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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"The Readers finally make it back to Serenity. The shock and the grief bringing an unexpected side effect."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2440 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "MATTERS OF THE HEART"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara.
RATING: G. **SERIES CONCLUSION**
STATUS: SEQUEL to "CAVEATS AND ADDENDUMS"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "The Readers finally make it back to Serenity.
The shock and the grief bringing an unexpected side affect."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
"MATTERS OF THE HEART"
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Stepping on to that ship was worse than entering a battlefield. It was more like a slaughterhouse. There was blood everywhere, trails of it where Ruben had painfully dragged his friends one by one on to the little stealth ship. Jayne swore and clutched Vera so tightly his knuckles were white. The Captain said nothing, didn't slow his hurried step, Simon swallowing nervously but determined to do whatever he could to help. That was always supposing there was anyone left alive to help.
They found them together, the ragged remnants lying broken and bloody side by side on the deck. The Captain's face drained of what little colour he had left, heart thundering painfully in an uneven canter of pain in his heart. He dropped to his knees, one hand reaching out to check for life signs, Simon kneeling beside him silently doing the same. No one commented on the fact that the Captain's hand was trembling.
"*Wode ma*," Mal's voice broke. "Who would do such a thing?"
Jayne was standing a couple of feet behind them where he could keep watch, his eyes constantly scanning around them lest this was some kind of trap. "Reavers."
Mal knew before he touched him that Michael was dead but still he searched grimly for life signs hoping to find some remnant of a pulse but finding none bowed his head so low Simon could not tell if it was in prayer or simple grief. Then Mal moved to the next one. Helen. His eyes glimmered with unshed tears. Bad enough for men to die like this but it seemed ten hundred times worse for it to happen to gentle Helen. The girl with the healing touch and the heart of a poet. It hurt him. He moved slowly, dropping a soft kiss on her bloody forehead before he stared down at Carl. Of them all Carl had been the most mutilated. Not satisfied with biting chunks out of him, ripping his face and tearing into his body, his arms had been torn off at the sockets and one leg looked like it was halfway to joining the other dismembered limbs. A small cry tore from Mal's lips, eyes closing as he tried to hold back the tears, a hand resting on the man's chest as if he needed that brief contact now that their minds would never join again.
Death was nothing new to Jayne Cobb. *Diyu* it was pretty much his job description but seeing them as had been Mal's friends treated this way filled him with a barely controlled rage, all the stronger for being powerless to do anything about it. Seeing how much it affected the normally contained Captain gave him his own sense of pain and loss. T'weren't no secret that he wasn't overly fond of the Readers. *Diyu*, they were 'Readers' but in the time they had been on Serenity Jayne had also come to see them as people. Kind'a *shenjingbing* and creepifying but people. What had happened to them just weren't right.
"Captain." Said Simon softly.
Mal didn't hear him. He had found Thadius and it was as if the pain and sorrow in him had reached breaking point. The bitter salt of tears emptied its' own ocean, a silent lament of sorrow. The Captain pressed his forehead against the cold blood encrusted head of his friend and wept. Jayne turned his head away, not wanting the Captain's reaction to affect him and giving Mal what little privacy for grief he could. Simon was on the Captain's right side and now placed a hand on his shoulder. "Captain. Mal." He said in a hushed, almost reverent voice. "Ruben is still breathing."
For a moment or two time stood still as if even Creation was stunned. The Captain raised his tear streaked face, Thadius Clay's blood upon his cheek and hands. He stared blankly at the doctor for a moment. "*Shenme*? What you sayin', Simon?"
Jayne hadn't heard Simon talk so gently to anyone but River before. "It's Ruben. The heartbeat is faint and he probably won't last long but he's alive."
The Captain put a hand on Ruben's neck, feeling for the carotid artery. A thin uneven pulse rewarded the effort. Mal bit his lip and spoke to a God that he had barely acknowledged since the ending of the War. "Tian Yesu, he's alive!"
Things got more frantic after that. The Captain sent Jayne back to get a stretcher from the infirmary. No way would he chance manhandling the poor man. Weak as Ruben was the rough jostling could finish him off and this life was too precious to lose though Mal acknowledged it wasn't his decision to make. Didn't mean he wouldn't do everything in his power to save the man. He just wished he could do the same for the others. While he waited for Jayne to come back Malcolm Reynolds swallowed his anger and his pride and prayed. God might have disowned him on the field of battle when he needed Him most, but surely He couldn't abandon Ruben? In his mind Mal could almost feel Shepherd Book smiling fit to bust but steadfastedly ignored the notion. The man had wanted him to believe, didn't much care in what. Well Mal did believe, just not in absent Gods or fickle deities but in people. Them as were tried and tested and could be relied upon. Folk like Zoe and by extension his crew. His family. And now that regard spread to take in these Readers. Just folk, nothing more. Good honest folk. *God help him*, Mal's prayer sang. *An' if you're eavesdroppin' there Shepherd wouldn't hurt none for you to be puttin' in a word ot two*.
