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Still Flying

by Northlight

Date: Monday, January 06, 2003 5:27 PM

     Title:  Still Flying
     Author:  Northlight
     Fandom: Firefly
     email:  temporary_blue [at]
     Summary:  In which Kaylee has a request, Zoe helps and Mal
     Characters: Kaylee, Zoe, Mal.
     Spoilers:  Serenity, War Stories, Objects in Space.
     Rating:  Hard PG13--violence.
     Distribution:  List archives and those who ask.  My site:
     Disclaimer:  Joss Whedon and FOX own "Firefly."  I am in no
     way affiliated with the show.  No money is being made by
     this fan work.  No harm is intended.
     Date:  Dec. 29, 2002-Jan. 6, 2003.

Kaylee couldn't think about her Mama without remembering her hands. They were thin and long-fingered: beautiful before life wore cracks into the skin and scaled her flesh. Mama's hands were dry from long hours spent submerged in soaps and detergents and the skin over her knuckles split and bled when it turned cold. Mama's hands were always busy: washing clothes and dishes, floors and her babies' sticky faces. She spent her evenings sewing old clothes back together, a flashing needle reflected in lamplight. Her hands were gentle, the only thing Kaylee could remember from the long days during which she was taken by the fever.

Mama had died giving birth the Kaylee's youngest brother. Such a sad occasion, Kaylee could remember the neighbours murmuring, though far from unexpected. Kaylee had hated Mrs. Morton and her cold chicken, Mr. Thompson and his speculative looks, little Jane Smith's shrill giggles. She had sunk her arms into soapy water, elbow deep, and had known that she didn't want to live her Mama's life: wife and mother and old before her time. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life poor and pregnant and too weary to imagine anything else.

When Kaylee thought of Da, she always recalled the sense of his great size. Not so large as all that, after all, but to her young eyes he had been tall as a mountain, as heavy as a grizzly. He'd had a booming voice and Kaylee hadn't minded that he smelt sour with beer and dusty with coal. "What a son you would have made!" he'd cried out when he found Kaylee curled up beside one of the generators, her fingers grease-stained. She hadn't realized how hard he tried to be cheerful until months after she left home.

Kaylee had never missed the unquestioned safety of her Mama's warm hands and her Da's thick neck as she did at this moment. She had fallen in love with Serenity with a child's eager passion and hadn't thought to think beyond the hum and the subtle grace of Serenity's engines. She hadn't imagined, she hadn't, oh--Kaylee shuddered and tucked her clenched fists into the curves of her elbows. Kaylee had known violence before. Da's leg thick and sturdy before her, she'd watched scuffles erupt in the street: hoarse curses, heavy fists and feet, bloody mouths and noses. Kaylee's big brothers had beaten on the boys too damn foolish to resist Kaylee's curiosity. She'd even heard--despite Mama's best attempts to prevent the rumours from penetrating her home--that Tom Granger had shot Red Johansen for stealing one of his prized horses.

The outer rim, planets not quite under the Alliance's control: backwaters, boonies, uncivilized; and yet, things had been simpler there for all the rumbling violence and poverty. Kaylee had come to know a crueler sort of violence, organized and deliberate, since she had made her home upon Serenity. She wouldn't give Serenity up for anything, but memories from the past weeks haunted Kaylee's sleep and snuck up upon her in the midsts of actions that once hadn't been anything but ordinary. She had frozen like a little fool during a fight--shameful, cowardly and the memory of a bullet in her gut still made her cringe. A man's flat eyes and voice, and Kaylee found herself cringing and weeping at the thought of what could have happened. Even River--young, beautiful, crazy River had made a better showing of herself: pulling through time after time while Kaylee proved herself a frightened child.

Da hadn't wanted her to leave home. His little girl, he'd called her, and she was needed at home. Kaylee had looked at the uneven line of his mouth and had known that her Da didn't think that she could handle herself outside the familiar confines of the settlement. She had fought hard, had said things she shouldn't have and she was almost ready to accept that Da might have been right now, too far away from home and the girl she'd been for it to make any difference. She couldn't give up, she wouldn't give up, but the fear knotted tight in Kaylee's belly was driving her to distraction.

