BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

SYZG

Finding Common Ground Ch.5
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Inara reveals her ability to act but the results are awkward and painful


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1893    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 5: Lack of Appreciation

Mal leaned back out of the way, pulling Inara along with him underneath the scaffolding. She muttered beneath her breath about never having a peaceful day of shopping with him as they walked down the street, narrowly dodging street carts and pedestrians struggling to get home before the downpour. Already there had been a few streaks of lightening across the sky and the rain was cold.

Involuntarily, Inara trembled and tucked herself closer to Mal's side. He glanced down at her as he squeezed her hand in his and led her to another alleyway. He was of half-a-mind to simply race back to the docks to Serenity but didn't like the thought of whoever was following them getting there as well. Best keep this as low radar as possible. All he needed was to get the rest of the crew shot at and Simon complaining about the work...not that the boy ever did but Mal figured he was inclinded to.

He pressed Inara into the rough wood siding and heard her suddenly gasp as he invaded her space. Ignoring the tight quarters, he was perfectly content with pressing up against her. Long as this didn't last long, she'd never know the effects of it.

"You alright?"

"Wo hao," she murmured. "What are we doing here?"

"Just inclined to see who's following us, if you catch my drift."

Inara rolled her eyes before lifting her hand to see that was coated in dirt and brown paint. Her back, she realised, felt soaked by something oily. "Mal..." she suddenly whispered, "If we get back to Serenity and you aren't injured...I am going to hurt you."

Mal, whose attention had been away from her, looked down at her hand and blinked. "Oh, sorry."

"Sorry doesn't cut it. I liked this dress," she ground out as she tried to shove him off of her. Mal jerked her back and pressed her against the wall.

"Gorram it, woman, use some sense," he said just as thunder rumbled. "I like the dress too but stop moving." Inara focussed her large brown eyes on him, struggling to keep calm as he continued to press her against the wall. From the street, it would look incredibly intimate, not something she had been wanting at the moment. Half tempted to grind her heel into his instep, she took a deep breath in through her nose and then out slowly, calming her temper. How he could annoy her so quickly she would never understand. Mal stared down at her, reading how uncomfortable she was by his proximity yet not understanding it. It was simply a matter of lowering his head and...

"Excuse me, sir."

Leave it to someone to interrupt something that could have turned in his favour. Mal looked over his shoulder and was immediately met by a closed fist in his eye. He flew off of Inara and staggered against a stack of crates before he was able to get his balance back. Inara gaped at the three men who advanced on Mal before glancing at him. Beyond a rather stunned look, he looked fine.

"I swear that this one is Malcolm Reynolds. Imagine the reward we'd get," said one of them, pulling his hat up so that he could see more clearly. Inara, still pressed against the wall, judged her distance carefully and watched, waiting.

"I know you all?" Mal asked as he shakily stood, rubbing at his face. His boots and pants were splattered with dirt and he grunted a curse underneath his breath.

"It's gonna work like this," said the man with the beard. "You're gonna leave this Tchen wah." He missed both Mal and Inara's deadly look. "And you are gonna come with us."

"Why would I want to do that...exactly?" Mal asked, brushing his hand over his gun holster.

"Because you are a wanted criminal, if you are Malcolm Reynolds," said a man from behind Inara. He was dressed in black, but the finest fabric, silks and pressed cottons. The entire look was out of place, but as Mal stared at him he realised that what set him on edge about this man was the long shotgun being tapped against the high leather boots.

Not good.

"I'd read you your rights if I thought it would do any good," the man said with a look at Inara. "But...I..." He paused and faced Inara face on. "Ye Soo!Inara Serra is that you?"

Inara faced him and Mal saw the overly bright smile she had used on him sometimes. "Stefan Adler! It has been a lifetime!"

"Or two," he said, raking his eyes over her in appreciation. "You look positively...unchanged."

Inara blushed prettily and sashayed-for that was the only way of describing the lift and rotation of her hips- her way over to him, reaching out and touching his shoulder. Stefan took of his hat and promptly kissed her slim hand, his fingers trailing over her skin. Inara's painted smile remained unchanged and as Mal watched, she transformed from his friendly Amabassador to an adoring woman with the largest set of calf-eyes he had ever seen.

