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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Continuing the story of how Mal and Zoe get out of the camp together. It has been pointed out to me that this will make very little sense unless you have read the first two chapters, Lost Kin and A Dish Best Served Cold.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1802 RATING: 6 SERIES: FIREFLY
Once again thanks to Archer for his continuing editorial contribution. Please do not archive without permission. Customary disclaimers apply.
If you have not read the first two chapters this will make absolutely no sense. Both chapters, Lost Kin and A Dish Best Served Cold are posted here.
CHAPTER THREE—LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER
They were awkward with each other as they arose and subdued as they went to get the protein mush that was the usual breakfast ration. When she’d asked him when he wanted to do the thing, he’d told her the sooner the better and how was between evening chow and taps?
“Guess I’d better go see to my trousseau, then.” She said with what could only be called gallows humor. “I’ll see you after chow. Oh, and Mal,--” she said with one eyebrow lifted.
“Hmmm?” his mind already on the ways and means.
“If you mean to marry me, you better shave”
“Gorram it, Zoe!”
He went to have a word with the chaplain. The Shepherd was happy to marry them, even after it was explained that there would have to be some creative history with the dates. The jiggery-pokery didn’t bother him. After all he was a chaplain in the Independent Army. He seemed to see it as putting them right with God. That didn’t sit right with Mal and he felt compelled to say “Best you know Shepherd, I’ll be making any promises that need to be made in this thing to Zoe, not to God.”
“Of, course, Sergeant, the Sacrament of Marriage is always a covenant between two individuals.” The chaplain said with a display of gentle dignity.
“Just so you know, I don’t believe in any God who’d do what’s been done here.” Dignity or no, he wanted the record clear on his feelings about this situation.
“That’s all right son, God believes in you and he is infinitely patient. He’ll wait for you to forgive him.”
He’d walked away gritting his teeth, it hadn’t seemed wise to argue when he’d got his way. As it was, he bartered for a shower and he’d shaved and combed his hair. Then he went down to the Admin compound and lifted a rose from the Commandant’s garden when no one was looking. It was a white rose. He figured every gal ought to have flowers on her wedding day.
Neither of them went to chow so he saw her in the chapel before taps. He was wearing his class A’s and brought along the requisite two witnesses, pilots from the Brown Angels he’d been spendin’ time with lately. He was fast developing an interest in deep space transports. When he first saw Zoe in the Chapel, his breath caught in his throat as he thought, “I’d forgotten how beautiful she is.” She’d had a bath and her hair was out of its customary braid. Soft curls fell around her face like a halo. She had on some soft silky blouse in a deep rose color, with her uniform trousers. He remembered the liberty she’d gotten it, years ago. She’d carried it at the bottom of her duffle bag like a promise to the future ever since. She wore her father’s pocket watch as a pendant.
In the end the words were surprisingly appropriate and he’d been able to say them without any hesitation or mental reservations. “I, Malcolm, take thee, Zoe, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.”
He thought Zoe didn’t mind them so much after all, either. When the chaplain had asked about a ring, before Mal could say they didn’t have one, Zoe had handed him a chaste gold band. Mal recognized it as her mother’s. Then the Shepherd had said “Those whom God has joined together let no man put asunder.” And for Malcolm Reynolds, no truer words were ever spoken. He pitied the man that tried to put them asunder.
Although it took some time for the ink to dry on the wedding certificate doctored by the fed in the clerk’s office, getting on the repatriation roster hadn’t been that difficult. What was taking some ingenuity was getting the right billet. Meaning, in their case, Persephone. They didn’t have any coin to use as a sweetener so it had fallen to Zoe to try to get them on the right list. She’d smiled and flattered and shown a little cleavage, much to his disgust. She’d been right irritable when he’d complained.
“Made! Juh hen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan. I just love having a lecherous Fed looking down my blouse! This is all we got Mal, if I can stand doing it, you can stand to watch. Or go away and don’t watch, just leave me to get on with it. Tian xia shuo you de ren dou gaisi!
He’d been instantly contrite, “Zoe, I’m a jing tzahng mei yong duh liou mahng. I got no call to make this harder on you. I’ll behave.” And he’d done the best he could by being elsewhere when she did the needful.
So here they were, finally, out of the POW camp waiting in a queue at the ‘Relocation Center’. Hoping to convince yet another petty Alliance bureaucrat that they still needed to go to Persephone, not Whitefall, or some other god-forsaken jerkwater moon with a chronic labor shortage. He looked over at Zoe and noticed how drawn she was. She hadn’t been sleeping lately. The nightmares were real bad for her right now. Surprisingly, his had eased off once they had a plan. He still got them but they weren’t as bad, they were the kind you could wake up from at least. Hers had gotten worse after the ceremony. He felt bad about that, but there had been no other way.
