Summary: Kaylee is intrigued by the mysterious woman who joins the crew.
Info: A Mandarin glossary is included at the end of the story. This story is set before the pilot of Firefly, hence no River, Simon or Book. Sorry, folks. :( The title is from Josh Ritter's "In the Dark."
It was usually hard doings to get Kaylee out of the engine room, but the one thing that would do it every time was the dock at Persephone. Wash usually headed out to load up on supplies, while Mal, Zoe and Jayne went off to do their dirty business. And 'Nara, well, she always had someone willing to fill up her free time when she was on a core world. But give Kaylee a comfortable chair, an umbrella to keep the sun out of her eyes, and she was more than happy to watch the worlds go by.
Hundreds of people, either coming or going. There was no way to know all their stories, not without asking and listening to them all one at a time. But of course it was so much more fun making up stories of her own. Like the man with the silver glasses, big nose and scruffly beard was an oil baron seeking new, rich deposits to drill wells. The severe women with bright white hair trailing three stone-faced little girls was a headmistress taking the best students on a field trip to one of the outer worlds, and the girls were terrified they would happen upon Reavers.
And then there was the woman who kept walking back and forth in front of the ships. Her hair was gorgeous, and the first time Kaylee saw her she thought about asking Inara to do her hair like that. Long brown curls framed her face and hung down like a veil, draping across her shoulders and down her back. Her eyes were hidden by sunglasses with red frames that flashed like fire when caught by the sun. She wore a long, lace dress that she held with one gloved hand to keep it from brushing the dirt. Holding the dress up revealed fine leather high-heeled boots, with tiny crisscrossed laces.
She stopped again in front of Serenity's placard, the docking pass that doubled as advertising for anyone interested in paying for a ride somewhere. She read the screen for a long moment and then looked up at the ship.
Kaylee took advantage of the woman's interest to speak up. "It's a hell of a ride."
The woman looked down sharply, but somehow there was more fear than anger in the move. "Pardon?"
"The ship. Serenity. She's the first one I ever went up in, so I guess I'm a bit biased. But the others I've rode since then can't hold a candle."
The woman smiled and stepped forward. "Well, I guess one does always look fondly on their first."
Kaylee's smile widened. "Where ya headed?"
"I'm not too adept at names," the woman said. "See, I've been wandering up and down this row looking for some kind of way to translate, or at least get an idea of which destination might be the cheapest, without being a hellhole. But I'm having trouble."
"Well, what's caught ya?"
"All the... Chinese. I'm afraid I don't read it very well. Or... at all."
Kaylee was shocked. The woman certainly didn't appear to be poor or homeless, but if she had gone to any school worth going to, she should know at least rudimentary Chinese. Hell, Kaylee had gotten out of school as soon as she could squirm out of their grips and she was still fluent in it. Well, the curses, mostly. "You don't speak any? Jun dun mah?"
"I'm afraid not."
Kaylee put her feet down and stood up. She walked to the placard and pointed at the screen. "This here is the name of the ship. Serenity. She brushed her finger down the glass and the picture scrolled. "This is where we came from, current crew roster, and destinations. We're going to Newhall, Dyton, and Sihnon. There's not much on Dyton, and Newhall is basically just a fishery. But Sihnon's got a very nice reputation. We're goin' the long way, though, cause of the orbits this time of year. If you want to get to Sihnon, you have to sit through the whole round trip. Takes about three months, give or take."
"That would actually... I haven't had a chance to get out and see the... 'verse, and I don't have anything waiting for me on the other side. It'll be good."
"Shiny!" Kaylee said. She bounced on the balls of her feet, half-turned, then said, "Oh. Um, you'll be able to pay, right? I mean..."
"Yes," the woman said. She withdrew a small purse from a hidden pocket on her dress and snapped it open. "I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of money, but I have some. And I can work in exchange for my passage."
Kaylee lifted a shoulder. "Well, we're pretty full up on crew. Kitchen could always use someone who knows what they're doing."
"I can cook. I had... I..." Her mouth moved a few times, searching for words. Finally she settled on, "I used to cook for my family. But I can offer more. I have medical training."
"Oh!" Kaylee tried to hide her excitement at the prospect. It wouldn't do to scare away a potential paying passenger by letting slip that the crew sometimes frequently needed some on-the-run patching. "Well, you know how hard it can be to find medical help out there between worlds. I'm sure the captain would accept those terms." Kaylee shifted her weight to her other foot and tilted her head to the side. There were times when she liked to try for a little grift, an extra little treat just for her to seal the deal. "Beyond that, if you wanted to... oh, I don't know, offer a little something extra..."
The woman said, "Extra?"
"Like a down payment. A good faith gesture until you can cook or mend something."
"Oh. Oh, well... I mean, I'm sure I have enough credits for good faith. I'm not sure..." She hesitated with her eyes cast down, and then said, "Oh. I have stories."
Kaylee's eyes flashed and her smile widened. She stepped to one side and gestured at the open cargo hold behind her chair. "Welcome aboard. You can go on aboard and take a look around. Someone will assign you some quarters later. Do you have any luggage or...?"
"No, I travel light." She picked up the satchel by her feet and started for the cargo hold.
Kaylee watched her go and then said, "Oh, wait, your name! I need to add your name to the docking permit so it'll show when we're full up."
She turned on the ramp and said, "My name is Janet Fraiser."
Kaylee watched the woman walk away and then went to update the crew manifest. She began typing and glanced over the top of the placard to watch Janet enter the ship. There was definitely something about that woman. She bit her bottom lip, shook her head and went back to typing up the new information.
Janet tried to take Kaylee's advice to explore, but though she was sure she had picked one of the smaller vessels, it still intimidated her. She checked out a few doorways, went out on the catwalk over the cargo hold, and then decided to sit tight in the dining area until she was assigned quarters. She dropped her satchel on the banquette next to her, folded her hands in her lap and waited.
Before long, people started to move about in the lower areas of the ship. She heard loud voices, raucous laughter, and the sound of heavy footsteps on steel. She was starting to worry about the kind of people crewing this ship when one of them stepped through the door into the kitchen. He was a lanky redhead in a loud Hawaiian shirt, and the pockets of his cargo pants bulged with something that clanked as he moved.
He was followed by a tall black woman dressed in a leather vest and tight brown trousers. "I'm not saying we can't share," the man said. He continued across the kitchen, focused so intently on the black woman that he didn't even notice Janet. "I'm just saying that..."
"Finders keepers," the woman finished for him. She glanced over at Janet immediately and moved toward the table. "Ah. Kaylee said we had a passenger."
The man looked over, saw Janet, and said, "Oh. Hey. Zen muh yahng?"
Janet took the woman's outstretched hand, noticed her noticing Janet's gloves, and said, "Janet Fraiser. I'm... I guess I'm bartering my ticket. I'm a doctor."
"Doctor," the woman said, finally releasing Janet's hand so she could greet the man. "That's definitely something that could come in handy on this ship. I'm Zoe, this is my husband, Wash. He flies the ship."
"Nah, Serenity does the flying. I just coast her about a bit."
Zoe started to back away from the table and said, "Word of warning. Keep your eye on Jayne."
Janet nodded and said, "What does she look like?"
Wash, who was at the door already, stopped and threw his head back with a laugh. "Oh, God!" he wheezed.
"Just... be wary. Not everyone is as kind as the people here on the core."
Janet tensed ever-so-slightly. "Don't worry. I've learned to be careful."
"Good," Zoe said. She went to the door, pushed her husband through, and turned to look at Janet one last time. "Welcome to Serenity."
"Thank you," Janet said. Once they were gone, she looked around the kitchen again and whispered, "I hope I survive it..."
Kaylee gathered the supplies Wash had brought back and stacked it with the contraband Mal, Zoe and Jayne had picked up. With Mal helping, she was able to get it all locked down and situated by the time Inara signaled that she was on her way home. Mal stood up, clapped his hands together to get the dust off of them, and said, "Well! Nothing like a little illegal stowage to build up a man's appetite. What do you say, Kaylee? Big cubes of 'taters, couple of torched slabs of meat? We've earned it."
Kaylee smirked at him. "Thanks, Cap'n, but I think I'll wait until our new passenger feels up to cooking."
"Ah, yes, the new passenger. Where is she, you think?"
Kaylee looked up at the catwalk and shrugged. "Got me. Could be anywhere."
"I'll check the kitchen. Hopefully Jayne's left her alone." He slapped Kaylee on the shoulder and headed up the stairs. "Inara's probably getting ready to land. Go make sure she's got everything she needs before I tell Wash to grab sky."
Kaylee sketched off a mock salute and headed up the catwalk stairs to Inara's shuttle. She waited until the little light indicated the ship was completely docked before she chimed. The authorization came back a moment later and the door slid open. Kaylee stepped inside, closed the door and took a moment to bask in the feeling of the shuttle.
The agarwood scent of incense still clung to the walls in the tiny space. She closed her eyes and imagined Inara, moving from one to the other like an animate shadow, lighting the sticks for her client with a lighter brandished as if it were part of her body. Kaylee finally turned from the door and stepped into the main room of the shuttle. Satin draped everything and a few candles still burned on the tables book-ending the couch.
Inara left the front of the shuttle, holding back a silk curtain with the back of her hand. She smiled when she saw Kaylee and said, "Mei-mei."
Kaylee said, "Jie-jie." She crossed the room and leaned in to kiss Inara's cheek. Through the make-up and perfume, Kaylee tasted and smelled Inara's natural scent. There was a subtle musk of sex hanging from her shoulders like a shawl and Kaylee wished she could stay close and breathe it in just a little longer. But she pulled back, smiled and said, "How was your sex?"
Inara laughed and grasped Kaylee's hand. "It was suitable," she said. "Anything exciting happen while I was away?"
"We got a new passenger. A doctor lady."
"Ah," Inara said. She led Kaylee out of the shuttle and they walked down the catwalk to the kitchen. Kaylee looked down at Inara's hand, the fingers folded gently around hers like a queen and her escort. It was all right with Kaylee; she didn't mind offering Inara companionship for a change. She was so focused on Inara's fine fingers, her beautifully painted nails, that a sudden outburst of laughter from the kitchen surprised her into letting go. Inara simply moved her hand to the front of her silk shift, gathered it so that she could step into the kitchen, and joined in the laughter. Kaylee followed Inara into the room and took a second to figure out what she was seeing.
Janet, their new passenger, had removed the bodice of her dress to reveal a sleeveless white undershirt. There were four buttons leading up to the collar, and the top two were unbuttoned. Her hair was looser, and the glasses had disappeared to reveal deep brown eyes. She was behind the kitchen island stirring something in a large pot, her hands protected up to the elbow by insulated gloves.
Jayne was standing next to her, beer in hand and a wad of some food or another stuffed into his cheek. Next to the petite doctor, Jayne seemed massive. His shoulders strained the sleeves of his T-shirt, and there were crumbs in his goatee. Quite a study in contrasts, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Zoe, Mal and Wash were around the dining table, laughing as well.
"What did we miss?" Inara asked.
