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MAL4PREZ

Back Stories II: Chapter 2 (repost)
Monday, November 12, 2007

Being incognito in a crowd brings back memories for Inara; Will does some talking with Badger.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1957    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I’m just playing.

Rating: PG to NC17. I will not put warnings on each chapter, because I don’t want to give things away. In general, don’t be getting into any of this if you’re not prepared for adult storylines, violence, explicit sexual content, and - oh my - bad words.

Many thanks: fireflyfans.net members: LEEH and LEIASKY for beta.

Links: Prequels: The Fish Job (FFF) (LJ), Easy Tickets (FFF) (LJ), and Book I (FFF) (LJ). Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

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Back Stories, Book II

by Mal4Prez

Chapter 2

Being incognito in a crowd brings back memories for Inara;
Will does some talking with Badger.


 

 

Landsdowne Docks, Persephone

Inara clutched her cloth bag to her stomach as she slid through the throng. She walked with her shoulders slouched and kept her face tilted down, letting the hood of her cloak hang forward to hide her features. Not that anyone was looking. They all had their own business to do; even the idlers slumping on crates kept their attention focused on their bottles of booze. Inara’s small figure in its bulky clothing held no interest to anyone.

The lunch vendors were out, filling the docks with thick smoke and the heady scents of whatever spices they used to cover the poor quality of their food. The warring smells made her stomach clench – her nerves had started a lively dance as soon as she’d left the quiet and safety of her transport, and she seem to couldn’t settle herself down.

It wasn’t apprehension about meeting with Badger; she was prepared for that. The bag she carried held a sample of the “wares” that she’d hire Serenity to transport, and her story was cleanly laid out in her mind. She’d augment it with her feminine wiles as necessary – a woman didn’t have to carry the title of Companion to do that.

The thought brought her face to face with the real source of her uneasiness. It was something she was completely unprepared for, although it should have been obvious. It had been years, maybe even more than a decade, since she’d moved through a crowd of strangers without them parting in front of her. She’d never realized how much she depended on the awe that her title and appearance won. Being a truly anonymous face in a crowd unnerved her; it made her feel like a different person, as if she’d left her real self behind when she’d fled the House on Sihnon.

A large man carelessly bumped her as he passed, making her stumble and spin. She caught her balance, but had to stay still and reorient herself. It wasn’t easy – it seemed that everyone on the docks was taller than she was, and for a moment she couldn’t see through them to find her way again. She stood in the midst of the swirling crowd, but felt completely cut off and alone. Lost.

For a moment, she was taken back to the girl she’d been long, long ago. Strange, it was so distant that, until this moment, she’d almost come to believe that it wasn’t real. Another person had lived that life, not Inara Serra.

* * *

Nineteen years ago

The little girl with curly black hair and large, expressive brown eyes can barely see through the crowd. Whatever the fuss is about, it’s going to make her late for supper. Still, she’s curious enough to pause and have a look around before heading home.

There’s no moving forward through the mob, so Kari hugs the soft contents of her bag and steps back out of the way. There isn’t supposed to be any theft in the city; that’s what the smiling faces on the billboards say, but she knows better. Her parents are always warning her about crooks, and she’s seen many careless people fall prey. So she holds the thin plastic bag close to shelter it from the people who jostle her as they hurry toward whatever spectacle the night brings.

She listens to the talk and learns that there is a big party going on. That’s why the road is closed. Transports full of Important People need space to land, and even more room for the vid crews who watch from every angle, recording and sending out captures of the event for the regular people to see. The crowd pushes forward, trying to catch a glimpse. Kari wants to see too, but she knows she’ll never be able to get to the front row. She’s only nine years old, and too small to push her way forward. Besides, the bag of bread is a burden that she can’t risk crushing or losing.

She sighs and turns away.

She hardly goes ten meters before her eyes follow a railing up a stairway to her left. It leads to a small landing outside a shopping center, one that she never goes in because she knows the security people would only shoo her out. The shops are closed now, the tall entryway dark and empty, but a billboard on the platform gives her an idea. The billboard is cube-shaped, ads on each of its four sides, and just a little taller then her. She’d easily be able to climb on top of it.

