Title: Fine Line
Pairing/Rating: Mal/Inara, NC-17.
Summary: It's a fine line between love and hate.

He only comes to her when he can't help it. When he can't stay away from her any longer, when he can't fight it and win--that's when he comes to her, and only then.

She never knows when that will be. Sometimes it's a week, sometimes a month--once he lasted two months. By the end of that time she was ready to leave her shuttle and climb down the ladder to his bunk. But he showed up at her door before she gathered up her courage, and the issue was tabled.

Sometimes she wonders if he holds out as long as he can to see if she'll go to him, instead. If she'll stop pretending that this is something she does for him and admit that it's something she needs as well.

So far it hasn't come to that. She wonders if it ever will.

Somehow she knows he'll come to her tonight. So when she hears the soft knock on her door (and why must he knock now?), she's awake, lying in bed. She doesn't bother to open the door; the knock's purely a formality. And sure enough, a moment after the knock her door swings open and Mal steps inside.

They don't speak--words are useless in this situation. They both know why he's there, why she doesn't tell him to leave. Inara moves to the side of the bed, giving him room to join her. And once his clothes are gone, he slides into the bed, his body warm where it presses against hers.

The first kiss is gentle, unlike the ones that follow it. By the third kiss--or is it fourth? Inara has lost track--they're clinging to each other, mouths devouring each other as their hands slide over skin. She feels him hard against her stomach and knows he can sense her arousal.

He doesn't stop kissing her as one hand tangles in her hair, stroking through the tousled curls. She only breaks to breathe as she runs her nails down his back. When he finally tears his mouth away from hers, she gulps in deep lungfuls of air. It tastes sweet, pure--the opposite of their actions.

His mouth traces a path of fire down her throat, across her chest, burning her nipples into taut little nubs. She arches into it, all her training gone up in smoke. She can't control her reactions with him; she's never been able to. Every gasp, every moan he draws from her--they're all real, all unscripted.

She hates him for it even as her body craves it.

One of his hands slides between her legs and as much as she'd like to clench them closed, they fall open at his touch, leaving her spread for him. Open. Vulnerable. She's amazed she can't see steam rising where he touches her.

Her eyes squeeze closed when his fingers slide into her, as if by not seeing him, she can pretend he's someone else.

As if she could ever forget, even for a second, exactly who's in her bed.

He knows what she's doing, of course, but he doesn't call her on it. Just kisses her throat, nuzzling with soft bites and licks while his fingers stroke inside her. She writhes against his touch, her body desperate for more, her heart desperate for it to end.

And then the fingers leave her and she struggles to breathe. She's so close, it would just take one brush of his finger against that hidden nub--but he doesn't touch her. Not there.

Hands on her hips, he lifts her up and over him. He settles her on top of him, lets her sink down on him until he's fully inside her. She hates this position, hates it because she has to move now. She has to take an active part in this now--she can't just lie there and pretend.

It's why he does it.

His hands stay on her hips as she begins to move, instinct taking over from training as she rides him. If she looks down she knows she'll see his forehead beaded with sweat and his mouth half-open. And he'll be watching her, his blue eyes intent on her face, on her body.

Unlike her, he never closes his eyes.

As she moves, his hands slide from her hips up to her breasts, toying with her nipples before sliding back down to her hips, guiding her. He keeps the rhythm slower than she wants--it'll last longer his way. She lets him set the pace, but wonders who he's tormenting by drawing this out.

One of her hands reaches down between her legs, her fingers seeking and rubbing over that hidden nub. She's not trying to prolong the pleasure; no, she's rushing for the oblivion of her climax as fast as she can.

But it remains stubbornly elusive, until she's twisting and whimpering in a way that would leave her mortified with any of her clients. And then finally, finally, he grips her hips and thrusts up into her hard, giving up the pretense of the slow, easy rhythm. Now it's hard and fast and frantic between them--just what she needs.

When she comes, she thinks she makes a noise best described as a wail. It's not a scream. She won't let it be a scream. She won't give him that much power over her.

Aftershocks shudder through her, barely quieting before she comes again, a brief spasm of joyless pleasure. She slumps over, hands on his chest, still moving with his thrusts until he drives up into her one last time and comes in silence.

She lets him slip out of her and climbs off him, lying down in the bed that now smells like sex and sweat. Once he's gone, she'll burn incense to drive the sensory ghosts away.

He doesn't lie there long before he gets up and begins dressing. He never spends the night--what would be the point? Sometimes he stays a little longer, but not tonight. Tonight he's dressed and to the door within minutes.

At the door, he hesitates, pausing with one hand on the wall as if to say something. Inara waits, unsure if she wants him to speak or if she just wants him to leave. Maybe this will be the night they can end this, stop the destructive pattern that tears at them both.


And then he leaves in silence as complete as when he entered, and she's alone.

After a moment, she gets up, going to light incense and bathe. Water runs down her face as she squeezes the sponge. She pretends the bitter taste is soap, that the water trickling down her face is solely from her ablutions.

She crawls back into a bed that seems much too empty and curls up around a pillow, ignoring the salt stains on its cover. As she tries to sleep, she breathes in the scent of the incense and wonders how long it'll be before he comes to her again.
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