Life's Too Short- Part Nineteen
Thursday, June 1, 2006

Inara on Mal, Jennings and the Captain, Inara and Simon, River alone.


Life’s Too Short- Part Nineteen

Author’s Note: Sorry it’s so late; my brother stole my computer that had all my writing on it! * * * * Two Days Earlier

“Say that again, please.” The officer swallowed hard, nervously fingering the bandage on his temple. “They’ve, uh, they’ve escaped. Both of them. Lorry’s… well, she’s dead, sir.” “After several hours of intense torture, bleeding heavily, and in the middle of a building full of soldiers, you’re telling me that a washed-out Browncoat and a glorified whore took out two officers and managed to get away?” Another swallow. “Um, well, not- not exactly… yes, sir.” Jennings rubbed his eyes. “Get out of my sight,” he said evenly. As the man left (in quite a hurry) Jennings picked up his portable wave screen. He pressed out a code. “It’s Jennings. I have some people I want taken out. Two Alliance officers.” When would people start to understand? Failure was death in this day and age. Failure was death. He’d been reminded of that himself rather recently. * * * * Her words hit Mal like a sledgehammer. Suddenly, the warm glow that had filled him dissipated, leaving him cold and filled with fear. Fear admittedly mixed with annoyance at being interrupted, but he crushed that immediately. He couldn’t bring himself to regret what he and Inara had done, but he was suddenly flush with the full weight of River’s desertion. Not desertion, you stupid old soldier, he told himself. She’s goin’ for all of you. “Yeah, I’ll be right up,” he managed. Sliding from the bed, Mal pulled on his trousers and shrugged into his shirt. Inara sat up behind him, her hand resting on his shoulder. He turned to look at her. Her eyes were dark with sadness and understanding, and, he thought, love. “Go,” she said simply. He went. As he climbed up the ladder, Inara found her gaze straying to empty space. She sighed, but so softly that he didn’t hear her. She felt oddly emptied. She’d expected to feel filled after the act, to feel… what was the word? Absolved, somehow. Freed from her own insecurities. Instead, she found herself strangely drained, as if making love with Mal and admitting her true feelings had taken some well of strength she didn’t know she had. Her eyes wandered over the array of objects on his cluttered desk. Papers, rocks, a wooden carving. A few captures, lying haphazardly piled on top of each other. A star chart. She found it incredibly endearing that he had a star chart. Did anyone use those anymore? Apparently. Inara thought of River. Well, are you happy, River? I told him. I gave in. What now? What happens now? As if the girl could hear her thoughts from whatever distance apart they were. As if she could answer. When had Inara started looking to River for advice? It was supposed to be the other way around. Since Miranda, she guessed. Since River knew… everything. But not everything. She didn’t know how to stop the Alliance from finding her. She didn’t know how to keep Serenity safe without leaving. Inara sighed again and stretched out on Mal’s bed, sliding one white hand beneath his rumpled pillow. She felt something hard and rectangular, wedged between the mattress end and the low headboard. Frowning, Inara closed her fingers around it and the paused. Should she? She pulled the object out from beneath the pillow, resting on her elbow. It was a capture, screen dark and inviting. She saw her face mirrored on the black plasma, and hit the ‘on’ switch. Now, her own face stared back for real, frozen in faraway contemplation. Because the look in her eyes disturbed her, Inara hit ‘play’. The picture didn’t change. It was just her, sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a mug of something. Tea, presumably. Mal was sitting at the head of the table, also drinking something. The light was low, and neither of them seemed to notice each other or the person taking the capture. There was a peace in watching, and she smiled softly to herself. The fact that he kept this particular capture beneath his pillow warmed her numbed heart. * * * * Mal jogged onto the bridge. Kaylee, Simon and Zoe watched him from around the room. Zoe beckoned him towards the wave screen. Jennings’ face stared out from the screen, cool and arrogant. And there was that something, that * off-ness* that had alerted Mal in the beginning. Almost as if Jennings himself were afraid. Afraid of what? What was he doing that was so strange? “Captain Reynolds,” Jennings said by way of greeting. Mal nodded guardedly. Zoe was eyeing him, an uncomfortably suspicious look on her face, and Mal concentrated on the screen. “What do you want,” he stated boldly. More of a statement than a question. Jennings gave a dry, humorless smile. “I’m offering you a deal.” “Why?” “You give me River Tam,” he continued as if Mal hadn’t spoken, “and I leave your ship alone.” “Why?” “It’s a good deal. You’ll be home free, and you won’t have to bother yourself about the girl.” “What’s got you scared,” Mal pondered. Jennings’ face tightened. “I’m offering you this bargain once, and once only. Turn it down, and all bets are off.” “I thought all bets were already off. What do I have to lose?” “Think,” Jennings coaxed, suddenly smooth again. “We both know she’s crazy. She’s dangerous, Captain. Hell, you and your crew will be safer without her.” Mal almost snarled. Instead, he folded his arms. “We’re safe enough. She’s just a kid been dealt some bad cards.” “So was Lizzie Borden,” Jennings snapped almost viciously. Mal narrowed his eyes. Maybe he was no doctor like Simon or Companion like ‘Nara, but even he’d heard the rhyme and the story of Lizzie Borden. Some infamous psychopath killer girl from Earth-That-Was. “Well, I figure we’re safe enough. Don’t keep no axes on board,” he replied, deadpan. Jennings’ face rippled with anger, and then he regained his control. “Indeed. So you refuse to give her up?” “She ain’t mine to give,” Mal said harshly. “And she ain’t yours to take. You want her, you feel free to send yourself to hell, ‘cause that’s how far you’ll have to go if you want to catch her.” Jennings smiled. “Well, then. I’ll see you in hell.” “No,” Mal said, reaching out to turn off the screen. “You won’t.” He turned away, almost bumping into Zoe. “What’s the plan, sir?” “Did you find anything about where she may have gone?” “Nope. She fiddled with the controls a bit; we can’t trace her trajectory path. I’d expect she’s headed for Jennings.” Mal frowned. “I dunno. Something strikes me as odd about that fellow.” Zoe nodded. “Can’t quite place what, though.” “He’s been threatened recently,” came a voice from