Chapter 1

Kaylee smiled as she woke up, Simon's arm around her middle. She could get used to this, except for the tickling. She could do with less of that, as she squirmed away she heard a thump behind her. And a groan.

"Simon?" Was that Simon she'd just shoved off the bed?

"That's a lot further than I thought." He said groggily.

"You okay?" She said leaning over the side of the bed to get a look at the damage.He smiled up at her, "Well nothing seems broken, guess I'll have to remember to be on the inside before I try to tickle you again."

"You sure?" She wanted to konk herself in the head, what a stupid thing to do, shoving him off her bed like that. But then he laughed, "well I'm no expert, but I'd venture to say I'm perfectly fine, except for maybe a bruise or two." He paused, a mischievous smirk appearing as he spoke," actually I think we should sleep down here from now on, it's much more comfortable." And at that he reached up and pulled her down to join him. Then he looked at her with mock seriousness, "See? Much more space."

She could get used to this too, this side of Simon, the one she'd always known was there but that he'd struggled to relax into. She smiled at him, "Mmhmm, but not as cozy."

"True, the general coziness is one of the many benefits of life aboard a spaceship." He said as he drew her in close and began to kiss her. Yup could definitely get used to this.

What in the worlds were those two up to? First there was that godawful thunk that sounded like a body being dropped into a grave. And then the laughter, but worst of all was the silence. The silence that always came before...Quickly putting an end to the thought of well, that, Mal jumped out of bed and snatched some clothes.

Wasn't right, man shouldn't have to dress this fast in the morning, especially since this was his ship gorramit. He grumbled as he climbed up the ladder as fast as he could and practically knocked over Zoe. She looked awful amused as she looked him up and down.

"Escaping the lovebirds?" She didn't even bother hiding the smirk on her lips.

"Ya'd think after a month they'd settle down." He groused, Zoe's widening grin not escaping his notice, "but no, ev'ry gorram mornin' I wake up to sounds I really don' wanna be hearin'." He'd hoped his fussing would increase her amusement, but no such luck, judging by the disappearance of her smile.

"We on course?" He said, wincing a little at the abrupt shift in the topic, but business was safe. Safer than reminding her of, well, of his fussing over the sounds she and Wash used to make.

"Sir. Seein' as how yer not wantin' to be wakin' to the lovebirds evr'y mornin'" She paused, clearly working up the courage for the next inevitable sentence, "they should trade bunks with me."

"No." He replied. Zoe frowned, she'd obviously rehearsed the conversation in her head for quite awhile because she didn't miss a beat, just continued offering her reasons for the change.

"They need the space, and I've got the biggest bed."

He had to admit it was a good argument, logical and what not, but he wasn't going to let logical arguments sway him, replying, "Don' mean ya have to give it up."

"Don't need it no more." She stared him down as she said it, daring him to open that can of worms, but seeing as how he had never been good with, well feelings, he offered her a logical argument of his own, matter of factly stating, "Still yer bunk."

"No, it was mine and Wash's bunk."

Sparring with Zoe was much more terrifying than sparring with Inara. With Inara he could go off half cocked, but saying the wrong words to Zoe, well they could very well be the last words he ever spoke, so it wasn't without trepidation that he offered his final argument,"that may be, but ya still need the space."

"Sir." She lowered her eyes, not even looking at him as she said it. She was warning him, or perhaps telling him she was saying goodbye and to leave well enough alone. That thought scared him more than he'd like to admit. Without Zoe, without Zoe, things would be, well that just weren't worth thinking on. So he forged ahead, "ain't there somethin' ya've been meanin' ta tell me?"

She didn't respond, but she needed to know that he knew, and that he wanted her on his ship. As he began to speak he put a comradely hand on her shoulder and lowered his voice a touch. It was the way she'd spoken to him after the surrender. It wasn't so much what she'd said, but that she'd said it. It was time for him to return the favour. So he continued, "bulkheads ain't that thick, sides even without the lovebirds, I couldn't never sleep a whole night through."

But no dice. She responded to him, well to her feet really, coldly, "Seems there's nuthin' to tell."

"Zoe, seems there's plenty as could tell." She looked up, her face full of sadness and fear, more vulnerable than he'd ever seen her.

But then Jayne's hatch opened, and as he stepped out into the walkway he said "You two are up early, either of ya make coffee?" And the moment was gone. Zoe turned abruptly and headed to the galley, and Mal turned to glare at his mercenary. Who was completely clueless as to why he was being glared at.

"What?" Jayne asked. Not wanting to elaborate Mal just shook his head and headed to the cockpit. Where the sounds, and smell, of coffee being made reached him. Followed by the quick step of Zoe heading back down into her bunk, and then of her retching.

