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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Taking some cryogenetically frozen breeding stock to Paquin, it's a bit of a bumpy ride as Simon and Kaylee's budding romance brings out the worst in Mal.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2934 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Part II - First Impressions
Simon tried to read, but couldn't concentrate. He kept listening for footsteps, eyes fixed on the sliding paper screen that separated his room from the hallway of the passenger dorm. Waiting for Kaylee to magically appear. It wasn't as if they had spent every night together–but there wasn't a night in the past month when he couldn't remember her stopping by at least once. And most times, those evenings stretched into the wee hours, so that when breakfast finally rolled around, both of them were bleary-eyed and slow to rouse from staying up half the night talking.
He'd told her things he'd never told anyone. Certainly not his parents. Drunken Medacad exploits, childhood fears, daydreams and wishes. Things he'd previously only shared with River. Some things he was afraid to burden his sister with–other things they had simply taken for granted, but which seemed wondrous to Kaylee.
She would listen with rapt attention as he'd shared every inch of his family estates that he could reconstruct from memory–the scent of the lilacs in the garden, his mother's vegetable patch that never seemed to yield anything but an unending supply of cucumbers and tiny green tomatoes that never ripened. She begged him for stories of seasons at the most lavish Opera House on Osiris. Libraries of actual books, with shelves that stretched fifteen stories into the air. And the whole time, it was like he was seeing everything new again–through her eyes.
He could have gone to her room. He knew that. Or the engine room, to see if she was still tinkering with whatever bits of equipment had broken down this time. But that would have meant risking running into Mal on the way, and Simon was growing increasingly fond of his knees.
It was coming up on midnight when Simon finally gave up completely, and wandered up into the mess. Wash sat at the heavy oak table, surrounded with plastic dinosaurs, and looked up when Simon entered.
"You look like someone kicked your dog," Wash said as Simon pulled out a chair and took a seat. "I mean, if you had a dog. Out here in space. Which would probably be a really bad idea, although I hear beagles actually make excellent–"
"Have you seen Kaylee?" Simon interrupted Wash's stream of consciousness chatter more abruptly than he'd meant to, but the pilot didn't seem to take offence. Merely shook his head.
"She's been avoiding me since–I mean, um... Since we..." Simon trailed off. He was fairly certain there were complex rules in every society–even smugglers–about kissing and telling. And the last thing he needed were all of Kaylee's crewmates giving him the evil eye. "Since this afternoon."
"The climate Kaylee-wise does appear to have shifted quite a bit today," Wash noted, moving a triceratops so that it was no longer poised to rip out the plastic throat of a gentle plant-eating brontosaurus.
"I don't know what I did." Frustrated, Simon sank into a chair, despair flowing out of him like water over a riverbed. "I mean–I know what I did, I just don't know how it could be wrong. From Kaylee's point of view. She seemed to have... enjoyed it." He realised he was babbling, and stopped. "Am I making sense?"
"Absolutely." Wash looked pensive. "According to my wife–whom I adore, and who could bend me in half like a twig–as men, it's fairly likely that if something's wrong, it's our fault. But in this case, I think it's our stalwart captain who's more responsible. If that's any comfort to you."
"It's not, but thanks." Simon rested his chin in his hand, and picked up a yellow and green pteranodon, running his fingers over the toy's plastic moulded wings.
Wash clapped him on the shoulder in a universal gesture of fellowship. "Let us be manly, consume alcoholic beverages, and discuss our comely women."
Jayne trooped down the short flight of steps, scratching his belly absently as Wash emerged from the pantry brandishing a jug of Kaylee's engine room hootch.
"You boys drinkin'?"
"It seems the thing to do," Simon said with a shrug.
Jayne pulled out a chair, turning it around and straddling it. "Mind if I join ya?"
"Is your woman comely?" Wash asked as he filled Simon's mug to the brim.
"My women always come," Jayne assured them with a grin.
