BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

ARCADIA

Over the Hills and Far Away - Ch 16
Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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... Things intensify.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2095    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Ch 16

“Gilbert, I need you to listen to me.” Her voice didn’t tremble. Her lips weren’t quivering, even though they wanted to. “This is a very difficult situation, but not an impossible one. If we act quickly and discreetly, we can walk away from all this. Nobody has to die tonight, dong ma? Not me, not you, not Heather. None of us are going to die.”

“How?” Gilbert asked. He looked up at her with complete faith. It was blinding. Inara fought the urge to blink. She could feel her eyes beginning to tear. She barely knew what she was doing. She felt like she was grasping at threads. Yet, she was ready for this. Inara was prepared. A companion always was.

“The Guild only permits men and women of the greatest intuition to be admitted into the training houses,” Inara said quickly, removing a stick of white incense from her bag. “I grabbed these and put them into my bag tonight acting on an instinct I could not explain, but now I know why… I need them here.”

“But…”

“Shh,” Inara said. “I know you’re scared, Gilbert. I know you’re tired, but I need you to be strong. Just for a little while longer. None of us are going to die tonight. I promise, Gilbert, you’re not going to die.”

Despite Mal’s assertion to the contrary, Inara was an honest woman. A Companion’s job was not to whisper sweet words so that she could use his ego to get into his pockets, but rather to help him remember the softer truths that modern living often causes one to forget. In a universe so concerned with appearance, Inara remembered that sometimes two people must allow themselves to find comfort within the company of a stranger who wouldn’t judge them. People tended to forget that manhood was marked by a strength of spirit rather than a checklist of points to be met, but Inara remembered. She didn’t lie to her clients. She simply offered them truths others had forgotten.

But she was lying now. She hated it immediately, for it lowered her, but she could see no other way this could be done. Gilbert was paralyzed by fear and remorse. If she couldn’t make him believe that they would all survive this, he was useless to her, and as good as dead. Inara knew she could do it. She had the skills to make people believe. She hated to make Gilbert believe in something that she couldn’t say was true, but she did it anyway.

“I want you to go back into the ballroom and find Mal,” she said quickly. “Find Heather and Mal, and get them to the main entrance. Do whatever it takes, but get them there. I’ll meet you there in five minutes.”

“Inara…”

“Just go!” she shouted, more desperately than she intended. Gilbert flinched. Inara closed her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. “Just go. Find them. Mal can help us, and… and I need to know that he’s…”

She didn’t mean for the last words she slip out. She instantly flinched in regret, until she saw the resolve begin to harden in Gilbert’s eyes. “Okay,” he said, voice weak, but determined nonetheless. “Okay, I’ll… I’ll find him for you.”

“Thank you,” she whispered. She watched as Gilbert turned around, stumbling back towards the party. When he was out of sight, Inara took a moment to compose herself, letting a whimper escape from her lips before pressing them together solidly and breathing the tremors out of her body. She held two sticks of white incense in her hand, grabbed earlier on instinct while she was pinning up her hair. She was well trained in psychology, but even she at times had trouble understanding it, the vast disparity between the conscious and unconscious mind…

But now wasn’t a time for meditation. It was a time for action. Slipping the white sticks back into her purse, Inara headed for the ladies’ bathroom.

~*~

Jayne sat at Adelina’s kitchen table as she cleared it, reading over the piece of paper again and again. “Can he read?” he heard Tuck ask loudly, which caused Lenny to giggle. Normally, Jayne would have made the boy pay for insulting his intelligence and such, but he couldn’t stop himself from reading the paper, the Fireworks announcement, again and again and again.

“I don’t want you goin’,” Jayne said at last. Adelina’s boys immediately began to protest, but she hushed them quick.

“Ain’t no harm in Fireworks,” she said quickly.

“Don’t think these are Fireworks,” he said. “I… I ain’t exactly full of smarts like these boys of yours, but when you gots a job like mine, you learn to use your eyes. This… it doesn’t sound right. It sounds like it was meant to sound right, but it doesn’t.” Sighing, Jayne rose from the table, pocketing the piece of paper. “Don’t go,” he said again. “I’m taken’ this to Zoe.”

