Finding Common Ground
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mal and Inara share the late night vigil of flying Serenity a month after the events on Miranda, opening up a well of emotion.


Serenity was quiet, only a soft mechanical hum of metal vibrating and power charging disturbing the air. Mal let his hand drift over her side as he walked up to the bridge, his blue eyes soft and loving as he gave the metal a pat. River and Mal had both taken to piloting the ship even when auto-pilot would have done the same job. He didn't rightly know River's motives, but he himself couldn't sleep well with the thought of trusting Serenity's proximity warnings to tell them a few seconds too late that they might be getting snuck up on.

He had been edgy for a long time now.

Tired as he was, Mal came topside to relieve River of her shift, grumbling to himself about a lack of sleep as he checked the crew’s quarters one at a time. Each firmly locked and secure, though he doubted Kaylee was alone in her bunk. As he passed Zoë’s, he caught sight of Wash’s name still emblazoned on there. No, Zoë wasn’t alone either. Probably would never be, the way she was likely to carry the ghost of her husband with her. In a way, it was akin to the nights Mal spent dreaming of a mixture of jasmine and silk and the days when he could still hear the screams of Serenity Valley.

He noticed immediately that it wasn’t River at the controls. The movements were not like River’s, which were often fast and incredibly certain for a girl her age. Mal had long since given up being surprised by the things River could do. Instead, the movements seemed to exude an air of grace and control that he knew only one person could give off so clearly in a world being torn apart.

Inara didn’t turn around at his entry, didn’t seem to move at all even though the occasionally light would blink to demand her attention. Mal focussed on it, fretting for a minute that his ship was about to break apart simply because the Companion wanted to look dignified. “My ship falls apart, I will be all kinds of unhappy with you,” he stated as he moved past her to the secondary controls.

Inara jumped in her seat and he looked over his shoulder at her. He had rarely been able to sneak up on her. “Mal…I…what are you talking about?” she asked as she glanced at the controls. Mal jerked his chin the direction of the blinking light as he backed off and she made a face. “That’s an engine light. Kaylee told River that it’s merely a false alarm, she’s fixed the part already last night.”

“I see, and speaking of River, you ain’t her.”

"How astute of you."

"Well, I...uh..." Mal didn’t like talking to Inara’s back; he often had the sneaking suspicion that she was making faces, as juvenile as it was. She didn’t seem to be listening to him as she flexed her long fingers over the controls, the borrowed shirt almost ridiculously loose on her arms as the sleeves kept sweeping down over her hands. They hadn’t the time yet to set down at her training school to get the clothing that she was probably more comfortable in, so all of them had raided trunks that they had nearly forgotten about over the course of the months. The older clothing had gone to both Inara and River to replace that damaged a month ago during Serenity's fix-up. River had easily slipped into Kaylee and Zoë’s clothing and Inara had bowed out from claiming much of it, saying that she didn’t need much beyond shirts that she could wear to keep from staining her finer clothing.

Until they realised just how far out they were.

Mal gazed at her back, at the dark hair swept over one shoulder to expose the skin of her long neck. He blinked when he realised she was wearing an old shirt of his that she had repaired with some spare thread and quickly slammed down the swell in his gut. No use reading into things, especially around Inara.

“River was tired. I doubt even she realises how much. She’s been through so much and even now it shows,” Inara said, breaking him out of his thoughts.

“We all have.”

“Besides which, Serenity is a simple girl to fly. Once you realise how sensitive she truly is. She gave me a hard time only once,” Inara stated firmly. She could feel Mal’s eyes on the back of her head and almost imagined the slightly slack-jawed look he could get when she stunned him. “Luckily you are all such sound sleepers.”

“Sensitive or not, why did River let you take the helm instead of waking me?” Mal demanded. Inara tensed slightly, her fingernails digging into the controls.

“I couldn’t sleep.” “A lot of that going around.” Inara was quiet for a moment before she suddenly let the controls go and slid from the chair.

