Monday, February 7, 2011

Well dost thou, Love, thy solemn Feast to hold, in vestal February. Blossoming and the first shift in the winds on Serenity.



Disclaimer: Joss is the primary inspiration, and owns everything. But I also have to give some credit to GillianRose and Alexis Machine for their infirmary scenes; I had to do one of my own after reading them, and I confess there’s similarities.

A lot of other ideas and references came together for this, as well, so it might be all over the place. Starts a little weird and probably rambles a bit, but I hope you’ll enjoy.


He’d been riding up sunbeams on horseback and very appreciative of morphine when a wind howled into existence and he opened his eyes to the cold beyond, confused.

The hell was this? Didn’t recall his Ma as having a river cascading to her shoulders, or being quite so frail looking. The phantom’s stare was wild, and a new chill crept onto the battlefield. Witches, he remembered, who spoke good and terrifying in the same breath and knew the future. The wraith pressed a prophesy into his hand, then departed like a breath, sent her three shadows to swallow him.

Later he woke again to Simon’s fussing and managed to recognize his own infirmary. His fingers were curled around a wrapped piece of melted candy. “Outta lollipops?” he slurred. His brain felt like it was stuck to the roof of his mouth.

The doctor looked up from the sorting that apparently couldn’t wait until grumpy captains weren’t trying to sleep, and smiled upon realizing what he was talking about. The former core dweller took the colourful little deformed ball from his patient, rolling it around in his hands nostalgically. “Back on Osiris, River used to get cards and candy for all of her classmates on Valentine’s Day.”

He felt too old to tell the younger man that he was too old for that. “How’d she get real chocolate, anyway?” The medical genius’s sentimental expression grew slightly troubled, thinking over the only real conclusion, and after a few seconds his own slowed faculties caught up. “She stole ‘em,” he grinned sleepily, an unexpected moment of pride, tinged by regret.

Simon looked miffed. “Yes. Congratulations. You’ve succeeded in fully corrupting my little sister.”

Normally, an angry doctor armed with a needle and an unknown chemical would be an alarming turn of events. Normally. Painkillers were a wonderful and amazing creation. “More shiny drugs?” he asked.

The surgeon paused, rethinking the initial inclination to dope his patient into a less annoying state. “Has it been four hours yet?” How would he know? He was still practically unconscious. Mercifully, the syringe continued to fill with liquid relief.

Never let it be said he lacked gratitude. Even if earlier, through the blistering agony, he’d been yelling at Simon in mandarin to go light himself on fire. “You’re… Good man.” He aimed a pat at his doctor’s arm that missed by several feet of air. “Good, good man.”

Simon snorted at him, then professionalism reasserted itself. “Try not to move so much,” came the admonishment. A pin prick to his arm, the plunger depressed and an odd peace spread through him.

Sweet perfume announced her presence before her voice. “Perhaps you should keep him heavily medicated all the time.” A beautiful shadow, a ray of light. Swirling silk colours like incense at a shrine. Not fair, his eyes were already starting to flutter and he couldn’t defend himself from his own senses, let alone the inevitable.

“I have to admit, it’s tempting,” Simon agreed. The boy looked exhausted. He supposed an entire day of surgery courtesy of his dear sweet not-wife (he was a big fan now of anti-bigamy laws) would do that to a person. “I don’t think he’ll give us anymore trouble for today, but come wake me if there’s an emergency.”

“Good night, Simon.” A smile, comforting and warm, almost a dream. It set him on edge, and he fought his way back. He heard her sigh at him, and finally won the battle with the insides of his eyelids. The smile was gone, in its place concern. For him.

She took a deep breath, as though to calm some unnamed fear, and passed a hand over her eyes, smoothing her brow. Her lips were moving in a silent prayer. She looked at him again, making plain her full disapproval over his injuries, before she seated herself on the counter in a cold anger, and cracked the book she had brought in for her vigil.

Impossible, wasn’t it? That she would ever give him a care, that they’d ever be friends? Now and then they might enjoy some engine wine together, laughing, but mostly they barely tolerated each other, sometimes not even that.

This was what he told himself. Dangerous, to even consider the possibility otherwise; heartache for him, sure every time, and for her, what? Life he led, he’d lead her to an early grave. Some prize he was, couldn’t imagine why she wasn’t interested, why she’d never give up on men who pampered her instead of raged at her.

Not so much on the raging, recently. Not after… She’d stayed on, chosen to help the crew piece their home and themselves back together.