~*~

“This here is the dyein’ room, where the fabric will get colored and such,” Kentdale boomed, his voice needlessly forced, needlessly loud. More quietly, he added, “I’m hoping in a few years time we’ll be able to get aside some of the wool for making tapestries and the like, in which case we might have to change the inside of this room somewhat, so that the wool can be dyed all different colors. There are a few here on Three Hills that are talented with weavin’. Not a whole lot, but enough that I think, should they take on apprentices and the like, we can make a real export out of fine rugs. Not that I expect to be seein’ ‘em in Sihnon, but… well, little class never hurt nobody.”

Involuntarily, Mal’s hand touched his side. “Oh… I’d beg to differ.”

Kentdale smiled warmly. “Comin’ from a fellow like yourself, I ain’t especially surprised to hear that. And you aren’t entirely wrong. This, the building of this factory… it’s gonna be a big change for a lot of folk here. And while nobody but the dear Lord himself ever does know which way change is gonna go, my hope is that this one will be for the better.”

“That’s… optimistic,” Mal managed, unable to truly become engaged in the conversation. The sting of Heather’s words was still coursing within his body. He couldn’t breathe without wanting to hiss in pain. His ma had always raised him to play nice to girls, to hold doors and lift heavy objects, maybe say something nice about their dress if they looked like they needed somebody to say something nice about their dress, and for the most part Mal did this fairly successfully. Unless, of course, the girl in question was…

Mal never could love a woman who was good for him. He never did care for the ones who were like the woman Saffron had pretended to be, the ones who were gentle and made good wives and mothers, the ones who would ask you how your day was and offer to wash your feet. Mal was always interested in the ones who would just as soon wash your feet as kick dirt in your face, the ones who stood tall, carried their pride on their shoulders, who took risks and never regretted them. Mal had tried, once, to love the other kind of woman, to convince himself he would be best with a girl who was peaceful, who was quiet, a girl he could depend on.

But how could he ever believe that when he was standing in the same room with a woman like Inara, who kept her shoulders square and was always standing tall?

For the first time, he was starting to realize he hurt her. He really did hurt her, just as bad as she hurt him. Maybe even worse, considering most of the hurt she inflicted on him she did just by living, by living her life without compromise, whereas most of the hurt he inflicted on her… he didn’t mean it. He didn’t mean it, but it wasn’t accidental. He’d never meant to hurt her, but everything he said he’d said on purpose.

“This next room here,” Kentdale said, “is where all the weaving takes place. For now, we’re making jackets. We’ve got contracts with a few buyers on Bena. With the new Companion House bein’ built there an’ all, some are hoping it will become a fashion and cultural center out here on the rim. There are lots of designers heading that way, hopin’ to make a name for themselves… And we got a contract with a charity group on St. Albens, hopin’ to help them poor folks who settled there. I hear it’s mainly an ice planet.”

“Mainly,” Mal chimed.

Mal never could love a woman who was good for him, and he never could be good to a woman that he loved. So here he was, allowing a man who he found to be annoying at best, and at worst a pompous bastard with no sense of what was right for the people he loved so much, to give him a tour of a factory he’d helped graffiti not four days earlier. He wasn’t sure what that could mean, he was never sure what any of it could mean, but he knew it wasn’t good. It wasn’t right.

And it would never be right. Mal couldn’t make it right. And even if he could make it right…

The sting Mal felt with every breath was gone, replaced instead by the flare of the aching emptiness he carried with him always. The emptiness turned every hope into a curse, every dream into a nightmare. It was this emptiness that divided and separated knowledge from belief. Mal knew, knew in his bones, that women of Inara’s caliber couldn’t be tricked or bullied, that they only did as they pleased. But he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t look into her eyes and believe that she, that Inara, would…

“The tour’s done,” Kentdale said, “but we could stay here a while, if you need to. You look like you need to think a while.”

“I could use more than that,” Mal said despite himself. “But, it’ll do.”

