Fanfic: Rara Avis

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Fanfic: Rara Avis

Postby Whitney » Wed Feb 12, 2014 7:27 am

( again -- this is another one which was emailed to me years ago, probably off LJ -- I would love to find a respectful archive link online for this, if anyone has seen one...)


Rara Avis
by kirby crow

She doesn't like me to say words like beautiful and pretty, even though they're the truth, so I tell other people how beautiful she is. I talk about the arch of her back or the high, fine set of her shoulders, the straight, strong frame of her balanced out by curves so deep a man could get drunk on them. She's one of a kind, and the fact that her beauty is not perfect makes her even more unique. She's rare, my Zoe.
There are tiny scars near her temple, just under the hairline. Small, light-charcoal lines that swirl in curves and crescents, barely visible in the sodium light of Serenity. I can see them in sunlight, but how often is that? She wears her hair loose around her face and won't talk about those almost- invisible scars.

I could tell her that silence speaks louder than words, but that would be tresspassing. There are parts of her I can't touch, areas of her life that were declared inviolable neutral zones from the moment of our first kiss. The scars are one of these zones, partitioned from our marriage and our love and everything else we share. Taboo.

She has bad days.

The doc thinks his sister has fits... man. How do I deal with it? I spend a lot of time ducking. Heavy ducking is involved. That or I fly the ever-lovin' ship. I have a compact bunk fitted out in the cockpit for nights when she needs to sleep it off or just to be alone with it. Even Mal walks soft around her then, or else he stops by our cabin when she's in there alone and he stays. Once, I was jealous of that. I strayed past our door one night when the engines were quiet. All I heard was weeping, a low, ugly keening that just went on and on, like an animal. Him or her, I couldn't tell. I never did that again.

And then the next day or the day after that she comes back from wherever she's been. My job is to smile and welcome her back, to make her laugh, to be grateful that she could find her way home this time before I start worrying about the next.

***

Tell me about the valley, Zoe. Tell me about the end of the war... I want to say that so badly to her. I want to ask what happened, who else she grew to know there, if she loved anyone besides Mal who didn't come home.

I know she got out of it with her skin more or less intact. I know the approximate body count of all the others who didn't. I know Mal was with her. Beyond that the truth lies in some kind of combustible Plutonian region burning in her mind, a personal Gehenna where she can still smell the clotted blood of her friends growing rank and putrid in the air around her. It glows in those gray lines, flaring up in the curves of smaller scars of which I know nothing about.

I don't ask.

***

"What does it say under bloodbath?"

Simon looks up. Zoe stands in the doorway of his room, her back stiffened in a way that I know means trouble, but by now Simon probably thinks we all look like trouble. The pair of them appear tiny and gray in the spy channel. Mal ordered me to watch Simon, but she hasn't stopped by the bridge since her shift began and doesn't know that.

Simon holds a portable that continues speaking as she looks evenly at him: "the Battle of Serenity was the among the most devastating and decisive. Located on Hera, the valley was considered a key position --"
He clicks the reader off. "I was just -"

"We're not in there. The book I mean. We're not general of diplomats. We didn't turn the tide of history or whatever that thing is supposed to spew."

Simon bites his lip and plays with the portable. He seems uncomfortable. Who wouldn't be? After all, he backed the other side while sitting fat and happy in some core planet med-complex, and while you could say they both were getting blood on them in what they chose to do, Zoe couldn't wash hers off.

She looks at him hard, and for a second I think she's going to swing at him, but instead she blows her breath out in a disgusted huff and pulls up a chair.

"They left us there," she states, her eyes hard as coal chips, and then proceeds to tell him everything.

I can't believe it. I just sit on the bridge with the gorram channel open and my stupid jaw hanging down. Zoe doesn't know I can hear as she tells him how they were left in the blood and the piles of bodies and the corpses piled up into a wall for cover, dead faces staring at you day after day, faces you knew rotting under the sun, a piece gone here, a piece there, until one day you passed by and couldn't tell them apart from the charnel mess of other bodies. She tells him how they were left there while the great ones negotiated their famous peace, how the blood kept pouring out of that lurid wall, and how sometimes you slipped in it and found out bloodbath wasn't just a word. How some of them went mad and how some of them decided they would rather be gone for good than carry what they'd seen back into life with them.

That's when I realize that she considered that option, too. It was Mal that kept her alive, kept her sane. Most likely kept a gun out of her hands some days, too.

They're talking in quieter voices, something about Mal and what's going to happen to Simon and his sister. I don't want to know. If you want the truth, I kind of hope that Mal will space the doc. After all, my wife has just opened the wings of her beautiful, tattered soul and let him peek inside, something she's never done in front of me. Some part of me feels betrayed, like she just dropped her clothes and screwed him on the floor. So no, I don't care what happens to him. Fuck him. Fuck her, while I'm at it.

I turn the channel off. Fuck Mal, too.

***

She knows something is wrong the minute she steps into the bridge. I can't look at her when I'm mad and I can't look away when I'm not, so where I'm looking is a pretty good barometer to how I feel most of the time. I'm pretty easy to figure out.

"Why did you tell him?"

She glances at the channel. It's closed, true, but she's not that naive.

"Why?" It's almost a shout.

She sighs. "Because ..." her hands make groping gestures, then collapse at her sides. "Because Mal will probably decide he's too much of a risk."

I nod slowly, suddenly understanding and not liking it much. "And it was safe to tell him."

She nods. "Because soon, I won't ever have to look at him again."

I don't know what to say. My breath goes out in a long sigh. "God, Zoe..."

"Sometimes... I just need to say it out loud. I need to."

I keep staring out at the stars. "What about me? You can't tell me?"

I swivel my seat to face her, and she walks up to me and puts her hands on either side of my face and looks down on me with a kind of fierce love in here eyes.

"It's not for you, baby. It's not for us. We're all the other things, laughing and telling jokes and getting drunk together and making love 'til I can't stay awake anymore. The past," she makes a motion like casting something aside. "The past belongs with the dead, so I gave it to someone as good as dead."

She used Simon. It's an ugly truth. I hate it, and just for a second I hate her and I hate every soldier who was on that battlefield. I hate what they did to each other and how even the ones who left that place whole are still limping around. More dead than alive, most of them, and surrounded by fools like me who expect them to be grateful just for the fact of breathing.

And then I see her, really see her, and it's gone. "You're beautiful," I say, meaning it. She frowns. I can see she wants me to say something else, to smile, to hug her and tell her everything is going to be shiny, maybe even spin a joke. It tastes too bitter and I won't fake it for her, not just yet.

"Next time, you come to me," I tell her. "Not to Mal, not to some stranger. To me."

She nods, then puts her hand over my mouth when I want to say more. "Just... not right now, sweetie, okay?" Her eyes are wide and filled with pain. "Okay?"

There's a plea in her voice, and I know she's asking me not to ask if she's lying.

Because, of course, she is.
Captain Cooper
(aka Whitney)
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