This story is a bit hard to categorize.
It IS a Firefly story, set almost entirely within the ‘Verse, and any additional characters can be read simply as original characters by Firefly readers. Hopefully, no knowledge of other fandoms is needed to read and enjoy this story.
It is a crossover with Andromeda. Two characters (and much later maybe a few more) from that show have been plunged into the thick of things in the ‘Verse. But you don’t have to know anything about Andromeda to read this. It is all explained within the story.
It is an alternate ending to a multi-chapter Andromeda fic, Waiting for the Light, that can be found on my author’s page on ff . net, and which I started posting here a long time ago and intend to finish sometime. So it also features an OC that was introduced and developed there, as well as some situations that are not necessarily canon to the show, but have been established through the course of the first story. However, you don’t have to read that story to understand this one. Because the Firefly characters are encountering everything for the first time, all pertinent information gets explained within the body of the fic. For those few of you that might be venturing into this fic by way of the original story, the diversion point for this alternate ending is in Chapter 56.
So, for the 3.6 of you that are still interested in reading after that complicated introduction, here we go!
The Strongest Souls
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.
- Kahlil Gibran
The universe is full of stories. Like the beads of a necklace they follow one another, plodding throughout the eternities in an orderly line. Lives, hopes, dreams, petty moments of greed, and days of pure laziness. Stories weave in and out of time, like the Fates spinning the universe away, everything measured and exact, sometimes repeating, sometimes dying, sometimes so quiet you don’t even know they are there. Until, one day, they collide...
Wash eased the throttle back and powered down the ship before slumping limply in the pilot’s seat. Small droplets of perspiration ran down his face, and his arms were shaking from the strain of keeping Serenity under control. He swore softly in Chinese, awe in his voice. “That was…insane. I’ve never had a landing like that before.”
“That was a landing?” Mal asked, rubbing his head as he picked himself up off the deck that was littered with loose odds and ends and little plastic dinosaurs.
“Is your ship scattered in pieces across three miles of dirt?” Wash shot back.
“Well, no… But…”
“Then it was a landing,” Wash interrupted as Zoë came up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders, rubbing the trembling limbs. “As my dad always said, any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”
“You done good, Husband,” she said softly.
Mal watched for a moment then turned away quickly. He caught the comm. unit that was still swinging wildly through the air from the rough ride, pushing the button.
“Captain speakin’. Finally stopped. Everyone all right?”
One by one, shaky voices started checking in, letting him know that they were mostly alive and okay.
“Gonna need some time to check her over, though, Cap’n,” Kaylee tagged on to the end of her message. “She took that pretty rough.”
“Do what you need to, little Kaylee,” Mal answered patiently just as the last voice to check in cut rudely over the comm.
“Gorramit, Mal! Wash been drinkin’? Little man tryin’ to kill us all?”
“If you substitute the word ‘save’ for the word ‘kill’ you’d have it right,” Wash answered, rolling his eyes as he gathered up his scattered plastic friends. “And you’re welcome, by the way. Glad to have been of service.”
“Just check and make sure everyone’s alive and not bleedin’ all over my pretty boat, Jayne,” Mal sighed, shutting off the comm. Then he turned to the two others on the bridge with him. “So, anyone entertainin’ any interestin’ theories as to where in the ‘Verse we are?”
“Well…” Wash said wearily, “I’d guess we were on a planet.”
Mal glared at his pilot, not really appreciating the commentary.
“A rather nasty, pilot-hating planet,” Wash continued, unperturbed. The captain sighed again and ignored the man, stepping up to the cock-pit window and staring out at the dull and muted colors beyond. Zoë came up beside him.
“Going outside, sir?” she asked calmly.
“Thinkin’ on it. Not much out there, but gonna be stuck here for a bit while Kaylee checks her over. Might as well try and swing a job outta it.”
Zoë looked out the window at the open, snow-covered meadows and clumps of bare trees before turning back to her captain with one slender eyebrow raised pointedly.
“You doin’ secret business with squirrels now, sir?”
“No,” Mal defended hurriedly. “But I was gonna say that we’re also needin’ to find out exactly why we almost got spread ‘cross this planet like frosting. And, you really shouldn’t spend so much time with him,” he added, pointing toward the pilot who had finished picking up his toys and was climbing tiredly to his feet. “He ain’t a good influence!”
