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.

Exchanging Words –13

Badger neglected to mention the goods they were routing to Persephone were three generators that would need to be repossessed. It took two days of assaulting a brick and mortar stronghold full of women, children and old folks to get to the generators. Followed by another day's negotiations during which Kaylee was sent for to do some magic on the settler's old generators.

In exchange for Kaylee's work and the parts she used, the settler's gave them two barrels of black ale, a dozen fresh eggs and a bolt of homespun. Mal declined the invitation to enjoy some festival or other and pushed, Jayne, Zoe, Kaylee and the mule hard to get back to Serenity before dark.

Badger probably wouldn't consider their solution worth the extra fee Mal intended to tack on for 'minor details left out' but the generators would compensate them as trade, if necessary.

"Not bad for a couple day's siege against the starving and infirmed. No one bad shot, no one dead and we got the goods without leaving folks' with no water or heat. Not bad…." Mal yawned and flung his arm across his face.

He drifted to sleep before Kaylee finished cleaning the grit from below his right eye. She splashed a kiss and a tear across his lips. Tended the other minor scrapes and grazes. He was sleeping deep, so if her hands shook, it was only her that knew the shame of her fears….

Simon was digging rock bits out of Jayne's shoulder so Kaylee accepted the first-aid bag with thanks. Simon promised, "I'll come down and check on him after I'm done here. Zoe okay?"

"Just some bruises, she said. Weren't so bad." Kaylee watched Simon tweeze gravel from Jayne's back, wincing as the pebble hit the metal pan. Settler's had no real ammo, so they'd used what was to hand.

"You okay?" Simon paused, tweezers hovering over Jayne who was trying to keep an eye out for River who might decide to help.

"Me? Oh yeah, shiny." Kaylee nodded before darting through the door, stumbling into Inara and apologizing.

"Kaylee?" Inara tried to catch Kaylee's hand but she shot past and swung up the stairs like Reavers were on her trail.

Simon peered from the door of the infirmary, a bloody hunk of flesh and gravel clenched in his tweezers. "That was strange."

Inara shivered. "That's stranger."

"Just a bit of-"

"I came with a clean shirt for Jayne." She held it out and River snagged it as she fluttered into the infirmary.

Bedlam ensued and Inara settled on the sofa to watch. She enjoyed Simon's ambidextrous handling of Jayne's embarrassment masquerading as anger and River's deliberate efforts to enhance Jayne's indignation. Wasn't hard for Inara to see River knew exactly what she was about or that Simon suspected. Poor Jayne was oblivious.

Shepherd came to join her, towel over his shoulder, grin on his face. "Entertainment before dinner?"

"More efficient that way." Inara confided.

"Maybe a tourniquet?" River clutched the shirt, pleading in a quivery voice.

"I don't think so, River." Simon rolled his eyes. "Go help the Shepherd with dinner."

"Can't bandage taters." River pouted, throwing Jayne's shirt on the counter.

Shepherd leaned forward, waiting for River and asked Inara, "Everyone else all right?"

"Scrapes and bruises is all I heard about." Inara shook her head, frowning. "Kaylee seemed a bit upset. I think she expected the worst when Zoe sent for her."

River giggled as she raced by them.

"Don't need no gorram enema for a shoulder!" Jayne jack-knifed from the table, landing on his … Kaylee scar. Kicking to his feet he weaved to the doors of the infirmary and slammed them together, knocking the lock into place before belly flopping on the exam table. Whatever he muttered remained behind the glass, no doubt offering Simon an education the Osiris MedAcad neglected.

Simon's grin met Inara's as she waved and wandered off to assist the Shepherd and River with the meal.

Kaylee heard the commotion but ignored it. Mal was resting easy, smiling when she helped him out of his shirt and boots. "Hmmm, nice."

"Is it?" She slid behind him, propping him against her. Toes wriggling along his thigh until he caught her foot.

"Woman you're gonna wear me out." He thumbed the ball of her foot, holding tighter when she squirmed. "Ticklish huh?"

"Thought ya was worn out?" She breathed against his un-bruised cheek.

