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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal and River have a rare disagreement, and Inara talks to the counselor for the last time.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 699 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Mal watched River try to pick up the toothbrush she’d just dropped and suddenly realized it was well past time they should have moved into the passenger dorms. His normally freakishly limber wife was unable now to touch her toes, hampered by the twenty-five extra pounds sitting high under her breasts. She shouldn’t even be attempting the ladder at this point, he thought, as he retrieved the errant toothbrush for her.
“Thank you,” she said, fighting back sudden tears of frustration.
Mal, unaware of the extent of her dismay, said, “I’m thinkin’ tomorrow mornin’ we’d best be movin’ our stuff to one of the passenger dorms ‘til the little one gets here.”
River sighed and nodded numbly. Pleased to have received no objection, Mal continued, “In fact, I think it’s time for you to stop goin’ out on jobs too. Can’t be easy on you, and it ain’t exactly easy on me worryin’ about you.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” River protested, suddenly annoyed beyond reason by what she perceived as condescension. “Can do the jobs we’ve been taking with my gorram eyes closed.”
Mal stared at her, startled by the abrupt vehemence in her tone. He and River seldom fought, but when they did, it was all manner of disturbing to them both. Trying for a soothing tone, he replied, “May be that’s true, darlin’. But I got no notion to put you in any kind of danger I can avoid whilst you’re…incapacitated.”
River’s eyes flashed angrily. “I’m not incapacitated, Mal. I’m pregnant. And just because you’re my husband doesn’t give you the right to say what I can and can’t do.”
Mal’s jaw tightened and a pulse began to throb at his temple with her words. “That’s a pure truth,” he answered, straining with the effort not to bellow. “But bein’ the Captain of this boat gives me the right to say who goes on the jobs and who stays put. And you’re stayin’ put ‘til the little one comes. Dong ma?”
His look warned her that this was not even vaguely negotiable. Before she could stop herself, River began to cry. Hating beyond measure the whipsaw nature of her emotional state, she slumped onto the bed, her shoulders heaving with sobs.
Ai ya, Mal thought, unable to back down on this important point and completely undone by her tears. Inara had pulled him aside almost a month ago to explain the wild mood swings he could expect River to have as her pregnancy progressed. Fair certain that’s what he was now witnessing, he swallowed nervously and tried to think how to handle it without making it any worse.
Figuring that lying was worth a shot as she appeared too distracted to catch it, he said, “It’s not you I’m worryin’ on, bao bei. It’s me. When you’re with me on the job now, I get all paranoid and crotchety. Can’t help it, but that’s the way of it.”
He held his breath and sat down beside her, pulling her into his embrace while hoping she didn’t catch him in the lie. Weren’t exactly a lie, he rationalized. More like a partial truth. He was gratified when, in a few minutes, her sobs subsided into little sniffles and hiccups against his chest.
“Best be getting some rest now,” he said, disentangling himself and laying her back on the bed. When she’d turned onto her side, the only sleeping position that allowed her comfort now, he climbed in behind her and pulled up the blanket over them both. Then, cradling her swollen belly with one arm, he waited for sleep to come.
Though it was the middle of Serenity’s night, it was early afternoon on Greenleaf where the counselor sat listening intently to Inara’s account of her activities for the past week. Nodding with genuine gladness at Inara’s apparent progress, she thought that this last of their scheduled sessions was really unnecessary. The Companion seemed able now to function much as she had before her brutal attack. The counselor felt satisfied with the work she’d done, but she knew that others in Inara’s life had helped her to recover much more quickly than she alone could have done. And it was Inara’s relationship with one of these people that the counselor wished to help her clarify in their remaining time together. When Inara finished recounting the highlights of her latest contract, the counselor asked, “And you felt no anxiety during physical intimacies?”
“None whatsoever,” Inara said happily. “I think I’m over that reaction. With every client for the past two months, I’ve felt very at ease the entire time.”
“Excellent,” the older woman said warmly. “You’ve made such progress, Inara. You should be very proud, as am I.”
Inara inclined her head graciously, pleased with the sentiment.
“May I ask how Mr. Cobb is handling your increased client contact?”
Inara looked up quickly, taken aback by the seeming change of subject. “Jayne has no objections. He’s happy to see me feeling more confident.”
“Really?” the counselor asked, one eyebrow raised skeptically. “That seems a rather enlightened response for the type of man you’ve described him to be.”
Inara felt an inexplicable need to defend the mercenary. “Jayne is a simple man, and he has no trouble compartmentalizing what one does for a living from what one does in one’s personal life.”
Noting the defensiveness in her tone, the counselor pressed forward. “Are you referring to your job or his?”
Inara frowned, considering the question. “Both, I suppose. Jayne understands that what I do with my clients has nothing to do with my feelings for him, just as I understand that his job does not, of itself, define him as a person.”
“And how would you characterize your feelings for him?”
Inara paused, thinking carefully about her answer. “I feel gratitude for the kindness with which he’s treated me…and I feel…steadied by his presence. He makes me feel, for want of a better word, empowered again.”
“So, you draw strength from him?” the counselor clarified.
“Yes, I suppose that would be one way to put it.”
“And is there nothing more you derive from this relationship?” the counselor probed gently.
“Are you asking me if I love him?” Inara asked.
Inara’s brow furrowed with the thought. “Not in the way I had always imagined love would be.”
“And how did you imagine it would be?”
Inara smiled at her own remembered innocence. “All doe-eyed and full of promise, I suppose.”
The counselor laughed lightly. “I would never have taken you for a romantic, Inara.”
