Firefly? Isn't mine. I just think the brother-sister relationship between Mal and Kaylee is adorable and I love it. That is all.

There's a distinctive sorta bad mood cast over the crew after they drop the Shepherd with his flock and Inara at the training house. Jayne is gruff and growly as ever, but the others show varying changes in behavior; even Wash seems to be lacking slightly in his usual good-natured sarcasm.

It's little Kaylee who's taking it hardest, however, and compounded with the mysterious tendency for bad dreams she's developed since all that happened with that húndàn bounty hunter and the lack of good fortune she's got with the good doctor romantically speaking, she's just a shadow of her usual sunny self. Spending time with her engines more than the crew, sleeping in short, fitful spells (as often in the hammock as her bunk) – she ain't doing well, that much is plain for everyone to see.

Now, Mal is not one to admit to being emotional in any way, but there's no secret he looks to Kaylee like a big brother might, and her ineffable cheer seems to be the only light in his shady life at times. So it doesn't cause surprise when he meanders into the engine room, poking his head in without invitation.

"Hey, Cap'n," Kaylee says, barely looking up from whatever little repair she's working at. "Need somethin'?"

"Matter of fact I do," he declares, coming to sit near her. "Need my mechanic back."

"I ain't gone nowhere," she retorts, her tone defiant. "Unlike some."

It's not lost on him what she means, but he continues on. "Now, here's where you an' I seem t'be at odds, thinkin'-wise," he says. "Maybe there's someone front'a me goes by the name Kaylee Frye and looks like the gal of that name, but she ain't the same l'il grease monkey we-all know so dear."

Kaylee just looks at him, unamused.

"I don't got the foggiest where that Kaylee went to," Mal continues. "But everyone's missin' her terrible, you see."

"P'raps you drove her off same's you did 'Nara," Kaylee finally mutters, avoiding eye contact as she delivers the slight.

Mal bristles, and he's quick to take her chin in his hand, forcing her gaze upward. "I reckon you're bent up about her goin' and so I'm gonna try real hard t'pretend you didn't just say whatcha did," he tells her very clearly. "But I think it prudent you understand good ruttin' well only you outta anyone aboard my ship'd get such a thoughtfulness. Were it someone else had opened their gorram mouth, they'd've found it full'a my fist, dòng má?"

Kaylee blinks quickly, her eyes glossing with the startings of tears. "Shiny, Cap'n," she manages, twisting free of him and looking away, fiercely embarrassed by her crying.

Mal, for his part, has never been gifted with the necessary finesse to soothe a crying woman, but he also can't stand his l'il Kaylee upset – not just miffed or moody, but honest to goodness upset – specially when cheering her some was the intent of his outing to start. And as it becomes more obvious she's really getting to crying, her shoulders shaking slightly, the guiltish feeling just grows in his belly. He can't even stay mad she accused him of, well, what he more or less did – any anyone else'd get glared at terrible for such a comment.

"Hey, hey, stop that," he says, somewhat alarmed. "You'll make the engine rust up, gettin' it all wet." It's a bad joke, he knows, and her little "pfft" proves she agrees. So, despite his claims to cold-heartedness, he scoops her into a hug, one she's too upset to resist.

"Ssh now," he says, awkwardly rubbing her back with the flat of his hand and feeling the tremors her sobs create. "Ssh, just stop cryin' so, you're gonna be a-okay, just peachy, little darlin', I promise."

"Y'can't promise such a thing," Kaylee sniffles. "Ain't no way to guarantee it. People leave on ya constant, an' some who show up ain't – ain't them you'd want, 'stead they're the sort who like to make sure nothin' goes right for anyone 'cept themselves."

It takes Mal a moment to connect what she says together, trace this hurt of hers to the bounty hunter. She never has told exactly what transpired in the engine room, but Mal can only guess now it's part of her change in demeanor moreso than they'd yet to suspect.

"Hey, now," he says, his voice serious. "There somethin' you needta get off your chest, l'il Kaylee? Somethin 'sides 'Nara that's got you so wound up?" After a second, he adds quickly, "Don't needta hear if it's regardin' the doc and his chronic uncomfortableness."

That almost makes her laugh, and she rushes to clarify, "Nah, ain't that."

He nods, then adds quietly, "Wouldn't be to do with whyever you been wakin' all the rest of us up with screamin' in your sleep, would it?"

Kaylee sniffles again, and wipes her eyes, not answering.

"Xiăo mèimei, you oughta tell someone what's causin' that sorta pain," he says, quiet-like. "Understand if I ain't your prime choice of confidante, but…"

"Would be I'd've told 'Nara…"

"But she ain't here," Mal finishes, that sinking guilt returning.

Kaylee takes a deep breath, averting her eyes. "'Member how that bounty hunter got you all locked in your bunks 'fore River helped me spring ya? Well, she needed t'help me a bit first."

Mal's face is passive, but his voice is laced with concern. "How's that?"

"He'd – well, he'd got me tied up," she admits, the tears flowing strongly again. "Threatened – said if I didn't do as he said I'd… he'd…" She pauses, trying to collect herself. "He'd do all sortsa unnatural things to me, awful things, an' he wouldn't lose a wink of sleep for it, neither."

He follows her meaning. "Did he so much's lay a sorry finger on you?"

"'Cept when he was tyin' me up, nuh-uh," Kaylee shakes her head. "Made me admit I couldn't be helped though. That n'matter what I did… I never felt that alone before."

Mal grits his teeth. "Right glad we spaced that qīng wa kăo de liú măng," he mutters. "Shoulda given him what for, first, though. Ain't nobody but me gets t'make l'il Kaylee cry."

She sniffles out a laugh, whacking Mal lightly in the shoulder. "Guess that ain't bad, comparatively speakin," she manages. "'Sides, you're a big softy, bribin' me with pretties an' sweets if I get too upset on your account."

"I ain't soft, xiăo mèimei," Mal grumbles, but he's smiling a little, glad to see her in a joking way. "Just don't care to see ya all red-eyed an' frowny. Promised your pa I'd take care'f you, didn't I."

"Yep, you're a softy," she teases, wiping tear tracks from her cheeks.

"I letcha get away with altogether too much, darlin'," he chuckles. "Best not let anyone else catch onto that, or my manly reputation'd be shot through."

"Secret's safe with me," Kaylee nods.

Mal squeezes her hand before clambering to his feet. "You'll be okay, mèimei. This'll all fade with time."

Kaylee flashes a brave smile. "'Course."

He stops in the doorway before leaving. "And hey, don't you forget," he tells her. "You are never, never alone."

"Shiny, Cap'n."

húndàn; "bastard"
dŏng ma; "understand?"
[xiăo] mèimei; "little sister"
qīng wa kăo de liú măng; "frog-humping son of a bitch"

As always, thanks to various online translators for the Chinese, as I do not speak it even remotely.