Delia Cycle # 4- The Box
Sunday, June 5, 2005

Serenity gets a job from Delia and enjoys some much deserved shore leave on Europa.


The Box by Maura F. ( Standard infringement disclaimers apply...I write for love, not profit. Of course, Delia would disapprove! ) On Europa, Delia was feeling almost normal. Her arms had healed nicely, and she could now raise and lower them without any discomfort. Her bruises had healed, and the burns on her chest were nearly gone. Only one thing was missing from how she was before Niska got her. She would take care of that right now. Delia lay on her stomach, her arms loosely at her sides. Her shirt hung from the peg on the wall. The room was warm, and she wasn't cold. "You ready, Delia?" "Yep. " "Don't know what it's gonna feel like. Probably not like the first one. This ain't your skin." Delia took a deep breath and relaxed her arms. The stylus touched her shoulder blade, beginning the outline of the tattoo. He had been right. The needle's movements weren't painful this time. It was more annoying than anything else. "In 'bout 9 months or so, once the scar tissue has fully formed, I can tattoo it for ya... Look less red, blend the scar outline more like your own skin tone." he said as he worked. "I'll think 'bout it." Delia replied. She closed her eyes and saw Serenity's crew on her back porch, eating dinner, laughing and joking. Visiting with them would be a nice way to while away the next half hour. ----------------------- To: shirtthathurts@serenity.firefly.shp from: re: last letter Dear Wash, How are you? I was glad to hear from you. Your last wave sounded like you and Zo had a whopper of a fight. Hope everything is shiny now. Don't take this as taking sides, but Zo has been taught to follow orders. She can't help but have a hard time going against Mal. It's nothing personal; it has nothing to do with you. She is your wife. She is his 2nd in command.. Be patient, watch what you say. I know its as hard for her as it is for you. I got in some of those scooter pies you wanted. They'll be here for you. I have the same nightmares about Niska's. I'm sorry . Just one more thing to help me sleep at night. Tell me, how does one break an oven? I don't believe Kaylee ruined the ship's oven. What did she do, stuff a tiger in there? Take care, hope to see you soon? Love, Delia ------------------------------ To: from: verasdaddy@serenity.firefly.shp Miss Delia? Glad to hear you are on the mend. We are going to Boros. The is a good bar there. Cap wont let me go. Can you talk to him? Thanks. Love, Your Jayne ------------------------------ To: from : captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp D.- We'll on Boros in two days. Can't wait to get there. Wash & Zoe are fighting, Kaylee's drivin me to drink, and I'm sure I'm like to kill Jayne unless he leaves me alone 'bout some ruttin bar he wants to go to. First time I was ever glad to get off the boat at a Core Planet. Glad to hear your tattoo redone. It suits you. Can't wait to tell Wash he's got a tattoo now too. Thinking of you. -M. ------------------------------ To: captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp from: re: Boros M.- Can you do me a favor while on Boros? There's a package that needs to get to me. My scheduled shipper is broken down on Stone Chapel and it needs to be picked up. I trust you to do this for me. See Adam Webber at the Flying Stallion bar in Chambers. He'll deliver to you. It'll be a small gray box the size of your forearm. It's not dangerous, just precious. Keep it safe. Bring it to me for 10%. I'll wave Adam if you agree. Thanks, -D. PS- Keep it from Jayne. ----------------------------- Sometimes, the mail brings interesting things. Mal and Zoe were on the bridge, discussing Delia's wave. "She doesn't say what it is, sir. Do we want to ship it blind?" Zoe said. "We've done it before, for people we don't know half as well as Delia. Don't think she'd risk us harm. 'Sides, she said it's not dangerous. Only precious. Maybe it's a kitten?" Mal joked. Zoe looked at him with a doleful eye. "Okay, not a kitten. Only part bothers me is the last. Keep it from Jayne? " Mal said "Maybe it's alcohol." Zoe smirked back Mal gave her the same doleful look. "It's a job, sir. Chance to see Europa again. Been a few months. I miss the air. I miss the food. I miss..." Mal completed her sentence. "Delia" ----------------------------- "Jayne, Zoe and I gotta go meet a man in Chambers. Stay here, keep everyone on ship till Zo and I return." Mal said. "You got it, Cap." Jayne said. Mal and Zoe loaded their weapons and prepared to disembark. Wash came down from the bridge into the cargo bay. As Mal opened the hatch door, Wash touched Zoe's arm. "Be careful." he said simply. He hated being the worrier. Though they were fighting, he needed to tell her. "We always are." she replied, and gave him a quick kiss. She turned and followed Mal out of the ship. The Flying Stallion was a mile walk from where they sat at the docks. ------------------------- Mal and Zoe walked in silence for several minutes. He was glad to have a few minutes with Zoe alone. "Zo, can I ask you 'bout Delia?" "What about Delia?" Zoe asked. "I've been thinkin' things are getting more serious." Mal admitted. "On whose end?" "Mine." "Bothers you?" "We agreed it wouldn't happen like this. " Mal said . "You don't sound happy." "I'm all in twists. Don't know what to do." "Mal, you know I like the fact you have someone. Sounds to me like you need to talk to her. Maybe she feels the same." "Yeah, and what are we gonna do? Live on Serenity? Me live on Europa? " Mal shook his head. "I think things are better left like this." Mal said. "All in twists?" Mal shrugged slightly. "Well, figure it out. You're easier to live with now." "Why does everyone keep saying that?" Mal said. ------------------------- Walking into the Flying Stallion, Zoe and Mal looked around. At 10 in the morning local time, it was before the restaurant opened and some waiters sat on the side folding napkins. It was a nice restaurant, one they couldn't normally afford to patronize. "Sir, the restaurant is closed" The Maitre De said. "We're looking for Adam Webber." Mal said. A man behind the waiters looked up from some paperwork. He gave the Maitre De a nod, and Mal and Zoe walked to where he sat. "Yes? May I help you? "I'm Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Mrs. Delia Hammond sent me." Mal said "Captain Reynolds, yes. Sit, please. Mal and Zoe sat down across from Adam Webber. "Would you like a drink?" "No , thank you." "What do you fly?" Webber asked. "Firefly." Webber smiled. "That'll do. How fast can you get to Europa? "Running hard, 'bout 5 days." Mal said. "Okay. I'm glad Mrs. Hammond was able to arrange alternative transport. I'll be right back. Need to get it from my safe." Webber walked away from the table and into a back room. "Safe" Zoe and Mal mouthed to each other. Webber returned with a rectangular box in his hands. He put it on the table in front of Mal. "Mrs Hammond said to trust you implicitly. So, here it is. Place this directly in Mrs. Hammonds' hands. If she's not there, don't leave it with one of her workers. "Got it. What's inside? " "I don't know. I'm just a layover for it." Webber admitted Mal and Zoe stood up, and Webber reached to shake Mal's hand. "Just keep it safe. Thank you. Tell Mrs. Hammond I said hello." "Yes, we know her. We'll keep it safe." Mal said. Zoe reached out and placed the box in her knapsack, then swung it over her arm. It was very light. "OK, we got the box and we still have no idea what is in it." ----------------------------- The walk back to Serenity was more tense, as they had cargo to protect. Zoe and Mal walked casually, but were on guard. "My turn." Zoe said. "Can I talk 'bout Wash?" "We both got love problems..." he said. "He and I have been arguing." Zoe said. "So I've heard. So all the ship's heard." Mal said jokingly. Zoe glanced at him. "I think we're having trouble being married criminals." "We're not criminals! We're...opportunistic salvage professionals." Mal improvised. "Whatever. I need to obey you for the ship to work like it should. He's... my husband." "Is he threatened by your job? You choose to be here. I choose you as well. You chose him" Mal said. Zoe stopped in her tracks. Sometimes, he astounded her. "That's good, sir. That's real good. Mind if I use it?" She exclaimed. "No problem." He smiled. "That's why I'm the Captain." Zoe looked to him again. "Dispensing useful nuggets of wisdom and all." Zoe rolled her eyes but punched his arm playfully. ------------------------------- On Serenity, Mal took the bag directly to his room. He sat on his bunk and looked at it, turning it in his hands, before stowing it in his footlocker for safe keeping. He walked up to the bridge. "Wash, did we get fuel rods?" "No, you told me not to leave the ship. But we've a good supply." "Ok, Set for Europa 1/2 burn." "Oohh, Somebody's itchy. Hot date?" Wash cracked. "Watch it. We're on the job again." Both glanced back to see Jayne had entered the bridge. Wash screwed up his face. "We just dropped off." "And I got us somethin' else." "What is it?" "Don't know. Just gotta get it to Europa. "Delia's business?" Wash asked. Mal nodded. "How much?" Jayne interjected. "Ten percent." Mal said, not glancing at Jayne. Jayne nodded, and left the bridge. Wash started flipping his switches, preparing for liftoff. "Oh, and Wash? If you talk to me like that again, I'll put you in the brig." Mal warned, as he walked away. "Wait a minute. We don't have a brig." Wash called after him. "I'll build one!" Mal answered from down the hall. ---------------------------- In Mal's bunk, Zoe and Mal inspected the box. Measuring 1 foot long, 8 inches wide and 3 inches high, the box was a high density plastic compound, like regular shipping boxes. It had 2 metal straps wrapping around it that appeared to have been molded around and into it. They had no beginning and no end. A 20 digit keypad was built onto the top of the box. A small red light blinked regularly on the keypad. "Ever seen a box like this?" Zoe asked. "Yeah, in the War. It was similar, with the keypad, but it didn't have these straps. The one I saw had a weapon in it." "This is just deep enough for a weapon." Zoe observed. "What do you think is in it?" Mal said. "Papers? Currency? It's light. Too light for anything metal... gold, platinum. It doesn't have hazmat signatures on it. " Zoe said. "Maybe it's some great object from Earth that was." Mal supposed. "Documents might be a good guess. You said you saw one of these in the War. Maybe Delia used transport like this for shipping sensitive papers. Maybe that's what inside now." Zoe theorized. Mal shook it. No noise. "What could she be shippin' that's so precious, as she called it, she had to get it off Boros?" Mal asked. "And not wait the three days for the scheduled crew?" Zoe added. "And keep it from Jayne?" . "Whatever it is, I'll keep it here, in my bunk. It's safest here. No one will come in here, in my footlocker." Mal said. Zoe nodded. Without a safe or lockbox, it was the safest place. "I'll wave Delia, tell her en route." Mal said. ----------------------------- To: from: captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp D- Passenger is aboard. We're on our way. See you on Wednesday, Europa time. Planning on staying 2 days? Hot tub is calling my name. So are you, in my dreams. -M. ----------------------------- On Europa, Delia smiled and rested her chin on her palm. We're back on track. ----------------------------- Kaylee passed Simon tinkering in the Infirmary. She poked her head in the door. "Whatcha doin?" she asked. "Blood work on River. She's not doing as well as I'd like." Simon said, test tube in hand. "What are you doing?" he added. "Going to my room to send a wave. We're going to Europa. Wash said we've got a job." "On Europa?" Simon asked. "No, job is here now. Delivering it to Europa." "Will we see Delia?" Simon asked. "I guess so. She's really the only one we know on Europa. Cap wouldn't go there without stoppin' by." "Things must be serious between her and the Captain." Simon observed. "I think. He won't talk 'bout her with me." "Captain values his privacy." "And I don't?" Kaylee said hesitantly. " I didn't say that. He's just...uh... not as open as you." "Oh." "Tell Delia I said ...hello." Simon said to the empty door. Simon had gotten hold of some more medicine for Delia's condition. ------------------------------- 5 days later, Zoe stood on the gangway that connected the crew quarters to the bridge. She could see her husband fiddling with switches and buttons. They had to talk. The tense atmosphere between them was just killing her. She put her hand on the bulkhead for strength and walked up to the bridge. "Hey there." Zoe said amiably. "Hey." he answered flatly. "Everything okay up here?" "Just shiny." he said in the same tone. "Can we talk?" "We're talking." "I've been thinking a lot about what we've been arguing about and..." Zoe said "Sweetie, if you've come here to say anything except apologize for your kowtowing, you can..." Wash said sarcastically. "Kowtowing?" Zoe bellowed. "Kowtowing? You cha shwo she ma fay lo. I was coming to discuss this with you like an adult, but I see you are currently in child mode." "You're the one who came up here. You came to me. You must have something to say." Wash countered, his voice rising. "I did. I tried. Call me when you grow up." Zoe said, walking off the bridge. "Oh, and enjoy sleeping in the cargo hold." she yelled over her shoulder. Wash put his head in his hands. On the bridge, the stars twinkling ahead of him, he had never felt so alone. Zoe sat on their bed, eyes closed. In the darkness of the bunk, she covered her mouth with her hands and brushed the tear away from her cheek. She had never felt so alone. --------------------------- Zoe didn't show for chow that night. The table was unusually quiet. The ship was small; they all knew what was going on between Zoe and Wash. What affected one affected them all. Wash pushed his food around, head down. Kaylee and Inara sat next to each other and tried to have a soft conversation but the quiet was interrupted when Mal had had enough of this. It was time to talk. "Wash, follow me." he said Wash merely looked up. With a sweeping motion of his hand Mal was ushering him out of the Mess. They went to the bridge, perhaps the only place remotely private. -------------------------- "Fix this, Wash. Now. I can't be havin' this tension on board. You need to..." "This is my marriage, Mal. Not fuel rods. Not course and trajectory. You have no business in my marriage." Wash hissed. Mal reached over and closed the door. This was going to be one of those conversations. "Wash. I love Zoe..." "I knew it! I knew it!" Wash crowed, interrupting Mal. "Shut your mouth and listen for once in your gorram life. I love Zoe. As a comrade. As a sister. As a friend. I trust her with my life. She is one of the only people I've ever met who I can always count on. Always. And I love her for all that. I love Zoe. I'm in love with Delia. " This was the first time he had ever said the words aloud. Wash stared at Mal, his lips tight. He said nothing. Wash sat heavily in his chair and put his head in his hands. "Zoe works here. She works here, Wash. Her job as Second in Command makes this ship go. She stands by my side as my coworker, and as my friend, and makes this ship go. She chooses to work here. She could go anywhere in the 'verse, but she chooses to be here. And I choose her 'cause she's the right person. But Wash, she chose you. She's had men admiring her long as I've known her. She chose you. I am her job. You are her man." Mal said Wash sat in his chair for several seconds. He rose slowly and faced Mal. Mal looked at him warily. He couldn't read him until Wash stuck out his hand. "I thank you, Mal. For the first time, I understand. I didn't see it before. Thanks. I'll fix it." The two men shook hands but Mal moved his upper body back and to the right slightly. "What are you doing?" "Jayne decked me once, shakin' my hand. Just makin' sure..." Wash laughed and hugged Mal briefly. He opened the door to the bridge and walked down to the crew quarters. He kicked the hatch to descend into their bunk, but it didn?t budge. It was locked. From the inside. "Zoe, Zoe, you there?" Wash called. No reply. Wash looked up to Mal, who shrugged. Wash walked over to the com and buzzed his room. "Zoe. Zo are you in there?" No reply. "Zoe at least answer so I know you are okay. Please?" No reply. Mal walked over to the com and pressed the button. "Zoe, press that button and tell him to go away so we know you're not dead." A few seconds later, her voice, thin and tight, came over the com. "Go away." Mal and Wash looked at each other, then at the com as the hissing noise indicated Zoe had disabled the com in her room. Mal walked back over to the hatch and said loud enough so Zoe could hear it through the bulkhead. "Turn it back on, 'case I need you." The com hissed again. It was enabled. Wash looked at Mal with that same old "She listens to you." look. "You gotta learn how to talk to women." Mal suggested, shrugging. Mal walked away from the quarters and back to the Mess. Dinner was gettin' cold. ------------------------ A few hours later, Wash tried to sleep on the couch next to the Infirmary. It was lumpy, he was cold, and he felt horrible. He was working through his apology when Jayne walked by, a towel over his shoulder. He was on his way to the shower. "You know, " Jayne said as he passed "If I had me a woman half as good as Zoe, I think I'd be keepin' my mouth shut a little bit more." Wash covered his face with the Infirmary blanket. He couldn't believe he was taking advice on his marriage from Mal and Jayne... and they were both right. ----------------------------- The next morning, Mal awoke later than normal. He had forgotten to set his alarm. After last night, he had lain in bed thinking about his conversation with Wash. I'm in love with Delia, he had said. He couldn't get that phrase out of his head. Was it true? Was he in love with a woman? He hadn't felt like this since before the War. He got dressed and headed for the bridge. ------------------------------- Wash was sitting in his chair, doing his pilot thing. He was wearing the same clothes as yesterday... one of those gorram Hawaiian shirts. He had slight stubble. "Mornin' Sunshine! Hard night?" Mal joked with a chuckle. "Remind me to buy a blow up mattress at Delia's for emergencies? Please?" Wash whined. "How far out are we?" Mal asked. "Bout 5 hours, sir." Mal nodded his head. "Sir, look at this. Came over the cortex 'bout an 10 minutes ago." Wash said. Mal glanced through the bulletin. "Move to 3/4 burn. I don't want anyone to think we're ripe pickin's." Mal said. "That's what I thought. Going to 3/4 burn." Wash said, easing the thrusters forward. ------------------------------ In the engine room, Kaylee heard a hissing sound that indicated speed had increased. She glanced at the console then flicked on the com. "Wash, did you increase speed?" she asked. Mal answered Kaylee's question. "Got a bulletin a rogue ship is in this area. We need to push outta here." "Ok, Cap. Wash, watch the thruster pressure. I'm getting some unshiny readings back here." Kaylee said. "I see it. Will do. " Wash answered. Mal flicked on the intership com. "Zoe to the bridge." he said. Wash gave him a stricken look. "Gotta tell her." Mal said. "Bout the pirates or about me being a pigu?" Wash asked carefully. "Take your pick." Mal replied. ---------------------------- The Perkins cruiser was half parsec away, waiting for something to come by. When their sensor flickered and transmitted the Firefly's coordinates, the onboard computer quickly calculated the passing ship's speed. "Firefly's running 3/4" "Why would a piece of gohsuh like that push so hard?" "Scared?" "Maybe they got somethin' worth chasin'. --------------------------- Zoe was in Inara's shuttle. The two women were talking over morning tea, and Zoe was feeling a bit better after last night's shambles. When the Intercom sounded, Zoe hung her head. "I'll give you 50 platinum to blow me out the air lock." she muttered. Inara raised her eyebrows. "This isn't the Brave Zoe I know. Listen, chin up. " Inara glanced down at the tea pot as Zoe stood up and remembered an old Earth that was saying. "Women are like tea. You don't know how strong they are until they're in hot water." Zoe turned back and smiled at Inara. The two women, though not close before, had taken a big step forward this morning. ----------------------------- "Yes, Captain?" Zoe asked, stepping onto the bridge. She didn't glance at Wash, who looked back at her. "Just got a bulletin off the cortex. Rogue Perkins class ship out there. Piratey sort. We've moved to 3/4 to haul outta this sector." "How far out are we? " Zoe asked Mal. "Under 5 hours" Wash said meekly. Zoe didn't acknowledge his answer except to say "You wanna move it?" to Mal. "Not yet. It's safe for now. Least till we have someone knockin' on the front door." Mal said Zoe looked out into space, then down at the space map next to Wash. As she looked at Wash, Mal slid the bridge door shut behind him. Zoe was trapped on the bridge with her husband. Mal sat down on the stairs outside of the bridge. Not only did he want to make sure Zoe didn't leave before they talked, he also wanted to make sure they weren't interrupted. It wasn't eavesdropping, he told himself. Wash swivelled his chair around to face Zoe, who looked like a frightened animal being led to slaughter. "Zo, baby. I need to apologize for my behavior last night. I was wrong. Really wrong. And I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I was a pigu. I was a jerk. I was a cha shwo she ma fay lo." He wouldn't say anything more until she spoke. He would listen for once. "You really hurt my feelings." she said softly. Wash stood up and took his wife's hands in his. "Zoe, you are my wife. My lover. My friend. I can't apologize enough for what I did. Except to say a very wise man straightened me out, made me see things from a way different perspective. " Wash said. "Mal?" Wash nodded. "What did he say?" "He said he loved you. As a comrade, as a sister, but that he was in love with Delia. " Outside the bridge, Mal put his hand to his forehead. Big mouth! "And that this is the job you choose. You are his second in command. It's the job you have chosen. But you chose me to be your man.." he concluded. "And?" she asked. "And" he added " I will never again give you grief for doing your job. It's the job you have chosen and I have to accept that." "Thank you" she said. He looked at her hopefully, and she leaned in to accept the kiss he needed to give her. Mal heard the silence for several seconds and realized they were kissing. He got up from the stairs and started down the hallway towards the Mess. The door to the bridge slid open. "Thanks, Mal! They called in unison to his retreating figure. Without turning, Mal raised his right arm over his head and waved to them. The noise of the proximity sensor going off stopped him dead in his tracks.

