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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
Zoe has a little breakdown, Mal comforts his best friend, Inara and Mal fight, Inara tells her shocking secret.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2010 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Life’s Too Short- Part Eleven
Author’s Note: There’s a section here that’s Zoe thinking, so I’m warning you: happy-go-luckiers beware. Also: trouble in Paradise! Mal and Inara have a squabble! And Mal and Zoe have a very touching moment that was actually pretty hard to write ‘cause I was all weepy thinking about it.
Oh, and comments are GREATLY appreciated! Warm fuzzies all around.
* * * * Funny. Her man would have had several things to say about Jayne and River hooking up. Her man would have had several things to say about Mal and Inara, too.
Would have had.
That was what it came down to now, wasn’t it? Zoe sat on her bed, with the lights out. They’d be landing on Diogenes the next day, fueling up. Wash would have wanted to take her out, even for just an hour. His hands on her waist, walking behind her, bodies moving in unison. Her balance, her fragile equilibrium.
She could barely call it ‘dead’. Dead was cold and humorless, everything her Baby wasn’t. Not a softer term, either. Passed on? Crossed over? Zoe could hardly stomach the words. Just gone. Forever. A hole in her heart that would never be filled.
They’d come back after the fight with the Reavers. Inara steadying Kaylee, Mal and Jayne carrying Simon. Zoe, walking alone, unable to look at the others. Unable to speak, touch, see. They’d boarded the ship, and the others had gone straight to the infirmary. Zoe had walked to the bridge, not fast, not slow. The walk that she would walk forever in her dreams. Endless, silent horror, that walk. Only one destination.
And he’d been gone. The stake that had skewered him was broken in two pieces, covered with blood, a shred of his shirt on one end. A bright, cheerful piece of cloth, like all his shirts. Zoe remembered it as seeming obscene in the gore. Other than that, there was not a trace of her husband. Not dead, not taken, not eaten. Just… just gone.
She’d lost others, many others. So many that she couldn’t remember all their names, and that seemed so wrong to her now. But it was nothing she could help. He was different, though. Had always been different. He’d forced his way through her shell, made her smile and laugh and love with a fresh sweetness that Zoe had lost in the war.
His love had been a balm for her wounds, a warm bath to rejuvenate her. Zoe could remember feeling so bad, so sick inside, that she wanted to die and there he had been, her Husband, her man. Where was Wash now?
Zoe drew her knees up, cold inside. She could almost feel him. His lovemaking had been everything and anything she wanted: slow and sweet, gentle and warm, fast and hard. No matter how they fit together, they always fit so perfectly, his hands always moving over her skin with such tenderness, such wonder. Chills ran down Zoe’s spine at the memory, and her gut clenched.
No tears. That was the rule. Since the first battle, when she’d seen her older brother get shot down right in front of her. That was something no one but Mal knew about, and no one but Mal would ever know about. She’d sworn not to cry, ever, no matter what. Then, she’d thrown up until her stomach burned, and killed seven more soldiers before going to her bed that night.
No tears. Please, God, no tears. Tears were an admission of failure, of guilt, of loss that would never go away. She’d let him die, and then she’d just… left him there. Gone on.
“Hey, lambytoes, don’t beat yourself up over me. It wasn’t your fault.” Zoe gripped her legs with both hands, rocking.
“You couldn’t have saved me.”
“I miss you, Baby. I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too, sweetcakes. But you’ll be okay. You’ll get over me. You’re frozen inside, after all. Didn’t even cry at my funeral, did you? Not one single tear. My warrior woman. You’re so beautiful, Zoe, so incredibly gorgeous. My god, you’re even prettier than me, and that’s something to be proud of!” He laughed. “My Ota. Do you know what an ota is, lambytoes? It’s a little plate, all decorated and pretty, but sharp as a razor. That’s you. Gorgeous as anything, but cold as steel and sharp as a knife. Did you even try to get my body back? I don’t * think * so!”
“I’m sorry, Wash,” Zoe whispered, burying her head in her knees. She still heard his voice, heard it in her head. Oh God, he was there.
