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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Chapter Nine: Half Lies
What if Inara never became a Companion? Mal/Inara pairing....
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1813 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Chapter Nine: Half Lies
By Cassandra E
A/notes: Well, here it is, finally! Can’t really say why this chapter took so long to write. I won’t dare mention writer’s block; because I know how this story is gonna go, as well as all the chapters. I guess you can say RL interfered, along with pesky migraines. I was also busy redoing my webpage-- www.geocities.com/serrabrowncoat23 At first, I wasn’t very happy with the chapter, but I ended up liking it a lot. Added a bit more humor, cause it was getting a bit depressing, after all this story hasn’t been a very happy one. This chapter is like the transitory stage of the story, the middle if you like, before everything starts moving forward towards the end. I decided to stop shying away on the fact, that River and Jayne are planned for the future, maybe in the sequel of this story. The pairing works well, if it’s executed properly, giving the relationship time to develop. I blame all this on my beta, Neroli….so all complaints go to her. Don’t worry this story shall remain Inara centric…and I’ll explain my reasons for doing everything I do at the end—which some of you might not be too happy with. Blame it on Mr.Whedon for his dislike for happy endings, he has corrupted me. Feedback very much welcome….cause I know people are reading this...so Review!
Simon was finishing organizing the medicine cabinets when he heard the yelling. At first he didn’t make anything of it, assuming it was an argument between Wash and Zoe, or more likely Jayne. But then he heard the rattling that sounded suspiciously like falling cactus needles, along with tinkling laughter that sounded very familiar. River. He let the last medicine bottle drop to the floor as he rushed out. He followed the racket to the mess hall, nearly tripping in the process, and came before a scene that left him speechless. River stood on the table, barefoot, and in her possession was a rain stick. Jayne kept lunging after her, but she managed to dance gracefully out of his reach. Zoe and Wash stood to the far side, expressions mixed with worry and amusement.
“Girl, give it back!” Jayne growled, his face flushed red from his exertions and anger.
River laughed joyfully, shaking the rain stick fiercely. She danced closer, twirling her body with poise while holding the stick high above her head. When Jayne came near she let the stick fall on top of head, a dull thumping sound echoed throughout the room. Wash couldn’t keep a straight face then, bursting out into laughter. Zoe soon followed his example; even though she tried stifling the bubbling mirth to maintain a stern façade. Simon broke through his momentary daze at seeing his sister dancing on the mess table. His mouth opened and closed, failing to find the words to speak. River had been acting strange of late; well, more than usual that is. It was River after all. He had thought the mortifying marrying scene earlier that day would be the last surprise. Apparently, his sister was proving him wrong once more. Very wrong.
“River! River, mei mei—get down from the table. You’ll hurt yourself.” Simon pleaded, walking further into the room while trying to avoid the twirling rain stick as he neared the table. He grimaced inwardly as Jayne’s attention turned to his direction. It was not a happy look. It really wasn’t, bordering on homicidal. He had forgotten how tall and foreboding the merc was, but was soon reminded when the older man grabbed him by the lapels of his vest and shirt. Simon gulped in reflexively, while trying to restrain from flinching. Yes, homicidal was quite an adept description. Zoe, seeing imminent danger of bodily harm to the doctor, quickly made her across the room.
“Jayne, control yourself.” Zoe ordered firmly.
The mercenary growled, his grip tightening on the vest, “The one who should be controllin’--ain’t doin’ it. Your moon brain sister has my stick.” Like with any rabid animal, Simon made sure not to make any sudden movements to entice Jayne into any ideas of violence, like say, throwing him across the room or spattering his brains against the wall.
“Now that did not come out right.” Wash quipped while watching the dancing River. She had jumped from the table into a nimble pirouette, gracefully continuing her dance on the floor. From time to time, she gave the stick a shake, turning it over to hear the gentle fall of the needles inside the instrument.
“Jayne, it’s just a toy. It ain’t doin’ much harm.” Zoe reasoned with traces of humor in her face. “’Sides, Captain won’t be too happy that you killed off our only doctor.”
“So? It’s mine. Gorram girl has been way out of bounds. Goin’ in my bunk, stealing my things, coulda even taken Vera. Da ge here ain’t been doin’ his job.” Jayne bit out as he shoved Simon back in disgust. “Knew those two were nothin’ but trouble.”
Now released from the merc and with Zoe backing him, Simon felt his nerve grow back, “Gou pi.” He backed away when Jayne made an advance towards him; luckily the lumbering man was stopped by the first officer’s hand. The older woman’s patience was growing thin, anger flashed like tempered steel through her brown eyes. “Enough, Jayne.”
“Your sister has some odd notions.” Jayne continued sullenly, his gaze pausing once more on the dancing girl. River’s dance had become more frenzied; she was shaking the stick faster, her hips rolling with the beat of whatever music she was hearing. The sight was strangely compelling; Simon saw the increased interest in the mercenary’s face as he watched his sister. Unease began to creep upon him as he recalled what River had said during the pillow incident.
“I wonder who’s been giving them to her.” Simon stated bravely.
Jayne gave an affronted grunt, eyes narrowing at the doctor, “An’ what is that suppose ta mean? You tryin’ to tell me somethin’, nuofu? I best watch my step if I was you.”
Simon was about to answer his question when Kaylee walked into the room, curiosity at the scene before her. Her green eyes widened further when she saw River dancing, “What’s goin’ on? Is there a party?”
“Nope. Although, I must say it’s certainly been entertaining.” Wash informed her jovially, “River’s been dancing, specially accompanied by Jayne’s rainy stick thing. He’s quite mad about it. Lots of anger vibes,” the pilot quoted the last statement with his fingers.
“Oh. Sounds like fun.” Kaylee beamed, the smile fading when Jayne glared in her direction, “What? She looks happy. Don’t be such a grouch Jayne. She’s just playin’.”
