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AMDOBELL

DUPLICITY Series: 2. "Appearances"
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Inara sends a wave. The Captain tells the crew of a slight change in plan. A change that threatens to divide loyalties between Captain and crew."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2254    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "APPEARANCES" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash, Kaylee/Simon. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "TRAUMA". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Inara makes a wave. The Captain tells the crew of a slight change in plan. A change that threatens to divide loyalties between Captain and crew." 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.

"APPEARANCES"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

She stared at the screen, her face a mask devoid of all expression. For an irritated moment Inara thought she would have to repeat herself.

"You must not get off on Sihnon."

"Don't you think I know that?" The Companion snapped. There was an awkard silence, two pairs of cunning eyes locked on each other over the encrypted wave. "*Duibuqi*. The man is just so infuriating, *dong ma*? Why can't I can kill him? There are a thousand ways to make it look like an accident."

The other pair of eyes stared back, all steel now. No emotion. Inara eased out a long breath to take the pressure off. She had not felt this wound up about something in a dragon's age. That the reason was Malcolm Reynolds was even more galling. And yet. A tiny, small, infinitesimal part of her didn't like the path she walked. The dark places she must travel to achieve her goal. Correction. *Their* goal. She must never forget that she was part of something bigger than herself. This was not about revenge but there was no rule that said she could not savour an element of that too. Inara was a Companion and a damn good one. Top of the hierarchal tree so to speak. This assignment was supposed to be her crowning glory. The last step of many.

Of all the crew members on Serenity the one Inara had not been able to get close to was Zoe. It should not have come as a surprise to her given the close bond the woman had with the Captain but it was an irritant nonetheless. An ever visible sign that she did not have all the bases as completely covered as she would have liked. Inara was a perfectionist after all. Though Zoe seemed to like her, respect her even, there was a line she would let no one else cross. Only Malcolm Reynolds and Wash did so, probably without either of them realising it was even there. And wasn't that the trick? Sleight of hand was so valuable and venerated because no one saw the switch, the speed of the hand deceiving the eye. Funny how that was now working against her.

"You know what you need to do."

It was not a question but served to bring Inara's focus back to the job in hand. Her *assignment*. Didn't matter how long she took only that the outcome was successful and it would be. Inara severed the connection then thought through her plan of attack. Only she didn't want to appear the aggressor. To give the crew even the slightest excuse for siding with the Captain. No. She would play victim to his rough hero until his strength had been used to undermine him. Didn't matter how long it took but sooner was better than later. Touching up her carefully applied make up was like putting on armour. Her polished smile carefully not perfect. The kohl deliberately thinned so that it would run as if from the shedding of reluctant tears. Inara huffed and puffed, watching her mirror image until she got just the exact ruffled look she was aiming for. Over it all she then placed a stoic if imperfect calm then left the shuttle.

* * * * *

Simon had hoped to speak to Kaylee before going to get some breakfast but all the usual places he looked were empty. He never thought to check the infirmary, it being his domain not hers. With a sigh he made for the commons area instead. Kaylee had already poked her head in the infirmary and not seeing the doctor had dragged River off to get something to eat. They were the first ones there and while River babbled nonsensical but whimsical offerings Kaylee rumaged through their protein store to make up something at least capable of being swallowed if not digested. She couldn't wait for the next planet fall. They needed fresh food and supplies to fill their almost empty coffers. Sooner they got to Demeter the better.

Looking up she smiled as Shepherd Book joined them, the Preacher giving them a cheery good morning before setting himself the task of making some tea. Simon stepped through the doorway, gave Book a nod and crossed over to Kaylee to see if she wanted any help. Her smile dazzled him so much he almost forgot to breathe. "Want me to make ya up a bowl, Dr Tam? Won't be no problem."

Simon was about to answer when Jayne swept in and grabbed a seat at the table. "Sounds good to me. What we got?"

Kaylee glared at Jayne but didn't have the heart to snap at him. Jayne was just being Jayne. Then the Captain was there, Zoe and Wash filtering in behind as if he was leading them on halters. The Shepherd began to pass round mugs of tea, folk bantering and chatting away making Kaylee's smile grow exponentially. Adding more dishes to her little pile and happily filling them all, River helping or hindering as her fancy took her. Kaylee never told anyone but she was often homesick. Missed her folks something fierce. Then the Captain would hug her out of the blue, say something to make her lips quirk, the crew teasing and insulting each other until she felt warm and happy again inside. Her surrogate family as dear to her now as her own. That happy faltered when the Captain made his announcement.

"Need to let everybody know, we got a detour on our way to Demeter. Won't be but a day or two out from our schedule." Jayne frowned. "Won't that cut into our profit?"

"*Fang xin*, Jayne, you'll still get paid."

"Yeah, but I got plans for my cut. Don't wanna have to hold back 'cause the coin ain't there."

