Once upon a midnight dreary
Sunday, May 7, 2006

"But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'" - Mal, Inara. Sometime post-BDM. Unfluffy. Written for the truthsome_fic Mal/Inara ficathon. For further info, see story notes.


Author: Agent Rouka Title: Once upon a midnight dreary Recipient: bingblot Rating: PG-13 Disclaimer: I don't own Firefly. Firefly owns me. Spoilers: All through series and movie but only HoG is directly referenced. Setting: At some unspecified point in time after the movie. Characters: Mal, Inara. Summary: But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'

Author's Notes: Written for the requirements "baobei", "a mention of Nandi" and "a kiss between Mal and Inara", none of which can be entirely blamed for what I ended up doing, hehe. Many beta-thanks go to catherinebruce, youngcurmudgeon and thehallway because they rock! Also thanks to ten very kind people who gave me extra-prompts for inspiration. I tried to work them all in. They helped much! I quote Poe's "The Raven" in title and summary. Quoting is something I can't not do.


Once upon a midnight dreary --------------------------------------------

His bed creaks when he lies down, a nice aged sound much akin to the kind his joints like to make when he gets up mornings. It still surprises him, these small signs of time passing and that he's still there to whither away like old wood. One chip at a time, home to slime and maggots.

There are aches that don't fade anymore - couldn't not, life he leads - but the ones he's feeling right now are newer. Bruises fresh from the job, the sort that time will actually make better.

As much as better means these days.

He's settled comfortably and his eyes close for a long blink.

When they open again, she's sitting next to him. Crouched on the bed with her bitty, shiny shoes and all. She always hides her feet. He imagines they have painted nails like her hands.

"Hey, you."

The low light softens her features into something almost blurry, almost sheer. There's sunshine on her face, somehow, and a little dust in her hair. She smiles like an angel, a veritable angel, placed in his bunk to keep him awake.

He looks his full without moving, longer than is polite, and fails to detect anything amiss. Or rather, anything but the usual.

His voice is like sand under bootheels. "I hate this dress on you."

A lovely thing, shimmering and tender on the eye. Peach with dark, dark red. She looks down her front and smooths the fabric, a scolding twist to her smile now.

"It's my favorite, don't you know? I wore it after your duel."

She'd worn it plenty of times after, too. Worn it when... "Still hate it."

"Do you want me to take it off?"

Asked in well-schooled innocence, eyebrows raised and those wet lips parted in surprise, but more obvious than that is the mockery. Drenched in promised sin and every fantasy he ever never told her about, encased in a coldly cruel look that she must have learned from him.

Her hands reach for the fastenings at her back and she arches her body to put everything into the most inspiring kind of focus. To put an itch into his hands.

"Stop it."

He means it, and so she does.

"Oh, you're going to be like that."

It's more like Saffron than her, that pout and the petulant sluggishness in dropping her arms back to her side, but he doesn't exactly know how they could end a fight without walking away, so he lets it slide and picks up that pattern, half bafflement and half disgust.

"Can't we just cuddle, baobei?" The words are laced with a bitter aftertaste but she comes to him, sweet and willing.

So sweet.

Her scent takes a while to truly envelop him. Takes longer with every passing month but he doesn't dwell on that. It makes the air go cold.

"My red blanket would be nice."

It's something else every time. The wall hangings. The trunks. The little statues, incence burners, rugs, tables, tea sets and foot stools. His bunk doesn't have room for all the things she would have him put in here.

He lets his voice do the scowling for him. "Can't. Was worth good money, those pretties."

Fed them near on two months. Probably helped that he'd been conservative with the eating.

Anyhow, there's a box of sundries in his closet and that's enough. Fabrics. Shawls. A black veil he remembers she wore when he met her. It makes him laugh, that sense of irony, when he's in the right mood.

The Guild asked for the bracelet back and he remembers she dared him to say a single thing. So he didn't.

Her hand rests just over his stomach, where she has taken up permanent residence. The flutters and the sting, the nausea and the lead, it's all shaped like her. Wasn't always this way, but that's just the way of life.

Things change, things stay the same.

He has an arm slung over her shoulders, fingers curled around her biceps, what little there is of muscle, and her hair tickles his cheek while the minutes tick by one at a time. It's peaceful, quieting to the soul better than his kind of sleep.

