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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. A little bit of Inara’s past and a disagreement on a fundamental point.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 875 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter Six
He didn’t go too far. Started to – started to run off to the bridge or to the galley. But in truth he just wanted to be near. Wanted to hear her voice.
Most of them had gone by the time he’d circled back to the infirmary. And now he stood, back against the wall, right aside the infirmary’s swinging doors, head tilted toward them, listening to her.
“Just tell me,” she was saying, in a quietly determined voice. “I’m a big girl.”
A small laugh from Simon. “Why do I get the feeling you’ve said that before?”
A sigh. “I’d like to put you back under, as a precaution.”
A beat. “Do you really think that’s necessary?”
The sound of metal against metal as the boy methodically, Mal imagined, walked around gathering his instruments. “It will buy me time.”
A pause. Her voice was gentle but prodding. “Time for what, Simon?” He could imagine just the look she was giving him, that bit of kindness came to her eyes on those occasions she’d come to him bearing bad news, when she’d been the one had to tell him his hopes were for nothing.
But Simon wouldn’t listen. Didn’t much blame him; he wouldn’t’ve either. “Time to try to find some answers.”
Gentler still: “Simon – I don’t need you to do that. I’ve known this was coming for a long time. You have better things to do. Take care of your sister. Take care of Kaylee. I’ve had years to prepare myself.”
“Well, the rest of us haven’t, all right? Most of them have had two days.” The rattle of the instruments grew more hurried, like the doctor was flustered or upset. “Please, Inara. I need this. I need to try. I can’t lose –” An abrupt stop.
There was silence, too much for his liking. Were they looking at each other, gazes locked? Was the boy reaching out toward her? Or was he looking anywhere but at her? Took all he had to keep himself from bursting in on them, just to see. Footsteps, and Mal imagined Simon pacing around the infirmary, sorting things needlessly for something to do.
She finally spoke; her voice small, so small. Reckoned she’d be looking at her hands, now, like she did when she said anything nearing personal. “My mother died when I was six. She was only twenty-seven years old.”
Simon sighed; stopped moving. Probably standing, hands in his pockets to keep from fidgeting, just looking at her. “Yes, I’d assumed something like that.”
“She was a Companion, too. She was so beautiful.” A break, and her voice caught a bit. “Can you believe that that’s all I really remember about her? That she was beautiful?”
His response was soft. “You were only six, Inara. You can’t expect yourself to remember much.”
And then, barely above a whisper (a far-away sound), words coming slow with long pauses here and there: “I remember what she told me then, right before the end. She told me that I was lucky. That I was beautiful, too, and that I would still be beautiful when I died. That it was a gift from merciful Buddha himself, who loved all things beautiful.”
Knocked him cold. His jaw was tight – fists clenched; unclenched; clenched again. Standing there beside the door, just out of sight, he wanted to laugh and cry and scream, scream, scream all at once.
Inside the infirmary, Simon swallowed audibly. Confusion in his voice: “But – but you still pray to him. I’ve – I’ve prayed with you.”
“I’m grateful that you do that, you know. I know you don’t believe.”
In a disbelieving rush: “No, no, that’s not the point. That’s beside the point. Inara, I don’t understand. What could you possibly have to say to him?”
Her voice just a breath. “I pray that he might keep his gifts to himself.”
He’d disliked Simon Tam from the second he’d seen him standing there on Serenity’s gangplank in his three-piece suit and secret agent glasses, gorram watch fob dangling from his pocket. Began right then thinking that this taking on passengers thing was a whole mess of trouble more than he needed. Disliked him then, but it hadn’t been until that night that he started to hate him.
It wasn’t about Kaylee, either. A soldier learned how to read a body – if he couldn’t do that one thing, he died. And so he’d suspected from the start, from the way the newcomer ran to her when she fell, bleeding – from the concern in his voice when he talked her calm, the fact he said her name – that there was no way in the ‘Verse Simon Tam’d’ve let her die. (Got his suspicions confirmed by the way the boy tore across the catwalks second he thought she might’ve.) It was like he said, he didn’t kill people. He was a healer.
No, didn’t start hating him till some time later. He was already angry at her for letting the boy sway her to start, for that tone in her voice when she’d told him to do what Simon told him, for how neatly she’d been able to turn the blame from the doctor for not helping to him for not leaving. And then he’d gathered his crew in the galley to decide all together what should be done, and she’d announced in front of them all that if he threw the pair of them out she’d leave, too.
What he’d thought was that she’d finally told him the truth: it didn’t take nothing more than a shuai doctor in a three-piece suit to pull her from his boat.
What he’d said was that it might be best she did leave. “You ain’t a part of this business.”
What he’d done was keep the boy on, always somewhere in him fearful that the minute he left, she’d go to.
(“You’ll ruin her, too.” Knowing full well he wasn’t talking about Simon.)
Wash’d told him once that doing something stupid to keep the woman you love nearby was a kind of stupid he didn’t mind.
Wished about now it was as easy as letting Simon Tam stay.