“Sorry, Captain,” Wash grinned, walking over and sliding his weary arms around his wife. “Should have thought about that before you let her marry me.”
“Did think about it! She just didn’t listen to me!”
“Won’t happen again, sir,” Zoë said with a smile. She turned her head and let Wash kiss her lightly, then pulled away, all business again.
“Ugh,” Mal grimaced. “Do you have to do that in public?”
“Yes,” Wash said firmly, planting another kiss solidly on his wife’s lips before continuing. “It’s in my marriage contract. States quiet clearly: must kiss wife in public at least fifteen times a week. What does that put me at, honey?” he smiled innocently at Zoë. “Seven? Think I’d better go for one more?”
Mal muttered under his breath in Chinese while Zoë said, “Not now, baby. The cap’n’s ears are blushing.”
“Are you two through?” the captain asked in exasperation, “’Cause I’m thinkin’ there’s a planet out there needs explorin’…”
“Sorry, sir,” Zoë sobered as she turned and left the bridge, but she couldn’t quite hide the twinkle in her eyes.
“Hey, I’m coming, too,” Wash announced following on their heels. “Nothing for me to do here until Kaylee gives me the mechanical okay. Besides, that almost-crash landing was personal; this planet owes me some sunshine and daisies.”
Mal rolled his eyes but didn’t argue. The planet outside looked vast…and empty. It didn’t bode well for procuring jobs, or parts should Kaylee need them to get Serenity going again, but it also didn’t appear overly threatening. Wash tagging along wasn’t gonna hurt none this time around, and Mal had to admit the man had done the impossible getting them down out of the air in one piece back there. The least he could do was let his friend have his chance to step out in the sunshine and try to fry that fair skin of his.
They passed Book and Inara slowly picking things up and putting the galley and common room back in order.
“Where’s Jayne?” Mal asked.
“With the doctor in the infirmary,” Book replied.
“Thought everyone checked in as okay?”
“He got a pretty nasty cut on his head. He said he was fine, but Simon insisted on treating it anyway,” Inara added. “It’s nothing serious, though.”
Mal nodded. “And River?”
“Keeping Kaylee company.”
“All right. Goin’ outside for a look-see. Keep an eye on things around here for me, an’ tell Jayne to meet us there when the good doctor’s done practicin’ his stitchin’.”
The trio climbed down the stairs, and Zoë hit the button for the cargo bay ramp to lower. It moved a few inches then groaned to a painful stop. Repeated jabs to the switch did nothing to convince the door to finish opening.
“Huh,” Mal said, standing and staring at it, a perplexed look on his face. “That’s the one thing on this boat that ain’t never broke before…”
“It was working fine yesterday,” Wash injected, moving over to inspect the switch more closely. “I could pull it apart and look at the power line. Might just be a problem with the wires not – ”
“Leave it. Door bein’ stuck is the least of our worries right now. We got others we can use just as well.”
Together, Mal and Zoë managed to shoulder the side door open, letting bright sunshine spill into Serenity as the three stepped outside and onto the planet.
“Ah…” Wash sniffed the air appreciatively. “Fresh air!” he gushed. “Fresh, cool, crisp, clean air! I think I forgive this planet.”
Wash was right. The air was fresh and pure and clean. And cold! It had the distinct chill of a winter day and Wash considered running back inside for his coat, but then decided that would look less than manly. Instead he just crossed his arms tightly and looked around.
Serenity had landed in a wide meadow. On one side a large, open plain stretched off into the distance, covered in a layer of snow; on the other, broken groves of trees that had lost their leaves were scattered up to the feet of tall mountains visible in the background. A clear, blue stream wandered lazily through the meadow and off until it got lost in the woods. All in all, the three crewmembers felt like they had stepped out into an ancient postcard from Courier and Ives.
“Any idea where in the gorram ‘Verse we are?” Mal asked, gazing with equal awe at the pristine landscape. “Don’t seem likely the Alliance would leave a place like this unclaimed.”
“Might be one of those vacation moons the Alliance always advertises about to rich folks. That blinding flash of purple light that knocked us around before this planet appeared out of nowhere and tried to kill us could have been a huge explosion,” Wash hypothesized. “Must have thrown us clear off course.”
“Vacation paradise world,” Zoë muttered with disgust. “And millions starvin’ an’ dyin’ on dustbowl rim-worlds ‘cause the mighty Alliance wants to keep a moon all untouched for play.”
