Z.A.M.M VI: Doll's Houses and Wild Ducks
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What does it take for Mal and Inara to be honest with each other for once?


Doll’s Houses and Wild Ducks

They could understand yelling. But the cold silence, his utter stillness, has a quality of impending menace that’s far worse.

Captain’s mind a kaleidoscope of rage and panic and bewilderment. River holds her head. She knew it was going to be bad, but this is a firestorm. He has been betrayed before. Seen his ‘verse burn and die.

“Well, then. Mayhap I’d best go have a word with our...hostess, decline her...kind offer.”

Voice is steady, face calm. Eyes are windows into hell. He turns for the door, gentle-like, and then Simon is fool enough to catch his sleeve.

“Inara spoke to me - I should really be the one to refuse...”

Mal’s face changes.

“You mean you didn’t?” And hands shoot out, grab Simon by the collar.

“No!” River wails it. Too much confusion, too much rage.

Mal looks at her. River looks back.

“Serenity needs her doctor. Sister needs her brother.” A small hand on his wrist. “His Pilot needs her Captain to stop choking him.”

Mal drops the doctor, with a sound that might be a snarl, and slams out of the door.

Even Jayne don’t have the heart to try and be funny. He puts out a hand, finds Larji’s. Gonna be some powerful fightin’ now.

Ilargia sighs. An evening’s conversation and a handful of anecdotes aren’t really enough to give her a picture of Inara, but she knows the type, the background. And she feels desperately sorry for her, even as she curses the silly cow. Turns her hand in her husband’s, holds tight.

Zoe can’t figure it. She’s thought ‘Nara to be a lot of things, but stupid ain’t ever been one of them. She’s lookin’ to make Mal leap into orbit ‘thout a ship, she may have just hit on the very thing. Since the war, Mal’s been drifting, bitter and empty. Now, man’s got himself a cause to fight for again. And she got no trouble followin’; never could figure the skin trade, herself. Can’t be living a lie - love’s too precious to go fakin’ and feignin’.

Kaylee sees only the present worry and the future pain. She fusses over Simon, fetches him more tea as he rubs his throat. Cap’n and ‘Nara have their fights and enjoy ‘em, far as she can tell, ‘cos some folks is made that way, but you can push a fight too far. She done that herself, once or twice, and you just get left in the dust, wonderin’ where you put your foot wrong.

Simon feels that he’s somehow managed to screw it all up again. Wanted to do the right thing for everybody, and he’s been half-throttled by a maniac.

She’s fragmenting again, under the weight of the minds around her. Captain’s distress is a physical pain. Hurts her to be near him.

Would hurt worse to be away from him.

Mal storms along the walkway, brown coat snapping in his wake, thoughts boiling. He is so angry. So betrayed that she would even think this thing. They been through hell and all for her, no way is he handing her over to be painted up and sold. (Small hand in his, as they danced, delicate and strong.) Bile in his throat at the thought of hard hands on her. (Ivory skin touched with frost, and the marks of dying bruises like pansies in snow.) Ain’t nobody taking his little pilot away from him.

He’s found something to believe in, in a pair of dark eyes, and a sweet smile to break your heart.

Doves, startled by the approaching tumult, take flight before him.


Inara, sitting before the shrine, tries to order her mind.

The door opens with a controlled violence that tells her who it is, and her sharp retort dies on her lips.

She knows that he has found out. Despair and rage in his eyes.

(“I start fighting a war, I guarantee you’ll see something new.”)

“So that’s what this was? Some gorram honeytrap. Fancy food and music, and dressing River up like a beautiful little doll?”

“Are we going to have a discussion or a fight?”

“Neither. You ain’t taking that little girl and making her a whore.”

And there it is. In the open. Inara swallows her temper.

“I was offering her structure and stability, a place to live. I have no intention of...pandering a vulnerable young girl out to hire.” She cannot believe he could think that of her. “We do not force to unwilling. That is abhorrent.”

Mal, caught wrong-footed, gapes. But he’s got a full mad on, now.

“You really think the Alliance won’t come for her here?”

“The Guild is not without resources. And it will not tolerate mistreatment of its own. The last incursion here had...repercussions. Within these walls, she’ll be safe.”

“I can keep her safe.” His crew. His responsibility. Mal Reynolds’ one unshakable faith. “Just another prison.” His eyes dismiss it. “You ain’t taking her.”

“You’re not her father...”

“Her gorram father shipped her off to where a bunch of hun dan doctors cut her brain up!”

“...What gives you the right to decide for her?”

“’Cos I’m doing it! And I don’t see as how letting her grow up in a...whore-house is so shiny.”

“It’s a respectable career, Mal.”

“Can’t buy and sell love, Inara. Things in the ‘Verse you shouldn’t ever have to afford.”

“It’s got nothing to do with love.”

“Then it’s even worse. It‘s just lies and paint.”

He despises everything that she is. They stare at each other.

“You don’t see it, do you? My way of life, it’s worthless to you.” Takes a breath. “But this isn‘t about you. This is about offering a young girl a place to grow up in.”

“She’s got a place.”

