The Birthday Party
By Clair de Lune
There was a loud knocking on the ranch door. “Someone get that!” Mal shouted to the kids. “That’ll be your Uncle Jayne”. The older kids rose as one and ran screaming through the back door, desperate to find the best hiding place for the inevitable, very noisy, and very over competitive game of hide and seek that always followed Jayne’s arrival. The younger children stared unblinking at their dad, uncomprehending the chaos that was about to ensue. “Fine!” Mal said to the room, and sighing strode across and opened the door.
Wash stood there, a goofy smile on his face. “Happy birthday Mal” he said, and held out a present that looked like it had been wrapped by one of Wash’s old T-Rex models from the cockpit. Now, Mal had often dreamt this scenario (minus the birthday present) since his best friend had died, but never whilst awake. He looked back over his shoulder; the children still stared at him, wide-eyed. He looked back. Wash was still there. “Huh” was all Mal could manage.
“Well are you going to let us in?” said Zoe’s voice from behind Wash. Wash stood to one side to show Zoe and Emma behind him. “Huh” said Mal again. He was rarely lost for words but this was his time. “They found some research Mr Universe had started about regenerating people from DNA, and I volunteered Wash to be a test subject” Zoe explained. “I have given him back as much memory as I can about his life before; he’s almost as good as new, better in some respects!” Zoe gave Wash a wicked smile and he chuckled. “Yes, I can remember everything from the time I met Zoe, before that is just a blur, but I can live with that, so much better than being dead!” They both laughed, and Emma sighed and rolled her eyes, having obviously heard this joke from her parents many times already. “I was going to do the same for Shepherd Book, but his Memorial Stone had already been taken away.” Zoe frowned, but before Mal could question them further about this, Inara’s voice called from inside. “Wash, Zoe, Emma – Ching Jin, how wonderful to see you all” Mal turned stunned. “You knew? You knew and you didn’t tell me” Inara smiled up at him “Shuh muh. Happy birthday Mal” she beamed, and kissed him. The twins, Wray and Jack, one balanced on each of her hips, protested at this and started grizzling. Zoe scooped up Wray and Wash took Jack, and they all went inside leaving Mal standing staring after them all. “Fine” he said again, then followed them and closed the door. This birthday was turning out to be a fahng-tzong fung-kwong duh jch.
Inara had called the kids back in and lined them up for inspection. “Wash, I would like you to meet the oldest triplets – Lil’ Mal, Lil’ Zoe and Hoban, the oldest twins – Derrial and River, the youngest triplets – Joss, Zack and PJ, and you’ve met Wray and Jack. Wash looked at Mal, impressed. “Well you did say you wanted a passel of kids one day – but 10? Wow, no wonder you look so tired …!”
Suddenly there was a loud crash as the door of the ranch smashed back against the wall, and a fearsome roar filled the room. Mal’s gun was in his hand before he even realised he’d drawn it. “First one I find is a dirty loser!!” yelled Jayne, and the older kids ran screaming from the room again. “Happy birthday Mal” he roared as he ran by. He thrust a package at Mal. “There’s your present; my mum knitted it for you. Zoe, Wash, good to see you” and he was gone. “He knew too!!” Mal wailed. Inara, Wash and Zoe just shrugged and shook their heads as they tried to stop the smaller children’s crying following Jayne’s dramatic entrance. The room had settled back into some sort of order when Jayne ran back in and looked at Wash. “Hang on, aren’t you supposed to be dead…???
In the back yard the table was laden with food and drink, and the BBQ was well under way when a familiar sound filled the air. The children all ran towards the stream at the bottom of the valley, where the flattest part of the field was used as a landing area. Serenity came into view, and landed smoothly. As always, Mal’s heart quickened at seeing her, a feeling full of hope entwined with endless sadness. The ramp lowered and River rushed out, followed by Simon and Kaylee with their children. There was laughter, tears, hugs and kisses, and the years melted away in a tide of love. Kaylee produced a chocolate birthday cake for Mal, with the requisite retelling of the story that accompanied any birthday cake since Simon’s had heralded the almost fatal fire on Serenity six years before. Mal once again felt his muscles clench as he remember the bullet tearing through him, and Inara squeezed his hand in remembered pain. She had so nearly lost him, and lost this future …
Much later, with the youngsters asleep, and the campfire slowly dying, Jayne was singing mournful songs as he played guitar. Mal’s stomach was full of food and Ng Ka Pei, and his arms were full of Inara. “It’s getting cold, we should go in” she said, and herded the others indoors. Mal stood and looked down to where Serenity sat, waiting for the day he would fly in her again. “One day.” he promised her. He belonged in the sky, but his kids were keeping his feet firmly on the ground for now. It was his choice and he was happy with it, but when they no longer needed him around, he and Inara would fly again. He turned his back on Serenity and walked towards the ranch. The warm glow of the fire lit the house from within. It was filled with his friends, his children, his wife. A strange feeling came over Mal, and the cold, hard bands around his heart that he hadn’t even realised were there finally broke away. He decided that what he was feeling was peace. Finally. He could now leave Serenity Valley where it should be – in his past – and he had a future to look forward to with people he loved. He had a feeling Book would be back one day too, just like Wash.
As Mal entered the ranch Lil’ Mal ran up and pushed a piece of paper at his pa. “What’s this, I thought you were in bed” said Mal, unable to be cross with his son, who was just a miniature version of himself. The mischievous blue eyes sparkled up at him “Aunty Kaylee helped me with it” Lil’ Mal shouted as he ran back to Kaylee, “It’s the best boat in the ‘Verse after Serenity, and one day I’ll be its Captain!!” Mal looked at the drawing of the sleek silver, blue and black ship. Lil’ Mal grinned up at his pa, “I’m going to call it Spectrum”.
The End - or is it????
Ching Jin - come in
Shuh muh - I’m sorry
Fahng-tzong fung-kwong duh jch - a knot of self-indulgent lunacy