They had been waiting their turn with the current petty bureaucrat for several hours. Each carrying a bedroll and a knapsack containing everything they had in the world. Not much really. A couple of old uniforms each and a few tattered letters. In Zoe’s a few books she’d carried throughout the war, in his a traveling chess set. Even after all these months he still felt naked without a sidearm. The first thing he was going to get, if they ever got that stake on Persephone, was a really good sidearm. Right after the glorious drunk he intended to have and the warm and willing woman he intended to bed.
A woman who was not Zoe. Gorramit! It was hard to sleep in the same room next to Zoe these days. What in ruttin hell had possessed him that night? He had never had any trouble not thinking of her like that before but now, seemed like he just couldn’t get those images out of his mind! ‘Made! I’m a no-good lecherous hump!’
No, the best thing for it would be to find a whore. He wanted no ties or entanglements. No, now it was just him and Zoe, he wasn’t about to take on any more baggage. He’d had enough and more to last a lifetime in the Valley and since. Best to find what comfort he could in a commercial transaction. No obligation except payment for services rendered and no regrets at the end of the day.
Just as his mind began to drift onto a well worn track, the petty bureaucrat in question finally looked up and lazily motioned them over. He nudged her out of the doze she had fallen into, “Zoe, we’re on. Time to put on our game face ” They approached as a women in the lavender gray of a Federal Auxiliary motioned them into seats in front of her and held out a hand without looking up for their papers. Mal laid their enlistment papers, artfully aged wedding certificate, and transit orders from the camp in her outstretched hand.
“I see your requested destination is Persephone. Now that’s an odd request for a Captain in the Independent Regulars. Captain Reynolds, is it? Ah yes, and Mrs. Reynolds as well.” She looked at him with one well arched brow, a middle aged woman trying to take fifteen years off her age with make up and having very little success. It made her look hard. She ignored Zoe as she blatantly appraised him, her interest becoming predatory.
Mal tried a smile, putting as much charm and sincerity as he could into it. “Not a captain, just a sergeant, rank was brevet. They didn’t even pay me for it. Just plain ol’ civilian now. Just glad to be done with the whole damn thing.”
Time to amp up that country boy charm that always pulled the girls at the Founder’s Day Fair. He tried to look at her as if he had an itch and she was just the one to scratch it.
“Nothing odd either. Me and the missus need work. Persephone’s big enough to have work and needs the cheap labor. We got experience ranching cattle and sheep. That’s all we can expect at first. Hopin’ to get a stake together and buy a little land.”
He was rewarded by a look not so much appraising as downright hungry. It made him feel like the dessert table at a church social. He found it unsettling. ‘Course that could also be the feeling that he had been stripped naked while she ogled him from stem to stern. He felt like asking her to leave him his boots.
Zoe seemed to have developed a cough since sitting down. It required her to cover her mouth and look away from him. He glared at her, unmistakably sending her a look that said ‘This is not funny, I’ll kill you if you don’t stop laughing!’ before returning his attention to trying to charm the unappetizing pullet in front of him.
“W-e-l-l, there is a pretty high demand for berths going to Persephone, we aren’t allowed to flood them with Independent refugees. It might be the quota for this quarter is already filled—unless you had some special skills?” she leered at him blatantly.
Zoe’s cough developed into a fierce spasm. It sounded like the gal was gonna’ cough up a lung right there on the woman’s desk. She was enjoyin’ this way too much and they’d be having words later, but right now he was getting a whole new perspective on this “no coin for sweetener thing”. He didn’t think he was gonna get out of it just by opening a button or two, either. ‘Gorramit! The woman had no shame. She was bald faced propositionin’ him right in front of his wife. Well, not his wife, well she was his wife but not in the biblical sense, well he hadn’t known her in the biblical sense. Gorram, this wúnéug de rén Fed didn’t know she wasn’t really his wife!’
“Well now, miss, as you can plainly see, my wife has developed a cold here. I wonder if I could take just a moment to take her over and get her a drink of water.” He tried to make it sound suggestive and he must have succeeded because the pofù was leering even more openly now.
“I’ll tell you what, Mister Reynolds, I‘ll assign you your bunk and you go get your wife settled. I’m on shift here until 18:00 hours, but for you I’ll make an exception. You come back at 18:00 hours and I’ll take some of my own personal time to discuss your destination. That way we won’t have to keep your wife in this drafty office. What do you say?”
