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Childhood Wishes - Chapter Five - basched
Childhood Wishes - Chapter Five

Title: The Search For River Tam: Mal & Zoe
Series: A Little Problem series.
Author:  Me. Just me.  
Genre:  Supernatural/ humour.
Characters:   Mal and Zoe.  
Summary:   The crew of Serenity undergo a transformation. The Captain and First Mate return to Serenity to find the lost crew member.
Rating: Warning: Possible coat death! 
Author's Note: This has been beta'd by the lovely and wonderful sunshineali Thankyou. Any mistakes are mine not hers! 


The Captain and First Mate held hands as they crouched down watching the engineers, who should have been working on fixing their ship. Instead, the family of grease monkeys were drinking, laughing and preparing to join in on the town’s festivities.

                Mal supposed it was acceptable, being as it was their festival and they had a right to enjoy themselves, but his poor Serenity was in need of help. Seeing her there, broken, smashed and weak—all alone—it made him sad. It made him angry. Mal’s lower lip drooped and his eye sockets ached and stung as tears swelled. His fist clenched and then he felt a pain in his arm.

                “Ow!” he wailed, the pain finally spilling the tears from his eyes and dripping snot from his nose. A long sleeve of his coat guided his arm to catch the drips. “Ow! You hit me!”

                “Of course I hit you!” Zoe cried. “You’re hurting my hand, sir! Let go!”

                Mal did so instantly. Zoe hit pretty hard –okay very hard—as an adult and as she was a little kid now, well it didn’t seem to make a difference. His sleeve smeared across his nose again, the previous trail spreading across his face. Zoe backed away as Mal didn’t notice his skin was covered.

                “Sorry. I…I just….” He sniffed and tried assert control over the intense emotions overwhelming him.

                “I understand, sir.” Zoe rubbed at the hand Mal had nearly crushed and quickly looked around the crates they were hiding behind. “Serenity, she looks very beat up. I feel sorry for crashing her.”

                “We all did this to her.”

Mal fought back the tears and found his inner captainy-self. Mal’s mind began thinking about why he was experiencing the bubbling anger inside. They had all crashed his precious ship because they had been turned into kids and The Lady was the one responsible for it. The only reason why The Lady of the moon cast her witchy supernatural spell was because she had been insulted. Jayne was the one who insulted her and ergo, it was Jayne’s fault. Mal shot to his feet and nearly pushed over the crate.

“Jayne! Yu ben gan ni niang!”

                Of course Mal did have to shout out an obscenity in front of engineers, the good kind family of engineers who were now looking at him with horrified expressions. He clamped his clean sleeve and hand over his mouth feeling awkwardly guilty for offending them.

                There was a slap across his other arm as Zoe clipped him with a half strength attempt to actually hit him. She did not look happy as the three women, wearing overalls and pointy party hats, came rushing over to them. Two began to scold Mal for his bad language, as if these people had never sworn before! The other took a hanky from her pocket, spat on it and began to rub it all over Mal’s face. He cringed and tried to back away from her, but she held him fast and rubbed the gunk off him.

                “Ugh! Gerroff me, woman!” Mal flapped his arms and screwed his face up as the spit wiped across his skin. “I ain’t ya kid and that is really gross!”

                “Says the little boy with snot all over his face!” the woman, ruffled his hair. “Now, why ain’t you and your friend enjoyin’ the festivities?”

                “Serenity is our home,” Zoe pointed to the ship while Mal desperately used his sleeves to wipe the spit off. “We’re worried about her.”

                “Ah. Well don’t you worry,” said another woman. “Yer home will be right as rain in a few days. Now go back to yer parents or else they’ll be hearing from us!”

                “A few days? That is my ship! I wanna be getting off this rock as soon as possible!” Mal beat at the woman who was attacking him with the spit hanky. “And--will you quit it with that damned rag?!”

                Zoe’s fingers dug into Mal’s arm and she quickly dragged him away, apologising and grinning sweetly until she dragged him down behind a couple of water barrels. Actually Mal tripped on his coat and fell down, cussing words that surely would have resulted in him having his mouth washed out with soap. Zoe laughed, it was all she could do.

                “Not funny, Zoe.”

                “I ain’t laughin’, sir.”

                “Yes, you did! Just now!”

                “Not laughin’ any more, sir. Promise.”   

                “Right.” Mal seemed appeased by that statement and when he got the long flaps of his coat out the way of his feet, he looked over the water barrel towards Serenity. “There’s a good chance River might’ve returned here…we’ve gotta get aboard.”

                “That much is obvious.”

