Back Stories III, Chapter 13
Friday, January 15, 2010

River makes a discovery. So do Jayne and Inara.


Back Stories Book 3 Chapter 12.

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 laughed at Simon’s question. “No, it’s nothing like Cottonwoods Resort,” she replied. Indeed, the ferry’s breakfast cereal was edible, but in no way comparable to the delicacies available at a Core vacation destination. She smiled at memories of trips to the snow world of Hawthorne, where a few of her more active clients had enjoyed spending their time off. “The champagne breakfast at the main lodge was divine,” she added, “especially when delivered to the Suite. I believe I once stayed in bed all day enjoying it.”

“Champagne?” Simon asked. “I wouldn’t know about that. It had to be… ” He stared into the distance while he calculated. “…maybe a dozen years ago that we last took a vacation there. I was barely in my teens.”

Inara could easily imagine a teenaged Simon tearing up the slopes with his young sister. “Is River a talented skier?”

Simon was momentarily distracted by the waiter bringing out his breakfast, the same hot cereal Inara had enjoyed just a few minutes earlier. After the man left them alone again, he replied.

“Of course she’s good. Amazing, even. Do you recall the slopes at all? The south peak? Then you know that, on the west side, there’s a bowl that ends in trees with a few enormous drops. Enormous to me, anyway, at the time. Well, River—” He looked over his shoulder toward his sister, as if to refresh his memory, then suddenly straightened. “Ai ya!” he swore. “They’re gone!”

Inara turned to follow his gaze. The sight of the empty table nearly made her jump to her feet, but then she remembered the need to be discrete. She laid a hand on Simon’s arm, reminding him as well, then replied in a hushed voice, “But how? We’ve been watching them.”

“It’s that special skill teenagers have.”

“Gods help us. That’s exactly what Mal is right now. A teenager.”

“And he’s with River.”

Simon threw his spoon back in the steaming cereal bowl and pivoted his stool to look about the room. Inara searched as well, but it wasn’t easy. Most of the dining level was dark. Several booths had been taken over by travelers stretched across the tables and chairs, catching a last hour of sleep before the ferry went into its approach to Oeneus.

Simon sighed. “But it’s not a big ship. There aren’t many options for things to do. What kind of trouble can they get into?”

They met each other’s eye, then both got up and began to search the dining room.

* * *

River felt enveloped, even before Malcolm put his arms around her. His body was so much bigger than hers, not like Jase, the boy who’d topped her by barely an inch. Malcolm towered over her, even though she stood up one step, and the width of his shoulders dwarfed her hands as she slid them out from the collar of his shirt.

And his mouth… the captain may have convinced his mind that he was barely out of his teens, but his body knew better. He was nothing like Jase, who’d been patient and even tentative in his exploration. Malcolm delved into her, his lips parting hers with confidence and haste. The hint of stubble on his jaw scored her skin, but the contrast of the wet, swirling heat of his mouth was beyond anything River had experienced. Things in her brain (and elsewhere) sizzled and snapped and did everything that her mother’s paperback novels had led her to expect.

Her pleasure blended with the emanations from Malcolm’s mind. Two hands gripped the solid muscle of strong shoulders while two rough palms ran up the delicate curve of a spine; she couldn’t be sure which were her own. One body bent, one supported, fingertips tangled in long, silky hair, slight curves pressed against hard planes, and all the while the taste of him made her feel headier than any of Simon’s medications ever could.

She burrowed deeper into Malcolm’s mind as she wrapped her arms around him, looking for more of his inner heat, but instead she came up against something that didn’t make sense. At all. Stark and black and impenetrable, a wall stood behind the redness clouding the front of Malcolm’s mind. She couldn’t see through it or go around it or break it down.

That barrier broke into her spell. She pulled her mouth away from his and put her hands in his hair to hold his head still, then rose up further on her toes. She distantly enjoying how her legs pressed against his, but she was more intent on setting her ear against his temple. He tried to turn his head and kiss her neck, but she held him still.

“Shhhh…” she whispered, and closed her eyes. “I need to listen.”

