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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
A dark night on Serenity forces Inara and Mal to face some difficult truths. AU, set shortly after the events of the series. Rated R.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 4426 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
So. This is the beginning of my Mal/Inara "epic," hints of which have appeared in some of the shorter stories I've already posted here. This dates from two years ago, after Firefly was cancelled, and even before we knew for sure we'd have the DVDs, let alone a Big Damn Movie.
Things might have played out this way after "Objects In Space..."
No archiving, please,
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction. No infringement is intended on the rights of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, or 20th Century Fox TV. The space monkeys wouldn't leave me alone till I did this. (c) HawkMoth, 3/15/03.
"As Dreams Are Made On"
The client wants to buy her clothes.
This is not unusual. She has several favored clients--ones she sees on a schedule, ones who contract merely for social occasions--who do this. "Let me take you shopping, my dear." It gives them pleasure, so it pleases her. Sometimes there is more afterwards, sometimes not.
He has taken her to an exclusive fashion house, and engaged a private viewing room. Soft music plays, almost subliminally. The air is delicately scented, the lighting designed to flatter anyone. Two models are summoned, who match her closely enough in height, build and coloring. Dresses are brought out; ball gowns, tea gowns, robes and lounging suits. The models walk and pause and preen.
After careful deliberation, he chooses an outfit. It's not a color or style she'd ever pick for herself. But the fabric--she runs it through her fingers as the model waits, poised in a turn, eyes far away. The fabric shimmers in the light. It has a texture like nothing she has ever felt before, like mist, like a cloud.
He wants to see it on her. She nods in graceful acquiescence, and follows the model and the consultant to the changing room. The top is full and flowing, long-sleeved--something like a simple blouse Zoe once wore, but elegant in its way. The skirt falls in long pleats to her toes. The color is elusive--cream shot through with mauve, underlaid with hints of gold. The consultant pulls her hair back, tying it loosely with a matching band.
She pauses in front of the mirror, and likes what she sees. "Such a pretty girl," a voice whispers from the past. "So much promise." "She will grace our annals forever," says another.
"No matter what you do, or where you go, this is what you will always be," comes a final admonition in her mind.
The client is waiting. She steps into view, trying not to show how show much she likes it, how delicious the fabric feels on her skin. Somehow he knew she would look like a goddess in this.
She finds the perfect place to stand, where the light will enhance the picture she is. He nods, smiling, very pleased. He stands, and walks around her, to study her from all sides. She waits.
Then his hand is on her shoulder, which startles her. He is not a toucher, not outside of their private moments. The fabric moves against her, whispering along her skin, almost alive. His hand is warm as it traces down her arm, the sensation of being touched by two things almost unbearable. She is trembling and she doesn't know why.
His other hand is at her neck, playing gently with her hair. Then strong fingers glide down her back, across one hip, and new tremors of pleasure thrill her. She should protest, remind him of the propriety they're both ignoring, but she can't. It doesn't matter, they are suddenly alone in the room, while the music plays on and the perfumed air hardly stirs.
Something is different. She turns, under that searching touch. The client is gone. Mal stands there, holding her. His hands, now cupped around her shoulders. His eyes, drinking her in. His scent, leather and sweat, all around her.
She cannot move. His hands stray along her arms, and the fabric dances against her skin once more. She is shaking now, with pleasure, with fear, with joy.
He takes her hand. "Come with me."
Willingly she follows him, into an empty street. It is night, and they are alone except for the stars blazing down from the black.
"This is how it is." He pulls her close, crushing the cloud-soft fabric of her pretty dress, crushing her to him. He is strong, as she always knew he was, but this isn't right--not this rough, brutal show of power. Not the bruising kiss, as his lips and teeth ravage her mouth. Not his hands on her arms, like bands of cera-steel cutting deep. Mal would never--a whimper rises in her throat as he grinds against her with raw, unbridled lust.
He breaks away, smiling ferally at her fear. His knee drives in between her thighs, and he laughs, his eyes darker than she's ever seen them. Dark and demon-ridden.
