The Trouble With Companions
Inara loved visiting Persephone on weekends, when the markets were buzzing with people and the air was fraught with bells tinklings, hawkers yelling, and shoppers haggling. It was a roughshod world that she did not belong to, but she liked it. It was a different pace than the one she was usually trotting along at. One could always find treasure among the usual trash that was for sale, and Inara was currently perusing some silk that was for sale. The seller was a grizzled old man with wiry white hair, but his taste in silk was impeccable, and Inara needed cloth for a new dress.
Someone stumbled into Inara and she almost dropped the swatch of fabric she was holding. In such a bustling market it wasn't unusual to literally run into people, but Inara automatically looked up to see who had bumped into her. She found herself face-to-face with a young, pretty redheaded woman.
"Oh! I'm so sorry!" The woman spoke with an unusual accent that took a while for Inara to place. It was a Scottish brogue, which was an accent that not many people possessed nowadays. Inara gave the girl a small smile.
"It's quite alright," she responded smoothly. The girl clearly hadn't meant any harm, and Inara was well practiced in behaving graciously in front of others. The redhead looked at her with large brown eyes, then turned to gaze at the rich fabrics being sold at the stall that Inara was standing at. It was then that Inara noticed a young man was accompanying the girl; he was scrawny and big-nosed, cute in an awkward way, with dark blonde hair and wide innocent eyes. He saw her looking at him and raised his hand in a nervous wave.
"Ooh, I like this one! Rory, I want it for my wedding dress!" The redhead was holding a square of smooth white silk, which she waved in front of the scrawny boy's face. The boy, Rory, rolled his eyes.
"You already have a wedding dress back home, remember?" He spoke with a British accent and managed to sound both annoyed and amused.
The redhead pouted and Inara couldn't help but chuckle. The redhead blushed. "When are you getting married?" Inara asked politely, partly to cover her slip and partly because she was genuinely interested.
Rory said "Tomorrow morning" at the same time the redhead said "We're not sure." Inara raised her eyebrows, and the couple exchanged surprised looks. Rory shifted on his feet then added "But we're not exactly sure. Could change, lots of traveling and stuff…" He trailed off and scuffed his shoes in the dirt. Awkward silence prevailed.
The redhead turned back to Inara. "Are you married?" she asked, tilting her head curiously. Inara almost laughed again. "No. I'm a Companion." To Rory, who still looked embarassed, she lightly added "I travel a lot as well."
"Ooh, we're companions too! We're with him!" The girl, beaming, pointed at a man a few stalls down. He was slim and well dressed, with fluffy brown hair, but she couldn't see the rest of his features, as his back was turned to them and he was vehemently arguing with a the stall owner about something.
Inara stared. The couple didn't look like Companions but perhaps they were a lower class than she? And she hadn't heard of any Companions marrying each other, but she supposed there was a first time for everything. Also, the man at the other stall had bought two Companions? A male and a female? He looked fairly wealthy but perhaps he was unattractive and had a hard time finding someone to spend time with. Not all Companion appointments included bedroom activity…but even if the couple was doing such things with the man, it really wasn't her business.
The smile had slipped from the girl's face. "Are you okay?" She seemed concerned, and Inara quickly realized she had responded inappropriately to the girl's comment.
"Oh, yes. I was simply surprised. There are very few male Companions."
"Um…" The girl seemed unsure of how to respond to this, and Rory furrowed his brow.
Something, Inara decided, was wrong with this conversation.
Before any more could be said, a cheerful voice called "Rory! Amy!" and the well-dressed, brown-haired man appeared. He slung an arm around each of them and smiled winningly at Inara.
Well, she thought. He's definitely not unattractive. His grin was charmingly crooked, he had high cheekbones and big green eyes, and there was an air of boyish excitement about him.
"Oh, hello!" He also spoke with a British accent, but his voice was confident and merry while Rory's had been stumbling and quiet. Inara's Companion training automatically kicked in and she extended a hand daintily to him.
"Hello. I'm Inara. It's a pleasure to meet you."
The man freed his arms from his two Companions and gave a little bow before kissing the back of Inara's hand. "The pleasure is mine," he responded brightly.
"Doctor," muttered Amy. "Is there something weird about Rory being your companion?"
"What?" The man (apparently a doctor, which explained his nice clothes) looked confused. He looked unsurely at Inara then at Amy, realization dawning on his face. He glanced at Inara again, then stared over at Rory. At that point he burst out laughing so enthusiastically that he he had to lean against the stall for support. He was holding his hands over his stomach and at one point he actually slapped his knee. Inara felt a shocked expression stealing over her face and she covered her mouth with her hand when she realized the error she had made.
The brown-haired man's laughter was dying down. "Oh, that's priceless," he said, wiping at his eyes. "You thought they were my Companions." He glanced over at Rory and snorted.
"What?" asked Amy.
"Yeah, what's so funny about me?" queried Rory, frowning.
"Oh, nothing, nothing. I'll explain later." The man waved his hand dismissively.
Inara cleared her throat delicately. "I'm very sorry. It was my mistake." She felt heat spread across her face and she focused her attention on the man while actively avoiding looking at the young couple.
"Don't worry about it," said the man, still grinning. "That was great." He straightened his bow-tie and added "But we really must be off. It was lovely talking with you. Come along, Ponds." The couple, still looking bemused, followed him away, though not before they sent one more inquisitive look in Inara's direction.
"You gon' buy that?" A scratchy voice broke through Inara's embarassment and she looked up and saw the stall keeper eyeing the silk square she was clutching to her chest.
"Oh, yes." She put the cloth on the counter, smoothing out the wrinkles her clenched hands had caused, and ordered several yards of the turquoise silk. The seller wrapped the silk in paper and handed her the packages, and as she navigated through the dusty streets Kaylee appeared next to her. As they walked Inara linked arms with the mechanic.
"You will not believe what just happened…"
A/N: In case you're confused, in the Firefly 'verse a Companion is like a courtesan, a person basically trained in genteel entertainment and in being pretty. And often part of the entertainment is sexual activity with the customer. One of the men in Firefly routinely calls Inara a "whore", which is pretty darn accurate. Rory and Amy are obviously not Companions, they are simply traveling companions of the Doctor's.