Monday, July 24, 2006

The past has the uncanny quality of not staying that way. Mal, Inara and a good old-fashioned chat in jail. - More friendship than shippy, more fluffy than serious, but a little of all four. Written for 2x2 in April.


Another piece written for 2x2 in April.

Mal. Inara. Mentions of crew. Post-movie, a little more than half a cycle. Safe for all ages.

------------------------------------------- Timing -------------------------------------------

He's still drunk and contemplating his hands when she walks in, all fancy and official, dressed up in her red-gold whoring garb.

His wave must've sounded more urgent than he'd thought. Hard to remember. Been a while. Hours.

Feels like hours.

He's that level of drunk where everything appears a little closer and a little slower and he can almost watch his mind from afar, thought following thought to the logical conclusion like a math problem.

Math, ugh.

Anyways, wasn't her he'd been expecting to stare at him angry through the bars.

Thus... "Why'd they send you?"

"Zoe's indisposed."

Not angry. Worse. Disappointed. He can recognize that and still be entirely unaffected. All hail the wonders of sake.

Brain processing. It seems to take a long time.

Then click.

A sudden panic thought.

Wide eyes and head snap-up of whiplash and...

"You mean--"

Of course.



Crap, crap, crap.

He's getting a little clearer with the adrenaline of it all. Her nodding seems less disjointed by the second. The words lose their two-blink delay.

Makes her face come into focus along with the annoyance and he's finding himself on his feet and face to face. Through the barrier.


"You're making me miss it, Mal."


"Couldn't she've waited a day?"

The outrage look suggests that, no, waiting was not in the cards.

Also, the shrill voice.

"Couldn't you have waited a couple of weeks for another bar fight? You know how well you do alone!"

They were missing the big day.


He must be looking sad or sorry because she tones down the volume.

"It's not even U-Day."

Well, yeah. 'Cause that would have been less bad, much less bad.

"I know."

The little jailor man is dancing into the room, key code card thing in hand.


'Nara moves to let the guy mess with the door.

"Thank you, ma'am."

So polite. What was it about law enforcement that got all bibbledy as the sight of a clingy red dress? No one else did.

Okay, so maybe...

"Hey, whazzuh.. what are you doin'?"

Walking into the cell? What the..?

"Thought we were going? Didn't you give him money?"

The little man is dancing out again. Wei? She had to have given him money.

"Yes, Mal, I gave him money."

He's nodding, trying to help the 'verse along to his point.

"Then why are we both in here 'stead of out?"

She has her arms crossed.

She is wearing her pity face.

"What do you think I paid him for, Mal?"

Mal, Mal, Mal, like he needs to be reminded.

So... is that a trick question?


Headshake. Not, then.

She doesn't make it a quiz. "Bribe, Mal."


"You're staying the night. But now they won't lynch you and I'll get to take you home in the morning."

Well, he doesn't remember doing quite that much harm.

Perfect, just perfect. Just...

"That mean you're stayin' here watching me?"

She's floating over to the ratty little cot that's too short for his legs. Getting comfy in that controlled Inara way.

"It appears so."

So it's not pity face. It's resigned face.

They're missing the big day because of him, so she can watch him not get hauled off by the locals. And he's owing her money. Again.

It's enough on a man's shoulders to have him sit right back down.

"I'd offer to pay you back but..." The obvious. "I'm a dirt poor bandit. I'll count the money as rent if you want."

Which begs the question. "How much did you give him?"

She touches his arm a little, which is nice because it means she's not hating him. And because she's touching him.

And smiling with her voice.

"A fortune. I'll have to stay on Serenity for sixty more years to get my rent's worth."


"That's not as harsh a threat as you may think it is."

He is smiling with his face, aiming for adorable. Hitting drunk.

There's an unappreciative eyeroll. "For you, maybe."

Smiling easily tranforms to pouting.

"That's mean."

Which is, counting circumstances, mayhaps not entirely uncalled for.

"I'm sorry you can't be there."

His hands are getting a lot of attention from his eyes. Hers, too, because one of them's still resting on his arm.

"Not as sorry as Simon."

A disturbing thought.

"Who's helpin'?"

A disturbing answer.


Very. Disturbing.

"What?" A blink. For good measure, "What?"

"It turns out that Jayne's stems from a fruitful family. He has some experience."

Is she giggling?

"Don't worry, Kaylee is helping, too."

Zoe will kill him.

"Zoe will kill me."

'Nara nods.

"Zoe will kill you."


Maybe the process of giving birth will tire her out enough that she'll give him a few days headstart. But rather than run, he'd sure like to get a look at the baby. Wash's little surprise.

