BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GUILDSISTER

Blue Sun Job, Part 30: All Kinds of Wrong
Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Mal and Zoe relationship interaction as they approach their crisis.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3868    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY


Blue Sun Job, Part 30: All Kinds of Wrong


Sequel to the
Truthsome series (link is to part 1)
Blue Sun Job, Part 1: Plans and Schemes
Blue Sun Job, Part 2: Into the Lion’s Den
Blue Sun Job, Part 3: Going Smooth
Blue Sun Job, Part 4: Return to the Core
Blue Sun Job, Part 5: Life That Was
Blue Sun Job, Part 6: More Life That Was
Blue Sun Job, Part 7: ...and Robberies That Were
Blue Sun Job, Part 8: Zoe’s Tale
Blue Sun Job, Part 9: More of Zoe’s Tale
Blue Sun Job, Part 10: Going In
Blue Sun Job, Part 11: Home Again...
Blue Sun Job, Part 12: Waiting
Blue Sun Job, Part 13: Bushwhacked Revisited
Blue Sun Job, Part 14: Two By Two
Blue Sun Job, Part 15: Give the Devil His Due
Blue Sun Job, Part 16: The Edge
Blue Sun Job, Part 17: Going Through the Motions
Blue Sun Job, Part 18: Never Leave
Blue Sun Job, Part 19: The Bottom
Blue Sun Job, Part 20: Countdown
Blue Sun Job, Part 21: PS1467
Blue Sun Job, Part 22: X1823
Blue Sun Job, Part 23: Fallout
Blue Sun Job, Part 24: The Wrong Side of Normal
Blue Sun Job, Part 25: In Trouble
Blue Sun Job, Part 26: Interactions
Blue Sun Job, Part 27: Caught
Blue Sun Job, Part 28: A Preacher, A Whore, and a Thief…
Blue Sun Job, Part 29: …And the Thief Said…

Chinese:

No critical dialog using actual Chinese characters, just exclamatory expressions

他妈的 = ta ma duh = f*ck (used for all variations)
混蛋 = hwoon dahn (hundan) = bastard


Blue Sun Job, Part 30: All Kinds of Wrong
靑日 Job: All Kinds of Wrong

Zoe finally tracked down the captain in a storage room on the lower deck. He had a clipboard in hand and was inventorying ammunition and weapons. Substantial piles of the former, not so much of the latter. He didn’t look up as she entered, nor even when she closed the door behind her--hard.

“We’re pretty good on ammo,” Mal commented, still not looking up, “but most of it’s for weapons we ain’t got no more. We’re gonna have to do some serious hardware acquiring before we can tackle any situations.”

Standing stock still, feet braced wide, Zoe folded her arms across her chest and glared at him silently. She waited. Mal opened another box and started counting rounds, ignoring her completely. Not moving a muscle, Zoe stared.

Half way through the box, Zoe broke him. She knew she would.

Slapping the clipboard down on the table, Mal turned to her, clearly pissed she could do that to him without a word.

“All right,” Mal snapped. “What?”

“Did you tell that gorram preacher to interfere with my marriage?” Zoe demanded.

Mal gave her a dark smile. He in one of his mean moods? Sometimes he could be soooo irritating. “No.” He turned back away from her but that wicked hint of a smile didn’t fade. The captain picked up the clipboard and resumed counting ammo. “Told him to interfere with my crew.”

“混蛋.”

Zoe saw Mal pause a moment, the challenging defiance they were playing between them dropped away. He sighed.

“Zoe…” Mal sighed again, meeting her eyes, this time with nothing in them but concern, worry, and even a touch of sorrow. “I got a pilot who’s as like to shoot me as look at me at this very juncture. Got a first officer who’s got herself and that pilot all twisted up and discombobulated to the point where I’m suspecting they ain’t so much screwing each other as screwing each other up.” Mal tossed down the clipboard and rubbed his eyes. He looked tired, in an overwhelmed, frustrated sort of way, Zoe suddenly thought, relaxing her angry stance. He needs...

