Choices - Part 3 A
Monday, November 21, 2005

Inara and Mal share some conversation and more in the saloon of the Chapel of Love.


A/N Have to split this one up, it’s getting too large. Disclaimer stuff says that this is Joss’s ‘Verse, I’m just playin’ here awhile.

Go back and read the Other Parts: 1 2

Choices – Part 3A by 2x2

The saloon was much like any other to Inara’s eye. At least, much like the few she’d been to with Mal in the past; wooden tables and chairs, sawdust on the floor, dark corners and thick smoke – she knew she’d be able to smell it in her hair for a week.

It was still relatively early, by bar standards, and as such, the room was barely a quarter full, only a handful of patrons scattered about at various tables. Gabr’elle pointed out a table near the back and Inara saw Mal slumped over it, a bottle clutched in one hand at an awkward angle.

“Yes, that’s him. Thank-you,” she said, and the other woman gave her a sympathetic smile before disappearing through the red curtains again. Inara took a deep breath to centre her self. She maneuvered through the tables, avoiding the appreciative glances directed her way by the other patrons, and the less than welcoming glares of the working girls who tried to tempt them. She stopped just behind Mal, noting with relief that he seemed to be physically fine, no evidence of having involved himself in any brawls or other fisticuffs since he’d left Serenity, thank heavens for small mercies. She shook her head, clearing her throat to get his attention.

Mal groaned, letting his head droop wearily. “For the last time. I appreciate the offer, but I ain’t interested,” he said, not bothering to look up from his glass.

“Perhaps you should know what the offer is before you turn it down,” teased Inara, smiling as she walked around the table to face him.

He lifted his head and stared up at her through bloodshot eyes, the last person in the Gorram ‘verse he needed to see. “Huh,” he chuckled mirthlessly, shaking his head. “Doin’ your whorin’ here now, are ya? Port in any storm…” he said maliciously.

And just like that, her smile faded.

“You’re drunk,” she said, refusing to be baited and not bothering to correct his misquote.

He leaned back and nodded, slouching against the chair with an indifference that always seemed to infuriate Inara. “That I am,” he agreed. “An’ you’re not. Which begs the question, what are you doin’ here?”

“I came to make sure you were all right. That you weren’t doing something stupid, though I see I’m too late for that,” she said sternly.

“Well, ain’t that somethin’. When did my life get all so darn interestin’? One might start thinkin’ you gave a fei fei de pi yan, if he didn’t know better.” Mal’s lips curled into a derisive smirk. “’Didn’t know you cared.”

Inara drew in a steadying breath, letting it free in a sigh. “Mal…You know that’s not tr--”

“Somethin’ else I can help you with, Inara?” he interrupted her harshly. “’Cause, as you can see, I got a prior commitment with this here bottle, and I ain’t of a mind to put that off just now.”

Fine. Leave him to it, her head told her, and a petulant part of her wanted to. But another part, the part she normally kept deeply buried that had been growing dangerously close to the surface lately, wouldn’t let her.

With resolute patience Inara pressed her lips together and counted to ten silently, determined not to fight with him for once. She pulled a chair out and sat, placing her hands palms-down halfway across the table toward him in conciliation. He looked away in annoyance.

“Mal, what are you doing here?” she pressed earnestly, trying to reach him.

His eyes returned to her and he flashed that mocking smirk she both loved and loathed. “I think that’s plain by the bottle and the glass--” he said facetiously, holding up each in turn to demonstrate.

“You know what I mean!” she snapped, bringing her hand down on the table with a smack, her frustration getting the better of her. She closed her eyes briefly, regaining her control. “This isn’t you, Mal. Coming to a … a whorehouse and getting drunk like a--”

His eyes darkened, his expression tightening into anger. “Like what? Like some bēi wēi xiăo tōu? Wasn’t that it, Inara? Petty thief? Figure I might as well start livin’ down to my reputation…” He took a long drink of something amber, letting the glass slam down on the table with a wince.

