Something To Think On: Chapter 1
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

M/I. Post-BDM. On feeling and fighting.


(Mouse-over for Chinese translations.)
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Something To Think On
by clio
Chapter One

Nope, he hadn’t been looking for a renter – but there she was, and it seemed like she was there to stay. Kept to her shuttle mostly the first few weeks (came down for dinner when Kaylee occasioned to invite her, but mostly stayed to herself), and he made a point in the beginning of steering clear of places weren’t his business – things weren’t his business. And what she did most certainly wasn’t his business.

Nighttime twenty days to the day she’d come on board. Boat had been docked on Bellerophon a mite too long for his taste. First time he’d stayed so long on a border planet in longer than he could count, and wouldn’t have happened at all if it wasn’t for her and her gorram respectability. Greased the introductions. Wasn’t all she was greasing.

The goods they were dropping were on the up and up, but it didn’t make him none the more comfortable there – and so he was in the galley, bent over the cooker, fixing something hot to ease tender nerves. He wouldn’t’ve noticed her presence at all except for her little gasp come from the doorway. By the time he’d turned she was already on her way back out, black hair and the back of a flowy piece of silk all that he saw.

No fault of her own, he was sure, but the sight of her stirred up a little flash of anger in him. His momma’d taught him how to be polite once upon a time, but he didn’t much remember those lessons now. “Too fancy to be seen with us mere mortals?”

She turned at that, her hand pulling the edges of the flowy silk piece together at her breast. She dropped her eyes. “Captain Reynolds. My apologies. I assumed everyone would be asleep by now.”

He nodded once, quickly. Nonchalant-like. Had he been trying to conjure the source of his anger, his next words would’ve been a good clue; had he been trying to ingratiate himself to her, he would’ve bit his tongue. But the images roiling in his mind were just so fierce. “Shouldn’t you be on your back somewhere?”

Her eyes widened, likely in shock, color rising to her cheeks (if he wasn’t mistaken). Quick as the hurt was there it was gone, though, and she lowered her head and shook it a couple times, quick, like she was clearing it of whatever’d been in it, and coughed once, softly, delicate-like. “There was a... complication.”

Something about the way she looked made him want to ask after her, make sure she wasn’t shòushāng, but that was quicksand, best avoided. So he grinned. “That what they’re calling it these days?”

Her eyes snapped up, something like anger in them, and he’d scored a hit in game he hadn’t even known he was playing. She pulled her shoulders up, and her grip on that bit of silk went even tighter. “If that’s all, Captain, I’ll bid you wǎnān.” She made a graceful turn, like a dancer, and took a step out the door.

He could blame the late hour or this gorram planet frying his nerves all he wanted later on, but the fact of the matter was that right then he just wanted her to feel comfortable enough on his boat to stay in her kitchen for a spell. What’d he said, about renters thinking they were crew? And now here he was, angry because she didn’t. (Of course, might be he was angry because of that other thing, too.) “Miss Serra?” The Companion paused on her way out the door, her breath catching just so much, and so he kept on. “‘Nara?” A moment of tense quiet, then. “Don’t –” A beat. Don’t what? Don’t listen to those things I said, it’s just a way I have of keepin’ folks away? Or maybe, Don’t think I can’t tell somethin’s bothering you? Or maybe just, Don’t go? A breath. “Don’t ‘spect you to apologize for comin’ down here, you know. You’re welcome here just like the rest.”

She turned her head back over her shoulder, those red, red lips showing a ghost of a smile. “I appreciate that, Captain Reynolds.”

“And you can call me... well, Mal. Most do.” He scrubbed dirty fingers through his hair, all askew, feeling some awkward. “Most bein’, you know, Wash and such.”

The smile broadened just slightly. “I’ll consider it. Good night.”


Next to him, Kaylee shifted a little. “What made you first start wonderin’ ‘bout it?”

He sighed. “Wasn’t just one little thing.”


But it was, in a way. Or, he could remember the point his wondering started. It was that next morning, and he could just about hear Zoe and Wash arguing on the bridge from his room. Just about. Truth be told, had to go a bit closer to make it out completely. He walked up toward the bridge, stood outside the hatch. He wasn’t one to spy, normal days. But most days of late had felt none too normal.

