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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal and Inara have a moment and River tries to help Simon. Canon pairings. Some fluff, but mostly not. PG-13, but may not deserve it. Longer than usual (4k words).
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1311 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Even Roses Have Thorns
Chapter Thirty-Two: Primum non nocere (the first thing is to do no harm – from the Hippocratic oath) Part I
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Chapters 1-10, Chapters 11-20, Chapters 21-30, Chapter 31
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The dull brown dress had been large for her, but Inara merely added some ribbons as make shift ties – when she stepped out of the shuttle in his dress, Mal was pleasantly surprised. He watched her make her way down to the cargo bay with her usual care; she had attached red-brown ribbons not too different from the colour of the bonnet to the upper arms of the dress to shorten the sleeves, and puffed out the extra material over the ribbons in the leg of mutton fashion. Another ribbon wound it’s way around her waist, and the extra material was folded into little gathers and darts. “I shoulda known, Inara, that you could make even that dowdy thing look pretty.” He looked her over critically. “Best fix that bonnet for ya though, ain’t sitting right.” He pulled it forward over her face.
“Mal, I can’t see a damn thing like that!”
“Well, that’s the way you wear ‘em. Probably meant to be horse blinkers for a woman.”
“You’re not serious!” Inara said, though she stood still as Mal continued to make slight adjustments to the bonnet. When he finished, Inara made a backwater style curtsy and smiled at him. “Will I pass?”
He shook his head at her fondly. “No, you’ll still stand out, but I could drag you through town backwards on a horse and you’d manage to make it look elegant.” He took her gallantly by the arm and they strolled off of the ship.
“Mal, it’s very kind of you, what you’re doing for Ceres.”
Mal shook his head again, and spoke seriously “No, it’s not. She’s my prisoner, and it’s my responsibility. Girl needs something to wear and something to do. Besides, she’s tiny, she can’t keep wearing Zoë’s pants with the bottoms turned up as far as the knees. You get a list from her?”
“Yes. She gave me her sizes and some colour preferences.”
“Yes. She was quite adamant that I avoid purple, grey, brown and any shades of red too similar to the red on the Independent’s uniform. Also blue. And she doesn’t like yellow, but gold, copper, bronze and tan are all right, as long as they’re not encroaching too far on brown.”
“Ya serious? She really thinks I’d care?”
“Mal, you and Zoë are known to favour your old military colours. She isn’t going to trespass on that if she can avoid it, and giving your own preferences, well – wearing grey or purple might come across as… confrontational.” Inara peered around the edge of Mal’s bonnet to catch his eye. “Mal, she’s very insecure. She wants to – well, I can’t say that she wants to please, exactly, but she is trying very hard not to grate on anyone.”
“She’s very contained.”
“Did she mention any books she wanted or the like?”
“She asked for some craft supplies. She’s very fond of kirigami. Also, she asked, if there was room in the budget, for a few cosmetic supplies. All very simple and reasonably priced, Mal.”
Mal sensed that Inara was bristling defensively. “Just curious, is all. Glad it’s somethin’ simple to get.” Mal fell silent, ambling genially along arm and arm with Inara, and Inara wondered whether Mal had drawn her closer consciously, or unconsciously. Hidden by her bonnet, she smiled a little wider.
A question occurred to Inara. “Does she remind you of River?”
Mal stiffen momentarily, but Inara felt him relax again. “Honestly? No. Not at all.” He was quiet, but Inara knew that he wasn’t finished, just thinking on what he would say next. “River – you’d have to be blind, deaf and more than a little stupid not to know the girl’s a reader. Ceres – even after she’s gone and shown you, it’s still hard to believe. You sort of start to forget it, as soon as you shake the oddness of it. Might be the difference in their ages though – River’s younger, and younger still when you account for all the things she’s only just learning about life now.” He fell silent again.
Inara prompted him gently. “What do you mean, Mal?” She wanted to hear his thoughts, and it seemed he was in a mood to share them. She liked what she hoped was a growing comfort between them.
“Just – well, you asked me if she reminded me of River. She doesn’t. She does remind me more than a mite, though, of Simon.”