“Well it ain’t fun and I don’t ruttin’ care if she’s playin or not. She has my stick and I want it back.”
“I thought you said it was stupid any how.” Zoe said dryly, crossing her arms, “You didn’t much care for it when the captain got his special gift.”
“So? I can change my mind.” Jayne replied defensively.
Wash added sagely, knowing it would rile the merc, “A woman’s prerogative.”
“You want a go little man? ‘Cause I can take you out.” Jayne warned.
“Candle light dinner, I hope. Although, Zoe might have something to say about that. I am a married man, you know.” Wash answered, not the least bit fazed by the mercenary’s temper. Knowing his lambie toes would avenge his death, if it came down to it.
Simon took the chance now that Jayne’s attention was on the pilot to make his way towards River. He approached her cautiously, not wanting to startle her; however River was oblivious to anything but her dance. Her steps had slowed when he reached her; she gracefully bowed low with the rain stick clutched in her hand. She glanced up, eyes shining as if she knew something he didn’t, which again was nothing new. She stood up, her movement graceful like her dance, half smile in place, she spoke, “It’s done.”
Simon just looked blankly at her, asking her cautiously, “What’s done, mei mei?”
“My experiment--testing a theory.”
“What experiment?” Simon asked her, bewildered. Jayne had stopped his snarling at Wash when Zoe gave the merc a warning glare, but it didn’t stop all individuals in the room from standing attentive to whatever was going to come out the girl’s mouth. River always had a way of selfishly getting all the attention, even when they were little.
“On Earth-there-was, an indigenous culture known as the Hopi, they would dance when rain was scarce. Dressing up as their long lost ancestors, their spirits represented by masks or even dolls. They would dance and the rain would come. The logic of course is completely fallacious, all based on a common belief. Like the preacher man’s book,” River giggled at the pun, “Book is a book. But not really a book, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Ate and swallowed shepherd whole. Huffs and puffs, too many secrets, but Serenity knows. Knows everyone’s secrets, hidden in dark corners, hidden in the closet. Demons hide there; hands reach far, pair of blue gloves. They snatch and snatch until nothing is left, leaving an empty shell. ”
“Well, I don’t know about you all, but I found that very informative and a bit unsettling.” Wash declared bemused, “A history lesson and a dance recital, along with Jayne’s comedic…reenactments…umm,” the pilot stepped closer to Zoe, when the merc’s nostrils flared in annoyance, “So, rain dance, huh? I mean, it would be a good idea, you know, if we weren’t in space.”
“Meteor Showers, gotta be careful around those.” Kaylee pointed out.
Wash countered, “Yeah, but that doesn’t count really.”
“Kinda, we’re in space after all,” The mechanic continued, frowning thoughtfully. “I still think it would count.”
“See…” Wash began, but stopped at Zoe’s arched look in his direction. “What?”
“Nothing zhangfu.” Zoe smiled dryly. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Storm is coming…wanted the rain to come down faster, so the storm could pass.” River said calmly, her tone resigned too whatever she had tried to ward off, “The closet door rattles, the banging is getting louder.” Simon moved to comfort her, but River ignored him, walking up to the glowering merc. She held the rain stick out with gentle care to him, prompting Jayne study her for a second-- trying to decide if the girl was going to do something strange before snatching the stick away from her. He hugged it possessively against himself and glared fiercely at her. River just smiled knowingly before leaving the mess hall, her footsteps barely making a sound as she walked down the dark corridor.
Simon started after her, but not before apologizing to the crew, “I’m sorry about…it won’t happen again,” the doctor cast one patronizing glance at Jayne, still unsettled by the thoughts of Jayne doing something to River or giving her any ideas, “Have fun with your stick.”
Jayne sneered mockingly, “You have fun with your stick,” then grumbling, “see if you loosen whatever is up your pee go.
After Simon had left, Kaylee directed a poor imitation of scowl at the mercenary, “Why you got to be like that, Jayne? Be so mean like. She wasn’t doing nothin to ya.”
“So? I said what I said already. Man got no reason to repeat himself.” Jayne defended, feeling a mite guilty at his callousness. The mechanic just rolled her eyes in exasperation, muttering something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like “fink.”
“Well, I liked her technique, very poised, creative.” Wash stated absentmindedly; at Zoe and Kaylee’s inquiring expressions, he added further, “River, she’s a good dancer, was able to tick off Jayne at the same time. Girl’s got range.”
Inara was numb, at least on the outside, feeling only icy pricks of sensation dancing along her skin. She didn’t know for how long she sat on the bed, her head bowed; dark hair covering her face, her shoulders shaking as she cried softly. Inara didn’t feel the tears fall, yet she knew she was crying by the wet stain of tears on the paper in her lap. She reread the printed record from the cortex through blurry tears, trying to deny what it stated so bluntly, that a woman named Annie James was found dead near the Harrow Estate on Sihnon four years ago. Her body had been beaten and was found decomposing in pigsty. The cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head, Saffron had been right. Her friend was dead, Annie was dead. And it was Inara’s fault.
She wanted to curl up in a fetal ball and sleep, to wake up in a different time. Knowing what she did now, she would’ve done things differently; Inara thought fiercely, even though she fooled herself. She would’ve obeyed her mother and became a Companion, then what? Live the life of a whore? Live her life bound by the rules of the petty glimmering throng of the rich, to serve men like Harrow? Disgust filled her at her traitorous thoughts. That was not a way to honor the people who had made sacrifices for her, people who risked everything to help her. But the guilt ate at her, for surely it was obvious what had happened, just like Saffron had said. The Harrow family was a powerful one on Sihnon—having a wide range of connections. If Annie hadn’t helped Inara that night, helped her escape, she wouldn’t be dead and Inara would probably be rotting in an Alliance jail at the moment or Buddha knows what else. So involved in her grief, Inara didn’t hear the knocking at the shuttle door. The doors opened quietly, but she was oblivious to the fact and the fall of heavy footsteps behind her until a hand lightly touched her shoulder.
