AN: This is my first venture into Firefly fic. I hope you all enjoy. As always, everything belongs to Joss Whedon. I'm just glad he let's us play. Thanks to Kit for the beta.

There are unguarded moments, few and far between, when no one notices that they're being observed. These are sacred moments when souls are revealed. They can happen anywhere: the cargo bay during load in, the dinner table, or an almost deserted passageway. No matter when or where these moments occur, they are moments of terrible, intimate honesty. They demand respect and reverence from the interloper who is their witness. To treat these moments in any less regard is to carelessly disregard a precious gift.

I have been privileged to bear witness to several of these gifts:

No one, not even Jayne, is completely selfish. He always manages to "drop" a few coins on the ground when he bends down to adjust a boot strap that needs no adjusting. The poor children of the outer planets that hang around the space station swoop in like hawks to claim their prize. Jayne doesn't look back. They children don't look at him. Survivors comprehend each other; there is no need for looks or thanks. It's all understood.

Part showman, part comedian, part ten-year-old boy, Wash keeps us all laughing. There is his other side, revealed to only those who watch as he and Zoe walk down the long corridor to their quarters. He whispers in her ear as his hand travels a path from her shoulder, down to the small of her back, and to its final destination at her waist. His words remain unknown, but their magic is begun. Zoe's shoulders relax, she leans into him and tosses her head with an almost imperceptible laugh. Whether he knows it or not, the ace pilot's best maneuver isn't the barrel roll, or heart stopping dive. He has done what no other could. He has made the warrior feel like a woman.

Fear. We all live with some kind of fear every day, but nothing like River's fears. They are part of her every minute. There is no respite. In her more lucid moments they bubble to the top with questions for Simon. They are all variations of, "When will it stop?" Simon has no answers. None of us do. Then, there are worse moments when she is inconsolable and not herself. In those moments when she is caught in a place that none of us can reach, her fears are screams that can rip the bolts from the hull. They pierce every crevice of the ship. Even those fears are not the worst. There are several mirrors on the ship; River avoids them all. She will not ask to borrow the best glass that is in my shuttle. She only gazes at herself in the obscured reflections of polished metal pipes, trays, even spoons. Fear is looking at your reflection and asking of this stranger, "Who am I?"

The perfect brother has paid a high price. Simon beams when River looks to him for guidance. He rejoices in her childlike laugh as they play a game of tag in the corridor. Then Kaylee walks by. They talk, they touch, and longing is almost spoken. Suddenly, Simon's attention is drawn back to River who impatiently tugs at his arm. His eyes say it all when he turns around again only to glimpse the back of Kaylee's head. Darkened eyes reveal the soul resigned to be perfect. He has no choice, there is no half-hearted attempt that will save his sister. Family comes first. He will chastise himself the rest of the day for thinking of himself first, and blaming River.

My dearest mei-mei, Kaylee, everyone on the ship, save one, seems to know your heart's desire. That's the part we all see, the part you let us see. If we were to follow the bobbing ponytail of the bright-eyed girl with oil on her chin back to the engine room, we'd know the sequel to the story. When you're there, all alone, the machinery rhythmically pounds away in time to the "buts" in your head: "But am I pretty enough?" and "But am I smart enough" and the most painful of all, "But I am not even good enough to be the only port in the storm."

The man of peace is more a lion than a lamb when protecting the weakest of his flock. Although, it's hard to say who that is. Is it River? Is it Kaylee? Is it-? Well…I suppose it's all circumstance, and point of view. Never doubt that Shepherd will fight when he is given no choice, but that fight comes at a terrible cost. The price is a piece of his soul. For he loses his current self to the person he once was and would rather forget, would rather pretend he was not capable of again being. There is a dull pain in his eyes afterwards that only the most observant of us can see.

Zoe's formidable presence is part façade when you realize she has feet of clay; they are not the iron feet of the warrior. The warrior has let her guard down. There is a chink of vulnerability only glimpsed at the briefest of moments. It's the unspoken, "What does he see in me? Why me?" If Wash laughs at Jayne or Simon, Zoe laughs with him. If Wash laughs at Kaylee, or smiles at something I've said, Zoe laughs, or smiles but there is a difference. I can tell, I have trained for too many years not to see the subtle difference of insecurity. I say nothing; there is no honor in smashing clay feet. They can only be returned to feet of iron when she forges them herself by banishing her doubts.

And what of me? There is only one who sees through me. The trouble is, it is not moments, or intervals. I am as transparent to Mal as he is to me. We can fool anyone, but not each other. There is no choice when someone sees through you that clearly. We strike out with a fierceness that is frightening; we are not ready for bared honesty. It is in neither of our characters. We both know it is our single best strength and our biggest flaw.

From a level of deep respect and understanding, we spar to make the other and ourselves stronger. We parry with wit; we strike with cutting retorts; we lunge with sarcasm, and then we retreat with a laugh. When we are alone, we lick our wounds from our war of words. Our words have always been our best weapons. Looks and firearms are mere back-ups. The lasting damage is inflicted in a barrage of adjectives and nouns that always climax in a spectacular metaphor that leaves the other defenseless. Retreat is the only possible solution. Our self-inflicted battle scars have again brought us together and driven us apart. It's the paradox that only two souls so alike can understand.