LAWS OF ATTRACTION
“Why can’t you two stubborn idjits just admit the truth,” Loan snapped with a hint of impatience as she squared off with Inara.
The two were standing in Inara’s shuttle, Loan watching as the older woman packed her belongings in preparation for leaving the ship for her position back at the companion training house on Bena. It had been eight months since Mal had rescued her from the Alliance operative and Inara had almost settled back into her role on board Serenity as advisor, nurturer and voice of reason to the crew. Her shuttle had even been restored to a bit of its sumptuous former glory, yet for some reason neither it nor the familiar faces of her ‘family’ gave Inara the sense of comfort she had been seeking. Something was still missing. The same something, she sadly realized, that had pushed her into leaving in the first place.
Loan frowned, waiting for the companion to say something, anything. It was driving her nuts that someone who was supposed to be so worldly and knowledgeable about the opposite sex could prove to be so downright blind when it came to her own love life. Loan showed her displeasure by picking up and casually tossing the neatly folded dress Inara had just laid in the open trunk before her back onto the pile of unfolded clothing on the floor.
“Just admit that you’re in love - what’s so hard about that?” Loan quietly pressed, her eyes anxiously searching Inara’s face for a sign that the woman understood her.
Inara sighed heavily. She patiently picked up the dress from the floor and began folding it again still not sure what to say. She wasn’t exactly sure why she couldn’t admit her feelings to Mal or even to herself for that matter. If anything, unlocking River’s secret and exposing the whole Miranda debacle had brought Mal and her closer than ever before. But not close enough, Inara silently thought. Because despite the obvious attraction between them, neither had as yet been willing or brave enough to take the next step needed in the relationship. And that, Inara reasoned, was one obstacle too much for her. There were too many what-ifs to deal with and not enough assurances that she could possibly find some stability here - someone to anchor herself to. Inara cast a glance over to Loan, smiling gently.
“You’re young, mei-mei. You don’t yet understand all the subtle nuances of -.”
“Oh come off it, ‘Nara!” Loan snorted in disgust shaking her blonde head. Enough with the side stepping, she angrily thought.
Loan scowled at the companion her brows in a tight furrow. “There ain’t no big secret to it! It’s nothing more than stubbornness and you know it! He don’t want to admit he cares about you ‘cause he thinks he’ll lose face or something. And you won’t ‘cause you’re not sure you know how to be anything but a companion. How yu ben duh (stupid) is that?”
Inara blinked, stunned that an inexperienced teenager seemed to have such insight into her personal life. She flushed in mild embarrassment and fiddled with a fringed silk scarf lying on her bed hoping the girl would go away if she ignored her long enough. Loan sidled up to Inara and put a small hand on the woman’s arm.
“You do love him, don’t you?” she asked.
Inara swallowed hard, and turned away from the girl, her emotions struggling to break through the calm controlled façade she was so careful to maintain. Loan’s eyes narrowed as a small tight smile formed on her lips.
“You’re ji niou (chicken shit) is what I think.” she taunted the woman.
Inara’s head swiveled toward the teen, her dark eyes widened in shock. “Loan!”
Inara stood up, straightening to her full height and gave what she hoped was an authoritative glare of disapproval to her younger shipmate as she addressed her. “I am not –“
“If you don’t tell him, I will,” Loan threatened matching her tone with the dead serious look on her young face.
Inara let out a sound of frustration as one hand fluttered nervously to the open throat of her dress. She hoped that her calm tone and adult logic would keep the girl from doing something that they’d both regret. “You shouldn’t go meddling in things that are none of your business, Loan” Inara quietly stated.
Loan laughed at that. “Ah hell, that’s my specialty,” Loan crowed. She didn’t give Inara a chance to reply as she pointed a finger at the woman. “Not a one of us on this ship wants to see you leave again – ‘specially not the cap’n.” She shrugged. “‘Sides, if you go, who’d braid my hair for me or let me try on their fan-dancy jewelry for fun?”
The girl turned and headed for the door of Inara’s shuttle, the matter settled in her mind. Inara remained silent, watching Loan’s retreating form with a sense of apprehension and not a little bit of dissatisfaction. She wasn’t used to debating the laws of attraction with someone who was too young to hire her.
