Choices - Part 9
Monday, December 19, 2005

Mal and Inara return to what’s left of The Chapel of Love.


A/N Hi all… still sick here, but hopefully a little more coherent than I have been… I’m going to try and take this into a little more serious plot now… Who’d have thought? This was supposed to be a short little vignette, one small scene, and now it’s really taken off! I owe it all to those of you who’ve read and supported this story. I can’t think of a better bunch of people to write for! Thank-you so much. Go back and read the Other Parts: 1 2 3A 3B 4 5 6 7 8A 8B 8C

Choices – Part 9 by 2x2

Whelton Tomás, commonly known as ‘Whelt’ to his acquaintances, ran his knuckles along his jaw, feeling for stubble as he waited for his wave to connect. Four months on this backwater moon had done little to lift his spirits, but today, all that was going to change. Not that he could complain about ‘work’ he’d been paid to do – settle in town, get nice and cozy with the local underbelly, and wait for the quarry to arrive. And if he’d stirred up a bit a trouble along the way, all the better as far as his employer was concerned. Afterall, Whelt was supposed to be the scapegoat once all this was over. ‘Course, he’d be long off moon by that time, and much, much wealthier.

“Ah, Mr. Tomás,” came the voice of his employer from the blank vid screen. Whelt had never seen the face of the man who’d hired him, and that suited him just fine, as long as he continued to see the bills that arrived regularly in square, manila envelopes with his name on it. Man didn’t want to be known, was no concern of Whelt’s. He had his own ideas about who his employer might really be - definitely high class, by his speech and manners... He suspected it was likely the eccentric yet very rich recluse who, it was rumored, owned that large compound half a day outside of town. But Whelt didn’t really care. In his line of work, it rarely paid to ask too many questions. So he’d never asked why his employer kept his vid screen covered, or why he wasn’t given a name. Neither did he ask why he’d had to come here four months ago and settle in just to wait, nor why the man was so interested in the Firefly class transport called Serenity and her captain, Malcom Reynolds. He wasn’t paid to ask, it didn’t pay to know, so he didn’t care to. He just did his job, and for that he was paid well.

“It’s done,” said Whelt.

“Excellent. And you took pains to be seen by the locals?”

“Half the town saw a Browncoat and his mate light that place up,” Whelt assured him. “Were some deaths.”

“Whores?” the man asked. “No matter,” he continued at Whelt’s nod. “But tell me, the Lawman, this Williams… Will he be smart enough to figure it out?”

“Surely. Won’t take him long to reason it weren’t Reynolds. He’s no fool.”

“More’s the pity, that. Ah well, just long enough to peak the good Captain’s interest, we must hope. Are your men ready? I’ve put a lot of effort into arranging this opportunity, I’d be quite put out if things went awry at this point.”

“They’re ready. It’s a small crew, shouldn’t be much trouble getting’ him, or the whore.”

“Yes, the whore… good. Good! I’m sending you the rendezvous co-ordinates now. I’ll expect you and our… guests, soon. Wave me once you have them.”

* * * * * * * * * *

The smoke was the first thing they saw, still visible over the rooftops, hanging low over the town like a dark, threatening cloud.

Then, came the smell.

To Mal and Zoe it was the smell of war and death, as familiar as it was unwelcome, something to be put to the backs of their minds lest they dwell too much on those comrades they’d lost to the burning lasers of Alliance drop ships.

Jayne too recognized it, veteran of enough destruction to know what that smell meant, though not so inured of it that he didn’t scrunch his nose and suck air through his teeth in distaste.

It was a smell Inara didn’t know.

Covering her mouth and nose against the greasy odour with a hand, it was only as she met Mal’s heartrending stare when he looked back at her that the realization of what that smell actually was finally hit home. Eyes widening in shock she physically recoiled, her body shaking as she gasped into her hand in horrified revulsion. The contents of her stomach twisted violently and she whimpered, knowing she would never unlearn the knowledge of how the body of a charred, burned human being smelled.

Ren ci de fo zu,” she whispered, her eyes brimming with moisture and Jayne gave a nod of agreement.

Mal turned to face forward again with a sigh, wishing he could have made her stay away, spared her this. Zoe glanced at him out of the corner of her eye as she piloted the mule through the streets. She felt sympathy for the Companion, but the woman had made her choice. She’d wanted to see, and this was a part of the seein’.

In another moment they turned the last corner and stopped, climbing from the mule as they came upon what remained of The Love Chapel.

Smoke drifted through the street like wisps of fog. Through it they could see the blackened ruins of what had once been walls, nothing left that stood higher than knee height, shapes once familiar and recognizable, twisted now into a mad parody of their former selves. Paste-like snakes of grey sludge trailed from the carcass, water and ash formed into trickling rivers that streamed past the distinct shapes, draped in rough grey wool, side by side in the street. One blackened limb, its hand flexed into a claw-like curl, protruded from under the home-spun fabric, the flesh charred and crumbling....

