BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HARRIET VANE

Honeyed Thorns: Part one of five
Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Inara leaves Serenity after realizing Kaylee’s big enough to look after herself and there are lots of men on the ship that can help her move her things. (Follow-up to “Heart of Gold”)


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3789    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Author’s note: Well, I still haven’t figured out how to download the ep “Heart of Gold” – but that doesn’t matter, ‘cause I have the script. I mention this because I wrote this story right after reading said script. I was left with the impression that Inara was going to leave Serenity after that episode. Apparently, I’m the only one as the subsequent episodes have no mention of her desire to leave. Anyways, this story is about what happened when she left and how she came back.

CHAPTER ONE "Ya look tired," Kaylee observed. "Maybe ya ought’a go to bed." "Nah," Simon said. He was slouched on the floor in the engine room near where she was working under Serenity’s huge rotating motor. Every now and then she would emerge to get a tool and smile at him. If he noticed, he didn’t smile back. His eyes, which were barely focused and surrounded by gray bags, were looking through the length of the Engine room and the hallway to River, who was sitting and ‘fixing’ another book at the dining room table. "I can make it to dinner." "It’s four hours till dinner," Kaylee reminded him. "You could get a nap in there easy. I’d see you got woke up." "I’m fine," he said, his voice soft and scratchy. "My first year at the hospital I’d work 36 hour shifts. This is nothing." "Yeah, but did you have gun fights and abductions and funerals during those shifts?" Simon’s eyes slid from River to Kaylee and a soft smile tempered the edges of his lips. "No." "There you go," Kaylee said definitively. Simon closed his eyes and rolled his head back so that it was resting on the hard cold bulkhead. "Yep, there I go." "Deliverin’ a baby hard work?" Kaylee asked as she dove back under the rotating motor. "Nerve-wracking, more than anything else," Simon said. "As far as medical procedures go, it’s easy. If there are no complications, as there weren’t in Petaline’s, the process is almost entirely . . ." his voice trailed off. "Simon?" Kaylee asked from inside the engine. She wondered if he’d fallen asleep as he’d been talking. "’As there weren’t in’?" Simon asked, mostly to himself. "That doesn’t sound right." "You were saying the process is almost entirely," Kaylee prompted. "Oh," The boy said, forcing himself back into the conversation. "Natural. The process is natural. The baby wants to be born so all the doctor really does is catch it. And, you know, dope the mother." "So, while Wash and I were runnin’ from them men who broke into Serenity you were just catching a baby, like catching a ball." "If the person throwing the ball was screaming bloody murder and the ball was covered in engine grease then, yes, just like that." Kaylee laughed, "Well, ya had Inara and River to help you." "River was very good at holding the blanket," Simon said. "She managed to hand it to me at just the right time." "And, you had Inara," Kaylee continued, chuckling a little. "Inara was a very good nurse," Simon admitted. "Very comforting." There was a pause in the conversation as Kaylee pulled herself out of the engine. When she asked the next question she was sitting up, facing the doctor, able to see his answer as well as hear it. "What do you think of Inara?" Kaylee asked. "What do I think of Inara?" Simon said, his eyes still trained on River. He hadn’t realized this was suddenly a serious conversation. "Yep." He shrugged, "She’s beautiful, and kind, and well-educated." "And?" Kaylee prompted. "And," Simon said, his brow wrinkling as he tried to find more adjectives. "She’s brave, dependable, not prone to panic . . ." he turned and looked at Kaylee curiously. "Is there a reason you ask?" Kaylee gave him a somewhat forced smile. "No." He looked at her for a moment. She could feel her smile slipping as all her insecurities about the good doctor’s affections boiled to the surface. She’d never in her twenty long years in this ‘verse not turned the head of any man she’d set her mind to. But this doctor, with his good looks and refined ways and his unspoken gentleness and continual thoughtfulness, never even seemed to glance at her. If there had been a good reason for this, if he’d been sly, or much older than she, or in a serious relationship back on Osiris, or anything like that, she’d be able to handle it. But it seemed that he just didn’t notice her unless he was drunk. Sober, he would never. He’d said so himself. Respect was fine and dandy, and being proper had its own sort of charm, but every once in a while it’d be nice if he’d trade in his propriety for some passion and stop "respecting" her long enough to notice she was a pretty girl. "Oh," was all Simon said, turning back to look at River, who was crossing out line after line in whatever book she was revising, shaking her head like an English teacher reading a very, very poorly written essay by a student who should know better. "What do you think of Inara?" he asked. Kaylee was fairly sure the question was more conversational than prodding, like. "She’s my best friend," Kaylee said, once again scooting into the engine. "Like a big sister only she likes it when I do stuff with her." Simon chuckled. "That’s probably just how River sees you." Kaylee paused for a minute, "Ya think?" "That doesn’t bother you, does it?" Simon asked nervously. Clearly, he valued the two girls’ friendship, such as it was, as much as either of them. "Well," Kaylee said a little awkwardly. "Not—not bother, not really." "But?" Simon prompted, leaning forward so he could get a glimpse of her between the various parts of the engine. "It’s hard to be River’s friend," Kaylee confessed. She was still lying on her back, buried in a variety of moving parts. She wasn’t doing any work as she talked, just playing with the socket wrench she was holding, but as long as she stayed under there she could be honest without having to worry about the look on Simon’s face when she told him the truth. "What do you mean?" he asked. His voice was cautious, and defensive, and because he was too tired to maintain his usual level of self-control, there was just a little bit of hurt. "She ain’t the same, one day to the next," Kaylee said. "And she . . . well, I—I don’t know who she is half the time." "She’s River," Simon said, as if that was an answer to the question. "Well, sure, but is she the River who laughs at the drop of a hat and wants ta play practical jokes but ain’t quite brave enough to pull it off, and likes ta dance ‘round ‘till she gets dizzy and makes funny faces behind people’s backs when they’re talking?" "Yeah," Simon said. She couldn’t see him smiling, but she was pretty sure from his voice that he was. "That’s definitely River." "But," Kaylee continued before the warmth in Simon’s voice could get to her. "There’s this other side of her that’s all scary and unpredictable. And--and, I don’t know one day to the next which one she’s gonna be." "She’s always the playful one," Simon said. "Even if she can’t act like it on the outside, that’s who she is on the inside. That’s who she’s trying to be." "I know," Kaylee sighed, once again attending to her routine maintenance. "Don’t make it any easier." "I guess it wouldn’t," Simon said softly. Kaylee half scooted out of her place in the engine so she could see him. "Didn’t mean to upset you." "It’s my own fault," Simon sighed. "I shouldn’t have asked." "No," Kaylee said, rolling out from under the motor and sitting up so she could look at him. She suddenly felt very silly for having hid at all. "River’s got it hard," Kaylee said, "I don’t … I didn’t ever want to do anything but make it easier for her." She reached out and put her somewhat grubby hand on Simon’s outstretched leg. "You, too." They were interrupted, rather abruptly and alarmingly, by Mal’s voice. As soon as the boy and girl heard the first intonations of their captain’s words they quickly separated. Simon pulled his legs up, away from Kaylee’s touch, and stood. Kaylee’s hand darted away from the doctor as she reached for a mislaid tool. Their panic was unnecessary, however, because Mal himself was not in any position to see them; his voice was being sent over the com. Still, neither Simon nor Kaylee felt particularly embarrassed about their impulsive mutual withdrawal. Better safe than sorry. "All crew," he said, to get everyone’s attention. "This is the Captain. I just wanted everyone to know that I just had Wash set in a course for Sihnon. Inara’s expressed a desire to part company with the lot a us so we’re gonna go drop her off where we picked her up. Thought you all should know." The com crackled closed and for a second the only sound in the engine room was of Serenity’s motor churning away. Kaylee and Simon were both frozen in absolute shock. After what seemed like a very, very long time, Simon forced himself to suck in a breath. "She’s leaving?" he said, his voice sounding stunned and a little distant, he turned to Kaylee. "Why would she leave? The young mechanic was shaking her head as big tears started collecting in her eyelids. All she’d have to do was blink and her cheeks would be covered in a rain of tears. "No," she choked out. "She’d a told me if she weren’t happy." She sniffled and set her jaw. "It’s a mean trick or a joke or something." "Of course," Simon said, nodding supportively. "Any second now the captain will come back over the com and laugh at all of us for believing him." There was a long pause. A much too long of a pause. "Any second now," Simon said again. No such laugh-ridden announcement came. "I gotta go find Nara," Kaylee said. She took one step towards the door and suddenly all her tears started streaming out of her eyes. Before Simon could reach out to her, or even say anything, the girl