"The State of Being There"
Everything belongs to Joss Whedon. I'm just having a little non-profession, not-for-profit fun.
He felt the crunch of dirt beneath his leather shoes, and inhaled the lingering stench of infrastructure and unclean bodies. The suns here were blinding, and he squinted to survey the looming buildings in the distance, the swarm of peasants scattering the streets, and the sounds of quick-tongued bartering competing over slurred shouting. Cupping a hand over his brow, and inhaling once more, Simon Tam smiled.
They were all unpleasant things in themselves, of course. But it was all tangible proof that he was on solid earth once more. Though, he amended that 'Earth' was not the most appropriate diction for this terraformed rock.
He followed his fellow crewmembers further onto the street, and the troop grouped around Mal, subconsciously hovering around their leader in varying intervals. The captain didn't seem to notice, and as he joined them Simon knew he himself couldn't resist the gravitation pull. It was natural, and something he'd long since grown used to.
"I have a shipment to pick up, so go along and have some fun," the captain said; his face tired, but stern.
As soon as the approval to scatter was made, Zoe fixed her eyes on the captain. Simon was a bit embarrassed to note the way she squinted into the light, not having to shield his eyes with a hand as he'd done. "What time are we meeting back up, captain?"
"Sunset," he instructed, not meeting Zoe's eyes. She was worn and broken, but still managed to appear put together. Zoe was a strong person, nothing could change that, but there was no denying she'd been distant lately. Simon knew if things had been different, how they should have been, she'd have clasped her husband's arm, sent him a flirtatious smile; her big, supple lips pouting slightly would be all it'd take for a grin to spread across her husband's features, and with a tip of his head towards the remainder of their group, Wash would have allowed himself to be dragged away.
But Wash wasn't here. And at times it felt like Zoe wasn't really there, either. She was healing, though. Simon knew eventually she'd smile and joke with Mal, but he doubted she'd ever feel whole again.
Zoe's eyes shifted, and the corners of her mouth lifted, though barely.
Inara was talking to the captain, telling him exactly why it wasn't possible to be back at sunset. She had friends on this planet, but Mal simply rolled his eyes, turned on his heel, and strode away. The raven-haired woman was right on his heels, her mouth moving as they slipped into the crowd, dark curls swinging behind her. He could no longer hear the details of their fight, but Simon couldn't help but smile. He knew the banter well enough to be amused by it.
Even though the proof of solid ground was so relieving to him simply because they'd all been packed in Serenity for weeks - the close distance and colorful crew slowly driving him mad - he still enjoyed their company. He wouldn't trade it for all the money he'd once had. Not once had Simon found himself bored since he'd inadvertently signed himself up as a member of this particular crew. And though things weren't exactly smooth since their departure from Miranda, they'd fallen back to a familiar rhythm.
In the course of his thoughts, everyone else had drifted apart, and when he lowered his hand back to his side, he found Kaylee looking up at him. There was that curious edge in her eyes that seemed to always be there, and his lips quirked for a briefest second, returning her smile.
"What'cha thinking about?"
He arched a brow, and she sighed. "I just mean you looked all serious and concentrated, s'all."
"I'm just happy I'm here."
"Oh," she nodded, eyes gleaming as she surveyed the shops flanking the narrow dirt path. "I'm happy I'm here too," she took a step in the direction of a parts shop, a grin inching across her features. "Serenity needs a new capacitor."
Simon laughed as he watched her study the mess of parts strewn across a table. Her eyes widened as she lifted one of the metal contraptions, studying its tangled mess of wires. Simon, a genius in his own right, understood none of the colored coils spilling from the device.
"No," he laughed, as Kaylee sat down the part, only to pick up and turn another in her hands. "I mean I'm glad I'm here. With the crew. And," he coughed lightly, "with you."
"Oh." She nodded, her hands tightening around the capacitor. She felt the heat rise to her cheeks, and lowered her head so a curtain of hair skewed Simon from her vision. She knew it was silly to still blush in his presence. Since his confession during the Reaver attack, when she'd found her second-will to live, they'd had sex. More than once. And it was shiny. But, still, they hadn't done much talking, and with all the awkward dancing around the subject the overly polite doctor'd done, it was strange to hear him confess things so openly.
