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Bits of Time

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Author's notes: Heart of Gold


Bits of Time

Bits of Time

by Starrbaby

They stood facing each other in the dimmly lit engine room.

"I . . .uh ... .got you this." Jayne shoved the package at Kaylee, not meeting her eyes.

Kaylee took the small box with a quizzical look. "I don't understand . . .why?"

Because I want you to look at me the way you look at that prissy ass doctor! thought Jayne. However, the only thing that came out of his mouth was, " 'Cause."

Kayle opened the box and pulled out a small bottle that held about a cup of thick purple liquid. "What's this?"

"It's . . .uh . . .some stuff that you put in a bath to make it smell good . . .or something like that" Jayne was obviously getting nervous.

"Oh!" Kaylee beamed and unscrewed the cap. She inhaled at the bottle and grinned. "Lavender! How sweet!!! When did you get this?!"

"Last landing." Jayne twisted his belt loop.

"It's a shiny gift, Jayne!" Kaylee leapt to wrap her arms around his neck. She then backed away and looked at the vile again, "but . . ."

"But what?"

"Last time I checked Serenity ain't got a bathtub."

"Oh, . .um .. .well," Jayne had begun to get that jittery look in his eye again. "Kinda thought maybe for the second part of the gift I could get you a room at the next stop with a tub." He looked at Kaylee with a look that resembled a young boy asking his dad for money.

"Jayne!" said Kaylee, "Why are you givin' me all these things?"

"You don't understand what I'm sayin' do you, lil' Kaylee?" Jayne looked down trodden.

Kaylee raised an eyebrow.

Jayne scratched the back of his head. " I want to .. .uh . .share the room with ya."

"Oh." Kaylee's eyes widened. It was now her turn to look uncomfortable.

"oh."

River sat at the mess hall table thumbing through stacks of paper. One leg dangled listlessly while the other was bent with her foot resting on her chair. Her free arm wrapped around her bent leg and her chin rested on her knee. She hummed quietly in a minor key.

Simon had his back to her doing the night's dishes, sleeves pushed up to his elbows. "You must remember to thank Inara for getting that for you off the cortex, mei-mei." He didn't look up form his task.

"Already did." River didn't look up from hers either.

They continued their own thought processes as Shepherd Book entered and sat down across from River. "What are you reading, child? May I look?"

River handed the bottom half of the stack of paper to Book. "Stories and rules," she explained.

"What language is this?" asked Book looking confused.

"Latin," Simon answered for River as usual. He still didn't look up from the dishes . . . always the meticulous surgeon.

"It's dead." Said River. She didn't look up from her reading material. " I like to read dead things."

Book looked alarmed.

"She means she likes to read things in ancient languages. She always did like linguistics." Simon finally looked over his shoulder and smiled warmly at his little sister. The moment passed, and he was back to his dishes with a vengeance.

"Oh! It's time for your medicine, River!" Simon wiped his wet soapy hands on a rag. "Shepherd, would you stay here for a bit while I . . ."

"Of course," answered the older man.

Simon left the mess hall to fetch the dreaded needle. River closed her eyes tightly and tried to think of things that made her happy.

"Where was this Latin used, River?" Book interrupted her attempts at blocking the fear of the upcoming medication.

"Earth that was." River responded monotonely.

"Really?" Book looked interested, but River knew he was just trying to distract her from her growing nervousness. He always seemed to try to calm her when she became afraid, but it never worked.

"Yes," She replied not changing her bored tone. "It was used mostly by people who religized. The leaders would say things in Latin, and even though the followers had no idea what he was saying they'd say it back."

"Is that so?" River could tell she was making Book uncomfortable, and she enjoyed it.

"Yes. Not many places in the Verse religize now."

"As you probably know, River" Book raised an eyebrow, "I come from a moon that religizes."

"Yes," said River." and you lead them. . .. but," she donned a smug look, "you don't know Latin."

"No I don't" said Book calmly. Simon should be back by now with River's medication, he thought. He would need to keep this conversation going for a bit longer to keep River from thinking of the upcoming painful shot. "Why do you think most planets don't religize now, River?"

"Because on Earth that was they though that He lived in the sky. . . .When they finally found out how to get to the sky, He wasn't there."

River took the stack of paper she had previously handed to Book and laid them beside the stack she was already holding. She shuffled the stacks together like a deck of cards and pushed them into a neat pile.

