Title: Civilized

Rating: PG

Characters: The crew, the PCs.

Pairings: M/I, in places.

Summary: A PC one-shot. Spans 25 years in the life of mother and son. This is a companion (giggle) to Echo, but can be read completely separately.

Disclaimer: Most of the characters (sans the PCs) aren't mine, but the situation is.

For newbies: New Leaf, Brother, Shadow, Mei-Mei, Mischief, Forty, Pirate Children, Mistletoe, Hell-Raising, Delinquent, Barriers, Tough, Echo, Civilized

Author's Note: A little more serious than Delinquent. Just giving Inara and Abe equal treatment. Mirrors Echo.

She supposes it should be ironic. This pristine porcelain was once so integral to the cleansing ceremonies of her vocation, so precious and important to cleansing herself after serving men and women whose faces now fade and blend. At one time, she could remember each in perfect detail, their desires and quirks, but now her attentions are so entirely focused elsewhere.

Now the water in this precious porcelain cleanses not her own body and soul, but that of the most important being in her life: three-month-old Abram Derrial Reynolds. He makes sweet faces, yawns grandly as she sponges the warm water across his baby soft skin, his eyes lighting as he listens to her voice, gentle and even. The perfect newborn blue of his eyes is already beginning to darken a little, and Mal swears he'll have her eyes.

He is her world now, her serenity. She meets his eyes and sees understanding and empathy. She likes to tell him things she's never told anyone else, knowing he'll keep her secrets. They have long conversations, and though she does all the talking, the conversations never seem one-sided. As she washes his tiny fingers, she tells him of his grandfather and uncle, both of whom he so resembles. She recounts childhood memories she's never shared before: falling asleep, scrunched between Fahmy and Noor on the couch as her father's strong, smooth voice read aloud, sneaking into her father's office while he conducted business 'waves, just to listen to his voice. She relates her fears, too. Her worries that she can't be the mother he needs, that this calm that has settled over the ship won't last. That someday there will be an argument with his father from which they can't recover. That life in the Black will consume her whole, or that she'll lose herself in being his mother.

Abram's mouth is silent throughout, but his eyes dance or droop in time with the tone of the conversation. He understands. He trusts. As his bath finishes, though, those perceptive eyes begin to droop more often. He begins to fuss a little as she dries him off and dresses him in his soft cotton pajamas, and she glances as the time and smiles. He's like clockwork when it comes to eating.

She settles them against the pillows of the couch, trying not to worry about how late Mal is from this most recent job. A milk run, he said. A milk run he was supposed to return from two hours ago. Still, Wash or Kaylee would tell her if something has happened, if they could get a chance amidst chasing their energetic toddlers around. She's glad Abe's not walking yet.

Wash teases, calls the three of them the housewives, tending the children and waiting anxiously for their partners to bring home the bacon. He then goes off on a tangent about how nice it would be if they brought home actual bacon, and he and Kacey dissolve into silliness. Still, he has a point. How did she, a woman with one of the finest educations the Core can offer, wind up spending her evenings tending to the baby and waiting for her man to return? How did this become her life?

As if in objection to this line of thinking, Abe suckles painfully harder, and she drops her fingers down to adjust his insistent mouth with an affectionate grumble.

"Sorry, baby," she says, smoothing the consternation from his tiny face. He settles down, now that her mind has turned to happier thoughts.

She hears heavy steps on the catwalk outside the shuttle, then the soft squeak of the door opening. Abe senses him, too, feels his mama's worry and excitement, and begins to squirm.

"You're late," she says, trying not to smile at his ragged, dirty, but blessedly unharmed, form in the doorway.

"Yeah, things didn't go quite…"

"Smooth?" she asks, letting the grin slip through and glancing at him sidelong as he removes his boots before she can scold him.

"Something like that," he smirks, leaning over her and capturing her lips for a warm kiss. He smells of smoke and alcohol from the bar where the drop was supposed to take place, but underneath is that comforting scent of leather and aftershave and Mal.

When he finally pulls away, grinning roguishly, he glances down to her lap.

"He's not asleep yet, is he?" he asks hopefully.

As if in response, Abe's eyes blink open and he reaches for his daddy. Mal scoops him up and blows raspberry kisses over his cheeks.

"Don't rile him up," she warns, putting herself back together and moving to finish cleaning up from Abe's bath.

"Yes, ma'am," Mal drawls teasingly, catching her arm as she passes and pulling her back down onto the couch, Abe held up against his shoulder. "Sit with us."

His arm over her shoulders, she snuggles in next to the pair, warm and content.

"Apart from the not smooth-ness, the job went well?"


Her head on his shoulder, she glances up at him and the miracle they created together who yawns greatly and then burps.

"Oh, he's definitely your son," she teases, earning herself a gentle poke in the ribs.

It's definitely strange if not ironic, the Companion turned wife and mother. But it's right.


"Abram, where's your shirt?" she laughs upon entering kitchen to find her three-year-old son finger-painting contentedly, and shirtlessly, at the table, completely alone. "And what did you do with your father?"

