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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Many months later, a new chapter
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1339 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Author’s Note: If you’ve read my short story, “The Art of Scars,” then portions of this chapter will look very familiar. Believe it or not, The Art of Scars was written over a year ago to be part of this chapter. I liked it so much, I decided that it could stand on its own while I was writing the chapters leading up to this one. What can I say, I’m an incredibly slow writer who works far to many hours. Anyway, if anyone is still following this saga, then I hope you enjoy this incredibly late entry or if it sucks please let me know.
Additional Authors Note: After reading a few reviews, I realize that I may have out twisted myself. For clarity, the begining of this chapter and the portions of it that are not designated with a setting are part of Inara's diary or "Pillow Book." Usually, the Pillow Book entries introduce each chapter, but this time it was just far too long. The scenes recounted there in all take place roughly seventeen years before the main action of this story. So for the record: Mal and Inara have a kid, Serenity. Inara is presumptively dead and/or has abandoned Mal and their child. And Mal hates the very thought of her. On that cheery note, please enjoy.
35. The Art of Scars
There can be beauty without art. I had always thought that the two were inextricably interwoven, like the arms of lovers at the point of climax.
He stood in my room gun ready, eyes darting around searching for the enemy who is not there. I laughed . . . I couldn’t help it, he looked so ridiculous wear that sad excuse for a sari, his face obscured by veils.
Mal struggled out of his headdress, clearly frustrated by my laughter. “I came here to rescue you, woman!”
The mirth died on my lips. This was Ishtar’s amends. This was my one chance to taste happiness.
I walked across the room and pressed him against the door he just burst through. I had to stand on my toes, balancing my hands on his shoulders to reach his mouth. I dragged his face to mine and pressed my lips to his.
At first he kissed me back. Our lips fed on each other, tongues danced. He bent down to balance for our heights. His arms wrapped around my waist. Joy bubbled within me and came out as laughter mixed in with my kiss. He stiffened and roughly pushed me away. “What are you doing?”
Always wrong. Even after years of training and countless clients, I will never know how to handle this man. But I would not be gainsaid in this endeavor. I walked back with purpose in my eyes and began to un-wrap his sari. “I’m taking what we both want.”
There was no art when we came together. Art requires thought, planning, precision. Love is my art. But the first time, there was only anger, vengeance, passion, need, and so much beauty I thought I would shatter. We attacked more than embraced each other, acting on instinct. Each seeking to break the other’s soul . . . searching for that admission: *I was wrong to leave you;* *I was a fool to let you go.* We both wanted capitulation, without having to sacrifice anything of ourselves. Neither compromise nor complication would do. In the end the victory was mutual, our surrender absolute.
The Pillow Book of Inara Serra
Part VI: Book of Surrender
“LEMME GO!” Serenity shouted.
River sat calmly in the shade of the ranch’s front porch contemplating the meanings of one of her favorite word.
*Serenity- noun (1) The state or quality of being serene. (2) A disposition free from stress or worry. (3) The absence of mental stress or anxiety. From the Latin serenus “clear, calm.”*
Serenity broke free and rushed at Summers throwing the full weight of her slender body against his. He could have easily deflected the charge; but he allowed the blow so he could enjoy an exquisitely fleeting moment of contact. Then he spun away leaving her to fall flat in the mud.
He could have killed her the other night. He should have. Instead he stood there for hours watching her sleep.
“Now how did I do that?” He demanded.
She pouted wiping the grime off her face, “By being fast like a freak!”
*Serenity- Valley located on the planet Hera. Sight of one of the bloodiest battles in the First War for Independence.*
“No, you use the same attack each time, charging ahead like a bull,” Summers criticized.
Serenity knew she was doin’ it right, just like Jayne taught her. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong wit’ the way I fight!”
“You’re neither 6’ 4” nor do you weigh over two hundred pounds. You’re a small woman, you can’t toss people about like the merc. So stop trying to and use the moves I taught you.”
*Serenity- Midbulk transport, standard radion-accelerator core, classcode 03-K64, "Firefly".*
River watched them playing their silly game. Summer stood behind Serenity moving her arms in rapturously slow Judo movements. A patient master guiding his pupil; like miao hong in school.
*Serenity- neither child nor woman. Daughter - bastard- brat - hope- shattered- beloved- mystery. Born to bring peace, but never know it herself.*
People lost themselves in Serenity. It was her singular gift; the innate ability to draw people in and show them a different world in her eyes. She temporarily had given Mal and Inara the unconditional love they couldn’t find in each other’s arms. Replaced Kaylee’s stillborn child. Even transformed Jayne from a talking man-ape thing into something that could almost pass for a human being. River had thought the girl’s powers were limited to that funny thing called family; but she clearly had the assassin wrapped around her callused little finger. *He may prove to be a prince after all.*
“Now,” he commanded, “do it again the way I showed you.” Summers wrapped his arm around Serenity’s throat pressing her to him. She quickly thrust her elbow into his midsection using resulting imbalance to flip him over onto the ground. She landed on top of him pinning him down.
