CHECK MATE: A different strategy. (17/22)
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Long, pretty miserable. Don't say I didn't warn you!


With apologies to the Mal/Inara 'shippers (of whom I am one). It's only a story – and not even one of Joss'.

* * * * *

CHECK MATE: A different strategy.

This chapter and the next overlap with "If the coat fits" posted here a few months back. * * * * *

Light as a ghost, River follows them as they carry the body into the infirmary. Mal supporting the head and shoulders, Jayne holding the legs. She lets out a hiss as if in pain as they lay it down on the exam table. “It hurt.”

Simon is mortified. There are times when, much as he loves her, he'd like to duct-tape his sister's mouth shut. Mal seems not to have heard but all the same Simon grabs River by the shoulders and tries to push her out of the room. “Shh, mei-mei. Don't ...” Don't make it worse. Don't use that unnatural gift of yours to channel her dying thoughts. I can't bear it. He can't bear it. Shouldn't have to.

“The wanting,” River attempts to clarify as he shuts the door on her.

Mal cocks his head to one side and frowns. “Not sure this is her, Jayne.” He shakes his head. “Not in this light. Mouth's all wrong.”

Simon's blood runs cold. Ofcourse it's her. Those are her clothes, her jewellery. Who in the diyu else would it be? Granted, she's battered and bloodied and her eyelids have swollen shut but there can be no doubt. Not unless you have a desperate need to believe otherwise.

Mal folds his arms high across his chest, tucking his hands into his armpits. “No. Definitely not her. Can't be. You ever see her wear this thing?”

Only a few times, Mal, but yes, I've seen her wear it, Simon wants to tell him. Only he doesn't. The thought that he might be the one to burst the Captain's bubble is too painful. The truth will hit him soon enough. Slam into him and flatten him with its horror. For now, let him cling to his disbelief.

“I'll..I'll clean her up. If you like.” Simon offers, more because doing something – anything – is better than simply standing here, looking at the ruin of that beautiful, graceful woman he considered a friend.

Mal nods solemnly. “Good idea, Doc. Make her decent. Sure her folks would appreciate that.”

Simon catches Jayne's eye but the mercenary looks quickly away, embarassed. “I'll tell the Preacher to come in,” he mumbles. “Say a few words. When you're done, Doc.”

* * * * *

If Kaylee doesn't stop wailing soon, Zoe fears she may have to slap her. Bad enough trying to deal with her own sense of guilt at having wanted to gouge out Inara's eyes and slice a blade across her throat now she's seen the horrible fate the Companion met. Having to listen to Kaylee give vent to her grief is too much. The noise is not loud, but incessant and ennervating. Like nails being scraped endlessly down a blackboard. Pointless, useless noise that jangles around in Zoe's brain, stopping her from thinking straight. It feels like someone is bowing a razor blade across every fibre of her nervous system.

The mechanic is rocking backwards and forwards, oblivious to anything other than her own misery. More'n a mite self-indulgent Zoe thinks sharply before reminding herself that Kaylee ain't used to death. Ain't seen the things she and Mal have. Never had to endure loss like this before. She hopes she doesn't sound too hard as she places a hand on the girl's back and says quietly, “Gotta try to calm down, Kaylee. This ain't helpin' no-one. You ain't the only one hurtin'.”

Through the infirmary windows she sees Mal standing silently at the end of the exam table. Looking down at the body lying on it, his face empty of all emotion. Observing Simon with detached interest as he begins the task of cleaning away caked on blood and dirt. Zoe has seen him like this before. Shut down, like none of it touches him. Almost convincing himself. She wishes this time – this time especially - he would let the pain boil up and spill over, instead of letting it burn out another piece of his heart.

Kaylee sniffles, swiping a hand across her eyes and nose. It comes away glistening with tears and snot. Still racked with sobs, she gulps in air and tries to be strong. Think of the others. It doesn't help that the first person her gaze falls on is Mal. One look at him is all it takes to make her dissolve again.

Jayne feels awkward, too big and rough-made to be able to handle this with the delicacy it needs. He takes a step towards Kaylee, then draws back feeling utterly inadequate. Wishes the gorram doctor was out here, puttin' them book-learned fancy words of his to good use, instead of in the infirmary with a woman who's dead already and a man who might as well be. Mal – poor bastard. Don't wanna think about what he's gonna go through. Nor about what he might do to the person he thinks responsible for this unfortunate turn of events. Jayne's muscles twitch as adrenalin pumps through them at the prospect..