A groan comes from the lounge off of the dining area.

"I thinks I killed him," Abe says, nonchalantly, smiling utterly innocently and charmingly. His big brown eyes widen, and he begins to pout pitifully as he notes the stern look on his mama's face. He clarifies: "Not for real, Mama."

Another groan echoes from the couches.

She leans over and kisses Abe's pudgy cheek, getting a radiant grin from the toddler, his arms reaching around her neck as he clambers up into her arms. Settled contentedly at his usual place on her hip, he begins to recount his day with his daddy.

"Mmhmm," she encourages, bringing them over to one of the comfier chairs near where Mal is groaning on the floor. "Explain again why you're covered in paint?"

His face gets very serious as he sits facing her in her lap. "War paint, Mama."

"Ah," she says, noting the various multicolored designs crisscrossing his chest and face. "Why?"

Never losing patience with his beloved mama, he recounts the day's events, first watching ancient Westerns with the daddies and Kacey and Lolly, then later recreating them in a rousing game of Cowboys and Indians. Which the cowboys evidently lost. As he spins his tale, never failing to impress her with his ever-increasing vocabulary, he plays first with her fingers, then her loose curls, always in tactile contact with her, eyes never leaving hers.

As his story comes to a close, she asks, "So why is Daddy on the ground?"

Abe's smile gets mischievous, snuggling up against her. "Daddy needs nap."

At eleven, Abe has settled down considerably from his toddler years. One of the major factors would be the energetic six-year-old girl bouncing off the ceilings across the kitchen island from them. It is strange to see one so young, so calm and self-assured, especially in comparison to his overly-energetic sister.

They've drawn dish duty together tonight, and he clears the table with practiced ease and his casual, thoughtful smile, easily sidestepping his hyperactive sister. His hair is gelled up in a faux-hawk that she teases him mercilessly about, just to see the blush cover his handsome face.

Despite his usual serenity, there's a black eye fading around the left side of his face. While most of his brawling ways are under control, he's still prone to fight over matters of honor, a trait most certainly learned at his father's knee. This most recent bruise, however, is a present from his beloved baby sister during one of their infamous wrestling matches.

"Stop looking at me that way, Mama," he admonishes softly in that perfect Core English as he drops some dishes in the soapy sink.

"What way?" she asks defensively.

He just shakes his head with a grin and reaches up to kiss her cheek before ducking away to grab the rest of the plates. She watches him navigate the chaos of the post-dinner dining room, stopping to engage in conversation with Ally. He smiles, still charming and yet shy, at the young tutor. He really is such a flirt, she thinks with a soft chuckle, reminding herself to tease him about his oh-so-obvious crush on Miss Caramia in the near future.

Inara looks on in horror, in slow motion, as her beloved baby boy steps confidently between her and the bullet headed her direction, pushing her aside as he does so. She recovers her balance just in time to see him fall to the metal floor of the cargo bay, blood pooling under his shoulder wound.

Fourteen, so beautiful and brave, and utterly stupid.

She feels her heart rip in two as she skids to her knees at his side, hands on his wound.

"Fang xin, sagwa," It's okay, little fool, she says, ignoring the ongoing firefight around them, teary voice betraying her. "Uncle Simon will fix you right up so I can ground you for the rest of your natural life."

He smiles wearily, though it quickly turns to a moan of pain.

"Yes, ma'am," he groans, his warm blood seeping through her fingers.

Her heart catches in her throat, and she fights down the bile. The fighting has died down and she looks over her shoulder, surveying the damage. She meets Mal's eyes and watches realization and horror dawn in his eyes.

"Simon!" he shouts, running to retrieve the medic. "Doc!"

Abe coughs a little, trying to keep up a brave face. Blood dots his high cheekbones. His beautiful brown eyes cloud as shock begins to set in.

"It's just a little one, Bubba," she assures him as a shade passes over his face. "You're going to be fine. That's an order."

"Yes, ma'am," he repeats, brows knit together as another spasm of pain runs through him.

"What the guay do you think you were doing?" she demands, the anger pushing aside the horror and desperation.

The surprise of hearing a curse pass through his mother's lips directly at him seems to startle him a little from the oncoming shock.

"Mama," he coughs, "Language."

"Bi zui."

She feels strong hands pulling her off Abe, sees Simon and Lolly replace her at Abe's side as Mal pulls her tight against him, and they watch Simon begin his work.

"What happened?" Mal asks softly in her ear, barely contained rage laced in his voice.

She chokes over the words, telling him that he'd taught his son about honor and family and bravery just a little too well.

"He'll pull through," Mal assures her, arms tight around her middle. Her eyes stay glued to Abe. He repeats himself. "He'll pull through. He's got too much of you in him not to."

He's never looked more like a man.

