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Title: Never Runs Smooth
Rating: PG-13 For Angst

Series: Takes place in the Firefly Sushi!verse created by [livejournal.com profile] terimaru. Here is the list of fics in this 'verse so far.
Pairing: Mal/Inara
Word Count: 5,468
Timeline: set between between Mis-Ceptions and Inara's Gift
Summary: Fifth installment of my angst contribution to this delightful Sushi-verse. There's a reason why Mal doesn't believe in luck. Can Inara and the rest of the crew prove the Captain wrong? Or does Fate truly have a thing against him?
Disclaimer: Mr. Whedon and posse own all but the fish and all things related to Avery. Those are [livejournal.com profile] terimaru's.


Chapters: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8



***********************************

Chapter 5

It was the smell that he became aware of first. He’d loved it from when he was just a little boy. It was the smell of horses and hay, and it had been his life for so long… He frowned.

He was lying down, swaying gently. He could hear the soft creak of wagon wheels rolling over compact earth. Had he fallen asleep? Were they on their way to church? He tried to open his eyes. It was bright, but the increasing shade of branches overhanging the road made it easier. His eyes slid to the right and locked with Zoë’s.

No, it wasn’t Shadow. It never would be again.

“We breakin’ camp?” he asked her. She looked much as she always did, but he could see the strain that no one else might notice. It made the skin around her eyes tight and her gaze that much more direct.

“We’re on Avery, sir. We’re taking you to Abigail’s,” she said, and he shook his head to try to clear the cobwebs. Avery… The gunman… The burning pain that even now gnawed at his awareness. Aw, hell, he’d gone and got himself gut shot again.

“Everyone okay? Inara?” he asked, and at her raised eyebrow, suspected she’d already told him before. Perhaps more than a few times.

“Yes, sir... Still,” she replied.

She sat beside him, partially elevated on the wheel well, and only took an occasional glance around her. As Zoë was always cautious, he’d learned to identify quickly how imminent danger was by the frequency she checked her surroundings. Evidently, they were on low alert, he thought with amusement, and realized he was feeling a mite whimsical.

“Did Simon drug me?” he asked, almost too cheerful to be irritated. Almost.

“To your eyeballs, sir,” she said, and smiled widely. He tried to scowl, but suspected he looked silly instead.

“Where’s Inara?” he asked, suddenly anxious.

It wasn’t Shadow, and it wasn’t the war. His crew was safe, and that was what mattered. Despite his own (most likely unfounded) reservations about Abel, he knew the man would give them the help they needed for as long as they needed it. And, he had to concede, Abigail was a mighty fine cook. Jayne had to be thrilled, he thought.

“Your wife was foolish enough to ask Simon just what your recovery would entail,” Zoë observed dryly.

“Foolish indeed,” he agreed, “She’s going to have to learn to ask for the short answer.” He then proceeded to yawn widely.

“Get some more rest, sir. You might not want to be awake when they move you, anyway.”

“Would you see that she rests and gets some food in her, too? Tell her I ain’t shuffling off anytime soon?” Mal asked. His words were meant for Zoë as much as Inara, and his first mate knew it. She nodded and smiled that large, warm smile of hers.

“Yes, sir,” she said gently, and went back to watching silently as he drifted back to sleep.

***********************************************


He’d tried to sleep through their moving him, but it hadn’t worked. He’d open his eyes, and see something different, and was starting to feel both hot and cold at the same time. By the time they’d arrived at Abigail’s home, he knew he was getting worse.

He could barely keep his eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time, and Simon was starting to rush Jayne and Zoë as they hefted him into the room she’d prepared for him.

It had been a relief when Simon had given him something to rest, as he’d been afraid he was gonna start talking in a delirium, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. Of course, soon as he felt a little better, he was gonna have to talk to that boy about being so liberal with the meds. There were some members on Serenity who didn’t take too kindly to them.

