Over The Hills and Far Away - Ch 6
Friday, March 17, 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... Zoe talks to Mal about River. Inara remembers someone from her past...


Ch 6

Mal skipped up the stairs to the bridge, throwing his jacket over his shoulders. Zoe threw him a look. “Skipping, sir?” she asked flatly.

“Job went smooth. That kinda thing don’t happen too often. Makes me downright giddy,” Mal said, knowing that he hadn’t fooled her for a second. Zoe knew him well. Too well, at times, for his liking. And though the named Inara Serra would not escape her lips, Mal knew that Zoe knew that the job going well didn’t make him skip. Smiling, he quickly sat down in the pilot’s seat. “Where’s Wash?” he asked, noticing for the first time that the usual occupant of the pilot’s seat wasn’t there.

“He decided to turn in early. River gave him a bit of a scare. Truth be told, sir, she gave us all a bit of a scare.”

Mal didn’t like the tone of Zoe’s voice. She was looking at him, brown eyes solid as the earth. Zoe was a soldier, through and through. She had her mind in the job. Seeing her eyes brought out the same in Mal. Thoughts of Inara were put on hold. He met her gaze. “Go on,” he said. He was not smiling anymore.

“Seems that while she slipped away from Wash and found her way right inside of town hall,” Zoe told him calmly. “Knocked out two alliance guards – might have even killed them – on her way into the catacombs.”

“Gū niang jiāng huì cuī cán wǒ,” Mal muttered.

Zoe shook her head. “That’s not the way of it,” she said, leaning forward. “That map your girl gave us? It wasn’t right. River hadn’t come, Jayne and I would have been stranded in that place. Alliance would have come, job would have been over mighty fast. Sir, she saved us all.”

Mal leaned back in his chair. “Huh,” he muttered softly. River… His life had certainly changed since she’d entered it. It was hard, some times, sorting out his feelings for the girl. On one hand, he was genuinely fond of her. River, underneath all the craziness and whatnot, had a kind disposition to her. Mal could appreciate that. On the other hand, she was full of all that craziness and… and whatnot. River was a danger. She was right when she told Early that she couldn’t be controlled. God knows the Doc tried but, well, there were just some things that couldn’t be done. This should have been enough for Mal, enough to make him leave Simon and River both on the fine dirt and sail on his way. But, he hadn’t. He wouldn’t. There was something about that girl. Mal couldn’t leave her behind.

Sighing, Mal looked to Zoe again and saw something he surely did not like. “No,” Mal said, before Zoe could ask him the question. She was at full attention, ready to argue her point, ready for a fight.

“She’s useful,” Zoe said sternly.

“She’s a wildcard,” Mal countered, sitting up straight. “Wind blows northerly and that child is liable to go east. When we get a job, there’s already plenty of circumstances that we ain’t got control over built right into the equation. Don’t need to add another.”

Zoe uncrossed her arms and stared him straight in the eyes. “Then tell them to get off the ship.”

“Off the ship?” Mal repeated, flustered. He started undoing the buttons of his vest, ready to get out of the gorram proper clothes that he was wearing. “Doc’s a member of our crew.”

“But River ain’t,” Zoe said coolly. “And the way things are goin’, we can’t afford to have a leech on this boat anymore. So I say, throw her off, and Simon with her, or make her useful.”

Mal sighed again. Much as he hated to admit it, Zoe did have a point. River was more than just a sweet, little danger. She was a burden on them, had been since the day she boarded Serenity in that gorram box. It wasn’t just that she kept them from taking jobs. Truth was, the only jobs she kept them from taking were jobs that Mal was more than likely keen to avoid in the first place. She ate their food, slept in their passenger dorm. Simon worked, but the way Mal divided things, his labor covered only his passage. River was getting a free ride. Mal never did talk about it. Zoe never did ask about it. It was an unspoken fact that hung between them.

Until now. Mal didn’t much like admitting it, but Zoe had a point. No one else on the boat was getting free passage. There was no reason he should grant it to River. Nevertheless, training River, teaching her how to be like them, Mal had a feeling that it was not the wisest notion. He knew, though, that Zoe… Zoe wanted more from him than his opinion. He could see in her eyes that she was bent upon the idea of teaching River. He didn’t know how or why, but she was. And when Zoe got a notion in her mind, Mal knew there was little he could do to get it out. He decided to play the only card he had left. “Don’t suppose Simon will be all too happy ‘bout us doin’ that.”

“Simon’s already agreed,” Zoe said. Mal couldn’t keep back his curse. Zoe smirked, rising from her chair. “See you of 0-300 hours, captain.” With that she left the bridge.

