Cantonese Opera (Mal/Inara; rated R)

UPDATED: Friday, April 7, 2006 14:11
VIEWED: 1555
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Friday, April 7, 2006 2:11 PM


Hi everyone,

I haven't posted to before, and I'm not entirely sure how to post new fic, so if this isn't kosher or if there's someplace else to put Blue Sun Room items, please let me know and I'll put in the quick fix.

Title: Cantonese Opera
Author: Nos4a2no9
Spoilers: Set one week after the BDM
Rating: R/NC-17
Characters: Mal/Inara
Word Count: 5,046
Disclaimer: Mal and Inara (and their angst!) belong to Joss. I merely make them do naughty things to each other.
Summary: Late nights on Serenity lead to some unexpected confrontations...

Cantonese Opera

The soprano’s voice darted and soared, bird-like, around the small confines of his cabin. The orchestra backing wasn’t much: a few strings, some woodwinds, a gong keeping up a steady, reverberating thrum beneath it all. But the woman’s voice didn’t really require the support. Her voice was more beautiful than the words she was singing, saying more than the route subject matter of the aria – love lost and found – could ever manage on its own. Probably why this opera star was making headlines all over Sihnon, illegal downloads proliferating across the Cortex and into the black. And Mal liked the thought of it, this angel’s voice speeding through the stars, beaming itself right into Serenity‘s hold and pouring out the woofers in his bunk, a wave of beauty washing over everything gone tired and gray. He was almost glad he didn’t know the Chinese dialect of the opera well enough to understand every word: the mystery made the whole thing a little more private-like, as if she’d crossed all those miles of darkness just to sing for him.

It was the most unexpected and immediate consequence of the revelations about Miranda. While the news that the Alliance had created the Reavers didn’t quite topple the government, it had certainly freed things up a bit. Now restricted music and art flooded the Cortex; books that had been banned since the war were available to anyone with a good IAN connection, and folks on the Rim could access whatever their hearts desired in the way of culture, entertainment and news. Old flicks from Earth-That-Was, new operas like the one he was currently enjoying, novels, short stories, sure as hell opened things up. Of course, Mal wasn’t so addled as to believe that most folks would want anything more than the cheap detective novels, romances and horse operas that had always been available on the Cortex; after all, the foundations of life on the Rim were built on those old stories. Things like Max Cheever: Bounty Hunter, the Green Valley series and the books with busty women on the download link would probably be accessed more than Cantonese operas from Sihnon or the non-Fed news services, but Mal knew it was the small steps that counted. Choice mattered more now than ever.

The solo ended, the opera fading out to merge with the background hum of Serenity‘s engines. He lay on his bunk for a moment or two, trying to calculate what time it was. Sleep hadn’t come easy in the last few weeks; it was another reason he was grateful for the newly-vibrant Cortex. Night stretched long on the ship, shuddering and straining like an elastic band pulled taunt and about to break. It was as good a way as any to describe the atmosphere onboard Serenity since Miranda: silence so tight it ate at him, made him retreat every night to his bunk and listen to music so loud it vibrated the bulkheads. Didn’t much help, as a point of fact. No sound, no matter how thunderous, could ever drown out the new silences on the ship.

A soft, hesitant knock on the door to his cabin had Mal jerking upright, grunting a little in pain as his muscles pulled against new stitches. Another battle wound. Mal suspected his torso was beginning to very closely resemble a patchwork quilt, with all the old burns, scars and bullet wounds cross-stitching his skin. He shrugged at the pain and the marks on his body; he’d never had to rely overmuch on his good looks. A person could go far enough on sheer orneriness.

“C’mon down,” Mal invited, hoping to see Zoë’s worn leather boots descend the ladder. She’d been dropping by somewhat regular, inviting herself to the card game they’d been playing since army days. He suspected that the long nights felt even longer to his first mate. Mal hoped that game of gin rummy in his bunk offered Zoë a place to breathe a bit without feeling the walls close in. He made it a point not to speak until she did, and a week in it was still a very silent game.

But it weren’t Zoë’s boots that came down the ladder; it was a pair of beautiful bare feet, carefully-manicured toes and shapely arches topped with a well-turned ankle. Dancer’s feet, Mal’s Ma would have said, and being a dancer herself Mal’s Ma would have known. The feet gave way to a satiny gown the color of summer peaches, a tiny waist and a bust line that would have put any of the Cortex romance links to shame. Soon enough, Inara’s dark eyes met his, and Mal sat up straighter. He hoped she didn’t notice the wince he couldn’t quite hide.

