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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
The crew have a Christmas party. Mal and Inara clean up. Collaboration with gilliebeans.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1462 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Mal sat at the head of the table. The word, he told himself, was nonchalant. You can be nonchalant. You will be nonchalant, even if she's only a few feet away and glowing like candlelight. Smiling. She just looked at me again. Hair waving down her back. Soft as he'd always imagined. And she'd changed her dress. Nonchalant, he reminded himself. You could be more nonchalant engulfed in flames. Which you are, after a fashion.
Mal looked away for a moment to admire the tree and to pass a bowl of dip from Zoë to Kaylee. After this interval he judged it was not improper to look at Inara again. In a nonchalant manner. Her red dress shimmered where the soft-looking fabric caught the light. She looked - well, like Christmas come early. Her neck and throat were bare, he could see that much under the little jacket, and he smiled at that. When the little jacket came off, there'd be lacy straps and no sleeves. Bare skin for him to touch. Kiss. She'd worn it for him, maybe. What she'd said...after...it was a lot for him to wrap his head around, the shock of actually kissing her, never mind that they'd made plans to spend the night together. In his bed.
A piece of paper was thrust into his line of vision. “Here is our party schedule.”
“There’s a schedule?” Mal looked up to see everyone had received a similar piece of paper.
“We can’t mingle and eat?” Jayne frowned at his paper. “We have to mingle then eat then mingle again? Why so much mingling?”
River rolled her eyes. “It’s a party.”
“This don’t look like a party. Looks like a gorramn ---“
“Jayne,” Zoë said, folding her schedule and putting it in her pocket. ”River went to a lot of trouble to plan out this shindig. Least we can do is mingle as scheduled.”
“Does mingling involve dancing?” Jayne looked suspiciously at Simon.
“Talking is sufficient.” Zoë grinned at Simon’s appalled expression. “So, River, when is the mingling to begin?”
“How about now?” Mal asked in his demanding way. River had the party planned for two hours. Exactly two hours. Two hours and then…Ai ya, he needed to get his mind on the party.
“Mingling is beginning…now!” River exclaimed excitedly, looking at everyone standing around. Her gaze moved to the tree and her face fell. “Kaylee—“
Kaylee saw River’s problem. “We’ll trim and mingle.”
“ ‘s’okay, sweetie! Trimming and mingling go hand in hand." Kaylee crossed to the wall cabinets, opened a lower door and retrieved the decorations they'd been gathering. "We’ll get it done before we chow down.”
“I brought wine.” Simon opened a bottle placing it on the table.
Jayne promptly drank from the bottle. He caught Simon’s expression and made his own belligerent. “What? Drinkin’ makes some of you easier to mingle with.”
Simon shook his head. “The wine needs to breathe, Jayne. And there are glasses…”
“Wine don’t got ta breathe. Ain’t got a mouth.” But he accepted a glass, poured some of the red wine, and handed it to Simon. “Pass this to ‘Nara would ya?" He cackled. "Try not to throw it on her.”
Inara smiled a comforting, sympathetic smile at Simon as she accepted the glass.
Under River's supervision, they all rose from the table, assignments in hand, and began mingling while Kaylee and River passed ornaments out of the box.
“So,’Nara,” Kaylee said as she passed Inara a fluffy cloth ornament made, Inara saw, from remnants of an old dishtowel and colorful thread. “What was in them thermoses? Spicy rum? Tea? Ooohh, egg nog?”
“Hot cocoa, actually. Mal found a vendor.”
Mal’s attention strayed from Inara’s dress to her words. He leaned forward, ostensibly to examine the layout of party food on the table that they couldn’t eat yet.
"Cocoa? Protein cocoa, or the real stuff?"
"Fresh milk cocoa. A real luxury - there must be dairy farms close to town."
"Bet it was good..." Kaylee sounded wistful.
"It was." Inara’s voice was sweet and calm, and she paused for a moment before continuing. "Actually, I've never had better."
