Finding Common Ground...Ch.3
Thursday, March 23, 2006

The story continues as Mal learns about his new job and the Mule gets its revenge. (still M/I but we need the job, people)


Chapter 3: Revenge of the Mule

"I'm not going with you, sir."

Zoë's soft voice surprised him enough that Mal lifted his head quickly and was quickly rewarded with a resounding bang against the undercarriage of the mule. There was an explosion of sparks before his eyes and slapped a hand over his forehead and nose.

"Liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze fuh ur-tze!" Mal cursed as he rolled from underneath the hot mule. Zoë watched him with a mixture of amusement and concern as he staggered to his feet, still holding his forehead and covering his eyes. " Ai ya! Zoë! What in God's name are you playin' at!" "Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to startle you."

"You didn't startle me. I heard you a mile away."

Zoë arched an eyebrow at him. "And that smack is telling me differently. What were you thinking about? I called your name a few times."

"I wasn't thinkin' about a damned thing," Mal grunted as he threw the gloves he had been wearing to one side. Zoë's eyes went to his forehead and she bit her lip in amusement.

"Of course you weren't."

Mal turned the hover mule off and stared at the vehicle. Lord blessed Kaylee, he thought, the day she decided to fix 'er up. Then, Zoë's words reverberated through his head and he turned to see his first mate still standing to one side, her arms crossed over her chest.

"What? Zoë, I'd thought you would have enjoyed comin' on a potential job run," he said as he rubbed at his head.

"Normally I would love nothing better than to see you and Jayne pull serious faces and try to be all manner of intimidating," Zoë said dryly, "but I need some time alone. I want to go to the med center and then to buy some things with my savings."

Mal raked his eyes up and down Zoë critically. "You don't look sick. Simon could check you out real fast..."

"I don't want Simon to check me out," Zoë snapped. Her tone, irritable and tired, made Mal look at her eyes. "I have some things I need to be sure of."

They stood in silence for a moment as Zoë and Mal stared each other down. Zoë looked away first when she saw the understanding on Mal's face.

"How long?" Mal asked. "Would only be little more than a month." Zoë rubbed her hands over her shoulders. "This...this isn't a problem, is it?"

"Well, it isn't the most wonderful news in the world, considering the work we do." Mal shrugged and gave a half-smile. "But I won't deny you havin' a bit of happiness. Get checked out. Can't have you bein' distracted during work, dong ma?"

For the first time in weeks, Zoë gave him a smile that didn't have an ounce of sadness in it. Reaching out, she squeezed his arm gently in thanks before she made her way back to her bunk. Mal watched her go and sighed before bending back under the mule to double check the couplings. No, he knew he couldn't keep Zoë from being happy. Not when he felt so damned responsible for Wash's death. Zoë as a mother, he thought to himself. Now there is the unlikeliest of happenings.

Next thing he knew, Jayne would be wanting to shack up with the Shepherds to swear a life of humility and celibacy.

Now that was a disturbing thought.

"You're frowning. Something the matter?" Inara asked behind him. He jumped, banging the back of his head this time on the side bar and he slid gracelessly to the floor as his head screamed with pain. He sat, braced against the mule's lock and kickstand, as the room swam before his eyes.

"Mal!" Inara's soft voice had a note of desperation in it as she cradled his face with her hands. He moaned and tried to focus.

"How'd I get four Companions lookin' at me? Am I in Heaven?" he asked groggily as Inara swam in his vision. She smiled weakly and ran her hand over his cheek. "How many fingers am I holding up?" she asked. Her hand seemed to move constantly and Mal grabbed at the offending limb quickly to keep it still. It still seemed to move and he yanked it forward, insisting on it staying still. When he felt warm skin and a beating pulse, it seemed to anchor him and he managed to find only one Inara staring down at him with wide eyes.

"Two," he answered although his eyes were on her face alone. Inara nodded, swallowed, and shifted slightly. The pressure on his lap made Mal realize that he had yanked her down onto his body, and he was feeling every shift of her hips. "Two...nice...fingers."

