A/N: So, these were a bit behind - like, by several years - and I also hadn't written anything for the Firefly fandom since 2006. However, I was rewatching the show the other day and got sucked right back in. Bunnies that haven't been fed for that long tend to be vicious, so I finally wrote part 25 (it's the last one here). There will probably, hopefully, be more - I just need to focus and try to find my words again. It's been a long time. Hope anyone caring to read this enjoys - this is part of a continuing series.
Prompt: 021 – Lonely (list 2)
Word Count: 783
He has always had the ability to be lonely, even when surrounded by people. He often thinks it's just the way he's made - unable to really connect with anyone, even though it seems people connect to him.
He ain't sure if lonely is even really the right word - because he's got friends. Leastways, he considers his crew friends, of a sorts. And there's Zoe - she's his friend, of that he is certain. Has been since the moment they met and survived their first battle together.
'Sides which, he's got his ghosts too - memories of his Ma, smiling at him and telling him to wash behind his ears, or holding back her tears as she proudly watched him head off to war. The ranch hands are there too, the men he grew up with - each one like a father; an uncle; a brother - showing him how to ride, how to work, how to hold everything inside and remain stoic, even when you have to shoot a favored horse or cull the herd of the weakest animals. And lastly he's got his men and women; the soldiers who died while under his command. Some of them - most of them towards the end, when soldiers were coming to him because they had no one else to lead them - he don't even know their names. But he knows their faces. He remembers how they died. And those memories are all jumbled up inside him - sometimes, he swears it's his Ma he sees, lying there in the dirt covered in blood - a hole blown through her belly.
How can a man be lonely with all them memories?
A hand traces his face, the skin of it soft against his jaw. A warm heat presses into him. He finds it comforting. Every night, he wanders the valley of the shadow of death, but ain't no one every really wandered it with him before. He wonders who it is, even as he sees old Gumbo, sitting in a bunker with his arms blowed off. Codger still has his boots on though; spurs still attached to his heels, even if they are rusted now. He sighs and shrugs; bows his head; fights back the bitter gall that rises in his throat as he wonders how much more one man can take. He doesn't think he can do this on his own. He's not strong like his Ma was - running a ranch on her lonesome; keeping him safe so he could grow up and fail her.
"Didn't fail her," a soft voice whispers beside him. "She's proud of you - sees the boy that was in the man you are. Sees the way you fight and care; wishes you would take some comfort where you could find it. Says the battle belongs to more than you now."
He ain't surprised when he realizes it's River, pressed against his side. "She tol' you that, little albatross?" His smile is wistful when he asks. "How come she don't talk to me when I see her?"
River wraps an arm around his waist,"Because you don't want to hear what she has to say. You'd rather think you let her down. You don't know how to live without guilt."
Mal thinks he should protest that, but he knows it's the truth so he keeps his mouth shut. Instead, he anchors her more firmly against his side and they continue walking.
Her presence beside him is a comfort. Sometimes he stops and points out the face of a friend, whispers a memory, smiling or frowning depending on what it is. She listens to it all, nodding and squeezing his hand when his words get lost on their way up his throat and lodge behind his eyes, making them water. They're almost at the end of the valley when he stops and turns to face her.
"How come you came with me tonight, little albatross? Ain't no one else ever wandered this valley with me before."
"I wanted to keep you company,"
she replies. "You don't have to be so lonely any more. You have me to share this with now. I'll help you bury your dead, if you'll let me."
Her hair flutters slightly in the wind, strands dancing across her eyes. He reaches up and brushes it back behind her ear, noting the way the calluses on his hand catch the silken threads of it. She leans into his palm, nuzzles it with her cheek and smiles at him.
"You mean I ain't alone no more?" he whispers.
"You never were," she replies.
Prompt: 022 – Hunger (list 2)
Word Count: 827
Mal wakes slowly, but with the certain knowledge someone is watching him. He's not in his bunk and for a moment – just a moment – his mind scrambles wildly, wondering where he is. It isn't until he realizes there's a soft body pressed against him and that his side is burning that he remembers.
Shit and double shit.
He blinks and his one arm tightens convulsively around River, who is nestled like a kitten against his chest. His eyes warily scan the room, coming to rest on Zoe who is leaning against the door to the galley, a half-smile on her face, even though her eyes are shuttered.
"Zoe," he mumbles, woolly-mouthed.
"Sir," she replies quietly.
He realizes he doesn't know what else to say. Shifting slightly, he tries to stretch without moving too much and waking River up. She mumbles something against his chest, and the arm she has thrown around his waist tightens imperceptibly. Mal notes the way Zoe calmly takes this all in.
