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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal/Inara. The final installment of a Mal/Inara fic. Mal and Inara are fighting - again - and something's gotta give. NC-17.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1421 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
A/N: Okay, here it is - the long-anticipated final installment of "Dancin'." I really, really hope you like it, but considering the reaction to part 2, I have dusted off my armor. So, all comments are welcome and encouraged.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to, Kaynara for all the encouragement and the evil plot bunny that spawned this series. Oh, and the beta too.
If you need it, here's a link to the last chapter: Dancin' - 2/3
Dancin’ – 3/3
She had lied to him. Again.
Inara idly wondered when lying to Mal had become her first and often, only, line of defense. As she heard the shuttle door close behind him and screamed out in frustration, she felt her abdomen constrict and knew that her assurance that she was fine had been false.
Sighing heavily, Inara sank slowly onto her couch, wincing as the movement again aggravated what she assumed was a bruised rib. She really didn’t want to bother Simon, especially now, as he was no doubt settling in for a night with Kaylee. But Inara knew she had no hope of getting any rest without treatment. And at the moment, the only thing Inara wanted to do was sleep.
Releasing another big breath, Inara rose and headed for the comm. unit on her wall. Collecting herself the best she could, she depressed the button and called, “Simon?”
Mal tromped through the ship, cursing and muttering under his breath the entire way. Both Jayne and Zoe tried to approach him, but with his head bent low, he simply ignored them, before reaching his bunk, hurriedly descending the ladder and then locking his hatch.
Standing in the middle of the small, utilitarian space, Mal wasn’t certain what he was feeling. He knew a good portion of it was rage, but not directed towards Inara. No, he was feeling all kinds of uncharitable towards the wang ba dan who had hurt her. His mind spinning as the image of her bruised and battered skin swam through his vision, Mal swung his arm low, sweeping everything off the top of his desk. It rained to the floor with a loud, ear-splitting clatter, a noise Mal ignored as he pounded his fist against the now clear desktop.
Hissing sharply as his already damaged knuckles came into contact with the hard wood, Mal drew his hand back, moaning softly as he noticed he’d split open a large gash from before. The red, sticky blood was running unimpeded down his knuckles and he knew it’d need a weave. Damn it. Now, he was going to have to go see Simon. This night just kept getting better and better.
With a sigh of resignation, Mal did his best to straighten his hair and calm his nerves before unlocking his hatch and hauling himself towards the infirmary.
“Inara, what happened?” Simon asked softly as he intently studied her bruised cheek and shoulder.
Wincing as he poked at one particularly sensitive bruise, Inara told him, “It’s really nothing, Simon. But I believe I bruised a rib. I was hoping you might be able to provide me with some medication.”
Frowning, the young doctor pulled away to regard his patient. Inara’s eyes held bags beneath them, bags Simon knew she would never, under normal circumstances, allow anyone to see. They aged her far beyond her years, wearying her face to a point that garnered sympathy – not the desired reaction in her chosen profession. He had heard, through Kaylee, that Inara had left the ship the day before, supposedly to contract with a client. Simon felt his jaw tightening as he finally put two and two together.
“I’d like to examine you,” he began, not surprised when Inara cut him off with a harsh look.
“I’m fine,” she told him firmly, lips pressed into a thin line. “I just need something to help with the pain.”
Mirroring her look, Simon crossed his arms over his chest and asked, “And when exactly did you get your medical degree?” As Inara frowned at him harshly, Simon merely raised one eyebrow, propelling both strong-willed people into stand-off. Finally, with a sigh, Inara gingerly lifted herself onto the exam table.
Apparently satisfied, Simon turned from her, reaching for a few of his instruments. “Are you sure you’d only like me to exam your ribs?” As he again faced her, Simon met Inara’s tired brown eyes and said earnestly, “I can perform a full exam, if there’s anything else you’re-“
Holding up a hand to stop him from finishing, Inara tried to shake the implication from his mind – and the images it conjured in her own. “Just my ribs, Simon. Thank you.”
He held her gaze for a moment more before starting to examine her. Inara lied back as he instructed, her brow furrowing as the position forced her side to stretch. Rolling up her shirt, Simon placed his right hand to her mid-section, his left positioned on top of it and gently began to probe the skin there. Hitting a sensitive spot on her left side, Inara actually bit her lip as she felt a cry of pain threatening to escape.
“Sorry,” Simon murmured, squeezing her hand lightly. He turned to grab another piece of diagnostic equipment, missing the one, lone tear that trailed out of Inara’s eye and down the side of her cheek.
However, as the doctor again returned to her side, he did notice the pained look on her face. “I’ll be able to give you something in just a moment.”
She nodded numbly. It wasn’t the pain – not the physical pain anyway. As she lied there, staring at the blank white ceiling of the infirmary, Inara found herself forced to think. And of course, the one ‘something’ that consumed almost every waking and sleeping moment was Mal.
Inara closed her eyes as Simon continued to work. How could she have been so hateful? So spiteful? Mal had come to the shuttle looking for a fight, that was obvious, but the look in his eyes when he’d seen her injuries had told Inara everything she needed to know about him and the way he felt. And Inara just couldn’t handle it.
Swoop-in-and-save. She would have balked at the idea if it hadn’t been so insanely accurate. Mal was nothing if not a hero. He’d proven it to his crew, to her, time and again. He’d even proven it to Nandi before she’d been killed. It was his ridiculous sense of nobility and overblown ego that often got him into situations where he had to save the day. It was a trait Inara found equal parts infuriating and endearing. And even though Mal had ‘saved’ Inara in the past, she had never actually asked him to.
But she’d silently pleaded him to last night, when her client’s tastes had grown beyond civilized. When Inara had realized she was in over her head, she had actually prayed, for a split second, that Mal would charge in and save her from the pain. And it shamed her.
She was a highly trained professional, schooled for decades in the way to read men and women, to understand and ascertain what precisely they needed and provide it. She had seen the warning signs in Ambassador Wu, but even when he’d kissed her, aggressively and raw, she had not backed away.
She should have left at that moment, as her training dictated. She should have broken her contract, given Ambassador Wu a black mark in the client registry, contacted the Guild, and returned to the ship early. But her pride, and the knowledge that it was Mal’s arms she really wanted to run to, had kept her there, in that dangerous situation. And she had paid the price.
