Title: The End
Disclaimer: Ain't mine. Wouldn't want 'em.
Notes: For the Family Ficathon
Mal hadn't been the first one to go.
He hadn't been the second, or third, or seventh or eighth, neither. He sat on the top of the corroded heap that used to be his ship with an air-gun hot across his lap and looked around. Desert to the left, desert to the right, mountains ahead and a whole lot behind him he didn't much care to look at. He was the only one left. Last man standing, or sitting, and for the life of him he couldn't understand how he'd let it happen.
Book had technically been first, only one to leave the crew peaceably. Only one to leave at all. Rest of them'd been taken. They'd set down on Jio and he'd walked away from them with at least the façade of a heavy heart. Mal didn't admit that he was sad to see the preacher go; he'd fought with his crew, for his crew, and regardless of his affiliation with the high-and-holies, Book was as much a part of his men as anyone else.
It happened quick after Book left, while the sting of losing a family member hung still palpable at mealtimes. They were boarded silently in the middle of the night again, this time by men in uniforms walking behind a line of things could never be mistaken for men.
They probably got to River first, doped her and carried her away. Simon, fierce protector that he was, was put down, one shot destroyed his face and sent his genius brains back to the wall behind him.
It was the shot what woke Mal. He was in the corridor in a flash, saw Zoe running ahead of him. Then he turned and caught himself, face to ugly face with something his nightmares had never even come close to. There were nails in his side, in his cheek, and he was falling backwards down into his bunk again. His head hit the rungs on the way down, before it hit the floor.
The uniforms left the ship, their enforcers stayed behind. Kaylee found Mal when she was sure the monsters had gone. She cried when he finally opened the eye not crusted shut with the blood from his cheek. He dragged himself to a chair, and Kaylee helped him clean his face and change his tattered clothes. Her eyes stayed saucers the entire time, and Mal, dizzy and confused, kept asking what was wrong. When he stood, the pain came to him, and he remembered.
They found Wash sitting cross-legged on the floor next to Zoe's body. He had her blood on his face, like he'd wiped it into his eyes and not thought to rub it away. Kaylee stayed with him, quiet and not touching, sat just close enough so he knew she was there -- so he'd remember he was alive.
Mal walked towards the infirmary. He passed River's quarters, empty save the bloodiness in the doorway. The Reavers that weren't Reavers, demons-for-hire, whatever they were, they didn't stop when the body hit the floor. Parts of Simon were gone completely, some were open and exposed like in dissection, and others were smooth, whole, his skin gone white and splattered red but still perfect. He backed away from it, from him, and nearly tripped over a shiny sharp piece of bone that stuck out like a pike from the boy's shin.
He choked on something that flooded the back of his throat and pushed on towards the infirmary. You seen worse, in the war you seen much worse, and it was a lie because in the war it was soldiers who died. Simon wasn't a soldier. River was just a little girl. Zoe was Zoe, and to make it this far and then get ripped up by some animals on the Alliance's leash ...
Mal shot a dose of antibiotic into his arm and wrapped a long strip of gauze around his chest. He retched nothing into the sink, looked up to see what was now his face looking grisly back at him.
He brought Kaylee something for Wash -- neither of them knew how long he'd been watching over the corpse. Kaylee stroked his hair and he looked over at her, his eyes wide in surprise fluttering closed almost as soon as the syringe emptied itself into his leg.
The whole way over, Mal hoped it would be gone. Before he could stop himself, he was praying that she'd gotten away in time. But the door to Inara's shuttle was torn off, and right inside the door Mal nearly dropped to his knees. For a second, he thought she was ok. She was sitting up, her eyes wide and shiny, her arms at her sides and her palms turned up like a religious icon. He touched her as he got closer, felt the skin of her leg slide sickly under his finger. The marks on her, cuts and tears and marks from teeth, they were bloodless, drained, and deep. She'd been ripped in two and placed back together on the bed like a doll sacrifice. Something dark pushed at the back of Mal's throat when he saw her eyes. He pulled his knife out and moved, shaking, to cut the thick black threads that were holding her eyelids open. He closed her eyes and the thread hung down on her cheeks, longer than her eyelashes. He pulled the silk sheet over her body and turned away.
Kaylee was standing in the doorway, looking over the scene with her own unblinking eyes. Mal moved to shield her, then stopped.
"I dragged Wash into one of the empty rooms. He's screamin' pretty loud."
He stepped close enough to touch her, but halted his own fingers an inch before they rested on her arm. He could still feel Inara's flesh, "Kaylee ... how long has it been?"
"Did they touch you?"
She turned around and headed back down the catwalk.
Mal followed her down into the cargo bay, winced when he saw what they'd done to it. Cables hung down like sparking threads from the ceiling, and burst like muscles from panels in the walls.
"Jayne?" he turned, saw Kaylee starting in on the repairs -- pushing wires back into place and checking tiny connections.
"Gone. Don't know when."
He might have gotten away before, or there might be nothing left of him. Neither proposition filled Mal with a sense of joy.
"We got to set down somewhere empty. Bury the," Mal looked up at Kaylee staring back at him, "bury our dead. Figure out what we do next."
"Wash ain't flying nobody nowhere, Captain." She returned to the panel she was working on, a strip of insulating tape clenched between her teeth.
He ran up to the cockpit, set course for Aphelion -- it'd been a big dead rock when they'd gotten there during the war, and they hadn't left it any better off.
Days later they landed far away from what looked like a small settlement. They came down rocky, too hard with Mal at the helm; the landing gear creaked. Kaylee helped him dig, quickly and methodically. They put Simon in the ground first, wrapped up what was left in a sheet and dropped it in the hole -- too shallow, for certain, but it was the best they could do. Inara next, then Kaylee walked Wash off the ship for Zoe. He was smiling, standing with his hands in his pockets and his eyes trained on the grave in front of him.
Mal put him down a week or so later. The screaming was intolerable, and so loud Wash would only stop long enough to vomit up the blood he'd torn from his throat. Zoe died, and Wash never came back. Mal walked him down to the hole he'd dug that morning, touched his face and shot him in the head. He couldn't imagine anyone relied on Zoe more than himself, but Wash did, and now he had nothing. They were side by side in the yellow dirt.
They'd run out of food soon enough, and neither Mal nor Kaylee was ready to jump back into the black. Kaylee rewired the walkies and they set off for the settlement. The walk took a day; when they got there, they met the ten-man population. Each of them were gaunt, hard eyed and unnaturally hungry looking.
Serenity was dead when they got back to her. Of course the settlement had more than ten men; probably had been ten more in the hills waiting to scavenge. Years of stability and service, reduced to parts and stripped in a couple of days. They walked through the carcass, picking out what could be salvaged, emerging with fewer than two armloads each of what was left.
They sat in the dirt when the sun went down, around a fire of old clothes and dry brush from the ground around them. Mal wanted to apologize. He wanted to be sad and disappointed, angry and vengeful, but he found it hard to even look at sweet little Kaylee. Sweet little Kaylee spent a lot of time looking at nothing much at all.
At night he blocked the sand with his back, and Kaylee nudged him awake when he started talking to Zoe. Mal touched her hair when she cried in her sleep.
Days later Kaylee wandered off in the middle of the afternoon.
A week later Mal knew she wasn't coming back.
When they were two, they knew they wouldn't last too long. There was more food now, small stacks of protein that Mal never remembered to eat. He waited for the end with a gun he took from one of Jayne's stashes cradled in his arms. He sat on top of his ship and protected the time he had left.
© scrunchy 2004