Chapter 3

Zoe often found herself wandering the ship. Mal was checking the helm, Jayne was in his bunk, Kaylee was tinkering with the mule down in the cargo bay while River chattered away to her like a little bird, and judging by the delicious smell coming out of the galley Simon was successfully cooking his apology meal for Kaylee.

She smiled, remembering the rare times she cooked for Wash. Wife soup. She missed him most on days like this. When the crew were taking their ease as they floated through space, those were the moments that she and Wash enjoyed each other's company the most. She could lose herself in frenetic activity when there was work to be done, but seeing as how Mal had done all the work in his effort to keep his mind off Inara, she was left with empty time, time to think on Wash. And to think on what Wash was going to miss out on. What he should have been here for.

As she entered the galley she felt her heart squeeze just a bit tighter. Simon had set the table for two, and even dug out some old candles which glimmered over the table. Wash and she had once shared candlelit dinners. Never on Serenity, but once or twice he'd taken her out for a real date, and oh-

She sat down in Wash's chair. The chair left so carefully empty when the crew ate together. The chair no one looked at. The chair that was silent in a way Wash never had been. Her eyes were dripping tears down her face, and suddenly a small noise caught her attention.

Simon was staring at her, concern etched into his features. She wiped the tears away and spoke, "Smell's real good Doc." Simon nodded at her, and sat next to her.

"I'm -- well -- I'm really sorry about Wash. He was a good man, a great man. I'm sorry we lost him, that -- that you lost him. I'm just, I -- I don't know what to say, I'm so sorry. If it wasn't for me and River he'd still be here, and I -- I'm sorry." He stammered out more to the table than to her.

It was as good a time as any she supposed. She'd been meaning to ask him for weeks, but just couldn't bear to hear the news without Wash by her side, but seeing as she'd already cried in front of him, might as well forge onward. She was shocked at the quaver in her voice when she spoke, "Think you could check somethin' for me?"

She didn't turn to see Simon's face, but he agreed, and led the way to the infirmary.

The first time he'd been asked for a pregnancy test he'd been a new intern at the hospital in Capitol city. The girl had been about thirteen and scared out of her wits, her voice trembling as she asked. Watching the hope in her eyes die as he gave her the results had been a demoralizing introduction to practicing medicine. It was easier to give the patient news they wanted to hear, to be the source of joy and hope, and no matter how many times he gave bad news it never got any easier.

The last thing he wanted to see was the flicker of hope in Zoe's eyes disappear. This probable pregnancy was the only thing holding her together right now. So, no matter how much the idea of a pregnancy, delivery, and newborn aboard Serenity seemed like a bad idea he had never wanted a pregnancy test to turn positive more. Except, for maybe the day it would be Kaylee smiling as she waited for him to give her the results. If there was anything in all of this he was glad of it was her, even if she wasn't speaking to him at the moment.

As the final seconds ticked away on his watch he said a silent prayer more out of habit than faith. The screen notified him the results were ready. He took a deep breath before he opened them. Thank Buddha. Positive.

Smiling he turned to Zoe, "Looks like you'll be having a baby in about eight months."

She smiled back. He'd forgotten what a happy Zoe looked like.

"I'll need to see you again in a month to make sure everything is on track."

She nodded, her happiness now tinged with a bit of apprehension.

Simon continued, not wanting her to be worried, "Not that I think it won't be, I mean, you're healthy and fit, I'm sure everything will be fine."

"Sounds fine Doc." He nodded to her as she left, overwhelmed. He had done just a few weeks in Maternity when he'd been an intern, and only one birth, Petaline's, as the primary. He had no idea how to go about providing proper prenatal care. Well, just one more thing to research. He pulled out his cortex and began reading; the dinner for Kaylee far from his mind as he lost himself in medical jargon, feeling a faint excitement.

It smelled good, like the food they used to have at home. Not home. Here was home. A flying house. River wanted to laugh at the idea the Tam estate sprouting wings and flying through space. The table was rough hewn, the chairs didn't match. The candles were at odd lengths and made from cast off wax in mismatching colours. Mother would never have let any of this into the Tam estate.

Especially not the hulk of a man snitching food. Jayne was slurping from a bowl; enjoying his food he didn't hear her approach. She reached over his shoulder and snatched the bowl. He spun, glaring. The special curled lip glare he reserved for River and Simon. Crazy and sissy.

