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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The snow dwindled and the lull of darkness enveloped her again, unexpectedly warm, consoling and soothing. She let it carry her away from her regrets and anxieties, the memories and pain fading with it. Her limbs grew heavy and then only her breath remained, until she forgot even that. (Dreams)
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 975 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
A spot of cold kissed her brow, drawing Inara out from the soft black behind her eyelids and into the quiet of night. The change seemed little different; the world was muffled, all sensations dampened. She couldn't see anything, suspended between and outside her own awareness, at one with everything and nothing without distinction. Scattered stars appeared above her, first a few, then many, until they filled the entire sky. Inara admired them, shining across the distance, spiraling down towards her as she stood looking up.
Slowly features began to emerge, a sense of herself then her surroundings. An elegant marble bridge over a koi pond in a frozen garden, leaves and branches glittering and fragile, like glass. The frost had traced beaded swirls over everything, over her skin, patterns over the long skirt of her powder blue dress.
She had walked this path before, during her training days. Her students would have loved this. Girls and boys conversing like adults under the cherry blossoms about their studies, about art, music, theatre, philosophy, skills they were practicing; chattering like children about teachers and companions they admired, the whispers of intrigues they had overheard. The Guild taught acolytes self-control from the time they were twelve, but some took more to those lessons than others. Inara had primly declined to engage in such sport, but her friend Nandi had an enthusiasm for gossip, and made a game of getting Inara to blush.
Nandi would always sneak the acolytes up to an unused balcony in the Summer Temple to watch the the Kunlun Gala, a whirling masquerade of feathers, gemstones, and colour against a backdrop of gilded murals and flowing calligraphy. There they would speculate about which of the debutants would approach each habitue - long time clients and former companions selected for the honour by the chaperones. The habitue were relatively unchanging year to year, chosen for patience and tenderness to ease new companions into the rites, and most of her friends had their own favourites. Invariably, some of the other students would share an interest, or disagree about suitability, and the resulting argument would result in the concierge finding them and chasing them back to the dormitories.
Everything was just as she remembered, like a painting in a museum. This was House Madrassa, or Sihnon, or maybe an approximation at Sheydra's Training House on Burnet. Perfect. Beautiful. Lonely. They'd both left for the Rim and it had been years before they'd seen each other again, and by then, Nandi had been in trouble, and then it had been too late. Inara no longer belonged here. Maybe, for all she had tried to follow her mother's example, she never really had.
The snow dwindled and the lull of darkness enveloped her again, unexpectedly warm, consoling and soothing. She let it carry her away from her regrets and anxieties, the memories and pain fading with it. Her limbs grew heavy and then only her breath remained, until she forgot even that.
Some duration passed unmarked by time or conscious notice, and then someone rolled half on top of her. She blinked, immediately taking in the sight of her curtains in Serenity's shuttle, the elaborate fretwork of her cabinet, the floral motif of her empty flower vase and the little clock arranged on top of it. Whoever was nestled against her shifted again with a masculine grunt and pressed their face into her shoulder, one arm thrown over her waist, then stilled again. She considered her options. He might have rudely jolted her, but a companion was always discreet. She eased herself away from the body against her back and the hot air against her neck, then raised herself up on her hands to survey her visitor.
Oh. Long eyelashes beside a proud aquiline nose, a mess of sleep-tussled hair... Mal, lightly bronzed and shirtless, dozing in her bed beside her, laying under her scarlet quilt. Or rather not quite under, her movement had pulled the covers to his waist. As her gaze trailed over the muscles of his broad shoulders then down his chest and stomach and lower, she started to wonder less than chaste thoughts and turned away quickly, cheeks burning. She couldn't help glancing back. There was nowhere safe to rest her sight without wanting to scrape her teeth along his neck and press her lips against the stubble of his jaw, not even his sweetly unguarded face, normally so tense.
Mal woke then, his blue eyes suddenly on her, tired but bright and alert. He raised his head and reached out to lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder, squinting as he automatically searched around for threats, his mind not quite so aware as his startle response. An inarticulate question, asking if anything was wrong. The man could be sprawled out in the infirmary, Simon holding up the newest extracted addition to the captain's lead collection, and his first thought would still be for whether everyone else was all right.
She couldn't help teasing him, not when he was like this. "You're in my bed," she observed.
No danger here. The anxiety left him, and so did the underlying drowsiness when he found her again. He studied her, a different kind of intensity, then he looked around her shuttle again with faked surprise. A nod. "Seems right to me," he smirked, and sat up against her pillows, tucking his hands behind his head.
Some of her amusement faded at his show of self-satisfaction. Careful. She must not show how she enjoyed his good moods, his company and banter. If he felt too welcome, he'd take that as an all-hours invitation to burst into her life and love her. And then he might never want her to leave. "Why are you in my bed?" she asked.
