Back Stories III: Chapter 3
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Inara pumps Wash for intel while Simon and River handle an unpleasant situation.


Back Stories Book 3

Chapter 3.

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Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I'm just playing.

Links: The Fish Job, Easy Tickets, BS Book I, BS Book II, BS Book III, Chapter 1. Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.



Inara slid a gentle hand along the railing as she slowly climbed the fore cargo bay stairs, but once off the catwalk and out of Zoë’s sight she had to stop to let her reaction to the confrontation wash through her. What in the world had happened to the crew in the past few weeks? Mal acting like a completely different person, the crew playing along as if it was normal, Zoë very nearly casting her off the ship without explanation…

She forced herself to be calm, to even out her breathing and slow her pulse, then continued on toward the bridge. Perhaps Wash would explain.

She glanced into the dining room as she passed – Mal was sitting at the long side of the table facing the galley, Book across from him, pouring tea into a pair of mugs. For just a second, Inara caught and held the captain’s eyes, eyes she’d pictured in her mind more than once over the past few weeks. She felt her breath leave her again in a rush.

Gods, I do love him, she realized. But his eyes held no real recognition, and his nod was impersonal. This wasn’t the man she’d left on this ship not much more than a fortnight ago. She turned away quickly.

She found Wash on the bridge talking into the comm. “So where are we we going, my lovely gē de dàn?” he said into the handpiece.

Doc was heading to the med clinic, Zoë replied. Let’s check in there first.

Inara came in behind the co-pilot’s seat. Wash glanced at her and nodded as he replied to his wife. “I figured. Setting down now.”

Soon as you do, check on Inara. Make sure she goes no where near Mal.

Wash glanced at Inara again. “Uh… Okay. We’re good on that because she’s right here.”

The silence from the comm extended a long second before Zoë replied in a defiantly firm voice: Good. Keep her with you.

Wash returned the comm to its cradle above his head, then made an awkward half apology. “My wife. Really a sweet, loving woman. But when she’s mad…”

Inara shook her head and held up a hand – she didn’t need him to finish that sentence. The explanation she really craved didn’t involve Zoë’s hostility. “Wash, what happened? And please no more runaround – tell me what happened to him.”

Wash kept his hands firmly on the ship’s controls and his eyes on the console as he guided the ship toward the ground, but he managed a shrug. “He’s sick.”

Inara slipped into the co-pilot’s seat. “Sick?”

She had to wait for a reply as Wash focused on his landing, then a bit longer as he flipped a few switches to shut down the main engines. When he finally turned to her, his face was abnormally serious. “Yeah. Sick. He started forgetting things. And kept forgetting things. And now… Well, you saw.”

“I saw. I’m not sure I believe.” Inara shook her head, then rose to her feet and walked forward, looking out the windows. The ship was perched on the edge of the settlement; a wide street stretched out under Serenity’s nose toward the dense center of town. Zoë appeared below, striding quickly, then stopped and looked back toward the ship. Kaylee jogged out to meet her, then the two continued on toward a low building a few doors down the street.

* * *

Zoë paused when she heard footsteps running toward her from the ship.

“Need a hand?” Kaylee asked, half out of breath. The girl’s eyes roamed the buildings ahead, then settled on the clinic. Her joyful smiles at seeing Inara again had been replaced by a worried frown.

“May as well,” Zoë said with a small nod.

“I sure hope Simon’s all right,” Kaylee said as they hurried along. “Ain’t like him to keep us waitin’.”

“Except when he gets kidnapped by hill people,” Zoë muttered. She regretted her words when she saw the worry in Kaylee’s eyes turn to outright fear. “Which there are none of hereabouts,” Zoë added firmly.

“That we know of.”

“Kaylee, he’s fine. Maybe just chatting up his doctor friend. Maybe he wants her to say a few hellos to his old school pals, deliver letters, that kind of thing.”

Kaylee didn’t reply, but her mouth pinched and she walked faster.

* * *

Simon reached after River as she slipped away, and involuntarily his eyes opened. He saw nothing but a blur that stung his already irritated eyes, making him squeeze his lids shut and wipe tears from his face. He tried to ride out the burn while he focused on breathing. And listening to follow his sister’s actions.

