Eidolon (Chapter 24)
Saturday, November 19, 2011

Save her from this, Mal thought, not really sure who he was asking - he hadn't trusted that higher power for a long time. Spirit her somewhere so death don't find her. A shaded glen, somewhere always summer, with food and wine and that tea she likes. (Cleanse)


Anger was easy to reach for, had been for a while, especially around her. The real trick was staying mad, one he was no good at with her. No matter how he tried to hold on to it, that's all it was really - a game, that only lasted until the next time he had the urge to go visit her, like a moth to flame. Like he had to make sure that she was still real, and not something he'd conjured up one night in a fit of loneliness. Because between the bickering she settled him, she and every space she inhabited to fill with her perfumed air, himself and ship alike.

So when he saw her again, saw River at her bedside, both of them looking otherworldly and half to líng jiè, hair like the wild evening and pale skin almost blue under the harsh infirmary lights, all his pointless fury turned to so much ashes. Because there was a moment between heartbeats that Inara lay motionless, when he just stopped, and she almost took him with her before she started breathing again. Steady, and stable, seeming asleep, but her essence had gone and left behind only her living shell.

The girl sat by Inara as she lay on the operation table as though in repose, had threaded the companion's hands through the sleeves of a gold satin robe he'd seen before, draped over her like a hospital gown, or maybe a funeral shroud. Wasn't right. She didn't belong here. Never did, not this cold place of grim reality where he dwelt. But somehow a world without her in it, without her smiles and grace or her flashing eyes when she was cross with him, somehow that was worse. Save her from this, Mal thought, not really sure who he was asking - he hadn't trusted that higher power for a long time. Spirit her somewhere so death don't find her. A shaded glen, somewhere always summer, with food and wine and that tea she likes.

God might not have been listening, but River Tam was. Made some arcane gesture, almost to touch one pretty black ringlet before hesitating. "Safe," River pronounced, then clarified: "Sanctuary." He couldn't disagree. Even fading and unconscious, Inara fostered peace and calm around her. Probably all that training or something. "No," the girl insisted, exasperated, then pitying. "Wasted on them. They never notice her."

Somehow that didn't surprise him. No doubt her clients never looked further than themselves. "Yeah, well, they don't appreciate her," he answered.

The mind reader looked over at him as though curious, uncanny as ever, then raised her hand to point at something reflected in the glass, over his shoulder.

His loyal crew had followed him, with more concern than he rightly warranted, clustered together by the stair scaffolding like they were uneasy about approaching him. Put him in mind of the shepherd and his flock, how he'd repaid the favour, what he'd done.

As a leader he'd failed them, both by tactics and attitude. Inara was dying, and all he'd managed was to hurl bluster at her doctor and hang his head low.

He let his gaze drop. "Don't have much call askin' much more than I already have," he admitted, some manner of apology to them even as his eyes were drawn to her again. Always back to Inara. "I mean to do right by her." Their images glanced at each other, questioning and then confirming, this was not what they were expecting. "Could be dangerous, could be we get nicked. We wait on the Alliance for the all clear, though, they'll catch us for sure. So we want out of this, we put whatever pique we got between us aside."

Kaylee was frowning and unsure, and his second in command was silent and watching, noncommittal in a way that said that she disapproved and they were going to have words later when the rest of the crew weren't in earshot. But the doctor slowly nodded, and Jayne shrugged, as close as the mercenary ever got to genuine sincerity. "Ain't doin' much else, anyhow."

A tug on his sleeve, and Mal startled, because there was River to his other side, silent as a cat's ghost and leaning in close. "Think no more of this night's accidents but as the fierce vexations of a dream." The fairy girl stared up at him as she clasped his hand around something, then vanished off into the dorms.

That was somewhat alarming. He studied the little vial like it was explosive. "It's a skin and hair wash," his girlish little tomboy mechanic offered like an olive branch. "'Nara left it for River. Don't think she's ever used it."