"Oh, dear God." Simon buried his face in his hands.
Inara was paging through screens of potential clients on the cortex when there was a knock at the door of her shuttle. She tugged her robe closer around her and blanked the screen before opening the door.
Mal stood outside her shuttle, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
"Well, this is a surprise," she said, raising one sculpted brow.
"How so?" he asked.
"You don't usually knock." She stepped aside, giving him room to enter.
"Seemed the wisest course," he said with a shrug as he stepped inside the shuttle. "You still mad at me?"
She glared in a way she hoped was effective. "What you said to Kaylee was cruel."
"The truth can be a cruel thing. I just don't wanna see her get hurt is all."
"The only one hurting her right now is you," she snapped, and he seemed genuinely taken aback. "Do you know what you've done? Do you have any idea?"
"No, but I imagine you're fixin' to tell me whether I want to hear it or not."
"You've got Kaylee thinking she's not good enough for Simon." She paused to let that sink into his thick skull. "She didn't think that yesterday. Or this morning. And I daresay that was the last thing on Simon's mind when he kissed her–so seems to me that it should be your job to set things to rights again."
"Set things–" he sputtered. "Inara, somebody's got to look out for the girl–"
"–has it occurred to you that perhaps that 'somebody' might be Simon?" she countered swiftly.
He laughed. He had the audacity to stand in the middle of her home and place of business and laugh at her righteous indignation.
"Don't tell me you, of all people, are buying that old Yeh Shen story?" He leaned back against the wall, arms crossed.
She mirrored his posture, as if daring him to continue. "Why is it so hard for you to believe?"
The laughter left his eyes. "Real life ain't a fairy tale."
"Mal, some people do get their happily ever afters," she pointed out, but he shook his head.
"Not anybody I ever knew."
"So because you don't believe it–it can't be so?"
"Woman don't need a man to make her worth something."
"There's different kinds of needs, Mal."
"She got an itch she wants to scratch–that's one thing. But our little Kaylee's a romantic. And the 'verse ain't kind to romantics."
She sat down on the edge of her bed and looked up at him. Taking stock. "Some days, I'd call you a romantic," she said carefully and with a slight smile. "Sword fighting for a lady's honour, and all," she reminded him.
Her smile was answered with a scowl. "Yeah, and look where that kind of thinking got me. Poked full of holes."
"So... you and Kaylee," Wash prompted once they'd started working on the bottle. The dinosaurs had been put away, and Jayne had taken out his favourite knife and a whetstone.
"Yeah." Jayne's grin was wolfish as he set to putting a keen edge on the blade. "We want all the details. Paint us a picture with words, Doc. Dirty words."
"Don't mind him," Wash said at the vaguely horrified look on Simon's face. "He was dropped on his head repeatedly as a child. And raised by wolves. Baby-head-dropping wolves."
Jayne gestured with the knife. "Don't you be sassing my mamma."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
"I kissed her," Simon said as he refilled his mug from the jug of berry wine.
"And?" Jayne asked, leaning across the table and practically salivating.
"And... that was all."
"Well, shit." He settled back in his chair. "That ain't nothing. We all kissed Kaylee."
"Hey!" Wash pointed to his chest with both hands for emphasis. "Married!"
"'Cept you," Jayne conceded.
Simon stared at Jayne, mouth hanging open in shock. "You kissed Kaylee?"
"New Year's Eve, two years back. We'd all had a bit to drink."
"So the two of you–"
"She laid me out. Wrench to the head. She can't shoot for shit, but girl's got an arm."
"It was a thing to see," Wash said with a grin, savouring the memory of Jayne bleeding copiously from a nasty head wound.
"I got a scar."
"This day just gets better and better." Simon scowled into the recesses of his mug. "Has Captain Reynolds...?"
"Sorta. Not really," Wash assured him. "Kaylee's gonna kick my ass for saying this, but back when she first signed on–she had a thing for Mal. Just for a few weeks."
