Angels We Have Heard (Part 4/5)
Monday, February 11, 2013

Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.


His mother had not been much of a singer, Mal recalled, but sung she had. On Sundays mostly, and particularly at Christmas.

"And the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains…"

He could hear her now, and he could see their living room back at the homestead, and all the flickering lights on the Christmas tree – and it was a happy memory and as such a painful one, and yet for some reason he didn't immediately push it away

And, yes, it was that tree, and he remembered the Christmas when Charlie, the ranch hand, had taken him out to get it. There were no forests to speak of on Shadow, and not that many suitable trees, and so the trip had been long, or at least that was how he remembered it, but then again he'd just been a small boy at the time, so who really knew? They'd spent at least one night out under the stars, though, and Charlie had told him wild stories by the campfire, stories he was certain his mother would not approve of.

Or maybe, in hindsight, she would. In many ways he saw his mother in a different light now. And Charlie too, for that matter. Now he seemed larger than life, someone he had adored so many years ago, who'd seemed old and wise, though he'd probably only been in his late twenties. And by the next Christmas he was dead, crushed to death in a cattle stampede, and Mal recalled how his mother had brought him along to visit his young widow on Christmas Eve, bringing gifts and food, because she always took good care of her employees – and that was when he'd first learned of that bittersweet taste that always accompanied the sweetness of the holidays.

He still loved Christmas back then though, and he wasn't quite sure when he'd stopped loving it. Even in the trenches during the war, Christmas had come as a sweet release.

It must have been when they lost.

Everything else was lost then, so why not the magic of Christmas too?


"Glo-o-o-o-o-ria, in excelsis Deo…"

In a flashing moment Simon thought he heard a different voice, one that sounded almost angelic, but he quickly realized it was only his memories playing tricks on him. Regan Tam had had a strong voice, one that could carry a tune, but it probably hadn't sounded as angelic as he remembered it.

Everything still came flooding back, though: The living room of the Tam estate, the huge Christmas tree (because it had to be bigger than the Cambersons's), his mother singing, and River playing the piano, untouched and still innocent, or maybe not, because how could a mind like that ever be truly innocent? But still, she was River, and even though it was getting harder all the time to picture her like that, he could still see her there.

And his parents… He didn't often think about them these days. He focused so much on River, on keeping her safe, that there was no room for it. He'd made a choice and that choice had been his sister, and it was not one he'd ever regretted, and yet sometimes – when he allowed himself to let go of that feeling of betrayal – he still missed his mother and father. He thought about them now, wondered what they were doing, what they were thinking. About him, about River, about everything.

And like always those thoughts only filled him with bitter emptiness, and he closed his eyes and tried very hard to shake them.


It wasn't until supper was served, that Mal realized that Richard Hensley's unfocused eyes were in fact blind. When his young niece brought him his plate, he turned towards the sound of her voice and smiled at her, but it was quite obvious he couldn't see. And when he moved slightly on his cot to change his position, Mal saw he was also missing a leg.

It made him a little uncomfortable. Not the injury itself; he'd seen plenty a lot worse, but he always felt a bit awkward around wounded veterans, perhaps because he'd escaped the war almost unscathed himself – he wasn't quite sure. Some people had been lucky, some hadn't, and it was never more than a coincidence separating them – and it just didn't feel right.

Simon had noticed too. The doctor kept throwing long looks in the man's direction, and it was as if he didn't even try to be discreet about it. Mal knew this was just something he did when his doctor mode kicked in; he had seen it several times before, and so he said nothing of it, and Simon never said or did anything either.

Sleep eluded Mal that night, and after tossing around on the bedroll for an hour or so, trying desperately to board the train to dreamland, he gave up on the endeavor and rose, stretching his aching limbs, and glanced around the darkened room. All around him people were asleep, on the beds and cots by the walls and on the floor in front of the fire, which was somehow still burning. Simon was curled up right next to his feet, looking rather child-like and innocent in his sleep, and Mal wondered for a moment where that uptight, snotty young man he'd once met had gone. Simon sure had changed a lot.

He wondered if he had to.

He doubted it.

He suddenly became aware of movement next to the fireplace, and realized he was not the only one awake, which of course explained the mystery of how the flames had not died out.

"Not much of a sleeper?" a voice asked him, a deep baritone with a peculiar resonance to it. It belonged to Richard Hensley; Mal recognized him now as his eyes gradually grew accustomed to the semi-darkness of the room.

"How do you know it's me?" he asked, mostly out of curiosity.

"I guessed," was the simple answer. "Figured it'd be you. Veterans never sleep well, especially not in an unfamiliar space, and you're one, right?"

"How d'you know? You can't even see me."

A low, bitter chuckle. "It's all in your voice. A veteran's voice always sounds rather… flat. As if all the music's gone out of it." He paused a little. "It takes one to know one, I suppose."

