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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"While Serenity's crew partake of the feast the Captain discovers something that robs him of his appetite."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1979 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "NEITHER FEAST NOR FAMINE"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: SEQUEL to "GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST "
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "While Serenity's crew partake of the feast the Captain discovers something that robs him of his appetite."
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.
"NEITHER FEAST NOR FAMINE"
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Even Simon Tam had trouble remembering seeing so much food at any one time and he had been to parties the like of which Serenity's crew had never seen. With the sole exception of Inara he was probably the one person hardest to impress and yet he was. Yet something else impressed him more. Much more. Kaylee was so happy she actually sparkled and glowed. Incandescent in her joy he could not take his eyes off her. Kaylee's cousin Ruth nudged her shoulder as they stole strawberries off each others' plates.
"Do you see that Kaylee? See how that boy of yours is starin' at ya?"
Kaylee blushed and dipped her head a little lower to her plate, looking up through her dark lashes and more pleased than a body had a right to be to see the look on Simon's face. "He ain't mine, Ruth."
Her cousin chuckled in her ear, a throaty dirty sound that just deepened Kaylee's blush still further. "That ain't what I see, *bao bei*."
The two smiled at each other then Kaylee bent to her self appointed task and filled two plates, trying to ignore the less than subtle advice of her over active cousin. Not that she didn't think rutting with Simon while feeding him strawberries dipped in her mama's warm chocolate sauce wasn't shiny, it was, she just wanted to keep those images to herself. Least till she could find a way to make them happen for real. Still. She was a resourceful girl and daddy always said she had natural talent. The smile she gave Simon as she crossed the grass to him near stopped the young doctor's heart mid-beat. Oh yeah, she could fix most anything with workings.
Inara spared the two an indulgent smile and turned at the Shepherd's warm, self satisfied tone. The Frye clan was truly a force of nature, the numbers almost overwhelming and only outdone by the warmth of their welcome. She turned her head, spotting Zoe and Wash over by the punchbowl, laughing children chasing each other around them and bringing a sappy smile to the usually stern first mate's lips. Jayne was busy eating every gorram thing in sight and River had found herself a partner to dance with to music no one else could hear. Along with the near perfect weather it was an idyllic scene with one exception.
The Shepherd was smiling around a tasty piece of cheese and potato pie, his eyes laughing at the antics of the Frye children, their mothers and fathers having given up trying to contain the enthusiasm of the youngest members. Perhaps figuring it was best to let them tire themselves out. "I saw him go over to the barn with Kaylee's father. I think he wanted to go riding."
Her finely sculpted eyebrows rose smoothly in mild surprise. Book turned his head slightly to look at her. "Something wrong?"
Inara shook her head, determined not to spoil the gloss of one of the finest days she could remember since joining the crew. Why did she have to sense dark currents no matter how bright the sun shone? Because it seemed their lot in life. She mentally shook the thought off and dazzled him with a bright smile. "I'm just a little surprised. The Captain doesn't seem one to celebrate the festive season."
The Shepherd's voice became soft, his eyes gentle and knowing. "Oh I don't think his attitude has changed in that regard." At her look his smile widened gently. "This is his present to us, Inara. He can't say it in words so speaks in gestures."
His insight pleased her, helped her relax further. Now turning her head in laughter on seeing some of the children clambering all over Jayne much to the mercenary's protestations that they were dicing with certain death. The fact that he couldn't stop grinning between threats to throw them off made it obvious he enjoyed giving them piggy back rides and tossing the younger ones up into the air until their peals of laughter made the air ring loud like Christmas bells.
Mrs Frye looked for her husband and found him with Aunt Rae and her younger cousin Bertram. "Where'd you slope off to, *zhangfu*?"
"Kaylee's Cap'n wanted to go ridin'."
Their eyes held for a beat, message passed and understood. Mrs Frye gave a tiny nod. "I think our girl has her cap set elsewhere."