"But he didn't–"
He quickly waved Simon's concern away. "Nothing ever happened. Kaylee's his mèimei, you know?"
"Only pants on Serenity he's looking to get into are a bit too expensive for the rest of us."
"I'm so glad you came down, Jayne. You bring such a refreshing level of sophistication and wit to our little gatherings."
Simon, however, continued to frown. "It's just... hard for me to picture."
"She ain't no blushing virgin, our little Kaylee," Jayne said as he took a big swallow from his mug. "Hell, Mal ever tell you how she signed on? She was on her back, 'neath the engine, getting her jollies from Bester."
"Bester?" Simon asked, his eyes starting to glaze a bit. Wash figured it was from the influx of new information. He actually felt a bit sorry for the doc–he was getting a lot of history tonight that he probably hadn't ever heard before. Lots to process.
"Mechanic 'fore Kaylee. He was all... Not pretty like you, exactly–"
"Can you not call me pretty? Ever again? Please?"
"–one of them fancy boys what gets all the women. I was glad to see the back of him. More for me, ya know?"
"And that's how Kaylee got the job?"
"We were grounded on Zephyr, 'cause Bester said the grav boot was shot. So we were cooling our jets, waiting to take a load of cargo off-world, and Kaylee fixed Serenity pretty much with spit and a bobby pin. Bester didn't have the first clue what she'd done, but whatever it was, we were back in the air in an hour. Mal hired her on the spot." Wash leaned over to Simon, whispering conspiratorially, "Bester was a moron. And you're much prettier."
"For the last time, I'm not pretty!"
"Yeah. You're a rugged manly man," Jayne sneered.
"Don't worry Doc–our Kaylee's only had eyes for you since you came onboard."
"I'm not wor–I need another drink."
Wash handed him the bottle.
Simon blinked, raising his head from Serenity's scarred kitchen table with some effort. There was a very small puddle of drool marking where he'd spent the night.
Mal was standing over him, smiling pleasantly. "You boys have fun last night?"
He didn't remember falling asleep. He decided this was most likely because he hadn't fallen asleep so much as passed out. Kaylee's wine packed more of a punch than he'd anticipated, and the last thing he remembered with any kind of clarity was Jayne re-enacting some epic bar brawl with the help of Wash's toys. Jayne had of course cast himself as the T-Rex, despite Wash's suggestion that the raptor might be more his speed. Simon sincerely doubted the man had fought off sixteen Alliance shock troops single-handedly, as described. But then, at 4am, after demolishing two bottles of fermented fruit juice between them, he would have believed damn near anything up to and including Jayne being an elf.
"Where are my shoes?" Simon rasped, peering under the table.
"Never drink with Jayne. At least he left you your clothes."
The world began to wiggle and sway, and Simon pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes in a vain effort to stop it. "I'm never going to drink again."
"Sounds like a wise and lofty goal."
Mal plunked down a plate of eggs and rice, and sat down to eat. The smell of cooked food reached Simon, and his stomach rolled and pitched in protest. Bolting up from the table, he barely made it to the head in time, the sound of Mal's laughter echoing down the hallway.
When Simon emerged from his room, pale and shaking but at least cleaned up and wearing fresh clothing (and a pair of shoes borrowed from Book), Zoe, Jayne and Mal were holstering their weapons and preparing to go out on the job. Jayne was in the driver's seat of the mule, and grinned wide when he caught sight of Simon.
"Where are my shoes?"
Simon shielded his eyes from the sunlight as Zoe opened the cargo bay doors.
"Wash–you're in charge," Mal said as he tossed Zoe her coat. "We'll be back in two, three hours with the cargo. I want to be ready to pick up and take off soon as Book and Kaylee get back."
Wash leaned over the catwalk and gave Mal a sloppy salute. Simon glanced back and forth between the smiling pilot, and Jayne.
"Why am I the only one hung over?"
Jayne snorted. "'Cause you're the only one can't hold his liquor."
