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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Speaking Truth - Emily and Jamie have a heart to heart. Mal talks to Michael about his work. Warning: extreme angst. Bring tissues.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 662 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
A.N. - It was already an angsty chapter, but then Ali D (not to name names) requested a conversation between Mal and Michael. So I pushed most of the original stuff to the next chapter (yes, now you get 11 parts) and Mal, being naturally tactless, brought this up.
PART 8 – Speaking Truth
Jamie hadn’t meant to spend so much time with his parents, and he certainly hadn’t intended to suggest a heist. It was strange having grown up with so much crime happening about him and then going to a core world and trying to play the part of an honest student. For some reason, people seemed to think that any medic with that kind of upbringing was involved with organ smuggling or experimenting on patients. If he managed to convince them that mostly it was just patching up burns, bullet holes, knife wounds, they assumed the payment was dishonest. Jamie kept to himself mostly. Being younger than his classmates didn’t help, but in his mind, the sooner he finished school the better. He’d tested out of classes so that he could avoid the study groups and projects. He still showed up to lectures as a sign of respect to his professors. The MedAcad was on the cutting edge of medical science and the teachers were always dropping in tidbits of unpublished research that would never make it onto an exam.
Having lunch with his sister and his friends had been uplifting for him. On Serenity, he’d always had to fight to be alone and get space to himself, and he hadn’t even realizes how lonely he’d become living alone on Osiris the last few years. All the stories his dad had told had made it seem like such a fairy tale place, but his dad had grown up differently and arrived to school with a different reputation than Jamie had and Jamie did not fit in that world. He didn’t even know if he wanted to.
“Your turn,” Emily said, handing Jamie the rubber ball. They’d been sitting in the hospital waiting room playing jacks for almost an hour now and Jamie was thinking on calling it quits because he was getting tired of retrieving the ball when Emily bounced it too hard and it went wild. Plus, the floor was chilling his bones, and it was cramped with all those hard plastic chairs bolted into place.
“I thought you said you’ve been practicing,” Jamie teased.
Emily looked down the hall where her father was leaning back and talking softly to Genny. She was getting edgy again, about the thought of her Papa being taken. Shaking it off, she spread the jacks on the floor without so much as a glance at Jamie.
“I’m lulling you into a false sense of security so that when we play for money, I’ll win more,” she deadpanned, by way of excuse.
Jamie laughed and she gave him a bored, but challenging eyebrow raise.
“Put your money where your mouth is and see,” she said evenly.
Jamie thought he would burst with amusement, but he jutted his chin cockily and pulled 10 platinum from his pocket and handed Emily the rubber ball. Emily bounced the ball, but her eyes flickered toward her Papa again, and she didn’t catch the ball.
“Money wasn’t good enough,” she mumbled, and retrieved the ball before it went too far.
“Maybe if you kept your eyes on the game and not your Papa,” Jamie challenged and threw another 10 platinum next to the first. “Is this enough for you to get two jacks in one bounce.”
Emily glared at him, glanced at the spread, dropped the ball, scooped all ten jacks, caught the ball, and raised her eyebrow at him. She collected her twenty platinum and tucked the money into her boot. Jamie’s jaw went slack.
“See what happens when you focus,” Jamie encouraged with a smile. “You got no reason to be so twitchy.”
“Scared don’t need a reason,” she answered sulkily. “Talk to me again when both your parents are taken from you.”
Her fears had been coming and going in waves all afternoon, sometimes intense to the point of panic and sometimes virtually invisible. Jamie didn’t want to get into this conversation so he tossed another twenty on the table. “I want to see your hands move that fast again.”
Emily twitched, like she was trying to force her worries to the back of her mind. She glanced at her dad again, then took a deep breath and focused. This time Emily collected the jacks, the money, and the ball in one scoop. She had been playing him for the last hour! That girl had lightning fast hands, excellent control, and fierce dedication to the art of bluffing.
“What if they’ve tricked us both?” she asked, her voice small and frightened, her fist clenching around the bill in her hand. “They’ll take him –”
“Mei mei, let me explain this to you,” Jamie said, collecting the jacks and putting them away. He wasn’t sure where to start so he stalled by moving from the floor to one of the chairs and getting Emily to sit next to him. Jayne getting taken away was not an easy thing for him to think on, but he’d heard the others tell her not to worry and she’d gone deaf to them. “Do you remember what your Papa was like before he went into the hospital? He didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, didn’t talk.”
“He did –” she protested.
“No, mei mei. He didn’t,” Jamie said firmly. “Auntie ‘Nara made you meals and Uncle Mal read you stories and put you to bed.”
Emily wrapped her arms across her chest and stood up. “He was getting better,” she said in certainty and denial. “He talked.”
