This is why Mal feels comfortable enough saying this out loud as he pours tea with an unsteady hand.
"Why is it that me sayin' I can't say 'never again' is getting automatically translated as 'We Will Do This Again'? Ain't like I'm not gonna try to avoid it 'fore goin' anywhere near that again, Wash..."
Several lumps of sugar into the teacup.
"'Tween the hallucinations you had no clue I was havin' and the Alliance just beggin' for a chance to catch hold of all of us, I did what I had to."
"...And I'm sorry."
Mal moves with his teacup toward one of his favorite chairs in the kitchen. "Now all I got to do is figure out how to say that in front o' you."
Inara. Just her name makes Mal smile. And for that, ladies and gentlemen, Mal feels like shit.
He is managing to climb the stairway to Inara's shuttle more quickly now as he is healing quite nicely. He retreats to Inara's shuttle far more often now, and pulls the shuttle hatch open. It's a little more...bendy than Mal is normally used to.
Can it really be true? After all this time...
With more than a fair amount of trepidation, Mal enters somewhere he hasn't been for what seems to him to have been a long time.
Sitting in the pilot's chair, Mal adjusts the T-Rex - Crichton - on the dashboard, prepping the pre-flight sequence while being completely aware of the presence in the co-pilot's chair.
"You gonna ride shotgun, help me fly?"
He's checking around for the last of the tools just outside the open cargo bay door, moving things back inside and getting ready to close up.
All it takes is one footfall from the man that has been watching him for the past few minutes for his hand to fly to his gun. Without turning to face him, Mal shouts, "If you're here to tell me we ain't finished, then we will be real quick."
The Operative doesn't step toward Mal. "Do you know what an uproar you've caused? Protests, riots - cries for a recall of the entire Parliament."
Mal finally turns, adding, "We've seen the broadwaves."
"You must be pleased."
"'Verse wakes up a spell. Won't be long 'fore she rolls right over and falls back asleep. It ain't my worry."
"I can't guarantee they won't come after you," the Operative finally steps closer. "The Parliament. They have a hundred men like me and they are not...forgiving."
"That don't bode especially well for you. Giving the order to let us go; patchin' up our hurt."
"I told them the Tams were no longer a threat - damage done. They might listen, but I think they know I'm no longer...their man."
Mal picks up a rag from the toolbox he had been carrying and wipes his hands. "They take you down, I don't expect to grieve overmuch. Like to kill you myself, I see you again."
The Operative smiles, almost...human, to Mal's eyes. "You won't. There is nothing left to see." This garners him an odd look from Mal, and they almost turn their seperate ways, but then the Operative adds, "'Serenity'. You lost everything in that battle. Everything you had, everything you were...how did you go on?"
Mal continues walking up the cargo bay ramp and hits the button to close it, eyeing the man on the outside.
"You still standing there when the engine starts, you will never figure it out."
The door closes between Mal and the Operative, and Mal moves further into the cargo bay, toward Zoe walking to meet him.
To himself, almost accidentally, but ringing true: "What a whiner..."
Well, that's what it sounds like, but it's really a two-legged man with a metal-tipped cane rapping against the grating of the main corridor.
He's a friendly one though, so no worries there. He may have a little trepidation in his voice though, when he calls into the engine room to see if Kaylee's in there.
"How's things goin'?"
"I'm not going anywhere." she had said.
Nobody better go anywhere, gorramit. The lift doors close.
The black room is blacker than usual. As Mal turns the corner to head to the nearest broadwave port, he finds a severe lack of any broadwave anything appearing to be functional. All of it's been destroyed.
"No..." is the only moan Mal can pull off at surveying the damage, looking down to see...a trail of blood, leading from Mr. Universe's chair, to the couch where he had finally died, curled up next to his lovebot.
Almost not believing it necessary, Mal bends down to pay a second of respect for the man. He turns to leave, but a quick spoken "Mal --" stops him.