Inara whipped her head to face the one person she didn’t want to see, dreaded too, Mal; who wanted several questions answered by the look on his face. The anger she had for Saffron grew into a tight knot in her chest, knowing the con artist couldn’t have resisted the opportunity to stick the knife in her back.
“Inara? Are you cryin’?” Mal asked with gruff concern.
Inara quickly wiped the tears and grief from her face, sliding the printed record out of sight behind her. She stood up and walked across the shuttle, uncomfortable being so near him, crossing her arms in a defensive posture. “Wo Hao, Mal. So tell me, does the vixen live?” Her voice was husky and wavered with unshed tears and sorrow.
Mal observed her, knowing she was lying. He had never seen a ‘body compose themselves so quickly, except maybe Zoe. But the grief was still there, clear as day in those dark honey-colored eyes. Made him wonder why she was hurtin’ and what made her cry. The mention of Saffron brought back the words the tchen wah had said, “She’s playin’ you and you’re too stupid to see it…. You ever ask her why she left Sihnon?” Recalling the incident brought forth Mal’s simmering anger and annoyance at the day’s events. “Yeah, if you can call it that. All’s well, I suppose. Or not,” he replied, voice taut with restrained anger.
She knew it was coming, ever since she had agreed to be part of Serenity’s crew. Inara knew there would come a time when Mal would not hold his tongue on her secretive past. The playful banter; where he had constantly baited her, trying to get her slip up. The man was too curious for his own good, always scratching at truth or shoving anybody that got in the way of it. She knew this even before she had met him, remembering the stories Frank Reynolds had told about his stubborn nephew, “Hell, don’t reckon I met anybody as hard headed as Mal was. Could throw a stone at his head, and the rock would be the one doin’ the breakin’.”
Inara kept herself calm, knowing she would have to thread carefully, “Pardon? I don’t under…”
But Mal stopped her, the anger showing through flinty blue eyes giving her reason to pause, “Don’t. Don’t lie to me. I can abide many things, ‘Nara, just take none kindly of people lyin’ to me or makin’ a fool of me.” He strode over to her, as much as the small shuttle would allow, closing the distance until they’re were inches apart. “Now, I already been made a fool of, no thanks to my dear beloved ‘wife’. And you--you have been lyin’ to me since day we met. I don’t know what trouble you had before or are running from. Your past don’t matter much to me, unless it has business of threatening my crew. Do you understand what I’m sayin’ to you?”
“Yes.” Inara answered quietly, she tried looking away from him but couldn’t as she found herself drawn back to him. And that scared her, these conflicting emotions, betraying the promise she made herself so very long ago. Unlike Colin, if she let Mal in he would hurt her, maybe not physically, but he would…be capable of breaking her heart. And Inara wouldn’t risk that, couldn’t. She hesitated for a moment before continuing nonchalantly, “Say what do you mean, Mal. I’m assuming this is coming from somewhere or a certain individual.”
“I’ll be frank with you, Inara. You knew Saffron, knew who she was,” Mal stated tersely. He made sure look out for any outward reaction from her. He didn’t get any, except for the bleeding at the lower lip, where she had bit into it. “You knew what she was doing and you didn’t say a gorram thing. Makes me wonder if you two were in on it together.”
Inara shook her head in adamant denial, “I would never…I didn’t know what she was doing.”
Mal smiled tightly as she confirmed what Saffron had taunted at him, “Don’t matter if you knew or didn’t. You knew what she was capable of, yet you didn’t say anything. Why? That’s what I want to be knowin’. She have something on you, is that it?”
“Mal, please, don’t.” Inara took a step backwards when Mal approached her, blocking any exit. Her back hit the wall of the shuttle; she was trapped. Trapped like when…Inara felt herself begin to tremble. “It’s complicated.”
“Is that why you left Sihnon? ‘Cause it got complicated?” Mal pushed forward, the anger blinding him to her distress. “Hell, is Inara even your real name? I must say it’s a sort trend with thieves and the like.”
Inara bit into her lip further, quickly losing her composure, “Yes, it’s my name. Mal, I swear…I tried to stop her.”
“See that’s the thing. You ain’t suppose’ta be stopping nobody. I’m the Captain, your part of my crew, there any problem of any sort—you come to me. Just like Jiangyin, this ain’t the first time you keep quiet on a matter. How am I supposed to trust you when you don’t say anything, don’t ruttin’ warn me.” Mal snapped out, his voice rising as he unleashed his temper, “What if we weren’t able to avoid flyin’ into that net, huh? Where would we be? Answer me, Inara!”
Inara flinched at his tone, she couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t she breathe? What was wrong with her? She couldn’t fight back, trapped in her web of lies, she was trapped. “Please, don’t do this! She tried to run, but he caught her easily. There was no where to run, no where to hide, she was trapped... Panic raced through her, she needed air, needed to breathe, needed to get out. Inara pushed herself away from the wall and tried to leave, but Mal took hold of her roughly by the shoulders. “We ain’t done talkin’ yet, ‘Nara.”
'…. raked her nails against his face, peeling back skin. Lord Harrow cried out in pain as he hit her, the blow knocking her to the ground.'
“Don’t touch me!” Inara slapped and shoved him violently away. Filthy, she was filthy because He touched her. He was still there, waiting in the dark. Annie was dead. Couldn’t breathe, she had screamed but no one heard a thing. “Get out! Get out now!”
“Be good and it‘ll be good for you….”
Mal was taken aback, just realizing that he stepped too far out of bounds. “Inara.”
