Sins of the Past – Chapter Thirty One
Writer owns no part of Firefly, and intends no infringement. He writes only to torment others. . .wait, that doesn't sound right. . . . .
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"And we think that's why he was so intent on terrorizin' this parish, in particular." Mal finished his briefing for the council. It was three days since River had been injured. Things had been in an uproar for those three days, and Mal was tired. Evelyn had apparently been right.
They still didn't know who Ghoul really was, and likely never would. The brutal murder that had taken place nearly twenty years before had been a sensation then, but, as with all things, time slowly eroded the memories of such a horrific crime. Mal figured it would take more than twenty years for the Ghoul's return to fade away. There were so many unanswered questions. Who was the man, why had he killed the first girl, why had he continued to kill, all these years later? The list was endless. And would in all likelihood stay that way.
"And I want to take this opportunity to single out Evelyn for findin' all this information," he added.
"So the key to this horrible spree of murder was right under your nose the entire time, then?" Triple snorted. "I might have known."
"Yes, ma'am, you might've," Mal smiled at her, though it was far from a nice smile. "See, you, and the rest, ya'll were born and raised here. Like as not remember this happening. I had no way o' knowin', not 'til Evelyn brought it to my attention, that anything like this had ever happened before."
"Had I known," he finished, "might have made a difference."
"Are you implying. . . ."
"Oh, shut up, Marge!" Harmon Fuller snapped. Triple's face went red, but she fell silent. Fuller looked back to Mal.
"And with that," Mal looked at them, "I hereby tender you my resignation as Sheriff of Bickford Parish. The effective date isn't for another month yet, since Toby won't be really back on his feet good until then. That'll give him time to start trainin' his own replacement, and get used to bein' in charge."
"I'm sorry to see you go, Malcolm," Guilford said softly. "You've done a great deal for us."
"And got nothin' but pain and misery, and some back bitin' to show for it," Mal nodded, looking right at Triple.
"I'm afraid that's truer than I like to admit," Fuller agreed, having once been one of Mal's largest detractors.
"Well, anyway," Mal waved it all aside. "Like I said, the case is closed, and a long open cold case is closed as well. I wish we'd caught him sooner. Not just for our sake, but for everyone's."
Mal didn't look back as he left the meeting room.
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Simon saw River every day. She was healing very well, all things considered. Her mind, however, was firmly convinced that he had just rescued her from the clutches of the Academy. Jayne had not been to see her since the first time.
He didn't think he could bear it.
Chelsa had gone, once. Simon had hoped that seeing the teen would jolt River's memory. It hadn't. River had been very nice to her, but Chelsa feigned a meeting with her dad in order to leave soon after arriving. She managed to keep her tears at bay long enough to get out of the room, where Jayne wrapped her in a bear hug. He held her until her tears stopped. He didn't know what else to do.
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Mal drove up to Charles Witham's house that afternoon. When he got out of the car, he saw Witham waiting on the front porch. He limped up to stand just off the steps.
"How are you, Sheriff?" the man asked. He'd heard of what had happened to River, and knew she was like a daughter to Mal.
"I'm gettin' by, Mister Whitham," Mal answered honestly. "I came to tell you. . . ."
"You got him, I know," Whitham nodded. "Reckon everyone knows, by now."
"Well, that ain't exactly what I came to tell you," Mal looked at him. "Reckon I made you a promise, when I came to see you last. You remember?"
"I said I wouldn't hold you to it, Sheriff," Witham reminded him.
"And I appreciate that, sir," Mal nodded. "Thing is, though. . .thing is, I thought you'd want to know that he died hard." Witham looked at Mal for a long moment, and Mal refused to flinch.
"Yes, sir. And when I say hard, I mean he knew gut wrenchin' pain and terror 'fore he passed. It ain't much, I know, but I thought you should know."
"Thank you," the older man said softly. "I reckon that makes me a poor Christian, bein' glad of another's sufferin', but it's a comfort to know."
"I'll be goin' sir," Mal nodded. "Like I said, I wanted you to know."
"I appreciate that, Sheriff," Witham almost smiled.
Don't reckon he smiles much, anymore, Mal thought to himself as he made his way back to his car.
Reckon I know how he feels.
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Jayne worked himself into a near stupor every day, trying to avoid any down time. If he let himself sit and think, he became despondent. Not a good thing at all, he reasoned.
Zoe had made three runs in a row to give him time to try and work through things. Much as he appreciated it, he knew it couldn't keep going like that. Orders were almost to the point that they were backing up. He'd have to decide soon what he was going to do.
That evening, he called Chelsa outside. The two of them were in this together, he figured, so she should have a say.
"I know you been wonderin' what's gonna happen now," Jayne told her. She nodded, a sudden shadow of fear crossing her face. "Well, I been wonderin' myself. I figure we need to make the decision together. I don't aim to split us up, unless that's what you want. If it is, that's fine, and I understand. 'm sure Inara or Kaylee. . . ."