started running. She barreled through the kitchen towards the stairs that would lead her to the cargo bay, past River, who either hadn’t heard the announcement, or hadn’t understood it. The younger girl was still sitting correcting her book. Simon took a deep breath and decided he’d have to be the bearer of reality to his sister. "Hey, mei mei," he said as he stepped up to her. "What you reading?" he asked, glancing over her shoulder as he put his hand on her head, his fingers streaming down her soft hair until he reached the back of the chair. "Silas Marner," River answered, absorbed in her text. "Humm," Simon said. He hadn’t really cared, he’d just needed a moment to build up his resolve. "Did you hear Captain Reynold’s announcement?" "He’s wrong," River said. "The captain?" Simon asked. River nodded, not looking up from her book. "No one wants Inara to go." "Well, River," Simon said as he pulled out the chair next to hers and sat down. "You know that doesn’t mean . . ." "It’s true, Simon," River said, turning to look at her brother with utter conviction. "It’s not a lie or a mistake. But it’s wrong." She turned back to her book. "Corrections need to be made." "Oh," Simon said, a little deflated by River’s inability to grasp the situation. "Corrections, like in the book?" "Yep," River said, adding a flourished twist of her wrist as she stroked out an entire line of text. "Do you know how to correct it?" he asked. "Or even what needs correcting?" She turned and looked at him, her nose scrunched and her eyes twinkling, "I fix books Simon," she said with a chuckle. "You’re the one that fixes people." * * * "How dare you!" Inara yelled. "I’m a daring guy." Mal replied coolly. "Go to hell!" "More likely than not." "That was not your announcement to make." "Hey, you made your decision to leave before we hit the sky. You’ve had more than enough time to tell gently whoever you thought you needed to." "You’re just going to make this as hard for me as you can, aren’t you?" Inara spat. "You sit and you think of all the money you’ll lose once I leave . . ." "Yeah," Mal interjected harshly. "Because the only thing between us is money." "And you can’t stand it," Inara finished. "Don’t worry Captain, you’ll get another person to rent the shuttle." "I just don’t want you leavin’ any of your nasty little toys in my good sturdy shuttle when you go," Mal retorted. "And that reeking incense scent better be gone too, or I just might keep your deposit." Their vicious banter was interrupted by Kaylee, who ran into the cockpit where Mal and Inara were arguing with the sort of fury only a young girl could exude. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips were almost white in comparison, her eyes were burning, so that anything she directed them towards felt the heat, but her voice was sharp and cold as any dagger. "Which one a you’s the mo wang she tou shuo huagn zhe" Mal, while slightly frightened of his mechanic when she was in such a state, still had enough gall to turn and look at Inara smugly. "You wanna explain things? Or should I?" Inara sighed and looked away. Kaylee, standing in the doorway of the cockpit, looked at the companion expectantly. "Nara?" she said, a little deflated by Inara’s reaction to her outburst. She’d expected a finger to be pointed at Mal and the Captain to laugh and say ‘got you good that time, did I?’ and then she’d hit him and he’d say ‘ow’ and everything would be all right. But it was starting to look like things weren’t all right at all. She looked at the Captain, hoping her large brown eyes would drive him to guffaws. "This ain’t a funny joke." "Hence, the nobody laughing," Mal said pointedly at Inara. Kaylee turned from Mal to Inara. For a second the companion just stood there, under what she felt as a double condemning gaze. "It’s not a joke, Kaylee," Inara said, finally looking up and meeting the mechanic’s eyes. "What?" The girl took a step back. "Mei mei," Inara said, reaching out for her friend. "It’s not . . . Just after seeing Nandi and . . . I miss home." "That’s not what you told me," Mal said, before Inara could get another comforting word out. "What she tell you?" Kaylee asked, swallowing hard as if taking a bitter pill. "Told me it was the family thing what scared her off," Mal said darkly. "Family?" Kaylee asked. "Mal that’s not . . ." Inara started, although she didn’t have the words to finish. "Yeah," Mal nodded, answering Kaylee. "She saw how close all them whores got, at the Heart of Gold. She saw that they were a family, that they loved each other, would die for each other. She saw a bond that couldn’t be broke." He cleared his throat and gestured wildly towards Inara. The Companion stood stock still, steaming in fury, but without a word to defend herself against the truth. "And seein’ that kind of bond somewhere else, she could look to this ship and see we had it here. See that the folks on this ship love each other, would do for each other, would die for each other." "Mal," Inara started weakly. "I . . ." "But she don’t want that," Mal continued viciously, using the truth like a knife with which he stabbed her over and over again. "She don’t want to be part of our little home. She don’t want friends or family." "Mal," Inara said again, a little more forcefully. "She wants to be an ice queen, cold and aloof and alone." "That’s not fair," Inara snapped. "That’s not what I said." "But it’s what you done," Kaylee said with a sniffle. "Oh," Inara sighed, again reaching out for the girl. "Mei mei." "Don’t call me that!" Kaylee yelled, more tears streaming out of her eyes onto her hot red cheeks. "If you don’t want this family than you don’t want me as a sister." "Kaylee, that’s not how it is." "That’s exactly how it is," Mal said spitefully. "You’re distorting the truth," Inara insisted. "You’re leaving," Kaylee said between tears. "That’s what the truth is." "Kaylee," Inara pleaded, although she didn’t have any idea of how she would end the sentence. "I don’t wanna talk ta you just now," Kaylee said, turning around and running to her room. Inara and Mal watched her go. They both knew she was going to throw herself on the bed and sob until she gave herself the hiccups and made her pretty eyes red. "This is your fault," Inara said once the resounding tone of Kaylee’s hatch slapping shut had stopped echoing off the walls. "If you hadn’t—" "What?" Mal interrupted, "Told the truth before you could think of a soft and cushy lie?" "You made it about her." "It’s about all of us, Inara," Mal said coldly. "You ain’t leavin’ the ship. You’re leavin’ us." * * * Inara was exhausted. The prospect of dinner loomed before her and she convinced her stomach she wasn’t hungry just so she didn’t have to sit at the same table with most of Serenity’s crew. She was presently so angry at Mal that the very thought of him made her want to vomit, and she didn’t feel it would be appropriate for her to force herself on the little Kaylee until the girl had calmed down some. She didn’t feel particularly inclined to see Book or Jayne. After the argument in the cockpit, as she’d walked across the catwalks to her shuttle, the preacher had called up from their little weight pit where the two of them were working out and demanded – well, asked really – what the deal was, was she really leaving? Of course, she’d had to tell them the truth, which led Book to ask all sorts of whys and she’d ended up having another charged and defensive conversation, only this time she was yelling it over the catwalk. Then, when she finally reached the comfortable solitude of her shuttle, Zoë and Wash had paid her an incredibly uncomfortable call. They asked if she was leaving. She said yes. Zoë returned a copy of the Karma Sutra. Wash tried to make a joke about the pictures but it fell flat. And she was glad when they were gone. She was glad for the isolation, really. It had been a stressful day and the last thing she wanted to do was have to be gracious with a table full of people who resented her. But there was an itch in the back of her mind, a guilt that came with a job left undone. Simon and River hadn’t come to ask if it was true. They had probably talked to Kaylee, Inara reasoned. Or they might have overheard her conversation with Book and Jayne, it had certainly been loud enough. Or they might have asked the Captain, as he had been the one to make the announcement in the first place. But still, Inara felt she ought to face the young doctor. She knew how hard it was for him, falling from the opulence and luxury of the Core to the hand-to-mouth life of the rim, and then there was the respect and wealth that came with being a doctor on the Core compared with the advantages of being a doctor on the rim. To date, all his vocation had really done for him was make him a prime target for kidnapping by zealous hill-folk. Inara imagined that her presence was very comforting for the young man. Maybe, the companion reasoned, that was just because his presence was very comforting to her. It was nice to hear a person speak clean English. It was nice to have someone who didn’t slurp his soup and prop his elbows on the table when eating. It was nice to see a man who took the time to shower when one was needed. It was nice to have a man around who knew the difference between chivalry and respect and practiced the latter. But, of course, just because Inara saw Simon as a comrade in civility didn’t mean the boy necessarily saw her the same way. For all she knew he was glad that she’d be leaving because she was a constant reminder of a place and a culture that he could never go back to. Still, Inara knew she wouldn’t be able to really relax until she confronted Simon. She walked to her door, and hesitated. She would hate to go all the way down to the common area, with the possibility of encountering any and all of Serenity’s crew, only to find he’d already gone to bed. She’d call him, she decided, on the comm. If he was in the infirmary, then she’d make the trip and see him. If he wasn’t than her business would just have to stay undone until tomorrow. She