Finding Common Ground. Ch 6
Saturday, June 17, 2006

Mal let's the crew in on the basic plan. least the way it is supposed to go. River's dreams take a turn for the pretty, shiny things...


Chapter 6: All in the Details

Zoë was waiting for them, her legs crossed casually as she strummed her fingers on the table. Inara smiled in greeting and the other woman nodded but her eyes were on Mal. The Captain looked suitably sour and with a quick glance at Inara, Zoë could easily read why. Rolling her eyes to the ceiling, she tried hard not to seem too irritated with her captain's foot-in-mouth syndrome and Inara's ability to aggravate it.

"Well," Mal said as he dragged up the chair at the head of the table. "Guess what I found out today."

Inara muttered something under her breath that could have only been derogatory but Mal ignored her. Zoë glanced at the Companion quickly before focussing back on Mal. "What is that, Sir?"

He leaned forward, resting on his elbows as he grinned. "I've got a price on my head."

Zoë couldn't help but give an exasperated sigh. "Gou pi."

"Nope, it's all actual fact."

"And you're proud of this?" Inara asked incredulously. "You could have been killed today." That made Zoë look at him hard and Mal brushed a hand over his mouth.

"Well, that's true."

"You don't think, sir, that your death might inconvenience us at all?" Zoë asked. "I'm not ready to inherit Serenity, you know."

"Inconvenience you?" Mal asked, blinking.

"I've got people to take care of, sir. Lord knows sometimes I feel like your mother as it is," Zoë answered and Inara smiled. The two women both began to share a wry look and Mal crossed his arms over his chest.

"I knew I should have regretted getting women on my boat," he muttered underneath his breath. Zoë shrugged and then put her hands on the table again. "It's on the Cortex. Nice fat price on my head in Persephone, but nowhere else strangely."



Zoë slowly released her breath out her nose and then nodded. Inara glanced between the two of them and Mal nodded toward Zoë. "We had a run in with him about six months ago. He didn't take kindly to us takin' his one client away from him. Had a whole mess of a scuffle with me breakin' his nose...quite by accident. Ain't ever get over it, I guess."

"Why am I not surprised?" Inara asked as she took her seat next to Mal. "I should give you some schooling in diplomacy, Mal."

"I'm diplomatic. Just not with people who piss me off." Mal shifted, falling easily into his banter with Inara. He glanced at his first mate and saw her glancing over at the door. River was slipping through in her eery and graceful way, Simon following. River tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder and sat across from Inara, staring at the older woman. Inara sent her a warm smile but River's gaze didn't move from her. Simon took the seat next to Inara and saw River staring at her.

Jayne and Kaylee trailed in after a short time, Kaylee frowning over a small couple that was rusted. She kept twisting at it and Mal watched for a moment. Jayne all but threw himself down in a heavy chair and sighed.

"So we have a job," Simon asked first, breaking the silence.

"Yes, we do," Zoë said.

"'Bout gorram time. Got an itch to try out some of Vera's old friends on someone," Jayne said with a small leer.

Mal raised an eyebrow. "It's not as if I'm planning on getting into any fights on this one."

"Ahem," Simon cleared his throat and Mal looked at him.

"You got somethin' to say, Doc?" he asked and Simon met his eyes boldly.

"It's just that...I think I speak for most of us here that whenever you say a job will be simple, one of us ends up shot, stabbed, or somehow disposed." Simon nudged Inara gently, "Some present company excluded." "Oh, I've just been lucky," she whispered back with a smile. Mal watched their easy interaction and frowned. The thought of Inara lying on the doctor's metal table, blood from a wound caused by something he got them into...he felt immediately queasy and looked away from her. River was staring at him now, calmly and with little expression.

"Much as I appreciate the observation, Doctor, this one we are actually being ordered not to draw attention to ourselves," Mal continued.

"Again, one of us is going to end up shot," Simon muttered. Kaylee smothered a giggle from behind her hands and Zoë suddenly reached out and put a warning hand on Simon's. She squeezed very slowly but the strength in her grip made Simon clamp his mouth shut.

