Disclaimer: Joss is the genius man.
Summary: He's still jealous and she still won't change what she is.
Spoilers: Um, not many. Takes place sometime after the end of Serenity.
Word Count: 2, 016
Author's Notes: I apologize ahead of time for my crap dialogue. It's been a while since I've written in the Whedonverse. Add to that the fact that Firefly is also a Western – and it was a wee bit challenging.
Dedication: For chezsimon. For your birthday. And for encouraging me to write this.
Nandi: She's like you, more than a little.
Mal: And how exactly is that?
Nandi: She hates complications.
-Heart of Gold
The covers were twisted and bunched together. She could still hear the faint echo of her heartbeat in her ears as she stared up at the ceiling. He was quiet—too quiet. And it made her nervous.
She wanted to weep. Laugh. Her stomach hurt and her eyes burned, but they'd crossed a line. A point of no return.
His words pierced the silence of the bunk. It cut through their fake tranquility. And he chose fighting over talking—fighting over facing the truth.
"You'll give up your work, of course."
"What? You can't be serious. That's what I do for a living—"
"You sleep with men."
"For a living. I won't tolerate it."
"You won't… pardon me, Mal. I'm afraid it doesn't work out quite so neatly. Perhaps in your fantasy world I go swooping down at your feet. But not here."
"Well… that's—I won't… you can't honestly expect me to stand by and watch you whore—"
"Don't use that word."
It began with an innocent touch.
It was a small cut on his cheek—one of millions of small cuts he'd received on the job. And she'd reached out and pressed her thumb to the cut, her eyes seeking his, asking silent permission: is this okay?
He didn't say anything. Last time he opened himself to her, she turned and left Serenity. Left him. He wouldn't go through that again.
But then her hand was on his other cheek and her eyes were still asking. She stepped closer, her mouth opening, her tongue sliding along her painted lips.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were using some of that Companion training to seduce me."
Her eyes widened and her teeth bit down on her bottom lip. "Mal, shut up."
"Now you're given me orders? Who's the damn Capt'n aboard this boat?"
She shook her head and withdrew. "Fine," she said calmly. "I'm glad today's illegal smuggling was successful."
She turned around, her hands clasped in front of her. "Yes?"
"I just… I ain't gonna tolerate it if you go off leaving again, you hear me?"
He took a step forward. She watched him. He took another step. She waited.
"This can get complicated, Inara, real fast," he said. "You ready for that?"
She tossed him his brown shirt—she could remember peeling it off slowly, looking into his eyes, judging his reaction.
"I ain't going nowhere! This is my bunk!"
She gave a frustrated sigh and looked desperately around for her dress. "Stop looking at me!"
For the first time, her nakedness made her feel vulnerable.
She yanked the sheet closer to her body.
"I… alright, now… just hang on…"
He fumbled to separate their clothing. His hands were shaking.
It mattered what he thought of her.
"I once thought I should hide them," she said quietly. "My feelings for you." She let her confession hang in the air before taking a deep breath and continuing. "I've thought it over—believe me, Mal, I've had time. I've thought about it until my stomach churned. It's long past complicated."
"Somehow, I doubt it, Inara," he said. "But I'm willin' to give this thing a chance."
He kissed her before she could retaliate—before they went back to playing their game.
She folded her arms across her breasts and watched him wrench his clothes on, shoving each arm into the sleeves. Anger was beginning to take over.
"See?" he yelled. "It gets complicated! What did I tell you?"
"You didn't seem to find it complicated last night."
He paused, one leg in his trousers and one out. "Excuse me?"
"I once told you I would never service you or your crew," she said. "I stand by that."
"Well, ain't that just—"
The rest of his words were cut off when he took a step forward and tripped. His forehead slammed against the edge of the bed.
"Mal!" she tossed off the covers and ran to his side, momentarily forgetting her nakedness. She shook his shoulder. "Mal, are you okay? Do you want me to get Simon?"
He grumbled a string of curses before hauling himself to his knees. "I'm fine, but if the rest of the crew got word of this, I…"
He trailed off, eyes softening when he saw her by his side. She looked down at herself and then back at him. She almost laughed at his blunder, but stopped herself. It wasn't the time or the place for it. Maybe later, maybe if they got past this.
She crawled forward into his lap and his arms encircled her, his lips touching her forehead. She kissed his neck and then his chin and then rested quietly, letting peace wash down over them.
For the moment.
Kissing Mal was a bit like traveling back in time. She almost forgot what she was. It was silly of her. It would be stupid to pretend she was a virgin.
It would also be stupid to pretend this wasn't different.
This wasn't business. This was pleasure. This was intimacy. This was a kiss of equals, seeking the same thing from each other.
They didn't speak again. He kissed her throat and his hands fumbled with her buttons. She moaned and made noises she didn't recognize. This wasn't her, it had to be someone else, some other time and place…
His hands were rough, hardened by war and guns fights and every day struggles. But he was gentle with her—too gentle and she urged him on.
It was a murmur in her ear, hot breath against her skin. She closed her eyes and gave in.
