Disclaimer: Serenity and her crew are the sole and rightful property of Joss Whedon, Tim Minear and Mutant Enemy. I'm just borrowing them for a bit. No offense is meant, no financial gain is mine.


The rush and flutter of the flames, the soft cracking and hissing of the burning logs - the sight and sounds had a hypnotic effect on the tight circle gathered around for warmth. Above them a canopy of branches, their naked fingers tangles together; around them rotund trunks and glacial rocks created a nightmare landscape. This had been an ice moon before terraforming, and it's usual weather was inhospitable. Tonight was no exception.

The ship was about five miles east of them, snowed in. The storm had come up swift and furious, catching them unawares and unprepared. Mal and Jayne had scouted around while Zoe had kept the others together and calm; the two came back after but a short time to report that they had found a protected culvert. They'd spend the night there, in the cold but out of the worst of the weather.

It took a bit to get the fire started, but Mal managed. River was at his side, offering tips on how best to get the kindling to burn, how most efficiently to acquire air flow. Mal just grunted and refrained from telling her that he spent more nights than he could recall out in the mountains on Shadow, riding the fence line just like any other hand on the ranch. Never froze then; didn't intend to freeze this night neither.

They'd settled in close to the fire, as much for company as for warmth. Mal figured that him and Zoe and Jayne were the only ones present who had done any rough living. At least Inara was out of it, and for the first time he was thankful for her job that kept her safe and warm this night. He looked thoughtfully over at the preacher; the man seemed fairly comfortable with their accomodations. Definitely more to him than he was letting on.

"I always wanted to go on a camp-out." Kaylee's voice cut through his thoughts. "But I'd always hoped that it would be a bit more, you know, warm." She smiled around the circle.

Mal put his arm around her shoulder and rubbed her arm to warm her up a bit. She snuggled into him and rubbed her hands together, trying to warm them up, too.

"Why this? This ain't nothin'," he assured her. "Zoe and me, we spent nights where the air was so cold that the breath froze as it came out your mouth. Just froze right up, then dropped to the ground and broke like glass."

Zoe smiled at Kaylee and picked up the story. "He's not lyin'. In the morning we'd pile all those shards together and melt them in a big kettle."

"Why would you do that?" River leaned out from the shelter of her brother's arm.

"Make liquid oxygen," she dead-panned.

The laughter echoed around the culvert, bouncing off the rocks and trees. Off in the distance barks and yips sounded out, as if in response. Kaylee cast a worried glance out into the dark. She saw Simon do the same, then he pulled his sister in closer to him.

"I never went camping, although I hear tell that it was very exciting." Wash was nodding his head to some picture in his mind. "They said that the pollutants would spontaneously combust around the camp fire in a burst of lovely colors, setting the occasional camper ablaze. It was all supposed to be very picturesque. Me, I was just never the out-doorsy type, so I never got to see it for myself."

"You're making that up," Kaylee countered, although she sounded as if she half believed him.

"My hand to God," Wash assured her, raising his hand.

Book arched an eyebrow in his direction; Wash waved at him and then lowered his hand.

"Seriously, what could be better than this?" He pulled Zoe to him and kissed her hair. "The woman I love, a roaring fire. A raging blizzard. Hungry varmints probably sneaking up on us. Yuh," he looked around with a satisfied grin, "this is the life."

"Do you think they're wolves?" Simon asked apprehensively.

"No, ain't no wolves," Jayne sneered. "Them's just stories from Earth That Was." Simon started to relax. "Probably wild dogs. Big ones. Hungry, too."

"Jayne." Mal could feel Kaylee tense against him. The doc and his sister weren't looking too relaxed now, either. "It's just a couple dogs. Nothin' to worry about. The fire alone will keep 'em at bay, even if they are hungry. 'Sides there's too many of us for them to feel safe about comin' closer."

Silence settled over the group, as the fire worked its magic on them. In the woods near them a branch cracked sharply, making some around the fire jump.

"I think we should sing." Kaylee sounded emphatic.

"Sing? What the hell for?" Jayne stared at her like she had three heads.

"If we make a lot of noise well scare it away, whatever it is."

"Kaylee . . ." Mal started to assure her, but she cut him off.

"'Sides, that's what I heard people do when they sit around a campfire. They sing. So . . . we should sing." Her tone said that No wasn't going to be an option.

"The child has a good idea," Book said in support.

"We ain't singin' no hymns." Mal spoke up quickly.

"No hymns," Book assured him, a slight smile on his face. "Who will start?"

To the surprise of them all, Zoe's voice lifted above the flames, low and clear. She leaned against Wash with her eyes closed and sang and the sound was like a mother's kiss on a fevered brow. The song was old but familiar. "Yes, there will be peace in the valley. Someday." Kaylee murmured along with her, her head swaying slightly to the rhythm. Book's bass rumbled as he sang very softly. River had picked up the tune very quickly, and she hummed a counterpoint. When it was over, no one spoke for a moment.

"Sweetie. That was beautiful." Wash kissed her gently.

"My ma taught it to me. It seemed like the right song."

"It was perfect," sighed Kaylee.

"Hey, I got one my ma taught me," Jayne said excitedly. And he launched into a rollicking, ribald chanty. "Come on, sing!" he ordered. And they did. All through the short night they raised their voices. Everyone had to contribute. Mal and Simon both balked, but each gave in under the heckling and prodding and wheedling. They sang of oceans and mountains, they sang of home and deepest space, they sang of lost loves and new loves and lust and riches and of nothing but nonsense. They sang until their voices gave out and the snow stilled and the sun rose.

They still had a tough journey ahead of them, and they should have been exhausted, but they set out that morning feeling more alive than any of them had in a very long time. Mal kicked some snow over the dying embers and watched his crew as they climbed out of the culvert, the stronger and more agile helping the others clamber up. He took a deep breath of the crystalline cold air and closed his eyes for just a moment, savoring the feeling of absolute contentment that washed over him.

"Sir?" Zoe called to him quietly.

He looked up at her and saw the same feeling reflected in his eyes. With a grin he scrambled up the culvert and joined his people.