“Say uncle!” She crowed in triumph.
“Never,” he smiled, grabbing her wrists and rolling her over.
River rolled her eyes. *Silly boy, all that book learning and training and he doesn’t even know it would be better with her on top.*
The second time was gentle. We reclined against the door. Our fingers interlaced. My head rested against his damp chest as his free hand lovingly stroked my hair. Time lost meaning. We may have been like that for ten minutes . . . an hour. Maybe we’ve always been there and the rest is just a dream.
Mal lifted my hand to his lips and gently kissed my palm. Slowly he worked his way to my wrist and up my arm. He stopped at the blooming bruise. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“It’s alright,” I soothed. “I’ve always bruised easily.” I reached around caressing his back where my nails scored his flesh. “You didn’t exactly come out . . . unscathed yourself,” I giggled.
He gently lifted my chin forcing me to look into those oh so serious blue eyes. “I don’t mean that. I don’t even mean what just happened. Ah Christ, ‘Nara, I’m so sorry for all the times I hurt you.”
I stroked his face. “It’s our way. We will hurt each other, again and again, before all this is done.” Before he could turn from this truth, I locked him in my embrace. “But we also heal each other as well. Isn’t that what love is?” I kissed him then, in earnest, accepting his apology, taking it in to me, and giving my own. We made love again, only this time it was different. He touched me as if I were made out of the finely wrought silk. He almost seemed scared that his callused hands would ruin the weave of my flesh.
I’ve had superb lovers, some objectively better than Mal. But only one other has ever touched me like that. His tenderness cut me like a knife and tears of excruciating pleasure run down my cheeks. Mal stopped my movements, “What’s wrong?”
I smiled, the laughter spilling forth again. “Nothing,” I said rubbing at my eyes. “I’m just happy.”
Mal’s expression went from perplexed to relieved to slightly annoyed and settled on amused. “You know you’re insane?”
“Only because you make me so.”
General Atherton Wing sat at his immense cherry wood desk, a look of maleficent self satisfaction gracing his handsome face.
“What are you looking so happy about?” Shan Yu XIV inquired. “Has Badger found Kali’s agent?”
Wing rolled his eyes. “No Bludger is as incompetent as ever. He’s still stumbling across Shadow. I’d have him shot, but we don’t have the bullets to spare.”
“Then why the smile? Kali dispatched your other spy. We’re no better off than we were when the invasion of Shadow was authorized.”
“I’m smiling, my inept celestial friend, because as your people might say: ‘Crisis is just another word for opportunity.’”
Wing marveled at time’s ability to pollute even the most sublime of bloodlines. Shan Yu was one of the greatest philosophers the verse had ever known, a master of strategy, stanza, and sadism. His descendent, on the other hand, was a tiresome gnome whose intellect was as diminutive as his stature.
“I just had a visit from a most interesting young lady.”
“And?” Yu pressed.
“You know what I love about women?”
“Their ability to hold a grudge.”
Mal used my cortex link to wave to the crew. They all appeared on the screen, with anxious looks written across their faces. “Everything seems to be alright here,” he began. “But I may need a few more days to check out the situation.”
Kaylee could barely hide her smile. Wash was positively pink. Jayne blurted out, “She that good, Mal?!” This earned him a punch on the arm from Simon and a cutting glance from River as she tapped the side of her head. Even the Shepherd looked slightly embarrassed.
Fortunately, Zoe could be relied upon to remain stoic. “Shi shi, sir. Got a job on Greenleaf anyway. We won’t be able to pick you up for at least week. Have fun.” The link went dead.
Mal stared disbelievingly at the screen. “You set this up didn’t you?”
My hands went up in a sign of protest, “I had no part in bringing you here.”
He stalked me across the room driving me towards the bed where he tackled me. “You had that old dame wave me and tell me you were in trouble,” he demanded tickling me into submission. “Damn it woman, if you wanted me so bad all you had to do was ask.”
“I swear, I had nothing to do with any of this,” I panted out between snorts of laughter.
“Then why did she wave me?” He asked in all seriousness.
“Fate is a fickle mistress, Mal. It’s best not to question her.”
Serenity flushed deeply both from the exertion of her efforts and the feeling of Summers’ body on hers. He was too close. It didn’t feel like a game anymore. “Let me go.”
The smell of her was so thick it was almost unbearable; the same as the other night while she was sleeping. Myrrh and rockrose, juniper and bitter almonds. Lemon freshness, cinnamon heat, and that haunting whiff of vanilla innocence; the kind of combination commonly lost with one’s first fuck or fight. No one her age had any business smelling like that. But she did. Here in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by enemies and cow shit, she somehow remained untouched. He wanted to plunge himself into that purity; to cleanse himself in the blood of the wolf.
“Matt, please let me go,” Serenity repeated.
She overpowered Summers’ senses blocking out the truth of her panic and world around them. He never saw his rival coming.
