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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A happy return to the status quo
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3010 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Hey!” Mal yelled cheerfully to his first mate and pilot as he walked up the hatch. He had their lucrative cargo slung over his shoulder and they were soon to be back in the sky. Life was very good. “How long ‘till we can be on our way?”
“Where we goin’?” Wash asked.
“Bulwark,” Mal said.
“Bulwark?” Zoë asked, bewildered. “We’ll never get work there, Cap’in.”
“On the contrary,” Mal said, tossing Zoë a black duffel bag. “We already got work there. Mind stowing the cargo?”
“This is the cargo?” Zoë asked skeptically. “Seems a might light.”
Mal smiled as he walked past her and into the cargo bay. “Would you believe there are over a thousand condoms in that bag?”
“What exactly did you do in that jail?” Wash asked, although his tone of voice made it pretty clear that he didn’t really want to know.
“We learned that, if you know how to fence them right, those baby’s go for a credit a piece on Bulwark.”
“That’s a little pricey,” Wash said, following his wife to the nearest smugglers nook to help her remove the heavy deck plating.
“Didn’t you two know God created sex is for procreation, not for fun,” Mal said with mock seriousness. “’Thorities on Bulwark want to make sure it stays that way.”
“Well,” the pilot said as his wife threw the small, lucrative bag, in the hold, “I’m all for bringing good, fun, consequence-free sex to the people of Bulwark.”
“Feels good to do good,” Mal nodded. “And, with a generous 30% transport fee, it pays good to do good as well. So, how ‘bout we hit that sky?”
“Can’t sir,” Zoë said quickly, leaving the hatch for her husband to close alone.
“There’s someone waiting for you up in shuttle one,” Zoë said, nodding up to the shuttle’s closed door. “Lookin’ to rent the place.”
“Oh,” Mal said, pleasantly surprised. “Great, I guess we can delay a couple minutes. But, ah, make sure we’re set to go when I say.”
“Yes sir,” Zoë clipped.
Mal smiled, “That’s what I like to hear.”
* * *
“Zhi fan shi fu xiu, mu gan da xiang kai wang di yu.” Mal spat.
“It’s nice to see you too,” Inara said, smiling pleasantly at the captain.
“Get out,” Mal said, not smiling at all.
“I want to rent the shuttle.”
“I don’t give a damn, get out.”
“Will you at least hear what I have to say?”
“No. Get out.”
“Mal, be reasonable.”
“You want me to be reasonable?” Mal asked, with a disbelieving chuckle.
“I just want things to go back to the way they were.”
“Can’t always get what you want,” Mal said coldly. “Get out.”
“No,” Inara said.
“I will have Jayne throw you out.”
“No, you won’t. You will rent me this shuttle.”
“Why?” Mal spat, “Just so you can fly around for a couple of months and then leave again?”
“Not sorry enough. Get out.”
“No,” Inara said, squaring her shoulders. “I’m not leaving.”
“The hell you aren’t,” Mal said, raising his voice.
“Because I am sorry enough,” Inara replied, practically yelling.
“Why do I find that hard to believe?”
“Tell me what to do to prove it!”
Mal didn’t say anything at first and the silence after they’re yelling match seemed to scream itself. Finally, with a tempered voice, the captain said. “Anything?”
“I’m serious, Mal,” Inara said. “I made a mistake and I want to make it right.”
“Would you sleep with me?” Mal asked.
For a second she stared at him, horrified, “What?”
“You said anything,” Mal said casually. “Would you sleep with me? Not like it’s anything to you, but I don’t get as much action as a virile man like myself should. I could see lowerin’ your rent so, you know, it’d all be business.”
Inara took a stunned step back. She’d had to come back to face her feelings about Mal, the rest of the crew as well, of course, but Mal was the one who’d hurt her, he was the one she was running away from, and before she even was truly back, he had somehow morphed into a man like any other. She didn’t know what to say, or where she could go if not Serenity. Michi might not believe her tale of sudden and utter betrayal, and a bad word from the matron would keep her out of all good houses. She could go back to her family for a while, but she’d grown sick of being the dutiful daughter a long time ago. And if she went back, she wasn’t sure she’d ever find a way to leave again. Serenity was the only place she wanted to be, the only option left to her where she could see the potential for happiness and fulfillment. But, while she could live with Mal calling her whore, she couldn’t live with being his whore. She took a deep breath and forced out the words, “No.”
“No?” Mal asked, surprised. “But I thought you’d do anything to make it right.”
“Being your whore won’t make it right.”
“Thought you hated that word.”
“I hate being referred to by that word,” Inara said. “But if agreed to sleep with you, we both know I’d be that word. And I can’t, I won’t.”
“So back to the cushy companion house then?” Mal asked with a smirk.
“They won’t have me,” Inara said coolly, “I’ll have to find work somewhere else. So, if you don’t mind . . .” she took a step towards the door, indicating with a nod that she expected him to get out of her way.
He did just the opposite, “Wait, what?” he asked, with genuine concern. “Won’t have you?”
“That’s what I said,” Inara sighed.
“Why?” Mal asked. “You’re a great companion.”
“Clearly, not good enough,” Inara said, trying to push past him. She just wanted to leave, get out, and, if at all possible, crawl into a dark hole and die.
“No,” Mal said, grabbing her arm and pulling her back to face him. “You’re not tellin’ the whole truth.”
“What do you care?” Inara said, yanking her arm away from him. “A minute ago you wanted me to get out.”
“I changed my mind,” Mal said. “I’m the captain, it’s my prerogative.”
“And I’m a woman, so it’s also my prerogative,” Inara snapped. “And I’d rather starve on the street then stay here another minute.”
“Wait,” Mal said, moving quickly so that he was always in her way. “Is it because a what I said? I wasn’t serious about the whole sex thing.”