"You going out tonight?"
She almost scolded him for barging into her shuttle. But why bother? It never did any good.
He took a step back. Almost turned around. Stopped.
"You purposely trying to drive me crazy, Inara?"
"Of course not," she said, running a brush through her hair. "Mal, you know perfectly well what my job is. You've always known. I won't change for you."
He rocked back on his heels. "You look damn beautiful tonight."
She almost dropped her brush. "What?"
"Nothing but a passing comment," Mal said. "I'll see you later."
He paused in the doorway. "Don't go making this harder on me than it already is. I got a crew out there. It'd be damn embarrassing if any of them knew how distracted I was."
"Oh, I'm sure they know full well what's been going on," Inara murmured. "River can read people's minds, remember?"
He frowned. "Well, then, don't go making this harder on me. Because I said so."
She rolled her eyes. "Mal, please… we can deal with this like adults."
"Adults?" he said. "Yeah, you're making all kinds of real adult-like decisions."
He approached her until he could reach out and touch her cheek. His gaze seemed to go right through her, until she felt just as naked as she had the other night in his bed.
"Meant what I said before. You do look damn beautiful tonight."
Her cheeks warmed. "Thank you."
She watched him hesitate—caught between wanting to injure her (like she was hurting him) or pleading with her to stay. Finally, he rubbed her cheek with his thumb and forced a smile.
"I'd never treat you like any of 'em, Inara. You'd never be a slave."
He bent down and kissed her. He left without saying anything else.
She watched her shuttle door slide shut.
She found him unconscious in his quarters, a bottle of Jayne's finest booze clamped in his fist.
"Mal…" she sighed.
She bent down and pried the bottle out of his hand. He gave a small groan and nearly lifted his head.
"Mal, it's me."
His words were slurred. "If you've come to take over the boat… I'll shoot you…"
"I'm quaking with terror."
He blinked a few times, mouth opening and closing. He squinted. "'Nara, that you?"
"Yes, it's me. For Christ's sakes, Mal, getting drunk. What were you thinking?"
"I lef' Zoe in charge o' Serenity… not a problem…"
He yawned and looked close to passing out, so she grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet. "At least sleep on the bed, Mal. I won't have you spending the night on the floor."
They collapsed on the bed in a tangle of limbs. She heard the strings give a warning shriek.
"I thought you went out tonight," he said. He almost sounded sober.
She kept her voice quiet. "I came back early. I was worried you might go and do something stupid."
"Not a chance," he said.
She rolled her eyes, but he slung an arm around her waist and pulled her close. They fell asleep with their cheeks touching.
"What are we going to do, Inara?"
She woke up to find Mal propped up on his elbow. The other hand played with her hair and she felt a warm flush creep through her body.
"Do about what?"
He fastened his eyes on a point above her shoulder. "I can't watch you go out night after night and sleep around with men who ain't me."
"I'm liable to go out and start shooting 'em one day. Maybe you too."
"It ain't no laughing matter, Inara. This thing we've got going on is right dangerous to my mental health."
She laughed. "Your mental health?"
"I got a sensitive ego."
"No, you don't."
"Alright, I don't. But it's different when it comes to you. Everythin' seems to be." He pondered that for a moment, his brow furrowing. "I don't much know if I like it. Makes things too damn—"
"Complicated?" she offered. "I've heard the speech, Captain."
He rolled his eyes. "It's a good speech."
She touched his face, tracing his features with the tip of her finger. His blue eyes never wavered from hers.
"Well?" he said impatiently.
She sat up and crossed her legs, her robe flowing down over her sides. "Mal, my work is just that; work. You couldn't understand, not unless—"
"I whored myself out?"
"Stop it," she said. "You know I hate when you use that word."
He clenched his jaw. She dropped her hand and let it rest in her lap. "I'm sorry," he said. "Won't happen again. Continue."
"My work..." her voice trembled, but she pressed on. "It's not like what we have—I can't even describe how very different it is, Mal. All my training, all my carefully constructed walls fall apart when I'm with you. The things I feel…" she trailed off, her eyes growing brighter. "I've never felt like that with anyone. Everything that happens between us is sacred. Please, please try to understand that."
His eyes continued to study her, but he was silent. She sat breathless, waiting, body tense.
"Mal?" she whispered. "Say something."
He rubbed at his forehead. "I don't have much choice now, do I?"
She felt cold. "Mal…"
He placed his hands on her shoulders. "I ain't sure it'll be possible, but I'll try to understand. I don't reckon I have any other choice. That or I lose you. But I can't promise you more than tryin', you clear?"
"Yes," she said, expelling a long breath. "Thank you."
He kissed her then, his breath still tinged with the bitterness of alcohol. His hands slipped down her sides, parting her robe. She pulled him against her, trying to memorize the way his chest felt against her breasts and the crinkle of his shirt as her fingers traced over his back. She had to take what she had now. She had to kiss him like it was their first and last time.
In the end, he would never be able to understand. The jealousy would eat at him, eat until the decision again became hers. It was a matter of time and his will and how long his love for her could battle his pride.