A flick of the lid, and suddenly he was surrounded by jasmine flowers, as though Inara had just brushed past him. He shook his head to clear it, no, she wasn't there, not really. "So why give it to me?" he asked.

He saw Simon about to give a smart ass comment about hygiene, cut short by sharp glare over his shoulder. The boy changed strategy, decided to finally obey orders, and slipped by into the infirmary to rummage around for whatever injections were needed. "She'll need to be cleansed and undressed for cryonic storage," Simon told him. "During the freezing process her cells will lose water, and if there's anything in contact with her skin, she might cool unevenly."

Nope. "Really was more just going to talk with her," Mal asserted quickly. Not that she could hear him, he added bitterly, but he would've anyway, if only because he needed to believe that on some level she was still there.

He was rattled enough by the suggestion that Jayne snorted at him, then turned a dubious eye on the windows. "We doin' this in here?" The captain's blood curdled a little. We? For once it seemed like Jayne wasn't after skirt chasing and meant some honest help, but that was more than Mal could handle for one evening. He gave them all a darting glance, and hurried to gather her up, to get her away from there."Wasn't gonna look," Jayne muttered, forlorn as if Inara had called him hero and taken a bullet for him, and took his leave.

Zoë fell into step behind him, eyes burning at the back of his head. "Dippin' into the rainy-day fund?" she challenged quietly. "Doctors and treatments ain't cheap, and we barely have enough some weeks for food, repairs, and fuel. Given any thought on the money at all? Sir?"

He halted. "There's some recourse," the captain answered, unconvincing, with a careful shrug. He stood very much aware of his boat around them, the silence of the usual operational hum, the damsel in his arms, vulnerable, her eyes closed. The sight pained him deep down, and all he could do was hold her tighter, protectively, as he continued on. "Need you with me on this, Zoë."

She wasn't, had hung back to appraise him and his response, and hadn't liked what she heard. "Might be that's part of the problem," she said, and abandoned him outside one of their empty rooms. Couldn't exactly chase after her, what he was carrying, and he cursed to himself. With Zoë in a snit, River off wandering, and Kaylee puppy-dogging after Simon again, he'd just run out of womenfolk to bathe her in his stead for propriety sake.

- - - - - Even with only two people, the infirmary wasn't much bigger than a closet, had been converted from back storage for field medics even before captain ever bought her. Took some special effort then to avoid her, bustling around in the cabinets like Simon was. She didn't want to disturb him, but contrite wasn't working, and she also wanted to talk. "Why'd you never tell us?" she asked.

He finally turned to her, and he had his professional stuffy coreworld upper class mask on, with some hurt underneath she wanted to snuggle away. "We were concerned how some members of the crew might be affected by the news of our history together. I had River to think about, Mal is unreasonable at the best of times." Something bitter flashed through his pretty eyes, and she couldn't meet them anymore. "And neither of us wanted to upset you."

This was stickier than she'd hoped, like winding her way through an ungreased engine. "No, I mean, about her sickness." All this time, and Inara had confided in not a one of them. "Woulda explained lots, and we coulda been there for her, 'stead of her leaving." Kaylee had always admired the companion almost to the point of envy with all her glamour and her lifestyle, and now it more seemed just sad, like Inara had been trying to deny anything was wrong with her, and forget, distracting herself a while with luxury now and then. She never thought someone who had so many shuài boys after her could ever seem so isolated. "Can't even picture how hard that'd be, dealin' with all this on her own."

She heard Simon exhale, a little "oh," and she chanced a peek at him. His face softened, less angry and cornered. "She didn't want to worry anyone else," he defended, but relaxed enough to lean against the counter. "And as her doctor, I had to honour that." A frown, like he disagreed with that choice, then he shook his head and went back to his syringes and solutions. "As for why," he mused, filling a needle from a vial then carefully tapping to check for bubbles, "She devoted her life to helping others. She might just not be comfortable when the roles are reversed."

