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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Inara returns to Sihnon. River tries to make the Captain comfortable until they can reunite with Serenity."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1984 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "THE FAMILY YOU CHOOSE"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash, Kaylee/Simon.
STATUS: Sequel to "ADRIFT".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net
SUMMARY: "Inara returns to Sihnon. River tries to make the
Captain comfortable until they can reunite with Serenity."
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.
"THE FAMILY YOU CHOOSE"
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Sihnon. Beautiful, elegant, the ultimate jewel in any crown. At its' heart if not its' core lay House Madrassa. Untarnished by age or the elements, as pristine and perfect as the day it was built. A place loved and cared for in every individually fashioned inch of her. A physical manifestation of everything it represented to the point where anyone looking upon it for the first time gazed in wonder. Inara felt that welcome sense of peace and familiarity wrap around her the moment she arrived, the years rolling back so seamlessly it was almost as if she had not left at all.
Smiles, polite laughter and hugs suffused with the happy chatter of voices missed but not forgotten. The House Mistress did not meet Inara herself and for that she was grateful. It meant she could immerse herself in the well wishes of those who meant it without having to stand on ceremony while her actions and words were picked clean like meat off a bone. That would come later no doubt. For now she was happy to embrace the brief distraction of coming home while ignoring the tiny voice she tried so valiantly to pretend she could not hear reminding her that it would never be home again.
It was a beautiful lull. The voice light, inherently musical even when not given to singing and providing a distracting counterpoint to the hands gently trying to probe the ruin of his flesh. Pain had blossomed into something of mind numbing insignificance, so extreme the pain that he stepped outside of it, his mind anchored only to the here and now by that voice. Gentle, knowing, loving. So many things each note said without the meaning being conveyed in words, a sorrowful soulful outpouring of understanding and affection, tinged as it was with the faintest hint of censure. For what he knew not only that it was somehow his fault.
River was careful, the scissors from the emergency medical kit that was housed in each of Serenity's shuttles, was not as sharp as she would have liked. She did not want to tear the blood soaked cloth of his trousers, anxious not to add to the litany of pain writ upon his body by those that had taken him. It mattered not to her that he had been a willing sacrifice, payment for their freedom if such a thing could be. For River it was simple, clarity wrought by virtue of her unique abilities. Able to see into the heart of him and so able to disemble what made the Captain tick, the noble much abused heart hidden behind the twisted barbs that both protected and defined him. Simon didn't understand but River did. He was their leader, their protector. Captain in title as well as function. The father figure she craved but had never really had. Her parents almost like remote strangers, all their efforts and focus on grooming Simon to become one of the medical elite. Her own future of passing interest. They saw the girl not the woman waiting in the wings. The child not the genius. Now both she and Simon were casualties of that flawed religion. But here, with this man, they had found a home. A family. People who cared for them and would fight to protect them. The words might never be said but she knew it in every line of his face, every smile surprised upon his lips making his eyes shine with a rarely expressed fondess that was never feigned.
A small moan seeped through barely parted lips. River mumbled an apology and continued to gently mop up the blood, the torn off hem of her dress soon soaked and bloody in her hands. She sang of happier times, of handsome men and pretty girls, of home baked pies and fertile lands filled to overflowing with crops ripening beneath a sun that never shone too hotly nor burned too low. She sang of water tumbling in pebble strewn brooks, of grassy tussocks on which thoughtless sheep grazed and cattle browsed as if there would never be enough of it to fill their bellies. Yet all was content, the song and the fabrication both, blended in a joyful melancholy that kept him anchored yet allowed him the luxury of dozing while she worked. River knew he was losing too much blood and tried to pad each ragged open wound enough to stem the flow, using a torn up thermal blanket to wrap each knee then binding them with more strips of cloth. She paused as she tied the last knot, the Captain's eyelids flickering as if too heavy to stay open all the way. His voice was slurred but recognisable.
"You brother know you're singin' to strange men?"
Her smile swallowed up the whole of her face like a happy moon. The glow almost ethereal if he was any judge. "Not so strange."
"Not what I was meanin', little one."
Her smile blossomed into a grin. "Not so little either."
He blinked and tried harder to keep his eyes open. Maybehaps needed something to prop them up with. "You best not be cheekin' your Cap'n, *dong ma*?"
