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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. Beginning and ending with a kiss. Nearing the end.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1579 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter Eighteen
He opened his mouth to say something, anything (thank God, was afraid you’d never wake up again, thought I’d never talk to you again, knew I’d never kiss you –). But before he could say any of the hundred things about to tumble out of his mouth, the doctor pushed past him and, as he whispered to her instructions in his steady doctor’s voice, pulled out the tubes that’d given her breath. And then she was coughing, the boy propping her up and rubbing her back, and it was like finding her all over again. Simon.
If all had gone according to plan, he would’ve delivered her to Three Hills two weeks after that last conversation, about a month and a half after he found her that night on the bridge. A month and a half after she’d made the decision (jŭ tóu wàng míng yuè, dī tóu sī gù xiāng) that had brought them here.
It was mid-February.
She made it nearly to March.
That last week he spent mostly on his bridge, occasionally listening to her stilted conversations with Simon over the comm (old habits die hard, especially with Wash not being around to remind him in his pointed way he had no business on that frequency). Which was exactly what he was doing on the last day.
In that Sihnonese dialect he hated, because it was theirs: “What did Kaylee tell you?” Her voice, tired.
“It doesn’t matter what she told me. But for what it’s worth, I couldn’t be happier. It was – it was insanity for you to think you should stay. He’s not worth that.” As if to himself: “No one would be.” Louder: “How are you feeling?”
An edge in her voice: “What do you mean?”
A puff of air. “I don’t know why you refuse to talk to me about this. As if pretending I don’t know will –”
She cut him off with a voice wavering some. “Simon – Simon, last week was my mother’s birthday. I forgot. I just – forgot.” A beat, and then, hurried: “Let’s not talk this way. Come to my shuttle. I have something for you.”
The boy’s voice had risen; he sounded nervous. “I’m on my way.”
The sound of him disconnecting; then she coughed, and: “Mal?”
He flipped the switch and tried to savor the hollow feeling in his gut.
He watched, and the doctor kept on rubbing her back as she coughed (weak coughs, no force behind them). Then he was shining a light into her eyes, but she was resisting, looking to the side unseeingly, reaching out a hand. “Mal? Where are you?”
A step forward (with the doctor still between them, taking all sorts of measurements), and his hand was out, and he was touching the fingers of her shaking hand. She watched him – but past him, like she couldn’t quite focus. And then (damned if he was in the doctor’s way) he was kneeled beside the head of the bed, fingertips touching her face, her hair, her nose, her eyelids, her lips, like to prove to himself she was really there, all the while repeating like a mantra: “I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.”
He tried to wipe that overheard conversation from his mind (he’s not worth it), to concentrate on other things (the next few days’ course; whatever it was Kaylee was fixing in the kitchen). But not fifteen minutes later, the doctor was standing at the entrance to the bridge.
“Mal, do you know where Inara is?”
He felt his temperature rise. The boy had some nerve. “Reckon you’d know better than I would where she is. And I don’t appreciate being put in the middle of whatever business you have with her.”
His voice, stern but hurried: “Mal, you’re not listening to me. She asked me to come to her shuttle –”
“And I certainly don’t need to know about your comings and goings.”
The boy ignored him; barreled on ahead. “– but she’s not responding. Something’s wrong. Very, very wrong. I need you to go to her shuttle.”
Finally, he turned to him; let out a long breath and began, his tone (anger gone out of it) betraying, he reckoned, his weariness (his resignation): “Listen. If you don’t get by now that I’m the last person she wants to –”
“No. You’re wrong. You’re the first person she wants to see.” A beat, and then his voice, louder, commanding, his arm thrown back in the direction of her shuttle: “Go now.”
He went; he ran the whole way.
(He and Simon, much later, sitting on that yellow sofa, an image of her in ringlets and cloisonné clips dancing through his mind. It would make him smile in spite of himself.
Simon: “I didn’t think of her again until I was thirteen, maybe fourteen. Too clever for my own good, or maybe just enough. I broke through the security on my father’s source box. I’m not sure what I expected to find, but I didn’t expect – letters. To her, spanning a number of years. And her polite, if detached, notes of reply, just the sort that might be sent by a child, a child who had been drilled in decorum but didn’t fully understand what it was she was meant to feel. Which, after all, is what she always was.
“I was –” A beat. “Shocked doesn’t begin to describe it. The letters, they weren’t terribly revealing, mind you – he was writing to a young girl. He asked her about the Training House, what she was learning, what she most enjoyed. And he wrote to her about her mother, about what she had been like. But – it seemed clear to me that – that he loved her, and that he had been very much in love with her mother.