Inara staggered forward through the milling crowds, not stopping until she reached the bodies. “Nine!” she gasped in anguish as she counted, her hand flying to her mouth in grief. “Tian xiao de!

“Six of my girls. Three customers,” said Gabr’elle, her voice flat as she came up beside Inara. Even dressed in a pair of Zoe’s pants and one of Kaylee’s t-shirts, looking worlds away from the flawless Companion, the madam had had no trouble recognizing her. Inara turned to face Gabr’elle, grief and regret written on her features, her relief at seeing the house mother alive outweighed by her terrible guilt. “Three more’re burned so bad they had to be lifted to the nearest med station,” the woman continued, her face streaked with ash, eyes hard as she stared back.

“Gabr’elle, I—” Inara started, tears spilling from her eyes. She hadn’t the words to convey her sorrow, knowing they would be poor comfort at best, but feeling the need to somehow express her apology. “I’m so sorry,” she said in a tortured voice.

“Folks ‘round here been sayin’ was a Browncoat done this,” Gabr’elle said, the question plain in her voice. Inara shook her head, distraught.

“No! No… It wasn’t. Gabr’elle, I swear,” said Inara through her tears in earnest. The other woman stared hard at her before closing her eyes and letting out a deep sigh.

“Didn’t much figure it was, not really,” she said, her demeanor softening toward the Companion as she released the last of that doubt. Mal chose that moment to step up beside them, eyes taking in the ruin of the house grimly.

“Pretty sure it was that hun dan Whelt, dressed up like,” he said, his voice rough. Gabr’elle nodded, the anguish plain on her face.

“Like as not,” she said in a wavering voice. She’d remained strong, detached from it all up till now, but finally the grief was beginning to slip out. Inara reached out and touched the woman’s arm in compassion. “Never thought…The Love Chapel was my life. I got nowhere else to go,” Gabr’elle cried, breaking at last. Inara hesitated, wanting to console the woman but afraid the comfort would not be welcome.

Then Mal was there, sweeping the woman into his arms, pulling her tight against him in sheltering comfort.

It always amazed Inara to see him like this. He was normally so awkward and uncomfortable with expressing emotion, hiding everything behind a mask of anger and indifference. But there were times, like now, when the depth of his compassion astounded her. Oh, she’d always known there was more to him than the gruff exterior he liked to affect; it was just how much more there was that continually amazed her. He would kill, and lie and steal, all the while maintaining his honour and decency and never compromising his principles. It was part of what drew her to him, far more powerfully than any fancy ball or wealthy Client ever could. Her society liked to think it held to the ideals of honour and nobility, but the truth, more often than not, was it was nothing more than a lie designed to disguise a seedy underbelly of deception, manipulation and exploitation. She knew not all of society was like that, but she also knew there was not a man among them who would be standing here now, as Mal was, sparing sympathy for a whore.

The Captain held the woman tightly, no stranger to the tide of emotion that swept over her. He’d gotten to know loss, grief and anger up close and personal; knew what this sort of thing did to a person. There’d been plenty of times during the war a man had broke down and started crying, not knowing the reason why, but unable to stop it just the same. He saw no shame in it, neither in the taking or giving of comfort. This sort of situation, it was right to cry for lost loved ones; best to get it all out at the start, then let the anger harden you so that you could keep going and do what needed to be done. He didn’t offer her words of comfort, just held her close.

At last Gabr’elle drew in a shuddering breath and drew back from him, embarrassed to have broken down in front of these people she barely knew.

“Forgive me,” she said discomfited but Mal shook his head.

“Ain’t nothin’ to be sorry for,” he said firmly and Gabr’elle smiled faintly.


Mal nodded and then turned back to survey the wreckage. “How many of your people you have with you?” he asked.

“Just my three girls,” she said, nodding toward two women on the far side of the house who were holding each other, crying and scared. The third was picking her way through the charred remains numbly, looking for anything that might be salvageable, a bundle of singed material that might once have been a dress held tight in her hands. The madam shook her head. “Ain’t seen hide nor hair of my doorman since he drove you two home last night. The rest…” she trailed off, no need to explain further.

Mal nodded. “Inara,” he said, turning to her. “I want you to take Gabr’elle and her people back to Serenity, get them safe on board. ‘You handle that mule?”

“Yes, I imagine so,” she said, startled by his request.

“Captain. That’s a fine offer, but you don’t—” started Gabr’elle but Mal cut her off.

“No tellin’ for sure you or one of your women weren’t a target here,” he explained quietly. “An’ I’d feel better knowin’ you was safe aboard my ship for the time bein’, till we sort this thing out. Conjure I owe you that much, at least.”

“This weren’t your doin’. You don’t—” Mal held up a hand to hold her off.

“I do,” he said resolutely.

“Sir?” questioned Zoe from behind him where she waited with Jayne.

