The Slower Path: Worse - Part 12 - Sequel to Ain't Never So Bad It Can't Be Worse
Monday, January 5, 2009

Things get worse.


Part 1: Favourite Things - Part 2: Long Day - Part 3: The Basics - Part 4: Brown Paper Packages Part 5: The Companion's New Clothes - Part 6: A Measure of Healin' - Part 7: Snow Cream Part 8: Staying One Day Ahead of Yesterday - Part 9: While the Cat's Away - Part 10: Weighing The Costs - Part 11: Ain't Never So Bad It Can't Get Worse

The Slower Path: Worse Sequel to Ain't Never So Bad It Can't Be Worse by anjulie and 2x2 Rating: PG Word Count: 2961

Spoilers: Set post BDM Pairing/Characters: Mal/Inara, crew.

Concern darkened Kaylee’s eyes as she glanced at the quiet faces around the kitchen table. The only sounds in the galley - aside from those of forks half-heartedly scraping pottery as they ate their meager supper - floated down from the crew deck where Simon gently tried to coax River from where she'd curled up on the grating outside Mal's bunk.

"River, you need to come down now. Don't you want something to eat?" Simon's voice carried down into the galley.

Kaylee turned her glance toward the stairs, trying to make out River's soft reply, frowning at Jayne as he rolled his eyes with a shake of his head.

"She doesn't need his concern. Fine where she is!" River's voice came suddenly loud, followed a few moments later by Simon as he returned to the kitchen unhappily.

Jayne, of course, seemed totally oblivious to the tension as he used a scrap of protein to swipe every crumb of food from his plate before cramming the whole thing in his mouth, chewing it with gusto.

“What’re you lookin’ at?” he asked crossly when his gaze met Kaylee’s across the table.

“Not a thing,” she answered sarcastically, shaking her head at his insensitivity. “Just wonderin’ how you can eat like that when you know that somethin’s amiss with the Cap'n,” she pointed out.

“The Cap’n’ll be fine, Kaylee” Zoe assured her as she pushed back from the table and carried her plate to the sink. “Just got a lot on his mind,” she said as she efficiently rinsed her dish and wiped it dry.

“When we get done here we’ll do a once over of the ship. Make sure things are secured and ready for tomorrow. And Jayne,” she said with a significant look at the merc, “you best walk light with these women. This ain’t no time for antics.”

“Well, hell, how come I gotta tippey-toe around just cause Mal’s all bothered? Some o’them gals might wanna have a night with a real man afore they get hitched up to some old dirt-scrapin’ miner,” Jayne groused, eyeing Kaylee’s plate speculatively. “You gonna eat that?” he asked, draining his coffee in one gulp.

Kaylee rolled her eyes and threw the protein stick at his face, looking away in disgust as he deftly caught the food and eagerly bit into it, grinning his thanks at her around the dry bar.

“Deal is the cargo arrives in pristine condition,” Zoe pointed out mildly, wiping her hands dry before propping them on her hips. Her gaze fell on Simon. “How we fixed for meds and such, Doc? Got enough to get us through two days with nineteen on board?”

Wiping his mouth with his napkin, Simon quickly calculated. “We should be fine, as long as we stay out of firefights and plague-ridden areas,” he answered with a touch of black humor. “I’ve got bandages and basics. Just not enough antibiotics or plasma to treat any major injuries,” he elaborated when Zoe didn’t respond.

She nodded then, her thoughts already on the logistics of housing a dozen women. “Have to do. I’ll start the rounds. Jayne, you and Kaylee come on when you finish. Cap’n’ll want everything in good shape for tomorrow,” she said, her own weariness seeping in to her voice.

She nodded to River on her way out of the galley as the girl finally came down for some supper.


