Title: prepare your shoes (not to come home soon)

Author: gabby silang

Spoilers: the two-hour pilot...nothing very specific

Summary: This is Mal.

Rating: PG-13 for language and naughty Chinese

Disclaimer: I steal Joss' toys and play with them. Neener neener.

This is for greensilver who requested Mal and no fluff. Hope this isn't too far off from what you were looking for.

prepare your shoes(not to come home soon)

1.

Malcolm Reynolds is three months old, and he is being baptized. The murmurs of ceremony are soothing, and despite the motion and the chill of water, he falls asleep.

Shadow's axis has a 30 degree tilt, making its winters as bitingly cold as its summers are sweat-soaking hot. The cross of holy water freezes on his forehead and still he sleeps, comfortable and untroubled.

"A pious and quiet boy," says Shepard Freeman.

"Only ever cried once," his mother affirms. Malcolm is her first and only son. She carries him home on her back.

At the doorstep to their house, Malcolm's father kisses the sleeping baby's forehead, and the blessing melts onto his lips to rest in tear ducts and be blinked away by the waking child.

2.

He is 27 years old and the silver cross that spent 10 years hanging from his neck is melting in an iron pot over a fire. It's like a painting now, an oil work made with quick dabs to the canvas, the edges smudged but the overall shape still discernible. Tendrils of smoke as small as fingers of the tiny, dying Lord, stretch out from it and never quite escape out of the pot and into the warm night air.

This ritual takes place on the fifteenth day of the first summer month. The heat is already enough to encourage indolence and to slow speech down to a lazy drawl of sunsets, honey-sticks, and lemonade made half-water from the melting of ice cubes. Mal has walked a mile from the last fence of his mother's ranch. A drop of sweat breaks free of his brow and hisses on the pot's handle.

Somewhere in the distance the herd begins to low, making a small ruckus. Stamping of hooves, sandpaper shift of huge flanks against one another, packed in tight for nighttime security. Mal's eyes find the patch of sky where a point of light moves against the static starfield. He watches the sky long after the ship has gone.

3.

Mal is 26 and he is bleeding to death.

Overhead: Rattle-crack-ratatattat-BOOM!-tseeeeew-BOOM!!! He shudders convulsively, out of time with the shaking of the ground, the shivers in the air. Looking at the hole in his thigh is like facing a gaping maw, expanding in his mind's eye to swallow him whole. There's too much: too much raw meat leaking too much blood, too much distance to the nearest friendly soldier. He'd told them he could hold this ravine, and now he's humped and fading fast.

The world goes white at the edges, painting everything much too prettily. Halos around the toes of his shoes like glow a spotlight, from behind the ridge ahead of him like bad foreshadowing, and around the head of the body of the man fallen beside him. Jameson.

Jameson came from the cold, hardy moon of Hera. Most nights he'd keep an eye on his home that hung in the sky. Sometimes he'd talk about skiing to the Watsei docks from his family's house 15 miles distant, getting caught in a storm and thinking he'd never make it planetside to join the fight. About his sister who'd be joining them down here come her birthday. Sometimes he'd talk about his dog that-

Jameson's body is wearing a scarf. Brown/black with earth and muck, wrapped around his neck. His. It's tied around the hole in Mal's thigh before he can remember the story of where it came from.

4.

When Mal is six years old, he steals his sister's desert. Lychees in pudding. It is tart and creamy on his tongue, and he hides beneath the porch to enjoy it in concentrated solitude. Of course, this cannot last.

"Is that Malcolm down there?" Sue Rawlins, his mother's best ranch hand, pokes her head through the broken slats to peer down at the crouching child, "What you hidin' for?"

"Ain't hidin'. 'M sittin'." The pudding goes behind his back as stealthily as he can manage it.

"Well you sure ain't doin' a great job of neither. I could hear you snufflin' down there clear as day for one, and for the other: that's a crouch if I ever seen one," the boards above him creak as she lies down to get a better view, "And a guilty one at that. What kind of trouble you got yourself in now?"

"None! I's just looking for treasure," he holds up his spoon as evidence, "Diggin'-like."

Sue does not buy into his cunning deception.

"By Rosie's wailin', I'd say you already got something wasn't yours to start with." A pointed look that he refuses to wilt under, "You got no business takin' 'vantage of a child's sickly as her and can't chase you down."

"You ain't my Momma," defiantly.

She smiles like ice on skin, "Sure thing I ain't, and glad of it. She'd be ashamed to see you in a fix like this."

"Ain't none left," switching tactics and looking shamefaced. Mal takes the bowl from behind him and holds it out for inspection.

"I see that. Licked clean like a dog bowl. Then I guess you'll be learnin' how to make pudding, don' you think?"

"...Yeah."

"What was that?"

"Yes Ma'am."

He is rewarded with an ear-splitting grin, "Shiny."

5.

It's Mal's 34th birthday and he is relieving an elderly woman of some of the more valuable pieces from her extensive collection of paintings and sculptures. His arms are full of rolled-up canvases and he's hurrying to the mule where Zoe and Jayne are waiting to make a clean getaway. A fragile voice follows him out the door.

