Best Laid Plans--Part VIII--The Conversation
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mal and River have an emotional conversation, and Inara wakes up.


Mal climbed down into his bunk, in search of the scrap of paper he'd used to scribble the cortex address of their new contact. He was proud of the fact he'd managed to line up some jobs that would keep them on schedule for the wedding on Harvest, while still earning them enough coin to maybe even take a brief vacation while Simon and Kaylee enjoyed their honeymoon. He'd learned from bitter experience it was best to just park Serenity someplace safe when his mechanic and medic planned to be gone at the same time. But as it was, everything on Serenity was good, except for the troubling fact that Inara had not awakened in the three days since her rescue.

Stepping from the bottom rung, he was treated with a lovely view of River's behind, as she crouched on her knees. She was rummaging through the bottom drawer of their bureau, slinging clothing haphazardly onto the floor beside her.

"Knew I gave you the bottom drawers for some reason," Mal said, running his hand appreciatively over the curve of her backside. "Should I even ask what you're lookin' for?"

River sat back on her heels. "Trying to find something that might fit Inara. She'll be waking up soon, and needing some clothes."

"Will she? Be waking up soon, I mean?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes,"River replied, picking up a loose-fitting dress that might work. "She's trying to, even now."

Turning back to his desk, Mal said nothing more, but River could feel the sudden flare of relief he had at the news.

"You love her, don't you?" River asked quietly.

Mal froze, assessing the question, then answered simply, "Yes."

River turned away quickly, hoping to hide the rush of tears that threatened to spill. "She IS very attractive," she said miserably.

Mal reached her in two quick strides and turned her to face him. Tilting her chin up to look into her large, sad eyes, he said, "It ain't like that darlin'. I do love Inara, but I ain't IN love with her." He wiped the tear that spilled down River's cheek with his thumb. "Don't cry, darlin'. Please don't cry. As for attractive, it's her stock and trade to be attractive, and she's good at her job. Don't mean a man's gotta respond."

River gazed into his eyes, doubt in her own. "I saw how she was holding on to you when you got back and well...there's a history there...and she's going to need..."She stopped, needing reassurance and embarrassed by the need in equal measure.

Mal pulled her into his arms. "Listen to me, bao bei, and understand. Read me if you have to. There is a history between me and 'Nara, but that's all it is now. History. You know I ain't a man to give myself lightly, and for a time, I did give a part of me to Inara. But it wasn't enough for either one of us. You know that, bao bei. You were there." He drew a deep breath. "And as for the holdin' on thing, I conjure she'd have held to the Devil himself to get her away from where she was."

River tightened her hold around his midsection. "I can hear her, you know."

Mal pulled back, so that he could look closely at River. "You mean you can see what happened to her?"

River nodded.

"I'm so sorry, bao bei, sorry ya' got to see it."

"It's all right," River said. "Not as bad as living through it."

"But not fair to you, darlin'." Mal kisseed her forehead. "She's gonna need alot from all of us, I 'spect, before this is all over. And I aim to see she gets what she needs. Couldn't be a man you'd respect if I did less. Dong ma?"

"Dang ran," River said, feeling a little more steady. She turned back to her task. ************************** "I ain't takin' no for an answer, Simon." Kaylee stood in the infirmary door.

"I don't feel comfortable leaving Inara until she wakes up," Simon protested.

"Well, maybe she don't feel comfortable wakin' up 'til you leave," Kaylee replied. "I reckon I can look after a sleepin' woman 'til you can eat a decent meal and wash up."

"I don't doubt that, ai ren. It's just that she should be awake by now. What if I missed something?"

"You didn't miss nothin', Simon. And if'n she wakes up while you're gone, I'll call you."

Tempted by the offer of a clean change of clothes, Simon agreed. When he left, Kaylee pulled up a stool beside Inara's bed, and took her hand gently.

"Hey, you," she said. "Everybody's waitin' for ya' to wake up now. Ya' got Simon and the Cap'n all in a dither. 'Sides, we got us a weddin' to talk about. Can't get married 'til you're up and about." She laughed. "And we don't want to keep Mama waitin'."

