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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal faces his demons. Isabel's got his back.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 983 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
This is not my 'verse, I just like to visit. No harm intended, no money taken.
Isabel returned about midnight, carrying her stool and a lantern. The evening had grown quite cool; there would be frost by morning. She walked up the ramp and stood looking at Mal. He might have been dead, he sat so still and slumped in the folding chair. She reached down and touched his hand; it was cool to the touch and as she watched she saw a shiver shake him. Forty hours without sleeping or eating had finally caught him up; that and the rest of Isabel’s pint of whiskey.
“Well, you’re a mess, Captain. But I’d really rather that you did not die here. My preference is that you decide to live.” Isabel set the stool down and walked briskly down the ramp and into the horse barn. She returned in a few minutes with her arms full of horse blankets.
“I’d put you to bed, but you’re too heavy for me. So you can just lie right here. I don’t suppose it’s the first time nor will it be the last that you didn’t make it to bed.” Isabel talked companionably to Mal as she spread two blankets on the ramp next to the folding chair. “Sorry, but I’m afraid this is going to be a bump; with the best will in the world I don’t think I can make this an easy transition.” Isabel straddled Mal’s legs and, bending over, grasped Mal’s upper body under his arms. She rocked back on her right heel just enough to be able to kick the chair out from under Mal and then sat him down with a thump on the ramp. She laid him down on his back and stood to consider.
“This is going to be the easiest position in which to remove those boots, Captain.” Isabel turned her back to Mal and stood straddling his knees. She bent over and grasped his booted left foot, both her hands under the heel. It took several pulls before she could get the boot to begin to come off, and several more before the tall top slid all the way off.
“Those romance writers who imply that removing a man’s boots is something delicate and erotic have obviously never done the deed. Let’s do the other now; there we are. My god, how long has it been since you took these boots off?” Isabel peeled off the socks for good measure. “I don’t like the look of these feet.”
Isabel rolled Mal onto the blankets as gently as she could and covered him with several more. Once his boots were off he had begun to shiver more violently, and more frequently as well. As soon as she had him well covered Isabel walked back down into the horse barn. She collected a clean bucket full of hot water, some of the pine tar soap she used on the horses’s abrasions, a bottle of gentian violet, some horse liniment, a couple of clean towels, and a clean pair of her own wool socks from her tack box. Back on the ramp she uncovered Mal’s feet and washed them carefully with soap, rinsing them and then drying them meticulously. She finished by painting between each of the toes with gentian violet before rubbing both feet with liniment. She put the socks on him, covered him back up, and returned to the barn.
In the barn she took a thermos she used when she was watching over a pregnant mare and splashed in some vinegar and several tablespoons of ground ginger, then poured boiling water over them. She added a big dollop of molasses and then shook it vigorously. After screwing the top on tightly she took a piece of paper and wrote ‘Malcolm Reynolds. Drink Me.’ She fastened the paper to the front of the thermos and, turning off the lights, returned to the ramp.
Mal was lying just as Isabel had left him, still shivering. Isabel set the thermos down where she thought he would be able to see it in the morning. Then she sat down on Kaylee’s folding chair and struggled out of her own boots. “You almost certainly have a boot jack on this boat of yours, but I don’t think you would like my searching for it, since it is most probably in your own quarters. Fortunately there is no one here to see how inelegant this is.”
Once her boots were off, Isabel slid under the blankets and lay down behind Mal, tucking her knees tightly in behind his and wrapping her upper arm around him. “I don’t think you’re in need of the full hypothermia treatment tonight, no matter how entertaining it might be in the morning. Good night, Captain. Tomorrow is another day.”
Isabel was woken before dawn by a cramp in the arm she had folded under her. Maybe better to go now? Well, she could wash her face anyway, before facing whatever was going to happen here.
Mal was woken by a sudden sensation of cold. He had been warm, but now he was cold. He lay still, eyes still shut, trying to figure out where he was and why. He was sleeping outside, on a slant. Horses, there were horses here somewhere. He could smell horse, and horse liniment. He opened his eyes. Covered up with horse blankets; well, that explained the horse smell. He continued to take inventory. No physical pain that suggested a bullet wound or a beating; but something in his chest that made it hard to take a deep breath. What Isabel had said last night, that was the thing in his chest.
