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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. On giving without expecting in return.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 950 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter Nine
All in all, she’d had to tell him four times that she didn’t want him. It was four times before he finally let it set in, before he started to feel the anger.
Probably took so many times of telling because, contrary to what Simon said, he did have hope. Not just hope: he had joy. It was a little-known fact that joy was an important part of the life of Malcolm Reynolds. He looked for them little bits of happiness that he could latch onto to make the rest of it worthwhile. Such was probably the reason Wash’s passing’d hit him so hard. Wash’d gone, and it was like the joy went out of Serenity.
He reckoned it was that – his searching for joy – that made it so gorram easy for him, after that night with her, to fall into the trap he’d been careful to ward off since she came on his boat: he let himself get comfortable, because with the comfort came, for a little while, joy. That night, she’d listened to him, and he’d let himself believe her listening’d meant more than it did, because believing that little thing brought him joy.
What had she whispered to him, all that time ago, about practicing her trade? “You would never feel as though an advance would be unwelcome. A Companion’s goal is to make every client feel as though he’s special to her.” May have been she hadn’t meant to – may have been she hadn’t known how not to – but she’d seduced him, but good. And he’d been the fool who took her for earnest.
The comfort after that night on Beaumonde – too much comfort – had come out in different ways that he’d later felt shame in recollecting. Unguarded smiles thrown her way. Her name on his lips more often than was normal. Jokes in the mess over his gun-cleaning habits. The freedom he felt at visiting her shuttle, sitting on her sofa. The speed of his reply when she’d asked him to help Nandi and her girls. “You keep your money. Won’t be needing no payment.”
He liked to think of himself as a man who didn’t walk in the same fire twice. Felt no small measure of pride at that fact, and at times told it to himself aloud: Mal Reynolds? he’d say to his mirror (feeling only a mite silly). He ain’t a man to walk in the same fire twice.
Maybe he wasn’t, most times; but he walked in her fire four times before he was done. Made her tell him that little thing four times. Each time she did it by refusing to let him give.
The first time was that visit to her shuttle, him still feeling too comfortable. Basking in the glow of her gun banter in the galley (a thing she seemed to have a penchant for; later he thought cruelly that any whore would), he’d done things he wouldn’t’ve thought to before. Admitted he’d been listening to her, outside her shuttle. Took a seat on her sofa, feeling free and easy. Told her, as plain as he could, that this thing she was asking he was doing for her, doing as a gift.
Might’ve picked up on the signs, if he’d been looking for them: signs that she realized she’d gone too far, that she’d made him believe she felt something and that, on account of that, she felt guilt.
She had put them out. Sat a little too far away. Voice staid strong when his was soft. Threw out that word she hated to his face: “They’re whores, Mal.” It wasn’t necessary. It stood out on her tongue, unnatural and ugly. It was like to remind him of his place, and hers. The things that stood between them.
But when he didn’t see all that, she made it crystal clear: “You will be paid,” she’d said, her voice something cold. “I feel it’s important we keep ours strictly a business arrangement.”
It was a thing must’ve happened with her clients all the time, he conjured, confusing art for life. Never expected it would happen to him. He’d wondered sometimes, time to time in days and weeks and months that followed, if she felt pity, and then he pushed the wondering away, because he didn’t want to know.
When he took Nandi to bed, he did it because she was everything Inara tried her damnedest not to be. She was plain where Inara was cryptic. She was crass where Inara was proper. She was casual where Inara was stiff. She was intimate where Inara was distant. She was giving, and she took what he offered. She made him feel rén. And maybe that was the thing he needed most.
Still, he was thinking about her, the things she was and the things she was not, the whole time. And despite how clear she’d tried to make it, despite his anger and his shame, when she’d congratulated him on it the next morning, told him she was glad, he’d managed to feel surprised.
Should’ve known then it would take more than once.
He sat at the table in the galley for a time after he’d said his piece, head in his hands. Thinking on all the times they’d had in this space. Thinking on what he’d give to have a few more of them times, didn’t matter good or bad.
“She’s scared. She never thought she would be, when the time came.”
He took a deep breath. “That so? Well, she ain’t the only one. But I guess you know that, don’t you?”
“She’s scared for you.”
Closed his eyes, wished she’d leave. “Ain’t that a peach. You got any useful thoughts in that brain of yours? ‘Cause if not, I’ve got a load of ‘em in mine.” Tilted his head toward the girl and caught sight of her shrug as she looked up at the ceiling. “All right, then. If that’s –”
“She’s thinking about the Guild. About how they know.”
He didn’t respond for a time, just looked at her, trying to puzzle out what she meant. “Know?”