"Mal, no, please--" This isn't right--he would never hurt her. She resists and reacts the way she was taught, the first lesson learned when they were still just school girls--if possible, never be taken. Fight, fight back. Protect yourself, disable the attacker.
They struggle, his strength overwhelming. He forces another brutal kiss on her, and she rakes at his face with her nails. They twist and turn, and now he's holding her with her back against him, an arm locked around her neck. "You whore," he snarls, and it's not Mal's voice anymore. "You drove me to this!"
Rage infuses her and she bends her head, sinking her teeth into his wrist. Blood pours out and he howls in her ear--
Inara awoke to hear her own scream echoing in the shuttle.
The sheets and coverlet were twisted around her legs. The pillow, crumpled in her arms, was damp with sweat and tears she must have shed in her sleep. Heart still pounding, she sat up, fumbling for the lamp, as her breath came in desperate, terrified gasps.
Merciful Buddha. The light came up full, driving away the shadows. She began to chant in her head, counting her breaths as she strove for calmness. Dreams are a window to the soul, they'd been taught. What do you see?
Not Mal--not ever like that. She brushed a hand across her lips gingerly, as if they might still burn from those monstrous kisses. No, not Mal--somehow, it had been his face, on someone else.
Because she'd forgotten what the other one looked Erased his face from her memory years ago. He didn't exist. Dead and gone.
But he'd left his mark, hadn't he? It had been his voice in the dream that had called her whore.
In the warm light of the lamp, Inara pulled the covers up around her, shivering. It had been years since he had plagued her dreams. "You're dead, Duncan," she whispered. "Leave me alone."
A loud, sharp rap at the shuttle door made her jump, her nerves still shattered from the nightmare. She clutched tighter at the covers, afraid to move or make a sound.
"Inara? You okay in there?"
Mal. Relief flooded through her, followed by an all too familiar annoyance, tinged with lingering fear from the nightmare.
There was another loud persistent knock. "Inara. What the hell's going on? Open the damn door."
He'd insisted on installing a special security lock for her shuttle, one of several precautions taken around the ship after their near-disastrous encounter with Jubal Early. Once it was engaged, it could only be opened from the inside, or by a coded signal from the bridge.
"Inara, I ain't askin' again. Open up."
There'd be real trouble if she didn't obey that tone of voice. She quickly untangled herself from the bed clothes, and snatched up her robe as she hurried to the door.
It slid open after she disabled the lock. Mal stood there, still dressed despite the late hour. He'd long had the habit of walking Serenity after everyone else had turned in, but recently it had become more like an obsession, as he roamed the ship for hours at night. They were all beginning to wonder if he was getting any sleep lately.
He dropped the hand that had been raised to pound on the door again and stared at her, his brow furrowed. "You okay?" he asked tersely. He must have been walking nearby, and heard her cries.
Inara took a step back, smoothing the front of her robe with feigned nonchalance. "Yes--yes, I'm fine," she lied.
"Huh." He frowned, and moved one step inside. "That's funny, 'cause I coulda sworn I heard something from in here--like something had scared you half to death."
You did, she almost blurted out before her self-control kicked in. "It was just--I dropped the incense burner, and it startled me," she improvised. "That's all. I'm sorry if it alarmed you," she added impassively.
"Uh-huh." He took another step inside, ignoring her look of vexation, and glanced around, immediately taking in the rumpled bed. "Sleepwalking, were ya?" he asked insolently.
Inara felt her jaw clench. He'd come here because he was obviously concerned for her, but he couldn't be--decent about it, could he? Yet why would he bother, when he knew she was lying to him?
This was just the same sorry dance they always engaged in--with all the missteps and bad timing. Even when they managed somehow to get things right, something always went wrong. Anytime they were nice to each other for more than five minutes, it was a miracle.
"Mal--" He was still scowling at her, and for a moment all the dark brutality she'd seen in her dream seemed to surface in his eyes. She shuddered, a cold knot of fear in her stomach. He would never--quickly she regained her control. "I'm fine, Mal. Thank you for your concern."
His face went blank for a moment. Then he strode past her to the door. "Yeah, well--I don't care to hear people screaming on my boat in the middle of the night," he said caustically. "Makes me a bit tetchy."
