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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
Continuing the Christmas story (sorry for the delay!). Mal and Inara make a date.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1391 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Title: A Midnight Clear, part three of five
Authors: gilliebeans and charlie_bz
Description: Mal and Inara make a date.
Rating: This one is approaching R territory.
Disclaimer: Characters aren’t ours.
Authors’ Note: Sorry for the delay! Holiday festivities impeded with our holiday story.
"Because I wanted you to kiss me." The words hung in the cold air. Inara gazed at Mal, clear eyed, allowing her eyes to show more of her than she had ever shown another person. Everything was different. She couldn’t keep herself from touching him so she contented herself with rearranging his scarf, wanting to prolong their physical contact in whatever manner available.
“You did, did you?” Mal’s head dipped down closer to hers. His voice was soft, intimate. Devastatingly sexy. Oh, Gods, the man could kiss. She was dizzy from it, dizzy and overheated even out here in the snow, and she desperately wanted another. She tried to remember that Serenity was close, the crew even closer, but she was irresistibly drawn to him.
"I did." Watching him smile, this new smile over their secret, wasn't something she was getting tired of anytime soon. She would tarry over the scarf, she decided. She needed an excuse to linger, didn’t want to leave the cold winter night for the comfort of Serenity. It was some consolation to her that he seemed just as reluctant to move as her but the sounds of the crew grew closer.
She shrugged, smiling at him. She patted the front of his scarf. "Shall we?"
It hit her, cold and merciless, forcing her eyes closed with the shock. The sting traveled harshly down her neck, across her scalp and into her ear. Inara gasped, heard Mal's roar of outrage. And another voice, familiar even through the snow that had filled her ear.
"Oh, God, Inara! I'm so sorry!" Simon had sprinted up to her, following the trajectory of his fatally misthrown snowball.
She nodded, scooping wet snow out of her collar. Mal stepped closer, wrapping his arm around her protectively as he brushed snow out of her hair. She opened her eyes and looked at Simon in time to see his expression blanch. Not in response to her, though. He was looking at Mal.
"I didn't mean..."
"What did you mean, genius?"
Inara thought she had better speak up. "You didn't do any harm..."
Simon approached a few halting steps then stopped, glancing nervously from Inara to Mal. "Honestly, I intended to hit you."
"Me?" Mal was growling. "You got a funny sense of self-preservation, boyo."
"It's just that…the two of you were standing so close together."
"The snow is treacherous,” Mal explained, still clearing remnants of the snowball from her hair and collar. “Even more so than is readily apparent." He looked around. "Party's moved outside?"
"Just the early festivities." A bundled-up Zoe stepped out of the dark behind Simon. Mal's fingers went still against Inara’s neck, then dropped away altogether.
Inara moved back, the cold reality of their lives stinging far more than the snowball. She chanced a look back at Mal. He was looking at Zoe. His expression unreadable but she knew. Knew he couldn’t pursue more with her while his best friend was grieving. She hardly felt Kaylee and River looping their arms through hers, pulling her to Serenity.
* * * *
First thing back in the cargo bay, Inara and Kaylee had conferenced and decided the Christmas tree needed to be moved to the dining room. That was fun, of a sort. Mal liked getting to watch her while she bit her bottom lip and made up her mind where he and Jayne ought to tote the tree next. She wouldn’t meet his gaze, instead looking everywhere but in his direction. The tree was finally placed in the dining room and she swept out of the room with the explanation that she needed to label the presents. Could have took them up to her, a perfect excuse, if a stammering and apologetic Simon hadn't already gotten that accomplished.
He wanted to go to her immediately, follow her right up those stairs and get himself another taste of her, hear many, many more of those captivating little sounds she had made while they were out in the snow, carrying on like teenagers behind a haystack. But Zoe…
“Captain, may I be in charge of the party?” River asked, bounding up to him. “Kaylee said it’s okay.”
“Well, if Kaylee says it’s alright, then in charge you are.”
“God help us,” Jayne mumbled.
