Simon looked up in surprise as Mal stalked into the infirmary, then glanced at the chronometer wondering if he'd lost track of time again. No, that wasn't it. He wasn't due to meet Mal for another...

"If I don't get away from here, I'm going to go insane!" Mal snarled, slamming his fist into the wall.

Simon eyed his lover and Captain thoughtfully, then asked solicitously, "Feel better?"

Nursing his hand, Mal grimaced and replied, "No. And I'm serious here, Simon. I love Serenity, I do, but the walls are getting a bit close around here. I need some away time!"

"I agree," Simon said calmly, taking his hand and examining it. Nothing broken, thankfully. Mal's temper frequently found an outlet with his fists and in the time they'd known each other, Simon had patched up eight of the ten fingers, a wrist, and too many knuckles to remember.

Surprised, Mal asked, "You do?"

Nodding, Simon commented, "You've been snapping just about everyone's head off for the last week."

Mal stared at him and demanded, "Why didn't you say anything?"

His smile was a little sly as Simon answered, "I'm just the doctor. It's not my place."

With a snort, Mal observed, "Never stopped you before."

"There's also the fact that we sleep together and I enjoy my privileges enough not to risk them by...upsetting you."

"Oh, it's a privilege, is it?"

"Absolutely."

Mal chuckled and flexed his hand, wincing. "All right. I know this place we can go. At least, I'm pretty sure we can. It's a little closer to the Core planets than I like, but it's not under Alliance rule, not directly anyhow."

"Oh yeah?" Simon asked curiously. "Where's that?"

* * * *

Kaylee knew about Casino Complexes, who didn't? But, not having any money to speak of, she'd never expected to actually be in one. The bright lights and noise were just like she'd heard about and the people walking around were dressed in the prettiest clothes she'd seen since that shindig where the Cap'n had almost got himself killed.

"Kaylee."

Kaylee jerked around at Jayne's rude nudge and demanded crossly, "What!?"

"Close your mouth, you look like a gorram country bumpkin," he ordered.

"All right, listen up," Mal ordered, moving to stand in front of the group. "Do not comm me unless you are dead or dying, because I am not going to answer. You get into trouble, you can gorram well get yourself out of it. Three days, folks, that's all I'm askin.' Three days to keep your noses clean, or at least not drag me into it."

Kaylee watched with a grin as the Captain dragged Simon off. Simon was giving Mal an earful from the looks of it, but once the Captain had something set on his mind, weren't nothing that could change it. And it looked like the Captain had Simon set on his mind for the next three days.

"Kaylee, are you going to be all right on your own?" Inara asked with concern.

A bit annoyed that no one seemed to think her capable of not getting fleeced, Kaylee snapped, "I'll be fine."

The hurt look in Inara's dark eyes made Kaylee instantly contrite and she apologized, "I'm sorry, Inara, I didn't mean to snap at you. I'll be fine, honest."

"Well, if you're sure?"

Kaylee assured her, "Go on and have some fun. I'm just going to do a little exploring, then probably go right back to Serenity."

With a smile, Inara nodded and headed off in the other direction. Kaylee looked around, but the others had already dispersed. Shrugging, she ambled over to the nearest room that had the most flashing lights.

Once inside, Kaylee almost felt like covering her ears at the din. Serenity on her worst day didn't sound this bad. Not to mention the flashing lights were near painful on her eyes. Although…there seemed to be…yep. Definitely a pattern to the lights. Curious, Kaylee moved further inside and watched closely as an older woman fed coins into a slot machine. Her eyes drifted from that machine to another that wasn't flashing near as often. Sure enough, the woman at the rapidly flashing machine kept losing money, while the man at the other, actually won now and again.

Feeling bad that the woman didn't know the machine was rigged, Kaylee stepped forward and said, "Excuse me, ma'am?"

Startled by the interruption, the woman put a hand to her heart. "My, you gave me a fright."

"Sorry. I just wanted to let you know that you should move to another machine," Kaylee informed her.

Frowning, the woman asked, "And why is that?"