----------------------------- "Wash" he called, walking back to the bridge. "Tell me we are near debris." "Sorry, Cap" Wash said, turning to his screens. "We've got incoming Perkins class cruiser. Comin' up fast." "Hail them." "Perkins cruiser, this is Firefly Serenity" No reply. "Perkins cruiser, this is Firefly Serenity." "I guess they're not the talkative type." Wash said nervously. "We need to be a little evasive here Wash. " Mal reminded him. "I ain't losin' my ship to someone don't ask me nicely first." " Launch a distress call?" Zoe said. "We can't outrun a Perkins, and we have no munitions. Do it, Wash." Wash sent out a distress call on all frequencies. Mal reached up for the com. "Kaylee, you back there? We're going full burn. We need to haul this crate now." "Full burn." Wash said, engaging the engines. Serenity's back end came to life, emitting a powerful glow that shot the ship forward. "Cap, she's not happy. We can't keep full burn for more than 5 minutes. She'll shut down to keep containment." Kaylee said anxiously. "Then we run for 5 minutes. Keep her happy, Kaylee. Do what you do. Divert something. I don't know. We just gotta get closer to somebody." Mal said "Perkins has closed the gap. She's about 3 minutes from our 6." Wash said. "Suggestions?" Mal asked. "We could slow down, maybe some evasive flying. I don't know." Just as Wash said this, the proximity alarm went off again. All looked down at the radar to see 3 blips racing towards their position. "Hold" Mal said. The Alliance fighters scrambled out of the Hodges streaked across space and over them, headed for intercept with the Perkins. "Perkins is slowing. She's turning." "Lemme see." Mal said anxiously. Wash slowed the ship and turned a wide sweeping turn, in time to see the fighters engaging the rogue ship. Shots screamed across space as the Perkins took fire in its engine area. The Perkins tried to answer fire, but the starboard weapon had been destroyed. Crippled, the ship tried a desperate move to evade the fighters. She flew erratically and the fighters held their fire for a moment. "Why aren't they shooting?" Wash said. "They're asking permission from base to destroy the ship." Zoe said. A few seconds later, the shots were fired from all 3 fighters, and the Perkins exploded with a bright flash. The fighters reconnoitered alongside Serenity and hailed the ship. "Alliance fighter 5 to Firefly. Everything ok?" "Fighter 5, this is Serenity. Can't thank you enough for that. They nearly got us." "Serenity, glad we could help. Where are you bound?" "Fighter 5, we're bound for Persephone." "Have a safer flight. 5 out." "Serenity out." ---------------------- "Wash, set course back for Europa? Let's go before these guys realize who we might be." Mal said. He smiled at Zoe and clapped Wash on the back. There was coffee with his name on it in the Mess. ---------------------------- Touchdown at the landing pad behind Hammond's was smooth. Someone was parked in the space they normally used, so Wash had to set her down a bit further down the pad. "I'm gonna leave the box inside till I find Delia." Mal said to Zoe as the aft deck lowered to the ground. The sweet, warm air of Europa rushed into the ship, and softly blew Zoe's hair. "Smell that fresh air" Zoe said. "Feels good to breathe." "That it does." Mal agreed. But his mind was elsewhere. He was already with Delia. Zoe walked down the deck with Mal, towards Hammonds's. Kaylee, Jayne and Wash followed a minute later. As they walked, Mal glanced around and looked at the four buildings on Delia's property. Something was different. Four. Last time he had been on Europa, there had only been 3. Now, a small cottage was to the right of the Ag Building. -------------------------- As he looked around, he spied a figure on their knees with a basket in the garden. Delia. Mal pointed to the garden. Zoe nodded and continued to the mart. Mal walked towards the garden alone. As he approached, he could see she was on hands and knees, inching along as she pulled onions out of the ground and put them in the basket next to her. Her rear waggled most intriguingly as she struggled with one particular onion. Delia wore a chinese shade hat and didn't hear him approach. "Now that's a position I'd like to see tonight." Mal said teasingly. She froze and reared back on her heels. Turning to face him, he saw in horror it was a woman he had never met before. She looked at him with a scared look on her face. "Oh. Ma'am, I'm so sorry. Oh. Um, excuse me." he was so embarrassed. Mal turned towards the mart and saw Zoe was walking towards him with Delia. "Captain Reynolds." Delia said formally. "Let me introduce my new employee Betsey." "Miss Betsey." Mal said. "Captain Reynolds." she answered with a slight smile. Zoe and Delia guessed what had transpired and smirked. Mal pointed at them. The three walked away from the garden and towards the Ag Building. "You got it?" Delia asked. "Yes. It's on board. We didn't let anyone see it or its hiding place. Its intact." Mal said Delia nodded. "Zo, why don't you go and retrieve it, please?" Mal said, looking at Delia but handing Zoe a ring of keys. "Which one?" she asked. He located the key on the ring and handed it back to her. "Back in a minute." Mal and Delia were alone, except for Betsey picking onions 50 feet from them. They looked at each other for a few long seconds. "It's good to see your face again." Delia said. "I've missed you. " Mal said honestly. "I looked forward to having you here. To having you." she said Mal blushed slightly. He sighed softly with anticipation. Mal leaned forward to kiss Delia when a voice cried out "Delia!" Mal's chin dropped. Kaylee came running towards them. Delia moved to hug the girl. "Oh, Delia. I've missed you so much!" Kaylee said "And I missed you too!" Delia said grasping Kaylee's chin. "Come with me to the mart!" Kaylee said, pulling Delia's arm. Mal intercepted Kaylee. "But things are going so well." he said to Kaylee. "Well? Oh, well. I'll see you two in the mart." Kaylee realized her interruption and walked away from the two. Delia looked at Mal. "We've got a little code going." he said. Kaylee turned back to see Delia and Mal put their arms around each other and walked behind the Ag Building. She smiled broadly at the sight of her Captain in love. ------------------------- Zoe slowed her pace towards the two as she saw Mal and Delia were kissing. The box was still in the knapsack, hanging from her arm. As they pulled away from each other, Zoe approached them. "Here you go" Zoe said, handing the sack to Delia. Delia smiled as she opened the sack and looked inside. "Let's go secure this." Delia said. The three walked into the mart. Serenity's crew was enjoying the benefits of being in civilization. Wash and Jayne leaned on the counter, drinking sodas and eating candy. Kaylee had candy too, and ate it as she looked at some clothes. Inara stood near the magazine rack, selecting women's fashion magazines. Book was eating a pear, wandering around. Simon was still on Serenity, tending to River. ---------------------------- Hank was behind the counter, but walked forward to greet Mal and Zoe. "Captain Reynolds, Miss Zoe" Hank said as he shook their hands. "Good to see you again, Hank. How you been?" Mal said. He genuinely liked Hank, and liked the fact that Delia was able to rely on him so much. "Can't complain. Didja see my new house? Miss Delia built it for me." Hank said proudly. "It's great." Mal said. "It was 'sposed to be a wedding gift for me and Trudy...but Miss Delia built it anyway." Hank explained. Delia put her hand on Hank's arm in comfort. "Hank, will you secure this, please?" Delia said, handing the sack to Hank. "Will do." he said, and walked with the sack to Delia's office. "He's a good man. It's been a good year." Delia said, to no one in particular. "Captain, how long will we be on Europa?" Kaylee asked "2 days?" Delia answered, a question in her voice. "2 days, maybe more." Mal agreed, looking at Delia. "Listen up, everyone. Shore leave for the next two days. Stay here, go somewhere else. Your choice. Just let me or Zoe know where you're headed." Jayne clenched his fist in triumph. He wanted to go see Kimi and Karen. He had saved his money very carefully. "Inara, a widower friend of mine next town over was feelin' a bit low. I told him I knew a nice companion. I think he might have left you a message on the Guild database. His name is Robert Chappelle. He's a good man." "Delia, thank you. A real client. Now that's something to look forward to." Inara said. Inara walked out of the mart to Serenity to check her messages. Delia leaned over and said something softly into Mal's ear. She didn't want to wait until tonight. "Ok, people. Go have your fun. " Mal said quickly. Wash and Zoe walked out of the mart to Serenity. With relative privacy, they could enjoy some time alone to reconnect after their terrible journey to Europa. "I'm gonna be in town. Don't wait up!" Jayne said, as he scampered out the door. Preacher Book walked out of the Mart, and into town. Kaylee remained, a hopeful look at Delia. "Kaylee, honey. I'll see you later. Why don't you go back to the ship and get those pants you wanted altered? " Delia suggested. "Yeah, I'll go get them." she said. It would give her something to do. Lord knows Simon wasn't interested in spending time with her. "Take your time." Mal said to her back. -------------------- Delia took Mal's hand and walked out of the mart into her private residence. He pulled her hand to stop her in the back parlor but she pulled back, and they continued up the stairs to her bedroom. Delia's passionate kiss once inside made Mal forget the box, Zoe and Wash, and his name. She was eager to have him in her bed. She pulled down his suspenders and kissed him. She unbuttoned his shirt and kissed him again. Mal sat down on the bed and undid his holster as she pulled his boots off. He stood up, and she eased his pants down. He stepped out of them and reached for her. First her shirt, then boots, and those tight brown pants she wore. They stood facing each other. Delia looked up at him with such a look on her face that Mal's passion was no longer controllable. They moved onto the bed, and time folded as the next two hours slipped by. ------------------------ Mal flushed the toilet and washed his hands and face. The towel on the shower smelled that delicious Delia smell. He put the towel to his face again and smelled deeply. With a smile on his face, he opened the bathroom door and stepped back into Delia's bedroom. Delia lay completely nude on her stomach. Feet in the air, chin in her hands, she watched News Europa on the vid. As he saw her in that position, he laughed out loud. "Hold it right there. That'll do me for a month's worth of nights alone." Delia glanced at him with a smile. He lay down on the bed mirroring her position He looked at the screen briefly, then at her. "So, what's in the box?" Mal asked, half seriously. "Don't know. I'm just the receiving point for someone who can't land on Boros. Just know how much its worth. " "How much?" Mal asked tentatively. "'Bout 110,000 platinum." Mal coughed in surprise and he bugged his eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?" "It was better that you didn't know. You wouldn't be nervous. Just curious." she said Mal closed his eyes. That was 11,000 credits for Serenity. Their biggest payday to date. "Yep. 11,000 large. I've got that in credit right now. If you want coin, you'll need to wait till tomorrow afternoon. That's when it gets picked up. "Lemme figure out how we want it. Might be nice to have an account here for times when funds are low. " Mal said. "Not a bad idea." she said "Is this something you do often? Mal asked. "Sometimes. I've got a good reputation among some, known to be trustworthy. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you take it." Delia said. Mal nodded his head. ---------------------------- Later, Delia invited the women of Serenity over for mid afternoon tea. Simon declined the invitation for River. She was having a less than lucid day. On her back porch, the women shared the bright October afternoon with laughter and friendship. A crisp breeze wafted over them as they talked, gossiped, and enjoyed. "And I swear, he had no idea!" Delia exclaimed, much to the delight of the other women. "Delia, can I ask you a question? " Kaylee asked. "Honey, you can ask me anything. Not sure if I'll answer, but you can ask." Delia said with a smile. Zoe and Inara smirked softly.. "Well, you know I like Simon." she started. "No!" they gasped in unison. "Stop! But he acts like I ain't even there sometimes. What am I doin' wrong?" Kaylee frowned. "Kaylee." Inara said "You try too hard. Simon knows you like him. Let him make his move." "I'll be old before that happens." Kaylee said. "Inara is right. When a man knows you're loopy for him, he tends not to try too hard. You gotta be patient. Treat him like you would Wash or Capt. Reynolds. Kindly but certainly nothing more." Delia explained gently. "I promise you he'll notice the difference, wonder why, then work hard to get you back to loopy." Zoe nodded her head at this truth. "Also, men are highly visual creatures. They tend to respond better, notice more, when a woman keeps herself. A comb, some soap, a skirt sometimes?" Delia said nicely. "But I work in the engine room all day. I get dirty." "Take Zoe. She does a man's job. But she keeps herself well. Look at that skin. Beautiful. Inara's job requires her to be beautiful at all times. I'm sure she works hard at it. That doesn't come naturally. No offense. " Delia said. "None taken. Kaylee, I spend hours doing my hair, makeup, keeping my clothes clean. I don't roll out of bed looking like this. No one does." Inara agreed. "I don't have hours." Kaylee pouted. "But you have some time. We're just telling you what we all know to be true. Men respond to pretty women. You are a pretty woman. You just need to tap into your natural talents. We'll go over to the market later and get you fixed up with some things to help you out. You'd be surprised what the scent of perfume rather than engine grease will do for your love life." Delia said. "I just want him to be my beau." Kaylee said, her head in her hands. "Don't worry, we'll help you." Inara said. "Ok, ladies. Tea time is over. How 'bout a dip in the hot tub? "I thought you'd never ask." Zoe sighed. Zoe and Delia stood up and walked to the tub. Delia touched the keypad and the surface came to life. Both women started to undress as Inara walked over to the tub. Kaylee realized they were going into the hot tub nude. "I ain't takin' my clothes off!" Kaylee cried. "Kaylee, we have the same parts as you. There is no one lookin'. C'mon you won't regret it!" By now, Zoe and Delia were nude and climbing