"Oh, hey, Inara," Zoe said as she struggled to catch her breath. "Our new passenger, here, was trying to teach Jayne how to cook."
"'Try' being the operative word," Jayne admitted. "There was more whappin' than teachin'."
Janet aimed a spoon at him. "Someone has to teach you not to be grabby. Those potatoes would have burned your mouth straight from the pot."
This elicited another round of laughter from Mal. "I swear, it's like he's a little boy in the kitchen with Mama."
Jayne's smile fell. "What? That's why y'all are laughing?"
Inara walked to the table with Kaylee trailing behind. They sat next to each other and Jayne helped Janet bring the food over. Wash stood up and retrieved a ladle and helped serve the stew. "This smells like heaven," Mal admitted as his bowl was filled. "Did you bring this stuff with ya?"
"All the ingredients were from in the pantry," Janet said. "I asked Zoe if I could... I hope I didn't..."
"No, it's fine," Mal said. He dipped his finger into the broth and sucked it dry. "Stuff in the pantry made this? Seriously? Our pantry? It's hao chr."
Janet smiled, apparently accepting what he'd said was a compliment. "It's really not all that incredible." She handed out a handful of napkins and met Kaylee's eye across the table. "Hello again."
"Hello," Kaylee said.
Janet sat between Jayne and Zoe, with Wash and Mal at the ends of the table. Kaylee made a show of crumbling dried bread into her stew and stirring it up, but really she was watching Janet. Their newest boarder picked up the spoon and turned it over in her hand as if she'd never seen one before. The bowl of the spoon was wide and shallow, with a thick handle. Janet toyed with it for a moment and then dipped it into her soup.
Dinner conversation was the usual, with natural omissions for sake of mixed company, of course. Wash informed Mal that they were right on course and should hit Newhall in three days time. When most of them had finished their second or third courses, and bowls started scraping to the middle of the table as the diners leaned back and held their stomachs, Kaylee stood up and began gathering the dishes.
"Let me help you," Janet said.
"Oh, no," Kaylee said. "You cooked. You're not going to clean and get dessert, too. Why don't you tell one of them stories you promised?"
"Stories?" Jayne said, his food-tired eyes snapping open. "What kinda stories?"
Zoe covered a laugh with her hand, the image of Jayne-as-momma's-boy coming back to her mind. Kaylee ignored the joke and said, "Janet says she has some Earth-That-Was stories."
Mal perked up. "Really? I love some good fairy tales. What was that one? Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. That was well worth the price, let me tell you."
"'All the better to eat you with'," Wash quoted. He apparently noticed Zoe's look and quickly fumbled to recover. "At least, I think that's what you said. And shame on you, for reading such stories, even though you got that one before Zoe and I were together. Shameful. Just shameful."
Zoe pushed Wash's shoulder away, then pulled him into a rough embrace. "I'm sure the good doctor's stories aren't anything like that piece of chou ma niao."
Kaylee retrieved some of their special-event sweets, junk food she had hidden for herself but that she was willing to share for this night. She had to slice the cake very thin to get enough pieces for everyone, but it was better than nothing. She served the rest of the crew, saving Janet for last so she would get the biggest piece. When she placed it in front of Janet, she brushed against Janet's shoulder and turned to look at her. "Is that all right?"
"Yes, it's fine. Thank you, Kaylee."
Kaylee withdrew and returned to her own seat. As she sat down, Inara whispered, "Jien huo."
Kaylee gaped at her, but the coy smile on Inara's face took the sting out of the insult. Kaylee shrugged, remembered that Janet couldn't understand Mandarin, and replied, "Shuun-muh?"
Inara waved her hands. "Never mind." She looked at Janet, then arched her eyebrow at Kaylee. "Tchu wahn."
Kaylee blushed and looked down at her slice of cake. She had never been shy about sexuality. Hell, she had gotten the job after being caught in flagrante by Mal. And she was interested in the mysterious luu wren. But for some reason, Inara teasing her about it made the whole thing seem silly and childish.
Wash returned from the bridge with reports they were flying steady and true, no obstacles anywhere nearby. He dimmed the lights in preparation for story time, the dining room lit only by the light of the kitchen and the gas candles in the middle of the table. Janet shifted uncomfortably in her chair, obviously not used to being the center of attention, and said, "What... what should I tell?"
"Tell us about your favorite place," Kaylee suggested.
Janet dipped her head slightly. "Okay, well... Colorado. I adore Colorado. It's... a state. In the United States of America." She looked around to make sure they were following. "It was gorgeous there. Majestic mountains, the bluest skies you've ever seen... there was snow on the mountaintops even in summer, and clouds were just big fluffy cotton balls drifting over the ground. The grass was so green, and everything just seemed so... alive and vibrant."
"Kind of makes you think those terraformers screwed up," Mal said.
Janet smiled. "The air was crisp, beautiful and clean. And when it rained, everything felt so... clean. Refreshed."
"You're talking about it like you've been there," Zoe said.
Janet pressed her lips together, lowered her chin. "Yes, well... I suppose I've read so much about it that I feel like I've been. How about you? Have... any of you ever seen pictures of, of Earth-That-Was?"
"Mm, actual photographs, no," Mal said. He had leaned back in his chair, the top button of his pants undone, fingers laced on his very full stomach. "Holographic recreations, paintings, carvings, things like that. Well, you know. You've obviously studied it."
Janet smiled. "It's been kind of passion of mine, I suppose."
"Well, I look forward to hearing all about it between here and Sihnon, but for now I think it's time for all good little captains to be in their beds. Wash, keep her in the sky, if you would."
"I'll do my best, Cap," Wash said.
Mal's departure seemed to be the signal for everyone else to call it a night as well. Soon, Janet, Kaylee and Inara were alone at the table. Janet was still picking at her slice of cake. Kaylee folded her hands under her chin. "That was beautiful. What you said about Color Aud."
"Colorado," Janet said. She smiled. "It's hard not to be beautiful talking about a place like that."
Kaylee seemed at a loss for what to say next. Inara, sensing her discomfort, rose from her seat and said, "Come on, mei-mei."
"Oh, wait," Janet said. "You don't have to... I mean, I enjoy the company. Please. Stay."
"I'm afraid I have to get back to my shuttle. But Kaylee... we'll reschedule my appointment to do your hair." She rested her hand on Kaylee's shoulder a moment longer than necessary and then smiled at Janet. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Janet. I hope to hear more of your stories later."
"Thank you, Miss Serra. The pleasure was mine. Good night."
Janet watched Inara go and then looked back at her cake. "She's lovely."
"She is. Well, she's a Companion. Kind of a job requirement to be attractive."
"I guess so," Janet said. "But I just meant... well. You're very fortunate."
Janet shrugged. "Well, because... you and she are..."
"Oh!" Kaylee said, the dime finally dropping. "No. Inara and me, ain't... Inara is single. I mean, other than..." She cleared her throat. "We're just friends."
Janet smiled. "No offense, Kaylee, but I've done the 'we're just friends' thing before. It's more transparent than you might think."
"Honest. We're just... oh, God, now I'm blushing, aren't I?"
"I'm sorry. I'll let it go." She finished the last piece of her cake and said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to navigate my way back to my quarters. If I can."
Kaylee pointed. "Through that door, downstairs, turn left. Can't miss it."
"Thank you, Kaylee. Good night."
"Night." Kaylee watched Janet go and rested her chin in her hands. She needed to be more careful about wearing her heart on her sleeve. But at least Janet thought Kaylee was with Inara and hadn't noticed the mooning and staring that went on all during dinner. Kaylee sighed and looked at the debris of dessert. "Don't worry, guys," she murmured. "I'll clean it up." She stood up and started gathering the plates.
Janet found her quarters easily enough. It was segregated far away from the main crew's quarters, right near the infirmary, which she took a few moments to acquaint herself with. They had medical supplies, and a pair of beds for patients, but she figured anyone treated here would survive their injuries but die of an infection. She did some idle maintenance and made plans to get started on cleaning it out as soon as she could. She might only be on the ship for a couple of months; the least she could do was ensure they were equipped for an emergency.
Once she had stacked a few boxes and dusted the counters, she went into her quarters. She shut the door and looked over her home for the next few weeks. Her bag was open on the bed, her folded clothes visible inside. The bed was along the starboard wall, and a vanity was opposite. Zoe had shown her the room and explained the toilet and sink situation. Janet pulled the sink down and was amazed at what an economical use of space it was. She washed her hands, splashed her face and undressed to take a fuller bath.
In just her underwear and a Blue Sun T-shirt that she pulled from her bag, Janet took a seat at the vanity and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She stared for a long time, trying to force herself to admit she was really here, this was really her life. She was on a cargo ship, going long-haul to a planet she had never seen, because she had to keep moving. If she stopped, she might start thinking about all she had left behind. And that was far too painful. She let down her hair and turned her chair around to pull a sheaf of papers from her bag.
The papyrus had cost her an arm and a leg, literally, the wages for amputating a man's arm and his wife's leg due to gangrene. But they were worth it. She withdrew a brush that the salesman had called a mao bi, dipped it in the ink well and began to write. In the years since her arrival here, she had picked up quite a bit of calligraphy. Not a lick of Mandarin, unfortunately, but not for the lack of trying. Her brain just wouldn't cooperate with all the tongue-curling noises it required.
She stared at the page and, after a moment, began to write with quick, sweeping movements of the brush.
"Dearest Samantha. I have managed to find passage
to a world called 'Sihnon' aboard a vessel called a
Firefly. The crew is rather interesting, to say the
least. A Companion, pirates, ne'er-do-wells, and now, me."
Kaylee was finishing with the dishes when Inara returned to the kitchen. "I didn't expect to find you still up," Inara said.
"Well, it's my turn to do the dishes. Apparently."
Inara smiled. "Would you like a hand?"
Kaylee feigned horror. "And get those beautiful Companion fingers all prune-y? Perish the thought." Inara walked around the counter and took a towel. Kaylee handed her a wet plate and Inara wiped it dry. "What are you doing back? I thought you called it a night."
"Oh, I was just giving you the opportunity to be alone with the new doctor."
Kaylee felt a flush, of embarrassment and of anger. She didn't want Inara to think she was unavailable, even if she was too lily-livered to say anything about how she felt. "I'm not... I mean, she's interesting, is all. I like her stories about Earth-That-Was. She's cultured."
Kaylee shrugged. "Eh, I'm used to beautiful."
"Yes, that Jayne is something, isn't he?" Inara asked with a wistful sigh. Kaylee bumped her with her arm and laughed. "But thank you for the compliment."
Kaylee smiled and looked down at the soap bubbles clinging to her forearms. "Inara?"
"I..." Kaylee hesitated, the fatal blow to any revealing conversation. She looked up, met Inara's eyes, and couldn't say what she wanted to say. So instead, she just said, "How about we do my hair tomorrow? Early."
"Sure," Inara said. She reached up and touched Kaylee's hair, brushing a strand behind her ear. "I look forward to it. But now, I look forward to bed. Are we done?"
"You can go," Kaylee said. "Night."