The cell he was thrown into had only a tiny grate up near the top to allow in air flow. It stank of death and human waste, and he had to concentrate not to gag. They’d worked him over, hard, and he couldn’t stop panting for breath, but it was still better than the box… He had no idea what day it was, or how long he’d been there, locked away in an iron box too small to stand in and too narrow to lie down.

“Shhhhh, it’s okay, Mal. Come on, take a sip of water…” a voice as soothing as a warm shower washed over him. He was lying on a soft mattress, with just a sheet covering him, and a gentle breeze ghosted his skin.

His fingers scrabbled in the hard dirt as he tried to drag himself forward, but was too weak. The guards ended up kicking his legs out of the way to be able to shut the door behind him.

He could barely move, and each breath brought up a puff of dust that choked in his lungs. It was a tiny room; carved out rock except for the steel wall and door at the front. He could hear the faint mutterings of voices in other cells, but couldn’t make out any words. That was okay, though. If he could hear them, they could hear him. The idea appealed.

He stayed still, trying to regroup and allowing his eyes to adapt to the faint lighting for a moment, but the pain didn’t abate. Not that he’d thought it would. His eyes traveled the length of the cell; there wasn’t much to see, it being no bigger than a closet. Still, it was much cooler there, and he’d be able to stretch out. Things were improving.


There was a bundle of rags in the corner that didn’t move, and suddenly Mal understood why it stank as much as it did in the cell. His gorram roommate was a corpse.

“Howdy, bunkmate,” he mumbled with a whisp of a laugh which quickly turned into a cough. He opened his eyes to try to see, but it was dark out. The only light came from the two moons that shone through the bedroom window. Moons?

“Try not to cough, Mal. Come on. Just keep taking slow, easy breaths…” that beautiful voice pleaded gently.

“His fever’s rising,” a cool voice said, but it floated around him and he didn’t care. “I’m going to wake Simon up again.” He thought it was a damn shame his bunkmate insisted on haunting him.

“You’re from Shadow, Sergeant, aren’t you?” his interrogator asked, strapping him so effectively to the swiveling chair in the center of the room that the most he could move was his fingertips. Mal remained silent.

A doctor stepped into his periphery vision and tied a rubber strap to his arm. “Great,” he murmured. “More bug juice.”


“Bug juice?” a soft voice asked. His eyes flickered open, but everything was bright. Too bright.

“Drugs, ‘Nara. It’s why the captain hates ‘em as bad as he does,” Zoë said at his side. Alleyne?

“It’s necessary. I’ll start dialing it back the moment he starts to improve,” a male’s voice said. “There is no need for him to suffer. Pain doesn’t help recovery.”

“It does when it reminds him he’s alive. You’ve got no idea of his history with medications, Simon. I’m not telling you how to doctor him, but I am saying he might need to be an exception to the rule. At least right now.”

“Pharmaceuticals used as a non-physical method to induce or enhance pain in the subject's mental, emotional, and psychological state,” a disembodied voice whispered in his ear.

“That’s right,” Mal whispered back.

“River?” the young man’s voice asked, sounding slightly strangled. “That’s how he sees medications?”

“It is what it is,” he murmured, trying to brace himself. He was too tired to try humor and insults today. Whatever they’d done previously had left its mark.

“Burned into the disk so the grooves never dull,” River said softly, her voice thick with sympathy. He felt the briefest press of lips to his forehead.

It burned as the doctor injected the drug into his arm, and he hated how quickly it took effect as the rubber strap was removed and his forearm massaged to speed the medication’s passage into his body.

The interrogator had a gleam to his eye that let Mal know this was gonna be a rough one. They’d been chipping away at him for six months now. Half a year in a ‘re-education’ camp and they still hadn’t figured out he didn’t have much to say, and was less than inclined to say it.

“I’ve got some prime vids to show you, Sergeant,” the interrogator said with a smile and pulled the screen in front of Mal’s face. Strapped as he was, there was no way he’d be able to look away from it. It filled his line of vision entirely.