"Doc–you got enough coin for the supplies you'll need?"
"I think so. River–" Simon glanced back at the catwalk, where River was sitting, drawing on some scrap paper he'd found her the night before.
"Wash can keep an eye on her. You just get what you need, and get it back here 'fore we take off. Don't want any repeats of Jiangyin."
Simon bristled at that–after all, it hadn't been his fault that crazy hill people had decided to kidnap themselves a doctor.
"I know the schedule," he said stiffly.
"Best get to it, then."
Zephyr was one of the first colonies on the Rim. Cities sprawled across her continents, some of them crumbling with decay. Serenity was parked in a narrow spot down at Riverside Docks, huge transports looming on either side, casting long shadows over the Firefly-class vessel. Simon shivered in their darkness, but the sun was warm when he stepped out into the wide street. His borrowed footwear fit a tad snugly, and he supposed he would have blisters by the day's end, but that couldn't be helped. Zephyr's denizens milled about–vendors hawking their wares, their shouts and songs blending into a cacophony of noise as he pulled out his list to consult. He needed bandages, alcohol, antibiotics and more syringes; basics that he was fairly sure he could find if he could locate the closest medical supply warehouse.
Simon passed a boy selling fruit, and scanned his tray to see if he had any strawberries.
He hadn't seen Kaylee that morning yet. He wondered if he was reading too much into dinner the night before. Wash had mentioned, during their marathon drinking session the night before, that the captain was to blame for Kaylee's mood. But the pilot hadn't been forthcoming with the details. Simon just wished he knew what exactly had been said to rob the girl of her perpetual good humour. If he knew, then maybe somehow he could fix it.
He wanted to fix it.
He knew that in the past, on at least two occasions, he'd been the careless one. He still regretted his words on Jiangyin–and the fact that Kaylee had been right. He had meant them. But he should have had the common sense to not take out his frustration with his situation on Kaylee.
She'd been wrong when she'd assumed that he looked down on her because she'd chosen the life that was like a prison sentence to him. Truth was, he admired her in more ways than he could name. She knew how to live simple. Take simple joy in simple pleasures. He didn't look down on that, he envied it–and wished he had the first clue how to learn from her example.
Canton... well, Canton had been something else all together.
He'd been flustered and confused, sure Mal was about to accuse him of taking advantage of his mechanic. Later, as she'd dressed his wounds, she had made it quite plain that she would not have considered it taking anything that wasn't freely given. He'd hoped she'd understood why he had not–could not–then. But that hadn't meant he hadn't wanted to. That was what had hurt her so badly that morning, he'd realised as they'd talked it out. The idea that he hadn't wanted to.
He just wished he could talk to her. Everything would somehow be okay if they could sit down and talk–away from Serenity. Away from Mal's heartfelt but heavy-handed attempts at the over-protective big brother routine Simon knew only too well. Away from the constant interruptions and engines that always needing fixing, or even–as much as he adored her–River's frequent meltdowns and mishaps.
As he wound his way through the narrow streets lined with shops, the kernel of an idea took hold in his mind. He smiled, despite his throbbing head and aching stomach, as he began to plan.
"What about this one?" Inara held up a gold brocade, trying to judge what the colour did for Kaylee's complexion.
They were in a small dress shop, about two miles from port. Kaylee hadn't even known the shop was there, but Inara knew all the best places to buy beautiful things in any port town Serenity visited. Companions kept up lively correspondence on the cortex, detailing such out-of-the-way nooks. They called it the Silk Road–named for ancient Earth-that-was trade routes that carried silk and spices, gunpowder and jade across continents to waiting buyers. As members of the Guild spread out across the skies, they reported back to their brethren this restaurant known for its fine wine, that tailor who could mend or make a dress in just the nick of time. Who knew how to remove blood or wine from hundred-year-old silk without destroying the fibres. Who knew where to find a book a client had been seeking for months. Who cut the best emeralds, and who knew how to make paste and glass shine like the real thing.