He tried to look like a dog that just got off the leash as he gave her his biggest smile “Why, miss, that is just too kind. I surely will do that, I surely will. Eighteen-hundred it is. Come on, dear.” The last said to Zoe in a vicious aside as he lifted her out of the chair by her elbow, still coughing in suppressed laughter with her hand over her mouth.
“Liou coe shuai du biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze. What am I supposed to do now?” In a beleaguered undertone as he dragged her from the building towards their assigned bunk.
“I didn’t think it’d been so long you’d forgot what goes where, Captain.” She said as she went off into peals of now unsuppressed laughter. “If you need a short refresher I think we have just enough time for me to draw you a picture.” Arriving in their bunk, she dropped her pack and fell on the bed in unrestrained glee.
“Gorram it! Zoe. Bi zui That poufu is shameless. Woman clearly has no respect for the bond of matrimony. ‘Sides—she looks like she’s old enough to be my mother!”
“I have a wave for you, Cap. Sh- sh-she is!” And more with the laughing.
Through gritted teeth now, “I mean it Zoe, you are not helping with this unseemly merriment. What am I gonna do?”
“L-l-lie back and think of England!”
In harassed puzzlement “England? Now, why would I think of a planet halfway across the galaxy? What gorram good is that gonna do me?”
At that point she totally lost it, laughing so hard she couldn’t draw breath until she actually choked and began coughing in earnest. Finally after several minutes in which he pounded her on the back with increasing force as he got angrier by the second, she wiped her eyes and settled herself down.
Adopting a solemnity that was at variance to the mischief in her eyes she explained. “It’s an old saying from Earth-that-was. It means, well it’s supposed to mean you’re not doing it for the deed, so much as for the common good. In this case, the common good of a billet on the next boat to Persephone.”
“I feel cheap.”
“No sir, you’re not cheap, you’re free. You feel easy.”
“Zoe!” wrathfully, “if you go off again I’m gonna smother you with that pillow!”
“Oh Mal, what you’re gonna do is give that Fed the ride of her life and get us on that boat. It’s not like you never went with a homely whore, I remember after the campaign on New Terra . . .”
“That’s different” he said mulishly.
“Here I’m the whore.”
“Well honey, the first rule of being a professional is ‘Get the money up front’. Make sure you got the transport orders in hand before you take anything else, err—in hand, so to speak.”
“Zoe,” he said, suddenly troubled “did you have to do this to get us this far? Did I make a whore out of you? Have they made me a pimp?”
“No sir, I didn’t have to actually do the deed. It never came to more than a grope and tickle. But Mal, you should know if it came down to it I’d have done it without a second thought and without feeling dirty about it after.”
She looked him directly in the eye, all emotion wiped from her face, resolve in every inch of her bearing. “What they force us to do to survive doesn’t change who we are. Only we can do that. I made up my mind that to get us out of that hell-hole, I’d have laid every Fed in that camp. And it was my decision not yours. Knew if I’d asked you’d have said don’t. It’s why I didn’t ask.”
“Oh, bao bei, what have we come to?” he murmured.
“Only what we had to.” She said softly. “What you gonna do?”
“Close my eyes and think of England, I reckon.”
Mal left their bunk without saying anything more and didn’t come in until very late. She was already in bed and pretended to be asleep as she felt the thin Alliance issue mattress sag beneath him. He lay on his back, eyes hidden in the crook of his elbow for a long time before his regular breathing told her he had fallen asleep.
After that Zoe hadn’t seen a lot of Mal after 18:00 most of the three weeks they were in camp. He seemed to get over his anger but he’d been kind of shamefaced around her the whole time. She’d pretended not to notice. By the time he dragged in at night he was so tired he just fell into bed and passed out.
It gave her more time on her own than she’d had in years. The nightmares were back worse than ever. More than once she’d awakened herself with her own screams to find tears on her face. Sometimes they were so bad she couldn’t struggle awake until Mal would shake her and hold her or stroke her hair and whisper nonsense to her as if he was gentling a horse.
One night when he came in late to find her sitting up staring with wide drowning eyes at ghosts of the past, he put his arms around her, murmuring into her hair “Tet would understand, Zoe. He wouldn’t grudge us a chance to be together. Hell, he never grudged it when he was here, certain sure he’d want me to take care of you. Don’t punish yourself anymore. Let it be.”
