BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

ARCADIA

Over the Hills and Far Away Ch 12
Sunday, April 30, 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... Inara chats with Book and Kaylee, Wash stressed over Zoe, and learn just a bit more about Inara and Abaddon's history...


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2520    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Ch 12

Wash kicked a crate as he entered the cargo bay, and then cursed loudly as his toes rather aggressively regretted this decision. Shopping for Zoe had been a bust. He figured that while she was off on the job would be a good time. She wouldn’t see his absence as suspicious, and he would have some time to wander on his own, some time to think, to contemplate, so sort through mounds and mounds of useless, mostly shepherding-related crap to try to find his wife the perfect gift. Unless he wanted to get her a giant sheep shaving thing, which he hadn’t completely ruled out yet, there was absolutely nothing.

Not that his first gift had been something. She would have probably accepted it politely (well, maybe), put it in a drawer, and promptly forgotten about it. Wash was willing to forget this as long as it made her smile, as long as it made her understand that – understand that he cared for her, that no matter what he had her best interests at heart. Things had been okay between them lately, but Wash couldn’t help feeling that there was a shadow hanging over them, a shadow whose name started with a B, ended with a Y, and had the letter AB in the middle. It was a point they were disagreeing on.

“Howdy husband,” Zoe called. Wash turned around, surprised that he missed the familiar sound of the mule headed towards the ship. Zoe parked her like an expert while Zoe, Kaylee, and River, eager to be done, it seemed, hopped off. Zoe was smiling. Wash liked it when she smiled.

“Crime went well, I take it?” He asked as Zoe crossed the room and kissed him.

“We didn’t sneak through Earth and Water,” River whispered, giving him one of her you’re-an-idiot looks, “we were traveling through catacombs.” Wash raised his eyebrows as she sighed at him and stalked off to her room. He turned to Zoe, but Zoe only shrugged. Apparently, all their bonding as of late had not helped his wife become any more fluent in River-speak. Kaylee approached them, smiling cheerfully.

“Went better than well,” Kaylee said. “Did’ya hear all the screamin’? Oh, they were screamin’ worse than the captain screamed that one time when Zoe and ‘Nara walked up behind him and they…”

“Seriously?” Wash asked her, trying to imagine the scene. “Hey – since when do you like the sound of other people screaming?”

“Since we gave ‘er a gorram rifle,” Jayne said with a slight chuckle.

Kaylee smiled once more. “I got Morris Kentdale straight through the eyes,” she said proudly. “He had a big, red splatch o’ paint right in the middle of his forehead. It looked so silly.”

“You didn’t make that shot, girl, that was me,” Jayne interjected. “My shot nailed his face, yer shot was two feet left of his elbow.”

Kaylee’s face fell. “Oh… well, I thought I got him.”

Zoe put her hand on Kaylee’s shoulder. “Don’t feel badly about it,” she said calmly. “No one’s born knowing how to shot a gun. You should have seen me, first day in basic.”

“You not manage to hit anythin’ either?” Kaylee prompted.

“Well,” Zoe said thoughtfully, “not exactly…”

“Anyway,” Wash interjected, saving his wife from being in the awkward position of crushing Kaylee’s dream of not being horrible with a firearm. He wasn’t a perfect shot himself, but Kaylee… she’s only held a gun once, and then she let River take it. River with a gun that shot bullets was always a bad idea. Wash still wasn’t convinced that Zoe was sane to let River hold gun that shot paint balls. If anyone could figure out how to kill with one of those things, River could. But this wasn’t moot point. The job had gone, and it had gone well. “The job went well. This is cause for celebration. Kaylee, do you have any of that engine wine left?”

“Don’t think it’s best for us to be drinkin’ ‘fore the Firday,” Zoe interjected, crushing the notion. She shot Wash a soft look. “We still have a job to finish. But when that’s over…” Her voice carried almost too many suggestive undertones for Wash to take. Where is cheek red? Kaylee started giggling at him. Yes, his cheeks were probably red. Very red. Red like a gas giant red. Great.

“You two got special plans for your birthday?” Kaylee asked Zoe.

“We’re staying in,” Zoe answered.