A flash of irritation blazed in the Captain's eyes. "Jayne, *bizui*, said you'd get paid. No need to fuss."

Kaylee filled her own bowl last then took a seat between Simon and River. "Why we detourin', Cap'n?"

The Captain looked a mite uncomfortable if Kaylee was any judge. "Gotta go to Sihnon."

All eyes suddenly fastened on the Captain. He tried to hide how much that increased his discomfort.

"Sihnon?" He could fair see Kaylee working it out. "But that's..."

"We're droppin' Inara off."

Silence. The medley of looks exchanged might have been amusing under any other circumstances but right now they just made the Captain all manner of ill at ease and not doing a good job of hiding it. Even though Zoe had known about the last minute change in destination the Captain had not elaborated and just snapped at Wash when he had asked. Again, she found herself wondering what this was really all about. Before the first mate could say anything a soft gasp from Kaylee had her turning her head towards the door. Mal certainly had to hand it to Inara, she really knew how to make an entrance.

Kaylee scraped her chair back and ran to Inara, immediately worrying and fussing over her friend. Inara never cried, leastways not in front of anyone and if she did she always hid the signs lickitty-spit. Didn't take a gorram genius to see the woman was upset and Kaylee knew just who to blame. One look at her friend told her that the Captain and Companion had been quarrelling again. Kaylee glared at the Captain. "Tell me 'Nara ain't leavin'?"

The Captain's lips formed a thin line, he looked miserable but determined. "That's the general idea."

The mechanic looked shocked then hurt, then looked at Inara as she tried to comfort her friend. "Don't let him bully ya, 'Nara, he can't force ya to do anythin' ya don't wanna do."

"He's the Captain." Inara said simply, managing to look all put upon and heroic. Too much the lady to lower herself to Malcolm Reynolds' level as she pretty much deflated into her seat at the opposite end of the table to the Captain.

Zoe had a thoughtful look on her face as she took in the Companion's demeanour. "Do you want to leave, Inara?" She knew the Companion had been in line for the job of House Mistress before leaving Sihnon though had never understood why the woman had left in the first place. Had Inara been recalled by the Guild or given one final push by the Captain?

"*Bu qu*." Inara managed to muffle her voice a little without overdoing it.

Zoe looked at the Captain. "She paid up, sir?"

He grunted, took a shallow draft of his coffee, his food untouched and like to stay that way. "Gave her back the rent on the shuttle."

The first mate's eyes widened in surprise. This was serious then not just one of an endless line of spats. Her voice dropped a little, whether to soften the blow or out of shock no one was quite sure. "We needed that money, sir."

"We can rent it again after the drop at Demeter. Maybehaps find a couple next time."

The crew just stared at him. Simon bit his bottom lip not knowing what to do. Oddly enough River was silent, just staring down at her bowl as if it contained the answers to the 'verse encoded in the mess of protein.

Inara chose that moment to play her trump card, lifting her kohl smeared face, a regal calm returning to her ruffled appearance. She ignored the imploring look in Kaylee's eyes, the way the girls hands clung to the folds of her dress like a lifeline. "I will do as you ask, Captain. Even though I don't want to go, Serenity was..." She gave a half-beat of a pause as if it was a slip not a calculated piece of drama, "more like home to me than any place in the past." She gave a soft weary smile, making sure to make eye contact with the crew one by one before locking eyes with the Captain once more. He had to admit, she was mighty effective. If he didn't know better he would be thinking himself a *tamade hundan* his own self. "Naturally I will miss everyone." She gave a tiny little shrug. "But I won't make this harder for you, Captain." He frowned but held his tongue. Inara rose gracefully to her feet, ignoring the tea Book had brought her and the bowl of mashed protein that was Kaylee's offering. "If you'll excuse me, I have some packing to do."

For a moment no one spoke as Inara left the commons area then Kaylee rounded on the Captain, tears in her eyes, face flushed with anger. "Call 'Nara back, Cap'n! Tell her she don't have to go!"

The Captain sighed deep down to his shoes. This was what he had been dreading. He shook his head even though it hurt him to see the pain in Kaylee's eyes and the way her kind heart hardened into something so close to hatred it was hard to tell apart. "Can't. Be on Sihnon in two days."

"Still got time to turn her around, I can..."

The Captain stood. The room fell silent. "No! Inara's leavin' an' that's that. Ain't of a mind to talk about it."

So mad she could hardly form words, Kaylee took a couple of steps towards him but not close enough to touch. She would not let him try to soothe her with his words or the comfort of a hug. In that moment she couldn't stand the sight of him. "I hate ya! How could ya do that to 'Nara, to us?" Her voice was close to breaking. Kaylee pressed her lips together tightly, willing the trembling bottom lip into some kind of control. Hands fisted at her sides. "Ya really want 'Nara gone that bad?"

