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STOLEN MOMENTS: 17. "Strength"
Tuesday, May 3, 2005

"The Captain finds out what Simon has done. Kaylee is distraught over the Companion's decision to leave."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2602    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "STRENGTH" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Inara/Mal. Simon. River. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: SEQUEL to "WEAKNESS" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "The Captain finds out what Simon has done. Kaylee is distraught over the Companion's decision to leave." 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.

"STRENGTH"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The realisation came swift and hard, an unexpected rush of emotion that hit him like a physical blow. His psyche huffed with the impact, his mind shuddered. A ripple provoking a deep swell of anger fueled by betrayal. It was River's soothing thoughts that muted his reaction to the pain. Her presence in his mind holding his emotions in check and allowing the fury to dissipate leaving nothing but a lingering sense of loss like a fading echo. Sorrow engulfed him. An aftertaste of disappointment so intense he was disturbed by the depth of it. River was sorry, tried to explain through the empathic resonance her mind had automatically forged with his. From the first moment they had met some non-verbal link had formed between them. A knowing that neither had been consciously aware of embracing but which had tempered their reaction to each other ever since. As automatic as breathing, as instinctual as souls that had known each other in some previous life meeting again. Consciously strangers but recognising one another deep within their souls.

When the Captain finally opened his eyes the knowledge shone in them. He knew now what Simon had done and the why of it. It did not make it right, nothing could do that, but Mal saw the reason behind the doctor's actions. Biting back the desire to knock the boy off his feet he did the next best thing and buried those feelings deep where they would not betray him. He knew he could never deliberately do anything which would harm River. He did not even want to hurt Simon but the temptation to lash out was something he would have to hold in check along with his temper. Best the doc stayed out of his way for the next few days. Better yet if it was weeks. Understanding what motivated the boy was one thing, forgiving him another. As he calmed River's thoughts expanded in his mind, not in words or pictures even but in a merging that brought relief. Oil on troubled waters. Slowly she drew him deeper into his meditation. Deep enough to distance him from his anger and pain. To a place where healing could begin.

* * * * *

Kaylee was transfixed. She could not take her eyes off the horses, her face alight with joy. Mesmerised. Belatedly she realised Jayne had come to stand next to her. "Ain't they the prettiest things ya ever seen, Jayne?"

"They ain't stayin'."

"I know that it's just nice to have 'em here. They're so shiny. An' see that one with the white blaze on its' face? She's the shiniest of 'em all."

Jayne huffed. "That she's a he."

Kaylee leaned down and tilted her head to get a good look under the horse. "Oh, well that don't matter." She said straightening, her smile getting even brighter. "Still shiny."

"Cap won't let ya keep one."

"*Wo zhidao*."

"First ya wanted a cat then a dog, now a ruttin' horse!" He muttered loudly. "What next? This ain't no gorram zoo."

The Shepherd's amused voice responded before Kaylee could. Neither had heard him join them. "I'm not so sure about that, Jayne."

The big man turned his head and frowned at Book. "Huh?"

Amused, Book let his gaze sweep the ship before coming back to rest on the mercenary. "It may not be an Ark, and the animals didn't board two by two..."

"I ain't no ruttin' animal."

"Actually Jayne you are." Chimed in the doctor as he joined them.

Jayne turned to glare at Simon.

"What Simon means," Began the Shepherd in an attempt to head off trouble.

"I know what he meant." Growled Jayne angrily.

Just then Wash's voice came over the com advising everybody they were about to land. Simon hurried back to the infirmary to do a last check of much needed supplies. Jayne looked at Kaylee's crumpled face, he hadn't meant to upset with his comments about the horses. "They're on'y dumb animals." He muttered in an apologetic tone. He almost sounded as if he would smarten them up for her if he could.

Kaylee wiped the start of tears from her eyes. "Ain't that."

He scowled, noticing she looked as if she wanted to cry again. The Shepherd gave the mechanic a closer look. Now that he thought about it the girl's earlier good humour had seemed a mite excessive. "*Shenme shi*, Kaylee?"

His soft, gentle tone was too much and this time she made no attempt to stop the tears rolling down her face. "'Nara's leavin'."