“You, me an’ Jayne’ll stay behind,” he said turning to her. “I want to find out as much as we can about our ‘friend’ Whelt. See if we can’t cotton on to where he’s run to ground…”

He turned back to Inara. “’You seen enough?” he asked, his voice hard but without judgment. Flinching, she nodded, dropping her gaze remorsefully as she swallowed hard. She started as she felt his hand sweep up along her cheek, his fingers curling around the back of her neck. She looked up to meet his stare and felt her chest tighten at the care and sorrow she saw for her in his eyes. Her lips trembled with the effort to hold back her tears as the realization came that he hadn’t been trying to control her when he’d argued against her coming; he’d been trying to spare her this.

He pulled her to him and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Be careful,” he whispered. “Get back to Serenity and stay inside. Don’t let anyone on.”

Inara nodded, drawing in a deep breath with a sniffle as he let her go. “Mal, I…” she began, but was unable to finish. “Stay safe,” she begged instead, her insides tightening with a sudden premonition of doom, praying with all her heart that her fear was unfounded.

* * * * *

Chinese Translations Ren ci de fo zu = merciful Buddha Tian xiao de = name of all that’s sacred Hun dan = bastard

Go to Part 10


Monday, December 19, 2005 7:36 AM


premonition of doom? oh no!

ai, the set up, the set up...the drama! love it!

Monday, December 19, 2005 9:20 AM


Ooooh, so rutting good. Love this but wish it was miles longer... Can't wait to find out what happens next but be careful Mal, that slimey *wangba dan* is waiting to catch you out. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 7:36 AM


You did such a lovely job capturing all that devastation, the messy, dirty, defiled calm after the storm. Gab'relle was once again a delight, as was your Mal, Inara and Zoe. Each perfectly in character in their own way. Zoe hard, Inara soft, Mal somewhere inbetween, torn between those two sides of him.

And ooooh, the delicious manipulation!They're being played, reacting to every tug on the puppet string without even knowing. Excellent!! Most intriguing..

Friday, December 23, 2005 11:56 AM


sorry if this is in any way a spoiler, but...
*chants* niska! niska! niska!
oh, wait...that sounds like i'm rooting for niska!!! no!!!! bad niska, bad!


Friday, December 23, 2005 12:27 PM



Friday, December 23, 2005 12:30 PM


Thanks everyone, again, for all the shiny feedback... I'm workin' on part 10 right now, and at Ambodell's request, this one is going to be longer than the others, probably around 4,000 or 5,000 words this time, just cuz 10 is such a shiny number, and cuz that will put the length of this story so far up to 24,000 words, which just ruttin' boggles my mind!!
Anyway, just wanted to thank all of you for still reading this thing...


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History of an Object
There’s no reason to keep it, damaged as it is. Save one. Doesn’t matter that it’s finer than any other cup on the ship, even with the crack. Doesn’t matter that it would never hold liquid again without some of it seeping through. Burning your fingers. Was only one reason he still has the cup.

Five Years' War
The night was warm. Clouds, low on the horizon, blue black in the last light of the setting sun. Nothing but the breeze and the buzz of the cicadas breaking the stillness. A perfect evening.

The Close Shore, At the End, Untenable
“Dead ’re in my head tonight,” he said finally. “Can’t get ‘em out. Don’t got the booze or the bar to distract me. Don’t know why I’m here ‘cept I don’t think I can go through it alone.”

The Slower Path: All the Difference - Part 15 - Sequel to The One Less Traveled By
She let out a breath, saying nothing for a long moment before she raised her eyes again. “There are some things I want you to know,” she said softly. “Things I want you to understand.”

Much as he wished he could ignore it, he could see it was important to her that he know whatever it was she wanted to tell him. He knew he wouldn't have let himself see it in the past, but that weren't where they were anymore, or at least, not where they wanted to be, either of them. Their relationship had changed, was changing, and he weren’t so stupid he didn’t recognize that. He didn't know that he wanted to know it, much less understand it, but she was reluctant enough to talk about any aspect of her life as it was; could be he might ought not stop her when she wanted to.

Unlucky at Cards...
“I… You can’t be that lucky!” Mal moaned as Inara beat him again, laying out her cards with a flourish.

The Slower Path: The One Less Traveled By - Part 14 - Sequel to Regrets
They fell silent again, struggling to find the ease that they had found, before; before the argument that had almost ended things.

"I feel like-," she started.

"This is-," he said at the same time.

They looked at each other. "Awkward," they both said, laughing lightly.

Always Had Faith
Faith in a higher power? That was always Mal's thing, the Captain, back in the war.

Loved and Lost
Love’s the biggest kind of hurt there is.

And I wouldn't trade that love for nothin'.

The Mood That Passes Through
He felt the first trembling shudder go through her, heard her breath hitch and felt her fingers grip his skin; knew it was comin', the wave that was cresting the walls she'd built to hold it back, whatever it was. Knew they were about to come crashing down around her. The first sob still hurt though, still lanced through his heart like a searing hot blade to hear her make that sound.