“While your leaders were considering whether to cut and run and leave you all to die for them, we were sending a message to the Independents. One we recorded. It’s got a message on there just for you,” the man said in his ear, and Mal felt nauseas as the warmth of the interrogator’s breath caressed his face. He tried to jerk away.


“Easy, Mal. It’s okay. You’re not alone. We’re all right here.” Something cool and wet dabbed gently at his forehead and neck.

“You gonna stay and watch the show?” a guard asked the interrogator behind him. Mal could hear the sound of the medical cart being pushed back out into the hallway, and the click of several pairs of boots leaving as well.

“Nah, I watched it yesterday. It’s pretty boring actually. You gonna watch it?” the interrogator asked, and Mal could hear the door close behind them. They shut off the lights, leaving him in total darkness, save for the screen that he now realized was illuminated slightly; on but not connected yet.

Then it lit up, and the image made him clench his teeth in an effort not to say anything. It was his home. Shadow. Sound was suddenly blared from the speaker embedded in the chair just behind his head and began in the middle of a wave from Lander, Shadow's capital city's Mayor.

“Our sensors read that there are twelve Alliance destroyers now entering orbit around us. What is the meaning of this?” Mayor Reeves asked, eyes wide and clearly terrified.

Suddenly Mal understood what he was going to be made to witness and started struggling hard against the straps. He’d heard the rumors, but refused to believe them. They couldn’t be true. They couldn’t be.


“No,” he said.

The camera swung wide to show the military might that had stationed itself around Shadow. As a Rim planet, they’d been taxed grievously for decades as the Alliance used tariffs and trade rules to force them out of their ranches and farms once the feds realized how rich and fertile Shadow had become.

As Shadow’s citizens were forced out, the Alliance had moved in to take over. The bureaucrats and their personnel had had no concept of crop rotations, the proper ways to tend to cattle, or much else common sense in the ways of life on the Rim and were quickly stripping the planet bare of her resources.

There’d been more homeless on his sparsely populated planet than many of the core worlds, and foodstuffs became currency. Left penniless and unable to find alternative incomes (or even a way to leave the planet), over half the population joined up with the Independents in the first five days of the war. He’d joined because their ranch was within six months of joining the rest of his neighbors, and he could no longer stand idly by, no matter how much his momma argued against it.

As the fighters deployed, Mal tactically understood what they would be doing. Past, present and future blurred, as he recalled how much of the universe still didn’t believe Shadow had been wiped out by Alliance military. The party line was, to this day, that a tragic terraforming accident had blown the atmosphere off the planet.


”The only truth is what the Alliance tells you,” he choked. He was in a room with a view of an orchard that glowed golden in the evening sunsets.

He tried desperately to convince himself that the footage they were showing him could be doctored, but he knew better than that. After all, why go to the time and energy to doctor a vid showing a world destroyed when you could just as easily do it? That was the Alliance way.

“I hear it was a great training exercise for the troops,” the interrogator had told him later. “Got them all gung ho for dealing with you scum on Hera.”

He knew what happened next. He remembered it… But how could he know that? Mal fought desperately against the straps, which suddenly morphed into hands on his shoulders, his chest, his legs. Mal’s eyes opened and he immediately sought out Zoë.


“Don’t make me watch. Don’t make me watch it again,” he rasped, feeling woozy and disoriented from the drugs, and Zoë’s eyes went wide with horror. It was the room again. Where was he?

“Inara, keep him awake. Don’t let him go back under,” she instructed and turned to Simon. “You got anything in there to wake him up?”

“I just gave him something to rest,” Simon argued. “His fever’s still dangerously high, but I thought he was starting to show signs of improvement.”

“He goes back to sleep and I guarantee he’ll be worse off for it.”

