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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal and Inara finally have it out.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3394 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)
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Follows TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10). Precedes ENDS WITH A HORSE (12).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)
Mal and Inara finally have it out.
* * *
“Inara, may I come in?”
“See, that’s why I usually don’t ask,” he quipped, with a lightness he really didn’t feel, as he entered the shuttle.
Inara was regarding him with a steely stare.
“We need to talk,” Mal stated.
Inara didn’t say a word.
“Look,” he said, “I’ve had about as much of this no-talkin’ 屁話 pìhuà as I can take. We’ve been able to talk in front of other people. Why can’t we talk to each other when it’s just the two of us?” If he were to be perfectly honest, the last time they were alone together, it was he who had refused to talk, but her present silence seemed to justify his words now.
She still didn’t answer. Mal picked up one of Inara’s beautiful things from the shelf and bounced it from hand to hand, noting how she followed the object with her eyes. He began tossing it in the air and catching it.
“Will you put that down?!” she hissed.
He kept hold of it, held it up in front of him and took a good look at it. It was (fittingly enough) some kind of fussily-made egg. Encrusted with shiny stones and gold filigree, it had a hinged window that revealed an equally fussy bejeweled chick settin’ inside. He threw it high again and caught it one-handed, side-swiping it out of the air.
“Stop that!” she exclaimed. “Do have any idea how precious—”
“Gotcha talkin’,” he interrupted, triumphantly.
“You—you—鸟人 niǎorén!” Mal had happened to grab one of the few reminders of her former life on Sihnon that she still carried with her, the Sihnonese Egg of Life, symbolically wrought from a single piece of jade, and passed from mother to daughter. He had no idea of its importance or significance, and now he was tossing it like a toy!
“That’s right.” He tossed the toy up again, caught it with a swoop of his left hand this time. “Call me names, it’s a good start.”
She bit her tongue, only to see him provocatively toss the heirloom again. “Stop it now, you 笨蛋 bèndàn.”
“You’re angry with me.”
“Of course I’m angry with you, Mal!”
“Fair enough,” he said, unperturbed. He fixed her with a penetrating look. “Why?”
Oh, there were a thousand reasons why. She had no intention of speaking of them. It would be undignified, it would be uncontrolled…it would be painful, it would be heartbreaking. She intended to keep those reasons locked in her heart, denying them even to herself. She would not speak of them.
That was the trouble with secrets, Inara thought. As a Companion, she was accustomed to keeping secrets. The thing was, it was easier to keep other people’s secrets than it was to keep one’s own. One’s own secrets posed more of a burden. Secrets and lies…what a tangled web we weave. How she wished she could simply tell him…how she wished it were that simple. But nothing was ever that simple. Clearing the air, telling…if she told part, he’d seize onto the bits, worry at them like a terrier, question, insist, demand, until she’d told the whole. One part, leading to another, and another, pulled along like the strands in a tangled ball of yarn. A whole cascade of complications and consequences. They couldn’t even deal with the simplest of stumbling blocks in their relationship, let alone a whole avalanche. She would not speak of her reasons.
But he was…just infuriating! He was tossing the precious heirloom in the air again like it was a ball. She would not speak of those reasons, the real reasons, but she could speak of some of the others, the unimportant reasons.
“You had Saffron naked in your bunk again, Mal.”
This wasn’t really about Saffron. He knew it, and he knew she knew it. But it was a start. They did need to clear the air about Saffron as well, and they might as well hash it out now. Hell, it was better than not talking.
He couldn’t help but think that they should have moved beyond this sort of petty bickering by now. He had asked her to marry him, for pete’s sake, and if that didn’t show that he was seriously invested in the relationship, he didn’t know what did. But it seemed they were back to square one, or maybe square two. At least it was familiar. Their former mode of flirt-fighting was quite a comfortable fit, and it was much better than not talking at all. He’d take it.
“She was in my bunk,” he confirmed. “And she was naked. I’m gonna object to the part where I had her, though, ’cause that didn’t happen.”
“You wanted her.”
