Disclaimer: I do not own Serenity/Firefly, I'm just a big fan.
Note from Author: I am not sure why, but none of the chapters look right when I upload the individual files. So I've decided to post the whole story instead. It is still divided into chapters. This is how it is supposed to look and how it looks on my computer. I hope you enjoy the story.
Already a month had passed since they refitted Serenity, said goodbye to their newest enemy and buried their dead. The Alliance heat that Simon and River brought down upon them had lessoned greatly. Simon, true to his word, pursued the woman he had forbidden himself in the endless effort to help his sister. Now Simon and Kaylee were usually together, eating their meals, taking walks, brushing up against each other as they passed each other to attend to Serenity. It was sweet, adorable, something that often reminded hardened Zoe of her own loss. Even as she missed Wash, she found comfort in the knowledge that she had found her love, and the more she watched Simon and Kaylee from the sidelines, she smiled.
"Are they at it again?" Captain Reynolds asked, walking to stand beside Zoe as he stared at Simon and Kaylee. Zoe smiled.
"Let'em have it while they can, Capt'n," Zoe said, her strong voice underlined with sadness. Glancing over, Mal saw the expressionless Zoe and remembered the silly couple in front of them was better than a heartbroken crewmember any day. Nodding, Mal prepared to walk into the kitchen but found himself having to clear his throat first.
"Oh, sorry," Simon grinned, Kaylee giggled, and the two finally swept aside to sit down at the table and begin acting respectable.
"It's about time. Now maybe I can keep my food down." Jayne said, resulting in further grins and giggles.
"Eat up guys, we'll be reachin' the outer rim planet soon and we've got a tough job ahead." Mal said, grabbing his plate and carelessly plopping food onto it. Zoe glanced over and saw his rigid stance, then decided to grab an apple and sit at the table herself.
"What's the job Capt'n?" Zoe asked, cutting a large bite out of the green fruit.
"I'm not sure yet. We'll find out when we get there." Mal said as he sat down, before placing small bits of meat into his mouth.
"Can we trust him?" Mal continued eating as he thought about Zoe's question.
"I don't know. We've never done business with him before. Considering everyone we trust is either on Serenity or dead, we'll see." Mal saw the smile disappear from Kaylee's face but continued eating. Simon sat thoughtfully, considering the situation. They had no choice. With a ship and a crew to support, Mal would have to risk it.
"Well, I don't plan on takin' no chances." Jayne said, thinking of the weapons he'd be taking with them. Mal finished eating and stood up.
"Neither do I. Jayne and Zoe, you'll be comin' with. Doc, the planet we're going to is in need of those extra medical supplies."
"I'll make sure they get to the right people." Simon said. Mal nodded.
"Hey, River could help. Gettin' off this ship would do her good, meetin' some nice folks and helpin' them. You should take her with you." Simon smiled at Kaylee's suggestion.
"I think she'd like that." Simon said, looking at Kaylee's bright eyes once again and smiling.
"That's shiny. Get what rest you can, we'll be there in a few more hours." Mal glanced at Zoe before heading out. Finishing her apple, she tossed the core before following him.
"What is it?" Zoe asked, as the two of them walked towards the cockpit.
"Have you ever heard of Deck Benson?" Mal asked. Thinking about it, Zoe shook her head no. "Me neither, but it seems he's heard of us." Mal said, slowing his pace before turning to look Zoe in the eyes. "He contacted me directly. I want us to be especially careful."
"You think we might be headin' into trouble?" Zoe asked.
"I don't want to take any chances." Mal said, before looking back at the room housing most of what was left of his crew. Understanding, Zoe nodded. Mal continued to the cockpit to check on their status as the recently widowed member of his crew headed for the weapons storage. A few hours later Serenity landed on a populated planet in the outer rims. Zoe and Jayne were armed and Mal was helping Simon load the mule with medical supplies.
"I can't wait until this run is over." Kaylee said, walking with River towards the others.
"You miss Inara." River said knowingly.
"Yes, but she'll have her things together by the time we get done so we can pick her up. She's family." Kaylee said softly, briefly thinking of those members of her family she won't see again.
"Family," River said, smiling. Kaylee nodded before going into a list of dos and don'ts while helping Simon deliver the needed medical supplies. Watching the two, Simon smiled. Kaylee had taken on the role of older sister to River, much like Inara had for her. It was endearing, and strengthened his feelings for her when he'd initially realized how much she'd grown to mean to him.
"That's all of the supplies. Now once you drop them off, you make your way back here Doc. No foolin' around." Simon looked at Mal and nodded. It didn't matter that he had proven himself a useful member of the crew, or had somehow managed to survive their most recent encounter with the Reavers, or that his sister was a walking weapon when motivated. Mal would always be the bossy, overprotective older brother he never had or wanted.
"Will do. Come River, let's get you in here." Simon helped River into the mule and smiled at Kaylee. "We'll be back soon."
"I'll be here." Kaylee said, kissing Simon before stepping back to allow him to get into the mule and take off. Watching them leave, Kaylee smiled as River waved.
"They won't be too long. Once we head out, you close up Serenity tight. We should be back not long after the Doc and the girl." Mal said, trying not to wipe the dreamy expression off of Kaylee's face.
"Ok, Capt'n," Kaylee responded, turning once she could no longer see the mule.
"We're ready Mal." Jayne said, carrying his gun, knife, handgun, and a few hidden grenades. Ever since the payroll run he'd refused to be caught without grenades again.
"K, let's go." Mal and the others headed out, leaving Kaylee behind to close up the ship.
"So you want us to savage something for you." Mal said, looking at the suited well-spoken man before him suspiciously.
"Don't sound so surprised Captain. Your reputation far exceeds you. If anyone can get what I need, you and your crew can." Deck Benson said, watching the former Browncoat think about it.
"An Alliance central planet," Deck brought up a map and pointed to a dark planet well known for the scrap heaps and old ship graveyards.
"How much do you want us to pick up?" Mal asked, recognizing the value in the scrap heaps covering that planet.
"It's not volume I'm looking for, Captain. It's a specific engine. Here are the specs. I want every engine you come across that fits that description exactly."
"I see." Mal took the paper and scanned it. Glancing back at the planet, he ran some numbers quickly and then completed the deal. A few minutes later, Mal, Zoe and Jayne left for Serenity.
"Sounds like a fun job," Jayne said sarcastically.
"Work is work." Mal said, thinking that this one might run them back into the Alliance's bad graces again.
Back on Serenity, River started the ship's engines in anticipation of the Captain's orders. Not disappointed, they took off five minutes later.
"Inara, we'll pick you up after we complete this job. Will you be ready?" Mal asked, looking at Inara through the view screen.
"I'm ready now Mal, but this will give me more time to say goodbye to everyone and to get things together. I was thinking of visiting a few shops to pick up some nice materials for Kaylee and River." Inara's face lit up with a bright smile at the thought.
"That's shiny. Get whatever you want for them, and yourself. This job will cover it and then some." Mal said, watching the self-retired Companion nod.
"It sounds like you made some new friends. That's shiny River." Kaylee smiled as the brunette continued telling her about the girls slightly older than her she met while delivering the supplies. Zoe silently handed the mechanic a piece of paper and smiled.
