BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

SYZG

Finding Common Ground. Ch. 4
Saturday, June 3, 2006

Bookstores and memories abound...get a glimpse into the humourous side of shopping. Just a continuation to a leap into plot.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1924    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 4: Gettin' all Poetical

River had taken to sitting on the ramp outside the cargo hold, staring at the crowds. She found some form of entertainment in making up stories about the pedestrians, stories that interwove all of their lives to the sixth degree of separation. It was enough to keep her entertained for several minutes before she began to listen to the conversations going on about her.

Her tiny face and nose were obscured by her goggles again, raindrops blurring her world. Every now and then, she would tilt her head to take in the tiny children playing street ball in the rain. Behind her she could hear Jayne grunting with each lift of his weights, a form of counting she supposed. The only members of the crew that she hadn't seen were Zoe, Mal, and Inara. "Almost present and accounted for," she whispered, her lips barely moving. One of the children suddenly threw the ball too hard and it landed at the base of Serenity's ramp. River watched it roll, her head cocked to one side in curiosity as a tiny girl with her hair in two braids jogged after it. The girl froze when she realised that River was staring down at her and she held the ball loosely. River debated between terrifying the small girl or helping her and settled for an in-between action.

She waggled her fingers and made a face that made the girl giggle before leaving River alone at the top of the ramp. River sighed, not quite certain if that was the reaction she had wanted. The girl had stirred a memory, of something that was just out of her reach and something that she grazed over with a soft touch. It wasn't her past she was remembering, not even her present...

"Mi-Li." "Beautiful strength, Mama told me that she thought I was her strength. I'm not very strong...not even pretty," said a soft voice in River's mind. On her closed eyelids, the vision of a dark eyed girl with a beautiful sadness about her. Flowing black hair waved before her oval face as she reached out with a scarred hand. Smiling, taking River's hand as she reassured her not to be frightened when they were lowered into a sub-complex for isolation. Lowered into the Game. The Game!

River jerked, her eyes opening wide as she took a shallow breath. "It was only a game..." she whispered, trying to reassure her shaking body and mind with the phrase. A litany that she could repeat.

Only her mind refused the litany and she swallowed past the lump in her throat.

"Mei-mei? Do you want any of the bao bread Kaylee managed to barter?" Simon asked as he took a seat next to her. River licked her lips before ripping her eyes away from the children to see her brother holding a piece of bread toward her. River eyed him, taking in the slight quirk at the corners of his mouth and the light in his eyes. The memory of only moments ago was gone quickly, her eyes betraying nothing.

"Replenishing your energy?" she asked as she took the bread. Every moment where she felt far more lucid than she had in years, she thanked Simon. Her love for her brother was the only love she had left in her, River felt. What River felt was often so blurred between her sanity and insanity. Whatever had been stripped from her had kept her from feeling true emotion, from feeling as if her body could experience everything with the innocence that came from learning of life.

Instead, she experienced everything in rushes that her body still longed to understand.

Simon had the decency to look chastened by her words. "I didn't mean to keep you up last night," he muttered softly. River shrugged, tossing her long brown hair over a shoulder the way she had seen Inara do. Her movement was jerky and mechanical though and she frowned.

"You didn't keep me up. I slept." She nibbled on the crust of the bread in her bird-like way, her large eyes still riveted on his.

"Any dreams?" Simon asked softly.

River shook her head. "I don't dream anymore. Blank pages."

"Well...that's good," he declared confidently, remembering the nights when River would wake screaming and sweating, terrified.

