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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. On coming full circle.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1425 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter Seventeen
One of the old religions from Earth-That-Was (he remembered from his studies, from before he’d stopped believing in everything) had had it that a pastor had to turn away would-be converts three times, to test their sincerity.
But if there was a reason he kept turning her away, it wasn’t that.
When she first told him she wasn’t sure about going back to her girls – her voice timid, the look on her face bashful as he’d ever seen – a warmness spread through him. Intoxicating, it was, and he went to the bridge beaming and spouted off to the little albatross some nonsense or other about love. Walking up into Serenity, whole again after Miranda, it had been so easy, for a little bit, to pretend that Zoe was fine, like she said she was, and that the Companion belonged with him, on his boat.
Bandaid was all it was, though. The Operative’d fixed up his boat – repaired all the rips, patched up all the tears – and for a little bit he could pretend none of it had happened. But only for a little bit. All that horror was still hidden right underneath the surface, like a wound festering.
He found her late one night – some time later – on Serenity’s bridge, not in that seat on the left, where she usually did her star-gazing, but in Wash’s chair (patched up, now, somewhat shabbily, but the same chair – another wound that festered). Feet up on the seat, arms wrapped, loose, around her knees, head leaned back into the chair as she fixed her gaze out the screen, she looked – thin, so thin; when had that happened? – she looked sad.
He looked out the freshly replaced screen, to where she was looking. In the distance on the little backwater moon where they were parked, he could just make out the silhouetted houses of the town where they aimed on delivering their goods in the morning. In the town center was the faintest glimmer of firelight, dancing merrily. He swallowed. “Thought you only came out here to watch the black.”
She didn’t start like he’d expected her to do – barely even moved. Almost like she’d been expecting him. She sighed and was quiet for a while. Just when he thought she wasn’t going to respond at all: “Jŭ tóu wàng míng yuè, dī tóu sī gù xiāng.”
“I find it a comfort.”
A beat. “It’s December.”
She did look over her shoulder, that time. “Is this a not-so-subtle way of reminding me that I should be thinking of packing my bags?”
He shook his head. “No. No.” He looked down at his hands; flexed them absently. They looked more worn than they had a month ago – or maybe it was his imagination. “Just thinking about your appointment. On Ariel. Don’t know if I’ll be able to get you there this year.”
When she hadn’t responded after a few seconds, he managed a glance at her. She was turned toward him, her eyebrows raised, her red lips slightly parted, her dark eyes shining. She looked surprised.
He shrugged. “What?”
She shook her head. “Nothing. Nothing. It’s just that – I didn’t expect you to –” She stopped.
He cocked his head; his voice came out harsher than he meant it to. “To what? To notice? You don’t think I notice you?”
She colored slightly. “No. I know you – I know it’s not that.”
“Then you think I don’t care.”
“No. Mal – Mal, I’m sorry. It’s kind of you to have remembered. But it’s all right. I’ve –” A pause, longer than it should have been, and it was something else he could’ve noticed but didn’t. “I’ve gotten an exception from the Guild.”
He swallowed; schooled his voice calm. “You sure? I could still get you back, at least close enough for you to make your way to the Training House. Find a route in they won’t be watching.”
Quiet for a time, and his eyes turned back to his hands (a new scar on his left palm).
Suddenly her voice, higher than normal, breaking the silence: “Mal, do you want me to leave?”
He’d know by what you said when he asked you to stay. Closed his eyes; took a deep breath. “I could get you back. I know I could still get you back.”
A few more beats of silence, and then he turned and left her to her fading light.
Thought himself to be a gorram stubborn bastard, and he reckoned most people who knew him did as well; but right then, his eyes moving back and forth between Simon and Gabriel Tam, it didn’t take him more than an instant to realize that the doctor was right.
Simon must have seen his gun arm waiver, because he took a step closer. “Mal – if she goes back, she will die. You must know that.”
His father nodded behind him, his gaze locked on Mal’s. Slowly: “I think you love her, Captain Reynolds. And I think you know what you need to do. Sometimes the best thing we can do for the people we love is let them go.”
The gun was by his side, the safety on. He took a deep breath and nodded. “You’re right. She belongs here.”
The next thing that happened he could hardly bear to think on, and it was in part that that was the reason he decided to let Gabriel Tam take her, after all.
Damned thing wouldn’t have happened at all if he hadn’t picked the wrong gorram moment to walk onto the bridge one evening after dinner, some days after he’d found her there, in Wash’s chair. Happened onto something different, this time.
He heard her before he saw his second in command, his Zoe. Should’ve known to turn around right then, because it didn’t seem right, but he never did manage to leave well enough alone. Pushed upon the hatch, slow and quiet, and what he saw threw him: Zoe, his warrior, kneeled down in front of that damned chair (and why in hell hadn’t they just changed it out?), her hands braced against the seat, her head bowed as she heaved great silent sobs (lips pulled away from her teeth in a pained grimace; tears on her cheeks).
