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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Another explanation for what a fancy lady such as Inara is doing shipping out with a band of petty criminals.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2803 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Disclaimer: It all belongs to Joss Whedon.
This piece can be read as a standalone story which offers another explanation for what Inara is doing on Serenity. But it's actually the first chapter of a longer, darker Mal/Inara/Simon story. I'm a bit nervous about it.
Anyway, for this to work, Jayne has to have been on the ship before Inara, unlike what's implied in “Out of Gas.”
* * * * *
TRAUMA MEDICINE: So like ... never?
* * * * *
She was the youngest of the ones who'd survived. Just seventeen. Little more than a kid. But they took her anyway.
Jayne is in a powerful good mood. Spent the whole of las' night in a bordello with a whore so good he found hisself wantin' to kiss her on the mouth. And unlike most mornin'-afters, he ain't hungover. Cos she served him one hundred percent genuine rice wine, not that gorram wood alcohol stuff you get in most cat-houses. He whistles his way up the cargo bay ramp.
The whistle freezes in his mouth when he sees the Captain striding over towards him, face like thunder, fists clenched and shoulders tense. Jayne ain't been under his command more'n a few weeks but he's already developed a healthy, uh, respect for the man. Fear would be puttin' it too strong. He considers whether he should try to dodge the punch he's sure is comin' or if he should jus' brace hisself for it an' get it over with.
“Thought you said we was leavin' at ten? 's only jus' gone nine.” Jayne takes a step to the side. Jus' in case.
Mal glares at him. “So you were thinkin' what? That you di'n't have to help out with stowin' the cargo? That we could do all the manual labour while you had yourself one more tumble?”
Jayne looks bewildered. “But .. we stowed all them crates las' night, di'n't we?”
“That ain't the point,” Mal snaps, suddenly realizin' he ain't real sure what the point is his own self and before Jayne can ask, he stalks off to the bridge.
Jayne narrows his eyes as he watches him go. Wondering.
“Got a course set yet?” Mal asks Wash a touch impatiently as the pilot enters the kitchen.
“Yep. All done. Should be touching down on Sihnon in ten days time,” Wash tells him with a defiantly cheery grin. If Mal wants to do the tetchy, well, that's his problem.
“Should be? Should be? I need better than that.” Mal slaps a hand down on the table top. “We don't make that registration point on time, we'll be flyin' without documentation. An' we all know what that means.”
“We'll make it, Mal. I mean, we'll make it Captain Harbatkin , Sir,” Wash replies with an exaggerated wink, hoping for a bit of cameraderie between folks pulling the wool over the Alliance's eyes.
None is forthcoming. Mal grunts something like “Better had” under his breath and drains his coffee. Oughta take more sugar with it, Wash thinks as the Captain grimaces at the cold bitter taste.
“Mornin', Sir.” Zoe steps down into the room. “Everythin' OK?” she asks, noting the tight lines around his mouth.
Unusually Zoe has not tied her hair back. This morning it tumbles in soft, inviting waves around her face, down past her long graceful neck, stopping a little short of her perfect breasts. A sharp reminder to Mal that she ain't jus' Zoe, his second-in-command, his comrade-in-arms. She's a separate person an', what's more, a woman person. With all that that implies.
She was the youngest of the ones who'd survived. Just seventeen. Little more than a kid. But they took her anyway. Took her and he cou'n't do a damn thing about it.
“'parently not. If your husband's to be believed.” Mal stands up. “Gonna go get the paperwork ready. You an' Jayne run through the health and safety rules. Make sure we're in” - his lips twist as he says the word - “compliance.”
Zoe and Wash exchange a look. Zoe's is of concern. It wasn't that she was expecting Mal to regard visiting a Core planet to get Serenity's documents up to date as shiny fun, but he does seem overly twitchy about it. Wash just rolls his eyes at her. Mal's crazy, they all know that. Today's crazy flavour is mean.
It's haunted his nightmares for years. And during those years he's tried to rewrite what happened. Make it something else.
Mal wakes up with a start and sits bolt upright. Even so, it takes him a while to get his bearings. The dreams are always so vivid, he can taste the blood and screamin'.
He knows he won't get back to sleep. Never does afterwards. Mostly because he don't want to. Don't wanna be revisitin' the horror if'n he don't have to.
So he pulls on a shirt and a pair of pants and heads up to the bridge. Ship's on auto, so he don't need to be there. Well, not for the ship's sake, anyhow. But nights like these, when the past won't let him rest, the Black offers him sympathy. It's always night in space, jus' like it's always night inside him. The occasional star flickers with life but mostly it's dark and empty. Predictable. Which has become a comfort, somethin' to be glad of. Cos if his life's in the penumbra now, at least he don't get burnt by the heat of a sun that one day will die, leavin' him cold an' shiverin'.
