BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MAL4PREZ

Easy Tickets: Chapter 24
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mal and Inara revisit old territory with a twist and a different outcome. Warning: adult situations...


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4090    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

See Chapter 1 and my blog for disclaimers and such.

Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529 and LEEH for the beta help!

Mandarin translations: put your mouse over the pinyan to get the definitions, or see the list at the end.

Again with the no BDM in my ‘verse warning…

* * *

Mal was yelling, but his voice came through only faintly.

Open the gorram hatch!

Inara looked up. “Go away,” she said, though she wasn’t speaking loud enough for him to hear.

A few dull booms echoed through her shuttle. I ain’t askin’ again!

She raised her voice. “Mal, I don’t want to talk to you.”

She waited expectantly for whatever he’d come up with as a threat, but there was no reply. After the silence stretched, she freshened the ink on her quill, surprised but relieved that he’d given up so easily. She’d just touched the quill to the parchment when the lock on the hatch disengaged with a click. Inara sighed – of course he hadn’t given up. He must have gone to the bridge to release the lock; it was so childish, so like Mal. She stood up. By the time he got back to her shuttle she’d have it locked again. How long would this continue?

But the hatch opened before she got there, and Mal stepped in.

“How did you – ?” she started.

“Got Zoë to override from the bridge.”

“Of course.” She returned to the divan and bent over her half-finished parchment of calligraphy. “I guess I should invite you to make yourself at home, since you will anyway.”

He didn’t take the hint, but then landlord/tenant privacy issues never had meant much to Mal. She glanced up again; he just stood by the hatch, watching her without saying a word. The bruises had darkened on his face, particularly on his right cheekbone. But the swelling was down; the doctor had some fine medicines.

Inara realized she was staring at him and looked away. “You broke into my shuttle to play charades?” she asked with cold sarcasm, trying to cover her concern for his hurts. “Do I get a hint to start off with? Person? Title?”

He wasn’t amused. “What happened?”

“Oh, that’s right – I heard you were fuzzy on the details.” She forced herself to smile at him. “Nothing too wild. Bad guys, complications, and we somehow pulled through in the end. The usual.”

“No. I mean what happened with you.”

She shrugged and focusing on her writing again. “Also not complicated. It wasn’t really a fair fight. Your friend Will had obviously never met a Companion before; he seemed to think he’d find me terrified and helpless.”

“Yeah, I heard `bout how you handled him. Thanks, by the way. He wasn’t actually real friendly.” He paused, but she had a feeling he wasn’t done. She was right.

“I ain’t talkin’ `bout Willy.”

It was Inara’s turn to be silent. She didn’t notice Mal crossing the room, but when she looked up again he was standing right in front of the table she was writing on, arms folded across his chest and face stern.

“Someone hit you,” he said. “And I’m fair sure it happened before you got back on board.”

Inara raised her left hand to her cheek before she could stop herself. The make-up hid the shadow of the bruise perfectly; how could he…?

“I saw it when you came on the bridge the first time. `Sides, you ain’t actin’ right. Something’s eatin’ at you.”

She dipped her quill and continued with the next character. It was a tricky one, requiring her full concentration, or so she told herself. She kept her head down. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Was it your client? That pretty rich boy?”

“Leave it alone.”

He kept looking at her, and Inara had to fight back an urge to squirm. “It’s none of your business,” she insisted. But her hand was suddenly unsteady, and the stroke she was making came out all wrong, ruining the whole parchment. She bit her lip in frustration and laid the quill on the blotting sheet.

“Inara,” Mal said in a softer voice, “you told me how you came back from a job once, hurt, and I never even noticed. Well, I’m seein’ it this time.”

To her horror, Inara found her eyes tearing up. She didn’t look up at him, just blinked hard and turned her hands over, as if checking her fingers for ink stains. Her vision was too blurry for her to actually see.

“Congratuations, Captain. Your powers of perception are astounding.”

Her sarcasm wasn’t enough to make him back off. “Better believe it. And this time I ain’t lettin’ you handle it by yourself.”

The blinking didn’t clear her eyes. The feeling she’d been trying to bury was working its way loose, and the harder she tried to stop it, the worse it became. She put her hand against her forehead to block her face from his view.

“Please, Mal. Please go away.”

She realized he was sitting down next to her. Good lord, if he touched her now she’d completely break apart. She pushed herself to her feet and stepped away, keeping her back to him while she wiped her face.

“I realize that you are the Grand Master Captain,” she started, but her voice didn’t have the lightly amused tone that she’d intended. In fact, it was as shaky as her hands. She paused; it wasn’t difficult to find a well of anger to tap into, just to steady herself, and her voice was even when she continued. “You like to stick your nose into every little thing on this ship and order everyone around, but not me. I am not part of your precious little crew.”

“I guess officially ya ain’t, but – ”

She didn’t let him finish. “So, I… ask you to recall that my business is just that: mine. What happens between myself and my clients is not your concern. I believe I made that clear when we first entered into this arrangement, did I not?”

Inara turned back to him, but she didn’t even notice if he’d tried to reply. She was finding that the anger ran deep, and she had much more to say. “In fact, there were several items about which I was explicit, and to which you agreed, but you’ve shown a great deal more honor in your dealings with pirates and thieves than you have with me.”

She was gathering momentum now, and it felt good. “Yesu, Mal, I pay you rent for nothing! I haven’t been able to find a decent client in months, and the few appointments I’ve made have been interrupted by your bēi wēi jobs and your amazing talent for getting in trouble!”

To her satisfaction, he looked offended by the ‘bēi wēi.’ She turned toward the hatch and waved at it: further evidence of his transgressions.

“You just broke into my locked shuttle! And now you’re butting into my affairs, matters which have absolutely nothing to do with you.” She raised her hands to her sides, a gesture of disbelief. “Mal, you… you’re unbelievable. Save us both the time. Just call me a whore and get out!”

