Every good gunslinger knows when there's no good shot to be had, and it's better to let his piece rest in the holster. There's a look that he has then. The look that aims to confound the other guy while he scrambles to find an out. Mal was reaching for that look, even as defeat nibbled at him. Only he knew it was hopeless, and Zoe smirking at his side, knew it was hopeless, and one of these days he was going to work out when her "I really think you should come to the kitchen, sir," meant that he should take the shuttle and get the hell away for a few days.
Defeat was a kitten, being passed from River to Kaylee. Mal didn't even want to know which of them had picked it up down-planet. He knew enough already. He knew the signs - there was no shot, no out. Kaylee bending over with the same sunshine-bright welcome for the kitten she had for usable "new" parts. River's voice saying, "We should call it Fermat."
"Furball, more like," Jayne said from the table and, oh yeah, Mal wanted to agree, even though River was glaring now at Jayne, which Kaylee must have noticed too:
"What do you think, Cap'n?"
Still smiling. Ai ya. So he pointed at Zoe,
"She picks the name." A really good gunslinger has a someone better to back him up. That's one out.
"Fermat," Zoe said, deadpan. "We can call it Furry for short."
"That is acceptable."
The guy at the table grimaced, and because she knew him well enough, Zoe added, "Honey, does Simon know you're back? We should go find him."
River nodded as Jayne muttered, "Works for me."
But Zoe's version of escorting River somewhere Jayne wasn't began with placing her body between River and the table so he went ignored.
"Fermat," Kaylee tried it out. "How do ya feel about being the ship's mascot? We need one, you know," Jayne gave Mal a look that suggested not. Mal cleared his throat to let diplomacy get some space, and stepped forward, trying for the walk of the gunslinger who sees an out.
"You given much thought to how we gonna feed the cat, Kaylee?"
Big wide eyes turning up at him suggested not.
"Contrary to the popular notion, we don't have a big rat population on board Serenity-"
"And if we did, they'd swallow that critter whole."
"Jayne, go find some place where sentient beings ain't." He made it clear enough by his posture, even to Jayne, that there was a real threat behind the polite suggestion. Jayne got up, slower than usual, and Mal waited until he'd left to turn to talk to Kaylee again. He tried not to look down at hands she must have cleaned up before visiting the planet. Nor at what she held in 'em.
His voice was as soft as he could manage it, "You given much thought to it?"
There was the tell, as she started circling the kitten's head with her thumb. "He's too small for eating rats and the like, anyhow."
"When we do ship cattle it's for their meat, not milk."
"He can take water." And she moved away in a flurry. "We got that. We'll give him that."
"And then he'll grow big and strong and knock down all before him with a swipe of his tail?" She grabbed a bowl.
"Next stop, we leave him behind."
There was no way of knowing if she was minded to take that like the order it was meant to be, as one-handed she took a bowl and filled it with water.
"You hungry there, Furry? We'll fix somethin' up for you."
Mal watched her ignoring him, talking to the kitten with all the coaxing in her voice as she set him and the water down side by side. Trader and buyer together in the right place, but no deal. Mal watched flustered stroking ensue, as if getting Furry to lap at the water would prove something.
She bent down, whispering now. Fierce words that the cat-brain probably translated as static.
"You need this. It's easy," she whispered. "Real, real easy," and she lowered her face so that she was staring straight into the cat's eyes. It stared back, indifferent. Mal still watched, though he had his out - he'd seen enough to know the order was taken as such. The cat would be gone before it got ship-trained or Jayne stepped on it. He could go, he had his out, but there he was.
Notes: Written in response to musesfool's 3 year ljversary challenge. The first draft was completed before I read 'Everything she does is magic'.
Ai ya = damn.
Feedback is always welcomed.