board was slightly squared, with a no-nonsense border. The footer of the bed was the same way, only not as high. But, the coup-de-grace was truly what Wendell had painstakingly carved into the center of the headboard. Two infinity loops met and overlapped. In the overlapping area was the Chinese character for “strength.” In the two other areas were an Aries symbol and a crown.

“I don’t know how the idea struck me, Lilah. I was just working on the head board and then all of a sudden I was carving it out. It was like I was in a trance or something.” Wendell had shifted nervously, awaiting her reaction.

“Like I said,” she stated, looking at him. “It’s absolutely perfect. And the mattress, it looks so comfortable.”

“I had it ordered special. It’s been put up and covered in plastic for the past month.” He walked around to the side of the bed, running his hand over one of the posts.

“There’s only one more thing that could make it beyond perfection.” She joined him by the side of the bed.

“And what is that, exactly?”

Lilah grinned.

“You. Naked and on the bed.”

“I knew something was missing. Suppose I better get to it then, shouldn’t I?”

“Please do.”


And of course my dream ends just as I’m getting to the really good parts.


Stupid alarm clock.

She woke up. Grudgingly.

Lilah Linn had never been and would never be a morning person. She took after her mother in that. Her father and sisters and brothers and even Wendell had teased her on it. She was of the firm belief that there were certain people who were destined to never be morning people and that she was one of them.

Coffee helped; it really helped. So did not waking up early. But she had a job to do and she dutifully sat up and tried to rub the sleep from her eyes. She hit the button on her alarm clock and dressed before looking up at her small calendar that she had hung to see what her chores were for the day.

She noticed the date.

June 30, 2519.

June 30.

All of the energy seemed to drain from her and she collapsed back onto her bed. She didn’t want to face the world. She didn’t want to face anything. She wanted to curl up into a little ball and just disappear. Almost any other day she would have been okay. Any day but…

Mal was cooking breakfast and the crew ambled in, seeking out coffee and whatever it was that smelled so good while he was cooking. He almost had to yell at Zoe and Jayne when they started arguing over who got the last of the coffee. Finally Jayne shoved the pot at Zoe and went to a cabinet to pull out another coffee pod. Zoe poured her cup and smirked triumphantly while Jayne made another pot and sulked petulantly.

Seven crew members gathered around the table. Each was quiet and trying to wake up without starting anything that would lead to yelling or bullets. Mal looked around the table and spotted the empty chair.

“Where’s Lilah at?” He asked. It wasn’t like her to miss breakfast, even if she could rival Jayne when it came to not being a morning person. She usually showed up, drank a few cups of coffee, ate a bit of whatever was on the table, and then left for the bridge.

“Maybe she’s already up on the bridge.” Inara suggested, cradling her cup of tea. “She does seem to spend the majority of her time there.”

“But she doesn’t miss crew meals, not if she can help it.” Kaylee said. “Maybe she ain’t feeling well.”

“I can go and check up on her after breakfast.” Simon said. “We’ve developed a rapport since she came on board.”

Kaylee stiffened slightly at that.

“Let me know what she says, will you Doc?”

“I will.”

“Good. I’d like to see the bay scrubbed down this morning, and then when that’s finished you all are on your own time.” He said.

The crew nodded and breakfast continued.

Simon knocked on Lilah’s door several times.

“Lilah, it’s Simon. Are you alright?” He knocked several more times before the door finally slid open a bit to reveal a bloodshot-eyed Lilah.

She looked as if she’d been through hell. She’d been crying and he looked down briefly to see that her hands were shaking. She looked paler than usual; doctoral – and friendly – concern overtook him.

“Have you come down with something?” He asked. “A fever?”

She shook her head silently.

“You ain’t got a cure for this, Doc. Just best to let me be.” She managed to say, her voice hoarse. She slid the door closed and he heard the faint click of the lock sliding into place.

He walked away, head down. Mal was coming up from the cargo bay and stopped him.

“She okay?” He asked.

“She’s not ill, but she’s not okay.” Simon answered. “She looks awful.”

“Any clue what it could be?” Mal asked.

Simon shook his head. “Depression is all I can figure. Though what brought it on so quickly, I couldn’t say.”

Mal was quiet a long moment.

“I think I can.” He said. “Get on down to the bay and help the others. You can look pretty along with Inara while dusting the catwalks.”

“Are you going to go and talk to her?” Simon asked after a moment’s hesitation.

“I surely am.” He said.

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. She’s not in any state to deal with your particular brand of people-skills.” Simon said.

“Go and clean, Doc.” Mal said, stepping out of his way and heading off towards the passenger dorm.

