BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

ARCADIA

Over The Hills and Far Away - Ch 11
Monday, April 24, 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... Mal and Inara are angsty, River is functional, and the job moves forward.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2410    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Ch 11

The financial seminar was held in the town hall, in the same room they had the luncheon redressed. There were twelve rows, ten chairs each. Seating was pre-arranged. Inara and Gilbert were sitting in the fifth and sixth seats of the second row. Mal and Heather were sitting in the seventh and eight seats of the same row respectively.

Inara didn’t react as they took their seats. She didn’t turn her head to look at him, didn’t even let her eyes drift so easily to the right. They were instead focused straight forward. She felt him, though, beside her. Physically, she was aware of… of his scent, which was familiar and indistinct. Everything between them was significant glances and the slightest touches and tense invasions of personal space. But there was no kiss… no kiss that counted, anyway, and no embraces. His scent… she knew it, for she had been close to him, but it was almost like something from a dream. She hadn’t fully experienced it. It wasn’t quite real.

Gilbert’s scent, in contrast, she knew well. She knew the scent of all of her clients, knew the worries that rested in their thoughts and the curves of their bodies. It was something she had always prided herself on. She cherished it. Even when she had been seeing Abaddon, even when she had had a lover who had desired the entirety of her heart, she had been proud of her work. Intimacy was a gift she gave freely. She enjoyed listening to their worries, offering them counsel and comfort. She enjoyed the sex too. It was her art. She had spent a lifetime learning the mastery and control necessary to be an ideal lover. Inara was very good at her work, always had been, and she’s always treasured it.

But Mal… he didn’t make her ashamed of what she did. He didn’t make her feel dishonest, though he did accuse her of being so time and time again. No, Inara wasn’t dishonest. Her clients knew what they were taking, and she knew what she was giving. No one was being fooled or tricked. Yes, she and Kaylee joked about her clients falling in love with her and offering to “take her away from all this” but in truth such instances were rare and the intentions behind them were fleeting. When she smiled and told them that she was flattered, but… she was causing them no serious injury. Rather, the wound was superficial. It quickly faded and was forgotten. No, Mal did not make Inara ashamed of her work. He didn’t cause her to doubt her morality or question the value of her craft, he just made it hurt.

Or, he had made it hurt. Mal had made waking up, getting dressed, and doing her job go from being an honor and a joy to being an anxiety and… he made it sting, he made it ache. He made her feel raw and bruised on the inside where no one could see. He… he would never understand. Inara, there was always a part of her that hoped he would somehow, that he would be able to see inside of her joy… but he won’t, he couldn’t. It wasn’t his way. So, instead, he had made her hurt, he made her bleed. And now… now… Wěi rén cí fó! He was killing her.

He was killing her. His presence alone cut her like a knife and her memories of him, all the moments when they had been together and things were well, made it twist. Knowing that he was next to her, listening to him breath… it was torture. It rendered her speechless and drove her insane. She was swimming back and forth, in and out of it. One moment, she was here, sitting in on her chair surrounded by the landowners of Three Hills, the sound of Mal tapping his toe against the floor crashing into her repeatedly, and the next she was gone, somewhere else, floating outside of it all. She could see herself, see her agony, and she could see Mal and his judgment, but… but she… she was gone, nonexistent, far away from it and could feel nothing… and then, all at once, the world came crashing back to her. The sound, Mal’s scent, her….

<“Don’t you touch me.”>

Inara felt like she was spinning though she knew she was sitting down. She blinked in an attempt to clear her vision, but everything was a blur. She saw Senator Woo and Morris Kentdale in the front of the room smiling and giving greetings to all the citizens who passed by them. To her left she saw Gilbert fiddling with some brochure filled with spreadsheets and statistics that were supposed to explain the benefits the factory would bring to the citizens of Three Hills. All around her was the sound of chit chat and laughter, but to Inara all the sound converged and became nothing. She and Mal and the harsh words and the disquieting sentiments that hung between them were the only things in the room.

<“Don’t you touch me,” he said. He spat at her feet. “Don’t you ever.”>

Did he know about her fantasies? Was he privy to her dreams? He shot them down with two sentences, seven words, eight syllables. They’d been hurled like bullets from his thin and bloodless lips and had pieced through her skin straight into her heart. So now it beat frantically, blood pooling on the floor, each contraction an agony and filled with her desperateness. Each pulsation threatening to be her last… Mal, he was killing her. He had killed her already. There was nothing left. She was heartbroken, and she would never recover.