Mal would never admit to a living soul how the faint deep rumble of laughter that echoed in his mind was all kinds of precious to him. By the time Jayne came back with the stretcher, the Captain's heart felt oddly lighter. Of all the things in the 'verse the only thing that weighed his heart down was concern for his people. Just this once he would let God help carry the burden.
The ship was strangely quiet and solemn, like some flying morgue with too many minds thinking on death and dying for it to be healthsome. River wasn't thinking of death, nor rightly thinking about living either. Her thoughts were stuck between worlds just out of reach of faith and a heartbeat from joy and sorrow. Simon had no time to wonder at her mood, all his attention on trying to save the last flickering remnant of Ruben Franks' life. The Captain insisted on helping in the infirmary though privately Simon would have preferred Zoe but instinct told him Mal needed to do this and compassion swayed the doctor into agreeing by default. To his relief the man was a more than able assistant, not speaking or distracting Simon with the need for a running commentary or reassurance but ready with whatever instruments or medication he called for.
Idly Simon wondered how many times the Captain and Zoe had assisted in field hospitals. What grisly makeshift conditions they had endured while under enemy fire with their own bleeding and dying around them. It was not often Simon thought about the war or those who had fought in it but the Captain often caused him to challenge his own preconceptions and the fact that they had grown up with diametrically opposed histories and lifestyles had made them the unlikeliest of allies. At times Simon was not even sure if they were friends but this at least he knew to be true. They were not enemies. For now it was enough.
The bodies lay where Ruben had left them. Silent, absent friends. Bodies like empty husks, devoid now of the animation that gave them life. River made no sound as she stepped aboard the stealth ship, her bare feet carefully avoiding the trails of blood, not wanting to step on the lifeforce of those taken in violence and anger. Lives ripped from gasping lungs. Images flooding her mind in lurid technicolour, the sounds muted as she fixated only on the present. It was the only way she could function. Slowly she went from one to the other, straightening limbs askew and reaching out with her thoughts to give what ease she could to the last lingering wisps of spirit. Nothing so tangible as words or thoughts. Nothing so precious as a response.
Zoe found her minutes later in the kitchen area of the common room, a bowl of tepid water and soft cloths in hand. "River? What're you doin'?"
"Someone needs to wash them down. The last journey should be as important as the first."
The first mate's breath hitched with realisation, eyes widening. "You mean the others?"
"*Qu*. Died at the hands of the *guai* yet they linger. Can't let go."
A finger of ice slid down Zoe's back making her shudder. "What do you mean, they can't let go?"
River's eyes were so wide they were mesmerising. "Five souls bound together, they can't move on without him."
"River, you know Ruben's still alive, *dui*?"
"Not for long."
It took effort not to react outwardly while inwardly Zoe's heart quailed. There had been so much pain of late and this was something they did not need. "Simon'll fix him, sweetie."
"Stabilise him for a moment." Said River sadly, as if reluctant to say more but knowing there was no way of cushioning what must come to pass. "Nothing more."
Although Zoe so wanted River to be wrong she could not help remembering her first glimpse of Ruben when they had boarded the little ship. More alive than dead and now River was confirming her worst fear. "There must be something we can do."
River shook her head. "His time has come but he's hanging on."
Tears brimmed in the girl's eyes, her whole world turned to glass. "Didn't get a chance to say goodbye."
She couldn't understand it, really she couldn't. Kaylee blinked, stunned. The mechanic had gone to Inara's shuttle looking for the comfort and solace of her friend while Simon worked to save Ruben's life. Seeing how devastated the Captain had been and how pale and poorly Ruben was had shaken her badly. Now her thoughts were in a whirl, the 'verse unravelling around her as her eyes took in the bare empty walls of the Companion's shuttle. "'Nara, what's goin' on?"
Inara sighed. She had not wanted Kaylee to find out like this. Had thought she would have time to speak to Mal, to tell the crew one by one so that there would be no outpouring of resistance. "It's time for me to move on, Kaylee."
Horror filled the mechanic's face. "*Shenme*? But you can't, 'Nara, Serenity's your home!"
Quickly Inara left the open trunk she was folding clothes into and drew Kaylee down to sit beside her on the bed. The Companion took Kaylee's hand in her own, steeling herself to look into that trembling face. "I have to go, you see that don't you *mei mei*?"