The mercenary snorted. "Again?"

Book glared at him. "Jayne!"

"*Shenme*? It's not like she ain't said it before."

The ship made a perfect touch down. A loud clatter on the metal stairs preceded Zoe, Mal and Wash. Simon followed with his list in hand and caught the Captain's eye with the flutter of paper. "I thought while we were here we might as well stock up on our supplies, Captain."

Mal nodded. "Shiny."

Shepherd Book noticed the Captain's air of distraction and was minded of Kaylee's comment. "I hear Inara's leaving?" The Captain gave him a sharp look. "She tell you that?"

"Well no, actually..."

"Then 'till it happens it's just words, *dong ma*?"

Book noticed how tense the man was and realised that Kaylee was not the only one upset. He also noticed the Captain appeared to be giving Simon something of a wide berth which was odd. As for Simon, the boy looked as if he wanted to draw as little attention to himself as possible. Having made his pitch for more supplies he fell silent and awkward. Book knew why but it was still painful to see how on edge the doctor was. Fortunately the Captain was not looking at Simon and Book dared to hope he was the only one who had noticed.

A noise behind them had everyone turning as Inara Serra began to descend the metal staircase in her travelling clothes. Only the Captain did not make any move, as if he had a hidden radar where the Companion was concerned. Inara did not spare him a glance but kept her expression as calm and serene as the day they first met her. A smile for Kaylee, a nod for Shepherd Book, a few words for Simon and River, a glance Jayne's way and a smile for Wash. Zoe tried not to frown but her disquiet was seeping through and Inara had noticed. When she reached the bottom step Inara turned to face them, ignoring the way the Captain was staring at the cargo bay door. Only the tension throbbing along his jaw gave a lie to the nonchalence he affected.

"I have decided to leave Serenity." She said.

Kaylee could not bring herself to speak, she had already tried every tactic she could think of to persuade her friend to stay. Shepherd Book looked at her in a kindly manner but still seemed a mite puzzled. "If I may ask, is this a temporary leave taking? For if it is not you will be sorely missed." Book paused just a fraction as if to provide subtle emphasis on his last words. "By all of us."

River was watching Inara closely, Simon moving to put an arm around a very emotional mechanic. Wash looked upset, Zoe sad but stoic. Simon wished he could do something. "You don't have to go." He tried.

"Yes, yes I do." True regret tinged the bald words. "I've already stayed too long."

The Shepherd looked at the Captain but Malcolm Reynolds did not react. One by one Inara said goodbye to the crew causing even Jayne to feel a stab of sorrow but stronger than that was his feeling of confusion. "Don't make sense," He muttered as she reached him. "Ya gotta place here. Your own shuttle, folks that'll do for ya."

If she was surprised by his words Inara did not show it. She paused at last next to the Captain. Her words were sharper than she had intended. "You get your wish."

Stung by her words he turned his head and looked her right in the eye. "This ain't no wish of mine. Not me chasin' you to go."

"Or stay." Murmured Wash so low that only Zoe heard him. Her glare stopped him saying anything else though his eyes were mournful as he wondered what the good gorram the Captain had done to upset the Companion now.

"Can't run from the past, Inara." Mal said softly.

"I'm not running, Mal. This is something I have to do."

He stared at her for a long minute then turned his head to look towards Zoe and Jayne. "Best we get these horses to Lord Warwick." He locked gazes with Inara one last time. With just a nod he said the only goodbye he was going to give her then strode over to the makeshift coral and picked out a horse to saddle up. Jayne paused, gave Inara a nod then followed his Captain. Zoe took a step towards Inara and dropped her voice low, not wanting the Preacher or anyone else to eavesdrop. "You don't have to leave."

"I do, Zoe." Inara paused and lifted her head a little, a certain pride underlining her quiet dignity. "It's not what you think."

Zoe's eyes narrowed. "Then why are you going?"

"To everything there is a season."

Zoe shook her head. "*That's a pile of *goushi* and you know it."

"I won't promise to return because I don't want to lie to you but take care of each other, promise me you'll do that?"