“On top of which,” Mal went on, “The ship’s mechanic is turning into a quivering mess of the guilties--or haven’t you noticed how when no one’s lookin’ that girl just sort of wilts in on herself? And Jayne’s so gorram smug right now that he’s like to get me to kill him just so’s I don’t have to listen to him any more. Especially when he’s right. And…”

“And the captain’s so lost in the woods his ownself with all the ghosts of the past coming up to haunt him and pull him off into the brambles that he can’t find his own path, much less lead anyone else out,” Zoe said abruptly.

Mal scoffed softly, contemplating the floor with an expression Zoe knew he’d never let anyone but her see.

“Very poetical,” Mal said dryly, pretending to return to his inventory. Zoe noticed he counted and recounted a box of ammo he’d already done.

Perching herself on the corner of a crate, Zoe let out a long whistling breath. “ECC one two one zero,” Zoe said. “What did the preacher say to you?”

Mal scowled at her. “You heard that? You got that?”

Zoe nodded. “You told me ‘bout that bit with the Bible code Book pulled on you.” She shifted and gave an amused chuckle. “Had to go look it up, myself, but figured you’d finally pinned him down into a confession.”

Giving up the pretense of working, Mal leaned back against the bulkhead, folding his arms across his chest. “Sort of. Partly.” Mal chuckled. “Man’s got about a half dozen fake Alliance idents. Heaven--or hell--only knows what they read up when the Feds stick ‘em in a scanner. But I did purely have to admire the artistry of it. Couldn’t say yet which, if any of ‘em is the real Book.”

“Hmmm… So was he, or is he, a cop?” Zoe asked.

Nodding, Mal said, “Of some kind or another. I do believe it’s ‘was’. And I don’t think it’s Alliance. At least not like we mean it. But he’s got a way of telling things without really telling ‘em.”

“He ain’t the only one on this ship with that particular skill,” Zoe commented, with a pointed smirk at the captain.

“That goes double for you, darlin’,” Mal countered.

Zoe stared at him with a frown. Carefully, she said, “That’s the second time in a week you’ve called me that.”

She watched Mal rewind what he’d just said and play it back in his head. A weird look crept over his face, a somewhat frightened half-grin. He shook his head slowly, looking inward, then up at her. “I didn’t even hear myself say it.” He glanced away, still shaking his head slowly. It also made only the second time in a dozen years he’d called her that, not since she’d told him not to and he’d promised ‘never again’. Lives and times long buried rising to haunt them.

Studying Mal closely, Zoe asked, “You believe he’s really a Shepherd?”

Mal looked back at her seriously, “I do. Whatever else he is, or was, I do believe he’s trying to fight the good fight.”

Zoe didn’t break her study of the captain. “You told him some stuff, didn’t you? About us?”

Mal nodded. “Your husband already had a confession session with the preacher. The fella asked me some pretty damned pointed questions. But he wants to help.” Mal shrugged. “Maybe he can.”

“How far you willin’ to go with this?”

Zoe watched Mal stare off into space--into the past--before returning to look deeply into her. “As far as you are, Zoe,” he said evenly. “You had the notion of talkin’ the dark nasties out first. Only you were after me to do it. Well, darlin’, you got your own scary places and they’re as many as mine. Hell, a lot of ‘em are mine,” he added thoughtfully, then met her eyes with intensity. “You willing to stare into the heart of that darkness we’ve been buried in all these years?”

She didn’t answer immediately. She dropped her eyes but his stare still burned into her. Zoe had lived in a kind of darkness longer than Mal had. Was the joy Wash had made her feel real? Or just a polish shining up the surface without touching what lay beneath? She didn’t want to find out it wasn’t real; to mar the shiny. But it was already being etched at from below and above and she was like to lose everything. How far would she go to save her marriage? To save her husband? To save Mal? To save herself? “Maybe you gotta climb up through the dark before you can really stand up in the light again,” Zoe whispered. It wouldn’t be easy. She looked back at Mal. “It could make things change,” she said.

Mal held her look and she saw the flicker of fear and doubt in him. “Things have changed before,” he said quietly.

“For better or for worse?” Zoe blurted out before she could stop herself.

Absurdly, Mal broke up laughing. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part… Gorramit, but they had both been using bits of those old phrases to each other lately--ones they’d never actually spoken to each other but had been living by, nevertheless, for a decade and more. 他妈的! She did have two husbands. Talk about a conundrum.

