Sin and Punishment
Friday, August 18, 2006

Mal, Inara, and Shakespeare.


Title: Sin and Punishment Author: Goldy Disclaimer: Joss is boss. Special thanks to Shakespeare, for letting me pull all kinds of his canon out of thin air. Pairing: Mal/Inara Summary: They read each other Shakespeare on the second Sunday of every month. Potentially confusing and angsty. Rating: PG-13 Words: 1, 793 Author’s Notes: Originally written for the livejournal Mal/Inara ficathon, for the prompt "flowers" and "sarcasm." I'm pretty sure the Shakespeare has something to do with agentrouka, but I can't for the life of me remember what.


They read each other Shakespeare on the second Sunday of every month. Usually they managed an act, more or less. Inara suspected it would take them decades to complete Shakespeare’s entire canon, the rate they were going.

“It’s cause we got all the time in the ’verse, darlin,’ ” Mal claimed. The “one act” rule was really for his benefit, anyway, as Inara suspected he had the attention span of a five-year-old. Two pages in and he’d start poking at her stuff or trying to kiss her neck.

Of course, there were also the days when Inara wondered if “all the time in the ’verse” was too optimistic. Mal lived in a dangerous line of work, and he seemed to attract bullets in the same way a Companion attracted clients—frequently and easily.

In her darkest moments, Inara couldn’t stop the niggling doubt that insisted this was but a snapshot of her life. What place did she truly have, on this ship, tied to one man? One day it would be too much—too many arguments, too much constraint. And she’d have to leave Mal behind again—shattered faith and broken heart.

Inara loved Mal. Maybe too much. Maybe enough to be content for the moment—to give up her clients and to accept that he could never understand the part of her that remained Inara Serra: Companion.

“What the hell kind of insult is ‘I bite my thumb at you’? Lacks punch.”

“Mal, there is really no need for running commentary.”

But Mal always gave running commentary. And voices. High-pitched for women. Deep and rumbling for old men. He read soliloquies with flourish and sweeping arm movements.

What's in a name? That which we call a rose—” Mal paused and tilted his head back dramatically. “By any other name would smell—”

“You’re not reading it right.”

Inara always read her pieces in a precise and crisp manner. She let the prose roll off her tongue. She read it the way Shakespeare was meant to be read.

“Didn’t know there was a right way to be readin’ Shakespeare, love.” Mal cleared his throat. “A rose by—”

“Do you believe that?”

Mal stopped. He blinked. “You gonna let me finish my piece?”

She sighed. “A name can take on meaning, become a part of you…” Inara paused. “Just look at Serenity.”

“Don’t much see the sense in searching for meanin’ in Romeo and Juliet, sweetheart.”

Inara looked away. Nicknames. Always with the names. Reminder, of course. She belonged to someone now—someone outside of herself.

“There are many things to learn from Shakespeare.” He knew so. They’d had this conversation before. “Irrationality of love, for one.”

“Don’t have to be irrational.”

“Well, it can be.”

“You sayin’ you wouldn’t die for me?”

The teasing smirk on in his face didn’t quite cover his true purpose. Testing. Never quite letting himself trust her.

“Not like… not that way,” she said. “Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy… death shouldn’t have to mean the end.” Just look at Zoe, she wanted to add. But she didn’t.

Mal eyed her. “I’d step in front of a bullet for you.”

She felt a tightness along her shoulder. Yes. He would. With his usual style of reckless nobility.

“What’s the next line?” she said, trying to change the subject.

“Ain’t there a swordfight in here someplace?”

“Not for a while.”

“‘Nara, he’s yammering ’bout the rising sun in the east, do I really gotta—”

She raised her eyebrows. “You picked this play, Mal.”

He grumbled. But continued.

With commentary.


“I never bought you flowers.”

Mal was feeling cuddly tonight, head on her lap, hand resting on her knee. She knew almost all his body language, now. She could tell when he needed to be left alone or when his desire for her overcame all other sense.

He was careful—almost obsessively so—to keep their affections private. No touching in front of the crew. Strictly behind closed doors. He’d let his fingers briefly squeeze hers under the table at dinner or drop a hand on her shoulder when they passed each other in the cargo bay. He wasn’t exactly prone to overt displays, which suited Inara fine.

