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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. On staying and saying goodbye.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 993 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter Ten
He didn’t know how Simon Tam had suddenly taken the role of make-shift confessor (even if his confessions were mostly of the angry kind). He conjured it was out of desperation, Wash being gone.
But even Wash: why was it he’d first told Wash she was leaving? He reckoned that had been out of desperation, too. Needed somebody to talk to, and there weren’t too many choices aboard. Fact of the matter was, Wash was the perfect combination of disrespectful and honest.
He supposed telling the man must’ve been on his mind for some time. Not long after the run-in with Sanda, he’d taken to coming to the bridge more and more when Wash was alone. Course, it sometimes took some doing to figure that out: it’d only taken one time of walking in on Wash and his first mate in flagrante (which seemed to happen most often after narrow escapes) to know he never wanted to see that again (thought his exact words had been something along the lines of, “Oh, sweet Jesus, there are some things I don’t need to know”). And though he reckoned Zoe was more careful since that first run-in, he was just as happy to turn a blind eye and be careful for the both of them. After all (and he remembered thinking this, though now it made him pained to think back): there’re no guarantees in this world.
But after Sanda, if he noticed Zoe in the galley alone, or doing pull-ups in the cargo bay, he’d often find himself wandering up to the bridge to sit with his pilot awhile.
Didn’t take too many such visits for Wash to notice. He cleared his throat conspicuously first time he brought it up. “Mal, not that I don’t enjoy these – eh, special moments of ours – they’re not creepifying in the least – but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something particular on your mind.”
There was quiet for a time.
“Of course, if you don’t want to tell me, I completely –”
Wash didn’t respond right away, and when he did, weren’t much: “I see.”
His eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, you see?”
“What do you mean, what do I mean? I mean, I see.” Mocking up an accent of the highfalutin variety: “‘I comprehend what you are trying to tell me, good my lord.’”
Crossed his arms over his chest. “And just what am I tryin’ t’ tell you?”
Wash drew a long face. “That you’re sad.”
“I didn’t say that. You said that. Puttin’ words in my mouth.” Looked resolutely out the screen, into the black. “Look, I changed my mind. Don’t want to talk about it.”
Wash waved his arms in truce. “Okay, okay, no, you’re right. I said that you were sad. It’s not at all true. Just something I said. Let’s keep talking about it.” A beat. “Can I tell Zoe?”
Threw the man a glare. “No. Just forget I said anything, and don’t tell Zoe. ‘Nara wants to tell folks herself.”
Wash’s eyes widened melodramatically: “You want me to hide something from my beloved? I am shocked. Shocked. Well you’d better hope she doesn’t find out that I knew anything or I’ll get my butt kicked. Or maybe I’ll get spanked.” Tilted his head, as if he were thinking on it. “I hope I get spanked.”
“Don’t tell me things like that! I don’t wanna hear things like that!” Almost smiling in spite of himself, but as a few minutes slipped by in silence, his smile fell. Then, scrubbing a hand through his hair: “You don’t so much seem too surprised.” Not that he should’ve been. He’d barely exchanged words with the Companion since their conversation in the shuttle, when he’d laid himself out. Those he had said were spoken in anger; he’d snapped at her and mocked her and goaded her. Would’ve been hard for Wash not to notice.
The pilot shrugged, and for the first time since the conversation started, there was no humor in his voice. “I guess I’m not. After all, Mal – and please, hear this the right way – Mal, why would she stay? You’ve worked for years to make sure she knew there was nothing here for her.”
Wasn’t sure if he heard him the right way or not, but, either way, he didn’t have much to say to that.
He stood in the doorway of the infirmary, thumbs tucked in his pockets, eyes down, like he was waiting to be judged. Stood like that for a few moments after Zoe was gone: her still not smiling, but neither was he. Kept his chin bowed, eyes off hers. “Mind if I come in?”
“No.” She tried to say it calm, but it was a little high-pitched at the same time, like there was another note in there, like maybe she wanted him here after all.