into the tub. Inara was removing her shoes and putting the top of her red sari onto the edge of the railing. Kaylee stood up forlornly. If they were going to do this, so could she. She could do anything these three did. Kaylee peeled off her top and shimmied out of her jumpsuit pants. She eased herself into the tub and smiled at them all. "Maybe we can get one of these for Serenity." Zoe mused. "Amazing what bubbling hot water can do for the soul." Inara said to no one in particular. The four women continued to chat unaware they were being observed. ------------------------- Jayne stood on the edge of the cargo bay, hidden in the sun's afternoon shadow across the cargo bay. A pair of binoculars was fixed to his face, hiding his sly grin. He had just meant to spy on them, to watch Delia. He was waiting on ship till his date with the Cortland twins. Jayne was shocked when he realized he was watching all four women take off their clothes. He nearly fainted with ecstasy at finally seeing the things he had imagined for so long. "Whatcha lookin' at?" Wash said as he stole up behind Jayne. "Your wife nekkid." Jayne said. "Shut up, asshole." Wash said. "No, really. I'm lookin at your wife. And Inara. And Delia. And Kaylee. They're all four nekkid in the hot tub." Wash's face slackened as this sunk in. He grabbed the second of four binoculars from the case next to Jayne. "Gon chung she bwa so." Wash breathed. "You're tellin' me." Jayne agreed. Both men stared off in the distance. "What's going on here?" Simon asked, approaching the two. "Naked women." Wash said softly. "What?" Simon was confused. "Girls are nekkid in the hot tub. Kaylee too." "You two are gross." Simon said with distaste. Then Jayne's words filtered through. "Kaylee too?" "Yup." They said in unison. Simon grabbed the third pair and looked toward Delia's house. "Gon chung she bwa so." Simon exclaimed. "Yup." They said in unison. They watched the women laughing and splashing each other. "Stand up, c'mon stand up" Jayne said. "I know you're talkin' to Delia" Wash said. "Little Man, I have to say. I'm impressed." Jayne observed. --------------------------- Mal walked down the stairs into the cargo bay and saw the three looking off into the distance. What was going on? "What's wrong? Trouble?" Mal said, grabbing the last set of binoculars. "You could call it that, Sir." Wash said, binoculars still glued to his face. Mal looked out into the direction where they all looked. As he adjusted the focus, he saw what they were looking at. He didn't say anything for a long moment. 3 of the 4 men now stood outside the protective shadow enveloping Jayne. "Gentlemen, this is wro..." he stopped mid sentence. --------------------------- "Oh, ladies, we have been seen!" Delia said with a laugh. "Don't everyone turn at once, but some men with binoculars are standing on Serenity." "Oh, no!" Kaylee cried, and sunk lower in the tub. "This could be fun." Inara said. "Shall we tease them a bit?" Delia asked. "Wash would kill me." Zoe said knowingly. "I'll pass." "Inara, would you wash my back?" Delia asked with a devilish smile. "Oh, you are a bad girl! " Inara said, shaking her finger. Delia reached over and grabbed a sponge off the ledge. She handed it to Inara. "Standing up or sitting down? Inara said. "Definitely stand up." Zoe said, hand over her mouth. Kaylee's mouth dropped as Inara and Delia stood in the tub, their bodies turned to conceal their fronts but give a good backside view. Inara slowly rubbed Delia's back with the sponge. Zoe shifted in the tub so she could get a better view of the men without turning her head. "I see Simon, Wash and Mal. I see Jayne's leg in the shadows. Oh, they must be dying." Zoe said. "Gon chung she bwa so" Mal breathed. Oh, dear lord. He couldn't tear his eyes away. "Ok, enough show. " Delia said 15 seconds later, and she and Inara sat down. "So how are we going to tell them we know they are there?" ---------------------------- The men watched wordlessly as the women took towels off the rack and discreetly wrapped themselves. Delia and Zoe moved to the front of the tub and blocked Kaylee's clumsy exit from the tub. None of the men moved until all four women turned to Serenity and waved. "Whoops!" Mal said skittling backwards. "Oh, gohsuh!" Wash yelped. Simon slammed the binoculars down and ran deep into the ship. His face was aflame. Only Jayne put his binoculars back in the right compartment. He whistled quietly as he walked back to his bunk. He was ready for his date with the Cortland twins. --------------------------- "That was too good!" Delia said triumphantly. "What are the odds this is never talked about?" Zoe smiled. "Pretty damn high, I'd say." Delia said. "I can't believe you did that!" Kaylee said in amazement. "Kaylee, my dear, part of being a woman is sometimes holdin' back your assets, and sometimes... Well, sometimes showin' your assets." Delia said with a smile. "I couldn't have said it better myself" Inara said. The women gathered up their clothes and headed into the house. Once dressed, they walked through the main house and into the mart. The three women walked the aisles with Kaylee, gathering perfume, lotion, barrettes, and some makeup. "I'll put some makeup on you tonight." Inara said. " Of course, not as much as I wear. Something just right for you. Natural." "Thank you, thank you all so much." Kaylee sighed. "And you and I are going to make tonight's dinner in my kitchen" Delia said. "Men can't resist good cooking. None of that formed protein stuff tonight. Oh, I have something for you. I made it." Delia went into her office and brought back a small bag. Inside was the blanket skirt Delia sewed weeks ago for Kaylee. "It's beautiful!" Kaylee said. "Perfect for tonight." Inara agreed. "Stick with us, you'll get your beau." Delia said. --------------------- Zoe and Inara walked casually back to the ship. As they walked up the gangplank, Mal and Wash were standing towards the back of the cargo bay. The women smiled politely at the men, then went their separate ways on the ship: Inara to her shuttle, Zoe to her quarters. As Zoe walked up the stairs, she turned and looked at the men. "Dinner is on Serenity tonight. 1800 hours. Delia and Kaylee are cookin'" she said simply. She turned back and continued off to her room. "Oh, I am so humped. " Wash said miserably to Mal. And after they had made up, too. ------------------------- In Delia's bathroom, Kaylee watched Delia get ready for dinner. On top of the dressing table was an assortment of lotions, cosmetics, and perfumes. Delia sat before the mirror and reached for her brush. With long strokes, she pulled the brush gently through her hair. Kaylee came behind her and took the brush from her hand. She started to brush Delia's hair. Delia looked into the mirror and smiled. "Your hair is so pretty. Wish mine looked this good." Kaylee remarked. "I take care of it. Rub conditioner into it. I don't abuse it." Delia said to the mirror. Delia picked up a bottle from the table and dispensed a small white blob into her hands. She rubbed the lotion into her hands and arms as Kaylee brushed. Then, she applied some makeup, and sprayed a small amount of perfume onto her wrists, behind her ears, and down her shirt. The room was scented with Delia's citrusy floral perfume. Kaylee stopped brushing Delia's hair. "No more tangles." Kaylee said. "Good. Thanks, honey. Now it's your turn. Sit down and let me fix your hair." Delia said. -------------------------- Kaylee and Delia boarded the ship a few minutes before 1800. Their arms loaded with baskets, they walked to the mess and put the food they had cooked on the table. "You get to your room and change. I'll take care of this." Delia smiled. Kaylee smiled back and started up the stairs . Mal was walking the opposite way, into the mess. "And don't pay any one mind if they tease you!" she called after Kaylee. --------------------- "Hey you." Mal said comfortably. "Hey yourself." Delia said. "That smells mighty good. I'm liable to be rolled away from the table tonight." Mal said as he walked next to her. She was getting plates down from the cupboard. "Now that's a sight I'd pay to see. Even without binoculars." Delia said. Mal reached back and gave her backside a good thwack. "Save it for later." she said teasingly. "Woman, you are gonna be the end of me." Mal carried the plates to the table while Delia pulled out Serenity's twisted silverware. "I really need to give you lessons on entertaining." she said, brandishing a worthless fork. "Speaking of lessons, I'm gonna tell Kaylee." Mal said, looking at Delia. Delia smiled an honest smile. "That will be the cherry on her cake." Delia said, uncovering a layered chocolate cake. "Woman, you are gonna be the end of me." he said shaking his head. ------------------------- The crew gathered a few minutes later, drawn by the promise of good food. "Well, well. Looky there." Jayne said. Kaylee walked the few steps down into the mess. She had cleaned herself up, Inara had put on her a little quick makeup, and she was wearing the skirt Delia had made her. The women looked at her and smiled. The men looked at her with a touch of disbelief. Delia elbowed Mal. "Miss Kaylee" Mal said formally. "You look beautiful." "Thank you Captain. Is there anything I can do to help?" Kaylee asked Delia. "No, we're just sitting down." Simon was frozen to the spot where he stood, but seeing Kaylee move to her seat, he rushed over and pulled out the chair for her. She smiled back at him as she was seated. Everyone else smiled slightly and moved to take their seats. "Captain, may I?" Book asked politely. With a wave of his hand, Mal allowed the blessing to be said, out loud, for the first time at his table. This wasn't going to be a regular habit. He would make sure the Shepherd knew that after dinner. After the short Grace, Wash and Jayne grabbed at the food in front of them. Everyone ate heartily with few words for a few minutes. There were grilled steaks, green beans, and a pasta dish. Forks stopped mid bite as the crew savored something they had never had before.. "What is this?" Mal asked incredulously. "It's.. it's... "Fabulous" Wash concluded. "It's an old Earth that was recipe. It's called..." Kaylee looked to Delia, who nodded. "Macaroni and Cheese." "I ain't never had nuttin so good in my whole damn life." Jayne muttered. "I'm so glad you boys like it." Delia said kindly. "I'll have to make sure Kaylee gets cheese on board so she can make it again." "You made this? It's terrific." Simon asked Kaylee "Yup." Kaylee said. This brought a slight bugged eye from both Delia and Inara. "I mean, yes, I did. I'm glad you like it" echoing Delia's words. Mal looked at Kaylee, then at Delia. They were up to something. "Maybe we shoulda brought your nice china over, Delia" Kaylee said half way through dinner. "These plates are fine, Kaylee." Delia said, motioning to the simple ceramic plates. "I ate with my hands for two years. These will do." she said without regret. Everyone at the table fell silent, thinking about this. It was Simon who broached the question everyone had in their minds. "What was it like, Delia?" Delia knew this question would be asked one day. She was as prepared as she'd ever be . "You don't have to answer that." Zoe said, glaring at Simon. "Zo, it's okay. I was a strong person, before I was captured. I was originally at the Troy Camp. But, I thought it was bad there. One meal a day, occasional beatings to pretend like they were trying to get information. Then I got transferred to Carthage when the Indies started to get the upper hand. Torture, sleep deprivation, starvation. They were grasping at straws. I survived by thinking about those I loved: my husband, friends. And the things I love. Flowers, chocolate, dumb vid shows. Anything to keep my mind out of my situation. I learned to remove myself from the moment when it got the worst. Sometimes, I'm surprised I'm still sane." Dinner became a suspended moment, as everyone tried to process what she had just said. Mal had stiffened slightly at this first ever mention of her dead husband. She never talked about him. "God protects ." Preacher said simply. Delia looked at him with a bitter, sad look but said nothing. ---------------------------- After dinner was over for a few minutes, Kaylee brought out the cake. The crew got excited at the prospect of real cake, with real chocolate frosting. "I just love being on Europa. Nothing beats real food." Wash remarked. Kaylee cut the cake into 10 slices and passed them around. During dessert, Mal walked over to the cupboard where the dishes had been and pulled out an awkwardly wrapped package. He walked behind Kaylee, moved her cake forward, and set it down before her "What's this?" she asked, as Mal returned to his seat. Delia was seated next to him. "Open it." Mal said, trying to hide his smile. Kaylee excitedly unwrapped the package. Inside was a small, leather holster, nearly identical to the ones currently strapped to Zoe and Delia. She looked at Mal with a questioning look. "I figure you'll be needin' that for your gunning lesson tomorrow." Mal said. Delia moved her hand a few inches and took Mal's underneath the table. "You mean it?" Kaylee cried. "Oh, my gosh, Captain!" Kaylee got up and rushed over to Mal to hug him. "But I get final say as to if you ever get to carry a weapon. You prove you're a good mark, you listen to Zoe and Delia...I'll think about it." Mal said, as Kaylee examined the holster. "Think I could sit on that lesson?" Simon asked sheepishly. "'Course, Simon." Delia said amiably. "You could use it" Book agreed. ----------------------- As dinner concluded, and everyone stood up from the table, Wash and Zoe reached for the plates. "We'll clean up here." They said. "K, thanks" said Mal. It had been his turn to clean the Mess tonight. "Zo, just leave my dishes there on the sideboard. I'll get them later." Delia said. "Goodnight." Mal said, indicating to all that he and Delia were leaving the ship. As they turned to walk out the door, Kaylee called out to them. "Delia." Delia turned around and walked a few feet to Kaylee. They hugged each other as Kaylee said something softly in Kaylee's ear. Delia kissed her cheek and followed Mal out of the mess. As they walked away, Mal leaned over. "What did she say?" Mal asked. "She said it was the best day of her life." Delia said. "Hmmm." Mal said. Just wait till tomorrow. ---------------------------- As they walked down the steps, Delia looked around the cargo bay. "It's hard to believe you live in here for weeks without touchin' foot to ground." she remarked. "It's a ...nice enough ship, but give me prairie grass any day." she continued. "It took a little gettin' used to, but now its home." he said offhandedly. "I know what you mean." she said, as she took his hand.

