Title: Honeymooning with the Neidermeyers

Rating: PG13, for pillow books & prophylactics.

Pairings: A little Wash/Kaylee, a little Wash/Zoe.

Characters: Mostly Wash and Kaylee, with some Zoe and Mal, and a sprinkling of Jayne and Inara.

Timeline: Pre-series.

Word count: 9000ish

Summary: A caper on a luxury cruise ship. Wash's and especially Kaylee's skills are vitally needed for the job. But of course, things never run smooth when Mal is the mix.

A/N: Written for czgoldedition for the LJ Washathon 2008. Her guidelines:

Pairing you want written for you: A little non-explicit pre-series Wash/Kaylee which ultimately ends in Wash/Zoe.

Requirement One: Kaylee has to be the one to pressure Wash into it with her happy-flirty ways. Secret Zoe jealousy that results in anger towards Wash related to this might be good too if it can be kept in-character.

Requirement Two: Delicious Wash technobabble, especially shared between him and Kaylee!

One Restriction: Make sure it has a larger plot too beyond the pairing stuff! What it entails is entirely up to you.


"So."

Mal, Zoe standing at his shoulder, swept his gaze across the rest of his crew, seated at the galley table. "Got us a job. Been hired by Badger to-"

Wash and Jayne groaned loudly, in unison, and even Kaylee sighed, shaking her head and looking down at the table in dismay.

"Hey, now!" Mal protested. "This is a good gig, payin' good, hard, cashy money. An' we got a fine plan. This'll go down smooth as smooth."

"That's whatcha said last time we got a job from Badger," Jayne grumbled. "Was pullin' bird shot outta my- my behindular zone for weeks, after."

"Shoulda let me see to that, Jayne," Mal said bluffly. "Or Zoe. She's a dab hand with them tweezers." He glanced at her just in time to catch the full force of her death-ray glare. Guess she didn't care for him volunteering her to get up close and personal with Jayne's naked hindquarters. A little rattled, he turned back to his gunman, and said, "An'- an' anyway, the point is moot, as your job, Jayne, will be to stay behind and guard the fort."

"There's a fort?" Jayne frowned. "Where's it at?"

Mal rolled his eyes, then said, enunciating clearly, "Metaphorically speakin'. What I mean is, you'll stay behind, mindin' Serenity."

"So it's a job which doesn't entail mindless violence and sudden, occasionally accidental explosions." Wash nodded his approval. "Shiny."

"Indeed it is. In fact-"

"Hey!" Jayne yelled, umbrage sitting him bolt upright in his chair. "Ain't none of my explosions ever accidental, little man! Best you remember that!"

"Could we please focus here?" Mal asked wearily, closing his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

Jayne slumped back in his chair, crossing his arms, and both Wash and Kaylee sat forward in theirs, folding their hands and placing them primly on the table before them. Mal ignored the soft snort of amusement from beside him. Fine. Zoe could laugh all she liked. At least they'd shut up and he had their attention, which was saying something with these three.

"As I was sayin' – or tryin' to – this here is a job," and here Mal grinned gleefully, rubbing his hands together, "of industrial espionage."

"Whosie what?" Jayne peered at Mal, head cocked, brow furrowed.

"Spyin'. On a corporation," Zoe bit out, darting an exasperated look at her captain. "Keepin' it simple," she went on with meaningful emphasis, "we're to get a hold of the experimental model of an EM dampener, which when installed in a ship's gravity drive establishes a random disruption of the ship's radioactive exhausts, thereby makin' it harder to trace."

Wash shivered extravagantly, and, turning to Kaylee, whispered loudly, "I love it when she talks dirty like that." She covered her broad grin with a hand, trying to quell her giggles.

"So, we're gonna steal this eee em thingie," Jayne said, trying to keep track.

"No, actually," Mal jumped in, shooting a look at Zoe, "we're gonna borrow this thingie, take it apart, makin' careful note of all the bits and pieces, an' how they connect to one another, then put it back together, and return it to its owners, safe and sound, and them none the wiser." And now he beamed at Kaylee. "Which is why my genius mechanic is the primary player in this particular scheme."

"Me?" Kaylee squeaked. "I get to be part of a caper?"

"Yep. Now, here's how it is. This EM dampener is traveling to its new home on Beaumont, with the head honcho of MacGuffin Incorporated's research department, locked up in the secure cargo area of the cruise liner, Lorelei."

"Lorelei is a passenger class mega-cruiser," Wash interrupted. "Those babies have legs. Boy howdy, do they have legs." Then, realizing his enthusiasm might be seen as unfaithfulness to Serenity, he glanced anxiously around at his ship-mates, and said hastily, "But, can't maneuver worth beans. We got her beat, hands down, with the maneuverability."

"As that's neither here nor there as to our current task at hand, Wash, maybe we could keep our tangents down to a minimum?"

Wash nodded agreeably, making the "fastening the zipper" motion across his lips.

"I thank you." With a crisp nod, Mal went on, "Now, we'll board this mega class cruiser tomorrow mornin', along with the EM dampener. Zoe an' I'll handle the thievin'. Actually, the not-thievin'. The temporary borrowin'. And Kaylee will handle the dismantling and the remantling.

"We got us three cabins reserved, two in steerage, for me an' Zoe, an' – you're gonna like this, little Kaylee – Badger managed to snaffle up a raffle prize. First class accommodations. What they call the bridal suite. Y' are gonna have to share it with Wash, though, for which I apologize."

"Wait. Wash? Me? Why'm I going? I'm a pilot, Mal, not a spy."

"Pilot and tech support. Need you to support Kaylee technically. Plus, me and Zoe are gonna be keepin' our distance, so as not to blow Kaylee's cover. Don't want a hint of her mixed up in the thievin'. Borrowin'. But I need someone to look after her. And Jayne is right out, so looks like I'm stuck with you."

