"Inara," Zoe yelled as she slammed the side of her fist into the door controls, making the door slowly rumble closed. Jayne shuffled by her with his arms full, still cursing, and then Mal dashed through the narrow opening.
"We're all in, get us out of this gorram hole, now, Wash," Mal yelled into the communicator.
"Killed 'em too quick—too quick by half," Jayne cursed, his face twisted in anger even though he held his burden carefully.
Inara took all this in from her spot on the raised walkway. Only when Jayne's burden twisted, a small foot peeking out of the pile of filthy blankets, did Inara put the pieces together.
"Kaylee," Inara breathed as she raced down the steps, the metal rattling and echoing off the walls of the empty hold.
"What happened?" Simon asked as he hurried out of hatch.
"Back off, little man," Jayne snapped as he used a shoulder to shove the smaller man out of the way. Simon hit a supply pipe and then just sort of held on as Jayne passed him.
"You fix her up, right," Jayne said as he hurried to the foot of the stairs. Inara hesitated, her hand hovering over the blanket's edge for a second before she peeled back the cloth. Underneath, Kaylee clung to Jayne's shirt, her fists tangled with the fabric. Jayne shifted, putting his body between Kaylee and the doctor who now stood straightening his clothing. Only then did Inara realize that Kaylee had no clothes.
"If she's hurt, we need to get her to my lab," Simon insisted, but he didn't try to come any closer.
"Not nothin' you need to worry about," Jayne snapped over his shoulder. "You'll fix her up bright and shiny, right?" Jayne asked as he turned toward Inara.
"Follow me," Inara said softly as she headed back up the stairs to her shuttle. Jayne followed her with footsteps that made the stairs shake.
I need to draw a bath. Just put her down there," Inara said as she gestured toward a nest of pillows. Quickly pulling bottles from a small shelf, she poured scents and potions into the tub before starting the precious flow of water. When she turned around, she found Kaylee on the ground, still holding onto Jayne who struggled to untangle her fists without hurting her.
"They're stone-cold dead. Did it myself. They ain't comin' here, and if they crawl outta their graves, I'll kill the chou ma niao again," Jayne whispered, but Kaylee just continued to cling. Jayne's attempt at comfort made Inara sigh.
"She doing any better?" Mal asked, appearing at the door of the shuttle.
"She might if you would give her enough space to breathe. Both of you, out. If I need you, I'll call," Inara said in her firmest voice. Kneeling down, she worked her own fingers between Kaylee's fist and Jayne's shirt. When the fingers finally came free, Jayne backed up so quickly he nearly lost his balance. Now that he had no use for his strength, he looked bewildered.
"Out," Inara repeated, waving an arm at both men. Like magic, her gesture sent them backing out of the shuttle. "Oh, mei-mei," Inara muttered as she stroked a naked shoulder. "You'll feel better if you just walk a little way," Inara promised.
"Didn't turn out quite like I had planned," Kaylee whispered into Inara's silk wrap.
"Sometimes it doesn't," Inara soothed. She could feel Kaylee gather herself, long gangly legs pulled up under her body and a hand braced on the carpeted floor. Inara put her own hands on Kaylee's shoulders to steady her. Standing up with Kaylee, she ignored the brownish-red streaks down the legs and the purplish bruises already peppered across her arms and back and shoulders and legs. The patterns were all too familiar.
Walking slowly, the two women reached the steaming tub, the scents of lavender and rose lingering in the air. When Kaylee raised one leg to step in, she winced. Inara waited, her hands holding up as much of Kaylee's weight as she could.
"You went and wasted all your sweet-smellin' fancies," Kaylee said sadly.
"They aren't wasted," Inara disagreed as she sat on the edge of the tub and helped Kaylee sink into the pink water.
"Real shiny," Kaylee whispered, twirling her fingers in the water and creating ripples that hid her form. Inara didn't answer. She simply picked up a sponge and soaked up water before squeezing the sponge over Kaylee's shoulder. Flower scents rose and Kaylee shivered even though the water was hot.
"Night started so pretty-like."