Lilah just about swore when she heard more knocking. All she wanted was to be left alone. She needed the time to herself.

“Lilah? It’s the Captain. Open this door right up before I go and fetch Jayne and have him break it down.”


She unlocked and slid her door open. Mal was startled. He hadn’t expected her to comply so easily.

“Doc weren’t wrong – you look damn hideous.” Mal said, finally.

“Thanks, it’s a new lotion I’m using,” Lilah bit out. “What did you need?”

“I came to ask why the hell you ain’t on my bridge making sure we ain’t heading into a rock.”

“It’s on autopilot. I double-checked our course headings before I went to bed.” Lilah said.

“And why you didn’t feel the need to join your crew at breakfast?”

“Feeling mostly solitary today, Captain.” He could tell that she was trying not to lose her temper.

“And there’s a clean-up shindig going on in the cargo bay and a shindig ain’t much fun unless all the crew is there. You can be all solitary and depressed about your dead husband after the work’s done.” Mal said. There, that oughta do it.

Her eyes were furious and he didn’t have time to duck out of the way before she decked him – hard, he vaguely noted – and he went to the floor.

“You son of a bitch! You have no idea what I’m going through.” She said, her voice unsteady.

“Yeah. You about done with your pity party yet? Still got a cargo bay what needs cleaned.” Mal said, getting back to his feet, only to be punched again. Guess it’s a good thing she ain’t got a gun.

“I mean, come on, it ain’t as though he just died yesterday, now is it?”

She dove for him, fists moving in a fury of punches and her only thought was to cause him as much pain as she was feeling, even though she knew it would never be enough.

Punch. “Qu di yu!” Punch. “Chou wang ba dan!” Punch, punch, punch.

Mal sat there and took it. He knew that he would be peppered black and blue for the next few days. Finally she collapsed against him with a sob; her dark eyes shone with tears as she cried and cried and cried. He sat with her and rubbed her back soothingly.

The crew had gathered at the doorway, as close as they dared but far enough away to not intrude. The watched, silent, as Lilah broke down in their captain’s arms.

They lay naked on the bed, breathing heavily. Their limbs were a sweaty, tangled mess, the kind only lovers knew. They held each other as if to never let go.

Wendell managed to stir first. He propped himself up on an elbow and looked down at her. He stroked her hair and laughed.

“What’s so funny? You’re kind of killing my afterglow here.” Lilah said.

“It looks like some stray wood chips found their way from my hair to yours. You look adorable, Lilah.” He laughed some more.

She couldn’t help it… she laughed too.

“Well, at least the bed has been properly christened. And I’d say that that round made the top 10, I’m thinking.”

Wendell scoffed.

“That was top 5 at the least. That was fantastic.” He lay back down, pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head.

“Yes, yes it was. I love you, Wendell.”

“I love you.”

Everything was quiet and they could barely make out the sounds of the various activities of their neighborhood.

“Lilah?” Wendell suddenly asked.


“If something were to ever happen to me, what would you do?”

It was Lilah’s turn to sit up and look down at him.

“What would ever make you ask that? Wh-what kind of question is that?”

“You’d try and live your life, right? You’d do your best to move on?” Wendell prompted.

“Wendell, without you, I’d be lost. I’d… I don’t know that I would ever be able to move on. Anyways it doesn’t matter. You’re young and healthy and so am I. Nothing is going to happen you, Wendell. Don’t even think like that!”

Her voice was panicked and laced with pain. She couldn’t even begin to imagine a life without him. Lilah had always considered herself a strong, independent woman, and she was… but she loved Wendell dearly and losing him would be losing her, she knew. Loving him made her strong… without that love, she’d be lost.

“Shh… shh… it’s okay, Lilah, everything is fine.” Wendell took her face into his hands and pressed kisses to her forehead and cheeks and lips. “ I just want you to know, that if something ever did happen, I’d want you to be happy. You’re so vibrant, Lilah. You have this fire in you that I love. You’re a fighter, Lilah. And no matter what happens, I want you to keep fighting. We both made that promise, didn’t we, back at that place? Remember?”

“ ‘Don’t let them break you,’ he’d said. ‘Don’t you ever let them break you.’ ” Lilah said.

“It’s the one order we’ll always follow, Lilah. We all promised that, that night. Listen, I don’t plan on dying anytime in the near future. I want to grow old with you, have kids with you, and be the crazy couple who’s still pinching each others bottoms out in public even though we’re ninety. But if something ever happens, don’t feel like you have to be miserable. Be happy and keep that fire.”

