BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

GOLDY

Missing Pieces
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Sometime during the last few months, Inara had become well acquainted with sacrifice." Mal/Inara. And trying to make it work.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2426    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Title: Missing Pieces Author: Goldy Disclaimer: Joss is boss. Pairing: Inara/Mal Rating: PG Word Count: 3, 441 A/N: Written for terimaru on, yes, livejournal, who requested “lavender shower gel” and an established M/I relationship. This is that.

***

It was an empty bottle of lavender shower gel that did it.

Sometime during the last few months, Inara had become well acquainted with sacrifice. She could no longer afford the lush life of a Companion on a hulking and battered vessel like Serenity.

First, she sold the dresses. She gave a couple to River and Kaylee and stuffed some of the more precious ones in the bottom of a trunk. Next went the silk. And the bracelets. The necklaces, the jewels, the gifts. Altogether, it brought her almost two years worth of rent money.

Mal blanched when she tried to hand it over to him.

“It’s not for you, Mal!” she said. “It’s for Serenity! Fuel! Food!”

Mal shoved it back into her hands and closed his eyes—as if that would make it all go away.

“It’s yours.” He paused. “All you got left of that life.”

“Mal—”

“Just… keep it. Might come a day when you’ll be wanting some of those fine things back.”

Inara frowned. She doubted it. She had been well aware of what choosing a life onboard Serenity meant. Besides, she was an intelligent woman—she was capable of supporting herself by many different means, should the need arise.

And yet…

The shower gel was empty.

Her incense supply was low. She’d used her last tea bag a week ago. In the old days, Inara would never have run out. Running from bullets, dodging the Alliance, it left no room for buying the high-quality products she was accustomed to.

Staring at the empty bottle left Inara feeling inexplicably sad. With Mal’s gun resting on the dresser, bullets and holster mingled in with her dwindling pile of incense, Inara made a decision.

***

“Mal, I need a few things from town.”

It was unlikely the town’s products would be up to Inara’s standards, but she accepted that she was not in a position to be picky.

“Yeah? What sorts of things?” Mal seemed more interested in prepping the mule than paying her any attention.

“Tea,” she said. “I’m also running low on incense. And lavender shower gel, but I’m skeptical I’ll find anything suitable here.”

“Right,” Mal said. “Well, tell you what, next time we have some down time—”

“And when will that be?”

“Can’t exactly say for sure, Inara. Always depends on the work.”

“Of course,” Inara said, pleasantly enough. “The problem is, we haven’t had much downtime in a while. Now, if you could stop in town for a few minutes, I wrote out a list…”

Inara held out a sheet of paper in front of Mal’s nose. He plucked it out of her fingers, a very peculiar expression coming into his eyes. “I’ll get you your items.”

Inara frowned. This was… unexpected. In all honesty, she had prepared for a much longer, much more drawn out fight.

“Well… I, thank you,” she said. “I have money, it’s stored in—”

“It’s just tea and…” Mal squinted at the list, “and other stuff. Ain’t nothing. Fact is, you should have more’n—well, don’t mind getting you a few things, is all.”

Mal studied her for a minute, searching for… something. Inara stared back, waiting.

He cleared his throat and bowed his head, suddenly entranced by his own feet. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Inara moved closer, wanting to touch him, but leaving her hand neutrally at her side. “Notice what?”

“All that you…” he trailed off. “Inara, last thing I want is for you to fade away.”

She was genuinely startled and later wondered if she should have been.

“I’m not,” she said. “Please. Mal, we both know I would never make a choice I didn’t believe in.”

He looked at her then, eyes clouding and deepening in a way that still made her steal a breath. He grasped her lightly on the chin and kissed her.

“First stop’ll be for that stuff of yours,” Mal said, pulling away and using a determined sort of voice.

“Thank you,” Inara whispered.

Mal squeezed her shoulder as he went around her. Inara stayed motionless, trying to gather herself. Sometimes she liked to say that she loved Mal because he was the only man who she couldn’t always predict, who kept her surprised. But it was never that simple.

“Inara, there’s a wave for you,” River said, from behind her. “From your past.”

Inara blinked, aware of the warning in River’s voice. “I’ll take it in the shuttle.”

***

“Inara, it’s lovely to see you again.”

“Benjamin Travers,” Inara said. “You look… terrible. What’s happened?”

The man staring at her through the vidscreen was young and rich, born into the most powerful family on the planet. He’d contracted with her on several occasions, all of which Inara remembered as being very pleasant. Now, his once handsome face was haggard, his eyes bloodshot, and his forehead lined into a permanent frown.

