BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

BYTEMITE

Eidolon (Chapter 8)
Friday, July 8, 2011

"The day is young," Zoë replied wryly, idly pulling her sawn-off and checking the magazine, then shoving the forty-four home. (Morning and night)


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1669    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Too quiet. Now Finagle's Law must intervene, deus ex machina with infernal engines and guns materializing out of the nothing. Then let there be light, but it must be dug up, it hides in a palace in a cave over the horizon, afraid to look on the misdeeds of the early hours.

He may understand better than anyone of misfortune and the curse of breath. Doesn't dare to exhale, though it won't prevent the loss. Cradled in darkness, his heartbeat so loud it might leak out his ears. The yells and shouts of a final murmur thunder around him in the dead silence. A large shadow moved cat-like across the tiny sliver of light, the one crack in his fortress. Nowhere to go, no matter how much he curls in on himself, all boxed in. Drops stained a pristine white carpet and sharpened steel rasped harshly back into place before the muffled bootsteps finally went away.

Even when the others came, cleaning up and arranging, he didn't emerge. He knew this game, he'd been playing before. But this wasn't for fun now, he didn't know these people in their suits and with their bags and chemicals that made his tear ducts sting. They took the face in the mirror with them, took nobility and innocence. A voice that whispered then called his name lifted him out of the cubbyhole and held him like something precious, but there was only cold comfort and fear in her familiar blue eyes.

Those eyes darken to the blackness of space, and the stars go out. History repetitious, the snake bites its tail without seeming to recognize the pain. Three little sisters, a tall one with dried blood stained into her skin. Marching steadily forward, before her eyes she would hold steady the image of what she wanted but will not turn to embrace. She won't look at the echo waiting behind her for fear the memory will disappear.

Delight has a flavour like strawberries, but they are tasted on stolen time. Pretend to not crave them in the open when they grow so near the fresh graves. Fruit is best if it is forbidden.

And don't cough. Fear for family is nothing to be embarrassed about, no matter how distant they seem. Strength and muscle and a little coin in a letter goes a long way. Did it for them, became the beast they needed even after being chased away. Now it's time to hunt, and afterwards to feast in the bounty and vice and secretly keep everything going a little longer. Indulgence keeps the instincts honed. To soften is to die.

She saw them, all of them. Comforting familiar presences and feelings pressed into her, kept out the noise, the knowing. Old fears, keeping out the new. No longer overwhelmed, she was separate from them, padded between them in a celadon hospital gown and leggings.

This detestable gorge, this womb of death, ready to swallow her and choke her with aseptic perfume. Push aside the curtains. Clean and sterile. Steady beeping of monitors and the whirr of overhanging scanners. The apothecary consented, didn't even charge the full forty ducats. His flawed poison took a higher price instead. They pushed needles into her skin until she couldn't remember forever, until screaming was her past and future. Poor living corse, clos'd in a dead man's tomb.

She heard it all in the stony passage. Speaking in riddles and seeing their forgotten nightmares.

There was whimpering when she fled.

- - - - - Zoë had watched an awful lot of sunrises recently. Back in the war, there'd never been time for it. Always camp to break, or some futzing to do with six months expired fire jelly that didn't heat rations evenly, or shrapnel to dodge.

As the sun inched up over the grassy plain and the sky went through a parade of pastel colours, sometimes she had crazy thoughts that she might miss all that. All the stubborn would-be couple drama made her want to smack Inara's head into the captain's and lock the two of them in one of the shuttles together. It'd be a fair turn, considering the accidental help Mal had been for Wash and herself.

Those early years on Serenity, they'd had a different mechanic, barely more than a boy and miles away from Kaylee's skill. Bester's brain most likely had been completely sun-addled from that beach hut they'd pulled him out of, but once he was gone, the only targets Mal and Wash had for their prank war were each other. She wasn't sure how it had started, but she was pretty clear on how it ended: a night of drinking, a shaved moustache, an angry and hungover Wash in the morning complaining to her about their psychotic captain, yelling, then… Well, more arguments, but mostly to hide the heavy breathing and the other yells.

"Zoë?" She might have wondered if the companion had taken classes on how to call a person's name if Inara hadn't sounded so uncertain. Zoë blinked away the gathering memories and looked down from her perch on the mule at a knee-length floral riot. One of Kaylee's outfits. Too bad, would've been interesting to see the captain's reaction if Inara had come out actually wearing the carefully folded bundle of leather she was hugging so close.

She felt a smirk pull at her lips and an eyebrow as she watched Inara take in their surroundings apprehensively. "Welcome to Ezra. Sleep well?"

