BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

CLIO

Something To Think On: Chapter 19
Saturday, January 23, 2010

M/I. Post-BDM. The journey reaches its end.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3489    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

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Something To Think On
by clio
Chapter Nineteen

He stood back, quiet, while Simon talked to her. Her father stood, just as quiet, in the doorway (River behind him, holding onto his arm and peering around him; it put him at ease, truth told: she must’ve felt there was something right about him).

Talked to her? Talked around her might’ve been something more accurate: the boy strode robotically about the infirmary, packing up items, probably most arbitrary, making more noise than what was necessary. She answered all his questions: told him about Blue Sun, how the company had approached her about experimental treatments just before her twenty-second birthday; told him about the facility she’d gone to and the doctor who’d treated her; told him (somewhat too clinically for his liking) about the procedures and the tests and the full day afterward she’d had to spend in bed, every time, because of the pain.

“But Simon.” Her tone changed: low, now, and soft. “Simon, it seems foolish to me. I don’t quite understand what you’re hoping to accomplish, what you think you actually can accomplish that would be worth –”

A loud clatter as the tray of tools he was holding connected with the metal flooring (thrown, not dropped). “Can’t you just –”

Sharply: “What, Simon?” He didn’t respond; hands on his hips, chin angled down (a flop of hair over his forehead), he was struggling to calm himself. “Can’t I what, Simon?”

“I know this must matter to you. I know you must not want to die. I know there must be something out there that matters to you enough for that to be true. But damn it, Inara, if it doesn’t sometimes seem like it’s all been trained out of you.”

The growl that came out of his chest wasn’t something he was in control of, but his wanting to protect her trumped about everything at that point: “Watch it, Simon.”

The boy’s head whipped toward him. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean, Mal. Don’t pretend you haven’t thought the same thing to yourself every day since the day you met her.”

He didn’t say anything. Didn’t know what to say, and, besides, it was her that spoke up, fast, as the boy was picking up the instruments he’d scattered, her voice low and tinged with some bitter flavor he’d never heard before: “But you and I are just alike, aren’t we, Simon? We know all the same dances.”

The doctor watched her, disbelieving, for an agonizing second or two; then shook his head, blew out a breath in frustration, was just turning to leave when she stopped him (her voice something gentler): “Simon.” He stopped; turned first his head, then his whole body, and finally took the two steps it took to reach her. She touched his hand, him staring down at her fingers. “If – if –” A beat. “I have something for you. It’s on Serenity. In the drawer in the chess board. Tell me you’ll look for it.”

His mouth was open, just a touch, like he wanted to respond, but his chin was quivering, and it seemed to Mal it took the boy something to get those few words out: “I’ll look for it.” Because he couldn’t say no to her, either.

Then everyone was gone, everyone but him and her, and he walked over to her and touched her face (dry; no tears), and it was joy and sorrow all at once.

Didn’t fully occur to him till later that she hadn’t exchanged more than a tense sentence with her father. Didn’t fully occur to him till it was too late, till she never would again.

***

(“What she had for me – what she wanted to give to me – it was a letter. From my father.” He would lean over his knees, sitting on that yellow couch, blinking fast like he was trying not to cry. “And sometimes I wish – I wish that I’d seen it, before – because then –

“After I decided to rescue River, after my father had turned me away, I looked for her. It wasn’t so very exciting as it might seem. No glamorous spy work, just a fair amount of research into the society news signals from around the time I imagined she was born, and from around the time I thought it was that he had brought her to our home. Tracking down her mother wasn’t as hard as I’d expected: she was quite famous in her day, and Sihnon noticed her death. Mourned, you might even say.

“Her daughter’s name was Inara Serra. I knew that, now. But by the time I was ready to get River – she had left Sihnon. She was gone.”

Quiet for a time, then, and Mal wouldn’t quite know whether Simon was finished. Then: “That letter – he sent it to her too late, after she’d left Sihnon. It didn’t finally make it to her until much later. Maybe even not until River and I were already here. I’m not sure.

“I’ve read it now – read it so many times. It said –” His voice would hitch. “‘He may come to you. In fact, it is likely. If he does –’” A sigh. “It asked that she take care of me. ‘He is your brother,’ he wrote. ‘Tell him that his father loves him and is sorry.’”

With a slow shake of his head: “It’s just what he said to me about her before he died.”)

***

As a sentry, he was gǒu shǐ. Should’ve been on the bridge scanning the read-outs. Protecting her. But he couldn’t stop watching her, as he sat beside her, her eyes opening and closing as she drifted in and out of sleep. After an hour or some-such watching her, he drifted off himself, his head pillowed on one folded arm (the other hand thrown across her stomach, tangled in her fingers).

