Goodbye Again

Maybe you'll forget you were ever here

Maybe (you'll) forget you were ever, never, here

"Goodbye Again" by Vertical Horizon

"Why are you leaving? Again?" Mal asked calmly. Too calmly.

Inara swallowed and prepared herself for yet another argument with him. "Mal, I – " she began. She massaged her temples with her index fingers and took a deep breath, before deciding to cut through the denial and hopefully extinguish the fire before it burned them both. She shrugged gracelessly and sighed. "I can't explain it, Mal," she admitted, albeit nonchalantly. "I just…"

Why was she leaving? Honestly?

Was she really leaving behind Serenity once more for no better reason than it was time for her to move on? Was there no better reason than she was afraid that if she didn't leave now, she never would – and she'd never want to?

That was a pathetic excuse at best. One always had a choice.

Maybe there was something else she was running from. Someone else?

No. She wasn't even going to consider that. She wouldn't deny it, but it was too complicated to analyse without getting a migraine.

She forced her unease to the back of her mind and focused on Mal and keeping her expression guarded.

"You think that if you leave, you'll be able to forget," Mal surprised her. In all the time she'd known him he had never really displayed such depth before. There were definitely a lot of sides to the man: he was really quite fascinating. Just how many sides she hadn't seen, she couldn't be certain.

"Is that it? Because if so, you've sorely mistaken," he continued. "No matter how far I get across the 'verse, I can never forget about the time of war. So much death…" He faded out and a faraway expression crossed his face. No doubt, he was reminiscing.

Inara watched him with a heavy heart. She ached for him like she had for no one else. He carried so much more pain around with him than was fair.

"Anyhaps," he added, jerking back to the present. "Nothin' to do but keep flying now. I can't change the past – not nobody can – and short of a bullet in the brainpan, I can't forget. Running helps none, I'm sure you're smart enough to know."

He nods once, almost defiantly. "So tell me, Inara. Why are you leaving? I thought before you wanted to stay. Give me a real and proper reason, 'cause this time I need to know. I need to know if it's me that you're running from and if I can fix it."

The moment he ended his speech, he realised what he'd inadvertently told her.

He cared about her. A lot.

He didn't want her to leave.

He hung his head, eyes cast downwards as his face flushed red. He swallowed. Wrung his hands. Finally, he found it in him to bring his eyes to hers once more.

"Inara…" he tried.

Inara put a hand up to silence him and shook her head. Reining in her emotions, she ran her tongue tentatively over her lips. "Mal, no. I can't tell you anything. I can't give you a reason." She paused and let her gaze linger on him for a moment, before mirroring his previous awkward actions and focusing her attention firmly on the ground.

"I can't even give myself a reason," she added quietly. "I just feel it's time for me to move on. Maybe I haven't dealt with what happened at Miranda as well as I'd thought. Maybe life aboard Serenity just isn't for me anymore. Whatever it is, I need to move on."

I need to forget, she added silently.

Mal stood still as the stone statue of Jayne that he, Simon, Kaylee, Wash and Jayne himself had come across on Canton and tried to breathe. If he attempted to move or to speak he was certain he'd crash to the ground and shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. His heart was already plummeting in his chest.

Inara reached out and placed a hand on his arm. Her skin was cool and soft against his in contrast to the fire in the words she offered. She whispered them quietly enough that he almost didn't hear them.

"I'm sorry."