Inara bent down and lightly pecked Kaylee's lips. An innocent enough gesture, but enough to raise the hairs on Kaylee's arm. Inara left the hand towel on the side of the sink and left the kitchen. Kaylee sagged against the counter, shook her head and told her body that the itch would be scratched just as soon as she was back, alone, in her quarters.
The next morning, Janet attacked the infirmary. She dressed in a pair of trousers and an old work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and went to work cleaning out the unusually large room. She moved out the crates, unpacked the medical supplies the crew had managed to accumulate, and stocked the shelves. She threw out anything expired, out-of-date or opened. Once she had the place stocked, she began to clean. The windows weren't opaque, as she thought, but just extremely dirty. But the time she finished, her hair was hanging down in a tangled mess and her undershirt was sticking to her skin. But the infirmary looked like a gleaming hospital from one of the core planets.
It was early evening when she finished and she returned to her quarters for a quick wash in the sink, and to change her clothes. One of her favorite things about this society, she found, was that women were allowed to wear whatever the hell they wanted. Slacks, dresses, skirts, leather pants... it wasn't unusual to see a woman walk down the street wearing something straight out of Victorian England, and no one batted an eye if she was followed by another woman in a button-down shirt, vest and cargo pants.
For the evening, Janet decided to be a little bit dressy after the grunt work she had spent the day doing. She chose a silk slip, a dress that wasn't too fancy for just walking around in, and a pair of leather boots. She put her hair back up and trudged upstairs, hungry enough to settle for anything even resembling food. She found a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, and something she assumed was some kind of meat in the cooler. She was cutting off a slice when Wash came in from the bridge. "Hello, Wash. Would you like something to eat?"
"Ah, no, thank you. I'm just on my way to the cargo hold. Thank you, though. Rain check. Especially if it's more of that stew."
Janet smiled and went back to making her sandwich as Wash left. One of her biggest concerns when finding a ship was getting along with the crew. Some ships she looked at were too rugged, filled with the spit and scratch sort of space pirates. There was no way she would spend an afternoon on one of those ships, let alone a handful of weeks while they traveled to Sihnon. But Serenity's crew was special. Sure, they were a bit rough around the edges. But she had only been on board for two days and she already felt like she fit in.
She ate her sandwich at the table, the remnants of the crew's earlier dinner still scattered about. She wiped up the crumbs from her meal, then gathered the bowls, plates and the bizarre wooden utensils and placed them in the sink. She decided that it was only fair, since she hadn't cooked dinner, that she would do the dishes.
When she finished, she dried her hands and returned to the cargo hold. She looked at the curved walls, the tiny porthole on the back hatch, and realized she hadn't seen a single window since she came on board. She wandered down the catwalk and saw Wash, Mal and Zoe gathered around one of the crates, talking in low voices. She made a point of avoiding them, walking to the far end of the catwalk and then crossing to the opposite side of the hold. Whatever had their attention, it seemed like ship business. No concern of hers.
The roundabout route brought her even with Inara's shuttle. She had just passed the door when she heard the rush of air that signaled the door had opened. She turned in time to see Inara step out onto the catwalk, dressed in silk and fine linens, her hair a dark wave hiding her face. Watching her arrive on the austere cargo hold in such finery was like watching a dove fly across a landfill.
Inara glanced up and smiled when she saw Janet. "Hello."
"Hi," Janet said. "I was just..." She looked around the cargo hold and said, "There aren't any windows."
Inara glanced to the left and then quickly looked back at Janet again. "Oh. Did you want to look at the stars?"
"Come into my shuttle," Inara said. She stepped back and gestured at the door to her shuttle. Janet hesitated for just a moment, but then crossed the threshold. The smell of the place was incredible, and the décor... it was as if she had stepped into another world. Inara was definitely in her element here, and Janet was amazed that this beautiful place was part of Serenity.
"Through here." Inara led the way through a sheer curtain, and Janet found herself in a tiny cockpit. Inara sat in what Janet assumed was the pilot's seat and she took the seat next to it. As promised, there was a spectacular view of the universe outside of the ship passing by the windows. Janet's breath was taken away as she leaned back in her seat and watched the stars lazily go by. She knew they were traveling at unimaginably high speeds, but it didn't seem that way from where she sat.
Inara pointed at the glass. "There, in the distance. Do you see that world there? Blue and green and brown, swirled with white? That's Boros."
The way Inara leaned to point had brought her closer to Janet's seat, close enough that Janet could smell the sandalwood in her hair. She looked at Inara for a minute longer before she turned her gaze back to the window and to the planet she indicated. "It's beautiful. It looks like... like pictures I've seen of Earth-That-Was."
Inara withdrew her arm but remained leaning forward, so close. "You make it sound so wonderful. But that's the point of myths, isn't it? Hope and dreams."
"I suppose," Janet said.
They were silent for a long time. Janet kept watch out the window as Boros slowly dropped away and vanished in the vastness of space. She swallowed and thrust her chin out a bit, suddenly very nervous to be in such a confined area with Inara. She looked at the Companion, into her dark eyes, and said, "Thank you for showing me this."
"It was my pleasure. To be honest, there are windows in the dining room. But they don't offer a view quite like this."
"I imagine not."
Inara leaned forward slightly, and Janet closed the rest of the distance. Her lips met Inara's in a soft, closed-mouth kiss. Janet was reminded of her first trip on a spaceship, the Prometheus, a late-night meeting with Sam in the mess hall. Sam's confession that she was the one who convinced Ronson to bring her along. Janet had acted on instinct and kissed Sam, not caring about whether anyone was watching. "It's what you do when someone shows you the universe. Right?"
Janet pulled back and turned away. She covered her mouth with her fingers and shook her head. She felt Inara's hand on her shoulder and said, "I'm sorry."
"No, I am," Inara said. "I shouldn't have..."
"It's not your fault. I kissed you, after all." She opened her eyes and looked at Inara. "I just had a flash of a memory. That's all."
Inara moved her hand to Janet's cheek, then swept her fingers up to touch Janet's hair. Janet closed her eyes and turned her head into the caress. She kissed the inside of Inara's wrist and Inara whispered, "Was it a bad memory?"
"No. Just... sad."
They held their position for a few moments, and Inara finally stood. She held out both hands and Janet took them, let Inara pull her to her feet. She allowed Inara to lead her back into the shuttle, to the large curtained bed. Janet hesitated. Inara turned and Janet said, "I don't... I-I mean, I barely have any money..."
Inara smiled and stepped closer to Janet. She cupped Janet's face in her hands, brushed her thumbs over Janet's cheeks and kissed her again. This time, Janet parted her lips and touched Inara's tongue with her own, moaning as she leaned into the kiss. When they parted, Inara kissed Janet's bottom lip, then her top, then the tip of her nose. "I haven't asked for payment."
"Oh," Janet said in a quiet, meek voice. It suddenly felt as if her chest was in a vice. It was difficult to breathe, and she sucked in a quick breath as Inara sat her on the edge of the bed. Inara knelt in front of her and looked into Janet's eyes. Janet felt utterly hypnotized as Inara reached around her neck and her fingers found the buttons of her dress. They came undone easily, Inara was practiced, after all, and Janet shrugged her shoulders forward so Inara could pull the dress down.
She pushed the material down and let it pool at Janet's waist. She sat back and said, "Lie down on your stomach."
Janet lifted herself and did as instructed, stretching out on Inara's bed. A few seconds later, the mattress dipped and Inara was suddenly sitting astride her hips. Janet closed her eyes and focused on the strong muscles of Inara's thighs on either side of her, the soft cushion of silk in the small of her back, the way Inara seemed to weight next to nothing; probably a Companion trick of putting the weight on her knees instead of forcing your partner to bear it.
Nimble fingers hooked under the straps of Janet's slip, lifted and pulled them down her arms. Janet pushed herself up slightly and Inara pulled the underwear down to Janet's hips, baring her back. Janet crossed her hands under her head and closed her eyes. Working on the infirmary all day had exhausted her muscles and she was more than ready for a massage.
She heard the quiet click of a bottle snapping open, and Inara's body quaked with the movement of rubbing her hands together. A moment later, her hands slid across Janet's shoulders. They pinched slightly where her back and neck met, squeezed, and Janet groaned. "Is that all right?" Inara asked with a voice like a feather.
"Yes," Janet whispered.
Inara moved her hands down Janet's back, following the dip of her spine. She spread her fingers, worked the muscles with her fingertips, then brought her hands together and pressed the heels of both hands into the flesh as she pushed back up toward her shoulders. Janet moaned and curled her fingers into the pillow, arching her back as Inara explored it. After a few minutes of the exquisite torture, Janet's back was pleasantly warm from the oil. Inara bent down and blew across her shoulders a few times, the oil reacted with her breath, and Janet shivered.
Once or twice, Inara's hands strayed to Janet's sides. But though Janet lifted herself slightly, inviting Inara to move on to her breasts, Inara always retreated at the last instant. Finally, Inara stopped the massage and reached for something on the bedside table. Janet, reluctant to have the moment end, stayed where she was, pinned between Inara's legs. Inara settled atop her once again. Something warm pooled between her shoulder blades, and Inara's hands kept it from spreading too far up or down. Janet said, "What is that?"
"A special kind of oil," Inara said. A moment later, a brush stroked down along Janet's spine. She shivered and turned her head to the side. She could just see Inara in her periphery, beautiful, hair hanging loose and covering her bare breasts. Janet sucked in a breath through her teeth; when had Inara taken down her own dress? Had she been topless the entire time? She found she didn't care. Inara's brush continued to move and, after a moment, Janet realized she was writing a Chinese character.
"What does it say?" Janet whispered.
"Zhen bao. Treasure." Inara finished writing, put the brush aside and shifted her weight. She slid down to Janet's thighs, lowered her head, and kissed the small of her back. Janet squeezed her eyes shut and dug her fingers into the pillow. Inara dragged her tongue forward, following the lines she had just drawn with agonizing attention to detail. Her hands rested on Janet's hips and finally slid around to her front, fingers fanning on her stomach as she pulled Janet up to meet her.
Janet was trembling by the time Inara finished. The character gone, erased but seemingly burned into Janet's flesh, Inara kissed the back of Janet's neck. She moved her hands up, cupped Janet's breasts and squeezed them gently. She lifted one leg, then the other, and resituated herself between Janet's legs. Janet moved her feet apart to oblige her.
Their lower bodies were still covered, but Inara began to rock against Janet's body. Silk against cotton, Inara's hands on her breasts, and before long Janet was breathing heavily. It had been too long, so damn long, since she had been with anyone, that she was already close to the edge. Inara kissed the shell of her ear, swirled her tongue inside and nibbled on the lobe. Janet parted her lips, turned her head and Inara kissed her again.
One of Inara's hands slid down Janet's stomach, to the bunched material of Janet's dress and slip. Her fingers slid easily under, through Janet's pubic hair, and cupped her wet mound. Janet moaned into the kiss and sucked the tip of Inara's tongue when it tried to withdraw. "Inara," she gasped when their lips separated.
