"Ya don't mean yer going to sell my Blossoms!" Jayne wailed.
"If by that you mean those cannon I most assuredly am." Mal answered. Then: "Blossoms?"
"Appleblossom, Peachblossom, Cherryblossom and Plumblossom." Jayne answered pointing at the articles in question.
The cannon lay in a neat row on the cargo hold deck with Mal on one side, Jayne near tears on the other, Zoe behind her Captain trying hard not to laugh and an interested audience consisting of River and Margot watching from the catwalk.
"But why?" Jayne moaned.
"Armaments would attract the wrong kind of attention to us." Mal returned. "We get enough of that as is."
"Yeah, but the next time you take on a bar full of Unifiers Wash wouldn't have to bluff to get us outta it."
"There is that, sir." said Zoe.
Mal shot her a 'whose-side-are-you-on?' look, turned back to his all but blubbering merc. "We're selling them, Jayne and that's final. So say your good-byes." he spun on his heel heading for the ramp. "Zoe."
She followed, still fighting that grin.
River got up from next to Margot and floated down the stairs to slip her little hand into Jayne's big one. "Poor Jayne," she said kindly, "but you still have Vera and Alice and Trudy and all the rest." He looked down at her uncertainly. She smiled back up; "Why don't we clean your guns, you know how that always cheers you up."
Jayne gave the cannon one last, sorrowful look then let himself be towed away.
Rick's Place looked like every other dock front dive, all metal and grease and somewhat darksome. Mal and Zoe picked themselves a table and sat down to wait for their contact. A screen hanging from the ceiling was spouting a news report; the Armstrong had caught up with the Diehards with predictable results.
Mal grimaced and picked up his drink for a big gulp.
Zoe gave him a tilt-headed look. "Sir?"
"Say what you like turning in our own leaves a bad taste."
"Those folk weren't our own, sir, Margot was dead right about that."
"Yeah, well Margot ain't no Independent."
Zoe looked thoughtful. "Wouldn't be too sure if I were you, sir."
Mal frowned. "What makes you say that?"
She shrugged. "Just some remarks made over the past weeks, nothing you can really put a finger on. But I'd strongly recommend you don't make any assumption at all about that lady."
Margot and Inara, looking elegant as usual, came into the living quarters to find Jayne moodily stripping and cleaning his beloved Vera, the rest of his sizeable collection spread out on the table awaiting their turns. River was also at the table curiously examining a tiny, deadly little dart thrower.
"Leave that be." Jayne snapped at her. "Nobody ever tell you not to touch a man's weapons?"
Margot smiled. "Do I detect a double entendre?"
River returned it brightly. "Not intentionally."
"Double what?" Jayne asked blankly.
"Entendre." Margot replied. "Meaning a comment that has two meanings; one innocent, one sexual."
Jayne's frown turned thunderous and a hint of color darkened his cheeks. "Didn't say anything about sexing!"
"Course he didn't. Our Jayne's a gentleman he is." Kaylee said blithely coming out of the forward passage all gussied up in her new sari, beaded purse in hand.
River beamed at him. "Jayne's nice."
Kaylee's eyebrows took a leap upward. "Nice is he? Must be suffering from cabin fever lil' genius. Why don't you come along with us and get some air?"
"Yeah, get outta here and let me work in peace." Jayne grunted.
River's smile didn't falter. "Okay, I'll go." she got up showing that she too was wearing her new dress. "I'll get my shoes." She patted Jayne's shoulder in passing and leaned to whisper in his ear. "You're nice." before skipping out leaving the merc glaring after her and Inara and Kaylee grinning at the look on his face.
Margot smiled indulgently, rumpled his hair and dropped a motherly kiss on the top of his head on her way out after River. "Oh Jayne's just a big, grungy huggy bear!"
The other two women laughed out loud as they followed, leaving an outraged Jayne trying to rub the kiss off and shouting; "I ain't no huggy bear!" after them.
"Four? You only got four?" the ratty little man in the unbelievably garish green and orange tweed suit sounded downright incredulous.
"Enough to arm a good sized boat." Mal retorted, his mood not at all improved.
"If you're not interested we can peddle them ourselves." Zoe said, starting to rise.
Tweed suit made sitting motions. "Didn't say that, just surprised is all. I'm used to bigger consignments."
Zoe settled back in her chair. "If you're going to make an offer, spit it out."
"A hundred apiece."
"If that's a joke I'm not laughing." this time Mal started to rise.
"Will you just sit still?" tweed suit demanded/pleaded. He thought for a moment. "Okay, tell you what I'm gonna do; give me a day or so to shop around, I'll find me a buyer and give you sixty percent of the take."
"Seventy-five." said Mal.
Tweed suit bristled. "Hey, I'm the one taking all the risk here."
"Seventy." said Mal, not visibly moved.
"Thirty percent's a fair profit." said Zoe.
The suit looked from one stony face to the other and folded. "Okay, seventy it is." he stood up. "I'll wave you when I've got a nibble."
"Two days, then we try somebody else." Mal warned.
Tweed suit didn't seem entirely oppressed by the threat. He just tossed off the remainder of his drink and walked away.
Mal punched code for a refill. "That went well."
Zoe wasn't as convinced. "Might have been better to do the peddling ourselves."
"Too risky." Mal picked up his glass. "No telling if they can trace those guns back to the Diehards. If so sale'll set off some alarms in quarters we don't want to deal with."
"True." Zoe got up. "Well I got me a husband to meet. You going back to the boat, sir?"
"No hurry 'bout it." Mal lounged back in his chair. "May just stay here for a bit and soak up the atmosphere."
Zoe snorted a little. "Well...don't do anything I wouldn't do."
He gave her a look of hurt innocence. "If by that you mean don't tear the place apart and get hauled to the local hoosegow, I resent the implication."
"Was kinda what I had in mind. You do seem to attract trouble, sir."
"Noticed that myself." Mal agreed ruefully. "Go pleasure yourself with your husband, Zoe. I'll be a good little boy, I promise."
Zoe gave another 'that'll-be-the-day' snort and headed for the door.
The Oda was long and narrow, lit by colored lanterns swinging from the tented ceiling and scented with imitation sandalwood incense. A massive teak bar stretched the length of one wall, the other was lined by a row of curtained and canopied booths.
"Ooh, classy." Kaylee breathed, impressed.
Behind her back Inara and Margot exchanged a look, half amused and half sad. 'Classy' was not a word either would have applied to the Oda. It was however several cuts above the dirty dockside dives Kaylee was used to and the kind of place she and River could wear their new finery without standing out like a pair of novas.
They found themselves a booth and settled on poofy, syth-satin covered cushions around a low table with imitation marble mosaic top. A bulky, bare chested waiter wearing white harem pants, crimson cummerbund and a green turban appeared to take their orders.
"Real waiters and everything." Kaylee whispered wide-eyed after the man'd left.
"Oda, old Turkish: private room in a harem." said River.
"Hence the decor." Margot agreed.
"It's beautiful, just like your shuttle, Inara." Kaylee declared, happily stroking the faux silk of the brocaded hangings.
"Much the same concept." the Companion conceded. She knew Kaylee meant no insult and, uncultured Border world girl that she was, could see no difference between Inara's carefully chosen, exquisitely genuine pieces and the gimcrack imitations around them.
The waiter returned with a fret rimmed brass tray, big as their table top, loaded with a brass coffee pot exhaling a smell of cinnamon, little cups and dishes of fancy sweets.
"Ooh. Elegant!" said Kaylee.