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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Chapter Ten: Full Circle
AU Inara centric: What if Inara never became a Companion? PART 1
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1665 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Chapter Ten: Full Circle
By Cassandra E
A/Notes: Ok, so hmmm, it’s been a while no? Well, I can place the blame partially that I was on vacation in Costa Rica. Which was very nice by the way, beautiful country which I’m proud to have my roots there. Anyway, during the week I was over there, didn’t do much writing, even though I originally planned to finish Ch.10 before I left, sadly it was not possible. But I did manage to plot and replot the last chapters of Eye, good news; I now know for sure how this story will end. Bad news, it’s going to take ten more chapters to get to that end, making Eye 20 chapters long, plus the epilogue. Course I might end up adding another chapter due to some scene shifting in this one, don’t know yet. Ok, so I’m pretty sure there was only one mule transporter on the show, but for story purposes, there will be a spare. This chapter was easy to write after I got pass the first scene, very pleased with how it turned out, now that I’m beginning get into the action of things, which is always great fun. Slaver Market scene was to have been longer, but I felt it wasn’t necessary. Like I have been telling my beta, this story has been draining to write, I feel exhausted every time I finish a chapter, so reviews are so much welcome! Enjoy! And lastly, muchas gracias to the people who have taken the time to review. You can never thank people enough, so again, thank you for giving this story a chance! ~winks~
A Few Hours Later….
The White Pony Tavern--Beaumonde, City of New Dunsmuir
Business at The White Pony Tavern was in full swing, a small bar fight involving two of less than sober patrons had ended as soon as it had began; even before the sun had set on the City of New Dunsmuir. The bar was located in the seedier part of town---which wasn’t as seedy as most of the places Malcolm Reynolds had the habit of visiting. A band of fiddlers played a lively jig near the middle of the room, sounds of clinking glass mugs and whiskey shots as they were placed on the wooden tables added to the atmosphere. A haze of cigar smoke drifted throughout the tavern making Inara’s eyes water a bit---the smell sticking to her hair and clothes. She wrinkled her nose at the heady fumes, scowling in annoyance when a man sidled up to her side. He grinned lecherously as he tipped his hat in her direction.
“Howdy meili, what’s a gal like you lookin’ so lonesome for? Need a little company? Old Bob here can show you a good time.” The creature, named Bob, smiled widely showing a gold tooth among the grimy teeth.
Inara felt the bile raise in her throat as she paid for her glass of water; she smiled politely, holding her cane against her side, “I’m fine, thank you.”
Bob didn’t take the hint, taking a step nearer---the odor of unwashed sweat overpowered the smoke. Inara gagged as a large shadow suddenly loomed over them. Jayne let his arm fall casually on her shoulder while he glared at the other man. “Get lost friend, she’s with me.” Bob lost his toothy grin as he sized up the tall mercenary, going slightly pale as Jayne patted Binky, his hunting knife sheathed as his side.
“Sor—sorry about that, was just bein’ friendly.” Bob stammered uneasily as he backed away.
Jayne just glared, while Inara shrugged his hand away from her shoulder. She gave one glance at her would-be suitor, who had turned tail and disappeared into the rowdy crowd. “Was that really necessary?” Inara asked dryly as she took a seat at a near-by vacant table. The merc followed her, slumping down into the chair across from her. He pulled out a cigar from his pocket, cutting the tip with Binky.
“Mal said to look after you while he and Zoe talked with Don.”
Inara restrained the urge to grind her teeth as she took a sip from her glass. She didn’t expect any less, not with everything that had happened. She had tired of her bout of self-pity, knowing there was nothing she could change. Inara knew this, what had happened—happened. If only things were so easy to brush off. Like Mal for instance. With Mal, it was harder to keep things simple. With Mal, things easily became complicated, and Inara hated complications. If only she could tell him the truth, if only she could be sure the outcome wouldn’t change things between them. What if’s, what if’s---Inara hated those too. Self doubt was something she wasn’t used to feeling. Ever since she had left the Heart of Gold, Inara had learned to depend on only herself---never giving people the chance to get close. That had all gone to hell when she accepted Mal’s offer to be part of his crew. And she wasn’t sure if she regretted it or not.