Mal grinned, facing the tree, not trusting himself to add to the conversation. Kissing her in the sleigh, the little more they'd done in the shuttle - the memories kept on coming, playing havoc with his efforts to maintain calm. She'd kissed him. He'd kissed her and she'd kissed him right back. Her kisses - her hands on him - the way she'd sounded and what she'd said - the look of her with his arms around her, flushed and breathless and more beautiful than anything he'd hoped to see...
"Plain and peppermint.” River tippy toed to reach the higher branches. “He gave her the peppermint. Then he wanted a taste."
“Did ya like it, Captain?” Kaylee asked, her voice hovering over a giggle. “Never figured you for a peppermint liker.”
"Made her dizzy." River untangled a length of twine adorned with foil stars, and passed one end to Simon, pointing him toward the opposite side of the tree.
Although Kaylee's question was addressed to him, Mal felt compelled to see how Inara was reacting to River's latest comment. She was smiling, her eyes moving over the tree as well, but for a tiny moment she glanced in his direction and nodded.
"Cap'n?" Had he imagined the sharp look his mechanic was giving him?
“It...was fine.” He glanced at the tree and Inara again. He was trying really hard not to think of the after, but the line of conversation wasn’t helping. Zoë’s eyes were on him and he refused to look up. Even to see the very welcome sight of her amusement. He waved his hand slightly to her acknowledging that he knew she was laughing at him.
“Quickly, Kaylee!” River called out, her voice in a panic. “It’s almost snack time and the tree needs to be finished by then. We can’t get behind schedule.”
His own fear of being behind schedule prompted Mal to get up and help with the decorating. River had moved a chair as close to the tree as she could, but there was still perilous distance between her outstretched hand and the highest branches.
"Need a hand with that, little one?"
"Two hands would be more effective, Captain."
Lifting River up, he watched her face, her eyes fixed in concentration. She put one hand on his shoulder while the other reached out to settle the largest star at the top of the tree. “Don’t Jayne!” River warned not looking away from her task.
“But there’s food everywhere!”
“Food will be consumed in…oh…hurry, Kaylee!” She moved the chair back to its place at the table, glared a warning at Jayne, and turned to thank Mal for helping her up.
After a few more minutes of closely supervised decorating, River judged the tree to be adequately trimmed and announced the beginning of snack time. "Each reveler may choose to sit at the table, or to hold a plate and glass and snack standing up. For those choosing to stand, take care to keep close proximity to the tree." She pointed sternly. "It's festive."
Everyone stood in place unsure of River’s directive. Kaylee blinked at River, then quickly scanned the faces of the crew before meeting Inara’s eyes, sending her a pleading look. Help.
“Look at all this wonderful food. You’ve been busy.” Inara noticed the thin, crisp cookies, dotted with anise seeds and sprinkled with powdered sugar, stacked on little plates around the table.
Kaylee nodded enthusiastically. “But Zoë brought bananas. And coconut.” She walked around the table, her smile wide as she surveyed the rare treats. “Jayne," she called to the big mercenary, who was leaning over the table, "try some of that cheese. It’s hot.”
His mouth was already full. “I like hot.”
“Hot is good.” Kaylee agreed, spreading the dip over a cracker and passing it to Simon.
Mal met Inara’s amused glance from the opposite end of the table.
"You gonna fix a plate, Cap'n? Ain't touched a bite..." Kaylee sounded amused.
"Nearly forgot - we got some candy canes and maple stars in town. For the tree. 'Nara found them at a sweet shop on the lane." And he didn’t see them anywhere. Which meant they were likely still all by their lonesome up in her shuttle. Someone ought to go fetch them.
"Candy canes?" Jayne was interested.
Inara glanced toward the tree as she nodded. "It was Mal's idea."
Nonchalant. Nice and easy. He cocked an eyebrow at Inara. "They still up in your...?" He let his question trail off with a vague gesture down the corridor.