“’Nara? Somethin’ amiss?” he asked quickly, rising to help her drop off the ladder. His eyes narrowed when her feet met the cold grated floor. “Ain’t you got a pair of slippers in that trunk of yours?”

She smiled, dismissing his concern with a shrug of one slim shoulder. “I’m fine, Mal. Everything’s fine. I just wanted to see what the appeal was.”

“The appeal?” he repeated, more than a little dumbfounded. He suddenly realized he’d taken off his shirt before settling down to listen to the music, along with his trousers. It felt more than a little uncomfortable to be entertaining Inara in his bunk, wearing only his skivvies. She didn’t seem to notice, however, as her eyes swept his small living quarters.

Nothing had really changed since the last time she’d descended that ladder, an observation Inara found strangely comforting. Mal’s desk was still strewn with papers, star charts, drawings and quaint, old-fashioned bound books. His bed was a rumpled mess, the blankets clean, soft and a little worn. Plants that thrived on the artificial light of a spaceship lined one narrow shelf and the small toiletry area was clean and well-ordered. The cabin was hopelessly, irretrievably masculine, all dark colours and plain, sturdy furniture. Spartan, apart from the mass of papers on the desk. Inara knew that Mal only slept here; the rest of Serenity was his home, everything from the helm to the mess to the engine room infused with his presence. And that was the reason behind her foray into the captain’s bunk: why had he forsaken the ship he loved to spend each and every night in his lonely cabin?

Inara crossed the room to perch on the edge of the bed, leaving either the desk chair or the space beside her for Mal. He took the chair, not quite trusting himself to take a place beside her on the bed. The tiny distance separating them didn’t create much of a buffer; Mal could smell the jasmine she used in her hair, the slightly sweet, spicy smell wafting towards him, filling the bunk. However this conversation went, he knew he would be breathing her in for days.

“Care for a tour?” he asked, pointing around the small space. “Bunk. The head. My desk, where I think about very important captain things and plan my daring criminal acts.”

Inara’s lips curved upwards slightly. Good; he’d rather amuse her than fight with her. She wasn’t wearing makeup, at least not that he could tell. Her hair was long and loose, flowing down her shoulders and over the rise of her breasts, a thick, fragrant curtain that only called attention to the thin, silky material of her nightgown. He’d known a lot of women; Inara was the only one he’d ever found painful to look at. She had that kind of beauty, a beauty that cut deep and made a man struggle to breathe.

“I haven’t been down here very often,” Inara said, and he could hear in her honeyed tones an echo of his own resolve to keep this safe and pleasant. “It’s surprisingly...clean.”

“Thanks,” he smirked. “I gave the maid the night off.”

There was an awkward silence for a moment or two, until the woofers clicked and the opera he’d been listening to earlier began to re-play. The bombastic first movement made them both jump and sent Mal scrambling for the opwand. He turned the music down to a barely-audible setting; despite the low volume, Inara cocked her head to the side.

“I would never have guessed you to be a fan of Xin-Ghi, Mal.”

He scowled at her, playing-wounded at her comment. “I have depth,” he assured her. “You heard this one yet?”

She listened for a moment, shaking her head. “I don’t think so. It’s not very good, is it?”

“Wait for the aria,” he advised, turning the volume up when the solo began. Inara leaned back against the bulkhead, drawing her feet up under her and smoothing the silk of her negligee. Mal inclined against the desk, resting his hips on the surface, crossing his ankles. A soft, dreamy expression stole over Inara’s face; she closed her eyes as Xin-Ghi’s voice faded in and out, the second movement eliciting a single tear which slipped down her cheek. Mal watched the jewel of moisture trace the contours of her face, sliding over the cheekbone and following the line of her small, perfect jaw. A beauty that hurts, he reminded himself. He’d tasted just a fraction of that pain two months ago when she’d left Serenity, left him. Now she was back, and he wasn’t quite sure what it meant. Inara hadn’t taken on any clients yet; she hadn’t even fixed up her old shuttle, preferring instead to sleep on a thin cot next to her trunk. He wondered at the decision, and the way she’d refused a trip to the Training House where she’d abandoned all her niceties. Gowns, jewels, rich silks, expensive furniture...she’d left all of it and didn’t seem to mind overmuch. He hadn’t had the courage to ask her what it meant.

“You’re right,” she said during the interlude. “The aria redeems it. She really is a wonder.”

“You ever see her perform?” Mal asked.

