BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

BYTEMITE

Eidolon (Chapter 15)
Friday, September 9, 2011

Mal didn't react to the offer, his focus only on her, his expression guarded but his eyes striking blue and stricken. "I can't ask this from you," he told her, roughly. (Sacrifices)


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3517    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

She'd gotten a big hug from the captain meant he'd been worried, the hair ruffle hello as he climbed up over into the driver's seat. Then was Inara, captain being gallant again and another of those moments passing between him and her friend that made her squirm in delight. They were all sweet and teasing, and she always liked them like that.

Next up was Jayne, like he was too manly for all the fuss, but he grudgingly wrapped his arms right back around her, like usual, and she reflexively swatted his hands away when his hands started drifting too southward, like usual. She smiled up at him. It was all so familiar and right they were together again, and she could just burst she was so relieved.

The truce didn't last long, especially when they came up on the big worship house they were told they could stay, smack in the center of a cobbled courtyard surrounded on all sides by a bazaar with colourful streamers everywhere. It looked shiny to Kaylee, the same stone made to look like marble, carved into swirling shapes and patterns. A dark, almost still hologram pool wavered at the base of the monument to reflect the glow of some flood lights, the only electricity she'd seen in the city so far.

Jayne had been a little wary, started ignoring the church for all he was worth, but Captain hadn't been happy at all, bickering with Inara even as he helped her down to the ground again.

Kaylee frowned, worrying her lip. Last mule they'd had, puttered like the harvester someone'd thrown the engine back together from. It'd been Wash's most of all, she remembered with a pang, him playing with it like a toy, like he did Serenity sometimes. They'd set it on fire, the first time when they'd went up against Niska. She never could get it to start up after that.

The hover-mule had been hard earned, them having to cooperate with that xiāfà huǐfù Saffron, then when they'd had trouble finding a buyer for the take.

Machines were just like people, wasn't a one in all the turning worlds worked the same. She liked to understand what made them tick, hear them tell their stories. Make things right when they were broke and keep them humming. And sometimes they were temperamental, and if you didn't treat them right, they didn't work right again. "Can't we just ask the preachers if they'll watch our stuff?" she not-quite-pleaded.

Captain glanced over at her, had that grim, bitter look didn't hold much esteem for strangers or the 'verse in general. "Kaylee," he ordered, not-quite-patiently.

Inara took that moment to walk away from their argument, off to go talk to a couple of holy men in brown robes been eyeing them since they'd pulled up. Was smart to build a rapport with the folks putting them up for the night, her being so nice and mannerly and a companion like she was.

Finally, Kaylee got out her tools, not too eager though, Captain just waiting long enough to see her give in. He nodded, and went to join the other conversation. Couldn't quite let Inara out of his sight just yet, had to keep her close, Kaylee knew. She snorted a little laugh. Captain Meanie. They all saw right through him.

She sighed then, no more putting it off, then gave the hovermule an apologetic pat. "Jayne?"

He'd been thinking about something, had been doing that lots more lately. "Need in?"

"Yep," she answered, and he lumbered on over, picked her up like she didn't weigh a thing so she could pop the side panel and wriggle into the mule's heart.

Wasn't anyone ever really alone, she thought, quickly rerouting the g-line and disconnecting the propulsion. Not even Jayne; heck, she'd taken some time just talking to him when he first got on Serenity six months before Simon was more than a figment out of her kissy books. Not much else to do, Wash and Zoe were google-eyed over each other, and captain was swai but anyone who got into those tightpants deserved a medal far as Kaylee was concerned. Anyhow. She was the first to ever hear about his family, and even before then she thought there was more to Jayne than the brute he tried to be.

She tugged the power cell and the alternator loose, switched them for the spares threw sparks she kept in the space under the backseat, then wired them up to the ignition so any hot-wiring would make a scene like the engine was bad.

Sometimes she wondered if Jayne saw more into their talks than she did. He never said anything and he wasn't one to talk about his feelings, but the way he snapped at Simon or looked at her seemed, dunno, like he was waiting for something.

She reached for the dampeners, pulled them open to get at the Honnecourt Capacitors and disable the grav screening. The space she was in was just big enough for two, she realized. First night since the Alliance med-ship released them after everything that she didn't have Simon. Well, she thought, starting to crawl back out, what with how worried Captain was about the purple bellies recognizing him and Inara, she better ought to tell him. Besides, wasn't no-one going to steal the mule before she got to try it now.