"Oh wow!" Kaylee exclaimed, entranced by the schematics in her hands. Zoe shoved Jayne's leg after he rolled his eyes at the mechanic's excitement.
"Figured you might appreciate those, Kaylee." Zoe smiled.
"Yeah, this engine is truly one of a kind. I'll have to join you guys when we reach planetside to look for it. Some of these modifications are so tiny you might miss the real thing." River smiled knowingly at Kaylee's enthusiastic response before heading out to the control room.
"Is that wise?" Simon asked, glancing at Zoe with concerned eyes.
"That's what the Capt'n thought also. Don't worry, Doc, this is a simple pick up job." Zoe smiled at Simon understandably. Simon glanced at Kaylee's lit face and nodded. He couldn't stop her if he tried.
"You inform our girl?" Mal asked a few minutes later as he stepped into the room. Kaylee's expression answered his question. Zoe nodded quickly before asking one of her own.
"How long before we get there?"
"River should have us there within twelve hours. Get some rest, you too Kaylee, I want everyone fresh for this job." Kaylee smiled at Mal before walking out. As Simon stood up to follow her, Mal placed his hand on the young doctor's arm lightly to get his attention. "I want to get in, get the goods, and get out. I mean to be quick about it. Kaylee needs to be rested and ready to go. Am I understood?" Simon looked at Mal. The Captain's face was set, determined to keep this job as safe as possible for his crew.
"Yeah, I'm just gonna keep her away from the schematics for a while so she can get some sleep." Simon said, heading out as Mal nodded and released him.
"I'm impressed Capt'n. You usually aren't so subtle." Zoe smiled. At one time not too long ago she thought he had gone hard, cruel. The man she served under during the war with the Alliance was slowly making a return. Her only response was an irritated grunt before seeing Mal's backside as he left to get some rest himself.
As the planet came into view River's lips parted slightly. Some planets were beautiful from space and some were dreary, the one in front of the seventeen year old was the latter. River adjusted Serenity's speed and course before turning to her side. Mal stepped to her left and looked at the planet.
"Okay girl, any idea on where we should land?" Mal asked River without taking his eyes away from the dark planet. River turned to the controls and started taking them down. Glancing at his silent companion, Mal nodded before turning and leaving.
"Get ready." Mal said as he passed Jayne. Turning back, the mercenary grunted as he started for the weapons armory. Ten minutes later Mal, Zoe, and Jayne were in the cargo room ready to go as Kaylee walked up talking with River.
"Where's the Doc?"
"Sorry, finished inventory in the med room." Mal looked up to see Simon taking the steps two at a time.
"You expecting trouble, Doc?" Simon glanced at Mal, not bothering to answer his question. "K, the mule is set to go. Doc, lock up after us. River, get back to the control room in case we need to make a quick exit." River ran her hand down Kaylee's arm softly before turning and walking off. Mal and his crew boarded the mule as Simon lowered the cargo door. Different shades of grey greeted the eyes that stared out. Simon turned to say good luck when he spotted Kaylee's bright eyes. Smiling, he walked over and placed his hand over hers.
"Have fun. Good luck!" Kaylee smiled and Jayne grunted. Simon stepped back and watched the group leave. Once the mule cleared the exit Simon walked to the controls and closed the cargo door.
"Keep a sharp lookout. Anything looks like it might be a fit, speak out. We've got to pick up every engine that meets those specs." Mal said as Zoe drove the mule onward. Five minutes passed before Kaylee spoke up.
"You're goin' too fast Zoe. We could've passed a hundred of them by now and not know it." Kaylee leaned down, looking into the large gray mass that filled her vision.
"Can't go much slower." Mal saw Zoe's hands tighten. Sighing, Mal made a decision.
"Go ahead and stop Zoe. Kaylee's right, it's near impossible to distinguish anything from up here. We'll leave the mule here and split up." Mal said. As the mule came to a complete stop his second-in-command turned back to look at him.
"You mean for us to go on foot?" The nod of Mal's head was enough to cause Zoe to reflexively move to touch her weapon. Mal's dark brown eyes looked into Zoe's knowingly.
"Jayne and I will start over here. Kaylee, you're with Zoe. And girl, stay with her." Mal looked over Kaylee's distracted face and grudgingly gave the order to depart upon seeing her slight nod. Shaking his head, Jayne hefted his gun and started towards metal he swore all looked the same. Zoe turned to see Kaylee already going through a pile of parts. Walking over, she smiled before picking a pile herself to begin picking through.
"Some of these parts we could savage for Serenity. She's never run better but you never know when an extra coil or two could come in handy." Kaylee set aside a few small parts that were far from the rare find they were searching for.
"Let's just find that engine. That's what we're here for." Zoe instructed, as she pulled down a large piece of scrap metal to reveal the pile beneath it.
Mal stood, ignoring the cursing man in front of him. They had gone through and discounted several engines already. Kaylee had been right in that engine being a one of a kind. Every engine they found seemed to have at least three major differences in them. At this rate, they would be here for a while. Turning his head to the right, Mal spotted the fast vehicle headed in their general direction.
"Jayne," Mal whispered urgently, getting the rough man's attention in time for him to duck out of view. The longer they took the better their chances of getting caught. Once the guards flew overhead and out of sight, Mal looked back in Zoe and Kaylee's general direction. He hoped they were having better luck.
"Anything?" Zoe asked, getting frustrated.
"Have you looked at these specs?" Kaylee held the paper out in front of her questioningly. "This isn't your average engine Zoe. It's literally one of a kind. We'll be lucky to find it." Kaylee tilted her head momentarily and smiled. "Sure would love to put some of these modifications in Serenity." Dreaming of the maneuverability and the speed she could only accomplish with such changes, Kaylee smiled wispily. Sighing, Zoe looked at her young companion and wondered if they'd ever do the job if she couldn't stop dreaming long enough to look.
"Keep looking. We stay out here for much longer we're gonna get spotted by the guards. And Alliance guards don't take too kindly to being robbed." Zoe turned and began moving through a new section to emphasize her point.
"They've been gone a long time. You think they'll find what they are looking for? This is a mighty big planet." Simon said, looking through the cockpit window with his sister in the pilot's seat next to him. River smiled.
"They'll find it." Simon looked at the brunette briefly before turning back to the window.
"Doc, we're on our way in." Mal called loudly unaware of the sigh of relief his message elicited from the young doctor.
"We'll meet you in the cargo hold." Simon acknowledged before leaving to let them in.
"Hey Doc." Mal greeted as the mule pulled to a stop. Jumping off, the Captain ignored the young man helping an excited Kaylee out of the mule. "Zoe, let River know we need to be on our way. And quickly, we've been here too long as is." The tall woman nodded as the Captain made his way to his quarters. It was a long trip, one that
left the war vet nervous. The job had been more difficult that they thought. It had been sheer luck that Kaylee had discovered the engine when she did. If she hadn't gone along, and if River hadn't been at the helm choosing their landing site, they may never have found the precious cargo. Reaching his quarters, he laid down. Staring at the scarred metal above him he anxiously jumped up to make his way to the control room.