“Doc, do you-“
Mal’s voice brought Inara out of her reverie with a heavy thud and she instinctively tried to get up, get out. But Simon’s firm hand on her shoulder kept her pinned to the bed, and therefore, she was on display for Mal to see as he rounded the corner, holding his right hand gingerly to his chest.
“I’m with a patient, Captain,” Simon answered crisply, stepping forward and edging Mal back across the threshold. “You’ll have to wait your turn.”
Scowling at the younger man, Mal looked past him to Inara. He saw the fear that flashed in her eyes a second before she forced her stoic façade back into place. Sweet Ye su, she could put Zoe to shame. “’Nara, you-“
“Mal, go, please.”
Mal stared dumbfounded as Simon closed the door in his face. His blood ran cold as her voice echoed in his brainpan. There had been no emotion, no anger, no hurt, no pain – nothing. Mal found it even more unsettling then her normal, invective-laced barbs.
Stumbling back a step as his mind wrapped around the idea that Inara was indeed more injured than she’d let on, he sank heavily onto the arm of the sofa. His hand forgotten, Mal’s eyes unfocused, staring at the door to the infirmary until it became a gray blob, completely unrecognizable and foreign.
Not too unlike this entire situation.
He had been so damn sure that he and Inara were on their way to something; something good and true. That afternoon in the cargo bay … Well, if Mal thought on it often, and he pretty much did every night before he went to sleep, he found himself craving her. Not just the sex, although his body was more than willing to experience that perfection again. But that wasn’t what Mal wanted from her. He wanted Inara. The carefree and passionate woman who had loved him with such grace and beauty; the intelligent and commanding woman who angered him beyond sense; the loving and thoughtful woman who could ease his hurts with a look.
Mal was not so delusional as to think he was worthy of such a woman; he knew he wasn’t. He was a “mean ol’ man,” no matter Kaylee’s assertion to the contrary. And although he had never before wanted to change, and believed in all honesty he was incapable of it – he would try his damnedest for Inara.
The sound of screeching metal drew his attention and he rose quickly as Inara stepped out of the infirmary. Moving towards her swiftly, Mal reached out an arm to help her and she waved him away.
Taking a deep breath, she lifted her eyes to his face, eyes that were once again devoid of any emotion and said flatly, “Mal, I can’t do this with you. Not tonight. Please leave me be.”
Chastised, he swallowed hard, his eyes never once wavering from hers. Reluctantly, he gave her a nod and then took a step back, allowing her to walk, stiffly, slowly and unaided towards the cargo bay and her shuttle.
Mal watched Inara intently. Ai ya, this was ridiculous. He should be helping her. Why couldn’t he help her?
But he’d even said himself that protection was not what Inara needed from him. Mal had a sinking suspicion that once he figured out what she did need, she might actually entertain the notion of giving their relationship a chance.
Mal also had a sinking suspicion that he wasn’t quite smart enough to figure it out.
“Captain? I’d better look at that hand.”
Tearing his eyes from Inara’s retreating form, Mal murmured, “Yeah. Sure, doc.”
One Week Later
Inara gathered her skirts in her hand before raising her other fist and knocking quickly on Mal’s hatch. She knew this was not the best idea, but it had been over a week since their argument and the temperature on the ship had gone from cold to frigid. And worst of all, the rest of the crew was suffering.
It wasn’t fair to any of them to have to deal with Mal’s overblown ego. Inara had surmised that easily. And, if he refused to apologize first, then she could swallow her pride and extend the olive branch.
Straightening her shoulders and giving herself one more silent pep talk, Inara pushed open the hatch and descended the ladder. As she placed her feet on the decking, she dropped her skirts, letting the heavy brocade fall to the floor. Smoothing the fabric with the flats of her hands, she glanced up, taking in the space with a quick sweep of her eyes, before finding Mal’s curious expression across the way.
He was seated on his bunk – thankfully dressed. Inara had no idea what she’d do if she was actually confronted with his bare torso … the sense memory was still a bit too fresh. She saw a book at his side, cracked open and laying face down and she assumed it meant he’d been reading when she interrupted him.
Curious as to what could hold Malcolm Reynolds’ attention, she approached, trying to get close enough to read the spine as she said, “Hello, Mal.”
He swallowed thickly. “’Nara.” As she took another step forward, he found his palms growing sweaty. “This is somethin’ of a surprise.”
Catching the faded lettering on the book’s spine in the light, she fought the urge to smile. She should have known Mal would like Poe. “I suppose it is,” she said in vague response to his non-question. “Interesting reading?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” Reaching for the book, he snapped it shut, and stuck it back in its usual resting place on the shelf at the head of his bunk. Rising, he noted how she stood uncertainly in the middle of the small space. She looked remarkably out of place down here, with the gunmetal gray walls and the drab bedding. Her jewel-toned dress and perfect beauty was a definite improvement to his humble abode, but the contrast of it with the necessity of his bunk made his heart tighten uncomfortably.
“Somethin’ I can do for you, ‘Nara?” Last time he’d checked they hadn’t been on speaking terms, let alone come-down-to-my-bunk-smelling-all-pretty-and-looking-even-better terms. Crossing his arms over his chest, he eyed her as she allowed her gaze to again roam the room, before settling back on him.
“Yes, actually there is.” Her voice was cool and collected, her face a cultured mask of nonchalance. The bruises had almost faded completely and Mal was relieved to see her standing and walking without the noticeable wince of pain in her side. “I came to apologize,” she stated firmly, drawing his attention back to her face.
Hoping he didn’t look as dumbfounded as he felt, Mal questioned, “Shen me?”
Sighing, Inara took one more step forward and lowered her voice just slightly. “Listen, Mal, Serenity is a small ship-“
“Ain’t that small,” he defended quickly, bristling at the perceived insult.
Ignoring him, Inara continued. “And the crew doesn’t deserve to be caught in the middle of our argument. So, I’m making an attempt. I realize that the other day I said some fairly harsh things. And although you did barge into my shuttle uninvited – again – and insult my way of living – again – and treat me as a though I were a child – again-“
“Jeez, ‘Nara, you’re a real pro at this whole apologizin’ thing,” Mal snorted, allowing a small smirk to turn up the ends of his mouth. “Really amazin’.”
Frowning, Inara pressed her lips into a thin line and said, “I apologize. There. Are you happy?”
