Beginning's End

"It's a little bit romantic, ain't it?" Kaylee was straining to watch the quiet farewell at the far end of the cargo hold. Inara's voice was too soft to be heard and Riddick, as usual, didn't seem to be saying much of anything.

"I'm not sure romantic is applicable." Simon helped ease her onto one of the crates. "You still need to be careful, Kaylee. Don't wear yourself out."

"Oh, I'm fine, Simon. No need to be fussin'." She blushed under his attentions, trying to get more comfortable on the crude seat. It had been near to a day before he'd let her out of the infirmary to move about.

"Don't see why she's wantin' to say goodbye anyhow," Jayne muttered from beneath the weight bar. "Ain't like three hours is somethin' out of the ordinary. There were this one doxy back on Persephone, red hair and a pair of--"

"I doubt that's why she wanted to say goodbye." Book interrupted, watching the exchange almost as carefully as Kaylee.

River tipped her head to the side as she watched. "Not what you think, the words aren't important."

"See? That's romantic, ain't it?" Kaylee grinned.

"Can't wait to be rid of us. Hates the sun and the noise." River drifted closer until Simon put a hand on her arm to stop her. "He's afraid."

Jayne snorted as he settled the weight bar and sat up. "Of Inara? Or of you peerin' into his brain all sorts?"

"Of us. Of Serenity." River had an enigmatic smile on her lips.

"That ain't can be right. Man killed near a dozen of those sons of whores. Ain't no way he'd be 'fraid of anyone on this boat. Exceptin' me, duhn ruhn."

Further conversation was halted by Riddick abruptly turning down the ramp, his broad shoulders swallowed up in the bright light of Santo. They'd landed a day's hard walk from to the nearest settlement to let off their reluctant passenger. It was a mixed bag of emotions watching him disappear and Serenity close up to head back to the black.

Inara's eyebrows rose as she approached them. "Did you manage to hear any of that?"

"Not a gorram word," Kaylee sighed with disappointment.

"It wasn't anything exciting. A few bits of advice for getting around in this verse."

"Man can fly a ship and kill someone proper, what else you conjure he needs?" Jayne looked puzzled.

"Inara? About what you did." Kaylee turned red with embarrassment and dropped her gaze to her lap.

"It's all right, Kaylee," Inara soothed quickly. "There's no way I would have let him touch you."

"I woulda done it. Even though he scared me somethin' awful."

"Kaylee?" Simon looked as shocked as the rest of them.

"What? I ain't s'pose to feel bad she did it on account of me?"

"Kaylee." Inara reached out to touch her face gently. "Nothing happened. He just wanted a safe place to sleep, that's all."

"Sleep? That's feihua. No way a man'd waste three hours in your shuttle sleepin'." Shaking his head with disbelief, Jayne lay back down and picked up the hand weights.

"You gotta tell the Cap'n. He plays like it don't but it's been eatin' him up somethin' fierce." Kaylee winced when she tried to move, fresh pain radiating through her back. "Shoulda seen him while you were in there. Near came to rescue you more'n a few times."

"How noble of him," Inara said tightly and started up stairs to return to her shuttle.

"Gotta be sly," Jayne huffed as he lifted the weights.

"Said I was beautiful. That ain't sly." Kaylee pulled a face when he scowled at her.

"Ain't the point. He'd be some sorta buhn dahn not to get sexed with Inara. Man ain't right in the head says no to that."

"Man ain't right." River echoed, her smile widening as she spun slow circles out into the now empty cargo hold. "He's some kind of crazy."