Inara knocked on Mal's bunk for a third time, sighing when he still refused to answer. She had waited a good couple of hours before coming, to give him time to cool down, but as much as she worried about him he frustrated her to no end sometimes and she couldn't help the twinge of annoyance she felt at his stubbornness. Not that this wasn't classic Mal behavior, she reasoned as she turned from his door, making her way back to her shuttle slowly. She didn't expect him to change just because they were... well, doing what they were doing.

Which, apparently, would be 'nothing' this evening. She sighed again. She had been looking forward to his return all day, had plans of her own for a quiet reunion, just the two of them, but there would be no chance of that now. She was well aware of what he was like when he was in a mood. More than likely, had he let her in, he would have just accused her of using her wiles on him and called her a whore - Mal always did enjoy his misery in company.

Maybe it was better that she didn't see him tonight, she reasoned. She didn't feel like adding an argument to the day's disappointment, and with Mal, nine times out of ten he would come up fighting.

Resigning herself to an evening alone, she slipped through the newly hung curtains into her shuttle, stopping in sudden shock to find Mal sitting on the cot within, staring up at her with weary eyes.

She let out a breath, lips curving downward sadly, compassion replacing her annoyance as she crossed the room to him, her fingers reaching out to brush his bangs back from his face gently, running through the strands.

"Shenshi wo suoyi ni?" she whispered softly, her voice full of affection as she smoothed her hand over his bruised cheek.

Mal turned his face into her, heaving a shuddering breath as his eyes slid closed at her touch, head slightly dizzy from the whiskey he was finishing off.

“Guess you’ve heard then,” he pushed out roughly. “Surely ain’t a thing I’m proud of, keepin’ us afloat on what could end up bein’ the misery of others,” he said flatly.

"You don't know that it will come to that," Inara soothed, her brow furrowing as she examined his face more closely. “Mal, you’re bleeding,” she said, her concern tinged with exasperation at his penchant for getting into trouble. “You should have seen Simon, at least for a pain reliever,” she chastised, moving to the head for a cloth and some water.

"Got my own pain relief," he informed her solemnly, raising the cup and bottle he held as proof, warily eyeing her as she came back to him with a small bowl. He obediently tilted his head, his gaze scanning the newly decorated shuttle.

"See you made some changes in here while we was gone," he noted.

“Yes, well, it’s about time I made this place livable, don’t you think?” Inara said brusquely, frowning as she dipped the cloth into the bowl and squeezed out the excess water before bringing it up to his forehead. She put her hand on his jaw to hold his face steady as she wiped at the drying blood above his stitched eyebrow, shaking her head slightly.

“And that’s hardly what I’d call proper medication,” she tsked, motioning to the bottle. “That’s not like you, Mal,” she added, softening with concern as she brushed another cut with her cloth.

He sat quietly, eyes closed again, his senses humming at her closeness. Breathing in her scent, he wallowed in the soft worry he heard in her voice, willing to let her rub his skin raw if it would keep her near him.

"Nothin' 'bout this job's been like me," he muttered inaudibly. "S'pect that 'til we get on our feet again you'll see more new behavior," he warned.

Inara paused, lifting the cloth from his skin to stare down at him, her thumb grazing his bottom lip with the barest of touches. “Not all of it has been bad behavior,” she pointed out softly.

Her words, her touch, sent a jolt of electricity through his belly that made his head swim more than the whiskey. Mal swallowed hard, opening his eyes to meet her gaze as he absently picked at the fabric near his knee and began to rub a piece of her cotton shirt between his thumb and forefinger.

"Seemed less complex before we left," he admitted quietly. "Things have gotten complicated."

Inara swallowed, her insides tightening. “Too complicated?” she asked in a whisper, holding her breath unconsciously for his answer.

"Didn't mean you ...," Mal clarified, realizing she'd misunderstood his answer. "Meant the circumstances with the women. Keeps buzzin' about in my head," he confessed. He ran his free hand down his face. "Ain't so much mad at Zoe as myself. It's not even the cargo much as me worryin’ about what we might do next time." Mal raised his eyes to meet Inara's concerned look. "You compromise me, Inara, you bein' here this way," he said shortly. "When I think of us not flyin', it's you not bein' here that's the hardest," he admitted softly. "If I was a stronger man I'd let you go," he pushed out roughly. "Sometimes it scares me to think on what I might do to keep you with me," he admitted quietly.

