DISCLAIMER: Firefly belongs to the genius that is Joss Whedon and not me. No money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILER: Set after "Objects in Space"

The Kindness of Strangers
By Celievamp

Kaylee woke with a start. She was alone in her quarters. The shadows were just shadows. There was no one waiting there to hurt her, to threaten her. Kaylee shuddered, closed her eyes in resignation. She knew that she was soft, weak. River had rescued her again, not with a gun this time, but with her words, her reminder that Kaylee was not alone in the dark with this man, that her shipmates would find her, keep her safe, that nothing would happen to her.

She was not used to harshness. Somehow she had always invited kindness. There was something about her that turned aside a harsh word, an unkind gesture. She tried to be a good person and something in her expected everyone else - even the most unpromising - to be the same way. Her dreams were small - in her life on Serenity she had found the fulfillment of most of her ambitions. She loved Serenity. The ship was more than a home and a job to her, it was a friend. When Serenity hurt, she hurt.

The moment River introduced herself as the `soul' of the ship had been a revelation to Kaylee. It had felt curiously `right' to her that this should be so. Kaylee had more or less resigned herself weeks ago to the fact that nothing was ever going to happen between herself and Simon. She found that River was increasingly in her thoughts, she enjoyed watching the young woman, especially when River did not think that anyone was watching her. Watching her dance in the empty spaces of the cargo hold, or the simple pleasure that she took in the most ordinary things. The childlike glee when she was happy contrasted so totally with the closed in sadness and fear of her bad days. Even when River did something terrifying - like the stunt she pulled when they were rescuing the captain, Kaylee knew instinctively that River would never harm her.

Not like Jubal Early. Kaylee closed her eyes, pressed her face into her pillow. She could not forget his threats to hurt her - and how she had given in to him so quickly, so eagerly, betraying River's location. And when it was over and Early was gone and River was back on board Serenity where she belonged, River had come up to Kaylee and held her so tightly as if she was the one who was sorry, she was the one who needed to apologise for betraying her friend.

She was not used to harshness. She was not used to forgiveness either.

The others had commented on how River seemed to be better with her than anyone else. She was more aware, interacted more, seemed settled, happy, certainly more lucid when Kaylee was near. She had fun. Even it if was just sitting and watching, which she would do for hours if Kaylee was busy maintaining some part of the ship, just sitting beside her, handing her her tools when - and sometimes even before she realised that she needed them.

`I care for her,' Kaylee told herself. `Nothing unusual in that, nothing wrong. Except that its more than caring. I think. I think I love.' A movement in the corner by the stairway caught her attention and she sat up. "Who's there."

Her thoughts became flesh. "Just me," River whispered. "Just River. I'm cold."

"Then come get warm, silly," Kaylee said, lifting the covers and moving over nearer the wall. River climbed into bed beside her, cuddling up to her.

"Sorry." she whispered.

"What for?" Kaylee asked. "You didn't do anything sweetie."

"Bad thoughts. made you remember being hurt, alone, afraid," River rested her head against Kaylee's shoulder.

Kaylee put her arm around the younger woman, holding her close. The bunk was narrow, much too narrow for two to share it with any comfort. There had to be a certain degree of closeness. It was a matter of physics, spatial mathematics. At the thrill that went through her body at the simple touch of River's skin on her skin she realised that chemistry and a certain amount of biology were about to be involved as well. She was glad she had paid attention at school.

"I had a nightmare, is all. I was still thinking about it when I woke up I suppose," Kaylee said. She laid a gentle kiss in River's tangled hair. "And then I thought about you and I didn't feel sad any more."

River giggled. "I do the same. Think of you and happiness follows."

"Happiness follows. I like that." She bent to kiss River again but this time River was looking up so the kiss landed somewhat haphazardly on River's nose. Both women giggled again, River raising herself up to look down on Kaylee. Then they both froze, staring at each other.

River's skin was so pale it seemed almost to glow in the faint light that filtered into her bunk. Her eyes were wide and dark, her expression unfathomable. "Happy," she whispered, her lips brushing Kaylee's again.

River's lips were soft and cool, her slight weight pressing Kaylee deeper into her bunk. Kaylee reached up and brushed River's long hair back from her face. "So, are we going to do this?"

River nodded slowly, a slight smile quirking her lips. "Probabilities are running that way. The impossibility of the situations that have got us this far seem to indicate that it's fated."

"Meant to be," Kaylee nodded. "You know what, my mei tyen tsai. I can deal with that."

She had always found that the best part of the kindness of strangers was when they ceased to be a stranger and became a friend.

The End

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