BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

GOLDY

Verdict - Chapter 8
Monday, April 24, 2006

Mal and Inara work on their intimacy issues. M/I.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2093    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Title: Verdict – Chapter 8 Pairing: Mal/Inara Summary: Mal and Inara work on their intimacy issues. Disclaimer: Not mine. No suing. Blah, bleeh, blah. Rating: PG Word Count: 3, 214

Special thanks to Kaynara for gently reminding me of my Blue Sun Room posting duties.

Chapter 9 to follow soon.

***

Inara was distracted. But she was trained to hold it inside. Distraction wasn’t a part of her job. Clients must feel like they had a companion’s full attention.

“I don’t understand. Where will you go?”

Nandi took a long drag from her cigarette. She was the only companion in the House that smoked, to the best of Inara’s knowledge.

“Don’t rightly know yet,” she said. “Part of the adventure.”

“I didn’t know you were doing this for the adventure,” Inara murmured.

Nandi flashed her a secret smile, like she was holding some kind of special knowledge inside. She’d always been the best of them at that.

“I do believe you are going to miss me,” Nandi said. “Now, if that ain’t something.”

“‘Ain’t?’” Inara said, with raised brows. “Nandi, you can’t honestly tell me you’re seriously considering leaving the Guild behind. It’s the only protection we have.”

Nandi dropped her cigarette and crushed it with the toe of her boot. “We’re the only protection we have. Best to learn that sooner rather than later. If you depend on someone else, they’ll turn around and shoot you in the head.”

“Maybe,” Inara said.

“This life is too constrained,” Nandi said. “I want… more. Don’t you ever get tired of it? The smiling, the shams… the unbearable, never-ending rules. Treating sex like it’s something to be dressed up and celebrated.”

Inara turned away. “Nandi, it might seem strange to you, but I believe in what I do. A companion’s job doesn’t revolve around the act of sex. There’s a story behind every person, every client. A good companion seeks that out, embraces it.”

Nandi touched her arm. “That’s why you’re the best of all of us, Inara. The emblem of the Guild.”

Inara smiled. “You make it sound like such a terrible thing.”

“It isn’t, if that’s what you want,” Nandi said. “But it’s not for me. I’m gonna have more than that.”

Inara sighed. “Then I sincerely hope you find the adventure you’re looking for, Nandi.”

***

Inara woke to warmth and the steady flow of Mal’s breath on her neck. She almost marveled that they’d managed to spend the night together. Maybe things really were getting better for them.

She could almost believe that, waking up to the silence of his arms around her. She allowed herself a few moments to study him. It dawned on her that she didn’t even know how old he was. Older than her, certainly. Not that it mattered. Age could mean very little.

When his eyes fluttered open, he became aware almost immediately. She wondered when he’d developed that ability to go from sleep to instant alertness. During the war? Later than that?

She thought about saying “good-morning” or some other good-natured greeting, but what came out instead was, “Do you ever think about Nandi?”

There was a long moment of silence, during which Inara realized he was groggier than she thought.

“That’s a hell of a loaded question,” Mal finally managed, voice still hoarse from sleep. “What brought this on?”

“It was a dream I had,” Inara offered, smiling apologetically. “I just wondered.”

Mal rubbed his eyes and yawned before answering. “Not in the strictest sense. Don’t mean she ain’t there. I reckon they all start to pile up over time, Inara. All the people I... there’s a long list of ‘em.”

“Oh,” Inara said, feeling disappointed. She wasn’t certain what she’d been expecting.

He seemed to sense her reaction and tugged on the tips of her hair, smiling. “You still feeling jealous ‘bout that?”

“No,” Inara said. “I was just thinking on a dead friend, that’s all.”

Her tone made him draw back and he sighed. “She was one hell of a woman, that’s for damn sure.”

“Yes, you two did seem to find a lot in common.”

Mal sat up. “And you said you weren’t jealous.”

He’d caught her there. She hesitated. “She died defending what she believed in.”

“She died defending the people she loved, darlin,’” Mal said. “I can think of worse ways to go out, myself.”

And there it was, Inara realized. Mal did understand. Because one day, that’s how he planned to go out. Defending the people he loved.

“Hey, now,” Mal said, letting his hand settle on her arm. “Had I known then that it would’ve caused you to leave, I might’ve done differently that night. Inara, I never meant to drive you off Serenity.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Inara said. “If it hadn’t been then, it would have been soon after. I think I needed the time… away.”

“Yeah, well, don’t go doing it again,” Mal said. “I, uh… I missed you.”