Kaylee didn't think she understood how a person could get like that, but that made a lot of sense to her anyway. Like how the captain looked after them, but never let anyone to see to him and told himself all sorts of stories to keep them away. And sometimes it was like Simon felt guilty for having his own needs separate from taking care of his sister. "That's kinda like you," Kaylee said. She smiled wanly. "Maybe ya'll just need to let other people in."

"Let people in how?" Simon asked, and she had plenty of ideas, but then she noticed the edge that crept into his voice. "Put a foot in it whenever we try to talk to anyone we care about? Or better yet, find out they don't trust us enough to even listen to the truth?"

- - - - - No answers from over the ship intercom, so he really was on his own. Mal considered the door first, decided to trust his crew because engaging the lock would be unseemly, like he had something to hide. He turned his attention to the rest of the room. Beige panels and the bare mattress, the crumpled boxes stacked in the corner, and Inara, catatonic and settled cross-legged on the middle of the floor.

Mal scrubbed at his face, feeling the stubble he'd grown since the morning. He hadn't any notion what he was doing. He was no Jayne, he cleaned up well enough for a scruffy captain on a boat often weeks between worlds. But this was something outside the range of his meager experience.

There was a sink concealed in the wall panel, like in all the other living quarters, where they kept kits stowed for crew and passengers. He pulled out a sponge and two bowls, filled one with soapy-scented water, and tried not to spill as he sat himself and them down next to her. Then he just watched her a while, thinking about approaches to take, working up the nerve, until finally he reached out and tucked a curl behind her ear, struggling for words. "I know you'd hate this if you could say. But you heard the doc, and I guess I'm it," he told her.

She didn't even acknowledge his presence, and he could almost imagine she was just meditating, doing her best to ignore his annoying personage. Maybe she'd reached the nirvana all the Buddhists like her talked about, or the heaven he used to believe in. He stroked his thumb along her cheek.

He'd shamed her enough already with his unfair barbs and mistreatment. What right did he have? She might not have a choice, but he damn well could find some way to honour her still, her and the trust she had to place in him now. "Tell you what," he proposed, "I won't be disrespecting you in any way, and I'll leave you covered with this smock until we close up the cryobox. And all you got to do is come back." He patted her arm, not quite looking at her. "You can even hit me if you're like to."

Seemed a good deal to him. That's what he told himself as he turned her, hand at her waist, so as to start at her back, as he pushed her soft, tangled hair over her shoulders. But he still felt like a miserable sorry hump while he removed the brassiere-like scrap of white gossamer though the reversed opening of her robe.

He closed his eyes against the feeling, took a deep breath. Just keep talkin', Reynolds, he ordered himself. Lifted the bowl, the sponge. Have to get through this.

"Be on Sihnon in a few weeks, like you asked." Casual, as if this was every day. He traced moist circles into her skin, into the low curve along the line of her skirt. Maybe this would be mundane soon, them in some core hospital. "Take you to the guild first, see what kind of medical plan they can give you, find out the options." Mal nodded to himself. "I'll be there long as it takes, 'til you get tired of me." He smiled at the fantasy. "You'll be back to yelling at me again in no time," he promised. "And when you're walking again, I'll take you dancing, so you can make all the haughty ladies fuss over how they look."

His attempt at lighthearted failed as he remembered all of her high class peers that would be there. If she'd hooked up with a client long term, would she be in this state? He'd fought off a suitor at sword point when the possessive hún dàn veered towards abusive, but if it hadn't been for him stirring up jealousy, maybe she'd have been all right.

Who knows if the hidden price tag of her illness would've been too much for them. Not one of them ever had to worry about their own bills in their entire wealthy lives, no reason to think they would for anyone else. Himself, though... "Don't you worry about the money, I'll come up with somethin'," he said, resumed washing her. Squeezed out the ashen water, soaked up from the fresh water bowl, squeezed again. He thought about his first mate, now widowed, her complaints about the danger, how maybe she had a point about their costs of living and ship upkeep. "Hell, could always hawk Serenity to Zoë," the captain mused, rolling the idea around his tongue.

