BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

CLIO

Something To Think On: Chapter 7
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

M/I. Post-BDM. Love, duty, and motherhood.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2201    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

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Something To Think On
by clio
Chapter Seven

He stood still for a bit after the boy’s departure, but it didn’t take him none too long to follow Simon to shuttle number one.

Poked his head in to find Simon working through the data on her Cortex screen. Felt some indignation that he was rummaging through the details of her life – but if he was honest with himself, he’d admit it wasn’t so much the invasion of her privacy (he’d done that plenty himself) as it was, first, that it was Simon, and, second, that the boy knew every bit as much about her as he did himself. “So.” A beat. “What’re we looking for?”

Simon didn’t look up. “Clues. Anything.” Voice faded off while he read over some information on the screen, but then he looked over his shoulder. “She told me how to access her official medical records, but, like I said, there’s more that she’s not telling me.”

“And you know for sure that’s the case?”

Simon nodded. “Abnormalities in her blood tests are consistent with the kinds of drugs I mentioned. Like I said, I’d never seen the effects myself, but I’m aware of them. Early drug tests on these products were inconclusive enough as to their benefits and effects that the ADA refused to approve them for distribution. But they’re available through other outlets. People call it – people call it the ‘fountain of youth.’” He sighed and shook his head. “And if she’s been participating in tests, or going to a backstreet distributor, something like that, she must have some record of it. A name, an address, an identification number. Something.”

Mal closed his eyes; took a deep breath. “Okay. Tell me what I can do.”

“Look around the shuttle while I search the Cortex.”

It was all manner of funny. When she lived here, him bursting in unannounced was nothing short of normal. When she’d left a trunk of her things on his boat after she’d left, he’d had no particular qualms about rummaging through it (and pocketing one of the scarves and the three short captures he found inside). As recent as the day before, he’d let himself in, let himself rest on that red sofa when the images burning behind his eyes in his own bunk had been too fierce for sleep. But now, the doctor wanted him to look around her shuttle to help her, because she needed it from him, and he could barely move a muscle.

Took one step into the shuttle, then another. Not much helping with Simon’s search but instead looking for those little signs of her he’d ignored or missed through these years he’d known her. Little signs of her hopes and dreams and wants and needs that were buried in all these trinkets. Ran a finger over a porcelain elephant he swore she’d probably told him a dozen times not to touch. A calligraphy set and drawing pad, the shaky scrawls that were visible on the top page made by Kaylee’s hand. A small chess set on a sideboard, nearing its endgame, just a few pieces left in battle. (Wondered for a time who it was she’d been playing with but pushed the question out of his head.)

He bent down to set right a table that’d been knocked over by her fall; put the trinkets back on it one by one, most feeling liable to break under his fingers.

And then he caught sight of something on her bedside table, and in no time he was sitting on the edge of her bed and holding in his lap a small wooden box, ornately carved. Lifted the top off, carefully, and he realized he was looking at her childhood.

A lock of black hair, maybe from her first haircut; a few baby teeth, probably once tucked neat under her pillow; a glass marble and a silver necklace; and a capture, no more than a couple seconds long, of a woman, her mother, hand over her mouth, trying to hide a laugh that bubbled out of her (a gesture he knew too well). Had to admit she was beautiful, even if he hated her to his core for them few words spoken years and years before.

“She tries to remember her.”

Turned his head over his shoulder and there was his albatross, bent at the waist and leaned in to watch the capture as it repeated over and over (Simon, across the room, turned toward them, eyes narrowed and body tensed, likely worried he might once again raise a hand to the girl). He followed her gaze back down to the dark-haired beauty in the capture; voice came out a choked half-question. “That so.”

She nodded, her eyes wide as she continued to watch those thin fingers covering that small laugh.

“Thinks to herself that maybe, if she could just remember, she’d know there was a time when she was happy.”

