Summary: Mal had always been there to protect his Kaylee, and he always would be.
Rating: General adult; PG-13
Disclaimer: Joss is god, I am but a mere worshiper.
Spoilers: "Out of Gas"; Serenity
Original story: Protective Urges by bluflamingo
Notes: Many thanks to my beta reader, roguewords, for awesome support, getting this beta'd in record time, and for coming up with my funky remix subtitle. And also, much love goes to the remixfreakingredux AIM group, for all your support and half-nekkid pictures of pretty people, and Vic and all the mods for putting this together. And of course, thank you to my original author, who gave me such a rich story to work with in the first place. Chinese translations and story-specific notes at the end.
Mal didn't rightly know why the girl insisted on sleeping in the engine room. He'd kicked Bester off his ship with hardly a goodbye, and hadn't given him a second thought. The kid hadn't known much about engines--or cared, Mal figured. Serenity was just a means to an end for Bester.
For the girl, little Kaylee, it was something else entirely. She been on the ship for less than 48 hours, and she loved his girl almost as much as he did.
'Course, that didn't mean he was gonna let the girl sleep on the floor in the engine room. Not two nights in a row, anyhow. Didn't matter that she looked awful comfortable laying half under the engine, or that the ship might just need a mechanic in the middle of the night. He knelt down and shook her shoulder lightly, not wanting to scare her.
Kaylee's eyes fluttered open and closed, and she opened her mouth wide for a yawn. "Girly, you have a bunk here, you know." She nodded, though Mal couldn't tell if she really understood or if her head was simply bobbing with exhaustion. "All right, get up. I'm taking you there right now."
He helped her to her feet and started guiding her to her bunk. She leaned her head on his chest, slung one arm around his waist, and let him walk her there. Her breath was warm through the thin fabric of his shirt and her head fit comfortably against him. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders, holding her close.
It didn't take them long to reach Kaylee's bunk--Serenity wasn't a big ship after all. "We're here, Kaylee." She mumbled something, but whatever she said was lost in his shirt. He popped the hatch, and watched as she carefully navigated her way down the ladder.
"Good night, mei-mei."
Jayne wasn't exactly the sort of man Mal wanted on his ship, and it was just his rotten luck that he was exactly the sort of man he needed. He was rude, crude, good with a gun, and willing to do just about anything for a price. While that particular trait had worked out well for Mal so far, he wasn't going to pretend that it didn't make him just a bit nervous, especially with little Kaylee.
When Mal walked into the galley, Jayne was all ready there, a few of his weapons spread out in front of him. The bigger man gave him a quick nod of greeting, then went back to disassembling a small pistol. As Mal made himself a cup of tea, he watched Jayne. Finally, he seated himself across the table from the other man.
"You plannin' on sticking around my ship for a while?"
Jayne shrugged. "Seems like a nice enough place. 'S long as the money's good, I'll be your man." He didn't look up, but continued to clean the pistol.
"Good." Mal took a long drink of his tea. "I do want you to know a few things though," he added, setting the cup on the edge of the table. He leaned across, forcing Jayne to look up from his gun. "You stay on my ship, you play by my rules. We got no problem leaving you on the next planet we pass, and I personally got no problem tossing you out a mite sooner than that, dong ma? This is my ship and what I say goes. This is not a democracy. No messing with the merchandise, but you get your fair share. You want off the ship, you’re welcome to leave, no hard feelings."
Grumbling, Jayne nodded. "Fine."
"Good." Mal studied Jayne for a moment more, then stood up. "And one more thing: you touch Kaylee in any way she don’t want you to, and you’re going out the airlock. We clear?" 'Cause there weren't nobody gonna put a hand on little Kaylee while he was around to protect her.
He was pleased to see the offended look on Jayne's face. "We're clear."
Mal nodded, then started toward the door. He felt a little better putting his life in Jayne's hands now.
One good thing about having Jayne on board was his complete lack of morals regarding certain jobs. When he'd approached Zoë with this job a few months ago, she'd made his displeasure known with a simple raised eyebrow. This time, he made sure not to tell her about it, but that didn't mean she didn't know. She pointedly avoided discussing the current job, and instead spent more time on the bridge, out of Mal's way.
He ignored Wash's disbelieving snort when he explained that they are not leaving Cereus quickly because the job went south. He also pointedly ignored the fact that his first mate seemed unusually taken with the mustachioed pilot. It wouldn't last anyway. Onboard romances never worked out.
They'd been on Xiaolan four days before he realized Kaylee'd been seeing some local boy. He figured it was because he was too distracted by avoiding Zoë and Wash, who were mooning over each other like a couple lovesick puppies.