"Guy killed me, Mal," the recorded message plays through Lenore. "He killed me with a sword. How weird is that? I got...a short span here...they destroyed my equipment, but I have a backup unit, bottom of the complex, right over the generator." Mal finally lets himself flicker a smile. "Hard to get to. I know they missed it. They can never stop the signal. They can never...stop..." Lenore's head rolls back toward Mr. Universe, and Mal sprints off.
"Hard to get to?" Mal repeats to himself once he gets to the generator room. There's no walkway to the unit in the center of the room, above a generator with more spinning and death-causing parts than he cared to think on, chains hanging haphazardly from the ceiling, and a horizontal set of ladder rungs strung from one end to the other.
"That's a fact." Mal takes his jacket off, climbing precariously onto the railing in order to jump to the ladder rung. He promptly falls down again onto his back when he gets a laser burn straight at his spine.
Owwww. Mal stands as quickly as possible, turning to face the Operative sneakyass hun dan and gives him a painful smile. Piss him off.
"--Shot me in the back. I haven't...made you angry, have I?"
"There's a lot of innocent people in the air being killed right now."
Mal shakes his head. "You have no idea how true that is," he returns, straightening himself up for a fight. "I know the secret. The truth that burned up River Tam's brain and set you after her. And the rest of the 'verse is gonna know it too."
Flat. "Do you really believe that?"
Believe. Whatever you have to.
"You willing to die for that belief?"
Don't look don't look
Mal draws his gun first, and fires - again - again - push him back - again - again.
"'Course that ain't exactly plan A." Holstering the gun quickly, Mal jumps to the ladder rung and moves hand over hand to the backup unit. The Operative has recovered though and catches up to him, placing a kick to the same laser burn from earlier, making Mal drop onto a chain loop. Kick him! Before Mal can, the Operative flips a lever that makes Mal's chain drop and send him smacking into the plexiglass platform, forcing him to scramble upward.
The Operative doesn't give Mal room to breathe, not that Mal expected him to. He manages to draw his gun again before it gets kicked out of his hand somewhere near the base of the backup unit before Mal and his attacker exchange blow after blow, one of the Operative's landing square in Mal's eye, causing stars to float in his vision as blood vessels pop. When the Operative turns - Mal knows what's coming - to pick up his sword, Mal fishes out the only pointy he can find - a bitty screwdriver.
Spinning, moving, blow and parry and thrust - Mal stabs the Operative in the hand with the screwdriver - then a bigger thrust and slow exhalation as the Operative runs Mal through the belly with his sword.
Finally showing exertion, the Operative spits, "You know what your sin is, Malcolm?"
Eyes still wide, Mal smiles weakly. "Aw hell - I'm a fan of all seven." Mal headbutts the Operative, forcing him backward before punching him, sending the Operative down. With a sickly liquid sound, Mal pulls the sword out and holds it above this...monster.
"Right now, I'm gonna have to go with Wrath." Mal thrusts down, but the Operative rolls and kicks Mal's knees out from under him, punching him in his stomach wound.
Mal doesn't have the adrenaline anymore to put up a good fight, with the Operative kicking him in the face and stomach, finally standing him up, and piercing Mal's right side with his hands. For a moment, Mal can't move, can't do anything.
"I'm sorry," the Operative starts, picking up his sword.
Mal twitches his right hand, unnoticed by his attacker.
"You should know there's no shame in this. You've done...remarkable things, but you're fighting a war, you've already lost." Mal watches him come toward him with his sword, completely unexpecting Mal to palm his arm over and twist his swordhand, elbowing him in the neck.
"Well, I'm known for that." As serious as death, Mal spins the Operative and puts him in a full nelson - the kind that breaks your arms at the shoulderblades - and sits him against a railing. Picking up the Operative's sword, Mal informs, "Piece of shrapnel tore up that nerve cluster...in the war." Bending to meet the Operative's eyes, "Sorry about the throat. Expect you'd wanna say your famous last words now. Just one trouble." Mal uses the Operative's own sword to lock him in place against the railing.
