Disclaimer: I don't own Firefly/ Serenity or the places or people mentioned. Just Liara is my own creation.

A/N: This is my first firefly fanfic. Please read and review but no flames please. For those fellow Browncoats out there- this first chapter is like an introduction seen through Liara's eyes

Take me out into the Black

Tell em I ain't comin back

Burn the land and boil the sea

You can't take the sky from me

(From the Ballad of Serenity)

I was picked up on Greenleaf like so many others. The people milled around me selling wares or their worldly possessions. Slaves were kept to the shadows but I knew they were there, along with the traders and the owners. Private auctions. The docks were a swarm with people of every walk of life, occupation and station of society. I was there for my own reasons. I needed a job and though the hailing board didn't mention employment I found myself staring up at a battered Firefly class ship. I liked the looks of her. Malcolm Reynolds. The captain's name struck a chord of memory that resonated with my father. I swung my sack over my shoulder and rubbed a sweaty hand over my dark blue tunic shirt; deep blue breeches met the dusty brown boots that covered my feet, they had seen better days. I took a deep breath and approached a tall man with light brown hair, blue eyes and a firm mouth that looked as if it was used to quirking quite often. He rubbed a hand behind his neck tugging on the red shirt he wore. A gun sat in a holster on his hip his tall brown boots matched his dusty brown coat.

" Excuse me sir, would you be the captain?"

"Yes, miss. Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Serenity, and this is Zoë my first mate.

Is there something I can do for you?" I glanced at the woman who stood by his side. She was tall with skin the color of coffee and cream her thick curly hair held off her face. She was beautiful but I sensed strength about her and felt she could deal with just about anything and keep a cool head.

" Yes, sir. My name is Liara Hawke. I was hopin' you were taking people on. If you're not boarding passengers I can earn my keep. I have some flight experience and I was a galley cook aboard a vessel for about three years. I got out almost a month back and made my way here. Though I'll be understanding if you don't need pilot, what with Hoban Washburne flying her." I smiled. Zoe looked at me.

" You know my husband?" she asked.

Husband? Huh. " Goodness, I never met him but they told some wild stories about him in flight school."

The captain crossed his arms and stared down at me.

" You understand we travel the outer rim, the edges of the 'Verse. Sometimes we go weeks or more without going planet-side. Is there a certain place you aimin' to get to miss?"

" I am only aiming to get away Captain, that's all." I rubbed my wrist and tugged at my shirtsleeve.

" It's not an easy life Miss Hawke. We get jobs when they come. Work's dangerous most times on the rim. Then there's Reavers."

I shuddered involuntarily and looked at Mal Reynolds. " My father taught me to handle weapons Captain. He fought for the Independents in the War."

" Your Pa was a Browncoat?"

"Yes sir. Marcus Hawke. He was killed in an aerial battle, he was a fighter pilot." I noticed a haunted look creep into his eyes. I looked down at my feet. " I 've been on my own since. I know how the world isn't the safest place, none of them spinnin' in the 'Verse are. I have seen it first hand Captain. I figure I'd be better off on a ship and out in the Black." I knew all too well what people were like, the ones who had no ideals, no code, those who were malicious and cruel. I just knew Malcolm Reynolds was different, he had to be. He and the woman conferred and Mal turned and put out his hand.

"Welcome to Serenity Liara."

I took it and smiled. "Thank you sir."

Mal's mouth quirked at the corners. "You might not thank me later."

Zoe took my hand in a firm grip. "Welcome aboard young one." I picked up my pack and walked up the ramp into Serenity's cargo hold.

"Go ahead and take a look around Liara, I'll be right there." Mal said.

It was a big open space with walkways, catwalks, metal grid flooring and stairways. I noticed cargo stacked and secured here and there, a workout bench and set of free weights off in a corner. I could hear Mal and Zoe talking outside. I walked over to the press bench.

"Hey, what are you doin'?" A male voice drawled somewhere behind and above my head. A broad hand landed on my shoulder. I didn't think about where I was, I just reacted. I grabbed the wrist and twisted, turning as I did so. He yelped. The man had brown hair; cut close, facial hair covered some of his strong jaw, blue eyes flashed as he looked down at me. He had a strong build, broad and tall. Normally I'd be attracted but I was just annoyed. I tried to throw him off balance but in my present condition and by the size of him, I couldn't do it. Instead I brought a knee up toward his groin but he blocked me, freed his wrist, grabbed me and crossed his arms across my chest pinning my arms to my sides. " Stay put would ya?"