Kaylee lowered her voice, though it was doubtful anyone would overhear her what with the din, and said, "It's rigged. You're never going to win anything staying there."

"And how do you know this?" the woman demanded.

With a shrug, Kaylee replied, "Just do. It's in the pattern."

"Pattern?"

"Yeah. In the lights, like. I'm good with machines so I can usually tell when they're not acting right."

"Really."

Kaylee nodded. "Yep. See, if you look, that fella there is winning every fifth or seventh try, depending. The one next to him isn't winning at all. These machines are made to win, not to lose, so when they get changed, the pattern changes, too."

The woman eyed her thoughtfully. "How are you at cards?"

* * * *

Mal collapsed, breathing out of control and near violent shivers wracking his body. Simon's sweaty back made the perfect bedding for his own sweaty chest. Simon himself had given up the ghost a couple minutes earlier and Mal had slammed his cock repeatedly into the tight hole at his command. It had felt so good to just let loose and take his pleasure how he wanted it. Of course, he'd made damn sure that Simon was well and truly gone on his own pleasure before doing so.

Kissing the damp skin closest to him, Mal muttered, "Been wondering something."

"What's that?"

Mal grinned at the near-comatose response. The stretch of his mouth turned wicked and he shifted his hips, rubbing his still mostly hard cock against Simon's prostate and provoking an honest-to-God whimper from his lover. Heat ran through him at the sound, heat and something a little more primitive as his hand shifted to grip the firm ass beneath him in a rough caress. "Think they put some kinda aphrodisiac in the food here?"

"Either that or you've mutated into some kind of perpetually horny man," Simon agreed with a yawn.

Snorting, Mal nibbled on a shoulder blade before saying, "All men are perpetually horny. It's in the rule book."

Simon managed a weak chuckle and pleaded, "Do you think you could put aside the rule book and let me get some sleep? Please?"

Mal considered his options with the lightening speed that had kept him alive. He could A) make a strategic retreat and let Simon sleep. He could B) start doing all those things that never failed to arouse the other man no matter his state. Or, he could C) start playing with himself and drag Simon into it on his own, thus turning the tables on the exhausted man by stating that Simon had done himself in. Something Mal had discovered was that nothing got Simon hotter than watching Mal do himself.

He'd just decided on the last option when there was a pounding at the door. Slowly, Mal pulled out of Simon, knowing that with his lover's tender state, he could damage his lover with his hardness if he wasn't careful. As it was, he caught the pained wince on Simon's face, quickly stifled, and realized that playtime was well and truly over until the other man could recover.

Which meant that he got to channel his energy in a much more familiar, if not nearly as satisfying, way.

Yanking on his pants, Mal gritted his teeth as he forced himself to soften enough to zip up without a casualty. He drew the covers over Simon and spared a second for a tender kiss to the sweaty forehead. Dark eyes looked at him blearily and Mal assured Simon, "Stay put. It's probably just Jayne getting hisself into trouble. I'll be back."

Simon nodded and closed his eyes, falling into sleep as Mal watched. He smiled at the sight for another second, then jogged across the room before whoever was on the other side could start pounding again.

It wasn't a big surprise to find Jake on the other side of the door, especially not with a trace of unease on his broad, handsome features, as though unsure how to give Mal whatever news it was that he had to give. Mal stepped into the hall, barefoot and bare-chested, mostly closing the door behind him. He answered Jake's questioning look towards the door with, "Simon's sleeping."

Jake grinned a little and teased, "Never thought I'd see you settle down, Mal."

Taking the ribbing with a good nature, Mal shrugged. "Happens to even the worst of us, I guess."

"Yeah, but it actually suits you," Jake said, still smirking somewhat. "You look downright not murderous for a change."

Mal grinned then sighed and asked, "So. What's Jayne done?"

"It's not Jayne."

Startled, and a little worried at the announcement, Mal demanded, "What did Zoe do?"

Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Jake shook his head and answered, "It wasn't Zoe, either. It was Wash."

Mal's jaw dropped and it took a good half-minute for him to recover. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah. Uh, Wash is in a bit of trouble and we need you to come down to security," Jake clarified.