* * * * *

Simon drops the last of the cottonwool swabs into a metal bowl and stands back. In some ways she looks much better. In others worse. The general disfigurement has been replaced by individual injuries and lots of them. Simon bites the inside of his cheek as he contemplates the damage. How could one human being do this to another? It sickens him.

Mal sniffs and clears his throat. “Looks like Jayne was right, after all,” he concedes. “That's Inara, right enough. Now, how d'we wake her up, Doc? Cos I'm feelin' a pressin' need to call on the fella that did this. Have a bit of a sit-down and explain a few things to him.”

The doctor's eyes widen with alarm. Mal thinks Inara is unconscious. He's been standing there for heaven knows how long during which time she hasn't taken a single breath nor moved at all. Her lips are blue and her skin cold. Since when has the Captain been stupider than Jayne?

“W-wake her?” he stutters.

“Yeah. You know – give her the antidote. Like we did with you an' River on Ariel.” He bends down to take a closer look at Inara's face. “Looks like the Alliance've been workin' on that drug you took – what they call it?”

“Byphodine,” Simon replies, automatically, inappropriately.

“Yeah, that's the stuff. Byphodine. Seems to've had a bit of an upgrade. She looks a lot deader than you did.”

The door slides open and River pops her head around the frame. “Does Is.”

“Not now, mei-mei,” Simon growls through gritted teeth, but River will not be silenced. She glides over to the exam table and lifts Inara's right hand. “Over. Over. Three times over.”


She tilts a still, tranquil face towards Mal. “Drink what you have to drink and turn the glass over.”

Mal isn't ready to accept the cup's there, let alone drink from it. “Uh-huh. Your brother's kinda busy here, River. You understand?”

“She understands. He does not.” She takes his warm hands in her cold ones. “Gone, Mal. Flown away.”

“What she ...?” Mal begins to ask turning to Simon but the agony in the medic's eyes as he tries to avoid the question gives him all the answer he needs. He blinks hard twice, but there are no tears. He sucks in his cheeks and breathes in deeply, nostrils flaring as he fights the turmoil inside him. His mouth sets in a hard line.

Simon's heart twists in his chest. The Captain thinks he's so good at hiding his feelings, shutting people out. But his face is so mobile, his eyes so expressive, that every emotion is plain to see for those interested enough to look. And right now the emotion is searing pain, tangled up with guilt and regret. Simon reaches out a hand but Mal jerks away, unwilling to relinquish control. If he were in physical pain, Simon would know what to do. Like as not it would be refused, but he could at least offer the man something to ease his suffering. But neither of them is good at dealing with emotional distress. Neither has Kaylee's facility for a sympathetic touch nor her ability to deliver a kind word. Simon would so like to be able to comfort the Captain, reassure him that breaking down would be natural, healthy. If River were in pain like this he would cradle her in his arms, stroke her hair but Mal is a grown man. A war-hardened veteran and, what's more, the Captain ...

Book enters the room, Bible in hand, and Mal goes rigid.

The Shepherd's face creases with distress as he looks over at Inara. He crosses himself instinctively and instantly regrets it, knowing how Mal objects to such overt displays of faith. He eyes the Captain warily. “I could come back later ...”

Mal's lip curls into a sneer. “No, come in Preacher. Come an' see what some tamade hun dan did to Inara whilst your God was lookin' the other way. Bit damn late for the sonofabitch to show an interest now.” He strides over to Book, seizes him by the elbow and propels him up against the exam table. “Look at that. How's that fit in with your notion of God?”

Book's notion of God is too complex, too difficult and challenging to debate with Mal right now. He holds his tongue, but his soft, brown eyes grow moist.

“I'm gonna find out who did this. Put a bullet in his brainpan. Eventually.”

“It won't help, son. Won't help her. Nor you.”

“Might help stop the wang ba dan de biao zi from hirin' hisself another Companion an' doin' the same ..” Mal's voice quavers slightly and he clamps his mouth shut.

Book has been trying not to look at the scars and bruises, but in the awkward silence that follows his eyes are drawn irresistibly to them. They bring back things better forgotten. Full of dread, he raises his eyes and asks Simon “Are there other injuries?”