Inara shrugged at him, "Yes, but I'm not sure where. Did you see - " How about that? He’d lay bets that she hadn’t mislaid so much as one hairpin in all her born days. Fastidious as an old lady’s fluffy cat, that one. But there she was, nonchalantly claiming to have no idea as to the candy’s whereabouts. A plan was spinning, taking form. He’d claim a remembrance and go after the sweets. Hide out in the shuttle. She’d flounce out, properly huffy, a few minutes later when he failed to return with the goods. Not a bad plan for on the spot, and it’d buy them a few minutes alone with fewer layers and her tasting like the wine she’d been sipping and -
"For the tree?” River asked, suddenly by his side. “Then we need them now. While we’re still within the initial decorating and snacking interval. Otherwise, we’ll have to suspend the party timetable and readjust each subsequent event accordingly."
That didn’t sound good. Mal could allow nothing, nothing to suspend the gorramn party timetable. Not even a few stolen minutes alone with her. It'd be nothing but torture, getting to touch her, taste her again and then having to come back and wait even longer...
"I’m sure I’ll be able to lay hands to them in just a moment, River." Inara was already moving toward the corridor. At a very brisk pace. Mal smiled, let himself think about the implications of that brisk pace, just a little.
* * *
Inara rushed to her shuttle, immediately finding the sweets that she may have accidentally-on-purpose left behind. As she rounded the corner back to the dining room, she saw Mal. Waiting by the entrance, almost blocking it. She smiled, at his own accidentally-on-purpose shenanigans. She drifted past him, her body deliberately brushing against his back. As she passed, he looked down at her. A look that no one else could see, that spoke plainly desire and, for one that was looking, maybe something deeper.
She quickly found her seat, filling her plate with food, whatever was closest to hand. It wasn't only the glance from him that had her reeling - it was what she knew her own eyes had told him in return, in the moment before she'd stepped out of the little privacy the corridor afforded.
The party was turning out to be very nice, Inara thought, River's odd directions notwithstanding. She was trying her utmost to keep her awareness in the moment, rather than thinking about Mal…about the plans they had made for that night. But her body hadn't calmed - she was incredibly aroused and sensitive all over, feeling even the slight movement of her own clothing against her skin. Patience, she reminded herself as she rose from her seat at the table and went to the tree, keeping her back to Mal.
She couldn’t resist looking at him across the table. She'd seen him doing the same thing - keeping his eyes moving over the faces of their friends and the decorated tree - but the few times that their eyes met rocked her composure severely. All night, he'd said. Was this really going to happen? What would he be like? He was strong, Inara knew, she'd seen him work tirelessly all day when the need arose. Need. Stamina, whispered a hungry voice in her consciousness and Inara had to close her eyes for a moment. And he was a beautiful man. She hadn't forgotten him, cheerfully naked in the desert...
She heard River sigh, knew she was being given to understand that the teenager was out of patience with her. "Everyone remembers that."
Inara crossed to Kaylee. "The table looks lovely - quite a festive party, thank you for preparing it for us."
Kaylee smiled. "Felt like we had to try, ya know? Zoë’s trying, the Cap’n...Jayne...everybody." Her eyes found Simon, standing near River at the tree, then returned to Inara. "We didn’t do much last Christmas. But Wash made pancakes Christmas morning, before he and Zoë left. And Jayne and me waved the Shepherd Christmas Eve. He was all dressed up from services that night, they’d done a real nice Nativity with all the kids..." Her voice grew quiet and trailed off. She didn’t speak for a long moment, but took Inara’s hand and squeezed it. "Nothing to do but keep trying."
Inara nodded an agreement, not trusting herself to speak her answer.
"Where were you last Christmas? Someplace swanky, I bet."
Inara shook her head. "Not so terribly swanky." She smiled, gestured with open hands. "I was at the Training House. The students were gone for their winter holidays, and many of the teachers...were traveling as well. I had a quiet brunch with some friends. A few brought their instruments and gave us a concert...we sang..." She shrugged. "I read for a while, took a nap...later some of us took a walk through the grounds. It was a pleasant and relaxing day." And I missed you so. All of you.
A familiar, mischievous expression lit up Kaylee's face. "What’d you get the Cap’n for Christmas? Besides a taste of your peppermint?"