                “Okay, here’s the way things is…” Zoe folded her arms and huffed as Mal began to dictate another plan. “Zo, cause a distraction to the big folks…I’m thinkin’ you can make use of those oil cans somehow. Disrupt the place, cause havoc or somethin’, anythin’ that’ll lead them away from me. While you’re gettin’ them Kaylee-wannabes away from Serenity, I’ll sneak round the side of the docking pad and board her. I’ll have to find some way to reach the hatch release…I’m too gorram short…maybe a pulley system with them chains over there or if I can I can drag some crates across and stack one on top of the other? Your distraction has to be a good one and long, I don’t need them coming back and givin me more spit washes! So once inside I will search for River, if she’s here, I’ll get her off and we can skedaddle over to the Lady and get our good gorram selves adult-ed again! How does that sound?”

“Sounds good, sir,” Zoe held her hand over her mouth to hide the smirk from Mal. She coughed a couple of times and then patted the Captain on his shoulder. “Or…why don’t we just walk over to Serenity and walk on?”

                “Huh-what-how now?”

                Zoe turned round and pointed. Past the gate of the docks, the long straight road into the centre of town was busy and packed with people, including the family who were supposed to be repairing the ship. The gates to the dock were now locked and would prove a problem when Mal and Zoe—and possibly River—left, but there was no one else in this mechanic’s bay. It was just the two of them.

                “Oh. Okay. Shiny.”

                He stood gazing at Serenity with a mixture of pride and saddened joy and after a long moment of the Captain gawping, he jerked suddenly as if he had been bitten or slapped. Mal jumped forward and with all the speed he could muster, started to run towards his ship. Zoe followed closely behind, picking him up when he tripped on his coat. She had to pick her own self up off the dirty ground when Mal wrenched from out of her support and threw himself at the hull of Serenity to hug it. Mal kissed the scarred plating and muttered under his breath and then scurried round to the rear.

                Zoe made sure the Captain couldn’t see her before tentatively approaching Serenity, spreading her arms and pressing herself against the side of the ship. She remembered that she hadn’t been optimistic for this Firefly when Mal first introduced them—Zoe hadn’t liked her much at all—but now just like her captain and the rest of the crew, she couldn’t imagine any other vessel harbouring them in the black. She wouldn’t want any ship other than Serenity.

                “You’re not fei-oo.” She whispered, pressing a kiss to her fingers and touching the ship. “You can never be fei-oo.

                The first mate would have loved to have stayed longer but the sound of frustrated grunts and whines from around the corner pulled her away.  


                The first mate sighed. If he shouted again, someone was bound to hear, but then Mal tended to shout a lot, which was one reason why he kept getting shot so often. She walked round and sure enough, Mal was jumping up to try and tag the button. It wasn’t going well.

                “This could be a problem.” He huffed, jumping up again but still not succeeding. Zoe tried as well, with no luck. “Okay, give me a boost up. Hold your hands out and I can use you as….”

                “How about we do it the other way round?”

                Mal sheepishly grinned and held out his hands without further protest. Zoe supported herself against the ship and placed a booted foot in Mal’s linked hands. After the count of three, Zoe lifted her weight up into his hold and stretched her arm to touch the release button. There was a hiss, a crack, and a screeching whine followed as the bay door began to descend. Zoe had to jump off of Mal to prevent herself from being caught or crushed, she landed on her feet quite well and she couldn’t help but feel overjoyed to see the bay of Serenity.

                She forgot to remain calm and cautious and pelted up the ramp with all the speed she could muster. Zoe’s arms flapped about she was that giddy, but her joy fell when she saw the state of the ship caused by the crash. It was a mess. It looked as if a bomb had hit it, there were bits of metal everywhere, cargo boxes were smashed, the catwalks above were now barely hanging together and to make matters worse…the Captain’s fort had been completely obliterated.

                It was going to take a lot longer than a few days to repair most of the damage, Zoe figured, though the town’s engineers could only mean to get Serenity flying again. Perhaps in foresight Kaylee and Wash should have come back to the ship to see if they could do anything to help, but Mal being the Captain….he made the decision.

                There was the sound of something ripping and then a high pitched but barely restrained squeak. Zoe, noting that Mal wasn’t next to her, turned and saw a very tearful Captain standing on the bottom of the ramp. He was scared and very upset, for his nostrils were quivering as much as his mouth was.  

                “Zo….” He began to make this strange blubbering sound, which then turned into a heaving wheeze as he tried to get out his words. “I…I think my…coat….”

