Bad Day's Night
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters.
Summary: Mal is brooding, and Inara feels the effects.
She found him in the galley, hunched over a tin cup which she suspected contained something that could take the paint off Serenity's walls with no trouble. Pulling her thin robe more tightly around her, she walked into the room and reached out to put her hand on his shoulder. His flinch away made the knot of worry in the pit of her stomach clench uncomfortably. Drawing her hand back, she sat down beside him.
"What are you doing here, Inara?" he asked, his voice low and flat.
Inara swallowed nervously. She found it more than a little disconcerting that for all her skill at reading people, Malcolm Reynolds had her more than a little bewildered most of the time. "I was hoping to persuade you to come to bed," she answered, her voice carefully neutral. "I know you must be tired after…"
Mal's scowl made her words trail off. He sighed, the sound a heavy weight hanging in her sudden silence. "Didn't want to come to our bed angry," he admitted.
Inara's heart skipped a beat as she thought back over the day. "You're angry with me?" she asked, hating her slightly pleading tone, but unable to stop it.
"No, darlin', not with you," Mal said tiredly.
"Then who?" she asked, mystified.
"Me," Mal said bitterly. "I'm mad as hell at me." Discerning from her puzzled expression that she was not simply going to let this rest, he said, "Almost got Zoe and me both killed today, dealin' with that hundan."
Inara closed her eyes, remembering the absolute terror she'd felt earlier when Mal and Zoe had run up the ramp of Serenity under a hail of bullets, and she'd been certain that they were both going to be riddled with bullet wounds before Kaylee could raise the ramp. Only after River had taken them out of the world had she realized that they were miraculously unharmed. "But you didn't…get killed, I mean," she said softly.
"Not this time," Mal replied. "Don't mean it ain't gonna happen next time."
"Aren't you always telling me that's the nature of the life we lead?" Inara said, laying her hand lightly over his on the table.
"Maybehaps I am," he said. "But," he paused, looking up into her inquisitive eyes, his own the color of a stormy sea. "It ain't ever bothered me like this before. Not that I've been tryin' to get corpsified or anything, but didn't seem so bad 'til…"
"Until what?" she prompted when he fell silent.
"Until I had something like you to lose," he whispered, the admission torn from him almost involuntarily.
Inara's eyes misted with tears at the raw emotion in his eyes. "You're not going to lose me, Mal," she said.
He snorted. "You can promise that, can you?" he said. "You picked up some of River's reading skills you haven't told me about?"
"No, love," Inara said, sliding out of her chair and into his lap. "I know that you'll come back to me when you go out on a job. Because that's just the way it is. I've got faith." She kissed him softly, feeling his pulse quicken under her hand on his neck.
"I don't," he whispered against her lips.
"Doesn't matter," she answered. "I've got enough for both of us." She parted her lips, offering him access to the honeyed taste of her mouth.
He kissed her hard and deep, a certain desperation leaching out of his soul through his lips and tongue. When at last his lungs cried for air, he broke away from her, panting harshly. "Ai ya, woman, what have you done to me?" he asked, wonder and a hint of wild fear in his words.
"Loved you," she answered breathlessly, sliding off his lap and straightening her clothing as she tried to stop the trembling his kiss had elicited in her. She stood looking at him, her heart beating in time with his, wondering if her love was going to be enough to hold him when he needed to be held. She was unaccustomed to vulnerability in her lover, as Mal very rarely allowed it to show so clearly. The fact that it was on display now indicated to her the depth of fear he'd felt during the firefight. Gathering her wits about her, she said, "And I'm going to keep on loving you, every day and night until we're both dead, and maybe for awhile after that, depending on Book's accuracy about that sort of thing." Her lips curved into a slow smile that she knew made Mal's pulse race faster.
"That a fact?" he said, a small smile crinkling the corners of his mouth and eyes.
"It is," she said, straightening her posture, and gathering her skirts in her hands. "Now I'm going to bed, and I sincerely hope I'm not going to have to be there alone for too long." Without looking back, she swept gracefully out of the galley and went back to Mal's bunk, her ears straining to hear her lover's footsteps in the corridor behind her.
Mal stared after her for a moment, stunned by the words she's spoken and the emotion behind them. He didn't have Inara's ability to delude himself into thinking that love alone would bring him home safely. He knew the 'verse to be uncaring of such things. But he was also a practical man, and not apt to ignore the gift of the love she offered for as long as he had it. Shaking himself out of his earlier mood, he put his cup into the sink, and took a deep breath. Thinking of all the ways he could make that gift a pleasure to both of them, he headed with renewed life to his bunk and into the arms of his lover.
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