“We covered this territory before, Inara. There’s some part of me that, against all reason and common sense, still feels the pull of the flesh around her. But that ain’t gonna happen. It’d be stupid beyond belief, and I’d probably wind up dead. I got no plan to wind up dead on account of that treacherous snake.” Inara didn’t reply, so he added, “You got the evidence before you. I got her outta my bunk without so much as touchin’ her, and without so much as a button disturbed myownself. And the whole time she was rattlin’ on about—actually, I weren’t even listening, some kind of seduction 屁話 pìhuà, no doubt. I knew she was just in there to search my quarters or plant some kinda screw-up device. I found the encryption paper, after, but she mighta laid some other bug or booby trap, and who knows what she mighta found.” Still holding the jade egg, he crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels. “So, what’s your next move?”
“You pitied Saffron.”
He eyed her, waiting for explanation.
“When I knocked her down. You looked at me like I was—like I was a rabid 狐狸 húli, when I—”
“You did look like a rabid 狐狸 húli when you knocked her down, darlin’. I thought for a moment that I was next.” He remembered the scene, Inara standing over Saffron on the floor, Inara with her eyes flashing and a fierce look on her face. “You have any idea how beautiful you are when you’re angry? It was all I could—”
“Shut up. And don’t change the subject. I was provoked. The things Saffron told me…”
“Aw, now, darlin’, you oughtta known better ’n to believe anything that evil snake tells you. Nothin’ but lies and deception from that mouth of hers. Her whole aim is to get us angry at each other, try to make us tear our own throats out so she don’t hafta do it herownself.”
“I’m not that gullible, Mal. Of course I didn’t believe a word she said. And don’t call me darlin’.”
“Of course not, darl—” He stopped. She huffed.
“I don’t believe a word she said, but her lies are spun on a substrate of truth. And I can’t help but wonder about the kernels of truth hidden under all the 鸡的 大便 jī de dàbiàn.”
“Ah, like the cock in the midden in the fable. Sees the shiny jewel, but has more need of the pickle corn.”
She had no idea what he meant by that. The cock in the what? In what fable? Maybe it was one from Shadow. Sometimes she didn’t understand a word he was saying. It was like he spoke a different language. “What?” she asked, baffled.
“The shiny lies she tells are distractin’, but you’re lookin’ past them to find the hidden truth. So, what bits of truth you pick out of Saffron’s 鸡屎 jī shǐ?”
“You’re no innocent, Mal.”
“Never claimed I was.”
“You’re not pure as the driven snow.”
“I ain’t. You got a point, here?”
“You have a vast repertoire of naughty foreplay that you’ve concealed from me, and you have a girl in every port!”
“What?! A girl in every port? You believe that?!” he exclaimed indignantly. He threw down the egg on the sofa cushions, and fought a brief war within himself as to whether such a 神经病 shén jīng bìng accusation even merited a serious rebuttal. Of all the issues that stood between them—she focused on this? It wasn’t even real. Did she even know him at all? “Like I have the time or money to spare on anything but gettin’ the next job lined up when we’re planetside!”
Zoe would have called him on that. It was his way of avoiding intimacy and the complications that ensued—making himself too busy for it. In a more rational state of mind, Inara would have called him on it, too. But she wasn’t anywhere near rational, and her response stoked the irrational fire.
“Oh, poor Mal, doesn’t have the money to pay for a whore when he hits dirt!”
He was livid, and angry words came easily to his tongue. “You’re off getting laid by every man with a fat expense account, and I ain’t slept with nobody—” he paused just a moment to acknowledge the one exception they both knew about “—not nobody else since I first saw you three years ago.”
If Inara had been able to think reasonably, she might have found it touching that Mal had saved himself for her. But she was furious, and, like a ship under full sail, she did not pause or deviate from her course. “Of course you didn’t sleep with anybody, Mal,” she said vehemently. “You don’t have to sleep to stray. You and your wife there got up to all kinds of nasty on your ‘wedding night.’ Everything short of a home run.”
He stared blankly for just a moment as he worked out that by “wife” she meant Saffron. Immediately his anger flared. “My ‘wife’ did you say? She ain’t my wife! She’s the ‘wife’ of every damn man in the galaxy. That marriage ain’t valid, and it sure as hell wasn’t ever consummated. I got knocked out, remember?”
“Oh yes, I remember that very well, you stupid 王八蛋 wángbādàn. You got knocked out kissing, after indulging in all kinds of foreplay with your naked and articulate bride. It’s the only thing that kept you from going all the way.”
Smoke was practically pouring from Mal’s ears. “You kissed her, too,” he charged. “You kissed her, and got knocked out, just the same as me. Remember? She—”
Inara interrupted him with a force like a fire-breathing dragon. His words had pushed her into admitting something she thought she’d never own. “I never kissed her! I kissed you, Mal!”
