Banter: Just Add Water

Stupid Mal.

For someone with such an eloquent vocabulary, Inara found it was occasionally enjoyable to revert to grade-school-worthy words to describe people. Ironically, it was a pretty simple summary for her complex mindset towards him, but more than likely the most accurate. Half the time he was, for lack of better word, the biggest pain in the ass she knew. Despite being trained in etiquette and good composure, everyone on Serenity had bets going that one day Inara was going to be the one to strangle him. Jayne had offered to let her borrow Vera if she ever decided to, but she had politely declined.

I should've taken him up on that, she thought. That night at dinner he'd accidentally let the word 'whore' slip again, and before she could react everyone else had taken cover under the heaviest tableware they could find. Even River had moved a few generous steps back in case Inara finally snapped.

Of course, she didn't. That wasn't her nature, and everyone knew it. She suspected their violent reactions were more jest than anything, though if that was the case, they were getting really good at feigning actual fear. All she'd ended up doing was shrugging gently and asking if anyone wanted more rice. No sooner had that happened than they began exchanging cryptic smirks around the table. Inara chalked it up to them acknowledging Mal's idiocy and moved on with her meal. The silence didn't last.

"Well, as unfulfilling as that was…I've got a new autopilot feature I'm dying to keep messing with. I'll see you all later." Wash mock-saluted his crewmates and dashed off at the first opportunity.

"Ah…I'll help! He might not get the technical stuff." Kaylee exclaimed, hot on his trail. She ran back for her extra plate of strawberries, then disappeared.

"I should probably keep an eye on them," Zoë added, edging away from her plate. "You know how we wives can be. Laying down the smack if we've got to and all."

"I never had you pegged as the jealous type," Simon commented as politely as he could, given his confusion. "Don't you—?" He swiveled in his seat to watch her go and perhaps gain some kind of enlightenment as to his friends' behavior. For a science guy, he didn't get a lot of things.

"Play along, no one wants to be the one to tell them it's their turn for dishes tonight," Zoë hissed, bending slightly as she passed him. At this, Simon's baby blues widened and he seized River's wrist. She made a chirpy sound of surprise, but was yanked out of her seat shortly after. Her tangled hair flew across her face as her brother physically heaved her over one shoulder and took off for the safety of the door.

"Come on, River, we've got to check your…uh, testoster…oxygen levels! Very urgent, we'd better hurry." He dragged her in the direction of the infirmary before she could reply with any strangely-worded responses, leaving Book, Jayne, Mal and Inara looking quite perplexed. Suddenly, it dawned on Book, and his tied-back hair seemed to expand with alarm.

"You know what, you guys? I just remembered I forgot to pray before dinner. I'd better go repent. Jayne, would you care to accompany me?"

"The hell? Why would I wanna—oh." Jayne's head whipped from one side of the kitchen to the other. "Oh. Yeah, y'know…I've been meaning to, uh, pick that religious junk up one of these days anyway. No time like the present…lead the way, holy man!" He bulldozed Book out of the dining room with astonishing speed and yelled something over his sculpted shoulder about having fun with the dishes.

"Couldn't resist," he said, sounding almost apologetic once he and Book were out of earshot.

"Someone had to tell 'em," Book shrugged. "Better you than me."

___

"So that's what that was about." Inara rose from her spot on the bench as gracefully as was possible with everything thrown haphazardly to the side. "Well, that was rather extreme. It isn't as though I forgot it was my turn for dishes." She began stacking and clearing plates, while Mal hung back by the sink pretending to debate which towel to use.

"Uh…erm, 'Nara, I just wanted to get it out there that I wasn't, uh…it wasn't how I meant to put it. Just so you know. Yeah."

"Put what?" she artfully avoided looking at him in the eye by hunting for the dish soap.

"You know." Mal's usually constant smirk had faded some, giving him the appearance of being almost concerned. "I don't mean to use that…word. It's just a habit."

"Oh, please, Malcolm. If you think I was actually offended, then blurting out inappropriate words isn't the only habit you should be worried about."

Mal relaxed. "Aw, 'Nara, I knew you'd under—wait, what? What exactly is that supposed to mean?" His eyes narrowed at the possibility of a backhanded compliment.

"Although maybe stupidity is more of a character trait than a habit. Hm." Inara paused to ponder. "Perhaps I was wrong there, then."

"Are you calling me stupid?" Mal actually managed to look appalled at the notion. Had he not been such an infuriating individual, the effect might have been somewhat cute.

"I'm not calling you Simon Tam," she replied innocently, turning the faucet on. While Mal stared at her in silence, she began rinsing.

"Is that how it's going to be?"

"Hand me that bowl, please." She reached over expectantly, and Mal's mouth hung open for a few more seconds before he grudgingly surrendered the plate she wanted.

"For the record, you ain't exactly no picnic either," he muttered. "Try living with someone self-righteous and promiscuous. You're like one giant jewelry-wearing gorram oxymoron!"

"I'm impressed, Mal. How late did you stay up learning that word?" She turned to look at him, hair flying over one silk-strapped shoulder. Mal struggled to come up with something before losing the battle so quickly. She didn't need any more leverage over him as it was. This kind of victory would make her about ten times more unbearable. He shuddered inwardly, then found his next card.