Their cryobox mail frowned slightly, all big, dark, troubled eyes. "Apparently." Gentle sympathy broke through the clouds as the other curly haired woman studied her, sitting out by herself. "And you?"

Zoë took a breath against the sudden tightening in her chest. "I try. Gets lonely though," she admitted, and understanding passed between them. She let her eyes drift away, beyond the glowing heavens.

"You're not alone," Inara reminded her gently, and smiled with a wistful kind of encouragement, reaching out to squeeze solace into one of her hands.

She'd disliked their renter at first. The captain needed his wits about him, especially since his second in command always had her questions whether he had any wits to begin with. She needed him to bring her home safe to Wash. Neither of them ever thought that it might be the other way around too.

But even more, they needed the money, and considering all the jewelry and Sihnon silks it seemed the courtesan could more than afford the full asking price. Didn't take any vaunted Alliance education or Academy training to figure out why the captain had given her a twenty-five percent discount. Didn't help that Kaylee and Wash had been so impressed with her, either.

So it had been easy, for a while, to dismiss her as some kōngxīnlǎodà yínfù just slumming it with them. Until she saw the worry in Inara's eyes, whenever they left for some crime; until she came to understand most of those riches were gifts, and that the certified companion was struggling as much as they were to find work out on the Rim. She'd started to wonder, who was this woman who so fascinated the captain, who could steer him back on course when it seemed no one else could. When Inara had been gone, she'd seen some of Mal's misery return from back before they'd purchased Serenity, back when he thought he had no life or future ahead of him and that everyone in the universe could go to hell for all he cared.

Inara had stood with them to send the Miranda broadwave, had sat by her during the hard nights when she couldn't keep the grief at bay and patting circles on her back. Yet today, it grated. This silk stocking, pretending like she knew a thing about death and loss, like she'd dug graves to bury the broken bodies and pieces of men and women she'd fought beside. What gorramn good would it do to see her husband again in another life if neither of them were the same person and couldn't remember? Wash couldn't ever come back, he was gone. Yet here was Inara, and here Inara was still bickering and fighting the inevitable and wasting time. She'd been on the bridge when Mal had gotten the message, had seen him die a little more. When the captain finally got himself shot, what then? So long, see you next time?

"Where is Mal, by the way?" Inara asked, suddenly remembering the coat she was carrying, bringing her hand back to stroke the tanned leather absently, "I would have thought he'd be out here with you." Her lips curved up in amusement. "He's not hiding from me in the backseat, is he?"

"He's avoiding you," Serenity's first mate confirmed bluntly. The wrested pain and regret wasn't near satisfying as expected when Inara's smile fell, and Zoë took pity on her waving vaguely towards Mal's general direction. "He went off that way to find his gun and wake Jayne up."

Inara winced, shivering slightly from the cold morning air. "I hope the two aren't related."

"The day is young," Zoë replied wryly, idly pulling her sawn-off and checking the magazine, then shoving the forty-four home. "Gonna be fetching the shuttles back to Serenity, 'spect Captain'll want you flying if River's too unsettled."

"Which is looking more'n more likely," Mal joined in as he approached, dropping a parcel onto the backseat, then leaning against the side of the mule, arms crossed. "Made some kind of ruckus in the parsonage over breakfast."

Jayne stomped over to the ground cart to secure their supplies, unaccountably eager to get under way and wolfing down the last of a protein bar. River trailed behind the man and immediately began undoing everything. A worrisome memory a year and a half old surfaced, involving Jiangyin hill folk, witchcraft, and torches. "Loudish?"

"These are uncommonly tolerant folk," he answered, "but let's not impose on their hospitality much longer." Uh huh. Zoë had no doubts his hurry was more to do with his local popularity and the ration of jokes waiting for him than the villagers. He scanned over Inara, taking in her new fashion and her bare legs, sliding from her ankles up to her ruffled hem before catching himself. "Zoë? You seen…?"

His first mate took his holster from the seat beside her and tossed it to him. "Left it with your coat," she answered, "Inara found it."

He frowned, then shrugged and wordlessly slung his gun belt around his hips, missing the sharp glance, the slight headshake in response. No problem, just in case. "Kaylee?" he asked, once mollified that his side arm was secure. Zoë merely raised an eyebrow, and he sighed in irritation. "Tā shí jiàng yào nòng shāng… Really don't want to see her unshucked. Someone go flush out the rabbits."

"Hey, I'll do it," Jayne piped up, mustering a not-quite-sincere innocent look from around a crate and altogether too interested.

"Doc'll be naked too, Jayne," the captain shot over his shoulder, exasperated.