"No!" Kaylee wailed. "I don't see nothin'. Why d'ya have to go, there ain't no reason for you to be leavin' 'Nara. 'Sides, you an' the Cap'n..."
"It would never work."
Kaylee stared at her, shocked by the blunt assertion. "That ain't so an' ya know it. Cap'n loves ya an' I know ya got feelin's for him, 'Nara!"
The Companion nodded. "Yes, I do but we're from two different worlds, Kaylee. Sooner or later we would tear each other apart. It's better this way."
"Don't think the Cap'n'll agree with ya."
"Maybe not right now but in time..."
The girl was crying now. "Don't go, 'Nara, least not now. Not with Ruben dyin' an' the Cap'n so sad an' all."
Inara paled. "What?"
"Simon's tryin' his best to save him but it don't look good. Reavers got 'em, 'Nara, an' Ruben's the last one left alive."
The shock was enough to jolt Inara out of her self absorbed troubles. Straightening her back she rose gracefully and drew Kaylee to her feet as she did so, a firm look in her eye as she gazed steadily at the mechanic. "Not a word about this Kaylee, *dong ma*?"
Kaylee was confused. "*Wo bu dong*."
"Do you trust me, *bao bei*?"
"Then trust me now. I'll stay for the time being, help any way I can, but I won't promise anything beyond that."
Flinging her arms around her, Kaylee clung to her friend like a lifeline. So full of relief she did not know whether to laugh or cry. "*Duibuqi*, 'Nara, ya won't be sorry I promise ya."
Inara brushed the hair back from Kaylee's flushed face and began to wipe the tears away with gentle hands. Knowing only too well that it would not just be Mal she would be leaving but everyone aboard the scruffy but well loved Firefly. It tore at Inara's heart how hard that parting was going to be. "I will still be going." She said gently but firmly.
Kaylee nodded and hoped Inara did not know she had her fingers crossed behind her back. "But not for now?" She pleaded.
"*Bu qu*," Inara reassured softly. "Not for now."
Jayne was getting ansty. He wanted to get rid of the stealth ship suckered to their side like a parasite. The sight of an Alliance vessel this close made him all kinds of ornery but Zoe was adamant. Right now the place was a makeshift mortuary and she was helping River finish cleaning and laying out the bodies. It was a painful and gruesome task but the least that could be done.
When she stepped back aboard Serenity with River, Jayne scowled at them. Before he could speak Zoe raised a hand. River took the opportunity to scurry away quietly while the two of them were distracted. "Not a word Jayne."
"It's still a mistake..."
"Jayne!" The warning tone was cold and deadly. Anger and frustration warred on Jayne Cobb's face.
"Well it is an' ya know it! Gorram Alliance'll be hunting for that ship like there's no tomorrow. Ignorin' it don't make it go away."
"Maybe they will an' maybe they won't but it ain't your call, *dong ma*?"
She could tell Jayne wanted to say more but Zoe wasn't in the mood. Turning away from the mercenary she left to go get cleaned up.
Inside the infirmary Simon had done all he could. He rested a hand on the Captain's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Captain, there's nothing more I can do."
Mal didn't raise his head, just nodded. His gaze fixed on the pale barely breathing form of Ruben Franks. "Appreciate it anyway." He murmured.
Simon left quietly, shutting the infirmary door after him so the Captain could have some time alone with the dying man. It hurt that this was one patient he could not save. To have had the man make such an heroic effort to get back to Serenity only to die seemed to be manifestly unfair.
"No, it's not."
Simon almost jumped at the soft voice directly behind him. He turned and stared at his sister. "River!"
"You think he failed but he didn't."
"What do you mean?"
"He didn't come back to be saved, Simon."
Confused, Simon blinked at her. "He didn't?"
River shook her head sadly and gazed through the plexiglass window of the infirmary. Her sad eyes watching the Captain taking Ruben's hand in his, head bowed. "Has a message to deliver."
Now Simon looked sad too. Reaching out he gently steered his sister away from the infirmary. The last thing grief needed was an audience. "Let's go and make some tea."
Mal didn't know what he had been expecting let alone hoping for. Was it even that? Hope? How can there be hope in death? Comfort in the dying? Yet with Ruben there was. A kind of ethereal strength that bypassed blood and bone, muscle and tissues. The kind of strength that came from the spirit not the flesh. Didn't know how he knew it, just did. The hand in his did not squeeze back, nor did the pale pallid lips part but something stirred in the Captain's head. Little soft echoing whispers coalescing into voices he knew almost as well as his own.
