It was Mal’s turn to take late watch, just making sure everything was working fine and they weren’t going to crash into an asteroid or anything. Course, if they were going to crash into anything, it would most likely be because Wash hadn’t set the course correctly, but that was a different problem.
Mal liked spending nights on late watch: it allowed him to think. Think about captainy things like where they were going to get their next job; what supplies and guns and food they needed; how he could get Kaylee that part she wanted when there weren’t no way of finding it through regular means. He thought about Inara, whether she was earning enough money, being on the edges of Core society. Not that it was any of his business, as she too frequently reminded him.
Sometimes he went on the Cortex, and looked through whatever had last been played. Usually it was some wordy Shakespeare play which River had been reading. Other times it was a poem she found that might be worth taking a gander at (the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, was particularly interesting). And then there was the famous pieces of art from Earth-that-was. Whatever he read on the Cortex, though, usually brought up memories of school, and with it, Shadow.
The first thing he thought of when he thought of Shadow was his Ma, and the ranch hands they had. Helping with the horses while learning his letters, not that he thought they would do him much good. He thought they would help more if he was one of them rich folk in the Core, but out here, on the Border Planets, they don’t help much. But he went anyway, to fulfill his Ma’s wishes, and had fun along the way. He thought he would never leave Shadow, but then the war came.
He tried not to think about the war too much. He was one of the first boys of Shadow to sign up to fight. He was known as one of the golden boys of Shadow, a boy representing his world and their way of life.
“You be careful now, you hear?” his Ma said, tucking a handkerchief into the pocket of his brown coat.
“Yes, Ma,” Mal said, still a bit in awe of having been recruited. He hadn’t expected to be accepted, but he was at a prime age, 20, to fight and die for his beliefs. Plus, the Independents had needed all the help they could get.
He hadn’t realised it would be the last time he saw her.
He had felt so much pride in the title. He had originally joined because it was a cause he believed in: the Alliance trying to make everyone civilized wasn’t right. After the first few months, though, it became more about survival. He still wasn’t sure whether surviving the war was a badge of honor or not, even six years later. He hadn’t had a home during the war, moving around like they did, and afterward, he hadn’t had a home at all. Sticking together with Zoe became his home, and eventually they became the beginnings of a crew of a Firefly.
When he had first come out of the camps, five years after the end of the war, his only thought was of being as far from Alliance influence as he could reach. He didn’t care how he achieved it, he only wanted to be his own man, answering to no one. The camps hadn’t been able to stamp out the Independent spirit and way of thinking, and he wanted to keep it that way.
The first thing on his list was to buy a ship. He didn’t care what she looked like, as long as she flew good. Zoe had ridiculed him about paying money for Serenity, but Mal knew she wanted to be free as well. The war and the effect it had on them was a permanent one, but Serenity started to feel like home.
He wasn’t technically supposed to be doing late watch today. Simon had advised against it. Too much trauma, he insisted. Dying, being resuscitated, and tortured for close to twenty-four hours will do that to you, let alone getting patched up and having his ear reattached after. But Mal had overridden Simon and taken his watch. He knew Zoe would be watching him more closely over the next few days, making sure he wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They had always watched out for each other throughout the war, and they still did so.
He thought about his crew taking up arms and storming a space station just to rescue him. Him. The man who had let so many people die during the war, and didn’t quite fit in anywhere, even with his crew, or so he thought. This incident had shown him different, that his crew, if not liked him, at least respected him enough to fight for him. He didn’t have any honor, not anymore, so for them to treat him like family was truly amazing.
He realised that if somehow, Buddha forbid, he didn’t have Serenity no more, the crew would still be enough.