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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. On making waves.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1014 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter Thirteen
Kaylee checked her over, just like she promised she would – though not until he spent a heavy handful of platinum on parts she said she needed to upgrade his new girl. All in all, it took her a day, but he conjured that by the time she was finished she’d made that old derelict into a state-of-the-art machine, every bit worthy of her new name.
Sitting around the dinner table in the galley, now, night before they were set to leave. (All but River and Inara there. He reckoned the little one was with the Companion. She’d been spending near all her time there, when she wasn’t wandering around Serenity like a ghost.) He stabbed his fork into a hunk of protein and lifted it to his mouth, all the while keeping on with the nonstop instructions he’d been doling out for a good hour. “While we’re gone, I want you to take care of getting Serenity the care she needs. Kaylee, whatever parts you reckon we need, now or for holding on to, you can get those. When we come back, we may be in a hurry. And if we don’t come back, I want her to be good for you, Zoe –”
“Sir.” Zoe, beside him.
(Jayne snorted: “Like he’s gonna listen to you.” And sure enough, he talked right over her.)
Talking around the protein he was chewing: “Arrange a docking space for Grace in Beylix. We’ll keep her there when we don’t have use for her. Use the credentials we have on her. They’re clean – won’t pull up our record –”
“If you want to do some looking into jobs, now or future, Zo, you can ask around. Wouldn’t be any harm in our knowing, and wouldn’t do you any harm, putting yourself out there as our contact person. May be it’ll just be you, anyhow –”
“Mal.” Her voice hard, and he looked up at her, his fork stilling. “I know what’s needed of me, Mal. And you’re scaring Kaylee.”
He pulled his eyes around to the mechanic. Her head was bowed, her eyes glued on her plate. She mumbled: “He ain’t scaring me. I’m fine. Simon’ll be fine.”
The boy next to her smiled. Softly: “That’s right, băobèi. I’ll be fine.” But when he reached for her hand, she pulled it away.
There was a spell of awkward silence, then. Everybody quiet; nobody knowing quite where to go from there. And just when the quiet was about to turn suffocating, Serenity spoke to them.
“I’m going with you.”
Sometimes he thought maybe she figured she was the ship, but whether she was playing or just crazy, it never much ceased to amuse him. Couldn’t deny the soft spot he held for her, despite the trouble she caused. She’d disappear, and suddenly the ship would start talking to him, and whatever worry he’d have would usually go away.
He and Wash had had something of a laugh over it, one day toward the end of Wash’s time in the ‘Verse.
“You’re being nicer,” Serenity told him as he sat on the bridge beside his pilot.
He glanced over at the man. (He was grinning as he looked out into the black.) “Well, fancy that, Wash. Serenity thinks I’m being nicer. Reckon I should get a prize?”
Still with an eye on the black, Wash nodded thoughtfully. “You know, I might have to agree with Serenity on this one. Your mood does seem to have lightened in days past.” He shrugged. “Though I don’t know about a prize. I kind of figured you were just high.”
He was about to respond – set to say something clever and witty – when Wash’s smile dropped. “Oh – don’t look –”
And then a beep from the screen above him, and the transmission signal read: “COMMUNICATION: ax7864-r2958 to ty9056-n8342.” Cursed himself for knowing that that meant the Simon had just waved the Training House.
His eyes fixed on the screen: “Turn it on.”
Wash frowned; ran a hand through blond spiky hair. “C’mon, Mal, you don’t want to –”
Didn’t look down at him; he was still watching the screen above. “Turn it on.”
“Mal –” Just then, the screen flickered to life, and Wash smirked. “Well, I guess you didn’t need my help. Serenity did it for you.”
“He wants to see her,” Serenity explained. “He wants to see my gē ge and jiĕ jiĕ.”
“No.” The boy’s voice was hard. He was standing now, his hands braced against the table in front of him. As Mal and the rest looked on, his eyes darted around the room like he might catch sight of her if he looked quick enough at the right spot.
Simon took a deep breath. His words coming slow, like to calm her: “Mei mei, where are you?”
Her voice when it came was too high, nearing hysterical. “I’m not your mei mei. I’m Serenity. And tomorrow I’ll be Grace, and you’ll have to let me come, because a captain needs a boat to fly.”
He looked around at the rest of the crew (caught Mal’s eye and held it, something like a plea in his own). “Does anyone know where she is when she does this? Where she goes to do this?”
Didn’t know quite why – maybe it was just the mood of the whole of Serenity right then – but it was almost like he could feel some of Simon’s desperation rubbing off on him. He ran a hand through his hair, frustrated beyond what he should have been that he couldn’t give the boy an answer. “Wash knew – if I could recollect what he said that one time – we used to listen to her, on the bridge –”
But he couldn’t remember.
Likely, he couldn’t remember because he was too busy thinking about Simon and Inara’s conversation right then to pay the tiniest bit of attention to his pilot beside him, when Wash’d yelled at her, half in jest, to get out of the – where?