~*~

Inara broke her incense in half. It would be less potent, but it would also go off faster, and the faster the better, since flashbombs burnt brighter than any true incense Inara had ever encountered. The well trained eye would… she really didn’t have the time to indulge herself with “what ifs”. Either her incense would remain undisturbed for roughly four minutes and it would ignite a flash bomb, flooding the building with smoke and hopefully causing a fire, and therefore forcing Senator Woo and Mayor Kentdale to evacuate the Ball, or it wouldn’t, and…

But it would. Inara let not hesitation play over her features as she exited the ladies’ bathroom and headed back to the ball’s main floor. Indeed, she was charming as ever, curtseying at the older couples, chiming greetings in Mandarin… She was a picture of grace and elegance, just as she ever was. The only thing she did wrong, perhaps, was walk too quickly, but no one seemed notice or care, so Inara scurried as fast as she could, as fast as her shoes would allow her.

When she arrived in the ball room, Gilbert was waiting for her. “I… I can’t find, him,” he whispered instantly.

“What?” Inara whispered back, trying to keep a smile plastered on her face despite the fact that her heart had dropped into her stomach.

“He… he’s not with Heather,” Gilbert said quickly. “I asked around and… he left. He went somewhere with Kentdale. Inara, I…”

“Mal… he isn’t here?” Her tongue didn’t seem to want to form the words. It felt heavy, chalky in her mouth. Gilbert could do nothing more than shake his head. Inara nodded. She took a deep, obvious breath through her mouth, the kind her instructors would have frowned up, the kind that would make them start lecturing her. They would say she was out of control. Inara didn’t. She took another breath. When had she ever been in control? It was a set-up from the start. She turned to Gilbert. “Where’s Heather?”

“She… she…” Inara was losing him. She took him by the shoulders.

“Gilbert, please. I need you to tell me. I need you to tell me where--”

But at that exact moment, Inara was neither in control nor quite correct with her calculations. The flash bomb went off, sending a loud boom through the ball room. Everybody screamed.

~*~ Zoe grinned as her husband slowly took her shirt off. For the first time in a long while, they had the ship to themselves, and Zoe had no intention of wasting that opportunity, especially since it was her birthday. They made love frequently, of course, but there was a certain freedom, a certain choice of location, that came with having the ship to their lonesome, not to mention free rein to make certain noises that other crew members might find alarming were they onboard.

“Wait, Zoe…” Wash whispered between their kisses.

“No talking…” Zoe answered back as she took off his pants with military precision.

“But… your gift…”

Her hands faltered slightly at the word ‘gift’. It wasn’t a word she was particularly fond of hearing come out of Wash’s mouth. Zoe loved her mister, but his tastes tended to favor the eccentric side of… everything, while hers… didn’t. “Wash, baby…” she began, “we talked about this. I told you I…”

“But you’ll like this one,” he interjected quickly.

Zoe shook her head, sighing. “Wash…” and at that exact moment, the door to the cargo bay opened, and Jayne stepped through, holding a battered looking piece of paper in his hands.

“Jayne!” Zoe shouted, immediately picking up her shirt from the floor and pulling it back down over her chest.

Jayne just stood there, grinning. “Don’t let me interrupt.”

“Oh, of course not,” deadpanned Wash as he rushed to pull up his pants. “Zoe and I happen to like it with animals in the room. Isn’t that right honey? It’s a bestiality thing.”

“You like it… with animals?” Jayne stammered.

Zoe was all business. She snatched the forgotten piece of paper out of Jayne’s hands and read through it immediately. “What is this?”

“It don’t seem right,” Jayne responded, not quite answering the question. Zoe was already inclined to agreeing. Fireworks. Lighting them wasn’t exactly rocket science, but it wasn’t something state officials decided to shoot off on a whim either, especially when there were large crowds of people involved. Crowds are dangerous. They require planning to control. Getting a crowd together without a plan was chaos.

“Wash,” she said quickly, “I want you to wave Book, tell him to go into town and find Simon and Kaylee. I want everyone back on this boat in fifteen minutes.”

~*~

Simon bought her a flower. She didn’t know what type of flower it was, and by the look of it the flower was probably not long for this world or any other, but he had bought her a flower and it was the thought that counted. He’d seen her eying the flower vendor’s booth as they walked to the bar/restaurant, and so he bought it, no fuss or nothing. Kaylee was proud of him, in a weird way. It was a relief not to have to ask, that he was… he was comfortable enough with her to just act.

When they got to the bar he pulled out her chair for her, all gentleman like, and smiled as he picked up the menu. It was then that Kaylee knew that the awkwardness had settled back in. “So… it looks like they serve lamb,” Simon said, “lots of… lamb.”

