If Only In My Dreams
Saturday, December 3, 2005

Mal reluctantly visits an old friend. Post-Serenity, so spoilers there be. PG-13 for a bit of language.


A/N: Whatever you do, do not comment on this story. <----Reverse Psychology

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

As silly as it felt, Mal knew for damn sure that if he didn’t keep reminding himself to walk forward, he’d head right back to the shuttle, tail fastened securely between his legs.

For the life of him, he did not know what scared him about this cliff side. It shouldn’t be scary; he’d been there a dozen times before. It wasn’t the cliff side, though. It was what was on the cliff side that Mal couldn’t bear.

Left foot. Right foot.

No noise from the com strapped to his side. He begged for something to be wrong back on the ship so that he’d have to go back, but he knew everything was going all right. The others should be doing fine in such low orbit. It was tough nowadays to land planetside. It was nearly unanimous that this trip was a necessity however. Nearly, as in six against one. Mal had lost.

The utter and unrelenting peacefulness of the situation was tearing Mal’s stomach to literal shreds.

The view was something nice to look at. That was one of the reasons they had picked this site. In retrospect, Mal pondered, it didn’t make much sense. They could have picked a tar pit miles below the planet surface and the feeling would have been the same.

Two years. No, two and a half years. Mal really didn’t like being up there. He wanted to just empty the leather bag he was holding, go back to the shuttle, and get back to Serenity, where he could sleep a little bit. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

As he came to the top of the cliff side, Mal tried desperately to examine the dirt on the ground. He silently blamed the sun being too bright, but it really was fine. He knew instinctively where to stop walking, and he dropped the heavy leather to his feet, it thus kicking up dust up into Mal’s nostrils.

Slowly, he raised his head at the stone cylinder in front of him, studying every crack and crevice along the way. The name carved in made all his organs go into a freefall. The glass jar at top was too much though. Mal had to look away into the distance.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

He was here. There was really no turning back now. Here goes.

“Hey,” he began, still unable to look at the gravestone. He stared for a long while into the lighted picture inside the jar. “Hiya, Wash. How you doing? Right. Stupid question.

“As you probably can tell, I feel a tad bit silly talking to you like this. Or maybe you can’t tell. Still not too sure how this death thing works, really. Maybe you do or don’t have the omnisciency going on right now. I don’t know.

“Well, I’m sorry we’re so late this year, but times just keep getting tougher. You thought living was gettin’ scratchy before we were all wanted fugitives… But we made it. You might be surprised to see me here doing this thing, and rest assured, I can only barely believe it myself. But, here I am.”

Mal paused a long while, secretly hoping that Wash would be the first to break the silence. It wasn’t happening. He just kind of gazed back at Mal, a soft, repeating grin shining from the glass.

“Uh, anyway… I’m really not sure what to do here, Wash, truth bein’ known.”

He looked into the eyes of his friend. He had to remind himself that it was just a picture, taken three or four years ago. Before everything happened. Before Simon and River. Before Niska. Before Miranda.

“This is stupid.” With a sigh, Mal picked up the bag and opened it with the intention of just dumping the contents before Wash’s grave, and then he’d be off.

He stopped suddenly with the heart wrenching images of Kaylee and Inara in his mind. It was actually of them both physically wrenching his heart out of his chest if he went back to the ship without doing the “rituals” or whatever. He could hide it well, sure, but River would definitely tell on him. He had done several stupid things in his time as captain to get on those girls’ bad sides before, and he knew this would be yet another. He honestly knew he could bear one more stupid thing, but it wasn’t exactly on the top of his “to do” list. He put the bag back down.

“All right, this is for Kaylee, since she’d do hideous acts of passive aggression, the likes of which are best left unimagined, if I should shirk this responsibility,” Mal said in one breath. From the bag on the ground, Mal took out a small tree, sparse in branches, but green nonetheless, roughly the same height as the gravestone, and placed it beside the glowing image. He couldn’t believe how expensive it had been, but he had been told it was worth the price.