Unwittingly, he felt a pang of jealousy.

"So have you, Stefan." She thrust her lower lip out in a pretty pout. "You never waved me."

"Ah, bao bei, you have been gone from Persephone for so long. And then I heard that you had stopped seeing clients seven months ago...the hiatus killed me," Stefan answered, having completely forgotten about Mal. His men exchanged odd looks but kept quiet.

"Well," Inara took several steps closer, "I'm not longer on hiatus."

Both Mal and Stefan watched as her hand slid beneath his coat and traced over his chest and abdomen. Stefan swallowed hard while Mal glowered. Inara flicked her eyes over to Mal for a moment but kept her hand where it was.

"I have a job to do, Inara," Stefan said weakly and she smiled.

"Of course, you are looking for Malcolm Reynolds. This isn't him."

"What?" said the bearded man. "Sure looks like him."

Inara fixed him with a fierce look before turning and walking to Mal. He eyed her warily as she took his arm and then slowly walked him to Stefan. "This is my current client, Mr. Wiseman. He has hired me for several days...he's a trader within the Alliance core parliament. We were caught in this rain when your men so rudely interrupted us."

Mal and Stefan both stared at her, only Stefan looked puzzled while Mal looked stunned. "Inara, you know that I would trust you implicitly. After all our time spent together..." Stefan broke off and looked Mal over. "But he does not look like..."

Inara gasped. "How can you suggest that...that I would be with a man beneath my status! I would never...to think of some grubby con touching me..." She shuddered for emphasis and Mal reminded himself to ask her what she meant by grubby con.

Stefan began to stutter and Inara growled in her throat. "Forget what I said about waving me, Stefan. If you believe that I would...would debase myself with a man as low as this Malcolm Reynolds criminal must be!" Inara huffed and Mal noticed how teary her eyes had become. He felt an immediate protectiveness to her and he put an arm around her waist for show.

"Bao bei..."Stefan whispered. "I would never...can you..."

"Never!" Inara stated dramatically and hauled Mal off behind her, dragging him down the street. Mal shrugged his shoulders at the other man and let himself be pulled along the street.

Inara never once looked back, running on pure dramatics and adrenlin now. She was lucky to have gotten that far. Stefan Adler thought of himself as a vigilante, often running on old information while he kept up a front of being a wealthy merchant. It was a habit from being a commanding officer some years ago. Twenty years her senior didn't make him much brainier and he was a born-again push-over for the pouty girl she had pretended to be.

By the time she and Mal reached the hull of Serenity and walked just beneath the wings, she realised how quiet he had been. Serenity was humming with activity, Kaylee's giggling voice and Jayne's irritated mutterings easily heard from even this distance. It made Mal's silence all the more apparant and she looked at him over her shoulder. Normally Mal would talk her ear off or insult her.

The anticipation was killing her.

She was almost to the ramp when Mal suddenly hauled back on her arm and pulled her back behind one of the legs of Serenity. She grimaced and twisted her arm back, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared defiantly up at him. Mal was looking rather stony and more than a little annoyed with her.

"So...who was that?"

Inara shrugged and rested her hand on her hip. She wanted nothing more than to get out of this ruined dress but knew that Mal would keep at this. "An old client. Not entirely bright and he always loved the innocent role. One of many I've had to play. It served it's purpose thankfully, seeing as how we are at Serenity and not stuck in a dirty cell."

Mal flicked his eyes over her face. "So it was all an act?"

"Of course," Inara commented, blinking with confusion. "None of it was real. Do I seem like the kind to pout and throw a tantrum to get what I want? No. It's just an illusion. You know the real me."

"I'm not sure..." Mal broke off, looking her over from head to toe and clearing his throat nervously. Inara followed his gaze and despite her wet clothing she could see nothing but the mudstains. When she met his eyes again, Mal was looking at her with an unreadable expression that made her heart bang uncomfortably hard in her chest. "I'm wondering what is real about you, 'Nara. What's real and what's fake. Or is being a whore a lifelong thing where you just let it take over?"