He made a small whimper of protest, but let her have her way. Really, she sensed, he liked it. He liked the simple stillness of close contact, of holding an accepting body against his and feeling like he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t even aware of how much he craved this.

But he was also thinking other, very different, things. Little scraps of feeling escaped from behind that unyielding barrier, whispers quickly buried under the chaotic mess of his conscious mind.

“Shhh.” She hushed him again, as if the turmoil of his thoughts could be stilled on command. Perhaps it could, because she heard something then; she heard it so clearly that she could see it too.

Disgust rose in dark green waves. Steel gray ribbons of reluctance wove up from the shadows of his mind, trying to build a cage that could solidify his will, contain his need, resist what she was doing to him…

Stop don’t do this it’s River it’s all wrong you can’t do this stop it NOW—

River wrenched her mind back through the hazy cloud that had nearly taken them both. She continued the path in the physical world, pushing clumsily away from Malcolm. He tried to stop her, to catch her arms, but she slipped from his grip and fell back onto the carpeted stairs.

“He’s in there!” she gasped, staring up with wide eyes.

Malcolm reached out, his face full of hurt confusion. “What’re you – ”

“Captain’s in there! Can see, knows… he hates this!”

But Malcolm didn’t know. The heat of the young man’s lust pulled at her, and the pangs of Mal’s long suppressed loneliness reached out even more seductively. But she couldn’t do this, not now that she knew.

“I shouldn’t have,” she gasped. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” She pushed past him and ran back down to the dining hall.

* * *

Inara searched the shadowed tables, quietly stepping past sleeping families, while Simon disappeared into the game room. But it was quickly obvious that Malcolm and River couldn’t be here; the room was too open, there was nowhere for the pair to hide.

“Upstairs,” Inara suggested when she met up with Simon again.

“I’ll look. You stay here, just in case they come back.”

Inara nodded and returned to the dining room as Simon hurried toward the stairs.

* * *

River had every intention of returning to her cabin, but she found herself frozen as soon as she stepped onto the dining level. Simon was suddenly standing before her, his arms reaching out in that way he sometimes did, as if he wasn’t sure if hugs or restraints were needed.

But her brother wasn’t the reason she stopped.

“It’s worse here,” she whispered. The nastiness that turned her stomach didn’t diminish as she ran from the awakening scraps of Mal Reynolds. It only thickened. Dimly, she heard her brother ask if she was all right, but she couldn’t respond. She could only press against a hard, unyielding hate that cut right back into the core of her. She couldn’t understand. Was it that bad, this thing she had just done?

She felt the source of this badness coming closer, as if it could see her. It was laughing. It had been watching her, she realized, and it knew exactly what she’d been trying to do. It knew how wrong she’d been. It was her own guilt, she decided, her own doubts that she have should listened to. She had no choice now. She couldn’t make it shut up. She couldn’t make it stop mocking her.

“Leave me alone, Simon!” she said, and she turned her back on him and returned the way she’d come.

Malcolm was sitting on the stairs, bewilderment and doubt pouring off of him. The sight of her made a flare of shame and disgust rise from the turmoil of his mind, and it scorched her like a sudden wind pushing a bonfire’s blistering heat into her face. She turned her eyes away and skirted him, staying as far from him as possible until she passed by. Then she fled upwards, leaping up the steps so nimbly that she left her brother far behind.

As she stepped onto the top level of the ship she ran full tilt into a big body that didn’t yield. The man grabbed her firmly by the shoulders and held her in place.

* * *

Inara returned to her seat at the dining room bar. Perhaps she shouldn’t have left the search to Simon, but, in truth, she didn’t trust herself to become involved with whatever was happening between River and Malcolm.

She found herself in a bewildering state. She knew human emotion well enough to recognize what she was feeling, no matter that it was ridiculous: she was jealous. She was jealous of a teenaged girl, of the easy laughter River had been sharing with Malcolm, of the way the two slipped out of sight. She didn’t like where her imagination took them.