"No, daddy!" Chelsa exclaimed. "I don't. . .I mean, I like them all just swell and all," she stammered. "But no, I don't want us to split up. I want to stay with you, whatever you decide." Jayne smiled slightly.
"Then that's what you'll do," he nodded, his voice ringing with finality. "Now, what are we gonna do?" Chelsa was taken aback by the question, and blinked at him.
"I. . .I don't know," she shrugged at last. "I just sorta figured we'd keep on. . .keepin' on?" Her expression drew a chuckle from Jayne. He realized it was the first time in a long while that he'd laughed, and it felt good. So good, in fact, that it turned into a laugh. Chelsa stared at him for a moment, non-plussed at the behavior. Then, suddenly, she too was laughing. Soon the two of them were almost howling with laughter, tears in their eyes.
"Oh, goodness," Chelsa said as they finally got themselves under control. "I needed that!"
"Me too, princess," Jayne nodded. "Me too. But, we still need to decide what we're aimin' to do. You want to keep on shippin' on Companion? It'll be hard, girl. Ever time we turn around, there's gonna be somethin' there to remind us o' what we lost."
"Maybe," the girl nodded. "But, won't that help us, too? I mean, won't having those memories make sure we never really lose her?" Jayne looked at her.
"You know, I hadn't thought about it like that," he admitted, after a moment. "I guess. . .I guess all I could think about was not bein' able to have her with us, real like. You got a good point."
"So we'll keep goin?" Chelsa asked.
"You know we'll have to get a pilot," he warned. "Least for a while. You ain't licensed. We'll see what needs doin' to get you that way. Might mean having to go live on Astra for a little while, happen they want you to have schoolin'."
"But I can fly right now!" Chelsa protested.
"Not without a licensed pilot with you, which we ain't got," Jayne shook his head. "At your age, they ain't gonna believe you can fly, and they won't be willin' to just take our word for it, neither." Chelsa's lip popped out in a pout at that.
"Don't try that on me," Jayne told her. "Ain't my rules, and I can't change'em. We'll have Inara or Zoe check into it. Maybe you can challenge the test, and go around the schoolin' part. Mind you," he added, "the schoolin' might not be a bad thing, ya know. Like as not learn a good deal there. And River won't be here to teach you no more, like before. I can't fly a kite, let alone a space ship." Chelsa giggled at that.
"I'll do whatever I have to, if it means I keep flying," she told him.
"Well, then we'll see what we'll see, I guess."
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Jayne was waiting for Zoe when Serenity set down the next afternoon. When she saw him waiting, she waved, and walked over to where he stood.
"How you doin', Jayne?" she asked.
"I'm makin' it, I reckon," Jayne shrugged. Zoe patted his arm briefly.
"Wanted to talk to ya 'bout the girl," Jayne told her after a minute. Zoe nodded.
"What about her?"
"We decided to stay," he said bluntly. "She wants to keep on, and I reckon that's what we'll do. Thing is, we ain't got a pilot. Girl can fly, long as nothin' don't happen, but she ain't got a license."
"Well," Zoe chewed her lip for a minute, "we'll have to see about gettin' her one, I guess. Meantime, you need a pilot." Jayne nodded.
"Let me talk this over with Mal, I guess," she told him. "Or Inara," she added with a grin. "Be more likely to get an answer from her. And she may want to fly for you a spell, comes to that. I know she misses the black, sometimes."
"That'd do fine," Jayne readily agreed. "Anyway, we're ready, all but that." Zoe nodded again.
"Might see if 'Becca wants to fly you this trip," she decided. "I won't make it an order. We're wore thin. Ain't used to workin' no more," Zoe was almost sheepish.
"I know that feelin'," Jayne agreed. "If she's willin', we can leave when ever, I guess. Let me know."
"Alright." The two parted, but Zoe looked back.
"Jayne?" He stopped, turned to face her.
"I know where you're at," she told him flatly. "Been there, done that. You need to talk, you know where I am, right?" Jayne smiled slightly at that.
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"What do you think?" Wart turned to look at Susan. She was finally being released from the hospital today. She had cut her hair short, trying to make up for the fuzz just now growing back in the left side of her head. She was still about half angry about her hair, but, as Wart had pointed out, she could live with it considering the alternative.
"You're beautiful, always," he said simply. She shot him a dazzling smile. He gathered her things and the two of them started out.
"Reckon we need a job," Blade said. "I'm out of the law business. And the merc business too. For good."
"Both of us," Wart nodded.
"What are we going to do?" she asked him, more curious than worried. They had a good nest egg to see them through slow times. But it wasn't that much, and would run out in a hurry with both of them not working.