Mal’s full-speed-ahead protest abruptly failed, as if the wind had been suddenly knocked out of his sails. For a moment they stared at each other in antagonistic silence. And then suddenly there was only one possible course of action.
He kissed her. Hard and passionate, a full-body kiss, a rapid conflagration of ardent desire. Moments later they were caught up in an intense storm of raging love-making, sex that encompassed fervor and fury, anger and ardor in equal measure. No kind of foreplay had ever caused their passions to storm as they did now.
Physically, they were in perfect accord. You are mine! each of them was saying with their body. You are mine, and I am yours. The possessive aspect of love did not usually dominate their relationship, but it seemed to be what each of them needed, after all the misunderstandings and hurt.
Much later, completely exhausted and spent, they slept in each other’s arms.
They slept tangled together, as if they were one. Their bodies certainly had no problem with this arrangement. It was their minds, and the baggage each of them carried, that stood in their way. On the physical plane, they were already reconciled, and as long as conscious thought remained suspended in the depths of dreams, they derived nothing but comfort and strength from each other’s presence. But their thoughts and feelings had a lot of catching up to do, and after a brief restorative sleep, Mal began stirring. Thoughts began to intrude, and soon he was fully awake. There were too many unresolved questions.
He disentangled himself and got up out of bed. He began pulling on his clothes.
Inara stirred. “What are you doing?”
“Gettin’ dressed,” he answered, stating the obvious.
“Won’t you stay the night?” she asked.
“Don’t think so. We still got issues between us.”
Inara found his abrupt manner hurtful, and his words jolted her fully awake.
“You can’t do that, then just act like it never happened,” he continued.
Briefly, she wondered exactly what he meant by ‘that’; then, things clicked into place. Did he know? She had taken a client to her bed on Beaumonde. Not that he had any right to say anything about it. He had betrayed her first, and she had broken off their relationship. She had then scheduled the client in the course of ordinary business. It had nothing to do with him; he wasn’t even her lover at the time. There was no betrayal on her part. Or so she tried to tell herself. Her heart informed her what nonsense that line of thinking was. Control is the first lesson, and the last, she told herself sternly, as she pushed her emotions firmly aside and engaged the rational part of her brain. She waited in silence for him to explain.
“Inara, I asked you to marry me…”
Not this again. She interrupted. “And I told you—”
“Don’t interrupt. I know damn well what you told me. You told me you were delighted I asked.”
“I never said yes.”
“Don’t interrupt me, Inara. I know you didn’t say yes. You think I don’t know that?” He rounded on her, his eyes flashing with fury.
“Will you listen to me, for a change?”
She was silent, though there were a thousand words that came to her tongue. He’d better have a good explanation, for all the hurt he had caused her.
“I asked you, and you gave me hope. Hope that one day, we might…” He couldn’t continue the sentence, and shook his hand in a frustrated gesture, indicating that he was not finished, as she made to interrupt yet again. “You gave me hope, and you gave me lovin’ such as I never had before. Made me feel like a shiny hero. Made me resolve to endeavor to be worthy of your love. To do whatever it took to work toward that goal. To please you. Then, next thing I know, not a week later, you’re callin’ me names and throwin’ crockery at me—with not a word of explanation—”
“I explained,” she broke in heatedly. “I made myself perfectly clear.”
“Not a word I could understand as to why.”
“Not my fault you couldn’t understand.”
He continued, ignoring her interruption. “And when I asked why—assuming I was at fault, mind—I even said sorry, for what, I don’t know—you wouldn’t even talk to me, not even to tell me off. Just walled yourself off, and tried to break my heart.”
“I wasn’t trying to break your heart.”
“Well, you damn near did!” he exclaimed in a voice that was high and choked.
“Inara, I know I’m an ornery sonuvabitch. I get angry, and mean. I got dark places in me. I’m one messed up 混蛋 húndàn. I gotta be one helluva person to try to live with. But I love you. And when I gave you my heart, I gave you everything. All of me. Ain’t no part of me I’m holding back for somebody else.”
She gave him a significant look full of disbelief.
He met her gaze unflinchingly and returned it with a blazing blue look of high intensity. “So who is it you think I’m two-timing you with?”
She didn’t speak.
“Saffron? Cold as ice and dead crazy on top of it. Surely you don’t still believe I could ever carry on with that evil snake.”