took a quick step over to the com panel and asked, in her most pleasant voice, "Doctor, are you down there?" There was a pause. During those few seconds Inara was unsure whether she was disappointed or relieved. But before she’d even turned away from the panel an answer came back. "I’m here, are you hurt?" "Why would you think I was hurt?" Inara asked. "Well, you called the infirmary." "I just want to talk to you." "Over the com?" "No," Inara sighed. "I want to come down there. I just didn’t want to . . . I thought you might be asleep." "Oh, well, um. I’m awake and I’m, ah, here. So, so you could . . . do you want me to come up to you?" Inara laughed, "The young doctor going up to a companion’s shuttle late at night. Wouldn’t that cause a scandal?" "Inara," Simon said, a slightly scolding tone in his voice. She wondered if his cheeks were red. "I’ll be down in a minute, barring any chance encounters with our somewhat disgruntled crew." "I’m pretty sure Kaylee, Book and Jayne are fixing dinner and the Captain, Zoë and Wash were in the cockpit last time I heard. So unless River gives you a hassle . . ." Inara laughed. "I’ll see you soon." * * * Simon looked up from his fastidious disinfecting of a mostly clean counter top and wondered how someone could manage to look glamorous all the time. It wasn’t like being pretty or beautiful, because those were more natural traits. And even then, with a scowl on her face and bags under her bloodshot eyes, even Kaylee could be accurately defined as ‘not so pretty.’ But being glamorous took work, a lot of work. His mother had, on occasion, looked glamorous and that was usually a whole day’s process. Granted, his mother had had less to work with than Inara. Still, the companion was glamorous when she came for breakfast and here, after a day of condemnation and arguing, she still looked glamorous. It boggled his mind. "Good evening doctor," Inara said, stepping into the infirmary gracefully. "Good evening," he answered. "I’m glad to find you awake," she said. "I thought after such a busy stretch of days you would be exhausted." "I am," Simon nodded. "I’m, ah, I told Kaylee I’d stay awake until dinner." "Ah," Inara smiled. "Hence the cleaning." "It’s, ah, something to do." "Well," Inara chuckled. "It’s always nice to have something to do." The doctor nodded again, agreeing. There was really nothing his sleep-deprived mind could come up with to say so he stood there mutely, waiting for her to talk. She stood mute as well, looking around the infirmary idly as if looking for something to spark a conversation. After about 15 seconds of silence, Simon ventured, "Um, Inara, did you want or . . . ah . . . need . . ?" The companion turned to look at him. She was smiling, but there was a look in her eyes that Simon couldn’t quite place. "You didn’t come ask me if the captain’s announcement was true." "Oh," Simon said. "I, um, I didn’t . . ." "Weren’t you curious?" "I was sitting in the kitchen when you talked to Kaylee," Simon admitted. "When I saw her run crying from the cockpit I pretty much figured it was." "I didn’t mean to hurt her," Inara said defensively. "I’m sorry," Simon said quickly. "That’s not what I was trying to say." "No," Inara said kindly. "I’m sorry. It’s just, ever since I told Mal my decision, he’s been . . . I feel like I have to constantly defend myself and my actions." "You don’t," Simon assured her. "You want to go home. It’s perfectly reasonable." "Not everybody thinks that." "Not everybody understands what you left," Simon replied "If you could go home, would you?" Simon felt his chest constricting, for some reason, thinking about that question made it hard for him to breath. He shook his head and forced air into his lungs. "I don’t know," he finally admitted. "Frankly, I’m a little grateful that I don’t have to make that choice." "Do you think I’m a coward?" she asked. "Running away?" "No," Simon said, shaking his head. "You’re brave. Leaving this . . . this family. It would be hard." Inara laughed bitterly. "I think you’re very strong and brave," Simon said again. "And I’ll miss you. River and I both will miss you." Inara smiled so beautifully at him, he couldn’t help but smile back. She stepped forward and placed a sweet kiss on his cheek. "I’ll miss you too," she told him. "Good night doctor," she said as she turned and walked out of the infirmary. She paused at the door to wish River a good night as well, in response to which the girl just burst into giggles. Gracious Inara, however, didn’t seem bothered by River’s response. She simply smiled and continued through the common room, up the stairs, and into the cargo bay out of Simon’s line of sight. The boy shook his head, as if to clear it, and returned back to the counter with his disinfectant spray and sponge. "The trick of it is you don’t expect to be a victim," River said. Simon looked up to see if she was talking to him, or possible to someone else. But she was still sitting in the chair just outside the infirmary door. She seemed to be addressing the thin air, talking nobody in particular. "You think you’re in the position of power, you think they need you far more than you need them. That’s why it’s sooo easy for them to get you to let down your guard." Simon slowed his vicious scrubbing and tilted his head towards her so he could hear what she was saying when she spoke softly. And even though he felt a twinge of guilt at eavesdropping, he’d never heard his sister talk about being a victim before. He couldn’t help but listen. "Because when you think you have the power and they get hurt, or they pretend they’re hurt, you think it’s because you hit them. You think you’re the bad one and you’re sorry. That’s how it starts, that’s how they get the power. And then they start hurting you and you think you deserve it, you think it’s just fair." Simon realized that he was squeezing his sponge a little harder than he meant to. His other hand was also balled in a very tight fist. Closing his eyes, the young doctor forced himself to relax his hands and took a deep breath. He kept listening. "But soon it gets bad," River continued with a dark chuckle. "Because you think it’s even, you think it’s fair. And they keep hurting you, but you think that it’s because you keep hurting them. So you fight and you fight. You think its blow-for-blow. But they’re crafty and clever. They know where to place a hit and you, you’re swinging blind because the first thing they hit is your eyes, and then your mouth so you can’t even scream. And all the while you try to hit back and you just hear them say ‘iron sharpens iron’ and then they hit you in the gut." Simon forced a regulated breath. The more River babbled, the less it sounded like she was describing the blatant torture she’d suffered. It was possible, Simon reasoned, that River would have thought she could fight back, hurt the people who were hurting her. She might have considered the letters she sent him a sort of assault on the people at that school. But on the other hand, she’d never talked freely about her experiences, not in such a simple metaphor at least. With the regulating functions of the amygdala gone, her emotions overwhelmed her and it became impossible for her brain to form words, so as a general rule, when she tried to deal with her own pain, it tumbled out of her in whimpers and screams. The possibility occurred to Simon that she just might be talking about something else entirely. "So you lie on the ground and you say ‘Stop!’ and they kneel down and they speak so kindly and say ‘You fought me, I fought you, all’s fair.’ And you say ‘but you hurt me’ and they say ‘you hurt me too.’ And all you can do is cry because you believe them. That’s how it happens, over and over and each time it hurts more and more until your nothing but a bloody pulp and they stand over you, strong and victorious because you can’t fight anymore, so they won. That’s how it happens." Simon built up the courage to glance at his sister through the infirmary windows. She was sitting in the chair nodding to herself with quiet conviction. "Yep, that’s how it happens." * * * The trip to Shinon was quite possibly the longest week Inara had ever spent on Serenity. Mal and Kaylee avoided her as much as possible, and when they couldn’t, she saw so much hurt and resentment in their eyes that she wanted to avoid them. Zoë, Wash, and Jayne were all trying very hard to pretend that things were normal, but things weren’t normal and the farce was frustrating because they couldn’t pull it off. Every time she entered the room there’d be an awkward moment of silence while they tried to think of a topic of conversation that wouldn’t lead to the fact that in a week she’d be gone. Most of the time they were unsuccessful. River’s reaction, however, was by far the most peculiar: she would stare at Inara with the most intolerably compassionate look in her eyes. She’d never say anything but Inara knew body language and River’s whole stance screamed ‘I’m so very sorry.’ If there was one thing the companion could not tolerate it was being pitied. Simon was the only person on the crew who had the decency to face the reality that she was leaving. He asked her about her plans; he offered to help her pack; and he made excuses for the rest of the crew’s inconsiderate behavior. "Your help this last week," Inara told Simon as he was folding up one of the last of her tapestries. The shuttle looked bare, cold and metallic, empty and unlived in with the exception of a pile of boxes. "It’s meant a lot to me." Simon smiled at her, "Well, your help over the past few months, since I came on Serenity, meant a lot to me." "It’s a hard way to live, especially when you don’t know what you’re jumping into." Simon nodded. "I think I’m glad though, that I didn’t know what I was getting into. I don’t think I could have come if I did." "Of course you could have," Inara laughed. "You can and would do anything for River and we both know it." "And what about you," Simon said, closing the last box of the night. All that was left in the shuttle was a mirror, her bed and the sheets on it. "Did you know what you were jumping into?" "I thought I did," Inara said, looking at the empty walls and feeling homesick. "I thought I was walking into the deal with my eyes wide open." "The deal with Captain Reynolds?" Simon clarified. Inara nodded, smiling sadly. "Wasn’t that the case?" Simon asked. "No," the companion said, her tone signifying the end of a conversation. "It wasn’t." The boy opened his mouth to ask another question, but a glance from Inara quickly shut his mouth. After a fairly awkward moment of silence, he finally said. "Well, ah, this seems to be pretty much done." "Yes," Inara said, taking a deep breath. "Thank you for all your help. I don’t know how I would have gotten it done in time without you." There was another awkward moment of silence. "Ah," Simon stuttered eventually. "It’s getting late and River really should get to bed." "Of course," Inara said. "I’ll see you in the morning." Simon nodded, "in the morning." And then he walked out of the cold bare shuttle leaving Inara alone. She’d see him in the morning; him and Kaylee and River and Jayne and Zoë and Wash and Book and Mal. She’d see them all in the morning. And then, quite possibly, she’d never see any of them again for the rest of her life. Inara changed into her nightwear and slid between the sheets of her bed. She didn’t sleep a wink. * * * "Shinon ain’t exactly the most desirable of places to pick up work," Mal said. "It’s a little too close to the Core for my taste, but, of course, that means there’s more trade in than out, which makes our services unique." He paused for emphasis. "And unique is always valuable." His crew sat at the dining room table and listened intently. Well, most of his crew. Inara wasn’t there, of course, but he reminded himself that she’d never really been part of the crew. No, she’d always just been a glorified passenger, renting a shuttle instead of a room. No matter how it’d felt, she was never part of the crew. The doc wasn’t there either, but he’d be coming shortly. Otherwise, everyone was there, even River, sitting in the small cove off the main room, appropriately out of the conversation. "All we gotta do is make it known that we’re a cargo ship does business mostly on the rim and we’ll see what comes our way." "And what if nothin’ comes our way?" Jayne asked. "Wouldn’t be the end of the ‘verse," Zoë said. "Won’t be the first place we’ve visited where we’ve picked up no customers." "And, much as I wish it to be otherwise, ain’t likely to be the last." Mal said. "So, we split up, go to a couple choice establishments . . ." "Choice establishments?" Book asked. "You know, Preacher, good clean, wholesome, godly bars," Mal said with a quick smile. "And see if we can’t scare us up some work." "Got a plan, Sir?" Zoë asked. "’Cause we ain’t got any steady contacts on this moon we’re gonna spread out, two teams. Zoë, you take Wash and the doc, Jayne, you and Kaylee go with me." Kaylee raised her hand, "Cap?" "Yes, Little Kaylee?" He asked expectantly, as if he didn’t know what her question would be. "Any way me an’ Simon could be on the same team? We work real well together." "Moving on," Mal said pointedly. Kaylee lowered her hand, allowing the captain to continue unveiling his plan. "I posted an ad on the local pipline sayin’ there’s a shuttle to rent. Preacher, you can stay here ta talk to whoever answers the ad, show them around, get their names and I’ll do the rest when we come back." "I think I can do that," Book said. "Won’t be as easy as it sounds," Mal said. "Cause, you’ll also have ta look after River. I trust we won’t find her in a smuggling hold this time." "I’ll do my best," Book said with a game smile. Off in the corner, River let out a short but loud laugh. "I suppose that’s all I can ask of you," Mal said, looking towards River, who smiled up at him with sweet innocence. "What’s so funny?" Simon asked as he walked into the kitchen, quickly taking his seat near the end of the table next to Kaylee. "Apparently," Mal said, glaring at the boy with the appropriate amount of ire to communicate displeasure at both his tardiness and his uncontrollable sister. "River there finds that Shepherd Book’s abilities to baby-sit laughable." "Oh," Simon said, a little taken aback. He turned to his sister and looked at her scoldingly, "Don’t be mean, River." She stuck her tongue out at him. "Oh, yeah," Jayne laughed. "You told her." Simon sent Jayne a vile glower, but didn’t respond. "To catch you up, Doctor," Mal said, his voice overpowering the mercenary’s superior chuckles. "Book’s gonna watch your sister while we split up and look for work at local bars. We’re scheduled to dock for two days, so we’ll try ta hit at least three spots a day, each." "I’m sorry Captian," Simon interrupted. "But when you say we, do you mean me too?" "You’re part of the crew, ain’t cha?" Mal asked. His voice wasn’t angry yet, but it didn’t have a long way to go. If Simon was fazed by his captain’s tone he didn’t show it. "It’s just that Inara asked me to help her move some things." "Where’s yer loyalty, boy?" Mal asked, his voice jumping straight over angry into vicious. "With the whore or with the ship that’s taken care of you these past few months?" The temperature at the table seemed to drop ten degrees or more; nobody breathed. Simon stared at Mal with a cool, almost defiant determination for a moment before saying, "Sir," almost mockingly. "I respectfully request that you let me sit this one out so I can help my friend." The doctor glanced around the table pointedly, "She doesn’t have anyone else she can ask." "She gonna pay you?" Mal asked, because talk about money was talk about business and that’s the only way he’d let himself think about Inara--as a matter of business. "She offered," Simon said coldly. "I wasn’t going to take it but if you think you need the money . . ." "You ought to pull your weight, boy," Mal said. "If you can’t help in findin’ a job you ought to do something that’ll help the ship as a whole." "I’ll tell her you feel that way," Simon replied. "’Cause we’re all we got," Mal continued, leaning over the table, talking now to the whole of the crew. "We’re strong ‘cause we’re together. We can do anything, and have done a hell of a lot of thing’s most would say impossible ‘cause we did them as a team. Every one of us helpin’ the others. And we lose one person the whole dynamic spins out a orbit and we burn, every one a us." The table was absolutely quiet. Mal let the moment hang, so everyone could think about what he had just said. Then, sucking in a breath, he stood up and squared his shoulders. "We all got work ta do tomorrow. We land on Shinon in ‘bout seven hours. We should get whatever sleep we can before that." He turned and left the room, and was half way down the hall before he heard Zoë say, "Y’all heard the captain," which was followed by the sound of moving chairs and shuffling feet. * * * "He’s not mad at you, you know," River said, slipping her hand into her brother’s as they walked down the stairs from the kitchen to their rooms. "I know," Simon said, smiling at his sister. "It’s not fair," River said shaking her head as if she were disappointed in the world. "He’s just upset that Inara’s leaving. Everyone is." "You’re not Lancelot," she said with an incredulous chuckle. "What?" Simon asked, bewildered. "It seems pretty clear that you’re Percival if you’re anyone," River continued, as if she were stating the obvious. "I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment," Simon said, knowing it was better to let River ride her little fancies out than try to understand them. "It’s true the Queen is straying. And the good King has every reason to worry that the kingdom will divide and fall. But it’s not your fault." "That’s . . . very kind of you to say." "Of course, Guinevere’s Lancelot died a long time ago. Poor Arthur can’t even exact his revenge, and any good king would when his queen was brought low," River continued. "Of course," Simon said, his voice was perfectly serious, as if he agreed with her entirely, but there was a whimsical smile on his face. "And the lady doesn’t understand that her Lancelot will do her harm," River continued, shaking her head. "This would be the Lady of the Lake?" "Shallot," River corrected and continued on her musings, "He looks so good, everyone thinks ‘this must be it’ and who wouldn’t think so? But chivalry and bravery don’t equate virtue. Courtly love isn’t real, just like the jousts aren’t real anymore. For Lancelot it’s all just a game." River turned her head sideways and looked at Simon candidly, the seriousness in her eyes chased away all the humor he’d found in her little Arthurian analogy. "Women on pedestals can’t do anything, they’re stuck above the world, objectified and alone." "Not that I disagree with you," Simon said curiously as they reached their rooms. "But why are you bringing this up?" "Lancelot is going to come for real," River promised her brother. "Then you’ll be the knight in shining armor." "River . . .?" "Night, Simon," she said sweetly, pushing herself on her toes so she could place a kiss on his cheek. "Sweet dreams." "Good night, River," he said, "an mian ." She smiled at him and turned, her long brown hair streaming behind her, slipping into her bedroom and sliding the door shut. As he turned to his own room, he wondered if she was going to dream of jousts and jesters and dragons slain. Simon was fairly sure he wouldn’t be dreaming about anything. He’d be restless, up half the night, trying to figure out what the hump River had been trying to say. * * * Kaylee laid on her back and tinkered with the engine. It didn’t need to be fixed, but nothing calmed the young girl as much as the hum of a well working machine and the feel of a heavy wrench in her hand. And if there was ever a time Kaylee needed to be calmed, it was now. She was leaving, tomorrow. Just, up and leaving. And for no good reason to boot. No, Kaylee corrected with a deep breath. There was a perfectly good reason--she didn’t want to be there