Spoilers for Firefly series
Gen Fic – sweet/light Mal & Kaylee but everyone gets to play in my verse.
Disclaimer: Firefly & Characters aren't mine. Money sure as heck isn't mine either (gorramit!). My heart is just dancing in their 'verse for a little while.
Summary: In which Captain Dummy encounters a seldom generous universe while thrilling heroics are going on right under his nose
Malcolm Reynolds observed Kaylee from the doorway of the engine room. There was nothing odd about Kaylee bending over her toolbox. Sniffling and clutching her hand to her stomach like she was going to throw up on her precious bits and pieces was odd.
She whirled around, feeling his stare, and almost tumbled backwards. Her knot of hair wobbled on top of her head as she caught her balance and tried to bluff it out.
"Hey, Captain." Her greeting was cheerful, if a bit forced as Mal strode into the engine room. "What's the news?"
"Heard you and Simon exchanging words." He said without responding to her greeting. Most of the Central Planets might well have heard Simon cutting loose all his fears and frustrations; heaping them on Kaylee's head. Mal didn't mention that part.
Kaylee sighed and looked to the deck, speaking just loud enough he could hear her above the whirl of Serenity's engine. "You come to fuss at me?"
"Came to see what was wrong that you'd be needing a doctor for. Needing, not wanting." Mal smiled. He couldn't help it. She must have interrupted the doctor with the phrase, 'but I just need' three times. Each time Simon had charged ahead as if she hadn't said a word.
Brushing his hand along her cheek, he whispered, "What did you need, Kaylee?"
Kaylee shook her head even as words escaped, "I didn't mean for him to feel hunted like - like I was a Fed."
"Don't go puttin words in the man's mouth. Haunted, he said. Not hunted." Mal stepped back, not quite believing he was defending Simon.
"He looked like that though." Kaylee sat down on her toolbox. "He looked hunted and weighted by … everything. I never meant to make his life here oppressive."
She was weary from remembering Simon's face. The glare of his eyes and snarled shout from the depths of his rigid body outside the infirmary door was a sight she coulda lived without. Shoulda know'd others would hear, Kaylee thought, no secrets on this boat, well, except Simon's and River's and the Shepherd's. Oh, well, and whatever Inara's was. And of course, the Captain and Zoe had their own secrets from the war and Wash kept whatever Zoe shared behind their door. Yeah. Secrets: Lots of secrets on this boat. But no secrets for Kaylee...
Mal knuckled her lopsided rat of hair and startled her. When she finally looked up, he reminded her, "I'm thinkin he had the weight of River and the expectations of the 'verse on his shoulders before he ever stepped on this boat. Seems to be his way. He trusted you enough to bring River aboard. Might wanna remember that."
Kaylee searched his face. She was thankful the Captain was at ease with her scrutiny. He met her gaze steady, without looking for somewhere else to focus his thoughts while she took time to think on his words. His jaw remained relaxed; his eyes open and clear without those squinty lines that preceded a fuss. He even smiled at her when he saw her catching up to his way of thinking.
Finding air settling into her lungs without choking her with stupid tears, she whispered, "It's better to know, ain't it?"
Mal nodded, cleared his throat and the squinty lines showed up faster than Reavers on the hunt, "You gonna answer me? Or you need more womanly soothing?"
"That was soothing?" Generous laughter bubbled from her, "Captain, you got a special way bout you for sure."
"Still got no answer though."
She held out her hand. A half-assed bandage was soaked through, allowing blood to run between her fingers, a drip at a time. He knelt on one leg to rest her hand on his thigh and unwound the old t-shirt, one of Jayne's most likely. Mal fished in his pocket for a handkerchief, which, thanks to years of his mother's nagging, he had.
She sniffed, "It ain't so bad, just grubby. Like me."
"Going for sympathy now?" He growled, watching the blood pool into her cupped hand as fast as he wiped it away.
"Would it work?" Kaylee gasped as he prodded at the ragged flesh of her palm. She turned her face away from the mess and gazed at the workings of Serenity's engine. "Don't be mad. Knowing is better than flyin blind."
"Maybe he coulda said it a little nicer?" Mal dabbed at her palm, rougher than he meant to. He looked around the engine room for something that hadn't been in Serenity's innards. "Maybe coulda listened to you instead of slamming the doors closed in your face?"
