BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Secrets - Part XII
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Her face looked back at her, make-up only a little smudged and appearing almost normal. Almost. Hard to see that she was dying. [Maya. Post-BDM. Everyone's waiting for Simon to work his magic, but Inara has secrets of her own.]


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2152    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

“You’re it!”

Bethie squealed in something like a cross between frustration and annoyance, reaching out to tag Ethan back but he danced out of her way, laughing.

“I’ll get you for that!” she promised running after him, then darting to her left and catching Ben on his shoulder. “You’re it!”

Ben groaned. In the game they were playing in the area behind the house he’d been ‘it’ more times than he could count, and he was out of breath from running. He stopped, leaning forwards with his hands on his knees as he tried to pull air into aching lungs. “Gorramit,” he muttered.

Molly, standing by the back door so she could referee, with Fiddler and Giselle on leads snuffling around her feet, shook her head. “Language.”

Ben lifted his coffee face to her and grinned. “Sorry.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s not the worst you know.”

“It isn’t,” Ethan agreed. “Cal’s first word was a curse.” He glanced across to where the little boy was happily toddling among the vegetables and pulling up weeds like his mother had shown him.

“Mine was Dada,” Bethie admitted, standing with her fists on her hips since the game seemed to have stalled. “I said it to Uncle Mal.”

Molly laughed. “I doubt your Pa was too happy about that.”

“He wasn’t.”

“Well, I don’t know what mine was.”

“Mine was the co-ordinates to Persephone,” Ben said. “But then my daddy is the pilot.”

“What about you two?” Molly asked Jesse and Hope, who were sitting on a blanket making flower chains out of some late daisies they’d discovered.

Jesse just shrugged, but Hope said, “I think I asked for paints.”

“Sounds about right,” Ben said, smiling at her. Then he reached out and touched Bethie’s arm. “It.”

Bethie stamped her foot and growled, while the autumn air was filled the giggles.

The sound didn’t reach the man lying flat on his stomach a distance away, a long-range ‘scope held to his eye. He stilled as the young woman darted from her position by the door to pick up a crawling baby making a determined bid for the wide open spaces.

It was her, he was sure of it. The picture Philo had been given wasn’t brilliant, being more of a snap than a proper capture, but it was good enough.

His thin lips twisted into a half-smile as he pulled a Cortex link from his pocket, keeping her in the cross-hairs as he activated a pre-programmed address.

---

“It’s too nice,” Kaylee complained, putting the cup back onto the small table and looking around the orchard. “I don’t wanna go back inside.”

“Then don’t.” Inara picked up the pot. “More tea?”

Kaylee bit her lip then shook her head. “Nope. Better go finish off getting that Jackson bedded in before the Cap yells at me again.”

“Does he do that a lot?” Inara poured for herself then tipped a small amount into Kaylee’s cup anyway.

“You’re a bad woman,” the young mechanic laughed, picking up the tea. “And no, he don’t. He’s mellowed. A lot.”

“Freya’s doing.”

“Sure, some of it.” Kaylee sipped the fragrant liquid, enjoying its smoothness as it slipped down her throat. “I mean, they’ve been together a long time now, but I can still remember what he was like before.”

“I thought he was broken.”

“Cracked maybe.”

“That hasn’t changed.”

The two women shared a knowing smile, then Kaylee asked, “You ever think about what he’d be like if Frey hadn’t come along? You and him, I mean? You think you’d be together?”

For a moment Inara didn’t want to answer, then realised this was just Kaylee, who said what she thought and had no animosity in her. She considered her response and finally said, “I think we might be. I think there’s a world out there somewhere, another dimension perhaps, where he never met Freya, he and I are a couple, and Zoe has Wash’s baby.”

“Really?” Kaylee was intrigued. “What about me?”

“Oh, I think you and Simon are destined no matter what timeline we’re in.”

“Me too,” Kaylee bubbled. “Thing is, sometimes, when I’m working on somethin’ in the engine, I let my mind run on the might have beens. You know, if Simon had chosen another boat, if’n Jayne had sold them back on Ariel, even if we hadn’t gone to Miranda.”

“And what conclusions have you come to?” Inara asked curiously.

