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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal plans a rescue, Inara hatches a plan to help Simon, and Simon wakes up. NC17 (not sex). Canon pairings +1 (River/ofc). (Revision expands ending by 1.5K words). Total word count now 4.5K.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1139 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Chapter Thirty-Eight: Culpam poena premit comes (Punishment closely follows crime as its companion.) Part III
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Chapters 1-10, Chapters 11-20, Chapters 21-30, Chapter 31, Chapter 32, Chapter 33, Chapter 34, Chapter 35, Chapter 36, Chapter 37
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As Mal wandered past the infirmary again, he saw Inara watching Zoë watching the sleeping pair of doctors. He sighed, but knew that it was past time to start coming up with a new plan. He stopped and stood next to Inara, and tapped on the glass. Zoë’s gaze turned toward him, and he gestured for her to step out. He watched as his first mate sweep her eyes back over the monitors before complying; when she stepped out, she left the door open a crack to listen for any changes in the sound from the machines.
“You heard what went down dirt side?” Mal asked Zoë, abruptly.
“I did.” Zoë was resting at her default impassive; Mal considered that she was probably conserving energy for another long night.
“How?” Inara asked.
“Jayne filled me in when he brought in some supper.”
At Zoë’s words, Inara nodded. “I just can’t believe that after everything – what must River think? – that kewu bu huihen de pofu! She actually betrayed us.” Inara was clearly only ramping up to her larger rant. Neither Mal nor Zoë had ever seen her so angry. “Not, I suppose, that it makes her any different from nearly anyone else we’ve taken pity on or tried to help.”
Zoë broke in gently. “I don’t think she betrayed us, Inara. Not from what Jayne said.”
Inara’s tone carried marked disbelief. “Jayne doesn’t think she betrayed us?”
“No, Jayne thinks she did, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the situation on the ground as he described it.”
“Zoë, I know you wanted to give the girl a chance – as did I – but you weren’t there. You didn’t hear her. She stepped out into the firing line, and instead of laying down fire, she just, she – she dropped her weapon and surrendered. Gave them her name, her serial number, nominal rank.”
Mal’s voice, hard and short, interrupted. “That what that code was?”
“Yes, Mal.” Inara sounded more exasperated than anything else. “It was in her file. BSRNDESE1; Blue Sun Research and Development Experimental Subject Espionage, One.”
Mal’s personal disgust combined with his sense of a soldier’s dignity. “That’s not a serial number, ‘Nara. That’s some product code – like that damn brand they put on her and Simon.” He bit the words out angrily.
“So you don’t think she betrayed us, either?” Inara’s voice went from exasperated disbelief to full on incredulous mystification.
“Oh, I’ll admit, it went through my mind right enough at the time. But it was a toss up, even then – coulda been that, coulda been a distraction.” Mal paused, and Zoë took the opportunity to jump in.
“River and Ceres were on one side of that Fed Squad, and musta known the rest of you were comin’ up behind – but you had no way of knowing where they where, or that they were there at all. From what Jayne said, gave you all a chance to get Simon away clean.”
Inara looked at the two soldiers in disbelief. “Shooting at them would have been just as effective for creating a distraction. Maybe more.”
Zoë’s voice remained gentle. “They were wearing her uniform, Inara. Shooting at them if she didn’t have to? Wouldn’t expect it of her.”
Inara digested this. “I – I just don’t know, Zoë.”
Mal spoke up. “Well, I do.” The other two looked at him, noting his tone of finality. He continued. “Heard her, in my brain, after they grabbed her. I’d told her when I let her out that first morning, that if she got caught I’d put her down. And as I readied my gun, I heard her. Thought, at first, she was pleading with me not to shoot – and honestly, I already knew I couldn’t – but she wasn’t. She was pleading with me to shoot.” Inara looked toward Zoë, frightened. She wasn’t sure if it was Mal’s flat tone or the words, or the almost empty look in his eyes – but she was frightened, and thoroughly unsure of what to do. But Zoë’s face registered nothing but the faintest trace of compassion as she looked her friend full into his hallow eyes. “And then – it wasn’t a plea anymore. It was an order.” The expression in Mal’s eyes never changed, but Inara saw that the suggestion of smile at the irony and her audacity played across his lips. “And I didn’t shoot, and then she was gone.”
Understanding the problem immediately, Inara pushed everything else aside. “Mal, you can’t blame yourself for showing her mercy.”
Mal finally met his fiancées eyes. “Had no right to. She gave me her parole, Inara, and I accepted it. Those were the terms. Binding on me as much as her.” He started to walk away. “Which means, we gotta go find her. End it, one way or the other.”