She squeezes the bag of bread doubtfully. Her mother is expecting her home to make dinner…

A sudden burst of applause and screams of joy from the crowd decides it for her – Kari dashes up the stairs. She throws the bag on top of the billboard and scrambles up next to it. It isn’t difficult; she’s always been flexible and agile.

Once she’s up, she settles on her folded knees and looks toward the bright lights. A large black transport has landed, and a man is standing on a red carpet just outside it. Lights flash as captures and cameras do their work. She recognizes the man. In fact…

She leans over the edge of the cube she’s kneeling on. The picture beneath her shows a dark brown horse in full gallop, its mane and tail streaming and hooves flying. A man – the man on the red carpet – is tilted half out of the saddle, one arm raised with a mallet ready to come down on a ball that rolls beside his horse. Another rider is behind him in the picture; the horses are nearly flank to flank. It looks like the red carpet man might get knocked to the ground and go tumbling beneath those flying hooves.

Kari’s eyes widen in excitement as she sits up and looks toward the bright lights again. Her mother talks about Adolfo all the time, and now Kari understands. He’s thrillingly handsome, and strong and exciting and must be brave to ride horses the way he does. Adolfo is famous. He led Sihnon’s polo team when they almost won the finals just last summer, losing to Londinium in a match that everyone talked about for weeks.

Adolfo waves to the crowd with a smile that makes Kari sigh. She watches his every move, wanting to remember the little details. She might not see such a man, up this close, ever again.

But then Adolfo turns back to the gleaming black transport and holds out his hand, and Kari’s attention is drawn to the woman who steps out. Once Kari looks at the woman, she can’t look away.

This is the most beautiful woman Kari has ever seen. Her dress is white and emerald green, and golden threads are woven into her auburn hair. Golden jewelry curls around her arms and wrists, and glint on her calf when her slitted skirt parts. And her smile – it’s the smile that really captures Kari’s eye. The woman is like a goddess in a temple, and yet she smiles naturally and laughs with ease.

Kari has always been good with grown-ups. A little charmer, her father calls her. That’s why she gets the task of going to the back doors of the neighborhood eateries for handouts; she always knows how to talk to the shop-owners and make them smile. Kari can’t explain it, she just understands people. She always has, and she’s hardly ever wrong.

And now she knows that the pretty woman, though rich and important, is kind. Even to a penniless little girl who has to charm people for handouts, that woman would smile and say hello. That’s why a man like Adolfo is looking at her the way he is – because she’s beautiful inside as well as out.

Kari hears a crinkling and looks behind her just in time to see a shadow running into the crowd with her bag of bread. She starts to jump down, then realizes that it’s too late. She’ll never catch the thief. She’s in for trouble when she gets home; the handouts are only given once a day, and it’s too late to go back for more.

But there’s nothing to be done about it now, so she stays where she is and watches the glamorous pair pose for the captures. She stays even after they go in, and she studies other Important People as they arrive, wondering what fun and glamorous things are going on inside that building, imagining crystalline lights and glasses of sparkling wine and tables of fancy food piled to the ceiling.

She stays until the lights go out and the crowd trickles away.

The next day, she sees short vids of Adolfo and his companion on billboards around the city. At dinner that night, she asks her family who the woman is. The only answer is from her father, who says in disgust:

“She’s a whore.”

* * *

“Mr. Badger!” Will said. “How do you do?” He strode into the office and noted the placement of guards: two men stood against the wall to his right, holding guns. A third was sitting on a sofa in the back of the room. Only three.

Will held his friendliest smile held firmly in place, though it took an effort to keep up his cheer. He wasn’t feeling it. He wasn’t feeling this whole situation, because he wasn’t able to focus on it like he usually would. Other things were on his mind, and he had more than one goal to accomplish on this outing. First and most obvious was to tickle information out of this little worm of a crimelord. Second – and currently more forward in Will’s mind – was to make something clear to his partner.

See, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. A partner should be nothing but solid back-up, with no questions asked, no judgments, and no gorramn threats to tattle. Ginger used to be that. She used to be a good kind of partner, but she’d slipped. Now she was needing a slap or two to get her back in line, and the sooner the better.

So Will’s mind was busy as he stretched a hand out over a blocky gray desk, offering a shake. The man seated there didn’t seem overjoyed at the meeting; he squinted up from under a silly round hat with a kind of cautious greed that small time crooks always had in spades. Will’d seen it before – Badger didn’t want to miss any opportunity for profit, and Will’s wave had piqued his interest. But it was just as important for Badger to prove himself the biggest man in the room.