“Where to start? Uh, there was another riot on Sihnon. That’s always bittersweet news. And the feds are blamin’ us for this one too. That’s more on the bitter end. Ever since we got police profiled, we’ve been famous all throughout the Borders. Mostly on the bad side, but there’s some good sprinkled here and there. Somehow we went from thievin’ bandits to unattainable fugitives to ruttin’ rebel rousers. Yeah, got a hero’s feast on Auguine two months ago. Didn’t hate that. The Great Malcolm Reynolds. That’s what they called me. You believe that?” He smiled at his friend. Wash continued to smile back. “The Great Malcolm…”

Mal’s smile faded to a look of melancholy. He then resumed his report.

“So, yeah. Parliament’s still doing everything in their power to appeal the recalls. Everyone knows they can do it for as long as the want, realistically. So there’s some not-so-good news.” He paused to think of any good things to relay to Wash.

“Oh! Uh, Simon and Kaylee are gettin’ hitched. Yeah, so they’re really excited about that. Simon’s makin’ me be his best man. You know, I tried to snaggle my way out, but he kept doin’ that, you know, puppy thing with his eyes, and I caved.” He chuckled. “Now I think I know why Kaylee can’t resist the kid.” He laughed at this for a second, then stopped and was eternally grateful no one else had heard him say that.

“They switched bunks with Zoe, seein’ as it had the bigger bed and all. I’ve been carrying boxes up and down ladders for about two weeks now. That wife of yours is quite the packrat.”

He dug into the leather satchel and pulled out a small object, wrapped in layers upon layers of colored paper and held together, supposedly, by wads of tape.

“Still don’t think its fair that now that Kaylee and Simon are together the two of them only have to give one present. But anyway, this is from them. You ready for this?” Mal asked rhetorically as he started tearing open the gift. Underneath the paper was a small glass globe filled with water, sitting on top of a kind of wooden block. In the globe was a small scene with a cactus, a cattle skull, and other tiny props that indicated “desert.”

“What do you think? You like. This isn’t even the best part. Watch this.” He shook up the globe furiously. Kaylee had told him he didn’t have to shake that hard, but she wasn’t around to stop his fun. When he stopped shaking the globe was filled with tiny pieces of white paper or something, floating down slowly in the water, swirling around the cactus and skull.

“You know, it’s ‘cause it doesn’t snow much… at all, out here… in the… desert. You know what, you probably get it, I don’t have to explain…

“Good kids.” Mal smiled into the small globe and then placed it at the foot of the gravestone.

“Uh, let’s see. Jayne’s still Jayne, of course. Still got that stupid goatee and everything. He’s, uh… he’s been learning to crochet. And if you think that that’s weird to hear, believe me, it’s a hundred times weirder to say out loud. So, he made this for you.”

Mal pulled out another gift from the bag and held it up in front of him to get a good look. It was colorful. That was probably the only good thing Mal could think of to say about it. But then again, he wasn’t trying very hard. The stitching was less than secure, so slight movements could pull the weaving out. The shape of the entire thing was pretty much abstract. Nevertheless, Mal felt it his job to sell Wash on the good points of the gift.

“See? Isn’t this nice?” Good start, he thought to himself. “It’s very… colorful. See? It’s a… um…” Damn. Dead end. “Wash, I don’t know what the hell this is. I guess it could be a scarf. But then again, really anything could be a scarf as long as it’s long enough to wrap around your neck. I’m not sure why Jayne would give you a scarf, seein’ as how you’re out here in the desert by your lonesome. Not to mention for the fact that you’re dead and a scarf probably won’t do you no good. But anyway…”

He leaned down again to wrap the “scarf” around the glass jar.

“Well… I, um, I think I should I tell you… Zoe got hurt a little while back. She’s fine, now. But she was hurt bad for a long while. Truth be known, I think it was kinda good for her. She didn’t talk too much after… you know. Not that she was a chatterbox at any point in her muscular, stoic life, but… She talks about you now. And that’s good. So I’m told. She still wears that necklace. You know, the necklace you gave – Of course you know the necklace you gave her. Well, she still has it. Never takes it off.”

His voice trailed off.

“She didn’t get you anything, is the point I’m warming to. She was hurt, and she can barely walk as it is, so…

Mal’s eyes lit up a bit. “Inara’s back. For good, this time. So she says. Yeah, once she got profiled, the Companion’s Guild sort of, I don’t know, fired her, disowned her, whatever. So she’s moved out of the shuttle, into the passenger dorm.” He smiled distantly, about to say something else, but instead interrupted his own train of thought by clearing his throat loudly.

