COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 2. "Ghosts of Christmas Past"
Sunday, January 2, 2005

"As Serenity sails closer to her destination the crew complete their chores and the Captain finalises the rest of his plan."



SUMMARY: "As Serenity sails closer to her destination the crew complete their chores and the Captain finalises the rest of his plan." 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Despite the grumbling and initial protests Serenity's crew got to work on the cleaning and sprucing up with a vengeance. No doubt figuring that the quicker they started the sooner they'd be finished. Not knowing that if they finished too soon their devious Captain would have to find something else mind numbingly boring for them to do. Only Kaylee attacked the task with gusto her whole face alight and shiny, chatting away to River about the decorations they would make. River got swept along with the mechanic's enthusiasm until she couldn't tell where Kaylee's excitement ended and her own began, even though part of her knew they were building a smokescreen. Buying into the deception. But she could forgive the Captain because she knew why. Not that she would ever tell. Would spoil the surprise if she did and she couldn't do that to Kaylee.

Shepherd Book watched, a gentle smile on his face, his eyes sharp and discerning. He took it upon himself to scrub the kitchen, Inara actually agreeing to help with the commons area. The reluctance turning slowly to anticipation, plans being formed between them not on only how to make the decorations they would need but also how to turn their humble fare into a feast.

"I have some notions on that score." Book assured the Companion.

Both paused at the sound of something heavy being dropped and loud cursing from the cargo bay below. The Shepherd looked at Inara. "No prizes for guessing what Jayne has to clean."

His words were accompanied by a wicked little gleam of amusement in his eyes. Inara found herself smiling back. "Each man according to his strengths."

"Or," Said Book smiling back. "In Jayne's case, weaknesses."

The Captain stayed well clear of all the mayhem. Used the time cleaning through his bunk and amazing himself at some of the things he found. Little things he thought he had lost way back when suddenly turning up in the most surprising places. At first he was pleased, figuring he must have dropped them or they had been mislaid or somesuch but as he turned up more and more items he became suspicious. At last the chore was done. His bunk was tidy and spotlessly clean. Had even polished his gorram desk. The Captain turned his attention to the little pile of no-count treasures on his bed. As he studied them more carefully he realised something a mite chilling. Every single item had a direct link back to the War.

From the hatch above his head a light sorrow-filled voice drifted. "Don't need them now."

He swore softly under his breath and turned a baleful eye on River. Knew he should have shut his gorram hatch. Probably should have locked it too.

She shook her head slowly and finished climbing down the ladder until she was standing barefoot in his bunk, her curtain of hair obscuring her face briefly as she tilted it. "Wouldn't work. You can't keep me out." He was tight lipped, hands on hips now. All kinds of unamused. "So it seems. An' why ain't you helpin' little Kaylee?"

River smiled not put off by his grumpiness. "I've been helping. Helped Simon too but he only sees what he wants to see." The Captain frowned at that. She was watching him closely now, her voice turning thoughtful as if she was starting to drift, away from him to who knew what kind of shores. Shark infested most like. No, that was more his fate than hers. Or at least he hoped so. "Wanted to help you too." She sang softly, body swaying gently in an invisible breeze. He had the absurd notion he should catch her but he didn't move. A visit from River was always a little creepifying.

"That why you hide these things, River?" The Captain asked softly, a hand fluttering in the direction of his bed.

She frowned slightly as if trying to recapture something illusive, something that would not stand still in her mind so she could see it clearly. But her memory was clear. Sharp. She knew. "They hurt you, bring you pain. Can't heal 'til you let go."

He went cold. "Those things are there for a reason, River. Not for you to be decidin' what stays an' what goes, *dong ma*?"

Even though it was a reprimand of sorts it was gently said. Cross as he had been now that he knew the why of it he did not want to hurt her with his unthinking words. Best he keep his craziness to himself where it couldn't hurt no one. She seemed to pick the thoughts right out of his head. "*Ni bu dong*. When you hurt we all feel the pain."

He wanted to tell her it wasn't like that. He wouldn't do that to his crew but she was already leaving, climbing up that ladder like a gorram monkey. When she got to the top she turned her head and looked back at him through the hatch. For a moment time stood still waiting for the Hand of God to rock the cradle.

"You'll get rid of them when you're ready but don't wait too long."

Then she shut the hatch and left him feeling oddly bereft.

