Chapter five: Market

"Please?" she pouted, batting her long eyelashes.

He huffed, folding his arms. "I have a lot to do, River."

"Just for a little while?" she pleaded. "Won't be near another market for months."

"You can't know that," he argued. She gave him a typical River look. "So you can know that. But, don't you think that someone else who's been before would be better?"

"No."

"You won't even consider—"

"No."

"But—"

"No."

"River."

"No!"

He checked the time and thought about his options. He wanted to go, just to keep an eye on her, but he had a lot to do. Maybe he could if Jayne took over the chore of loading the boxes. However, Jayne wouldn't do that.

"Would over going to the market again. He got scared of all the strange folk."

Readers. How could anyone ever win an argument?

"The event of winning an argument is highly unlikely," she added, moving to his side. Her fingers wrapped around the fabric of his sleeve, tugging. "Please?"

Just like that, he folded. Jayne was ordered to take over loading, Zoe was put in charge, and Simon had to take over his daily chores. They were off to a flea market in a nearby town on foot. River skipped happily ahead of him, dancing and humming. He caught himself smiling at the pilot, cursing himself for doing so. She paused, waiting for him to catch up. "Hurry, Captain! Early birds and squeaky wheels."

He shook his head and caught up. A large sign fluttered in the distance. "Flea Market," he read. "Huh. These things are popular, huh?"

"Yes."

"Why's it a 'flea' market?"

"Origins are disputed. Too many to name. No real fleas reside in a flea market. Hopefully."

"Hopefully?" he frowned. She laughed. "Ha-ha. Don't scare me. It's my first time."

She wrapped her arms around his, smiling. "Won't scare you."

They entered the market together, instantly surrounded by a mob of people. He didn't want her to get separated from him, for safety reasons of course, so he held onto her wrists about his arm. They fought through the crowd to the first booth. Pots, pans, candles, rugs, nothing interesting. River jolted him from it with a hardy push and moved to the next one. Captures, posters, paintings. River held up a small painting of a monster devouring a bloody and nude human corpse.

"I like it," she grinned.

"No," he said simply. "That thing ain't right."

"It's Goya."

"Go-who?"

"Artist from Earth-that-Was."

"Right."

She giggled and set it back down, grasping Mal's hand in hers. He didn't mind, plus he had to worry about that whole safety thing…

"More dolls," she stated at the next booth. "Nothing of note. Keep walking."

River continually told him at each booth that there was, "Nothing of note." Mal noticed a few interesting things. Antique weapons, old coins, and possibly an illegal item or two. He wasn't there to buy, though. It was River's day and River's hobby. He was just along for protection.

After several hours, River found something wrong with everything she picked up. Or, she wouldn't find anything at all. It was strange to him. She always came home with something, and there was plenty of items that she'd like. That much he could figure.

They strolled out of the market and began the journey back. She was moving slowly, so he moved slowly with her. She had his arm still, and he still didn't mind. "Guess this was just a bad market, huh?" he asked idly, attempting to make conversation.

"It was a great market."

"But you didn't buy anything."

"Didn't have to."

He wasn't following her. "Why not?"

"I got what I wanted already."

"What do you mean?"

"You came with me," she explained, standing on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Thank you."

He shrugged, feeling the heat from her lips burn his cheek. "You're welcome, darlin'."

"You can say it."

"What?"

"You wanted to come."

He didn't like how she knew everything. "Well, just to keep you safe."

"Liar. It isn't nice to lie."

"I ain't lying!"

"Are too. Reader. Real reason is me."

"What?" he sputtered nervously. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Care about me, Captain. More than you think you should."

"I care in like a…River…I don't like where you're going with this."

"Hated it when I wouldn't tease you like everyone else. Didn't like to be different. You are different, Captain."

He frowned. "I am?"

"I like you more than them."

She stood on her toes again and kissed him on the mouth briefly. He was breathless from her sudden attack. She smiled and he regained the ability to speak. "River…"

"Like me more than them."

"I do not."

"Liar. Stop lying. Reader sees through it. Jealous of Jayne."

"I was not."

"Kept Cubby on your desk to remind you of me."

"Cubby?"

"Bear wind-up toy. My favorite. You got it because you're my favorite. You came with me today because I'm your favorite."

"Now, slow down, River. I—"

She kissed him again, this time longer. He didn't move. He couldn't. He couldn't think, move, breathe…

"It's okay, Captain. Don't have to do anything," she smirked, taking his arm. "We'll go to the next market together."

She started walking him towards the ship. He had enough strength to choke, "We will?"

"Reader. She knows things. Don't worry. Simon won't mind. Clarence will keep him in line."

They kept walking and Mal let himself grin. River had a hobby, and now so did he. And, if could say so himself, there could be no better hobby than River Tam.

End.