Pairing: Malcolm Reynolds/Kaylee Frye
Spoilers: The original series. No spoilers for the Serenity movie.
I’ve never been a shipper, and I never had an OTP. Sure, there are some pairings I like more than others, and some I stay away from. But I’ve never been really invested in any particular pairing. I’ve never passionately felt that two characters not canonically involved really belonged together in a way that pretty much ignores my entire philosophical outlook and makes claims to objectivity that it cannot hold. (Deliberate Sam/Diane relationships like Wes/Fred, Josh/Donna, or even Mulder/Scully are somewhat different—then there’s at least a sort of implicit textual evidence.) They’re fictional characters, after all—they belong with whomever the fanficcer says they belong.
And then I watched Firefly. And as I watched—I really don’t think I got all that far past “Serenity,” really—I found myself responding to a text in a way that I never had before. As I watched Mal and Kaylee interact, I came to the realization—it was more of a visceral experience than an intellectual act—that these two people belonged with each other. Not just that they belonged together, but that I was passionately committed to the thought of the two paired. For the first time in my fannish experience, I was a shipper.
I had an OTP.
Raised by his mother and forty ranch hands on the planet Shadow, Malcolm Reynolds' beginnings were anything but auspicious. One doesn’t have to be brought up in the lap of luxury to be given what it takes to live a good life, however: a sense of honor, firm moral principles, and faith in humans and in God. While canon is unclear, we can assume it was that honor and those principles which ultimately involved him in the war against the sprawling and bureaucratic galactic Alliance, fighting on the side of the brown-coated Independents who believed that the rim planets should have their power to govern themselves. We know that it was his faith which sustained him through the many battles.
All that changed in the Battle of Serenity Valley. While the Independent resistance far exceeded the expectations of the Alliance, it was nonetheless a crippling defeat for the Browncoats. After taking heavy losses, the Independents retreated, leaving their forces on the ground to surrender to their Alliance foes. Mal was devastated, and it could be said (although not with complete honesty) that Mal left his honor, his principles, and his faith in Serenity Valley. Lacking any real sense of direction or purpose, Mal bought a Firefly-class ship, named it Serenity, and became, for all intents and purposes, a space pirate.
He surrounded himself with all the best talent he could find. Zoe Warren, a soldier who had fought under him during the war, was his first mate. Highly-recommend pilot Hoban Washburne became the helm officer. A mercenary named Jayne Cobb was employed as a hired gun as part of a particularly tricky “negotiation.” And a “genius” mechanic known as Bester was hired on as the ship’s engineer. If it hadn’t been for this last young man's never satisfied libido, Serenity might still be just a pirate ship and never have become a family, and Mal’s principles would still be buried in Serenity Valley.
We don’t know what planet Kaywinnit Lee Frye was born on. Actually, we know surprisingly little about her childhood, although we can assume she isn’t extremely highly educated. What we do know is that at some point, Serenity landed on that planet experiencing technical difficulty. It took Bester a week longer than planned to fix the engine, until Mal entered the engine room to discover Bester and Kaylee engaged in vigorous sex. Kaylee quickly demonstrated that it wasn’t actually the grav boot (as Bester had thought) at all that was wrong, and it wasn’t long before Serenity was in the air with a new mechanic in her engine room—-after she asked her folks, of course.
Unlike Bester, Kaylee is no “genius.” Her skill with machines is based on pure native skill. Still, her unorthodox methods work as well or better than more traditional “intellectual” methods as she is able to intuit precisely what Serenity needs. As she puts it, machines “talk” to her. Kaylee’s skill with machines is matched only by her skill with people. Kaylee herself quickly became integrated into the crew of Serenity; indeed, it seems likely that her presence was the crucial element needed to transform the crew into a family.
