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THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 5. "Make and Mend"
Sunday, October 5, 2003

"Inara heads back to Serenity. The crew has more than a fire to put out. When Inara returns she faces a further shock and a revelation."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2925    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "MAKE AND MEND" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: G. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "VISIONS OF HELL" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "Inara heads back to Serenity. The crew has more than a fire to put out. When Inara returns she faces a further shock and a revelation." 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.

"MAKE AND MEND"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Inara Serra had never felt so weary, so full of pain. But pride was a wonderful thing, it gave you strength where you had none. Propped you up when there was nothing to hold on to. Drove sagging limbs onwards when all you wanted to do was find a hole to crawl into and curl up and die. Pride. Oh yes. They say it came before a fall, well that was alright so long as she did not fall until she got on board her shuttle. Once off Paul's estate and bound for Serenity let the Black take her. She just wanted to be home. To be free. Not once did she consider that the price she had paid might not be worth the paying.

* * * * *

The lanky man unwound graceless limbs from his hiding place and straightened behind the tree. He kicked Briny in the ankle getting an angry growl and a glare back.

"What the gorram was that for?"

"Have to stay sharp."

"Like I'd forget. Kick me again and you better have a gun drawn."

Ricky stared at him, more frustrated than angry. "Hey, don't go all prima-donna on me, *dong ma*? We got a job to do and I ain't likin' this either. Specially with that *hundan* hanging around her everywhere she goes. Can't get near enough to grab her."

"Then we grab 'em both."

He stared at Briny as if the man had lost his senses. "You mad?"

They were watching Serenity's crew passing buckets of water hand over hand in a chain, everyone pitching in to do whatever they could to put out the fire so they could save the ship. Part of him was even impressed with how quickly they had got themselves organised. He had expected blind panic. Hell. He had been *relying* on blind panic. These folk acted like they were melded together at the rutting hip. Obviously used to working together as a team. That was unexpected. Most transports he knew were made up of self serving individuals who did the minimum they could get away with and draw pay. These folks actually seemed to care. Getting the girl away without anyone noticing was going to be harder than he thought.

* * * * *

It took the best part of four hours to get the fire out and even then everyone made sure they had buckets of water handy in case there were any smouldering embers. Kaylee was beside herself with worry for the ship. Wash put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I'll help, Kaylee."

She did not look at him. She was looking at her beautiful ship. Truth to tell the physical damage was not as bad as she had expected though the wiring had to be replaced. None of it could be trusted now and that would be expensive. How the Captain would pay for it she did not know. A depression was setting in on her heart and soul. She blinked back the threat of tears and put her hand on one wall, still feeling the residue heat from the flames that had scorched through her when the explosion occurred. Wasn't it bad enough that the Captain had to be put back together again without them having to do the same for Serenity? Her head came up sharply as a thought occurred to her. Wash noticed. The others were not near them but busy with mops and brooms cleaning up as best they could. The smoke still thick in their lungs, the smell of it clinging to their clothing, the sooty residue blackening their hands. The Shepherd was busy organising everyone to assist in clean up duty. No idle hands permitted on this boat.

"*Shenme*? What is it, Kaylee? You okay sweetie?"

She turned to look at Wash, her eyes wide and a touch fearful. "Wash, what if this weren't no accident?"

He frowned. "What you sayin'?"

"Don't it strike you as a might suspicious? Look what happened to the Cap'n, now Serenity."

"You think the two are connected?"

"Seems some coincidence don't it?"

His expression set in grim lines. "Don't mention this to the Captain, Kaylee. He's got enough to deal with right now, *dong ma?"

She nodded. She would never do anything to hurt the Captain. "What we gonna do, Wash?"

"We're gonna fix Serenity."

"Ain't got no coin for repairs."

"Then we do what we can that don't cost coin. We clean everything up, make it all shiny. Then we take a good look and fix what can be fixed."

"An' what can't be fixed like the wirin'?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, okay? By then we may have come up with a plan."

"You think the Cap'n'll have his mem'ry back by then?"

He detected the cautious hope in her voice and felt cruel for not letting her embrace it but it would be wrong to let her think everything would be back to normal that soon. "No. I think whatever happened it'll take some time. Kaylee, we have to accept that the Captain may never get those memories back." His voice was gentle, his expression showing concern for her. He peered anxiously into her face, willing her to be strong. To rise to the challenge they *could* do something about. "You know the Captain. What would be the thing he would want you to concentrate on first? Him or his ship?"