“Simon,” Inara was saying, smiling, on the screen in front of him, her lips drawing it out, slow and affectionate, her eyes just a bit lidded. “How are you?”
She looked the way she did when she looked at him, but she spoke to him in that upper-class Sihnonese dialect that made it seem like they wanted to lock out the rest of the world, and it made him want to put his fist through the monitor. (Must’ve been getting tense, he guessed, because he could just hear Wash: “Take it easy there, cowboy.”)
On the split screen, alongside her face, there was the doctor’s. “Same as I ever was.” And then, his eyes darting back and forth across her face like he was looking for something, with a little too much emphasis on the question: “How are you?”
She bowed her head just so much, her eyes cast downward. “No change since you last saw me, Doctor Tam.”
The boy’s brow furrowed. “Are you taking care of yourself?”
“I’m a good girl, Simon. And besides, it’s hard not to, here. Fresh air, good food. You should try it sometime.”
He smirked, and Mal got tired of looking at him. Closed out the window with his face (hers now taking up the whole screen) so he just heard his voice: “Oh, you’re a riot. Yes, maybe I’ll summer there.”
She’d tilted her head, her arms crossed disapprovingly. “Don’t frown. It’s unbecoming on you.”
In front of him, looking almost right at him, she smiled again. “And how’s River?”
The faceless voice (no less annoying for that): “She misses you. She loves you. You know that.”
A sadness in her features, and: “I know. I love her too.”
His voice, ardent. “I know you do.”
Seemed to Mal that there was more in that than was in it; there were things there being said without being said, things he didn’t want to hear.
A bit of quiet, then. She looked like she wanted to say something but stopped herself each time it came close to getting out. So it was the boy that spoke next, and what he said, in that moment that seemed like it was about the two of them and their special language, surprised him: “He’s doing better, you know.”
And she nodded like he’d answered the question she’d been wanting to ask, like she was relieved. “Good. That’s good.” Or maybe like the doctor had just absolved her of the guilt she knew she should be feeling, for leaving the way she did. Because maybe, if he was better, she wouldn’t have to feel so damn guilty.
Quickly, then: “I should go. They’ll be expecting me for dinner. Move my queen. G5 to g2.”
A laugh. “So you’re on the retreat. I sense a change in my fortunes.”
With a small, sly smile, that one that held back as much as it gave: “The game’s not over yet.”
Didn’t want to imagine the boy’s answering look. “Inara –” A beat. “It’s – it’s good to talk to you. You know I go a little crazy cooped up here. I just –”
“I know. Call soon. Anytime.”
And then the boy disconnected, but she didn’t, just kept looking out the screen. “Mal.” Not a question. Her tongue darted out to wet her lip. Her eyes were dark, piercing, like she could see right into the bridge, right into him, and he realized she hadn’t been looking at Simon the way she looked at him, because this was the way she looked at him. “Mal. Are you there?”
He’d near forgotten Wash sitting right there till he heard him let out an exasperated puff of air. “Mal. You can’t seriously be telling me you’re not going to push that button.”
He looked down at his hand, hovering right over it. When had that happened? She looked into the screen, her voice low, her tone – something: “Mal.”
And for just a second, he almost pushed it. Came so close, his finger grazing the green button on the console – the tiniest move and they’d have been talking. But that was the thought that made him pull his hand back, all of a sudden, like he’d gotten a shock. Talk – wasn’t nothing left to talk about, nothing left to say. Hadn’t ever been anything to say between the two of them, truth be told.
On the screen, the edge of her mouth pulled up into an impish smile: “Well, Malcolm Reynolds, in the event you watch this – and I think you will – I hope you’re well.” A pause, and her voice was just above a whisper. “I think of you.”
The picture broke.
Beside him, his pilot, alternating bass and falsetto: “‘Wait, Inara. Don’t go. I think of you, too. I love you.’ ‘I love you, too, Mal.’” (With his hands clasped and his eyes aflutter there at the end.)
Rolled his eyes at the man. “Ain’t how it would’ve gone. Don’t be an ass.”
The blond man shook his head. “I can’t believe you didn’t answer that. You, sir, are a ninny.”
He shrugged. “Guess I just ran out of things to say.”
The pilot rolled his eyes. “And a liar, to boot. Tell you what. I’ll just sit here and pretend I don’t notice when you record all that to a capture, and you can pretend I’m an idiot.”
Crossed his arms across his chest, his eyes fixed on some point way out in the black. “What’s that even mean? She thinks of me. What, when she takes her gorram tea?”
And then, above him, Serenity was giggling, a girlish little giggle: “No, you silly. That’s not when.”
“Jesus, can’t you stop listening to everything all the time?” Reckoned she could tell by his tone that he wasn’t angry, though. “Listen, little one. You best be keeping this to yourself, capice?”
Another giggle. “Don’t worry. It can be a secret, just between you, me, and the –”
Simon stopped his pacing and fixed him with his eyes. “Are you sure?”