"I'll let you know when we get close." River said, sensing Mal's desire to get the job done as soon as possible. Nodding his head, he stepped back out of the cockpit. He trusted his crew to do their jobs. If anything, the Miranda incident had taught him to distrust the Alliance and to trust his crew above all else. So instead of checking in on them, he returned to his quarters to get some rest.
Stepping into the engine room, Simon spotted Kaylee leaning over to fit something into the ship's engine and smiled.
"Kaylee? Should be resting." His deep voice sent shivers down her spine. She had instantly been attracted to him, his fine and clean ways. But his voice could make her melt, a fact she had chosen to keep from him. Sex she was acquainted with, and enjoyed tremendously, but he pulled on her something awful and she wasn't quite yet prepared to let him know that.
"I will. I found some parts for Serenity, thought she'd run smoother with them." Kaylee said, wiping her hands on her pants as she looked into Simon's dark eyes.
"Come," Simon reached out and gently took Kaylee's hand within his own. For some reason she couldn't understand Kaylee felt vulnerable at the touch. "You've done what you can for Serenity. Now it's time to tend to yourself. Come, come rest with me." Simon's soft voice pulled on Kaylee as she followed him out of the engine room and to his quarters. Together the two lovers rested and slept. It was several hours later before they heard Mal's voice over the intercom.
"We're here. Everyone to the cargo hold." Mal replaced the mic on the ship before turning to his pilot. "Let's go."
"You ready?" Mal asked Jayne as he walked over to the mule.
"Does a horse's ass stink?" Jayne responded, the weapons attached to his body not going unnoticed.
"Doc?" Mal looked at the young man carrying a leather bag full of medical supplies.
"River and I will check in on the clinic where we dropped of the supplies and then head back. If you can give us a lift we can take care of it quicker and then walk back." Simon watched as Mal nodded in approval.
"Kaylee, lock her up good once we're gone. We'll be back as soon as we complete this business." Mal watched as his mechanic gave Serentiy's troublesome doctor a kiss and turned to the rest of his crew. He saw Jayne's lewd, lusty expression and Zoe's content sad one before turning to pull himself into the mule with the others. "Let's go."
Watching her family head out, Kaylee smiled before turning slightly towards the ship's cargo controls. Getting lost in thoughts of a certain handsome doctor she couldn't believe was her lover, it was several minutes before the ship's mechanic walked towards the controls. Before she made it there six heavily armed men stormed up the ramp yelling at her.
"What do you want?" Kaylee asked, disbelieving what she saw.
"Close'er!" The man closest to her yelled and stepped forward to point his weapon at her heart. Glancing back outside, Kaylee turned upon feeling cold steel pressed against her chest.
"Close'er!" He yelled again, waiting as a scared Kaylee did as ordered.
"What's going on here?" Mal sounded as displeased as he looked. After waiting for over half an hour for Deck Benson to make an appearance, when the sleek looking man did show up Simon and River were brought into the room by three armed men after him.
"My influence has lessoned in this area ever since the Miranda stunt you pulled. The way I see it, you owe me. The engine you stole is worth a mint. It's enough to set me up nicely. So I'll take the engine, your ship and everything that's on her." Deck grinned, enjoying the sight of heat rising in the face of the former Captain of Serenity.
"I figure I'll be keepin' my ship. I don't hold with Alliance and I don't hold with traitors. So you best be hopin' we never see you again." Mal said, signaling to Jayne and Zoe it was time to get the hell out of there.
"Oh, I don't think I'll see you again anytime soon. We've already got control of your ship. She's a beauty Captain. No wonder you keep her locked up." Deck said, thinking highly of their great fortune.
"Serenity..." Deck cut Mal off quick.
"Oh, the ship too." Deck said, smiling as realization dawned for his temporary guests.
"Kaylee." Simon said, staring hard at the well groomed, well dressed man in front of them. He had known many men like this when he worked as a Doctor for the Alliance. They were cultured and well cut, but underneath the layers of good clothing and manners laid ruthless men who took what they pleased when they pleased.
"Kaylee." Deck repeated. "We have our own mechanic of course, so we'll have to find women's work for her. But she'll be well taken care of, I assure you." Simon stepped forward when Mal slammed his arm against the young man's chest. The Doctor continued to stare hard as Deck slowly stood up from where he leaned on his desk.
"Wise move Captain, we don't want trouble here. You and your crew will be free to leave once I take off. There are more fertile grounds than what's on this planet, and I aim to get back to civilization."
"You're not taking our ship." Jayne said, aiming his weapon passionately at the man before him.
"Yes, I am. But if you like, I can give you a ride. After all, this isn't a heist. This is a debt payment. We're all civilized here." Deck said before glancing at the violent Jayne, who continued to threaten him with his weapon. The only thing that prevented Jayne from firing was the large number of men at their backs with guns, eager to kill.
"You call taking a woman as payment civilized?" Simon asked with a steely voice. Mal glanced to his side. He'd heard that voice before. The young Doctor could be sensitive and compassionate, but when it came to those he loved and cared for the most all bets were off.
"No," Deck sighed. "I call taking a ship as payment civilized. The girl was just unfortunate to be left behind. Kaylee's just a perk." Simon's eyes narrowed at the casual use of Kaylee's name in the innuendo. Mal turned to face Deck once again.
"You figure we owe you. I figure your wrong. The Alliance has no business meddling in the lives of people, turning them into mindless creatures they can control without effort. We paid the price for exposing Miranda, and the price was dear. You figure we owe you? I say we owe you nothing. But if you want to take payment for something I made the call on, you take it from me. You leave my crew alone." Mal's voice remained steady and strong.
He loved Serenity, and his crew. He couldn't afford to lose that ship. But he knew the Doctor felt he couldn't afford to lose Kaylee, not after so recently discovering their bond. Truth be told, neither he nor his crew could afford to lose the young woman who served as their genius mechanic. She was special, and they could stand no more losses after Miranda.
"You seem a man of honor Captain, so I'll offer you a ride out of this shithole one last time. Take a ride with us to an Alliance planet, or stay here and rot. The choice is yours. Either way, the ship is coming with me and so is the girl." Deck extended the offer one last time. He had admired the guts it must have taken to expose the Alliance's disaster at Miranda and he was pleased with the valuable engine they had so willingly brought him, he knew this man and his crew were brave and foolish. But he needed that ship to get to where he was going, and that crew.
"Capt'n?" Zoe asked, her weapon trained on two of the men to Deck's left. Mal fumed. He refused to turn his ship over to this man, over to anyone. The fact that Kaylee was there now made the situation worse. If they showed up without Benson, his men would surely kill her.
"Why don't we give you a ride to where you want to go, and keep the ship ourselves? Seems like the neighborly thing to do. We'd be happy to, once your men stop pointin' those guns at us. We're all civilized here." Mal offered, allowing his trademark smirk to show. Deck smiled. He knew he'd get their help, either by force or voluntarily. He didn't care which.
"Deal." Deck smiled as Mal signaled for Jayne and Zoe to lower their weapons. The men behind them stepped back as Deck motioned for Mal and his crew to follow them. The small group made its way to Serenity in silence. As the ship came into view, Mal's eyes scanned the cargo hold as soon as the door was lowered. Two armed men greeted them.
"Mal?" Jayne's voice belied his frustration.