“I can’t wait ‘til I get older and am allowed do stupid things.” Loan muttered as she stomped down the metal walkway toward the aft deck to find the captain. “You ain’t leavin’...” she stubbornly grumbled to herself.
Jayne and Kaylee looked about the forward hallway of Serenity uncomfortably wishing they were anywhere else but there at the moment. The two crewmates had been repairing and rewiring one of the main conduit cables running from the hallway up to the cockpit, when Mal, who had been on his way to check in with them, had been stopped by his young pilot who appeared to be in quite a huff.
Neither Mal nor Loan seemed to even notice that they had an audience as they carried on with their heated discussion. Kaylee squirmed fiddling nervously with a wire stripper in her hand and stared hopelessly past the captain and Loan at the welcoming haven of her bunk door. If the walkway were only a little wider, she silently reflected, she might be able to slip by and get to her quarters to avoid having to witness this nasty altercation. Jayne merely leaned up against the nearby hatchway cleaning his fingernails with a screwdriver, half-bored and half-curious as to the possible outcome of this latest head-butting match. As far as tussles between Mal and l’il britches went lately, he reckoned they were about dead even on who came out on top smelling like roses and who ended up looking like they’d had to swallow a mouthful of niu fen (cow poop). He glanced over to the two in question. No clear winner as yet on this one.
“We ain’t having this conversation, Loan,” Mal stated in a weary tone, his hand going up to pinch the bridge of his nose.
He made as if to move past the girl, but Loan blocked his way by stepping in front of him. Not amused, Mal fixed the young girl with a heated stare. What was with this child he fumed to himself? She was the one person on his boat that didn’t know when to be safe and give up. It was like the zhao shuo (annoying child) wanted to bait him into losing his temper for some reason. Either she was real dim-witted or naively stubborn. Mal hoped for her sake it was the first, but knew from past experience it was most likely the latter. He was never lucky enough for it to be just innocent stupidity with Loan. Mal tried to move around the girl once more and wasn’t totally surprised when she blocked his way again.
His voice was thick with warning as he addressed her. “Ni yao da pigu? (You want a spanking?)”
Loan ignored Mal’s threat while trying to reason with him. “I know you don’t want her to leave and she don’t-“
“This ain’t your business, Loan,” The captain cut her off, his jaw muscles tightening in anger. “And you do not want to have me remindin’ you of that. I –“
“It is too my business, Cap’n.” Loan quickly corrected.
Mal looked over to Jayne and Kaylee, astonishment in his voice. “Did she just cut me off?” He looked back down at Loan, amazed at her impudence, “Did you just cut me off?”
Loan squirmed uncomfortably under his glare. “Um, yes?” Her answer came out more as a question.
Mal angrily shoved past the girl and headed toward the cockpit of the ship, seething from having been put on the spot in front of Jayne and Kaylee of all people. He barked over his shoulder to Loan. “Unless you’re feeling some overwhelmin’ need to be on the wrong side of a thrashing, I suggest you find elsewhere to be on this boat right now! You got chores need doing –go do ‘em!”
“You’re a coward,” Loan called after him.
Mal definitely hadn’t seen that one coming. His tall frame stiffened in a strange mixture of shock and offense. It was if the coldest winds of hell had just blown through the passageway where they now stood. In fact, Kaylee looked as if she had just been introduced to the grim reaper himself, her eyes growing impossibly wide and her jaw flopping open in dread. Jayne, on the other hand, had pushed himself away from the wall he’d been leaning against, his eyes taking on sudden interest in the show now that the intensity had been notched up a level. Score one point for l’il britches, he thought.
Loan, for once, was at a loss for words. To her great consternation, she realized things were not going at all as planned. In fact, things were most definitely getting a fair piece out of hand which was not a good sign. The captain pivoted sharply about to face his pilot, a look of pure rage on his face as he stalked back to her. Mal was not amused and it showed in every tensed muscle of his body. The captain leaned forward until he was only inches from the Loan’s face, invading her personal space until Loan was forced to lean slightly backward to keep from bumping noses with him. His eyes bored holes into her.