"Wash?"

"Wash."

Mal was still waiting for the punch line, but it appeared not to be coming. "All right then. Let me get into some clothes. I'll be right out."

* * * *

The security cell was fairly comfortable, given its intended nature. But then, being that it was in the middle of a rich gambling complex, Mal supposed that shouldn't be too unexpected. Arms crossed over his chest, he surveyed his unconscious pilot grimly, ignoring the anxious air Zoe gave off from a few feet away. He supposed it was irony that his second least troublesome crew member had managed to get himself into the most trouble on what was supposed to be a nice little break for them all.

Mal never had cared for irony.

Slamming his hand into the cot by Wash's head brought a groan from the other man but he stared mercilessly at the pilot and ordered, "Wake up, gorram it! I ain't got time for this!"

Wash stirred and a greenish eye cracked open to stare at him blearily. "Wh'appen'd?"

"That's what I want to know," Mal demanded.

Groaning again, Wash managed to push himself up into a mostly sitting position, leaning his head against the wall, his untamable red spikes in more disarray than usual. "Dunno."

"Jake here claims that you've gone and murdered someone."

Wash froze then his eyes squinted open again. "Come again?"

"I was going to, but you interrupted those plans," Mal stated, completely without humor. "Senator type, older fella, very, very, rich is now very, very dead. Ringing any bells?"

Shaking his head provoked a further green-tinge to Wash's skin and the red-head moaned, holding his head in his hands. "Not a one, Captain."

"The amount of liquor in your body, that's not real surprising," Mal observed.

Jake entered the hall and said apologetically, "An Alliance investigator is on the way. Nothing I could do to stop it, since the death was someone important."

Mal stifled the damning words struggling to get out as he looked at Wash. Panic was trying to chase away the nausea on Wash's face, Mal could see that plainly enough. "No. I'm not going to just leave you here, though by all rights I should. Zoe. Gather up the rest and send everyone back to Serenity except for Jayne. Make sure you tell Simon that River's not feeling well, too. Then meet me at, where'd this take place?"

"Room 13456," Jake supplied.

"Meet me there," Mal ordered. "We're going under the assumption that Wash isn't stupid enough to actually murder a Senator, though I think my belief in that is strained, right about now."

Zoe nodded and left without even looking at Wash, obviously not wanting to tick Mal off any further.

"Jake, care to show me to Room 13456?"

"Sure thing, Mal."

"Mal…"

Mal held up a warning hand to Wash. "Don't speak to me right now, Wash, cause you're not going to like the conversation.

Miserable, Wash nodded and lay back down on the cot.

* * * *

The room where the killing had taken place was like all the other rooms in the complex: lavish to the point of ridiculousness. The main difference being that this one was stained in blood, at least the bed was. It was the sheer violence of the act that convinced Mal that Wash was innocent. If it had been poison, or a bullet in the brain, or even a snapped neck, Mal wouldn't have been so sure, and certainly not so quickly. One thing he could always count on, though, was Wash's squeamishness when it came to blood.

Wash was an incredible pilot and good to have around in a fist fight, but he was about as violent as Simon, which was to say, not at all. Mal strongly suspected that was one of the main attractions the man held for Zoe, who could herself be more brutal than Mal and Jayne put together, depending on the circumstance. Seeing the dousing of blood in the sheets, Mal knew there was no way that Wash could have killed the man. He turned to Jake and stated, "Wash didn't do this."

Sympathetic, Jake said, "I know you don't want to believe…"

Mal laughed shortly and shook his head. "You don't understand. Wash faints at the sight of blood. If he was going to kill someone, it'd be with something like poison or maybe a bullet if he could get away real quick and not see nothin.'"

Startled by the revelation, Jake took another look around the scene. "We found him here with the weapon in hand, so we didn't actually do an investigation."

Shrugging, Mal observed, "Probably would've done the same thing myself. But like I said, it's not that he wouldn't kill, just that he wouldn't kill like this."

