Disclaimer: I don't own. I just play. Sue if you must. I have $1.59 in the checking account. There are 19 sticky pennies in the change jar, many children on the place and even more cats & plastic fish that might bring you wealth beyond your dreams...or not

Almost an Ode

The wake of the Alliance Cruiser came none too soon. The entire crew gulped an easier breath, Serenity's atmo even seemed fresher. By the time the black enveloped them once more, all aboard had felt muscles held rigid, relax, until they looked around. Really looked.

Damn Purple Bellies. Turned it over, dumped it out, stepped on it, kicked it aside and insult to injury – hadn't even the decency to mop up the blood of their own. Without cargo to foot the bill of the side trip, they were indignation aplenty for putting things to rights.

Jayne was the most vocal about folks fingering his girls, pawing through his precious armaments, gloating a mite over what was missed. Entire crew could hear him.

Simon slammed the infirmary doors closed, sick of the haze of profanity tumbling down the stairwell at him. Meticulously, he inventoried every item, right down to the pinky bandages folks used for nicks so's they could get out of doing the dishes. How his things, River's things, had been missed as an odd number of people that should have been on board still made Simon sweat.

Laughing at her brother's residual fears, River danced off with Inara to help the companion reclaim her shuttle. She spent as much time disarranging as putting things away. Inara enjoyed delighted River; holding objects to the muted light, wonder on her face instead of horror. Where her belongings eventually ended up seemed immaterial. It was as if rare spice had been freshly laid in the shuttle, a scent Inara wanted to imprint on her spirit.

In between Jayne's cussing and belly-aching, Book was putting the dining area and kitchen to some order, singing hymns that echoed through the ship, a strange harmony had those two. Gorram it! – Oh, Lord, hear our song – Ass holes! – We raise our hopes unto you – Look what they done! Vera, darlin' they violated your – Lift our needs before yooou. Both rough voiced, both so earnest in their vocalizations. Neither overwhelming the voice of the other, the rhythm strangely punctuated with raw awareness, was creepifying if you listened too close.

It made Mal's head pound, until he realized how annoyed Wash was by the 2-part harmony, then it was sweet music to his ears. Soured a great deal when Wash started singing with 'em. Some ode to a warrior woman he'd composed, written and tweaked a mite during his captivity. The man was in a cell with the others for all of a few hours, fed and given a once over by a medic, so where Wash found time to do all the ode business, no one was rightly sure. He claimed the Commander inspired him to ponder the glorious mystery that was his wife.

Zoe put a stop to 'em them all. Told Jayne to mind his mouth or she'd tend it for him. Asked Book to turn down the volume as she strode through, but what she said to Wash, no one was sure. The yelp that followed her sharp call for him to stop the music, and then the word, "Husband," sounded just slightly more pleasure than pain. Her laughter, gentle as she was strong, suggested she was much happier with private adoration than public worship.

Kaylee, grousing under her breath in the engine room, woulda been happy with any praise, private or public. Her heart still stung from the maligning of her girl. Just went to show you, clean fingernails, snazzy haircut and spiffy smile didn't always make a gentleman. Broad shoulders all squished together as if a brush with Serenity might infect 'em was not where she'd be wanting to rest her head, nor hold on to in the hopes of passion.

Purple Bellied Pigs.

"Thought you liked purple, Kaylee." Mal stuck his head in the engine room.

"Not anymore." Kaylee crab-walked from beneath the hammock having retrieving an armload of tools, wires, and who but she knew what else. The toolbox was a mess, made worse when she dumped her armload of goods in it. Trunks, lockers, bins were dumped and scattered around the suddenly small space. Engine room had always felt roomy, till now.

Mal skipped the steps to help Kaylee drag and right one of the lockers. Smiled when she dropped to her knees, with another curse for the color purple, and started sorting the piles around her. Resting his hand on her shoulder, he asked if there was anything else she needed hauled about.

Looking for all the 'verse as if she might start crying, she shrugged to trap his hand for a moment, but said, "Naw. I'm good. Just gotta keep at it."

"Holler if you need help." Mal nodded, made it as far as the hatch, but turned around to observe her repeatedly running an oily rag over some tool in her lap. Forlorn was not a common sight on his Kaylee, disturbed him. Scrounging for something to say, he grabbed on to the first thought, "You'll like purple again, soon I reckon."

Kaylee chuckled, nested the tool and reached for another. Her smile, flashed brightly at him, "Probably will, Cap'n. But sure won't like liking it like I used to."

"When my brain recovers from all that liking, I'll holler at you for dinner. Shepherd is making some kind a stew. Can't believe the man managed to trade for vegetables while we were dealing with deranged Reavers and baby-faced Commanders." Mal muttered his amazement while heading to check on the infirmary. He imagined the worst of the damage was there, probably ought to face it sooner than later.

Half an hour later, Kaylee said, "Sure. OK."

-o0o-

Dinner was served with a roster of the chaos discovered; secrets left untouched received no more than a nod or an eyebrow lowered in question. Relief mingled with contempt and the aroma of Book's stew. At least they were back in the black, no better off, but no worse. They were heading to Beaumonde to grab, uh retrieve, cargo for delivery on Persephone in a week, where they hoped to pick up more work. Next few days would be time enough to make sure everything was where it should be.