“They told me you were no longer taking clients,” Benjamin said. “But when I saw your ship… it’s my sister—Starla. She was murdered, just last week.”

Inara’s hand flew to her mouth. “That’s horrible. I’m sorry.”

Benjamin’s eyes darkened. “They don’t know who did it. Murder out on the Rim… I’m afraid it’s far more frequent than it should be. And all too often it goes unpunished.”

Inara nodded. “How’s your family?”

“Devastated,” Benjamin said, tears sparkling in his eyes. “Starla was well loved.”

“She was a beautiful girl,” Inara said, doing her best to conjure up faded memories of the girl. “She was always very kind.”

“She liked you,” Benjamin said, voice breaking. “Inara, if you had time… I would greatly appreciate the comfort.”

Inara swallowed. “I… I can’t. I’m afraid I’m no longer working as a Companion.” She almost mentioned Mal’s name, but stopped herself at the last minute.

Benjamin drew in a deep breath. “Please, I need someone who won’t judge.”

“I can refer you—”

“I know you,” Benjamin said. “I need someone who will listen. It’s hard work, carrying the weight of my family’s grief. I can’t be… free around them. I’ll do my best to respect your boundaries.”

Inara hesitated. “I really don’t know if—”

Benjamin nodded in a practiced, mechanical way. “Very well. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”

Benjamin’s face seemed to collapse in on itself and Inara felt something in her give in. “I’ll come,” she said. “Send me your coordinates.”

***

When Inara docked back at Serenity, her thoughts were focused on the grieving man she’d left on the planet behind her. Benjamin had been true to his word. He’d only needed someone to listen. She held his hand while he cried, doing her best to soothe him.

When he kissed her good-bye, Inara stopped it there. Once, she would have allowed their meeting to progress further. This time, she left without money.

Inara was not expecting to open the shuttle doors and run smack into Mal’s chest. Nor did she like the way his hands came up to grasp her shoulders, fingers pressing harder into her skin than was necessary.

“Mal,” she said. “What—what are you doing here? I thought you’d be gone another few hours, at least.”

Inara winced, realizing belatedly that her words would only give credence to whatever Mal was suspecting.

Mal released her and jerked his head at a parcel lying by his feet. “Thought I’d drop your stuff off ‘fore going out on the job. Had I known you were off visiting clients, might not have bothered.”

“It’s not what you think—”

“Oh?” Mal said. He folded his arms across his chest. “And why is that?”

Inara hardened her gaze. “Mal, I have given you everything since we began this relationship. If you’re going to accuse me of cheating—”

“You took the shuttle!” Mal said. “When I was gone. Conveniently, I might add, on your errand. What am I supposed to think?”

“That’s there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation!” Inara shot back. “Woe duh ma, I love you, Mal! I gave my work up for you!”

She tried to shut the shuttle door in his face, but he wrestled his way in. She could tell her last comment put him on the defensive, but he steadied himself and when he spoke, his voice was calm.

“So tell me,” Mal said. “Tell me what it was you snuck off to do.”

Inara frowned at his tone. “I received a wave from an old client of mine. Benjamin Travers. His sister was murdered last week. He wanted comfort.” Inara paused to gauge Mal’s reaction—guarded but beginning to relax. "I told him I was no longer taking on clients."

"And yet..." Mal said, "you paid him a visit. Old time sakes?"

"I thought I could provide a warm face," Inara said. "Is that so terrible?"

"Maybe not," Mal admitted, after hesitating. "Course, the part where you snuck out behind my back-"

“I wasn’t hiding it, Mal," she interrupted. "I just… I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

Mal frowned. “And what did you say his name is?”

“I, uh…” Inara hesitated, suddenly fearful that Mal would storm off all half-cocked. “Why?”

Mal rubbed at his face, and turned his back on her, pacing restlessly through the shuttle. “The Travers family owns half this planet. Ruled over the people here for more’n a century. Been sitting in the Alliance pocket since before the war.”

Inara stared at Mal’s back, understanding there was a connection he wanted her to make. “And?” she prompted.

“Planet starves, and they’re living in the lap of luxury. Got themselves plenty of slaves and a black market at their fingertips.”

Comprehension began to dawn. “Mal, Benjamin has been nothing but a gentleman. He’s a kind man.”

“Maybe that’s true,” Mal said. “But I got a job, Inara. And I got only about three more hours left to finish it.”

Inara looked down. “His sister was killed, Mal. He’s devastated.”

