A/N: This takes place way down the line in a series of fics I'm working on. At the rate I'm writing, I'll be collecting social security before this thing ever sees the light of day. Basically, this is a "day after" fic. Thank you to Gillianrose for her encouragement and help with word usage. You are the master, Devil Woman. Also little thanks to Blue Moon beer for title inspiration.
"I'm goin' to town," Jayne informed them as he shrugged on his coat.
"You can't leave!" Inara couldn't keep the slight edge of panic from tainting her voice. Glancing quickly at Mal standing beside her, she was not comforted by his similarly alarmed expression. If Jayne left, they would be alone. Too alone for comfort.
"Gonna hang with some folks that like fun," Jayne explained. He studied Mal and Inara before shaking his head in exasperation. "Good luck with the not speakin'!" He hopped into the mule and tore off.
Inara kept her gaze fixed on the rapidly disappearing mule feeling unaccountably angry at Jayne. She was vaguely mortifed that she had assigned last hope status to Jayne of all people but she desperately needed the buffer that his presence would have provided. If he stayed, she and Mal wouldn't be alone and they could go about their separate business. She would have the much needed opportunity to retreat to her bed and sort out this mess that she had fallen into.
The mule finally disappeared from sight leaving them alone. Jayne wasn't turning back. Inara had never felt so…nervous. Frightened. Last night, with Mal… In the span of one reckless night, her nonrelationship with Mal had changed. Drastically. Irrevocably. What was she supposed to do now?
Taking a deep breath, she mustered a smile and turned to face him but he was no longer by her side. Her smile faded as she walked up the ramp into Serenity only to see Mal disappear up the stairs toward his bunk. Disappointment mingled with a small amount of relief swept over her. Ok, Inara thought, is this how it's going to be? Pretend nothing happened? She could do that, she assured herself but she felt a pang at the thought.
Confused by her warring emotions, she walked toward her room trying to decide what she should do. She shook her head utterly exasperated with herself. In all her relations with men, there had never been this…uncomfortableness, this feeling of not knowing what to do next. She always knew what to say or how to behave with a man. Except Mal.
She started to sit down on her bed but a burst of anger at Mal's utter pigheadedness caused her to jump back up. Damn him! How could she let him do this to her? Her, Inara Serra, afraid of one, single man! If he thinks he can just ignore her he's diān dǎo. She paced her room glaring at the general direction of his bunk. How dare he?
As she started up the stairs to the upper decks, she had worked herself into a huff. By the time she reached the corridor, the huff was bordering on righteous outrage. Narrowing her eyes, she squared her shoulders ready to do battle. She took a deep breath, lifted her chin and turned the corner. And almost ran into Mal.
A litany of his faults was firmly set in her mind but they fled instantly when her eyes fell on the blanket under his arm and the basket in his hand. Her eyes lifted and met his. Once again, he managed to surprise her.
Inara started to say something but stopped. Words were a problem with them. She didn't know the right thing to say to him. Her anger was completely forgotten and she smiled. Her smile was shy and unsure. Mal moved toward the stairs tilting his head slightly indicating she should follow him.
Follow him? Her smile faltered as she considered that here was her last defense opportunity. She could yell after him telling him she didn't follow anyone. Rail at him for his presumption that all he had to do was nod his head and she would obey. She thought over these options until she saw him pause at the top of the stairs. He looked back at her and his look humbled her and hurt her heart; it was one she had never seen before by anyone. In his look was everything she ever wanted from him, everything that frightened her about him. She followed him down the stairs.
She watched him as he closed and locked Serenity's ramp. With his back turned, she took the opportunity to study him while allowing herself to remember him as he was last night. Mal was a man of great passions and she couldn't stop the slight shudder that coursed over her as she thought about how he had demonstrated his passion for her. He turned around and she pushed her thoughts away afraid to reveal to him how deeply he affected her.
They walked side by side pointedly not saying anything but every few moments Inara glanced at Mal. Fear must have shown in her face because he smiled reassuringly and moved closer to her. Their arms touched. Inara wanted to say something because the silence was making her even more nervous. But no words sprang to mind so she just looked back up at him feeling comforted by his presence and the certain knowledge that he was feeling as lost as she felt.
Mal led her through a small grove of trees until the trees gave way and they reached a wide, open field. Inara smiled in delight as she looked over the broad expanse of waist high wildflowers that seemed to go on for miles. An easy breeze rustled the flowers causing the mass of color stretched out before to dance.
She felt Mal watching her. When she looked up at him, her heart again constricted at the expression in his usually guarded face. Her fear returned but she kept looking, looking at Mal, calling on a strength that might have surprised her if she'd thought about it. She kept looking and saw that he, too, was afraid. Sliding her arm in his, she smiled. She really wanted to give him a light, casual kiss to ease their fears but the way she was feeling, the kiss would rapidly turn into something more and she wanted to draw out this experience.
They made their way through the shifting oranges, yellows and purples. Mal stopped and looked around. Handing her the basket, he spread out the blanket. He lay on his side resting his head on his hand. His playful grin had returned and Inara saw his amusement at her, at him, all over his face.
Sitting down on the blanket, Inara folded her legs under her and swished her long hair over her shoulders. She refused to look at him - he was daring her to be the first to say something. She gave him a false stern look which only made him grin more. Smiling at the game, she dug through the basket finding only two protein bars. She held them up. I know we have something better in the pantry her look told him. He shrugged and caught the bar she tossed him.
As she nibbled the flavorless protein, she gazed at the beauty that surrounded them. It was stunning. Other than the sky, all she could see was an ocean of wildflowers. She knew Mal watched her. She was accustomed to feeling his eyes on her, always looking, seeing things about her she didn't want seen. But she wasn't prepared to meet his gaze so she continued to eat until she felt ready. Finally feeling ready to face him, she turned to Mal and was shocked at what she saw.
