A/N: Sixth in my series, this story begins about seven months after the incidents in the movie "Serenity", and about ten months after my last installment, "Family".
BOOK OF SECRETS
What they needed was a purpose.
Their problem was as easy to identify as it was difficult to actually solve. Malcolm Reynolds had had many hours alone at the helm to think about it these past months, and he could for the life of him not remember that they'd needed one before. Once upon a time 'find a crew, find a job, keep flying' had been sufficient enough.
Not anymore apparently.
He wondered why, seeing as the 'verse was pretty much the same as before. The Miranda broadcast hadn't brought on the changes he guessed he on some level had hoped or even expected it to. If there was one thing the gorram leaders of the Alliance were good at, it was cover-ups, and Mal guessed the people in the Core preferred to live their lives in blissful ignorance and therefore did not press the issue. The whole thing remained a series of unconfirmed rumors and a much-viewed vid of unknown origin on the Cortex.
Sometimes it seemed to Mal that the only people affected by this, was himself and his crew, though apart from the obvious – the devastating loss of Wash and Book – it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what the change was. In the seven months that had passed since then, they'd been laying low, shunning civilization. At first it was because they hadn't known how the rest of the 'verse would react to the news about the Reavers, and when that reaction never really came, they had just continued to lay low, because, come to think of it, had they ever done anything else?
The change was something else –
And why was he even pondering this question? He knew the answer.
It was the thrill. Or the lack of it.
The Miranda mission had been horrible, absolutely. But in the thick of it all, he'd felt it: The battle rush. That moment of total clarity, of calmness, of invincibility… of feeling important. That old familiar rush that had carried him through the war. It felt so good –
And so horrible afterwards when you came crashing back to reality.
Yup, he knew this feeling. He'd been to war again.
Shifting a little in the pilot's chair, he heard someone approach him from behind and he glanced over his shoulder to see Zoë enter the bridge, already knowing it would be her. At almost eight months pregnant one could easily recognize her by the small yet heavy footsteps. They nodded to each other, but spoke no words as they never had to. She took the co-pilot's seat, rubbing her stomach as she tried to get comfortable, while her eyes quietly drifted to the view port and the stars outside.
Mal gazed at the instruments in front of him and tweaked a few buttons just to look busy. He was no pilot, nor had he ever pretended to be one. He could fly Serenity, of course, because he loved her, but not with the grace and elegance Wash had exhibited. But he still hadn't managed to bring himself to hire someone new to fly the ship yet. He'd told himself it was because of Zoë, because he was worried about how it would affect her, but if he was to be completely honest, he knew he was just as much protecting himself. Hiring a new pilot would make the full force of reality come crashing down on them, as if it hadn't already.
His eyes grazed the dinosaurs still displayed at the helm. Judging by the thin layer of dust that now covered them, Zoë hadn't picked them up in a while.
Well, at one point they would have to move on. And right now he was pretty sure that Zoë would do a lot better than he would.
He glanced over at her and finally spoke, "Can't sleep?"
"I slept earlier," she replied, not looking at him.
"You could use the rest."
She sighed, just as a thin smile caressed her lips. "For the last time, sir, I'm pregnant, not sick or wounded." She finally tore her eyes away from the stars to look at him. "I came to check on you."
He mimicked her tiny smile. "Still lookin' out for me?"
"I'm still the first mate. It's my job."
"Well." He glanced back outside. "It won't be for long. We'll be on Beaumonde in 'bout ten hours time to pick up your… replacement, and then you can get started on your… er… maternity leave."
God, it felt strange to use that word! He was happy for Zoë, by all means. Wash's unexpected parting gift had pulled her through her grieving and helped her keep her focus during these difficult times. But the thought of a tiny, helpless person living onboard his ship… Sometimes it downright scared the hell out of him.
Not that he'd ever let her know.
"You don't seem too happy," she pointed out.
"I'm good," he assured her.
"You're wrinkling your nose, sir."
He sighed. "It's just… A new crewmember? Taking on new people don't usually bode well for us."
She smiled. "It's a good choice."
"Yeah, it better be, seeing as it was your recommendation."
"It'll be fine, sir."
"Well," he repeated. "It's only temporarily anyways."
She tensed. Not much, this being Zoë and all, but he still caught it. "What?" he said, frowning. Then the frown grew deeper. "It's not?"
"I wanted to tell you," she began, looking down at her hands resting on her swollen stomach. "I know I said I wanted to have the baby onboard and stay here afterwards. But I been thinkin'… that maybe… I won't."
Zoë usually had no problem telling him things to his face, and to hear her hesitate and stutter like this… He didn't like it.
When he didn't right away offer her any reply, she turned to meet his gaze. Her eyes were filled with emotion, something else that was quite unusual. "I used to think I could handle it," she explained. "But back when I dreamed of havin' a baby, this is not how I pictured it. Perhaps Wash…" She drew a sharp breath. "Perhaps Wash was right. Maybe this ain't the best place to raise a child? I…" She sighed again. "I just don't know."
"It's okay." He finally managed to find the words, and he tried with all his might to keep his voice neutral. Whether he succeeded or not, was a whole other question. "Take your time. I'll support you nonetheless. Jus' don't ever think you and your child don't belong here."
"I know," she nodded. "And I haven't decided yet. I just thought it fair you knew what I was thinkin' of."
She rose and carefully stretched her back. "I think I'll try and catch some shuteye anyhow." Frowning, she added, "If I can manage the ladder. Seriously, if you ever wanna experience what it's like not knowing your body at all, get pregnant."
He chuckled, but as she left the room the smile fell off his face, and all the gloomy thoughts that came with late night vigils returned.
Zoë had her purpose. All he needed was his.
A/N: And we're off, people! Finally!
For the last months I've been struggling with the writer's block that seems persistent to take hold of me from time to time. I'm not completely over it yet, but I know by experience that the start is always the hardest part, and so I'm posting the prologue now and hopefully it'll cure me :) But if the updates aren't as regular as usual, you know why.