Inara said in a biting tone, “How lovely of him.”
“Hey, now don’t you start on me. I didn’t do nothin’.” Jayne shrugged defensively, lighting the cigar with a match. He’d struck the matchstick against the table, sending sparks flying as the flame lit up. He took a deep puff, obnoxiously blowing the smoke in Inara’s direction. “You females get so tetchy for no gorram reason…and weird too. Accusing good folk on things they didn’t do or steal.”
Inara arched a brow, bemused as she futilely tried to brush the smoke away with her hands, “I beg your pardon?”
“I didn’t do nuthin’. And I didn’t steal Mal’s whiskey; he left it out is all. How was a ‘body supposed to know it was his? Girl’s gorram crazy.”
“Who? Are you talking about River?” Inara asked in curiosity, not used to seeing the mercenary on edge before. After the morning excursion through the marketplace, she had been baffled by Jayne’s behavior. Kaylee had joyfully filled her in on the pot and pan disaster. But while humorous, it still didn’t explain why the man became jumpy every time River had walked into the mess hall or the cargo deck. It wasn’t until Mal had gotten fed up with the merc’s behavior that he had ordered Simon to keep River contained in her room. The doctor did so reluctantly—the tension between the three men wasn’t lost on Inara. Something was going on, what it was, she still wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it related to River. And if anyone was harder to read, it was the younger Tam sibling.
“Shenme?” Jayne asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at the younger woman.
Inara looked at him blankly, “What are you talking about?”
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“I don’t know… you started the conversation.” Inara asked, further confused at where the discussion was heading.
“I didn’t do nuthin’ and I don’t kiss ‘em on the mouth, ever. Mal shoulda known better than pick up strays—fugitives to top it off. Trouble is what they is. Folk can make a pretty coin off them. Not smart at all, hidin’ them.” Jayne said tensely, flicking the ashes of the cigar into the cream colored ashtray.
“Fugitives? Are saying what I think you’re saying?” Inara questioned further, her complete attention now focused on the mercenary in front of her.
Jayne shifted uncomfortably in his seat, unnerved by the intense study from the woman across from him. He put out the cigar quickly, glaring at her, “You shush now. Strangers ain’t suppose ta know,” Jayne hissed harshly.
“May I remind you---you’re the one who brought it up. If one can call it that.” Inara countered thoughtfully as she mulled over what Jayne had confessed, even if he hadn’t meant to. If what he said was true, than her suspicions about the Tams had been closer than she would’ve thought. It also explained Simon Tam’s behavior when he was forced out into town, like in Jiangyin---always looking over his shoulder, the nervous gestures and stances. Inara could’ve laughed at the coincidence of things; she wondered what Jayne would think of her own fugitive status. Moreover, what would Mal think, that is if he didn’t already do so. Buddha knows she had given him reason enough too, first Saffron than her breakdown in the shuttle. It was no wonder Mal had ordered Jayne as her watchdog. She was surprised he hadn’t set Zoe upon on her too, but then again Inara had a feeling that wasn’t too far off.
Jayne stood up, giving Inara one last childish scowl as he headed to the bar. She sighed, shaking the glass gently, watching the ice cubes swirl in the water. A movement of gray to her far left caught her eye, Inara glanced up quickly, her heart thumping loudly as she watched three Alliance officers file into the bar. They brushed past her table, heading to the table behind her. Inara felt nauseous, as her nerves caused goose bumps to creep across her skin. She scolded herself for not bringing her coat as she rubbed her arms to ward off the chill. Breathing deeply, Inara let her gaze fall back on the Alliance feds; one of the men had ordered a beer, while the other two took in their surroundings, scanning the room. The style and cut of their uniforms told her they weren’t on regular duty, which either meant they were here for a reason or…for someone.
Inara sat still until she couldn’t stand to any longer—she didn’t care if Mal would be displeased with her for disobeying an order. She proceeded to search for Jayne, she found him busy playing a game of pool, a beer in hand. Seeing her chance, she slowly got up from her chair and walked in the direction of the door, keeping her gaze down and her movements natural. Her hold on the cane shook as her hand trembled. So intent on reaching some fresh air that she didn’t notice the person in front of her, walking into the solid mass.
