Engine Grease and Lavender

AN:This was written for a fic exchange on the livejournal community b> imeantosay /b>. The three required elements were cooking, a parasol, and engine oil, and the quote "You're so beautiful, it hurts to look at you." was given for inspiration.

Pairing: Simon/Kaylee, Zoë/Wash

Spoilers/Timeline: Set sometime near the end of the season, but before Objects in Space

Disclaimer: Can I have them? Please? -makes puppy eyes at Joss-

Simon had had nightmares before he ever boarded Serenity, but they hadn't been like this.

He had given up the childish dreams of monsters at six or seven, and except for one reoccurring nightmare in which his father turned into a ravenous beast that ate the whole world and all the stars and then chased Simon through the darkness trying to swallow him up as well, his nightmares had been of things of practicality and at least somewhat realistic; dreams that he had suddenly turned incompetent and failed out of school, dreams in which he was late to meetings at the hospital or showed up to one of his parents' famous diner parties only to realize that he had forgotten to dress himself beforehand. Sometimes, after a particularly hard day at the hospital, he dreamt of blood, and even of death.

But these were dreams that made sense, dreams that became clear for what they really were when he woke to daylight and rationality. They were nothing like the nightmares he had on Serenity, confusing muddles of sights and sounds that made little or no sense. Usually he found himself lost on unknown planets beneath strangely colored skies or wandering corridors on an empty ship which twisted and turned in impossible ways as the floor buckled and jerked beneath him as though it was trying to throw him off into space. Sometimes he dreamt he was home, but nothing was as he remembered it, and he became lost in his own house or trapped in a frightening dungeon where his own room used to be.

River featured heavily in his dreams; sometimes she ran from him into danger Simon could not see but knew was there, laughingly oblivious and refusing to let him catch her and keep her safe, other times she reached toward him, pleading for his help, but was dragged away as he desperately reached back. Sometimes he dreamt of his parents; they dragged River away from him, or held Simon down as he tried to reach her, or sat to one side sipping from cocktail glasses as they smilingly dismissed his desperate appeals for help.

And perhaps the worst part was that often he i knew /i that he was dreaming, but that knowledge didn't allow him to shake off the terror the nightmares inspired. In the end he still ran through the hazy maze of his own subconscious, still strove in vain to rescue his sister from phantom demons or to plead with parents who he would never again see outside of his dreams. He couldn't wake himself up.

But this dream was different, because just as the nightmare seemed to be reaching its peak it suddenly changed. The dull, muddied colors of the confusing dreamscape seemed to clear and brighten, and he wasn't trapped in a maze anymore but out in the sunshine under a blue sky, and the land was all rainbows, pinks and yellows and greens and reds, and he could hardly say why, but he felt very happy and content in that moment.

The mischievous smile that Kaylee wore as she stepped into Simon's room slipped from her face as she regarded the sleeping man. It was clear that he was dreaming, and that his dream was not pleasant, for his brow was creased with a small frown and his hands moved restlessly on the blanket. He mumbled something as she leaned over him; she thought it might have been River's name.

As she hesitated, wondering whether or not to call his name or perhaps to just shake him awake, his face seemed to clear and his breathing relaxed. A moment later he rolled over toward her.

"Kaylee," he murmured, without opening his eyes.

She gave a surprised little giggle.

"How'd you know it was me?"

He opened his eyes halfway and looked sleepily up at her, only partly awake.

"No one else on the ship smells like lavender and engine grease," he explained drowsily, reaching up to brush his thumb across a smear on her cheek.

Kaylee blushed. She had been working in the engine room earlier, making sure everything was running smoothly and no new repairs would be needed for a time, for she wanted no interruptions today, and in her eagerness to wake Simon she had forgotten to clean up. She was also startled and flattered that Simon had not only noticed the scent of the lavender soap she used on special occasions but could actually identify the smell with her when he was barely awake.

"I think I was dreaming about you," Simon continued, rubbing his eyes and yawning a little.

"A… about me?" she stammered as her blushing increased.

"Mmmhmm, I…" Simon cleared his throat and blinked a few times, seeming to wake up a little more. He started to sit up and the blanket slid down, revealing his bare chest. Kaylee stared.

