Five Drinks

by Kass

Many thanks to Musesfool for beta help!


He stood outside the shuttle door for a while, debating knocking, but in the end he just went inside.

She hadn't completely moved back in yet; Mal figured she still wasn't sure she wanted to stay. But the place felt a lot better than it had when it was empty. Not that he planned on saying so.

Mal stood there for a long moment, feeling awkward. Not exactly a new sensation where Inara was concerned.

"Mal. What brings you here?" She sounded civil, but not especially welcoming.

He rubbed his palms on his trousers. "I just...needed to be someplace where Wash wasn't missing, for a second."

Understanding flooded her face, and her rueful smile made him feel miserable and joyful all at once. "Of course. Sit down. Can I offer you some tea?"

"You got anything stronger?" He wasn't serious, but she threw him a look and withdrew a bottle of Blue Sun from the lacquered chest at the foot of the bed. "I'll be jiggered."

Inara poured a shot for each of them, amber fire in the bottom of her fine porcelain teacups. She sat beside him and for a few moments they didn't talk, though for once the silence didn't feel like he'd just stuck his foot in his mouth.

Finally she raised her drink. "To those we've lost," she offered.

Mal clinked his cup with hers and took a long swig. The whiskey burned going down, but it didn't hurt as bad as he thought it would.


The first time he saw the shepherd drink it had startled the hell out of him.

"Thought you people didn't hold with that," Mal said.

Book looked up from his Scripture, not quite smiling but not rising to the bait either. "Jesus turned water into wine, didn't he?"

"That don't smell like wine." Had to be brandy.

"If there's wine aboard this vessel’—"

"There isn't."

"Then this will have to do."

"How do you know that wasn't our medicinal supply?"

Now Book smiled. "Because your medicinal supply is clearly labeled. And, as you'd plainly see if you checked, hasn't been touched. I brought this bottle on board my ownself."

"Ah." A shepherd who carried his own moonshine; who'd have figured?

"Care to join me?"

"I got a ship to run."

"Indeed. Well, let me know if I can be of assistance." Book turned his attention to the onionskin pages again.

"You can't," Mal muttered, walking down the hallway toward his bunk. Didn't matter if he did come bearing high-quality alcohol; no fong-luh preacher was worming his way onto this crew. Period.

Though if he offered a drink again, Mal thought, might be wise to take him up on it. Bottle of brandy wouldn't last long, and he might as well enjoy it while it was here.


The call for all hands got everyone into the galley pretty quick. Mal poured the last of the shots with a flourish.

"Sir?" Zoe asked.

"A toast. It's U-Day."

"Don't we usually just head to the least friendly bar in town?"

Mal shrugged. "Didn't feel like it this year."

"Will you really feel you've celebrated properly if you haven't decked somebody who doesn't deserve it?" Inara¬¼s voice was all sweetness and light, with a blade underneath.

"Keep pushing me and I'll whack him," Mal said, jerking his head in Jayne's direction. Jayne's "Hey!" was predictable, but that didn¬¼t make it any less funny.

There was a brief silence. "Cheers," Simon offered, and they tipped their glasses back.

The stuff warmed him going down. So did looking around the table. Wasn't everybody who should've been there, but when was it ever?

Mal stood. "Know what? I think I feel like heading planetside after all. You with me?"

"Always." Zoe sounded resigned, but kind of pleased, too.

"If there's drinks, I'm in." Jayne pushed back from the table.


It was worth asking just to see him blanch. "No thanks. I'll stay here and get my sutures in order."

"I'll stay with the lovebirds," Inara said, smoothly. Mal spared a look at Kaylee, who was beaming.


"Anachronistic practice. No point in it. Plus this stuff tastes like horse piss."

"Fair 'nough," Mal said, and headed for the door, boots and footsteps following.

Another gorram U-Day, but at least he wasn't alone.


Simon sat at the table with a mug of tea, reading. No day or night to speak of out here, but it was third shift; no one else awake. Ship on autopilot.

Mal pulled out a chair. "Back when we first hired Wash," he said, swallowing how the name still hurt, "I shared with Zoe my feelings on shipboard romance."

"Excuse me?"

"Complicates matters. Bad policy. Don't like it."

Simon's face cleared. "Ah. Actually, Zoe took it upon herself to explain this to me already."

"Huh." He'd have to thank her for saving him the trouble.

"...She told me to ignore you."

"What?" Okay, new Zoe plan: yelling.

"I respect where you're coming from, but things were’—complicated’— already. They're less so now."

"How d'you figure that?"

"Do my job better when I'm getting laid reg'lar," Kaylee piped up from the doorway.

"Ai yah, hwah lei! I thought you were asleep."

Kaylee grinned, unrepentant, as she padded to the galley and poured herself a cup.

This was not going according to plan. "Okay, close your ears," he said, and turned to Simon. "Kaylee's like a sister to me, and I know you understand feeling protective of your sister."

"Captain, I’—"

Mal kept going. "Break her heart and I'll space you."

He rose. Thank God that was over.

"If I break her heart, I think she'll space me herself," Simon said.

Mal couldn't help smiling as he headed back to the flight deck. She probably would, at that.


The guy who sold it to him in Whitsun swore it was wine. Closer to vinegar, honestly, but Inara seemed to appreciate the gesture.

Things were going well until she said, "Actually’—I've been meaning to talk to you."

Tension coiled through him.

"I appreciate your letting me stay here rent-free while I figured out what comes next."

Ship would echo once she left again. Most important thing was not to let on how his insides had just frozen clean through.

"--would you be open to renewing our previous arrangement?"

Mal blinked.

She was still talking. "I think the rent was eminently fair, and I expect the income would be useful again’—"

Inara wasn¬¼t leaving. His whole body felt washed with relief. "Okay," he said, and drained his glass.

"Okay! Good."

He was casting about for what to say next when she kept going. "I would...h ope...we could keep doing this," her hand encompassing the two of them, the floor pillows, the wine, "once I'm your tenant again."

"Once you're working again, you mean."

Inara nodded.

Mal's head roiled. Images of Inara with her clients. The nights he took himself in hand and thought of her. The knowledge she would never give this up’—nor should she, for whatever little he could offer.

How terrified he'd been of losing her again.

"Can't see why not," he said, finally, when he found words again.

Inara's smile was real. Made him burn. "Ganbei," she said, and refilled his glass.

The End