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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Technically Maya. Post-BDM. One of my occasional forays into Young Mal territory. An eighteen year old sits by the creek, trying to fish. STANDALONE. And yes, Masks will be coming - my muse is just taking a holiday!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1808 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The midges were biting, even if the fish weren’t. Not that it mattered. The whole point of fishing, as far as Mal could see, was to have time to do it. Just sit. Quietly. Waiting. And if a man didn’t catch anything, well … it just got away, is all. Everyone knew about those fish. Too big. Vicious. Lots of teeth. That kinda thing.
He grinned. Yeah, he sure liked fishing.
The sun was dropping towards the Wraiths, the mountains that pretty much ringed this part of Shadow, and it would soon be time to head on back to the ranch. His Ma was cooking steak tonight, as a celebration, and he didn’t want to miss it. He felt mildly guilty that he hadn't been there to destring the beans or peel the potatoes, but she’d told him to go off and enjoy himself, seeing as his last day at school had ended midday.
Eighteen. A man, by any anybody’s standards. Except maybe his Ma’s. He’d always be Malcolm, her little boy. And truth was, he didn’t really mind all that much. Long as she kept it indoors and didn’t embarrass him.
He absently stroked the silver cross hanging around his neck. She’d given it to him on his birthday a couple of months back, telling him as she fastened the chain that it had belonged to her mother, and hers, and hers ... so far back it was said it came with the original settlers from Earth-that-was, although nobody knew for sure. He’d tried not to take it, saying it was hers, but she’d insisted. If her and his Pa had been blessed with a daughter, it would have gone to her, but as Malcolm was an only child ... She swatted his hands away when he tried to take it off.
Mal sighed. A man. That’s what he was. With the summer stretched out ahead of him, looking forward to working the cattle, learning the business from the ground up, until he’d be able to take over one day. But for now, he was content just to sit quietly and wait for something else to bite.
Except he wasn’t going to be able to sit quietly. He looked over towards the road, seeing Dugan and Kyle waving at him, pushing at each other in their haste to get to him.
“Hey,” he called, seeing his afternoon drift into the haze.
“Where’d you get to?” Kyle asked, stroking the straggly beard he’d been nurturing for months. “I thought we were gonna go into town, get a drink.”
Mal shook his head. “Too nice a day for that.”
“Gorramit, Mal,” Dugan said, dropping down onto the grass next to him. “We’re legal now. Gotta take advantage of that.”
“Go ahead.” Mal pointed down the road. “Town’s that way. And I ain't stopping you.”
“Now you know it ain't no fun if you ain’t there to keep us outta trouble.”
“Is that the case.”
“’Sides, we ain’t got any money,” Kyle admitted.
Mal chuckled. “I figured it might be some such. And what makes you think I do?”
“You’ve been cleaning up at Faraday’s Dry Goods every Saturday the past six months,” Dugan pointed out. “He musta been paying you something.”
“That he did,” Mal agreed.
“Must be a fairly tidy little sum resting in that old tin of yours.”
“And it’s staying resting there. I got plans.”
“Huh.” Kyle ripped a drying blade of grass from the ground and began to chew.
“Anyway, there was nothing to stop you makin’ a little cashy-money.” Mal glanced into the creek, but the fish still refused to put in an appearance.
“What, work?” Dugan scoffed, lying back and closing his eyes.
“Yeah. It wouldn’t do you any harm. Might even trim up some of that baby fat.”
Dugan’s eyes slammed back open and he glared at his friend. “I ain’t fat.” He put his hand on the flesh accumulating around his waist. “I'm just ... well built.”
“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that,” Kyle laughed.
“So apart from coming around disturbing me while I’m fishing and trying to get money out of me, was there anything else you wanted?” Mal asked, tolerant of his oldest friends.
“Nope.” Dugan put his hands under his head. “Just that.”
“And it don’t look like you’ve caught more’n a cold,” Kyle pointed out. “’Less you threw ‘em back.”
For a moment Mal considered exaggerating the truth, then he shrugged. “Not a damn thing all afternoon.”
“Never catch me holding a rod,” Dugan said, not bothering to cover the yawn that erupted from his mouth. “Way too boring,” he managed to say around it.
“Yeah,” Mal agreed, going back to doing just that.