any more. She didn’t want to be part of Serenity’s family. She didn’t want Kaylee for a mei mei any longer. Kaylee had never in her life felt so alone. And to add insult to injury, Simon had insisted on taking Inara’s side. Sure, the doctor had said that he wasn’t taking sides, that he had been Inara’s friend before she’d decided to go home, and he would be her friend afterwards. He insisted that his desire to help Inara was not him favoring the companion over the mechanic, but rather aiding someone who needed the help and didn’t have anyone else to ask. Kaylee knew she should believe him, but she felt so utterly betrayed by Inara that it was all too easy to imagine the beautiful, sophisticated older woman luring away her sweet, gullible doctor. It didn’t matter, Kaylee reasoned, sucking in her breath. It didn’t matter why Inara was leaving her, the fact was she was leaving her. It didn’t matter why Simon didn’t have time for her, the fact was he didn’t have time for her. She was lonely and hurt and nobody seemed to notice. Nobody but River, who didn’t know what to do, so she’d just sit, sadly, and stare at Kaylee until the mechanic couldn’t stand it anymore and retreated to the relative safety of the engine room. "Friends may leave you, boys may come and go, but a good engine would be with you until the day you die," her father once told her. She’d dismissed it as old-man clichéd crap. But with the absence of Simon and Inara, Serenity herself became Kaylee’s best friend. The old trace compression block had listened compassionately to all her sobbing and whining and seemed to tell her with its perpetual motion ‘this too shall pass.’ Even though Kaylee was still too young and impatient to take great comfort in that lesson, one good thing did come of her extended time in the engine room. Serenity had never run cleaner or smoother. Of course, the only one who seemed to notice was Wash. "Hey there, Kaylee," Wash said as he moseyed into the engine room late that night. "Is it just me or are we running slightly above peak efficiency?" "Hey there, Wash," She’d muttered, while still completely buried under the engine. He would assume that she was still tinkering with something and not think twice about the fact it took her so long to emerge. This gave her the chance to wipe her tears away on the greasy sleeves of her jumpsuit and take a deep breath so she could feign composure. "You need something?" "Well," he said, walking up to where her legs were sticking out. "I’ve got a job that is challenging, exciting, and 95% sitting around. I’ve got a wife who’s challenging, exciting, and quite possibly the sexiest human being ever born. I eat things that resemble food on a fairly regular basis. I can’t think of the last time I was caught outside in the cold . . . I’d have to say my needs are pretty well met. How ‘bout you?" "What?" Kaylee’d asked, as she’d pushed herself out from under the engine. "I can’t help but notice that there’s been a little more rain and a little less bow in your demeanor lately." "Well, Nara’s leaving," she’d told him. "Guess I’m kinda upset." "Kinda?" Wash’d asked with a clipped laugh. "Kaylee, Mal made that announcement six days ago. And for six days you’ve been sulking." "I ain’t gonna pretend I’m happy when I’m not," Kaylee said. "I ain’t Inara." "Have you talked to her?" "Don’t see much point in that," Kaylee’d muttered. "She made her decision." "You know," He’d told her. "I bet Inara’s sad and lonely too." "Not sad and lonely enough to stay. ‘Sides, what she got to be lonely about? Simon spends every wakin’ moment with her." "He’d probably rather spend it with you," Wash had insisted. "But, sweetie, you’ve been burying yourself in here. You and I, and hell, the doc too, we all know that Inara would rather have you around than him." "If she cares so gorram much about me, how come she didn’t tell me to my face she was leavin’?" Wash couldn’t answer that question. He told her, again, that she should talk to Inara, and then left. Kaylee could handle saying goodbye. And she could share Simon’s company. And she could be alone for a bit. But she couldn’t do all three of those things at once, especially when she had nobody to talk to about it but Wash. Still, as the night got longer and Kaylee just started to feel worse and worse, she decided to buck up her courage and go confront the companion. * * * "Nara," Kaylee’s voice jostled the companion awake – that and young girl’s pounding on the shuttle door. "Kaylee?" Inara said groggily, sitting up and pushing herself out of the bed. She wasn’t exactly sure what time it was, but she knew that it wasn’t yet time to wake up. "I gotta talk to you," the girl said. Her voice sounded on the edge of tears. "Please." "Kaylee," Inara said again, opening the door. The mechanic didn’t wait to be invited in, she stormed into the room and plopped herself familiarly on the bed. She didn’t look at the companion, who stood befuddled in the doorway, but instead examined the shuttle around her. "You really are movin’ aren’t ya?" "Yes," Inara said, finally closing the door and stepping into the room. "I am." Kaylee nodded, then turned her large, sad, brown eyes to her friend. "Why?" "Kaylee, you know why," Inara said with a sigh. "I know what the Captain told me," Kaylee nodded. "He said you don’t want to be part of Serenity’s family no more." "Mal made that sound as bad as he could out of spite," Inara said, a touch of anger in her voice. "Then make it sound good," Kaylee said. "What?" "Captain got mad, made it sound like you hated us. Make it sound different." "Kaylee," Inara said. "It’s late, I’m tried." "Make it so I don’t think you hate us, Inara," Kaylee insisted. "Make it so I can think you love me as much as I love you." "I do love you, mei mei," Inara insisted. "But this is something I have to do." "Why?" Kaylee insisted. "All I want to know is why. Is it the captain, can’t you stand him anymore? Or is it because there ain’t enough work out on the Rim? Or is it because you just miss your folks too much?" "It’s none of those reasons," Inara insisted. "Then what is it?" "You wouldn’t understand." "How could I?" Kaylee said. "You won’t tell me." "I just can’t be here anymore," Inara told her friend, with a measured breath. "It’s as simple as that." "But why can’t you be here?" Kaylee persisted. "Capt’n wouldn’t kick you out, not even if you didn’t pay rent for six months. "It’s not about money," Inara insisted, she tried to laugh, lightly. "Mei mei, it’s about me." "Ain’t you happy?" Kaylee asked uncertainly. "I suppose," Inara shrugged. "But . . ." "But you’re not," Kaylee finished. "You would know if you were happy, there’d be no supposin’." "There are so many variables in my decision to leave," Inara started. "Happiness really--" "Variables," Kaylee nodded. She was blinking furiously, trying not to cry. Her voice sounded cracked and scratchy. "You sound like River, ya know." "It’s the truth," Inara insisted. "There are lots of things pulling me back towards Shinon." "But none pulling you here." Inara was somewhat taken aback by that statement. She didn’t have an answer. "Not even me?" Kaylee asked. It was a desperate question and Inara realized that, if she answered yes, Kaylee would be hurt terribly. She’d probably burst into tears, maybe yell something intended to be mean but it would lack bite, as the girl wouldn’t really mean it. Then she’d run to her room and cry her eyes out. Come morning, she might hate Inara, but at least she’d be able to deal with the fact that the Companion was leaving and there was nothing she could do to change that. But, if Inara answered yes, she’d be giving Kaylee some hope that, perhaps, her best friend wouldn’t leave the ship and, when those hopes were inevitability dashed, she’d be leaving the young girl with more ‘but whys?’ then she’d had in the first place. "I’m sorry Kaylee," Inara said, placing a hand on the young girl’s shoulder. "Not even you." The girl nodded, squeezing her eye’s shut as tears leaked out, "So all that friendship I thought we had . . ." "I’m still your friend, Kaylee," Inara said. "I’m just going to be your friend far away." Kaylee sucked in a deep breath and turned to Inara. Her eyes weren’t overwhelmed with grief, instead they were cold and condemning. The companion had to remind herself that this was what she wanted, "Last trip to Persephone captain almost died to keep you on the ship. And you just up and leave." "I have to do what I have to do," Inara said coolly. "Well," Kaylee sniffed. "I hope you enjoy doing it alone." With that she stood and walked out of the room, her head held high in an attempt to hide how much Inara had hurt her. The companion watched her go without saying a word. It was better this way, she told herself. Now Kaylee could move on. It would hurt for a while, but the girl was resilient, she’d bounce back and be as bright and shining as before. Inara rubbed her eyes, which itched, she told herself, from lack of sleep. She crawled back into her bed and hoped no one else would come bang on her door and force her to break their heart. * * * "Inara?" Shepherd Book said as he gently rapped on her shuttle’s door with devout persistence. The companion was lying on her bed wide-awake. She had been for at least the last few hours and had heard the preacher come and go two times already. She didn’t want to leave the bed just yet because that would have been an act of finality. It would mark the last time she rose from the bed and, the more she thought on this, the more it terrified her. Now that they were here, now that the time had come, she didn’t want to leave. Everything in her told her that this was the best place to be, the best place she’d ever been. It had provided her with, if not the most consistent, the most challenging work. It had expanded her horizons and exhilarated her in ways she’d never dreamed of. She was both stronger and more gentle, wiser and more carefree, happier and an over all better person on Serenity than she had ever been before. She hoped, after leaving the sip, she could hold on to