In reply, Simon lifts the torn fabric of Inara's shirt to reveal a series of .. well, holes. Whether they are burns or cuts it's hard to say. Mal's teeth grind audibly and Book recoils with a sharp intake of breath. He knows what did this.

“I ... I've not had time for a full examination but ...” Simon glances at Mal nervously “ .. there are multiple fractures of the hands and feet.”

Is this it then? Judgement Day? Book can hear the devils cackle and smell the sulphur as he whispers hoarsely, “I recognise this.”

* * * * *

Jayne is on his way to the exercise bench when there's a loud banging on the airlock. Zoe looks wary but Jayne recognizes the female face that peers through the toughened glass. “We had a deal, Jayne Cobb!” it mouths.

Zoe hits a button and the door opens. Lucinda May stalks in, right past Zoe and up to Jayne. “You gorram hun dan! Thinkin' off takin' off without the goods...” She pauses as the atmosphere of general depression hits her. “What's goin' on here?”

“Good question,” Zoe says crisply, advancing on her. “Who are you? An' what's your business here?”

Lucinda May tosses her hair haughtily. “My business is with the Captain.” Mal is still in the infirmary, glaring at the Preacher and Zoe is about to tell her the Captain is otherwise engaged when she continues “Jayne Cobb, we shook on that deal. You're takin' them mares to Londinium or I'll ...”

“Captain? Londinium?” Zoe gasps. “We ain't goin' to Londinium...”

“Yes. Yes we are.” Suddenly Mal is standing there, all grim resolution. Zoe freezes. What in the tian xia is he thinkin'?


“Good a place as any. Need a job. Don't much care what it is. Long as we keep flyin'.”

* * * * *

Recording wave – now.

“Hello again, Daddy. 'S Kaylee here. Hope y'all are well an' ... oh, Daddy! I'm so ... Wish I could see you. Somethin' terrible's happened. Inara – 'member I told you about her? The Registered Companion? - well, she's ... she got ... Somebody killed her Daddy! An' she was the sweetest, loveliest thing... We was in the middle o' nowhere, so we had to do the funeral our own selves. Everyone was cryin' an' so, so sad. River – well, she went a bit crazy. Cap'n had to wrap In.. the body.. in his coat to stop her from screamin' at him. He's takin' it awful bad, Daddy. Been lockin' himself in her shuttle. Saw him through the door, holdin' onto that le se tin we put her ashes in lookin' like he wanted to crawl in there with 'em. He don't say nothin' to the rest of us, but I jus' know his heart is breakin'. Wish I could do somethin' ... Best keep busy, I guess. We got cargo. Half a dozen brood mares we're shippin' to Londinium. Ain't never been there before. Hear it's real fancy. Don't know if the Cap'n'll let us sight-see. Says he'll take the horses to the buyer on his own. Well, guess I'd better go check on the engine. Got lots of new parts, but my baby still needs a lot o' nursin'. Bye, Daddy. I love you.”

Wave recording successful. Send now?


* * * * *

“Malcolm Reynolds is a most extraordinary man. I shall be sorry when his part in the game comes to an end. Working with him is most stimulating.”

“Men like him are ten a penny. We'll find a replacement easily enough.”

“Oh, I think not, Parkin. Did I tell you he's on his way to Londinium? Yes, I thought that would surprise you. Supposedly delivering stock to a stud farm. However, I think his intentions may be of a more .. violent ... nature.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, let us piece the information together. The whore gets caught 'attacking' ,” Rantoong airquotes with podgy fingers, “the pilot. Now instead of being glad to be rid of her, Captain Reynolds flies half-way round the galaxy looking for her. To me, that indicates personal involvement of a fairly serious nature. Our gallant hero finds her but alas! she is dead. Now, here's where it gets interesting. That tame Browncoat of yours has a female on his team who, though not Alliance trained, has had first hand experience of their torture techniques. And fortunately for us, there are two people on Reynolds' crew capable of telling him exactly what was done to the whore and of making an educated guess as to who might have done it. The Doctor and the Preacher. I'm fairly sure they've helped him conclude it was the work of the hated ...” his mouth twitches with relish .. “the 'Evil' Alliance. And now I think the good Captain may be planning to strike at the very heart of said Alliance. Even if he dies in the attempt.”