"Never that worn out." He flipped her over his shoulder and snagged her fore she landed on the floor, enjoying the squeal she gifted him.

They skipped dinner, choosing instead, to curl up in his bunk and sneak in some much needed sleep….


Mal wasn't sure what woke him but when he reached to draw Kaylee close he found nothing but a pillow where she'd been. Groggy and sore, he sat up but didn't hear her in the room. He dressed and climbed the ladder, peered into her bunk but the door was open and lights blazing. Didn't find her in the kitchen or sitting up with Wash.

He went and poked his head in the darkened engine room, didn't see her. He turned to go to the hold when a sound caught his ear. Looking round to the other side, Mal found Kaylee. She was hunched in a ball, far back in the corner as she could get, sobbing like her heart was clawing free without her consent.

"Ai ya!" Mal gasped, "Kaylee?" He crept forward, resting a soothing hand on her shoulder. He jumped back when she wrenched from his touch and screamed.

"No!" Kaylee shrieked.

Launched at him from a crouch, knocking his legs out from under him so they landed in a tangle on the deck. Trying to scramble free of his hold, her intent to run, scaring him as much as the screaming and sobbing.

"No! Leave her alone! You leave her alone!" Kaylee was pummeling him with her hands, flat open and mostly ineffective, but the intent to defend was in her glazed eyes. If she'd had a wrench to hand, likely woulda brained him.

"Easy. Hey, watch the ribs. Kaylee, stop it!" Mal wrestled and pinned her to his chest. Something he said must have penetrated. She quit struggling, sagged against him, gasping for breath.

"What the hell is going on?" He tried to see her face but she'd burrowed into his neck, clutching him for life.

"Just a dream. Just a dream." Was the only coherent thing he could catch as between sniffs and sobbing.

"You were dreaming under the engine?" Mal frowned.

She shook her head, "Woke up – came here. Had to make sure."

"Kaylee you're making no sense, qin ài de." Mal laughed but nothing felt humorous.

Wash skidded to a halt at the door of the engine room, Shepherd and Zoe right behind him. Mal could hear Jayne pounding along the deck. He waved them away. Wash turned and shooed folks back, except for Zoe. She sat down on the steps, her gaze focused on Mal.

"Dream," he mouthed silently.

Zoe held her hands out, questioning the cause.

Mal shook his head and Kaylee rose from her sprawl across his chest. She scrubbed at her face with her hands. Glancing over her shoulder at Zoe, she said, "Just a bad dream. Sorry I woke ya."

"Happens." Zoe stood up, "Thought maybe we were springing a leak when I heard the scream. Wash is sorely attached to that tub."

Kaylee snorted and tugged her sleeping shirt down before offering Mal her hand. He took it, held it, even after he'd gained his feet.

Mal nodded at Zoe.

"Night, sir; Kaylee." Zoe said; went to send the others back on to bed. Captain had things under control. It no longer looked like Kaylee was planning to murder him with her bare hands.

Kaylee watched the engine revolve, her eyes seeing something horrifying where she usually found comfort. Mal squeezed her hand and she started, but forced herself to look away. She smiled and led him away from the engine, turning out the service light behind them as they left the engine room.

Mal halted her determined steps at the door of her bunk. She frowned but followed him down the ladder. His laughter made her smile. "Girl ya got these lights on blinding?"

Kaylee palmed a switch and they winked away. "I like 'em. They're cheery."

"Remind me to get some sunglasses when we get to Persephone." Mal was rearranging pillows and covers in the reading light over the bed. He sat down, waved to her and said, "C'm'here."

Reluctantly, she sat next to him on her bed. Mal scooted back, propping himself against her pile of pillows, smiling and waiting. "Ya wanna tell me bout what just happened?"

Kaylee adamantly shook her head, "No."

Mal nodded. "I see. Every time ya get squirrelly inside you gonna clam up and make me guess what's wrong?"

She glared at him. "Am not squirrelly. Just had a bad dream, not loosing my mind or something."

"Just loosing sleep." He nudged her thigh with his bare toe.

