"Whoa. That was… that was…"
"Shiny?" She was out of breath, panting, and so was he, their bodies slicked with sweat that hadn't yet begun to cool.
"Definitely." Simon flopped his head back against the pillow with a contented groan. "I never thought that… just… wow. Shiny."
He laughed, and Kaylee joined in before kissing the laughter from his lips. "Again?" she murmured against his mouth, and he laughed again.
"Just… give me a minute. I need to recover first."
"Okay." She kissed him soundly and then curled into the crook of his arm, resting her head against his shoulder. "Tell me a story then."
"Yeah. What were you like as a kid? I bet you were awful smart, zhēn de shì tiān cái."
"Well, I guess so, but that's not really interesting."
"Tell me about a time you got in trouble then." She grinned at him mischievously.
"When I was a kid?"
"All right. Let me think." He rubbed a gentle circle on her shoulder blade with his thumb as he thought. "Well, there was this time when I found where my parents had hidden our presents before Christmas. I wasn't looking, not really, but River and I were playing hide and seek, and I'd picked a spot in our parent's closet. I'd edged right into the far corner when I realized that there were toys in there – toys we'd asked for. When River found me, we pulled everything out to look at it. We put it all back when we'd finished… or we thought we did.
"We must have missed it when we tried to put everything back how it was. Just a little plastic spaceship, almost the same colour as the carpet. Easy to overlook." He paused to press a kiss to her forehead, wiping her damp hair to the side. "When my parents found it on the floor that night, they were furious. I thought we were going to be in so much trouble."
"River. She told them she'd seen the cat playing with it earlier, had no idea where he'd got it from."
"And that worked?"
"Yep. We just had to pretend to be surprised on Christmas morning. It wasn't much fun though, knowing what we were getting. We never looked again."
"So, that's it then? That's the best you could do for a story 'bout you gettin' into trouble?" She giggled at his expression.
"You mean until I broke into a top-secret Alliance lab to free my sister so we could live a thrilling life on the run as fugitives?"
"Well, that one sorta tops the other one." She squeezed him tightly, wrapping one of her legs around his. "For what it's worth, it brought you here. Not a bad thing, way I see it."
"Not a bad thing at all."
They lay in silence, listening to the comforting hum of Serenity's engine spinning.
"It's almost Christmas now," she murmured. "Time's always so funny when you're out in the black. Always losin' track of it."
"Does the crew do anything to celebrate? Do you any of you try to go home, see your families?"
"Nah, we're all too spread out. Might be nice to do somethin' this year though, after everything. Bet I could rig up a tree real pretty if we had one." She paused with a dreamy look in her eyes.
"Why don't we?"
"Get a tree. Make some food that isn't reconstituted protein. Celebrate… being together."
Kaylee lifted her head to rest her chin on her arm that was folded across his shoulder. "Do you think the Cap'n would go for it?"
"He might, especially if it came from you. You're very good at convincing people of what's good for them, you know." He leaned in to capture her lips in a slow, unhurried kiss. "It worked on me."
"So, should I kiss him, too?" she asked playfully, nipping at his bottom lip.
"Hmm… can't say that I would like that much," he managed between kisses. "Surely he has someone else that he could be kissing. Like Jayne."
Kaylee laughed, her mouth still against his. "Should be Inara he's kissin'. If the two of 'em could just quit bickerin' and put their mouths to better uses, they'd be much better off."
"Like this?" Simon kissed the rim of her ear before biting down gently on her ear lobe.
She sighed happily. "Yes, very much like that."
"Well, maybe after you successfully pitch your Christmas idea," he grabbed her hip, urging her on top of him, "you can sell the captain on your matchmaking scheme."
"It's not a scheme… not yet anyhow." She straddled him, the blanket falling down around her waist as she leaned forward to press a more heated kiss to his mouth. "So… again?"
"Again," he replied hungrily. "You're going to be the death of me, I swear."
"So, tell me, what's so ruttin' important that we have to meet in the middle of the night?" Jayne rubbed his eyes and pushed his chair a little further away from the table with one booted foot. He gave a mumbled grunt that might have been another curse and blinked at Kaylee. "You plannin' to enlighten us? And how come Mal gets to sleep?"
Kaylee bounced on her toes once or twice before stopping herself, looking around at each of the bleary faces seated around the table in the galley, barely able to contain herself. "It's simple." She placed both palms flat on the top of the table and leaned in conspiratorially. "I got us a job."
Zoe raised an eyebrow.
"A job?" Jayne folded his arms over his chest and sighed. "You got me up for that? Could've waited for a decent hour."
"No, it can't. You see," Kaylee glanced behind her toward the corridor that contained the crew quarters, "it concerns the Cap'n."
"In what way?" Zoe was eyeing her with curiosity.
"Well, not just the Cap'n, I guess. Him an'… Inara." She could barely keep the excitement bubbling inside her stomach in check.
If possible, Zoe's eyebrows rose even higher. River was quiet, spinning a spoon in careful revolutions with one fingertip, but Kaylee could tell she was listening. Simon hadn't said anything, only because she'd already told him what she wanted to do.
