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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A few more heart-to-heart chats. Jamie talks to Simon, Mal talks to Cole. Be prepared with tissues, but the end will make you smile.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 995 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Cleaning up after the party was slow going, partly because it was still dark and partly because Mal was still tipsy. They’d set up a few work lights, and Mal, Jayne, and Cole were wandering through the darkness, collecting trash and righting anything that looked fallen. Little Zoë had pushed herself too hard and her brief respite of sitting on the picnic table had turned into a nap apparently. Mal went to the table and nudged her shoulder, and she looked up at him tiredly.
“Go on inside,” he said.
She shook her head and closed her eyes. “If I move again, I’ll just get colder.”
Mal laughed and rubbed her arm, trying to warm her a little. Then he thought better of it and laid down on the table next to her, gathering her in his arms. She would always be his baby girl, and he was glad they’d had a few months to share this home. He missed having her around, but he was proud of the path she was carving out for herself in the ‘verse. Sometimes he got choked up, wondering how many more years she had left before the cancer took her, but he tried not to think negatively. The past few months, they’d come out here a lot, and they’d lie on the table and stare at the sky. Now, she snuggled up to him and he kept her warm. He had a few more weeks with her while she finished her recovery, then she’d be off traversing the sky again on a path he couldn’t go.
Jayne grunted disapprovingly at them for not working, then he laid down on the bench. Cole took up the other bench, and the four of them were just lying their like idiots, freezing their noses off, looking up at the stars.
Jamie trotted up, carrying Genny piggy back, both smiling.
“Do y’all need blankets? Or maybe a sanity check?” Jamie asked. Genny hopped on Jamie’s back and knelt next to Cole, and they started whispering furtively.
“Speak up, Little Genny! I’m trying to eavesdrop,” Jayne hollered.
Genny made a face, and she and Cole retreated toward the creek for more privacy.
“Bring him back!” Mal yelled after them, sitting up slowly so he wouldn’t get dizzy. “He’s cleaning the yard for the both of you. That was the agreement, Ms. Genny.”
Mal carefully disentangled himself from Zoë, who was now fast asleep. “Jamie, did you come to take Zoë’s place?”
Jamie shot him an insolent look, like Mal was stupid for even suggesting Jamie help with cleanup. “I opt out on account of I came late ate less than half a pound of meat.”
“That’s an atrocity,” Mal said dryly. He knew Jamie had finished off almost two cakes on his own. “The meat’s inside. Go and finish what you can. Take Zoë upstairs.”
Jamie stared at him in surprise, having not expected to be excused from helping so easily.
“Quick, before he changes his mind,” Jayne joked.
“Thanks,” Jamie said incredulously, scooping Little Zoë in his arms like she was a featherweight and carrying her inside. Mal looked at Jayne and laughed tiredly. Someone needed to carry him inside.
Simon leaned on the kitchen counter, rubbing his fingers over his dry lips, turning the pill bottle in his hand. This was supposed to be his night off – his only night off – not having to doctor after anyone or be responsible for any aspect of hosting. It was his last night to take a breath, and try to get through a day relaxed enough to not fall back on these damn pain pills. He was supposed to be strolling leisurely around the back yard, not rushing up and down the stairs so fast he needed his cane to hold him up. He’d managed to get about five hours of fairy tale before things went to hell. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
He’d stolen another moment, when Jamie first arrived and told him to sit while he took care of River. He could take a breath again, and he considered not guzzling that coffee. But Jamie had come with fresh scars of his own, and it became one more thing for Simon to take care of… always one more thing. Twisting open the pill bottle, Simon shook out two tabs and stared at them bitterly.
“You’re still up?” Jamie asked, coming into the kitchen and hopping on the counter.
Simon jumped and closed his fist around the pills. Quickly, he put them in his mouth and grabbed the nearest glass, using whatever was in it to swallow the pills. It tasted like tea.
“I could say the same for you,” Simon said, smiling disarmingly. “I drank too much coffee trying to sober myself up.”
