BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

ARCADIA

Over The Hills and Far Away - Ch 9
Saturday, April 1, 2006

et 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. Mal reacts to Heather's call, and to Inara's request.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2328    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Ch 9

Inara's shuttle was not a place Zoe ventured to often. The Ambassador, as they'd called her once and again, kept her affairs to herself for the most part. Zoe simply had no business being in Inara's bedchamber. As far as socializing went, it was generally understood that Serenity's kitchen and lounge were the places to gather if ever one wanted some company. Zoe heard Kaylee talk of being invited into Inara's shuttle from time to time for hair brushing and the like – all sorts of things that Zoe was not interested in.

Zoe would talk with Inara if ever they found themselves in the galley together, and true she found Inara pleasant enough, but the two had never quite become friends. It took Zoe a while to warm up to folk, for one thing. In Inara's case, by the time she did know Inara well enough to call the fancy woman a friend, it had become clear to Zoe that the last thing Mal needed was for Zoe to become Inara's friend. Mal was in love with the woman, or at least, he believed he was, believed it so truly that it was true.

Zoe knew Mal well. She knew that he didn't love lightly, she knew that a woman like Inara… Zoe knew that when the time came – and Zoe knew Mal, she knew it would come – Mal would need her to be on his side, one hundred percent. A true friendship with Inara would complicate that. So she and Zoe'd never really been friends.

Now that it was so close, now that Inara was almost leaving, Zoe sometimes wondered if she made a mistake, if perhaps knowing Inara more intimately would have put her in a position to make the woman's departure that much easier for Mal to bear. Privately, Zoe doubted it would, but she also doubted that keeping herself from befriending Inara helped either. There were things, Zoe was coming to understand, that are never easy to bear, no matter how you try to soften them. It was a lesson she'd learned before, but had taught herself to forget. Forgetting had bourn her sweet rewards. It had given her Wash, and had led her to Serenity.

The atmosphere in Inara's shuttle was anything but serene. Zoe and Mal were sitting on the woman's couch. Inara sat next to Gilbert on her bed. "They took Rye in for questioning," Gilbert explained rather breathlessly. Zoe nodded. She hadn't seen much of Gilbert Crane and Heather Zagorska's third counterpart as of late. This surely explained why. "Heather – she said that the feds have him, that they think he's behind all of the… all the…"

"The pranks," Inara finished for him. Zoe did not miss the pointed glace she threw to Mal.

Mal, as it was, either didn't see it or, far less likely considering that it was Inara how gave it to him, chose to ignore the glance. "Well, could be good, could be bad," Mal said, his eyes pointed at Gilbert. "Heather say whether or not lawmen have any reason ta' think you'd be plannin' this with Rye?" Zoe watched as Gilbert shook his head. "Did she tell'ya if the feds are onto her?"

Zoe watched as Gilbert first shook his head, then nodded. "I… I'm not good with all this," Gilbert said lamely. "Heather… I think he called her from the jail, she said…. she's the one who worries about feds and senators, I…"

"You support her, because you love her," Zoe finished. She could see that in Gilbert; saw it the first time she laid eyes on the boy. Heather Zagorska had him wrapped around her little finger. Looking at Gilbert Crane's face when he was looking at Heather Zagorska was to see devotion. Zoe turned to Mal. "Should the boy be getting' off of this here ship, sir?"

"Don't know," Mal said, sinking gracelessly into Inara's couch, sighing. Zoe saw Inara's eyes as she drank in the sight of him. Mal was looking away, lost in possibilities. "If the feds know about Gilbert and Heather, then they surely have guessed 'bout us. Me pretendin' to be her betrothed an' all, it's hard to hide. But if they haven't…"

"Then hold," Zoe finished, meeting his eyes. She turned to Gilbert and Inara. "He can't leave Serenity," she said, meeting the Companion's eyes, "not tonight."

"You think it would raise too much suspicion?" Inara asked, her eyes locked on Zoe's. Zoe could see immediately that however cool Inara was playing, the companion wasn't pleased with this prospect. Zoe raised her eyebrow, as if to ask Inara why….