Dubiqui. I’m doing such a poor job, then you take over, Captain.” She swept a hand toward the controls vehemently, irritation in her normally quiet features. Mal put his hands into the air and backed away to the co-pilot controls slowly as Inara faced him down.

“’Nara, I just…you’re doing fine. I guess it was a bit of a startle seeing you up here.”

“I have to earn my keep somehow,” she muttered as she sat back down. Mal swivelled the co-pilot's chair about and faced her as he sat down.

“There are other ways of earning your keep here until you decide what you want to do,” he offered.

“Oh?” Inara’s voice was incredibly soft and Mal mentally hit himself for the insinuation.

“I didn’t mean…I wasn’t trying to say that you should…”

“Should what?” she asked, wanting to make him say it.

Now he had put his foot in it. “Gorram it, woman, I’m not looking for sex in exchange for passage,” Mal managed to get out. He looked back down at his feet, wishing to high heaven that he hadn’t started this conversation.

“Good, because I wouldn’t be offering sex in exchange for anything you might give me,” she snapped before coming back out of her irritable state. Things had been going so well it seemed. Well, not completely well. She had felt in her gut that staying on Serenity was the right thing to do, to offer support to the people who had taken her in as family. But still there was an uneasy dance being done between Mal and her, a dance she was getting tired of. They had been so busy keeping Serenity afloat that every other issue was buried.

They sat in relative silence for a few moments; only the click of controls and the soft hum that Serenity created disturbing it. Mal found himself watching Inara as she sat composed and confident in the pilot chair, surrounded by plastic dinosaurs that only Zoë touched these days. The consol gave her face a pale glow that was not at all unbecoming. Next to River, Inara was pulling surprises out of a hat these days. Though she could fly a shuttle better than he could, he hadn’t expected her ability to transfer to the immense bulk of Serenity. A shuttle was smaller, sometimes needed finer abilities, but Serenity was large and cumbersome in comparison. He made a face, thinking about how it made a nearly perfect metaphor for his own ideas about Inara and himself.

He didn't mind thinking of himself as large but he had the suspicion that Inara wouldn't be very pleased to know that he compared her to a shuttle.

Then there were other matters.


“So?” Inara asked softly as she sat back in the chair and crossed her legs.

“You want to tell me how you got so damned good with a bow? I saw a few of those Reavers before they carted them off. Pretty flawless aim you got there,” Mal pointed out.

Inara shrugged. “So I have. Is there a problem with that?”

“Just making conversation.”

She sighed and turned her chair slightly so that she could face him. “Self-defence is pretty standard in Guild Training. Some clients are less…amicable to rules than others,” she answered as if that solved everything.

“I thought they only trained you how to render a man unconscious or to seduce him clean senseless. You killed pretty precisely, for all your qualms about fighting,” he said, hoping he wasn’t going down a tricky path with her again. He knew that Inara was a ringer for peace; admired her for it, despite her support of Alliance unification. Mind you, peace wasn't the least bit realistic to him, but Mal figured at the very least he could not be rude to her about it. He figured her reasons for that were different than others he knew. That she could be partial to violence was a bit of a surprise.

“Gwon nee ju jee du shu.”

“It’s plenty my business.”

“I never ask how you learned to shoot a gun,” she pointed out and Mal snorted.

“I could tell you easy.” “Please don’t. Men always seem to boast about the discovery of their equipment.”

“Why is it such a touchy subject with you?” he asked, mimicking her relaxed pose.

“It is not a touchy subject with me. I just don’t feel like discussing it with you of all people.” Inara resisted the urge to look away from his intense gaze, favouring staring him in the eye.

“Inara.” He waited until she relaxed slightly before continuing, “I’m not looking to be hurtful here. I can get River fighting like a demon; there ain’t much surprise there. I can even get you being smart enough to use a flash bomb on that Operative. But I came back and found you to be almost completely unhurt despite the close quarters you were in. Two of my best were injured, Doc was shot and Kaylee was paralysed. You have to see how that looks.”

“Maybe I just stayed out of the way. I know I can’t fight as well as the others,” she murmured, looking away from him.

