Title: Never Alone
Synopsis: 6 weeks after the events of Miranda another member of the crew is killed.
Disclaimer: This story is not meant to infringe on the copyright of any person or company related to the trademarked characters and situations depicted in the Serenity movie or Firefly series. I make no money from this. Only done for fun – and a desperate craving to have more stories told about this wonderful 'verse Joss Whedon created.
– The Present –
They weren't invincible. None of them. Nothing had driven home that realization quicker than Wash and Book's deaths. They led dangerous lives. They expected to be shot and wounded, or even killed, during any job.
It's why Mal had offered to shelter Simon and his sister. The boy was a good doctor and had saved every single one of them more than once. And – though the rough-around-the-edges Captain would never admit it, he admired Simon for what he'd done to protect River
Raw as they still were from the deaths of two of their own, the crew hadn't been prepared for the death of yet another of their dwindling numbers. The suddenness of the event had shocked those remaining, debilitating them to the point of being unable to continue with their work, their lives.
The family that had been built on Serenity, the affection, or at the very least respect, grown to encompass every single man and woman, had been broken. It had splintered and there was nothing anyone could do to patch it up again.
They were too numb to try.
– The Past –
It had only been six weeks since Miranda. Things had started to return to normal – well, as normal as life was for the crew of Serenity. Though still mourning their fallen comrades, they had settled back into a routine; a routine that necessitated the need for coin. Even though the repairs done to Serenity had been completed free of charge on the Operative's order, they still needed a job. And like a good Captain, Mal had found them some work.
It wasn't an easy job, but they never were. Every time they left the ship they risked being shot at, double-crossed, betrayed, wounded or even killed. But Mal needed coin to keep his girl in the air, to keep his crew fed, and if it meant taking a few unsavory jobs to get that done, then he would take them.
But, yet again, the job had gone south, and they were being chased from their drop point after snatching the payment out of their dead contact's hand. Mal would need River to get Serenity prepped and would need the rest of the crew to prepare for a quick getaway.
As luck would have it, the hand-held comm. unit Mal had brought with them to communicate with the ship had been damaged and they couldn't speak to the rest of the crew. As bullets sailed by his head, Mal hoped River would be able to feel the approaching danger as they neared their destination.
Kaylee, River, Inara and Simon all bounded into the cargo bay from different directions as they heard the array of gunfire that echoed through the lower level of the ship.
As the mule skidded up the ramp and the occupants dove out of it for cover, one single, solitary shot could be heard above all the rest.
Time slowed as yet another member of the crew was struck, shock spreading across all of their faces when they realized what had happened.
Mal stared helplessly, cursing the array of bullets that kept him pinned behind the mule, that had made him unable to call out a warning in time.
– The Present –
They stood now in a small, well-kept garden surrounded by wild flowers. It was a pretty place. Simple, calm and peaceful and the summer wind blew coolly through the garden to relentlessly kiss the stone marker that served as a reminder of who lay beneath it. The engraved words were simple and each held a different meaning for those who beheld them now.
Some tears fell unhindered down tanned cheeks while others were kept imprisoned within sad eyes, just waiting for permission to be released. They stood in companionable silence all lost in memories of their fallen comrade.
There were no words to be said that hadn't already been voiced a thousand times over. There was nothing that would comfort them now. The pain ran too deep; deeper still for some more than others. Time healed all wounds and would heal this one as well – eventually.
Trembling fingers traced one word, paused, and then traced it again. And then one sob came, followed by another and another, until the simple garden was filled with them.
– The Past –
"Simon!" Kaylee cried as he dropped like a rag doll at her feet. She was closer and so reached him first, falling to her knees and pulling him into her arms even as her hands slid over his chest to cover the blood pooling beneath them. Tears instantly welled in her eyes as she glanced down at the red stain spreading across his chest and between her fingers.
She cried for help but gunshots echoed around her and no one came, not quick enough anyway.
The shock in Simon's eyes immediately followed by numbing pain caused him to gasp for air, Kaylee's name slipping broken from his lips.
"Shh, stay quiet, Simon. Cap'n'll be right here to patch you up." Her eyes darted around the cargo bay, but the one word that fell out of his mouth drew her gaze instantly back to his.
