Disclaimer: Don't own anything, much less these wonderful characters.
Timeline: Set one month post-BDM.
Summary: Mal and Inara have a minor accident in the galley that leads to something else altogether.
Malcolm Reynolds was half-drunk and all-the-way tired. It had been a month since he'd dug Wash's grave and watched his best friend and rock crack into tiny fissures only he could see. One month since he'd been able to draw a deep breath without feeling like a drowning man.
Zoe did her drinking and grieving in the quiet of her bunk, pretty much like she'd always done everything else. First few nights back on the ship, he'd sat with her in the galley, both of them too gorram numb to do anything but stare into their cups. But the fifth night, Zoe had sighed from somewhere deep down in her soul and gotten up, wishing him good-night and snagging the bottle on her way to her bunk. Mal knew she'd pull through. Weren't nothing that woman couldn't handle given time and space to do it, he thought. Maybehaps that's why she'd been able to abide being with him all this time.
He listened to the hum of Serenity's engine, steady and true just like Zoe, despite dings and dents of its own. Closing his eyes, he pictured River, his little albatross, sitting graceful as a dancer in the new pilot's chair, staring out at the Black with much more lucid eyes since vomiting out Miranda's secret. She didn't have Wash's experience yet, but in pure natural ability she was turning out to be a fine pilot. Just as well, seeing as how he didn't seem to have the heart to hire anyone else on for the job.
Running his hands over his face and through his hair, he had the vague idea that he should go to his bunk and try to get at least a few hours of sleep. It didn't seem likely that he could actually accomplish such a thing, but he supposed it was worth at least a try. Taking one last sip of Kaylee's latest batch of inter-engine brew, he glanced up to see Inara gliding gracefully into the galley.
"Oh," she said, vaguely startled to see him at the galley table. "Good evening, Mal."
"Evenin', 'Nara," he said, wondering how it was that she always managed to look so gorram beautiful, even in the middle of Serenity's night at the ass-end of the 'verse. "Want some of Kaylee's brew?"
"I think I'll pass," Inara said, smiling as she reached up to retrieve a tin of tea. "Can I make you a cup of tea?"
"No thanks," Mal replied, standing to go. "Just headed off to sleep."
Inara fixed him with her steady gaze. "And can you?" she asked. "Sleep, I mean?"
"No so as you could tell it," Mal replied wryly. "You?"
Inara shook her head, the motion sending her long, dark tresses swinging enticingly around her face. "No, not really," she admitted, as she poured boiling water into her cup.
Mal nodded in acknowledgement, moving to go out the door at the same moment Inara turned to place her cup on the table.
"Ai ya," Mal hissed as the two collided, causing the steaming liquid to pour down the front of his shirt and into the waistband of his trousers.
Inara gasped, embarrassed by her unaccustomed clumsiness. Without thinking, she reached to pull the soaked material away from his skin. "I'm so sorry, Mal. Here, let me…" She pulled his shirt open, revealing an angry red swath of skin along Mal's abdomen. Drawing in a sharp breath, she touched the tender flesh with her fingertips.
Mal grabbed her hands, pushing them away. The sensation of those soft fingers on his skin was playing havoc with his whiskey-soaked senses. "'S'alright," he said, much more throatily than he'd intended. "I'll see to it." He pulled his shirt front back together like a virgin on her wedding night.
"At least let me get you some ointment to soothe the burn," Inara said, strangely disappointed he'd pushed her hands away.
"No, go on and make yourself some more tea," Mal said. "I'll get something from the infirmary."
"I'm not sure I'd do that if I were you," Inara replied. "I believe that Simon and Kaylee might be…"
"Never mind," Mal interrupted quickly. "I'd take it as a kindness if you wouldn't finish that sentence." The thought of walking in on the two like he'd done a couple of weeks ago in the engine room caused him to shudder.
Inara laughed, a sound which Mal had not heard since Miranda. "Please Mal, let me get it for you," she insisted. "It's the least I can do after scalding you. Come with me."
Before Mal could form another protest, he found himself herded along through the corridor and up to Inara's shuttle door. Thinking he was a mite too drunk for this to be any kind of good idea, he hesitated at the door.
"For goodness sake, Mal, it's not like you don't barge in here all the time," Inara said, pulling him in with a slightly exasperated tone. "Lie down on the…" At his widened eyes, she finished. "…couch."
Reassured, he lay down gingerly on the couch, as she rummaged around finding the ointment. Thinking he was more tired than he'd thought, he closed his eyes.
Inara came to his side, admiring despite herself the extravagant length of his lashes against his cheeks. Noting the rhythm of his breathing, she realized he was almost asleep. Pulling his shirt tails gently apart, she took an extra moment to observe his smooth, muscled chest and abdomen, sprinkled with fine sandy hair. Unconsciously moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue, she squeezed some of the ointment out of its tube and began to rub it gently over the blistered skin.
Startled partially awake by the contrast of the cold ointment with the heat from his skin, Mal opened one eye and rose up on his elbows. "Here, give it to me. I'll just…"
"Hush," Inara said, pushing him back against the cushions. "I want to do this for you. Just relax. Close your eyes."
Mal was suddenly too sleepy to argue the point. Within minutes, he was hovering on the edge of sleep, only dimly aware of Inara's soothing hands tending the injury.
Feeling his muscles relax beneath her fingers, Inara moved lower, working the ointment gently into the skin just above the waistband of his trousers. With nimble fingers, she unbuttoned the first two buttons of his pants, and holding her breath unconsciously, she ghosted her hands further down.