He couldn’t quite meet her eyes. Her face felt hot and suddenly this—this man, in this small bunk, it was too much.

“I—” she fumbled to get up, feeling stupid and plundering and ungraceful. “I should get back.”

“Inara—”

She hated the way he could say her name because it made her heart stop for a bit—just a bit—and she froze. His hand was on her arm. She stilled and tilted her chin around to look at him.

“You, uh… you missed me too… right?”

He was unsure. She had the power back. So she took a deep breath and calmed her nerves. “Well, I missed Kaylee.”

And there they were. Circling the truth, skirting its edges, but backing away at the last moment.

He frowned. And then looked irritated.

Inara relaxed. Things were okay again.

***

Mal had never seen it take anyone so long to make coffee.

He watched in silence as Zoe ground the coffee beans, slapped it into the pot with too much force and spilled water all over the gorram floor. Ever patient, she bent to clean it up, managing to toss over the carton of coffee in her haste.

She paused for a second, surveying the mess. Mal could read the problem in her posture—exhaustion. Near enough to it, anyway. He’d known her long enough to tell when she wasn’t sleeping.

Wasn’t right. Not when he spent the night with Inara, and Zoe had no one. Wasn’t how things were supposed to go for them. He couldn’t quite pinpoint when, exactly, it became Zoe andWash, stead of just Zoe. But being on her own again didn’t suit her.

“Your feet stuck to the floor, Sir? Or you just feeling shy?”

Mal jumped. “Well, I—”

“Don’t mean to be rude, but I could use some coffee now, and it don’t seem to be working for me.”

“Right,” Mal said, moving forward. “You just, uh… sit down, then. I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you,” Zoe said, sliding gratefully into one of the chairs. She rested her chin on her hand and gave a wide yawn.

Mal made the coffee in silence, feeling like he should say something, but unsure as to what. He’d lost more than his fair share of folk, and losing Book and Wash hurt something more than the rest of them. But it still didn’t come close to matching the grief Zoe dragged around. He wondered if she’d ever come near to be the same again.

The thought gave Mal pause. If this was what losing love could do to Zoe…

Not wanting to think on it, Mal grabbed two mugs and sat down at the table across from her. She took the coffee, bringing it to her mouth and giving the shadow of a smile.

Mal said the first thing that popped into his head. “I told you marryin’ Wash was a bad idea.”

Zoe snorted into her coffee. “Best order I chose to disobey from you, Sir.”

“That so?”

“Don’t think you’re capable of understanding,” she said.

“What, just ‘cause I got my fair share of issues with romantic entanglements, you think I couldn’t understand?”

Zoe sighed and set her coffee mug down. “Went through a lot of soul searchin’ after Serenity. Don’t need to tell you what those few weeks were like.”

“Sure as hell don’t,” Mal said, taking a sip of his own coffee. He made a face. “We’ve got to start buying the real stuff. Rot a man’s stomach, this crap will.”

Zoe gave him a pointed look.

“Sorry,” Mal said. “You were… uh, soul searching?”

“Wash made me feel…” Zoe trailed off. “That’s what it was. Feeling. Even yelling at him was more than nothing.”

Mal regarded her in silence for a moment. “Wanna switch bunks?”

Zoe stared at him. “Excuse me, Sir?”

“I mean…” Mal gestured at her. “Don’t seem much like you’re sleeping. Might be less painful for you to be someplace… elsewhere.”

“If it’s all the same to you, Sir, I’d much rather live with the pain.”

“Thought you might say that,” Mal said, tipping his mug in her direction.

“Did say you wouldn’t be able to understand.”

“I’m understanding,” Mal said. “Love opens a body up to all sorts of pain. Never could quite figure out what made it worthwhile.”

Zoe studied him in a way that made Mal twitchy.

“You never been much of a liar,” she finally said. She stood slowly, holding her coffee mug in between both hands. “I’ll be on the bridge if you need me.”

“Right,” Mal said. “Zoe?”

She turned back. “Yes, Sir?”

“I never wanted…” he stopped, swallowed. “Anybody could’a seen that the two of you was made for one another. Wash loved you in a way you were meant to be loved and that’s… well, I ain’t gonna fault him for that.”

Zoe met his eyes. She didn’t say anything, but her thanks was plain.

Once she was gone, Mal allowed himself to lean back and relax. Seemed like he’d finally gone and said something right.

***

Kaylee was humming as she knocked on ‘Nara’s shuttle. Tune seemed to suit her mood. Dark, but tinged with hope. It fit right into her life like it was made specially.

“Come in!”