“I always thought you didn’t like coffee,” Jamie said socially, reaching for the nearest cake and breaking off a piece. Truth be told, Simon loved coffee, but he never stocked it in his own home, because he didn’t like being addicted to it. It hardly seemed to matter now. He twisted the lid onto the pills, and stuffed the bottle in his pocket.
“Didn’t you just take one of those a few hours ago?” Jamie asked through a mouthful of cake.
Simon ducked his head. He’d been praying for months for someone to call him out on this, but not here, and not now. Jamie seemed more interested in the cake than his answer, so with a shrug, he mumbled, “It’s been that kind of day – up and down the stairs.”
Jamie slid off the countertop and smiled sympathetically. Simon flinched when Jamie’s hands fell on his shoulders, but he sighed when Jamie massaged him gently. He groaned involuntarily and leaned into it. It was another moment to breathe, and he didn’t have many left, so he may as well enjoy it.
“So this cure you’ve found for Tome’s –” he began.
“It’s not a cure.”
“Could a healthy adult survive the treatment?” Simon persisted. Jamie’s knuckle worked the knots in his shoulders and Simon felt his knees go weak.
“Why would a healthy adult need it?” Jamie asked, thinking it over. “Tome’s Dystaxia can’t be weeded out at the carrier level.”
“What if the disease were simply dormant in a person’s body,” Simon asked.
Jamie’s hands froze. “You’ve found a way to suspend development? For how long? Does the disease mutate in when it resurfaces?”
“Slow down,” Simon laughed, hobbling to the dining table and sitting. “Take a breath.”
Jamie’s eyes were wide as he mulled the possibilities and Simon watched delightedly. He loved seeing this look in his son.
“Why delay treatment?” Jamie finally asked, coming up behind Simon and massaging his shoulders again. “Why not suspend development indefinitely?”
“Side-effects,” Simon shrugged, then hesitated, taking a moment to consider Inara before he revealed too much. His thoughts were fuzzy from the mixture of meds, caffeine, and alcohol, and Jamie was massaging away the remnants of his inhibitions. Jamie was more like an expert consult anyway. “What I am about to tell you cannot leave the two of us. Inara has Tome’s –”
“Of course!” Jamie interrupted, throwing his arms in the air. “The Guild used their youth chip to modify DNA markers for aging. I didn’t realize it would suppress the disease. That’s brilliant! The applications for treatment of childhood diseases will –” Jamie went non-verbal with incredulity for a moment, paced around the table, then fell into the chair across from Simon. His face was lit like a Christmas tree, sparkling with ideas. “This is incredible!”
“How do you know about the device?” Simon asked, still stuck on the fact that he’d been interrupted.
Jamie chuckled and shrugged. “When Cole was applying to the Academy, I knew there were certain things they only allowed Guild physicians to do. I didn’t want anything happening to him that I didn’t know how to treat.”
“So you became Guild certified?”
“Not officially,” Jamie grinned slyly. “Genny hacked into their computer for me.”
Simon rubbed his eyes, perplexed by how his two children could be so morally strong, but so severely defiant of legal boundaries. He supposed they got it from him. “Do you think she could survive the treatment?”
“She won’t have to,” Jamie said easily, sprawling in his chair. “Since we don’t have to worry about physical or mental retardation effects, there’s a much more direct way to treat it with a modified antibiotic – assuming it hasn’t mutated. I probably have some at the lab.”
Simon tugged his ear and stared at Jamie. He’d said it so flippantly, like it was obvious Inara had nothing to worry about, and Simon could see the steam coming out of his ears as he thought of a hundred other applications for the youth chip technology – if the Guild would share it.
Feeling his head getting heavy, Simon rested his chin on his hands and closed his eyes. The meds were kicking in and countering the caffeine enough that maybe he could sleep a few hours. Kaylee was expecting him to come back to bed. Hearing the rattle of a pill bottle, Simon’s eyes shot open. He didn’t know when Jamie had palmed it – probably while massaging Simon’s bones to jelly – but Jamie had his pain meds and was reading the script on the side. Telling himself to stay calm, Simon put on his best poker face and watched carefully.