“Get off of her you sommbitch,” Jonah Burgess roared tackling the other man. They tumbled in Shadow’s rust colored mud. Jonah gaining the advantage used it to pummel Summers’s face with his fist, over and over. His lip split, nose shattered, sea blue eyes filled with blood. Summers reveled in the pain, in the waves of fear and hate rolled off of his adversary, feeding the sweet crimson haze that consumed him. In those moments of excruciating delight, he enjoyed a peace he had not known since the day he met with Ambassador and the girl started invading his dreams.
“NO!” Serenity shouted trying to pull Jonah away. Momentarily distracted, Summers landed a deft blow to Jonah’s throat sending the whore-boy stumbling back into Serenity.
“Oh, honey,” she mewed at the gasping baggage in her arms. She held him Jonah, willing him to breathe as she softly whispered reassurances. “It ain’t what you think. Pa sent him here to look after us. He ain’t nothin’ . . . nothin’.’”
Summers had known agony and rage. In the years since his parents sold him, these two feelings had been his constant companions buoying his will to survive when others deserted him. But this was something new. “You disgust me,” he jeered not sure which he was addressing. “You’d lay yourself open for all comers.” Jonah found it increasingly hard to breathe. He began to claw at his throat ripping away the flesh in a desperate attempt to remove the blockage robbing him of air. “You think you give, but all you know how to do is take. You use people and then spit them out!” Serenity doubled over. Her stomach clenched like it was caught in a vice, akin to the worst cramps that came with her menses. She felt a thick wetness and looked down to see a dark red stain spreading out from the crotch of her pants.
“Bad!” River’s voice echoed in Summers head. She had relinquished her throne on the porch and walking towards them a wind blowing her skirts and hair. Energy emanated from her thin form. “Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad! Mama said no toying!”
Summers snapped out of his reverie to see his two would be victims unmarred, staring at him in confusion. Serenity gently relinquished her burden and walked cautiously towards him. “You ok Matt? You don’t look so good.”
Summers looked from the girl to the woman. Power radiated from both of them. He knew he was out matched. “Whore,” he spat as he trudged away from lot.
We spent two whole days in my room. Food was discretely left at the door with a light knock. Otherwise, we had all that we needed in each other. I have never seen Mal like this. He seemed so young, so free. We talked most of the time. He told me about growing up on Shadow and the War. Most of the stories were funny. Some were not. I did as my heart, not my training, bid me; I listened drinking it all in, the good with the bad, losing myself in him.
But he also asked questions. They are dangerous in that they require answers. For a while I silenced him by distracting his body, while gratifying my own. But he caught on to my game.
“No, Inara, I want . . . I need to know why you became a companion.”
“I was born here. I didn’t exist before I entered these walls.”
“That ain’t an answer.”
“You have shown me the verse,” I said pulling him up from the bed. “Let me show you my home.” I took him around House Madrassa. Through it official welcoming suites lined with priceless objet d’art that did not impress him. I tried to describe our ceremonies and rituals, but I could tell that he was uncomfortable and felt out of place within the halls.
I led him to the Maiden House where the children receive their lessons. His scorn was palpable. “All them gonna be companions?”
“No. When they come of age they must choose. Those that do not are sent to different academies where they can receive the training best suited to their gifts.”
He looked at me with distrust, “That the party line?”
“No. The Guild would never admit that anyone does not want to be a companion, but many leave. A companion stands constantly at the crossroads of life. A true companion will choose again and again the way of sacred service.”
He considered for a moment and then asked, “What happens to them that don’t?”
I took him to the Garden of the Lost. I led him to the cherry tree that Nandie and I loved and show him our initials. “No one ever truly leaves the Guild,” I explained. “When Anathemas die part their ashes are buried in this garden so they can return to their brothers and sisters.” We sat there a while and mourned for Nandie.
Lastly, I took him to the Treasure Trove. “This is where companions come when we are too old to serve in the traditional manner. This is where we die.”
Until that point, Mal followed where I led, listening as much as his nature would allow; but he froze up at the door to the Trove. “My mama died in a place like that. I don’t need to see it. You ain’t gonna end that way. I won’t let that happen.”
In the short time we had spent together, Mal touched me in so many ways; none were more poignant than that. “It’s not what you think. This is a place where we celebrate life in the midst of death.”
I firmly took his hand and led him in. Music and perfume filled the air. Girls danced. Boys sang. Others sat around the feet of the Xu listening to their tales. An odd client or two sat earnestly talking to the Crones hoping to gain wisdom from their aged voices.
I could tell he was more stunned than when Atherton challenged him to the sword fight. “Huh,” was all he could say.
“We call this Treasure Trove, because it holds the collective wisdom of the Guild. Companions come here to learn true beauty, the kind that does not fade. Clients pay thousands of credits and wait many months for a single hour of conversation with one of its inhabitants. It is a great honor that they let me bring you here.” He still looked awe struck and doubtful. “Come, there is someone I want you to meet.”
I led him out of the common room to Ishtar’s receiving chamber. She sat there like a queen as a young novice with the face of a china doll combed her long white hair.
