DISCLAIMER: I do not own these characters, Joss Whedon does.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Rose Garden
By lijewi


Inara moved alone. Her beaded slippers stepped softly through the still garden and her skirts rustled quietly in the breeze. It was early in the day -- she had risen with the intention of spending what little time was hers soaking up the local beauty. It wasn't often that Serenity stopped on a planet so appealing.

She stopped and grasped a rose with a delicate, manicured hand. It smelled like Kaylee.

Kaylee, she thought, closing her eyes automatically. It wasn't often that she could allow herself this scrap of pleasure. It wasn't often that she could be alone with her thoughts without fearing for what her face might betray.

She had hoped that it was a phase, that one day she'd wake up and her heart would be her own. She wasn't supposed to feel -- to want -- like this. And if she did feel -- want -- she had been trained to ignore it. She was a Companion. She couldn't afford to have feelings of her own.

Her training worked, for a time. She used to be able to put her rampant feelings from her head, to set them aside so her mind could think of other matters. She used to be able to sit with Kaylee without thinking of her that way, without imagining what her skin must taste like. But that was in the past.

Now, every breath of air she took brought those traitorous feelings to the forefront of her mind. Every time she saw a strawberry, a parasol, a flower, there they were. Every time she saw her, spoke to her, laughed with her, all her feelings swelled beyond any that she had had before.

Inara plucked the rose and took it with her. She sat on a cold stone bench and cradled it in her hands.

Who would've thought she'd fall for a mechanic? Her, in her long dresses, with her carefully painted face, longing for an oil-spattered country girl?

But Inara knew that Kaylee was so much more than just a country girl. She knew it like she knew that, scraped clean, Kaylee would smell as fresh and sweet as the rose she know clutched to her heart. She knew it like she knew that if Kaylee ever found out how she felt, things would never be the same.

"I'm a professional," she said aloud in a breath. "I should have more sense than this."

"More sense than what?" said a voice from her right.

Ripped suddenly from her solitary world, Inara felt her face slide back into the collected mask she knew so well. She closed her fingers around the rose and turned to face her beloved.

"Kaylee, what are you doing out here?" she asked with a gentle smile.

Kaylee's jumpsuit was fastened to her hips, the top half folded down in the heat to show her white tank top. She smiled, and Inara fell a little more.

"I was looking for you, silly. Mal said you was taking your free time in the garden. Well, I have some free time, too. Mind if I join you?"

Inara shook her head, and Kaylee dropped happily to the bench beside her.

"Sure is pretty, huh?" she said, keeping her eyes on Inara.

Inara, studying the roses, smiled her response.

"And it all smells so sweet." She felt the rose in her hand and fought the urge to move closer to Kaylee.

"A bit too sweet, if you ask me," Kaylee wrinkled her nose. "I'm all for the smell of a pretty flower, but this many makes my head pound. Now strawberry... That's a smell I could sniff all day."

"That's not a scent we encounter too often in this life of ours, is it?" Inara said softly.

Kaylee laughed. "Oh, no, Inara. I get plenty. Don't you know you smell like strawberries?"

Inara brought her gaze level with Kaylee's hopeful eyes. Like strawberries? she thought. I do? An image of Kaylee biting into a ripe strawberry entered her mind and refused to leave. No, she thought helplessly, I'm a professional. I can't do this. But the image remained, and soon, her hand was reaching for Kaylee's.

Their fingers brushed against each other, and the petals of Inara's plucked rose rested in Kaylee's palm.

"For you," Inara whispered. "I plucked this rose because it smells like you."

Kaylee's eyes widened as she looked down at the rose and then back at Inara.

"Oh, 'Nara..." she said, a smile spreading shyly across her face. She reached out a hand to stroke the silken hair from Inara's face.

In her mind, Kaylee bit into the strawberry again and again, her eyes closing halfway, the corners of her mouth turning up slightly.

Before she could censor herself, Inara leaned forward and captured Kaylee's mouth with her own. Kaylee's hand entangled itself in Inara's hair, bringing her closer, not letting her pull away.

Kaylee's deepened the kiss and Inara responded with surprised delight. Her arms wrapped around Kaylee's shoulders, holding her in place like she never wanted to let her go.

Kaylee moaned into the kiss, "Oh, 'Nara... I always knew you'd taste this good."

The rose fell from Kaylee's hand, shedding its soft, red petals as it hit the ground.

The garden, its only occupants lost and enveloped in each other, was once more silent and still.

Inara, heart in her throat and love in her arms, was no longer alone.

The End

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