Mal sat there for several minutes, dumbstruck. “I think I’ve just made a huge mistake.”


Zoe knocked lightly on River’s door. She didn’t know for certain where the girl was, she doubted that anyone ever did, ‘less River was standing right before them. Her room, though, seemed as good a place as any to begin the search. Zoe stood before it for a few moments, giving the girl time to answer before she moved on. Seconds stretched. The door slid open just as Zoe started turning around. “River…” she began.

“It’s all right. I know why you’re here.” River stepped back into her room, gesturing for Zoe to follow. She sat down on the edge of the bed, Zoe standing before her. “I’m not what you think I am,” she said before Zoe could even open her mouth. “Things are… cloudy. You make yourself see, but… you can’t see.” She turned away, staring intently at the wall, away from Zoe. “I’ll go with you, if you want me, too.”

Zoe took a moment to view the girl before her. River didn’t have the look of a fighter. Her stringy brown hair was hanging in front of her often vacant eyes. Her arms looked like toothpicks jutting from the sockets of her shoulders. She was wearing a pink dress. She was barefoot, toes skimming the metallic deck of the ships as she shuffled her legs. “I want you to come with me,” Zoe told her.

River collapsed onto her bed, drawing her legs to her chest as she pulled a blanket over herself. “Then I should sleep, sleep deep, go deep, deep down…”

For the first time since she saw River hang from the ceiling in the catacombs, Zoe began to doubt. It wasn’t River’s look that bothered her so much, though she did look lost, small. It was the way she talked sometimes. Zoe didn’t mind River’s words being more… complex than was strictly necessary as long as she could follow what the girl was saying. It was these tangents that had Zoe worried. It was one of several things she had learned during the war. When you have grunts under your wing, you want to know how they move.

“I’ll be back to wake you at 02:30 hours.” Zoe closed the door to River’s room behind her as she left. “Guess I’ll learn,” she said to herself, marching towards her bunk to be with her husband.


May 28, 2509. Sihnon. The East Temple.

Inara and Nandi had walked to temple together twice a week, every week since Inara had been registered as a companion over two and half years ago. In the spring, they walked with their umbrella over their head waiting for the rain. The umbrella Inara carried now was a gift from Amrita Kapoor, personal assistant to the Secretary of Defense. Inara had seen the woman only three times. When Amrita came to her she wanted Inara to be young a meek. She wanted Inara to be gentle so that she could be like a conqueror and Inara could be her prize. She felt that her career was not advancing the way she thought. Amrita knew it wasn’t her fault, it was the war, but logically explanations rarely arrest the manifestations of insecurity. Amrita needed release. Inara provided it.

“We can only stay for an hour,” Nandi said without looking at her as the walked. The rain was beginning to fall in small, tender drops. Inara kept herself from smiling.

“I know, mei-mei, I know,” Inara said sweetly. She heard Nandi sigh.

“Don’t ‘mei-mei’ me,” the barely older companion chided. “Last time you went on one of your excursions we ended up cutting in very close. The last thing I want to do is give Aiko Sato a reason to be keeping any closer tabs on me than she already does. You can’t be late.”

Inara was forced to admit that Nandi was right. She was taking a big risk, sneaking away from Temple. If Aiko Sato ever found out what she was doing, then that would be the end of it, the end of everything. “I promise, Nandi, I’ll be more careful,” Inara said in a steady, serious voice. “You can trust me when I say that I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Good.” Nandi and Inara stepped inside together. They put down their umbrella in perfect, synchronized movements and put them down on the floor beside the door along with their shoes. Inara quickly counted… forty pairs of shows meant at least forty visitors were inside, possibly more. Inara muttered the virtues under her breath: right understand, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. Inara was about to ignore them all.

Nandi walked into the temple first, Inara behind her. She watched as Nandi walked to the front, her steps slow and deliberate. Inara stayed in the back, kneeling, bowing her head, waiting for the voice that she knew was coming. In the front of the temple, Nandi lit incense. Inara felt two hands press against her back. “Follow me.” The hands were gone. Inara counted to thirty silently in her head, then stood up and followed.

It took exactly forty seconds to walk out the main worship room of the temple, down the stairs, and into the monk’s private quarters. Inara wasn’t supposed to be in there. Access to laypersons was forbidden. She’d felt squeamish about entering the first time. Even the second time she’d felt a bit dirty. Now she only felt… her heart was pounding inside of her chest. She stood there, an insuppressible half-smile on her lips as she waited… waited for him.

