shepcrew: (John Sheppard -- Default)
[personal profile] shepcrew
[ooc: this references this.]


One could almost call it coincidence, how the very diplomatic function they were supposed to attend just happened to be the same one that she was attending. With a client, no less. John had seen her across the room, her mask firmly in place. He could tell that she was play-acting, the smile spread across her lips not quite reching her eyes the way it did when she was with him; the rigid posture that reminded him more of a green military recruit in the constant presence of a Three-Star General than a loving, adoring woman who was absolutely delighted to be there with her companion. She hid it well, he had to admit, and if the gentleman was aware of her falsity he did a good job of concealing it.

Teyla had given him a concerned look, as had Ronon and - surprisingly - McKay, but he smiled and reassured them that all was well. They would simply keep to the side of the room farthest from Inara and her client, to lessen the chance that she break character and to make sure that both her night and theirs would remain smooth. He just wouldn't think about it when they finally left, to presumably get down to business, as it were. John knew that his team, as well as much of the rest of Atlantis, had only the vaguest notion of what it was Inara actually did for a living, and he did nothing to correct the rumours that flew about, because none of them were as questionable and possibly scandalizing as the truth. And now, he still had no desire to enlighten them further, allowing them to believe what they would. If they thought that it was merely jealousy for being someone else's date, then so be it. Besides, them knowing would make it worse, since he refused to have the how-could-you-stand-it conversation that he would be required to endure in triplicate immediately after the word got out, and then once every time someone else found out. Nope. Better to pretend that what was going to happen wasn't. It was the only way he could sleep at night.

The plan worked, for the most part. John found himself wandering a balcony alone, looking up at the stars as he trailed a hand over the railing. He paused to look out into the shadowed night, the new moon's feeble attempt at lighting the darkness lacking in lustre. He leaned against the railing, missing the sound of Atlantis' ocean and the salty air. It was a still night, he noted, the barest hint of a breeze playing over the landscape. Good night for covert ops. He hadn't realized his eyes had closed until they snapped open as a cry pierced the air. His head turned sharply in the direction of the sound, and he pushed away from the railing as the sounds of a struggle came to him. Another cry had his blood running cold, recognition hitting him hard as he broke into a run.

All sorts of nasty scenarios flashed through his mind, at least one of them being true as he rounded a corner and watched as she landed on the ground hard. Before the man towering above her could descend, John grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, a right hook following and connecting with the man's jaw in a sickening crack. The man stumbled back, eyes radiating fury at the intrusion. He rubbed his jaw, then pointed at John.

"How dare you. You will pay dearly for interrupting my rightful time with..."

"Your time with her is done," John said, cutting him off. The vehemence in his voice stopped the protest forming on Inara's lips, and she stared up at Atlantis' Military Commander as if finally seeing him for the first time. "You have no right-"

"She has been bought and paid for, son, I can do what I damn well please..."

John paused only a moment before continuing as if the man had never spoken, "No right to treat a woman like that, regardless of whether she has been paid for or not."

"John, please. I can take care of my-"

"Like hell you can," he said, helping her up from the ground. "C'mon. We're leaving."

"But my contract with-"

"Is now broken."

"The Guild will hear of his, girl, make no mistake!"

John stopped and rounded on the man. "You better check your rules again, mister. Last time I heard it was the Guild and the Companion that had the power to make or break someone's future with being hired or not. If anyone's gonna be in trouble, it's you. Say good-bye to the last Companion you'll ever have." And with that, John Sheppard brokered no argument as he pulled Inara back inside, and headed to the saftey of his room.

***

"How dare you," Inara spat as soon as the door closed behind them.

"How dare I? Inara, that man was going to hurt you. Hell, he may have even tried to rape you if I hadn't stepped in."

"A situation in which I have been trained to handle. I have survived just fine in similar situations without you, John Sheppard, and your presence in my life makes no difference in that regard." ...Oh dear, had that last part been out loud? She thought it may have, given the look on his face.