Glass broke, but not from the direction of the door. It was in the back of the room where the fire safety equipment was housed. Only a soft blow, tiny thin shards tinkling as they hit the floor. Then River grunted with exertion, pulled at something, lifted something…

Soft footsteps approached and she was with him again, in front of him, grabbing the oxygen mask and taking a few deep breaths. He heard a metallic clunk; she was holding something heavy and had let it rest on the ground for a moment while she filled her lungs. She soon passed back the mask, gave him a comforting (and somewhat annoying) pat on the head, and was gone.

Simon waited in the dark void, could do nothing but wait while he heard a hard blow, and a second, then a third that broke glass. Heavy glass this time, a deeper sound. Then another clang as her battering ram fell to the floor, followed by a short silence – Simon could imagine his sister, eyes tightly closed and mouth pinched shut, reaching through the shattered pane of glass in the lab’s door, groping for the keyboard and door release outside…

As soon as he heard the latch release and the door swing open, Simon threw aside the mask and pushed himself to his feet. He ran into a table, bruising his hip, then stumbled on the fire ax that River had used to break out. But he found his way, even with closed eyes. The sounds from the hall guided him – Tori’s suddenly raised voice.

“How did you … ? I thought…”

He passed through the door and quickly pulled it closed behind him. Finally he could open his eyes, but after so long he was barely able to see. He made out two blurry shapes further down the hall: Tori had just come out of her office, but River had gotten on the far side of her. His sister stood just at the doorway from the waiting room, blocking the exit.

River’s voice rose in hall, so hoarse it was difficult to make out. “Put things in my brain. Dŏng ma? Put things in my brain!”

Tori took a step back toward her office, but River was there first, blocking the way, and Tori backed off.

“River…” the woman muttered, a fearful shake in her voice.

Simon’s eyes were still burning – drugged air was leaking out the window in the lab door. He ran into an exam room and tore a large strip of paper from the bed and grabbed white cloth tape from a drawer. By the time he returned to the hall he was better able to focus. River was advancing on Tori, and he had to admit that she looked more than a bit frightening with puffy eyes and hair hanging in her face. But more disturbing than her appearance was her expression of rage. Simon hadn’t known that his little sister could be that angry.

“Cut into my brain!” River gasped at Tori. “Took bits out. Put other things in…”

Tori was completely unaware of Simon as she backed down the hallway toward him. “They did, River. They did. I never hurt you!”

“You would send me back!”

Simon held his breath as he hurried to cover the window in the lab’s door.

“They made me open,” River went on. “Made it so ugly, bad things got in and I couldn’t stop them, can’t even see them. Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it’s like to have these things hiding in my brain?”

When he finished sealing the door, Simon turned to find Tori only two meters from him, holding her hands out to River as if the girl was a mad dog that could be placated. Simon found himself understanding the feeling – he almost didn’t recognize his sister. River’s mouth was set in a snarl, her hands clenched in fists as she stalked toward Tori like she meant to tear the woman apart.

“You can’t take this personally, River,” Tori pled. “I have nothing against you. Even after you broke in here, hurt my hired man, tried to steal from me – I forgave you. I forgave you!”

River wasn’t mollified. She continued to step forward, her body shaking. Simon waited by the door he’d just sealed up, not sure what to do. But then River’s eyes shifted to him, and he read in them, and in a slight quirk of her mouth, something knowing, something logical, something beyond the emotions that had seemed to be controlling her.

Suddenly, Simon understood his sister’s plan. For a moment he wondered if maybe he could read her mind as well as she read his, because their timing was perfect. He opened the door to the lab just as River lunged forward; Tori shied back, stumbled, than fell into the lab.

Simon closed the door and moved aside just as River spun and and struck out with her leg, a move that rivaled the grace of anything he’d ever seen her do on a stage. Her heel shattered the keypad which controlled the lock to the lab’s door, sending sparks flying. They both stood and watched a shadow move behind the sealed over window. A hand reached up, grasping at the taped paper and trying to tear it, but the effort was weak and ineffectual. Simon could hear Tori coughing and choking as the system she’d designed did its work on her. The hand slid back and he heard a body slump to the floor.

“I forgive you,” River said softly.

* * *

“He doesn’t remember any of you?” Inara asked Wash. “Not even Zoë?”

“Close as we can tell,” Wash replied, “he thinks he’s nineteen, maybe twenty years old. He doesn’t remember the ship or any of us, not even the war. The good news is – he won’t be forgetting any more. The whole reason we’re on Highgate was so Simon could work out a treatment to help him. And it’s working.”