                The large rip in the prized brown coat was hard to miss.

                “Captain….” Zoe slowly edged down the ramp, holding her hands out in reassurance, her tone as light and comforting as possible. “Sir…we can fix it. We can get it repaired.”

                “It….” Mal snorted loudly, trying to hold in the inevitable howling bawl he wanted to release. “It…won’t. Be. The. Same.”

                His bottom lip quivered as he gazed in absolute horror at his beloved brown coat with the huge tare. The tears in his eyes reached a point that they could no longer be contained and so they streamed down his cheeks; his whole body began to sway and his legs began to shake. Jibbering words began to mumble from his mouth and slowly a sleeve covered hand began to caress at the coat like it someone had shot and killed a puppy. Zoe had known Mal for years and it was extremely rare to see him without it when off the boat.   

                “Sir…we can get you a new one then. One exactly like it how does that sound?”    

                 There was a sharp inhalation of air, combined with a wet snort. Mal’s eyes widened in horror and his fists clenched in anger, turning white.

                “Say that again, suggest that again…and I will end you!” The threatening angry and very Captain-y tone then broke down into a hurtful sob. “How could you?!”   



                It took a long time to convince Mal Reynolds to slip off his coat and come into the ship to search for River. The already distraught Captain was reduced into further anguish as he surveyed the internal damage to his ship.  Adult Mal wouldn’t have reacted in the way that little Mal did, yet it was clear how he truly felt about his ship.

                Zoe understood how difficult it was to keep control in the emotions swelling up inside her. It was like a boiling kettle, the water bubbling over and spilling everywhere; but even if the kettle was turned off, if she could reassert some of her adult control, the water or emotions would still continue boiling before settling. Mal’s kettle didn’t look like it was turning off.

                Zoe was having difficulty in keeping her own to a light simmer.  She was feeling very sad at the way her home looked, in fact a few tears began to build up in her eyes, but she was still essentially her. Zoe had never been one to panic or fret over dire situations, she dealt with them. Zoe did all she could and then accepted things…her training, her life had made her into who she was. Being this little, having all these feelings again, she both welcomed them and wanted them gone.

                “Sir…we have to focus. River, we need to find her.”

                “Do you know how much effort it took me to make that fort?! Do you even know how much all these repairs are gonna to cost?! What about my coat?! How am I ever going to find another one like that?! It belonged to my dad, my dad, who I never knew!”

                “Snap out of it, Captain!”

                She didn’t put much strength behind the punch, but it impacted on Mal’s shoulder just enough to shut him up and gasp in shock. He was going to cry again but it seemed his first mate did just what he needed. Mal scowled and punched her back.


                “Ow! Sir!”

                “There was no need to hit me! Di yu!

                “Yes! There was! You were gettin’ emotional and mushy over Serenity! Again!”

                “I’m her captain and therefore entitled to be mushy! I have the emotional capacity of a four year old!”

                “So do I! So why don’t we focus on finding the doc’s sister!”

                “Fine! All right then! Just don’t hit me again or I’ll be seriously reprimandin’ ya!”

                “I won’t hit you if you stop acting like a baby.”

                Mal huffed angrily and folded his arms across his chest. Zoe matched his actions and at the same time both of them stuck their tongues out at each other and turned their backs.

                After a few more moments sulking, the Captain and First mate knowing they were being foolish, petty and childish, turned back round.

                “I’ll…I’ll call for her over the comms,” Said Zoe pointing to the control panel. “She might hear us and come out of hiding.”

                “I’m gonna start searching the ship.” Mal allowed a small apologetic smile to drift upon his face and he lightly and playfully gave Zoe a little shove. “Sorry. I’m seriously not likin' being small, and snotty. It’s irkin me greatly how The Lady has done this…I’m mightily pissed that Jayne even gave her cause for it…my fort is gone and my ship is broken. My coat...”

                “Easy, sir…easy.”

                Mal breathed and smiled again before the anguish could take hold.

                “I want to be a grown-up again, Zoe. So let’s do this.”

                “Yes sir.” Zoe smiled back and headed for the control panel. She wanted to be an adult as well…she hoped that the Lady would be able to work her magic again.




                “River? Sweetie? Are you here? Please answer us.”       

                It had been an hour and Mal was getting very, very sleepy. He had searched all the places he could think of for River Tam, but there was no sign of her. Even Zoe’s constant calls for the youngest member of the crew proved fruitless. Mal had looked everywhere he could think of; one of the advantages of being small was he was able to climb into some of the hidey places River used before, yet he was unable to locate her. It was logical to assume that River would come back here, it was home to her, she had said enough times how much she loved it. The more places he looked and the more Zoe called for her it seemed likely that the resident crazy genius hadn’t returned to Serenity.

