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Radiant Heat

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For once, there was no rush to get to or get away from anywhere. The crooked harbormaster who used to rule the New Ganges spaceport with an iron fist, delaying the landings and departures of any ship even suspected of having Brown Coat sympathies, had finally crossed the wrong person since Serenity's last visit and had vanished under suspicious but not surprising circumstances. His replacement appeared to value efficiency over old grudges and let them get on and off planet in record time, which in turn allowed them to arrive at Freemont, their next destination, with an unexpected week to kill before they were due to pick up their cargo. This job was legal through and through and promised to pay better than usual to boot, so Mal was loath to jeopardize an easy score by trying to wrangle a little extra work on the side to pass the time.

Freemont, sparsely inhabited rock that it was, didn't have anything resembling a spaceport, and Freemont-town proper was a no-fly zone thanks to the fancy designer birds they bred there being too high strung to deal with the noise of low flying ships until they were full adults, so Serenity set down in a pre-designated patch of scrubland about forty klicks outside of town and her crew set about figuring out how to pass the time until their cargo was fully fledged and declared fit to be sent off to be ridiculously expensive pets for the crème-de-la-crème of the core worlds. Mal and Jayne headed into town on the mule, hoping to find whatever kind of a good time an isolated town built around squawking feather dusters had to offer. River had insisted on going with them so she could meet the birds, so of course Simon had gone too. Zoe and Wash had disappeared off into their quarters to enjoy some quality married couple alone time of the sort they only got to see once in a blue moon. Shepherd Book had made himself equally scarce, though he was most likely taking the opportunity to tend to matters of the spirit rather than pleasures of the flesh. And that left Inara and Kaylee with most of the ship to themselves.

Inara knew that even a place such as Freemont should have at least a few residents who had both interest in her skills as a companion and enough money to pay for them, but she had been working steadily at their last four ports of call and constantly butting heads with Mal in between, and she could barely remember when she was last able to take time to relax on her own. All work and no play made anyone a dull boy or girl, even trained companions, so instead of getting on the local comms and looking for work, Inara decided to take this unexpected downtime as a vacation. She would pamper herself. She would pamper Kaylee too, if the opportunity arose, because making Kaylee smile never counted as work.

An idea began to form, and Inara wandered into the ship's galley to check if they had all the necessary supplies. Inara did not cook often. Her contract with Mal exempted her from taking part in the rotating duty roster which included cooking crew meals, but that was not to say that she could not cook. As the old saying went, the fastest way to a man or woman's heart was through the stomach, and certain clients needed her to cook old favorite dished just like their mother used to even more than they needed her warm their bed. She flipped through all the various small storage lockers in the galley, taking inventory of their contents. Yes, everything seemed to be in order. All she needed to do was gather a few special ingredients from her own private stores in her shuttle, find Kaylee, and she could begin.

Inara found Kaylee in the engine room. The mechanic was tinkering with something wedged out of sight back between two larger structures mounted against the wall, but this was one area where Inara lacked the expertise to make anything resembling as informed guess as to what that something might be. Enjoying the view, Inara watched Kaylee work for a few minutes then knocked gently against the doorframe once it looked like she had reached a point where an interruption would not risk disrupting anything delicate.

"Inara!" Kaylee exclaimed, a grin lighting up her face when she saw who was at the door. "What brings you back here?"

"Just a little bit of loneliness," Inara said. "I was thinking of putting a snack together in the galley and was wondering if you wanted to join me, but it can wait if you're too busy."

"Nah, I ain't busy at all," Kaylee said, beginning to put her tools away. "I finished all the necessary maintenance over an hour ago. Right now I'm just seeing if I can repurpose those old busted cryo-coils into something fun. They can't stand the stress of proper engine use anymore, but they should work fine in a small scale distillation system. I want to try making vodka, thought it might be a better fit for the old fermentation system than the wine's been."

