Tea & Biscuits

It was later than she intended when she went in search of Wash, and found him on the bridge. "I'm ready when you are, Wash."

He swiveled in his chair toward her. "Well—"

"There's been a change of plans."

She looked over her shoulder. Mal was coming up the stairs. "I'll be the one to take you."

His expression was neutral, and Inara tried to keep hers the same. "When did that change?" she asked.

"Not so long ago. I found work in the world. I need to meet a man."

She hesitated. "Is there a reason—?"

"This fellow's a might particular, don't care much for middle men. He'll deal only with the Captain, and that's me. So if you're ready we should be going. I got a schedule to keep."

Inara suppressed her desire to let loose with a stream of Cantonese invectives. This had not been part of her plan. The idea was to leave with as little in the way of emotional goodbyes as possible. She spoke to everyone last night and was expecting to only walk one last gauntlet of hugs before she left. The idea of spending the next 24 hours with Mal was unsettling.

He was silent as they made their way to the shuttle. The others were waiting there. She said her last goodbyes, hugging everyone but Jayne, her heart breaking at the tears in Kaylee's eyes. She chastised herself, again, for having become so attached to these people. She had to leave for more reasons than her feelings for Mal; it was the whole crew she'd become attached to. She'd fallen in love with her life here, and attachments were complicated for Companions. She had to leave.

She avoided the sound of Mal closing the door on Serenity by heading directly to the cockpit and settling herself in the pilot's seat.

"Don't you think I ought to be doing that?"

Inara reached above her head to flick the ignition switch. "You're terrible at flying the shuttle."

"That may be so, but don't you need the time for packing? I see all the accoutrements of your profession are still up."

She turned. Mal was leaning against the cockpit door, his thumbs hooked into his suspenders. She wanted to hit him.

She stood. "You're right. I should start that." She'd put off packing, thinking it would give a needed distraction on the long shuttle ride planet-side.

She was careful not to brush against him as she moved by him into the living area. He wasn't exactly being hostile, but he was hardly being warm and friendly - not that she had expected him to be. Still, a little warmth would have been nice.

The curtains dropped behind her, and she surveyed the work ahead. Distraction she wanted, distraction she certainly had – she'd hardly bothered to pack anything. She pulled a stack of collapsed boxes out of the engine room and began putting them together. Her clothes first, she decided.

Almost an hour passed before Mal pushed the curtain aside. Inara had just held up a lace-trimmed negligee that was mostly transparent; Mal held a protein packet in his hand. They stared at each other for a brief moment before Inara neatly folded the garment into the box. Mal cleared his throat. "I'm feeling a bit peckish. I'll split a protein cake with you if you'll find us something to drink."

Inara smiled, relieved that he'd finally decided to speak. She was starting to think he was going to sit in the cockpit the whole trip and watch the autopilot make minute course adjustments. "I'll make tea."

He was quick to respond. "No. Water's fine for me."

She turned away, stung, then changed her mind and turned back. "I wasn't offering tea ceremony. I was only offering tea." She was embarrassed to realize how hurt that sounded.

"All the same, water's fine for me."

It's not all the same, she wanted to scream, it's not the same at all! She held her tongue. "Fine."

He sat on the velvet divan and took the glass of water she offered. She made tea for herself and hoped the fragrance would make him wish he hadn't turned her down. She sat on the edge of her bed and nibbled the tasteless protein cake. She wouldn't miss these when she returned to the Core.

After an almost unbearably long silence, Mal spoke. "So what are your plans?"

"There's a ship making landfall day after tomorrow. I've booked passage to the Core. I'm going back to my Motherhouse for a while. I think this is a good point in my career for some reflection. I need to evaluate my future goals, make some plans.

"I thought you liked your independence."

"I do, but I don't want to be foolish either."

"I don't see what's foolish about being independent." He sounded defensive.

Inara chose her words carefully. "It may not be the best thing for my career now."

Mal stood. "Yeah, well, I should get back to the cockpit."

Inara stood as well. She wanted to say something, she just wasn't sure what.

