COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 27. "Last But Not Least"
Thursday, March 31, 2005

"The Captain tries to adjust to life without Sarah. Meanwhile his crew spring a surprise on him."



SUMMARY: "The Captain tries to adjust to life without Sarah. Meanwhile his crew spring a surprise on him." 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

* * * * *

He could not believe they were having this conversation. Mal looked at the Companion in disbelief. "Only a Companion could make 'goodbye' sound like an act of compassion." Inara realised she had already said too much and as often happened in her conversations with the Captain things never turned out quite the way she intended. "Maybe it was."

The Captain shook his head. "Just stay outta my business, *dong ma*?"

"And you'll stay out of mine?"

He reacted to the hard edge beneath the silken words. "Somethin' like that."

"Mal," Inara paused to reassert her composure. "I wasn't lookin' for a fight."

"But we always do seem to find one, don't we?" He replied in a soft pained voice.

Before she could think of a suitable response he was gone. Biting back her frustration Inara took a minute or two to calm down then stepped out of the tack room alongside the Frye's barn and walked towards the house. Her role had been simple. Keep the Captain distracted for half an hour, preferrably an hour. It had ended up being as painful as having teeth extracted - without anaesthetic. The small talk had quickly degenerated into a misplaced attempt to make him feel better after the departure of Sarah. Big mistake. Now he was hurt and angry and she was feeling a large measure of guilt for both. Her Companion training did not prepare her for a man like Malcolm Reynolds. She was beginning to realise nothing could.

* * * * *

The trip back to Hope was pretty much made in silence. Monty wanted to ask questions but with Frank Reynolds hovering close by there just wasn't the privacy for it and he could not send Mal's uncle away without making the man suspicious. Gorrammit, why didn't anything ever go smooth? When they arrived he insisted on carrying her meagre belongings himself and told the crew to stay with the ship. He wouldn't be long. He could see Frank looking quizzically in his direction but ignored him. A nod to John-Jo was enough to ensure no one would get nosy and follow them.

The streets were like some elongated bazaar, every bit of space taken up with someone trying to sell something or offer services of one kind or another. But it was done politely enough that you could take notice or pass on by. He liked that no one molested them. Liked it even more when the little stalls petered out and they were left to make their way across less crowded streets. Once they were alone Monty did a quick check to be sure they could not be overheard then turned a serious look on the girl. "What happened with you an' Mal?"

He could see she didn't want to talk about it. The puffiness around her eyes adding to pale cheeks from too much weeping. She looked tired but the pace he set was comfortable for her. Lack of sleep had caused the shadows under her eyes not recovery from the surgery. Monty chose a spot by a disused old fountain. He coaxed her into sitting even though all she wanted was to get back to Shara-li and airbrush the last three months out of her life forever.

"C'mon Sarah, what happened?"

"Can't we just let it go, Monty?"

His lips tightened beneath the bushy whiskers and she knew her time was up. "Uh uh. Can't believe you hurt Mal like that an' before you brush me off I know it wasn't what ya wanted to do."

A look of surprise flickered in her eyes before they became hooded and wary. "What do you mean?"

Monty sighed and sat on the stone edging of the fountain next to her. "I got eyes Sarah an' I been around a fair bit longer than you have. Let's just say not much gets passed me."

Silence stretched like a dare between them. Sarah wondered just how much the man knew. "I didn't mean to hurt him." She murmured.

He put a huge hand gently over hers. "*Wo zhidao* but that's the only thing I do know. You in trouble, *nu haizi*?"

It was almost funny. Trouble? Her? If he only knew, he would never have a kind word to say to her again. In irritation she realised she was crying again. *Wode ma*, would this weakness never leave her?

"Sarah." Monty's large hand tilted her face up so she couldn't hide from him. "I ain't never seen Mal so happy as when he was with you. You neither. I'm pretty sure you love him just as much as he loves you so what's with the leavin'? What are you so gorram afraid of?"

She bit her lip and realised that whatever fabrication she might come up with it wouldn't fool this man. She had known Monty for years but even with that antecedence there were things he did not know about her. When she did not respond, Monty's sharp brain cycled through the recent past with the patience of Job. He wasn't near as quick on the uptake as Mal was but if given the time to ruminate and sort through his thoughts he was plenty smart enough to keep up. Now something tugged at his memory. A little thing he had noticed and discarded almost as soon as the thought had struck him. Now it seemed incongruous, drew the attention it had failed to attract first time round. In a very real sense it marked the time Sarah's actions had changed. Looking back he recognised it now as a firmly surpressed form of panic.

