A Moment In Time
Inara reached for Petaline's hand, aiming to soothe the terrified girl. It was her first child and so far she had coped fairly well. Nevertheless, Inara felt that it was in her duty to provide her with some comfort and support.
Petaline accepted Inara's hand almost subconsciously – her mind was obviously focused on giving birth – and gripped at it tightly as if her life and the life of her yet-to-be-born child depended on it.
Beads of sweat lined her forehead and trickled down her face, but she didn't seem to notice it at all. Pain from the contractions contorted her features – her eyes were wide, her cheeks flushed a pale pink and her breaths came out in shallow puffs.
Inara looked on, sympathetic for the girls' pain yet also excited for her all at the same time. Petaline was about to bring a new life into the world. It was a special day for her – one that would change the rest of her existence.
Another contraction came and Petaline let out an anguished cry. She was near breaking point and was beginning to lose her resolve. Inara leaned in, stroking the girls' forehead and saying a few hushed words to calm her.
"It's just a moment in time. Step aside and let it happen." She instructed, gently.
Petaline gripped Inara's hand even tighter and nodded in reply, her eyes widening slightly. "Uh-huh."
Just at that moment, the door swung open behind them and Mal entered cautiously. "Inara? Can I…uh…can I have a word with you?" Mal let his gaze drop to the floor, not able to look the Companion in the eye.
"Mal! This isn't a good time, if you hadn't noticed! Petaline is close to giving birth here, and – "
"Go. I'll take care of her." Simon interrupted, moving into the room from behind Mal. He placed his hand gently on Inara's arm, like he did when he was trying to calm River, and gave her a look that told her that he could handle everything.
Inara nodded reluctantly and followed Mal outside. He let her away from the bordello to an isolated copse of trees not far from where Kaylee and Wash had been prepping for the fight against Burgess, earlier that morning.
There, they stood in silence for several minutes, unsure of how to proceed.
"Inara." Mal finally looked at her. "About before…with Nandi…" He started, awkwardly.
Inara immediately froze inside. She tore her gaze from Mal and stared intently at the stubborn tufts of grass that had somehow managed to grow through the sandy ground, despite its solidity.
"Yes?" She asked, her voice so quiet that Mal almost didn't hear her.
"I'm sorry." Mal told her, a sincere expression in his eyes. He reached out and pushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear. "I just…" He paused, searching for the right words to say.
"I know." Inara informed him. She shivered at his touch but refused to let herself pull away. "Mal. This – us – I just want you to know that it can never happen." She slowly drew back, Mal's fingers caressing her face one last time before he dropped his hand to hang by his side.
For a long moment, they looked at each other longingly, hearts full of desire. Then, Inara's earlier advice to Petaline came back to her, invading her thoughts.
It's just a moment in time. Step aside and let it happen.
Inara stepped forward and leaned in close to Mal, startling him. She moved in to kiss him when the he abruptly pulled away.
"What are you doing?" Mal asked, confused. "I thought you said – "
Inara ducked her head, somewhat embarrassed. "I did. But – "
"But you didn't mean what you said?" Mal interrupted.
"Okay, good." Mal smiled, pulling Inara into his embrace. "What are we waiting for, then?"