"I heard you dreamin plenty of times, didn't hear you sharing all and sundry details, Cap'n." Kaylee jumped to her feet and bent to tidy her floor. Mostly just dumped stuff lately and took off to fix this or that. Place was a wreck.

"Did you now." Mal frowned at the wall, raised the fabric she had hanging and pondered on the thickness of steel welded between them. "Musta been disconcerting to hear me?"

Kaylee folded a shirt and shrugged.

"Maybe explains how you always know when to come sit with me on the bridge or turn up with a cup of coffee when I'm just sittin there in the kitchen." He dropped the fabric back in place.

Tossing clothes on her little trunk, Kaylee sighed. "Just thought - ya might need to talk about everyday things. Remember where ya was, that ya was all right."

"Musta worked. Don't recall the last nightmare I had, just remember sitting with you." Mal crossed his ankles, watching her fidget with her things. "And this is why you think if you don't talk it will just go away?"

Kaylee nodded.

"Only you don't wake anybody. You just pop out to have a gut wrenching sob and caress the engine…. Don't go looking to talk about everyday things either." Mal leaned forward and captured one of her hands, holding on when she sat down next to him.

She grinned, "We could have sex again."

Mal laughed, running his hand across her hair. "We could."

"Now?" She faced him.

"Never tried that for chasing nightmares away, you?" Mal grinned.

Kaylee tilted her head at him, "Can't decide if you're teasing or not."

"I think you're the tease, Kaylee." Mal leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.


"Sure. You trust me with your life, your body and your smile but… sad things, deep things, you cross out or hold to yourself." Mal swallowed and said, "That seem right to you?"

Kaylee flew off the bed and backed away like he'd scorched her.

"Not about that boy dying – this is about that gorram bounty hunter, isn't it?" Mal's voice was barely a whisper but Kaylee covered her ears like he'd shouted.

"No." She turned away.

Mal encircled her from behind, tugging her hands from her ears. He laced his hands with hers and turned her back to him. "Tell me?"

"It – it starts out that way. Always starts out with him roaming the ship." Kaylee shuddered. "When he can't find River, he comes back to the engine room – starts ripping Serenity to pieces. Yanking and tearing her apart, killing her bit by bit and makin me watch it….I woke up at that part – before."

He tugged her to the bed, sitting with her in his arms. Knees bent on either side of her, cradling her with all of himself. Kissing her head, then prodding in a gentle tone, "Before?"

"I slept in the engine room for a couple weeks. Just watching over her. Till I was sure she was safe. Till it was foolishness to let dreams become real." Kaylee's hands flew outward, then back toward her. Mal's fingers remained laced with hers, following her movements.

"And then?" Mal used their joined hands to tug a quilt over them. Letting her determine where it rested but not letting go.

Kaylee shrugged. "Just … changed. I get up and go cry and then work a bit. Come back to bed fore you wake up."

"So it changed after Beaumonde?" Mal closed his eyes, leaned his forehead on her and waited.

She nodded.

"You gonna make me yank it out of ya?" He growled into her hair.

"Whilst he is tearing into Serenity you come in to the engine room, try and stop him. He's ripping and hacking at ya – yanking parts of you away, big hunks and chunks and – and then he's gone and you're laying in my lap… what's left - I'm trying to put you back together and Serenity is screaming at me to help her and your telling me to fix you – fix her … but I can't. I can't fix anything! I can't find my tools and - And you're mad and Serenity is dying – killing us… and then there's this gun in my hand and you're beggin me and I'm-"

He didn't say nothing. He could feel tears splashing against his arms. Could guess what came next….

"I'm shooting her and you… cause you begged me – I failed. Coulnd't fix things, broke good faith with ya – and I wake up. Just have to see she's okay. Serenity's okay then I know it was a dream and that I'd never – couldn't never…. If she's okay it's … safe to see you're okay. It all seems so real. I can feel you gettin cold, can taste the bad atmo, can hear her screamin for me and that man's voice in my ear…." Her head fell forward and she turned toward him, her fingers squeezing his so tight he wasn't sure she wouldn't snap them.

