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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 856 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Simon had thought before that the name Serenity had a funereal sound to it, and events since then hadn't exactly convinced him otherwise. So in a way it was fitting, that the cargo bay seemed like the vault of an earthen mausoleum, metal framework and brown wall paneling climbing into the shadows above them.
They had removed the contents of the shipping crate from the back of the ground trailer, had gathered around in a semi-circle to pay their respects. The clamps echoed into the gloom as he sealed the cryochamber, a hard and unforgiving sound. The doctor hesitated, the last button unpressed, until he received a go ahead from the captain. The container flooded with a hiss of super cooled air. The freezing process took only seconds, for his patient's heart to stop, for her vital signs to cease.
He rested a hand on the lid, his own quiet farewell, and as he moved away, his sister stepped up to take his place. She leaned over to lay her ear on the shimmering grey surface as though to listen, her long dark strands arrayed around her head, her arms wrapped around the sides. Perhaps she was able to hear something, some song of cell or molecule or energy after clinical death that not even science could detect. Even so, her supplication was perhaps a little too much, and not entirely appropriate. He tapped at her shoulder and she allowed him to somberly lead her aside.
She had prompted the rest of them out of their own reluctance, and they each took a turn saying goodbye. Zoë stood tall next to the stasis cell, the salute of a bronze honour guard in a leather vest instead of a uniform, a moment of silence before she departed. Even a sorrowful Jayne shuffled awkwardly nearby before he blurted something out in a mumble and hurried away.
Kaylee was next, the sadness of her face in contrast with the cheery sweetheart patch on her overalls and the pink print of her shirt. Despite his own feelings of hurt over her lack of trust, he felt a sudden regret for his harsh words to her. But he wasn't about to interrupt her, and wasn't even sure what he could say to her, or even that there was anything he could say without looking even worse in her eyes. She seemed partially aware of his attention, and, glancing at him briefly, fled up the metal stairs, not wanting to spend any more time in his presence.
Only Mal remained. The lights shut off automatically as Simon helped River to her room, not wanting to intrude.
- - - - -
Morning. Even the hum of Serenity was softer than usual. Not that he felt any kind of promise for the day when he got up from his ratty bedsheets, or that it meant any more to him than the turn of one restless shift to another. But he pulled himself up, like always, and shrugged on some clothes, snapped his suspenders into place, tugged on his boots. As he ran his hand through his hair and groomed himself into some likeness of human, he didn't ever look in the mirror over the sink. No real urge to see the red in his eyes and all his failures glaring back. Mostly just made him want to put a fist through the glass, and he couldn't afford another replacement, and the doctor would get after him about how many weaves he kept using up.
Wasn't often that anyone was awake before the captain. He never rested well anymore even in the best of times, spent a lot of strange hours avoiding sleep or fighting off ghosts and memories by surveying all their nooks. So he knew most everything that happened around his boat, and too much about the tendencies and whereabouts of his crew.
Kaylee usually slept soundly. His hardworking mechanic wasn't much for troubled slumber even after the danger they'd seen, what with all the "playing doctor" going on. He'd hear the new couple carry on for a while, then bill and coo irksome at each other, then hush, and not stir again for the rest of the cycle. At least the boy didn't snore. Jayne, though, sounded like an artillery shell. That missed the trenches, and hit a munitions depot. The hulking mercenary did everything in excess from vice to eating. An armed intruder couldn't wake Jayne before breakfast.
If it wasn't for some recent nightmares Inara had, he might have thought her free from the same drawbacks of all the mere mortals like them, and that she stayed up practicing her arts instead. But when he'd finally got her to relax, he found she was as subtle in sleep as she was in everything else.
Mal would find River on his rounds, curled up napping wherever she'd dropped during some witching hour safari. He thought that she might end up hurting herself on accident, but they couldn't exactly lock her away, and they were nearby if she needed them, so no harm had yet come of it. Book would sometimes wake early, and cook an elaborate meal as if it made up for the transgressions of his God and humankind. Occasionally he'd cross ways with Wash, the pilot would get up to check the helm then stumble back to wife and bed. More lately it was Zoë, after one of her all-nighters sitting on the bridge, sneaking back into her bunk for a change of clothing. He pretended he didn't notice, since it was only fair for all the times she'd covered for him.
