DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Joss. I'm just playing.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Title comes from James Taylor's song "Fire and Rain". Story set towards the end of the movie.
PIECES ON THE GROUND (SWEET DREAMS AND FLYING MACHINES)
"She's broke," Kaylee says, first time she comes back to Serenity. It's just her and the captain, standing in that echoing tunnel that smells of burning and has bits of their ship littered all over it.
"I know, little Kaylee," captain says, wrapping his arms 'round her from behind.
Serenity looks like a stranger, lying uncomfortable on her poor belly, scars all over her, a cannon where there oughtn't to be one, and streaks of blood-red all over her beautiful hull. Kaylee can see so much broken just from here, and that's without going inside to see how much damage got done to the electrics and the engine room. And as she looks, the niggling feeling that's been growing in her gut rises up into her throat and she has to swallow a few times 'fore she can say anything. "Can't fix this, cap'n. Ain't got the coin or the parts." Could be they'll have to leave her here forever, alone in an unfamiliar place, to rust and rot, all that's left of her crew forced to scatter all over the 'verse.
"Operative's gonna get the parts, mei mei. She'll fly again."
Bites her lip for a second, 'cause it don't sit quite right, the idea of letting Alliance, 'specially the Operative, interfere with Serenity. Ain't stupid, though: no other way to save her girl, and can't no one bear to lose anything more.
"Can we go in?" she asks, needing to see all the bad at once so she can get her head 'round it. And more'n that, she's just aching to go home, 'cause even if home is all wrecked it's better than an Alliance medbay.
"Sure you want to see?"
Captain kisses the top of her head, takes her hand and leads her in. Inside, cargo bay's a mess, half the supports and catwalks come down. Kaylee and the captain step over and round them, and she wonders what he's thinking. Makes her think of climbing over bodies on a battlefield. Never seen a real battlefield herself, but seen close enough.
Feels like death, anyway, even more'n when the catalyzer blew and engine stopped and they all, 'cept for the captain, had to leave Serenity, figuring they weren't going to see each other again. Figuring on dying, then. Had been all she could think of, crying in Inara's shuttle as they got further and further away, listening to Jayne muttering curses under his breath and the Shepherd praying the same thing over and over.
But that time, there weren't no death. Captain and Zoe came pretty close, sure, but no one died and that were all that mattered.
They go through to the passenger dorm and infirmary, which are mostly okay 'cept for nothing being in its place, and up the stairs. Electrics are out so it's dark, but both of them have climbed those stairs so many times there's no stumbling. Just walking in the dark, hearing the captain's breathing close by, feeling the warmth of his hand in hers. Seems right for the two of them to be first back to Serenity, finding out the damage. Ain't no one in the 'verse she'd rather be with for this, not even Simon or 'Nara or Wash, even, though he'd known more about mechanical things than the captain.
Also nice to not be arguing and to not be scared of him. Felt for a while there like the captain forgot who he was the day the Shepherd died and weren't never going to come back to his own self, and that scared her more'n she would've expected. Always thought of the captain as being like Serenity, before, but she can't say the same now she's seen them both broken.
At the top of the stairs they turn towards the engine room. It don't look like hers anymore, still and silent and too many black bits. Hammock's been burned up, and it seems silly that she should be sad about such a little thing, when there are hammocks for sale on every planet in the 'verse. Kaylee just stands in the door, looking and swallowing and hanging on to the captain's hand.
"Doing okay?" captain asks.
Kaylee shrugs. "Sure is a mess," she says, pretending like it don't matter. "And how 'bout you, cap'n?"
Captain squeezes her hand. "Be nice when we can get back out to the black."
Footsteps echo as they walk through to the dining area. If she thought on it she could maybe tell herself that everyone else was here too, but she don't, 'cause they ain't here and this is too real to be imagining things. Remembers the day she painted the flowers, how the captain and Zoe looked doubtful but Wash he said he figured it would be kind of a nice thing, though he did complain about the smell of paint. Looks so peaceful and welcoming in here, where maybe all their best times were had. Last time they'd sat here captain had made his speech about broadcasting the Miranda wave and she'd felt cold and scared and excited all at the same time. Hadn't never felt so together with everyone as she had then, feeling like they all understood the same way, listening to Jayne quote the Shepherd and the captain talk like he was back at the war.
"No, you ain't."
"Shiny on the outside, anyway."
Captain waits patiently while she wipes her face with her spare hand. "Not even that. No pretending, mei mei."
"Ain't you pretending?" she asks, holding his hand tight and looking at him. Can see the pretending and the sadness in his eyes. This ain't fair for any of them but 'specially not for him. After Serenity Valley and the war and all, captain deserved happy ever after.
"I'm the captain," he says, like it's an answer.
Could stop here, but she won't. Has to see. She leads the way out into the front corridor, past the bunks with their doors shut tight. Her fairy lights ain't on, out like the rest of the electrics, but her sign's still there. Feels like a million years ago she painted that, back when she was just a girl.
Seems there are more steps up to the bridge that she remembers there being, but even so it's no time till she and the captain are standing together in the doorway. Can't help staring at the ugly holes in the viewscreen, and the glass scattered over the floor. "Did he hurt?" she asks.
Captain rubs her back. "No. He died soon as - "
"Where's - where is he?"
"Alliance are taking care of him. We'll give him a proper burial, mei mei."
Kaylee has to take a few deep breaths, looking at the bridge and thinking of Zoe and the captain being here when it happened. Suddenly realises there are things on this bridge need taking care of. Precious things. Leaving the captain in the doorway, she darts down into her bunk. Lots of her pretty trinkets, kept safe since she shipped out on Serenity, are wrecked, but she don't dare look too close now. There's a box under her bed though, a pretty wooden one she bought on Persephone one time, that ought to be big enough. Drops to her knees and hauls it out, then tips the pretties inside onto the bed without looking at them, and takes it back up the ladder.
"Kaylee?" Captain's up there, looking puzzled.
"Just have to do this, cap'n." Goes past him and into the bridge carefully, picks up a Tyrannosaurus Rex and places it gently into the box. She doesn't look at the captain until every one of the plastic dinosaurs and trees is safe. "Got to look after them," she says.
Captain stands in front of her looking sad and tired, takes the box of treasures and sets it on the console. "I know, Kaylee."
They stand there on the bridge, just the two of them, broken things all round them. Kaylee feels empty, and the captain looks it, and so without thinking she steps forward, puts her arms round him and nestles into his chest. Captain's all warm and solid as he folds his arms round her. She ain't sure of them's hanging on tightest. Might even be the captain, which ain't right, 'cause he's the one meant to be strong, meant to look after them all.
"Gonna fly again, darling," he tells her after a time, talking into her hair. The way his lips're moving against her head would make her shiver if he weren't holding her so close.
Kaylee just nods, lifting her head when she feels the captain straighten away from her. Bridge is still hurting, still wrecked same as everything else, but the captain's made her feel calmer.
"Come on," he says, picking up the box from off the console. "We don't get ourselves back your doctor'll come after me. 'Sides," he says, smiling like she remembers, "reckon there's another doc like to be looking for you."
Kaylee blinks a couple of times. Been so busy thinking about first Serenity and then the captain, she'd forgotten Simon. "I guess." She takes the box from the captain and follows him off the ship. Doesn't feel quite right to be leaving poor broken Serenity behind and going back to Alliance shuttles and ships, all shiny hard edges. Just says to herself over and over again that captain says they'll be back, and captain says Serenity will fly again. Ain't going to be the same, but going to be enough some day.