Title: Aftermath

Spoilers: Takes place directly following the battle on Mr. Universe's moon at the end of "Serenity"

Pairings: Kaylee/Simon, Mal/Inara

Rating: PG-13 to NC-17

Beta: The inimitable Leiasky, back in the day

Disclaimer: It's not mine – I'm simply playing with Joss' toys. He's a really good share-er.

A/N: So, this story has been languishing on my hard drive for about ten months now. And after attending Comic-Con this past weekend I was inspired to get it posted. My goal before the end of the year is actually to post all of my fic that I've been selfishly hoarding. I hope you like it!

This story is complete and runs a little over 350 pages. Tighten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Chapter 1

-- --

He wasn't awake yet. Everyone else was, except for the captain who was still in and out of consciousness, but at least he'd managed to wake long enough to tell Inara not to go. But not Simon; even after two whole days, he still wasn't awake.

And Kaylee was petrified.

She sat with him now, on the Alliance's flagship, in a small room filled with monitors and equipment. Holding his hand firmly in her own, Kaylee only focused on Simon's face, trying to ignore the cold sterility of the room, trying to block out the foreign sounds and even more foreign faces as they entered and left every few hours to check on him.

Kaylee was terrified to be here, but she was even more terrified to be back on Serenity. She worried that if she left his side, he would disappear, the Operative's assurances that Simon and River were safe flying out the window as soon as they realized the kind of reward the siblings could net them. So even though she was frightened, even though she was scared, she was staying, right next to him until he was released back to Serenity.

-- --

"She still won't leave," Inara said quietly, looking to Jayne and Zoe as the two crewmen regarded Mal's sleeping form.

Nodding once Zoe said resolutely, "Nope, lil' Kaylee's glued to the doc's side. That's plain."

Releasing a huge breath, Inara tightened her arms around herself. "And River?"

"Doin' better, but not great. I'm thinkin' the sooner Simon wakes up the better it's goin' be for both o' 'em," the first mate told her, her deep brown eyes locking with Inara's. The two women had barely spoken in the week and a half since Wash's death; since Mal had almost been killed … since they had all almost been killed. And while Inara felt for the other woman, while she wanted to provide her some comfort, she also could not focus on anything else right now, but Mal.

Her eyes glanced back into the room, his unconscious form visible through the transparent partition. While Inara wanted to order Kaylee back to the surface, wanted to scold the girl for being so single-minded in her vigil, Inara knew she had no leg to stand on. She had been doing the same, sitting at Mal's side every second and for most of the same reasons.

Inara did not trust any of the men on this ship and she trusted the Operative least of all. Although the man had promised that the crew would be safe, she would not relax until Serenity was back in the air with Mal back on her bridge.

With a sigh, Inara told her, "I think that'll be better for us all." Looking first to Zoe and then to Jayne, whose expression was pretty much unreadable, Inara finally moved to go back to Mal's side. "As soon as the both of them can be moved, we'll be back. How are the repairs coming?"

"The Operative's been good to his word," Jayne said gruffly, his arms crossed over his chest. "His men've been helpin', givin' us the parts we need." Shaking his head with a bit of disgust, he added, "It's downright unsettlin', them bein' so friendly."

Wanting to agree, but knowing that the walls probably had ears, Inara could only smile slightly to him as she took her leave and reentered Mal's room.

He was in a bigger room than Simon, his injuries having required more surgeries, which meant more doctors and nurses to care for him. Now, a day after his second operation to repair some of the nerves damaged from the sword that had pierced his gut, he was resting comfortably, only half of the machines in the room currently in use.

Inara looked to the monitors distractedly, having learned the sounds they made when everything was all right; knowing the warnings they gave when everything wasn't. As the noise in the room indicated the former, Inara sat with a weary sigh and again covered Mal's hand with her own.

She stared at him for a minute, one hand absentmindedly traveling to his hair and brushing it behind his ear. Her eyes glancing down to the white bandages fixed to his bare chest, she sighed. "What is it with you and swords?"

Not getting an answer, and really not having expected one, Inara just sat, her eyes on his face, waiting for him to wake up. She didn't know what would happen after that, what would become of them once he opened those blue eyes to her, but at the moment she didn't rightly care. She only cared that Malcolm Reynolds, rogue smuggler and constant annoyance would again be up to his old tricks and soon.

