BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

ARCADIA

Over The Hills and Far Away - Ch 5
Thursday, March 9, 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... Ch 5, the aftermath of Heather's prank.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2720    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Ch 5

February 14, 2507. Sihnon. House Madrassa, bedchamber of Inara Serra.

Time had gone from being Layla Serra's enemy to her dear friend. As she zoned in and out of listening to her mother's lecture, Inara could not keep herself from marveling at how different the woman before her was from the one Inara remembered in her youth. The most obvious difference was the clothes. Layla Serra wore much finer garments now, much more fitting of the class to which she now aspired. There were advantages to having a companion has a daughter, including an almost instant rise in class. Layla had been milking every moment of it for the last five months. She attended dinners, bought herself feathered hats and studded purses, indulged in anti-aging treatments and days at the spa. "… please, Inara, assure me that you'll be taking another client soon."

The words intruded upon Inara's reverie. She looked up at her mother with heavy eyes. "I'm ill," she said quietly. She was. Her ailment had struck her without warning nearly two weeks before. The fever, than the dizziness and the nausea, then muscle aches, double vision, occasional shortness of breath… She was recovering now, but for days she had dreaded leaving her bed for anything. "I will take another client when I am feeling better."

"Inara…" The older Serra rose from the corner of Inara's bed, where she had been sitting for the better part of an hour. Inara watched as Layla paced the room, stop every so often to rub her hand across the surface of Inara's curtains or to admire herself in Inara's mirror. Inara could see how the environment rattled her, just a little, how it made her lose control just a little. Inara couldn't blame her. Layla Serra was living in her dream world. At first, it had been heart-warming, knowing that she had given her mother what she had always… but now, it was something else. Inara studied her mother's back as Layla traced the expression of the Buddha statue in Inara's corner. "A companion not working on St. Valentine's…" Layla trailed off. She turned around to look her daughter in the eyes. "Inara, tell me, are you having second thoughts?"

Inara ran her hands through her long, dark hair. "Jīn shēng shì nǎ xiē yuàn yì, fán shì yuàn yì," Inara said in her most soothing voice, pushing herself into a sitting position and folding her hands neatly on her lap. There were times when talking with her mother felt more like talking to a client than anything. "I promise you, mother, as soon as I am well, I will be seeing clients again. In fact, I already have a gentlemen secured."

A smile spread across Layla Serra's face. "Bao bei, this news lightens my heart." She crossed the room and sat down beside Inara on the bed again, took Inara's hand into her own. "You must understand, my dear, that I worry for you. It's a mother's job to worry about her daughter. Such a prolonged illness so early in your career, Inara, can only hinder your standing in the eyes of the House Mistress, and if you ever want any true authority…"

"Say no more," Inara said, cutting her mother off with her most soothing smile. "House Mistress Sato has been to see me twice since I fell ill. She stayed with me throughout my visit with the doctor. She has been nothing but kind to me," Inara explain, squeezing her mother's hands between her own. "Mǔ qīn, I know you may think that she treated me thusly only for the sake of manners, but let me assure you, it has not been merely show. My darling Nandi has mentioned on several occasions that House Mistress Sato has come to her to inquire about my health and offered any aid that may be required. She sees me as more than a business associate. She is concerned for me. I am certain that when Lady Melisande retires next autumn, Sato will be willing to forgive my hiatus as she concerns Lady Melisande's replacement in the higher ranks."

Inara continued to smile at her mother as the woman expressed her relief. It was an act, a show. When she was with clients, she relished it, reading their every glance, finding out exactly want she needed to do, needed to say, to grant them serenity. Navigating through life living with fellow Companions was complicated, but Inara relished in this too, in the challenge. She didn't like smiling at her mother as if everything were all right. It was an unnatural pretending. What Inara wanted to tell her mother was that being ill was frightening, that she tired of the fever, that she was frustrated with the doctors who didn't know what was causing it, that she, too, worried that it would inhibit her career, especially having hit her only months after she began her work. Instead, she was smiling, holding her mother's hand.

"So tell me about him," Layla said, her tone excited, as if she was one of the school girls Inara had befriended during her training, giggling with her behind closed doors when they were sure that no instructor could hear them, gossiping about the men. "Tell be about the gentleman you're going to bed when you're well. Have you met him before?"

"Not yet," Inara answered honestly. "He's… Dougray Bonamici vouches for him. He asked that I see this client as a favor, a request," Inara quickly corrected.

Layla Serra's brow furrowed. She had not missed Inara's slip of tongue. "A favor?" she asked. "Are you sure it's wise to do your client's favors?"

