Z.A.M.M IV; All That You Can't Leave Behind
Sunday, June 18, 2006

There's no such thing as a free lunch.


All That You Can’t Leave Behind

With her carefully planned and civilized evening descending into chaos, Inara shoos them out onto the terrace. This is supposed to be a place for quiet reflection. It is true that the sweep of the view and the sunset silences them momentarily, but then they are all laughing and talking again, pointing out the little bats that skim down against the indigo evening.

Ilargia stands by the balustrade, savouring the view. She misses the open sky. Arms wrap around her, and there is a large, warm presence at her back.

“That was some fine and fancy dining.” Jayne is happy; not often he feels full. “Reckon you could do that sauce again?”

“Yes.” Ilargia considers. “Or something like it. That woman thinks I’m just your bedwarmer, you know.”

“She ain’t got no call to look down on that.” He rests his chin on top of her head. “Don’t let her fret you - she and Mal put each other out of humour just by breathin’, and then they go and spread it about some, so as nobody feels left out.”

“Kaylee told me they had a...complicated relationship.”

“They’re a pair of gorram fools.”

Jayne don’t understand Mal and Inara. If they care, why don’t they up and say so? A little fightin’s fine, ‘cos then you get to the making up. But this whole dancing about makes him tired.

Now, dress it up any way you like, but ‘Nara goes with folks for money. Jayne’s got nothing against working girls, but he’s glad his Larji ain’t, so he can see that Mal don’t want to share. Then again, he can’t see why Inara would keep runnin’ about when she don’t have to, ‘less she likes it.

Ilargia would like to like Inara. But she thinks that Mal is too fine a man to have his heart trampled on. And an idiot to put up with it. This world of softness and wealth was never her world anyway. Fun to visit, but she wouldn’t want to live here...She becomes aware of a deft hand finding a dress fastening.

“Jayne! If you pull that pin out, I’m going to end up with this dress round my ankles.”

“Better get to our room, then.” Other hand plays across the silk at her hip. “’Cos I need you to warm more than my bed.”

“Animal.” She turns in his arms. “Swept off my feet and onto my back.”

Jayne just grins down at her, and she laughs, calls to the others.

“Good-night. Jayne’s having urges, so we’re off to bed.”


Inara watches them go, as surprised by everyone’s calm acceptance as by their open-ness.

“Who is she, really, Mal?”

“What does it matter to you? You left us.”

Her lips thin.

“That doesn’t mean that I am not concerned.”

“She’s our cook.”

“And Jayne’s...wife.”

“’Verse holds a deal of strange sights. Those two are one of ‘em.” Mal’s grin is nasty. “Woman’s got class, education, and he’s just a gun-totin’ petty criminal. Dunno what she see in him.”

“I really couldn’t say.” Inara doesn’t meet his eyes. “Where is she from? Originally.”

“Londinium.” He enjoys the new shock. “Seems not everyone is so keen on the peace and order of your neat little worlds.”

The last few months have seen protest and panic throughout the Central Worlds. The Alliance is having to do some very public house-cleaning to restore confidence. Inara sighs.

“It hurt a lot of people, having their faith in their government betrayed like that.”

“Got no sympathy. People chose to put their necks under that heel, and the boot kicked ‘em in the face.”

Mal is intractable. She knows this. And she doesn’t want to fight with him. He just makes it so difficult not to.

“It could be made better, Mal.”

“We seen what the Alliance idea of making folks better leads to. I don’t hold with it, an’ I never will.”


Kaylee sits on one of the benches, and pulls off her shoes. Simon sits down, too, takes up one small foot and massages her toes. Kaylee purrs.

“I could get used to this kinda life. This the sort of fancy party you had at home?”

“The food was. Not the company.” Simon smiles wryly up at River. “Can you imagine someone like Mr Crosetti making small talk with Jayne?”

River considers it.

“Jayne is an honest thief. Might steal the teaspoons, but he wouldn’t expect you to thank him for it.” She gives a little pirouette. “Prefer our party.”

“I think I do, too.” Simon looks fondly at Kaylee, who is blissing out. Her make-up is a little smudged, and despite her care, she has managed to drop a little fruit juice down the front of her gown. She’s still gorgeous.

River, deciding that she is no longer needed, flits away. She has things to think on.


Mal and Zoe have rooms next to each other. They pause for a quiet word outside.

“We ain’t letting that boy drink again.” Mal shakes his head, but he’s grinning.

“Could have been worse, sir.”


“Could have been a tango.”

“Ai ya.” Mal shudders. “First time I’ve seen him any kind of relaxed.”

“Reckon this is more his style of living.” Zoe looks around. “Not what I’d call homey, but rich folks is different.”


“We scanned the sector. Alliance lost a deal of ships over Miranda, and they’ve had to pull in pretty far. Nothin’ bigger than us any place near.”

“And I haven’t been stabbed yet.” Mal reminds her.