And so he did go in; went and sat in the chair Zoe’d been in, leaned over, crimson-shirted elbows resting on khaki-clad knees, hands together like in prayer. Couldn’t quite look at her face, not just yet, so he occupied himself looking at her hand, the one Zoe’d been holding. It was small; long, delicate fingers, bent just slightly as they rested on the blanket, pale against the polish on the nails (chipped, he noticed; something else about her, wearing out).
Wasn’t sure quite how long they sat there, her lying back in the hospital bed, him staring at the narrow joints of her fingers, his own hands between his knees (left one curled around something sharp, metal biting into his skin; right one curled around left). Kept trying to make himself speak, and every now and then he’d suck in a breath like to start – but nothing seemed quite right, quite enough, so he’d let the breath back out, slow.
It was her that broke the quiet, finally.
He drew his eyes up her, slow, till they were fixed on the pillow under her head, at the place just near where her cheek met the fabric. Brow furrowed, he concentrated on the interplay of colors: the white of the cotton, the pink of her cheek, the black of her hair.
He couldn’t avoid it any more. Pulled his eyes up that final tiny bit till he was looking in hers. And they weren’t angry at him, or disappointed in him, like he’d feared. Wished they had been, either of those, because then they wouldn’t be this, this thing that was something maybe even a little worse. They were serene; resigned.
“Mal,” she said, a third time, like she wanted the feel of it on her tongue. The thought stirred something in him, a memory – made him want to say her name, scream it (most of the times in his life her name had come off his lips – though it wasn’t many, regardless of how you counted them – it’d been muffled into his pillow at night, and for that he was ashamed). But her saying his name, soft like this, seemed good if not quite right. But what she said next wasn’t good at all. “I didn’t want you to find out this way.”
He swallowed and tore his eyes away from her again, out those panes of glass he’d just been looking in through. When he spoke, his voice was rough. “No? And how’d you want me to find out? A shiny invitation to your wake from the Training House?”
He heard her sigh. Softly, almost to herself: “At least then you wouldn’t’ve blamed yourself.” And then, voice stronger: “But, no. What I mean to say –” A long pause. “– is that I’m sorry you found out this way. Simon told me. About how you brought me here.” A beat. “I know you, Mal. You take on the weight of the world. But I don’t want you ever, ever to feel responsible for this. Whatever else this is, Mal, it is not your fault.”
Her saying didn’t make much difference, but he nodded anyway, still looking out those windows. Didn’t know for certain if she was still looking at him to see.
And then, more silence, and his eyes were back down in front of him, to the edge of the infirmary table, where his finger absently traced patterns on the sheet just below where her hand still rested.
He pulled in a breath, and this time he did speak.
“Don’t hate you, you know.”
“I never thought you did.”
Took him a few days after that bit of truth to go back to the bridge, excepting for perfunctory checks. But then he finally did go back, because, truth be told, Wash was the only person on this boat who didn’t hold his tongue, and sometimes a man needed to be around folks willing to speak plain to him.
He’d been sitting just a few minutes when his pilot piped up. “You know, at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, it doesn’t have to be this way.”
He looked up from the buttons and screens in front of him. “What?”
“You could just tell her. Tell her you want her to stay.”
Shook his head. “Already did. In a manner.”
“What kind of manner?”
He shrugged. “Some sort of manner.”
Wash mouth fell open. “Oh, please. You may think you did, but I’ll bet you didn’t tell her anything. If you had, you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me. And you know what that means? It means you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself, my friend. You know, people ask me about you, and I say, ‘Who, Mal Reynolds? He’s a shǎguā.’ And this is why I say this.”
With one eyebrow raised, deadpan: “You don’t know any people.”
The pilot flapped his hands a little bit, mock-emphasizing his point. “But if I did, this is what I would say to them. Without a doubt. ‘Mal Reynolds? He’s a shǎguā.’ This is what I would say.”
“Guess it’s a good thing, then. Your not knowing any people, I mean.”
Wash grinned. “For you, yes. For me, too. Have you seen that fox I’m married to? We knew too many people, she’d be gone like –” Snapped for effect – “That.” A beat. “Inara, though. There’s a woman who knows people. Lots and lots of people. But she’s still here. You ever wonder why?”
