Title: It Was Night
Author: Pyrrha Cottonwood
Spoilers: Everything up to 'Objects in Space'
Summary: Kaylee and Simon's coda to 'Objects in Space.'
Author's Note: This stems from a joint project between Harriet Vane and myself—we both decided to write our thoughts on the events following 'Objects in Space.' Therefore, I give my thanks to Harriet Vane for the corrections/comments. As always, the sober ying to my raging yang.
Disclaimer: This story and its universe belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I make no profit from this entertainment.
It was night on Serenity and everything was different. In addition to keeping his ears perked for any sounds his little sister might make across the hall, Simon was also listening for . . . anything. For the bump in the dark that would pull him from his bed, throw him into alert, beat him to a pulp and shoot him in the leg. His mouth twisted into a wry little smile.
No need to get paranoid. . .
Leaning across his bed, he picked up his encyclopedia and electronic tablet, wincing as the wound in leg shrieked. One of the first lesson he learned in medical school was the dangers inherent in a physician prescribing his or her own medication. As such, he'd been reluctant to give himself a full dosage and instead calculated one for a girl River's weight. It took the edge off, but left his mind sharp and attentive. Opening his encyclopedia, he slipped in the tab for the Cortex and called up the Journal of the Osiris Medical Academy. Just because he was stranded out in the black didn't mean he wasn't obligated to stay abreast of the latest medical advancements.
I would be there right now, if she hadn't. . .
Simon flinched a little as he recalled his words to Kaylee. Self-pity was a sweetly rationed treat in his life, reserved only for late-night vigils beside his sister's bed. He had no right to drag it out into the daylight, giving those guilty thoughts more power than he ought. Someday—tomorrow, perhaps—he and River would have to sit down and talk about the things she'd said on the bounty hunter's ship. He'd nearly wept with guilt and relief and love when he saw her lurching down the hall, swimming even in Serenity's smallest EV suit. She needed to know what while he didn't have many things here, with her, he wouldn't have anything back on Osiris without her.
Then he heard it—a soft shuffle, the sound of someone masking steps, dusting his or her fingers gently along the walls instead of turning on a light. His body coiled, the pain in his leg forgotten, his only thought that he must get up, must stop whoever it was before he got to River's door—
"Simon?" A whisper touched his ears, shaking with its own fear.
"Kaylee?" he whispered back, sagging back against his headboard. He forced his fingers to release their death-grip on the tablet, his stylus falling onto the floor.
The girl appeared in his doorway, backlit by the muted light of the common room. She was dressed for bed in a pair of mismatched, cheap cotton pajamas, clean and warm-looking. He could tell she'd been crying.
"Is something wrong?" he said softly as she padded into his room, her stocking feet sliding across the cool metal floor. She sat carefully on the edge of his bed, paying close mind to his injured leg.
"I thought you were supposed to be resting," she scolded, plucking his encyclopedia from his lap.
"This is resting," he countered, setting the tablet on his bedside table, his notes fading into darkness as the machine turned itself off.
"Teleomertic Chain Decay after Magnetic Coratid Therapy," she read, somewhat clumsily. "That doesn't sound like bedtime reading."
Simon smiled, taking the tiny computer from her hands and placing it atop his tablet. "It's an acquired taste, I suppose."
An awkward silence played itself out for a moment as Simon studied the sticky residue of tears on Kaylee's cheeks. He wondered if she knew he could see that. He wondered how to ask her what she'd been crying about. He watched her hands, folded on her lap, now, plucking at the material of her pants, then. The pants had little blue and yellow stars; the top had a whole flock of pink butterflies skating across her chest and up over her left shoulder. The shirt was buttoned all the way to her neck, even though Simon could tell the collar was biting into her flesh, just a little.
"Can't you sleep?" he asked at last, hoping he didn't sound impatient or rude.
"I can sleep just fine," she answered. And then she did something that shouldn't have surprised him, but still did. Turning onto her hands and knees, she crawled over and behind him, squeezing herself between him and the wall, her arm sliding over his chest, her legs sandwiching his uninjured one. Her reddened eyes were challenging and defiant in the dim glow of his reading light. They seemed to remind him that it wasn't like they'd never slept together before. At least this time, he probably would be able to turn his neck all way round when he woke up.