Inara looked back out the window; Zoë and Kaylee had reached a large low building and stood at the entrance, unsuccessfully trying to get in. Even at this distance, Zoë’s impatience was obvious as she raised a fist to bang at the door.

Inara glanced at Wash. “Will this treatment make him remember who he is?”

“We don’t know.”

Inara sighed and turned to look back out. Zoë raised her arm to knock again, but just then the door pushed open.

Zoë stepped back as the Tams came stumbling out. Their hands wiped at their faces and they seemed disoriented. Inara put a hand on the window and leaned closer, and if that’d help her see and understand better. Kaylee ran to Simon, put an arm around him while her other hand went to his face. River came to a stop in the middle of the street and stood hunched, her hands blocking the sun from her eyes.

“What is it?” Wash asked.

“Simon and River,” Inara replied.

Wash came to stand next to her at the window. They both watched as Zoë went to River, put a hand on the girl’s shoulder and bent to look at her face. Whatever she saw, it couldn’t have too bad, because she gave the girl a gentle push toward the ship then turned to speak to the other two. Kaylee nodded and began to guide Simon after River.

“Are they okay?” Inara asked.

“You got me,” Wash replied. He returned to his seat and flipped switches; Inara felt the deck beneath her feet vibrate slightly as the engines powered on again. The foursome outside picked up their pace and soon disappeared under the nose of the ship.

Inara turned away, and was just settling into the co-pilot’s seat when Zoë’s voice sounded over the comm: Wash, get us out of here!

The ship immediately lifted, the settlement beneath them disappearing in a cloud of dust.

“How long has it been happening?” Inara asked.

“What?” Wash asked, his hands busy on the controls.

“Mal. How long has he been sick?”

Wash glanced at her once, quickly. “A while. I don’t know. You’d have to ask Simon.”

Inara leaned back in the co-pilot’s seat and chewed on everything Wash had said, as well as everything he hadn’t. Clearly, he had more details that he didn’t want to share. It frustrated her.

But it wasn’t just Wash’s caginess that bothered her; she’d been so apprehensive of seeing Mal again, of facing his anger and wounded pride. But now she had to admit that she’d also been thrilled, almost eager to once again take up the battle, as if the ire Malcolm Reynolds raised in her was more valuable than all the soft admiring words of her genteel clients. And now she found that she wasn’t going to be able to talk to Mal, not really. No confrontation, no chance to explain why she’d left him. Just the impersonal strangeness of a young man who didn’t know her as Mal should, both her strengths and her oh-so-many weaknesses.

The ship was rising through high, wispy desert clouds when a parade of footsteps clambered up the stairs. Inara turned her chair around, then rose to greet the new arrivals.

Simon came to a hard stop as soon as he stepped through the hatch. The light from the windows illuminated his face, and Inara could see what had concerned Kaylee: his eyes were puffy and watery, and faint red marks surrounded his mouth as if he’d been wearing a mask. He stared at Inara, squinting against the sunlight outside, then he wiped at his eyes and stared again.

“Um, where did… ?” he stuttered.

“Ain’t it great?” Kaylee exclaimed. She passed Simon and came forward to stand next to Inara, winding on arm around her waist.

“Hello, Simon,” Inara said. She tried to smile warmly, but Zoë and River had also arrived and now three pairs of eyes stared at her with something less than joyful welcome.

Inara left Kaylee’s hold and took a hesitant step forward. “River ,” she tried, holding out a hand to the girl, “I’ve missed you.”

River didn’t move at all. She didn’t even blink.

“Inara,” Simon said haltingly. He seemed to be trying to mind his manners, but his surprise was still getting the better of him. “It’s… it’s good… to see you.”

River, on the other hand, made no effort to be welcoming. “What are you doing here?” she demanded shortly.

Her tone made Inara’s smile falter. “I’m helping, honey.”

River’s mouth pinched and she seemed about to say something more, but instead she turned and disappeared out the hatch.

“You wouldn’t believe the day she’s had,” Simon said in apology. He looked after his sister and took a hesitant step aft, but then stopped and turned toward the windows. The pale blue of the sky was darkening as the ship rose higher, and Simon seemed concerned about what they’d find in the Black.

“I’ll check on her, Simon,” Kaylee offered. “You stay and help with the getaway.”

Simon smiled at the mechanic gratefully. “Thank you.”

Inara noted another change in the crew: as Kaylee passed by Simon, she paused and lifted her face. Simon leaned toward her, as if they were about to kiss, but then they both pulled back and glanced around the bridge awkwardly.