"What doesn't?" she said, the words out before she knew it.
A look of genuine hurt flashed across Mal's face, and Inara blushed with shame. Without another word, he turned on his heel and stormed out, closing the door from his side.
Despair filled her as she stared at the cold metal of the door. There would always be barriers between them, dividing them. His ideals, her profession. His sense of duty, her sense of self. The doubts and fears and past hurts that haunted each of them. Too many obstacles.
A voice rose up in her memory.
"A Companion chooses a client based on compatibility of spirit. You must like those you choose. You may even feel some small bit of affection for a few. But the moment you fall prey to love, your career is over."
By those rules, Inara had ceased to be a true Companion months ago.
She put a hand to her mouth, fighting back tears. It had been Serenity first, then her motley crew. Falling in love with Malcolm Reynolds had been the biggest mistake of all.
No--not leaving the last time she'd threatened to had been her worst mistake. But that was partly Mal's fault, wasn't it? Taking Serenity far out of even the most limited trade routes--had he it done it for reasons of safety, or to punish her?
Ai-ya. She threw herself back on the bed, grasping the pillow to smother her tears. Would she ever know what he wanted from her, what his true feelings for her were? They continually shied away from every opportunity they might have for confession, lying to each other, lying to themselves...lost in the woods, like frightened children.
The tears wouldn't stop. She cried for herself, for the pride and fear that kept her from reaching out to Mal. For his pride, and the wounds that still marred his soul, the darkness he could never seem to escape...the sobs wracked her body, exhausting her...
Darkness, in Mal's eyes, in Duncan's eyes...
Blood everywhere, Duncan dead at her feet. The lawmen crowd around her, respectful but insistent, asking questions she cannot answer. They give way to the Priestess, to her loving sisters, who take her away from the madness, to comfort and care for her.
It takes time, but she recovers and carries on. She will not quit. A dead man cannot take away who or what she is.
But night after night he invades her dreams, calling her whore and worse as the blood pours out and she wakes up screaming....
"Inara!" Duncan waving a gun in the foyer of the House, screaming for her--
Blood and darkness... Mal bleeding from so many wounds as she helps him back to Serenity after the duel, smiling in spite of the pain. Battered and torn when they bring him back from Niska's skyplex, smiling weakly when anyone looks at him, somber when caught unawares. Bitter and hard when they both lose Nandi, and she declares she's leaving; distant and edgy after sending Early into the black.
"Inara!" Atherton showing his true, vile nature when faced with a better man--
A captain walking alone through all the dark hours of his ship, while she dreams of him, and the blood of old wounds, the darkness all around her, around him....
She felt hands on her, reaching out of the dark, shaking her roughly, and she screamed.
"Inara--come on, honey, wake the hell up!"
"No, no!" She tried to fight him, but he was too strong. Then the darkness lifted as she bolted upright and came fully awake, struggling in Mal's arms. His face was pale and grim as he tried to hold her still on the bed.
"That's it, c'mon, look at me, Inara...." he said, in the same desperate, soothing tone Simon always used when River had a bad spell. "It's okay, you're awake now. Just relax, and breathe deep...."
He shifted his hold on her, and shaking with relief Inara collapsed against him. The nightmare images slowly receded as he held her close, and she tried to obey him, breathing deeply, willing herself to be calm. "Mal," she whispered, laying a trembling hand on his arm to make sure he was really there, that she wasn't still dreaming.
"Wu de mah," he said, putting a hand over hers. "That musta been some nightmare. Good thing you didn't lock the door after I left, or you might've screamed the whole boat awake 'fore I got in here."
Yes, she was awake, and this was Mal, comforting and chastising her all at once. She sat up again, leaving the protection of his embrace and scrubbed at her face, trying to wipe away the tension and the tears. How had he heard her again? Had he come back to check on her?
"Thank you," she said quickly, unable to look at him. Having him so near was making her uneasy in too many different ways. She slid past him to the edge of the bed and pushed herself to her feet.
"Hey--" he protested, trying to stop her.