There was an explosion. The shuttle rocked, and Inara fell backwards into a box, which slid across the room and slammed into the bulkhead. The lights went out and blackness descended on the room. There was a horrible sucking roar that could only be decompression.

"Mal? Mal?" Inara struggled out of the box. She was thankful it was one she had just packed; the clothes cushioned her fall.

"Inara, you okay?"

The voice came from across the room. She stood shakily and made her way toward it, bumping into boxes as she went. "I'm fine. Are you alright?"

The voice sounded closer. "Yep, a little bruised maybe, but none the worse for wear."

With her next step, she walked into him. Reflexively, she clutched at his shirt, and his hands closed around her shoulders. At that moment, dim lighting from near the floor appeared.

Inara looked up, still holding on to Mal. He smile, relieved. "Generator's working."

Inara sighed, letting her head drop forward. Thank God. That meant life support was working.

Mal released her, and she dropped her hands. She followed him into the cockpit. Virtually every warning light was red.

"Ai ya, wo mun wan leh," Mal hissed.

"Why, what happened?"

Mal tapped the monitor screen. "Looks like space debris. Went right through the engine compartment, might've even gone through the primary engine. We're running on emergency power. Even if we had a suit, I can't get to the engine without decompressing the rest of the ship.

"So what do we do?"

"Only thing we can do. We send out a distress beacon back toward Serenity and hope she sees it. Problem is, she won't even start looking until day after tomorrow. Whatever hit us knocked us off course. We're moving off of our trajectory." He looked grim. "We're going to be stuck here a fair piece."

The faint glow of the emergency lights coupled with the red glare from the console gave the cockpit an eerie light that made Inara's skin crawl. The shuttle that had been so much of a home to her for all this time now felt like a coffin.

"I need to sit down."

Mal touched her arm. "You sure you're okay? You didn't hit your head?"

"I'm fine. I just need a minute to absorb this."

Mal put his arm around her waist, and guided her back to the boudoir, where she sat on her bed. He went back into the cockpit. Inara looked around. Her careful packing was now spread out all over the floor, along with all the things she hadn't packed that fell from the shelves. She shook her head, then stood, reaching for an empty box. There was no point in leaving all this to be tripped over, and the broken glass was dangerous.

Mal stepped out of the cockpit a half an hour later. "Beacon's set. Best take stock of our situation. Like as not we'll be here three to four days."

Inara paused, about to throw away a broken fan. "Do you think they'll find us?"

"Zoe never left me before, don't reckon she'll start now."

Inara nodded, comforted by his confidence. Of course, they would come for him. He was their captain.

"So, what we got by way of supplies?"

Inara stepped over to the alcove where she made tea. "The water still runs."

"Good, that's a critical one. Now, with just emergency power it's going to get a might colder in here." He looked at the floor. "But we got plenty in the way of clothing."

"You'll look nice in silk."

Mal grinned at her. "That's because I'm so pretty." He clapped his hands. "So we got oxygen, heat, water, light, clothes. What do we have in the way of food?"

Inara's stomach dropped. "What did you bring with you?"

"I got another protein cake. What do you have in stores?"

"Standard rations. There's just one problem."

"What's that?"

"They're stored in the engine room."

"Oh, guay." Mal scrubbed a hand down his face. "Well, that's bad. I know they say you can go three days without eating as long as you have water, but I got to tell you, it's a might harder than it sounds."

Inara rubbed her temples, trying to decide whether or not to mention the other edibles she had.

"Why would you keep food in the engine room?"

Mal's tone hadn't been accusatory, but Inara stood up straighter. "I keep everything that doesn't have to do with my work in either the engine room or the cockpit. This is a sacred room, not a storage bin."

He snorted. "That may be, but you can't eat sacred."

Inara counted to ten. "I do have a few tea biscuits left."

"How many?"

"Four, maybe five."

"And you got nothing else in here?"

Inara hesitated. "I…I have some chocolate, but we don't want to eat that."

Mal stared at her. "You have chocolate? Real chocolate?"