Kaylee shook her head, understanding his meaning but unable to accept it. "Stop it, Simon. You'll be fine. Right and shiny an –"
"Kaylee –" The pain in his voice caused an involuntary shudder to race down her spine and she stubbornly shook her head in an effort to ignore what she knew he was going to say.
He inhaled deeply, haltingly, his body struggling to take in enough air to say what needed to be said. As soon as he pushed the words out of his mouth, a sob escaped Kaylee's lips.
"Love you too, Simon." She bent and pressed her mouth to his cheek, nuzzling it before lifting her head to meet his cloudy eyes. "You know I do."
Around her, she heard Mal barking orders and soon he was kneeling on one side, Jayne on the other.
"Help me get him up," Mal said, meeting Jayne's eyes. "We need to –"
"No," Simon breathed, his voice firm even though it was barely above a whisper.
Mal set his jaw as he stared at his injured medic. "Now listen here, doc. We need to get you to the infirmary and –"
"No. Mal. Please." Simon coughed and clutched Kaylee's hand with as much strength as he could muster. "Listen."
"Simon, you need –"
Mal snapped his mouth shut and did as he was told. For once in his life, on his own boat, he let his jing chang mei yong dedoctor give him an order. He thought back to the day he'd said those words, called the dying young man lying at his feet useless. Guilt welled in his chest as well as regret, knowing they were untrue. Simon had saved them all. More than once.
Mal's inside's twisted as he realized he would not be able to return the favor when Simon needed it most.
Simon's gaze pierced him now, steady and determined. Mal knew that look. He wanted something. And as Mal reached out and touched the younger man's arm, he knew he would grant him anything that was in his power to give.
Simon's hands searched for purchase on Kaylee. Anywhere he could touch her. And his eyes darted distractedly upward, blinking rapidly to clear suddenly blurry vision. "Marry us, please," Simon breathed, his voice hitching in his chest.
Mal hid his surprise when he shifted his eyes to look at an equally shocked Kaylee. "Simon, you need to be –"
Mal opened his mouth to bite out a scathing retort but the look in Simon's eyes told him it would fall on deaf ears.
Zoe, having returned from the infirmary with a needle prepped, waited for the ok to inject the powerful painkiller. When she noticed Mal's nod, she knelt and pressed the hypo into Simon's neck. His eyes fluttered for a moment and his body relaxed into Kaylee's arms, the medication taking the edge off the pain.
River knelt beside her brother, her eyes calm and her demeanor determined. She pressed one hand against his chest, atop Kaylee's, the blood warm as it leaked through their joined fingers. With the other, River curled her fingers around his, nodding ever so slightly as she watched his face grow paler with each passing minute. She knew he didn't see her, he was too distracted and only had enough strength to concentrate on one thing at a time. It didn't matter. This moment was for her, not for Simon. It was her chance to say goodbye.
"This isn't – how I – envisioned –" Simon took a deep shuddering breath, his eyes never leaving Kaylee's face, " – asking you."
Kaylee bent and pressed her lips to his sharing the saltiness of her tears. She sobbed against his mouth but his strangled cough drew them apart.
"Marry me," he whispered, struggling to breathe, to stay awake.
Kaylee nodded only moments later, unable to form the words, and consented to marry a man who would, a few minutes later, die in her arms.
– The Present –
"Loved you," came a small voice and Kaylee didn't bother to look up as River knelt beside her.
She stared at the words beneath her fingers, anger warring with grief for dominance in her heart. Their time together had been short, but it had been filled with love, more than she knew she would ever feel again.
River leaned forward and traced the word brother with the pads of her fingers, seemingly absorbing the essence of it's meaning into her very soul. He had said goodbye to her. And a sob caught in her throat as she remembered those words.
The same words he'd said when he'd been shot in the gut only a few weeks prior.
'I love you, River."
'Love you, Simon.' River had sobbed, tears leaking out of her eyes despite her desire to stay strong.
'Take care of Kaylee.'
Kaylee's fingers trailed over his name and slowly over the word beloved, halting at the word husband. She clutched the bouquet of flowers so tightly the thorns from the roses dug into her hand and coated the stems with little droplets of blood.
"I know," Kaylee whispered, unable to say more. She had never felt so alone even while surrounded by people who loved and cared for her.