That startled Inara; it wasn’t a connection she would have made, but she responded neutrally. “Well, you have spent more time with her than I have.”
“They share a core-bred quiet arrogance in the rightness of their choices.” Mal was silent again. Inara decided not to point out that she knew rim-folk who were plenty arrogant about the rightness of their choices, as it would only spoil the moment they were finally having – and, well, maybe Mal was right; Simon’s arrogance was, at least, usually quiet. “And they share this certainty that they just can’t hide that they really are utterly alone in the cold, dark ‘verse.”
Inara reached across and squeezed Mal’s arm. “Simon doesn’t think like that anymore. He knew we would come for him. River as much as said so.”
“True. Took him a damn long time to get to that place a trust, though, ‘Nara.” Mal continued. “Reminds me a bit of Zoë, too – they’re both so…”
“I was trying to avoid usin’ that word again, but it does seem to crop up.”
“It’s – appropriate – I guess.”
“Begs the question, ‘containing what?’ though, doesn’t it?”
“A bit of Saffron, too, I guess.”
“I’m serious, ‘Nara. There’s this competence, and she’s personable enough, if trying a little too hard – but deep down there’s this disturbed craziness. We just haven’t seen it yet. But you know it’s there, you can sense it.” Mal shook his head. “Course, nobody goes through all of what she’s gone through and remains the same. Can’t happen.” Mal paused. “You saw how she acted at breakfast this morning? And the girl’s a reader. Had to know nothing untoward was gonna happen to her.”
“Honestly, Mal? I know that I really thought it might.”
“Jayne doesn’t just hit girls.”
“He slapped River.”
“After she stabbed him! She gave him a chest wound, he gave her a busted lip. Could reasonably be called self-defence. It’s not like he shot her.”
“I understand that, Mal. I’m not suggesting that Jayne would go beating women, just that either he – or indeed Zoë – might have reacted a little – strongly, shall we say – to Ceres trespassing at the table.”
“Zoë handled it very well, I thought.”
“She always does.”
“Oh, look! This is perfect for Zoë, don’t ya think? Isn’t this just adorable?” Kaylee’s question was more or less rhetorical, but Jayne replied anyway.
“Look, Mal told ya nothing for the babies. We got the parts we need, let’s just get back to the boat.”
Kaylee put on her best pouty face and most wheedling voice. “Ah, Jayne, we ain’t been in a proper market in an age!”
“Yeah, well, I don’t like markets near as much as I like my blood not boilin’ out my ears.” Jayne’s tone was firm.
“Well, I want to pick up something for Simon and River asked me to get a few things for her, so we can’t go back yet.”
“Alright.” Jayne looked around carefully, and bent down close to Kaylee. “But you try to buy something for them babies on the down low, and I’m picking you up and carrying ya back ta Serenity iffin I have to.”
“I’ll kick and scream.” Kaylee said teasingly.
“And if you do, I’ll pinch yer hamstring so hard that you won’t walk right near on a week.”
“Jayne!” Kaylee mocked offence.
“Go on, move it lil’Kaylee. Simon’s feet are bigger than them there booties. Ain’t nothing ta see here.”
“Look, I’ve made you something.” River rolled a tray table over to Simon. Simon neither looked nor felt impressed, but he smiled a little at his sister’s efforts. “I can hear you, you know.” She tapped his temple. “I know it’s not much, but you know the rules – you’re only just off that ghastly tube, so you have to be patient with your stomach.” She continued as she tucked a napkin under his chin, “Anyway, it’s better than what we had for lunch. Mal claims that he made tomato–flavoured soup. Dinner should be nicer. Mal’s picking up real food in the world. ‘Course, that’s supposed to be a surprise.”
Simon rolled his eyes. “I won’t tell.”
“There’s no need to get all ironic on me, ge-ge.” River fiddled a bit with the spoon, trying to decide what the optimum amount of rice at any one time would be. She’d never done this before. “This look about the right amount?” She showed it to Simon.
He nodded, hesitantly. “I don’t,” he began, but it trailed off to a burst of blushing shame; clarity surged ‘no point in trying to hide it’, followed by a struggle of how to ‘say’ what he was trying to ‘say’, without revealing too much of himself, of his thoughts. Not that it mattered – his thoughts were already naked to his sister. He forced himself. “I don’t like this.”