Serenity's second-in-command nodded, knowing Inara was really asking her to watch out for Mal. Not that Zoe wouldn't do that anyway but it was Inara's way of telling her she was not going because of him. Instead of reassuring her it just made Zoe uneasy. Inara gave Kaylee a hug. Simon wished her well and hoped she would come visit, Shepherd Book said he would remember her in his prayers and assured her she would always be welcome should she decide to return. River tilted her pale face and seemed particularly coherent for a change. "Sometimes you have to leave the things you love to know how much they matter."

"I know, River."

River shook her head. "*Bu qu*, you don't. Wrong faces. The image in the mirror isn't yours."

Simon stepped away from Kaylee and reached for his sister. "River?"

"You worry too much, Simon."

The Captain's voice rang through the awkward silence that followed. "Zoe, need to be moving these horses now, *dong ma*?"

Zoe nodded, said goodbye to Inara and strode over to the horse Jayne had saddled up for her. Both the mercenary and the Captain were now mounted and waiting, their select herd starting to get impatient. Still crying, Kaylee could hardly bear to watch. Shepherd Book offered to ferry Inara's things for her using the mule. As the horses were herded out of the hold and onto the dusty ground outside, the Captain paused alongside the Companion and leaned low over his mount's neck. "You sure about this?"

She nodded, unable to trust her voice. Before she could step back to allow the horse and rider to pass, Mal leaned lower and brushed his warm lips over hers. The unexpectedly tender gesture startling a tear upon her cheek, her eyes fluttering closed to hide the emotion trapped inside. By the time she opened them again the Captain was gone, the horses following him out, Jayne slapping the flat of his right hand on his horse's flank and clearly enjoying being active, Zoe bringing up the rear and saying nothing.

The dust churned up by so many passing hooves began to settle slowly. River watched as Inara stepped out of the ship and walked down the ramp as two Companions came to the ship's ramp to meet her. Shepherd Book brought the mule piled with Inara's possessions down the ramp after them. Silence clung to the rest of them as the dust settled, only broken when Kaylee clutched Simon's shirt front and buried her face against his chest to muffle her sobs. Gently he rocked her in his arms. Dry eyed River did not seem distressed. "Trust to gravity, Simon."

He blinked, puzzled. River flashed him a bright sunny smile then looked lovingly at her brother. "It always brings you back down to Earth."

Automatically he corrected her. "This isn't Earth, *mei mei*."

River leaned in to him. "And this isn't goodbye."

He stared at her nonplussed as his oh-so-gifted sister turned and danced back into the ship. Wash was not sure what to think. Kaylee lifted her tear stained face, a glimmer of hope hesitating in her eyes. "Is 'Nara comin' back?"

"*Wo bu zhidao, bao bei*," Said Simon. Wishing, not for the first time, that he could have a normal conversation with his sister. Especially about the things that mattered. "Come on, let's go and get something to drink."

Wash closed the cargo bay door and locked it. To Simon the loud metallic clang sounded like the end of an era. He had thought Inara weak for leaving. Now he realised it was not weakness but strength. Idly he wondered if, when the time came, he would be able to leave with half as much dignity. River had been right, this ragtag band of people were more than a ship's crew. They were family.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wo zhidao* = I know *shenme shi* = what's the matter *shenme* = what *dong ma* = understand *goushi* = crap/dog shit *mei mei* = little sister *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *bao bei* = precious/treasure

COMMENTS

Tuesday, May 3, 2005 6:13 PM

CLIOMUSE


Another great installment. Why, oh why don't they listen to River? More please!

Tuesday, May 3, 2005 10:40 PM

MISSJASADIN


she left! *sobs*

continue plz

Sunday, May 8, 2005 12:16 PM

KAYSKY


Okay, that last paragraph was excellent. It's so sad Inara left. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she's going to come back.

Another great chapter, Ali! I can't wait to read the next!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005 7:16 AM

KISPEXI2


At last - a spare moment to begin to catch up. (This is what comes of taking time off to ogle the Captain! Too much work to do when you come back).

I nearly squealed when Mal kissed Inara. That was very moving. If I wasn't sure she'll come back, it would have been very sad.


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