"Yes, but it's not really—"

"Look, I know that's expensive and it's for your clients, but we have us an emergency situation here."

"It's not that. It's laced with kaoling."

"Kaoling? That's not strictly legal."

"No."

"Surely your clients don't need kaoling. I would think seeing you would be sufficient."

Inara turned away from him. "It's not for my clients. Nonetheless, we don't want to eat it."

It seemed forever before Mal said anything. "Well, we'll put that off to last. Maybe they'll find us before we get that desperate."

They spent the next hour cleaning. After that Inara began unpacking her clothes.

"What are you doing?" Mal asked.

"Well, it's clear we won't make my flight. The next one isn't for six weeks, so I might as well unpack."

Mal nodded. "Guess that's so." He stood in the center of the room at a loss for what to do. "You got any books?"

"In there." Inara pointed to a small, ornate wooden trunk.

She watched as Mal pulled out the books, one by one. He looked at her, his eyebrows raised. "You got any books that aren't erotic?"

She smiled. "Of course."

"And they would be?"

"In the engine room."

"Naturally."

"I told you, this is where I work, Mal."

He flipped a book back into the box. "And fine work it is, too."

Inara folded her arms across her chest. "Well, that took a lot longer than usual. Go ahead call me a whore. Make my day complete."

Mal dropped his face into his hands and let out a frustrated sigh. "Fighting's not going to help our situation."

"I'm sorry my work makes you uncomfortable."

He looked up at her, his eyes unreadable. "I'm sorry, too."

Their stare was broken when her stomach rumbled.

Mal grinned. "Hungry?"

"It'll pass."

"No, it won't. All we've eaten was half a protein cake each; that ain't enough. Why don't you make some of that tea and we'll each have us a biscuit?"

She made the tea as simply and with as little ceremony as possible and handed him a cup along with a biscuit from the tin. She had four - after this, only two.

"We could be facing a long time doing nothing." Mal looked around. "You got any cards?"

"She pulled open a drawer and removed a deck of cards. She handed them to him. "These are the only ones I have."

Each card showed an erotic scene between various gender combinations. The suite and number were in the corners of each card.

Mal nodded. "These'll do. What's your favorite card game?"

"I've always liked cribbage."

"Got a board?"

She pulled one out of the drawer.

"Then let's play cribbage." Mal began to deal the cards.

They played for hours, the shuttle all the while getting colder. Inara wrapped a lacy but warm wool shawl around her shoulders, and handed a blanket to Mal. They kept playing until neither could keep their eyes open.

Inara suppressed another yawn. "I've got to go to sleep."

"Me too. I'll take the divan."

"We can share the bed; it'll be warmer."

Mal shook his head.

Inara put a hand on her hip. "Mal, don't be ridiculous, it can't be more than 50 degrees in here, and I don't have enough blankets to make up a second bed."

Mal set his jaw. "I'm not being ridiculous, just don't think it's a good idea."

Inara felt anger rising within her. "Why not, Mal? I'm trying to keep either of us from freezing to death. What exactly do you think is going to happen? I'm offering you my bed, not my body."

Mal stepped closer, his face only inches from hers. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. "I'm thinking that as the days wear on, it might be powerful difficult for me to know the difference."

"I…"

"And if what Nandi said is true, then it just might be difficult for you too."

Inara swallowed hard. "I'm cold and I'm hungry. I'll risk it, if it means sleeping warm tonight."

"Fair enough." Without another word, he turned and went into the head. Inara stared at the closed door for a moment, before pulling all her spare blankets from her bottom dresser drawer. When Mal emerged, she went in to brush her teeth and change into the only long-sleeved nightgown she owned. When she returned, Mal was in bed, his back toward her. His boots, button-down shirt, and suspenders had been tossed on the divan. She lifted the covers quickly to slide in beside him, turning, without shame, to press her back to his. If he was there for warmth, then damn it she was going to get some warmth. He didn't move, and Inara did her best to empty her mind, hoping that sleep would come quickly. It did.