Jayne was enjoying coffee in one of the chairs situated in the corner of the galley. Coffee the way he liked it. Normally Mal or Zoe made the coffee since one or the both of them often wandered the ship in the early hours of the morning, but, for once, he'd beaten them to it.

"Coffee, thank Buddha" Simon said, entering the galley and pouring himself a cup, as soon as he took a drink, he immediately spluttered. "Tiān a, who made this?"

Jayne chuckled, coffee the way he liked it and a whinging Simon. This was turning out to be one of the better mornings he'd had on Serenity since the two fugitives arrived. Mal entering the galley answered Simon's mostly rhetorical question, "that would be Jayne."

"I can see why you always get up so early Captain, someone's got to beat the man-ape gone wrong to making the coffee." Simon replied. Jayne frowned. Leave it to sissy pants to ruin his perfect morning.

Mal glared at Simon and said, "Actually, 'm up early 'cause a certain doctor can't seem to keep his hands off my mechanic."

Simon's face instantly went scarlet and Jayne couldn't help but laugh. The boy was the best entertainment they'd ever come across, which almost made up for the massive inconvenience and annoyance he and his sister brought with them. Almost.

Kaylee entering the galley gave Mal a friendly punch as she spoke, "better'n batteries." And she certainly looked like the Doc wasn't half bad at sexin'. Jayne couldn't help but stare, her hair was mussed just the way he liked it, and with those rosy cheeks... He'd be in his bunk after he'd finished his coffee.

The coffee that Simon was now starting to throw out. No way in ruttin' hell was Simon going to throw out his coffee, he jumped out of his chair and headed over to the pot as he spoke, "Hey! I was here first, I git to make the coffee how I like it."

Mal smiled, clearly enjoying the sparring, and said "Doc needs to keep his strength up Jayne, man needs decent coffee if he's gonna get as little sleep as Simon's been gettin'."

Of course the sissy blushed again, but Kaylee, knowing how to push the Captain's buttons, went ahead and kissed him anyway. Mal immediately protested, "not in the galley! Bad 'nough I have to listen to it at all hours, 'm not lookin' at it too."

Jayne chuckled, this was excellent. Coffee and a show. Best morning ever as far as he was concerned.

Kaylee smiled at the Captain and replied, "Ya jus' wish ya was kissin' 'Nara." Mal didn't immediately have anything to say, so she turned to the still embarrassed Simon and continued, "You'll see Simon, once Mal an' 'Nara finally get together he won't care none."

"Ain't that the truth." Jayne grunted. Mal continued grousing, but his voice was now bordering on truly angry, "My ship, my rules! An' I said no kissin' in the galley." Kaylee glared at him, but there was no heat behind it, and started off toward the engine room with Simon in tow.

"He didn' say nuthin' 'bout the engine room." She whispered to him a they passed Jayne, a mischievous smile on her face.

Mal sighed and poured himself a cup, only to splutter just like Simon. "Could you make it any stronger?" He asked. Jayne smiled, "just helpin' a man out." Mal contemplated that for a moment, then gave him a mock salute with his cup as he headed back toward the bridge.

Jayne got up and poured himself another cup. Excellent morning. Zoe didn't want any coffee, he'd gotten to watch a show while he drank his first cup, and Kaylee with that hair...On second thought he'd take this cup to go, and he headed to his bunk.

As Inara slid the door to her room closed behind her, she saw River lounging in the common area near the infirmary reading a book. She smiled at the girl, "How are you this morning River?"

River focused on something distant as she spoke. "Alone, alone, all, all alone. wide wide verse. The many men, so beautiful, they all did lie. Won't be left, no painted ship on a painted verse, but breath and motion, day after day, day after day."

Inara wasn't sure what to say in response. River had caught Inara's nervousness about returning to the Training House, but she wasn't sure what her words meant. River smiled at her. "Slept well. Normal sleep patterns returning."

"So the weaning off of your medication is still going well?" Inara asked. River nodded, "Gēgē worries, but it's unnecessary." Inara smiled, Simon did worry, dropping by every night and checking to make sure River was doing well as the doses were lowered. And he didn't just ask River, he asked Inara as well. That was the reason she had moved out of her shuttle and into the passenger dorms. In order for Simon to have real time to himself, and with Kaylee, he needed a break from watching River, and Inara was more than happy to offer that to him.

"Worry is always unnecessary." River continued, looking into her eyes.

