Disclaimer: I don't own. I just play. Sue if you must. I have $1.59 in the checking account. There are 19 sticky pennies in the change jar, many children on the place and even more cats & plastic fish that might bring you wealth beyond your dreams...or not

being what we are
His hand inched toward his pillow, instead of the metal he was reaching for, his fingers encountered flannel. Not under the pillow, but billowing about him. Soft, certainly was unexpected. He tried to place the familiarity with the aches and pains assaulting him.

Small hands smoothed covering over his half-dressed body, taking care across his middle where he was stabbed. He remembered that – suddenly, as if the thought pierced him sharply as Wing's sword. Swords. What a waste of sweat.

Rough fingers roamed through his hair, threading it from his sweat damp forehead. A thumb hesitated, near his eyelashes, before warming his cheek for less than a minute, longer than a second.

How drunk had he been? Was his first coherent thought, but it wasn't more'n a passing one. Mal didn't get that drunk, not anymore.

When the hand and fingers moved away, flannel again brushed his bare arm as naked feet tread silently toward his ladder. Away. Not throttling life from him or even attempting to. Neither was she – it had to be she; feet were too small to be a he – closer to him. Frowning, he tried to open one eye. Just to get a glimpse of whosoever was traipsing through his bunk in what better be the middle of the night.

Blue and pink flowers hitched up to take the ladder made him groan, halting the red painted toes on the first rung. Body stretching to rise from his personal space dropped back to the deck but remained, one foot still on the rung, by the ladder. Acres of flannel were clenched in her fist, revealing a calf that was toned, a knee that was flexed and poised for flight.

"You all right?" Kaylee's voice was barely above a whisper. He felt it slide between the bandaging and the wound, thick as the salve doc had slathered across his injuries, twice as calming.

"I am not. I was stabbed you know." He bent his elbow, to prop up his head because it didn't want to leave the pillow. His grin was a bit off-center, and his eye seemed overly wide, but his voice was his own, "What the hell you doing?"

"Just checkin' is all." She slid her arm through a rung, bent at the elbow, hands laced as if she needed to anchor herself, there.

"Gonna tell me some bed time stories?" Mal's head slid back to the pillow.

"Not tonight." Her laughter was strained, drawing Mal's frown once more. "Just felt bad for fussin' at you, being stabbed and all. Came to make sure you were all right."

"Did we fuss?" Mal rubbed his face. Trying to remember … anything but the flaming throb in his side and cows - seemed to remember cows in there somewhere.

"No. I fussed." Kaylee let go her fingers. Sighed back to tuck a blanket around him. Once more her fingers, light as ruffles, despite the work calloused tips, lingered near his cheek.

Mal expected the kiss, captured her face with both hands 'fore she offered it chaste like to his forehead. Kissing Kaylee was infinitely more satisfying than engine fermented wine. Tasting her satin laughter, feeling her breath catch, so's her hands dropped the flannel and rooted in the mattress either side of him was heartening as the warmth of her pleasured sigh. As his hand followed strands of her hair, sliding along her spine, he felt her knees lock against the side of his bunk. Her fingers dug into the linen, but the moan was his.

Tenderly as she'd meant the kiss to be, Kaylee drew away, blinkin' at him like warning lights. Her sigh wasn't quite reproach, but it held more understanding than he felt he deserved. "You're in no kinda shape to dance with me."

His chuckle teased her hair, curling it round his pinky. Manly protests juggled to rise from him, but she stole the breath from him with a wink. Drawing his hand from her shoulder, she sandwiched it between hers, nudging his knee over with her bottom, so's she could sit beside him.

"Once upon a time," she rubbed his knuckles with her palm, "There was a fine ball in the middle of a fancy town…."

"I reckon I know this story, little Kaylee." He wriggled his fingers to loosen her hold, but she settled their hands on the yards of flannel and refused to let go.

"Some of the best stories are one's you know turn out with a happy ending." She gazed at their hands, coupled in her lap, startled when his other hand covered hers. Tossing hair from her eyes, she said, "I'm right sorry I fussed at you, though. Can't help being what we are – wouldn't want you to be different."

Mal considered her face, not rightly understanding what was making her look sad. "Kaylee, you got nothing to apologize for. Seems it's me ought to be doing the sorry's."

She shrugged, releasing his hands. Leaving them idle on the bed where her bottom had been. All in one movement, those damn flowers nearly blinding him, she stood up and smiled down at him.

He tried to sit up; maybe to stop her, or at least watch she got up the ladder okay. But, his body didn't obey commands the mind was giving it. Pain made him forget what he'd been thinking to say. All he could get out was meaningless, "Was a good party … until the punching part."

Kaylee's laughter was generous, "It was, and I bartered us some parts for Serenity from a gentlemen that appreciates useful people."

"So that's who you were rushing to meet with your sack while we were loading cattle." Mal snorted. "Thought maybe you'd found a dandy of your own, you were gone long enough."

"Noticed that, did you, while fussing at Jayne about herding techniques?" Kaylee leaned her forehead on the ladder, looking weary as he felt.

"Captain thing." Mal shifted, trying to see her face in the shadows. Her voice sounded so odd, farther away than a chandelier floating above.

"Didn't go nowhere but out of the way of the thundering herd." Kaylee chuckled, whispering something he didn't quite catch, sounded like, "I don't interest the dandies none."

"What did you barter us?" His eyes lids were so heavy, damned if Kaylee didn't look like she was waffling about by the ladder, moving toward him and then away. How did she appear so close and so far all at once? Must be the flannel – some trick of the nightlights from above on those petals thick as her gentle fingers….

"Just some bits and pieces," she whispered, holding her breath.

When he wriggled his jaw and turned back toward the pillow, hand sliding to the edge, where he could reach his 'just in case' weapon, she hiked up her gown. Feet curling around the rungs, hands sure on the rail, she left him. Reassuring Wash, who was standing there, his mouth all wide open and shocked, she crept to her own bed.

No 'just in case' needed under her pillow that's for sure. First decent kiss she'd had in years, and what was she wearing? Flounces and Ruffles? No, course not. Just her old ugly, time of the month, life is cold; at least my moma loves me enough to send me this, gown. Seams were mended many times, the elbow nearly worn through on the right side, but it helped, more'n pretty things. In the black, a body needed more'n ruffles and pale colors, strange how easy it was to forget that...

As she was drifting off to sleep, she didn't hear the strains of waltz music, or remember the scent of fine food, or even the men buzzing round her. She heard Malcolm Reynolds boots hit the deck and his grunt of relief.

It made her smile.