Inara continued, not allowing the sponge to touch Kaylee as she soaked any part that didn't fit into the water, any part that those pigs might have touched. For once, Inara was glad that they had Jayne with them out here. She imagined Jayne would have done any killing Mal didn't have it in him to do, and she wanted them all dead.
"There were these girl-dancers. Did these fancy steps. One dancer looked like she were drifting through a cloud, she slid across the floor like one of them fairies floatin' through the air. And the other, she twirled so pretty. Made me feel like a big clunky…" Kaylee stopped mid sentence, her words lost in a sob.
"The gliding step is called a glissade, and the twirl is a pirouette, unless she was in the air, then it's called a tour en l'air." Inara continued her washing calmly as Kaylee's sobs slowly tapered off.
"Real pretty names," Kaylee finally answered, her hand gripping one edge of the tub as though she'd heard a decompression warning, her knuckles turning white from the pressure. Inara soaked the sponge again, letting the water fall over Kaylee's hair as she allowed the silence to continue.
"Ballet is quite beautiful," Inara finally offered simply to end the silence.
"Reckon that not all the audience is as civilized as those fancy dance steps."
"I suppose not," Inara agreed mildly, even while she strangled her own need to cry and scream. Her companion training taught her to supress her own feelings, and she mentally chanted as she struggled to maintain that artificial calm.
"Shoulda known better, what with them being fancy gentlemen and showin' an interest in me."
"No," Inara snapped out, her hand frozen for one second. When Kaylee flinched, she cursed herself and gentled her voice.
"No man who disrespects another is a gentleman, no matter what."
"Still, I'm not some half-grown weed of a woman who doesn't know any better." Kaylee whispered the words, her voice shaky.
"Mei-mei," Inara breathed. "Not your fault." Inara's hand and the sponge were over Kaylee's shoulder, and Kaylee reached up, pulling Inara's hand down so that the sponge slid over wet skin.
"I can still feel 'em," she confessed. "Don't want to, but I can."
Inara reached for a container of washing cream, dipping her fingers in before smoothing it over Kaylee's skin.
"So, they were in the audience," Inara gently prompted. When Kaylee didn't answer, she just continued to massage the cream into Kaylee's skin and then use the sponge to wash it clean. She wished she could wash the memories and feelings as easily as she could wash the bruised body, but Kaylee had to do that for herself, Inara could only wait and listen and follow Kaylee's lead.
"Tall fellow… said his name was Tuck. He liked my dress."
Inara continued to wash, her hands sliding under the water and soothing breasts that had finger bruises. Kaylee's pink and white dress with all the lace and tiny buttons had been the reason she wanted to go to the ballet. Inara silently cursed Mal for buying her the dress and the doctor for not going with Kaylee and everyone else on the ship just for being on this ship… this ship that went places Kaylee had no business being.
"He told me there were gardens, and there I was actin' like some school-girl all dazzled by a few bits and baubles. He said they was going to make a place as pretty as any in the Core, and I—"
For a second time, Kaylee lost her words under sobs.
"Shhh. Not your fault."
"I followed. I shoulda screamed or run or took a screwdriver and run it so far into his privates it come out the other end." Kaylee smiled at that image, but it wasn't a Kaylee sort of smile.
"No," Kaylee pushed Inara's hands away so quickly that the companion ended up sitting on the floor while Kaylee stood in the tub, her hands fists at her sides and water splashing over the sides. "I shouldn't have let them. I shoulda—." Kaylee turned to the wall and pounded her fist into the metal shell hull of the shuttle. "I shoulda done something other than act like some dumb farm girl off an asteroid for that first time." Kaylee turned back around, and her eyes had such pain that Inara almost wished she could have pulled the trigger on at least one of the bastards.
"Kaylee, they shouldn't have touched you. They should have listened when you said to stop." Inara climbed back on her feet.
"Oh lord. I got you all wet. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Kaylee half climbed out of the tub before Inara could get her hands on Kaylee's shoulders to hold her back.
"It doesn't matter. Let's just get you cleaned up," Inara said softly. The red stains had disappeared from Kaylee's legs, but washing away the layer of dirt revealed even more bruises and places where the skin had tiny red dots from being dragged over something hard, Inara suspected the ground.