She shied from his outstretched hand, stepping away from the bed. "I'm fine, Mal," she insisted. "I just need--" But as she took another step, a wave of nausea hit her and her knees went weak.
Mal jumped up and grabbed her before she fell. "Whoa now, just take it easy," he said worriedly, guiding her to the bench before her dressing table and sitting her down. He kept one steadying hand on her shoulder for a second, hovering anxiously.
Inara pulled her rumpled robe more tightly around her, trying to compose herself. "I'm fine," she repeated, not looking at him.
"You ain't. Stay put," he ordered brusquely. He moved off to the shuttle's small recessed galley and came back with a glass of water. He handed it to her without a word, then pulled up the stool so he was sitting just in front of her, his hands gripping the edge of the seat.
She sipped the water gratefully, her eyes half shut. But she could see him studying her, with that closed-in expression that meant he didn't much care for his thoughts. Sighing to herself, she finished the water and carefully placed the glass on the table, enduring his silent scrutiny. "Thank you," she murmured again.
He leaned back slightly. "You feel like talkin' about it?"
Her heart started pounding. "It--it was just a dream." In which he had played a terrifying part. "I'll be all right, Mal. I--can do some meditation exercises. Thank you, for--helping, but you don't have to stay."
He looked a little stung by the polite dismissal, but he didn't move. "You sure? I've sat up more than a few nights with Zoe, talking each other down from bad dreams. It helps more often than not."
Inara was taken aback by the casual admission. He never alluded to the aftereffects of their war experiences on himself and his first mate. That he cared enough to do so now touched and frightened her. To rebuff such consideration would surely drive yet another wedge between them.
She folded her hands in her lap and took a deep breath. Mal took that as a sign of acquiescence and nodded encouragingly. "Go on--talk. I'll just listen."
Somehow, she doubted that. "You knew, earlier, didn't you--that I was dreaming then, too?"
"Yeah. Something really bad, I figure, to hit you twice in one night. Wasn't about that sishengzi Early, was it?"
Inara shook her head.
"But... something that's troubled you before?"
She twisted her hands together, trying to find the right words. "Yes, but not in years. It happened a long time ago...."
Mal frowned. "Something that happened... with a customer?" he asked uneasily.
"Yes. He--he was one of the first men I contracted with. A soldier--an officer...."
The nightmares had rendered long-displaced memories disturbingly vivid and Inara saw him all too clearly: Major Duncan Shaw. A soldier's soldier, newly arrived from Ariel. She had never met anyone like him--never in her training, not once during apprenticeship. Tall and dark; his handsome, sculpted face so oddly expressive. Strong, but with a deft touch. Solemn eyes, but a ready laugh. A seemingly irresistible man.
"Alliance," Mal growled. "This happen during the war?"
"No, before," she answered. "But he... he wasn't right...."
"Huh. And that's who you were dreaming about?"
She nodded quickly. No power in the 'verse could make her mention Mal's presence in the nightmares. "We met on Sihnon at a military ball...."
Haltingly she began an account of her ill-fated relationship with Duncan Shaw. Mal listened attentively, his expression betraying little reaction as she related only the most relevant facts, while all the wretched details played out fully in her mind....
He had spied her on the arm of a brother officer and requested the favor of a dance. She had been charmed in an instant. He was witty and sardonic, playing by all the rules of society while quietly mocking them when no one else could hear. Soon she felt as if the entire 'verse was one big joke only the two of them got.
The very next day, he sought her out through the Guild, and engaged her for a dinner party. The following evening he invited her to the theater. Two days later he came to see her and made an astounding offer--a six-month contract with an extension option, to live in his quarters at the Alliance compound outside the capital as his exclusive Companion.
It was an extremely flattering prospect that sorely tempted her, for she enjoyed his company immensely. Initiates were warned about taking on extended contracts at a young age, as such liaisons were deemed not seemly for the newly-consecrated. Inara sought advice from her teachers and made a counteroffer--a week-long trial period, to see if they really were compatible. He agreed, eagerly.
The officer she had been seeing previously told her to tread carefully, for no one ever quite knew what Major Shaw was thinking. Alone, she laughed the warning off as jealousy. She had graduated at the top of her class. No man was a match for her skills.
