Verdict - Chapter Two
Sunday, January 15, 2006

An old enemy targets Mal where he's weakest. M/I.


A/N: I used present tense in the first chapter because it fit the mood surrounding Mal and Inara. When I started the second chapter (much more plot-heavy), present tense slowed it down. Hence, there’s a tense switch between the two chapters. Hopefully, it won’t make things sound too strange.


Inara chose Companion Training for a reason. She liked the girls. The hours were good and she could keep to herself. Most importantly, she left Serenity far behind.

(But she had made far better money working as a Companion.)

Maybe it was when Mal slept with Nandi that things changed. Or before. Earlier. Maybe the first time she walked into her shuttle and fell for the ship.

It had been months since she’ d seen a client. Longer since she’d searched for new ones. Sometimes it made her chest ache to think about. Being a Companion was the only thing she knew; ever since she was twelve-years-old. This was what she had been trained to do.

But things changed. Her desire to sleep with men she hardly knew disappeared. It wasn’t just Mal—she felt like the time had come to use her skills in other ways.

Besides, waiting for Mal was an exercise in futility. Every time they took a step forward, he took two steps backwards. There had been no wave goodbye, no words, no look when she disembarked for the Training House. The cold dismissal stung.

Most of all, I want us to stop fighting all the gorram time so we can have five seconds to figure out what in the hell this thing is between us.

“Liar,” she whispered.

Head spinning, Inara opened the first of her suitcases. She yanked open drawers, filling her bags with her favourite dresses, leaving the others behind for the girl. Letters from Kaylee were piled on one side of her desk. She smiled at them, fingering the edges, before wrapping them in a dress and laying it in her bag.

Presents from clients. Expensive trinkets. Golds and diamonds and laces. She had amassed a small fortune over the years.

She dumped all of it in a suitcase.

It’s profitable, this life of a whore… she thought. Life on Serenity—it was different than anything she’d ever known. But she believed. She believed the crew needed her now, more than they ever had before. With Wash gone, with Book gone… she had to be there to counsel them. She grabbed her suitcase and heaved.

Mal needs me most of all.

She turned, the thought still in her mind, and large hands clamped over her mouth and wrists, muffling her startled scream.


“Mal, you’re wanted on the bridge, Sir.”

Mal rolled over and pressed his face into his pillow. “A man can’t even take a nap without having his gorram beauty sleep all disrupted…”

“There’s a wave I think you’re gonna want to answer, Sir.”

Zoe’s tone brought Mal fully awake. He swung his legs over the bed and met Zoe outside his bunk.

“What’s happened?” he asked, buttoning his shirt.

She gave him a flat stare that left him cold. Seven years they fought the Alliance together. Seven years and Mal reckoned there was nobody else in the ‘verse he knew better than Zoe. One look and he knew.


“Niska got her while she was in her quarters, Sir. Walked right into the gorram building, nobody did a damn thing. Had a gun to her head before she noticed anything out of place.”

Mal pushed by her. “What’s he after?”

“You, Sir.”

“Well, yeah, but what else? I ain’t gonna be enough for him, not after that last…” Mal paused, bracing a hand on the wall. “She still alive, Zoe?”

Zoe nodded. “Yes. We play this right, we have a chance at getting her out of this alive.”

“If he—”

“Sir, perhaps you best be letting me take care of this one.”

“Letting you…?” Mal stared at her. “You implyin’ something?”

“Didn’t think I was implying, Sir.”

Mal scowled. “Don’t figure I can leave this one alone, Zoe.”

Zoe nodded. “I know.”

“Inara’s got no part in this.”

Zoe’s eyes regarded him with silent sympathy. Mal swore and turned away, hurrying up to the bridge. Zoe jogged along behind him.

“Sir, listen to me. To pull her out of this, you’ve got to back off some.”

“Back off some?” Mal demanded. “Are you out of your goddam mind?”

Sir!” She grabbed his arm and met his gaze. “As long as Niska don’t know how you feel about Inara, she got a chance. The moment—the moment—he senses the truth, that’ll be the end of her. Now, I ain’t going to let another one of this crew die on my watch, so you can pull yourself together or get the hell off my bridge, we clear?”