Inara sighed. She’d been waiting for this, had an answer prepared. "I got him some new ledgers for Serenity’s books.” Ledgers? What had she been thinking? It seemed a lifetime ago she perused the modest shop on Angel, thinking of an appropriate gift for Mal. Ledgers were safe. Practical, necessary and absolutely safe. “But I came to hear about you." She let her smile grow. "How is your first Christmas with Simon?"
"I got plans." Kaylee returned the smile with her own confiding grin, leaned in closer. “And an outfit!”
Kaylee wasn’t able to elaborate on her Christmas outfit as the sound of River clapping her hands drew everyone’s attention.
“We’re singing now. I am distributing a list of songs which if interpreted correctly should take us only slightly over our fifteen minute mark.”
Less than five minutes later, River put a halt to the caroling. “Ok! Enough with the singing!” She cried, her hands pressed over her ears, glaring at Jayne. “It’s a little ahead of schedule but I believe it’s time for the gift exchange.”
“Does any of my presents involve nakedness?” Jayne looked over the gifts under the tree.
“You have some strange holiday traditions, Jayne,” Zoë said.
“Naked don’t have to be smutty - some of it's downright artistical." Kaylee's eyes danced. "Right Simon?”
Simon looked at the assembled faces before answering cautiously. “The human form is beautiful and certainly a worthy artistic subject.”
“Is it ever! Hey! Speaking of nakedness…” Jayne turned his attention to Inara. “You ever? Artsy like? Like if you were in a fountain?”
“Are you asking if I’ve ever posed naked in a fountain?”
“No, he ain’t.” Mal interrupted loudly with a glare at Jayne. “We don’t talk about nakedity at Christmas.”
“We don’t?” Jayne asked, looking befuddled.
“I’m weary of all the naked sex thoughts at the party.” River admonished. “Please, everyone over here.”
They all obligingly dragged their chairs around the Christmas tree. River, with a Santa hat perched menacingly on her head, distributed the gifts informing the recipient whether or not they would like their gift.
"River! Stop!” Kaylee cried out as River told Mal he wouldn’t like Kaylee’s gift. “Cap’n will love it!”
"It’s a…” the box contained something soft and blue. He lifted it out. “A robe?”
Kaylee ran her hand down the front, showing Mal the robe's desirable features."See, it's got a pocket for your..." she faltered, thinking, "it's got a pocket...And a belt to keep all your business to yourself."
Mal’s expression was one of vague horror. He met Inara's eyes, looked down at the robe and back up at her. Inara smiled, indulging in a brief reverie that involved the two of them and the soft, fluffy belt.
A loud sigh from River’s direction interrupted her thoughts. She looked up guiltily only to find River looking at Mal whose eyes were fixed intently on stuffing the robe back in the box. And she would swear that he was red in the face.
“How ‘bout that?” He grinned at Kaylee, after stealing another glance at Inara. “I love it.”
“Thought you might---“ Kaylee began.
“Other presents, Kaylee. We can’t spend all our time on the Captain’s robe.” River handed Jayne the round tin from Mal. “That’s an interesting sweater,” she observed, scrutinizing him.
Simon and Kaylee cackled.
“ ‘s gay apparel, don’t you humps know nothin’?”
“What’s the significance of the donkeys?” River asked peering closely at his sweater.
“I think they’re asses, River,” Simon commented.
“They’re reindeers for you Buddha types. You know the ones that went to that place?” He lifted the lid, beaming at his gift. Tearing open the cellophane bag, he pulled on a piece. “This here’s some mighty fine jerky.”
The sounds of Jayne chewing the tough jerky were soon drowned out by the bustle of more gift unwrapping. Kaylee sighed happily, exclaiming over everyone’s gift in turn. Inara smiled, loving her friend for the sincere excitement and joy she gave with such generosity. For the loving warmth she poured out to friends that needed it more than any of them knew. She glanced at Mal and saw him watching Kaylee. Smiling. His eyes met hers and they held, speaking love for the family gathered around them. For their home.
Soon, all that remained was a small box which River handed to Kaylee. “Saved this one for last. It’s from Zoë,” she said sitting down on the floor.
Kaylee carefully unwrapped the present, staring inside the box. She looked up at Zoë, tears brimming in her eyes. “Oh, Zoë…” She sniffled.