Mal took the helm for the first half of the night cycle, more'n glad to see Wash emerge from his bunk. Loud shirt made his eyes twitch, and he couldn't resist asking, "You got the words to that ode written down yet?"

"I do. You got the price to read 'em?" Wash asked, sliding into the pilot's chair as if he were finally home.

Captain doubted he could afford to see the ode, "Especially if it involves Zoe and my bowels hanging out of my body." He yawned his way to the kitchen for a snack. Sounds of rummaging in the cargo hold distracted him from the left over stew.

Walking around the elevated deck plate, he was not surprised to find Kaylee underneath the flooring. Crouching so's he could bend in and see what the hell she was doing, he drew back and fell on his butt, when she popped up so sudden.

"Sorry!" She gasped; making haste to hide the tool she was about to bash him with behind her back. "Guess I'm a little jumpy."

Mal extended his hands, grinning and rocking back a bit so's she could get to her tools. "Just a little. What you doing? I thought you took care of this already?"

"Mopping up." She raked through her things, frowning over a misplaced tool. "Ah! Here it is. Knew I'd found it. You don't hack on a line and not check on the rest. Stress. Wear. Heat and who knows what them Reavers mighta twisted up. They run ships like they-" she shuddered, not needing to complete that thought. "Just best to make sure."

"I actually understood all that." Mal crossed his legs, grinning at her confusion. Kaylee was always sure she was speaking plain as day; most engine talk was plain as mud to Mal.

She patted his knee, grinning back at him before ducking beneath the floor. "That's cause I wasn't really talking about nothing."

"Just pacifying the Captain huh?" He yawned.

"Mostly." Her voice was farther ahead, following the lines and flashing a light on each connection, turn and slightest bend.

"I'm gonna have a snack. Want one?" Mal stuck his head down in the floor nothing but a bead of light to see.

"Sure." Kaylee's voice echoed back, "I'll be out in a bit. Ah shit, look at this!"

"What?" Mal frowned. Now what?

"I just knew it was too gorram easy…." Kaylee's words came to him mumbled up. She'd stuck the flashlight in her mouth to free her hands.

"Kaylee, you're making me terrible nervous." Mal swung his legs around, intending to dive in and… well, cuss if nothing else. "Kaylee?"

Crawling toward the light, finding it a tighter squeeze than he'd expected, he was blinded when she twisted to tell him to go back, "I can handle this. Don't touch anything!"

"What's wrong?" He interrupted her protective fussing. Wasn't as if he were about to rip Serenity's innards apart, least not on purpose.

"Plan B I'm guessing." Kaylee shoved the flash light into his hand, manipulating it so the light pointed to a couple purple wires with barbed metal tips prodding at … well, hell he didn't know what it was. "See how they're thin, in clusters of three? They're razor sharp, every little bump and jiggle above and below – even Serenity's rotating – will eventually inch it through this coolant line there. Warmer the line gets, warmer the metal gets, like hot knife through butter. God, I miss butter, don't you?"

Mal bonked his head when her tone shifted to the question of butter. "Can you undo it?"

Kaylee shifted his hand once more, "Goes back a long way – gotta trace it all. Slight leak in one place could take weeks to disable us, two or three leaks, would be lots less; especially if we go in and out of atmo in a hurry. Depends on where else it's squirmed in. If Plan B is to swing back 'round, then they'd most likely have barbs in several places, wouldn't want ships to get too far. Make tracking more difficult, though, with Reavers…who knows? Gotta find all the booby traps, get it out without damaging what we got working, check the coolant line, replace what's weakened. Time consuming, but not hard."

"How time consuming?" Mal sighed, rubbed his face and dreaded her answer.

Rolling to her back, slipping gloves back over her hands, Kaylee's sigh was forceful as his. "Depends. Wash needs to watch the heat."

"Great." Mal shoved the flashlight at her and backed out the way he came.

Kaylee shrugged and got to work. He trusted her to get the first booby trap taken care of, no reason not to trust her over this. Didn't send her off to 'keep her busy.' Should have been enough to soothe the scratch in her heart, but it wasn't.

Squirreling herself around a duct, she sighed once more, "Your welcome, sir. Don't bother writing me no ode or nothing."

-o0o-

Mal did bring her a sandwich; a cup of coffee and Wash's assurance the heat wasn't doing any fluctuating. Kaylee figured she was as glad for those as any fanciful words. "Still not liking purple though, just thought I'd mention that."

Mal nodded from his perch above her. Kaylee hadn't bothered to crawl all the way out, just came as far as she did to get a finer tipped tool and better gloves. Barbs galore along those lines, and they shredded her first two pairs to near worthless. Still hadn't found the control box neither, and she was getting nervous about that.

"Sorry to hear it." He rubbed his eyes, gulping coffee with her. "How much more can there be?"