When he woke up (not sure how long he’d been asleep), she was watching him. She’d shifted to her side, curled up and facing him, her hands under her cheek. He thought he heard her whisper something. He blinked. “What?”

A sigh. “He’s right about me.”

He closed his eyes; tried to figure out what she was saying. “What? Him? No. He’s not right.”

She swallowed. “But he is.” (Her eyes wide, unguarded. She spoke slowly, carefully.) “I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be feeling right now. About me. About you. I don’t know how to do this with you, Mal. I never learned.”

The first words came to his mind to say were flippant and defensive, words meant to guard where it wasn’t time nor place for guarding. The second thing that came to his mind, the true thing, was what he said. Reaching up, absently pushing her hair behind her ear: “Well –” He swallowed; his tongue felt thick in his mouth, his words hard to put together. “I conjure you’re meant to talk, and I’m meant to listen. At least, I can’t think of a thing in the ‘Verse I’d like better right now.”

With a wicked gleam in her eye: “Yes, I’d imagine it would be a welcome relief, what with all the talking you do.”

The grin that split his face took him by surprise. “Don’t make me regret my words, woman.”

She didn’t tell him everything just then, but pieces. The other bits he’d put together slowly, over time – some with her help, some without her – because it was important to him, to know what it was she’d been.

***

Her mother had told her once that, the day she was born, impassive Buddha himself wept with both joy and sorrow.

She could count on one hand all of the other memories she had of her mother, she told him at some point – true memories, not memories conjured up from a few-seconds-long capture stored in her nightstand. She’d started her training early, sent to the Training House when she was just four, and so she didn’t see much of her mother those last two years (when she was dying). She told herself now, all these years later, that that was probably what the woman wanted.

Things she remembered (or so she said):

The smell of her mother’s hair.

A few songs sung at bedtime.

Waking from a nightmare into a pair of strong arms.

And she remembered the dying, those last few days, when her House Mistress had insisted on sending her to the hospital to be with her. So she remembered the last words her mother said to her (them she’d said to Simon), and they stayed with her.

The things she knew about her mother were a heap more: things she’d been told by her teachers in Sihnon; articles she’d seen while scanning through old information from the image services; letters he’d written her. Knowing such things wasn’t the same as knowing her though, and it certainly wasn’t the same as having her. And so, if she could say she had a family, it was the Guild.

***

He wrinkled his brow as he traced blue veins on the back of her hand. “What about him?”

A beat. A sigh. “He’s just a man.”

“He’s your father.”

“You of all people should know that trust doesn’t come that cheaply.”

That was one of the first real things about her he learned: that that coldness about her that he’d felt so damned wounded by, time to time – it was her armor. It was how she protected herself. And she was taking it off for him.

***

The news feeds didn’t tell her what it was that killed her mother (though they speculated plenty, as they tend to when the mighty fall). Neither did the Guild (she never was quite sure what they knew and what they didn’t). She was fifteen when she first worked up the nerve to ask her doctor if she’d get sick someday, like her mother had. A day of the tests, the results sent to her in an encrypted file a week later, and she knew what her mother’d known all the time. Knew why her mother, the first time she’d held her in her arms, had wept with joy and sorrow.

***

Hours later, and he was lying facing her on that narrow infirmary bed, knees and hands just touching, watching her watching him. A snippet of conversation:

“You know I’m sorry. Sorry ‘bout what I did. About how I left. About it all.” (His voice, rough.)

She ran a finger over his jawline (she’d been touching him, without thinking, for hours, with some kind of wonderment that made no sense to him – because it was what he felt when he touched her). “I understood.”

With a self-deprecating smirk: “Reckon you did. Don’t suppose it’s any mystery that men want you.”

A cough. “Hmm. No. I meant that I understood why you left. Exactly what it is that you want is more of a mystery to me than you might imagine.”

“You denying that men want you, Miss Inara?”

“No. I’m saying that what you want is different.”

A raised eyebrow. “And what’s that?”

Her fingers on his cheek, now; her eyes wide. “You want everything.”

Silence for a moment; another. He let out a breath. “I want whatever you want to give me.”

With a satisfied hum in her throat: “That’s what I want, too.”

***

She’d been foolish, she told him. Thought if she had enough money, saved enough money, she could buy her health. It didn’t work out that way. What she bought was a place in a drug trial, a trial for a drug that would never go to market, was never meant to go to market, that would always be sold in back alleys and dank basements. On the street it was called the fountain of youth. In the lab it was called NX-15972. In the Guild it was strictly forbidden. She thought it might buy her time.

