|After, they all change. For a long time, Kaylee only sees the
changes between her and Simon, the way he lets her touch him, the way
he lets himself see her. It's intense, and so good, the two of them
together, just like Kaylee imagined. Even better, some nights, some
days. And Kaylee lets herself get so deep she hardly thinks about Wash
or Shepherd Book, or all of them at Haven. She's thinking on Simon, and Serenity, and Simon.
Simon tries to talk about it, once.
"Do you – are you all right? About Haven?" His voice is hesitant, and he doesn't bring up Wash. Maybe he can't quite touch on it himself.
She shushes him, that time, pulling him close. They kiss, and there ain't nothing hesitant about it. Nothing at all. But after a space, he pulls back, and says, "Because I know you can't be – I know I'm not – "
But she doesn't want to hear it, think it. She can't share about the times she wanders onto the bridge, sees Wash's chair, expects him to turn around, smile, make some joke. And when she kisses Simon again, he doesn't pull away.
It's real sweet for a long time, Simon and her. Everything about it – his touches, the way he smiles at her when they're alone, and even when they're not. She knows things might be starting to get back to normal when the Captain makes his first comment about feeling a little queasy from all the damn sweet on his ship. He kind of smiles when he says it.
But slowly, it gets less sweet, and Simon starts to focus back on River, watching her like before, but different somehow, like he don't know what to do next. Kaylee sees, and she sees how Simon struggles with trying to please her and to fathom River. It hurts to see him tying himself up in knots about it, so she lets him drift away, even if it makes her think her heart is breaking just a little bit. A little bit more.
He gave her something to live for, that day back with the Reavers, and she's real grateful. But maybe they aren't so much for each other after all, and that's sad, but it ain't the worst thing ever. Lately, she's seen too many worse things.
When she and Simon end, it's like she's coming up for air. It was almost as if she'd been smothered by sweetness and her body's pleasure for so long, only she hadn't wanted to admit it, hadn't wanted to really know what she wasn't seeing. She begins to see the others more clearly. How Zoe's hurting so bad she don't even speak most days, how Mal drifts some days, like he ain't sure what to do next, how Jayne is more edgy than usual, how none of them can quite settle. But she's most surprised by Inara.
Inara's changed, and Kaylee can't quite figure it at first.
She looks different, that's the most obvious thing. She's cut her hair, keeps it at chin length now. It still looks real pretty, still so curly and soft, but it opens up her face, makes her something else. It makes her look more free, somehow.
Inara's clothes have changed too. She still wears fancy things, bright colours and fabrics Kaylee would just ruin in less than a day. But the clothes are simpler. Not less rich, just with less frippery. She doesn't wear those pretty shawls anymore, all covered in beads, edged with fringes. The lines of her clothes are cleaner, the cuts allowing her to move more freely. Sometimes, she wears pants, wide-legged and flowing, but still pants, something Kaylee's hardly ever seen on any Companion on the Cortex, or in pictures.
The shuttle is different too. When Inara came back from picking up her things at the Training House, the shuttle had been cleaned and decorated, but not in the same sensuous reds and golds. Instead, Inara had picked greens, all shades, and gold too, but a lighter, brighter gold. It looked real nice, Kaylee thought, made the shuttle seem bigger, more airy.
The old colours had been pretty and lush and sexy, and Kaylee had been able to imagine, real easy, Inara having clients here. But the colours had been heavy too, the room weighted down, by expectations, desires, rules and roles.
"Do you like it?" Inara had asked, the first time Kaylee had come into the shuttle, eyes a little wide at seeing it all colourful again, lived in. Of course, she'd nodded. "Makes me think of a forest. Not that I ever been in one, but I can imagine."
Kaylee watches for a few days before she finally can put her finger on the other change, the one she couldn't quite grasp before. Inara moves differently. She's always moved softly, sure of herself, but gentle, restrained. She'd always filled up a room, when she entered, but with warmth and grace and kindness. Not like when Mal fills up a room, demanding attention, or how Wash had sometimes filled every single little corner of the bridge with fun.
