Back Stories III, Chapter 11
Saturday, January 9, 2010

The crew splits up for their journey to Oeneus—three conversations about “home” while the ferry takes off.


Back Stories Book 3 Chapter 11.

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

Links: The Fish Job, Easy Tickets, BS Book I, BS Book II, BS Book III, Chapter 1. Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

Many thanks to desertgirl for the beta read.

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Inara’d splurged on the cabin she’d be sharing with Simon. Her own money was funding this venture, after all, so she took it as her right to reserve a corner room. It was slightly larger than the other first class cabins, had its own head, and two full walls and even a portion of the floor in the outside corner were transparent. While docked at the pier, little but dark green shadows showed through this depth of water, but the view would be spectacular while the ship moved through the atmosphere and the Black.

Not quite as good as the scenery from the Penthouse Suite that took up the whole level below them—this Inara knew, for she’d traveled in the lowest but best quarters of a T-Hed ferry more than once while on pleasure cruises in the Core. The Suite had been available when she bought her tickets, but such an extravagance was unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous. It would draw attention that Serenity’s crew did not need.

Anyhow, Inara wasn’t concerned with the view. She had only one goal in mind: a long nap. She’d been up the entire night before, and planned to spend the first day of this ferry ride doing little more than sleeping.

As soon as they’d boarded, Simon had helped her fold down the double bed from one of the interior bulkheads, though he’d placed his bag on the long bench on the other wall, making it clear that he was the kind of gentleman to take the sofa, so to speak. And then he’d disappeared, off to watch for his sister’s arrival. Inara meant to make use of the quiet time. She changed into a comfortable top and pants—not her usual silk, since she’d brought little clothing with her from the Core. She’d borrowed several items from Kaylee, including cotton pajamas that were loose and soft. Inara was stretched on the bed by the time the ferry began to gently sway as it was towed into open waters, but there her plan failed. Although the mattress was comfortable and the blankets clean, her thoughts would not let her rest.

Ever since her talk with Malcolm in Serenity’s galley, a painful discomfort had been slinking about the back of her mind, trying to take over her thoughts whenever she found herself alone and unoccupied. She’d managed to keep busy, to avoid dwelling on the matter, but now, with two empty days of travel before her, she had nowhere to hide. Malcolm’s words would no longer be ignored.

Ain’t no person a bottomless well. Ain’t no one got so much that they can give and give without a fair return.

She had to ask herself: Could that be a fair representation of a Companion’s life? She had vehemently disagreed at first, but now, when the sting of the idea had faded, she had to admit that Malcolm had a point. The service she provided to her clients required an expenditure of emotional energy unequal to any return of money.

But there was no dishonesty in the exchange. Inara had entered her life with no delusions.

They’ll take what you give until they leave you dried up and empty, till you got nothing left, and you ain’t but a hard shell. I’d hate to see that happen to you, Miss Serra. I’d hate to see you come to that.

Tears suddenly welled in her eyes. He might not have meant to make an accusation, but that was how his words had felt. And her arguments against it were growing weak. The proof was in her own actions: she’d left Mal. She’d found love, recognized it, seen it returned, and yet had chosen to turn her back. What could that be but a heart turning hollow and cold?

That ain’t a way to live life: alone in the world, beyond all reach. Hollowed out. Empty. Barren.

Barren, indeed. How had the damned man seen her so clearly, when he didn’t even know himself?

The latch on the cabin’s door clicked as a keypass unlocked it, and Inara quickly dabbed her eyes with the corner of the blanket.

“Are they on board?,” she asked in an even voice.

“Yes.” She couldn’t see Simon’s face in the dark, but she could hear a smile in his tone. “Jayne looks completely annoyed with the whole thing, but I think River’s enjoying herself. She and Malcolm came back out to the public space and settled into the game room.”

He started digging through his bag, and Inara reached out to click on her bedside light. “It’s all right,” she said to head off his protest. “I find that I’m nowhere near sleep after all.”

“A lot on your mind?”

“You could say that.”