Within two days, she realized she had made a dreadful mistake.
The first night was incredible. He had an energy and drive in bed that was amazing. He took her shopping the next day, plying her with lavish gifts. But at dinner that night, they argued over ridiculously trivial matters. Later, in bed, what she had perceived as unbound passion the night before revealed itself to be something much darker, more disturbing.
She awoke sore and bruised, leaving him sprawled asleep as she called the House and asked for help. An older, wiser sister might have been able to cope--or perhaps not; but Inara knew this was a situation she could not handle. The House masters came for her quickly, politely ignoring Duncan's apologies and pleas which turned with terrifying swiftness to curses and threats.
"--and when I returned to the House I thought--that would be the end of it." The burning ache in her throat forced Inara to stop, uncertain if she could finish. Mal's face still showed little emotion, but she had sensed the growing tension in him as her story unfolded.
"But it wasn't over?" he prompted when she didn't continue, his voice dangerously soft.
"No," she answered, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. "He was given a warning, but he disobeyed his orders and the Guild injunction to stay away from me."
His knuckles had gone white where they gripped the edge of the stool. "He came after you?"
"Not--right away. Gifts and flowers started arriving at the House a week later, several times a day. The Guild sent a protest to his commanding officer, but they couldn't find him. Then the calls started, and waves, so many that the House comm system was crashed. It was terrifying--for all of us," she said, shivering as she recalled how the tranquility of House Madrassa had been shattered by such unaccustomed fear. "They sent me away to another House in secret, to take refuge, but it wasn't--it didn't do any good."
"He snatched you." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," she told him, her heart racing. "He had a gun, and threatened to kill anyone who tried to stop him."
"Rutting bastard." Mal shot to his feet, his face a mask of cold fury. "Did he hurt you?"
Inara lowered her eyes and nodded. He had taken her to a dingy room in a dockside hostel, hitting her when she tried to reason with him, promising to go back to the House and kill as many Companions as he could when she tried to fight him. For over an hour he had terrorized and abused her.
"Did he rape you?"
The grievous anger in his voice tore at her heart. "He--I think he would have tried, but the law found us, before he--"
"What did they do with him?" he cut her off vehemently, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. "Gorram Feds. Did they stick him in some cozy Alliance prison, to 'rehabilitate' him?"
She flinched away from his wrath. "No... he–he shot himself, before--before they could take him."
He stared at her, horrified. "While he still had you."
"Yes," she whispered, shutting her eyes tightly, trying not to see the blood. He had held the gun to her temple first, calling her whore, screaming threats at the lawmen before turning the gun on himself.
"Son of a bitch." His hand rested on her shoulder for just a second. When she looked up he had moved away, his gaze focused on the ornate drapes covering the far wall. "They ever tell you what was wrong with him; why he went crazy?"
"They said it was stress--that career men sometimes snapped. There was a formal apology, and monetary compensation for both Houses and myself, and that was the end of it as far as the military was concerned."
Mal whipped around, his mouth set in a hard line. "And that's how it was? You just took their blood money and went on with 'business'?" he asked bitterly.
She sat up straight and looked him right in the eye. "Yes," she answered defiantly. "It was the life I chose, and I chose to go on with it, no matter what." She chose not to tell him about the long months of therapy and counseling, nor how long it took after that before Duncan stopped invading her dreams. After tonight he'd have enough of an idea of the scars she still bore.
They regarded each other in stony silence for several minutes. Mal backed down first, though she knew he was still seething inwardly, crossing his arms and turning away. Inara rubbed her temples, striving for calm, wishing this night had never happened.
It was Mal who finally relented and broke the silence. "You ain't let go of it yet," he said, looking down at the floor.
Inara sighed. "I know," she agreed readily. "I thought I had, long ago, but some things never truly leave you."
"Did you truly believe their story about him?"
"At the time I did, and it was best not to question what we were told. But I did find out the truth, years later."
He half-turned to her, one eyebrow raised. "How?"
