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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. The journey reaches its end.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1893 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter 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
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