She sat up, the blanket tucked around her folded arms, while Simon stepped into the head to change. By the time he came out, the ship’s engines were beginning to fire. A gentle vibration grew in the cabin wall and the water outside the window turned milky gray with a churning of fine bubbles.

“I hope she holds together,” Simon said as he returned, now in a sweatshirt and loose trousers. “The ship, I mean.”

Inara smiled; she knew what he meant. The same question had occurred to her while they boarded.

“I’m surprised they have one of these out here,” he continued. He settled on his narrow bunk and fiddled with a large worn spot on the back of it, where cream-colored stuffing showed through a tear in the dark blue upholstery. “It’s not as well kept up as it would be in the Core. Did you notice?”

Inara nodded. This whole ship had seen better days. The stairs they’d descended from the upper levels held the marks and dents of many years’ heavy use, and faded stains marred nearly every surface. “But I don’t mind,” she replied. “It’s nice to encounter something familiar out here, even if it’s a bit worn.”

“Yes, it is nice,” Simon agreed, and they fell silent while they watched the lift-off. The dark, swirling water was suddenly cut by the clean sunlight of a fair morning. For a few blinding seconds, the view was filled with sharp, golden shards of light broken by water pouring off the wider levels of the ship above, then the flow settled to a glinting trickle and they could make out the green-blue of the ocean receding below them.

“Do you miss it?” Inara asked.

Simon was silent for long enough that she thought he hadn’t followed her shift in topic, but eventually a soft exhale showed that he had. “Some things I do miss. I miss being comfortable. I mean, not just as in physically, but as in having a place. Knowing what I’m supposed to do.”

Inara nodded her understanding.

“But whenever I start missing it too much I just have to remind myself that it was all a lie. My family, friends, the hospital… None of it was really my home, or they’d have helped me. They’d have helped River.”

“For me, it was home,” Inara said softly. “The House was every bit my home, and they helped me as much as they could. The Guild is wonderful.”

“Will you go back?”

“No,” she replied, surprising herself with her lack of hesitation, but she found that she was sure of this now. “No. It’s not my home anymore.”

Simon shifted. She felt him studying her, but kept her eyes fastened on the bright azure and sapphire of the ocean and sky.

“Do you mind if I ask…” Simon ventured tentatively, “what changed?”

She sighed, feeling that her whole body had grown heavy with weariness. “Everything.”

Simon didn’t ask for further explanation; he probably thought he knew her meaning, the reason for the change. After all, the whole crew must be aware of her situation with the captain, and Simon, for all his awkwardness with Kaylee, wasn’t the kind of man to deny the power of love.

But the doctor was wrong. The reality of her past life was so much uglier than he could possibly guess.

* * *

The sea outside the game room window grew wider as the ship rose, until the curve of the world could be made out, until the far end of the ocean appeared, hills and fields still shadowed in night, highlands faintly lit by morning sunlight bending through the atmosphere. The mountains rising above the distant continent shrank from steep peaks to flat blotches of pre-sunrise blue-violet as the ferry took a curved path over the unknown land. In black valleys between the peaks, clusters of golden light shone from settlements on riverbanks, and single lights were scattered lonely and small in the wide, empty fields between.

“What is life like, down there?” River asked the fully windowed hull that pressed against her forehead and palms. She wasn’t expecting an answer, but she got one.

“Might be ‘lot like home,” Malcolm said. River glanced at him; he stood in a similar pose, his hands on the glass, his eyes on the land below. His face was lit with a warmer smile than she had ever seen on Serenity’s captain. “The hands’d be getting up about now, settin’ to put out the morning’s feed, bring in the first of the day’s milk and eggs. Ma’ll come out as soon as the cock crows to see about the new calves, and she’ll find Reg making a fuss ‘bout the boys who were up late last night and are slow to get movin’.”

River liked how he spoke of his home. She wanted to hear more. “Do you miss it?”

He turned to meet her eye and nodded. His smile didn’t fade, though his voice was thoughtful and sad. “There’s a peace to workin’ the land, carin’ for livestock. Ma came out from the Core. She had stories to tell. Did make me curious to see what life would be like in civilized places, but not enough to want to go. She spoke of the bad along with the good.” He turned back to the world beneath the ferry. “I don’t think anything can equal the freedom of the ranch.”