“– just don’t understand why she’s here, is all.”

Wasn’t much of a secret his first mate didn’t much like Inara Serra back in those early days. He reckoned he’d have had to’ve been blind not to notice. Effort she’d gone to to avoid meeting her eye, time and again, was something to behold.

Wash, making a joke, as was his way back in days he was breathing: “Don’t understand why she’s here? What’s not to understand? She’s hot.”

Zoe near growled at that. “We’ve been here two days longer than we should’ve been. Two days. And it’s because of her and her damned job. She’s not crew. She’s not nothin’. And she’s putting us on the radar when we should be flyin’ under it.”

“Seems like I remember her getting us this job, honey. And the pay was good.” He paused a mite, likely to leer. “Maybe even good enough for us to afford to spend some time on-planet next stop.... Nice dinner, nice room, nice sheets....”

Zoe was having none of it. “Well it certainly ain’t worth our lives. And if the Captain’s too worked up chasing some mǔgǒu to see –”

“Is he your boss or your boyfriend, Zoe? I never can quite get that straight.”

Her voice responding was like gunmetal. Reminded him why she would be his right hand till the day one or both of them died. “He keeps me alive. And that means he’s gotta be thinking straight, not got his head wrapped around some fly-by-night passenger who’s not and won’t ever be crew.”

He was tired. Nerves still fried. He was in no mood for it, nor to keep his presence secret any longer. “Something eatin’ you, Zoe?”

She jerked around, stood up at attention like the soldier she was. Wash slouched down at his console, jaw clenched, staring at a gorram dino. Zoe’s eyes went down then back up, catching his straight on, bold, and holding them. She wasn’t one to flinch from a fight. “No, sir. Just wondering when we’re gonna be leaving this damned rock, if you’ll excuse my language.”

He held her eye for a second. “As a matter of fact, we’ll be leavin’ right now. Wash, map out a course to Persephone. This job’ll pay for a mighty full supply run.” He turned on his heel, but then, over his shoulder: “Oh, and Zoe?”

She cleared her throat. “Yes, sir.”

“I think you’re the one needs to straighten out your head. I make a decision, you can damned well expect it’s for the good of my crew. You got a problem with it, you come see me. An’ if I ever hear you slanderin’ me behind my back again –” He turned his head back toward her, not quite looking at her. “Ever – you’ll still be my crew. But maybe that’s it.”


He started when he heard her voice. Kaylee’d long since come and gone, but he hadn’t heard the little one come in. “That’s an angry memory,” was what she said.

“Ain’t no business of yours to be seein’ it.”

“More sad than angry. You never knew.”


It was the wondering seemed sad, now. But at that moment he’d been nothing but mad. He’d left without a word more spoken to his oldest friend. Didn’t think much, just headed for that shuttle. First time he’d been there since she’d been aboard. First time he let himself in without her saying. Wouldn’t be the last.

The noise of the hatch opening was loud; almost startled him enough to make him ask himself why he was there, and who exactly it was he was so mad with. Almost.

Inside the shuttle, and there was a mighty lot of moving about his eye just caught the edge of. His tenant, crouched in front of a bowl of flowery-smelling water. Sponge dropped in with a loud plop as her head spun toward the hatch, those dark curls flying. An angry bruise on a milky shoulder uncovered by her shifting; red slip of silk pulled over it fast as you could blink. And then she was up and stalking toward him, and her eyes were all fire.

“Captain Reynolds, how dare you come into my –”

He wasn’t listening: walked up to her till they stood face to face, inches from the other, glaring and breathing hard, and cut her off. “You and I –” (Those dainty, kissable lips still parted just slightly as he talked over her.) “– need to get some things sorted. I want so it’s absolutely clear. Your jobs work on our schedule or they don’t get done.”

Her mouth snapped shut and she stood up straighter, up on her toes. Didn’t make much difference. Her height wasn’t her finest asset. “My jobs? My jobs? You didn’t seem to have a problem with ‘my jobs’ yesterday, when you were counting the take from your job. And may I remind you who got you your –”

Shook his head. “That there’s another thing. No more dolin’ out your central planet work for us like we’re some kinda charity case.”

