Yikes – I didn't realize I was behind on on these stories. Hope there are still people here interested in reading them.Things have been crazy, what with everything going on in real life and trying to get and keep Firefly-TVS up and running smoothly. For those of you interested, several really wonderful Firefly writers have banded together to do a Virtual Season of Firefly, picking up where the first season ended and progressing towards the movie. The stories are long – averaging about 15k – and try to stick to canon as much as possible. If you're interested in checking us out, we do have a website at www(dot)firefly(dash)tvs(dot)com.

Anyway, sorry for the delay. I'll have the next three or so up and posted by the end of the week -- Mich

Prompt: 017 – Illness (list 2)

Word Count: 583

Progress: 18/100


She hadn't the heart to wake him, so she let him sleep. She knew that sleep, for him, was hard to come by – too often broken by dreams of everything he'd lost. He was a man incapable of letting go of his shadows. He was a man incapable of letting go of Shadow.

Not that she expected him too. His past was what had forged him into the man he was now – stronger than he knew; greater than he realized. He wore his dead like a cloak, kept them alive in his heart and his mind and in every action he made. It was how he honored them.

But it was killing him too. She could see him, dying a little more every day. Pieces of him just fell away as his burden became greater. He was turning into the stones he carried.

She knew Zoe saw it, but Zoe was broken as well, still reeling from having to leave her heart behind on Mr. Universe's cold moon. Zoe could not help him.

Jayne, of course, couldn't see it at all. To him, the dead were dead. You raised a glass or ten and drank to their memory, told stories about remembering when, and laid them to rest. You didn't lug them around inside you until there was no you anymore. That was just stupid.

And Kaylee and Simon – well, they were too caught up in each other to really see anything at all. The euphoria of surviving, of finally having each other, had made them blind to anyone else. They'd come down off their rainbow soon enough, but in the meantime nothing existed for them outside the joy they found in the other.

It wouldn't make a difference anyway – River was the only one on the crew that could see ghosts, besides Mal. The only difference between them was she knew when to let the ghosts go now, and he had never mastered that.

It was almost like an illness, or an addiction. As long as he kept his ghosts with him – lived for them - he wouldn't need to live for himself or for anybody else. And she didn't want him to give up his ghosts – not really. They were an inexorable part of him now and she recognized this. She just wanted him to realize that he could hold on to things other than his ghosts – her, for example. She would help him carry his burden, if only he would let her. She understood him.

Tonight, when he had come to the cockpit, she had sensed a change in him. They had talked and he had looked at her and seen her and it had been good. She had called him Tantalus and Mars, God of War, and he hadn't objected. And when she had said she was Venus he had whispered her name and kissed her.

And now, he was sleeping, hunched over the seat she was sitting in. The floor underneath him was cold and hard and the way he was propped against her knees couldn't be comfortable. But her lap was warm and her heart was open and he had been so very tired.

She ran her fingers gently through his hair, pushing it from his face and smiling at the little boy she saw hidden underneath his skin. The air around them was cool, but she didn't mind. He needed his sleep and she needed to talk to his ghosts, to figure out how she could help him.

Prompt: 018 – Health (list 2)

Word Count: 531

Progress: 19/100


"It's not healthy," Simon muttered as he stitched Mal up.

"Huh?" Mal gritted back.

"It's not healthy, this obsession you have with getting stabbed or shot at where ever you go."

Mal raised an eyebrow at him and scowled, "You think I wanna get stabbed or shot at?"

"I don't know, do you?"

"Wo de ma, Doc. I thought your sister was the crazy one."

"Not crazy anymore, just brilliant and fractured – like a broken diamond." River said from the other side of the room. She was sitting on the counter, watching intently as Simon tied off a stitch and cut the thread.

Mal just smirked. He found himself strangely content, lying here on the med-table. Things coulda been a whole lot worse – bullet just grazed him; barely felt it. And, despite Simon's accusations, it had been a long time since someone had tried to stab him.

All in all, things seemed to be looking up lately. He was back to having coffee in the kitchen again late at night with River. Most the time they'd just sit there together, the silence between them warm, like a blanket. Sometimes, she'd tell him some weird little factoid she had spinning around in that brain 'a hers, like how on Earth-that-Was most 'a the constellations had been named after ancient Greek and Roman myths.

She told him about the twelve labors of Hercules; about Achilles and his gorram heel; Helen of Troy, who's face had launched a thousand ships. He'd heard some 'a these stories before, 'a course, but he'd never heard 'em the way she told 'em, her voice flowing over him like a benediction.

And when their talk was done and the shadows that had kept him from sleeping were less, he would stumble to his bunk and fall into a deep sleep, dreaming of nothing except the sound of her voice and the warmth of her smile.

He hadn't kissed her again, but he knew he would eventually. He was still trying to reconcile the fact that she seemed to fit so well into his darkness. Her brand 'a crazy and his brand 'a crazy weren't all that distant from each other. She understood him at some intrinsic level and the knowledge that she did sat well with him.

Simon would flip if he ever knew how much Mal considered River his now. He didn't see the girl hardly at all when he looked at her – instead, he saw a woman who managed to survive, despite the odds stacked against her. And, despite his teasing, he didn't see her as crazy anymore. She was brilliant – not a broken diamond at all, but precious and whole and shinier than anything else he'd ever seen in his whole life.

Doc was still nattering on about something, but Mal had stopped paying attention long ago. Instead, he turned his head and looked at his little albatross. He cocked an eyebrow at her when her eyes drifted to his and smirked when she cocked an eyebrow back. Her eyes were as black as the 'Verse and a whole universe lived in them.

One day – soon – he would too.