Wash ran a distracted hand back and forth over his scalp, absorbing this information. Then, eyes a little wild, hair sticking up every which way, he quibbled, "But, first class accommodations? We'll stand out like sore thumbs." He glanced at Kaylee, who gave him a nervous little nod of agreement.

"Nah, now, don't vex yourself. Y' don't have to pretend t' be all refined and couth. You're just plain, common folk. The Neidermeyers. A nice, young married couple, who've won a once in a lifetime opportunity. A week long cruise, all expenses paid, round trip from Persephone to Beaumont and back, with first-rate fare and a dee-luxe bridal suite." He smiled benignly upon his pilot and mechanic. "Almost like a vacation."

"Married?" Wash shot an uneasy look at Zoe. Mere months into their – What? Affair? Romance? Capital R Relationship? – he had not yet ascertained if she were the jealous type. And he wasn't particularly inclined to find out. "Couldn't we be like, oh, siblings maybe? Ge ge and mei mei?"

"Now, Wash, it's looked at slant-ways, least-wise in this part of the 'verse, when a brother and a sister share a bridal suite. Nope, y'all are married. Newly weds, point of fact, lending a certain veri- veri-"

"Verisimilitude."

"Yes, thank you, Zoe. Verisimilitude to your occupyin' said bridal suite."

Kaylee, completely unconcerned that she would be unable to uphold her crucial role in the scheme, got down to brass tacks and voiced her greatest reservation.

"But, a cruise liner, Cap'n? That's so... fancy! What'll we wear?"

--

Kaylee cooed happily over the three frocks Zoe'd selected for her; pastel green, blue, and pink, simple but flattering. Just right for the very lucky, working-class Mrs. Neidermeyer. Wash, however, was far less pleased with his new outfit, grumbling loudly that if he'd wanted to dress like a corporate drone he would have become an accountant like his dad. Mal had to make thinly veiled threats of bodily harm before he consented to put it on.

Inara came into the galley as the Neidermeyers modeled their "disguises," took one look at Wash in his new suit, put her fingertips to her lips, and murmured, "Oh, dear."

"What?" Mal huffed defensively, having been the guy choosing the suit. "He looks fine. Don't he look fine, Zoe?"

"He'll do."

Inara simply tisked, and swept over to Wash, who was struggling with the tie as though it were one of Laocoon's serpents, squeezing the breath from him. She set calming hands upon him, a gentle prod to the small of his back bringing him up to his full height, shoulders square. She cast an assessing eye over him, whisked the jacket off his body, and, with it neatly folded over one arm, retired to her shuttle.

She reemerged about an hour later, and helped Wash back into the jacket. Zoe, making herself a cup of tea in the kitchen, watched, mostly from the corner of one eye, as the Companion smoothed and straightened and tucked. It was still a cheap suit; dark cheap serge, cheaply tailored. But Inara had done something, to the sleeves, maybe, and at the waist, and it seemed to hang better from his shoulders. And she'd swapped ties, taken away the black and given him a blue one. Could it be that that made his eyes seem brighter?

Zoe decided Wash cleaned up pretty good. Not that she minded him mussed and rumpled. Not a bit. 'Specially if she'd been the one doing the mussin' and rumplin'.

--

A mega-cruiser was perfectly capable of landing on and lifting from a planet. Said maneuver was also fairly expensive, fuel-wise, so it made more sense for new and returning passengers to be brought on board by shuttle. Mal situated Serenity at one of Persephone's minor space ports, and, knowing Jayne's capacity for mischief, locked him off the ship, providing him enough funds to bunk down at a reasonable boarding house. The guy might decide to blow it all in a couple nights at a brothel, but that was his look out.

The rest of them caught a ride to the capital city with Inara. She dropped them at the main shuttle port, and then took herself to the local Companion temple for a little R'n'R. Lorelei's shuttle bus carried them, with about a dozen others, up from Persephone, Kaylee and Wash sitting next to one another, nervy, holding hands, with Zoe aft of the craft and Mal to the fore. When they docked with the cruise ship, those heading toward steerage were led as a group toward their cabins. Wash and Kaylee had to school themselves from watching Zoe and Mal walk away from them. After all, they weren't supposed to know one another.

A smiling young flight attendant guided the Neidermeyers personally to their bunk, introducing himself as James, and gushing charmingly about how pleased the crew was to have the grand prize winners aboard. Wash tried to tip him, but the man just smiled, waving the creds away, and then let him know, out of Kaylee's hearing, when he was off shift and where Wash could find him, if he needed anything, anything at all.

The door slid shut behind them, and Wash and Kaylee took a moment simply to stare. The cabin was large, maybe as big as all the bunks on Serenity put together. A huge bed, draped with a deep red silky cover, all manner of pillows poofed up against the headboard, dominated the right side of the cabin. To their left, a separate nook was made by a large couch (the same deep red as the bed) facing away from the bed and toward a large cortex screen set in the wall. The cream carpet matched the walls, which were graced by a number of paintings, faintly organic abstracts done in shades of purple. Vases with fresh flowers – red, white, and pink – had been placed on the small tables on each side of the bed.

Wash entertained the uneasy thought that he might suffer a sugar overdose of the psyche if he had to spend too many of his waking hours in this room.

Across the room from them, were two sliding doors. They ventured forward to explore and found one opened onto the head, and the other into a large walk-in closet with enclosed dresser. Kaylee peered inside and said, "Don't think all of both our clothes would fill but a twentieth of this space."

Wash nodded. "If that."

Kaylee did hang up the two frocks she wasn't wearing, the green and the blue, so they wouldn't wrinkle too bad. They did look a little lonely and forlorn in all that space. Wash simply dumped his unopened duffel on the closet floor.

Thus situated, they looked at one another, a little awestruck. Not so much by the decor, but by the huge, almost unimaginable wealth suggested by all this empty, underutilized room on a space-going vessel. After a moment, Wash picked up the glossy itinerary set on a bedside table, and checked out the scheduled events.

