Disclaimer: These are not my characters or my universe. I'm grateful for being permitted to play around in it. I intend only respect to Joss Whedon and his characters.


Author's Note: Much love to coquillagement for constant support. Much admiration to kitthebrave, for lighting candles in the darkness. Always.

To Touch the Truth

He never thought it would be her foot that did him in. All that skin peeking out from silk, the curves made clear in tightly wrapped clothes, the ripe sensuality in almost every movement; those things he had taught himself to ignore, at least in front of her. Then she had to go and cut her foot when he dropped a glass on the kitchen floor. No one else was around, including his increasingly distracted doctor. He helped her limp to the medical bay, his guilt making him grumpy.

"If you wore combat boots, instead of them slipper type things, like a sensible person, this wouldn't have happened." She laughs and points out that combat boots don't exactly go with the clothes she wears. He shuts up then, because he likes seeing her in those slinky things. Although, come to think of it, Zoe's tight pants would looks just fine on her.

As he cleans the wound and wraps a bandage around her instep, he grumbles a bit about Simon and his slacking off, if only to distract himself from the thought of her sweetly shaped bottom in Browncoat pants and the swing of her scented hair, which brushes against his arm as she leans over to watch.

"Really, Mal, it's not a big deal. Let them have their fun while they can. Life has a way of grinding love down." He glances up, a little startled at her tone. It seems full of old sadness and painful lessons, long over, but not forgotten.

"Yeah, but if he breaks her heart, I gotta shoot him. Then I'm back to patching everyone up again."

"Well, you've done a fine job on me," she says and he realizes that he is done. He is still, however, holding onto her foot, for some reason.

"Had to," he tells her. "It's a right pretty foot. Small-like and no rough spots." Inara smiles at his inept compliment as she says, "That's because I keep it out of combat boots." She laughs a bit, happy to have scored against him.

"You may have a point there," he concedes. "If those slipper things keep your foot this soft, I can see why you wear them." He caressed the top of her foot with his thumb, wondering what in the gorram hell he is doing. The top of her foot is supple as a woman's belly, a thought that gets his nerves humming with desire.

She is clearly disconcerted, judging by the puzzled look on her face. "You're still holding my foot, Mal," she says simply. Any man but him would miss the uncertainty in her voice.

"Yeah, I am," he answers and the air is suddenly charged with portent. He wonders how far this will go, how they will turn back from the precipice he's placed them on. He thinks that maybe they won't this time and the thrumming in his blood increases.

"Are you going to hold on to it forever?"

"Could be. Don't see you trying to move now, do I?"

"No, you don't." She won't say more, to his frustration. It's up to him, he realizes and he slides his hand up the curve of her calf, under the slit in her dress, fingers briefly tangling in fringe, then slipping around to rest his palm just over her knee.

"Now what are you doing?" Her voice is rich with practiced flirtation and anger suddenly blazed in him, pure and true as his need. He wants a real woman, no, he wants the real Inara, not this skilled courtesan, no matter how well she sings her siren's song. His temper flares up and he answer her with no thought of the consequences, beside forcing her into recognizing it is him touching her, not some wrinkled old prune of a client.

"Never know what I'm doing when it comes to you, Inara. You make me crazy, I can't think straight around you, but I don't want you any place but here. Gorram it, you feel the same, don't try denying it." She lays the tip of her fingers over his heart and he is calmed. After a deep breathe he continues, "Only way I can tell to figger it out is to try it out. It's enough to kill a man, wantin' you every day." He is amazed that he has pushed it this far; there is no turning back now. She will either deny him or let him have her.

Inara doesn't respond, other than to splay her hand on his chest. His heart is beating harder than he thinks it ever has before and she presses her palm closer, as though trying to memorize its rhythm. She hasn't stopped him from gently trailing his hand along to her thigh as he talks. He reaches the top and curves his hand around her thigh, his fingers just touching the edge of the bottom that driven him mad for months and months, swaying away from him, over and over again. He stops there, though. He will go no further without permission; without knowing a few things first.

"What's it like?" he asks. The question doesn't make sense, but he hates himself for needing to know the answer. He can't bring himself to ask in more detail. She knows what he means anyway. He knew she would.

"Tedious. Necessary," she answers without hesitation. "Like a job, Mal," she adds earnestly, as if willing him to understand or to believe.

He needs more. Stroking her hip with the rough pad of his thumb, he cocks an eyebrow. "Not like this?" He is trying to keep his voice light, but the unsteadiness betrays how important it is to him. It has to be different or he might as well not bother.

Inara moves towards him, sliding herself forward and cups his face with both her hands. He responds by reaching around and gently squeezing her bottom before resting his hand at the small of her back, thankful that she is wearing something sort of loose, because he cannot pull his hand away from her exquisite skin. Her shiver makes him think she is glad too.

"It's nothing like this,' she whispers, resting her forehead on his. "Not a bit like this." Her color is raised as she looks up without moving away, bringing her mouth so close to his he can feel her shallow breathing. When she speaks again, her lips move against his. "I want this, Mal. So much. I want you."

With that, he breaks. It is his mouth on hers, his hands pulling at their clothes, him bending her back to rest on the bed, his laboured breathing which dominates the room. She does not help him, for which he is grateful. The last thing he need right know is to be reminded of how well she do this. When they are finally both undressed, he breathes a deep sigh of contentment. A laugh rumbles through Inara's belly and chest and she reaches down for him.

He captures both her hands in his and raises her arms above her head, holding them down. "No," he growls. "It's gonna be different. I'm gonna do this right. Leave them there," he says, tracing down her arms, raising goosebumps along the silky skin. He grins as he reaches her breast and she gasps.

He rolls over to his side and uses one hand to pin her by the wrists to the bed. "Don't move," he says, sounding far more certain of what he is doing than he actually is. It works though, as Inara's breath is coming even faster now. He begins learning her with his eyes, then his free hand and finally, his mouth. He needs to know how every inch of her responds to pleasure.

Finally, about to gorram explode from wanting her, he frees her arms and lifts himself over her. She looks surprisingly unsure of herself, as though no one had ever made love to her this way before, which pleases him. Her eyes are closed and she is gently biting her own lip.

"'Nara," he whispers. She opens her eyes.

"Don't mess me up too bad. Got folks countin' on me, you know." His tone is light, but he means it. He's traveling to a part of the black he ain't never been before. He will not come out of this unscathed. He doesn't care.

"I won't, Mal. I promise. I'm one of them, after all," she replies, tracing the curves of his mouth with a delicate finger. He captures it between his teeth, circling the tip of it with his tongue. Her indrawn breath is almost more than he can bear.

"Don't close your eyes," he says as he finally takes her. Her uninjured foot slides along his leg as she wraps herself around him.

"Look at me. Don't turn away." He is mumbling, almost incoherent from pleasure and confusion. He has no idea what he wants from her. "Look at me, Inara."

She brushes a lock of hair off his forehead, saying "Don't worry, Mal. I see you. I see you now. I'll always see you."

And he knows at last that it is true.