Preacher came around the corner and approached Delia. "Delia, I saw your face. I hope I didn't say anything out of turn." he said. Delia suddenly turned on the preacher, her words venomous. She surprised the preacher and Mal with her harsh attack. "God protects? You think God protects? Where was God when my fingernails were ripped out one by one? Where was God when I was raped 9 times in one day? Where was God when I was drowned? Or electrocuted? Or beaten? You tell me, preacher. Cause I sure as hell haven't figure that one out. God protects. You can keep your God protects." Delia cried angrily. Suddenly, Delia realized what she had done. She had lost control. She never lost control. She looked around, and saw her outbreak had roused crew members on the gangways above them. Her hand shook as she raised it to her mouth. Embarrassed and ashamed she faced the preacher again. "Preacher, I am very sorry. That should not have been directed at you." Delia said sorrowfully. "Child, it is I who am sorry." he said. Delia turned past Mal and walked toward the forward door. Mal opened the hatch door for her and they disembarked onto the prairie behind Delia's house. ------------------------ As they walked away from Serenity, Kaylee peeked out the bridge windows at them walking away. She and Simon didn't hear the exchange between Delia and the Preacher. "That's just the nicest thing I ever seen. Cap. really does have a shine for her." Kaylee said. "She is...amazing. Smart. Beautiful. Strong. I can see the Captain's attraction for her." Simon remarked offhandedly. The previous day, Kaylee would have turned on this remark, accusing him of either having a crush on Delia himself, or chastising him for being careless of her feelings. But instead, she remembered Delia's words. "That she is." Kaylee agreed. "You look...uh...pretty in that skirt. Is it new?" Simon asked. "Yeah, Delia made it for me." Simon nodded. "Dinner was good, too." "So glad you liked it. Well, I have things to do. Goodnight, Simon." she said and casually walked off the bridge. Simon watched her walk away, subconsciously noting how her hips swayed attractively in that blanket skirt. "Kaylee?" "Yeah?" "You okay?" "I'm just fine. See you in the morning." she said nicely. He was confused. She didn't yell at him, or say anything except agree with him. Maybe Delia was having a good influence on her after all. Maybe Delia was talking to her. Maybe Delia was talking to her about him. Maybe Delia was telling Kaylee not to bother with him. Maybe Kaylee didn't like him as much as she did before. This last thought made him bite his lower lip. As Kaylee walked away in the exact way Delia and Inara had taught her, she smiled to herself. She knew he was looking. Man, walking like this hurt her hips. How did Inara do it? ---------------------- "You okay?" Mal asked the darkness. "Yeah. I'm fine. I need a cigarrette." she muttered. "You aren't 'sposed to smoke." Mal said. "Who told you that?" Delia asked sharply. "Nobody...I mean, smokin' ain't 'sposed to be good for you." "Oh. " "You've never talked about your husband before." Mal observed. "No. He's dead." she replied. Mal was silent for a moment. Obviously, not a topic she would expand on. "Can I ask you some things?" Mal asked carefully. "Yes." "You were a spy during the War." "Mmmhmmm." "Where were you captured?" "New Canada Crossing." "During the battle?" "No. Before." Mal and Delia had stopped walking. They stood facing each other in the dark. "How did it happen?" "I had picked the pocket of a drunken Second Lieutenant. Got some intel on the impending battle.. I was trying to get back to my rally point on Hera. I didn't make it. " never saw Tom again?" Mal asked quietly. "Nope. Thrown in the Internment camps for two years. Never been able to find out if Tommy died during the battle, or after. " "I didn't know him." Mal said. "You wouldn't. He was probably using an alias. He was an Indie Spy, too." Delia said. Mal nodded to the darkness. Maybe he had known Delia's husband. Someday, he would ask Delia to show him a picture of Tom. "I have no regrets. He was a good man. We had nearly a year together before I was caught. Some don't even get that much." Delia said. Mal was silent. "You want to ask me something." Delia observed. "Did you love him?" "Yes." "Do you still love him?" Delia paused for a moment. "I love the memory of him. Of our year together. But that's gone. " Delia said simply. Mal was silent for a moment. "Fingernails?" Mal said with a grimace. "You can't even imagine it." she said ---------------------------- For the first time, they spent the night together, in the same bed, without being intimate. She needed to be held, and he felt her need. They curled up together on her bed and watched News Europa again on the vid . She mumbled something about taxes and was silent. A few minutes later, he looked down and she slept in the crook of his arm. A emotion he was not entirely comfortable feeling towards her came over him: protection of what was his. He knew then that his feelings for Delia had crossed from the casual intimacy they had both agreed upon to something more. He did love her. He would tell her in the morning. He used the remote to turn off the vid. "Lights off." he said. The room darkened and he went to sleep himself. ------------------------- The next morning, Mal awoke facing away from Delia. She was still in bed, asleep. He turned and looked at her for a few seconds. Lying on her back, her chest rose and fell in the perfect rhythm that told Mal she was sound asleep. He reached out and touched her hair. He picked up a strand and smelled it. It smelled like grapefruit and flowers. Yet another memory for the lonely nights ahead. Slowly, Mal got out of bed and dressed quietly. He wanted to get over to Serenity. Approaching the window, he saw Hank. He was pointing towards the landing pads and directing some men. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was 7 in the morning. A quick calculation told him Wash and Zoe were still asleep. If they had reconciled yesterday, there were still asleep. Easing his suspenders in place, Mal looked again at Delia. He decided to try out the sound of his voice, making the words. He leaned over and said "I love you, Delia." then kissed her lips. She stirred and her eyes fluttered. "Wh-what?" she said groggily. Mal had thought she was asleep. Mal had thought she wouldn't hear. "I'm above you, Delia. " he said. "Oh, ok." She reached up and brushed a kiss to his lips before snuggling into the blanket. Walking down the stairs, he shook his head in dismay at his cowardice. If I can't say it to her face, I must not mean it. -------------------------- Mal walked through the front hall and into Delia's gleaming kitchen. Hank sat at the table, drinking coffee and eating some cold bacon. "Offer you a cup, Captain?" Hank asked. "Thanks, Hank. Please." Mal sat down at the kitchen table with the foreman. "I grew up on a ranch. Cattle ranch on Shadow. You remind me of my Ma's foreman." Mal said. "Think most foreman are kinda alike. Gotta get things done in a nice kinda way." Mal smiled. Hank was right. "Cap Reynolds, since we got a moment, I wanna let you know...I'd die for Delia. She's best thing ever happen to me. I was indentured before Delia came to Europa. She treats me like her partner. Not her employee. I'd do anything to keep her safe." Hank said. Mal regarded Hank for a moment. The man was acknowledging Mal's place in Delia's life, and Mal could rest assured Hank would protect her in Mal's absence. "Hank, I really appreciate that. Delia tells me you are just as important to her. Makes me rest easy knowin' you're here with her." Mal said. Hank nodded. "Ok, enough of this. Got chores." Mal smiled and rose when Hank stood up and offered him his hand. The two shook and both walked out the sliding glass door that led to the back. Mal walked in Serenity's direction, Hank to the Ag Building. --------------------------------- "What's going on over there?" Zoe asked Mal. He followed her pointed finger over to the mart. In front of the Ag building, Wash was talking to Delia. They watched them speak for a few moments. Delia raised her hand in the air and was clearly giving him some directions. Wash nodded. Then, they spoke some more. Delia appeared to be counting something on her fingers. Then, Wash took her hands in his and smiled. "Don't know if I like this too much." Mal observed. Zoe had a very confused look on her face. Wash and Delia hugged briefly, then walked back toward the mart. "They must be up to something." Zoe concluded. Mal nodded in agreement. -------------------------------- Later that morning, Delia and Kaylee were armed and in her back yard, facing the foothills. Targets are set up 100 feet away. Ships lifted off and landed at the pad hundreds of feet away. They discussed the guns in their hands, the wind, the ammo, and the way to load and unload a revolver. Simon, Preacher, and Wash are sitting on the chairs, watching the lesson. "No, hold your arm loosely. Aim through here. " Delia said. "You're too tight. The gun should be an extension of your arm. Yes, that's better." she instructed. Kaylee shot the remaining 3 shots in her gun. 2 hit the target haphazardly, 1 missed altogether. "Why did your last shot miss?" Delia asked. "Dunno." "Cause your attention wavered. You saw Captain Reynolds approach out of the corner of your eye as you fired your last. Focus, Kaylee." Delia unholstered Rosie and powered her up. "Pointing your arm at the target is less important than seeing the target in your mind and making the bullets connect. A fluid, easy motion." Delia raised Rosie and fired 20 rapid shots into the target. The hay bale behind the target emitted small puffs of smoke with every shot. Mal had never seen Delia fire Rosie, and he was impressed. She was a damn fine shot. Jayne and Zoe walked up and stood on either side of Mal. Jayne had returned to the ship earlier that morning and had agreed to help out with Kaylee's lesson for a little while. He was set to be with the girls again today. "Ok, now lower your gun and holster it." Delia instructed. "Here's the most important lesson I can tell you. I can teach you to hit a hay bale target every time. But if there is a gun on your hip, and someone threatens, I can't teach you to fire your weapon at another human. If you take out your gun, you must be ready to pull that trigger. You must be willing to shoot the person in front of you dead without a second thought." Delia said. Good, this was just how he wanted the lesson to go. Kaylee nodded but this was falling on deaf ears. "Kaylee, if anyone threatened what is mine, I mean really threatened me and mine, I wouldn't think twice. I'd shoot to kill. That's the way it is." Kaylee nodded dumbly. "Kaylee." Delia said to get her attention then turned toward the three standing apart. In a flash, Delia unholstered Rosie and aimed the site at Zoe's head. Zoe, Mal, and Jayne simultaneously drew their weapons and aimed at Delia. Kaylee, shocked, had a quick intake of breath and her hand flew to her throat. "Freeze!" Delia said loudly. Everyone watching and participating froze. "Wash, come here please." Wash got up tentatively and went to Delia. She powered Rosie down and handed him the gun without moving the site from Zoe's head. "Keep the site on her, please. Ok, now, Wash is me. Folks, arms up, hold position." Delia walked around the four of them, inspected the guns, the pose, the scene. Hands behind her back as she walked. The three were still aiming at Wash, and he aimed at his wife. "Now Kaylee, I want you to look at this scene. I / Wash have a Smith and Wesson laser gun. Zoe, Cap, and Jayne have 6 or 7 shot revolvers. Look. Think. Question number one. Who will win? Why?" Delia asked, circling Kaylee. "Gosh, Delia I don't know. " Kaylee said. "Think about this. One person with a laser weapon versus three with revolvers. Three on One. Five shots a second versus one per second. No cover." "Well, I think they would win. Three people versus one? You shoot Zoe, maybe Jayne, but Cap would kill you as Jayne was hit." Kaylee reasoned. "Probably. But I'm a pretty good gunner. In this case, you gotta tip the scales as much as you can in your favor. Question Two. Why did I aim for Zoe? Why not Jayne? Or the Captain?" Delia inquired. Kaylee was silent. "You're hoping one of the men has a connection to the woman. Seeing her fall might be the second you need to kill all three." Preacher Book said matter of factly. All heads turn toward the Preacher. "Very good, Preacher. I think you are holding out on us." Delia said, impressed. "Why is the person in the middle both the good choice and the bad choice?" "Well, usually, the person in the middle is the boss. Take the head, the body will fall. But then you need to move the gun either left or right to get person 2, then adjust again for person 3. Too much wasted effort." Wash said. "Excellent, Wash. " Delia said with a smile. Kaylee looked increasingly frustrated. "Kaylee, these are split second questions you gotta answer as you pull your gun. Who do I shoot first? Where do I aim? " "Last question. I pulled a fully charged weapon and aimed it at Zoe. All three pulled their weapons on me. Ready to go. Why didn't they shoot me?" All are silent. "Because I told them not to. I threatened one of theirs, and they reacted. If I hadn't told them that at some point, I was gonna pull my weapon, there was a real strong potential for at least my knee to be blown out. They wouldn't have known it was part of the lesson and probably would have shot me. When Zoe, Capt Reynolds or Jayne takes a weapon in hand, they will use it. Don't matter who's in front of them. Or why. I had to tell them, Kaylee or the scene you just saw might have ended with me on the ground. That's the difference. Guns away, everyone." Mal, Zoe and Jayne uncocked their pistols and holstered them. Excellent. That's my good girl. "Your reaction when I drew my gun tells me you wouldn't be able to fire. Yet. Or, you would hesitate too long and no amount of firepower would save you and yours. When you aren't shaken by a surprise, and don't hesitate, then you'll be ready to strap on a gun. But once you do, anyone else with a gun will shoot you dead in a fight before you can shoot them. They'll assume you know what you're doing. " Now, Kaylee understood. She handed the Ruger back to Delia. "Maybe you better hold onto this for me." Kaylee said sadly. "No, you'll hold onto it. Today was important.. We'll have more lessons. You'll get better. You're a fair shot. There'll be no ammo for it, of course. But I'm givin' it to you. Practice holding it in your hand. " Delia hugged Kaylee "Kaylee, now that you know what we're talkin' bout, you'll know when you're ready. But don't fret over this. It's a good start." Delia said. Mal walked over to the two women. "Good shooting, Kaylee. Maybe someday." he said, patting her on the back. -------------------------- Buddy walked around the corner. "Miss Delia? Delia swivelled her head around to see that Buddy held up 3 fingers. Delia walked over to Wash and retrieved her gun. "I'll be back." she said as she walked away. Kaylee and Mal looked at each other and she shrugged her shoulders. Delia had reacted so oddly, almost strongly to three fingers in the air that both assumed something was wrong. Zoe walked over to Mal. "Think we should follow?" Mal nodded a few times and the two took a few