She stared at him, pleased that he looked a little ruffled. But he returned her stare and didn’t say anything, and the little bit of ire she’d managed to raise in him slowly drained from his face. Inara turned and paced to the far side of the small space, her mind racing in frustration. When she looked at him again, he was still sitting, still silently watching her, and he looked calm – more than calm, he looked concerned. Worried about her.

There was something infuriating about that. She took a few steps toward him, and let her voice carry a threat.

“Mal, get out. Now! Or I’ll show you a thing or two about my whore training.”

That finally got a verbal response. He blinked in surprise before he asked. “Such as?”

“Such as how easily I can knock you senseless. Of course, I might need help with dragging your chuái shī shŏu out of here afterwards, but at least I’d have some peace!”

Her words hung in the air, seeming to echo in the small space.

Mal scratched his nose. Then he cleared his throat and looked up at her doubtfully.

Chuái shī shŏu?”

She made herself stand tall and not take it back, instead folding her arms and looking down at him. Disdain, she told herself. Haughty disdain. It gets him every time.

But, apparently, not this time. The húndàn actually grinned and tapped his head. “Okay, but you might wanna take it easy on the noggan. Lots a’ hard knocks lately, it’s kind’a fragile. Rest of me’s all yours though, if you wanna work off any more a’ this bad mood.”

Inara exhaled impatiently and turned away. She walked to the bulkhead by the cockpit, leaned there for a second, then slid down to sit on the floor in front of it. She pulled her knees up to her chest and put her hands over her face.

Wet, her cheeks were wet. Āi yā, she’d been crying this whole time. No wonder he wouldn’t get mad at her. Well done, truly a fully trained and in-control Companion. Way to expertly bend the man to your will.

With an effort, she composed her face and dropped her hands, but she had to wait a little longer before she was sure she could speak in a steady voice.

“Captain, you need to leave now.”

She covered her face again and waited. She was too drained to look up, she couldn’t fight any more. The only defense she had left was to ignore him and hope he’d go away.

Finally, she heard Mal stand up. But he didn’t leave. He walked around the shuttle, muttering to himself, “Seem to recall… you put it here… Ahh, that’s it.” She heard water running in the head, and then he was there, crouching in front of her, and he gently touched her knee.

She looked up. He had a glass of water in one hand, and opened the other to show her a small white pill.

“You know the drill,” he said with a crooked smile.

Inara had to look away. Trust this man to always do the wrong thing. To suddenly be all kindness and empathy when what she really needed was an excuse to rage at him. She wanted to stretch the chasm between them wider and wider so he’d never get across, but the sneaky bastard just went and stepped around it like it wasn’t there.

Then she realized how close he was to her right now, the back of one of his hands resting on her knee. And not just physically close. Maybe it was the real Mal crouching in front of her, looking at her as if he cared, as if he was open to her. Her defenses were so weak; if she took that pill, she’d lose what little command she had over herself. She might take whatever it was he was really offering her.

She shook her head. “That isn’t necessary.”

“`Course it ain’t necessary. But it’s a helluva lot more fun than stewin’ in it.”

“Stewing in what?”

“Whatever happened.”

She looked at the pill again. There was more to it than he knew. “It’s not a good idea,” she said, but her voice lacked conviction and she knew it.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought once, then you tricked me into takin’ it and it worked out just fine.”

“But Mal…” Her head dropped to her knees, too heavy to hold up.

He set down the water and brushed back her hair. “Inara, what happened?”

She lifted her head and pushed his hand away. “Dăi húndàn,” she swore softly.

“You keep callin’ me names like that, I’ll have to raise your rent.”

“I wasn’t talking about you.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m more năo huŏ than dăi, ain’t I?”

She nodded. Damn him for being comforting. She didn’t want him here. She didn’t need him.

Gōu shī – yes, she did. Who knew better than a Companion the value of comfort? Of having someone who’d listen? Someone to touch?

She looked at the pill he still held out for her. She pictured taking his hand in both of hers, using her thumbs to stretch his palm open. She imagined leaning forward; a soft kiss first, then she’d part her lips, have just a taste of his skin as she took the pill into her mouth.

She looked up at him. His poor face. But his mouth wasn’t bruised. She wanted to kiss him there, too.

“Mal, I really shouldn’t… it’s not right…”

“What ain’t right?”

She sniffed and shook her head, but she knew it was too late. He’d won their ongoing battle; he’d gotten to her this time. She needed Mal, needed him badly and she couldn’t fight it. Not when he was like this. So she gave up. She held her hand out and he dropped the pill into it.

It was a good feeling, giving up control of herself. She set down the water and felt a calmness fold around her like a softly padded shell, holding her together, though everything inside was still all wrong. She knew that it was a mistake to take that pill, and she was going to regret it, but that would come later. For now, she wasn’t alone. Gods, what a relief.

“Peter didn’t touch me,” she said.

Mal tilted his head, giving her a skeptical look, then he tenderly brushed his thumb against her cheek. “C’mon, Inara, don’t lie to me.”

She turned her face away from his touch. “Oh, that,” she smiled. “He was actually trying to defend himself. I attacked him.”

He snorted. “You’re shittin’ me.”

The grudging respect in his voice made her smile. How did he do that? Make her smile when she felt so completely awful?

“No… shit.” The word felt strange rolling off her tongue. She rarely let herself be coarse, but what did it matter right now? It felt so good not to care.

“Did he try…”

“No, he had absolutely no interest in me. Physically.”

“What kind’a idiot… I mean – ”

“He had a girl, Mal. In his bed. Not even in her teens. She looked scared to death.”

Mal let out a breath. He shifted to sit against the bulkhead next to her, and she was grateful that he didn’t touch her; she felt too fragile for physical contact.

“So you ‘knocked him senseless’?”

“Well… I aimed a bit lower. It wasn’t his senses I was after.”

He shared a wry smile with her. “Got him good?”

“He won’t be bedding that girl anytime soon. In fact, I doubt he enjoyed his last few days of freedom from the constraints of Core society. Which, apparently, turned out to be his last few days of freedom, period.”