Inara tried again, gently. “Mal, you really can’t…”
Mal stopped in his tracks, but didn’t look back. “It was a promise, ‘Nara. And I don’t like breakin’ ‘em, not even to prisoners.” His voice went very soft, but Inara still heard it, and Zoë didn’t need to. “Maybe especially not to prisoners.”
As Mal walked away, Inara turned wordlessly back to Zoë. “It’s all a prisoner’s got,” the first mate added with a sad, tight smile and a half-shrug, before going back into the infirmary.
Inara followed her. “Zoë, he can’t blame himself for this.”
Zoë’s voice was very soft. “You see here?” She asked, nodding toward Simon. Inara nodded, confused. “When he wakes up, you can ask him if he had the choice between going through everything Blue Sun did to him, and a bullet to the brainpan – and you can watch the fear flash through his eyes at the memory, and then you’ll understand when he tells you that he’d rather you killed him.”
“But we’re going back for her, Zoë.”
“She doesn’t know that. And, in a way, it doesn’t much matter, not to either of them.”
Inara’s soft voice was honest. “I don’t understand.”
“That scenario I painted?” Inara nodded. “Take it a step further. Feds snatch him, and you have a clean shot – both of you know it, can see it. And you had promised him, that if he were ever in the situation again, you’d end it for him. But you don’t take it, and they whisk him away…”
Inara finished Zoë’s train of thought. “It would feel like a betrayal. To both of us.”
Zoë nodded. “We get her back, and enough time passes, whatever she’s going through now might seem worth it, for the livin’, but it’ll be a while before that happens.”
“And Mal won’t be able to forgive himself until it does.” Inara added in a whisper. She watched as Zoë brushed some hair back from Simon’s face. “How’s he doing?”
Zoë glanced at the monitors again. “Just fine. He should start coming out from under the anaesthetic, soon.”
At a loss for anything else to say, Inara just said, “Well, that’s good.” Of course, Zoë couldn’t contradict her, but Inara saw that the first mate turned that small sad smile back on her before speaking.
“I’d kind of like to have Aren moved to your shuttle before that happens.”
Inara was mildly surprised. “Is she ready for that?”
Zoë nodded. “I could wake her now. She’s more woozy from battle nerves and some blood loss than drugs. She’ll need more sleep, but she can do that in the shuttle. Or one of the dorms, as they’re closer.”
“Will she make it to the shuttle?”
“She should. Might not want to. I expect she’ll be groggy.”
“I’ll walk her there.” Inara would have asked Zoë why she wanted Aren moved before Simon woke, but it was a question that, once thought of, immediately supplied its own answer. Zoë wanted privacy for Simon, and probably herself, when he awoke to find that his ordeal was not, in fact, over – and that in the process, his beloved sister’s lover had been snatched. Inara understood. Zoë knew, as did she, that Simon – like Mal – would blame himself. “Should we be considering putting Simon on some kind of watch?” Even if he were deeply unconscious, it felt profoundly wrong to say the word ‘suicide’ in his presence.
“I don’t know. Expect that might depend a lot on River’s reaction.”
“She doesn’t seem to have had much of one, yet. But, I suppose she wouldn’t, not being able to hear Ceres.” But there was no real response possible to that. River’s silence was eerie, and they all felt it. As if, already, they had moved on, as if the girl they remembered really had only been a ghost – the very first word Inara had heard River use to describe her.
As Mal walked onto the bridge, he heard River’s voice softly singing.
“And the playing’s stopped in the playground now, she wants to play with her toys awhile and school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning, the lesson today is how to die…”
Thinking that she was having a bad moment, Mal interrupted gently. “Hey, lil’Albatross, you up to runnin’ a Cortex search for me?”
But her voice was clear and lucid when she replied to him. “Already am, Captain.” At Mal’s quizzical look, she pointed to the screen – it looked to him as if it had been running since River had gotten back to the boat. “Anticipating orders, Sir.”
It took him a moment to find a response. “Well, then. Carry on lil’Albatross, and let me know when you know something.” As he walked away, he heard her take up her morbid song where she’d left it off.
“And then the bull horn cackles and the Captain tackles with the problems and the hows and whys – and he can see no reason cause there are no reasons – what reason do you need to die?”
It wasn’t until after the Captain had gone that she whispered the song’s next line.
“Tell me why.”
After Inara settled her friend back into her own bed, she checked her computer for messages. Seeing one that she’d been waiting for, she turned down the volume and selected it.
