"Why did you leave?" Mal suddenly asked. He looked up and met Inara's gaze. Her eyes shone with regret and a deep sadness that Mal had somehow expected. After a drawn out moment, Inara finally replied with another question.

"Why didn't you ask me not to?" Deeper meanings and questions were buried within her words. She waited, emotions coursing through her uncontrollably.

Among the strongest were fear and hope: fear that things weren't going to turn out well and that she and Mal wouldn't have time to reveal their true desires for one another, and hope that they would live to see another day and get a second chance.

It was a toss-up. Things could go either way.

Mal pulled himself to his feet, a sorrowful expression on his face. He looked at Inara with longing, at the same time making up yet another excuse to deny and put off revealing what was between them.

"I…uh…I'd better go check on the crew. See how the inevitable mutiny's coming along."

He headed for the door as he talked; he paused for only a few seconds to glance back at Inara before finally exiting the shuttle.

Inara silently watched him go, longing for him to change his mind and come back to her.

He didn't.

She stared numbly at the shuttle door, tears forming in her eyes that refused to fall.