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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Two strangers devise a plan; the crew of Serenity enjoy a day of wet and wild fun; Inara thinks over past events.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3986 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
The BDH’s and the `verse belong to Joss Whedon… There are a few folks in this one who are mine – except they wouldn’t exist without Joss’s verse, so I’m still not taking full credit.
More disclaimers and similar gōu shī here.
Many thanks to VERA2529, LEEH, and GUENEVER for their beta help!
The Firefly class transport was tucked away in a shallow dusty valley far from the city, but it was being watched.
A tall, gaunt man stood against a rock face at the lip of the valley, nearly invisible in a strip of shade cast by the mid afternoon sun. Even in full sunlight he’d have been hard to spot against the buff stone: his boots were scuffed, the blue of his denim pants had long ago gone gray, and his light brown shirt was covered by a ragged tan leather jacket that hung down to mid thigh. As was his habit, the right side of his coat was tucked behind the holster on his hip to keep his gun handy.
Ray Whittaker had a broad face that might have crinkled kindly if he ever smiled; as it was, he only looked a decade older than his forty some years. His skin had been toughened by summer’s hot sun and winter’s freezing wind, and constant squinting in the glare of dust and snow had formed deep lines around his cool blue eyes. A slight breeze lifted his thin sandy gray hair. He’d taken his hat off on account of its dark color; he didn’t want to risk being seen, no matter how unlikely at this distance. Ray had been looking hard for this chance, and a better one was not like to come in time for his needs. He had to move careful.
“Will,” Ray said softly. His deep voice matched his appearance: spare, just enough to get the job done and nothing wasted. “Glasses.”
He held out a hand to the man crouched behind a boulder beside him. Will’s coal-gray coat and dusty black clothes would have stood out, so he stayed low as he handed up a pair of field glasses. Ray lifted them to his eyes, pressing his back against the rock to keep the lenses out of the sun.
“How many are we facing?” Will asked, his mouth hanging open in a grin as he cracked his knuckles cheerfully. To Ray’s relief, he didn’t try to affect a border world accent out here. The man stank at it.
Ray studied the figures moving in front of the ship on the valley floor. He made sure of what he saw before he spoke.
“Six. Three guns, three soft.”
Ray handed the glasses back down to Will, who stayed in the spotty shade of a large dead bush as he rose to his knees and had a look for himself. Ray waited patiently, something he didn’t do for many people.
“I see what you’re saying,” Will said. “Three gunhands: the Browncoat, the dark woman… and some big guy.” He snorted a short laugh. “He really likes his gun. He’s petting it more than Ginger does hers.” He glanced up at Ray with a grin; Ray pointedly returned a frown.
Will shrugged and turned back to the glasses, and to Ray’s annoyance he continued to mutter to himself. “I never understood the need to fondle a weapon, no matter how shiny it is. It’s not like you can screw it. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy has tried.”
Ray scowled at Will’s laugh; it was no time to be chatty. But he held his tongue and waited for his partner in crime to size up the three civilians.
“That cutey who sweet talked Jase into buying the cables won’t be a problem. The blond guy won’t either, looks like a complete jackass.” Will paused, and when he spoke again his tone wasn’t so light. “Don’t count the old man out. I don’t like how he moves. Too smooth.”
Ray nodded; he’d gotten through his share of scrapes, but he’d never been fool enough to think he knew everything. Ray had lived his whole life on this little world. Will, though he never talked it, had come from the Core, and sure as hell he’d been military. No matter how grating Will got, his counsel had weight.
“So, four fighters against our four guns,” Ray summed up, “on their turf.” He let his dour tone express his opinion.
“Sure, that’s not the easiest,” Will agreed. “But then again, Hank counts for more than one, the way he draws. And…” Will glanced over his shoulder at Ray, “we could go in with five.”
Ray tensed. This discussion shouldn’t come up anymore. “Jase don’t fight, you know that.”
Will only shrugged and looked back at the ship.
Ray squinted to see what he could of the distant crew. One of the figures – the one with blond hair – went back into the hold.
“They have a shuttle missing,” Will said.
Ray let out a heavy breath. Always more complications. “Won’t be good if it shows while this is goin’ down.”
“You worry too much. Ginger can stay outside, scare it off.”