Even in a sprawling port town out on the Rim, there were jewels to be found. Master Xu smiled at Inara from behind the enormous polished wood counter, as his nephews brought out dresses of every style and draped them along the long couches that lined the walls for the two young women to peruse.
Kaylee studied her reflection in the wall-length mirror, frowning. "I don't know, 'Nara. It's a bit too fancy."
"True, we don't want the dress to outshine the girl–not that I think that's possible." Inara smiled at Kaylee's blush at the compliment. "Perhaps something simple–traditional."
"Oh, that's pretty!" Kaylee sighed as Inara reached for a green qipao embroidered with plum blossoms at the neck and shoulder. She held the dress up, twisting her hair up behind her with one hand as she admired the glossy folds of silk brocade as they draped.
"I think this one will do–it brings out your eyes. Go on, try it on."
Inara watched Kaylee disappear behind the heavy silk drapery that shielded the main floor of the shop from the dressing rooms.
In some towns, wearing a dress that hadn't been made specifically for you was the mark of poverty. In others, only the poorest of the poor made their own clothes, and it was a mark of status to purchase your garments. Like any good Companion worth her training, Inara kept track which were which, and was glad that one of her sisters had found this place two months ago while meeting with the magistrate.
Master Xu's wares were fine, his shop was clean, and his staff was respectful. While a woman like Inara had little to worry about, entering such an establishment, she hadn't wanted to even risk Kaylee being barred from entry. Not every dressmaker in the 'verse saw raw potential under the layer of grime and canvas. And while Alliance credits could open the door to any custom, Inara had been pleased when there hadn't even been a flash of surprise in Master Xu's niece's eyes as she'd slid the paper screen open and escorted them to her uncle's display room. Kaylee's self-esteem was the companion's chief concern of the day.
They'd left the ship quite early that morning. Kaylee hadn't wanted to risk running into Simon, and they had breakfasted at a small tea house near Master Xu's shop. Inara had hoped that once she'd had a chance to sleep on it, Kaylee might be in better spirits. Usually, such an outing would have had Kaylee chattering like a magpie and Inara would have been hard-pressed to keep up. But the girl had been subdued–even sombre–as they'd window shopped. Most decidedly un-Kaylee-like.
The curtain was drawn aside, and Inara looked up to see Kaylee nervously fiddling with the frog-buttons that held the dress closed at the neck.
"Kaylee, you look lovely!" Inara beamed.
"Don't know where I'd wear it," Kaylee said shyly, turning in front of the mirror. The dress would need to be altered, so that it fit closely at the waist, but the colour was perfect and it fit exactly right in the shoulders, accentuating the length of Kaylee's neck. Rather a lot of leg peeked out from the slit in the side, and Inara was having a lot of fun imagining Serenity's crew's potential reaction to that.
"I'm sure that Simon might have some ideas."
Kaylee blushed. "I don't know about that..."
"And the boots are a nice touch."
Kaylee glanced down and Inara couldn't hold back a giggle at her heavy leather work boots peeking out from beneath the hem.
"We'll get you shoes." She laughed, and turned to the closest nephew. "We'll take it."
"Wait! We don't even know how much it is!"
"It doesn't matter. Think of it as a birthday gift."
"My birthday was three months ago."
"A very late birthday gift." Inara handed over her ident card so that Xu could access her accounts.
Kaylee's eyes widened as the price flashed up on the flimsy screen, and Inara had the dressmaker add the cost of shoes, stockings, and alterations. "Oh 'Nara, it's so nice, but it's so much. Too much. We could get all new synchronisers, not to mention–"
"Kaylee, it's a gift. Accept it graciously, and give someone you love something that they cannot get for themselves, when you get the chance. That's all the repayment I need."
