Over the Hills and Far Away - Ch 2
Thursday, February 16, 2006

Set after OIS. Much to Inara’s chagrin, Mal accepts a job offer that takes Serenity far away from New Melbourne and to an unremarkable moon called Three Hills.... Chapter Two. Book, Jayne, and River make their appearences. Wash shows Mal his gift for Zoe. Inara has a surprise.


Ch 2

Simon’s first thought of the morning – he was still half awake, half sleeping – was that the dream was more vivid than he remember. He’d had it many times before. He was always twenty-three years old, fresh out of medical school. It was raining. He was on a bus filled with members of his forth grade class. River, thirteen-years old, sat next to him in the back. “There’s this place,” she said, “that some of the other students go after class to compare notes… Thisbe and Carol think that I should come. Volger started pouting the second they said so, but he’s never liked me, so I really don’t care… the problem is, this place they meet is a bar… Mom and dad trust me, but they might be worried if someone sees me there… I’d never drink underage, but to be sitting their surrounded by the blue glasses…”

She smiled and laughed. “Wheel never stops turning. It matters.” He didn’t know what it meant, but the words frightened him. They made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. His heart began to race. River was still smiling. She rolled her eyes. “You shouldn’t be so nervous, Simon,” she said. The bus began to slow. “This is your stop. You need to get out now. Don’t trip on your way.”

Simon got off the bus in a daze. Suddenly, it’s midnight and still raining. He is in the middle of the woods. Through the trees he could see a bright red light. The hospital. Simon had an interview there before he could start his residency. He started walking forward. He felt like he was walking forever and forever without getting any closer. He fell. It took forever to fall, but finally he was face first into the mud. It was all over him, his cheeks. It felt so cold. At least it was supposed to. It felt strangely warm… He opened his eyes…

“In the name of… River!” He sat up like a shot, pushing her hands away. River, sitting on the bed, fully dressed, laugh. Her hands were covered in what looked like white paste. Simon looked at her in disbelief. His heart was racing. “River? What are you doing?”

She stopped laughing and smiled at him. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” She poked his nose with a porridge covered hand, jumped off the bed and wandered out of the room.

“River…” Simon called after her. He jumped out of bed and was heading towards the door when he felt something squishing under her foot. He looked down. The floor was covered in porridge. Sighing, Simon put a hand on his cheek. He could laugh. It seemed surreal.

It was then he heard a cheery humming floating in from the hall. “Good morning, sunshine. I was just dropping by to… Shèng niú! Simon!” Kaylee came rushing towards him. “You’re covered in…”

“I know what I’m covered in,” he said crossly, taking a step back. Kaylee broke out into a smile.

“Well, it ain’t no trouble. I’ll go get a sponge and fill some water an’ we’ll have ya’ cleaned up an’ lookin’ proper again in no time…”

Simon looked at her. Kaylee’s smile could light up a room. He’d never met a girl quite like her, so graceful and smart without ever trying to be, without ever having been taught how. She did as she pleased, felt her feelings purely. She never wanted anything that could be taken easily… she always tried so hard. She was standing there smiling at him.

But River was running around alone in the ship. The captain didn’t approve of that, and certainly wouldn’t mind telling him this – or giving him a good, square punch in the jaw over it. And she was covered in porridge. He was covered in porridge. Kaylee stepping forward again, her face still shining, ready to wipe his cheek with the sleeve of her brown coveralls...

“Kaylee, no,” Simon said, stepping back again, crossing his arms across his chest. Her face fell instantly. Simon flinched a bit, regretting his tone. But that didn’t change anything. He turned to Kaylee again. “Kaylee… I know you mean the best, but I don’t have time for this right now. River is getting puddles of breakfast all across the ship…” He waved his hand lamely and let out a frustrated sigh. “And all over me…”

Kaylee’s face changed. She was half-angry, half-hurt and at the same time trying not to seem angry or hurt. “Well, you get yourself washed up an’ I’ll go lookin’ for her.”