Simon watched the way she clutched the device, and smiled. "Any good?"
Kaylee dropped the part, listening as it clanged and bounced against the other metal parts piled on the table. "Nah. It's luh-suh. But it's just been so long. I ain't had a chance to get my hands on anything new since forever."
She took a step away from the table, and met his blue eyes. Smiling, she took in his prim appearance. It was strange to her that he still took the time to dress so posh now that he was nothing more than a thieving crew's medic. Still though, there were the clean lines in his pants, the vest impeccably tailored to hug his wide shoulders, and there were the even more impressive things: like his straight, aristocratic nose, strong jaw, and the lean muscles of a man who had worked out, but never had to work too hard. He was different than her, and she knew it. But she was drawn to his elegance, and had been taken by his kind heart. There was something about a man who would give up everything, stacks of money and status and a job he loved, just to save his little sister. She doubted anyone would ever feel that way about her.
"Let's get something to eat," he spoke, as they edged across the pathway of shops, stepping into a mecca of grand buildings. Here, the streets were clean, and the people went about their way, finely dressed and keeping their voices to themselves.
Kaylee gave an audible swallow, and glanced up to meet Simon's eyes. "I-" self-consciously, she glanced down at her oil-stained coveralls. "I don't quite fit in here."
"Nonsense," Simon replied, motioning to his coin purse. "I'm buying. That's all we need to belong."
"This place though," her eyes scanned the array of buildings, "it looks awfully fancy."
"It is fancy, Kaylee," he laughed. "That's why I'm taking you here."
"Oh. Well, you ain't got to waste your rations on me, Simon."
He stopped walking, and she turned slightly, a confused expression encompassing her features. Simon looked somber, and she inhaled sharply as he spoke. "Kaylee, I'm taking you, my," he blinked, as if wondering if he could say it aloud. He'd sort of thought it was assumed, but now, standing in sunlight with Kaylee looking at him, he felt silly for even thinking it.
"Your what?" Kaylee tilted her head to the side. Sensing his discomfort, she grinned. "Your girlfriend, Simon?"
"Well, can I call you that?"
Her grin widened, and when he walked by her, she bumped him with her shoulder.
"Go on," she urged. "Say what you were gonna say." Sometimes she felt like getting Simon to admit his feelings was more difficult than getting Jayne to be serious.
"Well, just that I'm not wasting money taking my girlfriend out." He walked a few more paces, and turned onto a different street. "Come on. I think it's this way."
"Where're we goin'?"
"Here," he nodded, stopping in front of the restaurant and opening the door. Kaylee hovered by the entrance, meeting his gaze.
"Yeah," he smiled, still holding the door open for her. "You like fondue, right?"
"Uh," she blinked, and finally entered. "Right." It smelt wonderful inside. It had been so long since she'd seen people sitting around eating real food. The crew hardly ever ate out, and when they did it was usually at pubs which selections were limited to protein substances. Still, though, she'd eaten at nice restaurants before, but never dreamed stepping foot in a place this swanky.
"Simon," Kaylee whispered as they were seated. "I ain't got anything on my face, do I?"
"No," he laughed as she leaned across the table, turning her head to each side for his inspection. The pot in the middle caught her eye, and she gasped.
"Is that chocolate?" She leaned forward a bit more, and sniffed it. "It is! And it's real chocolate, too."
Simon arched a brow in question. "Have you ever had fondue before?"
"'Course," she answered defensively, sitting back in her chair. The chocolate smelt delicious but she didn't have anything to dip yet, and she knew Simon would be appalled if she stuck her finger inside and licked it clean. When she glanced up and met his eyes, she sighed. "Only once. At a party." His amusement didn't fade, and she rolled her eyes. "I was undercover, okay?"
He laughed. It was a genuine, jovial sound, and it made Kaylee bite her lip. She liked making Simon laugh.