Wasn't the first time he'd thought about it. He was getting too old for this kind of life. His scars bothered him, new and old, even the one where he'd gotten hit by the shrapnel, that he shouldn't even be able to feel anymore. Every time he came back from a job, or another screw up, or playtime with some new sadistic yāoguài, he felt it, a creak in his joints and a growing slowness, like the onset of winter. There'd come a time soon when his quickdraw wouldn't be fast enough to counter that one bullet with his name on it. All he could do was try to dodge it before then.

"Wouldn't be so bad," he affirmed, trailed up her sides, over her ribs. And he really meant it. He'd been a dirt pounder before. Had another home once; foolishly given up, burned away, and gone, but his while it had lasted anyway. One where he was surrounded by life, instead of spent all his time taking it away. Filled with sunlight and the smell of cool sweet rain, the wind rushing over long grasses that bowed as it passed. He suddenly wished he could have shown her all of it, chased her across the fields. Hopped the rough cross-beams of the driftwood fences to lay out a blanket and picnic under that big maple tree at the bend in the creek, one of the days when the afternoon was clear. She'd tease him about the straw he'd found to chew on, like a hayseed had sprouted there in between his teeth. And as the sky turned golden, he'd have told her about all the friends and family he'd lost.

They'd have a porch, with a seat-swing hung to one side. They'd be laying on it half napping and half alert while the kids ran in and out of the house with with the white siding and blue shutters, and never closed the screen door. His arms wrapped around her, sliding under her silk clothing, hands passing over her belly.

Mal took Inara's silence as disbelief, not just that he could give up flying, but that his first mate would even want his job. "Hey, just 'cause she's in my employ taking wages don't mean she'd rather be elsewhere, and that she won't like to be in charge," he argued, moving slowly upwards along her spine and the smooth muscles of her back. "Got some miles left in this boat, been a good place for all of us. And for Zoë, there's a sentimental angle." He studied the curlicue strands at the scruff of her neck, the trickle of water from the sponge before it slipped under her loose collar to her shoulders. "There's market demand too. We had a bona fide companion rent the shuttle from us a while."

Hadn't exactly turned out, though. "Never thought we'd end up like this," he admitted. "Way you glided into the shuttle that day like you owned it, you had me sellin' you on its virtues, and I'd been against the idea." She'd even seen through his lie about her having competition. The way she handled herself, in grace and business, had caught him off guard, and he guessed he'd been distracted by her, not at his best. But then, he never was with her. You want me, she'd said, and she was right. That's what was strange about it. She provoked him from the start. Everything about her said privilege, courtesy of the same folks who liked to shoot at him and bomb civilians. Yet all of her wiles, all her knowing speculation about their respectability, and he'd trusted her anyway. Enough to let her on his ship and among his crew. "Made me want to change your mind 'bout me. To prove myself."

So he insulted her. Tried to get a rise out of her. "I ought not to have called you that," he repented, smoothing across her wishbone to her sternum and back. Never was all that good with the girls back home, shut up with chores on the ranch and only going into town for church. Then with the war, any tenderness he might've been able to give someone had been shot dead.

She'd gone off after that first meeting to see a client while he pretended to decide, wasn't supposed to be back until morning. He found himself looking out at the evening on Persephone from the airlock, propped up arms crossed against one of the struts. The fiery red in the sky had long since faded to violet, and he'd been thinking about her. When he felt someone staring at him, he found her there, waiting at the base of the ramp with her luggage around her. They'd regarded each other a long moment, and he thought he might never forget her expression. She'd looked broken somehow, standing defiant amid everything she owned, and she was asking him with her eyes for shelter.

