"I can't believe this!" Simon's voice roared from the infirmary.
"Calm down," Kaylee's voice patiently answered.
Mal and Jayne looked up from their gun competition—they were competing to see who could put all of their guns back together the fastest—and listened for the rest of the fight. Ever since Kaylee and Simon started dating, it was always something. Usually, it was of the discovering-them-having-sex-in the-open variety. On the rare occasion, it was a fight. This was one of those times.
"Calm down? Kaylee, it's a tattoo! That's permanent! It can't be removed without serious laser surgery, and we don't have that this far in space!"
Jayne leered. "Kaylee got herself a tattoo? That's sexy."
"I wonder why she got a tattoo," Mal said thoughtfully, putting a pistol back together. "Wonder if it's of an engine."
"She's of age! She wanted to get one, so I took her!" Kaylee shot back.
They stopped what they were doing and glanced at each other. "If Kaylee didn't…" Jayne started.
"River doesn't know what she wants! She's eighteen and mentally traumatized!" Simon hissed. "And she's my little sister!"
"River…?" Mal repeated in disbelief.
"Now that's sexy," Jayne grinned, frowning at the daggers in Mal's eyes. "What? You can't tell me that this ain't sexy."
Mal stood and went down the steps to the infirmary where Kaylee and Simon were yelling at the same time. "Quiet!" he bellowed. They obeyed. "What in ruttin' hell is going on?"
"Kaylee took River into town to get a tattoo," Simon pointed an accusatory finger.
"She wanted one, Cap'in. She's old enough. What's wrong with that?"
"Tattoos are for washed up soldiers or sleazy lawbreakers!" Simon shouted.
"Hey. I have one," Mal said defensively.
"I rest my case," Simon announced. "She's my little sister, Kaylee—"
"Who's grown. I know you wanna think of her as bein' five years old, but she's not. She's almost nineteen now. She can make her own choices and do as she pleases."
Simon grew quiet, scowling. "What's it of?"
"She doesn't want me to say."
"Where is it?" Mal blurted out, backing away when the doctor glared.
"She doesn't want me to say that neither," Kaylee shrugged. "Gotta find out yourselves."
With that, Kaylee kissed Simon on the cheek and skipped away to the engine room. Simon sulked into the infirmary while Mal quickly went onto the bridge to find River. He wasn't pleased to discover Jayne and Zoe already hovering above her.
"C'mon, tell us!" Jayne exclaimed. "You don't want my imagination goin' crazy. Especially since you can see in there."
River gave him a typical look. "I don't see in there because I don't want to."
"Leave the girl alone," Zoe chuckled. "Let's talk about the captain's tattoo instead."
"But that's not the same thing," Jayne whined. "Women with tattoos drive me up a wall in all the right ways."
Zoe led him out of the room and Mal casually joined River, looking her over closely. She had on one of her revealing dresses, but he couldn't see a tattoo. Shoulders, arms, wrists, hands? No. Legs and ankles? No. Neck? No. Where was the gorram thing?
"Not going to tell you," River giggled.
"Why not?" he frowned.
She wouldn't answer his question, so he too sadly walked away. His mind was racing with ideas. What was the tattoo? Where was the tattoo? It was just a curiosity, he thought. It wasn't that he found it to be enticing, especially since it was on his already enticing pilot. No, that wasn't it at all…
At dinner, all eyes were on River. It was as if everyone assumed that when she bent a certain way it would become visible. Jayne was enjoying himself a little too much. "I'll bet I can guess where it is," he sneered arrogantly. "I'll bet it's on your girl parts."
Simon spit out his drink and Mal held his chopsticks menacingly. "One more word like that and you'll have to pull these out of your eyeballs."
Jayne grew silent, but Mal's imagination was pushed into overdrive. He tried to ignore the thoughts that would land him in a special level of hell, but Zoe made matters worse. "Did it hurt getting your tattoo, River?"
"Yes. It's in a very sensitive area."
Simon choked on his lump of protein, Jayne gawked at River, and Mal had to excuse himself from the table. Were they trying to kill him?
That night, the captain was too restless to sleep. He went to the kitchen for a glass of water, mumbling to himself as he went. "It's just a tattoo. You have a tattoo. But this ain't you. This is River. Young, deadly, crazy, beautiful, can't help but notice, River. The River who's half your age and your ticket to hell, but you don't much care about that. 'Cause, if you did care, you wouldn't be lookin' all the time or dreamin' about lookin' or dreamin' about more than lookin'…"
He leapt when he saw her seated at the table. "I didn't think anybody else would be up."
"Couldn't sleep. Neither could you."
"No, I couldn't," he laughed nervously. "Water. I need water."
She stood and kept him from getting to the cups. "Said that I wasn't going to tell you."
His mouth was suddenly very, very dry. "Right. Can I please get some water?"
Swiftly, she entered his personal space. "Didn't say that I wouldn't show you."
He motioned to the sink in a futile attempt to escape and guzzle every last drop of liquid in the room. She wouldn't let him move. Instead, she grabbed the bottom of her nightgown and turned to the side. She lifted it, revealing a large tattoo down her side and hip. He saw too much skin. It was too tempting. She grinned at the stray thoughts from her captain. "Do you see what it is?"
"The word albatross," he croaked as his heart pounded in his ears.
"Do you know why I got it?" he shook his head no, so she continued. "Serenity's albatross. More importantly, your albatross."
Before he could answer, she kissed him right on the lips and backed away. He was dizzy. The room was like a top, spinning and tilting and more spinning. Through the haze, he watched her dance away. He could still taste her on his lips. No matter how hard he tried to forget, it felt like her mouth was still there.
In the morning, with no sleep, the captain stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast. Simon was arguing with River. "Mei mei, why won't you tell me about the tattoo? I want to know what it is."
She glanced over the top of her coffee mug at the captain, smiling mischievously. "Ask the captain. He saw it."
"He what?" Simon snapped. Zoe shook her head and Jayne pouted in jealousy. Mal was too groggy to do much of anything. "What were you doing looking at my sister's body?"
"It's okay, Simon. I showed him," she vouched. Then, she smirked wickedly. "Won't be the last time he sees it."
Mal stuttered and Simon advanced with a closed fist. They began a chase through the ship while River laughed happily to herself. Her plan worked like a charm. Get a tattoo, get the captain.