He didn’t take the offered hand.

“I’ll be doin’ fine when you explain this deal of yours,” he said, his words coming in a fatly rounded accent. “You said somethin’ about profit? What is it – goods to be moved? Valuable goods?”

“Yes, indeed,” Will replied. He pulled his unshaken hand back and tucked his thumbs behind his belt buckle, determined to not be visibly bothered by the slight. He looked around the office. “Mind if I sit?” he asked, though there wasn’t a single chair for guests. Badger clearly wasn’t one to make his visitors comfortable.

Badger ignored the question. He deliberately ran his hands over the weapons on his desk – Will’s and Ginger’s. They’d had to disarm before being let in. Will glanced back at Ginger, saw her tense when Badger pick up her handgun. Will knew that she wasn’t as attached to this particular piece as she was to her sniper rifle, but she was tetchy about anyone handling her weaponry. She acted like she was having her private parts invaded.

Will grinned. Served the bitch right.

Badger also noticed how close he was being watched. “Who’s the tail?” he asked Will.

Will gave up on waiting for a seat to be offered; he slid his ass onto the edge of the desk and looked back toward Ginger. “Ahh…” he said with a warm, affectionate smile. “This lovely doll is my long time partner in crime. I couldn’t function without her. She’s quite a wily vixen.”

Will felt some satisfaction; Ginger fidgeted uncomfortably as all the male eyes in the room fastened on her. She hated attention at any time. Right now, she had to be feeling damned near naked, with five men staring at her and not a weapon she could use to shore herself up. Well, except that one tiny little gun she kept hidden – some of those nooks and crannies on her plump body had more than one use. Will narrowed his eyes and studied her closely – she had a little less plump than she used to.

But Badger wasn’t an admirer. “I ain’t seein’ it,” he said flatly, then he looked back at Will. “And I ain’t seein’ much value in you either. Get you arse off my desk and explain your business a’fore I get impatient.”

Will sighed and scooted onto his feet, but had to turn back quickly to catch an hourglass before it tipped onto the floor. He hefted it once in his hand – solid brass. Nice. “Sorry about that,” he said as he set the thing up again. “No offense?”

“What offends me is havin’ a bag of hot air and his hag come into my place and waste my time. Time is money `ereabouts.”

“Of course,” Will said, then he stood with his arms folded, thinking fast. His anger at Ginger had gotten in his way; instead of trying to get at her, he should have been charming Badger. He could wrap a man like this around his finger, if he gave it a minute’s focused effort.

But… damn, it was fun to see Ginger squirm.

And then, Will had a fun idea.

“You trade in people, don’t you?” he asked.

“Whad’ya mean?” Badger asked suspiciously.

“Slaves. That kind of thing.”

“That the business you here for?”

“Not exactly. But I was wondering… how much for this one?” He tipped his head toward Ginger.

Badger’s mouth fell open and twisted sideways before he asked. “You serious?”

“Yeah. I was being ironic before. Sarcastic. I didn’t mean it. The truth is, I’m done with her. You’d do me a big favor if you’d take her off my hands. Price is low.”

“Will, cut it out,” Ginger said tightly.

“And I’d really owe you one,” Will continued without missing a beat. “You see – she’s been getting on my nerves, always nagging and pecking. You know how it is with women.”

Badger wasn’t completely dense; his eyes flicked between Ginger and Will, then he grinned, picking up that this was a some kind of feud that Will had chosen to carry on in public. As Will’d figured, Badger took the male side of the battle. He looked Ginger up and down, then shook his head.

“You’d have to pay me to take the likes a’ that,” he said with obvious disgust. “Won’t be fetchin’ a thing in the sex trade. I know sheep can do more for a man.”

Will sputtered a short laugh, which got a rise out of Ginger. “It ain’t funny!” she said. “Now let’s just get on with – ”

“You have a point,” Will said to Badger. “And then there’s the added cost of cutting out her fricking tongue, which would be an absolute necessity.”

Badger smiled wide enough to show his back teeth. “She’s that type, huh?”

Will rolled his eyes. “You don’t know what I put up with.”