Were they in her shuttle, he imagines, their bellies would be sloshing with tea. Her answer for everything. Something herbal and full of wiles, with a taste like soap. Yes, that's exactly how it would be.

But her shuttle isn't where they are, so his belly is sloshing with something else, quite against Simon's orders.

His free hand grabs hers and slides it over the pain in his side, leaves it there to make them at home with one another, and he whispers against her forehead.

"Zoe says I'm slipping." It's not quite how she said it to him, or yelled, rather, at his retreating back. "Drinking too much."

She sighs. "You are."

He knows her sighs, this kindly disappointment that might have been her first honest word to him. The familiarity makes him smile.

"Hey, now, aren't you supposed to cheer me up?"

"When have I ever agreed with you?" Never, says her voice. Never ever.

He doesn't turn to look, but decides in the half-light of his bunk that her teeth must be gleaming, that's how wide her grin is. These moments when they know each other, that's when they're happiest. It's fit to make his eyes burn.

"What happens to Serenity if you get yourself shot down like a dog?"

No, that's not how she would say it. That's Jayne speaking. Spoken, in fact, just earlier.

"What will happen to Serenity if you get yourself killed?" More refined, just as accusing. "What do you think it will do to Kaylee? Or Zoe? Or River?"

The women. The girls and the women, they're the ones will miss him - would, would miss him - should he get shuffled off any time soon. Doesn't take much to conjure up the picture. He's seen all three distraught, more so of late.

He plays with her hair to chase away the dark thoughts. It feels just like kitten's fur to him. It's a likeness he's chosen as most appealing.

His lips move right against her temple when he speaks. "What about you?"

He really wonders, enough to ask so inanely, here and now, but she doesn't answer, instead sits up and draws herself away from his touch. There is no change in temperature outside his own head.

Her frown is a wistful, gentle thing. "Don't do this now."

The pain meds have kicked in enough to make him fuzzy and a finger of his slides up her hip and trails until it reaches rusty red, crusty red, a scratching path all the way up between her breasts. Over her heart. Her beautiful, cold heart.

There is no kind of expression on her face but her eyes well up like dark jewels and they glitter in the twilight so he can see them better.

It's hard to see when his own eyes are blurry.

"What? I can't leave?" He doesn't say it with fire. Empty words because he knows her answer. "You did."

She shakes her head and those curls. "You're the captain."

The one that leaves last.

Her hand covers his. Hard. Puts on pressure. Beneath his palm he feels hot, wet, pulsing life. It's seeping through his fingers and hers.

"Besides," The sunshine is back on her face, warm and ethereal. "I haven't left. You can't leave Serenity."

No one can, not once you've been there. Please, he thinks. He wants it to be true, so she nods and the hole beneath his hand gives a choked squish. Right there.

"I will always be here."

She never said that, but he knows exactly how it would sound. He's practiced it, shaped and shifted, polished until it shone, perfect in every inflection. It's repeated every night, every day, every moment of weakness when he needs something to cover up the wordless gasping, the shock-wide eyes.

Bad thought, bad...

"Quit harping at me, woman. This job is gonna do itself."

Famous last words.

"I'll believe it when I see it." And something that sounded suspiciously like unflattering Chinese. He chose to disregard that and go about business. Famous last words...

A couple of dozen seconds between realizing just exactly how wrong it all went, scrambling away from cover, falling to numb knees. All that spreading red. The dress. Just means you ain't dead yet. Yet. Half a minute.

Then a vasty nothingness.

Saw it so often before. But it's never about the body that's torn asunder.

Not clean and tidy, nothing like a laser pistol, even if the spot is near the same. What about him does this to women? Women he's touched. Or wanted to. The two are closer entwined than easily apparent, considering which woman he wanted and which he ended up touching. Which one he pictured and which one let him.

What a regular master of the imaginary she's made of him. He can live a fairy-tale life if he never gets up from this bunk again.

Meanwhile, his fist bunches the fabric and he doesn't unclench it even when she pulls. It takes a couple of tries until she can dislodge him and miniscule brown flakes flutter down on his sheets.

His hand, though, is cradled between hers and lifted to her face like something fragile.

"You get so painfully morose."