No. Mal resisted the overwhelming urge to answer her rhetorical question. The truth was, he would not be happy until she was back again in his arms and the two of them were past whatever ridiculousness had gotten them to this point in the first place. However, Mal knew what it must have taken for Inara to come down here, what it must have cost her to say the words. He wouldn’t shove that back at her.
Nodding stiffly, he told her, “Apology accepted.” As she nodded in return, he added under his breath, “Such as it was.”
“What?” Inara’s eyes narrowed, wondering if Mal was really going to pick yet another fight with her.
Raising his hands in mock defeat, he allowed the smirk to turn into a full-blown smile as he said, “Nothin’. Let’s jus’ quit while we’re ahead.”
“Agreed,” Inara drawled. Taking a step towards the ladder, she turned and told him, “I’ll see you at dinner then, Captain?”
“Man’s gotta eat,” he answered. As he watched her place her foot on the bottom rung, Mal took a step forward, closing his hand over hers. Her eyes immediately alit to his face, and he watched her tense a bit as he squeezed her fingers just noticeably.
“You feelin’ all right?” he asked softly, eyes searching hers in case she felt the need to keep the truth from him. He was getting much better at reading her expressions.
Swallowing thickly at the feel of his warm hand on hers, Inara nodded. “I’m fine, Mal.” When he didn’t let go, she offered him the smallest of smiles and repeated, “I’m fine.”
Releasing his hold on her hand, he nodded once and then watched as she hurriedly ascended the ladder. As he heard the hatch clang shut, he dropped his chin to his chest with a heavy sigh. Ai ya, if this all didn’t keep gettin’ more complicated.
Mal wearily flopped down onto his bunk, reaching for his book and thumbing it open as he did so. Finding the last poem he’d been reading, he smirked as his eyes scanned the stanzas again. Maybe life really did imitate art or some such.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee …
Or maybe he was just turning into the stupidest pian zhi de jiu cha yuan in his old age.
Yeah, that was definitely it.
The crew was laughing heartily at some nonsense joke Jayne had just told and Mal let his eyes circle the room. It was good to see them all happy and smiling. It was especially gratifying to see Inara that way.
She sat at the opposite end of the table, her eyes filling with a few happy tears as Jayne launched into yet another tale that had more belly laughs filling the room. Mal sat back and let the sound wash over him, choosing to observe rather than participate. It was a rare occurrence to see everyone so happy, especially after Miranda. But to see Inara joining in, laughing, talking, sharing tales brought a level of contentment to Mal’s heart that he preferred not to think about.
Things had been better between them since her apology a few days ago. They were at least civil now, sharing ‘hellos’ and ‘good evenings.’ They could sit down to a meal and not shoot daggers across the table. It was a nice truce.
Of course it still rankled him that she’d taken a client. She hadn’t owed him anything, Mal did realize that in his saner moments. They had had sex, yes, that was true, but there had been no discussion before – or after – as to what it meant for their relationship. Getting angry over her behavior was riotously unfair and although Mal still felt the burn of jealousy and hurt in his gut when he thought of her sleeping with another man, it was really no different than the dozens of other times he’d watched her leave in that damn shuttle. If he was truthsome, Mal could admit that he’d hated Inara’s profession almost since day one. The sex had just complicated things – as it always seemed to do.
“Whatcha thinkin’ on, Cap’n?”
Kaylee’s chipper voice pulled Mal from his reverie and he quickly glanced to his mechanic so he wouldn’t get caught staring at Inara. “Oh, nothin’ lil’ Kaylee. Jus’ enjoyin’ the moment is all.”
As the crew shared looks of varying incredulity, Zoe reached over from her seat at Mal’s right to press her palm to his forehead. Eyeing her with confusion, Mal waited as she frowned and then said, “Well, that’s funny. He don’t feel feverish.”
Another bit of laughter, more smiles, more happy tears and this time, Mal joined them.
As everyone went their separate ways after supper, Mal made sure to hang back for a moment, waiting until he and Inara were the only ones left. She had volunteered to take over Kaylee’s kitchen duty for the evening as it appeared his mechanic and medic still could not keep their hands off each other. Good gorram, it had been months since Miranda and yet they were still going at it like it was the first time. Scowling outwardly, inwardly Mal envied them. He hadn’t felt or experienced that with a woman in quite some time.
Shaking his head to clear those thoughts, he picked up his plate and mug and headed for the sink. As he approached, Inara seemed lost in another world the sound of a quiet hum emanating from her lips. It wasn’t a tune he recognized, but Mal didn’t mind; the sound alone was comforting.
Catching himself staring, he cleared his throat and took a step forward, plunking his dish and cup into the soapy water. She turned to give him a small smile and his breath caught in his throat. It wasn’t her normal, guarded grin or even her exasperated, patient one; no, this smile was secret and sweet and Mal had only seen it a handful of times before. It was the look that made his heart skip a beat.
“Xie xie,” she murmured, plunging her hands into the soapy water again and scrubbing another dish.
Gorramit, he was staring again. Straightening, Mal cleared his throat once more and finally managed to push the words past his lips. “Hey, ‘Nara, I was wonderin’ if maybe you could advise me on somethin’?”
If she was surprised by the request, she didn’t let it show. “Oh?”
“Yeah, maybe once you get done here?” Mal tried to keep the hopefulness from his voice, but feared he was unsuccessful.
When her smile deepened into one of genuine pleasure, he felt even more off kilter than only moments before. “Of course. I’d be happy to assist, Captain.”
“Great.” Mal knew he was grinning – probably that feng le stupid grin too. “I’ll meet ya up in your shuttle. ‘Bout a half hour from now?”
She smiled at him again and Mal felt his insides twist – in a good way. “Hao de, Mal.”
Still smiling, he turned and hurried for his bunk, missing the momentary waver in Inara’s smile before she went back to her work.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, painfully aware of how nervous he was. It was Inara, not the King of Londinium he was going to visit. So why did his stomach feel as if it were in free fall?
Clearing his throat, he shifted the log book under his arm before knocking on the shuttle’s door. Once he heard Inara’s quiet voice call “Qing jin,” he felt all moisture leave his mouth. Buck up, Reynolds.