“I didn’t read very much. I couldn’t bring myself to. I closed the source box and erased my entrance key. But I could never get those letters out of my mind, not entirely; and they eroded my conception of what my family was. I resented her – this girl that I didn’t even know – for a long time because of that.
“It didn’t occur to me until later, until it mattered, that in all those letters he had encrypted her name. I knew that she was a Companion – or would have been, by that point. I knew that she was born on Sihnon. I knew that her mother was dead. But I didn’t know her name.”)
Whatever the reason, maybe his tone of voice, maybe his expression when he sent him (commanded him) to her shuttle, he believed the boy’s warnings, and so he was afraid.
But the fear he felt while he pounded on the hatch of her shuttle wasn’t like anything he’d experienced in his life. “I’m not afraid to die,” she’d told him once, and he understood, because death wasn’t a thing he much feared, either. His death, leastways.
Those encounters he’d had with Reavers, or with the Alliance, or with Niska, that sadistic shén jīng bìng, none of them made him afraid. They made him mad, maybe – but not afraid. Not of the pain, and not of death. Neither did they make him afraid for his crew. Not really. Maybe that made him a bastard, but the way he figured everyone on his boat understood the dangers. They’d accepted them when they signed up, and they could leave anytime.
And so the fear he felt while he was pounding, pounding on her hatch and calling for her, it was something unfamiliar, and something not quite explicable.
Maybe it was something selfish. Maybe he was afraid of what his world would look like if she weren’t in it – somewhere in it.
It was fear that kept him from pushing the hatch open right away, the way he would normal times. But it took none too long (though not before his pounding and yelling had started to draw spectators below) to realize the cost of his fear was her, if Simon’s words were true, and so he threw back the hatch and near tumbled through the entry.
The red curtain she’d once hung to create a kind of formal entry had never reappeared after she did, and so when he opened the hatch the whole shuttle was there laid out before him. And it still looked dingy, and hummed too loud, and smelled like engine grease and soldered metal. But it smelled like her, too; and all the trinkets she’d set up – he’d never quite noticed before that, while they didn’t mask the shuttle the way they had when she’d seen clients here, they – they seemed to fill in her gaps; and, normal times, that hum would’ve blended in with the sound of her voice and, beneath that, her breath.
That’s what he was trying to hear as he rushed to her, kneeled beside her (her limbs splayed at awkward angles at just the spot where she’d been sitting, bathing, and where he’d held her, and more, those weeks before). He was listening for her breath; watching her chest for the rise and fall. (From a distance, like he was scared to touch her.) And whispering, fierce: “Inara. Inara. Inara.”
Probably all that took less time than it felt to – but his whole body felt sluggish, like the gravity had suddenly increased, and it was like he was seeing it all from a long way off in the black. And he saw himself scooping her up (her head lolling back against his arm, her feet dangling bonelessly), and walking – one step, two steps, three steps, lumbering – out the hatch of her shuttle; saw himself (staring blankly out across Serenity’s hold), and her in his arms, both of them framed by the halo of the doorway.
It was Zoe pulled him back into reality, from where they’d all gathered below the catwalk. “Mal? Jesus, Mal, what’s wrong with her?”
That was all it took, and he was back there, in his body, blinking hard and fast. Muttered: “Don’t know. Don’t know.” He turned fast and ran as fast as he could without risking hurting her, his heart pounding, loud, in his chest, in his ears.
To the infirmary.
To where Simon was already standing, gloved and waiting, like he knew what was coming.
To where Jayne was standing, and lifting her out of his arms, and laying her back onto the infirmary sickbed.
To where Zoe was standing beside Simon, waiting for instructions.
To where he wasn’t needed, not even a little bit.
It had been the same when he first came to the infirmary, after she’d woken up. But now – now, as she reached out her hand and asked for him, him – he dared to put a bit of stock in what the boy had said: he, God help him, was the first one she wanted to see.
He let himself sink into it for a bit, as he knelt beside her, as he danced the tips of his fingers over her face like he was blind. Until she pulled him back into the here and now: “Mal?” Her eyes tracking his face closely, trying to read him. “Mal, where am I? Where are we?”
He swallowed; tried for a joke: “Figured it might be more fun to live on a boat the size of a sardine box. We’ve downsized.”
Her eyes had widened with something like alarm. “Oh, Mal. You didn’t.” Could tell by her look she didn’t mean the downsizing. “Oh, Mal, of all of the naive, bái mù –”
He sat up. “Now wait just one gorram minute. I for one don’t see savin’ your life as all that bái mù a thing to do. You can be mad all you like. Know I should’ve told you. But I talked to Simon –” (a glance back at the boy, who looked like he wanted to vanish into the floor) “– and it just made sense, to –”
She shook her head. “I’m not angry at you.”
