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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Set after OIS. Much to Inara’s chagrin, Mal accepts a job offer that takes Serenity far away from New Melbourne and to an unremarkable moon called Three Hills. With Inara’s promise to leave looming over them like a shadow and the job on Three Hills becoming more potentially deadly at each turn, Mal and Inara begin to retreat into their memories while all the while trying to find out what’s going on in their present… assuming they survive to find out. Also, Simon turns to Book for help when with his latest attempt to woo Kaylee, Zoe takes River under her wing, and circumstances lead to and unlikely partnership between Jayne and…
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2455 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Over The Hills and Far Away
June 14, 2501. Sihnon. Apartment of Heron and Layla Serra.
Layla Serra was easy to pick out of a crowd. She has a certain air about her, a certain dignity that all the other women working in the factory lacked. It was more than the way she pulled her shoulders back and kept her back straight, more than way she kept her chin raised fifteen degrees at all times and never let her lips part unintentionally. Those were simply mannerisms she had picked up along the way. She was born glowing, radiating a light that only the soul can see, and as she grew older, that light only became brighter.
But it was doused in shadow. Living in Sihnon’s largest industrial city was not kind to anyone. Layla’s hands were coarse like a worker’s hands. Her eyes were rimmed with dark circles, her lips ornamented with lines of sadness. She was thirty-two years old, but she could have easily passed for forty, maybe older. She was sitting on the edge of her daughter’s bed, running her worn fingers through her daughter’s soft, dark curls (so much like hers once were before she cut her hair short), one stroke after another, after another.
“Mother.” The tone of Inara’s voice wasn’t threatening, wasn’t commanding, wasn’t whining, it wasn’t begging. It was barely anything – but it was something. For a moment, Layla hesitated. Already, Inara spoke like one of them. Already, there was so much of her mother in her.
“Did I ever tell you the story of how I met your father?” Layla asked gently.
“Yes. The two of you met while you were in school. You dropped out to marry him when you were seventeen,” Inara answered quickly. She pulled away, forcing Layla to pull away her fingers, and turned around to face her mother. “What’s the point of this?”
Layla’s features were a perfect mask. Her voice was a perfectly tuned note, soothing and but authoritative. Inara looked at her with analytic eyes. “Did I ever tell you what I was studying?”
Inara looked down at her fingernails. After several moments had passed, she let her deep, dark eyes meet her mother’s exotic eyes. They were the color of champagne. “No, you never did,” said Inara. “But anyone who’s ever been to the temple can figure it out. You were training as a Companion, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” said Layla. She wasn’t surprised that Inara already knew her secret. Layla had noticed early on that Inara had all the qualities her former House Mistress had urged her to hone. Layla’s daughter was a natural reader. She could learn just as much from a person’s speaking as their silence, and could say twice as much with her own. She had an eye for power. She knew how to act, what to say in order to get what she wanted. Her mind was both eager and bright. She had plenty of wit, plenty of patience, and beauty that was beyond her years. Layla had no question. She knew where her daughter belonged.
“Inara,” Layla began. “When I married your father, I had already been training as a Companion for five years. I started when I was twelve years old. That’s the best age to start. That’s when you start to become a woman, Inara.”
Inara took a deep breath and looked away. “You know, you and Dad would get along a lot better if you’d just stop doing things like this. He’ll explode when he finds out you told me that you were going to be a Companion. You know he doesn’t like it.”
“This conversation isn’t about Heron, bao bei,” Layla said quickly, putting her arm across her daughter’s shoulders. “This is about you, Inara. Your life. Your future.”
