Eidolon (Chapter 5)
Friday, June 17, 2011

And the ache that didn't exist unless he was alone in her shuttle and it was tearing him apart, that feeling he couldn't, wouldn't name, the truth was on his face, in the tenderness of his hands as he covered her. (Breathe)


Wasn't the first man she'd ever mesmerized, he knew. Wouldn't be the last, either. As the glinting ice fog dissipated, his brain had to stop and register her, her sable hair and her peaceful features. She was curled into the cushions, lit up softly and looking like a new day under the night sky, and still, so ominously still.

More than her beauty, her perfection, it was the sacred life of her that captivated him, that shone from her golden skin, was in the rare honest smiles for him under her companion airs, in the flash of her endless eyes that spoke of a forever he could never have. Untouched by the pain and darkness in him but understanding and unafraid, calling to something that stirred in him, underneath all the wrong, something sweet, longing, hopeless, and which felt right.

And then she breathed. And the ache that didn't exist unless he was alone in her shuttle and it was tearing him apart, that feeling he couldn't, wouldn't name, the truth was on his face, in the tenderness of his hands as he covered her.

She looked so vulnerable. He needed to hold her, press her to his heart, to that hole that only she could fill, and feel her own heartbeat answer. She seemed to breathe him in, then shifted against him with a sigh, like she was trying to nestle more snugly against him, into the warmth he offered after the cold.

Someone snorted a laugh. His eyes snapped open and he was inwardly embarrassed that they'd gone and closed. "Jayne, I am two seconds from being armed."

"Oh, don't mind us, Cap'n," Kaylee piped up encouragingly, a big grin in her voice. "Take aaall the time ya need." Gorramn crew! Even Zoë was trying to hide a smile in spite of herself. He was giving them all septic-vat duty when they got back to the ship.

"Actually," the doctor intervened, sounding a little too amused as well, "I need to administer a series of injections to prevent cryogenic shock." The boy cleared his throat. "So if someone could please pry the captain off of Inara and carry her inside…"

Definitely too amused. In response, he wrapped an arm around the back of her knees, scooped her up, careful not to disturb her modesty, and turned, challenging anyone to make any further comments. To his satisfaction, as he strode past, Simon opened his mouth to object, then thought better of it.

"He missed her," he heard River whisper conspiratorially, not even having to read it from him, then heard Kaylee try to smother a giggle.

And now that she was in his arms, she was all manner of distracting; she was resting her hand on his chest, now tangling her fingers gently in the front of his shirt, now nuzzling her cheek into the fabric. The faded scent of her jasmine perfume was like a restorative that made him light-headed at the same time.

Kept his eyes ahead, fixed at some distant point beyond the door at the end of the tunnel-like hallway. He'd had one moment of weakness, so what if they saw? Wasn't like they didn't already know how she was in his head. Even Jayne had figured it out somehow, probably smelled the pheromones or something. But he would master this, even if every cell of him was singing for her, even the ones in his shoulder that were on fire.

Maybe carrying her hadn't been such a good idea, come to think of it. But somehow he managed to lay her onto the patient bed without wrenching anything, and drew the same sheets he had slept under for the past couple weeks up around her. Light fell across her face from an oil lamp as it was lit, and now he'd looked, and he couldn't look away, because her lips had curled into a contented smile.

At some point he'd sunk to kneeling by her bedside and he wasn't sure for how long but the hard floor was starting to hurt. He pulled back abruptly, stood, feeling odd, like a giddy rush of adrenaline gone awry, like he was floating, expanding and his skin was too tight.

Time to assess the situation and take charge. His first victim was rummaging around in the medical supplies, and that he could supervise. Unlike, apparently, making a joke of himself when it came to Inara.

Awful lot of needles being laid out. The worry came back immediately, as well as the protectiveness. "Putting an arsenal together there, doc?"

The boy ignored the vague warning in his voice, focusing entirely on extracting fluid into another syringe, looking particularly villainous in the dim light and shadows and cavernous lair, all pale skin and dark hair. Before he could make some damn fool effort at saving her from Simon of all people, Inara rolled onto her side, the covers rustling, inadvertently distracting him. She looked small. Thin. Was that normal? She might be hungry.