"Reckon so," Mal said, breaking their silent conversation.

"But wait," Gilbert interrupted. "I don't understand, I….”

"Simple," Mal said, standing up. Zoe followed in suit. "You come to the shuttle of a companion you hired, that's your business. You come runnin' down the hills, screamin' like a pansy moment your friend calls to tell ya' that you got another friend in jail? That smells of trouble."

"Cat and mouse psychology," Inara interrupted. "You run…"

"And that's how the feds know to catch you," Mal finished for her. "Nobody runnin', ain't no one to look for."

Zoe followed Mal out of the room. She didn't have to ask Mal if he thought it was wise, ordering Gilbert Crane to stay on the ship, in Inara's shuttle. She knew him well enough to know that Mal had no idea what was best. Had it been her choice, Zoe would have thrown Gilbert out the airlock and started sailing. But it wasn't her choice. She knew that Mal wouldn't intentionally invite another man to sleep in the bed of the woman he loved. Even if he didn't know if his choice was the right one, Zoe knew he had a damn good reason for making it. Zoe didn't have to push him. "Crew's got to eat, Zoe," he said as they walked back to the bridge, side by side. "We don't finish this job, then what do we got?"

"We got paid some coin upfront," Zoe pointed out faithfully.

“Enough for fuel, maybe a spare part." Mal stopped dead in his tracks. Zoe stopped with him. They faced each other. "You think we should run?" he asked her.

"It would be safe," Zoe said simply. Zoe didn't need to say anything more. Mal heard her real message, the one she'd been giving him for as many years as she'd known him: you're stupid, sir, but I'll follow you. And she would. Zoe would follow Mal through hell or worse, during the best times and the darkest times, until there was no man left to follow.

"I'll send a wave to Jayne, tell him to stay put, wherever he is," Mal said. Both knew that Jayne wouldn't be too hard to find. "Best be tellin' the crew 'bout this. No one boards Serenity tonight, and no one leaves."

She nodded to her captain as he continued to the bridge. She turned around, ready to tell the others.

~*~

“It ain’t fair,” Kaylee said, pacing back and forth through the engine room, “just when we was about to do somethin’ nice for ourselves, the cap’n has to waltz in here with his, ‘stay on Serenity’ pì huà…” She waved her arms dramatically and trailed off, sighing. “It just ain’t fair, Shepherd.”

The old preacher nodded. “It may not seem so now, Kaylee, but setbacks like this are usually God’s way of blessing us in disguise,” he counseled, fully aware that his words would be falling on unresponsive ears. He’d come to the engine room because he’d wanted to ask Kaylee if she knew how long Inara was going to stay aboard Serenity. Inara and Simon were the only people on the ship he had the opportunity to talk with about literature and ancient history, novel subjects that the others had little knowledge of, having grown up on the rim. Of the two, Inara was by far the better and more interesting conversationalist. Book would miss her. He’d hoped Kaylee knew her plans. Instead, when he’d come he’d found Kaylee like this, distraught. He was slowly gathering that she and Simon had had some sort of date planned for that evening, though it was hard to tell for certain.

“Well, God sure is funny then, ain’t he? He brought Simon here so that we could be t’gether, so that we could all be a fam’ly on this here boat,” Kaylee answered back. Her eyes were downcast, brimming with tears. “But every time Simon an’ me get closer, somethin’ happens an’ it pushes ‘im away again. And Wash an’ Zoe have been fightin’. And Inara’s still plannin’ on leavin’. It… It just don’t seem right, Shepherd. How is this a blessin’?”

Shepherd Book sighed. Kaylee was not typically one to come to him for comfort. She tended to gravitate towards Simon and Inara, even to Mal, with her worries, but rarely did she seek the Shepherd. As much as Book loathed admitting it, none of them really did. Yes, Jayne came to him searching for a weight lifting partner, and Mal would come to him when they needed help navigating through some of the Alliance’s harrier laws, but no one on Serenity ever came to Book looking for spiritual guidance. As a Shepherd, this was the thing he had trained to provide, the thing he cherished providing above all other things, and his gift was going to waste.