Zoe’s scowl deepened as Mal struggled to quit laughing, wiping at his eyes. Warped and inappropriate humor… damn, but she liked that in a man, even if she didn’t so much laugh along herself.

Then Mal pushed himself away from the bulkhead and crossed the narrow space to stand in front of her. He took her hands and gently urged her to stand. Facing him, only inches apart, Zoe wondered what this was about; what notion he was pursuing.

Mal’s eyes held hers. He wrapped an arm around her waist, jerking her tight up against him. A little rough. A little fierce. Their bodies pressed closely against each other. Her arm wrapped around him without her even realizing it. With one finger, Mal tilted her chin up. Slowly he lowered his lips to hers. Zoe’s breath caught despite herself. First he merely brushed her lips, whisper soft, until she relented. The kiss deepened. Her lips parted. Tongues teased and played. Zoe felt her heart speed.

Then Mal broke the kiss, staring deeply and intensely into her eyes. “Nothin’,” he said, letting go and stepping back. “You?”

Zoe grinned. “Nothin’,” she said.

“All right, then,” Mal said coolly, in his captainy tone. “We agreed? Let the preacher do his thing, and no holdin’ back?”

“Yes, sir,” Zoe said. “We’re agreed.”

A quick, formal handshake sealed the deal.

Mal stepped further back, giving the ammo and clipboard a distracted look. Zoe held stock still. “I’ll get back to that later,” Mal said, reaching for the door handle. He opened it and stepped through. As he slid the door closed behind him, Zoe heard him add in a low mutter, “I’ll be in my bunk.”

Holding her control stiffly until the door completely closed, Zoe burst into her own fit of inappropriate laughter. Nothin’, he said. Yeah, you lying 混蛋. That weren’t ‘nothin’’ she felt pressing against her.

* * *


Zoe…

“All right, preacher,” Zoe said, flopping herself down in front of him. “Go ahead and work your magic.”

Oh, yeah, this was gonna go great, Book thought, with a small smile. Resistance was written all over her, in her stance, in the set of her mouth, and most of all in the hard look in her eyes. Book leaned back casually and considered her. Zoe was a splendid woman in every regard. Beautiful in body, obviously, but it was her spirit that had come to intrigue him. She said little yet seemed to see much. He had no doubt of her ability to control and contain her emotions--he’d seen it on several occasions. When Niska had kidnapped her husband and captain, Zoe hadn’t so much as twitched. She’d displayed no anger, nor fear, nor worry. She’d just assessed the situation and acted with cool deliberation. She did what needed to be done--for both of the men. What she held inside her--when she had to walk out of there without the captain--he could scarcely guess.

With her husband she appeared gentle, loving, and enthusiastically passionate. With Mal, she sometimes teased, but more often behaved in a cool, formal, and militarily proper manner. Yet he’d caught the studied looks that passed between her and the captain, the silent communications. So much unspoken history between them...

He’d gotten a glimpse of that history from the captain in their last conversation but he knew much remained hidden; knew better now since he’d stalled Zoe off until he could listen to that disk of the captain being interrogated. Most of the war stories were dry recitations of impersonal details--the captain offering no more information than the Feds already had from their records--but a few moments stood out distinctly. Book knew those were the reasons Mal had changed his mind and given him the disk. And those were the parts about Zoe. So much dark, hidden history. The question was, how much did they hide from each other?

“Well?” Zoe asked, growing uneasy and impatient with his long, silent examination, just as he intended.

Book smiled at her. “Did the captain order you to talk with me?”

“Mmmm.” She gave him one of her serene smiles, but her eyes never lost the cool, controlled hardness.

“That wasn’t exactly an answer,” he said. “You last left here a little angrily and a lot abruptly. I suspected you headed straight off to the captain.” He paused, adding, “So did your husband.”

With an exaggerated sigh of frustration, Zoe collapsed a little in on herself. “Yes. I went and asked the captain if he’d told you to interfere with my marriage.”

“And?”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Zoe said, a touch of annoyance starting to shade her tone.

“Still not answering the question, Zoe,” Book nudged.