"I screamed," Kaylee said softly, defending herself. Inara slipped off the soggy robe so that she had only underwear as she sat on the edge of the tub, her feet in the water as she gently pulled on Kaylee to sit back down.
"Of course you did."
"That's how Mal and Jayne found me. Mal got this cold look in his eye, but Jayne, he were mighty pissed off from the go."
"They both care about you," Inara agree, and Kaylee slowly sank back down into the scented water. When Kaylee turned her back and leaned against Inara's legs, Inara continued with the washing.
"Knew the captain liked me—not as much as he likes you, mind." Kaylee looked up and smiled, and this time her face had that mischievous innocence that Inara had learned to love. After years of working and living with companions who hid their every emotion and manipulated others without even thinking, Inara loved Kaylee with her open expressions and simple faith. "Wasn't so sure 'bout Jayne, but what he did to the fellow who was—." Kaylee stopped yet again. Inara ignored the details of the rape and focused on the part Kaylee could handle.
"That's why Jayne hates the doctor so much, it's the same reason he got so crude that first night at dinner and why he wants Mal to kick Simon off. Jayne sees you as a little sister, and brothers can be very unforgiving about beaus and courting," Inara confided.
"It's not like Simon ever noticed… Ai-yah. tyen-ah," Kaylee suddenly cursed. "How am I supposed to look at him … how can I look at any man without wonderin' if he would…. Wish I could just go back and rip up that dress before they had a chance to do it for me," Kaylee finally finished. This time she didn't sob, but instead tears fell silently, the drops rippling the scented waters.
"Simon notices. And others will notice you." Even as she washed Kaylee, she could feel the tremor run through the muscles at that.
"Don't think I can just forget what they done."
"No, you don't ever forget," Inara agreed. Kaylee looked up at her, her head tilting as she considered Inara. Inara just smiled back, a small smile that revealed more of herself than she normally allowed others to see.
"Here I am goin' on about myself being a big old qì yīng. I'm real sorry, Inara."
"You're not a baby. You have every right to be angry and hurt and harbor a few unkind thoughts about monsters who would do this to you."
"Might be more entertainin' to have unkind thoughts if Jayne and the captain hadn't gone and cut 'em up so bad right there in front of me," Kaylee admitted.
"Men," was the only answer Inara could provide. Sometimes she felt like she might drown in testosterone on the ship.
"I hate that I still feel 'em," Kaylee repeated. "I hate that I can feel where the tall one grabbed me 'round the neck and shook me like some puppy that'd gone and peed on the floor. Hate feeling them between my legs."
"Washing will help," Inara promised. Silence settled over them as Inara washed Kaylee, her hands sliding under the water to places she couldn't see. Her fingers tangled in the hair between Kaylee's legs, smoothing the cleaning cream into the skin and hairs before she bent down to clean Kaylee's thighs. Her fingers could feel the slight rise of each bruise as the flesh swelled.
"Inara, could I maybe touch you?" Kaylee's voice came out softer than even a whisper, more like a breath. Inara had bent over, and now she straightened as she looked down at Kaylee.
"Of course you can."
Inara watched as Kaylee's hand slowly rose out of the water and fingers softly explored a knee. Kaylee glanced up, as though asking permission before running her thumb along the inside of Inara's thigh. Inara's body shivered with need. She'd had dozens of lovers, many of whom had tried to pleasure her, but really she only found pleasure in the tentative touches of the young ones. However this wasn't about her. When the wet hand had nearly reached her body, Inara captured the wrist.
"Kaylee, you're not thinking clearly right now. I don't think this is a good idea."
Kaylee stopped for a moment, looking up with a calm expression. "Ever since I were seventeen and I decided not to let my pa tell me what I could or couldn't do with my own body, I've never been sorry. I've had a few men who turned out to be… well, they turned out to be walking monkey poo with hair, but it's been my choice. I picked 'em and I enjoyed the sex, and if I woke up in the morning cringing at my own bad taste, it were my bad taste and no one else's."
Inara looked down sadly. "These men took that choice away from you," she finished for Kaylee. Light brown eyes danced away for a moment before returning to look back unashamed.