“No! Everything’s shiny!” Kaylee admonished, giving River an encouraging hug. “We got us real party food! Dip, crackers, bananas, and lots of sweets!”
“Sweet.” Jayne nodded before a mischievous grin appeared. “Watch out, everyone!” Jayne called out drawing attention to Simon. “He may be armed!” He was the only one who laughed at his own joke.
Zoe came and stood next to him, watching Kaylee and River attend to tiny but apparently crucial details of the Christmas tree. "I see you've accomplished your mission, sir. Looks like Inara has too.”
“Yeah,” he responded, deliberating misunderstanding her. “Got...stuff for everybody.” His hand went to the scarf still around his neck.
“Stuff? That stuff involve kissing? Cause I ‘spect Jayne won’t be pleased with his…stuff.” She had him, dead to rights. And he knew Zoe loved to tease. It would serve him right for her to give him a ration of it over this, and enjoy herself while she served it out.
“Inara’s a lucky woman." The amused tone he knew. Her face would still be composed, he didn't even need to look. Didn't want to look. "Having a man like you to defend her from...Simon.” At that, Zoe gave up her poker face and laughed.
Mal nodded miserably. She wasn't going to make it easy for him, and there was nothing else to do. “He’s more dangerous than he looks, that boy.” This made Zoe laugh harder.
“Sir, I mean it.” Zoe's tone became serious and she turned for the first time and looked him in the eye. “She's one lucky woman.”
“Zoe…I don’t know why...or how...“ Inarticulate, but he was talking to Zoe. Zoe, who knew better than anyone how bad it had been for him. She'd kept him upright, kept him living like some kind of human being. Time had passed, and he got along better most days, these days, but he'd thought his chance at anything with a woman was as dead as the blackest rock in space. He thought that part of his heart was gone. Then, when he realized it was not, he thought he had nothing to offer her. Still wasn't too sure on that last part.
Mal realized Zoe was observing him closely. Her gaze narrowed in a chastising look reserved just for him. “Don’t go finding reasons not to.”
“Just probably not the right time. With…everything…”
“Cap’n,” she sighed, keeping her gaze fixed on him. “This grief's gonna be here no matter what you do. Your being wretched won't spare me a moment of it."
He nodded, not as miserably. “Must say, you’re better at this than I was for you.” He remembered her early days; tough Zoe, head over heels with his goofy pilot. He remembered the teasing, the scorn, the bitterness, the unvarnished pessimism, the...fear.
Her wistful smile turned amused. “I always was the superior being, sir.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
"Besides," Zoe continued, with a sly smile." I won't have you depriving me."
"I plan to be the one snickering, next time you yell at Inara she ain't never telling you what to do on your ship."
"Snickering, is it?"
"Lots." Zoe looked at him, completely serious. “So, don’t you have something to do?”
“I do? I mean, yeah…” His voice rose as he addressed the rest of the crew. “I just got…stuff to see to. Carry on.”
He tried to keep the enthusiasm from his step as he went down the stairs through the common area. No need for anyone to guess at where he was really going.
Inara looked at every gown in her sparse wardrobe, looked and looked again. Completely ineffectual, she was perfectly well acquainted with the few dresses she'd picked up in the months since she'd returned. She shouldn't be wasting time like this, but concentration eluded her. Inara found herself removing the dresses from her closet and draping them across the narrow cot she'd been using for a bed.
There were sounds on the stairs outside. She pushed at her wet hair with the towel Simon had fetched for her as soon as she'd entered the cargo bay. The first towel. The second towel, the one he worried she might need and had delivered along with the presents, still lay on the table. It had actually been fortuitous, the misthrown snowball. If she were less than perfectly composed, no one wondered why.
She picked up her favorite dress and turned it in front of her, considering. A dark garnet silk, wide bands of intricate black lace spanning the waist and crossing the bodice. The same black lace formed the straps of the gown, plunging to a low vee in the back. She considered the short, matching bolero jacket - it would be perfect for the party.