“I hope he's not thinking of using explosives,” Parkin muses. “We need a body. Think of the hysteria a Browncoat assault on Londinium would cause.” He rubs his bony hands together like a miser gloating over gold. “By the way, how is the Corporation doing?”

“Orders up twenty-five percent since Noe's death. Even got a big order for handguns and intruder sensors from Beaumonde – and I don't need to remind you how complacent they've been about security. I think we're doing rather well.”

They sit in contented silence for a few minutes and Rantoong flips through the album of photographs on his lap. He quickly finds what he was looking for and passes the book across to his colleague. “This girl,” he taps a picture of an elfin-faced redhead, “has proved most useful. If a little too volatile to be a long term prospect for our usual operations. I fear the balance of her mind may have been disturbed. Which of course makes her an ideal candidate for Rim work. Help push out the tentacles a little further each year.”

“I'll have her brought in.”

* * * * *

Zoe is sitting on the bed turning something over in her hands when Wash finally calls it a night. “What ya got there, proto-Mom?” he asks, trying to sound more upbeat than he feels. To his horror, Zoe bites her lip as if she might cry. Now, Wash can count the number of times he's seen his wife cry on the fingers of one .. finger. This must mean it's bad. Really bad.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asks, sitting down beside her.

She turns and gazes at him, as if weighing up his ability to deal with what she has to say. “Cap'n gave us the ship.”

“He what?!”

“He gave us the ship. And – for some reason I ain't too clear on – this.” She holds out a small carving of a mare and foal. “Said he wa'n't plannin' on leavin' Londinium his own self. Said we should have Serenity. Pass her down to our children.”

Wash laughs. A humourless, nervous kind of laugh. “Why'd he wanna do a thing like that?”

“Think he's plannin' on evenin' the score,” Zoe replies. “According to the Shepherd, those were Alliance torture techniques used on Inara. Seems like it wa'n't no crazed client after all. More of a planned attack.” Zoe is so lost in her own thoughts she doesn't see the thrill of dread that goes through her husband. “Mal's back in the dark place, Wash. Only this time it's so dark, I don't think he wants to come out. Says he's going down alone onto Londinium. Reckons delivering the horses'll give him access to even the most secure zones.”

“Wo de ma he ta de feng kuang de wai sheng duo!” Wash leaps to his feet and starts pacing the bunk anxiously. “You don't think...No, no. He wouldn't.” His voice trails off as the realization dawns. They both know that in his present state Mal very well might. “You could assume command,” he suggests hopefully. “Seein' as the Captain's gone all feng kuang and psychotic.”

Zoe shakes her head. “Don't wanna push him. I do that, an' he's like to take off in the shuttle. Gotta play along for now. It's a long way to Londinium. Gives us time to find something to change his mind.”

Wash sits back down, his shoulders slumped forwards. “I don't wanna go to Londinium...”

“Neither do I, bao bei,” Zoe agrees, but he's not listening to her. He's finally acknowledging he's not so much concerned about the Captain's pain, the Shepherd's past, River's proficiency with firearms or Inara's terrible death. Selfish as it sounds, right now he's concerned about his own skin.

“I don't wanna go to Londinium. I don't even wanna be in orbit around Londinium. Jayne stopped Inara from poisoning me and now she's dead. Killed by someone workin' for the Alliance. Which means they didn't just say “Oh well, never mind, let's forget all about it then and have a nice cup of tea.” I think they're still coming for me, Zoe. Which makes me kinda terrified. An' I don't know why. Which makes me even more terrified. What did I ever do to the Alliance?”

Zoe puts the carving carefully down on the bedside table. “Good question. Been wonderin' about that my own self ...”

* * * * *

Although it's unnecessary, Kaylee is tinkering with the engine. It gives her something to occupy her mind, something solid and familiar to hang onto. And it keeps her out of Mal's way. Their easy friendship ought to be a solace at a time like this but the love they have for each other is just making Inara's death harder to bear. When he thinks he's alone, Mal's mask of resigned control slips. Kaylee's come across him hiding out in one of Serenity's numerous nooks and crannies more than once and has been shocked by the desolation in his eyes. Those lively, twinkling blue eyes – now devoid of all their light and fire. Dull. Flat. Hopeless.

