Title: Lapses and Leaps
Category: missing scene, drama
Summary: Mal's faith was broken long ago…right?
Spoilers: "Serenity" (Pilot), "Out of Gas"
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Firefly do not belong to me. I make no money from this story.
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who reviewed my last story. Your encouragement really helps to motivate me when I try to find time to keep writing!
This is a little story revolving around Mal's relationships with his crew and his broken faith. It's also basically an epilogue for "Out of Gas." Enjoy!
Darkness and light. Screams, shots…then eerie silence. He wasn't sure if that silence was all around, or if the hated sounds continued while only his heart flooded with the emptiness.
He looked away from the arriving ships. He looked down. There was blood on his clothes. There was blood on his hands…
He tried to move and tripped over something, falling to the ground. A body. He clamored away, then looked at its face.
But that wasn't right. She wasn't supposed to die in this valley. He looked at his surroundings and realized that he was no longer on that battlefield. He was in a shuttle, but there were bodies here all the same.
He swung from one side to the other, seeing Wash lying beside his wife. A short distance away Simon was crumpled on the floor. River sat in the chair beside her fallen brother, eyes open in a creepy unseeing stare. Mal shivered and shook his head in denial, pushing himself to his feet and away from the lifeless scene. He forced open the shuttle door and found himself staring out into the blackness.
The disembodied voice seemed to come from the darkness ahead of him. Great, now they were haunting him. Wasn't he going to be in hell soon enough? He gave a rather undignified whimper and tried to move away from the voice, only to find himself falling. Falling into the darkness…
He came awake with a start. The impact was lessened by a pair of arms that had tried to catch him, but the cold of the infirmary floor shocked him even through the sheet tangled around his legs. Pain shot through his midsection. His breaths came in short spurts as he looked up to find Zoe staring at him worriedly from her own bed. He then looked to the arms that were supporting him and followed them to find the Doctor's equally concerned face.
"Easy, Captain," Simon said softly. "It was just a nightmare. You need to calm down and breathe."
Mal stared at him, trying to wrap his mind around that. Just a nightmare, just a nightmare…he could see Zoe; he could feel Simon. They were alive. It hadn't happened that way.
He made a conscious effort to shove the images from his mind. Only then could he slow his breathing and ease the pounding of his heart. Simon sat beside him, lightly rubbing his back to help calm him and reaching for his wrist to keep track of the pulse.
The silence in the room was only broken a few minutes later when Shepherd Book joined them. "My goodness. What happened?" he asked, kneeling beside Simon.
"Just took a little tumble," Mal responded, grimacing.
Simon noticed immediately. "Are you in pain?"
He tried to think up a smart answer for that, but the pain as he shifted his weight took his breath away. When he could speak he settled for, "Yup. Little bit."
"Let's get you back into bed, then I'll give you some more morphine." He shifted his grip to Mal's arm as Book reached for the other. Together they lifted him upright and maneuvered him back onto the table.
As Simon moved off to get the needle, the Shepherd untangled him from the sheet and draped it gently over him. "Bad dreams, Captain?" he asked softly, casually.
Mal stared at him. "Shepherd, you read minds now?"
Book smiled. "That might be a handy talent, but no. You've never struck me as the type to just fall out of bed. And you've certainly had quite an experience—fertile ground for nightmares, I would imagine."
Mal looked away from him as Simon returned and began reinserting the IV that he had jerked out with his 'little tumble.' With hardly a glance back at Book he responded, "I appreciate the concern. But I'll be just fine when this hole closes in."
He didn't miss the look that passed between Simon and Book before the Doctor reached for the needle and injected the pain medication. He sighed, thinking that the last thing he needed was these two ganging up on him. He turned his head towards the other bed. "Zoe, tell them I'll be fine."
"Sorry Captain," she said apologetically. "You didn't really look all that fine from over here."
He rolled his eyes. "You know, mutiny can be cause for execution."
"I'll be right here, sir, whenever you want to carry that out."
Mal sighed again, feeling the morphine start to take effect. His pain eased and tense muscles began to relax. "Rest, Captain," Simon ordered softly before moving away.
The Shepherd remained a few minutes longer. "You know son, you do not have to speak with me to quiet those dreams. You could simply try talking things over with Someone who has already seen them anyway."