“Mal? Can you hear me? Look at me, Mal. You’re safe here,” Inara took his face in her hands; turning him so he had no choice but to look up in her eyes. She looked exhausted.

The straps were tight enough that he still couldn’t look away, no matter how hard he tried to wriggle free. He watched in misery as the first bombs hit. The film makers had spliced in waves from the planet with footage of the destruction with an artistic eye, occasionally switching to close-ups of the planet’s surface from the fighters and then back again to the larger panoramic images taken from the destroyers themselves.

At first the waves from those planet side were desperate - begging for the Alliance to stop or someone to hear their call and come help them. After the first three hours, those tapered off. Alliance fighters were systematically shooting out of the sky every shuttle that tried to leave atmo.

As the people of Shadow realized their fate, the tone of the waves they sent changed from pleas for help to messages – sometimes to their loved ones, and sometimes to the Alliance. After six hours, only a quarter of the population remained – those that lived in the mountain ranges and more rugged rural areas. The places he grew up.

He’d already recognized a lot of the faces in the waves – faces from the local news feed, Shadow’s small time politicians trying to negotiate, along with local celebrities and scientists. Even a few Independent leaders unlucky enough to be stationed there…

He wondered what the Alliance thought he’d feel about watching his fellow countrymen and women sending messages they knew would never be heard? All it did was make him wish he could be there too.

The people of Shadow had always been practical. Once they’d realized there would be no help for them, they’d set about leaving messages of hope, of rage, of humor so warped that even in the face of his home planet’s destruction, he’d had to laugh. They’d tried to reassure loved ones off world, and make promises to watch over them always.

Then he started recognizing the faces not from the news, but from his home town, and he knew he couldn’t bear to see it. He loved these people. He’d never stepped foot off planet before enlisting. With his mother as his only living kin, the ranch hands had been his uncles, and the people in town his extended family. Heaven knew they made sure to tell his momma the moment he got into mischief.

When the vid screen showed Trevor’s face, he lost it. He’d tried to steel himself. He knew it was coming, and fought at the straps with all his might. Trevor was momma’s right hand man. He knew she’d be on screen next.


“He’s pulled his stitches! Get Jayne in here! You’ve got to hold him down!”

“My name’s Alice Reynolds, and I got a boy fighting against you. I told him at the time I’d let him go over my dead body,” his mother’s face, normally so stern and serious, broke out into a savage grin, and he could see she was completely unafraid.

“Never knew I was a prophet,” she joked, and her eyes glittered with that same fierceness that used to frighten him so as a boy.

“You’ve been sucking us dry for years, but now you’ve finally shown your real face. My boy was right. Staying low and trying to get by is what got us here. I know he’ll probably never see this, but I’m gonna say it anyway. I’ve never been prouder of you, Malcolm. You were right, you hear? There’s a first time for everything,” she said.


Mal choked to get more air, and kept trying to curl into a ball. “Wángbādàn,” he hissed. “Wo xi wang ni man man si, dan kuai dian xia di yu!

“I gotta say, I’ve never been so glad of your stubborn streak as I am today,” his mother continued, then glanced over her shoulder and gave a brief nod. “Now I gotta give air time to the rest of the boys. I love you, Malcolm. Stay strong, and don’t you ever give up, you hear? The Reynolds clan never did learn the meaning of the word,” she said with a calm face, then stood from the chair to make room for Billy.

He couldn’t get oriented enough to distance himself. The drugs made everything feel like he was there, like it was happening, and he was having a hard time even remembering that it was done, and everyone was already dead. He kept thinking if he could just get free, maybe he could save them, that there was still life left. They were all still alive at the ranch. If he could just get free… Another sting to his arm, and he realized all he wanted to do was die.

No, he thought, overwhelmed. It was already too much. What had they given him now?


“Let me go,” he begged, and the straps became hands again, and arms, and a body that was currently draped across his legs. He still struggled even as the vid faded away, and he realized Inara was talking to him, trying to get him to look at her.