-- --

Zoe stood in the doorway to the bridge, staring at the destroyed room. Her arms hung loosely at her sides as her eyes swept the small space, traveling from left to right. Traveling from the seat she had been sitting in when the wooden spear had careened through the cockpit and pierced her husband's heart.

It had of course destroyed hers in the process. No one knew that for certain, Zoe was very good at hiding her true feelings; she buried them, as she always did under layers of training and detachment. The war had taught her many things including the ability to keep moving when every muscle, every cell fought the motion.

She took one shaky step into the darkened room, her boots crunching over shattered glass and components. Looking out the open cockpit window she saw the night sky surrounding them, a few stars managing to shine all the way down to the planet, but it was nothing like when they were in the black.

It was just dark, all-encompassing; like the pain Zoe felt. The pain that started in the center of her chest and radiated down her every limb, pooling in the tips of her fingers, in her feet, at the back of her neck, in her mind; the pain that refused to go away. She would break from it, eventually. All good soldiers did; it was called post-traumatic stress disorder and Zoe knew it would haunt her again. Once she had racked up enough sleepless nights, enough endless days, enough meaningless moments, her body would break – as thoroughly as her heart had.

She was standing at his console, unaware she'd been walking towards it until her fingers ghosted over the buttons. Her eyes unfocused and unseeing, she bent down and picked up a familiar piece of plastic from the floor. Turning the green and brown mottled toy over in her hands, Zoe smiled just slightly at the sight of it. Backing up slowly, she crouched down in the doorway again, her head resting against the bulkhead as she stared at the dinosaur she held and the empty room beyond.

-- --

The place was still smoking. Black, billowy clouds rose off some of the smoldering remains, the light winds that whipped over Regina having fanned them for endless days. But other than that, there was nothing left – nothing recognizable anyway.

Buildings were hollowed out, bombed to ruins, bodies that hadn't yet been picked over by vultures, lying dead and decaying under the hot glare of the sun. Destruction had never been rendered to an outpost as unequivocally as it had been rained down on this one, and it turned his stomach.

Standing on the bridge of his small transport ship, the slightly paunchy man with tan skin and numerous scars gripped the back of his pilot's chair, his knuckles turning white from the pressure. "Take us down, now."

"Sir, we don't know if it's safe," his pilot responded, his voice accented with a long dead Spanish accent.

"If they were still here we wouldn't be," the boss reminded him. "Set us down."

Wordlessly, the pilot complied, his own stomach churning. He was only thankful that he had no family; he didn't know if he'd been able to contain his anger or his grief half as well as his boss was at this moment. Especially when the man had to know his brother was gone.

As soon as the ramp lowered, he was out like a shot, running about in the heat of the afternoon and searching for his brother. "Marco!" His deep voice echoed off burned out walls and he gagged as he inhaled a bit of that dark smoke.

Charging towards what they had considered headquarters, he entered the blackened building and stopped short at the sight of his brother's obliterated body, the only thing recognizable to him a discarded arm lying a few feet away. Turning and retching violently, by the time his crew reached him, the older man was on his knees, praying to a god he was having trouble believing in at the moment to allow his younger brother entrance into heaven.

"Sir?" the pilot questioned softly, his mouth covered with his sleeve as the smell of burning flesh and melted plastic assaulted him.

"Amen," he muttered and then rose, his hazel eyes now burning with a fire brighter than any smoldering around them. Glancing to his pilot, Rodriguez, and his first mate, Javier, Diego Sanchez barked, "Find out who did this and why."

Turning, he strode back towards his ship. "Some one will pay for killing my brother."

-- --

"Be awake soon."

Kaylee's head snapped up at the sound of the soft voice and she had to blink her eyes rapidly to clear the sleep in them. Meeting River's quizzical gaze with a small smile, Kaylee stretched her arms over her head. "Hi, sweetie. You doin' okay?"

