It wasn't their first kiss.
She knew she shouldn't really count it--after all, Mal hadn't exactly been an active participant. It had been little more than an expression of profound relief that he was alive--that that pōfù Saffron had merely drugged him into unconsciousness, rather than killing him outright. It had been a kiss which had made her swoon, to be sure. But for all the wrong reasons.
Neither was it their second kiss, which had been full of passion fuelled by a year of longing and desire they'd both done their best to bury and ignore until it had become impossible. He'd kissed her to shut her up--to rattle her, to stop the endless flow of words in whatever argument that had them practically screaming at one another in a deserted hallway yet again. That kiss had been violent in a way that still made Inara's heart beat faster at the memory of it. Made her flesh warm and her breath grow short as she relived how his hands had clutched at her arms, almost but not quite to the point of bruising. She couldn't remember, now, what they'd been fighting about. She just remembered the hunger. The heat that had flared between them, burning them both with its intensity. Burning the carefully erected bridges and walls.
It was not their fifth kiss, which had been a simple peck up on the catwalk before he'd gone out on a job. Jayne had asked where his kiss was and before she could even formulate a suitable comeback, Mal had told him to go get Vera if he wanted to double date. Kaylee had reminded him that he didn't kiss them on the mouth. Mal had hustled them out the door before Jayne could voice whatever crude remark Inara knew must have sprung to mind. They'd gone off to do the job, and she had gone up to the mess to fret and worry much the same as Wash, in his pilot's chair, always worried about Zoe right up until the second she came back up the ramp again.
It might have been their hundredth, Inara mused as Mal took her bottom lip and sucked it lightly the way he knew she liked, her hands digging into his shoulders, leaving marks with her nails that he would carry for the rest of the night, but would be nothing more than pink half-moons by morning.
It had not been their thirty-seventh kiss, which had been bestowed upon waking in his arms to find him staring down at her. His hair had been rumpled from sleep and the sheets tangled between them, smelling of sweat and sex after her first night in his bed. Half-awake, she'd reached up to trace the curve of his jaw with a fingertip, smiling lazily like a cat in a pool of sunshine.
It could have been their thousandth, as she slid her hands beneath the rough fabric of his shirt, seeking skin. He pressed her back against the silk-covered wall of her shuttle, mouth hot and insistent on hers. Somewhere between first and five hundredth kisses, the thrill of discovery gradually gave way to sure and bold gestures as they grew intimately familiar with each other's bodies. Through the careful application of new-found knowledge, they trading hesitant and fumbling caresses with bold gestures designed to bring each other to gasping.
By their ten thousandth kiss, Mal knew that his lips on her neck would make her moan, her hands clutching desperately at his shoulders. Inara knew that raking her fingers lightly along the inside of his arm would make him his, blue eyes darkening as he trapped her between his legs, pinning her to the bed with his weight.
She didn't know, as he slid his hand beneath her skirt and she lifted her legs to wrap them around him, how many kisses it had been. He slid inside her and she wrapped her legs around him, drawing him in deeper, murmuring his name against his neck as he moved.
It wasn't their first kiss, nor was it their last. But as she cried out, rocking against him, she realised she'd simply lost count.