“Kaylee! Kaylee!” Mal shouts into the engine room, but there's no reply. “Where the hell is that girl?”
That girl is in the kitchen, brush in hand, paint in her hair and on the end of her nose. So damn cute it ain't right. “What d'y'all think?” she asks stepping back to admire her handiwork.
“Don't see the point,” Jayne grunts. Under the table Zoe kicks his ankle. “Hey! Ow! Uh.. no, it's good Kaylee. All them leaves an' ... uh...”
“Makes the place look like a fancy wine bar on the Core!” Wash exclaims enthusiastically. “Nice job, Kaylee. Now all we need is some wine to go with the fabulous meal my wife is preparing.”
Zoe shoots him a look. “I can hurt you,” she purrs. “I think it's real pretty, Kaylee. Sure the Captain'll think so to.”
“What will the Captain think?” Mal asks as he comes in.
“Kaylee's been decoratin',” Jayne informs him. “Leaves an' stuff.”
Too late Mal realizes the paint is still wet. Brushing up against one of the pillars he gets a smear on his shirt. “Gorramit, Kaylee!” he spits, snatching the brush from her hand. “This is my boat. You wanna change her in any way, you ask me first. Dong ma?”
Kaylee hangs her head. “ I jus' thought...”
“Well don't. I ain't payin' you for thinkin'. Now get up to that engine room an' make sure the damn Feds won't be able to say Serenity ain't space-worthy.”
The mechanic bites her lip and scampers off quickly. Mal tries not to hear the little sob that escapes her when she thinks she's out of earshot.
She was the youngest of the ones who'd survived. Just seventeen. Little more than a kid. But they took her anyway. Took her and he cou'n't do a damn thing about it. He'd tried and earned a crack to the skull with a rifle butt for his trouble.
Mal catches Zoe's eye. She doesn't have to say anthing. He knows disapproval when he sees it. But it's superfluous to requirements. He already knows he's a mean old man. It's what keeps him from fallin' apart.
The others breathe a sigh of relief when Mal decides to head off to his bunk. He's been snippy – extra snippy – all day and the couple of glasses of engine-fermented wine Kaylee poured him did nothing to help. Made him worse if anything.
Wash sees the crease on Zoe's forehead and gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. “Don't worry about him, honey,” he says with a smile. “He's just a grumpy ol' fella.”
“No he ain't,” Kaylee comes staunchly to her ge-ge's defence. “He jus' don't like goin' to the Core. Makes him jumpy.”
“That ain't it,” Jayne declares with utter certainty. “None of us likes goin' to the Core. Full of panty-waisted hun dans that looks down on workin' stiffs. Cap'n's problem is somethin' else entirely.” He smiles enigmatically.
Wash laughs sarcastically. “And of course you would know the nature of that problem! You and Mal being such close buddies?”
Jayne huffs. “It's gorram well obvious, little man.”
Zoe tilts her head to one side. “Really?”
“Yeah, really,” the mercenary replies firmly. “I been on this boat ... what? .. a month now, and he ain't spent any time off ship, 'ceptin' when a job calls for it.”
“Captain's happiest when he's working,” Zoe explains.
Jayne ignores the remark. “How long you two been on this boat?”
“Signed up in 2512.” Wash plants a kiss on Zoe's cheek. “Best decision of my life. Sorry, second best.”
She gives him a slow smile and turns to Jayne. “Came aboard with Mal, a few months before. Why?”
The big man frowns as he does the math. “So that'd be about four years ago, right?” Zoe nods. “He ever get laid in all that time? In four years?”
Kaylee gasps. It don't seem right to be talkin' about the Cap'n's private life behind his back. Zoe says nothing but a light comes on behind Wash's eyes. “Don't think so,” he says, trying to remember if Mal has ever even had the opportunity for what Jayne which uncharacteristic coyness refers to as 'a bit of trim'.
“There you go then,” Jayne declares triumphantly, leaning back in his chair, hands behind his head. “Man's all bottled up. Needs someone to take his cork out.”
Try as she might, Kaylee can't help but giggle.
Wash sighs, as more than one difficulty with Jayne's solution comes instantly to mind. “Even if we could arrange – uh - something,” he muses, pretending not to see the don't-you-dare-go-along-with-this look Zoe is giving him, “We aren't gonna be makin' planetfall for more than a week.”