"Okay. It looks like it's the after dinner hour now, ship time. A live band, an open bar, a light buffet in the deck A ballroom. Wanna go? Or wanna stay here and... acclimatize?"

"Well..."

He could tell she really, really wanted to get out there and take a gander at how the other half lived. But she wouldn't go unless he thought it was all right.

"Once in a lifetime, Kaylee. Let's do it."

Being ship-folk, they quickly oriented themselves within Lorelei's corridors, despite the fact the vessel out-bulked Serenity by a factor of ten. They stepped though the open double doors of Ballroom A, and stopped dead in their tracks.

"Wow," Wash breathed.

"Golly!" agreed Kaylee.

The ballroom and the people in it faded to inconsequence, dominated by the vast window opening up into space in one great seamless arc from the far end of the room across its entire ceiling. Persephone loomed close overhead, Lorelei set in an orbit which kept a rich purple and flaming orange sunset blazing continually in view.

"We gotta get in here when we're actually in the Black," Wash muttered, and Kaylee nodded, hearing the deep desire which roughened his voice, although she didn't quite understand it. It did send a little shiver through her, reminding her that he was actually pretty shuai, and that she regretted a little bit that he'd always been so focused on Zoe, even before Kaylee'd hired on.

"So, what do we do now?" she murmured, casting her eye around, a bit intimidated by the surrounding opulence and the elegantly dressed crowd. The pretty pink frock, so stylish just moments ago, now just seemed so, well, Rim.

"I guess we just... blend in. Act like everyone else. Don't do anything to stand out, to call attention to ourselves. To make security notice us."

"Evening, folks."

Wash and Kaylee swiveled toward the speaker, who proved to be a very large man wearing the spruce white uniform of the Lorelei's crew. A gold badge reading SECURITY glittered on his chest. A jolt of alarm shocked through Wash and he could feel Kaylee stiffen beside him.

"Welcome aboard, ma'am, sir." He nodded politely to them both. "Just going around, introducing myself to our new passengers. I'm Lt. Han, Lorelei's chief of security."

Wash made his lips smile, made his head bob genially, but he couldn't quite manage a 'hello.' Kaylee offered a timid, "Howdy."

Undeterred by their awkwardness, the officer carried on, holding up their side of the conversation as well. "And you're our lucky newlyweds. The Neidermeyers. Congratulations on your nuptials."

Wash kick-started his mouth. "Yep, yep, that's us. The Neidermeyers. We're them."

Smiling, clearly pleased that the chit-chat ball had commenced rolling, Han inquired, "So, what do you all do?"

"Do?"

"For a living," the security officer prompted gently. "What do you do?"

"Well, um, we, I, um-" Wash looked at Kaylee, and realized she really needed something familiar to latch onto. Falling into the bluff, he embellished on her past, making it their reality. "We run a repair shop. For engines. All types. Rovers. Hovercraft. But we specialize in ship's engines."

"So you're a mechanic."

"Yeess... but it's my, my wife here, my wife who's the real genius mechanic." He set a light hand on Kaylee's forearm, and was dismayed to find her trembling.

"Really?" The security officer turned the force of his attention on her, and Wash felt her arm tense.

"Really!" Wash blurted loudly, bringing the man's eyes back to him, chagrined he had put her on the spot. He decided he would babble on, do whatever it took to keep the focus off Kaylee. "I mean, now, one time, she jump started two engine pods with nothing but hydrogen fumes, blowin' out a powerful lot of sticky, organic refuse." Wash slid in closer to her, putting his hand at the small of her back, making small, soothing circles with his fingertips. "My honey bunch is amazing."

"Aw, now, sweetie," Kaylee replied, eyes fixed perhaps a bit rigidly on the lawman, but still, in Wash's mind, rising valiantly to the occasion, "I well remember that console you reconfigured with naught but duck tape to hand." Kaylee set one hand against Wash's chest, and he covered it with his palm, pressing it firmly against himself.

"That was nothin', moon-cake." He tucked himself in tighter, and pressed his lips in reassurance against her temple for a brief moment. "How 'bout the time you fixed that electrolysis chamber by rerouting the injection manifold straight through the fuel interface?"

"Oh, baobei, that was easy as pie." Now they were snuggled up close, gazing intently into one another's eyes. "Not like when you unjammed that swivelplate with a backburn of plasma through the engine pod."

"Couldn't have done it without you, sugar lips." Wash pushed his voice down into a deeper, huskier register. "The way you handled that welding torch was just so... hot."

Han cleared his throat loudly. "'Scuse me, folks. Shouldn't be taking up your special time together. Enjoy your honeymoon." He inclined his head politely, touching two fingers to his brow, and moved away.

They stood silently for a long moment, then Kaylee whispered, "Is he gone?"

Wash, who'd been keeping a discreet eye on the lieutenant over her shoulder, murmured, "Yep. He's over chattin' up a couple by the buffet."

"Oh, Wash." She sagged against him, and he pulled her tighter to his side.

"You did good. Don't fret. He's just mingling, showing the colors." He ran a comforting hand up and down her back, then pulled away slightly to smile into her face. "Hey, we get free drinks with our bridal suite. Want something?"

She beamed up at him, eyes wide. "Oh, yeah! That'd be shiny. Somethin' fruity, an' with one of them little parasols?"

"Fruity parasol, comin' up." He bent the tiny little bit it took to set a kiss on the tip of her nose, then tucked her hand in his elbow, to lead her toward the bar.

--

"Y' reckoned right, Zoe. They just walked in."

Mal lounged back in his chair at the small table he shared with Zoe, his shot glass of whiskey held before his lips, hiding their movement.

The two of them had set themselves up in the Deck A Ballroom, under the notion that if Wash and Kaylee did venture from their cabin, they'd most likely show up here. A little random movement, and to anyone observing, it would have seemed two unacquainted passengers, wearing unremarkable middle-management business drab, ended by chance sharing a table in the busy venue.