“How many of these have you had today?” Jamie asked nonchalantly, opening the lid and eyeballing the number of pills that were left.
Simon shrugged and reached across the table for them, trying to take them back without swiping. He didn’t want them to spill. Jamie held them just out of reach.
“You know, they’re once a day pills, not once an hour.”
“No need to get cheeky,” Simon countered, holding his hand out again. “They’re my pills, and I’d like them back.”
Shaking his head, Jamie stood up and went to his suitcase in the hall, and pulled out his own medical bag. “You don’t need them. You’re going to try that therapy I told you about. A minor surgery, a little PT …”
“I told you, I don’t want to,” Simon growled, grabbing his cane and following Jamie into the hall. If only he could rest, his leg would heal on its own.
“Yeah, well, you lost your ability to choose when you did this,” Jamie said, turning just enough to wave the bottle at Simon again. “It looks like you’ve gone through about two months worth in two weeks.”
Simon felt his temper flaring, but he didn’t have the energy to fight. He had a half dozen excuses he could give to Jamie, but they’d sound as weak as when he made them for himself. It started when River showed up, and then Zoë relapsed, and then Serry came along, and then they sold their home to live on the ship, and Simon had never been a fan of ships, but Kaylee was so land-crazy; and now Daquan had appeared from nowhere…
There was such a brief time when River was stable and living away from them, and the kids had moved away from home, and he wasn’t a medic on a ship, constantly patching up wounds, and all he had to do any day was wake up to his wife, and walk the beaches during the day, and he’d felt peace for the first time since he was a kid. After the first month of that fairy tale life, the pain in his leg had subsided to where he barely noticed it except for a little stiffness the first few minutes after he woke up. There was so much he carried now, and he did what he had to in order to survive.
He watched as Jamie pulled a pen light and a heating pad from his med bag, and Simon resisted the urge to swat with his cane.
“Unless you have something stronger, you had better give them back,” Simon warned sternly.
Jamie stood suddenly, towering menacingly over Simon, crowding Simon back into the living room. Jamie was big enough to bully him, and he’d chosen his moment well. He’d probably been waiting for hours.
“Do you want my help?” Jamie challenged, his voice low and threatening. “And before you say no, consider the alternative, because I will wake the entire family right now for an intervention.”
Angrily, Simon turned away, threw his cane on the floor, and flopped on the couch, covering his eyes in frustration. Emily was sleeping on the neighboring couch, and she stirred, but fell back asleep quickly. Getting loud would only draw more attention. He could handle this on his own. Jamie was only trying to help, but he had not idea what he was dealing with. With a strong hand on his shoulder, Jamie forced Simon onto his back, and propped Simon’s leg on a pillow. Carefully, he rolled up Simon’s pant leg to the knee so he could wrap the heating pad around it. Simon had to look away. The sight of his own leg – nothing but skin grafts, scar tissue, and weak muscles – made him ache inside.
“We can work this out with just you and me or I can tell the Captain exactly why his chief medic will be out of commission for the next six months,” Jamie said simply.
“That’s generous, and you know it,” Jamie countered with a warning in his voice. He finished the wrap, and switched it on. It was surprisingly cold. Simon looked curiously at the hand control when Jamie gave it to him, and saw that the device worked as both a cold and hot pad. He hadn’t seen one of these in ages. Jamie covered Simon’s leg with a blanket, as if he knew how much it pained Simon to see. “So, Dad, what’s it going to be?”
Taking a deep breath, Simon worked desperately to wrap his mind around what was happening. He knew he was lucky Jamie wasn’t pumping his stomach, but Jamie was a master of discretion, and as hard as things were getting, Simon knew he was getting off easy. Jamie seemed to know that Simon had beat himself up enough over this, and didn’t need to hear it again. Simon didn’t want help and he needed it at the same time.
