Family (Part 10/14)
Monday, February 27, 2012

Mal kicks the hornet's nest.


He's showing her the stars.

It's not logical, as she's already seen them. They've been there all the time. They've been burning for a billion years, they'll burn for a billion more. Always there to see.

And still, he's showing her the stars.

The hard wooden bench that they sit on is built with love, shared with love… so much loving this bench has known, she feels it, senses it… it makes her head spin… fuzzy… dizzy.

The stars… Filled with light, emitting heat, glowing… radiant.

Radiant… and Matthew… love… love shared on this bench… in this house… filled with love… filled… reproducing… leads to children.

First the eagle, who broke free and roams the sky… But this is still his nest and he'll always return to protect it.

Then Jo… strong, on the outside and on the inside… likes to kiss girlfolk on the mouth, got no man parts… Complicated woman… the protector who wants to be the protected, but doesn't want it.

Jude… Judith… a kind heart… cut off her lover's head to save her people… No, different Judith! This one wouldn't harm a fly… unless that fly harmed her children. Then she'd probably cut off its head.

And on the bench next to her, the last one: Matthew Cobb junior… Mattie… who's showing her the stars.

They've been burning for a billion years, they'll burn for a billion more. Always been there to see. But when he points at them, she sees them for the first time.

"There," he says, pointing to the brightest one, "that's Zhu Que, the Red Sun. Look carefully, you can just make out Jiangyin next to it. And sometimes also New Melbourne." He stops, sends her a sideways smile, "But I bet you already know this."

She does. But she likes to hear him say it. So she just smiles.

He's dying.

She knows. She's known from the moment she saw him. She saw the monster eating him up from the inside, eating away his breath.

He's known for some time too, he's felt it, and he tries to be brave about it. But he's been crying… she knows, she sensed it… when no one watches. Because he doesn't want to die. Not now.

Dying. Simon's tried to tell her. Tried to explain. But she understands already. No need for explaining.

Because everybody's dying. All things alive are.

He's just dying a little faster.

He's become silent, and she knows what he's thinking, but she doesn't speak about it, because she's been told it's rude and intrusive. And in the end he asks the questions nonetheless, "Do you believe in Heaven?"

"Paradise," she says. "Elysium. The afterlife. Common folklore." She looks at him. "Its existence cannot be determined. No sufficient evidence, pro or contra."

"I'll take that as 'I don't know'," he smiles, but the smile doesn't stay for long. "I'm making you sad, I'm sorry."

He's wrong. His sickness makes her sad. He makes her happy.

"Guess I'd just like to know what happens when you die," he says. "If my soul will live on, or rot away with my body. But I'll find out soon enough, I s'pose."

"Shatters," she says.


"The soul. It leaves the body, shatters into a billion pieces, then disperses to spread across the 'verse. Like stardust."

"That's what you believe?"

"Doesn't make sense, I know. But nothing 'bout death makes sense. So why not?"

He smiles again. "I like that. I'll be that then. Stardust. And then I'll be everywhere at once."

She returns the smile and they look back at the sky.

She can feel his oceans pull at her. Depth and darkness… and serenity. And she longs for that serenity. She needs it.

Yes, all rivers yearn for the sea, and so she rests her head upon his shoulder.

And he lets her.


Zoë had been looking over her shoulder all morning, expecting trouble to ride into the front yard and into their lives at any moment, but so far none had appeared. In fact everything was just as peaceful as it had been the other mornings. The crew and the Cobbs and the Campbells, who were visiting once again, had all been busy doing their chores, and now as it was nearing noon, everybody was taking a breather in front of the house.

Jo had climbed unto the bed of her pickup, and was slouching lazily in a deckchair she'd set up there, picking the strings of an old guitar and singing, and Wash and Kaylee in particular seemed to be enjoying this little unexpected concert.

"Come back, come back, my ain dear Johnny," she sang. "Come back, come back, and marry me. How can I come back and marry you, love? Our ship is sailing on the sea."

