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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal orders Kaylee to see a doctor. Kaylee orders Mal to set things right with Inara. Somehow, Mal manages to say a lot of things right. Part 6 of the ‘Working Out the Grief’ series. Post-BDM.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 904 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
Mal sprawled on his bunk, his head spinning, his back aching. He was exhausted from the continuous battle with Inara. Exhausted and confused. It had started out as their normal playful banter and had somehow turned viscous. He couldn’t know why, but he was sure the blame lay with him. His heart beat gingerly beneath battered armor – name-calling and insults. That afternoon she’d come aboard, he’d seen some unspoken pain, and somehow he’d struck her there. As much as it pained him, he was too stubborn to apologize.
He was surprised when the door to his bunk tipped open and soft boot-steps thumped down his ladder, bringing the peach scent of Kaylee. Mal tensed, knowing she and Jayne had hooked up a few nights ago, worried she might be making the rounds in her grieving process. However, he knew for a fact that the past two nights Kaylee had slept alone in her bunk with no nightmares and no one forcing her there. She’d even hung those gorram lights up outside her door and started sorting through her and Simon’s old things. She and Jayne were still playful and only slightly more flirtatious in the day, but not nearly as handsy as she and Simon had been. Peeking one eye open, he saw her squat on the other side of the room, and just settle in a position to watch. Was that how she started Jayne? She seemed to be doing so much better today. Maybe it was just a rough night. Recovering ain’t the same as recovered, and she’d only just started.
“Somethin’ you want, Kaylee?” he asked, his voice scratchy with fatigue. Ai ya, did that sound too much like a solicitation?! He sat up on the bed, and scooted against the wall, bending one knee to use as an arm rest – a perfectly respectable social position.
Not at all surprised to see him awake, she met his eyes and shook her head. Her hands were wrapped around her folded knees, her chin resting on her knee caps. But it was more the position of someone who didn’t want to intrude.
“You didn’t knock,” he chastised lightly.
“You never knock on Inara’s door.”
“I – that’s different.”
Mal had no answer, so he changed the subject. He really didn’t know how to format the question, so he opened with the subject. “So, you and Jayne, a few nights back…”
“Me and Jayne,” she acknowledged, not betraying any emotion.
“Did he pressure you?”
“It was my idea,” she answered simply.
“Was there any undue suggestion influencing this idea?” Mal prodded. “How’d you get it in your head to …”
He bit his lip uncomfortably, but Kaylee didn’t seem uncomfortable at all. She just shrugged and explained, “A Companion leaves when your hour is up. Jayne ain’t leavin’.”
“I imagine his rates are lower too.”
Kaylee rolled her eyes at the comment. “Just … trying somethin’.”
“Did it work?” Oh, he was so out of his comfort zone with this conversation, but it was his job to protect her from the likes of Jayne. Though it was Jayne who’d protected her from Jotham, so really, he just couldn’t wrap his head around the pair. Kaylee laughed a little and rubbed the bridge of her nose, getting lost in the memory. Mal was glad she remembered it with a smile.
“It was good,” she chuckled with a nod. “He was kinda shy, I think ‘cause he worried you’d shoot him, but it was good…” She laughed again, her tongue peaking between her teeth. “And he squeaks so adorable when you hit a sweet spot.”
“Wait, that was him?! I thought you were the squeaky one.”
“You heard us?” she laughed, loud and outright, more amused than embarrassed.
“You kinda woke me up,” he revealed. Much as he’d tried to avoid listening, his bunk shared a wall with Kaylee’s. He’d stayed on the bridge until they’d settled down for the night, but had been rudely awakened early the next morning.
Kaylee shook her head, laughing at herself, then sighed, staring upwards. “He was good,” she repeated, for what seemed like the millionth time. “I’d do him again.”
Mal balked uncomfortably, and suddenly Kaylee was laughing at his squeamishness. “That somethin’ I have to worry about, because you know how I abhor shipboard romance.”
“It ain’t romance, Captain. It’s just sex. One friend helpin’ another.”
“That’s what Zoë said when she and Wash started up.” For the first time in a long time, Mal remembered the day he hired Kaylee, and that she wasn’t as pure and inexperienced as he sometimes imagined her to be – at least not in the sack.
“Jayne said you were pregnant.”
The laughter evacuated the room faster than cockroaches from a floodlight. Kaylee’s smile vanished, and she stared very intently at her hands, kneading her fingertips against each other.