Mal snorted. “I’m learning that not everything is what it seems.”

“That’s surprisingly adept for you. Congratulations,” she drawled and he could have sworn he had heard her chuckle at him. Mal decided not to push the argument, seeing Inara’s body seem to sit on edge because of his words, and checked the cortex.

“We’ve got five hours 'till we make Persephone. Can you stand me irritating you until then?” Mal asked, grinning playfully.

Inara, though, seemed less than inclined to play.

“I took over a year of you irritating me. What is five hours but a mere drop in the bucket?”

The grin he had been wearing slowly drained from his face. “Is that all I did for you?” he demanded lowly. Inara could feel the sudden anger and hurt in him and knew that they were again going down another rough patch for them. How could this damnably irritable man set her off so easily still?

“Mal, no…I didn’t mean...”

“You better learn to start meaning what you say or saying what you mean.” He slammed the co-pilot chair back and stalked out towards his bunk. Inara stared at the consol for a moment, damning herself for being such a coward around him. Mal simply wanted to know the truth and there were pieces of her history, of her purpose for the past years, that she was not ready to divulge to anyone.

Sometimes Mal didn’t strike her as the forgiving sort.

As far as saying what she felt...Inara was too frightened to tell him how she felt. Too frightened that she would only get disgust, anger, or perhaps...

She was terrified that he might care for her as much as she cared for him. Inara was practised in the art of giving herself freely, without qualm, with providing comfort and distraction for others. She was not used to be the one needing comfort and distraction from the rest of the world.

She shut her eyes. "A Companion gives herself but takes nothing," she reiterated softly, remembering the lessons that had been ingrained in her from the start of her training.

"Ruttin' terrible lesson to learn."

The cockpit door suddenly slid shut and she jumped again, her nerves shot by Mal’s sudden voice and the clank of metal hitting metal. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Mal glowering at her.

“I just figured that this is my boat. You leave.”

“Fine,” Inara said, gathering the small book she had brought with her. She tried hard to sweep her dignity around herself like she used to be able to, but it was more difficult when you were on such shaky ground in the first place.

When all else fails, go back to what you know, and for them it was fighting.

Normally she would feel more than obliged to him to continue fighting, but she didn’t have the emotional strength to do so. She was still trying to keep her composure. Inara sniffed and tightened her hold on the book, moving to the hatch door.

Mal suddenly caught her by her arm and held her back. “On second thought, no. I ain't goin’ to let this fester.”

Arrogant man couldn't make up his damn mind, she thought to herself. The growling tone of his voice did nothing to cool the heat in her stomach. “What do you want from me, Mal?” she snapped. "Tah mah de! You always seem to be pushing me for something! What do you want from me?"

He looked at her, stunned by her cursing-for it hardly seemed Companion-like - and the anger in her words.

“I want to just…just. Ai ya...” He broke off and moved away from Inara once more. She watched him, half-posed to leave him and the building tension behind. Mal suddenly chuckled and shook his head. The boyish grin on his face made her anger break. “Do you figure we could ever do this without arguing?”

“Not without it being suspicious,” she granted with a sad smile, her fingers loosening on the book spine.

Serenity's hum filled the silence between them as Mal turned his head away and looked over at the consol. Anything to look at but her hurt expression. He had meant for his questions about her past to be innocent, playful even. Hell, Mal had even hoped that Inara and him could get into some normal conversation about how they each learned how to fire a weapon.

It was then that he realised that of all the people on Serenity, that the person he knew little of was the one that he wanted so badly. No wonder she was angry with him.

Mal’s blue eyes met Inara's suddenly and she took an involuntary step backwards at the intensity of his eyes. It was enough to make her knees weak, to see that sadness and broken hope in his eyes.

“Do you know how badly I wanted to wave you after you left? Even just to talk?”

Inara shut her eyes and flinched as if he had struck her, reading his body language and the nuances of his voice. Please Mal, she prayed inside her head, not now. I can’t do this now.

I don’t have the strength to lie to you and put it to the side like I once could.