Mal shook his head as if to clear it. "'M too addlepated to be speakin' to you," he said, attempting to rise to his feet.

“Mal,” she said impatiently, pushing him back down. “Stop it,” she demanded. “All of it; the self-pity and this stubborn need you have to sabotage every bit of happiness in your life. Just stop.” She let out an aggravated breath, brow furrowed at him. “Stop worrying about what might or might not happen, the things you can’t change anyway, and see what you have now. Tomorrow could bring anything - take anything. It’s what we have now that’s important, not what we might lose tomorrow…” She trailed off, her eyes falling away from his as she shook her head.

Sighing, he dropped his gaze back to the bottle in his fist, watching the ripple of the liquid inside as it slowly settled. "Can I ask you something... personal like?" he asked roughly.

Taking the nearly empty glass from his other hand, she held it up, the amber liquid catching the weak light. Studying his solemn face, she took a cautious sip. “If you like,” she wheezed out, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye as the alcohol burned its way down her throat. “How much of this have you had?”

“Not nearly enough,” he said somberly before taking a long pull from the bottle. “You conjure someone could ever... willingly... agree to... marry some stranger on another world, just to get off this one? An' be happy about it?" He brought his gaze back to hers, something vulnerable flickering there before he dropped it back to the bottle uncomfortably.

Inara took another taste, feeling the warmth of it in her belly as she carefully considered her words.

“Willingly leave Verbena? Yes. Perhaps they're not that happy there. No choices. No chance for change. Maybe they're hoping that this will open up new opportunities for them. This is a gamble for them, but I don’t think they’d be risking it if there wasn’t a good chance things will be better than what they’ll have there.”

"Don't seem like much of a choice," he said, shaking his head. "An' they're still bein' paid for, like a shipload of gorram cattle..." He turned the bottle in his fingers, staring into its depths absently. "This ain't what we do," he said, barely more than a whisper.

Inara's sigh was full of sympathy as she turned back to him reaching out to gently cover his hand where it rested on the bottle. "They're not slaves, Mal. They chose this. Sometimes just the act of choosing for oneself can be its own freedom," she said softly.

“That what it is for you?” he asked before he could stop the words.

Her hand dropped away in startled displeasure and she unconsciously crossed her arms. “What?”

“Nothin’,” Mal said quickly, shaking his head as he swallowed the rest of his words. He didn’t want a fight with her, as familiar and comfortable as that would be, he didn’t have the energy left for it. “’s just… How do I know, Inara?" He sat back with a frustrated sigh. "An' why in the hell didn't I keep my gorram mouth shut and drink in the first place?" he asked rhetorically, cursing the whole situation.

“You can’t know. We'll just have to wait and see."

"An' if it all turns out to be bogus? How do I tell my crew I skunked the job - again - if I don't like what I see? How do I tell em' we gotta make protein we've already stretched beyond bearing, last another two weeks or more? Good intentions ain't gonna put food on the table or money in our pockets, an' if we dont' get some of each, an' soon, we're on the drift and starvin' in the black, an' a hell of a lot of good that's gonna do all them innocent women." He hung his head. "So I'm stuck, whether I like it or not, an' ain't no amount of principles gonna change that," he growled, directing his anger toward her, irrationally.

“There is a way to avoid all this,” Inara said plainly, “one we’ve both been ignoring up until now.” She gave him a significant look.

“No!” he barked, leaping up as he made the connection to what she was suggesting. “You ain’t payin’ rent. You want to add some coin in for food and such when pick up your things from the Training House, that’s fine, but I don’t want you--you’re not payin’ rent!” he said with finality.