The laughter was bright and unaffected and Mal thought all the pain in the 'verse was worth suffering for the sheer sound of it. Gorramit, his damn eyes were closing again, his concentration drifting against his wishes. So many things he wanted to say, questions to ask. River leaned down and whispered in his ear. "*Dou*, Captain Daddy. I'll watch over you."
"Huh." His voice was a mere thread of sound but she was tuned to him and heard it anyway. "Thought we was goin' home?"
"We are." Her breath fanned his cheek as her voice faded away. A light kiss brushed his cheek but he was insensate and River knew they didn't have much time.
Rising quickly to her feet she darted over to the pilot's chair and checked the fuel gauge. As she turned the shuttle around and headed back towards Serenity she knew they were too far out to send a wave. Also, other fish swam in the sea and not all of them were friendly. Best to swim clear of the sharks before calling her friends.
Commandant Boden was still burning inside. While the Companion had been polite and rendered her gratitude to him for conveying her to Sihnon it did not sit well with him that she had couched a number of orders as requests. Fortunately he had passed those on to the authorities on Sihnon. Let others dance to the whore's tune for he would not. Stiffly he had taken leave of her and returned gratefully to the Black, the com singing his name as he resumed his place on the bridge. Everything on the Cruiser shone and gleamed, the chrome handrails, the polished deck. It made him proud to be in command of one of the finest cruisers in the Alliance fleet. Too fine for ferrying jumped up nobodies like he was some kind of taxi service.
"Sir? There's an encrypted wave for you from Command."
He nodded, crisp and abrupt. An acknowledgement and dismissal all in one. "I'll take it in my ready room."
John Pell nodded from the communications console and patched the incoming wave through. Entering his office the Commandant pulled the door shut. The soundproofed room a standard precaution on all the newer ships. Tapping in his acceptance code he had but a moment's wait for the screen to flicker to life and the haughty face of Douglas Paul James, Admiral of the Fleet, appeared. Immediately Commandant Boden stiffened to attention. "Admiral sir, to what do I owe the honour?"
Admiral James wasted no time. "I understand that you have been despatched to extend aid to a Firefly?"
Boden blinked. "Yes, sir. A request was made from the Guild to recover one of their stranded Companions."
"The name of the ship?"
"I take it you boarded the vessel?"
"Uh no, sir. The Companion, Inara Serra, was ferried over in one of the ship's shuttles which then returned to the Firefly after dropping her off."
The Admiral frowned. "So you did not meet with any of the crew?"
"No sir, though I did speak with the pilot."
"Where is the ship now?"
Commandant Boden relayed the co-ordinates, explaining that the Firefly was damaged and currently adrift due to the actions of a pirate vessel. The Admiral seemed to relax a fraction on hearing that the ship was not going anywhere. "Did you take anyone else on board, Commandant?"
"No sir, just the Companion." He paused and gathered his courage. "Has something happened, sir?"
"We believe the ship to be harbouring fugitives. A brother and sister, River and Simon Tam."
"Sir, permission to return and apprehend the fugitives."
"Permission denied. You are to return to the periphery only and keep the ship on long range sensors. The Firefly should not be able to detect you. Do not approach and report any change in the vessel's circumstances, *dong ma*?"
"Parliament is despatching a retrieval squad as we speak. Oh and Commandant?"
"We never had this conversation."
Commandant Boden stared at the screen as it turned to black giving him no time to voice his assent. A flicker of growing unease made him cautious, knowing there was more to this puzzle than met the eye. Yet he could not afford to deviate one iota from his orders even to satisfy his curiosity. Boden was an ambitious man but no fool even so he now regretted his casual dismissal of the Companion while she had been aboard his vessel and wondered what he might have gleaned had he but had the wit to play diplomat above disgruntled ferryman.
Zoe found Kaylee sitting on the floor in the engine room, her shoulders slumped and head hanging down. A picture of total dejection. "Update?"
Kaylee angled her head to look up, making no move to get to her feet. Seemed no point when she couldn't do anything. "We got power but can't steer a straight course. The moment we try to go forward she'll just go round in circles, eatin' up fuel an' goin' nowhere."
Hunkering down Zoe made eye contact. It was her only concession. The Captain always had a way of being able to coax the best out of Kaylee while not letting her wallow in dispair when things got grim. Serenity's first mate did not have that same ability but she did what she could, biting back the flare of impatience that longed to let rip. Her voice was level and deceptively calm, the storm raging inside her kept firmly in check. "Kaylee, you know we can't even limp to the nearest planet for repairs, *dong ma*?"