"You're too wise for your own good, child." Shepherd Book rose to leave as Simon entered the room with River's medicine.

River smiled coyly at him. "You want to make people think He isn't confined to the sky."

"Who isn't confined where?" Simon looked very confused.

"No one," said River.

Inara paced her shuttle. Her top lashes almost touching her bottom ones. She was so tired. Why hadn't he asked her to stay? That was what she wanted to hear. No, don't go. Stay here; I need you.

She needed to sleep. Lying down on her bed she reached over to the dark cherry nightstand and set her waking chime.

She slowed her breathing and tried to let her mind wander into dreams. Just as she was about to fall asleep she heard a knock on her shuttle door. Sitting up quickly she cleared her throat and called, "Enter!"

He strode in as if he belonged and stood towering over her as she sat on the edge of her bed. "I can't believe you knocked," she said rubbing her eyes. "What do you need, Mal?"

"Could you ever be a poor person?" He asked her as if he were scolding her.

"I don't know," she replied coyly. "Poor at what?"

"I mean poor like me."

"Oh, . . . Do you mean a poor communicator, a poor loser, or a poor reader of women?"

The lines in Mal's furrowed brow became deeper. "I even knocked."

"I'm sorry," Inara relented, "I'm acting in a very unbecoming manner." She looked at her lap obviously in thought. After a moment she said, "Yes, I could be poor as long as I had good friends and family to love me."

Mal fidgeted and picked some imaginary dirt out from under his fingernail. "So . . .maybe if you could stay here and be poor and not be a companion anymore . . .."

Inara stood abruptly and clenched her fists. "You want me to change my entire being . . .everything I am . . .to stay here and be with you?"

Mal took a step forward and stared the small woman down. "Yes" He answered quietly.

Inara's fists relaxed and she met Mal's gaze, "Alright." She smiled softly.

Mal's brow smoothed and the corers of his mouth raised slightly. He placed his hands on Inara's shoulders and leaned down to press his lips to hers.

  • ding . . . .ding . . .ding *

Inara opened her dark eyes and reached for the waking chime to turn it off without lifting her head from her soft pillow. She turned her face downward into the green silk to stifle her sobs.

"How about Connor? I like Connor." Wash lay on his side propping his head with his hand and playing with his wife's dark hair with this free hand.

"Connor isn't bad," said Zoe. "It means 'much wanted', and he would be exactly that."

Wash continued to twirl Zoe's curls around his fingers. "I don't see why we have conversations about names for a non-existent child." He frowned.

" I like names." answered Zoe plainly. "It doesn't hurt anything . . . I don't complain when you play with models of non-existent creatures."

"I don't play." pouted Wash "I collect."

"Well I collect names." Zoe turned her back to her husband in an attempt to go to sleep, but realized that her head wouldn't turn.

"Ow!" yelped Wash, "Hold still . . .Your hair is tangled around my fingers."

"Then pull your gorram fingers out of my hair, little man."

"I can't . . .Ow! Zoe, It's cutting off circulation!!"

"Well you're pulling my hair out by the roots!" Zoe clapped her hand to the top of her head in an attempt at keeping her hair from being pulled. "Get up, we need to find something to cut with."

"Oh, bao bei, I don't want to cut your pretty hair."

"Who said anything about cutting my hair, Wash? . . . Luckily, losing circulation will make your fingers numb."

"Hair it is."

They stumbled out of their bed Wash's hand still attached to the top of Zoe's head.

"We can't go out like this!!!" shrieked Wash.

"I can put a robe on, and you can put some pants on. That way our predicament won't keep us from being decent."

"Oh," Wash looked around for clothing, " I guess we should get dressed . . . I meant that the crew would laugh us into the next system if they saw us like this."

"Don't care." mumbled Zoe as she tied her robe shut. " I'm getting your fingers out of my hair if I have to shave my head."

Zoe strode toward the room's exit clasping Wash's wrist over her head. "We'll see if Simon has something in the infirmary," she grumbled.

"Hrm" Wash looked pensive. " Waddaya think of the name Simon?"

"I hate it."

Their eyes were screwed tight shut and beads of sweat popped from their foreheads. Their arms were shaking, but neither of the girls would let go.

"Say uncle, lil' genius!" Kaylee wheezed.

"Won't!" snapped River.

The two girls were hanging from the catwalk in another of their competitions.

"You know I'm stronger'n you, and I won't drop first." Kaylee snarled thought clenched teeth.