“That is the FIRST. LAST. And ONLY time you ever get to call me that, little girl!” Mal seethed, his breathing coming hard and fast.
He turned to leave, white-knuckled fists clenched in fury, trying to maintain what little control he had left, but Loan’s suicidal mouth seemed to have it in for her as she spoke up once more.
“You’ll stand up to a squad of purple-bellies, hell, you even took on a sky full of reavers...but you’re too gorramn scared to admit you need her? That makes you a coward in my book, cap’n.”
Mal’s face suddenly darkened to a shade of maroon that matched his work shirt. Kaylee gasped audibly at the sight and even Jayne took an uneasy step back trying to meld in with the wall behind him. Things were about to explode and he had no interest in getting hit with the flying shrapnel. Mal literally spun on his heel seeing red as his vision narrowed down to focus on a single small child a few feet away from him. Death would be a welcoming safe harbor by the time he got through with her! All the air suddenly left Loan’s lungs at seeing the horrible mask of rage the captain now wore as he stalked back toward her. She realized in hindsight she had pushed her luck just a little too far this time. With a squeal of terror, the young pilot bolted down the narrow hall making for the doorway leading to the galley area and beyond putting as much distance as she could between herself and the captain.
“Oh you better run, ni si sheng zi (you illegitimate child)!” Mal roared after the teen as he took off in hot pursuit. “Cause when I catch you, you’ll be hoping I only throw you out the airlock!”
Alone once again, Kaylee managed to snap her mouth shut finally and looked over to Jayne as he bent down to rummage through the toolbox between them as if nothing had even happened.
“Well...that was...somethin’...” Kaylee uttered uncomfortably.
Jayne glanced up at the pert mechanic when she continued to stare expectantly at him and shrugged. “Comes down to it, Loan didn’t do nothing worse’n tell the truth,” he replied.
“Yeah, but the truth hurts sometimes, Jayne.” Kaylee said.
Jayne chuckled and handed a wrench to the young woman. “Gonna be hurtin’ one of ‘em a damn site more’n t’other, that’s for sure.”
Kaylee shot him a sour look. She tried to concentrate on the task at hand rather than worry whether or not the captain would actually really toss poor Loan out the airlock. Jayne caught the troubled look on Kaylee’s face and gave her a nudge with his shoulder.
“Hell, we both know l’il britches can out run him, so stop worrying,” he commented. “And he ain’t gonna chuck her out the hatch even if he does catch her.” The merc sniffed and chanced a look down the now empty hallway. “I’d have to kill the huan dahn (bastard) if he did that.”
“Jayne,” Kaylee grinned at her shipmate. “That is so sweet! I didn’t know you cared so much about Loan.”
Jayne gave the mechanic an incredulous look. “Well, of course I care!” he huffed. “We lose her and who the hell’s gonna fly this gorramn ship?!”
Inara turned from packing her trunks, startled by the sudden intrusion of someone barging into her shuttle unannounced. She frowned in irritation.
“Mal, how many times do I have to...” the words died on her lips as she looked up in surprise at Loan standing in front of her with a wild look on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie, I thought you were-“
Totally ignoring the woman’s attempt at an apology, Loan buzzed past Inara with a purpose born of desperation. She spied the companion’s plush velvet draped bed on the other side of the shuttle and wordless, dove for it, hitting it square in the middle. Loan bounced off the mattress once and neatly disappeared into the narrow dark crevice between it and the wall.
“Mal,” Inara belatedly finished her sentence just as the captain strode into her shuttle.
“What?” he replied at hearing Inara say his name.
“What?” Inara echoed in confusion and the two shot one another looks of bewilderment.
Inara recovered first. She set the stack of clothing she’d been packing onto the floor next to her and rose gracefully from her kneeling position, a little perturbed by the captain’s huffy demeanor.
“Is there something I can assist you with, Mal?” she asked with a touch of chill in her lilting voice.
Her haughty inflection wasn’t lost on him and Mal made a mental note to call her on it later. That is, of course, before she left the ship permanently, he thought to himself. Again. But that was a whole other kettle of smelly fish he didn’t feel like dealing with, wasn’t it? Right now, he had a more pressing matter to take in hand. Malcolm Reynolds plastered a false smile on his face and addressed Inara who now had her hands on her hips and was tapping one slipper encased foot in obvious impatience.