“Duibuqi,” Inara apologized, groaning inwardly when she glanced up to meet with Mal’s gaze.
He smiled tightly, “Inara, lookin’ a mite pale there, you alright?” Mal’s tone was patronizing as he lifted his gaze to the room. He frowned when caught sight of Jayne playing pool, the merc hooted in victory as he won the game. He lowered his gaze back to her, “You goin’ somewhere?”
“I was just…I needed some fresh air.” Inara replied lamely, knowing Mal wasn’t inclined to believe anything she said from now on.
“I thought I told you to stay put.”
Inara took a step back, to open up the distance between them. He was too close, making the fluttering in her stomach worse. “I didn’t think it would matter much, it was just for a mom…”
Mal cut her off coldly, “It does matter, it’s an order I gave you. Do I have to go over this again?”
Inara felt her temper reach its limit, she was fed up with Mal’s arrogant, overly courteous attitude. “You know what, Mal? Maybe you do need to go over it; after all you have kindly been reminding me of my place for the past two days. I figure one more time wouldn’t hurt.”
“If you don’t like following orders, you are free to leave anytime, Inara. I ain’t stoppin’ you.” Mal warned, not liking her tone, nor the attention they were drawing from the tavern. Even Jayne had stopped his game of pool, showing a little unease at the thought of the scolding the captain was sure to heap on him for not following his orders.
“If you want me gone, Mal, say it,” Inara snapped, “And try to be a man about it, not some nuofu.”
Mal’s polite façade disappeared at the last comment; he gripped her arm tightly, pulling her close to his side. His mouth close to her cheek, quietly and dangerously he spoke, “You’re stepping over the line, ‘Nara. If I was you, I wouldn’t, unless you’re keen on explainin’ lots of…interestin’ things.”
“Let go.” Inara ordered, when he didn’t, she jabbed the cane on the toe of his boot. The action only caused Mal to wince slightly and tighten his grip on her arm, “Please, Mal.”
A familiar voice interrupted them; Zoe came behind Mal, her eyes carefully taking note of Mal’s grip and tension between the two. “Are we done here, sir?”
Inara held her gaze against Mal‘s, her eyes and stance defiant; she lifted her head proudly, daring him to say something. Mal held his tongue, his jaw tight as he restrained his temper. “Yes, we are Zoe. Inara can go head back to Serenity; we’ll stay here a bit longer, though.”
“It seems the digs ain’t to Ms. Serra’s likin’,” Mal lessened his grip, letting Inara go. “Don’t see why we should make her suffer through it, it’s beneath her—she’s a lady after all.”
Inara resisted the urge to slap the infuriating smirk from his face. She wasn’t a violent person by nature, but damnit to hell, if Mal didn’t bring the worst in her. Instead of giving him the slap he so richly deserved, Inara smiled in over-exaggerated sweetness, her words sharp and aiming to wound, “You’re right, the company of petty thieves and cowards is somewhat degrading, not to mention vulgar. I must keep my standards. Thank you for reminding me, Mal. I shall forever be grateful.” She didn’t stay long enough to take in Mal’s reaction as she regally walked out the White Pony.
As Inara walked the streets of the closing marketplace, she tried to keep her mind on the people around her. Letting the everyday sounds of clanking pans, the rich odors of delicious food that filled the air, and the rustle of fabric being placed away replace the pain in her heart and the chaos in her spirit. He would not make her cry; she wouldn’t let him hurt her. She couldn’t let him be that important. Inara ran the mantra through her mind, smiling in relief as she neared the boarding docks, the early glow of Beaumonde’s two moons illuminated Serenity like a beacon. Serenity, she needed serenity. Even as she let a lone tear slip down her cheek, Inara whispered a promise to the night around her, “I won’t let him hurt me.”
15 minutes later…
Zoe didn’t say anything while she let Mal fume in anger. It was rare when the captain was pressed to be in such a foul mood, but she knew how to deal with it. So she didn’t say a thing. Even though she was thinking plenty.
And Mal knew that too. ‘Course, he wasn’t bound to say anything to her. He knew her too well, so he wouldn’t dare answer Zoe in the way he had to Inara. Not unless he would be prepared to listen to her own words back to him. She had to admire Inara for it, Mal had seriously been baiting for it. If it had been Zoe, well, she didn’t doubt Mal would be in too much pain to be fuming none at the moment.