Inara shook her head. “Only in the chorus. She’d just begun to play to the major venues on Sihnon within the last year. I was already gone.”

Mal shook himself, puttering around, righting things on his desk, shuffling the papers into orderly piles. It gave him something to do, rather than meet her eyes. “You miss it?”

“Sihnon? No,” she said, her voice soft. “That life seems very far away.”

“I’ll bet,” he couldn’t help but reply, stealing a glance at the way she was curled up on his bunk. He wasn’t sure if it was the lack of makeup, the simple peach-colored gown or the way her face looked when she’d cried at the solo, but Inara seemed more open to him now than she had at any other time during their troubled history. He hated to think it was because she felt wore-out or used-up by the last showdown on Mr. Universe’s planet. Out of all of them, she was the only one to escape injury, and it occurred to him now that she might have been the only one to escape alive. How would that have felt? He knew she loved Kaylee, Zoë, Simon and River...would have even mourned Jayne, if it had come to that. He knew how it felt, to be left alone when everyone else was gone. And he hated to think of Inara living that kind of half-life.

Inara opened her eyes, feeling the intensity of Mal’s gaze. He looked tired, she thought. Tired and worried for her, worried for his crew. She wanted to tell him how strong they all were, how much better River seemed to be doing, how happy Simon and Kaylee were, how even Zoë appeared to be coming to some kind of peace. But Mal would hardly be Mal if he weren’t feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, concern and the need to protect his crew giving him reason to get through the compromises of each day. Inara was glad she understood that much about the man; in other ways Mal was a cipher, but she recognized he was driven by love. It was why she had left.

An inadvertent shiver coursed through her body; Inara wasn’t sure if it from the coldness of the bulkheads or her own musings. Whatever the reason, Mal noticed.

“You really should let me take you back to your Training House, at least so’s you can pick up some necessary sundries and not catch your death on this cold old boat,” he clucked, tugging a blanket loose from his bed and wrapping it around her shoulders. “Ain’t but a day out of our way, and it’ll be worth it to avoid seeing you get all blue-like.”

Inara tried not to smile. “Blue really isn’t my colour.”

“Surely ain’t,” he agreed, finally settling beside her on the narrow bunk. “You want to listen to another disc? I’ve got all manner of pretentious Core music.”

“And the sudden proliferation of illegal downloading is completely unconnected to your newfound love of opera, I assume?” she teased, slipping one slim white arm out from under the blanket to pinch his thigh.

Mal let out a pretend yelp, slapping her hand away. Inara couldn’t help but giggle; it had been far too long since there was any sort of laughter on this ship. She caught at his wrist, twisting it with a Buia Thai move she’d learned during her companion training. This time, Mal’s yelp of surprise was genuine, his eyes taking on a glint of mischief.

“You sure you want to challenge me, Princess?” he asked. In response, Inara twisted harder. Mal broke the hold and flipped her back, using his own weight as leverage. Suddenly Inara found herself beneath Mal’s lean, hard body, her gown rucked up against her bent knees. Rather than show mercy like a true gentleman, Mal began to tickle her, his fingers seeking out those nerve endings which, despite her careful training, Inara could not control. In less than five minutes she was breathless with laughter, her chest heaving in and out as she squirmed beneath him, trying to avoid those knowing digits.

“!” she gasped, wriggling away. Mal released her, a silly grin plastered across his face.

“That’s war, sweetheart.”

Weak now and languidly at-ease, more relaxed than she had ever thought to be in Mal’s cabin, Inara sighed. “You are certainly ruthless.”

“That I am,” he agreed, content to lie next to her on the bed. He folded his hands over his stomach, staring up at the battered metal ceiling. “Wish sometimes all it took was a good rib-tickle to get the enemy’s surrender.”

Inara breathed deeply, trying to slow her heart rate. Mal’s proximity on the small bed, the feel of his body pressed closely against hers, wasn’t helping matters. It wasn’t that she couldn’t control the situation; Inara could force herself to relax, to withdraw, to remain unaffected by his presence. She simply did not wish to put herself through the effort of keeping Mal at arm’s length any longer. It was exhausting not to reach out to him at dinner, caress his leg beneath the table, touch his hand when they passed one another in the hall. For a week now she’d been fighting the temptation to knock on his cabin door.

“How is your side?” she thought to ask, twisting and gingerly touching the clean white bandage wrapped around Mal’s lower torso. She felt a slight tremour glide beneath the skin of his belly at her gentle touch.