*Think you can get rid of us that easily, Mal?*
The Captain froze in shock, sure he had finally lost his mind.
*You're not going mad* This time the voice was Ruben's. But that first voice, that had sounded like...
*Yes, it's me, Thadius." The thought muted a little. *We're all here, Cap'n. The only death is the physical one but we can't stay long*
*How you doin' this?*
*Ruben. He's our last physical link, it was why he had to get back to Serenity*
The Captain blinked. *What, so's he could die?*
Michael's thought surfaced. *No, so he could pass on our last message*
*Listen, don't try to work anything out Mal* Thadius urged gently. *Just be a receptacle that we can pour our last thoughts into. We did what we set out to do, Parliament has been disolved* He paused, this time his thoughts seemed amused. *Though not sure you would call it 'disolved' exactly*
The Captain forgot he was talking in his head. *What you crazy folk do?*
*We gave them back the nightmares they unleased on the 'verse*
*Remember we told you we were geniuses? Not like River, we are the second edition. The five of us together are more powerful that all the minds in Parliament but it wasn't their minds we sought to manipulate*
*Your losin' me here, Thad. Best speak plain*
*Cap'n Dummy Talk?* The humour vanished again. *No, we took Reavers with us then unleashed them on Parliament*
Shock robbed the Captain of a single articulate thought.
*Should'a seen it, Mal* Ruben's gentle thought caressed his stunned mind.
*Only trouble was,* Said Thadius. *Reavers are a lot more basic than normal folk, like people with the humanity sucked out of them. When they're unleashed they just go wild, no control at all. An unfettered feedin' frenzy you could say*
Mal shook his head. *What you mean by that? Gabriel controlled them pretty well*
*Yes, but he used a contact wired straight to his brain. Made him more than a little crazy himself but if you're willing to sacrifice anything for power what's a little madness among friends?*
*Then you're sayin'...*
*I'm sayin' the Reavers did this to us, Mal. The Parliament was torn limb from limb, faces eaten off an' blood siphoned out of their veins an' arteries like drinkin' through a straw before pieces of flesh was ripped off. Some are little more than bloodied bones with fragments of skin an' clothin'. Others look almost whole 'til you look closer. None of it's pretty an' not one of 'em survived."
Mal released Ruben's hand and put his head in his hands. Immediately the connection was broken. *Tianna, what have you done?*
It was only the soft gurgling in Ruben's throat that roused the Captain again. He lifted his head and realised that the poor man was unable to physically speak, all he had was the tenative mental connection but it was too weak to persist without physical contact. Immediately contrite, Mal took his hand and cradled it in both of his own. *Duibuqi, Ruben, I wasn't thinkin'. Didn't mean to make this harder on you.*
*You do know,* Mal thought slowly. *This ain't gonna solve nothin'?*
*Malcolm Reynolds,* Scolded Thadius with the warmth of genuine affection somehow managing to seep through. *Where is your faith? Besides, the whole thing was recorded*
The Captain blinked. *Recorded? How the good gorram you do that?*
He heard them chuckling in his mind then a new voice impinged on his consciousness. *Can't stop the signal, Mal*
His heart stopped. Had to have because he couldn't be hearing what he thought he was hearing. *Mr Universe?*
*Just believe, Mal*
There were tears in the Captain's eyes now. *Book, that you?* There was no reply. *Am I dreamin', Shepherd?*
*We're all dreaming,* Came Book's warm rich baritone. *You're just the first to wake*
The Captain wasn't quite sure what to make of that. *Huh, thought you was dead an' gone or maybehaps you just like hauntin' me*
*We never left* Came Wash's gentle tone, so missed that it broke something deep inside Mal and robbed him of words. This was it. He had finally lost his last grip on sanity.
*They're all here* Said Thadius kindly, his thought a soft ebb and flow of words like a balm to the Captain's injured soul. Soothing more than creepifying if Mal was any judge. *It's done now, my friend, and we thank you*
*What for? I done nothin' but brought you to this*
*You gave us our freedom, Mal, and we brought ourselves the rest of the way. Willingly*
*To make sure no one else would have to go through what we went through.*
The Captain did not bother to wipe the tears from his face. *That so?*
Very very softly Thadius gave him his answer. *We're geniuses, Mal. Don't go blamin' yourself for any of this just make sure you put us all together when the end comes, dui?*
He wanted to say something witty, something to ease their last journey, a gift from the heart to take with them and maybe pass on to the others he had lost but he knew before he even felt it. The connection was gone. The Captain looked down at Ruben, the hand in his cold and remote. No blood flowing, no pulse. No breath to reanimate the empty husk of a life that was. Mal couldn't bring himself to be sorry about that. The bloody ruin was the past. Freed of what had been done to them, together in that afterworld of which Book had spoken with such affection the Captain felt a sense of peace engulf his aching heart. Too tired to fight it, his weary eyes closed, head slumping over their joined hands. It was how Simon found him just over an hour later. Fast asleep and oblivious to the long warning tone of the heart monitor.