First time she acted on instinct. Wrapped herself around him, sobbing, sharing the devastating ache. But he went all Captainy and protective and began trying to comfort her instead. And – gorramit! - di'n't that kindess make her cry all the harder? When she could weep no more, she raised her face from the damp patch she'd made on his shirt, intending to tell him that he wasn't alone, that they were all there for him and wanting to help him bear it.

The expression she saw on his face scared her. Emptiness and isolation. And behind it a simmering, cold fury. Emotions beyond her understanding.

* * * * *

Simon rounds a corner and walks slap-bang into Kaylee. It's clear she's been crying again: her face is flushed and her eyes bloodshot. “You OK?” he asks gently.

She sniffs and nods. “Fine.” And, bless her, she gives him a feeble smile. Because she can always smile for Simon.

He appraises her with a doctor's eye. “No you're not,” he tells her, pushing back a lock of hair that has stuck to her cheek, damp with tears. “You're shaking.”

“I'm all right,” she insists, a little impatiently.

He smiles kindly at her. “I could give you something to help, you know. Just to tide you over for a few weeks.”

“Think the Cap'n needs it more'n me,” she replies, looking towards the bridge where she knows Mal is sitting, staring out into the Black, thinking all manner of desperate thoughts.

“Agreed. But he won't accept help,” he says, following her gaze. “You know, Inara once told me she thought he liked being lost in the woods...”

“He don't!” Kaylee exclaims loudly, bursting into tears again and trembling violently.

“That's it,” Simon decides. “I'm giving you a smoother and then you're going to your bunk. You need to rest.”

* * * * *

Even after all these months, Simon still has difficulty in identifying the strange noise that fills his ears on waking. Every morning the low, throbbing hum of Serenity's engine comes as a surprise.

His shoulder aches. Must have slept in an awkard position. He turns over, trying to get more comfortable but there's no room. In fact there's a soft, warm limb occupying the place where his leg should be. It takes a few seconds to realize it's not River's leg against his foot but Kaylee's. Oh yes. That certainly qualifies as sleeping in an awkward position!

He opens one eye cautiously. She's still asleep, snoring gently. He can feel her warm breath against his neck. She is so very pretty. So utterly beguiling in her trusting openness. When Kaylee smiles the 'verse is full of stars. When she cries, it's nothing but blackness. No wonder he was willing to do anything to make her smile. Because making Kaylee happy is easily achieved. She's not Mal. A hug, a little kiss. Then another. And another. He didn't plan for anything to happen. Not that anything did happen exactly. His mind was elsewhere. She was too upset. It would have been taking advantage. And yet here he is. In her bunk.

The challenge now is to extricate himself with the minimum of fuss and without anyone finding out.

There's a noice in the hallway above. Then a voice. “Kaylee – you awake?” Mal. Zao cao!

Simon sits up, nudges Kaylee and whispers, “Kaylee. Wake up. It's Mal ...”

She opens her eyes, momentarily bewildered at seeing Simon there. In her bunk. In her bed. Then a slow, contented smile steals across her lips and she reaches an arm up to pull him down into a kiss.

Flustered, he reaches around the back of his neck to disentangle himself from her grip. “It's Mal,” he whispers urgently. “Up there,” he gestures with his head. “Calling for you.”

“Wha's up, Cap'n?” There's a twinkle in her eye. A twinkle that says she's all aware of how petrified Simon is of the Captain finding him here.

“Got a job for you. Need you to decrypt a wave.”

“Sure thing, Cap'n. Be up soon. Jus' gotta get some clothes on.” She twinkles again and raises her eyebrows suggestively at Simon because they're both half naked under the sheets. “See to a few things.” She wriggles up against the doctor and slides a hand down his chest whilst he squirms uncomfortably. What in the diyu was he thinking? Just how complicated does he want his life to get? As if River and Mal weren't enough to fill his every waking thought.

“See to them later,” Mal shouts down. “This here wave's from House Madrassa. From someone called Pianhu, claiming to be an old friend of 'Nara's.”

The provocative smile Kaylee is directing at Simon freezes on her face. She's fairly sure neither she nor Mal is ready for this.

* * * * *

Time to find out the truth. This gorram thing's been burnin' a ruttin' whole in his pocket for the past three days. Time he asked Simon his opinion on the damn thing. What in the 'verse is this syringe for?

He was surprised when he found it. Thought if what Jayne said was right, Inara'd've taken it with her. But no, it was locked up in the bedside drawer all this time. Was she expecting to come back? Was she gonna try to kill Wash again?