“All his favorites. Some actually ain’t half bad.” Zoë smiled sadly, tears brimming in her eyes. “Plenty of Beatles…“
Kaylee rushed to Zoë, holding her close. “We listened to these all the time.” Kaylee said, her face in Zoë’s hair. “Waitin’ for ya’ll…Never thought I’d…Thank you.”
Zoë patted her back, smiling through her own tears. Inara felt her own eyes fill as Zoë met her eyes over Kaylee's shoulder. The two women nodded at each other. River walked to Simon, putting her hand on his shoulder. Jayne looked down at his shoes.
Mal rose from the table, and wordlessly walked to his bunk. Inara watched him leave the room, shocked that he would go so abruptly. She looked around, seeing everyone else’s equally surprised expression. Zoë looked up still holding Kaylee. Her gaze narrowed in an angry glare.
“Party over?” Jayne asked, his voice gruffer than usual. “Or is Mal just bein’ a hump?”
“I’m sure the Captain…” Simon started.
“Those ornaments aren’t equidistant from each other.” River left Simon and went to the tree.
“I’ll just…” Inara rose, her anger with Mal's wretchedly insensitive behavior rising explosively through her. She'd find him - let him know exactly what she thought of him and his self-absorbed brooding. Refuse his offer - withdraw her own. Her hands stung with the urge to slap his face. Hard. How dare he? When everyone else was trying their utmost to help each other through...
She reached the corridor's entrance just as Mal emerged from his bunk. The scathing words died on her tongue. He gave her a grin, sad but without the hopelessness she'd seen there too often. As he passed, he squeezed her hand encouragingly. Inara nodded, momentarily abashed at being so ready to think the worst of him. She saw the unopened bottle in his hand and her heart stung in her chest. Sadness for the loss they all shared, pride for his strength.
“Shepherd gave me this ‘fore he left.” He placed a bottle of whiskey on the table. “Savin’ it for an occasion such as this.”
Zoë picked up the bottle, walked around, filling everyone’s glass. She stopped at River, still busying herself around the tree, and held up the bottle. River paused, sniffed, muttered something about embalming fluid, and refused.
After everyone’s glasses were filled, Zoë stood next to Mal.
He lifted his glass. “To a…very fine crew.” He looked around the room, meeting all their gazes, lingering longer on a few. “Hope next year finds you all…well and whole…” His finger tapping the table, uncomfortable. “…and…well…contented.”
The room was silent. Everyone lost in their own thoughts, then the sound of a loud, scraping chair filled the room.
“Best gorramn pilot in the 'verse.” Jayne helped himself to another shot of the whiskey. “Uncanny luck with women.” He grinned at Zoë. “Fair drinker, small as he was. Not half bad, and I miss him. Always did his share of chores. Jokes weren't all stupid. Pretty useless in a bar fight and he knew it, but he'd pitch in anyway. And he didn't cockblock me.” He paused, his face in a silent grimace. A long moment passed before he spoke again. “Man saved us all.”
“That he did,” Mal said, nodding at Zoë.
They all drank quietly. Mal downing his shot, holding his glass to Zoë for another.
“He decided what mattered." The voice was low but carried from where River stood behind the Christmas tree. "And it wasn't his secrets or his sins. What he'd done, or what he couldn't forget. What mattered to him were people that mattered to no one else in the 'verse. Dusty people with shovels. He saw their souls and called them shiny." She walked out of the shadows, holding a star in each hand. Crossed to her brother, who watched her with an expression of sad tenderness. "He traveled past everything he'd done when he'd believed what he believed before he believed...he made his own mind and his own life," At this, River's voice caught and grew softer. "Even if no one thought he could.
She turned to the rest of the crew, and continued. “But his hair…”
Zoë laughed. “Man did have a head of hair.”
And the sadness was lifted. Not gone altogether but the moment they each knew was coming had come and passed without too much difficulty.
With relief, they drank the rest of their whiskey, Jayne began singing a Christmas song about bowlegged women, claiming Wash had taught it to him.
