"Marking Time"
Friday, September 3, 2010

"An innocent action has an unintended consequence."


TITLE: "MARKING TIME" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: None. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: One off story. Complete. ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "An innocent action has an unintended consequence." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Normally the days, weeks, months and even years made no never mind to him. As long as he had his crew and enough fuel in his boat to keep flying everything was shiny. But that was before the Preacher had brought a gorram calendar on board. It was one of them holographic ones that lit up the whole side of a wall. The crew had been fussing and fiddling with it ever since, adding pictures and comments like some gorram diary. Now all he could do was stare, the countdown to the very second of the very hour of the very day his mama died staring back at him in silent condemnation.

*You left me, son. How could you do that?*

He couldn't blink nor turn his head away. The commons area was deserted but for him. His crew gone to their bunks hours ago. His nightly wanderings bringing him here like a noose around his neck, the rope a heavy drag of guilt upon his heart. The tears upon his face as cold and unnoticed as the Black through which they sailed.

*How could you leave me, Mal? Leave me to die at the hands of those Godless *hundan*? Off to fight in a war you had no right bein' in. Give your life for strangers while your flesh an' blood're slaughtered."

The Captain could hardly see the calendar for tears yet still he could not look away, no notion that he even wept. The sorrow in his heart as heavy as lead. Every breath he took feeling like stolen goods, air taken from his mama's lungs to keep his worthless heart beating while her own stuttered to a pain filled stop and him not there to save her. Made no never mind that he had gone off to fight for Shadow, thinking to stop the reach of the almighty Alliance as it forced more Rim worlds to suffer under the yoke of its' rule. Idealistic young men and women every one, not one of them battle hardened or ready for the reality of War. The horror and the lies, the destruction and the hell of good intentions turned to blood and dust. And then to lose after enduring the nightmare of Serenity Valley. Fighting not to win but to survive while all around the mound of their dead and dying raised a sickly stench the smell of which would never leave him. In his dreams the dead lay broken, bodies reeking and sightless eyes staring up at him and asking what they had died for. It hurt and tormented him every time he closed his eyes but nothing. Not nothing was worse than the eventual homecoming to Shadow.


What could he say? How could he answer? "I did what I thought was right, ma." He whispered. Voice hoarse and broken.

Malcolm Reynolds had returned after months in a gorram Alliance *jianyu*. Him and Zoe both incarcerated while the great and good on both sides decided the terms of their surrender. The War was bitter, hard fought and cruel but the peace ate what good was left of heart and soul leaving behind a husk. The bile of defeat rubbed like salt into wounds that would never heal. Shadow burning, crops destroyed, houses and farmsteads knocked down or blasted into blackened ruins often with the folks still inside them. Heard tell the purplebellies used outlawed mass drivers to pummel the planet into an uninhabitable wasteland, the seas boiled dry, the soil scorched until not nothing would grow. By the time he and Zoe returned, they were the only living souls left alive on his homeworld. Didn't matter a good gorram that they had gone to war to protect their families and homes. The Alliance made sure they had nothing to go back to.

"I was going to make some tea, Captain."

He did not move.

"Captain?" The Preacher's voice drew nearer, the voice softening with concern. A concern that quickly turned to alarm. "*Wode ma, shenme shi*?"

Slowly the Captain blinked. Realising that he was no longer alone he wiped a quick hand across his face. Took a moment to clear his throat. "What you doin' up so late, Shepherd?"

"I couldn't sleep. Thought I would make some tea." Book paused, noticed the expression on the Captain's face as the man looked sideways at the calendar as if he could not quite take his eyes off it. Something struck a chord and he inwardly cursed himself. "Perhaps the calendar was not my best idea."

"Mmm? You say somethin'?"

"I'm sorry if the calendar upsets you, Captain."

"No, no. Folks like to mark the passage of time, I understand that."

"The future is often kinder than the past." Book said gently. The Captain turned from the compassion in his face, not able to endure the look of understanding.

The Captain rose to his feet and Book held up an empty mug in silent query. Mal shook his head.

"Not for me. Think I'll turn in for the night, *dong ma*?"

"Good night, Captain."

The next day the crew filtered into the commons area in ones and twos to fix something to eat but the Captain stayed on the bridge. Wash frowned when he turned around, looking for the tell tale blue white glimmer of the calendar.