Mal's chair faced the entrance, which placed Zoe in the position of watching his six. Her slight nod acknowledged the information he'd just passed along.

A long, silent moment passed, then Mal stiffened. "Gorramit," he bit out.

"Trouble, sir?" She eased up in her chair, getting ready to spring in whatever need be direction, running escape routes through her mind.

He sat up, putting his glass on the table. "He's got his hands all over her."

"Shen me?"

"That pilot of yours. He's got his gorram hands all up and down my mei mei."

"My pilot..?"

"I told you this was a bad idea, that we couldn't trust him not to take advantage."

"Don't recall that part of the conversation, sir."

"Fine. But I did have my private reservations. Which I kept to my own self, not wantin' to offend your tender sensibilities."

"My sensibilities aside, sir," she said softly, lips hardly moving, "Wash ain't the kinda man to take advantage. And I held that opinion well before I started sexin' him up." His gaze flitted away from her, in a wincing sort of way. "And you shouldn't be carin' if the Neidermeyers strip buck naked, and go at it hammer and tongs in the middle of the dance floor." He glared at her, mouth and eyes going wide with outrage, but she went on, quiet but firm, "And you shouldn't be knowin' me well enough to have any kinda personal conversation."

That cooled him, and after a moment, he rose, tossed back his remaining quarter-inch of whiskey, and growled, "You're on watch. I'll be in my bunk."

--

Wash and Kaylee found a table, and sat there for a while, content to watch the comings and goings of their social betters, marveling at one lady's assortment of jewelry, or the color of that fella's pants. Wash fetched Kaylee two more fruity parasol drinks, while he slowly sipped down a pint of beer. Alcohol went straight to the circuit that connected his mouth to his brain, unhitching the governor for both volume and content. He realized maybe he should have tasted one of Kaylee's drinks to ascertain its potency when she stood up, flung her hand out to him, and demanded, "Let's dance."

"Uh, Kaylee," he started, but still, he was rising, taking her hand, because she'd been loud enough for some of the folks around them to turn and look. As she tugged him onto the dance floor he warned her, "I only know how to waltz. And I last did that in flight school."

"Well," she declared cheerily, putting her right hand on his shoulder and using the left to tightly grip his right, "it's a good thing yer leading, 'cuz I can't even do that."

Eventually, they ended up doing the lowest common denominator of partnered dancing; rocking back and forth gently in time to the music, her hands on his shoulders, his on her waist. That was fine, Wash thought, 'cause they weren't the only couple on the floor in the same configuration. And besides, there were a lot worse ways a guy could be spending his time, other than in close contact with a pretty woman, just soaking up the essence of her. That old Earth-That-Was genius, Einstein, based his whole theory of relativity on that fact.

His musings were cut off when Kaylee's hands slipped off his shoulders, down his sides, and then around to his backside. Her very strong fingers gave his buttocks a healthy squeeze, while she pressed her face into his chest, giggling roguishly. He eeped, then grinned, giving her a little swat on the rear.

"You have had way too many fruity parasols."

She looked up at him, eyes twinkling. "Just doin' my job is all, makin' folks believe we're newlyweds, an' all."

"Thinkin' maybe someone needs to go to bed."

"Now, see," she said, smiling impishly, "that's just what I'm talkin' about." Then, she leaned into him, heavily, capturing his mouth with hers, arms twining behind his neck, and, lao tien ye, was she ever a great kisser; tender but strong, completely self-assured. For a long pulse of sweet, fruit-flavored time, he fell into the luxury of her lips, offering up to her the best of his own. Then, sucking in a deep breath, he pulled away from her, putting his hands on her shoulders to push her back a bit.

"Whoa," he said, voice thick, meaning both "whoa – stop" and "whoa – that totally turned me on."

She put her hand to her lips, looking down to the deck, then back up at him, eyes wide, seeming a little dazed.

"Whoa," she repeated, distractedly.

"Maybe," he said, heart pounding a little too hard. "Maybe we're a little tired. Stressed. Maybe we should get to our bunk. Get to sleep." Then, clarifying emphatically, "Just sleep. Sleeping is good."

"Yeah. Sleep."

--

Was a good thing Mal had retired to his bunk, Zoe decided, as she watched Wash pull away from the smooch he had just laid on Kaylee. Because she didn't know if she could have held him back from charging across the dance floor to defend the young mechanic's honor. In fact, recognizing that slightly fevered expression on her lover's face, she wasn't too sure she would have tried to restrain the captain.

She watched them leave the ballroom, features stony.

--

The walk to the cabin had actually helped to sort them out, to cool them down. Wash was reaching out to swipe the key card when Kaylee said quietly, "I'm sorry."

"No, Kaylee," he reassured her, turning to look into her crest-fallen face. "You got nothing to be sorry for. It was just a kiss. A very, very nice kiss. But that's all. We don't have to make into anything else."

"No. No, it was wrong," she replied, shaking her head. "I know you're courtin' Zoe. And, that's right and good. She needs a fella like you, all fun, and sweet, and, and strong enough to take whatever she'll throw at you."

"Strong." Wash considered himself, and considered what it might be Zoe could need from a man, long term.

Oh, well. And besides, if she threw anything at him, he figured he'd just duck.

He swiped the card through the lock, grinning down at Kaylee. "Fun, maybe, I got."

--

Kaylee used the bathroom first, oohing and ahing over the fixtures and the assortment of soaps and other potions. She decided she'd shower the next morning, and came out of the bathroom in the same PJs she wore on Serenity, when she wandered down into the galley for a midnight snack.

Wash opted to shower then, and left Kaylee bouncing in the middle of the huge bed, exclaiming at how soft it was. He took shameless advantage of the lack of water rationing and indulged in a good fifteen minute soak under steaming hot spray. Skin glowing pink, he emerged from the bathroom in a tank and his flannel drawstring pants, toweling his hair dry. Kaylee sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed, looking at a slender volume open in her lap. As he watched, she picked the book up, and with a quizzical expression, rotated it 180 degrees. Noticing him then, she flipped it around so the page she'd been studying faced him.