She started walking towards the door. “Kaylee…” She turned around, looked at him. He swallowed nervously. “Listen, you don’t have to. River isn’t your responsibility…”

The pool of regret in his heart grew even deeper as Kaylee’s face became more shadowed. “We’re all family here on Serenity an’ families do two things: they stick ‘gether and take care of each other. Don’t anyone else ‘round here know that?” She turned around. Before Simon could say anything, offer her any words of comfort, she was gone.


“You wouldn’t happen to have a box for this would you?” Mal looked at the small, blueish glass vial Wash was holding in his right hand.

“You wouldn’t happen to have our ETA, would you?” Mal asked, ignore the question completely.

“We should break atom within the hour,” Wash answered, turning away from Mal and putting his attention on Serenity’s helm. “Do you want me to send a wave to Ms. Zagorska?”

“Reckon that’d be the way of it,” Mal replied. It made a move to turn around and go, but stopped in the alcove of the room and turned around, his blue eyes resting on the gift Wash had now set down on helm next to a plastic brontosaurs. “What is that?”

“I got it for Zoe’s birthday the last time we were on Persephone,” Wash quickly explained, picking up with gift once more and holding it in his hand. “It’s a Lachrymatory.” Mal shot him a look. “A tear bottle,” Wash explained, “made of blue glass. The bottle is supposed to be filled with burn salve… Zoe does get burned occasionally…”

“Oh… that’s thoughtful,” Mal managed before handing the gift back to Wash.

“You think she’ll hate it again, don’t you?” Wash asked downtrodden.

Fond as he was of the truth, Mal knew that honesty was not his best policy. “Oh, that’s hard to…”

“It’s glass. Glass is pretty!” Wash interrupted enthusiastically before Mal had the chance to fumble through a white lie. “You can see through it. Put things in it. It doesn’t make any wacky noises or spin or smoke....”

Mal raised an eyebrow, once again suppressing memories from last year’s event, before he turned around and walked out of the room without further comment.

An hour until they landed on Three Hills. An hour. Mal could handle another hour. Once they were there and Mal had a job to do he supposed that he’d start feeling better, but at that moment he just felt numb, beyond caring about anything. Sleep hadn’t refreshed him. Talking with Wash, brief as their conversation had been, was agony. Being tactful, gracious, polite… his ma had always told him that as long as he treated others with those virtues he’d be on the shiny road in life. What a lie.

He searched for reason to blame his mood on, aside from the one that was true. The task would have been a lot easier if he had dreamed that night. He still on occasion would dream about being in the Valley… but not as much since Serenity had started flying. In fact, he couldn’t remember having had nightmares at all since about a week after Inara had first come on board.

He had started screaming and startled Kaylee so much that she had started screaming too, and loudly – loud enough to wake Inara all the way on the other side of the boat. Zoe quickly climbed down into his bunk and slapped him awake. He climbed out of his bunch to tell everyone that all was shiny and everyone was there: Jayne, leaning against the wall looking rather annoyed; Wash, standing a bit far away, arms crossed over his chest, looking down; Kaylee, so upset that she was shaking, letting Inara wrap her arms around her, her head resting on Inara’s breast; and Inara, her face radiating concern, yet somehow still managing to look as calm and unreadable as ever…

But he hadn’t had a nightmare last night. He hadn’t even thought a whole lot, all things considered. He had been worried that his spat with Inara would keep him up, but he’d fallen right to sleep. He’d woken up feeling comfortable, not too cold, but not too hot, neither. He quickly sponged, dressed, went up to the cockpit to see how the sailing was going, went to the engine room to make sure nothing had broken since he’d last popped in his head. Then for a while he stood above the cargo bay, leaning over the railings. Such a familiar stance. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her shuttle.

I was like being a kid again, trying to steal glances of the girls you liked when you knew that they weren’t looking… but the light in the shuttle didn’t even appear to be on yet. Unable to play the game any longer he retreated to what work he had. He talked with Zoe and Jayne about the job, asked Kaylee if there were any repairs she needed to make while they were docked. He considered talking to Simon about restocking the infirmary, but thought better of it. A morning seemed like a terrible thing to spoil with an overly intellectual rant by Doc Proper.

Mal took a moment to think on it. He did owe Simon a nice chat about the upcoming job and a few potentially meaningless assurances that everything would be fine and that he and River would be cozy as caterpillars. Lately, though, he and Simon hadn’t been getting along so well. Not that they had ever been buddies. No, there had always been distance between them, but before it had been comfortable distance.