I bowed deeply. “Shen Sheng Wuh de Ma, may I present Captain Reynolds.” I turned to Mal willing him to respect authority for once in his life. “Mal, this is my Mother.”
Ishtar dismissed the novice. “Go back to your lessons, Mai.” She then scrutinized him holding up her quizzing glass. I think both Mal and I held our breadth waiting for her pronouncement. She clapped her hands and cackled with glee. “Every inch the pirate prince I imagined. Oh Inara, were I a bit younger I would take this one for myself.”
In spite of my training, I blushed deeply. Mal gave her his best rogue smile and shook her hand heartily, “Mighty pleased to meet you Ma’am.” They spent the next few minutes talking like they’d known each other forever. Ishtar told shameful stories about how clumsy I used to be as a novice. Mal countered with tales of my penchant for kissing nefarious women. I must tell him the truth about that some day.
The interview ended and the wicked old woman soundly kissed him on the lips. “You must take care of my ray of light. Hide her from the Sun as long as you can.”
Mal grinned like a schoolboy as we left the Treasure Trove. “That there was a mighty fine lady! But what she mean with that sun stuff?”
“She’s old,” I snapped. “Ishtar’s given to flights of fancy.”
“’Nara . . .”
I apologized and attempted to brush the episode away with a smile. But Ishtar presumed too much. I cannot go back with Mal or the truth may kill us both.
It is said that truth is the first causality of war. This is a lie. War, like sex, is a purifier. It reveals rather than masks man’s true nature. We are more ourselves in that moment when an enemy falls, than possibly in any other time. War strips away social niceties and leaves us bare, savage, and completely natural.
Chancellor Lang contemplated the nuances of this truth as he gazed at the protesting masses from the window of his well-appointed limousine. An expression of abhorrence marred the otherwise handsome features of his face. Crowds gathered on the steps of Parliament holding ill-conceived signs, chanting mottos that should have died on Earth-That-Was.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“Fools. We’ll see how much they love peace when the prices skyrocket because we no longer control the Rim,” he sneered. *The first casualty of war isn’t truth; it’s respect for authority.* “Which one of them will protest when the Browncoat terrorists start attacking the Core. I should the guards open fire, just so they can have a taste of what is to come if we loose any more ground.”
Dark eyes, which mirrored his own, looked back at him. “You can’t tell the people we’re fighting for civilization and then fire into an unarmed crowd, darling. Hypocrisy is so passé.”
“You should know. Tell me, darling, what keeps you at House Hetaira for so many hours.”
Kali graced him with a secretive smirk. “Knowing the reason breaks the spell. A good companion never will tell.”
“There was a time when we shared all our secrets, Pina,” he murmured.
The playful contempt bled from her face and naked pain took its place. “We both know why that time is dead,” she answered.
He could not bear the sight of her and was glad when the heavy black veil blotted out her lovely visage.
The car stopped. Lang emerged all annoyance and hurt banished. In its place was the familiar look of aloof confidence that had become his trademark. “Showtime.” He held out his hand for his lady and she gracefully emerged behind him into the din of the mob’s roar.
“Forget this noise,” Summers grumbled as he made his way deeper into the woods. He had to get off this piece of go se moon. Five minutes with the Ambassador and that beautiful bitch would be begging to tell him where his mother and brother were. He’d find them and put them somewhere safe. No one would ever hurt them again, just like he promised. *Emotions are the chains that others use to control us.* No one would ever use them against him again.
*“You okay? You want some more water?”* Nearly a mile away and he could still feel and hear her. *“I’m sorry ‘bout your boots.”*
*“That’s alright. Interesting fluids are an occupational hazard.”* Jonah laughed and joked while Serenity tended to him. She was smiling, even tentatively flirting back; gliding her coarse fingers across Jonah’s cheeks looking for bruises they all knew weren’t there. Summers could feel her hands and the emotions that they carried.
“The process can result in certain levels of retardation in the subject. Traps the subject at a particular emotional age, even as it progress in all other areas.” River materialized as if from nowhere. “He held her hair while she was sick. Tenderness leaves an impression. It’s no call for jealousy.”
Summers shook his blond head in disgust. He should have known Jonah was coming. Should have felt River following him. The girl blocked everything out, made him weak. “Get out of my way, witch.”
River stood her ground. “They made you kill it, snap its little neck.”
“Don’t make me hurt you.”
“Each of you got one when you first came. Studies found that the subjects’ reality matrix survived the neural stripping better if they had something corporeal, something living to hold onto in the early stages. Answer: Provide subjects with pets. Emotions are the chains that others use to control us. Severance is the first test administered to the subjects once they have completed their course of medical improvements.”
Summers was unimpressed, “I’m not like those yahoos back at the farm. Your little mind games don’t work on me.” He pushed her aside and kept walking.
“She’ll die.” That stopped him dead in his tracks. River continued, “Shu wasn’t your fault. You were the only one that refused to execute the mission. Would have given your life for a rodent. Didn’t act until they showed pictures of Mama and Stevie.”