Mal gave her appraising look. “Willy and Peter, took ‘em both down, all in one day. That Companion trainin’ must be somethin’ else.”

“Yes, it… can be quite useful.”

Mal was quiet for a spell, then he asked, “So… if he weren’t interested in you for that, why’d he – ”

“He only hired me to impress his aunt, and the competition. To get a step up.” She hesitated before she added the last part, and the words were acrid in her mouth. “He hired me for the honor of having his own Companion, and it… it was awful. So… you were right. You told me so. Enjoy.”

When he didn’t answer, she glanced at him. He was looking down at his hands.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said.

She looked away.

“Inara?”

“Yes?”

“That all?”

She sighed heavily. “That’s all.”

“Bullshit.”

She dropped her head in her hands again. Why couldn’t he leave it alone? “What, it’s not enough?”

“I don’t think it is.”

She laughed, but it was bitter. “It takes a lot of hardship to impress Malcolm Reynolds.”

“That ain’t it. You may look all soft and fluffy, but you’re one of the toughest gorram women I ever known. And that includes a whole heap of soldiers and the like. I think there’s some reason this got under your skin so bad.”

“Keep your captaining job,” she bluffed, “you’re misguided as a therapist.”

He smiled, but didn’t back off. “Inara, did that girl… was that… somethin’ personal?”

“No.” She looked up, met his eyes. “No, Mal. Réncí de Fozu, nothing like that ever happened to me.”

“But you told me… you said that …”

“Once, as a grown woman, I had a client overstep his bounds. It was … unpleasant. But I knew enough to understand that it wasn’t my fault. That he was the sick one.”

She paused and thought it through. The past few days had brought back more bad feelings than she could handle. The truth, the real nightmare of her last year in the Core, was a road she wasn’t going to go down. Not with herself, and certainly not with Mal. Nothing could make her do that. The best drug in the `verse wouldn’t make her talk about it. So she decided to mislead him.

“All right, maybe seeing her did bring out some especially bad feelings. I’ve seen girls like that at the Academy, brought in for treatment and counseling. I guess I have a fair amount of anger towards men who would be so cruel to a girl, or to anyone.” It wasn’t a lie, just a misdirection.

“And you sent him off to jail, too. Him and Will, both beat up and locked away. Must have felt good.”

“Actually,” she replied softly, “it didn’t feel good at all.”

Inara looked away from him, then leaned her head back against the bulkhead. And she realized she was feeling the effects of the pill; a few muscles in her neck let go as the smallest amount of tension left her. She sighed, pleased at the timing. She was ready to be done with talking.

She rolled her head to the side to look at him. “Mal, I remember the drill, but you seem to have forgotten.”

He grinned. “You feelin’ nice?”

“Will be soon.”

“Where’s that fuzzy blanket?”

She pointed to a chest against the far wall and Mal got to his feet.

Inara sat with her arms limp beside her, watching Mal strip the bed and lay the thick blanket on one side of it. He even lit a fresh stick of incense and a few more candles, then lowered the lights.

She liked how he moved. She liked how he was shaped. Tall, solid, but not too big. So quietly masculine. Not the overblown bulkiness of a vain man, just the healthy strength of one who had to work hard in his everyday life. She liked the curve of his neck, the way his hair caught the light. She’d only touched his hair once, when he was unconscious, drugged by Saffron, and she’d been too distressed to enjoy it properly.

Inara truly didn’t judge her clients based on physical appearance. She meant what she’d told Kaylee once, that compatibility was a matter of the spirit. Inara believed to her core that physical attractiveness was meaningless.

Still, if she were going to choose a lover based purely on looks…

Mal crouched in front of her and Inara realized what she’d just been thinking. She couldn’t look him in the eye, afraid that she’d start laughing and he’d ask her why. He gently pulled her to her feet and led her to the bed.

“Now, I understand if you wanna protect your modesty…” he started, but he never finished his sentence. Inara pulled away from him, and in one smooth motion her thin silk gown came over her head and dropped to the floor. The bra and panties underneath were off just as quickly, though she needed one hand on his elbow for balance.

When she straightened and looked up to see his reaction, Mal was staring at the ceiling. “Well, I guess that makes it… simple. Why don’t you just… lay down there and I’ll get somethin’…”

Inara stretched out on her stomach, and smiled when she felt a blanket laid over her derriere. He was such a prude.

* * *

Mal set a bowl on the table next to the bed. While he’d been filling it with hot water, Inara had arranged the blanket so that it barely concealed her backside. Woman sure wasn’t shy.

The skin of her back seemed to glow, showing the graceful line of her spine, the light muscle around her shoulder blades, the broadening of her lower back into her hips. Good lord, she was beautiful. She had her face turned toward him, eyes closed but a slight smile on her lips like she knew what he was doing.

Ah, hell, of course she knew.

“Can’t blame a man for havin’ a look,” he said.

Her smile grew. “Yes I can,” she replied, “when he has something else he could be doing.”

Mal took a deep breath. She was right: this wasn’t about him. It was about her. Being unhappy. And it was about time for him to do something for this woman besides saying stupid things that hurt her.

He took a soft cloth out of the steaming bowl and squeezed the excess water out of it, then copied what she’d done for him once: starting at her neck, going slowly down her spine to where the blanket covered her. Goosebumps rose on her skin, and he felt a chill run up his own back as he remembered how it had felt on him. Slowly he continued over her ribs, the muscles of her shoulders and neck, and down each arm. He spent a while on each hand, one finger at a time, and he noticed she wasn’t smiling anymore. Her face was slack; she was lost in sensation.

Mal felt a clenching in his stomach at the sight, a surge of protectiveness. He reminded himself that it was largely the drug, probably more than it was him. But it gave him a sense of satisfaction anyway, to provide comfort to Inara when she needed it.

He tried to keep his thoughts noble as he moved on to her legs, but it wasn’t easy. The soft roundness of her thighs, the dimples in the backs of her knees that needed to be tickled and kissed, the muscles of her calves that narrowed into her ankles... By the time he got to her feet, his mouth was dry. She had a few gold toe rings. Perfect.