" Jayne, What are you doin'?" Mal asked, he and Zoe stood a few feet away. They had apparently watched the whole confrontation unnoticed.

" This here wildcat attacked me Mal. I caught her sneakin' around and the gorram chit just about unmanned me."

"And she would have done a service to the rest of the human race had she succeeded." Mal said seriously. I smiled and wiggled just a bit still clasped against Jayne's chest.

"You almost had him there. Jayne she almost had you." Zoe said looking smug.

"Jayne, if you are done manhandling our galley cook she needs to see the rest of Serenity." Mal nodded in my direction. Jayne let me go and I picked up my little sack of things and shot a look at him He was looking mighty confused.

"Cook?"

" Yeah. I'd advise you to keep your hands to yourself or next time she just may be faster than you Jayne." Mal turned and headed towards the back of the cargo hold to a rounded doorway. Jayne gave me a once over and smirked. It seemed he'd liked having me clasped against his chest. I rolled my eyes and followed Mal. We went down a few stairs on the other side of the entryway. I noticed a room, a little alcove with couches and a chair or two. Mal turned to me.

" Your Pa teach you hand fighting too?"

"No, sir. I learned in my… travels." I was surprised for a moment. I had been expecting a rebuke for assaulting a crewmember.

"You almost had him. A woman should know how to defend herself." I heard respect in his voice and tried to keep from blushing. He turned toward the small room partitioned off by its own outer walls and doors. " Here is the infirmary. Looks like the doctor is out, somewhere else about the ship." I looked into the cold white and silver space. A chair like exam table sat in the center, cabinets and counters bordered the walls. Trays of instruments were laid out and various unfamiliar medical equipments hung in their places. " Simon is a good medic, used to be a surgeon on a Central planet before comin' out here." Mal said turning and pointed down to the space to the right of the alcove. "Passenger dorms, your bunk will be there. Up here is the galley." He tilted his head towards a staircase.

We climbed it and found ourselves in a corridor and then we walked into a large room with warm gold colored walls painted with charming little vines and flowers. It was a standard ship's galley. Food and utensil compartments covered one wall. The stove and preparation area was to the back; a table sat in the center of the space with mismatched chairs around it and a light in the middle of the tabletop. To the right of the kitchen area was another alcove with multiple padded benches and comfortable looking chairs that sat beneath a row of skylight windows that would eventually show the starry expanse of the Black but now showed the gray blue skies of Greenleaf. An older man sat there, his salt and pepper hair pulled back in a short ponytail. His brown skin lined with age, the laugh lines around his brown eyes deepened as he saw the captain and I and smiled. He wore the gray, high collared shirt of a Shepherd. " This is Shepherd Book. Book this is Liara Hawke, Serenity's new cook."

"Pleased to meet you young lady.

"Same here Shepherd."

"Shall I prepare a room for Liara, Captain?"

"I'd fair appreciate it Shepherd. She still needs to see the rest of the ship." Mal replied. Book nodded and I followed Mal once more. We walked back the way we had come but then passed the stairway and entered what had to be the engine room. The engine itself sat in the center, its shield drawn back. I watched mesmerized as it turned slowly, Serenity's beating heart. I noticed a hammock strung in one corner but before I could examine the space further a scuttling sound followed by a clanking caught my attention. It seemed to come from under the engine itself. "Kaylee?" Mal called.

"Just a sec Captain." A female voice called. "Thought the coil broke off, that would have been a fine fix, but it was just the casin' was worn right through. She's good to go Cap'n." A young woman my own age, perhaps a year or two older popped into view near the spinning engine. Her brown hair was pulled off her heart shaped face, one cheekbone was smudged with grease, her cheeks were round and rosy and a big smile lit up her eyes. A colorful print shirt of Asian orchids showed from beneath her brown coveralls. " Who've we here Cap'n, a new passenger?"

"Crew. This is Liara Hawke our new cook. This is Kaywinett Lee Frye, Serenity's mechanic, best one in the 'Verse."

" Oh, Cap'n you don't have to get all flowery on me. Welcome to Serenity Liara. What do you think of her?"