Couldn't hear anyone else awake, so he had Serenity to himself for a while. He climbed his ladder, popped the hatch, but stopped short of the galley, wondering why he had a largish and thin curved sword impaled halfway through his well-used and already battered dining table.
He crept closer. Seemed to glow golden, lit from the lamp underneath and the dawn shining in from above. For all he could tell the blade knew he was there and could lash out at him, not much else to account for where it had come from. "Erroneous," River appeared like a wisp, an oracle in a new moon shroud. He snatched his hand back. "Misplaced." Less than a breath. "Wrong."
As if to make an example of herself, she climbed up on the table with a composed dignity, using the chairs as a step stool. She closed her eyes, head tilted back, and threw her arms out, drew them back, arched one overhead. A high kick to the side, her foot pointed, then a twirl on tiptoes. Too early by far for this, he thought, and turned towards the counter to look for the instant-caf powder.
Mugs full were already there, steaming and waiting. Shepherd? He had to remind himself, no, the preacher wasn't with them anymore. But mysterious swords aside, he wasn't going to turn down a tin. He grabbed one and took a sip, leaning up against the counter. Zoë joined him from behind the cabinets. Maybe she'd always been there, like she was always at his side. Like she'd walked out of his own shadow one day when he needed another soldier, then never left. Or maybe she'd had another rough night, and brewed them up some sludge.
Not that there was any other option - fake coffee was bad all around, so better to make it thick. He nodded a greeting to her, and thanks, and said something else. "What's that about?" he asked, waving a hand at their unique teenager and their sharp looking new centerpiece.
Zoë appraised the scene, then gave him a bland look, like there was no other place for cutlery and a dance show. Even her kinked brown mane seemed flat and tired. "Think it's your problem, sir."
He watched then as the companion passed through, her hair styled high and austere in some shimmery gown, ignoring him. Something bitter twisted in his gut. Must have an appointment.
The corporal levered herself away from the ledge like it was all that had been holding her up. "Don't put her off," she told him, and headed for the bridge. He thought he saw a blond ghost with her, and that she might have laughed at some unheard joke.
A clank of metal in the crew corridor, and Kaylee passed the widow on the way in all but dragging Simon. They weren't fighting, must have made up. He frowned at the younger hands, the doc in particular, who'd started to try to lure River down. Much as Simon had lost, he had someone who doted on him, and much as the doctor tried to get back the River he knew, he almost seemed to forget his sister was still alive.
Jayne followed them in, much irate because he'd apparently had been woken up by the commotion. He stomped up and crowded in to secure his own cup of joe, and hunched over to guard it jealously, scowling over at their other crew mates. "Boy don't know how lucky he is," the big man opined, and swallowed some bitterness along with his drink. Mal supposed that if he was starting to agree with the misanthrope, then he should make himself scarce. Maybe he'd take Zoë's advice.
The mercenary stole his mug when he set it down like the man was collecting them, but otherwise he went unnoticed.
So there was no one to go after him when he stepped into the front hallway, and it wasn't the same one he'd come from. The walls were a brilliant pristine white, cold, impersonal, and judging, and he didn't have his trusty sidearm or browncoat with him. When he heard the sounds, scratchingclawingGNAWING, he ran. Don't look back, because they were right behind him, because they were gaining. Not like this. God, not like this. He turned, raised his arms to ward them off, and he was tackled, he was pinned. He struggled as they held him down.
"Mal!" Xiè tiān xiè dì. An angel. She kept on at calling his name, back to himself, almost like a chant. There was a glow around her, resplendent; she was a silhouette in maroon silk, vague and out of focus. Something was familiar about the way she hovered over him. Her fingers were smoothing over his brow, running through his hair. "Oh Mal," she said, and she sounded almost choked up, but that wasn't like her. "What did they do to you?"