That night, he waited up for Kaylee in the cargo bay. She snuck in, looking around like a fugitive. "Kaylee."
She started, then bounced over to him, a satisfied grin on her face. "Evening, Captain." She planted a kiss on his cheek, and he caught her hand, holding her close.
He could feel the warmth of her body, and something else that was simply the warmth of Kaylee, and his breath caught in his throat. He mentally slapped himself. Onboard romances never work out anyhow. "There a reason you haven’t brought your friend back to meet us?"
Kaylee giggled, and leaned into him. "Maybe I don't want you to!"
It was a joke, Mal could tell, but he wouldn't let it go at that. He smiled at her, the smile that meant he wasn't happy at all, one that scared the hell out of people who tried to cheat him. "Maybe I don’t want my mechanic getting sweet on someone and deciding to stay behind."
Kaylee's expression was one of pure shock. "Captain! That ain't ever gonna happen! I love Serenity." Her eyes locked on his, sadness and hurt in her expression, hurt that he'd think she'd leave.
"See that it don't," he said, pulling her close and kissing her hair. It smelled faintly of strawberries, and was unbelievably soft under his lips. He released her hand, then watched her walk away, toward her bunk.
They took off two days later, Kaylee firmly in the engine room.
Mal couldn't believe it. His first mate and his pilot had announced their engagement, and he was furious. It didn't help that Zoë, his first mate and, he admitted, his best friend, was equally furious--at him. Just because he was worried about her--and her sanity, he admitted--didn't mean he was the bad guy here. At least he wasn't insulting, like Jayne was.
He stomped through his ship, his ship, tain xiode, finding himself in the engine room day after day. He would watch Kaylee, a look of concentration on her pretty face as she tried to fix whatever was wrong with his ship, until she gave him something to let him feel useful.
The news had been settling for a week, when Kaylee asked him a question he never figured he'd have to answer. "You ever think about gettin' married?" She held her hand out for the screwdriver, and it took a moment before the question sunk in enough for him to hand it to her.
He watched her for a moment, her dainty hands tightening the huge screws. "Don't think I'm the marrying type." He paused a minute more, watching her. "What about you? Want to settle down somewhere?"
Kaylee shook her head, wiping a strand of hair from her face. "I wouldn't want to leave Serenity." She grinned up at him. "Guess I'll just have to marry Jayne."
Mal laughed, and Kaylee went back to her work. He studied her for a minute more, his eyes tracing the swipe of grease down her face to her jaw, the curl of her hair, the outline of her pink lips as they pursed with concentration. When he spoke again, all trace of humor was gone from his voice. "Make sure you find someone good enough for you."
He walked away then, knowing it wasn't likely for Kaylee to ever find a man good enough for her, especially not here on Serenity.
It had taken a while for Zoë to finally convince Mal to take them to Wash's planet for the wedding. She pointed out that if they did have the wedding on Serenity, he would have to officiate, and since he thought she was making a huge mistake, did he really want to be responsible for that? Mal reluctantly conceded the point, and told the newly-shaven Wash to set a course for Heliotrope.
Even Mal had to admit the ceremony was beautiful. Zoë looked radiant in her red silk gown, and even Wash cleaned up all right. The pilot wore his uniform from flight academy, and looked almost like a different person. Kaylee smiled through her tears for the whole service, looking almost as happy as Zoë. They shared their first cup of tea as a married couple to cement their bond, and then invited everyone to the reception.
As the crowd dwindled, Mal sat at the bar, still alone. Zoë and Wash had gone off to the honeymoon suite long ago, and Jayne had snuck off with a pretty redhead to some dark corner. He'd had many offers from other girls, girls who were looking for the same sort of love Zoë and Wash had, and willing to take it in whatever form it came.
He only hoped Kaylee wasn't doing the same. She was too kind, too sweet, too… Kaylee for any of these grubby boys to toy with. She deserved someone better, someone who would never hurt her.
Mal took another shot of whiskey. Kaylee didn't need a space-faring man. She needed someone who would always be there, standing by her side, and never leave her. He was certainly not the type of man Kaylee needed. He was too rough, too broken. He'd hurt her just as sure as anyone. It didn't matter that just being around her made him happier than he'd been since before the war. He gulped down another shot, and his vision swam a little. He couldn't tell her that, of course. Captains didn't have relationships with their crewmembers, even if said crewmember always smelled sweet even when she was covered in grease. And captains definitely didn't go against their own rules about onboard romances. He didn't want to run the best mechanic he'd ever had off his ship.