“Nope, no tears for my honey. Guess you weren’t really my honey, were you? Letting them take my body like that?” Zoe pounded her fist against her temple and her dead husband stopped talking. Not him, she told herself. It’s you. You’re doing this to yourself. Wash would never say that. Never, ever, ever. She lay there, curled into herself in the dark, dry-eyed.
* * * * * Mal was sitting at the desk in his bunk with his feet resting on its rim, watching a capture that someone- River, unless he was very much mistaken- had placed on his pillow. It was of himself and Inara, not saying anything, just… sitting. At the kitchen table, nursing steaming mugs. He had no idea when it had been taken, and even less idea why she’d decided to give it to him now, but he liked it. A lot. It made him feel warm inside, and not just because of the night-thingy Inara was wearing….
“Mal?” It was the lady herself, and for a moment Mal thought his imagination was gettin’ a little too feisty, but- “Mal, I have to talk to you.” He swung around in his chair, and saw Inara gracefully descending the ladder into his bunk. Oooh, boy, he thought, and quickly flipped the capture face-down on the desk.
“Uh, yeah, what’s your pleasure, ‘Nara?” Tian a, he was doing it again. Why did these words escape his mouth around her? Especially when she was right there, in his bunk, alone, with the door closed? Inara sat on the edge of his bed, and Mal almost groaned.
“Zoe came to talk to me earlier.”
“Did she.” Please, don’t let her have come down here to talk about my first mate.
“Yes. She wanted to talk about you, Mal.”
“Me?” Inara clasped her hands in her lap, looking serious.
“She warned me not to hurt you again.” Mal’s mouth dropped open, and he blinked at her.
“She, ah, she what?”
“I’m worried about her, Mal,” Inara said, hurrying past the look in his eyes. “She’s really hurting. She told me that you were all she had left. I think I got through to her that we were all here for her, but… well, I’m still worried.”
“And you’re telling me this because….?” Inara blinked.
“Well, you’re the captain. And her best friend. I thought you should know, that maybe you could… I don’t know, talk to her.”
“Hey, you’re the one with the degree in personal relations here.” Inara narrowed her eyes as if trying to decide whether or not that was an insult, but then continued.
“Maybe so, but I think you’d be the best to talk to her.”
“And say what, exactly? You sayin’ I haven’t dealt with Wash dyin’?”
“No, I’m saying that Zoe is in a great deal of pain, and you-”
“You sayin’ I’m neglecting my mate?” Mal dropped his feet to the floor. He was hot inside again, but this time it was from anger. And guilt, okay, some guilt too, but still.
“Mal, listen to me. I’m not trying to antagonize you. I just think that she trusts you, and maybe you should help her deal with this.”
“We’ve talked. Dealing has been done.”
“You’ve talked? Mal, her husband is dead! He was her release, and that’s gone now! Aren’t you in the least bit worried about the fact that she has no way to let go, now? You’ve… you’ve talked?!”
“Yeah, we’ve talked! Zoe’s a strong woman, she’s lost people before! I know how it feels, and I know how to deal with it, and it’s not by letting emotions out like you keep sayin’ to! Unlike SOME people, who haven’t had a bit of hardship all their lives!” Mal was breathing hard, his eyes burning. Inara reeled back as if he’d struck her, her own breath coming in a gasp. For a moment, he saw a terrible pain in her deep brown eyes, and then she stood, scrambling for the ladder. “Hey! Hey, ‘Nara, I didn’t mean it! Come on, Inara!”
She paused at the top of the ladder, her hands and arms already out of the porthole. For an instant, it seemed as if she would say something. Then, she climbed out into the hall and his door slammed with a clang.
Mal swung back around to stare at the wall above his desk, and then let his head fall so that his forehead banged against the edge of the desk.