Mal opened his mouth. Closed it.

“Sir, I ain’t joking.”

“Yeah, got it.” Mal said and stepped onto the bridge, plastering a large smile on his face.

Niska’s tiny eyes blinked up at him from the counsel.

“You late, Captain. I no like having to wait for you.”

“Yeah, I was hoping that might piss you off.”

“Sir,” Zoe hissed warningly.

Mal waved a hand at her. “I got this covered, alright?”

“Not terribly comforted by that,” she whispered.

Niska examined his nails, wearing a long-suffering expression. “Captain, it appears that I have found something that belongs to you.”

“Heard that rumour myself. Don’t know if I much believe it.”

Niska leaned forward so his entire face was visible on the counsel. “Do you think I’m a stupid man, Captain Reynolds?”

Mal raised his eyebrows and glanced at Zoe. “Is there a right answer to this question?”

“You’re on your own for this one, Sir.”

Niska moved backwards. He gestured with his fingers. “Bring the cargo in.”

Mal clenched his jaw. “Cargo, ” he muttered. “Man’s askin’ for it…”

“Control yourself, Sir,” Zoe said quietly. “Remember what I said before. He’ll try and do his best to push your buttons.”

“You don’t say.”

“Problem, Captain?” Niska asked cheerfully, his teeth gleaming as he grinned.

“None at all,” Mal said. “But I’m startin’ to think you might be bluffing ‘bout all this. Did I happen to mention that you woke me up from a real good nap?”

Niska backed up further, revealing the rest of the room behind him. Mal figured Niska was standing on the bridge of his space station. Young pilots sat in front of blinking screens, their faces blank. Probably followed every one of Niska’s batshit crazy orders, no matter how many people got killed.

“I get new second man since you disposed of the last one. He is making friends with your charming Ambassador. Miss Serra, is it?”

Mal’s gaze shifted to Niska’s beefy henchmen. Must have a plant where they grow ‘em like that, Mal thought bitterly. Don’t matter how many you eviscerate through Serenity’s engine.

Mal tried not to look too closely at Inara. The henchman had a knife at her throat, his mouth wide and close to her ear. Mal allowed himself a quick glance, taking note of the bruise on her cheek, the vulnerability shining in her eyes.

“Ai ya!” Zoe said quietly. “Bastard must’ve roughed her up some.”

Mal made the mistake of meeting Inara’s eyes. He could see her fear and the stirrings of hope. She was depending on him to get her out of this. Anger pooled and tightened. It was the same anger he’d felt during the war as the Alliance poured bullets and grenades down on their trenches. He quickly looked away, focusing on Niska.

“Fancy that. First day off the ship, and you go and get yourself captured.”

“What?” Inara demanded, struggling against her captor. “You think I did this on purpose?”

“Well, it’s still gonna cause me an awful lot of trouble to go and rescue you. Are you aware of how much this man would like to see me dead?”

“Funnily enough, it’s a wish I happen to be sharing at the moment.”

He made the mistake of glancing over at her again. Gorram it. Mal focused back on Niska. “Then perhaps the two of you should exchange notes.”

Inara strained forward. “Don’t worry, we will!”

“My death brings you joy. That’s good. You’ll be needing all the small comforts you can get.”

“At the moment, I’m thinking of several creative scenarios!”

“Hey! I ain’t the one who got himself all captured and tied up!”

Inara’s mouth thinned. “I’m so glad you’ve decided to take the time to fight with me, Mal. I almost made the mistake of hoping you might do something to rescue me.”

“Oddly enough, I ain’t feeling particularly inclined to do much rescuing at the moment. Could be a cause of your winning personality.”

Niska chuckled. “No manners nowadays, not between you young people. Now, let us get on with business, hmm? We are all busy men, Captains Reynolds.”

Inara’s captor shoved her down on the floor. Mal grabbed the back of the pilot’s chair in his hands.

“See what you make me do?” Niska asked, gesturing to Inara. “I no like using violence on women.”