Ginger was turning red by now. “Will, I swear–”

Will cut her off again. “She’s useless at any kind of real work, too. All she’s good at is sitting on her ass and complaining.”

Badger laughed. “World’s got plenty a’those. Sorry, I can’t say as I got a market for an ugly, whiny, fat chāolíng mǔgǒu.”

Will sighed dramatically. “Oh well, it was worth trying. I guess I ought to get to the real business, then.”

“Whad’ya got?” Badger asked. He was sitting back in his chair now, a lingering grin on his face and his hands folded over his stomach, far from the guns on the desk. The guards were relaxed too; they were leaning against the walls, their weapons held loose, all their attention on Ginger’s tight-lipped face.

Will smiled in satisfaction. He’d done well – a neat bit of male bonding and a message sent to Ginger. Two birds down with one fun little stone.

“It has to do with one Malcolm Reynolds,” he said.

Just like that, his efforts were put in jeopardy; Badger’s smile abruptly disappeared.

“Now, don’t’ be coy,” Will went on quickly. “I know you know him, and I know he was here less than a week ago. All I need is to find out where he went.”

Badger’s face had gone into a deep frown. “You the law?”

Will looked back at Ginger long enough to wink at her. Badger’s hostility had shifted things, and if it couldn’t be soothed over, Will might need the woman on his side. She did have that hidden gun. “We might as well be,” he said. “We have powerful interests behind us, Mr. Badger, and those interests want to find Reynolds. It’s be best for everyone if you’d just be a pal and help us out.”

His words were easy, but he let his face carry a little threat. It made Badger look thoughtful, and he eyed the guns on his desk. That handgun of Ginger’s was no pea-shooter. Anyone carrying a piece like that had to have connections. Badger seemed to work that much out; it didn’t scare him enough to give in and spill the info, but he at least made some effort to be polite.

“He’s workin’,” Badger said. “Very industrious man, is Malcolm Reynolds.”

“I’m sure he is.”

“And I’d prefer not to have him interrupted at this particular time. Now – is this really what you come to see me about? To ask after the good Sergeant?”

“Indeed, it is.”

“So, let me get this straight. You fed me a line to get me out a’ my bed early, then you walked into my office with a big load of nothin’. Is that how it is?”

The words made Will sigh; the game was up. Badger hadn’t been charmed, and he wasn’t a bit scared. He felt nice and safe and secure, here in his cozy little den with his three ugly goons to fight for him.

Will held his hands out and put on his most winning smile. “You found me out.”

Badger narrowed his eyes. “You know, I don’t think I like you.”

Will scoffed at that, but Badger went on.

“But because I’m a generous kind'a fella, I’ll make you a deal. You take your ladyfriend and gŭndàn” – Badger nodded at the exit – “and I’ll have my man bring out your hardware – after I’m done looking it over.” His eyes flicked down to Ginger’s handgun. “I’ll be keeping one piece for myself. You see, that way I don’t have to give you a thrashin’ for bein’ dishonest with me. I get my profit and you learn your lesson.”

Will heard Ginger draw in a tense breath and he turned to meet her eye for just a second. This struck her deep.

But Will wasn’t about to let it go that way. He didn’t move toward the door – in fact, he shifted a little closer to the desk. “But there is profit to be had,” he said, slow and clear. “Profit of plenty. It comes from you not getting on my bad side. Mr. Badger… you really don’t want to be on my bad side.”

Badger did that thoughtful look again, and it went on longer this time. He seemed to pick at his teeth with his tongue as he studied Will, then he looked back at the guns on his desk.

“Who’d you say you work for?”

“I didn’t.”

“Who the hell do you work for?”

Will let a few dramatic seconds pass before he answered: “Very, very, very serious people.”

Badger frowned – he didn’t like that, and he was wavering on the edge of a decision. Will took another glance back at Ginger, but she didn’t meet his eye this time. She was staring at her endangered gun and scowling. That was a good sign; her contribution was sorely needed. It was either leave or fight, and Will wasn’t about to leave.

So, best get to it. Strike first, strike hard, and do whatever it takes. He wrapped his fingers around the hourglass on Badger’s desk, then took a sudden big step to his right and whirled. He flung the heavy hunk of brass at the head of the gunman in the back of the room, barely missing Ginger, then he finished his turn and crashed into the other two guards.