He spotted the rest of his crew, alternately bored, troubled, intent, and excited, huddled in the doorway to watch, the woven hanging pushed aside. "Kaylee, go 'n see if any grub's left out there, scrounge somethin' up." Surprise clouded over the girl's barely restrained eagerness to see her friend, then something pleading started to appear in her hazel eyes.

"That won't be necessary," Simon explained before Kaylee could protest, with a tone of forced patience normally reserved for Jayne. "Cryogenic stasis completely halts the metabolism." The doctor drew out one of Inara's arms, prepared her slender wrist with surgical spirits.

After the third solution, Mal had taken to pacing and couldn't stop fidgeting. "She's not wakin' up."

An irritated huff of air. "That would be for the same reason she doesn't need anything to eat right now, her system hasn't yet broken down the drug that put her out. I'm going to give her a common counter-agent after these other shots, and if you would please let me work, I can administer it that much sooner."

The doctor didn't even have to stop or look his way, the captain quieted instantly. If his silence could help Inara, he'd give that and more. Unfortunately, it also meant he could now hear the whispers, was aware of Zoë quietly turning away and heading back out into the darkness.

The crew's littlest romantic was quietly cooing over his concern. "Aww, jiù mèng chóng wēn!" Kaylee gushed.

"Paunch airin' is what it is, grown man actin' so twitterpated," Jayne scoffed, hands shoved in his pockets and leaning back against the doorframe, "Ain't dignified."

Simon paused, the promised tonic juice hovering uselessly over his slumbering patient. "Do you even know what the word dignified means?" the genius asked doubtfully.

"It's whatcha ain't if'n you don't shaddup and my boot goes up your ass!" the brute snapped, then evenly returned Mal's glower. "Last I checked, pretty women and bygone days don't put coin in my pocket, and coolin' our heels in this spit a nowhere don't neither. You pay me to shoot stuff and don't be forgettin' it." Bad air vented, his mercenary posted off from the post and stomped off down the hall, curtain flapping closed like an afterthought.

Kaylee observed the exchange with alarm, and River something akin to pity. "He's been grumpy all night," the older girl began apologetically.

"Really couldn't care less about Jayne right now, méi méi," he replied, frowning at the doctor and Inara, the former gathering up the used needles. "Simon, you said that'd wake her up. She don't look awake to me."

The younger man sighed, had clearly had enough of his overbearing idiocy. "It will. Gradually. To ease both the physical and emotional shock. Although the threats, questions, and general bouncing off the walls have all been very helpful," Simon informed him testily, brushing past him over to Kaylee's side. "I'd like to check on her when you're done fighting, so I'll be back later."

He sent a scowl after the two of them, and realized with increasing nervousness that there was only one person left now between himself and the woman who could undermine his command of his crew and himself in her sleep, and who would probably not be at all pleased to see him after the way he'd kicked her off his ship before.

River was already at the bedside when he turned back, dropping a welcoming kiss onto Inara's cheek. "You were taking too long," she complained at his befuddled look, and then was gone in a flutter of skirts.

- - - - - The amaranth seemed in a rush to greet the new year, popping amid the red lanterns hung from the cherry trees like the sparklers of children running through the dormitory gardens. Out beyond the high inner city wall, she could hear the clamor of festivity driving away bad spirits, welcoming the good. A few petals drifted aimlessly around her as she wandered the quiet paths alone, and the world outside faded away. She passed over a stone bridge, the surface of the still pool beneath scattered with floating candles and disturbed only by the occasional goldfish.

How many years had it been? The young face that looked back at her from the water was like a memory, wise and kind and sad. A woman who retired from her career, from riches and glamour, to tell her daughter stories of Camelot, Robin Hood, and Arabian Nights, even though her dreams were crushed and her body was withering away. Xiăo xĭ què, little magpie. Oh mother. Does Shirene ever get to be with Farhad?

Reminiscing as she was, she wasn't surprised to hear a coy voice, teasing her about a surprise. She turned, expecting her friend's sly smile and auburn hair, and found, instead, home.

How could they be here? They couldn't. But the cargo bay was open for her all the same and there they were, waiting to welcome her and they were the same as she remembered. Kaylee's bright joy, Zoë's calm vigilance, Simon's displaced kinship, River's sweet whimsy, and Jayne's simple gruffness. Nothing had changed, not the dimples around his smile or the crinkles around his blue eyes or the splay of his short brown hair, except for this, as he held her, lifting her feet from the ground. She ran her hands up along those inexplicable suspenders to his shoulders and thought she might be flying.