"I ain't gonna kill you."
Standing, Mal makes quick work of prepping the backup unit for a system-wide broadwave. "Hell, I'm gonna grant your greatest wish." The cylinder clicks into place and alights. "I'm gonna show you a world without sin."
Mal gives the Operative one short disdainful glare, but he doesn't notice. He's too horrified by the transmission playing on the twenty screens in front of him to care about Mal.
One push of the controls on the backup unit extends a small plate-bridge from Mal to the other side as he picks up his gun and straightens himself to rejoin his crew, one hand to his stomach.
He never looks back.
It only took looking out through the windscreen of the ship to see he was right. Every single visible building was broken and torn apart, and any bodies visible weren't moving. No way they could have moved, what with most of them having bullet wounds in numerous places.
The burning Alliance ship that had crashed in one corner of Mal's plane of view wasn't moving either.
Jayne surveys everything at once before the rest of the crew even step off the ship. Mal hears Kaylee calling out for Book, but Mal doesn't understand how she could really expect an answer from anyone out here. Mal moves away from the crew instead, Jayne moving close beside him, half-running behind a bunker with the cannon mount, finding Shepherd Book crew laying broken beside it.
"Get the Doc," Mal barks, and at once Jayne disappears. Mal puts down his gun to take Book's hand, not noticing the blood that covered it.
"Shepherd...Don't move." Just don't, dong ma?
"Won't go far..."
"Shouldn't've been you," Mal chokes at him. "I'm so sorry, it was...they should've hit us. They should have hit me."
"You'll lose, you'll always lose. You already have lost."
"That crossed my mind." Book coughs, bringing up a faint spray of blood. His head tries to roll toward the Alliance ship, telling Mal, "I shot him down--"
"I killed the ship...that killed us. Not...Not very Christian of me."
Mal's jaw sets so as not to fall to pieces. "You did what's right."
Book's dark eyes set to Mal's, not entirely unkindly, "Coming from you, that means -- almost nothing." Book lets out a groan of pain. "I'm long gone..."
"No," Mal charges. "No, you're not. Doc'll bring you 'round. I look to be bored by many more sermons 'fore you slip - Don't Move ---"
"You can't order me 'round, boy - I'm not one of your crew..."
It is becoming very hard to see clearly for Mal. "Yes you are." Of course you are.
Book raises his hand to the left side of Mal's neck, smearing blood. "You...It's on you now. All this death, this shit...you have to find a course. This can't mean nothing. River...you have to..."
Mal can't not stare at Book with a newly-found horror. And fear, oh aye. Fear.
"I don't care what you believe! Just...believe it." Book coughs again, languishing. "Whatever you have to..."
The sound of Book's breathing slows...slows. And stops. Book's hand falls, and Mal can feel the hot blood on his face. He stands as he hears Jayne and the Doc coming, but Mal can't look at them yet. All he sees is Book friend crew on the ground. Dead.
"Zoe," Mal hears Jayne start in restlessness, "How come they ain't waitin'? They know'd we was comin', how come they only sent one?"
Zoe voices the conclusion they both reach. "They didn't know we would come here -- Wash, get on the Cortex. Wave Li Shen, the Sanchez brothers - anyone who has ever sheltered us after a heist. Tell them to get out. Get out now."
All Mal can do is stare at the vidscreens on the bridge. Sanchez boys were down, Li Shen, everyone - gone. Mal doesn't know how much time went by before all seven vidscreens he had been watching changed to the same feed of the Operative, looking...stern.
"I'm sorry," came the shockingly sincere-sounding apology.
"You - what?"
"If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to," the Operative explains cooly. "You should have taken my offer - or did you think none of this was your fault?"
"I don't murder children."
"I do. If I have to."
"Why?" I need to know. "Do you even know why they sent you?"