“Tamade!” Jayne slumps forwards, elbows on his knees, head resting in his hands. He looks desolate. “Another week of him snarlin' at us?!” Then he looks up brightly. “One of us'll have to do it.” He stares pointedly at Zoe.
Wash's eyes go wide with alarm. Zoe is his wife. Then again, she and Mal have this eerie bond he can't seem to break through. He knows she'd die for her Captain without a second thought. But this? One night he plucked up the courage to ask. Had they ever? Had she ever wanted to? Did she think Mal wanted to? Wash interpreted the flicker in his wife's eyes and the way she pressed her lips together as signs of the pain a wife feels when her fidelity is questioned unjustly. He thought she might punish him for doubting her by not answering. But she just smiled sadly and said “No, no and no.” And Wash believed her. He stillbelieves her.
“Hey!” he shouts at Jayne, wrapping a possessive arm around Zoe. “That's my wife you're talking about. We're married. Sworn to keep us only unto us. Remember? It's your plan. You do it.”
Jayne half chokes at the suggestion. “Me? He's on my back enough as it is. No thanks.” He turns to Kaylee. “It'll have to be you.”
She flushes and squeals, pressing both hands to her face. “Me? No! I cou'n't! ... D'you think I should?” She asks Zoe.
“No,” Zoe says so sharply and quickly it makes Kaylee jump and feel embarassed she hadn't done so herself. “Absolutely not.” There's something in her tone, in the way she stiffens that sets an alarm bell ringing in Wash's mind. But whatever it was is gone when she continues, “Jayne. That's enough.” She holds up a hand to silence the protest on his lips. “Enough.”
* * * * *
Wash watches his wife undress. Sometimes he likes to do it for her, but tonight he's more for the watching. Besides, she seems a mite untouchable at the moment. Slightly out of his reach. Could be he can't always silence the voice in his head that says she's too good for him. Could be something else. She's awfully quiet.
“That Jayne's a wacky fella, ain't he?” he says, for want of something better. “All the same – can't help wondering if he might have a point. Mal does seem to be getting tetchier by the day.”
Zoe's head snaps round. Her eyes are hard. “Don't think we should be talkin' 'bout this, husband.”
Wash's mouth falls open in horror as the penny drops. Oh my God! It's obvious now. Mal might not exactly be blessed with an instantly winning personality, but he's not entirely hideous either. He could get a woman if he wanted one. The fact he hasn't ... “It was the war, wasn't it?” He asks, eyebrows nearly meeting his hairline. “He got shot in the ... He lost ...” Wash shifts uncomfortably as he imagines the pain of it.
Zoe shakes her head, amusement warming her eyes. Trust a man to think of that! “No. He di'n't.”
Wash looks relieved then puzzled again. “So why ...? He ain't sly, is he?” Because although being sly on the more civilized planets is as unremarkable as having two legs, on most Rim worlds it's tantamount to asking to be kicked to death. And the bulk of Serenity's work is on the 'verse's fringes.
Zoe rolls her eyes and slips into bed beside her husband. “No. He leans towards women.”
“Leans?” Wash presses.
Zoe's eyes take on a far away look as she remembers. “There was this one boy once. They joined up together. Inseparable for a while. Think there was a touch of hero worship in it on the boy's part. He was everything Mal wasn't. Serious, a little shy. Well-educated. They made a cute couple, but I think Mal was jus' experimentin'. Been under his Momma's rule for so long. Then the kid got posted some place else. Don't think they ever saw each other again.”
Wash nods seriously, trying not to look as fascinated as he actually is. “Any girls?”
“Oh, he had his share of girls before the war. Good girls his Momma approved of. Think he was plannin' on settlin' down with one of 'em even if he never said so his own self.” She rolls over and onto her husband, smiling down at him in that sultry way of hers. “Now can we please stop talkin' about Mal? Ain't we got better things to do?”
Yep. Looks like they do. Zoe can make Wash forget his own name when her skin touches his. When she runs her tongue over him. When she swallows him into her heat ...
“That was ... perfect,” he breathes, oozing contentment. Zoe murmurs in agreement, turning onto her side and wriggling back against him to maintain body contact. “When I'm with you, bao-bei, it's like everything's right in the 'verse. All the fei hua just melts away.” He pauses, satiation making him mellow and generous. “You gotta feel for Mal. Never having this. Maybe we could find him a willing woman on Sihnon? One we can afford, I mean. What d'ya think? Zoe? Are you listening?”