Two more shots of whiskey went down like water, and Mal turned around to find Kaylee, to tell her, maybe, how he felt. Hell, if she said no, he'd blame it on the liquor. He was disappointed to find the large room nearly empty. He recalled that Kaylee had been surrounded by a group of Wash's pilot friends, talking animatedly about ships and engines. All of those young men were also gone, and he had a sinking feeling she'd gone off with one of them.
He weaved his way back to Serenity, when he passed the rest of the night in the cockpit, staring out the windshield until the sun rose. Still slightly drunk and dressed in his best clothes, Mal made his way back to the town, intent on finding Kaylee and making sure she was safe.
He met Kaylee and her escort on their way back to Serenity. Kaylee's hair was mussed and her eyes had the spark of one who has been thoroughly cào and enjoyed every minute of it. The man was tall and rangy, all planes and angles, the complete opposite of Kaylee's curves. Mal's eyes narrowed as they approached him, and he barely nodded to Kaylee before pulling the man aside. "Do you know how special that girl is? Do you?" His voice was barely above a whisper, but his malice carried loud and clear. "You ain't good enough to even look at her, you hear me? I don't need my mechanic pinin' over some no-good pilot, so you march your ass over there and tell her goodbye. And make it polite-like."
The kid did as he was told, and Kaylee's face fell just a little to hear it. But he knew it was better to do it now, than to have her waiting month after month for word from an idiot who didn't give her a second thought.
Kaylee kept her own counsel as they walked back to Serenity, and that suited Mal just fine. He wasn't sure what he'd have said if she pushed a conversation.
Mal had initially been glad when Inara came on board. She brought a lot of connections the crew wouldn't have had on their own, and that was good for business. After a few months, living in such close proximity to her became a burden. He wouldn't admit to anyone, let alone himself, that he had any feelings for her, and that made it hard to find plausible reasons to avoid planets where she might find clients.
One of the excuses he routinely made was Kaylee. On those clean, almost-Core planets, his pretty mechanic had a habit of finding nice young men in taverns, shops, and sometimes even just walking down the street. How was he supposed to keep Serenity running if Kaylee made off with some farmer on Gentian or Bryony?
Inara rarely agreed with him, on this or anything else. And her contacts always seemed to find Mal work on planets he refused to go to, and even Mal couldn't find that many excuses to turn down not-so-honest work. So, more often than not, he found himself tracking Kaylee down and giving her boyfriends the same little talk he'd had with the pilot at Wash and Zoë's wedding. They invariably found someone else to chat up when faced with an angry captain with a gun.
Then Inara left, and Miranda happened.
It still didn't feel right, sitting in Wash's seat in the cockpit. The glass had been repaired, and the seat replaced, but Mal was certain that if he started long enough, he could see the jagged hole in the windshield and the blood on the pilot's chair. Having River sitting next to him, knowing what he was going to say before he said it was also a little unnerving, though she was a more than capable pilot. The cockpit looked almost the same as before, even though nothing was really the same.
It was Zoë who had changed the most, even though she really hadn't changed much at all. She had retreated behind the shell she'd made for herself during the war, the shell that didn't let anyone or anything in, not even him. She was still his first mate, still unbelievably capable, but there was something missing. Mal tried to get her to talk about it, early on, but she brushed him off with an "I'm just fine, sir" and went on about her business.
Mal didn't understand what that spark was until he saw Kaylee with Simon once, when they thought they were alone. Her eyes sparkled as she looked up at Simon, her smile brighter than it had been in months. Even though there was still sadness under her smile, unresolved grief at the loss of Wash and Book, love made her shine from the inside out.
An iron hand gripped his heart in that moment, and Mal didn't know if he could breathe. Zoë was strong, so she would survive the death of the man she loved more than life itself. He didn't know if Kaylee, his sensitive little mechanic, would be able to survive the same. Mal also knew that it could have as easily been him dead on Mr. Universe's moon, or on anyone of the planets and moons they'd had jobs go south.
Simon, on the other hand, wasn't in any danger from his occupation. He'd had scrapes with the law thanks to Mal and River, but besides the time he'd got himself kidnapped on Jiangyin, Simon was safe for Kaylee to love.
Mal passed River on his way to the infirmary to confront Simon, and she gave him a knowing look. "Safest is not always best," she whispered.
Mal stopped and shook his head. "Ain't your decision to make, little one."
River looked at him, her large eyes seeing more than she ought. "Ain't your decision either," she echoed softly.
He smiled at her, an expression that was more sad than happy. "It is now."
Notes: Wash's home planet isn't given a name in the series, as far as I could tell, so I made one up. (And an internet cookie to anyone who can figure out where I got the planet names...) Red is the traditional color worn for Chinese weddings, according to the information I found on the internet.
mei-mei - little sister
dong ma - understand
tain xiode - name of all that is sacred
cào - screw/fuck