“Aww. You should go out, take advantage of the fact we’re dirtside for once,” Kaylee encouraged sweetly. “Town ain’t got much, but I hear that some of the restaurant’s ain’t half bad.”

“Wait – did you say restaurants, as in plural?” Wash asked. “The only one I’ve seen is the one in the pub.”

Kaylee shrugged, then added, “But I hear it’s very good.” Sadly, Wash thought to himself, it didn’t have a gift shop that had a section labeled, ‘Warrior Woman Gifts for All Occasions.’ Why had he married someone who was so hard to shop for again? Oh yeah, because she was everything to him.

“I don’t know. Spending my birthday in a crowded room with all kinds of smelly gōng yang diàn ain’t exactly my idea of—”

She was cut by the sound of a second mule pulling up to the ship. Wash watched with indifference as Zoe put her hand on her gun. It was an instinct that had alarmed him at first. He used to be afraid that she would shot someone by accident just because she had the damn thing in her hands and wasn’t in the mood to ask questions, but that had been a long time ago. Now, Wash understood a lot better. Now, that was just part of Zoe.

The mule, a six-seater, came to a stop in front of Serenity’s ramp. A disgruntled looking Mal and Inara stepped off. Neither of them spoke a word as the walked into Serenity. Mal zipped straight past them, heading up the stairs and heading straight for his bunk, presumably. Inara walked in slightly behind him, her eyes away from him, refusing to see him, and she climbed up the aft stair way, heading towards her shuttle. For a moment after she entered Kaylee, Zoe, and Wash said nothing. “I think I should talk to Inara,” Kaylee said at last, heading towards the companion’s shuttle.

Wash turned to Zoe, a piece of dread throbbing in his chest. “You gonna talk to Mal now?”

“Ain’t much I can tell him he don’t already know,” Zoe said wistfully, her gaze on the stairs. She smiled suddenly, turning back to Wash. “I think I’d rather spend my afternoon with you.”

~*~

“Do you mind if I change?” Inara asked politely. “My clothes smell like Mal’s smoke bomb.”

“Sure,” Kaylee responded. “That’s fine.” She sat down slowly on Inara’s bed, facing the shuttle door, her back to Inara. She hoped it gave the other woman privacy, though she suspected Inara didn’t care either way. Companions were above nudity taboos, right? Still, it was polite. Kaylee sighed lightly, knowing her next question wasn’t. “How is the cap’n? You two both rushed away so fast…”

For several seconds there was silence. Kaylee could feel her heart racing. Perhaps barging in, asking about all this wasn’t her best idea. Then, Inara appeared before her, changed in a light, white robe, and sat down on the bed beside her. Inara sighed, a strange smile gracing her lips. “Aside from trying to make my life as miserable possible, he appears to be all right,” Inara said quietly. “I think he’s feeling a bit lonely, a bit anxious to get the job done. You know how Mal hates being on the ground so long.”

“I’m sure he don’t mean to make ya’ miserable, Inara,” Kaylee said sweetly, smiling at her friend. She knew, deep down, that the captain was a good man. Mal, he wanted the best for everybody on Serenity, whether he wanted to want that or not. The trouble was, Kaylee couldn’t be completely certain that she wasn’t lying to Inara. Good as the captain was deep down, he could be mighty mean when he was uncomfortable, and Kaylee knew well as anyone that Inara’s going away left him might soar. He didn’t want her to go anymore than Kaylee did. Trouble was, Mal never let things be.

Inara smiled. Kaylee realized what was strange about he friend’s smile now. It hurt. “That’s sweet of you to say, mei mei, but his words and actions indicate otherwise,” Inara told her.

“Well, maybe if you just talked to ‘im—”

“Kaylee, Mal doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“Yes he does. That’s the trouble, ain’t it?” Inara refused to look Kaylee in the eye. Kaylee sighed again. So, Inara did understand what was bothering Mal, she just wouldn’t talk about it. Kaylee had the urge to role her eyes. It was hard to understand sometimes how two people could be so stubborn. On the other hand, she couldn’t really blame them. She knew them both a little too well to blame them. “Well, don’t worry too much ‘bout it,” Kaylee said. “I’m sure everythin’ will work itself out. Don’t’cha think?”