When she awoke some time later, Mal was pressed hard against her back, his knees against the bend of hers, his arm holding her close. She felt his breath, warm and even, against her neck. A forbidden thrill raced down her spine. This was not allowed, a chance encounter. No ritual, a man in her bed that she had not expressly chosen to be there. No transaction. No control.

Relax, she told herself, and keep your fantasies about Mal in check. You're leaving, but her own voice countered the argument. Exactly. Why not indulge, just this once, in something you've always been curious about? As her conscience battled this issue, Mal sighed in his sleep, pulling her more tightly against him. One hand slid up her body to her breast, and she trembled at the touch. Don't be ridiculous, this is hardly the first hand to touch your breast, she chided. Ahh, but it's the first to touch you without paying for the privilege. She kept very still and considered her options. Excitement pulsed through her, something she hadn't felt, unaided, in a long time. To give in to her impulse, just this once… Well, there had been that kiss, but he was unconscious at the time; that hardly counted. She turned carefully, settling back into his embrace; his arms tightened around her once again. The light from the cockpit illuminated his face, and for a moment, she did nothing but stare, wanting to trace a fingertip across his brow, down the line of his nose. Quietly, she moved forward and touched her lips to his, so softly that she barely made contact.

His eyes opened.

Inara was so surprised that she squeaked and tried to pull back, but his arms wouldn't allow it.

"You kissed me." He sounded shocked.

Inara shook her head. "No, I…please—"

But whatever she thought she was going to say was lost as his mouth closed over hers, the force of his desire descending on her in a rush. Inara splayed her fingers across his chest, clutching at the thin material of his undershirt as he rolled her to her back, moving from her mouth to her neck. Her brain shut down, and her training took over, her hands moved lower, seeking to gain control of the situation - to activate certain erogenous zones, shut down others, synchronize all this.

"No." Mal's hands closed over hers. "This is just you and me."

He pushed her nightgown up over her head, tangling her hands in it. She could get them out, but didn't. Mal closed his mouth over hers again, and a shiver of fear ran through her. She'd never been here before, not like this. He kissed her neck, then moved lower, and she fought the sensations. She didn't want to, but years of training were against her. A Companion controls and directs. A Companion does not play. A Companion works. Pleasure is a Companion's work but not her privilege. This was an onslaught to her senses; every nerve ending seemed on fire. She began to tremble, and couldn't stop.

"Stop." It came out as a choked sob.

Mal stopped and looked at her, blinking. "What?"

"Please," she whispered.

"You want me to stop?"

"Yes, please."

She could see the muscles in his jaw tighten. "But you kissed me."

"I know. I shouldn't have. I'm sorry." To her horror, she was still trembling. She had to get away from him. She moved out of the bed pulling her nightgown down as she went.

"I'm very sorry, Mal. I don't know what came over me. That was very unprofessional."

"Unprofessional? Unprofessional?"

Poor choice of words, she thought.

"I'm not interested in your professional services." He practically spit the words at her. He got out of bed and began putting his shirt and suspenders back on.

She couldn't help letting out an abbreviated laugh. "Of course you are."

"What?" he shouted, coming around the bed toward her.

Inara winced, but didn't back down. "You're telling me that what just happened wasn't leading to sex?"

"Of course it was."

"Well, Mal, as you're so quick to point out, sex is my profession."

"I wasn't looking for that kind of sex," he said, stepping into her.

"What are you talking about, that kind of sex? What does that mean?"

"It means…I just…"

She glared at him.

He puffed out his chest clearly frustrated. "It's just different."

"It's not different." She was lying, but she wanted to believe what she was saying.

He gritted his teeth, "So I'm no different from Atherton or any of those snot nose virgins you're always bringing in here. I'm just another man in your bed, no different."

"I didn't say that," she whispered.

"That's exactly what you said, and you know what that tells me?" He leaned into her, getting in her face.

"What?" she said, stepping back and feeling the bulkhead against her back.

"It tells me you ain't never had a man that hasn't paid for the privilege."

Inara swallowed hard. "Of course not."

