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COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 6. "No Longer Home"
Wednesday, January 19, 2005

"With the Christmas festivities in full swing Mal and Monty can't help but join in. Tomorrow though is another day."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2321    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "NO LONGER HOME" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: SEQUEL to "GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "With the Christmas festivities in full swing Mal and Monty can't help but join in. Tomorrow though is another day." 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.

"NO LONGER HOME"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Becky carefully brushed the matted hair from her bruised and battered face. Her hands shook as she looked in the cracked mirror at the nightmare reflected back at her in mute accusation. She had been a fool. An idiot. Believed lies so divisive and treacherous she had betrayed her brother. Yet he had escaped. Fled she knew not where nor did she want to know. And for a time she had breathed easy.

When at last the manhunt was called off she was foolish enough to believe - no hope - that he had been forgiven. Reprieved. It was only later that she realised they had called off the manhunt because they had found him. Now a new nightmare was beginning and her guilt and sorrow would give her no respite from a knowledge that was blazing its' unholy path through heart, mind and soul. Slowly Becky fell to her knees, the cold uncompromising floor an unnoticed altar beneath her. Such anguish gripping her that she could not move nor rouse herself to play this part any longer. She had done the unforgivable and what was worse, had lived.

* * * * *

If the Captain thought he could steer clear of Zoe he was much mistaken. Every effort to keep a sane distance between them vanished. She was in an implaccable mood, her sights set on cornering him. Wash knew that look and was almost sorry for the Captain except he felt some frustration with the man himself. The festivities were still in full swing around them if somewhat more muted. In the cooling night air their breaths made candyfloss wisps in the air.

"Need to talk to you."

He nodded, tried to edge away but she matched him step for step, every move smooth, her eyes clamped to his like limpet mines. One wrong move and they would go off in his face. "It's late, Zoe, can't this wait 'til mornin'?"

Her look hardened almost imperceptibly but enough to make him inwardly flinch. "*Shenme*, why wait? Or are you fixin' to slip out on us again?"

She was gratified to see a look of guilt and consternation cross his face then something stirred in his eyes that made her breath catch. She took another step towards him. He was too stunned to keep up the dance. "Zoe, this ain't nothin' to do with you. Not nobody, *dong ma*? Just somethin' I gotta figure for my own self."

"Mal, you got worries tell me. There's nothin' you could say that I can't take. Nothin' that you do that I can't be part of."

"You should be celebratin'." He murmured softly. She ignored the feeble attempt at deflection.

"Talk to me."

He blinked. Turned his head to hide the emotion in his eyes but she knew him too well. Her worry deepened, another step brought her to within touching distance. A thing they normally avoided with good reason.

"What happened? Where the *diyu* did you go an' why didn't you tell me?"

The look in his eyes shook her. Such sorrow and pain and emptiness that it made her heart contract with a pain almost the equal of his own.

"*Tian Yesu*, Mal." She hushed. Zoe realised then that they could not be having this conversation here. The Captain was all kinds of fragile right now and she needed to know the why of it before he could mentally regroup and shut her out. No more wasted time, no prevarication or obfuscation. Something was very wrong here and she wasn't about to give him a gorram inch for the emptiness to swallow any more of him. Not gonna happen. "Let's go inside."

His only reaction was to follow her into the house, Zoe subtly steering him to the room she had been sharing with Wash. She knew Wash would be curious but trusted him to stay out of it until she had this sorted. Instinct told her she was not a moment too soon.

"Sit."

It was more a request than an order but he did so automatically, the bed hardly giving under his weight. His eyes downcast, his whole demeamour one of weary sorrow. It worried her more than she could say. A mild and meek Malcolm Reynolds filled her with unease.

"Mal?"

No reaction.

Zoe considered how best to get things moving and did something she never did. She knelt in front of him and rested her hands on his knees. "Speak to me, *qing*. Don't care if it's only to cuss me just say somethin' Mal, you're scarin' me here."

That got through to him. Zoe didn't do scared. The Captain raised his head and bit back tears, not trying now to hide the hurt that was eating him up inside. "I went home."

The barely uttered words near stopped her heart. "You did what?"

His throat felt so gorram dry. "I went to Shadow."

It took effort to constrain her sudden rush of anger. "What in the nine hells you do a fool thing like that for? Wasn't bein' in an Alliance *jianyu* enough for you at War's end?"

"Wanted to visit mama's grave..."

His voice trailed off, eyes misting with tears. Zoe bit her lip. "Oh Mal..."