* * * * *

Wash was happy. The overdue Spring cleaning had turned up another lost friend. Zoe eyed the multiplying dinosaurs with a wary eye, her ascerbic tongue held in check because it made Wash so gorram happy and seeing her *zhangfu* happy had become one of her favourite things in the 'verse. Plus, the bridge was beginning to look so shiny she would soon be needing sunglasses just to step on to it. The Pilot looked over his shoulder and grinned at her, checked that no one was standing within earshot before speaking. "I can't wait for planetfall, *bao bei*."

His wife tensed, looked over her shoulder then moved up beside him, her tone lowered so only someone with the hearing of bat would have heard her from more than a foot away. "Sssh, what did I tell you about spoilin' the Cap'n's surprise?"

"That it was funny an' manly?"

"No, suicidal."

"I don't see what harm it would do, Zoe. Think it would cheer up the rest of the crew as well." Zoe sighed and brushed imaginary fluff off Wash's shoulder. "It won't be for much longer sweetie an' the Cap'n wants to do this. Let's not spoil it, *dui*?"

He grinned and wrapped an arm around her waist, his expression melting as he gazed up at her in adoration. "I love my wife."

* * * * *

Carousel was a happy hum of activity. It seemed everyone wanted to help and as most of the planet seemed to be related in some way to the Frye's it took no time at all to set everything in place. Mrs Frye was almost beside herself with anticipation. The litter of cousins, nephews, neices, aunts and uncles getting fever bright with excitement. Her older sons and daughters tasked with the job of dressing the place up for the festive season while the women planned the food. Her cousin Samuel off with his ax to find a tree big enough to hang all the pretty baubels and pieces of trim on that the younger children were busy making. Martin Frye was more muted in his manner, as happy as his wife and family but by nature more cautious.

Martin's brother in law Ralph had arranged the fuel. He hoped Captain Reynolds hadn't been lying about having the coin to pay for it. A hefty expense for their modest resources it had taken some angling to arrange and set up a suitable depot well away from the house and grounds. He could not help mulling over the necessity for such secrecy but if it meant getting his daughter home for a Christmas family reunion he would hold his tongue and fall into line. Besides, if he didn't his wife was like to box his ears for him and that woman, sweet as she was, had a mean right hook.

* * * * *

It was the dog watch of the fourth day. Mal was the last one up, his sleeplessness propelled by purpose. Quietly he checked his ship, his crew all accounted for and in their bunks. Slipping aboard shuttle 2 he locked the door behind him and sent a wave. It took less than a minute to get a response. The figure on the screen scowled at him, Mal took a careful breath.

"You still mad at me?"

The man stared at him for a moment then relaxed just a fraction. "No." He paused, his throat closing on the pain of memory. "*Diyu* Mal, she was my WIFE!"

The Captain sighed then nodded. Eyes more sad than mocking. Knew how the man felt his own self. "Mine too."

Monty managed to lift himself another few inches out of his fuge. Realising that he was only one in a long line of folk Saffron had duped. He felt a tinge of curiosity as the last of his anger abated. "How'd she hook you?"

Mal snorted.

"Stowed away on my boat after we'd been wined an' feted on some crappy planet that hired us to get rid of some gorram bullies." The Captain sighed, looked down and shook his head as if he still could not quite believe it had happened. When he looked up again he could see that Monty was waiting for the rest of the story. "Seems I had a mite too much too drink. There was music. An' dancin'. Pretty girl put a flower bonnet on my head, gave me a bowl of wine an' kissed me. Weren't doin' no harm. Had a fine old time point of fact." He paused, gave a heavy sigh as if a cloud of depression was settling over him. "Then mornin' came aboard my boat. Puttin' the last of the 'shine away an' *wode ma* if she didn't spring out an' declare us wed! Didn't remember a gorram thing about it 'til the Preacher said how drinkin' that bowl was drinkin' of her wine an' such, the kissin' an' flowers in my hair makin' us man an' wife on some worlds."

Monty gave him a long look. "Did you...? I mean..."