Perhaps it wasn’t unreasonable. Why wouldn’t Mal, in his younger state, be drawn to River? The captain had always had a protective instinct for the damaged girl, and even before his memory was lost he had become fond of her. The two had come to some sort of amicable understanding after Jubal Early’s incursion onto Serenity, and Mal’s capture on Oeneus, and following sickness, had seemed to deepen their connection. Inara had noticed, but she hadn’t seen anything more to it than a shared experienced of suffering. They’d been abused by the Alliance in similar ways, and they’d both found ways to survive.

There may have been nothing romantic about the captain’s relationship with River, but Malcolm, as a young man, had no obstacle of different age or life experience. River might be exactly the right kind of young woman to interest him. Certainly, he’d made it clear that he had no desire for someone trained to live a Companion’s life.

Inara clenched her jaw and felt tension rise in her shoulders: so she was back to this. She just couldn’t let go of the things he’d said. And though she tried to stop herself, she found his words repeating in her mind yet again. Had her life been so hollow as he thought? Could he be justified in wanting to avoid a real connection with her?

She started when she realized that she was no longer alone. Malcolm had taken the seat next to her while she’d been too buried in her thoughts to notice. “Where did you… I mean, where did River go? Is she all right?”

“Couldn’t tell,” he replied glumly, and he shook his head. “I got no idea what just happened.”

* * *

A familiar voice grumbled out of the man who’d caught hold of River. “Whoa there, sā dàn nú,” Jayne said. “What’s your rush?”

“Bad down there,” River said. She was nearly blinded by tears, and she gripped Jayne’s forearms, grateful for his support. “Very bad down there. Hates me. Wants to hurt!”

He frowned. “What’re you talkin’ about this time, moonbrain?”

“The captain.” She shook her head. “Not the captain. Can’t be the captain. He wouldn’t… he wouldn’t do a lot of things he’s done. Malcolm’s going away, and the captain… I don’t know who’s coming! Don’t know why I didn’t feel it before. It’s after us.” She clutched at her forehead, confused at the path her thoughts were leading her along. Nothing made sense. “It’s down below. He shouldn’t touch me. He hates me. It’s after him. It’ll take him away! It’s… I don’t know what I’m saying!”

She pulled free of Jayne’s grip and ran to an open corner, a right angle intersection of windows where she could have the Black on two sides of her, and she stared out as if she could will herself off of this ship and out there, where no hurtful, hateful thoughts could dig into her brain.

She felt her brother’s presence, a look shared with Jayne. The mercenary turned and left, and Simon took a seat at some distance from her.

* * *

Malcolm sighed; a sound of frustration, but also sadness. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean no harm, but I seem to have a habit of making womenfolk run away in misery.”

Inara blushed as she remembered that she’d done just that herself, only a few days ago. She’d hoped that he hadn’t noticed how much his opinions of her life had upset her, but of course he must have.

“Not in misery,” she denied weakly. “Not at all.”

“I do notice when I open my gorramned mouth and what comes of it is tears in what should be a happy young lady.” He lifted a hand to his mouth and wiped his fingertips over his lips as he talked on, now almost mumbling to himself. “I don’t think it was…. It wasn’t quite right. Happened so fast, I don’t know. I can’t find where the fault lies. But it’s got to be there somewhere.”

Inara didn’t see the need to assign blame, but wasn’t able to gather herself and explain that to him. She felt her cheeks burn, appalled to think that he might have seen her crying, that he might know she’d been so upset over his disapproval that she’d needed support from Kaylee merely to walk back to her shuttle.

“There weren’t so many tears,” she said, her eyes fastened on the shadowed doorway behind the dining bar. She couldn’t look Malcolm in the eye. “Really, barely any.” Surely he didn’t know how she’d fallen apart in her shuttle. Surely Kaylee hadn’t told him?

Malcolm was muttering to himself: “I do like the girl. She’s nice to talk to. But…” He still had a hand over his mouth, and he smacked his lips together as if trying to rid himself of a bad taste. “You got any eats?” he asked, his eyes suddenly fixed on Inara. “Beverage maybe?”

The change of subject jarred her into turning to look at him. “No,” she replied. “I could order you... Oh! Simon left his cereal.”