"Maybe." Kaylee shut her eyes, trying to close off the image of Simon turning his back on her stunned face reflected in the glass between them.
For Kaylee, talking with Simon was like navigating the Cortex without Inara standing behind her telling her what to do. It was as easy to talk with the Captain as confiding to Serenity. Both man and machine listened - both cared that she had feelings needed expressing. The Captain didn't think less of her for admitting to feeling. He only got put out when it interfered with her getting the job done.
Mal walked over to her hammock and grabbed another scrap of Jayne's. That man went through t-shirts faster than Inara discarded potential clients. Mal used the shirt to make a better wrap and tied it on her palm, wincing when she jumped. Intending to distract her, he asked, "Whatya see, Kaylee?"
Kaylee shrugged, not bothering to guard her words, "I just thought he was shy. It probably did feel like a … 'a gorram anvil of delight crushing his exhausted soul.' " Kaylee whispered the words that scored deeper than the slice on her palm. Snatching her hand from his thigh, she stood on her feet. Her smile wobbled, but there was no bitterness, just sorrow. "I been a sheep prancing on my hind legs. Can't be what ya ain't."
Mal's lips thinned. Kaylee could see his jaw working to hold back fussing and false apologies she didn't really need. From bended knee, he tried to comfort, "He may come round, in time."
"Don't want him to come round. Wouldn't want to be someone he just settled for. Besides, even if he wanted to, there's River and his losses and who he needs to be again… someday. He doesn't want to forget. He's like you, more afraid of forgettin than rememberin." Kaylee gulped a fortifying breath, worried she was going too far when his eyes squinched up. "Like my daddy says, engines cut you clean and quick when you're not paying attention. Best for me to tend machines, I don't seem to do well with people."
Mal stretched to his feet, not tempted to laugh since she sounded so tired. "Sounds like one of Jayne's plans."
"Not no plan, Captain. Just is."
Captain straightened his shoulders and asked, "Anything else need sayin?"
Kaylee smiled. It wasn't her usual the 'verse is full of stories grin, it was more a it's still a friendly 'verse with interesting things to see, smile. "You soothed me nice and shiny, plus fixed my hand. Reckon you more'n did your part."
"I Just wrapped your hand, didn't fix it. You go down to the infirmary now and-"
"No!" A frown claimed his face before Kaylee stepped back. "He'll be embarrassed or think I'm trying wiles on him. Pretending."
"Kaylee, I got no use for a mechanic what can't work. You need that sewed or weaved. The man isn't going to think you're pretending. Being embarrassed isn't going to hurt him none." Mal's eyes were creased; his jaw was set. The fuss was brewing thick and righteous.
"It'll heal. In a few days-"
"In a few days it'll fall off." Mal advanced. He wasn't asking, he was telling.
Her head tilted to the right. Her glare met his stuck out jaw with wide-eyed force. That flash of anger was as powerful as any punch when she raised her eyebrows."You're just sayin that to make me do what ya want."
"I'm sayin what's true. You got grime in there and are bleedin all over my deck." Mal grabbed her elbow.
"Lemme go." Kaylee yanked free of his grip. Her anger kept the words from sounding as pathetic as she meant them. "Not goin to a fancy party. I'm just greasy Kaylee today."
Mal rolled his eyes and waved toward the door. Kaylee's mouth twisted at him like she was tying words away. He felt lower than Atherton Wing. As she shuffled forward, he snagged her shoulders from behind to halt her. Mal felt Kaylee's shoulders ease into his palms. Without turning to face him, she leaned her weight against his chest. Nestling her head under his chin, Mal put his cheek against her hair. She wasn't going to bleed to death. There was time for her to grieve.
"The man's at war, Kaylee." Mal curled his arms around her. He felt her shudder accepting his warmth, maybe needing it. "Only a low account bastard asks a woman to wait. He gave you reasonable words – not kindly made, but reasonable - so don't blame this on grease. That's just a lie and you know it. Plenty buzzed you and was satisfied with your looks."
"Plenty buzzed, plenty docked." Kaylee's whisper was hard with pain that no weaving or stitching was ever going to fix. "Not a one saw my workins or was wantin me, the inside me, forever. Like Wash and Zoe see each other, ya know? I thought Simon'd look inside seein as that's what he does. But he just sees parts, not the whole. Maybe cause he's a doctor, he looks for the parts that are damaged, not the ones that work good and faithful."