The Captain shook his head quickly wanting to dispell that notion before it could take root in his friend's head. "No! There was none of that. Told her I'd find some planet where she could set down. Have a life of her choosin' not mine. On'y she wasn't the victim she portrayed - I was. Cooked a right fine meal for me, actin' all sweet an' compliant, makin' me all manner of uncomfortable. Turned up in my bunk even though I'd asked the Preacher to make a place for her. Was all articulate, quotin' the bible an' such. Couldn't move nor speak, she just stood there all naked an' I couldn't do a gorram thing just stare at her. Then she kissed me an' I passed out." He let out a long sigh then huffed impatiently. Annoyed with himself. "Lost my head, damn near lost my boat too. You?"

His friend told him his own sorry tale, how Saffron - then calling herself Bridget - had flattered him and appealed to the protective side of his nature making him feel like the only man in the whole 'verse worthy of the title. He had fallen and fallen hard. Unlike the Captain he had bedded her even shaving off the beard he treasured like a trusted friend. For a long while after the two friends were silent, lost in their own thoughts. Then Monty cut a sly glance at Mal. "So what happened after I left you two?"

A glimmer of humour skated across the dark blue of Mal's eyes. "Seems Saffron had a plan all worked out for you an' your men."

Monty raised a dark bushy brow. "A plan?"

"Uh huh." Mal smiled slowly as he recounted the tale of the Lassiter, watching Monty's eyes go wide at the sheer daring of the risky venture. "Course," Said the Captain mildly. "She didn't tell me the man she wanted to steal the lassiter from was another former husband of hers."

Monty stared at him, eyes wide in disbelief, then slowly his face creased and he bellowed with laughter. Relieved that it was not just him and Mal who had fallen for the wiles of that *pofu*. It took a moment or two to get himself controlled enough to talk. "Where is she now?"

The Captain shrugged. "Don't know an' don't rightly care." Seeing Monty's disbelieving look he elaborated but not much. "Threw her out with the trash."

Then they were down to business. The close comraderie and affection they had once shared intact again. Two scheming minds were always better than one but when Monty heard the full of it his face became serious, his look worried and filled with concern. "This ain't a good idea, Mal. It's all kinds of stupid an' you never struck me as stupid before. Why risk it?"

"Not askin' you to land with me, Monty. Just need you to get me there *dong ma*?"

"Your ship..."

"Ain't goin' nowhere near Shadow." He asserted firmly.

"I take it the crew don't know?"

The Captain huffed as if that was the least of it. "*Diyu*, even Zoe don't know."

Monty watched his friend for a moment. Many memories filtering through his mind like ghosts on tiptoe, snapshots of a man he was proud to call his friend. A man he had fought beside in battle and stood by in the torture camps that followed the surrender. Painful memories somehow made bearable by being shared. He didn't want to lose him over something that could be so easily avoided. "Mal, don't do this." Monty leaned in closer to the monitor, wished he were there in person to ground the man in reality. His eyes boring into Mal's. As if he could change his mind by strength of will alone. "You can't go back, *dong ma*?"

He watched the determined glint harden in the Captain's eye. Felt his heart miss a beat. He knew that look. Was growing to hate it now. "It's somethin' I have to do, Monty. Can't expect you to understand..."

"Oh, *wo dong* Mal, but that's your heart talkin' not your head." He paused and let his big booming voice go soft again, the quiet words like leaves whispering as they fell off the trees as if all the forests on all the worlds that ever were formed were dying. "They're dead, Mal, an' if I thought there was a chance in *diyu* of bringin' 'em back for you I'd do it in a heartbeat but nothin' can bring back the dead. Let 'em sleep."

The Captain shook his head. His voice tinged with a pain he could not hide. "*Wo bu neng*. Need to go this one last time Monty. Lay the last of the ghosts to rest."

Monty looked long into the sad haunted eyes of his friend and was too full of emotion to speak. Knew there was no way in the nine hells he could say no to this man. Foolish venture or not, he was in. If only to give his friend the one thing he could not give himself. Forgiveness for surviving where so many of the valiant and innocent had fallen.

* * * * *

The bustle of day actually made the Captain's spirits rise. Seeing his people energised and happy was a salve for his wounded soul. He caught Zoe's eye and smiled, happy when she smiled back. Gorrammit, everyone was in a fine mood this day. He could not believe the transformation his crew had achieved, the ship looking like a festive scene from Earth-That-Was. It trapped words in his throat and made his heart ache with the joy of it. The Preacher saw him and made a bee-line for the Captain, his bible firmly in hand, a smug satisfied look on his face.

"Captain, I was wondering if I might have a word with you?"