Nodding once, River looked down at her brother's peaceful face, her hand hovering just over the center of his chest. "Strong heart," she murmured, feeling Kaylee's eyes on her as she tried to puzzle out just what exactly River was trying to tell her. "Beats faster now, knowing you're here." She met the young mechanic's wide green eyes with her equally round brown ones.

Shrugging lightly, Kaylee ducked her head in embarrassment. "Oh, I don't know 'bout that, sweetie. He don't even know I'm here."

"Yes he does," River said, rounding the bed to kneel at her friend's side. "Can feel it. That's why he's stayed asleep so long. Feels safe."

Frowning at her, Kaylee asked, "So you mean, all I gotta do to get him to wake up is leave?" As River turned a big smile on her, getting her joke, Kaylee rose. "Well, that's it. I'm goin' right now."

Giggling at her, River knew the other woman had no intention of going anywhere; not unless Simon did, in which case she would follow him to the ends of the 'verse. As Kaylee again sat, placing her hand over Simon's automatically, River rose and put a hand to her shoulder. "He used to make me feel safe," she said quietly, her eyes again locked on Simon's pale face. "Used to hold me and tell me it was okay."

At her words, Kaylee again turned to regard her, hearing the wistfulness in her tone. Seeing a bit of pain in her eyes, Kaylee reached for her hand. "River?"

Shaking her head to knock the melancholy loose, River told her, "Now, you do that for him. Make him feel safe and whole." Leaning down and hugging her tightly, River whispered, "Thank you."

Baffled, which wasn't particularly surprising given who she was talking to, Kaylee just hugged the girl back. As River pulled away and headed for the door, Kaylee called after her, "You wanna stay with him for a bit? I can leave, give you two some time."

Shaking her head, River smiled with an enigmatic grin that endeared her to Simon's and Kaylee's hearts. "No. He doesn't need me now. Needs you." And then she was gone.

With a heavy sigh, Kaylee looked off after her for a moment and then gazed back to Simon. Running a light hand through his soft hair, she murmured, "That true, Simon? You need me now?"

When he did not answer her, Kaylee scooted towards the edge of his bed and rested her hand against his cool cheek. He was so pale; Kaylee didn't like it. The doctors had told her it was to be expected. He'd lost a lot of blood and while they had managed to give him a transfusion, the shock to his system had still been great.

Shock … with a shudder, Kaylee closed her eyes, trying to will the memory of watching him get shot from her mind. He had fallen back so hard, that's what had shocked Kaylee the most; the ferocity of his impact with the hard floor. Then his face, the pain in his features as he'd tried to tell River goodbye, as he'd tried to give orders to take care of them all. To take care of her … Kaylee blinked back a tear, opening her eyes again to his face.

She had thought for sure that was it, he was gone. Kaylee had seen plenty of bullet wounds being on Serenity, had even suffered from a fairly similar one herself, but when Simon had taken that hit, as she had watched, paralyzed and helpless as the blood had drained from his gut, she had felt the cold clench of finality squeeze at her heart. Kaylee had been certain, in that eternal moment of watching him fall that she, that they, would never have a chance.

A chance at what, she wasn't rightly sure. She remembered his words right before the battle, and while Kaylee wanted to believe them, had believed them at the time, she worried that maybe it was just something to say, something for him to tell her before they were both killed by savages. Of course, she didn't really believe that; Simon was many things, but a liar was not one of them. Nor was he all that good with words and if the past eight months had taught him anything it was to think before he spoke to her. So, Kaylee had said many a silent prayer over the past week that he'd really thought before he'd told her he regretted not being with her.

Kaylee's cheeks colored slightly as she remembered her own response. What was I thinkin'? Saying something like that, to Simon, had been on her mind for a while, but even though sex had been the first thing to spring to her mind, it wasn't the only thing she wanted with Simon; not anymore.

She didn't know why she thought they had a chance in hell. Maybe it was her endless optimism or just her gigantic heart, but Kaylee wanted to believe, needed to believe that if she and Simon were going to be together, that it would last. She didn't know if she was in love with him, not yet, but she was definitely in like with the swai doctor and she only hoped that when he awoke, those feelings might be returned. She only hoped the two of them might get a chance to figure it all out.