She gave a watery smile. Didn't even have to think about that one. She bit her bottom lip, just a heartbeat away from tears. "The ship. He'd want me to fix Serenity."

"Then what do you say we do just that? Leave the doc to fix the Captain."

Kaylee nodded and went with Wash to the engine room. Her duty clear and her step becoming more decisive. Serenity was hurt and needed her. She patted the walls in sympathy as she walked making promises in her heart that she hoped she would be able to keep.

* * * * *

The proximity alarm roused Inara. Groggy and dizzy with pain it took her several moments to realise where she was and what the sound meant. Drawing on long years of companion training she forced herself to her feet, her long dress and velveteen robe hiding the trauma done to her body. On shaky legs she took a couple of steps to reach the console and realised she was approaching her destination. Her eyes widened in shock as she realised with a dull ache in her heart what she was looking at. The black smoke smudging the viewport and drifting up from Serenity. Inara dropped into her seat and stared, a shaky hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with alarm. Thoughts of her own pain momentarily forgotten.

"*Tian Yesu*, what happened?"

It was all she needed to buck herself up. Her training took over. Quickly she flicked her com switch to hail the Firefly transport. "Serenity this is Inara, are you there Wash? What happened?"

There was a slight delay then Wash's breathless voice came back to her. "We had an explosion in the engine room Inara."

Her face settled into worry lines. "Was anybody hurt?"

"No, we're all safe."

"Is it safe to reconnect or should I land alongside?"

Kaylee's voice came over the com. She sounded tired and strained but there was also happiness and relief in her voice at having Inara back. "Can you land alongside 'Nara? Serenity's gonna need some work before she'll be fit to fly again. It sure is good to have ya back."

"It's good to be back. See you soon."

She slumped as soon as the com was switched off. Relief and sorrow at war inside her. She chose her landing site and carefully brought the shuttle down. She knew she would have a little bit of grace before Kaylee came running over to the shuttle for talk and comfort, she must use that time wisely to get herself cleaned up and hide any sign of what had happened. Bad enough if Kaylee found out. The worst of all possible outcomes if Mal did. The thought of the Captain storming off to wreak vengeance and old fashioned justice on the body of Paul Santo might be tempting but was not to be contemplated. She had paid her debt and retrieved what was lost. The Captain did not need to know any of that. She should be able to put Kaylee off for a little while pleading weariness until her body had time to heal. Fortunately the sleeves of her robe hid the bruises on her upper arms. The other marks he had made were more intimate and would not be seen anyway.

Inara made sure the shuttle was locked then quickly got a bowl of water and a sponge. Lighting some incense she also lit several candles to induce a calming atmosphere then she stripped and knelt before the bowl, her mind clensing away every touch Paul had made, every word from his befouled lips, every mocking look and the feel of his body as it invaded hers. She washed herself over and over again, the water now stone cold, her body shivering, her mind locked in a cycle needing to be clensed. Her teeth beginning to chatter now as tears of anger and shame rolled down her face. But Inara knew even as she silently wept. All the water in the 'verse would never wash her clean.

* * * * *

"What do you think?"

Ricky stared at Briny with undisguised horror. "You are most definitely crazy. What if she recognises you? Some of those people look like they'd be right handy with weapons and none too shy about usin' them."

"Makes it more excitin' don't you think?"

He was suddenly angry. Grabbed Briny's shirt and drew him close, his lips peeled back in a snarl of barely held temper. "You stupid, useless *baichi*. We need the girl, nothin' else."

"But he's always with her." Briny whined.

"Then we separate 'em. We do not go walkin' up to that crew and ask them to hand her over. What happens if they get to wonderin' about that explosion? Thinkin' maybe it wasn't an accident? Might start puttin' two and two together and I got no mind to have my neck stretched because your brains don't reach that far."

"We're runnin' out of time," Wheedled Briny anxiously.

"I know it and I ain't happy you wastin' more of it with this foolishness. The explosion should'a been distraction enough for us to grab the girl while everybody panicked tryin' to put out the gorram fire. That didn't happen so we have to try somethin' else. That means we watch and wait. Bide our time, *dong ma*?"

"Why don't you just let me shoot 'em?"