But the look on her face, a peculiar little smile, told him she was somewhere else already. She looked down from the ceiling, toward something in her hand, eyes wide and wondering, still with the smile; took two long strides toward him, holding out a few rumpled pages. “I took these out of the Shepherd’s symbol, and I thought they turned to paper. But then today I looked again, and I realized the symbol was still there.” She watched the pages for a few seconds, like they amazed her, and then dropped them to the table in front of him. “I was going to take them to her. But you need them more.”
Watched her walk out and then looked down at the pages in front of him. It was the Book of Job.
The second time he made her tell him, they were on the catwalk, and Nandi was dead.
They’d stood in silence for a time, far enough away not to be touching, both feeling grief, both holding it in. She was the one who brought it up – his time with Nandi. He should’ve read it for what it was but didn’t. Maybe didn’t want to.
If Nandi’s death had shown him anything, it was that she’d been right in what she’d said before: time was a thief. Truest of truths. And so he’d tried to tell her something from inside of him even though she’d made it so plain she didn’t want to hear.
Thing of it was, he didn’t expect anything back. Meant what he said when he said he wasn’t looking for anything. All he wanted was to give her this little thing.
But when he’d tried, she’d taken the world out from under his feet. She’d told him she was leaving.
On the bridge, and he’d been waiting for the young girl on the other end of the wave to fetch House Madrassa’s Priestess for what felt like ages. The regal woman who finally appeared was the same as he’d talked to some years before, same one who’d been trying to track down his resident Companion when she first came aboard.
She fixed him with a critical gaze. “Captain Reynolds. If I recall correctly, you and I have spoken before, about Inara. Though I should note that your contacting me directly is highly improper, given the circumstances.”
He frowned. “What circumstances, precisely?”
“The Guild’s withdrawal of trust from your ship in the wake of your broadwave.” A beat. “Did Inara not tell you?”
He ran a nervous hand through his hair. Mumbled: “She don’t tell me much, apparently.”
She looked unimpressed. “Why have you waved me, Captain Reynolds?”
Took a deep breath, and then it poured out, faster and more desperate than he meant it to. “She’s sick. I’ve got some reason to believe you may know something about that. That you may be able to help.”
The woman didn’t look surprised. “I may know something. But there’s very little that I can do for you, given your current status with the Guild. In fact, I’ll be required to report that I’ve spoken to you as soon as we end this communication.”
He clenched his fists, trying to hold back his temper. “I’m not askin’ for much. Just need information.”
“Is there a reason you can’t simply ask Inara? Or that she hasn’t contacted us directly, for that matter?”
His voice something close to a growl: “Maybe I’m not makin’ myself clear. She’s dying.”
The woman let out a soft sigh, shoulders falling. “I can give you a name, but that’s the extent of my knowledge, I’m afraid. You should try to locate Hiresh Chaudhury. He’s a doctor on Ariel whom she saw regularly. He can tell you more than I can.” She paused and studied him with that same piercing gaze he recalled from the time before, but her face had softened, along with her voice: “Captain Reynolds –” She paused, like she was trying to find the right words. “I take your calling to indicate that Inara is in breach of her contract.”
Couldn’t quite process what she was suggesting right then, so he just shook his head. “I can’t say I know what that means.”
Her eyes dropped, like she was thinking, and then she shook her head. “Never mind. It’s probably best that you not tell me. Just know –” Her eyes found his. “Know that I’m sorry. She means a great deal to us as well.”
Didn’t know why he couldn’t just let it go, but he couldn’t, and a few days after she’d told him she was leaving, there he was, sitting on her sofa, waiting for her to come back from some time spent with River.
He’d been avoiding her, in the week since Nandi’d passed and Serenity’d left Deadwood. Reckoned she’d been avoiding him, too.
When she came in, he was sitting, elbows propped on his knees, hands clasped together. She sighed but didn’t seem much surprised to see him. Moved into the room with her usual grace and busied herself around him, straightening the tea set that sat on the table in front of him (leftover, surely, from time spent with Kaylee).
He watched her move for a time, waiting for her to look at him, scold him for being in her space. She didn’t, and silence surrounded them for an endless spell. Finally, he spoke, his voice solemn, his eyes turned down: “You could at least tell me why you’re leaving.” A pause, and when she didn’t say anything, didn’t even look at him, he kept on, like to fill the void, his voice lower still. “Way I see it, maybe you owe me that.” A beat. “Inara.”
She did look up from her tidying at that: lifted her chin and found his eyes, and then pulled herself up straight. Held her arms tight across her chest, like she was hugging herself, and watched him, her face sad.
Took a long time to answer. When she did, it wasn’t much of an answer at all. “We all deal with death in our own ways, Mal.”
He swallowed and nodded, chewing on that. “So this is about Nandi.” He let out a harsh laugh. “What’s that mean, then? You deal with death by running?”
A spell of silence – her eyes had gone wide at first but then softened, and when she spoke, her voice was just a whisper. “Something like that, I suppose.”
“So, what? You blame me? That what this is about?”