Mal glared at him. “Because it’s always so funny to lie to you about where that moon-brain of a sister of yours is.”
“Simon.” They both look toward Zoe’s voice. She was still sitting at the galley table, Wash’s chair empty beside her, like it had been for months. “He’s right. There’s a communications relay point in the engine room. She must’ve hacked it once when she was there with Kaylee.”
The boy was off, down the hall, and Mal was following him. It wasn’t so far (though he had to remember to be grateful for this space; that Hornet was smaller by some measure). When he put his head in, Simon had already cleared the engine and was standing in front of his sister, his hands on her shoulders. Every few words he spoke, he shook her some, and she was crying. “River –” (His voice fierce.) “River, you can’t. Don’t you understand? If something happens to us, and you’re there –”
Her voice was high and full of tears. “What will it matter to you, then? If you’re dead, and we’re all dead, it won’t matter to anyone. And no one will remember us, and we won’t exist.”
Her brother shook his head. “River, don’t talk like that. It would matter to mā ma. She probably worries about you. Her little girl. And to bá bá.”
She shook her head, pulling against him, her long hair flying out around her. “You don’t believe that. You think that they’ve thrown away all their children.”
He swallowed. “River, you know that if you come it will be harder. You know that. You want her to get better, don’t you?”
And then her eyes narrowed, and her voice was all venom. “Why do you always have to help everybody? You can’t help me, and you think maybe if you can help her that will make up for it.”
He shook his head (his hair askance). “No. That’s not true, mei mei.”
“But it doesn’t work like that, gē ge, because she’s not just yours to help. She’s mine, too. My turn.”
The doctor’s fingers were going white as he gripped her shoulders, and Mal took a step forward. “Simon! Let her alone!” His voice must’ve come out sterner than he’d meant it, because the boy’s hands relaxed, and then she was tearing away from him and past Mal, out of the room.
Simon glared at him. “Great. Thanks. This is perfect.”
As the doctor moved to push past him, Mal caught his arm. “Leave her be. She’s just upset. She’ll snap out of it.”
“‘Just upset’? Should I remind you what happened last time she got upset? No. I’m sorry. You don’t get to just pretend like you understand her all of a sudden.” And then he was gone, after his sister.
He conjured this time he did understand her, no matter what Simon said. He reckoned maybe she felt like she was losing a little piece of herself.
He measured time passing by the number of times Serenity talked to him; the number of times Simon waved Inara; the number of jobs they took, here and there. The number of times he watched the end of that wave, recorded onto capture while Wash pretended not to notice.
Sometimes he’d play a game with himself, trying to pick out things about her that had changed. That crease beside her eye? The length of her hair? Sometimes he imagined how that conversation might’ve gone, if he’d stepped into it. And sometimes he used it – the sound of her voice, the look in her eyes as she said his name – for other things, things that left him ashamed the next morning.
Which is all to say he’d studied it. He knew it by heart. And that made it straightforward enough to pick out the falsity in her voice when she called (for him, this time) some time later.
Because it wasn’t just that they didn’t fight. It was that quiver in her voice. She was nervous. If there was a reason she kept her distance from him, it certainly wasn’t that he made her nervous. The look in her eye, the steel in her voice as she said his name – those things were enough to tell him that. Nope, the Inara that looked back at him over this wave, talking to him about the weather – wasn’t an Inara he knew. It was an Inara in trouble.
He’d made a choice not to answer her call, that first time.
But this wasn’t one that could go unanswered.
The next morning, they were off, with credentials enough to cross a Hornet-class, flown by one Jonathan Atticus, clear to Sihnon. Left Serenity near desolate, with only Kaylee and Zoe to see them off. (“We don’t come back, you’re gonna have to be learning a mess of new names,” he joked to Zoe. It fell a mite flat.)
River had run off somewhere; never quite forgave Simon for whatever it was she was angry about, nor for them bruises on her shoulders. The boy had paced back and forth in front of Grace, running a nervous hand again and again through all that black hair, until Kaylee’d stopped him, pulled him to her, and kissed him. Trying to keep up the look of good cheer (clear as day faked, based on her mood of late), she promised him she’d watch out for his sister.
And then they were off. Three hours off Beylix, and he set her autopilot to run the course he’d plotted into the Core. Talked into the evening with Simon about her doctor, Chaudhury: how to find him, what to tell him, what they wanted to know.
And then his legs took him not to his bunk but to the little infirmary, where she was laid out and hooked to a ventilator that told her when to breathe. He stood at the end of the table and took a deep breath, timing the rise and fall of his chest to hers. Let a finger run along the edge of the sheet covering her, as if touching something touching her might connect him to her somehow. “‘Nara –” (His voice thick.) “I think on you, too.”
He squeezed his eyes shut and let out a long, shuddery breath. Ten hours off of Beylix, and there was River Tam, crouched under Inara Serra’s sickbed.
end chapter 13
Saturday, August 01, 2009 12:32 PM
Saturday, November 28, 2009 9:38 PM
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