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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal deals with the turn of events.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2513 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
See Chapter 1 and my blog for disclaimers and such.
Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529 and LEEH for the beta help!
Mandarin translations: put your mouse over the pinyan to get the definitions, or see the list at the end.
There is no BDM in my fic-verse, except for maybe the River/Reaver hidden truth.
As the airlock door closed behind Inara, Zoë quietly left the cargo bay. She wanted to get to Mal before the others did. She found him sitting at the dining room table, his hands folded together in front of him. He didn’t look up when she sat down next to him.
“I guess we ought’a go someplace, huh?” he said after a while, his voice low and quiet.
Zoë nodded. “You got anything in mind?”
Mal hardly moved, but his eyes cast around as if looking for an idea. “Ah, hell, Zoë. I don’t much care.”
Zoë looked down at her hands and blew her breath out her nose. Seeing the Captain like this made her want to go one place – back to that Alliance ship, so she could take the Captain’s pain out on the woman who’d caused it. “Sir, it looks like the Alliance ain’t so hot on our tail. Maybe we ought’a go back to familiar ground, see what’s happenin’.”
“Might as well. See what Badger’s got cookin’.”
Mal nodded. “All right. Tell Wash.” He stood up, but then he wavered slightly, and had to pause with a hand on the back of the chair to steady himself. Under the healing bruises on his face, he looked pale.
“You feelin’ all right, Captain?”
He drew in a deep breath, but gave her a look of warning. “Don’t start,” he said shortly, but both his glare and his voice were lacking in their usual threat, like he didn’t have enough left in him to get properly defensive.
“Maybe you ought’a see the Doc,” Zoë said.
“Seen him already. Nothing wrong with me.”
He seemed short of breath; there sure as hell was something wrong with him. Zoë shifted in her seat, tempted to get up and haul him down to the infirmary, kicking and screaming if necessary. But she stayed where she was. It never helped to force Mal into anything.
“Lunch ain’t for a few hours,” she said. “Why don’t you grab yourself a nap?”
“Good idea,” he said. He forced in a few deep breaths, then straightened and turned to leave. Zoe watched him, noticing how he raised an arm to his chest on the way out, like something pained him.
* * *
Could be Zoë was right, that a nap was all he needed. Just some rest to get him back on his feet; he was barely staying up as it was. Mal climbed down into his bunk, slipping off the last rung awkwardly and clinging to the rail to hold himself upright. He leaned around to hit a button on the panel, and the door swung shut above him.
He thought he’d be all right once he had a little space to himself in the privacy of his bunk, but it wasn’t working that way. He couldn’t breathe. Not enough. The feeling was familiar, but he couldn’t place it; he was having trouble thinking clearly. He reached toward his bed, just got a hand on the edge of it when his legs gave out and he fell to his knees on the deck. Everything he’d been holding back, everything that he should have felt when he saw her smile at him on her way off his ship and out of his life, tore loose. It fell out of him and onto him with crushing weight.
His chest felt hollow, emptied out. Like he had a furrow from the base of his throat to the pit of his stomach, a gouge cut with a dull knife. But the wound didn’t sting; it ached. And it didn’t bleed out; it pulled everything in. It sucked his breath away, sapped his strength, weakened his will. He fell onto his side and crossed his arms over his chest, trying to hold the wound shut, to keep it from devouring him whole. All the bad times he’d had in his life, he’d never felt like this.
A vague thought rose in the back of his mind: What the hell’s happenin’ to me?
The answer came in his own voice, speaking harshly into the turmoil in his mind: You’re a fool, Malcolm Reynolds. You’re a mean, hollow, empty man. You don’t know how to love. You lost that long ago.
There was a sliver of truth in that. But he’d tried his best; he’d had his chance and he’d given her all he had, put his own self aside and tried to do for her.
You ain’t got enough lovin’ for any woman, `specially not that one. Gorram fool. You never even told her.
Mal clutched himself tighter, and felt regret hit him so hard that he had to swallow back bile. He’d never told her that he loved her.
It’s too late for you. You’ll grow old and bitter, and die all alone. Your pathetic life won’t mean a damn thing in the end.
But she loved him, she’d said it.