“Simon, you need to eat. And this is real food. You were so happy this morning when she took the tube out.”
“I just – I want to be able to feed myself River. I want to be able to take care of my own body. This is – this is humiliation.”
“No, Simon. No, it’s not. It’s just – bodily functions. You’re a doctor, stop thinking like a normal person.”
Simon turned his face away, and thought quietly. “River, logic – it doesn’t matter at a time like this. It only matters to how you think, it doesn’t change how you feel.”
“Simon, if our positions were reversed, wouldn’t you care for me?”
Simon turned back to her. “Of course, mei mei.” He turned away again. “But this is different.”
“Only different because you are used to being the carer, not the cared for. No other difference. You’ve fed me. Washed me, changed me.”
Simon’s thought interrupted, “As a baby, River!”
But River continued. “Prepped me,” her nose wrinkled at the thought, “for cryo. You’ve seen me with a needle in my brain. You pulled it out. Fed me when I was handcuffed in the pantry. Cleaned up apple bits and fluids that I spewed all over your bed. If you must be proud, be proud of taking care of me, but not too proud to let me take care of you, too.” She could feel him relenting, a little; the turmoil of understanding, and love, and hunger warring with the need to be the protector, the strong one. “Simon, it doesn’t just have to be one way. We can take care of each other.” He turned back to her, face sad; she could feel the sadness that soaked through all of the top layers of his thought. “You’re hungry, Simon, and you need to eat. If you really want, I’ll just… put the tube back in. I won’t force you – it wouldn’t.” She let herself trail off and tried again. “Will you at least try it? I made just for you.”
He hated the damn tube, and she had made an effort. Simon nodded. She mixed the now-cold spoon back in and measured out a new warm one. As she slipped the spoon between his lips, he recalled, vividly, the night on Jiangyin, when she’d hand fed him hodgeberries, and told him they were poison. “This is good, River.” He was a little surprised. “What’s in it?”
“Just rice, garlic and sake.”
“Sake?!” Good god – the meds –
“Don’t be silly. The alcohol has all boiled off.” She readied another spoonful with a smile.
Inara found Ceres in the kitchen; the young woman was mopping carefully. Ceres looked up, apprehensively, Inara thought, when the Companion walked into the room. Inara smiled her most relaxed smile and began in a light tone, “I didn’t mean to interrupt. When you are finished, please join me in my shuttle, shuttle one – I have some things for you.”
Inara walked to her shuttle, where she changed out of Mal’s dress – she pulled it close for one last smell before she folded it to give it back. It was strange – the faint smell of Mal’s bunk and strong scent of her perfume mingled together – but she liked it. She placed it on the couch and put the ridiculous bonnet on top of it. She smiled at the memory of Mal manfully carrying her various packages through the little town. He’d insisted on a “break” – and she’d humoured his ruse, as they were having far too much fun not to – and was rewarded by Mal buying her a delightful café glacé in the town’s sweet shop-cum-café. It had been out of character, her decision to wear the dress – the offer a spontaneous half-joke only made worthwhile by his stunned expression at her words – but she was very glad now to have done it. She’d often thought that the words she’d spoken to Kaylee about star-crossed lovers applied to her and Mal – now she was beginning to wonder if it might be alright to surrender, just a little, to hope.
Ceres’ knock was light, but purposeful, rather like a lady-like handshake. Inara filed this away for later reference – it was not the knock she would have expected from the insecure, apprehensive girl she’d seen and spoken to.
“Qing jin.” Ceres stepped through, closing the door behind her. Inara noticed that the girl fell to a parade rest immediately on turning around. “There’s no need to be so formal, Ceres. Come sit.” Inara sat on her sofa and patted the seat next to her. “Would you like some tea?”
“Please.” Inara concentrated on her pouring, and passed the girl one of her delicate cups, she watched as Ceres took it; it was not a hand unused to holding finery, if perhaps somewhat out of practice. “Thank you, Inara. This is… lovely.” Ceres tone betrayed a little wonder.
