Part 6

"Well, I don't know 'bout you, but my tummy's a rumblin'," Kaylee said as she rose from the couch she'd been sitting on and made her way toward the hatch. Turning to look back at the Companion, she added: "You comin', 'nara?"

"That's quite alright. I actually ate before coming back to the ship," Inara explained politely, nodding to the mechanic.

Kaylee smiled brightly and, with a little wave, left the shuttle. When she rounded the corner, she glanced down into the cargo bay and saw Nathan and Summer sitting on a crate, talking amongst themselves. She noticed there was nobody else in sight and gave a huffy sigh.

"You mean he left you down here all alone?" she called down. Summer and Nathan turned to the voice and Kaylee shook her head. "I swear... sometimes Cap can be downright unhospitable." She stuck her tongue out to emphasize her bubbly mood and started down the stairs.

Summer felt a wave of relief wash over her at Kaylee's sudden appearance. She hadn't known what she was supposed to tell Nathan in regards to why Mal had been all defensive earlier. He couldn't know, because honestly, she just couldn't see him taking the fact that his double had kissed her - quite passionately, she might add - well at all.

"Kaylee!" Summer jumped up from the crate and rushed over to meet the mechanic at the bottom of the stairs. She pulled Kaylee into a hug; Kaylee was taken aback for a moment, but smiled and returned it, throwing a smile to Nathan. He was currently staring daggers into Summer's back, a fact of which she was well aware.

Nathan hopped off the crate and ran a hand through his hair, then stuck both hands in his pockets. Kaylee stepped away from Summer and moved over to him, then gave the not-Captain a lookover. Nodding, she gave him a smile. "You got a few more pounds on the Cap. But," she recovered quickly, worried she might be offending him. "The Cap wouldn't 'member to eat if'n Zo didn't put a plate in front of 'im." Summer made a face to Nathan and tried to hide a smile.

He heard a noise above them and looked up to see River standing on the catwalk and gave her a slight wave. "Lunch is ready," River stated before turning and starting down the steps.

Kaylee stepped away from Summer and pulled River into a half-hug. "You talk to Simon yet?" she asked, already knowing the answer. River simply shook her head and looked to Nathan and Summer.

"Simon's mad for other reasons," she said with a polite smile. Kaylee understood that she was referring to the morning's announcement, not that River had gone missing for a short time.

"He's such a boob," Summer couldn't help but murmur, smiling as River mirrored her expression.

"Well, let's go get 'im. Can't be too mad when ya got yerself an army, right?" Kaylee hooked one arm around River and one around Summer.

As they approached the Infirmary, Summer, Kaylee and Nathan stayed back as River poked her head into the room.

"I'm not talking to you," Simon said, back to the door. River smirked at Simon's own psychic ability.

"Timing was off," River said, stepping into the room she used to hate. Cocking her head, River continued: "You're angry with me." Simon turned halfway and stared at her for a moment. Sighing, he took a step toward her.

"I'm not angry," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm... processing." Unfortunately, Simon couldn't hide his feelings from his sister and he knew it. When River's head drooped, Simon moved to take her in a hug. "I'm not angry," he repeated, bending down to look her in the eye, forcing her to hear his thoughts.

"Time I started acting my age. Like an adult. Doesn't make you any less important," she said quietly. Simon made a face and gave her a playful shove.

"Food's waitin', you two," Kaylee said, finally stepping into the doorway.

Simon looked up to his love and their guests and nodded. As he pulled his sister toward the group, he added: "Don't think I'm going to be the one to tell our parents."

River rolled her eyes and stepped out behind him. Kaylee pushed Nathan up the stairs he had recently descended, Summer following behind. Simon moved over to Book's door and invited him to eat as well. The Shepard kindly declined the offer, saying something about fasting. Simon nodded in understanding before rejoining River and heading up the stairs.

Meanwhile, Mal had left the cockpit and made his way to the galley. Wash, along with Zoe, followed his captain after having set Serenity on auto-pilot. The trio stepped into the galley just as River was finishing up setting the food on the table, the others seated around it. Jayne was busy chatting up Summer, much to her amusement, and neither seemed to notice the irritated looks Nathan kept shooting in their direction as Simon attempted to make civil conversation with the Captain's double.

Mal took his usual spot at the head of the table as the others continued to talk. However, when River slid her arms around Mal's neck from behind and leaned down to kiss Mal's cheek, the chatter died off abruptly.

"Mei mei, not while I'm eating!" Simon whined as he tossed a piece of his food down in emphasis.

Summer couldn't help but giggle and Nathan shot her a look. "Now don't you encourage them!" he admonished.

Summer simply shrugged. "I think it's kinda cute," she replied.

Nathan's jaw dropped. "You're kidding!" The fact that the exclaimation was simultaneously uttered by Nathan, Simon and Jayne prompted Summer to burst out in a full belly laugh.

Mal shot Summer a strange look that, when the actress caught it, ended her laughter abruptly. Instead, she ducked her head and began picking at the food on her plate and concentrated very intently on not making eye contact with either Mal or River. Nathan, of course, noticed this and shot her a questioning glance.

Across the table, Wash poked at his plate and sighed heavily. When no one acknowledged him, he sighed again, a bit more dramatically. Mal finally turned his gaze from Summer, much to her relief, to his pilot. "What?" the Captain snapped when Wash let out an even more dramatic sigh then the previous two.

