Down in the Training House, Mal has donned a ridiculous silky robe, bulky as whatever the Skeksis wore, and makes fun of Inara's prayer as a way of breaking the ice. "Dear Buddha, please bring me a pony, and a plastic rocket, and..." She jumps up, surprised out of her fear and reverie. "What are you doing here?" He shrugs. "You invited me?" She chides him, sexy as ever: "I never thought for a second you'd be stupid enough to come." "Well," he grins, "that makes you kind of a tease, doesn't it?" She gets up, all fussy and worried as usual. "You knew my invitation wasn't on the level." He explains that obvious that equals trouble, and she blows that right off. "I'm fine. I'm giddy." He shakes his head. "For a woman schooled in telling a man what he wants to hear, you ain't much of a liar." She responds, really afraid this time, scared into honesty, "Mal, you cannot handle this man." The Operative enters, politely. "I have to say, Captain -- I'm impressed that you would come for her yourself. And that you would make it this far, in that outfit." He stands, still wearing the ridiculous tapestry. "I can be very graceful when I need to."
Inara drops to the altar, pulling out what's clearly special incense. "What are you doing?" asks Mal, and she sniffs. "I'm praying for you, Mal." The Operative notes how thoughtful Inara is, having figured out their whole relationship as easily as anybody could that is not one of them, and expresses clearly that he's not interested in harming Mal. "I think you're beginning to understand how dangerous River Tam is." Mal agrees that River can be "a mite unpredictable," suffering as she does from "mood swings, of a sort." The Operative tells him it's worse than Mal knows, and he's cocky as hell. "It usually is." The Operative calls her an "albatross" that will "rain destruction down" on Mal and Serenity. "Way I remember it, albatross was a ship's good luck, till some idiot killed it." ["Joss had been saving that one, you can tell. I'd have done the same. Nice turn." -- Sars] The Operative says he knows how Mal must feel "about the Alliance," thinking that's how you get him. "You really don't," says Mal. Which is nice because first of all, Mal couldn't care less about the Alliance. Serenity Valley beat that out of him. He transferred his dreams for independence to protecting his ship and crew. But it's also nice because it ties back to the Maidenhead. As badly as the Operative is reading Mal, that's how bad Mal read River. Which means ultraviolence on its way. "I got no need to beat you. I just want to go my way." The Operative offers him that option, once he has River Tam. Mal calls bullshit and says it's a trap, but the Operative has that covered. "I offer money, you'll play the man of honor and take umbrage. I ask you to do what is right, you'll play the brigand." Either way, fighting. "I have no stomach for games. I already know you will not see reason." Mal buys that, and it's true, but reasons, "The Alliance wanted to show me a reason, they shouldn't have sent an assassin." The Operative offers to blow Serenity out of the sky, and Mal in turn offers to kill his ass. "You do that, you'd best make peace with your dear and fluffy lord."
They chat some more, about how the Alliance can suck a dick basically, and Mal casts aspersions on the Operative's abilities. "Captain Reynolds, I should tell you, so that you don't waste your time. You can't make me angry." Inara rolls her eyes. "Please, spend an hour with him." The Operative, again trying to seem transparent and honorable, says he's unarmed. Of course, Mal immediately shoots him in the chest, and he goes flying. Mal grabs Inara and heads for the door. "...I am, of course, wearing full body armor." He attacks, busting Inara's ass on the way to a tussle with Mal. They fight to a standstill, and Mal asks after his backup. "They'll come when they're needed. Captain, what do you think is going to happen here?" They fight some more, and again Mal eventually goes down. Reach for his gun, the Operative retrieves his sword from outside the room. "Nothing here is what it seems. He isn't the plucky hero. The Alliance isn't some evil empire. This is not the grand arena." And Inara makes a steely face. "And that's not incense." The altar explodes, which: whoa to the imagery, and Mal and Inara take off. From the floor, the Operative tells his men it was just a "flash bomb" and sends them after Mal. Back on Inara's shuttle, they squabble for a second as she gets it ready to fly, then takes off. In orbit, Serenity sends out a bunch of cry-babies in every direction, further obscuring their getaway.