"It's not my place to ask. I believe in something that is greater than myself," came his explanation. Like a schoolteacher instruction. "A better world. A world without sin."
Do you know what your sin is, Captain?
"So me and mine got to lie down and die so you can live in your better world?"
Again with the schoolteacher voice, correcting the slowest child in the class. "I'm not going to live there. How could you think - there's no place for me there, any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I'm a monster." At least Mal and the Operative agree on something. "What I do is evil, I have no illusions about that, but it must be done."
Mal looks to the one remaining open vidscreen to check the comm status. "Keep talkin' - you're not getting a location trace off this wave."
"And every minute you keep River Tam from me more people will die."
You think I care?!"
The Operative vaguely nods in response. "Of course you do. You're not a reaver, Mal. You're a human man and you will never--"
Mal cuts all power to the bridge comm off, all screens going blank.
"The Lord is frequently known to favor those who execute an unexpected sneak attack with heavy weaponry, skilled soldiers, and solid tactics."
Captain Reynolds has a plan.
Inara and Mal make it to the kitchen first, and Inara sits while Mal waits at the head of the table for everyone else to arrive. For as shaken as everyone is, Mal takes the moment to look straight at Kaylee and smile. He can only hope she understands.
The cylinder was sitting on the table since Mal had walked in the room, and he picks it up now. "This report is maybe twelve years old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried 'til River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear, 'cause there's a universe of folk that are gonna know it too. They're gonna see it. Somebody...has to speak for these people."
What do you think of that?
The crew is waiting for Mal to keep going, looking at him either like he's crazy or that he's finally sane; Mal can't decide which.
"You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm askin' more of you than I have before. Maybe all - as sure as I know anything I know this: They Will Try Again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground, swept clean. A year from now, ten, they will swing back to the belief that they can make people..." Mal pauses, eyeing River with a sudden clarity. "better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running.
"I aim to misbehave."
A long beat, where everyone just seems to be analyzing what Mal has just said.
Mal, at least this time, has ended up on a hillside with Shepherd Book, flask in hand, trading stories of their own.
"...This isn't a palms-up military run, Mal. No reports broadwaved, no warrants...much as they want her, they want her hid. That means Closed File. Means an Operative, which is trouble you've not known."
Mal's face gains a more serious pall. "I coulda left her there. On Beaumonde. I had an out - hell, I had every reason in the 'verse to leave her lay and haul anchor."
Book moves back into Mal's view full-on as he says, "Not your way, Mal."
"I have a way?" Slightly incredulous. "That better than a plan?"
"Listen, you can play the thug all you want, but there's more to you than you're ever like to 'fess."
Mal shakes a finger at Book. "You just think that 'cause my eyes is all sorrowful and pretty."
"Only one thing is gonna walk you through this, Mal." A pause. "Belief."
Mal's face falls to almost a scowl.
"Worship God because you believe he's real, because you had an epiphany, because you were raised to. But not because you want to be happy."
"Once upon a time you told me I was happier not believin' in God, Shepherd. Somethin' change your mind?"
Book almost looks fed up, making a face at Mal as though he were some petulant child. "When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?" No interruption from Mal as Book stares out to the bonfire below them both. "Besides, we're a long way past worrying about happy. It's down to survival now, Mal. They will come for you--and they'll come at you sideways. It's how they think: sideways. It's how they move. Sidle up and smile, hit you where you're weak." Bringing his gaze back to Mal, Book states, "Sorta man they're like to send believes hard. Kills and never asks why."
Mal says nothing for a long two or three beats, taking a draught of his flask. "It's of interest to me how much you seem to know about that world."
"I wasn't born a Shepherd, Mal." A smile. Maybe. If Book felt like letting you read it that way.
"Have to tell me about that some time."
Looking back to the bonfire, an answer came: "No I don't." A hand to Mal's shoulder as a reminder before Book goes down to join the others: "Sideways."