***

After his smart comment to the Shepherd when he’d first introduced them, she’d all but stopped coming to the galley for dinner. All Kaylee’s hard work undone, a thing her little occasional dinnertime glares didn’t let him well forget. Like she’d said to the Shepherd that first day, she’d kept to herself. But it wasn’t on account of the holy man, since him, or the doctor (River in tow), or Kaylee, one, would tend to disappear to her shuttle for an hour or so after dinners to take her leftovers and conversation. No, it wasn’t for the preacher, and it wasn’t for the doctor. After seeing them dance, he always felt a twinge when it was Simon took her her meal. She’d spent more time with him and his sister after their little spacewalk, like she saw it (for reasons he couldn’t conjure) her job alone to soothe his mind. Saw them on occasion through the windows of the infirmary, talking or laughing or just sitting quiet, River there as often as not with her eyes fixed on the Companion and something like a smile on her face. River’d always been drawn to her; that much was plain.

But still she’d kept away from Serenity’s galley, not on account of the newcomers but on account of him, he reckoned. He never took her food himself (pride kept him away), but he found other ways of paying her visits (ways of trying to tell her without telling her that he didn’t mean it, never meant it, just said it, couldn’t stop it). Came to tell her they were touching down, or to inquire after her plans. Things what related to her business and his schedule.

On one of those visits, paid not long after a particularly good evening (to his mind) of theft and billiards planetside, he caught his first sight of Atherton Wing (man not unlike Simon Tam, he thought: rich, young, elegant, entitled). And then a flurry of activity, and a dance (a mite less studied than that what he saw in Serenity’s hold), and a fight (not so very studied, neither, that), and they were sitting on the edge of the catwalk, where he and Zoe’d sit much later when she’d tell him she didn’t hold his grief against him, watching cows, and she told him, in not so many words, that she accepted his apology. Told him again that she wanted to stay.

After that, she started taking her dinner in the galley again (River’s eyes, and Kaylee’s too, lit up every time they saw her come in), and things became easier between them for a time.

The evening that now played across his mind was one such evening. She walked in and smiled shyly when she caught him watching her, her head tilted down. Her voice soft: “Hello.”

Let out the breath he’d been holding, eyes trying to read her face, hands, body. “Hello.”

She glided past him; ran a hand over River’s hair and leaned down to lay a quick kiss on her crown as she passed the girl. Took her seat at the far side of the table from him, Simon and his sister to her right. (Reached out to squeeze the boy’s hand as she sat down, and his eyes shone as he looked at her and smiled.)

It would’ve been fine, just fine, if the Tam girl hadn’t gone and opened her mouth. He’d managed to push down his annoyance at the way Simon looked every time he met her eyes. Jayne was in a rare good mood, trading tales with the preacher (Wash throwing out the occasional barb). And when he himself had cause to laugh, even that wasn’t so very painful as it’d been over the past few days (hole in his side seemed to be healing up nicely).

When River spoke, she’d been doting on Kaylee, wiping a smudge from her face, tucking her hair behind her ear. River was watching – he’d noticed. And when she went and said what it was she said, the Companion’s hand stilled; color drained from her face, and she pushed back against her chair near fast enough to tip it over. Before anyone could say a word, she was gone.

At the time, the girl’s exact words hadn’t stayed with him. Didn’t seem important. What he’d remembered was what happened after: Kaylee, looking confused and hurt; Wash, making a joke about the food; Simon, standing to go after her; River, watching her brother with serene eyes. He’d stood and blocked Simon, keeping the doctor in his seat, and then gone after her himself, not much knowing what to say, still not knowing when he’d gotten to her shuttle.

Walked in straight away and wasn’t much surprised not to find her crying. Woman didn’t much cry, it seemed to him. She wasn’t ever scared, and she didn’t cry. Only other woman he knew like that was Zoe. Zoe’d learned to hold back in war. As much as he’d wondered about Inara, it’d never struck him to wonder when she’d learned the holding back.

When he came in, she was sitting at the Cortex, tapping at its gorram screen (filled with pictures of men that made his stomach roll); didn’t look up at him. “I don’t recall inviting you in.”