steps toward the mart. Suddenly, Delia and Hank turned the corner with two men and walked toward a ship parked a distance from Serenity. "I'll be back." she said "Ok, she'll be back." Mal said to Zoe. They watched her and Hank board the ship. 30 seconds later, several of Delia's hands left the Ag Building with the anti-grav and crossed the prairie. They boarded the ship as well and left towing the anti-grav loaded with something covered with a tarp. Delia and Hank walked out of the ship and shook the hands of the men. They returned to the Serenity crew and with a nod, Hank returned to the mart, leaving Delia with Mal and Zoe. Mal looked at Delia with a questioning look. "Business." she said, answering his unasked question. "What's under the tarp?" he nosed around. "Mal, I don't ask you about your business, don't ask me about mine." Zoe and Mal exchanged a look. It was not lost on Delia. "Listen you two." she said, pulling them aside. " While you guys are off flying around liberating items, I have a life, you know. I buy, I sell, I trade. I make money. " Delia pointed to the Ag building. "I just made money." "Occasionally, there are things that need to go under the radar. That was one of them. Ok?" "You're right, it's your business." Mal conceded. "I'm sorry." "Thank you." Delia said. "So what's under the tarp?" Mal asked again. Delia made an exasperated noise. She paused a second then said "C'mon." The crew walked next to Delia as they went to the Ag Building. Inside, two of Delia's men were unloading the crates of fuel rods. Enough to power Serenity for months. "Well, well, well. Fuel rods.. A lot of fuel rods. A lot of fuel rods without Alliance tax stamps." Mal observed wryly. Wash looked at the rods admiringly. He knew how much those rods were worth on the open market. Fuel was expensive and skirting Alliance taxes on it would be a profitable enterprise. He ran his hand along the surface of one of the rods. "Those gentlemen have a system in place to skim rods at the Omicron plant before they are counted and stamped. I buy them, stamp them myself, then sell them like the honest businesswoman I am." Delia said. "You're a fence! " Mal crowed. "Might I remind you that without people like me, people like you wouldn't have a job." Zoe elbowed Mal lightly. "Is there a reason you never told us about this ?" Zoe said. "Thought about it once or twice. Jes' didn't see the right time." she said "That's Delia speak for she got caught this time." Mal joked. "Well, I don't care where they came from. Cap, we need to get some of these. Stowed in the hidey-hole, keep us from the drift." Wash said. "What else do you buy?" Kaylee asked. Mal looked to Delia again. "I buy what I can sell. Seed, Food, Tools, Weapons. I turn some of the profits back to Stapleton. Three years ago, I built the school. Last year, I brought the first doctor to Europa. Next year, I want to fund a theater." Delia said. "What about this year?" Kaylee asked. "It was a good year. This one was for me." she said slyly. "Okay, now that you know my dealings, let's go back to the house." Delia said. ------------------------------- Delia and Zoe were drinking tea on the back deck mid afternoon when the sound of thrusters above them drew their attention skyward. A small shuttle was landing next to Serenity. "That'll be my contact. I'm gonna go get the box. Be right back. You got your gun?" Delia asked. Zoe nodded. "Just in case." Delia said as the glass door opened. Zoe watched three men disembark from the shuttle. From their posture, Zoe could tell the one in the middle was the contact, the other two guards. "Is Mrs. Hammond here?" The man on the left asked Zoe. "Yes, she'll be back in a moment. Would you like some tea?" she asked pleasantly. The man in the middle nodded. Zoe got up and went into the kitchen for a cup. As she turned to move back out to the patio, Delia walked into the kitchen and followed Zoe out the door. She was not holding the knapsack. Delia had changed out of the skirt she was wearing and had put on pants. Rosie now rested on Delia's thigh. "Chairman Andrews, so nice to see you again." Delia said, kissing him on both cheeks. "Mrs. Hammond, if I wasn't already married..." Andrews said. "Why you scamp!" Delia said teasingly, patting his chest. "Sides, I could never be anyone's fourth wife. You must be a glutton for punishment!" she said. "And you are..." Chairman Andrews asked. "This is Mrs. Zoe Washburn." Delia said, introducing the two. "An old and dearly trusted friend in our profession. So she may stay at the table." she added firmly. "Mrs. Washburn" Chairman said formally. "Chairman Andrews" Zoe replied. Andrews chuckled and sat down at the patio table. He reached for the tea Zoe had poured for him. "I understand our business is complete." he said amiably. "My business with you is never complete." she said seductively. "Just gotta get to the payin' part.." Delia continued amiably. "That's why I like you for business. You get the job done and get straight to the point." he said. "You should try me for pleasure then. You'd probably like me even better." she said seductively. "Oh, Mrs. Hammond. You are the stuff of daydreams." Andrews replied. "Your man can put the money down on the table now." Delia said pleasantly. Andrews hesitated a moment. Zoe's inner alarm started to sound but Andrews looked over at one of the men and nodded slightly. The man put the satchel in his hand on the table. "Let me retrieve the box. I'll be right back." Delia said. "Don't try anything funny ." Andrews warned with a smile and a pointed finger. "Chairman, I am shocked at your implication." Delia said as she rose from the table. "You have never had any reason to question my trustworthiness, and you never will. I will be just a second." Delia walked over to the satchel and peeked inside. Satisfied by the contents, she smiled at Andrews and slid open the glass door. She walked into the living room next to the kitchen. Less than ten seconds later, she was back on the patio with Zoe's cloth knapsack. She took it out of the bag and slid it across the table. "Excellent." Andrews breathed. "Chairman, I'm so happy you're pleased. I'd do anything to keep you happy." Delia said Zoe was getting downright uncomfortable with Delia's sexual overtones. "Mrs. Hammond, you've made me a happy man on so many levels." he said. "Can I ask a favor?" "Of course, anything." "Open it for me." Andrews hesitated. He really shouldn't open it until he was safely aboard the Hodges Cityplex. But Delia was so hard to resist. "Ok, Just for you. Get ready to catch your jaw." he said Andrews moved the knapsack away from the box. He stood up from the table. Delia stood up as well and touched Zoe's elbow, indicating she too should rise. Delia knew what the box would do momentarily. Andrews punched a sixteen digit code into the keypad and took a step backward. Delia and Zoe also stepped backward from where they stood. Zoe was entranced. She had never seen anything like this. Why were they moving away from the box? "Shield your eyes" Delia murmured to Zoe. The metal bands on the box began to turn red and just as Zoe raised her hand to her eyes, a brilliant light shone from the box. When the light had flared out, Zoe and Delia lowered their hands. Zoe saw the metal straps had vaporized and were gone. Chairman Andrews reached down and opened the box. He smiled broadly as he saw the contents. With a flick of his wrist, he turned the box toward Delia and Zoe. Inside the box was diamond jewelry. Pendants, bracelets, rings, earrings: all manner of jewelry, all diamond. "Chairman Andrews! They're beautiful!" "Now you see why the secrecy." he said. "These must be the items from Ariel I heard about on the News two months ago." she said. Andrews nodded. Delia smiled though a bitter acid taste filled her mouth. She was being paid a pittance of the cargo's real value. Diamonds were one of the rarest commodities in the universe. Oh, well. 99,000 credits after Mal's portion wasn't bad for it resting in her safe overnight. Andrews closed the lid and picked up the box. "Mrs. Hammond, as always, you are a delightful woman and a trusted ally." he said. "Chairman, please let me know if I can be of any further service to you." Delia said suggestively. "Oh, Mrs. Hammond." Chairman Andrews said, waggling his finger at her. "We'll do business again." he said. With a nod of his head, Andrews and his men walked off the patio and back to the shuttle. It took off within a minute of them reaching the ship. It lifted off quietly, turned, and was gone. Zoe and Delia were already in their previous seats. Zoe looked at Delia. "Wow." Zoe nodded. "You got humped." Zoe observed. "Thanks, jei-jei, for pointing out the obvious." Delia said. She breathed out an exasperated breath. "If I had known there were three million platinum worth of diamonds in that case, I don't know if you and I would be having tea today." Delia said. "Is that how much those diamonds are worth?" Zoe asked. "Approximately, I'm guessing." Delia said. "Mal said Serenity's take is 11,000." Delia nodded. "So you got 110,000?" Delia nodded again. "That's not bad, though - very little risk to you." Zoe observed. "But now I know why you wanted to keep it from Jayne." Delia smiled at her friend. "I knew the cargo was precious. I just didn't precious." Delia got up and brought the satchel to their table. She reached in and pulled out a sheaf of money. She counted for a few moments and handed it to Zoe. "What's this?" Zoe asked. "5,000 platinum. Emergency money for Serenity. Keep it hidden. You'll know when you need to use it. Serenity holds some people I care about deeply. Just protecting my emotional investment. Don't tell Mal you have it. " Delia said simply. Zoe smiled at her friend. She put the money in the knapsack. "I'll give Mal the 11,000 later. " Delia said. "He doesn't need to know you have that money until he needs to know. And when he needs to know, he won't complain." Zoe nodded, but then she had a question. "What was all that sex talk with the Chairman?" "Spy School 101. When in a potentially dangerous situation, a woman should imply sex in nearly every phrase. It puts the man totally off balance, no matter what their focus. If he's being dodgy, thinking about sex with you might stack the cards in your favor. Get him to think Sex rather than Enemy. I was pretty sure the transaction was on the level, so the Chairman just took it as me being my usual flirtatious self. But if he had been up to something, it might have given him pause. Just a mental trick. " Delia said. Zoe smiled and nodded. She didn't know if she could be as convincing as Delia, but it was a good lesson for the future. "It's how I got the message to you from the Skyplex." Delia said softly. Zoe looked at her friend. "I started talking to one of Niska's men. He wasn't half bad looking, but clearly an underling. I made him think I'd lay with him if he let me send a message to Serenity. A day after the message was sent, I had to pay the bill. " Delia said without looking up from her tea. "That message saved your life." Zoe said. She put her hand on Delia's. "When Niska found out about the wave, he figured out who had turned on him. Niska's men killed the man in front of me. That's when I got punched in the stomach." she said. -------------------------------- Their conversation was interrupted by Mal and Wash. They were walking the path from Serenity to the Mart. Zoe nonchalantly moved the knapsack off the table and onto the ground. It had a slight bulge. "Ladies." Mal said as they approached. "Where?" Delia said. Wash and Mal smiled. "Was that your contact?" Mal said. Delia nodded. "Everything ok?" "Shiny" Zoe said. "Why didn't you call me?" he asked. "Zoe was here. We're both armed. We took care of it." Mal motioned to the satchel with a questioning look. Delia nodded and motioned to the satchel, inviting him to look inside. "Gon chung she bwa so." Mal exclaimed. He pulled a few packs of platinum bills from the satchel. Delia and Zoe smiled. Wash's eyes were affixed to the money. "Today was a good day. " Delia said. "Keep it. " She motioned to the money in his hand. Mal held up the packs. "We agreed on 11,000. This is 15,000. " Delia looked over her teacup at Mal. "Thank you. " he said. He would take it without further comment. "Did you find out what was in the box?" Mal asked. "Yep. Diamonds. A handful of diamonds." Zoe said. Mal didn't need to hear about the One that got away. Delia simply smiled. ----------------------------- Hank walked around the corner of the mart and towards Serenity. He didn't see the four on the patio. He started down the dirt path toward the ship. "Hank, you need somethin'?" Delia called after him. "Oh, Miss Delia. Didn't see ya. Just took a call from Harlan. Says he's got a man in his lock up he thinks is with the Firefly that comes 'round regular. He wants you to come." All four exchanged looks, but Mal said it. "Jayne." ----------------------------- "Hank, secure this please. " Delia said, as she put the knapsack from the ground and the money from Mal's hand into the satchel. "We're gonna go pay Harlan a visit." ------------------------------ Mal, Delia, Zoe and Wash walked around Delia's house and down Stapleton's main street. Shoppers strolled the sidewalks, horses were tethered in front of buildings. "I'm gonna kill him this time." Mal said. "Let's just find out the story first. But let me do the initial talkin'. Harlan trusts me." Delia said. A minute later, the four mounted the three steps to the Sheriff's office. They opened the door and walked into Harlan's office. It was a standard Sheriff's post. A few desks, a shotgun rack, and a jail cell along the back of the room. Peeking around Sheriff Harlan's desk, Mal could see Jayne snoring heavily on a cot in the cell. "Thanks for coming, Delia." Harlan said, offering his hand to her. "You know this man?" "Thanks for calling me first." she said. "This is Captain Malcolm Reynolds. He owns the Firefly Serenity." Mal and Harlan shook hands. "That's one of my men, unfortunately." Mal said bitterly. "What's he in for?" Delia asked. "Drunk and Disorderly, Destruction of Property, Resisting Arrest." Harlan said. Mal's shoulders dropped. Jayne was in a heap of trouble. "Did he hurt anyone?" Delia asked. "No. He was with the Cortland girls at the Range Bar. Fight broke out. Tables, chairs, a mirror broken. " Harlan explained. Delia and Mal looked at each other. "Now I know you're here every few months, Captain Reynolds. I seen your ship. I just can't have this in my town. This ain't no border world. I got peace to uphold." "I understand. I apologize for my man's behavior. " Mal said humbly. Delia had an idea. Harlan didn't seem to want to deal with Jayne. Maybe he'd let them take care of this privately. --------------------------- They walked out of the Sheriff's office. Walking down the street, Mal started to verbally think out his plan for Jayne. "I'm gonna make a jail cell on board, and I'm gonna lock him in. Wash, we're gonna find the most god forsaken fey yoo moon we can find, and we're gonna push his pigu out the hatch. I'm done with him. " Mal raged. All were silent. Mal continued to walk down the street, plotting his revenge. He looked around and realized he was alone. He looked back up the street and saw Wash, Delia and Zoe had stopped. Delia was pointing to the building in front of her. Range Bar. Mal turned to join them and they entered to pay