Title: Kiddin' Around
Author: Luxuride (nalashepard)
Summary: Oneshot, set before the BDM. While planet side, Mal returns to Serenity to find that Kaylee has take on a strange new job.
A/N: Originally posted on FFN.
The exchange of the stolen goods Serenity had been a-carryin' had actually gone smoothly for once. For a brief moment, Mal wondered if perhaps their luck might be a-changin' before he completely shoved that thought from his mind.
As if that were likely to happen.
His boots crunched on the bone dry dirt as he came to a stop, his hand liftin' to shield his face from the glarin' sun of Three Hills as he squinted in an attempt to see Serenity off in the distance.
As he started walkin' again, he heard Jayne grumble lowly under his breath from somewhere behind him, "…'so ruttin' hot…"
T'was pretty gorram hot - and dusty, too - but Mal really couldn't bring himself to complain about it too much. Bein' planet-side was a nice change from the inky darkness of the Black, but he'd soon be ready to be back in the air. Not for a while yet, though. Inara was here with a client, and he had no clue as to 'bout how long she was plannin' on stayin' with him.
As they walked through the quaint, yet busy market place, Mal noted that much of the credits in the bag Zoë was a-carryin' would most likely go towards supplies. He'd been procrastinatin' for far too long on buyin' the things they needed 'round the ship. Here would be as good a place as any; it was small with little danger or alliance control – just a meek little farm planet.
Wash had put Serenity down just outside of the market plaza, so the walk didn't take 'em too horribly long. The trio made their way up the ramp and into the cargo bay. Jayne clanged loudly up the steps and across the platform before disappearing to his quarters, leavin' Mal and Zoë in the bay.
"I take it you all were successful?" Came the warm voice of Shepherd Book who stood atop the stairs, peaceably leanin' against the rail.
"Sure were," Mal answered as he glanced up at the hoary-haired man.
Just as Wash entered in a vibrant Hawaiian print shirt and came to stand next to the preacher, Zoë spoke up. "Sir, permission to take Wash into the market and buy some supplies?" Mal merely nodded as Wash trotted down the stairs. As Wash started the mule, Zoë slipped on behind him; Wash revved the rather quiet engine, and they tore off down the ramp.
"Zoë, you'd better not use all 'em credits!" Mal hollered after them with a smirk, though he seriously doubted the she'd heard him. He heard Shepherd's light chuckle from above before the man slipped off in the direction of the common area, Bible in his age-weathered hand.
As Mal moved to head up the steps himself, he noticed for the first time upon their return that Kaylee was sittin' silently on the very bottom step. In her arms was a thick blue bundle of blankets.
"Cold, mei mei?" He asked, a small smile gracin' his face.
She looked up at him. Somethin' was off, he was sure. Though her face read as if nothin' was out of place, her eyes shined with somethin' akin to nervousness. She nodded faintly before inquirin', "Everything go shiny, Capt'n?"
He moved by her as he started up the steps, stoppin' only to squeeze her gently on the shoulder. Some three steps up, he heard an odd squeak from behind him. He paused mid-step and risked a glance back down at her. "Kaylee?"
She glanced over her shoulder at him cautiously, her eyes shimmerin' even more now. Another small cry sounded, and he descended back down to her and took a seat beside her.
In answer to his sudden closeness, she clutched the blanket tighter to her. It was almost as if she feared he'd snatch it away from her.
"What do you got there?" He looked pointedly at the blanket.
"Now don't get mad, Capt'n," she said quickly as he reached to pull back the folds of cloth. He paused, waitin' for her to continue her explanation. Her eyes flickered with uncertainty, and he suddenly wasn't sure if he wanted to know what was in the blanket anymore.
She inhaled deeply as the bundle moved slightly. "There was this woman, alright? I was mindin' my business and keepin' to my own self just outside the ramp, ejoyin' the sunshine, when she came up to me. Said she was a-needin' to do some shoppin' in the market, and she was a-needin' someone to watch her twins. Said she'd pay me a little somethin' if I did, too. So I was a-thinkin' I could use those credits to buy some strawberries or save for somethin' Serenity needs, so I agreed to it."
A flicker of concern struck Mal instead of the anger she had braced herself for. "Kaylee-girl, if those are her kids, you're a smotherin' 'em."
"That's just it, Capt'n. They ain't human." She looked up at him quickly before she flipped the first layer back.
There was a soft cry, and he stared at the blanket's contents. For a moment, he feared that his eyebrows would shoot clear off his face. Inside were two bundles of caramel brown fuzz and tangles of long black legs. The larger of the two raised his little black striped head to look at him before lowering his chin to rest on the smaller one's round little stomach.
"I'm a-guessin' you weren't aware at the time that you was acceptin' to care for kids of the goatish kind?" He asked as he watched her gently stoke the larger kid's forehead. He struggled to his feet with a 'meep', leavin' the smaller one lying still on Kaylee's lap, and the little guy pressed his black noise into her shirt. He nibbled on the light pink fabric before she tugged it free from the little creature's mouth.
"C'mere, big guy," Mal muttered serenely. He gently picked up the kid and placed him on the tops of his thighs, where he laid down again with a heavy sigh and a grit of his teeth. His forelegs hung off the end of Mal's knees as Mal ran a hand down the little goat's back. "We had goats back on Shadow," he said after a long moment of watchin' the kid.
