Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Taking The Sky
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The engine room isn't safe anymore. I think that's what makes me hate him the most. Of all the things he could take from me, why did it have to be that?

Serenity drifts through the stars; her engine hums and turns; everyone else laughs and talks and sleeps at night. River actually seems to be better since it happened. Like she gained something from it- strength, confidence, peace of mind. Everything I've lost.

Maybe Early gave her everything he took from me. I'd take it back if I knew how, but I'm not a super-genius psychic assassin. I'm not even a brilliant mechanic anymore, since I can't hardly stand being down in the room. Half the time I don't think I'm even Kaylee.

I'm just afraid.
***
Inara lets me sleep on the floor of her shuttle. She'd let me share the bed with her, but that isn't what I want. I don't need hugs and comforting, I don't need a body close by. At least, not hers, soft and beautiful and too fragile to offer any shelter. I just can't be in my own bunk- it's too quiet, too small, and when I'm alone I can hear him talking in my head. Inara's breathing is as soft as her sheets, but it's enough to keep Early away.

She tells me that it's all right to be scared, that I just have to face the fear down and move on, that I should be proud of myself for keeping my wits and not falling apart. She won't understand that I did fall apart, that River had to put me back together, and that she didn't do it very well. I look in the mirror in the morning and I put on my smile and I let them think I'm fine. But River's a scary genius, not a mechanic, and her repairs don't hold.

I'm losing pieces every day and I just want to feel safe again.
***
Maybe I can look at it as a mechanical problem. A part of me is broken; I need to either fix it or patch it enough to limp into port. As far as I know, they don't make replacement parts for the heart. So a patch it is--just enough to let me function until I figure out a permanent repair.

What in the 'verse can patch something like this? I'm good at making miracles out of chewing gum and string. I just have to look at what's available and put things together until they work.
***
Simon's shaped all wrong. All of his leads only fit to one port: River. He got shot and still kept fighting for her. He would never do anything like that for me. Oh, he wouldn't want to see me hurt, but if it came to a choice between protecting me or River, I know without thinking which way he'd go. As much as I want him, I can't trust him with this. He isn't safe.

Mal's too worn around the edges to be refitted anymore. And it would probably do more harm than good to take him out of where he's fitted now, anyway. I know he loves me like a daughter and he'd protect me in any way he could, but he's got the whole ship and crew to think of. It would be like taking a part out of the life support to fix the light grid. End up hurting yourself more than helping. Mal won't do.

Wash wouldn't work even if he wasn't fused to Zoe. I love Wash, but he's like me. He's never had something to fight for, so he never had to learn how.

That only leaves one spare part running around this boat. And the more I think about it, the more certain I am that I can make Jayne fit. It'll take a little coaxing, a little jerry-rigging, some extra grease and filing around the edges. But I can use him to patch over the holes in me.
***
Safe.

Kiss him till he stops thinking, don't let the questions get past his lips, sink down in the dark together heat sweat salt skin contact want him against me inside me when I can feel him I know he's there I'm safe I'm safe I'm safe.

He says my name over and over and I ask him to say it again, because as long as he's thinking about me he won't let anything hurt me. I can fall asleep knowing that I'm surrounded by weapons and that the warm heavy shape beside me knows how to use them.

The last few moments before losing consciousness, I listen to him breathe. Steady, even, solid. Unfaltering. His arm is tight around my waist. As long as he thinks I'm his, he'll protect me.
***
Of course, I can't keep him from questioning all the time "What brought this on?" he'll ask suddenly, looking at me with those eyes that can go so distant and cold without any warning at all. "Why the change?" And I'll smile and stutter and mumble until I can work my way in close enough to touch him. A touch and a smile and he'll start touching me back, and his eyes will warm again, and he'll forget that I never answered. More proof that I chose right; that would never get by Simon.

If I close my eyes when I'm with Jayne, I can try to pretend he's Simon, but it just doesn't work. He's so solid, so strong- like he's made of oak timbers- his hands are so heavy against my skin, it could never be Simon touching me. Jayne couldn't be a surgeon any more than I could be a Companion. Doesn't do any good to pretend.

But even though I know it's useless and wrong, I still try.
***
"Kaylee, child, what are you thinking?"

I swirl my spoon through my coffee. "You said I needed to take care of myself, right? Get a hold of my brain and get over it? Well...I'm doing that."

Inara shakes her head, and her earrings sound like tiny bells. "You're playing with fire, is what you're doing. You could very well end up in worse shape than you were before."

"It's not a big deal," I hear myself say, watching the silver flash of the spoon against the black liquid. "Inara, really, it's not. It's just sex, you know?"

"Just sex," she says, a bit oddly, and shouldn't she of all people understand this?