the doorway. Everyone turned to face Inara, standing with one hand against the frame. She was still staring at the blank screen. “He’s not the man in control. He was hired by someone, and that someone is getting impatient. That’s why he offered the deal, and that’s why he’s jumpy. And that’s where River is going.” Simon was looking at Inara coldly, but Kaylee pulled his face away and said something quietly, intently. He opened his mouth to argue, but she raised her brows and spoke again. Simon closed his eyes, sighed, and looked back at the Companion. The rage was gone, replaced by frustrated understanding. Mal and Zoe nodded. “Could be you’re right.” “I know I’m right,” she said. “I’m trained to read faces.” Mal swallowed, but knew it was true. “So. Who hired him?” * * * * Darkness. Chill air, sweeping softly from vents. The harsh, unworldly sound of a breathing machine. It’s taking too long. If it takes much longer, the plan will fail. Reynolds. Reynolds. The man hiding River Tam. The man who escaped under impossible odds, and brought someone else with him. It jars something in the bidder’s faded memory, some dark impression that he has tried to block away. From Back Then. From the bad time. Malcolm Reynolds, rescuing someone. Someone who needed help. Coming back. Coming back. Reynolds. In the dark, eyes that are no longer there try to widen. Reynolds. It’s him. The bidder snarls wordlessly, phantom lips curling with hate. It’s him. River Tam is the key, but Malcolm Reynolds is a part of the game. Oh, yes, he is. He and anyone he brought with him from Back Then. The bidder’s nerveless hands spasm with an almost erotic delight. Two birds with one stone. Well, a lot more than two birds. More like… millions, the bidder guesses. Millions. And then, there will be darkness everywhere. * * * * River worked the controls of the shuttle with inhuman grace, her fingers barely touching levers and buttons before they did their jobs. She wasn’t thinking about flying. She wasn’t thinking about the crew, or about Serenity. She wasn’t thinking about rabbits or cheeses or apple bits. She was thinking about death. What happened after you died? It was another thing she didn’t know. Well, she knew what happened sometimes. But what would happen to her? Would it hurt? Would she fly apart, rejoin the atmosphere? She’d heard that people originally came from stars. Would she go home, then, to the stars? She didn’t think so. River Tam hoped for blackness. She hoped that when she died, she would reach oblivion. The wonderful darkness that blinded her to things she didn’t want to see; deafened her ears to things she didn’t want to hear. Finally, perhaps, her mind would be at peace. Spread out across a sea of nothing. No memory, no words, no pictures in her head that screamed and begged for release. No bodies, no blood. No killing, no hate. No fear, no love, no pity, no sorrow. Nirvana. It wasn’t that she was expecting to die. It was more that she wanted to prepare herself in case it happened. Always be prepared. Though she didn’t know what would happen when she died, there were many things she did know. For instance, she knew that Jennings was a false lion. Wrong man to fear. Oh, he was dangerous. He was mean. But he wasn’t real. She also knew that the one who was real was full of darkness. He hated. Oh, he hated. He hated the world of light. He hated sound, and touch, and smell, and smiles. He hated living, or he hated the living. He hated the dead. And he hated Mal Reynolds. The darkness in him intrigued her. She wondered if he felt any peace. She didn’t want to delve too deep, didn’t want to risk what was left of her sanity in finding out. But she wondered. If your soul goes black, what is it like? No conscience, no remorse. It would be so much easier without remorse. But River couldn’t bring herself to want that particular darkness. Not yet. Not ever. Maybe, had Simon left her there, her madness would have given birth to a new kind of child, a child that ripped and tore and ate her alive from the brain out. And then, she would have been dark, too. But he had gotten her out. He had. Another thing she knew was that the sun would come out in three days on Sihnon, from behind the layer of clouds that had darkened the usually blue sky. It would be a glorious sight. * * * * “Inara.” She turned, seeing Simon standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Mal and Zoe were still on the bridge, having called Jayne up to discuss who could have hired an Alliance big cheese. Kaylee was presumably in the engine room, talking to Serenity. “Yes, Simon?” “I need to talk to you.” She had been expecting this. Inara smiled a little and sat down. Simon stood awkwardly before her, hands clasped behind his back. “All right.” “I wanted… I wanted to apologize.” She frowned. “For what?” “For how I treated you.” “You didn’t say anything.” “But I thought it, and I know it showed. It’s not your fault that River left. I know that. It’s just…” “She’s your sister, and you wanted to find someone else to blame,” Inara said gently. Simon nodded and hung his head, the sadness rolling off him like a wave. Inara stood and put a hand on his arm. “It’s not your fault either, Simon. It’s no one’s fault.” “I know. I guess.” He looked at her, eyes full of hurt. “She should have told me. She should have asked me.” “She’s old enough to think for herself. Eighteen, now.” “Yes, but-” “And she’s healed enough, I think, to be able to think for herself. She’s a woman, not a child.” Inara kept her voice gentle, knowing it hurt Simon to hear this. “River is a very smart, very gifted young woman, but she’s also a human being. She has feelings, just like everybody else. And she’s growing past the stage where she told everyone those feelings, or even just told you. She still loves you very, very much, but she has things she wants to do by herself.” “Not go get herself killed!” “Well, she’s not exactly like your average teenager. Her things she needs to do are a bit… tweaked. Besides, she’s trying to protect you. All of us.” “I know,” he admitted at last. “I only wish… I only wish I could help her.” “You can,” Inara said as compassionately as she could. “Be strong. Stay safe. Let her know that you’re here, alive and well.” As she said it, Inara heard Mal saying almost the exact same thing to her right after their escape. She remembered how hard it had been to hear him say it, and also remembered that she had never answered him. Simon, however, was apparently stronger than she. “You’re right. She needs to know I’m safe.” He clasped her hand in his in thanks, and walked silently out. Inara was left standing alone in the kitchen, eyes suddenly filling with tears.