"Janet," Inara whispered. Two fingers slid inside and Janet rolled her head back on her shoulders. Inara had captured Janet's clit between her fingers, and Janet felt it every time Inara drew her hand back or eased it forward. The sensation was electric. Inara began to thrust against Janet from behind, moving in concert with her fingers so that Janet could imagine that she was being taken from behind. Her eyes opened and she turned her head, focused on Inara's gorgeous features so close to her own. "Are you close?"
"I'm coming," Janet breathed.
Inara kissed Janet's lips, stifling a moan as Janet began to climax. Inara continued her assault until Janet went limp, then began to explore once again with her lips. Along the curve of Janet's shoulder, the back of her neck, her earlobe and the dip of her spine. The oil was now mixed with Janet's sweat, creating a heady aroma. Inara rose from the bed and slid off to the side. Janet rolled over, her bare breasts shining with sweat in the dim light of the shuttle.
She looked at Inara and felt a surge of renewed desire. The Companion's body was gorgeous, exquisitely beautiful in every way. She dropped her dress to the floor and stepped out of it, swept her hair back to reveal breasts capped with dark nipples. Her pubic hair was trimmed but not shaved in some bizarre ornamental way, every inch of her body toned, tanned, and utterly perfect. Inara walked back to the bed, bent down and placed a chaste kiss on Janet's lips. She moved her head down, kissed the hollow of Janet's throat and then each pink nipple before working her fingers under the bunched material of Janet's dress.
She pushed the dress down and Janet lifted her legs, letting Inara undress her. Inara kissed Janet's stomach, then the inside of each thigh. She eased Janet's legs apart and then bowed her head.
Just before her lips made contact, Janet said, "Inara... no." Inara's head came back up. "I mean. Not 'no.' But... you haven't come yet. I... I want to make you come."
Inara smiled. "There's time," she promised. She kissed Janet's thigh again, brushed her cheek along the warm flesh, and then bowed once more. This time, Janet relaxed against the pillows and stared at the silk curtains lining the ceiling to hide the more severe shuttle roof. As Inara's tongue curled inside of her, Janet's body went rigid and her eyes rolled back in her head. Inara circled Janet's clit with her tongue and Janet cried out. She dug her heels into the mattress, arched her back, and knew Inara was lying about there being time later. There was no way she was going to survive this.
A soft motion, more like a breeze than a hand, cleared the hair from Janet's face. Lips pressed against the corner of her eye, and then a quiet voice whispered, "Tchee chwahng... time to wake."
Janet's eyelids fluttered open. She felt like she had just closed them, didn't have any recollection of sleeping or the passage of time. She rolled over, aware that she was naked but too bone-weary to do anything about it. The sheets were wrapped around her right leg, bunched over her crotch to keep her modest. Inara lay behind her, legs bent, body slightly curled as if she was posing for a Renaissance artist. She, too, was naked, and didn't seem to mind or notice. She kept her hand on Janet's shoulder and smiled. "You should probably get back to your own quarters before anyone else wakes up."
"Oh," Janet said. She hadn't thought of that, but it probably wasn't the best idea to let the crew know Inara had given out a freebie. Although, it wasn't as if Inara had done all the work. Janet smiled, turned to Inara and gave her a fierce kiss. When they parted, Inara was panting. It wasn't quite payback for what Inara had done to her, but it was enough for Janet. "Thank you for last night. It's been a long time."
"It was my pleasure," Inara said.
"No," Janet laughed. "Trust me, it wasn't."
Inara slid her hand down Janet's arm and sat up. "Janet, being able to bring joy and pleasure to others gives me pleasure. Most people I take to my bed have set up appointments, have paid their credits and our encounters have been planned out on paper and in fantasies years in advance. Last night, for the first time, I spent a spontaneous evening with a beautiful woman. It was one of the most pleasurable evenings I've had in a long time. Thank you, Janet."
"Sure," Janet said softly. "Any time. Seriously. Whenever you want a reminder."
Inara laughed, cupped Janet's face and kissed her again. When they parted, she brushed her thumb over Janet's bottom lip and whispered, "You should go."
"Yes. Thank you, Inara."
Inara bowed and touched her forehead to Janet's. Janet reluctantly climbed from the bed and put her dress back on. She resisted the urge to kiss Inara good-bye, but only by acknowledging that she would never escape if she got back into the Companion's orbit. So she worked her hair into a semblance of normalcy and said, "I'll see you later today?"
Janet smiled, waved her fingers and slipped out of the shuttle. She followed the catwalk along the cargo hold and slipped into the passenger's quarters. She worried the entire way, sure someone would be an early riser and discover her sneaking away from Inara's, but the ship was still sleeping peacefully.
She undressed and opened the sink, ran some hot water, and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She smiled, splashed her face, and ran her wet fingers through her hair. They were due to set down on Newhall late afternoon. She hoped to have a few minutes in the dock-town to shop. Maybe she could buy Inara some new oils. She smiled, chewed her bottom lip and finally climbed into bed.
In her dream, she was running. The ground was uneven, littered with fallen leaves and dangerous shards of rocks. She ran between a brace of trees and dropped down, Daniel across from her, and assessed her patient. Her fingers found the wound and she immediately began calculating how much blood he had lost. There was a chance. She said a silent prayer and began working on him.
She didn't even hear the staff blast, didn't feel the heat of it burning through her clothes. One second she was busily trying to save a fellow soldier's life, the next she was looking into the sky at a beautiful woman dressed all in white. Life seeped from Janet's body, and she heard the woman's voice in her head without seeing her lips move. "The choice is yours."
Janet had no idea what she meant, but she could see the dividing line; light, shadows, darkness, life. She felt like a ship on the ocean, waves crashing over the sides as she slid down the deck to certain death. Choice? There was no choice here. Only death and a different kind of death. Either way, Sam and Cassandra and her parents and her friends, would all be cut off from her for eternity. What kind of choice was that?
"You could watch over them. Guide them. Watch Cassandra grow into a woman."
There would have been tears in Janet's eyes had she been able to cry. "I want to live." The brightness filled her vision and she was lifted, taken from her body as energy. No longer the shortest person in the room, no longer brunette or brown-eyed, but still her. And time didn't matter. She watched Sam move through the stages of grief, watched with a seized heart as Sam moved on with the newest member of SG-1. She watched Sam's painful first kiss, watched her start to pull away, and then she intervened.
Her lips next to Sam's ear, her voice a whisper on the breeze, Janet said, "Love her. Be loved." And Sam's kiss grew hungry and she took dominance. Janet kissed Sam's temple before leaving, able to give her blessing but not willing to be a witness.
She continued to watch Sam live her life - promotion to full-bird Colonel, her command of Atlantis assigned and then stolen - and Cassandra's graduation, but it seemed as if she was drifting farther and farther away from them. She knew that if she continued this way, she would never forgive herself. So she went to Oma and Morgan, begged them to return her to the mortal coil. There was a fierce debate, a battle of wills that took place on a purely mental level, and the next thing Janet knew, she was waking in a dilapidated border-world hospital.
This system was far removed from Pegasus and the Milky Way, but humans existed here. Janet researched how they could have learned of Earth and humanity and discovered the people she met were descendants of people taken from Earth by Yu millions of years ago, brought here and forgotten. The homeworld that housed Yu's Stargate was destroyed in what Sam would have called an "Extinction Level Event." Asteroids reduced the world to rubble and the Stargate was forgotten as history marched ever onward.
Thousands of years later, the humans had forgotten all about the false god who abandoned them and continued on in a path that paralleled their ancestors across the galaxy. The world they had been stolen from was referred to as "Earth-That-Was." Janet didn't know why she had been allowed to keep her memories of Ascension. She assumed that was Morgan's doing; Morgan had always had a soft spot for Janet.
Janet woke from the dream with a sense of longing. Alone, discarded to the fringes of the known galaxy, where an entire second evolution of humans had grown and thrived in their exile. She always felt a crushing sadness upon waking, especially after The Dream, but today was different. She woke with the memories of her night with Inara racing through her mind, taking over the bitter, sad memories and quieting them for once.
Janet dressed, left her hair down, and went to explore the rest of the ship. She knew immediately that they had landed; the ship was quiet and still. When she stepped into the cargo hold, she saw the ramp was down and bright sunlight was creating shadows behind the stacks of crates. She came down the stairs and saw Kaylee walking across to the back of the hold. They smiled and Kaylee said, "Hey. Didn't see you yesterday. We had to settle for some of Zoe's meat loaf."
"She's a bad cook?"
"She's better at killin' 'em than cookin' 'em," Kaylee said diplomatically. She put a hand on Janet's elbow and said, "Maybe we should go to the kitchen. Cap'n doesn't like people hanging around while he's doing business."
"Oh," Janet said. "All right. You can help me dig through the pantry and find something edible for dinner tonight."
Janet glanced back at the door to Inara's shuttle as they stepped out of the cargo area. "Is Inara awake?"
"Inara's gone. Least, for the time being."
"Got a couple of clients on Newhall. She went to go see one of them."
Janet felt a flush of jealousy, followed by a cold wave of reality. You slept with a prostitute, her inner voice chided. You expected fidelity?
"It really isn't as bad as all that."
"Companions. It's classy, and a necessity. It ain't like whoring. No matter what the Captain says."
Janet smiled. "No. I'm fine with... what Inara does. I've just never known one before. It's a strange job to have, frankly. To know your friend is going to work and having sex with people."
Kaylee shrugged. "Well, there are stranger jobs out there. Trust me. I once..."
"Janet Fraiser," Wash interrupted via the intercom. "Get to the infirmary immediately, please. Injuries are incoming."
Janet didn't waste time glancing at Kaylee. She just turned and ran. She ran into the cargo hold just as the Mule came back, Mal and Zoe in the front seats. Jayne was sprawled across the backseat, facedown, screaming bloody murder in a nonstop stream of Mandarin. Janet hit the ground running and reached the Mule before it was even powered down. Zoe was shouting to Wash to 'take them out of the world' as Janet examined the scene. "What happened?"
"Gorram huh choo-shung tza-jiao duh tzang-huo double-crossed us," Mal said. "Got Jayne with a meat hook."
Janet spread the bloody halves of Jayne's shirt to reveal the wound. It was bad, cataclysmic if it had hit the spine. "Can you move your feet?" She looked down and saw his boots wiggle a bit. "Good. Good." She turned and grabbed the lapel of Kaylee's jumpsuit. "Kaylee. Go to the infirmary. Get the black box off the counter next to the door. There's a red cross on the front. Bring it here. Quick."
Kaylee ran off.
Mal knelt on the seat, turned to look down at Jayne. Janet grabbed the halves of the shirt and ripped it apart so she would have room to work. Jayne growled, "My favorite aiya shirt, too, bun tyen-shung duh ee-dway-ro..."
"Quiet," Janet snapped. "If you're a good boy, I'll sew the damn shirt back together when this is all done."
As Kaylee returned with the medical kit, Mal said, "Well, Doc. Looks like you're going to earn your passage with more than stew after all."
Janet threw open the kit, pulled out the rubber gloves and pulled them on. "Lucky me. Captain Reynolds, hand me that canteen. I need to clean this wound before I can do anything else."