When they were alone… he could stop being the captain. Mal seemed to crave affection, almost like a blanket to cover his insecurities. His. His. His. Pressing his face against her stomach, hair, neck, whispering Chinese endearments he was hardly aware of. Her Mal. Captain belonged to the crew. Out there.

“Flowers?” she responded, trailing her fingers through his hair. He sighed and closed his eyes.

“Doc stopped on our way back to the ship… bought nearly a whole gorram case for little Kaylee. Girl nearly blew a hole in the engine, she shrieked so loud.”

Inara smiled. Yes, Kaylee would. Flowers meant something to a girl that only had wrenches and engine grease.

“I’m glad for her.”

“Never bought you flowers, Inara. Maybe I should. Don’t know why I didn’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

The bunk grew chillier. Imperceptible shift. Inara could feel a fight coming on. She could almost taste it, like stomach acid making its way up her throat.

“Just figure it ain’t like nobody’s not never brought you flowers before.”

“You figure right,” she said. Softly. Images passing through her mind like a quick search on the Cortex. Parties and music and dresses swirling around her ankles.

He was on his feet, now—pacing. Not quite anger, but weariness.

“What do I have to do, Inara?” He turned, jaw clenched. “What do you need to stop resenting me? I ain’t them—I am not one of your pretty Core men with money weighing down my pockets. Ain’t never gonna give you a life more than this.”

She rubbed her arms. The flashes in her memory would fade. They always did. This… right now, this was her life.

“I know you’re not, Mal,” she met his eyes. “I don’t want flowers.”

Not good enough. He stormed out of his bunk, leaving her for the night.

It occurred to her later that it had never been about the flowers.


At breakfast the next morning, he poured her coffee and carried on with the crew like always. His knee brushed hers, followed by a grin meant for her eyes only—the closest thing to an apology she would ever get.

“It’s Sunday,” he said. “The second one of the month.”

She nodded. “How about Measure for Measure? It’s always been my favourite.”

Mal nearly spat out a mouthful of coffee. “I gotta say, I don’t always get your sense of humor, Inara.”

Measure for Measure. Sin and punishment. A life for a life. Such was justice.

The words left her mouth, unbidden, “It's not me. At least, not all of it. What is it you need to stop resenting me?”


Inara took a sip of coffee, unashamed. It was time to unravel the pieces of denial they’d knit around their relationship. A little bit at a time.

Mal pretended like he hadn’t heard her. Slowly, noise picked up again—the sounds of cutlery hitting metal. Jayne and Simon bickering. Zoe, silent, stoic, but loudest of all.

Yes—Inara thought. Hers was the question.


Mal followed her out of the galley, to the almost privacy of the catwalk. His eyes were alive with the same sort of fire that usually led to making love in a fit—harried passion. Mal demanded a certain mindlessness of acting on impulse and desires.

“Ask me again.”


He pursued her, determination in every line of his face. Mal had the kind of anger that couldn’t be ignored. She could push him, but there was an edge, a dangerous edge he walked on.

“I want to love you.”

She stopped, one hand on the railing. Her fingers grasped the metal tightly. “What? Mal—”

“You,” he said, coming closer to her, his face in hers. He let his palm rest on her breast, just over her heart. His words turned gentler. “The inside you, Inara. The place where no man’s ever been. I want to be the first.”

Goosebumps broke out along her arms. He was, wasn’t he? He had to be—she would have no reason to throw her life away, otherwise…

She stepped closer, allowing him to pull her into his arms.

“Inara, all I gotta do is touch a piece of you. Ain’t so hard, is it?” He tipped her chin up and searched her face. “There’s a whole manner of things going on in there and sometimes I feel like I can’t touch a one of ’em.”

She looked away. How could she explain all the ways he’d gotten inside already?

Mal had never understood.

Never could.

Instead, she said, “I don’t need flowers from you, Mal. That’s not important. That’s not the reason I…”

Her voice caught. He held too much of her already.

She let her cheek rest on his shoulder. “Do you know what my greatest fear is?”

“Not a jot,” Mal said. “You gonna tell me?”

“I’m scared that you’ll die without me,” she said. “And I know you’ll find a way. You’re that pigheaded.”