“Ow! Ta ma de xio leng sha go!” He raised up a little, balancing his chin on one hand and slowly picking up the capture with the other. Mal fiddled with the controls on the side and zoomed in on Inara’s face. She was staring absently into the distance, her eyes dark pools. Every muscle relaxed. It was something he’d never seen, he realized. And, studying it closer now, Mal thought he saw shadows in the contours of her face, not quite lines but… something. He narrowed his eyes, immediately curious, but then pushed it to the back of his mind.
Maybe Inara was right. She was hurting, that was for damn certain. But… well, Mal wasn’t good at comfortin’ and the like. He’d never lost a wife, and no one he knew had ever lost a husband right in front of him. He’d known soldiers who’d lost all manner o’ kin, but never someone as close to him as Zoe and Wash.
None of ‘Nara’s business, though. No right to butt into Zoe’s life, an’ then come lecture him about it. Weren’t her problem. Mal switched off the capture with a scowl and shoved it into his desk drawer. Then, he reconsidered, and, with possibly an even deeper scowl, snatched it back and shoved it under his pillow.
He would go see Zoe, Mal decided. Go talk to her. Or not talk. Just… well, he was her friend, and he owed it to her. Even if it had taken him months, and Inara’s big eyes.
* * * * *
Mal thought about knocking on the porthole that led down to Zoe’s bunk, but didn’t. Gorram doors made enough noise openin’, anyways. He lowered himself down the ladder, and was a little taken aback at the total darkness. If he hadn’t heard her breathing, he would have thought she wasn’t even there.
“Zo? You awake?”
“Go away, Mal,” came the tired voice from the bed. He had a sudden memory of Zoe, the first morning after Serenity was flying again, carrying all the sheets from her bed down the halls and to the airlock, her face a mask, revealing nothing.
“Ain’t leavin’, Zoe. Might as well resign yourself to it.” He didn’t turn on the light, but just sat down gingerly on the end of the bed. He could make out her dim form, lying curled tightly into herself.
“’M not in a mood for a discussion, sir.”
“Not askin’ you to discuss anythin’.” She moved, the bed creaking. He felt the mattress ease into a new position.
“Inara told you I talked to her. You want to talk about Wash,” she said evenly.
“Well, I just thought… I wanted to talk about Wash, yeah.”
“Never approved of him, anyway. Why would you have anything to say now?” Mal coughed.
“’S not that I didn’t approve. Just thought he weren’t good enough for you.”
“Wasn’t your place to think that, sir.” Mal sighed.
“I know that. An’… an’ I was wrong. I found that out in Niska’s torture chamber, when all o’ you came for me. When he and I were in there.” Mal rested his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes. He felt very tired.
“That I did. He was a good man, Zo, an’ I guess I didn’t see that soon enough. Now it’s too late. My fault, what happened to him.”
“Ain’t your fault,” Zoe said harshly.
“I put him in the ruttin’ chair,” Mal snapped, the rage at Wash’s death hitting him sudden and hard. “I put him there.” Zoe didn’t say anything, but he could feel the pain radiating off her. All at once she exploded from her fetal position, pummeling his chest.
“If you put him there, why didn’t you tell me so? I hear him, Mal! In my sleep, in my gorram mind!” Mal let her hit him, knowing she needed it. He would be there for her, in the only way he knew how. Zoe collapsed against his chest, and Mal held her awkwardly.
“Hush. Hush now.” He saw his mother, holding a little boy with a twisted ankle. “’S okay.”
“I can’t stop him, Mal. Everything else I can push away an’ hold back, but I can’t stop him.” She was shuddering. Not crying, her face cold and dry, her hands clenched into fists that pressed painfully into his shoulders.
“He loved you, Zoe, an’ he loves you still. Wherever he is, he’s watchin’ over you, I know it.”
“Nightmares,” Zoe murmured, and then went quiet. Mal closed his eyes, feeling her agony like a knife through his own heart. So many dead. So many lost. When would it end? He prayed to a god that was no longer his that she would find peace. I know you’ve abandoned me, Lord, but don’t abandon her. She don’t deserve this.