Doctor Wyner was just as Mal had pictured him. Pale, short, well-off enough to have offices on the edges of the business sector a good ways away from port, and looking vaguely nervous–most likely due to Jayne looming and Zoe being all steely and such. Which was, technically, why Mal brought them along. Nothing wrong with a client knowing that there was muscle to back up his claims of competency when it came to protecting the cargo.
"As agreed, you'll get three hundred platinum now, collecting the remaining three hundred upon inspection of the cargo on Paquin."
"Seems fair to me," Mal said as he tossed Zoe the pouch of coin. "We can make Paquin by morning."
Wyner led them to a large gun-metal blue canister, square on two sides. It had all manner of tech built into it–no doubt all the cryo controls–and was cool to the touch. "It's locked, of course–to prevent tampering."
"Something still cooking in there?" Jayne asked, looking over the flashing controls.
"The gestation period is complete. It merely awaits re-animation. The locking codes have been sent ahead to the magistrate–"
"Magistrate?" Mal echoed, eyebrows raised. "Didn't realise we'd be fetching and carrying for the local Law."
"I assure, Magistrate Carlysle is appreciative of your discretion. We have contracted your services precisely because the cargo in question would cause the magistrate a great deal of personal and professional trouble, were it discovered."
Mal shrugged. "Long as we don't get pinched with the goods, or after we deliver the goods, I'm fine with the fetch-n-carry. Just wanted to say up front, woulda been nice knowing, is all."
Zoe and Jayne traded a look behind the good doctor's back, but Mal nodded his head and the two of them began securing the canister on the back of the mule.
"Not sure I like this, Sir," Zoe said as the mule wound its way through Riverside, heading back towards Serenity.
"Me neither. We've done fetch-and-carry for the law before—"
"Not since... Not in a while, sir." She didn't need to mention that life on Serenity had been a mite more stressful since they'd taken the Tams onboard.
Being smugglers, they were used to a certain level of danger. Mal had to admit that sometimes knowing he was doing his part to tweak the Alliance in whatever small way he could was what made him get up each morning. He got more of a thrill of accomplishment from a successful illegal transaction than he did the honest transport work that sustained them the rest of the time. It was in his nature—Zoe's to, when it came down to it. But smuggling contraband out to the border planets was one thing; carrying two fugitives across interplanetary borders was quite another. It raised the stakes a bit.
"Work is work," Mal said with a shrug, determined to not dwell on what was essentially a milk run. "And six hundred platinum will keep us flying."
"AB plasma, as much as you've got," Simon checked his list as the clerk made notes on a clipboard, "and I'll need about fifteen units whole blood."
"We got a load of synth-globin from the Core two days ago."
"How much is it per unit?"
"'Half again as much, but it'll keep forever, and no typing issues."
Simon winced at the cost–he never realised before he had to stock his own infirmary how much he'd taken for granted, at the Hospital. Whatever you needed magically appeared as soon as it ran out. Life was decidedly different out on the Rim. "It's a small crew–just eight people, and O neg will do, if you've got it."
"Will do." The woman nodded. "Is your ship in port?"
"Yes," Simon wrote down Serenity's berth. "And I'll be playing in platinum, if that's all right?"
The woman laughed. "Most our customers do. You'd think Alliance credits were goin' out of style, out there in the black," she said with a grin, and went off to fill the order.
He glanced down at the shopping he'd already done today. He'd gotten a pad of drawing paper for River–it wasn't much, but she'd gone through the one Book had given her last month. He could imagine her smile already, and it made his mouth quirk up automatically to picture his mèimei happy. The second bag of goods had taken him an hour to assemble. Neatly wrapped in wax paper were fresh strawberries, and beneath that, flash-frozen salmon, and a small bag of new potatoes. He'd still have to find fresh asparagus to make the dinner complete–but he figured on the trip back to the docks, there were likely to be more produce stands. His grand plan was simple–he'd wait until Serenity picked up for Paquin, and steam the fish and vegetables in the infirmary, so as not to tip anyone off. Then he could surprise Kaylee with supper. Just a quiet supper for two. In his quarters.