Zoe threw her hands up in a small gesture of defeat and sighed. “Ah, hell... Ain’t used to sharing out our private dealings, the cap’n’s and mine, but...” She gave Book one of her cool smiles, but this time there was laughter in her eyes. “I’ve been the one badgering Mal to do some talkin’ it out on the troublesome things and times and here he goes and turns it right around on me. He can be an irritating son of a bitch sometimes. ‘Course that’s no secret to anybody.” She shook her head at Book. “No, Mal didn’t order me to get with you on this. We reached an agreement. We’ll go along with you and not hold back.”

Book noted the shift from ‘captain’ to ‘Mal’. “You think Mal has things he needs to talk out? To resolve?”

With a musical chuckle, Zoe said, “Now don’t you go playing coy with me, Shepherd. You know good and gorram well that’s the case. It shows all over him. Hell, even Jayne can see it.”

“Mmmm.” Book tried to sound noncommittal, but Zoe was right. It did show. Book scowled. “What was Mal like when you met him? How did you meet?”

Zoe gave a soft smile. “Dancing ‘round a bonfire on Shadow. And I saw this fine young fella eyeing me.” She chuckled. “Guess we weren’t but sixteen. Kids. Kids with that bubbly ‘verse-is-ours certainty about us… before we figured out we really weren’t bulletproof.” She gave a wistful sigh, then continued, “Talked together half the night. The other half…” Zoe broke off and Book would be willing to swear she actually blushed. “Anyhow, Mal was real sweet back then, a real gentleman. Polite. Didn’t even hardly cuss. Always with a smile on his face. Cheerful. Infectious cheerful. He could put a smile on my face without half trying just with the sparkle in his eye.”

Glancing up at Book, Zoe half-smiled. “I know that sounds strange to say it, but Mal really was very different than you see him now. Even right up until the end there, at Hera, he never did grapple with the notion of ‘defeat’. Never did accept it way down deep no matter how many gorram battles we lost. Always optimistic, no matter how grim the situation looked. His troops took a lot from that, ‘cause he wasn’t fakin’ it just for them. It was real and that showed. He believed it, so they believed it. Mal had so much faith…” She trailed off.

“In God?” Book asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Zoe said with a soft sigh. She looked up at Book, studying him carefully, with a bit of her she-wolf protectiveness shooting out at him. “Now that is a thing I don’t share out about Mal easily or lightly, preacher, just so you know. And I wouldn’t want any of the others getting wind of it. I am the only person who can touch on the subject with him and even I tread very, very cautiously. I’m trusting you, Shepherd, ‘cause Mal is trusting you, not to go working at him on the point. I would not take it kindly if you did. It is so very deep and painful to him. It took an enormous lot to make him turn his back on God and it’s gonna take a long time--maybe forever--for him to turn back around.”

Impulsively, Book reached to give her hand a quick squeeze. “I do understand, Zoe.” She measured him again, then nodded. “Go on,” Book urged. “What Mal was like to you before. You said he had a lot of faith.”

Zoe took a deep breath. “Yeah. He was real religious, but not, you know, tense or uptight about it. Just all natural and at ease. Made it seem like being a believer was just the shiniest thing in the ‘verse. And he did it without talkin’ on it or even really trying. It just sort of shone out of him.” She shifted a touch in her seat and Book heard her jump time tracks, and he had a suspicion to which moment. “I held onto that through a lot of the war--tagging along on his faith when my own weren’t strong enough to carry me through.”

Something about that struck a chord with Book. He’d come into this believing the primary factor in their continued association was Mal’s dependence on Zoe; that he had to let her go--show her he could get along without her to lean on--before she’d be comfortable leaving him. Now, after listening to the recording with Mal talking about how he had rescued her, and her own comment about tagging onto his faith, Book began to suspect that the connection was of a different nature than he’d first thought.

Changing direction, Book said, “It’s sort of remarkable, and a little bit unbelievable, that you and Mal could have such a close personal association for so many years and yet never have taken your relationship to another level.” Book hoped to draw her out on the subject.

Zoe gave a warm laugh, a touch cynical and a touch amused. “Now, preacher, I know Mal already told you a thing or two. Though he didn’t say exactly what. I can surely guess. And I’m fair certain what it was my husband talked on with you. So what say we don’t play dainty here and just say it all straight out.”