He greeted her with a kiss before he turned the lights on. Inara drank in the taste of him, moaning slightly as her wrapped his arms around his back. “God, I’ve missed you,” she whispered as he pulled away. The lights flickered on. The slight half-smile on Inara’s lips exploded. She felt like she was shining, illuminated. It had been two months since she’d seen him in the flesh. He contacted her every week or so as he went upon his travels from planet to planet, but there were always brief conversations, audio only, les someone should see them looking at each other and realize… Inara had feared that she’d forgotten what he looked like, she had…

Abaddon Jiang stood across from her beaming. Unable to contain themselves, they embraced once again. “I missed you, too…” Abaddon whispered in her ear. The sound of his voice sent shivers through her spine. She was glad he was here, glad he was home.

“You need to come to me tonight, come to House Madrassa,” Inara said, her eyes closed. She rested her head on his shoulder. “I have an opening. I… I want to see you. I need to see you.”

“Opening?” Abaddon quested, pulling away. “I thought you were supposed to be entertaining Ephraim Gossard?”

“Ephraim never contacted me to confirm or arrangement and transfer his payment. Therefore, the time is forfeit,” said Inara, smiling sweetly at him. When he didn’t smile back, she furrowed her brow in concern. “You can come, can’t you?”

“Yes, I can come.” He smiled, but… there was something about his smile, something Inara couldn’t quite… he leaned in and kissed her. For a moment, all her thoughts melted away. He rubbed his hands over her back. The kiss ended all too soon. Inara’s hands found there way to his face, and then to his hair, his long, black, beautiful… “Hey, hey, no playing with that,” he said, grinning playfully at her. “It took me thirty minutes to get all that měng fà into a top knot this morning. I will not have it undone, not even by the most beautiful woman in the entire universe.” Inara shot him a look. “Well…. not until tonight anyway.” She smiled.

“I’ll play nice, I promise,” she said with a small laugh. “I’ll even brush it afterwards.” Her let her fingers trace his cheek, his eyebrows, his lips. She loved touching his face. Inara’s occupation was intimacy, but this… She touched his face, her fingers feeling things that her ears couldn’t hear, her eyes couldn’t see. She knew the feel of every inch of his body, but his face… She let his fingers linger over the stubble on his chin. “Perhaps I’ll even give you a shave.”

“You can leave the shaving to me, wú míng jīng liàn,” he said, taking her hand into his. He looked down, avoiding her eyes. “I need to go now, Inara.”

“Go?” she repeated, voice wavering. “You… qí bù yào bié lí. Nǐ fǔ dǎ dào huí fǔ. Qí, dāi bìng wǒ. Dāi… we have almost half an hour until I need to head back. We can talk to each other…”

“Inara.” He cupped her cheek. “I have to go. I will see you tonight, I promise.” Inara nodded. They kissed their good byes. Inara headed out first, climbing up the stairs, entering the main Temple. She walked to the front and knelt down beside Nandi. Her fellow companion gave her a brief glance as if to ask if everything was all right? She hadn’t expected to see Inara back so quickly. Inara flashed her a smile, closed her eyes, and bowed her head in prayer. She would explain everything later. For now, she needed to clear her mind. Her skin still tingled with the sensation of Abaddon. Hours. Inara took comfort in the fact that it would only be a number of hours until Abaddon returned, until she once again knew the touch of her lover.


“What are you doing up at this hour?”

Inara turned too see Mal standing in the alcove that separated the kitchen from the hall leading to the cargo hold. He formal clothes were gone, replaced by standard Malcolm Reynolds fashions: tall boots, tight pants, a worn, blue shirt, and suspenders. Inara smiled slightly. He looked handsome either way. At least, she thought so now. “I couldn’t sleep,” she told him. “I thought I’d make some tea, see if that helped.”

“Thought you kept tea in your shuttle,” Mal said, stepping into the kitchen. Inara relished in watching the way that he walked. As much as Mal tried to divorce himself from his emotions, and Inara knew that he did try, they always managed to shine through his body. When he was upset, he walked with purpose, eyes downcast. When he was excited he walked like a schoolboy, practically skipping.

Right now, he sauntered into the room, putting one put in front of the other ever so casually, letting things come in there own time. Inara was encouraged by this. She always enjoyed Mal when he was content. He was a pleasing conversationalist. He had stories. He… he had a goofy half-smile on his face. He didn’t even realize he did, but he did. Inara was glad that he wasn’t paying enough attention to… If he realized he was smiling he would frown in an instant. Mal’s smile was something he did not was Inara to see, but Inara sure loved seeing it.