- - - - - Gorramn lights. Like the builders thought they could capture some divine glory. They were too bright for him, and he wanted back on Serenity, sailing the black looking for work and living off the sweat of his brow.

A cross was just a symbol, one that'd lost any meaning to him a while back. Turned out the heavenly host flew Alliance standards, and he'd been forgotten in trenches laid out like graves. Like the world had ended and the rapture come and gone, left him behind for the torments of hell. He hadn't been able to cast away his old silver crucifix, so instead he hid it in a velvet box and tried to replace it with a steel one what flew. Later, when he still felt empty, he'd found other symbols, living ones to help fill the hole.

Zoë saw it. Why she'd seen fit to poke the wound, he couldn't figure. He knew what she'd lost, just the same as her. Knew the urge to keep going even as you bled out, because it was all you could do.

But sometimes, like now, when those still with him and breathing were all accounted for, he thought maybe he could live with this, maybe this was all he needed. Made him think of other things, like Zoë had felt with Wash, normally too out of reach to entertain. Of not having to fight anymore, lose anymore, run anymore. A life under the open sky, long gone, a normal life like the one he'd known. Swaying grasses, horses and cattle, wooden fences and houses. Family.

He hadn't lost anyone else tonight. That would keep him going, a while longer. Provided that Someone Else up there didn't have their say.

"Marhaban. Captain Reynolds, I presume?" One of the priests stepped forward, an older man with a grizzled beard.

Now that was odd. Pretty woman like Inara, and it looked almost like they'd been outright ignoring her, even the young acolyte attending them. She slipped a hand into the crook of his arm, causing him no small confusion, and gave him a smile that hid some frustration. He got the message, though. Play along.

Too bad the shepherd wasn't here. He remembered the conversations he'd overheard with Inara about Buddhism, with Jayne about Jayneism, Zoe and Wash about married life and parenthood. Book was a rare man of faith wasn't too particular about which, and though he'd never rightly appreciated those insights when the shepherd was still alive, he missed them now.

Mal took the outstretched hand, shook. "You'd be right. What c'n I do for you?"

The priest waved him off. "Later, later. Mama Tauwati would like to talk to you, but later. Now, you must be dusty and weary from your travels." The man glanced at Inara, seemingly for the first time. "Are they yours? They are not unchaperoned?"

He felt Inara stiffen by his side, and something about the question put him on edge. Some worlds still followed old holy law, well, with religious devotion, and he was fair sure this was one of those things that could end with a stoning. "They're mine," Mal answered quickly - did he mean wives? "Well, the little one back there, we're not, we're more kin," he corrected, stumbling.

"I can see the resemblance. Truly, you are a blessed man," the old man praised.

Inara was pinching his bicep now. Hard. He forced a smile. "And moreso everyday."

"All finished!" Kaylee reported, cheerfully unaware of all the awkward and painful she and Jayne had blundered into. At least now the interruption took the conversation a turn away from his wedded bliss. He finally pulled his arm away from Inara's attentions while the priests were distracted, buffing out the injured spot and giving her a wounded look. She ignored him. Tama de, woman, was she trying to amputate him or something?

The priests gave the girls some lengths of fabric to cover up with, and led them down through a series of vaults, deeper underground, until he had half a notion they'd just bury them in the catacombs.

He was the last into the little antechamber, and stopped short as a blast of steam washed over him. Springs bubbled from fountains along the plastered walls, dripping onto tile mosaics in blue and what looked like real gold, draining down to a stone slab in the center raised over smoldering coals. Above them, the domed ceiling opened to a skylight with a clear view of the stars.

Kaylee was as ever outspoken in her enthusiasm. "This'll be just like skinnydippin'!" she cheered - just how had she gotten her clothes off so fast? - and Mal suddenly wished he'd been listening to the long historical tour the priests had given them. At least this wasn't the first time his crew had to see him in the altogether, he supposed.

He looked elsewhere on purpose and saw Jayne, leering, realized Inara hadn't moved beyond the doorway either. "Jayne!" he hollered, "You keep lookin' an' I'll blind you!" The barbarian grumbled and began stowing his shirt in the dry caches provided. "You and Kaylee get yourselves settled first," Mal offered Inara apologetically, "we'll follow after you give us the all clear, and I'll keep him from botherin' you girls too much."

Inara didn't look his way, kept her face hidden by her veil of soft black curls. "Thank you." Still she didn't move.