"You lowdown, thieving crooks! The authorities are on their way!"

The old woman, bent almost double and hovering in her doorway, has her eye fixed on Mal.

"Well ain't that something. I had been fixin' to have a celebration of sorts today, but I'd never imagined such a reputable guest list." He addresses Zoe without turning to face her, "What you think of that?"

"Best clean the homestead before company arrives, Sir."

The woman's exasperation is visibly increased, "Didn't anyone ever teach you to mind your manners, boy?"

Mal backs all the way to the mule and hands the paintings to Jayne who takes them with the hand that isn't holding a gun on the old lady.

"Why yes, Ma'am. They sure did. Thank you kindly for not shooting us," and they were off in a cloud of dust.

6.

Mal is 19 and he is failing the theoretical mathematics portion of Feng Do University's entrance exam.

He's pretty sure that half of the questions are written in Greek, but the letters and numbers and Chinese characters are all starting to blend together. Not that it had made any kind of sense when he could read it.

If two vessels leave Lundonium at the same time, the course of one being asymptoical to the curve of the other's course, when and at what speed will they begin to share mass?

Somehow Mal's earlier education had skipped over the class that explained what the pì huà that was supposed to mean.

He shifts uncomfortably in his seat and it squeaks like he's sat down on the softest part of an angry cat. For a split-second every eye in the white- washed, over-lighted room is on him in varying states of annoyance, derision, and amazement at the power of his backside to produce such a sound. He catches as many glances as he can with his own, issuing wordless, pointless challenges. It's something to do. It's not failing this gorram test any further.

One fellow test-taker, a boy at least five years his junior, holds Mal's gaze when he's caught staring. Mal gives him his best qingwa cào de liúmáng look, but the boy just smirks slowly, maintaining eye contact. Mal hates him, hated him on sight with his slicked-back hair glowing like he has someone to buff it for him, collar starched and fingernails shining and the kid just won't look away.

Scrawling something that may or may not be his name on the front of his exam, Mal stands noisily and hands the rumpled booklet to the waiting proctor. She takes it from him with hesitation. It's only 30 minutes into the three-hour testing period. He doesn't look at her, keeps his eye on the kid who's got this look on his face now like everything's getting to be right with the world.

Mal wants to drag him out of his seat, throw down right outside the classroom. Mal wants to stab his stylus into the boy's jugular, holding his head back by that waxed hair. Mal wants to go home to find Shepard Freeman and be told why the 'verse is the way it is and why he can't just kill this insolent little prick.

Mal turns around and walks away.

7.

"I think I know what's best for my own workings, thank you."

"With all due respect, a gunshot wound is something that calls for more than an hour's bed rest."

"Seen worse and had less than a bed at the time. If you'll excuse me..."

At age 35, Malcolm Reynolds is getting tired of being ordered around by his own crew. He is leaving the infirmary in what, in some circles, could be called a huff. Simon travels in his wake. Mal's never been one to kick a puppy, but this Tam boy makes it hard on him.

Kaylee passes them heading from the bridge to her engine room.

"Kaylee," like her very name means relief. She gifts Mal with that smile that powers Serenity herself.

"Hey Cap'n," a pause, slow and deadly, and the grin switches focus. "Simon."

Through an effort of sheer, colossal will, Mal shoots neither the doctor nor himself when Simon dribbles a greeting back. The boy leans awkwardly against the bulkhead, striking what he must think of as a casual pose. Mal takes the smallest step closer to Kaylee.

"You boys need me for something?" She's smiling like there's something funny about this.

"Only to put it through the good doctor's mind that when I say I don't need bed rest, I mean-"

Pushing off the wall, Simon cuts in, "That he'd rather die of internal bleeding than take my advice. Yes, I figured that one out all on my own."

"Now I'm sure that ain't-"

"He interrupted me," Mal says. He turns on Simon, "You. Interrupted me."

"A lot of that goin' around..." Kaylee interjects and is ignored.

"I simply meant to finish your-"

"On my own ship!"

Kaylee pushes herself, physically, between them and faces Mal.

"It's his ship too."

"For as long as I say so, and I say it's nigh on spring cleaning. Clear out what ain't needed," and Simon goes still as stone. Not like being slapped, but like waiting for it. Kaylee is babbling, spinning madly to face them both.

"You don't mean, he don', you don't mean that Cap'n. Do you?"

And Mal looks at her. Sweet, good Kaylee. Luminous and untouched, simple and good, sweet as lychees in warmest summer. His sunshine in the fathomless black.

"No. I don't. Just ain't my trouble if the doc here was never taught in those fancy schools of his how to work with just plain old people."

Simon takes a moment before reacting. Mal can see it, the smirk of victory that wants to run loose. It's reined in.

"Not people like you, no."

Mal takes that in. Sends Kaylee a long look. People like us, he tries to tell her with his eyes. She knows but she won't really take it in. He rests his forehead on hers for a moment, lets Simon stand close and watch, apart. Mal takes a breath and steps back from his sweetest girl.

"'M gonna go make sure we're still flying," he turns around and walks away.

A/N: Gigantic thanks go to my lovely beta, olivia_circe, without whom this would make much less sense.