Back on Shadow

"You can't take the sky from me."

Mal stood stock still, not knowing where to look. She came towards him, “Mal- Mal look at me.”

“What? Anything else you’d like to tell me, Xio?” He winced internally as soon as he said it, especially as the effect it had on Xio was visible in the falling of her face.

“I tried okay?! Anyway, I thought you were dead-”

“And you got a little lucky huh, did some companion work?”

She slapped him hard for that, and to be honest he would’ve turned his other cheek to her. He’d had that coming, he knew it. So they just stood there, staring each other down.

“Xio, everything okay?”

And there he was, the man who’d taken his wife from him. Mal’s eyes really were filling up now, him worried he wouldn’t be able to control his emotions, his sadness, any longer.

Mal sighed. There he was. The man who’d taken his life from him.

She called back to the house, still looking at Mal, “Yeah it’s all shiny, honey.”

Mal snorted, “Honey.”

“Stop it Mal.” She sighed, saying in a lower voice, “I thought you’d at least be an adult about this-”

His eyes widened in incredulity, him almost laughing, but continuing in hushed tones to match hers, his words laced with sarcasm, “Woah, I’m the one being childish? Well excuse me but I didn’t know being an adult included your wife leaving you for someone else, that kinda slipped my notice, so from the bottom of my heart I truly and sincerely apologise for that,-”

“Oh for God’s sakes, this is Shadow!” Xio was frantically whispering back, anger in her eyes, “Everything was Total War here. Battle for births was a part of that remember? I was just trying to help, so don’t give me that!”

Mal then properly looked at her, into her deep, dark brown eyes, at her tanned skin, at the wind blowing through her curling hair, thinking for a few minutes that felt like forever. And he worked out what he needed to do. So he took a mental picture. He’d always remember that face.

He shook his head, “I can’t give you what he can.” He looked again to the man in the doorway, that tanned, broad shouldered, red faced, angry looking-

Mal immediately looked away from the man and to the girl. That lump rose again in his throat. He’d really thought she might’ve been... that she was...

He swallowed, “See you around Xio.” And he kissed her cheek, hearing her gasp, seeing the man now on the steps up to the house tense up.

Mal hadn’t been killed in the war, but he felt like he truly had died now. Erased from history. Like he’d never married her. Like they’d never had a life together...

He wouldn’t hold it against her though. She knew that. Despite all of his sadness and anger and confusion, he understood, hell, he probably would’ve done the same, and Xio knew that. So she gave a weak smile as Mal walked off, back to the black and the eternity it could give him. She’d given up that eternity. The skies could only make him happy now.

She called after him, “Come for dinner some time?”

He turned and looked at her a minute, his eyes saying yes, but his voice saying, “Get that gate fixed. I don’t like the way it doesn’t squeak.”

She laughed, her smile as bright as five suns to him and her hair a brown, curling river as the wind played in it.

Mal swallowed, him letting the tears finally creep forward now that he was further away, as he whispered, “Goodbye.”

And he walked away down that dirt track from the life he’d once had, to the only one now left for him; the one with the adventure and the danger, the gaping holes of space and the possibilities held in a life so lonely and yet so beautiful.

Take me out, to the black.

Tell them I ain’t coming back.

Burn the land.

Boil the sea.

A whisper, “You can’t take the sky from me.”

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