It seemed to take forever and no time at all for the Captain to answer, the crew hanging on his reply. None of them completely sure what in the nine hells was going on but sure that the next words to leave his mouth would seal the fate of them all. "I do, little Kaylee, though I get no pleasure from it."

Confusion momentarily formed a crack through the anger. "*Weishenme*? What'd 'Nara ever do to ya?" He couldn't answer her, had no way to put into words what he knew in his mind and felt in his gut. None of it would mean a damn to Kaylee anyway. She thought with her heart and right now her heart was in little bitty pieces because her friend was leaving. Damn Inara Serra to every level of the Preacher's Special Hells and damn himself for ever letting a gorram Companion set foot on his boat. When the Captain didn't answer, Kaylee spun round and ran after Inara then bedlam errupted. Everyone it seemed had an opinion and not one of them had a good word for their Captain. Simon didn't say anything, he was thinking, trying to sort out what he had overheard and what had just happened. That the others were angry, confused and hurt was no overestimation. The fact that the Captain wasn't trying to justify himself just seemed to fuel the scent of rebellion in the air. Zoe didn't actually stand against her Captain but she left him in no doubt that he was a gorram fool.

Simon closed his eyes and tried desperately to orgnanise his thoughts into some semblance of sense. It was the angry stomping of feet as various members of the crew left the commons area that caused Simon to open his eyes and look up. Everyone but himself, the Captain and River had left. Simon thought the man looked drained, emotionally and physically. Too pale for his own good. He watched as Mal took his cup to the sink and gave it a perfunctory wash then left it to drain. He hadn't touched his food and the bowl was left abandoned on the table. Without a word he left the two siblings alone. Simon stared at where his sister sat unnaturally silent opposite him. "River, are you alright?"

She looked composed but sad. A resigned look about her that did not sit well with her brother. As crazy as her pronouncements could often be they were fuelled by a quick and agile mind. The look she gave him now was almost sluggish, as if she were already admitting defeat. "Can't fight the tide, Simon."

He blinked. "Tide?"

River looked towards the door. "It's how the world ends." She turned to lock eyes with him, her voice softening into a whisper that almost hurt his ears. "Not with a whimper but a bang."

Simon caught his breath, tried to hide how much her words disturbed him. Wanted to make light of her dismal mood but couldn't find the words or the lightness of touch. "We're not on a world, River. We're in the Black."

Her smile was sad, a recompense for the effort he was putting into trying to lift her spirits. "Not *a* world, Simon, his."

* * * * *

Badger was furious. Near incandescent with rage. He had a buyer waiting on Demeter, what the good gorram did that *shenjingbing wangba dan* Malcolm Reynolds think he was playing at? This was worse than flashing his gorram ass at the Alliance. Swearing profusely he cut the wave, his men staying quiet in the background and watching as the little crime boss paced up and down. The fury damn near immolating him as his temper got hotter and hotter. After several minutes of ranting and pacing his steps slowed and he stopped to look at the cortex screen. The second wave taking the heat out of the first. He couldn't help the way his lips curled around a nasty little smile, the idea taking root in his noggin with a twist of spiteful satisfaction as he listened.

"Think it'll work?"

The charming pixie of a face smiled back at him. Confident and coquettish. His favourite gorram mixture. Didn't hurt that she had a body to match the sin in his heart.

* * * * *

"Sir!"

The Captain didn't slow his step, his walk deliberately brisk and determined as he headed for his bunk. He was not running, not going into hiding neither. Just needed a quiet space to think was all. "Not now, Zoe."

She was swift and agile enough to follow him down the ladder before he could close the hatch. "We on'y got now, sir, an' I'm thinkin' this needs explainin'."

There was a smouldering anger in his soulful eyes, a look in them that made her heart hitch. What the *diyu* was going on? Zoe knew the Captain wasn't angry with her but it was all she did know and that did not sit well with her, not when the rest of the crew were as near to mutiny as she had ever seen them. Her Captain and friend was not always the smartest or most tactful of men to be around but he was usually sharper than this. Upsetting the crew was a bad move, whether or not Inara was the cause or the solution.

"We can either discuss this here in private, sir, or in front of the rest of the crew."

He knew when he was defeated. Knew Zoe was right but it still irked. With an explosive sigh he resisted the urge to slam his fist into the wall of his bunk, flesh and metal being no contest and no substitute for common sense. With a nod he watched her step up a rung or two of the ladder and close and lock the hatch. Funnily enough it was kind of a relief to have her corner him like this. Mayhap she could see a way clear that currently baffled him. When he said nothing, Zoe crossed her arms and leaned against the ladder.

"Think this is the part where you're supposed to talk, sir."

He ran a hand through his hair and tried to tamp down the anxiety he so did not want her to see but Zoe knew him too well. "It's Inara."