“Usually, I do,” she said, pouring warm water into her tea cup. “But, since I thought that I would be leaving, I decided not to buy any more tea last time we were at the market. I figured that I’d get some later whenever I was… settled. Fortunately, I forgot about the reserve supply I keep here, otherwise…” She trailed off, noticing the look on his face. The half-smile was gone, replaced with frowns and shadows. Inara felt smoothing in her chest grow cold and then empty. Her heart began to beat wildly. “What?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” Mal said, brushing past her and opening the cabinet where he kept Serenity’s meager supply of coffee grounds. Angry walk. Upset walk. Frustrated walk. His legs were tense, sturdy. They reminded her of tree trunks somehow, so determined to have their space. Unyielding. “I didn’t say a damn thing.”

Inara suppressed the urge to sigh. She pushed her lips together in frustration, letting them form a frown. Unfortunately, she knew exactly what this was about. “Are you going to act like this every time I say the word ‘leaving’, Mal?”

“I didn’t say a word, Inara,” he insisted, refusing to meet her eyes. He wouldn’t even turn his head towards her. He wouldn’t even look at her. She felt like a shadow standing next to him. Maybe this was how he saw her now, maybe… It was cold and uncomfortable. She wanted Mal to make it stop, to push the feeling away. But he wouldn’t look at her. He was burning. “Funny, though, that the first thing you do is bring up the whole issue of leavin’. What is that funny word that all you psychology-trained folks like to throw around? Hmm? Projection, was it?”

This time, Inara did sigh. The man was impossible. Just when she thought that things were settling between them, he would come waltzing in and turn them upside-down again. Sometimes Inara didn’t know left from right when she was standing next to him. Sometimes she didn’t… Her feelings were too much, and she had been bearing them for far too long. Surely, no one could ask any more of her. She was already trembling. “You can never let things be, can you?” she asked, letting her true hurt, her true fear and frustration, creep into her voice. “Every time we have something nice, a nice day…”

“Nice?” Mal half-shouted, turning towards her. His tone scorched her but did not push the cold away. “Spending the day kissing the lǘ zi of Alliance Senators and Alliance sympathizers is hardly my idea of fun, Inara.”

He was unbelievable. Inara felt… she felt like there was nothing left inside her, that everything she had to hold onto was cold and slick… she was slipping away. “Mal, you know that that isn’t what I’m talking about…”

“Oh, really? Then what are you talking about exactly?” He didn’t wait for her to respond. “Because the way I see… the way I see it you should be in your shuttle right now, dreaming your little Alliance dreams. You must have so much more to fill them with now, having entertained a senator and all. Bet it makes you feel mighty’ fine…”

“Oh, yes, I’m just… I’m thrilled… couldn’t be happier!” she spat at him. Finally, she felt the fire come back. Suddenly, everything inside of her was burning, every pulse, and every breath. She picked up her tea cup with shaking hands. It slipped through her fingers and shattered on the floor. “Cào sī lǜ chá…” she muttered under her breath as she immediately fell to her knees to pick up the pieces.

Mal jumped into action. “Here let me…”

“I think you’ve done enough.” They were both on their knees. Inara could feel her misery coursing through her fingers. Suddenly, her fingertips screamed in pain. “Zhòu mà…” She pulled them away from the shards of ceramic and held them before her eyes. Two of them were bleeding.

“Are you all right?” Mal asked, reaching for her fingers. Inara surrendered them to him without a word. “You’re bleeding…”

His fingers wrapped around her, his warm skin wrapping around her. His thumb brushed her palm in small circles as he eyed the wound. The feeling of his fingers holding hers said more than he ever could.

“Just cuts, Mal,” she said, taking her hand back. They were looking into each other’s eyes. Inara felt her soul burning within her again, longing to reach out and touch him. He seemed to be entrapped in her gaze. For a moment, Inara indulged herself in the fantasy of his touch, running her fingers, bleeding as they were, over his hands, his lips… There was an incredible power within her. She saw a million futures reflected in his blue eyes. She blinked and felt them pass away. There were tears welling in her eyes, tears he couldn’t see. She turned away from him. “You should… go do your captainy things, Mal. I’ll clean up in here.”

She didn’t look at him, but she knew he nodded. She could feel his hesitation as he rose to his feat and walked out of the room. She held herself still as he lingered at the door before finally leaving. Inara’s tears were hot and silent. She was lucky. Her tea cup had broken into a few, large shards instead of a million tiny pieces. She collected them quickly and disposed of them, and then mopped up the wasted tea. All the while, her tears flowed, hot and sticky down her cheeks. Inara tried to remember what she used to cry about before they met. It seemed now… it seemed now that all her tears were for him. They were a gift….