“I don’t want the therapy,” he said softly. “I can stop. Things are calming down and I’ll get back to the prescribed regiment – tomorrow.”
Jamie pressed his fingers against Simon’s forehead, massaging gently, taking away the tension, and leaving peace. “Alright. We can talk through some options, but I’m not leaving you an excuse to take those pills ever again.”
“The ship –”
“- can find another medic,” Jamie finished. “You are the only dad I have and I’m not losing you to this.”
Simon’s heart twisted. “River –”
“I’ll take care of Aunt River,” Jamie said soothingly. “I’ll take care of Aunt ‘Nara. In fact, I will come be medic on the ship. For the next six months, you are not to enter the Infirmary. You won’t take meds and you won’t administer them. You are on sabbatical or vacation or leave or whatever you need to call it. As of now, you are no one’s doctor.”
Simon’s throat tightened, and he pushed Jamie’s hands away. He tried to sit up on the couch, but his head was so heavy. He was a doctor. He was always the doctor. What would he be when no one needed him? Where would he be, if not the Infirmary?
“You’re not a surgeon,” Simon said.
Jamie chuckled softly, recognizing the desperation, and he took Simon’s hand.
“You’re right. And if someone’s life is on the line, no one will keep you from helping,” Jamie said softly. “But the only one at a life or death juncture right now is you, so I’m stepping in and taking this mantle from you.”
Tears fell down Simon’s cheeks as he turned his head to the side, overwhelmed as much by shame as relief. He hated so much that his son had to do this for him, but no one else in the whole galaxy could. No one else would have known the right words – when to be firm, and when to be gentle. No one else could have said ‘I’ll take care of River.’ He wouldn’t have trusted them – wouldn’t have believed. Jamie was the only person that he trusted to help; and he needed help, but he couldn’t ask this of his son. Jamie was just barely finding his own strength. He would break, just as Simon had.
“I can’t let you do this,” Simon whispered. “You can’t handle it.”
“I won’t have to for long,” Jamie assured, his voice calm and soothing. “If I need help, you’ll be right there. But for now, you need to rest. You’ll get better, and then we can share the load.”
Jamie held his hand calmly, looking on him without blame or pity. He leaned a little to pull a blanket over Emily, and then he grabbed a book from the coffee table to page through. He knew to sit there, without arguing or patronizing or criticizing. Simon stared at him, feeling sad, grateful, and proud, seeing a miracle, a friend, and a confidant that he could not have dared to dream or hope for.
Kaylee padded softly down the stairs and leaned over the railing, smiling when she saw them.
“I thought you were coming back – oh, am I interrupting?”
“No,” Jamie said quickly, and motioning Kaylee to come. He took the electric control from Simon, switched the wrap from cold to hot, and then stood to leave. There were no harsh warning looks as he left. He gave his mom a hug, then retreated to the kitchen, leaving only a soft smile, and mouthing the words ‘I love you, dad.’
Simon smiled, laughed, and sobbed in a single breath. He had to wonder if Jamie had done what he had with the wrap so Simon would have an excuse to be laying on the couch right now with tears in his eyes. Kaylee came to the couch, and bumped his hip lightly, scooting in next to him. Their hands clasped, resting on Simon’s chest, and Kaylee kept looking to the door leading to the kitchen.
“Is Jamie okay?” she asked.
“He’s fine,” Simon said, swallowing his emotion and putting on his ‘good husband’ mask. He was faltering. There was so much he needed to tell Kaylee, but he couldn’t find the words to confess anything. He couldn’t explain anything. But he needed to tell her something, because her delicate fingers were tenderly tracing his face, feeling the dampness of his cheek.
“I … I need a break.” It’s what he always said when he needed time to rest, and she usually backed off, and gave him space for an hour or so.