Something had passed between them then, some sort of recognition. What are you running from? He thought then that he might know, because maybe she was like him. Maybe she was running from herself.

They hadn't needed to say anything more, and he'd hauled her things up to her shuttle while she observed. Then she'd joined them for a protein dinner around their wood table, opposite him, Kaylee bouncing in joy about her staying with them. Wherever she'd come from, she somehow fit in. She laughed at Wash's jokes, smiled adoringly at the younger girl, showed his second in command respect. He thought she looked like smoke and candlelight.

He never asked her why she'd come back early. He reckoned he wouldn't have liked the answer. Because he couldn't imagine why anyone would send her away, and the more he thought about it, the more troubled he was about what someone could have done to her to make her leave. And he knew he could be worse. He wondered if he would ruin her. Even so, it took him more than eight months to meet one of her clients and stop with the mudslinging. It wasn't until he heard Atherton Wing call her a whore that he realized how wrong he was. That he was hurting her.

He'd been too late, because six months later, she left.

As he reached the end of her arm, he entwined his fingers with hers, admiring how small and dainty she was in comparison, the way her hand fit in his palm. He repeated the action with her other side, then stood. "I know I ain't made much of myself," he said, crossing over to the sink again for a fresh supply. Then he returned to her side, poured the water over her head, catching the excess in the other bowl. "But I'm gonna try to make that up to you."

He ran his hands through her hair and over her scalp, working the soap into a fine lather. He'd keep his word, because he was tired of failing the people who depended on him, who he cared for. Who he needed, lest he spiral down that dark road and lose whatever soul he had left.

And he needed a miracle. She remained deaf to him. Motionless, sightless, voiceless, unaware of just essential she was, how he was willing her back to them. For her to turn, and see him, and say something. Anything.

She didn't respond to him, to any of it. His heart heavy, he rinsed everything away.


Saturday, November 19, 2011 12:30 PM


So when I first started writing this story, and I wanted to deal with Inara's secret, I originally had been planning to have Inara's symptoms just be delirium, a more common aspect of neurodegenerative disorders. But then I thought that might steal too much spotlight from River. So I started to put together some ideas I'd gotten from a story by natalee moon and from certain famous scenes from Mal4Prez's The Fish Job and Easy Tickets. Recently, Mal4Prez posted a truly excellent chapter in her sequel series, Backstories, but I was nervous that I'd accidentally gotten too close to one of her ideas. So I asked her permission to post this.

Also, there's a difference between catatonia and being unconscious, in that they have different causes and with catatonia, people will actually hold poses that they're put in.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 6:48 AM


This is a fantastic chapter! Love it! Will come back again with details of what I liked.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 10:47 AM


Bytemite, you’ve surpassed yourself. This is your most exquisite chapter ever. You know I’m an absolute sucker for Mal/Inara and Mal’s internal monolog. You have tugged at my heartstrings, reading this, as Mal thinks about his feelings for Inara and their history together, tending her in her current state. So many turns of phrase here that are just so fitting and apt. I made a list, but if I quoted them all they’d make a ridiculously long review. So I’ll go for the abridged version, and give you the somewhat ridiculously long review.

I like how you show that Mal is unable to stay angry with Inara. The anger is a phantom feeling, a cover for what he really feels. “The real trick was staying mad”…”all his pointless fury turned to so much ashes.” He finally begins to be honest with himself, in that moment when “she almost took him with her before she started breathing again.”

In the midst of this he still thinks about his crew, his failures as a leader, and especially his connection with Zoe. “As a leader he’d failed them”…”Need you with me on this, Zoe.”

Simon and Kaylee’s moment: “She devoted her life to helping others. She might not be comfortable when the roles are reversed,” Simon says, unable to see that the same could be said for him. Kaylee sees it, and sees how it applies to Simon, Inara, and the Captain.

It’s just a measure of Mal’s love, that even as he cares for Inara, his concern is for honoring her. “What right did he have?...he damn well could find some way to honor her still.”

