BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GUILDSISTER

Blue Sun Job, Part 8: Zoe's Tale
Friday, June 18, 2004

Zoe's story of their life in the before time and a confessional interlude with Mal.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3364    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Blue Sun Job, Part 8: Zoe’s Tale

Sequel to the
Truthsome series (link is to part 1)
Blue Sun Job, Part 1: Plans and Schemes
Blue Sun Job, Part 2: Into the Lion’s Den
Blue Sun Job, Part 3: Going Smooth
Blue Sun Job, Part 4: Return to the Core
Blue Sun Job, Part 5: Life That Was
Blue Sun Job, Part 6: More Life That Was
Blue Sun Job, Part 7: ...and Robberies That Were


Chinese:

No critical dialog using actual Chinese characters

混蛋 = hwoon dahn (hundan) = bastard
他妈的 = ta ma duh = f*ck, or motherf*cking
懂吗? = dong ma? = do you understand?


Blue Sun Job, Part 8: Zoe’s Tale
靑日 Job: Zoe’s Tale

To have and to hold...

Zoe let the words drift through her mind as she held close to the man who wasn’t her husband. So seldom they’d done this, her and Mal. Beyond rare. Once in the far distant Before he’d pulled her in close to offer comfort for a shared grief and she’d pushed him away. It had been a shattering moment in their relationship then and one never spoken on by either of them since. Then the wartime came, and despite where they’d left off years earlier he’d walked through the fire for her, violating more orders than she could count, to save her from a hellish fate. It forged a new bond between them based on absolute loyalty and--ultimately--unquestionable trust. Zoe had no imagining of a debt she needed to repay--it wasn’t that at all. There was no owing, no obligation, the give and take passed all accounting, and made the bond all the stronger for it.

The war and Serenity Valley effectively erased the people they had once been as thoroughly as it had erased their lives, families, and worlds. Only the two of them remained in the midst of deep shadows of loss. Aware she was all Mal had for a long time, Zoe wasn’t sure he realized the reverse was just as true. When she’d gone to his bed, holding to him through a sleepless night those many years before in that prison, it hadn’t been as much to comfort him, to give him a lifeline to another human soul whose existence mattered, as to cling on to her own lifeline. Without Mal it was she who would have been lost, lost to the hatred, to the darkness that for years constantly tried to swallow both of them, the darkness they sometimes--often--embraced rather than resisted.

That first real robbery they had done had nearly split them apart. Mal had no comprehension of that, Zoe knew, or he wouldn’t have spoken of it as a goodness. She’d held that secret, as so many others, closely walled off within herself. Zoe felt his arms tighten when she whispered “couldn’t have stood to lose you.” She couldn’t have stood it. After all was said and done she’d almost left once and for all rather than risk having to watch him die.

* * *

Five Years Earlier...

Zoe froze in the doorway at the click of a gun being brought to full cock. Mal squinted at her from the bed, trying to focus on her. He looked feverish, possibly hallucinating, yet the gun barrel never wavered so much as a millimeter. Then recognition filled his eyes. He groaned softly, tilting the barrel away from her, uncocking the pistol, and letting his arm fall to his side. Zoe entered the room, closing the door behind her.

Setting her package down on the table, she crossed to the bed, prying the pistol from Mal’s fingers. At his questioning look, she said, “I’m about to cause you some serious hurting and I don’t want you shooting me.” She kept her voice light, adding a gentle smile. He was too miserable to fake much of a smile in return, but made the effort. Zoe studied him a moment. Didn’t look good. Pain etched every line on his flushed face. Breathing labored---she didn’t like the looks of that but it seemed to be just from fighting the pain, not internal bleeding. Nothing she could do about it either way.

“I couldn’t get much,” Zoe said, turning toward the table. “They know they shot one of us--they’re searching for an injured man. Every doctor, every pharmacy, is being watched. I did get some alcohol...”

“Alcohol?” he asked hopefully.

Zoe glanced over with a flash of a real smile. “Not the drinking kind.” He groaned in response. “Some bandages.” Well, strips of cloth, none too sterile. A needle and thread to stitch him up if he survived the cutting. No, don’t think on that. One thing at a time. Don’t look past the now to the then. Deal with each moment, each problem, as it comes. Wiping at her face, Zoe methodically prepared the sadly inadequate supplies, at the same time preparing herself, seeking out the cold, blank darkness that buried all feeling and caring.

Checking the windows once more for Alliance patrols, Zoe took a deep breath. “Ready?” It sounded like a ‘yes’ moan he made.