Without another word she folded her arms around him and just hung on. Hurting because he was. Holding him to her while he cried, not making a gorram sound as the tears just rolled down his cheeks and wet her hair. Just when she had convinced herself he wouldn't speak he went and proved her wrong. "*Duibuqi* Zoe, I couldn't tell you what I was wantin' to do. Knew you'd try to talk me out of it. Would yell an' nag 'til I backed down on'y I couldn't. Not this time."

She rubbed his back lightly with one hand while keeping him close. Trying to comfort and console him while encouraging him to talk. "Why not?"

"Got a wave."

That surprised her enough to make her freeze. She pulled back just enough to see his face. "*Shenme*? When was that an' who the *diyu* was sendin' you waves about Shadow?"

"A friend."

She huffed, not amused by that answer. "A friend would have let the dead be."

He pulled himself upright, some of his control returning. "Said bad things were happenin' on Shadow."

Zoe snorted. "Then word came years too late."

"*Ni bu dong*."

She gave him a long hard look. Her voice holding no room for compromise. "Spell it out for me, Mal. I don't wanna grow old and grey with the waitin'."

* * * * *

Shadow was cold. Hard. Dark. And impossibly quiet. The large shape paused in the darkness, only the snow gave an outline of sorts in the faint glimmer of starlight. He shook his head dislodging the large powdery flakes, oblivious to the constant fall hushing his footsteps as he resumed his journey. It was dangerous he knew but better in the worsening weather where there would be fewer eyes to mark his passing. The constant snowfall filling in the deep set of his boot prints and leaving the scarred world clothed in white. In some countries from Earth-That-Was white was the colour of mourning. He could understand that. Never had seen a black shroud.

The smaller shape could barely keep up with the long brisk strides. "This is *cuode*, a *cuowu*. Not nothin' nor nobody should be settin' foot in this vision of *diyu*."

The big man did not slow down but a deep voice rumbled in response. "Didn't ask ya to come."

"Damn *baichi*." Muttered the other man but he made no move to turn round and go back. "You sure what ya seen?"

"Uh huh."

"Could be ya got snow-blind, my friend."

They had come to the place. Both now stood stock still. It never ceased to amaze Johnny Carr how no matter where they set out from his friend could find this exact spot time and time again in the dark. *Diyu* not even a gorram blizzard would put him off track.

"Remind me again why we're here?"

"A ship landed."

"Took off again too. Wise folk not stayin' unlike some I could mention."

"Wasn't Alliance."

"An' ya know that 'cause?"

There was a loud pained huff. "Air ain't fouled by their passin'."

A pause. "Who the good gorram ya think it was?"

The big man didn't answer. Didn't want to speak of the hope in his heart that flickered only to die out each time the flame was lit. Each renewed spark smaller than the one before until he knew the light would one day be extinguished forever. He hoped when that happened it would be the day that he died. Not that he would tell Johnny Carr. After all, it was his fault and there was nothing he could do to buy back the lost hours or mend a single broken heart even his own. Too many lies, too many secrets. Now there were too many gorram dead. For a long time he did not move, Johnny fidgetting and stamping his feet as he tried to keep warm. He wanted to go back, huddle in the old broken down building they had comandeered as their home-away-from-home and stoke up a goodly fire only they could not risk the smoke. His friend did not budge, wishing and willing the 'verse to give him what he longed for most but once again the night stretched out its' empty hands and left him even more bereft that when he had started.

* * * * *

Wash was getting impatient. A good and trusting husband he might be but underlying it all was a green-eyed monster that never slept. His love for Zoe so all consuming that it shook him how much it ate into his soul every second she was out of his sight. It made no sense. After all he trusted her without question but there was that tiny, itty bitty little sliver of doubt where the Captain was concerned. Spikes of unreasoning jealously hitting him when he saw his wife and the Captain exchange a look, a dry smile, even a grunt or chuckle. Any little thing from which he was secluded. It was stupid, *fei hua*, but he could no more stop himself that cause the stars in the sky to stop shining. He sighed, ashamed of his weakness but worrying still. What the good gorram was taking so long? All she had to do was talk to Mal, right?

Then the door was opening and his panic was expunged in one great outpouring of breath, his eyes frantically seeking reassurance that all was well. Zoe looked worn out and sad. He closed the distance in a heartbeat. "Zoe, *bao bei, shenme shi*?"

He did not notice Mal step out of the room behind her until he spoke. "*Yiwusuoyou*."

That was when he noticed the state of the man. "*Wode ma*, you look worse than Zoe!"

"*Duibuqi*, Wash."

He wished he could snatch the words back. "I didn't mean... it's just..."

Mal waved the apology away before it could land. "*Fang xin*, Wash. Been a long gorram day."

The pilot blinked, Zoe looked into her husband's eyes and made no attempt to slap on a smile. "We got a lot to talk about, *zhangfu*."