I smiled. " There is a lot of history to her, she could tell many a tale. I think we are going to get along fine and she has a fine crew. Well, except for Jayne." I blushed as Kaylee laughed. I caught the Captain's eye and saw a smirk threatened to turn up the corners of his mouth.

"There is a tale there no doubt." Kaylee said.

"One that Liara will have to share later Kaylee. Still the bridge to see." We left the engine room. Once we stood once more in the passageway that was the back hall Mal turned to me. " We haven't discussed terms. No stealing from crews quarters or whatever cargo we may be carryin'. No drugs, unless the good doctor gives 'em to ya. I need a crew that is alert and in the right state of mind. No shirking duties. You answer to me or if I am not onboard, to Zoe. When you are not needed in the galley, you have permission to go throughout the ship. Exceptin' the crew's quarters or the shuttles unless invited. I think you will get along with the crew just fine; you may have to remind Jayne to behave. You'll get a cut from each job we pull off. Dong ma?"

I nodded. "Yes sir." He smiled.

"This way is the bridge." We went down back through the galley and around the corner to another corridor, the front hall. Hatch doors lined the walls. "Crew's quarters." My new captain said. I noticed one door had the words Kaylee's room painted in yellow with little flowers and the doorway was framed in little white lights. I smiled. The bridge was small. Lockers lined the walls of the hull. Two consoles with controls set before windows that showed the bustle of the docks of Greenleaf. Two worn, ratty chairs sat behind the controls, the man at the helm was wearing flight suit pants and a painfully bright tropical print shirt that clashed with his wild red hair. I noticed plastic dinosaurs and palm trees perched on the top of the control console where he sat. "Liara this is Wash, Serenity's pilot. Wash this is Liara Hawke our new cook. Says she went to flight school where you got your learnin'.

"Really? Wash swiveled in his chair.

"Yes, sir. Stories of your year are a favorite among the students. They say the chief throws darts at your picture."

"Wash? Famous?" Mal asked.

I glanced at him and grinned. "He is infamous for his flybys."

"Flybys?" Zoe asked, coming onto the bridge.

"Oh, you know…when you fly by a building, all the noise and the trailing…" Wash said nonchalantly waving his hand around absently.

"And what was this building you flew by dear?" Wash shrugged. Zoe glanced at me.

"Just the instructor barracks." I replied grinning. "You were part of the reason I went into flight school. My brother Jensen was a few years behind you. The stories he would share with me about your stunts and flying." My grin faded. Jensen. Grief closed its fist around my heart. I looked up. Zoe, Wash and Mal were looking at me. An odd silence filled the bridge. I shrugged. "It was a long time ago."

"I can show you your bunk if you'd like so you can get settled by take off." Mal looked at me for a moment.

"Sure." I glanced down at my hands and back at my captain.

" Right. Through here then. Let me show you the shuttle bays right quick." We went back to the cargo bay and walked across the catwalk "Shuttles one and two."

I took a step back when the shuttle door opened suddenly. Out stepped the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She moved with quiet grace. Her dark wavy hair was pulled back with jeweled combs studded with red orange stones that matched the cluster of gems that were hung on delicate gold chain at her throat. Her gown fluttered as she moved, red orange as a sunset the satin looked as smooth as butter and winked with delicate beading. Her brown eyes smiled at me. "Who have we here Mal ?" I smiled back at her.

"This is Liara Hawke our galley cook and alternate navigator." Mal said. I noticed the captain look the lady over in a complimentary way. Apparently he liked what he saw. The lady held out a shapely hand to me.

" I'm Inara Serra. I'm a Companion."

Well, that explained a lot. I took the offered hand and shook it. I was a little confused. She was as out of place on a well-worn ship like Serenity as a swan in a hen house. My confusion must have showed on my face because Inara said, "I fly with Serenity for its business advantages. I can expand my territory and Captain Reynolds benefits as well." I couldn't help coloring slightly.

"Not that way. Ms. Serra brings a presence that opens up opportunities that would otherwise be closed to me." Mal replied clearing his throat.

"I bring respectability." Inara added slyly.

Mal made a noise in his throat and I tried not to smile. There was an edge to their banter that made me think that there was more than a business relationship between the Captain and Companion. " I'll see you at dinner then." Inara smiled and walked down the catwalk and out of the cargo bay. Mal turned to me.

"Some folk are taken back when they meet a Companion. Doesn't hold with their scruples and such." That made me wonder how he felt about lovely Inara's chosen profession.

