An internal battle raged on within Mal's core, as his actions toward Kaylee earlier that day still managed to haunt him. The conflicting voices inside his head were starting to drive him insane. He tried to push away his thoughts, convincing himself that there were more important matters at hand. After all, he had a ship to run.
Entering the cargo bay, Mal saw Jayne and Zoe loading supplies onto the ship. "Did you get the things we needed?" he asked his first mate.
"Yes, Sir," Zoe replied. "Everything went off without a hitch."
"I wish I could say the same," Mal sighed. Things on his end certainly hadn't gone to plan.
"Trouble, Sir?" Zoe asked.
Mal nodded. "You could say that. Just the usual thieves and Reavers, nothing we couldn't handle," he explained. Not to mention what happened on the ship with Kaylee, he thought.
"Reavers? Them things give me the chills," Jayne said shuddering. "You sure they didn't follow ya?"
"Yeah, Jayne, I'm sure," Mal said with little patience. "Don't you have guns to go play with or something?"
"As a matter of fact…" Jayne trailed off thoughtfully and headed to his room.
"Everything alright?" Zoe asked, wondering why the Captain dismissed Jayne when there were plenty of boxes that needed loading.
"Huh? Yeah, fine, everythin's fine, why would you even ask?" Mal said in a slightly higher voice than usual.
Zoe looked at him suspiciously and said, "Does this have something to do with Kaylee being upset?" She had seen the girl heading to the infirmary in lower spirits than usual, and wondered if something that Mal said had been the cause.
"No," he said. She stared him down. "Maybe," he said, getting nervous under her glare. She didn't flinch and never once let up her intense gaze. "Alright, fine! Yes. Ye Soo, Zoe, you could melt ice with that stare!"
A small smile almost made its way to Zoe's face, but she managed to suppress it and continue her inquiry. "And what exactly did you do, Sir?" Zoe asked in a voice akin to that of a mother berating a child.
He really didn't want to tell her, but she started doing that staring thing again and he'd do anything to avoid that. "I may have kissed Kaylee," he mumbled, so that his words were barely audible.
"What? Did you just say that you kissed Kaylee?" Wash's voice shouted in surprise from behind Mal, making the Captain jump.
"Sshhhhh!" Mal hushed Wash and looked around to see if anyone heard. The last thing he wanted was another lecture from the Shepherd about going to a 'special hell.'
"You kissed Kaylee?" Wash asked again, this time in a forceful whisper. "What about your whole thing against shipboard romances?" he asked, putting his arm around his wife as he said that.
"It wasn't like that!" Mal protested. "I mean, we were attacked, and then she was in shock, and I had to get her out of shock, so I kissed her," he rambled defensively.
"Of course," Zoe said and Mal looked at her hopefully. "Just like you used to kiss the men in the squad during the war, to get them out of shock," she said with a raised eyebrow and a healthy dose of sarcasm.
Mal muttered something about her being a smart-ass and then put his head in his hands. "I'm a bad, bad man," he groaned.
"What did you do now, Mal?" the Shepherd asked, heading into the cargo bay from his quarters.
"He kissed Kaylee!" Wash said before Mal could get out any words of denial.
"Wash!" he scolded and looked at the Preacher in fear. Now he was really going to get it.
There was a moment of silence while everyone intently awaited the Shepherd's reaction. "Would you mind if we had a conversation in private?" Book asked the Captain slowly, causing Mal to swallow hard.
"I, uh, have captaining to do-"
"Mal," the Preacher said sternly.
The Captain sighed heavily. "Fine," he said and followed the Preacher into his quarters. "Alright, lay it on me Preacher," Mal said, resigned to a lecture.
"To borrow a phrase from River, you really are a boob," the Shepherd said knowingly.
"Come again?" Mal asked, thinking he must have misheard the Shepherd. "Did you just call me a boob?"
"I did," the Shepherd confirmed. "You kissed Kaylee because you have feelings for her, didn't you?"
"I... she… it just happened," Mal stuttered, not knowing how to reply.
The Shepherd just shook his head. "I know you Mal. You kissed her, and now your idiotic sense of nobility is telling you that you shouldn't have, right?"
"Idiotic sense of nobility?" Mal asked, feeling slightly insulted. "Preacher, you're the one who gave me that whole 'special hell' lecture, or don't you remember?"
"Oh, I remember," the Preacher commented. "But I gave you that lecture concerning a woman that you had no feelings for, a woman whom you had no intentions to start a future with. Now I could be wrong, but I believe that you feel differently toward Kaylee."
Mal sighed in defeat. He wanted to deny his feelings, but he was just so tired. Tired of fighting his instincts, tired of fighting his feelings, and mainly tired of holding back from Kaylee. Yet, he still wanted to do right by her. "She's grieving," he said to the Preacher with heavy eyes. "If I let anything happen, I'd be taking advantage."
"I think you need to have more faith that she knows what she wants," Shepherd said.
Mal almost rolled his eyes. It was always about faith with the Shepherd, wasn't it? "Shipboard romances though, they only cause problems," Mal muttered.
"Like I said," the Preacher sighed. "A boob."
Mal glared at the Shepherd and left the room, determined to find Kaylee.
Mal knocked on the door to Kaylee's room only to hear a muffled, "Go away!" from inside. Ignoring her, he opened the door and descended the ladder. The noise surprised her and she looked at him irately from her position on the bed.
"I thought I told you to go away," she said. Her voice was laced with so much hostility that he couldn't help but wince.