He tried getting up on his knees and looking around. Mal’s eyes fell on the thermos. There was just enough predawn light to read the label: Malcolm Reynolds. Drink Me. Bossiest woman he had ever met, that Isabel Warrick. Mal reached over and picked up the thermos and shook it. Full. Who knew what she thought he ought to drink.
When he unscrewed the thermos lid the steam rose into his face. The sharp tang of vinegar, the heat of ground dried ginger, the smoky darkness of molasses. Switchel. She had made hot switchel. Momma used to make switchel – hot when they had to go out and feed up in a cold sandstorm, cold during haying season. He hadn’t tasted it since. Mal poured a cupful and brought it to his mouth. He took a swallow, hot and sweet and sharp, burning all the way down. As the hot liquid went down his throat and the fragrant steam that smelled like home went up his nose, something broke loose inside his chest. Dropping the cup, he let his head fall forward into his hands and drew a deep, ragged breath and another and another until he was gasping and sobbing. He couldn’t name everything he was crying for – he was crying for everything that would never be the same, for all those things he had never allowed himself to cry for. For Shadow and Serenity Valley and Lieutenant Exline and Tracy and Nandi and every other person he had buried and especially for those he hadn’t been able to bury. He cried for Inara. He cried for the ideals the Independents had fought so hard for. He cried for River. He cried for all the evil he had ever done and for every kindness he had ever received.
Isabel came out of the barn and looked up at Serenity. She saw Mal bent over and shaking and began to run. She came up the ramp and knelt next to Mal and put her arms around him, rocking him back and forth. She didn’t speak, just held tight. She took her right hand and reached out for her stool. She pulled it up behind Mal and swung around onto it, never letting go of Mal with her left arm. Sitting on the edge of the stool, she rocked Mal against her chest, both arms holding him tightly, her knees pressed against his sides, covering his back with her body. They sat that way until full light, Mal’s racking sobs eventually winding down, Isabel holding tight and rocking until they did. Mal eventually relaxed back into her arms, holding her hands in his, head against her collarbone, shirt front wet with tears.
He looked up at her.
“Now what, Isabel, now what?” His voice was ragged.
“I think, Captain, that now -- now you should go visit my cow-calf pairs.”
Mal gave a shuddering laugh. “I mighta known you’d have an answer. Why is that the answer?”
“I think a trip up into the hills, some fresh air, some time on horseback, some time not being Captain Reynolds, some time for you to take all that just washed over you into yourself, I think that’s now what. There’s a cabin on Gilead Creek, five or six hours up. It’s a pretty ride, the creek is full of hot springs, Ellie packs delicious food. You could count cows for me if you need an occupation.”
“You know, I reckon that might be the answer. How will I find it?”
“You go up this creek and take the right fork when offered. I could draw you a map,” Isabel said.
“I might get lost. I ain’t a tracker like Jayne. I reckon I need a native guide.”
“Do you? Would you accept my qualifications as native guide?”
“I would.” Mal made no effort to rise, content to rest against Isabel for the moment. His breath was still uneven, his eyelids swollen. The few hours he had slept had done little to erase the days spent sitting up.
“Captain, it’s not that I’m uncomfortable with you, but I must tell you that parts of me are going to sleep. Shall we stand up and start the day? If we pack now we can be gone before everyone else is up, if you preferred that. Ellie has already packed food hampers, because I was going to go even if you did not. Do you want breakfast?”
“I would prefer to leave before everyone else is up. And I don’t think I’m ready to eat, just yet. And, Isabel, I would prefer not to be called Captain for a little while.”
“Yes, Malcolm. I’ll go load the pack horse. My bedroll is always packed, and I have an extra. Shall we say thirty minutes?” Isabel said.
“Thirty minutes it is, Isabel.”
Mal stood slowly, turned and took Isabel’s hands in his, pulling her up off the low stool and into his arms. He held her for a moment. “Thank you, Miss Warrick.”
“She’s gone, now, Malcolm. Miss Warrick is long gone.”
Tuesday, November 6, 2007 3:59 PM
Tuesday, November 6, 2007 5:27 PM
Tuesday, November 6, 2007 6:03 PM
Wednesday, November 7, 2007 7:27 AM
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