“Get to the point about the girl,” he said grounding out the words just like he ground the life out of the creature that had once been his only friend.
“You can leave. The gloves of blue are acolytes in her house, but the Goddess isn’t like them. She won’t seek vengeance against your innocents. It’s not in her nature. But the Wolf’s cub is still too weak to kill on her own. She will die without a strong hunter by her side,” the mad woman prophesized.
“Bullshit.” As far as Summer’s could see, Serenity wasn’t in any greater danger than anyone else on Shadow. In point of a fact, there was an entire ranch filled with nuts who seemed more than ready to kill and die for her.
River read his thoughts, “Sometimes family isn’t enough.”
“That’s not my problem.”
River walked slowly towards him willing him to understand. “Red is a complicated color. It means more than pain or passion.” She pressed an oval shaped stone roughly the size of a palm into his hands. “Wei is precious and rare. It’s valued not only for its beauty, but also for its healing properties. It is the stone of the heart.”
Summers looked at the unpolished reddish stone and wished, like many had before him, that River would just speak plain. “I didn’t hurt her today. But I can. I’m afraid I will. I only know how to kill.”
“Isn’t that the nature of love?” River asked, looking at him as if he had just stated the obvious. “She can teach you how to live. You just have to believe.”
“I can’t. It’s too late for me,” he breathed. But no one was there to hear.
“Repeat! Repeat!” Sue Ellen tried to shout above the screeching of men and gunfire. “Do not approach, it’s too damn hot!”
“Fuck that,” the voice on the com link crackled, “we’re coming to get you.”
“Tell Shi now is not the time for . . .”
The same explosion that cut off Mal Reynold’s words also smashed the breadth from his lungs and singed his exposed flesh.
All around him Independence solider lay dead and dying. Young, firm limbs torn from their owners’ trunks and tossed about like the toys of a careless child. Open mouths froze in an eternal moment of ecstasy. Clear eyes stared up to heave askin’ why. God’s indifference reflected in their glassy gaze.
They were the lucky ones. Them that weren’t screamed and twitched. They clawed at the mud desperately seeking cover. They cried not for victory, but for survival.
It is done.
We lay in bed laughing so much it hurt. Tears poured from my eyes, but Mal wouldn’t stop.
“He actually asked my permission to court Kaylee. You should have seen the boy’s face. He looked like I was gonna throw him out the air lock. Let him think that for a few minutes too.”
“Mal!” I knew these stories. Kaylee waived me when Simon first declared his intentions. Since then I received regular updates on every step of their burgeoning romance. Still, it sounded new and different coming from him.
“Now, I don’t approve of ship board romances,” he said in his best captainy voice. “But if the boy didn’t make his move soon, I was gonna to take to trippin’ him in the hope that he would inadvertently fall on top of her.”
“And they’re happy?”
“It’s so sweet I might have to take insulin shots. With that and Zoe pregnant, the boat’s becomin’ downright domesticated.”
I snuggled closer to him. “Oh how you suffer,” I sarcastically crooned.
“Yep, it’s a burden,” he smiled as he tries to catch his breadth from laughing. “Speculate, it won’t be no time ‘fore Jayne and Book are seekin’ my blessin’.”
“That’s not funny,” I snorted clutching at my aching belly.
“Well it’s better than Jayne and River hookin’ up.” We both fell into a new fit of giggles. “That would be truly creepifyin’.”
“Merciful Buddah, I’ve missed you. . . all of you.” I should not have said that. But words, once spoken, cannot be taken back.
A sly smile stole across Mal’s lips. “So, I take that to mean that you’ll be comin’ wit’ me when the boat returns?”
I sat up wrapping my arms around my legs. I could feel the end coming. Best to get it over with quickly. “That depends on you,” I murmured.
Mal failed to sense my change in mood. He started nuzzling at my neck, which under normal circumstances would drive me crazy. “All right woman,” he whispered. “I’ll pleasure you again. But I swear you’ll be the death of me.”
I can’t think when he touches me.
I left the bed and stood across the room where he couldn’t reach me. “I would require certain concessions before returning to Serenity.”
He knew I was serious now. This was the conversation we’ve been avoiding since he came for me. “’Nara, I . . . I need you. Serenity ain’t been the same. I guess Kaylee and the others might have waived you about what a ripe bastard I’ve become since you left. But I,” he paused searching for the right words. “I can’t bear the thought of someone else touchin’ you. Don’t make me promise somethin’ I can’t do.”
I felt my anger rising. Good, it will be my one true companion now that he’s gone. “Do you think I can bear your smuggling? The petty risks you take?” I demanded.
“It ain’t the same,” he said rising up to stand his ground. “What I do is honest.”
“No Mal, it is the same. We both fuck people for a living. The only difference is my clients are always satisfied when I’m done.”
“I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that. You sound like a . . .”
“A what, Mal? A whore? Look around you. This is all I am! This is all I know! What would I be if I’m not Serenity’s ‘Ambassador’?”