“I’ll bet,” Mal said. “That it’s just the kind of thing that gets you off at night.”

Niska’s henchman planted one heavy foot on Inara’s backside and pushed.

Mal…” Zoe said warningly.

“What do you want, Niska?” he bit out. “Money? Cargo?”

“If he wants you to trade your life for mine,” Inara said, her words slightly muffled. “I certainly hope you’ll oblige him.”

“Will you keep your mouth shut over there?” Mal said. “I know what I’m doing.”

“Again, a real comfort, Sir,” Zoe mumbled.

“I do not know, Malcolm Reynolds, if I make you suffer enough the last time we meet,” Niska said thoughtfully.

“Yeah, I sure can’t wait to revisit those hours of torture.”

“I do not find your humour amusing, Captain,” Niska said.

“Alright,” Mal said, leaning his face into the counsel. “Then let us be truthsome with one another. What do you want?”

“He won’t kill me,” Inara said. “He can’t. Every Companion is held in high esteem by the Guild. Killing me will rain trouble down on you, Niska. Do you want the Alliance to be checking up on the kind of business you run? I assure you, that’s a kind of trouble Captain Reynolds and his crew can’t possibly bring you.”

“Yes,” Niska said. “I have heard of this Guild. Not a very honorable position, is it not? My boys, Miss Serra, have been getting restless as of late. You see how hard they work, no?”

Inara’s eyes cut to Mal. He tried to block out her pleading gaze, clenching the pilot’s chair until his knuckles turned white.

Lao tyen yeh, he thought. Control, control, gorram control…

“On your knees, Miss Serra,” Niska said.

“A Companion is not a common whore,” Inara hissed.

The henchman pulled out a gun.

“You see what I make her do, Captain?” Niska said. “We will trade, you understand?”

Every muscle in Mal’s body was wound tight. He felt his lips move. “This ain’t about her, Niska. This is between you and me. You and me.”

“True,” Niska said. “But I suspect she is very talented at what she does, no? Why not let my boys benefit?”

“Niska, if you want to deal, then I suggest—”

“Captain,” Zoe said, placing a hand on his arm. She pushed him aside and leaned into the monitor. “We’ve heard your threats, Niska. Now what do you want?”


“Did you hear what that gorram son-of-a-bitch said?” Mal hollered. He stomped into the kitchen. He vaguely registered the rest of the crew entering the dining hall behind him.

“Sir, I had to—we know he won’t kill her. At least, not yet—”

“So it don’t matter that he could be raping her? So long as she’s still ALIVE?”

“That ain’t what I said, Captain,” Zoe said.

Mal heard Kaylee give a shriek and he sent a glare in her direction.

“Inara’s bein’ raped?” she rasped. “Cap’n, you ain’t gonna let that happen, are you?”

“Course not,” Mal snapped.

“Not if he can help it, sweetie,” Zoe said.

“I’m armed,” Mal yelled. “So I’d ‘preciate it if you would stop interfering with my goddam orders!”

“That ain’t what I’m doing!” Zoe said. “Captain, we all know you can’t think near clear enough where Inara’s concerned—”

“That ain’t true!”

Jayne snorted. “Okay, Captain.”

“He dealt with you, though, didn’t he?” Simon asked. He placed a hand on Kaylee’s shoulder and squeezed.

“Yeah, he did,” Zoe said.

Kaylee sniffed. “Then Inara’s goin’ to be okay, Cap’n? She goin’ to be just fine?”

“Fine,” River said. “All fine, fine, fine, so long as there’s enough money. No way to tell. Can be a long trip. Long, long, long… trip…”

“No crazy talk!” Mal said. “River, get the hell on up to the bridge and drive this damn boat to the rendez-vouz point. Jayne, strap on Vera, you’re comin’ with me to make the drop. Doc… be on your guard, I got no idea what kind of state Inara’ll be in. Goddam it, Kaylee, stop your cryin’! Tears won’t do anything to help Inara!”

Kaylee’s chest gave a great heave. She hiccupped. “Yes, Cap’n.”

“You still crying!”