“I know,” she said. She lay carefully beside him on the couch, balancing precariously on the edge, and running her hands soothingly up and down his arm. She sensed he meant something more, and she was waiting, but he couldn’t say anything else for now. He rested his cheek against hers, trying not to think of the future. When she pinched him playfully, he smiled.
“I know it’s not much,” she said softly, “but I got us six days.”
Kaylee smiled and kissed his nose. “Jamie said he’d look after River and Serry, and Jayne’ll stick by ‘em and make sure Daquan doesn’t give them trouble. Mal and Inara have a few things to finish out here. That leaves you and me, and we can set ourselves down wherever the jumper will take us – I’m thinking hot springs. Six days, and all you have to do is kiss me in the morning and tell me I’m pretty.”
Simon smiled joyfully, but he ached from it. A million thoughts crowded into his mind, centering around withdrawal from the pain meds, and whether Jamie would trust him enough to let him out of his sight. His wife had found a way to give him what he needed, and he’d ruined it before they even started.
“Hey, now,” she said, catching the tears in his eyes. “Stop thinking of all the things that can spoil this. There’s no time in the schedule for that. Just tell me where you want to go.”
Simon couldn’t speak. So he held his wife, and wept bittersweet tears.
Mal stretched and sat on the bench, exchanging a look with Jayne, debating whether to press on or give in to sleep. It had been a good night over all. They’d leave the world in a few days, take some odd jobs to build up their capital, and then they could start their gun shop with cash. It made sense trading from the boat. They could bypass so many customs laws by simply not selling things on the ground. For customers that didn’t have ships, they’d have the short-range shuttle to ferry folk. It was a smart idea, and they already had a good reputation in the market where men were in need of their services. Mal had to hand it to Jayne’s wife – Sky knew how to dream practically.
“Coffee or cocoa?” Jayne asked.
A warm drink would be wonderful right now, but caffeine would not. “Cocoa.”
As Jayne went inside to get the drinks and warm up, Cole and Genny emerged from the shadows, and he walked her solemnly to the house, keeping one arm around her waist. Mal looked for signs that they’d come to a resolution, but all he could tell was that they’d resolved to talk. Cole kissed Genny goodnight, sent her inside, and stood by the door for a moment, looking ready to jump out of his skin. When he came back to the picnic table, his face was wet, and he kept pressing his palms together and touching his fingertips to his nose, like he wanted to pray but didn’t know how. Mal was itching to know what was going on, so he sat across from his son and asked outright.
“Is there news to share?”
“When there’s news to share, I’ll share it,” Cole said neutrally, taking a deep breath, and putting on the same professional mask that his Mama always had. He looked pleasant and calm – not overjoyed, nor overwhelmed with sorrow.
“How many know?” Cole asked distantly.
“I haven’t said a word,” Mal said. He set his elbow on the table and presented his arm for a wrestling match. Cole considered the invitation a moment, then accepted it emotionlessly.
“Genny keeps you on a tight leash,” Mal commented.
Cole made a face. “I’m not whipped am I? I mean … I’m not afraid of her.”
Mal chuckled. “If you think she’s wrong about something, you tell her, right?”
“Of course,” Cole said.
“And then what?”
Now it was Cole’s turn to smile. “She tells me what I really think.”
They looked at each other, shared the laugh, and then Cole won the match. Shaking out their arms, the started again. They’d go on all night, and Mal never remembered to keep score, but he was sure he lost a lot.
“No, we work it out,” Cole said, his eyes twinkling reflectively. “If we talk, I win. If we wrestle, she wins.”
“So basically, she decides the winner upfront by choosing how to engage you,” Mal teased.
“Not necessarily. If I time it right, I can steer the wrestling into sex. Then we both win, and we can lie there talking like reasonable people.”
Mal pushed Cole’s hand, gaining some ground, but Cole evened him out and they grinned at each other. One day, he’d give up on honesty and teach his son about cheating in this game.
“Do you tell Mama if you think she’s wrong?” Cole asked.