Inara laughed in his face, “And I’m supposed to believe that because?”
“I was testing you,” Mal admitted. He was a good liar, Inara knew, but so was she. And good liars know all the tricks, and how to spot them. Mal wasn’t lying. “I . . .” he shrugged, “Wanted to see how far you’d go.”
“You wanted to see me degrade myself?” Inara asked.
“I never thought that sharing a bed with me would be particularly degrading.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Fine,” Mal admitted. “Yeah, maybe, a little. But even if you’d said yes, I wouldn’t a taken you up on it. Wouldn’t a taken advantage.”
“If I’d said yes, you wouldn’t have been taking advantage. It would have been a business deal.”
“I make you sleep with me, though you clearly don’t want to, just so you can have a roof over your head and a place to do business.” Mal asked, “How is that not taking advantage?”
“As always, your perspective is . . . unique.”
“Honest, actually, is the word you’re lookin’ for,” Mal said.
“Maybe it is.”
“I’m glad, truth be told, that you said no.”
“You don’t want to sleep with me?” Inara asked, arching her eyebrows.
Mal laughed dryly and shook his head, “I don’t wanna see you degraded. You can come back, but on conditions.”
“Which are?” Inara asked.
“You pay full price for the shuttle, no more ‘I’m respectable’ discounts.”
“Will I get a cut for the jobs my respectability pays off on?”
“Getting the cattle run to Jinying, or getting you out of jail at Parradiso,”
“That job didn’t pay,” Mal interjected.
“We wouldn’t have gotten off the ground in Canton without me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You wouldn’t have an ear if not for me.”
“Again, there was no profit in that little adventure, the opposite, actually.”
“And then there’s Saffron.”
“Fine,” Mal spat. “You get cuts on jobs you work on. That’s fair.”
Inara smiled, “I can live with that.”
“But that ain’t all. You gotta sign a contract, I’m thinking for a year, with monetary penalties of the you-owe-me variety if you break it. No more leaving willy-nilly.”
“That’s perfectly reasonable,” Inara nodded, “Anything else?”
“Yeah, just one more thing,” Mal said nonchalantly. “Why’d you leave?”
“And why’d you decide to come back, really, ‘cause I’ve talked to the shepherd and they didn’t just kick you out ‘cause you weren’t good enough. And, while you’re at it, I’d sort of like to know why you left the first time too.”
“Isn’t it enough that I’m back?” Inara asked, her voice trembling a little.
“It would seem that it’s not,” Mal answered.
“Mal, I . . .”
“I respect you Inara,” the captain pushed. “But you left. You said you’d do anything to come back. I don’t think tellin’ me why you left in the first place is such and unreasonable thing.”
“Fine,” Inara said, taking a deep breath, squaring her shoulders and holding her head high. “I left because I was scared.”
“You were scared?”
“Somethin’ on this ship scared you?”
“When you care about people,” Inara started, forcing every word out with firm precision. “They have power over you.”
“You’re afraid of carin’ about people?”
“I’m afraid of getting hurt,” Inara said.
“Was it ‘cause a what Nandi did?” Mal asked. “Are you afraid you’ll die on account a us.”
“It is because of what Nandi did,” Inara said, meaning something very different than Mal had. “But I’m not afraid of dying.”
“Just gettin’ hurt?”
Inara sighed and looked down at the beautiful pink satin ruffles of her dress. When she turned back to him, her jaw was set and she felt a rush of determination. “When I left Shinon for the first time, it was because someone, a close friend, killed himself. And he blamed me.”
“Hui dan mu wu,” Mal muttered. “I’m sorry.”
“I did everything I could to help him, I helped him until he consumed me, and the moment I try and step back, he kills himself.”
“That bird was sick to begin with,” Mal asserted. “Nothing you could have done would a made a difference.”
“Clearly what I did made a difference,” Inara insisted.
“He would have killed himself regardless; it was all in his head. You’re smart, you know that.”
“If I had been paying attention I could have stopped it,” Inara said. “But because I cared, he could hurt me, and he did, and I let him.”
“Inara, if he really cared he wouldn’t want to hurt you.”
“That’s not the point, the point is I cared about him. I tried to stop, tried to convince myself that what he said didn’t matter, but I cared so ta ma de much that I couldn’t. He had all the power and when I left I swore I’d never let anyone do that to me again.”
“If he was so damn powerful, how come he’s the dead one and you’re the one standing in front of me?”
“I didn’t leave because he died, or even because of what he said,” Inara spat. “I know it was his fault.”
“And yet somethin’ tells me you don’t quite believe it.”
“He made me doubt myself,” Inara said. “And I can’t let anyone do that to me.”
“So you left hopin’ that no one out here would be, what, sophisticated enough to make you second guess your worth?”
“Maybe,” Inara said.
“And somethin’ that happened back on that moon with Nandi, something that made you wonder?”
Inara didn’t answer.
Mal nodded, “I see.”
For a moment the captain and the companion just stared at one another. Inara felt like a specimen under a microscope, like his gaze could see everything inside of her. She regarded him coolly, looking for a reaction, but seeing absolutely none. As always, Mal remained a mystery.
“So,” he finally said. “Why you coming back?”
“The house mistress, Michi, saw what I was doing.”
“What you were doing?”
“She saw that I was running away again. She wouldn’t let me.”
“So she kicked you out?”
“More or less.”
“Why didn’t you keep running?” Mal asked. “There’s gotta be other places you could go.”
“That wouldn’t have solved anything, now would it?”
“You’re looking to solve something?”
“I keep running Mal, what kind of person does that make me?”
“You tell me.”
“Not a strong one.”
“And you want to be strong?”
“I don’t want to be weak.”
