Word Count: 514
Spoilers: Post Serenity-movie
Disclaimer Joss owns Firefly, not I!
Author’s Notes: Written for jossverse_las for the prompt: “[character] faces their greatest fear.”
Summary: Everyone has to deal with their fear sometime, even a brave man.
It was not in Mal to play the coward. For certain he’d run if the odds were bad, he definitely wasn’t above an underhanded trick to win the day, and given the right circumstances, he’d back down from a stronger opponent. But that didn’t make him fearful. He’d draw a line in the sand and defend it to the death if need be. There just hadn’t been many occasions where he’d needed to.
Take now. Inara back with the crew again, helping heal the hole left by Wash’s death and the Shepherd’s senseless murder. River taking over piloting duties with skill beyond her tender years, while Simon and Kaylee canoodled with the kind of fire that only came from young love. Jayne, well… he was still Jayne, if maybe a touch more considerate here or there about Zoe’s loss.
And that was the trick. Simon had Kaylee, River had Simon, Jayne had been impressed enough by River’s fight against the Reavers to give her some respect. Zoe was coping, and everyone was helping here. Mal still had Serenity. But Inara… she was helping everyone else, but no one came to help her.
Oh sure, Mal knew that old bit of wisdom that those that helped others were helping themselves, but he knew that no amount of giving someone a shoulder to lean on was as helpful as someone else being there with a flask of whiskey when you needed to set the past at a distance for a spell.
Not that Inara drank whiskey.
But Mal saw her every day, being that shoulder, taking everyone’s burden of grief on her own back. She hadn’t talked to Mal much; she was busy making sure everyone else didn’t fall apart, but every burden off his crew kept Mal light on his feet, ready to face anything.
Even this. Mal stood before the door to Inara’s shuttle, wondering if he should back down. Inara was strong enough to shred him if she felt like it. He could try to bluff, blustering his way in so she wouldn’t guess his real reasons. Or he could try to run before she even knew he was there, and save them both a heap of trouble.
Mal swallowed, feeling more fearful than he could recall. Any “hero” was also a bit of a coward – no man or woman went up against impossible odds without being afraid, and most were still too cowardly to admit being afraid.
Afraid that for everything they had not, would not say would be too loud for Mal to try to make himself heard.
He raised his hand to knock, and the door slid open under his knuckles. Inara stood there, shining in her brocade, a sad look in her eyes. Mal gaped uselessly for a minute, and then held up a small flask of cordial from Shadow, something far more Inara’s style than whiskey.
“Wondered if you wanted an ear?” he got out, his feet still poised to run. Mal waited for the eternity of a moment, too cowardly to flee.
Then Inara smiled, and all the fear fell away.