She closed her eyes, her voice wavering as she tried to calm herself, “Please, get out. I need a…to be alone, Mal. I—you are right, I should’ve told you, about Saffron. I’m sorry, it was foolish of me.”
“I’ll be good.”
Mal took a step towards her, but stopped when Inara unconsciously backed away. He felt like a heel for causing whatever the hell she was going through. But damnit, why did she have to lie? Why the hell couldn’t she have said something? It ain’t like he’d turn her in. The thought made him think, could he? Was that it? Oh, he knew for sure she was running from something and someone had hurt her, badly. Mal may be dense at times, as Zoe was so helpful to point out, but he wasn’t born yesterday. The question was who? He cleared his throat, uncomfortable at seeing Inara this way, guilty that he caused her distress; too accustomed to her serene composure. “I’ll be leavin’ you now. So you can collect yourself, but this ain’t done. I got to think real hard, to see if I can afford to let you stay. I need people around me I can trust, so you think ‘bout that.”
“I understand.” Inara said softly, the trembling had subsided, but she avoided looking at him. “You’ll do what you have to do.”
Mal resisted the urge to go over to her, to comfort her. He curled his hand into fist, letting it drop in defeat. As he left the shuttle, he took one last glance at her. Inara had turned away from him, letting her dark hair cover her face. The shuttle doors closed and he leaned against the cool metal. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that he heard the sobbing, the pain and sorrow in it pulled at his heart. But Mal didn’t move, fighting with every fiber in his body and his own character to stay where he was. And so he stayed, leaning against the doors until the crying slowly faded to a stop twenty minutes later.
Inara rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She had fallen asleep on the shuttle floor, grieving for herself, for Annie, and for the things that could never be and the things that were. Yawning, stretching her stiff muscles, she got up from the bed. Bed? Inara frowned in confusion, noticing that a blanket covered her, sliding to the floor as she stood up. But hadn’t she…fallen asleep on the floor? Had she? Unless? Inara sat back down, picking the blanket up, laying it beside her. Mal--it had to have been him.
A deep sense of shame came over her, embarrassment at the way she had lost control of her emotions earlier. It had been a long time since she had suffered such an anxiety attack; the last time had been in the first months on Shadow. Inara had been too skittish, easily rattled by any sharp noise near her. Colin had been very careful around her; not knowing what would set her off. One evening, as she played a game of hide and seek with little Jacob, the power went out at the ranch. Colin was away at the time as he usually was, doing jobs for the underground network. Unfortunately, Jake had thought it funny to scare her by running throughout the house, banging doors open and slamming them shut. It wouldn’t have been so bad, had not the claustrophobia of the darkness began to suffocate her. The jarring noises reminding her too much of gun shots being fired. Inara lost control, giving into the fear, scaring Jacob when he couldn’t find her as she hid. Later on, Colin had found her rocking back and forth under the stairway, shaking violently. Afterwards, the attacks came less frequent as she grew used to her surrounding, and to having people around her not treating her like a servant or cattle.
She had thought she had conquered the fear and the memory of that terrible night on Sihnon. She had done what Nandi and Annie had told her to do. Inara had kept strong, moving forward, but try as she might, it was always there. It was a part of her and it would never go away, like a permanent stain. And now with Mal witnessing her breakdown, Inara was sure wasn’t bound for Serenity for long. She couldn’t tell him the truth as much as she wanted too. Things would change between them and he might look at her differently. Inara wasn’t sure she wanted that to happen.
Two Days Later, Serenity
Zoe was about to retire for the night as she finished sweeping her rounds throughout Serenity. Wash was probably asleep by now, seeing as how tomorrow would be a busy day when they arrived on Beaumonde. The first officer smiled at the thought of her husband, so different from herself, yet they fit perfectly together—balancing each other out in the end. Never in her lifetime had Zoe pictured herself a married woman, especially after the war. She had seen too much, too much death, too much lost hope that she didn’t think it was possible to see beyond the bleakness. But she was practical and responsible, always had been as a child, all thanks to her mama and pa. Strong folk, they were, honest to a fault. Never had much room for nonsense, had they been still alive—they wouldn’t have liked Wash none too much. Man was a mixture of sense and nonsense at the same time. And that’s what she loved best about him, his ability to see the humor in things, even a bit of hope. Even though sometimes that very same quality made Zoe want to shake him something fierce, to wake him up to the realities of the world. He was like Kaylee in that manner, which was why the two got along so well.
She swept by the mess hall; it was dimly lit, the low lighting casting shadows across the room. Zoe was about to walk on past, heading for her bunk, when she noticed a figure sitting at the table. It was Mal; his maroon shirt buttoned down at the top and a lonely glass of his private whiskey in front of him. She could tell by the look on his face he was brooding, something he was prone to doing ever since the war. He never thought nobody saw him, but Zoe always knew and saw. She debated leaving him alone, but decided against it. Suspecting the reason on what the brooding was for, or better yet who, she strode into the hall. “Little late, sir?”
Mal jerked his head towards her in awareness, “Huh? Oh, Zoe, it’s you.”
“You were expecting it to be someone else, sir?” Zoe answered as she took the seat across from him, pulling the glass of whiskey towards her. She lifted it up the light; the glass was still almost full with the amber liquid- a sure sign that something was bothering the captain. He never let a drink go to waste--especially a rare vintage that cost over 20 credits to buy nowadays. She paused as she took in the heady aroma of the whiskey as she placed it back on the table. “2511, good year.”
“Yeah, damn good one.” Mal commented dryly.
“Some would think so. You might want to keep it out of Jayne’s sight. Man loves his whiskey.”
“Yes, he does.” Mal replied with a grin that didn’t reach his eyes, “Though I suspect he fancies a rain stick more.”
Zoe laughed, “Ah, yes. But River has taken a liking to it also.”