"Well as a man what's paid for sex and had it free, I'm here to tell you, it's different." He abruptly stepped away from her and into the cockpit.

Inara felt the loss of his body heat instantly. She was weak in the knees. She stumbled her way back to her bed and sat down. "Guay," she mumbled. She got back under the covers and lay there for several hours, staring at the ornate drapery on her ceiling. She wondered to herself how many times she'd done this exact same thing, only with a man on top of her instead of angry and petulant in the cockpit.

She wasn't sure when she dozed off, but she was awoken abruptly by half a protein bar hitting her stomach. She opened her eyes to see Mal disappearing back into the cockpit.

She picked up the protein bar and felt her stomach rumble. The tea biscuits were long gone. Still, it didn't feel right to eat it. She got up and moved to the cockpit.

She pushed the drapery aside. "Mal."

"I got no call to speak to you."

"Fine." She handed him the protein bar, and went back out to her room.

To her surprise, he followed her. "What's this?"

"You should save that for yourself."

"You need to eat, too."

"I have the tea biscuits." She reached for the water kettle and started making tea.

"There's no nutrition in them."

"I'll be fine. You're bigger than me, you need more."

"There ain't enough food on this boat to feed neither one of us proper. We'll split what we got even." He held out the protein bar to her.

"Mal—"

"Take it."

There was an edge to his voice that made her reach out and take the bar. "Thank you."

He didn't respond and walked back to the cockpit. Inara sighed. She could kick herself for letting this happen. What was she thinking kissing him? Still, it didn't seem prudent to let the situation continue as it was. She made two cups of tea and took them to the cockpit.

He had his head in his hands when she pushed past the drapery. Somehow the sight of him sitting there like that broke her heart. "Tea." She held out the cup.

He looked up at her. He frowned, but took the cup she offered.

Instead of leaving she leaned against the doorframe, taking small sips as she looked out at the stars. "I love this view," she said, after a few minutes.

"Yeah."

When he didn't speak again, Inara steeled herself for his response. "I'm sorry, Mal. I didn't mean to offend you earlier. I wasn't-" she took a deep breath. "I wasn't prepared for what happened."

Mal looked at her. "I thought sex was your business."

"Yes, but I still wasn't prepared for…" she wasn't sure what to say.

"To feel that way about it?" Mal asked.

Inara closed her eyes. Exactly. "I'm sorry."

"Well, I reckon I'm sorry to. I'm sorry you ain't never felt that way. It's a powerful good feeling that."

Inara nodded. "I'm sure that's true." She briefly rested a hand on his shoulder, then returned to her bedroom.

The next twelve hours passed as a steady monument to avoidance. She saw him only as he passed her on his way to the head and back to the cockpit. She spent a fair amount of time meditating, followed by calligraphy practice. It would be a good time to practice sitar but she couldn't bear the thought of Mal's comments, so she refrained. Instead she filled the hours playing solitaire and wishing that she had something other than erotica to read. She had started to doze off again when Mal walked out of the cockpit.

"How about some tea and cookies?" he said. His stomach rumbled loudly. Inara stood to make tea but the sudden head rush made her sit down again.

"Hey, you okay?"

He looked concerned. She smiled. "Fine, I just stood up too fast." She got up more slowly this time.

"Why don't you stay there, I can get it."

"Don't be silly, I'm fine. I'm just—"

"Hungry."

"Yes."

"Me too. It's giving me a headache."

She set up the tea service and handed him one of the last remaining biscuits.

"I did a wide area scan. Still no sign of Serenity."

"I'm sure they'll find us soon."

Mal nodded. "Sure. Course."

Inara gave him a cup of tea and sat down on the divan with hers. He sat opposite her on the other end of the couch. "How much of that chocolate you got?"

"We can't eat the chocolate, Mal."

"Inara."

"We cannot eat the chocolate." She bit into her cookie and her stomach responded with a loud grumble of its own. The cookie was only going to serve as an appetizer; she would be hungrier after than before. Mal had already finished his and was drinking his tea.

"So how many pieces do you have?"