River slid her hand around the one that still held the bouquet and squeezed, her own tears finally breaking free of their prison. "Not alone." She glanced at the tombstone and shook her head, the smile so faint no one noticed. "Never alone."
– The Past –
"I wanna take him home," Kaylee said blandly, her voice emotionless.
She sat on the couch, her legs curled beneath her, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She sat within steps of the infirmary her husband had spent so much time in – a place that had ultimately failed him in the end. There was nothing there that could have saved his life.
Mal met Inara's gaze over Kaylee's head. The older woman sat beside Kaylee, trying to provide support and comfort where she could.
"Kaylee, sweetie, we can't go to the Core –"
"Not our home. It's not home anymore." River stepped out of the shadows, her skin pale and her face as expressionless and emotionless as Kaylee's. "Sister's home. Pretty place. Peaceful. And we can visit." She sat on the other side of Kaylee and leaned into her arms, giving and accepting comfort from the only other person who could really understand the depth of her grief.
Mal nodded, in no position whatsoever to deny these women anything. "I'll go set course."
Jing chang mei yong de - consistently useless
– The Present –
The young woman didn't acknowledge the call of her name or even the brush of fabric as it swept across her legs.
"Kaylee, sweetie, it's getting cold."
"Don't matter. Can't feel nothin' anyway."
"You need to take care of yourself." Inara knelt beside her friend and rested her hand on Kaylee's shoulder.
"Go 'way, 'Nara." Kaylee rubbed her cheek against the dirt and tightened her arms over the small mound left from the burial.
With a determined set to her voice, Inara said, "I'm not going to leave you alone."
Inara blinked back tears. There was nothing she could do to take away her mei mei's pain and she wasn't sure she should even try. Kaylee needed to grieve for what she'd lost but she didn't need to do it alone.
"Not alone," came the small voice.
Inara glanced over to see River curled into herself, leaning against a small sapling that rested a few feet away. When it was full grown, its shade would fall over the grave and the garden, protecting Simon even in death from the harsh rays of sunlight.
"I'm gonna stay, 'Nara."
Inara's eyes shifted back toward the younger girl, trembling visibly from the chilly evening air. "If you insist, then I'll bring you a blanket to keep you warm."
As Inara left, Kaylee raised tear-filled eyes toward her departing back. "Not what I meant."
– The Past –
Kaylee stood with her palm lying flat against the cold infirmary window, staring at the stillness within. The door was shut and locked, kept frigid enough inside to transport Simon home. She'd wanted to see his face, even if from the outside, but Inara had insisted that the body be covered. She hated her friend for that.
Her body trembled with the chill seeping into her skin through the palm of her hand. They hadn't had enough time. 8 months of dancing around one another, a few shorts weeks of happiness. It wasn't enough time. But Kaylee knew that a lifetime together would not have been enough.
She watched for a few more minutes, the coldness of the room permeating her very bones. She'd cried all the tears her body could produce since Simon had died. There was nothing left. But as she moved slowly toward the door and unlatched it, not even the blast of cold air that met with her warm skin was enough to freeze the tears that welled immediately in her eyes and rolled down her smooth cheeks.
The door slid shut again and she slowly rolled the stool over to the diagnostic chair. She stared for a long moment before reaching toward the sheet where she knew his hand to be. Her hand trembled as she rested it atop his, only the thin white barrier separating warm skin from cold. But before too long, she slipped it beneath the sheet and touched his fingers, so cold, unmoving.
A sob broke through her tightly clamped lips as she stared at the body lying covered beneath her tear-filled gaze. She didn't know how long she sat there, staring, wanting to remove the sheet and look at his peaceful face one more time. But she couldn't reach up and draw it away. Her limbs felt like they had lead weights attached to them and simply wouldn't move no matter the command she gave.
Maybe Inara had been right after all.
– The Present –
"Have to go with them," River said as they sat beneath the warm sun staring at the words etched into the tombstone.
"You gotta life to lead. I know."
"So do you."
"Not no more."
River opened her mouth but closed it again as she glanced sadly at the tombstone that marked her brother's final resting place. She knew Kaylee would have a life again. But convincing her distraught sister of that at this point in time would be a futile attempt River wasn't even sure she wanted to make.