for the damages Jayne had caused. ---------------------------- Mal, Delia, Wash and Zoe sat in Delia's kitchen drinking wine and playing cards. It was late afternoon, and they were all in a better mood. After many hands of cards, the bottle was empty. Wash caught Delia's eye and she nodded almost imperceptively. "Mal, let's go for a walk." she said. Delia rose from the table and held out her hand. He looked from her hand to her face and knew this must be about her and Wash's talk earlier. He rose and took her hand. On their way out the door, Delia grabbed another bottle of wine from the counter. "Bye" Mal said with a shrug as the glass door slid closed. Wash and Zoe were alone in Delia's kitchen. "Zo, I've been thinkin' about what I could do to make up for the hurt I've caused you." "Wash, you don't have to..." "Yes, I do. With Delia's help, it's a good start. "Delia's help?" "The house is ours, for the rest of the night. Delia and I arranged so that you and I will sleep here, and she and Mal will be on Serenity." Wash said. "Ooh, Captain's gonna be mad." Zoe said. "Delia will take care of him. I'm here to take care of you." he said. Wash leaned across the table and kissed his wife softly. "We've got the run of the house to our selves. Watch the vid, eat anything in the kitchen, run around naked, use her bathtub, listen to music, did I mention run around naked? "You are so swee...did you say bathtub?" Zoe asked. "Yeah, she's got a big bathtub upstairs. Let's go find it." They walked through the house and up the stairs to the top level. "She said second door on the right was her bedroom, yes, and through here - aha! The bathroom." Wash said. Zoe smiled broadly as she saw the huge bathtub in the corner of the room. She loved taking baths. "She said towels, soaps and such are in the cabinet yourself." "Honey, I'm gonna take a bath by myself for a while. I'll call you a bit later." Zoe said. "Take your time. I originally asked Delia just if there was a place around here that had a bathtub. She was the one who offered her place." "Remind me to kiss her when I see her next." Zoe said. "Can I watch?" Wash said. With a small laugh, she pushed him out of the bathroom. The door closed and she was alone with that gorgeous tub. "I'll be watching the Vid." he said to the closed door. ----------------------------- Delia led Mal around the path back toward the market. They entered and went to her office. Delia closed the door and lowered the shades. Turning toward a picture on the wall, she punched a hidden button on the wall and the picture disappeared. It had been a hard hologram. Revealed was Delia's safe. Mal watched with interest as she opened the safe with a few keystrokes. She pulled the satchel from the wall and handed Mal the three packs of platinum. "I have a surprise for tonight." Delia said. "Oh?" "I've loaned my house to Wash and Zoe tonight. You and I are going to be on Serenity." she explained. Now, he understood the scene he and Zoe had witnessed earlier. "Wait a minute. On Serenity? I'm here to enjoy some creature comforts. I don't wanna be in my bunk tonight." Mal whined. "I'll be there." she said. "Still." he pouted. Delia rolled her eyes. She stashed the satchel back in the safe, closed it up, and turned the hologram on. She'd get the knapsack with Serenity's emergency fund to Zoe tomorrow. --------------------------------- They walked hand in hand to Serenity. As they boarded the ship, Kaylee was in the cargo bay rummaging around in a box. "Hey there." Delia said to her. "I'll be right back." Mal said. Delia knew he was going to stow the money somewhere. He headed up the back stairs and toward his bunk. "Whatcha doin??" Delia asked. "While we were headin' here, Serenity wasn't too happy at going near full burn. I've been tryin' to figure out her problem." Kaylee explained. "And?" "And I think she just needs some routine maintenance. Cleaning contacts, replacing old wiring. Nuttin' major." Kaylee said. "Good. I'm gonna be on Serenity tonight. Would you like to fix those pants?" "Delia, that'd be great!" Kaylee exclaimed. Simon looked out the Infirmary window. He had heard voices, and saw Kaylee was talking to Delia. He walked out the door and a few steps down the stairs. "Delia? Can I see you for a second?" Simon called out. "Be right there." She replied, as she walked toward the stairs to the Infirmary. Kaylee raced off to her bunk. She had something else she wanted to show Delia. ----------------------- As Mal turned the corner at the Infirmary, he saw Delia sitting on the Exam table. Her right arm was out of its sleeve and Simon was about to give her an injection. Mal stood in the doorway and leaned silently on the doorjamb. Mal didn't take his eyes off Delia's as she received the injection. Delia put her arm back in its sleeve, and thanked Simon quietly. She walked out of the Infirmary and Mal followed her down the stairs and onto the catwalk. He was about to say something about the shot, but they couldn't help but notice Kaylee in the cargo hold. She was wearing an enormous ruffled dress. "What'd ya think?" Kaylee called up to them. "Now that is a dress." Delia said diplomatically. Mal and Delia walked down to Kaylee. Mal blinked a few times. "Why are you wearin' that fluff?" he asked. "I wanted to show it to Delia." Kaylee said proudly. "It's..lovely, honey. Bet you don't have much chance of wearing it on Serenity." "No, but I wore it to a fancy dress party once." Delia was thoughtful for a second. "How'd you like me to alter it for you? I could make it..uh.. A little more wearable." Kaylee paused for a moment. She didn't know if she wanted it altered in any way. She loved her dress. "If not, it's okay..." Delia said. "What would you do?" "Well, I could make you a dress that's...a little smaller on the bottom. I could make another skirt too. There's... a lotta material to work with. Mal turned his head to hide his smirk from Kaylee. He knew how much that dress meant to her. Kaylee smiled at Delia. "Maybe you could make me another skirt to wear to dinner sometimes." Delia nodded brightly. She had no idea what she could do to make that dress wearable. Then, it hit her. "Know what? After the Melt, there's a big dance over in Marksville.. I could make you a fine dress from this one. And have some left over for an occasional skirt." This was the first he had heard about a party. He had also forgotten that Delia's side of Europa would be closed soon due to the heavy snows. He made a mental note to ask her about it later. "I could go to the dance?" Kaylee said breathlessly. She already saw herself dancing to the music. "Of course, honey. We'll all go. Everyone gets dressed up grand but its just regular folks gettin' together for fun." Delia said. "Why don't you go take it off and bring it back here. I'll take it with me and work on it while Serenity is gone." Kaylee smiled broadly. She ran off to her room to take off her dress. -------------------------------- Mal looked at Delia with an amused expression. "That's some dress." she said. "Where'd she get it?" "Persephone." Delia nodded. "Does the shot help?" Mal asked quietly. Delia looked at him and nodded again. ------------------------------- Wash and Zoe lay on Delia's guest bed. Wearing robes they found in the closet, they watched a serial show on the vid. "I don't get it. Why did she leave?" Zoe asked. "Maybe she couldn't take it anymore. I don't know. I've never seen this show before." Wash reached down to the floor and grabbed his wine glass. It stood next to the remains of their dinner. "I don't know about you, but I could live like this." Wash said. "So you like Europa?" "Yes, I do." "I was thinking, someday - not now ...when we need to ... we could think about settling here." Zoe said. "When we need to?" "You know, when the time comes that we can't live on Serenity anymore." Wash was silent for a moment while he translated this in his mind. "You mean, when you get pregnant." Zoe nodded. She looked at him, biting her lip. She knew this wasn't his favorite topic. Wash paused for a moment. "I think...I think it's a good idea." he said. He leaned over, and they kissed a soft, loving kiss. ----------------------------- Delia and Kaylee made a simple dinner : sho mu, stir fried rice, and sweet and sour chicken. It wasn't actually chicken, but the texturized protein Serenity carried on board. Delia didn't want to interrupt Wash and Zoe. Book was having dinner with the Pastor of the Stapleton church. The two had met on Serenity's last visit, and had been sending waves to each other ever since. Simon and River joined them for dinner. Inara was with her widower client. She wasn't due back until tomorrow. Jayne was still in the lock up. "Delia, you mentioned the snow. Is it bad here?" Kaylee asked. "Europa gets snow for two solid months. We can get up to 14 feet in that time. It melts quick though. We have portable snow melters that make quick work of it. Before the snow, most folks leave and either go to the other side of the moon, or leave altogether. Usually, my hands take off for a tropical place. Hank and I hold down the fort." "And you don't leave your house?" "Snow's too deep for space ships to land. We're moon bound till the Melt. Luckily, Stapleton doesn't flood too badly. All the water flows down into the Divide 16 miles due North." Delia said. "So what do you do?" Simon asked "What do I do?" "To keep yourself busy." "Oh, well, I save projects to do over the winter. With the Mart closed, I've got lots of time. I knit or sew, I find new stuff for the mart over the cortex, I actually try to get some sleep. Last winter, I refinished my living room floor." she said. "This winter, I plan to do a little sewing (Kaylee smiled), I need to repot a lot of the plants in my greenhouse, and I'm going to redecorate my bedroom." Delia said. This last part made Mal look up from his dinner. He liked her sparse bedroom. How could he say this with everyone else in the room? "Gonna make it all feminine and frilly?" Mal said. He didn't want it feminine and frilly. "Yes. All Pink. Everywhere you look. Ruffles, Lace, and Shimmery fabric." she said facetiously. Everyone had a good laugh. Mal reached over and lightly tapped her head with his chopsticks. ----------------------------- Jayne scratched his stomach. His head pounded. Reaching up, he lightly rubbed his temple. His head was pounding and spinning. What a night. Looking up, he blearily saw it was dark. Where the heck was he? He rubbed his eyes and picked his head off the cot. He realized where he was. He was in jail! He sat up quickly but was forced from rising by the terrible pounding in his head. "Why Mr. Cobb, Good Evening." Harlan said. Harlan had returned to the jail an hour ago. He had expected Jayne to wake up soon and had come back to make sure he was there for the moment. "Wh ? what's going on?" Jayne asked. "You, sir, are under arrest." "Arrest? What'd I do?" he growled. "Drunk and Disorderly, Destruction of Property, and Resisting Arrest." "I didn't do none of that stuff." Jayne said angrily. "Well that's for the Magistrate to decide. He'll be here in the morning for your trial." Harlan said. "Trial?" Jayne asked. Harlan nodded. "And when you are found guilty, you'll be sent to the Penal Moon for oh, 5 years at least." Harlan gloated. "5 years!" This wasn't happening! "Listen, I'm with the Firefly that's parked out back Hammond's and they..." Jayne began. "And they were here earlier. Captain Reynolds told me to give you a message. He said : "Have fun in prison." The Firefly took off 'bout two hours ago." Harlan said seriously. Serenity had left him. "Listen, what about Miss Delia? Can you buzz Miss Delia to come get me?" Jayne asked anxiously. "Miss Delia was here with Captain Reynolds. She told him she wanted nothing to do with you. Sorry, son. You're alone, you're in trouble, and you're going to prison. Say, would you like some grub?" Harlan said, offering him a biscuit. Jayne sat back down on his cot, head in his hands. He had really screwed up this time. ------------------------ Mal sat at the Mess table. His back was to Delia and Kaylee. Spread out in front of him was his gun cleaning tools. He soon realized they were of no use to him, as he had Rosie in pieces and he was scratching his head. Laser guns were nothing like revolvers. He braved on, trying to look like he knew what he was doing. Kaylee stood on a step stool. Delia was on her knees in front of the stool, pins in her mouth. She was inserting them into Kaylee's pants to taper the leg and make them shorter. "Do you think its gonna work?" Kaylee asked. "I think so. These pants are big enough for Jayne's big butt. You need to look more like a woman. I'm gonna take them in. Trust me. Tomorrow, I'm gonna take you over to my sewing room and take your measurements. I'll use them to work on your dress over winter." Delia said, pins still clenched in her lips. "Okay" Delia said. She took the remaining pins out of her mouth. "Go take those off carefully and bring them back.." Kaylee stepped down from the stool and walked toward her quarters. Delia got up from the floor and walked over to where Mal sat. "What the xingjiao are you doing to my gun?" Delia exclaimed. "Tryin' to see why it's misfiring." "I thought you knew what you were doing. Here, give it to me." Delia said Delia took the gun in her hand and turned it over. "First, you always take the power pod outta the handle. Otherwise, it's still hot." With a quick snap, the pod fell out of the handle and onto the table. "Next, you inspect this connection, here. See?" Delia pointed to a small connection near the power pod. "If it's got white crud on it, the gun has gotten damp. It'll corrode quick. Nope, not that. " "So next we move to the vault. Here, we're looking for dirt, the white crud or anything that could cause the charge to stick. And yup, here it is. See the white here on the intersection of the vault chamber and the pod tube? When the trigger is pulled, the corrosion is drawing the charge and partially disturbing the impulse. That causes the dark char on the inside, see here? Eventually, enough char will build up and she'll fail altogether." Delia said. She looked up to see Mal wasn't looking at the gun, but at her. She looked back down at Rosie. "Hand me the rag." she said firmly. "See, you can use this to clean the char. I need some rubbing alcohol to clean the corrosion." Delia said "There is some in the Infirmary." he said. Mal rose and put his left hand on Delia's shoulder. She reached over with her right and they clasped hands briefly. Kaylee saw this exchange as she walked back into the Mess from her room. Mal smiled at her as they passed and he left. She sat down next to Delia, who looked up from her gun. Kaylee was smiling. "What are you smiling at?" Delia asked. "You and the Captain. I think it's great. He's just crazy about you." Kaylee said. "That so. He tell you all that?" Delia asked skeptically. "He won't talk to me 'bout you. But I can tell. In the five years we been a crew, I've never seen him give women more than a backwards glance. But us comin' to Europa so regular? He stares off at dinner. The other day he was asking Zoe her opinion on some fancy clothes he saw on the cortex. I think you got yourself a beau. Maybe he'll ask you to marry him!" Kaylee concluded. Delia could hear Mal's soft footsteps just beyond the Mess door. He was listening. She said the next part for him as much as for Kaylee. "Kaylee. I