“Leaves only three of us to – ” Ray started, but was interrupted by Will’s sharp laugh.
“Ha! What have we here?” Will leaned forward and propped his elbows on a rock to steady his view. “Jīng căi, there’s a hatch on top, propped wi-ide open.”
“Can you get to it?” Ray asked.
“The Firefly is a well designed ship, but she’s not the most aerodynamic. I can climb the ass end of her.”
Ray considered it; a second entry point might just give him the upper hand. “Let’s move quick, `fore they take off,” he said. He started to turn away, but then he froze and watched close when a hovercraft pulled out of the belly of the ship, the blond hair of the driver glinting in the sun. After more discussion amongst the distant crew, the scooter loaded up and went on its way over the far end of the valley, leaving a trail of yellow dust.
Will gave a dry laugh. “Now how about that – their six guns is down to two. All we have is a washed up Browncoat and an old man between us and the good life.”
Will seemed to think the ship was theirs already, and Ray scowled again. Will may know spaceships and guns and the like, but he was too gorram cheery. Hadn’t seen enough real life, didn’t know how easy things went to shit.
Ray watched the two remaining figures walk back into the ship, leaving the bay door open. Will chuckled again at their carelessness, but Ray didn’t take time to enjoy the moment. There was work to be done.
“Smile, Ray!” Will said with a grin as he tucked the glasses back into his coat pocket. “We just scored an easy ticket out.”
Ray didn’t smile. He turned to make his way down the back side of the hill, pausing briefly to pluck his hat off a dead branch and settle it on his head.
“Ain’t nothin’ on this world easy,” he muttered.
Five days ago
Malcolm Reynolds stood at the edge of his ship’s open cargo bay door with his hands on his hips, his dark blue button down shirt sticking wetly to his back. The door wasn’t quite all the way open; it stuck straight out, making a horizontal platform that extended over the edge of the dark gray rock his ship Serenity was perched on. What Mal saw a few meters below the open door presented him a slight quandary; a decision needed to be made. He fanned the front of his shirt to cool himself as he considered his options.
A piercing shriek from inside the ship made him jump and turn around, then move quickly aside. A howling blur of white skin, spiky blond hair, and yellow and green flowered boxer shorts came tearing through the airlock and launched itself off the edge of the platform. Mal stepped back to avoid the splash of water that came up a second later.
“Hell yeah!” Jayne called out as he followed Wash across the bay at a more dignified pace. He stopped in the airlock and casually stripped himself down to his skin, then turned back to yell into the bay, “Any a’ you lady-folk comin’? Cause I’m a’gonna jump in any second now and you’re gonna miss out!” Jayne stretched his arms overhead. No way he’d miss a chance to show off his physique after all the time he spent at the weight bench.
“Captain, can I shoot him and spare us all the horror?” Zoë asked as she stepped off the stairs near the airlock, holding up a hand to shelter her eyes from the horror in question. She was wearing a tank top and a somewhat sedately patterned pair of Wash’s boxers, and had a couple of towels slung over her shoulder.
“Only if his carcass falls in the water,” Mal answered. “You know how I dislike a messy ship.”
“She ain’t even got a gun,” Jayne said in disgust, resting his fists on his hips.
Zoë dropped her towels and slapped her hand to her forehead. “What was I thinkin’? Mama always told me to take my pistol along to the swimmin’ hole,” her voice fell as she gave Jayne a pointed look, “in case some overgrown perv shows up.”
Jayne’s argument was a short snort, but Zoë ignored him, tying her long curly hair back as she turned to call out the door, “How is it dear?”
“Holy mother of Buddha! You have no idea!” Wash’s voice echoed through the open airlock. “The view is awful though. Jayne, could you please get your chŏu è de pì gu in the water so I don’t have to look at it?” A splash caught the mercenary’s back.
Mal watched Zoë dive in, then turned to start up the stairs she’d just come down. Jayne had solved his dilemma for him: walking around naked after getting swindled by his troublesome pseudo-wife was one thing, but being in the same class of tacky as Jayne wasn’t acceptable. He’d take a minute to find some clothes to swim in.
As he entered the corridor outside the crew quarters, Kaylee was just stepping off her ladder. She was wearing a smile bigger than her cutoff tank top and shorts combined. Mal averted his eyes – it was like seeing a little sister in a state of undress – just not right.