"Dougray has become more than a client to me," Inara admitted. Seeing her mother cringe at these words made her want to cry. "He is a dear friend, an advisor of sorts, a person whom I can trust in such a place where… such a place where you must be certain that nobody knows your secrets.”

"Of course," Layla said. Inara sensed that her mother wanted to argue this point. She was grateful that she didn't. Layla smiled, a strained smile. "Do you, at least, know this client's name?"

"Yes," Inara answered. "His name is Abaddon Jiang."

~*~

The aftermath had gone a bit differently than Mal had expected. At first, things had been fairly standard. Kentdale had risen immediately, calling for people to settle down, apologizing for the horrible stunt that those against unity and progress had preformed, and vowing not to let it happen again. He was a good speaker, the way some said Mal… Kentdale could do more than just make you listen; he could make you believe in every word he said. Quickly, the offending sight of dead lambs and blood-stained alliance flags were removed. Kentdale and Woo personally apologized to every guest as they left, until finally only Woo, Kentdale, Mal, Heather, Gilbert Crane, and Inara were left in the room.

"Well, that was certainly…" began Senator Woo, addressing Inara.

"It was a bout of unpleasantness," Mal interrupted, a frown on his face. He turned to Kentdale, looking the burly man straight in the eye. "It's the kind of thing that discourages a man from settlin' on such an otherwise agreeable rock as this 'en when he might otherwise." It was a calculated risk. If Kentdale saw straight through Mal, knew that he was lying, then it would be best Mal knew now so that he could take Serenity and skedaddle. But if Kentdale bought the lie, and if Mal was certain about anything, he knew he could lie, then all suspicions would be lifted.

"Mr. Reynolds," Kentdale said with a small bow, "please, allow me to give you my personal assurances that this matter will be taken care of. Please, let me invite you into my office. Mr. Crane, if you and Lady Serra would like to come as well…"

Mal took Heather's arm and followed him. Kentdale bought the lie. Mal gave his employer's arm a small squeeze as they walked, letting her know that this was a good sign. If Mal could get through the meeting without screwing it up, they'd be shiny.

Kentdale's office was not was Mal had expected. It was roomy. There was a desk at the north end, but the majority of the room was filled with parlor chairs, easily enough furniture to seat a dozen men. The decor was warm, inviting. It looked like a room designed to entertain more than a place of governing. There were paintings of the wall of Three Hills, its scenery, its settlers. On the south wall opposite the desk there was a white piano. It was like a home.

"Would you oblige us, Lady Serra?" Woo said as she began preparing tea while Mal, Kentdale and the others sat down.

"It would be my pleasure," Inara replied with a bow of her head as she stood up, crossed the room, and sat down on the piano. "Is there anyone in particular whom you would like to here?"

Mal saw Woo smile, the same chilly smile from before. "Beethoven's Sonata 29," she said quietly. "It's been ages since I've heard a decent rendition of it."

Mal heard Inara's blush rather than saw it. He could read her voice as if it was her face, he could… "I'm afraid I won't be up to your standards, Lady Senator," said Inara in her most pleasant voice, "my opportunities to practice have been… limited since I left Sihnon. It's been a long time since I was asked to play."

"Ah, but you see, I have heard of your, Inara Serra," said Woo, pouring tea and handing it to Heather, then to Gilbert, "My cousin-in-law, Aiko Sato, once told me that you were among the most gifted pianists she had ever had the pleasure of serving with. She said that you don't play the instrument, your heart beats through it. Such a high compliment coming from such a woman… I'm afraid you must forgive my imagination," Woo handed a tea cup to Mal, who flinched as he took a sip of liquid that was far too hot, "in my mind, a samurai could come and cut off all ten of your fingers one by one, and yet some how…"

Inara began to play.

She's told him a thousand, probably closer to a million, times that being a companion was about far more than sex, and he'd known she wasn't lying. Mal knew that companions went through years of schooling, learned about art, literature, language… yet somehow, none of it had ever been real to him until she began to play.

"There's been a lot more anti-industrialization sentiment than I am quite comfortable with," said Mayor Kentdale, putting his tea down on the table that rested between him and Mal. "As lacking as this moon is in riches and refinement… people… its human nature. People want to keep what's theirs. They've been living quietly here on Three Hills for generations. It's pleasant. Not many people come. Not too many go. Everyone knows everybody else. There's community here, family. They're afraid that opening this factory will take all of that away.”

