Disclaimer: Don't own anything, much less these lovely characters.
Summary: Short sequel to "Burn", in which Mal and Inara arrive at the fabled morning after.
Mal awoke the next morning, stiff and sore from sleeping on Inara's shuttle floor. Peeling his tongue from the roof of his mouth, he opened his eyes and looked around. Inara was gone.
Feeling strangely bereft without the weight of her draped across his body, he got up slowly. The skin on his abdomen felt uncomfortably tight, so he rummaged around trying to find the tube of ointment that had been the catalyst for the extraordinary events of the previous evening. Mal had not intended for things to progress as they had, and he was fair certain that it had taken Inara somewhat unawares as well. He smiled, remembering some of the more impressive moments of last night's unexpected activities.
Finding his clothes before he found the ointment, he pulled on his trousers and laid his shirt across Inara's couch, thinking that there was no need to put it on until he'd done some doctoring to the burn. Triumphantly, he pulled the tube of medicine from between the couch cushions, where it had apparently fallen when he'd jumped away from Inara's intoxicating touch the first time. Rubbing the gel carefully across the sensitive skin, he couldn't help but think how much more pleasurable it had been when Inara's soft fingertips were doing the job instead of his own calloused ones. Sighing at the sense memory, he put his shirt back on and pulled up his suspenders.
As if conjured by his musings, Inara appeared at the shuttle entrance, balancing a tray filled with breakfast items gracefully on one hip.
"Mornin'," he said, reaching to take the tray from her hands. He couldn't help but notice that Inara was perfectly put together, face painted and not a hair out of place. He supposed it was a sign of his peculiar brand of perversity that it should disappoint him slightly. Somehow, when he had dared to envision this moment, he had imagined waking up with her lying in his arms, hair mussed and face patterned by the wrinkles in her pillow. Warm and inviting, open as she had been last night, not this perfectly coiffed, controlled Companion who was offering him breakfast like she must have done a thousand times before with her clients. A small knot of sickening dread settled in the pit of his stomach. He tried to dismiss it.
"Good morning, Mal," Inara said, her honeyed tones hiding the anxiety she felt. How she had so completely lost control to this man was a mystery she was afraid to unravel. As she took in his generally disheveled appearance, her heart began to beat dizzyingly in her chest. Reining in the rising flood of emotions threatening to drown her, she straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin in an unconscious defensive posture.
Her body language was not lost on Mal. Setting his jaw against the hurtful sight, he said, "So, about last night…"
Inara cleared her throat nervously. "Mal, let's not…"
"Not what?" he said, throat suddenly tight.
Inara swallowed thickly. "Let's not discuss it right now. Let's just…It doesn't have to mean…"
Mal felt his pulse beating punishingly in his temples. "You think it doesn't mean anything," he said flatly. "Just maybe a little cut-rate business, servicing a petty thief such as me."
Inara flinched as if he'd slapped her, the movement twisting his heart painfully. "That's not what I meant, Mal," she said, every ounce of control she possessed in the simple denial. "It's just…"
"Just what?" Mal asked past the lump in his throat.
"I'm not sure what it meant," she said, losing her resolve at the last moment. "I don't think either one of us really intended things to happen as they did." She looked up at him, her kohl eyes apprehensive.
"That's a pure truth," Mal acknowledged. "But whether it was planned or not, I know what last night meant to me." He was horrified to hear the slight tremor in his voice. "I care about you, 'Nara. More than I ever meant to, more than I'm able to admit most times. I ain't got a thing in the 'verse to offer, 'ceptin' what I've already given you, my friendship, my home, …my heart."
Inara's eyes filled with tears. "Oh Mal," she said, her own lips trembling treacherously. "I've made such a mess of things. I intended to come back in here this morning and just…be with you, here, in this moment." As his eyes glittered with a more intense blue light, she continued, "Whatever it is between us, it doesn't change the way we are. It doesn't solve anything. Everything is so…complicated," she ended helplessly.
"Why does it have to be?" Mal asked, closing the distance between them and enfolding her in his arms.
Inara rested her head against the comforting warmth of his chest. "It just is," she answered sadly.
Finally willing to fight for the promise of what could be, Mal laid his cheek on the top of her head, inhaling the heady scent of her hair. "Why don't we start the mornin' over, and see if we can simplify a mite?" he asked, the rumble of his voice vibrating pleasantly through his chest and along Inara's skin.
She smiled tentatively up at him, and he brushed her tears away with the pad of his thumb. "Mornin', darlin'," he whispered, brushing his lips lightly across hers. "What's for breakfast?"
Inara smiled a dazzling smile, and they turned together to the tray she'd brought in earlier. The stifling tension broken, Inara curled up beside Mal as the nibbled on the fruit-flavored protein bars that were standard fare for Serenity's crew. Inara thought, with a measure of surprise, how much more pleasant this breakfast was than any feast she'd ever shared in polite society.
Glancing at the chronometer, Mal realized that the rest of the crew would be stirring in a short time. The thought caused him a moment of consternation. Unsure about Inara's feelings on the matter, Mal was reluctant to face the inquisitive stares of their friends. Until he had some idea what the di yu he and Inara were actually doing, his preference was discretion. Shifting uncomfortably on the couch, he disentangled himself from Inara's embrace. "Well," he said as casually as he could manage, "While I can't think of a thing I'd rather do today than stay here with you, I conjure I'd best go and do..Captainy things."
"Of course," Inara said, discerning the cause of his sudden eagerness to leave. "Mal, I…I wonder if you'd mind if we…didn't say anything to everyone for a little while."
Relieved more than he would admit, Mal agreed. "I 'spect that'd be best," he said. "Always did kinda' fancy the notion of a secret romance," he added, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Inara smiled, pleased they were in agreement at least on this one point. "So, you're anticipating a romance, are you?" she asked playfully.
"I'll have you know I have a deeply romantical nature," Mal said. "Remember, I am a man of mystery." Pulling her close, he kissed her laughing lips. Almost without volition, her arms wrapped around his neck as she molded her body to his. Forgetting his intent to leave before the crew discovered where he'd spent the night, Mal deepened the kiss until they both pulled away breathless.
Gathering his wits back about him, Mal said, "You gotta quit doin' that if you expect me to be able to walk outta here."
"Doing what?" Inara asked, giving him an innocent look.
"Ai ya, woman," he said, backing away from the temptation of her body still so close to his. "You know exactly what it is you're doing."
Inara smiled, deliberately licking her lips with the pink tip of her tongue. Mal suppressed a groan, remembering just how very skilled that tongue was. Before he lost the last bit of his control, he stepped quickly to the door. Turning to look at her one more time, he said softly, "So, I was thinkin' we might move this little shindig to my bunk tonight, if you're willin', that is."
Inara's eyes shone like the sun over Sihnon as she nodded her head wordlessly. Mal smiled the soft smile that went all the way to his eyes and straight through Inara's heart. "It's gonna be a gorram long day, I'm thinkin'," he said, winking wickedly and whistling a tune as he walked out into Serenity's corridor.
As soon as he was out of sight, Inara sighed softly. It most certainly was, she thought, already shockingly hungry for him again.
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