Shellshock

Chapter 2

It was odd to watch Serenity lift off. She had been relieved the first time she had seen the ship lift off without her, but now she felt as if part of her burned during atmo. She didn't like the feeling. Serenity was supposed to be a grand adventure, and instead it had brought her confusion.


At first it had been exciting to experience the Rim. To see how people on the outer planets lived, and it had been invigorating to taste a bit of freedom, but then she had started to inexorably slot into the family Mal had created on Serenity. And that was terrifying. She had only known one family, and that family had given her nothing but pain. So she ran, ran back to what she knew.


What she knew was the Training House, that was her origin as Inara the companion, Inara as she knew herself to be. It had been a relief to sink back into training, just as it had been her haven when she first joined the guild as a girl, it was still so. This was her true family, this was where her true self lay.


But then the Operative had come and shattered her peace, shattered the balance she had struck within herself. Mal re-entering her life had been nothing but painful. Then they had discovered the secret of Miranda, lost two of their friends, and she just couldn't bear to leave them in the medical facility. And then she couldn't bear to leave them in dry dock. And then she couldn't bear to leave them as they searched for work. If the Guild hadn't insisted upon a hearing she doubted whether she would have returned at all. Once their lives had been shattered it was almost impossible not to fall into the place Mal wanted for her on Serenity. It was more seductive than any of the wiles she'd been trained to employ. The idea that she could belong with people who loved her was... intoxicating.


She shook herself. That was impossible. She did not belong on Serenity. She did not belong on the rim. She did belong here. This was who she was, there was no Inara without Inara the Companion. Nothing in her life had thrown her in as much confusion as Serenity, and it was worse now than ever. She missed them. Missed them all. Both the dead and the living. And worse than that she ached to help them. She yearned to soothe River, to grieve with Zoe, to giggle with Kaylee, and converse with Simon. They needed her far more than any client, and though none of them had coin she found herself not caring.


The Training House that had twice in her life been a haven for her now felt more like a prison. After all she'd seen and experienced she just couldn't narrow her sphere back into the walls and gardens. As she sat in meditation she couldn't rid herself of visions of the possible promise Serenity held for her. And now, after her second foray into space, she wasn't sure she wanted to.


She sighed, of course it felt like a prison, she was confined to her chamber until the hearing took place, and she had no doubt that once it was over she would come to her senses. She merely needed time back where she belonged to remember who she was. In a few hours her two days of troubled meditation would be resolved, and she could continue her life along the path laid out for her as a nine year old girl.



Zoe wrinkled her nose as she stepped into the galley. Simon was at the stove, stirring something that smelt like trenchfoot, and looking as horrified with the smell as she was. She smiled and spoke, "Ain't yer turn for cookin' yet is it Doc?"


He looked surprised to see her and started talking over himself, "No, I just, well, I think I may have offended Kaylee, so..."


Zoe couldn't help but tease him, "May have?"


Simon smiled back at her, "Okay, probably."


Zoe quirked her eyebrow at him and he threw his hands in the air as he spoke, "Definitely," a touch of frustration in his voice. Zoe felt sympathy for him, remembering all too well the bumps and spats between her and Wash.


"Woulda thought that was all over 'n done with on account a-"


Simon sighed , "Obviously not." She smiled at him, remembering another occasion when he had hurt Kaylee's feelings. "At least there's no cow fetuses involved."


Smiling, Simon replied, "Oh I don't know, could be some in this protein."


Come to think on it, it was odd to see Simon cooking, "So ya thought ya'd cook 'er somethin' ta brighten 'er spirits?"


"Something like that."


She smiled, she couldn't solve their problems over night, but she could at least make his attempt taste a bit better than what he'd concocted so far.


"We did get paid..." She hinted. Simon's face blanked.


"Might be ya could make her somethin' tastier than protein."


Technically Mal had put her in charge of the supply run, but all the smells she was bound to run into in the market... there was nothing wrong with a bit of delegation.


Simon stammered his thanks and took the small bag of coins from her, Zoe reminding him to get the rest of the supplies written on the list inside the bag. Shooing him out of the kitchen, and holding her breath she set to work scrubbing away the awful stink. She hoped he did better the next time around as she clamped her jaw shut and willed her stomach to stay where it was.



This was not his best day ever. Not his worst. Must remember that. Worst days involved death, injury was quite preferable to death. He'd prefer no injury to injury though, and the way this drop was going that weren't a guarantee.


Didn't help that he felt sore in his gut, that he couldn't move as quick or nimble as usual. And that he'd left both Zoe and River aboard Serenity seein' how this was a milk run. And that Jayne was also not quite one hundred percent either.


At first the client seemed affable, but soon as Mal opened his mouth things went sour. Man just couldn't (or wouldn't) understand why they just couldn't (or wouldn't) land at his estate.


"I thought you had been told to keep a low profile! Landing on the main docks isn't exactly low profile, Captain Reynolds." He sneered.


Mal grit his teeth, "ain't like there's someplace else to land, world like this is full of sensors. We try 'n land anywhere but the dock guarantee feds would come a-sniffin'."


"And how am I supposed to get them back to my estate? I'm not paying you for dropping them at the dock." Before Mal could come up with a nice polite reply to smooth the man's ruffled feathers Jayne jumped in, "Seems ya got plen'y a room on yer conveyance there."