“Don’t doubt it,” Mal said. He swallowed. “Man like him, he won’t even hardly notice a petty thief such as myself. Ain’t gonna be stealing anything that’ll set him back overly much. Hell, might even be able to collect more than its worth in insurance.”

“I’m not certain that’s true,” Inara said, new fear building inside of her. “He’s more than doubled security since Starla died. Mal, maybe you shouldn’t—”

“Got a job, gotta make due,” Mal said, shrugging. “Way it’s always been. Just… want to make sure we’re okay.”

Inara looked away. This was one of the times that she felt they could not possibly be further apart. But she understood Mal could not turn down this job, no more than Inara could refuse Benjamin some comfort.

She nodded. “Do what you have to.”

Mal seemed to sense the distance between them and he moved forward to pull her closer. “Didn’t mean to upset you earlier,” he said, kissing the corner of her mouth. “Should’a been more trusting.”

“That’s alright,” Inara said, as his lips made their way down to her neck. “But Mal?”

Her fingers linked behind his neck, and rested his forehead against hers. “Mmm?”

“Be careful.”

***

Two hours after Mal and Jayne left, Inara began to worry. After four, she and Zoe discussed their options. When hour five came and passed, Inara sat back down in front of the vidscreen.

“Inara,” said Benjamin’s smiling face. “I admit, I was hoping to hear from you again. Have you regained your common sense, then? Decided to contract with me after all?”

Inara laughed politely, but the swelling bruise on Benjamin’s jaw did not escape her noticed. “Good heavens, what happened? Did the men who killed your sister—”

“No, no,” said Benjamin, waving a hand. “Nothing like that. I was unlucky enough to run into a pair of low-life criminals.” Benjamin’s lips thinned. “My security team responded immediately and took care of it, of course.”

One of Inara’s hands gripped the edge of her chair, the other flew to her mouth in surprise. “They’re… dead?”

Cold horror. She should have fought harder with Mal. Tied him down. Distracted him. It didn’t matter how angry he would have been, it would have been something, anything, because she had known, she’d known, this was coming.

“A little roughened up, but they’ll live,” said Benjamin. “My god, Inara, are you feeling ill?”

Inara shook her head, unable to contain one muffled sob of relief. “What will you do with them?”

“They’ll serve a term,” Benjamin said. “Work for me until I’m satisfied they’re debt is repaid. I’m guessing these men are important to you?”

Inara closed her eyes. “Yes.”

***

The Travers’ estate was the sort of mansion that had its own brig. Benjamin led Inara down the long, winding staircase to the basement, his expression amused. “Tell me, Inara, which one is your lover?” Off Inara’s look, he added, “It was the natural assumption, given your reaction to their capture.”

Inara raised her eyebrows. “Can’t you tell?”

Benjamin brushed his fingers along his injured jaw. “Ahhh.”

“I’d recognize Mal’s handiwork anywhere.”

Benjamin gave a short, barking laugh. “Well, I must say, a small part of me is grateful for such… excitement. It gives me something to focus on.”

Inara sighed. “You must not think very highly of me.”

“On the contrary,” Benjamin said. “I find you intriguing. Any man in this ‘verse would bend over backward to have you on their arm. And yet, you chose an uncivilized criminal.”

Inara, who had called Mal far worse things, felt insulted on his behalf. “He’s far more than that,” she responded. “And I can say with some certainty, we chose each other.”

Benjamin gave her an appraising look. “Did you know he was planning on robbing from me?”

“Yes, and I told him not to, that you were far smarter than he was giving you credit for.”

Benjamin looked pleased. “In that case, I’ll be glad to give him back to you. He’ll need a few days to rain his strength, but should be fine with some doctoring.”

“Thank you,” Inara said.

Benjamin unlocked the door to the jail and led her inside.

“Mal!” Inara said, his name leaving her lips in a sort of high-pitched whine. He was lying in the second cell, back braced against the wall and forehead nearly touching his knees.

She was by his side as soon as Benjamin unlocked the door. “Mal, can you hear me? Are you alright? I’m here to take you back to Serenity—everything’s fine now.”

Mal raised his head a few inches, eyes fluttering open. “Inara, how did… what’re—you shouldn’t be here. S’not safe.”

Inara rolled her eyes and took Mal’s arm to help him up. “I’m rescuing you.”

“Yeah, well, was doing fine,” Mal muttered, leaning on her heavily. Inara had to bite her lip to stay standing. “Had myself a plan.”

“I’m sure you did,” Inara said gently, attempting to maneuver him out of the cell. If Jayne was this beat up, she was going to have to come up with a plan of her own.