The freedom of the ranch. The freedom of a life completely outside anything River had ever experienced. Somehow, she felt herself lacking, that she didn’t know such a way of life. And, likely, she never would.

“It must be hard work,” she said wistfully.

“That it is.”

Her voice grew firmer. “I know how to work hard.”

He turned back to her, an eyebrow raised. “Do ya now?”

“I worked very hard at the Academy.”

His smile took on a knowing edge. “Schooling’s a different kind of work. And don’t look at me like that, miss. I know your studies must have been a challenge in their own way. Ma saw to it I got educated, me and all the other young ones about. We had to gather whenever and wherever we found a body with the know-how to teach us, but we got to it plenty. It was hard work in its way, but wasn’t nothing like the running of the ranch.”

“The Academy wasn’t a regular school,” River said defensively, and she looked back out the window. The ship had moved on and the dark valley full of homesteads awaiting sunrise was now just a speck on the edge of a large continent. “It was hard.”

She felt him studying her face for a long moment before he replied. “I stand corrected, no doubt.” His tone held no irony or disrespect. “An Academy of the Core must be a very different place from the bare rooms where I had schooling. I can’t say as I know how it was for you. Didn’t mean to play it down.”

River could only nod. His empathy made memories rise to the surface of her mind, and tears filled her eyes. She didn’t trust herself to look at him.

“You miss it,” he said.

She had to smile at the severity of his misunderstanding. “You really don’t remember a thing, do you?”

Malcolm didn’t reply right away. It wasn’t until New Melbourne’s atmosphere had thinned enough that a scattering of stars could shine through the dark blue glow that he finally spoke up.

“I do suspect that… that it ain’t all so simple as it seemed at first. I may have forgot more than I can guess. That may be a kind of remembering, if you follow me, just that I know there’s a gap. I couldn’t feel it before, but…”

River felt him looking at her, as if he hoped she would explain. She could, if she chose to.

“It’s a big gap,” Malcolm went on, his voice quiet. “It wasn’t just Ma sending me out to get a doctor, and trusting me to the care of this Zoë Washburn. There’s more that happened, I know it. A whole lot more. I can feel the weight of it, like a wave about to crash down on me.” He shook his head and his shoulders hunched just a little, as if he truly feared a blow.

River had to lean against the glass, to hold herself still. She felt the turmoil and anguish of his mind and wanted to reach out to him, but this wasn’t the time. Nor was it the time for sharing the truth. “I’m not allowed to tell you,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

He exhaled softly, half laughing. “That’s all right. I’m not sure I wanna know.”

“It’s better out here anyway,” River said firmly, hoping to turn his attention to the beauty before them. Stars now shone bright and too numerous to count, like strands of diamonds piled on top of each other until the neat, symmetric patterns of each necklace could only be guessed at. “You can be happy. I am. I like traveling, seeing new places. I like seeing the Black. I’m glad Simon brought me here.”


“To live between the worlds. On Serenity.”

His voice grew warm. “If you like it, I guess it can’t be so bad.”

She smiled. He’d shared a secret and she’d comforted him, just by listening. The bond between her soul and his was growing stronger. She’d known that it would, given the chance. Now she had two full days to solidify the connection.

She looked over her shoulder at the game room behind them; they weren’t alone. Jayne had followed them out to the common space, and though he sat at a distance, his smoldering presence spoke volumes. He wouldn’t be leaving them alone during this trip.

River sighed; she would have to work within those bounds.

“More?” she asked Malcolm. He followed her nod to a pair of machines. The games held holo-images of long lanes with a variety of targets projected at the end. A ball connected by a security wire to the machine could be swung, the path of the ball tracked to the targets, a score recorded.

River was very good at this game.

“This time, I’m gonna clean up,” Malcolm said, challenging.

“You can keep trying,” she replied sweetly.