“That we’re best off where we are. Oh, we’ve lost friends, good ones –” Her sunny humour dimmed for a moment. “ – but made more. Alex, Theo, Dillon and Breed … And you’ve got Sam, and a baby on the way.”

Inara smoothed her hand comfortingly over her bump. “That I will grant you.”

“And that I’ve got no more time on my hands for idle chit chat.” Kaylee drained the cup and stood up. “’Member that time you helped me out? That was a sight to see, you in those coveralls.”

“I doubt I’d get into them now. And I just handed you the things you asked for.”

“’N’ got all greasy into the bargain.” She giggled. “Well, another hour and it should be done. Then I can play.”

Inara laughed lightly. “I wouldn’t mind betting you find something else to fix.”

“Me neither. But Serenity’s mine, no matter what her papers – or the Cap’n – says. I’ll keep her flyin’, ‘til there’s nothing of me left.”

“Kaylee, you have the heart of a poet.”

The young woman blushed slightly. “Well, this poet better get to work. You want me to take the tray back inside?”

“No, I’ll deal with it.”

“Shiny.” She smiled wider. “See you later.” She turned and ambled back towards the Firefly, hands thrust deep into her pockets and whistling faintly.

Inara couldn’t help smiling affectionately after her, as ever warmed by her friend’s joyful personality.

She stood up and looked around the orchard, at the leaves starting to turn a thousand and one shades of red and gold, glad they’d sat outside. It might be one of the last good days before Lazarus slipped towards winter, so best to make the most of it while she could – there might not be many more.

Picking up the tray she began to walk to the house and was almost out of the trees when a spasm caught at her. Her hands jerked opened of their own accord, the tray tumbling to the grass and spilling the tea things everywhere. She fell to the ground with them, barely aware enough to twist so she landed on her back, flares of pain lighting up the muscles in her arms and legs. Her vision darkened though she was staring into the bright blue sky, her body rigid.

Dear Buddha, no.

She stamped on the desire to try and shout mentally for Freya or River, instead concentrating on the spilled tea to mask anything she might have inadvertently let slip, even as she willed her body to relax, to break the pattern and lose the fear.

Slowly, enough so that she felt like she was dying, her vision returned, the sky a clear azure once more, and the pounding in her ears giving way to birdsong and the sound of children laughing in the distance.

Her legs relaxed, then her arms, until she was able to sit up. She tried to pat her hair into place, but for a moment her fingers refused to do what they were told, finally succumbing to her strength of will so she could sweep up the escaped tendrils.

Strength returned quickly and she got to her feet, her hands exploring her stomach and reassuring herself that she hadn’t harmed the baby. Only then did she realise she’d fallen into the puddle of tea and her dress was stained.

She tutted, brushing at the marks. “I just fainted,” she said to no-one. “Pregnant women do that.”

Even she didn’t believe it.

Walking slowly back to the house, careful with every step, she went in through the front door, coming face to face with Mrs Boden carrying a pail of cleaning materials.

“Madam?”

Inara waved her hand. “I had a slight accident,” she said, not quite lying. “I spilled some tea on myself. Very silly really. I’m just going to change.”

“Should I run you a bath?” Mrs Boden looked solicitous.

“No, no. It’s only my dress. But I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t mind getting the tea things? They’re still in the orchard.”

“Of course, Madam. Straight away.” She put the pail in the corner and hurried outside.

Inara sighed and started up the stairs. How much longer would she be able to keep this from everyone? This was the first full attack she’d experienced, and while it had only lasted seconds she knew they would get longer, until eventually it would be the periods of normality that would be fleeting.

As she entered her bedroom her thoughts rolled around each other. Could she send Sam somewhere? On business perhaps? The thought of him witnessing something like this made her heart ache. There was no difficulty with Mal, of course. In a few days he’d be itching to get back into the Black, and it could be months before they returned. By then it would be all over. But Sam … Sam was the problem.

She sat down at her dressing table and looked at herself in the mirror. Could she pick a fight with him? Something trivial that would escalate until he walked out? Except how would he feel when he found out?

Her face looked back at her, make-up only a little smudged and appearing almost normal. Almost. Hard to see that she was dying.

A lock of hair had escaped again and she lifted her hand to push it back into place, then realised she was trembling, but whether it was due to the after effects of the attack or her worries about the future she couldn’t be sure. What she did know was that her motor skills were going to be amongst the first to go, just as it had taken longer for her fingers to work again just now, and perhaps being concerned with the state of her hair was of minor consequence.