Inara drew herself up to her full height, anger at his stubbornness and presumption coursing through her. “It’s the most logical solution!” she argued. “We need the money. And if I’m working, my rent will ensure that you won’t have to take this sort of job to keep flying.”

“It ain’t your rent that has us behind,” Mal denied. “’S the time we lost, the contacts. We’d still have to take any job as come along. No need for you to… rent the shuttle.”

“That’s not your decision to make, Mal,” she said, staring hard at him, angry that, beyond all reason, he continued to be so immovable on the subject. “You can’t expect me to stay in limbo here forever. Sooner or later I have to work.”

“Plenty of work on Serenity,” he countered obstinately.

“And what would you have me do? Cook? Do your laundry? Or will I be toting a gun and robbing banks with you and Jayne?”

He crossed his arms, smiling a mean, cold smile. “Could use an extra hand in all those areas,” he answered snidely.

Ren ci de FoZu, Mal, I’m a Companion!” she said, exasperated at his refusal to acknowledge that.

He turned away, the smile falling from his face, and studied the shuttle, noting the changes she'd made since he and Zoe had left. It seemed like weeks ago instead of days. He'd hoped it meant she was making a new start. He'd been wrong before.

"I won't rent the shuttle to you for work," he said, still not looking at her, his tone tired but firm. "If you choose that life, you'll do it where I don't have to watch. Soon as we get these women to Callas, say the word and we'll drop you off for good at your House."

She stared at him silently for a long moment, equal parts angry and sad. It was all falling apart; she could feel it crumbling around them, every quiet moment they'd shared over the last week turning to dust, so painfully fast.

"That's it then? There'll be no compromise?" She shook her head, bitterness crawling up her throat like bile. "No matter what I choose, I'll have to give up everything, when you know I'd never ask that of you." She dropped her gaze, her hands balling into fists, chest tight. "Please don't force me to choose, Mal," she whispered finally.

Mal uncrossed his arms, one hand dragging through his hair as he moved to look at the mural Inara and Kaylee had painted. "So that's where the red paint came from," he said under his breath, his fingers reaching out to trace a curly cue that had Kaylee’ written all over it. His eyes moved over the work that Inara had done, noting the skillful brush strokes that portrayed a sophisticated Asian landscape of mountains, a small temple nestled in the midst of one of the valleys. He swallowed roughly before turning back to the Companion.

"Was different before," he began slowly, his eyes on the top of her head. "Since you been here...since we...," he trailed off, unable to find the words he needed, a mix of rage and pain coursing through him. "Won't ask," he finally managed, squaring his shoulders before turning toward the hatch. "If that's the way you feel there ain't no need; but God damn you, Inara, for makin' me think you was here to stay," he said between clenched teeth.

She drew in a careful breath, running her tongue over her bottom lip as she tried to find the words that could rebuild the rapidly deteriorating bridges they'd built, to somehow salvage what she could feel slipping away and make him understand at the same time.

"I never promised I would stay forever, Mal. I can't promise you what I don't know.” She took a step forward, staring back at him earnestly. "But I'm here right now, and I want to be here. Can't that be enough?"

His hand paused on the latch, Mal turned to look at her over one shoulder, his eyes skimming her wan face. "I really don’t know," he said, voice soft with regret, as he turned and walked out the door.

______________________ Go to Part 13: Regrets ______________________


Monday, January 5, 2009 1:19 PM


Oh good gorram,and now it's all falling apart! And I can't help but think there is a hell of a lot worse to come when those women arrive. I'm betting they are slaves and am still a bit in shock at Zoe going against Mal's wishes like that and stirring up a whole hornet's nest full of trouble albeit that her intentions were only for the good of one and all. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, January 6, 2009 5:29 AM


Could this be River's chance...?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009 5:46 AM


RE: River's chance

Not in a million-bagillion years, sorry. Not in my 'Verse.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009 7:01 AM


Oh. Wow! It's worse, a real dilemma for Mal and him having to compromise what he'll do to keep Serenity flying, interesting and the level of angst between Mal and Inara is explosive. I liked his last line.