* * *

The Penthouse Suite was not made for those with weak stomachs. Sure, a twist of a dial could have that fancy transparent outer hull darkening until it looked like any other bulkhead, solid and black and featureless. But, Ginger asked herself, why would anyone do that?

She lay on her stomach across the bed, her head over the side so she could watch the globe of New Melbourne shrink beneath the clear deck. When the details of sea and land and cloud grew too blurred to hold her interest, she rolled to her side and stared across the Suite at a universe with no visible boundaries of walls or floor, an endless space where two puffy chairs and small side table floated against the distant scattering of stars.

Will’s long legs stretched out from one of the chairs, his limbs blocking several scores of suns and their orbiting worlds from view. But he wasn’t interested in any of them; his eyes stared blankly up at the dark ceiling, his mind busy with some important matter or another. She could probably guess, but wasn’t feeling too keen about spending time in Will’s mind. She’d seen all she needed of the way things worked in there, and even if their teamwork while boarding this ferry might have reminded her of a happier past, she wasn’t near stupid enough to believe that she could return to it.

No, she knew this man well, and she knew that she was done with him. She knew it because she wasn’t afraid of him anymore. Not even the prospect of two days alone in this Suite with him, unarmed as she was, scared her. From the moment she watched Reynolds walk down the pier and enter the ferry, she’d known that the hours of her service to this military, and to this partner, were counting down. Will could play friend or bully to his heart’s content; none of it could touch her now.

As if he knew that her eyes and her mind were on him, he began to talk, spilling his thoughts in a rambling way. As was his habit, he shared the plan without expecting, or even allowing, any input from her.

“That worked fine,” he said. “Only meant to make a joke, but it worked fine. Minor celebrities, circus stars, rodeo heroes, leads in some Rim world theater show, whatever it is they think we are. You are. We want to stay private is the point, and that’ll make plenty of sense to them now.

“And that’s what we’ll be. Private. Quiet and keep to ourselves. They’ll bring us what we need, we’ll stay in and give big tips, and all will stay quiet.

“Patience is what we’ve got. Can’t move too early. They only put five on board, and that means their ship—and that soldier woman—are out there, somewhere. Might have stayed back, but might have gone ahead. We can’t let them know about us till the last minute. We can’t give that woman time to arrange a sortie. An hour or two before landing, that’s when we move.

“That’s when we get this done. Sneaky and quiet, while other folks are still sleeping. We take these five out, one by one. Truss `em up and leave them here, except for our man. We’ll walk onto the pier on Oeneus, Malcolm Reynolds in hand and this hunt over for good. Marone’ll be off my back, mission accomplished, hardship pay in the bank. That’s a plan I can follow with a smile.

“You with me, Ginger?”

It took her a moment to realize that he’d asked her a question, and was waiting for a reply. Was he actually in doubt of the answer? Should he be?

She made him wait longer while she considered it. Tactically, things looked good. It may be two against five, but the two had surprise to their advantage, and the five included a little girl, a crazy man, and a doctor who, Will’s bent nose aside, didn’t count for much in a fight. The challenge—for Ginger—was the other two: the mercenary with hands that haunted her dreams, and the high class whore whose toughness and feminine power demanded respect.

“You with me, Ginger?”

Will lifted his head to study her, but she closed her eyes, and immediately saw her true goal: a home of her own, a quiet place removed from these kinds of choices, far from Will, from orders, from human targets and wars that never ended. The only way to reach that place, to be free, was to do her job.

“Are you with me, Ginger?”

Her reply came in a flat, resigned voice. “I’m with you, Will.”

* * *

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Saturday, January 9, 2010 12:45 PM


This one's actually been out for a while on other sites. I posted while fff was having it's spambot war.

Thanks to the folks who went to lj or fanfiction to comment!

Saturday, January 9, 2010 1:52 PM


Inara and Simon sharing a cabin and Mal and River playing arcade games...gosh, where have I been? I need to get caught up.

I like how comfortable these pairings are with each other sharing their feelings on home.

And Ginger and Will have to be two of my all time favorite OCs in any fandom.
I know, I definitely don't like Will, but I have mixed feelings for Ginger, nice job with writing them layered.


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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.