Entering the familiar space, Mal’s nostrils were assaulted by the woodsy smell of incense. The aroma had long ago become a comfort to him, although at the moment it only heightened the sense memory of Inara held firmly in his arms as they’d made love a few weeks ago. Pushing the memory from his mind and forcing himself to focus, Mal offered her a small smile as she rose to greet him.
“So, tell me Captain, what is it that you need my advice on?” Her eyes were twinkling in the dim light of the shuttle and Mal could swear he saw a hint of a smile tugging at her ruby red lips.
Clearing his throat again, Mal reached for the thick, tattered book he’d shoved under his arm. Opening the ledger, he held it out for her to see. “Well, I was wonderin’ if maybe you could help me with some o’ these numbers.”
Her brow crinkling in confusion, Inara leaned forward, eyes studying the calculations. Noticing his even, blocky style of writing, she quirked an eyebrow at him and pointed. “These numbers?”
Nodding, Mal answered, “Yup.”
Inara fought the urge to laugh out loud. She had no idea what he was playing at, but the look of pure sincerity on his face could have fooled almost anyone. “This is Serenity’s accounting ledger.”
Nodding once again, Mal told her, “Reckon so.”
Not giving him even an inch, Inara took a seat on the sofa, her arm draping across the back casually as she regarded him through thick lashes. “And you need my help with the numbers?”
If he knew she was teasing, he didn’t let on. “Well, you know, it’s those gorram percentages.” Allowing a smile to grace his face, he met her gaze steadily and added, “They get me every time.”
“Ah, the percentages.” Inara stifled a small chuckle, choosing instead to lean forward and take the open book from his hand. She scanned the columns, a bit surprised by the meticulousness of his record-keeping. She knew Mal was not an idiot, knew that he had a fine head for business, but even Inara had to admit his attention to detail far surpassed what she had expected. “These percentages?” she asked, drawing a finger down the appropriate line of numbers.
Peering over her shoulder, Mal nodded. “Yup, those are the ones.”
Sitting back in the cushions, she left the book open in her lap. Crossing her arms over her chest, she eyed him evenly, no longer trying to hide her amusement at his feeble attempt to see her. “The percentages you figure every month?”
Shrugging easily, Mal smiled a wicked grin that left nothing to the imagination. “What can I say? Jus’ woke up this mornin’ without the faintest notion how to do ‘em.”
Finally laughing outright, Inara patted the sofa beside her and waited until he was seated. “Well, we can’t have that.” Risking a glance to him, Inara saw the sparkle of mischief in his blue eyes and had to stop herself from kissing him. “What can I do?”
For three weeks, Mal found ways to see Inara almost every night. Occasionally he’d talk about ship business, but more often than not the two of them would end up sharing tea in her shuttle, talking about Zoe’s grief or Simon and Kaylee’s budding relationship or how great of a pilot River was. At first, Inara enjoyed their talks, it felt good, maybe even normal. But as the weeks passed she grew more and more hesitant to spend time alone with him. Things were getting comfortable again. Comfortable to the point where she could reach out and touch his arm or he could grasp her hand with a light squeeze before leaving the shuttle for the night; in other words, too comfortable.
That was why when he showed up again, a plate of some kind of cookie in hand, she stood resolutely in the door to the shuttle. “Not tonight, Mal,” she told him firmly, doing her best to keep her expression open, but firm.
Frowning, his brows knitted together. “But I brought cookies,” he argued, lifting up the plate so she could get a good look at the round, light brown disks.
“I just don’t think it’s the best idea,” she said, her voice quieter than before as her eyes dropped to the decking.
“Why not?” Mal could tell they’d reached an impasse and he was praying they could find a way around it. He didn’t want to lose what they had been painfully trying to rebuild over the past month.
Taking a deep breath, she lifted her eyes back to his face and he saw a level of trepidation that made his heart hurt. “You know why,” she finally offered, her voice no more than a whisper. “Nothing’s changed.”
“A lot’s changed,” he insisted, taking a step forward. Meeting her gaze, he continued in a low voice, “Maybe it’s time we finally admitted how much.”
Sighing heavily, Inara silently stepped aside, and Mal took the opportunity to enter. He placed the cookies down on the low table before the couch, waiting until she had shut the hatch before attempting to speak. “C’mon ‘Nara. We may be damn good at dancin’ ‘round things, but I’m tired.” As she raised her eyes to his, the brown orbs widened in surprised, he smirked. “Ain’t you?”
God was she tired. Inara wasn’t even sure if tired was the right word. Exhausted didn’t even seem appropriate. No, she was weary, bone weary to the point where pretending that everything was fine took almost all of her energy. But it was far better than admitting how very wrong everything really was. “That’s not the point, Mal.”
She crossed the shuttle, doing her best to stay as far from him as possible, before sitting on the couch, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. Mal watched her for a moment, before hitching his thumbs into his suspenders and asking, “Okay, then what is the point?”
When she didn’t answer him, Mal took a chance and sat beside her. There was still enough space between them that they didn’t touch, but it still felt as though the tension in the room quadrupled. “You ain’t been takin’ clients,” he pointed out softly, not bothering to look for her reaction.
Sighing, Inara sat back. “No.”
“Not since that last guy.” Mal swallowed hard, fighting back the bile that rose in his throat every time he thought of that tamade hun dan. Oh, if he wouldn’t love to wring his pompous neck.
“It was taken care of Mal.” The emptiness in her tone caused him a stab of discomfort and Mal quickly studied her features. They were just as blank.
“What’s that mean? Exactly.” He sat back, taking the opportunity to edge just an inch or so closer.
“He was given a black mark in the Guild’s registry,” she explained. Turning to look at him, she added, “He won’t be able to contract with another Companion ever again.”
“Like Ath?” Mal asked needlessly, knowing it was exactly like that. That windbag hadn’t deserved to spend even a second in Inara’s company let alone a whole evening.
“Yes,” she sighed, rubbing her hand along her forehead. “Like Atherton.” Turning to face him with a sardonic grin, she added, “And you didn’t even have to get stabbed this time.”
“Oh hell, that weren’t nothin’,” Mal shrugged, trying to brush off his foolish attempt at defending her honor once upon a time. Catching her profile from the corner of his eye, Mal noted how her smooth skin was again unmarred; any hint of what the Ambassador had done gone. “I woulda though.”
