Disclaimer: I don't own Firefly

This is going to be a series of ficlets to go with the Ballad of Serenity. Following this one, they should be chronological, and only this one will be in two parts.

Take My Love

(Inara's POV)

I stormed back to my shuttle, Mal hot on my heels.

"You are impossible!" I called behind me. He sped up.

"Now hold on just one minute, 'Nara. I ain't the one pickin' the fight!" I turned and glared at him.

"No? Because that's certainly what it sounded like back there!" I started walking again, desperate to get away from the man in front of me. I didn't want to get any angrier than I was. Our evening meal had been pleasant, for once. Jayne had even refrained from insulting Simon. But afterwards, once the others had left, Kaylee had wanted my advice.


"'Nara, you know about men and stuff." She'd started. I smiled encouragingly. "I just… With Simon… Inara, how can I get him to…notice…me?"

"Kaylee, you've had your fair share of romance, haven't you? You must know something about attracting men." She shrugged.

"Yeah, but…Simon ain't like any of them. He's…he's from the central planets…and he's a doctor. Girls he knew must have been something, right? And I'm just…me." She finished softly. I reached out and took her hand across the table.

"Give yourself more credit, Kaylee. Simon likes you, anyone can see that. Just give him time. Men can be stupid sometimes." I glanced over at Mal, who was leaning against the wall in the next room. "Well, all the time, actually." We both laughed.

"But seriously, 'Nara. There's gotta be something I can do. Can you at least tell me how to...how to be a proper girl? Elegant and such?" I immediately started thinking over what I could teach Kaylee. I was always eager to help her.

"Don't bother Kaylee." My head snapped up as Mal came in. "You're better than him anyway. A boy like him's not gonna want someone without his high class schooling and perfect upbringing, so save your time." Kaylee shot him a hurt look, one that he apparently failed to notice, and ran out of the room. I was torn, wanting to comfort Kaylee but also wanting to deal with the jackass in front of me.

"How could you say that to her Mal?" He frowned, looking honestly confused.

"What?" That was all I could take. With a frustrated groan, I turned on my heel and left the room.


"I didn't mean nothin' by it!" Mal defended himself.

"Yes you did, Mal." I stopped, finally within the safety of the shuttle, and leaned against the wall.

"I just don't want to see her getting hurt." I looked at him. For the first time in our arguments, he seemed like he honestly wanted to make peace, especially since he really didn't know what we were arguing about. But, as it had in the kitchen, his ignorance only served to annoy me further.

"She is in love with him Mal! Do you understand that?!" I sighed. "No, of course you don't. You aren't capable of feeling anything that genuine!" Neither of us said anything for a few moments, me embarrassed by my outburst, him seemingly contemplative.

"I was in love once." He finally said, softly. That stopped me in my tracks. I stared at him. Was I going to discover some new piece of the puzzle that was Captain Malcolm Reynolds? I stood silently, scared that any sound, even my breathing, would stop him from saying what he was thinking. "A long time ago, admittedly, but I remember well enough." He moved and sat down on me bed. Slowly, I followed suit.

"It ended badly," I guessed, realising why he was so against Kaylee and Simon's slowly growing relationship, and why he had been so against Wash's and Zoe's before, or so I'd heard. He shrugged.

"Everything ended badly then." The war, I guessed. I sometimes wished that he would come to me and tell me all about his past and the war. But other times, I wondered if it was really something I wanted to know. "It was back on Shadow. Her family had a ranch down the street from ours. We spent all our time together back when we were kids." I briefly considered taking his hand. But Mal didn't often respond positively to physical affection like that. "She had light brown hair, and the sweetest laugh in the whole 'verse, and…"

"And you loved her." I finished quietly. He glanced over at me.

"Yes. But I already told you that." I smiled faintly at him. He was quiet for several seconds.

"What happened?" I blurted out, before I could stop myself. He seemed unsurprised.

"The war." His expression turned grim. "She cried the day I left. She made me promise to come back to her, said she'd wait as long as it took.

"But she didn't," I guessed again. He looked away from me.

"I don't know." He confessed. "I never went back." I recoiled from him instantly, my imaginings of her infidelity and his heart break disappearing.

"You-" I couldn't even finish my sentence. I stared at him. He carried on like I hadn't said anything.

"Didn't make a lot of difference, anyway. Shadow didn't last the war."

"How…" I struggled to find the right question. "If it had," I finally began, "would you?"

"I changed in that war. I guess you knew that." I nodded; I'd been told that before. "I don't know if it was for better or worse. But there was nothing left of me. Not a gorram thing." I was stunned by the ease with which he could tell me all of this. I'd always thought that he would deny that he'd been that affected. "I knew that at the time. That's why I never wanted to go back to the old life. Folks I knew who did couldn't keep it together." He paused. "I let them think I was dead. What was one more casualty?" He laughed bitterly. Then his expression turned more serious. "Things might've turned out differently if they…if Shadow had survived. Maybe it would have been easier, knowing she was…happy. But I still wouldn't've gone back."

"Oh, Mal…" I sighed. He shrugged.

"Don't really matter, I guess. But…" He hesitated. "I wanted you to know that…" He shrugged again. "I just wanted you to know." I suddenly felt the need to do something, anything, to comfort him. I gripped his hand as tight as I could.

"Mal, if you ever need to talk… I'm here." He didn't say anything as he slowly extracted his hand from my grip. He stood up and headed to the door, turning his head slightly as he reached it.

"Thanks, 'Nara. But there isn't anything to say." He left then, and I leaned back on my bed. I hadn't expected him to take me up on my offer, of course. As happy as I was that he'd chosen to share something with me, I wasn't stupid enough to believe that it changed anything. Tomorrow we'd be at each other's throats again, insulting each other without a second thought. But as painful, as devastating as it was, as much as I knew I couldn't begin to understand it…I desperately wanted to discover Malcolm Reynolds' past.