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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Twentyfour hours can be a very long time.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2667 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
All this lovely playground belongs to Joss(bless his heart for giving us such a great place to dream in), et al.
This takes place immediately after Heart of Gold. It stands alone, but I am writing more of the story.
She turned and walked towards her shuttle, not daring to look back. But, Inara had to turn again to reach the ramp that lead to the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him slowly straighten and rest his hands on the rail for a moment. She stopped at her door, unable to look away. Even in the dim light, she could see the color had drained from his face. He released a long, shuddering breath, turned away and slowly walked down the stairs, disappearing into the corridor below. Inara stepped through the shuttle door, tears flowing silently down her cheeks.
She stood inside the door for a long while before closing it. She half wanted Mal to come back and ask he not to leave, was grateful he did not. Her resolve to flee might have melted. She knew she was running scared.
She sat at her dressing table, let down her hair and absently began to brush the long, dark curls. Twenty-four hours ago, Inara twice passed by the parlor at the Heart of Gold as she went to the kitchen for water and then returned to the birthing room. She had seen Mal and Nandi, discussing the coming confrontation. Companions were highly trained to read body language and voice. She needed only a glimpse to know what was happening. A pang of jealousy shot through her heart. She pushed it away as she hurried by. They had not even noticed her.
Nandi was interested, Mal was uncomfortable, but not backing away. Inara would be happy for both of them if something more than discussion did happen. Nandi was a dear friend who had been through much hardship since leaving Sihnon. Mal would treat her well. And, Inara was very certain that he had not been with a woman in long time, despite Saffron throwing herself at him for days. She knew Nandi would be good for him. The madam of the Heart of Gold had been a very good Companion.
Inara stifled the wish that it was her sitting there, talking to him, seducing him. But, that could not be, would not be. It was a complication she could not afford. Nandi did not know of her feelings for Mal, and would not if she could help it. Inara was a Companion. That was her life.
But, it is difficult to hide strong feelings from someone trained by the Guild, especially one who is a friend. Inara was angry with herself for letting Nandi seeing her pain. She should have been able to conceal it. It was in that moment her decision was made, she had to leave.
She had spent many long days and nights coming to the point where she knew there was no other answer, but could not actually admit it to herself. Life on Serenity had been comfortable. No one expected anything from her. She did not need to perform. She could relax and be herself, a rare luxury. That would be almost impossible on one of the big cruise ships, or even another small cargo ship. Here, she was safe. There was no worry about a captain or crew expecting her to provide services for them. Mal might call her a whore, but he did not allow disrespect from anyone else and he never approached her for sex. She doubted she would ever find a berth like this one again.
And, how would she replace the friendships? Kaylee, Simon, the Shepherd, all of them, even Jayne, in his own way, had made her feel at home here. How would she leave them?
Inara did not notice that she had stopped brushing her hair, the hand holding the brush lying limply in her lap. When the brush slipped, she did not hear it hit the floor. She sat staring, unseeing, at the mirror.
Damn him, damn this Malcolm Reynolds. Inara had studied to be a Companion for many years, and had been a highly successful one for several. She was sought after by the best and finest, and earned a very good living. Mal had become the complication very few Companions sought or welcomed. She had fallen in love with him. She had never slept with him, never used her skills on him, never taken a credit from him. He had no money, no family, no status. And, yet it was fact, she loved him. Her eyes came into focus for a moment and she saw her reflection in the mirror. It was laughable!
The fall had been so slow, so gradual, she had not recognized it until it was too late. They had had many heated arguments, hurled insults at each other, and sat in quiet conversation, often at the rail overlooking the cargo bay. Those conversations would probably be what she would miss most, despite the fact that Shepherd Book and Simon were far more educated and able to converse on her level. Mal was unsophisticated and uneducated, but he was thoughtful and guileless, puzzling considering his line of work. Apart from his family and the war, he would try to discuss almost any subject. His observations were honest, if naïve. Inara knew he called her a whore as an insult to the profession, not her. He could be prudish about the oddest things. She had found that he could be serious, funny, exasperating, and was utterly lost.
When Inara first boarded Serenity, he seemed to her like a man waiting or looking for something without knowing what it was. The longer she knew him, however, the less she felt she knew him. It was as if part of him were missing. He kept so much of himself and his life before Serenity locked away from everyone. It was usually Zoe who recounted stories of their adventures, and she steered clear of anything that revealed too much. Mal’s stories almost always centered on other folk, himself only an onlooker. That was part of what had drawn her to him. Damn him.
And, now, Nandi was dead and she was running away. Inara had not seen Nandi for a long time, too long. Nandi was one of her closest friends on Sihnon. They had been confidants and sisters. She had been deeply distressed when Nandi quit and the Guild forbid anyone to associate with her. That was why Inara had decided to leave the suddenly confined feeling of House Madrassa and travel across the known systems.
