Summary: Kaylee and Inara keep count.
The first time, they were drunk.
Kaylee had stolen some of Jayne's moonshine and showed up at Inara's shuttle, grinning mischievously.
The stuff was potent and they cringed as the foul smelling liquid burnt their throats. Soon they were falling over each other on the floor, laughing madly, and then they were kissing, wet, sloppy, drunk kisses. Kisses led to touches, clothes were shoved out of the way, removing them requiring more coordination than either of them possessed.
The next morning Inara awoke to the feeling of nausea and Kaylee wrapped around her. She panicked; her training had never prepared her for a morning after quite like this. But then Kaylee woke up, gave her a look somewhere between a cringe and a smile and kissed her softly, whispering that she knew a great hangover cure.
That was the second time.
The third time happened a few days later. They were talking about Inara's clients, when Kaylee admitted to being curious about the ceremony of the whole thing. Inara smiled in surprise, and then offered to show her. She hadn't intended for them to go past the beginning rituals, but Kaylee lasted only ten minutes before she was pushing Inara down on the couch.
She laughed as she complained about it taking too damn long, and lapped the cooling tea off Inara's skin.
The fourth time was for Inara. She'd had a client with a particular taste for being rough. She knew, he was up front about what he wanted, but he was also willing to pay generously for it. She needed the money. They needed the money, so she agreed.
She sought out Kaylee in her bunk; needing to be around sweetness and softness. Kaylee was her usually bubbly self until she noticed Inara's despondence, then her brow creased with worry and she wrapped an arm around the Companions shoulders.
Inara kissed her because she was soft and smelt like strawberries and grease and if she didn't do something she would start crying. Kaylee kissed her back, worked her hand between Inara's legs, and then jumped away when Inara flinched.
Inara couldn't handle her concern, not now, so she pulled the younger woman to her again, whispering that it was fine, as long as they were gentle, please, please don't stop.
Kaylee was gentle, and sweet and soft and smelt like strawberries and grease, and after Inara came she sobbed in Kaylee's arms as Kaylee murmured words of comfort.
The fifth time was the very next day. Inara found Kaylee in the engine room, pushed the mechanic against the engine casing, and kissed her senseless.
It was a thank you, she mumbled between kisses, for being so wonderful.
Kaylee was more than a little overwhelmed, but she wrapped her legs around Inara's waist as the other woman pressed her against the engine, her hips rocking in a steady rhythm. She felt Inara at her front and Serenity humming steadily against her back and it crossed her mind that this may have been the best thing ever.
The sixth time, they ate dinner with the rest of the crew, retired to Inara's shuttle, chatted for a while, went to bed together, made love, then drifted off to sleep wrapped up in each others arms. Inara jerked awake in the middle of the night, and instinctively put on her professional mask, preparing to apologise to her client for disturbing them, when she realised it was Kaylee curled up beside her.
Kaylee, there because she wanted Inara, not a Companion, lying on sheets that countless others had lain on before. Inara wanted to move her, burn the sheets and buy new ones. Ones that Kaylee wouldn't have to share with faded memories and faces that blurred together.
Inara knew she was in trouble.
When Kaylee awoke the next morning Inara was already up and dressed, wearing her finest robes and an empty smile. Voice light, she told Kaylee she needed to get going, she'd booked a last minute client.
If Kaylee was surprised she didn't show it, dressing quickly and leaving with a shy grin and quick peck on the lips.
It wasn't until Inara was piloting her shuttle to a client that didn't exist that she realised that Kaylee hadn't asked the excited questions she usually did. Inara looked for somewhere she could set down for a few hours and tried not to think about how that made her feel.
The seventh time was half an hour after she left. She had turned the shuttle around, re-docked and marched determinedly to Kaylee's bunk. Which was empty.
Slightly deflated she made her way to the engine room, and found the mechanic lying in the hammock, a soft song playing from somewhere, as Kaylee hummed along. Inara climbed into the hammock, which was apparently impossible to do in any dignified manner. Kaylee watched her, surprise evident, as Inara finally managed to arrange herself. She laid her head over Kaylee's heart and she spoke.
She spoke of the Guild's rules, of her own rules, of clients, of jealousy and awkwardness, of their friendship and of the infinite ways it could go wrong.
Kaylee smiled, and spoke of breaking rules, of the difference between work and love, of trust and passion, and of the infinite ways it could go right.
Then they kissed, and grasped at each other, the hammock rocking with their bodies, making them giggle and fumble. They whispered "I love you" again and again.
And they stopped counting.