Zoë walked over to the still-sniffling Kaylee, and held her close, whispering something which made Kaylee giggle.
“Come on, doc! Words ain’t that hard!” Jayne called to Simon before resuming his song. “Christmas Dolores showed off her--“
Inara turned to Mal who still stood at the head of the table, apart from everyone. She expected sadness and grief but was again surprised at his rueful grin.
“I actually know that song,” he said, looking down at her.
His voice lowered. “According to the schedule,” he patted his shirt pocket. “All we have is clean up then Kaylee’s surprise…”
“Is that right?” She tried to act as if she wasn’t aware that the evening with the crew was drawing to an end. That her evening with Mal was just about to begin.
“River!” He bellowed. “Schedule?”
Kaylee had dispensed hugs all around, then scampered off to the common area to prepare the surprise. "C'mon with me, Simon," she urged, eyeing Mal. Smart girl.
"Hehe, little Kaylee can surprise me any night of the year, especially after she's ..." the rest of the utterance was unintelligible. For Jayne, "cleaning up" meant scarfing leftovers from the serving dishes still on the table.
River had put down the broom and was stroking the dark green tunic Zoë had given her. "I'll look far less touched," she commented to Zoë, her eyes shining.
Zoë smiled at her. "You'll look like the beautiful girl you are." She heard River's embarrassed little cough and patted the girl's hand. "I have an idea. Let's take your new pretties to your room and you can try them on for me. Regular fashion show." She nodded again, encouragingly, and River smiled. Zoë headed out closely behind River, throwing Mal a quick glance as she left.
As they walked out, Mal heard River asking Zoë what cockblocking was.
Mal glanced at Inara, who had moved into the galley with some wine glasses and mugs. They were alone. Or, they would be, as soon as his troll of a mercenary made himself scarce. Then, Mal promised himself, he could do just a few of the things he'd been agonizing to do throughout the snacks and the gifts and the compulsory mingling. Kiss her again. Touch her. Bare skin, this time. The skin she'd been showing him, little glimpses of shoulders and throat and décolletage, whenever she moved. Moving, and catching his eye a moment later. Smiling at him in a way that gave him to understand, she wasn't teasing. Well, not only teasing. She had him on her mind, same as he had her on his. After....
He moved aside as Jayne delivered the first load of dishes into the basin of soapy water he'd filled, then trundled out for more scavenging.
After was getting awfully close. Just get through cleanup, stop by for a decent interval at little Kaylee's surprise, and rendezvous with Inara in his bunk. Her in his bed, that pretty dress on his floor.
Jayne was snuffling around the table, stacking dishes with one hand while he shoveled bananas, crackers, and cheese into his mouth with the other. He broke off for a moment to add more dishes to the sink, then returned to the table. Mal picked up the broom and advanced on him, but Jayne changed direction and sailed to the far end of the table. He turned and found himself face to face with Inara, who had come to the galley entrance. She held his eyes for a moment, then moved her gaze deliberately to his mouth before returning to his eyes. Her hand was warm on his...
"Thank you." She caressed the back of his hand with her fingers, eyes still shining up at him as she waited for him to pass her the broom. Which he did, returning the caress to her hand as she wrapped it around the broomstick.
"I'll get the spoons." He wasn't moving.
"That would be very helpful." Neither was she.
"This wine weren't half bad." Jayne called out as he tucked the empty carafe under his arm and wiped his lips on the arm of his reindeer sweater. He continued his lap around the table, eyeing a bowl of dip.
Mal stepped around him and swiftly collected the napkins from the table, returning to the galley. Inara was waiting with the broom. "I’m finished with this, thank you." She stepped closer to his free hand.
He let his fingers skim from her elbow to her fingertips. "I can use that out here."
Inara nodded. "I'll take those napkins." He saw her eyes quickly flick behind him, then she leaned forward and brushed her hand across his. "Oh, wait." She set the napkins on the counter and reached both hands to his face. Her fingertips brushed the erratic fringe of hair around his face. "I thought you had a little piece of something from the tree in your hair, let me see..." One hand rested on his shoulder, massaging gently while the other stroked his hair.