“I couldn’t eat it,” Kaylee said quietly, “not after seein’ them baby lambs all… dead.”

“Oh… right,” Simon managed. “Well… there’s… salad?”

“Salad’s all right,” Kaylee said cheerfully. “What kind?”

“It looks like its lettuce with… with, umm, lamb in it,” Simon finished lamely. He smiled sheepishly across the table. “I really thought this was going to work.”

“You must be pickin’ up on some of the cap’n’s rotten luck,” Kaylee said with a sweet smile. “Ain’t nothin’ goes smooth when he’s around.”

“Well, I’ve never been known as a charmer either but…” Simon sighed. “So, you’re absolutely sure you don’t want to eat lamb?”

“No,” Kaylee said, still smiling. Only now, her smile was tinged with sadness. “Maybe it’s me that’s bringing the bad luck tonight,” she said thoughtfully. “I’m the one who’s liable to go hungry if we stay here much longer, and I… I’m the one who couldn’t convince Inara to stay.” She could feel tears forming in her eyes. “I was so sure she was gonna stay.”

Simon reached across the table, taking Kaylee’s hand into his own. “She’s not gone yet,” he said quietly. “There might still be time to… to convince her not to leave. The captain… well…” Simon sighed. “I know, at least, that we can get prevent you from starving. Why don’t we head back to Serenity? I’ll make something that has non-lamb flavored protein in it. We can have a picnic…outside.”

Kaylee couldn’t help but laugh. “You can cook?”

“Well…”

She laughed again. “Well, the picnic part sounds good, anyway.”

~*~

River had meant to play nice, but there were secrets lingering in the room when she entered it, and they always swallowed her. Sometimes she fought it, screamed, but she always ended up in the stomach of the matter. She was a cluster of flesh being acidicly eaten away by the things people didn’t tell each other. Meanwhile, they put a fork and knife in her hands and told her to cut her dinner.

“This is a very nice home,” Book said. “Much nicer than any I’ve seen here yet.”

“It’s Brelin’s family home,” Andrea told him, “but mostly it’s just us two that stay here.”

She laughed. She couldn’t help it.

The simple girl laughed, too. Brelin. There were no secrets in her, only about her. River closed her eyes, analyzing the differences in their laughter and what that meant. Harsh versus jovial timbre. One caustic, the other infectious. “Your disease is worse than mine,” she said to the girl, opening her eyes. “It spreads easier.”

“River,” Book chided immediately. “You’ll have to excuse her,” he told Andrea, who was also the secret keeper. “River’s a good soul, but she’s had a rough journey. She doesn’t always understand what she says.”

The secret keeper smiled. River didn’t know whether to read it right side up or upside down. “Oh, don’t think anything of it Shepherd,” voice light, melodic, “I don’t think Brelin understands a word of it.”

Understand. Three syllables, with roots in old English. Under combined with standan. Standan meant “to stand”. Multiple meanings, including, “have the power of comprehension.” The connotations of under are below, are falling short. Wouldn’t “overstand” make more sense than “understand?” It seemed so.

River overstood too much.

“What was that?” asked the Shepherd.

“Sounds like we’re getting’ a wave,” said the secret keeper. “I’ll check.”

“It… it’s for you, Shepherd. A woman. From your ship.”

“Zoe?”

“I don’t know, I…”

“Let me see.”

< Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned…> ~*~

White smoke start pouring in from the hallway, and still people forced themselves towards it, eager to get out of the ball room. Inara grabbed Gilbert by the wrist and pulled him with her as she made her way out of the crowd. When they were clear she turned around, watching with her mouth slightly ajar as they all pushed their way out of the room, out of the building, away from the bomb.

“I didn’t lie,” she said, finally, when the last of the crowd had gone through. She smiled, despite it all, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “None of us are going to die tonight.”

“Oh… I beg to differ,” said a shrill voice behind her. Inara’s eyes widened. She knew who it was before she turned around. Heather Zagorska, and she had a gun pointed right at Inara’s chest. “Please, don’t speak. I’ve heard of your charms. You speak, you die. That’s how it works.”

Inara had never been held at gunpoint before she’d started renting a shuttle aboard Malcolm Reynolds’ ship, and the few times she had since, he’d been there to save the day. He wasn’t here now. Inara didn’t know where he was or how to reach him. She nodded, eyes wide, as Heather’s smile began to grow.