Inara smiled. “I managed to procure all of the things you wanted, and a few extras. Let’s have a look, shall we?” Inara placed her cup in her saucer and walked toward the bed. She noticed that Ceres took a few more quick sips before rising and wondered if that was a sign of the girl relaxing, or if it was indicative of her assumption that it would be taken away from her. The answer wasn’t obvious. Inara opened the boxes with a tempting expression and started unfolding the clothes – the girl’s curiosity clearly took hold and she stood very close to Inara to look at them. “Two day dresses – moss green and dusty rose. An evening dress – bronze. One little black dress – I think the cut should flatter you.” Inara held it up against the girl’s body. “Yes, very nice.” She continued. “Two pairs of straight trousers in black. Two pairs of cargo pants in green. Four sweaters: moss green, forest green, crimson, and gold. Four tops: cream, dusty rose, copper, and black. One light coat, in cream. One heavy coat, in winter white. Two pairs of pyjamas in pink and cream. Seven sets of matching underwear, four in skin pink, one in black, two in pretty patterns for fun. Two pairs of boots – one black, one brown – no, see? Not that brown. One pair of straw sandals. One pair of evening slippers in bronze, and one pair of dress shoes in black.”
“These are… all very fine, Inara.” The girl looked up puzzled, but her fingers continued to caress the materials.
Inara smiled. “Better a few good quality things than many poor quality things.”
Ceres nodded. “So it is said. But, Inara – these dresses,” and her fingers played across the bronze and black, “when will I have a chance to wear them? Or the coats? I’ll never be off ship.”
“The dresses were my idea – it’s important to have a few beautiful things just for yourself; anyway, you never know on Serenity, they just might come in useful on a caper. The coats were Mal’s idea – in retrospect, a wise one, though I hope you don’t need them. They seem to be sort of bad luck charms in my time here.” Inara reflected on their visit to St. Alban’s and the terror of the downed engine. “Anyway, as I said, I hope you don’t need them.” She shook the creeping morbid feeling, and opened some of the smaller boxes. “Paper and tools for kirigami. Some shampoo, conditioner, soap, razor, towels, witch hazel, cotton balls, body oil, body scent, lip gloss, and eye liner. As I said, there was a little extra, so I bought some powder, some eye colours and a lipstick.” Inara couldn’t help but notice the girl smile at the thought of real lipstick instead of just gloss – so she handed it to the girl, who promptly opened the tube.
“Oh, Inara. This is – oh, it’s just perfect. Thank you.” Inara’s smile deepened as the girl unwound the tube and sniffed the stick of colour. Inara filed that away, too. She was reasonably certain that she’d never seen anyone sniff lipstick before. She wasn’t even sure what they smelled like.
“You’re welcome – though there isn’t much need to thank me. Mal is right, you do need a few things.”
“Most people would not think that a few things include dance slippers and lipstick.”
“Well, Mal knew what he was doing when he asked a Companion to go shopping.”
“I suppose. This really is – well, it’s appreciated. It’s all very extravagant.” Ceres was not uneducated as to quality – and knew that the cost of these things – even if made and purchased out on the rim – was huge. Once the offer was made, Ceres had expected some clothes – all functional, and probably cheaply made – the toiletries, and the craft box. Even a few well made clothes wouldn’t have surprised her. Many rim folk lived by the motto ‘I’m too poor to buy cheap shit.’ But formal dresses and shoes to match? Powder and lipstick? These were, indisputably, luxuries. It would have been a puzzle if she had merely been a charity case, instead of a prisoner; instead, it was unsettling as well as confusing.
“Now, now, we haven’t even gotten to your present yet.”
“A present?” The girl continued to smile, but Inara sensed that the idea of a present was making her nervous.
“Just a little one. To welcome you aboard, I suppose. I know it’s not the life you would have chosen for yourself, but I believe that it’s where we are meant to be. All of us. Even you. If only for a little while.” Inara picked up a small narrow box and handed it to the younger woman.
Ceres unwrapped it slowly. It was probably the first present she’d had in – well, since childhood. The paper gave way to a box, the box to a soft canvas roll – the roll to some make up brushes. “Thank you. This is – well, it’s very kind, Inara.” The girl looked up and repeated herself. “Thank you.”