She was suddenly and irrevocably angry, furious, with him. Despite her determination not to let him unhinge her, she couldn't help but feel her back bristle. Staring at her, Mal read the emotion plain on her face and instantly felt like a heel for his jealousy. A mixture of pain, anger, and sadness that struck him. Inara stepped around him, pulling her dignity about her like a shroud to ward off the chill in his words.

"You might never know, Mal."

----

They were only an hour out of atmo when Mal sought a refuge against the constant barrage of questions and accusations, mostly from Jayne and Kaylee. Jayne was demanding to know the ins and outs of the job, irritating him so much that he hadn't even been able to find Zoë yet. They had left at night, having waited for Zoë for far longer than he would have anticipated. River had waved her hand dismissingly at him when he offered to fly Serenity out, telling him in a roundabout way that she wouldn't need him. Kaylee had then pounced on him with her usually cheerful manner, asking him why he had to get Inara all riled up again. It had been a bunch of questions he hadn't felt right to answer and had thus avoided them as best as he could. A quick 'I thought I heard Simon down the hall' had Kaylee bouncing off away from him with only a 'Shiny!' and not even an excuse.

Women were taking over his boat, Mal figured. Gettin' worse every day.

As he walked the length of Serenity, he searched out every nook and cranny as he always did, looking for stowaways of the red-headed or boxed-up-asleep-and-crazy variety or transmitters snuck aboard. Finding neither, he had to resolve himself with just standing on the catwalk staring down at the hold. It was remarkably empty, the cargo having been stored in the multitude of smuggler spaces Serenity held. Still, there was a sense of fullness that the ship had not had in some time and he allowed himself a small smile. It was good to have the order of things nearly back in place. Minus two...

It brought unhappy thoughts to the forefront of his mind and he sighed. Running the plans over his head, Mal began to think of everything that could and probably would go wrong on this gun run. He had hoped to talk to Zoë but her bunk was closed and the com-link had revealed that she must be sleeping. Not inclined to bother his first mate, Mal simply walked and dodged the rest of the crew....except for the one that was avoiding him.

He glanced over at the shuttle, wondered for the hundredth time if Inara was still awake and knowing for the hundredth time that he should learn to insert his foot into his mouth. Even if he regretted the words, he couldn't deny that he believed them. He didn't know Inara like he knew the others in his crew and not being able to read someone was a way of getting them all hurt, he figured. Mal prided himself on being a decent judge of character -it was how Jayne came to be on their boat after all- but where Inara was concerned he sometimes wondered if... .

"I supported unification."

Now why hadn't that been more of a problem for him? Mal wondered to himself as he ran a hand over his cheek, then thought better. Inara had probably been one of those pampered rich kids who stayed out of the way during the war, seeing as how young she must have been. Green tyke, he assumed, and not knowing the way of things. It was hard to imagine Inara younger than she was. He looked over the cargo hold and took a deep breath. He had never imagined that he would feel jealous over a woman like this, especially when it had been to save his own neck from vigilantes.

It wasn't as if he could just go in, apologise, and try to...try to...

With a hard kick, Mal vented his frustration out on one of the nearby bracers. When his foot was good and throbbing, he shot the shuttle one last angry look and headed back to the kitchen to grab a mug of tea. River passed him on his way and stared at him with unnerving stillness. "Like a big cat," she murmured before sliding past him and going to the helm once more. Mal was tempted to follow her up to the helm to argue but decided against it. River would only get him more irritated right now.

He'd attempt the shuttle later.

***

Inara slid her brush through Kaylee's hair, smiling at the younger woman when Kaylee began to chatter about the engine couplings. While Inara was paying attention, she had long ago learned how to listen in yet still think her own thoughts. The high-minded captain was one of them but she was determined not to think any longer about him. If he could only forget...Inara shook her head. Mal was unlikely to ever forget that fact.

"Cap'n was all stormy today when he came in to watch River fly Serenity out. I think he's a bit jealous how easy she found it." Kaylee knew that she was rambling but her common sense was telling her that Inara was not totally in the room.