The repairs didn’t come cheap. He’d been in need, he supposed, but then that applied to him a lot when it came to this woman. Word had gotten around, most of their friends and contacts, killed by the Alliance, and their regular employment had kept clear of them. She’d probably been just as surprised as him when he accepted the money, let alone refrained from comment on its most probable source. It had seemed petty, the word he had started to use in her absence to punish himself, to throw the old insults at her when other work hadn’t been forthcoming.

He’d seen it, the comfort she could be, and it wasn’t just her job. It was who she was. How she’d consoled poor Kaylee, who was coping the best she could. The doctor helped a fair bit with that as well, but then the guilt over Zoë’s loss would drive the girl to tears, and she invariably turned to the companion.

And Zoë. He agreed more with Emperor Claudius on soldiers and marriage and interference with duties than he did Saint Valentine, and he’d been wondering if loosing Wash to the Reavers had been her edge of space, to look into and never return from. Even after the war, when the only life she knew was over and the only action made any sense to her was joining up with the Dust Devils, she hadn’t been this bad. She stopped wearing her body armor, the same that she had purchased when she had first gotten married, and that worried him more than anything, was the reason he’d gone alone today to that ill-fated meeting.

He was to blame. Wasn’t Simon and River chose to make the run to Miranda, or to go and expose the government’s secrets. Any words he could say were woefully inadequate and unwelcome. But the companion had succeeded in conversation where he failed; he remembered vividly the day his first mate had left her bunk and gathered little Kaylee up gently in a hug, and at that moment he’d been so thankful that he couldn’t breathe.

Enough time had passed, maybe, it might be safe to venture some conversation. He was falling asleep, and medically induced or not, that wasn’t an option around her that he would allow himself to consider. “What’s the book?”

She gave no indication of hearing him for some time, turning the page before glancing at him. “Poetry.” A shrug. “I think it might be yours; I found it lying around the common room the other day.”

“Wh-huh? You found… What?” He sputtered, sitting up (or trying to, at any rate) and not really thinking at the second that the motion might be a bad idea. “I ever catch River goin’ through my things…” His increasingly loud rant halted as he registered her expression of mirth. “Oh, you are just hilarious. I’m pěng fù dà xiào, really.” He eased himself back down onto the infirmary bed, disgruntled. “You tellin’ me or not?”

She was suddenly guarded, studying him as though deciding what might be safe to say. “The gentleman is not in your books; no, and were he, I would burn my study.”

He stared at her blankly, in no condition to puzzle out whatever the hell she was saying or figure out when she’d started spouting off cryptic River-isms. Was anyone sane on his boat anymore? He yawned, then blinked. “Gentleman?” he asked, hopefully.

She buried her face in her hands, aggravated, then shook her head, dispelling the brewing fight. Not sporting with an injured man, perhaps, or maybe one who currently was having trouble stringing two coherent thoughts together. “Go to sleep, Mal.” Surprisingly gentle, considering. “It’s all right.” Now teasing again. “I’m not going to have my wicked way with you.”

That was all kinds of reassuring. He tried to muster a glare, and probably failed spectacularly, because there was that damnable smile again, wider than before. The woman clearly was trying to kill him.

Narrowing his eyes ended up not being such a good plan when he had been wanting to keep them open, because now Jayne was asking him miserably if he’d be the new spotter for weightlifting, and Zoë was crying again in that broken way, shuddering on the unforgiving metal of the catwalk where her grief had suddenly dropped her.

He jolted out of his fitful slumber and gasped. Fēi gǒushǐ de wú mā fén shāo!

“Mal?” She slid quietly off the countertop, alarmed, setting aside her reading. “Mal, are you in pain?”

Took a few moments to settle a bit before he could respond. He shook his head carefully to reassure her. “Just… moved too sudden, is all.” She didn’t look convinced, began checking him over for new spots of blood on the gauze wrapped around his torso. Her arm was outstretched to him, he noticed, her fingers resting gingerly over his collarbone, and he tensed at the realization. What was she doing? She never touched him, he’d sully her pretty hands.

Their eyes met, hers as unreadable as the infinite starry black outside, and he was fair certain he was broadwaving near panic. He saw a wounded flicker pass through those depths, then sorrow. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

In the past, he would have made some distancing remark right about now, something mean that would have her storming away. The captain couldn’t be distracted, couldn’t allow anything to undermine his authority. At a deeper level, protection. He had seen death, seen it take the light from friends seemingly just for knowing him and leave behind shells both identifiable and not. If he didn’t know them, it didn’t hurt so much; if they didn’t know him, maybe they wouldn’t die at all.

And somewhere, still deeper, where the years had been stolen from him, there was a nervous boy who grew up on a ranch, raised religious and gone to war before he had much experience with women.

Don’t need a shrink. He was preparing to growl that at her, or maybe something worse, but for the way she was looking at him, pleading with him to just trust her. His throat strangled the cruel, unborn words. All the bluster was just a screen anyway for what he really wanted to tell her.