"Just thought I'd let you know crew will be up and about soon, Sir. My turn to fix up breakfast this morning."
Mal nods. "Simon?"
"Should be here soon, Sir."
Zoe turns her back and heads over to the stove. Mal sighs. She won't ask. She ain't like that, but he sure would like to know what she's thinking right 'bout now.
"She's thinking you look like you slept for a change," River whispers against his chest.
She looks up at him, propping her chin against his sternum, but otherwise not moving. Her eyes are wide and brown, with just the slightest bit of dream-sand in the corners. There's a crease in her cheek from where her head had rested against his suspenders. Her hair is tangled and messy, and he don't think she's ever looked more beautiful.
After a moment, he smiles. "Don't recall ever sleepin' in here before. Sofa's more comfortable then it looks."
She nods and shifts away from him, raising her arms over her head and stretching like the kitten he'd compared her to earlier. He misses her warmth immediately. The arm he had wrapped around her shoulder falls, empty and useless, to his side. He wishes it weren't morning yet. He wonders if it would be like this, waking up with her every day.
"Better," she murmurs, smiling shyly at him. "We'd have blankets and pillows and privacy."
"Privacy," he whispers back.
"No Simon," she agrees.
With a sigh, she slides to her feet and drifts gracefully away from him. "He's not ready yet. Neither are you."
Ain't that the truth, Mal thinks to himself as he leans back against the sofa and closes his eyes. He don't rightly know if he'll ever be ready.
Whatever Zoe's cooking is sizzling on the stove, the sound reminds him of the thick-sliced bacon his Ma used to fry up every morning back at the ranch. Don't smell that way, a'course – smells like fried protein – but his stomach grumbles just the same.
He can't remember the last time he actually was looking forward to a meal. With a slight grin he moves to Zoe's side and looks into the pan. "Facon. Yummy."
"You alright, Sir?" Zoe asks, but he can hear the slight grin in her voice. "You seem pretty cheerful, for a man that spent the night on a lumpy sofa."
"Slept well," Mal shrugs, wincing slightly as the bandage on his side pulls at his skin. "Woke up hungry, for a change."
"This sleeping well going to become a habit, Sir?" His first mate asks gently. "Because if it is, I would suggest you don't sleep well in the common room, where everyone can see you."
They both turn when she says this and watch River set out the table. "I'm sure Simon wouldn't approve."
Mal grimaced at that. "Not sureIapprove," he replied honestly. "But don't know if I can stop it."
"Sometimes, that's the way it is, Sir," Zoe's voice is soft, full of tamped down grief. It ain't too hard to figure she's thinking about Wash.
"You miss him."
"I do," she agrees. "I feel empty without him. But at least I had him, for a while."
"He fed your soul," River offers quietly from the table, "took away the emptiness and filled it with himself. Made your heart full." Her eyes shine as she looks at Mal.
Something inside him warms at her words. He wants to walk over to her and run a hand through her hair, like he had last night in his dream. He wants to sit beside her again; wrap his arm around her and tuck her against his side; feel her warmth.
He wants to taste her; he wants her to be his.
Instead, he takes his normal seat and smiles at her as the rest of the crew clamber in for breakfast.
"I'm hungry," he says. "Let's eat."
Prompt: 023 – Vampire (list 2)
Word Count: 633
"So, you think the Reavers is all dead?" Jayne asks this gruffly, scratching under his chin as he sharpens one of his knives on a wet stone. "Ain't heard much about 'em lately, is all. Wonderin' if they was all killed when…well, you know."
Mal scowls at the question. "Don't rightly know. The Alliance been keeping quiet on the matter – hoping it all dies down and people will forget they're the ones as made them. There ain't been any reports over the Cortex 'bout them in months, so who knows. Could be."
"Monsters never really die," River inserts quietly from the doorway. Her sudden presence makes Jayne jump.
"Wo de ma, girl! Do you need to sneak up like that?"
"Wasn't sneaking, per se," River responds, "just walking very quietly."
Mal smirks and pushes the chair kitty-corner from him away from the table with his boot, nodding in subtle invitation. She grins as she sits down.
"What do you mean, monsters never die?" Jayne glares at her, belligerent. "You killed a bunch 'a Reavers – you trying to tell me they ain't dead?"
"Hearts stopped beating; blood stopped pumping…but the fear they created remains. They still live. Like Vampires and Zombies, they are legend."
"Why all this sudden interest in Reavers, Jayne? Didn't think they was something you'd ever want to think 'bout again." Mal asks.
"We're heading to Haven, is all." Jayne grumbles in reply. "First time we'll be going back since we buried everybody – buried Book and Wash. I ain't forgot how close to the edge of the 'Verse it is. Just don't want to be surprised."