As soon as Serenity is hidden away, Mal flies off to the Training House in Inara's old shuttle.
Getting in was easier than expected. This did not cheer Mal at all, even if he did smile to himself at seeing Inara in the flesh again.
Still in the oversized red shawl that Inara had left in her shuttle, Mal kneels beside her, head still covered.
"Dear Buddha, please send me a pony, and a plastic rocket, and ---"
Inara smiles back gracefully, accepting the tea. "They're very sweet. But they're not Companions."
A playful scoff from the older woman, offering, "You've no hope for them? Junk the lot, start anew?"
In return, Inara glares a wee bit before continuing, "On Sihnon we started training at twelve. Years of dicipline and preparation before the physical act of pleasure was even mentioned. Most of these girls--"
"They're all of good family, the highest academic standards---"
"Control," Inara interrupted. "Control was the first lesson. And the last and these worlds are not like the Central Planets. There is barbarism dressed up in the most civil weeds. Men of the highest rank who don't know the difference between a Companion and a common whore. It's unsafe."
"All the more reason the girls look to you," Sheydra says again, finishing her tea. Putting her cup down alongside the pot, she continues, "You came out here alone, before the Alliance ever thought to establish a House this remote. You've seen so much. You're a figure of great romance to them."
"Great romance has nothing to do with being a Companion, Sheydra," Inara curtly replies. "You should know better."
"Well, I'm not the one who had a torrid affair with a pirate." A not-so-small grin.
Inara uses all of her training to not sputter her tea out over Sheydra. "A who? With a what?"
Sheydra grins widely. "It's the talk of the House. The girls all trade stories in the dorms at night."
"I didn't...have a pirate..." Really? Inara forces an image out of her brain of Mal on a ship of the oceans of Earth-that-Was, all...oooh, stop doing that.
"In one of the stories you make love in a burning temple. I think that's my favorite."
Inara sighs loudly. If only. "This is unbearable. Captain Reynolds is no pirate; he's a petty thief. And he...told me to leave didn't want me there in the first place." Inara now is attempting very hard to avoid eye contact with Sheydra.
"A year on his shuttle and he never wanted you there. I somehow doubt that." She's still smiling, gorram her...did I just think gorram?
Inara regains some fraction of her composure and waves her hand dismissively. "Go away. We're no longer friends. You're a stranger to me now."
Sheydra does nothing except laugh aloud and rub a hand amiably across Inara's shoulder. "I do love to watch you boil. Don't worry; the stories will fade. And your Captain Reynolds has probably gotten himself blown up by this time."
Sheydra, seeing one of the students in the classroom behind Inara wave to her for assistance, smiles in passing to Inara before leaving.
Inara, looking out over the mountain landscape of such a beautiful training house, ponders Sheydra's last words. "Yes," she says to herself with a wistful voice, "That would be just like him."
The ship - his home, his love - is being repaired. Physically at least. Mal spent as much time as he could on both the inside and the outside of the ship, cleaning and clearing and making whole again. Mal's giving Zoe the widest berth possible, not wanting her to have to see him in Wash's place. Kaylee and Simon are off together, hopefully making each other as happy as they deserve to be. Jayne has been...well, Jayne. Mal sometimes feels like he should poke his head in at him, see what he's up to, but then he thinks about Jayne smoking his favorite type of stogie at Wash's funeral and smiles. Jayne'll be okay. And Inara, well...Inara is currently busying herself "repairing her shuttle", as she calls it. "Choose me," she had said. And Mal had definitely chosen, oh aye. He chose.
River. There's one that'll never make sense to Mal, no matter how hard he tries. Not completely, anyway. But the last month or so has given him...insight, as much as he can call it that. When River smiles now, no matter who she's smiling to or what it's about, Mal smiles back.
The ship is being repaired. Now it's time, slowly, to work on repairing his home.