IN THE BEFORE
After the New Kasmir campaign, the Independents had regrouped. The scuttlebutt was that there would be a major offensive on Hera but there were two or three Alliance occupied planets to be taken first or leave them in the rear to cut the supply lines. She and Mal had gotten orders for additional combat drop training with the Air Calvary so the rumors were most likely true. They expected a ninety day posting but after five and a half years of combat, ninety days in the rear for anything was like dying and going to heaven.
They had been on the post about four days when she met Tetsuo Hamano. He was from New Edo. It was mostly a water world, lots of big islands, settled initially by Nipponese but now like everywhere the bloodlines were getting mixed. Tet was sonsei, third generation. Came from a well established family, they had a small fishing fleet, several boats run by a family collective, respected in the community. He’d joined up about the same time they had for most of the same reasons.
Mal met him over a beer at the slop chute and discovered he’d been on Kasmir too. By the time Zoe showed up they were three sheets to the wind and bosom friends. That was back in the day when Mal made friends easily. Tet’s eyes had lit up with obvious admiration when he saw her cross the room to join them. They’d shown some disappointment when Mal threw his arm around her waist and pulled her into his side in the crowded bar then left it there as they talked. She had liked what she saw as well. Not quite as tall as Mal but a bit taller than she was. Laughing brown eyes and traditional delicate Japanese features strengthened by a Swedish grandmother somewhere in the mix.
“Zoe, this is Tetsuo Hamano. He was on Kasmir too. Not so very far from where we were. He was with the 34th. He just got here and they told him to find a billet so we’ll fix him up with us. He’s good people.”
“Call me Tet.” He’d said with a ready smile.
“That’s fine then, Tet. We got plenty of room in our barracks. They haven’t really started training yet. Everyone’s still trickling in from the different commands. I just went down to HQ, seems we can take 72 hours of liberty and report back for start of training.”
“Well that’s shiny, just shiny! What do you say Tet? You got any plans or your want to join us? We could do some serious damage in 72 hours!” Mal had said.
He’d hesitated “I don’t want to intrude.” He had an easy charm, not diffident but not pushy either.
“No ‘trusion, love to have you. Wouldn’t we Zoe?—Love to have him?”
“Sure, Tet, unless you have other plans?” But it seemed he didn’t and from that point on it had been the three of them.
Because of their rank, combat experience and age, at twenty-five they were old men compared to the whey faced boys they had coming into camp. Mal and Tet each got a posting as sergeant and a platoon in the same company. Zoe was Mal’s corporal. The training they went through was intensive but nothing compared to combat and their duties left them plenty of time to drink, play cards and grouse about how the war was being waged by their superiors. Grousing was the perennial privilege of the enlisted man from the time of Caesar, according to Tet. He read a lot of history and had wanted to teach at a Polytechnic before the war.
As usual, most of the camp assumed she and Mal were lovers. Also as usual they didn’t say anything, one way or the other. It didn’t stop Mal from making up to the warm blond handful of a corporal in the quartermaster’s office. That seemed to give Tet pause for thought.
“When are you gonna give that boy a fall?” Mal had laughed at her on his way out after chow one evening to meet his corporal
“What’s it to you, Mal?”
“Nothin’ ‘sides wantin’ to see you happy, woman. Easy to see you got a letch for him. Equally easy to see he’s had one for you since he laid eyes on you.”
Cocking one eyebrow at him, she inquired sarcastically, “Why this sudden, and unseemly interest in my love life? Usually you do your best to run anybody off if I so much as pass the time of day with ‘em?”
“Woman, that eyebrow is a deadly weapon. It can stop a man in his tracks faster than a howitzer. How did you learn to do that? Mama taught you that didn’t she? It’s a female thing. They take all the girls to one side and they teach them the deadly eyebrow lifting technique when we menfolk aren’t looking.” He grinned at her.
“They don’t have to teach us Mal, it comes natural from having to listen to the gou pi our menfolk talk.”
“Seriously, do it seem like that to you Zoe? Have I been a dog in the manger? I just want you to have someone worthy of you.”
She’d laughed at him. “Mal I been ignorin’ your ways over me and the fella’s as long as I been old enough to know there was a difference. If Tet wants something he’ll have to do something about it. If I want something I’ll ignore you just like I always do.”
“Just want you to be happy, bao bei.” With an arm around her waist and a kiss dropped into her hair he’d ambled out for a night of happy lechery.
When Tet had come in they’d gone over to the slop chute for a beer and spent the evening talking about home. He described the blue of the ocean and the sugar sand beaches and what if felt like to be on the sea at night in a swell with nothing between you and the elements but a fiberglass cockleshell. She had told him about Shadow, about the grass plains and the mountains. About what it felt like to be on a long cattle drive and how at night the stars seemed so close she could reach out and pull them right out of the sky. She told him, too, about what living on a deep space transport was like, and how it felt to never stay in any place long but always to have your home safe about you. It was one of her few good memories of the war, that evening with Tet.
