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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal, Wash, and Zoe spend a sleepless night together, and Wash experiences some of the first joys of freedom.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1010 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
An instinct implanted more deeply than any trauma made Mal choke back his scream and jerk himself awake, heart steadying as he absorbed the peaceful reality of his surroundings. He had people looking to him now, people facing as uncertain a future as he could imagine, and they needed someone stable, not a figment as woke up screaming in the night.
He felt physically ill, but slowly the nausea passed enough to allow him to notice that his fingers ached, that he was clutching the blankets with all his strength. Mal released his grip and wipe d the sweat from his face, ran his fingers through damp hair. He inhaled deeply, air free from the stench of death, and listened to the quiet breathing of the others. No cries of pain, no men pleading with their Sergeant for help he couldn’t find. Looking through the dark, he saw a warm space filled with sleeping men, no chains, no all-powerful boogeyman to rip him to shreds.
He didn't stifle the tiny groan as he laid his spinning head back down on the pillow. As his body slowly stopped shaking, Mal pondered on why his mind insisted on inventing shiny new versions of hell. There’d not been nightmares, not once since his trial. Thank the powerful collection of drugs or the unquestioning comfort of friends, but he'd felt an odd sort of safe. Felt it now, too, awake and listening to the rhythmic sound of the deeply asleep, the quiet hum of the heater, the more careful breathing patterns of a few men feigning sleep.
Simms, directly above him. Nice kid, quiet and thoughtful. Not a fighter or a killer, comm. tech of some sort. The next one took more thought to locate. Cole. Built like a tank, used to drive one, with an attitude to match. Wouldn't have pegged him for sleeping problems. Davies, no surprise there. He was crippled in more ways than just the hand, or the scars on his face. His own breathing steadied, and he allowed his eyes to close, comforted by the presence of other troubled men. And that Sergeant, with gentle, tired eyes that told a million stories. Daniels. No vengeance there, no bitterness. Like Wash, in a way. Not made mean or cold by their pain.
Wash. Mal closed his eyes. Too much thinking. It wanted to choke him, the betrayal of it. You left me behind. You abandoned me. You bastard, I trusted you, you know how hard that was? He clutched the blankets again. Logic, where was the logic. He had to leave, you told him to, wanted him to. He tried to stay, they'd 'a dragged him out, no way around it. You left. You left. The sweat again, only this was a waking nightmare.
There was one person who'd never abandoned him, not ever. Zoe. Beautiful, strong Zoe. She'd been his rock. Walking at his side, sleeping in his arms, tucked warmly against his body through the worst of the cold and heartbreak. They'd never exchanged a tender word between the two of them, not a spark of romance. But love. That had been there in those agonizingly long hours when all they could do was cling to each other for sanity in the mud and blood and ruin. Love deeper than any lovers might feel, love that was the only thing reminding them what it was to be a person.
She was there now, in his arms, her body relaxed, her back pressed firmly against him, her hand wrapped around his. Mal wondered where she really was, how many miles of fences and walls separated them, how many guards with their guns and stern voices. His eyes drifted shut. She was here, and he held on for dear life.
Wash was awake, unable to sleep in the unfamiliar surroundings. He was comfortable, more blissfully relaxed than he could even imagine feeling, tucked into a soft bed with even softer blankets on the floor of this warm, tiny apartment. The hypnotic flickering of the decorative flame in the gas stove lulled him into a happy trance.
He smiled and closed his eyes. Khiloh looked younger, smaller, so much happier without his uniform, and he was so proud of this warm home, the wife and son who loved him dearly. An unabashed joy had filled the apartment, a sensation Wash didn't ever want to leave behind.
Andy, with a child's comprehension of events, nonetheless understood with utmost clarity and glee that Dad's friend didn't have to be a prisoner any longer, and led Wash on a full tour of the apartment, including the secret compartment behind his bed that "even dad doesn't know about," complete with hoarded candy and treats. One had been illicitly shared with Wash, and he fingered the wrapper in his pocket with a smile.
Amy had greeted him with a caution that said she hadn't perhaps been thrilled at the idea of her husband quite so literally bringing his work home with him, but she melted at his hurry to assure her that he didn't have to stay, that he was just here for dinner and that he'd find an appropriately bleak hotel – he was being hugged, apologized to, shown a comfortably worn seat in the corner of the kitchen. "I'm not much of a cook," she announced cheerfully. "But I've got a masters in shopping. Eat up."
And eat he had. Food had never been scarce in the prison, nor particularly awful, certainly no worse than what he’d encountered in the officer’s mess at Lyndono. But never had it been as heaven-sent as her meal that night, with rich flavors and smells and the brownies. God, the brownies.
Wash stood and tiptoed softly to the door, savoring the warmth, the softness of the flannel pajamas found in the package Amy had put together for him. Carefully so as not to wake the others, he rested his hand on the knob and turned it, heart pounding with irrational excitement. I really am free. He stepped out, feeling that he was escaping, that at any moment people with guns would surround him. But there was just cold, and snow, and a soft noise in the night, the noise of traffic and people going about their lives. There were frozen steps leading down from the landing, and he sat, looking down at the street below.