“Captain won't lie with a whore, Wash,” she says bluntly putting an end to further discussion. But the memories have been awakened and when she closes her eyes, it's Mal at twenty she sees. All smiles and indomitable optimism. Funny and kind. Determined but sensitive. And so chivalrous! She'd never met a man who opened doors for her before. Who pulled out her chair for her or who stood up when she did. He was charmingly old-fashioned. And if not exactly puritanical about sex, not keen on one-night stands neither. What the twenty year old Malcolm Reynolds wanted was to fall in love. Find a girl, get married and raise a family.
Deep down he still does.
But how's he ever gonna realize that dream? When he's withdrawn into his shell? Tucked himself inside Serenity's metal carapace so he don't feel the pain of losing again? If someone – if Zoe doesn't give him a gentle nudge he could spend the rest of his life this way. A shadow of what he could be. The prospect breaks her heart.
There has to be something she can do.
She was the youngest of the ones who'd survived. Just seventeen. Little more than a kid. But they took her anyway. Took her and he cou'n't do a damn thing about it. He'd tried and earned a crack to the skull with a rifle butt for his trouble. And to punish him for his chivalry, they dragged him in too. They made him watch.
“We good to go?” Wash asks Mal as soon as he returns from the registration office. Mal merely scowls at him. “I'll take that as a no then.”
“There a problem, Sir? They refuse to register us?”
Mal grinds his teeth in exasperation. “No. They registered us all right. And the thieving wang ba dans only charged us seventy-five platinum for the favour.”
Zoe's eyes go wide. “Seventy-five? That leave us with any coin at all?”
“Not enough to rattle,” Mal spits.
Kaylee looks anxious. She was going to remind the Cap'n about that pinlock that needs replacin' but she don't want him to yell at her.
“So,” Mal continues, “We gotta find us a job. Here! On the gorram Core! Chances of that would be one in a very large number.”
“My Pop always says...” Jayne begins, immediately regretting it. Keeps forgettin' Malcolm Reynolds' only outlet for his frustations is violence. He puts on his best don't-mind-me face and moves out of punching range.
Zoe looks thoughtful. “What about rentin' out one of the shuttles, Sir?”
Mal glares at her. “She me? You really think any of the fancible folk on this rock are gonna want to ship out with the likes of us?”
Zoe is unperturbed. “Won't know till we ask, Sir.”
“You ask if you want to. I'm thinkin' maybe a bank job.”
Kaylee squeaks. “But .. won't we all end up in jail, Cap'n?”
“Definitely,” Zoe corrects him.
When she first teamed up with Mal, Zoe worried she might be a burden to him. Which today seems more'n a mite ironic. But then she remembers the old sayin' and decides there's no-one she'd rather carry.
It's a beautiful day. Zoe suspects it probably always is on Sihnon. Core planets have the best of everything, weather included. She sits down to think on a bench in the shade of a magnificent tree of some variety she ain't ever seen before. So many leaves. Such a sweet smell. How the diyu is she gonna find a shuttle tenant? Post a sign? Probably get arrested for littering if she did.
She's gazing into the distance, wondering whether the Dock Authority would be her best bet, when suddenly her eyes focus on one of the people walking down the street. A woman. Young, dark and slender. Exquisitely dressed. A bona fide Registered Companion no less, Zoe decides. Ain't never seen one in the flesh before. Always thought they'd be hard-faced but this girl has a sweetness to her expression that's in interesting contrast to her self-assured bearing. A child in front of her stumbles and falls and immediately she crouches down to help the boy to his feet. She dusts him off, smiling. Graceful and gracious.
Two birds, one stone.
“I don't know her name,” Zoe says impatiently to the receptionist behind the desk. “She just came in. Dark hair, curls. Red dress.”
“I'm sorry, madam. Companions only contract with clients after a proposal has been presented through the proper channels.”
“Look,” Zoe says between clenched teeth, “I can't make a proposal if I don't have a name, can I? Why don't you stop bein' so gorram ..”
“Is there a problem?”
Zoe turns around and looks straight into the face of the woman from the street. She's even more beautiful close up. “I was lookin' for you,” she says bluntly.
The woman smiles. “I'm flattered.” She extends a perfectly manicured hand. “It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Inara Serra and you are ..?”
“Zoe Warren,” Zoe replies. “I'd like to make you a proposal.”
Inara Serra flutters her eyelashes and turns a delicate shade of pink. It's a trick that never fails to beguile. “In that case, why don't we discuss it over tea somewhere more private. After you.” She indicates a corridor and follows Zoe along it. Inara likes the look of this woman. Lithe, powerful and confident. Immensely attractive in a wholly natural way and with fire in her eyes that promises a passionate heart. Her proposal will have to be ridiculous for Inara to find it unacceptable.