He sighed. “All the time.”
It was Wash he was thinking on then, in the infirmary, all those months after the man had died. Sitting there beside her (dying), he was thinking on Wash (dead), and all the decisions he might’ve made, if he’d known he might not have more time. At some point, his hand had traveled up a touch, and it wasn’t the white sheet he was tracing little patterns on but the back of her hand. Didn’t much realize it until she turned it over, palm up, and latched onto his finger with one of hers.
Stared at those two linked fingers for a time. Just a small gesture, but he could count on one hand number of times he’d touched her. She’d touch him a few times with hands meant to teach or comfort. (He thought about that hand on his shoulder, when she told him she didn’t want him to take care of her; another thing that would’ve seemed so different if he’d known.) But him touching her, just to touch her, had been something rare. Once, on accident, when he’d told her to run on Whitefall. Then the next time he could think of was that time he’d reached for her lip; but she’d pulled away. And then, once – but some things best not to dwell on.
It was such a little thing, that looping of fingers. But it was so different, so new. He felt her hand relax like she’d drifted off, and he ran a thumb over a fragile-looking knuckle. And then, after some time, he choked out a few more words: “It ain’t fair, you know.”
Cut a glance up toward her, where (cheek still resting on the pillow, hair pooled around her) her eyes were closed. But as he watched, they fluttered a bit and she looked at him, concern on her face. Her voice was scratched. “Fair?”
“You’ve –” His voice broke. “You’ve known just about all about me from the start, and you kept this thing – this thing so – so –” Shook his head. “What I mean to say is there’re things I’d’ve done. Things I wouldn’t’ve done. Things I’d’ve understood –”
She opened her hand and put her fingers through his; squeezed, and all he could do was watch the way her skin looked against his, smooth and soft next to his, chafed and worn. “But that’s part of the point, Mal. I wouldn’t’ve wanted you to do anything differently. I never wanted this to be who I was. And it hasn’t been, here. I’m grateful to you for that.” A pause, then distantly: “And after all, who really understands anyone?”
Zoe and Wash. They did. Had to believe to himself they did. And maybe all because of Wash, because he’d been willing to risk something, to stake something of himself on it. But that was his one little hand-hold after Miranda, what he used to tell himself that it – being here – was worth it. Zoe and Wash: for a time, they’d had something. He closed his eyes. “That don’t make it fair. ‘Cause that’s what it’s all about. The trying to understand.”
And then she’d been gone. Dropped her off at the Training House; stood off to the side, browncoat billowing in the wind, while she said goodbye to the others. In the end they barely said a word between them.
He made his way back to Serenity as fast as he could without drawing too much attention. Couldn’t escape everyone, though. The preacher found him in the galley; told him he was leaving, before he forgot himself. And Zoe found him in his bunk; asked him where they should point the boat.
The next few days, he floated around Serenity in a daze, and she was everywhere, everywhere. In the cargo hold, and he saw her dancing. In the galley, and he saw her laughing. In her shuttle, and he saw her rejection.
He was sitting outside the infirmary, in the same yellow chair he’d much later sat in while waiting for Simon, when Wash found him. Man came over, stood in front of him, hands buried in the pockets of his khakis, floral-print shirt even more colorful than usual. “Listen, Mal.” A beat. “I’m sorry it turned out this way.”
Looked down at the arm of the chair and picked idly at a loose thread. “Nothing for you to be sorry on. Like you said before, not a soul to blame but myself. It’s not why you think, though.” He took a deep breath. “Wasn’t lying. I did... try. She left ‘cause I tried to tell her the truth.”
Wash sighed and sat himself down on the sofa beside him. “You sure about that?”
And they sat for a while, while Serenity just went forward, the only direction he conjured any of them knew. Times like this Zoe’s marrying Wash made such complete and perfect sense that he could trick himself for a second into thinking the ‘Verse had some sort of order to it, that there was a God after all. Finally, the man sucked in a breath, readying himself to speak. Voice came out uncertain but tinged with hope. “Mal, you know – there’s nothing wrong with trying to be happy. Sometimes, when you try to make yourself happy, you make someone else happy too.”