“So she really danced on the table?”
“This very one. I must admit it was quite a show.” Zoe answered stoically with traces of humor in her eyes. “Jayne was very close to killin’ the doc. Although, I imagine the doc could hold his own, for maybe ten seconds. Tops.”
Mal shook his head, “Shame I missed it. But I am thinkin’ three at the most. Or five, if he got a good punch in, before Jayne woulda flattened him down.”
Zoe saw her opening and took it, “Gotta admit River has been acting more peculiar of late. Towards Jayne especially.”
Mal frowned in confusion, “What are you talkin’ ‘bout?”
“The teasing, almost like she’s flirtin’ with him.”
Mal gave her a disturbed look, mixed with disgust, “Now Zoe…hell, that ain’t right.”
“You don’t see it, sir?” Zoe countered back calmly, crossing her arm under her chest.
“I’ll kill him, if lays he one finger on her.” Mal warned coldly, “Girl ain’t right in the head, just a child for God sakes.”
“She ain’t a child, sir, hasn’t been for a long time I suspect. I wouldn’t like it much either. But she has a way of…seeing things others don’t. Half of whatever those hundan did to her would break a stronger man.” Zoe said plainly, “Girl knows too much for her own good.
Mal leaned back in his seat, “Like a reader, you mean.”
“Could be.” Zoe shrugged. She almost had Mal where she wanted him and now for the clincher. Getting almost any man to open up was like pulling teeth, course she learned her best from her mama. She never used wiles or manipulation. Her mama was straightforward and blunt to a fault. Her pa was the quiet one, a man of not many words, like Zoe. One day, when Zoe was just six years old, her mama told her that she had to borrow the patience of saint to deal with the both of them. If pa and she didn’t tell mama what was bothering them when she asked, mama would wait; get them talkin’ first until they finally told her what the matter was. Zoe always admired her mama for it, learned from her too. So Zoe was patient, between dealing with Mal and Wash, along with Jayne, well, she had to be. “We know she didn’t quite take Saffron, unlike some people.”
Mal narrowed his eyes at her insinuating tone. “You ain’t ever gonna let me live that down, are you?”
“I don’t quite get your meaning, sir.”
“Yes, you do. Diyu, I’m surprised you haven’t started on me about Inara.” Mal cursed out loud when he realized what he had said.
“I didn’t realize there was something to start on about her. Unless I was wrong.” Zoe replied smoothly. So his brooding session was about Inara, just like she thought all along. Not that she was all that surprised; the new recruit had affected captain like no other woman, and it had been a long time since one had. Zoe had recognized Inara from that day in Persephone, at the market place, when he presented her to the crew after the blotched job. She could recall the look on Mal’s face when he saw first saw Inara; it was similar to one he gave to Serenity. And that was saying a lot, at least when it concerned Malcolm Reynolds.
“You planned this, didn’t you?” Mal gave his first officer a steely glare, “Women and their wiles, didn’t expect it from you, Zoe.”
“Hardly, sir. Just having a simple conversation before goin’ to bed. Tomorrow is a busy day; I suppose we’ll be scouting for work over at Don’s place?” Zoe asked, giving him room, knowing he was bound to get defensive at this point.
Mal shook his head, “Now don’t you go on changing the subject, you wanna talk about Inara, and we’ll talk about her.”
“If that’s what’s botherin’ you, sir.” Zoe stated calmly.
Mal opened his mouth to speak, but was stumped by Zoe placating him so easily. She always gave him a bit more fight before falling in line. “Well, frankly, it is.”
Mal ignored her comment, but continued, “She knew who Saffron was. Knew that pofu was playin’ me from the start, didn’t say a gorram thing. Hell, we could’ve ended all crispyified and she would’ve never said a thing.”
“Why do you think that is, sir?”
“I knew she was runnin’ from something…”
“Or someone?” Zoe supplied helpfully.
Mal nodded, his expression going hard, blue eyes like icy chips. “Someone hurt her. I seen the scars on her, she has nightmares, you know.”
Zoe frowned at the comment, while at the same time wondering how he knew those things. ‘Course it was Mal; she wouldn’t put anything past him. She had suspected that Inara was hiding something; the young woman was good at masking her emotions. But it was there, when no one was looking, the sorrow, like she lost someone dear to her. “How does she know Saffron?”
“Don’t rightly know; suspect they knew each back in Sihnon. It’s what Saffron said least ways; Inara confirmed it a moment ago.”
“Sihnon? She’s a long way from home—Core planet to boot too.” Zoe said thoughtfully, “You think she got Alliance trouble?”
Mal smiled grimly, taking a sip of the forgotten whiskey. “Almost certain of it,” he paused finishing off the rest of the whiskey in one gulp. He felt the burn of the liquor trail down his throat to his stomach. “Did you know she was on Shadow also? Knows my Uncle Frank.”
“Did she now? That’s interesting, sir.”
“Yes, I suspect it is. She told me this sob story, when I called her on it. I bought at the time, not sure of it anymore. Doubt she’s been tellin’ me the truth from the start,” Mal finished, sharing a meaningful look with Zoe. He would never ask her or anybody for help outright, unless pushed to it. Zoe knew this was a way of asking for it.
She was silent for a moment; taking the time to process all the information he had given her. Inara wasn’t a bad person, of that Zoe was certain. The girl had problems, but then again who didn’t nowadays, with the control of the Alliance tightening further. Not even on the rim was anybody safe; the government was branching out, as if sensing the people’s growing discontent with their laws, and everything that came with it. The lack of food, medical attention, basic human rights, the ever-growing slavery trade, and the Reaver attacks, the denial that they ever took place, were only but a few examples. Trust was scarce; Zoe didn’t blame Inara for wanting to keep her secrets. Not that it was the right thing to do, either way as her mama would say, “If a ‘body has a secret, chances are, it isn’t something good. And won’t bode well for the individual or for the folks around them, Zoe. Secrets and lies can poison a body’s soul, never any good in that.”