By the time Simon came out of the infirmary, leaving Inara to sleep, he’d shifted himself from the side of the door to the yellow armchair across the room. They hadn’t been speaking much toward the end it seemed, Simon just asking the odd question about how she felt and whereabouts to find her medical records. He strode out purposefully, looking to be headed toward her shuttle. “So why’d you wake her up? Thought you were keeping her under on purpose.”
The boy near jumped. “Mal. I didn’t know you were out here.”
“Reckoned as much.”
Simon opened his mouth; closed it. Seemed to not know quite how to respond, so he went back to the original question. “I was. Keeping her under, I mean. It’s what’s called a barbiturate-induced coma. I’ll be reestablishing it sometime tonight or tomorrow, but I needed to ask her some questions.”
A raised eyebrow. “You get your answers?”
Simon ran a hand through that coiffed hair Kaylee was always going on about and sighed. “Some. Not all.”
He nodded, slow, taking it in. “There any hope?”
A beat. “I don’t know.”
“Well, tell me what you do know, Doctor.”
Shifted a bit, foot to foot, then sighed. “I know that her condition is one of a very rare class of neurodegenerative genetic disorders. The particular variety she’s suffering from is mitochondrial.”
“That her mother’s having had it ensured that she would, and that she would have passed it on to any children.” Felt a bit of a jolt at that, like another piece locking in, but didn’t say nothing, just let Simon talk. “I know that the grand mal seizure – it wasn’t the first symptom, just the first one she couldn’t hide. She told me she’s been forgetting things for a few months now. Experiencing some nausea. Her hands shake; she can’t hold things. She’s been dizzy – she’s fallen a couple of times. And she’s losing her sight.”
Thought about that grace of hers. He’d brought it to her as a joke, to make her blush, but it wasn’t any less the truth for it. He swallowed. “But why now? Why so sudden? It’s just since – She hadn’t had problems –” Not knowing quite if he was talking to Simon or to himself: “I’d’ve noticed. I would’ve noticed.”
Simon took a deep breath. “I’m sure you would’ve, if she’d let you. And besides, there was nothing to notice until quite recently. I haven’t got it all worked out yet.”
Felt himself getting frustrated. “Well, tell me what you do have worked out. I ain’t asking nothing too complicated, Doc.”
The boy shrugged, shaking his head a bit. “I know she’s been undergoing some kind of treatment on Ariel. I don’t know what – she wouldn’t tell me precisely. But I suspect it was something illegal, perhaps involving unauthorized testing of some kind. Whatever it was, it seems to have dramatically slowed the process of cellular division. I’ve heard of drugs out there like this but never seen one up close. Not one of them’s been approved by the Alliance for legal distribution – while they can increase longevity to a point, their side effects aren’t well-understood – and so they go for a handsome sum on the black market.”
“Now, let me get this straight. She –”
“She slowed the progression of the disease by slowing down everything. And I suspect the rapid onset of her condition is a result of her withdrawal from the drugs.”
“So? What’re you trying to tell me? What’re you going to do?”
A long moment of silence. “Mal. I don’t know that there’s anything I can do.”
Not too often Inara’d looked truly carefree on his ship. Thinking back on it he guessed he had to admit it was because she hadn’t been. But then he had no explanation. She had hot and cold and then little serene moments in between, but them were carefully schooled. Even in her little moments with Kaylee – those he caught – she always seemed to have some weight on her, words in her mind that never made it to her lips.
He hated Simon Tam for a whole load of things, and one of them was that the very first time he’d seen her looking free it was in his arms.
He’d come at the cargo bay along the catwalks. He’d heard the music – fancy, classical sort – before he conjured what it was.
The Shepherd (couldn’t well explain how it happened he missed a preacher so damn much; felt more than a pang every time he thought of him, every time he caught sight of that cross he wore in the war hanging in his bunk) was leaning over the railing of the catwalk, little Kaylee sitting cross-legged on the grating beside him, chin propped up on her hands and a big frown on her face. The Shepherd grinned at him as he came in, nodding toward the girl. “Seems as though Kaylee here asked the doctor if he’d teach her to dance.”
She rolled her eyes at the preacher, shaking her head indulgently like she’d explained it a million times already. “Wasn’t nothing to it, Shepherd. I was just tryin’ to lift his load, s’all. You know he’s been some kind of a train wreck since that business with the derelict. Was gettin’ a little worried he ha’n’t quite got that suit on right and th’ lack of oxygen’d gone straight to his head.”
The Shepherd just shook his head with a smirk. “Mmm-hmm. Unfortunately for Kaylee here, it didn’t take Simon too many times being stepped on to decide that the best way to teach is by example.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively. “But it doesn’t seem to be the kind of lesson our engineer here was hoping for.”
She crossed her arms across her chest and sighed dramatically. “Just don’t see why he was so anxious to keep from puttin’ his hands on me, is all!” A beat, and she grumbled: “‘Sides, she gets hands put on her all the time.”
Book laughed under his breath same time as he chastened her playfully: “Kaylee!”