“I believe you got something of mine,” Mal said tightly trying very hard to keep any irritation out of his voice.
“And that would be?” Inara coaxed.
Mal’s tone changed to one of barely checked anger. “That would be one very short child person who best be showing herself in the next five seconds if she don’t want to be taking a thrashing in front of a bonafide companion!”
Inara was not impressed by Mal’s dark threat and neither apparently was Loan as the shuttle remained deathly silent.
“What did she do?” Inara asked her features softening a little.
“Then she is here,” Mal nodded in conviction, casting the companion an accusatory glare.
“I never said she wasn’t,” Inara dryly shot back, her temper now rising to meet Mal’s. “But I’m not handing her over until you calm down and tell me what this is all about.”
Mal growled in frustration. Figures Inara would take Loan’s side! Women! His voice rose as he swiveled about, dark eyes roaming the lushly decorated shuttle looking for signs of movement. He answered Inara as he continued his inspection.
“This is about me, hauling that duo shi (meddling) brat over my knee and givin’ her a good blistering, that’s what this is about. LOAN!”
Inara rolled her eyes. “Mal, would you stop yelling and listen to yourself?” She reached over and put a manicured hand on the captain’s sleeve. “You can’t go around punishing her every time she does or says something you don’t agree with. People are allowed to have opinions other than yours, you know,” she gently quipped, but Mal didn’t see any humor in her statement.
“Not if they’re on my ship and part of my crew, they’re not!” he snapped. Mal looked down at Inara’s hand on his arm, his emotions roiling. He cooly flicked his eyes up to stare at her. “I seem to recall a conversation about you telling me what I can and can’t do on my own ship,” Mal said. “One of my crew needs disciplining then I’ll be doing it - with or without your permission!”
Her hand quickly withdrew from his arm as if it had touched a hot iron. “Really?” Inara replied her voice now dripping with sarcasm.
She was growing quite tired of the man’s overbearing bossy attitude as of late. Ever since she had announced her intension of returning to the training house, it seemed as if Mal was trying his best to start a fight with her just so he’d have a reason for wanting her off his ship. Well, Inara thought, if the fool wanted a showdown, she certainly wouldn’t disappoint him! She sauntered over to her bed and casually sat down on the edge daintily crossing her legs at the ankle. Leaning back on the satin coverlet and propping herself up on her elbows, Inara looked up at Mal with what he called one of her ‘high-class snooty gazes’. Her arrogant demeanor nearly drove him up the wall as the two of them eyed one another.
“As long as I’m paying rent, Malcolm Reynolds, this is still my shuttle,” Inara icily stated. “And I say Loan can stay here safe as long as she likes.”
Mal gawped at Inara, incredulous. “Shu muh (what)?”
The captain took a moment to collect himself quickly wiping the look of confoundment off his unshaven face before Inara had time to gloat over the fact that she’d actually stunned him. He took a deep breath then drew himself up to full height, one hand resting on his holster, eyes flashing a dark warning at the woman casually lounging in front of him as if she hadn’t a care in the ‘verse.
His tone became no nonsense. “I don’t seem to recollect handin’ the authority for my crew over to you, Inara,” Mal grimly declared. “Not sure how they manage things back at that whore academy of yours, but I’m the only one in charge ‘round here. And I don’t need you coming betwixt me and my crew muddying the issue!” Mal took a threatening step towards the woman leveling a flinty stare at her. “Now, you’d best be handing over my pilot before I decide there’s more than one brat in this room that needs a thrashing,” he cautioned.
Inara’s dark eyes glittered in fury at this outrageous threat. Enough was enough! She angrily rose from the edge of the bed pointing a finger at the shuttle door. “Get out!” She fairly spat at him.
The woman’s haughty disregard was beginning to chafe Mal in the worst way. “I ain’t foolin’ around this time,” he warned. “And don’t think I won’t do it, Inara, ‘cause I’ve had about enough of fractious females and put on airs for one day!”