He was smart in that manner and in many things too. Great captain and sergeant, no one could be better. A loyal friend he was too, but as for a proper listener and communicator---not so much, especially when it came to matters of the heart. For the life of her, she didn’t understand why Mal didn’t outright say what he wanted to say. He usually didn’t have no trouble with it, but with Inara, the man was playing with fire. He would get burned, and it wouldn’t end well. Same went for Inara too; the younger woman was too stubborn for her own good. A quality that Zoe generally admired, but when dealing daily with it from Mal, Jayne, Wash, even her own self; it got tiring. Maybe it was because she wasn’t used to doing the run around in the things she said or did; she didn’t care much for that nonsense.
But with Mal, well, he could be dense at times. A common trait in his sex, seeing as Wash had his moments as well. So maybe she expected a little more from Inara. The crew had welcomed her well enough, even with her own involvement in the Persephone heist, which to be honest, would’ve gone as planned if Inara hadn’t taken to stealin the Eye also. But Zoe couldn’t blame her for doing her job, honorable or not; people these days were lucky to find a good paying job. She had the memories of the times when business had been slow and they had to watch rations more carefully to remind her.
But like with any kind of relationship, trust was a key, a base. Zoe had learned that well enough in the war, where she had to learn to depend on her platoon Especially in Hera, where if it hadn’t it been for Mal, and other brave men and woman, Zoe doubted much she would’ve survived. The ties of trust and friendship were a different kind of strength, and sometimes that’s all one needed to get through the darkest hours. And that was something Inara didn’t understand as of yet. Hopefully she would, for her own sake, and for theirs, Mal’s in particular.
Zoe was a patient woman, but not so patient as to stand childish tantrums from grown men. She lifted her mug to her lips, drinking the cool, bitter brew slowly as she made her move on the Chinese checkers board. After Inara had left Mal hadn’t said a thing, even while his temper raged behind those chilly blue eyes. Instead he had chosen to buy a round of drinks for the three of them and play a game of checkers. Even Jayne was saved from his scolding; the mercenary, although a mite thick at times, was wise enough not to make comments which wouldn’t turn in his favor, for now.
Mal finished his drink, caught one glance from Zoe and shot her an annoyed scowl, “Got somethin’ on you mind, Zoe?”
Zoe smiled to herself, well; maybe he wasn’t as dense as she thought. “Actually, I do sir.”
If he thought she was going to mention the Inara incident, he was wrong. But then again, he knew better and so did she. “On tomorrow’s job. It’s a good one, helping these folk, but risky.”
Mal shifted in his seat and shrugged, “That ain’t never stopped us. ‘Sides, Don’s trustworthy folk, never failed us before.”
“I know, sir. But this job, there’s a reason why the place is under regular Alliance watch. And this Foster fellow, he’s among the top ten on their wanted list. Just saying we should be careful on how we proceed with this. Remember that we have certain passengers that, if this job goes south, can’t bode well for them.” Zoe attentively watched as two of the Alliance officers left the tavern, the leader of the group stayed, chatting with one the more sober patrons of the establishment.
“That’s why I’m plannin’ for this to go smooth, we do everything right, it’ll go easy peasy.” Mal said with confidence.
Jayne chose that moment to speak up, “That’s what you always say, we all know it never goes gorram smooth, especially with those two around. I’m tellin’ you Mal, those two are trouble, girl more so. Loon that she is,” the mercenary managed for five seconds to hold Mal’s glare, before glancing away. “It’s true, ya know, jus’ cause your all fired up for Inara, thinkin’ with your pec—“
Zoe closed her eyes momentarily, wincing inwardly. Well, maybe she was wrong; Jayne was thicker in the head than she gave him credit for. She opened her eyes to witness the most icy, hard look she had seen Mal give a person. It was miracle Jayne wasn’t dead yet. Mal made his move on the checker board, his eyes never leaving Jayne’s, “Interesting when some folk have the tendency to stick their noses where they don’t belong and talk more than should be accounted for, ain’t that right Zoe?”
Zoe just sighed, taking another sip from her drink.
