Masks - Part XV
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Maya. Post-BDM. Inara and Saffron have an enlightening conversation. There will be action soon ... NEW CHAPTER


Saffron grabbed Inara’s arm and pulled her inside the suite. “What are you doing here?” she hissed. She didn’t wait for a response, just glared at the two men still fussing around her. “Go away.”

“But Madam –”

The glared notched up a couple of levels. “I hardly think this woman is a threat to me, do you? Go find something else to do.”

“Yes, Madam.” They didn’t look convinced but disappeared through a door to one side.

“Well?” Saffron went on, looking back at Inara. “What are you doing on board this ship?”

Inara had taken the few moments to compose herself, and just smiled slightly. “The same as yourself, I imagine. Taking a cruise. Unless you’re on a job.”

“I'm going home.”



Moving past her, Inara asked, “And where would that be? Just so I know not to go there.”


The ex-Companion successfully hid the shudder that wanted to course through her, the only outward sign of any distress a brief closing of her eyes. Bellerophon brought up too many bad memories, and she had to restrain herself from touching the almost invisible scar on her cheek. Instead she glanced down at the very prominent bump at the other woman’s waistline, saying “Congratulations, by the way. On the baby.”

“Thanks.” Saffron collapsed into a very large, very squishy leather armchair that looked out of place amongst the ormolu and delicate tracery.

As far as Inara was concerned, the room might be obviously larger and more expensive, but it had a vulgarity her own didn’t possess, full of golds and scarlet reds. “Who’s the father?”

Saffron’s eyes flashed, but she said, “Durren, of course.”

Durren Haymer, the man who was quite possibly the first of Saffron’s many husbands. “With you there’s no ‘of course’ about it,” Inara pointed out.

If looks could kill ... “Well, he is.” Saffron tried to cross her arms testily, but her stomach got in the way and she had to content herself with clasping her hands tightly on top.

“Then why aren’t you at home?” Inara nodded down. “You look almost to term.”

“All bar a couple of weeks.” Saffron sighed. “I couldn’t sit there. Waiting.”

From what Inara remembered of Bellerophon – at least that part she allowed herself to remember – the floaty islands, as Mal had called them, were the ultimate in luxury, at least for the owners. “Hormones?”

“Probably.” She hitched a footstool towards her with her heel and rested her feet on it. Glancing at the tray of pastries Inara still held, she added, “Any of those going spare?”

The ex-Companion looked surprised. “Oh. Yes, of course.” She handed the platter across. “Enjoy.”

Saffron balanced the plate on her belly and picked up a tiny cake, slipping it into her mouth and letting it melt on her tongue. She collapsed back a little. “Wow.”

“Good, aren’t they? The best I’ve found so far on board.”

“I wouldn’t know.” The redhead quickly ate another, then a third. “Those two idiots Durren hired to look after me won’t let me eat this sort of thing. It’s not healthy.” The last words were said in a tone that suggested she’d heard the phrase far too often.

“You’re pregnant. You’re allowed cravings.”

“Huh.” A couple of crumbs fell from her lips onto her breasts, and she brushed them away. “Not according to them. I should be eating salads, drinking lots of water and no alcohol, and sitting with my feet higher than my head.”

“Mmn.” Memories, even older than Bellerophon, stirred. Gregor. The child she’d been told was dead, but had been handed to another woman to bring up. And the months of discomfort coming to nothing, at least she had once thought.

“So I sneak out. When the ship’s on its night cycle. There’s always some place open with food. But I don’t recall these.” Saffron slipped another pastry into her mouth.

“Starlight Lounge.”

“Oh. I didn’t go in there – too many people.”

Inara lowered herself onto a gold chaise longue. “Saffron … Yolanda …”

“Saffron’ll do.”

“Then Saffron … why are you calling yourself Madam Reynolds?” Inara had an image of the woman opposite trying to make trouble, making out Mal was somehow involved in her pregnancy.

The redhead shrugged, still eating. “It’s just a name.”

“Then why pick that one?”

“No reason.”

“I’m only asking because, of the last two occasions you met, the first time you had Mal arrested, and the second almost had him killed. And he still saved your life.”

“A fact I’m fully aware of.” She looked uncomfortable, with more than just the pregnancy. “All right. Because he bested me. And nobody does that.”

“So you respect him for it.”

“Not the word I’d have used.”

“If you’re planning on trying to stir things up –”

“Why would I do that?”


A sullen look settled on Saffron’s face. “Maybe I’ve thought about it.”

“Then my advice is, don’t. Freya won’t take kindly to it. And since she’s on board ...” Inara left the sentence, and the meaning, hanging.

Saffron struggled to sit up. “She is?”

“So’s Zoe. And Kaylee. So you really don’t want to start trouble, because any one of them would be more than happy to finish it for you, Erin.”