Kaylee, who had been workin' to pull the blanket closer around the she was a-holdin', glanced at him sharply.
He didn't talk about life before the war very often, especially voluntarily. He wasn't an open person unless it was his anger he was a-showin' - he knew as much – so her surprise didn't bother him in the slightest.
"Really, Capt'n?" She asked slowly, her nail tracin' the little mounds under the skin of the goat's head – horns ready to break through.
He nodded, watchin' as the kid on his own knees wriggled about with a huff. He was starin' at somethin' outside the hanger, but his eyes were distant, lost in a memory. "Whole field of 'em. We sold 'em mostly, but we always kept a select few that were more like pets to us. Ma loved 'em. Some would lie down in your lap – no matter their size or age. At times, you'd have a goat the size of a small pony floppin' down on you." A smirk played at Mal's lips as he remembered several occasions of such an event.
Kaylee smiled at him before turnin' her attention down at the blankets, watchin' as the girl uttered a tiny snore. "Do they really eat anythin'?"
"Nah, the ones we owned were actually quite finicky about what they ate. They wouldn't eat after 'nother or eat somethin' with dirt on it."
"Did you have a favorite?"
He didn't speak for a long time, starin' off towards the ramp. She was a-wonderin' if he'd answer when a bittersweet expression skittered across his face. "'Ashleigh' was her name." His intonation darkened slightly, and he made no move to continue the story.
Kaylee scuffed her shoe against the steps as she waited, torn between wantin' more information and fearin' she'd push him too much. Obviously there was somethin' behind his faint smile and darkened eyes.
He was a-strugglin' internally, but in the end, tellin' her won out. This was Kaylee, his mei mei. "She was the first one we ever had, but the first one we lost, too. Cutest little thing I ever did see – and don't you go a=tellin' my crew I said that, neither." He leveled a finger at her. "She'd be up on the hill, and the second you'd come out onto the porch, she'd come a-flyin' down the bank and bounce right into your lap whether you were ready or not." Now his eyes were dancin' brightly at the memory, and she smiled.
"One day, she just didn't. No sight of her, so I went a-lookin'. Found her in a mess of wire, hung up. I was an hour or so too late." He swallowed hard, advertin' his guilty eyes from her.
"I'm so sorry, Capt'n." She murmured, "It wasn't your fault, though." She hesitated for a brief moment before reachin' out and placin' her hand on his forearm. He flinched in surprise at the sudden contact, but didn't shake off her touch.
"I know it. Didn't at the time, though."
As if to shatter the mood, the goat in his lap sprung forward, dancin' sideways across the bay. Nearly flippin' twice, it kicked its hooves in the air before lettin' out a miniature baah. His sister still lay languidly in Kaylee's lap.
"Wonder where their real mama is," Kaylee said after a long moment of watching the brother trot around.
"No tellin'," Mal answered with a shake of his head. A smile was playing at his lips again, threatenin' to shine through at the goat's antics.
"You miss 'em?" She couldn't help but ask.
"Yeah, reckon I do."
"What are you doin', Ani?" The new voice caused Mal to leap to his feet and instinctively reach for his gun. He felt Kaylee's hand snag his arm again to stop him. "Capt'n, that's their owner. That's the lady."
He cleared his throat, slightly embarrassed. "Sorry 'bout that."
She waved him off, though her eyes were showed she was startled. In the briefest of moments, her expression of surprise vanished from her face. Her petite figure was hidden in robes of her own, but a closer look told him that she was no older than Kaylee. Her dark hair was wrapped in a bun, her complexion well tanned. She knelt to the floor and 'Ani' leaped her way, climbin' onto her knee. She gently rubbed his head lovin'ly and scooped him into her arms before turnin' her attention to Kaylee. "Little Immy alright?" Kaylee carried the blanket wad over and passed off the sleepin' baby carefully. "I hope they weren't too much of a hassle," the woman said as wrapped them both snuggly in the cloth again. She shifted them to one side and dug in her pocket for a small bag. "Your credits, Miss."
Impulsively, Kaylee raised a hand and shook her head. "No, it was my pleasure."
The woman looked startled, but a slow smile graced her face. "Thank you so much, both of you." She nodded at Mal and embraced Kaylee, careful not to squeeze the twins too tightly between them. She headed down the ramp with a joyful smile plastered to her pretty face.
"That was mighty kind of you, Kaylee." He slung a arm across her shoulders and pulled her into a one-armed hug. He dropped a kiss to her temple before releasin' her and trottin' up the stairs to his quarters.
"Thanks for the help, Capt'n." She smiled up after him. Learnin' somethin' new 'bout her capt'n was payment enough.
He had originally thought that he and Kaylee would be the only two a-knowin' 'bout the twins – a secret easily kept, right? - but that only lasted until dinner. Jayne came in a-fussin' 'bout someone leavin' 'ruttin' yellow taffy' – that he had stepped in and gotten on his favorite boots - in the hanger bay. Mal hadn't been able to hold back the laugh. With everyone a-lookin' at him like he was as crazy as a bed bug, he had no other choice but to explain why baby goat excrement had materialized in the hanger.
Jayne ended up tossin' the boots.