A/N: SG-1 comes into the story in part 3.

Still Flying

"How are those crates going?" Mal asks on his way through the cargo bay. His boots clatter loudly on the floor and send a layer of dust up into the air. He scrunches up his nose and then pinches the bridge of it between index finger and thumb.

Zoe barely looks up, muttering an 'almost done' back to him. Jayne on the other hand drops the crate he'd been carrying into place and does nothing to help Zoe further. Rather he stands and glares at Mal. "Ain't nearly as easy with no mule, ya know," he points out. He swipes his forehead with the back of his hand. "Don't see neither why you ain't lending a hand."

"I'm the Captain," Mal replies easily. "Now quit complainin' and get to it. Ain't too long til we're off this rock and on our merry."

Sighing loudly, Jayne reaches for another crate. This one wavers in his arms, allowing it to tilt on it's side. Dirt falls form a gap in the top of the box that could be used as a handle. He cusses and levels it once more.

"Best not drop any of those," Mal says. He raises an eyebrow. "Our clients promised a small fortune for this lot and if it's broke when we get there..."

"Yeah, yeah. I got it," Jayne butts in. "What is this stuff anyhow? Not that it matters none. Weighs more 'n an elephant."

"And you would know that how? Ever tried pickin' up an elephant in your bare hands, Jayne?" Zoe adds.

Scowling, Jayne shakes his head. "Course not. That's not what I-"

"Jayne. Just get back to work," she says between heaving more crates. Sweat glistens on her forehead and arms. Even in the chill of night air, the work is hard. The cover of darkness, a requirement of the job thanks to the very strict instructions set by their employer, is perhaps the worst aspect of it. Otherwise it's just their usual, run of the mill, pick up and deliver jobs. With the pick up nearly done – six more crates left to bring into the ship, Mal notes – they'll be on their way to the delivery post in no time and collecting the cashy money promised to them.

Mal nods to Zoe and then continues on to the bridge. He finds Wash, brow furrowed in concentration and two plastic dinosaurs in his hands. Words fall from his lips so softly Mal can barely make them out.

"Now that's a good girl, Shelly," he says to the T-Rex. "You apologize to our dear Markus there, who you killed and stole the land from. Ahh. Yes. That's good, see? You two be friends now." He holds the dinosaurs close together. "No! Markus! Revenge is not sweet. Revenge is bad! Stop with the revenge! Argh!"

"Wash?"

"Hmmm...what? Captain?"

Mal crosses his arms across his chest, takes a last step forwards and stares out the glass panel into the black of night. Stars prick the darkness every so often like ants scattered across a picnic blanket. Where there are no stars for some time, the blackness is impenetrable. Building tops obscure the view.

"Beautiful night, isn't it?" Mal murmurs.

Wash smiles even as he narrows his eyes. "Ah, yes? Sir?"

"Y'all ready to get off this piece of rock?"

"Sure am."

"Good." Mal smiles thinly. "Let's set a course for the drop off point, all right?"

"Yep. Already onto that."

"Great. How long til we arrive?"

Wash glances at the screen displaying the ships stats, their current location and the delivery location. "I'd say," he starts. "Hmm. Four, four and half hours? Give or take."

"Perfect." That said, Mal reaches for the comm and presses the button in. "This is the Captain," he announces, finding a little thrill at the fact that his voice is now bouncing down through Serenity's belly to the rest of the crew. "Zoe, we all set to go?" He waits.

A moment later there's a burst of static and the voice of his second in command. "We're all set, Captain. Cargo bay doors are closed and we got the goods away."

"Shiny," he replies. To Wash, he aims a smile and a nod. "Onwards to Cirec."

"Onwards indeed." Wash immediately shifts into pilot mode and Mal watches as he presses a combination of buttons and levers and the engines sputter to life and begin their familiar hum. The awakening of Serenity sends vibrations through their bodies and alights the feeling of freedom in Mal. This is it. This is his true love, taking to the sky in the ship he loves. It's freeing.

"Let me know when we get there." Grinning to himself, Mal turns and moves off the bridge, leaving a very focused Wash to navigate the universe and get them to the drop off point. In the hallway just outside the mess, he nearly collides with Inara. "Whoa, hey!"

"Hello, Mal." She seems unaffected by their run in. "I hear it's not too long a trip this time."

"Uh, yeah. Four or five hours thereabouts, Wash said," he fills her in. "We'll settle for the night then deliver the goods come daylight."

"That's good."

"Yeah."

"I don't suppose we'll be heading somewhere I can find decent clientele afterwards?"

He attempts to hide his disdain but fails miserably and is rewarded with an equally frustrated look. "Sure, we'll be onto the rich and fanciful planets in no time. Got a possible job lined up on one of the core planets once we're done with this lot."

"That's great. Thank you."

"No problem." Bowing in mock respect, he hurries past her and fixes himself some dinner. He's halfway through eating when River's slender figure slips in through the door and joins him at the table. She peers at him through curious eyes and his jaw stops moving for a second under her gaze. Unnerved, he forces himself to swallow the food and pastes a smile onto his face.

"Hey, little one. Where's your big brother gone to?"

"Away. With Kaylee," she murmurs.

"Right."

"He likes to see her. Can't find the courage to tell her."

Mal raises an eyebrow.

"The plan is faulty," she adds suddenly.

"Huh?"

"The plan. Something will go wrong."

"With Simon? And, uh, Kaylee?" he wonders aloud.

River looks at him as if he's an idiot child. "The job."

"What's gonna go wrong?"

She simply smiles at him and then reaches over and steals a bit of his protein bar before he can stop her. Happily, she prances away through the same door she entered.

Under his breath he mutters, "Was it too much to hope a job might actually go to plan for once?"

"Sir?"

He glances up to see Zoe enter from where River just disappeared. "Ah, nothing."

"Something's wrong?"

Letting out a heavy sigh, he leans back in his chair and threads his fingers in his hair. "Maybe. Just something River said."

"You know the girl is crazy, right? She's a sweet thing, I'll admit, but do you really think there's anything to her words?"

Mal removes his hands from his hair and sets them on the table in front of him. He stares at the remains of his dinner and then looks Zoe in the eyes. "I guess we'll find out soon enough."

"I guess we will," she agrees.

TBC...