He cleared his throat. “Inara?”

The reply was slow in coming. “Hmm?”

He patted her calf. “Sunny side up.”

While she turned over, he picked up her discarded dress to cover the delicate areas of her top half, though she smiled like she thought he was silly for doing it. He waited for her to settle, and then he waited a little bit more. He was tempted to start with her face, to touch her cheeks and nose and chin and caress away any worry that might be hiding in her forehead. But there was something too personal about that, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He took another deep breath, then lightly passed the cloth across a shoulder blade, around the base of her neck, and across to the sculpted roundness of her shoulder. Then he continued down her arm to her hand.

He found her fingers clenched in the blanket. Both of her hands were, he realized. That confused him – he didn’t remember feeling anything like that when he’d been the one getting the workover. Her breath was rapid as well, which he didn’t recall at all.

“Now, what’s goin’ on with this?” he asked quietly, touching the back of her hand. “Am I doin’ such a bad job?”

She shook her head slightly.

“So, relax. Okay?”

Inara took a slow, deep breath and released her grip on the blanket, and he lifted her nearest hand.

He was massaging the warm, wet cloth into her palm when he noticed her eyes were open. She was watching his hands on hers. Then her eyes shifted to meet his, and before he could interpret what he saw there, she moved. Fast but smooth and quiet as a cat, she sat up and her hands clutched the collar of his shirt, pulling him to her. Her lips pressed to his.

Mal remembered well the kiss they’d shared before, when he was the one on drug-induced fire and Inara was doing the nursing. Gorram, he more than remembered, he’d had dreams about it. So he figured the least he could do, as a gentleman, was return the favor.

Oddly, that other kiss had been slow and lazy and sensuous, but there was nothing languorous about what Inara was doing right now. He went with it, letting one hand stroke the cloth over the moist skin of her back; that didn’t seem too far beyond the bounds of the situation. Things started going over the edge when the folded up gown slipped down and her bare breasts pressed against his shirt, then it was definitely too much when Inara’s hand slid down his side and brushed over the front of his pants.

Mal swatted her hand away and pulled back. “Whoa, Inara – easy there.” He wanted to stand up, get some distance, but she still had one hand tightly clenching the front of his shirt; she might have fallen to the floor if he pulled away. She leaned into him again, and he had a good close-up look at her darkened eyes. Suddenly, her heavy breathing took on a whole new meaning.

Yìqĭ shènhùxì,” he muttered, mostly to himself. He dropped the cloth on the floor and put his hands on her shoulders to hold her away from him.

“Mal – ”

He didn’t let her continue. “Last time,” he said, “when it was me, you said this relaxes everythin’…”

“Women don’t need tension to have sex, shă guā.” She moved a hand to the back of his neck, pulling him close for another kiss.

Mal didn’t resist it near as much as he should have, but he finally did manage to turn his head away. “Inara, this ain’t right. You don’t know what you’re doin’.”

“You knew what you were doing last time, when you kissed me.”

“Now, that was a whole different situation – ”

“Mal, look at me.” She worked her hands up his neck and into his hair, combing her fingers through it and trying to coax him closer. “It would be inhuman to leave me in this state.”

“Oh, I am lookin’, and I’m all kinds a’ human, but this just ain’t – ”

Dè le,” Inara said, and she caught him by surprise with a hard shove to his chest.

Mal found himself laying on his back on the thick rug, a naked Inara straddling his waist, her skin glowing gold in the candlelight. He took a deep breath, but couldn’t hold it for long. “Wŏ de mā,” he muttered as he exhaled.

Her fingers interlaced with his, holding his hands aside so he couldn’t push her away. He had to admit though, he wasn’t trying real hard. She leaned over him; her breath tickled his neck as she rubbed her cheek against his jaw. He couldn’t hold back a groan; this situation was quickly going beyond anything he could process.

“Please, Mal,” she whispered.

Which was all kinds of nice, but it did make him wonder – could it be possible that he was lying on his back, Inara Serra on top of him, naked as she could get, her breath warm on his ear as she begged him to make love to her?

No. There was no way this was real.

Mal decided that was a good working theory, and when her mouth closed on his again he returned her kiss with gusto.

Shàng dì, she tasted just as good as he remembered. Mal pulled his hands free of hers, finding it was easy to do when he really wanted to, and he stroked the sides of her rib cage lightly. He felt her shudder at the electric heat his touch set loose on her slightly altered senses, and it was like he was feeling it himself.

She pulled back and patted his cheek, and there was something wild and free in her face that he’d never seen before. “Good Captain,” she said with a smile, then she pulled his shirt open in one hard tug, sending buttons flying. She laid down against him, pressed her body against his with a heavy sigh, and it felt so gorram good that he thought maybe it wasn’t a dream after all. He’d imagined how she must feel plenty of times, but it’d never been like this. It had never been quite this good.

* * *

Inara kept herself still, relishing the sensations that physical contact brought. She was so close to him she could feel his lungs filling with air and his heart racing. His hands rested gently at her waist – not holding her, not pushing her away, but somewhere in between.

“Inara…” His voice came out thick and breathy. “I shouldn’t… We can’t just…”

He was still thinking too much; she couldn’t allow that. She slid down his body, kissing her way along his neck, chest, and stomach, then she opened his pants and pulled them down over his hips. She wanted to get his body committed to this before his mind got in the way. His hands hovered tentatively over her head as her mouth closed over him, as if he still couldn’t decide whether to encourage or stop her. Finally, his fingers settled into her hair, resting lightly at first, then starting to clench. She laced her fingers in his and pulled his hands away; she meant to be the one setting the pace.

Inara smiled as much as was able, given what she was doing. Mal was experiencing something rare: a fully trained Companion pushed beyond her own control. She made full use of her skills, but was guided by her own desire rather than education or logic. She didn’t need to look up at his face; she intuitively read him by the muscles that clenched in his stomach and thighs, and from the short gasping grunts that escaped him. Every move of her lips and tongue vibrated through him, and within seconds she had an understanding of his body that most lovers take years to achieve. Like a master cellist coaxing a Bach sonata out of a battered old cello.