That kiss. Inara indulged herself with the memory. All those kisses. Those wonderfully sweet, simple, alarmingly sexy kisses. In a public place! With people and horses and snow! She'd never done anything so indiscreet in her entire life. And she'd do it again in a heartbeat, and be glad of the chance. The way he kissed her...Ai ya! What else might the man be capable of?
She heard a knock and took a moment to calm herself. Simon would have had just enough time to find yet another towel and make the return trip to her shuttle to offer it with another apology.
"Please come in." She turned, a calm and unruffled smile on her face. Where it stayed for the briefest moment, until she saw Mal and not Simon cross her threshold.
“How are things coming along?” Mal was using his all-purpose Captain's voice, and Inara saw him glance over his shoulder before settling his gaze on her. As he approached, his eyes never left hers.
Inara tried to make her voice tranquil. “I’m almost finished.” That wasn’t true at all – she had done nothing except wander around and stare since returning to her shuttle. She moved toward him, closing more of the distance between them. They came to a stop facing each other, watching each other's faces closely. Any fears she had regarding Mal’s reticence evaporated as she saw the look in his eyes.
Mal nodded at the presents, noticeably bare of elegantly scripted name tags. “About…” His eyes moved from the gifts to the dresses she'd laid out on her cot, then back to her.
Inara pushed at the locks of damp hair behind her still-cold ear. “Yes, about that, I just had to…” A small voice inside her piped up. You would have made much of this man's attempt to supervise your calligraphy.
His eyes traveled from her eyes to her lips, to the ear. Back to her eyes. “No worries of snowballs here.”
Cold skin. Warm mouth. She let herself imagine, let her expression give her away. “No.” She leaned toward him as his fingers gently brushed her earlobe.
“Wondered if…” he glanced over his shoulder again, then back to her. He took another step closer until they were just inches apart. He waited, so close, while his eyes searched hers for an invitation. Finding it, he hummed a soft sound as he smiled and came closer.
Appallingly, devilishly sexy, even the first kiss. Trouble, a voice from some remote area of her consciousness noted. Still bedazzlingly sweet, but the response she felt awakening within her was decidedly...immoderate. As she kissed him, her thoughts strayed to other possibilities, questions and curiosities...fantasies she'd tried not to indulge these long months alone.
Was he thinking what she hoped he was thinking? The kisses between them were changing, growing more intensely passionate as they held each other, pressed close and getting closer. Did he intend more than stolen kisses?
His mouth had traveled from hers across her cheek to the chilled spot on her earlobe, the one she'd pointed out to him in response to his solicitous inquiry. From her ear, he'd gently tilted her head back and trailed a line of kisses down her neck and across her exposed throat. She heard a growl from him as the line of kisses met the high neck of her warmest winter dress. Mal chuckled. "Nice frock, 'Nara. This your thwartin' frock?"
She couldn't help but giggle at the pure silliness of the question.
"I recall you in this wine-colored dress, all bare up here," he trailed fingers across her well-clothed collarbone. "'Bout near gave me a heart attack that day, I couldn't imagine what was holding that gown up. Well, yes I could imagine..." he leered at her. "You might have worn that shopping."
They both knew her dresses were at the Training House, but she didn't want to spoil the mood. "It would have made for a very chilly outing." More kisses.
He smiled against her lips. "I warmed up this little bit," he reminded her, tickling the earlobe he'd been kissing. "Think I'm ready to be trusted with bigger responsibilities."
It certainly wasn't cold in the shuttle now. Inara slid one hand under his sweater, craving the feel of his bare skin. A shirt. Grievously well tucked-in. And beneath it, her hands discerned...another shirt and felt like growling herself. Was the man wearing every shirt he owned? She felt his hands move across her shoulders and down her arms, and felt restlessness fire within her. She wanted his hands on her bare skin.
What’s happening here? She'd never expected this day to end this way. If she had, would she have agreed to the innocent shopping trip? Of course she would. Isn’t this what she’d fantasized about for more than a year? She leaned back abruptly, wanting him to look at her. Fear intruded on her desire. Fear for actually getting something she wanted. Fear of what’s next? Did he know exactly what she was offering him? More than her body, so much more.