Wash shook his head morosely. "Don't mind me... just pretend I'm not here."

Mal and Nathan both rolled their eyes as Zoe sat down next to her husband and toussled his hair. "He didn't mean it, honey." Wash gave her an innocent smile, then shot a glare at Nathan.

Summer noticed this and, glaring at Nathan herself, asked: "What did you say to him?"

"Why are we pickin' on me?" he asked, sitting up and shaking his head.

River actually did a double-take before answering pointedly: "You told him he was dead."

"That wasn't me!" he protested, looking offended. "She did it!" he pointed accusingly at Summer, who blushed.

River rolled her eyes. "'Thought we killed you off,'" she reminded him of his earlier words with a smirk.

"Well, okay," Nathan grumbled. "If you want to get technical about it..."

Wash threw up his hands and waved. "No, no. Pretend I'm not here. Don't want to disturb the balance," Wash said with a pout.

Summer tilted her head in his direction and smiled. "I'm happy you're here." Wash looked at her for a second, trying to judge her sincerity, then grinned and made a face to everyone else at the table.

"I'm glad you're here, too, Honey," Zoƫ said, leaning toward him and kissing the side of his head. This seemed to placate Wash as he immediately resumed his usual care-free demeanor and shot a beaming grin at both Zoe and Summer as he began eating.

Once again, Mal and Nathan rolled their eyes at the man's dramatics.

"He really is Wash," Nathan mumbled to himself and shook his head. Despite having the evidence right in front of his eyes, he still couldn't quite wrap his head around the fact that all these people - characters whom he and his friends had portrayed - were real.

'Oh my God, we're really in space!' Nathan's eyes grew wide and he choked on the bite of food he'd just taken. Suddenly, a thought occured to him: If they, and the ship, were real, what about that blasted button that had apparently been the catalyst in bringing them here? Surely, it was real, as well. Nathan shot a look in Wash's direction, an idea forming in his mind.

He'd just get Wash to take him to the cockpit. He'd push that damned button and he and Summer would be back home in a flash. Simple. It wasn't until after the group had finished their meal that he found the chance to put his plan into action.

He got up from his own chair and slipped into the one beside Wash, just after Zoe got up to take care of their plates. "Show me the button." Nathan's whispered voice caught Wash by surprise. The pilot jolted lightly before whirling his head around to stare at the man sitting beside him.

"What was that?" he asked, lowering his voice as well.

Kaylee had dragged Simon off to who knew where - as long as it wasn't at the table, where the doctor felt it was his sworn duty to sit and glare daggers in Mal's direction. Mal had went to help River with the dishes as Zoe left the galley with a plate of food for Shepard Book in her hands. Nathan and Wash watched as she passed. Soonafter, River left Mal's side and moved over to sit next to Summer at the other end of the table.

"I want you to take me to the cockpit. I'm gonna push that damned button," Nathan informed him. "It's what got us here in the first place, so I figure it ought to work in reverse."

Wash's mouth parted slightly as an understanding "Ohhh," emerged. "I see your point. Don't think the Captain'd appreciate me lettin' you into the cockpit though," Wash replied, then smiled and shook his finger at Nathan. "You'll have to promise me you'll be on your best behavior."

Nathan was unable to stop the grin that came to his face as he made a small ex over his heart with a finger. "Cross my heart," he replied, and he meant it.

Wash snuck a glance in Mal's direction. The Captain was watching River and her double with a troubled look on his face as the two women appeared to be in deep conversation. Seeing their chance, Wash gestured for Nathan to follow him and the two made their way toward the front of the ship.

"See? Nothing." Wash turned to look over his shoulder. Seeing everyone was full-well out of earshot, he turned back to Nathan and added quietly: "Between you an' me, I don't think it woulda worked anyway. The electrical system was pretty fried once the cold took over..."

Nathan gave a horrified look before muttering: "Well, the ending was a bit convenient..."

Wash raised an eyebrow in Nathan's direction just as a beeping sound filled the cockpit, signaling someone was sending a wave. Without thinking, Wash flicked the switch that cut on the vid screen.

When Patience's face filled the screen, Wash stiffened. "Oh," he said quietly. "Think maybe I shouldn't a'done that."

Nathan looked in the pilot's direction. "Ya think?" he asked sarcastically.

Patience looked in Nathan's direction when she heard his voice, though she couldn't see him. "Mal," she said, warmly, mistaking him for the Captain.

Nathan's eyes widened as Wash shot him a concerned look. Nathan made a 'What?' gesture at him.

When Wash nodded ever-so-slightly to the screen, Nathan shook his head furiously. 'No sirree,' he thought, 'Not gonna happen.'

Wash nodded once again, this time a bit more emphatically, to which Nathan shook his head just as forceful. They continued in this fashion for about three seconds before Patience spoke again. "Malcolm Reynolds, I know you're there."

Nathan's mouth tightened as he finally gave in and, dropping his head in defeat, stepped into view. Wash stood up to let Nathan have the chair, but he didn't sit. Instead, he stood and stared at the screen for a second, coming to the realization that he couldn't think of a damned thing to say. His mind had gone absolutely, completely blank.