Her own sadness threatened to overwhelm her and the despair and heartache rolling off Kaylee was enough to choke the breath out of her lungs.
"I'll watch over them for you." A tear rolled down River's cheek as she leaned against Kaylee and reached out to touch the flowers lying at the base of the stone marker. "If you'll watch over him for me."
Kaylee sobbed, took a deep breath and sobbed again, harder, until her body shook from the uncontrollable emotion. River wrapped her long, willowy arms around her sister and buried her face in the older woman's neck, her tears wetting Kaylee's hair.
– The Past –
The young woman lifted her head from where she'd laid it on his covered arm and turned to see Zoe standing in the doorway. She'd come in and closed the door, keeping the room sufficiently chilled and allowing none of the cold to seep out.
Kaylee didn't answer, she simply returned her attention to the sheet that covered her husband's body, her heart clenching in her chest. She didn't hear Zoe's approach until the heat from her body began to warm into Kaylee's cold limbs.
"It's not easy," Zoe began, carefully keeping her attention focused on Kaylee's face. If she looked at the body lying covered on the chair, the visions of Wash lying in the same place would come flooding back. And she couldn't show that weakness, pain, heartache, not right now. Not in front of Kaylee.
Kaylee didn't answer. Her eyes focused on her hands covering his.
"I understand." Zoe said stoically and turned to walk away. A sob stopped her retreat and Zoe moved immediately to Kaylee's side. Before she could reach out and offer support, the younger girl turned and buried her face into Zoe's chest. Hard, wracking sobs broke from her lips as Zoe's arms came down around Kaylee's shoulders, comforting her in a grief she felt all too vividly.
– The Present –
Kaylee stood in front of Inara, her eyes dim, her smile gone. She glanced over her shoulder at the Captain, who stood waiting at the top of the ramp, his hands shoved into the pockets of his long brown duster. Kaylee tried to smile, knowing that he only did that when he was nervous or uncomfortable.
"I wish you would change your mind, mei mei," Inara was saying and Kaylee's eyes flitted back to her friend's face.
"I can't," Kaylee sighed. "Not right now. Maybe not ever."
"I'll miss you." Inara embraced her friend tightly, a few tears sliding down her smooth cheeks. "We'll miss you."
When they parted, Kaylee's eyes sparkled, but not with tears. "Don't keep fightin' it, 'Nara."
Inara stared at her friend, not understanding.
"Me an Simon only had a few weeks but they was the best weeks of my life. I wouldn't trade 'em for nothin'." Kaylee's eyes traveled up the ramp again. "Don't waste the time you got, 'cause you never know when he'll be taken away." Tears rolled down her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around herself, imagining Simon standing behind her, his strong arms holding her tight.
Inara swallowed thickly, understanding. But she wasn't sure if the barrier separating her and the Captain could be crossed as easily as the one Simon had crossed to get to Kaylee. "Kaylee –"
"Promise me you'll try." Her voice was desperate now and Inara couldn't remember when she last heard any type of emotion come from Kaylee's lips.
Inara nodded. "We'll try."
– The Past –
Mal found her sitting once again on the couch, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, her legs curled beneath her. He took a seat beside her and simply sat for a few moments in silence, not at all surprised when she didn't acknowledge his presence. She simply sat staring at the infirmary window, as if hoping for something that would never be.
"You need to eat," he finally said, the quiet eating away at him.
Mal frowned. He'd just had this same conversation with River. His inability to help the two women gnawed at him, even made him lash out at Inara when he'd truly just needed to vent some frustration. He'd left her shuttle with his tail between his legs, vowing never to hurt another member of his crew ever again.
"I'm sorry," Mal finally said after several more minutes of silence.
"You should be," Kaylee said softly, her voice still devoid of any emotion.
Mal swallowed thickly and closed his eyes. He deserved that and more. When Kaylee turned hollow eyes on him, his heart fell into the pit of his stomach.
"He died 'cause of you."
Mal could only nod.
"Why'd it have to be him?" Kaylee said suddenly, sitting straight and letting the blanket fall off her shoulders. "Why?"
Mal pushed away the anxiety that welled in his heart and swallowed hard. "I dunno, Kay –"
With a swiftness he didn't expect, she balled her hands into fists and pounded them against his chest, crying, saying things he knew she would regret later. He let her hit him, her strongest punch weaker than his on a bad day.