Now, Simon was getting too comfortable for his own damn good. He seemed to think he had some sort of right to tell Mal how to run the ship, to insist that Mal make River’s protection his first priority. Now, Mal was getting to care for the girl something fierce, but that didn’t change the fact that the ship needed fuel and all stomach’s needed feeding. A few years ago, things had been easier. Mal had been able to pick and choose which jobs suited him and which jobs didn’t. Now that luxury was gone, pushed away by the Alliance, just like everything else.

Exhaling a sigh, Mal headed to the cargo bay with every intention of going down the stairs and having a good talk with the doc. He really would have, had Inara’s shuttle door not been open, its entrance half-way blocked by Jayne Cobb’s brute form.

“Oh, come on, ‘Nara,” Jayne said gruffly. Mal could just imagine the perverted smirk on the man’s face as he ambled towards Inara’s door. “Ain’t like you got another job waitin’ on Crap Hills Moon...”

Inara’s voice was piercing. “And you know this, how?”

“Oh come on…” Jayne squealed. Mal could see her now, standing protectively in front of her shuttle’s entrance, arms crossed, eyes flashing. She’d pulled her hair up already. The gown she wore was familiar, an oriental print that was pink by the shoulders and blue with green accents further down. Inara’s eyes left Jayne for a moment and rested on him, locked with his. He knew he wasn’t welcome here. She was still angry. And yet….

“You look… good,” he managed. Jayne turned around briefly, surprised by Mal’s voice.

“Jesus, Mal…” he started, but Mal wasn’t listening to him, wasn’t even looking at him. His eyes were still locked with Inara’s.

Inara flashed Mal one of her trademark smiles, the kind that never quite reached her eyes. “Thanks, Mal. You are, of course, charming as ever.”

“Well, that’s me, I ‘suppose. Always the shēn shì,” Mal answered. Maybe he was more welcome than he thought.

“Shēn shì … shǎ zi… it’s all a question of diction,” she retorted acidly. Maybe not. “Is there anything I can help you with, Captain?”

He resisted the urge to sigh. Instead, he tried to flash her a grin. It didn’t work quite the way he planned. Inara raised an eyebrow as Mal flashed her a strange half-smile that made him look sick to his stomach before turning away quickly and clearing his throat.

“Wait a gorram minute,” Jayne half-shouted before Mal could utter a word. “Did you just offer ‘im what I was just promisin’ to pay you good for? Cuz, let me tell ya’, if it comes between beddin’ me an’ Mal, you should know that I….”

“Shǎo luō suō, Jayne! I’m not going to sleep with either of you,” Inara said sternly, dark eyes darting back and forth between Mal and Jayne as if she desired to burn holes in both of them. Jayne snorted in indignation. Mal cleared his throat. It was uncomfortable, having her look at him that way. He wasn’t… “I happen to have a job,” Inara spat, “so if you’ll both excuse me, I have a shuttle to redecorate.”

She shut the door.

For roughly ten seconds Mal and Jayne both stood in front of the cold, shuttle door, equally stunned. “Huh,” Mal said at last. Then, shouting, he added, “we’ll be landing in about an hour!” before turning around to look for Simon.


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in…

The sound of muffled shouts disturbed his prayer. Shepard Book kept his eyes closed for several moments, listening in, letting the voices wash through him. Simon and Mal, arguing over the new job on Three Hills Moon. Simon said it was too dangerous for him and River. Mal said it wouldn’t be trouble as long as Simon remembered his place and kept his big mouth shut. Simon reminded Mal that he was gambling with their lives. Mal said he knew that, but he didn’t have a choice so Simon should just back off. Simon retorted that if Mal didn’t wake up and start using his pì huà yù fèi brain that he was going to get both of them killed….