“He drank,” Jamie corrected. “He got blind angry and tore apart the Infirmary. He broke my arm.”
Jamie choked on his own words, cringing as he relived it all in his head. He couldn’t even look at Jayne now without feeling the bone snap.
“That was an accident,” Emily insisted, her voice dropping to a frightened whisper. “He didn’t mean it.”
“Which is exactly the point,” Jamie said firmly and angrily. “I was a kid and if you’re gonna break a kid’s arm, you damn well better mean it.”
Jamie cradled his arm against his chest and turned to face the corner, away from the prying eyes of those walking nearby. It was hard enough talking to Emily about this, and he needed to compose himself lest he take all his anger out on her. He wanted to explain things, not hurt her. Jayne probably didn’t even remember what happened that day, and no one had the heart to tell him.
Emily leaned against him, hugging him from behind, and hooking her chin over his shoulder. She pressed her cheek against his, taking as much comfort as she was giving.
“It could have been you he hurt,” Jamie said, sucking in air to dry his soul of tears. “It wasn’t safe for him or for us. We had to get him help.”
Emily nodded, not protesting anymore. “But he’s better now. I know he don’t talk much, but he tries.”
Jamie was desperately clawing at his own calm, keeping his voice steady for her sake. They were almost through this moment. He could hold on a little longer and get her through this, and then they could talk about something else.
“This is why no one gets why you’re so scared. He came all the way out here to see Zoë. You said you had lunch with him and my mom. They talked.”
“Maybehaps me and Aunt Kaylee did most of the talking.”
“He helped look for Aunt River,” Jamie continued.
“A man that can do all that doesn’t need to be put away,” Jamie explained. “That would just be a waste of money.”
Emily processed his words in her head and rocked slowly foot to foot, all the while hugging Jamie across the shoulders. He’d always been strong for her sake, and now she was trying to give him some comfort, because she sensed the cloud of hurt she’d kicked up.
“Why can’t no one else explain this stuff to me?” she asked.
Jamie gave her the best ‘you’re pathetic’ look he could muster. “Possible they’ve been saying it all day and you haven’t been listening. I know for a fact that Genny told you while we were walking to lunch. Michael told you on the way back. Why didn’t you believe either of them?”
Emily looked darkly into the past and shivered. “You weren’t there when they took him.”
“I had a broken arm, remember,” Jamie said. “I was scared and hurt. I thought he’d never forgive me for letting your Mom die.”
Jamie covered his mouth and sobbed uncontrollably at the confession. Jayne never would forgive him and he couldn’t make it right. He didn’t know what he could have done, but he was sure that one day he’d hear the right seminar or read the right paper or make the right breakthrough and he’d find out what he should have done that day. He vaguely heard Emily saying it wasn’t his fault, which was what everyone said. It didn’t matter if it was true.
There was so much tension in Michael that Mal thought sure he’d have an aneurism if he didn’t get some peace. With Zoë through the worst of things, everyone should have been calming. Michael had seemed okay when he was napping in the observation lounge, and when he was talking to Little Zoë – anytime he was close to Cole – but there was no hiding the fresh, bright red scratches on his neck and face, as though the black eye River had given him wasn’t enough. Michael was hearing something that haunted him, and it kept coming back.
Mal felt divided. On the one hand, he wanted to be there for his son, and on the other, he knew Michael needed to learn to handle things on his own. On the other hand – well, Mal was out of hands, so on the first foot – if Shadow hadn’t gone black and Mal’s momma hadn’t died, and the forty ranch hands that had raised Mal like he was their own hadn’t been burnt to dust by the Alliance … how different would his life had been if he’d had a home to go to after the war? How different would he have been, if he’d been able to walk out of Serenity Valley and into his momma’s arms?
There was no sense in leaving Michael to deal with things alone. There was no sense in him thinking he couldn’t come home if he needed. There was no sense in pretending he didn’t have anyone to catch him if he fell.
Mal turned Michael’s business card in his hand. The token was absolutely hilarious, and he figured it would be a good conversation starter for talking about work. His son had run outside again and was pacing circles around the grounds, and Mal figured he could wait on the bench by the rose garden for Michael to pass. The bench was old, wooden, and surprisingly comfortable, but maybe Mal was just tired. They’d done well with a small space, giving a little bit of green and private courtyard feel to the four feet between the bench and the street. It didn’t take too long for Michael to come around.
Michael slowed when he saw Mal, and he came obediently to the bench when Mal motioned him over. For a moment, they both just sprawled, staring at the sky, which was over lit with city glow. Michael lolled his head to the side, watching Mal tiredly as Mal turned possible opening statements in his mind. He figured Michael had to watch his mouth, so he’d know when the conversation actually transitioned to verbal.