“You ain’t weak Inara,” Mal said. His voice was low and full, he obviously meant every word. “And no matter how you doubt yourself, I’ll never doubt you.”
Inara tried to laugh lightly, hoping to fool him into thinking what he’d just said didn’t mean the world to her. “Thank you,” she said, not quite able to keep the deep gratitude for her voice.
“Well,” Mal said, taking a deep breath, once again becoming the hard-nosed captain who would rent a shuttle to anyone with the credits to pay. “How long’ll it take you to get your stuff back in here?”
“Not long. I never unpacked.”
“You need me to go get Book and Simon for you?”
“No, actually, Michi was kind enough to hire professional movers. I’ll give them a call and my things will be loaded within the hour.”
“There’s the cortex screen,” Mal said, as if this was her first time in the shuttle. “Go ahead and make the call.” He turned, casually, and walked away. “I’ll go arrange for us to lift off in an hour,” he called to her from the other side of the door. “Make sure your movers are prompt.”
Inara took a deep breath and lowered herself on the bed, “It’s nice to be home.”
“So,” Mal asked, once he got off the line with port control and their departure time was set for 1:17 p.m. “Where’s all the kids?”
“You mean Kaylee, Simon and River?” Zoë asked. It was always hard to tell with Zoë, but her monotone sounded a little more nervous than usual.
“Those would be the kids, yes,” Mal said. “I ain’t seen a one of them since I got back.”
“They’re probably all sleeping,” Wash said. “It was kinda a long night.”
“Long night?” Mal asked, “What were you guys doing?”
“Nothing worth mentioning, sir,” Zoë clipped, making it perfectly clear that she didn’t intend to mention anything that had happened the previous night, even if she was asked.
Mal knew he could order her to tell him, but he trusted Zoë’s judgment. If she thought he was better off not knowing, he probably was. “All right then,” he said, turning around. “I’ll go wake the girl up.”
“I don’t think that’d be a good idea, sir,” Zoë said quickly.
Mal turned again, so he could face his first mate. “We need her in the engine room if we want to take off.”
Zoë smiled, once again she was being crews advocate. He hated when she did that. “Shepherd knows that engine well as most mechanics, probably better then Bester ever did. He can do the job.”
Mal laughed dryly, “Here’s the deal,” he told her. “Either you give me a damn good reason my mechanic should be sleeping ‘stead of the job she’s on this ship to do, or I’m gonna go wake her up.”
“She fell, sir,” Zoë said, without hesitation.
“Down the stairs in the cargo bay,” the first mate continued dryly. “And off the landing.”
“Tell me if I’m wrong, Zoë, but that seems like something that happened last night which might have been worth mentioning.”
“And I mentioned it,” Zoë said.
Had it been anyone else in the ‘verse, Mal probably would have strangled them. But Zoë only received a glower as her captain took a deep breath and composed himself. “She all right?” Mal asked, his voice strained as he tried very hard not to be angry.
“Doc said she’d be fine,” Zoë assured him. “But just the same, she should probably be left to sleep.”
Mal nodded. “Zoë, find Book, see if he can get the engine prepped.”
“What are you gonna do?” Wash asked as Mal turned and left the cockpit.
“I’m gonna go see Kaylee.”
“But she’s sleeping,” the pilot continued as Mal trotted down the steps from the cockpit to the crew quarters with Zoë behind him.
“Don’t mean I can’t see her,” Mal said, stopping in front of his mechanic’s quarters and pressing the buzzer to let the girl know someone was at her door. “Just means there won’t be much conversation.”
Zoë passed behind him, off to find Book, and Wash, realizing that it’d be pointless to try and dissuade the captain, turned around and started the series of routine pre-takeoff systems checks. Mal waited for more then a reasonable amount of time and, when there was no answer, he kicked open the hatch.
The lights were on, but the room was totally silent. Mal lowered himself down the ladder as quietly as he could, determined not to wake the girl, but once he was in the room, and saw her lying peacefully on the bed, and saw who else was in the room, he decided not to be quite so quiet. He jumped down the last two rungs, hitting the floor with a thud. Kaylee didn’t seem to notice the sudden sound, but the doctor, who fallen asleep sitting on the floor, leaning on her bed, holding her hand, did. He groaned softly and shifted his head.
Mal walked over to the bed and stood over Simon, looking down at the doctor disapprovingly, and cleared his throat. By this time, the young man was, evidently, awake enough to realize he should probably figure out who was making all the noise. He pushed himself up, so that he wasn’t leaning on her bed, and blinked a few times. Then, noticing the pair of legs directly in front of him, he followed them up until he found Mal’s reproachful face.
The young doctor paled, which, Mal figured, wasn’t much of a change as he was always pale. But the expression of horror on the young man’s face was absolutely hilarious. It was all Mal could do to keep his expression severe and not burst into guffaws.
“Ah,” the boy stuttered, “Captain.”
“Wha’cha doin’ doctor?” Mal asked critically.
“I was, um,” Simon hurried to push himself up to standing. It was so damn funny to see the boy squirm. “I . . . ah . . . I fell asleep.”
“So I see,” Mal said, miraculously not smirking. “The question is, why there and not in your bunk?”
“I,” the boy stammered. “Was taking her pulse.”
“You fell asleep while taking her pulse?”
“Ah,” poor kid couldn’t lie to save his life. “Yes,” he finally answered uncertainly.
“That pulse you were takin’ was it from the wrist with the bandage wrapped all around it, or the one with needle stuck up in it?”
Simon closed his eyes for a second, undoubtedly cursing himself for an idiot.
“I wasn’t taking her pulse,” the boy admitted.
“She asked me to stay with her until she was asleep and . . .”
“And you fell asleep too,” Mal finished.