"Well, rightly so," Mal said, placing his tea cup on the table as well. "This will be a big change, Mr. Mayor, if you don't mind me saying so."

"Yes," said Woo, holding her tiny tea cup between two perfectly manicured fingers. "This will be quite a change for everyone, but believe me when I say that it will be for the best. That factory will generate more money for this planet that simple shepherding has in the last decade, perhaps the last two decades. This could be a large improvement for these people, Mr. Reynolds. More business will come. More settlers will come looking for work. In a few years, no one will remember that Three Hills was once considered a backwards moon. It will be a center of dignity, culture."

"Yes, and that is something excitin'," piped in Heather Zagorska, leaning forward. "S'pose there are just some folk that don't see it that way."

"Well, yes, certainly that is the case," replied Kentdale.

And all the while, Inara played. Her notes blew through Mal like the wind, a playful breeze, stirring something inside of him, his heart, his… Her playing was entrancing. He almost felt that he was dancing, or flying. Inara did play with her heart. Mal was listening to her heartbeat, and her heart was wild, it was wounded, it was gentle, proud, it was… Mal noticed that Heather was speaking now. He faced her politely, hoping that he seemed to know what was being said but… Sometimes, it was like listening to a ghost walk by and not knowing how to feel about it, not knowing whether to be terrified or agonized or simply overjoyed… Mal could feel his heart straining to be part of the melody, he could feel her heart inside the note and he could feel his heart….

He wondered if there was any money in smuggling pianos. He wondered whether he could find a job smuggling if Inara could join him in the cargo hold as she occasionally did. He could offer her some of Kaylee's wine and then convince her to look at the pianos and get him to tell her which one she liked best. Then he could forget… forget to take it out of the cargo hold when they were unloading the stock…. And maybe then on nights when he couldn't sleep instead of listening to Kaylee's engine's hum he could listen….

The first movement was over. Woo was pouring everyone a second cup of tea. "….that isn't to say that the concerns of our poorest residents don't matter. All of this moon's people matter," Kentdale was saying, his eyes locked with Heather's. "It's just that…."

"No, please, you don't need to defend yourself to me," Heather said, smiling pleasantly. "I truly do understand, Mayor."

"Really, Morris," Gilbert squeaked, his first contribution to the conversation.

"Yes, yes," Mal said, mirroring the sentiments of the others, "that we do. That we do."

~*~

Kaylee walked into the bridge with a degree of reluctance. Wash was there, sitting at the helm. He was sitting, staring aimlessly into space. The dinosaurs that often caught him playing with when she walked in were discarded on the floor lying still on their sides. These were not good signs. In fact, they were terrible signs. “Hey, Wash,” she managed somewhat lamely.

“Kaylee, Kaylee, Kaylee…” He trailed off. “Did you know that your name is funny?”

She was a bit taken aback. “I, umm….”

“It’s the hard K sound,” he said, still staring, not turning to look at her at all. She could see his face reflected in the glass. “Chicken, quiche, cocktail… all funny words because if they have the hard K. End your joke with a sound then ends in a hard K and twice as many people will laugh. K is funny. If I could only find a joke that ended with the phrase Kaylee the Caring Koala…”

Kaylee, looked away, turning around to face the bulkhead behind her. Her eyes were welling with tears. Her throat felt sticky and hot. No words would come from it. She had been coming to apologize for… for everything. It was all her fault. She’d broken his pretty little present, and because of that he’d had to go look for a new one, and because of that he hadn’t been able to stay on Serenity when he otherwise could have and River wouldn’t have gotten lost and nobody would be mad. And Zoe had been so mad when she got back she had…. Kaylee… Kaylee knew that he had been looking for engine supplies, but that could be done any old time. If he hadn’t wanted to shop away from Zoe he would have never gone… he would have gone later, when Simon was back to take care of River, or when she was there to take care of River. But Kaylee had broken his gift and… she felt so badly, so mean… she…

“Hey.” Wash’s voice drew her out of her guilt. “None of that.” She turned around to find him looking at her. “No crying. This is officially a No Crying Zone. I’ll get a sign and everything. We can put pink bunnies on it, little pink hopping bunnies…” She started crying harder as he trailed off. “Hey, hey, come on now…” he said, getting up, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Did I ever tell you what the funniest word in the entire ‘verse is?”

Kaylee managed to shake her head.

Wash grinned. “It’s pants.”

For a moment, Kaylee couldn’t manage anything. She couldn’t manage to speak, she couldn’t manage to cry, she couldn’t manage to move as she stared at Wash in disbelief. “Pants?” she repeated finally.