"I hope you don't have a concussion." Inara didn't move from his lap as she scowled down at him.

"If I did, it would be your fault. You're the second woman to sneak up on me today."

"I thought you would have heard me with your stellar..." she grinned, "captain powers."

Mal groaned and rested his head back, never releasing her hand. "I think I'm wearin' off on you, 'Nara. You've been a mite bit snarky lately."

"One has to keep themselves entertained," she answered with a smile.

"You heading off?" Mal asked as he felt the pain in his head recede. Inara's sudden touch on his cheek made his eyes open and stare at her.

"Let me see your eyes, Mal. I want to make sure you're all right." He relented slowly even as she came closer and closer, so that he could feel her breath on his mouth as she stared into his eyes.

His eyes nearly crossed as he looked back at her, all the while feeling her weight press down on him more and more. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation but it was causing a mire of worry for his lower body. Inara continued to stare into his eyes before lifting her hand and shading his eyes for a moment. She moved her hand again to check the dilation of his blue eyes and found herself pushing her hand against his hair. Mal licked his lips nervously, feeling her warm breath shift against his mouth even as he moved slightly under her to adjust the pain in his back from being braced against the metal pole of the mule. Her own eyes seemed to be darker now and he could have sworn he heard her take a deep breath. All measure of interesting, havin' her this close with that mouth and those eyes...All it would take was for him to lean forward and he could...

Inara suddenly leaned back and moved off of him, turning back around to retrieve a small bag she had set to the side when he had first fallen. Mal stared at her back, swallowing hard and loudly to try to calm the racing of his heart. Inara heard him swallow and took the opportunity to adjust her breathing. This was not good, she thought to herself. Far too close.

"So, where are you going?" Mal managed as he picked himself up off the ground and moved to the other side of the mule to put as much visible distance between himself and Inara as possible.

She arched a brow at him. "I wanted to buy some extra clothing. It's been cold in the shuttle."

"It's on low power, so that's no wonder. You could always stay in the dorms," Mal offered. Inara looked at him, wanting so badly to explain that the passenger dorms were so symbolic at the moment. It meant a step closer for her into his life, a step closer to being hurt. She knew though, if she explained that, Mal would become rude, obstinate, and demanding of why she felt that way.

It was all so very confusing. "I like the shuttle," Inara explained simply. "And I would like to get going so..."

"You're just staying around the ship, right? Not too far off?" Mal asked as he stepped back around the mule to take in her outfit. She was wearing a plainer red dress that smacked of both dignity and reservation. The woman dressed for the occasion, he knew, but if they needed to find her, he needed to know what she looked like from all angles. Especially if they were in a hurry to get off Persephone.

"Why, is that a measure of concern from the captain? Or am I merely being lucky enough to experience his most polite self?" Inara teased, her voice lighter than the implication of her words. Mal's brow furrowed as he stared at her and walked closer. He leaned down, invading her space as much as he dared.

"We've all lost a lot, Inara. I don't want..." Mal paused and gave a sigh from deep in his belly. "I don't want to see you getting hurt because of me."

There was a world of implication behind his words but Inara, skilled in the art of avoiding such matters, smiled dazzlingly at him. "Hence my dressing somewhat...less up to the standards of a Companion."

Mal looked over her critically and Inara felt a sudden rush of unsteadiness. "Didn't I?" she asked.

"'Nara, don't take this the wrong way. But I could put you in Kaylee's greasiest overalls and you'd still be the most memorable woman anyone on this damned port would ever see."

"Did you just compliment me?" Inara asked, dumbfounded. Mal ran his hand through his hair and shrugged.

"Yeah well, don't let it go to your head. That was my once-a-year occurrence to help your self-esteem out," Mal said. "Be careful. We'll be back, if all goes well, in about two hours or so." Inara smiled at him as she picked up her bag and started down the ramp. "So I should take it that this, if it is like a regular job, I should be back here in about half an hour, ready to get off Persephone due to your ability to annoy anyone you come in contact with?"