Kaylee nodded, the picture of misery.
"You said the stabiliser was hit. How bad is the damage?"
"It's shredded. Ain't nothin' gonna fix it but a replacement an' we don't gotta spare."
"We can't just stay here waitin' for a rescue that might never come."
"*Fang xin*, 'Nara'll send help."
"Maybe out of her hands, Kaylee. We've got to see what we can do to help ourselves in case no one comes."
Kaylee frowned then anger began to take over. "Inara wouldn't leave us without help, you got no call to be sayin' things like that!"
Zoe shook her head. "That's not what I was sayin' or meanin'." She paused and hesitated, wondering how much to say. Wash's news had both given her hope and shaken her to the core. In the end the truth was the simplest thing. Kaylee would know soon enough and if telling her now helped to get the mechanic motivated to finding a solution then she could not ask for more. "Kaylee, we just got word from River."
Confusion flitted over the mechanic's face. "River?"
"Simon was lookin' for her. We all assumed she was somewhere on the ship, hidin' or playin' one of her games."
Kaylee sprang to her feet, her face a mess of worry. Zoe put out a hand as she rose to her feet. "Calm down, she's fine, just not on Serenity. Seems River hid on the the second shuttle without any of us knowin' when the Cap'n went over to the pirate ship."
Her eyes widened in fear. "Ya sayin' the pirates got River?"
"*Bu qu, mei mei*. She must have stayed in hidin'. Lucky for us she did because the Cap'n's been hurt pretty bad."
"That *tamade hundan* pirate shot him. River says he's lost a lot of blood. Seems after they took the cargo they shot the Cap'n then set him adrift in the shuttle. Prob'ly figured he'd bleed to death before help could reach him."
Apalled, Kaylee looked about ready to cry, the colour draining from her face making her look ill. She couldn't believe how things were going from bad to worse. "He ain't gonna die, is he?"
"Not if we can help it but that isn't all. River was on the way back but is makin' a detour. Seems that Alliance Cruiser is hanging around out of the range of Serenity's sensors. Not sure what for but it ain't good. We need to find a way to get this ship movin' again."
"I don't know how..."
"Been thinkin' about that. We still got the cuttin' an' weldin' gear. Want you to figure out what's needed to make that stabliser work again. Jayne'll cut an' weld what needs patchin'."
Kaylee shook her head reluctantly. "Not that that ain't a shiny idea but it won't hold."
Zoe put her hand on the mechanic's shoulder as she'd seen Mal do when he needed Kaylee to concentrate on what he was saying, the connection enough to give the mechanic focus. "Don't need to be permanent just good enough for us to limp to the nearest port. Don't care if we have to freefall the last descent by parachute just need to get us down so we can get a proper repair."
"It ain't the fall that I'm worried about it's the sudden stop at the end."
"Don't let Wash hear you talk like that."
Kaylee gave the first mate a long silent look then nodded slowly, determination in her eyes. "Not sayin' I can do it but I'll give it my best try."
"That's all I'm askin', Kaylee."
As Zoe began to walk away Kaylee called after her, unable to keep the quiver of anxiety from her voice. "What about River an' the Cap'n?"
"They're gonna meet us on Sihnon. I need to go tell Simon to get the infirmary ready."
The joy Kaylee would once have felt about going to such a shiny planet was marred by worry for her friends.
The competing emotions of being back at House Madrassa made her return less of a homecoming and more a mixed blessing. Being with the girls again was wonderful, lightening a part of her that had once revelled in the simple pleasure of the company of like minded souls. Among them there was no need to be constantly on her guard ensuring her words and actions were as well crafted as they were harmonious. Never quite fully letting her guard down. Although there was an element of that at the Companion House it all but vanished when the girls were together without the imperious eagle eye of the House Mistress bearing down on them. Her critical whims like eddies and storms on a turbulent sea.
"What's it really like Inara?"
"Is it very dangerous?"
"Why have you been gone so long?"
"Are you back for good now?"
On and on the questions rolled, coming before her answers could clear her mouth, her mind reeling with trying to keep up, to calm the excited babble until with a laugh she had to raise her voice. "*Bei chao*! I can't hear myself think."