“I’m serious,” Inara said, pulling away from her mother again, standing up and crossing the room before he turned around. “He’s not the most complicated man. It would be easy to appease him. If you could just…”
“All you ever do is aggravate him,” Inara spat, her voice quivering. “All you ever do is push his buttons, make him feel like there’s something wrong with him. There isn’t anything wrong with dad. He isn’t a bad person. He doesn’t mean… Mother…” She took a deep breath. “I know that the things he does… Mother, I know that he hurts you. But all we have to do is change some little things. This doesn’t…”
“Inara. Inara.” Layla crossed the room and took her daughter into her arms. The girl resisted for a moment, then relenting, resting her head on her mother’s shoulder while Layla resuming running her fingers through the girl’s hair. She was near tears. “It was my aunt who suggested that I become a Companion. She took me from Whitefall to Sihnon on her own dime to visit the temple when I was nine years old. I don’t think you can imagine what it was like for me, Inara, going from a world where all I had was the dirt and the sky to swimming in that city of light… I knew I belonged there, that I would be a Companion and make something of myself.”
“Well, you didn’t, did you?” Inara said her arms tight around her mother’s waist. She was closing her eyes.
“A Companion’s life is hard,” said Layla plainly. “Nothing but the most exquisite discipline is tolerated.”
Inara pulled away slightly and looked into her mother’s eyes. “I don’t hate this the way you do,” she said quietly. “You and Dad are in the union… we have more money than half the kids at school. But every night you come home and I see you look at your hands when you hang your coat… Mother, I like your hands. I like this apartment. It’s a nice apartment, and we’re far enough away from the Blackout Zone. At the temple you see the girls parading around in their fancy dresses… Mother, I don’t need to spend two hours every morning doing my hair.”
“It doesn’t usually take two hours, sweetheart,” Layla chided lightly.
Inara smiled. “You know what I mean.”
“Yes,” Layla admitted softly. “I also know what you could become. Inara, you have something in you that is more valuable than credits. You could become someone, if you chose to.”
“I’m already someone,” Inara said firmly.
Layla took a moment to arrange her thoughts before speaking. “I watch you when you come home too, Inara. I see the way you hang up your jacket, how your eyes sweep the room, reading it, reading us. I cherish you more than anything else on all the worlds. I would never ask you to change who you are. Inara… you were born to do this.” She grabbed her daughter’s hand. “You’re young, Inara. And you’re good. You’re a good person. So you look at the world and you see the best of it. You appreciate and love it for what it is. That’s beautiful. I was the same way when I was your age. I never wanted anything more than what I had. But I deserved more. I deserved a better life. So do you.”
Inara searched her mother’s eyes. “You rejected it.”
Layla smiled with infinite sadness. “That was my mistake.”
She pulled out of her mother’s embrace and sat on the bed, her eyes resting firmly on an Oriental calendar her mother had given her on new years. She thought that it was a lot for her mother to ask, coming into her room asking her to commit to a future before she was even old enough to go to walk to the temple by herself. She thought about the dresses the Companions wore and the skirt she was wearing that was a hand-me-down from the neighbors across the hall, and the way her father and her mother sat in silence during dinner. There was a lot to think about.
Her mother was right about one thing, though. Inara wouldn’t have to change herself if she became a Companion, not really. She had learned so much from her mother already without even trying to. If she went to the academy, she could do well there. She might even become the best.
It was that thought more than any other that appealed to dark eyed child. It wasn’t the glamour or the prestige or even the power, though Inara even as an eleven-but-nearly-twelve year old girl acknowledged that power did have its advantages. It was the just idea that she could be the best at this.
Layla stood in the alcove of the door, her champagne colored eyes rested firmly on her daughter. “Well, Inara…”
She was sitting on her bed, putting the last of her wall curtains into the boxes she had brought them in.
“Captain Reynolds,” she greeted with a false smile. If Inara was a master of anything, it was the false smile. Her life was overflowing with memories of them, false smiles when she was sad, false smiles when she was frightened, false smiles when she knew for certain that her heart was getting ripped slowly out of her chest one throbbing artery after… that was one thing about Mal. He could make her smile, really, without even trying to. He had…
He was walking into the room, uninvited of course. Nonchalant, like this was something that made sense, like he was supposed to be in this room, like he was… someone he couldn’t be. She smiled through the ache in her chest. With perfect grace she abandoned her task, standing up to meet Mal as he crossed the room. “The fact that, on the eve of my departure, you still fail to comply with the few simple addendums we discussed before I began renting your shuttle amazes me. Do the words ‘express invitation’ mean anything to you?”
