Without a word, Kaylee got up from the table, walked over to Simon, cupped his face in her hands, and pulled him down for an extended, passionate kiss. Simon, caught completely off-guard, waved his hands helplessly in the air for a moment before gripping Kaylee’s shoulders and reciprocating. When they finally broke apart, he frowned down at her.
“Not that I’m complaining, but what was that for?” he asked a little plaintively.
“Oh,” Kaylee said in a small voice, “no partic’lar reason. Just glad to see you.” She sat back down at the table, looking a little dazed.
Simon shot a narrow-eyed glance at the smothered grins around the table, clearly wondering what new “let’s mess with the Doc” game was up, but Zoe chose that moment to begin offering tea around, so he didn’t speak up. He and River took their seats.
Mal took a cup of tea, since it wouldn’t hardly look right if he didn’t drink what was being served to guests at his own table. Kaylee took some, too — partly, Mal thought, to have a cup to hide behind. The rest of the crew, though, avoided the proffered refreshment with a certain determination.
As Mal sipped from his cup, he reflected that he hardly blamed ‘em — he wished he could have declined, but that was part of being Captain, doing the dirty jobs that needed doing.
Rose sipped her tea, blinked, and managed to set the cup down on the table without being too quick about it. Jack made the slightest grimace after this first taste, and then knocked back the whole thing in one go, clicking the empty cup back to the table -- guest’s duty done.
The Doctor took a sip, raised his eyebrows, and looked appreciative.
“Thank you,” he told Zoe, without irony. “You’re very talented. I don’t think anyone could possibly have made this taste better.”
Mal almost laughed, and had to remind himself he wasn’t in the mood to like this no-name Doctor.
He managed another sip himself, and then it was time to get down to business.
He set his cup down carefully. “So, Doctor . . .” he began, and both the Doctor and Simon turned to look at him. Oh, this was gonna’ be annoying.
“Not you, Simon,” he said, “I mean No-Name over here.”
“Oh, I have a name,” the Doctor said. “Several of them. Some more flattering than others, I admit . . . But ‘The Doctor’ does well enough for everyday.” He gave a sunny smile, and then sipped his tea again, absently, his eyes considering as he watched Mal over the rim of his cup.
Sore point, there, Mal thought, interested. He catalogued that for later reference, but played the gracious host for now and didn't push it.
“So tell me, Doctor,” out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rose and Jack take note of his spin on that name, though there wasn’t a flicker from the man himself — they cared how he was spoken to, they were loyal; they were no mere hired hands. “How again did you make Kaylee’s acquaintance?”
“Rose met up with her in the junkyard,” the Doctor said, slipping right into the role of spokesman, with Rose and Jack letting him do it as if it was the most natural thing in the ‘Verse. “She helped find some parts for us — thank you again for that, Kaylee,” he added, smiling across the table at her, his eyes crinkling up in a right genuine way. Good actor, if he was acting . . . “We parted company and met up again later, in an establishment selling excellent juice, but with a poor clientele.” Mal glanced at Kaylee, who looked embarrassed. She certainly wasn’t protesting any of this. “We offered to walk with her to her ship, aaaaaand,” he shrugged, “here we are, enjoying your hospitality.”
Another glance at Kaylee, who gave a near-invisible nod.
“No particular reason you picked a member of my crew to meet up with?” Mal asked, casual-like.
The Doctor set his cup down on the table, and leaned forward on his elbows. His pretty-boy face settled into serious lines, and he fixed Mal with a steady intensity. “Look, Captain, as entertaining as this little fencing match may be, I think we’re both plain’ talkin’ men,” he shifted into a broader accent for a second, and then back out just as quickly, “and what we’re really here to discuss is River’s reaction to me, mine to her, and what it means for both our ships.”
Mal leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’re right enough there,” he admitted. “So shoot.” He was curious to hear this, yes indeed.
“Right, where to begin . . . Well, first of all, Rose and Jack and I are travelers; we’re here at Davesport — I do wonder who Dave was, but that’s beside the point — because of a problem with our ship’s navigational equipment. At first, I thought there was some natural explanation — gravitational anomaly, rogue pocket Universe, what have you — but more and more it was starting to look as if someone was . . . experimenting, with the fabric of space and Time. But that was utterly daft, I thought — who’d want to do something as insane as mucking about with the fabric of reality in such a . . . petty little way? Such a dangerous petty little way, at that.
“We were in the junkyard, finding parts to repair the damage caused by our, ah, emergency landing here — and, I assure you, our meeting with Kaylee was entirely fortuitous. Possibly serendipitious, but Time will tell . . . Anyway, meeting River here was very informative.” He smiled at River, and she smiled back, shyly.
“As I’m sure you all know, someone has operated on River’s brain with a very specific intent — sorry to go on about you like you aren’t here, River, but it’s hard to talk to you and the Captain at the same time . . .”
“S’alright,” she told him, “I’m not always here.”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. “So you aren’t. You’re a very perceptive young woman,” he gave her a quick smile, and turned back to Mal. “Anyway, it was obvious none of you was responsible for what had been done to River . . .”
“How do you figure that?” Mal asked, partly just to say something, since he was feeling a little overwhelmed by the spate of chatter the Doctor was putting out.
The Doctor blinked at him. “Really, Captain, it’s obvious. You all care about her. The way you closed ranks when you thought I was a threat to her was a positive delight to see, I must say. No, people don’t experiment,” and the word was bitter as alkali, “like this on people they love.
“Ergo, someone else did it — someone with access to some very specialized equipment, and an appalling lack of morality. In my experience, that sort of experiment is conducted by shockingly self-deluded individuals who believe they are somehow serving The Greater Good — exactly the sort of people who can convince themselves that insanely dangerous experiments with spacetime might be worth looking into.”
Mal drew a breath, but the Doctor held up a finger, stopping him.
“Almost done. Now, I have a vested self-interest — and a general, overall interest, come to that -- in both investigating and stopping these spacetime experiments; since you clearly have some knowledge of the people doing the experimenting, thanks to your assiciation with River, I’m hoping to pick your brains for information about them.
“In return, I am guessing from your immediate reactions that River is still under some sort of threat from these people. I’d guess she went, ah, missing from their experimental program a while ago? Yes, I’d thought so. Anyway, I have a very strong feeling that I can give them something to focus on that will distract any attention from River for quite a while.” His eyes darkened, and his voice got momentarily colder. “For a very long while indeed, I hope.”
Then he brightened and grinned again. “There, all done. Over to you, Captain.”
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