"It's an interplanetary gun run. Some underground causes have been gathering supporters since the airplay of the Miranda situation," Zoë explained suddenly and Mal blinked. "I read the notes you left out, Sir."

"Right. We're going to be delivering the guns that are safely stored away in Serenity to Ares but we have 'bout four planets we have to get to first to help move around some of the 'operatives'," Mal added. Simon and Kaylee both blinked. "Why this...sudden movement? And on Ares?" Simon asked.

"A facility is being built by the Alliance, under the guidance of an..." Mal wracked his brain for a moment, "Assistant Executive Pryer. It's only speculation, but our employer figures that whoever tampered the Lil'One over there is starting up a new facility again."

Simon swallowed and glanced at a stony River. It was Inara, though, who still held River's attention in a strange way. Simon glanced over at Inara and saw that her hands were clenched tightly though her face held no emotion.

"So we're pickin' up and dumpin' passengers off? Sounds right fun," Jayne said after a moment. "Any chance for some se..." At Zoë's fierce look he rethought his words. "Second runs?"

"There's about four other ships goin' about. We're bein' paid a good sum for this all. We're getting a quarter of it when we stop off on Santo," Mal answered. "It's going to involve us going into a very...Alliance friendly area. Very tight security. Ain't simple. So we're goin' to be splittin' up duties. Zoë, I'm going to need you to reinforce the cargo. Kaylee, make sure we've got enough false papers lying around to pass off as other people. Doc, you and River won't be settin' a foot out of Serenity. Once I get more of a mindset, we'll get a plan set up."

"What about me?" Jayne asked eagerly.

"Beyond bein' my backup, I'm asking you to stay out of the way and try not to frighten the locals," Mal stated and Jayne frowned, pouting like a small child. Mal then looked at Inara, who was still staring at the table as if it held her attention. "'Nara?"

They all looked at her but she was staring so blankly ahead of herself that she didn't hear him. River's eyes had still not left her face and she arched a brow.

"Inara!" Mal snapped and she jerked.

"Oh, sorry. Just getting all the details right in my head," she answered but her voice was manufactured. Mal heard the carefully held note of carelessness in her voice and frowned.

"I don't want you endangering your career over this. You can get...a client on Santos probably." Mal wasn't about to let on how bad that one stung.

Her eyes flashed. "Am I being told I have nothing to offer on this job?"

"It's not that..."

"Then give me something to do."

Mal sighed and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Alright. You've probably got some old friends on Santos, if I recall?"

"I do," Inara said, blinking as she stared at him. "I'll contact them to see what sort of condition Santo has been in. Some of the cities are probably feeling the strain of a lack of faith in the Parliament."

"Exactly my thinking," Mal said with a grin. "Just not in so eloquent a way."

Inara rolled her eyes and turned to see River still staring at her. The girl tilted her head finally and then looked away quickly as if she had just been caught. Frowning, Inara listened as Jayne began a list of complaints about his lack of proper chance for killing and Mal resumed arguing with the big man about his place.


River was dreaming.

Oh, it seemed perfectly normal, so real but River had spent so much of her teenage life in a semi-aware state that she knew dreams. This one, unlike her others, was different. There was a soft light about everything, making each light refract off of one another. A bridge of white-painted stone, a slow moving river with pink-dappled flowers dotting its blue-green surface, and the embankment was carefully constructed with large stones to make a riverbed. The landscape was dotted with flower-beds of fragrant marigolds and roses, high lush green shrubs blocking the outside world. As River turned, she caught a glimpse of light and saw only an iron-cast mirror, hanging from the drooping branches of a willow tree. Wherever she was, it was a place of incredible beauty. Everything in its place for a reason, River decided, even the blades of grass perfectly shorn. Nothing was ugly or distorted, not like her other dreams. There were no whispers in the wind, no slight crack to the trees that would distort further to reveal an ugly dead tree. With everything in its decided place, it was both natural and artificial all at once.

