Definition of Something Different
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A small M/I fic, set post-Serenity. Inara needs to see to her living arrangements.


Title: Defintion of Something Different Summery: M/I nonesense Rating: G Disclaimer: Joss started it! Author's note: For certain people who have been complaining about the lack of fic...

Definition of Something Different

Inara stepped into the near bare shuttle, taking a breath, taking it all in. Rays of light streamed in through the windows, lighting the dust in the air. Save for the bed and the chest she’d left behind, the shuttle was as empty as it had been the first time she’d seen it, and it provoked the same old feelings: wonder, anxiety, hope, and another, untouchable feeling she couldn’t name.

“Well, you gonna take it?” Mal asked, stepping inside behind her. He looked worn, but satisfied. They’d just take on cargo for the first time since Miranda, a small heard of goats. They’d been on an hour – not long enough, even, for Serenity to take flight – and already the whole ship smelled of droppings. Part of her recoiled. Part of her loved it.

Inara smiled. She was in a playful mood.

“I don’t know,” she told him. “It is smallish…”

He laughed. A free, open laugh she hadn’t heard in a long time. She couldn’t help joining him. She hadn’t said anything funny. It was just, they were free. They could be happy now. Inara was happy.

“Not overly,” Mal said when he recovered. “How much space you really need for what you do, anyway?”

She could do little more than shrug. “I have no idea,” she said. He raised an eyebrow. Elaborate. So, she did. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

He tried to act casual, like this didn’t change a thing. “I thought you’d be back to, you know, the usual. That’s what we’re all trying to do, right? Get back to normal.”

She didn’t know what to tell him, not really. She wasn’t ready to talk with him about them yet. It wasn’t the time. If she brought it up now, he would accuse her of… well, she wasn’t sure what he’d say, but had a very good idea of what he’d feel. He’d resent her. Inara Serra, playing the noble and stepping away from her whoring because she didn’t think his precious ego could handle it. Condescending. That’s the word he’d use. A condescending whore.

He must have seen it pass across her face, the hints of her fears. “What’s wrong?” he asked her. She only exhaled. What could she say? She’d never meant to keep her guard up around him, or to let it down. She’d never meant for lots of things to happen. When she left… She hated it, sometimes, being so aware, attentive. She knew they had these issues still, simmering beneath the surface of everything they said. She’d left. It hurt him. But she’d done it for a reason. And it wasn’t just because she loved him too much, though that had been the one that prompted her choice. It was more complicated. It always was.

But they were happy now. She smiled. “I don’t think I could make this shuttle normal,” she said. “I got rid of everything when I left. The bed sheets. The draperies. The lanterns. I kept a few items, things I’d had before I rented the shuttle, and a few things that I just couldn’t part with. But, the majority of it… it’s gone.”

“Where’d it go?” he asked.

“Oh… charity, probably,” she told him. It wasn’t the question she’d expected him to ask. When had she grown so defensive around him? Oh, she knew when, and she knew why. “I let Sheydra take care of it.”

“So, umm…” he prodded further, “what is it that you just… couldn’t part with?”

“Little things, mostly. The red candles. The hourglass. One of the rugs – the tan one, with the flowers. I kept it on the floor by the foot of the bed.”

“Yeah, I noticed that one.” He noticed? He smiled at her surprised. “It stood out. Almost all the other rugs were red.” He said it like it meant something to him, this detail that almost all of her other visitors had failed to notice. He spoke of it warmly, affection laced in his voice, like these memories were pleasant. Maybe they were. Maybe. Only a handful of her clients had commented on the rug, a simple floral affair in the midst of all her elaborate red and black and gold patterns. They didn’t seem too like it – too simple, too soft, too old.

There was a silence between them. Mal broke it by clearing his throat. “You can stay in the passenger dorms if you want,” he said tentatively. “If it bothers you, not being able to get this place back to normal.”