Mal raised his eyebrows, a caution now creeping in and holding the happy in check. "I'm a mite busy right now Preacher, a little later perhaps."

Book's eyes twinkled. "Oh, this won't take long, Captain."

The Captain eyed him suspiciously, then noticed some of the crew were starting to look their way and gave a nod. "Best go to the commons then, could do with some tea."

Book nodded happily and as the Captain turned his back to lead the way the Preacher looked back and winked at Kaylee. The mechanic grinned and grabbed River by the hand, the two girls quickly running off and making Jayne scowl as they disappeared. "What do you suppose that was about?"

Zoe shrugged. "Does it matter?"

The big man frowned, having no answer to that. Zoe already walking briskly passed him, now taking the steps two at a time, wanting to quiz Wash about their estimated time of arrival on Carousel. She could hardly wait to see the look on Kaylee's face. There would be tears, no doubt about it, but the happy would wash every single one away in the kind of joy that would wrap around each and every one of them like a gift beyond measure. For the first time in a good long while Zoe Warren was looking forward to Christmas.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds knew he would long savour the stunned looks upon the faces of his crew as their destination finally hit home. The lowering of Serenity's ramp on Carousel set a chorus of voices clamouring like the ringing of church bells around his gorram ears. He couldn't help it, he was grinning from ear to ear like a gorram *baichi*. Before the ramp was fully down he found himself caught up in armfuls of tearful Kaylee, her shining face wet with tears, nonsense words tripping off her tongue like some babbling brook. But he didn't care. She was happy and that made him all kinds of happy too. She hugged him, kissed him and couldn't stop thanking him. After a moment it started to make him feel uncomfortable. Self conscious.

"Didn't have no present to give you, little Kaylee, but this."

Gorrammit, where did that girl get so many tears from? She was like a rutting waterfall. Now the ramp was fully down and everyone could see the ground was packed with happy smiling faces, Kaylee was trembling with joy and excitement yet paused long enough to give her Captain a last happy smile as she kissed his cheek. "I love my Captain!"

He smiled back and kissed her forehead, "Merry Christmas, *mei mei*" he murmured into her hair. Then she was gone and his arms were empty. Only the dampness on his shirt front a reminder that Kaylee had been there just a half second ago.

Content he watched his crew disembark, exchanging Christmas greetings with them as they passed him in a happy blur. Felt something tug at his heart as Kaylee's ma took her up in the kind of bear hug that stole every breath from the body yet filled it with something infinitely sweeter than the breath of life. Then the heaving mass of waiting folk were moving, slow and rippling like a strong undercurrent beneath still water, dragging them away from the ship in its' undertow. Still, he had not moved. Soon he could hardly see his crew for the weight of relatives that made up the Frye clan. A figure detached from the rest and walked back to the end of the ramp. A stocky man with a calm measuring look in his eyes. The Captain gave him a nod, knew his time was up and walked down the ramp to meet him.

Hands clasped before a word was spoken. "Reckon ya kept your word."

Mal nodded then smiled. "You too."

That made Martin Frye chuckle. He decided he could trust Kaylee's Captain after all. They turned and watched the merry swathe slowly meander off towards the Frye's homestead. "You've made a lot of people happy, Cap'n Reynolds."


Mr Frye turned his head to look at the Captain for a moment. "Mal."

A comfortable silence fell between them then the Captain walked back to the ship to close up the ramp and set the code to lock it down while they were on Carousel. Only them as knew the code would be able to board the ship. Not that he expected any trouble but some habits were worth keeping no matter how safe you felt. Serenity was more than home to him, it was freedom.

All the way to the homestead the Captain and Mr Frye were deep in conversation. By the time they reached the house they could see tens of tables had been laid out in the front meadow, each one festooned with coloured cloths and all kinds of foodstuffs they had only been able to dream about for months. Fresh fruit and vegetables, real meat, the list appeared to be endless. The Frye's even had a massive Christmas tree all decked out by the front door. Lights twinkling, merry laughter filling the cool air as a strong baritone started to sing which for a moment made everyone fall silent as the whole world hushed. Necks craning as folk looked to see who was singing. The Captain was only mildly surprised to see Shepherd Book standing next to the tree alongside Kaylee's ma and brothers, leading them all in what he supposed was some Christmas carol. Something about merry gentlemen resting or somesuch. Didn't know the words though the tune sounded a mite familiar. A big smile broke out on Martin Frye's face. "Now THAT was something we hadn't expected."