They laughed back, apologies well meant but meaningless because they all knew the questions would resume again. Inara smiled indulgently from face to well loved face. Noting a newcomer here and there but for the most part she knew each of her sisters intimately. It had been her way of life for so long. A life sheltered from the harsh realities of the 'verse. A life where well crafted lies became the vision of choice for the reality they created. That had been well and truly shattered since leaving Sihnon, not that she had been so unaware of the worlds beyond her own, just unsullied, untouched. Now that she had been immersed in reality, truth demanded more than feigned ignorance but sometimes pretending nothing had changed was as useful as a chameleon's changing colours, blending her into the background in which she had once belonged. Not simply a choice but a survival instinct.
The summoning bell rang clear and melodious throughout the house momentarily stilling the chatter of happy voices. Elena and Risa looked at each other, smiled, then set upon Inara with still more questions, this time rapid fire and breathless. Determined to extract as much detail of their friend's life beyond House Madrassa before the House Mistress whisked her from them. But however fast their tongues nothing could outpace destiny and before Inara could form adequate replies Lily Tu had come for her, a reassuring smile upon her beautifully sculpted face, almond eyes clear and bright with welcome and a hint of warning. It was all Inara needed to know that the House Mistress was not happy. Words could betray and Inara appreciated the silent gesture, the look gone so quickly that the others did not see. Subtle, brave, beautiful Lily Tu. Inara smiled back, wordlessly assuring her friend that she would watch her tongue and that she would be well. It was all Lily Tu asked, then on quiet whispering feet Inara was taken to see the House Mother. The Mistress of House Madrassa.
He was drifting in and out of consciousness. Pain a raging torrent robbing him of coherence in the fitful moments when he was awake. River could only make him comfortable, her worried eyes taking in the fever rising in him while bringing the shuttle closer to their destination. She didn't know what else to do. Sihnon was the nearest planet but it was also heavily sponsored by the Alliance. They had a small permanent but not intrusive presence, partly because they were confident of their hold on the planet. Knew their influence was etched into every level of the lives of those who had made Sihnon their home. They had grown careless, complacent, and it was that laxity that River would use. Sihnon was a core world, an Alliance world, but it was not military.
Carefully she scanned the cortex for as much information as she could find about Sihnon, her scrolling becoming more frantic until something caught her eye. River homed in on the map showing the less populated outskirts to the North of the main city. Hanjian was the industrial district. Warehouses and store houses interspersed with a bustling business sector. But what had her excited was the fact that in this area there was not one scrap yard but three. Two were general but the third was machine parts of every kind, a veritable cornucopia of possibilities. It was also near a small Alliance outpost. Though not overtly military River knew that was just camoflage. Dressed casually in boiler suits and workmen's gear they were still soldiers. Purplebellies. River was careful to check the topography, commiting every inch of it to memory. A sigh of relief passing her anxious lips when she saw the ridge with a dry valley on the far side of it. Beyond that was the poor soil and scrubland that gave way to vast empty tracts where little would grow. No businesses dotted the skyline, no houses and best of all, no Alliance presence.
Locking in the co-ordinates of the dry valley, River calculated the best time to approach unseen. Worked out the approach and once sure of her calculations sent an encrypted data burst to Serenity. It was a tight band transmission, short burst. Near impossible to pick up let alone decipher. She did not know how good the techs were aboard that Alliance cruiser but even if they detected something it would be gone from their instrumentation before they knew what it was. In the message she had included a warning for them not to respond. To wait until dusk began to fall then follow the exact approach outlined to bring them in on the far side of the valley. She had calculated that it was more than deep enough to shield and shelter Serenity from prying eyes. A perfect place to reunite with her friends and get some much needed parts to mend their damaged ship while her brother did the same for their injured Captain. River just hoped that delaying to get the timing right would not be cutting things too close for the Captain. She closed her eyes, ran the calculations through her mind one more time, then opened her eyes with a cautious smile.
Cyan Nicole Barbette was elegant, sophisticated, and sharp as a bag full of tacks. Her beauty was seemingly ageless but the tell tale wear on her hands and throat gave hints of her true age. Gracefully the House Mistress gave Inara a nod which at one and the same time welcomed Inara and dismissed Lily Tu. Only once the door had softly closed shut behind her did the House Mistress speak directly to Inara. She was sitting in her high backed chair behind the big ornate rosewood desk. Images of Gods out of Chinese legend wove their tales around the sides of the desk. Mother of pearl inlay gave lustre to their robes, the patina of age only adding to the beauty of the grain. For now Cyan Barbette sat with her hands resting on the tabletop, fingertips touching in a steeple, her face appearing benign and thoughtul as she gazed at her former charge.