This time the look was panic, quickly hidden but to Inara’s trained eyes as obvious as lightning in a night sky. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Inara was impressed, nevertheless, at the confused innocence the other woman was able to lay on. “I think you do.” She’d managed to find out just a little of Saffron’s past, including her real name, at Freya’s request when the redhead had accused Mal of bigamy and tried to get him framed for theft as well. “I'm sure you don’t want it to be common knowledge.”

“What do I care?” Saffron dropped the now empty platter onto the table next to her, crumbs scattering across the intricate carpet.

“With a father like yours, doing what you do ... I think you’d care immensely.”

They locked gazes, neither wanting to give in, until Saffron sighed heavily.

Nee ta ma duh tyen-shia suo-yo duh num doh gai si,” she muttered.

Inara couldn’t help but smile a little. “Is that the kind of language you want your child to hear?”

“You’re one of those? The kind who think babies pick things up in the womb?” Saffron didn’t quite sneer, but it was a close run thing.

Not wanting to say that she had it on good authority that Kaylee had played music to her own bump when nobody was watching, let alone River’s thoughts on the subject Inara merely commented, “It’s established medical fact.”

Collapsing back onto the chair, Saffron sighed again. “Whatever. And no, I wasn’t going to make trouble. Those two won’t let me.” She pointed to where the two men had disappeared. “I can't do a gorram thing without them being a step behind.”

“So they’re more than just nursemaids?”

“Bodyguards, in case of kidnap and the like. Durren insisted. That’s why I had to travel under an assumed name. He said I couldn’t go anywhere without them, and if I tried he’d send out half the Alliance to bring me back.”

“He loves you.” Although I can’t think why, Inara added silently to herself.

“Seems like.”

There was something in Saffron’s tone that alerted Inara’s professional interest. “Haven’t that many men loved you? I thought –”

“Not love,” Saffron interrupted. “Lust, mainly.” She looked down at her ample figure. “When I didn’t look like a balloon I was hot, and they were easy.” Glancing up, she added, with just a hint of venom, “You know how that goes.”

Inara didn’t take it personally. “Not easy, Saffron. Gullible, perhaps, when they want to be.”

“And I made them want it really badly.” Now she smiled. “I was good. Very good.”

For a moment Inara had a mental image of the woman in front of her standing hip deep in trash bags inside a rubbish container, old food in her hair, swearing because she couldn’t find the Lassiter, but wisely didn’t mention it. “Yes, you were. But now you’re going to be a mother.” Her eyes narrowed a trace. “How did that happen, by the way?”

Saffron let out an unexpected laugh. “If you’ve forgotten already ...”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know.” Saffron laid her head back on the leather. “Durren happened. After the incident on Borodin, I found him waiting for me on Boros.”

“You mean the incident when you and Mal almost drowned because you were planning on robbing Tesler Bose’s safe and pinning it on him.”

She waved away the comment and stared into the painted ceiling. “That one, yes. Durren asked me to come back. To get my strength up. And he ...” She stopped.

“He wooed you.”

“Something like that.” She sat up, piercing Inara with a steely eye. “And you tell anyone I said it, and I’ll kill you. But I wanted ... I wanted to rest.”

“Had enough lying and cheating your way around the galaxy?”

“No. Never that. But sometimes the game just didn’t make me feel alive like it used to.” Saffron shook her head, almost bemused. “Like something was missing.”


“No. That’s just playing parts.” She put her head back, her right hand absently rubbing her stomach. “Anyway, I agreed. And we talked. A lot. Fought too. Well, I fought. Threw things, broke some stuff that I could have sold for several thousand credits ...” She made a tsk sound behind her teeth. “Anyway, I left a couple of times, and he didn’t try to stop me. Just told me to come back when I was ready.”

“He gave you permission to fleece people?”

“I suppose.” She looked up again. “You know it isn’t about the money. At least, not all of it.”

“I know.”

“Then the last time, right as I was about to separate a rancher from his cash, I started throwing up. Feeling sick all the time. I went to a doctor and ...” She gazed at her belly. “I could have killed Durren.”

And maybe you wanted it as much as him, Inara thought, understanding all too well the way the subconscious would sometimes make decisions all on its own. “You could have gotten rid of it,” she pointed out quietly. “Durren would never have had to know.”

Saffron’s hand stopped moving. “I thought about it. But somehow ...”

“Pregnancy changes you.”

“It makes your ankles swell, I know that.”

“Among other things. And I think you came to the conclusion you wanted this baby.”

“Durren was over the moon,” Saffron said, skirting the issue. “He said I could do anything I wanted as long as we raised the child together.” Again there was that odd tone.

“You think he’ll make a good father.”


For the first time Inara felt Saffron had said the entire and utter truth in that one word, not painted over with illusion and lies. “Then I’m happy for you.”


