Word Count: 1120
Summary: Pre-Series. Five little vignettes following Mal through the Unification War.
Author’s Note: Prompt fic written for the wonderful gilliebeans, who prompted me with the line “The wait is over.” I didn’t get one clear vision from the prompt, but all these little ideas that came to my head, so I put them all together. Thanks darlin’, I hope you enjoy!
The night was warm. Clouds, low on the horizon, blue black in the last light of the setting sun. Nothing but the breeze and the buzz of the cicadas breaking the stillness. A perfect evening. But then the shout came. A light up the road, drawing nearer. Hoofbeats on the hard packed earthen road that led up to the house. Lorry.
Ma came out of the house, pausing at the top step. One hand on the porch post. Lorry swung down off his mare, smacking the dust from his chaps. Handed the reins and the lantern off to Slow Pete.
“What news?” Ma asked. Lorry came up the porch, face flushed. “Reports are comin’ in from all over. Word is Alliance launched an attack on Ezra.”
“Shénshèng de gǒu shǐ!” Mal swore, standing. “Malcolm. Watch that tongue,” his Ma chastised absently; he may be coming on twenty, but he was yet her son. “But Ma! You know what this means…” he protested. She shook her head. Once. Sharp. Silencing him.
“Is it true? Has it finally started?” she asked Lorry. Lorry nodded. Grim. “Looks like.” Ma stepped back. Sat in the porch chair heavily. “Then it’s war,” she said. Eyes dark. Worried.
“It’s war,” Lorry agreed. “The wait is over.”
“The wait is over, boys!”
There was a great uproar, the sound of men and women carousing. Mal stuck his head out of the tent. Blinked in the sudden bright of the light. The camp was alive with motion. Bodies hurrying to and fro. Carrying supplies. Stowing gear.
He stood up. Saw John Gray and called out to him. “Hey! What’s goin’ on?”
“You ain’t heard? We’re being deployed, Mal! Combat! We’re going to the 57th!” Gray whooped as he turned, running for his tent.
“Balls and Bayonets,” Mal said softly. A grin stole across his face and he ducked back in his tent to pack. Finally. The wait was over.
The tent flap opened. “Well ain’t you the sweetest thing that ever walked on two legs!” The woman who stood in the opening regarded Mal with a warm smile. Her shift was sheer and with the light shining out behind her, well, there was little left to his imagination.
He felt Alleyne’s hand on his back, pushing him forward. “This is Amelia,” she said, introducing the woman. He swallowed. Hesitated. Zoe laughed. “What’s the matter, Reynolds? You got a sweetheart back home or somethin’?” Mal shook his head. “Then what?”
He cast a look at the woman in the tent. Turned so he was facing away from her. “She’s a… Lady of the Evenin’, ain’t she?”
Zoe smiled. “That is kinda the point,” she said, nodding.
“But, well. It’s a sin,” he whispered, uncomfortable. Zoe laughed and he looked offended. His face clouded, angry. “‘Sides which, I ain’t got the coin to spare for such.”
The corporal patted him on the back and nudged him forward again. “Don’t worry ‘bout that. We took a collection, me an’ the boys. Figured you ought to have the chance to ‘sin’ at least once before you end up meetin’ your maker.”
“What makes you think I ain’t… sinned before?” he said as she pushed him, indignant.
Zoe just smiled. Looked at him expectantly. Prodded him forward when he couldn’t come up with anything else.
Mal sighed. Knew there was nothing for it. It was a point of pride amongst the brigade. The rest of them would never let him live it down if he backed out now. “Zoe, I ain’t sure…,” he tried, one last, feeble protest.
“Just don’t fall in love,” she said, smirking as Amelia took hold of his hand and drew him into her tent.
“Now, don’t you worry none, sweetheart,” she said, soothing. “You probably been waiting for the right girl, ain’t that so?” She let her shift fall to the floor. “Well, sugar, the wait is over.”
Mal shifted, uncomfortable being singled out. General Choi was well known as a hard line commander and Mal had had no desire for catching his attention. But here he was, called into the General’s Du-Khang headquarters just the same. Choi’s aide, Robertson, sat near by, working on some papers. Paid him no mind. Alleyne waited a few yards back. Silent.
Choi puffed on his cigar, staring out through the pristine columns of the temple city. “It’s no great reward, leading men, Reynolds,” he said at last.
“No sir,” Mal agreed automatically. Wondered where this was going.
“No great reward…” the General echoed absently. Mal waited, anxious to be elsewhere. Choi finally turned and sat, reaching a hand to his aide who passed him a roll of papers. “I’m promoting you to Sergeant,” Choi said abruptly, holding the papers out to Mal.
Mal blinked, surprised. “Sir?” he asked, taking the papers when the General waved them at him impatiently.
“I need someone who can think, Reynolds. Someone out there I can count on. This battle’s not going to be pretty.” Choi’s eyes were hard like flint. Black and bottomless. “I expect you to keep those men and women alive, and hold this ground, Sergeant.”
“Sir. Yes sir.”
A shadow passed over the General’s face and he looked tired suddenly. Older. “Take that requisition down to the quartermaster. Get yourself outfitted.”
“Yes, sir.” Dazed, Mal turned to go. Paused as the wailing sound came, shrieking out of the darkness. The big guns, he recognized. Incoming. His eyes met Alleyne’s, then back to Choi.
The General stood. Imposing. Commanding. “They’re coming, Sergeant. The wait is over.”
They weren’t coming.
Neither of ‘em. Not their side. Not his side. Nearly two weeks of men an’ women dyin’ all around him. Uselessly dying. While all they could do was wait. No rescue, no food to speak of. No medical help. Just a slow, starvin’, disease infected death. Day after day after day. No end in sight. They had left them. Just like God had left them.
He tried to turn his mind from that, but-- How could God leave them to this? How could God have not brought them to righteous victory over the Alliance? What kind of God-- He cut off the thought ruthlessly.
To hell with God. To hell with the Alliance. And to hell with all the rest of it. There was nothing for it. There weren’t even a gorram scrap of land he could go back to and call home. There was just death and loss and pain and wasn’t nothing else in the ‘Verse worth hopin’ for. Anything else was just delusion; a long wait for a train don’t come. Far as he was concerned, that wait was over.