the person she’d become. She somehow doubted she could. "Inara?" Book said again. "Are you awake?" The preacher had given up his knocking before and he would undoubtedly do so again if she didn’t answer quickly. It was still early, just before 5 a.m. by ship’s time, and it was perfectly reasonable that she’d be asleep. Of course, on Shinon, where they’d be landing in a matter of minutes, it was slightly after 1 p.m. Mal had announced to the whole ship what planet time would be a few moments ago, but she hadn’t needed him too. Even though she’d spent a year on Serenity, a part of her had never left her home planet. She always knew what time it was on Shinon as if by instinct. With a sigh of regret and closing her eyes in determination, she pushed herself up into a sitting position. "Just a moment, please," she said. The knocking stopped. When she called for him to come in about two minuets later, she was fully dressed and carefully pinning up her hair. "I hope I didn’t wake you," Book said. "Not at all," Inara said, turning to smile at him sweetly before looking back at her mirror, the only thing, other than the sheets on the bed, that indicated that the shuttle had ever been a home. "I know it’s early," Book said apologetically. "Don’t be silly," Inara laughed lightly. "I should thank you for forcing me out of bed. I have a lot to do and should have been up hours ago." "Yes," Book said. She could see his reflection looking at its feet. "About that . . . I’m sorry I haven’t been more helpful of late." "Preacher," she laughed again. "I don’t know what . . ." "You don’t have to pretend, Inara," Book said, looking up, catching her eyes in the mirror. "Most of the folk on this ship feel like you’ve decided to abandon us, and in return, we abandoned you. I’m ashamed to say that I was among them. I’m sorry." Inara took a deep breath. She had the dreadful feeling that the whole day would be nothing but a long string of these types of moments. It took her a hair’s breadth of a second to compose herself and when she turned to him she was smiling as beautifully and as confidently as ever. "Thank you," she said in all earnestness. "But I should apologize as well. In many ways, I am abandoning you." "Nonsense," Book said, his contriteness slipping away as he returned to the comfortable position of the forgiven forgiver. "You are going home. We should be happy for you, not shunning you. And that’s why I wanted to offer my services today." "Your services?" "I’d like to help you with the moving." Inara’s face blossomed into a smile. "Shepherd, that is very kind of you." "You have been very kind to me in the past," Book said. "I know a day’s hard labor won’t repay the debt but . . ." "Thank you," she said graciously. "I can’t think of anything that would please me more." "Good," Book said warmly. "Now, all I have to do is tell the captain." Inara’s smile slipped a little. "You mean, you haven’t asked Mal about this yet?" "The captain can, at times, be somewhat tyrannical," Book said wisely. "At times?" Inara scoffed. "But," the preacher continued. "He believes vehemently in a man’s right to chose and the virtue of loyalty. He might be cross with me, that I’m helping you, but I doubt he’d kick me off the ship." Inara chuckled, "Well, if he does, I know a very nice group of missionaries who come to picket our little bordello every Sunday afternoon. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to take you in." "I’ll keep that in mind," Book answered, with a hardy chuckle coloring his own voice. * * * Shinon was the most amazing city Mal had ever seen – and he’d seen every city worth seeing. It had started out as a resort town, a haven, for the very very rich, on the edge of the civilized ‘verse. As civilization, such as it was, started venturing out, it became larger and larger, but the resort owners still held all the terraformed land on the small moon, and they still controlled all building and expansion. Every building was made of mirrored glass so that in the light times the city seemed on fire and at dark times, when all the lights were on, it seemed to glow. The city was built on the second moon circling a gorgeous red and orange tinted gas giant called Criton, which it faced about 8 hours out of a standard day. Of course, after the destruction of Earth-that-was, very few people were able to observe standard 24 hour days, the citizens of Shinon least of all. Because of the moon’s orbit, it would face Criton’s sun for 9 hours out of 18. Often the sun and the planet would both be reflecting their light off the mirrored walls of the great city. Those times were called bright times and it was said the light was so thick you could touch and taste it. "You ever been ta Shinon?" Mal asked River as the city grew large in Serenity’s cockpit windows. She’d wondered into the front of ship alone and had a wide eyed look of wonder on her pretty little face. It reminded Mal that, no matter what else she was, she was a young girl who was discovering a universe more wide and varied than even her extensive and, undoubtedly expensive, education could ever have prepared her for. She shook her head and stepped further into the cockpit, staring at the planet. They just happened to be landing in a bright time, so the light from the sun and the planet and the reflections off the windows made the view almost painful to look at. Wash was flying with tinted glare glasses on, still, he was squinting. Zoë and Mal both shielded their eyes. River just stared, as if defying the light to make her blind. "They’ll be two bright times while we’re planetside, not counting this one here," Mal told the goggling River. "We’ll be sure you get into the city for one of them." "Would that be safe, sir," Zoë asked Mal quietly. "What if she’s seen?" "In all this light?" Wash interjected. "You can’t recognize the back of your hand in front of your face." "I think you mixed your metaphors there, sweetie," Zoë said, patting her husband on the back. "Hey," Wash defended. "I wasn’t being metaphorical. If I didn’t have these glasses on I wouldn’t be able to recognize the ground. Who’s gonna be able to see River, let alone recognize her?" "Sides," Mal said, looking at the girl, willing her to be part of the conversation. "Shinon durin’ a bright time is one of the great wonders of the ‘verse, It’d be a crime to make anyone miss that." "And goodness knows we’d never commit a crime," Wash said, his tone of voice made it clear he was rolling his eyes. "Injustice then," Mal snapped back a little playfully. "And that would be something I’d never commit." "Ahhh," Wash said, taking a deep breath. "I love the smell of rigorousness in the morning." Zoë couldn’t hold back her chuckle. River laughed as well, shattering her bizarre aloofness and proving that she had been paying attention to the conversation around her. "You’re just full of it today, ain’t cha?" Mal demanded of his pilot, a chuckle in his own voice. "Doin’ what I can to improve morale." "And we appreciate it, honey," Zoë said, squeezing her husband’s hand supportively. "Even when it’s not enough," River added, trying to be just as supportive. "Oh," Wash said, "Now my morale needs improving." "Go on, River," Mal said, his tone serious but not at all mean. "Apologize to Wash." "But it’s true," River insisted, then turning to Wash said. "You try very hard, it’s not you’re fault. E for effort." "Do you maybe mean A for effort?" Wash asked, trying to see the compliment River insisted was there. "Then it would be affort," River said, shaking her head. "That’s not a word." "Oh," Wash said again. There was rarely any point in arguing with River, so he accepted the compliment, such as it was. "River!" Simon said, his voice ringing from the other end of the hall. Everyone but Wash turned to see the boy jogging to the cockpit. "Here you are, I was worried." "I wanted to see the planet," the girl explained simply. "That’s fine," Simon said as he stepped into the cockpit. He walked up to her and kissed the top of her head with sweet, brotherly affection. "I was just worried." "Just out of curiosity, Doctor," Mal said. "Is there any time you’re not worried?" The boy opened his mouth, but Mal could tell by his eyes that he really didn’t have an answer. Of course, as usual, when Simon found himself in need of rescuing, a savoir came just on cue. "Good morning Kaylee!" River said excitedly, waving at the young mechanic as she emerged from her bedroom. "Well, hey there, River," Kaylee grumbled. "And everybody." "Good morning, Kaylee," Simon said smiling at her. Mal knew that smile, it was a smile that visited all young men who were truly and thoroughly enchanted by a member of the opposite sex, or, quite possibly, the same sex if the man happened to, you know, lean in that direction. "You and Inara gonna move today?" Kaylee asked the boy harshly, debunking the general feeling of merriment that’d filled the cockpit a second ago. "I’m going to help her today," Simon said, trying not to sound so discouraged as he talked about the day’s activities. "If you’d like to come along . . ." "Got work to do," Kaylee said coolly. "Right," Simon said, then, taking a resolute breath, he turned to River, "How about you, mei mei, would you like to help Inara?" River shook her head. "Not my place, I’m not Simon." "That’s sound logic if I’ve ever heard it," Mal said dryly. "Now, if you kids could get on out of the cockpit, don’t want you’re witty banter to distract our pilot now do we?" With wordless obedience, Serenity’s three youngest crew members exited the cockpit. Kaylee headed towards the kitchen and Simon followed her with River lagging behind, as if her baby-sister senses told her that this would be a good time for her to intrude on her big brother’s life. The mechanic entered the kitchen, brilliantly lit with the overabundance of light streaming in through the ceiling windows, and headed straight for the coffee. "Kaylee?" Simon asked tentatively as he walked through the door. He was afraid; River could feel it, which was funny because only stupid things made