As she moved down the ramp, she heard Mal muttering, "Snarky woman." Inara knew that she would be hard pressed to erase the smile she had on her face.


Mal drove the mule carefully through the crowd, warily keeping an eye out to either side of the mule for anyone likely to take a crack at them. He could feel the light sprinkling of rain and saw the storm clouds overhead. Fittin' weather, he thought, for such a gorram perfect day. Seated beside him was River, her face obscured by her huge goggles, and she was puffing her cheeks out before squishing them with her hands. The childish actions made him smile although Jayne was muttering in Chinese about how annoying the girl was. "Where we headed anyway?" Jayne asked as leaned over the edge of Mal's seat. "Chinla's."

"Chinla's? Ain't that some sort of fancy gun shop?" Jayne's eyes widened. "You buyin' new guns?"

"Do I look like I can afford new guns?" Mal asked.

"Stealin' new guns?" Jayne pressed.

"No new guns," Mal stated firmly. Jayne leaned back in his seat, pouting about the lack of gun buying. Beside Mal, River had stopped playing with her lips and was staring about her.

"Guns are toys for boys," she muttered.

"That they are, darlin'," Mal answered as he turned the mule down a side street.Chinla's should be only a few more blocks or so... "Guns compensate for men's lesser attributes. Guns do not shrink in cold weather. Metal expands," River continued.

Mal turned his head to quickly look at her. "I really, really, don't need to hear that."

"It's what Inara implied."

"Well, I'll have a talk with her later on."

River fixed her eyes on Mal and grinned. "You'll enjoy that."

Mal reminded himself to stop having thoughts about Inara around the girl. Jayne seemed absolutely affront that River might think his pride and joy could shrink. "Mine don't shrink." "We're not testing out that theory. River, don't confuse Jayne," Mal ordered and the girl heaved a heavy sigh and crossed her arms over her chest.

"We're here," she whispered, jutting her chin out and staring at the large shop that had its windows behind bars and tinted grey. Mal threw the mule in park and jumped out as Jayne pulled the lock down. Mal grimaced at the pain in his head and adjusted his gun belt slowly.

"Remember, no sudden moves and no pulling of guns," he ordered, his eyes on Jayne specifically. He then looked at River. "And no crazy talk." She stared at him, her large eyes unnerving him. Mal turned away and pulled on the store shop door, hoping to look the part of an intimidating captain.

The moment his foot crossed the threshold, he found himself staring down the barrel of a shotgun and into the eyes of a tall and thin Asian man. Jayne behind him muttered about not walking into traps even as another man pressed a gun into his side. River hadn't moved either and she had an utterly bored expression on her face. Mal groaned and put his hands in the air. Go figure the girl decided not to practise any sort of violence when they needed it.

The Asian man staring at Mal suddenly moved his gun and nudged the heavy leather coat Mal wore. Lowering one hand, he grabbed a ID card out of his pocket and looked hard at it. His dark eyes narrowed as he quickly looked back at Mal.

"Malcolm Reynolds. We weren't expecting you for another half hour, so you'll have to excuse the use of weapons," the man said, his voice holding that elegant air of a man cultured in the same manner that Simon or Inara might have been. Mal stared at him even as the man's guards lowered their guns. "I'm Benjamin Chinla. Son of the store owners."

Mal stared at him. He had half-expected more of a Badger-type rather than this polite and well-spoken man who looked no older than Simon. "You contacted us?"

"That I did." Benjamin's hand swept out. "If you'll go to the back room, I'd like to close up the store."

Carefully, Jayne tugged River after Mal as they were led to a lush courtyard with a few well-padded chairs and a long mahogany wood table. Mal ran his hand over it in appreciation.