"All right, Simon," she said softly, leaning her face closer to his. "Time to stop avoidin' me. Time to wake up an' go home." When his dark eyelashes stayed firmly planted against his cheeks, Kaylee let out a sigh and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Please Simon," she whispered softly. "Please, wake up."

Still nothing and with another sigh, Kaylee rested her head on his pillow and gazed at his profile until her body again felt the pull of sleep.

-- --

"I wanna go back to my gorram boat!"

"Sir, I understand that, but we really-"

"I don't rightly give a damn what you need, lady," Mal bit out, still trying to sit up on the diagnostic bed as the nurse continued to try and push him back. "I need to get-"

"You need to stay in that bed and do as the nice lady asks," Inara told him firmly, standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her chest.

Looking to her with a shocked expression, Mal swallowed thickly and the two held their gaze in a battle of wills. As Mal gave in first and slowly lied back down, he convinced himself that it was the drugs they'd given him that had allowed Inara to win; yeah, that was it, drugs.

Entering the room fully, Inara smiled to the now frazzled nurse as the woman quickly exited. Watching her go, when Inara turned back to Mal, her lips set firmly in a thin line, a scathing comment poised on her lips, all thought left her. His eyes, his blue eyes that she had thought she knew were gazing at her now with an intensity and a pain she couldn't handle. Inhaling sharply at the sight, she felt the anger ebb off her face and slowly, she moved around to his side.

"'Nara," he began softly, reaching for her hand.

Taking it in her own, she ran a hand through his hair, only the fact that he was heavily medicated and would no doubt not remember any of this allowing her to touch him so intimately. "The ship's fine, Mal," she assured him, resuming her usual seat at his side. "Serenity is fine. The Operative and his men are fixing her."

As he opened his mouth to protest the thought of purplebellies crawling all over his beloved ship, Inara added, "Zoe and Jayne are supervising all the repairs. And River too, when we can find her."

Nodding once, Mal allowed his head to rest back into the pillows. Shutting his eyes, he let out a deep breath and murmured, "Zoe." Breathing in and out for a moment, he looked back to Inara and asked, "How is she?"

Shrugging lightly, Inara averted her eyes so he wouldn't see her concern for his dearest friend. "She's hanging in there. You know Zoe."

Mal grimaced; yes, he did know Zoe. Better than anyone else ever had, except for maybe her husband, and even then, Mal doubted that Wash had ever had a true understanding of the woman. He could not imagine the pain she was feeling now and he detested the fact that he couldn't help her; that he was confined to this hospital bed on some gorram Alliance ship. He needed to get back to his boat.

As he again tried to sit up, the pain in his abdomen protesting violently at the motion, Inara's light hand rested against his bare shoulder. Her touch on his skin was gentle, but it sent an electric jolt through him. His eyes again meeting hers, he saw the pain and fear in those big, brown orbs and he wished he was strong enough to tell her it would all be all right. But, as he lied back against the bed, and held her gaze, he knew any reassurances out of his mouth at this moment would just be words and she didn't need words from him; not anymore.

"How's everybody else?" he asked gruffly, his voice still hoarse from disuse and his body sagging even more heavily into the mattress as fatigue again enveloped him.

Her fingers again running through his hair, Mal sighed against the touch and listened for her answer. "They're fine. Simon still hasn't woken up, and Kaylee is very nervous for him. But everyone else is fine."

"Is the doc gonna wake up?" Mal asked, his eyes fluttering shut as he felt sleep pulling at his consciousness.

"Yes, he should." Inara watched him fight to stay awake and it brought a small smile to her lips; no matter what, Mal would always be the captain, looking out for his crew, trying to keep them safe. "Just rest, Mal, please. You just need to get better."

Squeezing the hand she held ever so slightly, Mal murmured, "I will, darlin', don't you worry none. Then you an' me's gonna have a talk."

Before Inara could question him further on what this talk might entail he was again sleeping, his chest rising and lowering steadily with each breath. Releasing a sigh, she leaned forward and brushed a kiss to his cheek, allowing her lips to linger for just a bit against his stubble-covered face. "Whatever you say xin gan," she murmured, staring at his face. "Whatever you say."