“That’s a kindness.” Malcolm gamely took over Simon’s cooling breakfast. “Ain’t right,” he mumbled as he chewed.

“Maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about what’s right.”

His voice was neutral, not accusatory, but his words stung her. “Yeah, I’m sure you got that down.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” she asked sharply.

He dropped his head and stirred at the cereal. “See—there I did it again. I didn’t mean it like that, really I didn’t. It just that, if I kiss a person, it means something. I ain’t one to go around kissing every girl I meet. It ain’t my way.”

She gasped in exasperation. Hadn’t they covered this topic already? “No one said it had to be. What I do is just that—what I do. Me! Not you.”

He threw the spoon back into the bowl, than shook his head and wiped at his mouth again. “I gotta get rid of this. A beverage might do it. The adult kind.”

Inara looked closer at him; he didn't seem to be hearing a word she said. And then she noticed: this wasn’t the carefree young man he’d been for some days now, but reminded her more of the captain she knew. His eyes were shadowed, as if he was feeling haunted. The sight made her forget her own self-consciousness.

“What’s wrong?” she asked abruptly.

Malcolm shook his head in denial. “Nothing. Just feeling a bit… off.”

Off? she asked herself. Was the conversation they’d had in Serenity’s galley bothering him as much as it was her?

Inara had to know. She turned in her seat to face Malcolm fully, and forced herself to ask in a warm voice, “Please tell me—what’s wrong?”

* * *

“Gorramn girl is off her nut,” Jayne whispered to himself. “Has been since day one, and will be ‘till the cows all drop dead.”

Still, he couldn’t dismiss River’s words. The girl had shown herself able to sense things that were in fact, somehow, real dangers. It gave his stomach a twist.

Malcolm’s going away…

Going away? Where could the captain go to, out here?

But that wasn’t the truly unsettling part.

I don’t know who’s coming. It’s after him. It’ll take him away.

Too much possible reality lived in those words. Plenty of folks were after Mal. Could they be here? Could they be hiding where Jayne hadn’t been able to see them?

It’s down below.

He hurried down the steps, heading toward the bottom level of the ferry.

* * *

Malcolm didn’t answer right away. Apparently, the effort of choosing his words was arduous. It made him do something of a dance. He crossed his legs, immediately uncrossed them, slid down in his seat to recline, then pushed back up and leaned forward on his elbows. Finally, he crossed his legs again and huddled up around himself, pretzeling in an odd way, before he spoke. “I just feel a mite…” He hunched his shoulders and didn’t look at Inara. “…dirty.”


He nodded.

“Oh for Buddha’s sake! You and I only talked about sex!”

He straightened and looked at her clearly for the first time, drawn out of his thoughts by her accusation. “This ain’t about you!”

That took Inara aback. “It’s not?”

“No! I do have other things goin’ on in my life. I got other concerns that… got me all concerned.”

“Well, I hadn’t… hadn’t realized.”

He scoffed and reclined in his seat again. Inara was glad for the moment to shift her thoughts. She was relieved, but also strangely disappointed that his “discomfort” had nothing to do with her.

“What is it?” she asked, trying to gentle her voice. “Would you like to talk about it? Really, I’m a very good listener.”

He sat motionless while he considered her offer, then he made a sound of disgust. Without replying he stood and stalked off, taking a window seat where he could turn his back to her and stare out into the Black.

Inara stayed in her seat, looking after him. A question cropped up in her mind and wouldn’t be silent: what in the verse had happened between him and River?

She started to stand, feeling relief, when Jayne appeared, but he wasn’t there to take over the Malcolm-watching duties. He gave her a short nod and stalked by, heading down toward the private cabins. Inara’s complaint died on her lips; the mercenary was walking fast, as if on a mission. She hadn’t the energy to stop him. She plopped back into her seat and abandoned herself to brooding.

* * *

Jayne circled the cabin level of the ship twice. It didn’t do much good. He didn’t have River’s senses, and no matter how slowly he moved past each door, he couldn’t figure who or what was inside. Once a half-awake businessman stumbled out of a cabin door and went upstairs, but no one else stirred. Jayne saw and felt nothing that could account for River’s alarm.