Inara’s shoulders tensed as she guessed at his meaning, wishing he would just leave it be. She really didn’t want to fight about this – not again. “Mal.” Her voice was laced with exasperation and fatigue, two emotions Mal was more than familiar with.
“I gotta know why you did it.” There wasn’t a hint of desperation in his tone, just the desire to understand and Inara found it more damning to her carefully concealed heart than just about anything else.
“There isn’t always a reason, Mal.” Her voice was toneless and Mal found his gut clenching uncomfortably at the empty sound.
“I don’t accept that,” he countered, leaning towards her, his heart sinking to his feet as she rose and crossed the shuttle. He watched in silence as she moved about with ease, readying water and steeping tea leaves and then moving back to the sofa with the kettle and two cups. As she poured the steaming liquid, Mal studied her features. They were even and smooth, no hint of discomfort. And it bothered him.
As she drew back the kettle and set it down, Mal reached out and snagged her wrist. Her eyes wide with just the briefest indication of shock, she met his gaze and said softly, “Mal.”
Rising, he kept a firm, but light hold on her wrist, his thumb absently rubbing along the underside. Stepping around the table so that now all that stood between them was about a foot of space and their pride, he asked quietly, “What?”
Inara found her eyes locked on his. She’d seen them clear as a spring sky and dark as a stormy ocean, but she could never quite remember seeing them like this – clouded with concern. Forcing a small smile to her lips as it was all she could think to do, she told him sheepishly, “I don’t know. That’s all I had.”
He returned the smile and Inara felt her own deepening into a genuine expression of contentment. As her heart sped up at the realization that he was once again getting too close, she decided to take the upper hand. Stepping into his personal space, his body no more than inch from her own, Inara pressed herself onto her tiptoes and kissed him.
Mal’s mouth opened at the unexpected contact and she took the opportunity to slide her tongue in, finding his own warm and willing. His grip on her wrist loosened and Inara ran her hands up his chest, pushing them into the hair at the base of his neck, fingering the soft strands. His hands automatically fell to her waist, holding her hips against him as one hand slid along the silken fabric of her dress to support the small of her back.
Ai ya, he was even protecting her while they kissed. Inara ignored the fear that blossomed in her heart as she felt the warmth of complete security wash through her; it’d been so long since she’d felt, so long since she’d let herself find that kind of complete comfort in someone else. She’d forgotten how freeing it could be.
Doing her best to silence these thoughts, she continued to kiss him with abandon, sucking at his lower lip before nibbling it with her teeth, switching after a low groan from Mal to its twin. She pressed herself tighter to him, making sure he could feel every inch of her curves and that she, in turn, could feel every inch of his muscled body. They’d let their physical natures take over before; Inara secretly hoped they might once again.
Mal knew he should stop kissing her, knew it almost as soon as her lips had alighted on his. But gorram it, she felt so good. She was warm and soft in all the right places while being firm and solid in all the others. The longer they kissed the more images from that fateful afternoon in the cargo bay came rushing to the surface. Inara’s hands on his bare skin, Inara’s lips all over his body, Inara’s tight wetness encompassing his-
Abruptly, Mal pulled back, his hands wrapped around her upper arms. Even as she attempted to again kiss him, Mal resisted the urge to drag her back against him and have his way. They were gonna get some things settled first, he was resigned to that.
“’Nara, we gotta talk.” He was panting and hoarse and she smiled knowingly as she ran one finger down his nose over his chin and along the front of his shirt, causing his breath to catch in his throat.
“Shouldn’t I be the one saying that?” she teased.
Shaking his head once in a valiant attempt to knock some sense back into it, Mal released his hold on her and took three very large steps backwards. “I mean it. I’m thinkin’ we need to exchange some words at this juncture an’ not just bodily fluids.”
Inara pouted, even as his words registered and she fought the urge to blush. As he remained across the way from her, his face stony, she finally sighed and moved back to the couch. Resuming her seat, she lifted her now lukewarm tea to her lips and told him, “All right then. Talk.”
Of course she’d make this difficult. Sighing, Mal dropped his chin to his chest, doing his best to collect his thoughts. It was an unnecessary step however; he knew exactly what he wanted to ask. “Why’d you do it?”
Her lips pursed in a decidedly annoyed expression, Inara turned to him and retorted, “Why didn’t you give me a reason not to?”
His cheeks blushing a bit, Mal knew she had a point there. But of course, communication was a two-way street. “An’ I’m guessin’ there was somethin’ wrong with you broachin’ the topic with me?”
Sighing in a huff, Inara rose, and the tell-tale sign of annoyance was once again flashing in her gaze. “We had sex, Mal. We never made a commitment to one another. I never made a commitment to you.”
Holding up a hand, Mal’s own voice was full of exasperation. “Oh wait, is this the part where you tell me it was just sex an’ nothin’ more?” Crossing her arms over her chest, Inara’s hard glare gave him his answer. Smirking, he shook his head once. “Try again, sweetheart, ‘cause this time I know that ain’t the truth.”
Her mouth fell open, ready to deny it, but Mal had already anticipated that and he had an argument prepared. “I saw somethin’, ‘Nara. When we were together, it was more than sex.” Charging across the space quickly, Inara let out a small gasp as his strong hands again wrapped around her arms. “I could see it in your eyes, darlin’. There was more goin’ on there than jus’ two bodies scratchin’ an itch.”
Wresting herself out of his grasp, Inara’s eyes burned with anger – not at the statement, but at the truth of it. “You’ve always said I was a great liar, Mal,” she spat, surprised when his gaze never wavered. “Maybe I was just playing you.”
The smallest grin turned up the corners of his mouth as he reminded her, “You don’t play a player, ‘Nara.”
Letting out an audible growl of frustration, Inara turned from him, arms back across her chest as she heaved in anger. Damn it, why did he have to pick now to finally be able to see something beside his own prominent nose? Of course, Malcolm Reynolds would pick the absolute worst time to be perceptive.
“I still had every right to take that client, Mal.” She didn’t turn to face him, her eyes still blazing with anger.
She heard the sound of a soft sigh, one she recognized as acquiescence. “You’re right about that, I ‘spose.” Surprised by the admission, Inara did turn and caught sight of Mal standing far closer than she had expected. “Although, you still ain’t given me a name. Kinda need that if’n I’m gonna kill the son of a bitch.”