“You would be with me. I would take care of you.”
I shook my head in disgust. “And you think that would make me happy? I want to be with you more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. But I won’t give up being a companion to become your private whore.” The words sounded harsh even in my ear. I tried to soften them with the truth. “I won’t leave my life to watch you die.”
He sat back down on the bed in defeat, his head buried in his hands. “What do you want then?”
“I want a relationship of equals. You need me to give up my life. I need you to give me part of yours.”
“I have fifty thousand credits saved. I want to buy a quarter interest in Serenity.”
He stood up and walked past me, scooping his shirt off of the floor. “You gorram core folk think you can buy what ever you want! What comes next Inara, you gonna tell me where to fly, what jobs to take?”
“Yes, I would like to have some say in the way Serenity’s affairs are conducted. We can’t go on the way we used to. With the Alliance still looking for River and Simon and Zoe’s baby on the way; it’s time you grow up and realize there are lives at stake.”
“No whore’s gonna tell me how to run my ruttin’ boat.”
“Well that didn’t take long. I guess I should be grateful that you didn’t call me that in front of my Mother. But this is my world, my rules and that’s the last time you will ever call me a whore. Get out.”
“Fuck you Inara,” he shouted slamming the door on his way out.
“You already did,” I whispered to an empty room.
I pulled a bottle of rice wine and started packing.
The ability to remain unaffected by something as banal as public opinion has long been held as a mark of good breeding. They walked, serenely waving, as if mob offered adoration instead of scorn. The multitude pressed forward even as the guards strove to maintain order. Moving through it, the sun Wolf and the dark Goddess would stop to listen to some complaint, take the odd petition.
A young woman, smartly dressed with shining red hair called out to them, “My Lord and Lady, there is something you must know.”
Kali clutched her lover’s hand. “Don’t.” There was something familiar, something wrong about the petitioner.
But the Chancellor gravitated towards the woman, happy to see that at least one person still respected the state’s authority. “What is it, mei-mei?,” he asked beneficently.
The girl bowed deeply. “I have a message from an old friend.”
Positioning herself between Lang the petitioner, Kali hissed, “What do you want?”
“Justice, my Lady,” the stranger declared thrusting her blade forward.
It all happened too fast. Instinctively, Lang pushed Kali aside, stepping into the dagger’s path, taking the brunt of its blow in his chest. A look of disappointment flashed across the assassin’s face two seconds before the bullet obliterated it.
The Chancellor fell into the arms of his mistress. “No.” She prayed. “Stay with me. Stay! Don’t leave me Alex.” Tardy guards surrounded the couple setting off a round of shots, driving the mob back.
Joy comes, unbidden, at the oddest of times. “There you are Pina,” he sighed, “I’ve missed you.”
The guards lifted him and carried Lang’s inert body away. The remainder surrounded his lady and escorted her from the Capital.
“You idiot. I’ve always been with you . . . you’ve always be with me,” she whispered.
The sound of someone banging at my door woke me up. “Go away.” I whimpered. I was still too hung over and hurt to face the day. The knocking persisted. “I’m not receiving anyone today!” For two seconds there was blessed silence, then wrapping that threatened to split my head open continued. “Gen houzi bi diou shi,” I cursed wrenching open the door. “What part of go . . .,” Mal stood at my threshold with a sheepish grin, “away did you . . . What are you doing here?”
“Giving us what we both want,” he said seconds before he lifted me up and passionately kissed me.
It took all my strength to push him away. “No. This is not how it happens.”
Mal smile his patented go se eating grin. “You can’t fool me ‘Nara. Well you can . . . you did. But I’m wise to your game. I ain’t gonna let you push me away.”
It was my turn to be dumfounded. “Huh?”
“I’m callin’ your bluff lady. You want part of the ship it’s yours. You want a voice at the table, that’s fine.” He got down on one knee and drew a small velvet pouch out of his pocket. From its depths he produced a simple platinum band, “Miss Serra would you do me the honor of bein’ my partner?”
“Mal, I . . .” I took the ring from him watching the light play off the engraved words, *You and no other.* “If I wear this, it does not mean you own me.”
He knew he had me. “’Course not, consider this in lieu of a contract.” Playing with his suspenders and looking incredibly pleased with himself, he continued, “’Sides I couldn’t afford the payments on your ass anyway.”
I slipped the ring on my finger. “I going to regret this, aren’t I?”
“No you ain’t. Not if I can help it,” he said tenderly. “But I got some conditions of my own.”
“Well number one, Serenity’s barely worth ten thousand credits. I ain’t gonna begin by cheatin’ you outta money you earned honestly. I’ll take five. Gonna use it for repairs mostly and to pay the crew back wages, plus some much needed bonuses. The rest of that money’s yours. I always kinda fancied the idea of bein’ kept by a rich woman.”
“Done. But considering her stated net worth, five thousand seems a bit high.”