"River's been a boon with her flying ability. I'm certain that he is simply in awe of it," Inara answered. "So has Simon noticed?"

Kaylee stiffened. "Noticed? Noticed what? There's nothing to notice!"

"That you've been washing your face more often," Inara teased, patting her friend's cheek gently. Kaylee caught on and giggled, unable to help it. Inara envied her friend's ability to take gentle jibes without the least bit of angst, yet she knew that Kaylee did have a problem with Mal's cutting remarks and Simon's less than brilliant attempts at wooing her. Now though the wooing process could be considered no longer needed, yet Inara wondered if there was much to keep it going. It would take some manipulation, she knew. "How is Simon, by the way? He looked tired at breakfast."

"He's been working on something for River to help her nightmares. She's still gettin' them but the sweetie probably needs a good night's sleep."

"We're in the Black, Kaylee," Inara commented, "It's always night."

Kaylee rolled her eyes to the shuttle ceiling. "You know what I mean. Nightmares probably only get worse when its always night, you know?"

"Yes, I do." It was said so quietly that Kaylee blinked, not sure if she had heard her right. Inara set her brush down on the bed and sighed. She missed her things more when there was only a flannel covering and some various silks she had found in her trunk.

"It looks so bare," Kaylee said as she pushed herself up from the floor and sat next to Inara, crossing her legs beneath herself. Inara smiled and rolled her eyes.

"They were only things, Kaylee." She glanced at her nails. "They had only an esthetic appeal when I was bringing clients in here. Comfort comes immediately when they feel protected by softness and shadows."

"You miss it?" Kaylee's eyes were on Inara's face with far more probing than Inara liked seeing

"Not much. Not that the money was such a terrible thing, but I've been a Companion for quite a while. Change is good."

"Too bad the Cap'n won't let you do more than a few chores. He'll probably want your help on this job." Kaylee clapped her hands together eagerly. "Maybe you can still be our dignified, classy side. Simon won't be much help, he's been joking that I've corrupted him." Inara coughed and hid her smile.

"I'm not sure if that would be considered suitable, Kaylee. After all, how can he explain the presence of a whore aboard his boat now, especially when she is no longer paying rent?" Inara asked bitterly. Kaylee's jaw almost dropped and her brown eyes flashed.

"He's been calling you a whore again?" she asked. When Inara remained silent she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. "I'll talk to him. And things was going so well. You two acting nice to one another."

"Sometimes, Kaylee, two people simply cannot stay amicable for a long time," Inara answered truthfully. "Let us hope that you and Simon do. Has he done anything yet the least romantic?" Inara knew that she sounded gossipy but Kaylee was far more easygoing when it came to her relationship and Zoe had holed herself up again. River had told Inara that she would take the helm for a while before auto-pilot kicked in.

Kaylee's blush made Inara chuckle.

"Well he...we...the engine room was going and we did some lovin' there."

"That isn't romance, mei mei," Inara pointed out and the younger woman shrugged.

"It's like you in a way, me makin' love to Simon in a place that makes me feel safe. Shuttle made you feel safe, didn't it?" Kaylee asked and saw Inara flinch. "'Nara?"

"I doubt that it's similar, Kaylee." Inara huffed and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "I am simply going to have to have a talk with Simon. The boy should be sweeping you off your feet, not pressing you against the engine room wall."

"'Nara!" Kaylee squealed in shock, but her eyes were dancing. Kaylee and Inara began to laugh all the harder together, enjoying one another's company so much that they didn't hear the shuttle door slide open and close again. They were wiping tears from their eyes when Kaylee looked over Inara's shoulder and gasped. "Cap'n! You tryin' to scare us?"

Mal leaned against the wall and shrugged. "I was tryin' to see why you two were brayin' like donkeys. Guess it must have been about Simon."

"How'd you know that?" Kaylee asked, cocking her head to one side.

"When don't we all laugh about him?" Mal answered, smiling at the bright-eyed mechanic as she grinned. It was good seeing Kaylee smiling like this, laughing; his one brightest star in the universe, lil' Kaylee was. "You both rested up?"