“I want to thank you all for joining us this day,” Morris Kentdale said as the lights were dimmed. “I know the last two days haven’t gone according to plan. I would like to that each and every one of you for your patience and understanding in regards to the mishaps of yesterdays’ events, as well as the courage you so finely display in being with us this morning. It is not easy, coming here, knowing that we may suffer attacks by those who wish to stop this change and to bring us down. But, I assure you, the opening of this factory is the opening of the future. It brings us one step closer, one small step, to making our beloved Three Hills a better world.”

Underneath the applause that the crowd awarded to Kentdale’s words (she could feel her lips stretching into a smile at his words and her hands rise from her lap as she joined into the applause, though she felt that her body was acting of its own accord with no direction from her mind or soul), Inara could hear the sound of Mal’s rhythmic toe tap. She could feel his discomfort, being forced to sit beside her, as it mixed with his worry over Zoe and the job. She was supposed to turn to him, offer him a smile, perhaps, when she was certain neither Gilbert nor Heather were looking, put a hand on his knee in comfort. <“Don’t you touch me. Don’t you ever.”> When the applause died down, Inara folded her hands in her lap and waited, her blood pulsing coldly through her veins. It didn’t matter, none of it.

~*~

“…an’ then I said, ‘oh, hell, no,’ and I hopped out of bed and started chasin’ those boys, all naked like, and Adelina was screamin’ and she was naked too, an then the younger one, Lenny, he—”

“Jayne.” Zoe took the beaten, brown bag off of her shoulder and dropped in on the floor. She turned and looked at Jayne standing beside her, his hand on his gun, then at Kaylee in River, to her left, both looking slightly out of place. “This is the spot. Jayne, River, I want you to stand guard. Kaylee, show’s yours.”

“Shiny,” Kaylee said. She stepped forward, opened the bag, and pulled out several small tools. Zoe knew the names of many, but not all of them. Once upon a time, she would have wondered if Kaylee knew the names. Zoe hadn’t been pleased with Mal when they’d taken her aboard. Kaylee was sweet, and that had been a problem. Bester hadn’t been the best mechanic, but at least had been somewhat versatile. He wasn’t trained with a weapon, but he wasn’t afraid of one. Zoe knew she couldn’t count on Kaylee to shoot. She also knew that the girl was never formally trained. Half of her mechanic work she did by instinct. When she’s first met Kaylee, Zoe thought this was a bad sign, was certain the girl’s instincts would eventually fail and they’d be left floating.

Zoe had been wrong. Kaylee was a lot smarter than folk gave her credit for. Zoe sometimes wondered now what Kaylee’s life would have been like if she had been born someplace else. It was actually something she wondered about everyone. Would Jayne had gone to school if he’d been born on a planet that forced him to? Would he be able to recite poetry like Inara? Would River have been taken if she’d be born on the rim? Would Mal and Inara be together if Inara was a Shadow-bred whore instead of a Sihnon-trained Companion? Answerless questions, all of them. There was work to do.

River was a good guard. Zoe stepped up beside the teenage prodigy. “Whispers.” River looked at the wall where Kaylee was bent down, doing her work. “All the voices blend together. No one saying what they mean.”

“Don’t mind them,” Zoe told her.

“No need,” River said. “No one’s coming. They’re whiserping too loudly to hear.”

“Okay, power’s cut,” Kaylee said, standing up and throwing her tools back into the bag.

“’bout time,” Jayne muttered, picking up the bag and throwing it over his shoulder.

“Nice work,” Zoe said, nodding at Kaylee. She threw River a glance, and then looked at the catacomb corridor. “All right, on to phase two.”

~*~

Mal’s body went still. The lights were out. Phase one of the plan was complete. Part of him wanted to relax. Half the work was over. Even if they didn’t finish with the rest of the job was a bust, the display had been made. ‘Course, shutting the lights off wasn’t exactly a frightening display, but it was something. The other half of Mal – that half was twice as worried. No doubt the feds, or Kentdale’s men, whatever, would be running through the catacombs any second. If they happened upon Jayne or Zoe then the gig was up, possibly permanently.

“How much longer,” Heather whispered. Her voice was lost under the current of outcries from the other patrons at the gathering. Only he could hear her.