“Feels like a damned Alliance Operative run me through,” he told her, allowing her to continue exploring the bandage’s expanse. He kept his eyes on the ceiling, hoping to hold on to this moment. She had never been quite so close.

“I...I was worried for you,” Inara said, her voice thick. “I really thought we would all die, and I’d never know what happened to you.” She traced the line of the bandage with her index finger, not stopping at the edge of the gauze. His skin felt warm and slightly rough, the scar tissue adding texture to the flat muscles of his belly. Again, she felt a small, almost-undetectable quake beneath his skin; it made her bold, and Inara raised her eyes to Mal’s face.

“I didn’t know...” she tried, speaking past the lump that had settled in her throat. “I wasn’t sure how we could go on without you.”

Mal watched her face in the dim lamplight of his cabin, the burnished gold of her skin and dark, liquid eyes igniting a fire within him. The soft movements of her fingers as they played over his skin were innocent enough, but the expression in her eyes and what was in her voice made him want to hold her, swim over her like a river, drown in her. Envelop. He’d always thought it was a funny word, but it suited him just fine at the moment.

“I wouldn’t have gone away,” he whispered to her, drawing her hand into his and holding them both against his chest. “I survived worse than anything the Alliance can throw at me, Operative or no. I wasn’t going to fail any of you.”

“I know,” she whispered back. “But life very rarely gives us that choice.”

He couldn’t help but agree. Choice had so very little to do with it. Choice hadn’t put Wash and Book in the ground; choice weren’t what made Inara leave in the first place. Choice hadn’t played a part in what was done to River, choice didn’t start the war that left him without home or belief. All his life, choice was nothing but an illusion, something to comfort himself with when his back was against the wall. Choice was just a cold comfort in a hollow world.

“I’m sorry,” he said to her, his voice low. Inara had to concentrate to hear him above the ship’s engines. “I’m sorry for what was done, and how. I nearly got you killed.”

“Mal,” she breathed, shaking her head. “We all knew the risks. What the Alliance did had to be publicized. I would have given my life for that cause.”

“Good,” he said, casting his gaze back towards the ceiling. “Because I’d hate to think you’dve done it for me.”

She smiled. “Not a chance.”

He slipped an arm around her, drawing her nearer to him on the bunk. Instinctively she threw an arm over his chest, cuddling closer. Her body was warm and firm against him, smelling how dream-women ought to smell. Mal had to remind himself that this was real, that she was real. They were lying together on his bunk in the middle of the night, not fighting, not hurting each other. And not showing the inclination to, either.

“Mind if I ask you somethin’?” he said, rubbing one hand against the softness of her arm. She made a small sound of expectation.

“You like sleeping on that pint-sized cot in that lonely old shuttle?”

Inara raised her body off of his, floating above him in the dim light. “Why do you ask?”

“I was just thinking...” he mused, hoping his face looked contemplative. “You might move your trunk down to the crew quarters. It’s certainly warmer there, and a lot closer in case you’re needed for anything.”

“Needed?” she asked, the corner of her lip struggling to stay down. “What for?”

“Oh, well,” he stretched lazily, sighing. “Late-night discussions about opera, massages, what have you...”

“Massages?” she repeated. “Why, Captain Reynolds, are you offering?”

His eyes widened. Of course she’d called his bluff. Didn’t matter that he’d never been called on to massage a woman in his life, and that he’d meant something slightly different by his suggestion. The witch knew it, too. Her face was set in that careful mask of calm, but he was learning that it hid a damn duplicitous mind.

“Can’t promise it’ll be much good, but...”

Inara ducked her head, hoping to hide the smile that couldn’t help but allow to creep over her face. The thought of receiving a massage from Mal was slightly unnerving; the very idea made her knees weak in a way she thought she’d long outgrown. “Well, who am I to turn down such an inviting offer?”

Mal’s hand stilled in its slow, tentative rubbing against her arm. “You’re a brave woman, I’ll give you that.”

“Wait here,” she told him, up the ladder and out of the cabin before Mal could rouse himself.

“Not that she’s eager or anything,” Mal chuckled, straightening the bed sheets and throwing a simple coverlet over the bunk. He debated whether or not to pull on a pair of trousers, but decided against it. She’d already seen him in his skivvies, and getting dressed now would only provide a focus for her amusement.

Inara reappeared at the top of the ladder, clambering down with something only approximating her usual grace and economy of movement. She held a small box in her hand, which she set down on his desk. Inara opened the box and began to unpack its contents, spreading them out on the surface before him.