As always, this is what it came down to between them – Mal charging to her rescue after Inara had already freed herself. “You don’t have to do anything, Mal. I told you, it’s taken care of.”
“A black mark is all well an’ dandy, but what makes you think he won’t find some non-Companion womenfolk to beat on?”
Eyes wide, Inara looked to him and asked evenly, “Do you honestly think the Guild would take that chance?” When he had no response, she added, “Believe me, whatever kind of hurt you think you’d visit upon him is far more lenient than what he’s facing at the hands of the Guild.”
The chill in her words hit him to the bone and Mal resisted the urge to shudder. “Remind me never to cross a Companion,” he muttered. As Inara quirked an all-knowing eyebrow at him, Mal decided to amend the statement. “Well, you know, from this point goin’ forward.”
Sighing, Inara nodded once, moving past him to again take a seat. This was all too much. She’d been exhausted before she and Mal had decided to take another twirl around their lopsided dance floor.
Turning to regard her, Mal thought for a moment about what her statement really implied. “You really don’t need me then,” he said quietly as realization dawned. When her eyes came up to his face, full of curiosity, he added, “To rescue you that is.”
Shaking her head, Inara dropped her eyes back to her lap. “No. It didn’t stop me from wanting you to though.”
Mal froze as the words registered, his body tense. Had he just fallen asleep? Was he dreaming? Surely, that was the only thing that could explain Inara’s assertion. Staying very still so as not to break whatever magical spell had fallen upon them, he held his tongue waiting for more.
And Inara actually gave it to him.
“I knew I was in over my head,” she said quietly. “It’s not like I haven’t been in similar situations before.” Her words held no bitterness or regret, only truth. “But there is always a point – every Companion knows this – when it becomes impossible to turn back.”
Releasing one more quiet sigh, she finally turned to face him. “I let it go too far.”
The muscles in Mal’s arms tensed as he fought his automatic impulse to hold her. He wanted to protect her from every bad thing in the ‘verse, regardless of whether or not she wanted him too. But of course, that kind of thinking – the one-sided kind, was what had led them here in the first place.
“There was a second,” she said again, her voice rough from the weight of her emotion. “When I wanted you to come charging in and rescue me.” Gaze steady, she told him, “That’s why I was so angry the other night. I was weak and when you came barging in here, I couldn’t-“ She stopped abruptly, swallowing thickly as she considered how close she’d actually come to sinking into his arms the other night. “I can’t afford to be weak, Mal. I just can’t.”
Mal wondered how exactly it always seemed that the strongest women he knew always considered themselves the weakest. It was one of the great mysteries of the ‘verse. “Inara, you ain’t weak an’ you never have been.” She scoffed at the statement, rolling her eyes and Mal stepped forward, tilting her chin up to meet his gaze. “You ain’t. You are one of the strongest women I have ever known.”
He caught the sight of tears pooling her eyes and felt his gut clench. Cradling her face in his hands, he added, “I don’t get all heroical ‘cause I think you need me around rescuin’ you. I do it ‘cause seein’ you hurt an’ knowin’ I didn’t do nothin’ to stop it tears at me somethin’ fierce, Inara.” Smiling softly, he moved one hand around to the base of her scalp, weaving his fingers through her soft curls. “Fact is, you’ve been savin’ me ever since the first gorram day you walked on this boat.”
Tipping her head forward, Inara rested her forehead against the top of Mal’s chest, fighting to regain some semblance of control. She’d felt it slipping ever since she’d let him in with that idiotic plate of cookies. She feared it might slip completely if she didn’t get a hold of it.
And then, of course, Mal made it impossible. With the lightest of touches, he ran his hand through her hair and down her back, his other arm looping around her waist, holding her just tightly enough so she’d know he was there.
“Mal.” Her voice was cracking under the strain of her emotions, her fatigue only making it painfully worse.
“I don’t got no weak folk on my boat, ‘Nara,” he said, hoping she’d realize it was his way of telling her she didn’t need to say anything. Dropping his lips to the top of her head, he pressed a light kiss there and added, “Fact is, I got the strongest bunch anybody’s ever seen.”
She didn’t bother arguing – Inara had the sneaking suspicion she wouldn’t win. Instead, she moved her arms from where they had fallen slack at her sides and wrapped them tightly around Mal’s waist, burying her face into his shoulder.
It was late and Mal was pleased to see the rest of the ship bedded down for the night. He had no need nor use for visitors and he was more than glad that he’d be able to drink his whiskey in peace.
Cradling the mug in his hands, he stared at the dark liquid in the dim light of the galley. It was habit it seemed, that every time he entered the room, whether for a meal, a drink or a meeting, he always sat at the head of the table. With a sigh, he took another long sip of his drink, closing his eyes as the liquid burned a trail down his throat. This was pretty damn fine liquor, considering he’d snatched it from Jayne’s locker. Seemed the merc did tend to lean towards the finer things.
His eyes lazily roved over the room, taking in the other eight chairs at the table. They never had managed to remove the two that always sat empty at meal times now. Seemed no one could admit that Wash and the Shepherd were never coming back to fill them. Squeezing his eyes shut, Mal took a deep breath and forced memories of his dead friends away. This had been one hell of a week and he did not need to end it by spiraling into despair.
Groping for the bottle absently, he started as his hand came into contact with another, wrapped around the slender neck of the decanter. Blinking his eyes open quickly, he stood hastily as Inara’s face came into focus. She was smiling at him, a small sultry smile that worried him a might. Sitting on the edge of the table, and waiting until Mal had resumed his seat, she asked, “Mind if I join you?”
Swallowing thickly, Mal could only shake his head once. She looked so gorram beautiful, her hair loose and around her shoulders, the light illuminating her from behind like an angel. She was wearing a robe and he gulped noticeably when he realized it was one from the cargo bay all those weeks ago. What was she up to?
His eyes widened again as Inara lifted the bottle to her lips and took a healthy swig, tipping her head back and closing her eyes as the butterscotch-colored liquid ran over her tongue, down her throat and to her belly. Her lips, perfect and ruby red were puckered just right around the mouth of the bottle and Mal found his hand gripping tightly at the edge of the table as he imagined those lips wrapped around something else.
Catching Mal with a look akin to torment on his face, Inara smiled again as she refilled his glass. “Hmm, this is good.” As Mal nodded numbly, she asked, “Who’d you steal it from?”