For whatever reason, it terrified her far more than her other recent dreams.

The mirror was twisting slowly around in the breeze, causing a reflection to momentarily blind River. Putting her hand before her eyes, she flinched and glanced around the gardens for something else to focus on. Then the mirror shuddered and she heard a splintering crack. Her large eyes managing to blink away the spots caused by the light, she reached out to touch the mirror and swung it back around. With her thin fingers, she traced the cracks. "Seven years bad luck," she whispered, knowing of the old wives' tale from Earth-That-Was. There were seven cracks that destroyed the perfection of its surface and she caught her fingers on one, wincing at the small scratch the she received. Licking her lips, she stared at her fractured features and frowned.

"Forty-nine, actually," said a soft voice from behind her. Swallowing, River released the mirror and turned to see a young girl with large eyes and shoulder-length hair staring at her. Dressed in a rose-coloured kimono, the girl had the look of a worn-down servant. Naive and ready to accept any action for relief from a life she was unsure of. While her face was impeccable and clear of imperfections save for deep purple circles just visible behind the layers of makeup, the rest of her seemed far too perfect, much like her surroundings. Then her eyes met River's and there was an instant recognition, at least on River's part. This girl, barely older than fourteen and only entering a stage of beauty, carried a look of reserved dignity that River knew intimately through interaction. Inara.

"Are you here for training?" the girl asked. River shook his head and Inara turned, frowning. "The other girls are missing. They've been missing for four days...since the war started."

"Where...where are we?" River asked and Inara took her hand, leading her back to the bridge. Inara smiled and shook her head, lifting a small hand to River's lips.

"Not sure. It's a training house though," Inara answered. "I'm to receive my orders soon." She pushed her curly hair behind an ear and paused near the middle of the bridge, looking over the edge. River took in the sights as a bird flew by her, its colourful body changing its tones every now and then. When she turned about to look at the other side, there was an old grandfather clock standing without bracers, its mahogany surface scarred by time as a great golden pendulum swung resolutely back and forth behind its glass body. Ticking it away, it suddenly struck 3 and began to chime.

Beside her, Inara whimpered and put her hands over her ears. "It's only water," she began to mumble repeatedly. River glanced at her and moved over to the clock, opening its body up. A small cat, fluffy and white, stared at her with piercing blue eyes before jumping out of the clock body and racing to the gardens. The clock continued to chime incessantly until River gave it a hearty thump on its side.

Inara continued to mutter a soft mantra to herself, her hands over her ears as she moved to the side of the bridge and sat on the edge. Folding herself into a graceful ball, she rocked back and forth in a way similar to how River had once rocked to rid herself of bad dreams. Her dark hair curled over her face, hiding it. Chewing on her lower lip, River could only guess what half of these things meant. It took much longer to process things in their proper order.

"It's only water," Inara repeated, her voice shaky but steady. Her head suddenly lifted and her eyes were clear but had a glassy tinge to them.

Having heard more bizarre statements in her dreams, River was non-plussed as she looked over the edge as well. She abruptly froze in her place, her mouth half-open in fear. Inara watched her, putting a hand out that was chapped and roughened with callouses and gently cupping River's cheek. "Only water."

River looked back down and began to scream a pitiful wailing sound at the sight of the bodies in the water, bloated corpses with their faces twisted with agony as they stared sightlessly up at her. One's face shifted until it formed a grotesque mockery of a mouth open in rapture as it gurgled in the water. Beside River, Inara leaned in and began to whisper. River stared at her and the look in Inara's eyes made River scream all the harder.

"Only water..."


"Mei mei, River!" Simon cried as he gave his sister a soft shake. River's eyes, large and unseeing, passed over his face without recognition and she struggled against his grip. "River! It's me. You were dreaming!"

