Afterwards, it seems to Inara that everything, everyone, has sharp lines, jagged edges. Everywhere she looks, everywhere she turns, the lines are crisp, the angles brutal.
Zoe's grief is harsh, pointed. It cuts into Inara as surely as the screams of the Reavers had. Zoe is brittle, although she hides it well. Inara wants to reach out, share her pain and offer comfort, but she knows her hand would come away bloody.
The broken pieces of Serenity stick out everywhere, catching on her dresses, dragging through her hair as she walks past. Some days she can't help but shudder, as some random piece of metal claws at her, bringing to mind images of concealed Reavers reaching out, taunting her. She stays outside as much as she can, taking on the job of repainting Serenity's name in soft, clean brushstrokes.
Mal's anger is palpable. He walks through the ship, his strides regular, his breathing controlled. Like Zoe, he hides it all well. But Inara can see beneath the surface. She always could see the emotions Mal locked up carefully. The emotions, if not the details behind them.
When he speaks to her his voice grates at her ears, like shrieks and screams. It's temporary, she tells herself. Temporary, the way so much else is.
Even the air feels sharp, pushing down her throat, through her lungs. Tiny pinpricks going in, reaching through her. Sometimes, she just wants to run from the ship, stand outside in the rain and breathe. Kaylee says it's the chemicals in the air, the lubricants and coolants and fuels that spilled everywhere when Serenity crashed.
"They'll evaporate, 'Nara. Don't you worry. Just takes time, is all." Kaylee says it with a sweet smile, an absent nod.
But she wonders if she'll ever be able to take slow, deep, luxuriant breaths again, or if Serenity's air will always pierce her.
And most days, Inara can't look at River without thinking of her holding those bloody cleavers, the sharp edges dripping red fluid slowly; a mesmerizing sight that Inara wants to forget. She can't even wear red anymore.
It's only when Inara looks at Kaylee that she sees soft lines, rounded curves. They're in the joy of Kaylee's smile, so frequent now that she and Simon are together. They're in the ache of her grief, the loss of Wash and Book, and those at Haven. They're in the curve of her back as she leans down to fix wiring, or stretches upwards to solder a pipe fitting.
Inara tries to spend as much time with Kaylee as she can. In between tasks of fixing the ship, in between her breaks for clean air; her breaks from the others.
They take tea in Inara's shuttle. It was largely untouched by the crash landing. She invites Kaylee to sit with her, among scattered pillows pulled from the trunk she had left behind. It held an old tea set too, muted yellows and greens on cups without handles. Inara watches the soft flow of the tea as she pours; she stares at the rounded cup of Kaylee's hands.
"You did a real nice job on the painting."
Inara smiles at the memory of time to herself, outside; the remembered sensation of the gentle brush motions. "Thank you."
"Nice to have something pretty on Serenity again." Kaylee looks at her, and Inara knows enough that she isn't just talking about the paint. She smiles, and drinks in the sweet smile she gets in return.
Kaylee scoots closer, sits next to Inara. With a small sigh, she leans her head down on Inara's shoulder. "I missed you."
Inara looks straight ahead, refuses the temptation to stare at the slight curl of Kaylee's dirty hair. But she twines her free arm through Kaylee's. "I missed you too. All of you."
"Even the captain?" The question is asked in slow, quiet, teasing tones.
"Well. Maybe not him."
Kaylee laughs, leans a little more into Inara's side. "I know you did."
It's true enough. She missed Mal and his aggravating ways, the fights that they had, the laughter they shared on rare occasions. She'd missed him as much as she'd been glad to be rid of him.
But the Mal she sees now, she's not sure if she misses him at all.
They sit together for a while, silent, drinking tea, sharing silence. Eventually Kaylee lifts her head, moves away. "I guess I'd best get back. Me'n Simon, we're gonna work on some of the flight controls next." Her breath catches slightly, and Inara wonders if this will be the first time she'll be entering the room where Wash died.
And afterwards, Kaylee and Simon will retire to Kaylee's bed; or maybe Simon will take her back to his room. She can picture it in her mind, Simon leading Kaylee by the hand, still slightly awkward. Her imagination lends the scene a wistful quality, and silently, Inara chides herself. She's glad that Kaylee is finally getting what she wanted. It's not fair of her to wish for something a little bit different.
Standing, Kaylee looks down, her expression puzzled, almost concerned. "You. You could come too, if you wanted. Maybe help out. Always could use another pair of hands."
Inara rises, careful not to tangle her dress. "I'm not sure I would be of any use." The thought of the cockpit, a mess of torn wiring and metal, the wreck of the pilot chair, it leaves her feeling cold. Pierced.
"You can always learn." Kaylee grins. "Heck, if Simon can learn, so can you."
It's tempting, but Inara learned long ago about controlling temptation. "I think I'll stay behind. You run off to Simon, I'm sure he misses you. Thank you, though."
Kaylee's face crumples slightly, but she nods. "See you later, then. Thanks for the tea." She takes a few steps, then stops, stands staring at the wall for a moment before she turns back around. "'Nara. Sometimes it's good to have something you want. Think on that." She pauses, smiles, a little wistful. "That's all I'm saying."
Inara stands in her mostly bare shuttle, surrounded by worn pillows and drab grey, and watches Kaylee's soft curves as she walks away.
Summary: Everything has sharp lines, jagged edges.
Note: For piperrhiannon
Spoilers: The movie.