Simon paused in the doorway of the shop, staring out at the milling crowds. He was about a mile from port, in a market that seemed to be primarily geared for space-faring folks. Directly across from the medical supply warehouse were a number of spacecraft parts suppliers, each trying to out-gaudy the other to draw the most custom. Half the crowd he could see through the holographic window wore canvas coveralls of all hues and sizes.
He thought of Kaylee, and how her favourite pair were spotted and stained with years of wear–the sleeves ripped off, with a teddy bear from a children's storybook sewn onto one leg. And a bullethole, neatly sewn up, over her abdomen.
The blood stains had washed right out.
His first impression of Kaylee had been one of youth, as she sat there in her coveralls with the teddy bear, hair held back from her face with elastics and twirling a parasol. She was barely older than River–three, perhaps four years between them. Never mind there was less than that between him and her. He was so used to playing the grown-up, the wise adult with all the answers that he knew how to put on a good show.
Kaylee didn't do show. She didn't do artifice. He'd been looking for a ship to Boros–a disreputable ship. He'd found one, in spades–but it had been the cheerful and friendly voice from the folding chair, asking where he was headed, that had made him look twice. She'd seemed so young–a little slip of a girl, getting a rare bit of sun planet-side. She was a shiny lure, he realised now–he wondered if Mal always had Kaylee do the hawking when they were looking to take on passengers. She had a talent for charming people right from the start. A talent he was sorely lacking.
His first impression hadn't changed much over the last two months. Her air of innocence remained, something almost tangible in his mind. He'd been surprised, last night, to discover that little Kaylee was a bit more worldly than he'd pictured. He didn't know why–she had a zest and love for life that easily translated into a kind of sensuality that was wholly different from Inara's practised and polished art. But potent, all the same. He'd collated the data, fit this new bit of information into the jigsaw puzzle that was his idea of her and found it didn't mar the picture one bit. It might have surprised him, once. But that had been a long time ago, and his own picture was constantly changing.
The Simon Tam Kaylee had met at Eavesdown docks was fast becoming little more than a memory. From the calm self-assurance he'd consciously projected, to the three-piece suit, that wasn't him any longer. He'd let go of the artifice bit by bit–and was surprised how much lighter he felt without its weight. He'd thought he'd needed it to protect himself. Turned out that it had been more of a burden than a boon. He wondered if his colleagues from the hospital would even recognise him, any more. He wondered if kissing Kaylee had changed her impression of him. Worried that was exactly what had happened–that Mal had just given voice to some fear she'd already had, buried deep inside.
He needed to talk to her. He needed other things as well, but right now, he needed to talk to her.
"Here you go," the shopkeeper broke through his reverie as she pulled over a cart for him to look over. He handed her the coins, pocketed the change, and turned to open the door.
As if he had conjured her, there Kaylee appeared–chatting with the owner of one of the swap-shops. He could see her clearly through the holo, and broke into a smile. Her light brown hair was loose and shining in the early afternoon light, and she had a package tied with brown paper and twine dangling from one hand. One of the mechanics leaning against the wall outside the door came over to her, and Simon was unable to tear his eyes away as Kaylee threw her arms around the man, who spun her around in a circle. He was older–broad-shouldered, with sandy hair, and he looked somewhere between the captain and Shepherd Book's ages. Forty, perhaps fifty–but a fit, healthy middle-aged man, no doubt from hard work and lean living. He couldn't hear their laughter, but he could see Kaylee's smile from here.
"Hey, you still need something?" the clerk asked, and he started.
He watched Kaylee head off, the man's armed draped across her shoulders, stopping to press a kiss to her hair as they stood in a patch of sunshine before they disappeared down the street, out of his field of vision.
"No, I–I'm just thinking. I think I got it all."
Thursday, May 15, 2003 5:06 PM
Monday, September 8, 2003 4:55 AM
Saturday, September 10, 2005 5:57 AM
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