Martin Frye followed his wife's eye and grinned broadly. Kaylee was introducing Simon to the joys of sharing a strawberry. "That poor boy don't stand a chance." He sighed.
His wife smiled happily, looking more than a mite smug. "When a Frye sets their mind on somethin' ain't a force in the 'verse'll stop 'em gettin' it."
Bertam laughed. "Almost feel sorry for the boy."
Mal found Monty's ship right where he expected it to be. His friend quickly stepping down to meet him as the Captain drew the horse to a stop.
Monty nodded. "That was a smart idea ya had with the depot, Mal."
The Captain nodded. He needed there to be enough fuel for both Monty's ship to make it to Shadow and back and to refuel Serenity. Though he wouldn't be letting Wash in on that little detail until his return. Monty looked uneasy.
"Still think this is a bad idea."
Mal ignored him, tying the horse to the branch of a nearby tree. Far enough from the ship to not be spooked when they took off. Martin would know to come collect him in a couple of hours. "Sooner we leave..." He let the words hang.
The big bear of a man nodded back. "Sooner we'll be back."
Then they were hurrying aboard, Monty's pilot getting them airborne without further comment. The Captain could feel the tension building in him, the memories flooding back first in a trickle then multiplying as he went back in time. Memories of his mama's ranch bright and clear and painfully detailed but there was joy in it too. So many well loved faces he would never see again spoke to him across the bridge of time. He hadn't been back to Shadow in a good long while. Knew there was nothing to go back to but he wanted to pay his respects one last time. Finally make his peace with the past. It would be the very last time he would set foot on his homeworld. He wanted to do it now before he had time to change his mind.
* * * * *
The wind was fitful, cold and sharp but that suited him fine. Meant there would be fewer eyes watching and less frequent patrols. It still amazed him that they could keep it up after all this time but then nothing should surprise him now. Not after the things he had seen and been party to during the War. He didn't come often, wouldn't have come now but something kept drawing him. Like an unfinished task. It weighed on him but not as much as the guilt weighed on his heart.
Jayne hadn't meant to fall in the gorram trough but them kids were all manner of sneaky and he had gotten more than a mite carried away what with the laughter and funning around. As his head bobbled up from the pigswill he scowled and bellowed his thirst for revenge. Unsurprisingly when he wiped the muck from his eyes and clambered out there wasn't a child in sight. Simon Tam's amused voice gently mocked him.
"Don't be such a baby, Jayne. The only thing you hurt is your pride."
He scowled at Simon, suddenly seeing a nice easy outlet for his embarrassment. Kaylee had her arm through Simon's and recognised that look, slipped free of the doctor and walked right up to him, ignoring the stink and the swill dripping off him. He thought she must be holding her breath until she spoke. Her warm kind eyes hardening with the kind of edge he usually saw in Zoe or the Cap's eyes. Almost made him flinch. Felt all manner of wrong seeing that look in Kaylee's eyes. "Now don't ya go makin' trouble, Jayne Cobb. We're here to spend Christmas with my folks an' I won't let ya ruin it 'cause ya can't take a joke."
Her rebuke stung. "I can take a joke," Jayne grumbled darkly. "Just don't wanna spend the rest of the day smellin' like no gorram pig."
It was on the tip of Simon's tongue to say it would at least match the way he ate but a warning look from Kaylee made him bite his tongue. Kaylee turned her sweetest smile on Jayne, he frowned suspiciously. "Ya play nice an' I'll tell ma to draw you up a hot tub. Ya can wallow an' clean up 'fore the dancin' an' partyin' starts in earnest."
His eyes glittered. "Partyin'? Ya mean there'll be tasties an' beer an' such?"
She gave him a smug look. "Uh huh. There'll be women from town a-comin'. Some right pretty folk who ain't seen a handsome man in a good long while."
She omitted to say whether or not Jayne Cobb fell into that category but it was like her ma always said. Didn't always have to stick a pig to make him move. The scowl slid off Jayne's face and he shook himself, Simon taking a quick step back to avoid getting anything on him.
