The Claw

"Step right up folks! Step right up!" one of the many acts around the skyplex called.

The skyplex was a buzz, like it always was. River liked it. The liveliness. There were so many thoughts whizzing around, people from all over the 'verse gathered in one place. Pretty lights, sounds, smells. So many pretty things…

Mal was with her that day. Simon was off with Kaylee, Zoe and Jayne off to get supplies and their post, and he was with her. He didn't mind it. He actually enjoyed watching her float from place to place. She would run her hand along the various goods that interested her. He could tell because she'd pause for just a second with that look of wonder in her eyes.

-DiinngggDiinngggdiiiinnngggg-

The chimes clanged under her feathery touch as she glided by, stopping to twirl to the melody. She felt his eyes on her, so she twirled again and faced him with a smile.

Whenever the girl smiled he had the urge to smile back and ninety-nine percent of the time he couldn't help himself and he would. This was one of those times.

Her smile didn't fade as she continued the exploration of the different commodities and vendors around.

He readjusted the boxes under his arm and followed her around a bit more. She stopped at a machine and leaned her head to one side, gazing in through the glass.

It was a simple tall box, half made of glass and half made of plastic. She peered in, gazing at the stuffed animals inside. A metal claw dangled above them and the controller was on the outside. It cost a few bits, but she didn't have any money. She didn't feel Mal move to stand beside her.

"One of the stuffed animals catch your eye, little albatross?"

"No…" she replied although one in particular stood out to them both.

She lingered for another moment and then gravitated towards an ice planet vendor. He hesitated, fighting an inner battle. The soft side of him won and he tried for the stuffed animal but without success. He sighed and caught up to her further down the narrow strip of sellers.

They caught up with Simon and Kaylee who whisked River off while Mal sought out Jayne and Zoe.

Then they got back on the ship and left for their next job. Mal was stocking the cupboards when he felt her more than heard her enter the room.

"Hard game. Probability and physics can easily be calculated for the win."

"What game are you talkin' 'bout?" he asked with his back to her. When no response came, he turned around.

She was gone, but she left something for him on the table. A stuffed white and gray bird with a yellow tipped beak. It had a note under it. "An albatross from your albatross" he just smiled and picked it up. If Jayne saw him with that, he'd think that he went soft. And that night as he set it on his desk, he conjured that he had.