They were gone. Shepherd Book. Wash. Now Inara.
Where once there had been nine unlikely companions, fighting their way together through an uncertain 'Verse and the hostile oppression of the Alliance, there were instead six uncertain, mourning individuals. Serenity seemed, somehow, a little less like home.
Zoë, who's loss seemed greatest, sat stoically in her usual spot at the table. The chair next to her was empty, and she steadfastly refused to look that direction. The warrior-woman, one of the few survivors of the terrible battle of Serenity Valley, never showed emotion. If the crew looked close enough, though, they might see the glimmer of unshed tears in her eyes. The crew never looked that close anymore. The crew were afraid of each other.
Jayne, who even weeks previously would have griped about the lack of profit from such a crazy plan, sat quietly. He still had his appetite, don't be foolish, but his usual gruff façade was on a leave of absence. Unlike the first mate, Jayne's gaze continuously flitted from one empty chair to the other, perhaps looking for an explanation that was not forthcoming. Jayne didn't try to make conversation with anybody else. They were all too gorram depressed, in his opinion, and talk would only cause his mood to worsen. No, silence was better.
Little Kaylee, who even on a bad day was bursting with love for the world, still had irregular and seemingly baseless crying fits. She was in the middle of one now. Nothing particular had brought it up. She hadn't shown any signs that this was coming. They sat down at the table together, like they had every night recently. The Captain had cooked, and the protein was decently flavored and didn't smell too bad, either.. Kaylee took a bite, and broke down. Nobody tried to comfort her. Simon sent a concerned look her way from his seat beside her, but even he was hesitant to do anything. Best to let her grieve.
As for Simon, he spent as much time as possible in the infirmary. He studiously ignored the Captain and Jayne, watched his feet whenever Zoë was in the same room, spoke to Kaylee only when they were alone, and left River to her own devices unless she needed to be medicated. Everybody reacts differently to trauma, Simon knew, and his reaction was to pull back and become a recluse. He knew he wasn't that type of doctor, but he also knew it wasn't healthy to behave this way after a tragedy. There just didn't seem to be any other way to deal with the pain.
River, who in the past had been barely stable on the best of days, hadn't had a bad day yet. Among all the sorrow, guilt, anger and other negative emotions which would normally have sent the fragile girl over the jagged edge, River seemed to be the only rock among the roiling seas of the crew's emotions. Simon, had he been paying attention, might have commented that she seemed almost normal since Miranda. In her own mind, River recognized this stability and thrived in it. She wasn't unstable nine tenths of the day lately. She wasn't cowering from the turbulent waves of emotion crashing against her from the other crew. She felt, unaccountably, as though the dead planet and the Reaver fight had somehow brought her a sense of peace and wholeness she had been lacking since her forced tenure at the Academy.
River knew, whether by instinct or her strange powers as a reader, that the rest of the crew would recover soon, once their individual grieving had run its course. She also knew she would eventually fall back into her patternless cycle, though she had the feeling it wouldn't be for quite a while. This gave her even more strength. The only point of worry for the young woman, a constant, unshifting spot of darkness in the flow of her thoughts, was the Captain.
Malcolm Reynolds was the strongest man she had ever know. Zoë was the only other person River had met who's stability and ability to suppress emotion came even close to Mal. Now, though, ever since the events leading up to the Miranda wave, and the Operative's release of Serenity, the Captain was teetering on the edge of a chasm. She saw it in his eyes every time he came to the bridge to sit with her, which he had done every night since they returned to the Black. Somehow, Mal knew that she was the solid center of his shaky universe, a point fixed in his field of vision. She had, unknown to him, become the heart of Serenity. The more time the Captain spent on the bridge, whether silent or talking of inconsequential things, the farther back he seemed to step from the abyss.
Mal was learning to deal with his loss, his grief. No longer would he need to bury his emotions, no more would he have to put on a strong face for his crew. Everybody had been through what he had been through this time. Everybody was suffering. It wasn't just Zoë he had to rely on anymore, he had an entire family to support him, and who needed his support too. As he looked up from his plate, where he'd been picking at his food, he fully realized each of these thoughts. He looked from one face to another, no one letting him meet their eyes, save River. When he came to her, she smiled, slow and sad.
She knew. No, more than knowing, she had helped him to know. Mal couldn't even be irritated that she'd poked around in the privacy of his mind. The Captain was grateful to this warrior-woman-child; grateful that she'd pulled him back from the yawning blackness which had nearly overcome him; grateful that she'd shown him that he wasn't alone, that his feelings were echoed through the whole crew; grateful, mostly, that she'd shown him a side of himself he didn't need to be afraid of facing anymore.
With tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, Mal clinked his fork against his glass, then raised the glass in the air. "Folks, your attention please. I know toasts are meant for celebratin', so that's what I aim to do. I'm thinkin' we should remember all the good times, and when we cry, they should be tears'a happiness. To those left behind, may they always be in our hearts."
As Mal watched a solitary tear run down Zoë's solemn face, and heard Jayne snuffle quietly, he saw River, out of the corner of his eye, smile again.
"Shiny, Cap'n," said Kaylee quietly, still crying, while Simon draped his arm comfortingly over her shoulder.
Yes, they would be all right.