"Well why the *diyu* didn't ya say so? Where's that tub?"
While the mood on Carousel got merrier the same could not be said for Monty's ship. The big man looked across at his sombre friend and stroked his bushy moustache. His beard was not as spectacular as it had been but at least it now covered his chin. Made him feel less naked. They were on the bridge, Malcolm Reynolds staring out into the Black but not really in the Here and Now. Monty knew, he had seen that empty look before and it chilled him. Some places didn't bear revisiting. But he also didn't want to be having this conversation in front of his pilot. He shifted himself upright and dropped a hand on his pilot's shoulder. "Keep scannin' Zack, don't want no surprises on the road to Shadow *dong ma*?"
Zack nodded. "Sure thing, *laoban*."
Then Monty moved to stand in front of Mal, breaking his depth of concentration by simple proximity, invading his space until the man was forced to focus on him. "Come on Mal, need to talk to ya."
The Captain gave his head a little shake, not to disagree but to shake the cobwebs out of it. He was not sure he had been entirely successful. The past had a way of grabbing hold of a man and not letting go. "Thought we'd already done that."
"Ya ain't ate a bite since we took off an' my mouth's so dry it's like to crack."
Reluctantly Mal went with him to the small galley. Stood with his back against a counter and crossed his arms over his chest. Waiting for the talk he didn't want to have. Knowing Monty wouldn't stop chipping away at him until he had said his piece. Best hear it now while he was still able to think and function. Once on Shadow the past would rule him and both men knew it. It was what Monty feared.
"I know I wasn't with ya with them purplebellies scooped ya up at the surrender, Mal, but me an' mine were coolin' our heels in another *jianyu* by then. On'y gettin' glimpses of each other as our units advanced - or, more often were forced into retreatin'." He paused and watched as Mal scowled, misliking the memory no doubt. "If I could'a hauled ya out an' thrown ya clear I would'a done but a lot of things happened neither of us could change."
"What you tryin' to say, Monty?"
"I'll be mighty pissed if you've survived the War on'y to lose yourself to the peace, Mal." He said firmly. "Ain't gonna let that happen, not if I can help it."
The Captain frowned. "You hit your head? 'Cause it sure sounds like somethin's loose. I ain't figurin' on no one-way trip so get that notion outta your mind, *dong ma*? Just wanna say my goodbyes while I feel up to the doin' of it. Then I reckon I can draw a line under all that *fei hua*." He paused, his thoughts dark, sad and introspective. "It's time to move on, Monty. What's past is past."
The big man put a hand on the Captain's shoulder. Understanding only too well what was driving his often impulsive but noble friend and realising nothing he could do or say would deflect Mal from his intent. No one could say Malcolm Reynolds ducked the difficult decisions even if Monty could wish he would sidestep a few. It was just the way the man was made. Made him a damn good Browncoat and a loyal friend but a pain in the ass to shift once his mind was made up. He could either support him or let him be. "You gorram *wangu shishengzi*," He said with a mix of frustration and affection. "If ya gotta go, ya gotta go, but I'm comin' too *dong ma*?"
"*Bu qu*, Monty, can't let you do that."
"This is personal."
Monty leaned in close until his face was no more than inches from his stubborn friend's. "This is a risk you don't need to be takin' but seein's as you're so *wangu* an' *shenjingbing* guess I can be a little crazy too." Mal raised his eyebrows. Monty huffed and glared at him. "This is still my boat, Mal, an' I'll take ya where you're goin' but I'll be damned to every one of the nine hells if I let you go alone."
"Monty," Said Mal gently. "We both know that Shadow's a graveyard planet. Ain't nothin' there that can hurt me."