“Now, now Inara, no need to start a fuss,” he said with a smile, sitting on her couch without permission, his legs spread open, spine slouched. “Angry, flushed cheeks don’t flatter folk in your profession. They should only flush for… other reasons.”
Inara tried to shot him one of her infamous looks, but failed completely, but her heart… she wasn’t…. In forty-eight hours they would be saying… “It seems that your wit is as sharp as your memory,” she said in a light tone. “Are you sure that none of those bullets you’re always dodging have penetrated your brain recently? I think it’s really improved your sense of humor, believe it or not.”
“No, no, bullets,” Mal said with a small chuckle, “Though not all too long ago I was stabbed right here…”
Inara couldn’t stop herself from smiling genuinely as Mal lifted his shirt to reveal the small but obvious scar he had obtained several months ago in a sweet but unnecessary and unasked for attempted to defend her honor. “It’s healing well,” she said, sitting down beside him so that she could get a closer look. “I have this cream I could give you… it was a gift from my old House Mistress when I left Sihnon, she was afraid that I’d get into all sorts of mischief when I first headed for the Black.”
“Haven’t you?” Mal interjected with a grin.
Inara rolled her eyes. “Only since I met you,” she chided. “Anyway, she gave me this cream, just in case I needed to quickly get rid of any scares. She said it can get rid of scars in two weeks. I could give it to you – call it a parting gift. I should warn you, though. It smells like daisies.”
“Daisies?” Mal gawked.
Inara smiled fondly at the memory. “House Mistress Sato loved daisies. She had a plot of them in the east gardens… most of us agreed that they were tacky as plastic pearls, but she loved them, and none of us were dare going to speak against her. She had the cream custom made. All companions are given a similar substance during our yearly medical exams just in case, but this… daisy cream is at least three times as potent. It was a benevolent gesture on her part. Or at least,” Inara could feel her voice falling in her throat, “I imagine she thought it so.” Inara didn’t necessarily disagree. She just felt that by the time the gesture was offered… too little, too late. She smiled softly as she turned to Mal. “Would you like it?” she asked.
“Hmm… tough choice…” Mal said, putting a finger on his chin as if in deep contemplation. “On one hand, I am getting a might tired of lil’ Kaylee calling me Captain Tight Pants.… On the other hand, Captain Daisy don’t sound no better…” That earned him a giggle. “I’ll pass. Besides, I earned that scar. Might as well keep it.”
“Very well. Offer withdrawn. Now,” Inara said, eyes shining, “so what was it you were coming to talk about?”
Mal shifted nervously. “Just came about to talk a ‘lil business.”
“Well, I can hardly see what more we have to discuss,” Inara replied, her voice ringing as if she hadn’t detected any change in his. “In forty-eight hours I’ll be out of your hair. I’d say we’re through with business.” Mal hesitated. The atmosphere of the room changed. He was nervous… whatever he had to say, Inara knew she wouldn’t enjoy hearing it.
“Not quite.” He looked her in the eyes. “Got a wave twenty minutes back from a little lady on Three Hills. Wash is changin’ course. We won’t reach New Melbourne ‘til at least… well, we might reach New Melbourne. Might not. Thinkin’ it’d be better to head to New Dunsmuir instead, when this is well and through.” As quickly as he’d captured her gaze he let it go. He leaned forward suddenly, resting his elbows on his knees and running a tired hand through his hair before he turned his head towards her again to see how she’d taken the news. Inara’s stance was, of course, unchanged.
“I see,” Inara replied coolly. Maintaining composure was effortless. It burned her. “And, when exactly do you expect to be finished with this… job?” she asked. It was a time to talk about business.
“Well, you see… that’s the part where things get troublesome,” Mal said slowly. His fist was half curled half uncurled. Anticipation. Reluctance. Hope. Denial. He was always fighting the same battle over and over again. Whatever he was going to say next, Inara could see that it would pain her to hear it, and Mal…. He exhaled slowly. He had the dignity to look her in the eye when he was ready to speak. It was the one thing he always had. “Job we have here, includin’ travel… could take upwards of a week.”
