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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Following on from Mal and Zoe's post-BDM fallout conversation.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1313 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
WARNING: There are a couple of instances of very strong language in here, one of them particularly offensive.
Credit to GillianRose for the title of this and the last fic. And credit to Blue-eyed Brigadier for the Mal/Shadow back story, which he mentioned in a comment to a fic not too long ago and which I instantly wanted to filch. And now have. And thanks again to GR and Bytemite for beta-ing.
Mal rode the mule as hard as he could, like Reavers were on his tail. He flashed past mile upon mile of flat farm land – ploughed fields giving way to open grassy plains. Zoe’s and Inara’s words hurt like knife cuts in his brain. He sped on and on as the blood pounded through him, saying live, live, live, live, live.
It was no longer ‘Mal’ who was at the controls, but the part of him that the war had created. Sergeant Reynolds, the one that had come out of the little bit of hell every man had in him, right after that moment he’d seen the ships rising up off of Hera, leaving them to suffering, terror and annihilation, after that moment when his soul had collapsed inwards and everything he’d sacrificed, all the lives that had gone through his hands, had screamed in his head just like they were living the moment of their deaths all over again, saying, ‘you, you, you, you!’: that Sergeant Reynolds only ever had one thing to say to him and that was live’.
So he kept being alive, not really living, just being alive because he still wasn’t dead. That Sergeant Reynolds, that beast, you didn’t not do what he told you to do. If any part of you ever faltered, there he was, with a will so sharp and hard it nearly killed you, with a drive as irresistible as the force that had got him out of his mother’s womb, pounding at him like a fist inside his gut saying live, you motherfuckin’ cunt of a coward, live. A power willing life but in its brutal violence being of death itself; keeping him breathing but only a hair’s breadth away from the annihilation that had given it birth.
Wasn’t no philosopher, this Sergeant Reynolds. Didn’t have much to say about how to go about this livin’ thing. That, the way of doing it, Malcolm Reynolds knew about that, but where was he when the Sergeant was around? Life he lived, wasn’t much need for Reynolds. Just the simple fact of bein’ alive and the hurtin’ and killin’ needed to keep it that way.
And Captain Malcolm Reynolds? – weren’t nothing to say about someone that didn’t even exist.
And if either Malcolm or Captain Reynolds had a mind to make any kind of comment on what Zoe or Inara had to say – well, who were they anyway?
Zoe? A friend.
Was a friend, you weak-livered dog.
A goddam whore telling him what to think and do.
So, if either Malcolm Reynolds, or Captain Reynolds, if either of them felt like piping up and saying anyone else might have a point, well the Sergeant would have something to say about that himself, something that could best be got across with a fist, or a boot, or a gun.
What did she understand, that whore? Only one person could do that, understand what he was about. Zoe.
No, not Zoe. Motherfuckin’ traitor.
Where could he rest his thoughts where there was no pain?
After a long time, Malcolm Reynolds started to wonder how he would find his way back to the settlement and stopped the mule.
He sat in it for another long time.
Then, numbly, he turned the mule round and slowly started to head back in the direction that he thought Pity might be. He’d travelled straight, hadn’t he? He looked around, hoping to notice something that he’d passed on his way out. But he hadn’t been seeing anything then.
He went along at a moderate speed. Anything faster would hurt; anything slower and he might give in to that ever-present urge, to stop and never start again. Then, unaccountably, in the middle of a ploughed field, he saw a small mound with a young tree growing out of it. Around it there were patches of blue. Flowers. Flowers? This was a working planet. But maybe someone on the terraforming team had been poetical, dropped a handful of seeds into the atmosphere as a birthday gift to the new world.
Mal stopped the mule and made his way across the field to the tree, leaving big footprints in the soil. He stood over one of the clumps of flowers and – hell, he couldn’t help it, even though it didn’t feel right with the feelings he was bearing now, he smiled to himself.
Asters. Like big daisies, only blue, and yellower in the middle. And how his mother had hated them. She pulled them out of the yard at the back of the house, where they self-seeded, in handfuls. Said they should have been Shadow’s emblem, emblazoned on its flag. Every year you pulled them up, roots and all. And every year they came right back. All over the planet too. Some people said they liked them. But the flowers his mother wanted to have in her yard weren’t the ones that every common person on Shadow had, ones she hadn’t chosen, ones that imposed themselves on her, no matter how much she loathed them. The flowers she wanted were the ones she’d known from life on Londinium. Grand flowers; unusual flowers. A contrast to the farming life she’d had to settle to, and a reminder of the one she’d left behind. She’d brought some seeds with her, when she and his father had gone into exile. But none of them had taken.