“Kaylee,” he said to her gently. “God moves in mysterious ways….”

“Mysterious?” Kaylee snapped. “You know somethin’? Simon looked mighty mysterious when he first came on board. Stiff suit. Silly red glasses. An havin’ Wash lug that giant box into out hold… it was mysterious. Damn sexy, I thought, but very mysterious. An’ it turned out that the reason he looked all mysterious like that was River, the whole reason he came into my life was ‘cause of River, ‘cause some folk cut into her brain like… like they was cuttin’ up a protein bar.” Book watched her as she sighed again, wiping tears from her eyes that had barely begun to fall. “I don’t see how God could’a ever intended for Simon an’ me to meet at all, when you look at it that way. How could… how could my hān ài liàn be worth so much? What they did to River’s brain. That’s a mystery, a true one.”

“Kaylee.” Book took her hands into his. “There is evil in this world, human evil that even God can’t stop.” He cringed at his memories, the actions of his past. “But Kaylee… then there are people like you, people who are good, people who love. God couldn’t stop those men from doing what they did to River. But when he saw that one of his flock was in need, that two of his sheep were in danger of going astray, he delivered them to you.”

She smiled at this. “You think so?”

“I know so,” Book said. Kaylee nodded. Book gave her hands a final squeeze and let them go. Kaylee smiled, muttered something about how she needed to tell Simon about their change of plans, and started to walk out of the engine room. “Kaylee,” Book said, causing her to turn around. “I promise,” he said, not sure it he was speaking for her or for himself, “there is a plan in this.”

“Well,” Kaylee said over her shoulder, “s’long as its better than one of the cap’n’s plans….”

~*~

The sound of laughter drifted through Serenity. Mal smiled at the sound of it. Wasn’t often these days that any of his crew seemed happy, much less six of them at once. Shortly after Mal had ordered everyone stay on ship for the night, Book had organized a card game. Wash and Zoe, River, Simon, Kaylee, and the Shepherd himself were gathered around the kitchen table. Mal had been invited to join them, of course, but he’d declined. It wasn't that Mal didn't like card games. He liked them fine, used to play them frequently on Shadow when he was a boy. His mom was always yelling at him for losing money to the ranch hands. Mal would have loved to sit in the kitchen, care free as can be, and join in crew in their game. The trouble was, Mal wasn't care free, hadn't been for a long time.

Was Zoe right, was it best to cut their losses and run? Was order Gilbert to stay aboard Serenity the right move or the wrong one? Did it make a difference? If it didn't, then Inara….

Inara. Mal quickly turned to look as he heard her shuttle door opening, watched as she shut it carefully behind her before walking towards him. She was wearing a soft, pink gown that was oh-so-familiar to Mal. It was one of the gowns he liked more than the others, soft and simple, elegant without being overdone. She smiled at him as she approached, and Mal couldn't help be reward her with a small smile in return. "I was hoping that I'd find you here," she said, sitting beside him, letting her legs dangle over the mettle grating, over the cargo hold below them.

"Well, lucky you, then," Mal said, turning to look at her. "I was this close forsakin' this here life of crime and becoming a Shepherd."

Inara graced him with another smile. "Can I ask what stopped you?”

Mal shrugged. "I prefer horses."

"Understandable," Inara chimed. "I would prefer to breed cats myself.”

"Cats?" Mal asked, eyebrows raised.

"Cats held great allure for me when I was young," Inara said conversationally. "I used to beg my parents to get one for me. They seemed like the perfect animal. Small. Graceful. Capable. Independent. So utterly capable of living alone, and yet…" She sent him another smile. "Our neighbors used to have one. A black cat named Zedekiah. My parents… they never let me have one, though, which was for the best. I left home to live in the Training House when I was twelve. My mother really wasn't a cat person."

