"The Lady of Shalott"
Sunday, May 28, 2006

"Inara decides to leave. Again. With a little prodding Inara is forced to face the feelings she keeps hidden."



SUMMARY: "Inara decides to leave. Again. With a little prodding Inara is forced to face the feelings she keeps hidden." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Simon and Kaylee were sitting in the lounge, or rather Simon was sitting and Kaylee lay across the couch looking up into his serious but relaxed features. A lazy smile of happy on her face as he paused before opening the book. No one else was around and at last the pain and frustration of the last few days had muted some, even if every hour took them that bit closer to Sihnon. Kaylee tried not to think about Inara leaving again. Tried to lose herself in one very shiny and *shuai* doctor who was at last finally taking notice of her.

"So what ya gonna read?"

The young doctor smiled. "The Lady of Shalott."

Kaylee wasn't sure what that was but if Simon thought it was worth reading it had to be shiny, right? On account of he was so smart and all. "What is it?"

"It's a poem..."

At the widening of Kaylee's eyes Simon rushed on, thinking she meant to protest his choice of reading or heap disappointment on him. A weight he was not sure his heart could bear.

"It's a classic Kaylee, from Earth-That-Was. All about love and longing and knights and fair cities - a beautiful castle, noble kings and princes with knights fighting for what is good and right. While outside the castle the people raise their crops, their children and fashion their hands to every craft known to man."

A dreamy look came in her eye. "Aw, that sounds right romantic, Simon."

The doctor carefully, softly, cleared his throat. He hadn't meant to mislead her but she was already giving him a look that melted his insides. The best he could do was open the slim volume and begin to read. As always the familiar pastime took him back. Back through the pages of the book to a land that never was but could have been, to the marvellous confabulation of a time of lost chivalry and monumental stupidity rolled into one. Not that he would describe it to Kaylee like that. Women tended to think of the story in the most romantic of ways which was part of the reason he had chosen Alfred Lord Tennyson's iconic poem.

"On either side of the river lie Long fields of barley and of rye, That clothe the wold and meet the sky; And through the field the road runs by To many tower'd Camelot; And up and down the people go, Gazing where the lilies blow, Round an island there below, The island of Shalott..."

"Aw, Simon, that's so shiny!" Kaylee gushed softly in awe. Slowly she frowned. "But what's wold mean and why's Camelot got towers an'..."

Simon smiled and hugged her. Patiently explaining in a quiet pleased voice that Camelot was a castle and the seat of the legendary King Arthur from Earth-That-Was. Loving how the dazzling sparkle of light in the mechanic's eyes seemed to fracture and coalesce into brilliance around the aspect of his face. As if he was the power source that made her shine.

"Willows whiten, aspens quiver, Little breezes dusk and shiver Thro' the wave that runs for ever By the island in the river Flowing down to Camelot. Four gray walls, and four gray towers, Overlook a space of flowers, And the silent isle imbowers The Lady of Shalott..."

* * * * *

Up on the bridge Zoe was sick of staring at the back of her Captain's head. "Sir?"

Mal mumbled some response but didn't take his eyes off the viewscreen. It was driving Zoe nuts.

"Really think you should look at me when I'm askin' you a question."

It was said mildly but without any give in it. A little exasperated sigh huffed out of her Captain and friend then he did the decent thing and turned in the pilot's chair so he could look her in the eye. "What the good gorram you want me to say?"

Zoe crossed her arms, prepared to stare the stubborn man out. "What did you say to her this time?"

His eyebrows rose, his voice going up an octave in righteous indignation. "Why do you always think I did somethin'? An' it weren't anythin' I said either. Truth be told she just upped an' told me seconds before she told any of the crew."

His first mate leaned back on a locker. She did not look impressed and it was irritating the *goushi* out of Mal. "Somethin' must have happened, sir. Wasn't the crew so that just leaves you."