“All right. What is it like for you to share the relationship you currently do with the captain, to live and work in such close proximity, with you married to another man, and you and Mal having had…”

“Sex?” Zoe supplied the bluntness for the preacher. She gave him a teasing grin. “Mal’s very particular on that subject.” She laughed out loud. “I suppose it’s hard for someone like you to look at the leader of a criminal band,” she inclined her head to the side, adding proudly, “who just pulled off a big damned robbery, and see any sort of moralizing. But Mal’s not like to carry on with a woman lightly. You can bet your bottom dollar that any of the very rare times he and I had a to-do since the war, it was me instigating the party. And you can also bet there was an immoderate amount of drinking involved.”

“Hmmm…” Book hid behind a solemnly thoughtful expression for a minute until he could contain his sudden burst of curiosity. “Zoe… pardon me for saying, but you’re an exceptionally beautiful woman, and the captain told me that you two had shared very close quarters and… uh,… sleeping arrangements for some years. How…? How did you two not…?”

* * *


Mal…

“Didn’t get her to talk on that, did you?” Mal scrutinized the preacher.

Book shook his head. “No. Can’t say I even really tried. Has she ever spoken to you about it?”

“No. Not really.” Mal settled back and let out a long breath. “Zoe’s… well, she’s real good at holdin’ it all in, as needs be.” He scoffed. “Makes me look like an amateur. And that what happened to her, well, that was right at the early edge of the war and so if she looked to be a stone-cold killer, well, that’s what she needed to be. Weren’t time nor energy to waste on sentimentality and regrets. Sure, she was different from the gal I’d known as a kid, but we all were. We were fighting and killing and that was just the way of it. Those as couldn’t take it cracked. And a lot of ‘em did.”

Mal took another deep breath and forced himself to look back in time, carefully stepping his ownself aside to look at his recollection of Zoe. “I got a suspicion she was abused again at that prison though I never could find out for sure. The guard I walloped for laying hands on her, what got me tossed in the Hole, well later on she hunted him down in the coldest damned way I’ve ever seen. And let me tell you, preacher, I have seen cold. Took her gorram time about ending him, too. I was getting’ tired holding him down, she took so long about it.”

Glancing up at the ‘urp’ sound, Mal chuckled at the Shepherd’s horrified expression. “Preacher, you wanted to hear the black, unvarnished truth. Well, there it damned well is.” He leaned forward, probing into Book’s eyes. “If you don’t want to look into the face if it, turn away now.”

“No,” Book answered him quietly. “I’ve seen ‘cold’ too. Go on.”

With a shrug, Mal went on, “Only other time I saw her do a fellow that way was in that Alliance complex I got her out of way back--when her daddy got killed and their ship taken.” Mal hesitated, then added, “When I gave Wash that disk, that’s the part I told him to listen too.” He looked up at the preacher. “You think that was a mistake?”

Shaking his head slowly, Book said, “I don’t know. It probably wasn’t the best way for him to hear it--you were awfully blunt and explicit in what you told Harken…”

“Didn’t figure anyone else would be hearing it. And Zoe’s heard it too,” Mal inserted. “I was worrying on her, listening to that. Said as much to her the other night which is what got her going on this notion of talkin’ out the old times. Though probably would have been better she talk out with Wash than me. If he can take it. That I don’t know about. Don’t help none if they just get to yelling again.”

“Yes, I do believe Wash needs to know,” Book said, “needs to know not only that, specifically, about his wife and what she’s been through, but also about your relationship with her on these matters. He’s got a big dose of jealousy in him already. Now he not only has to deal with these sorts of revelations about Zoe, but know that you, not he, were the one there to comfort her through those times.”

Mal gave a derisive snort. “Weren’t so much with the ‘comfort’, preacher. Cuddlin’ Zoe’s like cuddling up to a landmine most of the time. We got exactly two times in our history that Zoe and me have done with the comforting. The one we told about a while back--the night they finally let me out of the Hole, and…” He trailed off.

“The other,” Book nudged.