"Ugh, what time is it?" he asked. "And why are you… is anything wrong?"

The thought woke him up further and his face was concerned, but Kaylee hardly noticed. She certainly wasn't watching his face at that moment.

"Kaylee?" he asked again. "Is everything alright?"

"'Course!" Kaylee finally replied, pulling herself together and returning her eyes to her head. "'Course, everything's wonderful. Don'cha 'member what day it is, doc?"

Simon blinked again.

"Oh, of course!" he said, looking a bit flustered. "I'm sorry, did I oversleep? I didn't mean to keep everyone waiting." He started to get out of bed.

"No, it's alright," Kaylee reassured him. "I got up early, and I just couldn't wait anymore; I'm gonna go wake every one else right now." But she didn't make any move to go, because Simon was now fully out of bed and standing in the middle of the room wearing a pair of loose sweatpants… and nothing else.

He stared back at her.

"You have nice feet," she blurted. His feet weren't all he had that was nice, but she was glad that she'd kept at least something of a rein on her tongue.

"What?" He glanced down and his bare feet and then back up at her. "I um…" he stammered, rubbing the back of his neck and looking slightly embarrassed and mostly confused. "Thank you?"

"You're welcome."

There was a long pause. Neither of them moved.

"Uh, Kaylee?"

"Yeah?" Her voice sounded a bit dazed, even to her own ears.

"I… can't get dressed with you standing there watching me."

The question 'why not?' rose to her lips, but she wisely discarded that reply and settled instead for an embarrassed;

"Oh, yeah. Right. I'll just, uh, go wake up everyone else."


"And you can meet us in the kitchen as soon as..." she swallowed. "as soon as you're dressed.


She made herself turn and leave, stopping and sticking her head back through the doorway as he called her name.



"Merry Christmas." He smiled shyly at her and she felt herself grinning back.

"Merry Christmas Simon."

When Simon arrived in the kitchen shortly thereafter, his hair still damp from a quick shower and carrying several parcels in his arms, his first thought was of how nice everyone looked. Even Jayne had managed to clean up a bit and find something fairly festive to wear, namely a green and red knit hat with a fluffy white pom-pom dangling from it, a Christmas gift from his mother no doubt. Zoë had put up her hair and wore a silver bracelet with little snowflakes charms and Wash's customary Hawaiian shirt was red and green and he wore a bell around his neck on string; Inara looked amazing, as always, and had braided ribbons into River's hair, Book was wearing… a red sweater with i snowmen /i on it… and it looked as though someone had tried to shine Mal's boots. And Kaylee…

Simon had to catch his breath at the sight of Kaylee. She was wearing a pink sweater- River's, he realized- which was tighter on her than it was on his sister, and therefore quite flattering, and a slender, marigold-colored skirt which shimmered as she moved and must have belonged to Inara. There were sandals on her feet and her hair was piled on her head in a mass of elegant, wispy honey-colored strands.

She shot him a brilliant grin as he stood looking at her, so excited she was practically glowing.

Simon, who had somehow managed to not drop everything he was carrying, swallowed twice, closed his mouth, got over the physical pain of it, and stepped into the room, murmuring a Merry Christmas to the others as he hurried up to the tree, a tiny plastic affair with small multi-colored lights which blinked on and off when you plugged it in that Wash had picked up planet-side a few weeks ago. He hurriedly stuffed his packages into the pile already there, which was surprisingly large, and turned to face the room.

They were all watching him.

"Well, now that we're all here," Kaylee said, throwing a teasing glance in his direction as she picked up a Santa Clause hat and set it on her head at a jaunty angle, "we can get started!"

The whole thing had been set up by Kaylee, who had been decorating and planning and anticipating for over a month, so it was only reasonable that she should be allowed to direct the proceedings. She insisted that the presents be given out one by one, and that everyone had to sit and watch while each gift was unwrapped. They had all griped and groused when Kaylee had suggested a gift exchange and sulked and complained as she made them pull names from a bucket, but everyone had bought the required gift and put thought into the purchase, and everyone had gotten a something for at least one other person.

