Sharing Strength

Silence. That's all there is.

It's eerily quiet and the usual cheeriness that can be heard aboard Serenity is nonexistent. Meal times are spent with the barest use of words possible and if any of the crew happen to pass each other in the hall or on their way back to their quarters, they only nod at each other. It has become their only form of communication.

Kaylee, even, hasn't cracked a smile since before. Before Miranda. Not a real one, anyway, only half smiles at Simon and watery attempts at her usual brightness. Dull. Lifeless. Pathetic. When Kaylee can't offer a real an' true smile it's a sign in itself that everything is not alright.

It's on Mal's latest trip from his quarters to the mess that he literally collides with Inara. She too hadn't been faring well as of late. From what he'd seen of her, anyway. He hadn't seen her fake a smile. Not that he'd have known if she'd faked a smile or not. She just hadn't smiled. (Not since he told her that her decision to possibly stay upon Serenity was a good answer.)

He jerks back at the sudden contact, her warmth melds into his bones too quickly to ignore though, and it's with an apologetic look on his face that he greets her. He is surprised to see the quiet hesitation in her eyes as she stares back at him and the way she's not hiding behind a carefully constructed mask as would be her usual reaction at times such as these.

He lifts a shoulder in a weak attempt to move their unspoken conversation along. She nods. Her lip twitches upwards for the slightest of moments and then back down again.

"Mal."

One word. One word and it feels like a hurricane has been released upon him. He ogles her, wide-eyed, and tries vainly to slow the rapid beating of his heart. Of course he fails miserably. He has always failed to miraculously large levels at keeping his emotions in check where Inara is concerned.

She must have sensed his distress because she immediately begins to back away, pressing down the front of her dress with the palms of her hands as if to straighten it and hide the evidence that they ever came upon one another in the hallway as they did.

He swallows, hard. And then he does what he'd dreamed of doing many times before but had never had the courage to actually go through with. He reaches out. He reaches out his hand and takes a hold of her wrist, not roughly but rather as gently as he possibly can. His fingers whisper over her skin.

She raises her eyes to meet his and they're full of surprise and shock and something else he can't figure out. He assumes the same emotions are dancing over his face because when he opens his mouth to speak, no words come out at first. He tries again.

"Inara."

She nods and he continues.

"How're you," he tries, "uh, you know. Doing?"

Her eyes close briefly. He wonders for a fleeting moment if she's going to cry (a stupid thought, really, he tells himself).

"I'm okay," she finally murmurs, opening her eyes once more but not quite looking at him. "I'm a little 'spun about'," she adds, "as is normal for these types of things, I imagine."

He nods, lips forming a thin line. He hates to see her like this. Hates it.

"How about you?" she asks.

He almost doesn't hear her.

"I...don't know." His answer is truthful because hell, after what they've been through what else is there to hold onto? He needs this. He needs her to know that maybe he's not as strong as she thought.

They stare at each other in silence. (There it is again, he muses.)

And then she smiles. It's not a happy smile in the slightest but it's relieved and quiet and reserved and real. She nods towards the mess, where he still intends to go once she's let him on his way and then meets his gaze. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

He can feel the tears pushing at his eyes but he doesn't allow them to fall. Rather, he nods at her and begins to walk again. "Sure."

She falls into step beside him.

fin.