“Gorramned hútú dàn,” he muttered. “Mó guǐ ná zhī.” He decided to return to the dining level to take over for Inara, but just then he heard his name.

It was spoken by a woman, an older woman with a voice forced to be low and hard, as if she was trying to hide that she was female, as if she was trying to deny that any part of her was soft and she was nothing but tough, brittle strength.

He knew that voice.

* * *

Inara berated herself for completely forgetting her schooling. She’d been so focused on her own tangled emotions that she’d missed what should have been obvious: Malcolm’s mood had nothing to do with her. It was all about River.

But Inara could handle that. She could put her own concerns aside and help him, encourage him to talk, and listen with open acceptance.

The friendly waiter made a pass through the dining room moments later, and Inara waved him over. She ordered a double of whatever passed for whiskey on this ship—it would serve as an opening with Malcolm. She sat for another moment with the drink beside her, gathering her thoughts. No matter what had happened, it wasn’t her business to judge. This man wasn’t Mal. He wasn’t in charge of his faculties, and she shouldn’t condemn him for something he had no control over.

She squared her shoulders, resolute, and reached for the drink, but another hand was on the glass first. She followed the arm up to a familiar face: an attractive man. Tan, dark-haired, dark-eyed, white teeth in a brilliant smile that lit up just for her benefit.

“Thank you, my dear,” Will said. “I do like a cocktail before I skewer myself a Browncoat.”

* * *

sā dàn nú: satan-spawn hútú dàn: confused/clueless person mó guǐ ná zhī: devil take her

* * *

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Friday, January 15, 2010 3:24 PM


Apologies – I really did mean to post this several days ago, but it’s been a tough week.

Apologies also for the Mandarin, to anyone who is actually a speaker. I pieced together some words in a attempt to get a phrase I wanted, and it’s likely completely wrong. If you notice and know better, please drop me a line!

And a third apology for the second scene. This is the one I referred to my blog. I actually rewrote this scene to ease off on the wrongness, but I think it’s better if it crosses the line. Because, though I am as anti Mal/River as one can get, in this situation I think they would be attracted and they’d act on it. Lord help me, that was a tough one to write and edit. Writing means entering the heads of the characters, and here River picks up on Mal’s senses. So I had to try to think like Mal mackin’ on River. OK, it’s not really Mal, but it still looks like him, so—not easy! Gave me the uncomfortables something fierce.

Which makes me especially grateful to desertgirl for beta reading the scene and clearly seeing my intent with it.

I will try to get the next chapter out soon!

Friday, January 15, 2010 3:26 PM


Also: I somehow didn't get email notice of all the comments from the past chapter, so I just got them now. Bytemite - I could expand on your ideas, but I think this chapter follows up on River's situation. You called my intentions well.

Inara's situation, as I've fanwanked it, will be followed up some chapters down the line.

Friday, January 15, 2010 4:44 PM


Well, no worries, I actually wasn't on to you at all. I was thinking that River only THOUGHT Mal knew what she was up to. But I love where you went with that. Oh poor River. And poor Mal, old him is so thoroughly disgusted and ashamed of himself that even young Malcolm is picking up on it.

And enter Will. :o The worst possible moment for River to let her emotions start confusing her reading.

Friday, January 15, 2010 5:39 PM


Was wondering when Will would show his toothsome face. What is going on in Mal's mind? Very intriguing, and many more questions as to what is going to happen here. Looking forward to more.

Saturday, January 16, 2010 9:45 PM


It's nice to finally read that there is some of Mal left in Malcolm. And yeah, I agree, young Malcolm would probably act willing when presented with River's actions, older Mal might too, if circumstances were different, especially in regards to her mental state, but I don't think either one would ever feel good about carrying on a sexual relationship with each other. Mal would come to loath himself and it would be hard for River to filter those painful feelings away.

They're ill-fated proposition all around, and you illustrated that well here.

Will and Inara, not a good combination if I remember correctly.


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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.