"I'm not sure. Ten maybe, but—"

"If you got ten, then maybe we could each eat one. How bad could one be?"

"I'm not sure, I've never taken a whole piece before."

"What do you mean?"

"Have you ever used kaoling?"

"No."

"Ever seen it's effects?"

"Not as I recall, but I hear tell—"

"It's not like what you've heard. It's much stronger than that. I cut each piece into six smaller pieces and only take one of those."

"And why is that?"

"Why is what?"

"Why do you take it?"

"I don't all the time, just sometimes. Specific clients. It's not a big deal. I don't take it very often."

"But you do sometimes."

Inara couldn't look at him. "Yes." The whole business of kaoling was a dirty little secret in the Companion world. Companions weren't supposed to take it, and yet Inara knew of no one who didn't sometimes. Some clients were just so much harder to deal with than others, and a tiny bit of kaoling made them so much more palatable.

"Okay, I know you say it's strong, but how about we each eat half?"

"Half?"

"Inara, I'm sick of being hungry."

"A half a piece of chocolate isn't going to help that."

"I'm willing to take that risk."

"But I'm not." Her stomach growled. Traitor, she thought angrily.

"Fine, you don't have to eat any of it. Just give me a piece."

"No."

"Inara—"

"No, you can't eat a piece unless I do. Either we both do it or neither of us does."

"Why?"

"It's just not a good idea."

Mal sat there for a long time, looking at her. Finally, he said, "Break out the chocolates, Inara."

Without taking her eyes off him she reached under the divan and pulled out a gold embossed box. She used a fingernail to roll three little dials until she heard a soft click. She handed the box to Mal and watched him open the lid. His eyes fluttered as he breathed deeply.

"Do you know how long it's been since I've had real chocolate?"

"Mal, this isn't—" but it was too late for protests as he put a whole piece in his mouth.

"God, that's good." He reached for another piece, but Inara snatched the box out his hand, slipped a piece out for herself and closed the lid, rolling the dials as she did so. She tucked the box back under the divan and then looked at the piece of chocolate in her hand.

Mal's eyes were closed as he savored the chocolate, clearly enjoying it immensely.

Inara took a deep breath, closed her eyes and popped the piece of candy into her mouth.

She tried not to panic as she felt the familiar effects start to envelop her. She looked over at Mal who had a beatific smile on his face.

"This ain't so bad," he said. "I just feel kind of mellow." His words were just slightly slurred.

"Give it a few more minutes. She stood to get them each a glass of water.

When she handed Mal his water, his head rolled back. "Wow," he said, "you smell really good."

She resumed her place on the other end of the divan. "I know," she muttered. "So do you." Inara could feel her skin heat up. She felt like she was on fire in more ways than one. She shifted continuously, trying to find a position that didn't make her want to tear her clothes off. Mal didn't seem to be fairing much better. His skin looked moist and his pants were tented with his own discomfort.

He looked up at her with glassy eyes. "Wow, this is kind of intense."

"Yes."

"Is it always like this?"

"I don't know. I've never taken this much."

"Oh. I can sort of see your point about not eating it."

"Really, that's great." She rolled her eyes. Her water glass was empty and she got up to get more. She knew it was important to stay hydrated whenever using koaling.

Mal seemed to have the same thought about getting water because they stood at the same time and bumped into each other.

"Oh, guay." Inara mumbled.

The contact was the end of it. She wasn't even sure who started it or if it was truly simultaneous, but the relief of his hand on her breast and his mouth on hers was tremendous. It was as if he was the only oxygen in the room. His clothes seemed offensive and it was imperative that they be out of her way; he seemed to feel the same about hers, and they got in each other's way disrobing. It was a jumble of hands and mouths and more than once they bumped heads. It would have been hysterically funny had it not felt so desperate.

A part of Inara remained in the background, critiquing, watching from a disapproving distance. She was sloppy. The first time he took her, she was half on the divan half on the floor and there was nothing sacred or professional about it, but God it was good. She couldn't get enough of the freedom of it, the lack of ceremony. She pushed him on his back and took the lead for round two. She would be happy to die like this. It was fine with her if this never ended, but the phrase "die like this" rattled around in her head. After he came the second time, she crawled off of him and toward the water cooler. He crawled after her and took her again before she could convince him to drink another glass of water.