Inara remained silent.
“You can’t believe what you were saying, about me having a girl in every port—if you believe that, you don’t know me at all.” He looked away, pained by the thought that she might not know him well enough to believe him. Then he renewed eye contact and added, “And trust me, the real me is bad enough, without you makin’ up bad things I ain’t done to add to the mix.”
She still wouldn’t speak, but Mal read her face.
“Someone on this ship…you think I’m sleepin’ with a woman on this ship. I—” He broke off, momentarily speechless. I’m sleeping with you, Inara! he thought. You! And only you. And not nobody else. Can’t you understand that?
“Alright, let’s go through it logical,” he began. “River? She’s pleasant enough. And she ain’t crazy all the time. But she’s half my age. And she’s too busy makin’ googly eyes at Ip to look at a mean old man like me. Kaylee? Well, aside from the fact I think of her as a sister, I think Simon would have something to say if’n I tried something on with his girlfr—fiancée. So that leaves…Zoe,” he stated, as the revelation hit him. “You think I’m carryin’ on with Zoe.”
To Inara’s surprise he began to laugh.
“Well, if that don’t beat all…”
“You’re making it sound like it’s an absurd notion.” Inara broke her silence defensively.
“It is an absurd notion.”
“What’s so absurd about it?”
“Inara, what Zoe and I been through together—”
“Well, that’s just it, isn’t it, Mal?” Now it was Inara’s turn for fury. “What you and Zoe have been through together, no one knows except yourselves! Everyone else is left to imagine it! And they have to base their imaginations on the evidence of their senses. Wash chose to trust Zoe, to believe that you weren’t lovers—”
“Well, we ain’t lovers,” he interrupted.
“—despite the evidence to the contrary.”
“Evidence? What the hell evidence you think you have?”
Inara’s silence was filled with righteous anger.
“I won’t stand for this,” Mal spoke with cold fury. “You have something to accuse me of, you tell me, straight up. Don’t damn me without a fair trial.”
Inara made a decision. “On the way from Bandiagara to Beaumonde, I heard you and Zoe, laughing together on the bridge, talking about ‘getting laid’ and—and—how when you met, you weren’t a virgin, and how you had ‘done it, many a time’—”
“Whoa, now, you’re taking things out of context—”
“Mal, you can’t even talk to me about sex! Me! Your lover! And yet you can talk to her?”
Mal let out a deep breath. “Let me explain. I don’t feel comfortable talkin’ about sex.”
“Do you think I’m an idiot? I heard you—”
“Not usually,” he said, leaving his reference completely ambiguous. “But that particular morning—perhaps you recall what we done in bed that night before.” It was a painful subject, now that he knew that even that had been nothing more than Inara playing him with her Companion wiles. He stopped and looked at her, and to his surprise, he saw her eyes grow soft and sensuous, as she recalled that night of seismic waves. Had she felt it, too? Was it more than just ‘techniques’ to her? He needed to focus, focus on the here and now. “I’m not like to forget it,” he continued in a low voice. “It put me in an unusually good mood. Came onto the bridge whistling. Zoe tweaked me on it. Proved to me I ain’t never been in such a good mood since ’07. And we got to talkin’ about old times—an’ she was ribbin’ me about how I used ta be such a straight-laced—anyway, I had to prove her wrong by tellin’ tales on myself. It’s the best mood I seen Zoe in since Wash died. She ain’t had nothing shiny to temper her grief since Miranda, nothin’ except the baby—”
“Right,” Inara said acidly. “The. Baby.”
“What’s wrong with Zoe havin’ a baby?”
“What’s wrong indeed!”
“That baby is Zoe’s one chance at happiness, her salvation from grief—”
“And you’re her savior!”
“What the 地狱 dìyù do you mean? I don’t got nothin’ to do with it.”
“That’s what you say. And I believed it. I believed it right up until I saw you—kissing Zoe’s belly—feeling her up—murmuring sweet nothings—kissing her! And you expect me to believe—”
“You saw that?!”
“Yes. I saw that.” She stared him down, defying him to deny the evidence.
“I thought we were alone,” he said, almost to himself.
Inare sat firmly on her high horse. “And what’s your defense now?”
“It ain’t what you think,” he replied.
“Touching?! Kissing?! How isn’t it what I think?”
“Zoe let me feel the baby kicking,” he explained reasonably. “It was…unbelievable.” His voice took on a note of awe.