He kicked his legs (disappointingly clothed, she noticed) out onto her sheets in an infuriatingly smug and endearing way. "Couldn't withstand my charms no more," he guessed.
Inara rolled her eyes at the suggestion. "Yes, that's it exactly. Only entirely backwards." She reached for a long cerulean robe, hung unobtrusively behind her drapery by her bedpost. An extra layer of defense and distance was needed if they were about to start another fight. Or if he was going to continue being so irresistibly winsome.
A shrug, a flash of hurt before he looked elsewhere. "You tell me. It's your bed, up to you whether you lie in it."
There were a number of reasons, none of them really voiceable - Because so many people are gone. Because my idealism was untrue. Because I feel lost, and we could find our way together. Because I don't want to hurt you, but I need you. Inara sighed and gave up. "I don't think either of us know why we're here," she answered, her bare feet cold on her rug as she slipped into the ribbon sandals from beside her nightstand.
She began tidying, self-conscious under his scrutiny as he watched her, bells chiming at her ankles. There was nothing out of place to occupy her. Normally she'd prepare her morning infusion, then dress, style her hair, and apply her makeup, none of which she could do while Mal was in the same room, not without his commentary about her companion wiles. She turned to him, about to make a futile offer of refreshments despite herself, to find he had followed her. He was much nearer than she expected - she had to tilt her head back to look up at him, his eyes half-lidded, tracing her startled face, her parted lips. "I'm glad you are," he said, finally.
Her heart did a strange leap, fluttering, a shiver traveling over her skin where the breath of his words swept over her. A half step towards the tea set on her end table and familiar ceremony and ritual. He caught her around her bicep, stopped her.
"Here's what I don't understand," he murmured, low and resonating. "There's nobody lives forever, there's just making the most of our time." His expression was without any bitterness; curious, sincere, concerned. "So why are you always pushing me away?"
An ache crept through her, a pang of grief and longing. He'd lost so much already. "I'd only hurt you," she told him. She already had.
He was altogether too interested in that offer. "Like with leather and collars?" Mal gave her a crooked smile, something very like desire underneath. "I could be into that." She sent him an exasperated glare over her shoulder, and he pulled his hand back, regretful, before she could snap at him. "I'm not exactly blameless myself. We do both like to rile each other." They each had their troubles and secrets, were sometimes taciturn and defensive. Not always, of course. Certainly not at the moment. There was a connection between them that defied all their attempts at distance. A truth, an admission she so wanted to hear, and she could not bring herself to interrupt him this time. He drew closer still. "And I'll take that," he asserted. "A day, a night, several, a lifetime. Even when all I have is the memory of you." A plea, an oath, the last part rough, whispered. "It'd be worth it."
Her resolve broke, and she as much reached for him as he pulled her against him, as he wrapped his arms around her, as she stretched up to touch his jaw, his cheek.
Someone sighed in impatience at them, and they broke apart. River! Standing not three feet away from them. How much had she seen? They were in the galley somehow, in the lounge off to the side, standing among their choice of furniture and cushions. Everything was bright, golden, too warm. The everyone was at the table, and apparently hadn't noticed their sudden lapse from sanity, Wash telling a joke while Book approached with a pot of breakfast. Not just the crew - Nandi and her mother were seated among them, enjoying the morning antics on Serenity. Children were underfoot, playing around the legs of the adults and ducking under the chairs, one a little girl with her own colouration, clutching a stuffed unicorn.
"I promised," River told her, dark eyes flicking past Mal, inspecting Kaylee's stenciled vines curling up the support beam. "Somewhere always summer." She shook her head. "I promised, but we have to go."
Inara worked to steady her breathing, to find her control. She was burning, trembling. The captain exchanged a glance with her, then moved away to mingle with his crew, nonchalant. Saohuò bùyàolian de dongxi! How could he leave her as if nothing had just happened?
"This is important," River interrupted again, demanding her attention. The teenager scanned her face. "All responses normal. No permanent damage," she assessed. "Reestablish equilibrium to restore full function."
She didn't know what that meant. "River, you aren't damaged," Inara tried, guessing, an attempt to reassure the girl. She tucked some of the long straight strands of dark brown hair behind River's ear.
"You have to understand," she insisted, grabbing her hand, pulling her out from the sofas and towards the passage to the dimly-lit back corridor. "You'd die to save him."
Mal returned, sensing something wrong. "What's going on?" he asked, eyes sliding between them.
"He'd do the same," the psychic told her. "You'll see." She looked apologetic. "It won't be painless."
They plunged into the darkness beyond.
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