The bridge looks like an insane artist's studio. Or maybe an ancient Franciscan monk's study, carefully placed inks and brushes lying almost at random across the small portable counter extension Mal has temporarily attached to the far end of the controls, next to the radar screen. It'd been slow, him having to carry all this and keep on the plain black cane he still needs, but Mal has dug out only his best parchment, and the inks Kaylee gave him for his birthday.
Dipping his detail-brush into the green ink very slightly, Mal sighs and begins to drag the brush across the page, in English. Mal may like Mandarin characters better, but his hand in English could be considered quite distinguished. The word "Wings" is done in a flash, and Mal takes his art knife and slices the nametag off, adhering it to the side lip of the console. Right under the pterodactyl model.
Mal smiles painfully to himself, admiring his own work for a moment before moving on to the stegosaurus.
Wash is was Mal's pilot. The least he can do is label the dinosaurs.
Meg died, and all he did when talking to Lilly was flip out when she accidentally made him think about David.
"Smooth, Mal," he mutters to himself, making his way back from the cargo bay to his bunk, "The least you could've done was been a bit compassionate 'bout it. Her best friend died and you--"
Mal reaches the hatch to his bunk. It's looking very...flat, today. Not bendy at all. Mal goes in and out, in and out of his bunk, 5, 10 times.
Mal may not be apologizing to Lilly for a long while yet.
Several days have gone by. No bar. Mal...is bored. Also? Mal might be thinking just a bit too much. Brooding, one might say. Mal won't even walk up the left hand staircase in the cargo bay anymore, for fear of the walkway around Shuttle One to echo just a little too loud, as a reminder of who is very much not there.
Walking back to his bunk to hide for what seems like the millionth time that day, Mal opens the hatch and climbs down to be greatly startled by one waking dream of a dead ex-best friend.
"Well," David muses aloud, "It's just you and me now."
No one on the boat understands, and Mal is fine with that. He just...can't believe he did it. Told Kaylee to muck up the engine, Wash and Jayne to strip hull, Zoe and Simon -- Mal can't really think of a reason why they should forgive him for ordering him to do that.
Above anything else, Mal wants to hide. Hide, gather himself, and face whatever's coming.
"No hiding allowed, Malcolm," the cold voice - inhuman voice - calls to him, perched on a crate in the spare shuttle. Mal leans his head gently against the bulkhead just outside of the shuttle hatch, and holds his face in his hands.
"You know what's coming, Malcolm? The end. You see it?"
Mal lifts his head as resolutely he can manage. "The end." Inexplicably, he chuckles. "Been seein' it for awhile."
David pushes off his crate and stands within a foot's distance of Mal, eye-to-eye. "Probably won't be the end you expect."
Malcolm pulls off staring at the specter, this...vision of his mind. Waking dream. This dosn't mean he can smile at it.
"At least I'll be expectin' somethin'. That counts, right?"
David shrugs and disappears.
He just couldn't break in front of them. Never. Not about death. This was the part they knew him for; "Mal's been through the war; he can do this part, no problem." Inara was something different; Kaylee knew about that, if not everyone else. But Death - He knows Death, and Death knows him. Can't fear it.
Mal goes back to his bunk, quicker than anyone else at the site of the beacon. His world doesn't start literally spinning until he climbs down the hatch and lies down on his bed to calm himself. He doesn't notice himself putting his holster on his chair. He does notice the fact that he has no more of Simon's soothers.
God, was Mal nervous. Lilly. Date. I’m gonna screw something up, please God don’t let me say something stupid.
A quick rap at the wooden plank door reveals a stern older gentleman in a black business suit. Why does he always have to look like he’s going to a funeral?
"Mr. Reynolds," the butler answered the door with a crisp nod of the head. "Miss Lilly is in the parlor awaiting your arrival."
"Xiexi--" Mal corrects himself quickly. "Thank you sir." He'll never figure out what it is with the highbrow folk around here and their distaste for Mandarin. It's more fun than English, to Mal's ears. With a quick straightening of his dress jacket his mother had insisted upon, Mal turns into the parlor.