In fact, everyone had gotten River a gift, and soon Simon's sister had a little pile of presents beside her, drawing paper and colored pencils, a pencil sharpener (from Zoë, who had actually drawn River's name) a box to put the pencils in (Simon had gotten tired of picking them up off the floor and had thought River would like the carvings of cranes on the lid) a lovely yellow ribbon (from Kaylee) a shiny silver pocket watch on a chain (from Mal) and several pieces of gooey candy (Jayne sheepishly confessed that it had been his own favorite kind as a boy).

Wash had pulled Kaylee's name and gave her a hairbrush with roses painted on the handle but he had also bought a belt with a silver buckle for Zoë.

"I didn't have enough money for a slinky dress," he said as she stood up and wrapped the belt around her hips to see how it looked.

"Aw, honey, I like the belt better. I can wear it more often anyway."

"Yeah, well, I think I'd prefer the dress," Wash replied with a good natured, self-deprecating smile.

"I'll model the belt for you later, and maybe you'll change your mind," Zoë suggested, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

"Just the belt?" Wash asked hopefully. Zoë kissed him playfully on the nose and didn't answer.

Wash got a new shirt from Mal, Book received a set of hair ties from River (along with a bout of laughter from Zoë and confused looks from the others) Inara gave Jayne a new jacket and Jayne gave Zoë a chess set. Simon gave Inara a small, elegant white vase just large enough to hold two or three silk flowers, and Book gave Mal a brass spyglass like the kind used by the captains of sea-faring ships on Earth-That-Was long ago. Simon was one of the last to open his gifts; one from River, of course, a new journal, bound in green felt, and one from Kaylee, who had drawn his name, a set of pens, deep blue with gold tips and his name engraved in elegant script on each one.

"Kaylee, they're wonderful," he said, awestruck. "They must have cost a fortune."

"Not too much," Kaylee answered a bit shyly. "I'm glad you like 'em; I wasn't sure…"

"Oh, I love them," he said quickly. "Thank you."

"Here," River passed him the journal and she and Kaylee leaned over his shoulder as he wrote his name on the inside of the book.

"You have such nice handwritin'," Kaylee murmured, and Simon shivered slightly at the feel of her breath against his cheek.

"You gonna sit there all day an' study Simon's penmenship or are we gonna get to eat somethin' some time this week?" Mal asked loudly.

Kaylee sat up quickly.

"Sure Cap'in!" she said brightly. "Me 'n Simon 'n Wash are gonna make Christmas dinner for everyone."

"Wait a minute…" Simon started.

"No you don't," Wash interrupted him. "You already agreed to help, you aren't backing out now."

"No, I was just going to say that there should be one more gift," Simon protested. He leaned over and reached behind the tree, pulling out a long, clumsily wrapped package and handing it to Kaylee.

"I didn't draw your name but…" he shrugged, feeling suddenly foolish and wishing that everyone wasn't watching him with such knowing looks in their eyes. "I just, saw this and thought of you."

"Wow Simon, that's real sweet of you." Kaylee regarded the odd package in her lap with puzzlement and curiosity for a long moment, then reached down and tore at the paper. A moment later she gasped as she lifted from the wrappings a purple parasol, decorated with the dancing images of Chinese dragons in reds and greens and golds. She opened it at once, holding it awkwardly away from herself so that she could admire it fully.

"Oh Simon, it's shiny!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around him and nearly smacking him in the head in the process. "Thank you!"

And the weeks Simon had spent agonizing over what to get her and the hours he had spent trying to get the wrapping to look halfway decent and the few short but distressing moments as she was unwrapping the present when he had suddenly thought that perhaps she wouldn't even i like /i the parasol were suddenly made more than worth the trouble as he found his arms full with a bubbling, happy Kaylee. His eyes met River's over Kaylee's shoulder, and his sister smiled knowingly.

"You worry too much, you know," she said.

Cooking the dinner was an adventure. Simon did most of it, River helping him remember their mother's recipes and Wash pitching in when Simon had no idea how to cook imitation turkey protein or couldn't seem to season canned mash potatoes so that they tasted like anything but the can out of which they had come. Kaylee claimed sole dessert rights, and the others left her to it.