“Good lord, Kaylee, who are you wearin’ that get-up for?”
Her smile turned a bit crooked. “You really gotta ask?”
He looked back at her. “Oh no. You ain’t even. I do not need any more shipboard sweethearts makin’ trouble so you better – ”
Kaylee tilted her head in frustration and interrupted him. “Cap’n, I live on this ship, all the dang time! If there ain’t no shipboard lovin’, there ain’t nothin’.” She kept her rant going as she walked toward him, shaking an accusatory finger. “Now that may be okay for you, mister I-ain’t-got-no-hormones, but it ain’t workin’ out so well for me!”
“I got hormones!” Mal said defensively as she walked past him.
“Well, what you got you store up for helpless lookin’ women tryin’ to steal our ship! What good does that do anybody?” She cast him a dark look as she turned the corner.
Mal frowned after her a second, then yelled, “I got hormones a’plenty.”
There was no reply. He shook his head and started down the ladder into his bunk. He found himself wondering what a Registered Companion would have for swimwear. Most like he’d be finding out soon.
He returned to the cargo bay a few minutes later wearing only the knee length black pants he normally slept in. Simon and Book were standing on the platform, watching some game that involved much noise-making and splashing. Shepherd Book didn’t appear to have plans to partake; he was fully dressed and stood to the side and back out of the splash zone. Simon, however, was right on the edge, wearing only a pair of baggy pants and smiling uncertainly at the antics below. Since the doctor didn’t hear him coming, Mal took the opportunity to give him a casual shove, then waved innocently when Simon came up spluttering.
Mal didn’t have long to enjoy his prank; he felt a hand on his own back and in he went, nearly landing on top of Kaylee. He surfaced to see a copy of his own innocent wave from Book. The preacher had to nimbly jump off the side of the platform onto the rocks to escape the armful of water Mal aimed at him.
“And you doubted me!” Wash yelled from behind Mal.
Mal turned in the water, “What? Me? What’d I doubt?”
Wash’s voice turned high and whiny as his hands waved over his head in mock panic. “No, we can’t land there! It’s so near the scary water! You’ll wreck my pretty ship and I’ll have to shoot you and then Zoë’ll shoot me and – ”
Wash’s falsetto hysterics were cut off when Zoë pushed his head under. Mal kicked himself over to join them, and pushed Wash down again as soon as the pilot came up. The following water battle went on for some time, drawing in Kaylee, Simon, and Jayne, and eventually forcing Book to wonder off to drier places.
When things settled down a bit, Mal looked around for his two missing crew members. He spotted River floating on her back about twenty meters out, studying the sky. The inland sea was big enough to have a bit of surf that focused in their little cove, and the girl’s body tipped slowly side to side in the waves. Further beyond her he saw a dark head and two arms smoothly cutting toward the mouth of the cove. Mal put his own head down and started out into the open water. On his way, he dove under River and give a little push to the small of her back. When he came up on her far side he dodged her half-hearted splashes with a laugh, then continued on his way.
The water was warm, almost too warm given the temperature of the air and the heat of the late afternoon sun. It was like the ponds on Shadow in midsummer, warm enough to stay in after the sun set and the air cooled. And it was fresh and clean – no engine exhaust or factory run-off on this remote world they’d happened on.
Mal hadn’t had a good swim since he’d left home; he’d near forgotten how it felt. The freedom and weightlessness of it stripped the years off him. He found himself smiling still as he angled toward Inara, grinning like a kid on summer holiday with all his chores done for the day.
* * *
Jayne drifted a few meters from the ship, watching Kaylee watch Simon. The doctor was half out of the water, an elbow hooked through the cargo net that hung down from the platform, his free arm wiping at his reddened eyes.
“This water is full of… dirt or something!” Simon said.
“Hey, I ain’t peed in it,” Jayne said with a grin. “Not yet anyhow.”
Simon looked at Jayne with disgust. “I don’t know how you manage to surpass yourself, but there you go again.” He climbed further out of the water.
“Oh come on Simon!” Kaylee was holding the bottom of the netting, waiting for the doctor to quit his fussing and drop back in.