Inara was still for a moment. “I hope so,” she said at last. Kaylee smiled. It wasn’t the answer she had been hoping for, but it would do. It would do just fine. “So,” Inara said, her eyes starting to sparkle as she turned to Kaylee in earnest, “Last I recall, you were off to try to marry a certain eligible doctor.”

“Inara!” Kaylee shrieked, embarrassed. “I ain’t gonna marry him just yet.”

“Really?” Inara answered. “I seem to remember a conversation that when something like, ‘Inara, have you ever been married?’ Followed directly by a certain mechanic heading off to the infirmary. Hmm?”

“I kissed him,” Kaylee admitted in a rush. “This morning.” It had been glorious, but how strange it had been. Kaylee had sensed, suddenly, that the moment was right, and she realized her mistake. For months, since the second Simon had set foot aboard she ship, Kaylee had been waiting for him to make the move, had been waiting for him to pull her into the kiss. The morning, however, she had realized that she could pull him in.

In a strange way, it had been Inara’s fault. Companions, she had thought, were in control of their own sexuality. That was what the captain… well, it might be what the captain was so sore about. Kaylee couldn’t tell. In wondering, though, she realized the truth. For the most part, she was in control of her sexuality, but there was still a part of her that expected to be rewarded with a kiss if she showed interested. She realized, Simon was interested, but it was up to her to reward him. She needed to kiss him. He needed her to kiss him. So she did, and it was the finest kiss she had ever had.

Inara smiled at her, putting a hand on Kaylee’s shoulder. “That’s so exciting, mei mei! I’m so happy for you.”

“Don’t go tellin’ nobody. I want to keep this quiet for a while, ‘specially while a certain captain’s in a certain mood,” Kaylee said, half-joking, half-serious. “Zoe’s said a couple ‘a times that he objected something fierce when she and Wash first started…” Kaylee sighed. “I don’t wanna have to deal with that, ‘specially…”

“Especially, when he’d like this, because of me,” Inara said. It was hard for Kaylee to guess how Inara felt about it. Kaylee hoped she was at least peaceful, though Kaylee couldn’t imagine being peaceful if she were in the same situation. Inara presented and aura of calm. She offered the truth freely. Yet… yet it didn’t seem right. It seemed like Inara should have said it with the smile she wore before, the one that screamed of pain. “You know, I’ll beat him up for you if he objects.”

“Inara!” Kaylee exclaimed, caught off guard. “That’s ain’t hardly lady-like of you.”

“Well, I wasn’t always a lady,” Inara responded with a grin. Suddenly, they both laughed. It was release. For Kaylee, it was release from the tension she couldn’t quite shake despite her joy. For Inara… Kaylee couldn’t quite tell what the laughter meant for Inara, but she could see that her friend needed it. Kaylee wasn’t like Inara. She couldn’t read people the same way. She couldn’t always tell what was best for them, but she was glad, at least, that Inara could just be Inara when they were together, and that they could share the laughter that made them whole. Inara would stay. The Companion didn’t know it yet, but Kaylee did. Inara would stay on Serenity, and they would laugh for a long time longer.

~*~

March 24, 2511. Sihnon. Café Nettoyage Eau at Pāramitā Falls.

Companions were trained to pick at their food. It was one of the few aspects of her job that Abaddon criticized her for. He thought it was disgusting, people being told how much they are allowed to eat. Inara explained that it was best for her to eat this way. Her body was a commodity. She couldn’t allow it to become tarnished in anyway. She could not have coarse hair. She could not have scars. She could certainly not have an unbalanced weight.

Abaddon said he understood why she was so careful, but it made him sad for her. He told her he always got the sense that little things like that – watching how much she ate when they dined, being careful not to swear in public, making sure she was never too intoxicated – kept her from truly enjoying herself. Inara told him that this concern was ridiculous, but her assurances did nothing to dissuade him.

“You’re cold tonight,” Abaddon said quietly. He took a sip of wine, thick and red. Inara countered by taking a sip of her own.

“I apologize,” Inara said quietly. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

“I’m not your client, Inara,” Abaddon said, his voice wearied. “You don’t have to worry about making me comfortable.”