"I don't know," Wart shrugged. "But I got a good feeling. Let's just see what's what, and then consider our options."
The two of them walked outside, to find Mal and Inara waiting for them.
"Heard tell there was a beautiful woman leavin' the hospital today," Mal grinned. "And an ugly boar, too," he added, making a face at Wart.
"Har de har," Wart mumbled, but he grinned when he said it.
"What are you two doing here?" Blade asked, after taking a hug from both Mal and Inara.
"Oh, we was in the neighborhood," Mal shrugged.
"We came to see how River was doing," Inara told her, shaking her head. "And to see the two of you."
"Toby said you two had already told him you wouldn't be stayin' on," Mal looked at them. "That gonna be the case?"
"Yeah," Wart sighed. "We're done. No more work o' this kind for us. Time to think about somethin' else. Somethin' safe," he emphasized.
"Makes good sense to me," Mal nodded. "Got any prospects?"
"Not at the moment," Blade shook her head. "Just a prospect of a ride home, if you'll give us a lift."
"What we was waitin' for," Mal smiled, opening the back door of the car. "Meanwhile, what you two aim to do?"
"Got any ideas?" Wart asked.
"Well," Inara said thoughtfully, "can either of you fly?"
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Simon usually visited Jayne at least every other day or so in person. Just to see how he was. Jayne was working out when Simon arrived. He watched quietly as his brother in law worked himself into an exhausted stupor at the weight bench.
Jayne stopped, looking at the ramp. Simon almost chuckled at that. Jayne's senses were as reliable as any gift River had been born with.
"Hello, Jayne," Simon called, walking onto the ship.
"Hey, Simon," Jayne nodded. "Everything okay?"
"She's fine, other than. . . ." Simon trailed off.
"Yeah," Jayne nodded. "So how you makin' it, Simon?"
"Day by day," Simon shrugged. "There's nothing I can do, right now, anyway. She has to heal physically before we can try and mend her in other ways. It will be several more days before she's even allowed on her feet." Jayne nodded. He knew how badly she was injured.
"We haven't really had a chance to talk, just the two of us," Simon said, taking a seat on a shipping crate. "I wanted to ask you something. . . ."
"He suffered," Jayne said softly. "In ways you can't imagine. Not enough, ta my mind, for what he did. But he suffered." Simon nodded.
"As a doctor, I should be appalled, I guess," the young doctor sighed. "But I can't be. Not this time. I wish I had been there to see it, sometimes. And once in a while, I wish I had done it myself." He paused before adding, "I honestly don't know if I can keep doing what I do with that frame of mind." Jayne looked at him.
"What? What the hell are you talking about?" the larger man stood, towering over his brother in law.
"Jayne, my oath. . . ."
"Don't mean nothin', and I mean nothin', weighed alongside your family, Simon," Jayne ground out. "You was raised in a polite society. All fancy and straight and proper. I'm convinced was you still in the core, you'd be on your way to becoming an important man, if you wasn't already. But out here," Jayne's arm swept the surroundings off the ship, "here, it's different. There ain't nothin' wrong with your attitude, Simon. You're a damn good doctor, and I'm willin' to bet there ain't another like you in this system, let alone on this moon." He stopped for a minute, taking a deep breath.
"People need you, Simon," he continued more calmly. "They need you. You've done more good in your time here, and on the boat, than you would have ever done in the Core. You've touched the lives of people you ain't never to see again, and they're better for it. I don't want to hear anymore, ever, 'bout you ain't fittin' to be a doc. You got that?" Simon gaped at him for a moment, then suddenly, he smiled.
"You complimented me, Jayne."
"Yeah, well," Jayne seemed flustered suddenly, "don't get accustomed." Then, just as suddenly, he grinned too. Simon stood, shaking his head.
"I want you to know," he said suddenly, "even if River. . .if she never. . .what I mean to say is, Jayne. . . ."
"We'll always be family, Simon," Jayne nodded.
"Yes, that was. . .yes," Simon stopped finally.
"Whatever she needs, she gets," Jayne said suddenly, clearing the air of the sentiments both men felt. "Cost ain't no object. If she don't never remember the two of us being married, it don't change nothin'. She gets the best care you can get her. The one thing we got is money." Simon frowned.
Jayne studied him a moment, then shrugged.
"Book left me a pile o' money when he died," he said softly. "And I mean a pile. I'll spend every penny of it on her, if that's what it takes." It was only partly the truth, but Jayne couldn't bring himself to share River's secrets with anyone. Not even Simon. He'd have to think on that some more, first. His own secret, he figured, wasn't an issue anymore.
"I had no idea," Simon shook his head. "Why. . .why did you stay?" The look on Simon's face was one of pure bewilderment.
"Book asked me to."
And it was that simple. Someone close to Jayne, someone he trusted, had asked him to. "To look out for all of you. Said it was my moral obligation, or some such."