Mal caught sight of Benjamin and jerked forward, nearly sending them both tumbling to the ground. “If you even think about touching her, I’ll—”

“Mal!” said Inara, propping him up against the bars of the cell and taking a breath. “Don’t be stupid. He’s letting you go.” Mal’s stare was fixed on Benjamin and Inara suspected he hadn’t heard a word of what she said. “Mal!” she grabbed his face with both hands and made him look at her. “He’s letting you go as a favour to me. Don’t you dare mess this up.”

Mal’s face paled and he braced his hands on his knees, breathing deeply. “Might’ve been a mistake, taking this job.”

Inara decided “I told you so” could come later. Instead, she wrapped his arm around her shoulders and coaxed him forward. “Let’s get you home.”

“Hey,” he stopped her by squeezing her shoulder. He dropped his voice, but not low enough that Benjamin wouldn’t hear. “You have to give… anything for this little rescue?”

Inara leaned up to kiss him, aware that Benjamin was looking away. “No, Mal.”

He gave a tired nod and they shuffled forward.

Jayne was in better shape than Mal, but heavily drugged. “Those are some fine lookin’ colours you got on, ‘Nara,” he said. “All… swirly…”

Jayne reached out a hand towards her and Inara batted him away, giving him a severe look. “Jayne, you walk yourself out to the shuttle, or so help me, I will lock you back up in there!”

“Awww, c’mon, ‘Nara… didn’t mean nothin’ by it…”

“Jayne!” Inara hissed, grabbing him by the wrist, just as he was about to go tumbling back down the stairs.

Benjamin wiped off the front of his jacket in obvious disdain. “You know such… interesting people, Inara. But do be sure to wave me next time you’re nearby.” Mal glowered at him.

“Thank you for everything,” Inara said. “You’re a good man.”

Mal snorted and Inara elbowed him in the ribs.

Benjamin smiled. “Losing Starla may have left me a touch sentimental.” He took Inara’s free hand in his head and kissed her wrist. “I hope to see you soon.”

Mal rolled his eyes. “Sorry, kid. Ain’t gonna have a reason to be coming back to this very fine planet any time soon unless I have work. And that’s not likely something you want.”

Benjamin bowed in reply before striding back into his home.

“Would a ‘thank you’ have killed you?” Inara snapped.

“Uh… yeah,” Mal said. “Man was looking at you like he’s seen you naked.”

“He has seen me—”

“Look. Whatever. That ain’t the point,” Mal said. “Might be happy to be getting off this here rock, but Benjamin ain’t someone I want to be indebted to.”

“You’re not,” Inara said, pushing him into the shuttle. I am.

***

Later, sitting by Mal’s bedside in the infirmary, Inara wasn’t thinking about much outside of the feel of Mal’s hand in hers and how close she had come—yet again—to losing him.

“You have to be the luckiest man I’ve ever met,” Inara reflected.

The corners of Mal’s mouth twitched. Inara froze. She hadn’t realized he was awake.

“How many more of ‘em get-out-of-jail-free cards you got?”

“Not many,” Inara said. “Maybe you should start listening to my advice.”

“Yeah,” Mal said, leading Inara to believe he was delirious from too many drugs. “Jayne make it back?”

“Barely,” Inara said. “I found him trying to steal ice cream from a five-year-old. It got ugly when the mother decked him with her purse.”

“That’s my crew,” Mal said proudly.

Inara dropped his hand in favour of crawling into the small infirmary bed with him. He smiled, and rested on palm on her arm, moving up and down.

“You smell nice,” he said. “Always do. Bit like… Lavender.”

“Yes. Well.” Inara said.

Mal went quiet and Inara let him be, hoping he’d fall back asleep. Finally, he cracked one eye open and said, “Means something, don’t it? To folk.”

“What does?”

“Being a Companion,” Mal said. “Gives you a sort of power. Man like Travers, he’d be the sort to take advantage of a woman like you. But you got his respect.”

“Yes,” Inara said. “There are—were—many benefits to my profession.”

“But you gave it up.”

“Yes,” Inara said again. “It’s not like you left me much choice.”

“Right,” Mal said slowly. And then, “Don’t suppose I did.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Inara said. “I chose you.”

“You regret it?”

“Not yet,” Inara said. “I hope not ever.”

Mal swallowed and nodded, his hand stilling on her arm. “And what exactly happens if—”

“I don’t know,” Inara said simply. “I imagine we’ll discuss our options, and then make a choice—whatever that is.”

“Uh huh,” Mal said. He shifted and Inara gripped the edge of the bed to stay upright. It really wasn’t built for two people.