“But that's ridiculous!” Inara laughs. “You want me to take on a client I've never even seen, let alone assessed? I'm afraid I can't accept.”
Zoe frowns, then reaches inside her leather jerkin. She hands a small, tattered photograph to the Companion. “I can tell you anythin' you need to know about him.”
Inara studies the photograph in silence for a full minute. She does not normally choose her customers for their appearance, but it's a relief to see the man is at least presentable. She smiles at Zoe. “The fact that you're here at all tells me you care for him. Which makes me wonder how truthfully you would depict his character.”
“He's rude, bad-tempered, arrogant an' all manner of irritatin'.” Zoe declares. Inara raises her eyebrows at that but her eyes twinkle. Interesting. “He's also honourable, decent, brave an' utterly dependable. Probably the best man I've ever met. An' I include my husband in that.”
Inara's smile broadens. “He's sounds like a paragon of virtue. I'm surprised women aren't queuing up outside his door.” Then, more seriously she asks, “Is there a reason they aren't?”
Zoe sighs and for the first time her posture sags a little. As if the weight of her concern for this man is becoming too heavy to bear. She gazes at the floor as she answers. “He won't let anyone near him. Pushes them away.”
“Perhaps he simply prefers his own company?” Inara suggests. “Not everyone craves intimacy.”
Zoe looks up at her. “He does. Always did. It was the war.” She drops her head again. “Think he's afraid of losin' everythin' all over again. Used to be so up. Always goofin' around, laughin'. I want him to get that back.”
“And you think I'd be the best person to help him do that? Why not you? Or his friends? Does he have other friends?”
“He got crew. People he takes care of. What he needs is someone to take care of him.”
“What makes you think he'll like me?”
“Oh, I'm pretty sure he won't,” Zoe replies with a grin. “First, you're what he'd call a whore. No offence,” she adds quickly as a spark of anger flickers in the other woman's eyes. “And second, you're from a Core world. He ain't so keen on the Alliance.”
“We sound like a perfect match. I'm sorry – but I just don't see how this is going to work if he's going to hate me and everything I represent.”
“You'll get under his skin. You'll make him mad, so mad he won't be able to ignore you. And there's nothing like bein' annoyed by someone to start noticin' other qualities in 'em too.”
“It is certainly true that the line between love and hate can be a fine one,” Inara nods, thinking Zoe Warren would have made a good Companion herself. She knows the whole idea is absurd, but to tell the truth, she's been getting a little tired of her job. Always the same clients, always the same dance. The proposal before her at least has the merit of being different. A challenge even. “How long were you thinking of engaging me for?”
“As long as it takes.”
“Perhaps we should discuss payment.”
Zoe grimaces. “Can't pay you.”
Inara's mouth falls open in surprise.
“But we can rent you a shuttle.”
“Rent me a shuttle? I would be paying you?” Inara shakes her head as if she can't quite believe her ears.
“You'd be free to take on other clients. In fact, I hope you do. For the irritation factor.” One corner of Zoe's mouth lifts conspiratorially. “We're always on the move – you'd get the chance to find new customers.” Zoe's face takes on an expression as close to pleading as it's ever worn. “Wou'n't you like to see a bit more of the 'verse?”
Inara's expression is unreadable. “I'll have to consider this carefully. If I decide to accept, I'll come to your ship tomorrow. You're at the main docks?”
Zoe nods. “One thing – let's keep this arrangement strictly between the two of us. No need for anyone else to know about it.”
“If we come to an arrangement.”
“The Alliance has no quarrel with me. I supported Unification.”
The money she'd be payin' would help a lot. Mal just ain't sure he wants this high-and-mighty woman with her better-than attitude on his boat. Then again, the presence of a Registered Companion on board would give Serenity a touch of respectability. Gorramit but he feels trapped. Trapped enough to lash out.
“Did ya? Well I don't suppose you're the only whore that did.”
She don't even flinch. Jus' gives him that superior smile as she says “Oh – and one further addendum. That's the last time you get to call me a whore.”
Tamade - she's annoyin'! But Mal can play cool too. “Absolutely. Never again.”
She was the youngest of the ones who'd survived. Just seventeen. Little more than a kid. But they took her anyway. Took her and he cou'n't do a damn thing about it. He'd tried and earned a crack to the skull with a rifle butt for his trouble. And to punish him for his chivalry, they dragged him in too. They made him watch. He tried to turn away but they wouldn't let him. Made him stare right into the face of that darkness, kind of darkness he'd never even imagined
Story continues in Chapter Two
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