"Malicious!" River yelled, in the middle of dinner.
The rest of the family stopped eating and talking and focused on her. Someone coughed, though later everyone would deny having done so.
Simon put a hand on River's knee and leaned close, as though the others weren't there. "Meimei?"
River laughed. This was the funniest thing she had ever heard, clearly. "I get it! Malicious!" More hysterical laughter. She turned to Book, on her other side, and asked brightly, "Do you get it?"
Book said diplomatically, "Why don't you explain it to me."
She looked out at all the rest of them, stone-faced and embarrassed for her. She said, by way of explanation, "Mal-icious! He's Mal, and he's delicious! It's funny because it's true!"
Mal's forehead pulled back, smoothed out, made the face he made for poker.
Inara and Kaylee started kicking each other under the table to make the other woman laugh first.
Zoe's face became hard as diamond, and her lips twitched once.
Jayne went back to eating, because he didn't like word games.
Book smiled in good humor, and put a hand up to hide the smile made out of less-than-good humor.
Wash swallowed so much laughter, it tried to come out his nose.
Simon went dead white, still leaned over towards her.
River scrunched her nose and pecked her brother's with it.
Wash was shaking. And his arm was going to bruise where his wife was pinching it.
Mal cleared his throat. Said half of her name. Cleared it again. Nearly started laughing. Tamped it down. Said, "What was that?"
"Malicious," River said, point-blank. "Mal. Delicious. It's not very hard to understand."
"How did you come by the opinion that I'm delicious?" Mal asked delicately.
Five pairs of eyes moved from River to Mal, and made 'tsk'ing sounds.
River said, with a silly kind of rhythm, "Thought's not mine to start. Ask its progenitor."
Now the eyes played the blame game around the table, looking for who had been thinking about Mal's delicious maliciousness.
Wash pointed a stern brow at Inara.
Zoe looked at her captain, because odds were he would have a better guess.
Mal stared at River and willed her to eat her words again instead of another forkful of soup.
Inara gave Wash a withering glare, because she hadn't been thinking it, and didn't appreciate his accusation.
Kaylee was still giving River wide eyes.
Simon's face was going from white to red, and his eyes were still off in the middle distance.
Book watched Jayne consume half of the remains of the communal meal.
River looked at Book, because no one else was going to and the UST had to be touched upon in some way.
They all stayed quiet for a few seconds, and then Mal cleared his throat again. The first attempt still came out as a squeak, though. "Who…would that be?"
"The malicious one," she said, and one shoulder lifted in a shrug, and she took another mouthful of soup. "And all the yelling was very misleading. But easy to see through."
Now everyone but Jayne, Inara, Simon, River, and Mal looked at Inara expectantly.
She looked back at all them, and threw her hands up. "It wasn't me!"
"Then who could it have been?" Wash challenged, already writing a week's worth of taunts for her in his head.
"I don't know. The other person who yells at Mal."
The accusing stares reshuffled.
Not Kaylee. She was too sweet, and never argued with Mal for long, because she only ever argued when she was right.
Not Zoe, because she wasn't one to think anything was delicious that didn't taste like plastic dinosaurs.
And River had already printed a disclaimer on her head.
The ambient stare milled around, confused.
Simon was red to the roots of his hair. He dabbed at his mouth with his napkin three times, pushed back his chair, and choked out, "I'm going to bed."
Everyone figured that it must be traumatic, hearing your sister describe your captain as 'delicious'.
…Your captain with whom you often fight…
Mal stood up too fast. "Right. I'm…also going. Now. Good night." He went out the wrong door, if he meant to go to his quarters.
They all gaped at River, floored.
She winked, and requisitioned Simon's abandoned soup for herself. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…"