Inara’s mouth left him and her head fell onto his hip, and she shook with laughter.

“Wha-?” Mal lifted his head to look at her, his face an odd mix of desperate lust and boyish confusion.

“Would you be offended if I compared this to playing a battered old cello?” she asked.

“Hunh?” Mal whined in a strained voice, sounding near tears. She smiled and reached out to touch his flushed cheek. “What’re you…” he stammered, then, “I ain’t old!”

He looked so genuinely offended that she had to laugh again. “Older than your years,” she said, wiping the sweat off his brow. “And you’re certainly quite battered.” She found a faded scar on his hip and kissed it, then took his erection in her hand. His head fell back again and he moaned at her touch. She trailed kisses over his stomach, so light that she tickled him and the muscles under his skin twitched.

“Well built, though,” she continued, enjoying the analogy. “Good tone.” She paused at his belly button. “Lovely timbre.” Her mouth traveled over his heaving ribs. “Deep resonance.” She closed her mouth on his nipple, grazing the nub with her teeth. He gasped and arched his back. “See what I mean?” she said as she smiled up at him, but he wasn’t paying much attention to her words. Almost too late, she realized what she was feeling in her busy hand, and that pulled her to her senses, at least regarding one important matter.

She lifted herself to her knees over the top of him, pinning his hands beside his head and otherwise not touching him at all.

“What’re you doin’?” he asked, his eyes heavy with need. But he didn’t make a move to stop her. She smiled. That was nice of him; she really did want to do the driving here.

“I’m afraid I’m too good at my art,” she said. “I need you to last a little longer.”

“`Nara, I can’t…”

She looked down between their bodies, things were indeed dire. That was no good. She looked back at his face and put on a plastic smile. “Don’t you think Jayne looked well today?” she said lightly.

“Gah!” Mal’s eyes opened wide in disbelief.

“I think he even washed his t-shirt. Such a shame – Jayne can smell sooo good.”

“What the hell’re you – ”

“Oh! Did I tell you what I read on the cortex the other day? Hemlines are lower this season!”

He was squirming beneath her. “You are evil. Mean, horrible, shòu xìng woman…” His hands strained against hers, but not enough to break free.

“Longer, fuller skirts are the thing. Isn’t that wonderful?” She glanced down his body again. Not quite so dire.

“I say evil already? Vicious, cruel, heartless, gorram banshee....”

“And as for hairstyles – ”

He raised his head and his eyes focused on her intently. “Don’t you dare – don’t you dare talk to me `bout hair.”

His fingers were gripping hers, and Inara decided she better gets things moving again. After all, it was quite possible to push a man like Mal too far. The thought made her pause; it was tempting to see what he’d do. But she wasn’t ready to give up control. Not yet.

She shushed him with a smile, “Shhh. No more talk. Why don’t you help me with this.” Slowly, she moved his hands to her hips and positioned herself. He guided her down, and relief spread over his face as he slid into her.

Once she was settled, she folded her legs tight against his sides and leaned forward to press her body against his. The heat came back. She’d been enjoying the seduction (and un-seduction) game so much that she’d forgotten about her own augmented senses, the flames that shot into her skin wherever he touched her. Now that she focused on it, it rose again. She didn’t want to move; she could have laid against him, completely still, for … well, for a good minute. Okay, maybe half a minute.

Mal wasn’t so patient. With a whimper he tried to thrust up into her, so she reached down, put her hands on his hips to hold him still. She wanted to whisper dull useless comments in his ear, to try to distract him again, but her mind wasn’t working that well anymore.

“No, not yet,” she whispered. “Not yet.”

The heat grew with every little sound that vibrated in Mal’s chest. It blazed high enough to completely shut down her brain when he brought his lips up to her ear and whispered, “Inara, please…” She could do nothing in response but close her mouth over the side of his neck, biting down on his skin to keep herself from saying too much.

He took that as permission. He rolled them both over, keeping his body tight against her. She wrapped her arms and legs around him – she felt surrounded by Mal. Inside and out, pressed against every part of him she could reach and enclosed by him in return.

She squeezed her eyes closed, expecting him to finish them both off quickly. But he didn’t move, and she opened her eyes again in surprise. His face was hovering inches above hers, eyes burning. He slid his hands into her hair, holding her so she couldn’t look away. His grip shifted against her head, changing again and again as if he was trying to memorize the shape of her skull.

“You here?” he asked, his voice thick. “You really here with me?”

She raised her hands to his face, wiping the sweat back. His eyes, deep and dark and fixed on her, looked wet. She pulled him down to her, kissed each eyelid, and tasted salt on her lips. She knew she was lost. It wasn’t the drug haze; she loved this man and he loved her in return. She’d known for some time, but it never broke her heart more than it did right now. Because it was so good, but it never would work. It was impossible.

But that was a matter for later, not now.

“I’m here, Mal.”

“This is real?”

She nodded, feeling tears well in her own eyes. “Real. I promise.”

“Good.”

He leaned down, let his lips brush hers in a ghost of a kiss that brought her back to her body, reminded her of the searing heat, of his hardness inside her and the solid weight of his chest above her. He began pulsing his hips, his eyes holding hers, and the fire spread out from her core to meet the blaze in her skin. Her mouth fell open; she wanted to tell him, to make him move faster, but her mind wouldn’t make the words. He knew anyway. He sped up, but braced himself on one elbow so he could reach one hand down to where their bodies joined, watching the reaction on her face as he pressed against her sensitive flesh.

It wasn’t long before her head fell back and she cried out, cresting in a blaze that should have withered her flesh and charred her bones. She was still floating on a sea of flame when she felt him bury his face in her neck and follow her over.

* * *

It took some time for Mal to return to himself. He was laying on his side, and Inara was in his arms, pressed tight up against him. She seemed to have found a state of molten bliss, one that he remembered well. She didn’t respond when he rolled away from her to finish removing his clothes.