Mal moved closer, careful not to step on Simon or any of the others. Richard was sitting on a wooden chair, his hands clasping an iron stoker, and he straightened his back and shot out his chin when he heard Mal's approach. "Lieutenant Richard Hensley, second batallion of the Independents' 23rd brigade, at your service."

"Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds," Mal greeted him back.

"Pleasure," Richard said, gesturing a little with his stoker. "Please, grab a chair if you can find one."

Mal did and sat down by the fire, facing the other man. "So, the twenty-third, huh?" he said. "I heard you guys were pretty much wiped out at Du-Khang."

Richard nodded. "Only a couple of hundred of us made it out alive. From my battalion, just me. Just me out of a thousand guys."

Mal really didn't know how to respond, so he chose to not speak at all.

"They threw everything they had at us," Richard continued. "Seekers, drones, you name it. Blew my leg right off, and then the gas took my eyesight. But I lived." He used the stoker to stir up the fire. "By God, I lived. And by God, do I wish sometimes I hadn't."

Mal still said nothing.

Richard turned his head back towards him. "How 'bout you, Sergeant Reynolds?"

"Kept my health, more or less," Mal replied truthfully.

"So you were in 'til the bitter end?"

"That's right."

"You fight in the Valley?"

Mal paused for a second. "Yes."

Richard sighed and shook his head. "I wished I'd been there."

"No," Mal replied, "you don't."

This time it was Richard who remained quiet, at least for a moment or two. He leaned forwards and felt with his hand for something he had stashed away under his chair. He pulled out an old bottle with a handwritten label. "See if you can find some glasses, will you?" he said.

Mal stood and carefully made his way to the cupboards and back, zigzagging his way in between the sleeping forms on the floor, collecting two small glasses. Richard had opened the bottle by the time he got back and held it out towards him. "Pour us a glass, Sergeant. It tastes like yak piss, I'm afraid – it's hard to get your hands on the good stuff out here – but it'll make you warm inside."

Smiling, Mal poured the alcohol and placed one of the glasses in Richard's hand. "To the glorious dead," he said, and they both saluted and knocked back their drinks.

It did taste like yak piss, or at least Mal thought so, seeing as he'd never really tasted yak piss, but as promised it also gave him that relaxing sensation that strong alcohol was supposed to give you.

They sat in silence for a few moments. Then a grimace of pain flashed across Richard's face and he shifted slightly in his chair.

"Are you alright?" Mal asked him.

"Phantom pains," Richard muttered. "You know, I used to think those couldn't be real, but they are. Nine years down the road, and I still feel the leg that's not really there."

"I'm sorry."

Richard waved him off. "I lived, right? I'm one of the lucky ones. Though sometimes I think that maybe I'm not. That the lucky ones are them that died."

Mal didn't answer, but he knew the feeling. He refilled the glasses and they downed another drink, not saluting this time. There was no need.

"So when I returned home a cripple, they took my land," Richard said. "All my property. Said I owed them; that I had to pay for the damage I'd caused. Now Johnny," he waved his hand in his sleeping brother's general direction, "he never fought in no war. He stayed at home, took care of the business, paid his taxes. But d'you think the government cares about that? Everyone remotely related to me got dumped on this ice rock. Because of what I did." His fingers tightened around the glass. "And now he has to raise his young ones out here, where there's no hope for a better future, and the gorram Alliance's got him strung out on that weed he's smoking."

"The weed? What's in it?"

"Hell if I know. But it keeps them relaxed. Takes the edge off, you know. But I don't touch it." He shook his head. "No, sir, I've got my yak piss, and otherwise I prefer to feel the pain."

After that, they just drank.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013 8:37 AM


Interesting good to see Mal and Richard talk about the War and how things changed once it was over. I'm thinking maybe Simon could check out that weed, find out what the Alliance put in it to keep those taking it compliant. Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:55 PM


I liked reading about Mal's memories of his childhood back on Shadow. I especially liked the talk between the two war veterans. Neither one of them has much of an uplifting feeling about things postwar. As for the Alliance's weed -- I wouldn't touch it!

Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:53 PM


I don't usualy read much fan fic..but this is really well done...


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Angels We Have Heard (Part 5/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 4/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 3/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 2/5)
Christmas special. Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 1/5)
Christmas special. Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

The Night Before (revised and reposted)
It's the night before Christmas and Jayne is having spiritual problems. Literally.

Book of Secrets (Part 8)
Mal drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, closing his eyes for a moment. "Gorram preacher," he muttered.

Book of Secrets (Part 7)
Kaylee comes clean and River goes for a swim.

Book of Secrets (Part 6)
The captain dances, Inara's feeling out the new girl and the first secret is revealed.

Book of Secrets (Part 5)
Zoë and Inara have a heart-to-heart, and Mal discovers more shades of grey.