Title: Breaking the Girl

Summary: Mal has to break the news to Kaylee after her family is killed by Reavers. Takes place after Firefly the series but before the BDM.

Spoilers: Serenity (the pilot), Out of Gas

Disclaimer: I don't own Firefly, cause if I did I'd make damn sure that it was still on the air. All the characters belong to the amazingly talented Joss Whedon, and not me. I'm just going to play with them for a little while.

Pairings: Kaylee/Mal

Author's Note: Love it or hate it, just let me know what you think!

"Mal, you might want to look at this," Wash summoned over the intercom, using his serious voice. Mal knew that something was usually wrong when Wash, who was hardly ever serious about anything, used his serious voice.

"What've we got?" Mal asked, as he headed up to the bridge.

Wash pointed to the Cortex. "Just look," he told him.

Mal's eyes narrowed a little as he concentrated on the words on the Cortex. "It's a Reaver warning," Mal grunted. As much as he hated to admit it, Reavers made him nervous, especially when he had a crew to watch over. "I guess they're in our vicinity."

"Yeah, but it's worse than that. Finish reading the report," Wash said gravely.

Scanning the rest of the words, Mal's eyes suddenly widened. "Lao tyen, boo… Kaylee," he breathed.

"Yeah," Wash sighed. "The Reavers attacked her hometown on Celestia and didn't leave any survivors. Her family… they're dead, Mal. We're not too far out from Celestia right now. That's why we got that warning on the Cortex."

He waited for the Captain to say something else, or to give him an order. Mal's silence was pretty unnerving. "Do you… do you want me to have the Shepherd deal with this? Or maybe Zoe?" Wash asked lightly. There was no way in hell he was volunteering for the job.

"No. No, I'll tell her," Mal replied with a catch in his voice. As much as he didn't want to do it, gorramit he didn't want to do it, he knew that the news had to come from him.

Wash looked at Mal and saw the despair in the Captain's eyes. He knew that Mal had always tried to protect Kaylee from the harsh realities of the world. This time, though, it was pretty unavoidable. To tell the girl that her entire family had been slaughtered by Reavers… no, there was just no way to sugarcoat that.

"I'll tell her tomorrow," Mal said gruffly. Gorramit, he was a coward.

"Um, don't you think that this news might be a little too important to wait?" Wash asked in a tone heavy with sarcasm.

"Tomorrow," Mal said firmly.

"Mal- " Wash scolded, but he was quickly interrupted by the Captain.

"Just… let's just let her have one more night of innocence," Mal said softly. At this, Wash was surprised. He wasn't used to Mal sounding so downhearted. Usually, even when things were really grim, his voice remained calm. Also, Mal's order was more of a plea than a command. It was quite unsettling, and for once Wash missed Mal's 'my way or the highway' attitude. All Wash could do was nod in response.

For Mal's part, he was fighting within himself. He knew it was wrong to wait to tell Kaylee. But he also knew that this news would devastate her. So if he had to hold the weight of the world on his shoulders for one night, so be it. He was going to protect Kaylee for as long as he could.

"You're late for dinner," Zoe's voice echoed over the intercom, breaking Mal from his thoughts.

"We'll be right there, baby," Wash replied. "Mal… " Wash started unsurely, wondering whether the Captain would be joining them or not.

"Let's go," Mal said. The pain was instantly gone from his eyes and his calm exterior was back. It was kind of scary how easily he could mask his feelings from the world when he put his mind to it.

"What in the gorram hell took you so long?" Jayne yelled as Wash and the Captain entered the dining room. "I'm starvin'!"

Wash looked over at Mal. When he saw that the Captain had no intention of responding to Jayne's complaints he said, "Oh well, you know… just bonding with the Captain." Zoe raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but Mal gave her a look that told her not to ask questions.

"Well then let's eat already!" Jayne groaned and started filling his plate.

Mal focused his gaze on Kaylee. He wanted to soak up as much of her brightness as he could that night, as he didn't know how long it would be before she would shine again. He watched her laugh at some joke the doctor told. He watched as the smile never left her face all throughout dinner. How was he supposed to bring her world to a screeching halt? Shouldn't he be able to protect her from that kind of pain?

She came up to him after dinner was over, and he wondered if she noticed that he had been staring at her all night. "Everythin' all right, Cap'n?" Kaylee asked him.

"Everythin's shiny," he responded to her. Guilt ate away at him for lying to her. But he'd take that guilt if it meant keeping her happy for just a bit longer.

Kaylee wasn't convinced, though. "It's just that, you seem a little… sad, is all. I don't like seein' my cap'n sad," she said.

And I don't like seein' my little Kaylee sad. "Nothin' for you to worry your pretty lil' head over, mei-mei," he responded and gave her a light smile.

She beamed at him and said, "Okay, well just try to cheer up some. That's an order."

"Is it now?" he asked with amusement. Only Kaylee could get away with saying something like that on his boat, and she knew it.

"You betcha. Well if you need me some, I'll be in the engine room tendin' to our girl," she told him. She then kissed him on the cheek and pranced away happily. As he watched her walk away, the weight in his chest felt heavier than ever.

Lao tyen, boo - Oh God, no

mei-mei - dear sister