When Janet finished mending Jayne's back, she, Mal and Zoe moved him to the infirmary using a roller cart. Janet, who had gotten injured Jaffa and stubborn Colonels onto gurneys, was amazed at how hard Jayne was to move. But they finally got him onto the diagnostic bed. Janet looked him over, sedated him, and returned to the waiting area where Mal, Zoe, Kaylee and Wash had gathered. "He'll be fine. It will probably leave a nasty scar, but considering the alternative..."
"I'm sure he'll be very grateful. Thanks, Doc." Mal turned to Zoe. "Leave a wave for Inara, let her know we just had to get out while the getting was good, but we'll be back to pick her up when she's done doing her deeds."
He started to walk away, but Janet followed him. "Wait a minute, Captain. I get the feeling this was a bit run-of-the-mill for you folks. That would imply maybe the cargo you carry isn't always of the legal sort."
"Depends on what you call legal, and what you call 'run-of-the-mill.'"
"If your crew is endangering the lives of people on this ship, I have a right to know."
Mal stopped in the doorway and turned to face Zoe, who had been following Janet, for help. "Woman's got a point, sir. If those traders had boarded back there, she'd have gotten killed right along with the rest of us."
Mal sighed. "All right. What do you want to know?"
"Just how illegal is what you do?"
Mal and Zoe shared a grin.
Janet found Kaylee in the engine room a little while later. She stopped in the doorway, amazed at the sheer magnitude of what the girl was responsible for. The heart of the ship occupied the majority of the space, spinning and wheezing steam as it spun. Kaylee stepped out from behind the engine block, ducked under a clutch of wires, and spotted Janet in the door. "Oh. Hey."
"Hi," Janet said. She stepped into the engine room and noticed a hammock in the corner. It was a cozy little spot, decked out with all the comforts of home, and Janet wondered how many nights Kaylee had spent holed up in the engine room just so she could be nearby if anything went wrong. It reminded her so strongly of Sam - "You'd sleep with a naquadah reactor under your pillow if you didn't think it would irradiate the sheets." - that she had to look away quickly. "Quiet an engine."
"Serenity's beating heart," Kaylee said. She laid her hand on the engine's housing, smiled at it, and then looked at Janet. "I, uh, guess Mal told you about our real work."
"Yeah. It's... something all right. Do you, um... take part?"
Kaylee shrugged. "Not really. If they need to make a fast getaway or need someone to open or close the rear hatch so they can come in. I'm strictly the wheelman. Girl. Woman."
Janet smiled. She watched Kaylee go through the motions of engine work; checking gauges that were obviously okay, aligning things that were perfectly in line. She looked at Kaylee's face and said, "Are you all right?"
"Mm-hmm. Yeah, shiny." She seemed to realize how pathetic it sounded, because she dropped her hands. "It's Inara. We just left her behind back there."
"Captain Reynolds seemed to think she would be okay. I think she can take care of herself."
Kaylee lifted her shoulder in a weak shrug. "Yeah. But that don't mean I can stop worryin' about her. It's stupid."
"No," Janet said softly, knowing how many times she had stayed awake thinking about Sam off-world. "No, it's not stupid in the slightest. You love her, don't you?"
Kaylee looked up. "I don't know. She's... Inara. She's so... kuh eye. You know? Lovely."
"Yes, she is," Janet said. "It's okay to worry about her, Kaylee. I'm sure she would be touched." She stepped forward and put her hand on Kaylee's back. Kaylee turned to face her and practically fell into the embrace. Janet chuckled, hugged Kaylee tightly and kissed her hair. "She'll be fine. Just you watch."
Kaylee pulled back from the hug. "Thank you, Janet. You're kuh eye, too."
Janet laughed. "Well, thank you." She impulsively bent down and kissed Kaylee's lips, just a quick brush. But when she pulled back, Kaylee followed her. The kiss deepened, and Janet's eyes closed. "Mm," she whimpered as Kaylee pressed against her, and Kaylee's lips parted in invitation. Janet thought about Inara, and Kaylee's feelings for Inara, and counted down all the reasons this was wrong, ill-advised, best ended now. And she immediately discarded each of them as she focused on the softness of Kaylee's lips and the warmth of her body, so close, so eager.
She pushed Kaylee until her back was to the wall, and broke the kiss. She looked into Kaylee's face and saw traces of Sam everywhere; in the brightness of her eyes, the grease on her cheek, the breathless way she regarded her machines. Kaylee Frye was Samantha Carter's soul twin, a reflection from across the galaxy. Janet balled her fist in Kaylee's hair, pulled her head back and kissed her hard, unapologetically.
Kaylee responded eagerly. She brought one leg up, hooked it against Janet's hip and pulled her close. Janet moved her free hand down, following the zipper of Kaylee's jumpsuit and then sliding inside. She skirted the hem of Kaylee's shirt, found the warm flesh of her hip and dipped down. She hooked her fingers in Kaylee's underwear and tugged on them, drawing a muffled shriek from Kaylee.
Janet thrust her tongue into Kaylee's mouth and marveled at herself. After a dry streak so long she had stopped keeping track, here she was with her second lover in twenty-four hours. She was going to have to pace herself.
She moved her hand, cupped Kaylee's mound and felt her knees weaken at the sound the girl made when she stroked with two fingers. "Mmm, aren't you wet?" Janet said against Kaylee's mouth. "So nice and ready..."
"Ready," Kaylee sighed.
"Ready... for..." Janet pressed Kaylee's underwear against her labia and Kaylee jerked in her arms.
"Oh! Lao tyen yeh!"
Janet kissed the corner of Kaylee's mouth. "Is that good...?"
"Yes," Kaylee growled. She pulled her arms back and tugged at her jumpsuit top. She got her hands free, pushed it down around her hips and guided Janet's hands to her breasts. "Oh, God..."
Janet moved her lips down Kaylee's neck and pushed her shirt up. Kaylee whimpered and reached back with both hands, holding herself up by wrapping her arms around power cords. Janet closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of Kaylee's sweat, the grease and the smell of her hair. She pictured Sam Carter, jeans around her knees, thrusting forward as she fucked Janet with a strap-on as Janet clung to her bike's handlebars.
They kissed again and Janet pushed down the cups of Kaylee's bra. She cupped her breasts, pinching the nipples between her thumb and forefinger, and Kaylee arched her back into the touch. "Harder," she groaned against Janet's mouth. "You can... pinch them h-harder..."
Janet licked Kaylee's cheek, moved her lips to Kaylee's ear and nipped the lobe. She growled, "Do you like it rough? Hard?"
"Yes," Kaylee breathed. To prove her point, she released the wires and rocked her body forward. Janet was caught off-balance and Kaylee used her upper hand to spin them both. She walked Janet backward until they reached the hammock and Janet let out a whoop as she was dumped onto the canvas. Kaylee looked down at her and pushed her jumpsuit the rest of the way down. Janet was surprised to see the panties, small and pink and so innocent, but they were gone and forgotten in an instant anyway. Janet shed her own clothes, and the swaying of the hammock and the bucket-of-bolts surroundings of the engine room made her feel like she was in the hold of some sea vessel, on her way to the new world for a new life. Just like Cassandra's favorite movie. Janet pushed away the thought as she watched Kaylee's hair fall free of her T-shirt and land on her naked shoulders, her shirt and bra tossed in the general direction of the engine.
"Come here," Janet said, and held her arms out. Kaylee climbed onto the hammock and on top of Janet. They kissed and Janet ran her hands down the freshly-exposed flesh of Kaylee's sides. Kaylee's breasts were soft, pink, the nipples fat and begging for Janet's mouth. She closed her lips around one and Kaylee whimpered helplessly. She arched her back, her body a bow with her hips nestled against Janet's. The hammock swung as Janet rolled Kaylee onto the bottom.
"I'm on top," Janet breathed, hair swinging down into her eyes.
Kaylee swept it away with her hand. "Oh? Yeah?"
"Mm-hmm," Janet groaned. She scissored her legs with Kaylee's and settled against her thigh. Her lips parted in a quiet gasp as her labia brushed Kaylee's thigh and parted. Kaylee's eyes closed, her head tilted back as a wrinkle appeared between her eyebrows. She mewled low in her throat and her fingers turned into talons on Janet's hip. Janet wanted to tell her to be gentle, to take it easy, but Kaylee liked it rough. Janet could do rough now and then.
She bent down, covering Kaylee's body with her own. She closed her eyes and moved forward until she felt wetness on her own thigh. "Right there?" she breathed. Kaylee's hands moved to Janet's ass and held her in place. Janet exhaled, kissed Kaylee's temple, and began to thrust against her. "Talk to me, Kaylee..."
Kaylee whimpered. "Feels good..." she managed.
"Mm, I can tell," Janet said. "You're so wet..."
Kaylee kissed Janet's shoulder, parted her lips and bit down. "Gently," Janet reminded her. "Not too hard..."
"Sorry," Kaylee said.
"It's okay... it's just fine, darling..." She moved her lips to Kaylee's neck and laid down a trail of quick, gentle bites. She ran her hands up, cupped Kaylee's breasts and brushed her thumbs over the nipples. Kaylee tilted her head up, and Janet lifted up to meet her. They kissed and Kaylee moaned her climax into Janet's mouth.
Janet broke the kiss and nuzzled Kaylee's cheek. Kaylee finally opened her eyes and said, "I want... I-I wanna do that to you..."
"Yeah?" Janet said. Kaylee nodded, and Janet looped her fingers around Kaylee's wrist. She drew the captive hand between their bodies, keeping eye contact the entire time. Kaylee's eyes were wide, her lips parted in anticipation. She gasped as the backs of her fingers brushed Janet's pubic hair. Janet closed her eyes and lifted her body. "Right there. Put your hand right there... touch... yes..."
"Hao ma? Kuh ee mah?" Kaylee asked.
"Yes, just like that," Janet said, and closed her eyes. Her breath was rapid, and she rocked herself against Kaylee's fingers. "Touch my clit. It's right... yes. Right there. Yes, Kaylee..."
A tear rolled down Kaylee's face and she looked down between their bodies. She saw Janet's erect nipples and desperately wanted to take one into her mouth. But she couldn't figure out how, in their current positions. After a few seconds, Janet grunted and said, "Kaylee, you're going to make me come... you're such a good girl... oh, God... Kaylee..."
They kissed again as Janet came, and then Kaylee wrapped her arms around Janet's hips and pulled her down. Janet buried her face in the crook of Kaylee's neck and kissed the warm, wet flesh. Kaylee's eyes rolled back in her head and her eyelids drifted down. She turned her head, kissed Janet's hair and said, "Run-tse duh fwotzoo."
Janet smiled against Kaylee's chest. "I don't speak Chinese, remember?"
"It's good," Kaylee assured her. She patted the top of Janet's head and smoothed down her hair. "Trust me."
Janet chuckled and opened her eyes. The engine room door was open and any member of the crew could have wandered by and seen what they were doing. The idea gave her an unexpected thrill and she sat up, looked into Kaylee's eyes. Kaylee smiled sleepily and accepted another kiss. Janet kissed Kaylee's chin, her throat, the sweat-slick space between her breasts and continued lower.