“Maybe...” Zoe bites gingerly on this, “Inara just wanted to”

Mal’s snort holds no hope or encouragement.

“I wouldn’t have dragged us out here without cause...”

“Not suggesting it, sir.” She soothes. “Just, we may have been misled, is all.”

“Can’t run the ship on dreams.” He looks away.

“I’ll take first watch.” Zoe, ever practical. “Four hour and turnabout?”

“You’re a mighty suspicious woman.”

“Had a good teacher, sir. Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”


Inara paces down the terrace towards the small shrine beyond. It has been a long evening. She’s spent most of it diverting conversation, letting people talk about themselves. Sleep will not come, and neither will peace of mind.

Disquiet moves in her, something that she cannot place, cannot still with meditation. She has dropped this stone into the well-ordered pool of her life. Now she must cope with the ripples.

“Good evening.”

If Inara is slightly startled, she doesn’t show it, much. Ilargia Cobb is sitting under one of the terrace lamps, reading.

“My horrible husband is snoring. It was either get up or kill him. He’s too damn heavy to roll over.”

“There’s a knack.” says Inara, dryly. She’s had a few bandsaw boys in her time. (Does Mal snore?) Pushes that thought swiftly away.

“I notice everyone brings their needs to you. You ever get a chance to just sit?” Ilargia pushes a chair with her toe.

Inara sits, wary, expecting some conversational gambit, but Ilargia just settles back behind her book. She’s not playing a game, Inara realises with a shock, she’s just being friendly.

She’s a type of person that Inara has never really met. Absolutely...ordinary. Until she came onto the ship, Inara had never shopped for food before. Or done her own laundry. But...Londinium. It’s a very long way from the stone and glass and steel, the culture and order of ultimate civilization to...him, frankly. The green eyes lift, and Ilargia puts the book down.

“You really have been wondering about me and Jayne, haven’t you?”

The look she’s getting indicates that this is an intelligent, confident woman. Honesty is going to be the best policy.

“I am curious, but I felt it would be rude to ask.” Well, honesty of a sort.

“He’s everything you could want in a man, believe me.”

“But he’s...” Inara’s vocabulary fails her, “...a little crude, surely?”

“A certain lack of formal education, but there’s no great call for philosophy professors out here. Sometimes a woman isn’t looking for the ‘gentle’ with the ‘man’.”

“Sometimes a rough diamond is just a lump of coal.”

“Coal’s more use. Keeps you warm.” She grins. “You telling me you were never tempted by those tight pants strutting about in front of you being all in charge?”

Inara laughs. “We’re not talking about me.” Or the tight pants.

“Besides,” Ilargia settles back, “he plays the guitar. Never could resist a musician.”

Now that was something Inara didn’t know about him. They eye each other. Two women from the Central Planets, more than worlds away from each other.

“How did you come to be...out here?”

“I’m...nobody special. I was a very minor government clerk, living a life of quiet desperation in a perfectly ordered society, until I gave up everything that was a prison.”

“Why him?”

Ilargia recognises the question for what it is. A genuine desire to find out the why. She knows why Inara wants to know, as well.

“The first night I was on Serenity, I couldn’t sleep. So I got up, and there he was, sitting on the stairs. Frightened me half to death - I thought he was some kind of guard.” (Inara remembers her first encounter with Jayne - stalking out of the shuttle past Mal and into a solid wall of muscle. Frightened her, too.) “Instead, we ended up sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea, and I realised that I was in trouble.”

“He got grabby.”

“No. He sat at his end of the table and went all shy and polite.” (Jayne? Shy?) “So there I was, with this big, dangerous man in front of me, and I just thought, yummy. And all the sensible bits of my head yelled at me. Killer. Criminal. Bad Man.”

“So what drowned out the sensible bits?”

“Oh, the voice, the guitar, the blue eyes, those big hands, that sweet, hopeful grin he was all a bit irresistible, and then when we got dirtside, I stopped resisting.” Ilargia can’t help it, she’s glowing. “You ever had a client, where you thought, I want to keep this one?”

“One or two.” Inara blinks. “Two. Jayne?”

“Oh, yes. I was married before. It ended...badly. And until Jayne, I’d always thought the multiple O was a myth.” Even Companions can be a little startled. Ilargia grins at her expression. “So now, I’m married to a man who is sweet and funny and sexy as hell.”

“The thieving and the killing...”

“Happen outside the bedroom.” Ilargia’s hand clenches, subconscious reflex. “I’ve seen him kill. I’ve helped him kill. And I live with that. One day, he won’t be there any more, but until then, I want all that I can of him, for as long as he cheats death, rather than shut myself away from feeling anything.”

“How can you compartmentalize like that?”

“The same way you do.” Inara walks right into that. “But I love the man, and that means accepting that he has done, and still will do, some horrible things to survive. He’s a mercenary on a smuggling ship on the edge of known space. But he is also a man who will wear a ridiculous hat simply because his mother made it for him, a fine musician, an excellent cook and a truly wonderful lover. Call it a poorly developed moral sense, or an atavistic impulse, if it makes you happier.”