Zoe and Jayne arrived just then, stopping in surprise at the murder scene. Zoe's lips twitched suspiciously as she looked at Mal and commented, "Nice to know Wash got over that fainting thing. It was downright embarrassing, even for a mostly-pacifist."

Jayne snorted and agreed, "Now finding me on the scene of something like this, that might be more of a problem."

Jake observed their matter-of-fact statements with relief. He'd formed an instant friendship with the likeable pilot and had been more than shocked to find the unconscious man in the room. "Still doesn't help in the fact that the murder weapon was in his hand and he was the only one here."

Zoe nudged Mal and said softly, "Inara's back on board, but I couldn't find Kaylee, and Simon went to go inspect the body."

Tensing, Mal responded, "I thought I told you to let him know that River was sick."

"I did. Didn't make a bit of difference when I told him what was going on."

"Stupid son of a…"

"Problem?" Jake asked curiously, moving closer.

Even though they'd served in the war together, Mal wasn't quite comfortable enough with Jake to let him know Simon's refugee status. "Not really. Well, maybe. Simon went to examine the body and your people will probably give him a hassle about it."

"Probably," Jake concurred. He tapped his comm and said, "Kyle."

"Yeah, boss?"

"Let Dr. Tam examine the body when he gets there. Turns out the suspect isn't viable."

"What? But…"

"Kyle."

There was a sigh, then, "All right."

"Good. And get up here with some equipment so we can go over the room for real," Jake ordered.

"Will do, boss. Be up in five."

Turning back to Mal and Zoe, Jake commented, "It would help if we had an alibi for Wash."

Mal eyed Zoe pointedly and asked, "I was wondering that myself. Where were you when Wash was supposedly chopping someone up for fun? I thought you were going to be getting in some 'quality time' with each other."

"I got a call from Inara," Zoe explained. "Wash and I were on the way back to Serenity to give Book a spell out when she asked for my help."

Frowning, Mal demanded, "Help with what?"

"Someone who wasn't taking no for an answer, even in public."

They were all surprised when Jayne burst out with, "Motherfuckin' bastards."

Realizing that everyone's eyes were on him, Jayne asked defensively, "What!? You don't treat women like that."

Mal's lips pursed and he commented, "Just when I think I know you. So okay. You went off to help Inara. Was Wash drunk when you left him?"

Shaking her head, Zoe replied, "We'd had a few drinks, but you know Wash, solid as a rock."

They all knew that for such a slight man, Wash had an incredible tolerance to drink. Thinking on that for a minute, Mal said, "All right. First things first. Jayne, go down to housekeeping and see who was ordering a lot of alcohol. Zoe, do the same at the bar. And while you're out there, see if any of the staff noticed the Senator maybe hanging around people he shouldn't've been. Comm me when you have something."

Zoe and Jayne nodded and left the room. Belatedly, Mal glanced at Jake and apologized, "Sorry. Didn't mean to take over like that."

But Jake just grinned. "Just waitin' on my orders, Sergeant."

Chuckling, Mal said, "Well then, your orders are to go over this room with a fine toothed comb. I'm going to join Simon down in the infirmary and see if he found anything."

Jake saluted sharply and barked, "Sir, yes sir!"

* * * *

The room where the card games took place was a lot quieter and soothing to Kaylee. She smiled at Hesha, who smiled back at her. It turned out that Hesha was a grandmother of four, mother of six, and here on vacation. She enjoyed the slots, but cards were more her thing. Kaylee had told her that she had no real experience playing with money, that she and River had only ever played for chores, but Hesha had opined that Kaylee was good luck and wouldn't take no for an answer.

So it was that Kaylee found herself seated at a table with four other players, three men and a woman, all dressed in very expensive clothing.

Hesha smiled at her encouragingly and whispered, "Just pretend that you're playing for chores."

Kaylee grinned back at her and thought, That should be easy enough.

* * * *

"What's the point in having a code if you ignore it?" Mal hissed into Simon's ear.

Simon looked up at him with a faint grin. "So there's someone else here that can do an autopsy we can trust?"

Gritting his teeth, Mal stepped back and grudgingly admitted, "No."

"That's what I thought."

"What did you find?"