The Captain chuckled then thought on his primary concern. "I'm obliged to you, Mr Frye."


Mal caught the twinkle in the other man's eye. "Martin." He paused. "You got a horse I can borrow?"

"I can do better than that, I'll come with you."

The Captain shook his head, trying to hide a flash of alarm. "*Bu qu* but *xie xie ni*. It's a kindly thought. You should be here with your family."

"And you should be with your crew." Mr Frye responded quietly. A flicker of pain and sadness glimmered in the Captain's eyes then was gone, his look as expressionless as a mask. "That wasn't the plan."

"They'll ask you know. What you wantin' me to tell 'em? I warn ya now, Mal, I won't lie for you *dong ma*?"

The Captain flushed slightly. "Ain't askin' you to lie, just tell 'em the truth."

He got a sharp disbelieving look back and quickly qualified his words.

"But not all of it. Tell 'em I went ridin', wanted to get a look at the gorram planet, feel horseflesh beneath me again. I just need you to keep 'em busy an' happy 'til I get back."

"You still haven't told me exactly where you're goin'."

"I got me a duty to perform, could say it's long overdue."

Mr Frye watched him carefully, not wanting to pry too deeply but sensing that whatever the man said to the contrary this was no small thing. "Is it dangerous?"

A look of surprise came over Malcolm Reynolds' face. "Why would it be dangerous? Man's got a right to spend Christmas how he pleases."

He got no response. Instead Kaylee's dad put a hand on the Captain's arm and guided him towards the barn out the back. The sounds of merrymaking, singing and laughter a joyful background to their separate thoughts. Martin Frye spoke of other things as he chose a horse for the Captain, his hands moving with long familiarity over the horse's withers, placing the saddle and securing the cinches while the Captain stroked the animal's neck and blew his breath softly in the horse's face so the noble beast could become familiar with his scent. Mr Frye watched the ease with which horse and man grew comfortable with each other and smiled. "You know horses."

"Grew up on a ranch my own self." He raised his eyebrows but Mal did not elaborate. He was itching to go, to get this done and Martin Frye knew it was best not to delay him. He gave brief simple directions to which he got a nod of thanks in reply. Then he stood back and watched Serenity's Captain smoothly mount the horse and take off in a slow canter. A single wave of the hand then the horse broke into a gallop and the muted sounds of singing were punctuated by the fading sound of hoofbeats throwing up clods of earth as horse and rider slowly disappeared from sight. Mr Frye stood deep in thought a moment or two longer then closed up the barn and went to join the others.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *zhangfu* = husband *bao bei* = precious/treasure *dui* = correct *diyu* = hell *pofu* = bitch *wode ma* = mother of God *wo dong* = I understand *wo bu neng* = I can't do it *baichi* = idiot *mei mei* = little sister *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xie xie ni* = thank you


Sunday, January 2, 2005 11:29 PM


Bittersweet throughout.

I'm troubled by Mal appearing to go off again without telling Zoe. Not just personally, but professionally it seems wrong for the captain not to inform his first officer. Feels neglectful of his duty.

Is this story in the same 'verse as any of your other stories? Or a stand-alone?

Monday, January 3, 2005 12:35 AM


This story is in the same 'verse as all the others but not a direct tie-in. You'll see what I mean as if opens up more, Guildsister. As for Mal going off again and not telling Zoe there is a good reason for this though he probably still should not have done it. For once emotion totally sways him. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, January 3, 2005 6:26 AM


Yay, Monty!!

I'm loving this story. I guess Mal really is going to go back to Shadow, if only to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

As with all your stories, Ali, I can't wait to hear more!

Sunday, January 16, 2005 6:46 PM


I can't wait to see how it's gonna end!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005 1:35 AM


Another lovely chapter, but - my,oh my - I'm getting that shiver of dread for poor Mal's body and soul! The happy parts of your stories are so happy, Ali, they make the wretched parts even more painful. And I mean that in a good way. ;-)

Sunday, March 27, 2005 11:01 PM


Hmmm... I kind of pictured Kaylee's family a bit less... Pastoral, I suppose the word is...

To each their own.

I can just see Zoe expression each time Wash recovers another one of his toys...


Keep flyin'

Thursday, October 27, 2011 6:07 AM


So gorram shiny!XD


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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.