No holding back, they’d agreed. Mal sighed shortly. “Just this last week. Down on Beta.” Mal scowled at Book. “Now don’t go gettin’ that cat-caught-in-the-cream look on your face. There weren’t no hanky-panky in that hotel, no matter what Wash thinks. It was just the being on that gorram world called up so many bad memories, for the both of us. Kinda took us off guard, I guess. Thought it was all buried long since…” Mal shook himself and grinned at Book. “You must think we’re both nuts.”

With a chuckle, Book said, “Oh, absolutely, son. And I am utterly convinced that you and Zoe would not betray Wash in a sexual way. But there are aspects to your relationship with Zoe that can still drive a wedge between her and her husband unless we find a way to work them out. Go back to the part about comforting Zoe after the abuse. Comforting isn’t just hugging and holding. It takes other forms. How did she behave, after the first time, when you rescued her from the Feds?”

Mal had to think on it a moment, remembering. “Well… I suppose I was just seeing it in odd little tidbits. Probably wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss ‘cept that I’d known her for a time before. Had a notion of what she was like. Anyhow, uh… well, she was in my platoon, a green private I had to train though she wasn’t ever particularly green--she’d done some livin’ there on her daddy’s ship, a lot like things we run into here on Serenity. So I had a head start in training her in the army ways of doin’ and fighting.

“So…” Mal scratched idly at his chin as he pondered. “I was shot up pretty bad from the rescue mission, and still not knowing if I was gonna get court-martialed or not over it, both of which had me not so much at my peak. And Zoe just took it on herself to tend to me. Nothing personal or romantic about it, nothing like that. I suspect it was more how she used to look after her daddy after her momma passed on. Thinking on it now, I guess as much as anything, that set the way we’ve been living since. Though,” he suddenly thought to qualify, “that gets to sounding weird when the sleeping together bit comes up later on.”

Book chuckled. “I understand how you mean it. Don’t fret, just continue.”

“Yeah. So I’d be doing things like showing her how to shoot the army rifles properly and I’d come to readjust her grip and she would absolutely freeze solid. Not flinch away, like I’ve seen some gals--and even fellas--who’ve been, uh, abused in that way, do. But just freeze up like she couldn’t stand to be touched no way, no how, but wasn’t gonna give in to being afraid or cringy about it.”

“How’d you get her over it?” Book asked.

With a shrug, Mal said, “Did and didn’t, all at the same time. Forced her to accept I was gonna be laying hands on her now and again, but made damned sure it was strictly business and only as necessary. Couldn’t have a soldier who’d freak out if I suddenly grabbed ‘em in a full body tackle.” He gave a small laugh. “Happened exactly that way in the first hour of the first full-out battle Zoe was ever in. She never did thank me for it though I like to saved her life. Bruised her butt bad, landing down on her that way.” Mal pulled out of the memory and looked up at Book. “Don’t know if that’s what you mean by ‘comfort’, but there it is.”

“It is,” Book said. “You built her trust back up. She trusted you to treat her right.”

“Well, yeah. She trusts me in a lot of ways. And I trust her. Absolutely,” Mal said. “She got easier and more relaxed, then, after a time, but was still the coldest, deadliest creature you’d ever care to see in combat. Sneaking about silently and ambush were her best things more’n a straight-up firefight. I tell you, it was a thing of beauty to see her move like a shadow and take down half a dozen of the enemy without even a whisper of noise. Wasn’t my style, but surely was a comfort knowing she was at my back.” Mal grinned at the recollection until it occurred to him that the preacher probably had the creepified expression back. Mal glanced up. Nope. Book was off in a thoughtful pondery place.

“How about after the other time you suspect,” Book asked thoughtfully, “in the prison?”

Mal shook his head and shrugged. “Hard to say. That weren’t a natural sort of place to be, what with the watching and the constant tension, and such. She was just sort of locked down cold inside herself, holding on tight. It hard for me to see what was going on with her on account of me being so…” He trailed off.

“Mmmm…” Book made an understanding sound. “You were off in your own dark place,” he said very quietly. “After you were released…?”

Taking his time to phrase his thoughts, Mal had to force himself to continue on. It was easier talking about Zoe than himself. “We lived. Survived and nothing more. And that’s the way of it. We had nowhere to go--no kith nor kin left to either of us. Alliance harassing us constantly, wherever we went. No way to live on the right side of their laws. And no wanting to, either.”