Bad timing.

Gorram bad timing.


He notices that her voice disrupts the ticking of the old-fashioned mechanical clock on the old-fashioned cracked wall in this old-fashioned ugly jail, which is likely to mean they haven't been talking a while.

She's slumped back a little, too.


Slumped but exasperated. "Why are you here?"


"Bar fight?"

"Why did you start a bar fight?"

Not because it's U-Day, for sure.

Because it's not.

Nope, no U-Day excuse. Woulda been one hell of a joke, too, have Zoe's baby born on U-Day. Nope, woman has more sense than that. It's his timing that sucks.

Or rather, the entire ruttin' verse.



She has harsh nails on her.

Not evasion, then.

"Felt like the thing to do."

Which is the truth, honest to.. honesty.

He can feel her looking at him. Flicker of eyes, yes, she is. Looking. Soft-like and friendly. Wiles. Or maybe it's just her and the wiles are who she is and it's all his punishment for the whatever everything in this 'verse.

"Even you are not that stupid."

Which some would question.

But it's true. Even he is not that stupid. Not that stupid. Takes something to drive a man to drinking enough that he'll just hit the next best guy brushes by too close. Or that he imagined brushed by too close. Because it was a convenient thought.

"Saw this... guy today. After the meeting."

Meeting with Ling San Sebastian, that was. But that was details unimportant.

Details important were others.

Like recognizing the features even thirty-odd years older, thicker, wrinklier, from a capture as cheap and fuzzy as Kaylee's green sweater.

Like the hair that was kind of a brown-ish color.

Like the car and the woman and the kids, grandkids, the smiling they did and the fact that it made him feel like maybe he hadn't stopped caring about it all so much as forgotten.

'Nara's good at reading silences. She's not asking anything because she knows he's gonna say things eventually.

"Thought maybe I should have words with him. But I didn't."

She's shifting, which is a contrast because he's not moving at all. Getting one knee on the bunk and one foot on the ground and facing him.

"Words about what?"

Who was he, in Inara language.

"About how he ran out on my Ma when I wasn't but a maybe."



Good old stunned silence. Ain't ever been his favorite. For variety, he fidgets. Left thumb, right thumb, left thumb, both.

And she's not saying anything still, not with her voice, but her hands do some talking. One to his head and one to his shoulder.

Best thing she's ever said to him, maybe, aside from "I don't know."

He steals a look.

Bad move. Wet eyes and compassion face, not good, no. Back to his hands.

"He had a family with him. Looked nice."

Which was what stopped him from... words.

"You've never seen him before?"

Shaking his head or nodding, it'd all be the same obvious answer.

"Always figured he had to be some kinda lousy bastard. Maybe I just wanted him that way. Nothin' to be missed."

It's a little stupid. Plenty of kids grow up without their Pa. Can't make a man be a father any more than you could make a woman be a mother, and anyway, he had a father. Our Father.

And forty ranch hands.

Plenty of kids.

"He didn't look like a bad man."

Inara's getting up on her knee a little, making herself taller. Closer. And still with the hands. Good enough to lean in a little so she could talk to the top of his head some.

"It would surprise me. You're not a bad man, either."


"Still feel that he owes me somthing. My Ma. Ain't right that she had to do all the work herself."

And forty ranch hands.

And he doesn't even have to feel bad about it or miss out or even know that the maybe turned into a disreputable spaceship Captain.

"I would say she did a great job."

If the bar smell is bothering her, she's not letting on.

"Much better than she might have with a man who didn't want to be there. Who couldn't appreciate having you."

Which makes none of it better, but it's probably true.

Can't make a man a father doesn't want to be one. He coulda had worse, maybe. Coulda had one like Simon's. Made a man wonder, about the sense of the entire concept.

Who ever did win that game?

Little Kaylee.

Look at her.

He swallows a bit and Inara snakes her hand around his head. His hair is being played at. Not half bad.

And there is yawning.




"You know that Wash made his own choices, just like all of us, right?"

There was.. a tightness to his jaw. It's not exactly a comfort, having that brought up, and having it brought up by her even though he didn't say a damn thing about it, not the entire time and she still...

"If he had known, you think maybe he would've made different ones?"

So she doesn't have anything to say to that, or maybe just nothing nice, because they both know the answer, anyway.

And then she speaks after all.

"He would have been a wonderful father."


"But that's the way of the world, Mal. It's not fair. You know that."

No. He knows that.

"At least this child will know that Wash would have wanted to be there."


It's a difference.

Maybe a big one. Maybe not much of one. Maybe he's a little scared that the kid won't care for such distinctions and ask for why's rather than how's.