There was silence for maybe a minute, then Kyle cleared his throat. This usually meant he had something of great importance to impart, at least in his own mind.
“What?” Dugan asked, his eyelids fastened securely against the strong light.
Kyle coughed again, then said, “I was only gonna tell Mal about us meeting up with Jed Fletcher.”
“Oh, yeah.” Dugan rolled onto his side and propped his head up on his hand. “He’s off to be a soldier.”
“Jed?” Mal couldn’t believe it. “What in the ‘verse for?”
“To fight the Alliance.” Kyle looked sullen, Dugan having stolen his thunder.
Mal relaxed a bit. “This mythical war that everyone’s been talking about for years?” He shook his head. “Ain’t gonna happen.”
Kyle, his red hair shining in the afternoon sun, went down onto his heels. “Is too. I heard it from Laurie, and she got it from Wes Carmine, and his son’s brother-in-law is something in the Shadow legislature, so he should know.” He started to draw in the dust with his forefinger. “Might be a year, maybe two, but it’s coming.”
“Kyle, the Alliance is powerful. And what can one little planet do about it?”
“Not just one,” Dugan said, sitting up, serious for a change. “Seems like there’s a whole slew of us not liking what they’ve been doing. Telling us what to do, what to think ... they’ll be telling us we can't be independent next.”
Something walked up Mal’s spine. “War ain't something to be rushing towards,” he said, trying to ignore it.
“Yeah? And how’d you know?” Kyle demanded. “You ain't never been further than the town, let alone off world.”
“Have too,” Mal protested. “Well, further’n the town, anyway. Remember? My Ma took me with her last fall when she went to buy a new bull. Out by the coast. Out by the sea.”
The other two were motionless.
“Damn, I’d forgotten,” Kyle breathed. “You saw it. The sea.”
“And was it ... was it amazing?” Dugan asked, face open, boyish.
“And it really was as big as they say?”
“Bigger. Can’t even see the edge of it. Just water and sky right to the horizon.”
“So you giving up on the idea of being a sky-crawler?” Dugan teased, somewhat spitefully because of his jealousy. “You gonna be a sailor now?”
“Nope.” Mal waved away the suggestion. “And I ain't likely to go into space, neither. Not no more. No place for a rancher out there, not when I’ve got perfection right here.”
“And Maddy.” Dugan looked smug.
Mal rolled his eyes. “Duggie, you want her, you can have her.”
“She won't even look at me,” Dugan groused, ignoring – at least for the moment – the hated version of his name. “Only has the hots for ‘her Mal’.” He made kissing noises, only stopping when Kyle thumped him on the shoulder.
“I ain't hers,” Mal said.
“Better tell her that. She’s going ‘round telling everyone who’ll listen you’re just about to propose.”
“She thinks that’s why you’ve been working in Faraday’s,” Kyle added. “To get enough to buy a ring.”
“Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng!” Mal’s raised voice startled a deep black crow from the trees above, and it flapped away, cawing indignantly. “I'm gonna have to have words with that girl.”
“Just make sure it ain't the kind that ends with ‘I do’,” Dugan advised. “Maybe you should do like Jed Fletcher, join up, just to get away from her.”
“Nope.” Mal shook his head vehemently. “I don’t believe there’ll be a war. The Alliance ain’t that stupid. They’ll come around, see reason.”
“Yeah?” Dugan scoffed. “My Pa says they’ll start one just to get folks’ minds off the real troubles.”
“What kind of troubles?” Kyle wanted to know.
“Like the terraforming crews that’ve taken to using slaves. And like the settlers on those new moons not living beyond the first season. Hell, even the fact that supplies are scarce in some places.” He lowered his voice. “Heard tell there’ve been food riots. People killed by Alliance troops.”
“That’s crazy,” Mal insisted, but even to his own ears he didn’t sound convinced. Maybe he wasn’t – for sure his mother had talked about just the same things, especially when she thought he wasn’t around to hear.
“Ain’t crazy, Mal. And according to them, it’s all the fault of the independents.”
That word again. Something stirred in Mal’s gut, and he shifted uncomfortably. Reeling his line in, he shook the bright water droplets off the empty hook. “Then maybe we’d be best to just wait and see. And don’t you go doing anything stupid like following Jed. We’ve got our places here. Right where we should be.” He stood up.
