1. The Vernacular
“C’mon, Inara, say it,” Kaylee said, wheedlingly.
“Kaylee, this is ridiculous.” Inara laughed off her discomfort.
“If you’re comin’ out on this next job with us, you’re gonna hafta learn ta talk like normal folk.” Kaylee’s teasing smile was replaced by a stern look. “Now say it.”
“Inara Serra, you say it or you can’t come along!”
Inara took a long, deep breath in an effort to keep her patience. “Ain’t.” She made a face at the word that had for so long been forbidden from her vocabulary.
Kaylee squealed and clapped her hands. “That’s good! I’ll have ya droppin’ yer g’s in no time!”
With a pained smile, Inara submitted to her continuing language lesson.
2. Heed Advice
“You shouldn’t sit there, tonight,” Mal said.
Inara stiffened. “Why, what’s wrong?”
“Just think it’ll be best if you sit on the other side of the table is all.” Mal shrugged. “Have it your way.”
“I will, thank you,” Inara said, coldly. She and Mal had been snapping at each other all day, ever since she’d come back from her latest appointment with a retired Alliance colonel, well decorated from the war.
One by one, everyone filtered into the room and took a seat. Jayne dropped into the chair beside Inara with an air like he’d been sitting there or some time. Was this what Mal had tried to warn her of? She’d sat by Jayne a number of times, why would tonight be different from any other?
She found out soon enough.
Something had happened between Jayne and River. Something not good. The girl had taken the seat directly across from Jayne, ignoring the unwelcoming glare he gave her. Usually, he tended to ignore River, so that much attention was surprising, but the heat of it…
“How was everyone while I was away?” Inara asked.
Kaylee smiled slyly. “River met a fella on Persephone.”
“Oh, sweetie, did you?” Inara took in River’s beaming face and saw the truth there. River always seemed to be so lonely, she really deserved some company.
Excitedly, River started telling Inara all about Kenny. Judging by the looks on everyone’s faces, they’d heard it all before, but Inara was pleased to hear all about the twenty year old wonder pilot (“Not nearly as good as Wash of course,” River added with a glance at their own pilot who grinned at this addendum) who had stolen River’s heart.
Around the time River got to Kenny’s honey gold hair and pale green eyes, Inara became aware of a loud, grinding sound. She looked around in alarm and was about to ask Kaylee if she ought to go to the engine room to investigate when she realized the source of the noise.
It was Jayne grinding his teeth.
Inara tried to catch Mal’s eye but the insufferable man was smiling at River.
“How many freckles did you say he had?” Mal asked casually.
“Twenty-seven,” River replied, looking dreamy. “Fourteen on his nose, seven on his left cheek, four on his right, and two on his neck.”
Jayne was now stabbing at his protein in counterpart to his teeth grinding, getting food everywhere. Some landed on Inara’s arm and she wiped it off with her napkin without a word.
Wash quietly excused himself as Inara glared at Mal.
“Maybe we should hire him on as co-pilot?” Mal suggested innocently.
The grinding noise rose in intensity. Damn you, Malcolm Reynolds.
Wash popped back into the room. “Wave for you, River. It’s Kenny. Again. Might wanna tell him we eat at this- Whoa!” He stumbled back as River went barreling excitedly past him.
Jayne slammed his fist on the table, toppling Inara’s glass so water spilled into her food. “Gorramnit, why can’t we ever have a quiet dinner?!” He grabbed his plate and stormed out snarling, “I’ll be in my bunk!”
Dinner continued on in silence and everyone left in small groups until all who was left was Inara and Mal.
“Why couldn’t you just tell me that was going to happen?!” Inara snapped.
“Tried t’ warn ya.” Mal smiled, taking her plate full of half-finished, slimy food and setting it in the sink. “Besides, how else was I gonna get a cheap laugh?”
Inara tried to be angry but Mal’s twinkling eyes made it difficult. “Well,” she said, smiling ruefully, “I guess one is supposed to learn something new everyday and I’ve learned my lesson well: Never sit next to Jayne at supper.”