“It’s nature, doc,” Jayne said, enjoying how easy it was to creepify Simon. “Water’s plum full a’ fish poop and dead animals and all kinds of green stuff. A little piss don’t hurt nothin’.”
Simon’s look of disgust turned to something near nausea, and he climbed up another step. “You can’t be serious.”
“Ain’t you ever gone swimmin’ before?” Kaylee asked, and she made a grab for his foot.
“In a pool. A civilized pool where people control their bodily functions.” Simon shook her off and grabbed ahold of the edge of the platform to heave himself up.
Kaylee frowned, realizing that Simon was seriously disturbed by this, and she called after him, “He was only kiddin’!” She looked back at Jayne. “Weren’t ya?”
“Don’t go speakin’ for me,” Jayne said.
Simon disappeared from sight, and Kaylee still hung on the net, swallowing her disappointment. “Jayne, what’d ya have ta scare him off for?” she asked in a low voice.
“Ain’t exactly hard to do,” Jayne replied loudly. “Pansy’s scared a’ his own – ”
A curled up body hit the water directly between Kaylee and Jayne. Simon didn’t have an evil cackle in him, but he did manage an excellent mischievous grin when he came up and saw both of his targets wiping their eyes.
When Kaylee could see well enough to recognize the source of the cannonball attack, she happily tumbled off the cargo net, landing square on top of the doctor.
Book smiled at the distant sound of Kaylee’s delighted shrieks. This world had a hot climate, and he meant to join in the swimming at some point, but for now he was content to stretch his legs and breathe the fresh, clean air.
No one was sure just how bad the Alliance wanted to find Mal, but it was clear that the crew ought to lay low for a spell. The few fueling stops made in the past month had been handled by Zoë and Jayne, so most of the crew hadn’t been off Serenity since they’d left New Melbourne.
Book wandered the open space around the ship, watching birds flit between the trees that lined the natural landing pad. It was an ideal spot to park, and the break was exactly what the crew needed. A soul couldn’t stay in the black forever. Everyone needed to see greenery, to feel the energy of life and health around them.
He ambled into a patch of tall evergreens. The ground was spongy with fallen needles and the trees were bare of branches for a good ten meters. It created a quiet voluminous space empty of all but dark vertical trunks like columns in a cathedral. The air was cooler here, and smelled of fresh pine and wholesome earth.
Book stopped to drink in the moment, giving thanks to have found such a place. Then his face broke into a wry smile. If the place was all he was grateful for, he supposed he should be tipping his figurative cap to the terraforming crews of the Alliance.
No, it wasn’t just this place. It was his ability to leave his cares behind and appreciate what was before him at this moment. Book hadn’t always been the kind of man to be aware of such beauty, even when it was as obvious as this.
He crossed himself and bowed his head in the silence.
Jayne was soon bored by Kaylee and Simon ignoring him, and he went looking for other entertainment
Wash and Zoë had exited the games fairly early; they were busy exploring the irregular rock face, probably looking for a dark cavern to duck into for some private underwater amusement. The Captain was on his way out to make trouble with Inara, and Book was off exploring the woods. That left only one person for Jayne to make sport with.
He couldn’t deny that River unnerved him a bit. It was nothing to be ashamed of; she was a crazy mind-reading sharp shooter and gods knew what else. It was just common sense to use care around a person like that, no matter how young she was or how little she weighed.
“Whacha doin’, nutjob?” he asked from a safe couple of meters away. The only parts of her he could see above the water’s surface were her face, hands, and the occasional toe as she cycled her legs to keep her skinny body afloat. Her eyes were wide open and fixed straight up.
Jayne waited a bit, then figured that her ears were underwater as well as her brain. He ducked his mouth under the surface and repeated his question.
“I heard you the first time,” she said.
He waited, and was almost ready to give up and return to harassing Kaylee and Simon when River said in a distant voice, “It’s like being stuck in a ceiling, looking down into a round room. A crystal clear bowl shaped room. Blue walls topped in green.”
“Huh?” Jayne replied in confusion.
She lifted a slender leg into the air, foot pointed, then bent her knee and circled her lower leg.
“Ceiling fan,” she said.