A soft moan escaped Mal's lip as he felt the magical hands soothing the last of the burn away. For just a moment, he surrendered to the heavenly sensation of it. But abruptly, he remembered where he was and whose hands were making their way closer to a spot that hadn't been touched for a long while by anyone but him. Jerking upward suddenly, he caused Inara to jump.
"Whoa there," he said shakily, hastily buttoning up the two treacherous buttons. "That's far enough. I mean, not that it ain't thoughtful and all, but I'm thinkin' it's time for me to go."
He was surprised to see a faint flush going from Inara's cheeks down into the neckline of her robe. Trying not to think about what else was under that robe, he stood up quickly, gathering his shirt around him. Inara looked up at him, an expression in her eyes he'd never seem there before.
"Are you sure you want to go?" she asked, her voice low and soft. Something in her tone made Mal ache with a need he'd tried desperately to ignore for a gorram long time.
He swallowed thickly. "I'm fair certain I don't," he answered. "But I'd best go anyway."
Inara sighed, setting aside the last of her own considerable defenses. "Why?" she asked, her gaze open and longing.
Mal drew in a harsh breath. "You know why."
"No, I don't," Inara said, closing the distance between them. Gulping once, she continued, "I want you to stay."
"What are you sayin', 'Nara?" Mal asked, his heart hammering loudly in his ears.
Inara lifted her chin and looked directly into his impossibly blue eyes. "I'm saying to you what I wanted you to say to me after…Nandi. Don't go."
Mal's eyes glittered with a hungry light. "I ain't a man to be played with, 'Nara," he warned, feeling the last of his barriers crumbling beneath him.
"Who's playing?" Inara asked, rising up on her tiptoes to brush her lips along the firm line of his jaw.
As the silk of her robe brushed against his partially bare chest, Mal caught Inara's head in a strong grip. Leaning down to capture her bottom lips between his teeth, he was aroused even more by her small mewl of pleasure. Plundering the warmth of her mouth with his lips and tongue, he pulled her closer still, marveling at the way her curves fit perfectly against his body.
Eager to feel his bare skin against her own, Inara pushed his suspenders down and his shirt off his shoulders before he could think to help. Breathing heavily, he reached to untie the sash of her robe. Gasping as his strong hands moved to push the robe away from her shoulders, Inara looked at him with a hunger of her own.
He stopped, suddenly motionless as he stared into her eyes, his breath coming in ragged puffs. Seeing the question in his expression, she shrugged her shoulders, causing her gown to fall to the floor in a puddle at her feet. Mal stood, rooted to the floor by the sight of her body, trembling with desire. He had dreamed endlessly of the way she might look under her finery, but he realized how limited his imagination had really been when he saw the glory of her.
Before he could stop it, a low moan escaped his lips. As if understanding his desire to look his fill, Inara stood perfectly still, offering herself wordlessly to this man she had come to care for more than she had ever intended.
Almost in a trance, Mal moved the step it took to bring himself to her, reaching out gentle, calloused hands to touch her. Inara leaned into his embrace, tugging insistently at the waistband of his trousers. When they were both finally free of their clothes, Inara took his hand, pulling him toward her bed.
But Mal resisted the pull, turning suddenly shadowed eyes downward. "Not there," he whispered in an anguished tone. "Not the first time."
Though cut to the quick by the sentiment, Inara nodded. "All right," she acquiesced, as he pulled her toward the couch instead.
"Wait," she whispered. "Give me just a moment."
Mal's heart sank, but he let her go, fully expecting her to bolt as she'd done so many times before.
Inara opened her closet, pulling blankets and two pillows down from the upper shelf. "More room on the floor," she said, flashing Mal a smile that made the blood rush to his nether regions. As Inara knelt to spread the blankets, he lowered himself behind her, his arousal pressing into the crease of her buttocks. Moving her hips slightly, she rubbed against his erection, feeling the rock hard length of him straining against her sensitive skin.
Mal, dizzy with the scent of her, ran one hand lightly along her inner thighs, spreading her warm, moist folds with one finger. Inara gasped at the contact, her thighs beginning to tremble as Mal spread them wider with his knees. Easing his fingers into her entrance, he curved them slightly, reveling in the way Inara writhed under his touch. Feeling the slick wetness of her and the contraction of her inner walls around his fingers, he withdrew them, causing Inara to whimper with need.
"Please, Mal," she breathed out.
Thinking those were the most wonderful words he'd ever heard, Mal grasped her hips in a strong grip and slid into her until his hips were seated firmly against her backside. Pulling her up against his chest, he began to thrust into her with a steady, strong rhythm. Her own hips rolling in time with his, Inara lost all track of time and place, connected in this most primal of ways with the man she knew had claimed her as his own. Feeling the gathering momentum of his release coming, her own muscles began to tremble in climax. Muffling his cry of release in the soft skin of her neck, Mal heard her cry, something free and wild in the sound of it. He thought he'd never heard anything so achingly beautiful.
Pulling out of her carefully, he released her hips and laid her gently on the blanket before laying beside her. "You okay, darlin'?" he asked, when he saw the tears spiking her eyelashes.
"More than," she whispered, shaken to the core by the intensity of the emotion she saw in his shining blue eyes.
He cradled her to him, and flinched slightly as her nails scratched to burn mark across his abdomen. "Oh, Mal, I'm so sorry I burned you," she said, touching the skin tenderly.
"Can't say as I feel the same," he replied. "I've got a notion it might be the best thing's ever happened to me."
So saying, he set out to make sure Inara would feel the same by morning.
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