"Lilly. Wow." To Hell with manners.
Lilly, petite brunette curls resting on top of her shoulders, shifted in her dress, blushing thoroughly under Mal's gaze.
"You look beautiful, baobei," Mal slips into Chinese, "Never seen you in a dress before." Mal does not add that this is because they are normally wrestling or gallavanting on his mother's ranch within earshot of the butler, but the continuous flush of Lilly's cheeks shows him she knows what he's talking about.
Turning to the butler as Mal clutches Lilly's hand, Mal exclaims, "I'll have 'er back, usual time, sir!"
Mal and Lilly changed out of their clothes quickly, into something far more appropriate for the town fair. Just two average eighteen year olds out for a stroll, enjoying life.
The shooter games were what attracted to Lilly first. Because she could make Mal win them. "C'mon, Malcolm, you know you wanna try!" she'd jibed. "You ain't gonna learn nothin' if you don't see it through experience first!" Mal didn't need experience with these games; most of the barkers saw him coming and preemptively gave him a prize for the lady if he tried to play at their table. He was Bad For Business.
Handing a yellow stuffed cat to Lilly with a smile, Mal continued to walk around the annual carnival with a grin.
Mal'd never admit it to anyone that didn't know him, but he really does like coming to The Maidenhead. Except for the fact that the management makes Mal and his crew lock up their weapons with these go se key cards before walking down the center staircase. Simon and Kaylee first down the stairs, as they had no guns to stow, then Wash and Zoe are hand in hand while Mal and Jayne keep an eye out for the latest contacts for the last bit of business for the Lilac job.
Mal casts an eye to Wash and Zoe, who had been also scoping the bar for anyone seeming familiar, but Mal waves a hand in dismissal.
"Sir," Zoe offers in response to this, "You sure you don't want to---?"
"Go," is the more assertive cutoff. "Go get yourselves a nice romantic meal." Apparently this is more than enough motivation for Wash, who leads Zoe away from Mal and Jayne.
David almost got him today, though.
Talking with Kaylee in the cargo bay, Mal saw the now-familiar image meandering around them both. Stopping behind Kaylee, David raised his hands and moved menacingly toward Kaylee's throat.
"Kay--" Mal had interrupted her more loudly than is ever required for polite conversation.
"Cap'n?" Kaylee returned worriedly, following his gaze back over her own shoulder.
David smiled and vanished.
"Nothin'," Mal covered weakly, mumbling something about her needing to double-check something for him.
Much later, back in his bunk, Mal finds David sitting on his bed, propping his feet on the back of Mal's chair.
Mal ignores the grin on David's face, inserting another soother into the pressure injector and rolling up his sleeve.
"Why do you go through all that?" David asks snidely.
With a hiss and the soother fully injected, Mal heaves a sigh as David disappears. "Because I have to."
"Can you blame them?" a voice calls from the corner, just before Mal falls over his chair to the floor in shock.
The...specter was the only word Mal had for it, laughed riotously. At any other time, he would have - should have - been on the cover of some magazine for The Latest Trend (R).
Mal doesn't see it that way at present.
"Speak English, Malcolm, 'less you forgot how."
"How observant, Malcolm." David moves toward Mal as Mal rights himself in his chair.
"You should be dead too, you know."
Mal swallows his fear and stands eye-to-eye with David.
"No. I fought. There ain't any reason why I don't deserve to live, you hun dan."
David's eyes, oh-so-green in life, flash red for a split second. "What about those you promised to protect? What about the ones you made a promise to and broke that promise?" David gains ground as he sees Mal's stony expression falter. "God, Mal - you really have no damned idea, do you?" David moves forward quickly, forcing Mal against the bulkhead.
"You'll lose. You'll always lose; you already have lost."
David vanishes, and all that's left of the encounter is Mal, staring at absolutely nothing.