Jayne put up an injured front, “I’m jus’ tellin’ you what’s what, Mal. Ain’t my fault you get all sorts of tetchy about it.”
“You’re already walking on a thin ice, Jayne; you’re close to fallin’ in.” Mal warned.
“Aww, hell, Mal, is this about the whole Tam thing? I told ya I wasn’t givin’ or doin’ nothin’ to the girl. I don’t know what notions that pansy noufu is puttin’ in your head, but I ain’t gotten near that moon brained girl.” Jayne started defensively, “She ain’t my type, ‘sides she’s crazy and jus’ a girl. I ain’t one of those… pedo--,” the merc was stumped for a moment, not used to speaking long fancy words, “pedo something.”
“Pedophiles?” Mal bit out while leaning back in his chair, his tone dangerous, “Nasty business that is.”
“Whatever you said, I didn’t do nuthin’ to her.” Jayne finished sullenly, crossing his arms in insolence.
To avoid any bloodshed this evening, Zoe decided it was best to move the conversation to a safer topic. “One of the problems is our inside person. We’re going to need someone inside, to disrupt the signal. Gonna be short several hands, this ain’t some minuscule cargo were stealing, Sir.”
“What is it that we’re doin’?” Jayne asked, “Nobody told me nothin’, since I was busy babysittn’,” the last was directed reproachfully at Mal.
“Maybe cause it isn’t the place to be disscussin’ it, Jayne.” Mal explained slowly, as if to a slow child. “Secondly, I’ll tell you enough when you need to know, that’s why you work for me.”
“It’s important that he knows, sir. He’ll be risking his skin if we get caught. Last I recall, for aiding one of the most notorious freedom networks, is forty years to life. That doesn’t include the supposed conspiracy of aiding an independent faction, which is more likely what we’ll be accused of, if we get caught.” Zoe explained.
“What gorram freedom network?”
“For slavery.” Zoe answered simply, she ignored Mal’s admonishing stare, continuing, “A cargo heading to Sihnon and Ariel.”
“Are we getting’ paid?” Jayne asked as reflected over the job details, “’Cause if there’s money in it, I got no problem with a little risk.”
“Figures. Yes, we’re getting paid, also a favor of sorts.” Mal replied reluctantly.
“None of your business.”
While Jayne muttered rudely under his breath, Mal returned to Zoe’s previous question, “’Sides, no worry on the inside person, I know a body who can do it.”
Zoe frowned, her gut telling she wasn’t going to like what the captain was going to say. “Who?”
“To be frank, sir. I think that’s insane.” Zoe rebuffed. She was right. She would be lyin’ to herself if she didn’t admit she knew the captain like the palm of her hand. Always had to make things difficult, Mal would never learn.
Mal shrugged, “Don’t see why not, she can handle herself. As of now, she’s still part of the crew; she needs to do her share of the work. And in other circumstances I would use you, but I need you and Jayne as backup. And personally, your a mite… intimidating to some folk, might raise a few eyes and ears. Can’t have that.”
“It’s dangerous, sir. I don’t think she’s had enough—“
“There’s a first time for everything, Zoe. She’ll be fine, it shouldn’t take long either.” Mal countered, his tone final as he ended the discussion.
Zoe bit her tongue to keep from saying anything else, knowing it would be useless to do so. The more she thought the job through, the more certain she was it wouldn’t go smooth.
Jayne was right, strange as it was.
It never goes smooth.
The Next Day, Serenity, Early Morning
Inara was back in the Harrow Estate, she was back in that room, that infernal room. It was dream, it was a dream. “Please, don’t do this!” She pleaded. She tried to run, but he caught her easily. There was no where to run, no where to hide, she was trapped. This couldn’t happen to her, not now when she so close to her freedom. Inara 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. Inara blinked back the dizziness, trying to get up, but was impeded when Lord Harrow placed his booted foot at her neck. “Be good and it‘ll be good for you.”
Inara began to cry, nodding weakly.
“Say it!” Lord Harrow demanded with sadistic pleasure at her tears.