“Hardly ever get the chance,” Mal grunted, digging his heels in to get some leverage on Cole. “We both have tendency to do as we think and get each other’s opinions after the fact. I don’t recommend it. It involves a lot of groveling and begging forgiveness.”
“So you are whipped?” Cole teased, and he won the second match.
Mal raised his eyebrow challengingly. “Have you met your Mama? Ain’t nothing I wouldn’t do to keep hold of her.”
Cole looked pensive, like he had more to say, but he cracked his knuckles, and they started again. Mal’s fingers were getting cold and he thought about suggesting they move inside.
“I’m glad you’re coming with her to Sihnon,” Cole said quietly. “A lot of husbands …leave.”
Cole had to search for that last word, and Mal knew things were more complicated than he was allowed to reveal. Mal had to wonder if there was more to this transition than Inara had let on. Both Inara and Cole were extremely pensive about the whole affair.
“I imagine they feel betrayed,” Mal said carefully. “When you’re married to a woman so long, you think you know everything.”
Cole looked wistfully back at the house and for a brief moment, he forgot he was wrestling. Mal didn’t gain but a few inches, and he lost them as quickly. Cole was sharp and strong, and he could win these matches whenever her chose, but he always chose to have them, like he needed to be connected by the hand before he could connect heart-to-heart.
“You can never know everything,” Mal told his son. “Women change by the minute, meaning there’s always more mystery to unravel. You may have known Genny since she was born, but never forget that she is a mystery and there’s always more to know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Cole said, smiling warmly.
“I got loser,” Jayne said, coming back to the table with two cups of hot cocoa and a whole bag of marshmallows that had somehow missed getting roasted by the fire. Mal looked at him, but he shrugged defensively. “I’m not taking on Cole!”
Cole laughed and let his arm go slack, losing on purpose.
“Hey!” Mal cried, taking mock offense. “Are you tired of talking to me or something?”
“I’m feeling cocky,” Cole said devilishly, putting both elbows on the table, giving a hand to Mal and one to Jayne so he could take both of them at once. Mal grinned at the challenge and clasped Cole’s hand, pushing with all his might. His son was still surprisingly strong, though there was significantly more wavering in the battle as he’d concentrate on Jayne one moment and Mal the next. Mal teased him, going slack and then pressing hard.
“Oh, gou shi. This may have been a mistake,” Cole grunted, contorting his body, unable to leverage both arms at once. He was still putting up a good fight. “Jamie! I need a hand!”
Jamie sauntered out of the house with taunting slowness, hot cocoa in hand. He considered Cole’s predicament, set his mug on the table, and applauded politely. Cole glowered.
“I can tell when you’re faking,” Jamie goaded. “You’re putting most of your energy into not winning.”
Cole grunted angrily. “I’m not –”
Jamie poked Cole’s side and Cole yelped. With a hard twist, Cole flattened Jayne’s hand and freed his arm to swat at Jamie, while still maintaining the match with Mal. Mal was impressed, but he wasn’t any closer to winning.
“Jayne,” Mal grunted, and Jayne came over. Together, they pulled on Cole’s hand, but they were hardly making progress, even with Cole’s attention divided. Cole finally gave up pretending, and he slammed Mal’s hand on the table, winning the match, and then he launched himself off the bench, tackling Jamie before his friend could get away. The two boys wrestled and laughed, burning off more energy than they had any right to have at this hour.
“Winner cleans up,” Mal told them, shaking out his arm. The chill in his bones and the force of the impact made his hand hurt like the dickens.
Cole pinned Jamie a moment and looked up. “That hardly seems fair.”
“Except the loser’s remains will be splattered across the lawn,” Jamie squealed, twisting lithely and gaining the upper hand. With a yelp, Cole wrestled back.
“Do you ever think maybe you spawned a superman?” Jayne asked as the two boys rolled across the lawn to the creek, each with the intent of throwing the other man in the water.
Mal sat at the table across from Jayne and invited a new match – one he at least had a hope of winning, depending on who cheated first and how.
“At least they’re on our side.”
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