He opened his mouth to blast her with a mix of fire, brimstone and hurt feelings but the tumble of words never fell from his mouth. Instead the spark in his eyes flat lined, something retreating behind high stone walls that made Zoe's heart take a plummet. Gorrammit, she couldn't see this happen again. When he spoke his words were soft, low. The sound of something dying. Emotions contained in a way that bespoke pain rigidly held at bay better than all the shouting, screaming or temper tantrums could ever have done. Sometimes she hated that she knew him so well it was like describing the pattern of her own soul. Didn't he see that his pain was hers? It wasn't a conscious thing like a choice, nor even a bit of psychotic wish fulfillment, it was the way it was because they were so close. Closer than brother and sister, husband and wife. Even friendship barely described the depths and heights of all that they shared. It was like two halfs of one coin as if when the 'verse was formed they had been created from the same speck of dust. A speck. Not nothing 'til you didn't have it then it became everything. Nothing. Inwardly she sighed. Amazing what nothing could do.

"Sir, didn't mean to blame you. Just tryin' to understand is all."

He nodded and turned his bleak gaze back out into the Black. Zoe turned and left quietly. It was a kindness. The only thing she could give his aching heart. Always had to know when to push and when to let be. That just left the Companion. But Inara was having an unwelcome conversation of her own.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb was drawn by the muted voices, a kind of comfort to the flow of words that was all kinds of soothing. Not that he would ever admit that he liked it when Simon was in one of his storytelling moods. Or even, gorram poetry reading.

"By the margin, willow-veil'd, Slide the heavy barges trail'd By slow horses; and unhail'd The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd Skimming down to Camelot: But who hath seen her wave her hand? Or at the casement seen her stand? Or is she known in all the land, The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early In among the bearded barley, Hear a song that echoes cheerly From the river winding clearly Down to tower'd Camelot: And by the moon the reaper weary, Piling sheaves in uplands airy, Listening, whispers, 'Tis the fairy Lady of Shalott..."

"That's beautiful, Simon!" Said Kaylee in awe, her voice breaking the spell that he had cast over them. Only now realising they had an audience. Jayne blinking at them as if still in the lines of the poem while Zoe straightened and tried to act like she listened to pretty poetry every day.

"Yeah, never heard that one before, what was it?"

Before Simon could explain a scowl began to form on Jayne's face as if trying to figure something out. "Huh, thought we was goin' to Sihnon?"

Zoe looked at him, a hard warning couched in a simple stare but the mercenary was looking at Simon. Waiting for his explanation. "We are Jayne. Camelot is the place in the poem, *dong ma*?" When Jayne turned his head to look at her she just had to add, "It ain't real."

* * * * *

In her shuttle Inara Serra was methodically packing. She wondered why she didn't just live out of her cases, it would make this so much easier. But then, nothing about this ship and its' crew had ever been easy, especially it's suicidal and mentally impaired Captain.

"It is."

Inara's hands paused. River. When had she entered the shuttle? Pushing the question aside as irrelevant - after all, this was River - Inara continuing to carefully fold and put her things into the trunk. She found it was easier to kneel on the floor to do her packing, her things laid out ready on the bed so she could pack them more efficiently. Less distance to fall when emotion overtook her. Not that she would ever confess as much. It wasn't only Serenity's Captain that was as stubborn as a piece of wood. As she turned to pick up another item, River was equally careful removing those garments from the trunk and putting them back in the chest of drawers. Seeing what the girl was doing Inara froze and sat back on her heels to rein in her anger. River looked up and gave her a sad smile.

"It is real."

"What's real, River?"

"*Ni zhidao* even if you won't let yourself say the words."

Inara did not want to have this conversation especially not with a psychic who could pluck every stray thought from her head. The Companion went through some calming mental exercises, determined to stay as composed as possible. To not let anyone see the cracks.

"You want everyone to think well of you when you leave."

The words startled her. Inara recovered her composure quickly, a sweet - too saccarin smile - appearing on her beautiful face. "It's only natural, *mei mei*."

"No it's not. You turn disappointment into an art form."