“I did take her pulse before I fell asleep,” Simon said. “So, I really . . . I wasn’t lying.”
“Never imagined you were.”
The boy nodded. He looked about as comfortable as a mouse in a room full of cats. Mal imagined he wanted to run and hide. Probably go and take some sort of pain killer for the ache he had to be feeling after sleeping hunched over, and then run to his bed and get some proper sleep. But Mal was firmly set between the doctor and the hatch, and he had no intention of moving until some things were clear. “I do have a question for you though.”
“Yes?” he asked. He clearly thought it was going to be a medical question about Kaylee’s prognosis. Mal couldn’t wait to see what shade of white the boy turned.
“You in love with her?”
It was a hilarious shade of white. “What?”
“Kaylee,” Mal said casually, nodding towards the sleeping girl. “You in love with her?”
“I . . . ah,” he swallowed and stammered. “I don’t see why . . .”
“Why what, I’m asking?”
“Because this is my ship and I like to know sleeping arrangements,” Mal said flippantly. “It’s not that hard a question.”
“It is,” Simon replied, bucking up under Mal’s blatant intimidation. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” the captain asked with a chuckle. “How can you not know?”
“I’d really rather not talk about this.”
“Tough,” Mal said, “It’s a yes or no answer.”
“I told you I don’t know.”
Mal was baffled. How could someone not know if they were in love? Either they were on fire with passion or they weren’t, either they were constantly distracted by thoughts of their beloved or they weren’t, either they felt their heart was no longer their own or they didn’t. It didn’t seem like a place where there could be indecision.
“I certainly care for her,” Simon continued, trying desperately to explain himself to a gawking Mal. “And I get equal parts furious and terrified when she’s with other men and I day-dream about her and about us and I hate to say goodbye to her every night, but I love saying hello every morning. But, I just . . . I don’t know that I could say for sure.”
“You don’t know that you could say?” Mal asked. Simon’s description seemed to be that of a man in the fiery grips of love, and yet, Mal was sure someone in love would recognize it when they felt it. “Ain’t you ever been in love before?” Mal asked, hoping that remembering past passions might clue the doctor in to what he was feeling.
“No,” Simon said, shaking his head with a calm confidence.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-six, but I don’t think . . .”
“And you’ve never been in love.”
“I didn’t really have time.”
“You didn’t have time to fall in love?” Mal couldn’t believe his ears.
“Well, there was school,” Simon explained. “And then, I wasn’t even done with my residency when I got the first letter from River so . . . so no, there wasn’t time.”
Mal wanted to take the boy by the shoulders, sit him down, and explain that love wasn’t a thing you chose, it was a thing that grabbed you and tore apart your innards and then, if you were unlucky (or lucky, maybe, depending how you looked at it), it left you bleeding profusely and wishing you were dead. Love was a savage bear or a mountain lion that attacked when you least expected it, not a well-trained dog that came when called.
The boy must have realized how ludicrous he sounded, he quickly amended. “I’ve had girlfriends, infatuations, trysts. But I’ve never . . . never felt how I imagine being in love feels.”
“So, is that what this is?” Mal asked. “An infatuation? A tryst?”
“We didn’t do anything,” Simon said quickly.
“Tryst to be, then,” Mal amended.
Simon turned to look at Kaylee. His eyes were cloudy; clearly, he had no idea what he was feeling. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Maybe.”
“So,” Mal said, trying not to sound too hopeful. “You’ll get hard and she’ll get wet and the two of you’ll get together and this whole thing’ll be over?”
The doctor’s jaw dropped and he turned a new shade of white, poor kid was horrified. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Well, I did,” Mal said. “Answer my question.”
“Ah,” the doctor sputtered, struggling to get past the captain’s crude wording. “I . . .ah . . .”
“Simon,” Mal said harshly, forcing the boy to focus on him. “Do you love Kaylee?”
“Yes,” he answered, without hesitation. Then, taking a breath, he added, “I’m just not . . . I don’t know if I’m in love with her.”
“Hunh,” Mal grunted. “You aren’t good enough for her.”
“I know,” Simon said, again without hesitation.
“You know?” Mal asked, taken aback. The last time he’d had this conversation it was with Wash, who’d admittedly been a little clearer on his feelings towards Zoë, but other then that things had gone more or less the same. But Wash had insisted that he was good enough, and he’d pointed to Zoë’s affections to prove it. All Simon would have had to do was to say ‘Kaylee thinks I’m good enough’ and Mal’s argument, though true, would have been invalidated. But the boy didn’t do that. The boy told the truth.
“She deserves someone amazing,” Simon said, looking down at her with longing and admiration. “Someone who could take care of her, keep her safe and happy.” He laughed bitterly at his own inadequacies. “She deserves someone who can love her fully, without hesitation, without . . . without anyone else making claims on him.”
“Somebody who knows enough to know whether or not he’s in love with her,” Mal finished.
“Exactly,” Simon nodded with a sigh, “And that pretty much leaves me out.”
“Yeah well,” Mal muttered. “I won’t argue that she deserves the best. But, on the other hand, she also deserves to get what she wants. And that’d be you.”
“What?” Simon asked, bewildered.
“Seems pretty clear to me she wants you. I’d be surprised if you hadn’t gotten the same general impression.”
“No,” Simon said, and then, closing his eyes, he tried to clarify. “I mean, yes, I have gotten that impression. But what I meant was,” he opened his eyes and looked at this captain cautiously. “What did you mean?”
“You’re tired doctor,” Mal said, putting his hand on the young man’s shoulder supportively. “I think you should probably go try sleeping in a real bed.”
Simon stared at him for a moment, trying to decide whether or not to press the point. Finally, he nodded and said, “I probably should.”