"Because doom-brain there's more of them than us. Once you fire the first shot we got no element of surprise then every gun they got is gonna be pointin' at us."

Briny actually thought about that and felt his spirits sag. "This ain't workin' out how I imagined." He muttered glumly.

"Huh, you just figurin' that out?"

"Ricky?"

"Yeah?"

"I think we should get while the gettin's good."

"We can't leave without the girl, *ni bu dong ma*?"

"I'm thinkin' we can't leave with her."

For several minutes they just stared at each other. "We walk away," Said Ricky softly. "They'll send someone after us."

A long drawn out silence settled painfully between them. Briny shifted on the stony soil then leaned on a tree, a defeated look on his dirty face. His expression sour. "*Cao, zhen daomei*."

* * * * *

It was a long day. Everyone working hard to clean up the ship, even Yen Mah joined in. Her initial fright and worry disappearing as she played pranks on Mal when he was not looking. At first he did not suspect anything, thinking that the odd scent in the pale was to do with the muck he was washing off the walls and floors. Same as everybody else he was now in shirt sleeves, the sleeves rolled up, his stocking feet filthy where he had been treading in the soot and grime but no one really cared. The ship had to be repaired, the mess cleaned up and there was only them to do it. Simple maths. He did not bitch or curse about mucking in with the others and after a quick look passed between Jayne and Book it was everyone applying elbow grease to get the job done. Mal found the activity settled him some. All the dizzying thoughts in his head put to one side as he concentrated on the mundane. It was oddly calming.

He put his hand in the bucket to rinse the dirty cloth and jumped, dropping the cloth as something jumped under his hand startling him. "*Tamade! Zhe shi shenmo lan dongxi*?"

Yen Mah dropped to her knees, laughing so hard tears ran down her face. The Captain just stared at the frog in momentary non-comprehension. It croaked at him then hopped away. He turned to look at Yen Mah who was pointing at him, unable to control her mirth. Feigning anger he pounced on her and began to tickle her ruthlessly. She yelled and tried to bat his hands away, all the while laughing hysterically. She was making so much noise that Shepherd Book came to see what all the racket was about. When he saw the pair of them rolling about on the wet floor laughing and teasing each other a big grin washed over his solemn face. He shook his head and smiled. Despite what had happened to the Captain he could not bring himself to feel sorry for the pre-War version. God forgive him but it lightened his heart to see the man he had once been. Chasing hard on the heels of that thought was the knowledge of what had followed and as he walked quietly away a sadness settled over his heart and he prayed.

It was a very weary crew that at last put their cleaning gear away and gathered in the commons room. It was Zoe's turn to cook but no one really cared what ended up on their plates. They ate by rote, a kind of subdued atmosphere keeping talking to the minimum. Shepherd Book was last to join them and surprised the Captain by handing him a pair of old worn boots. The Captain looked at him. "You found my boots?"

He shook his head. "No, these are an old pair of mine. I thought they might be of use until you could get some new ones."

For a moment he seemed a little lost for words. Oddly touched. "That's mighty kind of you, Preacher."

Kaylee nudged him. "Aren't you gonna try 'em on?"

He smiled and pulled the boots on. They were a little tight but not a bad fit. He stomped his feet to push his toes right in and smiled. It sure felt fine to have something on his feet again. "They're shiny, *xei xei*. It was a kindly thought."

Embarrassed the Shepherd nodded and went to get something to eat. Zoe gave Wash a kiss on his cheek after he fed her some of his dinner then looked across the table at Kaylee. "What happened to Inara? I thought you said she would be here for dinner?"

"She's landed alongside Serenity but guess she's resting a little first."

Mal frowned. "Inara?"

Everyone looked at him suddenly realising he would not remember who she was. How in the nine hells were they going to explain? As if the turn in conversation had conjured her out of thin air, Inara Serra stepped into the commons room and was engulfed in a silence so profound that she almost turned around and walked out again. They looked at her with mixed expressions. She frowned. What the *diyu* was going on? Apart from the normal chaos of course. It was Kaylee who came to the rescue predictably enough.

"'Nara, what took you so long? Thought you'd be with us hours ago."

"I was more tired than I thought, must have fallen asleep."

Simon stared openly at her, noticing how pale her skin was and a fever brightness to her eyes that did not exactly proclaim the best of health. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask if she was alright when River dug him in the ribs. Hard. He turned to stare at her. "What was that for?"