"Ain't this somethin', Wash? Ya ever done that?"

He'd leaned in automatically to look at what she was showing him. He jerked back just as automatically when he realized he was looking at a lovely, but extremely graphic illustration of a pair of very flexible lovers.

Ears growing hot, he admitted, "Um, um, yeah, you know. A few times."

"Really?" She turned the book toward herself again, staring at the picture, shaking her head in wonderment.

"Yeah, well, I'm actually pretty lithe." Desirous of leading the conversation in a less personal direction, he asked, "Where'd you get that?"

"In there." She gestured over her shoulder with her thumb, pointing Wash in the direction of the bedside table. "Oh, there's lots of other nifty stuff too. Looky here!" She tossed the pillow book to one side, and rolling onto her belly, stretched out to reach into the open drawer. Sitting back up, she tossed a large handful of small packets, tubes, and vials onto the bed.

"Seems as the establishment wants to make sure their new wed passengers get off to a good start."

"Huh," said Wash, sitting down on the edge of the bed, and ruffling his fingers through the goodies. "Lube, massage oil, condoms, both male and female..." He picked up one of the sheaths, reading the label. "Mint flavored." He tossed it back to begin picking through the pile. "Any grape? Grape's my favorite."

"This 'un's got racin' stripes!"

"Stripes?"

"Sure enough. Look." Ripping open the packet, she pulled out the condom, pinched the tip, and deftly unrolled it. She displayed it for Wash, and sure enough, the latex sheath was bright purple, with vivid red stripes.

"Shiny!" he exclaimed, matching her enthusiasm with his, although, truth be told, to his mind anyway, advertising one's speed in the sexual area seemed counter-productive.

Giggling, she put the opening of the sheath to her lips and exhaled hugely. The thing inflated, and she continued blowing it up, transforming it into an enormous pink-streaked lavender sausage. Then she let it go, and Wash barked with laughter as he ducked away from its crazy flight around the room. He reached for a packet of his own.

--

The next morning, Kaylee popped out of the bathroom, briskly running her brush through her hair. She wore her favorite of her new dresses, the light green one, sprigged with tiny red roses. "Might wanna make sure your pillow and blanket are back on the bed, Wash."

Wash, perched on the edge of couch, straightened after tugging his shoe lace tight. "What? Oh."

"Yep. Maid might think it strange one of us slept on the couch, this bein' the bridal suite an' all. Maybe I'm bein' all paranoid and spookish, but probably best if we don't stand out in anyway. So's no one has cause to gossip 'bout us."

"You're getting real good at this sneaky stuff, Kaylee. Kinda scary, actually. Smart, cute, and sneaky. 'Verse don't stand a chance."

She giggled, and popped back into the bathroom, calling, "Think they'll have fresh strawberries at breakfast?"

--

Zoe, lurking in a non-obvious manner down the corridor, watched the two of them leave their stateroom, heading toward the dining room. She smiled to herself. Apparently Wash had sneaked one of his aloha shirts, the newest one, scarlet palm trees on a deep blue background, into his luggage. Which, for once, actually seemed apropos. This was a cruise ship, after all.

After a few moments, she strode down the hallway, metal briefcase swinging casually in her grip. Acquiring the EM randomizer from the secure cargo area had gone without a hitch, with the access codes Badger had supplied. The fact that her captain had served as look out while she did the actual thieving might have had something to do with how smoothly the operation had gone.

She slipped into the bridal suite, cast a quick glance around, confirming that the mapped floor plans matched reality, then, skirting around the bed – a huge plushy thing with a crimson coverlet, unmade and satin sheets well rumbled – went to the closet. Sliding the door aside, she found Wash's duffel on the floor. She knelt, undid the zip, and slid the briefcase inside. Zipping it back up, a flash of color caught the corner of her eye, and she turned her head to focus on it. Then, she bent, reaching out to grasp the glittering thing from under the bed. She stood up, pinching between forefinger and thumb the purple condom packet, torn open and empty.

She looked down, into the waste basket beside the bed, then looked quickly away. But, impressed clearly on her razor sharp mind was the image of, at its bottom, at least three limp, multi-colored sheaths, their wrappers, and a number of empty mini-tubes of massage oil.

--

Almost two hours later, Wash and Kaylee waddled back to their cabin. There had been strawberries, and fresh orange juice, and real eggs and coffee, and a dozen different types of tiny pastries, one of each they each had to sample. And that had been just the first pass at the buffet.

"Think I'm gonna explode," Kaylee declared, as Wash swiped the key card to their suite.

"Yeah, but what a way to go," Wash groaned, in a manner which was down right lascivious.

They stepped in, and found the cabin sparkling bright. Clearly housekeeping had been there, as the bed was crisply made, and there were new flowers, white and lavender, in the vases next to the bed. Wash went to the closet, as Kaylee meandered to the bedside table and, checking, found the drawer freshly stocked.

"It's here," Wash declared, voice muffled in the closet. Kaylee immediately slid the drawer shut, saying, "Shiny. Let's do this."

When you got right down to it, Wash mused, the caper itself was pretty routine. Kaylee carefully took the device apart while he took notes and digital images. And then she put it back together, with him telling her every now and then, 'Yes, that modification would improve efficiency, but if you make it, they'll know they were skunked.' It seemed to be against her core nature not to make a piece of engineering, whatever it was, work to its optimum level.

Eventually, their task was done. She put the EM dampener back in its case, and that back in Wash's duffel. He tidied up their tools and drop cloth. He popped the camera's chip, put it in his pocket, and installed a new one. Once the device was back in secure cargo, he and Kaylee could be really-o, truly-o tourists, and he wanted to get a lot of vids and stills of the Lorelei and her entertainments.