"Sarah *fengmi*, everythin' was goin' great between you an' Mal until folks started talkin' about Niska."

Her breath hitched. How the good gorram could he know that? His hand squeezed hers gently, wanting to reassure her not frighten her away.

"Think it's about time you told me the truth. An' just in case you're thinkin' of feedin' me a load of *fei hua* I should tell ya I ain't goin' nowhere 'til I hear the words from your mouth, *dong ma*?"

She felt trapped. All her careful plans in disarray. No way out. Looking up at Monty's massive frame she saw a glimmer of understanding in his eyes. This was Mal's friend but he was also hers. If she couldn't trust him then there was no one in the 'verse she could trust. Slowly she nodded. "*Qu*, but not here."

Relieved Monty got to his feet and picked up her things, patiently waiting until she was ready. Content to let her lead not knowing that once she had unburdened herself to him he would never know true content again.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds was stunned out of a week's growth. After stomping away from Inara he had intended to go back to the ship just to get away, take some quiet time, but Jayne must have been looking out for him because he got intercepted and turned around. Frustrated he tried to dodge round the big man but to no avail. "Jayne, what the good gorram is wrong with you?"

Impossibly, the mercenary grinned at him. Rows of crocodile teeth laughing back at him. "*Yiwusuoyou*, just you're headin' the wrong way Cap."

The Captain huffed at him. "I just wanna go to my boat."

Jayne nodded. "Yup, an' ya will but once we've eaten."

"Jayne I had breakfast."

The twinkle in the mercenary's eyes actually got brighter. Mal began to feel more than a mite suspicious.

"What in the nine hells you up to?"

"C'mon, Cap, you're keepin' everyone waitin'."

He almost dug his heels in there and then but Jayne had a grip on his arm and used his weight to propel the Captain in the direction of the house. Just as they approached the front step the door opened and Shepherd Book smiled at him which was more than a mite unsettling. Before the Captain could demand to know what was going on, Book turned and walked off into the house. Frowning Mal looked at Jayne but he just gave the Captain a gentle push and got them inside.

The Frye's main room was the kitchen. A big old room filled on the one side with a range and cupboards and such like, a huge heavy wood table taking up that side of the room, the other side had easy chairs and shelves filled with books but the room had been rearranged making the space seem even bigger with chairs pushed back and the table right along the far wall instead of in the middle of the room where it normally dominated Frye life. But it was what was stuck in its' place that drove all the gorram air out of the Captain's lungs. He stood stock still, stunned to within an inch of his life as he looked at the huge tree. Oblivious to the amused looks, murmurs and chuckles from his crew and Kaylee's folks, he just stared as if any minute now it would vanish. Mal blinked. Still there. And not just that but it had been decorated with all the fancy bits of flash Kaylee and River had once used to adorn his boat. Had to admit it was a fine looking tree but what in the nine hells was it doing in the house? And why had Jayne been so insistent on bringing him here to partake of such foolishness?

It was River who broke his stunned silence. "They stole Christmas."

His heart lurched. River. Turning his head he found her eyes fixed not on the tree but on him. "*Shenme*?"

"They stole Christmas but we took it back." Then she smiled at him and he couldn't help but feel a little smile tug at his lips, albeit it none of it made an ounce of rutting sense. But then this was River, didn't have to make sense. Then he noticed everybody else grinning like a herd of jackasses. He put his hands on his hips.

"What the good gorram's goin' on?"

Inara joined them and took a seat next to Kaylee. Mal noticed Kaylee and Simon were holding hands, and not under the table neither. He frowned slightly, not in disapproval but because they seemed so comfortable with it. Huh, maybe the boy wasn't so green after all. Mr Frye broke the silence. "Your crew wanted to do somethin' for you, Mal."

He blinked. "They did, huh?"

"Yes," Said Book calmly. The Preacher took a slow look around the room then looked at Kaylee. "As this is your family home Kaylee I think you should do the honours."

Kaylee smiled, looked at Simon who gave her hand a squeeze of encouragement, then she was bouncing to her feet, so much happy on her face that it looked painful. "Cap'n, we all appreciated all the gifts you gave us for Christmas," He fidgetted now, feeling more than a mite uncomfortable. Wished he could sit down but every chair and stool appeared to be occupied. "Just wanted to get you somethin'."

"Don't need nothin', little Kaylee."