“This is scented oil,” she explained. “It will heat as its rubbed into the skin.”

A soft towel followed, some candles and a strange contraption painted to look like a cow. It had a flat body, four spindly legs with big wooden balls set on the ends, and an expressionless face.

“What in the go tsao de pee-goo is this thing?”

“It’s to get at the deeper tissues,” Inara explained patiently, carefully lighting the tea candles. Immediately Mal’s bunk began to smell like vanilla.

“And why is it a cow?”

“I happen to like cows,” she replied, sliding the straps of her negligee off of her shoulders and slipping out of her dress. The peach silk pooled at her feet, and Mal dropped the cow-massager.

Despite the number of times he’d managed to barge into her shuttle without knocking, Mal had never caught Inara in the altogether. He couldn’t help but feel it was a damn shame: she had to be the most perfect woman he’d ever seen. Lush, sensuous curves, high, full breasts and flawless skin certainly made her lovely, but it was the expression in her eyes which made Inara truly beautiful. She faced him with such evident pleasure and openness; there was no shame in her, simply an honest invitation to push away the darkness of the ’verse for one night. He couldn’t help but believe that the faint sheen in her rich, dark eyes might also be affection for him, and only him. He’d already begun to suspect she didn’t use the cow massager with her clients.

She lay down on her stomach, giving Mal a long, lingering look at her ripe backside. He extended a tentative hand to stroke the back of her thigh, his thumb feather-light as it moved across her skin. Head resting on her folded arms, Inara watched as he dabbed some oil onto his hands, rubbed them together and began to work on her shoulders.

A sigh of contentment escaped her lips. She could add another talent to Mal’s eclectic list of abilities; his touch was both relaxing and energizing, skillful without being too forceful. He understood muscle groups enough to focus on the right area in her shoulders and back, and she felt some of the tension she’d carried since the Operative first appeared at her training house to drain away. The oil worked its magic, infusing her with warm and the security she felt in his presence. He moved on to her lower back, strong hands working at the knots collected there. She couldn’t decide what was better: Mal touching her so intimately, and with such practiced care, or feeling comfortable enough to allow Mal to caress her body.

“You lied,” she murmured, eyes drifting closed.

“I don’t doubt it, darlin’, but you’ll need to be a might more specific.”

“You said this wouldn’t be any good.”

Mal’s mouth quirked upwards in a half-smile. He tried to pay attention to what he was doing, thinking about muscle groups, bones and joints rather than the softness of Inara’s skin and the small, soft sounds of her breathing. Her pulse fluttered beneath his hand; the feel of it almost making him woozy. Seven days ago he believed he’d lost her for good; now, she was relaxed and nude in his bed, shivering at his touch. He made a “W” shape with his hands, pressing his thumbs in and up along her spine. The tips of his fingers grazed the sides of her breasts, and the erection his body had been threatening since this experiment had started sprung to sudden, almost-painful life.

Inara felt his sudden hardness against her side, pressing in against her ribcage as he worked on her back. She couldn’t ignore the fact that the very thin material of Mal’s underwear was the only thing separating their bodies. She opened her eyes, her pupils dilating in the flickering candlelight of the cabin. Slowly she rolled over onto her back, watching Mal’s face.

His expression made her long for a handy capture. She’d never thought to render Malcolm Reynolds speechless, and if he wasn’t now he’d come awfully close. His hands still glistened with the massage oil and remained at his sides as if he were afraid to touch her. Inara spent a few precious seconds admiring his body. He wasn’t handsome, in the conventional sense. His body was covered with a lattice-work of scars, burns and bullet wounds. Unlike the majority of her male clients, the hard, lean muscles of his abdomen, the pectorals of his chest and biceps had been developed through manual labour rather than countless hours at a well-appointed gym. She couldn’t help but think how much more appealing his body was because of that fact. Mal was tanned, and a sparse sprinkling of dark hair dusted his lower belly, ending at the elastic band of his underwear. She had seen him nude before, after a con game gone disastrously wrong, and she knew the rest of his body was equally well-proportioned. The thought made her grin: she was excited, she realized. Truly excited, an emotion completely divorced from the way she typically felt when servicing clients. Mal would not be her first, or even remotely close to it. But he was the only one to elicit this sense of shivery, nervy excitement. She allowed one knee to drop to the side in invitation.

“Captain, I hope you’re not going to stand there all night. I hear there’s a draft about, and I’d hate to see you catch your death of cold.”