She had him pushed back into the cushions of a narrow couch and was sliding his shirt off his shoulders to see for herself, the buttons undone. A huff of exasperation, and maybe a hint of sadness at the fresh bruises and the patchwork of scars, red and angry layered on pale. She skimmed her hands over him, tracing each mark - she hadn't learned anything from the last time she frisked him, though he didn't mind so much right now - then gave another sigh like relief. She whispered something, hands cradling his head, the veil of her hair tickling face, her breath soft against his face, and so close. And then
Light. An explosion behind his eyes, glory pounding through him in waves like the beat of his heart, from her lips, down his spine, to the soles of his feet. She tasted like a memory of cherries, lifetimes ago and half-remembered, dry and rougher than he expected. Inara, a name as important as his own, inseparable from who he was, filling in his breaks until he spilled over. If she had asked him then he would have offered her up his soul on his tongue. She seared away all the pain in him and replaced it with hope, tentative and growing, burned away the barriers between them until it was just him and her, joined.
When she broke off, somehow both quick and lingering, he wasn't going to let her get away with kissing him like that, not how much he needed her. He hooked her around the hips to pull her over on top of him, nestled into his side, long legs thrown over his. What's more, she let him, with only a half-hearted exclamation. She tilted her chin to turn her eyes to him, surprised then wondering.
He thrilled at the contact again, the way her curves fit against him. Wǒ kào she was soft. He gave an appreciative hum, tracing figures through the fabric of her robe into her back, inches above where the garment came to a tantalizing end. "Woulda been nice if they'd sent me somewhere like this after the war," he mumbled.
Inara shifted, and he saw her blink at him. "A guild house? With companions?" she questioned, doubtful, but her voice was warm, and he never could tell if she was teasing him or sincere. That explained the lavish luxury around them though; she might have his shuttle dressed up in columns, hazy curtains, and trinkets, but the open view down a grassy hill was new.
Mal snorted at her. "Y'mean instead of a pretty woman tending my hurts, I coulda had burly orderlies and been caged up?" He shook his head. "You do drive a hard bargain." Would have been loads better than what he'd been through. He could just imagine one of their temples given over to treating the wounded, taking in injured soldiers and prisoners of war, and Inara as the lady with the lamp among the ranks, far away from the horrors of the battle front. "I'm here now, though. Guess I got my wish after all."
An actual smile bloomed on her face. "And, in this fantasy of yours," she prompted, "who exactly is administering all of this tender loving care?"
"You are," he answered, and shrugged, because it was obvious. His grin was just this side of rakish. "Also, you make me dinner." Among other speculations. Like whether any of her lusts were the insatiable type, or what she might wear to bed when sleeping wasn't on her agenda.
Inara rolled her eyes at him. "That's quite a dream," she said, with a tone that there wasn't a chance in hell that he'd domesticate her, and that was good. He wanted her free-spirited, like when they'd had too much engine wine, or the rare times when she wasn't thinking about being a companion, and he wasn't thinking about being an overworked freighter captain. But she rested her head against his chest and made herself more cozy, so she was more amused than annoyed.
One of those moments fell over him, thunderstruck, the important ones that weren't for jokes. "Just 'cause something ain't real, don't mean it ain't true," he told her, testing out the words, and feeling the weight of them.
She fell quiet for a while, almost like she'd drifted off, when suddenly she rose up on her hands, looking out towards the field beyond their pavilion. "Let's go swimming. In the creek, like you promised."
Where'd that come from? He stared, flummoxed by the change in conversation. "What, you mean now?" he sputtered. There was an eagerness in her voice that was hard to defy, but staying on the little couch meant more time with her laying on top of him, and many, many other such benefits.
"When else?" she countered, and got to her feet, much to his disappointment. He made another grab for her, and she danced away, challenging him with a laugh. She squeaked when he almost caught her, and dashed down the hill side, him in close pursuit. Soft green grass knee high around them reassured him if they were to take a tumble; they hopped a fence into the next pasture, and he saw his favourite old tree. The realization almost tripped him. He was home.
Inara had only just barely stepped down the sandy bank into the creek when the sky turned dark, streaks of flame screaming down from above. The landscape withered around him in the heat; a dusty noxious fog rose, stinging his eyes while sparks drifted in the still air like fireflies, burning his skin. Plumes of smoke and fire jumped upwards, all the way to the endless horizon.
