Kaylee's face turned white as Inara stood behind her and laced up the pretty little death trap. "'Nara," the mechanic gasped, trying to catch her breath. "How – does one – breathe in these – things?" Kaylee flattened her hands on her stomach, which was now so firm she was certain a bullet would bounce off it, and groaned.

"They take a bit of time to get used to, sweetie, but they give you great posture and –"

"I'm gonna faint 'fore I even make it down the stairs."

Inara chuckled delicately as Kaylee stared at her incredibly small waist in the mirror.

"How'm I supposed to eat anything in this?" Kaylee tried to take a deep breath but it hitched in her throat. "Simon's gonna think I'm sick or somethin'."

"You'll be fine, mei mei." Inara helped her into the deep green silk dress and then stepped back to survey her handiwork. "You're so beautiful. Simon won't know what say when he sees you."

Kaylee paled even further. "Oh, 'Nara. he don't need no help in not knowin' what to say."

"Oh, sweetie," Inara rubbed Kaylee's silk-clad shoulders. "This is the kind of speechlessness you want out of that man."

Kaylee smoothed the fancy emerald fabric. "This what they wear in the Core at them fancy parties?"

"This style of dress is considered to be very elegant, yes."

"Good thing Simon's a doc, I'm gonna need mouth to mouth by the end of the night." Kaylee tried to take another deep breath and failed. "An' I don't need to pretend to be dyin' no more to get him to give me that!"

Inara's eyes twinkled. "Well, you have something to look forward to at the end of the night then."

Kaylee tried to laugh but groaned as her stomach tried to expand and couldn't. "Ain't gonna be able to eat a thing." Kaylee pouted. "An' Simon's takin' me to a nice fancy restaurant too."

"Well, why don't you have him walk you around the Promenade. It's very beautiful this time of night." The warrants for the Tam's had been rescinded after Miranda, and though they were still being somewhat cautious, this world was not teeming heavily with Alliance presence.

Kaylee's eyes lit with hope. If they walked out in the dark, he wouldn't be able to see how miserable she was in this fancy dress. But she wanted to look pretty for him, so the discomfort was worth it. "Ain't never seen you so –" She wiggled trying to make the restricting garment more comfortable.

Inara smiled kindly. "Oh, I wasn't always comfortable wearing one."

A bit of hope lit Kaylee's eyes. "Really?"

"In fact, I fainted the first time." Inara smiled at her friend's astonished expression. "We learn appropriate dress at a young age but when they fitted me, and then spent all day learning the intricacies of table settings, I fainted."

"Before or after dinner?" Kaylee asked, still obviously worried she'd ruin the special dinner Simon had planned.

Inara laughed and reached out to hold the nervous girls hand. "You'll be fine."

Kaylee looked down at her feet, and when she returned her gaze to Inara's face, she said sadly, "It wrong of me to want ta skip dinner and go right to the fun stuff?"

Inara raised an eyebrow. "Well, you could tell Simon –"

A dreamy look passed across Kaylee's face and Inara immediately knew that the younger girl's thoughts had turned steamy. "He's real good at gettin' my clothes off." Her hands swept over her waist and hips. "He probably knows how to get this off too."

"It's a good bet he does," Inara winked. "And if he doesn't, well, I'm sure he wouldn't mind a little instruction."

Kaylee laughed at that. "Oh, he ain't never needed help in that area."

But then she looked at herself in the mirror and tried once more to make herself comfortable. "It don't look like me."

"Doesn't expect you to change for him." River walked into the shuttle and both women turned to their full attention on the girl.

"I know, River, "Kaylee smiled a bit sadly. "I just – want 'im to –"

"Already thinks you're pretty," River assured her with a smile. "Doesn't matter what you're wearing." River leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. "He prefers it when you wear nothing."

Kaylee giggled and Inara hid a laugh behind a delicate hand. "Don't most men?" Inara said to no one in particular.

"He's nervous too," River confided with a smile. "Always nervous now that he's going to do or say something to make you leave him."

Kaylee hadn't heard this before and turned her complete attention on River. "He is?"

River nodded while Inara simply stepped back and let the two women discuss the most important man in their lives.

"He don't need to be. I know he ain't so good with the words." Kaylee smiled sheepishly and glanced back at Inara. "He's better with the other stuff."

River just smiled in that knowing way and her eyes slowly slid to the side to indicate someone was coming. Quickly, knowing she didn't have much time, River reached for Kaylee's hands. "He clings to a world that he doesn't fit into anymore. Needs to be reminded his world has changed – for the better." With that, she moved to the door and out of the way as Simon knocked politely on the outside of the hull.

When Inara called for him to enter, the nervous man stepped in, dressed in his finest suit.

Simon hid his shock well, but the astonishment in his eyes was difficult to mask. When River gave him a little push against his shoulder, he stepped forward and offered Kaylee his hand.

"You're –" his eyes swept down the length of the silk gown and then back to her face. "Wow."

Inara's eyes met River's as the younger girl rolled her eyes and scowled at her brother's back.

Kaylee sheepishly brushed her hands down the front of her dress. "Yeah, it don't look like me."

"You – "Simon shook his head sharply to clear it. "Shall we go?"

Kaylee glanced over at Inara, her panic in her eyes.

"Have fun, mei mei," Inara shooed them out of her shuttle and casually settled onto the couch once they had gone and poured herself some tea. Without looking up, she asked, "Well? "

"He knows how to remove a corset." River said with a confidence she wasn't sure she really wanted to have.

Inara raised an amused eyebrow as River joined her on the couch.

"And how long do you think –"

"They won't even make it to dinner."


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