It was all the prompting he needed. Mal stepped forward, enjoying seeing her like this. Inara looked so relaxed and playful, a soft, rose-coloured blush stealing across her skin. He trailed a hand up her thigh and down her knee, pressing the heel of his hand into the apex of her thighs. Inara sighed and closed her eyes, opening her legs a little wider. He heard her breath hitch as he rubbed the knife-edge of his hand against the little bundle of nerves, and sigh as he slipped a finger inside.

She was beautiful to watch, all shivery moans and deep-throated murmurs. Her hips raised on their own volition and he admired the lift of her breasts, the way she clutched at the sheets and clenched her toes as he stroked her. He stopped momentarily, and Inara opened her eyes.

“At least kiss me when you do that,” she admonished, meeting his mouth with her own and taking him in. Mal wasn’t sure how much longer he could maintain control. He’d been dreaming of this moment for months, slipping inside Inara, burying himself in her, sucking on her breasts and stroking her silken thighs, making her cry out his name. Now that it was happening, Mal admitted to himself what a poor imagination he had. Nothing he had dreamed of could compare to the way this moment felt. He dragged her up and against him, sinking to the bed and leaning back against the wall, Inara straddling his lap. Her tongue was hot and thick in his mouth, her breasts soft and warm against his chest. He pushed up against her through his underwear, the fabric wet now, straining and chafing.

“Mal,” she breathed, all of her wonderful wavy hair settling around them like a fragrant blanket. “What should we-”

He didn’t give her a chance to ask the question, simply pushing forward on his knees to slip off his underwear before sinking back down to his back, pulling her on top. Mal caught Inara’s half-grin as she hovered above him, then lay back to admire her expression as she slid over him.

If he’d been rather uninspired when imagining foreplay with Inara, Mal couldn’t help but feel he’d been a gibbering moron when it came to visualizing the act of coupling with her. He groaned as she took him inside; she was so hot and tight, so slick, that for a moment it felt as if he’d died. And then she began to move. He groaned and threw his head back, writhing beneath her as Inara set the rhythm and pace. He clutched at her hips, squeezing the supple flesh so tightly he worried she’d have bruises the next morning. Her breasts danced above him, and he caught one of them in his mouth, sucking and teasing the nipple with his tongue until she cried out. He rolled back and over with her, placing her carefully on her back before thrusting into her again. Inara sobbed his name and he freed a hand to rub against her, bringing her close to the breaking point. He could feel the tremours begin in her shoulder blades, making her whole body shiver as he worked within her. He felt his own breaking point and kissed her deeply, whispering her name.

They were caught in a torrent, a great spillway of life that was hot and sweat-slick and breathtaking. After the horrors of the past weeks, and the losses they had not even begun to truly mourn, Mal and Inara held one another until the hurricane passed. They collapsed on the bed, still joined. Mal brushed damp tendrils of hair out of Inara’s face, wanting to see what was in her eyes. If she regretted this, he wasn’t sure how he would survive the knowledge.

Her eyes were dark and shining, meeting his without fear or shame. He would never have been able to buy a woman like her, and yet he understood, in that moment, that she was his as completely as he was hers. It was a choice they’d reached together.

“We’re both hopelessly yu bun duh,” Inara muttered, throwing a weak arm over her face to shield her eyes. Sweat had collected at her temples, her hair was a tangled mess, and he’d left red marks all over her breasts with his mouth and hands. Inara had never looked more beautiful, in Mal’s humble opinion.

“Why’s that?” he asked.

“It took us nearly a year. A year, Mal!”

“I’m surprised my own self,” he agreed, slowly pulling away from her and settling on to his back. Inara rested her head on his shoulder, feeling a little weak. “Granted, there were certain difficulties betwixt us, those that needed some workin’ out before we could...” he trailed off deliberately, not ashamed in the least to discover that the grin he’d been wearing refused to fade.

“This changes things, doesn’t it?” she asked quietly, arm still thrown over her eyes. Mal tugged at her hand, wanting to see her expression.

“Sure does, darlin’. But a little change ain’t all bad.”

Inara watched him for a minute, marveling at how...relaxed he was. As if were perfectly natural for her to be in his bed, his semen still sticky between her legs, hair tousled and the bed awry. As exhausting as it was to restrain from acting on her own desires, Inara suspected that being Malcolm Reynold’s lover would be a different kind of tiring. The thought made her eyelids heavy.

“Mal,” she murmured, already half-asleep. “Mind if I stay?”

Mal fought a smile, kissing the top of her dark head.

“Not at all. Make yourself at home.”








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