Wash shot the Captain a look. Man looked terrible. What the hell had happened? The Captain went to walk passed them when Zoe spoke again, her voice a soft hush of syllables that froze him mid-step. Every line of his body reluctant yet compelled.

"Think you should stay too, sir."

Captain Malcolm Reynolds did not want this. Not now, not ever, but he owed Zoe. All his life the debt would be one he could never repay. Zoe touched Wash's cheek gently, her eyes softening and deepening his worry even as she sought to reassure him. Then they were going back into the room and for several minutes the charged atmosphere was almost thick enough to cut into gorram slices. Wash wouldn't have been surprised if you could butter it. His lips flattened out and his look tightened. Anxious yet determined to know what was going on.

"Okay, now what in the nine hells has happened?"

Wash listened in silence, his mouth sagging open as the Captain spoke in a low soft voice. Man rarely shouted, his authority such that he didn't have. Right now he could have ranted and raved at the top of his lungs and he would not have stunned Wash more. He felt pain pierce him, almost able to taste the weight of sorrow weighing the man down. And he had been jealous of him? Made Wash feel ten times a fool.

"*Duibuqi* Mal, I didn't know."

The Captain hung his head. He was sitting on the end of the bed, Zoe stood a foot or so away, her expression blank but her eyes reflecting a deep abiding pain. Wash took a step closer to Mal but the man did not raise his head. With a tiny sigh Wash sat next to him, not sure what to say, how to even begin to mend this. If it was possible to mend it in the first place. "Gorrammit Mal," He said softly. "You didn't have to keep this all to yourself. You could'a told me, told Zoe. *Diyu* any of us... well, maybe not Jayne." He broke off and looked up at Zoe but she wasn't looking at him. Wasn't looking at either of them, her eyes had a faraway look in them that was just as disconcerting as the waves of pain he could sense coming off the Captain.

"What do we do now?"

Mal sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "We carry on."

Wash looked surprised. The Captain looked at Zoe. She turned her head and looked back.

"Wash?"

"Yeah Mal?"

The Captain took a slow swallow and turned to look at the pilot, Zoe's eyes narrowing slightly. "Come mornin' me an' Monty'll be headin' back. Crew don't need to know the why of it I'm thinkin'."

A stab of alarm shot through the pilot. "*Shenme*? Are you crazy? Mal, if the Alliance catch you it'll mean prison, maybe worse."

"War's over, Wash." The Captain said so softly it made the hairs on the back of Wash's neck tingle.

"Not for some," Wash responded sadly. Part of him was surprised that Zoe had nothing to say. Shouldn't she be knocking some gorram sense into the Captain? He found himself taking on the role, the words tumbling from his mouth as if afraid if he thought about it too much he would not be able to form the words still less speak them. "Why go back, Mal? You said yourself that everything's gone."

"Somethin' ain't right."

*Damn right it ain't* thought Wash. "Mal. Captain. You've gotta to walk away from this. I know it hurts an' I know it's hard but goin' back won't change a thing. You got people here who care about you. A life to live and the whole 'verse in which to live it."

"I will but first I gotta go back, put the pieces of this mystery together Wash. If I walk away now I'll never know another minute's peace as long as I live, *dong ma*?"

Wash nodded. He knew. Understood what the Captain was telling him but worried about how that decision would affect his wife. Then there was the rest of the crew. "What about the others, Mal? What're you gonna tell 'em 'cause you know they'll ask."

The Captain did not reply. Zoe was still looking at him, her face set in an immobile mask. Her silence could have been carved in stone. Wash reckoned they must have argued about this already, it would explain why his wife was so silent now. Zoe had obviously not won the argument but somehow that didn't make Mal the winner either.

"I don't want you to go back, Mal."

The Captain gave Wash a look of surprise, it gave the pilot a twinge to realise Mal had not been expecting that. "I just need to find my people." He explained softly.

Zoe sighed and blinked back the threat of tears. Not gonna cry. Tears never solved a gorram thing, just made a body weak. "You have to face the fact you may never find them."

Anger chased the sorrow from his face but it only lasted a heartbeat then the flash died and sadness laid its' weary cloak over his heart and soul. He did not want to argue with Zoe. Didn't want to argue with anybody. "I have to try." She nodded then turned and walked out of the room, closing the door softly behind her. Wash looked stunned, had not expected that. So what was he supposed to do? He'd already told the Captain he didn't want him to go and predictably enough it had changed nothing.

"Wash, I wanna thank you."

That startled him. "You do?" "For givin' Zoe the kind of life I never could." Wash blinked. Did that mean...? "All I've ever given her is hardship an' sorrow. But you give her laughter an' love. It's important she can have that. Never did see it until she found you."