He stayed in the entry of the shuttle, rocking on his feet; shrugged once. “Don’t guess you did. Came to check on you. You left in an awful hurry. There some problem you’re a mind to share?”

She turned toward him then, smiling a tight saccharine smile at him. “Something Kaylee said reminded me of an appointment I’d failed to confirm. It’s done now. There’s no problem.”

He blew out a frustrated breath; shook his head and pushed his hands deep in his pockets. “You know, it wouldn’t hurt you none to let a soul in every now and again.”

Her eyes narrowed, and her reply was fast and sharp, like an arrow aimed true. “Don’t you dare talk to me about letting people in, Mal Reynolds. Don’t you dare.”

All he’d known to do was nod once; left her shuttle without saying another word (all the while pushing down the feeling that maybe Simon Tam would’ve done a better job with it). Wished now he’d known what to do, what to say. Wished he’d paid more notice to what’d set her off to start. Might then at the very least have avoided that particular misstep that came later, when he’d (not without fondness, and not thinking of Saffron in the least) taken chance to paint himself for her as a father. “Can you imagine that? Me, with a whole passel of critters underfoot? Hell, ten years’ time....” Her anger then had hurt him good, mostly because all the while he was talking he’d been thinking about her.

But he hadn’t paid attention to River’s words, and so he couldn’t tie it all together in his head until much later, until right now. What River’d said then, watching Inara tuck Kaylee’s hair behind an ear, was: “It’s too bad. You would’ve been a much better mother than she was.”

***

“I was right. She would’ve been.”

Wasn’t much surprised she’d read his thoughts, though Simon, across the room, looked a mite confused. Her long hair fell across her face as she kept her eyes on the capture. He took a breath. “Doesn’t mean you should’ve said it. Sometimes folks don’t want to hear a thing that’s true. Sometimes a thing that’s true is also a thing painful.”

Keeping her eyes on the capture, her voice monotone: “It was a good truth. It made her sad but also glad. Like the Shepherd’s symbol. A good truth. Sad and glad together.”

“Well, I ain’t so sure gladness is worth sadness if it’s in equal parts.”

“I know. That’s a mistake. Means you’re always sad.”

And then something dawned on him, and his jaw felt stiff. “You’ve known. You’ve known all this time.” A beat. “Years. You’ve known since you first got here.” As his voice got louder, Simon stood, ready to rush to her aid if he lifted his hand. But she didn’t seem too bothered, just stood up straight, and he watched her as she walked across the room, with the movements of a dancer, and reached into a small drawer.

Simon, standing in front of the Cortex: “Can someone please tell me what you’re talking about?”

The girl walked back toward him and pressed something into his hand; tilted her head and looked at him. “You’re not the only one who needs for her to live. My brother needs that, too.”

***

Course, she never held River’s intuitions against her. She took the girl under her wing and, even that incident, it was like she knew that she’d meant well. Then after Jiangyin (he couldn’t leave them behind, knew somewhere in him she’d leave, like she said, if he did), she’d spent more time than before with the girl, sitting with her in the Tams’ guest room, or in the shuttle, or in the infirmary or the lounge: telling her stories, brushing her hair, lulling her to sleep, soothing her out of bad dreams – like to protect her from the world.

Sometimes he saw Simon watching them. The boy’d wear a wistful smile as he looked from across the room, or the galley, or the hold. And then he’d drop his eyes and walk on. Never seemed to notice his sister’s eyes on him as he left.

***

River was gone as soon as she’d come, seemed like, and now Simon was looking rapidly between the metal pill vial she’d left in Mal’s hand and the screen of the Cortex. “So what is it?”

He held the silver vial close to his eyes; squinted. “I’ll have to run some chemical tests to be certain, but if the contents are true to the labeling, it’s a very strong analgesic – an opioid, to be precise. But it wasn’t prescribed at one of her documented medical visits. The serial number on the vial doesn’t match any records in her official files.”

“So if we can figure where she got that –”

Simon nodded. “We might be able to to determine something more about the unorthodox treatments she was receiving, yes.”

“Well, any clues so far?”

