A brief coda to "The Train Job."
No dough, no foul.
Wash found an unexpected couple in the galley cooking dinner. "I thought Kaylee was on kitchen duty," he said. And most folks didn't wear fancy aprons to scrape together a little canned protein.
Zoe opened a can as she deadpanned, "Mal says we're in the doghouse on account of we run away from Miss Inara."
"Ah." Someone was taking their impromptu cover story way too seriously. "Captain, this is a new side to---"
"That's Mal to you," the captain said, "or you can call me boy like Miss Inara does."
Wash backed away.
Zoe smiled. "Honey, why don't you take some chow down to our bunk. Dinner could get ugly."
But Wash had recovered. He settled down at the table. "I wouldn't miss this for all the tea on Sihnon."
The crew trickled in slowly: Shepherd Book chuckled when he arrived. The doc said his crazy sister was still mumbling about hands of blue; though he gave Mal a long look he made no comment on his domestic attire. Kaylee's eyes went wide, but Jayne's still couldn't quite focus.
Zoe bustled about, setting the table and laying out plates of appetizingly-shaped protein.
"You went all-out, my wandering wife," Wash said. He reached for a roll, but something stung his hand and he drew it back. "What?"
Mal waved a plastic serving spoon threateningly. "Wait for Miss Inara!"
"You're joking, right?" Wash reached out again, but the spoon came down thwack on the table just as he pulled his hand away.
The shepherd chuckled and bowed his head, but he, too, met the business end of the spoon.
"Wait for Miss Inara!"
Kaylee jumped up. "I'll go get her."
The spoon wavered, and she was gone.
"I told you so," Zoe whispered to Wash.
Giggling approached from the direction of the cargo bay but stopped at the galley door. Inara entered in state, much as she--Wash imagined--must have entered the train station in Paradiso to retrieve the runaway captain.
She glanced around the table, and eyed the spoon-wielding Mal with disdain. Seating herself at the empty--Zoe had defended the seat from all comers--head of the table, she sighed. Zoe moved to serve her, but Inara waved her away.
"Can I get you a drink, Miss Inara?" Mal asked.
"Please get out of those get-ups and sit down," Inara said. They hesitated, and she added, "That's an order."
"And don't call me ma'am."
"No, ma'am," Mal said.
"Soup's on!" Jayne slurred the words slightly, and reached for the nearest serving plate.
Mal got him with the spoon from halfway down the table.
"Pass that to Miss Inara first." Mal put the spoon into the protein.
Inara frowned. "Shepherd Book, will you say grace?"
"Certainly, ma'am," he said, and thanked his god for the food and the safe return of their wayward...servants, Mal and Zoe.
Inara served herself, then passed the plate back to Jayne, who slammed the spoon onto his plate as hard as Mal had slapped it on Wash's hand.
Mal watched Miss Inara's first bite go from plate to chopsticks to mouth. "How is it, Miss Inara?"
She swallowed. "Go a little lighter on the salt next time."
"I think it's perfect," Wash whispered to Zoe.
"We'll do better next time, Miss Inara," Mal promised.
Simon rolled his eyes.
"I certainly hope so."
"You can give me a whupping later, to teach me a lesson."
Only years of companion training could have saved Inara from snorting protein out her nose like Jayne and Kaylee did. Wash, luckily, only spit some soymilk back into his glass.
"I told you so," Zoe whispered to Wash again.
Inara kept a straight face through the whole sordid mess. "Speaking of whuppings," she said, "I hear tell you ran Niska's henchman through Serenity's engine."
Mal nodded. "Miss Kaylee says I gummed up the carburetor but good."
"It was the catalyzer, and you did!"
"Perhaps Kaylee can give you that whupping."
They both turned beet red.
"We should do this every night," Wash whispered to Zoe, but the table was so quiet everyone heard.
Inara stood up. "Let's not," she said. She took her plate and chopsticks away with her.
Zoe gave Wash a playful slap. "You scared off Miss Inara."
Wash grabbed a spoon. "Wife, I think you need a whupping for running away from me like that."
"She does," Mal said.
Wash whacked Mal with the spoon. "I say when Zoe needs whupping, not you. Boy."
Zoe grabbed another spoon, and the two of them started a mock swordfight right there at the table.
"You're all a bunch of gorram lunies." Jayne turned to the shepherd. "Do you think Niska's hiring?"
"He is down one henchman---"
"---but he'd probably torture you to death for betraying him."
Jayne's face fell. "Also true."
Dinner only went downhill from there.
Mal poked his head into the forbidden territory of Inara's shuttle. "Miss Inara, I'm here for my whupping."
Inara appeared from behind some curtain or other. "While I appreciate your attempt to defuse your sexual tension through roleplay, I think you've gotten as far as that approach will take you."
"Them's big words, Miss Inara. Can I have my whupping now?"
She stood aside, and he slipped in the hatch. She slapped his rump on the way in.
"Thank you, Miss Inara, may I have another?"
She slipped past him to sit on her round couchy thing. "I'm not the one who'll be whupping you for what you did in Paradiso. Niska has a reputation."
"I know." He left off the Miss Inara this time. "Niska made that clear enough when we spoke."
"Then why did you give back the cargo?"
"You would have, too." If there were anything to give back in Inara's line of work.
"Of course I would return stolen Alliance property, but you?"
"It was medicine," Mal confessed.
"I see," said Miss Inara. "Maybe you deserve that whupping after all. Come here."
Mal backed up a step. "I thought you didn't service crew."
"You're not crew. You're my bad boy." Miss Inara stood up. "Lean over and let your mistress---"
"I think I hear Kaylee calling." Mal backed up another step. "You'll have to whup me some other time."
He turned and fled, pursued only by Miss Inara's faint laughter.