Inara has grown used to silk. The way it gathers at her waist, the creases and folds, they are all familiar. She knows all the textures, from the richest, heaviest, embroidered brocades to the whisper-thin crepes that hug her so closely she feels loved. The soft, muted sounds of fabrics shifting as she walks are nothing but comfort.
She holds many memories of being touched through silk. Fingers, sometimes rough from work, more often soft with status, have trailed the lines of her body through the fabric. She knows the feel of fingertips tracing her nipples; of nails -- sometimes her own, sometimes not -- tracing the crease of her thigh, moving to dip between her legs and scrape gently through material so thin it enhances every sensation.
Sometimes, as she dresses for the day in clothes that look ridiculous on board Serenity, she thinks of Kaylee.
* * *
She's cross-legged and reading when the knock breaks her concentration. Putting the book down carefully, she calls, "Yes?"
The cheerful smile is the first thing she registers.
"Hi! I'm not interrupting, am I?"
"Of course not. Please, come in."
"Oh, it's okay. I just wanted to see how it went."
"No, please. Come in, sit down." Inara stands, glad for the grace that is now second nature. "Would you like some tea?"
Kaylee enters the shuttle cautiously gazing around her. "Sure. I don't usually drink it, but it's nice of you to offer."
"I think you'll like it." Inara turns and begins the familiar ritual of heating the water and measuring out the tea leaves. "How did what go?"
"Oh! The sex! Was it good?"
Inara can't help but laugh. "I shouldn't discuss my clients with you, Kaylee." The disappointed look makes her smile again. "You're still standing. Please, sit."
Kaylee looks around her, eyes wide. "I'm not sure where. I mean, I don't want to get your stuff dirty. I'm not exactly dressed in my best clothes right now." Her hand motions toward dark stains that cover her sleeves and torso. She looks pointedly at the silk pillows piled around the room. "They look pretty fancy."
"You can't drink tea while you're standing. Anyway, they're just things."
Kaylee gives her a doubtful look, but gingerly sits down. Her posture is rigid, but at least it is a start. "So, are you sure you can't tell me any details?" She raises her eyebrows a little, an expression Inara is starting to recognise as slightly teasing.
"It was fine. He was a kind man, just a little unsure about who he is." She closes the distance between them and bends to hand Kaylee the tea. Choosing pillows nearby, she sits, one leg curled underneath her.
"Thanks. Well, at least one of us is getting laid."
Before she can respond, Kaylee changes the subject. She reaches out to touch Inara's skirt and says, her voice wistful, "Is this silk?"
"It's real pretty. You always have the nicest clothes. I guess it's part of your job and all, to look so good."
"But it's more than that with you, right? I mean, you don't have to look so pretty when you're on Serenity, do you? You don't need to try to impress us. Nobody bothers with that, except sometimes Wash." She laughs. "I seen him preening sometimes, for Zoe. It's real sweet." The wistfulness comes back. "I mean, I can clean up okay if I have to, but you, you just always look beautiful. So I guess it's more than your job, right?"
It's rare that Inara is uncertain what to say. It's true that she chooses her clients carefully, but even so, it's uncommon to be put in a situation where her role, her actions, her words are not scripted out to some degree. She's learned what different types of clients want from a companion and she is able to prepare her responses and demeanour before encounters. She is rarely surprised by what they say to her, think of her, or expect from her.
Kaylee must see her uncertainty, because abruptly she blushes, puts the tea down, and pulls herself upright. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to bother you."
"Please, you're not. Don't go."
Kaylee smiles quickly. "Nah, I gotta go work on the engines. Wash put some strain trying to pull Serenity up from the flight lock. Mal's probably hollerin' for me right now." She crosses to the entrance and sweetly smiles over her shoulder. "Thanks for the tea."
She's gone before Inara can answer.
* * *
Kaylee is scarce for days. Inara hears snatches of conversation about her, that's she's deep in the ship, going over wear and tear Serenity has taken in the last little while. Mal tells Inara that they may be near a planet she might be interested in, soon. She thanks him and thinks of being on a planet.
She's looking over the planet's possibilities when she hears the knock. "Hello?"
"Hi. It's just me." Kaylee's hesitant smile warms her.
"Mal tell you we might be planetside soon?" Kaylee's hands are behind her, a position which improves her posture and accentuates her figure.
"Checking out the planet?"
"Yes. I think I may have some clients if we do go there."
"Good! That must make you happy."
Inara just smiles.
"So. I thought you might like something," Kaylee says, looking everywhere but at Inara. She pulls a bundle from behind her back and holds it out hesitantly.
The package is soft in Inara's hand, except for the chafe of the rough hemp string holding it together.
She unties the string and unwraps the brown paper, which is dusty and slightly brittle with age. Inside is a length of fabric, embroidered blue and gold, with small green highlights. The stitching is light and delicate, proof of hours of painstaking work. It's beautiful. She tells Kaylee so.
The smile she gets in return is blinding. "It's silk. I've had it a real long time and I figure, what am I ever gonna use it for?" She gestures at the rough coveralls she's wearing today. "That kind of stuff ain't for people like me." Wistful again, she finishes with, "I figured it'd look real pretty on you though."
"Where did you get it?"
"Ah. I don't know. Just had it a long time."
It's obvious Kaylee is lying, but not about the age of the fabric. "I can't accept this. You should keep it, for you. You'll find a use for it."
"Nah. You have it. Wear it on your next date or something."
It's a generous gift. She will wear it and think of Kaylee. "Let me at least give you something in return?"
Kaylee laughs a little and waves a hand in dismissal. "It's okay. I'm just glad you like it."
"No. I insist." Looking around, she sees a pillow she thinks would bring out the highlights in Kaylee's hair. Kaylee follows her gaze.