“If she has Alliance trouble, sooner or later they’re gonna catch up to her.” Zoe began, “But since we already taken the risk with Simon and River, I doubt that’ll matter much. Either way, you can expect the feds at our door step.”
“I reckon that’s true.” Mal replied.
“I don’t think she means us any harm, sir. Sometimes scared folk with the best intentions mess up.”
“We can’t afford any mess ups, Zoe. And if she don’t trust us, how am I…how are we suppose to trust her?”
“It’s a gamble, sir.” Zoe said truthfully, “Depends on your odds, how far are you willin’ to go?” The question was doubled edge and Zoe knew it.
Mal felt the corners of his mouth turn up in a half smile, “Never much cared for gambling, but since you asked, far, I can go very far.”
Zoe nodded, satisfied with his answer as she stood up to leave, “Good to know, sir. Night.”
“Good night, Zoe…and thank you.” Mal said the last quietly.
Zoe smiled, “You’re welcome, sir.”
She left the mess hall, leaving Mal once more alone to his thoughts. He picked up the empty glass of whiskey, noticing a few gleaming drops of on the bottom. He suddenly brought the glass down sharply on the table; a thin crack appeared at the bottom running upwards. Mal let Serenity’s presence wash over him, letting her take over his tumultuous thoughts and emotions. The low creaking, the far away whirl of the engine room, and the utter stillness of the black were his only companions. “Yep, I can go very far, old girl. Very far.” Serenity’s response was silence, but it contented Mal well enough as he turned in for the night.
The Next Day, Early Morning- Beaumonde, City of New Dunsmuir
The day was clear with sunny skies and a cooling crisp breeze throughout the air. New Dunsmuir was a clean city with towering skylines and a busy metropolis; it reminded River a bit of Osiris, of home. All the same, her memory of home was a bit foggy whenever Simon gave her medicines to calm her down. Made her head feel like it was going to whirl off her neck. She would be like the headless horsemen, carrying her head in her arms. River suppressed a giggle of the thought of chasing Simon and Jayne with it and the expressions of horror on their faces. River wasn’t crazy, at least not all the time; she remembered everything, remembered too much. She knew what it was to be a real girl, unlike Pinocchio, the wooden boy. A boy who couldn’t tell lies because his nose would grow, even though he would anyway. Like Jayne and his silly little rain stick. She envied the mercenary in that manner because she saw only truths, heard them always, the whispering images and thoughts were like bothersome pebbles in one’s shoes. River tried to shake them out, but they just kept coming, filling her shoes up; leaving them dirty and torn. No shoes for her, Simon didn’t understand that when she refused at times to wear them. Without shoes, no pebbles can get in.
But he made her wear them today, if she wanted to leave Serenity to walk around a bit in the city, at least in the marketplace. Captain didn’t like the idea much, by the grumpy look on his face. But River knew it was because the caged bird wouldn’t sing for him. Kaylee took hold of her hand, joyfully beaming up at a fancy dress in a store window. “River, ain’t that jus’ shiny! But not as shiny as mine.”
Simon hovered around them, very uncomfortable in being out in the open. “Maybe we should move along.”
“What do you think, Simon?” Kaylee asked him, ignoring his comment, too in thrall of the sights to pay much attention to nervous doctors. At least not now.
Simon gave her a blank look and then at the dress, a god awful fruity yellow confection. The ruffles were worse than Kaylee’s fluffy pink dress. Modest even compared to the monstrosity before him. He hated shopping; reminding him to much of the times his mother and hired nanny would drag him to the tailors, when he would’ve preferred being in his room studying. “Ummm, it’s, well, its…yellow.”
“Well, duh, silly. I know that.”
River glared at the ugly dress, “It burns the eyes, too bright like the sun and leaves you blind.” Kaylee’s face fell at the comment, River felt badly in her bluntness, but it was the truth. And she only spoke truths. People were just too stubborn to listen, they preferred cotton candy lies. Like her parents, when they would read her letters from the Academy—saw only what they chose to see.
“No, it’s…I like it. It’s you know, cheerful.” Simon buffered his sister’s clear assessment of the hideous dress. He felt a nice warmth when Kaylee’s cheerful expression returned. “Really, really, happy.”
River rolled her eyes, “The ruffles would swallow you up, like a giant bird. Worse still if it says its letters and numbers with a green frog.”
Simon moved closer to Kaylee. The mechanic flushed a delightful pink at his nearness, the dress forgotten, as was River. She slipped her hand away, leaving her brother and Kaylee behind. She heard music; it was sorrowful in tone and full of yearning. River followed it, and as she did the humming and notes became louder and clear. The caged bird was singing.
Inara walked through the beaded curtain at the entrance of the antique bookstore. A little bell rang as the curtain moved, announcing her arrival. She smiled at the bookkeeper, an old Asian man with thinning white hair. He smiled and bowed in greeting, taking his place behind the counter. Inara walked through the aisles of bookshelves, skimming her hands gently across the spines, occasionally pausing to read the titles. A fragrant smell of incense floated from the counter, fresh jasmine blooms like her Nana used to cut fresh from their garden in Sihnon. Auntie May, before Inara’s father passed away, would always bring special incense to honor the families dead at the praying altar. Shortly after her father passed away Auntie May had followed her brother in death. Mother, afterwards, took the incense to perfume her room before her clients would arrive for their appointments.
At the thought of her mother Inara felt her heart tug in pain as she remembered her betrayal when she was sold into slavery. She hated and loved her mother; there was even a time when Inara respected her, as was a daughter’s duty to one’s parents. But the giving and unselfish love of a child died a long time ago. Not a day went by when she didn’t think of her; the memory of her mother was always at the back of her mind. There were days when Inara cursed her, then there were days when she hoped she was alright, and maybe, just maybe her mother thought of her kindly.