“But going from Londinium to being a...cook?”

“I’m a very good cook. It’s the only skill I have. I can’t shoot or fight, or pilot anything bigger than an aircar. I can’t hunt, or fix engines. Hell, I can’t even sew. I came out here with no threat of the Guild to hold people off. And I’ve lost everything I’ve ever worked for.” She raises her chin. “I could have stayed, rebuilt my life. But I couldn’t ask Jayne to leave Serenity.”

“He would have done that?”

“He offered. But I had nothing to tie me anywhere I didn‘t want to be. So I let him carry me off. My head knows it’s not sensible, but the rest of me gets persuaded otherwise.” She grins. “Regularly.”

“You make it sound so easy...”

“It was never easy.” Face is older, harder, eyes illusionless. “I’ve been lonely and tired and scared. But I will not have my life dictated. I make my own choices and live with them.” The smile is one of hard-won self-knowledge. “I have no faith to sustain me, I’m just bloody-minded.”

Inara revises her opinion. Not ordinary at all. And she realises that she can say things to this woman that she wouldn’t even say to Sheydra.

“Nobody understands why I can’t give everything up for him. Even me, sometimes.” Everybody else condemns her for not throwing her whole life away for a man.

“You can’t give up everything you are, because that way lies resentment.” There’s experience behind that. “I have no conflict with who and what I am. I don’t have your lifetime of training, or your ties of loyalty. But then, I don’t think anyone else really understands about the Guild, do they?”

There is a short, dangerous moment of quiet.

“Who are you?”

“I’m just the cook.” Ilargia smiles, but her eyes are watchful. “I studied history. People think it’s dry, irrelevant. But it tells us where we came from, what we are capable of. What we might do in the future. Twenty percent of the seats in Parliament are ex-Companions. Political and social prominence when you retire. How many of the rest have an...advisor?”

Inara shivers a little.

How much power does the Guild wield? A blacklisted client will be forever denied certain status. Businesses will not trade. Socially unacceptable in some quarters. A Companion can go anywhere with the knowledge of the Guild, the velvet fist, poised behind them. Their ears hear secrets, they know the lusts and frailties of so many. And they advise, oh yes. So very gently, for they know when a body is receptive to new ideas. They grow rich on the grateful advice of others. They are a loving octopus. Life outside the embrace could be cold and terrifying, and probably quite short.

“Nobody else has ever asked me that sort of thing.”

“Nobody else is from the same world. The doctor has other concerns right now, but I expect the brat will figure it out sooner or later. And yes, I do know about River,” she adds, off Inara’s look. “Bastards.” She adds, savagely.

Inara bows her head.

“I don’t hate my life enough to walk out of it. There is still so much to learn...”

“He isn’t going to share you. Too proud.”

There’s footsteps on the pathway. Jayne, shirtless and a little mussed from sleep.

“Woke up an’ missed you.” He says, simply. “Got used to cuddlin’ you, now, bao bei. Come back to bed.”

Inara’s eyes prick suddenly, and she looks away. Ilargia gets to her feet, takes the large hand held out to her.

“Good-night.” She says gently, to the younger woman. “Worse things in the ‘verse than loving a space-pirate.”


In her room, River kneels, hands tucked within her sleeves. Were it not for the slight rise and fall of her breathing, you could think her a statue. Eyes closed, face tranquil, she pulls herself back into her mind. This is a place of calm and order, and it helps her to focus.

It had been like their family dinners. Like they used to be, before...Dress her up and make her perform.

She calculates. Facts support the hypothesis.

Environment designed to simulate familiarity, provoke feelings of security.

Conclusion; Inara wishes them to feel comfortable in these surroundings.

Elements are not the factors of a formative environment for those others in the group. Ergo, they are excluded from the comfort.

Re-evaluate conclusion. Inara wishes the Tams to feel comfortable in these surroundings.

Surroundings are. A school. For young women.

Conclusion...River’s eyes snap open. The Captain is going to be very angry indeed.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006 2:50 PM


I think I know where this is going! Ooooooh, very exciting indeed.

I loved River..."I prefer our party." Good for her! Way to not long for the old life. Of course, Simon got to experience more of the good side of all of that than she did. Still, I like her attitude.

And Jayne/Largi....sigh!

Looking forward to the next chapter.

Friday, June 23, 2006 1:51 AM


Very good, I *love* Jayne's very sensible and loyal wife. And the part at the end with River has me so very intrigued. Can't wait to see what happens next. I just hope Inara isn't setting Mal up. She needs to be honest with him in the way that Ilargia is with Jayne. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, August 17, 2008 12:20 PM


~~“Had a good teacher, sir. Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”~Zoe

You read Heinlein?

Anyway, excellent chapter. Keeps you hanging on for more.



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