"I know." Mal said. Glancing over, Zoe saw the worried expression on Simon's face and watched as Jayne took a step forward in case the doctor did something stupid.
"Close her up. Let's get on our way." Deck said. "Who is your pilot?" Simon stepped forward to have a large man shove him aside. As River looked at her brother and moved within Deck's view, a large man grabbed her arm and escorted her to the cockpit. "Oh, you and the rest of your crew will remain in the cargo hold until we get to where we are going." As Deck and several of his men left, Mal turned to see four armed men staring at them.
"Well, we might as well get comfortable then." Mal said, leaning against one wall and sliding down to sit on the metal cargo floor. Zoe took the opposite corner as Jayne positioned himself closer to the stairs.
"Get situated Doc. There ain't nothin' we can do." Jayne said, ignoring the look of disbelief that came across the young man's face. Zoe looked at the mercenary pointedly. "What?"
"They won't hurt River, Doc, not while she's flyin' the ship. We're gonna be here for a while. Might as well get comfortable." Simon took no comfort in Zoe's words. Thinking of his sister and his lover, the young man picked a spot and sat down.
"How much longer?" Deck asked the young girl expertly handling the ship's controls.
"Should be landing in a few minutes." River saw the smile spread across Deck's face, and shivered at the thoughts she sensed coming from him.
"Excellent." Deck Benson turned to two large men carrying guns. "Once we land, bring her to the cargo hold."
Everyone felt Serenity land and heard the heavy footsteps that moved towards the stairs in their direction. Standing up, Mal caught Jayne and Zoe's eyes in case their generous host backed out of their sketchy arrangement.
"Well, it seems you are Captain once more. I trust we'll never see you again." Deck said as he moved into view.
"Likewise." Mal answered, his voice hard. Deck smiled. He despised the Browncoat in front of him, his high morals and his bravery.
"You stay out of my way, and you won't see me again. That I can promise. Now, as I said, this is your ship again. Me and mine will be leaving, with our cargo." Deck signaled to his men who proceeded to unload their belongings, the engine Mal's crew had stolen for them, and a reluctant Kaylee.
"Wait!" Simon's voice broke the air and caused Mal to turn. His eyes focused on the young woman now being dragged by two large armed men out of Serenity. In one swift motion Mal had his gun on Deck Benson, who grinned with the knowledge that the Captain and each remaining member of his crew had a gun on them.
"Like I said, we'll be leaving." Mal stared hard into the eyes of the man before him. His was cold, calculating, and triumphant. "Don't be foolish. You brought us here on your ship, and we're giving you your ship back. That was the agreement." Deck was well versed in keeping his poise, in saying one thing even as he thought another. He was the son of a well to do family, and grew up on an Alliance planet in wealth and comfort. He had charm and knew how and when to turn it on. The dangerous glint in the Browncoat's eyes revealed that now would be a wise time to not reveal his true feelings. "I'm honoring our agreement Captain. Do we have a problem here?"
Mal's eyes turned to slits. He knew better than to break an agreement. His reputation, what there was left of it, depended on him keeping to his word and not botching jobs. This job had gone sour the moment he tried to make good on it, and now it burned knowing he had no choice but to follow through on it. Slowly putting his gun back in his holster, Mal shook his head from side to side.
"No problem here. Mayhap we come to another agreement. What do you want for the girl?" Mal asked, his expression that of any normal businessman. Seeing the slow grin come over Deck Benson's face, Mal explained. "We can't very well leave without a ship's mechanic, now can we? We won't last long. And Kaylee's the best."
"Ah, I'm sure she is Captain." Deck watched as a fire lit the Captain and the Doctor's eyes at his innuendo. "I'm afraid there's no agreement to be reached here though. Good luck picking up another mechanic. I'm sure you'll manage. The likes of you always do." Deck glanced disparagingly at the odd crew of Serenity before turning around to leave the ship with his men and his goods. "I trust you'll be in the air before end of day."
Simon took a step forward and Mal spoke sharply. "Jayne!" The tall burly man hit Simon on the head hard enough to knock the doctor unconscious. When Simon woke up, River was leaning forward wiping a cool cloth on his forehead.
"What?" Simon recognized his sister and glanced around briefly, seeing Mal, Zoe and Jayne standing in the infirmary staring at him. "What happened?"
River looked in Jayne's direction. In seconds Simon understood.
"You knocked me out? What is the matter with you? You just let him leave, with Kaylee, just let him walk out of here. With one of your crew." Simon turned blazing eyes on Mal.
"Simon, the Capt'n did what he had to do." Zoe said, surprised by the fury now focused on her.
"Fine, do what you have to do. I'm going to get Kaylee back." Simon sat up, surprised by River's sad face. "I'm sorry mei mei, I can't leave her." River nodded.
"No one is leaving her. Getting Kaylee back won't be easy." Mal spoke up for the first time, causing Simon to look at him.
"I'm not saying leave her, but how the hell do we get her back?" Jayne asked in anger. Simon shook his head emphatically.
"I've known many men like Benson in my life. He may appear to have the epitome of manners and be civilized, but he's a hard man at the core. I am not leaving Kaylee." River felt her brother's pain under the angry tones.
"He's set up a meeting with some business types. An attractive female mechanic has him intrigued, and he intends to profit from it. Maybe we could take advantage." Mal said, sensing Zoe turn to look at him.
"He'll never let us near her. We'll need help." Zoe watched the wheels turn in Mal's head. A plan was forming, one she hoped worked.
"We'll need to be quick. She's already in danger." River said; fascinated by the emotions playing across the faces of everyone who looked at her now. She knew what Kaylee was to her brother, she felt it on every level. The others hid their feelings well, but they all cared deeply for the ship's mechanic. Kaylee's innocence touched them on many levels, and losing her after all they've been through would be devastating.
"River, take us out of here. I'll contact Inara." Mal said, ignoring a protesting doctor. Zoe stopped Simon from following the Captain.
"We have no choice Doc. Benson has eyes on us at the moment. If we don't leave planetside, he'll know we're planning something." Zoe's explanation stopped Simon momentarily. Thinking it over briefly he nodded before heading to his quarters; River silently walked to the cockpit, acutely aware of her brother's pain.
"Hi Mal, I'm glad to see you. The shops proved…" Inara's smile disappeared at the look on Mal's face. The view screen hid the reflexive motion of Mal's hand tightening into a fist before momentarily relaxing. "What's wrong?" Mal grimaced slightly.
"The job went south." Mal explained the situation to Inara, who remained stoic as she listened. It was a bad situation, worse than they knew.
"Mal… I've heard of Deck Benson." Inara said, worry showing.
"Tell me everything." Mal encouraged Inara, knowing what she had to say wasn't going to be good.
"His family is well off, powerful. They run most of the businesses across several central planets. He took over a portion of the family business but got bored, took off for less legal ventures on the outer rim. Deck Benson is a brutal man, who has the backing of one of the most powerful families in the Alliance. He's never been arrested for his illegal activities for that reason. Mal, if he has Kaylee…" Inara faltered, her concern so apparent Mal thought it nearly blinding.
"She's in danger." Mal finished, watching Inara nod her head on the other side of the view screen. "I know, River said as much already." Inara inhaled slightly, the hope she'd held onto gone at the confirmation. Seeing Mal's set features encouraged the retired Companion that they would get Kaylee back.
