Zoe stepped onto the bridge. Mal, sitting in the pilot chair, didn't take his eyes from the Black but he knew who it was just the same.
"Yes, sir." she sat herself down in the co-pilot chair. "Right thing to do. Independence wasn't about killing and selling folk just because they come from the wrong planet."
He looked at her. "You telling me you don't feel funny 'bout siding with the Alliance on anything?"
"Way I see, sir, we didn't side with 'em, just used 'em to eliminate a problem."
Mal mulled that over, relaxed a little. "There's that. We got enough folk after us as is - don't need any more."
"Yes, sir." she said, with feeling.
Margot came into the living area to find Wash slumped in his seat at the table. "Don't mean to interrupt your sulk, just came for some water." she reached down a glass and filled it at the tap. "Not sleepy?"
"Don't like an empty bed." he said, adding almost against his will. "Zoe's with Mal - again."
Margot brought her glass to the table and sat down opposite. "There's no sex in that relationship, Wash, you must know that."
"I know." He straightened himself up to give her a look of pained confusion. "If he was sexing her I'd have a right to be jealous."
"But he isn't - and you're jealous anyway."
He nodded miserably. "Doesn't make sense."
"Sure it does." Margot took a sip of her water. "It's not easy sharing your woman - nor man either for that matter - some can't do it at all."
Wash was groping his way through emotions he didn't much like thinking about - even less feeling. "They got history. They got a tie that's nothing to do with me and Zoe, I know that, but sometimes I feel second best."
"You're not." Margot said with conviction. "Anybody with eyes can see how she treasures you."
He brightened. "They can."
Margot gave him a look. "Of course they can. She and the Captain are partners, comrades in arms, you're the light of her life."
He sat up straight. "Think so?"
"Don't be stupid, you know it's so!" Margot told him crisply. "If I were you I'd be in your bunk waiting with candles and soft music or whatever the two of you use, she's going want some cheering after dealing with the Captain's moods."
"Yeah. Yeah that's a good idea." Wash was whistling to himself and starting to unbutton his shirt as he headed for his quarters.
Margot smiled, shook her head gently at the follies of men in love, picked up her water and went down the steps to her own room.
The next morning found Simon, a look of grim determination on his face, cluttering up the forward passage waiting for Kaylee.
Her door opened and she climbed out of her bunk, stopping one foot still on the ladder at the sight of him.
"I want to apologize." he said quickly, before she had a chance to either retreat or brush by.
"Apologize?" she repeated, a wary look on her face.
He nodded strongly. "It was rude of me to ignore you the way I did yesterday. I was worried about River after that little outburst she had the day before and it made me forget my manners."
The wariness and tension went out of Kaylee. "You worry too much, Simon, everybody gets homesick sometimes. You shouldn't fuss over River so, it annoys her. Would annoy anybody."
He grimaced ruefully. "I know. You should have heard her bawling me out, couldn't have done a better job yourself."
She grinned, her usual impudent sparkle back. "Bet I could. I know some language a well brought up Core girl like her never dreamed of."
Simon smiled back, relieved. "And had two brothers to practice it on."
"Not to mention a pair of cousins." she said and stepped close to him. "Where I come from when a boy hurts a girls feelings he gives her a kiss to make it up."
The smile slid off Simon's face and he gulped. But he wasn't about to offend Kaylee again, not when she'd just forgiven him, and what could a little kiss hurt? He pursed his lips and put his hands on her shoulders leaning forward -
- And she wrapped her arms around his waist pulling his body tightly against hers and moving her soft lips against his.
His hands slipped down her back to more questionable territory, his mouth opened in response to hers, the blood singing in his ears.
And then Jayne's rough, grumpy morning voice broke the spell. "Hey, don't block the passage. You got a bunk for that."
Simon pulled back, shaking all over. Kaylee glared over her shoulder at the mercenary. "Plenty of room for you to get by." she snapped, then turned a smile on Simon that did nothing to calm his throbbing pulse. "You're forgiven." let go and proceeded the two men to breakfast.