"Rude to stare, bad to ask."

A little frown settled on his brow, voice lowered. "Why?"

"Not my story or yours. Eat your vegetables or you won't grow strong and healthy."

"We don't have any vegetables River, these are protein cubes."

River pushed the mush about with a fork, a look of distaste on her face. "Nature never tasted so much like cardboard and weeds."

He had to laugh lightly at that. "On that I must agree."

Jayne moved his chair to make room for Inara to get a seat at the table. Zoe filled a plate and passed it down the table to her. For a moment she just stared at her plate.

"Ain't much," Said Zoe self-consciously. "But I never pretended I was much of a cook."

Inara looked up with a smile. "I'm sure it'll be fine, Zoe. I was just realising I'm not that hungry."

Jayne was the only one stuffing his face as if afraid someone would snatch his plate away before he finished. He spoke with his mouth half full. "Guess you been eatin' all that fancy food and dancin' round ballrooms made of glass."

"Something like that." She said quietly.

A few cautious looks were exchanged. Kaylee did not notice, too please to have Inara back. Her only concern was getting the ship back up and running. She looked at the Captain and hesitated to say anything. He caught the look of concern on her face and put his fork down. He had finished eating anyway though was not sure how long it would stay in his stomach. If this was Zoe's cooking he hoped her turn didn't come around too often or he would like as not starve. "What's up, Kaylee? Looks like you swallowed a frog."

Yen Mah had to cover her mouth quickly so the food in it would not be spat out as she half-laughed and half-choked. Mal deliberately did not look at her but there was a sneaky little smile on his face.

"Um, it's okay Cap'n it's just Serenity's gonna need quite a few repairs."

He nodded, not expecting anything less. "Is that a problem?"

Kaylee stared down at her plate unwilling to voice what she was thinking. It was Wash that spoke up for her. "Yeah Mal, it is. Most of the wiring was damaged in the explosion and subsequent fire. The wiring we still got we can't rely on. Can't leave it as it is because it's like to fail on us when we're in the Black."

"And I'm guessin' that would be bad?"

Wash nodded. Kaylee bit her lip and nodded too. "It could leave us dead in space, Cap'n." She explained.

He looked from Kaylee across the table to where Wash sat. A little puzzled as to why they looked so worried. "But we can fix it, *dui*?"

They both nodded. Wash cleared his throat softly. "Yeah, fixin' it's not the problem. Finding the coin for the new wirin' and such is."

The dime dropped. He finally understood and realised they were all looking to him to provide the means to put that right. What was he, head of the gorram family? They sat him at the head of the table, called him *Captain*, told him this was his boat and now he was expected to pay for the damage following an explosion? All this and he was not even sure what the gorram he was doing with a boat in the first place. He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down to see Yen Mah looking up at him. "You got something to say on all this?" He asked, one eyebrow raised in query.

She shook her head. "*Bu qu*."

"Then what is it?"

Yen Mah picked up her empty plate and held it out to him.

"Still hungry, huh?"

She nodded. He sighed, huffed then tipped what was left on his plate on to hers.

"Go, eat, get hideous an' fat an' see if I care, *dong ma*?"

She grinned happily at him and took the offering. Smiles and chuckles rippled around the table and baffled Inara. She found herself staring at the Captain. There was something different about him. Softer. More approachable. Or maybe the child was just bringing out a side of him she had not seen before. The child. Inara switched her attention to the moon-faced girl happily munching on the drab and tasteless food. Who was she? Had they rescued her from somewhere or was she the daughter of a customer? She turned her head to find Simon staring at her. Questions waiting in his eyes that never made it to his lips. She knew he could tell something was wrong but a thousand dragons would not drag it from her. Some things were meant to remain private. Admitting she had let herself be raped was one of them.

After dinner Zoe managed to take Inara to one side and tell her what had happened while she had been gone. Inara's face, already too pale, lost the last of its' colour. "You mean he doesn't remember any of this?"

Zoe shook her head sadly. "Last thing Mal remembers is being on the ranch back on Shadow. No memory of the War, losing his family, he doesn't remember getting Serenity or any of the crew. I don't have the words to tell you how hard it was to tell him."

They walked along the catwalk and went to the spare shuttle. Neither wanted their conversation to be overheard. Inara sat down quickly. Zoe's eyes narrowed, sharper than Inara would have liked. "Are you alright, Inara?"