The ground rocked underneath him from a nearby impact and he landed face down in a trench and into some slick, sticky mud, more red than brown. The echoing whistle, boom, and crackle of the missiles had faded to a terrible silence, with not even the rush of a desolate wind over the barren and battle-scarred field. He started to pick himself up, and looked right into the half-ruined face of one of his soldiers who had died on Hera. The private's good eye was open, unblinking, and the boy seemed almost aware of him, but said nothing. He got up and away quickly, moved, kept moving, his hand on the sandbags piled high on his right to find his way. They'd stacked bodies too, some in pieces, but here they were mostly whole, and all of them had their heads turned towards him, some of them with their necks at impossible angles.
He passed Tracey, still chagrined in his last moments, and didn't look close at the glimpse of greying hair or hawaiian shirt he caught. Faster still past his medic and his mechanic, curled around each other in their last moments, then his mercenary, and then Zoë, still vigilant and on guard even with a hole where her heart should be.
The creek was just up ahead still, somehow still there, though now silty and befouled and about the colour of blood. Inara. She wasn't back here among the dead. He ran harder towards were she'd disappeared, shouting for her. Something wiry and frail climbed out onto the water, clothed in midnight rags with dark straight hair and too small to be full-grown, her face unnerving serious.
"They aren't blue," she muttered, in a core world accent. Her dark eyes looked back up at him, glowering as she scrutinized him. "I placed her in a glass casket, but she was lost when the water rose too high." Her glare softened, replaced by something more like fear, and she folded her arms around herself, shivering. "Now she's trapped, and it's dark, and she's cold." She looked back up at him through the straggly waterfall of her hair. "So cold."
He waded out into the stream and her hand shot out like a claw and clutched at his wrist. "But you'll protect her," she said, sinking, dragging him down under the surface, where it was icy freezing. "You'll protect her, like you protected me." The deep closed around him.
When he opened his eyes again, he was nearly blinded again by the brilliance of the white hallway. Inara was here? No, no. She couldn't be. Not here. Anywhere but here. The growls and shrieks of the others echoed, sometimes seeming from faraway, sometimes from right behind him as they hunted. Demons in classy suits and uniforms as much as disfigured and lesioned. Everyone would be rounded up and corralled, like cattle. They'd take her, pay her, then break her and he'd be made to stare.
Another shout, their bloodthirsty joy. No. "You have to protect her. Won't you?"
He reached the elevator, limping, rode it upwards to where he'd left them. The chokepoint was abandoned; bloodless, but that was no comfort.
The hunters had opened a hole in the far door and were starting to come through. And then he saw her, Inara, struggling to reach him as the host tried to pull her back, or pull her apart - he wasn't sure which. Her dress, gold like the dawn, was torn to shreds and so filthy he could barely see what colour it was supposed to be. He'd seen her like this only few times before, pale, her brown eyes wide, lips thinned from the effort of putting on a brave front. He held his arms out for her, but she was looking at something behind him. She was scared.
Mal saw only the reflection of metal and a browncoat, and leaped between her and her new attacker. Barely felt the impact of the blow, the sword twisting through him and out his back. Not the smartest thing he'd ever done, and now the last. Inara shouted something that he couldn't understand. He gritted his teeth against the black creeping in around the edge of his vision and surged forward, knocking them both off balance, and looked into a face like a mirror before he hit.
- - - - -
He was almost heaving when his eyes snapped open. His shoulder and cheek ached where the steel grating was pressed into his side and face, and his brain was muddled enough that he didn't know his own cargo bay right away. Then he remembered - the collapse, the decision he'd made, how he couldn't abandon his vigil. He'd spent the night out here, close to her, and so far.
That was one of the worst dreams he'd had in a while, and it wasn't fading in day light. Sore though he was, he laid very still a few moments longer, before he felt safe enough to move again. He braced himself, then he rolled over. The capsule was still there, sharp-lined, harsh, and real. He reached out to attempt some kind of connection, like he'd never managed while she was active and lively, but the outside was cool to the touch, the inside more so. Much as he wanted to promise again he'd save her, she couldn't hear him. He wasn't sure he believed they could anyway.
"Won't you?" River was draped over the top of the box, watching him.
Guǐ chě jiǎo. He stared up at her. There were sometimes that girl was just not right.
Thursday, November 24, 2011 6:27 PM
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