“Have you asked Zoe what she needs?” she’d asked him, and he’d had the gall to feel affronted. Zoe’d told him she was fine, hadn’t she, after all? But here it was, plain as day what Zoe needed. Zoe needed Wash, and damned if he was the one thing she wasn’t ever going to have again.
And he – he needed –
Quiet as he opened it, he pushed the hatch closed, and he went to her, because she was what he needed.
The shuttle was dim, lit just by a few candles. She was kneeled in front of a bowl of scented water, her back to him (bare from the waist up, the end of her sari pooled near her feet). She was bathing.
She started at the sound of the door sliding open and then shut behind him; pulled an arm across her chest and turned her head over one pale shoulder, her swan’s neck free of her swept-up hair. Her eyes were calm, unsurprised, her lips parted just so much; she watched him as he took one, two steps across the room toward her.
Didn’t know himself quite what he’d been thinking; didn’t reckon he’d been thinking much at all. He kneeled behind her, one hand splaying itself across her naked belly, pulling her flush to him, the other cupping the back of her neck, and all he could think about was the sound of blood rushing in his ears. What he said was: “Don’t want you to leave.”
Thought he felt her shiver.
He didn’t know quite how long they sat like that, his forehead buried in the crook of her neck, his eyes closed tight at the thereness of her as she breathed in time with him. And he didn’t know quite why the need that he’d kept at bay before (even if it reared its head time to time in messy displays of anger) had finally overcome him so completely. Maybe it was the sight of Zoe, her face showing all her pain, her chest heaving with sobs. Or maybe that was just a sorry excuse. Maybe he was just a selfish bastard. Whichever way, all he wanted was to be close to her, to hold her like this as long as she’d let him.
And then she dropped her arm from across her breasts to the hand splayed across her stomach, pressed him closer, and, quietly: “Yes, Mal.” Answering a question he hadn’t even realized he was asking.
After that, everything was a blur. His teeth on her shoulder; one hand on her breast; the other between her legs; her hands snaked behind her back, unbuckling his pants as she made low noises in her throat.
Knew it wasn’t right, wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Would’ve been so much better, so much gentler, if he’d carried her to her bed and made love to her properly, like she was used to, instead of this, his forehead pressed against her shoulder as he mouthed words of reverence into her skin and thrust into her without art. But seeing her face would’ve meant seeing her pity, like the pity she’d had for so many other men.
When it was finished (her still shuddering), the reality of it all hit him. The shuttle: dingy and old without all the ornament it’d once had, smelling of the grease and metal her incense couldn’t quite cover up. The persistent humming of old electronics he found so comforting normal times now buzzed too loud in his ear. And beyond the metal panels of the shuttle, darkness all around them. And her: red marks on her neck and shoulder, sari pushed up around her waist carelessly, her hair, wet with sweat and askance. She leaned forward on her hands as she fought to slow her breathing. His darkness all around her.
The very first time he’d met her, he’d felt it, the wrongness of her being here. He’d asked her what she was running from. Two years gone by didn’t make a bit of difference: she still didn’t belong here, belong with him, no matter what he tricked her into thinking or feeling. “You’ll ruin her, too,” he’d said to Simon (but not to Simon). He would. He already was. It was what he did.
“Nǐ bú shì rén,” she’d said to him once. She was right.
And he felt shame.
“I’m sorry.” It came out a kind of gasping sob as he stood up (almost falling) and backed away, struggling with shaking fingers to clasp his belt buckle.
“Mal?” Her voice small, catching on the words. “Mal, what are you doing?”
As he turned to the hatch: “So sorry.”
She’d turned her head toward him, and what he hadn’t seen before: skin so pale; eyes ringed in black. (What her time here had done to her; what he’d done to her.) The last thing she said came rough and choked: “I’m not leaving you, Mal; don’t you dare leave me.”
But he already was, already pulling the hatch back and running out the door.
Didn’t occur to him till later, as he sat crouched beside the toilet in his bunk, his head in his hands, that he’d never even kissed her.
“Mal, I think you’d best tell me what’s going on, here.”
He gestured with his head. “This here’s Inara’s father. Surely you followed that much, Jayne.”
The merc looked at him askance but didn’t lower his gun. “And so, what? You just gonna leave her here? Change your plans like that?”
Nodded once but kept his eyes on the Tams. “Call it a lesson in versatility.”
The big man’s eyes narrowed. “Correct me if I’m wrong, Mal, but weren’t you just gorram lecturing us ‘bout how it was she made a choice?”
“And I said it wasn’t her choice to make.”
The days crawled by. At the beginning, he avoided her. After that, he only let himself see her when the others were around. Moment she tried to say much of anything to him, there was some burning question he needed to ask Zoe, or some hilarious event he needed to retell. She stopped trying to talk to him.
Until he finally made the decision that one of the two of them should’ve made during her first few weeks on his boat, before any of this, any of this could’ve happened.
They’d just pulled off Santo (no coin to show for it, just cuts, bruises, and a good share of lessons about what life would be like out here; but yī yán jì chū, sì mǎ nán zhuī). Passed by her shuttle a time or two before he got the nerve to go closer. When he did, he heard Kaylee’s voice drift out through the cracked hatch.