She received her first yearly treatment when she was twenty-two, five years younger than her mother had been when she died. She’d received her last, her seventh, the December before Miranda. But she never found a cure.

***

Still facing each other, but closer now, his leg thrown gently across her hips, his hand on her cheek. “When’d you first think that you and me – we might be something?”

A breath. Softly: “Only just very recently.”

Tried to stifle his disappointment. “Oh?”

She smiled; gave his shoulder a playful push. “I don’t mean to say I’d never thought of you.” A beat. “In less than appropriate ways.” Color in her cheeks. “At less than appropriate times.” Hurrying: “But I only thought very recently – after Miranda – that it might be something more than just a flight of fancy.”

He grinned. “A flight of fancy? Well why don’t you indulge me, Miss Inara, and tell me when the fancyin’ first started.”

(Her cheeks nearing scarlet.) “Umm. You know.”

Shook his head. “No, I don’t reckon I do.”

“It was a conversation – in the dining room – you asked me about being a Companion –”

He wrinkled his brow, his tone teasing. “Did I, now? Don’t rightly remember. Don’t think I’ve given a second thought to such a conversation.”

Her lips were quirked up, her eyes lidded. “You asked me about seduction. You asked me how somebody I was with – how he’d ever know if I – if I loved him. No one had ever asked me. I’d never asked myself. But I realized – that what you said – I realized that I wanted you to want me to stay.”

***

So many reasons she’d left Sihnon. To avoid expulsion from the Guild. To escape the pity of her sisters. To evade the media, its speculation and harassment. To see the universe. To feel something real before she died.

***

“Are you scared right now?” A beat. “Because I’m scared. Won’t lie to you. And I know you always say you’re not – not afraid – but Jesus, Inara, I am.”

She closed her eyes (looked so different without makeup, her eyelids pale, her eyelashes delicate, the barest dusting of freckles across her cheeks, but beautiful, radiant). “I’m – I’m afraid for you.”

He smiled; ran a finger absently over her hand. “Best be afraid for Simon, Jayne, and River.”

“I am – well, not for Jayne –” (A small smile.) “But that’s not what I mean. I’m afraid, because I don’t know what you might do after I –” She dropped her eyes.

He bowed his head; didn’t quite know what to say. To tell her she wasn’t going to die wouldn’t do justice to what she was asking him. To tell her he’d be fine would be a lie. And so he said all he could say. “I’ll be here for you as long as you need me to be.”

Silence for a time. He closed his eyes and listened to her breath. When he opened his eyes again, her eyes were wet. She bit her lip; whispered: “I’m so tired, Mal. But I’m afraid to sleep.”

And what she was asking him, really asking him: she was asking him to stay, without her. “You sleep if you need to.” (So hard to say; tears on his cheeks.) “I’ll be here when you wake up.” Because he could never, ever say no to her.

***

She wasn’t sure when it happened. Maybe it had to do with that: the feeling something real. Sometime after she left Sihnon, after she came to Serenity, she came to terms with her death.

***

Seventeen hours after they’d left, they were back. Or, to be more accurate: Simon, River, and Jayne were back. He heard the main airlock come to life, and he shook himself out of sleep (wrapped in her arms).

Beside him, she didn’t move.

“Jesus. Inara. Inara.”

Behind him, movement: the boy pushing his way in. Around him, movement: the boat lurching slightly as it undocked. The doctor’s voice. “Move, Mal.” At his hesitation: “Move.”

Then he was away from her, giving the boy space, trying to keep track of what he was doing. And the things he was doing scared him: he felt her wrist, and then her neck. “How long has she been like this?”

Muttering, over and over: “Don’t know –”

Felt a hand on his arm, and he looked to the side, and there was Jayne, his face full of sympathy. “Doc knows what he’s doing, Mal. Anyone can help her –”

He looked back at her. Simon had bared her shoulder and ribs for the set of paddles in his hands; without being asked, Jayne had taken his place behind her head, holding her arms to steady her. “Clear.” Paddles on her bared skin, and her body jumped. Then Simon was feeling her neck again with one hand, and, before he had time to even look away, the boy’s other hand had plunged a needle into her chest.

A gasp from the table, small and soft, and Simon was talking to Jayne, gesturing to the black bag he’d been holding as he walked in the door (Jayne handing over a set of four syringes, two of which Simon emptied into her inner elbow, two into the muscle of her upper arm).