"Beat you at jacks." River's usually pale face was bright red.

"That's kids play . . . this is strength."

"You think I can only win at children's games. There are many different kinds of games."

"Well, I'm gonna win this one." Kaylee grunted and kicked as her hands started to slip.

"Everyone plays games on Serenity." River knotted her eyebrows and clenched her jaw. "They pretend they don't feel what they do, and play pretend that others don't know."

"You implying somethin'?"

"You don't play games . . . everyone always knows what you're thinking."

"Wish I knew what everyone else was thinkin'."

"No you don't" River tightened her arm muscles and held her breath.

"You two get down from there right now!!!!" Mal stormed onto the catwalk and yelled down at the struggling girls.

The sudden outburst started Kaylee and River. With a yelp from River and a screech from Kaylee they slipped to the floor bellow in a pile of limbs.

Mal leaned over the rail and hollered down at them, "You two need to quit this competin', dong ma? You're libel to get one of you killed. If I catch you hanging from there again, I'll . . . ." He struggled for an appropriate threat then threw his hands in the air. "Just stay down!" Mal stormed off mumbling something about girls and broken necks.

Kaylee dissolved into giggles, "Yes sir, Captain Tightpants!" she yelled after him.

"That was a game too." said River matter-of-factly. "He won't do anything to us. . . I'll win tomorrow."

Her coverall clad legs poked out from under the engine. How such dainty feet could wear those huge work boots, Simon would never know. He could tell she was enthralled by the familiar sounds of clangs and curses.

He walked into the engine room while clearing his throat . . . didn't want to sneak up on her while she was in this position. She peeked thought the cogs and wires and saw him peering down at her. "Hey!" she beamed up at him.

"Working on the engine?" Simon was horrid at starting conversations.

"No." Kaylee fought the grin that spread across her face unsuccessfully.

Simon rolled his eyes at his own stupidity.

"Hey," Kaylee held her ratchet up for him to see. "Grab me a half inch outta my box, will ya?"

"Um . . . sure!" Simon trotted over to Kaylee's box of random tools and looked into it. There was absolutely no order, and everything was thrown into it as if it were a child's toy box. Simon pushed the contents around a bit making an ungodly racket. "Um .. what exactly does a . .um, half inch look like?"

It was now Kaylee's turn to roll her eyes. "It looks like a little metal cylinder."

"Right." Simon shuffled the contents some more to no avail.

With a sigh, Kaylee pushed herself out from under the engine and stood bedside Simon looking into the box. She shot her greasy hand in and instantly pulled out her needed socket. She held it up to Simon in an open palm. Simon nodded silently.

As Kaylee fitted the socket onto her ratchet, Simon sniffed the air. He leaned in a bit closer to Kaylee. "Hm . . . you smell .. nice."

Kaylee blushed a bit and looked down smiling. "Thanks."

"I don't think I've ever smelled that scent on you before." Simon sniffed again leaning a bit closer to Kaylee.

Kaylee's stomach flipped. He was definitely flirting with her. She grinned.

"It's lavender," a deep voice came from the doorway of the engine room.

Simon took a step back, straitened his stance, and turned to look at Jayne. "That's what I figured," he said smugly, "I'm surprised you'd know such a scent."

Kayle slunk back under her engine.

Jayne's eyes narrowed, "Lavender happens to be my favorite smell."

There was a soft timid knock on Inara's shuttle door. "Come in!" called Inara, expecting to see Kaylee coming in to complain about Simon.

"Oh!" she said with a start when she saw who her visitor really was. "I was not expecting to see you here! . . .not that you're not more than welcome" she added hastily. " You seem upset. Come sit."

Zoe slowly lowered herself onto the dark red pillow Inara offered her. "I need your help, Inara." She almost whispered. Her head was lowered and Inara could see that Zoe was a bit uncomfortable.

"Oh, what's wrong, Zoe?" Worry flashed across Inara's face. Could Zoe be having a problem with Wash? Had the captain said something to her to make her upset? Did she need money?

"I need you to . . .um . .show me how to do something." Zoe looked sheepish, which was a very uncharacteristic expression for her.

Oh, Inara understood now. Zoe wanted to learn some tricks of the trade. Perhaps things had gotten dull for the ship's only official couple. Inara leaned close to Zoe and placed her hand on her knee. "I'd be glad to teach you anything you need to know, my friend." Inara said softly trying to put Zoe at ease.

