Author's Note- This is just a short post-ep of Objects In Space mostly written out of my desire to explore the relationship between Mal and Kaylee.
Disclaimer- I do not own Firefly or any of the wonderful characters.
Rock and Sword
"Wash, how's it look?"
The pilot glanced up from the console screen and gave an affirmative nod. "We're good to go. I did a complete analysis and it doesn't look like he messed with our systems any. His ship must have had one hell of a stealth cloak." Wash paused. "Must be nice to have a bit of technology about that."
"I don't wanna hear it unless you plan on paying for it," Mal said before turning to leave the bridge. On his way to the engine room he passed by Jayne, who looked to still be flustered about missing the action from the previous evening. The man could sleep through a meteor shower.
"Hey, you seen Zoe?"
At the mention of the second in command Jayne made a noise of discontent. "Yeah, she's cleanin' up from dinner with the preacher. Wouldn't even let me lick the plates."
Mal shook his head. "Right. Tell her that if Kaylee gives the okay we're going to get moving again.
Jayne threw his hands in the air. "Do I look like a gorram messenger boy?"
Mal fixed him with a stare. "No, you look like a man who's staying on this ship only as long as he follows my orders. Otherwise I'm sure Early would enjoy having someone to share his space trash experience with."
Not stopping to make sure Jayne did as he was told, Mal continued on to the far side of Serenity "Kaylee," he called out as he approached the engine room. The sooner he was certain there weren't any bounty hunter booby-traps lying around the sooner they could get going and the sooner they would make it to the next drop off point.
He found the young mechanic sitting slouched against the wall in the hallway with her head lowered to her bent knees. Mal's eyes moved from her to the engine room and back again.
"You been in there to check things out?" he asked with frustration clear in his voice. He wasn't in the mood for any more games, no time for it.
Without looking up, Kaylee said quietly, "No, cap'n."
"Well get in there, cause we're behind schedule as it is." He turned to leave but her quiet murmur stopped him in his tracks.
"He didn't do nothin' to her. She's just fine. Only threats."
Mal looked at her tense, crumpled form and cursed the power the girl had over him. He couldn't stand to not see her smile, and those hollow words were disturbing when they came from her lips.
"And you know that for a fact?" he asked hesitantly.
Kaylee's head shot up as if startled to find that he had heard her. Seeing the dread in her wide eyes, Mal softened his own expression and sat down next to her against the wall.
She nodded and cast her eyes back down into her lap. "I would have seen him."
With trepidation Mal began putting together the pieces of conversations he had with the crew about their accounts of the night, and for the first time he realized that Kaylee hadn't been in her room when Early had locked down the crew quarters. Another late night in the engine room without a doubt.
"Did he find you?" he asked though he could already tell by her haunted expression.
A mute nod was all the confirmation he needed. He reached over to brush back Kaylee's hair so he could make out her face. "He hurt you?"
Finally she managed to meet his gaze. "You ever been raped?" she said quietly.
Mal nearly choked in shock, alarm turning his insides to ice. "Kaylee…he…"
"That's what he asked me after appearin' outa nowhere." Tears she had been fighting back for the last several hours pooled in her eyes before sliding down her pale cheeks, and Kaylee wiped at them with shaking hands ashamed about her weakness both then and now. "Said if I didn' help him find River, he'd do terrible things to me, to my body. That's all I was to him: a body to use."
Mal, who had been listening in a disturbed silence, made a move to speak, but Kaylee plowed on, afraid she may loose the nerve to speak her piece. "And I told him. Cap'n, I'm so sorry, I told him where River's room was! I ain't nothin' but a coward!" She broke down into lurching sobs, her body shaking with spasms against the cold metal wall.
Mal pulled her into his arms without a second thought, cradling her body to his while rubbing circles on the small of her back. "It's all right, mei mei, I'm here, and I ain't gonna let anything happen to you," he soothed between her broken cries and shuddering gasps for air. He held her like that, him murmuring reassurances with her head tucked beneath his chin, for a long while only pausing once in his words to silently tell a concerned Zoe to give them some time.
It wasn't the first time Mal felt hatred. In fact, he was quite familiar with the fiery sensation hating always caused to burn in his chest, but it was the first time this loathing was directed at himself. It bothered him to no imaginable end that the girl in his arms could have been raped on his ship, and he would have been none the wiser. This ship was Kaylee's home just as much as it was his, and she had a right to feel safe and not have to constantly worry about some stranger jumping from the shadows to assault her. He'd promised her father that he would keep her safe, protect her from the difficulties that had made her grow up too fast as a child. Mal had never seen Kaylee look as old as she did when he found her sitting slumped in the hallway, and he wondered if he had broken that promise.
Agony gave way to exhaustion, and eventually Kaylee's sobs diminished into hiccups and sniffles. She turned in his arms so that her back rested against his front, and the shift revealed something that Kaylee had been clutching onto. Seeing that small, metal object in Kaylee's petite hands caused Mal's stomach to drop.
"Now what business do you have with that?" he asked coolly.