"There you go with that faith thing again, Preacher. You know I don't have any use for it."
Book backed off slightly, hands up in a gesture of surrender. "All right, all right. I certainly cannot force you to help yourself. But faith is a many faceted thing, Captain. Perhaps you want to think on that."
Mal snorted softly as the Shepherd moved away. He stared up at the ceiling and waited for the medicine to do its trick and put him back to sleep. His thoughts, however, would not subside.
He'd had faith once. He'd believed in something beyond himself; believed that something would walk him through life and take care of him. He'd kissed a cross and proclaimed it so to the people whose lives were in his hands.
And he'd been proven painfully, emphatically wrong.
Faith had soon become a thing of the past. Faith was useless. It was nothing more than a ghost that haunted him occasionally. Sometimes, when he was feeling introspective, he thought it strange that something that had been such a large part of him and vanished altogether. He realized it had left a hole. And he realized that he had compensated by becoming a very different man.
And when he caught himself thinking about it, he told himself on no uncertain terms to stop. What's done is done; what's gone is gone for good.
Mal shoved the thoughts aside, trying to rest. But shortly he realized he was fighting even that. He didn't particularly desire to take another trip into dreamland when the last one had been so unpleasant. This was no good. He needed a distraction. He shifted on the bed for a few minutes, then rolled his head to look at Zoe.
She was asleep. Again. Okay, next option. "Hey doc?" he called softly.
"Yes?" Simon asked, quickly appearing beside him.
Oh. Now he actually needed something to talk about. He settled for nodding in Zoe's direction. "How's she doin'? Seems like a person who just woke from a coma wouldn't be apt to sleep so much."
"She's going to be fine. She just needs a lot of rest so her body can heal. That goes for anyone with a recent serious injury," he threw in, looking pointedly at Mal.
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled. Simon started to move away. "Hey, doc?"
There was a definite sigh from his well-mannered doctor. "Yes Captain?"
"How do you feel about faith?"
Simon stared at him for a moment. "You want to have a deep philosophical discussion now?"
Not really—he didn't even know why he'd asked. But he didn't say that. Mal simply shrugged, stifled a yawn, and then continued looking at him quizzically.
Simon gave in and moved back to his bedside, pulling up a stool to sit near his head. "I don't suppose I think about it too often. At least I haven't since this whole thing with River began." He paused for a moment, then gave a humorless laugh. "Perhaps I should have. Maybe we could have miraculously avoided the hell our lives have become over the past few years."
"Hey, I don't think you've ended up in such a terrible position," Mal threw in, projecting a bit of indignation.
"No," Simon hastened to agree, apparently not anxious to look ungrateful. Mal fought to hide a grin. His doctor was just so easy to fluster.
After a moment Simon continued thoughtfully, "As bad as things have been, they could have been much worse. If I really think about it, a lot of things went right. I would never have gotten River out on my own if I hadn't been approached. We could have ended up on another ship with another crew. And as lovely as all of our relations have been at times, I know most Captains would have turned us over long ago—or worse."
A question was left unspoken there, but Mal didn't address it. He sometimes still wondered himself why he had designated himself protector of these two wayward babes. He'd bought himself a whole mess of unnecessary trouble. But he was far too tired to figure it out right now.
Suddenly he heard the slight scrape of the stool legs on the floor. He popped his eyes back open to find Simon trying to quietly move away, and realized that he had been drifting. He reached out a weak hand to latch onto Simon's vest. "Wait doc."
Simon turned back to him, sighing again. "Captain, you need to sleep. Just relax and let the medicine do its job." He gently untangled fingers from fabric and laid Mal's hand across his chest. Mal allowed it, if a little reluctantly. He was already showing entirely too much weakness for his comfort. He'd just have to tough it out and go to sleep.
But Simon continued softly, "I went to take a quick nap last time, but I won't now. I'll be right here, Captain. I'll wake you as soon as I see any signs of distress."
Mal looked up at him. The young eyes were still tired; his nap obviously hadn't been long enough. But in their depths he could read no pity or judgement. A little concern perhaps, but mostly quiet understanding. He realized that Simon was well acquainted with subconscious terrors. He was used to handling River and the monsters that haunted her dreams. The doctor probably even had a few nightmares of those villains himself, though for him they likely had no faces.
