Chapter one: Snuggles
River had found herself a hobby. It started when Kaylee and Simon took her into town on a certain moon, and they stumbled onto a flea market. All kinds of goods were sold there, including antiques and off-brand merchandise. Her eyes grew wide at all of the goods stacked in booths, but of course River Tam couldn't gravitate towards anything normal. No, she was anything but. Thus, she found Snuggles.
When she showed Simon and Kaylee her purchase, they leapt at the sight of it. At first, they told her to return it, but she pouted and pleaded. So, Snuggles would come home with them. They weren't aware of the hijinks that would ensue at the time, but it became perfectly clear when they reached the cargo bay. Jayne was lifting weights, lost in his workout. River crept over and held Snuggles above his head. "Girl's name."
He looked up and screamed, tossing the weights onto the ground. "Witch! Gorram moonbrainin' killer woman! Get that thing away from me!"
She giggled. "You're afraid of Snuggles?"
"I ain't afraid of nothing."
He stepped back as she stepped closer. It became a chase around the ship, ending in the kitchen where Mal and Zoe were seated. They looked up from their mugs briefly, confused by the mercenary and pilot. River would cut him off at the exits, holding Snuggles in the air.
"Mal! Make the witch stop!"
"What's she doing?" he asked sleepily, going back to his mug and documents.
"She's got a dead animal!"
"Looks like a…squirrel…sir," Zoe told him, raising a single eyebrow.
He glanced up and saw River dancing about, holding a dead squirrel in her hand. "River, what in rutitn' hell are you doing with that?"
"His name is Snuggles, Captain," she stated matter-of-factly. "Taxidermy. Take the skin, wrap a mold, preserve the death. He's fuzzy."
"Where did you get that?" Mal grimaced. "I ain't ever seen something of the like."
"Flea market. Simon and Kaylee took me."
"Mal," Jayne whined, still trying to avoid the girl. "Tell her to get away from me!"
He rolled his eyes. "Enough is enough, little one."
She stuck her tongue out at Jayne and hopped over to Mal, floating into the seat next to him. Snuggles sat on the table, directly atop his documents. "Pet him, Captain."
"You can't be ordering your captain around, darlin'," he responded, recoiling from the piercing eyes of her new dead pet. "Can you not put that thing on my stuff?"
"He would like you to pet him. Then he'll come back to me."
"He don't like anything. He is deader than dead."
"Oh, come on, sir…" Zoe smirked. "If the reader says he wants it."
He glared at her and reluctantly ran a finger down its head. "There."
River lit up and threw her arms around his neck. "Thank you, Captain. Snuggles is happy."
Awkwardly, he pat her arm and cleared his throat. "Now take that thing out of here and stop terrorizing my crew."
She gingerly retrieved Snuggles and smiled mischievously. Her bare feet skipped to the bridge and Mal got a feeling that this wouldn't be the last of Snuggles.
He was right.
Jayne went to pick up his orange cap, the one knit by his mother, to prepare for a snowy mission. When he lifted it off the desk, he was met with the gaze of Snuggles. He screamed and scaled his ladder. "Gorram girl! Go fetch your dead critter!"
Her laughter echoed through the ship.
Just a few days later, Zoe was in charge of coffee. She opened the kitchen cupboard and removed the can of coffee to discover the squirrel holding onto one of the mugs. Her head shook back and forth as she called, "Jayne! There's a special mug for you!"
Just like Jayne and Zoe, Kaylee and Simon were not immune to River's games. Kaylee found Snuggles in her hammock one evening, holding a wrench between his paws. Simon, on the other hand, found him hiding in his dresser drawer. Snuggles was in a vest pocket, glowering at him.
Mal was the only one that seemed to be left alone. After a few weeks, and many angry crew members, he still hadn't found the little guy in his bunk. Honestly, it bugged him that he wasn't included. One night, he wandered onto the bridge, unable to sleep. River was softly breathing in the pilot's chair. She was out like a light, so he didn't disturb her. He sat in the other chair, studying her features in the dim light. She was in Simon's old sweater, covered in one of Zoe's coats, and clutching Snuggles to her chest. He smirked. Of course she'd sleep with the creepy corpse.
An hour passed and he stood to leave. Before he did, he looked at his pilot one last time. Snuggles had fallen from her hands and the coat had slipped. He considered walking away, but in the end he padded gently to her side and pulled the coat to her chin. With an expression of disgust, he picked the thing up and examined it. Snuggles looked as though it could breathe at any second. It was fuzzy, he'd give her that. He carefully placed it on the lap of his sleeping assassin, returning to his own bunk for some sleep of his own.
For a week or two, no one complained about Snuggles. In fact, no one saw Snuggles. River said that she was done with games and Snuggles was in her room, but he wasn't. She stashed him in someone else's bunk, and it was just a matter of time before they found it.