She stared down at the gun as if mesmerized by the way it caught the dim hallway light. Such a small pretty thing could bring so much pain. "So next time I wont let anybody down. I bartered it from Jayne just an hour ago, though I probably gave him twice its worth seein' as how I don' know much about them." She tried to force a small laugh, but it caught in her throat and came out as a strained sigh.
"And I'd prefer it stay that way." Mal eagerly took the handgun away from her, and a brief look-over made him certain that it was the smallest, simplest gun Jayne owned in his arsenal. Perhaps the mercenary had more sense than the captain gave him credit for.
"But, captain, how am I gonna be any use without somethin' to fight with?" Kaylee protested. She twisted around so she could face him full on and fix him with a penetrating stare.
"You're my mechanic, not a gorram hit man. You've been on this ship well enough over five years, and you haven't had to fire a gun yet. You're not starting now." Mal's tone was no nonsense, finite. Didn't seem as if this was a point he was going to yield, but Kaylee was just as dead set to show him he, for once, was wrong.
"Twice I haven't been strong enough to do what I needed to, and people I care about could have been hurt or worse," she pleaded quietly. "Aint lookin' for me to come up short a third time. It's about time I find some nerves," she said resolutely enough though her hands shook slightly as she reached to take back the gun. Mal maneuvered it away from her grasp and slid it a ways into the engine room.
"Cap'n!" Kaylee exclaimed like a small child whose favorite toy had been thrown in the trash.
Mal raised an eyebrow in that same cocky manner he'd used when he first invited her aboard Serenity. "You want it? Go get it."
Kaylee gazed uneasily to where the gun had landed just a few feet away from the engine. It wasn't but a step from where she had dropped the wrench when Early had surprised her. It brought cruel memories that made her stomach ache.
Mal, sensing Kaylee's hesitation, gently laid his hands on her shoulders. "Not all strength requires a gun and a battle cry, mei mei." She looked doubtful but didn't move to retrieve the gun. Taking that as an encouragment, Mal continued, "Someone once told me that 'sometimes it takes more courage not to act.' And while I don't usually put much weight in that philosophical nonsense, that person happened to be a mite wiser than me."
"That woman sure was something." Mal nodded happy to see a genuine smile on Kaylee's face however small it was. But the moment of lightness was fleeting and an overwrought expression entered Kaylee's eyes.
"But, cap'n, there wasn't nothing strong or brave about me not doin' nothin'. I was just scared."
Mal paused in his reassurances to consider the small grease-streaked girl in his lap. Honesty and openness were traits that often weakened a person, made them liable to be hurt by the wickedness most of humanity shared. But for Kaylee her genuine, unguarded personality was perhaps her greatest strength. It gave her a certain power over people as they stopped to admire the inner light that was such a rare find. Her uncanny ability to smile despite everything could win over just about anyone with half a heart. It was a shame she couldn't see that.
"I've never told you, Kaylee," he said after moving one of his hands to cup the side of her face, "but you are my strength. I guess you could say that you're my rock."
She shook her head dismissively and looked down at her hands. "You're just sayin' that."
He tilted he chin back up and looked her dead in the eye. "When have I ever made up things just for your benefit, just to spare your feelings? I don' sugar-coat things, and you know it." She couldn't say a word of disagreement.
"When things get bad, as they have a tendency to do in our business, it can get mighty discouraging to look around at the situation we've gotten into. Most of the time when we hit a rough patch, things start to look bleak, and everyone looks to the captain to make decisions and set things right. And me? Well, I look to you."
Kaylee stared at him mystified. It wasn't every day that the person you admire most admitted to relying on you. "What have I ever done? I just do as you say."
"You smile," he said as he affectionately ran his thumb across the corner of her lips. "When the day ends, and I feel like the scum of the 'verse, one smile from you seems to justify what I do to keep Serenity flying. I figure that if I do something wrong, you'll let me know."
Kaylee couldn't help but give a glowing smile, and she shook her head in incredulity. "You sure know how to make a girl feel like she's worth a million. If captain'ing doesn't work out for you, ya'd have a fair shot at being a companion."
Mal snorted at the prospect. "Yeah, I'm sure Inara wouldn't mind me tagging along every once in a while to observe and do a little training."
They shared a chuckle at the idea of Mal becoming a whore and Inara's reaction to such a proposal. "No," Kaylee said with a smile, "I don't suppose that'd be quite right."
"I think I'll stick to being a captain. Less people gettin' hurt that way."
Kaylee's smile slowly faded, and Mal frowned at seeing the serious expression return to her face. "People could get hurt if I don't learn how to fight."
Mal sighed and fingered a strand of her light brown hair. "You leave the fighting to me, Kaylee. You're my rock, the least I can do is be your sword."
Her head tilted in contemplation, she considered his words thoughtfully. "No gun?"
Letting out a breath of what Mal liked to think was relief, Kaylee nodded. "All right, but you owe me two chocolates, a lipstick, and a romance novel."
Mal raised an eyebrow as she ticked off the list on her fingers.
"What?" Kaylee asked innocently, "Jayne thought it was a fair trade."End
NOTE- Thanks for taking the time to read. I would really appreciate any feedback that you have to give!