She shook her head. “No. I don’t blame you.” A pause. “But you do. I know you, Mal. You take on the weight of the world. You’re going to feel that Nandi’s death was your fault for the rest of your life.” She caught his eyes and held them, like what she was saying was something important, something she needed him to understand. “But you can only be responsible for so much.”
And then, there he was, laying his soul bare, putting out that truthsomeness she’d tried to block before. Choking over the words, barely there, something between a question and a statement: “So you don’t trust me to take care of you?”
Her eyes went wide; she watched him for a long moment, mouth half-open, like in shock. Her chin quivered just so much. “I –” A beat. “I –”
He nodded, urging her on. He felt tired; felt worn. But he needed to hear whatever she was about to lay on him. His voice full of resignation: “You....”
Lashes lowered to her cheeks for a moment and she took a few deep breaths; and when she opened her eyes again, they shone a bit, but it was like she’d regained some of her calm, her serenity. “I trust you to try.” Taking a step close, she laid a hand on his shoulder (so few times she’d ever touched him). She looked him in the eye, her eyes pleading with him, and she told him a third time: “But, Mal – I don’t want that.”
Felt like the wind’d been knocked out of him as her hand dropped from her shoulder. There it was, after all that: just four little words. Closed his eyes and took a deep, labored breath. Then opened them (trying to ignore that plaintive look in hers), and stood, wiping his hands against his pant legs. “Reckon I don’t much blame you,” he managed, voice a mumble at best. “Probably wouldn’t want that, myself.” And then he walked out without looking back.
Next few hours, while she still slept, he spent on the bridge, scanning the Cortex for news and mapping a route to the Core. To Ariel. Jumped a bit at the small tap at the hatch; swinging his chair around, he saw his mechanic, looking hesitant and hopeful at once. “‘Nara’s woken back up. Thought – just thought you might like to give it another try.”
Didn’t say anything, just nodded and stood; but he gave her shoulder a squeeze on the way out, and she smiled.
Took no time to get down the infirmary; took the metal stairs two at a time. Took something longer to get beyond the stairs, and for a while he stood at the bottom and watched through the room’s windows (same windows he remembered watching her through the other way around, when he told Simon to dope the Reaver victim).
Couldn’t hear inside from the distance, but saw: Zoe was sitting beside her, facing toward him, holding the Companion’s right hand in both of hers. Her lips were moving, and she was smiling, like she was telling her something that sat fond with her. Thought he saw Wash’s name on her lips a few times but couldn’t be sure. The two of them had barely mentioned him in the same space since he died. Talked around it sometimes, and just knew, others, that each was thinking on it. But the name: he’d made sure to stay away from it, and she had too. But now, here she was, talking about him like it was something she wanted, something she needed. She pulled one hand up for a second; swiped at something he couldn’t see on her cheek. The Companion, lying on the hospital table, still wrapped in her blanket, was smiling, her eyes mostly closed, just taking in Zoe’s words.
He sucked in a breath. “You’re wrong about one thing, you know.”
Behind him, the doctor started, surprised. Regaining his composure: “How did you know I was here?”
Gestured at the window in front of him (his eyes still fixed on the Companion and his first mate through it). “Reflection.”
The image in the glass gave a careful nod. “And just what is it I’m wrong about?”
“About her. She doesn’t love me.” A beat. “But I reckon that’s as it should be. I reckon that’s all right by me.”
Just then his first mate happened to raise her eyes and caught sight of him – of both of them, he conjured. Surprise, at first, there on her face, and then it melted into something like relief, and she smiled. He pulled a half-smile – something he hoped was just enough contrite – and, forgetting the doctor at his back, held up his hand to give a small wave. Something like an apology. Her smile widened, just a hair, and she nodded once, brief. Something like an acceptance.
Then Zoe was standing; squeezed the patient’s hand and leaned over to whisper something to her, and now the woman on the table was turning her head and saw him for the first time – she wasn’t smiling, just wondering, from the look of it. Another little wave, to her, and a half shrug, and finally he got his feet moving till he was standing in the doorway and Zoe was moving past him.
As she passed, she leaned in just enough. Under her breath: “Good decision, Sir.” As if he could’ve made any other.
The last time she said no, it was a gesture, no more. Outside of the infirmary, he’d reached out to touch her split lip. And she had pulled back.
He watched her walk away, and it was then that the anger started. Some at her. Mostly at himself. It stayed with him a long time, maybe until those frantic moments when he ran to the infirmary with her, heavy in his arms. Maybe it didn’t go away, even then.
Four times she told him she didn’t want him. Somewhere in that time, he learned his lesson. (I suppose he’d know by what you said when he asked you to stay.) And so he never asked her to stay, because that was one question he didn’t want an answer to.
end chapter 9
Saturday, November 28, 2009 9:03 PM
Monday, August 06, 2012 8:41 AM
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