“A week.” Inara stood up. She walked forward, as if heading towards her cortex screen. She stopped abruptly and turned around. She looked at Mal. Her eyes were burning into him. “The friend I was planning to meet in New Melbourne only has business there for three days, Mal. He’s only st–”
“He,” Mal snorted. “Figures. How are you playing him? Let me guess – one free ride for another?”
It wasn’t just burning her anymore… Inara was being eaten by fire. Mal was sitting right there, stirring the flames. Control. Her entire life, summed up in a single word. She worked so hard. In seconds, he could ruin it. He always ruined it. He ruined everything. And all she ever wanted to do was…
It took no effort to glare at him, to try to burn him from the inside out with her eyes. His face was stone cold, ready for the fight. They were both out for blood.
“I can’t believe you,” Inara shot at him. “You come in here uninvited, announce that you’ve chosen to blatantly ignore all of my plans–”
“I’m the captain of this here boat!” he shouted over her.
“And then you think it’s appropriate– ”
“–I decide where we go and where we don’t –”
“–to start hounding on my profession! Did you come in here to call me a whore, Mal? Was that all you really wanted?”
It wasn’t what he wanted. She was burning. He took a breath. His face was so soft in the half-light… Mal shook his head, frowning. “Now, Inara…”
She silenced him with a glace. For a moment, Inara did nothing more than breath. She could cut her arms off, peal off her flesh layer by layer, throw herself to her knees and bang her head into the wall until it broke… Anything, anything would be less excruciating than standing there with her arms at her sides. Mal had regret in his eyes. There was a part of her… But she couldn’t do that. It was her plainest truth and her deepest secret. It burned her from the inside out. Her arms were steady, but she could feel her heart racing, feel the blood running through her veins.
Control. It was the first lesson she learned as a Companion, and also the last. But Inara was in the Black, now. No one had ever intended for her to end up here. Mal’s blue eyes were the portal to another world. She stared right into them. She’d learned a long time ago that she could never have the things she wanted. She’d fallen before. She wasn’t afraid.
“If that’s all you wanted, then you consider the job finished, Mal. Now I know exactly what you think of me. Nothing’s been left unsaid.” Mal flinched and pulled his eyes away. Inara didn’t relent. She picked the words because she knew what they would do to him. She needed them to sting. Inara was utterly incapable of giving pleasure to either of them. She knew, though, that she could break both of there hearts. She turned away from him. “Go,” she said simply.
For a moment, Inara could feel his eyes on her. Then, she heard the echoes of his heavy footsteps as he walked away.
“Shā wǒ yòng yú chūn tiān,” Mal muttered as he walked away from Inara’s shuttle. He didn’t know what he had expected, really. Powerful woman like Inara… there was no way in dì yù that she was going to take the news that he had taken a job that would delay her departure well. The real problem was, though, that before he had dropped the bomb they had been talking and it was just so…
Sighing, Mal headed towards the kitchen. He didn’t know many of the details of the job on Three Hills yet. His employer – Heather Zagorska – said that she wanted to go over the details of the job with him in person, but he did know this. Three Hills, for as long as any folk could remember, had been as neglected a planet as any on the rim. It was a good place to go if you fancied the life of a Shepard… literally. It had a great climate for the rearing of sheep, but wasn’t good for much else. Three Hills was ignored and improvised, but it was also as free a place as you could find, free from the ever-extending arm of the Alliance and all its nonsense.
But it wasn’t out of the Alliance’s reach no more. According to the girl, a fancy Alliance senator had come to survey the planet a year or so previous. A month or so after that, construction of a textile plant had begun… And now the factory was nearly finished. Heather Zagorska wasn’t too happy about that. And she wasn’t alone. Serenity would be docking on Three Hills a day or two before a five day ceremony to celebrate the opening of the factory started – a factory that you were invited to if you were a landowner, of course. So typical of the Alliance, caring only about the people who it could take things from, and not at all about the folk who actually needed care…
Mal heated some water and made a cup of green tea. He thought briefly about adding a bit of Kaylee’s fermentation wine. No doubt it would taste horrible, but… but Mal couldn’t indulge right now. He had work in the morning and eight mouths that depended on him doing the job right if they were going to be fed proper.