Simon pulled off the gloves with a snap, grimacing distastefully. "Whoever did this was worse than a butcher. Though I expect the only thing that mattered was the man ended up dead, not the manner in which it was accomplished. The killer is left-handed and very strong. I would venture to say that he's a good deal stronger than Wash, because several of the ribs were broken by the force of the blows and the Senator is a few inches taller than Wash, not to mention a good fifty pounds heavier.

"Also, the knife found on Wash was definitely the murder weapon. The killing blow was the first one, directly to the heart. Everything else was just serious overkill. There was a hand print dried in blood on the handle. I can extrapolate the actual outline of the hand with a scanner and, once that's done, we should be able to clear Wash, even if it won't help find the real killer."

"So we've got a big, strong, left-handed man," Mal summed up.

Simon nodded. "And the left-handed thing alone is enough to clear Wash."

"Thank God," Mal muttered.

Eyebrows arching in surprise, Simon asked, "You didn't really think that Wash did this?"

Mal shook his head and replied, "No. But my belief isn't exactly admissible in an Alliance court of law. And speaking of which, now that you've figured all this out, get your ass back to Serenity and don't come out until I say so."

Grinning faintly, Simon said, "You've been dying to order me around like that for a while now, haven't you?"

Mal smirked.

"That's what I thought."

* * * *

Jayne leaned against the wall with a lazy grin, waiting. The young woman he was waiting on came out of the locker room a couple of minutes later, her petite form tightly swathed in stylish clothes instead of the plain, frumpy uniform. They'd actually met before Wash'd gone and got hisself into trouble and Jayne figured he could combine activities and everyone would be happy. "You're lookin' mighty fine there, Kara."

She grinned and replied, "Why thank you kindly, Jayne. You're looking pretty good yourself."

Holding out an arm, which she took, he led her out of the hall to the dining area, one of the better ones since he'd done all right at the tables earlier. They got a table right away and sat down. The menu was in one of the high languages and Jayne silently cursed his luck. If Inara were there, she'd have ordered for them without a second thought from anyone.

Swallowing his pride, he forced a smile and asked, "How about you order?"

"Sure thing," Kara answered easily. "What're you in the mood for?"

Didn't that beat all? Pretty as hell and not even stuck up. Jayne grinned broadly and answered, "I'm open to suggestion."

* * * *



The bar was quiet this time of day and Zoe had no trouble finding a spot at the long, polished counter, sticking out like a sore thumb among the few, well-dressed patrons. Not that she looked disreputable or anything, she'd dressed up somewhat for a nice night out with Wash after all. Huh. Maybe it was just bad luck for her to get dressed up because the last time she had, they'd wound up in a firefight with alliance soldiers.

With that thought in mind, Zoe caught the attention of one of the bartenders.

The young woman came over with a smile and asked, "What can I get you?"

"I'm actually looked for some information," Zoe replied.

"About what?"

"Was there anyone in here a while back with a red-headed man buying a lot of drinks?"

"This would be a cute redhead with a right goofy grin?" the bartender asked.

Zoe snorted. "That's him."

"He was here, but he was alone."

Frowning, Zoe asked, "You sure?"

The woman nodded. "Absolutely. He was here for about an hour, then left. Didn't see him again."

"Was he drinking a lot?"

Shaking her head, the bartender replied, "About a drink and a half, as he didn't finish his second. Seemed cold sober to me when he left."

"Okay. Thanks for the help," Zoe said, leaving a good-sized tip on the counter.

"No problem."

Only it was a problem, because that meant no one had been seen with Wash. "Captain?"

"Yeah, Zoe?"

"He was at the bar, but alone."

"Damn. Okay. Simon's found that we're looking for a big guy, strong, left-handed."

"That lets out Wash," Zoe observed, breathing a little easier.

"Yeah."

Wondering why Mal didn't sound happier about it, she asked, "What's wrong?"

"They won't let Wash out unless I let them confirm Simon's ID as a doctor."

Fuck. "Ah…"

"Yeah. Look, join me in security, okay?"

"Be right there."

