[Sequel to Out in the Black]
Henry’s mind strained against the darkness. He was submerged in it and pretty soon he was going to start drowning. Why didn’t I kiss her? That’s unusual for me. Next to him, he heard the Magistrate stir in his sleep. I kiss people for a living; it isn’t a big deal.The Magistrate’s wife mumbled something about ‘the children’ and rolled over in her sleep. For the first time in years, Henry dragged the air into him with the slow rattle of focus that you never really forget (no matter how much physical therapy you undergo.) This shouldn’t be an issue. Go Hwong Tong, I need to see her.
Someone should really speak to the Captain about getting some kind of underfloor heating. Henry tried his hardest not to squeak as his bare feet were met with the icy cold surface of the corridor’s floor. His eyes scrunched in the black, trying to decipher the plaques decorating the various hatches that led to crew quarters. He wouldn’t want Jayne to get caught up in this one.
Maybe this was a bad idea, we could always discuss what happened tomorrow? Or never? Henry stood up straight. No. The door to Lan-Ying Zhou’s bunk rang out with a single knock. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Lany hadn’t fallen asleep, not really. After her fingers had stopped plucking the strings of her yueqin, when the sad music had seeped fully out of her, she’d put the instrument away and retreated to her quarters near the bridge. She’d changed into a simple nightgown, mechanically following routine, and curled up into her nest of blankets and pillows like she always did.
Her mind, however, refused to quiet. She’d played out her thoughts and feelings about her abrupt encounter with Henry until she believed they were gone from her mind entirely, but upon laying down, he was the only thing that raced through her head.
The warmth of him, so close, the way he’d bitten his lip…the tears he’d let fall down his face…how he’d left so precipitously. They played on a loop in her head, allowing only brief escapes from consciousness. Each image was chased with a question: Did I do something wrong? or What would his lips taste like? or Why do I need to know so badly, like my heart is on fire?
She let out a sigh and made to get up, to shift the covers or perhaps write out her ideas for navigation improvements simply to change her focus, but a noise…was that a knock? A knock on her door at this hour? Staring curiously toward the door before actually rising, Lany wrapped herself in one of her smaller blankets and flipped on a dim light; just enough to see by, and silhouette her frame against the top panel of the door.
"Yes?" she ventured, heart thudding against her chest as she touched the handle, sliding the portal open just a foot or two. She hadn’t entirely lost her sense of caution by becoming friendly with some of Serenity’s crew.
The door ground open a crack, and through the night, Henry could see Lany’s timid face held inches away from the frame. She looked tired, but lacked the groggy air that all but defines those who have recently awoken. I’m not the only one who’s been having trouble drifting off. I guess she really was…
Henry unfocused his eyes. Let the black in. And cracked a smile.
"I was thinking. About that dance." He suddenly became very much aware of the fact that he hadn’t donned a top in the hours between their encounter. Even without looking, Henry could feel the reactions occurring in the room behind that door. The whisper of cotton brushing against cotton as posture moved from the defensive. The jump in breath of someone trying oh so hard to control themselves.
Trying to control themselves.
Henry focused his eyes on those peeking through the crack ahead of him. His smile fell to his feet and a warmth spread up from it. He had been faking this feeling for years, and now he finally understood why people wanted him to.
You shouldn’t have to control yourselves.
This time, the smile came before it’s thought.
"Can I come in?"
Tian Fan Di Fu, it was Henry. Oh sweet Buddah, he was inches from her face, still shirtless, and she was certain he could hear her heart beating. At the very least, she knew she must sound breathless; it felt like she was gasping for air while willingly drowning in the sudden sea of confusion and desire and excitement that was swelling within her. She could drown in that sea….she would drown in him, she knew it….
Oh, her parents would disown her for that thought, if they hadn’t already done so.
"The…dance," she exhaled, reminding herself to breath. The images she’d been fending off all night, the tumult that went with them—it all rushed back and she could feel the blood rising to her cheeks. The space between them felt heated, electric, and though she had limited experience with these things, she could have sworn the sudden warmth was coming from Henry too.
Stepping aside on bare feet that hardly felt like dancer’s appendages, Lany pulled the door open all the way to admit her late night visitor; she could only nod her consent for words had fled. She knew she should be cautious. She knew he was a companion, could manipulate whatever emotions he chose. But she also knew a genuine smile, and that was all it took to convince him to at least enter.
They weren’t that far from the others if something went wrong, but something about Henry’s carriage told her she wasn’t in danger.
With one swift movement, Henry plunged himself into the darkness of the room ahead, wrapping his hands around the figure he found there and pulling it close to his own. There was a sharp intake of breath in the room and the rub of a white cotton night-dress against skin. He could feel the figure in his arms tense with anticipation against him, but her eyes stayed fixed on his. Lan-Ying Zhou smiled a smile Henry had always taken for granted. And Henry McCale had no choice but to kiss her.
Despite everything, the kiss seemed to take Lany by surprise. Captive breath escaped her lungs with what could almost be described as a moan. A wave rolled down her body and her everything eased into his. The small of Lany’s hands pressed into the small of Henry’s back. Henry’s left hand pulled Lany closer, pressing her body against his in an attempt to satisfy the ache blossoming inside of him. His right ran through her dark, wild hair - trying to find something he could hold onto as everything that he stood on began to fall away.
And together, they tumbled backwards into the sunrise that would never come.