Not mine, nope.

The ship is silent, everyone else tucked away, Inara trying to finish packing, when Kaylee knocks at the door hesitantly (Inara knows it's her by the three short raps, her signature pattern, and the fact that she bothers to knock at all). Inara's quick to go let her in, pulling her robe tighter around her waist.

"Wănshàng hăo, mèimei," she murmurs, trying for a smile. Those have been hard to come by since – really since her decision, harder since her announcement. It's felt too different, too pretend even for her.

The shuttle is different, undoubtedly, on the eve of her departure, most of what's different is secret but that can be seen just by looking around; her things are mostly folded and boxed, her part-open trunks are spilling silks.

"Sorry t'bother you so late," Kaylee whispers by way of explanation, eyes downcast. "I can't sleep."

She hasn't been doing much of that lately, not that she's talked about it with anyone; in their ways, they've all been busy, dealing with their own difficulties and efforts and things, and in her way, she hasn't wanted to bother anyone. But they've all noticed, and they've all worried, if privately.

"It's not a bother," Inara assures her, taking her hand and pulling her inside. "I don't mind the company."

There's a stick of incense smoking in the holder, throwing a jasmine scent all around the shuttle, and Kaylee shuts her eyes and just breathes it in a moment. Most of the trappings may be stored, but at least this place still smells like it belongs to Inara. She's hesitant, but she goes to sit on the little red sofa, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs.

"S'all empty in here," she says absently.

"It is," Inara agrees with a sigh. "I'll admit it's a bit unnerving –"

But the sentence doesn't quite end, like she's thinking of a way to finish it and doesn't quite get there, and silence falls between them.

Usually, their silences are easy: contemplative, perhaps, or even basking, warm and pleasant and calming. With all of the fabrics pulled down from the walls and stored away, the shuttle is echoing coolly, hollowly, and somehow it makes the quiet feel wrong. Neither of the women can quite explain it, or anyway they won't out loud.

They trust each other, they do, but they don't trust themselves.

"Have you spoken with Simon much lately?" Inara asks, mostly to break the stillness that's taken over.

"Not really," Kaylee mutters, resting her chin against her knees. "Not since –" A pause, one meaning it's her turn to almost-continue and then stop, and she takes in a breath. "Since a while."

"That's – well, I'm sure that will be fixed soon," Inara frowns sympathetically. She knows the ups and downs and the cyclical nature of her friend's attempted relationship inside and out. She understands it, in some ways better than either Kaylee or Simon do. "It always is."

"Usually, anyhow," Kaylee says, mumbling almost. She stops herself before she goes on that train of thought any more, shaking her head faintly. Instead, she lightens her voice, fixes on a smile, and asks, "You lookin' forward to seein' all your old friends?"

Inara turns away, fussing with her table of trinkets so Kaylee doesn't see her chewing her lip. "A lot of them aren't at the house anymore," she says, trying for equal lightness. "It will mostly be the younger women and men, those who are still coming up."

"Well, at least the place'll be familiar," Kaylee says, feeling like she's grasping at straws.

"Yes," Inara agrees carefully. "That will be – something."

Exactly what remains to be seen. Exactly what she's leaving behind and why she's leaving it remain to be seen as well, but that's too complicated a thought to get into, isn't it?

"D'you want help?" Kaylee asks suddenly, changing her tack. Doing is sometimes safer than talking. "With packing things?"

"I'm mostly finished," Inara hesitates. She'd wanted to do this as quickly as she could, and she'd gotten the worst of it taken care of hours ago; she's not been seen by most of the crew for nearly a day. "But there are a few things left, if you like."

Kaylee nods. She's privately been brooding over not being able to help her much; she's had a nagging feeling of uselessness through all this, like somehow she hasn't been doing her job. Never mind that Inara hasn't been letting anyone help, really, she's felt like she should have tried harder to make herself the exception. Isn't that a best friend's job?

"I'll be careful with stuff," Kaylee promises.

"I wasn't doubting you, băobèi," Inara smiles.

Even after all of this time, Kaylee sometimes slips into fearing she's not fancy enough (in her own words and admitting). Naturally, Inara works her hardest to make sure Kaylee doesn't feel that way for long, because there isn't a need for it.

She leads her friend to the last shelf that needs tending; it's mostly little things, trinkets and boxes and things, delicate but not unnervingly so and easy to procrastinate, and they work together at packing it all away. The silence is much more comfortable when it's filled like this.

"You know it's gonna be odd," Kaylee whispers as they're finishing.

"And for me," Inara replies, frowning.

Then she's pulling away from the shelf, shaking her head: she can't let herself go down that path. She just can't. It won't help her and it won't help Kaylee. Instead, she regards her still-made bed, the only real color and character left in the shuttle.

"This is the last of it, then," she murmurs. "And I wasn't planning on tending to it until morning." She will, after all, need someplace to spend her last night on board.

Kaylee seems to be thinking something over; a few seconds later, she looks up and straight into Inara's eyes for the first time tonight. "Could I – I mean, I understand if you just wanna – well, could I stay?" she asks, voice soft.

"Of course," Inara says immediately. She's well aware of the strange looks their occasional sleepovers have gotten them, the raised eyebrows (especially from the captain), but there's nothing strange about it in her mind or Kaylee's either.

After just a moment of contemplation, Inara sheds her robe just like always and straightens her nightgown just like always. Perhaps she should have extended this offer for girl time to Kaylee weeks ago. Perhaps she should have shared her thoughts with Kaylee weeks ago, shared them with her first, talked it all through with her.

But she didn't, and she can't now, not in any way that would help.

"I don't have any of my sleep stuff," Kaylee frowns. Considering the slumber party hadn't been planned or even thought up till a minute ago, that's reasonable enough. "And yours is packed already." It's her turn to take a moment now, and when it's done, she just peels off her boots and her coveralls. A tank top and panties is how she sleeps half of the time anyway, and it's not like Inara minds.

With a nod, Inara sits on the bed and turns the covers back. "Come here, mèimei," she says, patting the mattress gently.

Kaylee obeys, and once she's there, Inara eases her back and pulls the covers up around her before climbing under them herself. Immediately, Kaylee curls up on her side and tucks one arm beneath her head, staring off; she's trying to will herself to just open her mouth and be honest, and sometimes it's easier to do when you're not looking, she thinks.

"Hey, Inara?" she murmurs before she can stop herself.


She's so soft about it, but all of a sudden Kaylee's worried all over again about burdening her: Inara is, after all, always one to listen, but she so rarely says what's wrong in her own mind. She must just be carrying whatever it is around with her, all of the stress of leaving and reacclimatizing and who knows what else, and Kaylee just can't bring herself to add to it.

"It's nothing," she finally whispers, opting for what's easier to talk about. "Just – thinkin' about how I'm gonna miss you."

"Oh, sweetheart," Inara sighs, turning on her own side and wrapping an arm around Kaylee. "I know. I'm going to miss you too."

"But sometimes folks just gotta do what's hard t'do what's right for 'em," Kaylee mumbles. "I understand. Just – don't forget about us, 'kay?"

Inara leans to press a kiss to Kaylee's cheek. "I could never."

They both fall quiet after that, and neither of them knows quite when they drift off, but when they wake in the morning, they both feel better. Not best, not like they said all that needs it (they didn't), but better, and that counts for something.

wănshàng hăo; "good evening"
băobèi; "darling"
mèimei; "little sister"