He allowed himself a slight nod. Simon smiled gently, then moved away. Mal, no longer able to fight the effects, drifted off to sleep. He didn't give a second thought to the trust he'd just placed in the doctor.
The next few days found Mal's body healing. But his thoughts continued to be troubled.
The first night he was back in his own bunk, he figured out why. His nightmares hadn't made a reappearance in the infirmary. But in the isolation of his quarters he woke mid-way through the night, having just relived the time he had been alone on Serenity.
He'd relied on himself, just as always. He didn't really trust anyone else anyway aside from Zoe, so it wasn't so strange to be depending upon him and only him to survive. He'd done it, too.
But it hadn't been enough. He might have managed to save himself and his ship, but his strength refused to carry him to that button. And without that, he couldn't save the others. His crew, the people he protected tenaciously from any threat—and he might as well have killed them himself.
Lying there on the ground, so close but so very far from that taunting red button, he'd had a few moments of consciousness left. And he'd done something he thought he'd died to long before.
It certainly hadn't been anything fancy; it was barely even coherent. Something along the lines of "Help me…help them…" but there was no doubt in his mind where those thoughts had been aimed. It was like he'd hit absolute desperation and had an automatic reaction.
He hadn't remembered it specifically. But when the Shepherd had gotten him thinking about his faith, it had started nagging at the back of his mind. Now that he knew, it bothered him. He was fairly certain he was too far gone to have his prayers received anyhow, but the fact that he had unconsciously grasped at that for comfort shocked him. He was sure he had left all that behind, but apparently it was still ingrained in him. Granted, it was deeply buried, but it was there.
Which only left him more unsettled.
The next day he found himself heading into the bowels of Serenity. Kaylee welcomed him to the engine room with a bubbly, "Hey, Cap'n! Good to see ya up and movin' around!"
"It surely is," he said agreeably. "The scenery of the infirmary gets old after a while."
"I don't know about that," she replied, a smile on her lips.
Mal pictured Kaylee being "forced" to spend time in the infirmary with Simon present at almost every step. He smiled as well. "Yeah, you'd probably have more cause to enjoy it."
She giggled, turning back to the engine.
"How's she doin'?" Mal asked in reference to his ship.
"Good, good. All healed up, just like her Cap'n." Kaylee turned to shoot him another smile, then paused. The smile disappeared. "I'll take better care of her Cap'n, I promise."
He shook his head. "Wasn't your fault, Kaylee. Don't be goin' there."
She nodded slowly, very unconvincingly. "Sure."
Mal stepped closer, taking her chin gently in his hand. "Hey. You're not to blame. It was an accident, just one of those things. Ain't nobody I'd trust with Serenity more than you, understand?"
She stared into his eyes for a long minute, then a slow, shy smile spread across her face. "Thanks Cap'n," she said softly.
He released her and shrugged. It was true. "Now get back to work," he said with a smile of his own as he walked off. He didn't realize he was looking for Book until he found himself in the passenger quarters standing outside his door. He cleared his throat.
The Shepherd looked up from his Bible. "Captain! You're certainly looking better."
"Feel a lot better," he responded, leaning his tall frame against the doorframe.
They watched each other in silence until the preacher asked, "Something I can do for you?"
Mal hesitated. "You said faith is…what was it? A many-faced thing, or something like that. What did you mean?"
"Many faceted," Book corrected. "And I meant that faith is not simply your failed relationship with God. You seem to think faith is useless. Am I right?"
Mal shifted uncomfortably. "I might have thought that."
Book nodded, studying his Captain. "I think perhaps you might reconsider that. Faith is all around you, Captain."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Book clearly had a lesson in mind, and was determined to get it across it typical preacher fashion. He wasn't going to just come out and state something simply. "You put your life in the doctor's hands without question, do you not?"
"Of course. But he's our doctor. That's somewhat of a given, isn't it?"
"Do you think Jayne would so easily place himself in Simon's hands?" Apparently that was a rhetorical question, because he didn't pause before continuing, "Another example—I assume that by now you've spoken to Kaylee, tried to assuage her guilt about the situation." He waited for Mal's nod, then continued. "You probably told her that it wasn't her fault. Perhaps you mentioned that you trust her abilities?"