“Good,” Mal said, clapping the boy on the back as he left. “I’ll see that you’re roused for dinner if you’re not up by then.”
“I’d appreciate it,” Simon said politely as he turned and started climbing up the ladder. Mal imagined he was grateful to get out.
“Oh, and Simon,” Mal said, as the boy reached the top of the hatch.
“You know I care for little Kaylee like she was my own daughter, don’t you?”
“Ah,” that same funny pallor washed across the boy’s face. “Yes, I do.”
“You’ll remember what I said to you when you first came on in regards to me killing you?”
The boy’s expression was just getting funnier and funnier. He didn’t answer, just nodded.
“Now, I hope that this doesn’t happen, but just in case you break her sweet little heart, I want you to recall that I never said anything about bullets.”
“Bullets,” Simon said, swallowing hard. “I understand.”
“Good,” Mal said with a light smile. “I’ll see you at dinner then.”
“At dinner,” the boy said, climbing out of the hatch and heading off to his room. Mal knew that after that conversation, the poor kid probably wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink. He tried to scold himself for being so cruel and for the millionth time, he told himself he should try and be nicer to the doctor, but this time, like all others, he knew he lacked conviction. The kid was too easy a mark, and he took it so well . . . it was just a bad combination.
Mal sighed and, finding no chair in little Kaylee’s room, he sat down on her bed and looked at her contented sleeping face. “He’s in love with you,” he told her. “Or will be soon as he thinks he can, damn it. Well, I hope you two find some way to be happy.” He laughed softly to himself. “Who am I kidding?” he asked her. “You’ll be happy ‘till the day you die, and nothing nobody could ever do would stop it.”
River loved takeoff. It was like coming home. Being on a planet was fun, but the ship changed when the engine stopped turning, and the windows showed suns instead of stars. Simon, somehow, never noticed the change. When she asked him he’d said Serenity was Serenity, docked or flying, it didn’t matter. But that just went to show that Simon, sometimes, had trouble seeing just like she did. Because the captain knew the difference, she could tell just by standing by him when the flooring started to shake and sky got less blue and more black. On a planet it was just a place to be. It was home when it was theirs, when nobody could come and nobody could leave.
Nobody included Inara.
“How many miles to Babylon?” the young girl asked the companion, peeking through the shuttle door.
“Hello River,” the older woman said, smiling beautifully. “I’m glad to see you.”
“Three score miles and ten,” River said, answering her own question. “Can I get there by candle-light?”
“Yes, and back again,” the companion said with a sweet chuckle. “If your heels are nimble and light, You may get there by candle-light.”
River smiled back at the companion and walked into the shuttle. Inara was in the middle of rehanging her curtains and tapestries and everything but the walls, it seemed, was covered in red and gold fabric. “I’ve never been to Babylon,” River said conversationally as she ran her fingers over the soft silk and velvet.
“I imagine not,” Inara chuckled. “Babylon is from the ancient history of earth-that-was.”
“It’s in this room sometimes,” River said. She’d found an old patch of soft deep red velvet that had little golden roses embroidered on it. She was taken by the fabric, mesmerized; she couldn’t keep herself from sitting and petting it.
“Babylon is in this room?” Inara laughed as she climbed on the couch and started hanging another thick curtain.
“Carnal, opulent, mysterious,” River said. “Decent people should know better. Feet made of clay.”
The companion didn’t understand a word of what River had just said, which didn’t surprise the girl a bit. No one ever understood the things she told them. It used to be frustrating, and sometimes it still was, but most often River just contented herself with the knowledge that words were nothing more then moving air and even the most coherent of all speeches could be delivered with bad breath.
“Did you get to see the city while you were on Shinon?” Inara asked.
“Yes,” River said, looking up from her favorite piece of curtain. “I was Wash’s niece.”
“Were you?” Inara asked with a chuckle. “That must have been fun.”
“We got to buy power cells,” River said. “Were you sad when she died?”
“What?” Inara asked, turning to the girl bewildered.
“Aunt Bennie,” River said, stroking the soft worn velvet. “You’re mother’s father’s cousin, so, she wasn’t really your aunt.”
“Aunt Bennie,” Inara said, stepping down from the couch and walking over to River. “How did you . . . ?”
“She made this,” River said softly. “Sewed it when she was my age. It was on her wedding bed. Then in a cedar chest for years and years and years. Everyone forgot but her.”
“There was an auction after she died,” Inara told the girl. River could feel the companion’s unease, but she didn’t understand what caused it. “I saw this and thought it was beautiful.”
“You were right,” River said. “She always liked you.”
“I only met her a few times.”
“You’re so pretty,” River said, turning to Inara and smiling. “Everybody always likes you.”
“Well,” Inara said uncertainly. “Thank you.”
“People don’t like Simon.”
For some reason, Inara was caught off guard by this change of topic; it seemed natural enough to River.
“He doesn’t know how to be pretty,” River continued. “He only knows how to be Simon so all he can do is hope for the best.”
“And how about you, River?” Inara asked, petting the girl’s long brown hair.
“I’m something else,” River said with a chuckle, but then, turning serious, added, “We’re talking about Simon.”
Inara nodded. “So we are.”
“He wasn’t really fighting,” River said turning to the older woman with a cool condemnation. “He had a flag of surrender, he was already wounded, what you did wasn’t fair, broke the laws of chivalry.”
“What I did?” Inara asked uncertainly.
“You attacked an envoy, attacked to draw blood, to kill. And you saw the stains on his tunic but you didn’t care.”
“River,” Inara said, a nervous waver in her voice. “I never attacked Simon.”
“Yes you did,” the girl answered with utter conviction. “He’s a doctor, he cleaned up the blood and sewed the wound shut, but he can’t take it out of his eyes. He’s not like you at all. He doesn’t know how to be pretty.”