Mal looked at the card in his hands, thought about what needed saying, and when he finally opened his mouth, all tact abandoned him.
“I heard about Athens,” he said. It was the worst of all possible starting places, but Michael didn’t look away. Instead he looked surprised and guilty, like a tremendous sin had been uncovered.
“What?” Mal said. “I still have friends that run those circles.”
Michael huffed and rolled his eyes.
“Acquaintances,” Mal corrected, but Michael was still looking at him judgmentally, so he finally relented to “Very bribable enemies.”
Michael sighed and looked at the sky again, his shoulders slumping dejectedly, like he expected to be called home to where people weren’t trying to kill him so thoroughly. “Did you tell Mama?”
“I don’t think she’d let you ship out again if she knew,” Mal said. Mal didn’t have the whole story on Athens, but he knew the first mate on Michael’s ship had died. It was why Michael had been promoted so quickly after joining the crew. He had told Inara about the promotion.
Mal didn’t want to take Michael from the Cadence. There was too much potential for him to develop the deep bonds of friendship that had kept Mal going all these years. The very fact that Berke brought Michael here personally and was coming back to get him spoke volumes. They’d walked out of Athens together and that wasn’t nothing.
“I heard you fought well,” Mal continued. “Kept your wits about you and got your crew out.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Mal fell silent and they both looked away from each other to the roses, the sky, their own fingernails … anything the keep from looking each other in the eye. Mal fingered the card in his hand and thought about the life it advertised. He didn’t know how bad it got in there for Michael. He didn’t know if it was Niska’s Skyplex bad or Serenity Valley bad. Mal had been through a lot in life, and he still couldn’t say if there was anything in the ‘verse that helped get a man through those moments aside from alcohol, denial, or insanity – mostly insanity.
“It’s different every time,” Mal said, because it was. There was no one way to recover because there was no one thing that happened.
“I said I don’t want to talk about it,” Michael said more firmly. He stood up and took a few steps away, but Mal crossed the distance. War stories were horrific and grotesque, but sometimes telling them made a difference.
“I want to know how you got free –”
Mal stopped suddenly when Michael turned and glared at him. If Mal didn’t know better, he’d believe Michael’s eyes flashed like fire. Then he felt something strong ripping through his head. Tensing with fear and surprise, Mal shielded himself like River had taught him how, and a moment later the pressure lifted. Michael looked aghast at the block and he panted fearfully.
“I’m sorry,” Michael whispered as the surprise on his face melted into horror at what he’d just tried to do.
Michael turned and walked away quickly, but Mal chased him. If he could survive the defenses, he could uncover the truth.
“Don’t make me hurt you,” Michael warned firmly, his voice tight and pained.
“Don’t walk away from me!” Mal shouted at him.
Suddenly, Michael turned and swung his fist as Mal’s head. Mal side-stepped quickly. Michael swung again, but Mal blocked this time and caught Michael’s fist. Then he yanked Michael off the path and pressed him against the nearest wall. Physically pinned, Michael tried another mental slam, and dazed by the force of it, Mal stumbled back.
“Talk to me, Michael,” Mal begged, pressing forward through the fog, and pinning Michael to the wall again. His son was out of control, but Mal had opened this wound, and he would take the brunt of the pain.
“I hate it!” Michael shrieked and Mal had to fight to keep from clamping his hands over his ears. He had never heard his son scream so loud. Michael rarely made a sound he didn’t have to, and it was like pulling teeth sometimes to get him to talk. Now it seemed like he was screaming and hollering and crying out for all the years he’d kept silent.
“I hate it! I hate it! I don’t want to be like this!” Turning to face the wall, Michael shrieked and swore and pounded the bricks like getting through them was the only means of escape from the pain he felt. Mal winced and watched, trying to figure out how to get a hold on Michael and keep him from hurting himself. He groaned inwardly as Michaels’ tantrum drew the attention of a peace officer.
“Is everything okay here?” the lawman asked, clearly trying to see if Mal was helping or harming Michael.
“Sorry, sir. Personal tragedy,” Mal said curtly, nodding back toward the hospital entrance. “You understand.”
Mal grabbed Michael by the elbows to keep him from pounding the walls and Michael struggled against him. With one final yell, Michael shook Mal off and then he went completely silent and still. It was eerie.
“Sir,” the officer tried again, stepping closer to Michael. “Are you alright?”
Michael tensed, his muscles coiling like a tiger ready to pounce. His fingers opened and closed into fists. With a shaky breath, he reached quickly for his gun, but Mal moved like lightning, grabbing Michael’s wrist and stopping him. Mal may not have been a reader, but he could see stupid, and pulling a gun on a lawman in a core world was about as stupid as it got. He didn’t mind thinking it loudly enough for Michael to hear.