Frowning at her, Mal decided he would be offended by her obvious distaste for his choice of alcohol at a later date. “Jayne,” he answered, his voice far huskier than he’d thought it’d be. Taking another gulp, he swallowed, counted to ten and then fixed her with a smirk. “But don’t tell ‘im.”
Giggling, Inara took his cup from his hands and said, “Oh well, then, maybe we’d better share.” She raised the mug to her lips, this time keeping her eyes open and trained on Mal as she drank a bit. Placing it back in his grasp, she leaned forward, her hands resting on the back of his chair, her arms on either side of his head. This close he could smell her, that lavender and vanilla scent now mixed with a bit of whiskey, and ai ya, if he wasn’t getting hard just from the scent and the sight.
Playfully nipping at his lips, Inara murmured, “Wonder what else we could share?”
Mal groaned as she dotted his face with kisses before running her tongue along the seam of his lips. He opened his mouth hungrily to her, and her tongue plundered through before her lips closed over his, sucking greedily. Mal guessed this late night rendezvous was ill-advised, but at the moment, he did not care. Besides his brain had lost any chance for coherent thought the minute Inara had started kissing him.
Moving his hands up to cradle her face, Mal redoubled his efforts to kiss the life out of her, sucking, nipping and biting at those full lips, doing his best to feel every bit of her mouth. Inara almost fell forward as his ferocity took her by surprise, but locking her elbows she kept her balance, mewling softly in the back of her throat as one of Mal’s hands traveled down her neck and caressed the skin there.
Fighting for breath, Mal pulled back. Inara took that as an invitation to get even closer. Watching with desire-filled eyes, he felt his pulse race even more as Inara pulled back a bit, scooting further onto the table before him. With another one of those wicked grins he’d long ago learned to love and fear, she brought one of her legs up and over, giving him a quick, but complete view of her nethers and showing him that she was completely bare beneath her gown. Groaning, Mal reached for her hips and she came willingly, sliding into his lap, her knees on either side of his waist.
As she ground against his covered erection, Mal moaned into her throat, feeling her heat through his pants. “Ai ya, ‘Nara, what are you doin’ to me?”
Pulling her lips back from his ear where she had begun nipping at the skin, she asked sweetly, “What’s the matter? You don’t like it.”
In answer, Mal tightened his hold on her waist and ground their groins together again, getting a small squeak of surprise from Inara as well. “Never said that, darlin’,” he murmured before his mouth again descended on hers.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, Inara let him ravage her mouth, delighting in the feel of being truly desired. She knew it was more than that with Mal, knew that there were other emotions that dictated his actions, reactions and decisions regarding her, but at this moment, she was fully appreciating the passion he had for her.
Any coherent thought was soon pushed from her mind as one of Mal’s hands traveled up her torso, cupping her breast through the robe. He found the already hard nipple and rolled it between his fingers, smiling as Inara broke her mouth from his to pant a bit at the sensation. Taking the momentary freedom of movement, Mal pushed the silky fabric aside, the now exposed nipple pert and hard for him to see. He pulled it into his mouth, sucking lightly until Inara writhed a bit against him, before biting down.
“Wo de ma, Mal,” she breathed, her lips fluttering along his neck and up to his ear, as he shifted his attention to the other breast and garnered the same response.
Regaining some sense, Inara’s own hands did not stay idle. One moved down his chest, quickly undoing a few buttons so her fingers could come in contact with his warm skin. As he increased his ministrations against her breast, moving his lips up to her neck and sucking hard enough to leave a mark, Inara’s other hand moved lower, reaching for the covered bulge between them and rubbing it expertly.
“Ta ma de, Inara,” he panted against her neck, before lifting his mouth to hers and kissing her hard enough to bruise. A small part of his brain still capable of thought wondered if this wasn’t a particularly vivid dream, while a few other brain cells wondered just what had gotten into her. However, the majority of his brain, which was currently centered in the organ between his legs, didn’t give a good gorram about the what or why.
Pulling away reluctantly, Inara brought both hands down to Mal’s waist, hurriedly trying to get his buckle, pants and unders underdone. Mal’s hands continued to roam over her body, the calloused skin sending shivers up her spine as he gently caressed any flesh he could find.
When she finally reached one slim, cool hand into the slit of his shorts and took hold of him, Mal was almost certain he saw stars. With a few firm strokes, she brought him to full attention and Mal was panting hard, wishing he could be buried in her tight wet heat. Tipping her face down to him, he captured her mouth once again in a breath-stealing kiss.
As they parted, Inara stood slightly, balancing her weight on her legs as they were spread on either side of his chair. Tugging at his unders and pants, she breathed, “Off.”
The sound of pure want in her voice, made him harder than he already was and Mal rose slightly out of the chair, pushing at the offending material as Inara pulled. Once they were down to his knees, she moved over him, and slowly sank back into his lap, taking his hard length into her one agonizingly slow inch at a time.
As soon as he was fully sheathed, Mal released the greatest sigh of relief. This was the warmth and comfort and desire he remembered. Opening his eyes, he saw her regarding him through thick lashes and Mal slowly brought his hands up to her face. Pushing some of her hair back, he brought her lips to his for a slow kiss, their tongues again meeting as they breathed into each other’s mouths. Just as they came up for air, Inara started to move.
It was a fairly languid pace at first, and Mal tipped his head back, letting her dictate when, where and how as she pleased. His hands found her hips and he rested them there, rubbing small circles into her smooth skin with his thumbs, as she braced her arms on either side of his head again. Her own face was forward, gazing into his, seeing his pleasure as much as she was feeling it. Pulling her toes from the floor, where she had been still balancing some of her weight, she shifted positions, causing Mal’s head to snap up as he hit deeper inside her and she moaned loud and long.
“’Nara,” he breathed again, barely able to form syllables let alone words. He felt her speeding up and started to help, meeting her thrusts with his own and penetrating farther than he had before. Her moans of pleasure began to grow and in an effort to keep the entire ship from descending on them, Mal again fastened his mouth to hers, swallowing her cries down as she came, wetness and warmth covering him in a rush of joy.