“And you only had each other,” Book said softly.

“Too right.” Mal nodded. “Had the habit of living together long since without, you know, any man/womanness getting in the mix. Once you’ve set a way of being together, breaking out of it is damned near impossible. And we never tried. We’d destroyed any chance of being a romantic-type couple long, long before and now had an old, established way of being together that worked, for the most part.”

Mal hesitated, then plunged on, “She had some nightmares--hell, we both did. We were both walking textbook cases of delayed stress syndrome--” Seeing the preacher’s expression, Mal added, “Yes, I do know more than a fair bit about such things. Like I said, I’ve seen more’n a few crack in combat. And I’ve seen more than a few since with the classic symptoms. But it’s always easier to see at a distance, or in someone else, than in your ownself.” He took a breath. “Anyhow, not all Zoe’s nightmares seemed to be about the war. A couple times she woke up screaming and she’d want me near her. If we weren’t sharing a bed at the time she’d come to mine and climb on in. Not touching. Absolutely no touching at those times. But near. She’d never say a word. Wouldn’t. Just laid there, facing away from me. And that would be that. And then she, uh…” He stopped. “Gorramit, preacher, I really feel like I’m tellin’ tales out of school here, violating her trust.”

“You’re not,” Book said. “That’s the point. You both agreed. You trust each other to do as needful each for the other. So do it.”

“Okay. Whewwww…. Damn. I’d rather tackle an entire Alliance brigade charging at me. But, okay, if it helps Zoe out…” With another deep, fortifying breath, Mal went on. “She kinda, uh, went through a, um… I guess you’d have to say ‘promiscuous’ phase. Now I know she had--has--a lively attitude toward sex, but this was different. It wasn’t ‘love-making’, like with Wash. It was… it was kinda nasty, truth to tell. Like she was proving a point. Or using them fellas. That was a rough time for both of us. She got over that, though.”

“Yes.” Book regarded “The things you described are ways a woman who has been raped could behave. As you clearly are aware. You did well by her,” he said seriously.

“Well, hell… that vice is plenty versa,” Mal said. “Hurts like hell I couldn’t make it better for her. Couldn’t stop it in the first place. She’s strong and she’s proud, and near ‘bout as fine a female as ever walked the ‘verse. She hadn’t ought to have something like that--something that makes her feel weak when she ain’t, when she never was, gnawing at her. Ain’t right.

“And,” Mal added, leaning forward toward the Shepherd, “it sure as hell weren’t right those times I took advantage of her back then.”

“That gnaws at you?”

“Damned straight,” Mal said. “That was all kinds of wrong there was.”

“Even though you didn’t take advantage? Though it was Zoe who always instigated it?” Book asked abruptly.

Mal blinked. “She said that?” He sighed. “Yes. Even though.”

“Don’t feel guilty about it,” Book said. “You did the best you could.”

“Yeah,” Mal said slowly. “That ain’t always enough, is it?”

Before the preacher could get in another word, Mal stood up and quickly left.

* * *

Shepherd Book sought out a quiet place where he could be alone and contemplate the Black--the other shuttle. Serenity plunged far out and alone in space. Hmmm… they’d rotated the ship over so they looked downward at the spiraling arms of the galaxy. They must be high up over the galactic ecliptic to have a view such as this. He wondered who had done it--Wash or the captain? They usually all ignored the splendors of the ‘verse that surrounded them while they traveled between worlds. Someone feeling a need to take in the glories of Creation?

Settling himself in the shuttle’s co-pilot seat, Book tugged at his moustache and contemplated all he’d heard and learned. He had no delusions about just how hard it was for Mal and Zoe to open up to him that way. Nor was it lost on him how much they still withheld. Each had only managed to speak with concern about the other, not about themselves. There was an utter selflessness about their relationship that he’d never even dreamed of.

He’d come into this believing that Mal needed to break his dependence on Zoe, to set her free to be with her husband unencumbered by past loyalties and obligations. Separate. Go their separate ways. Now, though… Now…

No. Forcing them to split up? That would be all kinds of wrong.