She huffed in indignation. “Well, it’s the truth, ain’t it?”
Mal grinned. Couldn’t see for the life of him what she saw in that fancy-pants, but she tickled him to no end. “So, then, Miss Kaylee, what exactly are we –” His voice died in his throat as he looked over the catwalk. “Oh.”
It wasn’t nothing. Nothing. They were dancing, was all. River was twirling by herself well to the side of them, and they were dancing.
Her right hand raised, just barely touching his left, her left playing at his biceps, his right floating over her waist. Feet playing quick over the ground as their turns made wide, fast circles around the empty cargo hold. She wore something a bit more billowy around the legs than usual – more fit for dancing, he supposed – and the doctor was in a dark vest and pants, white shirt-sleeves rolled up around his elbows. They moved perfectly together; she followed his slightest gesture. And the thing about it, for all that perfect movement, it was like they weren’t even thinking about it. It came completely natural. She wasn’t watching her feet, like he knew he’d be doing: she was watching the boy, eyes dancing as much as her body, as he murmured little somethings to her, and every now and again she’d laugh aloud without missing a step.
Wasn’t nothing. Just dancing.
Another little huff of breath from near his feet. “It’s like some fairy tale, and I don’t get to be in it!”
Heard Book in the background, cajoling little Kaylee, but he couldn’t much pay attention; couldn’t much tear his eyes away (from the smile on her face as she listened to him talk; from the pink of the back of her neck where her hair was swept away; from their bodies, near touching but not quite; from his hand, possessive-like, on the small of her waist).
And then, she did miss a step. At the outside of the circle, where he had the clearest view of her, she glanced up at them (away from Simon), and she found his eyes.
Her smile fell, and she faltered.
Before he knew quite what was going on she was pulling away from the doctor, smiling and apologizing, one hand to her chest, like to catch her breath, the other on his arm, like to steady herself. “– can’t keep up with you!” he heard her saying, which was a load of horse manure as far as he was concerned. Then she was looking up and calling to them. “Mei mei, come down. Simon wants to dance with you.” She took him by the hand and was pulling him toward the stairs; the boy was grinning bashfully and shaking his head.
Kaylee let out one last puff of air as she stood up. “Looks like Simon’s had about enough dancin’ for one day. I got an engine needs dancin’ with, you’ll excuse me.”
She left, and then the preacher was patting him on the shoulder and walking out after her. Over his shoulder: “You be careful, son.” He kept watching for a bit – after he should’ve left, he reckoned – as River kept dancing, now in the middle of the room, and the Companion had last words with Simon, him grinning like he hadn’t in all the time he’d been on his boat. (Every now and again she’d steal a glance up at him.) And then Simon was walking back toward the infirmary, still smiling some stupid smile, and she was walking up the stairs toward her shuttle – pausing and lowering her eyes just as she got to him before brushing past when he didn’t move. Behind him, he heard the hatch to her shuttle slide closed.
And then River, below, staring up at him, and he just looked at her, a little disarmed. “I see you,” is what she said.
He looked at the doctor, hard, then down at his lap. When he spoke again, his voice was rough. “You know, she’d never tell me them things she just told you. She’d never even think to try.”
Simon’s hands went to his hips; he raised an eyebrow. “Well, have you ever tried not being so bù rén cí de?”
That, again. Like what she’s said all that time ago. Not even human, she’d said. Tried to cover up his hurt in a sarcastic retort: “Well, have you ever tried not being a smart-ass?”
“Droll. Very droll.” He shook his head, grinned a humorless grin. “You know, I just can’t understand you. You seem to love her. And she, for some reason that completely escapes me, seems to love you, too.” Pointed at the infirmary. “If a woman like that –” He shook his head.
Mal’s eyes narrowed. He stood and took a step toward the boy, wanting to get above him. In something like a growl: “You know, you think you understand her because you’re from her class, because you know the same jokes and dance the same dances. You think you understand her, but you don’t understand her at all.”
Simon’s eyes flashed. “I think I understand her just fine, Captain. I think maybe you’re the one who doesn’t understand. I think I understand her because we’ve both been hurt, and because we both want more than anything in the world something we can’t have.”
Another step toward the boy. “That so? What is it? What is it that you both want so damn much?”
Simon didn’t flinch. “Normal lives.”
Hurt worse than the words before. Because maybe he was right. Maybe if he didn’t understand that, that little, simple want, he wasn’t really rén after all.
And then it was him taking a little step backward. He choked over his words. “So tell me, Doctor: if you’re so convinced there’s nothing you can do, then why are you even trying?”
He stared at Mal for a long time. “Because I have to have hope, Mal. And I think that’s what you’ve lost.”
After a moment of still, the doctor walked away, and Mal stood quietly for a time. From the far side of the room, a few quiet words: “I see you.” By the time he’d looked up, she was gone.
Course, in the end, it didn’t take Simon leaving to make her go. In the end, all it took was him.
end chapter 6
Saturday, November 28, 2009 8:31 PM
Monday, August 06, 2012 5:07 AM
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