Inara can sense someone is in her cabin, but it makes little sense to her. Mal isn't on the ship, that's the problem, he and Wash have been taken. She tips into her private room and sees Zoë at the table, cleaning her gun.
“Zoë,” she breathes, heart breaking at the sight. Stoic and cold, that is how Zoë chooses to be seen. It is not the only way to see her, Inara knows that better than most. Her hands do not shake on her weapon, but Inara can see how rigidly she holds her shoulders.
It took time for them to become close. Zoë had not wanted to seem unfaithful to her husband or disloyal to the captain, so she had kept her distance. And Inara had been distant too, and patient. She was accustomed to people deriding her for her profession, especially when they were interested in her sexually.
And Zoë certainly had been. Had never acted on it, did her best to stay professionally removed, but Inara saw the glances. Liked the way Zoë embodied cool and in control, but seemed to surround herself with men in chaos – Wash, Mal, even Jayne.
But now? Now, Inara can safely pad forward to Zoë, rub her shoulders softly then more firmly, until Zoë starts to relax in her hands. She will not relax fully, not until her husband returns. But this tension will not serve her well, and Inara can help her with that.
She moves to Zoë's side and kisses her gently. Zoë melts, and Inara deepens the kiss, pulls her in close until Zoë sets aside her polish. Her lover will not take her face in those oil-covered hands, but Inara feels cherished all the same.
They can reassure each other until their men return.