"Well, I have a cousin who is a Companion. We were close as children and until the War she would send me a wave every week. Sharra would tell me some wild stories about her Academy days. I used to imagine myself learning there beside her. "

" Yet you chose flight school. Do you think you missed your calling?" He asked with a smirk.

I grinned " While I find it fascinating, and would love to have the grace and poise it's all a bit too glamorous and …amorous for me." I glanced at Mal who chuckled. " I don't mean to jabber on captain. Its just nice to have someone to talk to."

" Hummph. Didn't have many folk to talk to on your last job?"

"Well…I…not many who wanted to talk to me." They were more likely to give me a bruise then speak directly to me, I thought.

We made our way back to the passenger dorms. Shepherd Book came out of one of the small chambers. They all had sliding doors and I noticed a second level of smaller sleeper pods. "I made this room up for you Liara. Mine is just there and across here is Simon's and River's is the next one over."

"River?" I asked.

"River is Simon's sister. She has been through some…hardship but she's healing." Book said.

"She's not always in her right mind. But most often she is harmless. Just needs some looking after and the doc does a fair amount of that." Mal added. The floor beneath us trembled slightly. "We are off." His eyes strayed back to me. " Get settled and then check out the galley again get acquainted and if you are for it you can make dinner, Dong ma?"

"Yes sir, and thank you Shepherd." They both left and I slid the panel of my room open and stepped in. There was a single bunk against one wall and hooks and a cabinet for storing things away. I set down my pack on the bed and sat myself. I reached into the sorry excuse of a bag and pulled out the remnants of my life. A life I would never see again.

. A battered old box scratched with one corner chipped off, a hairbrush and mirror, and an old static capture card. The image was blurry but discernable. There they were, my family before the War. We were all young and happy; all my brothers were home and my parents healthy and whole. I watched as we scrambled together to pose for the picture pushing and shoving lightheartedly. I placed the card on the cabinet beside the bunk along with my other treasures. I folded up the two other sets of tunics and trousers I had along with a headscarf and an apron and put them in the little hutch.

I let out a sigh of relief. I was finally off world again. I had been on Greenleaf too long. Long enough to get caught again. For some crazy reason I felt safer on Serenity than I had in a long time. "They won't look for me on the Rim that is for sure," I told myself. I shook out my apron and tied the scarf around my hair, pulling back the brown tresses; they brushed my lower back in thick waves. I had been threatened with a head shaving on more than one occasion. The scarf kept it out of sight and out of danger, plus it would stay out of the crew's food. The apron I tied at my waist. The once snowy surface was stained with grease and the remnants of past meals. So long ago, it had been so long ago. What was once unblemished and pure now carried the marks of a hard existence, of abuse, viewed as expendable and replaceable, now bearing scars. I ran my hands down, smoothing it. I turned to leave for the galley and bit back a gasp. A slender girl stood in my doorway. She was barefoot in a dark blue dress that fell to her knees, her brown hair in disarray around her shoulders. Her big, haunted eyes stared at me. "Hello I'm Liara, the new cook. You must be River."

She cocked her head at me. " Hawk in a cage. Want to clip your wings. Skin and blood. They hunt and they will find you."

I didn't know what to say. Chills traveled up my spine. "W..What?" I stammered.

"I don't know what you are talking about."

River took a step closer and ran her hands along the wall. " He won't let them take you." She said.

This girl was clearly not all there. "Who? Take me where?"

"River?" I heard a male voice call from the hall. "What are you doing in here? Oh, hello." A young man in a red waistcoat and white shirt stopped in my doorway. His dark hair and eyes were reminiscent of River's. This must be her brother. He regarded me with a wary look on his handsome face. " I am Simon, Serenity's doctor. I apologize if my sister was bothering you…miss."

"Liara Hawke, ship's cook. For a spell anyway." I shook his finely shaped hand, a surgeon's hand and dropped it quickly, rubbing my wrist nervously. I glanced back up at his face and noticed he was trying to assess me. Then his fine-looking features returned to their look of polite interest. But when he glanced at River a look of tenderness crossed his face.

He looked back at me. " Pleasure to meet you Liara."

"Pleasure's all mine doctor."

"Call me Simon, after all we will be seeing quite a bit of each other here on Serenity."

"Well then I will see you and River at dinner, Simon." I smiled. He returned a small smile and then tugged River out of my room.