Home is where the heart is
Mal walked down the dirt track, one of the many that split the brown and yellow fields back on his home planet, the dust rising with each footstep and scuffing up his boots, as if the land was clinging to him, begging him to never leave again, because this soldier was finally home. Finally.
He looked at the people in their gardens, nodding to them in turn. People who had been his friends... but now, they turned away from him, averting their eyes like they’d seen something ugly.
In disrespect? A lump formed in Mal’s throat, causing him to turn away from their empty eyes and back to the track.
No. Disappointment. Disappointment in him and his Brown Coat. He’d let them down and he knew it, the heaviness of regret resting on his heart, regret whispering that he could’ve done more, could’ve done something else... He’d let them down and he could see it. Yes, the sky was blue, the sun was shining on the ranches of Shadow... But they were under the control of the Alliance now. The Alliance, who would reject Shadow, letting the planet fall into even more poverty. The Browncoats had been their last hope, and they’d let them down.
Mal shook his head, blinking into the sun to clear his mind, thinking back to the bar he’d left Zoe in on a moon orbiting Stye; this was precisely why he’d wanted to stay with her... to drink his troubles away... But he couldn’t run forever. He had to come home some day.
That was how he found himself outside that little wooden gate with the little squeak. A small smile crept onto his face. They’d never got that fixed...
As Mal looked down at that small gateway, he noticed his hands trembling slightly, him swallowing and then laughing to himself. He’d faced armies of people, the danger of being out in the depths of war... And he was literally shaking in his boots because of this. Because he was home. Five years, he’d been gone. Five years...
He’d heard that Shadow had been part of the battle for births, the fight to breed more children to protect Shadow and other planets on the side of Independence from being wiped out by the power of the Alliance. He was just glad that she was safe from that. Well, he hoped anyway. He hoped she’d waited. He-
Mal blinked. There was a little girl in his garden.