It was strange, how a day ago she could have fought with him forever. And even if her heart wasn’t in it, she could have kept on going. But now, after only hours of pleasantness between them… She was going to miss the pleasantness between them when she left Serenity, she… Inara quickly pushed the tears from her eyes. She took a deep breath and composed herself. It was one in the morning. In six hours she needed to be awake again. Gilbert Crane and Heather Zagorska would be arrived at eight. They were going to attend the factory tour, lead by Aurelia Woo… Inara involuntarily closed her eyes once more at the thought of the woman’s name. She didn’t want to… Inara took another deep breath, and headed towards her shuttle. Pleasant or unpleasant, tomorrow would be another day.

. . . . . Translations Gū niang jiāng huì cuī cán wǒ… girl will be the ruin of me Měng fà… stupid hair Wú míng jīng liàn…. My dark eyed love Qí bù yào bié lí. Nǐ fǔ dǎ dào huí fǔ. Qí, dāi bìng wǒ. Dāi... Please, don’t go. You just came back. Please, stay with me. Stay. Lu zi… ass Cào sī lǜ chá… fuck this tea Zhòu mà.... damn

All right… last chapter I promised a tour of the factory. Well, oops, didn’t happen. But it will, I promise! Most likely in chapter seven. If not, the chapter after that. This chapter… it was fun to write, because I have been waiting to do a scene with Abaddon for a while. I was going to save it for the next chapter, as traditionally I’ve been putting flashbacks in odd-numbered chapters, but I realized that I’m not sure if I’ll have enough room to tell their story if I limit myself to those, so I decided that from now on, you can expect them a bit more frequently (not every chapter, though) and not necessarily at the beginning of the chapters. I’m delighted with the fact that I was finally able to stick one in the middle. Having them at the beginning over and over again is very repetitive.

A quick argument for Nandi: Someone mentioned earlier (can’t quite mention who) that Nandi didn’t graduate from the Academy. This sort of upset me because I want to keep this as canon as I can, so I looked over the HoG shooting script… the wording is a bit ambiguous. She never says specifically whether she quit school or whether she left the guild. I always assumed the later. So… sorry, I’m just being defensive. Bad habit. I hope her presence does not ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the story. She will be back at least once more.

Anyway, my spring break starts tomorrow (yay!). I’m going home, and then on Wednesday I am off to visit a friend in New York City. I might try to write another chapter before I leave, if time allows. If not, then don’t expect another update until the 30th or so, possibly not until next month.

Peace. ~ Arcadia


Friday, March 17, 2006 3:03 AM


I was the one that commented on Nandi, but... I love her and her presence in this story is a joy, small as it is. :D

In fact, this entire part had me sooo happy, it's perfect!

Zoe and River's moment is perfect. Pragmatism and the undefinable, head to head. I loved it.

Inara and Abbadon -- GOD, the essence of delirious young love, it brought tears to my eyes it was so sweet and overhung by future shadows. Really beautiful!

And then the ultimate in heartbreak... Such subtle and yet obvious ways that they hurt each other. The initial joy, the way she can observe Mal so closely and still not quite get him - but enough to hurt them both.

"There was an incredible power within her. She saw a million futures reflected in his blue eyes. She blinked and felt them pass away."

Gorgeously written.

I'm thrilled with the way you are writing Inara in this series, the way you let her be so independent and how you highlight the way that Mal and Serenity are big factors in her life but not the only ones. She has huge landscapes of past and present that do not touch them and they affect her just as much.

Gah. I just adore this series. Cannot wait for the next part.

Friday, March 17, 2006 5:40 AM


I loved this part. I've always loved Nandi's character, and I'm happy to see her in this, and especially to see her and Inara together in their shared past. There's so much of their past to explore and reveal. Such as Abbadon ;o)

I ache every time I read the pain between Inara and Mal... (that's a good thing, though) So much fear keeping them locked into the same patterns, over and over. Show some joy in each other, then become frightened and wary, then wound in defense, then attack in retaliation, letting the resentment burn the joy away again.... so sad and tragic these two... how I love them. And this story! And I love your insight into Inara and how you portray her here. Inara is such a complex and complicated character for one who doesn't like complications :o) and your writing of her just reminds me more and more of why I love her so much.
Thanks for this! Can't wait for more (Please please please before the end of the month <g>)


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