Aren lost no time when she got back. River disappeared with an “I love you, Simon,” leaving the doctor alone with her patient.
“Good news, Simon. I have managed to procure a temporary replacement for your left hand. It’s a C-standard replacement limb, good quality, but of course, not what you’ll ultimately need. I’m sure you understand the risks, but I’ll explain them to you anyway: there is a small risk that the surgery will cause some damage, thus making it more difficult, or impossible, to attach the better replacement later. As I said, the risk is small, and I think it’s worth it. Sign language, written notes – it will open up your avenues of communication – well, except for with Jayne, of course.” Aren noted that Simon didn’t even crack a smile. Not a good sign. “So, would you like some time to think about it? We don’t have to do it immediately.” Simon wiggled his foot.
“Ok. I’ll bring it up again in the morning. I also procured some re-gen tissue boosters and collagen replacements – they were as well equipped on Triumph as I could have dared hope. With your permission, I’d like to begin those treatments now.” Simon wiggled his foot. Aren continued. “I should be completely clear. I’m afraid that this will be uncomfortable, Simon – even, possibly, painful – and it is incredibly important that you put no strain on your vocal cords, if you want to give them a chance to regenerate, instead of having to have them replaced. You understand?” Simon did. She saw that Simon’s eyes had closed – she worried that he was sinking further into depression – and his foot wiggled. “Finally, I will need a nurse, to help move you.”
River appeared at the door, knocked on it, and without waiting for invitation, she slid it open. “I’ll help.”
Aren didn’t bother to scold her. She sensed that it would do no good. “Would you like River to help?” There was a moment’s hesitation, and Aren saw that the girl frowned, but Simon’s foot wiggled. “Very well. I’ll confess that I had someone bigger in mind – Mal perhaps, or Jayne.” Aren turned and hit the blinds for privacy.
“Simon’s not heavy. He’s my brother.”
Aren explained what they would be doing, and what each of them would have to do. River sensed her brother’s fear, both at the thought of more pain, and the thought of damaging whatever progress his vocal cords had had a chance to make in recovering. As Aren moved to place the restraint around Simon’s head, River shook her head and spoke quietly. “No restraints.”
“No restraints. They made him watch.” The girl’s soft voice was pleading. Aren could see the warning wet-glassy effect in both Tams' eyes and wanted to relent.
She tried to make her voice reasonable. “If he moves, the needle could go anywhere, River.”
“He won’t move. I promise. I’ll hold his hand.”
Aren thought that she might be on the verge of tears, too. There wasn’t a thing about this situation that wasn’t wrong, and ugly. “River, he won’t be able to help himself.”
River met the doctor’s eyes. “Four hundred lashes. Fifty-eight broken bones. He never told. He has self-control equal to this moment.”
Aren watched as River returned her gaze to her brother’s face, and moved to take his right hand. “Simon, do you want me to do this, without the aid of a restraint?” She saw his foot wiggle. “Okay.” It was his choice. After everything he had been through, it had to be. She prepped the needle and walked over to his left side.
As the needle slid into his throat, Simon was no longer in his infirmary – but rather back in the hands of his torturers, as their scalpel bit into his neck. From somewhere else, he felt fingernails digging into the skin of his right forearm – and in a moment, he was no longer alone. River was in the room with him, putting bullets to Smith and Hunt. “Light it.” And, in an instant, it was over.
Aren sighed in relief. River had been right. Simon had not moved. Despite all she had seen on his body, all that she’d known he’d survived – that small act had seemed the most extraordinary. If only that was all that she would ask of him, today. With River’s help, Aren rolled Simon onto his stomach. While the doctor prepped needles of re-gen boosters and collagen, River opened her brother’s gown at the back.
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Saturday, January 27, 2007 7:21 AM
Saturday, January 27, 2007 7:22 AM
Saturday, January 27, 2007 12:32 PM
Saturday, January 27, 2007 6:31 PM
Saturday, January 27, 2007 10:00 PM
Sunday, January 28, 2007 6:52 AM
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