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EBFIDDLER

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (04)
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kaylee and Inara have some girl talk, and Inara makes some realizations.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2405    RATING:     SERIES: FIREFLY

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12)

Part (04)

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Follows WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11).

The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
EXPECTATIONS (04)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
SHADOW (07)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
BANDIAGARA (09)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)
WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)

Kaylee and Inara have some girl talk, and Inara makes some realizations.

* * *

It had been way too long since they’d had one of their comfortable girl-talks, to Kaylee’s way of thinking. But it seemed everybody had just been out of sorts recently, and last time she’d tried to talk to Inara, it was a disaster—she’d upset Inara in just about every possible way. It was difficult, managing the mood swings, queasiness, and sudden urges of early pregnancy, not to mention just being gorram tired all the time—and cranky too. And even though Kaylee was the pregnant one, Inara sure had been moody—jealous, angry, and all kinds of unreasonable, particularly if a body happened to mention the Captain and his obvious depression at being out of Inara’s good graces.

So Kaylee was mighty relieved when Inara welcomed her to her shuttle like her old self. Friendly-like and smiling. Soon Inara was brushing Kaylee’s hair and they were chattering up a storm. Inara always kept up with current events and the latest trends—both professional training and simply out of habit, Kaylee supposed. So she just asked Inara what was new in the world of fashion, and it weren’t long before the Companion had Kaylee’s hair pinned up in the manner that a certain Londinium celebrity had worn at a recent red carpet event.

“Hmm,” Kaylee considered, moving her head carefully from side to side and contemplating the hairstyle in the mirrors. “I’m not so sure about this. Maybe would work better if I were the type what wore long dangly earrings…”

“Oh, that can easily be arranged,” Inara replied, and fished in her jewelry box for something suitable.

“Huh,” Kaylee said, when the earrings were installed. “Yeah, I can kinda see it. Don’t match with coveralls, though, and I can’t see wearin’ my hair this way in the engine room. Not to mention those dangly earrings ’d be sure to snag on something.”

“You’re right,” Inara replied, enjoying the feeling of easy friendliness she’d found again with Kaylee. 亲爱的佛 Qīn’àide Fó, how she’d missed these girl-times with Kaylee. How little time she’d spent feeling like a girl lately!

Gettin’ her hair brushed and styled by Inara always made Kaylee feel a bit like a princess—much prettier than usual, and definitely more pampered. Weren’t long before Kaylee had Inara all filled in about Simon’s proposal. The ring was examined and pronounced exquisite, the exact wording of the proposal and the nuances of gesture were recounted in detail, and Simon’s good qualities were extolled. Kaylee began elaborating on the special qualities of engagement sex.

“Well, I’ll take your word for it,” Inara said with a smile. “It’s not something I would know about.”

“Oh, you’re kiddin’ me, Inara!” Kaylee exclaimed. “You know everything about everything when it comes to sex.”

“Hmm. It’s true I have studied the subject somewhat.” The smile remained in Inara’s voice.

“I’ll say. I bet you know every last thing when it—”

“When it comes to engagement sex, however, I have to admit that I have no personal experience with it whatsoever.”

“Aw, c’mon Inara. Ain’t nobody never asked you to marry them?”

“Oh, lots of times. But only one of them really meant it.”

“Whaddya mean?”

“I mean that it’s not really all that rare for a client to be, shall we say, carried away with enthusiasm? So yes, I’ve had offers.”

“How romantic!”

“Not really.”

“Inara, how could it not be—”

“Now, Kaylee, I’m not talking about the ‘enthusiastic’ ones so much—their puppy-love is endearing, but it is hardly profound. No, what I meant is—I’ve received a lot of offers from men who were looking to enhance their standing by forming an alliance with a Companion.”

“Formin’ an alliance?” Kaylee’s enthusiasm was somewhat diminished and her voice took on a tone of somewhat puzzled dismay.

“There are many men who see their association with a Companion as a measure of status. If they can persuade a Companion to stay exclusive to them—as their Personal Companion, for example—then they look to benefit greatly from that Companion’s skills. Not just that,” she rolled her eyes, “though of course they think of that, too. No, Kaylee, unfortunately many of them have no more idea of romance than a bull in a budoir. What they really want is exclusive access to a Companion’s network of contacts and her sphere of influence, and the leverage to persuade her to employ that influence solely for their advancement. Of course, the benefits of the bedchamber and male bragging rights are also on their minds.”

