[identity profile] ninamazing.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] uselessflattery
'Cause ff_fanfic deleted it. Originally posted and written on 2 March 2006.

Title: Way of the 'Verse
Author: [livejournal.com profile] ninamazing, or Nina
Word Count: 683
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairing: Mal/Inara or Mal/River, depending on which way you look at it
Spoilers: Meh. If you don't already know that Inara decides to leave at the end of the series, well, I guess I've just ruined it for you. Enjoy.
Summary: For someone with Mal's issues, it's very easy to get drunkified and depressed while only drinking tea. For someone with River's, it's very easy to act creepy and fulfill people's worst nightmares. Or greatest pleasures. Or something.
Author's Note: Sort of based off of my own post at [livejournal.com profile] ff_challenges, which provided the inspiration of "late-night tea confessions." Unfortunately, the other two elements - "River's hair" and "someone saying 'Knowing you, I didn't think you would'" - sort of got lost along the way. (Also, I may really suck with replying to comments in a timely fashion. I'm not even supposed to be writing this, and the fact that I am means that tomorrow I will be problem-setting and testing on three hours of sleep. Huzzah, failure!)


River found him at the galley table. Mal was sitting at the head, as always, his legs half-apart and his head plopped into his hands, ruminating over a cup of steaming tea.

"I had to do it," she said loudly, and Mal snapped up.

"Wha — oh, River," he replied, pulling back from his mug. "I was just — well, Inara left some — got thirsty, is all . . ."

"You were grieving," she said, taking a seat one down from him. "For me. For us. I don't want you to do that, Mal."

"River, are you —" he leaned forward, eyes a little wider than usual, his tired brain trying to suss out what was happening. The room wasn't spinning, but here she was, little feng le girl making like a voice he hadn't heard in weeks.

"I can't give up who I am," she continued. "I know you disagree, but it means something to me. I help people; I open their eyes." Even in his dazed state, Mal thought: of course it was really her. Who else would talk in such complete sentences, with such an exact pause?

"Those rituals I learned," River/Inara went on, "the techniques — they all mean something. When I've pleased a client, I feel fulfilled, calm."

Mal turned his head down again to dig two fingers into his forehead. He was hearing things, seeing fei hua, and River was helping him out, 'cause she didn't know any better.

"But that is nothing compared to how I felt around you."

Mal looked up again, searching River's eyes in spite of himself, hoping that whenever Simon's genius returned to normalcy she wouldn't remember how eager he'd been to hear her — Inara's — words.

"I imagined you," River said softly, "in all kinds of ways. With my clients I was always in control, though I let them believe that I wasn't. I let them think I was surrendering, allowed them to do whatever they wanted with me.

"But with you, it was all true. I wanted —" her voice caught, but somehow River was compelled to go on — "I wanted to lose myself and let you take over. You would make me relax, make me forget, until all I wanted was to be good for you, to use everything I had to please you. Mal, I wanted you to own me . . ." and River's face was flushed now, in pain as Inara must have been, laid bare and nervous and shivering in front of the one lifeline she couldn't control.

Mal was staring. "Inara, I wouldn't have let you," he muttered, half-forgetting he was alone in a room with a mentally traumatized psychic. "I wouldn't have let you . . . lose yourself." It was all nonsense — but just in case, he wanted her to know that, if she could.

Crying now, River answered, "yes, you would," and more firmly, "yes, you would have." Gos se, Mal thought again, riduculous, fei fei de pi yan.

Fact was, though, what little girl understood that much — that well — of Inara's work, of the subtle differences between love and sex? Either River was more of a woman than he'd happily expect, or Inara was getting to him even from . . . whatever planet she'd escaped to. Neither was a possibility he was willing to entertain.

Struck dumb by Inara's conviction, by his own failure, he watched without a body as River stood up fluidly and floated away, without a sound.

At the doorway, on the top stair, she stopped and turned around, flashing him a smile — just a smile. It said that maybe things would be all right, but she wouldn't count on it; and maybe she had made a mistake, telling him all this, but amid so many other errors it was hard to judge, and it was rueful, a little bit, for the intimacy they'd never had, the excited whispers and sweaty smiles that had never been theirs; but they would turn to something, or someone, else, and keep moving, keep flying.

That was the way of the 'verse.
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