"No, you couldn't never, ever, Kaylee. And I'd never, ever ask." Mal sighed. The fact he could imagine, with ease, what she'd feel - that waking up wouldn't have comforted her none, scared him. Kaylee had a core of strength he'd leaned on without even realizing, asking her to make miracles without thanking her when she did...

"I shot Jayne." Kaylee shuddered. "It were easy as pie. If I could do that … I could do … anything."

Mal cupped her face, drawing her gaze to his. "No. You. Couldn't."

Kaylee nodded but he could see she didn't believe a word or his certainty. She bowed her head and nested back on his chest. Hiccoughing against his pounding heart, she asked, "Can we have sex now?"

His laughter bounced her about. "Sex don't fix everything. You can't fix everything either. Don't expect you to."

She nodded but he felt denial in the fingers that trailed across his chest, heading toward his neck. Tugging her hand away from distracting territory, Mal sighed and shoved her upright.

"And that's it. Poof, let's have sex, it's over?" He searched her gaze for any sign of fire; found the lifeless smile, trying to entice him or distract him enough so she could squiggle away.

"We could talk bout every day things now." She shrugged, sighed and tugged her legs up on the bed, squirming back against the wall. "I know it's a dream. I know why I have it. It'll go away."

"When?" Mal crossed his legs, leaned his elbows on his thighs, prodding her with his eyebrows up near his hair.

She shrugged, "When it's clear in my mind fixing everything is foolishness I guess."

"Reckon you think my feelings for you are foolishness too, likely just go away, hacked away right before your eyes?" He tucked hair behind her ear, smiling when she gazed at him, open-mouthed. "You think this is about fixing things. Maybe it's about what you don't think you can fix. You're thinking you gotta be stronger now? Better than ever so's I won't … break into pieces in your lap? You keep the sorrow inside so's I won't be ashamed and rip out your heart, take Serenity away. That's what this is about isn't it?"

Kaylee shook her head, spilling tears down her cheeks.

"Not wanting to change you, Kaylee. Wouldn't want you to be but what you are." He thumbed the stream of tears. "On the wreck, you kept your head, did good. I didn't expect you not to – but you did, didn't you? Everyone else so surprised, but not me. When we found you on Beaumonde, you'd done no less than I'd expect your tender heart to do. You defended your choice with all ya had – why'd you think that was something you'd turn on me or Serenity, on us? You keep talking about dying but it's not your dying it's my feelings for you dying that's what you're all time telling me isn't it?"

"There's not much to me but cheerful and fixin, Mal. I don't see the 'verse all gloomy and dark, can't help that. Even a man dying – longin for what beauty he knew…." She hopped to her knees. "But, you – You're shiny enough for all manner of things. You get stronger each day. Finding life inside ya again. This life, it's more'n I ever imagined but for you, it's what you were left with, just like…. Stands to reason that eventually-"

"I choose this life, Kaylee. No less than you. I tried life in the world, tried going back to bustin dirt and cattle and payin taxes. But everything was choked with what it should be, bitter with what could be, burning with what it ain't. That life twists a man crazy or makes him a King of Scrap still directing troops, only now he calls 'em wives and partners. Turns him into Patience, willing to kill rather than part with honest coin so's she can be Mayor. Both of 'em pretending to defy the Alliance while payin 'em under the table in one way or the other." He took her face, forced her eyes to meet his, "Kaylee, there's peace to be had here, living in the black. Risks are mighty but the freedom to direct what's left of my soul is worth that. Ain't missing bowing and scraping to some Magistrate or owing my land to some Company that's for sure."

Kaylee rushed him. Her arms sliding round him, holding him close. He knocked his head against her shelf, but didn't feel it none. Ran his hands up and down her back, feeling the tears in his neck and the shudders in her breathing.

"And there's you." He whispered. "My own personal sun shine or rain storm depending on the moment."

She laughed, "Ain't never cried so much in my whole life as this last few weeks."

"Glad to know I bring out the best in you." Mal kissed her forehead.