"Because it wouldn't need cask aging?" Inara said, trying not to sound too hopeful, because as much as she appreciated Kaylee's effort and enthusiasm when it came to amateur alcohol production, the results so far had been better than not having any alcohol at all but weren't easy on the palate of anyone with the slightest idea of what wine was supposed to taste like. Kaylee herself had vocally lamented these failings but lacked the space necessary to remedy the situation. Besides, any attempt at fine wine produced on a cargo vessel like Serenity would be doomed to a perpetual state of bottle-shock from the all the shaking and shifts in gravity as they went in and out of atmo on all the various planets and moons they visited.

"Exactly," Kaylee said. She wiped her hands off on a rag. "So, what did you have in mind?"

"I was thinking matcha cake with red bean filling and some camaraderie to go with it," Inara said, paused for a moment, then took the plunge, "maybe even a little free companionship if you were interested?" Out of respect for Kaylee's obvious love for Simon, Inara had held off on making her move on the beguiling mechanic, but Kaylee had recently let slip that she and Simon worked better as friends with benefits than as a committed romantic relationship (she had explained it in terms of custom high-performance engine parts that were great for that extra kick of unbelievable speed when you really needed it but would shake the whole ship apart if you tried to leave them connected and running on a long term basis, or at least that was what Inara thought Kaylee had been trying to say. It had all been extremely technical and delivered in a rush without any pauses for breath, but the sentiment was clear even if the specifics were somewhat muddled.), so there did not seem to be any reason left to keep Inara from at least expressing her interest. If Kaylee said no, then they could just pretend that this conversation never happened. If Kaylee said yes, then all sorts of futures became possible.

"I-I-," Kaylee stammered, blushing now, "you mean...?" At Inara's nod of encouragement, Kaylee's grin returned, even wider than before. "Shiny! I mean, yes, please! I mean, uh, just let me go get cleaned up!" She threw the rag into her toolbox, gave Inara a quick but enthusiastic kiss on the cheek while carefully not letting her hands or overalls touch Inara's skin or dress, and then ran off to her quarters.

A few minutes later found Inara pouring adzuki beans into boiling water while Kaylee, now freshly washed and wearing clean clothes, watched from a seat at the table. Inara stirred the pot, shifting her weight and canting her hip at just the right angle to give Kaylee the best view. Anything, even stirring a pot of beans, could be turned into a dance of seduction if you knew how to do it well enough, and thanks to Inara's companion training, she knew how to do it perfectly. "Would you like to help?" Inara said, glancing over her shoulder, and yes, there was already a blush beginning to rise on Kaylee's cheeks.

"If you aren't worried about me messing it up," Kaylee said. "I've never tried making a cake before."

"There's not much to risk messing up, and I'll be with you every step of the way," Inara said, stepping aside and offering her the spoon.

Kaylee rose from her seat, took the spoon, and went to stand in front of the burner. Inara moved in behind, wrapping her arms around and placing her hands over Kaylee forearms to guide them in the slow, even rhythm of the stirring. Inara leaned even closer yet and brushed the most delicate of kisses against Kaylee's ear, eliciting a contented sigh from the mechanic. Kaylee leaned back, practically melting against Inara, and rolled her shoulders in just the right way to make her back muscles do some very interesting ripples against Inara's breasts. It was a clear invitation to hurry things to the next level, but both cooking and foreplay were best when they were not rushed, so Inara resolutely left her hands where they were and continued guiding Kaylee's stirring motions, all while very slowly and deliberately trailing a line of feather-light kisses all around the shell of Kaylee's ear, down to the spot right behind her jaw, then lower still, then across the back of her neck, then following the reverse path up the other side, as sure and steady as the tick of a clock, or in this case, a kitchen timer. By the time Inara finished five minutes later, it was time to change the water in the beans, Kaylee was positively squirming, and the skin of both women was flushed with heat that had little or nothing to do with the stove they were standing over.