She left anyhow, and she’s never coming back. How many empty years between now and whatever death you got waitin’ comes for you?
He groaned at the idea of living this life of his for another forty, fifty years. And he was suddenly certain that he would. He’d live to be old and grey, `till everything hurt, till his body didn’t work right, and he’d have no one to help him get around. The `verse was cruel enough to do that, to make life so ruttin’ hard and then force him to live on and on while all the others died or went away.
This moment right now, this is your life. It’ll always be like this.
He felt himself sinking into despair, but another voice spoke up in his head, way in the back, hard to catch. He stilled himself, closed his eyes, and found that he could hear it, if he listened to the calm underneath the pain.
This ain’t right; this feeling ain’t right. Inara leavin’ should hurt, but not like this.
This voice was also his own, but it vied with the other.
Something’s wrong, something’s broken. In my head. I gotta fight it.
Give up. She left you. She knew you got nothin’ to offer.
Maybe, but this still ain’t right. It shouldn’t be this bad.
You’d never love her proper. You ain’t whole enough for that.
I gotta make it stop, push it aside …
You ain’t got a hope. She knew it, and you know it too. Not a hope at all.
…gotta get through this…
The argument faded as the chasm in his chest grew, swallowing both voices. It was pointless to fight anyhow. No matter which side won, he couldn’t do anything about it. Couldn’t call for help, couldn’t eat a bullet to make it stop, couldn’t move, couldn’t even think anymore. He could only lay still under the smothering weight of his grief until the emptiness inside took over.
Zoë did what she could to help Wash make dinner, although cooking had never been her thing. They didn’t talk, but exchanged reassuring touches as they moved around the galley. There was no denying that tension ruled this ship right now, and Zoë was grateful that things with her husband were smooth and she had him to lean on.
The rest of the crew began to gather, taking their seats but staying quiet. Inara’s sudden leave-taking had left most of them somewhat in shock. Even Jayne held his tongue, though he folded his arms and did some scowling like he was annoyed with the whole damn thing and wanted nothing more than to beat on something or someone. Simon started to take a seat next to Kaylee, but he stopped when she turned away from him. He moved to the other side of the table, where he stared at the mechanic with an expression that held just a hint of the longing that’d been pouring out of River ever since that boy Jase left the ship.
Great. Just what Zoë needed, more messiness amongst the crew.
She watched for the Captain. She didn’t really expect him to show; in fact, she thought she might not see him for a while. He had his wounds to lick. When he did get back to the ship’s business, it wasn’t going to be fun. Zoë’d seen Mal with his heart torn out before, and it didn’t make him a nice guy. She was going to have her hands full, keeping this boat afloat.
Of course, that wasn’t the thing that bothered her most. She felt a hand squeezing her own, and looked up to see Wash standing beside her with a look of understanding. He knew all about it. Mal wouldn’t be pleased that she talked to Wash, but she’d had to tell him. She’d need her husband’s support to give her any chance of getting Mal through what Inara’d done to him.
Inara. Just thinking of the woman made Zoë’s blood heat up. Inara may have had her own troubles, but there was no excuse for using the Captain like she had. Zoë just hoped the woman planned on keeping herself in the Core. Zoë didn’t like to think of what she’d do if she ever saw Inara again.
“So… where we goin’?” Jayne asked once Wash and Zoë had joined everyone else at the table.
“Captain wanted to head back to Persephone, check in with Badger,” Zoë explained. “Seems the Alliance ain’t on our backs, so we can go out in the open again, get some real work.”
“Should have done it,” River said softly. Zoë turned to the girl, who was staring off into space with a look of intense regret.
“Done what, River?” Zoë asked, a little annoyed at having to deal with the girl’s ravings now.
“Should have had sex with Jase,” River said firmly. “At least the Captain got to have sex with Inara before his heart broke.” She dropped her head in her hands dramatically, then pitched forward over the table. Simon looked at her like he couldn’t decide between horror and pity, then he settled on carefully moving her hair off her full dinner plate before he slid it out of the way.
“Mal – and Inara?” Jayne asked in disbelief.
Zoë cut him off quickly. “Jayne, you say one thing to Mal about this and you won’t be doin’ it with anyone ever again, you got me?”