"Reckon I can take it back, but you're right that it's not a good idea for me to do that to you. I'm sorry, Inara," Kaylee offered. She stood up, water running from her body in rivers that dodged around her breasts and trailed between her legs. Earlier, Inara had set out a towel, and Kaylee grabbed it, briskly rubbing at her own bruised flesh.
"Let me." Inara grabbed the towel so that she could dry the mottled legs with more care than Kaylee was using.
"Inara, no. That's not a good idea." Kaylee reached down, grabbing Inara's wrists and stopping her.
"Not fair of me to use you."
"Kaylee, that's not…"
"'Specially seein' as how we're friends, and I really don't want to lose that."
"And havin' friends means a whole lot out here in the dark."
"Kaylee," Inara practically yelled. She wasn't used to having to raise her voice, and she took a second to center herself as she stood up. She still had the towel in her hand, and she held it out as an offering for Kaylee, who took it and bunched it up in front of her body. "I have no objection to sharing something special with you, but I don't want you to question your taste in the morning."
"Lordy, I wouldn't ever question my taste with you, but I don't want you sayin' yes just because you're doing your best to glue me back together because I'll be fine. Won't be shiny for a while, but I'm flying straight enough to navigate a mine field, leastwise if the mines were nice and widely placed." Kaylee shrugged.
"When I say yes, it's because I want to," Inara insisted as she stepped forward. She raised her hand so that she could cup Kaylee's cheek. Amazingly, the bruises stopped at the collarbone.
"So, is that a yes?" Kaylee asked, wide brown eyes staring at Inara solemnly.
"Yes," Inara nodded. Kaylee slowly smiled as she reached out and trailed a finger along the top of Inara's bra. Inara shivered at the touch.
"Can't say I know just what I'm doing," Kaylee admitted shyly.
"Whatever you want, whatever you're ready for," Inara offered. Kaylee glanced over at the bed, and then reached down and took Inara's hand in her own.
"I want to make you feel good. Want this to be 'bout caring for someone and making choices. Want to remember what it's like to feel like I'm burning up in my own skin because it's been too long," Kaylee said as she backed toward the bed. Inara followed.
Naked and not even trying to cover herself, Kaylee sat on the edge of the bed let her fingers slide around Inara's waist and then down to her ass. Inara gasped as she allowed herself to be pulled into a loose embrace, Kaylee's wet hair pressed to her stomach as Kaylee pressed small kisses to her flesh.
Inara rested one hand on Kaylee's head, the other on a pale shoulder as she let herself just feel as warm lips trailed across belly. Fingers worked at her panties, slowly pushing them down, exploring creases and crevasses as they went. Inara let her head drop forward when fingers brushed the sensitive skin at the back of the labia.
Inara watched as Kaylee pushed the panties all the way down and then strong hands rubbed up Inara's legs, strong fingers pressing into the muscle. The hands didn't stop until thumbs pressed on either side of the clit, and Inara bucked forward. Kaylee smiled.
Hands pushed, and Inara allowed herself to be guided to the bed. She settled on her back, passively waiting while Kaylee ran warm hands over her. Kaylee focused on her thighs, rubbing until Inara opened herself. Then Kaylee lowered herself, a tongue reaching out to just brush the edge of Inara's slit. Inara fisted the sheets as she lay open.
"Love how you look all open and pantin'," Kaylee laughed.
"Are you sure?" Inara asked on last time.
"Am I sure I think you're pretty? Sure, I'm sure."
"I meant, are you sure you want to go through with this?"
Kaylee didn’t actually answer the question, but instead settled her weight down on top of Inara. Inara had lay under any number of much larger men, but when Kaylee's strong hands closed over her wrists, she allowed herself to do something a companion never permitted herself to do… she gave over control.
Kaylee pressed a kiss to the inside of one elbow and then the other, and then Inara felt her hands pulled up above her head. For one second, Kaylee pressed down into the mattress, and then she let go. Inara remained in position, giving Kaylee permission through silence.
The scent of roses and lavender floated in the air around them as Kaylee bent over her, pressing kisses to Inara's neck. Inara twisted her body, but kept her arms raised as Kaylee worked her way south, kissing and nipping until she reached the top of the bra where her tongue followed the line of the fabric. Inara arched up, and Kaylee slipped a hand under her back. Clever fingers slipped the catch free and then pushed the bra up so that Kaylee could suck at a hard nipple.
