"Nothin'," Kaylee said, her eyes wide with fear and wonder. "Not a peep."
"This is not good," Wash said. "Nothing good ever comes of Mal... bottling."
Inara groaned. "I can't just watch while he self-destructs."
"Why not?" Jayne asked. "Could be a mite entertainin'." His smirk faded at River's glare. "I'm just sayin'," he shrugged.
"Mal doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to let somethin' like this go," Kate frowned. "Did he tell anyone where he's gone?"
"Oh no," Simon said, a look of dread marring his features. "Dr. Foster."
River sighed. "He gave you the drugs, and the theories, and the speculation, but you can't replace what's been taken. Humans are highly adaptable creatures," she told her brother. "Give me time, not needles."
"Dr. Foster isn't taking patients today," the pretty, young Asian woman at the desk informed Mal.
"I ain't a patient," Mal said, barely concealing the growl in his voice. "Me an' the good doctor got us some business to discuss."
Mal raised an eyebrow and his nostrils flared. He braced both hands on her desk and leaned in close. "I ain't fond o' doin' violence to womenfolk, but if you don't let me in to see that huài dàn sham of a yi sheng right this very second, little girl, I promise you there will be trouble."
"Right this way, sir," the girl said, not so much as flinching as she stood and opened the door for him. "Dr. Foster's office is the third door on the left, just after the scales."
Mal headed down the hallway with a courteous nod to the girl, and she sat back down at her desk. She pressed a button on the cortex panel at her desk. "Malcolm Reynolds to see you, doctor."
"Something's wrong," River said casually, watching Jayne and Simon as they attempted to play cards, both of the men distracted by the toddler under the table unlacing their shoes.
"Hm?" Simon asked, raising an eyebrow and turning to spare his sister the slightest of glances.
"Something's wrong," she repeated.
"What's that, bao bei?" Jayne asked, laying down his cards. "Read 'em an' weep, doc," he said proudly. "That's dish duty for a month, Dr. Fancy Pants."
"Wrong!" River insisted. "Why won't you listen?"
Kaylee came in and set a glass of juice down next to River. "What's wrong, mei-mei?"
River looked thoughtful. "The doctor's dead," she said, finally.
"I'm not losing that badly," Simon said, offering Kate a smile as she entered the room. "I could still make a comeback, you know."
"Not you," Kate said, frowning. "I was just on the bridge with Wash, and it's all over the Cortex. Your Dr. Foster? They just found him dead."
"What?" Simon stood up and made to head for the bridge. He got two steps before he fell on his face, much to the amusement of the toddler under the table, who shrieked with laughter.
Jayne's booming laughter echoed Hannah's, until he got up himself. He made it two steps further than Simon had before falling nearly on top of him, and Hannah's peals of giggles were drowned out by a particularly creative string of Chinese curses. "She tied ya together! She really is her daddy's girl, ain't she?" Kaylee commented, bending to peer under the table at the little girl, who stopped laughing long enough to smile innocently at her.
River offered them a weak smile. "I told you."
"You ain't Dr. Foster," Mal said plainly. That much was obvious.
"No," the woman sitting at the doctor's desk replied. "I'm the grieving widow."
"Right. Who ain't you married to, these days?" The doctor was dead, then, Mal realized. And he'd been plannin' to do some quality violence to the man, too.
Saffron smiled. "It's good to see you, too, hubby."
"Mm," Mal grunted. "What did ya do to the good doctor, then?"
Saffron looked scandalized. "Didn't lay a hand on the man," she said, with a look of innocence that Mal recognized from his first encounter with the woman, and therefore didn't buy for a second. "I didn't, jackass," she insisted. "He blew the back of his head off in the bathroom last night. They've probably found him by now, though."
Okay, now Mal was interested. "He done it himself and robbed me of the pleasure? Now, that's a damn shame."
"Yeah," Saffron nodded. "Except for the part where he left me every damn thing he owned in his will. I'm a rich woman, finally."
"Well, good for you," Mal said, suspiciously. "What the gorram hell you doin' here?"
"I knew you'd be around, when Thad described your prissy doctor to a tee," she said, standing up and moving closer. "Now that you know the truth and all, I knew you'd want revenge, and I was thinking maybe I could help ya get it."
"How can you help me?"
"You seen what I done to your ship, and in no time flat," she said, her eyes softening just the tiniest bit. "You know I'm good with tech. I can help you spread the word about the Guild."
"Okay, let me rephrase," Mal said. "Why would you help me? And why would I let you?"
Saffron rolled her eyes. "The Guild had me fooled, too, you idiot. I spent I-don't-know-how-many years living like I was dying only to find out when I married this fat old bastard that I'm not, and that makes me all kinds of angry. And when I get angry, I get even. I wish I had pulled the trigger," she said honestly. "I would have been happy to stay Mrs. Yolanda Haymer, but when you think you aren't going to live out the year, you do stupid things." She sounded almost wistful.
Mal smirked. "Like Heinrich the security programmer?"
Crossing her arms, Saffron glared daggers at Mal. "Yes, just like that," she said, scowling. "Do you want my help, or not?"
Mal pretended to think. "I'm gonna have to go with 'not.'" He turned to leave.
"Wait," she called, desperation slipping into her voice. "I'm tired of running," she said, and he scanned her face for any kind of hint that she wasn't lying through her teeth. "I want to find a life of my own, but first I need to be able to move on from this, okay, Mal? I want to help."
"No." Mal slammed the door behind him.
"We don't know he's walking into a trap," Wash said reasonably. "Maybe he gets to the office, finds out the doctor's dead, and... I don't know, goes shopping for a new brown leather duster and a funny hat."
Kate, Kaylee and River all rolled their eyes in sync, and Simon snorted.
"You three are spendin' way too much time together," Jayne said, shaking his head.
Inara glided into the room, and immediately looked stricken. "I heard the word trap and I don't see Mal," she said, frowning. "He's done something very stupid again, hasn't he?"
"Possibly," Simon said honestly. "We can't be sure, but... Wash and Kate just heard over the Cortex that Dr. Foster committed suicide sometime last night, and we think Mal's gone to his offices to exact some kind of foolish revenge."
Inara sat down calmly at the table. "If whoever he finds at that office doesn't kill him, I may," she said, her nostrils flaring ever-so-slightly.
"I'm starting to hope he did go shopping," Kate said, leaning back in her seat. "Do you folks ever make, y'know, friends with people? Or is it strictly mortal enemies, all the way?"
"The mortal enemies tend to kill the friends," Jayne said bluntly.
"Looks like Mal did go shopping," Wash said, as Mal walked in, looking very annoyed. "Clearance sale at She-Devils R Us, Captain?"
The others looked up to see Saffron standing a little bit behind the captain.
"Becky?" Kate asked, surprised. "God, it's been years. What are you doing here?"