"You have a plan." Inara said matter-of-factly.
"We're picking you up. Then we're going back. He's having a meeting to show off his recent acquisition. I plan to take advantage."
"A meeting? You'll never get in." Inara watched Mal and understood. "You don't plan on getting in." Another minute of silence met Inara's statement. "You want me to." Mal's eyes went soft. Putting Inara in danger went against the grain. They weren't friends; he couldn't put a label on what they were. He didn't really want to, he was content with her being a part of his crew. Crew was family, and that was everything in the gorram 'verse.
"Inara," Mal's voice was softer than usual, pained. "You're the only one of our crew he hasn't seen." The brunette lifted her head slightly. Mal was right; she could get in when he and the others couldn't. Maybe she had retired a bit too soon.
"Contact me as soon as you enter atmo. I want to meet you so we can get underway." Inara commanded before turning the view screen off. As Mal continued standing and looking at a blank view screen, Inara turned around and walked over to her large bed. There were several fabrics spread across the covers. Some were soft, others shiny, and shades ranged from deep blues and greens and purples to pale pinks and dark reds. Spotting the soft, pale pink one Inara reached out and touched the material. She had chosen it especially for Kaylee. Pink was a good color for her; the full, ruffle zealous dress the mechanic had fallen in love with some months ago revealed that to them all. Inara knew the softer pink would compliment Kaylee even more. Rubbing it between her fingers, the brunette sighed. "Mei mei…"
"Capt'n, we're here." River called out over the comm. Within minutes Mal and Zoe entered the control room. Mal stood for a moment, just looking at the vast planet.
"River, call Inara and let her know where we're landing. Zoe, have Jayne meet me in the cargo hold to load Inara's belongings." Mal gave Zoe the order before turning slightly to River. "We leave once she's on board." At their nods Captain Reynolds left for the cargo room.
"It's good to see you again," Simon said as he greeted Inara. The crew had expected to hold a celebration with Inara's return. Kaylee and River had planned it, with genuine fruits and vegetables to boot. Instead the former Companion was met with sincere greetings on faces that couldn't quite smile.
"That everything?" Jayne asked gruffly. Upon seeing Inara's nod, he rushed to the comm. and called to River.
"Inara's on board and we've loaded everything. Let's go." Jayne's voice conveyed urgency and River's response was a sharp take off. The crew found themselves hanging onto things quickly to prevent falling but found they didn't mind. Mal turned to Jayne and started to open his mouth to remind him whose ship this was but found himself stopping. He just glared long enough to make sure the mercenary got his message before turning to look at the others.
"Once we get Inara's things settled into her shuttle, we meet to go over the plan." Mal said, reaching for one side of a large trunk as a second later Jayne reached for the other side. It didn't take long to get everything stowed into the larger shuttle, and once Inara was satisfied she could handle the unpacking and settling in herself at a later time, she turned to Mal expectantly. Understanding, the Captain set up the meeting. Not more than twenty minutes later everyone filled the chairs around the dining table.
"How we gonna do this?" Zoe asked, cleaning her weapon side by side with Jayne. The sight brought a small smile to Simon's face. He abhorred violence, often wondered why he stayed on this ship with these people, but at times like this he understood. Crew was family, a big reason why Mal didn't take on just anyone as crew.
"What do you want?" Kaylee asked, looking at the dressed up man with an expression that reminded her of a hungry animal.
"We're gonna have some guests Kaylee. I want you to make yourself presentable." Taking a dress from a large man behind him Deck Benson stepped forward and placed it gently in Kaylee's hands.
"Ooo," Kaylee felt the material and smiled at it's softness. Deck smiled. This woman was beautiful, a mechanical genius, and, the kicker, innocent. She would bring him a great fortune.
"The dress is yours. I've made sure all of your needs are met, my dear." Deck stepped close enough for Kaylee to feel his warm breath across her cheek. "I'll be back for you in a few hours." Resisting the urge to taste this young woman who made him yearn as few others had, Deck Benson stepped back and turned around to walk out of the room.
Kaylee looked up and watched him go. The dress was beautiful, as was the room, the bathroom, everything. The rooms were filled with things she had only heard of from Inara. Bath salts and gels and lotions with light scents that made her smile. Scanty under clothes of bright colors and beautiful hues in matched sets she questioned would fit her at all. Styling products for her hair that made her giggle, the mixture of sticky gels and smelly hairspray filling the bathroom as she played.
Turning she saw the huge porcelain tub and thought she'd never have that on Serenity. The thought made her frown. She missed her Doctor, her Capt'n, her sisters, even Jayne. Kaylee kneeled on the pristine tile floor in front of the tub and cried. It was all so fresh in her mind; the look on Simon's face when he saw her being dragged by two cruel men, the Capt'n with his gun drawn, everyone ready to put their lives at risk for her, the moment the gun was holstered and she was taken off of Serenity. Sobs came from Kaylee even harder now. They were her family. "Stay safe. Please stay safe." Kaylee's whispers were met with silence as she lay on the cool floor in utter distress.
Two hours later true to his words Deck Benson returned. Kaylee stood, poised to bolt. She had cleaned herself up from the sink as she would have aboard the ship she called home. She had chosen the black panty and bra, feeling it was a good practical color. She had put the dress on with a frown, it's beauty dimmed by the circumstances she found herself wearing it and the fear that filled her.
"Kaylee, you look stunning." Deck stepped forward to kiss her hand when she elbowed him in the gut and made to run out of the room. A strong, unforgiving arm pulled her back suddenly. Kaylee yelped, looking at the man holding her steadfastly with a mixture of surprise and fear. "I appreciate your attempt my dear. You are, after all, obligated to try. Do it again," Deck pulled her in closer as he tightened his grip, "and you won't live to try it a third time. Believe me, there are things worse than death, and I would hate for you to learn what they are. So my sweet, dear Kaylee, are you ready to behave?" Kaylee looked into eyes glinting dangerously and relaxed against his grip.
"I… I'm ready." Kaylee said softly, slowly standing up straight and indicating he could let go. Smiling, Deck did exactly that and triumphantly led her by the hand as a gentleman normally does the woman at his side. Kaylee entered the room full of people at Deck's side, her glow slightly muted.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Allow me to introduce the best mechanic in the 'verse, Kaylee." Deck turned and took the young woman's hand, kissing it gently. Smiles filled the room followed by voices expressing interest in this beautiful young woman. Deck smiled to himself, she was more than beautiful, more than mechanically brilliant.
In a corner to the back of the room sat a retired Companion of note, whose beauty had attracted much attention upon her arrival. Inara Serra remained poised and professional, using her Companion training to school her features upon Kaylee's entrance and introduction.
"Wow! That's ingenious. They're still working on solving that at the Academy. How do you manage it my dear?" Carl West asked, watching as Kaylee smiled.
"Oh, nothin' to it. They think too much. You can't solve a problem like that unless you know what it feels like, until you have the guts of the ship under your hands and know it better than you know your own self. When you know every hum and vibration, you can figure out how best to make it run." Kaylee answered, nothing more than a slight smile crossing her face. Carl laughed.