Reaching out Simon switched it off and quietly moved around, disconnecting the wires and IV from Ruben. By the time he had finished the Captain roused, the look in his eyes one the doctor could not quite fathom. "Ain't dead, doc."
Stunned, Simon stared at him for a moment and wondered if he would have to sedate the Captain. "*Duibuqi, Captain, Ruben's dead."
The Captain gave a soft little smile. "No Simon, that's just the body. It's empty now."
He blinked. "It is?"
Mal laid Ruben's cold hand on his chest and straightened. "Yup, they done their job, can go home now."
Simon felt like a stuck record. "Home?"
"Help me clean him up some then we can put him with the others."
Then calm as you please, the Captain stood up and went about the task of cleaning Ruben to make him decent, Simon belatedly helping once his initial shock had worn off. When they were done the Captain activated the com. "Jayne? Need you in the infirmary, *mashang*."
Afterwards, the crew were in subdued mood. Thadius, Michael, Helen, Carl and Ruben were taken to the little backwater moon of Port Merrow. The others had been baffled why the Captain thought it the perfect resting place for his friends but River had agreed, it was *perfect*. No one voiced any dissent after that and the simple ceremony was completed without any fuss. Zoe puzzled over the lack of markers, watching her friend's face out of the corner of the eye and not able to marry the calm almost peaceful look on his face with the fact that he was this day burying friends. Seemed more than a mite wrong, not that it was her place to say so. Still, least Inara hadn't upped and left so maybe there was hope they could salvage something.
The Captain finished his farewells, Kaylee nodded to confirm that the refueling was completed then they were all aboard again and heading out into the Black. Jayne voiced what the others had momentarily forgotten about. "What we gonna do about that ship?"
Mal nodded, he hadn't forgotten. The dead didn't scare him and ghosts were nothing but other people's nightmares. The product of weak minds. But the Alliance stealth vessel could be a problem if they kept it. No telling what kind of homing device or such might be hidden inside all that gorram technology and this was one risk they didn't need to be taking. "We take it out with us for a ways, fire it into the nearest sun."
A big bright smile flashed across Jayne Cobb's face. "Now you're talkin'!"
The Captain smiled as Jayne stomped off across the cargo bay then paused as he thought back on everything that had happened. He did not start when River came up beside him and whispered in his ear. "You know you ain't quite right."
Mal turned his head and gave her a crooked little smile. "That's the popular theory."
River beamed at him and kissed his cheek. "Inara's waiting."
He was about to open his mouth to ask her what she meant when he looked up and found his breath catch in his throat. Gorrammit if she wasn't the living embodiment of all of the nine heavens rolled into one, none of which would admit his thrice benighted doomed soul.
Hardly knowing how he made it up the metal staircase without stumbling, the Captain came to join her on the catwalk, his eyes drinking in every detail of her. His hands itching to rewrite everything she thought she knew about menfolk in general and him in particular. Giving him a slow smile of encouragement Inara turned and walked towards her shuttle, the Captain following with not a word spoken. As the door shut firmly behind them, Kaylee came out of hiding and beamed. Glad that she had convinced Inara to stay then helped put her things back where they belonged. A giggle just behind her made Kaylee turn. River had her hands behind her back and a smug look on her face.
"Well? Did ya get it?"
River nodded and brought the piece of card out to show Kaylee. The mechanic clapped her hands happily and took it from her. "That's perfect River. An' you're sure this'll work? Don't wanna make Cap'n an' 'Nara mad."
Kaylee fixed the sign to the shuttle door then stepped back to admire their handiwork. The "Do Not Disturb on Pain of Death" sign looked right shiny. Now. All they had to do was have a little faith...
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*wode ma* = mother of God *diyu* = hell *shenjingbing* = crazy
*shenme* = what *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *guai* = devil/ghost
*dui* = correct *mei mei* = little sister *dong ma* = understand?
*wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bao bei* = precious/treasure
*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *tianna* = of God!/oh sky! *duibuqi* = sorry
*mei shi* = it doesn't matter *weishenme* = why
*mashang* = right away/quickly/immediately/on the double
Monday, May 15, 2006 4:50 AM
Monday, May 15, 2006 8:44 AM
Friday, November 4, 2011 8:55 PM
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