Book of Secrets (Part 6)
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The captain dances, Inara's feeling out the new girl and the first secret is revealed.


The captain was dancing.

Zoë didn't think anyone was really surprised by this, except maybe the man himself. At least she wasn't. She had known the old Malcolm, the soldier she'd fought alongside with, the man who'd told wild stories, who loved to laugh, who whistled and sang – and danced. And she knew that deep down inside he was still that man. Even though he kept insisting otherwise.

Of course he did need an excuse these days; a drink (or five), a special kind of music or a special kind of company. But if the mood was right you could still persuade him into telling stories and get him dancing. And as one could easily observe tonight, Jo Cobb seemed to know exactly what buttons to push.

Speaking of Jo, she had joined forces with the local fiddler and they had kept not only the captain, but also everybody else dancing and singing and hooting for hours now.

Not Zoë herself though, she didn't have the energy to dance these days, and unlike Mal she'd never really been a dancer anyway. She'd often wondered whether the war had changed her as much as it had changed the captain, or if she'd always been this cool and calculated, preferring to observe life from a distance, too afraid to lose control to really get involved.

She couldn't remember. Who she'd been before all this mess.

She did remember the day the Alliance blew The Bohemia – the Traveler fleet's biggest civilian ship – out of the sky, killing hundreds, among them seven of her baby cousins. The day she enlisted. But whatever had been before that was all a blur to her now.

Another life.

Long gone, and gone forever.

But if the war hadn't changed her, the years that had passed since certainly had. She looked at Mal, smiling a little as the clearly intoxicated man made a rather pitiful attempt at a hallingkast, an acrobatic dance move they'd witnessed on their occasional visits to Odin and Besla. The war had hardened him, and the peace had softened her.

The baby in her belly moved.

No, she corrected herself, Wash had softened her.

She felt the now familiar sting of sadness and that big void of emptiness that kept threatening to claim her, but took a deep breath to shake it off and steady herself. She owed it to him, to their baby, to not turn back into that stone cold shion tse sha sho again.

Her train of thoughts was interrupted when one of the locals, a kind-looking older woman, walked up to her and offered her an apple, and when Zoë hesitated to take it, the woman smiled and said, "For you," and nodding towards her belly, added, "For your baby."

With a smile that probably mirrored the awkwardness she was feeling, because all the attention pregnant women seemed to get still made her feel somewhat uncomfortable, she accepted the gift and fumbled around for her knife to cut it.

Then she stopped and looked at the apple.


Considered to just munch on it for once.

The war was long gone, most likely it wouldn't return, when not even the Miranda broadcast could stir it to life. Sooner or later she would have to leave it there.

In the past.

With Wash.

Jo was singing now. Her strong, clear voice rose above the noise and the chattering and the loud music. Some sort of blues, but she still made it sound happy, or at least full of defiance.

Zoë allowed another smile to caress her lips, and then pulled out her knife and cut into the apple.

Baby steps.


To Inara it seemed like the world around her had gone mad. Not that it surprised her; she'd seen a lot of the 'verse by now, as well as those who lived in it, and she knew that the harder people's lives were, the wilder were their parties. And seeing Mal behave like he did now, only made her realize how low he'd really been.

He'd grabbed Jo now; she'd put down her banjo and joined him and several others in some sort of dance routine. Inara didn't even know what it was called, if it was even called anything at all. It could have been line dancing or square dancing, but there were no lines or squares that she was aware of.

Buddha, she felt out of place!

She was trained to adapt to a great variety of different worlds and settings, but not this kind. People on worlds like this could seldom afford (or for that matter attract) a Companion. She guessed most of the women in her line of work would find this whole party vulgar and disgusting. She, on the other hand, had used to find them fascinating, maybe even like them to a certain degree.

Right now, though, she only felt lost.

She pulled her shawl around her and huddled a little where she sat on a log by one of the bonfires, smiling weakly to a toothless old man who not so discreetly observed her from across the flames. She spotted Jayne not too far away; he'd wrapped his big arm around one of the local girls; two more were hovering close by, standing in line should he tire of the first one. Zoë was there too, even she was smiling now and then. River was dancing, of course; her tiny frame twirled around and in between the others like a leaf, a dreamy but happy look on her face.