Simon afraid. His adoring sister was sure he’d be able to face a legion of blue-handed fiends without a second of terror, yet here was sweet and fun Kaylee and Simon had to muster all his courage just to say her name. River let out a giggle, Simon ignored it. "What?" Kaylee said with a grouchy voice, not bothering to look up at the nervous doctor. "Are you angry with me?" he asked, his voice all but trembling as he boldly stepped down into the kitchen proper. "Angry?" Kaylee asked with a singsongy tone. "Why in the ‘verse would I be angry?" "Because I’m helping Inara?" Simon ventured. He’d reached the table and was holding onto the back of one of the chairs as if it was a barrier that could somehow help him if the talk got mean and ugly. Kaylee laughed sharply, almost cruelly, "Jen how shiau!" "Kaylee," Simon said, just fed up enough for his fear to subside and him to say what he meant. River lowered herself on to the kitchen stairs watching the unfolding spat with utter fascination. "I know what’s going on with Inara hurts you but . . ." "But what?" Kaylee asked. "I should just ignore the fact that my best friend is leavin’ and my . . . and yer helpin’ her do it? ‘Cause that ain’t something I can do." "Did you think that just maybe you’d feel better if you talked to Inara about it all?" "I talked to Inara," Kaylee said. She was trying very hard not to cry and failing miserably. She was so sad that River was having a very hard time not being very sad too. The girl wiped her eyes with the sleeves of her long grey sweater. "She’s still your friend. If you could just . . ." "If she was my friend she’d a told me the truth." "The truth?" "Didn’t tell you it, did she?" "She told me she wanted to go home." "Luan jiang," Kaylee said. "She didn’t tell you the truth either." As if poor Simon hadn’t been afraid enough of this conversation, now he felt like his whole argument was built on a sink-hole and he was sinking into it up to his neck. But if Simon believed in anything, he believed that you should be loyal, and so he desperately tried to reinforce his position. "So, she lied," he said. "She has things she wants to hide. How does that make her different than any one of us?" "I never hid anything," Kaylee said with bitter and unquestionably truthful conviction. "Not from her, nor from you." Simon’s worst fears were realized, he clung to the back of the chair as if it were his last bastion of defense. "Kaylee, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to . . ." "What’cha hiddin,’ Doc?" she pressed with a hint of cruelty in her voice. "You got some big secret yer hidin’ somethin’ yer ashamed of?" "You’re not mad at me," Simon said, trying to cover his fears with self-assurance. "You’re mad at Inara and blaming me for—" "How the hell do you know who I’m mad at!?" "I didn’t mean . . ." he said weakly. "’Nara lied to me, twice. She made me think she cared but she never even cared enough to tell the truth ‘bout leavin’ Serenity. God, Simon," she sobbed, large fat tears were rolling down her cheeks. Simon wanted to go wrap his arms around her and wipe away her tears, but he was very very afraid and his fear kept him safely behind the chair. "I didn’t even know she wanted to go. I had no idea." "Inara made a mistake," Simon pleaded. "I know she’s sorry." "And you," Kaylee said, "You side with her and not with me. And now I find you got secrets and so not only do I find out that my best friend really didn’t give a gorram about me but this guy who I thought was sweet and cute and not a wang bad an deep down like most guys is keepin’ secrets and bein’ just about as bastardly as anyone I ever known." "That’s not fair," Simon said, "That’s not what’s going on." "Then tell me what is." Simon looked at for her a moment and couldn’t think of an answer. When he finally did say something, he almost instantly regretted it, "Kaylee, you can’t just demand to know people’s secrets," he snapped. "They’re secrets for a reason. How would you feel if someone demanded to know the motivation for your every action?" "Like they cared. Like what I did and what I said affected other people’s lives." "I’m sorry," Simon said quickly. "That’s not what I meant." "You never say what you mean," Kaylee spat. "Don’t you know?" "What I mean," Simon said, taking a deep breath, forcing himself to think clearly and calmly. "Is that I understand that you’re upset. I understand that you feel betrayed by Inara and, apparently, by me. And Kaylee, I’m sorry. I honestly wish there was something I could do to . . ." "No you don’t," Kaylee scoffed. "I don’t?" "If that were true, you’d a done something." "Done something?" "You would have helped me," Kaylee said. "If you really wanted me not ta have been crying my eyes out fer the last week you’d a done something to stop it. Or at least tried or, here’s a thought, noticed." "Kaylee, I’m sorry," Simon said weakly. "How is it," she pressed. "That you’re so good at helpin’ everyone else on this ship but so bad at helpin’ me?" "I . . ." "You jump to help Inara, you almost die ta help River, Gei ji ren zi hou zi ya even do all you can ta help Petaline, a girl you ain’t known for ten minutes . . ." "Petaline was giving birth," Simon said, exasperated. "And River suffered three years of torture. How could I not help them?" "And Inara?" "She doesn’t have anyone else." "Yeah," Kaylee said with a sniffle. "Well, after this last week, Doc, it’s been made pretty clear that I don’t either." "No one wants to hurt you," Simon said. "No one’s making any efforts to avoid it." Simon sighed in short-tempered disgust and said the worst thing he possibly could have. "Kaylee, this isn’t about you." "I know that," Kaylee said coldly. "No one could mistake anything that’s happened for bein’ about me. I ain’t even been noticed, Doctor. I ain’t been thought of. And that’s what’s got me so upset. Inara’s gotta leave, fine, let her tell me. You gotta help her, fine. But can ya take ten seconds out of yer day ta notice that my eyes are red and my voice is all hoarse from cryin’ all the time." Again, he didn’t have anything to say. So, he said the first thing that came to his mind, "Simon." "What?" "Call me Simon, not doctor. Doctor is for . . ." "For people who ain’t your friends," Kaylee interjected. "For people you don’t know and don’t know you. I think I’ll call you doctor." Simon suddenly felt like Jayne had taken a large shotgun and blasted both rounds through his chest at point blank range. The very notion that Kaylee would quit calling him Simon all but stopped his heart. She was the first person, the only person, in his life he’d ever meet who didn’t care about his last name or his title. She was the only person with whom he felt he could be open and honest, with whom he felt no need to play a role. She didn’t expect a perfect gentleman, she didn’t expect a brilliant mind, she didn’t expect him to be the responsible brother, she didn’t expect any more than just Simon. And when he was with her he felt like he was Simon, really, fully, himself, so far as he knew how to be. The notion that she would take that away, stop seeing him as Simon and resume seeing him as the doctor, and the brother, and quite possibly the fugitive, shook him to his core. "Kaylee, please," Simon said. "Please what?" She asked. This was his last chance, everyone in the room knew it. If he said the exact right thing all would be well. Kaylee would forgive and forget. But if he said the wrong thing, it was quite possible the young girl’s anger would burn for weeks, possibly months, and when it died out nothing would be left of their relationship but dirty ashes. Simon had to say something, but, unfortunately, he knew his chances of saying that one right thing were about equal to those of a desperate gambler betting his last dollar on a fixed game of craps. He’d never win, but the loss and the gain were too great, he had to try. "Please . . . I want things to go back to the way they were." "Well," Kaylee clipped, her expression hardening. He’d lost. "We don’t always get what we want." With that she turned around and stormed out, past him, past River, and back down to her room. Simon watched her, his mouth open, vainly hoping that those elusive perfect words with the power to draw her back would somehow magically spring to his mind. But when her hatch clicked closed and they hadn’t come he was forced to realize that he’d lost his chance. "Zow luh," he spat, leaning against the back of the chair that had been his defenses and pressing down on his tightly closed eyes with the palms of his hands. "Yeah," River agreed softly as she pushed herself up off the steps. "Someone made a mess in the kitchen." "River," Simon said, quickly steeling himself from his momentary lapse into despair and condemnation. “Were you . . . ? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to . . ." "It’s ok," She told her brother, walking up to envelop him in an affectionate hug. "I’ll always call you Simon." "Thanks, mei mei," He said, returning her embrace as he kissed the top of her head. "That’s good to know." His kiss seemed to set of a spark of realization that ran through her body and left her muscles tingling and sore: even though his love was enough for her, her love was not enough for him. Simon needed more than his sister’s affections to make him happy, to make him feel safe and secure, to feel like a real person. River didn’t know why there was this discrepancy, too many variables presented themselves. He was older, for starters; he’d had more schooling; he was a boy; he wasn’t broken; he was always good; his love was intrinsically better than hers. The possibilities seemed endless and the field for experimentation hopelessly limited. All she knew was that he needed more than she’d ever be able to give him. "But it’s not enough," She said sadly. "No," Simon insisted, stroking her hair. "It’s good. It’s great," he pushed her slightly away so he could look her in the eyes and lie to them both. "You’re all I need. You’ll always be enough." River nodded and smiled and pretended to believe his lie.

