Title: The Boat & the Guild
Chapter: The Boat & the Guild
Characters: Mal/Inara
Summary: Post BDM. Observations on one another from Mal & Inara's points of view.
Disclaimer: I still own nothing. Single bullet to the brain-panel, please!

This wasn't like her. Inara understood the importance of sleep and it was rare that it did not come easily. Even when she did find herself with a bout of insomnia, she had certain remedies to make her eyes droop, but neither her teas nor her meditations seemed to be having any effect tonight. She was wide awake.

However, this was very like Mal. It wasn't so much that he couldn't sleep as much as, he wasn't accustomed to it. Since Wash had gone and…well, it had fallen to Mal to see that they were always on course. He'd also taken to worrying for his crew more than he ever had before, sometimes doing four or five bunk-checks a night to be sure that they were all well. This night, however, he was even more restless than usual.

They met in the middle; met in the galley. Inara was attempting yet another soothing tea blend when Mal entered and began picking through whatever had been left on the table from dinner. They didn't speak. It wasn't in them to even look at each other, let alone open their mouths and exchange a polite string of conversation, neither of them believing the other felt anything toward them, both feeling the sting of that assumption. They didn't particularly want to remain in the same room, but neither of them had anything else to do--no, it was more than that; masochism made them long for each others' presence. So Inara took a seat at one end of the table and Mal at the other, not looking at each other, not speaking, barely breathing, the only movement, her fingers lifting her cup to her face and his jaw muscles working to grind the food between his teeth. Wuoshang mayer, maysheen, byen shr-to. River's words described it perfectly.

I will close my ears and my heart and I will be a stone.

It was awkward, in every sense of the word. Strange and uncomfortable and a little frightening. How could two people that had always been able to speak freely to one another--usually in the negative respect, but even still--suddenly be struck mute in each other's shadow? How could two equally brave people both be so terrified to speak?

She'd always been there for him, Mal realized. When Tracey's body had come into their possession, it was Inara that had stayed up with him and Zoë as they recounted all of the silly things the man had ever done. Someone's carryin' a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. He tilted his head up slightly to watch her as she drank with a peaceful look on her face, eyes closed lightly, lips forming perfectly over the rim of the cup.

He'd always been there for her, Inara discovered. When Nandi had contacted her about her need for help with Ranse and his men, Mal had accepted without hesitation. He'd even been willing to do it for free. For her. I wouldn't say I'm entirely okay. I'm a little appalled at her taste. She mentally berated herself and let her eyes flutter open to look at Mal, only to find him staring back, his strong jaw muscles twitching and rotating as he chewed, eyes never leaving hers.

It was almost as if they were unaware they were looking at one another. Neither of them turned their heads to look away, but they didn't speak, either. They just continued to stare, both wrapped up in the entirely too-complex mazes of their minds, each thinking of the other but unwilling to admit it.

In the end, it was Mal who broke the silence. "Inara…"

She took in a deep breath and forced a tight-lipped grin, "Yes?"

He hesitated. Not only that, but his hesitation chased away any momentary valour he may have had, and he fumbled for words; for thoughts of words. How could he tell her anything, knowing it would all fall unrequited? Instead, he cleared his throat and held up a bit of the bread from his meal, "Nothin' but the best from Whitefall."

Her smile faltered for only an instant before she looked away, "Their breads are like rocks, though I think rocks may be sweeter to the taste." Mal laughed at this--three short, gruff barks from the trademark false-happy of his. Inara nodded slowly and sighed a soft sigh to herself before standing to take her cup to the sink.

"Weren't what I was fixin' ta say," she heard from behind her. She took in another deep breath and silently cursed him for the unpredictable rise and fall of her false hopes, but waited for him to continue. She heard him take a breath of his own, followed by the telltale scraping of a chair being pushed back, and soon he was behind her. She couldn't feel his breath, so she assumed he was still at least two feet away, but that was close enough to wake up every nerve on her body. "'Nara," he started, only to fumble over his own tongue again. He sighed through his nose and tried again, a little stronger this time, "'Nara, I'm sorry."

"For what?" She asked, still not turning to face him.

"Fer," he shrugged, "Not payin' no mind to ya these past coupl'a weeks. Ain't been right, me treatin' ya like ya don't exist. I know ya do."

It wasn't what she'd hoped for, and her shoulders slumped a little. "Please," she tried to keep her voice as light and kind as she could, "Give it no more thought. I haven't exactly been warm with you, either."