Gasping for a breath that she hadn't realised she had held, River managed to focus on her brother, focussing on his dark eyes to anchor herself. His hair was tousled, half-stuck to his head as the other half was up in the air, and he still had the exhausted look of one who had been jolted out of his own sleep. As the dream's hold began to fade, River stared at him and took a breath.

Then she moaned and promptly vomited on her bed-sheets. Simon managed only to grimace and awkwardly patted her shoulder, holding her hair away from her face as her body dry-heaved. Reaching over to her bedside table, he quickly grabbed the glass of water River had set out earlier and held it out to her. River took a long sip she suddenly lifted the glass away from her mouth and stared at it.

Simon stared at it as well. " something wrong?" he asked as he put an arm about her shoulder. River shut her eyes and her grip tightened until Simon could see her knuckles turning white. The glass suddenly shattered beneath her fingers, leaving a spray of water. As Simon stared, horrified by the sight of the fragments flying from her hand, River began to give a disjointed laugh that sent a chill up his spine.

"Only water!" she managed through her laughter as she lifted a bloody hand and promptly smeared the wall of her room with it.

--- Meanwhile...

Drenched in sweat, Jayne headed towards the common room, his heavy boots thudding. 'Might as well wake them two up for the hell they've been causing,' he decided, not ready to admit he was jealous that that Doc was getting some and he wasn't.

Things weren't right in the 'Verse if that stayed the case.

Grumbling, he eyed the passenger dorms and saw Inara's heavy trunk that Mal had insisted they move out the minute their meeting had been over. Inara had clearly not been happy about being moved but Mal had made some good points about new passengers. Jayne wasn't one to wax thoughts on the future but he hoped that the job might bring a chance to pursue some recreation. Lord knew he needed it having to deal with all the sex and tension goin' on in Serenity. Things needed some...

He jumped when he heard River laughing her fool-head off, shouting about water and smashing what sounded like glass. Jayne wiped his forehead and chewed on his inner cheek. Nah, it wasn't worth it, he decided as he continued past the dorms. He was likely to get somethin' thrown at him and he wasn't one for self-sacrifice so that some moon-brained girl could have a tantrum.

Passing the last dorm, where Inara was sleeping, he thought he heard the sound of crying and paused.

"Huh...women...ain't none knows how to sleep peacefully," he muttered with a roll of his eyes as he continued back to his own bunk.



Gou pi: bull shit mei mei: little sister

Oh dreams...they trouble me...yet this quote came to mind when i wrote the dream sequence...

"You cannot dream yourself into a character: you must hanmer and forge yourself into one." Henry D. Thoreau


Tuesday, June 27, 2006 4:36 AM


Please continue i'm really liking this story

Thursday, August 24, 2006 1:37 AM


Hey, are you still writing on this amazing series? I absolutely love it, your grasp of all the character voices and your comedic timing. I've been hoping for new parts, and it's been two months apparentloy... Must I file this off as forever unfinished? :(


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Finding Common Ground. Ch 6
Mal let's the crew in on the basic plan. least the way it is supposed to go. River's dreams take a turn for the pretty, shiny things...

Finding Common Ground. Ch 6
Mal let's the crew in on the basic plan. least the way it is supposed to go. River's dreams take a turn for the pretty, shiny things...

Finding Common Ground Ch.5
Inara reveals her ability to act but the results are awkward and painful

Nickname of Contention
Mal has a bone to pick with Inara

Finding Common Ground. Ch. 4
Bookstores and memories abound...get a glimpse into the humourous side of shopping. Just a continuation to a leap into plot.

Finding Common Ground...Ch.3
The story continues as Mal learns about his new job and the Mule gets its revenge. (still M/I but we need the job, people)

Finding Common Ground....Ch.2
We continue on with the tension and drama of being Mal and Inara....with the crew and a job thrown in just for fun.

Finding Common Ground
Mal and Inara share the late night vigil of flying Serenity a month after the events on Miranda, opening up a well of emotion.

A Start of Things
Set prior to the pilot (but based off Out of Gas). Mal and Inara meet for the first time