“I’m not sure letting her play at the controls...”

“Play?” Mal gives a bark of laughter. “You got no idea. Girl can already fly near as well as Wash ever did. She’s my pilot.”

“Is that a proper life for her?”

“It’s the one she wants.” He looks up at her from under his brows, and her heart turns over. “People choose that kind of life, ‘Nara. Choose to come and live free.”

She cannot reach him. Cannot reach out to him.

“You want me to give up everything for you. Everything that I am, everything that I have worked for. To do what? Keep your guns clean whilst you go off thieving? Hover outside the infirmary whilst Simon sorts out whatever has been shot, stabbed or sliced? None of my skills have a place in your world.”

“You can fight. Seen you.”

“I don’t want to. I believe in peace and order and law, Mal.”

“So make a place for yourself. River has. Doc has.” Pause. “Gia has.”

“They had no choice. And Gia...I want more from my life than to be some space pirate’s doxy, however she dresses it up.”

There is a moment of shocked silence between them. Inara can’t believe that she just made that judgement. Neither can Mal.

“Nobody forced that woman to leave a community of good folk for him. An’ if she hadn’t, Jayne would have walked down that ramp after her.”

“So could you leave Serenity for me?”

Mal closes his eyes. They open, clear, sad and honest.

“You know that answer. Place is home and life, an’ to more’n just me. An’ what would I do?” Anger and disgust, reined in. “Live on your earnings? Sit about drinkin’ tea like some pampered lapdog while you teach young girls how to break a man’s spirit? I ain’t a woman’s plaything. Could have loved you, ‘Nara. But I can’t love what you do.”

They aren’t shouting any more. It’s too bad for that. Words have finally torn down the defences between them, left a divide over which they stare. One ‘verse. Two worlds.

He loves her beauty, her grace, her dry wit and calm intelligence, the sweetness of her smile.

She loves the unexpected nobility beneath the rogue, his quick humour and his aggravating charm.

But she’s a whore. And he’s a criminal. And there is no place for them to stand together.

“I can’t be what you want me to be.”

“I know that. But a man needs hope.”

Some things you break, you can never repair...

A girl’s mind. A man’s spirit.



Crew are waiting, in attitudes of varying concern and watchfulness. Foremost amongst them, where his gaze goes first, River.

His face is tired, worn, his eyes full of hurt. But he manages a smile for her.

“Think we may have outstayed our welcome here, darlin’.”

River bows her head.

“Need to say goodbye.”

“Well, I’m waiting here, make sure you come out.” He folds his arms.


They look at each other. Even through despair and anger, Inara is still beautiful, unwilling to shed the tears which would betray her.

“I wanted to offer you a normal life...”

“Never been normal.” River shakes her head. “Want to dance amongst the stars.”

Inara still sees her as the girl who needs to be taken care of, the unpredictable quantity that needs to be contained and quantified. Ragged edges smoothed away. No complications.

But in a short span of time, the fractured girl has drawn her pieces together. There is a gravity to her glance, a mind behind it, no longer hiding in shards and shadows. She paces softly, lightly, hands touching the silken drapes, the lacquered wood, drifting amongst the candles...

“Keep death locked in a little velvet box, and only let it out to punish...”

Inara’s eyes go wide.

“River, please put that down...”

River looks at the box in her hands.

“It’s only an object. It has no power until you use it.” Dark eyes are remote, watchful. “The object has no choice.” Box turns between her fingers. Inara watches it. “Can choose to be a destroying angel. How do you return from that?”

“I...don’t know.”

“Then there is nothing here that you can teach me.”

“I just wanted you to be safe, River.”

Smile the girl gives her is tender, and wise beyond her years.

“Spread your wings, and still beat them against the bars. I choose to fly free.” The little click as she puts the box down on the table is so very final. “Rather be his albatross than a soiled dove. Or a sitting duck.”


Wednesday, June 28, 2006 4:48 AM


Ohh i love this series!! My favorite line would have to be:
"Spread your wings, and still beat them against the bars. I choose to fly free."

I love it. Keep them coming!!! (Please?)


Wednesday, June 28, 2006 7:21 AM


Have to put this in - the box River is holding is the one with THAT syringe in it. The one with Tim Minear's nasty little idea in it...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 8:50 AM


Oh wow, I absolutely adored River's last scene with Inara. Talk about from the mouth of babes, and Mal's truthsomeness is very affecting but not as powerful in the long run as what River says. I feel sorry for Inara so attached to her gilded cage she can't see it. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 11:41 AM


<“I can’t be what you want me to be.”

“I know that. But a man needs hope.”

Some things you break, you can never repair...

A girl’s mind. A man’s spirit.



Your work just takes my breath away.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 4:00 PM


I knew it was THAT box! Or rather, I strongly suspected it. Thanks for the confirmation. Go write more. Now. (uh, please?)

Friday, June 30, 2006 5:46 PM


Commented about this chapter on, SpaceAnJL...but it still rocks after being reread;)

And you nailed both the whole truth of the Mal/Inara relationship and Inara's core issue with this chapter...sad to see but probably very prophetic of what Joss intended for his BDHs:D



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