Kaylee embodies each of the three theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—and none of these more so than love. She loves with vigor and is easy to love in return. Is there a member of the Serenity crew who wouldn’t go to the end of ‘verse and back to get her something she needed or wanted? Of course, this isn’t due to any real “people skills” in the Dale Carnegie sense. While we’ve seen in “Serenity” that she can be an effective salesman, that’s because she’s always honest. She doesn’t try to manipulate others, she just loves them and they can’t help loving her back. After all, when she does attempt to get a specific response with Simon, she finds herself constantly tripping over herself, uncertain of what to say or do. (And isn’t she adorable like that?)
Kaylee has faith in other human beings. She’s not afraid to put trust in others—after all, she agreed to set sail with the Serenity crew without a moment’s hesitation (other than saying she had to ask her folks first). She has hope for the future, that tomorrow will be better than today. In short, she is exactly what Malcolm Reynolds needs.
"I Love My Captain"
The love between Mal and Kaylee is canonical. We see Kaylee kiss Mal in the very first episode (and can I help it that my heart does flips every time I watch it?). As the series goes on (woefully short as it is), we see how deeply that love runs. We see Mal’s reaction to Kaylee’s being shot in “Serenity.” We see what happens when they have a mild falling out in “Shindig”—and can I mention how I squee when Mal brings Kaylee to the ball? We see her reaction to Saffron in “Our Mrs. Reynolds”—unlike Inara, who is clearly upset, she holds only gladness for Mal’s new relationship, because she sincerely wants what is best for him. And when Mal wakes up afterwards, whom does he kiss? Kaylee.
Kaylee is the only person on Serenity who doesn't respond to Mal as the captain. (Well, except for calling him captain.) Instead, she interacts with him as a friend, a confidant, another human being. A lover? Perhaps. But certainly their relationship is unique on the ship.
All that said and being true, I have to admit it is something of a jump from their deep and canonical love to any type of sexual or romantic relationship. But I honestly believe the foundation is in place, right there in canon where everyone can see.
Why I Ship
Okay, enough with canon. Mal/Kaylee will never be canon, and I don’t particularly want it to be canon. I’m satisfied that canon contains a rich potential for a Mal/Kaylee romance. If you need to ask why I ‘ship with Kaylee, though, then you’re not a het male. (Okay, given the statistical demographics of fandom, you probably aren’t a het male. But let me make my case in peace.) Hell, I’d even go so far as to question if you were human. Kaylee was clearly deliberately made to be the character whom everyone loved—sort of a Willow-squared—and, IMHO, Joss and his staff succeeded with flying colors. When she is in danger, one’s heart turns upside down. When she’s happy, we’re happy. One thus wants her to be happy—whether with Simon, or Mal, or somebody else. Add to that the fact that she is a) pretty, b) hot, and c) beautiful. (Three very different things in my opinion.) Why wouldn’t someone ‘ship Kaylee?
*mass of Kaylee/Jayne shippers shrug their shoulders in unison*
So the question becomes: Why Mal? Why not Simon or Jayne or Wash? I’m sure even Book/Kaylee has its (comparatively small?) share of fans. I’m a huge fan of the femslash (what het male isn’t?); why not Kaylee/River or Kaylee/Inara? (Again, I’m sure that someone, somewhere, ‘ships Kaylee/Zoe.)
Mal is the Everyman. Even though Simon is more like me in many ways, my identification with him is primarily intellectual, as I recognize (many, many) aspects of myself in him. My identification with Mal, on the other hand, is much more visceral; he speaks to what it means to be human. I don’t identify with Mal because he is like me, but because his story so perfectly sums up the human condition that I cannot help but see him in myself.
I’m Glad You Made That Distinction
As my character analyses might have suggested, Mal and Kaylee in a lot of ways couldn’t be more different. Kaylee is happiness, love, vitality, the life force. Mal, on the other hand, represents the existential plight of human beings trapped in a world without meaning and struggling for purpose. This means, however, that they fit together perfectly, complementarily, the yin and the yang. After all, don’t we want human beings in a meaningless universe to find happiness and connect with the life force? (Not to pretend that I’m above the fact that if I identify with Mal, and if Mal is with Kaylee . . . well, anyone with a mastery of basic logic can complete that syllogism.) Admittedly, the gender dynamic when one examines their relationship this way can be somewhat disturbing—but it in all likelihood the archetypal nature of their relationship is precisely that which moves me so viscerally. Millennia of ways of viewing the world get internalized and die hard.