"No..." River said. "It's not."

~~~~~

"There are two Souls, whose equal flow?In gentle stream so calmly run,?That when they part--they part?--ah no!?They cannot part--those Souls are One."

Inara felt her breath catch in her chest at the phrasing, remembering the poem from a very...very long time ago. It still had the ability to go straight to her stomach, to cut her. She remembered, when she had first been given to the Guild, when the house mistress had called her far too sentimental for crying over such a poem. The subsequent embarrassment and harsh treatment had forced Inara to grow up very quickly in a world where the women competed incredibly. In her learning, she sometimes compared the Guild to that of the harems of the Ottoman Empire yet knew that there were differences. Long-Ago Earth, her house mistress had insisted, was not a decent comparison. As there was no comparing a Companion with a whore in a civilized mind. Sometimes, it was no wonder why she felt so tense with Mal.

Sighing, she slid her hand over the smooth spine of the book and put it back on the shelf. To her left, a two fellow buyers watched her. Not much older than Inara, they eyed her with a measure of calculation and appreciation. They both could see the edges of quality around the young woman's face, in her clothing, and even in her very mannerisms. These sorts of women were easy to impress with a few carefully done poetic quotes. Women as a whole were complete saps for romance.

Inara was unprepared to suddenly have her way blocked by the arm of a small but burly looking man. Smiling tensely, she turned only to find her way blocked by a tall, lean man. He had placid-seeming brown eyes but as Inara stared back at him, she saw the underlying danger in his posture. Her entire body went on the alert in response.

"Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief, That thou her maid art far more fair than she:" the thinner man said eloquently. Inara had to admit to being impressed by his voice at the very least, and were she uneducated, she might have been impressed by his quotation.

The critic inside of her cringed. "A common quote but very nicely put," Inara allowed.

"Are you a large reader of poetry?" he asked. "I'm Albert Cavil."

Inara stared at him, wondering what to do. "My name is Inara."

"Inara, a beautiful name..." he leaned closer to her and Inara took a discreet step backward. She turned around only to see the smaller man still blocking her. "My name's Cecil." "Well, nice to meet you both." Inara resisted the urge to simply shove the small man out of her way. She wasn't very much in the mood for flattery and male ego.

"Tell me, Inara, why haven't I seen you in this part of town before?"

"Oh, I'm here and there," Inara answered as she turned back to the bookshelf and picked up a copy of Much Ado About Nothing. If she hit him over the head, would he drop, or would his thick head keep him upright?

"I'm certain I could recall such a beautiful creature as you," Albert whispered as he eyed her.

"So could I," Cecil added as he ran up a hand up Inara's arm. She eyed the fingers, wondering if she'd have to either scream or break his fingers to get them to leave her alone. As she watched the fingers clench slightly into her skin, she decided that the latter was more amusing.

"Hell, who wouldn't be able to remember the most beautiful woman in the 'verse?" Mal's voice suddenly rasped close to the back of her head and Inara whipped around to see Mal staring down at her with a bemused expression. "New friends?"

"Not exactly," she whispered. He looked at her expectantly even when the other men started crowding around Inara like dogs after a prized bone. Inara could feel the potential fight brewing, especially with how Mal was getting that smirk on his face. She knew that smirk far too well. Oh, this could get very bad very quickly.

Mal watched Inara. He had come into the bookstore after some fast inquiries, only to see her shopping about in her elegant way, avoiding crowds. Although he would never tell her he had been in the shop for over ten minutes -and that was pushing his limits-, he had seen her approached by the two weasely looking men. Vaguely, he wondered if she was going to ask for his help.

Plastering on a slow smile on her face and putting real warmth in her eyes, she stepped forward away from the other men and slid her hands up under his coat gently. Mal stared at her as if she had grown two Niska heads. She gave his suspenders, hidden his leather coat, a good snap before she slid his hands up and let them rest at the back of his neck. "I missed you, bao bei."

Well, his reaction was worth it.

Inara stepped up on her tip-toes and pressed her mouth to his gently. Mal at least had the decency to shut his eyes just as she shut hers and Inara counted to five in her head. She needed a time limit to set, so that she couldn't get lost in the forbidden way she had done this. Five seconds shouldn't last that long. One thousand one...

Mal's hand slid around her waist gently.

One thousand two...

Inara moved her mouth a bit harder against his.

One thousand three... Her hand tangled in his hair and gave a light tug.

One thousand four...

She felt his hand push her hips into his.

One thousand five.

Inara broke the kiss slowly even when she felt his mouth become more demanding. They stared at each other blankly for a brief second until Inara remembered why she had kissed him. Her colour still high on her face, she turned to see Albert and Cecil staring at them with their mouths half-open.