He’s finally admitting to his feelings, out loud, if not to anyone who can hear. (Though I am holding out a hope that even in her catatonic state, somehow this expression of his feelings will still make a difference, somehow.) “I’ll be there as long as it takes, til you get tired of me.” And not just his feelings for Inara. He’s talking about Shadow, without anger or overwhelming pain, just remembering and envisioning a future. I think this is a defining moment for Mal. He’s really in an unusual state of mind, and I love seeing it. “He wished he could have shown her all of it, chased her across the fields.” And his vision of the porch swing and children. “Something had passed between them, some sort of recognition…she was like him.” Got that right. Different worlds, different backgrounds, but what these two have in common in something much, much deeper.

And he’s showing more self-awareness: “He was getting too old for this kind of life. His scars bothered him…There’d come a time when his quickdraw wouldn’t be fast enough.”

And the guilt. Always the guilt—because Mal is never really without it. “He was tired of failing the people who depended on him.”

Your last line is just heartbreaking. “His heart heavy, he rinsed everything away.” Damn. So exquisitely heartbreaking.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 12:10 PM


I kind of wish someone else had written this, because I don't think I really did any of this justice. Lots of clumsy word choice and grammar, at times both too over the top and utterly, utterly bland.

I honestly wish I could live up to your praise, but I don't, and this just doesn't. The only thing really keeping me going is the fact that I don't want to just give up and quit.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 12:35 PM


NOT bland. NOT over the top. I'm glad YOU wrote this, because I wouldn't have thought to write it this way. I didn't imagine all the good things I saw in this chapter. I stick to my assessment. This chapter is fabulous. And I like the homage to Back Stories, too.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 1:26 PM


Well, agree to disagree. I think there's a lot of problems. But perhaps it feels unfinished simply because it isn't finished?

Sunday, November 20, 2011 4:01 PM


I love this. Mal's emotion breathes in and out throughout all of it, all the love and grief and terrible guilt. The little details of the other characters are well wrought too - River was beautifully imagined; I am glad you gave Simon some edge here, and poor forlorn Jayne is just right; of course Zoe would have different priorities, especially now. My heart went out to Mal, having the conversation with Zoe while holding Inara in his arms like that.

I am convinced Joss and Co. would approve.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 4:40 PM


I appear to be overruled.

I'm glad you both liked it, anyway.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 1:15 PM


Multi-lingual! Impressive skill feats.

I'm single lingual, but I use the internet to cheat. Technically I took classes for Spanish and Japanese, but unfortunately my memory capacity can be likened to a broken sieve.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 10:59 AM


Oh Mal, my favorite chapter, and she'll never hear what he truly wants to say, how very Jossian.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:57 PM


As a leader he'd failed them, both by tactics and attitude.

I know that's Mal thinking, but I'm glad he agrees with me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 1:09 PM


He just... Needs to stop getting them injured and exacerbating their conditions and getting them killed. Can he do that? If he could do that, he might have a future in starship captaining.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 1:10 PM


She'd gone off after that first meeting to see a client while he pretended to decide, wasn't supposed to be back until morning. He found himself looking out at the evening on Persephone from the airlock, propped up arms crossed against one of the struts. The fiery red in the sky had long since faded to violet, and he'd been thinking about her. When he felt someone staring at him, he found her there, waiting at the base of the ramp with her luggage around her. They'd regarded each other a long moment, and he thought he might never forget her expression. She'd looked broken somehow, standing defiant amid everything she owned, and she was asking him with her eyes for shelter.

This image is pure Mal-Inara gold.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 1:25 PM


When I first started writing, I though there had to be something that had Mal accept Inara and which made her even want to stay on despite the way their first meeting went. And eventually I decided that there must have been undertones of something like this even in the very first meeting, and here it comes right out. Mal worried and protective of Inara, Inara with her secret pains and... secret secrets.


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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)