None were as happy as the captain, though, and that sting in Inara's stomach as she watched him could not be misinterpreted.

Try as she might, she had never been able to make Malcolm Reynolds smile this way. This was the body language of a man completely relaxed, the body language of a man surrounded by his own. He tripped over his feet and fell, pulling Jo along with him. They both roared with laughter as he landed on top of her, his face neatly nestled in between her rather humble breasts.

Inara had felt jealous before, with Saffron, with Nandi – and she was ashamed of it. Jealousy was a petty emotion, especially for a Companion, and she closed her eyes for a minute and tried to shake the silly thought.

Jo was no real competition! The woman was sly; Inara had only needed a few moments with her to figure that out.

Then again, she wasn't sure whether Mal knew, and he did look happy there in Jo's arms…


She tore her eyes away from him to look in another direction and they instead spotted Kaylee and her childhood friends chatting, and Inara found herself frowning when she realized Simon wasn't with her. She looked around for him, and found sitting by one of the other fires nearby.

Well, at least she wasn't the only one feeling out of place.

The young doctor was shifting his eyes between his girlfriend, who seemed hell bent on ignoring him, and his sister (who was ignoring everyone). Inara's frown grew deeper, her own troubles temporarily pushed aside.

What was up with Kaylee? All that time and energy spent on winning Simon over, and now she treated him like this?

She would have to talk to her about it.


Friday turned into Saturday and the party slowly died away, the town fell asleep and nobody who didn't have to rose early that morning. Even Inara, who'd retreated to her shuttle at a reasonable time, had slept in. She'd still expected to be the first to enter the galley and was a little perplexed to find Jo already there. She was at the table, changing the strings of her beloved banjo, looking almost provokingly fresh for a person who'd partied all night. "Morning," she greeted her.

"Good morning," Inara replied, suddenly feeling a little uneasy. Walking over to the cupboard to look for her cup and plate, she stole another glance at her.

Big, strong women were nothing new to her. After all she'd lived with Zoë for a long time now. But while Zoë still liked to wear tight-fitting clothes, showing off her feminine curves, it didn't appear as if Jo was that concerned about her looks; she never wore any make-up and Inara was pretty sure she'd seen the shirt she was wearing on Jayne. Either way it did nothing for her figure.

She was proud of her hair, though. One could tell by the intricate ways she braided it; if the goal were just to keep it out of her eyes, then a simple ponytail would've sufficed. And it was a hair to be proud of: dark brown, thick and waist-long.

Not a classic, picture-pretty beauty, then. But Inara could see how a man like Mal could fall for a woman like Jo. She was free spirited, straight forward and fun. And more importantly, she understood him and his way of life.

"You're up early." Inara finally decided to try and spark a conversation. After all it couldn't be more awkward than the silence. "Last night considered," she added when Jo looked puzzled.

"So are you," the other woman smiled.

"Well." Inara checked the pot on the stove to see if there were water in it. "I wasn't partying as hard as certain other people."

Jo chuckled. "I assume you're referrin' to our fearless leader?"

"It certainly looked like he had a good time," Inara said as she poured hot water over the freeze-dried coffee powder in her cup. She usually didn't drink coffee, but for some reason she really felt like it this morning.

"You ask me, I believe this crew needed it," Jo said. "You been through a lot, and not to be disrespectful 'bout that and all, but it was good to see ya'll smile."

"It was a good night," Inara lied, hoping it didn't show. She was a good liar as long as she was able to keep her emotions in check, but that had proved time and time again to be near impossible on this boat.

Luckily the uneasy tension (that hopefully only she felt) in the room broke by the sound of footsteps in the hallway. Next Mal came through the door, and upon seeing him Jo grinningly stroke a chord on her banjo and sang loudly, "Well, good mooooooooooooooooorning, Captain! Good morning to you, sir! Hey-heeeey!"

He stopped dead in his tracks and threw his arms out to his sides. Zoë came in after him and she threw him a look and smiled a little as she pulled out a chair and sat down heavily, as if the short climb and walk from her bunk had worn her out.

Mal turned to look at her. "I danced last night, didn't I?"

"Like there was no tomorrow," she dryly replied.