Another long spell of silence – just listening to her breath, watching his hand holding on to hers, one blending into the other – and he wondered if she’d fallen asleep.
And then, her voice, low and soft and tentative. “Mal?”
Turned his eyes up to her face, and he was distracted once again by the thinness and the paleness and the dark circles. “Hmm?”
“Have I ever told you... have I ever told you that my mother used to sing to me? When I was afraid?”
Took him a moment to understand what he’d heard. And then shock, awe, wonder that she was telling him this, this personal thing, this private thing, this thing about her, and he was smiling, really and truly smiling, for the first time in as long as he could remember. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to get me to serenade you, woman.” And then she was smiling, too – a smile real, true – and she was biting her lip a little bit, bashful, lashes falling down to those dark, dark rings under her eyes. He cleared his throat a bit, and his voice softened. “You know, I think I would’ve remembered you telling me a thing like that.” A beat. “Let’s just say you have now.”
He looked down at his left hand, the one not holding hers, and next thing he knew he was talking in a hurry. “I want you to hold on to somethin’ for me. I wore this all during the war. Put it away afterward. Put a lot away afterward, all the things that didn’t seem to’ve done me much good. But, thinkin’ now, I’m –” He swallowed. “I’m alive, and that’s something. Somethin’ maybe I don’t think on enough. So I thought –” Opened his left hand, and the chain of the silver cross fell down out of it, catching the light.
The little smile fell from her face, and her forehead wrinkled. “Mal, I don’t want you to –”
And then he did say her name, didn’t want to stop saying it. “Inara. Dammit, Inara, all I’m asking is for you to keep it. Not to believe in it – prob’ly don’t myself – just to keep it.”
Voice just a whisper: “Mal.” A beat, and her voice low, like she was trying to explain to him something painful (she gave his hand a small squeeze). “Mal, I’m not fighting anymore.”
Brought him back to that thing he’d said a long time hence, that thing he’d thought of more often than he should’ve: I suppose he’d know by what you said when he asked you to stay. He hadn’t asked before. Hadn’t wanted to find out what she’d say. But this time, this time when it was unfair, when it was impossible, he did. Turned the hand he was holding over, palm up, and dropped the bit of metal into it; then closed it around it tight. And her hand was shaking, just like Simon’d said.
Her hand was shaking, and her expression was mixed sad and afraid (something like a tear at the corner of her eye). So he held the cross in her hand, and held her hand tight, keeping it still as best he could, like he could hold back her sickness, her dying, through sheer force of will. His voice was low but fierce. “Don’t you dare, Inara. Don’t you dare stop fighting.”
Then Simon was there, and he was saying something to them that Mal couldn’t quite understand, and she was nodding, and then the boy was filling a syringe and taking hold of her IV, and she was holding onto his hand, tight (or he was holding hers), even though she was looking at the doctor.
“Simon?” Her voice sudden and sharp in the bright white room. He was holding the syringe in the feed of the IV but when she said his name he stopped, looked down at her. Her eyes held mischief; sparkled bright enough almost to hide the rings under them. And when she spoke, she was back to that board in her room he’d spied earlier in the day, and she was making her move in a battle she’d been waging inside for a long time, since before he knew it was even happening. “C5-knight to a6.” And then she smiled. “Checkmate.”
The boy’s mouth dropped open a bit, jaw quivering just so much, and he was blinking fast, like to keep them from seeing his tears. After a few moments he regained his composure, and his lips curled into a ghost of a smile as he gave the slightest nod of his head. “Checkmate.”
When the doctor pushed the plunger, he was still in that chair, still holding her hand, his head down close to hers. As she fell asleep, he was whispering, voice rough, not quite a tune but not quite just speech, half-remembered lines from the Earth-That-Was music that his momma’d played all them years before on Shadow. (Some day, when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you.)
As her hand relaxed and fell out of his, it seemed like she was smiling.
end chapter 10
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 5:39 PM
Saturday, November 28, 2009 9:18 PM
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