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Prompt: Family - "The crash wasn't outside her head."
The crash wasn't outside her head. She didn't know that at first; woke up with a start and gasped, looked around the room for what had fallen, what had broken. It wasn't until she heard Serenity start weeping that she knew what the matter was and realized the noise hadn't been external at all.
It had been inside the Captain's head.
She was out of her bunk in an instant, her blanket trailing her with grasping hands as if it didn't want her to leave, taking her warmth with her, but she ignored the clinging cloth and let it slide to the floor. There was someone else who needed the heat more.
She almost-ran through the hallways until she finally found him, slumped into a chair in the sitting room just off the kitchen, bottle in hand. It was uncorked, but he hadn't drunk any of it yet.
She gasped as his chaos overwhelmed her, and the strongest thought in his mind was up and out of her mouth before she could stop it.
"Therefore be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary roams like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour." His eyes cut to her sharply and she flinched, feeling everything in him bubbling to her surface. "Lion's got you under his paws," she stated breathlessly. "Feels like you're going down. Losing so much. Lost so much already."
His eyes were dull and bitter as he twisted the bottle in his hand. "BÃ¹ lÃ¡ng bÃ¹ you psychic," he muttered. "Tellin' me what I already know."
She frowned, searching deeper in his thoughts for what had brought this on, and when she found it she cringed with the bloody memory. "NÃ¡n guÃ²," she breathed, and he shook his head.
"You ain't got nothin' to be sorry for, little one," he sighed, and just like that, all the blazing anger seeped out of him, replaced by a heavy depression. "DuÃ¬ bÃ¹ qÃ¬. Shouldn'ta rounded on ya like that."
She tilted her head, seeming to consider something, before she finally said, "Lost mine too. Not the same way, not all of them. None of mine were blood and snow. Just disappeared like dreams, like dust on the horizon. Lingered, but not close enough. Never said goodbye." She looked down at her bare feet as she clasped her hands behind her back. "Know what it feels like. Three years ago - more for you. Twenty-four, tonight."
"Life's a bitch, darlin'," he agreed.
She nodded. "And then you die."
Mal heaved a great sigh and looked at the bottle in his hand. "Never meant to get you so maudlin," he said with some regret. "It's bad enough I'm driven to drink my own self; ain't no use in two of us cryin' inta the whiskey."
"CÃ³ng bÃ¹ xÃ¹ jiu dan dÃº," she argued. "The one thing he taught you before the horizon swallowed him up."
"Horizon ain't what swallowed him, darlin'," Mal snapped. "'Twere his own damn yella-bellied cowardice what ate him alive. Man ain't a man if he ain't got the will t' stand on his own two feet. Left my momma with nothin' but a rifle and a ranch full o' rough ol' cowboys."
"And you," River noted softly. Mal stopped short at that, and she heard all the conflicting thoughts that rang through his head. Coming a step closer, she murmured, "Best thing he ever gave her. Best present ever. Remember?"
She saw when he did, saw when the far away look came into his eyes and he saw himself on Christmas morning the first year after his father left, saw the little boy that had been thrilled at the sight of fresh oranges in his stocking, and then the horrified look as he turned to his mother.
"But, Momma, where's your present?"
"Right here, honey," she answered with a wide smile, pressing a kiss to his unruly hair. "Only thing I could've ever asked for."
He'd warmed at her statement, but she hadn't been able to talk him out of sharing his orange with her, and River saw as the memory of the sticky juice running down his chin entered his mind and his hand reached up as if to wipe it away, stopping just short of his face.
Finally, he seemed to come out of his reverie and looked in the direction of the whiskey bottle. With heavy, ponderous movements, he recorked it and pushed himself out of the chair.
"Go on an' get some sleep, little one," he told her. "Only reason y'should ever drink is 'cause you're happy. Start drinkin' over everythiin' that goes wrong, y'end up drunk all the time."
"Eaten up by the lion," she agreed. Her hand went out to cover his and he froze. "Lion only roars 'cause he can't get at you," she told him solemnly, her eyes holding his. "Crippled." She waited until she saw that sink in before she smiled, "More family than just back then, you know. No horizons in the black, either."
He didn't move for a long moment, but finally his expression softened and he almost-smiled. "Got a point," he admitted. "Now you go on and get some sleep. Nobody's leavin' you behind this time, either." He pulled her close and pressed a kiss to her forehead, and she curved her body into his, savoring the comfort of his nearness and strength.
"Dream sweet," she whispered as he released her from the embrace, then stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. Without another word, she slipped back to her bunk and thought she heard Serenity sigh with relief as Mal set the bottle back in his kitchen locker and went to bed.
BÃ¹ lÃ¡ng bÃ¹ you - Useless, good-for-nothing
NÃ¡n guÃ², - An expression of grief, sorrow; I'm sorry
DuÃ¬ bÃ¹ qÃ¬. - I'm sorry; forgive me.
CÃ³ng bÃ¹ xÃ¹ jiu dan dÃº, - Never drink alone.