Mechanic's Waltz 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Kaylee Fry has never been one to make plans-- Inara supposes its not in her nature. It seems to her as if the younger girl opens her eyes each day untouched by past or expectations of the future; she swings down from her hammock, moving always within the womb of her beloved Serenity, and her thoughts are solely for the present. It's a quality that both confounds and intrigues the Companion, touching something inside her that is not quite envy. A customer once told Inara that she was a 'very singular woman', and that is how she thinks of her friend. The mechanic is singular, she moves with earthly grace to fix the quadra-router, to play marbles with River, or kiss the Captain's cheek. Once, in a rare moment of insight and inebriation, Malcolm told her that Kaylee was everyone's little sister. Sitting in the smokey scarlet shadows of a backwater beer-hole, Inara had not bothered to correct him. Instead, she smiled, much as she always does. A smile that says, 'I'm listening', but does not say 'I agree'.
Inara doesn't take many female clients, but she has known Companions who do. Her line of work always requires a certain amount of artifice, light and shadow arranged to suit a impressionist painting, suggesting to the viewer what it is they want to see. There will always be artifice in her profession, but she feels significantly less when her clients are women, when they laugh and talk quietly before moving hands to shapes that mirror and embrace. When she looks in the mirror, Inara sees herself as she wishes others to perceive her. Though she remembers being young and seeing just a girlish face, round and misty with youth, the memory feels divorced somehow-- not her own. In some ways, Malcolm is right; she has been in this profession far too long. But this is a dance she's familiar with, as comforting and elegant as courtesans at a ball. On Persephone, she moved on Atherton's arm, a breathless arch of motion, never flinching even as she came to chip away at the varnish on his pretty words. Kaylee didn't dance, she noticed, and that's something else that makes Inara pause. She holds the image of Kaylee laughing, surrounded by ruffles, with strawberry in hand, as if it is a holo-shot. No one's face is as unguarded as Kaylee's, freckles, blush and all. Only her young friend would blossom on the wall, talking shop with a bevy of enthusiastic nobles. The thought brings a smile to Inara's lips and, so lost in the memory is she that, when music comes to caress her ears, she believes it is also of her mind.
It isn't-- the delicate strains of piano, cello and violin echo up through Serenity's comforting shell, all the easier to hear, as most of the crew is in bed. Turning, Inara lifts the amber folds of her gown, moving down to where Kaylee's endearing scrawl claims her territory with glitter and painted hearts.
"Kaylee?" she asks softly, even as she takes the ladder, one rung at a time.
The mechanic smiles brightly, loose twin buns bobbing with the movement of her head. "Hey, 'Nara." The younger woman is sitting her bunk, heavy-heeled boots tapping gently to the music, endless ruffles of her dress displayed like some priceless painting on the opposite wall. Wiping her hands on her coveralls, Kaylee fingers the lace reverently, lips tilting slightly. "That was such a nice party, wasn't it?" After a moment, she frowns. "Until the punching and fighting and challenging to a duel part."
"It was lovely," Inara agrees. "I'm so glad you had a good time. I didn't see you dance though," she winked, teasing gently, "was the buffet table too tempting?"
"Oh yeah!" Kaylee bounces a little, licking her lips in remembrance. "Everything was real, you know-- strawberries and apples and _chocolate_...I've never had food like that." Kaylee's eyes return to the dress for a moment, before she looks down at her wide, capable hands with a small shrug. "Plus, the dances were all so complicated-- I was s'prised when the Captain knew how to lead you about like that." A little grin, flushing coral pink, "You looked so handsome together."
Inara nods, thinking that she moves in practiced patterns with the Captain for the same reason she does with any other man-- because that's the way it's done. On or off the dance-floor. For a moment, it feels as if she's wearing a heavy mask, a china-doll face with painted lips that won't let her say the words she needs. Then, slowly, she lifts a manicured hand, and holds it out to Kaylee, soft palm cupped to offer.
"I can teach you, if you like." Kaylee's smile is bright, so bright, but at the same time like the comforting glow of her mother's sewing lamp oh so long ago. Kaylee's hands are soft as the quilts Inara once gathered around her shoulders to keep out the cold, listening to stories of elegant ladies and poised princesses.
"Oh, yes-- please." The young mechanic shifts from foot to foot, a little hesitant. For a moment, they stand there, smiling at each other, almost shy.
Then Inara comes forward-- puts her arm around Kaylee and her hand on the other girl's waist, to lead her in a dance.
Feedback makes me a shiny, happy person. *puppy eyes*