Durran Haymer’s message began. “Miss Serra, I am pleased to report that I can make the arrangements you asked about earlier.”
Mal was sitting in the galley when Inara found him. “Mal, I’ve found another option for Simon.” His head snapped up, face closed and wary, to meet her gaze.
If he wanted to dance, well – Inara knew the steps as well as he did. “Yes.”
“Ain’t got the money for it.”
“We’ve more than half, and they’re willing to trade for the rest.” Inara saw that Mal’s eyebrow shot up at that.
“Could be a trap, ‘Nara.”
“That’s what you said the last time too, but it wasn’t.”
“It’s Durran Haymer. He has the resources, and we’ll dealt with him before.” Before Mal’s shock could turn into objection, Inara finished quickly. “And he understands the extents to which one might go for a loved one.”
“Even were this all to go well, we’d be in his debt. Quite literally. And t’would be a heavy debt at that, ‘Nara. Plenty hard to clear.”
“Could take years.”
The debt, again. “Yes.”
Mal took a moment and rubbed his face with his hands. “Boy’s worth it, though. More than.”
“More than,” Inara agreed. “Will I go make the arrangements with Haymer, then?”
Mal raised an eyebrow at her. “Half-thought with all this dancin’ about you’d already done just that.”
Inara bit her tongue to stop herself from reminding him that it was he who’d initiated the dancing. She suddenly understood every argument Kaylee and Simon had ever had. “I’m Serenity’s Quartermaster, Mal. You’re her Captain.” She lowered her gaze. “I respect that. And I respect you. And I understand that I serve at your pleasure.”
It was a perfectly valid statement, and something similar from Zoë it would have seemed natural. But from Inara’s lips, it seemed almost… kinky in it’s obedient submissiveness. Mal’s lips turned up slightly at the thought, despite his mood. He let his voice go all Captain-y as he addressed his fiancée. “Well said. Carry on then, Miss Serra. I trust you to make the arrangements.”
Kaylee walked with Simon back to his dorm, just to make sure he’d be all right. As he pulled the door back, a soft waft of incense greeting him, Kaylee spoke. “I just wanted to make the room a bit more relaxing for you, sweetie. There’s some green tea there on the side table if you want some.” She watched him as he settled himself on the bed, and she continued. “Zoë did some pretty fancy flyin’ to get us out of there fast, and were hard on Serenity. Got most of it done now, but ain’t something can wait long. ‘Spect I’ll be another hour or so. Ya gonna be alright?” Simon nodded. “I can get River for ya.”
Simon shook his head. “I’ll be fine, bao bei. Thank you. I just – I need some sleep.”
“Sure, sweetie.” Kaylee kissed the top of his head gently before making her way out of the room.
Simon rested his right ankle on his left thigh, as he pulled off his shoe and sock. Automatically, then, he switched feet – left ankle to right thigh, continuing to disrobe as he gazed at the breath of pale smoke coming from the incense cone. He wondered which scent it was. He focused on the tip, the soft glow of orange, and imagined it burning away all his feelings – of guilt, at what had happened to Aren, to Ceres, to Serenity itself, and what this was doing to the rest of the crew. Of frustration at having his life and plans once again turned about. Of shame, that an old teacher, trusted, wise, could betray him. Of terror, at Mal’s plan to attempt the surgery again. Of horror, at what his sister’s lover was no doubt experiencing because she had sought to aid him. Of loathing at himself, and his responsibility for all this misery; everything golden turning to lead at his touch. With a profoundly heavy heart, Simon lifted the cone gently by its base and drew it close. The name of the incense eluded him, but its scent was pleasing. With a deft move from his healed right hand, Simon inverted the cone and brought it to strike at the tender spot just behind his ankle bone.
A clench of teeth and a single sharp breath, and it was done. He considered the mark. One was sadly never quite enough for Simon. He knew his weaknesses. Twice more, he brought the cone in contact with his skin, solidly, despite the pain, so that he wouldn’t have to redo them. Three perfect dots formed on a diagonal line – he normally would have gained a measure of peace from the aesthetic of such a perfect line, but now he felt mere relief that it was enough to make the urge subside.
On the bridge, River shouted at the pain, and grabbed her ankle.
Mal looked over from the co-pilot’s seat, puzzled. “Ya all right there, Albatross?”
River’s eyes were filled with tears, but she just nodded and massaged her bare foot, whispering, “Just a cramp.” Dismayed, Zoë and Mal watched as she winced twice more, and swore, hand tightening around her foot. “Dancer’s life,” she managed as the first sharpness of the pain eased.
