Written for Three Ships 2008.
There were garlands of flowers hung on Serenity's engine. They were pink and peach and cream, delicately beautiful, and Kaylee didn't realize that they were artificial until she leaned closer to give one a sniff. It was a real sweet thought, prettying up her girl like that. She needed to be able to get to the engine, though--one garland was draped right over that tetchy power coupling--so she unwound the flowers carefully and hung them over her bed with some electrical tape she had in her pocket.
"These are pretty," Simon said the next time he came down to visit. "Where'd you get them?"
Kaylee frowned. "They're a present. I thought maybe you had--"
But Simon was shaking his head. "Perhaps Inara gave them to you," he suggested. "As a...well..."
Wedding gift, Kaylee thought, even though they weren't married exactly. Neither of them could think about something like that just yet, when Zoe's eyes were still so bruised that it hurt to look at her sometimes. They were something together, though, something more than just bed partners or even sweethearts. Maybe it was that they'd shared a home and a family for so long--though the Captain would growl if he heard her call them that--that everything seemed bigger and more important than if they'd been strangers before they started seeing each other.
"Maybe," Kaylee agreed and pulled Simon under the blankets with her. It didn't occur to her until after Simon had left that he'd only seen the flowers hanging over her bed. It would've made sense for someone like Inara to put a gift congratulating the two of them there...but flowers on the engine could only be meant for Kaylee.
The poem was written out on paper, Chinese characters traced in black ink by a brush, and Kaylee wasn't sure which part of that was the most astonishing. She lifted it up from her pillow to peer at it closer, but that didn't help much with the reading of it. There was "flower" and "electricity" and a handful of other words that she could puzzle out, but the rest of the characters were ones she either didn't know or just couldn't recognize handwritten. The writing was real elegant, but it wasn't the crisp, precise font that she'd been used to in school.
It would be easiest to just ask Simon what it said, but somehow she couldn't make herself do that. He already knew she wasn't educated like he was, but knowing something and understanding it were two different things. She didn't want the difference between them any more obvious than it had to be. Besides, he'd given her the poem and expected her to read it; she wasn't about to confess that she couldn't.
Luckily, she had other people that she could ask for help. "I got something, and I was wondering if you could help me with it," she said, a little shyly, and handed the paper to Inara.
Inara's eyes widened slightly as she felt the thick paper beneath her fingertips, and then she said, "Of course. Would you like it in Chinese or English?"
Inara nodded and read it out loud in her soft, flowing accent, while Kaylee shivered half from the words of the poem and half from the way Inara read them. There was a brief silence after Inara had finished, and then Kaylee said, "Wow."
Inara smiled. "English now?"
"No, that's okay. I got it. Well, most of it, anyways."
"I could write the translation out for you, if you like," Inara said delicately. "I noticed several subtle allusions and metaphors that are a bit difficult to see fully on the first reading. I wouldn't mind having a little more time to tease them out and do a proper translation."
Even knowing that Inara was only being diplomatic couldn't prevent the rush of gratitude and relief that her words caused. "That would be great. Is it a famous love poem, then?"
Inara frowned a little at the sheet of paper in her hand. "I don't think so. I could check on the computer, but it's not the work of any poet I recognize."
"Oh," Kaylee said, feeling her stomach twist a bit. Was it not a love poem after all? It sounded like one...but maybe that was just the illusions and metaphors that Inara mentioned. Maybe it meant something else entirely.
"No, I suspect that this love poem was written for you," Inara said.
"Oh." Kaylee grabbed Inara to her in a sudden hug, and Inara laughed gently and hugged back. "Nobody ever wrote me a poem before. 'Specially not one as beautiful as this."
"Considering some of the poetry I've had written for me, I think that you're very lucky to have escaped that particular honor until you found someone who could do it properly," Inara said with a smile.
Six months to the day that she and Simon had started seeing each other, Kaylee went to her closet in the forlorn hope of finding a shirt that didn't have any grease stains, at least, only to discover something a hundred times better. The dress didn't look like it came out of a fairy tale, exactly, but it maybe looked a little like what Inara would wear: all clean, elegant lines in a sort of shimmery blue fabric that couldn't possibly be silk, but was a real good imitation.
She stripped out of her regular clothes and pulled the dress over her head, then paused just long enough to zip it and make sure there wasn't a tag hanging out anywhere before she went to Simon's to show it off.
"What do you think?" she asked the moment he let her in, suddenly self-conscious about her messy hair and lack of make-up. It wouldn't have taken more'n half an hour to fix herself up properly, instead of running over like an impatient little kid.
But Simon didn't seem to mind too much. "You look absolutely beautiful," he said, staring at her with a look on his face that made her knees go a bit weak. "What's the occasion?"
Kaylee tilted her head to the side. "The occasion? You mean you didn't get this for me?"
"No." Simon frowned. "What makes you think I did?"
Kaylee shrugged helplessly. "It just appeared in my closet today. Who else could've done it, the Cap'n?" Even as she spoke the words, she knew that couldn't be right. There were presents, and then there were presents, and a dress like this wasn't the type of thing you gave someone just because.
"Maybe," Simon said dubiously. He seemed about to say more, but a soft humming announced River's approach, just before she walked by in a pink dress that was the twin to Kaylee's.
"River," Simon said, a sudden warning note in his voice, and River turned and walked over to them, still humming.
Kaylee smiled at her, despite her confusion. "Was it you who's been leaving me all these gifts, then, mei mei?" she asked.
"Tokens of esteem," River said gravely. "Fair gifts for a fairer lady."
"Tokens of what?"
Simon pinched the bridge of his nose briefly, then let go. "I believe that River is saying that she's courting you."
Kaylee goggled at the two of them. "Courting me?" River looked at her expectantly. "But, mei mei, you know that Simon and I are together."
River nodded again. "It would be a symbiotic relationship."
"We would balance each other's strengths and weaknesses," Simon explained, "although I'm not certain that--"
"I never forget anniversaries," River interrupted, and Simon went rather red.
"Oh. Is today-- I hadn't realized that, um..."
"Not really," Kaylee said, taking pity on him, at the same time that River said, "Six months."
"It's okay, though," Kaylee said quickly. "Six months doesn't really count."
"Except in your heart and mine," River said.
Kaylee brushed River's hair back from her face with a gentle hand, trying her best to soften the words she needed to say. "I'm not going to give up on Simon just because he's a mite forgetful."
"I'm not going to give up on Simon ever," River said. The kiss she pressed to Kaylee's mouth just then didn't exactly follow that argument, but it was sweet and soft. When she pulled away again, Kaylee couldn't help but wish that it hadn't been short, as well.
"I promise, Simon," River said seriously, and kissed him, too.
Kaylee blinked a little, though it wasn't all that surprising. Well, not to her, anyway; Simon looked more than a bit gobsmacked.
Simon let River take the kiss--he always did let her have whatever she really wanted, Kaylee thought fondly--though he looked sad and serious when she dropped back onto her heels; she'd had to go up on her tiptoes to reach his mouth. "River," he began.
"Complete the circle."
Kaylee didn't need more invitation than that to kiss Simon; she never had done. And if, after a minute, she reached a hand out to River and pulled her into their embrace, well, they'd figure that out eventually. Simon and River were smart; there wasn't much of anything they couldn't figure out if they tried.