Mal looked back at Jo and pointed a finger at her, and he kept poking the air with it, clearly struggling to find the right words, before he simply stated, "You're the devil."

Jo kept grinning. "I've heard that said. But don't put it all on me, Cap, you should've known better by now."

Mal muttered something inaudible and moved like a sleepwalker towards the stove. "I need coffee." Inara handed him her own still untouched cup, which he gratefully accepted before finding his place at the table. "Anyone seen Jayne?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.

"I don't think he slept onboard tonight," Zoë replied.

"Nah, he probably went someplace with that skinny chick," Jo agreed.

Mal took a sip of the hot drink and then a smile slowly spread across his face. "That was some party." The smile fell and he looked worriedly up at the others. "Nobody got married, did they?"

"Not that I saw, sir," Zoë answered.

Inara shook her head and started making herself a new cup of coffee, but the sound of shouting voices from the staircase by the engine room made both her and the others turn their heads towards it.

"That ain't what happened, Simon!"

"I thought we were through this! I've got no problems with where you're coming from, Kaylee. You've got no reason to be ashamed."

"Ashamed? I'm not ashamed!"

"You introduced me to your friends as 'The Medic'! So maybe it's me then? Do I shame you?"

"You're bein' stupid!"

"I'm not stupid, I'm confused!"

Everyone in the kitchen exchanged looks with each other. Mal raised his eyebrows. "Did they get married? 'Cause it sure sounds that way."

The shouting stopped, and next a steaming Kaylee came in and stomped across the room and started rummaging through cupboards. When she felt the others staring at her, she turned towards them and spat with an uncharacteristically anger, "What?"

They all looked away, pretending to be busy, just as also Simon entered the galley and, without offering anyone as much as a glance, sat down at the table.

Luckily they didn't have to suffer the awkward tension for more than a few seconds, before the heavy footsteps that could only belong to Jayne rang from the staircase and the big mercenary burst through the door. "What's all this shoutin'?" he growled as he crossed the floor. His face lit up when he saw the fresh cup of coffee Inara had just finished making and left on the counter for a moment. "Hey, coffee," he said and snatched it. She sighed and rolled her eyes, but said nothing.

"The mayor's here to see ya," Jayne told Mal as he pulled out a chair, and Inara noticed how Kaylee, who was still by the cupboards, visibly paled upon hearing this.

The captain frowned. "What? Now? Why?"

"Dunno," Jayne replied, and didn't look like he cared that much.

The captain exchanged looks with Zoë and then put down his cup. "Better go see what he wants, then."

He rose and left the room. Jo and Zoë immediately followed him, and Inara let her curiosity take the better part of her and came with them to the cargo bay. She kept her distance though, staying in the back with Zoë, while Jo and the captain stepped up to the doorway to talk to the fat man waiting for them outside on the ramp. A younger, red-haired man accompanied him, looking rather timid and uncomfortable.

"Mayor Ryan, Rudy" Mal greeted them, with an enthusiasm Inara could clearly hear was fake. "What can I do for you? I was under the impression our plans was for Monday."

"You got Miss Kaywinnit Frye on your ship? They say she sails with you." The mayor was clearly not one for beating about the bush.

Mal hesitated for a fraction of a second, but his features gave nothing away as he answered the question, "Kaylee? She's on my crew, that's right."

Ryan's face too was a mask of stone, but even from this distance Inara could sense his suppressed and barely contained emotions. "I wish to speak to her."

At that precise moment Inara spotted the mechanic in question. She'd come out on the catwalk by the staircase leading up to the bridge, her eyes wide and worried, her back pressed against the wall, safely out of view for the people on the ramp. She shook her head frantically.

Somehow Mal had seen it too. "I'm afraid that won't be possible," he told the mayor.

Ryan's face hardened a little. "That could be a problem."

Mal almost casually crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Yeah?"

"Might not be good for our business relationship."

That was a threat. It didn't make an impression on the captain, though. "So be it," he simply replied. "But she don't wanna talk to you and I ain't forcin' her. Now, if you want me to rely a message, I'll be more'n happy to."

River suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and not until now did Inara realize she hadn't seen her all morning. She silently stepped up to the captain and took up a stance next to him, staring intently at the mayor, who noticed and clearly found it unsettling.