Inara forgot about adjusting her body to please her lover, and she allowed herself to simply feel as Kaylee sucked hard enough to make her whole breast feel warm. And the warmth snaked down through her body so that she could feel moisture between her legs. Kaylee sat up, smiling as she scooted backwards on the bed. Inara only watched as Kaylee kissed the inside of one thigh.
Strong hands held her legs down as she bucked up in pleasure as Kaylee sucked at the sensitive skin, marking where Inara had not allowed anyone to mark. With a last kiss, Kaylee moved to a new spot, marking again as Inara writhed. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Inara wondered if she would carry as many marks as Kaylee by the end of the night. This time Kaylee spent less time, moving on after a second as she trailed her tongue over the tender skin.
Inara expected Kaylee to focus on her wet center, but instead Kaylee braced her hands on Inara's hips before kissing the skin below the belly button.
"Have you ever been in the middle of some big, shiny feast and been so dazzled that you can't rightly figure out where to start eating?" Kaylee asked with a devious grin.
"Often," Inara confessed. Of course, with her it had more to do with jewelry or perfumes since she had tired of bodies, her own and others', a long time ago. But laying under Kaylee with her bright eyes traveling up and down Inara's body, she could feel the unfamiliar heat of desire warm her, even in the slight chill of the shuttle.
"So beautiful," Kaylee reached down and chastely kissed the curled hair of Inara's body, and that simple touch tugged at her need more than any passionate embrace.
"Kaylee," Inara begged.
"Doin' something right then?" she teased, and then Inara nearly screamed as a clever tongue drove into her clit. Before she could adjust, Kaylee started sucking, and then a finger slipped inside her. Inara grabbed the sheets and arched up off the bed with a hiss. Instead of freeing herself, she just pushed up into Kaylee's mouth. Now Kaylee slipped two fingers inside and moved up, sucking at a breast while her thumb worked the oversensitive clit.
Inara felt the first orgasm hit her, tightening her entire body, but Kaylee just used the fingers in her vagina to push her back down as she rubbed the clit even harder. A second and third orgasm crashed through Inara, leaving her breathless and twisting. The mouth disappeared from her breast, and then the thumb relented, easing off to a gentler stroke as Inara felt one more orgasm flow through her.
She ended up sprawled, spread eagle with Kaylee's warm fingers still inside. Her heart raced so fast that she could hear the pounding inside her own head and she could only lay still and struggle to find the controlled center that had crumbled under Kaylee's hands. The controlled center she had allowed to crumble. Now she could only lay there vulnerable as she reached out for Kaylee.
Her hand found Kaylee's arm, and Inara pulled her up so they could share a kiss. Kaylee tasted of caramels and still smelled of lavender even under all the musk. Inara slipped a hand down between Kaylee's legs, feeling the slick moisture.
"No," Kaylee said softly as she broke away from the kiss.
"I only want to give back." Inara pulled back her fingers and studied Kaylee. Oh heavens, maybe she had gotten it wrong. Maybe she had allowed Kaylee to wander into dangerous territory so soon after the attack.
"Don't go getting all worried on me. I just needed to see what it should be, what it can be. I'm still a little too banged up to want to more tonight, that's all." Kaylee settled in on her side, facing Inara.
Inara shrugged out of the bra straps, tossing the fabric off the bed with the rest of her clothes.
"So, will you regret your choice in the morning?" Inara held her breath, really hoping for an answer that would make her feel better about taking her own pleasure this night.
"Never." Kaylee reached out and ran a thumb over Inara's lower lip, and Inara felt her body respond again. "In fact, do you mind if I sleep here tonight? Not really up to facin' the rest of the mob with all their questions." The request broke every companion rule.
"Stay." Inara smiled as Kaylee pulled up the sheet and then curled her body into Inara's. As Inara let her arm rest over Kaylee's exhausted from, Serenity shivered as Wash finally navigated out of the local traffic and the ship slid back into the dark of space.
Read Reader's Comments