"Inara, it is good to see you again."
Bowing her head in elegant acknowledgement, Inara lowered her eyes demurely. "I am pleased to see you again, Mother."
An eyebrow arched slowly. "Are you?"
The softly spoken words had the impact of a blow. Inara was well prepared to show no reaction. Knew that whatever the social conventions of the Guild, here and now the only power of consequence was in this room, sitting behind her desk passing judgement on all that was before her. "I trust that you are well, Mother?"
For a moment the House Mistress said nothing, her eyes looking deep into Inara's as if to fathom her true meaning and purpose. Inara was vaguely aware of a clock ticking, something very old and incredibly expensive no doubt. A relic of Earth-that-Was. A reminder that all mortal power was temporal yet when it could be handed down by word of mouth, hand to hand, heart to heart, soul to soul, bringing the illusion of immortality within their power hungry grasp. Yet done so graciously, so delicately, that those most in danger of being absorbed under its' hegemony passed unawares. "Inara, child, you have been gone too long."
Only could Cyan Barbette make a seeming expression of affection sound like a subtle accusation, as if Inara had somehow been derelict in her duty to the Guild. Inara did not tense up, showed no irritation but chose to accept the words at face value. "It has been a learning experience, Mother."
The look was calculating. "And what have you learned?"
For a moment Inara paused, choosing her words and delivery with care. A message needed to be passed and understood without harm coming to the messenger. Or those she wanted to protect. "I have learned that the obvious is seldolm what it seems." She smiled softly as if touched by some memory. "When I left this House I knew not what the 'verse might have to show me. Scarcely could I have dreamt to have found so rich a tapestry."
"Not to mention the dangers with which you flirted."
The words were meaningfully placed leaving Inara in no doubt that another conversation was going on. One that laid casual traps and accusations hidden in the innocence of words that should have been of little import. Inara nodded. "You speak truth, Mother."
A tiny frission of anger sparked in the House Mother's eyes but was quashed just as suddenly though not before Inara had seen it. Heartened she carefully did not show any sign of noticing. 'You are slipping Mother'. Minutes ticked by heavily then the House Mother rose to her feet, Inara automatically following suite as a sign of respect. Inara watched her walk around her desk until they were facing each other, less than a foot between them. Inara did not like the invasion of her personal space by one not invited but could hardly say so. "Now it is time for harsher truths, child."
Inara said nothing, her eyes searching the House Mother's as meekly as she was able, projecting only mild curiosity. No hint of panic. After a moment Cyan Barbette smiled, a short faded copy of the real thing meant to cement the connection between them as if none outside these walls could understand what passed within them. Her smile faded as if pain washed.
"Words cannot convey how distressed I was at the news about your brother."
An unintended quick intake of breath hissed painfully between Inara's teeth. A flash of surprise that the House Mistress would mention so casually something so painful and sensitive.
"We have no secrets here, Inara." Said the House Mistress gently.
For a moment Inara's world was rocked. Barbette actually sounded as if she cared. Then all too soon the shutter was down, the facade as impenetrable as a fortress.
"I am not inured to your pain but it is time to move on." The House Mistress turned back to her desk and picked up a buff coloured folder. She gave Inara an almost dazzling smile softened into a semblance of sincerity then offered the folder. That Inara could so easily disemble the artificial nature of the emotion told her that it was deliberate. A mercy of sorts. They might not be enemies but they were far from friends. "Your next assignment, Inara."
Inara's mouth dropped open in shock. After a beat she closed her mouth and tried to swallow, her mouth suddenly dry. What was this? Her return was temporary, the House Mistress knew that. How then could she take up a new assignment? Trying to hide the slight tremble in her hand she took the folder and opened it. As she quickly scanned the contents her face paled. Inara leafed quickly through the other papers then looked up into Cyan Barbette's face, inwardly lamenting how she had managed to be so easily out manoeuvred. The mention of her brother had distracted her, addled her wits. Inara realised that had been the House Mistress's intention all along. Momentarily off-balance, the papers now in her hands had acquired a magnitude that could not be masked. Her reaction was all the confirmation Mistress Barbette needed. The House Mother gave a short curt nod, her lips vinegar thin. The assignment would serve as penance and example both.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*dong ma* = understand? *dou* = sleep *wo dong* = I understand
*fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go)
*mei mei* = little sister *shenme* = what *bei chao* = not so noisy
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