She looked in dismay at her friend's battered face. The sheet was pulled up modestly to Inara's neck, but even the small bit Kaylee could see made her sick with worry. Simon had told her nothing of Inara's ordeal, but she remembered all Inara had told her before about the things Atherton Wing had said after the Captain had bested him in that stupid duel. And she remembered well enough how Jubal Early's threats had made her feel. She could only imagine what the Companion had experienced.

Pushing the concern out of her voice, she continued to talk to Inara, sharing inconsequnetial things as if Inara might wake up and answer. But when Simon returned, freshly groomed and rejuvenated, there had still been no change. *************************** River floatd noiselessly through Serenity's corridors. Mal was manning the bridge, and everyone else was enjoying Serenity's sleep cycle. Kaylee had even persuaded Simon to join her for the night, on the condition that the comm link in the infirmary remain open in case Inara awoke, or any of the monitors sounded their alarms.

Slipping silently into the infirmary, River quickly turned off the comm. Then, she pulled up a stool to Inara's side and gently stroked her hair. Bracing herself for the torrent of emotion buried beneath Inara's sleeping face, she focused all her ability on reaching in to Inara'smind. Gasping at the intensity of Inara's struggle, she stumbled backward, almost upending the stool. Her own tenuous defenses screamed for withdrawal, but she stilled them with a monumental effort, and reached out yet again.

Fighting through layers of terror, shame, and anger, she found the core of the Companion. It was to this part of Inara that River lent her strength and compassion. As she had done once for Mal, she tried to convey to Inara that she was not alone, as she had been in that horrible place. Sifting through the ghastly images Inara's mind was churning up, she gave order to the chaos, leading Inara back toward control again.

Both women, one haunted and broken and the other still healing her own wounds, cried tears of frustration and fear, pain and loss, and finally release of a small sort. Drained by the exchange of emotion, River lay her head gently on Inara's bed and slept peacefully beside her. ********************** Inara was, by nature, a quiet woman. Not given to extravagant movement, she believed in the beauty of stillness. And so, when she tried to open her eyes, there was no extraordinary motion attached to the gesture. Something seemed to be wrong with her left eye, but her right eye focused to reveal the infirmary ceiling on Serenity, a sight she knew well from numerous nights spent by Mal's side as he recovered from one mishap or another. Bothered by her hampered vision, she reached her hand up slowly to try to discern what could be wrong.

Gingerly touching her cheekbone, she winced in pain, but she was relieved to know that her eye seemed to simply be swollen shut, not blinded in some way. Carefully she turned her head and saw River lying next to her, half-sitting on a stool by her bed.

She frowned, a fragment of a thought tickling in the back of her mind. River's presence was important for some reason. Looking at her sleeping there brought a sense of peace somehow, though Inara could not have explained why that should be so.

She looked down at the shapeless gown she wore, one of the ones Simon kept for emergencies. Flexing her arms and legs carefully, she noticed the stitches closing the lacerations on her wrists, distantly admiring Simon's work. She recognized the fogginess of her thought processes was no doubt due to pain meds, and really didn't mind the artificial wall between her and recent events.

Turning back to her observation of River, she noted the tell-tale signs of recent crying. She felt salt dried on her own cheeks as well, and dimly remembered a feeling of release accompanying those tears.

She closed her eye, resting briefly as she continued her mental inventory of injuries. Her midsection throbbed, and she felt the bindings, deducing that she must have broken ribs. She studiously avoided thinking about her lower body, knowing that even drugged as she was, she wasn't able to face those injuries yet.

A samll cry escaped her lips at the sudden flash of Wing's face close to her own, drawn into a feral grimace. Taking a ragged breath, she began to tremble.

Inatantly awake, River leaned over to touch her shoulder. Inara flinched, suddenly panicked at the physical contact. Realizing her mistake, River talked to her instead.

"Inara," she sadi softly. "It's all right. You're safe. You're on Serenity." She underscored her spoken words by sending Inara the same message mentally. "I'll call Simon."

"Wait," Inara said, voice raspy from disuse. "Please give me a moment."