It was not anything physical Monty feared, it was the ghosts of the past claiming his friend that terrified him. The wounds of the body you could see, make sure healed, but the wounds of the mind could fester in a man and just suck all the life clean out of him. He knew. Had seen it turn many a good man to husks. Was determined Malcolm Reynolds would not fall victim to his own gorram demons. Even if it meant crossing the line of friendship to do it. He straightened but made sure he kept eye contact with the Captain. "That's my offer, take it or leave it, Mal. Either we both go down or we head back to Carousel."
Mal glared at him, truly angry now, but Monty wouldn't back down and the Captain was getting too jumpy the closer they got to Shadow to call him on it. Monty was just pig-headed enough to carry out his threat and turn the Kingfisher class ship round and head back without a by-your-leave. It took a moment to control himself before he could finally nod his agreement to the new terms. Monty gave him a grin that was all approving but there wasn't a lick of humour in it.
He couldn't stop picking at the flakes of skin. Didn't hurt now, nothing did. Even the dark was kind of comforting in a twisted nearly-dead sort of way. He leaned his head back the better to angle his vision to the faint trickle of light seeping through a crack in the wall. Dampness saturated aged brickwork. The damp, fetid smell of his prison hardly penetrated his senses. Dried blood decorated walls he could no longer see. Bones stretching paper thin skin without the cushion of fat and flesh to add a lustre of health to his sagging frame. Not long now. He could hang on a little if only in defiance. Knowing every hour pained breath inflated his flagging lungs was an irritation to them.
They wouldn't kill him outright. Nothing as merciful as a bullet to the brain. Wanted nothing to point to them. A natural death. Folk died destitute and of starvation every gorram day only his condition had been carefully contrived. The Great Betrayer had seen to that.
Simon laughed, more than a little tipsy from the home made hootch coupled with the looks Kaylee kept giving him imbetween her teasing lips and the flutter of a hidden hand. He ducked his head to caution her, the crowd of people chattering and eating round them giving a semblance of privacy in the middle of the chaotic family reunion. "Kaylee, if you keep doing that I won't be able to swallow a thing."
She smiled mischievously up at him and moved her fingers making him inwardly groan. It had been a long time, too long, since anyone had touched him like that. And *never* in public like this. It made him flush but was also exciting. Like a dare but better. After a few minutes he had to put his hand under the table to call a halt to the teasing.
"No, Kaylee. Not here."
A flutter of her eyes and a naughty little smile took up the challenge. He watched her ruby red lips open and close, the words washing over him like background music drowned out by the blood roaring through his ears. She stopped abruptly and grinned at him. "Simon Tam, you're not listenin'."
He flushed a deep scarlet and began to stammer. Jayne leaned over the table, a chicken leg in one hand and some spare ribs in the other. When he spoke his voice was muffled, not bothering to chew and swallow before opening his mouth. "Get on with it, doc, we ain't got time for you to learn the facts of life an' Kaylee don't wanna wait till she's an old maid for ya to make your play."
Before Simon could respond the Preacher spoke up. "Now Jayne, let's not spoil a good party."
"I was just sayin'..."
Zoe cut him off a lot less politely than the Shepherd. "*Bizui*, Jayne."
"You ain't the Cap! Don't take orders from ya."
Zoe leaned back and let a false smile grace her lips. Jayne felt that nagging suspicion crawl through his sluggish brain telling him he had just been extra dumb. Too late to take the words back. 'Sides, Zoe was smiling at him and if that didn't freeze the blood in his veins nothing would. "*Duibuqi* Jayne, why don't I let you carry on? I'll just tell the Cap'n how you ruined the Christmas festivities an' let him deal with you, *dong ma*?"
It was funny how big and scary as he could be, Jayne damn near deflated with fright at the idea of the Captain stepping in. Simon thought it was hi-larious and turned his head to look for the ubiquitous Captain, a slight frown forming when he realised it had been hours since he had last seen Mal. Jayne picked up his plate and moved away from their end of the table much to the relief of Kaylee and Zoe and Wash's amusement. Shepherd Book took it all in his stride but noticed that Simon seemed a mite distracted. "Simon, is something wrong?"