Mal's eyes slammed shut for a moment. Kaylee ached for love - it wasn't hard to see. She snatched at every form of it and splashed it on others with such hope. Her faith that if she loved enough, gave enough, others would return the kindness flew against everything Malcolm Reynolds knew. But, he thought if she ever found that seeing type of love, he might know an emptiness in his life that even Zoe's marriage hadn't inflicted. It would take a man steadier inside himself than Simon to meet Kaylee's hunger and still take all she had to give without buckling under the exuberance of her joy.
"You sure ask a lot of a man, Kaylee." Mal gave her a gentle squeeze.
She laughed, amused that Mal sounded so fearful, "Love is not takin it's givin, Captain. Only no one wants to take what I got that lasts longer than the body takes to cool off."
"This isn't getting your hand fixed." Mal pressed her forward, surprised when she turned on him with panic paling her face.
"Ya won't leave me?"
"Sure you don't wanna face this on your own?" Mal watched thoughts fly across her face, one after another, as readable as the sign painted over her room. The lights draped to point the way to her bunk weren't as bright as the worry in her eyes. Brushing a stiff curl of hair from her face, he gave a promise that would suit them both, "I won't leave unless you tell me to. All right?"
Kaylee silently led the way. She'd said her piece and found warmth if not answers to questions she hadn't the courage to ask. In the common room, outside the glass windows, she stopped. Simon was with the Shepherd. Laughing over some story the elder man was telling. Shepherd Book's stories were many and full of laughter that was kindly intended. She stood there, Mal beside her, feeling her grief turn the corner toward accepting.
"He's a nice man. They both are. Nothing to fret me." Whirling to face Mal, her energy restored by laughter, she patted his shoulder with her good hand. "You go on. I'll get fixed up and get back to work."
Mal nodded, "Take your time. No need to keep breakin things open so they don't heal."
Kaylee rubbed his shoulder once more, trailing her hand to his and giving it a squeeze. When she let go, he turned away to the stairs. As he reached the landing, he could hear her apologizing for interrupting the story but she needed some doctoring. He stretched out his legs so he wouldn't hear more. Helping to make peace between folks was a job he thankfully left to Shepherds.
Inara was in the kitchen making tea while River re-organized a fancy tray. Probably for the doctor, Mal thought. Inara elevated the pot with a questioning smile but Mal shook his head and walked through to the bridge. Wash and Zoe were both seated in the pilot's chair, laughing about something. Zoe looked up from Wash's face, her laughter fading but not her smile.
"Is she all right, sir?" Zoe asked, sliding from Wash's lap but not untangling her arms from his neck as she moved behind him.
"Cut up her hand." Mal looked out at the stars where a ship should be meeting them to take on the cargo and pay them what was due. "Doc is fixing it up. Shepherd is helping."
"Does she know we all heard the man barking at her like it was a sideshow?" Wash groused.
Zoe rubbed her chin in his soft curls. She murmured a soothing sound and Wash caressed her arm. Zoe straightened, her fingers lingering on his shoulders. They were the touchingest people. It annoyed Mal. They did it right before his eyes on his boat like they didn't have a bunk. Somehow, he'd grow used to ignoring it. Someday. Maybe.
"Didn't come up. Expect she'll figure it out – or Jayne'll stick his boot in it." Mal's teeth ground together at that stray thought. Glaring at the empty black before him, he asked, "Any contact yet? I want to off load that cargo and move along."
"Not to mention getting paid." Wash nodded.
"No, sir." Zoe said, knowing antsy tension consumed the Captain when a job was stalled. "I'll let you know as soon as we do."
"Good." Mal said. His lips thinned as Zoe's fingers twined in Wash's hair. She raised her eyebrows at him.
Mal huffed and left them to their… stargazing. Wandering back to the kitchen, he muttered about romance on his boat. Inara and River were gone. Mal was relieved. Got crowded when there wasn't a job to do. And though he was not curious about how the peace negotiations were going in the infirmary, damned if Inara hadn't taken the open jar of sweetener. He'd have to go down if he wanted to make the coffee decent enough to drink. Kaylee'd probably want a cup, so he poured one for her and forced himself to go back down the stairs.
"Shoulda got me a crew of wobbly-headed dolls – they didn't cause no trouble." Mal didn't grin but his lips did turn up into a mocking approximation.