Simon watched her lip catch teeth. She paused for a moment, and when she released her lower lip it was slick with moisture. Simon was glad to see a waiter approaching their table, for gazing too long at Kaylee's lips in public was not exactly gentlemanlike. He was less pleased with the way the man eyed Kaylee, and seemed only interested in speaking with him. Because even though he and Kaylee now held the same station, he looked the part of someone with far more money than he actually had. He ordered, glancing at Kaylee for confirmation, and she only stared back, wide-eyed.
"That's gonna cost you your entire share," she said, as the waiter walked away. Simon shrugged, knowing that it wasn't quite, but close.
"What else am I going to spend it on?"
"Oh," Kaylee cocked her head to the side, her eyes narrowing slightly as she considered the possibilities. There were lots of things she could think of to buy, but none of them topped the platter of strawberries that was sat on the table. There was other food, of course, but she could only focus on the red, ripe fruit. Her jaw dropped, lips parting in shock, and Simon smiled with a shake of his head.
Wanting to be polite in Simon's presence, Kaylee waited until the waiter left them before picking up a strawberry and stuffing it into her mouth. Simon followed suit, though he gingerly dipped it into the pot of melted chocolate first. Kaylee was amazed, and as she quickly chewed her first strawberry, she grabbed another, and dunked it into the warm liquid.
"Oh Simon," she sighed. "Fondue is amazing."
"Yes," he agreed, dipping a cracker in the cheese pot. He was more than slightly amused that Kaylee only seemed to have eyes for the strawberries and the chocolate. It wasn't much of a lunch, but he didn't dare say anything about it. She could eat whatever she liked, and apparently that was chocolate covered strawberries.
When they were done, the entire platter of strawberries gone, Simon paid and moved to leave, but paused when he realized his girlfriend remained seated, staring at the remnants of their meal.
"What's wrong?" He asked.
Kaylee shook her head, and though she stood up, her eyes lingered on the pot of chocolate, darting slightly to the array of spiced meats. "They're just gonna waste it?"
"Well, the next group of people will not be pleased if they are served something half-eaten."
Kaylee blinked as they stepped away, casting another glance at the substantial amount of food. "It just seems like such a waste. Half the universe is starving, and they… they just..."
Simon took her hand, and squeezed it gently. "Yeah, it is," he agreed. Kaylee, however, had forgotten all about melted chocolate being tossed away in the restaurant. Her belly was full and there was a lingering taste of strawberries in her mouth, but the most amazing sensation rushed over her as Simon took her hand and didn't let go. Despite her soiled tank top and coveralls, she felt like the prettiest, fanciest girl on the street, walking hand-in-hand with Simon. He was nice, and good lookin', and he only seemed to have eyes for her.
It wasn't long before they rounded the lane, and were walking on the shaky cobblestones of the slums. The choking stench was back in the air, and the hum white noise returned. Simon continued to hold her hand. The sun was still high in the air, but without any place else to go, the pair found themselves back inside Serenity.
"Hope River's alright," Kaylee said, simply to break the silence that settled between them. Simon nodded. He knew Jayne and Zoe would take good care of her. He just hoped Zoe would keep her word. Jayne had been more than a bit eager to enter River in a cage fighting tournament. He said he'd be the only one to bet on the skinny little thing, and therefore'd be the only one to collect the hefty reward when she'd won. River had simply shrugged at the suggestion, and asked if she could have a portion of the winnings.
"I'd rather like another Ice Planet," was all she'd said, and as Jayne told her he'd buy her all the Ice Planets in the 'verse, Simon had made Zoe promise that she wouldn't let River fight.
"Oh," Kaylee laughed, hitting Simon's shoulder gently. "She's fine. Zoe wouldn't let anything bad happen to her."
"Yeah," Simon agreed, scratching his head as he tried to look convinced.
"Besides, I don't think there's a person here who could beat that girl up. She's a tough one."
Nodding, Simon sighed. "She's always been strong, yes, but her spirit is increasing being around you ladies."
"Ladies?" Kaylee asked, leaning back onto the couch in the corner of the sitting room.
"Zoe's the toughest person I've ever met, and you and Inara are so strong and confident." He shook his head. "I really think it's rubbing off on her."