Kaylee found Zoe in the cargo-hold securing one of the crates picked up during their last stop planetside. Kaylee stood in silence, her palm flat against her stomach over the distant ache of a not-old-enough wound. Zoe was sturdy and graceful all at once; pretty and deadly and there hadn't been anyone like her back home. Kaylee knew that Zoe wouldn't have put everyone in danger during a fight; knew that she wouldn't have whimpered and betrayed her friends at mere threats, no matter how convincingly delivered. Kaylee would have given anything for even a fraction of Zoe's strength, she feared that she'd lost all of her own. She could hardly remember what it was to love the universe, to glory in its beauty: confusion and remembered pain had blotted out everything else and Kaylee hardly felt like herself any more.

Back home, Kaylee had been more at ease with boys than she had been with girls of her own age. Tessa and Gill had spent too much time talking about boys, even though they didn't always seem quite sure about what they were saying. Gill had gotten married before Kaylee left, and she'd already been rounding when Serenity first set down. Mama hadn't liked Kaylee spending so much time with boys, but Da hadn't had the heart nor the attention to stop Kaylee from doing as she pleased after Mama died. Despite her past inclination, Kaylee had hardly even considered approaching Mal or Jayne with her favour: they were both big brothers in their own way and Kaylee already had plenty of those. She figured that she had a good idea of what both of their responses would be and she wasn't in the mood for being handled.

Zoe rocked back on her heels and dragged her palms across the bunched muscles in her thighs. Not surprised, never surprised, Zoe's eyes were calm when she looked over her shoulder towards Kaylee. "What is it, Kaylee?"

Kaylee took a shuddering breath. She was tired of being scared. So very tired. "I want you to teach me to fight," she said, abrupt.

Kaylee couldn't imagine Zoe ever being frightened, but the older woman's eyes were full of understanding. "There ain't no harm in being prepared, I suppose."

"You. I," Kaylee said, rolling her hands before her. She paused and blinked: "yes?"

Zoe smiled. "Would you like me to argue with you a bit, first?" she asked, voice dry.

"No," Kaylee said, "no," and she laughed until her shoulders shook.

Zoe's Ma had been a midwife. They had packed their bags into their rickety wagon every couple of weeks, hitched up the pony, and had set out in search of new towns and new patients. Ma had a kind face and she'd rode easy with a shotgun at her side. Zoe could remember holding tight to the reins as Ma stood with her feet braced and the gun held steady on the man who'd thought to take their wagon and their lives. She had shot him, Zoe remembered, and had taken the time to bandage his bleeding arm before leaving him to the sun and crackling grass. Ma had earned herself a fearsome reputation, and Zoe had adored her.

Zoe had hated Jake for weeks after he first joined them: she and her Ma could take care of themselves just fine. Zoe had glowered and had spent her time shooting at small animals until Ma warned her not to waste their ammunition. Jake won her over on his second month with them, teaching Zoe how to throw knives. Night cool at her back, fire warm at her toes, Jake had sat at Zoe's side for hours showing her how to position her fingers and a myriad of other small details. Ma had looked at them and smiled before turning back to the business of grinding herbs to dust.

Kaylee wanted to learn to fight, and Zoe found that she understood. She had seen the look in Kaylee's eyes, the tension tight across her shoulders and Zoe could remember the utter agony of helplessness. She had been an arrogant, self-certain little girl, Zoe thought with a certain degree of fondness for the child she'd been. She hadn't been at all prepared for the world, not really, and Zoe hadn't imagined how hard it must have been for Ma to ride for mile on end alone with her child and her own daddy's shotgun. Space had stripped Zoe's confidence from her, and she'd lived on rage instead for longer than she cared to recall.

"What's this I've been hearing about?"

Zoe didn't look up from her weapon. She took a silent moment to finish cleaning it--she had learned the importance of regular maintenance early in the war, a lesson not soon forgotten--and slid the safety back into position. Zoe returned her gun to her holster before looking up at the captain. His shoulder was heavy against the wall, his arms crossed before him. His eyes were serious. Zoe had been waiting for this discussion since she had agreed to Kaylee's proposal. She arched her eyebrows. "Sir?"