He frowned. Something else then, and he figured it probably had to do with him. Fine then, she could be that way. "What? What's wrong?" he demanded, "You body shy or somethin'?" She whirled at him, her eyes furious and her face colouring even in the faint light, then strode away with not near her usual grace. "How is that even possible?" he called after her. She just shot him another glare over her shoulder, slipped the straps of her dress from her shoulders to pool at her feet, and wrapped herself up in her towel before he could admire the view.

- - - - - She remembered sitting by this window before, trying not to think about the other time; the fear, the uncertainty, unfamiliar people and surroundings as she was taken. Staring out into the darkness watching for Mal. Just an hour or so ago, she'd been praying that she would have the chance to see him again, rather than wishing she was outside with Kaylee and Jayne, watching for trouble, instead of in here with him.

Body shy. Mal had accused her of being body shy. Her! Oh, but the captain, hypocrite that he was, could pretend to be completely fine with nudity and get by on pure bluster and bravado, but she, he had to tease her with something so, so, nonsensical! She had experience, nearly a hundred clients had seen her over her career. She was always astounded to find how insulting Mal could be, how obnoxious...

How completely and unmistakeably right. Her reflection blushed again at the memory.

She needed to stop thinking about this, she was here to read the meeting and their contacts, determine if they had any ulterior motives. Once she couldn't feel her cheeks burn any longer, she turned away from the view of the empty street to take in the store.

The set up was homely, shelves and rugs and some wood paneling made to imitate the inside of a traditional yurt arranged around a seating area to discuss business, velvet chairs and pillows and a chaise longue. This, of course, was a front to hide the black market activity that funded and supplied the members of Ezra's anti-slavery resistance, the Bûmelerze.

Seated, or perhaps more accurately, filling the largest armchair was a singularly impressive woman in a head scarf and sandals, a business vest and jacket stretched around her middle over the voluminous skirts of her local dress. In a fair fight, Inara thought Mama Tauwati might have an advantage over the captain just by sheer size, but had been an attentive hostess when Inara and Kaylee had been waiting for Mal and Jayne to be found, and lived up to her nickname by offering them both biscuits and tea.

The captain and the shopkeep were studying each other, as they exchanged introductions and pleasantries, and both seemed to decide they were ready for business. Inara was certain Boss Tauwati was a long lost relative of Serenity's first mate; she had the same manner of collected calm, the same fierce protectiveness.

"Captain Reynolds, I have a job for you and your crew," the larger woman said, and leaned forward, lacing plump fingers together. "Councilor Larrol is having an invitational. The garrison officers will be there, and it's the perfect opportunity to find out what they're planning."

What had her friend gotten herself into? Inara wandered over to Mal, still refusing to look at him, and settled against his armrest. "And it's also an invitational, meaning, invitations. You won't be able to get through security."

"Not everyone will have one." Boss Tauwati's broad lips stretched into a frown. "Unless she has extended a warm welcome to the fresh batch of help she's bringing in."

Mal tensed. "Slaves. You're wanting to send us in disguised as slaves." He frowned in suspicion. "And just how're you gonna make 'em talk?"

Thanks to the night's events, Inara knew more than she wanted to about Ezra's shadiest business, had overheard enough conversation. She hoped it was all wrong, that her friend was innocent, but out here on the rim, she had learned how different things were than in the core.

Inara saw Mama Tauwati's attention turn to her in answer, met Mal's glance when he looked over. His eyes hardened, and he shook his head furiously at the imposing woman. "No. Appreciate what you've done for us, but we got our own Alliance problems." He couldn't leave fast enough, the reminder sharp and terrible.

She understood. Had the kindness of these strangers only been for an advantage? Had they intended to use her all along, give her over to something she hadn't chosen, to a man she knew nothing about?

Someone who wasn't Mal. She'd even started imagining him when she was with clients. Her preoccupation had only gotten worse after Nandi, and then at the training house, so much so that she hadn't taken any appointments for months.

I am a companion, Inara reminded herself. Mal's opinion would never change, and her life was about helping people. She took a steadying breath, resigned and ready, her head bowed. "And if I agree?" Her voice sounded small.

The captain slowed, and she wasn't sure if she had imagined him whisper her name, or a curse. Perhaps both. The other woman appraised her, keen scrutiny from under heavy eye shadow, decided she approved. "We'll help you release the landlock on your ship, and we can get the last of the parts for your repairs." There was something almost like a smile on her neutral features. "Your mechanic has been working with some of my boys. We can get what you need."

