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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
It was time, she realized. She'd made her choice; time to act on the reasons for it.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1465 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Word Count: 1761
Spoilers: Light Serenity and Series
Summary: It was time, she realized. She'd made her choice; time to act on the reasons for it.
A/N: Special thanks to mayorst for ego support, and to anjulie for the impromptu beta, the quotation, and the title.
Title: The Moment We Choose
Author: by 2x2
Inara drew the clean, crisp air into her lungs, her eyes drifting up to the cloud shrouded mountains, remembering, as the deep, sonorous tolling of a ceremonial bell floated to her ears. Once, twice, thrice… it rang out its message to those who knew the meaning.
Inara understood, any Companion would; at one time the sound could have held incredible sway over her future. But that was a long time ago. Still, she couldn't help but think of what might have been, saddened to know that somewhere, a short time ago, one of the Guild's Priestesses had passed on.
How different her life was from what she'd imagined it would be when she'd first joined the Companion's Guild. Almost from the beginning she'd had her mind set on being the one the Guild would choose on such a day. Even now she wondered whose names would be under consideration at this very moment.
Not that it mattered anymore.
This was the first time they'd stopped on this world since she'd picked up her things from the Training House. Mal had seemed to take extra care not to bring up that fact, so Inara had avoided the topic as well. She wasn't sure she'd have even gone up to visit, truthfully, had she had the time. The bell ringers wouldn't be the only ones busy this day, and besides, the last time she'd spoken to Sheydra when she'd come for her things, the woman had been intolerable. Honestly, she huffed to herself, yet was unable to suppress a soft smile at the sudden image of a burning temple that sprung to mind.
She averted her gaze from the mountaintops quickly as she heard the sudden footfalls that heralded Mal's approach, concentrating instead on the nearby cherry trees, the last of their blossoms clinging tenaciously to the branches, most of them long since borne away by the winds. Torn from everything they knew, their tree, the other blossoms, to be carried wherever the swirling currents of air decreed, never fully coming to rest, always spun about, breathless, unsteady…
The bell tolled.
"We're just about done here," Mal said, his voice neutral, yet still betraying his cautious and wary attitude. She nodded absently, eyes fixed on a free-floating blossom. She heard him take two steps away, back the way he'd come, before stopping and turning back.
"We, uh… got a bit a time, only a couple hours, mind, but… well… I mean, if you wanted ta… visit, or… well, we can, if you like," he said hesitantly, stumbling over his words.
She turned, surprised, and he shuffled uncomfortably under her gaze. She let her eyes drift up the mountainside to the top where she knew Sheydra, her students and the Training House would be preparing for the ceremonial funeral, but she shook her head.
"No," she said softly. She turned a soft smile his way. "But thank-you."
He shrugged. "Jus' thought you might wanna, today, you know… with the bell an' all…"
She blinked. "The bell?" she asked as its rolling echo rang out again.
He looked unsure a moment, eyes flicking to the side in thought. "Don't that mean that, one a' the, uh… House, uh… House Priestesses has died?"
Inara stared at him, open-mouthed. "How---whah?" she stammered, unable to comprehend that he knew that. "How do you know that?"
Mal gave a non-committal shrug. The truth was he'd spent an awful lot of time reading about the Companion's Guild of late; an effort to understand her and the world she came from better, to try and appreciate her point of view. Not that he wanted her to know that.
The bell tolled out again.
"Didn't know if it might've been a, a friend or something…" he said softly.
And just like that, her place in the ‘verse was reaffirmed, her inner-self settling peacefully once more as the warmth of his concern filled her. She smiled softly, turning away from the mountains and the cherry blossoms to face him, eyes taking him in, observing no serious wounds or injuries after his latest job, thankfully. “No,” she said at last, shaking her head as she began to walk back to Serenity, Mal falling into step beside her. “I’ve met several, and I was close to House Madrassa’s Priestess when I lived on Sihnon, but she passed several years ago.”
Mal nodded slightly, and she could tell there was something he wanted to say but either didn’t know how or wasn’t sure he should. She waited patiently, and finally he glanced her way, swallowing roughly.
“You, uh… you had your eye on House Priestess back then, didn’t you?”
Inara stopped in stunned amazement, her smile fading. “How do you know that?” she asked, sharper than was maybe necessary, but she was completely thrown by his question.
