Rating: PG 13 (most likely approaching R eventually)
Note: Post Objects In Space, Mal/Inara angst/romance
Author's Note: I was inspired to write this by the trunk business Joss mentions in the Serenity visual companion and the comments Nathan and Morena made that I just love love loved. Also, to be honest I wasn't anywhere near satisfied with how Mal and Inara parted ways in the comic book so I thought I'd try my hand at it (though I'm sure it's been done a million times before and much much better than this). This isn't a one-shot (although it could be) so if there is any confusion about anything most likely your questions will be answered soon… any suggestions or comments are welcome as always… this is my first foray into Firefly fic so I'm eager to learn :)
Disclaimer: As always, Joss owns all the cool stuff
The trunk was half hidden under the bed, its smooth polished surface reflecting the sunlight that splashed in through the uncurtained window like glass, the clasps glittering, glowing through the shadows under the skeletal frame.
He doesn't know how she missed it, this one shining thing in the wake of all this darkness, when it was like a beacon to him, that one corner caught in the light.
He saw it the moment he stepped inside the shuttle and he had gone to it, knelt beside it, his fingers tracing the gold and silver inlay briefly before giving it a shove, sending it further under the bed and tossing the original mattress down on top of it, not even really making the decision to do so until it was already done, and then faking a final once-over as Jayne stuck his head in, asked if they was done yet, if everything was out.
He nodded once, slapped his hands on his thighs, and said, "yep", before turning on his heel and following him out onto the catwalk. He slid the door shut behind him his heart thudding in his chest, and then he went down there where she was saying her goodbyes in the cargo bay, all the other trunks full of her finery waiting to be taken away and draped somewhere else that wasn't here stacked up at the door.
He'd blocked out Jayne's grunting as he made towers of her things, muttering all the while how the ruttin' hell had all this stuff fit inta that tiny shuttle. He'd avoided Kaylee's tears making tracks through the engine grease smeared across her cheeks. He'd ignored Wash's frequent glances in his direction as she got closer and closer to being gone for good and he still had said nothing.
He'd made a good job of distracting himself with other things, none of which he can recall now because it's happening.
There's no more packing to be done, no more goodbyes to be said save for his and one by one his crew has not so discreetly left them alone in the yawning openness of the hold which suddenly makes him feel small, makes all of it feel so damn small when it's near one of the biggest things he's felt.
He doesn't know what to do with it.
Sunlight spills in from the open hatch, it illuminates her, outlines her in gold and leaves her face in a soft shadow while his is exposed and he desperately tries to remain inscrutable as he looks at her looking at him.
They have not spoken to each other in days.
Even Jayne had noticed that tensions between them was higher than usual, and though he had had the good sense not to mention it, he had joined in on the trading of looks with the rest of the crew readily enough, adding raised eyebrow-ed stares a blind man couldn't miss. New depths of uncomfortableness had been reached.
Most of the others had left him in peace but Kaylee had wanted to talk to him about it, had trailed after him like a puppy till he barked at her to leave it be.
She's left him alone since which hasn't helped his heart any, and he can't see things going back to normal any time soon.
Then again things hadn't exactly been what he'd recognize as normal for a good long while now – he doesn't really know what he's going to be going back to, can't clearly remember a time when she wasn't here making him feel clumsy and awkward and then making him feel things he had no need to be feeling at all.
He takes her in as she stands before him dressed in her silks and brocades still lit up like a sun looking like some exotic bird in a dovecote and he marvels at how long she had stayed in the first place. He remembers pegging her at three weeks at the most, and yet here it is going full on a year since she first set foot onboard.
He wonders briefly if she'll miss it at all, Serenity, but can't bring himself to ask because when you haven't said so much as "good morning" to a body in a week and then are suddenly confronted with the very real possibility that you're never going to have an opportunity to say it again you can't start with questions that are sure to lead to bigger things that have the potential to rip you apart.