"Make Zoëy do it," the lout immediately changed his mind, and went back to fighting with River over their packages. The girl threw something that sounded breakable with a loud crash.

Mal shook his head helplessly and his second in command snorted a laugh. "Just leave that for now," he ordered, "We need Kaylee to check the shuttle engines, and we're bringing 'em back here to load up anyway." The other man grumbled something at River then lumbered off, presumably to go scavenge some more food. "And knock it off with that sleep phrase!" Mal called after the merc, "Gonna scramble the girl's brains again or something, getting it wrong all the time." Jayne threw his hands up and stomped down the stairs into the commons building and out of sight.

Now, a dilemma. The corporal watched her sergeant with detached patience. Mal was being too pigheaded to speak to Inara after their fight, couldn't send her away to look for his mechanic any more than he could actually work up the nerve to talk to her. But the longer he was in her presence, the more likely he was to embarrass himself, and the more he delayed, the greater chance of being teased.

Zoë received a scathing glare from him, warning her that he knew what she was thinking. Cleared his throat, looked away. "Inara. Feel up to s'more abduction? Don't even need a club, and it's for a good cause."

She looked pleased he'd finally spoken to her, and only slightly disappointed it had taken so long. "What, annoying Simon?" she grinned, amused.

"That's a good cause!" he defended, "it enrichens the 'verse with humour, that's downright charitable!"

"I'm sure it is," Inara hummed with merry skepticism. Her expression turned sincere. "I don't mind," she told him, a concession of some sort. They gazed at each other a moment or two, long enough for Zoë to feel a twinge of nostalgia, then the captain grunted some kind of acceptance and made to climb up into the mule. Inara hesitated. "Mal?"

He glanced at her, halfway between the ground and the carriage, then his eyes dropped to his coat in her arms. "You hang onto that for now. Keep you warm." She beamed at his unspoken apology, and he pulled himself up past Zoë into the driver's seat.

Zoë watched the other woman walk away, catching her turning to look back at them now and then. "And in about an hour or so," the more practical of the two browncoats commented, "she'll be keeping warm in ninety degree summer weather." He glowered at her, which she countered placidly, until finally he grumbled and crossed his arms, glaring at the dash instead.

"You know," he said, "someday, you're gonna be wrong about somethin', and I'll have all these years a practice from you on how to give a body a hard time."

"Glad you've been listening, sir," Zoë replied, and they fell into an amicable silence while they waited for the others.

COMMENTS

Friday, July 8, 2011 12:48 PM

BYTEMITE


That's actually not an inconsistency. Generally, people with PTSD shouldn't be allowed to fall asleep with guns strapped to them.

Or anyone, really, but them especially.

Friday, July 8, 2011 3:32 PM

PLATONIST


So many things to love about this chapter, Inara's bare legs with a ruffled hem, poor Mal, and Zoe's stoic sarcasm about her needing the coat in the heat, Zoe’s admittance of not liking the Companion in the beginning, you’re a master at the type of character moments, which made the show great.

Thanks for posting

Friday, July 8, 2011 4:39 PM

BYTEMITE


They're cute when they're not fighting, and hilariously cute when they are!

I try for nuance when I write Zoe, she's subtle.

Thanks for reading again. :)

Friday, July 8, 2011 5:19 PM

EBFIDDLER


I like how you've written Zoe, and especially enjoyed the bit about knocking the Captain and Inara's heads together and locking them in the shuttle until they figure things out, and what you wrote about a "prank war" between Mal and Wash in early days. I can just see it.
I was confused about whose POV we're in, in the first part.
Always look forward to your next posting.

Saturday, July 9, 2011 5:42 AM

BYTEMITE


That would be River. I'm one of those people who wonder about just how much "better" River can be after Miranda. So, a compromise. My take is that getting the secret out calmed some of River's emotional turmoil, allowing her to better cope with some of the other stuff going on in her life, so she feels clearer after it. But when stress starts building up, like her foreseeing some danger, her thoughts start getting confused and muddled again.

These limitations keep her more even with the rest of the crew, ability wise. I think in terms of story and characterization, it's important to have reasons why one character doesn't just outshine all the other characters if they have as game-breaking powers as River does.

Sunday, July 10, 2011 5:32 AM

AMDOBELL


I particularly love the way you write the dialogue between Mal and Zoe, I can so see that kind of interaction. And Jayne just makes me chuckle. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, September 25, 2011 1:24 PM

BARDOFSHADOW


loath to stop reading for now, but it's way past my bedtime. Wish I didn't have to go to work in the morning and read it all in one sitting.


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