Grim for a completely different reason, Zoe set off through the busy corridor towards the security office.

* * * *

"But he's a legitimate doctor, right?"

Mal nodded at Jake's question and said, "It's complicated, okay?"

Frustrated, Jake exclaimed, "No, it's not okay! You and I both know that the Alliance investigator is going to be here in three hours. He's going to want the case closed as soon as possible. In order for that not to happen with Wash as the scapegoat, we need either the real killer or the autopsy performed by a Core accredited doctor, which you say Simon is. From what I've seen of him, I have no trouble believing that. All I have to do is run his retina scan. It'll take two minutes."

Two minutes and the nearest Alliance ship would be on them faster than Serenity could leave orbit. Maybe he could just break Wash out of the security cell, it didn't look all that sturdy to start with.

"Mal, the only reason I know to refuse a scan, is if he's a fugee," Jake said slowly. "And I know that while you have no love for the Alliance, and neither do I, you wouldn't be stupid enough to harbor a fugee."

"Well, no, I wouldn't," Mal answered, trying for defensive.

"So what's the problem?"

Thinking fast, Mal fudged, "Simon does have some people after him and they've got Alliance contacts. Now, he didn't do anything, but it's pretty much put him on the run. If you call in his ident, he's screwed."

"What'd he do?"

"I told you, nothing."

Jake eyed him for a good minute then nodded slowly. "All right. I won't call in his ident. But you need to find me the real killer."

Zoe walked in on the end of that statement and commented, "Got an idea about that."

Motioning for her to take a seat, Mal prompted, "We're all ears."

"Well, if you've got a way to seal the exits, you can leak out the murder and how you've got a lead on the killer. He'll try and get away, right?" Zoe suggested. "Let out the folk who're legit, but palm print the ones who fit Simon's description."

Dismayed, Jake demanded, "Do you know how much effort and money that will take?"

Zoe smiled coldly and pointed out, "A lot less effort than trying to breathe through a bullet hole or three. Which is what will happen if you let my husband go to jail for something he didn't do."

"Ease off Zo," Mal ordered, holding up a placating hand to Jake. "How about this? Find a doctor who doesn't mind his ident being checked, and have them do an independent autopsy. We'll keep looking for the killer and if there're any that even might make a match, we'll call your team to question them."

"Mal, you do know how big this station is, right? There's no way that you can find a single person when you don't even know what they look like for sure," Jake stated.

"You let us worry about that. Just find someone who can do an autopsy, okay?"

After a few indecisive moments, Jake nodded and said, "Okay. But you've now got only about two and a half hours."



* * * *

Outside the security office, striding towards the elevator, Zoe asked, "You want to tell me what you're really planning to do?"

Mal looked at her with a grim expression. "Find Kaylee, because we're leaving."

* * * *

It was so exciting! She'd won so much money that it was almost impossible for her to believe it! Grinning at Hesha, Kaylee lay down her current hand and her single remaining opponent groaned theatrically, throwing his cards down.

"I don't know how you do it, Miss Kaylee," Robert said in admiration.

Perking up even more, Kaylee said eagerly, "Oh it's easy enough! See, first…"

"Kaylee dear, you don't want to give away your strategy!" Hesha scolded.

Shrugging easily, Kaylee agreed, "Oh, right. You know, I think I should probably be getting back to the ship. Is there any way for me to get my winnings?"

Hesha nodded and said, "Of course, dear. We'll collect your chips and cash them in. Robert, it was as wonderful as ever to play with you."

Robert stood and bowed to them both. "And it was an honor to play the both of you."

Before any of them could do more than smile at one another, several people armed to the teeth burst into the room, shouting for the players to get on the ground. Kaylee did so about the same time as Robert and Hesha, wondering if she could comm the captain without being noticed.

This seemed a good and proper emergency, enough to interrupt him and Simon anyhow.

* * * *

"Captain, we've got another problem."

Gritting his teeth at Zoe's comm, Mal thought, Of course we do. Why wouldn't we? It's not like anything ever goes fucking smooth or anything!

Aloud, he snarled, "What is it?"

