Title: Kiss of Death

Author: Lokaia

A/N: Tenth in a series of thirty for the LJ community, 30Kisses.

Disclaimer: They are not mine, they belong to the wonderful, the merciful, the genius of Joss "Grr! Argh!" Whedon.

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"...You're joking."

A slight pause, forgiven because of the surprise involved, and Zoe remembers who she's talking to. "Sir."

Mal just looks at her, hardly bothered from the lack of title. No, the weariness and frustration on his face certainly has nothing to do with /Zoe/. More the jolt of realization as they'd actually sat down to plan their latest job. "No, I'm not. It's our only option."

"Wash, then."

"You think he could ever stop talkin' long enough?"

"The doctor?"

"Too well known on the Core."

"...Book?"

That just gets her another look.

The woman leans against the wall, a hand to her forehead as if in /physical pain/ from her current thoughts. "Sir... it's a party. It's a party for the Core's richest and finest. And you want /Jayne/ to go in?"

"/Want/ him? No." Mal, hands braced on the kitchen table, sets his jaw, staring hard in thought. "Need him? Yeah. We need someone in there while we go through." His first mate still looking a little too doubtful for his liking, Mal adds hopefully, "He'll have a radio. He knows how to work one of those."

"Sir, I ain't concerned with the usage of the radio. I'm more concerned with the usage of his head."

"Or lack of it." Mal sighs and stands, running a hand through short hair. A moment's pause and he turns to Zoe, hands outspread. "...I'm waitin' for better suggestions here."

And /oh, how she would like to give him one. But it's only a minute later, with a very sour look on her face, that Zoe drops the hand from her eyes and faces him, soldier to commander. "...Who's his date?"

"His what-now?"

"No one goes to a fancy Core party without a date, sir. And maybe it'd be better if he had supervision, too."

Mal smiles, plopping down in the chair he'd just leaned over, with an arm slung over the back. "I knew you'd come around, Zo." But he's lost in thought soon enough, eyes averted. "Can't be Inara... she's too easy to trace back to us, too well known. You gotta be with me. Kaylee..." A flash over his gaze. He /hates/ bringing Kaylee right in the middle of jobs, the image of gun shots and stomach wounds always fresh in his mind. But, at the moment, she seems their best chance.

"You think she could ever stop talkin' long enough?"

Then again, maybe not. Mal just grins again, giving Zoe a look. "She'd be off on gears and whatsits and blow her fanciful lady image soon enough, now I think about it. And that leaves..."

The look on his first mate's face probably mirrored his own. "Sir..."

"I don't like it either." They could go to Inara, ask her to figure out some kind of face-mask; the doctor's life could be threatened until he figured out a way to keep her calm, though now he thinks about it /Jayne/ seemed to be calming her lately... Looking up again, Mal spreads his hands. "...I'm waitin' for better suggestions here."

She says nothing at first. At least, until, legs apart, back straight, and hands crossed behind her back, she comments, "I think they got a name for this kind of situation, sir."

"What's that?"

"'Kiss of death'."

Mal, insane as he is, was, and ever will be, just grins at her. "Let's go tell the happy couple to pucker up then."

Sometimes, Zoe hates her captain.