“Reckon it shouldn’t take too long,” Mal whispered back, knowing that Heather was not the only person who could hear his voice. Inara, she could hear him to. She had that talent. Mal imagined that if you asked her to Inara lip read someone’s shadow from across the room. There was no doubt in his mind she could. She was that talented. Too bad the talent was wasted on a gorram whore—

Mal cringe at his own thoughts. He took a moment to breath, saying nothing, listening to nothing. He couldn’t believe the things he kept thinking about her, couldn’t believe, still, that they’d… because she had…

“Mal?” It was her voice. She made everything sound so sexy. Her tone was concerned, but so, so sexy. “Mal, are you all right?”

“’Fraid of the dark, Inara?” he whispered to her, his voice filled with venom. “Thought you worked with the lights off.”

For a minute, there was silence between them. Mal closed his eyes and listened to the sound of Heather shifting impatiently beside him. Inara was soundless. He couldn’t even hear the sound of her breathing. Maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she had died. Mal imagined it. He didn’t know how he felt about it. If she died… dear lord, if Inara died he would die. Plain and simple. She would take a part of him with her. That was why it hurt so much. She had a part of him, she always had. And instead of cherishing it, she’d gone off and slept with someone else.

And now, in the aftermath, he hated her, but he knew it was only because he loved her. If Inara died, he couldn’t take it. If Inara died, the universe would never be the same again. He wouldn’t go down with her, not really. Zoe would never let him. But things wouldn’t be the same. They wouldn’t be the same after she was gone. They wouldn’t be the same when she left him.

“It’s okay,” she said finally. Her voice… he knew only he could hear her. Inara was crafty that way. She controlled her voice. You didn’t hear it if she didn’t want you to. “New Dunsmuir is a real city. Even if I can’t find a contact, I can find a hotel. It will be like old times.” Oh, god… “I’ll be out of your hair soon enough, captain.”

There is was. She could make anything sound sexy, except that. There was nothing, nothing in the ‘verse that could make the prospect of her leaving anything but bad. Mal let out a sound that was half-way between a mournful moan and a snicker. “Your hotel,” he whispered, “does it charge by the hour?”

She didn’t dignify him with a response. He was glad of this. He didn’t know what he would say next, but he knew it would be terrible. All of his words were. It made sense. He was on a terrible moon doing a terrible job, sitting next to a woman whom he loved terribly, waiting for her to rip his heart out in the most terrible way he could imagine. At least if she died, she wouldn’t have left him. If she died, the ‘verse would have taken her away, but that wouldn’t have been her choice. She was choosing to leave him behind.

~*~

“Everything’s clear,” River said. “No one ever looks up.” She thought about taking her shoes off of her feat so that she could feel the reaction of her adventure, but she knew that Zoe wouldn’t want her to do that. It wouldn’t work. Balanced things would fall over. Voices carry further when they’re frightened than when they’re angry. River learned the lesson. Anger you feel and then it goes away. Fear had long fingers.

They placed the object in her hands. She didn’t know what it meant, but she let her fingers curl around it. Functional. It was designed to function. She was designed to function, too. First, she was a girl, but that had no design. It was after she was a girl that things had changed. Zoe looked into her eyes and told her the mission. River already know all about it. She would function like they told her. She would do as she was designed.

“Are you… excited?” Kaylee asked the question because she was no excited. Kaylee was fond of other objects. Kaylee had put her tongue in Simon’s mouth. River grinned, turning to her friend in the pink shirt and the brown coveralls. She couldn’t help but smile. It was funny.

“His first girlfriend called him Tidy. There were double meanings. Simon always kept his books in line. Organized them by letters on pages,” River explained. “He kissed like a vacuum cleaner. Sucking.”

“River…” Kaylee blanched.

“You’ll like it,” River explained, trying to make her understand. “He can leave marks behind, little treasures. But they’ll fade away.”

“River…” Kaylee wasn’t not excited anymore. She was too busy feeling other things to concentrate on feelings past. It was hard to quality. She was many things at once. Infinity. A small symbol that looks like the number eight fell over and couldn’t get up. Or maybe it was sleeping on its side, waiting for the Christmas snow. “River, don’t think you an’ should be talkin’ ‘bout Simon like this. You’re his sister…”

River sighed. “You’re such a boob.” She smiled. “He’s a boob. You deserve each other. A set of two. Like Noah’s arc.” Kaylee didn’t seem to understand. “Do you think we’ll be sailing?”

“Hey genius!” Jayne whisper-shouted. “You know what the word ‘quiet’ means?”