"I found Kaylee."

"And that's a problem, how exactly?"

"She's in the Players Room being held hostage with about twenty other rich folk by men with guns. Big men, with big guns."

And there it was...the circle was complete: his official, least troublesome crew member was now in the most trouble. Shaking his head and vaguely planning to hunt down the Gods of Irony later, he repeated, "Big men, huh?"

"Yessir. It doesn't appear that security's been notified or anything. The room's just closed off," Zoe reported.

Mal closed his eyes, rubbing tiredly at them. "So one of Jake's staff is in on it."

"Or Jake himself."

Ever the optimist, his Zoe. Sighing, Mal said, "All right. I've almost got Wash. Comm Jayne and get him there, too. We'll join you in short order."

Mal continued on to the security cell, too aware of the cameras watching his every move. Thanks to his friendship with Jake, which he just knew was about to die a painful death, he and his had been allowed to keep their weapons. He was pretty much just going to walk Wash out of the area, taking advantage of the break-time that had most of the staff away just then.

Wash looked up at his approach, somewhat better for his time sleeping it off. A hesitant smile graces his features and he greeted, "Hey, Cap'n."

"Hey, Wash. You ready to get out of here?" Mal asked.

Getting to his feet, Wash nodded eagerly and only winced a little. "Definitely!"

"Good. Stand back."

Wash's mouth dropped a little as he realized it was a break out, then hurriedly got out of the way.

Mal aimed his gun and shot out the electric lock pad on the wall. It sparked and hissed, but the door opened after a moment. Wash rushed out to join him and Mal held out his second gun. "Let's go."

They fell into step together, pausing at the end of the corridor. Mal peered around the edge and, sure enough, two guards were running towards them. Snorting to himself, Mal wondered briefly if no one ever taught these private secs that running into a hail of bullets wasn't a bright idea. He held up two fingers and Wash nodded. They both stepped out about the same time and took down one a piece.

It was only a few minutes after that that they cleared the security area altogether and mingled with the other guests in the main hall.

"Kaylee's in a bit of trouble herself," Mal explained to Wash's questioning look.

"Ah hah! See? I'm not the only one to…disrupt…never mind."

Mal figured the glare worked when Wash assumed his mildest expression and shut up right quick. "She's being held with a bunch of rich people, probably by the same gang who set you up. Saw us coming a parsec away, that's for gorram sure. Knew we wouldn't be able to really prove your innocence in the time it took the investigator to get here and that we couldn't hang around after that to do it."

Jake's voice rang out furiously over the comm system with, "Mal! What are you doing!?"

"Helping you out," Mal answered.

"Busting Wash out isn't helping anyone," Jake exclaimed.

They turned the corner and met up with Zoe and Jayne. Sparing another second for Jake, he asked, "How long 'til the investigator gets here?"

"About twenty minutes now. There was someone closer so they decided to change up."

Naturally. "All right now, Jake, listen up close. You've got a bad situation going down on your Players Room. I'm going to fix it, then you're going to find the real killer in the group we leave behind. Be sure and clear Wash's name officially after we're gone, okay?"

"What are you talking about!?"

But Mal had no more time to waste. Instead, he looked at Zoe and questioned, "What's the situation?"

"Hasn't changed," she replied. "Looks like they're cleaning everyone out and the house, too."

Mal hefted his gun and said, "It's about to change now. Zoe, you and Wash take the back side. Jayne, come in from the west door. These guys obviously aren't expecting any trouble, so they're not being as careful as they should. Give me about a ten seconds, then storm it."

Everyone nodded and ran off to take position.

* * * *

They would've been a right impressive bunch if not for the argument. Professional robbers just didn't argue, either with their victims or themselves, in Kaylee's opinion. Kaylee was keeping an eye on Hesha and the big guns, trying to make sure they didn't get better acquainted. Because of that, she didn't notice when one of the men got close enough to grab her by the collar and drag her up.

"Where's your money?" the man demanded.

Kaylee pointed wordlessly to the table.

"No, your money, not the stuff you won!"

"That is my money. I didn't have any to start with."