She was blinking, slowly, and looking up at him (her brother) as he leaned over her and touched her hair. “I thought I’d lost you.”

She tried to speak, but her voice was rough. It came out a whisper. “I think you almost did.”

A deep breath, and he stood; worked to collect himself through the methodical rhythms of medicine. He connected her to an IV (his long fingers doing work that came to him second nature). “You’ll feel pretty bad for a few days. Muscle aches. Headaches. Not so different to what you’re used to, except perhaps some pain in your chest as well.” With one more injection into her IV tubing: “Now, sleep. We’ll be home before you know it.”

***

She’d be thirty this year. And she’d have lived three years longer than her mother had.

***

The albatross stayed at Grace’s helm for the whole flight. A leaf in the wind, she might’ve said.

Sitting with Simon in the ship’s little kitchen, drinking tea (the non-poisoned variety).

“It’s not a magic bullet, Mal. It’s three years. Three years’ worth of NX-15972.”

He closed his eyes. “Three years.” He let out a long breath.

“There’s more than that. I was able to access a lab. I’ve run DNA tests far more advanced than I could have on Serenity. I hacked into Blue Sun’s servers and have up-to-date reports on its research. And the three years – it’s not a lot, Mal, but it’s time.”

He turned the number over in his mind; felt its acid bite on his lips. “Three years. You know, it’s longer than I’ve known her. It’s not long enough. But I reckon nothing could be.”

***

end chapter 19


You know I live for your comments. Only an epilogue to go; hurry before it's too late!

COMMENTS

Saturday, January 23, 2010 3:28 PM

BYTEMITE


What I like about this, in addition to those so open and personal moments between Mal and Inara as they're curled up with each other on that examining table, is how Mal explains Inara's past that he's finally found out in between the flashes of the present. What Inara's finally giving to him, what he's wanted from the beginning, while at the same time her just letting him be there for her is fulfilling his wanting to give. It just fits and flows so well within the narrative.

And his words to her before she falls asleep for what may be the last time, what he realizes she's asking, and then your last little scare... Nice.

And three years. So sad. Good, but so sad.

Saturday, January 23, 2010 7:57 PM

CLIO


I'm glad the Inara backstory seemed to fit the contours of the chapter – of course I ran out of backstory in the last chapter, and I wasn't sure whether this would feel off when set against the other chapters.

Three years. It seemed like a good amount of time. Long enough to live a little, short enough that it will go by much too fast. I dare say that nothing's set in stone, though.

This may be a good point to mention how much better this whole thing is for your input throughout. So in case I don't say it often enough, thanks for your always helpful advice. :-)

Sunday, January 24, 2010 7:18 AM

PLATONIST


Appreciate how you left it ambiguous as to how long she lives...maybe Simon can extent her life by using the findings of his research.

Love the Simon, Inara, and River connection you’ve created in your fic, it seems to flow seamlessly with what we’ve seen in canon and what Joss has dropped about these three in commentary.

But most importantly how strong you’ve made all these characters with their love for each other, and what they're willing to sacrifice for that love, in essence, for me, it’s what the show and movie are about:)

Looking forward to the epilogue…does Gabriel Tam die?

Sunday, January 24, 2010 10:10 AM

ALIASSE


Weirdly, the character I felt more for in this chapter was Simon. Not one blighted sister but two; both of them not just medically but mentally - River being actually brain-damaged, Inara irreversibly conditioned. And it makes Gabriel even worse: abandoned River, abandoned Simon, abandoned Inara.

It's so sweet that you have Mal and Inara having the 'when did you first like me?' conversation - so normal, amidst the high drama.

And I liked the look-back at Inara and Simon dancing.

And still loving the way you convey the achey-bitter-sweet pairing that is Mal-Inara.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 10:30 AM

BYTEMITE


For the record, where I was involved clio pretty much gave this chapter and the others to me perfect.

Aliasse has got a point about Simon. I didn't notice it, but he's become increasingly sympathetic since the reveal. Or, I don't know. It's complicated, because Simon was right so often when Mal was being Mal, and yet at the same time, he was just HARSH. And now, there's ways in which Simon is selfishly wanting to save Inara too, but here it's not harsh, just hurting.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 10:52 AM

CLIO


Well, Simon's of course been masterminding everything; Mal's just along for the ride, more or less. Or to provide the ride. And so I think that the harshness in the beginning was in general meant to provoke Mal to a certain response – which was action. Once Mal decided to act, Simon didn't need to push him so hard. And once River changed the course of the action, he ceased being in control so has been a bit more helpless. Also, I do think that not knowing Simon's motivations in the beginning made his behavior seem especially off-putting – probably especially to Mal! (Though remember also this is only the second time we've seen him talking to Inara – the first time, way back when, when Mal was listening outside the door – I think "hurting" is actually fairly typical of Simon when I have him in conversation with Inara – always a kind of disbelief that she'd act the way she does.)