“Brings me to condition number two, Zoe. She been wit’ me since the beginin’. Serenity’s as much hers as it is mine. I can’t take you on as a partner without offering her the same deal. She ain’t got the money to buy her way in and won’t take no charity from me. Could be, she’d take a loan from you.”
I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to cover my growing smile. Mal has the most annoying habit of giving me new reasons to love him every day. “Done, anything else, Captain?”
“Yeah, one last thing.” He used his callused fingers to wipe away the makeup my tears washed down my face. “No more pushin’, no more runnin’ from either of us. We do this, it’s for the long haul.”
“It won’t be easy,” I warned. “We’ll fight, we always do.”
“Yep, I hear tell that lots of couples do that.”
I signed, “Most couples aren’t as stubborn as we are. What happens if we can’t work it out?”
“Well then, we’ll have just shoot each other, cause only death gonna take you from me.”
I could only laugh, because I knew he was dead serious, “You’re psychotic.”
“Yeah, that’s why you love me.” We began kissing, and then we said no more.
This wasn’t Du Kang. Then he took the blows and still rise to rally his people to accomplish the impossible. They joined up with the Twenty-Second and drove the Alliance off that rock. Hell, the Lieutenant even got a medal though the brass had to pin it to his chest since the feng zi swore he didn’t have no arms.
Sue Ellen whimpered beside him. Mal pulled himself towards the muffled sound and covered the girl’s body with his own to shield her from the fresh rain of bullets.
*Why can’t it ever go smooth?* This was supposed to have been a milk run. Shih and Sue Ellen had pulled him from his self-imposed stupor to tell him that command ordered the Eumidide to drop off much needed supplies on Greenleaf.
This was not Serenity Valley. Then he had Zoe. Her will to pulled him through. Now, he was so tired that death seemed like a welcome option. Now, all he had to live for were these people and revenge.
*“Live for the crew; they will need you in the days to come.” She whispered so only the two of them could hear. “Live for our daughter; you are all she has left.” The drugs were taking effect quickly, her face grew hazy, her voice distant and weak. “Live for that day; I will be waiting my love.”*
It was enough.
“Sue Ellen,” he shouted. “Get up solider! Wave the Eumidide and tell them to get the hell out of here.”
“We’re gonna die here,” she moaned.
“No we ain’t,” he said ripping off the soiled brown coat and waiving it high in the air. “Men tou xiang.”
Sue Ellen stared at him, torn between relief and disbelief. “What are you doing Commander?”
“Getting us the hell off this rock. We’re too damn pretty to die.”
Serenity waited until nightfall, until the entire house was asleep before creeping to her window and crawling out.
She would have asked Matt to help her, but he’d walked away in some kinda huff and hadn’t come back. Well fuck him. Would’ve asked Jayne, ‘cept he’d just gotten back inta Kaylee’s good graces and she’d surely throw him out for good if he helped. As it was she didn’t know who’d skin her first, Kaylee for blowin’ up the Alliance compound or Jayne for using the last of his good whiskey for doing it.
She left a note, just in case things . . . well as Pa was want to say, if things didn’t go smooth. Still the job was the job and she’d be damned to the special hell ‘fore she’d let the hundan Alliance swarm over her planet like evil purple ants at a perfectly good picnic. Somebody had to stand for what was right, no matter what the cost.
Gettin’ out of the house was the easy part. Serenity walked through the woods with only the dim light of twin moons to guide her. The clink of the bottles in her satchel quickly turned from a comfort to loud rukus alerting any would be predator to her position. The trees, beautiful and majestic in the light, threw angry shadows that reached out and tried to claw at her. All the stories of Niska, Jubal Early, and Reavers Jayne told her as a child began to flood her mind. But it was the memory to that solider, the one who’d licked her face, the one she’d killed that pressed in closest.
“You botherin’ me, little girl. Got me all sorts of hot and bothered.”
Serenity withdrew Bessie to ward off the night. “You can’t hurt me no more,” she told the darkness. “Gonna make sure that none of your friends bother no one ever again.”
“That’s going to be somewhat difficult with just a knife and a few jars of moonshine.”
Serenity spun thrusting her blade forward. He caught her wrist and twisted it deftly forcing her to drop Bessie.
“You want to tell me what you’re doing out here in the middle of night, dressed like that?” Summers asked taking in her faded black ensemble and pathetic attempts at camouflaging her face with soot.
“You wanna tell me what yer doin’ skulkin’ ‘round and scarin’ the shit outta people?”
Serenity’s smell changed with her mood. Before she was all smokey incense, intense and intoxicating. Now she was washed out rain, a strong tea which hadn’t been allowed to steep long enough. She was unsure and more than a little scared. He’d pity her, if she wasn’t being such a gorram idiot.
He snickered, “Clearly, I’m rescuing you yet again.”
“Why is it people conjure that I can’t take care of my ownself? I ain’t a baby!”
“No that’s exactly what you are. A stupid child that can’t figure out how good you have it or that people love you. When are you going to get it through your thick skull that this isn’t a game. The Alliance would shoot you before you could toss the first jar.”