Turning his head, Michael’s steel blue eyes locked onto Mal’s, swimming in confusion, like he couldn’t understand why he was about to lash out or why Mal had stopped him. He breathed in and out, slowly and intentionally, looking like a cornered animal, trying to decide what to do next.
The officer pressed in again, trying to come between their silent face off. “Sir, I need you to tell me if you need help.”
Michael’s jaw quivered and he looked at his wrist in Mal’s hand like he was about to yank himself free and beat the officer away. Instead, very tentatively, he leaned forward and pressed his ear over Mal’s heart. His hand fell gently against Mal’s chest, his fingers tapping, and he looked skyward, like he was trying to break into a safe. Mal couldn’t relax – couldn’t embrace him – because there was no telling if Michael would lash out again.
“Sir?” the officer tried once more.
Michael was being frustratingly silent, but at least it wasn’t out of character for him. After a few minutes, Michael stopped shaking, closed his eyes and sighed, and Mal relaxed enough to cradle one arm around his son. He couldn’t help thinking that this was exactly what he would’ve done if he’d come back to his momma on Shadow after the war. He would’ve screamed ‘til his ears bled and there wouldn’t have been a damn thing his momma could’ve done or said to help. But it would’ve been enough, just to know that she heard him screaming.
“Sorry, officer,” Mal finally said, when it became apparent that Michael had calmed and had no intention of speaking for himself. “We’ll keep it down.”
The officer looked wary, but after a few more minutes, lost any reason to stay. As soon as the officer left, Michael opened his eyes, backed away from his father, and leaned against the wall of the building, lightly massaging his sore knuckles. Mal wished Cole were here. Cole always knew the right things to say to Michael. If Mal believed in a divine plan for the ‘verse, he’d believe that God never would’ve given him Michael until he’d set Zoë and Cole into place first.
Mal forced himself to be quiet, and forced his mind to be clear, waiting for Michael’s voice to resurface. When the only sounds left were the crickets, he touched Michael’s shoulder gently and the words fell out.
“I hate it,” Michael breathed and shuddered.
“You can always come home,” Mal offered. “There’s plenty of other work to be had in the worlds.”
Michael cringed and covered his ears looking ready to rip them off, which (Mal knew from experience) would not have been pleasant. “That’s not even what I mean,” he whimpered.
Carefully, Mal wove his hands under Michael’s and pulled them away from his face. The pain radiated off of his skin, searing the night air. Michael pressed his back against the wall, exhausted and overburdened with the curse of being a reader. It was the part of his story he couldn’t share with his crew and that would limit who he could trust with his life. He couldn’t tell his new friends how to quiet their minds for his sake – he just had the grit his teeth and bear it.
“We were bound so tight we couldn’t move,” Michael said, his voice bitter and shaky, and Mal knew he was talking about getting abducted on Athens. “I had a blade in my boot and I couldn’t even get to it. He made us watch…”
Michael covered his mouth with his knuckles and lost hold of his words. Mal understood. They’d seen the first mate get tortured and killed.
“There was no way out,” Michael said, his voice quickening in desperation to justify his actions. “So I ... one of the night guards ... I took him and I made him cut me loose. But I couldn’t shut him up. I couldn’t. So I killed him with his own gun.”
Mal nodded like he understood, but he didn’t. Michael twitched desperately, knowing exactly what he meant, but unable to explain it to a non-reader. He raked his fingers through this hair, trying to tug the memories out by the root.
“You don’t know what it’s like when you take someone’s mind, and you hear them screaming, like their soul will lose hold of their body if you push too hard,” Michael said, sounding frightened. “A reader knows where he is – knows how to find himself again. A regular person … I didn’t know he wouldn’t come back from that. I didn’t know it was so easy to split a man.”
Michael looked at him, terrified, guilty, and desperate for absolution, but Mal was still looking for the sin. There was a time when all he had to do to calm Michael down was hold him in his arms, press Michael’s ear over his heart, and let his own peace cover his son. Now, it simply wasn’t enough.
“The man who took you,” Mal said. “What would he have done to that night guard?”
“Worse than what you’ve been through,” Michael said surely, furrowing his brow. “But you’ve never been in that place, when someone takes your mind. How can I know if what I did to him wasn’t worse?”
“There’s a difference,” Mal explained. “You weren’t doing it to be cruel. You had to get free, by whatever means necessary. You had to save your crew and you were the only one that had any power to do it. It was him or you.”
Tears fell down his cheeks, and Mal watched them fall, powerless to even comprehend what his son struggled with.
“I hate it,” Michael said again, this time quietly. “To rip out a man’s soul – it shouldn’t even be a choice.”
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:31 PM
Thursday, June 18, 2009 12:56 AM
Thursday, June 18, 2009 2:22 AM
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