He held out his hand, but she shifted the bowl behind her and spoke. "Tired, overloaded, won't run fast. Needs more fuel." It didn't come out quite like she planned. Jayne rolled his eyes grabbing for the bowl. It was simple to outmaneuver him. And fun.

"Not yours, not yours." She sang, but the look in his eye when he spoke stopped her cold.

"Ya see anyone else in 'ere moonshine?"

He'd always disliked her, but after the Maidenhead incident, and then the can dropping incident, and then all that followed... Now his dislike was bordering on something else. Something she couldn't put her finger on, but knowing Jayne it was likely to be dangerous.

"Here, but not here. Waiting" She started to explain, but it didn't come out right.

Jayne snorted and replied to the walls, "can't never get a straight answer."

"Frustrated, mad, no time for whores, gotta lift off this rock." Words pulled from his mind, spilling from hers.

Jayne glared at her, "ya watch yer tongue or I'll cut it out fer ya ta look at." And with that he stalked out of the galley. Each time his boots hit the floor the sound impaled her chest. She knew she shouldn't listen to other people's thoughts, but when she was frustrated she couldn't help it. It was so much easier than waiting for spoken words. She set the bowl on the table, and laid her arm and head next to it with a heavy sigh.

If Jayne was a thunder cloud then Kaylee was sunshine. River smiled up at her as she entered the galley, "for you. Left it."

Kaylee didn't understand, so River tried again, "Made it for you, felt bad, didn't mean to." It still didn't come out right.

Kaylee settled in to eat, reaching out and squeezing River's hand as she did. "Oh honey don't feel bad."

River smiled, maybe she could try one more time to explain.

But then Mal came tromping into the galley.

"Ain't'cha supposed ta be somewhere? can't leave this gorram rock wi'out –" he growled. Looking repentant at Kaylee's startled eyes, he plowed on anyway, but softer, "well?"

Kaylee glared at him, and still upset over Simon and missing Inara she stormed to the engine room. Mal turned his attention to River, "well?"

"Waiting for spring." She replied.

"Ain't no seasons on a spaceship darlin'."

River shook her head. It just didn't ever come out right.

"No, no seasons. Waiting, waiting for the sun to come out and warm her."

At that Mal sighed, "ain't we all."

He then patted her shoulder, and concluding she was 'too crazy to fly' headed up to the bridge, leaving her at the table.

River sighed as she traced patterns in the wood. It never came out quite as she meant it.

The week couldn't be over soon enough. Mal was anxious to get Inara back on the ship. For River's sake, and Kaylee's, and Zoe's and Jayne's, and even Simon's.

Kaylee and the Doc were still not on speaking terms, which to his mind was a blessing, since Simon therefore couldn't piss her off any worse. Course it also meant his bunk was back to being nice and quiet, but that weren't a blessing. The silence left too much room for thinking and made his excuses for wandering the boat wear thin.

Didn't help none that River was undergoing a bit of a crazy spell. Meant he sat at the helm with nothing to do but look over the cortex, and think. Too many places for his thoughts to stray. Serenity Valley. Zoe. Wash. Book. Tracey. Inara. His mind always came back to Inara, ever since... Well ever since she'd told him he wanted her on his ship the day they'd met.

There was one bright spot in all of this though, the drop off had gone well, thanks to the intervention of Simon. Simon.

Simon embracing a life of crime was settling. Made Mal almost hope a certain other corebred person might someday be willing to do the same. Hell, he'd settle for no longer distancing herself from it, he wasn't greedy.

Hadn't slipped his notice all Inara's answers were non answers. He sighed. The woman tied him up in knots. She slotted into their chore rotation, helped Simon with River and made up a passenger dorm into a home for herself. But still she distanced herself, as if, well, as if she weren't sure she belonged. She didn't. He knew it. But he still wanted, well, what he hadn't wanted since before the war.

He found himself aching for her. Her by his side. Her smile at his jokes. Her sigh at his stupidity. Her anger, her laughter. Dare he think it, her love. It startled him more than a little, to feel again when he'd been numb for so long, and it was more than a mite unsettling.

Three more days out, and if River didn't sane up it was going to be a long three days. No wonder Wash played with dinosaurs.

"Alone, alone, all, all alone. Alone in a wide wide verse. The many men, and they all dead lie." River's voice intoned.

Girl could be down right creepifying when she wanted. He didn't blame Jayne in the least for hiding in his bunk. When River wasn't all there in the brainpan it tended to put them all on edge. Hell he'd be in his bunk if he weren't busy doing Captainy things.