Inara blinked and forgot that she was supposed to be packing. River did not stop putting the clothes back in the drawers. Able to think and act as if they were talking about nothing more serious than the weather.

"He loves you so you punish him. Have to make it his fault so you can move on - deflect the blame. Can't afford to be honest and love him back."

All pretence at calm fled as fury bubbled to the surface before she could exert her iron control. "I don't love the Captain and he certainly doesn't love me! Besides, this isn't about Mal."

River rolled her eyes, her bright eyes dimming as they steadied again on Inara Serra's face. Overcome with sorrow, not just hers but his. "No, it never is."

Just when Inara thought the strange conversation had come to an end River closed the now empty trunk but didn't lock it. That was for Inara to do when she finally came to her senses.

"You're too self obssessed to be happy. Like the Lady of Shalott."

Confusion whisked away the embers of Inara's anger until it was almost cool enough to touch. "What do you mean the Lady of Shalott?"

"There she weaves by night and day A magic web with colours gay, She has heard a whisper say, A curse is on her if she stay To look down to Camelot. She knows not what the curse may be And so she weaveth steadily, And little other care hath she, The Lady of Shalott."

Inara rose and walked over to River then sank back down to her knees. More affected than she liked to admit by the tears rolling slowly down the girl's pale face. Alarmed inwardly at how accurately the words seemed to mirror her current situation. Only she had no intention of casting herself adrift to die and Serenity wasn't exactly Camelot any more than Mal was Sir Lancelot. She drew River into her embrace and hugged the girl, noticing how cold she was through the thin fabric of her dress. "I'm not that lady, River. Trust me, I have no death wish."

But River could not speak. Had no words to explain that it was not Inara's death that worried her. Their family was fragmenting, dying one precious soul at a time. They had lost Wash, Book and Mr Universe. It had brought them closer. The pain and shock of Miranda being a gift paid in blood. A dear price to reveal an unspeakable horror. Now Inara was going to leave, for real this time, and River knew unless she found a way to get through the Companion's penchant for justifying her own actions the end would be as unavoidable as that of the cursed lady in the poem. Because River loved them all she had to keep trying. Words echoing in her head in the Captain's voice, *no givin' up on my boat*.

"You think he's crude because his words are brash. Harsh truths that give no quarter but his heart is true. You lie with a kiss, a smile. Always hiding." Inara held her breath at that comment. River's next words were so soft the Companion had to strain to hear them. "How can you ever be free?"

"And moving thro' a mirror clear That hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear, There she sees the highway near Winding down to Camelot; There the river eddy whirls, And there the surly village-churls, And the red cloaks of market girls, Pass onward from Shalott."

* * * * *

He had a headache. Couldn't think worth a damn. Rutting woman always twisted him up inside and here she was doing it again. Be relieved when she was gone for once and for all but he knew it wasn't true and the lie stuck in his throat like a chicken bone. Gorrammit, why did he have to go and have feelings for a gilded whore?

To his surprise the infirmary was empty. For some reason he tended to think of Doctor Tam glued in place like a fixture or fitting. His lips quirked up a mite at the thought, another part of him glad that the doc had managed to prise himself away from the place. Boy worked too much as it was. When he wasn't saving and patching up the Captain and crew he was spending every hour he could stay upright looking for a cure for his sister. As noble as that was Mal wanted to shake some sense into the boy. Tell him that what they had was what they got. River was alive, now. She was more right than wrong in her head, now. She was a living and breathing member of this crew, now. Why couldn't Simon see it? Why couldn't he accept her as she was and love her, now? Or mayhap he was the simple one. Didn't seem like he knew a gorram thing any more.

Mal shoved the third drawer he had tried in a row shut with more force than was necessary. Head bowing in a spike of pain. Where the *diyu* did Simon keep the pain killers and was there some way he could knock himself out until this whole gorram circus was over? Mal leaned on the infirmary bed and rubbed his forehead until the moment of weakness had passed. He wouldn't take such a cop out even if there was one. He might be a stubborn *wangba dan* but he wasn't weak. Woman wanted to leave he would be the last man in the 'verse to stop her. Just wasn't quite sure how he would convince his heart to keep beating once she was gone.