To Be Continued . . .

COMMENTS

Wednesday, July 2, 2003 4:27 PM

FEWINE


Please say she comes back for Simon, please, please, please. What can I say, I like unusual pairings.

Anyway, I find this an interesting take on how things would have progressed. I know the character of Inara would not have left (no UST otherwise), but in my world she was expandable. I have a whole big, shiny theory on why she wouldn't work with Mal and after that storyline played, what would she do?

From what we were allowed to see before Fox did their crap, your characters seem on target - I agree with the overly bitter Mal (!), but it sits with everything he's supposedly been through during this time frame. I can't wait to see what's in store for the crew.

Thursday, July 3, 2003 9:03 AM

DREAMWANDERER


Ug, absolutely heartbreaking!! Wonderfully written and great characterization. I hope you continue soon.

Thursday, July 3, 2003 6:49 PM

PERSEPHONE1113


Amazing! I cant wait for more.

Friday, November 28, 2003 7:12 AM

TEELABROWN


It is so real, you are a very good writer. Poor Simon! (I am not Jayne-crazy, but Simon-crazy-ish). You did a wonderful job on the characters, though. Write on, I need more...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005 10:17 AM

KAYSKY


The story so pulled me in! I can't wait to read the conclusion.

Excellent writing. Very good portrayal of all the characters.

So much drama! Excellent!

Sunday, April 24, 2005 9:07 AM

PURPLEYOSHI


I've been in Kaylee's situation more often than I'd like, and it hurts just as horribly every time. Cheers to you for capturing a very real experience (for me at least). While reading this may have opened some old wounds, that just means that it's an exceptionally powerful story. Yes, this gets a 10!


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