Mal sighs at that and runs a hand across the back of his neck. "Don't suspect we will be. I'm sure the Reavers ain't all dead, but they got hit pretty hard. 'Sides which, no one's left alive on Haven, so why would they go there?"
Jayne perked up slightly at that. "True. I mean, they'd go where they could find people to eat, right? That's a relief."
"A relief that all our friends are dead? Book? Wash?" Like River's voice had earlier, Zoe's cold, grief-tinged words make Jayne jump.
The big man glances up at her, face remorseful. "Come on Zoe, you know that ain't what I meant…"
Zoe just glares at him, before walking over to the coffee pot heating on the stove, pouring herself a cup. "You should chose your words more carefully then."
"I just meant…hell, I don't wanna run into no Reavers, is all. Seen enough of them in this lifetime already."
Zoe's stance relaxes a bit at that, even though her mouth stays tight. "I hope they're all dead."
"River says they ain't. Says they'll never die – that they're monsters now."
River nods at this, "It's true. People will tell stories about them and they'll live. Things only die when their names are forgotten." The younger girl looks at Zoe and smiles shyly. "You don't have to worry about forgetting him. You don't need to see his name on a gravestone to prove he existed. He'll never leave you."
Zoe sighs at that. "It's just – I need to go see him. I need to talk to him." Her words are simple, but the banked grief behind them touches everyone in the room. Even Jayne bows his head.
After a moment of silence, the large merc admits quietly, "I talk to Book all the time. Don't need his grave to do that. All I do is think on him, wonder what he'd say or do – ask him. Makes me feel better."
"He was your friend," River states. "It's okay to talk to him." Her eyes drift to Zoe, before falling on Mal. "It doesn't mean you're crazy, if you talk to people you loved. It only means you miss them."
Prompt: 024 – Dreams (list 2)
Word Count: 626
Ain't no day, out in the black. Ain't no night either, just one long blur of space and stars; artificial light, and no true telling on the time, 'cepting what Mal's set the ships' chronometer on. 'S hard on a body to get used to, and once used to it, hard on a body to adjust when they're actually planet-side and having to deal with whatever the norm is there.
Mal feels like he could sleep for hours yet – if they were flying, he would be – but they're back on Haven, and his body is objecting almost as much as his mind and heart are. He's standing at the main cargo doors with the rest of the crew, waiting for it to open and dreading what he's gonna see when it does. He glances crossways at Zoe, to see how she's holding up, but the tight set of her shoulders and look of grim determination on his face tells him all he needs to know.
"Well, what are we hanging around for?" Jayne grumbles to his left. The big merc looks more ornery than usual, and is shifting Vera from left to right, as if he's expecting an attack the minute the doors open. "Standing here ain't doing much 'ceptin' making my tetchy."
Mal takes a deep breath and hopes no one notices that his hand shakes slightly when he pushes the button to open the doors. The sudden flash of sunlight momentarily blinds him, and by the time the spots behind his eyes have disappeared, the ramp is down and his little River is rushing past him in a blur of streaming hair and bare feet, arms wide open to the world.
The rest of them ain't so quick to follow.
By the time they do make it off-ship, River has already picked a handful of daisies and wild flowers, and is waiting for them, eyes closed and face tilted upwards. Mal finds himself watching her surreptitiously, letting his gaze travel around the outside world before finding their way back to lithe form. The rest of his crew has already moved past River, heading towards the cairns of their friends, but Mal finds he don't want to follow them without her. Instead, he moves to her side and mimics her position, lifting his face to the sun. The warmth of the rays is a welcome change from the artificial light inside the ship. Bit by bit, he feels the tension slide right outta his pores.
"This was a good place to leave them," River whispers beside him, her voice calm and reassuring. "Book always loved growing things, and Wash always did love the sun…"
Mal feels her hand slip into the crook of his arm, and he opens his eyes and looks down at her as they start following the rest of the crew. "You ready to go say hello to them yet, Albatross?"
"Said it already, when we landed," she murmurs. "Ran out and hugged them. Knew they were waiting for us." She cocks her head and smiles at him. "Book was asking me about you, but Wash was distracted – wanted to see Zoe."
"I imagine he did, little one," he agrees. "Only don't tell Zoe you're talkin' to Wash – this is gonna be hard enough on her already, without that."
"She knows," River smiles. "Can hear him in her heart; can feel his kisses in the warmth of the sun. "
Mal looks away at this, blinking against the sudden moisture in his eyes. "That so, little one? Than mayhap we should stay longer than just a few hours. Ain't got nothing so important demanding our time that a couple 'a days gonna hurt us any. Just might do us all some good."