"If the captain catches you in here, he'll kill you," Simon whispered as he turned off the light. He couldn't think of anything else to say, so succinct and confident was her act.
"No," she countered, wriggling around as he settled down on his pillows. "He'll kill you."
"Oh, well, then. Never mind." He placed his arm around her waist, and then moved it to her shoulder, where it settled, somewhat more formally.
"I can get outta here without him knowing," she assured him. And then she continued, perhaps feeling the need to explain herself. "My room was too quiet. I kept . . . listenin'. 'Nara's havin' tea with the cap'n and River's already asleep."
"What about Book?" he teased. "Or Zoë and Wash? I'm sure they'd let you sleep between them."
Kaylee reached over and pinched him, under his left arm. If he hadn't known already, that act alone would have convinced him she had siblings of her own. She knew exactly where to pinch.
"I bet you couldn't slip a sheet a' paper between the two a' them," she giggled. Simon felt a faint heat rise to his cheeks, oddly, he thought, considered how packed he and Kaylee were themselves at this moment.
"I told him where River was," she said suddenly, all the laughter gone from her voice. Her confession seeped into the fabric of his shirt, hissing damply against the skin beneath it. He thought she was starting to cry again, although he couldn't tell in the dark.
"It's all right," he soothed numbly, his hand moving over her hair, as if she were his sister and this was a dance they'd done over and over. But she was bigger than River, warmer, and he was having some trouble adjusting to this new rhythm.
"It ain't," she insisted, and he did then, for certain, feel a few tears smearing onto his shirt. Her hand curled into a fist, taking a good deal of blanket material with it. "You wouldn't a' done it. The cap'n wouldna' done it. I helped him find her."
"So did I," Simon admitted, working the blanket from her fist. He felt her shock, felt it freeze her body so that, for a moment, it was if a wooden statue lay immobile beside him. "He forced our hands, all of us. But it turned out all right in the end." He had a talent, his mother had once said, for downplaying the past.
"What'd he say to ya? Ta force your hand?" she asked. Simon turned his face from her, staring at the drawers and shelves that made up the other side of his room.
Don't make me say it, he thought. It wouldn't do either of us any good. But this was Kaylee, cuddled against him in her casual, plebian way, well-versed at reading a boy's body language with the length of her own body.
"Cap'n made me tell him," she admitted, her voice a hoarse little shamed whisper. The sound grated against his throat as if he were choking the words out. "He could tell that I hadn't told all what that bounty hunter said and did. He sat me in his bunk and made me tell."
"What do you mean, 'what he did'?" Simon echoed, his lips stiff and his heart tight as a fist in his chest.
"He didn't do nothin'," she reassured him, but her voice belied the assurance. "Jus' talked it up."
"What did Captain Reynolds do?" Simon asked. "When you told him?"
Kaylee shrugged, her shoulder bumping up, nearly knocking his chin. "I couldn't see 'im. My hands were like this."
She mimed moving her free hand over her eyes. When she dropped it back down across his chest, it was damp.
"But I heard 'im. Breaking somethin'. Cussin'." Her voice was thick and sticky with tears and Simon moved his hand from her shoulder back to her waist, pushing her a little closer. "He said I was his girl and he wouldn't let nothin' like that ever happen again."
"He won't," Simon promised, surprised by his own confidence.
"Weren't no one could help me," she whispered, her voice empty and disillusioned. Simon patted her awkwardly. He wasn't sure how to comfort her—she was his comfort.
"He's dead now," he said instead, making the sentence a brisk little slice.
"It don't matter. You do it, too, don't you? Listen all night now? It's our own home, our own beds and hallways and don't none of us feel safe here nomore." She paused, and then curled her hand against his chest, under her chin. "I don't know why I can't jus' be brave. Like you and River is."
"There are many of types of courage, Kaylee," Simon said, wanting to say more.