Inara’s voice sounded strange, but Kaylee shrugged and entered. “Heya, Inara, came by thinkin’ we could maybe catch up some. I ain’t hardly seen ya’ since you decided to come back onboard. What with things going so shiny with Simon and all, I ain’t never have the time to—”

Kaylee stopped mid-sentence, hardly daring to believe what she was seeing. Inara was on the floor, leaning against the bed. Sitting on the bed behind her was the Cap’n. Most surprising of all was—

“Cap’n, are you brushin’ Inara’s hair?!”

There was a long moment of silence. Finally, Mal said. “I told you it wasn’t a good idea to let her in here.”

“Oh, come on, it’s Kaylee, Mal. What was I supposed to? Besides, she doesn’t mind, do you, sweetie?”

“Awww, I think it’s real sweet of you two to be doin’ this,” Kaylee said, beaming. “How long has this been goin’ on for?”

Mal and Inara exchanged guilty looks.

“Well—”

“It’s like this—”

“Mal doesn’t really have very much experience and—”

“I—hey, now, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, I think it’s shiny,” Kaylee said. “Real nice of you, Cap’n.”

Mal glared at her. “It ain’t that.”

“No,” Inara said. “It really isn’t.”

Kaylee frowned. “I ain’t sure I’m understandin’…”

“Intimacy,” Inara said. “It’s… it’s like this, Kaylee. We, I mean, the Captain and I, Mal and I, we’re trying to… uh, work on our problems with intimacy.”

“And it’s going real well, wouldn’t you say?” Mal said. “How long do I got to do this for again?”

Inara rolled her eyes. “This isn’t a punishment, Mal. It’s something to do together, to help break down our walls—”

The clumping of large feet cut her off. “‘Nother tussle?” Jayne said, appearing in the doorway. “‘Nara throw a teapot at your head again—holy, ruttin’ hell—”

“Oh, god, it’s Jayne,” Mal said. “Are you certain this ain’t torture?”

“Mal, are you brushin’ ‘Nara’s hair?” Jayne said.

“Yes, he is,” Kaylee said sternly. “And it’s real nice, Jayne, so don’t—”

Kaylee frowned as Jayne doubled over in laughter.

“Jayne, this ain’t…” Mal trailed off and clenched his jaw. “A man can’t brush a woman’s hair without his masculinity bein’ called into question, is that it?”

Jayne stopped laughing, looked at Mal, and immediately doubled over again.

“Jayne, you pull yourself the hell together before I take out my gun and riddle you with holes, dong ma?”

Jayne waved a hand at him and stood up. He managed to haul himself out the door. They could still hear him laughing in the corridor.

Then, Zoe’s voice, “You gonna make it without losing your insides, Jayne?”

“Ai ya,” Mal muttered. “This can’t—”

Zoe appeared in the entrance of the shuttle. She glanced at Kaylee before looking over at Mal and Inara. Her mouth tightened into a thin line. Otherwise, she had no reaction.

“We seem to be in the clear, Sir. No sign of the Alliance about. Could still take those few days of downtime.”

“Yeah,” Mal said. “Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.”

“Of course,” Zoe said, struggling to keep a straight face. “You seem to be getting along with that down time just fine.”

Mal let a moment pass. “Zoe, am I paying you to stand around and make smart comments?”

“Not quite sure, Sir,” Zoe said.

Mal was about to retort when the doc poked his head curiously into the shuttle. “The hell is this?” Mal muttered. “A reunion—hey, why don’t we go see what River’s up to?”

Simon looked politely puzzled. “I just passed Jayne, he said you were asking after me. A meeting of a sorts…” Simon trailed off. “This is one of those times when he’s played a trick on me and I fall for it, isn’t it?”

“Ain’t a trick on you,” Zoe said, tilting her head in Mal’s direction.

Simon glanced over and raised his eyebrows. “Captain…” he said. “Actually, the scalp is a highly sensitive area. Many couples use it to get themselves in the ‘mood’ as one might say. Of course, I don’t have much in the way of personal experience, but I haveread—”

“Believe me, Doctor,” Inara said. “The way Mal’s learned to brush hair won’t get anyone in the mood.”

Mal had enough. Was a difference between a joke and an ego bruising. And he never took well to being embarrassed in front of his crew.

“Not certain I’m really takin’ to this whole intimacy thing anymore, to be honest. Seems more like one big cosmic joke, don’t it?” He dropped the hairbrush and stood up, brushing at his pants. “I’ll be on the bridge.”