Out of the bag, he pulled out a small bottle, purple, shiny.

“It’s called frankincense. Inara says it’s a kind of a perfume that the ancients on Earth-that-was put on dead bodies. Dead, rich bodies. So you know, you can finally earn that respect up in the clouds… Wherever you are, that is. And I’ve already made all the Frankenstein, and frankfurter jokes I can think of, so don’t bother. Or if you’ve got a new one, I’d love to hear it.

“River. She’s been good. A lot better since when you saw her last. Still loopy and very disturbing every now and again, but at least she speaks in coherent sentences now. I’m sure Kaylee told you last time about the new tech auto-pilot I bought for the bridge, just for landing and takeoffs mostly, you know? Well, after the half-dozen of times we nearly crashed because of grav calibration being out of sort or somethin’, we finally just turned it off. We tried taking it out, but it got installed weird by… someone… okay, by me, so now it’s stuck there. River’s been flying now. She’s really not bad. Again, loopy and very disturbing, but it adds character to the flying experience. Honestly, Wash, I think she gleaned quite a lot from you.”

He reached into the bag once again, this time taking out an object he hadn’t actually seen yet. It was a cylinder shape, wrapped in the same material as Kaylee and Simon’s gift, only more skillfully so.

“I think we’ll both be surprised with this one, Wash. River told me that you’d know what it means. Here goes.”

He tore the paper from the pole-type thing in his hand. After the paper had been removed and discarded, a stick, as like a branch from a tree, was in his hands. Slowly but surely, a smile spread itself wide across Mal’s face. Uncontrollably, he began to chuckle.

“You know what this is, don’t you, Wash? It’s your stick!” He again burst into a string of guffaws, remembering. It must have been at least three months before Simon and River got on board.

“This is ‘Wash’s stick’! I haven’t seen this thing in years. Remember? It was your birthday. Thirtieth? Is that right? I don’t know how the hell old you are. Anyway, Jayne and I got you that present, right? Told you it was huge, that you’d love it. Drove you crazy the entire gorram day. ‘Til finally, at dinner, we told you it was in your bunk. You’re face lit up like you’d just seen your first naked woman. Ran to your bunk. An’ me and Jayne just waited… ‘til we heard those screams comin’ from the cabins. ‘Cause you’d found the giant chicken we stuck in your bed!”

He couldn’t control himself. His eyes started to water.

“You were all scrambling up the ladder, and you kept fallin’ down ‘cause you were so petrified. The damn chicken kept flappin’ and jumpin’ at you. But that’s not the end. The entire month and a half, you were all paranoid every single time you went into your bunk. You slept on the couch in the common area for more than a couple nights. Zoe! It was Zoe who finally convinced you to go back to your bunk. She gave you this, this stick to protect yourself with! And, trust me, we heard hell from her about how you wouldn’t let go of the damn thing, even when you were sleeping! And you’d take it to dinner with you an’ all too. People’d try to take the last roll or something, an’ you’d rap on their knuckles with the stick like you was a gorram nun back in Secondary! Got so bad, we had to have an intervention for you and your stick. ‘You got to let go of the stick, Wash!’ Zoe’d say. ‘We love you, and you got to let it go! We got to set an extra place at the table for your stick! We can’t call you on the com and call you Wash. We gotta say Wash and Wash’s stick!’ You were crazy about this gorram stick!”

Mal laughed long and hard until his stomach burned. Then something snapped. Painful, stinging tears sealed his eyes shut, but his smile stayed on. The corners of his mouth were forced into a quivering frown.

Mal wept.

He tried to sooth his breathing, but it only came out shaky and garbled. He stared up into the sky, praying desperately that the sun would dry his tears and spare him the indignity of having to wipe his eyes. No such luck.

He still couldn’t bring himself to look at Wash. Still smiling.

