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What She Knows
At first, there's nothing going onjust late night conversations, laughter in corridors, touching on Inara's threshold, Kaylee smiling all the time in her sleepand everyone notices something that isn't there. Inara can see it in Mal's puppy-like frown, Simon's perplexed concern, Jayne's smirk, Zoe's head turning in contemplation as they pass.
Inara doesn't know how the rumor got started, but she knows that Kaylee doesn't understandher brow furrowing when Jayne sees them coming one day, close, shoulders brushing, and turns on his heels, his voice gruff ("Forgot something in my bunk," mumbled under his breath)because pretense doesn't fit into Kaylee's vocabulary. Because, for Kaylee, everything is exposed and obvious and free of innuendo.
Pretense is all Inara has, and Kaylee is Kaylee in a way that Inara has never beennor ever will beInara.
And there's really nothing going on.
She has not yet opened her eyes, but Inara knows instinctively that today is going to be a good day.
Her internal clock is so fine-tuned that it must be morning, or what counts for morning in the perpetual ink of space, but she allows herself the luxury of two more minutes burrowed beneath the silken caress of burgundy sheets before she opens her eyes.
This has always been her favorite moment. Waking up. It's something that propriety would never allow her to admit; despite the rumors about those in her profession, no self-respecting Companion would ever be caught dead lounging amidst decorative pillows when she could be up preparing for her next client, honing her considerable talents to impress and charm, edifying herself in the art of life and love.
But here she is, the pliant warmth of the bed holding her back from her morning ablutions, and Inara does take a moment to let the calm of the morning seep into her muscles, her bones, her skinuntil she realizes that this morning, something feels different.
It's then that Inara opens her eyes and sees Kaylee, still asleep, only a few inches away. She is curled on her side, her back to Inara, a light snore expelling with each slow breath.
Inara remembers now: Kaylee coming for a visit late last night, her eyes shy, but her demeanor determined, how she'd asked to spend the night, and how Inara, so surprised both by the request and by the atypical warmth rising to her cheeks at the tentative hope in Kaylee's tone, had acquiesced before she could think or ask why.
Kaylee had undressed silently and without a hint of modesty, had slid quietly under the covers and fallen asleep quickly, smiling at Inara through half-lidded eyes.
Inara had slept soundly and was surprised at this herself when she awoke and realized Kaylee was beside her.
Now, she's watching Kaylee sleep, tracing the curve of her spine through the cotton of her nightshirt with her eyes. She still doesn't know for sure why Kaylee came to her, but she has a pretty good idea. Kaylee knows. Knows what everyone thinks they're doing each time she comes for a visit, each time they smile as their eyes meet across the cargo bay. Maybe she's testing the waters. Maybe she's curious.
All Inara knows is that she can't afford to feel the way she's feeling, Kaylee small and lovely and so close, the splayed strands of her hair against the pillow begging her touch.
Inara stopped believing in love a long time ago.
Still, she reaches out, tangling her fingers in the yielding softness of Kaylee's hair, and Kaylee turns into her quickly, almost startling Inara out of bed.
For a moment, Inara wonders if Kaylee has been awake all this timehas known all this time listening to her breathe, waiting for her.
Bodies pressed suddenly close, Kaylee looks directly into Inara's eyes, moves her hand to encircle Inara's waist. She doesn't smile, but her eyes are so expectant, so open, that Inara's breath catches in her throat.
The sincerity of Kaylee's expression is Inara's undoing. Not touching Kaylee now, not kissing her, is untenable.
Still, it is Kaylee who moves first, reading Inara's mind. As they kiss, gently, languidly, Inara thinks that this is beauty. Not beautiful, but Beauty itself in all its manifestations, everything she's been taught to embody, to uphold, and more.
All the men and women with whom she's shared pleasure, and yet the simplicity of Kaylee's kiss is acutely overwhelmingly. And Inara is terrified.
She pulls back abruptly, a denial poised on her lips. But Kaylee is smiling at her like she understands; she leans forward and plants a quick kiss on Inara's lips before snuggling into her embrace, tucking her head under Inara's chin and sighing quietly.
Inara struggles for a moment to find a way to break the silence, to tell Kaylee that she's not allowed to be so content, that this cannot happen again because it breaks every rule she's ever had. But the protest dies on her lips.
There is nothing she can say to Kaylee that isn't a lie.
Remarkably, nothing changesat least, not outwardly. Inara still sees clients, Kaylee still comes to her for advice, for friendship. Except now she stays, doesn't leave until morning when the siren song of Serenity's mechanical hum draws her out of bed smiling; she kisses Inara, dresses, leaves and nothing has changed.
Everyone still casts not-so-subtle glances their way, smiles and frowns and quirking of heads whenever they walk close, shoulders touching. But Inara knows that nothing is going on has seamlessly become everything is different in one inexplicable moment, and no one on Serenity would believe her if she told them that, until now, she had no idea that kissing Kaylee would make the stars glint a little brighter outside her shuttle window, that holding her would make each moment that much more precious, would make her unashamed to lay in bed a little longer every morning after Kaylee has left to tend to the ship.
The only difference is that Kaylee averts her eyes now, blushes a little, when Mal or Jayne or Zoe cast curious looks their way, or when River smiles at them like she knows more than she should (which she probably does). Inara cannot quite bring herself to ask Kaylee if it bothers her because she's not sure of the answer herself.
Until one day when they pass Simon in the hall and his mouth turns down at the corners almost imperceptibly as he quickens his pace; Kaylee blushes and smiles and looks into Inara's eyes.
It's then that Inara sees why Kaylee's gaze always shifts under the scrutiny of their friends: her eyes are dark with a longing so explicit that it startles Inara into stopping in her tracks.
Kaylee takes her hand, stretches up to kiss her in the middle of the stark, shadowy corridor.
And Inara realizes that everyone, except her, has known for months. A simple truth so clear to her now that it is almost absurd.
She could say I love you, but she won't. Kaylee already knows.
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