“River, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t hurt . . .” the companion stopped mid sentence, finally understanding. “Zhu fu mu fo,” She muttered. “I did hurt Simon.”
“Aunt Bennie was very chaste,” River said, turning her attention back to the old embroidered velvet. “I don’t think she’d like her marriage bed hanging in Babylon.” And with that she turned and walked out of the room, leaving Inara to wonder how the young girl could possibly know so much about her long dead aunt.
“Take a deep breath,” Simon ordered.
“Kay,” Kaylee said, trying to do as she was instructed, but her lungs were only half full when they seemed to catch on fire. She whimpered, exhaling quickly, pressing her eyes tightly shut as small tears of pain forced their way out.
“Breath normally,” Simon told her as he removed the cold stethoscope from her back and replaced it with a comforting hand just between her shoulders. “You’re fine.”
They were in the infirmary, Kaylee was sitting sideways on the examination chair as Simon performed this and that test, making sure that nothing worse would come from her tumble down the stairs. Kaylee’s memories of the last night were, thankfully, fuzzy. But she could remember some of Simon treating her and she remembered the feeling he’d left her with just by the way he’d touched her. Last night he’d treated her like a patient and nothing more. But this morning (or, late afternoon really) everything was different. There was still a sort cool professionalism and preciseness about what he touched and where he laid his hands, but there was a little bit more. Some of the things were obvious, like the hand on the back of her neck, comforting her, but mostly it was subtle, a hand lingering a split second longer then necessary, and Kaylee couldn’t help but wonder if it was subconscious. In any event, she liked that he wanted to touch her.
“Never thought it’d hurt so much to breathe,” Kaylee said, taking rapid shallow breaths, trying to get air back into her lungs, which screamed in pain.
“Your lung capacity is actually very good, considering the type of injury you received,” Simon said, stepping over to the counter so he could write something down in his medical log.
“Well, somebody took real good care of me.”
Simon looked over his shoulder at her and smiled. There was a playful glint in his eyes, a sparkle she was sure belonged to her. He never looked at anyone else with that odd teasing, mirthful, practically flirtatious expression, which was probably why she loved it so much.
“That’s why the captain pays me the big bucks.”
Kaylee laughed softly, because a real hearty laugh would undoubtedly set her lungs back on fire. “I like it when you’re happy,” she told him with a small sigh.
He turned to look at her again, the sparkle was still in his eyes, but she could tell he had no idea how to respond to what she’d just said. “Thank you,” he finally managed.
She opened her mouth to compliment him further, see how red she could make his blush, when movement at the door caught her attention. She turned, smiling, to whoever was going to join their conversation, but when she saw the interloper, her smile disappeared.
“Hello Kaylee,” Inara said sweetly. “I’m glad to see you up and about.”
“What are you doing here?” Simon asked coldly, before Kaylee got a chance to.
“Didn’t you two hear I was back?” the companion asked, ignoring Simon’s tone.
“Yeah,” Kaylee said, her voice was suddenly hours. “Cap’n told me.”
“Did you know, Doctor?” Inara asked.
“River said something,” the boy muttered. “Do you need anything?”
“I just wanted to come and see you,” Inara smiled. “Both of you, actually, I’m just lucky to have found you in the same place.” Inara laughed lightly, at her apparent good fortune. Kaylee didn’t feel light hearted enough to join the companion in her chortles, and Simon’s heart, for some reason, also seemed to have been hardened as far as Inara was concerned. The mechanic didn’t know what had caused Simon’s sudden shift of loyalties, but she was glad that, at this very uncomfortable moment, she had him standing beside her.
Inara, realizing that no one was going to give her the benefit of the doubt, sobered. “I wanted to say I’m sorry,” she said, stepping further into the infirmary. “To both of you.”
“You’re sorry?” Kaylee asked coolly.
“Oh, Kaylee,” Inara said, taking yet another step closer to the young girl seated on the examination chair. “I should have told you when I decided to leave, and I should have told you why.”
“Fou shi,” Kaylee said.
“I did what I did for all the wrong reasons,” Inara explained. “I left because I was afraid, and part of that fear was lashing out at anyone who I thought would try and keep me here.”
“What were you afraid of?” Kaylee demanded.
Inara took a deep breath, “I was afraid that I time would come when I couldn’t leave.”
“That’s about the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Kaylee said frankly.
“You’re not the only one to think that,” Inara said. “I ran away from my fears, and I didn’t confront them until all other options were denied me. I didn’t act with any particular bravery or honor. And I am sorry.”
“For?” Kaylee prompted.
“For leaving in the first place,” Inara said. “For being a coward, and a stupid coward at that. I won’t lie to you, to either of you. Everything I said was meant to hurt you. I meant to drive you away.”
“You know,” Simon said, “Your apology is losing its charm.”
“The truth can be brutal,” Inara observed. “But I won’t pretend that I hurt you out of carelessness. I did what I did purposefully. And that’s what I’m really apologizing for. I’m sorry that I did that, I’m sorry that I turned out to be that kind of friend. I wish for the ‘verse I could take it all back, but I can’t. All I can do is tell you that I am so sorry.”
There was a moment of silence as Kaylee and Simon waited to see if Inara had anything else to say. But she didn’t, she just stood there, woman on trial awaiting her judgment.
“Well,” Simon finally said, “That’s nice to know.”
Inara nodded, accepting the ruling. But she didn’t stay cowed for long. When she looked back at them there was a cold detachment in her eyes, “I suppose I’ll see the two of you at dinner.”
“I suppose so,” Simon answered.
Inara smiled pleasantly, turned, and left the infirmary without another word. But even after she left, her words seemed to hang in the air, making it seem thick and cold and sad.