“I’ll be good.” Inara managed to cough out between sobs. Lord Harrow removed his foot from her throat as he began to undo his trousers, removing his holster first. When he lifted Inara’s skirt up, she fought once more. But something different happened, the dream didn’t end as it usually did. The weight of Harrow was suddenly lifted away from her, Inara gasped as she scrambled away. The figure was Mal; he threw Harrow violently against the wall. A dull thump resounded as Lord Harrow’s head smacked the wall, breaking drywall in the process.
Inara watched in shock as Lord Harrow recuperated quickly and slammed a fist into Mal’s face, knocking him to the ground. She was frozen; barely processing the fact of the cool metal of the gun in her hand. Just as Harrow went after Mal again, Inara fired the gun, closing her eyes as the shot loudly exploded in the room, a pain filled groan soon followed.
Inara opened her eyes in horror as Mal looked at her in shock, blood pouring from his chest and dripping from his mouth.
“No. No, no, what have I done? Mal?!” Inara rushed to his side as he fell to the ground. He tried to speak, blood gurgling as he fought to get the words out. Tears sprang to her eyes, a sob breaking through her throat; Inara frantically tried to staunch the flow of blood. “I’m sorry, I so, so, sorry, Mal. It was an accident. Don’t go, please don’t go. I love…”
Mal reached for her weakly, hand cupping her cheek, “”Nara…wa..ke,” he suddenly gasped in pain, his body going still, blue eyes glazing over. He was dead. Inara sobbed desperately as she grabbed hold of his face, “No. no. no! You can’t leave me. I’ll be alone. Mal, wake up! Don’t go…don’t, please! Please...” She leaned her body over him, cradling his head as she mourned her loss. A low chuckling came from behind her, a laugh that chilled every bone in her body. Inara glance up, shivering in fear as Lord Harrow came near her, gun in hand.
“Stupid slave. Look what you done, you killed them both. Now it’s your turn, my dear. You never ran very far, always here, with me. You’ll always be here. You can’t leave.” Lord Harrow said smugly, “No escaping.”
Inara turned her attention back to Mal, but to her astonishment it wasn’t him. She closed her eyes, opening them again. It was a dream. He couldn’t be dead. Not Colin. She killed him? Inara covered her mouth to stifle the sobs and the pain that threatened to break through, but found them sticky with blood, Mal’s blood, Colin’s. It was him, same dark brown hair, same hazel eyes, which where now glazed over.
Just as Harrow reached for her, a shot was fired from behind him. Harrow looked at Inara blankly, shock written across his face as he slumped to the ground. River stood there, holding Vera in a pair of blue gloves. The moon shining through the window enhanced the girl’s pretty features, giving her pale skin a ghostly glow. A low humming sounded throughout the room, made Inara’s ears itch and ache.
“No power in the ‘verse can stop me. Time to wake up.”
“WAKE UP NOW!” River yelled, stamping her foot, “She can’t let me in longer. Variables and equations are not right, you’ll get hurt.”
“Wake up, Inara, wake up!”
“Inara, it’s a dream, wake up, xin gan.” Mal shook her as Inara cried out. Her eyes snapped open; still suffering from the effects from the dream and groggy from sleep as she brought her fist straight up into Mal’s face. His head snapped back at the force; he groaned as his jaw took most of the blow. When he glanced back to Inara, one hand cradling his jaw, all he heard was a click as Inara cocked her pistol. Her brown eyes were wide open in fear, blood dripping at her nose and eyes, like bloody tears.
“Yesu, Inara.” Mal took a handkerchief from his pocket, he debated against making any sudden movements; it wouldn’t help having Inara blow his head away. He also doubted he would like it none as well.
Inara shook her head in denial, sending dark curls tumbling across her face, “You’re dead. I killed you. You died.” He sighed inwardly in relief as she placed the gun at her side, glad it wasn’t trained on him any longer. She brushed her hands across her eyes, horrified when she wiped away blood. Inara went even paler; the blood contrasting sharply against her skin, her hands shook violently. “Tianna, what did I do?”
Mal lifted his eyebrows at her previous statement, he slowly neared himself to the edge of her bed, “Now ‘Nara, it was a dream. You were sleepin’…nothing happened. Jus’ a bit of a nose bleed and…” He left the last unspoken, his concern increasing at the bleeding around the eyes.
