He barely saw the top of her head over the pilot's chair as he entered the bridge. As usual, she knew he was there before he even got all of the way up the steps.

"Can I help you, Captain?" she asked without taking her eyes off of the Black.

He leaned on the controls beside her, picking up one of the dinosaur toys that Wash left behind.

"I need to send someone a wave," he explained with a sigh as he turned the toy over and over again in his hands, suddenly more interested in it than he had ever been just to avoid looking at his albatross.

"Is that a subtle hint to leave?" she smirked.

His eyes shot up from the stegosaurus, landing on her. She had her legs drawn to her chest, but her arms were on the helm. How that was comfortable, he didn't know. Her legs were milky white against her dark purple dress. Those big brown eyes were still trained on the task of flying his ship with skill and grace that Wash would have been proud of. The way that her hair pooled around her face, framing it so perfectly, made his heart race. I never want you to leave, he thought quietly.

"Captain?" she asked, finally meeting his distant gaze. His thoughts were going too fast for her to read effectively. Actually, it was overwhelming her, making her feel a bit light-headed. As soon as her eyes met his he cleared his throat and when back to playing with the dinosaur.

"Sorry, distracted's all…" he mumbled as he ran his finger down the plastic spikes.

"You're thinking too fast. Making me dizzy."

"Oh…sorry."

"Must be an important wave. You're nervous." She reached out for his hand. He couldn't breathe. What's she doing? He thought desperately. She grabbed the dino's tail and sat it back down so he'd stop the gorram fidgeting. He was making her nervous. He looked at his boots, a little flustered from the anticipation of her hand on his, although it never came. River put Serenity on autopilot and looked at Mal with a typical River look written on her sweet face.

"Are you waving Inara?"

"WHAT? No! No."

"I figured it would be the most probable reason for your jumpiness. Is it Patience? Her name really doesn't suit her…"

Mal laughed. It was true. He brought his eyes back to River once again with a small grin.

"That's the pure truth, little one. No, it ain't Patience. It's business though. I should be attendin' to it. If you'd excuse me…"

"Of course, Captain."

She got up and moved out of the way, stealing a second pondering look that he matched. She was trying to figure out what had him so damn agitated. His thoughts literally went blank along with the expression on his face. She hated how he could do that. She flashed a quick smile before floating off to the galley for a snack.

He sat down with a sigh of relief. The seat cover that had once smelled like Wash's heavy cologne was now replaced with the scent of his full time pilot, the one and only River Tam. The truth was that he was nervous because for awhile now because his feelings for her had changed. He wasn't sure what made him notice her in that way. He always thought that she was pretty, but now she was simply breathtaking. He was lost, nervous, flushed in her presence like some school boy. Maybe it had been during one of their flight lessons that he started to like her. Or maybe it was the night they had all gathered around a fire. Jayne had started to play his guitar, so River got up and started dancing. The way that the fire had illuminated every graceful movement and her smile…maybe that was it. Either way, something had changed.

He snapped back into reality and pressed a few buttons. Then he appeared on the screen.

"Mal, long time no see."

"Badger. I heard you might have a job for us. Speak your piece."

"That I do. There's a moon close to Greenleaf called Cavalry. 'Ave you 'eard of it?"

"I believe so."

"Well, there's a local group of…troublemakers. They call 'emselves Leeches. They take people 'n use 'em 'till there's nothin' left. Some of the people they take work in the fields or if they 'ave skills they use those. If they don't, the Leeches hold 'em hostage for money. If their families or friends can't pay and they can't offer them anythin', they kill 'em nice and slow like."

"Well this has been real educational, but can we get to the part where me and mine fit in?"

"They store their blood money in an old shack. Accordin' to my sources, only two guards are on it except for on pay day. If you get there in time, you'll get 'em when their guard is down. It's a lot of money, Mal…"

"Now we're talkin'. Do you have a plan?"

"Yes. You get the money and I get forty percent."

"I meant a bit more specific like. How we get the money…that sort of thing?"

"That's up to you. You're the petty thief. I'm the respectable business person."

"You get thirty percent."

"Forty."

"Thirty."

Just at that time, River had reappeared on the bridge and was standing behind Mal smiling. He looked up at her as if to say "Not now" but she stayed.

"Well 'ello there," Badger grinned.

"If it isn't the sad lil' king of the sad lil' 'ill 'imself," River returned in her accent.

"The one and only. So 'ow 'ave you been?"

"Fine thank you. 'N you?"

"Bett'r now that you're 'ere."

She giggled. Mal watched in awe as she continued to flirt with Badger.

"I'm sorry! Did I interrupt?" she finally asked.

"Not at all, little one. It's always a pleasure seein' you again…" Badger beamed.

She's my little one. Mal growled in his head. River almost broke character and shot a surprised look in his direction, having heard his thought. Luckily Badger didn't notice. He was too busy looking at her certain…assets…as she leaned forward just a bit.

"Would you go to thirty-five percent…for me?" River asked, batting her eyes prettily at him. She smiled and then he smiled back.

"Ah alright. For you love. Thirty-five percent. I'll want my cut in two weeks."

"Okay Badger, see you then."

Mal cut the screen off before River could say goodbye. She smiled at him and he inadvertently smiled back, even though he didn't approve of her constant flirtation with him. He didn't like the way Badger had looked at her. No one should be lookin' at her with that hunger in their eyes, he thought before realizing that he was looking at her that very way when she looked down at her leg like she was inspecting it.

"W-what you doin'?" he asked.

"Badger was upset that he couldn't see my legs. I don't know what's so alluring about them. He thinks about them a lot…it makes me a bit uncomfortable."

"As it rightly should. I don't think that you should-"

His eyes traveled up her exposed legs to her curves, making their way to her face, stopping him in his tracks. When she met his gaze, he felt a blush cover his cheeks. He hoped that she didn't catch it.

"Should what?" she asked.

"Flirt with him like that's all."

"I'll be fine. Just likes to look at me is all."

He looked at her body again, instantly feeling guilty for doing so. He felt his face glow. He hated how hot and bothered she made him.

"You feel warm, feverish. Thinking it right now, how unusually hot you feel. Maybe Simon should look at you," River suggested as she picked up on his thought. He tugged nervously at his collar.

"It's nothing. I'll go get some water…"

He got up, accidentally bumping into her. His heart went into over drive when she giggled. He mumbled out an apology.

"Let me at least see if you have a fever."

She reached out to feel his forehead, but he jerked back like she was coming at him with a knife. She looked confused and slightly hurt. He awkwardly motioned towards the door with his hand.

"I…captainy things to do…"

"Is something wrong?"

"No. Nothing…"

"You seem on edge. Is everything alright?"

"Yeah…just shiny. I gotta go now."

He left like someone had lit a fire under him. Something was bothering him, and she intended to find out what it was.

****