She nodded. "It's just a bit of a shock that's all. What with returning to find Serenity on fire and now this." Inara paused. "Who's the girl?"

Zoe smiled. "Her name's Yen Mah. After Mal got jumped and robbed she found him in some back alley and looked after him."

The Companion's eyebrows rose in surprise. Zoe laughed lightly.

"I know, seems hard to believe but Mal was insistent. He was still out of it and it seems Yen Mah went and got something to cover him and keep him dry when we had that downpour, she scrounged food and water from somewhere and for a couple of days they lived hand to mouth on what other people threw away."

"How did you find him if he can't remember?"

"We went looking. Split up into teams of two. I saw him talking to this Chinese girl. I was so relieved, it had been days and none of us knew what had happened to him. Then he looked at me like he hadn't seen me in years, said how much I had grown..." She broke off, bit her lip, then regained the composure to carry on. "It was hard I can tell you and convincing him that he is part of our lives here on Serenity was perhaps the hardest thing next to having to tell him about his brother."

"Brother?"

Zoe sighed. "He never talks about it but he had a younger brother, Davy. They pretty much idolised each other. After me and Mal went to war Davy pestered and bothered his ma until he could join the Independents. He wanted to fight alongside Mal only they didn't send him to Hera. It was only later that we found out through Mal's Uncle that Davy and his entire platoon were wiped out by Alliance troops. Never thought Mal was gonna get over it. So many losses, Inara, so much grief. It ain't right for one man to have to carry so much."

Inara did not know what to say. Her heart choked with emotion, her tongue tied up with the realisation that she would be a stranger to him. The feeling was one of almost panic. Why should it bother her? After all the times she had told him to stay away from her, all their silly pathetic arguments, the name calling, the abrasive sarcasm that passed between them in place of civilised conversation. And yet. Underneath the edged banter there was a mutual attraction that she fought daily. Never allowing him to get close. Even though every day a little more of her armour was chipped away. It took all her companion training to make sure he never knew. Now that would no longer be necessary. She was nothing to him. In fact she was less than nothing. Zoe looked at her in concern.

"Inara?"

"I'm alright Zoe. It was a very hard few days and I didn't sleep much."

That Zoe could believe, the dark shadows under the companion's eyes had been masked with makeup but the makeup was wearing off as Inara brushed a hand frequently across her face. She looked more than tired though.

"Come on," Said Zoe more gently than Inara would have expected. "I'll walk you back to your shuttle. We can talk about this tomorrow."

Inara paused and gave Zoe an intent look. "Will Mal be okay?"

Zoe nodded. "Simon says he'll be fine but we don't know if he'll get his memory back."

Inara said nothing. Tried to hang on to that reassurance and be grateful. How could she wish him to remember all the horrors of the war knowing as she did how little he slept nights reliving the nightmares and crying for those he could not save? How could she wish him to remember the sorrow of losing his family and friends? Of the final defeat at Serenity Valley, the pain of surrendering to a hated foe. The agony of being made an exile from his homeworld. Of having everything he had loved and fought for taken away from him leaving him with nothing. Bloodied but unbowed he had not buckled but started over again. This ship. Serenity. Was his love letter to lost dreams. His way of keeping faith with all he had lost and all those who had fought with him at that last battle. His cross and his salvation. No. She did not want him to remember all of that. Let him heal. Let the past remain where it belonged. As she walked with Zoe to her shuttle a small twinge of sorrow and regret admitted that it hurt that he would not remember her. A small thing. Insignificant really. Yet it burrowed deep in her heart and pained her. A dull ache that left her with an echo of emptiness she could do nothing to dispell. Some things should remain private. This was one of them.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand *shenme* = what *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *baichi* = idiot *ni bu dong ma* = don't you understand? *cao* = screw/fuck *zhen daomei* = just our luck *tamade* = fuck/fucking *zhe shi shenmo lan dongxi* = what the hell is this? *xei xei* = thanks *diyu* = hell *dui* = correct *bu qu* = no/no way *hundan* = bastard

COMMENTS

Tuesday, October 7, 2003 1:37 AM

KISPEXI2


I'm really enjoying this tale - if having loads of sharp little knives flung into your heart can be called enjoyment.

As always, looking forward to the next bit.


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