“That sucked all the happy out a the room,” Kaylee said sullenly.
“She’s gotten good at that,” Simon said with a sigh as he leaned against the infirmary’s counter, facing Kaylee.
“Do you believe her?”
“Do I believe her?”
“What she said ‘bout bein’ afraid. That she did all that ‘cause she was scared.”
Simon nodded, “Yes, I do.”
“I don’t get it,” Kaylee said. “How could anyone be afraid of bein’ here? Serenity’s the best place I can imagine bein’.”
“It’s,” Simon started uncertainly. “It’s not being on Serenity that scares her.”
“Then what is it?” Kaylee asked.
“Everyone here is so close,” Simon said. “You said it yourself, you looked at her like a jie jie, but on the Core, people . . . well, they try not to be like that.”
“They try not to have friends?”
“No,” Simon said hesitantly, “That’s not really . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that, on the core, you don’t need other people the way you do on the outer planets. Society is so built up, so automated, that you could get everything you needed without seeing another human.”
“But ‘Nara wouldn’t want that.”
“I don’t think she does,” Simon said. “But everything, the schools and the flicks on the cortex and the art and the novels, the whole society tells us that we’re strong if we’re alone, if we don’t need other people. That’s how they define strong.”
“That’s stupid,” Kaylee said. “Who believes that?”
“Everybody,” Simon said. “I did.”
“Oh,” She said, suddenly feeling very stupid herself. “Well, I didn’ mean . . .”
“It’s ok,” Simon said, smiling at her. Even though they were having a very serious conversation, she could see the smallest shadow of her twinkle in his eye. “You’re right, it is stupid. But I believed it until River needed me, then I discovered that my love for her was far stronger then my individuality or isolationism or what have you. But my parents never discovered that,” he said with a sad chuckle. “I actually, I feel sorry for them.” He looked up and caught her eyes in his. “They have no idea what they’re missing.”
“Think Inara saw what she was missin’? Think that’s why she came back?”
Simon shrugged, “I don’t know. I, ah, I somehow doubt it.”
Kaylee nodded and tried to imagine not only a living a solitary, segregated life, but wanting it that way. “But if you’re alone, you ain’t strong,” she pointed out. “You fall down when you’re alone, you got nobody to help you. You’re weak.”
“But if you care about and for other people, they have power over you,” Simon said. “I cared so much for River that I lost my job, my money, practically my whole life. I think that’s what Inara was afraid of, afraid that she was starting to care so much, she just might lose herself."
“You feel like you lost yourself?”
“I lost some things,” Simon said with a shrug. “But I gained things too.” He smiled at her and she clearly saw her twinkle, “I’m stronger here.”
She smiled back at him, but her mind was still on Inara. It must have shown in her eyes because Simon asked, “Are you going to forgive her?”
“Yeah,” Kaylee said without much hesitation. “I don’t quite understand why she was so scared, but, just ‘cause you’re scared of something silly don’t make the fear any less real. And I’ve been scared, and I’ve done thing’s I ain’t proud of ‘cause I was too frightened to do any different. I’ll forgive her. How ‘bout you?”
“Yes,” Simon said, although he considered the question for a little bit longer. “Learning you need others isn’t easy. I don’t know that, if the situation was reversed, I might not have done the same.”
“What did she do?” Kaylee asked, leaning forward with curiosity.
“Well,” Simon answered slowly, sure he’d misunderstood the question. “She left.”
“Well, yeah,” Kaylee nodded. “I know that. But I mean to you? What’d she do that she’s gotta apologize to you?”
“She left me too,” Simon said. “She left all of us.”
“But yesterday you were on her side,” Kaylee insisted.
“There were never sides,” Simon reminded her.
“You know what I mean. You weren’t angry, weren’t bitter, didn’t see that there was much to be angry or bitter about. But she comes back and you’re cold as a witch’s tit to her. Somethin’ had to have happened.”
Simon nodded. Not looking her in the eyes, he said, “I didn’t want to tell you. I visited Inara last night.”
The very sensational and illogical fear that the visit had been a conjugal one jumped into the girl’s mind. Her throat seemed to constrict and she had to force out the simple word, “And?”
“I asked her to come see you,” he said, looking up at her. “Just a visit to show she still cared.”
Kaylee felt a rush of relief and gratitude. She felt like laughing and crying at the same time, but mostly, she felt like drawing Simon to her and expressing her emotions in a very physical way. She reached out to him, smiling charmingly and invitingly, “That’s so sweet.”
He smiled back at her and shoved himself away from the counter, taking a step closer, “Inara didn’t quite see it that way.”
“She was mean?”
“She probably could have been meaner,” he said, turning and sitting on the side of the examination chair beside her, so close their shoulders touched.
“Can I ask what she said that was so mean?”
“Nothing untrue,” Simon admitted. “It was more the way she said it.”
Kaylee laughed dryly, “She lied to me sweet as honey, and to you she tells the truth sharp as thorns.”
“A good companion plays to her audience.”
Kaylee slipped her left hand into the doctor’s right. “You ever lie to me, Simon?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Would you,” Kaylee asked. “To spare my feelings or something nice like that?”
“I don’t think so,” he said, smiling sweetly at her. All of the coldness Inara’d brought into the room had dissipated and once again, Kaylee and Simon were free to bask in the warmth of each other. “I don’t like lies.”
“Probably ‘cause you’re not very good at them,” Kaylee said with a smile.
“Have you ever lied to me?” the boy asked with a touch of worry in his voice.
“Couple times,” Kaylee said. She felt somewhat ashamed admitting it, which was odd, because at the time she’d been sure she was doing the right thing. “Just little white ones, though,” she explained. “So as not to hurt your feelings.”