“He’s wrong,” she said irresolutely, her voice quavering.
Mal scooted to the edge of the bed and leaned forward, challenging her with dead serious eyes. “Is he?”
Kaylee stole quick glances at him, her mouth twitching. Suddenly she rose to her feet and went to the ladder but Mal moved faster than lightning, coming between her and her escape. She glared at him from a deep, hidden resource of womanly wrath. When she finally spoke, it was with fervent denial. “This ain’t the way I planned it.”
She tried to leave again, but Mal held her shoulders and forced her to face him. “Kaylee, it don’t matter if it’s how you planned it. The way it is is the way it is. We deal with what’s in front of us. If it ain’t so, go to the Infirmary right now, take a test, and we can set Jayne’s mind at ease. If it is so, you gotta tell me.”
“Captain,” she shook her head, her eyes going watery, begging him not to make her face reality.
“Please, Kaylee, you can’t just leave this to deal with later. I need to get you to a doctor and get proper care. I can’t lose –”
Another. He’d almost said another. Wasn’t too long after that battle with the Reavers that Zoë had miscarried. Simon had been out of commission, what with being shot, and aside from patching up a few scrapes, Zoë hadn’t received much doctoring. Mal hadn’t even known her pregnant until it happened. If he had, maybe he could have gotten her the care she needed. All he knew was he couldn’t let it happen with Kaylee too.
“No, no,” she whimpered, backing away from him, sinking when she hit the opposite wall.
“Mei mei,” he murmured, kneeling in front of her and taking both her hands. “This is the way it is. Either go to the Infirmary now and set my mind at ease, or I’m takin’ you to a doctor as soon as this job is done. I’ll take you kicking and screaming if I have to, but you will go. Dong ma?”
Kaylee nodded tearfully, her eyes squeezed shut, her hands grasping his tightly. For a few minutes, they just stayed there, and he let her cry her tears. He didn’t know if he wanted Jayne to be right or wrong about her pregnancy. Right meant the road ahead would be rough and tethered to dirtside doctor visits. Wrong meant he’d just slapped her in the face with how completely she had lost Simon.
“What’s it gonna be, Kaylee?”
She inhaled loudly, wiping her cheek with her shoulder, and looked intently on their joined hands. He could see the conflict in her eyes. The debate. The hesitance before she spoke.
“Talk to Inara,” she finally said. Mal was confused. Had Inara known about this and he’d been fighting her too much to hear it?
“I’m talkin’ to you now, Kaylee. What’s it gonna be?”
“It’s gonna be this,” she said, her voice quaking but resolute. “You right things with Inara, and I’ll go to your doctor. And I won’t even kick and scream.”
Mal walked Kaylee back to her own bunk, then headed downstairs to talk to Inara, all the while feeling like Kaylee had played him. Or at least taken advantage of a situation. Not that he was altogether opposed to talking to Inara, but Kaylee had insisted he apologize for every brutish thing he’d said to her, even the things he couldn’t remember.
When he reached the passenger dorms, he tapped lightly on her door, hoping she’d yell at him to go away, and he’d be off the hook. Or not. When she didn’t answer at all, he tipped the door open, but she wasn’t inside. He headed out to the cargo bay and looked up, and there she was, perched on the highest catwalk, looking down. She was adorned in a peach satin dress, her hair loose and cascading freely over her shoulders. Back in the day, she used to stand up there for hours, just looking over at what ever was going on in the cargo bay – a game of horseshoes, stowing cargo, or just daily life. And he used to lean on the bulkhead underneath and watch her watching. Or if he had chores to do, he’d occasionally glance up at her and meet her eye. But she wasn’t meeting his eye today. She was lost in something.
He’d noticed it ever since she returned. Inara used to be present in every moment and in every thing that she did. She’d moved with purpose and self-confidence. Most of that was stripped away now, and he hadn’t quite figured out why. He started up the stairs, but as soon as she saw him coming, she started walking away.
“Wait, Nara,” he called, his voice a little more desperate than he liked. He tried to tell himself that Kaylee’s sanity rested on this conversation, but he wasn’t kidding anyone. It was his own sanity he was in danger of losing. Inara had fogged him up more than usual, and he wanted their playful banter back.
“No fighting,” Mal offered diplomatically, continuing up the stairs.