He just didn't know how to articulate it. How to tell her that his type of courage was good against the incidental death treat, but her type of courage was good for the other ninety-nine percent of daily occurrences. He didn't know why he could stare down a barrel of a gun and feel that odd, still sort of icy inner calm and yet was terrified by the realization that he might be very well falling in love with this girl. But she, on the other hand, held tight to this same realization, accepting it was a blithe grace that astounded him. It was an unfair trade off, he thought, that in order to live without a fear of death, you had to accept a certain fear of life.
"Well, I ain't got a one of them," Kaylee said mournfully.
"That's not true. You untied yourself, you unlocked all the cabins. River and I would be—if—if you hadn't done that. That's probably the most courageous thing any of us did last night. He would have just killed me, but he would have hurt you, Kaylee."
Kaylee shivered a little at the thought. "I jus' always thought . . . I thought that I could do all what the cap'n and Zoë and Jayne do. They always make it look so easy. Point and shoot. Someone sticks a gun at you, jus' make smart remarks 'n smile. I always thought I could do it."
And I never thought I could, Simon thought. It was funny, but for so long when he first came aboard here, he'd been certain that if he dressed like them, if he drank with them, if he told blue tales and laughed at ribald stories with them, he'd lose himself. But time and convenience and the very human desire to just belong had worn him down. And he'd been surprised to find that he wasn't losing himself—he was finding himself and losing them: his parents, his friends, the hospital, his oath. Like Shan Yu's parable of the volcano, except no one was holding him over the fire; he was walking up to it of his own volition and finally meeting Simon Tam. Discovering that he could, indeed, face down a pistol. And steal, lie and swear. Take human life, even, and still sleep soundly at night. Could even, he thought smirking, sleep with a girl he did not yet love and still consider himself respectful. They were realizations at once disturbing and empowering.
"You got pretty quiet. You sleepin'? Kaylee whispered, her breath kind of warm and wet near his neck. He turned to look at her, barely visible save for the light reflecting off her eyes, making her look manic and unpredictable. His mouth was open as if to speak, and hers was, too, very near his. For a moment, they just hovered like that, eyes hooded, breath slow and shy. She turned away first.
"Don't worry, Doctor. I ain't gonna jump ya," she teased him weakly, twisting her capable little hands into claws and mimicking a cat pouncing on his chest. "You just been shot. I think even Jayne'd take a rain check."
Simon laughed, blushing, fussing with the blankets until they were just the way he liked them. Well, very nearly the way he liked them—Kaylee threw an element of chaos into his precise system.
"I wouldn't even wanna," she confessed, her voice dropping into serious tones again. "After all what that bounty hunter said."
A sarcastic little joke rose to his lips, something relating to the seriousness of her trauma, if even Kaylee didn't want a lively little roll, but he held himself in check, thankfully. There seemed to be a inverse relationship between the frequency of his vest-wearing and the frequency of the smart-alecky remarks that snapped from his mouth. He had an ability to hurt Kaylee that frightened him.
"It won't happen again," he promised idly. "We just gotta keep a better eye on each other."
Gotta, he thought. Have to. Have to. That, too, he was losing. He'd even used the subjunctive improperly—twice—when telling Kaylee of his naked, drunken dares. In a moment of anger, he'd said ''verse' to Early, a syncopation he'd never used before in his life. Already his mother's aristocratic inflections were seeping from his tone; they were, in fact, already gone from River's. He wondered what day would come first: the day he wandered about with a gun strapped to his hip like Mal and Zoë, or the day 'ain't' slipped casually from his lips.
"This is nice," Kaylee slurred sleepily against his chest, their cocoon of blankets making everything seem neat and safe. "I like this."
Me, too, Simon thought but he didn't say it. "Well, don't get too comfortable," he warned instead. "River customarily wakes up screaming in about three hours."
"A wake-up call," she murmured dreamily. "Just like at one of them fancy hotels."
"The glass," Simon asked wryly. "Half empty or half full?"
"I am a little thirsty," she admitted, opening one eye. "Do you have some water?"
"No." A beat. "It's the dope talking."
"Poor Simon," Kaylee cooed, patting him on the chest.
"Are you sleeping?" he asked. She nodded, her hair tickling the underside of his chin.
"Okay," he said at last. But he didn't sleep. He stayed awake for a long, long time. Listening.