“It’s nice ‘o ya ta help me with this, Inara.”
“I’m just glad to be of help. Now, what am I supposed to do with this?”
“You connect it to the blue wire.”
“Omigosh, Inara are you all right?! What happened?”
“I- I connected this to the blue wire like you said.”
“You were still holdin’ on to that one? I meant for ya ta be holdin’ this one. Now connect it to-”
“The blue wire, yes.”
“Don’t be mad.”
“I’m not, I just- I should’ve been paying closer attention.”
“It’s okay, now you know. Always pay attention when you’re in here.”
More like pretend to be deaf next time you need a hand in here and everyone else is gone.
4. A Chance of Rayne
Kaylee wouldn’t hear of continuing work until Inara had checked in with Simon. She had only received a little shock but the mechanic had been adamant that Inara make sure she was all right. Her concern was touching.
On the way out of the ship, Inara heard voices from the infirmary. That was strange, Simon was supposed to be in town with the others, helping the locals. Was he back already?
“Reckon yer precious Kenny wouldn’ta cut his hand on a nail, huh?”
“No, he would’ve been watching what he was doing.”
“Oh, that’s right, he’s perfect in every single way.”
Inara peeked in the door and saw River washing out Jayne’s cut hand, her brow furrowed with both annoyance and concentration.
“I don’t need ya waitin’ on me; I can do this myself,” Jayne grumbled.
“Simon asked me to.”
“When did he start carin’ how I-”
“He hasn’t. But he knew that if he let you in here on your own, you’d rip the place apart trying to find what you needed.”
“That was just the one time!”
River giggled quietly and Jayne’s expression softened a little. She led him away from the sink and started patting his hand dry, reaching for a roll of bandages.
Inara watched all of this in interest. River was all professional courtesy but Jayne was watching her with something quite alien to his usual regard for the girl: Warmth. Almost tenderness.
“There. You’re finished.”
Jayne wiggled his eyebrows, holding his bandaged hand out. “Aintcha gonna kiss it better?”
River’s eyes narrowed. “That doesn’t actually do anything.”
Jayne shrugged, keeping his hand out. “You wanted this job done, ya better do it right. Now kiss it all better.”
Sighing, River took his big hand in her much smaller ones and pressed a gentle kiss into the palm. “There. I-” She stopped when she looked into his eyes.
Inara took a step back. This was so strange. She felt like maybe she should break up this moment they were having, but another part of her told her to leave. Something tenuous was forming in that little room and any interruption at this point could ruin everything.
Confused by Jayne’s sudden sweetness and River’s just as sudden reciprocation, Inara hurried away as quietly as possible.
5. Everyone Cries
“Do you, Simon, take this woman to have and to hold, to honor and cherish for as long as you both shall live?” Shepherd Book asked.
Simon smiled into Kaylee’s watery eyes. “I do.”
Inara held her handkerchief up to her own eyes and dabbed at the corners where tears leaked out. Kaylee had been looking forward to this for so long, seeing her finally in the moment radiating happiness from every pore was affecting her more than she’d anticipated.
Trying to get herself under control, Inara looked around at the other wedding guests. Kaylee’s family were all big smiles. Wash and Zoe were cuddled together near the front, no doubt re-living their own wedding day in their mind. Badger (who invited him, no one was sure, but it was strongly suspected he’d invited himself) was picking his teeth and leering at one of Kaylee’s prettier cousins. River, the maid of honor, was flushed with pleasure at gaining a sister in law and sending Jayne shy looks that he received with a wink or smile that just made the girl turn pinker.
She glanced at the best man, Mal, and was startled to see his eyes filling with tears. She glanced around at the other bridesmaids but their eyes were on Kaylee. Waving her hand slightly, she attracted Mal’s attention.
Are you all right? she mouthed.
Mal stood up a little straighter and nodded. His tough act was ruined a second later when he took one look at the couple and his chin started to wobble.
Inara pressed a hand to her mouth to hide her amusement. Who would’ve thought that a man of action like Mal could get choked up at a wedding?