Nandi was gone and she was going to run. For the second time in 24 hours, Inara cried.
Mal was grateful that the hour was late.
They had gotten back to Serenity well after dark. Dinner had been a hurried affair at the bordello after the makeshift funeral. The women had insisted. Jayne had his usual ability to eat enough to choke an elephant, no matter what. The rest had eaten little, their appetites nonexistent. Everyone had gone their own way as Wash piloted Serenity off the world, Zoe standing silently behind him. As soon as they cleared atmo, he put the ship on autopilot. Mal had said to just get them into the black, he did not care what heading or destination. Wash and Zoe headed for their bunk. Even the irrepressible Kaylee had been subdued, and after a quick check of the ship, she went to bed. Simon guided River to her room, answering her many questions about the birth.
Now Mal sat alone on the bridge, staring out at the stars. He had tried sleep, but a new nightmare had invaded. It began innocently and quickly turned very ugly. It was a brief, brutal dream that had left him wanting to scream. The dead were with him every night, he thought, why should one more make any difference?
Just 24 hours earlier, this beautiful women had been sitting before him. Yes, she was beautiful, but not in the way Inara was beautiful. She had an attractive face and figure, even if a little worn with struggle and work. Nandi now had a beauty born of overcoming hardship. Her inner strength and dignity shone from her. Mal had seen something in Nandi that was familiar, a drive to care for and protect her charges. Heart of Gold was a little like Serenity, a slightly dilapidated home with a mismatched group of inhabitants. Nandi had the same need for her “family” that Mal had for his. On some level, he recognized it, even though he would not have been able to put it in words.
Mal sighed, just 24 hours ago, she had offered herself to him. Nandi had given him more than her body. He was so used to gathering up the strays, looking after them, keeping them safe. Now, here was someone gathering him up and keeping him safe, if only for a night. Nandi did not see the tears escape his eyes as they made love. After they were both spent, she held him while he slept. There were no nightmares in those few hours.
The next morning, he had woken slowly. He was lying on his side, with Nandi cradling him from behind with her body, arm over his, holding his hand. She stirred as he did, a whispered good morning brushing softly on his neck. He sat up and quietly apologized for taking advantage of her, not daring to think he would rather she was someone else, but grateful for the night she had given him. She had smiled and hushed him with fingertips to his lips, saying that they had both had a need and helped each other through it. Nandi knew his heart, but it did not matter. He had been gentle and vulnerable, and had given himself to her as completely as he could.
The dream had started innocently enough, a memory of the night before. Then, the image changed, he heard the gunfire in the hallway and she was dead at his feet, a smoking hole in her chest, dead eyes staring up at him. It had happened so fast, he wasn’t where he was needed. He had let her down. The gunshot, smoking hole and dead eyes played over and over until he sat bolt upright before waking. He stifled the scream rising in his throat.
Now he sat alone on the bridge, staring out at the stars, grateful for the numbness that had settled in him as they had settled Nandi’s lifeless body in her grave. Nandi had died because he wasn’t good enough. Oh, Inara had tried to tell him it wasn’t his fault, he had done his best, but that did not bring back the dead. And, now, Inara was leaving.
He knew her announcement to leave was not directly the result of Nandi’s death, or his sleeping with her. The last 24 hours were just the final push. He had believed Inara when she said she was happy that he had been able to give Nandi that one last night, even if it confused him.
Mal thought he understood Inara’s motives for leaving. Kind of. She was not for this life. He was amazed she had stayed this long. Inara deserved better than this. She deserved to be on a fine ship that did not need an “ambassador” to visit the better worlds, or one man who would give her everything he could not. She…She deserved a life better than this one. And, he had let her friend die.
He had been able to cope with seeing her everyday without being able to tell her how he felt. He had been able to talk to her without reaching for her. He had been able to watch her take off in her shuttle to keep appointments with other men without going crazy with the thought that they could have her when he could not. It had not been easy, but he had done it because she always came back to Serenity. Every day, Mal was able to see Inara, hear her voice, smell the delicate scents she favored. There were the long, private conversations in the cargo bay. Every day, she came back from her clients to Serenity. Now, she would soon gone and he would not even have that.
Mal was grateful for the numbness. He did not think the black would be enough anymore.
Wednesday, May 7, 2003 6:39 AM
Wednesday, May 7, 2003 8:40 AM
Wednesday, May 7, 2003 11:46 AM
Wednesday, May 7, 2003 5:51 PM
Wednesday, May 7, 2003 6:25 PM
Thursday, May 8, 2003 7:59 AM
Thursday, June 19, 2003 12:35 PM
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