Once he was naked, he lifted her carefully and carried her to the bed. He set her down, and she melted into the blanket as if she was more fluid than human. He found the cloth he had dropped earlier, rinsed if it off in the now tepid bowl of water, and carefully wiped the sweat from her body. He had to smile at how she reacted to his touch, pulling to him without waking enough to realize she was doing it. Eventually, she opened her eyes and reached her arms out to him, and he dropped the cloth in the bowl and stretched out beside her.

She fit herself against him, looking so satisfied, so sated. He felt that tightness in his gut again, that need to keep her safe and happy. He wanted to take care of her. She had such a lovely heart, and was so generous with it; he wanted to make sure no one ever took advantage of that again. He began placing light kisses along her jaw.

“Stop,” she whispered.

He grinned and continued. “Make me.”

“No really, stop.” She spoke louder this time, like she meant it.

He pulled away. “Are you… is this okay?”

“No, it’s not,” she shook her head, eyes still closed. “Not okay.”

He drew himself up on an elbow to look at her, afraid she’d open her eyes and he’d see distance there, and maybe something worse. Regret. But she smiled, and when she looked at him her eyes were smiling too.

“Mal, if you get me going again, I might hurt you.”

“Really?” he asked with an eager grin.

She tried to roll away from him, but he grabbed her and pulled her under him. “I’m not kidding,” she insisted. “Time to sleep. Second pill.”

Her hands gripped his upper arms, trying weakly to hold him away. Her breath was starting to come fast and shallow. Mal liked that reaction, he liked it a lot, but he had to remind himself that this wasn’t about him. He escaped from her grip enough to kiss the tip of her nose. Despite her words, she tried to tilt her head back and turn it into a real kiss.

“Just followin’ orders,” he told her as he slipped away.

He found the box in the cabinet where he’d left it and picked out a pill, then paused as something occurred to him. He turned back to the bed. Inara was stretched out long, her eyes closed and hair wild, looking sultry enough to knock the breath out of him. He wiped a hand over his face; he should have covered her up. It was a difficult thing to see her looking like that and not be able to act on it. How bad could she hurt him, really?

It ain’t about what you want, he reminded himself, it’s about helping her. Whatever she needs.

He walked back to the bed and sat next to her, then held the little pill up.

“So, my lovely Miss Serra, I’m guessin’ that you knew what this would do to you.”

She opened her eyes and her face lit with a guilty smile, like a child who’d been caught in a clever prank.

“Yes, I did.” “So you knew that, uh, you and me, we’d…”

“I had a feeling. I didn’t think you’d mind.” Her heavy eyes focused on him; it seemed to require some effort. “Do you mind?”

“No, I ain’t complainin’. I just… ” He had to stop and think about it. So she’d decided on this before she took the drug. That was good. That was very good.

Then something else occurred to him. He looked at the pill again.

“You told me you took one of these on my ship before.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And you had to deal with this, uh, reaction… by yourself?” When she didn’t answer, he leaned over her sleepy face, blew a stream of air on her neck, then whispered against her skin. “You should’a let me know. We could’a done this a long time ago.”

She smiled lazily, her eyes closed as she put a hand on his shoulder to weakly hold him close. “I meant to… deal with it myself, but I didn’t.”

Mal sat up and made a face. It wasn’t a happy face.

“Simon?”

“No. It was before Simon and River joined Serenity. Right before.”

Mal made another face, unable to hold back disgust. “Jayne?”

Inara stretched, eyes still closed, not noticing his expression. “Actually, Kaylee.”

“Um… Could you clarify that?”

She opened her eyes, smiled gently at him. “Kaylee noticed I didn’t seem well, and stopped in to check on me.”

Mal had to make himself shut his mouth. “You mean… you and Kaylee... you’re lovers?”

“No, nothing like that.” She lazily slapped a hand against his arm, though she missed and hit his thigh instead. “Not everyone takes sex as seriously as you do. I was hurting. I needed help. She happened by and helped me. Mostly we talked, but she helped out a little with other things.”

Kinda like I just did? he thought.

“It was the drug,” she continued. “It was only sex.” Her voice trailed off in contentment, and her hand stayed on his thigh. “Speaking of which…”

Mal felt like he’d just been punched in the gut. It was only sex.

He pushed her hand off his leg, and turned his back to her. It was the drug. It was only sex. He turned to glance at her once, at her hair spread around her head, her face peaceful and eyes closed. She was completely unaware of his reaction, and he was grateful for that. He didn’t want her seeing this. He felt idiot enough already. Not everyone takes sex as seriously as you do.

“I’ll just… I’ll just get you some water,” he said, and picked up the glass from where it sat on the floor.

He took his time refilling it, trying to pull himself together. What in the hell did he expect? He had no sense when it came to Inara. He was a gorram fool. Of course it was just sex.

But she was hurting bad, that was for real. This woman who spent her life trying to be a comfort to others, and never had anyone to take care of her. And he’d done nothing but let her down. Hell, he’d hurt her himself more times than he could remember. But not this time – if a warm body was all she needed, then that’s what he’d be. Wasn’t like it was an unpleasant chore. He tried to smile at the thought, but it wasn’t all that funny.

After she took the pill, Inara reached for him.

“Remember the hurtin’ me part?” he said as lightly as he could.

“I’ll be asleep soon,” she said, “I can’t hurt you that badly.”

No worse than you already have, he thought, and immediately regretted it. He shouldn’t blame her for this. It was his own foolish expectations, thinking that bedding a drugged Companion was something `verse shattering.

He let her pull him down to lay on his side facing her. She ran her hands over him lazily, possessively, then finally reached one hand between them and found him ready again. His body certainly had no problem with this arrangement.

She stroked him gently. “Be inside me,” she whispered.

Mal pulled her closer and lifted one of her legs over his hip, then slid into her. And Yesu if that didn’t feel just as good as it had before. He could almost forget that it didn’t mean anything.

They moved together slowly, languidly. After a while Inara fell still, so Mal did too, except for one thumb that moved against the back of her neck.