As he pulled back, she dropped her head to his shoulder, her arms falling slack from the back of the chair before she wound them around his neck. Mal ran his hands down her sweat-soaked back, murmuring endearments as her body stopped trembling. Finally, she raised sated eyes to him and wiggled slightly, getting a feral groan from Mal. “Someone’s not done,” she whispered coyly, before nipping at his ear, the really sensitive one.
She started moving again, but her body was tired and practically boneless from the shattering release Mal had brought about. That was all right with him; he’d give anything to feel that kind of abandon and desire from Inara. Instead he grabbed her around the waist and rose slowly, leaning her back on the table. She braced herself on her elbows, as he worked himself in and out, looking for his release. It came no more than a minute later, as Inara dragged one perfect hand down her body, fondling her own breast, before pushing her fingers into his mouth, allowing him to suck on the slim digits.
As he spilled his hot seed into her, Inara almost fell back completely on the table, only caught by Mal’s arm still around her waist. He kissed her swollen lips gently, before gathering her close to him again and sitting back in the chair. He was still sheathed in her wetness and she sighed with content at the feel and warmth of their joined flesh.
It was almost impossible to tell how long they sat there, and Mal was fairly certain Inara had started dozing. Knowing falling asleep and being found by the crew in the morning was not such a good idea, he nudged her softly. “Ai ren, you awake?”
“No,” she murmured, her arms tightening around his shoulders as she buried her face further into the crook of his neck.
Smiling, he grinned and pressed a kiss to her temple. “C’mon, darlin.’ What’s say we move this someplace more private?”
With a sigh, she raised tired eyes to him and kissed him, very slowly. “M’kay.”
His grin deepened, and then turned to a soft scowl as she extricated herself from his lap, leaving him cold and feeling empty. As she readjusted her robe, he stood and pulled his pants up hurriedly, not bothering to redo his belt. Reaching for her hand, he pulled her close and kissed her again, long and deep.
As they parted, he turned and headed for the shuttle, but she surprised him yet again as she refused to follow. “Not there,” she whispered, tracing his lip with her finger. “Your bunk?”
Certain he was smiling like a fool, Mal didn’t need any other invitation. Instead, he eagerly pulled her along, kicking open the hatch and allowing her to go down the ladder first, before following and locking it up tight.
As he turned, he caught sight of her standing uncertainly in the middle of the small space. She didn’t look nearly as out of place as before, the sight of her sex-tousled hair and glowing skin warming him through and through. Reaching for her again, he wrapped a strong arm around her waist and pulled her flush to his body.
Pressing his lips to her neck, he murmured, “What’d ya say, we try that again with less clothes?”
Inara nodded absently, pushing his suspenders off his shoulders even as she felt a ball of fear settle in her gut. This had all gone exactly as she’d planned.
Now, as his lips continued to play at her skin, and her hands moved to pull his buttons apart, she watched her fingers tremble with the effort. This was ridiculous, she had undressed hundreds of men before; she and Mal had already had sex with one another, why was she nervous now? But it wasn’t nerves – Inara knew that.
It was relief and fear and love and hope and a dozen other emotions Inara was unaccustomed to feeling. Biting her lower lip, she studied her task closely, hoping Mal wouldn’t see the tears she felt stinging her eyes. Hoping she could just ignore them until he was making love to her again and then blame them on immense pleasure.
Mal pulled back as he felt Inara’s hands still on his shirt. Gazing down, he saw her fingers worrying a particular button, almost rubbing it instead of undoing it. Covering his hand with hers, Mal kissed the top of her head and teased, “You ain’t never had trouble with buttons before.”
Inara swallowed and snapped herself out of her reverie at the sound of his voice. But Mal knew something wasn’t right. He saw how she was shaking as she moved on to the next fastening and he would not ignore it. Placing his hand under her chin, he tipped her face up to his, blue eyes coloring with concern as he caught sight of her tear-filled eyes. Kissing her cheeks lightly, he murmured, “Bao bei, what is it?”
Swallowing thickly, Inara took a step back and waved a hand in front of her face. Smiling, she told him, “It’s just the silliest thing, isn’t it? Just give me a minute.” She turned then, crossing her arms over her chest as she tried to will the tears away. But Mal would not grant her the space she claimed to want.
Stepping up behind her, he wrapped warm arms around her and Inara sank back gratefully against his strong chest. “I din’t hurt ya before, did I?” he murmured, his lips brushing past her ear.
Shaking her head, Inara turned in his embrace and assured him, “No, Mal. Of course not. That was amazing.” Brushing a kiss to his mouth, she rested her forehead against his and admitted, “I resigned from the Guild.”
Closing his eyes, Mal uttered a silent prayer that she was not crying tears of regret. “I don’t rightly know what you want me to say to that, ‘Nara.” When she didn’t offer him an answer, he leaned back slightly and met her watery gaze. “I wanna be glad for it, ‘cause I’m hopin’ that means you an’ I are gonna try to start somethin’ good an’ lastin’.” As she smiled softly, Mal took that as a sign of encouragement and continued. “But I also know it’s gotta be hard. That was a way o’ life for you for a good long while.”
She blinked a few times, a bit surprised by his insight, before reluctantly nodding. “I’m not sad about it,” she murmured, resting her head against his shoulder. “Just … scared,” she finally admitted.
In response, Mal simply tightened his arms around her. “Ain’t no need to be scared, ‘Nara,” he murmured, his lips whispering against her forehead.
She swallowed hard past the lump in her throat, but found she could not dismiss it so readily. Wiping hurriedly at a few tears, she glanced up to him and offered a wan smile. “Feel like swooping and saving?” she asked in a whisper, one full of such hesitation and fear that it made Mal’s heart hurt.
By way of an answer, Mal pressed a light kiss to her mouth, before leading her over to the bed. He sat her down gently, removing her robe and draping it over his chair, before he shed his own clothes as quick as he could. When he turned back, he saw that Inara had already gathered his blankets around her and was doing her best to fight the tears she felt coming.
Sliding in beside her, Mal propped himself up against the headboard, opening his arms to her. With a sigh of relief, Inara folded herself into him, burying her face in his warm chest. He felt her tears come as they fell at first slowly, and then in a torrent on his bare skin and Mal just held her tight.
Quoted Text: Excerpt of poem, "Annabel Lee," by Edgar Allen Poe
Hao de: Okay/Will do.
Pian zhi de jiu cha yuan: stubborn disciplinarian
Wednesday, May 9, 2007 10:48 PM
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