Every time he saw her, the desperate part of him that fought losing, hopeless battles came closer and closer to confessing that truth. That nothing about her could really offend him, frustrating as she was. That she was perfect. That whether she was snapping, scathingly irritated with him or so uncharacteristically giggling drunk or upset that she needed his shoulder, her less-than-perfect moments made her more so. That…

He didn’t know how to say it, anymore. Didn’t think he could, though not for lack of trying.

February. A strange season for these sentiments; the harsh solemnity of winter without yet even the possibility of spring, of warmth. He understood its wistfulness, the longing for the sunlight after so long in the dark and cold and solitude. It had been dazzling when he had emerged, overwhelming, but the relief he felt had been tempered only by the fear that it could be taken away. It made him want to vow and promise, offer more than he was, before it was too late.

So he let himself relax, and closed his eyes, and trusted.

He felt her startle, her touch jumping away from his heart. Looked at her again, tiredly. She tried for apologetic, a moment, before she fell back to disbelief. There was something bright there, too, though, something that made him reach for the hand she’d removed from his person.

This time her smile carried him into his dreams.


Monday, February 7, 2011 8:47 PM


Another one. The main page hasn't refreshed yet, but it's been a week... Hope no one minds. I wanted to be able to repost Remembrance on Valentine's Day, and I might have something new then to go with it too.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 12:56 PM


Wow, I love this so much Bytemite. Thank you for posting it. You have the characters so beautifully drawn and your insight with Inara and Mal is breathtaking. Lovely vocabulary too. A shiny gift, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 1:12 PM


This story and the next one I'll be posting are my favourite pieces of writing I've ever done. I try hard to meet the same quality in every work I've done since, and always seem to fall short.

Thanks for reading anyway. :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 5:12 PM


Perfect. Simply perfect. Perfectly written, described, characterized and verbalized. Can't wait for the next installment!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 5:57 PM


I could be accused of an overdose of imagery, of course, and being a little too into the poetics for a character like Mal. I eventually start to scale that back to be more in keeping with the actual character.

With Inara, though, I still let myself go nuts on that. Your mileage may vary on whether it's faithful to the characters.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 6:21 PM


One of my favorites, B.

Thanks for reposting.

Is there a part two? I seem to remember a companion piece?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 6:26 PM


Yep, posting next week. :)

"Companion" piece. :D

Friday, May 6, 2011 2:00 PM


how can one not wax poetic about cappy? love it. And a drugged Mal is kinda funny in its own way.

Friday, May 13, 2011 6:09 AM


I might complain about my tendency to go to far... but I do think Mal may have an internal monologue that has a little poetry to it, kinda like film noir narrative, that comes out now and then in some of his more pretty captainy speeches.

The drugs only make him more whimsical.


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Eidolon (Epilogue)
Someday, she knew they would visit the graves of Serenity Valley and not hear the howl of the ghosts. Someday, they would walk across the green prairie of a restored world and watch the rain. (Glimpses)

Eidolon (Chapter 40)
Clouds were blossoming in the distance, promising rain for the city later. The crew of Serenity and the badlands around Eavesdown Docks to the south would probably see only a harsh windstorm. Two different worlds, she mused, caught between them. (Deliverance)

Eidolon (Chapter 39)
The question seemed to hit her hard. In the mirrors of her eyes, he saw himself, forced to see her lose more ground every day. Hurt more, because of him. Saw her watching him back as she pulled him out of a nightmare. (Try)

The Gift
They don't have much. But they have each other. (Just a little holiday story from the Firefly verse. Belongs to Joss)

Eidolon (Chapter 38)
The girl processed that response. "He brought the medicine? He saved us?" Inara nodded, considering her own inclusion in the question. (Renewed)

Eidolon (Chapter 37)
A wind clear and sweet stirred the air, humming as a shimmering, ever-shifting blaze of color flashed from one horizon to another. The breeze carried with it a distant song, rising over the hills and through the vales like a soulful hymn from his childhood. (Flight)

Eidolon (Chapter 36)
"I cut the strings. They were never yours anyway.”(Liberation)

Eidolon (Chapter 35)
A few twists of a little turnscrew and the mechanic was stripping wires and rerouting circuits in moments. (Break)

Eidolon (Chapter 34)
Stars scattered in the night, coalesced from the stellar dust from a far away sun and others that came before. A spark, scintillating into a network, a stream, like the lights and streets of a city. (Cascade)

Eidolon (Chapter 33)
"Put me back in that place," River said, "Little bluebird singing in a cage, puppet on broken strings." (Capture)