Title: Can't Stop the Signal

Author: Missjasadin

Rating: PG

Characters: All

Summary: Mal and Inara are together, but Inara owes the Guild for all her training.


CHAPTER ONE

"Mal, we've had this conversation one hundred times before. I don't like this anymore than you do, but it's what I have to do." Inara sighed looking at the stoic man sitting before her.

"But, I thought, since we, 'you know', that you'd… stop, 'you know'." He replied looking into her eyes, searching for answers she couldn't give him.

"Malcolm Reynolds!" Inara stood eyes flashing, a surge of anger rushing through her at his words. "If you make one more comment about my 'whoring'…" she threatened, glowering at him.

Mal stood at once, shocked by her reaction. He had not meant to insult her, hell he hadn't even thought about using any sexual innuendos as he usually did to get her riled up. He was just speaking, and he'd gone and gorram screwed up, again.

"Shenme? God, 'Nara. No, all I meant was that…" he looked down at the ground suddenly feeling self-conscious in her presence. "I don't want to have to share you with those men. I can't." He stated.

Her glare softened and she approached him slowly, talking his strong calloused hands in her small smooth ones.

"I know. But the guild was my home for so many years and I owe them so much. I must pay back my debt before I am free."

"But we could…" he started hoping to convince her that there were other ways.

"No Mal" She immediately knew what he was suggesting that she do. "No running, not this time. Besides, we don't need another fugitive on this ship. They would surely hunt me down and the price which I would pay…" She trailed off, her eyes widening in fear.

"Fine. We'll pay them their dues and then you'll be free of their hold."

"Mal," Inara spoke softly not wanting to upset him more than necessary, "there is no we." He looked at her in shock. "Sorry, that was wrong. Yes, there is a 'we', but not for this. This is something I have to do, by myself."

"But, what about me? I can pay you. That way you wouldn't have to take any other clients. I'll pay you for your time." Mal suggested enthusiastically, suddenly

Inara stopped stock still in shock.

"Is that how you see me? As your companion? Is that how you think I see you? Just another client? Mal," Inara looked up at him tears forming in her eyes, her companion training suddenly failing her. "I thought that we, what we had…"

Mal's face adopted an expression of horror. This vulnerable woman in front of him was not the Inara he knew and loved and he vowed that no matter what it took, he would free her from her ties with the Guild and help her to see just how precious she was.

He pulled her close to him, gathering her in him arms and rocked her gently, stroking her hair. "Shhhhh, bao bay"

"I'm sorry, I know that you don't think of me like that, and I would never think of you in that way either. You mean the world to me 'Nara. I know that I don't say it often but it's true. These past few weeks," his voice broke off and he took a deep breath before her continued. "have been the best of my life."

"All I'm trying to do is come up with a plan here. Something… I don't like to think of you going off and entertaining those other men."

Tears subsiding, Inara looked up at him from the clutches of his embrace. "I can choose my own clients Mal. I was only planning on choosing those that needed emotional comfort, not physical. I know that it will not pay as well, but this is the only way I can think of."

Mal sighed in resignation and kissed her gently on the forehead. "If it's what you have to do…"

"It is" she nodded, blinking back more tears which threatened to fall.

Mal quickly wiped them away and then placing one last kiss on her lips; gave her a quick nod and exited the shuttle.

TBC