Mal’s doing the laundry when he senses her behind him. He turns with a grin. “Don’t suppose you got much to throw in here,” he says.
She grins back, never hesitating to match his frankness. “Not a lot of clothes were worn these last few days.”
“Days?” he feigns a look of surprise. “Been weeks, Zoe. Felt like years.”
She caresses his shoulder on her way to the kitchen. “Still my turn on the schedule? I’ll get dinner started.”
Wash watches his wife cook, unabashedly admiring her. She’s a little flushed from the heat, and she can’t help smiling herself even as she scolds him. “Stop grinning at me and make yourself useful. Set the table, at least.” He jumps up, bows deeply, and carries out her bidding.
He’s just finishing up when he sees Kaylee and Mal enter, Jayne a step behind them. Kaylee’s eyes brighten and she scurries over to hug him and then step accusingly back. “Serenity’s bored. She’s just itchin’ to test out those shiny new parts, and you kept her waiting.”
“Equally Zoe’s fault,” he protests with a sidelong glance at his wife. “More. She’s the senior officer.” Kaylee turns her teasing frown on Zoe.
“She knock out your ability to count?” Jayne snickers. “Should be one more plate on the table.” Zoe nods as if a suspicion has been confirmed, but Wash waits for Mal to verify Jayne’s words.
“Rented shuttle one finally,” the captain offers readily. “Tenant’s –”
Kaylee cuts him off, enthusiastic words bubbling over. “She’s a Companion! An’ she’s so beautiful, an’ so glamorous, an’ so nice, an’ she’s traveled all over the ’verse . . .” She trails off when she hears approaching footsteps, missing the inquisitive look Zoe shoots Mal, too busy beaming eagerly at her new friend. “Zoe, Wash, this is Inara.”
Inara retires to her shuttle to send waves to a few clients on Pearline and its moons. Wash is on the bridge, mapping out a route to that rich little world after Mal dourly agreed to Inara’s request. Mal and Zoe are discussing Inara and the possible acquisition of paying passengers. Jayne and Kaylee are in a corner of the ship they’d last visited months ago.
“She’s pretty, ain’t she?” Kaylee asks plaintively.
“Who?” he mutters as he pulls clothes off both their bodies indiscriminately, too eager to be concerned about tearing the material.
“’Nara.” She waits. “Would you rather be with her, doin’ this?”
Before he can remind himself that he’s already played – and lost – the game of emotions with this girl, the truth is on his lips in a derisive laugh. “Naw. Companions do the whole thing wrong.”
She’s startled out of her vulnerability. “You ever . . . ?” she asks.
He shakes his head and answers the unspoken question of her wrinkling brow. “If you can keep all that face-paint on during the fun, you gotta be doing something wrong. Now come over here,” his large hands grasp her hips, long fingers draped warmly over her haunches, “and do me right.”
Continue: Part 20/21