Mal didn't react to the offer, his focus only on her, his expression guarded but his eyes striking blue and stricken. "I can't ask this from you," he told her, roughly.

Inara rolled her own eyes before she could stop herself. "But you can put yourself in danger without a second thought," she scoffed. "This isn't asking."

"And this ain't like your sessions with all your rules," he retorted. "What you do sure as hell ain't any of my business, but to let you go off into the hands of some lecherous Zhū Bājiè won't say no, who'll take every liberty because he thinks he good as owns you?" He rumbled low, almost a growl. "There ain't enough platinum in all the stars and all the planets'd make that worth it."

She sighed. "This is what I do, Mal." She remembered a parade of clients throughout her career, the heartache she kept hidden when the fantasy ended. She cared too much, she couldn't help but care, no matter what the Guild taught. Weariness chased her frustration from her breath. "Let me help you."

Anger blazed cold in his eyes. He didn't answer, just crossed his arms and leaned back against the doorframe. Challenging, defiant.

Mama Tauwati was watching their entire exchange, only a single arched eyebrow to communicate what she was thinking. In another life, on another world, she could have been an incredible companion. "You will, of course, be able to decide just how involved you want to get. It's possible you'll only need to serve a few drinks."

Mal stomped back over, looming. "Also possible it's gonna get real complicated real fast, so if we're doin' this, I'm takin' no chances. This goes bad, which it's like to, I'm pulling you out ready or not." Inara couldn't bear to look at him, but she could feel his intense gaze, and could hear the strain in his voice. "I'm not leavin' you again."

- - - - - River could hear, like echoes, a pebble dropped and waves on the shore. Worry and then the sound, overlapping, louder and softer depending on interference, silent sometimes but she heard anyway. Always hunting, take her out and them to put her back.

Forsworn by Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea. Do no harm. Bad needles and good needles and they blended sometimes. Monsters stealing into her mind to cast their shadows, imprinted outlines, ashes on the ruins of a city. Shelled. Had they been human once? She couldn't remember. The form was the same but the function was wrong.

She curled up and held on. It was all she could do. "Calm now," she whispered. The words formed something true and she didn't (couldn't) let go. Calm. For now.

Simon found her, looked in on her, and decided she was asleep. He settled nearby, in a spot where he could watch over her. She stayed with him until he dozed off, then spent the rest of the night flitting between dreams.

COMMENTS

Friday, September 9, 2011 5:54 PM

EBFIDDLER


Lots and lots of things to like about this chapter.
I liked the Kaylee POV at the beginning, and her understanding of Jayne. I really liked the paragraph about Shepherd Book, and the notion of conversations with Jayne about Jayneism. "Book was a rare man of faith wasn't too particular about which"--excellent. Just loved the way you expressed Inara's feelings: "She was always astounded to find how insulting Mal could be, how obnoxious...How completely and unmistakeably right." And I liked River's bit: "Forsworn by Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea." Besides the many fine glimpses of what makes these characters tick, you've (again) done some mighty fine depiction of evocative settings. You're able to call up such rich images with so few words.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 11:18 AM

PLATONIST


Mal's threats to Jayne, perfect:)

Could be Inara's more modest than Mal, nice twist.
She always has a sheet wrapped or a robe on, we never see her prance around completely naked.

Love your implications of what the cultural expectations for women are, also, I like how uncomfortable Mal was with it, but played along quickly, and how he distinguished between his sister and his wife, Kaylee and Inara, respectively.

You weave a rich tapestry, Byt.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 12:29 PM

BYTEMITE


Here, Kaylee is a little like she was with your Ip, EB.

Oh Jayne. He doesn't one hundred percent understand Christianity, he just knows he "don't wanna get smote." So he has some rather interesting philosophy along those lines.

Little bit of an anti-climax to finding River, but it sets up for something.

Inara's very modest I think. Even Atherton notices that she blushes when people express desire for her, and Atherton barely even sees her for HER. Too busy with his head up his, well. So when Mal teases her, add that to the fact that she likes him and he can just be so embarrassing sometimes! First he calls her his wife and then he watches her disrobe! But then, she did frisk him last chapter, he has to even things up somehow.

I don't take credit for descriptions, that's entirely thanks to Mal and Inara, as inspiration and because they both have an eye for pretty and poetry.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 11:33 AM

ALIASSE


That's a 10 for me. Eating a whole packet of biscuits as I read.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:31 PM

BYTEMITE


It's you!

And those biscuits are really good. I like the ones with the currants.


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