Subject: Inara's not the only survivalist on board. Everyone scrambled when the second war broke out.
Spoilers: Everything, including Serenity
Original story: Thinner Band of Sky by prehistoric_sea
Bone china doesn't survive a fall, and Mathilde could not understand how her son found this woman in the rubble.
When Philip wrote home of his engagement, she was beside herself. The happiest mother you could imagine. She looked down the aisle at church and saw the society women, anxiously fingering their hymnals and praying for sons purged from all the most respectable appointments. Or worse, they donned their veils. Her darling Philip was secure in the cabinet and wouldn't just have any wife, but a companion. A social coup -- nothing was more evocative of a civilized age. Each envious look was more delicious than the last.
Mathilde had a funny feeling about the way they rushed the marriage, but who could blame them, with all of the war's unspoken questions. Philip even proposed they legally wed in a local court, but Mathilde balked. Regardless of the dangeous reality of travel in wartime, she would have her wedding -- they would have the ceremony at home, properly, war or no war.
Because they were a proper family and this was a proper marriage. That's all she ever wanted.
Inara took her breath away when she crossed the threshold. This woman was a vision, regardless of her stained satin slippers or chipped ivory combs. Every war was peppered with rumors of evacuations and rationing, but when Inara lit her candles and said Grace at dinner, peace descended over the table. Mathilde marveled: this woman could make your heart beat slow down as easily as she could make it race.
Was she not the luckiest mother in the world? An obedient wife for her handsome son. Philip's three sisters were obstinate to the end, set on husbands and flowers she thought vulgar. Beneath them. The girls didn't know the scandal she herself raised when she lured their blueblooded, redblooded father down the aisle, Philip himself barely concealed under the white lace. It never went over well with the gentry when a country girl laid claim to one of their own.
Mathilde and Inara glided through wedding preparation. Inara had no family or friends, and thus no qualms with the seating arrangements. She agreed that Philip's sister would make lovely bridesmaids and Philip's nephew would make a lovely ringbearer.
But her deference became dissonant when they went to have the gown made. No true bride could mewl "shi, mu" through her dressfitting. A woman in love took a vice grip on every stitch and every thread of her wedding dress. Inara may have run her fingertips over the bolts of silk but her eyes were locked on the MPs at the door.
Mathilde understood hardship and disappointment, but she had sheltered her children with her husband's salary and status. She had to admit to herself that she could hardly be surprised when Philip refused to do a deep search, with the same old foolish refrain: I love her and I trust her.
At their wedding, she reached an understanding with her eldest daughter's husband. He may not have had official access to Inara's intelligence files, and he may not have been able to give an explanation of what he found on the computer he repaired, but he could deliver. A week later, slipped under her door were that woman's profile printout and copies from the official manual with the standard operating protocol for the "Orderly-obstinate" and "guilt-ridden" subject types.
Philip refused to look. She went hoarse trying to awake him this woman. How many times could she tell him they don't interrogate just anyone! They don't interrogate loyal and law-abiding citizens!
Philip didn't speak to her for weeks. He took Inara to the lake house to honeymoon, where he didn't have to miss a day of work or answer unanswerable questions about his bride.
Like how she avoided the epidemic, why the local government was profiling her instead of celebrating her as an honored guest. The more reports surfaced about the plague, the more Mathilde wondered what that woman wouldn't do to survive.
She went to Philip at his office: Get her pregnant. Get her pregnant and make her need you.
He had her escorted out.
Her daughters tried to console her, but she saw their wavering loyalty. They had men of their own, battered down by the war effort and the imminent threat of conscription. Inara told them things, in low tones, with kindness, not disdain. Those secrets brought their husbands back to their marital beds, brought smiles back to their ambitionless faces.
Mathilde could only wonder if she had ruined everything. Had that woman had ruined thirty years of work to create a respectable family? She cloistered herself in the mansion, read her prayer book, and almost slammed the door the night Inara herself knocked.
Mother, she said, We go tonight. I insisted Philip have our passage secured. This is our only chance.
Inara pressed a finger to her lips. We must go in silence. You and I must go now. Philip will retrieve your things later.
Philip didn't know the combination to her safe, but Mathilde nodded and followed Inara. There was always a tense smile on Inara face when the men talked politics at family dinners, and she was always first to volunteer to do the dishes. She would stand over that sink and scrub hard. Mathilde could tell Inara knew things. Mathilde could tell Inara had seen things. Mathilde believed Inara knew more that Philip, and if she insisted on the transport, only a fool would refuse her invitation.
Regardless of what was running through that woman's mind as their galaxy receded in the distance... Regardless of what insurrectionist lovers abandoned that woman on the edge of the universe, desperate and predatory for a fool like her son... Regardless, all Mathilde could do was think of the boldtype instructions on those Alliance printouts and pray the Unified Planets Intelligence Agency knew what they were talking about. "Subject best approached with a high degree of solicitousness." Mathilde inched closer to her daughter-in-law and her clasped her hands. The ring on that woman's finger was proving to be more valuable than all the blueblooded diamonds on that ravaged planet's dying women.