“You can’t make any noise,” Zoe said as she helped roll Mal over. “Any of our good ‘neighbors’ would turn us in for the reward in an instant.” She arranged his arms so he could take a grip on the edge of the mattress. Moistening a fold of cloth, she put it between his teeth. “Now, relax,” she ordered, waiting until he had forced himself to untense. Slowly, carefully, she slid her hand over his side to his back. Zoe knew the instant she’d found where the bullet was lodged. He went rigid, but only a small whimper escaped. Ignoring the pain she was causing--there was plenty more to come--Zoe probed the spot until she could feel the hard lump of lead buried in muscle and flesh.

Zoe felt curiously remote as she cleaned the area with alcohol. Piling up bodies. Dying groans. The smell of blood and death. They’d gone but never left. “If you’ve given any thought to passing out,” she said from a great distance, “now would be a good time.”

No ‘ready?’ No ‘count of three.’ Zoe poised her knife and cut hard and deep.

* * *

His eyes flickered open to a golden glow. Blinking, his gaze roamed without really seeing until he came to rest on what he sought. Zoe. Elbows propped on a rough table, her forehead rested on folded hands. He wished she’d look over so he could see her eyes sparkle in the lamplight. But she stared downward at the open book. Zoe weren’t usually much of a Bible reader. That one night, though... He blinked again. Was this now or then? He couldn’t tell. A vigil for the dying. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me... On Shadow. In shadows? It was so hot in here. Hell come a callin’?

He reached up, grasping at his neck for the silver chain. Gone. Where had it gone? Zoe looked up. Over at him. Her eyes... solace enough. He slipped back away into the dark.

Zoe paced. Restless. Anxious. Angry. Angry at Mal as much as anything. Stupid gorram plan. Rob the 混蛋 behind their own lines with no solid escape route? Just stay hid in their own territory. Stupid. She should have said something. But she hadn’t considered it either. Just figured they wouldn’t get caught. They hadn’t. Got away, just not quite clean. Not quite smooth.

Checking the windows, again, Zoe glanced over at Mal. He’d drifted in and out of consciousness, or seemed to. He didn’t seem fully aware even when his eyes were open. She had to get him up, get him out of here to the relative safety of a blackout zone. The patrols were sweeping in tighter, scooping up every Independent they found. She glanced at Mal again. As soon as they found one with a fresh gunshot wound the hunt would be over. So would they.

They needed help and she didn’t know where or how to get it.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Zoe dipped a cloth in a pan of water, sponging off Mal’s sweaty face. She didn’t know if it helped, if it made one gorram bit of difference at all, but it was all she could do. His eyes opened, resting on her without recognition.

“Mal,” she said. Nothing. “Sergeant,” she snapped. The title got a blink of acknowledgement that the name didn’t. She didn’t need him fully coherent, just functioning on an instinctive, ingrained level would do. “Sarge.” She didn’t soften her tone. “We’re caught behind enemy lines and need to get moving. Can you do that?”

He nodded, holding on to a semblance of consciousness. Where he really was, which battlefield, which mission, Zoe didn’t really care, as long as the years of survival and combat training held. “There are enemy patrols all around us,” she said in a harsh whisper as she gathered supplies, their few belongings--and the money. “Absolute quiet. 懂吗?”

“Didn’t see the sniper,” he murmured.

“Wouldn’t be a very good sniper if you saw him,” she said, slinging the pack over her shoulder. She pulled Mal into a sitting position. He groaned.

Blinking rapidly, his eyes fixed on her. “Zoe? What are you doing here?”

“Beats the hell out of me,” she answered. Her head spun toward the windows. The heart-chilling clatter of Alliance troopers echoed through the street. The signature sound of the way they slung their gear reached Mal too. Zoe saw his eyes darken as he turned toward the windows.

“Help me up,” he ordered, and it was unmistakably an order. Rapidly, she got his shirt and coat on him, bending to hoist him to his feet. He wavered but held onto consciousness.

Mal woke to a soothing kind of darkness, a half-wall giving them cover in the ruins of a bombed out building. A familiar sort of place. Battle must be over. It was so quiet. A shadow moved nearby. Zoe. On watch. That was good. He could rest. So tired.

Zoe moved close, resting her hand in his forehead. It was a comfort. He’d tried to comfort her once and she wouldn’t let him. Hurtful times. Didn’t matter. All long gone. Dead and buried. Past redemption.

* * *

“Zoe.” The two men greeted her cautiously.

“Private. Corporal,” she said, giving each an acknowledging nod. “I need some help...” how she hated to admit that, “...and hoping you can provide it.”

“For the sarge?” the corporal asked, gesturing toward the still form on the ground. “Anything. We’re still alive ‘cause of him.” Zoe felt her hope rise a touch. “But...” Of course, she thought, always ‘but’. “...but we ain’t got the means. We’re as stuck here as you.”

