Sort Of Fading Now

by Zulu

Kaylee takes one last look around the engine room, drawing it out real slow. Everyone's standing all about her, even Inara. Seeing them all together makes the holes between them hurt so much deeper that for a second Kaylee just stops breathing, just stops. She bites her lip, and wishes the Shepherd was here to offer some prayerful words, or Wash to joke and make them all laugh and stop staring at her, like she holds the secrets to the 'verse.

Kaylee touches the press regulator, the starboard jet controls, the hydraulics. Just fingertips, just listening to their workings right through her skin. Serenity's been real quiet, but now she's talking again. She's saying she's ready. She's saying it's time they were out in the black again.

The Captain's standing in the hatch, hands reaching up and gripping the top of the door frame. He watches her with little-boy eyes, like she might yet say she figures the engine needs one more overhaul. Zoe's standing inside the door, arms crossed, and since they landed on this world her smile's been more rare than ever, but she's got her eyes on the captain and her lips might just be twitching upwards. Jayne's chewing on some bit of straw but even he's watching her, all respectful-like. Simon smiles at her, and nods, and Kaylee breathes in and closes her eyes. When she opens them, it's River she's looking at, her eyes burning like stars.

"She's ready, Captain," Kaylee says. "She'll fly true."

"Ai ya!" Mal says, his breath exploding out of him, and he's gone to the bridge before Kaylee can even blink.

The others find their way out of the room, until only Simon's left, smiling softly at her. He reaches out and touches her face. "Kaylee," he says, in that special way he's got just for her now. "You're amazing."

Kaylee wants to bury her face in his chest and cry, because it felt like Book and Wash were looking over them just now, and she misses them something awful. Instead, she nods, and wipes her face, her arm streaking black.

"Now that we're finally escaping this world...Kaylee, I..." Simon stops, folds his arms, red and bashful like he's got no reason to be.

"What's going on in there?" Kaylee asks, tapping his temple, trying to be playful. She feels cold, and she tries to smile, but it wavers. She's not sure she wants to know.

"I--I want you to come with me," he says. He takes her hands, and he's so handsome, all dark-eyed and soft-lipped. "Well, with me and River. This clearly isn't the best place for her, and--and I'd like to go home, to my parents, now that we can..." He fidgets, and adds, "I could--teach you about the core planets, Kaylee. We could--"

He stops, because she's already shaking her head. That cold feeling takes over her body and makes it hard to move. She can't say a word, she can't make the world stop moving--it feels like that time she got belly-shot, hurting and scary, except somehow Simon's the one with the gun.

"No," she says. "No, Simon. I thought you understood."

The engine rolls to life and there's the rumble of Serenity's rockets. She's shaking off this planet's dirt, going back to where she belongs. Simon--so fancible and proper--he's doing the same, leaving for his rightful place, where he's not hiding every second, where he's respected and proud. Kaylee understands that, because she never had it, not once in all her life. Not til Mal gave her Serenity's engines and said they were hers.

"I'm sorry, Simon," she says, because she already knows that even if she asks nice, he won't be staying on board because of her.

Sequel: And Last

Read the remix.

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December 23, 2005