Kaylee lifted her arms over her head and laced her fingers together. "Where ya goin'?" she asked.
Janet spread Kaylee's legs apart and said, "If I have to tell you that, dear girl, I have more to teach you than I thought..."
Kaylee snickered, closed her eyes, and then began moaning.
The ship went the long way around a moon, effectively performing a slingshot maneuver so they could return to Newhall. They picked up Inara's shuttle and escaped before the disreputable gentlemen knew they were back planet-side. By the time they were back on their way to Dyton, Janet and Kaylee had abandoned the engine room with their clothing back in place, looking as respectable as anyone could on a ship of crime.
Janet and Zoe met Inara in the cargo hold. "I hear there was some excitement in my absence," Inara said. "Is Jayne all right?"
"He'll be fine," Janet said. "I hope no one gave you any problems..."
"Hardly," Inara said. "I'm just sorry we had need of your services so soon after your arrival."
Janet smiled. "From the looks of it, your ship might require a full-time physician on-board."
They started walking toward the dining room and Inara said, "Perhaps you would like to give it some thought. You did say you had no particular destination. Why not end your journey where you're needed? Where you're wanted?"
Zoe said, "When we're not abusing your medical expertise, we'll have you shackled to the kitchen stove for dinner."
Janet smiled. "Thank you for the offer." She planned to dismiss it out of hand, but surprised herself by saying, "I'll give it some thought." When they reached the kitchen, Janet saw that most of the crew, sans Jayne, was present. Mal was in the pantry looking through plastic-wrapped food goods. She clapped her hands and said, "Get out of there, Captain. You've done your disservice to humanity today by doing crime. No need to spread your sins to the dinner table."
Wash said, "Wow, that's a beautiful way to slam someone down."
"Whatever," Mal said, "Long as she's cooking, she can say whatever she wants as pretty as she wants." He gave her a mock bow and ushered her behind the counter. "Your kingdom, milady."
Janet returned the bow and examined her choices. When she turned to place the cooking supplies on the stove, she saw that Inara had bent down next to Kaylee. Inara's lips were next to Kaylee's ear, either sharing secrets or promising to regale the girl with tales of her exploits when they were in nicer company. Janet felt a thrill seeing them together.
It's not like it's my girlfriend and my mistress, she told herself. There were no strings with Inara, and Kaylee and I... that was just animal lust. She felt a chill at that thought and smiled. She felt a little bad, knowing Kaylee's feelings for Inara and vice versa. But if they were willing to spread the joy around, who was she to say no? It had been so long since she allowed herself that kind of pleasure, it was a great feeling to be desired by two gorgeous women.
Janet withdrew a grater from the drawer and set it to a block of cheddar cheese. "So. What story would you like to hear about Earth-That-Was tonight?"
"Tell us about the people," Zoe suggested. "What were they like?"
"Oh, that'll take the trip to Sihnon and back. There were so many different countries and cultures that you could feel like you were on an alien planet without ever leaving the Earth."
Mal shook his head. "I can't imagine that. Spend your whole life on one rock, the one you just happened to be born on, and never even visit another planet? I wouldn't survive."
"Earth-That-Was didn't have interstellar travel," Wash said. "To the moon and back, and even then it was a trial. Big gorram suits, no artificial grav... people must have been throwing up right and left."
"What nice dinner conversation, husband," Zoe chided sweetly.
Janet said, "Well, not everyone was tied to the Earth. There were a few who got a chance to explore other worlds. The special ones."
"In ships?" Wash asked.
Janet shook her head. "There was a device. You could use it to travel from one world to the next with a single step."
Mal chuckled. "Now that there is fantasy."
"Perhaps," Janet said. She knew better than to interfere too radically with their myths or beliefs. She sprinkled the shredded cheese over the meat and glanced over at Inara and Kaylee. Inara's hand rested on top of Kaylee's as they spoke; an innocent gesture at first glance, but Janet thought she saw more. She placed the meat loaf in the oven and began to plan. She could provide more than stories, meals and stitches for the crew before she took her leave.
That night, Janet bathed with Inara. They undressed and donned silk shawls, sat on their knees opposite each other in the incense- and candle-lit shuttle. Janet lowered her shift to expose her breasts and closed her eyes as Inara ran the sponge down her chest. Inara traced from cleavage to shoulder, down Janet's side to her hip. They exchanged the sponge and Janet repeated the process, taking her time on Inara's breasts. As Janet washed her chest, Inara closed her eyes and rolled her head back. Janet placed a light kiss on Inara's exposed throat and felt her chuckle.
"This is just about bathing, Janet."
"Sure it is," Janet said. She let the sponge linger between Inara's legs.
Inara put her hands on either side of Janet's head, unfastening her hair and letting it fall. Janet moved closer and straddled Inara's lap. She sat down, hooked her feet behind Inara, and swept the sponge up over her stomach. "There's something you should know," Janet said quietly. She kissed Inara's bottom lip. "I had sex while you were away on Newhall."
Inara's lips curled. "So did I." She seemed to realize Janet had been on-ship the entire time, and her prospects were limited. "Who?"
"Oh." Inara turned her head away. Janet put a hand on Inara's cheek, her fingers wet, and turned Inara to face her again. Inara forced a smile. "I'm sorry. I don't know..." She cleared her throat. "How was it?"
"It was wonderful," Janet admitted. She ran her wet fingers over Inara's bottom lip. "But only because she was imagining I was you. She loves you, Inara. And I know you see it, because you love her, too."
Inara lowered her eyes. "I can't... Kaylee is part of the crew. If I were to cross that line, I would never..."
Janet shushed her. "Inara. Lines don't matter. They've never mattered. If a line is what's keeping you from doing something you desire with all your heart, then cross it. The happiest moments of my life occurred because I went where people said I wasn't allowed. I trained to be a soldier. I became a doctor. I fell in love with a woman in the military." She kissed Inara's lips and slid closer. She broke the kiss with a gasp and kept her eyes closed as she ran her fingers through Inara's hair. "Cross the line, Inara."
"How would I even begin?" Inara asked. "I've spent so much time making a business out of it, I'm not sure I would know how to actually court someone."
"I'll help you," Janet whispered. They kissed again and Janet added, "Tomorrow. I'll help you tomorrow..."
Inara laughed quietly as Janet lowered Inara down to the floor.
Janet slept after sex, and Inara watched her. She traced her fingertips lightly down Janet's spine, drew wide circles on the cheeks of her ass, and watched her eyelids flutter in dreams. After a while, Inara got out of bed and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. She went to the cockpit of the shuttle, sat, and drew her feet up into the seat. She hugged her knees and watched the stars as she had that first night.
Over the years of service as a Companion, Inara had learned tells. When a man was lying about his marital status, when a woman wasn't quite as comfortable with the idea of a threesome as her husband claimed. It was a necessity in her line of work, knowing when someone was lying. And her every instinct told her that Janet was not telling the truth. Or rather, that she was telling the truth, but was calling it a lie.
Janet's stories of Earth-That-Was weren't gleaned from years of research, or piecing together old myths. Everything Janet spoke rang of truth, every story she told seemed to be from personal experience. Janet Fraiser had been to Earth. She had lived there, seen the oceans and the sky. But it was impossible. No one knew where, exactly, Earth-That-Was was. They knew it was in a different solar system, but... but if humanity didn't have faster-than-light travel, how did they move to this new system? How did they know it was suitable for them?
She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn't hear Janet arrive. She jumped as a pair of arms encircled her from behind, and looked up into Janet's sleep-bleary eyes. "I'm sorry. Were you sleeping?"
"No," Inara said. "I was just thinking."
Janet bent down and kissed Inara's lips. She slid her hand down Inara's arm, laced their fingers together, and backed away. "Come back to bed."
Inara stood, leaving her shawl behind on the chair, and followed Janet back into the bedroom. There were no easy answers when it came to Janet Fraiser, she had decided. It was best to just ignore the questions and hope they went away in time.
Kaylee lay on her back, knees bent, and backed into the opened panel in the front corridor of the ship. She held a spanner with one hand and pushed herself deeper into Serenity with the other. When she got to where she needed to be, her legs were the only thing visible from outside. She pushed one hand up, holding a spider's-web of wires out of her way, and grunted as she got the spanner up into position. She fitted it around a bolt, tightened the crescent and banged the handle with the heel of her hand. A few hits and one sore hand later, the panel was again tightened. She listened and the rattle that had been driving her crazy for eight days was finally silent. She smiled and disentangled herself from the wires. When she returned to the relative quiet of the corridor, shielded as it was from the hum and drawl of the engines, she discovered Janet was standing over her, looking toward the bridge. "Oh! Hi."
"Hi," Janet said. "I wasn't sure if I was allowed here or not..."
"Well, you are and you ain't. Help me up?" She held her hands out and Janet took them, hauling Kaylee to her feet. They ended up hip-to-hip, faces close together. Janet looked at Kaylee's lips, moved her hands to Kaylee's forearms, and smiled. "Thanks," Kaylee said.
"Inara was looking for you."
"She's in her shuttle. Can I walk with you?"
Kaylee nodded. "Sure. Come on." She put her hand in Janet's, squeezed, and headed for the shuttle. She hoped Inara's invitation was for her hair. It had been a while since Inara had washed and trimmed it. She didn't need a haircut every month, but she did so enjoy the time with Inara. Brushing, shampooing, sitting in front of her while Inara's breasts hovered so close. She sighed, caught herself, and smiled at Janet. "Sorry. Just hopin' Inara's going to do my hair."
"She didn't say," Janet said.
They reached the shuttle and Janet let her hand slip from Kaylee's. "She said to go on in."
"Okay. I'll see you later?"
"Definitely," Janet said. She kissed Kaylee's lips and stepped back as Kaylee turned and went into the shuttle.
The lights were all off, and she could smell candles and incense burning. And under it all, sex. How many clients must Inara have entertained on Newhall that the shuttle would still smell so strongly all this time later? Kaylee felt a hint of jealousy simmering under the surface as she looked through the main room of the shuttle. "'Nara? Janet said you wanted to see me."
Suddenly, her eyes were blocked by something soft and dark. She gasped, brought her hands up and backed away, but she ran into someone before she took even a step. The soft material was pressed against her eyes, pinched down her hair, and a pair of sure, strong hands tied the ends together. "It's all right, Kaylee," Janet whispered, her voice close enough to warm the shell of Kaylee's ear. "Just relax."
"What's going on? What's happening?" Kaylee asked. Her voice was trembling, but more out of anticipation than any real fear. She knew Janet wouldn't hurt her, and Inara's shuttle was probably the safest place on the entire ship. Janet put her hands on Kaylee's shoulders and lightly kissed her neck. Kaylee whimpered quietly. "We shouldn't... not in Inara's shuttle. She would... get mad..."
"No, she won't," Inara said from somewhere in front of her.
"'Nara?" Kaylee asked. She straightened, her lower lip dropping slightly at the thought that they were found out. "We were..."
