AN: This was for a song/writing meme, but there was no way I could fit the fic that this became into the space of a song! Even if it's a long one. So it took over my brain and I had to write it. The song is 'A Shore Never Reached' by James Horner, on a CD of music inspired by the movie Titanic.
Warning: Violence and character death(s).
A Shore Never Reached
Inara flinched as the Reavers' nails struck the outside of the steel door. She backed up as far as she could from the door, shoving her way back and behind the pilot's seat. Wash's old seat. Her fingers were slippery with blood as they slid over a tipped over stegosaurus. There was no light coming in the windows behind her – just the dark night.
Mal was in front of her, bloody and broken, gun in hand. The cabinet he had shoved in front of the door shuddered under the impact from outside. He looked at her, his eyes wild, and asked if she was okay. She was shaking too much to answer, so she just nodded, her eyes betraying the motion.
There was a hideous scream and more pounding. They both jumped badly and stared at the door.
"Mal – "
"It's going to be okay," he said, coming over to her and taking her face in his hands. She took a gasping breath and felt tears pool in her eyes.
"Oh, Mal." She hated how weak she sounded, and swallowed, trying to reign herself in. Mal ignored the screaming behind them and just looked into her eyes, thumbs stroking her cheekbones. She winced a little as he scraped over a cut, smeared the blood.
"'Nara, look at me. Look at me. We are going to be alright." He said each word clearly, as if she needed the extra time to process the words. She shook her head, her face crumpling. There were gunshots on the other side of the door and panicked screams that didn't sound like Reaver screams. Inara felt bile rise in her throat and suddenly everything got very slow.
She saw Mal in front of her, battered but standing, as always. There was something in his eyes that made her think, for a moment, that he might be telling the truth. But she knew he wasn't. His blue eyes were determined but glazed over with sadness and anger he was trying to rein in. But she could see it.
She saw the cabinet give some more, and knew their barricade wouldn't hold for much longer.
She saw Mal grip his gun tighter in his bloody fist, staring at her but with every nerve paying attention to the door.
"Serenity's in pieces, Mal." As she said this, she swallowed tears and thought of the ship she loved so much. Oh, Serenity. "You can't believe this isn't the end of everything." He was about to say something but she cut him off. "Mal…" She couldn't think of the right words, so she kissed him, hard, tasted blood on his lip. He was confused, she could tell, but he responded out of instinct and need, kissing her with more abandon than he ever had before. This side of them was still so new…
At the same time, she reached for his gun.
He didn't let go, but once he noticed what she was doing he was too much in shock to stop her. "Mal, this is the end." She placed the gun muzzle against her temple as his eyes widened in horror.
"No." He couldn't seem to move.
"Yes, Mal." Her lips quivered. "You have to do it. You have to." Tears cascaded down her cheeks, mixing with the blood. "You know it's better than what's waiting for us out there." She could see the acceptance and utter refusal warring in his face. He clenched his jaw, hard, and looked at her with anguished eyes.
"Inara…" She heard resignation in his voice and tried so hard to smile, her whole body shaking.
"I'll see you soon," she whispered, her eyes huge and flooded with tears. The words were hard to make out over the trembling of her voice.
Mal gritted his teeth and stared at her. "Inara, I lo – "
The door broke then, and Inara didn't have time to scream or even take a breath as the Reavers charged in. Their savage yells rent the air and she couldn't hear anything over the noise of violence and gunshots.
It was over in an instant. Mal collapsed in her arms, falling on top of her with a guttural yell of pain. She screamed then, as she fell, long and hard, catching him instead of breaking her fall. She hit the metal floor hard, smacking her head and bruising every inch of herself that hadn't been bruised already. She kept on screaming, but the attack she was waiting for never came.
It took her a moment to notice, after she stopped screaming, that it had fallen silent. For a moment, all she heard was her own shuddering breaths. Mal was still above her, heavy and warm. But still. Completely still. Tears continued to stream down her face, running down her temples and into her hair. She whimpered pitifully, terrified, her body heaving with sobs. Then Jayne appeared, standing over her. He was covered in blood and holding a hand over his eye, but he was alive. He paused, staring at her with surprising sadness in his eyes, and lowered Vera.
Inara shut her eyes tightly, body arching in a silent sob. "Mal – " The word was broken, choked out between noiseless sobs that took her breath away. Her hands moved over Mal restlessly, trying to…trying…
Jayne breathed out and looked down at their captain's still body on top of her.
The day was cool, grey, and drizzly. Inara tugged the hood of the cloak over her hair as she walked over the barren plateau. There was no beautiful sunset this time, no cool breeze, just endless grey and soft rain.
It was quiet here. So quiet. Inara walked slowly, unwilling to reach her destination and yet eager for it at the same time. Her dark dress was heavy and kept out the chill, but she wrapped her arms around herself tightly.
She stopped once to take two deep, aching breaths and to look out over the valley. But then she couldn't put it off any longer and she was there.
The stone in front of her…was one she had never hoped to see. Mal's holographic face stared back at her – not quite smiling but not quite frowning. He moved his head a little, a smirk flickering across his lips, and Inara very nearly crumbled.
She nearly jumped when Zoe came up beside her. The other woman stood silently, staring down at Mal's stone and the ones next to it – pilot, doctor, mechanic, shepherd, and the most dangerous little girl in the 'verse. Inara clutched her hands together.
"Jayne?" she asked.
"Long gone," Zoe answered quietly. "He doesn't like to look at the people he couldn't save." After a long silence, she spoke again. "You know, after all these years, I never got what I wanted." Inara didn't say anything, just waited. "I took all those risks after Wash…and I never died. Never got shot, hardly ever wounded." Her smile is bitter, more of a grimace. "It's like something is out there stopping me, telling me to do all these things with my life before I can see him again." Inara took a long, shuddering breath. How true those words were. She looked over at Zoe and saw, as always, the impenetrable wall. They hadn't seen each other in god knows how long, but Zoe's face was heart wrenchingly familiar to Inara.
"Well." Zoe said. As she walked off, Inara heard her say quietly, "I can't wait for that day to come."
The rain falls soft on her shoulders as she looks down at the grave, and she has to agree.
"I'll see you soon," she whispered, and knew she was lying.