A mere two floors up, a door opened. Wash launched himself into the shadows, his heart frozen in genuine terror as he listened to each step, tried to shrink into darkness and make himself invisible. A lighter flicked, it startled the very core of him. He closed his eyes and relaxed, forced himself to think rationally, not like a child playing an elaborate game of cops and robbers. What happens if he sees you? You talk, have one of those awkward conversations between strangers, and you both go back inside. So stand up, say hello. He remained crouched against the wall.
The scent of cigarette smoke reached his nostrils, and he controlled the urge to sneeze, filled with overwhelming sadness. Mal was still living in that world for real, the world where fear informed every thought, where all you had to do to go from relative comfort to being the target of men who found satisfaction in your cries, or alone in a cold void of darkness was to open the wrong door or refuse the wrong order. He felt tears on his face, and he didn't fight them, didn't care any more that the stranger with the cigarette might hear him. He was just an ordinary fellow smoking in the night, and Wash was a free man, an adult huddled guilt-ridden on a snowy step. I left him there. I'm the one who could maybe have handled that ten years, and I left the guy who – just can't.
He didn't know how much time had passed, just that he was shivering uncontrollably when gentle hands wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. With a warm hug and caring words he didn't hear, Amy led him inside, handed him a towel soaked in hot water to wipe away the tears, and followed it with a cup of hot chocolate pressed into numb hands.
With a warmth free from awkwardness or hesitation, his best friend's wife wrapped her arms around him and held him for long minutes that seemed like an hour, held him until Khiloh came out of the bedroom and saw the two of them standing there. He started caressing her back, sleepy and loving, and she pulled away from Wash, meeting her husband's eyes. "I understand now. I – all of it, I –"
Wash pulled away from that closeness he wasn't a part of, feeling awkward for the first time, like he should avert his eyes. He went back to the blissfully soft, warm bed and wrapped himself in it, closing his eyes and answering their whispered inquiries. Yes, he was okay. Positive. Just fine, thank you.
In the peaceful silence, the quiet warmth and contentment, he felt a simple desire growing in him, a desire so strong it seemed as though it had already happened, was just waiting to come true. There was someone out there he could hold like that, a back he could caress, a person who would kiss him and hold him in the night when he woke. Someone he could love.
Zoe sank to her bunk, her face blank. The tears of the others seemed an odd way to deal with pain; it didn't go away if you cried. She simply ran her mind over the things that could bring her comfort. Mal. The cocky, wisecracking military nightmare of a Sergeant who managed to keep them alive and sane through one nerve-wracking battle after another, when he wasn't nearly getting them all killed.
The worst day of the war, the day she quite possibly earned the title of war criminal, had felt – well, a lot like this one, hollow pain that just wouldn't go away. She held her little brother's body, the hurt not sinking in right off. His looked like any other body, and she had to remember his eyes and his laugh and the annoying way he used to follow her everywhere. Then the grief hit. They couldn't bury him, could only lay his body beside that of his comrades, kiss him for the last time, and run like hell before air strikes consumed the hill.
She wanted to die and wanted to kill. So she ignored her instincts, those little telltale signs that should have made her hold her fire, and with one push of a button destroyed a school. Not an Alliance outpost, the town school. Mal didn't say a word to her, just walked with that grim look on his face and jerked her off her feet when she almost wandered in front of a tank. Hauled her back up and set them all to digging in for the night.
She bedded down at the end of the trench, shivering and alone. She didn't notice Mal until he put his hand on her shoulder. Didn't say a word, just laid down tight against her side, put his arm around her and held her all night. He never talked to her about it, not ever. Just let the warmth of his body against hers get her through. She wanted that, right now. She'd not once asked her captors for anything, but right now it was taking all she had not to walk out to the guard and beg her, please let me see Mal. I need to know he's going to survive this. Need him to tell me I will.
Zoe covered herself with a blanket, acutely lonely. She set her jaw and closed her eyes, not the least bit sleepy. Endure it. Everything passes. Everything passes with time.
She didn't know when the peace found her, warm arms holding her tightly in the night. It snuck up on her, just like Mal did. She relaxed deeply, found a hand and caressed it with hers. I'm here, baby. Mal would never say that. She held on tighter. She didn't care, knew damn well it was a figment of her imagination, but she wasn't letting go.
Mal’s eyes drifted open, and he slowly absorbed that Zoe wasn’t lying next to him, that they weren’t huddled in a trench somewhere. There was a wide pattern of frost on the window, and the strong light of a grey sky reflecting off snow was flooding the building. Mal yawned and greeted the first day of his new life.
Wash finally fell asleep as dawn approached, and he slept late into the afternoon, finally awaking when a small boy flopped down beside him and carefully drove a fire truck into his ear. “Leave the poor fellow alone,” chided Amy. “He needs his sleep, now, just like your dad."
Wash blinked his eyes open, yawning and turning his head to stare directly at a plastic headlight. “Ow,” he protested, blinking at the tiny light. He refocused his eyes on Andy, now looking at him with a hint of worry in his eager expression. “It’s okay,” he reassured them both, smiling. If only they knew how okay. He wanted to close his eyes again and simply relish the moment, and after a second’s reflection he did just that. So this was what it was like, waking up in heaven.
“I didn’t know heaven had toy fire trucks in it,” he said, opening his eyes and looking up at Amy.
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