“Put on airs?” Inara laughed at him. “Perhaps they wouldn’t seem so ‘put on’, Mal, if you’d try to act semi-civilized yourself once in awhile! Honestly, you’re nothing but a –“
Mal had had enough of argumentative women-folk. Without thinking, he reached out and took hold of Inara’s right arm as he turned and sat down on the bed. Before Inara could put up a struggle, Mal had the companion over his lap and was spanking her satin bedecked backside with a fervor that mirrored his frustration level.
“How dare you!” Inara screamed as the captain’s well placed swats stung her bottom. “Mal!”
Mal stopped a moment, grinning at the sight of Inara’s lovely rounded bottom upturned over his lap. He gave her an evil smirk as she glared back at him over her shoulder. “Don’t never underestimate me, Inara,” Mal lectured and was pleased to see the woman’s glower. “Now, you gonna hand over my pilot or you need some more convincing?” He raised his arm giving her an ominous wave with the hand that promised more painful retribution should she continue to defy him.
“Chur ni duh (screw you)!” Inara angrily spat over her shoulder as she tried to find a way to push herself off of Mal’s lap.
“Whoa now,” Mal said feigning surprise, as he tightened his hold around her slender waist when Inara struggled harder. He gave her three more hard smacks landing them just below the curve of her bottom. “That’s not very civilized talk coming from a refined whore such as yourself now, is it?”
Inara suddenly let fly with a string of curses that would have embarrassed even Jayne. Mal assumed a strict captain-like tone as he began spanking her again, enjoying the situation much more than he should have. “I’m thinking you’re in need of instruction on mannerly airs, Miss Serra,” he teased, “And I conjure you’ll find I got no compunction about teaching that little lesson to you!”
Mal spanked the companion with no small amount of glee and Inara continued to curse him at the top of her lungs. He was suddenly stopped in mid-swing though by a small but determined hand grabbing his shirt sleeve. Mal turned, almost dumping Inara off his lap in the process, to spy Loan kneeling on the bed behind him.
“Please don’t whup her no more, cap’n,” Loan whispered. “She was just tryin’ to protect me.”
Mal complied with the request figuring from the look on Inara’s face that he’d got his point across. Inara wasted no time in pushing herself off the man’s lap. The woman stood up her gaze going from Mal to Loan feeling a mixture of embarrassment, anger, and remorse simultaneously wash over her. Inara looked down at Mal, her eyes turning soft. Mal blinked. He was not expecting the companion to be quite so calm after getting her backside roasted, especially since he was the one that had done the roasting. Inara took a moment to smooth down the skirt of her dress before speaking, taking extra care to smooth the back while inconspicuously rubbing some of the sting out of her bottom. Inara cleared her throat as she tried to hide a wince.
“I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson here today,” she stated quietly.
She certainly had. She had never expected Mal to go through with his threat and was rather sorry now that she’d goaded him like she had. Definitely not one of her better moments, she silently concluded. Mal stood up, feeling somewhat awkward now. He wasn’t exactly sorry for spanking Inara. She had asked for it in all fairness, but Mal also felt a bit of regret. This wasn’t the way he’d wanted to say goodbye to her. He glanced over to Loan still kneeling on the bed.
“You got something to say?” he gruffly asked her.
Loan bit her lip looking from one adult to the other. This hadn’t quite turned out like she had envisioned to say the least. Inara and the captain were supposed to have shouted a bit, sure. But, then they were supposed to have made up and fallen into each other’s arms and sailed off into the sunset happily ever after, she reasoned. At least, that’s what happened in those sappy romance stories Kaylee was always reading to her. She had never foreseen Mal taking Inara over his knees instead of into his arms. Loan felt the expectant stare coming from both adults in the room and squirmed in embarrassment. She crawled over to the edge of the bed careful to keep her distance from the captain and slid off facing Inara.
“I’m real sorry you took my licking for me, ‘Nara,” Loan said quietly.
“Oh, don’t be thinking you ain’t getting one of your very own!” Mal corrected her, and Loan flinched but nodded.
Loan continued, “I guess I let my big mouth get me into a mess again, and I’m just real sorry I dragged you into the middle of it is all.”