She smirked. “I don’t know that pride is a sin you can afford to wallow in, Captain.”

Something like a direct blow, and it smarted. “Pride ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. This here ship’s got no business in the Core for good reason. We get recognized in these parts as a salvage ship, may be we get ignored, or may be we get turned in for bounty. We dance between the Rim and the Border, and we don’t stay nowhere too long. You be of a mind to do your business in the Core, you best –” Voice broke a bit, there. “You best find yourself another ship.”

She shook her head, eyes flaming. “Why you ungrateful, pigheaded –”

She’d trailed off. He took it as something of a challenge. Held his arms wide in invitation. “What? What am I? Cat got your tongue, or don’t you know any dirty words?”

She balled her hands on her waist. “Shǎguā!”

Idiot. It made him laugh, but it wasn’t with much humor. “Called plenty worse daily, darlin’. By none so attractive as yourself, of course.”

Her eyes, locked on his, and his the same – all silence except for their breath, coming fast. They looked a touch too long, longer than was proper, he expected. And then her cheeks were a mite pink, and she went to shut it down, her voice quiet. “I think you should leave my shuttle now, Captain.”

He closed his eyes; took a deep breath. Could see this was going nowhere good. Quicksand. Hadn’t he thought that before, when he’d wanted to ask her if she weren’t hurt? Fact he had the nerve to say it, he conjured later, was a feat of bravery. Just possible because he’d only just met her, after all; but it cost him dearly anyhow. “Meant what I just said. Maybe –” Choked a bit. A beat. Two. “Maybe it’s you who should leave. I’ll pay back what you’re owed. All of it, if you’re a mind – you haven’t been here a month yet, after all. But it seems clear to my lights you don’t belong with the likes of us. Worlds we visit, folk can’t afford a whore of your class. Nope, folk who can afford the likes of you are proper folk, like those on this rock, those that appreciate your artistry. Those that hit.”

Her eyes widened, blazing. “Get out.”

“Best you do it shortly. Keep it quick an’ clean.”

“Maybe I will.” Those angry eyes held his till he turned around and walked back out.

Walked back to his bunk (Jayne’s mutterings about chasing pretty ladies away following him) and laid down on his back, arms crossed behind his head. Why’d he do it? He didn’t rightly know. Zoe’s words had made him sore, it was true. But it wasn’t because she was wrong. Wasn’t any slander to it. He reckoned she knew that. Zoe knew him as well as he knew himself.

No, truth was he was some scared that she was right, and, more than anything, Zoe’s words gave him good excuse to do what Jayne’s muttering held him to have done: chase the renter away. He didn’t take much to the idea of attachment – hadn’t since the war (or maybe even before, truth told). When folk depended on you, it was best not to be overly attached to any one soul. Being overly attached to a soul, even a soul that could never be attached back, made a man put too much stock in his own life.

Though he reckoned even gone she’d give him something to think on. For a while.

Some time later – he couldn’t say just how much – there was a soft tapping at the sliding hatch of his room. Wasn’t anyone else who’d’ve done it so delicate-like. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and scrubbed his hands through his hair. “C’mon down. Not a soul to stop you.” And then, louder than he figured it’d ever been before, the sound of metal scraping against metal and he could just see red slippered feet and then red silk as she climbed down his ladder. He quirked an eyebrow when he got a full view of her. “Well, now. You look downright penitent.”

She crossed her arms across her chest and huffed (if Companions huffed, that is). “Penitent? I most certainly am not. It’s awfully hard to be penitent when you’ve done nothing wrong.” She paused and looked away, any direction but his; bit her lip, like she was thinking on something, thinking on what to say. “But nonetheless, Captain Reynolds –” Looked back at him. “Mal. I – I’d like to stay.”

She took a step into the room. He watched her, dumb-like, before realizing his mouth was hanging open, and he closed it quick. She wasn’t watching him, though – was just looking around his room some more in that same dazzled way she first took in his boat. “Would you, now?”

Still not looking at him: “Yes. For now. There was a reason I chose Serenity, you know.”

“That so?”

“I chose it because of what you do and where you go. It’s precisely those things that made Serenity an attractive option for me a month ago. I can assure you, I have no more need to be in the Core than you do, aside from a single trip a year to Ariel.”