Blue Sun Job, Part 31: The Heart of the Matter

COMMENTS

Tuesday, October 5, 2004 2:05 PM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, this series is so gorram good and I loved this part. Felt kind of uneasy in places for Zoe and Mal with the Preacher prying so deeply and intimately into their relationship to each other. I can't wait to see how he talks to Wash and how those green eyed dragons get slayed. Just don't want to see any of our Big Damn Heroes get hurt. *Xie xie ni*, your writing is shinyness personified. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, October 5, 2004 10:30 PM

KISPEXI2


I'm a bit overwhelmed ... Poor old Book - fancy having to sort *that* out.

I love the idea that Mal and Zoe are kind of hiding behind each other. That they can talk about the other's problems but not their own. And ofcourse there is a deep, deep love in that, but also a lot of defensiveness.

Really felt Mal's anger at Zoe being made to feel weak when she wasn't/isn't. And Zoe's frustration and pain. Very believable.

All through this story you've avoided the temptation to paint Mal and Zoe as totally good guys and the bit where Mal recalls helping Zoe kill the guard was a chilling reminder that the pair of them can be dangerous if pushed. Even so, I had to laugh at Mal complaining about getting tired of holding the guy down. Talk about gallows humour!

Finally, the kiss. Oh dear, oh dear ...

Wednesday, October 6, 2004 2:42 AM

JENDANDY


My only problem is, I haven't read any of the previous chapters but you can bet yer ass I'm going to now.
This work is incredible, so deep and smartly written...wow, wow, wow!! I just want to print all your stories out now and curl up in bed with 'em. :)
You have a great talent at writing, thanks so much for sharing it with us. I look forward to reading more from you, looks like I have a lot to catch up on!

Wednesday, October 6, 2004 2:50 AM

JENDANDY


Me again. You know what I loved about this? I could almost feel Mal and Zoe's discomfort. Hell, hearing about their past made me a bit uncomfortable too!
Uuuuuuuuughh, I can't believe how much I've missed of this story. Gonna take me probably a week to catch up!

Wednesday, October 6, 2004 5:29 PM

JEBBYPAL


One of the best chapters yet. You know that old saying: "Don't tell, show"? Well, you already showed us all of it and because/despite it, this telling worked fabulously. Loved the mal/book part at the end. For some reason though, just had this image of Mal in constant motion, going throughout the ship as he told it (though I know, he didn't). could feel how much he needed/wanted to move away from what he had to talk about.

Zoe/Mal talk was good too:) Everyone just talked so perfectly..almost could see it on my tv screen. Off to sulk now.

Thursday, October 7, 2004 7:02 PM

CASTIRONJACK


HmmHmm...

Interesting to see this laid at the Preacher's feet.

Good show as always,

Keep flyin'


POST YOUR COMMENTS

You must log in to post comments.

YOUR OPTIONS

OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

Blue Sun Job--A Sequel: It Means a Thing
Post-Serenity, Mal & Zoe share a moment, or two. And then some. Story takes place in the context of the "Blue Sun Job" scenario. COMPLETE One-er.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 39: Into the Black
The conclusion of the Blue Sun Job.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 38: Shadow
Mal & Zoe's past smashes into the present. Everyone on the crew gets an earful, especially Wash.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 37: Plan B
There's a dead Shepherd on the floor, a bunch of angry live ones, and Mal, Zoe, and Simon in their midst.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 36: One Down
Return of the "Blue Sun Job"! First of the last four chapters of this story.

Blue Sun Job, Part 35: The Worthier Part
Book's more nefarious, Mal's less crazy, and Zoe is dangerously pissed.

Blue Sun Job, Part 34: Of Many Books...
Book's nefarious. Mal's crazy. And Simon is bewildered.

Blue Sun Job, Part 33: Light and Shadow
Mal has just had his big tell-all session with Book concerning his and Zoe's history. Now landed at the Shepherd's Sanctuary, they have to deal with the fallout and with Book's mysterious past and plans.

Blue Sun Job, Part 32: Revelations
Mal and Book talk about some Big Damned Things.

Blue Sun Job, Part 31: The Heart of the Matter
Tales & stories come out into the open--more than a little dark. But not to worry, Jayne, the philosopher, also explains women.