Zoe was asleep, he could tell. Her breathing was deep, and her arms were heavy. The fists relaxed, and he could feel the change in her posture. She wrapped her arms around his neck, nesting her head in the hollow of his throat. Mal knew that it wasn’t him that she was embracing.
“I love you, Husband,” Zoe sleep-whispered. Mal felt his eyes burn with the familiar ache that wasn’t tears. He hadn’t cried in decades. Like her, he’d lost that power.
“I love you too,” he whispered back, knowing it was what she needed to hear. Then, carefully, gently, he laid her back on the bed and stood. Mal looked down at her sleeping face, and then bent and kissed her forehead with a tenderness previously reserved for Kaylee and (sort of) Inara. Zoe smiled in her sleep, and Mal climbed out of her bunk.
* * * *
“One step back,” River intoned, “but also one step forward. Balances out.”
“Thanks for the capture, Albatross. But mayhap you wanna stay out of my room from now on? Sound good?”
“You’re welcome. And no.” Mal pursed his lips. He was sitting in the copilot’s chair, spinning idly from side to side as River flew them towards Diogenes. Wasn’t much you could say to a solid refusal like that.
“Well, could you ask first? Let me know?”
“Then, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”
“Uh, no, guess not.” Sometimes, River’s logic was infuriating.
“She’s really quite angry with you. More than the other fights. Good job.”
“Hey,” Mal said, eyes narrowed, “that is none of your business!”
“You’d better use the shuttle time wisely.”
“We won’t be able to land Serenity without smoothing things over with Walter, but we need fuel. You won’t be able to get it on your own. You need a representative, someone to convince Walter that you’ve changed your wicked ways.” Mal chose to ignore the way she’d plucked the name out of his mind. He was almost getting used to it.
“And you think Inara- Hey, now, River, she’s mad at me!”
“But she’ll play the part.” Mal had an uncomfortable flashback to Saffron, her lies twisting like snakes.
“Why not bring Simon?”
“Because Walter will respond well to a Companion, and not well to a stuffy Core doctor.” She was right, much as he hated to admit it.
“Shuttle time, hmm?”
* * * * *
“So. How ‘bout Simon and Kaylee, then? Keep wonderin’ when he’s gonna pop the question,” Mal said into the silence. Inara was focused on the shuttle controls, completely ignoring him. She hadn’t spoken to him once since curtly agreeing to help with the smoothin’-over aspects of the job. Mal cleared his throat uncomfortably, trying to look calm and relaxed in the second chair.
Needless to say, it wasn’t working. No one did ‘ignore’ like ‘Nara. Well, Mal decided, two could play that game. After his latest attempt at conversation failed, he let the silence take hold and just sat there. After about five minutes, he was flexing his hands again and again, then tapping his fingers rhythmically on his thighs.
“Impatient, Mal?” The question was not asked with her customary gentle amusement, but rather flatly and without much feeling.
“Hell, ‘Nara, I’m a man of action.” She still wasn’t looking at him.
“I suppose that’s why all these horrible things happen in your life,” she said in that same cold tone. Mal stopped drumming his fingers.
“I didn’t mean that, Inara. We were fighting, and I- I just- Well, you shouldn’t have barged into Zoe’s and my life!” Okay, it was a shot below the belt, but he was hoping that she would flare up at him. Anything was better than this calm, emotionless non-Inara persona that she was giving him now. Xio xi, they’d had fights before about much more serious things! At least, he’d thought they were more serious. Apparently, he’d been wrong.
“I believe you did the barging, Mal, and always have.” He could just hear her spit that, her eyes aflame with that wonderful light that could be turned so suddenly to an entirely different sort of heat (not that he’d done it but once, but that was something he’d never forget). Only she didn’t say it like that. Her voice was tired, so tired, and Mal felt like an old heel.
But he was the Captain, and captains weren’t supposed to feel like old heels! Wasn’t in the rulebook, too undignified.
“I’m sorry?” It came out a question.