“Mal! Stop fighting! Can you hear me?!” she yelled into his face. The surprise of it made him jerk and look her in the eyes.

“’Nara?” he rasped, and she smiled widely, even though she still looked terrified.

“That’s right, just like that,” she soothed and wiped a washcloth against his brow.

“I don’t want to hear it again,” he told her, and her expression collapsed even as she tried to give him a reassuring look.

“Shhh, all you’re gonna be hearing is me nagging at you to stay awake, dong ma?” she asked.

Hen ha,” he agreed, then flinched as he felt something pull at his stomach. He looked down, prepared to fight again, but all he saw was Simon gently tugging the bandage from his abdomen. A little further down, Zoë was draped across both his thighs.

“Hey, Zoë, what’re you doing?” he asked. She smiled and rolled her eyes as Inara gave a weak cough.

“There weren’t enough chairs, sir,” Zoë replied, and Mal nodded. Huh.

“His fever’s breaking,” Simon said to Inara and Zoë, which prompted Inara to lean over and kiss him hard on the lips. He grinned in appreciation. “I’ve applied a local, but it’s still likely to be uncomfortable when I stitch this back up,” Simon said apologetically to Mal with scissors in hand.

“That’s okay,” he tried to reassure the doctor. For whatever reason, Simon looked completely unnerved every time he glanced towards Mal.

“Did Mal ever tell you about the time he fooled the Alliance into thinking their own ships were Independents looking to make a break for it?” Zoë asked Inara as she got up from Mal’s legs and sat on the other side of the bed from his wife. His wife. Mal smiled.

“Hey, sir,” Zoë murmured at Mal, and touched his arm briefly, then reached across and put a hand to Inara’s shoulder.

Inara grabbed for it desperately, and seemed to collapse in on herself for just a second before taking a deep breath and squeezing Zoë’s hand back.

“Blew ‘em right out of the sky. Saved us three days worth of ammo,” Zoë began, in that voice she often used for storytelling. Smooth and soothing, even while talking about mayhem and carnage. He admired that.

He felt oddly jittery as his eyes slid from Simon stitching up his stomach to Zoë still telling tales and most often to Inara. She looked distraught, and desperate to hold herself together, which made him highly nervous. Normally she didn’t reveal so much involuntarily. He kept running his fingers over her hand and giving occasional squeezes. He couldn’t understand why the more he tried to reassure her with gestures the more she looked like she was about to cry.

Zoë kept talking, the most she’d done in years, pausing occasionally to ask him to elaborate on a detail he was sure she knew perfectly well. Inara listened with widening eyes, and finally looked to begin to relax a little.

Once in a while they’d take a break to try to get him to drink some water, but then Zoë immediately resumed her stories. Once Simon had finished with the stitches, he’d very carefully bandaged Mal back up and then stood and stared at him for a good five minutes with dark, thoughtful eyes. Mal stared back, but didn’t say anything. The boy was looking a might fragile. Strange.

He began to drift, and sighed as his hand loosened its grip on Inara’s. He was so tired.

“Will he be okay sleeping?” Inara whispered.

“He’s still on drugs for the pain, but I’ve flushed out all the ones that helped him rest. Will it be enough?” Simon asked, but Mal’s eyes were closed, so he didn’t know who he was asking. Most likely Zoë.

“He’s dealt with these for a long time now. It’ll be easier this way,” she reassured the doctor. As he felt his body relax, he took a deeper breath, and even though he felt the urge to cough, didn’t.

“Good job, Captain. Keep taking breaths like that and you’ll be up and around in no time,” Simon said, and Mal puzzled for a moment at the warmth in it.

“Time for all good Captains to sleep,” a voice whispered in his ear… River?

“I think it’s time to dream of fish,” she whispered again, but it was an oddity, as Zoë kept on talking, and no one seemed to be saying anything to Simon’s sister about interrupting. His last thoughts were to realize that, although it had sounded like she was right next to his ear, he never felt her breath or her hair against his face.