He smiled. “You’ll never find anything funnier.”

For a moment, Kaylee smiled. “Like Capt’n Tight Pants?”

Wash laughed. “Ah yes, Captain Tight Pants…”

Suddenly, Kaylee was laughing too. “I always thought that was funny…”

~*~

Book’s words echoes through Simon’s skull. “I noticed that after the Jubal Early encounter, River was calm for quite a spell,” he said, standing half in the infirmary doorway, half out. “I think it’s being cooped up in the ship with nothing to do that frenzies her. It’s one of only two effects of idleness. Either drives your crazy or makes you hallow… ” He stood there for a moment, waiting for Simon to speak. When Simon refused to oblige, he added, “River going with Zoe… it will be a good thing. She’ll be well taken care of. She’ll be with family.”

Now Simon was sitting at the table alone in the mess, the events of the day echoing through his mind. Rising early, seeing patient after patient, telling the poor retarded girl’s caretaker when she was going to die, coming back to Serenity to find out that River wasn’t safe, she’d infiltrated a building crawling with alliance feds, participated in illegal sabotage, and… and that Zoe wanted to take her back there. “She’s talented, useful,” Zoe’d said. “And it ain’t just that she’s a Reader, she…”

“She’s not going,” Simon had said firmly. But it seemed that she was. It seemed that River was going. Zoe had told him in no uncertain terms that if he kept River locked up on the ship then she would show them both the way out the door. Simon had no doubt that when Mal got back he’d back her up. Simon had no choice. He never had any choice.

He felt River enter the room. Maybe that was part of her power, maybe she could reach out with him with her mind and tell him that she was coming… or maybe, he was just her brother. Things like that got confused. He looked up when she was already down the stairs, walking soundlessly towards the table. “Have you eaten dinner yet, River?” Simon asked her without getting up.

“No,” she said plainly. A rare straight answer. She walked up to the chair across from him and stood behind it, her long dark hair framing her face. “It’s not going to be okay,” she said simply.

“River…” Simon began. He half rose to his feet, ready to go to her, to comfort her.

“It’s not going to be okay,” River said again, cutting him off. She put her hand up, signaling for him to sit back down. Simon looked into her eyes, the same eyes he’d loved for the past seventeen years…. He complied. “It never is okay,” River said, walking around the table until she was beside him. She knelt down before him. “Suffering is life. Go as Buddha.” She was smiling up at him. He sat, transfixed, as River put her hand on his cheek. He closed his eyes as he rubbed her thumb against his flesh. There was something inside him… at times it was all too much. He felt that he could cry.

“Don’t cry…” she whispered. Simon’s eyes opened in a flash. River was still smiling. “It’s not going to be okay. It’s never going to be okay. But I’m very brave.”

Simon lifted his own hand off the table and used it to cover River’s. “Yes,” he agreed. “You are very, very brave.”

~*~

They were walking back to Serenity, taking the long path to avoid the town. Normally, Mal would contact Wash and have him meet them with the mule, drive them back to the ship, but on that evening there had been no talk of this. Inara was glad. After everything she had been through today, seeing the dead lamb, playing the piano for hours on end, remembering… She was glad for the quiet, the solitude. She and Mal walked side by side, neither saying a word. It was a comfortable silence. Inside of it, Inara could pretend for a moment that things were different. For a moment, she closed her eyes.

For a moment, Inara was walking the smooth streets of Sihnon on her way to temple. Nandi was beside her, Irulan and Rukmini – Inara’s two favorite Companions in training, little girls of twelve years old – walking behind. Abaddon would be waiting there for her, praying in the back where no one would see. And while the others were lighting their incense, Inara would stay behind. She would slip away…

Mal’s voice intruded on her vision. “You all right?” She opened her eyes and turned to him. “You don’t have a headache or somethin’, do you?”

“No, I…” her voice was soft. She was touched. “I’m fine,” she said.

“Oh, good… that’s good,” Mal stuttered lamely. “You had your eyes closed for a while and I thought…”

She stopped him with a smile. “I’m fine,” she repeated.

They walked on. The sun was falling steadily behind the mountains. It was a beautiful sight, the reds, pinks, and oranges of the sky illuminating the endless, sheep-speckled fields… It was probably nearly five in the evening. The landowner’s lunch and their subsequent stay in Mayor Kentdale’s chambers had lasted far longer than Inara had thought. When they reached Serenity it would be dark. There was already a chill in the air. Inara wrapped her arms over her chest to protect herself from the cold.