No one but Inara was watching. Kaylee smiled at her briefly, then hurried to follow after River.

Inara caught Simon’s eye, but he didn’t explain. He stepped closer to take her offered hand and squeeze it. “I’m sorry I’m so… it really is good to see you.” He raised his free hand to his forehead. “I’m just confused…”

“And who ain’t?” Zoë interrupted. “But let’s save the fond hellos till we’re far from Highgate. We’re not quite free of this mess yet.”

“Oh, the truth you speak,” Wash said over his shoulder. He took one hand off the flight controls to tap the scanner screen. “Have a look.”

Zoë bent over the console. “Qīn wŏde pìgu. Company.”

The biggest kind,” Inara added softly, recalling Mr. Universe’s words. She wasn’t in time then – they hadn’t beat the arrival of the Alliance warship that the communications guru warned her about. She moved swiftly, stepping around Zoë and slipping back into the co-pilot’s seat. “Don’t go anywhere near them,” she told Wash. “They know what kind of ship Mal flies. If they identify us–”

Zoë glared at Inara, but Wash spoke up before his wife could share what was on her mind. “We might blend,” he said hopefully. “We’re not the only ones hightailing it.”

Inara leaned to the side to study the screen, and understood Wash’s meaning. The arrival of the Alliance warship had sent dozens of small vessels scurrying from the planet’s surface, like cockroaches scuttling for cover at a sudden light. Most were, like Serenity, circling to exit atmo on the far side of the world from the warship, making a loose but chaotic stream that trickled out into the Black.

Wash snorted. “Lot of guilty consciences around here.”

“They ain’t trying to stop anyone,” Zoë said. “Just settling into orbit. But it looks like… a smaller ship just separated from the warship. Somethin’ more mobile…”

Inara inhaled sharply. “Wash, can you evade it?”

Zoë lifted her head and shot another glare at Inara. “Pardon me, but I don’t believe you bought yourself a leadership role on this ship.”

“But Zoë, I told you they were coming. I know what they’re after! I’ve been talking to Mr. Universe, and he told me that they were on their way. They’ll be coming after Serenity, just as soon as they see us–”

Simon interrupted from the back of the bridge. “No, they won’t.”

Both Zoë and Inara turned to frown at the doctor.

“Most likely, they think that River and I are at the clinic. Tori didn’t have a chance to tell them that we got away. She thought we were unconscious, and River stopped her from reaching the cortex in her office.”

“Simon, what the hell are you talkin’ about?” Zoë demanded.

Simon’s brows drew together in confusion. “I’m… talking about the Alliance, and where they’re going to look for us.”

“But they’re after Mal,” Inara insisted. “The reason I came to find you all, the reason I searched you out – they’re after him.”

“Why would they be after Mal?” Simon asked. “I mean… besides the usual. Why would they suddenly want him bad enough to send that kind of ship?” He motioned toward the window – they had completely left atmo, and an Alliance warship could just be seen over the glowing limb of the planet.

“I don’t know,” Inara admitted with a shake of her head. “I wasn’t able to find out. But I know for certain that Alliance agents are here. They located Mal and very nearly got to him, and since they know that he flies a Firefly they’ll be after us as soon as they identify–”

“Actually,” Wash interrupted, his eyes on the scanner screen, “I’m going to have to side with the doctor on this one.”

Inara turned to Wash, surprised. “What?”

“The warship isn’t moving, and the shuttle they sent out is dropping into atmo. Heading toward the settlement we just left, in fact. Kind of gels with Simon’s theory…”

Inara gaped at the screen – what Wash said was true. “Oh. Well. I guess that’s good. I mean, good that they’re not following the ship…” She looked up at Simon and finally made the connection between the doctor’s appearance and the things he was saying. “Simon – someone turned you in? What happened? Are you all right?”

He rubbed his face self-consciously. “I’m fine. It’s just the gas she tried to sedate us with.”

“He ran into a woman he used to date,” Wash explained. “Obviously still harbors the wounds.”

Simon frowned at Wash, then replied to Inara, “Long story. But what’s this – the Alliance is after Mal?”

Inara smiled wryly. “Long story.”

“Uh, pardon me,” Wash called out. “Since it appears that we’re sans pursuit for the moment, why don’t we go somewhere that’s far? And fuel and supplies would help – we never got a chance to fill up.”