Jayne had to think about that. Then he tilted his head as far as he could to the side, almost upside down. Frighteningly, he thought he might understand what she was up to. Mighty weird. He looked over his shoulder to make sure that no one was paying them any attention, then he settled into a back float next to her.
“Tip your head back,” River instructed, “so you can see the shore and the horizon all around.” She glanced over to see Jayne doing as she said before she continued. “Now, look up at the sky, but think about your peripheral vision.”
She didn’t miss a beat. “The surface of the water, where it meets the sky, is a circle all around you. It’s like the ceiling on a giant bowl shaped room made of blue glass.”
They quietly drifted for a while before Jayne said “Huh” again. This time the sound was tinged with reluctant understanding.
“Pretend the ceiling is made of gelatin that you can move your arms and legs in, but if you move too much you might slip out of it, and you’ll go plunging into the bowl. Fall until you smash through the glass and break the sky.”
Jayne was still for a few more seconds, then he suddenly pulled himself vertical with a nervously muttered, “Gorram, you are one frackin’ loon!”
River laughed as she slowly swished her arms and legs around her. “Don’t be afraid, you can’t really fall upwards.”
“I ain’t afraid,” Jayne said with disgust, and he stretched out of his back again to prove it.
After a few minutes, River asked him, “Do you see it?”
Jayne didn’t want to admit it, but she probably already knew. “Yeah,” he said grudgingly. He lacked River’s leg flexibility, so he held his arm up and circled it. “Ceiling fan,” he said with a chuckle.
“You don’t need to use your arm,” she told him.
“Your diăo is sticking up.”
Jayne looked down his body, then quickly ducked his hips underwater. “Yesu, you ain’t supposed to be lookin’ at that!”
Unfazed, River continued to float, but with a smirk on her face. “You shouldn’t let it stick out of the water, dirty old man. Put some clothes on.”
“Cap walks around nekked.”
“Captain’s not a dirty old man.”
“I ain’t…” Jayne’s face pinched in annoyance. “It’s a natural thing that happens, is all. I ain’t no perv. I don’t like little girls.”
“It’s just the warm water.”
She sighed, getting bored with it now. “I know.”
Jayne looked around, again relieved that the whole crew was occupied with their own business. “You ain’t gonna tell nobody, are ya?”
River pulled herself up and looked Jayne in the eye, her face and voice steadfastly serious.
“I really don’t care what your diăo is doing.”
Jayne frowned, not sure if he was relieved or insulted. Not care? How could somebody, a female no less, not even care?
“Can you do a somersault?” River asked, then she disappeared with a small splash, surfacing a second later with her hair over her face. “Like that?”
She flipped her hair back. “Show me! But keep your butt underwater. I’m already emotionally scarred.”
Jayne sneered at her for a second, then he took a deep breath and dove forward into the water.
Mal caught up to Inara without being noticed, and took advantage of the opportunity.
“Shèng hé mă!” she swore, spinning awkwardly toward him. He dodged the foot that swung by his face as she pulled her knee out of his grip.
“Shouldn’t be swimmin’ alone out here,” he said with a grin. “I might a’been a sea monster.”
“Are you implying that you’re not?” she replied, then she ducked under the water and came up with her head back, shaking her hair out of her face. Her white swim top made her bronze skin look golden, and the smooth lines of it perfectly fit her curves. Mal couldn’t help but notice; his grin broadened.
“Well, if I was, I might be pullin’ ya along to my lair in the deeps `bout now.”
“I’m shuddering in fear,” she said dryly, but he saw a small smile before she turned to be discrete about clearing her nose of water.
“You should be scared.” Mal was feeling recklessly playful, and he drifted closer, his head low in the water as he stalked her. “Sea monsters been known to do some mighty bad things.” He made another grab for her leg, but Inara slipped sideways and circled behind him.
He turned to follow her. “Mayhap I got a nest a’ hungry little sea monsters to feed.”
Inara turned away to glance toward shore. “That you certainly do.”
Before she could turn back, some juvenile urge had Mal diving forward to grab her around the waist, and he pulled her under with him. There was a long second where the length of her back pressed against his side, and her hair above him made a dark cloud against the streaks of green light penetrating the water. Then she turned in his arms and he felt her hand on his chest, but only to push him away as she twisted free.
When Mal came up, Inara had distanced herself from him and was wiggling a finger in her ear. “Very charming, Captain,” she said shortly.