Nothing physically has changed much since she last saw him. He still stands just an inch or so shy of his father, broad shoulders and sandy brown hair. He's well-dressed and clean-cut; Mal teases him constantly about being so pretty. He smiles charmingly as per usual. At first glance, he looks like one of the many advantaged Core youth one can find throughout the 'verse. He's just a year shy of an MD, with a specialty in trauma like Uncle Simon before him. He's always been very self-assured and confident, but there's absolutely no hesitation in his movements as he makes his way through the chaos of the Eavesdown docks like an old pro. He has a suitcase in hand, another slung over his shoulder, hand entwined with that of a young woman. Eila Ransom, his girlfriend of two years, is a pretty girl of Anglo-Indian descent, with short, straight black hair, grey-brown eyes, and a coffee and cream complexion. She seems a little overwhelmed by the dirty, loud chaos, but Abe grins reassuringly over his shoulder and continues to lead her through the mobs. As they approach Serenity's ramp, Kacey, Lolly, and Serra (grown adults, she must remind herself, though they're not acting it now) bound down from behind her and tackle him to the dust and dirt.

"Welcome home," Kacey grins, righting himself and Lolly, allowing Serra remain, pinning Abe to the ground.

"Can't let you come aboard looking so shiny and clean," Lolly smiles, grease streaked across her cheek.

"Shiny," Abe grins, a little out of breath. "Get the guay off me, Runt."

"Bubba! Language!" Serra laughs, picking him up off the ground and redistributing the luggage between herself and Kacey.

Abe quickly introduces Eila to his "cousins". Miss Ransom smiles warmly and moves to shake their hands. Kacey and Lolly will have none of that, however, and envelope her in a group hug. Serra grins and laughs, but to her credit, Eila looks nonplussed, and even hugs them in return.

"Alright, we'll set you up in Simon and Kaylee's room, away from the rest of us. Lol', Jayne and Daddy'll be back soon, so make sure the engine's prepped."

"Aye, little Cap'n," Lolly teases Serenity's current first mate.

Serra gives the mechanic a friendly push as she pulls the pilot towards the passenger dorms.

Abe leads Eila up the ramp, his nice Core clothes now dusty and rumpled, his hand on the small of her back.

"You know better than to dress nicely with those three around," Inara smiles at him.

He grins and ducks his head, pulling her into a warm hug.

"Hey, you."

"Hey, you," she returns, pushing him away and dusting off his jacket.

"Mama, Eila. Eila, Mama," he introduces as Eila comes to stand beside him.

"It's so nice to meet you, finally, Mrs. Reynolds."

Abe says, kindly, "She didn't take Dad's name."

Eila looks mortified. "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't…"

"Don't apologize," Inara assures her. "I've been called far worse."

Abe chuckles at that.

"Eila! Come on!" Serra calls from above. "I'll give you the tour."

Seemingly relieved that this round of meet the parents is over, Eila hurries off.

"Only half of what she says is true," Inara warns teasingly.

"Mama, I'm offended. At least three-quarters," the twenty-year-old lobs back.

"She also did poorly in math," Abe calls.

"Bi zui, Bubba," Serra sing-songs.

Once they're alone, Inara turns to Abe.

"Welcome home, Bubba. She seems very nice."

"Yeah, she's great," he says, so obviously in love. "She's a little nervous, though. Meeting everyone. Her first impression was Serra."

Inara grins. "She was brave to come along."

Her twenty-five-year-old son (oh, she feels so old) agrees.

"How have you been, Mama? Have Mei-Mei and Dad been behaving for you, or do I need to smash some heads?"

"Abe, I'm sorry to say this, but your sister would kick your pi gu back to Ariel if you tried. But yes, they're getting better. Slowly and stubbornly, but better."

He looks mock-horrified at the slight, but grins, "You're getting loose with your language."

"Your father's and sister's influence, I'm sure."

"No doubt. We must get you back to civilization soon."

"Abram," she reproaches playfully, "I chose this over civilized life a long time ago."

Abe gets serious, meeting his mother's eyes. "I think I will, too. After graduation, I mean."

She studies his eyes, their ever-present resoluteness even stronger than usual. It's the first mention he's ever made about his post-graduation plans.

Mal used to say that Abe followed in her footsteps, that he was a beacon of civilization in their rough and tumble life. He has almost always spoken perfect Core English and Chinese, with the manners she and Ally schooled into him and an ability to blend into the upper echelons of Sihnon society without trouble.

But his decision to give up a world he was seemingly born for doesn't surprise her. He makes the same decision she once made, for the same reasons. For the family of this ship, for the home this Firefly creates. For the love of a soul that could never be tied to the stiff formality of the Core, nor to even any piece of dirt, that soul whom he can't bear to leave behind. He leaves the Core behind for his sister, the same way she left it behind for his father, nearly thirty years ago.

"She'll be thrilled," Inara says, the voice of that very "she" echoing through the cargo area as she plays tour guide.

"Yeah," Abe grins mischievously. "I'll tell her after dinner. This crazy ship is in need of a medic, anyway."

"And Eila?"

Abe's face reverts to its previous seriousness.

"If she wants. If not…"

The 'Serra comes first' remains unspoken between them, because it's never been disputed.

And while Inara respects that, she can only hope Serra doesn't make her brother regret his decision.

el fin