“St. Francis of Assisi.” Her voice floated from the corner of the room where she sat, bear knees drawn to her chest, slender arms hugging them to her. She rested her chin there, eyes looking down at the floor, at the ship. She had wandered in earlier that morning, hands covered in porridge. He and Kaylee spent a quarter of an hour getting all of it off of her, digging it out from under her fingernails much to her duress. After that, she had gone silent. She refused to move, even when Simon had come to get her. Book told him that having her in the room was no trouble. It hadn’t been. River had sat silently for hours. Now, she spoke. “All his father’s finest wine down his throat. It laughed on the way down. He stumbled, stumbled down, around and around, all around the town.”

Book stood then, knees just slightly stiff after a long time kneeling in prayer. He walked over to her corner. She looked up at him and smiled. He smiled back, taking a seat across from her on the bed. “St. Francis had been known to drink in his youth, but that isn’t important about him,” Book told calmly. “What’s important is what he became. Do you know anything about that, River?”

“Became a saint,” she said. “Patron of animals. Thought Earth-That-Was was God’s way of showing man enlightenment… then the Earth was taken away.”

“It wasn’t taken away, River, we used it up,” Book said softly. “But then God gave us hundreds of new earths to come to, so that we might have a second chance to find our peace.”

It was the wrong thing to say. River stood up violently. “Chance.” She began pacing. “Something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause. The assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happening. The fortuitous or incalculable element in existence….”

“River…” He tried to calm her.

“A situation favoring some purpose,” she continued. “A fielding opportunity in baseball. The possibility of a particular outcome in an uncertain situation; the degree of likelihood of such an outcome. Risk.” She stopped dead in her tracks. “It was never really there. Just an idea dressed in gossamer to make you think there are wings on it… but everything falls down, it all gets sucked in.” She looked at him. “You were lying,” she accused. “Crime and punishment don’t bend. Everything decided in advance. God lied when he gave this to us.” She erupted, throwing herself onto his bed, then pulling the sheets off and she slipped onto the floor. He was at her side instantly.

“No.” She whispered it. She was calm again, backing away from him. “Don’t deal in chances. Deal in humps.”

Her words made his heart stop beating. Ice spread throughout his chest, stealing his breath. She made her way to the bed in a flash, fixing the covers as his stood there, transfixed, lost in his memories.

The voices in the hall quieted. Simon Tam burst into the room. “River, it’s time to take your medicine.”

She stepped away from the bed, looking at her brother, and then turned to Book again. “Patron of ecologist. Patron of lacemakers. Patron of birds. Patron of tapestry makers.” Then, she whispered, “patron against dying alone.”

Simon’s eyes darted towards Book. The Shepard felt like a deer in headlights. He felt naked, caught off guard. He felt like a recruit, like a boy whose hands whimpered because they didn’t have the right calluses yet and it hurt to hold the gun. Book shrugged at Simon who nodded back, giving Book a look that seemed to say, ‘I never know what she is saying, either,’ before the boy gently placed an arm around his sister and led her out of the room.

Book was pacing as soon as the door closed. She knew everything. It wasn’t a question. She was a reader. She knew what he thought, what he remembered. Book took a breath, calming himself. It didn’t mean anything, he told himself. What she said didn’t mean anything. The others would never understand her mumblings, and if they did, who could believe that Book had ever been that man? River was not a threat. This did not mean that River was a threat. This would not mean that he would have to… Book stopped himself from thinking it. Immediately, his body surged with two feelings he thought he had purged from his soul long ago: Fear and Loathing. He took another calming breath. He didn’t think that way anymore. He didn’t…

“Attention, this is your captain speaking,” said the disembodied voice of Malcolm Reynolds. “We’ll be landing on Three Hills in the next ten minutes. Anyone who got plans to meet folk dirt side best be headin’ to the cargo bay. All folk who don’t best be stayin’ quiet.”

Book let his body relax. He didn’t think that way anymore. Falling to his knees, Shepard Book resumed his prayer…

For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


Inara stood calmly, watching Mal shuffle his feat as they waiting for their clients to come. Zoe stood in between them, silent and sturdy as a wall. Inara was grateful for this. She nodded at Zoe ever so slightly to communicate this. Zoe nodded back, message received. This was one of Inara’s favorite things about Zoe. The woman didn’t need words to communicate. The two had had multiple conversations using nothing but body language. A look here. A gesture there.