Mal resisted the impulse to cuff the great lump of muscle next to him as he eyed the body guard. The man seemed to be getting ready for violence, when Simon approached. Either he didn't see, or he ignored, Mal's attempt at waving him off. Go se.


"Sir. My apologies for the crew, it isn't often we do business in the core, seems their manners aren't quite... polished." His tone was firm, yet polite. The client smiled at Simon, once again affable.


"You must understand, I don't have time to play courier to my own delivery. When one pays that much for some crates to be delivered one expects them to arrive promptly at your doorstep. Imagine my surprise when I realized that my cargo hadn't been dropped off on time as promised."


Simon nodded, looking the picture of refinement as he spoke, "Once again, I am so very sorry sir, but unfortunately our shuttle suffered some unforeseeable damage during atmospheric entry, which made personal delivery of your cargo impossible. I sincerely hope loading it into your personal shuttle will suffice."


The client nodded in agreement as he spoke, "Seeing that you're a respectable outfit, I don't see why not."


"Thank you, and again apologies for the inconvenience." And with that Simon directed Jayne to load the crates onto the man's rather fancy shuttle, all while carrying on small talk with their client.


Mal was flabbergasted. Simon making himself useful outside of a medical emergency, he didn't think he'd ever even conjured such a sight.


"Not that I don' 'ppreciate what ya did there doc, but what are ya doin' out and about planetside?"


"Zoe suggested I could pick up some supplies."


Jayne snorted, but Mal smiled, about time the boy started to pull his weight.


"Seems the life of crime suits after all."


Simon didn't look comfortable with the idea of leading a life of crime, but he did keep his mouth shut.


So, wasn't his best day ever, but he had coin in hand, new work lined up once they reached the Training House, and since Simon managed to find fresh produce, a more tasty dinner than they'd been treated to in a few weeks.


Course the ship still felt strangely empty without a certain -- no best not be thinking on that. Hard not to with Zoe grieving, and Kaylee preoccupied with the doctor, but he'd done his best to fill the time with Captainy duties like checking the helm every few hours, and clearing out the passenger dorms. Good honest physical labour did wonders to take a mind off things. Course now that he'd emptied passenger dorms it was going to be a whole lot harder to keep his mind -- wait, he'd use Jayne's weight set. Yes. That would do fine.



Three high priestesses were sitting on the dais. Three, and all from Sihnon. Inara tried to keep her features blank of the surprise she felt. It was unusual to have a hearing with three in attendance, usually only one presided -- one from the house of the companion. To have three high priestesses all from Sihnon was unprecedented. Inara felt adrenaline course through her body, clenching her stomach, speeding her heart rate, and warming her skin. This was not what she'd expected. She'd expected a short interview, a formality really, before being accepted back into full activity. She'd never even heard of a hearing presided by three high priestesses.

"Zhufu ni, mèimei," the priestess in the middle greeted her. Inara quickly replied in kind, feeling awkward and exposed as she stood in the middle of the room, her head level with the chests of the women in front of her.


"You understand of course why we are here." The woman continued. Though she didn't fully comprehend why all of them were, Inara graciously stated that she did. The priestess to her left narrowed her eyes and spoke.


"You had the house swarming with soldiers, scaring your students half to death."


Inara bowed her head, knowing better than to speak unless asked.


The woman continued, "That man is a criminal, a thief, a tariff dodger, not worth the notice of a Companion like yourself. And yet you left with him."


Inara studied the floor, her stomach in knots.


"Didn't contact us until six days ago when we called for this hearing. Unacceptable. A woman of your standing. Do you know what damage your behavior has done to the Guild's reputation?"


Inara knew better than to answer that question.


The woman glared at her. "You showed such promise once Inara. You could have been a priestess yourself." She sighed and lapsed into silence.


The woman to Inara's right then began to speak. "You are an excellent teacher. The work you have done in this Training House was remarkable. And you were an admirable ambassador for the Guild throughout the Rim during your travels. However, your involvement with Captain Reynolds." She paused, "This could cost you your registration."


Finally the woman in the center spoke, "We have decided that you have spent enough time on the Rim, and have recommended your return to Sihnon. "


Inara felt ice enter her bloodstream.


"We know the reasons for your departure, however, we feel that there won't be a problem with your return. It is time for you to stop this ridiculous adventuring and settle back into a life more fitting for a woman of your standing."


The woman stopped, smiling a smile that didn't reach her eyes as she spoke, "In fact certain members of the Sihnon set have been asking for your return for nearly a year now."


And in that moment Inara felt the trappings of herself fall away to reveal fear. She spoke, knowing even as she did that there would be no reconsideration, no change of mind, but she had to speak, she could not go back to Sihnon. "What about Osiris, or-"


But the woman to her right cut her off, "Absolutely not. You are in no position to ask anything Inara. You are lucky to retain your license as a Companion."


Inara gritted her teeth, "I cannot go back to Sihnon."


The woman to her left waved her hand as if Inara's concerns were of no importance. "That matter has been resolved."


Inara knew she was lying. And in that moment her world tipped over the way she imagined Simon's had upon receiving that letter from River.

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