She settled into the copilot's chair and gazed at the stars as they slid on by. Usually he could work out what she was trying to say, and since the whole Miranda debacle she seemed to be getting better, but when Inara stepped off ship so had River's clarity.

At least she combed her hair.

"That right?" He asked.Generally if he were confused she'd try again.

She smiled, quoting him, "yes, I know a poem, try not to faint."


"Can repeat the past too now?"

That was downright shuddersome, having his own words thrown back at him when she hadn't even been there when he'd said them. She smiled at him. Her eyes looked clear, and if he wasn't mistaken, a bit frustrated.

"Yes. So can you." And with a twitch to her jaw she turned back to the stars leaving him to chew on her words.

Well, a River mystery was a much better way while hours away on the bridge than thinking on what had been and trying not to think on what might be. He was fair sure he'd figure it out in two and half days ride, no wait, make that a fifty nine hour ride.

It didn't look half bad. She'd spent the better part of six days on it, but without a mattress it looked like a counter. Or a shelf. Or somethin'. Not quite what she'd had in mind. She was fair sure Simon had attempted to cook her a romantic dinner a few days back, and since neither of them were great with words she'd decided to attempt her own romantic gesture by widening her bed.

She turned to the sound of her hatch opening to see Simon making his way down, repentant and hesitant. She smiled, "Was hopin' ya'd stay away fer a bit longer."

Simon looked at her, confusion in his eyes as he spoke, "I can go-"

"I'm almos' finished." She interrupted, gesturing to the bed, "look, we can pull it out, make the bed bigger."

Almost before she finished speaking he drew her in close to him, an uncertain smile on his face.

"I'm sorry about what I said before, I just, I just want to keep you away from all of that. To keep you the way you are." He mumbled into her hair.

She pulled back a little from him, "Ya know how I found my way onta Serenity doncha?" He nodded, confusion back on his features.

"Then ya should know, I ain't all sheltered or anything, I know what trainin' houses are for."

"It's not that, it's, it's the falsity of it. You're not -- you're not like that." She felt her heart plummeting to her feet as he spoke. She wasn't well mannered, she wasn't refined, she wasn-"You're beautiful, but not because someone taught you exactly how to ply yourself. You just are." He finished.

Tears sprang to her eyes and she smiled up at him, "Aw, now that was real pretty."

He smiled back at her, "You think so? I've been practicing ever since we last spoke."

Kaylee felt her heart wrench, even though he was in a joking mood they could have spent the last six days sexin' instead of sulkin'.

"Sorry 'bout that, 'm not real good at talkin'." Simon smiled at her as he stroked her cheek gently, "me neither."

He pulled her in close and again spoke into her hair, "You're beautiful Kaylee. Maybe you're not decked out in finery, but you're beautiful. I wouldn't want you dressed up all fancy, wearing so much makeup I couldn't even see you."

Kaylee smiled, it was sweet how he was too embarrassed to face her, and spoke into his neck her ownself, "that's the shiniest thing anyone's ever said ta me."

In return Simon placed a few kisses along her collarbone, then smiled up at her, "glad to know I'm getting better at it."

She playfully smacked him on the arm. Realizing she was still wearing heavy welding gloves, a blush crept over her face, but Simon only smiled wider and pulled her in close for serious kissing.

Considering the sounds emanating from Kaylee's bunk the two of them had made up, and while Simon annoyed him to no end, and the thought of little Kaylee doing that sent shudders down his spine, he was glad of it. Just like Simon's intervention at the drop off the idea of the two of them together gave him hope for his ownself. If Simon could fix his foot in mouth syndrome and adapt to life in space then maybe, maybe it might be worth it to be truthsome with Inara.

Well he'd find out in just a matter of hours now, they'd be kissin' dirt in just under forty hours. The idea of seein' her set butterflies to dancing in his stomach and his palms to tingling. The idea of being truthsome, of making something of the two of them, he hadn't felt this nervous since asking Millie to dance at the barn raising almost fifteen years ago when he was a schoolboy.

Course he couldn't be sure about her. Woman could lie better than, well, better than most, but he was fair certain she meant to return. Couldn't be sure though. Her companion training made her slippery, as slick as the silks she liked to wear. Still, would be nice to have her back on board. Zoe had retreated back into herself a day or so after Inara had left, River had become far less decipherable, and he had a feeling that Inara would have helped Kaylee and Simon smooth things over within hours of their little spat instead of nigh on a week. She might not belong, but she sure as hell left a hole when she wasn't there -- and weren't that the definition of belonging?

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