A/N: Here's the final chapter! Decided to keep this short instead of continuing it. Anyways, thanks to browncoat2x2 for the beta! And let me know what you think please!
"You're just really tired?" Mal inquired, finding it hard to believe a word of Inara's excuse. He absentmindedly brushed his hand through his tangled brown hair, releasing more dirt and fragments of unidentifiable organic matter onto the floor.
"Yes, I haven't been sleeping well lately," Inara faked a yawn, strategically turning her head away to avoid eye contact. After a few seconds, she glanced over at the Captain, realizing that avoiding him would make him more curious.
"So, why is it that you're missing all your beauty sleep then? Something going on?" Mal asked.
"No!" Inara replied too quickly. "There's no reason," she added hastily at Mal's questioning stare. She walked over to the wooden dresser by her bed and pulled open the top drawer, fumbling around in it for something.
After a moment, she withdrew a brush and returned to the couch. "So, you never got around to telling me what you came here for," Inara finally said, pointedly. "Was there something you wanted?"
"Ah…no, not really," Mal replied. He continued staring at her, curiosity lighting his eyes.
Inara sighed at his penetrating expression and was about to tell Mal what was on her mind when River poked her head in the door. "Not one of them anymore. Different," she explained to Mal, cocking her head to the side thoughtfully.
Mal stared at her, dumbfounded, then turned his attention back to Inara. "She wouldn't happen to be talkin' 'bout you, would she?" Glancing back towards the door, he saw a flash of red as River turned and raced off.
"I…don't know what you mean," Inara replied, taken aback slightly. Placing the brush to the side, she busied herself with pouring herself more tea, her hands shaking and betraying her as she did so. When she let her eyes flicker back up to Mal, she was almost a hundred percent sure that he had picked up on her lie and sighed again.
"Yes, you do," Mal pushed. "Come on, 'fess up!"
"I don't know what you want me to say, Captain," Inara answered, her voice only wobbling very slightly.
"Jus' tell me the truth. What's going on?"
"There's nothing going on," Inara defended, reinforcing the guards that she had so carefully constructed around herself.
Mal shook his head. "Why is it that I don't believe you?"
"Tyen shiao duh! Why can't you just let it go?" Inara burst out. She immediately regretted her words – while they quietened the captain considerably, they also made him more curious.
"So, there is something then," Mal finally said, with a mischievous grin.
"There's nothing going on that you need to know about."
"Huh," Mal said thoughtfully. "It's something to do with whoring, isn't it?"
"Oh, great. I should've known you'd start on that," Inara fumed. She stood up and angrily walked over to dresser to return her unused brush. It had merely been a distraction before, something to keep her hands busy.
Mal's smile faded and turned into a scowl. It deepened at Inara's next words. "I'm leaving."
"You're – " Mal started, hurt. He let his words fade off, unable to finish the sentence and turned his gaze to the floor. "Again? You're leaving Serenity again?"
Inara stared at him incredulously. "No, Mal. Not Serenity. I'm quitting the Guild. Since Miranda…I just can't. I can't do it anymore." The anger visibly left her body and she let out a deep breath that she hadn't realised she'd been holding.
"Wha–?" Mal gaped at her.
Inara couldn't look Mal in the eye, so instead focused on the shuttle door. Then, she repeated herself. "I'm leaving the Guild, Mal. I quit my life as a Companion. I'm no longer one of them."
She slowly turned back to him and nervously awaited his response.
"Huh," he continued staring at her, a look of pure disbelief evident on his face. "Why didn't you just say so?"
"I didn't know how you'd react. And saying out loud makes it all real."
"Oh." Mal's lip curved up into a crooked smile. "Will you be staying on Serenity?"
"Yes, if that's okay with you. I won't be able to pay rent any longer, but I'm sure there's some other arrangement we can make?"
Mal scrunched up his nose and it took Inara several moments to comprehend what she had just said.
"Not like that! I meant –"
"Yeah, I know," Mal nodded and smiled weakly at her. "Conjure we'll find you something."
Inara beamed at him gratefully, a sincere smile finding its way onto her face. "Thank you."
"'s nothing, Inara. You're always welcome here, no matter what."
"I'll remember that."
For several moments, they sat in silence. Both their thoughts focused on one thing: where would they go now and what would happen next? With Inara beginning a new life, anything was possible. A whole lot of doors had opened for them, revealing shiny new opportunities to take advantage of. The question was, would they?
Mal finally surrendered and brought the question to life. "So…what now?"
Inara just smiled. "I guess we'll find out soon."
Tyen shiao duh - in the name of all that's sacred