He smiles and closes his eyes, lids acting as parasols against the flare of her.

So many things he has never uttered to her, not quite.

"You're beautiful. You're funny. You smell like something sprinkled from up high."

She just grins when he stumbles over the words, every time. "I know." And he suspects she probably did, at that. Who hasn't told her? Paid for the chance?

"I love you." The words don't make him stumble, they make him fall.

Something in her eyes fades and he draws fingertips over her face to smooth away an infant frown. To hide her from him so he doesn't have to see what all she doesn't know.

It's a moment he can't bear, so after a few blinks, she is smiling again, soft and confident. Proud. He's made her proud a few rare times. Occasionally, it wasn't even a lie.

The day is wearing on him. Dragging him under.


She's leaning closer, hovering over him like the branches of a tree, sunlight twinkling through the leaves, full of many little secret lives.

When she kisses him, he thanks Nandi for the sense memory, and yet it's never quite like that. Harder, more urgent, fast and intense and gone before he can make heads and tails of it, before he can explain to himself how he knows, knows that hint of a taste.

"You need to sleep now."

He nods for her and pulls her closer again, tangled up with his blanket. Never used to sleep on his back but her head needs a place to rest. He'll wake up on his stomach, but mornings are for different things.

Nights are for this.

"Promise me."

There's no need to say what.

Her fingers draw a line at his throat and he can feel her laugh. Mockingly, lovingly. It's a child's prayer. Curled around the two women he can't bear missing when it's his time.

His eyes close and he mouths the words along with her.

"Why would I want to leave Serenity?"

The comfort is that he still can't think of a reason.

- - - END.


Sunday, May 7, 2006 5:17 AM


Huh. I can't decide if that made me happy or sad. Half the time Inara sounded like a cold-hearted bitch, and half the time she sounded more like the Inara we know from the movie and series. But it does sound truthsome and something that could possibly happen, should those two finally get together. I, however, am an unashamed Mal/Inara shipper, so I prefer to think differently! :)

Sunday, May 7, 2006 11:44 AM



<i>You smell like something sprinkled from up high." </i>

That line...just so heartbreaking.

This story was told so...beautifully. The language and the flashback and the imagry... just fantastic.

I'm in awe.

Sunday, May 7, 2006 11:50 AM


This stunned me to tears. I like the above poster took til the words attributed to Jayne to understand that Mal is "feeling" her there, although she's dead.

Very beautiful, very sad. And I think truthsome.
Achingly so.

Sunday, May 7, 2006 11:51 AM


Gorrammit, this sounds like Mal is dying and Inara is shifting between being someone who loves him and someone who just mocks his love. Feel like a whole lot of story is missing from this piece and it left me feeling so sad. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, May 7, 2006 6:07 PM


This was excellent and sad and beautiful all at the same time. Just wow.

Monday, May 8, 2006 7:16 AM


Wow. Aching, but beautiful.

Inara wasn't adding up for me - her attitudes, the sunshine, the dress that didn't have red... Then, like others have cited, Jayne's line brought it home. Achingly, painfully, home.


And the way he tied his touch with Nandi to Inara...and yet somehow *knew* her taste (OMR, anyone?)...

Very touching.

I've always envisioned him losing her, but *after* they've come together. To have denied him even that... when there was so much promise at the end of Serenity...devastating.

Beautifully written. Thanks.

Monday, May 8, 2006 5:59 PM


This is mighty painful to read....but oh so possible knowing Joss:S

AgentRouka, this is some mighty shiny work here. The flow, the dialogue, the imagery....all work in harmony to paint a picture of Mal being broken and reaching his end, but unable to just let go and join Inara in death because of the remaining BDHs, Serenity, and probably his own doubts on his fate after death:)


Wednesday, May 10, 2006 7:25 AM


Wow... I shifted between the two views of Mal dieing while this story was being told and Inara already being dead... just so achingly, beautifly written!!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 3:45 AM



The mark of a good story to me is when I want to read it again. My favorite books are worn where I read them over many times.

I come back here and read this story the same way. Because I can't not. And I cry every time and am touched by the same passages every time.

Beautiful. I just wanted to tell you again.

Monday, July 30, 2007 7:06 AM


Painfully wonderful!


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