Part of Inara told her that she wouldn’t miss this when she left Serenity. It told her that she could head back to the core, perhaps, back to House Madrassa, even, and live again among companions. When she was there, she would talk this way with them. They would say superficial words to one another with their mouths, but communicate what was truly important with their fingers and the gentle curve of their eyebrows. Inara’s heart knew better than this. She knew what she stood to lose.

“They’re comin’, sir. Thirty degrees westward,” Zoe’s voice rang. Both Mal and Inara instantly looked west.

“There they’re comin’,” Mal confirmed. Inara could see them too. They were driving a mule not dissimilar to the one sitting in Serenity’s cargo hold. Inara could make out three figures: A petite girl with wild, strawberry blond hair in the middle, a dark-skinned boy driving, and in the passenger seat her client, a 5’11, twenty-three year old young man with brown hair and hazel colored eyes: Gilbert Cane.

“Welcome,” Mal called to them as they approached. The dark-skinned boy stopped the mule with relative ease. The trio stood up and stepped out of the vehicle, approaching Inara, Zoe, and Mal with excitement they didn’t hide.

“Howdy, Captain,” said the blond. “I’m Heather, and these two clowns are Gilbert and Rye.” She extended her hand. Mal took it. “Good to meet face to face, ain’t it?” she asked him with a wicked smile. Her smile…

“Indeed it is,” Mal said. “This here is Zoe and this here is Inara. She’s a ‘companion’. Got papers and everything… your sheep do too I imagine, as well as… oh, let me see…”

“Yes,” said Gilbert, interrupting Mal and stepping towards Inara, “we spoke over the cortex.” For a moment he stood before her, at a loss for words. Inara knew him instantly. His posture was sub-par. He had issues with self-doubt, resulting in mild discomfort when placed in unfamiliar social situations. He held his chin up too high. He thought too hard about being formal, being proper. “My screen did not do you justice,” he said quickly. His gaze flicked downwards. His jaw was, tense. He looked back up at her and attempted to smile. “You radiate.”

“Mr. Cane, you’re too kind,” she said with the appropriate blush. She extended her hand to him when she felt and aggressive hand on her shoulder.

“Well, enough with the pleasantries,” Mal said. Inara let her hand fall to her side. Anger. Why did he do this to her? Did he think, somehow, that it would change.… Mal was acting completely juvenile. Inara shot Gilbert Cane a tired smile. Nervously, he smiled back. Mal’s hand on her shoulder began to squeeze.

Abruptly Mal let go and began heading towards the ramp. Inara took a step towards Gilbert, offering him her arm. With a sideward glance towards Heather, he accepted. Inara noticed that they girl’s eyebrows were raised. “Heather, Rye, Gilbert,” he said the last name with heavy emphasis, “welcome to Serenity.”

. . . . . . . . Translations: Shèng niú… Holy Cow

shēn shì… gentleman

shǎ zi… fool

Shǎo luō suō… shut up

Pì huà yù fèi… full-of-shit baboon

Thanks you so much for reviewing last chapter! It was a joy reading them all -- keep them coming! In chapter three expect the proper introduction of Heather Zagorska and Gilbert Cane, as well as a... special development in Wash’s quest to give Zoe a perfect birthday....


Friday, February 17, 2006 3:17 AM


Another extremely well written piece. I like porridge River! Seems like something she might do.

Wondering what happened on Zoe's last birthday!

Looking forward to the next chapter.


Friday, February 17, 2006 3:25 AM


I want to find out what happens next.

Is something going to happen with the Shepherd I wonder?

And I look forward to Wash's next present effort.

Friday, February 17, 2006 8:52 AM


Lovely new part! I've been looking forward to a continuation of this, and it's great to see the intriguing nature of the story kept up. :)

Especially the flow of River's conversations, the way they tied into each other, making sense to her but not to the others... that appealed to me a lot.

Heather and Gilbert are especially interesting, too. :) Inara's response was spot-on, immediately reading every useful detail and starting to form the correct response to her client.

And then Mal. *sigh*

"Inara shot Gilbert Cane a tired smile. Nervously, he smiled back. Mal’s hand on her shoulder began to squeeze."

Loved that image. :)

Can't wait to see what the new guys will bring!


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