“I looked up Senator Woo on the cortex, sir,” Zoe said as she walked into the room and took the seat across from Mal at the dinner table. “There wasn’t much to find. She doesn’t have much of a profile. ‘Spose she aims for this to be her first great work.”
“So this is a power play. Figures.” Mal placed his tea cup down on the table rather forcefully. Zoe raised her eyebrows.
“You talk to ‘Nara yet?”
Mal glared at his tea cup. “We spoke.”
“Looks like things went well,” Zoe said. She smiled at him as he looked at her in confused. “You still have all your limbs,” Zoe explained as she rose from the table. “Night, sir,” she called over her shoulder as she walked away. Mal rose too and began cleaning his cup and putting it away. It was getting late. It would do Mal some good to follow in Zoe’s example and get some shut-eye.
For a moment Mal closed his eyes. He hadn’t spoken to Simon yet of the new job, though he suspected Kaylee might have informed him already. The boy wouldn’t be happy about getting so close to the Alliance, but there was nothing Mal could do about it. One didn’t simply find free money floating around in the Black – well, not often, anyway. Since his second encounter with Niska, Mal had been running on a bit less cash then he generally liked.
He was still unable to find a buyer for the Saffron’s Lassiter. The one person he knew could help him unload it was going to leave in forty-eight hours. No, not forty-eight hours. They had more time now, and it was hanging over them.
The problem, really, was that talking to Inara was easy, far too easy. And not talking to her….
“Evening, lil’ Kaylee,” Mal said automatically as he watched the girl bounce into the kitchen. Mal sighed. “Zhòu mà xù fó,” he muttered.
“Pardon, Cap’n?” asked Kaylee with a slight frown.
“You’re bouncin’,” Mal explained. “There ain’t no way any folk could tell Simon Tam ‘bout the job just ‘cepted and be bouncin’.”
“Ain’t nothing to worry ‘bout, Cap’n. Everything’s shiny,” Kaylee said with a smile as she reached for a protein bar. “Simon’s been with River all day. But he’s gettin’ her to bed now. I’ll talk to ‘im when he’s through. Now what’s this ‘bout drunk Buddha?”
“Just thinkin’ on how I much I wanna drink if I gots to tell Simon and Inara both ‘bout the new job,” Mal said with a frown. Kaylee shot him a sympathetic look as she sat down at the table.
“She didn’t take it well?” Kaylee asked nervously. She took a bite of her protein bar.
“Well, I think it’s for the best,” Kaylee said, her mouth half-full. “Now you got a whole ‘nother week to charm her into stayin’. Don’t give me that look,” she defended immediately as Mal crossed her arms over his chest. “You’re just don’t want to try because you’re a sour puss. But I wish you would. I’ve told ‘er to stay but… Inara don’t really want to go,” Kaylee continued sadly. “Who would ever wanna leave Serenity?”
Mal knew exactly who wanted to leave Serenity, but years of living with women had taught him when to hold his tongue, mostly. He patted Kaylee on the shoulder as he headed to the cockpit. “What’s our ETA?” he called as he walked up the steps.
“We should be landing on Three Hills at one in the P.M. local time. That’s eighteen hours for us,” Wash said without looking over his shoulder. “Once we’re there we’re going to have to refuel. New Dunsmuir is just a bit too far for our current tank.”
“I don’t anticipate that will be a trouble,” Mal said. For a moment he stood there looking out into the Black. Stars were zooming by like fireflies… you couldn’t even imagine it when you were on the ground… “Well, good night then,” he said to Wash and turned around.
“Wait a minute Mal.” Mal turned around. Wash was looking at him intently, bright blue eyes full of sincerity. “I want to throw Zoe a birthday party this year.”
