A Bit Of Romance

"You're still the one," the old man says. "You always will be the one." He smiles softly at the woman by his side. Her floral dress is lifted slightly in the gentle breeze and she leans over to press it down. He places a hand on her shoulder as she does so and helps her straighten up when the wind slows down and lets her skirt settle again.

"You big softie," the woman grins at him. The teeth she has are jagged and yet the man doesn't seem to care. He envelopes her in a warm hug and tilts his head down to kiss her.

Inara watches them as she passes them by with Kaylee and Mal. Something inside of her aches, but she covers it skillfully and doesn't let it show on her face.

"Sweet, ain't it?" Kaylee says, ever perceptive.

Mal spares them a glance and then frowns to himself.

"It is very sweet, mei mei," Inara replies. "Maybe one day that will be you and Simon."

"Or you and Mal," Kaylee chips in, smirking softly.

Beside her, Mal snorts.

"What?" Kaylee says. "You ain't one for a bit of romance, captain?"

"Kaylee," Inara tries.

"No, Inara. Let me say this." Kaylee grabs the sleeve of Mal's shirt and tugs at it until he stops and turns to look at her. "I can see you have something. Hell, everybody on the boat can. Why do you keep denyin' it? Take a chance."

There's a look on Mal's face like he just put something bad in his mouth, perhaps something with fur and old, moldy nuts. "Some things just aren't meant to be, little one."

Inara can't quite conceal her cringe.

"Why not?"

"'cause?" Mal replies, lifting one shoulder in a half shrug. "I'm the captain here! Whadda ya say I do the question asking from now on?"

"Kaylee," Inara says. "I appreciate the effort, but please."


Inara smiles weakly at her. "Please leave it alone. For me?" She brushes a hand through Kaylee's hair.

"But don't you wanna have what those two back there do?"

"Kaylee," Mal warns her.

Pouting, Kaylee lowers her gaze and kicks at the ground as they move on. She pulls away when Inara tries to grasp her hand and comfort her. Above Kaylee's head, from either side of her, Inara and Mal's eyes lock.

Mal's jaw is clenched tight and his eyes are intense as he looks at her. He swallows. She feels a twinge of pain go through her and before he can tell how she's feeling, she breaks eye contact and looks away. He is right. Some things are not ever meant to happen.

Even so, as they continue on their way and Kaylee eventually cheers up when Mal buys her an ice candy, Inara can't help but wonder. How different would things be if there were no barriers between herself and Mal? Would they ever have a chance at a happy ending?