“Oh.” Kaylee looked like a kid whose shiny balloon had just popped. “Well, when ya put it that way, it don’t sound so romantic. So you been proposed to a lot then?

“Rather frequently.”

“How many times?”

“I don’t keep notches on a bedpost, Kaylee. And Companions don’t talk about their clients. Let’s just say that I’ve had offers on a regular basis, ever since my first year as a fully qualified Companion. Both offers of Personal Companionship and offers of marriage.”

“Were you ever tempted to accept?”

“Only once, Kaylee,” Inara replied, remembering the heartfelt sincerity of Mal’s unpremeditated proposal on the Bandiagara rooftop. “Only once.”

“Oooh! Tell me about it,” Kaylee exclaimed, enthusiasm revived.

“Oh, I most definitely will not!” Inara replied, with what she hoped was a laugh in her voice. She trusted that it was enough, because she certainly had no intention of talking about Mal’s offer of marriage. “A Companion doesn’t kiss and tell. So now you see, I really don’t have any experience with engagement sex. You’re the expert there.” She smiled at Kaylee, and hoped the diversion would take.

“Sure don’t feel like any kind of expert,” Kaylee replied, “but I can’t complain. It’s new territory for me, Inara. It’s kinda funny, because I always thought I knew so much about boys, growin’ up with four brothers and hangin’ out at Daddy’s machine shop an’ all.”

Inara raised her eyebrows as a signal for Kaylee to tell her more.

“Boys ain’t no mystery to me, Inara. I seen boys of every age, in every state of undress and every kind of mood. Baby boys in diapers and little boys havin’ tantrums, young boys tellin’ jokes about 屁 pì and 鼻屎 bíshǐ and laughin’ at everything gross. Boys moonin’ over their first crush. Teenage boys skinny dippin’ and lusting after older girls what won’t give ’em the time of day. So boys ain’t no mystery. But Simon is. He’s more than what meets the eye. He ain’t just a pretty face—though he is pretty easy on the eyes.” The two women nodded in agreement on that point. “He’s got real depth to him,” Kaylee continued. “It ain’t just that he’s a brilliant doctor from the Core. He’s got a depth of caring like no man I ever seen. Well, except maybe the Cap’n. But that’s different—Cap’n’s like a big brother to me—my 哥哥 gēgē, just as he’s Zoe’s 弟弟 dìdi.”

“Zoe’s 弟弟 dìdi?” Inara repeated. It was as if Kaylee had been privy to her thoughts.

“Of course. He’s the Captain, but Zoe’s the older sibling.” Kaylee looked at Inara in astonishment. “What, ain’t you never noticed? All them times when Zoe orders the Cap’n to take charge? You seen it. He’s got leadership skills and all, but it’s Zoe what provides the anchor. Keeps him tethered, keeps him from flyin’ off course. Well, most of the time.” Kaylee grew thoughtful. “It don’t always work. There was a while when…” she trailed off, and glanced nervously at Inara. Then, she bit the bullet and continued. “When you left for the Training House, Inara, there weren’t nothin’ Zoe could do or say. Cap’n got into one of his moods and Zoe just couldn’t manage him like you do, Inara.”

“Like I do?”

“Like you do, Inara,” Kaylee stated, as if it were an indisputable fact. “Man would climb the highest mountain, ford the deepest stream, if you said it was the right thing to do. He relies on you for his compass. When you were away at the Training House, it was like he was on the drift, didn’t know which way to turn. Took one bad job after another, strayin’ away into worse and worse situations, like he’d lost his way in the woods and couldn’t see a clear path.”

“I don’t have anything to do with what jobs he takes,” Inara refuted. “He never even consults me.”

“That’s what you think,” Kaylee replied. “Maybe he don’t ask, but he’s still guided by you. All you gotta do is blink your eye or wave your little finger, he knows how to read it, and he responds. You’re kiddin’ me that you haven’t seen that, aren’t you? ’Cause you’re so good at reading people.”

* * *

Mal was sulking on the bridge, Inara knew. People on Serenity mostly respected the bridge as the Captain’s domain, and rarely invaded it, unless they had business there. When Mal wanted to make himself inaccessible, he retreated to the bridge. He was there now, and he was avoiding her.

She wanted to forgive and seek forgiveness. She’d been wrong about him and Zoe. Her reaction had been immature. Of course, his reaction—hiding—was immature, too.