"I thought you didn't approve?"

A shadow of a smile flirted with sad lips. "At first I didn't but I was just bein' ornery an' selfish. Didn't want things to change. Knew if you two hooked up it would alter things between me an' Zoe. Divide loyalties."

The pilot nodded. "I can see how you could think that." He paused. "You were right."

"Yeah, but I understand now an' that makes the difference."

Wash wanted to ask what Mal understood but the Captain was standing now and he knew the moment was lost. Was not sure it would ever come again. He watched as the Captain locked the sadness and sorrow deep inside, an unreadable mask sliding over his face. Amazed that even knowing what he now knew no one giving the Captain a casual look would suspect what was going on in his heart or mind.

"Best join the others, Wash."

Not knowing how else to respond Wash nodded and followed the Captain out of the room then out of the house to finish the Christmas celebrations with the rest of the crew. Manfully resisting the sudden urge to cry.

* * * * *

Her eyes were bleak pools. They took in the stone washed walls, the intemperate clime matching her mood more than words could say. She did not know where she would go but she could not stay here. Boros was no longer home. Guilt painted every surface of her life with a sheen that did naught but reflect her shameful fall from grace. Yet she had been lured off the straight and narrow by love. And it hurt so gorram much knowing that the object of her affection had been using her. The *zhangfu* she had worshipped and adored making sport of her devotion as callously as he had turned on her family, pushing an insidious wedge between her and Ty. So smitten with him had she been that even when the dogs of war were hunting her brother down she did not stop to think why that should be. Alex told her Ty had betrayed the cause and every hand on Boros rose against him. She should have been the voice of reason but instead she had been silent. Not willing to believe the worst but not allowing that she might be hearing anything but the truth.

Now she knew and that knowledge cost her dear.

With a trembling hand she opened the door for the last time, a holdall crammed with her few bits of precious. Memories that had nothing to do with the man she had sworn to love, honour and obey. Not even God in His Heaven could bless a union founded on lies. Becky did not know where to go but right now anywhere but Boros was a step in the right direction.

* * * * *

The snow was abating. Keen winds sweeping across the tormented landscape. The big man threw back his hood and narrowed his eyes in an attempt to see better. It aided him not. Johnny Carr tapped his shoulder. With a grunt he turned to look at his friend.

"Come on Frank, this is *shenjingbing* an' I'm so ruttin' cold I may never father children."

The man laughed. A rusty bark that somehow cheered Johnny up, it had been so long since his friend had lightened up any. They turned and began the slow trudge back when a sound keened on the knife edge of the sharp unremitting wind. Frank froze. "What the good gorram was that?"

Johnny tilted his head and listened but all he could hear was the wind. He shrugged. "You're hearin' things, my friend. Let's get outta this wind and weather. Not nobody gonna venture out in this. We can look again tomorrow in daylight, what d'ya say?"

Frank thought about it for all of a minute then gave a nod, tugged the hood back up over his head and headed back towards their makeshift shelter. As the wind picked up the drifting snow was swirled through the bitter cold air bringing visibility down to mere feet. As the wind began to howl, it drowned out an almost human cry of anguish and sorrow. The cry faded and died away unheeded. The wind picked up and the storm moved on.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *qing* = please *jianyu* = prison *duibuqi* = sorry *ni bu dong* = I don't understand *cuode* = wrong *cuowu* = mistake *baichi* = idiot *fei hua* = garbage/nonsense *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *zhangfu* = husband *yiwusuouyou* = nothing *wode ma* = mother of God *shenjingbing* = crazy *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)

COMMENTS

Wednesday, January 19, 2005 2:46 PM

OLDFAN45


hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Now where we headin' with this? I like Mal's tears...such a lovely moment between him & Zoe! Solid hit, AMD. Thanks!

Thursday, January 20, 2005 2:49 AM

KISPEXI2


"A mild and meek Malcolm Reynolds filled her with unease." - That sure has the ring of truth to it!

Gosh, Ali, you do pain so very, very well. It's only bearable because I'm sure (almost) you'll sort things out eventually. Dying to see how you fit the mini-Mals into this story....

Thursday, January 20, 2005 6:17 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


This was a great installment. I liked the moment between Mal and Wash. I *knew* that there was going to be more to this story than just a simple Christmas tale, but whatever you're weaving here has me greatly intrigued! Great job, Ali! More!

- Soul -

Friday, October 28, 2011 10:44 AM

SHINYZOEKAYLEE


Zoe sighed and blinked back the threat of tears. Not gonna cry. Tears never solved a gorram thing, just made a body weak.
^^^^^ love that!!!
Loving this whole shiny story! ^.^


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