Mal wasn’t certain, and he could tell from Zoë’s guarded expression that she wasn’t either. “Albatross, this got something to do with what’s happening to Ceres?”
But River shook her head. “Can’t hear her.”
Mal ventured an opinion. “Thought maybe she would come through more under stress.” Most of the crew had at least a vague mental picture of how reading did – and didn’t – work now.
River nodded. “I haven’t heard anything.” Her eyes glanced over the ongoing search on the Cortex. “I think she may be dead.”
Well, trim wasn’t available, what, Jayne smirked to himself, with all the lesbians on board, and he had already worked out past the point were he could go it safely without a spotter. It wasn’t that he didn’t like a quiet ship – he did. Just not this eerie-assed graveside quiet. Made the feeling of naked mortality seem more obvious, and made his reactions to it seem even less appropriate to everyone else on board.
Figured he’d better go hide in his bunk for a bit, before he went upsetting anyone’s sensibilities, and Mal threatened to keel haul him, whatever that was.
“Now River, I don’t think that’s the case,” Mal began, and frankly, it was true. “I know it must be down right disconcertin’ to you not to be able to hear her like you want to, but maybe they’ve found some way a keepin’ you out. Managed to hide all them troops from both a ya, didn’t they?”
“They weren’t there. The people giving the orders.” River stared out at the black as she – not as absentmindedly as it seemed – continued to rubbed her foot. “The soldiers didn’t know moment by moment what the next order would be or which of them would get it. Couldn’t read what wasn’t there. Couldn’t read it until it was there. Took us ages to figure out. But there was no shielding.”
River looked up from the breakfast she was preparing as Simon came to stand beside her and help. She gave him a sad smile before turning her attention back to her work.
River spoke, quietly, though she knew that no-one else was anywhere near the galley. “It’s a question of discipline. You don’t let yourself limp. Don’t let anybody else know. Don’t put them in a position to ask questions.” River tilted her head to the side and continued. “Second degree burn. Most people don’t know, but because of the nerve damage associated with third degree burns, they are actually less painful, making second degree burns the most painful. Blisters. Deliberate choice of placement. Tender spot, worse injury. And right where your shoes would rub, so you can’t ignore it. Can’t forget. Get to be all stoical. Disciplined. Hiding it in plain sight. No one sees your pain. Focus on small pain, forget the bigger one. Focus on the small problem. Stiff upper lip. Be a good boy.”
Simon looked in horror at his sister, her face shrouded by her veil of hair, realisation dawning. “Tell me you didn’t feel it.”
River’s voice was more than a passable imitation of her mother’s. “A liar is the worst sort of person. A liar can’t ever be trusted. A thief can make amends for what he took, but a liar never can.”
“Tell me it wasn’t the same.” His voice was hoarse.
“The same as what you felt? Oh, but it was, Simon. Felt you feeling it, here.” She touched her temple. “Felt me feeling it, here.” With a ballet dancer’s dance she brought her left foot up to be level with her hand. Her right hand mimicked his own movements from the night before. “Dot, dot, dot. Three little blisters, right in a neat, tidy, perfect row.”
Simon was relieved to see that at least her skin wasn’t marked – but it was a pitifully small comfort; and as she turned her face to look at him, he could see that her sad eyes had taken on the wet-glassy effect he hated. He’d actually hurt her. Hurt his sister.
As if she were responding to his thought – and for all he knew, she may have been – she spoke again. “Not everyone can be a hero Simon. A steely will and a sharp breath doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us have to live with screaming out our terror where others can hear.”
Somehow, what she said – he suddenly knew precisely why Jayne had given her that damn sock. “So when Blue Sun had me…” his voice trailed off, seeing the confirmation of his suspicions in her damp eyes. “I didn’t protect you from a damn thing, did I?”
He didn’t wait for her answer. He just turned, and without looking back, headed straight for the passenger dorms.
He stepped into Ceres’ room and walked straight to her dresser. Everything was sitting there, clean and neat and ready for use. He stared at the tableau, a ritual altar. He flipped open the craft box. Inara had, of course – and completely unintentionally – chosen well. He ran his fingers over the blades, but didn’t touch them, yet. He couldn’t, could he? Knowing what he knew now?
After a moment, barely lifting his eyes from the clean metal, Simon reached for a cotton ball. He considered his options. Body scent would have a higher alcohol content, but the smell would give it away. With one hand he opened the bottle of witch hazel and started to swab the skin of his wrist down. He picked up the craft box and set it on the bed, sitting next to it, and staring at its contents.