She knew she had no real grounds for believing in his infidelity, and yet somehow she was still having a hard time letting go. Why was that so? There were a number of reasons, and she couldn’t run from them indefinitely. She had to face them. The course of study at Companion Academy involved considerable attention to human psychology. It was time she used those skills to analyze herself.

It irked her that Mal did not understand that she could continue to work as a Companion and still be his lover. Anytime they even approached the subject, he just got upset, wouldn’t talk, and wouldn’t listen. He simply equated her work as a Companion to a betrayal of their love. That angered her.

She didn’t see her work as a betrayal. There was a fundamental difference between client services and her relationship with Mal. Sex was only one category of the caring services she performed. People assumed that every client wanted sexual services, but that was simply not true. She wondered if Mal even really understood that most of her work did not involve having sex with clients. She didn’t think it had even occurred to him.

She wasn’t an idiot: she understood that a lover might expect sexual exclusivity—that was just human psychology. It was perfectly clear to her that Mal expected it, although he had not asked it of her. She had given it without his asking. Until his seeming betrayal and her aggrieved reaction, she had adhered rigidly to a policy of no conjugal clients. Her scheduling of one on Beaumonde in the immediate aftermath of their fight now struck her as childishly spiteful, tit-for-tat.

She faced the hard truth: she was having a hard time letting go of the idea of Mal’s infidelity because she had acted on the assumption that he was unfaithful, and took a conjugal client while on Beaumonde. She knew she had to tell him. She would not feel easy until that fact had been aired—and forgiven.

They were attempting to rebuild their relationship. The foundation was still there: the love each had felt for the other almost from the moment they met. It had taken them a while to recognize that it was more than simple physical attraction that drew them towards each other. It was a love both strong and deep, so strong in fact that they’d been unable to deny it. It had propelled them together like the force of gravity. But the structure they had built upon that strong foundation was fragile and volatile, easily blown apart by the sheer force of their stubbornness, and easily ignited into flames by anger. These were faults that they both shared. Jealousy added fuel to the fire; silence kept the ashes banked on the smoldering ruins beneath. They needed to be stronger and more open, to rebuild with communication, compassion, and compromise.

Inara was quite willing to compromise. She didn’t have to take conjugal clients. But only if Mal would agree not to interfere with her work when it didn’t involve sex. He needed not only not to stand in her way, but to support her. To stand with her, not in opposition, to help and encourage her, to forward her career. To be her partner in all senses of the word.

Mal shouldn’t expect her to tolerate his interference in her business. He didn’t tolerate interference in his business—from her or anyone else. And yet there was a fine line between non-interference, and allowing a partner to pursue a self-destructive path. It did seem to her that he might be amenable to suggestion and guidance. Was this what Kaylee was talking about, when she claimed that Inara already knew how to “manage” Mal? She might be his compass. She might guide Mal away from egregious criminality and self-destructive acts, and toward the nobility of purpose that he exhibited on occasion but seemed to feel he couldn’t often afford to act upon. And he might guide her—where? She was uncertain of the destination, but felt that her future was here, on this ship Serenity, and inextricably linked to his.

Her past life was filled with material richness, a seeming wealth of choices. She might return to the Training House or to Sihnon, even to House Madrassa itself, and resume that lifestyle. The prospect of having basic needs met as a matter of course, of living in a place where her status was unquestioned and her profession was respected—it was enticing. But she was beginning to recognize it for exactly what it was: a gilded cage. It was her instinctive sense that the cage door was beginning to close upon her that had prompted her to escape that life three years ago, to flee to the Black. Living aboard Serenity—and that meant with Mal, for he and his ship were interconnected in every possible way—gave her freedom, and the means of living her dreams. It was wealth of another kind, intangible and priceless.

It was about the journey, not the destination. How you get there is the worthier part.

Her relationship with Mal was part of that journey.

She could not forget how he had offered her his heart—the marriage proposal slipping out of his mouth almost inadvertently as he wished that the happiness and easy relations they had enjoyed on the remote world of Bandiagara might last forever. It was a heartfelt and genuine offer, and even though she thought it was premature and perhaps unrealistic, she loved him for it.