Now was the crucial part of convincin' them all to help. They could pull this off if everyone did their bit – she just knew it would.
"We all know how bad it was when Inara left, how much the Cap'n drew into himself. Got all angry inside. He was hurtin' and we could all see it." She swallowed, remembering, and she could tell from the looks on their faces that they had all seen the truth of it, too. Even River was watching her now. "When she came back, I thought they would finally see reason. But, it's been nearly two months now and they're still circlin' each other like a pair of coyotes. Bitin' each other, and not in the good way."
She took her hands from the table and paced back and forth as she continued, unable to keep from moving.
"They're both so gorram stubborn. But, I got to thinkin' that maybe… maybe we could help nudge things along. Get 'em movin' in the proper direction. I don't want to trick 'em or nothin', just… smooth the way a bit. And, since Christmas is comin', thought maybe the time was right."
"Wait… this job of yours is to get Mal and Inara to hook up." Jayne snorted. "You woke me up for that?"
Kaylee fixed him with a steely glare. "I did."
"Qù nĭ de! I'm going back to bed." He shoved his chair back and stood up.
"No! Wait! There's somethin' in it for you."
He looked at her with furrowed brows. "For me? Like what? Do I get to watch?"
"No." She reached into the pocket of her coveralls and drew out a small stack of crumpled bills and a few platinum coins and tossed them on the table. "A bribe."
Jayne paused. "Bribery is good. Not much of a bribe though."
"It's all I've got left after the last job went belly up." She sighed.
"Kaylee, I know you wanna help, but I don't think it's our place." Zoe's voice was tired, it always was these days.
"Look, it's not like we'd be forcin' 'em together. We just need to do a little, um..." She blushed, a faint pink tinge coming into her cheeks. "Do a little… contrivin' to help them do it on their own. You know the Cap'n best of all of us, Zoe. We can't do this without you helpin'."
"We? I ain't committed to nothin'." Jayne rifled through the oil-smudged pile of bank notes. "Not much here to make it worth my while."
"Deal the cards. Ante up. Everybody in, everybody wins." River's whisper carried over the table although she didn't look up from her spoon.
"More riddles? She ever gonna speak plain, Doc?"
Simon opened his mouth, but Kaylee jumped in before he could speak.
"Oh! That's a great idea, super shiny!" River smiled at her and Kaylee eye's sparkled as she leaned over the table once more. "We make it a bet!"
"A bet?" Simon frowned.
"Yeah! A wager! We all kick in somethin' valuable to the pot and whoever wins takes the lot!"
"Gamblin'… that's better than bribery. I'm in." Jayne flopped back down into his chair, one of his boots kicking the table leg and making River's spoon clatter to the floor.
"Shhhhh!" Kaylee looked anxiously back at the corridor again and she spoke as loud as she dared. "If he wakes up it'll all be for nothin'!"
"Okay, I'm gonna have to say no to all of this," Zoe said with a shake of her head. "This ain't somethin' we should be messing with. They need to work this out for themselves. Besides, how would a bet even work? Whoever sets 'em up to kiss? Gets 'em to swear their undyin' devotion to one another?"
"Not kissin'. Too simple. Sex?" Kaylee suggested matter of factly.
"Again, a) no messin' with Mal's love life, and b) you have no way of verifyin' who would win a bet like that. It won't work."
Kaylee signed, chewing on her lower lip thoughtfully. "Okay, no bet."
"And… I'm out."
"Bì zuĭ, Jayne. What about a draw then? Everyone who helps puts somethin' in the pot. If the whole thing works, then everyone who helped gets to draw a straw for a chance to win the pot."
"That could work," Simon said slowly, and Kaylee shot him a grateful smile.
"Great! So…" She nibbled her lip again. "Who's in?"
Jayne ran a hand over his stubbled chin. "Fine. Got nothin' better to do right now anyway." He hiked up a pant leg and tossed a gleaming knife onto the bank notes and coins on the table. "There. She's a good one. Expect I'll be gettin' her back anyway when I win."
He looked over at River, and smoothed back the hair that had fallen over her eyes. "What do you think?" he asked her. "Is this a good idea?"
"Greatest power in the 'Verse." She smiled at him. "I want to help." With a solemn nod in Kaylee's direction, she carefully placed the spoon on the pile in the center of the table.
Simon took a deep breath and nodded. "I'll get you some money from my quarters later for my contribution."
Kaylee bounced on her toes again. It was all comin' together. "That just leaves you, Zoe."
"I'm sorry, Kaylee. I'm out."
"But, we need you!"
"Tell you what, I'll keep quiet about what you all are up to, unless he asks me direct. Fair? This is all on you."
She wouldn't let herself be disappointed. Everyone else was gonna help make this work. "Okay. But, if you want in later, you just let me know."
"I'll do that." She stood up and stretched. "I'll leave you to your plottin' then. I'm goin' back to bed. Try not to do anything too stupid," she finished, with a pointed look at Jayne. "Night all."
With a gleam in her eyes, Kaylee rubbed her hands together. "Right. So, where do you all reckon we should start?"
zhēn de shì tiān cái – an absolute genius
Qù nĭ de – Screw this
Bì zuĭ – Shut up