"It was after the war... I met another officer I'd been friends with at the time. He had found out the truth himself and told me, because he felt I had the right to know. Duncan--had been part of a special unit, involved in highly covert operations. They had been sent out to the fringes to investigate reports of lost ships and failed colonies. Traders were coming back from the border with strange stories about strange men...."
Mal turned to face her fully, his eyes gone cold. "Reavers."
The mere word evoked the same harrowing chill in her. "He couldn't give me many details. It was classified information." Sometimes she wished she had never been told.
"Huh," he said derisively. "I can't see the all-knowing Alliance wasting time and men huntin' down something they can't even admit exists. You were being fed a load of gou pi by your so-called friend."
She shook her head impatiently. "He wasn't lying to me, Mal. And I had to piece most of it together from the things he wouldn't tell me. Enough rumors were filtering in from the Rim at that time to make some of the High Command very nervous. I don't know where they went, or what they saw, but I was given the impression that it didn't go according to plan."
"You think they covered it up after?" Mal asked dubiously.
"If it was a failure, yes." Her opinion of the Alliance had changed considerably over the years, long before exposure to Mal's views. "If someone higher up decided there wasn't really a threat to the Central Planets, it would have all been dismissed. Conveniently forgotten."
He let out a bitter laugh. "Yeah, that sounds like their brand of stupidity. Or maybe the mission just got aborted, before they got far enough out to get any hard proof they were after something real."
Inara clenched her hands in frustration. "They must have seen something real enough. The one thing my friend did tell me outright was that the men on the mission went to hell and back, and that some of them... left a part of their soul behind." She gazed up at him, willing him to believe her. "And I saw that in Duncan Shaw, at the end," she said hollowly.
"Ta ma de," Mal muttered under his breath. He took a step toward her, then stopped, rubbing fitfully at his face. "Bastards sent them out there, and didn't care how they came back. Let the darkness take them." He looked away, staring at some far-off thing only he could see. "You look too close at the dark, and it swallows you up. Sometimes it spits you back out, in pieces."
His voice sank to a strained whisper. "You follow orders, do your best and it ain't ever enough."
The chill deepened in Inara's heart as she realized he was no longer talking about Duncan Shaw. Mal had memories of his own hell constantly threatening to consume him, which he fought against every day of his life. But she knew what a struggle it was, and feared that someday he would stop fighting, and let the darkness take him, as it had taken Duncan.
Lao tian! Was that why the two men had seemed as one in her dream? She had never doubted that Malcolm Reynolds was a dangerous man, but she had always sensed the inherent goodness in him. Yet she had seen him pushed beyond intolerable limits too many times in the past few months, and every man--even the strongest, the most innately decent and honorable--had a breaking point.
If Mal ever reached that point--gave up the battle and was taken--would he take his ship and crew with him into the ultimate darkness?
Would she ever be brave enough to give up her entire life for him--ever have enough strength, enough love, to pull him back from the brink?
He hadn't moved, standing before her as still as death, breathing heavily, his head hung low. Slowly, he glanced up and saw her watching him, her eyes wide and fearful. He stared back, his face void of all emotion. "Why'd you dream about him now, after all this time?"
His voice was like ice. It lashed against her, making her tremble. "Mal, I--"
Crouching down in front of her, he raked her with a desperate, searching look. "What the hell are you thinking--that him and me, we're two of a kind? That I'd ever do anything like that, cause you that much pain--"
He lifted a hand entreatingly but she shrank away from his touch, remembering all the times he had hurt her. Not like Duncan, no, not ever--but there were other kinds of pain.
Which she had dealt back to him in kind, more than once.
Mal dropped his hand, staring at her mutely, his eyes burning. She turned away, hot with shame. They were both locked inside their own prisons of fearful pride, knowing too well the bitter truth of what they had done to each other over the past year.
Slowly, Mal stood up. "I have hurt you," he said, his voice full of self-loathing. "Called you names--shamed you in front of the crew, in front of strangers." He took in a long, shuddering breath. "But if I ever tried--if I ever did anything worse to you, I hope to hell you'd have the guts to take a gun and put me out of my misery."
He turned and walked stiffly to the door, without looking back.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005 7:01 AM
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