Inara put a hand on the girl’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “It’s all right, mei mei. This wasn’t entirely your fault.” She shot Mal a stony look. “Some people just don’t know how to communicate well.”
Mal tried to keep from smirking as he faced Inara’s icy glower. “Well now, I truly think -”
“I believe we already know what you think, thank you!” Inara retorted darkly.
One of her hands crept to her stinging backside and Mal couldn’t help but grin. Inara gave up on him with a roll of her eyes and returned her attention to Loan.
“Mal and I need to talk,” she explained to the girl. “It’s something we should have done a long time ago. This just proved that point.”
Inara cast an accusative glance at Mal who still wore a smug look of confidence on his handsome face. Loan nodded and then reached up and hugged Inara.
“Thanks, ‘Nara,” Loan said, “And I promise not to bring you into my trouble anymore...well...if I can help it.”
Mal let his severe countenance fall on Loan for a moment. He nodded brusquely toward the doorway. “Get on to your bunk. And best be picking a switch, ni tao shen (you naughty child), ‘cause I’ll be tending to you directly.”
Loan nodded unhappily and trudged out the door. Mal watched the girl leave and then settled back down onto Inara’s bed and patted the spot next to him. “Care to have a seat?” Mal innocently asked Inara, then added condescendingly, “That is if you can sit, I mean, what with -“
“Oh please!” Inara acidly shot back as she settled down next to Mal on the bed, quickly stifling a whimper of anguish. “You aren’t that good!”
Mal’s brows shot up. “What? I imagine I did a rather thorough job of –“
“I’ve seen better,” Inara countered with a flick of her hand.
Mal gave her a wicked grin. “I bet you have,” he smoothly added.
Inara sighed in growing frustration. “Do you want to talk or not?”
“Not sure what more there is to talk about, Inara.” Mal said with a casual shrug of his shoulders. “I asked for my pilot back, you refused, and I persuaded you to see my way of it.”
“That is not what happened, Mal,” Inara huffed.
“Sure it is,” he replied confidently.
“It is so typical of you to try and simplify everything!” she abruptly flared. Inara sighed and gazed over at Mal sitting next to her and then down at her hands knotted in her lap. “Loan was right,” she murmured, “We’re just hiding behind our conventions to avoid the truth between us.”
“Loan said that?” Mal sounded skeptical.
“Mal,” Inara groaned not amused by his attempt at humor. She studied him a moment trying to gauge his emotions. “Maybe we should let this go,” she said with a shake of her head.
“No,” Mal firmly stated meeting her doubtful gaze. He shook his head. “No more games. If we’re going to be truthsome, we best do it now.” He cast a glance over to the half-packed trunk of clothing sitting next to the bed. “No more running, ‘Nara.”
“Mal...I...” Inara hesitated, still afraid of being the one to go first.
Mal reached over and very gently put a work-roughened hand over one of hers and enfolded it in a warm embrace. “I’m sorry,” he softly apologized. “I let my temper get hold of me and...” he cleared his throat, finding it difficult to admit to this beautiful woman his true feelings. “I would never hurt you, ‘Nara. Fact is I’d die before I let anything happen to you...and that’s the problem.”
Mal licked his lips as an awkward silence fell over the two of them. He searched for the right words but instead only came up with a growing sense of anxiety and frustration – at himself and at Inara. He gave Inara’s hand a squeeze and then let go of it feeling quite uncomfortable with the whole situation. Mal suddenly stood up and began to pace the room in agitation as Inara just sat and stared at him. It was too much.
“Da xiang bao zha shi de la duzi! (the explosive diarrhea of an elephant!)” Mal complained, waving his arms in frustration. He stopped pacing and faced Inara, his eyes afire, his voice full of raw emotion. “You spin me about, woman! I never know if I’m comin’ or goin’ with you.” He searched her face for an answer but found none. “Hell, it’s like my brain just goes to ground whenever you’re around me,” Mal quietly finished.
Inara remained silent, her dark eyes on Mal. Mal looked away in confusion and spoke more to the floor than to the companion as he started pacing again.