She smiled at his kindness. “I think I’d find them lonely,” she replied. River had been given the last of the crew quarters’ bunks, the one Mal had always refused to have occupied, for whatever reason. Simon spent most of his nights in Kaylee’s bed. With Shepherd Book having left – not, having died, she reminded herself (because sometimes it seemed to unreal, so impossible) – the passenger dorms had grown quiet. “I think I’m all right here, for now.”

“For now?” His tone had changed quiet suddenly, gaining an edge, losing its warmth. “Thought you were gonna stay with us, Inara.”

She sighed. She’d been waiting for this. “I… I think I am,” she said, not quite looking at him. “I don’t know, Mal. It’s one thing to have your life changed by fate. That’s a thing you suffer through and survive, because you can’t do anything else. But to change perfectly acceptable circumstances, to change your fate… that’s different. That’s harder.”

He shook his head. “So, this is the part where you tell me how weak you are, huh?”

She shook her head just as strongly. “No, Mal,” she said, “I’m strong.”

“Say it, then,” he demanded, stepping forward, putting his hand under her chin and forcing her to look him in the eyes. “Tell me you’re staying, Inara.”

She held his gaze for moment, an eternity, and then pulled away. She let herself fall onto the bed, emotionally exhausted by a conversation that had barely begun. She closed her eyes against Mal’s strangled sound of protest to her behavior. She closed her eyes to all of it. “Gorram it, Inara,” he said. “You can’t keep doing this too me.”

“And you can’t keep doing this to me,” she replied right back. “You can’t expect me to make promises when I don’t know if I can keep them. You can’t ask me to lie to you, Mal.”

“I ain’t askin’ for lies, ‘Nara,” he said. “I just wanna know you’ll be here.”

She opened her eyes, ready to look into his. “How close?” she asked.

“Láo jià?” he retorted.

“How close do you want me, Mal?” she pressed. “On this ship? In your arms?” She held his gaze, a gaze so intense she was sure it would burn right through her, and she would die in flames, and she would love it. Then, he turned away. She waited for him to speak. He didn’t. “Answer me, Mal,” she said. She waited. Still nothing. “I need you to say something.”

“And what exactly do you expect me to say?” he asked.

Outside, the clouds were shifting, growing darker. Inara stood up and walked over to him. She took his hands into hers. He didn’t stop her. “I’m not trying to hurt you,” she said quietly.

“I know,” he said. “And I know that… its… it would be a change. To stay.”

“It would,” she said. “It would be different. It wouldn’t be like before.”

“No,” he repeated, “it wouldn’t.”

She kissed him.

She leaned forward and kissed him, pressed her plush lips against his weathered ones. She held them there for a second, maybe two seconds, and pulled away. She took a moment, took a deep breath, let her smell how close he was, the scent of this body mingling with the scent of his leather coat. She opened her eyes to find him staring at her surprise written all over his face. “That’s…” he said. “It’s different.”

“I know,” she said.

“I, uh…” he gestured towards the door, “captainy things…” He turned to leave, then stopped, turned again, and said, “I do… I want you here,” he said. “I know that much.”

And with that, he left. Inara sighed, sitting down. She was tired and giddy at the same time. She’d kissed him. She’d finally… and he had been awake this time. But there were still so many things, and his answer to her question, it was and answer, but not the one that she was really looking for. She looked around the shuttle, but only barren walls looked back at her, and she remembered what had started all of this, and her things back at the training house, waiting for her. There was a lot to work out. But, she had kissed him, and that was something different.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006 11:33 AM


Love it! I am currently working on a longer piece, exploring the beginning of Mal/Inara's relationship after the BDM, so I really like this insight.

The banter at the beginning was just perfect!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 12:15 PM


This is so believable, from their banter to the kiss!

Inara is in true form here: with all the uncertainty in her future, she still has the wisdom to know that things can't ever be the same between them, but in their case that's probably for the best.

Thanks for posting!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 1:16 PM


You know, that was perfect in terms of the awckwardness between them. I, myself, am involved in a relationship which is..........complicated is the most polite term for it, and you got that just fine. Well done to you.

Saturday, October 28, 2006 6:36 AM


I liked this and can't help hoping you have a sequel in the works. I could so see this conversation playing out. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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