"Yes, yes I imagine so." Carl smiled and turned to catch Deck Benson's eye. The older gentlemen nodded his head and Deck smiled.
"Why don't you introduce me?" Inara asked Deck, glancing in Kaylee's direction. The businessman looked at Inara appreciatively.
"I'm surprised she is of interest to you."
"Don't be. I have a great love of beauty, and uniqueness." The brunette answered gracefully.
"I see." Deck lifted his hand to run it down Inara's arm and rethought the move. "I still find it interesting that a retired Companion… retired?" Inara nodded at Deck's question and smiled internally at the obvious disappointment it elicited. "Would find someone like Kaylee appealing."
"As you boasted, Mr. Benson, Kaylee is more than just beautiful, more than a mechanical genius. She's…" Inara looked at Kaylee, a woman that drew her the first time they met. "She's… innocent." Deck grinned. She had hit the nail on the head.
"And that innocence is rare in this 'verse, very rare. Yes, she is quite a find." Deck said as he looked over the young woman now answering someone else's question, drawing in even more people.
"Rare equals expensive." Inara said matter-of-factly, glancing at Kaylee once more and turning to not give herself away. "How much?"
"Allow me to introduce you, Miss Serra. It might prove beneficial to have you as her first. You could," This time Deck couldn't resist running his hand down Inara's arm, sending shivers up her spine. "teach her a lot I'm sure." Looking over at Kaylee Deck didn't see the momentary flicker of shock and disgust cross Inara's schooled features. "Yes, it could prove very beneficial. Follow me." He gracefully took Inara's hand within his own and walked her over.
"Kaylee, my dear," Deck Benson caught the mechanic's attention abruptly. "May I introduce Miss Inara Serra." Kaylee couldn't believe it. Standing not one foot away from her was Inara looking as stunning and professional as she'd ever seen her.
"It's a pleasure, Kaylee." Inara said while reaching out her hand to take the young woman's.
"It's…" Kaylee looked at Deck quickly before looking back at Inara. "The pleasure is all mine." Kaylee managed to get out smoothly. Deck's eyes squinted slightly.
"Please forgive her shock, Miss Serra. She's not used to cultured women such as yourself. I assure you, your acquaintance is good for her and will help her overcome such rude manners." Displeasure dripped from his voice causing Kaylee to flinch slightly. It reminded her of their earlier encounter.
"I apologize. I didn't mean to be rude." Kaylee said quickly, causing Inara to look at her closely. She saw fear, and it made her angry.
"Do not apologize, never apologize. Mr. Benson," Inara turned to place cold eyes on her host. "She will learn much."
"You will be her first." Deck said, a thrill running through him at the thought of Kaylee's training. A smile came across his face with the knowledge that the retired Companion would be paying him to do the training.
"Inara's shuttle has docked." River said over the comm. As soon as she stepped foot outside of her shuttle Inara was greeted with several concerned faces.
"Did you see Kaylee?" Simon asked first.
"I did." Inara said softly.
"How's our girl?" Mal asked next.
"She's in danger." River said, surprising everyone.
"River." Simon said, surprised by his sister's proclamation.
"She may be right Mal. What Deck has planned for her… and what he's agreed to already with me… we need to get her out of there." Inara said, her worry showing fully. She no longer felt compelled to school her features while in the presence of the crew.
"What's he got planned?" Zoe asked.
"What did you agree too?" Mal asked, a frown already on his face. Inara sighed.
"He intends to "rent" Kaylee out. That's what the meeting was for. He invited some of the best mechanical minds in the Alliance and some of the most wealthy to show Kaylee off." Inara paused for a moment to glance at Simon. His jaw was clenched and his hand fisted. "He knew her ability with machines and engines would capture their interest, as well as her beauty… as well as her innocence."
"Wo de ma …" Zoe cursed passionately as Simon looked intently at Inara with understanding. Mal turned slightly in frustration and anger before looking once again at his crew.
"She could make him a fortune and he knows it." Mal said, disgusted.
"What did you agree too Inara?" Simon asked suddenly, surprising everyone around the table.
"I'm to be her first." Inara said with anger.
"I bet he loved that. With your experience…" Zoe started but stopped after one look at Inara. Mal reached his hand out and placed it on Inara's hand.
"It will give us a chance to grab her. And with you as the first…" Mal couldn't finish the sentence but wasn't surprised when Simon did.
"She'll be safe." Simon relaxed his fist and sighed. She'll be safe.
"Damn straight." Jayne said as he hit the wall with a fisted hand.
"Damn straight." River echoed with a hint of a smile on her face.
As the crew of Serenity discussed what Inara had learned, Kaylee was in her room sitting on the large bed thinking of the earlier party. She had been shocked to see Inara, and was grateful that Benson had misconstrued her reaction as being rude. He had punished her afterwards, the evidence of which still burned slightly as Kaylee gently touched her cheek. He had been deceptively pleasant, only revealing his anger once he'd returned her to the room. Kaylee sighed. She felt lucky; he could've done worse.
Lifting her head slightly Kaylee thought about that. How precarious her situation here was becoming more and more clear. When he'd taken her to the party she'd had no idea what his expectations of her were. With every face, every smile, she realized what he had planned. She was accustomed to lust and sex; Kaylee was no stranger to physical desires and had remained celibate only after setting her sights on Simon.
"Simon…" Kaylee sighed the name. As the face of the young, dark-haired man entered her mind she smiled. He was looking for her, hadn't given up, Inara's presence earlier made that clear. Still, was it right of her to expect him to risk all he'd only recently gained for her? "Simon." Kaylee stood up and took two steps forward slowly, still wearing the dress she'd been given for the party.
With purpose Deck Benson knocked on the door before opening it and stepping in. Kaylee turned quickly, only a trace of fear evident in her eyes at the sight of him. He had been rash, hitting Kaylee as hard as he had. Her cheek was red and slightly swollen. Kaylee was in no condition to be seen. He didn't want anyone backing out of their arrangement because he'd made her damaged goods. Benson sighed.
"Kaylee, you have a lot to learn about this world. Your innocence is… adorable. There is, however, no excuse for bad manners. I take it we won't have a repeat of your earlier behavior?" Benson asked gently. Kaylee nodded. "Good. Did you like the people you met today?"
"I…" Kaylee paused, she wasn't sure what he was really asking. "I did. Mr. West was sweet, and I could talk about engines with him." Benson smiled.
"Yes, yes, you will have a chance to see Mr. West again. Yes," Benson smiled, reminding Kaylee of a rattlesnake she'd once seen her father kill. "What about Miss Serra? Did you like her?" Kaylee smiled slowly.
"Yes, very much." Her smile was so genuine that Benson was caught off guard but quickly recovered.
"Excellent. You will see her first. I was hoping to schedule something for a few days from now." Benson stepped closer and lifted his hand to the welt forming on Kaylee's cheek. "That won't be possible now though. No, I will schedule it for next week. Can't have people thinking… Next week will just have to work." Benson smiled before turning for the door. "Supper will be brought in."
"I'm looking forward to seeing Kaylee again Mr. Benson." Inara smiled sweetly.
"Yes, she liked you very much. I'm afraid I cannot schedule anything until next week. I hope that won't be a problem." Mr. Benson said silkily.