Zoe was wrong, she thought, remembering. No, Mal didn’t bungle the proposal. The proposal was beautiful. Yes, it took her by surprise. It took him by surprise as well. Yet Mal could have done it in no other way that could have so completely convinced her of his sincerity. She’d had other offers…mostly from men who wanted to take advantage of her Companion status to enlarge their fortunes. Everyone knew Companions had connections, and the skills to use them. Marriage with a Companion typically made the career of any man fortunate enough to persuade one to throw in her lot with his. It was a fact that power-seeking individuals tried to woo Companions for the sake of their connections, and the Academy had entire courses of study devoted to the subject of how to avoid entrapment by clients. It was the reason why most Companions chose not to marry at all, unless it was entirely at their own instigation. That’s what her own mother had done: chose her husband, and asked him, not the other way around. Those other offers Inara had mentioned to Kaylee—those clients had tried to sweep Inara off her feet with fancy dinners, romantic getaways, and expensive jewelry. Not Mal. Only Mal could ask her to marry him in the half-light before dawn, while lying buck naked on an adobe rooftop, exposed to the sky of a remote planet at the ass-end of the ’Verse.

Although now that she thought about it, that wasn’t really his first proposal, was it? Even before their first kiss he had offered himself, everything, to her acceptance. “Everything I got, everything I am, my heart, my love—it all belongs to you, if you want.” His words were a paraphrase of old wedding vows: ‘all that I am and all that I have, I give to thee.’ 仁慈的佛 Réncí de Fó, Kaylee was right. Maybe she did know all about engagement sex. Sex that was not merely for mutual pleasure and comfort, but that was truly an expression of love. That was why it was different with Mal. What she had with him was not just sex. It was more than that, and it always had been, with him.

She now recognized that some of her hostility towards Zoe had stemmed from Zoe’s presumption that she thought Mal didn’t measure up somehow, that she thought he wasn’t good enough for her. She didn’t like anyone thinking that Mal wasn’t good enough. Of course he was good enough. She was the judge of that. She had accepted him, and everything he offered, right from the beginning of their intimate relationship. And she wouldn’t put up with anyone disparaging her—

Her what? Exactly what was Mal, to her? Her lover. Her boyfriend. Her fiancé—almost. The man who would be her husband. The only man she had any inclination at all to marry. The only one who would marry her for herself alone, without expecting to profit from her professional connections and political skills. The one who truly loved her. Whom she loved.

There. She’d said it. She loved him.

Even if it were only to herself, it was an acknowledgement she’d avoided making, because of the complications that ensued when a Companion fell in love.

Complications. Yes, indeed. Mal had said it himself, many a time. Shipboard relationships complicated things. But Inara knew better than to limit it to aboard ship. Relationships complicated life, no matter when or where. It made it more difficult to navigate the bumps and snags along the path. It was easy to mistake one’s way. Especially if one continued to consider one’s needs solo, instead of considering the needs of the other, and their needs together, as she had.

She had refused to talk to him about what had made her angry.

She saw him with Zoe, saw and heard some things that gave her reason to think he was cheating on her. And then she had cut off every attempt he made to explain, isolating herself in her attempt to punish him for infidelity. She had accused him, and wouldn’t listen to his defense. She shut him out, and shut out anybody who tried to tell her she was wrong. Made herself miserable, made him miserable—she could see it now.

仁慈的佛 Réncí de Fó, she was Leontes, like River had said. She had imagined that there was something more than friendship between Mal and Zoe, then gathered around her only the evidence that supported her false conclusion. The others had told her, each in their own way, that she was wrong, but she wouldn’t listen. And in her anger she had done to him exactly what she had accused him of doing to her. She had slept with someone else.

And while she was still in the midst of her anger—and still struggling with her inconsistent and self-destructive behavior in taking the conjugal client—Saffron turned up and sowed discord—in spades. She could see it more clearly now. Saffron had pitted her and Mal against each other—provoking her jealousy, playing on his insecurities.

She hoped they’d cleared the air between them regarding Saffron, but she wasn’t entirely sure. The one time they escorted Saffron together, Saffron had drawn her out, allowing Inara to play her—and it wasn’t until she saw Mal’s face that she realized Saffron was using her to play Mal, the real target. He had looked incredibly pained, and he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t talk about it when she tried to reassure him that she didn’t think of him as a clinical test case. Did he really think she would ever treat him like that?

He was different. He was her lover—completely different from any of her clients. He was, in fact, the only lover she’d ever had. Her connections to her clients, though honest and sincere, only went so far. Her connection to him was soul-deep, and reached a level that she had never attained with anybody else. He surely understood that.