She shook her head and smiled. "Yeah well maybe you don't need to have nothin' but we needed to give you somethin' an' it was right hard comin' up with what." She paused and looked over to Book and Jayne. They seemed to be fiddling with something behind the settee. The Captain frowned but then Kaylee was talking again. "We all wanted to be a part of it, everybody did somethin', an' them as had no talent helped them as did." More baffled than words could express he stared at her without comprehending. "What the *diyu* you talkin' about?"

"Wash an' Simon wanted to get ya whiskey but we just figured Jayne'd go an' sneak a drink when ya wasn't lookin' an' 'sides we wanted somethin' that would last an' remind ya of us." She paused and gave Book an expectant look. He nodded then with Jayne's help lifted something that seemed a mite heavy from behind the settee. Wash and Simon helped to steady it and carried the object to a small table that River placed in front of the Captain. Kaylee smiled at River and the two girls stiffled giggles and held hands. The Captain stared at the object, whatever it was had a grey blanket over it so he couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Shepherd Book took hold of one corner of the blanket and waited for the rest of Serenity's crew to gather round and take up a piece of cloth as well. Once they were all in place, Book nodded and the blanket was whipped off.

If Mal had been stunned before now he was poleaxed. His eyes widened in disbelief. The shock robbing him of any means of speech. Every member of his crew was grinning from ear to ear, so happy it looked like there was something medically wrong with them. That might explain his gorram crew but it didn't explain the moisture in his eyes or the tight feeling in his chest as he looked at the most beautiful, most perfect miniature copy of his boat. Vaguely he was aware of Wash rattling out the specs, telling him it was a scale model. Kaylee lifted off the removable top section and pointed to all the refinements telling him that the Shepherd had made the little copy of their table and chairs and some of the other furnishings, Jayne had done a lot of the metal work once they had the dimensions all worked out and painstakingly recreated the metal staircases from the walkway to the cargo hold. Simon had made a replica infirmary but also helped Inara with the colour scheme showing himself to have something of a talent with a paintbrush and the more detailed work. River had drawn scale sketches of Serenity both inside and out and it was her blueprints the others worked to.

As his crew rattled on about the details the Captain stepped slowly forward then sank to his knees, unable to wrap his head around what he was seeing and just how much it meant to him. When at last they had shown him all the fine detail and let him get a good eye level look his own self they wished him a belated Happy Christmas. Kaylee hugged him and kissed his cheek, Wash and Simon shook his hand, Inara smiled deep into his eyes and managed to drag a smile to his bemused lips. Jayne slapped him on the back and Book seemed mighty proud of the fact that everyone had contributed. Zoe hung back, enjoying the look on her friend's face and hoping this gift would in some way help to heal the hurt of Sarah's leaving. Then he became aware of a small cool hand in his, tugging on his hand as her words prompted him.

"You have to make a wish."

"No, River," Said Simon with a smile. "That's when you blow out the candles on a cake. This is to celebrate Christmas not a birthday."

"You're wrong Simon, this is Serenity's birthday." And she pointed to the exact copy sitting proud and perfect on the table in front of the Captain.

Malcolm Reynolds finally found his voice. Lifting his head he smiled at them. His crew. His family. "Just wanna say *xie xie ni* for the shiny gift. I've never seen anythin' so gorram perfect." He turned to look at River. "As for makin' a wish, I'm lookin' at it right now so guess that part came true."

Then they were cheering, congratulating him as he thanked them and got down to the serious job of taking an even closer look at his boat. Jayne whooped as the food was handed round, the cinnamon busicuits disappearing three at a time until Mrs Frye rapped his knuckles with the back of her wooden spoon. "One at a time Jayne Cobb or I swear I'll leather your hide an' throw you in the pig stye!"

"Hey, that ain't fair!"

"No," Said Simon trying to keep a straight face. "The pigs haven't done anything wrong."

* * * * *

Once she found a suitable place off the main square, Sarah took Monty into an empty shed and closed the door. Strips of light shone through gaps in the wood. He could see how serious she had become and knew that whatever it was she had to say she wanted it to stay between the two of them.

"Once you hear what I have to tell you I don't think you'll be visitin' us any more on Hope."

"Best you tell me an' let me decide, *dong ma*?"

Sarah whet her lips, suddenly nervous. "It was when I heard mention of Niska. How he was after Mal an' how he'd caught him once, tortured him so bad..." Her voice broke off with emotion and she had to bite her lip and take a moment before she could go on. "Wash said he killed him once then brought him back." Sarah shuddered, tears leaking from her eyes but oblivious to all but the images joining hands in her mind. Images dressed in blood but with the Captain's face. It was almost too much for her.

Monty wanted to say something, reassure her, but instinctively knew that if he did so she would be unable to continue. And he had a feeling this was a story he would only hear the once.