“I’m sure you are,” she said, and lapsed into silence again. They had forty minutes to go. Mal sighed. Shuttle time, indeed. His visions of passionate make-ups and make-outs were dying painfully. Hell, they were writhing in the dust with Inara’s shotgun blast still ringing in the air. That wasn’t a very dignified thought, either.
It was happening more and more these days.
“I, uh, so, did you?” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. It was a start. Mal leaned forward, encouraged.
“Did I what.”
“Did you, ah, have something real bad happen in your life?” He had a nagging feeling that this wasn’t a smart line of questioning, but, as usual, ignored it. Mal was a firm believer in mind over… well, mind. If you never use your common sense, maybe it would eventually go away.
“My life is none of your business.”
“Oh, yes it is, princess.” She glared at the ‘princess’, but Mal sped along down that slippery slope to certain doom. “Your life is my business since my tongue went in your mouth!”
Inara couldn’t stop herself from remembering the feel of his kiss, and knew that he’d meant for her to remember. You don’t play a player, she thought grimly, forcing herself not to lick her lips.
“Your tongue in my mouth doesn’t buy you a share in my business.”
“Oh, aren’t we the wealthy enterpriser now,” Mal said sarcastically. “I say it does.”
“And I say it doesn’t!”
“Well, here’s how it is, ‘Nara. I’m bigger than you. I’m stronger than you. I’ve got a gun, and I’m pissed. So it does.” She opened her mouth, and Mal interrupted before she could speak. “You may be smarter, but that don’t buy you nothing.”
“I won’t fight with you about this, Mal. Just let it go.”
“I ain’t gonna let it go, not now! Something happened to you!” He was getting worked up, she saw. Inara took a deep breath. She was touched that he was worked up because of fear for her, but he had no right to- well, all right. In his world, kissing would give him some say in her life. But only some.
“Nothing you need to hear about.” Before she could move or say another word, Mal stood and swept her up out of the pilot’s chair, pinning her against the wall so that she stood on her tiptoes, her nose an inch from his. His eyes were intensely blue, seeing down into her soul.
“Tell me what happened, ‘Nara.”
“If you don’t let me go, this shuttle is going to crash.”
“Unless some of Kaylee’s space monkeys got loose an’ are bouncin’ about out here, we ain’t hittin’ a gorram thing for another half-hour. No dice.”
“Mal, let go of me or I will have to hurt you.” Inara readied her leg to jam her knee up into a very sensitive spot you-know-where, but Mal pressed his own knees into hers and froze the movement.
“Nope. You ain’t movin’ until I hear exactly what happened.” Inara thought about head-butting him, but decided that it was a bad idea on two points: a.) it would look ridiculous and probably would only make him laugh, and b.) he was so gorram hard-headed that he wouldn’t even feel it.
“Just let me go!”
“No!” His hands were firm on her arms, and suddenly Inara could only think of sex. Lying beneath him, his hands on her, holding her, his legs pressed against hers, his mouth- okay. Okay, stop this right now.
“I’m not telling you.”
“Inara, please.” She looked up at the sudden change in his voice. “I have to know,” he said, and there was something almost desperate in his eyes. She felt that familiar wrench in her heart, and loved him so painfully that she nearly cried.
“You won’t want to hear.”
“I don’t care. You know all manner o’ bad things about my happy little existence. Little unfair, I think.” He was trying to be funny. Failing miserably, but trying. Inara steeled herself. She didn’t care. If he was revolted, if he backed away, if he never touched her again, she wouldn’t care. Oh God and Buddha and every deity in the ‘verse, she prayed, don’t let him back away.
“I killed my lover,” she whispered.
Time to remember.
TBC: Next: sorry for the little cliffhanger, but you’ll find out just what Inara is talking about in the next installment. And more crew interaction, without Mal and Inara present. Hee hee hee.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006 7:19 PM
Thursday, April 13, 2006 2:50 AM
Thursday, April 13, 2006 2:51 AM
Thursday, April 13, 2006 8:09 AM
Thursday, April 13, 2006 1:48 PM
Tuesday, April 18, 2006 12:13 AM
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