Inara didn’t respond to him. Firstly, because it was an old argument, and secondly, Inara wasn’t angry with Abaddon because he accused her of treating him like a client when he wanted to be a lover. Unwittingly, Inara let her gaze travel towards the south east. Abaddon picked up on this immediately and sighed. Inara took another sip of her wine, ready to hear his explanation.

“I wasn’t involved with that, I promise you,” he said quickly.

Inara set her glass down on the table and folded her hands neatly in her lap. “Abaddon,” she said quietly, “I’m not sure that I believe you.”

“Inara…”

“Why should I?” She said, cutting him off before he could defend himself. “You’ve lied to me about being involved with these things before. Sergio Vasquez…”

“I was in contact with Sergio Vasquez, not involved,” Abaddon said in his low, angry voice. “There are worlds of difference between being in contact and involved. With all your huā qiào Companion training you haven’t figured that out?”

Inara sighed. “Abaddon,” she said quietly, “I know that you weren’t with Sergio when he put a bomb on that bus, nor where you at Vinaya Park yesterday when the protesters opened fire, but I am aware of what you are. I know your objective. I know that, when you logged onto the Cortex this morning and read the bulletin, you couldn’t have been sad about it.”

After this they sat in silence. Inara felt that her arms were weak. There were tears in the corners of her eyes that she casually pushed away. She had been with Nandi when it happened. Anti-War protesters at Vanaya Park open fire against local authorities. Three Federal Officers were killed before the gunners could be found and eliminated. Five dead in total. Four addition Officers were wounded. It was the worst attach since Sergio Vasquez, a factory worker in the underbelly of Sihnon, had planted an unsophisticated bomb on a public transport seventeen months earlier, killing three people, a working mother and her two young sons.

The War, it was getting worse. Some said it was coming to a close. Others claimed that it would go on forever. Serenity Valley. It was the name on everyone’s lips, the battle that was supposed to end everything. Troops had been holding for a week so far. Many analysts predicted that within the next week things would be decided for good. Inara knew, in her heart, that it wouldn’t, that it couldn’t. She didn’t know which would hurt more, if she were right, or if she was wrong.

“Will I see you again?” She asked. “When this is all over?”

Abaddon didn’t answer at first. He didn’t even look at her. “Harvest is a strange planet,” he said quietly. “For the most part, it is rice fields, and of course the Temples. You would appreciate the Temples, Inara, but life would bore you.”

Inara considered this. “Are you asking me to run away with you?”

“You could, if you wanted to,” Abaddon said somberly.

Inara tried to smile. “I’ve loved you for three years, Abaddon,” she said quietly. “If I wanted to end things, I would have done so a long time ago. I…” her next words surprised her, “…I think I want to marry you.”

Abaddon’s smile spread across his face. “Then let’s do it. There are twenty-four hour chapels in some of the Grey Areas. We can do it tonight. You’ll be my bride, and I’ll take you away from all this.” He reached across the table and grabbed her hand.

“Abaddon!” She said, half-laughing. “I can’t. The guild… it’s written into our contracts that we can’t get married while still retaining a license. If I married you tonight, my love, they would take away everything I have. My clothes, my money…”

“It’ll be all right,” Abaddon answered. “We’d make our way.”

Inara sighed. “With what?”

“We’d settle somewhere. I here there’s lots of mining work on Whitefall. Or perhaps we could go to Beaumonte. It’s more your type of planet, a city that never sleeps, and I could get a job like this, as a salesman…”

“But you’re not really a salesman,” Inara reminded him. “You wouldn’t know what to do.”

“You could teach me,” Abaddon said. “Yes, that’s it. You could teach me to be a salesman, and then after than you could become a teacher. We could get an apartment New Dunsmuir. It would be a good life. There were be lots of lights – multicolored, neon, a little different than here, but you’d love them – and some of the most interesting restaurants in the ‘verse—”

“In the universe,” Inara chimed.

“Yes, in the universe,” Abaddon repeated. “I’m serious, Inara,” he said quietly. “Let’s run away. When it’s all over, then the final shot’s been fired at Serenity Valley, no matter who wins or loses, let’s run away together. We’ll settle far away from here, maybe on Beaumonte, maybe another place, or maybe we’ll buy ourselves a ship and sail the Black, but let’s go, you and I, together. Hand in hand.”

