"Catalyzer...gamma coil...Coupling A, Coupling B, Coupling--how are there so many couplings in such a tiny engine?"
Wash finally registered the voice above him and shoved himself out from under the console. Kaylee was sitting in the chair at the auxiliary console, scrolling through the screen in front of her and muttering just loud enough to be heard. Wash didn't know much about the parts of the ship past the bridge door, but he recognized a schematic of Serenity's engine when he saw one.
"What's happening, Kaylee-kay?" he asked. "Are you studying? Is there a test you have to pass?" He sat up straight in sudden horror, nearly braining himself on the front edge of the console. "Is there a test I have to pass? Because I can fly like no one in the 'verse, but testing, testing is no gift of mine."
"No. I mean, I don't think so." Kaylee chewed on one thumbnail. "I haven't been here long, but it doesn't seem like the captain's the kind of man who does that sort of thing. He seems like a nice captain."
"Nice, yeah." Wash looked over his shoulder at the entryway. His ears were still half-blistered from the last time nice ol’ Mal had laid into him. "He's the nicest captain you'll find in the sky, I'm sure of it. So there’s no call for panic. Why are you reading over those schematics like you'll be airlocked if you can't find the right part blindfolded?"
"That wouldn't happen," Kaylee said, pretending to laugh.
Wash just looked at her.
She chewed on her thumb some more.
"Kaylee, he's not kicking you off the ship," Wash said. "Not before me, anyway."
"Nobody'd never kick you off Serenity!" she said. "That move you made when we were evading the feds last week? You're a genius, Wash."
"Well, I mean, a genius." Wash waved his hands in the air. "If you mean I can do things hardly anyone can, I suppose, if that's what you call a genius--"
Kaylee was giggling.
"So I'm staying and you're staying," he said.
"I'm sure you're right. It's just--Fireflies are special. Serenity's special. I feel she'll run even when she shouldn't, but only if you understand her right."
"Kaylee, I've seen a lot of ships and a lot of mechanics, and not a one of those mechanics has understood their ships as right as you. It's almost--maybe I'd say genius?"
"Oh, please," she said. “You’re just trying to charm me.”
Wash made her a half-bow from his seated position. "It's more or less my nature."
She giggled again.
Wash pushed himself off the floor and walked over to her. "Show me what you're studying," he said, leaning over and poking at the schematic. It hissed static at him and he pulled his finger back.
"I got a better idea," Kaylee said. "Maybe you should share with me what you're studying on."
"You want to see under the console? It's fascinating if you're of the pilot persuasion, but I'm not sure anyone else looks at those wires and sees gold."
"I would," Kaylee said, and they beamed at each other before her face turned as serious as it ever did. "But that's not what I meant. I mean how you're studying to romance one pretty-haired first officer."
"Not that she doesn't have the longest legs in the known 'verse," Wash said, "but I'm not exactly trying to--"
"Wash," Kaylee said. "You think I didn't notice the new clothes you bought last time we made landfall?"
Wash looked down at his braces and buttoned-up shirt. "What?"
"You could lend 'em to the Captain if he needed 'em."
Wash just looked at her.
Kaylee made a point of looking around, then leaned in. "Zoe's not in love with the Captain, you know," she whispered.
"Of course she's not. And I'm not. And they're just clothes! And maybe she expressed some disdain for the shirts I wear as a matter of course. But...are you sure?"
Kaylee blinked a couple of times. "Sure of which? You just said a lot there."
"Sure she's not, you know, pining for Captain Reynolds." Wash winced. "Please don't laugh that loud, Kaylee."
"Wash, you know flying, and Zoe knows guns, and that new strange man knows knives, and the Captain knows running. But I know people. And I know Zoe doesn't have eyes for the Captain."
"She doesn't have eyes for me either, though," Wash said.
"She doesn't want to," Kaylee said.
"Well, I'm not in the habit of chasing women don't want to be chased," Wash said. "Flying in circles is a waste of fuel."
"Oh, Wash." Kaylee shook her head. "It's all right you don't understand."
"Can we look at engine drawings again?" Wash said, only a little desperately. "Or maybe you want to look at my dinosaurs? I have some really nice dinosaurs. I've been meaning to bring them to the bridge,
but I didn't know what kind of impression they'd make...on the Captain. Or. On anyone."
She leaned forward and beckoned him closer with a crooked finger. "I'll make you a deal, Mr. Washburne. You help me with my engine learning, and I'll help you with your Zoe learning."
"Why do I feel like I should run for the aft shuttle and scoot out to the stars?"
Kaylee held out her hand. Wash sighed. "Deal," he said, and shook it. "Engines first?”
“Console first,” Kaylee said, “since you offered so shiny-like. And then you and I are going to have a long talk about a lot of things.”
Something about her expression—Wash put a hand protectively over his face. “Tell me you’re not talking about my lip plumage. I beg you.”
There was a flash of hair and overalls as Kaylee launched herself up, and Wash found himself with a armful of girl. “Serenity and me, we’ll be the best thing that ever happened to you, Wash. Trust me.” And she was off to the main console, leaving Wash to wonder what precisely he’d just agreed to.