She could also see that he was fading. “I should probably…”

“Yeah, might be for the best,” Mal mumbled, eyes closed. “Dontcha have some new incense or somesuch to be trying out?”

“I suppose,” Inara said. “I was going to waste away by your bedside, but if there’s incense...”

Mal gave a sort of broken laugh, turning into a grimace.

“Careful, you might sprain something,” Inara said.

“That would be an awful shame,” Mal said. He squeezed her one last time before releasing her. “I love you.”

Inara climbed back to her feet, only then releasing Mal’s hand. She thought about giving him a glib reply, or telling him to get some rest, or even that she loved him too. And then she decided to settle on silence because he was already asleep and—sometimes—“I love you” didn’t need an answer.

COMMENTS

Thursday, August 24, 2006 1:13 AM

AMDOBELL


I really enjoyed this. And how typical that with Mal and Inara finally together Mal's next job is stealing from someone Inara is trying to help? At least no one got shot this time, poor Simon must be on the verge of dying of boredom. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, August 24, 2006 3:55 AM

TAMMYY2J


you write Mal and Inara brillantly Goldy

Thursday, August 24, 2006 8:43 AM

ARCADIA


Is it any surprise that I love it?

My two favorite parts are...

1) When Mal finds Inara coming bavk to Serenity, and they talk. Its just a great scene. I especially love that it ends with them being okay. It is nice to see them have a spat that doesn't end in someone fleeing the room. They can get along. It's lovely.

2) The sense of secrifice, uncertainty, pain that Inara harbors throughout the entire piece. And all if it can be so well summerized in one line --- “You’re not,” Inara said, pushing him into the shuttle. I am. --- It's awesome, and such an honest moment for her, and then leading into the next scene... I love that she will tell the truth, that she won't give him sweet nothings, but instead says ---

“It doesn’t matter,” Inara said. “I chose you.”

“You regret it?”

“Not yet,” Inara said. “I hope not ever.”

Mal swallowed and nodded, his hand stilling on her arm. “And what exactly happens if—”

“I don’t know,” Inara said simply. “I imagine we’ll discuss our options, and then make a choice—whatever that is.”

-- its great. Plus this line --- “I suppose,” Inara said. “I was going to waste away by your bedside, but if there’s incense..." --- is just plain inspired.

Thursday, August 24, 2006 11:38 AM

2X2


Of course you know I love this story.. it's one of my favourites *huggles the fic*

The 'not yet, I hope not ever' line is just my favourite, because it's so honest, and open... beautiful.

Thursday, August 24, 2006 4:02 PM

GOLDY


AMDOBELL - thank you! And Simon secretly like the boredom. It means he can rearange and polish his infirmary for the thousandth time.

tammyy2j - thank you. *pats pretty feedback-y words*

Arcadia - Thanks! Your words are all shiny and nice! I'm worried this one got a little slow in parts, but I'm so glad you liked the conversation at the end, since it's sort of the crux of the whole thing.

2x2 - Squee! *huggles you*

Friday, August 25, 2006 2:28 AM

ESTHER


Nicely done. I like it, how it works out between Mal and Inara. not wanting to repeat all the (deserved) praises, maybe just one line, I liked as well:

“I’d recognize Mal’s handiwork anywhere.”
It has heart and humour mingled together - very "Firefly"

Makes me wonder, though, how the story would have gone, if Benjamin in fact HAD asked for seomething back. Thinking about doing an alternative version? :o)

Esther

Saturday, August 26, 2006 1:06 PM

SLAYERCHICK


Wonderfully written! And I love the later aspects of Mal and Inara's relationship! As was mentioned earlier, you write the two of tehm beautifully! I'm looking forward to anything else you have in the works!

Sunday, August 27, 2006 7:29 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Wow...now this was some beautiful and thought-provoking stuff here, Goldy. Definitely a realistic scenario of Mal and Inara post-BDM and actively working on having a relationship, with the predicted bumps in the road;)

Gotta say...was waiting for the other shoe to drop with Benjamin Travers and getting Mal & Jayne sprung. The guy totally has Mal, Jayne and Inara in his grip...could ask for anything he could ever want from Inara...but he lets them go. Definitely an unexpected plot twist; mainly cuz I was expecting some angst to arise and force Mal & Inara to really buckle down and work out some lingering issues:)

BEB

Monday, September 11, 2006 1:22 PM

JETFLAIR


Excellent work, I'm especially fond of your Mal characterization. I decided to read some of your stuff after reading your comments about his speech patterns in one of the fanfic thread, and you really have mastered it. His speech patterns are something I'm still working on.....hard to get right!


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