Inara replied with her own laugh. “I think that the training I’ve received as a Companion effectively cured me of any romantic notions I might have harbored as a child.”
“And Mr. Cobb. Has he been ‘cured’ of romantic notions as well?”
Inara shrugged slightly. “I suppose so. Why do you ask? Do you find our relationship unhealthy?”
It was the sliver of doubt the counselor heard in Inara’s tone that gave her pause. “Do you?”
There was a long silence as Inara searched her heart for the truthful answer to the question. Finally, she raised her head higher, and answered confidently, “No, I don’t find it unhealthy. It makes me happy, and seems to do the same for him.”
The counselor smiled warmly. “If that is the case, then I am very pleased for you both. You deserve to be happy, Inara.”
Inara returned the woman’s smile, thinking how very much she would miss talking to her regularly.
Jayne lay in his bunk, staring at the ceiling and hoping that Inara would come to him tonight. She didn’t come every night, and almost never on the same day as she had a client, but she always came after a session with the counselor. So, there was a fairly decent chance she’d slip silently down his ladder soon enough.
Just as he turned off the little light he had taken to leaving on for her, he heard the faint release of the hatch and the rustle of silk as she climbed down into the darkness.
“Jayne?” she called softly, waiting at the bottom of the ladder for her eyes to adjust to the change in light from the corridor to his bunk.
“I’m here,” he said quietly, sliding over toward the wall to give her room to climb into his bed. After a moment, he felt the smooth slide of silk against his skin as Inara aligned her body with his.
“Good session?” he asked, his hands skimming across the silk lightly.
“Yes,” Inara breathed. “It was the last one, too.”
“You sure ‘bout that?” he asked.
Tingling deliciously everywhere his strong, warm hands stroked, Inara answered, “Um humh. All done.” Her own hands began to roam to places of interest on her lover’s body, eliciting a throaty groan from Jayne.
“Ai ya, but you are one wicked woman,” he growled as he slipped the silky negligee off her exquisite shoulders and out of his way.
“So the legends say,” Inara replied saucily, her lips curving into a smile against his collarbone. Nipping at the skin there, she felt his pulse quicken in response.
“Turn on the light. I want to see you,” he said, his voice gruff with desire.
Reaching one arm across him to comply, Inara gasped as he flicked his tongue across one taut nipple. Arching to give him better access, she sighed with pleasure as his lips and tongue continued on their erotic path. Just as she thought she might lose all control from the stimulation of both his tongue and hands, he stopped moving abruptly, staring down at her body intently.
“What is it?” she asked breathlessly, suddenly frightened by the look in his eyes. “What’s the matter?”
“Your client do this?’’ he asked, tracing the outline of a dark bruise spreading across Inara’s ribcage.
“No,” she assured him quickly. “Actually, Zoe did it.”
Jayne looked at her in disbelief. “Zoe beat on you?”
Inara laughed. “No, last night when we landed, if you could call it a landing, I had the misfortune of being thrown against the edge of my bureau. Nothing more,” she said soothingly.
Jayne relaxed, remembering the table leg he’d had to repair from the same incident. “It hurt?”
“Not really. It looks much worse than it feels.”
Satisfied, Jayne moved to begin again where he’d stopped, but Inara stayed his hands. “What if my client had done it?” she asked softly. “What difference would that have made?”
“If a man laid a hand on you to hurt you, I’d have to kill him,” Jayne replied seriously, the cold glint in his eye sending a shiver down Inara’s spine. Because of the gentleness with which he treated her, she sometimes forgot exactly how violent this man could be.
“Jayne,” she said as calmly as she could manage, “You have to understand something. If my client had hurt me today, the Guild would handle it. You wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, have anything to do with it. Dong ma?”
“Like they done with Atherton Wing?” Jayne said bitterly.
Inara swallowed thickly, bile rising in her throat. “That was an extreme case, Jayne. Very unlikely to ever happen again.”
Jayne stared at her, blue eyes boring into brown ones. “I know it was, ‘Nara,” he conceded. “But ya’ can’t expect me to sit on my thumbs if’n some hundan ever hurts ya’. I ain’t got it in me to do such as that.”
“Then I’ll have to be sure to choose my clients wisely,” Inara said, her voice barely above a whisper. She reached up to cup his cheek in her soft hand.
Covering it with his larger one, he brushed his lips lightly along the hollow of her palm. “I ‘spect that’d be best,” he said, a bare trace of darkness still in his hooded eyes.
Mal awoke with a jolt, River flailing wildly beside him in the throes of a nightmare. Pinning her arms to save himself and her from bruises in the morning, he tried to calm her.
“They’re coming,” she said, still twisting in his firm grasp.
“Who? Who’s coming?” he asked, icy tendrils of dread wrapping around his gut. He’d long since learned to pay heed to River’s ramblings, be they sleeping or waking ones.
Her eyes snapped open and she gasped as she awoke fully. Trembling beneath Mal’s grip, she drew in large gulps of air.
“You were dreaming, bao bei. Said something about someone coming. Do you remember who?” Mal asked softly.
“No,” she said, eyes wide with the half-remembered images of the dream. “I don’t know. It’s gone now.”
“Probably wasn’t anything to worry over,” Mal soothed her. “Maybehaps it was just all the pent-up stuff from earlier. We shouldn’t fight, I’m thinkin’, ‘specially now before bed.” Seeing that she was oriented now, he released her arms gently. “It’s all right now.”
River looked at him blankly for a moment. “I hope so,” she whispered, curling against his side as best she could with the bulge of the baby between them.
To be continued
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