Despite several mishaps with spilled ingredients, the fact that they really didn't have enough pans, and two pranks initiated by Wash and River, the end result was actually quite impressive. Wash's imitation turkey had turned out far better than Simon had thought possible, and the mashed potatoes were nearly as good as the ones his mother made. There was also homemade stuffing for the turkey, green beans (from a can, but topped with real butter), real sweet potatoes, canned beets, gravy, rolls, and a can of cranberry sauce. No one knew where the cranberry sauce had come from, as it was an expensive item not easily procured. (Kaylee claimed that Jayne, who had lost no opportunity over the past few weeks to grouse at her about the whole Christmas affair, was the secret provider of the treat; Jayne accused Inara, who responded that the sweet potatoes were her contribution and looked at Book. River later went and gave Mal a big hug, which made him acutely uncomfortable.) Kaylee's dessert turned out to be traditional plum pudding, with real raisins and nuts.

By the time they had everything set out and they were all sitting down at the table, everyone was ravenous and could hardly wait to dig into all the delicious food. Nevertheless, Kaylee caught Jayne's hand as he reached for the potatoes and said;

"I think Book outta say somethin', seein' as how it is Christmas and everything."

Mal started a grousing protest but silenced when Inara threw a scolding look his way, and everyone bowed their heads in more or less good humor as Book began to speak.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

"Amen," Kaylee whispered, and then they fell to.

"You're not walking in a straight line," Kaylee told him hours later as he was escorting her back to her room. Simon reflected that this was probably true, as they had both indulged in liberal amounts of eggnog (made by Jayne, of all people, and therefore closer to 'straight booze' than real eggnog), but Kaylee was leaning heavily on him and bursting into giggles from time to time for no reason at all so Simon decided it was rather like the pot calling the kettle black and kept walking.

Kaylee giggled again, and Simon couldn't help but laugh with her, her joy was so infectious. He liked the way she looked when she laughed, the way the corners of her mouth turned up and how nose crinkled. He thought that maybe her eyes had never been brighter than they were right at that moment, and knew that it wasn't the alcohol that was causing that odd queasy feeling in his stomach.

They reached her door without (serious) mishap. Simon was a little worried that Kaylee might not be sober enough to manage the ladder, but she assured him that she'd been up and down those steps so many times she could navigate them in a coma, so he bid her goodnight and once more wished her a Merry Christmas. She surprised him by throwing her arms about his neck and kissing his cheek.

"Merry Christmas Simon," she whispered in his ear, then turned back toward the ladder. He watched her go, her movements seeming graceful even when she was drunk, her hair coming loose from its ties and tumbling down her back, the shimmery skirt clinging in all the right places. The words were out before he could stop himself.

"You're beautiful."

Kaylee paused on the ladder, twisting to look back and up at him.

"Wuh-huh?" she asked, not very articulately.

"Beautiful," he said, only slightly more coherently. "You are. Sometimes… sometimes I look at you and I can't breathe."

Kaylee stared at him for a long moment, then suddenly a huge smile broke out over her face.

"Simon, I think that's the most romantic thing you've ever said to me."

Even drunk he knew that the smile on his face was a little goofy, but even drunk he knew Kaylee wouldn't mind that.

"You're beautiful too," she said after they had stood and grinned at each other for a while. Simon blinked.

"I am?"

"Yup. You've got a nice…" she waved her hand in the general direction of his chest. "body."

"I uh, I do?" Now he was blushing. "Thank you."

Again they stood and grinned at each other, a little more sheepish and embarrassed than they had been a moment ago, and then Kaylee announced that she had to go lie down before she fell over, and said goodnight.

When he turned around River was standing behind him.

"Mei-mei, you're not in bed?"

"Not that sleepy," River answered.

"Are you okay?" Simon asked, concerned. "You seemed better today…"

River nodded.

"Happy thoughts breed happy thoughts. Christmas cheer."

Simon nodded, understanding more than he thought he did.

"That's good."

She took his arm and started to lead him toward their rooms. Simon glanced over his shoulder at Kaylee's door.

"Mei-mei, I think…"

"I know," River said when he trailed off. And she did too, she was his sister after all, and knew him better than he knew himself. She had realized long ago that her brother was in love with engine grease and lavender.