"Yet it always seems the most necessary." Inara replied. River nodded, then returned to her reading. Inara tried not to worry, but she wasn't sure how the upcoming conversation was going to go with Mal, and she wasn't sure how things were going to go with the Guild once they landed. Usually she had little trouble controlling her feelings, but she was feeling unsettled and unsure about what to do next, which led to worry. She couldn't plan what to say because she wasn't sure herself what she even wanted to say. It was maddening.

Inara continued walking, as she passed the infirmary she paused in the doorway. Simon was reading over a file, but he beckoned her in.

"I hope the new sleeping arrangement has been going well." She said as she approached. He blushed as he smiled and said, "well aside from a few bruises it has." Inara quirked her face in question and Simon related the incident that had happened that morning. It hurt to laugh as her ribs were still a little bruised from the fight with the Operative, but it felt satisfying to share in something cheerful after everything.

"And have they been going well for you?" Simon asked, ever polite. She smiled, "Yes, River and I have little trouble sharing the bathroom, and she appears to be sleeping well." Simon looked relieved. She knew he felt guilty for sharing the responsibility for his sister, and she tried to allay it. "She seems to enjoy the girl time, and the independence. And it has been nice to have someone to talk to, and to teach. Yesterday she and I went through the tea ceremony."

He smiled, looking pleased that the new arrangement was working out so well, and Inara felt a pang of guilt. She hadn't yet decided what she wanted to do, and they were depending on her. But she smiled graciously at him and headed into the cargo bay.

Jayne lifting weights with one arm. His shoulder was still recovering and Simon, much to Jayne's annoyance, had insisted he not work that arm. She nodded to him. Jayne was the one crew member she had the least in common with, and as such the two of them had not progressed far beyond occasional comments directed at the other in the rest of the crew's company.

But she could see he was troubled. The deaths of Wash and Book, especially Book, had affected him deeper than he let on, his body language screamed grief even as he put up a front of bravado. Inara wasn't sure how to breach it, or even if she should try seeing as how her situation here might not be permanent. So she just smiled as she continued up through the ship.

Stopping in the engine room, she smiled at Kaylee, who brightened and came to talk to her. "Did ya hear what happened this mornin'?" She asked, looking mortified. Inara smiled, "Yes, Simon and I had a good laugh over it." Kaylee looked chagrined, so she continued. "He is happier than I've ever seen him, and I think that's due to you mèimei."

"Really?" Kaylee asked bashfully, unsure of herself. "Really. You've done wonders for the doctor. I never thought I'd hear him joke around." Inara replied.

"He does more'n joke. I could get used to us." Kaylee said, smiling a smile Inara had only ever seen on Zoe's face when she'd speak about Wash. Inara felt left out, as if Kaylee had a secret that she could never share no matter how she tried. It was odd. Inara had always been the one with secrets, Kaylee was such an open, honest girl, yet here she was holding something in secret Inara couldn't hope to discover.

The engine made a small buzzing noise, and Kaylee turned around to work on it waving cheerily to Inara as she left for the galley.

Zoe was lounging in the corner in one of the chairs reading the cortex, but Inara knew from experience she was aware of her approach. As she sat in one of the chairs she smiled at Zoe and asked, "Reading anything good?"

"We'll see. Not sure how much of this applies." Zoe said tersely, her tone laced with worry. Inara gently said, "Experience is always the best teacher." Zoe nodded sadly, closed the cortex hook up and stretched her feet up onto the table.

"We don't have tea, but Jayne did make what resembles coffee." Inara smiled at her and replied, "I think I'll pass on anything Jayne tried to make."

Zoe smiled, "we had a meal rotation once, didn't last long once the Captain tasted what passed for food when Jayne cooked. Although, might be that was his plan all along." She smiled, "With Book we ate better than I ever remember on this boat."

Inara nodded and said, "rosemary."

"Mmmm. Hope we can pick up some more on our next supply run." Zoe replied.

"Along with some tea." Inara said.

Zoe nodded, and as Inara stood to leave, picked up her cortex link again and began to read, frowning as she did so.

Inara took a deep breath as she approached the bridge. Mal was sitting in the pilot's seat -- lounging. His feet were on the console and his body was loose and relaxed.

She hated to return him to his normal state, but the Guild had made it clear they had waited long enough. She cleared her throat knowing what she had to say was going to at the very least annoy him. He turned and smiled at her, pleased to see her. "Inara," he began, his voice warm, beguiling even, but she quickly interrupted him.

"Mal, I need you to take me to the Training House." His smile faded and his face darkened, and though he maintained his posture she could see the tension.

"Ready to get back to civilization then?" He said, hostile.

She winced, and speaking carefully, continued. "The Guild has requested my presence for a hearing." Though he looked guarded she could see hope return to his eyes, hope she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to see there.

