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Author's Note: The following snippet was written for Firefly Friday fic challenge #9.

by LJC

He trusts her.

He probably shouldn't, but he does anyway, almost out of pure contrariness as is his way. He never questions. He lavishes her with affection and sweet words. She's always steadfast and true, unlike the other who abandoned him so long ago that he abandoned right back out of sheer spite.

He trusts her, and it's a child's trust, simple. Blind, almost. But complete. So it hurts all the more when she betrays him not out of anger or bitterness or any kind of malicious intent—merely by being exactly who and what she is when he needs her to be more. Be his everything. Be more than logic or even the good sense sheep are born with would dictate.

He trusts her, even if his trust is a burden he inflicts on her, it can't change the hurt that flares to life inside him and demands with a child's voice that trust be restored. He tucks the hurt and betrayal deep inside him, tries to pretend it's less than nothing to him. But the child still screams, as the blood flows down his side and his vision swims before him with pain, the air so thin it's like being up in the mountains again, only there's no clear blue sky above him. Just a yawning blackness ready to swallow them both whole. Hungry for the both of them.

He trusts her, and, he supposes, she trusts him too. Trusts him to do what's right for her—put her first, ahead of himself, ahead of everyone. She's demanding in a quiet way—marked by absences rather than outbursts. She had her moods, her habits they'd all grown so used to that they'd sit and laughed around the dinner table about them. Because they all trusted her, in their own ways. Trusted her to keep them safe, and until today, that trust had never proved unfounded.

Maybe that's why he was so quick to put all his faith in her. He'd had a surplus of it, once, and it all needed to go someplace. It's not her fault really that he built her a pedestal so high that to come crashing down off it would have destroyed damn near anyone. Not her fault that he'd let himself believe she was something she wasn't. Made her into a symbol. Made her into the home he'd never even had but mourned as lost. Made her into an ideal that only existed in the mind, when it all came down to it.

He should listen, next time, she tells him through her silence. He promises he will, as his hands are slick with his own blood as he fumbles with the catalyser. As he tries to align it correctly in the compression coil while the edges of his vision grows dark, he thinks of all the instances he'd been told time and time again that she had needs, and those needs weren't just whims, and he'd promised next port. Next planet. Next take. Next month. Begged her to hold out just a bit longer, and took it for granted that she would. His fingers clumsy as he tries to tighten the seals, and promised he'd never take her for granted again if he made it out of this still breathing.

As he falls heavily on the crank and her heart begins to beat again, and warmth and light and colour returns to her world just as his life continues to slip out of his through the hole in his side, he promises. Promises to listen next time. Before it gets this far. Before it gets this bad. Promises to never take her for granted again. Mal trusts Serenity with his life, just as she trusts him with hers. And if that trust is misplaced, well... That's something they'll just both have to work on. Work through. Work around. There'll be plenty of time later to sort through his unrealistic expectations and strike some kind of bargain.

As the deckplates rush up to meet him, he pushes the hurt away again one last time, and clings to his child-like belief in the damsel he once rescued from distress, as she rocks him to sleep again.


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