River nodded, aware of Inara's need to be in control again. When her breathing calmed again, Inara said simply. "Thank you."

"Simon will want to know you're awake," River persisted. "He'll be eager to talk with you."

Inara acquiesced. "But just Simon, for now. Please?"

"Of course," River said. "I'll go get him."

River padded out of the infirmary on silent feet. After rousing Simon, she climbed down into her bunk, weary well beyond her years. Fighting back the horrors she'd seen from Inara's mind, she stared up at the ceiling, willing sleep to come. ******************* Mal sat on the bridge, unaware of the drama unfolding in the infirmary. He thought about Inara, and wondered how long it would take for her to heal. He thought about Zoe, healing in a different way, strong beyond his imaginings. His mind drifted to Kaylee, who made sunshine out of darkness despite the glaring evidence that the 'verse was unkind. How all these woman had come to be in his life was a mystery he didn't really want to examine too closely.

And then there was River, his warrior-woman-child, who anchored him firmly while forced by cruel circumstance to spin wildly herself. How she could do this was beyond him, a thing of wonder that he could not wrap hi head around. And the ironical part, he thought, was that she thought him to be the anchor, and perhaps she was partially right. Maybehaps that was the true nature of loving someone, he mused. Either way, having found it, he had no intention or ever losing it.

Puzzling briefly over what could have brought on such a bout of self-reflection, he shook his head and cleared his mind. ********** TBC


Wednesday, May 16, 2007 9:55 PM


Whoever Mal ends up with, in whatever fic, we know he'll be honest and truthful, faithful until death. So River has nothing to worry about (but that doesn't really stop things, does it?).

I love River being the one to help Inara, but wonder just what's going to happen. It won't be easy for Inara, in any way, shape or form, and that final section has me almost concerned about Mal ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 11:01 PM


I love this and could understand River's bout of worry that Mal would gravitate back towards Inara and away from her, but he said it true and he isn't a man to take loving someone lightly though his heart is big enough for all his crew to count on including Inara. I thought it was brilliant how River tapped into the sleeping Inara's damaged subconscious to help her come back to them. It was also typically selfless and touching. Even with everything that has happened to her there is a deep well of innocence and purity that dwells inside Mal's little albatross. My heart goes out to Inara, not sure how anyone can come out of such devastating physical and emotional trauma in one piece but being back on Serenity gives her the best gorram chance in the 'verse to do just that. Can't wait for more, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, May 17, 2007 2:55 AM


Lots of insight here as to who River is as a person with all her gifts - including compassion, trust and love. Really enjoying your work!

Thursday, May 17, 2007 4:28 AM


Loads of good stuff here, including River's delving into Inara's mind to help her heal. Good touch. But am I allowed to give you just a little crap regarding Mal's "I love her/but not IN love with her," line? Please?

Just teasing. Anyway, your handling of Inara's situation is tender and heart-felt. I like it very much.

Rob O.

Thursday, May 17, 2007 6:18 AM


Oh boy ... this is going to be a long, slow road for Inara and the rest of the crew. Something tells me Kaylee will feel all kinds of awful about what Inara's gone through and maybe even want to postpone the wedding ... which will send Simon into a tizzy.

Great moment with Mal and River, and I agree River has nothing to be worried about, but it makes sense that she'd feel a little trepidation. Inara is going to need a lot of support and probably quite a bit from Mal. That's taxing for any relationship.

Thursday, May 17, 2007 9:56 AM


Fabulous work here, slumming...fabulous work.

Mal's conversation with River about his feelings for Inara was brilliantly done, since you had Mal rightfully admit he loves Inara, but he no longer is IN love with her, to River. I might disagree with that assertion - Mal loves Inara like he loves River but he knows that as much as he clicks with Inara, it wouldn't have worked at the time when River and Mal hooked up, IMO - but I support what you did here.

And River's scene with Inara in the infirmary? Definitely a moment of true character development, since we get proof that for all that's been done to her and all that she possibly has to lose by having Inara recover...River still will help out those in need or are in pain. Hopefully, this is just the first step in River building something deeper with Inara:)



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