"Well…how late do you stay up curling that mane of yours? Hello, we're in space! Who's going to see you besides black holes and your online boyfriends?"

"My online girlfriends, of course, and Jayne, though I suppose you covered him when you said 'black holes'. Make yourself useful, if at all possible, and attempt to dry these." Inara thrust three cups at her captain, and he glared at her profile. "If you forget how, just remember that it works better when you wipe them with that towel you're holding."

"And do you mind if I ask what the point of wearing those crazy shoes in the middle of a spacecraft is? Aside from giving you the least chance of survival if we're ever getting chased by Reavers, I don't see their purpose." Mal Reynolds was the last person in the 'Verse who would be willing to acknowledge Inara's excellent taste in footwear.

"They're useful for other things too, you know." To demonstrate, she gave him a swift, rather uncharacteristically childish kick to the shin before pivoting back on her heel and resuming her task. Mal doubled over swearing at the top of his voice. One hand braced him on the countertop while the other cradled his femur.

"Ow! What the hell was that about?"

"Oh, don't be such a baby, I didn't kick you that hard. Besides, you asked me." She shrugged again, small smile playing at her lips. Mal straightened, glaring daggers at her. Inara looked rather triumphant, something that irked him to no end. Before he could stop himself, he had swung one arm into the water and flicked a good gallon of soap and water on her. She was so shocked that she dropped the plates she was holding and shrieked.

"Good thing we used hot water, huh?" Mal smirked.

"Ben dan!" Inara exploded, wiping furiously at the soap in her eyes. At this, Mal burst into laughter, giving her the perfect opportunity to fill a glass and empty it over his head. She had done the same with two more cups and a pitcher of fruit juice before he knocked it out of her hands.

"You are behaving like a child!"

"And you aren't?" she retaliated, dodging a bread stick. "You're not exactly acting like a role model here!"

"Role? Oh! Roll! Why didn't you say so?" Mal reached behind him for the basket of rolls and tossed all of its contents at her. Seeing how she was out of food and too far away from the freezer, Inara grasped the first thing her hand came to—unfortunately for Mal, that happened to be the removable sink nozzle.

"Oh, come on. You wouldn't." Mal dropped his arms and gave her a sideways look that clearly said 'you don't have the guts'. Inara considered, then resignedly lowered the hose.

"Maybe not."

"Ha! I told you." Mal's maddening grin was back in place, which was too bad—she had almost changed her mind.

"Or, maybe yes." She jerked it back up and let the stream of water fly at the captain. Shielding his face with one arm, he struggled to turn the nozzle towards Inara, leaving them both thoroughly soaked by the time the water quit running. They gasped for air, and whoever was holding the hose at the time dropped it without hesitation.

"Okay," Mal coughed, hacking dish soap and water out of his esophagus. "I hate to say this, but…truce?" He held out one drenched arm, sleeve covered in all sorts of foodstuff. "I don't know how much more of the wrath of Inara I can take."

"Truce," Inara agreed, shaking hands with him. "You have to wonder what gets into us sometimes, I suppose." She withdrew a noodle from within her curly hair and snickered softly.

"What?" Mal demanded, grinning widely. "Where is the humor in this?"

"Are you kidding me?" she burst into full-on laughter. "We are such children!" By now, Mal was leaning against the wall in a sitting position, cracking up about as hard.

"What would everyone say? You got…the captain of a ship, and a dignified business lady…having a gorram water fight!" He wiped his eyes with the back of one soapy hand.

"Well…I suppose it does sound sort of silly in retrospect." Inara began to settle down and now looked simply amused.

"It happened two minutes ago! You can't pull the retrospect card!" Mal glanced up at her in humorous bewilderment.

"Hey, to the victor belong the spoils." Inara stood, smiling coyly.

"Victor? What victor? Oh, you're not going to start this again, you did not win that!"

"I'll be in my bunk," she called over one shoulder, swaying down the hallway with surprising grace for being covered in dinner food.

"Hey! No way, get back here!" he took off after her, but was stopped by Wash in the hallway.

"What did she do to you?" his friend exclaimed, looking shocked even for what he was expecting.

"She didn't…well, it's like this…"

"No need to explain, man." Wash clapped him sympathetically on the shoulder. "This is why you never, never get into it with a woman. They'll tear you apart. I got to learn that the hard way," he added, eyes flicking in the direction of the room Zoë was in. Shaking his head, Wash left to go survey the damage to the kitchen, and possibly hunt for some leftovers.

Mal swore under his breath and skulked to the stairs, where Jayne was sliding backwards down the banister, followed on the stairs by Book. He fell off at the sight of his captain, then recovered within a few seconds and gave him a once-over.

"Why—?" Jayne began, before covering his mouth to hide his snicker.

"You know, Malcolm…that look suits you." Book also appeared much too amused for his own good. "Perhaps next week I'll have to do dishes with Inara." Mal rolled his eyes skyward and brushed past them both.

"Don't even start with me, preacher-man."

END.