Everyone's eyes snapped round to look at him. "No, no, nothing's wrong. I was just wondering where the Captain was."
"He went riding, Simon." Said Book calmly.
Zoe frowned, that little faint nagging in her back brain coming back with renewed force. "That was hours ago."
"You think something's wrong, *bao bei*?" Asked Wash quietly, his hand gently squeezing her waist.
She did not answer right away, having spotted Kaylee's father coming out of the house with a couple of pitchers of beer. She slid back her chair to go and talk to him. Wash made to follow her but she stayed him with a touch on the arm and a look. "I'll be back in a minute, *zhangfu*."
He nodded and watched her walk over to Martin Frye, ignoring the joke the Shepherd was telling Inara. Simon felt guilty for saying anything but now he came to think about it he found it somewhat unsettling. As if he were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kaylee noticed and tugged at his hand. "C'mon Simon, let's dance."
Startled he let himself be dragged to his feet, one of Kaylee's cousins had started up his fiddle and within minutes the meadow was full of couples - some sober, some not so much - dancing. He caught odd glimpses of River whirling around, darting like some exotic butterfly between dazed partners. But even distracted he could tell it was getting late, the lights now on in the house and party lights illuminating the trees as they danced. They were on Carousel, as far from Alliance rule as a planet could get and still be spinning. So why did he have the uncomfortable feeling that the Captain had gone and got himself into trouble?
* * * * *
It was a near perfect landing. Even Wash could hardly have done it better. Monty gave Zack a nod. Darkness had fallen on Shadow. He wanted Mal to wait for first light but the man was damn near crawling out of his skin. Maybe he was right, best to do this quick, now, then go. The dark might even be a good thing, would hide them from unfriendly eyes not that there should be any on a dead world.
Even without daylight the devastation was breathtaking. Absolute and completely engulfing. Monty could only imagine the thoughts going through his friend's mind. When Mal stopped suddenly he thought something was wrong. "*Shenme shi*?"
"*Yiwusuoyou*, just think Zack should take off. No point in takin' any chances, *dong ma*?"
Monty frowned unable to see any real detail in the darkness just dim shapes and some shadows darker than others. His frown deepened, hoping none of the shadows moved. He wished he could see Mal's face, the man's soft tone giving nothing away of what he was feeling. "Think maybe we should wait for daylight Mal, I can't see a ruttin' thing."
"Then best you go with Zack. I grew up here, Monty, can find my way blindfolded. I won't be long."
The big man shook his head, not even entertaining the thought of separating from Mal. He activated his handset and told Zack to lift off and keep actively scanning. He was to let them know the instant he spotted anything. Didn't want no nasty surprises. "Okay, Mal, best you lead the way."
They moved quietly but quickly, the Captain now driven to complete his mission and needing to reach the grave site. His mind mapping out the ground ahead and where the little rise was where the headstones of his family lay in stark relief against the backdrop of the burned out ranch house he had once called home. He blinked back the threat of tears and increased his pace, noting as his eyes became accustomed to the dimness that the land looked as if it had been scoured. Deep ridges carved in it like open wounds, hardly a tree left standing and those that were looked as if they had been scorched in the heat of some unholy conflagration. He tried not to think what that might mean and pressed on, feeling the ground begin to rise under his feet, his heart hammering in his chest. In his pocket a piece of metal burned, the chain coiled and waiting. Even when he had lost his faith he had not been able to throw it away. A gift from his mama, the last thing she had given him before he had gone off to War.
The top of the rise was windy and cold, flecks of snow peppering the sky with dirty white flakes like icy teardrops. Mal stood stock still, stunned. In his head he reworked the ground they had walked and stepped down the rise to where the house and outbuildings had once stood. Most of the burnt uprights had fallen, many now broken and crumbling but still there. He could not see the ashes but when he crouched down he could feel them mixed with soil, debris and now the softly falling snow. The flakes were getting bigger, the better to hide his tears. Monty moved slowly alongside him, not wanting to intrude but sensing something was wrong. "Mal?"