“Yep,” Mal said grimly. “Sounds about right. All right folks, keep your eyes sharp. Alliance vacation moon probably means Alliance nearby. We run into anyone, we’re just good little Alliance citizens out on vacation, dong ma?”
Wash looked at Mal and Zoë skeptically, taking in the brown coat and striped pants, firearms, and grim expressions. “Oh, yes,” he said rolling his eyes, “that will be extremely convincing.”
“Well, you look like you’re on vacation at least,” Mal shot back with a grin and a nod to Wash’s loud, colorful shirt. “You can do the talkin’.”
Wash sighed and mumbled under his breath, “And now I know why I always stay with the ship…”
“Heard that,” Mal answered back over his shoulder as he strode out into the meadow. Zoë smiled slightly at her husband who rolled his eyes then they both followed after the captain.
They wandered around for a good half hour, scouting out their location and looking for any signs of humanity.
“Don’t think we’re gonna get any job offers here, Mal,” Wash said after a while, huffing from hiking after the other two through the frigid woods while swinging his arms to try and keep warm. Maybe he should start wearing a ratty brown coat; seemed to come in handy sometimes.
“Ponderin’ on that my own self,” the captain replied, the frustration evident in his voice. “Guess we’d best head back and let the others know, an’ see what Kaylee needs to fix Serenity up with. Ain’t gonna find anything much that’s useful out here so she’s just gonna hafta patch her back together from scratch.”
The two men turned to start back, but Zoë, who had wandered a few feet farther on, didn’t move. “Sir,” she called suddenly, her voice quiet but intense. “Sir, something over here.”
Mal drew his gun and motioned for Wash to stay back, stepping up to Zoë’s side. She pointed to a well-hidden cluster of trees that hugged a small incline about twenty feet away. He couldn’t see anything but a few seconds later he heard it – a small, weak cough followed by a slight rustling of the bushes.
The captain nodded silently to Zoë, motioning his plan to her. Without making a sound, they crept forward, guns drawn but not raised. Wash hung back like ordered, but he couldn’t resist following slightly out of curiosity. At the edge of the hiding place, Mal reached out and quickly pulled back the cover of branches.
There was a small, startled yelp and they found themselves staring into two huge, terrified brown eyes that protruded from a face so dirty and thin it was painful to look at.
“Don’t hurt us! Please don’t hurt us!” the owner of the eyes cried, cowering to the ground and dropping his head. The boy was tiny; he didn’t appear more than eight, and was so thin he looked more like a skeleton wrapped in filthy, ragged scraps of cloth than a living, breathing little boy. Leather bits that might have once been shoes covered his feet, but his toes stuck out from the ends at least half an inch and were blue from the cold.
Wash stepped closer, and all three Serenity crewmembers stared in shock, unable to say anything. The tiny child started to sob in the silence, shaking from fear. From farther back in the hiding place the sound of rough, painful coughing came, followed by the very disturbing and unexpected sound of clanking metal.
“Twig? Twig, what’s wrong?” another weak, sleep-heavy voice asked, and a moment later a second figure crawled into view.
He was obviously older, a scraggly, dirty scruff of a beard covering his sunken cheeks, but even so he was still not much taller and every bit as thin as the younger boy. He wore the same ragged pants but no shirt, a threadbare blanket draped around his shoulders instead, gaping open at the chest and failing in its effort to keep out the cold. Most disturbing of all, however, was the amount of metal hanging from his skeletal form. Chains bound his wrists and his ankles, a large ring circled his waist with more chains running to his feet, and one final, smaller ring wrapped around his neck like some horrible collar. He couldn’t move without the ghastly ensemble clanking, which it did as he reached weakly for the younger boy with one hand. His other hand was bandaged tightly in filthy strips of cloth to form what looked like a pathetic brace.
Wash suddenly swore harshly in Chinese, looking away with horror and pity in his eyes. The sound startled the young man who hadn’t noticed them yet. His head whipped around toward them, pure terror on his face, and his hand clutched the little boy’s shoulder tightly.
“Please don’t hurt Twig!” he begged, trying to push the younger boy behind him. “He’s just a kid! He only ran with us because we made him! Punish me if you have to, I’m used to it, but please, please don’t punish Twig!”
(That's it for now. Let me know if you happen to read and like this.)