Inara smiled when she found a collection of poems by one her favorite poets, Li Bai. His work spanned ages, even to the time of Earth-that-was. She carefully opened the book, immersing herself in the beautiful words; it was a lovely copy, the calligraphy scripted with skill and love. Unlike the ragged one she had left in Sihnon after the slave trader had taken her from home. The beaded curtain parted way again, the little bell rang at the arrival of another customer; Inara didn’t bother to glance up as she continued to read. Footsteps walked by near her.
“I have a world apart that is not among men.” Mal read over her shoulder, his warm breath caressed her neck causing Inara to shut the book. She quickly reached for her cane that leaned against the bookcase, but he already had a hold of it. Inara’s stomach flopped as she turned around to face him. She was taken aback when he smiled at her, handing the cane to her, his hand held on to the cane longer than necessary. Inara tugged it forcefully out of his hand; the movement sent the cane to the ground. She bent down to pick it up, his hand covering hers as she reached the solid wood at same time. He caught her gaze; his hand was hot against her own, “Sorry about that.”
Inara cleared her throat, feeling the start of a blush on her face, “It’s fine,” pulling her hand away as she stood up; Mal followed her example, his eyes never left her.
“Fellow seems pretty sure of himself.” Mal indicted to the book in her hand, a half smile on his face.
Inara shrugged, composing herself as she placed the book back on the shelf. “I imagine poetry is not quite your cup of tea.” She observed him carefully, not sure how to act around him after last night’s episode. Upon arriving at Beaumonde she had expected Mal to order her off Serenity, to Inara’s surprise, he didn’t. Furthermore, he acted as if nothing had happened, all polite and courteous smiles. It unnerved her greatly, since she knew this type of behavior was out of character. And Inara prided herself on reading people, but damn if Mal was proving to be her greatest challenge.
“Nah, never was one to waste my time readin’ pretty nonsense words.” Mal replied with icy undertones.
“I didn’t take you for it.”
Mal chuckled, “That’s a common mistake people make. Nasty habit taking people for things, when in fact, you know don’t lashi. ‘Course it usually works in my favor in the end.” He kept his expression pleasant and courteous; no sign of hostilely in those dark blue eyes, Inara flinched inwardly at his comment.
“My apologies, then.” Inara said, turning to make her way to the entrance. Mal stopped her, placing a hand on her shoulder. She tensed at the contact, “Yes?”
Mal paused, studying her before speaking, “Have to meet a contact tonight, want you there with Zoe and Jayne.”
“What? I don’t understand.” Inara asked in confusion.
“What’s there to understand—it’s an order, you follow it. ‘Sides, you can handle yourself just fine. Isn’t that what you told me?”
Inara nodded, “Well, yes, but I thought…” she left the rest unsaid.
Mal shrugged abruptly, “I see we won’t have a problem, then. Be ready by seven. Dong Ma?”
“Yes, of course.” Inara agreed, still unsettled by the request. No, not a request, an order. She left the store in a hurry as she felt the first sting of tears in her eyes. This was the way it was going to be now, how could she have expected anything less?
Mal watched her leave, his eyes going to the book Inara had held moments ago. He took the book from the shelf, hefted it in his hand; striding over to the counter. The bookkeeper’s face lit up at the potential sale. He had watched the young woman carefully, noticing her interest in the book. He had been slightly disappointed when she had left without making a purchase. The man before him now dampened that disappointment. The bookkeeper was an old man and he knew a man in love when he saw one. He had been one himself at one time in his youth. “Yes, sir?”
“How much you offering for this?”
The bookkeeper smiled graciously, while noting the hardness in the man’s eyes. “This sir is a very good choice…”
Mal cut him off quickly, patience already wearing thin, “I didn’t ask you none on a history lesson, how much?”
Mal snorted in disbelief at the high cost for a little book of poems. He leaned over the counter and smiled his best, “Let me ask you again, how much are you offerin’ for this?”
The book keeper saw the dangerous glint in the Mal’s eyes, he coughed to clear the dryness in his throat, “Ah, I believe, it was, fifty credits.”
“Forty-five you say? I’ll take it.” Mal countered smoothly.
The bookkeeper smiled tightly, displeased by the man’s lowering of the price. He bowed in agreement at the cheap man, “Yes, forty-five credits, you make good purchase, sir.”
“Some would be inclined to disagree.”
River stopped behind a fabric cart as she watched the captain leave the bookshop. She had pilfered a couple of sweet berries when she had walked by the fruit stalls. Her lips were stained red from the juices as were her fingers. She proceeded to lick them clean with her tongue, her movements catlike. That was how Jayne found her, River smiled as she sucked the last drop of juice from her finger. The mercenary frowned at the action, a peculiar expression on his face. She daintily made her way over to him, not noticing the Alliance troops patrolling near by. One of the feds, a tall, heavy set man, studied River. Jayne grabbed her roughly by the arm. “What the hell are you doin’? Where’s your brother?”
The fed turned his attention to his portable cortex screen going through the wanted ads, the girl looked familiar.
River tilted her head; the whispering voices were louder, warning danger. She pressed her body against Jayne; she lifted her heels upwards, standing on tiptoes and kissed him hard. She felt the older man’s shock as he fought against what his body told him to do. River cupped the back of his head, running her fingers through his hair. His goatee tickled her chin; gently she nipped his lower lip with her teeth, opening his mouth, her tongue tasting him. A bold taste, like aged whiskey, burning her mouth and her insides. The merc’s hands had given in to defeat as they circled her slender waist, dragging one hand through her tangled hair.