Inara's still sure, she still moves quietly, but she holds herself different, like she has more power, or confidence. The same way she moved that day, carrying her bow, getting it ready to shoot.
Kaylee always figured Inara was the most powerful, confident of them all, in her own way. She was comfortable in the Core and on the border worlds, not like Mal or Jayne, or Zoe who only live in one kind of world. But these days, Inara reminds Kaylee more and more of a mix between her old self and Nandi. She's harder somehow, but no less
kind. Kaylee figures this new look, this new attitude is more suited to the border worlds.
And Inara still takes lots of clients, but sometimes, when Kaylee sees them, she's a little shocked. It ain't that they don't treat Inara right, 'cause Inara would never stand for that. It's just that the new clients, they're a little more rough, not quite the rich and fancible folk like Kaylee saw on Persephone that one time, or like that councillor. They got money, she knows that much, but they don't have that same edge, that way of treating Inara that some of the rich folk have, like they're entitled and have earned her, or are showing her off. The newer clients, maybe it's that they seem a little more honest, more real in who they are. It's obvious that they all scrub up good for Inara, the way Jayne tries sometimes when they hit land, only better. But they don't hide who they are behind all their good clothes.
They're still a little in awe of actually being with a real Companion, Kaylee can see that much. Like others wouldn't give them the chance that Inara offers, no matter how much money they have.
~ ~ ~ ~
While Kaylee was with Simon, Inara was away so much for a while, and it weren't like old times, they hardly ever had time to talk. But Inara is getting back to spending more time on the ship. Like maybe she don't feel she has to move about quite so much. Plus, Mal is being good about going places Inara can find work.
So Kaylee and Inara start spending more time together.
They're having tea in Inara's shuttle, green leaves in tiny blue cups. The cups must be new, like so much in the shuttle, because Kaylee's never seen them before. "I keep wanting to say I like your hair. It's real pretty."
Inara smiles, runs her hand through her curls. "It's so much easier to care for at this length. I'm glad you like it." There's something to that smile, Kaylee ain't sure what. It makes her want to move closer.
"You think I should cut mine?"
Inara pours her more tea. "I think your hair is lovely as it is." She reaches out and strokes a bit away from Kaylee's face, her fingers brushing Kaylee's forehead. "Although you could wash it more often." She laughs.
Kaylee laughs too, 'cause her hair is a lost cause some days. "I do! All that crawling around in the engine room, and the recycler, and everything, it just gets messed up. And since –" she pauses, unsure how to say it, 'cause nobody really talks about that day, "since that rough landing, Serenity ain't the same. I'm crawling between tight places a lot more, still fixing bits here and there that got left alone, or didn't get fixed right, or got too stressed and are just now breaking."
Inara nods, and there's nothing to say for a while. Finally, Kaylee can't stand the quiet anymore, and asks, "You got any interesting clients soon?"
Sipping at her tea, Inara nods again. "I suppose. I am meeting new and interesting people these days."
"You still see some of the old clients? From before you left us?" From before everything. She don't say it, but Inara knows.
"Some. Some not."
"They like your hair?"
She laughs a little. "I'm not certain. They do ask for future appointments, most of them, so I don't suppose they hate it too terribly."
Kaylee stands, putting down her teacup. "Well. I like it. Bet Mal does too." She brushes down her overalls, even though there's nothing on them, even though they'll never be smooth like Inara's silks and brocades. "I got some tinkering to do. Thanks for the tea!"
"Thank you for the company." Inara's smiling again, and Kaylee's seen that smile before, but something in her voice makes Kaylee blush, just a little. She leaves the shuttle, feeling warm.
~ ~ ~ ~
The next time Inara invites Kaylee for tea, she's been away for over a week. The rest of the crew had a pick up and deliver job, leaving Inara behind to be met later. The job went well, and from the way Inara looks, the same probably goes for her.
Inara nods, tea once again in her hand, her legs folded underneath her. "Yes, it went very well."
"Did you go anywhere fancy?"
"Not really. But I was able to take a few days for myself."