And even as they are different, Mal and Kaylee share a lot in common. There’s the obvious: they both live on Serenity, they both are involved in crime, etc. But the commonality runs deeper than that. Both rely on intuition above “book knowledge,” for example. They’re tactile, relating to objects rather than ideas, and they're both comfortable with their bodies. After “Objects in Space,” both have gone through traumatic experiences. (Although there’s no reason to believe Kaylee isn’t subjected to traumatic experience just as often as everyone else, and every reason to believe she would have continued to have been thus subjected on a regular basis if Joss had been able to continue the series.)
And, of course, the deepest thing they have in common: Serenity. In truth, my OTP is really an OT3, because Serenity is always there, a very real presence in the relationship. Both Mal and Kaylee have fallen in love with the ship in a way that no one else on the ship has. From across the junkyard (or shipyard or whatever that was in “Out of Gas”) Mal instantly connected with Serenity. And Kaylee grew to love her just as quickly, as she instantly understood the ship’s workings and needs. Their joint love for the ship is one of the pair’s deepest bonds.
Mal and Kaylee belong together. He needs her in order to get back what he lost in Serenity Valley—faith, hope, and love. In return, she gets a chance to love, a chance to give. She gets a man who is no longer afraid to be a good man. The two of them get the romance they both need but cannot seem to be able to find in canon—perhaps because they are looking in the wrong places and ignoring the deep and heartfelt love they already have.
This is pretty much every Mal/Kaylee fic I've ever found--and as such, quality varies somewhat. In no particular order:
http://www.unfitforsociety.net/musesfool/1000rainydays.htm -- A Thousand Rainy Days, by Victoria p. Almost a drabble, at 105 words, this sums up the way I like to think Mal thinks of Kaylee in the privacy of his bunk. Too short to really set a scene, though.
http://www.voyeuse.net/mk.html -- Repairs, by Molly. Post-“War Stories.” Kaylee deals with her inability to kill during “War Stories.”
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1277478/1/ -- On the Mend, by MollyTM. Another post-“War Stories,” angst, only this time a friendship fic.
http://www.livejournal.com/users/mosca/93727.html -- Stupidity Tries, by Mosca. Mal/Kaylee/Inara. Enough said.
http://www.livejournal.com/users/liminalliz/495868.html -- She Likes Her People, by Liminalliz. River’s POV of Kaylee’s relationships with Simon and Mal.
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1105818/1/ -- Deck the Airlocks, by Angel Grace. Mal and Kaylee celebrate the holiday. Well, so do the rest of the crew I guess, but who cares about them?
http://firefly.populli.org/archive/1/solong.shtml -- So Long, by Kate Elizabeth/moonwhip.
http://www.geocities.com/moonwhip/solongcoda.html -- So Long Coda, by Kate Elizabeth/moonwhip. Mal and Kaylee on a deserted planet. Hey, whatever it takes.
http://www.geocities.com/moonwhip/childish.html -- Childish Things, by Kate Elizabeth/moonwhip. Mal and Kaylee bond over memories of flowers.
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1369091/1/ -- The Gift, by Maystone. Kaylee keeps on giving.
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1210161/1/ -- Battleground, by Maystone. More post-“War Stories” angst. This time with post-“Objects in Space” angst thrown in.
http://www.geocities.com/profoundly_shallow/Otherfics/fflygunslinger.htm -- Gunslinger's Defeat, by Profshallowness. Serenity gets a cat.
http://www.fireflyfans.net/sunroomitem.asp?i=1247 – The Way We Never Met: Champagne High, by Athenae. An AU, if you hadn’t guessed from the title. An alternate meeting for Mal and Kaylee.
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2215280/1/ -- Things Change on the Blink of an Eye, by Jilly H. “Serenity” angst.
ETA: There's a shiny new Mal/Kaylee community over at iluvmycaptain! Go there!