Mal held his tongue. Zoe’s birthday was in five days. Mal and Zoe generally didn’t pay it much mind… hell, before Wash and Kaylee had come on board, they hadn’t even said ‘happy birthday’ to one another, but since Wash and Kaylee had come on board… but most especially Wash… Zoe’s birthdays has become… special. Mal couldn’t discourage the man. Wash was Zoe’s husband and he did the best he could, but he never seemed to get Zoe’s birthday right. Mal held back a grin as he thought of last year’s fiasco…
“Well?” Wash prompted, pulling Mal out of her reverie.
“Well, I don’t suppose there’s too much harm in having a little shindig,” Mal said, unable to suppress the grin any longer. “Just as long as I ain’t expected to plan nothin’, I say go for it.” Mal turned around and began to walk away. He paused for a moment. “Maybe you should ask Kaylee for some help. After all, she… well, I ‘spose all that planning she did for Simon’s birthday would have turned out shiny if it weren’t for, you know, fire and eminent death.”
Mal stopped for a moment before entering his bunk. He thought for a moment of going back to Inara’s shuttle in hope that somehow the words would come to him, that somehow the charm Kaylee seemed to believe he possessed would show itself after all… but Mal wasn’t a cheery, twenty-three year old girl. He knew better than to think that simple words could change… He stood there a few more moments, half-expecting Jayne or Book, who he knew were asleep, to jump out from behind the corner demanding one thing or another. But, of course, they didn’t. Mal climbed down the latter, grateful for the evening to be over.
Kaylee walked to the infirmary as quietly as possible and sat down in the diagnostic bed, ready to wait. She knew that Simon would come in here when he was done with River. She knew him very well; at least, she knew he routine very well. Lately, she’d been feeling like she didn’t really know Simon at all. It seemed like whenever they were finally ready to get close to one another something would happen and they would both… slip away.
“Oh, good evening Kaylee,” Simon said as he entered the room. His voice was tired. Kaylee offered him a bit smile completely involuntarily. He had that affect on her. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to have any effect on him at all.
“Good news, Simon,” she said cheerily, “we’ve got shiny new crime.”
“Oh, yippee,” Simon said dryly, walking past her and rummaging through the drawers, “another fun chance to get caught and thrown into Alliance custody. What are we doing this time? Smuggling dolls again?”
“Not exactly,” Kaylee said. She tried to sound calm, to be as nonchalant as she could be… but she wasn’t very good at the whole nonchalant thing. Kaylee was a girl who wore her heart on her sleeve. She always had been. Right now, she was watching Simon act cool and bitter and it made her sad because she knew it meant that even if she wasn’t about to be the bearer of bad new he wasn’t going to want to spend time with her tonight. And she was nervous on top of that because… because Simon was in a bad mood, and Kaylee was about to tell him something he’d rather not hear.
“So what are we doing, exactly?” Simon asked, not turning around to look at her.
“Oh, I don’t know exactly,” Kaylee mumbled in a rush, “though it might have somehtin’ to do with desecratin’ Alliance property to discourage ‘em from opening a new textile fac’try on Three Hills.”
Simone stopped rummaging. He turned around to face her. His eyes were already blazing. “You’ve got to be kidding me. An event like that will be crawling with feds…”
“Now don’t you get mad at me Simon,” Kaylee said, frustration taking over. “I ain’t the one who took the job, I ain’t the one you go to if you got complainin’. You know?”
Simon sighed and turned away again. “You’re right. I apologize,” he said softly. He faced her once more. “Listen Kaylee, I’ve had a really long day. River… she’s been difficult. I think I’m just going to head to bed now.”
“Sure,” Kaylee said, trying to keep her voice as even as possible. “No trouble.” Before she had a chance to hear what Simon would say next, she turned around and started walking away.
bao bei… darling
Shā wǒ yòng yú chūn tiān… Kill me with songs of spring
dì yù… Hell
Zhòu mà xù fó… damn drunken Buddha
Please, please, please review. They are very, very encouraging, especially for someone who has only written 1/2 of chapter two. :-)
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