She dropped her gaze and leaned back against the chair wearily, knowing she had to try to heal this particular wound. “Mal…,” she sighed, looking up to meet his eyes. She stared at him quietly for a moment before turning away slightly. “You aren’t petty,” she said, her voice soft, the apology coming with difficulty. “I’m sorry I ever said that to you, but…” she let out a huff of aggravation, remembered hurt and anger finding its way into her voice. “Did you honestly expect me to just sit there and take your insults without ever returning them? Was I supposed to just let you call me a whore and smile pretty? … Your words hurt just as much as mine.”

Mal blinked slowly and he dropped his gaze into his glass, saying nothing for so long that Inara wondered if he’d fallen asleep. She leaned forward, intent on nudging him awake, when he finally spoke.

“You cut me down, Inara, with your little... needles,” he whispered, his voice rough. “…always makin’ sure that I know you’re better’n me. Rubbin’ my face in it.”

She sat back and stared at him, astounded. “I do not!”

His eyes lifted to meet hers angrily. “You do too!” he said, arguing with drunken reason. “Everything you are … I know I…” he let out an anguished breath. “I know I ain’t good enou—“

“I’m not the one who said you weren’t good enough, Mal! That was you!” she snapped in exasperation.

A heavy silence settled over the table as Inara realized her mistake, staring across at Mal in sudden horror. Mal’s brow furrowed and he stared hard at her, full of suspicion and perplexity. “Huh. Now that’s somethin’ I don’t’ believe I ever said to you before, Inara…”

She swallowed, fighting to maintain her composure, praying to Buddha that she was not going to have to explain. “I… I didn’t say you did--” she stammered, hoping he’d let it go. He was drunk, but in her limited experience, she knew he could be deceptively lucid when under the influence. She guiltily hoped that this would not be one of those times.

“Then when exactly was it you heard me say that?” he demanded, his eyes startlingly clear, and she cursed inwardly.

“Nowhere – er-ah, when--” she shook her head. “I didn’t… Would you like another drink? Your glass is empty,” she diverted, reaching for the bottle of alcohol. “Here, let me pour you--”

“Inara,” Mal ground out. He caught the bottle, his hand wrapping around hers, and forced it back to the table fiercely.

She gasped and stared at him in shock, trembling at his touch. He stared back at her, nostrils flaring slightly with each exhalation, chest heaving. Sensing the escalating peril of their contact, she tried to pull away but his hand tightened on hers, his eyes dropping to the bottle where they touched. Inara felt her own breathing turn heavy, a slow burn of desire spreading within her as they stared at their entangled fingers; his, large and powerful, gripping hers, small and delicate. His thumb slowly and subtly traced her knuckle and she drew in a shaky breath, afraid of the sensations such a simple action aroused in her. She could feel the desire roiling in him, was trained to notice; felt her own coiling low in her abdomen, and she snatched her hand back hastily. Mal blinked and looked back at her, his eyes a jumble of emotions – desire, disappointment, regret…resignation. He looked away and Inara felt her throat tighten with the sudden threat of tears.

“Mal--” she breathed, a plea in her voice, for what, not even she knew exactly.

He swallowed visibly, moving his hand from the bottle to his near-empty glass, swirling the last dregs of alcohol around in its bottom. With jerky movements, he brought the glass to his lips and tipped his head back, feeling the burn of the fire-y liquid like bitter tears in the back of his throat. He sighed, smoothing his hand over his face wearily. “What do you want from me, Inara?” he asked finally.

What I can’t have, she bemoaned silently, forcing her eyes away from him. “Nothing, I--”

He snorted, shaking his head at himself in self-deprecation. “Ask a stupid question,” he mumbled.

“I heard you, earlier… in my shuttle,” she started, hesitantly. “I saw you--”

He stared up at her in anxiety that quickly gave way to anger. “Ta shi suo you di yu de biao zi de ma, you spyin’ on me?”

“You were in my shuttle--” she retorted defensively.

“And you stood there watchin’!” he roared, furious.

“I didn’t mean—Mal…” She sighed in defeat and nodded. “I hid. I didn’t want to interrupt. You would’ve been embarrassed if you’d known I was there,” she implored.

“That’d be as opposed to how I’m feelin’ about it all right now, then?” She looked away.

Ai ya, how much did you see?”

