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For Now

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"Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
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Inara had said she didn't know. Go or stay was not an option, only maybe hung in the air between them. Ever since Miranda nothing had been right and he was sick of the pretence. Too much of the sands of time had slipped through his gorram fingers. No matter how much Malcolm Reynolds closed his fist to deny the emotionless avarice of fate it still trickled out as if mocking him. Bleeding the life's blood from his ship as one by one his people left him. Died. Gone. But not forgotten. Not never that. It hurt, like a wound that wouldn't heal but ate him up a stolen minute at a time. Devouring hours and shortening days. Haunting his nights with a sleepless restlessness that was driving him *shenjingbing* knowing his protection could never be absolute. And here she was. The author of his sweetest hope and darkest nightmares. The faint aura of his heart's desire dangling before him but never near enough to touch. Oh no, she would never give him that no matter how much her longing looks or words belied that salient truth. It reminded him of words she had spoken a lifetime ago when he was on the verge of confessing everything he kept hidden in his fractured heart.

"I can't afford to do that Mal because it will be my heart that pays the price."

His voice had almost cracked in response. "Think it's any different for the rest of us?"

They had never spoken of it again proving that the moth that drew too close to the flame always got burnt. Another lifetime and here they were. Alone up on the catwalk, each lost in their thoughts but as ever gravitating towards the other. A Mexican standoff with no weapons drawn. The crew long gone to their bunks. Serenity a silent ghost of metal and recycled air holding them inviolate in the space between heartbeats.

Inara watched him silently. The Captain's quiet mood unusual only because of its' duration. A pervading sadness leaking out of him without a word spoken. A subtle thing but affecting her all the same. "*Shenme shi?*"

He could have ignored her but there was no point. Sadness took him beyond petty. His words were soft. "I miss them."

At Inara's questioning look Mal elaborated. Briefly.

"Book. Wash..."

That was when she truly saw him. Not the tall lean handsome Captain who commanded ship and crew with an austere but benign nobility couched in dark humour and biting sarcasm. Nor even the often mercurial moods that oft times caught her unawares to surprise and fascinate her anew. This was a glimpse, a rare insight into the heart of him. Sharp and bright like raw pain, searing in truthsomeness and sorrow. In that moment of clarity Inara realised Mal was not just meaning Book and Wash but everybody. His family. Friends he had lost in the War. Comrades in arms, neighbours and strangers united by a common creed. In the War and before it. The flash of insight made her realise how much she hurt him every time she left. How could she have been so blind, so oblivious to his pain?

"You do know I'm not leaving, don't you?" She said, eyes fixed on his face giving him nowhere to hide. Needing him to believe her even if it was only a finely crafted lie.

A small sigh like a flag of truce seeped out of his barely parted lips but the Captain would not look at her, had no answer that would satisfy them both. Afraid of seeing the "for now" in her eyes.

His nod of 'goodnight' held her captive until he was out of sight then Inara pursed thoughtful lips together and retired to her shuttle. Not to sleep but to think. Inara was a Companion through and through, the best of the best. Her existence defined by artful manipulation, showing to each the face that would elicit the response and acceptance she craved from everyone she met. Serenity was convenient, the crew pliable and easy to mould to her needs and wishes. Enamoured by her grace and beauty they saw what she wanted them to see, became unwitting accomplices to the confabulation of a life lived in exile but with the illusion of freedom. As if her being here had been a happy choice not an act of desperation. Inara had worked hard to win their affections, cherishing them like shining ornaments to her vanity. It made them precious to her, each believing they held a unique place in her heart. But the Captain irritated and confounded her, stepping outside the box. Wild and untamed by her allure, instinctively knowing of her artifice and wary of her wiles. The mannered grace of her manipulation was all she had and his resistence stole the polish off her charm.

Taking up her brush, Inara slowly removed the tangles from her long dark hair. The face in the mirror watching her like a hawk. She was momentarily sick of the artifice, the pretence, but the life she had led for so long kept her emotions in check, a straight jacket of behaviour no easier to shed than her skin. Would she, could she, for the love of one man? One man among many? With another sigh, her reflection answered what she knew in her heart to be true. She would not leave, for now. Calming the moment of temptation until her control was once again absolute, Inara Serra dismissed the aberration that was Malcolm Reynolds and concentrated on her life's work. She was a Companion, the best of the best, and her skilled manipulation was all she had. Let pity attend the Captain. She did not service crew. Brushing her hair until it shone she almost convinced herself that it was true.

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CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenjingbing* = crazy *shenme shi* = what's the matter?