“Keep me wrapped up,” she said, her voice fading. “All wrapped up in Mal…” He did as she asked, holding her there until she was limp in his arms.

He waited until her breath deepened, then rolled onto his back, slipping out of her warmth. She still had her head on his shoulder and a leg across his hips, and he stroked the slender arm that stretched across his chest. She needed physical contact. She’d had a world of hurt; he suspected it was more than she’d owned up to, and now she had a powerful need to feel safe. He could do that for her.

But his eyes stared blankly at the ceiling.

It was only sex.

He was seeing the look in her eyes when she promised him it was real. Feeling the touch of her lips on his eyelids. The pull of her hands in his hair as her body strained against his. Had all that been so hollow? Just a sensation, ready for anyone who happened into her shuttle on this particular night?

I was hurting. I needed help. It was only sex.

The gorram drug, making her so open, so needy. Making him think it was something it wasn’t. He closed his eyes, wishing he was anywhere but here.

“Mal?” His name floated up as a long breathy sigh without voice.

“What?” he asked softly.

Her warm breath tickled his sternum as she whispered, “I love you.”

He started and looked down at her, not sure he’d heard that right. Her eyes were closed, lashes laying long against her cheeks, her face slack with sleep. Then her mouth curved slightly in an easy smile and he saw her lips move when she whispered again, “I love you.”

Her arms were weak but tried to tighten around him. Mal helped, turning toward her again and pulling her so close that he wasn’t sure she’d be able to breathe. She didn’t complain, just tucked her head under his chin and placed a few soft kisses on his chest before she went limp again.

He hoped she was too deep in slumber to notice when he raised a hand to wipe at his cheek. Crying. Gorram. Hadn’t done that since before the war.

* * *

Translations:

bēi wēi: petty and low chuái shī shŏu: fat ugly corpse húndàn: bastard āi yā: damn dăi húndàn: evil bastard năo huŏ: annoying dăi: evil gōu shī: crap réncí de Fozu: merciful Buddha yìqĭ shènhùxì. let's take a deep breath shă guā: idiot dè le: that’s enough wŏ de mā: holy mother of god shàng dì: God shòu xìng: brutal

* * *

On to Chapter 25.

COMMENTS

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 3:38 AM

MAL4PREZ


Here is my attempt to prevent an outcry from the various Kaylee fandoms…

IMHO, Joss dangles some big ‘ole Kaylee/Inara carrots in both Serenity (TV pilot) and The Train Job. (The “Hey you / Hey you.” in Serenity is the big one. These lines are delivered with a shy-ish intimacy, which I find very suggestive!) I’m not saying these two ever had knock-down killer sex – clearly Kaylee’s not personally into femlove (Heart of Gold – she doesn’t even consider the girl whores for herself) but she is open to f/f (War Stories) and generally open to casual sex (Out of Gas).

So… I guess I’m asking you to go with it for now. I think I could present my Kaylee/Inara scene in a believable way, and I’ll try eventually. If I don’t work it into the sequel as a flashback, I’ll write it up anyway as an outtake and post it afterwards, and you can disagree all you want! Just wait till you see what I have in mind before you grill me, ok? :)

One more chapter and an epilogue to go… both on Friday. So sad. I’ll have fic feedback withdrawal, but I’ll get to catch up on all the fic I’ve missed, yay!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 5:05 AM

MANICGIRAFFE


Hehehehehe. Not only do you get the Jaylee and Silee folks rooting for their various factions, but now you got...do we have a cutesy nickname for Inara/Kaylee?...in the mix. You, sir, are a shipper's nightmare.

However, I can't fault you on the angle. As soon as we say the pilot on the DVDs, my wife's first observation of Kaylee was "Dude. Lesbians!" I think she was mildly disappointed when Simon showed up. (My first observation was "That girl is REALLY stoned.").






Wednesday, July 26, 2006 5:20 AM

AMDOBELL


I really enjoyed this and cried with Mal, so sad that he now thinks Inara only wanted the sex not him. She 'spins him about'. As for any UST imagined between Inara and Kaylee from the series it might help for you to know that Morena Bacarin and Jewel Staite are best friends in real life and were before they are teamed up to work on the series. I am hoping that in your story Inara and Mal will find a way to allow their feelings for each other and not keep hurting one another whether on purpose or accidentally. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 6:15 AM

AGENTROUKA


What's with the Kaylee/Inara defensiveness? I see no need. I was startled for a moment, reading it, but more in terms of Mal's reaction. The scenario seems utterly plausible to me.

Now, that said... *inhale* Ommmmmmmmm *exhale*

1) So. Very. Warm-sexy-stirring-pretty-hot-genuine-lovely.

2) I am very much tickled by the style of this. It's not overtly sweet, there's a constant edge of reality to them and a twistiness in Inara's bold assertiveness and Mal's

3) Yes, I do remember there was stuff beside the sex and you get an A for making Mal try and take care of Inara without making Inara seem weak either in Mal's eyes or to me as the reader. It's not like Mal comforting Kaylee, without being any less caring about it. Two adults (screwed up, of course) having a very adult, very childish, very important moment.
And now I really want to know what Inara left behind on Sihnon that could be stirred by the sight of an abused child. That context alone makes it seem incredibly scary.

4) Mal's little drama moment toward the end was lovely, especially since you didn't let it fester. That almost anti-climactic break of having Inara sleepily diselling all his building grief over it, and Mal's reaction to that... Loved it.

5) That moment of Mal looking into Inara's eyes and asking her if everything is real? I want to hate you for not giving it from Mal's POV but it's almost better this way, because it's obvious what he must be feeling then by the way of his question and salty liquids, without taking away the room for imagining exactly what he might think. *g*

Excellent part. The perfect mirror to the scene in "The Fish Job", in that it's upside down and twisted around and just as beautiful.