She sighed again and dropped her head, her eyes falling on the delicate golden shears on the table.

---

“Inara?” Sam pushed the door of the bedroom open. “Mrs Boden said you had an accident?”

“It was nothing.” Her voice came from around the corner. “I just spilled some tea.”

He stepped into the room. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” She was sitting at her desk, an elaborate drop-front affair that she’d picked up in an antique shop on Londinium. The owner had sworn it had come in on the generation ships from Earth-that-was, but Inara was doubtful, not least because the price was far too reasonable if it had. She bought it because she liked it, and now she sat in the shadows, making notes.

Sam watched her, wondering what was different but for a moment not able to put his finger on it. “Did you fall?”

“I slipped, that was all.” Her pen paused. “The baby is fine.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

“I know.” She turned and smiled at him. “We’re both fine.”

It hit him, like a freight train going full pelt. “Inara … your hair …”

It had always been full and lush, but in the time they’d been together it had grown longer until it almost reached her waist. She’d used it occasionally when they were making love, causing his skin to burn with the sensation, but now … now …

She reached up and smoothed the crop she’d given herself, a shining helmet that curled a little around the nape of her neck and came to two points on her cheeks.

“Do you like it?”

“Inara …”

“If you keep saying my name like that I’ll think you hate it.” She closed her journal and put it in the drawer before standing up. “Well?”

“What … why …”

“For a professional counsellor, you certainly seem lost for words.” Inara crossed to the bed and picked up the soiled dress. “I may have to throw this away,” she said, studying the stain critically.

Sam put his hand on her shoulder to turn her to face him. His other reached out to touch her newly shorn locks, but stopped. “Why, Inara?”

She shrugged. “It will be easier. With the baby. I won’t have time to be so vain, so I thought, why not do it now?”

He gazed at her, wondering how a haircut could possibly make her appear elusive, bringing an elfin quality to her that made her seem intangible, mysterious, his grasp on her even more tenuous. “I …”

Don’t you like it?” she asked, her chin coming up, almost able to read his thoughts in his face. He’d always put her on a pedestal, and insisting on treating her as if she was fragile, at least out of bed.

“I do, I do,” he said quickly. “It’s just … something of a shock.”

“I can be spontaneous, you know.”

“I know.” He made himself smile, despite the worry burning in his belly. “It suits you.”

“Good.” She looked relieved.

“Did you … have you thrown it away? The rest of it, I mean. Your hair.”

Inara laughed. “No. As it happens. I felt a little … sentimental, so it’s tied with a ribbon and lying in state in the bottom drawer over there.” A tiny shudder ran through her.

He noticed. “Are you all right?”

She nodded and moved in so she could embrace him. “Just feeling a little chilly around the neck.”

“I’m sure you are.” He allowed himself to push his fingers into her hair, feeling it still thick and luscious. “And it will grow again, if you change your mind.”

“Yes,” she said simply, her face against his chest.

Sam held her close, wondering what the hell was going on.

---

Mal sat on the wrought iron chair in the orchard and watched the sun drop below the line of mountains, the shadows staining the ground with purple ink as the stars came out above him. A cool breeze sprang up from nowhere, chilling his exposed skin and reminding him that autumn was just a hair’s breadth away, just as something big wafted by on silent wings, out hunting, and still he waited as the night deepened, his brain occupied elsewhere.

The early supper had been a restrained affair, with his doctor, mechanic and pilot occupied elsewhere. It had surprised him when Simon asked the others to help him, but he explained it easily enough.

“What I have to do is delicate, and my equipment isn’t really designed for it. If Kaylee and Hank can make adjustments as I go, I might not make a total hash of it.” Simon stared at the red stone. “And you do realise I can’t guarantee I can do it at all.”

“Try your best, doctor,” Mal had grunted.

“I always do.”

“Yeah, I figured that.”

In fact Kaylee had popped into the house to pick up some sandwiches Mrs Boden had made, and surprised the rest of them sitting around the dining table discussing Inara’s new hairstyle.

“I admit I was shocked,” Sam said. “But I think I like it.”

Inara smiled. “I’m not sure what came over me,” she said slowly, stroking the shining helmet. “But it will be much easier to keep tidy. I was forever losing pins.”