Her voice was surprisingly soft, and that and the fact that she had loosened her braid, seemed to soften up her features considerably and made Zoë smile a little. She herself had always been viewed as a warrior woman, this tall and strong amazon figure that (at least some) men felt intimidated around, but even she was nothing compared to Jo Cobb. Jayne's sister stood at least six feet, two inches tall, she was broad-shouldered and muscular, and had – as Zoë had learned over the last few days – quite a temper. But now, as she wore her long, dark hair down and played that mushy folk song, one was reminded that she was by all means still a woman. That toned body was well-proportioned, and though she was surely no blushing flower, she was pretty in her own way; determined, strong, proud.

Zoë liked her.

"She's turned herself right roun' about, she's flung herself into the sea. Farewell for aye, my ain dear Johnny. Ye'll ne'er have to come back to me." Jo abruptly stopped playing. "Stupid cow," she muttered.

Zoë half turned towards her, smiling with amusement. "What?"

"That girl in the song. Why go kill yourself just 'cause your fella sailed off?"

"But she was grieving!" Kaylee protested. "She knew she'd never see him again."

"There'd be another man waitin' just 'round the corner," Jo insisted. "She'd forgotten that Johnny in no time, if she'd just allowed herself to stop sulkin' for a moment."

"I think it's romantic," Kaylee sighed, but upon receiving weird looks from the others she hurriedly added, "Not the suicide, obviously. The song."

Jo smiled and then her eyes caught Jayne exiting the house, carrying a banjo, and her smile grew even more. She started playing again, a much happier tune this time, and wordlessly Jayne joined in, his banjo harmonizing perfectly with her guitar. Zoë kept smiling, letting the worrisome thought of MacHaig escape her attention for a minute, because this was a moment worth enjoying.

"I'm nobody's baby, I'm everybody's girl. I'm the queen of nothing, I'm the kiiiii-iiiing of the world!" Jo sang, jumping to her feet.

And then she stopped again, as something on the horizon caught her interest and her face darkened. "What now?" she said.

Zoë instinctively knew what it was even before she saw the approaching hovercrafts. This was what she had feared. Her eyes flashed to Mal, who'd been talking to Radiant, and he looked back at her and said nothing. His body language on the other hand spoke loudly.

Here goes.

Jo had swapped the guitar with the shotgun and strode off to meet the uninvited visitors, just like the last time, and Jayne joined her, seemingly trying to tell the captain that he'd be calling the shots now. Mal didn't pay him any attention, just silently took up a stance next to him. The others stayed by the house.

The vehicles entered the yard, and MacHaig who was piloting the first one (not the flashy one he'd used before – Kaylee had obviously done a thorough job), wasn't smiling this time. He'd brought a man, who judging by the silver star on his vest, was the local marshal, and he hadn't even stopped the car before he directed an accusing index finger at Mal and shouted, "There they are! Arrest them!"

The captain put up an offended face. "Arrest us?" he shouted back. "On what accusations?"

"Robbery!" MacHaig yelled. "You stole my money!"

Mal turned to address the marshal. "I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about," he assured him.

"Oh, don' you play innocent with me, Captain Reynolds!" MacHaig said, as he stepped out of the hovercraft, still steaming with suppressed anger. "I know it was you."



"Then I'd like to see some compelling evidence that proves that you're right."

"I saw you!" the man spat.

"Did you now?"

A hesitation of microscopic dimensions could be seen in MacHaig's eyes at that point, but only for a moment. The marshal, on the other hand, seemed confused and uncertain. He looked from Mal to his accuser. "Did you?" he repeated the captain's question. "Did you see them there?"

"You said they were masked," one of the other men remarked.

"Shut up!" MacHaig snarled at him. "I know it was them!"

"That's not what we asked you," Mal pointed out.

"Seize them!" MacHaig exploded. "Immediately! When you search the ship, you'll find my money, I'm sure of it! Now, do your job, marshal!"

"He can't arrest us," Mal calmly explained, as if explaining the procedure to a child. "And he can't search our ship. Not without a warrant, which he needs compelling evidence to procure. And your word, my good man, as respected as you may be around here, is not sufficient enough, I'm afraid."

"This is my gorram town!" MacHaig retorted. "The marshal arrests who I tell him to."

"Is that so?" The captain raised an eyebrow and looked intently at the marshal again. "I'm sorry to hear that. I assure you, lawman, we had nothing to do with this robbery. Mister MacHaig here has absolutely no evidence to back his accusations, but he does have a history of hostility towards the people we're visiting. I believe some bells should be ringing in your head by now, but of course we'll come with you quietly if it comes to that. Wouldn't want to get you in trouble now, would we?"