"Yeah. It's...it's peace of mind, you know? Kind of like what you do- 'an exchange of services.'" I mime the quotation marks with my hands, letting the spoon fall away though I keep my eyes fixed on the cup. "He gets sex; I get to know that there are some guns on my side. That comes in handy once in a while."

She reaches out and touches my hand, and I finally meet her eyes. "Kaylee...did you explain any of this to him?"

"Of course not." I pull my hand away. "He'd never- and I've worked damn hard to make sure he doesn't ask, either, Nara, so don't go letting it slip..." I laugh, and it sounds high and nervous and strange. I grab the spoon to steady my hands and swirl my drink again. "God, I don't know what he'd do if he found out at this point. I don't know what he'd do to me."

There's a strangled sound from the corridor- a curse, a sigh of painfully expelled air- and the pounding of boots along the catwalk, moving away. I close my eyes and Inara grabs my hand again as the patch over my heart explodes and the whole ship goes up in flames.
***
"Kaylee."

I hunch farther over the engine, walking my fingers over all the parts that don't need fixing. The engine room still isn't safe- not safe at all- but that's just exactly why I'm here. If it was Early in the doorway right now, I'd welcome the worst of his threats and whispers. Think I've pretty well earned it.

"Kaywinnit Lee Frye, get yourself out here." It's not Early, it's Mal, and that's worse. I step out to where he can see me, but keep my eyes fixed on his boots. I might well never meet the captain's eyes again.

"Think you can shed some light on the foul mood of our hired gun?" he asks, and his voice is softer around the edges. I can feel the way he's looking at me- concerned and fatherly- and it makes me want to scream and hit him and fall into his arms and cry into his shoulder. I don't say anything.

"Any ideas at all? Any theories on why Jayne's rearranged the whole damn cargo bay and tried to pick fights with me and Wash in the last two or three hours?" My eyes are hot and the skin around them is too tight. A few tears start sliding down my cheeks and I dig my fingernails into my palms to hold the rest back.

"I think you might know," he presses, and I shake my head, willing the tears not to fall and hit the floor. They do anyway.

"Ask Inara," I mumble, and he scuffs his heel along the flooring, through the wet spots.

"Already did," he says, and I close my eyes so tight I see stars. "Didn't think you had that in you, Kaylee."

"You don't understand," I say, and I don't know if I should beg or shout, so it kind of sounds like both at once. "I've gotta- I have to take care of myself, out here in the black, only I can't. I'm not a fighter, not like Zoe, and I'm not- I'm not special, like Inara, and I just didn't want to be scared anymore."

"You know we wouldn't let anything happen to you."

"You did!" He flinches a little, and I'm glad and sorry. "I wanted to make it so somebody would only be thinking about me."

"Well, maybe you should've been a little more up-front about that," he says, and the hard edges are back around his words. "Because near as I can tell, Jayne thought you were going to him for a lover, not a guard dog."

I press the heels of my hands against my eyes, and the stars fade into a solid red blur. "I thought that as long as he had somebody in his bunk at night, he wouldn't care."

His hands land lightly on my shoulders, and I stiffen back, because I don't deserve any holding right now. "Look at me," he coaxes, and after a moment I let my hands drop and fix my eyes on the buttons of his shirt. "We all forget it from time to time," he says softly, tilting his head down so he's talking directly over my ear, "but Jayne ain't a robot. He wears his feelings right out on his sleeve- and just because most of the time they're nothin' more complicated than 'hungry' or 'angry' or 'bored' don't mean that the other ones aren’t there." He tilts my chin up with two fingers until I finally meet his eyes. "And I've seen pretty much all of the warm and fuzzy type on him these last few weeks, especially when the conversation turned round to you. Dong ma?" I nod slowly, feeling more tears spilling over and not bothering to try to stop them.

"What can I do?" I whisper. He shakes his head, but his arm draws tighter around my shoulder.

"Think you've got to go apologize," he murmurs into my hair.

"He ain't gonna want to talk to me."

"Gotta try anyway."

"You think I..." I hesitate and swallow, but the words won't die. "...broke his heart?"

"Think you might've at that." He nods slowly. "At least bruised it good."

"When something breaks, I'm supposed to fix it." I lean my forehead against his shoulder. "I don't know how."

He kisses the top of my head and doesn't say anything.
***
Jayne's still in the cargo bay when I leave the engine room, tearing apart some crates I hope we don't need anymore. He jams the crowbar under one of the planks and jerks upward, grunting. The wood snaps and I shiver. He looks up and sees me standing there and his eyes don't warm, not even a little bit. If anything, they get darker.

Not so safe anymore.