-- --

His neck hurt and his head ached. Those were the first two sensations Simon was aware of. He was cold too, but that wasn't much of a surprise, although his left hand felt oddly warm. Unable to open his eyes just yet and discover the source of that heat, he allowed his mind to run through the rest of its checklist, taking in all his other organs and limbs, searching for symptoms like the doctor he was. Even drugged and shot, Simon was still a really good surgeon.

His mid-section was pleasantly numb and Simon had to say a small prayer for that. He knew the pain he was in for when the anesthesia and pain killers wore off; it would not be pleasant. In fact, it would make the gunshot wound he'd received from Early look like a mosquito bite. Gut wounds were always more deadly, more painful and had a longer recovery time. He did not relish the thought of the weeks he would spend laid up in bed, but when he considered the alternative, he was more than grateful to be alive.

Especially now … his addled mind could only piece together bits from his last few moments of consciousness before the blood loss had overpowered him, but he remembered enough and most of it was about Kaylee. Her face sprang into his mind, her bright smile and wide eyes shining on him like an angel from above and Simon instantly felt some of the pain in his head go away. Although his timing had been terrible – big surprise – and his statement less than romantic – another surprise – he had at least managed to push the words out of his mouth. He had at least managed to let her know that there was or there could be something more between them; if she wanted it.

With a small sigh, he decided that maybe it was time to open his eyes. Blinking against the harshness of the bright lights, the room slowly came into focus. At first all he could make out were shapes and colors, a blob of gray there, a puddle of blue there; but slowly, Simon made out objects and things. Glancing over to his left side, trying to diagnose the source of the warmth that was encasing his hand, he felt the slightest smile turn up the corners of his mouth as he met Kaylee's sleeping face.

Her head rested on the bed at his side, her hand over his and Simon had never, in all his life, been more comforted or relieved to see someone. His heart swelled a bit when he remembered the concern on her features and the plea in her voice as she had begged him not to leave her, leave them as he had slipped under after the battle. He knew it was that same concern that had brought her to his side now, and he realized, in that moment, gazing at her peaceful face as she slept that he'd been a fool to not tell her of his feelings sooner.

Just as he was about to berate himself for his behavior, she stirred beside him. Raising her head slowly, she rubbed at her eyes, keeping one hand over his in the process. Waking fully, she turned with a small sigh to regard him, her eyes going wide and a small gasp escaping her lips as she saw his blue eyes staring back at her.

"Oh my god," she breathed, rising and placing a light hand to his face. "Simon? Simon, you're awake."

"I am," he answered, his voice rough, his throat dry and harsh from disuse. "Are you all right?" he asked quickly, noting the small red dots that still marred her neck from where the Reaver's weapon had impaled her.

Shaking away his concern, she kept running her fingers through his hair and Simon delighted in her soft touch. "Oh, I'm fine," she told him quickly. Looking up towards the door and then back to him, Simon could tell she was torn. She had no idea what to do. "I should go get somebody," she said quietly, stepping away, but Simon's firm grasp on her hand did not lessen and she was forced back to his side.

"Don't go," he told her quietly, his whole body warming as she smiled brightly at his words. "They'll be by soon enough." Blinking a few times, he told her with a slurred speech, "Besides, I have a feeling I'll be asleep again soon."

Sitting back beside him, Kaylee told him, "That's good, you need to keep restin'. You gotta get better."

Simon nodded once, quickly losing the strength to form words, but there was one other thing he had to know. "River?"

Smiling to him again, Kaylee assured him, "She's fine, Simon. Better than she's ever been actually. She's down helpin' with repairs. She's been by to see ya a few times, but—" Kaylee broke off, slightly embarrassed as she remembered all of River's assertions that Simon did not need his mei mei anymore, only Kaylee.

"But what?" Simon questioned groggily, his need for sleep quickly outweighing any concern for his sister.

Shaking her head a bit, Kaylee told him, "It's nothin'. Everything's right an' shiny." Watching as his eyes fluttered shut, she leaned down and pressed another kiss to his cheek, smiling when she noticed a small grin on his face as she pulled away. "You just sleep now. Get better."

"Stay with me?" he asked in a whisper.

Smiling even wider, even though he could not see it, Kaylee told him, "I ain't got nowhere else to be."

-- --