Kaylee's chest heaved, tears rolled down her cheeks and her voice echoed around the common room, but she didn't care. When she had no strength left, she collapsed against his chest, her body trembling with the release of pent up anger.
Mal's arms came down around her and held her tight as she murmured apologies against his damp shirt.
'S'okay, lil' Kaylee," Mal soothed softly. "It's okay to blame me. I blame myself."
– Epilogue –
– The Past –
Kaylee rubbed her cheek against Simon's chest and sighed contentedly when his strong arms came down around her shoulders and hugged her tight.
The last few weeks had been filled with such bliss that she'd been unable to wipe the smile off her face. The Captain had just taken to rolling his eyes and Jayne simply sneered, made crude jokes and did his best to embarrass Simon. But nothing could dim that supernova smile.
They'd talked about their guilt at being so happy after the crew had suffered such loss and it was during one of those talks that Simon had made her a promise. One that Kaylee knew, somewhere deep down in her very soul, that he would not be able to keep.
"It took so long for us to get it right," Simon murmured regretfully. "I've been such a – boob."
Kaylee grinned and pressed her mouth to his neck, delighting in the shiver that ran down his spine. "It's okay. We're t'gether now."
He tilted her head and kissed her deeply, tugging her bottom lip into his mouth for a few moments before they parted. When his hands slid to cup her cheeks and he gazed into her eyes, she felt the weight of some undeniable force pressing down on her lungs so hard that she could barely breathe. "I'm not leaving you. Ever."
Kaylee had been stoic for the last few weeks as the sickness would not go away. Her mother worried, fretted over her every move, but Kaylee knew, deep down, what was wrong.
As she made her way to the garden and sat among the freshly planted flowers that now lined the fenced in grave site, she sank to her knees. The dullness that had taken up permanent residence in her eyes had vanished and within them there burned a small spark of renewed energy. As she reached out to brush her fingers across the stone marker, tears fell down her cheeks.
"You didn't lie ta me, Simon." She rubbed one hand over her stomach, and felt the nausea return and then subside. "I shoulda believed you."
She laid down on the neatly cut grass and cried, tears of sadness mingled with a bit of joy and hope, cursing the fates that had taken her husband from her before he'd had the chance to meet their child.
– The Present –
Tears fell down flushed cheeks as Kaylee opened her arms and beckoned the woman forward. She was exhausted, physically and emotionally, but she wanted to see him, hold him, before she fell asleep.
The midwife carefully placed the crying baby into her arms with a smile, not knowing the strain and heartache his mother had endured in her short life.
Kaylee made no effort to wipe away the salty tears as they rolled down her cheeks. Her eyes were simply glued onto the scrunched little face and the tiny hands balled into little fists. She rocked her son as much as she was able, whispered and cooed to him, placed short tiny pecks to his puffy cheeks.
"I'll take ya to see your daddy soon as I can get outta this bed, baby. I promise." Kaylee nuzzled her cheek against the boy's mass of dark hair. "We got a word ta add to the stone."
The only answer she received was a whimper as she placed the boy to her breast. He latched on eagerly bringing a smile unbidden to her lips. She watched, entranced, as the boy nursed, as his little mouth suckled deeply.
She brushed her fingers through his hair, smiling when she'd remembered River confiding in her that both she and Simon had been born with a full head of hair, and not bald, as so many babies were.
Kaylee's eyes glowed with tears as she gazed at her little son. She trailed a finger around his ear and across his cheek, smiling as her eyes settled on his little face. "You're just like your daddy, you know. He liked 'em too." A small sob escaped her lips as she thought about the few short weeks she'd had with Simon. They'd shared so much in such a short amount of time and she at once was grateful for that time and angry that he had been taken from her so soon.
Lost in thoughts of the past, she didn't hear the door swing open to admit her family until they'd taken their first steps into the room.
Kaylee glanced up as River walked toward her, followed by Inara and Mal, hand in hand. A small smile spread across the younger girl's face as she sat on the edge of the bed and traced a thin finger down the suckling boy's cheek.
"See," River said, lifting her eyes to Kaylee. "Never alone."
Tears of happiness rolled down Kaylee's cheeks as she nodded. "Nope. Not alone."