When the war started, she betrayed an appreciation that he never would have expected. Said the aster should be the Independents’ symbol, because no matter how hard you tried, you would never be able to get rid of them. Was when he was thinking of volunteering. Her way of letting him know he could go ahead.
Only she’d been wrong. Weren’t no asters on Shadow now.
Mal bent to pick one of the flowers, snapping its slender, dark-green stem near the ground. He sat on the mound. Just behind his ear, the leaves on one of the tree’s branches rustled, picked up by the breeze, and stilled again; and unconsciously Mal sighed too.
He turned the flower around in his hands.
“Kind of like you, too,” he whispered. “Always there. Cheerful. Easily took for granted.” He paused, smiled again. “And – with the color, kind of hard to ignore .” He fell silent for a while. “I’ll take Zo back. Plant some of these.” He nodded to himself. “Thought it was just another grave. Details didn’t matter. When the dead are gone, they’re gone.” He hung his head. “Only you’re not.” He allowed himself to say the name. “Wash.” He closed his eyes tightly, exhaled, and then, as unexpected as birdsong at night, he began to experience his own reaction to Wash’s death.
Hadn’t felt it till then. And even now, as the tears oozed out of his closed eyes, still didn’t know what it was that he was feeling. The way he’d been at the burial – he hadn’t felt anything on his own account. It had all been for Zoe. He sniffed, pinched his nose. He hadn’t thought until now that Wash might have been more to him than Zoe’s husband, that he had liked and appreciated the man for more than his piloting skills and his ability to make his valued first officer happy.
More quietly, with a feeling of infinite tiredness, he wondered again where – where could he rest his thoughts, where could he rest them where there was no pain?
Mal lifted his head. He saw a horse and rider in the near distance. From the shape of the person, and their coloring, he saw that it was Inara. He waited for her to approach. She dismounted, stepped in the footprints he had left in the soil to get to him, leading the horse behind her.
She stood a few feet from him looking fearful, ready, determined.
“How’d you find me?” he asked.
“Followed my heart.” She said it with enough of a smile for him to know that it was intended it as a joke, enough of a tremor to show she meant it too, and had a good idea how he was feeling.
“You speak to Zoe?”
She paused before replying. “Not so much speak. More shout. Zoe. Shouting.”
Nobody had ever heard anything like it; Simon had been woken from his exhausted sleep. They – Simon, Inara and Kaylee – had rushed to the mess, where they’d found Zoe on the other side of the table from a stricken-seeming Jayne, shouting, pointing, waving her arms. When they’d tried to intercede she’d re-directed her tirade; and each of them, knowing the extent of Zoe’s loss, and feeling utterly impotent to help her with it, had felt that it was directed personally at them.
Afterwards, after Zoe had broken down into desperate, heart-rending sobs, and somehow Inara and Kaylee had got her to the shuttle, she had told them about her encounter with Mal, repeating that she had said things she shouldn’t have and urging Inara to go and look for him.
“What did she say, Mal?” Inara asked him.
Mal stared at the ground. “Don’t want to talk about it.”
Inara sighed. “All right,” she said, and she turned to go.
“Tether that thing,” Mal said.
Inara faced him again.
“She blames me,” he said, in a low voice.
“She blames all of us. She blames the Verse. But not as much as she blames herself.”
“She followed me. To Miranda. That’s what she said. She followed. Where I led.”
It was unbearable. He realized he had to know what she thought. He summoned all his courage. “Do you think I was? – responsible?” he asked, his voice lower still.
His body pricked with adrenaline as the reply he was hoping for failed to come straight away. Hesitation could only mean she wasn’t going to give him that answer, the one he needed so desperately. And how he hated himself for showing that desperation.
“Do you remember, when I came back on board Serenity, after we got away from the Training House?” He gave no response. “You reproached me bitterly for questioning you. You said the crew needed leadership.” Still no response. “You demand that. Of me, of everyone. That we follow you.”
The horse bumped her from behind and she wondered if she should tether it. Instead she went a little closer.