Mal simply nodded.
"Were you lying to her?"
"Of course not!" Mal snapped.
"Well Captain, that is faith in its basic form. You place your trust in her when it comes to this ship—you have faith in her ability."
Mal stared at him, slightly befuddled. "Okay, but that's different…"
"Is it? Strictly speaking yes, it is a bit different from religious faith. But it is the same concept. But that's just your side of things; maybe you would see it better in someone else. Take this crew, for example. They often demonstrate complete faith in you."
Mal opened his mouth to protest, but Book wouldn't let him get a word in edgewise.
"Look at Simon. He has placed his life and his sister's in your hands and depends on you for their day to day survival. Wouldn't you call that faith?"
"I don't know if I'd put it that way exactly…"
"It is, Captain. You know Kaylee has complete faith in you. Even Jayne and Inara show you a definite allegiance," he added, accounting for all of his shuttle companions. "Would we have come back if we lacked that faith?"
Mal really had nothing to say to that.
"And Zoe. She didn't even need to think about it. She woke from her coma, realized you weren't there, and turned their shuttle right back around." He paused, but held Mal's gaze. "You're not as far from faith as you think."
Once again, Mal wondered at the Shepherd's mind-reading skills. Having his thoughts recited back to him made him uneasy. He pushed himself away from the doorframe, mumbling something about seeing to their course as he went.
"Think about it, Captain." Book's words followed him.
He found Zoe and Wash in the mess the next morning. They were only about halfway through their breakfasts, but the food seemed forgotten as she laughed at something he said and leaned in to kiss him deeply.
Wash was at the head of the table. Mal ignored the intimacy of the moment, plopping down on Wash's other side across from Zoe. The table shifted to accommodate his weight and the couple broke apart. "We gotta talk," Mal declared, ignoring the rather pointed look of annoyance from his pilot's direction.
"Sure thing, sir. Anything wrong?" Zoe asked, concern in her voice.
He jumped right in. "Why did you turn the shuttle around?"
Zoe exchanged a glance with Wash. "Why?"
"Yes. Why? Not that I'm not glad that you did, but you know as well as I do that your odds were better out there."
"Please, Cap'n. You've got more lives than a cat. I knew you'd find some way to survive, and I wasn't about to die on that tiny shuttle when I could come back and breathe your oxygen," she said with a smile.
Wash chimed in, tossing a friendly arm around Mal's shoulders. "We love our Captain. Not so much when he's interrupting a lovely marital moment, but we still love him."
Mal gave him a look that was clearly not amused. Wash cleared his throat, removed the arm, and pulled away. Mal looked back across the table. "Zoe…seriously. Why?"
"Captain," she said, then studied him more closely. "You are serious."
"Why so worried?" Wash questioned curiously.
Mal addressed his first mate. "I just need to know why you were willing to risk your life, your husband's life, and the lives of our resident fugitives to come back. You had no way of knowing I'd fixed the life support. Chances were that you were all going to die back here."
"We were going to die out there, sir. No one was going to find us." She looked into his eyes, letting him see how sure she was of things. "But I was serious. You always find a way to pull through whatever is thrown at you. I had a much better feeling about you and this ship then the shuttle and the deep, empty blackness. It was a command decision, sir. It felt right. I had to go with my instincts."
Wash spoke up in a rare serious tone. "We have faith in you, Mal. And I don't think any of us regrets it, seeing as how we're still breathin' and all."
Zoe added, "Just so you know, sir, we're likely to do the same next time around."
For all his lapses of faith, his crew insisted on taking leaps. For him.
That was more than a little disconcerting.
Wash interrupted his thoughts, serious moment passed by and forgotten. "And hey, you got my blood running through those veins," he proclaimed cheerily. "How could you ever go wrong now?"
Zoe smiled, not quite suppressing a giggle.
Mal groaned and rolled his eyes heavenward.
His crew. What would he do without them?
He and God were still separated by a chasm. But the concept of faith…well, maybe he wasn't as far gone from that as he'd thought. Maybe he wasn't such a lost cause after all.
Maybe that prayer had been heard.
Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!