The cat and the open door
He was half asleep in the copilot's chair when River's frantic voice and shaking of his shoulder roused him.
"May! Can't find! Locations unknown, coordinates vague, missing in action, away without leave, gone, smoke and mirrors…"
"Slow down, darlin'. You can't find the cat?"
"I'm sure she's around this boat someplace. There are lots of little nooks she can curl up in."
Her frightened eyes pulled at him. He sighed and stood up, offering, "You want me to help you look?"
"Alright, li'l albatross. I'll help you look."
She gripped his sleeve and pulled him down the corridor. They searched the obvious places and wound up in the cargo bay. Mal hadn't been alarmed, after all it's a good sized ship, but trepidation grasped his heart when he saw the cargo bay door wide open.
"Who opened that?" he growled.
"Don't know. She could have…she…" River stammered. He lightly squeezed her hand in reassurance, breaking free of her to look outside. He saw nothing but the wood, where a cat could very easily get lost and never found. He cursed and shut the door behind him as he darted to the intercom.
"Stop whatever you're doing. We have a missing cat and an open door. Search the ship," Mal ordered. He loved that cat, although he wouldn't admit it, and he knew River loved her even more. He feared what would happen to her if her darling May was lost for good.
Kaylee and Jayne went right to work, searching every inch of the rooms they were in. Zoe helped and even Simon poked around, following his allergies. River covered the smallest of places and hardest to reach. Mal looked everywhere and after an hour, feared the worst.
They met up in the cargo bay to see if they'd missed anywhere.
"I think we've looked everywhere," Simon said sadly. He had a like for the cat since River was better with her around.
"Oh Cap'n! What are we gonna do?" Kaylee sniffled. "This ain't shiny. We looked every which way, and that means she's out there where somethin' awful is like to happen!"
"Calm down," Mal barked. "One last time, who checked where?"
They recapped and he realized the one place he hadn't looked. He ran off telling everyone to stay put, but River followed. They wound up in his bunk, where May slept peacefully on his pillow. He breathed a sigh of relief and stroked her spine affectionately.
"Don't do that again," he commanded.
River climbed onto the bed and May got into her lap, purring and meowing about something. She petted her and smiled at the guilty captain.
"You like her," she accused.
"Okay, I do, but don't tell nobody."
"Your secret is safe with me, Captain," she looked at the cat, crooning, "Say goodbye to Daddy."
She stood up and lightly kissed his cheek, gracefully scaling the ladder. He touched where she had just kissed, grinning and following her path. They were greeted with a chorus of happy comments and the poor cat was suffocated with hugs.
"I was so worried!" Kaylee exclaimed, holding her close and motioning to Simon to pet her. He reached out and placed a single finger on her head, withdrawing with a wheeze.
"Who left the gorram door open anyhow?" Jayne demanded. "She coulda wandered out and gotten eat by a coyote or some gorram predator!"
"I assumed it was you," Simon stated.
"I thought it was you," he shot back, "tryin' to get rid of May."
"I would never do that!" he defended. "It wasn't me. I've been in the infirmary all day."
"And I've been under the engine," Kaylee added.
"Don't look at me," Zoe chimed, "I've been cleaning my gun."
"Weren't me!" Jayne grumbled.
Mal glanced at River. She smiled at him and everything made sense. He decided it was best to take the fall.
"It was me. I must of forgot to close it when I went out for some air this mornin'."
"Cap'n!" Kaylee cried. "You know better!"
"Yeah, I don't know what came over me. Well, off to work. We gotta hit atmo in thirty."
They dispersed and he pulled River aside. "All that, just to get me to admit I like your cat?"
"You weren't going to any other way."
"I believed you and got everyone riled over nothing! Damn, you're convincin'. You're the one bringing May into my bunk at night, aren't you?"
"No. She opens the hatch and goes down the ladder by herself."
He scowled. "You didn't have to do all this to get me to like her."
"I know. I wanted you to love her like you love me."
"Secret is safe with me," she winked. "Let me know when you want Mommy and Daddy to be in the same bed, May…" she whispered loud enough so he could hear. May responded, and they started walking away.
"Wait, you don't mean…" Mal called. "Are you…do you…do I?"
"Yes, yes, yes…" she answered. "Simon is going to hit you. First, you get his sister a cat. Then, you get his sister."
"I don't get…" he huffed, "Don't I get a say in anything that happens on this boat anymore?"