The title caught him off guard, but he tried to ignore it. “Sea monsters ain’t never been known for charm.”
“So I see.” Her voice was laced with irritation, and now he could see no hidden smile.
“Come on, `nara,” he said, confused by her change of attitude. “Why you bein’ so an-ti-social? Come join the fun!” He splashed a little water at her.
She held up her hands to block the splash, then wiped her eyes with a look of annoyance. “I’m not antisocial. I just want to get some exercise, to enjoy the space and the quiet.” Slightly winded from the effort of speaking while treading water, Inara tilted to float on her back and catch her breath.
Inara floated higher in the water than River, and she had more parts that broke the surface. Mal thought it best that he follow both her example and look at the sky for a while. He tipped back and let the soft waves cradle him.
“It is nice to be out in the open, ain’t it?” he murmured, trying to figure her mood. She hadn’t been tetchy like this in a while. “Blue sky, sunshine, lots a’ greenery.” When she didn’t answer, he smirked and tilted his head to glance toward her. “Not an unpleasant day for swimmin’.” He hoped to get under her skin with that, but she didn’t even seem to notice.
“Let’s just hope the greenery is full of edible game and non-poisonous plants,” she said, “or your crew of hungry monsters may turn mutinous.”
Mal didn’t reply; he’d almost forgotten the real reason they’d landed here. His good mood dissipated as he recalled the state of things on his ship. They weren’t out of money yet, but what they had was being saved for fuel and the odd chance that they’d find cargo to invest in. With a sigh, he let his ears sink under water to muffle everything but the sound of his own breathing. When he realized Inara was speaking again, he pulled his head up.
“What was that?” he asked.
“I said this is fascinating, but I’d like to keep swimming. I haven’t had a water workout since I left the House.”
“Yeah, guess you don’t get much exercise. Outside of a bed, that is.” It was the kind of smartass thing he tried not to say to her anymore, but it slipped out before he could stop it.
“Actually, there hasn’t been much of that kind of exercise either,” she replied testily.
“What, are you feelin’ a mite… tense `bout it?” he asked, trying to bring back the playfulness.
“Not at all,” Inara snapped. “I’m feeling a mite unemployed, and that’s not what I pay you rent for.”
Surprised at her vehemence, Mal didn’t answer. He closed his eyes and slipped down into the quiet darkness, letting his arms float above him. Dì yù, what was he supposed to do, feel bad that she couldn’t find clients on planets like this, worlds with nothing but farmers? He couldn’t take the ship near any place civilized enough for folks to be spending their coin on sex, not after what had happened on Oeneus. Serenity had to stay far out on the rim; there wasn’t a thing to be done about that.
When he broke the surface again Inara was already a good distance away, sliding almost silently through the water. Mal rolled onto his back again to float, kicking himself slowly toward the ship.
Inara settled into a smooth rhythm, breathing every other stroke and pausing occasionally to open her eyes and check her location. It had been so long, she’d forgotten the calming effect of moving through warm water.
Swimming had been her preferred workout at House Madrassa. Done a certain way, it exercised the heart and lungs, lightly sculpted the upper body and abdomen, but didn’t build lower body muscles which would be deemed unattractive by the type of men she marketed herself to. At the House she’d swam in the indoor pool, confined to a roped off lane, watching the black stripe pass beneath her and checking the clock after every lap. She came to think of her time in the pool as meditative, one part of her mind focused on her technique and lap times, the rest of her thoughts free to roam where they would. Here, in an open sea where she kept her eyes closed against the algae and there was no need to worry about technique, her entire mind was free to wander.
She couldn’t escape regret over the way she’d just dismissed Mal. He’d clearly been feeling better than he had in the past month, maybe more at ease then she had ever seen him, and she’d cut him down. He hadn’t even realized that she’d done it deliberately. But defending herself against him was an instinct she couldn’t suppress.
If only she’d taken a ride with the first freighter she’d contacted on New Melbourne, insisted on heading to the Core no matter the cost or delay. But she hadn’t, and Serenity had left in a hurry and she’d missed her chance. Then Mal had gone missing on Oeneus, before she could even begin to look for transport, and when the crew got him back he’d been in bad shape. On the verge of insanity, falling to pieces after what the Alliance had done to him. It was the only time she’d ever seen the man out of control of himself.