"When we spoke before Mr. Benson you led me to believe that Kaylee would be available tomorrow. What has changed?" Inara asked politely, as any businesswoman with a vested interest in something would.
"I'm afraid the excitement of the party was a little much for her. She is… not use to so many people, so many fine things. As I'm sure you can imagine. Kaylee will, however, be ready for you next week. Are you still interested?" Benson asked, not giving away his desire for the retired Companion to instruct Kaylee.
"Of course." Inara made arrangements with Benson, said goodbye and shut off the view screen. Air rushed from her lungs. "Mei mei…"
"Are we set?" Mal asked, looking at Inara expectantly. Looking around the table Inara sat down tiredly and took a breath before looking up and facing the inquisitive eyes looking at her now.
"We are… for next week. Benson said he was unable to schedule for tomorrow as he had originally told me." The brunette saw surprise and suspicion staring back at her.
"Did he say why?" Zoe asked, concerned.
"Only that the party had been too much for her."
"Gou pi… Kaylee loves parties." Mal said.
"I know. For some reason he's not ready to…" Inara was unable to finish her statement as River chose at that moment to speak up.
"Yu ben de man has Kaylee and won't show her yet. Not yet." River said.
"Why not River?" Simon asked in a caring, quiet voice.
"Damaged goods. He's worried about people seeing her as damaged goods." Sharp inhales could be heard around the table at River's answer. Mal looked around the table before looking at River.
"Can we wait until next week?" Mal asked. River tilted her head and a soft smile appeared.
"It'll be hardest on him."
"Him?" Jayne asked in disbelief. River nodded. Mal thought. Their plan was contingent on Inara getting to Kaylee. They had no choice.
"We wait." Mal said, glancing at Simon's taunt jaw and fisted hands sympathetically.
Kaylee had put her regular clothes back on and settled deeply into the bed covers. Exhaustion overtook her and within minutes she drifted asleep. A small creak broke the silence in the room as the bedroom door opened. Still dressed in his suit, Deck Benson entered the room quietly and walked over to look down on Kaylee. She was snuggled in the covers, sleeping peacefully. Reaching out his hand, he carefully caressed her face. Benson sighed and forced his hand back to his side. She was a moneymaker, a short term means to get his name back out here in the central planets. He looked at his acquisition and turned to walk out.
Kaylee awoke abruptly as sunshine poured down on her face and forced her to shut her eyes. Still breathing heavily she sat up, resting her head gently on her hands. It was a nightmare. A nightmare that tore her from sweet dreams of a handsome young man and a ship that called to her. Breathing in deeply, Kaylee lifted her head and looked around the large room. A knock caught her attention, the original source that pulled her from her dreams so suddenly.
"Ye…Yes?" Kaylee called hesitantly. The door opened and two large men walked in carrying a table large enough for two. Two others followed behind carrying chairs. Kaylee watched them setup the table and chairs before leaving. Staring, she wondered why they had brought them in when another knock sounded. This time Kaylee didn't have time to answer as Deck Benson walked in with a tray of food.
"Good morning Kaylee. I've brought breakfast." Benson set the tray down and began dispersing plates of food and drinks. Glancing up, he saw the question in Kaylee's eyes and smiled. "Join me for breakfast Kaylee." Looking down momentarily Kaylee set aside her fears and pulled the covers aside. Standing up quickly she walked over and joined Benson.
"Dig in." Benson smiled and watched Kaylee begin eating with the little encouragement. Kaylee was enjoying the strawberry when she realized that Benson hadn't touched his plate. Instead he was staring at her eat. Startled, Kaylee hesitated before taking another bite of the strawberry.
"Aren't you hungry?" Kaylee asked. Benson smiled again and started eating. Kaylee watched for a moment to make sure he wasn't going to look back up at her and stare as she ate again. Reassured, Kaylee finished off the strawberry before moving on to more food. Benson was pleased. Her appetite was healthy, and she enjoyed strawberries with such pleasure it was sinful. Benson smirked. She was quite a find.
At night Kaylee slept, letting her dreams take her to Serenity. There she laughed with her crew, and made love to Simon. In her dreams she heard Mal's concerned baritone and River's laughter. The most precious moments came when she woke remembering the sight of Simon's quiet smile and the warmth he elicited. For Kaylee the days were long. Benson brought meals in to her and she ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the man who had taken her from the home she dreamt of at night. She was unaware of his nightly visits or the growing desire building beneath his calm exterior.
The nights were the worse for Simon; he hated them. The Doctor stayed up late each night checking inventory, cleaning and rearranging the infirmary. He dreaded falling asleep. It shamed him. River once confessed that she rushed to bed so she could dream. In her dreams her family was complete, and she was able to laugh and talk with the sister she missed. He could not find that kind of comfort in his dreams. What came to him at night angered him, made him afraid. Images filled his dreams of Kaylee alone, hurting, being touched by Benson. By the end of the weeklong wait Simon awoke to a large hand reaching out for Kaylee and the young woman screaming. His ears were still ringing, tears of frustration and fear and anger falling down his face.
Mal looked at the Doctor's face silently. River stepped to Simon's side and reached out to take his hand in hers. Holding his hand she squeezed lightly. It was enough to get Simon's attention. He turned his head to the side and saw his sister, standing strong. It made him smile. Inara watched the scene silently. Glancing over she noticed the expression on Mal's face before turning her head to the side quickly. Zoe was busy loading her gun when she saw River's gesture. She shut her weapon with a loud thump and sat straight in her chair.
"If you need to stay behind, no one will think any less of you." Mal's words caught everyone off guard. If being honest a few would admit to having thoughts of a more successful venture if the Doc stayed on the ship. Even Jayne had thought better of suggesting it and now as the room filled with a heavy sadness and palpable tension he remembered why.
"Thank you." Simon let the words fall softly. The look in his eyes said the rest. Mal read determination, and understood that no matter what else the Doc might be feeling he was going. He needed to go to Kaylee. The week had been hard on the young man. So Mal nodded his understanding before turning and barking orders. Inara left as the others began getting ready. Her part was simple, make Benson believe she was interested in Kaylee personally and get her good friend alone. Once assured that Inara and Kaylee were together and alone, the others would take care of the rest.
"Ah, Miss Serra, it is good to see you again." Deck gently took Inara's hand in his own. Inara smiled.
"I'm eager to see Kaylee again, Mr. Benson." Inara said, cutting straight to the point. She did not intend to wait any longer than she already had. Benson smiled.
"Of course, she is… looking forward to seeing you as well." Deck paused momentarily. He had spent the extra week checking up on Miss Serra. Her reputation and references were impressive. She had traveled the central planets and the black equally as much during the eight months before her retirement. Her retirement itself was a mystery. By every account she had been successful, and yet she'd chosen not too long ago to retire the life and luxury being a Companion entitled her to and no one seemed to know why. "If you would follow me, I've made sure she is adequately prepared for you." Inara turned her head slightly.
"I see." Inara's voice was even.
"I find it interesting Miss Serra, that you should retire at such a young age. You have much" Benson ran his hand down Inara's arm "yet to give."
"I chose to retire because it suited me. I'm looking forward to pursuing the many pleasures the 'verse offers." Inara said calmly, her schooled features not giving away her disgust at Benson's touch. Benson laughed.