Mal met her gaze, responding to her fear with his own. She felt him tense, saw him struggle with his own worries. Be strong, she prayed, don’t let me change our minds.
He grinned at her slightly, devastatingly, and for a moment she was petrified that he was going to say something mean to push her away. Part of her wanted that, wanted the safety of their hostilities, wanted the familiar and easily-navigated distance between them. But the woman who saw friends die, fought Reavers for the chance of righting a terrible wrong, desperately needed him to be strong.
He didn’t disappoint. His grin became a tender and serious expression, his hands curled around her neck, his thumb rubbing her skin from her ear to her cheek.
“Can’t think of a reason not to see where this can go.” Inara could think of a thousand but his voice was soft, seducing her. His words shattered the last of her reservations.
She nodded, at a complete loss for words. His lips still inches from hers, waiting for her. Inara didn’t waste any more time. Her hands went to his face, pulling him to her. She kissed him, infusing all her tangled emotions for this man in her kiss. She heard herself moan softly as their tongues met, and heard his answer - a low rumble in his throat as he pulled her even closer.
“The door is open…” She gasped, pleased she remembered that all-important detail.
“Only thing keeping me sane, darlin’.” He whispered against her neck before claiming her lips again in a fiery kiss. A kiss that made part of her demand that she close the door, lock the door, and set about defeating all these maddening layers. A single, shattering vision....pressed between the locked door and his body, his mouth at her throat, her hands in his hair, her legs around his waist, her skirts around hers as he thrust...
She clung desperately to her last fragments of self-control. Maddeningly, Mal seemed to not care about anything but his search for skin. Which was heavenly. But not helping.
He’d had plenty of time to notice how perfect she is, every single inch he's seen bared or outlined beneath those clothes of hers. Plenty of time to imagine her. Plenty of time, sleepless nights, long and mostly useless stretches wasting time, waiting for a job or a call or a contact or maybe some sleep, to speculate all about her. About what exactly she learned to do at that Academy of hers, in between classes in language and literature and diplomacy and swordplay. What she knows, what she did that had the powerful men - and women - on most worlds in the 'verse clamoring for her, willing to flatter, to wait, and to pay for the chance to gain her indulgence.
He'd had time to ponder that she might not need anything at all from any man - she might be more naturally inclined toward women and simply contract with men to keep her client base as healthy as possible. Working the percentages. With her, a man never could tell. Mal supposed that was the point. How she was always - almost always - so beautifully composed. It had made him wonder, through the early months he'd known her, what her weaknesses might be. She had to have them. Everybody did. She was only human. He'd reflect on it alone, thinking about everything he'd noticed but pretended not to. Where on that perfect body all her little sensitivities lay, and what secret things she might require to have them satisfied. What would make her sigh and coo, moan, shiver, beg. Scream.
He still had those curiosities, every last one. Getting to know her further on, though, seeing how she cared and lived, how she made strangers into her family and let them into her heart. Realizing she was wonderful, that her beautiful face and body didn't begin to encompass everything that was special about her. But she'd sailed out into the 'verse, shoulders back and head up inside that Companion disguise, and let people treat her as such. Desired, coveted, admired, for how she looked and what she knew. As if that were enough of her to know. Not who she was, not the bright and courageous soul of her.
So other curiosities began to creep in. What would make her smile. Surprise her, delight her, make her laugh. Make her feel happy. Loved. How it would feel, after, his arms around her in the dark, closing his eyes as he listened to her breathing slow, her head resting on his heart. And he'd determined, that if by some unlikely star a chance ever came for him, he'd make sure she knew how special she was, because of herself alone and not the blind wolfen need he just ignored most of the time. That she'd know she was in the hands of the man that loved her.
And right now those hands were roving, exploring every inch of the…damned dress. Aching to get to the skin underneath. Were there buttons about? A cleverly concealed zipper?
His kiss deepened, responding to the way she was kissing him, making him crazy with her lips and her soft little tongue. He reminded himself of the sheer unmanliness of fainting at a time like this as her hands felt under his sweater. Caressing, searching for some access to naked skin. He heard her impatient sigh as she reached the same frustrating conclusion as his. Clothes, more clothes, and another gorramn layer of gorramn clothes. Should have gone somewhere tropical. Somewhere sultry.