Squeeingly,
yours truly.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 7:11 AM

LEIGHKOHL


Well , this was a very interesting chapter! Barriers were broken down, we got some comfirmation on implications and Inara really cannot handle herself on drugs! As for getting all the specific shippers feathers ruffled, I have to say I am perfectly fine with what was written. I too had a sneaking suspicion that they may have done something, not necessarily the full "deed" but whatever. Serentiy is alot like college it seems...haha! And oh boy did Mal really misunderstand Inara's meaning when she was talking about her other time with the "pill". I can't wait to see how she fixes that one!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 8:11 AM

TAYEATRA


You made my little shipper heart very very happy... then you tried to shatter it... and then you fetched some sticky tape and tried to stick it back together again.

I loved it anyway!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 10:29 AM

2X2


*sighs in happy afterglo---er, contentment*

*G*

Personally, I have no issue with Inara/Kaylee in the context you've presented here - comfort based, not lovers... I have no problem seeing that as a possibility.

The sex was wonderful. It felt real, tender, hot, poweful... everything one could want from a sex scene... my only comment is in regard to your warning mid text, as it jarred me out of the story for that moment.. I would prefer to see it announced at the beginning of the fic (I saw the 'adult situations', but that can infer both more and less than NC-17 sex *shrug*), so those who don't wish to read such material can know to avoid, but it's minor...

I absolutely loved the moment Mal asked her if it was really her there with him.... and then the angsty hurt at the end when Mal misunderstands, but hides it from her... and then her admission, soft against his skin, and his tears... *sighs so happily*

I think this is hands down my favourite consumation scene between Mal and Inara... just beautiful.

And the secret of Inara's past.... that year she won't go back to for anything... *shudders* Very intense and scary feeling...

Fantastic part, as usual.... well maybe just that little bit better due to the fact that I was really in the mood for some good M/I ;o>

Thank-you!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 10:38 AM

LFABRY


Allright, let's fire up the grill on this one!!!!

Relax, mal4, I woudn't grill something this well written or something that's obviously been researched so well. To bask in my own ignorance: what f/f in War Stories? Don't make me whip out the DVD, I just moved and it'll be weeks before I find it.

Keep up the good work and remember: grills are for cooking steaks and absolutely nothing else!

Thursday, July 27, 2006 10:31 AM

NOSADSEVEN


Yowsers! I gotta get me one of them pills...

I love how you mixed fulfillment with uncertainty throughout the whole... encounter. Poor Mal, finally finding what he's longed for - that *real* connection with Inara - only to be plunged right back into doubt and insecurity. And yet, he bore it so well - willing to sublimate his crushing pain to stay the course and put her needs above his own. I think I literally would have died if she hadn't unknowingly released him from that fear, startling him with her genuine profession of love.

I admire your continuing no-fluff-zone, despite the nature of events taking place. Especially Inara's whole self acknowledgment that it can never work between them, but they'll worry about that later. *shakes head*

I loved Mal's cluelessness during the sponge bathing, though I feel a little bad that he didn't get to enjoy it as much as he deserved to. It was great to see Inara give in to her own desires, and I loved how once Mal was granted control his need to connect their souls outweighed all others (and, once met, allowed him to truly lose himself in her). I think that's a must for any initial Mal/Inara consummation, and was brilliantly executed.

As for the Inara/Kaylee thing, you get no worries from me. Now, if it'd been *Jayne*, you'd have some 'splaining to do...

Oh, also, while I think the in-line explicitness warning was a bit jarring, I also think putting a more explicit warning at the top may have been a bit too spoilerish. Especially considering that the story takes us there within Mal's somewhat naive POV. Keeping in mind the Fish Job, it was not certain that *that* was going to happen, but a big ol' NC-17 at the top would have certainly made some impressions. So, I get the compromise.

Anyway thank you for sharing yet another glorious chapter. I so desperately need to see the morning after, now. And the days after, and the weeks... *sigh*

Friday, July 28, 2006 12:41 AM

RIVERISMYGODDESS


[rant]Firstly, ick on any and all shippers of any sort, in my opinion. One in particular has even caused me to stop reading her works to to her elitism. I have no problem with Kaynara, Rilee (one I wrote), Zonara (one I plan to write), or any other pairing, as long as there is a somewhat convincing story as to why/how it happened, which you have done wonderfully here. You shouldn't have to apologize for your works, as they are _yours_. If folks don't like it, no one is forcing them to read it. [/rant]

“You broke into my shuttle to play charades?” she asked with cold sarcasm, trying to cover her concern for his hurts. “Do I get a hint to start off with? Person? Title?”
-HEHEHEHEHE too funny

“No, he had absolutely no interest in me. Physically.”
“What kind’a idiot… I mean – ”
-Damn straight, what an idiot. :)

“Where’s that fuzzy blanket?”
-Don't forget the glowsticks and the Blow-Pops. :D

Her fingers interlaced with his, holding his hands aside so he couldn’t push her away. He had to admit though, he wasn’t trying real hard.
-Well, not with his hands anyway. ;)

The sex bit was, well, uh, um, well, I'll be in my bunk for a good long while.

The after sex scene, with the 'It was only sex' thoughts, the revelation of Kaylee's assistance, and the final lines in which she professes her love (albiet drugged and mostly asleep) were spectacular. I can't wait to read the next part of this story, but I know it will sadden me, as it will be another step toward the end of it.

Friday, July 28, 2006 5:19 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh...I so wanna curse you up, mal4prez, for almost making me smash my computer monitor in frustration! All that lead up and hot, salty goodness between Mal and Inara - gotta agree with 2x2 in that this is probably the best Mal/Inara consumation scene I have seen so far - and you almost destroy the progress with Inara seemingly saying it was only sex!?! Oooh...I so wanna hate you...but I can't:D

And I agree with the sentiments expressed above. Don't care who's sexing whom in the stories....just give me a somewhat plausible reason for the hookup or relationshipn and I will turn off my brain for some sweet and tasty. And really...Kaylee and Inara? The pairing works on so many levels, even only as friends with benefits;)

Really can't wait for the last chapter and epilogue...mainly cuz I wanna see how you get things wrapped up and arranged for the next big adventure:P

BEB


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Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

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