Disclaimer: All familiar characters and settings belong to Firefly and BtVS and their respective owners. The author makes no money for this story, nor does she take credit for the intellectual property of others. Enjoy!
The first sign that something was wrong was Wash's shouted "Son of a bitch!"
River jerked in her chair, eyes wide, and raced from the mess before Mal and Zoe could even gain their feet. Mal demanded the others stay put with a jerk of his head, an order that Kaylee and Simon ignored. Jayne just kept eating.
The crew piled onto Serenity's bridge, trying to assess a threat that wasn't there. Wash's attention was fixed on a disturbance in the field on the other side of the doble-row of ships that lined the concourse, a dusty clearing where vendors hawked their goods during the day. At dusk, when atmospheric disturbances habitually made ground-to-air communication almost impossible, all ships parked at the concourse were grounded and the vendors shifted to points along the concourse itself, or rolled their carts into town.
As far as Mal could tell, someone had landed in the field, crushing a few of the semi-permanent sheds in the process. Going by what he could see in the light cast by the flares and flashlights of the gathering crowd, it hadn't been an easy landing. The ship was tipped up slightly, one stubby wing crushed under it, the other a stripped lattice of structural rods under a blasted, metal skin. Mal winced in sympathy, then stilled.
"Uh, Mal?" Wash started, cocking his head, but was cut off.
"Is that my gorram shuttle?" He demanded incredulously. "Did Inara's new whore crash my gorram shuttle?"
Mal and Zoe stared at each other for a moment, while the others continued to gape.
River tapped on Mal's arm and he turned to look at her, questioning eyebrow cocked over his stunned-fish expression.
"Not a whore."
"Come again?" River's unexpected defensiveness suddenly had his full attention.
"Not. A. Whore."
Mal blinked bemusedly. "Fine, Companion, whatever. River," he whined, pointing at the field, "she wrecked my shuttle!"
River rolled her eyes in exasperation. "How do you people think with only words?" She closed her eyes and backed up until she was pressed against Simon, who had turned to watch. He put his hands on her shoulders, not questioning, and she took shelter in the linearity of his thoughts. "Inara is a whore, she knows. But whores have secrets. Good whores have good secrets. Companions are very, very good."
Zoe cocked a hip against her husband's chair. "Thought you said Rae ain't a whore."
Wash looked up at her. "When'd she say that?"
Mal wasn't listening. "That girl's a secret?"
River's smile was slow. "Very, very good."
The bridge was silent for a full minute after River's pronouncement, everyone lining up their next question. Then River yelped and pitched forward, Mal only catching her just before she hit the desk. She looked up at him, unseeing.
"Bloody, buggering hell."
River passed out.