On the other hand, maybe Pianhu's fears were well founded and she was plannin' to herself. The thought makes Mal shudder. Don't wanna think of 'Nara as weak. No – as having been weak. But that wave from Pianhu has set him thinkin' about suicide. And about a fella name of Doran ...

Tears him up inside, thinkin' on it too hard.

“Captain,” Simon greets him. The pity in those blue eyes riles Mal more'n a little. “What can I do for you? You know, some of these smoothers are very mild ...”

“Don't want no smoother,” Mal snaps, eyes darkening at the implication. “Here.” He holds out the box containing the syringe and slaps it down onto Simon's palm as the doctor reaches out to take it.

Simon frowns. “What is it?” he asks, flipping open the lid.

“You're the doctor. You tell me.”

“I'll have to run some tests.”

“Fine. Make 'em quick.” Mal is about to go, when he stops. Turns around, hesitating.

“Was there something else?”


“For what?”

“For this. For what you did for ... you know, cleanin' her up ... examinin' her. Can't have been easy ...”

For once Simon is bold enough to make the gesture. He crosses the room and touches Mal's arm. It feels good to do it. Mal doesn't pull away. And that feels good too. “It's OK, Mal. It's what you pay for me, after all.”

* * * * *

Mal is leaning over the railings, staring down at the horses penned in the makeshift corral Jayne built in the cargo bay. She can feel the guilt in him, hear him tell himself he ought to be getting them to Londinium right away. That it ain't fair to keep beasts cooped up too long. But he's made his decision. And Wash has plotted a new course. He's trying to convince himself it ain't too much out of their way. Sihnon first, then Londinium. Her brother doesn't know his part in it yet. Mal thinks it's best not to get the boy all agitated before he has to.

River claps her hands to the side of her head as Mal's confusion floods into her. Feels his fear that if he doesn't get to the bottom of this he's gonna go crazy. Crazier. There are so many questions he needs answers to. River sighs. Pianhu's wave would make sense if only he would let it. If he weren't trying to push the square peg through a round hole.

She wishes he understood her like she understands him. She could guide him through this. Find the wood that's lost in the trees. But words scramble her thoughts. She sees them knit into textures so dark and impenetrable it's no wonder he can't follow her.

Simon wants to help but can't. He tells him half-truths because, for all his scientific and medical expertise, they're all he knows. Told Mal the syringe is filled with poison. One man's meat is another man's poison. For Wash, the syringe holds meat. Bitter, rotten meat – but meat nonetheless.

River sways as another wave of doubt crashes over Mal. She closes her eyes and sees a greasy mountain of a man, and behind him a shadowy form. Mal's heart warms with gratitude. He trusts this man. Trusts him with his life. Who goes there? Friend or foe? Friend. No, comrade. Brother in arms. The man-mountain offers condolences Mal can accept and the troubled waters grow still. But the sun casts a long blue shadow on them and beneath their surface a dark shadow swims. Words are cast on a long line - “exceptional woman”, “brave”, “an honour to have know her” - and the fish snaps. It's caught on the line and reeled in, wriggling. Mal balks at the idea of gutting it, at finding out the man-mountain has stuffed it full of lies.

Instead he chooses confusion. Takes refuge in letting his brain spin like a gorram top. River opens her eyes and smiles as she hears him think of her with sympathy.

“It doesn't mean what you think.”

He starts, spins round, looks relieved then irritated all in rapid succession. “You sure do creep about,” he complains. “Have to get that brother of yours to put a bell round your neck. Warn folk you're comin'.”

River smiles sweetly. “The object. It doesn't mean what you think,” she repeats.

“Uh-huh.” If he don't play along, perhaps she'll go away.

“Because she never minded the gap. Fell regardless.” She lowers her chin and looks up at him, widening her eyes for emphasis. “Loved you.”

His hands tighten on the railing. “Stop it.” He struggles against the anguish that threatens to overwhelm him and turns to her. “Go back to your quarters. Now.”

Instead of obeying, she takes a step towards him, closing the gap between them. Presses her body flush up against his. Startled, he puts his hands on her shoulders to push her away, but she reaches a hand up into his hair and twists it round her fingers. And stretches up on tiptoes to kiss him.