He saw her send another quick look over his shoulder, then felt the pressure on his shoulder increase. She had risen on her toes, quickly, and pressed a soft, lingering kiss to his lips before backing away to the sink.
Mal swung around and nearly collided with Jayne and the remaining empty plates from the party. Jayne gathered the plates to himself successfully, but his efforts dislodged the carafe from its spot lodged in Jayne's armpit. The glass bottle pitched forward and crashed to the floor, sending tiny twinkling shards of glass all over the galley floor. Inara gave a little gasp.
"Good thing I killed that before you did." Jayne shrugged and made to move past Mal into the galley.
"Like hell! Leave those dishes on the counter and get out!" He was bellowing, trying not to grin at this sudden good fortune.
"I was gonna -" Jayne gestured at the floor.
"It's already all over in here. Damage done. I'll see to it. You track it in, you'll track it right back out again. Be months, finding it all over the ship." Mal lowered his voice, but waved Jayne away dismissively. "Go see what wonder Kaylee has for us, we'll be along directly."
He watched Jayne lumber toward the common area, then crossed the few steps to Inara, taking her by the waist with both of his hands. "You," he said, lifting her and setting her on an empty stretch of countertop, "should be up here." He raised his eyebrows, shook his head, the picture of mock concern. "That glass is perilous sharp."
Her smile was amused. "I've handled myself against broken glass before." But she indulged him, stayed put for the moment it took him to sweep up.
"Some might have got in these slippers of yours." Mal stepped close and kissed her before drawing off one slipper. Held the slipper, stepped close again for another kiss. Felt her fingers trace his neck and his face, nestle in his hair as their kiss grew more passionate. After a long moment, he stepped back, smiling. "Best check the other one too, ma'am."
Ran his fingers over her toes and the arch of each foot as he did so, utterly beguiled with the way she shivered at his touch. He put the slippers on a nearby stool, circled one ankle with his fingers before trailing his fingers up the back of her calf. Got another shiver for his troubles. He kissed her, resting his hand on her bared knee.
Not quite bared. His fingers skated curiously on each side of her kneecap. Stockings. These merited some examination. He broke off the kiss, let his eyes follow his hand. Stockings. Inara wore the sheerest stockings he'd ever imagined, nearly invisible, just a faint sheen of golden silk against her skin. From her toes, over her calves, over her knees...how far up?
Her voice was smoke and heat against his mouth as she answered. "It is Christmas."
The woman was going to kill him.
He turned to her again, keeping eye contact as he circled the other ankle, repeated his treatment of her calf and knee. Watched her eyelashes flutter, watched her bite her lip delicately as she shivered. Soon he had a hand on each of her spread knees, and stepped closer.
"You're safe." She raised an eyebrow at this pronouncement, so he clarified. "No glass."
Inara kissed him. scooting close to the edge of the counter, pressing against him, putting her hands at the small of his back, moving them lower to urge him close. Closer. Kissed him, tracing against his mouth with her warm tongue. Wiggled herself right to the edge of the counter, slid those knees past his hips, used the muscles in her thighs - like a bareback rider, he couldn't help thinking - to pull him right up against her. Close as he could get, clothed. Mal looked down at her legs, still pressed right against his hips, holding him there. Stockings.
Couldn't help but notice the height she was, perched like this on the countertop and moving against him, was perfect. Would be perfect. More perfect than any of the dozens of sweaty dreams he'd had about this exact event. Not the slightest misalignment, they would be perfect. Except this was Inara, and he wanted - told himself, reminded himself he wanted, as they kissed and she touched him and somehow got closer yet - he wanted their first time to be more than some frenzied coupling on the countertop in his galley, scrambling to finish before someone discovered them.
She moved against him again, touching him while they kissed and she moaned softly, a sound pitched high and rising higher. His hands, in frank rebellion against his brain's plan to slow down, roamed over her and sussed out the material of her party dress, gauging if there was enough give in the bodice to ease it downwards and get themselves access to more of her than was currently on the menu. The little sounds she was making were short-circuiting his brain.