TBC: Next: well, you’ll find out, won’t you?


Thursday, June 1, 2006 4:31 PM


stay with me, Anon, the angst will work itself out.

Thursday, June 1, 2006 4:33 PM


Aww, poor Simon. Lost without his sister. Love the angst. Keep it coming. . . so long as there is a happy ending eventually! :)

Thursday, June 1, 2006 5:49 PM


Why does River have to fly off and be a martyr? But I love that Simon was able to move past his anger and apologize. And can't the Captain and Inara have one shiny moment, before the whole 'verse implodes on them?
I'm loving the angst, but we need a happy ending, ASAP, dong ma?

Thursday, June 1, 2006 6:21 PM


I really, really wanna know who this Davros wannabe (*wink* to any Doctor Who fans here) is and why Mal causes him to hate so much!

Loving this series, wingedraksha....but I wanna see more!


Friday, June 2, 2006 12:27 AM


Very good, that evil man in the darkness though is one creepifying and twisted dude. So glad that Inara and Mal are actually together but very worried about River and what will happen next. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, June 2, 2006 1:01 AM


I think this is a very moving piece and the best thing you've written so far. I loved all your other chapters but this one really spoke to me and I can't figure out what is was.

Angst is good to read but this chapter has an eerie calm feeling to it that means it really hits hard.

I'm not sure I'm describing this well... maybe it's just me being in a weird mood, but I'm serious... my favourite chapter so far!


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This is basically pointless fluff, mes amis. I'm sick with the flu and trying to cheer myself up. It's what SHOULD have happened when Inara told Mal that she was leaving.

A depressing little oneshot look into a captain who's slowly losing hope.

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Que Sera
A bit of Malnara fluff, based on the song Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be). I like it. Hope you do, too :)

Life's Too Short- The End
Well, here it is. The last chapter. Warning: character death, but anyone who's read the rest probably already knows that.

Life's Too Short- Part Twenty-Nine
Mal, Zoe, Simon and Jayne prepare to start the Big Damn Rescue, and what in the 'verse has River been up to?

Life's Too Short- Part Twenty-Eight
Inara and Kaylee have their girl talk.

Life's Too Short- Part Twenty-Seven
Kaylee and Inara leave the ship, and the rest of the crew heads off to find Kyle Tremain.