“Agreed,” Zoë said. “Choose a place, Wash, anyplace that ain’t here. Simon, you go on to the galley.” Her eyes settled heavily on Inara. “I’ll be havin’ a palaver with you, doctor – after I get in a word with the lady here.”

* * *

Translations gē de dàn: dove of peace dŏng ma: understand? Qīn wŏde pìgu: Kiss my ass

* * *

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Saturday, September 6, 2008 11:19 AM


Sorry, I never got around to replying to feedback. Life really is nutty busy! In a good way. Which is nice. This weekend I’m in the clutches of the tropical storm (who isn’t lately?) so I can either plan classes or write fic. Hmm…. ;) Gotta admit though, the prospect of a roomful of teenagers looking at me like: WTF are you talking about? does add some motivation on the class planning side!

Amdobell – months between chapters – I hope not! I don’t know how you’re so proflific. I find it hard to keep up, even with a fun story to tell.

Katesfriend: unraveled loose ends? Yes indeed, I guess I have. Darn! I really never will finish. (Kidding – of course I will!)

upperson – sadist? moi? ;)

nbz – No predictions PM’d yet? I’m so curious! Sometimes I worry that I’m obvious, sometimes I think I’m too nebulous. Can’t tell at all! I’m glad you enjoyed the putdown – I love the idea of Zoë threatening Mal with dish duty – and him backing down over it LOL!

epm001 – I’m picturing snoopy with the happy dance…

nutluck – Thanks! I’ll try to not be such a stranger.

Joly – no teleporting necessary LOL! But that would’a been COOL!

Saturday, September 6, 2008 12:33 PM


Once a week isn't to bad, though once a day is better. :)

Saturday, September 6, 2008 1:52 PM


Brilliant! I didn't realise I was holding my breath until I let it out with a whoosh when River got the door open and Simon was able to stagger out of that room. Really cheered when Tori got locked in there for a taste of her own medicine. As for the crew's reactions to Inara, be interesting to see how this all plays out. Hope the Captain gets some help soon before Zoe has him scrubbing the ship with a toothbrush. Keep up the good work! As for me being prolific, what can I say? This is my passion. Ali D :|)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, September 6, 2008 2:42 PM


A massive sigh of relief from me - good to see *something* going right!

As for predictions, no idea what will happen yet, its just too awesome. I mean open. Both. :P

Wash's parts are subtle (since he is not escaping from Tori, nor having a stand off with other crew members), but so wash.

Simon and confused just goes together so well. “I’m sorry I’m so… it really is good to see you.” He raised his free hand to his forehead. “I’m just confused…”

Saturday, September 6, 2008 4:03 PM


I really felt for Inara's awkwardness when she was recovering from her confrontation with Zoe. Nice bridge between series and fic when Zoe mentioned hill people kidnapping Simon - just a nice little touch. Tori is dead meat now that River gave her enough information about herself that the Blue Hands won't want bandied about - right? Justice is good. River's explanation of the horrors done to her was eerie, and the teamwork between the siblings was very well written. Action and emotion all in one - nice!

You're doing great with Wash quips. When does Inara get to find out the truth? I feel like I'm watching a magician's shell game - look at the three cups and see which one the ball is really under. Who's telling truth, who's witholding truth, and who's too pissed off to ever tell the truth again. Loved how Zoe's protectiveness of Mal has now found a new outlet in making Inara suffer. Getting more interesting all the time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008 5:52 AM


Interesting power struggle between Zoe and Inara and I'm glad you're writing it because it was never explored in the series or movie. Zoe surely views Inara as unbalancing the Apple Cart. That little sigh she makes, in the BDM, when Mal insists on going into a trap to retrieve Inara from the Training House, comes to mind.

Simon and River, yeah, great escape! Things seem to be inching towards Miranda. Are you going to include the discovery and River's special talents?

Saturday, October 18, 2008 9:28 AM


I'm still following this series loosely, though I have been abysmal at feedback. Abysmal, for which I want to apologize.

Inara's entire arc made me soooo happy. The wrong steps, the clever ones, and now she's back on board and facing what strikes me as a monolithic, angry, looming Zoe, far scarier than anything Simon ever had to face on the ship. Oh dear. I am scared. I don't think Zoe is all that right to butt in, I'm afraid she'll ruin whatever chance at reunion there might be by doing so.

I hope I'll be able to properly catch up with everything soon. I hope even more that a new part is near. *g*


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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.