Mal inhaled sharply and didn’t answer.

Honesty hurt them more than the fighting ever did.

Kaylee and Jayne laughed. The floor creaked with the movement of the crew from the galley. The ship jerked under River’s sometimes-steady care. Soon the crew would be in the cargo bay, a mess of yelling and discord and Mal would leave her to be the captain.

“I’ll try real hard not to die without you, Inara,” he said. “Might be easier than you’re expecting, living on a ship like this.”

“Oh, Mal…” she said. “This really isn’t the best time for sarcasm.”

“Wasn’t approaching sarcasm. Just telling you the truth. Could be anything that kills us—could be Reavers, or the Alliance getting a mite too twitchy. Half of living is avoiding death.”

“Only half?” She said. “You do realize that makes the kind of sense that doesn’t, don’t you?”

“Other half is this kinda stuff right here,” he said, lips pressing just under her ear. Not too sexual—just a gesture. A simple gesture. “You think Zoe regrets even a moment?”

“Zoe’s a very strong woman.”

Not an answer.

He touched her hair, let his fingers curl under her neck. It felt good, that sort of comfort.

“This don’t have to end in tragedy, Inara.”

Doesn’t it always?

Mal continued. “Let me in.”

The crew drew closer. Their feet seemed to pound against the floor of the cargo bay. Their voices blended in a confused mess—Kaylee, Simon, Jayne, River. Mal pulled away and descended the catwalk to face them. “I already have,” Inara whispered.

He didn’t hear her.


Friday, August 18, 2006 4:43 PM


Know how I know that you're not good, you're great? Because your writing only ever improves upon rereading.

All that half-shared doubt and fear co-mingling with the sweetness... it makes me a very happy Rouka. Can't be separated, the fear and the love belong together like they belong to themselves and each other. Their love is an answer to their fears yet only creates new ones. Makes them strong and weak. The poetry of it all. :)

Friday, August 18, 2006 6:43 PM


Beautiful. You have more than just a handel on Mal and Inara, you have a beautiful sense of language that makes your stories fly.

I really loved it. I love that he's so much inside her already that he can't see it, and it scares her so much, truly loving, that she can't make him see it. I love that they're reading Shakespeare. I love that the truth hurts more than fighting. Really, this was beautiful.

Saturday, August 19, 2006 12:48 AM


'Honesty hurt them more than the fighting ever did' - this is the line that did it for me. Absolutely spot-on and so true it gave me goosebumps. That is Mal and Inara in a nutshell. And so typical that the crew had to stomp along and break the moment at the end. I liked Mal's comment that half of life is avoiding death and Inara's admission that she feared Mal would die without her. Oh yes, I can see them as a piece of Shakespear their own selves. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, August 19, 2006 2:11 AM


Great Story. I can just picture Mal's running commentary on Shakespeare and it meakes me laugh. I love to see these two try and work it out.

Saturday, August 19, 2006 6:02 AM


I love the way you write M/I and keep their interplay fresh. The rest of the crew is present but doesn't intrude in this piece and the intellectual banter between M/I is just spot on!

Keep writing!

Saturday, August 19, 2006 6:33 AM


This was great - I love the carefully constructed and conflicted M/I, which is exactly what this is.

Absolutely perfect for the two of them - more please!

Saturday, August 19, 2006 10:42 PM


So many good reviews already, you hardly need another. But I couldn't read this story and not comment. It was so close to being perfect, its truly unfair to the rest of us.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 11:36 AM


That was beautiful. It seems that everyone who writes BDH relationships includes some sort of strife or obstacle, but mostly it's trouble coming from the outside, a job gone wrong or and old enemy resufacing. You did a great job of writing trouble that comes from the inside, which is the kind that hurts all the more. This piece was the image of real relationships, and not something i've seen before in the fanfic. Well done!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 6:45 AM


You made me all happy and also teary... although that may have something to do with the fact that I've just finished watching the ER episode where Mark Greene dies. Always gets to me.

Anyways... can I have my very own pocket Goldy to sit on my desk and tell me brilliant fanfic at odd hours of the morning when I can't sleep?

Also, did you post this on LJ? I think I might have missed it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 5:54 PM


Perfect as always, Goldy. Just perfect.


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