Simon heard the music drift down the hallway—a waltz, one he knew he should be familiar with but the composer's name eluded him.
The captain, Zoe and Jayne were out on a job. Inara had flown off in the shuttle that morning for an assignation, and they wouldn't be picking up Book at the abbey until tomorrow. That left Wash, Simon, River and Kaylee alone on the ship.
River was in her room, studiously recreating the mural that had adorned their grandfather's ballroom wall in the sketchbook he'd given her for her birthday, the dancers faces rendered in subtle shades of blue and green. River would know who had written this particular piece, of course. She could probably recite the composer's entire life history, and jot down the score on the back of a napkin, given half a chance. He thought of asking her, then decided he didn't want to bother her.
When he'd gone to the mess to get a cup of tea that morning, Wash had been sitting with his feet up on the table, thoroughly engrossed in the latest issue of a penny dreadful. Usually Wash was too distracted worrying to get much done when Zoe was out on a job. But apparently the particular cargo run they were taking care of this morning was a close to a milk run as Serenity and her charges ever got—and Wash had just bid his wife farewell with a peck on the cheek, and a warning not to let somebody named Callahan get too fresh.
Simon hadn't seen Kaylee since breakfast, when she'd announced that today she was going to tackle that pesky grav-drive while they were in port. She'd disappeared into the engine room before Simon had even finished his rice porridge, and he hadn't seen hide nor hair of her all day.
Following the thread of harpsichords and flutes, he found Kaylee in the engine room. She was on her back beneath the engine, humming along with the tinny recording pouring from the speakers set into the wall. Usually, the comm system was kept for emergencies only. But he was guessing Kaylee was used to re-routing a signal from the link in her quarters to whether she happened to be working.
Usually it was ballads, or some of the singers and groups he assumed was popular on her homeworld. Not the sort of thing that could draw Simon out of the protective shell of his infirmary. But the crew was annoyingly healthy this week, and—barring any bar brawls or gunplay—likely to stay that way. So nothing was there to keep Simon from wandering out of his domain, and into hers.
Simon bent down and touched her outstretched leg, and her yelp of surprise was accompanied by a clang as she hit her head on the underside of the metal casing.
"Are you okay?" he asked as she slid out from beneath the engine, rubbing at her hairline with the heel of one hand furiously and blinking away tears of pain.
"Just gonna have a goose egg, is all," she said, wincing as she sat up.
"I'm sorry I startled you," Simon said quickly, stricken. "I should have made some noise—"
"P'rolly wouldn't have heard you, anyway," she said with a laugh as she reached over and turned the volume down. The music faded until it was just a whisper. "Is it up too loud? I didn't disturb you or anythin', did I?"
"No—not at all. I just came to ask you about the music, actually," he said, gesturing to the speakers.
"Oh! Isn't it shiny?" She grinned. "Inara downloaded it off the cortex for me."
"I didn't realise you were much of a classical music fan."
"They played this song at that fancy party I went to on Persephone." Her expression was wistful. "I wanted to dance so bad."
"Why didn't you?" he asked, curious.
"Some fellas and I fell to talking and next thing you know, the Captain had started a fight and I never got to dance. Never not once."
"That's a terrible shame," Simon said, and realised he meant it. There probably hadn't been very many "fancy parties" along the lines of Persephone's social event of the season in Kaylee's life, and she should have had a chance to enjoy the one she'd attended.
"There was one boy was gonna ask me, but Mr. Murphy had about a million questions about the plating on the eighty-tens."
"Mr. Murphy?" he asked, trying to sound casual while he pictured some young lothario escorting Kaylee around the ballroom, and disliking how disquieting he found that particular mental image.
"Yep. He was just the nicest man," Kaylee said with a happy smile that twisted something very tiny in Simon's gut. "He didn't laugh at my dress, or anything. Even sent a boy to fetch me a whole mess of strawberries from the buffet table."
Now that was a mental picture that made him smile—a servant kneeing at Kaylee's feet with a silver tray full of nothing but fresh strawberries for her to devour. While he doubted that was perhaps quite what had transpired, it was still an image which brought a grin to his lips. He'd only ever seen Kaylee eat strawberries a handful of times, but each time was enough to give him decidedly un-cool-professional-detached-doctor-like thoughts. It was positively pornographic, if such a word could be used to describe so simple an action. But the fact was, Kaylee looked at strawberries even more hungrily than she did gently used engine parts, which was saying a great deal.
He supposed it had more to do with the girl in the mechanic, than the mechanic in the girl.
He gently moved her hand aside so he could see the extent of the damage. "You didn't break the skin—but it's already starting to swell. We should probably get some ice on it."
Simon walked her down to the infirmary, holding her elbow to steady her as they walked side by side down the metal stairs to the cargo bay floor. Just in case she lost her balance from the knock on the head, he told himself firmly. No... other reason.
When they reached their destination, Kaylee sat on the end of the examination chair, ankles crossed and legs swinging while he rummaged around in the drawer for a chemical cool pack.
Tearing off the paper covering, he pressed the cool-pack to her forehead, frowning. "I should have been more careful."
She giggled as she reached up to hold it in place. "You look like I musta looked, time I was taking my sister's youngest out the kiddie seat and bonked her head on the roof of her husband's hovercar."
"Was the baby all right?"
"She howled for a minute, then her mamma kissed it and made it all better. Fryes are built to last, my daddy says. Takes more than that to dent our hard heads."
"You talk about your father all the time. Are you very close?"
"Do I? I guess I do at that. I worked with my daddy since I was knee-high to a grasshopper in the shop. I love my mamma and all, but yeah, I guess I was always a mite closer to him. It's funny, now that you mention it? I think the reason I took such a shine to that Murphy fellah at the party was because he reminded me just a smidge of my daddy."
"Really?" Simon asked, suddenly feeling a lot better about that Murphy fellow, as he was now picturing Kaylee on the arm of an ageing gentleman farmer rather than some fancy-dan.
"Yeah—bout the same age, and sly and sweet all at once. And I was glad I could talk him out of that eighty-ten nonsense. Poor man was walking about with all sorts of misconceptions, 'fore he met me."
"He's a very lucky man, then, I'd say."
She flushed at the implied compliment, and he felt a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth in answer.
"I was going to ask you if I could borrow the recording, actually. River and I have heard every disc I brought with me about a hundred times."
"Sure, if—" she smiled up at him shyly, "—you promise to dance with me."
"I think I can make that promise," he said, pulling the cooling pack away to inspect the bruise. On impulse, he pressed a soft kiss to her hairline. "There. All better?"
"All better," she said with a grin, her eyes shining as she slid off the chair and stuck her hands deep in her pockets. "I'd better get back to—"
"I wouldn't want the captain to come back and find your job half-done because of me."
"Yeah. Exactly. But later?"
"Later," he confirmed with a smile.
She whistled the waltz as she practically danced out of the infirmary, and Simon watched her go, echoing the tune.