“I guess I should thank you, Miss Inara Serra,” she said coyly. “Really, the only person in this room I gave a damn about killing was Kentdale. And the Senator, but… well, what can you do? Some people just survive. Shame your Malcolm won’t be one of them.”

For a moment, the entire world stopped. Inara’s heart wasn’t beating. “Mal…”

“Is in the factory, with Kentdale. I made sure I told Kentdale yesterday that my Mal was real upset ‘bout not gettin’ a good look at what’s done there, and, what do you know? Today, Mal gets a tour.” Heather shrugged. “Strange how coincidence works ain’t it?”

But Inara barely heard her. “Mal…” she whispered again, the name falling off of her lips like a teardrop.

“Yes, Mal,” Heather said, waving the gun. “And what did I tell you ‘bout talkin’?”

Inara felt very light. She felt very faint, like she wasn’t quite real. Maybe she was something someone imagined instead. The ball room wasn’t a real ball room, it was an all purpose room redecorated to shimmer for an evening. Inara had known many better rooms, better parties filled with amazing people. She’d never attended one in the company of a woman who was completely psychotic and her dependent boyfriend before. At least she didn’t think so.

Psychos were part of Mal’s world. They were his dinner guests, his employers, his… when she’s first met him, she’s been concerned that he himself might be… but he wasn’t. He was gentle and kind and stubborn and he made her… She couldn’t lose him. Inara couldn’t lose him, she couldn’t…

“Mal…” she whimpered before she could stop herself, his name falling from her lips like a teardrop.

And the gun went off.

. . . . . . . . Hope you enjoyed chapter sixteen. Please, leave a review!

COMMENTS

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 3:37 PM

2X2


aaaaaggghhhh!

you can't leave it like that! But I love it when you do! *G*

Mal, finally startin' to realize that Inara can hurt too, all manner of mixed up and in mortal peril!

And Inara! Ah, god! Heather, you bitch! If you've shot her... I've rarely had so much hate for a character as I do for Heather, which of course means she's reallllly goood!!!!

So excited to see this, and read it! And now so excited for the next part!! It's all so tense and scary!

Love it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 8:23 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh...I hope the gunshot was Mal appearing like a wraith and blowing her fool head off...or Gilbert finally getting a freaking clue:S

Really have been impressed by how you've run our BDHs though the gauntlet here, Arcadia! Especially with Mal's recent ephiphanies about Inara and how she can get hurt by his actions regardless of her trainiing. Definited would have loved to have seen this on screen somehow:D

BEB

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 10:35 PM

AMDOBELL


This is so good and it was such a long time getting this chapter, thought you had abandoned us so really really happy to see this posted but oh, what a gorram cliffhanger! I really hate Heather and please don't let her kill Inara! Hope it won't be so long until the next chapter, can't wait to see what is going to happen. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, July 20, 2006 5:37 AM

TAMMYY2J


Brillant fanfic please continue with the next installment soon

Friday, July 28, 2006 10:33 AM

AGENTROUKA


I had the hardest time replying to this chapter, because everything seemed so right and dead on and just as perfect as always, except there was this one paragraph about Mal that just didn't... work. For me, that is.

The whole bit about "women who were good for him". Didn't click. Shook me out. Would Mal consider a subservient woman even in the terms "good for him"? Why would he feel obligated to love a woman like that, and guilty that he can't?

So, I let it simmer for a while. Less with the detail, this time. *g*

The rest of Mal's thoughts, that aspect aside was a very gratifying thing to read, letting him out of himself, come to realize the futile and hurtful web of interaction between him and Inara. The sense of honesty there is lovely and exactly to the flavor of what makes Mal a strong man. Adult. Trying to adhere to at least some kind of reason and struggling.

I loved the date between kaylee and Simon. That genuine sweetness between them that so few can capture without over-sugaring it, it's on full display!

Heather - so unexpected my sudden affection for her in the last part, so soon it's gone again. She's a geniune freak! Sweet! *g* Her quiet, unaffected calm is a great contrast to Inara's shaken attempt to control the situation. It's all wonderfully tense and scary, and ends in a marvelous cliff-hanger ending.

A very good part, no matter what. Very much looking forward to the next. :)


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