********************************************


“We catch them as they cross the river. They ain’t expectin’ resistance, and we’ll have the high and dry ground,” he said, and used a stick to draw in the dirt to illustrate where he wanted them positioned.


“Alleyne will take their scouts here,” he said, poking the ground, and nodded to Zoë. “No one makes a move before they give the all clear, dong ma?” he asked, and looked around to make sure everyone understood.

“They may have the greater numbers…” he began.

“That’s an understatement,” Davies muttered from the back.

Mal eyed him sharply, as did the troops standing next to him. The boy scowled but held his tongue. He was the new addition, and hadn’t seen the carnage the others had back in Portsmouth. Not a man, woman, nor child had been left alive. The Alliance had even set fire to the small hospital there, and sealed it from the outside, burning some of their own injured as well.

“We’ll have them at the disadvantage. You and you,” he said, pointing to the Anderson brothers, “make sure they don’t get any foothold on the banks.” Roger Anderson in particular nodded eagerly, and the glint in his eye didn’t look entirely sane.

“I know emotions are running high, but this is a tactical strike, dong ma? We take ‘em out and keep movin’. Take what supplies and weaponry you can, but pack light. We got a long way to go…”


“Sir?” Alleyne called, and Mal frowned. Opening his eyes, he found himself looking up at the canopy of a bed. Glancing to the nightstand next to him, he could see the careful, handcrafted dowels and uneven grain that he often used to see in homes on the Rim.

“You hungry? Simon wants to see how you handle broth,” Zoë said, and sure enough, had a small bowl in her hand. The aroma wafting past his nose certainly made his mouth begin to water. Abigail’s home, he reminded himself.

It was hard, not having Serenity’s engines to anchor him. Being planet side was starting to mess with his head, Mal realized. He cleared his throat and tried to sit up, only to have small hands push him back down.

“Oh no you don’t. We help you sit up,” Inara said, and proceeded to do just that. Simon stood behind her, looking a bit surprised to be holding the teapot and cup she must have pushed into his hands when she realized what Mal was about to do.

“Hey, sleepin’ beauty’s awake!” Kaylee exclaimed from the doorway, and gave Simon a wink as she rushed to help Inara lean Mal forward and prop pillows behind his shoulders. He kept trying to catch Inara’s eye, but for the moment she was having none of it.

“Captain, I’d like to try to get you back on normal foods as soon as possible,” Simon began, and Mal held up a hand.

“And I’m all for it, but I think I’m missing something,” he said and looked around him. The nightstand’s real estate was taken up with Simon’s vials and equipment. Blankets lay draped over the arms of several chairs nearby, and Kaylee wasn't the only one wearing her pajamas.

“How long have I been here?” Mal asked, and was concerned when both Inara and Zoë smiled brightly at the question.

“Five days, sir,” Zoë replied, and suddenly Inara’s behavior made sense.

“Have I been… Have I been talkin’ in my sleep?” he asked her directly, suddenly uncomfortably aware of just how many dreams he could remember having. As she lifted her face to glance at him he could see how hard she was struggling not to cry.

“Zoë, set the bowl there. The rest of you, out. I’d like a moment with Inara,” he said in the best captainy voice he could muster under the circumstances.

“Captain,” Simon began to object, but Zoë took him by the arm and murmured something in his ear. Kaylee leaned over quickly and kissed Mal’s cheek before nearly skipping to the door and closing it behind her.

“Inara?” Mal asked and reached out to capture her hand in his. He knew his grip was weak, but she didn’t fight it, even as she still tried not to look him in the eyes.

“Darlin’? I think there’s something we need to be discussing,” he said, and hated not having the strength to pull her into his arms. Her lips trembled even as she tried to smile.