"Sure thing, Cap'n."

Mal looked at Inara's dark head for a moment. "What about you, 'Nara?"

She turned her head halfway so that he could only see a slice of her profile. "I'm fine, thank you."

The coldness of her voice made his heart drop and Kaylee noticed the slight falter in his smile. She glanced back at Inara who was now staring at her trunk. "I'm gonna...go check the...yeah."

Mal waited for Kaylee to take several steps down the walk before he turned back to Inara. "This job...uh...well I checked out the details on the Cortex we got uplinked to. It's a hop in several different planets. Be pickin' up passengers and cargos, the like."

"Thank you for telling me," Inara answered.

"Can you at least face me if you've got the need to be angry?" Mal suddenly asked and she turned slowly on the bed, her eyes cool. "That's better, huh?" "Mal," Inara began and sighed. "I would like to not talk about this right now, dong ma?"

Mal worked his mouth. He had been prepared for an argument, maybe her throwing something at him, ending with a few laughs and him apologising. How the hell would he apologise when she had so easily dismissed his intentions? But maybe she had a point, best to wait for her to cool off.

"Well, we're gonna have the...uh...meeting about it in a bit." Inara nodded and stood. Mal took the chance to look about the shuttle. "Seems empty."

"So Kaylee was saying, but I don't mind very much."

"Still...I'd feel much better if you...if you moved down into the passenger dorms." Mal shrugged, as if were a simple matter. "It'll save on heating and if we get more passengers at some point, not that I'm anticipating many..."

Inara stared at him for a moment, knowing that they were sound reasons yet there was something that Mal wasn't saying. Eyeing him from beneath her lashes, she frowned and nodded. "I suppose."

"You got much to move?" Mal asked, his face relaxing as he realised that she was complying with him. Or at least seemed to be. Inara nodded toward her trunk, shrugged, and then breezed past him, her pink robe fluttering behind her.

"I'll be in the kitchen if you are planning on laying out the details to the crew," Inara said over her shoulder and Mal watched her go. He sighed heavily and brushed his hand through his hair.

"Yeah...sure."

**

TBC

Definitely more of a thinkin' chapter, I suppose. Onto scheming and relationships of a devious nature

COMMENTS

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 4:26 PM

LEIASKY


Love Kaylee and Inara's 'gossiping' and mal catching them laughing and guessing correctly about who they were laughing at.

Leave it to Mal and Inara to always have a spat or three. I much prefer them when they're fighting - don't know why!

I hope we get to see the 'talk' Inara has with Simon.

And the possibility of picking up passengers could open up a wholleee new big can of worms. Looking forward to what happens next. Well done.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 5:48 PM

TAMSIBLING


Okay, Mal and Inara need to get over their gorram pride and kiss or somethin'! And if not that, can they at least try and be civil? Why must Mal always revert to calling her a whore? Especially after she saved his sorry pi gu ... again!

However, Kaylee and Inara's interaction was great - I too would love to see what kind of sense Inara talks into Simon, although a little romance to go with the hot lovin' will pretty much make him irresistible ... not that he ain't already. Really great chapter, please post again soon, I'm digging this series!

Wednesday, June 7, 2006 6:35 AM

AMDOBELL


Oh what a prickly relationship Inara and Mal have, even when the Captain wants to put things right he can't seem to open his gorram mouth without putting his foot in it where she is concerned. And he smiles about Simon! I am hoping somebody knocks some sense into those two so they can get down to some sweet loving and Kaylee won't have to pick her words around them any more.
And how long has there been a price on Mal's head? I always thought the wanted fugitives were Simon and River? Great writing, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, June 8, 2006 12:53 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Well...things are getting back into their old flow pattern, aren't they? Cuz the Mal/Inara dance seems awfully familiar;)

I am really enjoying this series, Syzg. Especially the arguments, cuz they reveal a lot of what each of them is thinking about and raising more than one good point.

BEB

Monday, June 12, 2006 10:01 AM

TAYEATRA


Why do the chapters I enjoy always feel so short?

Another great instalment with the obligatory 'I really want to slap Mal' moment.

Thanks


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