She didn’t hear the rustling of his clothing. She wasn’t listening for it. She was surprised when she felt the semi-coarse fabric of Mal’s formal jacket being draped across her shoulders. She turned to him, shocked. Words wouldn’t come to her. Mal just smiled, not offering an explanation. Inara smiled back. She knew that he received the message she was sending, Thank You. She knew, too, that he received the other message, the one that he was sending to her, that they were always sending to each other.

For a while, they walked like that, side by side, silent, Mal with his hands at his sides, Inara’s fingers unconsciously playing with the smooth lining of Mal’s jacket, relishing the thought of, relishing the knowledge that… “Your playing was…” Mal faltered. He wasn’t looking at her. “It was pretty.”

“Thank you.” She said it aloud. “It… I’m rusty. When I was living on Sihnon…”

“You were a hundred times better?” Mal finished for her. “I find that hard to believe.”

The sun was setting rapidly. The walk wasn’t as long as you’d think. They’d been walking for perhaps forty minutes when they arrived back, safe and sound, at Serenity. Mal entered first, Inara second. No one was waiting to greet them. They walked up the stairs in the cargo hold, first him than her. He immediately went forward, heading for Zoe, for the bridge. “Mal,” Inara called. She called him back. He turned around. She walked forward, closing the gap between them. “Your jacket.” Their hands brushed as she handed it back to him. Mal nodded his appreciation, before turned around and going on his way. Inara stood there for a while before going back to her shuttle.

. . . . . . Translations Jīn shēng shì nǎ xiē yuàn yì, fán shì yuàn yì… This life is what I want, all I want Mǔ qīn… Mother (formal)

Hope you all enjoyed this chapter. I know, not exactly action packed, but… Well, wait for the next one ;-)

I’ve been wanting to do the last scene between Mal and Inara for a while now. I like the idea of them together, silent, neither acknowledging the harsh words they’ve spoken to each other nor apologizing for them. And I love the idea of him giving her his jacket, simply because it has always been one of my favorite “romantic things guys can do” things. Actually, it might be my only one. Anyway, getting back to what I was going to say, I really like that scene, that image, and if anyone wants to draw it… well, my gratitude would be far more gushing and vocal than Inara’s.

If anyone is interested in here the Sonata Inara played, you can find it here: http://www.mp3.com.au/track.asp?id=47026

Next chapter… Well, everyone was pretty much getting along in this chapter, so I think we all know what that means… Also, Mal and Inara take a tour of the new alliance factory… Zoe, River, and Jayne get their own special look at it.

Now, review! :-)

COMMENTS

Thursday, March 9, 2006 10:33 PM

AGENTROUKA


Floaty, dreamy, sensual, romantic, bitter-sweet, intriguing.

I love-love-loved the way you had Mal listening to the mmusic because that's like poetry set in tone and Mal's all about the poetry in things, even if he pretends he's not, and it was just plain gorgeous.

I loved the idea of Inara's heart making itself visible (audible?) through the music, and the fact that Mal GETS it.

"and her heart was wild, it was wounded, it was gentle, proud, it was..."

Beautiful.

The whole "..." trailing off bit was perhaps used a bit often in this chapter, but in most cases it was a very effective way of capturing the impossibility of putting things into even thoughts.

Inara's half-memory of Sihnon and Abaddon... my curiosity is piked. Like mad! *g*

Oh, and yes, the ending scene in the sunset was really well done. I could perfectly visualize it and you kept that somewhat removed mood from the piano music going, filling the silence between them. And yes, the jacket thing is totally one of the few romantic gestures that will never get old! *g*

I am so excited about this story. I love it and every new chapter!

Friday, March 10, 2006 12:36 AM

TAYEATRA


How am I supposed to leave feedback when my brains slightly mushy from the calm and beauty of this chapter.

Really well written with some beautiful scenes.

Thanks,
Taya

...Also, PANTS (That will never be unfunny!)

Friday, March 10, 2006 6:15 AM

MAL4PREZ


Yay! Beautiful Mal/Inara moment. Sunset, piano music still echoing in the background, the jacket passed over with no words needed to explain. *sigh* So nice!

m4p

Friday, March 10, 2006 9:57 PM

2X2


Loved the imagry and the connection forged between Inara, and the Piano, and Mal hearing the music, and in it, Inara... and how though he'd heard her say it before, Companions being about more than sex, this is how he finally begins to understand that... Loved the moment at the end too.... sigh... that *is* so very romantic....

Sighing with happy thoughts....


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