He could feel the trembling that ran under her skin, growing. It had been a while, but Mal hadn't forgotten what those sounds and that trembling meant from a woman. She was close, and it was all he could think about.
"I'm sorry - I shouldn't have - we'd better stop." She had stopped herself, scooted back a tiny bit, and was resting her forehead on his shoulder, hands clutching at his arms as if against some invisible tempest.
Mal leaned slightly away and checked the hall leading into the dining area. Empty. He stroked her hair, moved the silky black locks off her neck and behind one ear. He made his voice soft and low. "You don't have to stop, darlin'." It was apparently the crazy talk part of the evening. How he imagined he'd ever be able to hold to his composure while watching her, feeling her, making her...This was the most wonderful really bad idea he'd had in an age, and if she waved him on there's no way he'd stop.
Her head snapped up as the implications of his softly whispered offer filtered into her brain. Mal saw that her eyes were almost black, wild with passion. Then her face softened in a tender, secret smile, and she reached one hand to smooth back his hair. Her voice came out in a husky whisper. "I'll wait for you."
She'd lost her mind, Inara decided. Mal had kissed her and made her lose her mind, she barely recognized herself. Against all reason, when she knew they had no privacy and they only had a few minutes to wait in any case, she found herself making out with Mal on the kitchen counter, skirts in wild disarray around her thighs. The thighs she'd clenched against his hips. So she could...grind against him? Which was apparently what the new, crazy Inara did, after more than a year of no sex and months of living with a man she loved and wanted more than she'd ever imagined possible.
No. This was beyond the pale, even for a woman in her...extreme circumstance. She took a deep breath, realigned her posture to put some distance between them, and called a halt. And nearly melted when he'd whispered his offer in her ear.
Yes! screamed every part of her, desperate for release. But she felt his hands on her, steadying her, saw the love and the hunger in his eyes. She wanted him to know. She wanted him to see how intensely he'd affected her, exactly what his touch and his kiss and he himself had done. She could probably manage to be somewhat quiet, if only by biting her lip or having him kiss her as she climaxed, but she didn't want to. She wanted him to know.
He backed away and turned right to the sink full of dishes, plunging his hands into the soapy water as if to forestall more touching. She slid off the counter, put her slippers back on, and joined him there. "I'll dry?" She held up a towel.
He shook his head. "You'd better get along down to the surprise. I need a moment to compose myself, woman. Again."
Mal sat down in the only seat left, the one next to Inara at the edge of the couch. She smiled genially at him, but he noticed a tension to her expression that hadn't been there before. "What's the surprise?" he asked, directing his question to her but pitching his voice for general conversation. He felt Inara breathe deeply beside him as Kaylee answered.
"It's a Wonderful Life!"
Mal clapped his hands together. "And gettin' more wonderful by the moment. Thanks for the...surprise exclamation, Kaylee. I'm sure we all feel the same. Sort of."
"That's not the surprise, Mal." Inara's expression was carefully pleasant as she explained. "It's the name of the surprise. Which is a movie."
"An old-time Christmas movie from Earth-that-Was.” Kaylee clapped her hands in delight. “One of the best."
"A movie?" His mind was growling at the implications. "A once-upon-a-time a lotta goh se happened with people who don't get their problems resolved in a straightforward, quick, efficient kinda way?"
"Two hours. Two more hours." She'd whispered it to him with a tiny glance. Cold comfort, knowing she was suffering, too. Made it worse. He looked at Kaylee, trying to keep the horror out of his eyes. She beamed at everyone, so pleased with her gift. Mal felt like a heel. He heard Zoë across the room, she was making a very poor effort at keeping her laughter contained. Looking back at Kaylee, he mustered what he hoped was an interested smile. Damn. Shoulda broke every dish in the galley.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009 6:57 PM
Wednesday, January 07, 2009 8:49 PM
Wednesday, January 07, 2009 10:38 PM
Thursday, January 08, 2009 3:05 AM
Thursday, January 08, 2009 4:38 AM
Friday, January 09, 2009 8:39 AM
Friday, January 09, 2009 11:20 AM
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