No clean man.

That's what he was. Or rather, what he wasn't. His hands felt dirty with years of blood, and Inara, for all her whoring ways, had always looked so clean. He wished he could touch some of that cleanliness now, wished he could wash himself in her purity, lose himself in her better choices. He had never been one for good choices, having instead a knack for finding everything wrong and making it some worse. She was so close now, closer than he had been to her in months, and yet it felt like the whole universe was between them, every one of the terraformed worlds, and that even if he reached out as far as he could, he would never be able to touch her. He had seen the look in her eyes, when he explained his plan to bring them through the Reavers' territories and safely to Miranda and whatever secrets that poor, damned planet held. He had seen it all, down to the subtle stiffening of her body. No desire, that posture. She was gone from him, gone as far as she could go while still standing in one place and he felt the loss of it like it was a limb cut off.

No clean man. He could never touch her now. Mal held back the shudder, and wished for clean water to wash himself under, wash himself until he found the man he used to be, lost all these years. That man might have been able to go to Inara and offer, well, offer anything. Offer everything. The man he was now, well, that man had nothing at all to offer.

Well. He was not clean, and that's all there was to it. No use dwelling on it, not when there were things to be done.