Or did he? She was sure she had told him. Clients were clients. He was her lover. She loved him. She hadn’t yet told him so in those exact words, but she had made it perfectly clear, hadn’t she?

Still, Saffron aside, they’d not really settled the other, more serious division between them. He wanted to talk about it, indeed he insisted upon talking about it. She had tried to avoid it, offering to forgive and forget, foolishly hoping that it didn’t need to be aired. She should have known it wouldn’t work. He was an honorable man, thief as he was, and the questions of fidelity the incident had raised had called his honor into question. He wouldn’t rest until he had defended himself. He demanded that she listen. He presented his case and left her to come to her own conclusions. Since then he had hidden out on the bridge, in his domain. He would not seek her out. He expected her to come to him.

He expected her to come to him, the 混蛋 húndàn, to come and grovel. Anger surged through her again. Who was he to—?

She stopped. Wait. Where was this crazy anger and jealousy coming from? Even she recognized how 疯了 fēngle it was. He hadn’t betrayed her. But she might have betrayed him. She broke up with him (a break-up he hadn’t accepted—she saw that now) and then she took a conjugal client. She had done it knowing it would hurt him if he knew. He still didn’t suspect it, and she owed him honesty. Tears streamed down her face. Get control of yourself, Inara. Control is a Companion’s first lesson, and the last. A sob hitched in her chest. Engage your passions in what you do, but do not let them govern you. Things had been going so well. He’d been kind and considerate. He’d asked her to marry him, and what had she done? She had ruined it. She sank down onto her bed, clutching her pillow, and the floodgates opened. She lay there sobbing her heart out into her pillow, more like a star-crossed teenager than a mature woman, unable to stem the tide of grief.

Some time later, she did not know how long, she had cried herself out. She sat up and tried to take stock of things. Why couldn’t she control her emotions? Anger, jealousy, tears—a rocky roller coaster of crazy emotions. Where was the calm and content person that she thought she was? How had she lost her serenity so completely? Granted, Mal had always been capable of damaging her calm and provoking her to uncontrolled behavior. No one did it more effectively. But this was different—uncontrolled waves of anger, bolts of jealousy out of the blue, unexpected crying jags. When had she become so emotionally unstable?

“Mood swings and emotional instability are some of the symptoms of skipping treatments,” Dr Schneider’s voice echoed in her head. She had skipped too many treatments. She was a wreck. She was going completely 疯了 fēngle. Was this what happened when you skipped amelioration therapy? Had she even remembered to take her medication regularly? Much as she hated the painful treatments, she needed to schedule more therapy on Bernadette. Terrible thoughts raced through her head. What if this was something worse, something that the treatments couldn’t help?

What was wrong with her?

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

亲爱的佛 Qīn’àide Fó [Dear Buddha]

屁 pì [farts]

鼻屎 bíshǐ [snot]

哥哥 gēgē [older brother]

弟弟 dìdi [younger brother]

仁慈的佛 Réncí de Fó [Merciful Buddha]

混蛋 húndàn [bastard]

疯了 fēngle [crazy]

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COMMENTS

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 5:56 AM

BYTEMITE


And the other shoe drops.

I like how you sorted out this scene from the previous scene, particularly with Kaylee's revelations acknowledged to parallel Inara's own thoughts, and Inara regaining some of her self-awareness.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:17 AM

AMDOBELL


At last, Inara gets a CLUE even if it took all Kaylee's efforts to get her to see it. I hope she gets her treatments resumed and also has a good long talk to Mal, without flying into a temper or chickening out. It's way past the time for being truthsome. Very refreshing to see Kaylee be the one to give advice to Inara for a change. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:54 AM

NUTLUCK


So was that ending a great big clue or what.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 12:57 PM

BYTEMITE


It was a little clue for a little thing.

*promptly hit in the head, sustains concussion, EB probably innocent*

I honestly don't know if our speculations are anywhere near the mark. EB is actually remarkably evasive on the subject, and not in a aha she's totally covering that up way but in a welp, I have no idea kinda way.

Like I asked her about it yesterday and I still don't know if she just didn't get the email or if she's playing it canny. :?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 3:11 PM

NUTLUCK


I kinda suspected ever since Simon first brought up the issue to Mal what last story the story before? Of course I could be wrong.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 5:32 PM

EBFIDDLER


Wow, all these speculations! :-) I'm not sayin', one way or another. Read and you shall find out. Eventually. When I get it written. I think. (ha)


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