This is Polly Lynn's fault. I swore I wasn't going to write this in the first place, and then I swore I wouldn't do anything with it. It may never have seen the light of day but for she bribed me with bunnehs. And meeting!fic.
Anyway, this follows the events of Stolen Sky.
Outside its few cities, Shadow was a world without light pollution. It was night of pure contrast. The darkness was ink, and the starlight was blazing.
It was deep nighttime by the time he found the farmhouse. Part of him thought maybe it wasn't wise, but Mal was beyond tired and determined and simply too far past stopping. He'd come this far.
Late as it was, a man answered the door. Tall, thin, grey-haired. A quiet dignity in him. Even the shape of his face gave Mal a pretty good idea who this was.
"Are you - uh - Mr. Beckett?"
"Jim Beckett. That's me. Who are you?"
"I'm Mal Reynolds. I'm - I'm a captain. Little ship. Firefly. I, uh - sorry if I woke you."
"Captain, huh?" Jim looked interested. "Thought I knew all the captains round these parts. What's she called?"
Jim started a bit at that, his eyes flicking over Mal in a cool glance that held some kind of understanding in it. Mal got uneasy. He didn't like being on the not knowing side. Was it - Serenity Valley? This man wasn't a fed, was he?
"Serenity," the older man repeated slowly. "Serenity. Nice name."
Mal shoved his hands into his pockets and wondered if there was a way to ask what he'd been thinking all the way here. But Jim beat him to it. "Well. Not that I'm not delighted just to meet you, but is there something you're looking for, son?"
"Is - " Mal swallowed hard around the name he'd had to keep himself from saying for months now - "is Kate here?"
"She is." Jim nodded slightly. "Let me just go get her, Captain."
Mal shoved his hands into his pockets, shifting his weight uneasily as Jim stepped out of the room. This was a bad idea. What if she'd changed? What if she didn't want him back? Been more than a year. She might not be alone anymore. Her name may not even be Beckett now.
This was a bad idea. He should just -
He was half-ready to walk out when he heard Jim's footsteps stop. "Katie?" Mal heard a murmur, too low to make out. Then Jim again. "Got a visitor, Katie."
For all his quick panicked thought, Mal couldn't bring himself to do anything but stand there dumbly, waiting like some kind of fool, listening for the footsteps he still recognized.
And then there she was.
More beautiful than he'd remembered.
She looked softer, somehow - he couldn't place it, couldn't pin it down in detail but she looked warm and gentle, and the glow in her eyes as she saw him -
"Kate." His throat was tight, all the stupid he'd been pushing back for so long crowding up now, and he had so many things he needed to say but they were all crowding their way into his mouth and all he could manage was, "Took so long to find you."
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I didn't mean to disappear. I didn't know how to contact you."
He spent months thinking about her. Remembering the soft warmth of her skin, the rich flush of her lips, the bright gleam of her eyes in the dimly lit passenger's quarters. And he thought a thousand times about seeing her again. About reaching for her and pulling her back into his arms and whispering I just want you.
But now he was standing in front of her and he was tired and unsure and her father was right there and even though they were standing in the same room, Mal still couldn't shake the feeling that they were still lightyears apart.
"Katie?" Jim's voice was mild. At least he didn't seem defensive.
Kate half-turned. "Dad, this is Mal Reynolds. We did a - a job together. For Roy."
Jim had a look in his eye Mal didn't quite understand. "Is he - "
"Yeah. He is."
Mal blinked, looking back and forth between them, seeing some line of communication he wasn't catching. Uh. He was lost. "Am I missing something here?" He wanted to kiss her. Could he kiss her? Did she not want that?
She bit her lip and pulled his hand. "There's - something I have to tell you."
Mal didn't know what to think. There wasn't someone else, was there? - or was she meaning for - right now? - her father was watching, they couldn't -
He followed obediently anyway, through some dim hallway - this was a real nice house, all shiny wood and polished mirrors; he should have figured she came from money - and then through a door into a room just barely lit.
He stared at her for a long second - did she drag him into a bedroom? - but she said nothing. Just looked down. He followed her gaze to the corner of the room.
And there, asleep in a crib, was -
- it was -
The breath went out of his body.