Inara returned to the railing, saying nothing. She didn’t even look at him as he approached, and he felt his heart breaking. His instinct was to put up the armor, but that always led to fighting. So he just laid his heart bare, and let it speak its peace.
“Why did you go?” he asked softly. It was a loaded question, he knew, but it was his heart talking now, begging an answer. “You promised you wouldn’t go.”
Inara kept her eyes firmly on the air in front of her. She rocked a little on her feet, and she grasped the railing so tight her knuckles turned white. “The Alliance,” she started, then all breath fell out of her. He could see her knees trembling even through the loose shroud of the skirt. Mal kept his distance, grabbing hold of the railing as well, to keep his soul inside his skin. He could tell she didn’t want to speak, but she forced the words anyway.
“They took something from me. Something very important. I was trying to get it back.”
“I know that feeling,” Mal nodded slowly, wondering what in all the worlds the Alliance could have taken that was so precious to her; but she didn’t even say what it was. His hands were shaking with empathy, but the two feet between them may as well have been twenty leagues.
“I lost … everything.” Her pauses were punctuated by heavy breaths as if even those were strictly rationed now and might soon expire.
“You still have that tiny little trunk of trinkets in your room,” Mal jested, hoping to lighten her heavy tone. Hoping she’d speak more in real words, not in poetry. With her next statement, his wish was unfortunately granted.
“I can’t stay on Serenity.”
“Why not?” Mal demanded, his voice choking in his throat, his heart begging her to change her mind.
“I have nothing.” She shook her head vaguely, her eyes still fixed on the empty hold below. “I can’t keep paying fare.”
“Never was a problem when you were Companion-ing,” he said, hoping his word choice might earn him at least a look in the eye. Of late, she’d been flinching somewhat frightfully when he called her whore, but as soon as he said Companion, she cringed all the more fiercely. So he rushed to cover the topic with other words.
“We’ll put you to work – not Companioning,” he amended quickly. “You’ve always been good at flyin’ that shuttle, and I could use a very respectable and fine-looking getaway driver... please stay.”
He was fishing for a response, but didn’t get it. He just didn’t have enough information. “What did the Alliance take anyway?”
“They took me,” she whispered ominously, a ghostly breath shuddering through her as she turned her face to him. The look in her eyes chilled him to the core. He’d seen that same look countless times during the war – in Serenity Valley. That godforsaken look – right before a soldier gave up on hope and ate his own gun. Suddenly afraid she’d fling herself off the catwalk, Mal closed the distance between them and placed a hand on her wrist. In the next breath, she averted her eyes.
“’Nara, I’m sorry,” he gushed urgently, his heart pounding, his words flying fearfully. “I don’t know how it came to this, but for my part in it, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. Didn’t mean to cut you down so much. Please, just stay and we’ll fix this. Please stay. I promise, I won’t fight you. I … I love you.”
He hadn’t meant to say it that way. Hadn’t meant to say it at all, but especially not in that way and not in that time. Of all the scenarios he’d envisioned to tell her he loved her, this was not it; but if she found a way to kill herself, he wanted her to know. He wished he’d told her long ago. He wished she’d look at him again, but her chin had dropped and a single tear rolled off the bridge of her nose.
“I’m just a whore,” she whispered, her body tremmoring.
“I’m just a petty thief. What’s changed?”
Inara’s head snapped up, her brown eyes startled and confused. Her lips moved wordlessly as she worked through the conversation, and every breath was visible. Slowly, the surprise melted away, and she blinked rapidly with some internal revelation that he wasn’t privy to. Her gaze dropped, her head bobbing with the rise and fall of her chest. Mal’s grip on her wrist tightened, worried that he’d said something to push her over the edge.
“What’s changed?” he asked again.
“Nothing,” she breathed incredulously. Her eyes met his, with firm revelation and certainty, and he couldn’t for the life of himself understand it. She was present in the moment; she’d finally returned to Serenity. Inara let go of the catwalk railing and laced her fingers through Mal’s, taking his hand gently. His heart leapt at the trust in her touch and he swallowed hard, waiting for her to speak again. She laughed a little – the soft, chastising, self-critical kind of laugh – then squeezed his hand.
“Nothing has changed,” she said softly, more to herself than him. “Just … a piece of paper. Just … nothing.”
Post A.N. Please comment. I <3 your comments. … and up next: We get in Inara’s head and see her reaction to all this.
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