"Now?" She whispered.

"Now." He sighed.


They were a few hours back out from Persephone when he felt her stir from the bed. He'd stayed awake two nights, watching her creep away and come back, cheeks clammy with tears she'd splashed away. Mal was right sick of it.

"Come back here, Kaylee." He shoved Captain Reynolds into each breath of his voice.

She jumped and tripped over his boots or hers. "Just goin to-"

"She's fine. Come back to bed." Mal waited.

"I'll be right back." She pleaded, terror in her voice, compulsion to not look at him, to not let this be part of the dream.

He steeled his heart and sat up. "Turn the light on, Kaylee."

"What?" Confusion.

"Those blinding lights, turn 'em on."

She did, both of them blinking and trying to focus.

"As you see, I'm fine. All in one piece. No one here but you and me." He held his hand out to her.

Kaylee looked at the ladder, gnawing at her lip.

"You gonna take this step now or drag it out another few weeks?" Mal sighed. "I'm getting tired of listening for you to slip away, hoping you'll come back. If I get too tired, might not have the stamina you've grown used to." He grinned, tilting his head so's she'd see him: The man not willing to let her go over fears with no basis in fact.

She stared at the hatch but smiled, "Wouldn't want that to happen."

"Come to bed, Kaylee. Tell me bout that stupid looking do-hickey there." He pointed in a vague way.

"That's just decoration." Kaylee frowned, stepping back so's she could look at the little glass bowl hanging from a knotted rope.

"What's inside?" Mal watched her think about it, dropping on to the foot of the bed and trying to remember.

"Oh, there's stones from home." She grinned and jumped up to fish them out and scatter them across the bed. "This one's from my sister's place and this one is from my brother's grave site, this one's from the drive to my daddy's shop. Stones from home, put 'em in my pocket fore I left. Gosh, ain't thought about them stones in forever. When I first came aboard, I musta fondled them two or three times a day."

Mal picked up a shiny blue one and held it to the light. "Where's this one from?"

Kaylee bounced back on the bed, using a fingernail to trace the thread of silver running through it. "Back home, there's a lake and this tree. When we was kids, we used to swing out and splash down. One time, I got a mite carried away and missed the best jumpin spot. Landed in the shallows and knocked myself senseless. When I come to, my momma was comin on the run, screeching and hollerin. Oh, she'd liked to wore me a new – well, in my hand was that stone. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. Took it to town, and the man there told me it likely was from before the terraforming. Sorta made it, I don't know… magic like."

Mal ran the stone along her glowing cheek, "Just like you."

Kaylee choked on her laughter, "If that ain't the corniest thing."

"Hey!" Mal tossed the stone in the pile, affronted, "Not like I got any practice at this soft words shit."

"Don't need that, Mal." She scooped the stones into her hands and dribbled into the glass bowl. "You say plenty nice things without trying to. Don't need more'n that."

His lips curled in disbelief. "All women need shiny words. It's a law or something."

Kaylee laughed and crawled across the bed to spread herself over him. "Beauty of livin in the black is we don't gotta worry bout foolishness like that."

His hand moved toward the switch but she reached out and gripped his wrist. Alarm flaring across her face, "Not yet. Just a bit longer, please?"

Mal nodded, fingering her hair away and smiling gently. Cleared his throat and said, "Okay, magic stones. What else? Got magic beans too?"

Kaylee bit her lip and looked around, grinning when her eyes settled on an ugly patchwork sampler on the wall. Settling on his chest, she said, "That there is my first sewing. My moma despaired of me ever handling a needle as well as I did a wrench."

"Did you?" He rubbed his hands along her shoulder blades.

"I did. This quilt is mine and that there, the one with the tree and rope? I did that one too."

They spoke of trivialities until her eyes drooped closed, her words slurring together of home and relatives and learning to put an engine together…. Mal covered them with the quilt she'd made when she first came aboard and didn't know what to do with herself outside of working on the engine. He gazed around the room, finding peace among the shiny everyday things.

Weren't no trouble to leave the light on.