DISCLAIMER: Not mine. I'm just playing with Joss's toys.
Things may've been back on something of an even keel with Inara, but that don't mean Mal's forgotten about there being someone else on this boat needs seeing to. Ain't in the common area or the engine room, or the dining area or the bridge, so he stabs at the button by her door and says, "Kaylee? Can I come in?"
Part of him figures captains don't need to apologise for nothing, and it ain't something he finds himself doing a lot of, 'cept for he tends to find that upsetting Kaylee makes him feel a kind of sombitch he don't much want to know. Ain't right for any man, least of all him, to be knocking the smile off her face. Always hard to live with himself after, till he's made it up to her.
She lets him in, and he climbs real careful down the ladder, minding the ache in his side. Kaylee's sitting on her bed, jumpsuit and work boots and all, just gazing at that dress of hers. Ugliest pretty dress he's ever seen, and even he'd figured the difference between her dress and the others at that shindig. Can only hope she didn't.
Mal makes a habit of staying out of crew quarters. Ship this size, everyone needs their own bit of privacy. Sides, he's fair sure he don't want to find out what Jayne's got in his bunk. Hasn't been down here since he helped Kaylee move in, and he sees she's got it looking real nice. Oughtn't to be surprised, of course.
"Hey, Cap'n!" Kaylee says, cheerful as ever, beaming at him and then at that gorramed dress. "Ain't it pretty?"
"Sure is," he replies, agreeable as can be. And blow him down if the girl ain't listening to that stuck-up music from the ball. Real contrast, she is. "Sorry about spoiling your party, mei-mei."
"Couldn't spoil nothing, Cap'n. I had the prettiest dress, and there was strawberries, and some real nice people. 'Course, there were some as weren't," Kaylee says, that bright smile fading just a mite. "But everything was real beautiful."
She's shiny, is Kaylee. Keeps him seeing the good about everything when there are times he can't help thinking she's the one good thing left in the 'verse. Even seems to think he's a good man. Means he often finds himself wanting to wrap her up in his arms and protect her from everything, just so's that smiles never goes away. World of shadows ain't for the likes of her.
"Beautiful until the punching?" he asks, remembering her words at the ball.
"Just beautiful," Kaylee tells him firmly. "Wouldn't much like it as a regular thing, though."
"Wouldn't you? Reckon you charmed plenty of men last night, little Kaylee, and a few of them'd be more'n happy to keep you in balls and strawberries and pretty things." Which, now that he thinks of it, ain't too different from what Wing wanted to give Inara, 'cept for Kaylee ain't a whore. 'Cept for Kaylee don't hide behind makeup or petty rules.
"Got pretty things a-plenty right here, Cap'n. Wouldn't leave Serenity for all the pretty things in the 'verse. Ain't where I belong."
And he wants to protest, 'cause Kaylee deserves everything that's beautiful. Knows the reality of it, though - that Kaylee ain't made for that world any more than he is. Could be a mite selfish, but he's happiest knowing that she's safe on his boat, making a mess of the engine room.
"Know something?" he asks, as the music switches to a new tune. "Never got to dance with the prettiest girl on Persephone last night."
Kaylee wrinkles her nose and looks confused, just as he'd half figured she might. "Saw you dancing with 'Nara, though, Cap'n."
"Not Inara, mei-mei. You." And before he can start feeling like a darned fool, he holds out his hand to her. "Miss Kaylee, may I have this dance?" Ain't a particularly good impression of Atherton Wing, but it's the best he can come up with at short notice.
Kaylee giggles and grins at him. Always feels like he could drift away on the strength of that laugh. "Certainly, Cap'n Tightpants sir." Puts her hand in his and lets him pull her up.
"'Course, I'm not actually sure I know this one," he says, settling his arm 'round her waist.
"S'okay, Cap'n, 'cause neither do I," Kaylee says. And so he lets her lead, and they fall into some kind of rhythm wouldn't be recognised on Persephone, or anywhere else for that matter. Most like, folks in those worlds wouldn't even call it proper dancing. Far as Mal's concerned, though, he's got bad music and the hum of the engine and a pretty girl with grease on her face, and he figures them folk don't have a clue what they're missing.