Prompt: 019 – Fight (list 2)

Word Count: 626

Progress: 20/100


"On Earth-that-Was, the Dove represented peace," she whispers that night as he enters the kitchen. She is frowning as she hands him his coffee, her large brown eyes traveling across his bruised face before her gaze drifts past the arm in a sling and down to his side. Even though he has his shirt on, he knows she is remembering how Simon had bandaged him up earlier. His side is still tender, truth be told – it had only been a graze, a' course, but bullets was bullets. They tended to hurt.

He takes the coffee gingerly from her and winces when she steps closer, lifting a hand and pressing it gingerly against the bandage, through his shirt. "Why can't you be more like your name?"

"Huh?" His response, while not overly intelligent, gets his point across.

"Your name – Malcolm – it means 'Follower of the Dove' in ancient Celtic. You're supposed to be peaceful, yet all you do is fight." Her voice is regretful as her hand starts rubbing soft circles against his waist. He sighs, half in pain and half in pleasure, before taking a sip from his mug.

"Ain't me doing the fighting, darling. Leastways, not all the time. Those men – they turned on me. Weren't the other way around. Had to defend myself, didn't I?"

"But they shot you."

"Won't be the first time nor the last, I reckon. I think getting shot at is part of my job description – kinda fits the whole 'smuggler' theme we have happening on this here ship." His voice is teasing, but River ain't having none of it.

"You could have died."

He don't know when she started crying, but tears slip down her cheeks now. The hand that is holding the mug deposits it none to gently on the table and reaches up to pull her into a one-armed embrace. "No, I couldn't'a died, little darling – would take more than a little flesh wound to kill me."

He leads her to the sofa and they sink into it. She's crying in earnest against his shirt now and he's awkwardly patting her back, murmuring soft words he hopes sound comforting against the top of her head. Finally, her tears subside, but he can still feel her shaking and shuddering against him. "I wish you didn't have to fight all the time," she eventually whispers against him.

"I do too, little albatross," he whispers back. "But sometimes, there ain't no other choice. A man who ain't willing to fight some – well, he's better off just laying down and dying. I don't aim to ever lay down."

She nods against his chest and murmurs, "Not like they did on Miranda. They all stopped fighting. And the ones that didn't became Reavers."

"That's true – but I don't aim on becoming a Reaver either. I'm just a man who knows that sometimes you gotta fight. You understand what I'm saying to you?"

"You won't ever give up," she responds.

"That's right," he agrees. "Don't mean I plan on fighting all the time, either – only when I need to, to keep me and mine safe from harm. But I ain't fighting right now, am I? I'm just sitting here and my girl is crying all over my shirt."

She lifts her gave to his face and smiles tremulously through the few remaining tears. "Am I? Am I really your girl?"

His hand lifts to her face, his thumb wiping away the moisture in the corners of her eyes. "You've been telling me so for months," he replies. "You trying to take it back?"

She shakes her head and her hair falls over her shoulder, draping across his wrist. "Why now?" she whispers.

He smiles at her, "Got tired of fighting you, is all."

Prompt: 020 – Still (list 2)

Word Count: 616

Progress: 21/100


He doesn't know how to be still, not even when he's sleeping. She is pressed against his uninjured side on the sofa and he is dreaming, but she can feel the twitch of his muscles as they rebel against their forced inertia. His eyes twist and roll under his lids and his mouth moves silently as he alternately mumbles or pleads to his dead.

Everyone thinks she is the broken one – even now – but she knows that is not the case. They went into her head and cut her brain; they made her think and do crazy, deadly things, but they never broke her – not really. Everyday, the girl inside her gets stronger. Her spirit is there; her essence is there – bruised and battered, beaten down, but never broken.

Not like him. He's been beaten down so many times, it's a wonder he's still standing. She sees him – into the very heart of him – how he's tried to put back the pieces they've managed to chip away. He's never managed to make them all fit again, and there are great chunks still missing. She trails a hand up his chest, feels the rhythmic beating of his heart, and wants to cry. He has lost so much over the years he tries to hold onto everything; never letting anything go – not even the memories that rip at him and make him bleed.

Zoe has tried to fix him, in her own way. She was there with him when they started beating him down. River knows that Zoe was broken as well; she and Mal – broken together. For the longest time, they had only each other to pick up the pieces – to remind the other what they were; to show each other what they could be again. The problem was, no matter how hard they tried they couldn't put each other back together properly.

It took Wash, and his gentle smile and manic humor and unrelenting love, to fix Zoe. He fixed her well; so well, in fact, that his death hasn't broken her again, even though it's made her bend. River thinks it's because he managed to fill all Zoe's cracks with memories of them – he's like the mortar which has patched her together; keeps her strong, keeps her pieces from scattering all over again.

River wonders, sometimes, if Mal will ever let her do that for him. She doesn't think he realizes yet how much she can help him. She knows him – sees his cracks and his holes – sees what he holds so tightly inside that it's tearing him apart. She wants to slide into him and help him let go of the things that need letting go and find places for the things he needs to keep.

Her hand is under his chin now, the backs of her fingers grazing lightly against the stubble of his jaw. His lashes rest thick and heavy against his cheeks and his battered, beloved face is slightly slack from sleep, although there is a muscle ticking sporadically just under his left temple.

It is five in the morning, and he fell asleep here last night while comforting her – holding her while she cried against his latest hurts. She knows he can't be comfortable like this, with her leaning against him and his injured side pressed into the arm rest of the sofa, but she doesn't want to wake him. He is warm and breathing. His arm is heavy around her shoulders. She can feel the rise and fall of his chest against her side.

And even though he's dreaming – always dreaming – she thinks the dream is a happy one because when she touched his face, he whispered her name.