Maybe it's very late.

The clock.

His eyes have drifted closed a long time ago and he doesn't even remember when.




"If there is one thing Zoe is going to blame on you for the rest of her life, it's going to be that you made Jayne help out during the birth."

He can even smile at that. A little. He's not counting on it being true, but...

"Think he's getting his hand broken as we speak?"

His hair is getting kissed.


"I certainly hope so."

Good thought. Good enough for whatever time they have left to rot in here.

Better thought. He decides to mumble it forth.

"You know what I'm going to do to make Zoe not kill me?"



It's so stupid, it's something Wash would have done. She's going to be tired. She's going to want to eat.


He nods.


Inara plays with his hair some more and he wonders about the man in the car. If maybe he could have taught him something that he hadn't managed to tear from the world himself. If he'd been better about the when to come about.

Something about being a good man and making a family and looking at himself in the mirror.

And he couldn't arrive at nothing.

Wasn't a thing could ever make him run from being needed, from doing what he had to. He was better than that.

And still.

And yet.

And... nothing. Not a thing to be done. Not ever was. Past is past.

Wasn't all of it his fault. Some, maybe. A Lot.

Didn't mean he couldn't try to do better. As good as could be, anyway.

For Zoe.

And Serenity.

Starting with pancakes.

- - - END.


Monday, July 24, 2006 10:27 PM


interesting, a bit hard to follow, but good

Monday, July 24, 2006 11:44 PM


I loved it. My kind of quirky fic!

It's a great 'friendship' moment. Inara's not really mad at him and he's in that 'just drunk enough to be truthful and coherant' state.

Good background details with Zoe.

Thanks for this!

Monday, July 24, 2006 11:53 PM


I liked this a lot. While I could see the why and the how of the fight I never would have expected Mal to actually *kill* his errant father and thus be facing a death sentence but for the intervention of Inara. At least I am assuming he killed him judging by how this reads but given that the whole things flows beautifully. I especially love the way Inara's emotions gradually change from anger to something a lot more tender and knowing. And the upside is, they get pancakes! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, July 25, 2006 1:27 AM


Thank you for your comments, everyone, specially Tayeatra - "quirky" is very satisfying to hear!

AMDobell - actually, Mal didn't kill his father. He just started a barfight with a random stranger. I'm sorry if that didn't come through in the writing. I like to be vague. :)

Thanks again for reviewing. *g*

Tuesday, July 25, 2006 5:58 AM


AR - I love it! Minimalist but packs so much emotion and meaning. The short paragraphs get a poetic rhythm going, and show all the empty space in their conversation.

It's really a beautiful take on Mal after the BDM, and clever Inara knowing that there was something behind the bar fight. I was wondering why she agreed to lock herself in there with Mal, but of course Inara knows best. :)

Thank you!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006 10:31 AM


That was really cool - great little insight into Mal, which we often don't get on account of his bluster!

And I like Inara in this too, not being snippy or hard on him just listening, being a friend ... Of course, the thought of Jayne helping Simon give birth to Zoe's baby - oh, the follow-up fic about that would be as funny as this one was serious ... maybe take a crack!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006 1:56 PM


Oh, gosh, I remember how much I loved this fic. I'm so glad you're posting it here.

Because... there is Mal being drunk, and he has Daddy!issues at the wrong time of ever, and there's Inara doing rescuing, and Inara with the hair playing, and I really think this might be your most under-appreciated effort ever, but I love it (and the only think that matters is meeeeeeee!).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 8:13 AM


Thank you very much, mal4prez, TamSibling and ever so friendly Goldy. *G*

You're all making me happy you enjoyed this one, and not minding the spare style.

Goldy - you always know what to say to make someone feel a LOT better about something that wasn't even a problem to begin with. *hug*

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 8:52 PM


Well now...this could have been a faboo episode, or part of one, if you ask me. Starts off with Mal in the cell, making a remark that leads to the credits (a la "Trash") and then we get an entire one set episode where Mal and Inara just begin bonding:D

And you have to wonder, based on Zoe's comment about Mal's childhood and his dancing with Inara, if Mal doesn't really have an issue or two with commitment stemming from his own father being absent growing up...

Really brilliant stuff, AgentRouka! Be mighty shiny to see a follow up with the promised pancakes;D


Wednesday, August 2, 2006 3:53 PM


Thank you.

Many Mal interior monologues make me squirm. This one worked. I think he'd have to be drunk to let himself get even this reflective.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 5:04 PM


Loved it! Loved it! So glad I stumbled across this! This is totally going in my favorite fics folder.


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