Prompt: "Firefly, Inara, the Guildhouse is solid and unmoving (and nothing close to Serenity)," for havenward.

Nothing Like Serenity

Inara left the Guildhouse to be free, to feel the wind on her back, and do her work when and how she pleased. To escape the stifling containment of the sheer satin draperies and the glistening oiled bodies and the polite "good afternoon" that would always echo down the corridor. The incense and the beauty and the not moving were killing her. So she left.

The world outside of the Guildhouse was everything Inara had hoped it would be. It was dirty, grimy, terrifying. The streets smelled like roasted dog and bell peppers and rot, and while she kept her clientele rich and clean, she surrounded herself with people who were not.

But the months dragged on, and that was over. The mystique of chaos and liberty was gone, disappeared into nightmares of Reavers and of Mal laying with his chest split open and little Kaylee crying blood. Everything claustrophobic about the Guildhouse once again seemed nurturing, soft, and careful, a beacon of civilization rather than oppression. Inara needed soft and careful, needed the polite "good afternoon" to hum through the corridors and for the rich smell of expensive incense (that probably cost more than her monthly rent aboard Serenity) to waft through the open doors of the Guildhouse.

Inara ran her hand over the table she sat at, a long table set alight by a half dozen candles lofted on gold trees. It was gaudy, nothing like Serenity. To her left were three foreign dignitaries, and to her right, a king and his consort, and she wrapped herself in their presence as much as her silk gown.

The wood of the table was polished smooth and velvety, crafted by artisans over months and made of rare wood. It was nothing like the table that was bolted to the floor in Serenity's kitchen. That table was scarred from years of abuse, knives, bullet holes, and crash landings, just as likely to have tea stains as blood stains.

The teacup in her palm was also different, so different it hurt. Fine porcelain, so thin that if she held it up to the light, it would shine through as if it were nothing more than an eggshell. One of five-dozen identical teacups the Guildhouse had stored in fine cabinets. There weren't two matched cups aboard Serenity. Crashes, angry throws, exuberant dances, and the simple fact that between them, the crew of Serenity had less money than she made in a single meeting with a client.

The dignitary to her left made a witty comment, and a laugh bubbled out of her, sweet and delighted, beautiful and sensual. This was what she had been trained to do, and what she had come back for.

The predictability. The stagnation that lead to simplicity, the simplicity that lead to truth.

In the blink of an eye, Inara saw the future of the evening laid out in front of her. The dignitary would flirt and she would flirt back. His polished leather shoe would brush up against her silk gown, and she would place her painted hand over his well-manicured one, mixing the smell of her pear perfume with his musk cologne. If he seemed a reputable sort, she would take him to bed later, and treat him to the night he had been dreaming of. And then she would leave a rose next to his head and flutter down to the hot springs and drink tea while Sara gave her a back massage.

This place was perfection, luxury, and coming back to it had saved her (from herself, from Mal, from Reavers, from… love) but it was nothing like Serenity.

The dignitary brushed his leather shoe against her leg and sent her a coy smile.

Inara hesitated a moment. Kaylee would have snorted out a giggle and wrapped him in a sloppy hug. The light from the candles, yellow and decadent, bounced off the dignitary's young face and he looked even younger than Simon.

She placed her painted hand over his well-manicured one and their perfumes mixed.