* * *

Translations

chāolíng mǔgǒu:   old bitch
gŭndàn: fuck off; get lost

* * *

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Pre-hack comments:

mal4prez       Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - 06:53 Yes, I know – it’s short. For me, it’s *really* short LOL!! If I were to make a final version of this thing, I would combine the chapters 2-13 into only 6, so all of chapter 3 would be tacked on here. But I need the time to finish writing, and it’s helping me sort things out to split it up this way.

Added disclaimer: as I delve into Mal and Zoë’s past, I really am trying to give you something that agrees with canon. I’m not feeling bound by the RPG or movie novelization, but I’m trying to agree with the series, movie and guidebook things enough to do Joss proud. Big however here – this is not the case with Inara’s story. I think what I’ve come up with (which won’t all be told until Book III) provides a basis for who she is and how she feels about Mal and the crew, and does fit many hints about her, but I’m quite sure it’s not what Joss intended. I’m sure he has something much more complicated and cool!

Empirex: I think about writing original fic constantly LOL! I do have the beginnings of a tale to tell, but it’s kind of hard to make much progress. Real life and all, and this silly fic is taking forever to get done. Eventually I’ll get to it… I hope!

nbz: Book’s question is really him prodding Zoë to keep telling. It follows his curiousity about the first U-day. Really, I’m just trying to foreshadow and pique the reader’s interest LOL!

chazzer: Disappearing comments suck. Thanks for trying again!


Chazzer       Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - 08:19 OKAY I AM FIRST TO COMMENT AND IF THIS DISSAPEARS I WILL KILL SOMEONE.


Chazzer       Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - 08:22 Ahem, now that's out of the way...

WOW.

I have to admit, usually I stay with 'safe' fics, ones I know I'll like - read predominantly S?K romances, humour, little angst, etc. I steer away from fics that cover all bases cos it's a lot harder to know what ytou are getting yourself in for when you start read. And I'm one of those weird people who has to finish reading/watching something even if I'm not enjoying it.

That said, I am SO glad I got into this. Because I am totally on the edge of my seat right now. Well, I'm sitting on my bed. The edge of my bed. But whatever. You're anamazing writer, but you don't need me to tell you that. Just...keep it up. I need this fix!

xxxxxx

(If this comment goes, my laptop is going out of the window!)


Desertgirl       Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - 18:01 Now I am so worried that Inara is going to show up at Badger's and will and Ginger are still going to be there. Or worse Badger will blame her for the harm done to him and his folks.

And - I like what you have done with Inara's story so far. I have often wondered if the reason she feels at home on Serenity has to do to with a blue collar background she would rather forget.

Great chapter


Leiasky       Wednesday, August 29, 2007 - 04:58 This is a short one for you!

And we don't know what Joss intended for any of them. But what you've come up for Inara, and Mal, is gripping and entertaining.

I really wish Ginger would put a bullet in Will's balls and let him squirm around on the floor in pain before she kills him.

I suppose its too much to hope for that the little weasel of a man Badger actually wins this little fight?


nbz       Wednesday, August 29, 2007 - 11:32 Brilliant.

While the history may be surprising, it does asnwer a lot of questions. Some not even thought of 'til after reading this chapter. Of course a lot of new ones do get in there as well.

Length-wise I thought it was good. (of course I will happily accept to read longer chapters. Rather not wait for them :))


nosadseven       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 11:17 I really enjoyed your Badger... yet another established character you capture perfectly. I also find it interesting thinking about Inara/Kari: discerning just what parts of Inara's character are Kari's, and which are her companion training. I also see a certain irony in contrasting Mal and Inara's beginnings, where, in the series her status is well above his, and here it is revealed her beginnings were well more humble than his. It adds a lot of dimension to their dynamics, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how you develop it.

And I would certainly be interested in reading any original fic you care to write, should you ever find the time!


AMDOBELL       Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 11:40 The whole part with Will and Badger was excellent. I am hoping one of Badger's men gets a shot into Will at the very least, he is such a nasty piece of work. As for Inara I am afraid she is going to get herself into trouble and the crew of Serenity as well. All this interest in our ailing Captain can't be good. Hope to gorram that Zoe has some luck getting Mal back to his old self. Ali D :~) You can't take the sky from me


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