A double take. With surprise: “You’re not?”
“I’ve been stupid. I always thought –” A small cough; her voice rough and dry. “I always thought that by – by keeping this to myself, I was protecting –” A beat. “The people around me. I suppose I didn’t count on meeting someone with such a shǎ sense of nobility. A shǎ, self-destructive sense of nobility. I’m sorry. This is my fault.”
Too much; wasn’t something he wanted her to dwell on. Certainly didn’t want her to blame herself. What was done was done. Yī yán jì chū, sì mǎ nán zhuī, nor make so you said ones you should’ve. And so with a small half-smile, he threw back an arm toward the doctor. “Him! He’s got the nobility, too. It’s going around.”
It earned him a half-smile. “So where are we?”
And then he just watched her. Watched her dying.
It was Simon who told her; told her what he’d meant; told her about River; told her where they were going (and that there was a part new to him, as well). Neatly skipped over the part about her father, who seemed to’ve slipped off (likely for the same reason; they were both cowards, by his reckoning).
Simon, just finishing: “And so I think – I think River thinks – that if Jayne and Mal can give us cover on Ariel, River and I can get what we need from Blue Sun’s White Sun facility at St. Lucy’s.”
Her brow furrowed: “Simon, will someone be staying here? With me?” A beat, and she filled in one of the pieces he wasn’t giving her. “Simon, is someone else on board with us?”
From across the room, just inside the hatch: “Inara, I’m here.”
Watched her dying with empty hands, but prayed – God Almighty, did he pray, like he never had in his life – prayed that she wouldn’t.
Her eyes were wide, but there was something cold in them.
“Inara, I’m –”
“Wǒ zhīdao shéi nín shì. Simon.”
“Will you let me talk to Mal?”
An awkward nod. “Yes. We’ll go talk to River. But we need to be quick. We’re only three worlds out from Ariel.”
When they’d gone out, quiet for a time. She was looking down away from him, at the floor. In a soft voice: “Don’t leave. Don’t go to Ariel.”
He frowned. “Hate to tell you, but I don’t think there’s a thing in the ‘Verse that can stop that Tam girl once she’s set her course.”
Her voice, stern: “No. I mean you. Don’t go to Ariel.”
He closed his eyes; pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to wrap his head around what she was asking him to do (not to do). He shook his head. “If this is about what you said before, about fault, need you to know I’d – give you up –” At her look: “What I mean is – I’d give up seeing you, day in, day out – give up being near you – forever – just to know you were out there, alive, somewhere in the ‘Verse. Don’t need you to be near me. I just – just need you – to be. And if going to Ariel is the way I can see that happens –”
A small smile, and she reached a hand out, her fingers just grazing his cheek. “But Mal, that’s not what I need. I don’t need you to save me, Mal. I never have. I need you to stay with me. Just stay.”
He tilted his head. “This about him? Because, if it is –”
“It’s about you.”
Silence for a time, and then, his voice small, like a child: “Don’t fight?”
He swallowed. “When I was talking to them, to the crew, before we left, I told them that this – this thing you decided – that it wasn’t your choice to make. Conjure I was wrong about that. Weren’t nobody’s but yours. But Inara –” Choked a bit on his words. “Maybe fighting’s not what you need, but fighting’s all I know how to do.”
That smile again. “I’ll try to fight for both of us. Just give me this one thing, Mal.”
And it surprised him (maybe it shouldn’t have) just how hard it was – how, despite how much he wanted to give to her, how he wanted to give her the universe and himself and everything in between, he didn’t want to give her this. It was like she was asking him to give up his whole world – not just the fighting (all he knew), but her, too (all he wanted). And, anyway, as a trade it just didn’t seem fair. She was maybe risking her life for – what? A day of his lousy company? Two? Three? It seemed a thing not worth its cost.
Except that she wanted it.
He sat, eyes closed, trying to work it through in his mind while she waited. Found himself holding her hand against his lips (eyes still squeezed tight, forehead wrinkled), so that his teeth grazed against her knuckles as he muttered, over and over, like he was still trying to convince himself: “Okay. Okay. Okay.”
She pulled back on her hand, and he opened his eyes, surprised; but she wasn’t pulling away, she was pulling him toward her, and then he was kissing her for the first time, and it was joy, joy, joy, and he knew that it didn’t matter how much pain it caused him: he could never, ever say no to her.
“Love you so much.” It came out a gasp.
Then, softly, carefully: “I love you, too, Mal. Thank you.”
And maybe fighting wasn’t all he knew how to do, after all.
end chapter 18
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