"Lucky. We didn't get none of that, the Captain just told us to get supplies and pack up when we were done." She sighs. "Sure would be nice to have a few days, maybe do a little shopping." She feels a little pang of longing. "Did you go shopping?" It's always so nice to see some of the new things Inara picks up, things for her clients, things for her work. Fancy teas, and pretty shoes, and new make-up and maybe a new pillow or new incense. Maybe some jewelry to match up with the simpler clothes she wears now.
"Not this time." She looks a little pensive, so Kaylee just drinks her tea. Inara only talks if she wants, she won't be pushed. "I spent some time at one of our Retreat Houses. It's where we go when we need to rest, to recentre. I should have gone after –" she pauses, "well, after. But I couldn't settle enough to stay somewhere quiet until now."
Kaylee's never heard of Companion Retreat Houses, only the Training ones, and the Motherhouses. "What happens there?"
"We think. We plan. We recover, if we need it. The details are rather dull, truth be told. I simply needed some space to myself."
When Kaylee gets that feeling, she shuts herself up in the engine room, and doesn't come out, not even for food, until she's good and ready. Not even if Mal yells.
"How did things end between you and Simon?"
The question startles her, 'cause no one has asked. Kaylee figures they just all took it as a kindness that there were no big fights or crying. "It weren't right. He was real sweet, and it was fun, but sometimes, things ain't right. I ain't sad about it or anything. Not now. I'm glad we had fun for a space." She grins, winks at Inara. "We had a lot of fun. Lots."
Inara nods, smiling back, and then puts her cup down, turns away. When she turns back, she's holding a hairbrush out to Kaylee. Kaylee sets her own cup down, and grins, because it's fun when Inara does her hair up. She can wear it to dinner, make the others smile, maybe tease her, lighten up the room a bit. She gets up to move to sit in front of Inara, but Inara holds out her other hand, stopping her. "Will you brush my hair?"
Kaylee almost frowns, she's so startled. Inara never asks anyone to touch her, and lately, she doesn't touch as casually as she once did. There have been fewer and fewer hugs, or hands on Mal's arm, or kisses across Kaylee's cheek. But Inara looks hopeful, and so Kaylee nods, takes the hairbrush, and settles on the low couch behind Inara.
She tries not to brush too fast, to just glide the bristles through Inara's hair. But the hair is so short and at first she moves kind of jumpily, she don't know why. So she takes deep breaths and just concentrates on setting a rhythm, mimicking the low thrum and turn of Serenity's engine. Inara tilts her head back, leans into the brushstrokes, and Kaylee settles, enjoying the weight of the brush in her hand, the feel of Inara's hair across her fingertips.
Inara's hair smells good too, like green spaces, fresh plants, clean air. Kaylee hasn't seen much greenery in a real long time, and she wonders what it might be like at the Retreat House, probably all full of plants and flowers and surrounding by green trees. She catches herself leaning down, closer to Inara, trying to get more of that scent, trying to imagine being surrounded by all that fresh air.
But after a few minutes, both of them barely an inch apart, Inara straightens, and stands. Kaylee stays seated, unsure. Inara moves away, and Kaylee doesn't turn to see what's happening, just sits and looks at the hair brush, the stray hairs caught in the fine bristles.
She hears a clunk, and looks up to see Inara has closed and locked the shuttle doors. And before Kaylee can figure out what that means, Inara's standing next to her, holding her hand out. Kaylee puts down the brush, and takes Inara's hand, and follows her to the bed, and she can't quite understand what's happening, why now.
"'Nara, why're –"
But Inara shushes her, pulls her close, and runs her fingers along the bottom edge of Kaylee's shirt. She's smiling.
Kaylee knows an offer when she sees one, even if she doesn't understand why that offer is being made. And she's always known that she wouldn't say no to Inara, not if ever asked. She just never figured she'd get asked, is all.
So she grins at Inara, reaches out and pulls her closer, kisses her. She knows the barely-there brush of Inara's lips on her cheek, and that's nothing like kissing her mouth. Inara kisses nice, real firm, like she knows what she wants. One hand curls up in Kaylee's hair, the other moves up the back of her shirt.