"It's okay, mei-mei," Inara said. She was very close now, standing right in front of her.
Kaylee's heart was pounding. Inara put her hands on Kaylee's chest, then slid them up so that her fingers laced together with Janet's. "Ni gàn ma?" she asked, short of breath, very aware of Janet's breasts against her back.
"Do you trust me?" Inara asked.
Kaylee didn't hesitate. "Shr ah. Yes."
Suddenly, Inara's lips were on hers. It wasn't much different, on the surface, than the kisses they had exchanged in the past. But oh, what a different context made. Inara parted Kaylee's lips with her tongue, and Kaylee tilted her head to one side. Janet kissed Kaylee's neck and moved the hand linked with Inara's to Kaylee's hip. She rested Inara's hand there, then slipped her own free. Inara hesitated, then tightened her hold and pulled Kaylee to her.
Janet moved her hands to Kaylee's hair. She brushed it out of the way, bent down and kissed the back of her neck. Kaylee whimpered in Mandarin and reached out. She meant to rest her hands on Inara's shoulders, but misjudged her height and ended up with two handfuls of Inara's breasts. She gasped and pulled her hands back, but Inara said, "It's all right, Kaylee. Touch me..."
Kaylee closed her eyes under the blindfold and let her hands fall again. She squeezed Inara's breasts, tried to memorize the way they felt against her palms in case this never happened again. She felt Inara's nipples harden under the thin fabric and she pinched them, sighing when Inara gasped. Janet's hands hadn't been idle; they were now on the collar of Kaylee's jumpsuit and she jumped when the zipper was tugged down.
Janet pulled the jumpsuit off Kaylee's shoulders as Inara kissed her again. When the jumpsuit bunched at Kaylee's hips, Janet hooked her fingers under the material and tugged, pulling it and her underwear down. Janet kissed the dimples above Kaylee's ass and slipped her hands up the insides of Kaylee's thighs. Inara moved her hands down as well and met Janet's hands.
"Oh, God, what are you guys doing?"
Inara moved her lips to Kaylee's ear, licked the shell and whispered, "We're making love to you. Is that okay?"
Kaylee whimpered, "Uh-huh..."
She heard Inara's quiet chuckle and sucked in a breath as Janet kissed her thigh. "Let's move to the bed," Inara suggested. She took Kaylee's hand and backed away, and the sudden distance between them was almost unbearable. She let herself be led across the room, and gasped as she was lowered onto the mattress. The times she had lain across the sheets, innocently talking with Inara and pretending to fall asleep in the hopes Inara would let her spend the night. Well, there was no need for games tonight.
Inara and Janet each took a boot and managed to get the laces undone. They pulled the boots off and discarded them, then took Kaylee's jumpsuit the rest of the way off. Kaylee took off her own shirt and, as she unfastened her bra, felt one of her lovers kissing her belly. She was naked, blind, and being worked over by two beautiful women. She was going to have to be careful not to end this before they even started.
As if sensing her worry, Inara settled on top of Kaylee and whispered, "It's all right if you climax early. We have all night." She picked up Kaylee's hand, kissed the tip of her index finger and then sucked it into her mouth. And by process of elimination, that meant Janet was the one between her legs, softly kissing and licking her way closer... and closer... then one slender finger brushed Kaylee's labia.
Kaylee jerked and lifted herself off the bed. "I'm going to come. I can't... please..."
Janet slid forward and parted Kaylee's folds with her tongue. She dipped it inside, curled it, and circled it over Kaylee's hard clit. She sucked, and Inara said, "You can come, Kaylee. You can come and then we can take the rest of the night slow. I want you to..."
Kaylee clutched Inara's arm and pushed the blankets away with her feet. She dug her fingers into the soft flesh of Inara's upper arm, panted through her orgasm, and finally fell back to the mattress with a sigh. Inara kissed her cheek, Janet kissed her stomach, and Kaylee turned until her lips found Inara's. They kissed and Inara brushed her fingers down Kaylee's face, removing the blindfold. "Ni shenti hao ma?"
"Yes," Kaylee said quietly. She touched Inara's face, her post-orgasm drowse coming upon her. She could hardly believe this had been real, that she was really naked in bed with Inara. She touched the back of her hand to Inara's cheek, then moved it down to her throat. "Take off your clothes. Please? 'Nara?"
Inara lifted herself onto one elbow and pulled her hair forward. She said, "Why don't you do it?"
Kaylee reached around Inara's neck, found the clasp with trembling fingers, and undid it. The soft material fell like a cloud, and Inara's breasts were bared to her. "Oh," Kaylee said with a tremble. "Ni hen piao liang..."
"Kiss them," Inara said, her voice barely audible.
Kaylee leaned down and closed her eyes. She placed a light kiss on the swell of Inara's breast before moving her lips down and capturing a nipple. She sucked, nibbled and then released it before resting her head against Inara's breasts. She looked down and saw Janet, head between Kaylee's legs, watching them. Kaylee smiled. "Hi."
"Hi," Janet said, and kissed Kaylee's hip.
"Are we gonna play with you, too?" Kaylee asked.
Janet chuckled and said, "Well, I hope so!"
Inara laughed, and the movements caused a ripple to wash through Kaylee's body. She closed her eyes and turned her face so that her cheek pressed into Inara's breast. Inara stroked her hair and said, "Maybe you should thank Janet for bringing us together like this..."
"Yeah?" Kaylee asked. She looked up into Inara's face.
Kaylee rearranged herself on the bed, pulled Janet up and kissed her. Janet's lips were wet, and Kaylee traced them with her tongue. "Thank you," Kaylee whispered. "Thank you, thank you."
Janet smiled and guided Kaylee's hand between her legs. Kaylee obediently cupped Janet's mound and began stroking with two fingers. Inara moved behind Kaylee, pressing her front to Kaylee's back, and wrapped both arms around her waist. She kissed Kaylee's shoulder and formed a diamond with both hands. She slipped the fingers between Kaylee's legs and began to stroke, thrusting against her from behind.
Soon, all three women were panting. The air was thick with the scent of sweat, and Kaylee was nearly overwhelmed by the sensation of fucking and being fucked, of being sandwiched between Janet and Inara, of having - oh, God, she could barely even think about it - Inara's fingers inside of her, brushing her clit.
She was determined she wouldn't come twice before Janet and Inara's first climaxes, so she redoubled her efforts. She used one hand to brush Janet's clit as she thrust with two fingers, and she rocked her hips back into Inara's. Inara kissed Kaylee between the shoulder blades and Janet leaned back, lifting her lower body in time with Kaylee's thrusting fingers. "Yes, yes... oh, Kaylee..."
"You're going to make her come, Kaylee," Inara breathed. She rested her cheek against Kaylee's back and said, "You're going to make me... come... oh, God..."
Janet fell first, quickly followed by Inara. In the aftermath, the three women kissed random flesh, closing their lips around whatever piece of sweaty flesh they could get to. Inara pulled Kaylee back and they embraced against the head of the bed. Kaylee kissed Inara's lips, thrust her tongue inside and felt twin tears roll down her cheeks. "Jie-jie," Kaylee whispered.
Janet lay next to them and cupped her hand against Kaylee's hip. Kaylee turned her head and kissed Janet. "Xie-xie."
There was no translation necessary. "You're welcome," she said. She kissed Kaylee again, then kissed Inara. Kaylee leaned back and watched them kiss, saw the flicker of tongues between their mouths.
"You two are so beautiful..."
Janet smiled at Inara and then backed off, easing her closer to Kaylee. "I want to watch the two of you..."
Inara locked eyes with Kaylee, kept her eyes open when they kissed, and ran her hand down Janet's chest. Janet leaned back and Inara's hand ended up between her legs. Janet let out a sigh as Inara's fingers slipped inside of her, and she put her own hand in the small of Kaylee's back. She drew in a shaky breath and settled against the sheets. She decided she might as well get comfortable; it was going to be a long night.
Janet didn't leave the shuttle until the next morning. She hadn't gotten any sleep, but she felt wired and more alive than she had in years. She went to her quarters, changed into a fresh outfit, and went to the kitchen to see if there was anything to eat. She found some leftover meat loaf in the cooler, and was cutting off a piece as Mal appeared from the direction of the bridge. "Hey! There you are. We were starting to worry you'd fallen overboard."
"Sorry, Captain. Hope you guys managed dinner without me."
"We had food," Mal mused. "Wouldn't necessarily call it dinner. How about Kaylee and Inara? You happen to know where they got off to?"
Years of lying to commanding officers about why Sam Carter spent so much time at her house had prepared her. Janet said, "Kaylee was feeling a little under the weather. Inara's taking care of her. In fact, I was just going to take them some soup."
"Aw, that's too bad. Let me know if there needs to be some inoculations 'fore we hit Dyton."
"You got it, Captain," Janet said. She filled a bowl with soup and carried it, along with her own plate of meat loaf, out of the kitchen. She hummed as she walked along the catwalk to Inara's shuttle, balancing the soup and plate with one hand as she punched in the code Inara had given her for the lock. She closed the door as soon as she got inside, hoping no one had heard the sounds from within when the door was open.
She pushed aside the curtain and smiled at the sight that greeted her. Inara's naked back, sheets bunched around her thighs and exposing her bare rear end. Her sweat caught the candlelight and made her glisten. Janet's eyes were drawn to the dark brown leather straps around her hips and she smiled. Lucky girl.
"Mal thinks you're sick, Kaylee," Janet said.
Kaylee's hands appeared on Inara's shoulders. "You should've heard... where she wanted to put this thing..."
Inara turned, her hair covering her eyes but revealing her smile. "I'll bet Janet would let me."
"Later," Janet promised, pursing her lips. She backed away, reluctant to go but knowing they needed time to themselves. "I'll be back later. Promise."
Inara panted and lowered herself over Kaylee. Kaylee's whimper grew into a low, plaintive wail and Janet had to escape before she dove back onto the mattress. This time was for them, and she would just be an intruder.
But later? That was a different story.
By the time they got to Dyton, Jayne was healed enough to leave the infirmary in a wheelchair. Janet was forced to strap him down, since he was bound and determined that he wouldn't "do no business sitting in a gorram chair." He was eventually convinced to behave at the threat of being left behind on the ship. Zoe and Mal left with him, and Wash remained behind in the cockpit in case they needed to make a quick escape. Janet wandered down to the cargo bay when the Mule headed out and looked at the world. Lots of dirt, a yellow sky, and mesa stretching across the horizon. It looked a lot like Arizona, but the breeze washing through the open hatch made her think it shared more similarities with the Sahara desert. Someone on the Mule, or maybe Wash, hit a button and the hatch door closed.
Janet looked up at the door of Inara's shuttle. She really wanted to go up, rejoin the festivities, but she didn't belong there. Not really. Inara and Kaylee were best for each other. Best to give them their privacy. They could always reunite for Janet's good-bye party. With a smile at that thought, Janet returned to her quarters and took a seat at the desk. She pulled out a piece of parchment, touched the tip of her brush to the ink, and hesitated. A black drop fell from the quill and left a teardrop-shaped stain at the top corner. How appropriate, she thought. She thought for a moment and began to write.