So he says nothing and neither does she, and although an aura of calm surrounds her as always while he feels twitchy as hell, she's the one to look away first, a stray tendril of dark hair falling in a spiral against her cheek as she dips her head making him flash on what it had been like to run his fingers through that hair, to feel her eyelashes against his cheek, her hands light on his chest, her mouth just a whisper against his throat…
She had been threatening to leave for weeks. That night just sped things up, got the gears going, the wheels moving. He could damn Jubal Early all he wanted for what happened after he had gone swimming in space and choked on his own carbon dioxide, but the truth of the matter is it would have happened sooner or later. What he doesn't understand is why when it did she hadn't stopped it.
True enough things had been changing between them. There had been moments… moments coming more and more frequent when they were both forgetting who he was, who she was… moments when they just were together. Simple, quiet, moments when he'd be at the table drinking some of Kaylee's brew and looking over schematics or some such and she'd be sipping her tea. He'd pretend to be sneaky and add a generous dollop or two or three to her kettle and she'd make a face for his benefit as she tasted it but would always down it all in one slow pull never taking her eyes from his. Or she would be preparing a dinner for everyone or he would be burning a dinner for everyone and one or the other would invade the others space in the guise of "helping". There would be the occasional brushing of hands, good-natured ribbing, teasing, and neither would ruin it by talking about petty thievery or government subsidized whoring...
All of those moments, every one of them no matter how small, ended in the same manner. He'd linger on her a beat too long and she'd become aware of it, of his looking at her like a man looking at a woman, and then excuses would be made for quick getaways, and they would part almost guiltily as though getting along was wrong, something to be ashamed of.
And maybe it was.
In those moments he felt more himself, the himself he thought he had left for dead on Hera, and that was inexcusable. Because life shouldn't go on same as ever after something like that. Some things needed to stay buried, some parts of himself needed to stay gone just so he could survive, and she…
She brought them back to life, made them flare and burn.
He denied it for as long as he could 'til it got too damn hard to be fighting it, to be fighting himself all the time.
So he let go.
Just once he let it all go.
He overstepped his bounds, crossed the line that she had drawn between them that very first morning when she had negotiated her rent, laid out her terms and conditions.
She hasn't called him on it yet and he's a bit confused as to why when he's sure it's the reason this is happening now instead of a week from now, a month.
She doesn't usually let him get away with anything.
He looks at the patch of floor she has become fascinated with, stares at the hem of her dress, the no doubt pure gold stitching spelling out in Chinese characters a poem, a love poem, one he's read before back when he cared about such things and he tries to open his mouth, tries to speak, but it feels wrong out here in the open like this.
Every goodbye he has ever imagined between them took place in that warmth, that rich, deep warmth that was hers, that she had made on his ship, but that place doesn't exist anymore and the cargo bay is a poor substitute for anything approaching confession. It's cold and empty here, so much space between them, but as wrong as that feels he figures in the end it's for the best. Proximity is not something they deal well with. Lately it's lead to either touching or fighting, none of which is going to make this not hard.
She looks up suddenly with a small smile and sweeps that ribbon of hair back behind the curve of her ear, the small tinkling sound from her ear bobs distracting him for a moment from that fact that she broke first. She takes a breath to say what he can't seem to, and the reality of the moment comes rushing back, a blast of cold air, a sucker punch to the gut.
"Goodbye Captain Reynolds…"
It's a final question and he doesn't answer, he can't.
He swallows hard.
Never once in all his days had he ever thought inaction would be the cause of any of his problems.
She turns away from him, she leaves him, she walks into the sunlight and he stands there in all that coldness his hand froze at his side, fingers splayed, as he forces back the impulse to stop her, to reach out to her, to take her hand in his and tell her…
You left a trunk. Under the bed. You want I should haul it out here for ya?
Because that's what he would say if only to stop himself from saying something else, something that she would surely laugh at and pair with another small smile, a tiny curve of pity and a gentle "no".
She's seen all he has to offer anyway and it ain't damn much.
His hand falls to his side. He watches her go telling himself he'll bring the trunk down and leave it in its rightful place for when her men come knowing full well he won't do it.
He wants to keep it. Whatever is in it he wants to have, at least for a little while. It was an impulse, hiding it the way he did and he feels guilty about it but not guilty enough to give it back just yet.
He will though.
And when he does he promises himself he will be able look her in the eye and not feel this tightness in his chest, this burning behind his eyes, this shortness of breath, this slamming heartbeat knocking against his ribcage, all these little things he's been cursed with since he touched her.