“It functions as a noun,” River whispered. Middle English, from Latin quiet-, quies rest, quiet. The quality or state of being quiet: Tranquility. River frowned. “But it doesn’t make sense. Serenity isn’t quiet. I hear her sing…”

“Oh, gorram it girl—”

“Jayne.” Zoe silenced him. Only Mal and Zoe really could. Wash and Kaylee couldn’t. Simon tried, but he was learning. Book could, but he didn’t. Zoe walked up to River, stood beside her. There were differences in height. “Jayne, you take Kaylee. I’ll take River. You go, you do the job, and then you run. Dong ma?”

Jayne took Kaylee’s arm. River watched. The touch wasn’t mean. “I got it.” And then they were gone. Kaylee was not excited again. River was no excited. She felt her function coursing through her veins. Zoe turned to her. “Ready?”

~*~

Inara bit her tongue, sucking the blood as it flowed through her mouth. Her breathing was light, but deep. She didn’t know why, didn’t know what idiotic impulse had possessed her to speak. There was no talking to Malcolm Reynolds. Still, there was a part of her that was glad she’d spoken, a part of her that realized when she looked back on this night in the months to come, she would regret it just a little less because she… she had tried, right? Maybe she hadn’t. Maybe she was fooling herself. She closed her eyes, thinking of Abaddon.

“What’s taking so long?” Gilbert whispered to her. Inara didn’t open her eyes. Normally, she would have. Normally, she never would have closed them. But darkness had been kind to her. It afforded her this luxury that otherwise she would be deprived of. Inara had every intention of keeping her eyes closed as long as she could so that behind her eyelids she could dream.

“I’m sure it will be done soon,” she whispered to Gilbert. She heard him cracking his knuckles. The small pops make Inara cringe. Her father had cracked her fingernails often when she was a little girl. It had bothered her mother terribly. They’d start fighting. On insult would lead to another. Sometimes Inara would lock herself in her room to be away from it all, but it never worked out very well. Voices carry. They would slip under the door – it was a bad door, the lock never really worked properly anyway, couldn’t protect her – and she would hear everything.

Abaddon smiled when she told him about it. She… for a moment, she considered slapping him, but then he embraced her and told her these things happened all over the galaxy. No one is happy. She’d told him that they would be happy. She really did have a talent for fooling herself.

Women screamed as the vents were blown open and the smoke bombs were thrown in. Inara calmly covered her mouth with her sleeve. The smell was unpleasant, but the gas was harmless. The smell would stick to her clothing. Half-heartedly, Inara considered asking Mal to reimburse her for dry-cleaning fees next time she had it cleaned. She wouldn’t, of course. She had no desire to rile him at the moment, even though Mal deserved a good kick in the—

The woman screams louder. Inara let out a surprised gasp as she felt herself fall backwards and land on the ground. The air was knocked out of her lungs. She couldn’t inhale, she couldn’t… She had expected them to scream and stand on their chairs. She hadn’t expected them to try to run….

“Inara!” His voice cut through the screaming.

“Mal,” she whispered back. She pushed herself up, stumbled to her feat, trying to regain herself. She could see, only vaguely, his fingers through the smoke. Inara coughed. Reaching towards it was an instinct too powerful to fight. It… She half-screamed as she was knocked again. The blow sent her sprawling forward. Warm hands grabbed her arms, pulling her to her feat before she could fall. Mal, he had…

“’Nara!” Gilbert called. “’Nara, I’m sorry. I lost my balance. I didn’t mean to knock you…”

She could see Mal’s eyes only vaguely through the smoke. She couldn’t read them. She closed her own eyes for a moment, letting herself feel the firmness of his hands. She opened them, then, and shrugged off his touch, letting her body drift towards Gilbert. There was the sound of the gunshot. The sounds of screaming made the room whirl. Inara pulled Gilbert to the ground and held him to her breast.

Then, suddenly as it had started, it was over. The lights flickered on. One woman started screaming that the senator was dead, the senator was dead, and Kentdale too! The politicians stood in the front of the room, looking at each other. Kentdale stepped forward, telling everyone to calm down. They weren’t covered in blood, they were covered in paint. They had been shot with paint balls. Inara could see Mal staring on her out of the corner of her eye.

Inara stood up as gracefully as she could manage. Gilbert was clinging to her arm like a child. She turned just slightly so that she could share a glance with Mal, but he had already started walking away, Heather Zagorska at his side. They were in the front of the room, playing nice with the mayor, trying to help restore order. She led Gilbert to the side of the room, offering him reassuring smiles and touches as people were filled out of the room.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” She heard a cool voice whisper. Inara turned around. Aurelia Woo stood behind her, the graceful woman’s yellow dress covered in red splotches. “They think this counts as a terrorist attack, don’t they?”