"Dearest Samantha, it's been a while since I wrote to you.
I've been spending my time aboard this amazing ship, with
these outstanding people. Meeting Kaylee and Inara, seeing
their love for each other... it made me ache for you. I miss
what we had, Sam. And what's keeping us apart? Rules? I swore
to you once, I was done following orders. I'm done running. If
it takes the rest of my life, if I have to struggle until my last
breath just to see you one more time before I die, then it will
be worth it. I'll find you, Sam. I'll be with you again
even if it takes everything I have."
They spent another month traveling between Dyton and Sihnon. Janet was allowed on the bridge and Wash explained to her the orbits of the planets that required them going the long way to Sihnon. "Besides, this way you're getting there during the start of winter, rather than the summer. Summer on Sihnon, whoo. That's not something you forget quick."
Janet continued to cook meals for the crew. Once the novelty wore off, Kaylee and Inara began making more regular appearances at gatherings. Inara helped Janet cook, and Janet spent time in the engine room while Kaylee gushed about what she and Inara were up to, all the while digging around in the guts of a massively complicated machine, seemingly without a second thought. "You remind me so much of someone I used to know," Janet said.
"Oh? That a good thing?"
"It's a great thing," Janet said. "She's brilliant. She could tear apart an engine she had just seen for the first time, and put it back together in an hour, and more often than not, it would work better than before."
Kaylee smiled. "A whole hour? What did she do with the other forty-five minutes?"
Janet laughed. "That's exactly what she would have said. Her name was Sam."
"Yeah? Well, I'd like to meet her someday."
"Maybe," Janet said. "Maybe you can."
Sihnon was a core planet, so there was more in the way of civilization, but it was so close to the sun that few people bothered to stay there. Janet packed her things and dressed in a pair of trousers and a sleeveless blouse. She, Inara and Kaylee had spent the last two nights saying their good-byes, and she was exhausted. But she had miles to go before she slept, as the saying went. She put her glasses on, took one last look at her quarters, and headed for the cargo bay.
Mal was loading the Mule for a run and straightened when he saw her coming. "Sure we can't convince you to stay? Your skills are obviously necessary. In the kitchen and in the infirmary."
Janet smiled. "I would, but... there's someone I need to see again." She lifted herself onto her toes and kissed Mal on the cheek. "Thank you, though."
Mal looked away, sniffed and ran his thumbs along the waistband of his trousers. "Yeah. Well. You know. Just bein' neighborly. Or captain-ly. Or... um..."
Janet laughed. "Do yourself a favor, though? Find a doctor who will stay. I can't bear the thought of someone on this ship getting hurt and no one being around to fix them."
"I'll do my best, ma'am."
Janet smiled and said, "Well, I should..."
"Hey, no reason you have to walk. Hop into the Mule. Zoe and I'll take you as far as the town center. Least we can do for all those meals you cooked us."
"I thought those meals were in exchange for passage aboard your ship."
"Yeah," Mal said. "But when we enjoy the passenger's company, we offer a refund. Sometimes. A small one."
Janet laughed and tossed her satchel into the backseat. "I'm poor enough to appreciate that. Thank you, Captain Reynolds."
"Chivalry's kind of my thing, miss." He doffed and imaginary cap, then turned and bellowed up the stairs. "Zoe! Stop sayin' good-bye to that hun dan husband of yours or we're leaving without ya!"
Janet climbed onto the Mule and sat on the back bench. She glanced up and saw Inara standing outside her shuttle, wrapped in a shawl. Her shoulders were bare, and Janet wondered if Kaylee was sleeping off another escapade. Janet smiled and lifted her hand. Inara smiled, lifted her hand as well, and wiped her cheek with the knuckles. Janet's heart twisted when she realized that Inara was crying.
Inara said, "Zigh jee–in, Janet."
Mal looked up. "I'm leavin', too. You gonna say good-bye to me?"
"Are you not coming back?" Inara snapped. She lifted an eyebrow, looked at Janet once more and went back into the shuttle.
"Sometimes I don't get her," Mal muttered. "Scratch that. Make it always..."
Zoe joined them a few minutes later and drove the Mule out of the ship. Janet remained silent, but turned in her seat to watch Serenity until the ATV turned a corner and the ship fell out of sight. Janet settled against the seat, wiped a hand over her cheek and began her plans. She had a long trip ahead of her, now that she knew where she was going.
The Alliance cruiser was reluctant to take her the entire way, but she was adamant. When they finally reached the point of no return, Janet was escorted to the shuttle bay by the commander. His beret was pulled low, almost to his eyebrows, and it gave him the appearance of a slightly intelligent ape in a uniform. He gestured at the ramshackle one-man shuttle Janet had brought on-board. "Ma'am, I cannot in good conscience let you go without a warning..."
"No hope of rescue, no assurance anything is out there but the unending blackness of space... I know. I'm well aware of the dangers."
"With all due respect, there are easier ways to commit suicide, ma'am."
Janet smiled. "You're forgetting something. I might succeed."
There was no emotion in the man's eyes. "Right. Well. I wish you luck, ma'am. May God help you. Because at this point, the Alliance is taking its leave. Very few ships have the energy reserves to make it out this far and still make it back home. If you insist on going forward..."
"I said I understood," Janet said. "I'm doing this. Thank you for your help."
He nodded, stepped to one side and Janet entered the cargo hold. She launched the shuttle, ejected from the Alliance ship and sneered at the ugly façade as she flew out of their wake. At least Serenity had some character. Beautiful little ship. This is an outer space skyscraper. The Alliance can have them.
She changed the angle of approach and aimed herself toward the cold darkness. She had spent months on Sihnon learning to fly a shuttle, figuring out their relative position in the universe. She knew how far she was from the Milky Way, and even from the Pegasus Galaxy. She took a deep breath and thought of Inara and Kaylee, back on the Firefly, finally aware of their feelings for each other. Janet exhaled and plotted a course. The shuttle's instruments shrieked in anger, but she silenced them with a bypass code.
A few seconds later, she was off the Alliance's sensors. The commander watched her go and muttered, "Here there be dragons."
"Nothing. Take us back to civilization."
"How long has she been here?"
"Days. Weeks. It's impossible to tell."
A hand touched the corpse's forehead. "She's cold. Is she dead?"
"No, Morgan." Oma kneels and presses her hand to the body's cheek. She had been cold for so long that she had even stopped shivering. "She is alive. But only just barely. Her ship has no more power, and she has run out of supplies. Even if the ship had more power, she would never make it to the closest inhabited system. The world where we left her is too far away, and there is nothing ahead of her but empty space for thousands of light years."
"We must help her."
"Please, Oma. After what her people have done for us, surely we can bend the rules."
"Once we begin bending rules..."
"Perhaps it is time we put the rules aside. What good has come from them? We have watched so much evil done, witnessed so many deaths that could have been prevented. The humans of Earth are worthy of our assistance... of our friendship. We must help her. It is because of us she was stranded. Is she to be punished now because her love was too great?"
"We should let this ship die. Let it sink in starlight..."
"There have been too many lost, Oma."
"Are you defying me, Morgan?"
A pause, but not weakness. No backing down. "Yes. If I must."
Another pause. "Very well. For you."
Morgan's hand touches Oma's cheek and they combine into a single point of light. The light builds, filling the small ship. On the floor where the women stood, the woman's eyelids flicker. She wakes to warmth, despite knowing the ship's power is all but depleted and she shut off the environmental controls hours - was it days? - ago.
She lifts herself up, but only has the strength to crawl. She reaches the seats and climbs up. She'll die sitting up, facing forward, not curled on the ground. She sighs and her breath plumes out in front of her. The view screen is fogged over, and she sweeps her hand over it to clear the condensation away.
She thinks the ship outside is a hallucination and closes her eyes against it. Tears are frozen on her face as the crew members transport in. She opens her eyes and looks at the hallucination. Major Lorne. She smiles at him. He speaks and puts his arms around her. "Easy," she says. "We're not each other's type."
"Yes, ma'am," Lorne says. There's a warm wash, a bright light, and then she's warm again. She's on a bed. She sleeps and wakes to see Dr. Keller standing over her. Sam's Jennifer. Janet smiles at her, wants to thank her for everything she did for Sam. But the words die in her throat. Janet closes her eyes and prays for her dream to come true. If I have to die, let me die with her in front of me. Let me see her once more.
More transporting. She goes to Earth, under the care of Carolyn Lam and Jennifer Keller. She is hooked to machines that will revitalize her. Her head clears and she remembers people speaking over her, ages ago. Ships that sank in starlight. She smiles at the poetry of that and closes her eyes.
When she wakes again, her head is clearer. Her body doesn't ache as much. She is healing. She looks across the room and sees a blonde woman speaking to Lam. Please, let it be. She says the sacred name and the blonde woman turns, crosses the room in three long strides. Hands on her temples, smoothing her hair. "Janet? Is it... are you...?"
"Sa-am," Janet says, her voice cracking in the middle. She reaches up, grasps Sam's hand and squeezes her thumb. "I can die now."
Sam smiles sadly. "Don't you dare. Don't you dare." She kisses the inside of Janet's wrist. "I read your notes. They were in your satchel. They were beautiful, Janet."
Janet closes her eyes. Sam is right; she's not dying. Not even close. She's getting better. She's at the SGC, against all odds, and Sam is with her again. They're both alive. She breathes slowly, forcing herself to accept the reality despite the fog in her brain. She closed her eyes and thought about a tiny cargo ship, unimaginably far away, where two other women had found each other. Maybe not across galaxies, but it was remarkable just the same.
Janet tightens her grip on Sam's hand. "I'm tired."
"Rest." Sam kisses her forehead. "I'll be here when you wake up."
Sam smiles and tears fall down her cheeks. "I promise. I'm not leaving your side, Janet."
Janet relaxes, sinks into the mattress. She feels Sam's head on her chest and puts her hand in Sam's hair. She turns her head and presses her cheek into the pillow as sleep finally claims her.
* Jun dun mah? - Is that true?
* zen muh yahng - How's everything?
* mei-mei - Little sister
* jie-jie - Older sister
* how chr - Delicious
* chou ma niao - stinking horse-urine
* jien huo - cheap floozy
* shuun–mwoh - What?
* tchu wahn - have fun
* luu wren - stranger, wayfarer
* zhen bao - treasure
* tchee chwahng - get up from bed
* huh choo-shung tza-jiao duh tzang-huo! - Filthy fornicators of livestock
* aiya - damn
* bun tyen-shung duh ee-dway-ro - Stupid inbred sacks of meat
* kuh eye - lovely
* Lao tyen yeh - Jesus
* Hao ma? - Okay?
* kuh ee mah - Is it alright?
* Run-tse duh fwotzoo - Merciful Buddha
* ni gàn ma - What are you doing?
* shr ah - yes
* ni shenti hao ma - Are you okay?
* Ni hen piao liang - You are very beautiful
* xie-xie - Thank you
* hun dan - bastard
* zigh jee–in - Good-bye
Author's Note: Thank you for reading! Please check out my website for information about my novels!