"I don't want to talk to you," he says, biting each word off cleanly. "Just get yourself gone."

I can't seem to get any sound behind the air coming out of my mouth. "Came to say I'm sorry," I finally manage to squeak out. He laughs, and it's a raw, cold, bitter sound, nothing like the soft chuckles of delight I can remember.

"No, you ain't."

"I am, Jayne." I swallow hard and try not to flinch as he flings the broken-up board across the bay. "I truly am."

"You're sorry I found out." He kicks at the crate until it moves where he wants it and picks the crowbar up again. "Sorry your little game got cut short."

"It wasn't a game." It wasn't. It wasn't anywhere in the vicinity of being fun, anyway. "I just wanted to feel-"

"Smarter than somebody? Better than somebody?" The wood bends and groans before it breaks. The sound makes me ache inside and out. "Got tired of the doc bein' all high and mighty over you and thought you'd like to see how that felt?"

"No. It wasn't like that. It didn't- " I can't think of a good way to say it, so I'll say it badly. "It wasn't about you."

He drops the board and wipes his forearm across his face, pressing it against his eyes for a heartbeat. "Yeah, I get that all right."

"Jayne, it ain't that it wasn't good, it was, it was-"

"Don't," and that one word was ice and steel and bullets, all the things I thought I'd wanted from him, all the things that hadn't been down there in the dark with us. "Don't you even start down that road."

I stand there and watch him as he moves around for a minute, restless and angry- I can see how angry he is, like it's crawling on his skin. He throws the crowbar down and I flinch as the clatter echoes through the bay. "You know what the worst thing you said was?" he asks, and I shake my head, mute, biting down on my lower lip. He kicks at the crate again, but it's halfhearted now. "You told Inara that you didn't know what I'd do to you if you found out. You were scared. You thought I was- you thought I'd hurt you." He shakes his head slowly, scuffing the heel of his boot against the floor. "You said all those things to me and every one had to be a lie, if that's the kind of man you really think I am."

"I don't..." I remember his arms tight around me in the dark, keeping the monsters at bay. "Jayne, I was just trying to explain to Inara, it was just words."

"Weren't just words to me." His shoulders slump and he sits down slowly on another crate, resting his forehead in his hands. "Dammit, Kaylee, hearing you say that, it felt like you were sticking one of my own knives into me."

"One of the big ones?" I asked, smiling despite myself. He'd thought it was funny, my response to lying in bed under a rack of weapons.

Half his mouth turns up in a smile. That's something. "Yeah, the big ugly one."

I lick my lips and watch him for a minute. He isn't small, couldn't ever be, but he looks it right now. "I just wanted to feel safe," I say finally. He glances up at me. "After the fight with Niska's guys, after Early, after all of it..." I gesture helplessly. "I just wanted to feel safe." He looks back down at the floor. I feel something rising in my chest, a wild burst of hysteria, and I half-giggle, half-sob the next words. "And you know what? It worked! Jayne..." Tears are stinging my eyes now, but he's still looking down. "Jayne, when I was with you, I felt so safe."

He nods a little, clasping his hands in front of him and looking down past them at the floor. His eyes move back and forth like there's something written there. "Well," he says finally, getting to his feet and reaching for the crowbar. "Glad I could help you with that." He reaches for the crate again, propping it upright with his foot and placing the teeth of the bar with exaggerated care. "You left some things in my bunk," he says, not looking back, and I realize that he's done talking to me, that this is over. "Underclothes and the like. You can go get 'em now if you want, it ain't locked."

I stare at his back, but he still doesn't look. He's washed his hands of me. "All right," I whisper, turning away. The wood groans and shrieks again. It's such a tortured sound- a few tears come to my eyes.

Making my way down the corridors to the crew bunks, my footsteps ring loud and hollow. I slide down into his room and look around. I know this place- its smell, the closeness of the walls around me. This has been my safety, my sanctuary. And I'm not welcome here anymore.

I gather up my stuff, surprised at how my hands don't shake. Part of my mind's still working the problem, looking for a way to talk him around, coax him back, get him to stop thinking and start feeling again. It makes the rest of me sick. God, he's a person, not spare parts. Where'd I lose track of that, along the way? Was that something else Early took from me, the part of me that sees people for people and not something to refit and use?

Even though I want to, I don't leave anything behind. I wonder how I'm going to sit at the table with him tonight, and tomorrow, and every day ahead. I wonder how long it'll take before we can just be crew again. I wonder if I've broken the last parts of my life that were still mine, the things Early never got his hands on at all.

I shiver a little; my skin feels bare and exposed in the cool air. I don't have to check the life-support gauges to know that the chill ain't Serenity's fault.

It's just that all my shelters are gone.

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