"This is where the house stood." Mal said in a soft dull voice.
Monty nodded, had guessed as much. "What's wrong?"
"What about 'em?"
"That rise we climbed? Should'a had gravestones on the top. They're gone, Monty."
The big man could hear the tears in Malcolm Reynold's voice and had to steel himself not to cry with him. He couldn't be strong for Mal if he fell to gorram pieces too. "Maybe we were a bit off? We should come back down in daylight, Mal."
The Captain shook his head in the darkness and got slowly to his feet, feeling shaken and more than a mite disorientated by the picture building in his head. A slow rising anger amid the flow of hot tears melting the snow on his face. "*Bu qu*, Monty, Alliance did this."
"Mal, I don't like 'em any more that you do but I can't see those *tamade hundan* givin' a good gorram. No way would they come all the way out here after they got what they wanted to remove those headstones. Trust me, Mal, even Alliance ain't that bitter an' twisted."
He got no reply. Mal stood up and walked back the way they had come, his steps slower, more cautious as if he were counting them out in his head. Maybe he was, Monty didn't know. All he knew was he wanted off this piece of rock. The sorrow of it crushing him with sadness so heavy he could scarce breathe. He didn't like to think how much harder it had to be for his friend. In silence they got to the top of the rise and stopped. Mal knelt on the damp earth, his hands reaching down and tracing the ground beneath his feet. Feeling the place where the hard earth had been disturbed, softer soil turned over and over, little stones catching against his hands as he began to dig. Tears running down his face as the ground open up to questing fingers - searching, seeking and filled with a deepening anxiety as time and again they came up empty.
Monty heard the sob catch in the back of his friend's throat, gave a soft curse and dropped to his knees beside him. "Mal, Mal! What the *diyu* do you think you're doin'?"
Openly crying now he couldn't stop digging. Clods of wet earth spraying out beneath frantic hands. "It's empty," Mal choked. Anger spilled over with his tears, bitter and salt licked and enough to drown a man whole. "Gorrammit Monty," He said with a pain filled shuddering breath, his shoulders sagging with the weight of a pain too heavy to carry. His hands still, the snow quickening on his hair and shoulders like the cold blessing of a remote unfeeling God. "They didn't just take the gorram headstones." He whispered painfully.
Shocked, Monty gripped the Captain's shoulders to keep him upright. Could feel the man trembling beneath his hands. Couldn't remember the last time he had seen his friend cry and never like this. He sensed there was more Mal wasn't telling him. "*Shenme*?"
"They took the bodies Monty. Ruttin' Alliance *tamade hundan* have taken the gorram coffins."
Monty longed to tell him it was not so. To find something to say that would comfort his friend but even as he struggled to do so he knew in his heart that Mal was right. Man could be all kinds of filled with doomed heroism, as impulsive as anyone in the 'verse, but he wasn't stupid. If Mal said this was where the graves were then this was it. If he said the headstones had been taken and the coffins dug up then it was so. What he couldn't understand was why anyone would do such a thing. As if killing them wasn't enough. Monty could feel the Captain shaking, lost in his grief. Murmuring softly he wrapped his arms around his friend and held him tight, letting the sorrow of the moment run its' course. He knew it had been a mistake to return to Shadow but right now that was the last gorram thing his friend needed to hear.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *diyu* = hell
*dong ma* = understand *laoban* = boss *jianyu* = prison *wangu* = stubborn
*fei hua* = garbage/nonsense *shishengzi* = bastard (not meant as an insult)
*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shenjingbing* = crazy *bizui* = be quiet/shut up
*duibuqi* = sorry *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *yiwusuoyou* = nothing
*shenme* = what tamade hundan* = fucking bastards
Tuesday, January 04, 2005 9:09 AM
Wednesday, January 05, 2005 12:32 PM
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Thursday, January 06, 2005 5:52 AM
Sunday, January 16, 2005 6:53 PM
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