Whenever Kaylee has seen Inara kissing clients good-bye, it hasn't been like this. Inara has been gracious, elegant, restrained. Enough to make Jayne's eyes boggle, but the rest of them hardly bat an eye. She's never been passionate, not like she is now. She hasn't seemed pushy, excitable even, and it makes Kaylee want to grin and grin, and she can't help it, she has to stop kissing just to smile real wide at Inara. Because this – she knows how them new clients feel now, like they won something they never thought they'd get.
Maybe Inara sees that too, because she says, "You're not one of my clients, Kaylee."
Kaylee tilts her head a little, pretends to be thinking that over for moment, and then she grins again, says, "I know!"
And Inara's hands are back on her, pushing her shirt up, then off, and then guiding Kaylee down to the bed. And Kaylee trips a little as she falls back, because she's never been elegant except with machines, and starts laughing, and she's still laughing as she reaches back to unhook her bra, even as Inara starts kissing her stomach, and she thinks maybe Inara's laughing a little too. It feels too good, and Kaylee lies back, tossing her bra on the floor, and just tangles her hands in Inara's hair, real gentle, and wiggles and gasps, and groans as Inara works her way across her stomach, and up to her breasts, mouth hot and wet and Kaylee just arches into the feeling of Inara's tongue on each of her nipples, it's so shiny.
Inara isn't even undressed yet, and eventually Kaylee tugs her head up, 'cause it ain't right that Inara gets to have all the fun. Inara shifts up a little, braced above Kaylee, hair all a mess, and Kaylee says, breathless, "Hi." And then, real
smooth, "You want to get your clothes off?"
Inara just laughs, and her eyes light up in a way Kaylee hasn't seen in a long time. But she doesn't move right away, just keeps staring down at Kaylee. Her hair falls forward, almost concealing the glint from the red stones of her earrings.
Would the old Inara ever have done this? Kaylee thinks no, this is all part of the Inara who's changed, who maybe thinks a little more on herself these days. Who likes her less fancy clothes, who moves with more purpose. Who cut her hair shorter and goes down to the cargo bay on quiet days and practices with her bow. Kaylee likes this Inara, the one looking down at her right now. But she wonders, for a moment, what it might have been like to have Inara's old, long hair falling around her face, brushing across her breasts.
And then she pushes the thought away, even as she starts working on the buttons along the back of Inara's shirt.
When they're both naked, she gets lost in the feel of the soft sheets at her back, the friction of Inara's skin against her. It's not all graceful, like she'd expected, Inara using fancy skills and letting Kaylee take the lead, do what she wants.
Instead, Kaylee lets Inara do as she pleases, 'cause Inara's real insistent in what she wants, and that's just real nice. It makes her feel special, Inara focusing on her like that. And it's good, so damn good, that Kaylee just wants to laugh and grin from the joy of it all.
Except she gets distracted by Inara's tongue and mouth and hands, and ends up gasping and yelling more than she laughs. And then, eventually, it's her turn to make Inara gasp, to make her say, "Kaylee," all frantic-like.
After, Kaylee feels like she's going to bubble over with joy. Maybe Inara can tell, because she's smiling too, like she's got some kind of juicy secret she can't wait to share. "That was real nice, 'Nara." She stretches, rolled up in silky sheets. "Real nice. Didn't quite expect it, though."
"Nope. You know, crew and all that. I just never –" She can't finish the thought, because it's all jumbled. Never thought Inara would see past Mal, past Kaylee's mess, past work and ship and clients and all of that.
Inara turns over on her side, faces her. "I used to think many things."
Kaylee can't quite fathom that statement, 'cause it ain't like Inara's ever stopped thinking, that much is clear.
Reaching out to stroke her hand across Kaylee's lips, down her throat, Inara continues, "Sometimes, it's better to do instead of think about doing. We never know when –"
And Kaylee gets it, 'cause she's been thinking it too, ever since Miranda and Wash and the Reavers. When they might lose the chance to try things, instead of thinking on them only. So she wiggles over, wraps her arms around Inara's waist, pulls her closer, and says, "Yeah," into her hair.
Inara's hair still smells of green. Kaylee takes a deep breath.
Inara's changed. Post-movie.