They went to lunch.

Zoe slid into their cabin, then out again, metal briefcase so natural in her hand.

--

Mal sat at a table in Ballroom A, completely, smugly sanguine. The job was done, and all he and his crew had to do was ride it out on a luxury liner for the next six days. Zoe slipped into a chair next to him, and they exchanged a look which, to an outside observer, would read as completely cold and indifferent. He knew, though, that inside she was triumphantly chortling, "Hell, yeah!" He gave her a brief, exultant, "Hell, yeah!" nod in return.

Naturally, that was when Lorelei security surrounded their table, a very large lieutenant ordering politely, "Malcolm Reynolds, Zoe Alleyne, please accompany us to the security office."

Mal took a moment to consider whether making a ruckus was worth it. (He knew Zoe'd follow whichever course he took.) But then he spotted Wash and Kaylee standing in the huge double doors, wide-eyed. And he knew, if he made it physical, Zoe'd be right there. Which meant his feng le pilot would fly in, swinging wildly. And maybe even Kaylee, after him. Which he actually appreciated, though he knew their efforts would be totally worthless.

So he stood, saying peaceably, "What's the problem, officers?"

Wash and Kaylee, coming in for the afternoon high tea, stood stock still, their stomachs plummeting, as they watched Zoe and Mal escorted from their table.

"So," Wash quipped quietly, voice tight with nerves, "Plan B?"

Kaylee stared wide-eyed after the four large men in spotless white uniforms taking her captain and first mate away. She whispered, "We got a plan B?"

"No. No, we don't," Wash said brightly. "But that's all to the good, see. 'Cause our plans, they just never go smooth. So, if we don't have one, we'll be just fine!"

--

Was a fluke really. No error in formation or implementation of the plan. In fact, the actual mission itself remained uncompromised. Problem was, there were warrants out for Mal and Zoe on Beaumont. Minor matters, really, that would take just a few days and a colorful swath of credits to sort out. If Mal had a free hand. Problem was, one of the first class passengers was the fella making the complaint. Tacked onto that was the fact that the chief of security was his second cousin.

So it kinda looked like he and Zoe were locked up in the closest thing Lorelei had to a brig, a secured cabin reserved for passengers disorderly due to over-indulgence, until they reached Beaumont. And it didn't look like he was gonna get a hand free, so he was a tad concerned he and Zoe might get stuck doing actual time.

He was ruminating over what that might mean for Serenity, and for his crew remaining at loose ends, when the intercom by the door gave a sudden little pop, then a faint hiss of static. Both Mal and Zoe turned their heads to look at it, and then rose to their feet in alarm at the sound which next issued forth.

"Cap'n? Zoe? Can ya hear me? It's Kaylee. Just talk if ya can hear me."

"Kaylee? Yeah, we hear you," Mal snapped crisply. "Get on away from here. Don't let anyone catch you messin' around by that door."

"Oh, I ain't by the door, Cap'n, no fears. I'm on the deck above you. In the ladies'. Had ta cut a hole in the hull to get to the wirin'." After a short pause she went on, chagrin evident even through the tinny speaker, "It's just a little hole, Cap'n, an' I'll fix it when I'm done. I ain't vandalizin' this pretty ship none, honest."

"All right, then. You and Wash okay?" Tamade, he needed to focus, to help get his crew safely out of this tangle.

"Right as rain, don't you fret. But... we got a question."

"Go on, baobai."

"Is this part of the cunning plan? 'Cuz we don't wanna mess anything up if it is. But if it ain't, would you mind so much if we rescued you?"

"Resc- Kaylee, now, don't you go doin' somethin' crazy." Then he reined himself up short, considering this whole 'crazy' thing. With a great deal of dark foreboding, Mal asked, "Kaylee, where's Wash at?"

"Oh, he's off stealin' us a ship. Just in case ya do, y'know, want us to rescue you."

--

Wash had opted to go for one of the Lorelei's support and repair skiffs, rather than one of the lifeboat shuttles. The shuttles, docked on A deck, close to the passenger quarters, would have been easier to access. Skiffs were kept on the lowest deck, E, near the engine rooms, an area off-limits to passengers. But, while not as comfortable as a lifeboat, there where times a skiff needed leave the influence of the cruiser's gravity screens, yet still keep up with her. So a skiff had real legs. Plus, because of its duties, about a third of its tonnage was given over to a small, but well stocked repair shop. Wash and Kaylee thought those tools might come in handy.

So he did a little sneaking, old skills first acquired violating flight school curfew, and then polished in prison, getting him undetected through the port-side skiff's access hatch. A little tinkering, and the boat was set, and all he needed was his crew.

Which was how he found himself waiting, jittering, in a corridor on D deck, one level above the out-of-bounds E. To his left, the corridor led forward, toward the spa and gym. To his right, it went aft toward staff offices and housekeeping services like the laundry. Another corridor T'd off ahead of him, the one which Kaylee'd come scurrying down about twenty minutes ago.

"Twiddled the 'lectrics on the lock, Wash," she'd gasped, out of breath, "but Cap'n wouldn't let me near the door to get to the mechanism. Said he and Zoe'd see to it. Said they'd be right behind me." She looked a little worried. "Sounded a bit tetchy. Hope he's not out of sorts 'bout the rescue thingie."

He'd nodded abstractedly, brain moving ahead to the next problem as he'd turned to pop the hatch to the companionway that led down to E deck. He'd guided her through the corridors to the skiff, and then, once secure inside it, had tried to settle down on the tiny craft's bridge while Kaylee'd fiddled about with its engines aft. After five minutes, though, he'd found he couldn't bear it, images of Zoe and Mal wandering lost through the unfamiliar innards of this vast ship preying on his mind. Finally, he'd said, "Gonna go back up, Kaylee, make sure they find the right hatchway." She'd simply nodded, elbow deep in the skiff's workings.