“I’m the captain. I need to stay in control. And you...well, you just...it never...because I...” He stopped pacing and angrily rubbed at his jaw. “I need you to stay...” he muttered then swallowed hard. Mal raised his head to gaze despondently into her concerned eyes. “Don’t leave again, ‘Nara.” His gaze fell back to the floor. “I need you. Here.”
Inara, for all the years of training she’d undergone, was not ready for this. This was one side of Mal Reynolds the companion had never experienced and had never even imagined seeing in her lifetime. She was up off the bed in an instant. She gave a watery smile as she closed the gap between them and then, on impulse, she pulled Mal’s face close and kissed him. Mal was taken aback at first but quickly returned the kiss with all the longing he’d been holding in. He put his arms around her raising one hand to stroke her neck and her hair as Inara did the same.
“I’m in love with you, Malcolm Reynolds.” Inara murmured into his hair as she continued to kiss his face, his neck, his lips. “Lao tian bu (god help me) but I am.”
She shushed him placing her fingertips across his lips. “Mal, I don’t care anymore. I don’t want to leave...I don’t want to lose you again...”
“You ain’t never going to lose me, woman,” he fiercely whispered. “Aiya (damn), I was a fool not to tell you sooner.”
“Yes,” she sighed and then went back to nibbling on his neck and ear.
Mal tried to regain some control before he lost all his senses completely and just carried Inara to her bed to finish what they had started. Both were breathing heavily now, the heat between them no longer denied. He gently reached up and pulled Inara’s hands from around his shoulders and held them in his own hands putting a little distance between the two of them. Inara waited for Mal to speak.
“It can’t be like it was,” Mal started.
Inara nodded. “I know.”
Mal tilted her chin up so her eyes met his stern stare. “You stay, you can’t be takin’ any more customers. I won’t share you with any other man, Inara.”
Inara smirked at his possessiveness. “I don’t want any other man,” she huskily replied.
Mal smiled wickedly and roughly pulled her to him. “That mean ever?” he teased.
She smiled just as wickedly back. “Yes, Mal. That means ever.”
“Good,” he replied, “Cause I’d hate to have to take you back over my knee...” Mal reached behind Inara and patted her still tender bottom lightly, a suggestive look on his face. Inara raised an eyebrow at him and reached back to offer his own firm backside a hard smack.
“That goes for you too, captain,” she purred and then couldn’t help giggling when Mal’s brows shot up in mock offense.
“Why, Ms. Serra, you got a smutty mind,” Mal lightly commented and then grinned. “And I conjure that’s one reason why I like you so much.” They both burst out laughing enjoying the newfound freedom in their relationship. Mal sighed sobering up for a moment. “I do believe I have some unfinished business needs tending to,” he stated as began to straighten the collar of his shirt and button up the couple buttons that Inara had managed to pry open while they were lip-locked. “Got a mischievous child-pilot waiting for a woodshed visit.”
“Oh, Mal, you can’t punish Loan now.” Inara gave him a little frown. “If it hadn’t been for her-“
“If it hadn’t been for her, we’da still come ‘round to this sooner or later,” Mal confidently said.
“I’m thinking later...much, much later....” Inara commented dryly. “Besides, how can you still be angry with her?”
Mal frowned still not liking the fact that she felt it was her duty to challenge his authority at all times. He thought a moment while watching Inara’s pleading face then gave in with a reluctant grunt.
“She is kinda hard to stay mad at, ain’t she? I guess I can forget about it this one time,” Mal conceded. He shook a finger at Inara. “But best not be thinking you can come to that scamp’s rescue every time she’s hanging on the edge of justice.”
Inara’s lips curled into a smirk. “Justice? Is that what you call it?” she asked.
Mal nodded. “My ship. My pilot. My justice.”
“Fine,” Inara gave in with a shake of her head and then playfully ran one finger down Mal’s jawline. “But please remember to temper your ‘justice’ with some leniency when the case arises? Loan’s young, Mal - remember what it was like to be that age and have all those decisions in front of you.”
“Like I don’t have any decisions ever,” he muttered sarcastically then shut up as Inara pulled him close once again.
Loan shot Jayne Cobb another wary look and took a step backwards towards the relative safety of the hatch to the forward deck. This just wasn’t her day. She’d been on her way to her bunk per the captain’s orders when Jayne had intercepted her in the galley all gruff and threatening like.