"I trust you know the value of mahogany on Persephone?" Benjamin asked as he stepped in behind them. Mal nodded and moved back to stand beside River. "Please, have a seat."

Mal glanced at Jayne as he took a seat and the other man nodded, staying on his feet. "You aren't doing this the usual way. Normally, people take the guns and giving us a boatload of questions."

"I have no doubt that you are Malcolm Reynolds," Benjamin said as he took a seat on the other side of the table. He jerked his chin toward River. "She is my proof. There are few in my position that have not heard of River Tam."

River stared back at Benjamin silently and Mal unconsciously grew nervous at the passing look. "So, your wave said we'd be offered a job. We're here, what's the job?"

"Very blunt. The local cretin, Badger, told me that you were...arrogant and stubborn."

"I'm sure he used other words than those, bein' Badger," Mal answered, not about to be fooled by the man's manners.

"Mm." Benjamin folded his hands over his stomach as he leaned back. "Tell me, Mr. Reynolds, what do you know about the gun trade to any planet or moon?"

"Long as it's legal, Alliance doesn't have a problem with it," Mal said, not quite understanding where the man was going with this. Benjamin nodded but Jayne suddenly shifted on his feet.

"Alliance takes a huge tax on it. I ran into 'em a few years ago and it cost me three weeks pay," Jayne said and Mal turned to look at him, startled by the rare insight.

"That they do, Mr. Cobb." Benjamin rubbed at his stomach and reached for a glass of water that was sitting atop a pile of papers. "Especially when the guns have to go to...special parties."

"I'm not following," Mal said, deciding that playing dumb might be a good option. Benjamin sighed and took a long drink of water.

"The fiasco that has torn the Parliament apart is now transferring to more underground movements. They pay me a sizeable sum to deliver goods on time to them and I already have four ships out there. These groups have been existent for years since the War, and have been nothing but a nuisance. Now they want to put up more of a fight. On Ares, there has been several small land owners losing their land to Alliance testing facilities." Benjamin paused and looked at River. "Facilities that made her what she is today. Facilities that created the situation on Miranda."

"How'd you get your hands on this?"

"The amount of money I make each year means that I am a favourite of Alliance Share-Holders, as they enjoy the fruits of my taxes. I've paid my way in. The fighters wish to simply have the means to fight back against the Alliance. I am willing to try to supply that attempt."

"I don't get where you would want to risk your...lovely...enterprise," Mal said with a look around the rich room. Benjamin frowned and set the glass of water down. River's head jerked and she stared at him.

"Mi-Li was your sister," she whispered.

All of the men stared at her and Benjamin's mouth worked. "You knew her?"

River shrugged. "The name is familar, like a blanket on a cold day."

"She is my elder sister," Benjamin said to Mal this time. "She was taken to an Academy for one year and was found dead there. They claimed it was suicide. When she came home, my parents were so shut in with grief that they were unable to stop me from having an autopsy performed on her by a doctor not employed by the Alliance." He paused and Mal saw the pain on his face. "What he found surpassed belief. Brain matter shifted around, leakage around the brain stem."

Now Mal knew why this thin Asian man had reminded him of Simon. He had the same pain on his face that Simon had had when he had first come on board of Serenity, the pain of losing a family.

"Is that motivation enough, Mr. Reynolds?" Benjamin demanded, the pain gone from his face and his eyes hard. Mal nodded. "If you were to accept this job, you would receive details on the cortex at exactly eleven fifty three in the evening. There will be substantial payment."

Mal grimaced. "We need the money."

"I thought you might," Benjamin answered. "Am I to understand you wish to enter into this arrangement?"

"You understand correct." Mal stood slowly and Benjamin nodded, glancing at the clock. "An enjoyable way to pass an hour or so, isn't it, Mr. Reynolds? New endeavours." He raised a hand and beckoned one of the guards. "They'll show you out. I will send the encrypted message at the assigned time. The cargo will be unloaded before your ship before you even get back."

"Shumma?" Jayne asked, confused.