“I wanted to wave you a few times as well,” she whispered truthfully. “But you were half a system away, busy living your life of crime.”

“Plus, you were happy at that Training House,” he added pointedly, looking away from her. “Could have lived out your life with nary a worry about your next pay and the possibility of me getting you killed.”

They both cringed at his choice of words, of how they invoked memories of the events on a border moon so many months ago, of how they brought the deaths of their friends to the surface. Mal shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest as he stood in front of the consul, his back to her. Inara swallowed, the lump in her throat gathering as she forced herself not to leave. She reached out a hand and gently laid it on his shoulder, the warm contact steadying her. Underneath her cool hand, she felt his muscles tighten.

“I was happy there, and yes, I probably could have been happy for a little while longer.” Mal looked to the side so that she could see his profile from over his shoulder, a gesture that he often did when he felt nervous or pained around her. She took a shaky breath and closed her eyes, letting her hand drop. “But this is my home.”

Mal blinked. “It is.”

Dang-ran,” she muttered at herself. Mal turned halfway towards her, one hand resting on the chair as if it was supporting him.

"Can't say that I'm not a mite bit pleased by that," he admitted. Inara managed a small smile.

"Mm, I figured." She began to run her fingers over the spine of her book once more. Mal let the silence drop between them until he simply had to look away once more. Inara cleared her throat and looked away when he glanced at her. "If you wish to take the helm, I'll head back to the common room so I don't disturb you."

She was half-way through the door when she heard Mal clear his throat noisily.


Shifting slowly on her heel, trying to keep her grace about her when the way he spoke her name made her body ache, Inara turned toward him. She let her hair swing over her cheek so that the strands hid the colour on her cheeks, praying that he couldn't see it in the dim light. Inara felt the breath whoosh out of her chest when she realised he was standing far closer to her than he ever had and yet he hadn't made a sound as he moved. Mal's eyes were on hers as she stared up at him, her head having to tilt further back.

Lifting his hand slowly so not to spook her, Mal brushed his thumb over the curve of her cheek. The gesture was not overly new to Inara but the meaning behind it startled it. Mal followed the movement of his thumb with his eyes even as he trailed his hand back to push her hair behind her shoulder. His thumb brushed the shell of her ear and she shut her eyes for a moment before she opened them once more. The look she gave him was masked but he felt some measure of bravery when she didn't step away from him.

Mal swallowed. "Wu de tyen ah..."

When he dropped his hand from her cheek, Inara managed to breathe once more. The intimacy of the gesture and the way they had both simply accepted it was frightening for both of them and Inara looked at her feet.

"Did you want to say something to me?" Inara whispered. Mal blinked at her before he remembered whatever had been on his mind when he had called her back.

He still wouldn't look at her completely while he spoke, "If you want...I mean, I could use some company..."

"Are you asking me to stay?" she probed. Mal's body language was terribly nerve-wrecked, as if he were anticipating rejection from her. His shoulders were tight and his eyes darted about the room quickly, never focussing. Inara realised that for him as well there was a hidden dialogue here, something that they weren't daring to speak of.

"You probably are wanting to get some quiet," he muttered. "Forget that I was going to ask."

She took a breath and wondered...wondered not for the first time it would be like to simply touch without having purpose behind it, to simply to stay on Serenity without worry.

Inara smiled and stepped forward, putting her hand lightly on his bicep. It was a light contact but Mal stared at her as if she had burned him. Then his cocky grin returned and he laid his hand over hers, the warmth from his hand taking away the cold of hers.

"I'd be happy to stay, Mal, to keep you company."


I warned y'all that I had more fics sitting around. This one I wrote after Serenity came out on DVD. I'd like to think Inara had more purpose to add to the ship, being as she can fly the shuttle so well.

'cause you all asked so nice.

I always loved the idea of lil' dignified Inara popping off a curse at Mal.

First time playing with italics and more frequent use of chinese.

