Something funny was going on.
Daily life on Serenity had a certain rhythm to it, a flow, and Mal was finally forced to admit that it had been off lately.
He'd ignored it as long as he possibly could, in hopes that it would go away on its own, but no luck. Time to sit down, size
up the situation, and figure out just what in the hell the problem was.
Fact: His crew was acting weird as hell.
This in itself wasn't too unusual. But the specifics of the weirdness were new. For one thing, they all seemed to be avoiding
him. That was...well, it was weird.
He'd barely seen Kaylee in a week- just glimpses of her as she hurried around corners. Wash and Zoe were shifty-eyed and
evasive. Simon was all wrapped up in a new medicine for River, and what Mal would've called a serious case of the sulks if
he'd had the slightest hint of anything that could've caused such a thing. Inara spent all of her time in her shuttle, Book
all of his in his bunk. Jayne was even more monosyllabic than usual, and damn near impossible to find outside of mealtimes.
Something was definitely going on, and the crew was opting not to share with their captain. He hated that. Whole point of
being the captain was that he got to know everything. Part of the job description.
He explained as much to Zoe and Wash and Inara, whom he managed to catch in the mess at the same time by the simple expedient
of shutting the doors and trapping them in there. "Now someone tell me," he concluded, knowing he sounded petulant and choosing
not to care, "what the gorram hell is going on around here!"
They looked at each other for a long moment. Wash opened his mouth, hesitated, closed it again. Zoe raised her eyebrows
and sighed. Mal wondered how bad it would really be to go to prison for killing his entire crew out of sheer frustration.
"Oh, go se," Inara sighed, throwing her hands up in disgust. "We might as well tell him, it's obviously a waste of
time to hope he'll figure it out on his own."
"I really thought he was more perceptive," Zoe sighed.
"I knew he wasn't," muttered Wash.
"What?" Mal glared at them, especially Inara. "What am I too dense to notice?"
"Kaylee and Jayne are sleeping together." Inara clasped her hands together and arched an eyebrow at him. He sat down hard,
vaguely grateful that there was a chair there to meet him.
"Huh." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, striving to order his thoughts. "Well, that can't be right. Jayne knows
better than to touch Kaylee, I explained that to him when he first-"
"I'm afraid you don't quite understand, Mal," Inara cut in. "Kaylee did the seducing."
Mal imagined this was kind of what it felt like to go spacewalking without a suit. Pressure building up in your head till
your brains leaked out your ears.
"I guess that's why Jayne's been hiding from you lately," Wash added helpfully. "Probably afraid you're just biding your
time before you kill him, or castrate him, or tie him to the engine block and stick hot pokers in him for a while-"
"I thought she was settin' traps for the doctor." Mal glanced around the table in desperate appeal. Inara shrugged.
"That was going nowhere. She gave up on him as a lost cause, and I can't say I disagree. One thing about Jayne, he certainly
can't be described as shy or repressed or too uptight to still be breathing."
"Kaylee seems quite happy, sir," Zoe said, watching him carefully. "I was surprised too- I thought she had better taste-
but she's inexplicably thrilled with him."
Inara winced slightly. "I wouldn't say it's inexplicable. If you ask her, she'll explain the thrills in detail graphic
enough to make me blush, and I'm a professional."
"Oh, that's information I didn't need," Mal sighed. A faint smile appeared on Zoe's face. Wash took her hand and squeezed
it in a subtle reminder of his existence. She ignored him.
"Some of her metaphors were most enlightening." Inara shook her head. "Far more mental images than I ever dreamed of wanting."
"Thank you!" Wash said, just as Mal gathered his wits enough to stand up.
"I don't think we need to pursue that line of inquiry any farther," he said, dragging up a big fake smile that, judging by
the looks on their faces, needed some work. "Guess I'll go have a talk with my mechanic and my hired gun. Thank y'all so
much for your time."
"Captain, are you-"
"Don't shoot anything that won't grow back!"
He didn't acknowledge them, just kept walking.
In the gorram engine room, of course. Was it some kind of disease with mechanics, that they just couldn't keep this kind
of thing in their damn bunks?
Kaylee was leaning back against one of the engine casing supports, smiling up at Jayne, who was propping himself up with one
arm against the support and leaning down over her- looming over her, in a way that would've been downright menacing
if not for the big silly grin on his face. Matched the one on hers, come to think of it. Oh, hellfire, his crewmen weren't
just screwing, they were downright besotted. Of course they were. That was just the way his luck ran.
Kaylee was saying something too soft for Mal to hear, but it made Jayne grin wider and reach out to brush a few strands of
hair off her face and back behind her ear. HIs hand slid feather-light across her cheek and she leaned into it, reaching
up to catch his wrist and hold him there.
Something clicked in Mal's head, and he started to smile despite himself. Kaylee had Jayne wrapped around her grease-stained
little finger. That was useful any day of the week. And her spending her energy keeping their man-ape-gone-wrong in line
meant that Mal wouldn't have to, plus it would have a lot more spillover benefit for the rest of them than her mooning over
Simon. Mal had a few ideas for soothing the doctor's hurt feelings, if there were any...
And maybe time with Jayne would let his little mechanic pick up a few self-defense moves and a little weapons confidence,
though hopefully not a new vocabulary or habits of personal hygeine.
"Hey, lovebirds," he called out, grinning at the way they almost jumped out of their skins. "Ain't that what your bunks are
for? Engine room's for workin', I always thought."
"Y-yes, Captain," Kaylee said, staring at him wide-eyed and openmouthed. She was about as red as one of her strawberries.
Mal grinned at her, then shifted his gaze to Jayne. Man looked like he'd swallowed a live fish. This was kind of fun.
"Soup's on in the mess," he said lightly, turning and heading off for the bridge. Best part about being the captain: even
when you didn't know everything, you got to act like you did, and half the time folks would believe you. That was in the
job description too- in the fine print, along with getting the biggest bunk and first choice of the spacesuits.