The captain's mouth tightened around the edges. Zoe understood. Some people took to the thought of killing as the solution to too many things. Some people lost the sense they'd been born with when it came to fighting. Mal ignored Zoe's inquisitively cocked eyebrows. "She don't need to be learning about such things, Zoe."

Zoe had thrown up the first time she'd seen the back of someone's head blown off. She had retched, clutching at her belly and the gun strapped to her hip had still seemed a comfort. Zoe had always been a fighting spirit. So was Kaylee, but she didn't have the heart to kill. Zoe doubted that Kaylee would even strike at someone unless the situation was desperate enough to drive through Kaylee's undimmed love of life. She wouldn't be rushing into a dangerous situation, fists ready, any time soon.

"My teaching Kaylee how to defend herself won't be doing her any more harm than that she's already suffered." Zoe paused before continuing as delicately as she could manage. "She's scared, sir, real scared. Kaylee needs something to help her feel in control of her life again." Zoe had been scared sick before, and she'd always known that she had options: she could and would fight off almost any attacker; she could escape and evade with the best; she could end her own life if the situation was too much for her to handle with mind and body intact. Kaylee had faced down a madman, unarmed, unprepared, a child. She had come out of that encounter a little older, a little darker.

Mal pushed off from the wall and took a seat across from Zoe. "You saying that I should've left her be?" Mal asked, his arms unfolding and crossing over his chest again, restless. His voice told Zoe that the captain had entertained that thought himself more than a few times: a painful meld of guilt and defensiveness. He had thought of his ship before he'd considered how young Kaylee had been. It had been a long, long time since either of them had met anyone who wasn't already battle-scarred. Mal had known boys and girls as young as Kaylee who had fought and died in the wars. Kaylee, though, was something completely different.

"No, sir," Zoe said. "She wouldn't have thanked you for that. All I'm saying, sir, is that Kaylee's trying to figure some things out. I'm just helping her along."

Mal ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Zoe. .. she's all right, isn't she? Nothing happened that I ought to know about?"

She could remember Trina wailing, so loudly that Mal had ordered Zoe to drug the girl. He'd been so angry, so sick-hearted when he looked at Trina's twisted body. "No," Zoe said. "She's fine, captain. She's fine and she'll be better yet soon enough."

"You don't think she'd object to me stopping in one of these days?" Mal asked.

"No, sir."

Mal stood with his forearms resting against the rail, looking down into the cargo-hold. Zoe, he was sure, had spotted him almost immediately. Kaylee had yet to notice his presence. He watched them with a critical eye. While light on her feet, Kaylee was no fighter, Mal saw immediately. Zoe had picked up on that, too: she seemed to be showing Kaylee how to avoid getting hit more than she was on teaching Kaylee how to do damage of her own. Mal was oddly grateful for that.

Moving a fraction slower than she normally would, Zoe swung her fist outwards. Kaylee ducked, wobbled and tumbled to the ground. Her landing reverberated through the room. "Ooooh," Kaylee moaned and rubbed her hand against her tail-bone. "Tell me again why it is that we ain't using mats?" she said and her head tilted as she looked up at Zoe.

"I figure, the bruises will be better teachers than me," Zoe said. She stood with her feet parted, arms loose before her. Kaylee must have made a face, because Zoe smiled and shook her head, reaching out with a hand.

A smile played at Mal's mouth as he watched the interaction. He started as a small form sidled up beside him, mimicking his position. Mal's smile faltered momentarily. River looked at him from the corner of her eye, grinned toothily and leaned further over the railing. Mal automatically reached to steady her. Hair hanging wildly about her face, River reached out with both hands and waved enthusiastically. "Kayleeeeee," she called.

Kaylee looked up, her smile brilliant. "What do you say, teach?" she asked Zoe.

Zoe frowned, not quite as convincingly as she could have. "Go on, get," she said and watched as Kaylee raced up the stairs, giggling, after River. Zoe looked up at Mal, her eyes shinning. "Kids," she said.

"Kids," Mal agreed.


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