“Cap’n, you ever wonder how come God don’t let it rain in all the places he ought to?” Kaylee lifted her hand to shield her eyes as she stared out into the windy desert waste they’d landed in.
Mal drew in a breath. “Got a real easy answer for that, Kaylee,” he replied.
Zoe, Wash and Jayne pulled up beside them on the mule, about to ride into town. “Don’t listen to him, Kaylee,” Wash warned. “He’s broken.”
Mal put his hand on his gun. “Can break your face too,” he warned.
“Not funny, sir.” Zoe pursed her lips, squeezing Wash’s shoulder to get him to drive on. “We’ll be back in a few hours. Try not to corrupt Kaylee in that time.”
Mal rolled his eyes. “Do whatever I want on my own gorram boat!” he shouted at them, but they’d already driven out of hearing range.
Kaylee twisted the belt loop on her jumper. “Well, what answer you got, Cap’n?”
Mal turned to stare properly at her. “You don’t mean t’tell me you been on this boat all this time and don’t know me and God had a fallin’ out, to the point that I decided he don’t exist?”
Kaylee’s brow furrowed. She had a wide-open, innocent expression on her face that completely took Mal off his guard. He understood suddenly that she’d never realized he didn’t believe in God, because she never realized a person had a choice in the matter. “Don’t understand,” she said.
Mal stared hard out into the wasteland. This wasn’t territory he wanted to go down, especially not with Kaylee. “You don’t got to, just know that as a fact.”
Kaylee shook her head, confused. The wind stirred, picking up her hair to blow into her face. “You can’t . . . just not believe in God.”
The broken confusion in her voice dug at Mal. He wanted to stalk off and slam a few doors. Instead he turned his back to the desert, walking back into the cargo bay. Kaylee waited a few seconds, before following him. “Cap’n?” she meekly called.
Mal had reached the stairwell already, but paused at her voice. He hung his head, exhaling. “Just drop it, Kaylee.”
She approached, timidly, like she might go to a frightened cat. “Y’don’t believe in Jesus or nothing, neither?” she questioned.
Mal lifted his head to glare at her, so his eyes would tell her his heart.
Kaylee shook her head sadly. “’Cause of th’war, huh? They beat it out o’you.”
Mal leaned heavily against the railing. “It’s all just fairytales to pacify folk what need pacifyin’. Been over the need for story tales a long time now. Don’t need no superheroes to believe in.”
“Jesus weren’t no fairytale, though. He was a real person, and terrible things happened to him.” She reached out to touch Mal, letting her hand hover over him for a bit before she did, afraid he’d skitter away.
“Just ‘cause it’s well written don’t make it no more real.”
“But . . . but he died. Heroes ain’t supposed t’die, not in fairy tales.”
“No, they ain’t.” Mal’s eyes flashed sharp at her. “Real heroes are the folk that get other folk killed, is what.”
“That don’t make ‘em not heroes.” Kaylee shook her head. “Jesus made mistakes. He doubted lots, too. Hell, he fell in love with a whore, Cap’n. That ain’t like in no fairy tale I ever read.”
Mal judged her for several long seconds. “Maybe you just ain’t reading the right type.” He cocked his head to the side, pulling away from her. “You want a hero what gets himself and other folk killed, and makes mistakes, and falls in love with whores, then you enjoy your Bible. It ain’t my cup of meat, and I ain’t much enjoying your badgerin’ th’point.”
Kaylee looked crestfallen. “Yes, sir.”
“Now, earlier y’told me y’had repairs t’be doin’, so I suggest you be doin’ ‘em. I got six contacts to get back to ‘bout rentin’ out the spare shuttle and about two hours to reply to ‘em all. Expectin’ not t’be disturbed during, dong ma?”
Kaylee pressed her lips together, clearly fighting back tears, then nodded and pushed past him, running up the stairs.
Mal watched her depart forlornly, before taking a deep breath and closing his eyes.