Inara likes the idea of the sea better than the sea itself.  In youth, she used to like the sea just fine.  When she was a little child full of childish ways, her parents would take her on special outings there.  She would run and laugh along the waterline, splashing in and out with reckless glee, leaving the contraptions and the trappings of the Great City far behind for those few and precious days. 

When she matured, she grew better sense. The sun aged skin, the salt and wind ruined hair, the dampness spoiled the drape of expensive clothing, the sand was a nuisance--just plain messy--seeming cling to everything and linger for days. 

Still then she liked the image of the ocean rolling, vast, perpetual and tranquil under the skies of Shinon.   Who wouldn't?  It's expected.  Lazy days spent sunning on a sandy beach are an almost a universal icon of relaxation and peace left over from the Earth that was.  No other worlds could afford a sea like Shinon's.  It was one of its most extravagant crowning jewels.

Sometimes clients would take her out on private yachts to make love to the tempo of the waves.  She used to like those engagements, she thinks.  Other times she would have clients take her to the best rooms in the finest hotels; many of those overlooked the Sea.   From huge windows she would looking out over the water and watch the waves roll in and look down to see the children play as she once used to.  She'd think of how far she'd come--until her client would call for her again.

Inara never thought much about the sea until she left Shinon for worlds--or for the black of space--where they had none.  Sometimes at night as the drive of Serenity's engine shivers through her bed, in the twilight between sleep and wake, she feels the old roll of the Great Sea instead. 

It came to her slowly, like the addition of straw to a camel's back until it finally cracks: she missed the ocean, and not just the idea of it.  She can't even remember how it used to feel: the salt, the wind, the sand.

Given a chance she would run barefoot through those waves again.

"Whatcha doing?"  Kaylee asked.  She threw herself down on the bed.

"Looking at home," Inara said.   She turned the recording around for Kaylee's view.

"Is that the Great Sea?"

"Yes; part of it.  Near my parents' home."

Kaylee's world had water only underground, pumped up through machinery in a plain, utilitarian way.  Underneath the planet's crust, vast pools of clear pure water collected, going down to unplumbed depths.  There must be a special beauty to those underground caves of water, thought Inara, but hidden deep in the bowels of a dusty little nothing world, who would ever know?

"What's it like?" Kaylee asked.  She began to peel off her clothes.

"I couldn't say."  Inara switched off the record.

"You don't know?  You said it's your home.  You must have seen it for real."

"My parents' home, and yes, I have.  But I couldn't tell you much in words."  Inara slipped her hand beneath the rumpled  shirt and to the curve of Kaylee's breast.  Like always, her heart sped up as the desire became reality.    "The best kinds of beauty have to be experienced to know."

"I'd like to know."  Kaylee pulled Inara's sari down and pushed up the silk choli to free her breasts.  Gently, almost too gently, she began to suck.

Inara lay back against her cushions.  The roll of Serenity's engine thrummed steadily beneath the bed.  She opened her arms and pulled Kaylee to her, her moving mouth crushed firmly against her breasts.  As if by reflex, Inara's legs parted just a bit.  "I'll take you there someday," she said.


"Coming?" Mal held the door, not for her, just because she wasn't in.

"In a minute." Even Mal couldn't start a fight that fast. Well, he could, but without her to back him, he wouldn't.

"It's Unification Day." Mal sounded even more confused than usual.

"Will still be in a minute." Zoe stared him down.

Alone now—really alone—Zoe wandered out back where white lilies bloomed. Once upon a time she'd been taught they symbolized resurrection. She didn't believe that tzao gao, but she picked one anyway.

She didn't believe anything anymore, so it's not like it could hurt.