It couldn't be. Couldn't.
But only one reason she'd be showing him this.
Mal looked back up at Kate. She was watching him, her face guarded. Like she was waiting for him to speak.
It couldn't be.
"Kate - " he couldn't say it. Couldn't. It was too much to - "I - is - "
"Mal." Kate's voice was so soft, so quiet. "Her name is Serena."
"She's your daughter."
Mal stared down at the tiny little creature, and as if on cue, she opened her eyes. Blue eyes. Little girl had blue eyes, bright like cornflowers even in the dark room.
And she looked up at him and she smiled.
He couldn't breathe.
"Can I - " he swallowed - "can I hold her?"
He almost regretted asking - what was he thinking, a baby - but Kate was reaching into the crib, and then suddenly she was putting this little person in his arms.
Mal froze, terrified, but Serena didn't seem to mind. She kicked a little foot out, bunching her small fists and babbling nonsense. He cradled her carefully against his chest; his hands dwarfed her, so big and rough against her silky smooth skin.
"She's so tiny." His throat closed up. How could she be so tiny? How could anything be so tiny and perfect?
She reached up with her little fists and caught ahold of his thumb, giggling, as she tugged clumsily. He brushed lightly over the soft, fine, silky strands of brown hair, earning a delighted coo as she nuzzled happily into his shirt.
He loved this tiny little thing so fierce it hurt in his chest.
"Kate." His throat was so horribly tight. He finally tore his eyes away from the baby girl, up to her -
- her mother.
Kate was her mother.
She was watching him with a guarded look, her arms folded over her chest. She was biting her lip.
Been over a year since last they saw each other. She'd got no reason to believe he'd stayed hers, that he hadn't run off and into someone else's bed.
"I - wasn't expecting this," he managed.
She let out a soft laugh. "Neither was I."
"She's so beautiful."
"She is," Kate murmured. "She really is."
He took in a long breath. "Kate. Kate, I - I got no right to just - walk back into your life like this. I know that."
"I missed you." The words started spilling out. "I missed you and Kate, I ain't - I ain't had peace since you. And - and it's - I had no idea, but she's so tiny and perfect and I never thought I'd - "
His throat closed up and he had to stop, because he actually could not get air into his lungs and Kate was so beautiful and he was holding their baby. He looked down at Serena, her blue eyes filling his vision, her little face so soft and perfect and delicate that he wanted nothing more than to just stay and hold her forever and -
A gentle hand on his arm stopped him. Kate squeezed his bicep gently, her face bright. "She likes you."
He held his breath. Kate's hand stroked his arm, soft, a little shy.
"I want you to stay." She flicked her eyes up to his, all soft and longing, hope written over her face so lovely. "You should at least get to know her."
He had to swallow back the tightness in his throat because words like forever and always were bubbling up in his brain. "I don't know anything 'bout having a kid."
She smiled. She looked tired. Soft and tired and gorgeous.
"I don't either."
one week later
Sometime long past midnight, Kate rubbed her bleary eyes and padded down the hall to Sera's nursery. What was that noise?
She'd left the baby with the nurse tonight, but as she got closer, Kate paused. It wasn't Lanie's voice coming from the baby's room.
"Took me a long time to find you, little one. I didn't even know you happened."
Kate crept silently to the door and peeked in, her heart twisting in her chest. It was Mal. Sitting in the chair by the window, in the pool of moonbeam streaming through the gauzy curtains. He was cradling his little daughter against his chest, studying her with that wondering gaze he always had when he looked at her. Still. Every time.
"Your mother – " he sighed quietly. "I don't know, little girl. She says she wants me to stay. And I – I'm done with the fighting." He paused. "I think – I think I want to learn you, mei mei."
Serena let out a soft gurgling noise, the contented one she let out when she was sleepy. Kate watched Mal trace her nose, her ears, very carefully. Like he was discovering her all over again.
"Just tell your mother – tell her I do want to stay, okay?"
Kate slipped out as silently as she'd come in.
Back in her room, she curled up in bed, staring at the wall, covering her mouth. A smile turned up her cheeks in the darkness, and she didn't try to fight it.
He wanted to stay.