“Don’t I know it.” Sam shook his head. “I’ve sat on them more than once.”

Kaylee found her voice. “I like it,” she said, nodding firmly. “Kinda makes you look younger.”

“I’m not exactly ancient,” Inara laughed.

“Only you might want someone to trim the back up a bit. It’s a tad uneven here and there.”

“Is it?” Inara touched her neck. “Could you?”

“Sure. Soon as we’ve finished.”

“Just don’t let Frey near it,” Mal said, toying with a fork. “She can’t cut a straight line to save her life.” He’d winced as the lady in question kicked him.

Now he allowed a smile to lift the corners of his mouth. He knew the sight of Inara had jolted her, and he’d seen her own hand go up to her brown locks. Once upon a time she’d had long hair, and he’d buried himself in it that first night, the one he took a long time to admit had changed him. Then one day it was gone, cut because it was war, and in war a person didn’t take time out to make fancy curls and tweaks. She’d never allowed it to get long again, but he knew, somewhere deep in his psyche, that she missed it once in a while. To see Inara looking quite so … perfect … had made her feel self-conscious.

Inara isn’t perfect. River’s voice in his head held a touch of reproach.

Didn’t say she was. Just that it’s how Frey was thinking.

How do you know?

She’s my wife.

There was something like a snort, and he was impressed she could convey it through whatever they were using.

Inara is not perfect, River repeated.

Neither’s Frey, but she’s as close as I’m ever gonna get.

Are you still looking?

You should be keeping watch, albatross, not butting into a man’s private thoughts.

I am. There’s a large animal some four hundred yards from where you’re sitting.

Mal stiffened. Dangerous?

He’s not hungry.

Can’t say that’s what I asked.

She laughed, and he was alone again in his head.

“Don’t listen to her.”

Arms slid around his shoulders and he half-turned to look into Freya’s face. “You gonna protect me?”

“’Til death do us part.”

“Conjure that’s gonna be a long time.”

“I hope so.”

He pulled her around so she sat in his lap. “How’s it going indoors?”

Freya shrugged, her nose curling a little, and he realised the moon had come up so he could see. “It could be a long time. The last time I looked Kaylee was doing something very specialised to one of her microtools.”

“Am I gonna be asked to buy her a new set?”

“Probably.”

“I reckon it’d be worth it. She’s been working damn hard the last few days on those Jacksons, so I think she’s earned ‘em.”

Freya smiled softly. “I’ll order a new set.” She shivered.

“Cold?”

“A little.”

“Wanna go inside?”

“No.” She snuggled closer. “This is nice. Just us.”

He rubbed his hands up and down her back and thigh, feeling the warmth generated where they touched. “You know, we don’t do too badly,” he pointed out. “If’n I worked in a factory or on a farm we’d only see each other in the evenings or at night. At least being on Serenity means we spend most of the day together as well, even if there are others in close proximity.”

“I’m not complaining.”

“No, you don’t, do you? Hardly at all.”

“Although I could more, if it would help.”

He laughed, the rumble communicating itself to her. “Nope. I reckon I can live without that.”

“Only if you want me to …”

He stopped her lips with his own.

Above them, sitting on the roof of the house, River smiled.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:06 PM

BLUEHANDEDMENACE


Plenty of ominous in an otherwise idyllic scene.

As usual the slow build has the pressure cooker steaming up nicely.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 8:06 PM

BLUEHANDEDMENACE


Plenty of ominous in an otherwise idyllic scene.

As usual the slow build has the pressure cooker steaming up nicely.

Friday, February 14, 2014 10:20 PM

KATESFRIEND


I loved your nod to alternate universe stories and as usual your foreshadowing is excellent. Glad to see more - this is a great story and you've got me guessing on all fronts.

Saturday, February 15, 2014 7:33 PM

AMDOBELL


Loved the scene with Mal and Freya but worried about the man spying through his gun sights. Kind of surprised that River hasn't picked up on it. Kaylee made me smile but I feel so sad about Inara. Bad enough to be dying but fighting so hard to keep it from everyone isn't the answer, she is denying herself comfort and the shock to Sam and her friends will be heart rending. So wonderful to devour another of your delicious chapters, Jane0904. Shiny! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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