DISCLAIMER: Firefly and Serenity are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Universal.
SPOILERS: Takes place halfway through through the movie. I took some slight liberties with the timeline.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Dead of Winter ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Set the Scene
By sheepfairy


Inara doesn't come back under the best of circumstances, but that doesn't matter to Kaylee. All that matters is that something that was missing has been returned to her. Things are bad and they're probably going to get worse, but having Inara back on the ship in enough to convince Kaylee that things are going to be all right.

"It was awful, not having you around," says Kaylee, her arm wound tightly around Inara's waist as they walk down the hallway. "Without you and Book around as a mediating influence, things sometimes got a little complicated."

With River getting crazier ever day there'd been times when Kaylee had thought they were all going to lose their minds. And it hadn't helped that losing Inara's influence had meant losing most of their employment opportunities as well.

"I'm not sure my presence will help matters much, especially with Mal," says Inara.

That's a possibility, but one that Kaylee doesn't want to dwell on. "Maybe when we get back to Haven, we can convince Book to leave the Abbey and join back up with us," says Kaylee, a little excited by the idea. "Then things can get back to the way they used to be."

"Oh, Mei Mei, things don't ever really go back to the way they were," she says.

"Maybe," says Kaylee. "But that doesn't mean we can't be trying."

They reach the door to the shuttle and Inara sighs when she looks in. She throws up her hands and says, "See what I mean? I barely even recognize it anymore."

"Aw, it ain't nothing," says Kaylee. "I mean, I know you miss your fancy stuff and all. But we still got some of what you left behind, and once we get all this business with River situated, you can start working again. You'll be back to living in high style before you know it."

Inara smiles, but it's sadder than Kaylee had hoped it would be. And to be honest, she misses the shuttle the way it used to be too. Walking into Inara's room used to be like walking into another world, like the kind she used to hear about in stories. A world much nicer than any Kaylee had ever lived in. Now it's just like any other part of the ship.

All that's left is a bed stripped down to the mattress and a chest full of things that Inara had left behind. She'd left a couch as well, but they'd sold it off when the money started getting low.

"Well, he left me the bed," says Inara.

"And he left your chest untouched too, see," says Kaylee. She opens the chest and inside, among other things, is a set of sheets. They're cotton, but with such a high thread count they have a soft and silky feel to them when she picks them up. They aren't the ones she remembers being on Inara's bed, but they're nice enough. And they still have the smell of incense and expensive taste that follows Inara around everywhere.

"Here, look, this is shiny," says Kaylee. "We can get you all situated, and you can get an hour or so's rest before we get to Haven. Things are probably gonna be crazy for a while after that."

"You're right," says Inara. "We should take whatever chance for rest and relaxation that we are offered."

"So what was it like, training all those girls to be companions like you?" asks Kaylee as she throws the first sheet over the bed so Inara can grab it on the other end. "I bet you missed being on solid ground and among respectable people all that time you were cooped up with the rest of us."

Inara shrugs. "It was nice. Although I think perhaps respectable people are over rated," she says, and she winks at Kaylee.

She doesn't seem all that enthusiastic about her time planet-side, and Kaylee feels a little happy about that in spite of herself. As a friend, she knows she should wish nothing but the best for Inara, but hopefully this means Inara will be more willing to stay with Serenity this time around.

"It just wasn't quite what I had been expecting, I suppose," continues Inara as she tucks in the second sheet. "I wonder if I was ever that disrespectful to my teachers."

Kaylee giggles. "I can't exactly imagine you being disrespectful to anyone who didn't deserve it."

"Oh, really?" says Inara. "Maybe we need to work on your imagination."

"I'll have you know my imagination is quite adequate," responds Kaylee, faking indignity. "I may not have your fancy education, but I can come up with plenty of fantasies to keep me going when there aren't any men around."

"Just men?" asks Inara, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, maybe the occasional woman. If she really knows what she's doing." They're finished with the bed, and Kaylee flops herself down on it. A second later she feels a slight dip in the mattress as Inara sits down and leans in close to her.

"And would you include me in that category?" she whispers into Kaylee's ear.

"Well, you are a professional companion, respected by men and women far and wide, so I would assume so," says Kaylee. "But I wouldn't mind some convincing."

"I do have a reputation to protect," says Inara as she slides a hand up Kaylee's shirt. "So I guess you're going to get a demonstration." Inara kisses her on the mouth, and it's warm and inviting and everything that Kaylee has been missing in the past three months.

The sex is perfect and amazing, just like it always is with Inara. Not just because it's her job but because they have done this before, and Inara has learned all the right places to touch and lick. It's over faster than she would have liked, but they both have things that need to be taken care of before they reach their destination.

"I'm sorry," says Kaylee as she slips her shirt back on, and Inara looks confused by the statement. "I know you had plans and all, for your life on the planet. I'm sorry we interrupted all that."

"It's not a big sacrifice," says Inara. "It takes time to build a life, and I hadn't really built anything there yet." She fastens the back of her dress, and Kaylee wishes they had the time for her to take it off again.

And Inara wasn't on Serenity for that long, at least not in the grander scheme of things. She'd only joined up a few months after Kaylee, and Kaylee hasn't really been around that long either. But Kaylee had fit in almost immediately, and soon she couldn't imagine doing anything else for the rest of her life. It had just been home to her, right from the start.

She thinks that Inara just wasn't in the right place to live her life.

Inara smiles, and kisses Kaylee on the cheek. "It doesn't really matter. I guess I can always start again later."

She's spent too much time with the rest of them though, and Kaylee doesn't think that Inara will ever really be allowed to have her own life. Not with the government trying to hunt River down every second of every day.

"It's good to have you home again," says Kaylee, softly.

Inara doesn't answer. She just hugs Kaylee tightly before she leaves the shuttle.

The End

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