They were on night maneuvers about half-way through their training when Tet did something about it. They had just covered 25km in a forced night march and had halted to entrench their positions against a simulated enemy assault. Mal had gone to see about his wayward babe Jonesy. Every unit of every army on every planet ever settled has a private named Jones. He’s always called Jonesy and nine time out of ten he’s a hopeless screw-up, until he makes corporal and then he saves everyone’s life by some act of incredibly stupid heroics. Mal’s particular Jonesy was still in the embryonic screw-up stage, so he took a fair amount of seeing to.
She and Tet had settled down to eat their rations. They were just sitting in companionable silence, when Tet said “Zoe, I’m about to do something I swore I wouldn’t, but time’s short and I gotta know.”
She looked at him steadily as he gently bent down to kiss her softly on the lips. Her mouth opened beneath his as he became more insistent. He reached out with one hand to pull her into him as he rolled towards her. She could feel the heat of him along the length of her body, could feel his arousal and her rising passion answering him when he broke the kiss.
“Oh god,” he said raggedly, “I wanted to do that for so long. What do we do now?”
“I thought we were doing it.” she said simply.
“Zoe, it seems to me that maybe . . . I thought when we first met that you and Mal were . . . but now it seems maybe not. I would never say anything to you if I knew you were . . . Oh crap. I have feelings for you Zoe, more than just--I’m not some wúnéug de rén just looking to get off.” he stuttered to a halt.
“Shhh.” she put her fingers over his lips, then bent to kiss him. “Mal and me we been together our whole lives, but never—it’s never been like that with us. We’re closer than sibs but we don’t strike sparks. Not like this.” And she had proceeded to strike a fair number of sparks for a woman fully dressed in field combat gear and on duty.
Mal had come back just then muttering curses in Chinese under his breath and managed to trip over them in the dark. “Whoa now, what’s this?” he’d muttered as he fell right in between them. Tet had sprung back still feeling guilty but all Mal had said with a soft laugh in the dark was “My mistake, I thought this was my doss. You two have fun but don’t let the kids see you, it might scar the little darlin’s for life.” And he’d rolled over and done a boot camp perfect combat crawl far enough away to give them the illusion of privacy.
After that they spent every free minute together, sometimes with Mal, sometimes not. Mal didn’t seem bothered by Tet the way he had been the other times. Zoe just knew she loved Tet so much she thought her heart would explode when she looked at him. It gave her a deep sense of contentment that the two men who loved her seemed able to share her love. They talked of getting married after the war was over, neither really believing it ever would be. Their desperation gave a poignant immediacy to their love, it was as if a layer of skin had been removed and every experience was more real.
Then their training was done and they got orders, they campaigned together for over a year. They made three combat jumps, clearing Alliance held planets for the Hera offensive and nobody got a scratch. Then came Hera and Serenity Valley. Tet had taken a round to the stomach in the first week and had known he was dying for hours before the final release. Zoe had stayed at his side the whole time, holding his hand and whispering her love into his ear. She talked about the oceans he was going to show her and the mountains she would show him; about the life they would live and the children she would bear him. In those short hours before he died she tried to share a lifetime of memories they would never have.
Mal had come when he could be spared from the line. Tet had still been conscious then and he had said “Take care of our Zoe for me, Sarge. You don’t let nothin’ happen to her.” His last words to Zoe had been, “I am so lucky I got to love you.” At the end he screamed in agony because the medic didn’t have enough painkillers. Unconsciousness was a blessing when it finally came. He died just before dawn and it always seemed wrong to Zoe that the sunrise over the mountains that day was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen. She’d wept for Tet that day and after that she never wept again in her waking hours. Her dreams were a different story. The worst of the nightmares were when she relived those hours of his dying.
Next Chapter—Something Frivolous
Made! Juh hen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan[Fuck! This really is a happy holiday.]
Tian xia shuo you de ren dou gaisi! [Everyone in the universe should die!]
jing tzahng mei yong duh liou mahng [useless bastard]
wúnéug de rén [piece of trash]
Liou coe shuai du biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze [Salivating son of a bitch and a monkey]
Bi zui! [Shut up!]
Ni meí shì bà? [Are you okay?]
gôu pì [bullshit]
Sunday, June 29, 2003 1:07 PM
Sunday, June 29, 2003 5:07 PM
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