"Yes, of course. There are many such pleasures. Kaylee will be the first of many for you, I'm sure." Benson smiled as he brought Inara to a stop and turned to face her. "You may of course take Kaylee to your shuttle. I want you ladies to be as comfortable as possible. I'm afraid I must ask that you not leave though. I'm sure you can understand why."
"Yes, of course." Inara said, grateful that they could at least go to her shuttle. Benson turned and opened the door.
"Kaylee, Miss Serra is here." Deck smiled at the light that overcame Kaylee's face at the sight of the retired Companion.
"Hello Kaylee." Inara smiled and looked her friend over.
"Hey, Miss Serra." Kaylee greeted, barely suppressing the desire to reach out and hug Inara. Inara turned to Benson and smiled.
"I believe I can take it from here Mr. Benson. I will have her back to you at the agreed upon time."
"Thank you. Kaylee, you may go with Miss Serra." Benson stepped to the side to allow Kaylee to pass. Watching the ladies begin walking away, Benson spoke up once more. "Once you're comfortable Miss Serra, I'm happy to offer my services to complete Kaylee's training." Benson smiled, Kaylee inhaled and Inara kept walking gently pulling Kaylee after her. Once they were out of earshot of Benson Kaylee turned to her friend.
"Inara, you're risking so much to be here." Kaylee said, genuine fear vibrating in her voice. The retired Companion continued looking straight ahead to prevent giving anything away.
"Kaylee, we need to get to the shuttle." Inara pulled the young woman until they both finally stepped foot in the small shuttle. The doors closed with a thud. Inara suddenly turned and took Kaylee into her arms for a hug. "Kaylee. Kaylee, are you okay? Did he hurt you?" Inara looked the red head over. All she could see was Kaylee's bright smile.
"I'm fine. I'm fine. Inara, I'm so happy to see you!" Kaylee grabbed the brunette and pulled her into an embrace. "I'm so happy to see you. No matter what fancy, pretty stuff he gave me I missed you. I only wore the dresses because he forced me to. I never used the fancy shower or tub or scented things. I never betrayed you guys, or Serenity. Where are the others?" Kaylee pulled away for a moment. Inara smiled.
"Come on." Taking Kaylee by the hand Inara pulled her friend after her as she walked quickly to the view screen.
"Hello Mal." Inara said with a bright smile. The face on the other end greeted her with a smile of his own.
"Inara. Kaylee. You ladies ready to get the hell out of there?" Mal asked, silently doing a once over to make sure Kaylee was okay.
"Yes." Inara answered quickly. "Slight change of plans. Benson let us use my shuttle. I'm ready to start her up and go home if Serenity is ready. He said not to leave in the shuttle Mal. We'll have a fight on our hands if he catches us." Kaylee flinched. She'd been with him for one week. In one week he had instilled fear in her; fear that overshadowed the excitement at returning home. Kaylee sat down suddenly as Inara and Mal finished their conversation.
"We're ready," Mal said, glancing to River sitting at his side quickly before looking back at Inara. "Come home."
Kaylee felt the shuttle's engines roar to life under her. The movement, the excitement of seeing her family, the fear of the past week all combined to overwhelm her senses. Inara maneuvered the shuttle to leave atmo and head towards home as Kaylee's vision disappeared. The young woman hit the floor, hard.
"Kaylee!" Inara shouted before hearing the sounds warning her that a ship was on her tail. Huge brown eyes glanced down in concern before refocusing on the ship's controls and their destination. Within minutes River pulled Serenity around sharply to allow the shuttle easier access to dock. Once the shuttle was settled River finessed Serenity into leaving as fast as possible.
Inara felt her shuttle settle down into Serenity and the force of the ship's departure. Turning she knelt down at Kaylee's side.
"Kaylee?" Inara questioned, hoping for a response. "Oh, mei mei." Inara heard the click as Mal and the others entered her shuttle.
"How's our g…?" Mal's voice faded at seeing Inara bent down at an unconscious Kaylee's side. Simon saw Kaylee and shoved the Captain out of his way.
"Kaylee!" Simon did a quick once over. "I need to get her to the med bay. She hit her head when she fell." Inara nodded at Simon's statement.
"She fainted right as I was leaving atmo." Inara said, looking down at the young woman. Simon lifted his lover into his arms and moved into Serenity's grey halls towards the infirmary. Kaylee rested quietly, her head gently tended too as several pairs of eyes watched. Simon remained close, and River sat silent and still as a stone in the corner. Time passed all too slowly for the Lam siblings as Kaylee rested fully for the first time in a week.
"Mmm," Kaylee mumbled softly before lifting her head gingerly. "What happened?" Simon reached out to take her hand in his.
"Xing an, you fainted in Inara's shuttle. You hit your head." Simon spoke softly, gently moving a piece of Kaylee's hair off her face.
"Wode tian! Is he coming for us? Is he coming for me?" Kaylee's eyes looked around anxiously. Mal's mouth tightened in response.
"Bao-bei, you are safe. No one is going to come for you. No one is going to hurt you. Xing an, you are safe. You are on Serenity Kaylee, you are home." Simon wanted desperately to reassure Kaylee, and himself, that no harm would ever come to her. Kaylee looked around. Mal and Inara watched her closely, Jayne and Zoe gripped their weapons tightly as they looked upon her fondly, and River smiled brightly. Kaylee saw her family, together, in front of her, and found herself with wet cheeks from silent tears. Kaylee turned to look up into Simon's loving eyes.
"Are you safe? Are you safe?" Kaylee looked at Simon, then Mal and the others, and then finally, at Serenity. A great need clawed at her. Something strong and fierce compelled Kaylee to sit up and ask again, "Are you safe?"
"Kaylee," Simon tried to gently push her back down on the bed, worry creasing the corners of his eyes.
"Mei mei," Inara and Mal said at the same time, stepping forward.
"We are all safe, mei mei." Inara said softly and insistently, gaining Kaylee's attention. "We are all aboard Serenity, we are all safe, you are safe."
"You are safe." Kaylee said the words and felt her face break into uncontrollable sobs. Simon pulled her against him and hugged her tightly, allowing his own tears to flow from the worry, frustration and anger of the past week.
Mal glanced at Inara, worry plainly visible on his face. Jayne looked away from the scene in front of him.
"What's wrong with her?" Jayne asked, unable to squash the urge to ask.
"Yu ben de man," River started as Inara looked at Mal.
"Filled her with fear." Inara finished River's statement, answering Jayne's question as a tear of her own flowed. Mal's face radiated anger. Jayne and Zoe tightened their grips on their weapons. Later they would learn from Simon that Kaylee had been physically hurt no worse than a powerful backhanded slap across the face. Her fear stemmed from worry for them. For them; her crew, who had years of experience avoiding and fighting the Alliance, because they were her family.
Gou pi: bull shit
Jia ting: family
Xaio mei mei: baby sister
Mei mei: sister
Dong ma: understand
Wode tian: Oh God!
Ai ren: sweetheart, precious
Xing an: darling, sweetheart
Ni bu dong: you don't understand
Wo de ma: Mother of God
Yu ben de: stupid, foolish, silly
wan mei: perfect, beautiful