Jayne was stuck with clean up that morning, and if that wasn't bad enough crazy girl didn't leave with the others but stayed at the table drawing designs with a finger. He decided to ignore her.
"It was mean of you to turn us in."
Jayne jumped a little and spun to face her, sudsy hands ready for anything. "Yeah, well I had my reasons."
"You did it for the money." she said flatly, brown eyes fixed on him.
For some reason that riled him. "I did it 'cause you cut me!"
The eyes blinked, the voice went small. "I did?"
"Sure did, right here in this very room!" he frowned at her. "Don't ya remember?"
"No." suddenly tears were welling up and rolling down those round little cheeks. "But I believe you. I know I do things, crazy thing..." she sobbed.
"Aw hell." Jayne looked about, grabbed a towel and came around the counter to give it to her. "Don't do that. I hate when women cry."
River sniffed, mopped her face with the towel trying to stem the tears. "I live in a fog. Some days it's thin and the light shines through and I feel almost real again. Others its all dense and gray and I'm like a ghost not touching, not hearing. And sometimes it's black and red and filled with rage." She wiped her nose. "I hate being crazy!"
"Yeah," Jayne'd hate feeling like that himself. "But you're getting better." he offered. "Look at yesterday, we had a regular conversation. Hour or more at least and not a crazy word outta you."
She produced a watery smile. "Yesterday was a good day."
"Yeah, right, and you've been having more and more of those haven't you?" Jayne said quickly to keep the tears from coming back. "Fact is you haven't had a real fit for months now. Okay you gave us a scare with that gun but there's been no screaming or cutting for the longest time."
"That's true." she looked at him with those big drowned eyes. "So you won't turn me in again?"
"Never again." Jayne said, and meant it. "Fact is I felt right bad about it the minute it was done and too late to change."
She gave him a smile like the sun coming out, made him feel all funny inside and gave him courage to ask: "Uh - you couldn't really kill me with your mind could you?"
She laughed. "I just said that to scare you. Thought it served you right."
"Well maybe it did." Jayne conceded. "Only reason I wanted to be rid of you was I thought you was a threat. When you're not cutting me or waving guns around you're a right nice little thing."
She glowed. Gorramit but she was a pretty girl! Dress her up a little and she'd be a match for Inara. "You're nice too." she said. "Sometimes. And you do Shakespeare real good."
Margot came to lunch with a message padd in hand. "Jayne was right about there being a reward."
Jayne brightened. "How much?"
Mal's jaw hardened. "I don't touch blood money."
"I do!" said Jayne. "How much?"
"Depends on how many ways we have to split it." Margot answered. "A little something for the collection plate, Derrial?"
"No." Shepard said flat and short, staring at his plate.
"Zoe," Margot went on, "Wash?"
"No." said Zoe.
"Well -" said Wash.
She looked at him. "No."
He met her eye for a moment, then shrugged. "No."
"Well I'll take a cut." everybody looked at Kaylee, she gave it right back to them. "I deserve to be paid for the way they treated me and the things they said 'bout my girl!"
Margot made a note. "That's two. Simon, River?"
"Uh -" said Simon.
"Yes." said River.
Her brother looked at her. "I don't know -"
"I do. They hurt you and scared me and we can always use money."
"And I was outrageously insulted and grossly inconvenienced." said Margot making a note on her padd. "That makes five. Inara?"
She looked at Mal's thunderous face, considered and said: "No thanks."
"Right." Margot did some calculations. "After taxes that'll come to between six and seven thousand apiece."
Wash's eyes widened. "Uh, maybe we should rethink this, Lambytoes -"
"No." said Zoe.
"But - "
Wash sighed in resignation. "No."
"When do we get the money?" Jayne wanted to know.
"I'll have my partner do the paperwork and wave the credit codes to us." Margot answered.
Mal was still looking pretty darksome, stabbing at his protein mush like it was a mortal foe.
Wash cleared his throat. "Uh, I'm gonna need a heading, Captain."
"Muir." he answered shortly. "We're still going to Muir. Got some things to market there."