“Mal. I don’t have to explain to you the responsibility that goes with leadership. You bear it every day. But yes – it makes you responsible for what happens, good or bad.”
His stillness filled her with dread. She pushed on.
“But it doesn’t mean I blame you. That anyone blames you.” She gave him a chance to speak again, but nothing came. “Say something.”
“I gave you a choice, all of you,” Mal said, grinding out the words in the teeth of his absolute reluctance to justify himself.
Now Inara lowered her voice too. “Mal. You have a chance to be honest with yourself here. And you must take it. You must take it for – me. For us.”
“Honest,” he repeated tonelessly.
“You impose your will when you want to. You intimidate everyone when it suits you, even Kaylee.” She paused, gathering courage: did he know how much of that she needed to talk to him not with the comforting words of a Companion but with the truth as she saw it, as a woman? “I’ve met many men who were leaders. Powerful men. And none of them had the charisma that you have. You use that. And it works.”
“Can’t be the first time you found someone you were fucking to have amazing charisma.”
There was the warning: the coarseness, the calculating cruelty . . . Sergeant Reynolds. If Inara had been there, when the Sergeant rose up from Niska’s table – “You wanna meet the real me now?” – she would have recognized who it was. She had met him often enough; everyone on the crew had. It had been him who had threatened to shoot anyone who disagreed with his plan on Haven. And though he was calmer later, sober even, when he had spoken to them on the ship, asking them to give more than he had asked of them before – they all knew that the Sergeant was capable of re-appearing at any moment.
How dishonest it was of him to deny that, to refuse to see that. And it would have been inexcusable, if his failure to grasp the darkness that intermittently possessed him didn’t arise from a damage that hurt him more than it did anyone else. Though Inara had received the training needed to help with that kind of damage, she had had little opportunity to put it into practice. Until Mal. And it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair that she was so young, and so inexperienced, and so in love with him, when he needed help so badly and there was no-one else to help him but her.
And that was why she had come – why she had gone around the settlement to find a horse to borrow, and looked for him when she didn’t even know where to start, her heart beating as hard as the galloping of the horse’s hooves – because she couldn’t leave him to the Sergeant, not now that she was more in love with him than ever before and she needed him, now, more than ever before.
Inara had met several commercial captains during the search for a vessel that had ended with her deciding to rent one of Serenity’s shuttles. She had discerned a favourable difference in the atmosphere on Mal’s ship from almost the moment that she had stepped on board: a quality of ordered openness that some would describe as ‘freedom’. It attracted her in the same way that it did all the individuals on Serenity; it bound them all to him.
And that was dishonest also, as dishonest as denying that at times they followed him out of fear – that they followed him out of love, too, in spite of the Sergeant, out of love for the freedom that he enabled in all of their lives…
Out of love.
Inara’s voice trembled with hurt and rage.
“Is that what I deserve, Mal, as the price for daring to answer your question truthfully?”
“Yeah, still not sure what the answer is – I’m responsible, but I’m not to blame, even though what I also am is inexcusable.”
“I know what you want me to say! That it was all your fault, or not at all! You know both those positions just the same way as you know how to breath! But I’m not going to let you off the hook so easily, and I’m not going to allow you to let yourself off either! You’ve got to think about it all differently this time!” She mastered herself, quickly, before he could interrupt. “It was right to do something. Who would disagree with that? But you misused the trust of your crew.”
“So what would you’ve done, Inara? Bided your time? Or stuck with what you know? Like running away.”
Inara recoiled and rallied almost in the same moment. “How can you? I confided that in you.”
“Pillow talk, was all.”
“And is there nothing of ours, nothing that we’ve shared, that you wouldn’t use against me?”
“Don’t tell me that any of it means a damn thing.”
“It does! And you know it does! But if you keep knocking it over hard enough, there won’t be anything left! And that!” – Inara was approaching tears – “that is what is inexcusable! Inexcusable! And if you weren’t so hell-bent on self-pitying self-destruction, you’d notice that I didn’t say unforgivable. You’d realize that I always forgive you. Only maybe not this time.” She was turning, picking her way, almost stumbling, back through the lumpy soil. “Maybe not this time!”
She mounted the horse and galloped away.
Sunday, July 26, 2009 2:27 PM
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Monday, July 27, 2009 2:14 AM
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