"What ya lookin' for?"

Wash blinked at Kaylee. "What happened to the calendar?"

The mechanic paused while making up a bowl of cereal. "It was there last night."

Just then the Preacher came in and calmly began to fill the kettle. "I removed it."

"Huh, no need to put it away on my account." Muttered Jayne.

Zoe took a bowl from Kaylee and met Book's gaze. A silent understanding passing between them. Without a word she gave a tiny nod then sat down next to Wash to eat her breakfast. Kaylee frowned, about to complain when River and Simon joined them, River taking in everything in a single glance.

"Don't need a calendar. Better to live the days of our lives not count them."

Much later, as day stretched into late evening the Captain did his rounds before calling it a night. Stepping into the commons room he noticed with relief that there was no sign of the rutting calendar. In the dim half light he didn't see Zoe until he turned to go.

"*Duibuqi*, sir. Forgot the date."

"*Mei shi*. It was a long time ago."

They both knew that was a lie. It would always be yesterday no matter the passage of time, and like a wound that would never heal it would always cause pain.

"Wasn't your fault, sir." She whispered gently.

"I left her unprotected, Zoe."

"We all did, sir. They would have come whatever we did."

"Might have saved her if I'd stayed."

She shook her head sadly. "Not gonna live a life of might have beens, Mal. That way lies madness."

The Captain looked up, his eyes meeting hers with a look so bleak that her heart stalled but she did not look away. He was her Captain and her oldest friend. They had walked through *diyu* together, been the only strength and solace either of them had to lean on, and she wouldn't desert him now. Not when the demons he fought were self inflicted. "You think I'm sane now?"

"I think you did the best you could same as the rest of us. The on'y ones to blame are the Alliance."

He knew she was right but the knowing of it and the accepting of it were worlds apart. A few days later the Captain caught Book alone. "What did you do with it?"

Book was busy chopping vegetables. "I sent it to the Abbey."

That surprised him. "You did?"

"It was just a digital file, Captain." Book said gently. "I'm thinkin' it will help them keep track of the Saints' days."

The Captain blinked but didn't call him on it. Instead he gave a slow thoughtful nod. "*Xie xie ni*".

That night the Captain lay awake in his bunk, images of Shadow after the War haunting him. Sorrow and loss each carrying the name of a loved one or friend. Just before sheer weariness overcame him he fancied he heard his mama, her voice soft and low, the love and care more soothing and healing than anything Simon could conjure for what ailed him. *I don't blame you for what you did, son. I'm proud of you so don't go frettin' for what you can't change*

He wanted to apologise, beg her forgiveness but the words stuck in his throat. As sleep at last claimed him he could almost swear gentle arms folded around him. The murmuring of voices long fallen silent flowing through his ears, the warmth of loved ones giving him succour. With a last weary sigh he slept. Outside the Captain's bunk Zoe shook her head as River crept up the ladder and quietly shut the hatch. Her look was anything but apologetic. "He needed to sleep."

"Cap'n's not gonna be happy you pokin' around inside his head."

Her smile was like the sun going nova. "Won't remember. A dream instead of a nightmare."

Zoe watched the girl go and found herself heading to her bunk, her heart somewhat lighter. She would take dreams over nightmares every time.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*hundan* = bastard *weishenme* = why? *jianyu* = prison *wode ma* = mother of God *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *diyu* = hell *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *xie xie ni* = thank you


Friday, September 3, 2010 6:29 AM


'The Captain could hardly see the calendar for tears yet still he could not look away, no notion that he even wept.' Every once and awhile, a line jumps out at me and I have to hold on to it. Girlfriend, I LOVE THIS LINE!!

As for this beginning, I am very interested. Mal and Zoe's past is always interesting. So what's Mal regretting and where will it lead? Kudos and damn shiny to see you back in the saddle.

Friday, September 3, 2010 7:07 AM


Cute ending.

Sunday, September 5, 2010 7:04 AM


I agree with Angelle - some lines or phrases capture you ... I particularly like the idea of each breath being stolen from someone else, and that the pain would always be only yesterday, no matter how much time had gone by. And River? Yes, she would do that, to help her captain. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 2:19 PM


I know I am horribly late to this party, but I have returned from a wearying journey of the soul. And what a beautiful story to return to. Thank you, my Firefly friend! :)


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.