“You going?” Kyle asked in surprise.
“Yeah. Fish ain't biting, and it’s nearly suppertime.” He always did know the o’clock. “Besides, I’m bored with this conversation.”
“I reckon he’s gonna go give Maddy a piece of his mind,” Dugan said in a loud aside to Kyle. “That and a piece of something else.”
“Reckon maybe you’re right.”
The pair of them grinned at Mal, life bursting out of them like seeds from ripe fruit, and he couldn’t help himself. Tossing the rod to one side, he tackled them both, taking them down and rolling in the dust, fighting as only best friends can.
“What happened to them?” Simon asked quietly, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat as Mal took the late watch after supper.
Mal shrugged. “Pretty much what was expected.”
They’d been talking around the table about when they were young, each telling stories of their closest friends, except Simon had gotten the impression Mal was holding back, not truly joining in like the others. He’d waited until he and Kaylee had cleaned up, then while she was making sure their children were in bed and not actively breaking up the Firefly, he’d joined the captain on the bridge, and asked.
Maybe Mal was just in a mellow mood, or for once he felt talkative, but for whatever reason he’d started to open up, telling the young doctor tales of a youth filled with sunshine and good pals.
“They joined up?”
Mal nodded slowly. “Yeah. Just after I did. Maybe I was a bad example to them, I don’t know.” He stared out into the black. “It took me a couple of years, I know that. Hearing the stories, coming more and more around to the opinion that the Alliance couldn’t be allowed to get away with it. Until I signed on the dotted line and left to fight in a war I’d once thought we could never win.”
“Did they survive?”
There was a long pause, and Simon began to wonder if Mal was going to answer at all, then the older man whispered, almost to the stars, “Nope. Kyle got killed in a skirmish on Kuan Lo, trying to save his commanding officer’s life. He got posthumous mention for that.” He couldn’t hide the trace of bitterness in his voice.
“Serenity Valley. He almost made it, but a stray mortar ...” Different, darker memories crowded in on him. “He died in my arms, staring up at the sky, asking me, over and over, what time it was on Shadow.”
“Yeah. Me too.” He seemed about finished, then surprised Simon by adding, “When you’re young, you think you’re gonna live forever. That your friends will be with you for the rest of your life, growing up, growing old with you, ending up sitting by the creek when you’re a hundred and five, fishing rods in your hands, telling tall stories about when you were young. It’s only when it’s too late that you realise you have to hold onto them fiercely, and never let ‘em go.”
Simon nodded slowly. “Is that why you never tossed me out of the airlock?” he asked, his lips lifting slightly.
Mal finally turned to look at him, his blue eyes dark in the low bridge illumination. “Prob’ly. And you’ve given me enough cause over the years.”
“Well, I do try.”
“That you do.”
“Simon?” It was Kaylee, leaning in the bridge doorway. “Come on,” she said, her brightness lighting every corner of the gloom. “Jayne’s gonna teach us how to play Ezra Jacks.”
“It’s a card game.”
Mal stirred. “There ain't gonna be any gambling, is there?” He was ever mindful of Hank’s little problem.
“No, Cap’n” Kaylee assured him. “No gambling.” Her eyes twinkled. “Although he did mention something about betting clothes.”
Mal finally cracked a smile, mostly at the look on the other man’s face. “I think you’d better go and referee, doc,” he suggested. “Else Jayne and your sis’ll be running around in the all together before the night’s through.”
“I think perhaps I better had.” Simon stood up, then paused, a tiny worm of concern gnawing at him. “Are you ... going to be okay?”
“You get to that game,” Mal said firmly.
“Yes. Right.” The young man turned to leave, but the captain’s voice had him looking back
“And yes. I'll be fine. Although I’d be obliged if you’d ask Frey to join me, if she wouldn’t mind. Feel like maybe I could do with some company right now.”
Ignoring the questioning look on Kaylee’s face, Simon nodded. “Of course.”
“Shiny.” Mal turned back to face the window, the sharp pinpoints of light seeming to hold his attention, when in reality his mind was somewhere else, a long time ago. And maybe, just maybe, he could feel the rod in his hands, the sun on his face, and midges biting even though the fish weren’t ...
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