"Great!" Zoe smiled and turned her head to the side. "Could you show me how to style my hair to cover up this bald spot until it grows back?"

Inara leapt back slightly as her eyes widened. "What in the world happened?" She reached with long fingers towards the small bare patch in Zoe's dark mane.

"Well, Wash somehow got his fingers tangled in my hair . . ."

" . . . and so when I got to the catwalk, those two gorram nitwits were hanging from it!" Mal had his feet propped on the mass hall table and was leaning back in his chair. "Won't those two ever quit their competin'?"

"Not likely, Sir." Zoe sat across from him with a paring knife slicing an apple.

"I used to think it was just game-like. Y'know, they're about the same age, and they were killin' time together. But now . . . .these games are never ending. Every day they're trying to outdo each other in somethin'."

"Does this surprise you, Sir?" Zoe raised an eyebrow.

"I still can't tell if they're bein' malicious or just competitive."

"They're competing, Sir." Zoe popped a bit of the apple into her mouth.

"Over what?" Mal lowered his legs and sat upright in his chair.

Zoe looked at him with a look implying that Mal knew exactly what Kaylee and River were competing for.

"What?!!" Mal said, "I really have no idea. Do enlighten me, great mind reader."

Zoe went back to slowly carving on her apple. "I don't think they even know what they're competing for. Might be subconscious, and even if they did know they'd never say it out loud."

"What?!!!" Mall looked as if he were about to burst.

"They're competing for a certain someone's undivided attention."

"Oh there's an idea I could have died without having in my brain." Mal rubbed his temples.

"Different types of attention, Sir."

"Yes, I know that, Zoe." Mal sneered, "Thank you."

Zoe shrugged, "Not enough of the poor guy to go around."

"So, how does seeing who can dangle from the catwalk longest decide who gets his attention?" Mal looked a bit amused.

"Like I said, Sir, I don't think they even know what they're competing for."

Mal looked at the table while Zoe sliced and ate her apple. There was a long comfortable silence between the two of them.

Mal slowly looked over at Zoe, "Bet I could hang longer'n you."

"Not in a million years, Sir."

Zoe slammed down her knife and apple as she and Mal sprinted towards the catwalk.

Jayne lay asleep in his bunk. He was suddenly awakened and tried to see in the pitch dark. He was unsuccessful. What had woken him? He stretched slightly and realized there was a slight pressure on his chest and stomach. He reached above his head and clicked on the light.

He looked up and came eye to eye with River sitting cross-legged right on top of him. Her elbows rested on her knees and her chin rested on her folded hands.

"Aaaaaaargh!" Jayle leapt put of bed dumping poor River into a pile on the floor. "What in shee-niou hell'r you doin' here?!!!"

"Came to watch your dream." River replied looking up at the towering man.

"How'd you get in here, you ruttin' freak?"

"Door."

"S'locked!!!"

River rolled her eyes and shook her head; "Locks are made by men."

Jayne thrust a pointed finger towards his bunk exit, "OUT!!!" he bellowed.

"You were dreaming of her." River pulled her knees up to her chest and smiled coyly.

Jane dropped his arm and looked at the diminutive girl in shock.

"You want her to spend time with Simon. You think he'll choose me over her."

"Where do you get this tzao gao, you . . . .you, mutant?" Jayne balled his fists at his sides.

River stood up and smoothed her skirt with her tiny hands. "You're a strange man wanting someone you care about to be hurt by another." She spun on her bare heel and pit-patted towards the exit ladder.

Jayne stood dumfounded and watched River climb up to the door.

Just as she reached the door, River called down to him, "He will not be forced to choose, . . . but if he were," She paused and slowly blinked her eyes, "He would not choose me," she whispered almost painfully.

River locked eyes with the stunned mercenary, "Jayne, don't wait for him to force her to you." With that bit of cryptic advice River slipped out of Jayne's bunk.

Jaynes body relaxed and he unclenched his fists, "Yeah, you'd better get your pee goo outta my bunk, lil' girl."

To Be Continued . . .

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Title:  Bits of Time
Author:  Starrbaby   [email]
Details:  Work-In-Progress  |  PG-13  |  gen  |  18k  |  02/21/04
Characters:  Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, River, Book
Pairings:  Implies K/J, K/S, M/I, W/Z
Summary:  Moments of life on Serenity
Notes:  Heart of Gold