Mal made it a few steps before he realized she’d stopped and he turned back, hands sliding around to his back pockets as he pushed his gaze down to the ground. “’Was somethin’…” he shrugged, eyes darting up to hers and then away again. “Nandi mentioned it.” He swallowed again.
Inara’s lips parted and she blinked before ducking her head. “Oh,” she said quietly. Of course. She should have known.
Nandi was still a difficult subject for them, one they rarely ever brought up. There was just too much… too much surrounding her memory. She knew Mal still felt he’d failed her, and Inara secretly harboured her own belief that she had too; she was still as conflicted as ever over her feelings about Mal’s night with the former Companion. And, of course, there was the whole issue of her having decided to leave Serenity right after the funeral.
Yes, Nandi was a subject they rarely brought up.
“Yes,” she admitted after a moment. “It was something I was working toward.” She gave a small, self-deprecating laugh. “I had it in my head to be the youngest appointed to House Priestess in two hundred years, if you want the truth.”
Mal smiled slightly but it faded quickly. “So why aren’t you?”
"Why aren't you a Guild Priestess or whatever, if that's what you wanted to be?"
"It was a long time ago, Mal. Things don't always work out the way we want them to."
"No they don't," he agreed solemnly.
She studied him as they walked, confused. "Why did you ask me that?"
"I can't be interested?"
"Well, yes, but, I just—you don't usually…"
“I just wondered,” Mal said. “Seein’ you here, well… I couldn’t help but wonder if you regret it - not stayin’?”
She looked up at him again, surprised that he was asking her this so directly. After months of them both skirting the issue of her work, that he would be so straight forward threw her off balance more than a little.
“I…” she sighed, a small frown creasing her brow. She closed the distance between them, urging him to resume their walk, finding it easier if she didn’t have to look at him. “There are certain things I miss, of course," she continued. "Real baths, real food, but we all miss those. Are you… are you questioning my decision to stay?”
Mal blinked, his eyes going wide. “No! No… I thought maybe you were.”
She stopped again, this time catching his arm to halt him and make him look at her. "I'm not," she said earnestly, looking up into the blue of his eyes. "The bells caught me off guard, that's all. This would have been an important day for me at one time, Mal, but that dream, that ambition, ended years ago, the moment I left Sihnon, before then even." She shook her head. "That's not my path anymore." Turning, she looked up the mountain again, taking in the beauty of the landscape before bringing her eyes back to him and sliding her hand down his arm to wrap around his fingers. "I tried living here, Mal, and while I could have continued to do so, I wasn't truly happy. And neither were you. It didn't work well, for either of us, and I'd really rather not have to go through that again."
He closed his hand around hers, face softening in a way she'd only seen a handful of times before, and she stepped closer to him, encouraged by his gentle smile and the freedom of actually telling him that truth. It was time, she realized. She'd made her choice; time to act on the reasons for it.
"I know there are… issues that you have with what I do, Mal," she said softly. "And we're going to have to talk about them. But even if we never move past them, I think you know my heart will always be on Serenity with you. I can't leave you, Mal."
He swallowed roughly and she saw the emotion play over his features, in the tremble of his tightly pressed lips, the slight flaring of his nostrils, the depth in his eyes. His free hand swept up to cradle her jaw tenderly and he cleared his throat, lips parting as he let out an uneven breath.
"I suppose by now it don't take none of your fancy training to know how I feel," he said, voice coarse.
She leaned into his hand, smiling as her words teased. "You hide it very well." A smile skittered over his lips and she reached up to cover his hand with hers. "I know."
He gave her a tiny nod, letting her take his fingers from her cheek as she held both of his hands in hers, between them.
"Well, all right, then," he said, a grin dancing on his lips and she smiled back at him, feeling relief and a sudden pride in them both to have finally reached this point.
"All right, then," she echoed and, releasing a shivery sigh, she turned to resume their walk back to Serenity, but Mal kept his hold on her hands, feet planted, and she was forced to turn back to him, her eyebrow rising slightly, the question soon answered when he drew her to him and kissed her, tenderly, almost chastely, his lips pressing against hers with a softness she wouldn't have credited him with if she weren't experiencing it first hand.
They parted slowly, the toll of the bell ringing in the air around them again, beginning its lament anew, and as Inara felt the wind tug at her, swirling in her hair and spinning about, Mal's hands held hers, and her smile was steady.
“The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom...”
American critic and writer
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