When the fed found the wanted ad of one River Tam, he compared it to the girl he had seen before. She was now being embraced by an older man. The more he studied the couple the less likely it seemed to be River Tam. The records stated she was on the run with her brother, Simon Tam. And surely they would be together and the girl before him was quite obviously the man’s wife or woman by the way the two were embracing. The fed closed his cortex screen and continued his patrol throughout the market; to investigate a complaint of stolen fruits.
Reason suddenly came to Jayne as he shoved River away from him. His mouth opened and closed like a fish, trying to form a sentence, “What…you….”
River smirked at his horrified expression, “Too greedy, mustn’t be that way. You were stealing the captain’s whiskey, he won’t be too happy about that.”
Jayne’s eyes widened even further at her truthful words. He was saved from answering as Kaylee and Simon’s worried voices cut through the air. The doctor and mechanic waved frantically behind her, “River!”
The mercenary stepped back too quickly, knocking down a set of pots and pans at the stall behind him. A middle-aged Asian woman came hollering at him, swinging a pan at him, gesturing angrily to her fallen merchandise. “Look, look what you done, Ai ya! You ruined new pans, all dirty now, no good. Stupid man, why you no look where you going, huh?”
The pan smacked Jayne on the shoulder, he groaned at the impact “Oww, hell woman, it was a gorram accident!”
The sales woman lunged at him, grabbing hold of his ear and tugged hard, Jayne whimpered in pain as he tried to get away. Simon stared wide-eyed as the woman scolded the terrifying mercenary, actually not so terrifying now that he was being taken down by a woman half his size. Simon felt a smile creep on his face as he made his way towards his sister who was watching the scene with quiet glee. Kaylee ran up breathless to them, concerned soon giving way to outright amusement.
“River, where were you…I told you not to leave my side!” Simon admonished, distracted by Jayne as he picked up a pan to defend himself from the small woman’s blows.
“Heard a song, followed it.” River stated, “Hand in the closet got too greedy, won’t learn…still too greedy. He’ll learn though, I’ll teach him. Dangerous times, too much risk, it doesn’t equate right, too many variables. Not a real girl yet.” She smiled as Jayne threw a couple of credits at the woman and took off, but not before catching River’s gaze. She saw the horror and disgust in the older man’s eyes, mixed with something else, something dark and searing. Jayne continued his retreat when River licked her lips slowly, tasting the whiskey and berry juice on her lips and tongue.
“But I will be.”
80-10 vessel, The Georgette
Colin Foster waited for the pilot to connect him to the cortex; he gave his thanks as the other man left the bridge. He sat down in the chair, the screen beeped as the connection was made to the bar in Beaumonde. Donald, ‘Don’ Heyer’s face appeared on the screen, music played in the back ground, his voice was booming in greeting, “Hell, Foster, seems like you aged a bit more.”
Colin laughed at the bait; it was for show, as the smile didn’t reach his eyes. He settled into the chair. “I think you’re looking in the wrong mirror, laotou.”
“See that’s the problem with young people these days, have no respect for your elder folk.”
“Did you find anybody yet for the job?” Colin asked his jaw tight with worry as he brushed back his shaggy hair from his eyes. He needed a haircut, needed a shave, actually he needed lots of things. But that’s something that never bothered him before, until the day he let go of the woman he loved. Inara Serra was a name never far from his mind; he lost count at the times he had berated himself for letting her go so easily. If only she would’ve followed Nandi’s instructions that day…hell, he should have seen it coming. Inara was too independent and stubborn for her own good.
“Got somebody coming in today, name of Captain Malcolm Reynolds, you heard of him?” Don asked.
Colin’s attention was caught by the name, pushing back his thoughts of regrets, he leaned closer to the screen, “Reynolds you say? Malcolm Reynolds?”
“Yep, that’s what I said. What you know him?”
“No, but I heard of him, actually been trying to contact him for months now. I have something of importance to relay to him.” Colin rubbed at the headache at his temple, “You think he’ll take it?”
Don chuckled, “If I know Reynolds, he will. Son of a bitch is too noble for his own good. Kinda like you, only with a tetchier attitude. Can scare a man to hell and back. A common bloody Independent quality if you ask me.”
“Let me know when he does or doesn’t. Give him the setup when he agrees and the rendezvous location.”
“No problem--will do.”
Colin nodded, “Thanks old friend, and watch your back,” he terminated the connection, leaving the screen blank. He made sure to erase any trace of the call, to avoid tracing back to him, and more importantly the network. He leaned back in the chair again, pleased with his luck at finally locating Reynolds. Man was hard to get of hold of. Colin had almost caught up with him in Persephone, but he had arrived moments too late. The Firefly named Serenity had already taken to orbit at his arrival. The town was in a buzz about a theft of a famous piece of rock, the news had lead him to a scuffle about some rich dandy and Reynolds. Apparently, it had been over a woman, Reynolds was the winner, thankfully. Colin needed him alive, needed his help in retrieving his son, and old friend, Frank Reynolds. In his business, every job, every contact was a gamble, Colin knew his odds--somehow, he was certain Reynolds wouldn’t refuse to help. Blood always calls to blood; those were bonds one couldn’t break easily.
Frank Reynolds was an honorable man; Colin hoped his nephew had a bit of that quality.
TBC-Chapter 10: Full Circle
Feedback? Well, yes, please…the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Tchen wah—cheap floozy
Da ge –big brother (formal)
Gou pi –bullshit
Mei mei—little sister
Wo hao –I’m fine
Monday, June 7, 2004 1:04 PM
Tuesday, June 8, 2004 4:20 AM
Tuesday, June 8, 2004 3:14 PM
Wednesday, June 9, 2004 11:47 AM
Wednesday, June 9, 2004 4:47 PM
Thursday, July 1, 2004 8:12 AM
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