“I’m fine, Mal. Just a little shaken,” she said, and at this he did gently pull her to him. Thankfully there was enough room on the bed for her to slide onto it and scoot gently next to him, pinning him underneath the covers by her warm, welcome weight.

“That’s not what it’s lookin’ like to me,” he prodded gently, cupping her chin and cheek easily in his hand and marveling at how soft and smooth her skin was. “It’s looking like leaky plumbing,” he teased.

She laughed, and tears did spill out as she leaned tenderly against his shoulder, rolling onto her side so she could look up into his face.

“Call Kaylee,” she tried to joke, but one look at his face and suddenly she was sobbing hard, her face pressed against his chest and her hands curled up in the sheets.

“Hey, shhhh, now,” he soothed, even as he let her cry. He rubbed his hands against her back the way his momma used to comfort him, and ignored the sting in his gut as he gently rocked her back and forth. “It’s not as bad as all that. Shhhhh,” he spoke softly, wishing he could gather her up and pull her into his lap completely.

“I knew it would eventually happen. I even tried to brace myself for it. But it’s too soon!” she said into his chest.

“But I ain’t dying,” he protested, bewildered and getting distraught himself at her sobs. “Am I?” he tried to joke, but it came out weak and ill timed. She hit him on the arm, hard, but it did distract her as she pulled away to scowl angrily at him. At least she wasn’t crying still.

“No, you aren’t, you chunrén! But if you keep this up, I may kill you myself!”

“Keep what up?” Mal asked, amazed at how, even with puffy eyes and a terminal case of the sniffles, she was still the most beautiful, extraordinary woman he’d ever had the privilege of laying eyes on.

It was bad timing to be having this conversation when he was loopy on pain meds, because he was finding it extremely hard not to tell her how gorram cute she looked, wearing one of his thicker, worn shirts like a robe over her own pajamas and a pair of Kaylee’s fuzzy socks like slippers.

“You said it yourself, how bad things happen…” she began, but he raised his hand to interrupt, pleased to be able to reassure her.

“Yeah, but it did! See? And I was the only one that got shot! So that’s shiny!” he said with a satisfied smile, which began to falter at the look on her face. “That’s not shiny?”

“Malcolm Reynolds, we’ve got access to jobs that are as easy as pie - apple pie moonshine, that is,” she said sternly and he suppressed the sudden urge to giggle.

“You insist on traveling to the ends of the known universe making sure we’ve always got jobs lined up, at the expense of turning away the very runs that’ll help us earn enough that we have something stashed away in case of emergency! What kind of business sense is that?” she demanded. He paused, started to say something, closed his mouth, and frowned.

“I admit, it sounds a mite bad when you put it like that!” he said indignantly. “But hey,” he pointed out triumphantly, “I got shot here!”

Inara waved a hand, dismissing it. “Pish posh. Who’s to say we’d have been and gone by the time that ship arrived? Or able to help Abel out so he didn’t have to face those people on his own?” Mal sighed and reached out to wipe the tears from her face.

“I take your meaning,” he said solemnly. The past few day’s dreams were dredging up a lot he’d tried to leave behind, and he was starting to realize his reasons for avoiding Avery likely had little to do with real risk and a lot to do with how much it reminded him of the people of Shadow.

“Please tell me you’ll quit trying to find reasons not to do Abel’s runs,” she pleaded softly.

“I surely will,” he promised.

“This is the most coherent you’ve been in days. I’ve missed you, Mal,” she said, and leaned forward.

Her lips were still slightly salty from her tears, which made his heart constrict with grief. The last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt her, and if doing this would ease her fears, it was worth it, even if it meant he had to face some things he’d long ago buried.

****************************************************


Translations:

chunrén - fool/jerk (familiar)
dong ma - understand?
hen ha - okay
Wángbādàn - dirty bastards sons of bitches
Wo xi wang ni man man si, dan kuai dian xia di yu! - I wish you a slow death, but a quick ride to hell!
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