"River? River?" a voice called to her.

Her eyes fluttered to an open, and she found Mal standing over her in the infirmary, holding an icepack to his jaw.

"Captain?" she asked with a yawn.

"You were thrashin' about in your sleep. You okay?"


He nodded. "You were asleep when the doc went back to fetch you from the bank. He put you in here to keep a watch on us."

A perplex expression crossed her face. "Us?"

"Seems you told him somethin' that made him think that we were…" he cleared his throat, faltering to find the word, "…together."

"Just said you liked me."

"Well, he took it all sorts of wrong and punched me in the face. Thanks for that."

She smirked wickedly and stared at his head. "Pretty floral bonnet."


"Dreamed you were a hatter in a bonnet. Simon was a rabbit in a vest. Kaylee was a mouse. Jayne—a dodo. Zoe—a hare. Wash was a cat with a grin. Preacher was a confused caterpillar. Inara was the Queen of Hearts."

He chuckled and sat on the infirmary bed next to the counter, wincing and gently massaging the black mark on his face. "Anyone else there?"

"Inara's clients were playing cards. Fanty and Mingo were Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but they weren't in the right story. Badger was a lizard. The Duchess was the red-headed thief—Saffron. Monty was her cook and the Alliance man was her frog footman. There was a big fight over Queen Inara's tarts. Thought the Knave Niska had them, but he didn't. Duchess and Queen had a fight over those tarts, but the tarts chose me."

He had the blank look in his eyes that he always got when she spoke. Finally, he figured he should nod or say something, so he did. "That's some dream."

She smiled. "It was." The smile faded and she added, "But then it was bad. Nothing made sense. Couldn't hear anything or calculate time or answers to riddles you said. Had to play croquet with dinosaurs. Never played before."

Simon wandered in, glaring at Mal. "I see she's awake now."

"That she is, doc. Now River, tell him there ain't anything between us."

"Nothing," she repeated, trying to sound assuring.

"You said he liked you."

"Does in a captain-y way."

Mal nodded gratefully and Simon folded his arms, unconvinced. "I wasn't born yesterday. You two spend hours on the bridge together. How do I know that you're just flying?"

"Have we fallen out of the sky yet?" Mal joked.

Simon shook his head. "Fine, nothing is going on, but I better not catch you doing anything."

"No worries, doc. We're just a captain and a pilot," he grinned.

There was a pause and Simon walked out. River got up and quickly kissed Mal's cheek, murmuring, "Why is a writing desk like an albatross?"

He was too dazed from the kiss to say much of anything, so she answered, "They both have secrets that only a reader can know." She smiled at him and added, "See you on the bridge, Captain Tarts."

She skipped away, leaving Mal in his own 'verse to wonder.

The end