A possible scenario, post Miranda, looking for more

Tuesday, January 6, 2009 3:33 PM


This was wonderful! You've exposed a whole new dimension in their relationship with this one. Would Mal compromise his beliefs just to feel he was keeping Inara safe? When would the self loathing and projected blame begin then? Quite a can of worms you've found. But then you've probably described Mal at his most vulnerable here - at the level of his fundamental view of himself and his world. Great job!

Thursday, January 8, 2009 4:53 AM


Holy Begesus!! You guys are good. In the last two days I have been going back and reading all the previous parts to this story and... WOW.. just WOW! Everything I have read has been so believable and seems so possible after Miranda. Keep up the wonderful work, looking forward to more!

Saturday, January 10, 2009 4:47 AM


Thanks everyone for all your comments.
We're so pleased that you continue to enjoy this little series. This one took us a long while to get worked out, so we're glad you approve :o)
Thank you!

Friday, March 13, 2009 10:01 AM


This path is getting slower in between each chapter, but I'm sure a lot must be keeping you busy! I've never been good at writing serial fan fics of any kind, myself, so my hat's off to you! I love each chapter that I've read so far and you have done so well with this interpretation of how a M/I relationship might have reasonably progressed (well, if you can call this progress! ).

I do hope we'll be seeing more installments before too many more months go by? I'm in such suspense! I'll have to go back and start over again. And again, and maybe one more time, savoring the journey each time!


You must log in to post comments.



History of an Object
There’s no reason to keep it, damaged as it is. Save one. Doesn’t matter that it’s finer than any other cup on the ship, even with the crack. Doesn’t matter that it would never hold liquid again without some of it seeping through. Burning your fingers. Was only one reason he still has the cup.

Five Years' War
The night was warm. Clouds, low on the horizon, blue black in the last light of the setting sun. Nothing but the breeze and the buzz of the cicadas breaking the stillness. A perfect evening.

The Close Shore, At the End, Untenable
“Dead ’re in my head tonight,” he said finally. “Can’t get ‘em out. Don’t got the booze or the bar to distract me. Don’t know why I’m here ‘cept I don’t think I can go through it alone.”

The Slower Path: All the Difference - Part 15 - Sequel to The One Less Traveled By
She let out a breath, saying nothing for a long moment before she raised her eyes again. “There are some things I want you to know,” she said softly. “Things I want you to understand.”

Much as he wished he could ignore it, he could see it was important to her that he know whatever it was she wanted to tell him. He knew he wouldn't have let himself see it in the past, but that weren't where they were anymore, or at least, not where they wanted to be, either of them. Their relationship had changed, was changing, and he weren’t so stupid he didn’t recognize that. He didn't know that he wanted to know it, much less understand it, but she was reluctant enough to talk about any aspect of her life as it was; could be he might ought not stop her when she wanted to.

Unlucky at Cards...
“I… You can’t be that lucky!” Mal moaned as Inara beat him again, laying out her cards with a flourish.

The Slower Path: The One Less Traveled By - Part 14 - Sequel to Regrets
They fell silent again, struggling to find the ease that they had found, before; before the argument that had almost ended things.

"I feel like-," she started.

"This is-," he said at the same time.

They looked at each other. "Awkward," they both said, laughing lightly.

Always Had Faith
Faith in a higher power? That was always Mal's thing, the Captain, back in the war.

Loved and Lost
Love’s the biggest kind of hurt there is.

And I wouldn't trade that love for nothin'.

The Mood That Passes Through
He felt the first trembling shudder go through her, heard her breath hitch and felt her fingers grip his skin; knew it was comin', the wave that was cresting the walls she'd built to hold it back, whatever it was. Knew they were about to come crashing down around her. The first sob still hurt though, still lanced through his heart like a searing hot blade to hear her make that sound.