Ai ya: Damn. Dang-ran: Of course. Dubqui: Excuse me Gwon nee ju jee du shu: Mind your own business. Tah mah de: Mother fucker. Wu de tyen ah: Dear God in heaven


Tuesday, March 21, 2006 10:30 AM


Oh, I like this one even better than the last one. You really wrote both of them well. Also, your narrative style was a lot better in this one, I think. As pretnecious as this is going to sound, fanfic that actually reads like short stories and doesn't follow the format of dialogue-dialogue-character did this-dialogue is hard to find, so I alwasy appreciate it when I find it. I loved Inara's internal monologue about not wanting to tell Mal her secrets and Mal's realization that he really does harly know her.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 10:43 AM


Yes! More of these hidden little gems!
Hmmmmm delicious tension.... yummm! :o)

Very nice moment...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 10:52 AM



I had belly-tingles.

Intense in all its quiet, uncertain splendor. I am awed at the way you captured and carried that mood of intimacy over the entirety of their conversation. Just awed.

When you say you have more stuff sitting around... does that mean you'll post more things of this quality? Because.... please, do!!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 11:36 AM


mmm, I just got a little melty over this! All those layers in these characters, so fascinating to see them come out.

More stuff? Pleaes?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 12:20 PM


What a lovely story. I too enjoyed your observation about Inara being the least hurt in the battle, it was an interesting observation. I love Inara losing her cool and cursing at Mal, you can't be proper all the time! Can't wait to read another post of yours!:D

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 1:47 PM


This so perfectly illustrates the tension and attraction between Mal and Inara but oh, how I wish Inara would simply be truthsome. Let the whole of it be spoken so that they can both get what they want without hurting the other. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 2:56 PM


Very few people can make me 'ship Mal/Inara in a fic and you did it flawlessly.

Well done.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 6:00 PM


BTW anonymous ( me!! lol

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 6:13 PM


Man, I got swears and everythin' coming my way with this one, lol.

thanks for the feedback guys, lets me know what i have to work on. maybe I should continue this one but I had this whole epic-like fic planned...epic being more than one chapter... my standards of epics ain't high, eh?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 8:43 PM


This is some mighty fine fic you have here, Syzg....definitely want to see the continuing adventures of angst and sexual tension when it comes to these two;)

I have to agree with the mob here....dialogue was excellent and in character for a period of time when the BDHs are in the midst of changing without realing thinking about it. And I too have given thought about Inara's ability to drop Reavers with head shots in the midst of battle...mainly for a fic idea of post-battle stressing, but still...:)


Sunday, May 28, 2006 6:39 AM


"And, um, why you keepin' these hidden away on your hard drive? Publish!"
yes! publish, dammit!!


Monday, June 12, 2006 9:04 AM


Somehow I think I've managed to miss this series... (cue hasty back-reading).

Beautifully written, could see this scene playing out.

I'm off to the next chapter.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:56 AM


Great well done

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 6:22 AM


This was lots of fun to read and gives a nice feeling of follow-up to the movie. Looking forward to reading more from you!



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Finding Common Ground. Ch 6
Mal let's the crew in on the basic plan. least the way it is supposed to go. River's dreams take a turn for the pretty, shiny things...

Finding Common Ground. Ch 6
Mal let's the crew in on the basic plan. least the way it is supposed to go. River's dreams take a turn for the pretty, shiny things...

Finding Common Ground Ch.5
Inara reveals her ability to act but the results are awkward and painful

Nickname of Contention
Mal has a bone to pick with Inara

Finding Common Ground. Ch. 4
Bookstores and memories abound...get a glimpse into the humourous side of shopping. Just a continuation to a leap into plot.

Finding Common Ground...Ch.3
The story continues as Mal learns about his new job and the Mule gets its revenge. (still M/I but we need the job, people)

Finding Common Ground....Ch.2
We continue on with the tension and drama of being Mal and Inara....with the crew and a job thrown in just for fun.

Finding Common Ground
Mal and Inara share the late night vigil of flying Serenity a month after the events on Miranda, opening up a well of emotion.

A Start of Things
Set prior to the pilot (but based off Out of Gas). Mal and Inara meet for the first time