"We'll just swing on by on the way to the drop."

"Actually, it's a bit more involved than that." At her words the hope left his eyes, and she wasn't entirely sure she didn't want to see it there.

He sighed, "We can't stay more 'n a day, otherwise delivery of the goods will be late. Don' get paid to dilly dally."

She nodded, "Of course, I don't want to inconvenience you, but I'm sure a simple drop off won't delay you too badly."

"Drop off?" Mal queried, he sounded more concerned than confused.

"Yes, it will likely take at least a week." She replied, keeping her tone even and neutral. She knew he was wound up already and didn't want to work him up further.

"A week. What in the hell kind of a hearing takes a week?" He sounded both angry and disbelieving. She winced at his tone, and he looked repentant as he quieted down, letting her answer what was mostly a rhetorical question."

"Yes Mal, a week. The Guild is a bureaucracy, so it takes time for these things to be done." She tried not to sound impatient and annoyed, hoping Mal wouldn't press for details. She didn't understand what was going to happen herself and didn't need him to go all busybody on her, as he'd done before so disastrously.

"Fine. You'll get your week." He said with almost good grace. She could tell he wasn't happy about what she'd asked, but he also wanted her to come back.

"Thank you."

He turned to smile up at her, almost kindly, "no need ta thank me 'Nara, would prob'ly take us that long to get back to ya anyhow. 'Sides, I suspect Kaylee would love ta have a tour, see the sun, get some shore time in." He smiled and added, "Fact, I'd love fer her ta get some good shore time in."

"Yes, I imagine sharing a wall would get rather tiresome." She smirked at him, knowing the thought of his mèimei having sex with the doctor was bad enough, but having to hear those unmistakable sounds, well it was almost heroic how he'd accommodated the pair. Especially as one of them included Simon, who had a nearly miraculous way of pissing Mal off.

"Tiresome. Ain't that the truth. Been a month and they're still at it like breedin' rabbits." Inara laughed at Mal's forced annoyance. Though it was true he was annoyed with the pair, it was also obvious he was pleased with Kaylee's happiness.

Mal opened his mouth to say something more, but snapped it shut and feigned busyness at the controls. She could only suspect a sharp barb about her profession had been hastily swallowed. Interesting. She smiled at him, and headed back to the galley, feeling his eyes on her down the endless hallway.

Mal stood near the controls in the cargo bay, listening.

"Woulda been nice ta see the trainin' house, all them pretties in their fine dresses." Kaylee said, wistfully to Simon. He replied absent-mindedly, "Yes, little companions in training." But the acerbic sarcasm instantly had Kaylee's back up.

"I know that." She snapped back. Simon was confused, boy always was a bit thick, and he tried to repair the damage, "Oh, I mean, it's just-"

"What?" Kayle interrupted him sharply. Simon knew he was in trouble and nearly stuttered, "Well, it's just-" He trailed off, clearly thinking of a way to defuse the situation. Kaylee glared at him, "Spit it out."

Simon kept fumbling, "I just, I can't imagine you there." Mal winced, and Kaylee's voice when she replied was softer and definitely hurting, "Ya don' see me that way?" But Simon seemed oblivious, "No. Of course not."

Kaylee looked like a slapped puppy as she pushed past Mal and hurried to the engine room, Simon tried to follow, but then River's voice wafted down from the galley muttering some nonsense that sounded like, "Bare branches. Dormant. Waiting for spring." And Simon instead went to check on his sister.

Mal sighed heavily. Of course Inara's leaving would stir things up. But he hadn't expected it to happen so quickly. Now he'd have to endure a meal full of Kaylee being sad, Simon being stupid, Zoe being cagey, Jayne being Jayne, and River being crazy. Lately he'd been able to count on Inara for decent dinner conversation, strange how he'd come to expect to see her there at his elbow at every meal.

Strange how he'd gotten use to her cooking dinner for them all, managing to make protein taste not half bad. Strange how- he shook his head. No sense thinking on someone who didn't want to be thought on. Sure he'd wished like hell she was elsewhere, but once she was on his boat again it all came rushing back, and despite everything he still felt like being truthsome. Only problem was she didn't.

He snorted, who'd she think she was fooling. A week for a hearing. He wasn't sure what she was up to, and he was damn sure that's the way she wanted it. He wanted to kick himself. She hadn't answered a question straight for weeks. She was smoke wafting around him, he could see it, taste it, smell it, but never catch it.

Hearing a shriek from River and Simon's attempts at calming her he shook himself, heading up into the ship to see if he could help settle her down.

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