"Confident?" She frowned, her voice sounding anything but. "Simon, I don't quite think… Well, I ain't ever been really sure of anything about myself, besides when I'm fixin' somethin'. It's the only time I fell… secure."
Simon tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear, his palm grazing her cheek. She leaned into it and closed her eyes. How long had she yearned for him to be so bold, to just reach out and touch her? She thought back to the time he'd almost done it, before they'd been interrupted.
"Simon," she spoke, opening her eyes and meeting his striking blue ones. She felt less confident then, but willed herself to press on. "Remember what you said, about me just being there?"
"What?" His face pinched, looking puzzled.
Kaylee sighed. "I asked if you might, you know, like me."
"Kaylee," Simon shook his head before leaning forward and pressing his lips to her forehead. "I would hope you know how I feel."
"Well, you were right. I am the only girl you know that's not married, a professional, or your sister." She lowered her eyes to her small, oil stained hands resting in her lap. "I'm just sort of there. Your only option."
"Oh Kaylee," he rested his hands atop her own. They were soft and warm, and Kaylee raised her eyes to meet his. "I hope you know that was a prime example of me being poor at expressing my feelings. I was trying to make a joke. I'm not attracted to you because of that. I'm attracted to you because you're sweet, and you're smart. You're also beautiful and strong, and I love how when I make you smile your eyes light up."
"Yeah?" She couldn't keep the grin from inching across her features. "Go on."
The doctor laughed, and kissed her forehead once more. "Yes, you're here, and I find it quite convenient that I can just knock on your door any time I wish."
"Oh," she laughed, one of her thin brows arching. "Doctor Tam, are you going to be making house calls?"
His laughter joined hers, and he leaned forward, capturing her lips with his own. Just as she was deepening the kiss, the door was thrust open and five bodies entered the room. Kaylee pulled away, glaring at her crewmates as Simon blushed.
"They're upset," River said, trying to lick her Ice Planet. "We've interrupted them."
"Oh for the love of," Jayne groaned, followed by a stream of colorful curses. He frowned at the pair, now with a foot of space between them. "Get a room. Some of us like to read on the couch."
"Read?" Inara asked, crossing her arms and frowning at the man. "Jayne, I highly doubt you've done any reading on that couch. Or anywhere in this ship for that matter."
"Well…" Jayne mumbled, and the captain surveyed the pair seated on the sofa.
"I agree with Jayne," he began, his voice silencing all other chatter. "You know I don't approve of the two you doing that, but if you're going to, at least keep it in your chambers."
"Alright Captain," Kaylee grinned, getting to her feet. "C'mon Simon."
"Wha-" Simon stuttered, and his eyes widened as Kaylee disappeared through the doorway. He rose and bowed at the waist. "Good evening, everyone."
Inara laughed as he quickly fled the room, and Zoe shook her head. "Well, at least he didn't question us about how River got that Ice Planet."
"He had other things on his mind," River shrugged, tilting her head to try and lick some of the sweetness from the ball at the base of the string she was attempting to swing towards her mouth. It was awkward, but strikingly graceful.
"Oh," Jayne grumbled, rolling his eyes at the slender brunette. "She can take down a room of trained fighters, but still cant eat a damn Ice Planet."
"Captain," Inara said, her eyes shifting from the doorway Simon and Kaylee had disappeared through. "I think you should go easier on those two. Young love is a sweet thing, endearing even. I fear you'll try and crush it."
He sighed and shook his head, but said nothing. It was becoming inevitable that relationships between crewmembers were something he couldn't stop. Another glance at Inara, and he nodded.
From the corner of her eye, Zoe watched the pair with a knowing smile. She may have lost her soul mate, but it was comforting to find that even in the midst of heartache, she could still find amusement in others' feeble at attempts at love. Wash would have loved teasing Kaylee and Simon, and even more so Mal and Inara. Without him there, it was up to her. She'd carry around a part of him, and he'd have a laugh for their sakes from wherever it was he watched them all drifting through space on Serenity.
A big thank you for anyone who took the time to read. Also, thank you Sean Maher for taking your shirt off in Serenity. I really appreciate it.