His own search finally found some fruit as he discovered a row of tiny buttons from her breastbone down to her waist. Out of sheer preservation, he had been avoiding that area. But his hands had a mind of their own. He needed to touch. And her every sigh, her every moan, indicated to him that she needed to be touched. His fingers slid over the buttons, gauging where to start.
“Mal, we…” She turned her face away, trying to speak, giving him better access to her neck. Which he took advantage of.
“We…?” He murmured, his lips grazing her earlobe.
She sighed heavily, stroking his back. “The party…”
Wasn't thinking too much about what she was saying about the party. Because what he was doing to her neck had her shivering, and that was important information.
“The party, Mal.” She slid her hands out from under his sweater, placing them gently on his arms. “Our party.”
His hands stilled for a moment, then ran lightly over her hair and rested on her shoulders. "The party." He lifted his head, nodding in acknowledgement but instead of pulling away, he kissed her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tighter against him. This might be hell. Christmas party hell, and her the present he couldn't unwrap. But that didn't mean he was letting go of her that easy. He lifted her slightly, his knee gently nudged between hers.
“That’s not helpful.” But she wasn’t moving away, wasn’t making any effort to push him from her.
“I can be helpful.” His softest whisper just above her ear. Eyes closing, she leaned into him, giving him her throat.
“After…” She whispered.
“After?” He kissed her again, trying to ignore reality. Dimly he understood the wisdom in her words but he wasn’t yet ready to end this.
“Mal. After the party…” She breathed against his lips.
That got his attention. He lifted his head and looked down at her. A wry grin appeared. “Yeah…?"
“We…I…you…” The words came out stilted, between deep, steadying breaths.
He could do this. He was equal to this. The way he needed her, he could harness it down tight. This night, if it really was happening, wasn't going to be about her being desirable and willing, him being needful. He could do this. He could keep himself in check enough to stay...cogent. Human. He'd done it before, alone on a cold ship, running out of oxygen and drifting into his own mind's last fog - when the call came, the hun dan with the catalyzer and the offer and the treachery he might have seen, he kept it together. Didn't get desperate - look desperate - for another breath of air. He kept to the plan, no matter how loud the screaming got inside him. He could do this. He surely didn't need her more than oxygen.
“Inara…I…” Mal couldn’t think of what to say. Things had snowballed out of control for him. For them. She met his eyes, and in hers he saw honest desire, and a question. She had offered once. She wasn't going to twist his arm about it. She was waiting for him.
He looked around her shuttle. Bare of all the Companion trappings of her previous existence on Serenity. His ardor cooled. It looked frighteningly temporary. Fear and uncertainty threatened to settle over him. He made himself to look down at her. Show her his fears.
“I don’t want…” Just a tumble. One night with you, and the next thousand trying to forget you.
She looked at him closely, her fingers curling against his neck. “What do you want?”
He looked at her. Studied her face, her eyes that shone with everything he never expected to see in them. Life is short, he reminded himself. "I know what I want, Inara. And it's you. It's us." Better words weren't coming. He hoped she knew what he meant. "In my bunk. Tonight."
She blinked, looking stunned for a moment, then her smile softened. "Yeah?" The gentlest echo of his own inarticulate question.
She smiled, nodding. “Yes.”
“Yes, it’s a…”
One last kiss was necessary, he reasoned. They had just made plans of an assignational nature and the deal must be sealed with a kiss. But the kiss was another in a long line of increasingly impassioned kisses and he was human. A human man with a beautiful, passionate woman in his arms. Touching him, pressing herself against him. The sounds she made as he touched her. His earlier resolution to keep the wolf at bay fled as his mind strayed to the little bed in her shuttle. Just a cot, really. One thought, blazing through him. Her, under him or above, on that little cot. One word, yes, to answer the obliterating need that had him in its grip.
“Found you!” River exclaimed excitedly.