The man shook her a little and snarled, "You're lying!"

"No she's not, I fronted her!" Hesha exclaimed fearfully from her spot on the ground.

"And I don't lie, besides which!" Kaylee added. His hand tightened painfully around her neck and Kaylee squirmed under the grip. "I'm not lying! That's all I got!"

"Let her go and move on!" another robber ordered.

The one that had her glared at the second man and countered, "I'll do what I want and I know this little thing has money she ain't talking about, otherwise, why'd the old bat cover for her!?"

"She ain't covering for me! I'm flat busted!" Kaylee shouted angrily.

"Am I interrupting something?"

Everyone turned to look at Mal and Kaylee grinned at his calm, collected manner. There was something about the way the Captain just took over a room that spoke of both barrels blazing, even if they were resting in their holsters.

No one moved for a few seconds, then the one who was holding onto Kaylee shouted, "Someone get him!"

A second later, other doors burst open and bullets flew with deadly accuracy at the robbers. Kaylee kicked the one holding her in the nuts and he dropped like a stone.

Mal instantly had his gun to the man's head and warned, "I wouldn't move, if'n I were you. You okay, little Kaylee?"

Smiling, Kaylee nodded and said, "I am now!"

"Good, cause we need to cut out, fast," Mal ordered.

Kaylee helped Hesha up from the floor and gave the older woman a hug. "Thanks so much for a lovely time."

"But, you can't be going?" Hesha protested.

Kaylee saw that none of the others had put away their guns and knew something else was going on. "Cap'n says it's time to go, then it's time to go."

"But Kaylee, you don't have to take orders from anyone any more," Hesha stated. "You have money enough to buy your own ship if you like."

The Serenity crew gaped at her with the identical, disbelieving expression. She grinned at them before turning back to Hesha with, "Nah. What would I do with my own ship? I'm a mechanic, not a Captain."

The slightly bewildered expression on Hesha's face changed to admiration. "If you ever change your mind, you just look me up. I'll front you for any game you like."

"Hey thanks!" Kaylee accepted happily, giving her another hug. It was always nice to make new friends.

Mal shook his head with a fond grin and said, "Come on now, Kaylee, time to go."

"Coming, sir!" Kaylee agreed cheerfully. She frowned at Wash in passing, taking in his haggard appearance, and said, "You look terrible!"

* * * *

It was some hours later that Mal joined Simon in the common room. They were well away from the casino and there was no sign of pursuit, so he felt comfortable enough to leave Wash and Zoe in the cockpit and take a breather. He settled on the couch beside Simon with a sigh, dropping down so that his head rested on the other man's shoulder. With a tired grin, he observed, "It might not be silk sheets and satin pillows, but at least we don't have to worry about anyone getting murdered."

Simon chuckled, a warm sound that eased Mal slowly towards the sleep he'd missed over the last two days for one reason or another.

"Captain! Would you tell Jayne to leave off already!?" Kaylee shouted, jumping down the stairs to land in an ungodly racket against a table.

Jayne followed hot on her heels with, "It's not like she don't got more than enough to spare now!"

It was only a second after that, that Zoe entered the common room as well. "Mal, I hate to bring this up, but we need to get to Xing Mao ASAP for the ore run, remember? Wash is giving me grief about which course to lay in."

Simon pressed his face to Mal's shoulder where the captain could feel minute tremors begin.

"Unless I do the murdering!" Mal roared.

Everyone froze and slowly, one by one, retreated from the room. Simon was shaking openly with laughter by then, though the sound was muffled into Mal's shirt. Mal shouted his frustration in a wordless howl, which provoked Simon into gales of laughter until he was helpless with it, lying on his side and shaking like a bowl of protein.

Mal watched him for a second then, reluctantly, his mouth twitched into a smile. "Think that's funny do you? I'll show you funny! Gorram insubordinate, smart-mouthed..."

Simon shouted with renewed laughter as Mal attacked his tickle spots without mercy. The sound echoed through Serenity, joining the familiar bickering of the others and the clanging, metal noises of the ship as she flew on her way, her crew home and back on an even keel.