like the Captain very much. Even though he'd never admit it, he's a good man. We enjoy being together. We have a lot in common. But we are a bit geographically challenged. He lives in space, and I live on Europa. He's not leaving Serenity, and I'm not leaving the market. How it is now is how it will be. And as for the marrying part? Don't count on it. Mal ain't the marrying kind. And I've already been there. Honey, don't look so sad. I'm happy. Capt is happy. This is how we want it. " Delia said. "I was hopin' you two'd marry and you'd live here." Kaylee said sadly. "Oh, Kaylee. Don't you like comin' to Europa and visiting?" Delia asked "I do. It's beautiful here. I just...miss you." Delia got up and hugged Kaylee. This was Mal's cue to reenter the Mess, which he did. "Got the rubbin' alcohol." he said brightly. Delia knew he had heard every word. "Great. C'mere and clean my gun so you can put it back together." Delia said. -------------------------------- After Kaylee went to sleep, Mal and Delia went to the bridge. She looked out the front window into the darkness. She imagined herself in space. "Sometimes, I think it would be exciting to live in space. Nothing in front of you. Nothing behind you. Nothing to stop you.. Do what you want when you want." "Europa is like that. Prairies are open and nothing keeps you back. Other than the Snow time, one can do what they want. Air is fresher. " Mal countered. Delia looked back at him. He was sitting in Wash's chair. She took a few steps and stood in front of him. "Space Man" she said. "Prairie Chicken" he answered. She leaned down and kissed Mal. He pulled her to him and she sat straddled on his lap. They kissed, touched, and ultimately made love right on the bridge of Serenity, in Wash's chair. ------------------------------ The next morning, Wash and Zoe enjoyed the breakfast Betsey made for them. They still wore the robes from last night. Zoe's hair was a jostle of curls and sleep. Wash looked at her and imagined a life away from Serenity, just like they basked in this morning. "Miss Zoe, if you won't be needin' anything else, I gotta get to town." Betsey said. "Betsey, thanks so much for the great food. We really appreciate it." Zoe said. "I'm not the best cook." Betsey smiled at the compliment. She pulled on her hat and left the house, basket in hand. Wash looked from the closed front door to Zoe. "Yep, I could get really used to this." he said. The telfonix on the wall buzzed several times. --------------------------- Zoe and Wash walked back to Serenity an hour later. Freshly showered, and with a revitalized relationship, they glowed with happiness. Wash reached over and opened the aft hatch door. They entered the cargo bay and saw Kaylee's party dress hanging from the catwalk. They looked at each other with the same dumbfounded look. Walking up to the Mess, they found Kaylee eating breakfast. "Where's Captain?" Zoe asked. "Think still asleep." Kaylee replied. Zoe walked over to the crew dorm hallway. The hatch to Mal's bunk was open. "Sir?" Zoe said softly. Mal's head peeked through the hatch. "I'll be right up." he said quietly. "She's still asleep." Zoe walked back to the Mess. Mal followed her a few seconds later. "Have a good time?" Mal asked. "Sir, I vote we set up camp and never leave." Zoe said teasingly. "Second!" Kaylee said, totally seriously. Wash, Zoe and Mal looked at Kaylee. "Sir, we got a buzz over at the house from Sheriff Harlan. He says he's ready whenever you are." Zoe said. "Let's go find Hank then scare the snot outta Jayne." Mal said. ----------------------------- Jayne sat miserably on the edge of the cot. His friends had abandoned him, they took all his gear, Miss Delia couldn't stand him, and he was lookin' at 5 years on a Penal moon. If the sheriff hadn't been in the room, Jayne might have cried. He looked into the cup in his hands. The door to the post swung open. Jayne looked up and Harlan appeared to be shaking hands with someone in the doorway. He couldn't see the person; the door blocked his view. "Come in, Magistrate Appleby." Harlan said. "The prisoner is in the cell." A large man in a long, black duster walked into the post. He wore a large matching cowboy hat. He turned and faced Sheriff Harlan with his back to Jayne. Magistrate Appleby said something quietly to the Sheriff. "Sure, we can go to breakfast after the trial. You're right, trial won't take but a minute." Harlan said cheerfully. I am so humped, Jayne thought pitifully. Appleby said something else to Harlan that Jayne didn't quite catch. "Penal Moon is full? How can that be? Well, yes. The lynch post is working." More talking. "Nobody'd care if we hung him. Ok. Let's get this over with. I want some eggs." Harlan said. Jayne closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He was gonna die on Europa all cause of a stupid bar fight. Jayne looked up sadly at Harlan and the Magistrate. "Please, sir. I don't wanna die. Not over this. I promise, on my mother's soul, I will turn over a new leaf. I'll stop drinkin'. I'll get religion. Just don't hang me for a drunk mistake." Jayne pleaded, head hung low. The Magistrate's back stiffened. "You promise?" the man said gruffly. "Sir, I promise." Jayne said. Magistrate Appleby turned around and looked at Jayne. His silence made Jayne raise his head. He looked into the magistrate's face and saw Mal. "Mal! " Jayne shouted. Wash and Zoe burst into laughter. They had been listening just inside the opened door. Mal took off Hank's hat. He and Harlan started laughing too. "Oohh, that was priceless!" Wash said, clapping Mal on the back. Zoe held the painful stitch in her side. "Ok, let's go." Mal said through his laugh. " See you in 5 years, Jayne." Wash added. The three started to walk out of the post. "What, you're leavin' me here?" Jayne yelled. "Jayne, just 'cause we're here don't mean you're outta trouble. Remember? Drunk and Disorderly? " Mal said "Destruction of Property?" Zoe said "Resisting Arrest?" Sheriff Harlan said sternly. "Oh, yeah. That." Jayne said sadly. "Mr Cobb, this ain't no backwater moon. We got rules here. Rule # 1. You don't do anything to get yourself arrested while in Stapleton. Rule #2. Rule #1 always applies. I can't have sailors like you waltzin' into town and rippin' it up. Dong Ma?" Harlan said. Jayne hung his head. "Sheriff Harlan, maybe there's some way we can work this out." Mal said. "Maybe he could pay a fine and promise to do better next time we're here?" "I'd accept a payment of say, 500 platinum for his release." "Oh, we don't have that kind of money." Wash said sadly. "Yes we do. We've got Jayne's pay from our last job." Mal pulled it out of his coat and handed the sheriff a stack of platinum bills. "Sounds good. But I need assurance that the next time Mr. Cobb comes to Europa, he'll remember sittin' in my jail cell." "Well, uh, what about community service? You know I'm seein' Miss Delia. You know we'll be back." "Community Service, huh? I like the sound of that. You wave me a week out and I'll put together a list of jobs Stapleton needs done. Pickin' up the horse droppings, pickin' up trash... that kind of thing. "Harlan said. "You got a deal. Thank you, Sheriff Harlan, for giving this man a chance." Mal said seriously. The two men shook hands. Sheriff Harlan walked over to Jayne's cell and opened the door with his key. Jayne stood up and walked gratefully out of the cell. "Sheriff, I'm surely sorry for any trouble I've caused. I promise to mind myself when I'm back in town." Jayne said. "You do that." He and Jayne shook hands. Wash, Zoe, Mal and Jayne walked out of the post. A few feet down the road Jayne breathed a sigh of relief. "Whew, that one was close. Thanks a lot for comin' to get me." Jayne said. "Don't be thankful just yet. You're confined to your bunk till I say so. What if this had been a Core Planet? You'd a been on the penal moon 'fore you could spit. Nothin I coulda done then." Mal said. Jayne hung his head. "Yes Captain." he said. "And, you owe Miss Delia 275 credits to pay for what you damaged at the Range Bar. She paid the owner." Mal said. "She's embarrassed." Mal added. "Ashamed." Wash piped up.. Wash and Zoe smirked at Jayne behind his slumped back. Mal looked back at the two. "Yes Captain." Jayne said. As they walked the path to Serenity, they could see two figures sitting in the grass. They were hunched over, holding something in their hands. It was Delia and Kaylee. The morning sun shone down on them. Delia's auburn hair caught the light and firebursts seemed to halo her head. "Hey there." Wash called. "Hello" Delia replied. Jayne had a sorrowful look on his face. "Miss Delia?" he asked "Yes, Jayne." she replied slightly curtly. "I'm real sorry 'bout acting the pigu in Stapleton. I got money in my bunk. I'm gonna get it and pay you back for the Range Bar." he said apologetically. "You do that, Jayne." Delia said, without much emotion. Jayne walked up to Serenity and entered the hatch door. All heads turned and watched him enter the ship. When the hatch closed, they burst into laughter. "So what's this?" Wash asked, motioning to their laps. "I'm teachin' Kaylee how to knit." Delia said Kaylee held up a few rows of knitting proudly. Mal pursed his lips and nodded in approval. Zoe branched off from the men and sat down in front of Delia and Kaylee. "Show me." she said. Kaylee scooted around so that Zoe could see over her shoulder. Mal and Wash exchanged a strange look. Zoe knitting? "Don't go.. knitting booties or nothin'." Wash said as he left the strange scene. Mal followed him onto the ship. He caught Wash's arm. "Booties? Is she...with child?" Mal asked carefully. "No. She wants to be. Someday." Wash said. The look on Mal's face was alarming. "Don't worry. We both agree now ain't the time or place. But when it does happen, she wants to settle on Europa. Thinks it's a good place to raise a child." Wash said. Wash walked away from Mal toward the bridge. "A good place to raise a child." Mal repeated. ------------------------------ Jayne walked back outside, money in hand. "Miss Delia?" he said as he turned the corner. "She and Zoe went to the house." Kaylee said. Jayne looked up and saw them on the patio. "Oh." Jayne said. ------------------------------- "Mei-mei, I can't thank you enough for letting us use the house last night. Did us a world of good." Zoe said, hugging Delia. "I'm so glad. You and Wash are very important to me. Come inside and let's get that knapsack." -------------------------------- As they two women walked back to Serenity, Delia told Zoe about last night's conversation that Mal overheard. "Was he upset?" "No, I don't think so." "He didn't say anything?" "No. Why?" "Delia, I shouldn't... "But you will." Zoe hung her head slightly. Well, Captain had stuck his nose in her relationship for the better. Turn about was fair play. "Mal told me when we were on Boros that his feelings for you were getting serious." "Oh really?" "Don't be upset. I'm sorry I said anything." Zoe said. "I'm not upset. I like him too. More than I should." Delia admitted. Zoe put her arm around Delia's waist. "So why don't you do something about it?" Zoe asked. ------------------------------ Delia had a tape measure in her hand. They were in Kaylee's bunk, and Delia was writing down Kaylee's measurements for the dress. Kaylee had her arms in the air, watching Delia move the tape measure around her body. Serenity would be leaving within the hour. "I don't want to leave." Kaylee said. "Now who would take care of Serenity? Certainly not Captain. He can barely use a fork properly." Delia said. Kaylee sighed deeply. "Honey, you'll be back after the Melt. We'll go to the Dance. We'll have fun. You'll show me your knitting. You'll have a beautiful new dress. And you get to teach Zoe something she doesn't know how to do." Delia said. Kaylee hadn't thought of that. "I'll miss you too. " Delia said, and hugged the girl, standing in her underwear. A loud whirring sound above them was Inara's shuttle returning to its dock. Departure time was soon at hand. ------------------------------- The crew gathered outside Serenity to say goodbye to Delia and Hank. Mal hung back, arms crossed over his chest. He wanted to say goodbye last. Wash hugged Delia first. He had to get inside to the bridge. "Write to me." she said. Zoe kissed Delia's cheeks and gave her a hug. She hated goodbyes, so she smiled and went inside the ship. Tears streamed down Kaylee's face. Delia reached up and wiped them away. "Now, you are my mei-mei." Delia said. Kaylee hugged Delia. Delia considered her her little sister. She ran back into the ship. Preacher Book took Delia's hands. "God protects." she said. "That He does." Preacher said, hugging her. Jayne approached Delia. Her money was still in his hand. "I only got 230 platinum. I'm sorry." "It's okay, Jayne. The damages were only 200 credits." Delia said with a smile. Jayne turned and shot Mal a dirty look. Delia hugged Jayne and took the money from his hand. He smiled and walked back into the ship. Inara came up and kissed Delia. She said something softly in Delia's ear. "I'm glad for you." Delia said, as Inara left the dock. Simon shook Delia's hand. He slowly turned it palm side down and kissed it. She blushed. Turning her hand palm side up again, he placed 5 loaded needles into her hand. "One a month, same day each month. Straight into your thigh or hip." he said. Delia hugged him and kissed his cheek. It was his turn to blush. He smiled and entered Serenity. Mal finally came forward. He reached out and shook Hank's hand. "I expect a good report on Delia's behavior when I'm back." Mal joked. "Don't you worry, Captain Reynolds. I'll keep her in line." he answered with a smile. Hank turned and walked back to the market. He had stuff to do. Mal and Delia were alone. He reached out and they hugged each other. "Wave me when you get the Melt." he said. "I will." Kaylee and Zoe peeked around the corner of the hatch at the two embracing. "Take care of yourself." he said simply. "I will." she said. They kissed, softly. Mal touched her cheek and turned to walk into his ship. "Hey" Delia called to his back. He turned to face her. "I'm above you, Malcolm Reynolds." Mal walked back to her and they kissed passionately. Kaylee and Zoe grinned and poked their heads back into the ship. "I'm above you, Delia Hammond." Their hands touched, and Delia walked away from Serenity. He watched her retreating figure, grasses whispering against her skirt, as she went back to her house. Mal walked backward toward the hatch, then stepped inside and secured the door. He walked to the com and pressed the button. "Wash, we are shiny." Mal headed to the bridge. ----------------------------- Serenity's engines slowly came to life. Delia was safely on her patio and she turned to watch the ship lift off. The grass lay flat, and dust swirled as the VTOL engines lifted Serenity off Europa. It seemed to hang there for a second, then she turned, and the bow faced Delia. The ship waggled her wings at Delia, who smiled and waved. Serenity's engines went to full, and she was airborne. On the bridge, Mal clapped Wash on the back. He leaned against the com to brace himself as the ship left Europa's atmosphere and headed into space. "I just got one question." Wash asked. "Huh?" Mal asked. "Where is my gorram sheepskin chair liner?" "Oh. Uh. I gotta clean it." Wash looked at him blankly for a second then grimaced. "Mal! In my Chair?"