* * * * *

"Sometimes a troop of damsels glad, An abbot on an ambling pad, Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad, Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad, Goes by to tower'd Camelot; And sometimes thro' the mirror blue The knights come riding two and two: She hath no loyal knight and true, The Lady of Shalott.

"But in her web she still delights To weave the mirror's magic sights, For often thro' the silent nights A funeral, with plumes and lights, And music, went to Camelot; Or when the moon was overhead, Came two young lovers lately wed; 'I am half sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott."

As Simon paused an unexpected voice drew every head in the speaker's direction. Calm and impossibly regal, Inara Serra tried for a smile but for once the lie would not bloom on her lips. "So am I."

Behind her River hovered and beamed, knowing the others had not yet realised what Inara was actually saying.

"I take it you're familiar with the poem?" Simon started, then wanted to kick himself. "Of course you are, I just, I didn't mean..."

"Simon." The word stopped his rambling. Kaylee was looking quizzically at her friend. Jayne was annoyed she had interrupted the reading just when it was getting interesting and all. Inara caught a look in Zoe's eye but resisted the urge to go there. She could hear River's words in her head, *always hiding*. Inara Serra didn't want to hide any more but knew it would take all of her strength and the help of these people who had gone from friends to family in the measure of a heartbeat for her to make that transistion. Always she had been afraid of commitment, of going where her heart might lead her. Afraid that love would trap and bind her. Not realising it could also set her free. With that realisation stealing through her body like an electrical current, the excitement and desire building into a slow irresistable tide, how could she leave them now? How could she leave him? "You should finish the poem."

"I should?"

"*Qu*, wanna hear how it ends my ownself."

Inara turned and caught her breath. Heartbeat racing at his nearness. No one had noticed the Captain join them until he spoke. She stared at him framed in the doorway.

"Didn't know ya liked poetry, Cap'n." Said Kaylee with a cheerful grin.

"Lot a things you don't know about me little Kaylee, like this headache 'bout ready to crack my head in two."

"I don't think anything in the 'verse is strong enough to crack that skull."

Everyone stared at Inara. A tiny smile tugged at her lips. Kaylee was laughing, a smile folding ready to roll out in Zoe's eyes as she waited for the Captain's response. As his eyes met Inara's it seemed as if everything else in the 'verse ceased to exist. Mal was oblivious to the others, the Captain unaware that Simon had continued reading the poem. Odd stanzas flowing over and around him like some gorram melody that is vaguely familiar but just out of reach of recognition.

"His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd; On burnished hooves his war-horse trode; From underneath his helmet flow'd His coal black curls as on he rode, As he rode to Camelot. From the bank and from the river He flash'd into the crystal mirror, 'Tirra lirra,' by the river Sang Sir Lancelot.

"She left the web, she left the loom She made three paces thro' the room, She saw the water-lily bloom, She saw the helmet and the plume, She look'd down to Camelot. Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror crack'd from side to side; 'The curse is come upon me,' cried The Lady of Shalott..."

The others listened in rapt attention as the Captain moved to Inara's side. He noticed a difference about her. The kind of relaxation that went beyond the body, a softening of the planes of her face that had nothing to do with artful make-up or Companion wiles but allowed the natural grace of her inward beauty to shine unhindered by artifice. The steady look she gave him had nothing to do with her earlier reluctance nor the distance Inara had been artificially maintaining between them and everything to do with a decision made. One that for too long had held her happiness hostage to uncertainty and the fear that any faith placed in love would be betrayed. Yet it had not happened because she had not allowed herself to love. Nandi had been right but so was River. And Inara Serra was finally tired of hiding. Weary of steering clear of what she wanted for fear that it would leave her lost, abandoned with a broken heart. Looking into Malcolm Reynolds' eyes she realised her fears were the real prison. Freedom was just a step away. All she had to do was reach out and claim it.