"And you. . .you just did it?"
"You never cease to amaze me, Jayne," Simon was shaking his head. Suddenly, his head snapped up.
"Yes," Jayne nodded. "I gave the money to Kaylee's family. I'd rather you didn't tell her."
"Jayne, that was. . .that was fifty thousand platinum!"
"A tithe," the bigger man shrugged. "A drop o' water from a lake.
They needed it. I didn't."
"My great stars," Simon was shaking his head. "Jayne Cobb, Secret Santa."
"I'd really rather she not know," Jayne repeated. "I know you would have figured it out, and I had to tell you about the money sooner or later, because of River. But ain't no need o' Kaylee and her kin knowin' where that money came from."
"I won't tell," Simon assured him. "That was an incredibly nice, generous thing you did, Jayne." Jayne shrugged.
"Kaylee reminds me a lotta my sister," Jayne said softly. "Always had a soft spot for her. Reminded me o' home." Simon started at that.
"I. . .I had no idea."
"No one else does, either," Jayne told him. "Keep it that way."
"I will. I hate to go, Jayne, but I need to check on. . . ."
"Go, and take care. We'll ship out tomorrow, they find us a pilot. See you when we get back, that happens."
"Why?" Simon asked, confused. "Why are you still working?"
"Girl wants to," Jayne said honestly. "Can't take it from her. Not now, no way. Mebbe after a while." Simon nodded. He had really underestimated the man before him.
"Fly safe, Jayne."
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Jayne was surprised to see Mal's car pulling up to the pad the next morning. He was even more surprised to see Blade and Wart with Mal, and Inara.
"Mornin' Jayne," Mal called. Jayne nodded.
"Mornin', Captain." Mal didn't miss the fact that it was 'Captain' again, but said nothing. He figured he deserved it.
"You ready to fly?" Mal asked.
"Ready as can be, 'thout no pilot," Jayne nodded. "We're loaded already. Zoe said somethin' 'bout Becca takin' us."
"I'm going," Inara told him, holding up her travel bag.
"So are we, beef head," Wart told him. "I want the fuss kept to a minimum, too, or I'll gnaw your ear off."
"Where ya headed?"
"To the galley, idjit," Wart told him. "I'm hungry." Jayne watched Wart disappear up the stairs, then looked back at Mal.
"Found a new pilot, and a new hand," Mal smiled.
"What about Liam?" Jayne asked.
"Ain't replacin' him," Mal shook his head. "Blade ain't in no shape for no tussel at the moment, and Inara will be teachin' her the finer points o' flyin' this fine vessel. And keepin' little one caught up, too," he added.
"Once Susan gets the hang of things," Inara told him, "then I'll be gone. It will be time for me to open my school, by then."
"Huh," was all Jayne could come up with.
"Well, I hate to leave good company," Mal said, giving Inara a kiss and a hug, "but I got a lot of people I need to irritate today, seein' as how I won't be Sheriff much longer."
"Makin' friends all the time, ain't ya, Mal?" Jayne shook his head. And suddenly, for just a moment, it was like old times. The moment passed, but he was grateful for it.
No more so than Mal, however.
"I'll leave you to it," Mal said, heading for his car. "Fly safe, ai ren."
"Will do," Inara assured him. Blade gathered her things and started for the passenger dorms. Inara waited, wanting to speak to Jayne alone.
"Is this alright with you, Jayne?" she asked. He looked at her, and smiled just a bit.
"Reckon since you're practically the owner, it'll just have to be, now won't it," he replied, the slight smile growing into a grin.
"Life does go on," Inara reached out and touched his arm.
"So it does," Jayne agreed, closing the ramp up. "So it does. And we keep on keepin' on."
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And so this story of revenge comes to an end. Will River ever recover? I don't know. Is this the end of the Shade 'verse? I don't know that either.
I do have an idea for one more story, if River can regain her memory. I won't promise another, since every time I make you a promise about fanfic it flops. It's honestly not always my fault. Really. If you'd like another story, let me know. The only reason I do fanfic, at least anymore, is because people enjoy it. If you aren't enjoying it, then I'm not doing it right, and there's no point boring you.
I had no idea, so many years ago, when I wrote the first Shade fic that it would grow into so large a story. It literally took on a will of it's own, growing in my mind, and on the computer screen, until the depth of the story, and the characters seemed almost to come to life in my head. It's been an incredible journey, and one that I wouldn't have made without all of you, and your encouragement.
Meanwhile, don't forget my blog. I plan to add the first few chapters of another novel I'm working on, since my first is finished, and in the editing stage. After that, it will go to the publisher for the first in what I figure will be a long line of 'thanks anyway' letters, lol. But you never know.
Thanks to all of you for your comments, compliments, criticisms, and most of all, your patience.