"This business is strictly between Miss Frye and myself," he eventually said, casting little glances at the skinny Reader. "But you can tell her I hope she'll change her mind and come see me. Good day."

He courteously tipped his hat and walked away. Mal waited until he was a good thirty paces away from the ship before he pushed the button to close the cargo bay doors. He then grabbed River by her shoulders, steering her along, and glanced upwards at Kaylee. "Galley," he ordered her.

They wordlessly returned to the kitchen and by the time they got there Kaylee was shaking like a leaf. They found Jayne by the table loudly eating an apple and Simon by the stove cooking. "River," the latter said upon seeing his sister and reached out his hand, a gesture she promptly ignored.

"Now, lil' Kaylee," Mal said as he leaned against the kitchen counter. "I'm thinkin' I might be needin' a few answers from you now. And I'm thinkin' Simon here might be needin' some too."

Kaylee's reaction was to burst out crying, something that instantly brought a look of regret to the captain's face, made Simon stiffen and Jayne to raise his eyebrows and otherwise just keep munching on his apple. But nobody managed to say or do anything before the mechanic exclaimed, "He promised not to tell!"

"Who?" Mal asked, throwing out his arms.

"The shepherd!" Kaylee wailed.

Inara hurriedly crossed the floor and draped an arm around the distraught girl. "Kaylee, mei mei," she consoled her,"he never told us anything."

"Sweetie, we have no idea what you're talking about," Zoë added.

"But he wants me to tell you," Kaylee kept crying, her body shaking under Inara's hands. "That's why he's forced me back here, I'm sure o' it."

"Tell us what exactly?" Mal probed.

"That I killed the mayor's son."

The crying got louder. But the rest of the room turned dead silent.

Even Jayne had stopped chewing.


A/N: So I've included some of my own cultural heritage in this chapter ;) You can check out the hallingkast on YouTube. Jo's quoting/singing Dolly Parton's "Mule Skinner Blues".




Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:15 AM


Enjoyed the twist at the end and as always your writing in general is well executed, but...IMHO, I think Jo could use a pass through the Marysue litmus test, at this point, she dances, she sings, she kicks-ass, she plays the bango, she's Jayne's sister who fills in for Zoe, she has beautiful hair, she makes the main character giddy and happy while making his love interest jealous...not trying to be mean, just offering some constructive criticism.

Thanks for posting.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:19 AM


You're not being mean at all :) I'd find her annoyingly perfect at this point as well ;)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:20 AM


"That I killed the mayor's son."

Ooh. You know, ever since I read the script for Dead or Alive, I'd been wondering if something like this might be going on.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:55 AM


Yeah, gotta admit, she's kinda annoying in her larger than life skin, so if this was your intention you've succeeded:)

And, could be, with a dose of wild abandonment(and a few drinks), Inara would join in the dancing and fun... we know she wants to.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 10:06 AM


Yeah, I always liked what little we saw of Inara's wild side :) Those were her best moments.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 10:07 AM


And thanks for the great feedback, by the way. Those are the kind I learn from.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 11:16 AM


Kaylee killed the Mayor's son? A more unlikely scenario I could not imagine, were that the case I could not see the Mayor just walking off the ship. Surely he would have gone with plenty of officers of the law to take her into custody so does that mean he doesn't know or that she didn't kill him or that something she said or did not say led to the Mayor's son doing something stupid enough to end in his death? Either way I can't see Kaylee on Death Row. Loved the earlier scenes of dancing and merry making, with the glimpse of the carefree fellow Mal was before the War. As for Inara and her jealousy, girl really needs to work out what she wants then be truthful about it. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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Angels We Have Heard (Part 5/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 4/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 3/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 2/5)
Christmas special. Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 1/5)
Christmas special. Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

The Night Before (revised and reposted)
It's the night before Christmas and Jayne is having spiritual problems. Literally.

Book of Secrets (Part 8)
Mal drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, closing his eyes for a moment. "Gorram preacher," he muttered.

Book of Secrets (Part 7)
Kaylee comes clean and River goes for a swim.

Book of Secrets (Part 6)
The captain dances, Inara's feeling out the new girl and the first secret is revealed.

Book of Secrets (Part 5)
Zoë and Inara have a heart-to-heart, and Mal discovers more shades of grey.