She took a deep breath and looked up at him apologetically, “You did horrible on Canton, really. If the Forman weren’t so stupid, he’d a pegged you for a fake no question.”
Simon laughed, “That’s fair.”
“I could tell you more,” Kaylee offered, but not without a note of hesitation in her voice.
“No,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I think I’d like to keep my delusions for the time being.”
“I only ever lied to you cause I didn’t want to hurt you,” Kaylee told him.
“I know,” Simon said. “I don’t hold it against you.”
“Wanna hear the truth?”
“As a general rule, yes.”
“That kiss last night,” she said, catching his eyes in hers, “It was the most amazing kiss.”
He blushed and looked away, “Well, I’ve had a long time to plan it.”
Kaylee laughed and squeezed his hand, “Only you’d plan a kiss.”
He turned back to her, his eyes practically glowing with her sparkle. “Clearly it’s a practice others should adopt.”
Kaylee laughed, “Know what?”
“What?” he asked gamely.
“I can sit up today.”
“So you can.”
“Which means,” She said, leaning forward. “It’s my turn”
“Your turn?” Simon asked softly.
“Haven’t had as long to plan,” she said, leaning forward and kissing him tenderly. When she pulled away she let her teeth run over his lip, an almost trademarked trick. She could practically feel Simon’s heart jump at her tantalizing little maneuver. “But I’m creative.”
She reached over with her bandaged hand and pulled him closer to her, even as he leaned forward, his hand tracing its way up her arm and into the silky mess of her hair, finding it’s way to the back of the neck and holding her head, supporting its weight, making her feel safe and treasured. Simon knew what he was doing, Kaylee thought as his lips played against hers; when to push, when to tug, when to brush and when to pause. And she realized, with an odd mixture of excitement and fear, that she really wouldn’t mind never kissing any other guy ever again, so long as Simon continued to kiss her like this.
“Kay,” he breathed, pulling away slightly, trying to say her name. She didn’t want him to pull away, illogical as it was, she wanted to go on kissing forever. She leaned forward, interrupting him by pressing her lips firmly against his. It had the opposite affect though, instead of giving in, letting it go, he froze up and steeped back. He let go of her hand and her head, jumping off the chair so he could face her, and placed his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to remain a respectable foot and a half away. “Kaylee,” he said, looking apologetically into her confused eyes. “We can’t.”
“What?” she asked, unable to believe her ears. “We were doin’ just great. Didn’t you think we were doing great?”
“I can’t,” Simon amended. “I’m trying . . .”
“And you’re doing a bang up job,” Kaylee said eagerly.
“ . . . but I can’t.”
“You can,” she insisted. “You can real good.”
“No, I,” Simon said, his voice faltering. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I know you’d be gentle,” Kaylee said, reaching up to put her left hand on his cheek. “You wouldn’t hurt me.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Simon said. “I want to, I do, but what I want isn’t . . .”
“What you want is important,” Kaylee told him. “I know you’re all worried over River, worried that there won’t be enough of you. But Simon, I promise not to take anything I don’t give back.”
“Kaylee, I . . .”
“You first wanted ta kiss me ‘cause you said I filled you up,” Kaylee said. “Filled that part of you that gets drained by River.”
“Yes, but . . .”
“But all I’m saying,” she said quickly. “Is how can you teach her, help her, to be a full person if you’re too scared to be a full person yourself. You can’t pass on what you don’t have, Simon,” Kaylee said, reaching over to run her fingers through his soft brown hair, “You can’t teach what you don’t know.”
“I don’t want to be unfair to you.”
“I’ve been livin’ on the same ship with you and River for a while now,” Kaylee told him. “Ain’t like her hangin’ around is gonna come as a surprise”
“But . . .”
“But let me be a big girl,” Kaylee said with a firm sweetness. “I know what I want.”
A smile twitched on the edges of his lips. “The captain did tell me you deserve to get what you want.”
Kaylee smiled back and giggled, “I love my captain.”
“But,” Simon said, his smile gone, his tone serious. “I don’t want this to be just a fling, an infatuation, a tryst.”
“Do you think it would be?” Kaylee asked, suddenly realizing that her kisses might not have made his head spin the way his did hers.
“I guess, I’m afraid it could be,” He said, his hands moving from her shoulders, one to cup her chin and the other to the back of her neck, cradling her head. “And . . . and I don’t want that.”
“Well,” Kaylee said, leaning into his touch. “What you want is important. Got a plan?”
Simon said hesitantly, his hands dropping a little. Kaylee got the distinct impression she wasn’t going to like his suggestion. “Take it slow,” he finally said.
“Meaning, we stay out of each other’s beds for a bit?” Kaylee asked. He’d been right, she wasn’t thrilled with his suggestion.
“Sex changes things,” Simon said. He might have been stating a fact, but his voice had the unmistakable tone of an apology. “I can’t afford for that to happen.”
“Time changes things, too,” Kaylee reminded the boy. “And the only things that don’t change, die.”
“I know,” he said, “But I can’t afford to take risks. I don’t have much. I can’t be careless. I can’t lose anything.”
“Aw,” Kaylee said, smiling at him warmly. “Don’t worry doctor. You ain’t gonna lose me. I wouldn’t let you. I got a tenacious grip.”
Simon laughed and looked down at the ground, when his eyes met hers again, they were filled with equal parts gratitude and her special sparkle.
Friday, July 18, 2003 5:33 PM
Saturday, July 19, 2003 11:23 AM
Monday, July 21, 2003 2:48 PM
Friday, August 01, 2003 11:40 AM
Monday, December 01, 2003 5:26 PM
Thursday, April 28, 2005 1:33 PM
Wednesday, September 07, 2005 1:17 PM
Monday, January 23, 2006 12:17 PM
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