the game of charm and strange

by templemarker

Notes: Loose crossover with the canon of the Kushiel trilogy by Jacqueline Carey, but it is completely unnecessary to know the books in order to read this story. Inara, gen. Secretly for synecdochic, because even if she doesn’t know the fandom, she’ll get the context of the story.

***

There are words for what she is, words that are as old and forgotten as Earth-that-was. They are remembered, though, in the houses of the Companions, in the rituals they learn to perfection and the slight smile those of her kind wear like a second skin.

The gods that Companions worship are kept hidden, secreted away from a world where they wouldn’t be completely accepted. The Creator of the Shepherds mingles effortlessly with the ancestor-worship of the settlers, but the sacred Lady of a Companion’s labor watches over them and them alone, reminding them to ever go into their service with perfect love and perfect trust. It is why a Companion must always choose her assignations; it is why she will always open doors with ease.

Inara knows the names of her precursors: Companion, courtesan, geisha, Servant of Namaah. All have contributed to what she is today, and she prays to her gods in the first flush of aroused skin, the stirring of one sex to another. She never tries to explain it, only lives it to the best of her ability. Even her lovers would not understand the true purpose of her position; it is not about coin, nor the limited fame and assuredness that comes with being a Companion. It is about serving her gods, her Goddess, and that is more than enough for her.

She knows the ritual of tea service as well as she knows to breathe, and when she invites her clients into her shuttle for initial talks, she can negotiate the trivialities of her business while smoothly passing an immaculate cup to her guest and slipping the folds of her dress against her skin in such a way that her breasts are attractive in the ambient light.

When she enters a ballroom, she holds her head high and the line of her back straight, her posture taught to her when she was so young that it became instinctive. She can dance in a way that makes even the worst of partners shine; she can play the harp, should it be necessary, though she never mastered the skill as well as her peers.

Inara is elegance and beauty personified, cool regard and warm smiles expertly wrapped into a small but able form. She is a skilled mediator, enough that perhaps the term “ambassador” is more appropriate than Mal realises. She is all these things and more, still other qualities and traits hidden behind her smoky eyes.

However, there are things about her that only her clients and lovers see, though it has been a long time since she took one of the latter. There is a blue-lined tattoo running up the length of her right calf, delicate and precise. It is the stylised emblem of the stream, with a sun and three moons worked into the design masterfully. This is the mark of her School, the home of her training. She was gifted with this sign of her mastery upon completion of training, a sign of pride from one of the great Schools on twelve of the planets that are in and near the Core.

Should she ever choose to attach herself to one of the noted Houses, she would have their emblem limned at the finial of this long, decorated line; if she leaves the service for love, or becomes one person’s sole Companion, their crest or mark would go there. As it is, there is only clear gold skin, dusky and beautiful as the rest of her.

But at the base of the stream, where the tattoo trickles off into her ankle, there is a small image of a firefly etched carefully and seamlessly into the design.

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