“At least I would’ve died fightin’, not in the woods with some asshole on top of me takin’ what he wanted like some kinda animal,” she cried fighting back tears that were born of frustration and rage.
“And what then? After they blew your pretty hero head off? Do you think they wouldn’t come for Jayne or River or Kaylee? Do you think they would have let a terrorist’s family live?”
“I hadn’t. They wouldn’t have . . . That would’ve never happen!” She shouted. “I could’ve made it work! I can do something right!”
Summers gently put the knife down on the ground and approached her cautiously. “Maybe you would have.” He said calmly. “The first kill is never easy. The second, the third, after a while it becomes part of you. Is that what you want? To become a killer?”
“I want this war to be over. I wanna be free. Ain’t that worth killin’ for? Ain’t that worth dyin’ for?”
Though only a few years separated them in age, there were decades of experience between him and the girl. “Serenity, people die and kill for a lot of stupid shit. Peace and freedom are the worst.” He moved closer caressing her soft soot filled curls. “Freedom is here, in your mind. A thousand battalions can’t take that away from you.”
He wanted to touch her more, to absorb the fear and frustration and hope seeping through the skin of her. Instead he took her small hand and held it to his chest. “Peace is here, in the heart. It’s between two people when they let go and let be.”
He watched the thoughts and emotions running across her face. Serenity stood there, feeling his steady pulse. She knew he was a stone cold killer. She looked into his sea blue eyes, still crossed with bloody lines from the fight he had with Jonah, and saw the wheels of manipulation turning. She knew she could never trust him, but she wanted so badly to believe him. And she knew he didn’t know the first thing about freedom or peace. These were all pretty lies he was telling her. But she also knew that in that moment he wanted his words to be true. Wasn’t that enough?
She smiled shaking her head, “I’m going to the special hell.”
“It’s a long story,” she smiled. “Maybe I’ll tell you someday if you don’t go runnin’ off again.”
“I won’t run if you don’t make me.”
“Deal,” she exclaimed spitting on her hand and holding it out to seal the bargain.
Summer looked at her spit covered hand shining the twin moons light. “That’s disgusting. Take this as a sign of truce,” he said holding out a rough red stone.
She looked a bit confused, but took the offering. “This is red jade. It’s very rare you know.”
*Emotions are the chains that others use to control us.* That had been the mantra at the Academy; the only prayer allowed, repeated over and over before they went to bed. Summers repeated it again silently as he looked her with her soot covered face and her slimey little hand as it toyed with its new treasure. *Fuckin’ kid.* Emotions are the chains that others use to control us. True then, true now. But maybe, just maybe, in surrendering to this child, he could find his own bit of peace and freedom.
He took her hand and raised it to his lips tasting rock and spittle, but mostly savoring Serenity. “Come on, we should be getting back.” He dropped the hand before it could burn him and retrieved the knife. “Here, you don’t want to loose your girl again.”
“Matt, that day. I left Bessie in . . . in the woods. How’d she get onto my nightstand?”
“That too is a long story. And if you’re very, very good maybe I’ll tell you some day.”
He led her back through the woods. Hand in hand they walked, Serenity blocking everything out; even the watcher who followed in their wake.
Mal’s body is like a map of scars. Only a skilled cartographer can read it. Each line, each welt tells a story of its own. Tales of pain, sacrifice, honor, and love. Enemies, friends, and family permanently etched into the fabric of his skin.
I watched him while he slept. The moonlight was harsh making the damaged tissue stand out in bold relief against his blanched skin.
He has keloids around his left ear left from Niska. The others fought to free him. So did I. Battlefields come in all shapes and sizes. There is a small mark on his chest right above his heart. He stabbed himself so Serenity could live. Before that I loved the ship as a home, after that night I hated her as a rival. She almost stole Mal from me.
And then there are the scars on his shoulder and side. These are mine. Blood shed in the name the honor he didn’t believe I had. I kissed these scars because they are precious to me. I nip because I resent what they mean.
A bullet wound in his belly where Patience shot him the first time. Small lines around his wrists from Alliance shackles. A long scar running the length of his thigh from a bull that got “uppity” when he was nothing more than a boy. There are others, too many. I don’t know their stories. Maybe I will someday and then he won’t have to bear them alone.
I looked at myself naked pressed against him. My body was smooth. The bruises have faded. Not a single imperfection to distract eye or displease the hand. All my scars are deep within, hidden where no one can ever find them. I could speak; give him the compass, show him the way. But my map leads to the past and therein lies only despair.
I should have left him, but in the end I was not that strong. So I closed my eyes and pressed closer to his warmth. I let my fingers run over his body memorizing every line, every fissure, every beautiful flaw that makes him, him.
Mal’s body is a map of scars. And if I read it carefully, closely, then maybe we can both find our way home.
Monday, February 19, 2007 1:46 AM
Monday, February 19, 2007 8:37 AM
Monday, February 19, 2007 11:08 PM
Tuesday, February 20, 2007 7:49 PM
Saturday, May 05, 2007 3:16 PM
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