Kaylee snorted, "It's not how much, it's how much damage. Farther in I go, more damage there is. I've spliced a line already, two couplers were cracked and a fuse got shorted. If Shepherd had turned on the oven mighta done us some major damage."

"Kaylee you got any good news?" Mal glared at her.

"Nope. Hand me that and I'll get back to it. Tell Wash to steer her gentle." She tightened her ponytail and disappeared.

"Gentle. Right." Mal stacked the cups and went to tell Wash how to drive.

-o0o-

Jayne liked to split his t-shirt when he found out about the second booby trap. "Second! How's come you didn't mention the first one? Them gorram Reavers just waiting out there!"

Mal walked away from Jayne's frothing. Weren't nothing he could say to ease the man and punching him one wouldn't make Mal feel all that much better.

Kaylee trailed the purple barbed wire. Wash and Mal tried to help, until she chased 'em out for getting in her way. When she poked her head up through the floor in the kitchen, it startled River. This caused a screaming ruckus and made Simon swear at Kaylee asking her what kind of twisted game was she playing?

He tried to stammer an apology, but it was to an empty space in the floor and that didn't make his words come smoother, not by a long stretch. Defeated by River's bellowing about needing to get into the walls to save Kaylee, Simon flapped his hands against his thighs, and shuffled away. He was painfully aware of the tears dripping in the coolant below his feet and muttered at the floor, "How come words come out of my mouth like a scapel?"

Mal, sitting at the table after a short nap, waited until it was quiet once more, then walked around to where Kaylee had appeared. Opening the wrapper on a protein bar, he whispered her name. Kaylee's tattered and taped gloved hand appeared. Mal put the bar in her palm, but held on to her. She tried to twist free, didn't even keep a grip on the nourishment.

"Not gonna let you go, might as well show yourself." Mal tugged a little, not enough to clonk her against anything, but enough to show he meant it.

He heard her sniff, felt her scrubbing off her cheeks with her other hand. How she did that in such a small space, Mal had no clue. Slow as sunrise, she appeared, "Any coffee left to go with this?"

"There is. If you disappear while my back's turned I'll just be coming to help some more. So don't." Mal fetched her some coffee while she nibbled on the protein. He nodded at her hands, "Give me the gloves, I'll tape 'em up some more. Probably better buy these by the case when we get a few coins, huh?"

"Or more tape." Kaylee smiled. It was just a little one, but the effort wasn't much, more tired than weepy.

Mal jabbed his fingers in the glove to hold the shape so's he could tape it up. Glancing at her with a hint of a frown puckering his face, he said, "Wash says heats showing stable."

"Better be." Kaylee leaned her head back, closed her eyes for just a minute, and cradled the cup on her chest. There were as many nicks in her fingers and along the backs of her hands as the gloves. Barbs were sharp, peeking like ice crystals from purple coated wiring. Some had tacked into the electrical system, some just hung useless, but they'd tentacled into most every place they could. She'd found the control box an hour ago, so at least the progress was stopped. Now it was just search and repair. Just.

Her quiet, "Tell me something," nearly didn't reach Mal's ears.

"Hmm, what?" Mal was digging in one of the drawers, looking for the little roll of tape they'd used when Zoe hacked open her thumb a few months back. Might be useful for taping Kaylee instead of just the gloves. He found it and squatted beside her, slid the cup from her grasp and spread her right hand on his thigh. "Tell you what?"

"I forgot." She yawned, giggling a little as he wrestled with the tape and her fingers. "Whatya doing?"

"Taping what's in the gloves." Mal wound it so she could still bend her knuckles, it'd help some he hoped.

"Oh." She yawned again, shook her head and blinked her eyes as if were difficult to focus. "Good plan."

"I have 'em now and then." Mal smoothed her other hand across his knee, not liking the stain of the coolant coating her skin. Too much like the brown of long blood dried for his taste. Color was disturbing on Kaylee's competent hands.

"Didn't realize she was there. Wouldn't scare her on purpose, not even playing." Kaylee whispered, one chubby tear rolling down her cheek before she smeared it away. "Hand me them gloves. I'm not far from done."

Mal caught her hand, sandwiching it between his. "Traps enough out here you can't avoid. Don't be taking barbs into your heart that can be. Avoided I mean."

Squeezing his hand, she smiled, "That was almost an ode, weren't it?"

"Like I'd write an ode." He flung the gloves at her. It was a mite startling when she popped forward and kissed his cheek, but Mal grabbed the opportunity. Gripping her shoulders to stop her from slithering away too quick, "Words don't prove love, Kaylee."

"Don't they?" She giggled, saucy as any come-looksie gal hanging out on the docks on Persephone.

Rolling his eyes, he tried to shake a bit of sense into her, "If they did, Wash'd have a dozen wives."

Kaylee's face took no seconds to grow sober. Her gloved thumb tried to smooth the furrows on Mal's forehead. Light as her touch, she asked, "Words ease the way though, don't they?"

"Sometimes they just muck it up all the more." He dropped her back in the hole when she giggled at him.

Kaylee scurried to the next Reaver trap, humming one of the Shepherd's hymns. From her throat, and bouncing off Serenity's heart, it was a comforting sound.