“Yes.” She stood up. “And you’d better get some sleep, otherwise your tame terriers will be after you.”

“I suppose.” Saffron mangled a well-timed yawn then managed to lever herself to her feet, pulling her dress back into place as best she could. “Are you going to tell the others? About me?”

“I ... haven’t decided.”

“Whatever.” She walked to the door, then paused in the act of turning the handle. “Could ... could you come back?”

“What?” Inara wouldn’t have been more surprised if Saffron had taken out a gun and shot her. She pulled herself together. “Come back?”

“I don’t have anyone to talk to. Those two idiots ...” She gestured towards the other room. “I know they’re doing their best, but I need someone intelligent to have a proper conversation with.”

“We’ll only fight.”

“That can be fun too.” Saffron went to put her hand on Inara’s arm, but dropped it before touching. “If you want to.”

“Perhaps.” All the years of training, the experiences she had gone through, and lately the advanced techniques Sam had taught her were saying that Saffron was scared, that under all the bluster and disregard for the rest of the ‘verse was a woman who needed a friend. “When I can get away.”

Saffron nodded, just a single jerk of her head, and pulled the door open. “And bring more of those cakes.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

As Inara made her way back towards her own suite, only the smallest amount of her mind was on where she was going. In her line of work, particularly during the time she’d spent on Serenity, she had come into contact with a whole range of people, from those who couldn’t do more than scratch a living on a rock to others who could buy whole planets if they felt inclined. Temperamentally they were just as wide ranging.

Saffron was something of an enigma, though. All of Inara’s common sense was telling her not to trust the redhead, to go and let Freya know she was on board, that some other plan might well be in force that they knew nothing about, and yet ...

And yet. That flash of fear had been real, she’d swear to it. She remembered something very like it herself during that last month, when she’d been grieving for Gregor, when the rest of the Training House had looked at her either in sympathy or outrage, The fear that she wouldn’t know how to bring up a child, that she’d be useless as a mother. Not that she got the chance to find out, but at least Colm was happy, cared for by Domina on Greenleaf. It made it easier. A little.

She knew it now, of course, as well. Fear that she and Sam would never have a child of their own, that she wasn’t capable of carrying a second baby to term, no matter what Simon said.

Which explained the jealousy too. She wanted it to be her with the swollen ankles, the cravings, the nausea.

No. Stop that. As she rounded the end of the corridor and walked towards the door to her suite, she shook herself mentally. Inara, you will have another baby. You and Sam. It might take a while, but it will happen. It can’t not.

She put out her hand, but her fingers were trembling. Closing her eyes, she used one of the techniques learned so long ago back in the House, centring herself, drawing every little piece back inside, putting it into place until only a tiny crack showed. Then she let herself into the suite.

Freya must have woken up enough to get to bed, because the sofa was empty and the Cortex switched off.

Inara sighed. It gave her more time to consider what she was going to do, but in all honesty she knew. At least for the time being, she wasn’t going to tell the others. In less than a week they’d be off the Empress and back to their lives, and Saffron would be gone. But at least until then, maybe she could help. Not show her the error of her ways – that would take a lifetime and quite possibly a number of Jayne’s grenades – but at least to ease her mind a little. After all, that’s what she did for a living now.

And Freya wouldn’t look. Not intentionally. And if she did, then Inara would explain. Slowly, with words of only one syllable. Probably ducking all the time.

She yawned, tiredness suddenly overtaking her. Yes. Time for bed. Time to sleep and dream of babies in her arms, and Sam standing over her, such a proud look on his face ...


“She had company tonight.”


“A woman. A looker. Wouldn’t throw her out of bed.”

“Is she going to be a problem?”

“I don’t think so.”


“What’s going through that head of yours?”

“This job’s worth a lot of money. I don’t want anything to go wrong.”

“It was one woman. What could she do to put a spanner in the works?”

“Let’s just say something’s tickling the back of my neck right now.”

“You want me to keep an eye on her?”

“Yeah. See who she’s travelling with. We might need to take care of them before we do the job.”

“We’ve got a few days.”

“And I want to be ready. Tell your brother to stay watching, and to report back anything else.”

“Okay, Chester.”

to be continued


Sunday, January 24, 2010 6:54 AM


This doesn't sound very good for Saffron. She couldn't have any better cavalry waiting in the wings than who she's with at the moment. Very interesting, and loved the insights into who she is as a character and who Inara is as a mom to be. If Inara is a mom to be?

Sunday, January 24, 2010 6:59 AM


SAFFRON is in trouble? Well, uh... I guess they should... help... her?

Now I see why this story is called Masks.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 2:22 PM


Can't see where Safron fits into all this and I can't wait to see.

Monday, January 25, 2010 4:54 AM


So trick or is she seriously in trouble? Not sure I believe the leopard has changed her spots so ladies, tread carefully...


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