Sunday, June 5, 2005 12:59 PM


Loved this to bits! Every itty bitty word was perfect. Thanks for something so shiny it dazzled me, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, June 5, 2005 4:12 PM


Nice story so far, I do have one critic. Could you add some type of break when the sceen changes? Something like


Or something like that, sometimes it is a bit confusing when the scene changes and you don't realise it at first.

Look foward to your next chatper.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 8:52 AM


This episode in the cycle could stand alone, its that good.
Loved the bit with Jayne, and Mal's dismay that he couldn't express his feelings.
Fits like a glove.


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Delia Cycle # 6- Desperate Times
After a risky job for Patience, Serenity is shattered by news from Europa.

Delia Cycle #5 - A House Divided Cannot Stand
After months away from Europa due to snowbound conditions, Serenity's crew regards Stapleton as home away from home.

Delia Cycle # 4- The Box
Serenity gets a job from Delia and enjoys some much deserved shore leave on Europa.

Delia Cycle #3 - A Body in Motion Stays in Motion / A Body at Rest...
Serenity goes to the Outer Rim while Delia heals.

Delia Cycle # 2 - And Dream of Sheep...
Mal and Delia's relationship continues as an old enemy rears his ugly head.

Delia Cycle #1 - Saving Graces
Serenity lands on Europa for repairs...and Mal gets a little more than he bargained for.