Even after his ordeal with Niska, Mal had been more concerned with the crew then himself, his post-torture soreness amounting to nothing more than a joke. What happened on Oeneus was a different matter. The Alliance had torn into his mind, and that’s something even a very strong willed man can’t pull himself out of. He’d needed help, but would never have admitted it. It had taken a significant amount of desperation on his part and a bit of trickery on hers to make him to take a smoother and finally get the rest he needed to heal.
Inara paused to tread water and look back toward shore. She was surprised to find herself so far out that it took a few seconds to locate the ship against hills glowing orange in the sunset. She aimed herself toward Serenity and started back.
What a relief it had been to see him let go, slouching on the sofa in her shuttle with a serene smile, telling her that he felt ‘nice.’ Inara had to pause in her swimming as a small laugh broke out of her at the memory. The man could be downright disarming when he let himself. Sea monster, indeed. It made her wonder what he’d been like, back before the war. She shook her head at her lack of mental discipline. It did no good to think of the past; she should know that as well as anyone.
She checked her direction again and swam on.
She could have gotten Mal to take the smoother using only deception, but she’d known that the drug would make him drop his defenses. He would have resented her for fooling him like that, and rightly so. His pain was private; she had no more right to it than the Alliance did. So Inara had given him a fair return. She’d told him how she’d been hurt once too, violated in body like he’d been violated in mind. That had allowed him to trust her, to see that the help she offered came from empathy, not pity, and he could accept it with his pride intact.
Inara kicked harder at the water. That had been an even trade, she should have left it at that. But she’d only made a mess of things when she kissed him. He’d blamed himself the next day, apologizing like he’d forced himself on her, but she knew that she was the one at fault.
Thinking he was asleep, his face peaceful after days of being drawn and defensive, she’d kissed his forehead. That was all she’d meant to do, and there was no harm in that. But he hadn’t been fully asleep. She’d felt his fingers gentle on her cheek and he turned toward her, eyes still closed, and without thinking she’d leaned down to brush her lips against his. He’d kissed her back, soft and sensual and intense, but so very different from the sexual intensity of the art she practiced.
Merciful Buddha, the sweetness of it had melted her through – and she’d barely kept herself from sobbing when Mal fell away from her, finally asleep, leaving her alone with the unbearable impossibility of it.
Inara realized that her shoulders were aching from the power of her strokes and she made herself stop. She rolled onto her back to drift and catch her breath, grateful that the water blended with the tears that welled in her eyes, rinsing them away.
Gods, if only she’d kept her mouth shut the next day, and not told him that the kiss wasn’t unpleasant, words he could and would use against her at any time. She shouldn’t have said anything because now he knew. Now they both knew and couldn’t hide behind their bickering like they used to.
She needed that wall between them again, even if she had to build it herself. She’d been too free with him since Oeneus; it had to stop. For Buddha’s sake, he’d just pulled her underwater, touching her and holding her against him like that was some right he had. As if she would ever allow it to happen. She shouldn’t have let it get so far.
Distant shouts reached her and Inara realized that the sky she was staring into was turning a dark blue. She looked toward the sound and saw that the warm light of the cargo bay wasn’t far. Towel covered bodies beckoned her home for supper; she waved back and started toward them at a lazy breast stroke.
She shouldn’t have allowed anything to change between her and Mal. It would only make matters worse, because nothing had really changed.
She still had to leave.
jīng căi: brilliant
chŏu è de pì gu: ugly butt
shèng hé mă: holy hippopotamus
dì yù: hell
On to Chapter 2A.
Monday, May 22, 2006 6:29 AM
Monday, May 22, 2006 8:45 AM
Monday, May 22, 2006 9:28 AM
Monday, May 22, 2006 11:35 AM
Monday, May 22, 2006 5:38 PM
Monday, May 22, 2006 6:42 PM
Monday, May 22, 2006 8:49 PM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 12:01 PM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 5:33 PM
Friday, June 16, 2006 8:32 AM
Thursday, July 06, 2006 6:21 AM
Thursday, July 13, 2006 3:03 AM
Saturday, October 14, 2006 1:34 AM
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