“The serial number matches a batch of drugs distributed by Blue Sun. But that’s about all I can tell without more information.” He let out a long breath; closed his eyes tight and scrubbed a hand over his face. “If I could just put it all together – there’s got to be something here I’m not seeing. If I could just figure out why she’s not telling me, I’d have a start.”

He shrugged, but the gaze he levied at the boy was angry. “Seems plain enough to me. She’s protecting you.”

Simon looked back over his shoulder at him. “What do you mean?”

“We put all this together, we go back to the Core and do whatever we can to make her right. Return trip to the Core ain’t the safest venture for you and that sister of yours, but she reckons you might just be crazy enough to try it.” He paused, and when he spoke up again his voice sounded hard to his own ears. “Seems to me, then, you’re the reason she didn’t go back this year for that appointment. That means you’re the reason she’s sick now; and you’re the reason she’s not getting better, because you’re the reason she’s trying to keep us away from the Core.”

Simon’s eyes narrowed, fury plain in them. “You seem to forget, Captain, that I’m not the only one who’s not safe in the Core right now. I’m not the only one she’s protecting.”

And then, as if out of nowhere: “Do you love her?”

Simon’s eyes went a bit wide. “What?”

Swallowed down a lump in his throat. “You heard me.”

The doctor cocked his head and looked carefully at him. “You know, I’d never known a Companion before her.”

Eyebrow raised: “Boy of your class? Hard to believe.”

Simon let out a breath of a laugh, pulling a self-deprecating smile. “I know, I know. Some of my classmates even had coming-of-age ceremonies with Companions. But I –” Another small laugh. “I always swore to myself that I’d never take a Companion.” He looked down. “I’ve never been very good with women in the first place, and I was terrified of the thought of Companions. Because, you know, growing up, you’re always told –” Stopped, smile falling from his lips; shook his head.

“What? What’re you told?”

“It’s nothing, just a saying, really. It’s silly.”

“What is it?”

The boy took a deep breath. “They say – they say: never tell a Companion the truth.”

Felt an uneasiness about him. “And what’d they mean with that?”

“The idea is that... that you can’t help but fall in love with a Companion, but that she’ll never love you in return. So when you’re with her... you have to lie.”

Felt like a sucker-punch to the gut. “Oh.”

Simon shook his head. “But, don’t you see, it’s not true, Mal. It’s just something stupid, a schoolyard chant, something boys tell each other before they even know what it means. Because they’re scared of life and love and all the mysteries of the universe. But for you to go on believing something like that – for you to believe that, like you do, is for you not to believe in her.”

Some of the fury’d drained out of him, but he had to ask again anyway, like to rekindle it. “So, do you love her?”

The doctor let out a short laugh; shook his head (almost like pity). “That’s a meaningless question with a meaningless answer, and the only reason you’re asking is because you need someone other than yourself to be angry at for all the time you’ve wasted.” A beat, and Simon stood and took a step toward him. “Well, you know what? You can’t have it. You don’t deserve it. You deserve to be angry at yourself. You’re the one who’s wasted time. You. You’re to blame.” He closed his mouth into a small, tight smile. “She loves you, Mal. She has since I first met her. She loves you because you love her in spite of what she is instead of because of it.” A beat, and he squeezed his hand tight around that little silver vial till it shook. Then he turned away. “We’ll do everything we can, Mal. I promise.”

***

end chapter 7

COMMENTS

Saturday, November 28, 2009 8:42 PM

BYTEMITE


Oh! The chessboard made it's appearance here. Neat.

Also interesting comparison between Atherton and Simon. And between Inara not letting in people and Mal the same way.

The Saffron thing, about the not being able to have children, that's a theory I like a lot. I feel so sorry for Inara though, I hope it's not true.

Also a great effort to try to get a confession out of Simon.

Monday, August 6, 2012 5:20 AM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, so Simon is as jealous of Mal as the Captain is of him it seems. And Inara stuck in the middle with her inherited illness slowly wasting away. What makes this series so sad is how close it strikes to the heart of the characters and to Inara. Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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