For a moment, the world stood still. There was no doubt in Inara’s mind that she could run away from it all, but, but now it was real. She nodded at him, it was all that she could do. Abaddon smiled, reached his hands across the table and cupped her face with his hands, his thumb brushing against her skin. “I’ve imagined this,” Inara said quietly.

“Is it everything you thought it would be?” he asked.

Inara let herself smile. “Better.” She stumbled over the word, but this didn’t bother her. She was really going to do it, really going to go away, sail away and never return. She wondered, for a split second, what people would think of her. The Guild, no doubt, would shun her. Her mother might forgive her after a period of time, though perhaps she wouldn’t. Inara couldn’t say. Nandi… Nandi would find it all annoyingly romantic. She’d roll her eyes and then tell Inara so send her waves and letters. She would kiss Inara on the cheeks in goodbye.

Inara smiled at this. Her thoughts returned to Abaddon sitting before her, his smile radiating his happiness. Abaddon and Inara Jiang. It had a certain ring to it. For once, finally, they would be together. There would be no more waiting up at nights wondering where in the universe he was or what he was doing, no more of his wondering if she was with a client right now and what they did behind closed doors. They were have peace, at last. They would find there Serenity.

“Do you really think,” she asked that, “that the Serenity Valley will fall anytime soon, one way or the other?”

“Not too soon,” Abaddon said thoughtfully. “The Independents… they’ll hold, until their last breath, hold until no man in brown is left standing. It will take months, at the least.”

Inara nodded. “Abaddon,” she said, “as I said, I’ve imagined this before. I have a plan that should persuade the Guild to allow me access to all of my earnings without breaching my contract. It would take some time, and careful timing, but if it works, we could run away with every cent I have. After that, I would be shunned, but we would be long gone. However, this plan hinges upon one choice, a choice you may not agree to make.”

Abaddon considered her. “You’re craftier than you seem,” Abaddon said quietly. “People don’t give you credit for how cunning you can be.”

“As I said,” Inara explained, “I’ve imagined this before. I’ve had time to think.”

“Yes, you have,” Abaddon said. “All right, lets hear this plan of yours.”

~*~

Inara quietly exited her shuttle. It was far past midnight. The crew, she imagined, was fast asleep, even Mal. But Inara couldn’t sleep, not that night. At first, she’d attempted to be productive. She had spent a great deal of time looking through her registry of cliental, trying to plan for her departure. Leaving. Somehow, it never went as she planned.

“Inara,” a voice called as she made her way to the kitchen. Inara turned around, a polite smile spreading across her face.

“Shepard Book,” Inara said pleasantly. “What are you doing up at such an hour?”

“I could ask you the same question,” he said, coming up the stairs and joining her as they walked towards the kitchen.

“You could,” Inara acknowledged. “You’ll have to forgive me for only being fit to offer a rather mundane answer. I couldn’t sleep.”

“Me neither,” Book admitted. “Working with the poor and improvised is good for the heart,” Book told her, “but not as good for the head, I’m afraid. I find my thoughts drifting to those I’ve been serving over the last few days. I think about their lives, how different they are from any lives I’ve know. And yet, they all seem relatively happy.”

“Humans have an amazing ability to find peace within themselves, even under the worst of circumstances,” Inara offered.

“That they do,” Book acknowledged. “That they do.” After a moment, he asked, “Now you know why I’m up. Tell me, what thoughts prevent you from sleeping?”

“Mainly, thoughts of my departure,” she answered honestly as they entered the kitchen. Immediately, Inara began to prepare some tea. “I made reservations at of hotel in New Dunsmuir. I’ve made plans to stay for two weeks at the least. Hopefully, that will give me enough time to find another transport of some sort, and then…” Inara could barely repress a sigh, she could barely keep her voice cheery and conversational, could barely put up the façade any longer, but she did… “Then, it’s a whole new world.” When the Shepherd said nothing she added, “In truth, it’s a reservation I should have made the moment Mal stepped into my shuttle to announce the change of plans, but…” She almost faltered. “But, it’s done now, and that’s what’s important.”