“Was so real, so real, and so cold. So much blood.” Inara closed her eyes in an effort to calm herself, taking deep breaths to steady her erratic breathing. After she had composed herself, her eyes still closed, she asked him in a quiet voice, “What are you doing here?”
Indeed, what was he doing here? His anger from last night had cooled down a bit, even though her words still stung at his pride. ‘Course in a way he had asked for it, not that he was likely to admit it. But Inara made him feel all out of sorts, made him want to push her to get another reaction that wasn’t one of calm serenity. Break down that china doll mask, see what scared her so, that made her run and make no ties to folk. Normally this wouldn’t bother Mal, not one bit. He never had to work much with the female persuasion, it usually just took some courting, and then marriage would follow, well, not marriage exactly, Saffron not with-standing. But a consummation of sorts that involved just a bed, or a haystack, and some time alone. Nothing complicated, even when his childhood sweetheart, Katie Meade had broken his heart at nineteen, when she gone up and left to join a Companion Academy. It had hurt for a while, even until the war began, but he got over it. Nothing complicated, but with Inara, complications came in waves. Too many pieces to put together, worse yet when those pieces kept changin’ on him. Trust was always a rare thing, and Mal wasn’t exactly brimming with it. But he had a card up his sleeve; it was time to use it. Mal sighed as he answered her question, “Came…Actually, I came to talk to you about last night,” he added gruffly in concern as he handed her the handkerchief, “You should get the doc to check on you, not right with that bleedin’.”
His hand brushed hers as she took the white cloth from him, her hands were icy; the heat from his own hand contrasting sharply. Inara looked at him briefly, caution alert in those dark eyes, before wiping the blood from her face and hands. “I thought everything was said quite clear,” she hesitated, “I realize I said some things…Mal, I didn’t mean them. I was angry, it was---it was impulsive of…”
“Don’t matter none, Inara, at least not now. Maybe later,” Mal stated, carefully watching for any reaction, “I came to talk to you about the job we have lined up.”
Inara frowned, “Job? Why are you telling me this?”
Mal stood up from his kneeling position from the floor, “You’re part of my crew, for the time being any way.” Inara avoided his gaze at the comment, but he continued anyway, “So I figure, you got your keep to earn. You did say I wasn’t giving you enough to do, so I’m giving you a job.”
Inara sat attentive, untangling the rumpled bed sheets from her slender legs. She pulled her sleeping gown downwards, smoothing it her legs; there was a brief flash of the thin jagged scar on her upper calf before she quickly covered the area. But Mal saw it, not the first time he had seen it, nor the many others that he knew adorned the rest of her body. Yes, she had been hurt badly; Mal felt a burning rage at the violence of the scars, at the tamade hundan who had done the deed. Made him wonder if it was that son of bitch dandy who had used her, as Inara had mentioned before. What had been his name? Jacob? No, that was her son. Mal didn’t recall Inara telling him the other man’s name. He smiled darkly to himself at the thought, not that she was keen on telling many things. Especially to him. That was the problem, wasn’t it? Left too much room for surprises, which Mal wasn’t fond of, not at all, made things not go smooth. He hated when things did not go smooth. Made things complicated, Mal hated complications.
“What is it?” Inara asked, noticing Mal’s gaze where she had covered the scar, “Mal?”
Mal was snapped back from his musings, “I need you as my inside person.”
“I see. Your inside person, where?”
“Don, the owner of the tavern where we were last night, he’s a good friend of mine. Back in the war,” Mal continued, “From time to time he’s gotten us some fair choice jobs in the past. This job now, is a sort of favor to him. It’s not Alliance friendly, if you get my meaning.”
“Nothing you do is Alliance friendly, Mal.” Inara said wryly, “It goes against your nature.”
Mal gave her a stern look, annoyed at the interruption, “Any way, as I was sayin ’, it ain’t Alliance friendly in the manner that if we get caught, it would bring us a load of problems. Not the good kind.”
Inara countered lightly, “I didn’t realize there were good ones.”
“Will you let me finish, woman?” Mal snapped, crossing his arms.
Inara gave him the proceed gesture, “By all means, please do.”
“I’m serious here, ‘Nara. Ain’t no joking matter, there’s only one way this job can go. And that’s smooth, otherwise we’re humped.” Mal explained firmly.