"Until then I never knew Mal an' Niska had ever met." She paused and twisted her hands together. "You see, Adelei Niska is my uncle."

Whatever Monty was expecting it was not that. Shock hit him hard. "*Tian Yesu*, your *shushu*?"

She nodded, miserable and wretched. "*Qu*. My brother did a job for him but something went wrong an' he couldn't finish it." She paused to bite back a sob, her eyes swimming with tears when she looked at Monty. "Uncle Adelei tortured him to death, Monty. His own nephew!"

Monty was not sure he could breathe properly. "An' that's why you left Mal?"

Sarah nodded, her head dropping in shame.

"Sarah, you have to tell Mal. He'll understand, he'll..."

Her head shot up, eyes fastening on him like limpet mines. "*Bu qu*! Mal must never know, *dong ma*?"

The big man shook his head, confused. "*Wo bu dong*."

"When I found out, when I realised, I knew it was too dangerous. Once my uncle wants somethin' he never lets go, never gives up until he gets it. He's ruthless. I was afraid, knew he would keep comin' after Mal until he caught him. But that wasn't the worst part." Her breath caught painfully in her throat. Monty could not imagine what could be worse than what she had already told him. "I was carryin' Mal's child..."

Horror stole over the big man's face. No! Please God don't let her be saying what he thought she was saying.

"If Uncle Adelei ever learned that Mal had fathered a child he would come after the child. I couldn't let that happen."

"So you killed the baby." It was not a question. It was a sad notation to a heart breaking revelation.

"There was no other way an' once I'd done that how could I stay with Mal? How could I do that to our child an' stay with him? How could I let him love me with blood on my hands?"

Monty could feel tears prick his own eyes. "Oh Sarah, what have you done? Adelei Niska won't be after Mal, wouldn't be after any children you might have with him, because he's dead, *dong ma*?"

She searched his eyes in disbelief. "Dead?"

"Yes. He wanted Mal but we did a switch on him. Sent Ty's body in the cryo chamber along with a little present for him. When they opened the chamber it exploded. But knowing Niska for the sneaky *tamade hundan* he is we went back an' blew the complete complex to make sure." He paused, his voice gentle now, a hand reaching out to offer comfort. "Niska is dead."

It seemed to take forever until she could find her voice again. Monty was alarmed to see the bleakness in her eyes. An emptiness that swallowed her soul. "Doesn't matter."

"How can you say that?"

"I can't go back, Monty. I did this. Ruined somethin' that could have been perfect." "Then you really love Mal?"

She nodded. Her expression softening slightly before becoming a hard mask again. No more tears, no more anything. "*Qu*, which is why I never want to see him again."

Stunned, Monty just stared at her. A little creeped out by the change in her. Slowly she got up and went to the door, a flood of harsh light now cascading through the open door as she made her exit. Belatedly Monty got to his feet, picked up her things and followed her.

* * * * *

It was a merry meal and the Captain had to admit his heart did feel a mite lighter afterwards. He could not get over what his crew had done. The painstaking hours it must have taken them to create the model in secret. When the good gorram had they done it? And how in the nine hells had they managed not to blurt it out? When he looked up he found Zoe watching him. She looked so serious, so different from the happy contented looks on the faces of the rest of his crew. His smile slipped, his eyes asked her *what's wrong*?

Instead of saying anything she got up and went outside. Slowly the kitchen was being cleaned up. Wash and Kaylee were pointing something out to Simon and explaining it with help from River. Shepherd Book was talking to Mr Frye, Inara was helping clear the empty plates and glasses while Mrs Frye began packing up the food that was unspoilt and would be good to go when they did. Not nothing was wasted. After a moment the Captain got up and followed Zoe out, not surprised to see she had not wandered far. Just off the front porch. Waiting for him. He took his time joining her. "How're you doin'?"

She cut him a sharp look. "That was gonna be my line."

He looked amused. "So what's with the dark looks, the miles of not-happy in your eyes?"

"It's not that I'm not happy..."

Mal tilted his head and waited.

"I'm still mad as *diyu* at Sarah."

He huffed passed the pain her name engendered. "Don't be. What's past is past. How many times I gotta say it?"

"Until I believe it." But there was a faint smile on her lips. She watched him a second or two longer and the smile vanished. "You gonna be okay?"

"Is that the first mate or the friend wantin' to know?"

Her eyebrows rose. "Both."

"Then I'm fine, *bao bei*. You can stop your worryin' now, *dong ma*?"

They lapsed into a companionable silence for a few moments. "You never did say where you an' Sarah met."