"For the safety of my men, you aren't to see them deliver the goods. It all works out in the end."

"It had better," Mal threatened lowly as he turned to leave. River slid from her seat and began to follow him out, her eyes meeting Benjamin's for a brief moment.

"Mr. Reynolds? You had best get back. Sounds like a storm is about to break out," Benjamin mentioned as he sat back in his seat and smiled. Mal nodded even as thunder rumbled overhead, and followed Jayne out the door. Behind him, he heard River talking lowly to herself and he shook his head. No, not a bad way to spend an hour in his day.



have to love the time honoured tradition of gun-runnin'. Like boot-leggin'...

"Liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze fuh ur-tze!: son of a drooling whore and a monkey (I loved this curse)

Ai-ya: damn dong ma: understand? shumma: what?


Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:15 AM


Awwwwwwww, yay! So quickly come the new parts!

That moment between Mal and Zoe was lovely. Nothing overt, very matter of fact but so very heartfelt. And funny!

Then the Mal/Inara, funny and hot - great combo! I mean... rowr!

Plus plot! Plot = happiness. I enjoyed Benjamin's character and River's entire part in this. You really captured that child-like, tender brat that she is. :)

Can't wait to see what this storm is shaping up to...

Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:24 AM


You got me with the plot, I'm hooked!

Love the Mal/Inara with the bumped head. Silly man, getting comforted after he hurt himself! Too funny.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 4:46 PM


Oh, Mal's head!!! I've had days like that, I can sympathize... of course, I haven't had a beautiful woman like Inara looking into my eyes afterward, making my blood roar an' all, but I can imagine that part ... hmmm think I'm a' gonna hafta head to my bunk shortly... ahem...

ANYway... great part, love the character interaction, and an intriguing contact at the end there... exciting!

Friday, March 24, 2006 4:25 PM


good job

Thursday, May 4, 2006 9:45 AM


Great Mal and Inara. Please keep writing, you have a great knack for thier character voices.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006 1:01 AM


yee-har, we gots us some plot!!! and still keeping with the mal/inara goodness!!


Thursday, June 8, 2006 12:24 PM


Well now...wonder if Mal would be up for banging his head more often if he got comforted by Inara every single time;)

Great stuff so far, Szyg! Just loving the Mal/Inara tension, and I almost blew a gut laughing at some of the witty comments flung around by the various characters:D


Monday, June 12, 2006 9:40 AM


A very nice Mal/Inara scene here... although as a M/I shipper I am slightly biased!

Also, who doesn't love gun-runners!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 6:44 AM


Yay! More plot, new characters that read true to the series, and a visit to Persephone. I can almost smell the good dogs cookin' on the grill. More please!

Sunday, June 29, 2008 5:27 PM


Very nice, though I see I'm two years late! :) Am I missing the rest, or did you end it here?


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Finding Common Ground. Ch 6
Mal let's the crew in on the basic plan. least the way it is supposed to go. River's dreams take a turn for the pretty, shiny things...

Finding Common Ground. Ch 6
Mal let's the crew in on the basic plan. least the way it is supposed to go. River's dreams take a turn for the pretty, shiny things...

Finding Common Ground Ch.5
Inara reveals her ability to act but the results are awkward and painful

Nickname of Contention
Mal has a bone to pick with Inara

Finding Common Ground. Ch. 4
Bookstores and memories abound...get a glimpse into the humourous side of shopping. Just a continuation to a leap into plot.

Finding Common Ground...Ch.3
The story continues as Mal learns about his new job and the Mule gets its revenge. (still M/I but we need the job, people)

Finding Common Ground....Ch.2
We continue on with the tension and drama of being Mal and Inara....with the crew and a job thrown in just for fun.

Finding Common Ground
Mal and Inara share the late night vigil of flying Serenity a month after the events on Miranda, opening up a well of emotion.

A Start of Things
Set prior to the pilot (but based off Out of Gas). Mal and Inara meet for the first time