Mal didn't know what to say to this. Since she'd run out of the kitchen, he'd spent a great deal of time thinking on exactly what he knew about her, only to find out that he didn't know a whole lot. Oh, he knew her, knew her better, he conjured, than anyone else on his gorram boat, but he didn't really know that much about her. Inara Serra. Born and raised on Sihnon. Registered Companion. She'd been living on Serenity for almost a year and a half. He had no idea what circumstances brought her to him, if she'd spent a good deal of time sailing the black before he found her, or if she'd come to him fresh from the core.

Inara was a lot like him in that way; she didn't like to divulge in the past. Listening to her talk about not getting her childhood cat, even conversationally and only in passing… it both warmed his heart and sent shutters through his soul. It was a sign that she was vulnerable. And Mal… he couldn't resist her. "Guess city cats are diff'rent than barn cats," Mal said. "On the ranch, on Shadow we… cats were looked on as a nuisance more than anything. Always runnin' around the porch, covered in god knows what."

"I think that's charming," Inara commented. Mal gave her a teasing half-snort.

"You didn't live there," he said lightly.

"No," Inara said, her voice firm, decisive, "I didn't." Mal knew immediately that their banter was over. Coldness settled in the pit of Mal's stomach. He never knew which way he and Inara's conversations would go. He didn't know if she would… she smiled at him again, a different smile this time, less warm. This smile was tired. "I need a favor," she said, voice steady.

"Well," Mal said, putting his guard up, "I reckon you'd better ask."

Inara nodded. "I was wondering if Gilbert could sleep in one of the passenger dorms," Inara said.

"He ask you if he could?" Mal questioned.

Inara shook her head. "No," she said simply. "He's too nervous and embarrassed to ask me for anything. However, given that he is in a romantic relationship with Ms. Zagorska, I think that he might find an arrangement that doesn't involve sleeping in another woman's bed to be more… comfortable than the alternative." She turned away. "It would make me more comfortable," she said lowly.

His heart ached. "Sure." The word sounded lame falling from his lips. "That ain't no trouble."

Inara exhaled slowly, like she'd been holding her breath for a long time. She turned back to him. Blue eyes met brown. "Thank you, Mal," she said earnestly. Mal sat before her, watching silently as she stood and turned away from him.

"Inara," he called softly when she was halfway back to her shuttle. Voices from the poker game in the kitchen floated through the ship. Mal wasn't certain that Inara could hear him. He thought she would go again, walk away, leaving him with only her name on his lips. Instead, she turned around, eyes questioning. Mal's heart was in his throat. Now or never. "Who'd you marry?"

He thought that she would explode at him, but she didn't. Inara's gaze was sad and thoughtful. "I never married, Mal," she corrected him.

He sighed. "You know what I mean."

For a moment, Mal was certain that she was going to turn around and retreat into her shuttle without answering him. She seemed poised to do it. Mal could see her lower lip quivering, could see the muscle in her arms tense. Inara was ready to run. Mal's heart began to race. He knew he didn't want to let her turn around and flee, but he knew that jumping up and grabbing her wouldn't be welcome. But he couldn't let her go. Mal was ready to jump, ready to scurry to his feet and run to her when Inara spoke.

"I told Kaylee that it was five years ago, but really it's been longer than that… six years, getting closer to seven every day." Her voice was airy, ethereal. Her eyes were pointed directly at him, but for a moment they dimmed and she was far away, retreating to a place Mal knew he couldn't follow. Then she recovered. She wasn't safe, she wasn't steady. Inara was small and pale before him, her lower lip still quivering, voice still half-lost, but she was herself again. "It's not a good story Mal," she said. "You'd like hearing it even less than I'd like telling it, which believe me is… something."

"Yeah," Mal said. His tongue felt thick in his mouth. "Way you cleared the room earlier I… I figured it was that kind of story. But if you ever need to tell it…."