"...What do you mean, 'similar situations'?" he said slowly, his voice low in that dangerous way. She knew it was the tone he affected when he was deeply hurt or betrayed, and ready to lose all compassion towards the person in question, and with what she had just said, she didn't blame him. Not really.

"A Companion is trained to deal with...with clients who like to play a little too roughly," she said quietly, putting it as delicately as possible, lest she provoke him further. She had seen him like this from the outside-looking-in once or twice, when she happened to be on Atlantis when something bad happened to an expedition member or one of his teammates. Never had she ever thought to be on the receiving end of it...

"And so, what? You expect me to just stand aside and let someone beat you, simply because you've been trained to deal with it?" His voice had started to rise in that argumentative way, and something about it pissed her off more than it scared her.

"I am a grown woman," she said, squaring her shoulders. "I know the risks that my job involves, just as you know the risks of your own. You don't see me taking up arms and beating down every situation that you have under control, now, do you?"

He stared at her, jaw hanging open. "Inara, that is hardly the same thing! Me risking my ass to shoot someone in the head is nowhere near you taking on a client who has every intention of desecrating your body and ripping into your emotional well-being and tearing both to shreds. I can live with the thought that my foolish actions may get me into worse trouble or hell, someday kill me. What I can't live with, is knowing that you have been violated in a way that no person should ever be. Being afraid that something I may say or do can push you away because of the memories it would invoke is not something that I can think about!"

It was her turn to stare, her jaw haging open in that undignified way. Her mouth worked a few times as she tried several sentences, deeming each to be inadequate before they could pass her lips. She sat down heavily on the bed with an inelegant "huh" instead, hands falling lifelessly in her lap.

He fell to his knees in front of her, folding her hands in his. "Inara, you are the strongest woman I know. I understand that you can take care of yourself, but I will damned if I ever stand by and watch as someone else attempts to take advantage of you."

Her eyes finally found his as he spoke, and any anger she may have felt at his interference vanished. Her shoulders slumped a little, and the smile she gave him was truly pitiful. "I wish the Guild was as fervent in their declaration of that very same promise," she whispered.

He raised a brow. "I thought we liked the Guild? Regulations and all? Keeping you safe?"

She snorted derisively, turning her face away so he couldn't see the hot tears welling up in her eyes. She knew she was going to have to tell him at some point, she just never thought it was going to be like this. Slowly, haltingly, the words fell from her lips. She could still feel the shame and she hated herself for it. She wasn't sure at what point he got up from the floor to sit beside her, but she was suddenly aware of the fact that she was wrapped in his arms, and her face was buried in his shoulder as she forced out the final sentences between quiet sobs.

Once it was out, though, she felt lighter, calmer. And he was still holding her, which was something. Good. Great. Wonderfull. All that and more.

"So that's it, then?" he asked softly, pressing a kiss to her temple. "You're leaving the Guild and striking out on your own?"

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak anymore.

"Am I allowed to insist on running thorough backgrond checks on each and every guy you plan on contracting with?"

She had to chuckle and poke him playfully. "Goof," she whispered, raising her head to look up at him. She could see seriousness behind the twinkle of mirth in his eyes, and she knew that he so totally would make good on that insistance, should she allow it. Something told her he'd do it even if she didn't.

He smiled sadly. "A goof who loves you and doesn't want to see you hurt," he replied. "Believe me, that guy got off light. You really don't want to know what I do to people who hurt the ones I love and care for."

"I believe you."

"Good." He kissed her softly. "Now, is there gonna be a problem with that guy?"

She shook her head. "No. You were right, there's nothing he can do to touch me. I'm still bound to the Guild and my resignation won't be official until the end of the next quarter."

"And if he comes near me, I'll just deck'im again."

She smiled. "Can I stay with you tonight? I don't think I can be alone right now..."

He hugged her close. "You're never alone, Inara. And you most definitely don't have to ask..."

"Good," she said. Despite the slight hiccup to the night, she had a feeling it was going to end as well as it had started. And somehow, knowing that she had John Sheppard on her side made everything seem like it was truly going to be okay.

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