The thing I was most worried about in this chapter was getting the Mal/Inara tone right. So whole the whole point of OTP's interactions are getting them to that big declarative moment and then the story's over, because it's difficult to write natural togetherness. So what I wanted here (what I said to Byte) was that I wanted to demonstrate that they actually did work together romantically and do that through normal conversation that doesn't seem either too trite or too anguished. So hopefully I captured that. Also I wanted to give some sense of Inara's POV, given that this is a Mal POV story.

Gabriel – I don't know about him. He's just kind of a shadow here. I'm not sure whether I'll give anything more on his death or leave it up to the imagination.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 10:53 AM

CLIO


PS. I'm glad you liked (and caught!) that dancing reference. It seemed appropriate. One of several references back here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 12:03 PM

ALIASSE


the whole point of OTP's interactions are getting them to that big declarative moment and then the story's over, because it's difficult to write natural togetherness

Hmm, clever!

My solution to this was ducking the declarative moment and then sequeing effortlessly into all the difficulties between them. But you've done both the declaration and the difficulties and the natural togetherness - beautifully!

Sunday, January 24, 2010 12:10 PM

CLIO


I think I meant "so often the whole point" BTW. A lot of fanfic drops off at that point. You indeed have found a number of ways to escape that bind! *whistles innocently*

Sunday, January 24, 2010 12:38 PM

ALIASSE


And SOME authors make one of the OTP characters turn out to be an angel/goddess and suddenly disappear...

I just want to add that my fanart Jayne was based on the Jayne we find in STTO. You must have picked up on that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 4:20 PM

CLIO


I did. You really captured the subtle tenderness underlying his character that I've tried so hard to capture. That said – I can't tell you how relieved I was to find that it wasn't Jayne who caused you that ear mishap.

But I take exception to your first sentence – you're making fun of me, aren't you? I knew I shouldn't have told you about that Book/OC [lio] romance I was planning to write. You can just be so mean sometimes. I thought my plan for the disappearance of the rest of the crew was perfectly believable.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 7:13 PM

BYTEMITE


I'd wag at you both a bit here, but for truly awesome fic and being distracted by the metaphysitheological implications of Book being literally in love with God(dess).

Hey. You should spend all your time touring Tohoku class cruisers making unreasonable demands. You say jump, they say "but...we're in the airlock..."

Ah, comedy.

Monday, January 25, 2010 5:28 PM

MINCINGBEAST


Mal never struck me as the sort of fellow who was comfortable pouring his heart out; the impulse is either foreign, or forgotten. He is a bastard, and wouldn’t be half so interesting without the awkwardness and tenderness that Inara brings out of him.

Anyway one of the moments that hooked me on your series was Mal torturing himself with how unnecessary he was in Inara’s life—how badly he wanted to give, how he had nothing worth giving. Nice to see that tension resolved so…beautifully—seems to me that they both badly wanted to give, and were both emotionally unequipped for it (and for accepting it).

Also, I’ll add that when Simon was revealed as Inara’s brother, I was rather disappointed (I liked the jealousy and spite and insecurity)—but Simon in the end comes out as nearly the protagonist, and just as much a friendly rival to Mal.

The ending is great, too: romantic tension is resolved, but nothing else. Perfect little window you left open there.

Can scarcely believe that I’ve been following this series as long as I have, and now it’s winding down. It’s been amazing trip, in the sense that it has ruined my life and made me question my manhood, and also, made me happy. Thank you so much for your narrative.

Monday, January 25, 2010 9:28 PM

CLIO


Thank YOU for the consistent generosity of your comments. It's been a delight to write, and I'm glad it's made for an enjoyable (happy?) read.

Epilogue coming along nicely... should be out soon, once I figure out the right note to end on.

Monday, August 6, 2012 2:22 PM

AMDOBELL


Bittersweet joy to see Mal and Inara together but so sad with her life slipping away just as they have found their way to each other. I did however feel my heart leap at Simon's news about being able to give her three more years with the drugs and that spark of hope that the time might be enough for him to maybehaps find a cure? I know, hopeless romantic that I am, but it would be so cool for a happy ending to come out of all the long drawn out grief. You have written quite the rollercoaster, thank you (sniff). Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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