"Mal, no," she said, pushing his hand away. "Drink this." She held out a glass of water.

"I'd rather drink this," he grinned, pulling her toward him.

"No," she insisted, scooting away.

She managed to get two glasses of water in before embarking on a journey across the room to the bed. They had to take frequent sex breaks so it took them a good hour before they actually managed to make it under the covers. Inara started to giggle. Mal rolled over on his back and started laughing.

"I feel really good," Mal said.

Inara nodded. "Me too." Truth be told, the room was sort of spinning, but she didn't mind too much.

Mal rolled into her. "I'm just going to close my eyes for minute," he muttered against her skin.

"That's fine. You do that." Her own eyelids felt incredibly heavy.

She awoke sometime later, Mal's weight heavy against her. She was parched. She lifted one of her legs to alleviate some of the pressure on her back and noted that her knees were quite sore. Actually, everything was quite sore. With measured practice, she slipped from beneath Mal and made her way to the head. She drank a glass of water and looked in the mirror. She was a mess. Her mouth was red and swollen, her lips chapped. She had an assortment of small bruises everywhere.

"Charming," she told the mirror. She pulled a brush through her hair, drank another glass of water and returned to the bedroom to find some clothes.

Mal was sitting up in bed, his hair was sticking out in all directions. His mouth looked like hers. She was embarrassed to see bite marks and bruises across his bare chest. She poured another glass of water and held it out to him, still naked.

He drained the glass. "You have a really nice body."

She smiled. "Thank you."

She climbed back into the bed.

"Wow," he said.

"Yeah."

"You were right about the chocolate."

"I appreciate you saying so."

"I'm feeling a powerful need for a shower about now."

"Really?"

"Yep. I'm a might sticky."

"Yes, well, as you may recall I've been requesting that you fix the water heater so that more than a five minute shower is possible if more than one person needs to shower."

Mal grinned. "I'm sorry, have I not taken care of that for you?"

"No, you haven't, so I think I'll be showering first."

Mal got out of bed.

"Mal!"

He reached back and grabbed her hand. "I've got a better idea."

She grumbled as he pulled her to the head. "Mal, we just had sex like 17 times."

"Well, good this will make it a nice even 18. I like round numbers."

He turned the water on in the shower, feeling for the temperature to get right.

"How can you still have koaling in your system?"

He stepped into the stream of water and pulled her in with him. He let the spray run over his head and down his chest, and wrapped his arms around her and leaned her back against the wall. "I don't," he said, kissing her forehead.

She sighed against him, and let the water sooth over her.

"Just this one time," he whispered, "drug free. Please, just once."

Tiny pieces of Inara's resolve seemed to slip away and down the drain. She knew she should say no, if for no other reason than she was exhausted. But there were other reasons, lots of other reasons. If their sexual exploits remained drug induced, all could be forgiven, but if she let this happen, if she let this happen there would be repercussions, consequences.

His mouth trailed down her neck and she wanted to let go of the guild. She wanted to let every moment of the last ten years slide down the drain. She wanted for once relief from her training, her career, her obligations. She knew it couldn't last. She knew there would come a time when she would have to pay for this indiscretion, but as she ran her hand down the smooth plain his chest, she thought, not today.

Exhausted they made their way back to bed and Inara slept, a deep dreamless sleep. She awoke to the sound of the com buzzing.

"They found us." Mal said in the dark and got up to answer the call. He came back a few minutes later and crawled back into bed. "Serenity's an hour out. We should get up."

"Yes," Inara said, unable to discern how she felt right now.

"Inara." Mal paused. "Stay."

She got out of bed and pulled on a robe. She looked back at him, leaned down and kissed his forehead. "I will," but even as she said it, she could feel the long arm of the guild reach out for her.

"Good," he said, pulling on his pants. "Good."