No, that could never be. The fantasy gave way to reality, but for a few minutes, she almost let herself surrender again, keeping her eyes closed, unwilling to let go of the smell of his leather coat. An essence of the Rim, of Serenity, earthly and dusty from the worlds they traveled among, just barely covering the hint of gunpowder and the cheap sage-laced soap he used.

It was silly, she knew, to hold onto these feelings; they were impossible, ridiculous, over before they had even had a chance. And yet they meant so much to her. Even if it was only something for her dreams, she would always be glad she had met him and the family he had built. With some lingering regret and drowsiness, she opened her eyes.

And then her mouth dropped open in shock. "Ai yā, gāisĭ! Tāmā de xiōngxùn!" she exclaimed. Mal startled from the cushion where he'd brooding, and had the gall to momentarily look impressed by her outburst, then offended. "Tell me this is a nightmare," she groaned, pulling the covers over her head.

He yanked them back down to her chin, annoyed. "Well, nĭ hăo and wănshánghăo. Got some questions to ask you, if you don't mind." Not a question, and not negotiable.

Where was she? She deliberately ignored the bristling hún dàn and took in the earthly room, the simple bed she was in, the low light of the lamp in the corner on the stone countertop. Even more alarming, she realized she wasn't wearing any clothes. Her brow furrowed. "Am I in a cave?"

His eyes betrayed a flash of pain that forced him to look away from her. "Serenity crashed."

The emptiness in that statement explained and pardoned him. Fear gripped her for this man who had already lost everything, for the few people in his life keeping him functioning and sane, and she sat up, unconsciously clutching the sheets to herself. "Is anyone…?" She couldn't bring herself to say it.

"Nah. Had 'em all evacuate in the shuttles." The captain shrugged. She observed the careful stiffness in that movement and almost felt the ripple of dissonant energy associated with his injuries. And you stayed behind, she knew, without even having to ask. "They're outside, they'll get their turn after I've had my say," he told her, then frowned at her. "Why're you here?"

She had forgotten what a minute of conversation with him was like. She mentally recited the first of the five precepts: As the Buddha refrained from killing, so to will I refrain from killing.

"You would know better than I would," she replied with false blitheness, "since you drugged me. Or did you opt for the ever-popular and traditional primitive wooden club?"

Mal stared, not understanding, not wanting to understand. "Wha…?" She immediately pointed at the box of syringes left out on the counter. There was a long pause as he made the connection, and when he turned his eyes back on her, they were like blue lasers. "Maybe," he seethed, "you oughta be careful 'bout the kinds of accusations you throw around."

"I am naked, in a strange place, and I just woke up with no idea how I got here," she sniped. "And you're asking for, no, demanding an explanation? Thank you for your sensitivity."

"Hell, ain't the first time for you, surely!" he shouted back.

Underneath the simmering annoyance, the sting of his insults, part of her was struggling, trying to stop, dismayed that they'd fallen so quickly into the old patterns. What was she doing? She was practiced in self-control and in defusing conversations. She knew him, she knew how to read him, and she trusted him, knew he would never touch her or take advantage. He was concerned about her, about her current state. Yet she'd reacted to him by lashing out at his vulnerabilities, questioned his decency, his worth, his humanity.

But how much did she trust him, really? She never knew what he was thinking, could never predict him. The moment she thought he might finally open up to her, he had broken her heart instead, sent her away. He would never be able to be there for her, never be able to support her unconditionally. Not without destroying himself in the process.

All emotion had retreated behind that hardened mask, and he stood, his anger needing an outlet and finding it in stomping around as much as the tiny room permitted. "Three years now, you've been lying to me. I know, for a fact, that you coulda found a better berth than us. Should be no one knows where we are, yet you make one a your show-stoppin' entrances in a cryochamber sent straight to us." His feet planted, his hands fisted, he finally looked at her, crossed his arms. "That means someone tracked us down, someone with a whole lotta connections, so I'm goin' to ask one last time. Who are you running from?"

"I'm not running from anyone!" she cried out, exasperated, wanting to throw her arms out and rant at him, and having to content herself with throttling the bedsheets between her hands. "I have never once lied to you, you're just completely paranoid!"