He realized it didn't make much sense for him to go lurking through the corridors. Chances were just as good that he'd miss them as find them, and then they could show up at the skiff and he'd be missing, then they'd go looking for him and around and around. Best stay put, as agitating as it was to have to stand in one spot.

His heart lurched as a person slipped around the corner he was watching, alarm shifting to joy as he saw it was Zoe. She spotted him immediately, and a quick smile flashed across her face before her expression became still and intent again. He took a step toward her, then a voice rang out to his right.

"Mr. Neidermeyer?"

Wash pivoted, catching out of the corner of his eye Zoe stepping back, bumping into Mal as he came around the corner, and pushing him back around it.

The first thing he noticed was the white Lorelei uniform, and he thought for a moment Lt. Han, the security chief, had found him out. But then it struck him that Han probably wouldn't be carrying a stack of folded, fluffy white towels through the corridors.

"James!" Wash blurted, truly relieved to recognize the young steward who'd showed them to their cabin yesterday. He stepped forward quickly, to meet him down the corridor, rather than let him get to the intersection, thereby blocking it.

James' smile grew deeper, perhaps interpreting Wash's relieved grin as something more personal. "How are you today, Mr. Neidermeyer?" he asked, stopping as Wash approached him.

"I'm good, thanks, James." Wash stepped to one side, a little past him, turning, requiring James to turn too to keep facing him. This little maneuver put the steward's back to the intersection. "And how are you?"

"Fine, thank you, sir. How is Mrs. Neidermeyer?"

"She's- she's in our cabin. Lying down." He gave his smile a rueful slant. "All worn out. A little too much excitement. So I came out to explore on my own."

Movement in the intersection caught Wash's eye and he flicked a glance over James' shoulder, who began to turn to see what – or who – had caught his attention. Wash quickly reached out and set light fingertips on James' bicep. The man's interest flew immediately back to Wash.

Wash watched without looking directly, as Zoe stepped silently into the intersection. He said, "I'm a little turned around. This part of the ship isn't off-limits, is it?" He lowered his voice a little, leaning slightly toward James. "I wouldn't want to get into any trouble."

As he spoke, Zoe moved to the hatch to E deck, and carefully rotated the switch that took the door from automatic to manual. Then, with a smooth, powerful motion, she took hold of the hatch-grips, and slid the heavy barrier to one side. The exquisitely maintained bearings rolled without a sound, while her moving the door manually avoided the soft but distinct pneumatic hiss of it opening on automatic. A little animal in the back of Wash's brain noted how he found all this – her cleverness, her complete silence, her strength and speed – incredibly arousing.

Most of his brain, though, focused on keeping James distracted.

The young man was saying, "Oh, no. Deck D is completely open to passengers, although anything aft would just be boring staff offices and the like."

"And aft is that way?" Wash gestured with a thumb over his shoulder. "I get so confused."

"That's right, Mr. Neidermeyer! You're catching on quickly."

Zoe had slipped through the opening, and Mal had followed, two quick strides getting him through the intersection and the hatch, as Wash said, "Maybe you could give me a private tour, James. I'm sure I'd catch on real quick then."

A certain... anticipation flashed across James' features, then he looked down at the towels he carried. His face fell. "I'm sorry, Mr. Neidermeyer. I'm on duty, I need to run these to the gym."

The hatch slid shut, and Wash leaned back a little. "Oh. Well, maybe later, then." He smiled brightly, an expression James could take any way he chose.

The young man blinked, as though slightly dazzled, then grinned himself. "Deck C lounge. I'm there lots, when I'm off-duty."

"Deck C," Wash repeated, as though committing it to memory.

With a smiling nod, James turned away, to stride up the corridor toward the gym. He glanced over his shoulder after about ten paces, and was gratified to see Mr. Neidermeyer had his gaze fixed upon him, watching intently. He went on, adding a jaunty little swagger to his step.

Wash waited a good long moment once James rounded a corner, his hearing hyper-alert to any sounds coming down any of the corridors. Then he went to the hatch, switched it back to automatic, and hit the button to open it. It hissed and he squeezed through the widening gap, smacked the close button, then flung himself down the companionway, stumbling on the steps. He took a deep breath at the bottom, composing himself, and with no less tension but much more control, wound cautiously through the corridors leading to the port-side skiff.

Its access hatch was open and he stepped through to hear Mal ask, in a dubious tone, "...how well does he know that guy?"

Kaylee spotted him coming in, and cried, "Wash!"

"Hush, hush," he hissed, sliding for the pilot's seat. "We gotta move." She darted back toward the engine, accessed on this small a vessel through an open panel. He hit the button that would seal both Lorelei's hatch and the skiff's door, then flipped the switch that would bring the rocket boosters on-line.

He then reached for the toggle which opened the bay doors in Lorelei's hull, allowing them egress, the tangle of wires spilling from its panel to the navsat's testimony to the very hasty, sloppy job he'd done hacking it.

"Won't the bridge see us leaving?" Mal asked, as he plopped himself in one of the crew chairs, strapping himself in, Zoe mirroring his actions.

"Oh, Wash fixed that," Kaylee declared from aft. "Spooked the sensors to the door, and the bay's atmo readings, and jimmied it so the pressure plates would signify the skiff ain't moved."

"Oh," Mal said, bemused.

A tiny burst of the jets had them moving backwards, out the hatch, and once clear, Wash sent the signal to seal Lorelei back up again. He let them drift away, slowly bringing their own grav screens up, blending them indiscernibly with the cruiser's. They eventually oozed from from Lorelei's envelope, and Wash began the sequence to start up the skiff's pulse drive.

"Wait! Shouldn't we wait 'til they're well clear?"

"Don't know how soon they'll spot the skiff missing. Could be any moment. If they're lookin' for us, this close, they'll spot our grav anomaly."

"But if we start the pulse drive, they'll spot us and track us for sure!"