"Albert, Cecil, this is my husband, Malcolm. Malcolm, these two men were kind enough to keep me in the poetry section until you came back," Inara said as she tucked her arm in the crook of Mal's. He continued to stare at her until she gently stepped on his in-step.

"Well, thanks for takin' care of my girl. Lord knows I can't leave her alone for a minute," Mal managed as he grinned at the two men. Blinking, they glanced at one another before stammering out their farewells nervously. Inara and Mal both watched them go and she waited until they left the store completely before she pulled her arm from his.

"How'd your job go?" she asked as she stepped back to the shelves and plucked another book down from the middle shelf along with her Much Ado About Nothing. She opened it and perused the contents, lingering over the pages before frowning and setting it back. At her feet was a small basket, discreetly kept out of the way of sight.

"It..um..." Mal cleared his throat. "We're headed to Ares after once we restock the supplies." "Ares? Hmm, must be a well paying job."

"It...it should be." Mal lifted his hand and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Tian a...did you just...did you just kiss me?"

"You make it sound so one sided, Mal. You kissed me back," she pointed out.

"Yeah but you kissed me."

Inara looked over her shoulder at him. "And I have to thank you for your assistance, Captain. That may have been a very difficult situation had you not shown up when you did." "But you kissed me." Mal looked a mixture of awed and miffed. Inara was putting up a brave enough front to say that she hadn't been affected but she had. This sort of mask kept her from getting too involved in it.

"Why are you here? I thought you said two hours."

"Got out early. When I saw that you weren't at Serenity, I figured I'd come find you." Mal began to peruse the bookshelves as well, curious as to what interested Inara. Though he was giving the impression of being bored out of his mind, he had to admit that some of these books would bring a mighty fine price on the market.

Inara pursed her lips. "Don't even think about it."

"Think what?" Mal asked innocently as he cocked his head to one side and plucked a book by Shakespeare from the shelf.

"You have no clue of the true value of these books. No appreciation," Inara snapped as she grabbed the book away from him and shoved it on the shelf, hurrying him down the line to see what else there was. Mal did his best to look affront as he haphazardly grabbed a book from the higher shelf.

"I have appreciation for books! I read a lot of books when I was a lil' bit younger, when I got time. Books like," he cast a quick look over the worn, dog-eared book, "the Joy of Sex, the Sihnon Collection."

Had Inara been another woman, she would have blushed, shoved him away and given him a thorough boxing for being so callous. As it were, she merely rolled her eyes and tried to move around him. Mal stuck an arm out on the shelf and blocked her exit, his brown hair falling before his eyes as he twisted the book on its side. Inara sighed and rested against the book stack, crossing her arms over her chest defensively. Mal let the book's pages unfold and his eyebrows flew to his hairline.

"They teach you things like this? The..." He squinted. "The Unfolding Lotus?"

"Mal."

"Looks complicated. Lots of bending and stretching...no wonder you might limp afterwards. It ain't natural.." His head craned to look at it upside down. "That's where it goes."

"Mal!" Inara was becoming annoyed and somewhat embarrassed when she saw the shopkeeper staring over at them, frowning. She poked her companion in the ribs and he jerked, looking at her from somewhat glazed blue eyes. "I would like to be allowed to return to this bookshop."

"Who said you wouldn't?"

Inara pursed her lips. "If you don't wipe the drool off your face, you might ruin the book and have to buy it." Leaning forward, she whispered mockingly, "And that might sully your reputation as a natural born lover."

He glared at her and stretched over her to replace the book. "How'd we get over to the sex section?"

"It is called the erotica section, Mal. As old as mankind itself." Inara brushed by him and grabbed hold of his coat to pull him after her. She made her way back into the classics section and sighed. Mindful of the time, she quickly replaced the books she had pulled from the shelf, aware that Mal was beginning to fidget. It was only a matter of time before he touched something. Replacing the last books by Shakespeare and Byron, she stretched up to the shelf and nudged them into place.

"I thought you were going to buy that one," Mal said in an off-hand way. When she glanced over at him and saw his eyes on the anthology of Lord Byron. Arching an elegant brow, she swivelled on her heel and fixed him with as stern a gaze as she could manage.

"And why would I do such a thing?"

He shrugged, looking everywhere but at her face. "You were lookin' at it long enough," he answered. Inara slid her eyes over him and then back around the shop, at its multitude of shelves and racks. Catching on, she stepped back around him and began to walk to the front of the store with her purchase basket.

"How long were you watching me, Captain?" she demanded and he fell into step just behind her until they reached the worn counter. She glanced over her shoulder at him as she set her basket on the counter.