He stared her down, trying to intimidate her into saying what he wanted to hear, that she was in trouble, please save her, but there was nothing, only windmills for him to fight against. The silence stretched, snapped, and he turned on his heel, the curtain thrown violently aside before it eventually stilled as though he had never been there.

- - - - - Between leaving her and halfway down the hall, Mal realized that he'd just given up his bed for the night, and his mood had grown truly foul by the time he'd stepped out into the now chilly wind.

"Why in hell did I ever want her back?" he grumbled.

It was ever darker than before, could barely make out the next hut only twenty feet away, the bonfire had been extinguished and the villagers had dispersed. Just used to the oil lamp, most like. Zoë was somewhere nearby, couldn't see her but she'd heard him.

"You really want to know, sir?" There was something in her voice he couldn't quite identify, and it was not approving.

No. No, he didn't. He climbed up into the mule, pulled out one of the spare blankets from under the back seat and tried to settle in, but he doubted he'd be getting sleep any time soon.


Friday, June 17, 2011 3:59 PM


Oh Mal, oh Inara. First thing they do is fight.
Loved reading Mal's thoughts as he holds her and carries her and waits for her to awaken. And Inara's dream-thoughts.

Good work, Bytemite. I'm enjoying this story.

Friday, June 17, 2011 5:30 PM


Wouldn't be Mal and Inara otherwise!

Although, even though this particular argument isn't too fun because they're both carrying a little bit of unrelated hurt, you just know there's sometimes where they both secretly enjoy the fighting.

I sometimes have Mal wax a little too poetic in his internal monologue and narrative... It may almost seem like stepping into the stage of a film noir at times.

Saturday, June 18, 2011 9:31 AM


Sad how only when one or the other of them is unconscious that Inara and Mal get along as each secretly wants. Truly, they are their own worst enemies - and the crew don't help. :~) Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, June 18, 2011 10:22 AM


One of my favorite chapters, B, you've certainly got their banter down which is a mega sized accomplishment in my book:)

Love the ending with Mal and Zoe:)

Saturday, June 18, 2011 6:09 PM


Oh, there's a few times they get along, but only when Mal isn't too defensive and Inara isn't too afraid and no one has left or been kicked off the ship recently.

Entertainment, drama, and funny is good Mal/Inara banter.

Unhappy Zoe thinks Mal is ungrateful. :(

Sunday, September 25, 2011 12:48 PM


most times I can't read Mal/Inara without wanting to smack them, but you make them fun and interesting. Wonderful chapter.


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Eidolon (Epilogue)
Someday, she knew they would visit the graves of Serenity Valley and not hear the howl of the ghosts. Someday, they would walk across the green prairie of a restored world and watch the rain. (Glimpses)

Eidolon (Chapter 40)
Clouds were blossoming in the distance, promising rain for the city later. The crew of Serenity and the badlands around Eavesdown Docks to the south would probably see only a harsh windstorm. Two different worlds, she mused, caught between them. (Deliverance)

Eidolon (Chapter 39)
The question seemed to hit her hard. In the mirrors of her eyes, he saw himself, forced to see her lose more ground every day. Hurt more, because of him. Saw her watching him back as she pulled him out of a nightmare. (Try)

The Gift
They don't have much. But they have each other. (Just a little holiday story from the Firefly verse. Belongs to Joss)

Eidolon (Chapter 38)
The girl processed that response. "He brought the medicine? He saved us?" Inara nodded, considering her own inclusion in the question. (Renewed)

Eidolon (Chapter 37)
A wind clear and sweet stirred the air, humming as a shimmering, ever-shifting blaze of color flashed from one horizon to another. The breeze carried with it a distant song, rising over the hills and through the vales like a soulful hymn from his childhood. (Flight)

Eidolon (Chapter 36)
"I cut the strings. They were never yours anyway.”(Liberation)

Eidolon (Chapter 35)
A few twists of a little turnscrew and the mechanic was stripping wires and rerouting circuits in moments. (Break)

Eidolon (Chapter 34)
Stars scattered in the night, coalesced from the stellar dust from a far away sun and others that came before. A spark, scintillating into a network, a stream, like the lights and streets of a city. (Cascade)

Eidolon (Chapter 33)
"Put me back in that place," River said, "Little bluebird singing in a cage, puppet on broken strings." (Capture)