                “She’s not here” Said Mal, instantly hearing Zoe emerge from the bridge behind him.

                “Ya sure?”

                “Well, I did look in all the places I could think of.”

                “What about the places you wouldn’t think of. The areas of the ship we’d think River would avoid.”

The infirmary was a given and already done. Book’s room was done as well…the teen steered clear of his room ever since the “hair” incident…but there wasn’t anywhere else on Serenity that she would avoid.

Zoe cleared her throat and pointed to the bunk hatch next to them. Mal waved a dismissive hand.

“I’ve checked the bunks.”

“All of them?”

Mal’s mouth dropped open. He hadn’t checked all of them, there was only one and at the time he thought it ridiculous to search. River would never go in there.

So if she was upset and afraid, it would be the last place on Serenity that she would hide. With both of their efforts, Mal and Zoe pushed open the hatch to Jayne’s bunk and they climbed down into the lion’s den. Mal had been down in Jayne’s bunk before and it was normally a mess, with the exception of the immaculate layout of his weapons on the wall. Nothing had changed, it was still a tip, but some of the weapons had been thrown from their positions and now cluttered the floor.

River was not here either.

“Well it was a long shot.” Mal sighed. “We can only hope the others find her now.”

“We’d better get out of here.”

“Yeah the smell of Jayne’s laundry isn’t doing wonders for my sense of smell. Remind me to put him on laundry duty—specifically his own—when we’re back to normal.”     

“Yes sir.”

The two turned to the ladder to exit, but something caught Mal’s eye. He looked properly at the space beneath the merc’s bed, as the flash of something bright and colourful became all too clear. Reynolds bent down and extracted the yellow and red dress, the same dress he had seen River wear all too often, though it had been a while since she had done so last.

“Er….is that River’s?” asked Zoe, pointing to the fabric in Mal’s hand. He nodded. “Is that the same one which was ruined after she tried to give Jayne a haircut a few months back?”


“Why would River’s dress be in here, in Jayne’s quarters?”

Mal didn’t know, but as his fist clenched round the dress, the as of yet unknown fatherly instinct riled up the anger inside of him.

“Jayne--!” His voice growled as low as it possibly could, considering his voice hadn’t broken yet. Or again. “Yu ben gan ni niang!”

Tags: , , ,
Current Mood: chipper chipper
Current Music: Sticky Honey - Juliette & The Licks

8 comments or Leave a comment
From: cedelede Date: January 30th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Awww, Jayne has a little River memento! How cute!
basched From: basched Date: January 30th, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Cute? That shall remain to be seen! Thanks for reading!
night_lotus From: night_lotus Date: January 30th, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Poor Mal. First his cherished coat gets ripped and then he finds "carnal knowledge" balled up under Jayne's bed.

I love to see the crew portrayed as children, with all of the corresponding emotions and actions. Mal is particularly hilarious!

Poor Serenity. They need to get her fixed so they can find River and bring her back to the fold.

I am very much looking forward to the next chapter!


basched From: basched Date: January 31st, 2011 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yeah...poor Mal and his coat. Bless! I do have fun writing little!Mal. As for what he's found...when he meets up with Jayne, let's just say he aint gonna be pleased!

I love this fic so much, its a joy to write all the crew really. (Mal and Jayne my favourites obviously!)The mixture of their adult and childlike qualities is a right laff!

Serenity will get fixed. bless her.

Thanks so much for your reply! I'm so happy you're liking it!

Next chapter will be another couple!
sunshineali From: sunshineali Date: January 31st, 2011 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)
This was a fun chapter. I love that Mal was crushed when his beloved coat was torn. Can't wait to see what River is up to. :)
basched From: basched Date: January 31st, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thanks Ali! Thank you so much for beta-ing and I hope to have the next chapter underway as soon as possible!

As for what River is up to? I'm keepin' schtum! XD
goddessofbirth From: goddessofbirth Date: January 31st, 2011 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I loved that Mal and Zoe were just as upset about his fort being destroyed as they were about the mess of Serenity. And it is always amusing to find Jayne keeping 'crazy' mementos before he ever realizes he has a think for River.
basched From: basched Date: January 31st, 2011 10:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

They would be upset, G! :) That fort took a lot of effort for them to make! XD

As for Jayne's momento...heee!! :)

Pleased you liked, G and thanks for leaving a lovely reply!
8 comments or Leave a comment