"Sorry, my boat my rules," Mal said authoritatively and gave her a slightly apologetic smile. She rolled her eyes at him and then looked away. This is certainly going well, Mal thought.
"So let me guess, you came here to kiss me, maybe throw in a bao-bei here and there, and then leave before I figure out what the heck's goin' on?" she asked indignantly.
"Only if we don't finish up by dinner time," he said without seriousness.
"I ain't laughin'," Kaylee responded, not in the mood for jokes.
"I noticed. In fact, you ain't been laughin' much at all lately," he observed. "I don't even remember the last time I saw you smile."
Kaylee looked over at him and arched an eyebrow. "You're one to talk. You hardly ever smile… ever. Only once and a while."
"I ain't accustomed to smilin'," Mal commented and was nearly startled out of his skin when she suddenly jumped up from the bed.
"Why not?" she asked heatedly, as if it made no sense to her. "Why can't you just let yourself be happy?" she wondered and slowly approached him. Upon reaching him, she stared deeply into his eyes and brought her hand to the side of his face.
He swallowed heavily but kept her intense gaze. "Listen, bao-bei- "
At hearing those words Kaylee retreated, fearing another lead-up and let-down, but he grabbed her wrist tightly and forced her back to him. "I know I got a lot of explainin' to do," he admitted.
"No," she said while shaking her head gently and looking down. "You don't have to explain anythin'. I think I get it."
"You do?" he asked uncertainly.
She nodded but still avoided his eyes. "Yeah, I do," she said. "I know I ain't anythin' beautiful or special, like 'Nara was."
"Kaylee," Mal said gently, putting his hand under her chin and forcing her to look at him. "You're plenty beautiful," he said, wishing that he was better with words, but by the way her eyes shone he knew it didn't matter what he said so long as he meant it. "And do you really want to get me started on special?"
By the way she looked at him, he knew that she did. "Okay," he said with a light sigh, knowing he owed her at least that much. "Remember when I took you to the ball?" he asked and her eyes lit up at the memory. "Right. Well, the way I remember it, you had a whole group of fellas surrounding you. Those men were practically eatin' out of your hand," he commented, surprised at the surge of jealousy that assaulted him on remembering the events.
"But 'Nara- "
"Inara entices men using her companion training," Mal explained, cutting her off. "She knows what they want to hear and puts on an act. You, on the other hand, attracted those men that night just by being yourself. Now I think that's mighty special."
His words truly touched her, but she still wasn't fully convinced. "But what about you, Cap'n?"
He sighed again resignedly, knowing that he'd have to talk to her about his feelings sooner or later. "I ain't gonna lie and say that I didn't have feelings for Inara. But things could never have worked out between us, and I ain't just sayin' that cause of her job."
Kaylee looked at him questioningly, so he continued. "Most of the time, being with Inara felt like drowning. Things just got so complicated that I felt like I couldn't breathe," he described. "But Kaylee, when I'm around you I feel different. Like everythin's light and effortless. You make me think sometimes that no matter what, everythin's going to be okay," he told her.
She was so overcome by his words that she couldn't speak. Looking at him unbelievingly, tears gathered in her eyes and threatened to fall. She could tell he wasn't done saying his piece, so she stood there silently and waited for him to continue.
He smiled sadly at her and said, "Then Kaylee, when your family died, things changed. You changed. It was like the light inside you went out. And all of a sudden, I was lost. I didn't know what to do without it, didn't realize how much I needed it in my life." He paused and took a deep breath. "The 'verse just didn't feel right with you bein' sad, so I tried to make things okay again. And somewhere along the way I realized just how much I've come to love you, bao-bei."
Tears fell silently down Kaylee's cheeks, but her smile shimmered through the drops. Upon seeing her smile, Mal realized just how much he missed it and couldn't help but smile back. "But then why on the shuttle when I told you how I felt… and then again afterward…" she trailed off, not really able to form sentences at the moment.
Chuckling lightly at her stammering, he took her hand in his and gently squeezed it. "You were vulnerable. Still are. Thought I might be takin' advantage," he explained.
"Shagua!" Kaylee exclaimed with frustration.
"Guess decency doesn't get you very far these days," Mal grumbled. Was today 'call your captain a derogatory name day' or something?
Kaylee smiled brightly at him and couldn't help but let out a small giggle. "Stop your whinin' and kiss me," she commanded.
"Now that's one order I don't mind takin'," he told her and happily complied. Closing his eyes he brought his head down to hers and their lips connected. As their mouths danced, Kaylee brought her arms up to the Captain's shoulders and he wrapped his arms around her waist.
Things became heated quickly, and it wasn't long before they made their way to the bed, never once breaking the kiss. Kaylee aggressively unbuckled the Captain's suspenders and then unbuttoned his shirt, letting her hands roam around his body and giving him chills. The way she smelled like Serenity drove him wild, not to mention the enthusiasm in which she explored every inch of his torso.
All of a sudden she pulled away and looked at him with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Hold up a minute, Cap'n. Doesn't this violate your policy 'bout shipboard romances?"
Mal grumbled unappreciatively and pulled her back down to him, crushing her mouth to his. "Well now, you know I was never one to follow the rules," he said hoarsely once she came up for air. She laughed giddily and Mal could feel the sound warming his whole body.
And once again, or maybe for the first time ever, things seemed right in the 'verse.
Ye Soo – Jesus
bao-bei – darling, sweetheart
shagua – idiot
A/N: Well, that's it! Hope that the end wasn't fluff overkill :). Let me know if you liked it (or hated it). In any case, thanks for reading! Thanks for all your comments so far!