“You really gonna do this?”
“I’m sure, mei mei. Serenity’s not the place for me.”
In a rushed breath, like she was trying to convince her: “Whatever the cap’n did, I reckon he didn’t mean it.”
“He didn’t do anything, Kaylee. It’s just –” A beat. “Oh, mei mei, it’s complicated.”
“But, ‘Nara, ain’t everything worth anything complicated? Me and Simon, we’re complicated, but –”
Firmly: “What you and Simon have is very special, Kaylee. He’s a good man, and he loves you. Don’t ever forget that.”
And Kaylee’s voice, low: “Just ‘cause I got him now don’t mean I don’t still need you.”
She didn’t answer that, just paused; must’ve gestured at something. “I’m leaving that. Will you see that he gets it if I don’t get a chance to tell him? And this is for you.”
Her voice sad and dreamy at once: “Oh, it’s –”
They both turned toward him when he pulled back the hatch (Kaylee holding a gown of purple and gold in front of her – a sheep on its back legs).
He cleared his throat. Didn’t smile. “Kaylee, Inara and I need to have words.”
The Companion reached out a hand and lightly touched the mechanic’s arm. “Kaylee, you can stay.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Kaylee, I need you in the engine room. Now put away that bit of frou-frou and see to your job.”
The girl turned wide eyes back and forth between them, then ducked out. He waited till she left and took one, two steps closer to where the woman in front of him braced herself against the edge of her red sofa (wrists too thin, eyes still ringed, cheeks still pale; if he didn’t know better he’d think it was Serenity making her sick, or him). “Seems we’re of the same mind. Think it’s best I let you out next port of call. I’ll get you as close as I can to the Core, but you’ll have to make some of the way on your own. You can still go back to your girls, I reckon – the Operative and his crew left your Training House in decent shape.” A beat. “And if you want to keep whoring yourself around the galaxy, I’m sure you won’t have a problem finding another ship to take you.”
She tilted her head but kept her eyes on him; didn’t look angry like she normally would’ve, like he’d been hoping she would. “Lù yáo zhī mǎ lì, rì jiǔ jiàn rén xīn.”
Anger flared. “Don’t quote your proverbs at me like I’m s’posed to find some sort of help in them. I ain’t no horse, and I don’t find riddles too useful, most of all them pertainin’ to my heart.”
A breath. Two. They watched each other. “Mal – I’m sorry that it has to be this way. But it’s best. And I hope you won’t think –”
He closed his eyes tight. Felt disoriented – couldn’t properly understand what she was apologizing to him for. Then his eyes were open, and his jaw was set, and: “Wasn’t another way it could’ve been. My momma always said all business arrangements come to an end, one way or another.”
She dropped her eyes, and he thought he saw her arm quiver before she turned away from him (dismissing him). As he walked out, he thought he heard her whisper another proverb: “Bùjiàn guāncái bù diàolèi.” Until faced with one’s own coffin, one cannot despair.
But he did.
That was what he was thinking about, thinking about how every gorram goodbye he’d ever said in his life he’d done the wrong way – his daddy, up and left when he was a boy, no goodbye at all; his momma, who he’d left with none too kind words, never to speak to her again; the soldiers he fought with, dying around him without warning; Wash, a leaf on the wind till he got a stake through his heart; and her, again and again her leaving and him not knowing how to do anything but let her, make her.
That was what he was thinking about (standing in front of Simon and Gabriel Tam and shoulder to shoulder with a confused Jayne), about how he could do it better this time, say goodbye to her proper, when Grace lurched.
He stumbled; watched as Simon lowered himself into a crouch, arms out, bracing himself, and then stood up again, slow, his eyes narrowed. “River. River, what do you think you’re doing?”
A little laugh, and then her voice over the comm: “Oh, Simon. You know.”
He shook his head, slow. “No, River. I don’t know. Where are we going?”
“Ariel. Going to Ariel. Been there before. Now back again. I can help.” A beat, and then, low and fierce: “I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.” And another jolt, and they were flying, flying.
Thought he must’ve been gaping a bit as he watched Jayne’s eyes darting back and forth across the room; watched Gabriel Tam, hands gripping the table of medical instruments beside him, eyes fixed upward; watched Simon sink down against the wall behind him. And then turned to watch her; saw a few small drops of blood where her IV had torn away from her arm when the ship had first moved. “Simon.” When the boy didn’t respond: “Simon.”
Across the room, a rustling as the doctor stood. He sounded tired: “What?”
He bent over her, his face close to hers, nearly touching hers as he watched her; thought he saw her eyelashes flutter slightly. Whispered: “Can you hear me?” And then his hand (rough) on her cheek (smooth) – thumb grazing across her jaw. Just a breath against her skin: “Inara.” A beat. “I’m here. Can you hear me?”
The doctor: “Mal, what is it?”
Turned his face away from hers but stayed near. To Simon: “I think she’s waking up.”
When he turned back, she was watching him.
end chapter 17
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 1:48 PM
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 1:49 PM
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009 7:58 AM
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Thursday, December 31, 2009 1:51 AM
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