Zoe glanced up at the blue gas giant hanging on the horizon. Beyond its edge the glittering ball of wealth and power that was Alpha shone. She shifted her gaze to the other disk in the sky--Delta. “We’ve got to get off world. Sarge needs medicine and real doctoring. Everything here is locked down tight. Is there any way...?”

“There might be,” the private cut her off. “We’ve been working the fringe a bit more than you. Got in touch with a...” he hesitated, glanced at Mal, seemed to reach a decision, “...an underground of sorts. Very tight. Very secret.”

“Independents?” Zoe asked.

“Some. More of us getting in all the time. Couldn’t say who and how got it all started. Could might be it explains this--” he gestured toward the ruins of the blackout zone. “I think they’ll help, if we tell it right.” He looked at her steadily. “Take some money, though.”

Zoe chuckled. “Strange to say, but that is the one thing we do have at this particular juncture.”

* * *

Days he slept. Days she didn’t. Zoe woke from a too-short nap at Mal’s groans and thrashing. She held his arms pinned until he stilled. He wasn’t getting any better. Holding on, but no more. Often delirious, he said a few disjointed things she tried hard not to hear. The flashbacks to the hell of the war she could bear. It was the fractured comments about the Before that burned into her. Too much history. Put it all in a closet, lock the door, and never look inside.

Her carbine snapped into position at the faint sound of a shifting pebble.

“It’s me,” the private said. She lowered her weapon, but just a little. “Tonight. When Alpha rises,” he said, handing her a pouch. She looked inside. A small vial and a needle. Another package. Zoe swallowed hard at what she saw inside there. Looking up, she nodded.

Zoe’s face in the darkness bending over him. He smiled. She stretched his arm out. Her hand was cool. Like a little oasis. She pressed a needle against his arm.

“What’s that?” Didn’t care.

“Ssshhh,” she said, not looking up. The needle slid in. “It’ll make you feel better.”

A drowsy numbness crawled over him. Enveloping him. He sighed and surrendered to it. Zoe was on watch anyhow.

* * *

She didn’t like public transport. Not at all. And she didn’t trust that other one--the underground contact. He wasn’t one of them. He was an outsider and she didn’t like the way he looked at them. But the idents he produced got them through and on. Zoe sat rigidly on the shuttle, one hand clamped on Mal’s forearm as he leaned heavily against her. The wait seemed forever until the doors hissed closed and they lifted.

Mal climbed from a black fog to a gray fog. Staring at the fuzzy grayness, he tried to rub his eyes, to clear his vision, but couldn’t. Looking down, he twisted his hands, puzzled. He was handcuffed. When had that happened? Tilting his head slightly he stared at the face above the gray Fed uniform beside him. It was vaguely familiar. One of the prison guards? Were they taking him back there? He didn’t want to go back there. Not ever. Not to the black, silent grave there...

The gray fog fell away outside the window and sunlight hit him full in the face. Squeezing his eyes closed, he moaned and turned away.

A hand tightened on his arm. He opened his eyes. Zoe? He blinked. Grey uniform. When had Zoe joined the Feds? This was more than ordinary unsettling.

“Quiet,” she hissed. It was an order. Did he take orders from Zoe? Didn’t he outrank her? Seemed wiser to obey.

The security officer checked their idents and papers. “What’s the matter with him?” he asked, jerking his head toward Mal, slumped in the seat, staring blankly at Zoe. “He looks sick.”

“Sedated,” Zoe said tightly. “Keeps ‘em quiet during transport.”

“Ummm. Good idea,” the officer said, handing their cards and papers back. “Better yet we should just space him. 他妈的 Independents.”

Zoe and the Fed-uniformed Independent on the other side of Mal chuckled agreeably. The security officer didn’t notice the look in their eyes. Nor the tightening of trigger fingers on weapons of the Fed-uniformed Independent corporal and the underground operative seated opposite them.

The security officer moved on. Glancing at Mal, Zoe saw his eyes were fixed on her.

“Better give him another shot,” the private said, low.

“There’s not much left. And we still gotta get him through the port,” Zoe whispered. She looked down to see how Mal was doing. He’d dozed off with his head resting on her shoulder. Probably have nightmares about seeing her in this uniform. She took a deep, sighing breath. Might have a few nightmares about it herself.

* * *

Now...

“Huh,” Mal said quietly. “Yeah, I’ve had a nightmare or two with you in an Alliance uniform. Had no notion that was real.”