Mal's eyes widened, the Companion's hand seeming to reach out of its' own accord until she gently touched his cheek. He could not have moved right then if a host of gorram Reavers came rushing in. Trapped by the desire in her eyes he could not help but let her see the vulnerability her touch inspired. "What you doin'?" He whispered softly, heart and soul aching for the hope that flickered whenever she drew near. Praying that she had not come to snuff out that flame.

"Something I should have done a long time ago."

"That so?"

The kiss was soft, gentle, questing. Deepening as both of them were swept along on a tide of feelings too long trapped in angry words and misunderstandings. Freed of such restraints nothing else mattered but this.

"Whoo hoo!" Yelled Jayne, completely ignoring the frustration on Simon's face at being interrupted so near the end. "About gorram time!"

Zoe smiled, happy to see that common sense had finally prevailed. Little Kaylee clapped her hands in glee and hugged Simon. River floated around them with a happy smile on her face that made Jayne glare at her intently for a moment. "You high on somethin'?"

"Just happy."

The mercenary was prepared to let it go at that. As the Captain and the Companion gently pulled apart just far enough to gaze into each others' eyes Simon softly recited the last verse from the poem. After all, he owed it to his audience.

"Who is this? and what is here? And in the lighted palace near Died the sound of royal cheer; And they cross'd themselves for fear, All the knights at Camelot: But Lancelot mused a little space; He said, 'She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott'."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shuai* = handsome/snazzy *goushi* = crap/dog shit *dong ma* = understand? *ni zhidao* = you know *mei mei* = little sister *diyu* = hell *wangba dan* = fucking bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go)


Sunday, May 28, 2006 10:36 AM


Oh wow. This was just excellent. I love that Simon is reading the poem to Kaylee and everyone eventually makes their way in to listen to the rest taking the words and applying them in some way to their lives.

River was excellent. Blunt and direct as always. I can't see Jayne enjoying a poem, especially one recited by Simon, but your interpretation of him works in this story very well.

How Mal and Inara came together was very believable. Very fitting.

Very beautifully done!

Sunday, May 28, 2006 6:59 PM


Wow...just wow, Alison! Had to read Tennyson in third year English...disliked it then, loving it now because of your work here;)


Sunday, May 28, 2006 11:56 PM


One of my favourite poems used to great effect. I love it! Simon as the storyteller fits perfectly and I like how everyone comes to listne.

Monday, May 29, 2006 4:30 AM


Shiny-ness Extraordinaire!! The perfect backdrop to the culmination of the perfect lover's resolution. I'm very happy to see the classics rise again!! Thank you for weaving so well.

Keep Flyin',


Monday, May 29, 2006 4:36 PM


**She found it was easier to kneel on the floor to do her packing, her things laid out ready on the bed so she could pack them more efficiently. Less distance to fall when emotion overtook her. Not that she would ever confess as much.**

Oh i love the way you wrote that bit. The imaige it gives me fo inara actually crumpling under the emotions she would feel once she finished packing and she had closed the last trunk. I liked it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 8:26 AM


I loved the imagery of River unpacking Inara's trunk as quickly as Inara was filling it. So typical of something she might do. This was a beautiful piece!

Sunday, June 4, 2006 10:52 PM


Wow. Beautiful! I love the way you weave the poem throughout. Especially love the two levels you use this poem to pull people together. Could see them all coming together physically, and the way it reflected the turmoil Inara faced and overcame... just great work!

Saturday, June 30, 2012 6:38 PM


Kind of awesome. I've seen the painting "The Lady of Shalott" recently in London, and the Lady's wary expression in the painting certainly fits with this Firefly scene. Remarkable writing.

Sunday, July 1, 2012 1:54 AM


Thanks to everyone for the shiny feedback. I just loved using elements of the poem to showcase different members and aspects of the crew and then use it to bring them all together. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.