Again with the button pushing. He hates the way she can do this. Like she can read his mind, his every desire. It ain't seemly. Least of all now.

“Not just your heart. Hers too. Wanted that,” she tells him.“Inara. Always wanted it.”

She knows he's going to fall. Braces herself to steady him. Lets him lean into her fragile strength, rest his head against the silk of her hair.

“None of it means a damn thing now,” he mutters bleakly, holding onto her tightly..

Slender arms enfold him gently. “Does. Will,” she promises.

* * * * *

Exiting the infirmary, Simon catches sight of them out of the corner of his eye. The Captain and his sister. He turns swiftly on his heel and retreats back inside. Starts reorganizing perfectly neatly stocked shelves. Counting bandages. Checking supplies.

And tries to think of something – anything – else.

* * * * *


Thursday, July 15, 2004 1:29 AM


Okay, this is very different and all kinds of painful and sad and begging for exploring. Love River as always and I really like all the little touches giving glimpses of what all the others are feeling. Very neat. Also can't wait to hear what Mal is going to learn from House Madrassa. I hope River can keep him from falling into those *tamade hundans* trap. Good myth, keep going and be still oh fragile heart of mine! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, July 15, 2004 6:56 AM


Yes, bleak and unhappy, but quite powerful. You played the emotion and impact very well. Interesting the way you pulled away from using Mal's POV, letting us see through other's reactions instead. It worked.

Mal's denial of Inara being dead was totally creepifying but quite good, and appropriate. There's been so much of death not being permament, that it worked in an extremely chilling way.

Many good lines. I especially liked Zoe's, "Zoe has seen him like this before. Shut down, like none of it touches him. Almost convincing himself. She wishes this time – this time especially - he would let the pain boil up and spill over, instead of letting it burn out another piece of his heart." I--obviously--find Zoe & Mal's relationship one of the most intriguing amongst the characters, and have found your presentation of Zoe in this series very powerful and well done in a low-key way.

Thursday, July 15, 2004 7:33 AM


If only Firefly were more like Enterprise, we could pick-up an Inara-clone later! But no, this is a good, involving story, with lots of mysteries that beg revelation - Soon, I hope!

Thursday, July 15, 2004 12:35 PM



Sad, tense and painful. Good stuff. Well, bad... er, y'know.

Friday, July 16, 2004 1:51 AM


Yeah, clone would be bad. But how about an Inara zombie? BRAAAAIIIINS!!!!!


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HOLDING ON: Ch 2 - Tangential
Much to his annoyance, Sanzo's urgent quest to find Goku gets diverted. Meanwhile Mal meets someone from Inara's past. WARNING - slashy but not graphic

The Wheel Never Stops Turning
Mal meets a blonde in a bar. Violence ensues. And Mal discovers religion has its uses.

This is primariy a <i>Firefly</i> fic, but the character Mal ends up doing a job for is from the manga/anime <i>Saiyuki</i>. It's also <b>PG-13 nothing-explicit SLASH</b>. Because that's who I am!

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 7: 'til the day you die.
Inara leaves Serenity for a new life. Mal gets a job with a couple of new employers, but sinks further into despair.
Slash so lite you'll probably scarcely notice it.

MAKE ME A STONE: Chapter 6: You just learn to live there.
Another job goes less than smoothly. Meanwhile River takes matters into her own hands and Mal has a brainwave.

SLASHFIC. SPOILERS for the comics, novelization and movie.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 5: Chickens come home to roost.
Mal has to accept Badger's offer of a job. Meanwhile old enemies seek to take advantge.
Spoilers for the comics. Very light slash.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 4. Some residual heat.
SPOILERS for the comics/BDM. Mal has to accept Badger's job offer. Not much else in his life is going right either.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 3: It's complicated.
Mal decides to pull a job of his own. Simon offers to help. It doesn't go smooth - but that's not entirely Simon's fault.

Non-graphic SLASH.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 2: And who exactly could fix you?
Simon'a altruism leads to a job going wrong. Mal's not happy.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 1: Pray there ain't any more surprises.
Warning: SLASH, but not graphic. Mal and Simon both find that the other has hidden talents. It kinda piques their interest ... *g*

TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 23. Two by two.
Four years have past since Mal was forced to blow up Serenity and Simon disappeared with River and Book. A lot has changed since then. But a lot has stayed the same. The CONCLUSION to this series.