Zoe chuckled. She’d told him a somewhat censored version of the tale, keeping the impersonal facts and leaving out the raw feelings. “Drugged you senseless again on the way through the port on Delta. Then onto that place they set us up in. Hole in the wall dive but the Feds didn’t come sniffing around that area so it was safe from them. Not so safe from the cut-throats, thieves, and the like in that area, though. Got you real medicines and a more-or-less real doctor to fix you up. You really don’t remember any of that?”

She felt him shrug slightly. “Bits and pieces. Some real. Some probably not. It explains why you were so twitchy on the shuttle ride here. Not a comfort that’s our escape route this time too, huh?”

“Not so much,” Zoe said. She paused. “It’ll work out. Always does somehow or another.”

“That why you came back?” he asked softly.

Speaking of raw feelings... Zoe squeezed her eyes closed for a moment. “You knew why I left after that?” she asked.

“Had a good notion,” Mal said. “Had the same one myself. That’s why you got all kinda colder and snippier the better I got. Safer if there’s no one you care about. No complications. Simpler.”

She sighed. “Yeah. Simpler.” But he hadn’t died that time. He’d come back from the brink to her, that time and every time since. Just as she had. Maybe some day that tenuous thread of luck would run out, but for now it was still the one bit of faith she had--and suspected he had. She was never really surprised when they beat the odds one more time. He always came back. “First time you die for permanent, though, I’m outta here,” she said fiercely, but with a hint of humor.

Mal got it. Chuckled low. “Likewise. So it’s ‘til death...” He stopped.

...us do part.

Zoe finished the phrase in her head; knew he had too. They held a tight silence for a long time. He’d asked once and she’d refused. They’d just been kids... too young, too stupid... and not really in love. Later, too old--though not in years--and with too much ugly, warping history standing between them. Love, or something like it, but no longer any passion. She should roll away. Stop this conversation now. Leave the wall up. Keep the closet door locked. Don’t tread in the land of dead lives. She didn’t. It was rare they talked like this and would like to be rarer still in the years to come. Confession was good for the soul, she’d heard it told. The only one she could confess to was the one man who already knew all there was to know, who wouldn’t be shocked or tarnished by what was.

Mal must have been thinking along those lines too. “You told Wash any of that tale?” he asked, a hint of captainy-ness or sergeant-ness creeping into his tone.

“No,” she said shortly.

“He thinks we met in the army, don’t he? Old army buddies...”

“He may have jumped to a conclusion I didn’t see fit to correct,” Zoe said. “You fed him one yourself the other night saying that was the only time we’d ever slept together like that. And no sex.”

“Well, there wasn’t.”

“He took ‘no’ to mean ‘never’,” she said.

“I ain’t gonna correct him. And I don’t recall no sleepin’ them other times. Just a whole helluva lot of rolling around in the hay,” Mal said. Both chuckled, a trifle guiltily, Zoe thought. “Okay,” Mal said, nudging her away. “Just not the conversation to be having with you all plastered up against me this way.”

“Right.” She rolled away, but not far. Side by side but no touching. As it usually was. The normal way of things.



Next: Blue Sun Job, Part 9: More of Zoe's Tale

COMMENTS

Friday, June 18, 2004 2:47 PM

JEBBYPAL


Amazing, loved the interplay btw them in the past and in the present. Who cares about the robbery, we wanna know about before the war!

Saturday, June 19, 2004 12:02 AM

SOLON


Yep, in terms of greatness, it's telling that you've managed to keep the characters so compelling that the impending robbery is a distant second to the supurb emotion and dialouge that you wrest out of these character in what makes me check this site more than once daily for the next installment.

Saturday, June 19, 2004 1:00 AM

KISPEXI2


I'm not in any hurry for the robbery either. All though I'm sure it'll be great when it comes because you write so well.

For the moment, I'm enjoying wallowing in your beautiful, beautiful depiction of the relationship between Zoe and Mal. It is so deep, so true. And I kind of like the way there was a "helluva lot of rolling around in the hay." ;)

Monday, June 21, 2004 8:01 AM

AMDOBELL


This is really good, an enthralling read. I love how you show Mal and Zoe's relationship. The closeness between them is more than blood, deeper than a physical love. More like the welding of their DNA to each other. Wonderful and fascinating and so begging for more! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, June 23, 2004 9:49 AM

TALLGRRL


would be nice if, one day--perhaps in one of the movies or on a tv special--this part of their relationship was explored.
There definitely is somewhat of an unspoken "history" between Zoe & Mal. Mal even says as much when he tells Wash (in War Stories) that Zoe disobeyed an order by marrying Wash.
Also, I think Zoe's calling Mal "Sir" is her way of keeping distance; of keeping their relationship professional and not personal.
In other words, about this story: Wheeeee!!!!
Great work. Want more!


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