Inara continued her attention both to Kaylee's pleasure and to stirring the pot, and at the same time Kaylee experimented with exactly what sorts of movements she could use to brush, press, or grind their bodies together in new ways and thus coax various reactions out of Inara without interrupting the stirring. Inara was almost loath to interrupt it all to complete the final steps of cooking the bean paste, but it couldn't be left on the heat forever, however much fun that might be under these circumstances. Fortunately, she had foreseen such a possibility and had left the masher and premeasured sugar within easy reach while doing her preparations. A dance of hands followed. As soon as the beans were sweetened, mashed, smeared on fingertips to be flirtatiously offered for tasting and approval, and finally set aside to fully cool, Kaylee, clearly still eager to speed things along, took Inara by the hips, twirled her around, and backed her against the far rack of storage cubbies with an ever deepening kiss, which Inara returned with vigor.

"Not quite yet," Inara whispered once they temporarily released each other's mouths long enough to allow speech once more. "We're almost there, though. We just need to start the oven heating, beat the cake ingredients together, and then we can have the whole baking time to work up our appetites."

"Mmmmmm," Kaylee hummed happily, pressing her face into Inara's hair while her hands wandered lower. Then her hands stilled. She pulled back and looked at Inara with confusion. "Wait, what oven?" she said. "You never mentioned needing an oven."

"The oven for baking the cake," Inara said. She reached out to point at the appliance in question, only to realize that she didn't know where it was.

"We have the cooktop, the microwave, and a steamer, but Serenity never had an oven. It was left out of the basic ship design to cut down on mass and offered as an aftermarket extra Mal never felt the need to get."

"I--" Inara began to say then snapped her jaw shut as she realized exactly what happened. She had looked at cooking utensils, pans, and ingredients. The actual existence of an oven had been the one thing she had not thought to check during her preparations. Shaking with laughter, Inara lowered her head onto Kaylee's shoulder. "I should have known there was something I was forgetting. So much for there being not much risk of messing up making a cake," she muttered between giggles. "I guess we'll have to do pancakes instead. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but at least they're traditional for pairing with red bean paste."

"No," Kaylee said. "I mean, we could if you really wanted to, but if you don't really want to then definitely no! You wanted cake, and after all this I want cake too, so we're going to make a cake! I'll just have to make an oven first."

"Make an oven?" Inara had seen plenty of variations on the theme of outdoor brick ovens, beehive shaped and otherwise, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to go to that kind of time or effort for the sake of dessert. As much as she wanted cake, especially cake made and eaten alone with Kaylee right here and right now, maybe it would be better to wait until they were planetside somewhere they could rent or buy what they needed. However, Kaylee seemed to be having other ideas on the matter.

"Yeah, why not make an oven? It shouldn't be too difficult," Kaylee said thoughtfully. "An oven's just a box that gets hot inside, right?" She got a faraway look in her eyes and a smile of anticipation teased at the corner of her mouth as she began engineering the project in her mind. "There's plenty of replacement shielding panels on hand to use for the outer structure and insulation, and I can scavenge heating elements from the old thruster de-icing unit we never threw away after the upgrade, and hook a thermocouple to the ship's computer system to control the whole thing. Add some hinges and a handle to the door, maybe a coat of paint later if we're feeling fancy, and once it's finished we can bake cake whenever we want!" She hugged Inara tight to her chest and jumped up and down with excitement. However, she quickly sobered. "That is," Kaylee added uncertainly, "if you don't mind waiting a little while for me to put it all together."

"I don't mind at all," Inara said, smiling with anticipation. "Take as long as you need. In fact," she added with a wink, "I quite enjoy watching you work." She reached down and gave Kaylee's rear a gentle squeeze to indicate one of her favorite parts to look at while Kaylee was bent over working on a project. "Maybe I could even help a little, if you want me to and aren't too worried about me messing it up?"

Kaylee's answering grin was, as always, radiant. "Shiny," she said.

It wasn't exactly the evening which Inara had thought she had planned out so perfectly, but now that they were into it, she wouldn't want to change it. The cake, when they were finally able to bake it, tasted all the better after their extra efforts, as did all the other activities they indulged together along the way.

The End