“I’m sorry!” she yelled. “I can’t help it! We’re not all so good at hidin’ our emotions as you!”

Mal slammed his fist down on the table. “Kaylee, I got no time to be comforting crying girls, you hear me? I got enough to be getting on with.”

“Yes, Cap’n,” Kaylee said, voice small.

Simon glanced from Mal to Kaylee and back again. “You have no right to talk to her that way.”

Zoe coughed something into her hands that sounded suspiciously like “control!”

“Fine,” Mal said. “We got two hours. Zoe, you have the bridge.”

He turned, intending to stomp off, but Kaylee ran after him.

“Kaylee, I don’t got a lot of patience left, so if you know what’s good for you—”

“Cap’n, I…” she dropped her voice to a whisper. “What did you tell ‘em you’d trade? What is it you’re givin’ up? Must be something really awful…”

Mal sighed. “Not too terrible, Mei-Mei.”

Kaylee’s eyes sparkled as she gazed at him. “It’s yourself, ain’t it? Oh, Cap’n givin’ up your life for Inara!” She sniffed and tried to smile. “Well, I think that’s—that’s very noble of you!”

“Yeah, I’m all heart.”

Kaylee’s eyes widened. “But you’ve got a plan, don’t you? I mean, you ain’t gonna just go down like that. Right?”

“Right,” Mal said. “Don’t you worry, Kaylee. I need you runnin’ my ship. Keep Serenity flyin’ and all will be mighty fine in two hours”

“Yes, sir, Cap’n.” Her chin trembled, but she pulled herself together enough to lean up and kiss his cheek. “You’re a good man, Cap’n.”

Mal never could seem to think of an appropriate comeback when Kaylee went and got all mushy on him. Thankfully, she gave him a shaky smile, rubbed at her cheeks and hurried away.

Mal turned and ran smack into Simon.

“You don’t have a plan, do you?”

“Hell. Not you,” Mal said, pushing by him.

“I’m not stupid, Captain. It’s written all over your face. You’re going to give yourself up for her.”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” Mal said. “Might very well be the smoothest job I ever run. Inara ain’t got no part in this. Niska took her on account of me and that don’t sit too well. I’d do the same for any of you.”

Simon pursed his lips together. “Why don’t I believe you?”

“Because I don’t like you particularly well?” Mal suggested cheerfully. “Now, be kind enough to let a man by, will you? I only got ‘bout two more hours left to live.”

“I want you to know, I think you’re making the right choice. If Niska hurts Inara in any way, you’ll only have yourself to blame.”

“Thanks, Doc. I appreciate that.”

“But…” Simon hesitated. He dropped his voice. “I think it’s fair to say that morale is low. What do you think this crew will go through if you die?”

“Frankly,” Mal said. “I’m hoping I come up with something between then and now. I never did much like dying.” Mal pulled out his gun. “Now will you get out of my gorram way?”

Simon moved.

Mal had taken two steps forward when Jayne clamped a fist on his shoulder. “Lao-tyen, boo. What now?”

“Ain’t just your life you’re givin’ up, is it?” Jayne said.

“Knew I could count on him,” Mal mumbled. “No, Jayne. Ain’t just my life.”

Jayne’s expression darkened. “Mal, you givin’ up some of our money?”

“More like all of it, actually. Is that a problem?”

“Just ‘cause he took your girlfriend, don’t mean—”

“She ain’t my—Jayne, this ain’t up for discussion!”

“Yeah, but Mal… I like havin’ money… makes eatin’ a hell of a lot easier…”

Mal picked Jayne’s hand off his shoulder. “Jayne, when I die, don’t bother cryin’ overly much. Now get the gorram hell out of my way.”

Holstering his gun, Mal stomped off.


Monday, January 16, 2006 12:53 PM


Ai ya! What will Mal come up with??? Poor Inara, her facade is only going to take her so far with the likes of Niska... bad things are in store.... bad things...

So happy to see more Mal/Inara fic.. yay! Keep it up!

Monday, January 23, 2006 5:02 AM


“You don’t have a plan, do you?”
the story of mal's life...



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