"Mal…." For a moment, she didn't move. Mal couldn't even tell if she was breathing. Inara walked forward, walked towards him again. Mal stumbled to his feet. Suddenly she was before him. Her skin inches away from his skin. She closed the gap between them, taking his hand into her hand. He pulled her hand closer, holding it to his chest. He stroked the smooth skin with his callused thumb. Her eyes were looking into him. He was looking into hers, and in them he could see the universe shining. In them he could see the injustice and the pain he lived with everyday, darkening her irises the way that only the worst part of life can. But he could see he hope… Inara shined. She was illuminated. He could see more than just the light of the future inside of her. He could see her soul, quivering, burning, beautiful…

She pulled away. He did, too, at the same moment. He cleared his throat. She adjusted her skirt, stepping away from him. "Thank you, Mal, about the room," she said. He nodded, not looking at her, and started to walk away. "Mal," she called before he could exit the cargo hold. He stopped, turned around. Her eyes were welled with emotion he only half understood. "Your offer.… Thank you," she said simply. "I offer you the same."

Mal watched as she turned around, turned away from him, and retreated into her shuttle, powerless to move or speak. ~*~

"It's just…" Gilbert said his knuckles white from clenching Inara's tea cup. Inara reached to him, cupped his cheek, forcing Gilbert to look into her eyes. She held his gaze for several seconds. It was personal, intense. When she withdrew it, Gilbert sighed in relief, the tension draining from his body. He smiled at her, as if apologizing for his earlier state of fluster. Inara smiled at him, as if to tell him that, to her, this was of no consequence. "I was never supposed to have the money," Gilbert confessed softly.

Inara nodded thoughtfully. So this was what he had wanted to tell her. When Zoe and Mal had left her shuttle, she and Gilbert had spent a great deal of time talking about Rye, how worried Gilbert was that he would be hurt, that Heather would be caught too. Inara could tell that, despite his misgivings about what they were doing, despite his nervousness, that he truly loved her. Realizing it made her heartache. She felt a genuine fondness for Gilbert. He had a good heart. Heather…. Inara had reservations about Heather. "How does it make you feel," Inara asked Gilbert softly, freshening his cup of tea, "knowing the money was never supposed to be yours.”

"I… well, I feel a lot of things," Gilbert said. "When I first got it… see, I was a born a bastard. My mom, she was my dad's mistress. When his wife died, then my mom married him. But… well… my dad, the money wasn't his. It was his first wife's. It only became his when she died. It only became mine when he died. But it was never supposed to be mine, you see? I was his sin, a mistake. I was never supposed to happen."

"Gilbert," Inara said softly, involuntarily thinking of her own mother. She took Gilbert's hand into hers. "I can't tell you what to believe. No one can. But I can tell you that I've always taken comfort in the idea that every person born in this universe has a right to live, and to have a good life. It doesn’t matter whether a person was intended or not."

For a moment, Gilbert clung to her hands. Then, he emitted a nervous laugh and released them. “You’re… I guess… that is a… it’s good, thinking that way,” he managed. “It… it just doesn’t make it any easier sometimes, you know?”

Inara nodded at him. “I know,” she said. There were some things that never got any easier. “I know.” Inara thought about them, the truth she had realized, the truth that she could never forget. She sighed, pushing it from her conscious mind. Instead, she thought about Mal.

Malcolm Reynolds. His offer to listen to her story was a mistake. It would only drive a wedge between them. Inara knew it. He’d offered to listen to her story. He expected to hear it someday. But when he did…. Inara suppressed a sigh. She and Mal had had fights before. He’d called her a whore and she’d called him much worse than that. But ultimately, their fights were about little things, small differences that could be overlooked or ignored when they needed… that could be overlooked or ignored so that their business relationship would run more smoothly. But when he was forced to confront truth, cold hard actions…. That would be the end, wouldn’t it? Inara really would be forced to find a home outside Serenity, assuming Mal didn’t throw her out the airlock then and there. And yet…

And yet Inara could not help from feeling touched by him, by his generosity, but his kindness in the matter. Mal… Mal was a man who had once been open and caring by nature, but the war had changed him, taken that away. Inara knew that once you’d lost a piece of yourself like that, it took such incredible strength to even pretend you had those things still in you, much less to actually feel them again. But he had, somehow, felt those things for her. Inara felt like she was walking on air. She was a school girl again, giddy with the idea of love, only now she knew what it felt like, not only because of her memories, but because it was course through her, surging with each heartbeat.