He raised his hands above his head and looked at Jo and Jayne. "Drop your weapons," he instructed them. "It isn't polite waving guns at the law."

"That's enough shit from you!" MacHaig demanded. "Arrest them!"

The marshal glanced over his shoulder at his men. "Let's go," he said and then turned back to Mal again, tipping his hat. "I'm sorry to have bothered you, sir."

"What?" MacHaig spun around to face him. His mouth was positively frothing. "You're letting him walk?"

"Until you can provide me with some real evidence, sir," the marshal replied, suddenly looking a whole lot more confident. "Like for instance a witness who can identify Captain Reynolds and his crew as the men who robbed you."

"I demand that you arrest them!"

"I don't work for you," the lawman calmly pointed out and mounted his hovercraft.

And as Zoë saw the little smile that caressed the captain's lips at that very moment, she realized what his plan had been and that he'd succeeded at least with this one. It didn't make her less worried, though.

"That's the cruel reality regarding lack of evidence and witnesses," Mal told MacHaig, and kept him under his scrutinizing glare while he spoke. "Sometimes thieves walk free. And sometimes murderers do."

MacHaig narrowed his eyes at that concealed and yet so obvious accusation, but before he could form a reply, a pebble hit him between the eyes and he cried out in surprise and pain. Everybody turned their heads to see little Finnegan Campbell standing a little to the left with a slingshot, glaring daggers at his grandfather's presumed killer.

"Finn!" Fergus yelled, grabbed the boy and pulled him towards the house, wringing the slingshot out of his hands.

Jayne just laughed out loud. "Huh, great kid."

"Jayne!" his mother scolded from where she stood by the front door. "We don't encourage that kind of behavior."

"Aw, the man had it comin'," Jayne insisted and scowled at MacHaig.

Mal did the same. "I suggest you leave," he said. "And don't bother these good people ever again. You stay out of their hair, and they stay out of yours. How's that sound?"

For a long moment nobody spoke. Then MacHaig abruptly turned and, without saying another word, climbed unto his hovercraft and drove off, and the marshal and his deputies mumbled their apologies, nodded their goodbyes and went after him.

As soon as they were gone, Jo burst into a fit of laughter. "You guys robbed him?" she hooted. "You stole his money? Gorramit, I wish you'd taken me with you!"

Radiant had walked up to the captain, and she was not laughing. "You shouldn't have done that," she said.

"Don't worry," Mal replied.

"No, I mean it," she said, dead serious. "You really shouldn't have done that."

Mal said no more. He just started walking towards Serenity.

Jayne's somewhat puzzled eyes followed him as he passed by. "When did you start takin' all of this so gorram personal?" he asked.

The captain stopped long enough to wave his finger at him. "You're a lucky man, Jayne," he hissed at him. "I hope you know that."


A/N: Jo's songs here are "I Will Set My Ship In Order" (trad.) and First Aid Kit's "King of The World" (K. Södergren/J. Södergren/C. Oberst). Brilliant performers, by the way :)




Monday, February 27, 2012 8:27 AM


Loved this! Though I am sure we haven't seen the last of the nasty MacHaig. The first part though was kind of lyrical and melancholy. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, February 27, 2012 11:42 AM


(Reposted from incorrect place)

I really liked River's section. And of course MacHaig's reaction was great, but the River section was particularly well done.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 2:40 PM


I'm worried that something bad's going to happen...not only because Radiant said "you shouldn't have done that," but also because Mal's plan just went *too* smoothly so far. Great chapter.


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Angels We Have Heard (Part 4/5)
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Angels We Have Heard (Part 3/5)
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Angels We Have Heard (Part 2/5)
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Angels We Have Heard (Part 1/5)
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The Night Before (revised and reposted)
It's the night before Christmas and Jayne is having spiritual problems. Literally.

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Mal drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, closing his eyes for a moment. "Gorram preacher," he muttered.

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Kaylee comes clean and River goes for a swim.

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The captain dances, Inara's feeling out the new girl and the first secret is revealed.

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Zoë and Inara have a heart-to-heart, and Mal discovers more shades of grey.