“I can understand why you waited,” Book said kindly. “You… you’re the type of girl who likes to change when its time to change. You rip off the band aide and run. He’s drawing it out as long as he can. This makes it difficult for you. It would make it difficult for anyone.”

Inara smiled politely. “You over estimate how decisive I am, but there is truth in what you’re saying,” she acknowledged. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if when the job is finished Mal decides that he wants to go Ezra and shot lizards with muskets, forcing me to change my plans. Again.”

“He cares for you,” Book said, “he doesn’t want you to go.”

“Doesn’t want me to go…” Inara repeated. This time, she did allow herself to sigh. “Mal doesn’t care for me,” she said, looking the Shepherd in the eyes, “he cares for himself. It’s the only person he ever cares about.”

“That’s not true. You know it’s not,” Book countered. “The man is very protective of his crew.”

“Of which I am not,” Inara reminded him. She stood up from the table. “I’m not crew in his eyes. I never have been. To be honest…” She hesitated. “To be honest,” she began again, “if he did consider me a part of his crew, a part of his family then… then, I would stay. But he won’t… he doesn’t. And he never will. I have no reason to…” At last she faltered. “You’ll keep this between us, won’t you?”

“Of course,” Book said. “Shepherd’s honor.”

“Thank you.” The words couldn’t express her gratitude. She only hoped the only man understood how much his friendship had come to mean to her. Bowing slightly, she turned to go.

“Inara,” he called softly after her, “you will be missed.”

She stopped only for a moment. She turned her head and looked at him. You will be missed. It sounded like something he would say at a funeral. Here lies Inara Serra. She will be missed. Inara couldn’t blame him for thinking of her this way. It felt like death to her as well. Without another word, she returned to her shuttle.

. . . . gōng yang diàn… sheep farmers huā qiào… fancy

Okay, I was rereading through the flashbacks this weekend, and I noticed I made two rather careless mistakes. One, the second flashback between Inara and her mother should take place in February 2508, not 2507. Second, Inara makes a reference to Abaddon being from Jiangyan in the flashback between her and Aiko Sato. I realize now that this was the planet visited in Safe. Opps. So, can we just pretend I wrote Harvest instead? Thanks.

Hope you enjoyed this installment. There are about eight chapters left. We are getting to the good stuff.

COMMENTS

Monday, May 1, 2006 7:12 AM

ODDBEAN


I have been loving this story! I can't wait to find out what Inara's connection with the Paramita Falls incident is.
Your Mal and Inara is some of the best I have read. Keep up the awesome work!

Monday, May 1, 2006 3:50 PM

AGENTROUKA


There were some rather noticable spelling mishaps in this chapter, that at times distracted me,just to mention this upfront. *g*


Another wonderful part. :) Less intense, this time but full of insightful plot-advancing information! That moment between Kaylee and Inara was beautiful because, for once, it's Kaylee doing her best to be what Inara needs right that moment. Accepting that she can't know all of her, and loving her anyway. It was such a sweet thing to read.

The flashback was great, on the other hand, because.. wow. Young love among the influential and crafty. The conflicted tension was perfect, that mix of idealism and adventure (INARA proposed!) balanced by practicality and an undeniable flavor of... not exactly distrust but there is a sober objectivity in there now. Not as childlike as in the earlier flashbacks, more adult, even as they weave their little whimsical plans, right in the mids of war speculation.

Lovely, that.


And, it seems, Inara's broken kind of pain has gathered itself into a new sense of resolve. Fitting that she would have this little goodbye-moment with Book for whom she had the welcome-aboard blessing at the end of the pilot.



Oh, the Wash and Zoe bits are adorable, too. They are a lovely diversion from all the tension. I genuinely enjoy them.



(If this seems incoherent, it's late and I'm sleepy... *g*)


As always: cannot wait for more!

Tuesday, May 2, 2006 7:58 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Another wonderful chapter, Arcadia! I loved your scene between Abbadon and Inara, with Abbadon possessing a tiny Mal-like disdain for Companion training (though he certainly handles the entire matter better than Mal has ever been shown to do) ;)

BEB


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