“I promise you. I will.” Lilah relented. “But I don’t plan on ever letting you go.”

“Good,” Wendell said.

“So… pinching each others bottoms in public?” Lilah asked, eyebrow raised.

“Oh yeah. Even at ninety I’m still going to want you. Just as much as I want you right now,” he said, rolling them over and pinning her wrists to the mattress…

Lilah was sitting up on her bed, eyes still red and puffy. She ran her hands through her hair with difficulty; her hair was a tangled mess. On the inside she felt as though she’d been beaten, hung out to bake in the sweltering sun, dragged behind a wagon on a gravel road, and then, just for good measure, repeatedly dunked in ice-cold water.

Dealing with Wendell’s death had always been difficult; it was one of the reasons why she had left Paquin. She’d been weak, not strong enough to take the pain of living there, in the place where they had built their life together, day after day without him. Everywhere she looked on that planet seemed to hold some kind of memory of him or them together that would rip a hole into her heart if she remembered it.

She’d always thought that the War would be the hardest part of her life, after she was discharged. Looking back, she knew the War hadn’t even come close to the pain of losing Wendell. She knew this day would be hard, she just hadn’t realized how hard it would be.

Mal came back in, carrying a cup of tea. He handed it to her and sat down on the little wall seat.

“Getting any better?” He asked kindly.

“I didn’t know it would hurt this much.” She answered hoarsely.

“I don’t reckon anyone does,” he said. “It’s your anniversary, ain’t it?”

“It would have been seven years.”

“And this is the first year you’ve spent it alone.” Mal stated.

“Yes. And it hurts so much.”

“It should, I’m guessing. Pain lets you know you ain’t dead yet.”

“I wish I could tell you how not helpful that is,” Lilah said dryly.

“It’s bound to be hard. You loved him, probably more than you’ve ever loved anyone or anything, I’d wager. And now you find yourself alone and sad and hurt that he’s gone and you’re left behind. And I’m also gonna wager that you ain’t trying too hard to be happy, are you?” Mal looked intently at her.

Lilah shook her head no.

“‘Cause then you’d feel like you were hurting him and his memory?”

Lilah nodded. Why was he insisting on this? She was in so much pain and this was only making it worse. She hadn’t pegged Mal for a sadist, but she was rapidly reconsidering the notion.

“Your vows, they were the usual, I reckon? To have and hold, in sickness an’ health, for better or worse, ‘till death do you part? All that fun, committed-type stuff?”

“Yes.” Lilah managed, remembering so clearly when she and Wendell had stared into each others’ eyes as they’d made their vows and it was just the two of them in their perfect world.

“See, here’s what I don’t think you’re quite getting,” Mal said, and Lilah looked up at him, waiting.

“Death done parted ya.”

She said nothing.

“You still love him and miss him and there ain’t a body who’s decent that’ll grudge ya that, but it ain’t wrong to try and be happy. You kept your vows and I’m pretty damn sure he kept his. I’ve seen them captures and I’ve played a few and seeing you with him in those captures…well, you’re a shadow of who you used to be.

“It ain’t wrong to be sad, Lilah. I don’t reckon you’d be human if you weren’t. But you can’t go the rest of your life shutting yourself off from others that care about you and want you to be happy. You have the right to be miserable, but you also got the right to be happy, and from what I gathered from those captures, he wouldn’t want you unhappy and bitter. It ain’t wrong to want to be happy; it just shows you how strong you are.”

He stood and made to leave.

“By the way, dinner is tonight at 1800. No need to dress up for it.”

Mal left, leaving Lilah with a great deal to think on. She'd promised, after all.

Zoe, who had been standing outside and heard the entire exchange, was left with a lot to think on as well. Mal’s words would continue to haunt her and Lilah for the following few months.

Death done parted ya. It ain’t wrong to want to be happy; it just shows you how strong you are.

I hope you enjoy! Questions, comments, and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!



Wednesday, December 30, 2009 1:31 PM


Awesome. I truly love your OC Lilah. I suspect, Mal should have had that same conversation with Zoe too.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009 7:12 PM


You seem to always wait till I just start to forget about your story and then post another part. Good to see you are still writing.

Thursday, December 31, 2009 7:30 AM


Ouch. Poor Lilah. Mal's not wrong here. Kind of needs to take his own advice though. Ah, but that's what you have to love about Mal, the disconnect in his brain that lets him do crime while still trying to stay noble, that lets him be miserable and bitter about his own losses while advising people how to get over theirs. That's how he shows he cares, and because he still is a good person, you root for him to come to terms with his own past too.


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