"What are you doing?" Her disbelief at what he was doing caused her to forget that she had intended to win the silent game.
He cracked open one eye. "Resting my eyes. Didn't get much sleep last night." He smirked at her before closing his eyes again. "You got to let me rest from time to time, woman."
Inara felt an angry blush creep up over her and she remembered exactly why they forged the unspoken agreement not to speak. Mal could not be relied upon to ever say the right thing. She wanted to kick him and stewed about it for awhile as she purposely turned her attention back to the flowers.
A soft snore brought her attention back to Mal who lay with an arm thrown over his eyes to keep out the fading light. Her anger forgotten, Inara shook her head in wonder at the man that was Mal. Leave it to him to fall asleep on their first date. If this is what could be called a date since dates usually involved conversations instead of wordless challenges.
She eased down to lie beside him. "He sleeps," she said, but she smiled and studied his profile marveling at how at peace he looked. Not wanting to get caught staring, she rolled onto her back and gazed up at the colors of the fading sunset. In the distance, she could see the twinkle of a few stars. As the sun set and the temperature began to fall, Inara scooted over closer to Mal. She stayed awake until darkness fell and the moon rose content to lie beside him.
Mal's eyes sprang open. The first thing he saw was the full moon that hung high in the sky. Momentarily, he was confused but then he remembered where he was. His ears dully heard the explosions that kept shaking the ground. The smell of fire, explosive charges, and charred bodies hung heavily in the air.
His gaze fixed steadily on the moon and, for a moment, he was too petrified to move. Sniper's Moon. Mal stared at it as his body registered the warmth of the air. He was confused; it was winter and his unit was close to freezing to death. Maybe the heat from burning barracks had warmed him, maybe he was in shock. He felt a body next to him and was afraid to see who had died today.
Then, Mal had a thought that scared him to his bones. He felt no physical pain. That wasn't right. That gorramn sniper shot him clean through the shoulder. What else had happened? He shut his eyes believing the worst had happened to him. When he dared to open them, what would he see?
His heart hammered in his chest as he waited for the medics.
The dead person next to him stirred slightly. That ain't right. Perkins is dead - been dead for… Mal started to realize where he wasn't. He looked down next to him and saw a thick mass of black hair. Inara's dead, he thought dully as he stared at her until his eyes finally registered the gentle rise and fall of her body indicating her steady breath.
That gorramn moon. Exactly the same one he remembered from the winter campaign of '09. He looked back at it trying to clear his mind but the smell of smoke and death as well as the distant sounds of his men dying kept pulling him back to Verbana. His body jumped at the sound of a seeker exploding. He quickly turned to see what damage had been wrought but all he saw was an expanse of tall wildflowers.
He sat up abruptly taking deep breaths. He couldn't pull himself out of his dream. Couldn't smell the flowers or feel the cool breeze. The smell and sounds of death clung to his senses. He could feel the shine of the moon and couldn't shake the fear that the light would give away his position.
"Mal?" He barely heard her. His breathing was heavy and labored as he fought his way out of the memory. Over the sound of the harsh beating his heart, he distantly heard: "Where are you?"
He now knew for certain where he was but still the sounds and smell of the battle surrounded him.
Inara leaned closer and he felt her warm hand on his arm. When he looked down, he expected to see a bloody uniform but his eyes saw her fingers, with maroon nail polish, grasping his dark blue shirt.
"Mal?" He heard the worry in her voice.
"I'm here." He didn't sound convinced – even to his own ears. His breathing calmed but his heart still pounded in his chest. He finally risked a look at her. She was looking at him intently, naked concern in her eyes.
"The moon," he said, as if that explained everything. He looked back down at his still shaking hands and rubbed them on his pants hoping to steady them.
Inara knelt in front of him and placed her hands on his face nudging him to look at her. He looked into her eyes, and through the blurriness of his own, he saw tears shining in hers.
She kissed him lightly. Mal kept his hands on his thighs wanting desperately to hold her but he had enough presence of mind to register that if he allowed her to save him now, he would need her forever. That was exactly the thing he didn't want from her. Where would he be when she left?
"You're here, Mal. With me," she whispered against his lips. He tasted salt from whose tears he couldn't fathom. "And it's a beautiful night."
Of their own volition, his arms moved to hold her. His shaking hands tightly clutched the fabric of her blouse. She tilted her head, deepening the kiss, trying to pull him back to her. She was succeeding.
Mal pulled her to him losing himself in her kiss. His hands cupped her face and gathered her, closing the distance between them as he pulled her ever closer. He groaned quietly as she nestled in to him, bending her legs against each of his hips, pressing her body against his. Even through their clothes, he could feel her warmth, her strength, her…life. The sound of her increasingly arduous breathing, the feel of her heart, all signs of the beautiful life pulsing through her.
He drew his head back to look at her. Had to make sure she was real and he wasn't on that field on Verbana having a dying dream. Had to see that there was still beauty in the 'verse. Beauty for him. He gazed at her until she looked into his eyes. They stared at each other breathing heavily.
His gaze strayed from her eyes to watch as she slowly unbuttoned her blouse. After the last button, her hands rested by her side waiting for him. Mal reached out with steadier hands and opened her blouse. He inhaled sharply at the sight of her. The shine of the Sniper's Moon allowed him to see her so clearly. He looked his fill, taking in the sight of her. She shrugged off her shirt. The air was pleasantly cool causing goosebumps to rush over her skin. His hands ran over her body, touching her warm, soft, unmarred skin. He leaned forward burying his face in the crook of her neck, his mouth trailing kisses up to her ear. Tightening his hold on her, he breathed deep inhaling her scent. The smell of smoke and death only a lingering memory.