He startled, a little, at Zoë’s soft voice. “Thought I might find you here.” She was standing in the doorway. When he looked over at his shoulder to her, and stepped in, closing the door behind her.
“I’m thinking of inscribing the motto, ‘Hero: someone who gets other people killed’ on my skin.”
Zoë tilted her head at him, ignoring his tone – whatever it was. “It’s a good motto.” Zoë’s voice was gentle. “She’s not dead, you know.”
“Well, I’m sure that’s a comfort to her, right now. I’m curious,” he began, and Zoë still couldn’t quite place the tone. Distain? Snark? Detachment? “How did you know? I mean, if River’d told you, you wouldn’t have said ‘thought’, but you did. You guessed on your own.” Simon turned his face back; he could no longer see her face.
“That I did.” Zoë took a measured breath. “You said you’d managed to stop cutting in med school, and that you’d started again after you worked out River’s code. Then you stopped again, just before you got her out of the academy. Not after. Just before. You had a purpose, and life had meaning, and you were no longer helpless, or without hope. And now you are both, again. Many a man’d be suicidal in your place, wouldn’t be surprised if you were too. I’ve heard it said that this can be a way of staving off that.” Despite his back being turned to her, Zoë could see that he nodded.
When he spoke again, all she could hear in his voice was naked pain, and her heart ached for him. “Zoë, I’m sitting here, and all I want to do is to cut. Even knowing that River will feel it. Because it will, while I’m doing it, for as long as I’m doing it, it will be the only thing that matters. Of course, I know that when I’m done, there will be the guilt at having simultaneously done this to my sister. You understand the concept of a dyad in torture?”
It took Zoë a second, but she placed it. “I do.” She took a breath and let it out. “It’s when the torturer and the tortured collaborate in the rituals and acts of torture, such as where the victim is coerced into selecting the torture implements and the types of torment to be inflicted.” She could see where he was going with this, but knew that he must desperately need the validation of being heard.
“Yes. Only I’m both parts of the dyad. Torturer and tortured. And no choice that isn’t, in some way – torment.” Part of her wished the boy would just crack and cry so that she could comfort him, but he gathered himself and continued his painful confession. “And the only compromise that I can think of is to beg my sister to take a sedative, which she hates, so that she can’t feel me hurting myself, which she also hates. But it offers her a tiny haven from the actual moment of pain, if even,” she could see him struggle to go on, “even as it means that I give up any illusions of privacy or personal dignity. But what wouldn’t I do for River?”
“‘Torture is an obscenity in that it joins what is most private with what is most public. Torture entails all the isolation and extreme solitude of privacy with none of the usual security embodied therein... Torture entails at the same time all the self-exposure of the utterly public with none of its possibilities for camaraderie or shared experience.’” It was a definition she’d learned in the time after her experience in the camps, trying to understand what had been done to her.
Simon nodded, but didn’t voice his final thought: ‘Or, no compromise: just cut a little bit deeper, and there will be no guilt afterwards, end the torment, end the tormentor, end the tormented.’ And no one could ever use him to get to River, again.
Both heard the gentle knock that came to the door. Simon flipped the lid of the craft box closed, but didn’t bother to turn around. Zoë turned fully, and slid the door open a crack, blocking the view of Simon with her body. It was River. She had two hypos in her hand. Zoë wanted to send the girl away, pretty clearly Simon had come in here, at least in part, to avoid River. But as he’d said, what wouldn’t the boy do for his sister? She let the girl step through, and Zoë closed the door.
River rushed to her brother’s side. “I’m sorry, Simon, never make you beg.” She showed him the hypos curled in her hand. She looked up at Zoë, for permission.
Zoë nodded. “I’ll take the helm, little one.” Zoë left the room, and stood guard outside of it.
Inside, River carefully removed the craft box from the bed and placed it on the side table. As she went to pull the covers down, Simon wordlessly stood. River slipped under the covers on the far side of the wall. She picked up one of the hypos. “Not my tormentor. Only your own.” She closed her eyes tight, and, with a small scared mew, injected its contents into her neck. He took the needle from her hand and placed on the side table.
Now, for himself: blade or needle? With River lying there, there hardly seemed a choice, anymore. With a deep breath, he kicked off his shoes and joined her on the narrow bed, needle in hand. With one arm he curled around her, and with the other, he injected himself.
After a few minutes of total silence, Zoë ventured a peek in. They looked so peaceful, so young, curled together like that. She rubbed her stomach watching the pale siblings, so still, so loving, and hoped that Simon was right. One of each would be perfect. She flipped the light off and closed the door, before turning in the direction of the bridge.
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