"That you ain't," he agreed, a soft chuckled escaping him. "Way I figure… We're both decently damn stupid." He looked away in thought before fastening his eyes to the back of her head again, watching her tense, listening carefully. "Or maybe just been me, which I reckon's the case. But, see, I gotta get this out 'fore I take a less'n from River and fā fēng, so 'm gonna need ya ta just listen while I speak my piece an' then you can do 'tever ya like. Shiny?"

Did she want to hear this? If he was going to reject her, did she really want to let him say it out loud and ruin what little dying hope she was holding on to? Or, if he was going to tell her he wanted her, did she want to hear it and risk giving herself to him fully, abandoning the only laws--the only lifestyle--she'd ever known? In the end, she just nodded slowly, giving him her permission to say what he had to say.

Half of him had been praying she would deny his impending speech, but now there was no way out. He cleared his throat nervously and tried to remember when he'd last been this unconfident. "Inara, I think," he shook his head and sighed, surrendering in his attempt to deliver the message proper, in the way she'd respect the most. He just let it come out, "Yer a damn fine woman. I know I ain't never told ya such a thing, but I always been thinking' it. Yer--," he gulped when she began to turn to face him, her eyes wide, "Yer beautiful, but I 'spect y'already knew that. Yer brave an' yer more'n a mite wise, an' ya care more fer people 'an anyone I ever seen." He looked down at his hands, which he'd unconsciously begun wringing, and swallowed, "I, um," he looked back up, "I s'pose what I'm attemptin' ta say here is, uh… Well, I ain't always gived you yer due 'mount of respect. I mean, I respect you, but I never showed that I respect alla you, no matter how much I cut ya down fer, ya know, certain bits. An' I," he looked away again, knowing he'd never be able to say the next words with her eyes pouring into his the way they were. When he spoke again, his throat was dry and raw and it almost hurt to choke out the words, "I don' think I'd still be kickin' if'n I didn't have you with me. An' I ain't meanin' just on my boat; I mean, for me."

She just stared, and he shifted awkwardly, "That's it," he told her. She didn't speak. She didn't move. Hell, for a minute he wondered if she was even still breathing, the way she was frozen like that, like a moment captured in time. One beautiful, testing moment. Mal sighed and began to turn from her, "A'right. Ain't no need ta tell me what yer thinkin'; 's perty clear on that face o' yers." He started for the door that would lead him to his bunk when he felt a small hand close around his forearm. He turned, eyes wide and wishing, to stare down at Inara's own shocked expression.

She didn't know what to do, and she told him so. "Mal," her voice was small, not holding any of its usual self-assurance. "I'm not sure what--"

"Ain't about thinkin'," he told her gently, waiting, "'S'bout feelin' somethin'." She nodded. That was all the guidance she needed and she went up on her tip-toes to place a soft kiss against his lips. Barely even a kiss at all, but more like a gentle brush of the outermost skin-particles against outermost skin-particles. Then she let her eyes find his and the look there made up everything that the kiss did not; every emotion, every feeling, every single trace of longing--mental and physical--was there. They passed the emotions back and forth with gazes alone, like some hyperalluring version of volleyball, before Mal smiled.

"That's feelin' somethin'."

She nodded carefully, eyes never leaving his, "Its unfamiliar, for me."

"I'm sure I can f'miliarize ya plenty," he told her before a serious expression took his face again and his eyes drifted shut as he leaned in to take her lips with his. This time, they connected fully, sparking and sending waves of fire through every nerve either person possessed, waking them up and telling them that it had finally happened.

Inara's hands went to tangle in the captain's hair, scratching at the back of his skull in a way that made him groan against her lips. This was Primal Inara. This was Uncontrolled Inara. This was the Inara that came into existence when she finally found something that so insistently took over her senses that she couldn't remember anything she'd ever known about pleasing a man. She was running on what she wanted; the things she wanted to hear and touch and taste.

Mal fed his arms around the companion's waist and pulled her against him, her form molding against his perfectly. His tongue slid over his lips and pressed against hers, asking for an entrance which she promptly provided, along with the consolation prizes of her own tongue coming to meet his and a hearty moan escaping her throat. He knew he'd never be able to stop now--not after waiting for so long--and he accepted this. Yes, it was blinding him, splitting his priorities, turning his world upside-down; love was a dangerous thing like that. But as he felt her warm breath against his cheek when they pulled away for much-needed air, he decided that losing control might not be such a bad thing.

Okay, I wrote this in Microsoft Word and while writing Mal's dialogue...I have NEVER seen so many red squiggly underlines in my LIFE! Anywho, I hope you enjoyed the third and final chapter of the story. Please R&R. I plan on continuing this (I call it the Boys & Girls series) with more pairings from Firefly, Stargate Atlantis, and other cool shows.