“I can’t keep coming here, Wash. I can’t bring my ship here anymore. It’s getting too hard. I can’t even land the ruttin’ boat, ‘cause every time I do, I have to consider the very real possibility that she might not takeoff again. One of these days, we’re gonna end up landlocked. I can’t keep taking these risks, flying out of our way to deliver you junk you’re never gonna be able to use. I need these people, Wash. I cannot, cannot, cannot live without them. I’m not going to lose my ship. I’m not going to lose my crew!” His voice escalated without his permission. “I can’t be a rebel rouser with you on this rock, Wash, don’t you understand that!? I can’t be a captain if I don’t have a crew. I can’t be the Great Captain Malcolm Reynolds without my crew. I can’t be what I need to be with you down here! HOW DARE YOU FUCKING LEAVE ME, YOU BASTARD!”

Mal pitched the stick in his hand directly at the glass jar, creating a small crack. The image flickered, but then Wash came back. Still smiling.

Mal fell to his knees in front of the stony cylinder, so he was at eye level with Wash.

“I need my crew, Wash. I can’t keep coming here. I need you up in the sky with me. My crew. That’s you. And Zoe, and Kaylee, and Jayne, Simon, River…” he sadly looked past the gravestone, at another nearby smiling image. “Shepherd… Every year I hope and pray that what happened to you would mean something. And every year, nothing happens! The Alliance still kills in broad, harsh daylight. You can’t just be another grave marker with a name I know. I’ve got too many of those as it is. You are not ‘Hoban Washburne,’ you hear me? You are Wash! You hear me!” Tears galloped over Mal’s eyelids, but he kept his eyes open.

“Wash, Zoe almost died. She almost died! I cannot lose another one of you guys. You’re my brother, Wash. You guys are all I’ve got left. You know that? You guys are the only reason I didn’t die in Serenity Valley. Without you I can’t fly.”

Wash kept smiling back.

“You know… It occurs to me that I never said I was sorry. For getting you killed. Well, I am. I’m trying, Wash. I’m really trying to make your death mean something. Anything. Another riot on Sihnon. A dinner on Auguine. Is that it? Is that all it means? Is this the end that you died for?”

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

“Wash… I really… really miss you. We all do. I want you back with me, but I can’t have that. I can’t come back anymore. I’ve gotta make it right. I’ve gotta make it mean… something. I’m not coming back here until I do. That’s a promise, Wash.”

Mal stood up, picked up the leather bag, much lighter now, and stared at his friend.

“Merry Christmas, Wash.”


Saturday, December 3, 2005 4:42 PM


Anonymous ( may not have cried, but I did.

Saturday, December 3, 2005 5:00 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER! I honestly thought in the beginning of the story that Mal had made a pilgrimmage to Serenity Valley and we would get to see something like him screaming at the ghosts to let him have his peace, but this was even better (though much more sad :( )

This would make a great scene for Serenity the into or something.

Saturday, December 3, 2005 6:05 PM


Wow...I'm usually immune to tear jerkers, but I got all misty-eyed at the end.

Very nicely done.

Saturday, December 3, 2005 6:26 PM


Remembering lost family at Christmastime twists your heart inside out. I think I started bawling when Mal called Wash his brother. He's trying so hard to repay a debt that Wash would never, for one moment, ever consider that he owed him. It just makes me so sad.

Sunday, December 4, 2005 4:30 AM




Sunday, December 4, 2005 3:39 PM


This was excellent and sad and touching and made me choke up inside with emotion. One little thing though, it felt strange that while Mal had so much to say to Wash from himself and the crew there was only a little aside to Book and no presents for his other friend. Made me feel sad for the Preacher as I think if Mal did make a pilgrimage back to the grave site it would have been to remember Book as well. Very well done, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, December 26, 2005 11:01 AM


Wow, how did I miss this before?

Absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful, every single word and nuance.

Thursday, February 2, 2006 2:49 PM


I was very touched by this and I like to think that Mal would be just that way if they made him take the things to Wash...

Sadly the whole premise that life was getting harder isn't hard to believe.

This was a nicely written piece that touched me and made me tear up just a little.

Thansk for sharing.


Monday, August 7, 2006 1:45 PM


Wow! I'm really late in reading this but I'm glad I found it. I'm really crying now... thank you for writing this piece.

Friday, September 8, 2006 1:06 PM




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