Mal froze. No! No! No! She’s not here. That can’t be River tapping his shoulder so impatiently. Tightening his arms around Inara, he lifted his head, gently dropping it into the crook of her neck. He felt her breathing deeply. “Good gorramn open-door hell.”
“I’m interrupting,” River stated matter of factly, not appearing as if she was in the slightest bit concerned. “But I’m in charge of the party and it will begin in twenty minutes.”
River stood behind him, apparently waiting for one of them to acknowledge her. He risked a glance at Inara whose features were a mix of amusement and frustration. At least one of them found this funny.
Inara was frustrated. Oh so desperately frustrated at River. But grateful that the girl had wandered in at that moment, rather than a few minutes later, when she might have interrupted more than kisses. She patted Mal’s back, staying close to give him time to compose himself.
“Are you wearing that?” River’s voice came again.
Mal looked confused. “We got a dress code for this thing, too?”
“Not you.” She pointed at Inara, whose fingers were still curled in his hair. She walked to Inara pulling her arm off of Mal. “Too warm. Everything is ready. Kaylee has a surprise that I’m not telling you about.”
River guided Mal out the door and pushed him lightly out of the shuttle. “Get yourself together. Twenty minutes. Exactly.” She closed the shuttle door in his face and turned back to Inara. “I thought that each person should have two stars, three snowmen, and one angel. But your cookies are not blue. They are red. Red for Sihnon.”
“River!” Inara’s heart was pounding, her skin tingling. She took a deep breath trying to find her own composure. The shuttle was warm. Hot. She was shivering, heated, thirsty, and needed to get this oh-so-warm and inaccessible dress off. She turned her mind to the party, trying to banish thoughts of the after.
“Don’t be scared,” River said suddenly. “I didn’t tell Jayne about his jerky.”
Inara stared at River. “Uh, River…what you saw…”
“Hurry up!” River prompted walking over to the cot where Inara’s dresses were laid out. “We are on a tight schedule. I’ve planned that the party will last precisely two hours.” She pulled out a piece of paper, handing it to Inara. “We begin with mingling. Light conversation will last twenty minutes.”
Inara looked at the paper. In her flawless handwriting, River had prepared a time table for the evening. Each activity had a specified timeframe.
“I’m uncertain how long to allocate for the gift exchange, which will include thanks and general admiration of gifts. Thirty minutes? Anyway, there will be another fifteen minutes of mingling and if necessary more snacking.” She thought for a moment, “Is that too much mingle time? We see each other every day.”
As she unbuttoned her dress, Inara remembered. It had been intoxicating, feeling him firmly against her as they stood, kissing heedlessly in the middle of her nearly empty shuttle. How he responded when she kissed him, touched him...the way he felt under her hands...
“Would you stop thinking about that?” River walked over to the little table that had paper and ink. “I’m going to prepare a matrix of appropriate conversation topics and who can discuss what with whom. Do you think I should put a footnote that we shouldn’t talk about Wash and Book?”
Inara had heard the tiny catch in River's voice. “Mei mei, I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“But it will make everyone sad.”
“We're all a little sad anyway, River. It's not wrong to be sad. We miss our friends. Our family. And we always will." Inara took River's hand. "We keep them with us when we remember them, when we speak their names."
“Should I prepare a speech about them?” Before Inara could answer, River went on, agitated. "I scheduled no time for them. I omitted them!" She was shaking, her eyes brimming with tears.
“No, sweetie.” Inara's heart ached for River's confusion and loss. She put a hand gently on each of the girl's shoulders, and waited for River to meet her eyes. "You didn't. We'll go to the party, and...we'll see. We'll be together and we'll talk about them, not because it's on a schedule, but because they are part of us. And it's not easy, it won't be easy for a long while. But we're going forward, together."
Saturday, January 3, 2009 11:14 AM
Saturday, January 3, 2009 1:20 PM
Saturday, January 3, 2009 2:44 PM
Sunday, January 4, 2009 3:29 AM
Sunday, January 4, 2009 4:38 PM
Sunday, January 4, 2009 5:48 PM
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