She shook her head, looking anywhere but at him. “It’s not important—“

He grunted in disgust. “All of it, then.”

“I don’t know. I… I got back just before you left…. Mal—“

“Well, this is a topic I feel I have discussed enough for one day,” he said, pouring another glass of amber liquid and throwing it back in one smooth motion that belied his inebriated state. He poured another and set the glass down firmly in front of Inara. “Conjure you could probably use one of these yourself,” he said and motioned for her to drink.

She hesitated.

“Drink it. Inara… You can have one drink with me,” he wheedled.

She sighed and gave in, reaching for the glass. She gave him a look that said she knew she’d probably regret it, then drained the glass in one go. “Augh!” she coughed, bringing her hand to her lips with a grimace. “Wo de tien a, what is this?” she sputtered, making a face at the bitter taste.

“Whore’s Tears they call it. Brew it themselves. ‘S a mighty fine kick, don’t it?” said Mal, refilling the glass and downing it with a wheeze.

“It’s fantastic,” she said drolly. He smiled and topped it up again, placing it back in front of Inara. “Mal…” she said, shaking her head.

“Drink,” he said, blinking at her through blurry eyes. She frowned but picked up the glass and with a fortifying breath, poured the fire-y liquid down her throat. She grasped at her chest as the burn spread throughout her esophagus, blinking away tears rapidly. “Ren ci de Fo zu!” she exclaimed and Mal laughed warmly, the sound sending a warm buzz down her spine. She smiled tentatively at him and he grinned back, setting them up again, draining his glass and filling it for her once more, nearly emptying the bottle.

She shook her head, already feeling the effects of the alcohol. “I can’t,” she held her hand out, warding away the glass.

“Take it,” cajoled Mal, pressing it into her fingers.

“Mal, no…” she protested. He smiled and patted her hand.

“You can do it, ‘Nara…” he whispered, and nodded to her.

She closed her eyes and swallowed, her throat suddenly tight. Then, letting out a breath she tipped her head back in a rush and poured the third glass into her mouth, a trickle escaping to dribble over her lips. She had to lean forward to catch it, her mouth bursting with the liquid until she finally forced it down. This time she coughed, choking on some that went down the wrong pipe.

* * * * * Chinese Translations: xiăo tōu = thief (n) bēi wēi = petty ai ya = damn fei fei de pi yan = baboon’s ass crack Ta shi suo you di yu de biao zi de ma = whores in hell Ren ci de Fo zu! = merciful buddha

Go to Part 3B


Monday, November 21, 2005 7:51 PM


Please tell me that you have Part B already written and you are just being sadistic and making us wait! I NEED PART B!! I'm not above begging!

Monday, November 21, 2005 8:16 PM


no no no no no!!!!! I want more! Don't be evil!

Totally hooked, and need more please!

Monday, November 21, 2005 8:54 PM


Ah! Curses on you for stopping it THERE! Just kidding about the curses, how could I do that to a brilliant writer such as yourself? PLEASE update this ASAP! *begs* Please? Fantabulous job, can't wait for Part 3b! *grin*

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 1:50 AM


more, more!


Tuesday, November 22, 2005 3:10 AM


Ooh, great continuation!!

I'm sort of ignoring the whole "Mal talked out loud to himself" thing,because... who does that? But I like the way you are spinning this out, how you carry the mood.

Mal and Inara drinking together.. that's so adorable! Her heartache of the earlier chapter is still present, but it's being dispelled a bit by Mal's own befuddled, angry misery.

I like this story a lot, it's always getting better.

So, where's partB? :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 3:12 AM


That ended too soon! Why the good gorram would you want to stop just as you are getting into the swing of it? Oh this is just too mean... Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 11:13 AM


I promise Part B will come as soon as I finish it...
And no, I'm sorry, but I don't already have it written, just the outline done.
But I'm working on it everyday, and I didn't want to leave everyone with nothing, so I posted the first half of 3 for you to tide you over ;o)

Thanks *SO* much for the positive comments... you guys are the best!! I will work twice as hard now to get part B done, just for you all!!!

Friday, December 1, 2006 7:50 PM


Your characterizations are phenomenal!


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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.