"Oh, Kaylee fixed that," Wash declared. "Used bits and pieces to whip us up an EM dampener. Just like the MacGuffin unit. Fade our exhaust right out."

"Won't last long though, Cap'n, no more'n a couple hours" Kaylee said apologetically. "Need a real hardened relay spool, to handle the radiation. An' I could only cobble up a quick titanium coil."

"Well, I'm sure you did the best you could, little Kaylee," Mal said encouragingly, then settled back in his chair, wrapping his head around the fact he was being rescued by his tech crew. Decided to relax and enjoy it.

Wash breathed, "Yee hah," and kicked on the pulse drive.

Was fast. About as fast as Mal could remember moving. Little craft like this, every movement was raw, real close to the naked Black outside. Wash had them back above Persephone in a couple hours, and then the guy's hands were moving, flying about all over the console, steadying the bucking stick.

"This thing okay to enter atmo?" Mal inquired, in what he figured was a pretty casual tone.

"Sure. No problem." And Wash was talking in that creepifyin' calm, cool voice, the one that let you know that if even the tiniest little thing went wrong, you were a smear of organic molecules fizzling in the troposphere. "If you hit it at precisely the right angle."

Mal clamped his jaws shut tight, gripping the arms of the chair, scarcely breathing for fear of distracting his pilot.

--

Badger was a little taken aback at needing to pay up for the mission so soon, just three days after agreeing on something that was thought would take over a week. But Reynolds had the goods, including a vid chip. Mal thought Jayne being a tad surly due to being rousted early from his pleasures helped move things along. Maybe Zoe's mood, too. She was always a bit odd and fettle-some after Wash did a bit of fancy flying. So Badger, wisely, decided not to fuss about the advanced schedule, and paid up.

Wash and Kaylee proved to be a bit melancholy about passing the skiff through a chop shop, but Mal made sure they got first dibs on the disassembled pieces.

Then Serenity was up in the Black, though not quite unattached from Persephone, 'cuz they needed Inara to be done with her business. That would take a few days, but Mal was sanguine, positively sanguine, that they could float above that world, just being themselves unto their own selves. Really, besides just eating and breathing, he didn't know what else was worth askin' from the 'verse.

--

Zoe'd come back from dealing with Badger with a tension Wash had grown to anticipate and appreciate. She'd found him, and said curtly, "Your bunk," then strode off to do first matey things.

So after all his piloting chores were done, and they were set in a peaceful swinging orbit around Persephone, he'd gone to his bunk and waited. He'd been caught up lately in a series of rediscovered Earth-That-Was novels of wet water sailing adventures. A couple Border words had taken to publishing these public domain works on actual paper, made from hemp, cheap, with gorgeously lurid and cheesy covers. He loved how they smelled. But when the hatch clunked open, he thoughtlessly tossed Hornblower aside. He sat up on the end of his bed, watching Zoe slide down his ladder.

She paused, one hand gripping an upright, studying him intently. He smiled, joyful simply to be looking at her, then eased back onto his bed, laying himself down, lower legs still dangling over its edge. He ran languid hands slowly up and down his sides, before saying, "Lucky thing, y' know, that I decided to wear this, 'stead of that gorram suit this morning. Having had to abandon all our luggage. It's my favorite shirt."

"Mm," Zoe replied as she joined him on the bed, straddling his body, crawling on all fours until her face came even above his. He grinned lazily up at her, luxuriating in the knowledge that great goodness was about to spill out all upon his person.

Then she reached under her vest, into an inner pocket, pulling out a small, vivid, torn packet. She held it up before Wash's eyes and he took it automatically, squinting at it closely.

"Huh. Oh, yeah. This was the purple one. With red racing stripes."

There was a short, very pointed silence. Then Wash abruptly blanched, fingers tightening on the wrapper.

"No," he gasped. "No, oh, no." Eyes wide, he met Zoe's stare, horrified. "We didn't. She didn't. I didn't."

"No? You seemed to be gettin' pretty cozy there on the dance floor."

"We... The kiss." He felt his cheeks go from clammy to burning, acutely aware that Zoe would perceive that flush – correctly – as guilt.

"Looked like a good one."

"It- it was. But, Zoe." He made himself focus, and say levelly, "it was just that one."

"You're sayin' it stopped there."

"Yes, I'm saying that."

He left it at that, squarely meeting her measuring gaze. She either believed him or she didn't; she wasn't a woman to be sweet-talked around to any man's advantage.

Not taking her eyes from his, she indicated with a tilt of her head the condom wrapper he still tightly gripped. "That?"

"We found them, in the bedside table. We, ah, blew them up. Like balloons."

"Balloons," she said flatly.

Ah, well. So much for the manly, hero-like points he might have gleaned with the whole stealing the skiff thing. "Balloons," he affirmed. "We flew them around the room." He waggled his hand, waving the wrapper, buzzing his lips with the "released balloon" flutter.

She stared down at him a moment more, then her whole face lit up as she grinned, a ripple of giggles startled from her. He grinned too, with vast relief, that she had decided to trust him, to believe him. She still loomed over him on all fours, but suddenly her position became a lot less intimidating, and a lot more intriguing. With a flick of his wrist, he sailed the sheath wrapper onto his bedside table, then brought both his hands up to lightly stroke her arms.

She lifted a hand to catch one of his, bringing it to her lips to kiss his knuckles. He melted with the love he wasn't sure she would welcome him expressing yet, the way he always did with one of her tender little gestures. Then she frowned, as she circled back round to something that had been niggling at her.

"Racing stripes?" She cocked a disparaging brow.

"I know!" he exclaimed. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I love speed. The speedier the speed the better. But some things just shouldn't be sped."

She began leisurely unbuttoning his shirt. "Damn straight. Some things, slow and steady wins the race. Let's just see..." He gasped softly as her fingernails made an unhurried foray on a nipple. "...just how slow we can make this one go."