“How moving.” Inara spoke sarcastically. “The expectant father feels the first squirmings of his offspring.”
“Expectant…offspring…Inara, you can’t believe that!” he exclaimed as he realized what she meant.
“I can,” she stated coldly.
“Inara, that’s—that’s Wash’s baby! That’s the last bit of Wash Zoe got left. That baby’s precious.”
“Of course your baby’s precious,” she echoed snippily.
“Wash’s baby. Not mine.”
Inara regarded him with skepticism, clearly not completely convinced. He glared right back, holding stubbornly to his line. She didn’t flinch in the slightest.
“The kiss,” she prompted.
“Can’t I give my friend a chaste kiss? Ain’t you never kissed a friend?”
“It’s not right. You and Zoe don’t kiss. You don’t even touch!”
“Right,” he responded heatedly. “Me and Zoe don’t touch. So how is it you suppose we’re doin’ each other without touching?”
Inara’s response was a sound of aggravated frustration.
“I don’t touch Zoe. And she don’t touch me. Except when the situation calls for it. Shoulda been Wash, holdin’ her hand and feeling his child move inside his wife’s belly. Shoulda been Wash, tellin’ her she’s special, that she done good, giving her comfort, lettin’ her know what a marvel she got inside her. Shoulda been Wash, givin’ her a real kiss, a lover’s kiss, and makin’ tender love to his pregnant wife. But she can’t have that no more, and if she chooses to share that little shiny moment with me—a friend, a poor stand-in for the love she lost—what am I gonna say to her but, you done good? And give her what poor comfort a friend can.”
Inara still seemed unconvinced, but she was listening, taking it in. At least it seemed she was not dead set against it.
“Reckon that makes the second time me and Zoe have kissed like that.”
“And the other time?” Inara demanded.
“At her and Wash’s wedding.” Mal turned away. This discussion is over, he told her with a look, and he left the shuttle.
At last—it seemed at last to Mal, although in truth it hadn’t taken any longer than expected, and he’d even shaved four hours off the usual—at last they reached Hektor and were able to rid themselves of both the crates of chickens and Saffron. He was prepared for trouble, perhaps even a hostile welcoming party, but weren’t nobody but an old farmer in a wagon come for the chickens, and no greeter at all for Saffron, who didn’t seem to expect nobody, for that matter. The entire crew turned out united to wish Saffron a fond farewell. Actually, no they didn’t, they turned out to bid her good riddance, and to make sure she didn’t try to pull any last-minute stunts as she got off the boat. Mal watched, with weapon at the ready, until Saffron was away across the spaceport.
The evil snake didn’t waste a moment sightseeing. Within minutes she had contracted passage on a ship that was at point of departure, bound back to Beaumonde. Mal followed Saffron with his eyes as she made her way across the dust of the spaceport and mounted the ladder leading to the hatch of the Gurtsler Paragon spacecraft. He watched her up the ladder, as she clung to the rungs and pushed herself up from the legs and hips, climbing like a girl. He was not satisfied until he saw her enter the ship, the hatch swing shut, and the ship take off into the Black. At last Mal breathed deeply, letting down his guard for the first time in five days. Only then did he proceed with refueling his ship.
A few hours later, as Serenity climbed out into the Black bound for Bernadette, Mal couldn’t shake the image from his mind of Saffron climbing the ladder. Saffron, with her big, round…curves, climbing the ladder up the side of the ship, clinging with her arms and moving from the hips…like a girl. Climbing like a girl. Suddenly a clear image of the Beaumonde saboteur from the security video played in his mind’s eye. Gorrammit! Saffron was the saboteur! And he’d just let her fly off, free as a bird.
屁話 pìhuà [nonsense]
鸟人 niǎorén [asshole, bastard (lit. “bird person”)]
笨蛋 bèndàn [fool (“dumb egg”)]
狐狸 húli [fox]
鸡的 大便 jī de dàbiàn [chicken excrement]
鸡屎 jī shǐ [chicken crap]
神经病 shén jīng bìng [crazy]
王八蛋 wángbādàn [son of a bitch]
混蛋 húndàn [bastard]
地狱 dìyù [hell]
And folks, this will be my last posting for a while. I'm working on the next story, but it's not written yet. Any words of encouragement you have are very welcome. Or comments, or questions, or speculations. Anything to help get the creative juices stirring. Thanks for reading!
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