Inara felt the blood in her veins run cold suddenly. “Senator,” she acknowledged with a polite curtsy. She could see Mal watching her. “If they count this as a terrorist attack, they count it correctly. They certainly managed to frighten a lot of people.”

“They didn’t kill anyone, though,” Woo countered.

“Killing is not the goal of these things,” Inara said calmly. “Their purpose is to generate fear, nothing more, nothing less.”

“Oh come now, Lady Serra,” the Senator said coolly. “Aiko Sato told me that you were there, you were at Pāramitā Falls on the day it was attacked. That was a terrorist attack. That was a tragedy.”

The blow was unexpected. The memories… “Aiko Sato has told you a lot about me.” It wasn’t her best effort. It would have been wiser to shift the conversation to Sihnon politics, to talk of the beauty of Pāramitā Falls, or back to the situation at hand… but memories of the Falls took her by surprise. They made her sloppy in the way so few things did. Aurelia Woo smiled.

“You are her greatest fascination, what you did,” Aurelia Woo. “I admit, you have become a great curiosity of mine.” Woo curtsied and headed back to Kentdale. Mal caught her eye, finally, but looked away quickly, turning to Heather. She was left with Gilbert who looked at her, mouth agape.

“What was… what was that about?” he asked her. Inara smiled as she sighed.

“I was very well known once,” she told him. “When I lived on Sihnon.”

“But… Pāramitā Falls….”

“Contrary to popular belief, not everyone on the core supported Unification,” Inara said simply. “There were marches from month to month, week to week towards the end. Sometimes, though, there were… stronger displays of objection.” She saw Mal and Heather heading for the door. “We should get going, Gilbert. There’s no reason for us to say here.” No reason to stay.

Inara put her hand on his back and ushered Gilbert towards the door. He stumbled on the way. Inara did not look back after they passed through the door.

. . . . . Wěi rén cí fó… great merciful Buddha

Sorry for the delay. Hope you guys enjoy this chapter! review!

COMMENTS

Monday, April 24, 2006 4:17 PM

WINGEDRAKSHA


Oh, how can Mal and Inara be so incredibly STUPID??? Loving this, though, keep it up!

Monday, April 24, 2006 5:10 PM

JENNS


Sorry, didn't know I wasn't logged in. ;)

JennS

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 9:12 AM

LEIGHKOHL


I really liked this installment! The little tid bit of Jayne's realtionship, River and Kaylee's conversation. I liked Inara revealing that not all were supportive of unification in the Core. Can't wait for your next post!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 12:08 PM

TAYEATRA


Can you please let Inara slap Mal. Someone needs to do it!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 1:40 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh yeah...this is the good stuff....defintely helps with the addiction;)

Mal and Inara need to be locked in a room together until they just let the truth rain forth in all it's fragile glory...but that won't happen:( Still...I would like to know what happened at Paramita Falls...and if it caused Inara to flee from the Core and to Serenity;)

BEB

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 2:52 PM

2X2


Oh God.... the pain... you have torn my heart to ribbons. Your description of Inara's feelings and sensations as she sat next to Mal have completely undone me... there is nothing but this raw, aching wound where my heart used to be... ME! and I LOVE the angst, but here I am begging for an end to their torment.. oh, please let things be resolved between them! Don't let him let her leave!!!

Okay, I'm composed again... somewhat...

Lovely, painfilled instalment! thank-you for hurting me so much!!!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 2:40 AM

AGENTROUKA


I love how the style of writing evolves with the story's plot. It's desintegrating, becoming less strictly structured and more of a scatter-focus on everyone's feelings, in the same way that the characters are becoming unhinged.

Mal's falling to pieces, Inara is already there and it's so wonderfully intense. Violent, almost, which is mirrored well in those twisted pranks.


I really can't decide whose POV I like the most. Inara's sinking, injured acceptance or Mal's trashing back and forth, slowly melting into a big messy puddle.

And almost unrelated to that, the more orderly bits of plot... Zoe, I love your Zoe. You really capture that internal life she has, out of sight from others, hidden beneath her terse exterior. :)

To end up my babbling: There is much adoration. I cannot wait for more. I can't believe I still haven't been disapointed by this series, not once. Which sounds arrogant, but you know, there usually is something just a tad off, right? But there isn't! *sigh*


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