Inara stood too, picking up the hairbrush. “Mal—”

“Don’t much want to talk to you at the moment, Inara,” he said. “I’ll just… be on the bridge. What with the being Captain and all that.”

Mal made it a point to brush by Simon as he walked past. Just on principle.

***

Mal heard her enter the bridge and pause. He didn’t bother turning and hunched over the controller, pretending to be occupied. Wash’s gorram dinosaurs were still set up all over the thing. Seeing them put him in an even fouler mood.

She stood just behind his chair until he could smell her—and wasn’t that something, he could smellher. He jabbed at a button on the consol, hoping she’d take the hint.

Never was much for taking the hint, Inara.

“Mal—”

He jabbed at another button. The hell did he know what they were for? Wash used to be the pilot ‘til he up and died on all of them.

“I know you’re angry—” Inara stopped and sighed. She sat herself down on the edge of the consol. “But you’ll have to talk to me eventually.”

“Uh, excuse me,” Mal said. “You’re sitting on some important controllers.”

Inara’s voice was gentle. “Mal, we’re sitting in port. I don’t think…”

Fine,” Mal said, leaning back. “What do you want?”

“Well, I…” she folded her hands in her lap and sat up a little straighter. “I have a little bit of cash saved up. I’m planning on going into town to do some shopping, maybe buy something less suited for a life of a Companion and more suited for this ship.”

“That might be a good idea,” Mal said. “Wouldn’t want to see your finery get all messed up.”

“Exactly,” Inara said, trying to smile. “I—uh, I also booked a room at the local inn. Nothing too terribly fancy, but hot water and a shower is always a luxury.”

“That it certainly is,” Mal said. “Good to see you treating yourself.”

“Mal…” she said. She looked skyward for a moment before focusing on him again. “Come with me. Please.”

He blanked. “To the inn?”

“Not justthe inn,” she snapped. “It would be good for you to get off this boat. You hardly ever go out for the sake of it.”

“You want me to take you shopping? Inara, I already brushed your hair today, I ain’t gonna—”

“Mal, I’m trying to…” she blew out a breath and took a moment to regain her composure. “I am tryingto make that up to you. Listen to what I’m saying. I want you to accompany me out in that town. I won’t make you try on any dresses, I promise.”

She watched him closely, biting her lip in a way that betrayed her nervousness. Mal sighed.

“Fine, I’ll… go with you,” Mal said.

“Great,” Inara said, standing. “I’ll see you in an hour?”

“Shiny,” Mal said.

Inara made as if to go, but turned back at the last moment, clearly torn. “I really am sorry about what happened earlier.”

Mal couldn’t quite look at her. “Inara,” he said quietly. He decided to be honest. “I think it’s damn clear that there ain’t a thing in the ‘verse I wouldn’t do when it comes to you.”

She came closer and kneeled down so he was forced to look into her eyes. “I… I’m beginning to understand that. It scares me a little. And a little bit not too.”

He touched out and let his thumb brush her cheek. “Not exactly the ringing endorsement I was hoping for.”

She caught his wrist in her hand, her fingers pressing against his skin. “I might give it all up for you, Mal. To not be a Companion anymore….” She shook her head. “It’s not nothing.”

“No, I don’t reckon it ain’t.” He held her eyes for a moment. “Might not seem that way to you, but… I understand what it must mean to you… to give it up.”

Inara’s eyebrows shot upwards. “Mal, don’t take this the wrong way, but I doubt it.”

He laughed, thankful that it was that and not a biting retort. She responded with a smile of her own.

“In an hour, then?” Mal said. “You probably have to get all sorts of ready and all.”

“Yes, I do have that special date to prepare for,” she said. She hesitated a moment before leaning forward and kissing his cheek. “In an hour, Captain.”

He couldn’t help grinning as she walked away. Intimacy wasn’t shaping up to be too terrible after all.

COMMENTS

Monday, April 24, 2006 2:03 PM

ARCADIA


Aww. This chapter was so sweet. :-) I look forward to the next one.

Monday, April 24, 2006 2:06 PM

WINGEDRAKSHA


aw, that was very sweet. I was smiling the whole way through.

Monday, April 24, 2006 2:33 PM

TAMSIBLING


The scene in the shuttle was hi-larious! I was laughing out loud as one crew member and then the next funneled through, all there to make fun of Mal. Just great!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 11:13 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Well now...been awhile since I have seen this chapter and series (think I last looked at it over at FanFiction.net);)

Everything still rings true here, Goldy. I especially liked the interrupted hairbrushing scene in Inara's shuttle....definitely a Jossian moment of humour and introspection:)

BEB


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