"Don't be makin' it sound all sordid. I was just keeping an eye on you, makin' sure you was...all unbothered..." Mal paused and she heard him scuff his boot on the counter. "Ten minutes."

"Being in a store with books, learning...it must have been hell," Inara teased as she turned back around.

"Had some interesting sights," Mal answered with a shrug before leaning against the counter. Inara gave him an inscrutable look before focussing on the shop-keep. He was a burly older man with a tired air about him. Liking him quickly, she took the cover off her basket.

"I have some copies that I would like to resell," she said, handing him the books one by one. The shop-keep continued muttering totals before grabbing a slice of paper and a pen to write the titles down.

"Inara? The books...why are you selling them?" Mal suddenly asked, his voice quiet.

She shrugged. "It's not like I need them. How much pleasure can one get from a book, after all? They all have value." Her voice cracked slightly when she said that, a nearly masked slip that Mal might have missed had he not been so aware of her. He watched as she handed over a small book to the man yet her fingers clenched a bit. Nodding to the man, he took the book from him and heard Inara hiss in a breath.

It was an incredibly worn book, Mal noticed, with its cover peeling despite efforts to save it, and the pages were dog-eared and yellow. It was something, he realised, that Inara must have read over and over and over again. The inside page was immaculate however, the bold type of "The Anniversary of the Grimms' Fairy Tales" faded from time. Above the type was a small inscription that Mal could barely make out but as he did he paled.

"Inara...why would you want to get rid of this book?" he asked. Inara shrugged and hurriedly collected the credits from the shopkeeper.

"Old memories, Mal. I don't need them. Never have." She gave him a rather fierce look and stepped by him to go to the door. Mal frowned and watched her go out the door before turning back to the other man.

"All right. How much?" he asked as he dangled the book before the other's man eyes.

"Twenty." It was said so quickly that Mal squinted.

"Sentimental value that high?"

"One can put a price on sentimental value," the other man answered as he waited patiently. The book's dilapidated condition was of no concern at the moment and Mal gave him a hard look.

"Ten."

"I would have gone down to seven but ten it is." The shopkeeper, knowing that he had the better end of the deal, took the credits and turned back around to his own book. Mal rolled his eyes and tucked the pocket book into his coat.

Inara was waiting underneath the scaffolding of the building, her robe waving in the breeze. It was raining harder now, large fat drops that left spots on her dress and plastered the material. Looking at her, Mal watched the angle of her chin lift. Funny how she was hard to place, something that made her memorable, no doubt. Softness and hardness, shadow and light...all poetical thinking that did nothing for his mood. Tearing his eyes from her, he quickly looked over the other buildings.

"We should get back to the ship," he mentioned as he stepped up beside Inara and offered his arm. She eyed it warily, as if she was expecting it to bite her. His eyes though were not on her, not even his attention and she followed his gaze to the crowd.

"Inara, what if I were to tell you that we were being watched by the unseemly sort?" he asked softly and Inara let out a long breath.

"I would say that I wasn't surprised."

"Good. Hate to have you actin' all shocked and undignified on me." He looked over her face. "Might make you less pretty."

"Shut...up..."

----------- **Poem quote is from Stanzas to Jesse by Lord Byron

Book Choice: I was read Grimms' Fairytales as a youngster (and yes, the original ones. not the happy happy ones.) Kind of fitting that Inara, the dignified one, might have an attachment to something that might be unexpected.

Author's Apology: Yeah, I know. I should be strung up, caned, and sent to bed without sugar. I really should. Life and graduating from college caught up with me in a not so unhappy way so I am just getting caught up in all my writing. I am only just started reading all the great fanfics that have been posted. Let's hope my life gets unravelled. Had to write this out to finish.

COMMENTS

Saturday, June 3, 2006 7:25 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Damn...this was an A-1 Ma/Inara scene here, Szyg! Though I would have given Mal a bit more credit about literature...not much to do on certain days on a farm but stay indoors and read. Just get the feeling Mal's correction to the Operative's remarks about the nature of the Albatross are just a glimpse at deeper mind....

Anyway....great work here! I know how ya feel about school and work getting the way of writing and such;)

BEB

Sunday, June 4, 2006 12:06 AM

AMDOBELL


Loved your Mal and Inara but gorrammit, wish it was longer! I could so see this little scene paying out and was hoping to see the part where Mal gives Inara her treasured book back. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, June 12, 2006 9:50 AM

TAYEATRA


Excellent!

My favorite chapter so far!

*Adds syzg to best-est fic writer list IMHO*

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 7:01 AM

LADYSAGE


A great little encounter between Inara, the "unsavory twins" as I'll call those men in the shop, and finally Mal! Love the kiss, of course. It reads so nicely, too.

:-)


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