It was going to kill her, she knew, when she and Mal had to say goodbye.

“Gilbert,” Inara said calmly, standing up and forcing herself to concentrate on the moment, “It’s getting very late. Why don’t you let me show you to the passenger dorms? Captains Reynolds has graciously had one made up for you. If you’d come this way, they’d just outside of the…”

“No,” Gilbert said. His voice was light, coo, and almost detached.

Inara pursed her lips. “Pardon?” she asked. She looked into his eyes and felt the book in her veins run cold.

“No, I don’t think I’d like it in a passenger dorm,” Gilbert said. “I want to sleep with you.”

Inara spread a false smile across her lips. “I’m flattered, Gilbert,” she said pleasantly. She was speaking too quickly, her words coming out in a half-strangled rush. She hadn’t anticipated this, hadn’t read it in his words, hadn’t read it in his actions. Yet suddenly…. It wasn’t very profession, the way she was speaking, the frenzy of it… Aiko Sato would… but Sato wasn’t here. “I’m not sure you’d enjoy sleeping next to me,” Inara lied quickly, “I’ve had more than one client complain that I move around in my sleep. One of them even said…”

“I think you misinterpret me,” Gilbert interrupted, a smile beginning to form on his thin lips as he drank in the site of her. Inara was certain that she’d turned into ice now. She was filled with cold, uncompromising dread. “I don’t… I don’t mean just to sleep next to you Inara. I want to sleep with you. I want to be… with you, like you are with all your clients, the way we talked about over the cortex before I told you about Heather. I want to sleep you with.” . . . . . . Translations: pì huà … nonsense hān ài liàn … silly crush (literally: silly to be deeply attracted to)

Sorry for the delay. As I said in my blog, I got sick for a few days, so there went a good chunk of writing time. I’m not sure when the next chapter will be out. I have two papers do this week, and I’m trying to get myself caught up in a class that I may have failed to read for for… well, a while, so I’m busy with school. On the other hand, I am addicted to writing this thing, so hopefully it will come out quick. I have my detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline finished all the way to the end of the story. Until know, I’ve only had detailed outlines finished for about two chapters in advance, so this is exciting for me. It’s nice to know just about how long this will be, finally.

Thanks for all the reviews!

COMMENTS

Sunday, April 2, 2006 6:08 AM

AMDOBELL


I really hate Gilbert now. Just hope Inara doesn't agree to sleep with the slimey little creep. Loved all the Mal and Inara interaction but worry that Inara is going to do something incredibly stupid and leave anyway. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, April 2, 2006 11:02 AM

2X2


Yay! A new part!

Gilbert just sent chills down my spine! Ohh, that little hun dan better not... ooooh... Mal shoulda just spaced him!

Loved Mal and Inara's moment on the catwalk... and especially Inara acknowledging her love for Mal! Wee!

Monday, April 3, 2006 5:56 AM

AGENTROUKA


Another chapter, huzzah!

Rather a little more flowerly than most of the others, but it did work, especially since tensions keep rising between Mal and Inara, from one up and down to the next and each time the stakes are a little higher.

I loved the Zoe POV in the beginning, because you nailed her quiet, efficient voice and her attitude between loyalty and living her own life, making her own friendships.

And whoa, very rare Kaylee and Book moment! So sweet and so touching, the man who embodies faith and the girl who lives it, both questioning things in their own way, and reassuring each other.

And the Mal and Inara.. Cats. *melt* So perfect.

Best of all, though, the touching-turned-creepy moment with Gilbert. Because what a whiplash thing to say! Huh?

Cannot wait to see this continued!


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