“What is it that we’re going to do to merit such a degree of caution?” Inara asked in genuine concern.
Mal waited a beat before answering, “We’re stopping a slave trader from making his drop on Sihnon and Ariel. I need you to pose as a slave, to get you inside.” Much to his surprise, Inara’s face paled more than before, even though she maintained her composure.
“How…how will I, what am I suppose to do once inside?” Inara inquired her voice husky as she cleared her throat.
“Kaylee squared away a signal disruptor, should move them off course and make them think there’s a problem with the vessel’s inner engine. They’ll be forced to land. Your job is to set the signal off, once you’re breaking out of atmo’. ”
Inara bit her lip, “And you’ll be…”
“We’ll be waiting for you and the vessel once it’s landed. We’ll board then; the signal allows us to bypass the locking system, so we’ll have the element of surprise with us.” Mal finished, “So?”
“I’m not gonna have any problems with you on this? Can I trust you to get this done?” Mal asked. He tried to gauge her reaction, so far it was mixed, not what he had hoped for. He cursed silently, so much for playing his last card.
Inara nodded slowly, her expression a bit hesitant, “Yes, I can manage.”
“Not jus’ wanting you to manage. Can you get it done is what I want to know.”
Annoyance flashed briefly in those pretty brown eyes, the hesitation vanished as soon as it had appeared. Inara lifted her head proudly as she wrapped the robe around her, getting up from the bed. Mal was tempted to close the distance between them, but he resisted on better judgment.
“I can get it done, Mal. I can do it.” Inara said firmly as if trying to convince herself. “What time do we leave?”
“Three hours, Kaylee is gonna bring you up some, well, a costume of sorts to fit the part. I’ll be taking you to the slave market, which is a little way out of town. It’ll take the better part of an hour to get there.” Mal answered her as he moved to the door; he suddenly stopped, a question nagging him at the back of his mind, “ ‘Nara?”
“The nightmare, the one you were having…you mentioned, you said I died?”
Inara shrugged, her expression was once again tense. “It was nothing, really. Just a…silly dream. You know how they are.”
“But I died, right?” Mal persisted thoughtfully, “How?”
Inara clenched her hands before answering him, “You know what? I forgot already.”
Mal gave her a rueful grin, “Must not have been that important then.”
Mal closed the shuttle door behind him, leaning against it for a moment. There was something he should have done long ago; he sighed, moving away from the door as he walked over to the hallway that led to the pilot bridge. His stride was even and steady, boots clanking across the metal floor. He found Wash fiddling with his dino toys; curse it to Kaylee for giving them to the wily pilot as a birthday gift. Zoe had chipped in for the T-Rex, just because she knew it would irritate him; especially the day Wash had invited him to play. Mal scowled at the memory, remembering Zoe’s stifled laughter at his expense. He strode upon the deck, coughing not so discreetly to make his presence known to the pilot.
Wash jumped from his seat, knocking the brontosaurus and the triceratops to the floor. A little plastic palm tree fell a second later with a light ping, the pilot smiled sheepishly, “Mal, I was, you know.” Wash nodded to the console, kicking the fallen brontosaurus and triceratops under it, “Doing stuff.”
“Right.” Mal stated skeptically, “So who won?”
“The fight. The long necked one or the one with the horns?”
Wash’s attention perked up at the chance to talk about one of his favorite topics. “The brontosaurus, he uses mind power to combat physical strength. Don’t let appearances fool you. Master criminal mind you know, always the quiet ones.”
Mal resisted the urge to roll his eyes, “Of course. I need to use the cortex, send the link up to my bunk.”
“Sure can, captain. Anything specific link while I’m at it?” Wash asked.
“Yes, actually, get the link up to the criminal and wanted records.” Mal ordered, “The women’s records for the…last ten years or so.”
“You’re checking under anything specific?” Wash wondered, “Runaways, evil witchy murderesses?”
“Something like that.” Mal confirmed, “And Wash?”
“Don’t let anyone know I asked for this.” Mal said lastly, as he ducked under the doorway of the bridge.
TBC in PART 2 of Chapter Ten
Tuesday, July 13, 2004 1:07 PM
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