“What is your damage, you ban han zi (half crazed person)?” Loan angrily snarled at the merc as he towered over her.
Jayne sneered at her. “I ain’t the one that’s nuts,” he retorted. “You’re the one what ain’t got any sense goin’ off half-cocked like that with no back up plan!”
Loan rolled her eyes at that comment. “You’re delusional!” she shot back.
Jayne bit back a filthy retort and angrily pointed a finger at her. “Ain’t no delusion you almost gettin’ yourself killed and all. How you think that’d be for the rest of us?”
Loan laughed in disbelief. “You saying you were actually worried about me, Jayne?”
“Well, someone best be because you sure ain’t, you gorramn fool!” Jayne snarled. He shot her a look of disgust. “What’re you thinking getting Mal all riled like that? Oughtta tan your hide myself, you hou ze de pi gu (monkey’s butt)!” he gruffly threatened.
“I’m sorry, Jayne,” Loan quietly replied. It was a total shock to see the merc all concerned over her welfare, especially when their usual meet ups consisted of baiting one another verbally almost to the point of blows. She gave Jayne a sheepish half-smile. “Gosh, I didn’t realize you cared so much.”
“Hell yeah, I care!” Jayne angrily said. On impulse, he grabbed Loan by her upper arm and whipped her around planting three powerful swats onto her exposed behind.
“OW! Hey!” she hollered at the stinging smacks trying to pull free of the big merc’s grasp.
Jayne smacked the teen hard once again on the bottom. “Mal ends you, and who do we have left knows how to fly this crap pile, huh?” Fully riled, he continued on, punctuating every other word or so with a scalding swat. “Zoe [SMACK] can’t navigate [SMACK] worth go se (crap) [SMACK]. And our little reaver killin’ girlie [SMACK] ain’t figured out [SMACK] how to lift off or set down [SMACK] without bouncing us about like ball bearings! [SMACK] You go and get yerself dead [SMACK], and Mal’d have us rocketing straight [SMACK] into the nearest moon! [SMACK] We’d all be done for [SMACK] and it’d be your ruttin’ fault! [SMACK]”
Done with his little tirade, the merc let Loan go with a shove and fixed her with his sternest glare. “That’ll teach ya to be thinking selfishly of yourself all the time, you... selfish person...what thinks about...herself!”
Satisfied he’d made his point Jayne turned and stalked off toward his own bunk leaving Loan standing rubbing her smarting backside, an angry frown on her young face.
“What just happened here?” she asked the empty corridor in bewilderment. “No, seriously,” she added half expecting an answer.
With a put upon shrug, Loan wearily trudged over to her bunk’s hatch and gave it an agitated kick to activate the hydraulics to open it. Here she was supposed to be waiting for the captain to come and hand her one nan yi zhi xin (incredible) butt whupping for trying to improve his love life, and in the meantime, Mr. tall-stupid-and-grouchy got himself a hankering all of a sudden to get in on the action! And for all the wrong reasons no less, she thought in irritation. She’d deal with Jayne later, she sullenly plotted. Right now, she was not looking forward to getting what amounted to a second, and she was sure much worse, thrashing from the captain and his cast iron hand of doom.
“I just can’t win,” she finally muttered as she began to climb the ladder down into her room.
Loan stopped halfway down and glanced over at Jayne’s bunk next to hers for a long moment and then down the hallway the way she’d come earlier. Okay, sure, she silently admitted. I could have gone about this whole venture a bit more tactfully, no doubt. And I probably shouldn’t have called the captain the big “c” word back there. No make that definitely shouldn’t have, she corrected herself with a wince. But, hell, wasn’t love worth fighting for? They were family and there was no greater love in the ‘verse than that. A small smile crept over her weary lips. She gave a short chuckle.
“May not always be on the winning side, but that don’t mean I ain’t gonna stop tryin’,” she stubbornly declared as she disappeared into her bunk to await her fate. Well that, and to come up with a really, really good defense to justify why the captain shouldn’t blister her backside...or at least a plausible insanity plea complete with nervous eye tic and swooning. Yeah...swooning should work...