"Please, Inara, what am I gonna do with that? I mean, it's nice and all, but I'll just wreck it."
"You could put it on your bunk."
"And get it covered in grease the next time I've been working for too long and just pass out on the bed? No. Thanks though."
With that, Kaylee smiles again and backs out of the shuttle.
It doesn't matter. When Inara sees the pillow, she'll think of Kaylee and her sweet smile. It's another gift in itself.
* * *
Later, she unravels the fabric. It's thin and has been folded so carefully that it looks far smaller than it actually is. The length is more than enough to make a dress and she begins to sketch out designs in her head.
The fabric has a faint scent to it, a soft perfume she would never associate with Kaylee. It makes her wonder more about where the silk comes from and why Kaylee has hidden it away for so long. She could ask, but she knows she'll get a quick smile and a diverting response.
Kaylee is an intriguing mix of sincerity, openness, and reluctance to disclose details about herself. Serenity is one of the few non-trivial topics that Kaylee will speak about freely. She loves to watch the way Kaylee's face opens when she talks about Serenity. It's beautiful, the way Serenity's stark lines are beautiful.
Mal has told her they'll be at the planet in 52 hours. She has decided on a client and she forwards him her expected arrival time. There's just enough time to make the dress and prepare herself and the shuttle. As she cuts out the pattern, she thinks of brushing Kaylee's soft, fine hair. Its texture is not unlike the pull of fabric in her hands. She wonders if the thin skin behind Kaylee's ears would feel just as sensual. She imagines the brush of Kaylee's thighs wrapped around her hips. They would be a wreath of smooth skin and soft, fine hairs.
Putting the shears down, she closes her eyes and brings the silk to her neck and draws it across her skin slowly, coaxing goosebumps. It's a small pleasure.
After a few minutes, she picks the shears up again.
* * *
They arrive at the planet and she disconnects her shuttle. Her client is a wealthy man, but he has some experience with engineering and ship design. Their preliminary discussions have given her a sense of the general role she is to play and she is dressed accordingly. The fine silk of Kaylee's gift falls in clean lines around her. The fabric is such that a complex design would detract from its beauty.
Kaylee had been nowhere in sight as Inara had prepared to leave. She'd hoped to see Kaylee before she disembarked, to show her the dress she'd made. It would have been nice to be seen off with another of Kaylee's sincere, if blunt, wishes of a pleasant time.
Serenity will be here for two days, which leaves Inara with some time on the planet to herself. She has some questions for her client, after their night together is over.
* * *
She finds Kaylee deep in the ship, her shirt filthy and her
back messily. The tune she's humming is amplified by the
space and it hides Inara's careful steps across the floor.
she watches for a few moments, Kaylee unaware. It is impossible
to smile in response to the clear happiness that is Kaylee at work on
She's loathe to interrupt the bond
She's almost at the door when Kaylee turns and sees her. The humming stops, but Kaylee smiles broadly. "Hi. What's up?"
"I'm sorry for interrupting."
Kaylee laughs, a bright sound. "What, me and Serenity? We can do this any old time. It's just some tinkering." She stands, absently brushing her hands on her shirt. "Wow, I'm real dirty. Don't come too close!"
"A little dirt never hurt anyone."
Grimacing down at her clothes, Kaylee says, "Well, it ain't never hurt me. Or else I'd be one hurting mass all the time."
They smile at each other for a few moments and Inara stops the urge to reach out and brush her fingers across Kaylee's face. Eventually, she has to talk, or the moment will begin to feel strange. "I wanted to thank you again for the silk. I wore it for my last client and he was very impressed." The words sound stilted, even to her.
"I'm glad you liked it."
She wants to say that it made her feel like she had a home, but that doesn't quite come out. Instead, she brings the package from behind her and holds it out. "He -- the client -- he'd been an engineer. He'd helped design some small ships. He had some suggestions of a gift that would be useful for fellow engineers." In truth, Inara had known what she had wanted. It wouldn't do to have her own shuttle, but have no idea about how to repair common problems. She simply hadn't been quite certain where to shop for such items on this planet. Her client had been delighted to talk to Inara about the work he'd done and had even taken her to the best shops.
Kaylee is looking at her strangely. "What's this?"
"A gift. I wanted to get you something you would use."
Smiling, Kaylee opens the packaging, discarding it carelessly on the floor. Her grin gets broader when she realises what she's holding. "Tools? You bought me tools?"
Inara smiles back. "Not just any tools."
"I know! These are great! Inara, this is quality stuff. I mean, this is stuff me and Mal can't even afford." She hugs the toolkit close to her with a whoop of joy.
Inara can't stop smiling.
Abruptly, Kaylee smacks her hand against the wall and looks up. "Serenity! You're getting lucky tonight!" Then she looks back at Inara. "Thanks. This is just really great. Anytime you want any help with your shuttle or anything, you just come and ask. Anytime. Seriously."
"I'm glad you like them."
"Like don't cut it, Inara."
Reaching out to push Kaylee's hair behind her ear, she asks, "Would you like to come for some tea later? I could tell you about the planet." She knows Kaylee didn't leave the ship while they were docked.
Kaylee looks suddenly shy, but she nods. "Sure. That'd be nice."
"I'll look forward to seeing you, then." She turns and walks away, listening to the sounds of Kaylee taking everything out of the kit and muttering happily to herself.
She thinks she'll change into her new dress before Kaylee arrives.
Disclaimer: Firefly and all related characters are not my property. They belong to Whedon and probably Fox.
Notes: Takes place after
Out of Gas. My first attempt at f/f slash.
Thanks: Huge thanks to Rachel for copy-editing, word suggestions, and encouragement. She also suggested the title, which was wonderful, because I suck at titles. I really appreciate it! Also, thanks to Phaedra for first read-through.