“A year?”

She glanced at him. “If I stay that long, that is.” A pause. “There are plenty of worlds that meet both of our needs, Mal. We needn’t make a return visit to Bellerophon if you find it disagreeable. My client –”

He rubbed his hand over his face. “You’ve got no cause to tell me about your client, and I’ve got no need to hear it.”

She nodded. “Very well.”

“Though, were you to ask me, I’d say you could stand to be a mite pickier.” Her jaw tightened. Best to dance back from that particular sore spot. He was quiet for a time afore speaking. Finally, he slapped his hands against his knees and stood up to face her. “Well, then, I reckon I’m gonna have to get used to you, Inara Serra.”

She watched him, and her lips quirked up just a hair. “And I to you, Malcolm Reynolds.”

He stood there watching the ladder led out of his bunk for some time after those little feet were out of sight. And that’s when he started wondering. It just didn’t make no sense, her being there. Didn’t make no sense at all.

Hadn’t been looking for a renter, but here she was, stuck on his brain like glue. Cursed himself from time to time for that little spot of weakness that made him agree to have her in the first place, and again for that other weakness, the one that kept him from making her leave. Because even if it’s the case that sometimes a man needs something to think on, it’s best that he can think on other things sometimes too.


The girl reached out, then, to touch a deathly pale cheek, and before he knew it – not knowing quite why – he’d thrown her to the ground, away from that pale white skin, and then she was curled in a ball screaming and screaming.

“What have you done to her?” Her brother, white shirt-sleeves rolled up to his elbows, was there in a second, and Mal was backing away from it all, away from the screaming little girl, away from her angry brother, away from the woman on the table, who didn’t move.

Her screams died into sobs, and he thought he heard her whisper, over and over: “I can help her.”

He shook his head as he turned to walk back to his bunk. “Can’t nobody help her now.”


end chapter 1

Comments on the old may encourage me to write something new!


Saturday, November 28, 2009 7:32 PM


I love the jealousy here. Mal doesn't even know her, and already the clients are grating on him. I imagine even before he was really interested in her, he might have felt like his low social standing was being rubbed in his face.

I also like your take on Zoe at first, the dislike and mistrust, and also the seeds Zoe plants here about Mal not accepting help from Inara anymore. And kind of the way he starts to side with Zoe over the "crew vs. Inara" dynamic going on in his head, the reminder of why Zoe's on his side and vice-versa.

Actually, to be honest, this so affected me that it became my perspective on Zoe ever since. There might even be some jealousy on Zoe's part here, about Inara taking Mal's friendship and loyalty away from HER. Much like Mal's reaction towards Wash sometimes.

... Which means I'm totally stealing it. *cough*

Also, love how even here, there's the worry about if she's hurting somehow, yet he never asks. Oh Mal. :(

And here's where the mislead starts that had us all boggled! Poor River, but you have to love what you've done here. Mal's anger, his lashing out, and not knowing what's wrong with Inara, and knowing that's why Mal is acting the way he is. Very good.

Monday, August 6, 2012 2:42 AM


I really like the snippet where Kaylee asks Mal when he first started wondering what Inara was running from. And Zoe not falling under Inara's spell is well observed as well as the awkward, prickly relationship developing between Mal and Inara. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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Something To Think On: Epilogue
M/I. Post-BDM. In which your author gives you a glimmer of hope.

Something To Think On: Chapter 19
M/I. Post-BDM. The journey reaches its end.

Something To Think On: Chapter 18
M/I. Post-BDM. Beginning and ending with a kiss. Nearing the end.

Something To Think On: Chapter 17
M/I. Post-BDM. On coming full circle.

Something To Think On: Chapter 16
M/I. Post-BDM. On lying and learning to let go.

Something To Think On: Chapter 15
M/I. Post-BDM. The things we risk and the things we hide.

Something To Think On: Chapter 14
M/I. Post-BDM. On Miranda and descending into the dark. Here there be monsters.

Something To Think On: Chapter 13
M/I. Post-BDM. On making waves.

Something To Think On: Chapter 12
M/I. Post-BDM. Plotting the course.

Something To Think On: Chapter 11
M/I. Post-BDM. More on giving, and some punching.