He couldn't help the tug of humour on his lips. Knew the curiosity was eating Zoe up from the inside out, not that she would admit as much. "No, I didn't."

She slanted a look at him, noticed he seemed more relaxed. Reckoned the surprise party had helped some, that and knowing the crew were one hundred per cent behind him. "So?"

"So, Zoe, like I said - the past is past. We move on."

And just like that she realised everything was going to be alright. Her headstrong friend was not about to blow them all off to go looking for that faithless *pofu*. Their little family might be somewhat sore and battered but it was whole. And that was more than a body had a right to expect. "I can live with that."

Mal smiled at her. "You worry too much, Zoe. C'mon, let's go round up our lazy crew. Got some crime to be done."

She raised her eyebrows in surprise. "We got a job?"

"Nope, ain't gonna find one sittin' here stuffin' our gorram faces neither. But ship needs fuel or she don't fly..."

Zoe gave a curt nod back, slipping effortlessly back into their roles, their steps matching as they turned to walk back to the house. They were a team. Cut from the same cloth. Closer than kin. Captain was gonna be alright which meant so was she. "I'll get right on it, sir."

* * * * *

Everybody crowded round to see them off even the folks from old man Peters' place. Mrs Frye hugged everybody and kept plying them with food until it was almost embarrassing. Kaylee crying when it came to saying goodbye to all her cousins, nephews, neices, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters. Then her mother was hugging her while Mr Frye shook Simon's hand. The rest of Serenity's crew were boarding the ship now but Kaylee hung back for a last few words with her folks. When she was finally ready to go, Simon took her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. Mrs Frye looked at them for a moment.

"You look after that Cap'n an' crew, Kaylee, but promise me one thing."

"Yeah, mama, what's that?"

Mrs Frye allowed the biggest grin to swallow up most of her face. "Y'all come back here for the weddin'."

Kaylee's mouth dropped open but no sound came out. Simon flushed from pink to a deep crimson red. Mr Frye laughed at their expressions. "Just one thing ya gotta remember, Simon." He said in a conspirational tone. "Not a woman born that don't get her way once her mind's made up, an' that goes double if'n she's a Frye."

He nodded awkwardly, just wanting nothing more that to get the good gorram out of there. "I'll remember, sir."

Then they were yelling their last goodbyes and running for the ramp, the sound of Wash starting up the engines a not-so-subtle hint that their Captain wanted to be taking off. For once Simon Tam was completely in agreement with him. Once aboard they lingered in the empty cargo bay, Kaylee raising up on her toes to steal a kiss. Simon smiled and deepened it. Maybe getting married to Kaylee wouldn't be the most frightening thing in the 'verse? Maybe, just maybe, it would be the best gorram decision of his life.

In the meantime, there was crime to be done...

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *wo zhidao* = I know *nu haizi* = girl *diyu* = hell *wode ma* = mother of God *fei hua* = nonsense/garbage talk *qu* = yes (lit. go) *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *shenme* = what *xie xie ni* = thank you *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *shushu* = uncle *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *bao bei* = precious/treasure *pofu* = bitch


Thursday, March 31, 2005 9:05 AM


Oh, that was so much fun, Ali. Thanks!

Thursday, March 31, 2005 12:25 PM


Aww.... I'm just a mushy pile of goo now. The gift was absolutely, positively the most perfect gift in the whole 'verse and the way you ended goo. =o) I love the sappy stuff. WELL DONE!!!!!!

Friday, April 1, 2005 12:03 AM


Perfect. Absolutely perfect. I can't wait to see what you do next.

Friday, April 1, 2005 5:30 AM


Lovely ending, especially with Mal and Zoe. I'd pegged Sarah for Niska's daughter - so I was close! Still think she needed a good slap though! ;-)

Oh the model ship! That was so sweet and perfect. And I loved Mal's "so happy it looked like there was something medically wrong with them." Mean old man!

So, we getting a wedding between Simon and Kaylee in the next series?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 9:32 PM


Recently Commented on your other series. Didnt feel right not adding my thoughts to this one as well. I do believe I read the whole series in 2ish days. Better than most paid professionals. May your pen never cease to write!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 8:49 PM


Aaa shiny!!! I thought Sarah would be Niskas daughter... I was close! The mini Serenity, with everyone contributing, AMAZING!!!! One if my favorite parts was the ending, like I seriously LOVED that!:D

Mrs Frye allowed the biggest grin to swallow up most of her face. "Y'all come back here for the weddin'."

In the meantime, there was crime to be done...


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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.