"Kind of figured it was."

He huffed air through his cheeks, frustration clearly battling with anger even though he didn't raise his voice. Histrionics would cut no ice with Zoe. "She's a gorram spy."

Zoe blinked. Whatever she was expecting him to say it wasn't this. "Sir?"

"*Wo zhidao*, hard to take in but true."

"Inara's been with us a while, sir." She said slowly, speaking as if the words were only being formed as they left her mouth and she needed to make sense of them at the same time.

He sighed and it was as if all of a sudden the fight had gone out of him. For a moment she caught the deep flicker of hurt in his eyes then he was back in control. Grim, firm and laying it on the line. Digging himself in as if Serenity was a trench and he was expecting enemy fire. "That she has."

"Helped us a time or two as well, sir."

"What're you sayin'?"

"Just that a spy would have no reason to be helpin'."

"That's the part that fair puzzles me."

The first mate blinked and watched as the Captain wearily sat on the edge of his bunk. Zoe moved the chair from the little table and sat on it to face her friend. Her actions indicating she was ready for the long haul. "What's goin' on?"

"If I knew that I'd be a whole lot happier Zoe but I don't."

"Why you sayin' she's a spy, sir?"

He stared at her for a moment. How in the nine hells could he put years of instinct into words? Explain the twisting in his gut, the way his heart fell at different moments when Inara did or said something that just felt 'off'? Wasn't like there was no gorram handbook on how to read Companions. Companions. His body stilled, mind sharpening. Zoe noticed his sudden alertness.

"Sir?"

"Think I need to be speakin' to River."

Now Zoe was thoroughly confused. What did any of this have to do with Simon's sister? Seeing her confusion the Captain tried to explain.

"She's a Reader an' I'm thinkin'..."

"She knows somethin'?"

"It's possible, *dui*?"

"If she knew somethin' I think she would have said, sir."

"Maybehaps it ain't that simple."

For a moment the two friends were quiet. Zoe gave him a long considering look, careful how she spoke her chosen words. "Is it possible you're mistaken about Inara, sir?"

Pain clouded his expression for a moment then was swept away by grim certainty. "*Bu qu*, asked her outright. Pretty much admitted it."

"Admitted what, sir?"

He huffed, annoyed that he had to spell everything out to her but that was the way she was. Zoe didn't like grey areas, no maybes clouding issues that should be black or white. "That she was a spy. Said she still supported Unification, always would. That she wouldn't be happy 'til she destroyed me an' everythin' I stood for."

Zoe's eyebrows rose, surprised and a little shocked. Yet still it confused her. "*Wo bu dong*, it doesn't make sense, sir. Inara could have turned on us anytime, why now?" She was gratified to see that the seething anger faded as her Captain and friend tried to work through what was going on with the Companion. Mal was pleased to hear Zoe include herself in his problem, just like always. "*Wo bu zhidao* but I aim to find out."

"Sir?"

"*Shenme*?"

"You think she's been spyin' on us all this time?"

"Your guess is as good as mine but bein' truthsome? Don't know what to think. Could'a sworn she was with us, startin' to think of herself as crew. Now? Feel like I don't know the woman at all."

"Did you ever?" Asked Zoe so quietly it was like the Captain was listening to his own thoughts inside his gorram head. He didn't answer. When he traded a worried look with Zoe he knew he didn't have to. They had two days to unravel the puzzle. Mal hoped he would still have a crew at the end of it.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = sorry *dong ma* = understand? *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *weishenme* = why *shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* = hell *wo zhidao* = I know *dui* = correct *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *shenme* = what

COMMENTS

Thursday, May 1, 2008 2:20 AM

JANE0904


Plots and counterplots. I hope Mal and Zoe figure it all out before someone dies.

Thursday, May 1, 2008 4:08 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


The Plot thickens. Well, Inara sure is being orney. As for your twists, nicey done. Very good. More please and thank you!!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008 1:33 PM

CHARLIEBZ


I'm intrigued. I can't wait to see what Inara is up to and how the crew will react. Good story.

Thursday, May 1, 2008 4:49 PM

CBSTEVE


Good story so far. Inara a spy! That was a stab in the back from the dark. Kaylee's reaction was the best and Zoe is starting to believe Mal but is still skepical. Simon has got to tell someone and River knows what's up for sure. I had a story where I mentioned that the Alliance had tried to enlist Companions as spies but the Guild always resisted them. Guess you decided to take a different tack. Or is Inara working independently and looking for some kind of revenge? Can't wait for the rest. Good work.

Thursday, May 1, 2008 10:50 PM

WYTCHCROFT


catching up with this - you have a nice take on the mal / zoe dynamic:)

Friday, May 2, 2008 2:21 PM

SLUMMING


Dizzyingly twisty! Great work!


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