Jayne gave her a perplexed look. “What’s the big deal? Cap’n got some, that’s more than most a’ the rest of us lately. Huh - with Inara, too.” He tipped his head to the side with a look of begrudging respect. “Wonder how he managed that.”
“Jayne, I ain’t telling you again,” Zoë warned, then she looked around the table, making sure that everyone got the message. “Mal ain’t in the best mood right now, and he’s like to take it out on anyone who volunteers as a target. Mind your own business.”
“Not necessary,” River said quietly against the table top, but no one paid her any mind.
Jayne gave Zoë a dark look, then he returned to his food. “Damn, I’m sick of bein’ out here,” he grumbled. “Slinkin’ around the gé zhi wō of the ‘verse’s got everyone in such a gorram bad mood.”
“I myself will be glad to see Persephone again,” the Shepherd interjected with an obvious desire to change the subject. “It’s early spring at the docks, and we should be in time for some festivities, if I recall correctly.” He looked toward Kaylee with a smile, as if hoping for some support. “The fair rides are quite good, or they were last time I was there during the season.”
Kaylee just shrugged noncommittally. “I guess.” Then she looked a little hopeful. “If the shops’re open I can get a few things for the mule. To go with the stuff Xiaojun brought…” She was looking around the table, and when she caught Simon’s eye her voice trailed off. Simon looked away too, then his attention settled on River. He laid a hand on her back.
“Did you hear that?” he asked his sister. “You always liked rides – ”
“Don’t care,” she mumbled without raising her head. “Missed my chance. I’ll never get another one, and some other girl’s going to get him!”
“To hell with rides.” Jayne said. “I’m just lookin’ forward to havin’ some real work. Can’t wait to get back to some normal old-fashioned crime.”
“Sounds good!” a voice behind Zoë replied. She turned around – the Captain was coming down the steps, looking a little rumpled, like he’d just woken up. “I’m lookin’ forward to some wholesome crime myself,” he said cheerfully. “The kind we do, not the kind done on us.”
Mal took his seat, seeming not to notice that all eyes were fastened on him, and a few faces were twisted in confusion. “Do you mind?” he asked Book, pointing to a serving bowl halfway down the table.
“Oh – not at all,” the Shepherd replied. He handed the bowl over and Mal plopped a few healthy spoonfuls of food onto his plate.
“`Bout that crime, Jayne,” he said. “What d’ya say to a bank heist? I ain’t robbed a bank in a good long time. Could be fun.”
“Uh – sure, Mal. Always did like banks. They got all that…money.” The mercenary looked at Zoë and shrugged, as if asking her if he was doing all right.
Mal picked up a tidbit with his chopsticks, but then he paused thoughtfully. “Or something with a vault. A cat burgler kind’a job. Hey, Doc, we could get some use out a’your sister there.” He looked at the pile of hair and elbows next to Simon. “You wanna earn your keep climbing walls and danglin’ on the end of a rope, little one?”
“Okay,” River answered, still without lifting her head. She didn’t seem bothered by Mal’s act, but it turned Zoë’s stomach. She leaned toward Mal, and spoke softly.
“Sir, you don’t need to do this.”
“Do what?” he answered, not even trying to match the low level of her voice.
Zoë looked around at the crew. She’d really prefer to talk to Mal about this in private.
“What, Zoë? If you got somethin’ to say, cough it up and spit it out.”
“Thanks for the visual, sir.” Zoë replied dryly. He looked at her expectantly, but she didn’t go on. She wasn’t going to air this in public, as much as she wanted to know what the hell had gotten into him. But she didn’t have to wait until after lunch to find out; Kaylee spoke up for her.
“We know you’ll miss her, Cap’n,” the mechanic said in a small voice. “We all will. You don’t gotta act like you won’t.”
Mal glanced around the table, then he half-smiled like he thought there was a practical joke being played. His eyes finally settled on Kaylee.
Kaylee frowned in confusion. “Um – Inara.”
Mal looked around at the crew again, then set down his chopsticks and leaned back with a lopsided grin. “Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s Inara?”
The crew looked at each other. No one replied except for River, who finally lifted her head and looked at Simon.
“See?” she said. “Broken.”
gé zhi wō: armpit
On to another of mal4prez’s Long-winded commentaries.
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