Long Road Home – Chapter One

Author owns none of the rights to Firefly, Serenity, nor any related items. Receives no money for his work, just the fun of flying :)

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"Well, whadaya think?" Mal asked his assembled crew, smiling like a cat that had ate a canary.

It had been six months since the events at the Zhang Mansion. Life had changed a great deal for the crew of the Firefly known as Serenity.

Mal had divided the crew, for one thing, and hired two new hands. He led one crew, consisting of himself, Kaylee, and Inara, who had become a fine pilot, and a new hand named Greggs. Zoe led the other crew, with Jayne, River, and a new engineer named Hollins, whom Kaylee had spent the last four months training.

Doing so had allowed them to keep Serenity moving back and forth between Astra and Argo as constantly as maintenance needs would allow, while still giving each crew some downtime. That meant less money, of course, but no one complained.

Now, Mal had decided to take the chance of buying a new ship. The profits from the regular runs were good, and his contract allowed him first refusal on any available run, if his ship was ready. When he'd approached George Harwell about his plans, the older man had been readily agreeable to extending that same deal to two ships.

Some of the other transports grumbled at that, but Harwell refused to budge. Malcolm Reynolds and his crew had practically saved Guilford's and Company, moving cargo for them when no one else would, risking their lives to do it. And George Harwell was a man who paid his debts.

"What do we think o' what?" Jayne asked. He was sitting in a large chair in the house Mal maintained near the plant. River was snuggled in his lap, as usual. Kaylee sat on the sofa across from them, though without Simon. The young doctor no longer made transport runs, having accepted a position at Guilford's, in the infirmary. Not only did he provide medical treatment for the employees, but people for miles around visited him for everything from routine healthcare to emergency surgery.

"About the ship," Mal replied, rolling his eyes. Mal had long since passed the point where he was wary of Jayne, but sometimes he did still get on Mal's nerves.

"I don't see a ship, Cap'n," Jayne told him. River almost giggled, but managed to choke it back. She and Jayne had been practically inseparable since the night he'd returned from destroying Jian Zhang's mansion, with Zhang still inside.

"Well, maybe if your face wasn't full of a certain pilot, you could," Mal retorted, walking over to the couple and handing them a picture of a ship taken from the cortex.

"Looks like Serenity, Captain Daddy," River stated. Jayne grunted his agreement.

"Well, there's a reason for that," Mal informed his little pilot. "It's identical to our Serenity, save for lil' Kaylee's own modifications," he smiled at the mechanic. "I'm fixin' to buy her, and add her to the work detail." Mal informed them proudly.

"So both crew's will be working again, regular," Jayne stated.

"Yep," Mal nodded happily. "Not like we were at first, but figure on two, three days 'tween trips, 'stead o' six or seven."

"Long as me and River stay on the same crew, I don't care," Jayne shrugged, and River kissed him lightly on the cheek.

"Same for me, Captain Daddy," River giggled. Kaylee, though, was frowning. Since Simon wasn't on ship anymore, she was separated from him as much as a week at a time. Only the fact that she usually had nearly a full week with him made that bearable, so far as she was concerned.

"Something bothering you, Kaylee?" Mal asked.

"No, well, yes," Kaylee stammered. "I done got used to having me some time off, Cap'n," she admitted, looking at her hands. "And with Simon not flying no more, well. . ." she trailed off. Mal smiled.

"Done thought about that," he told her proudly. "Seems to me, with two ships, I'm going to need a chief mechanic. I figured you could train another engineer, like Hollins, then stay groundside all the time, if ya want. Still take the trip whenever ya want, o' course. And have to when we're short one of the regular engineers."

"Oh, Cap'n, that sounds wonderful!" Kaylee jumped up and hugged Mal tightly, kissing him on the cheek. Inara smiled at Kaylee's open enthusiasm. With Kaylee planet side all the time, Simon wouldn't be able to avoid the impending marriage discussion for much longer. She didn't think Simon was adverse to marrying Kaylee, in fact quite the opposite. He just wanted things done 'properly'. At that thought she glanced at the couple across from her.

At no time, before a year ago, would she have ever dreamed of seeing River Tam in a romantic relationship with Jayne Cobb. There was as much difference in their backgrounds as there were in their size. River was five feet tall at the most generous. She might weigh all of one hundred pounds if she wore her winter clothing, and was soaking wet before stepping on the scales.

Jayne, on the other hand, at six foot four, weighed at least two hundred fifty pounds, every ounce of it solid muscle. River was a core raised genius, while Jayne was a half-breed Yaquay from a rim moon Inara had never heard of before Jayne revealed his past. His family killed when he was fourteen, Jayne had not received much in the way of education.

Inara was helping him with that, and so was River. But the gap between them was still there, and would always be so.

Yet, the two of them seemed to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Each one's weakness offset by the other's strengths. They often sat together in complete silence, with no need for talk between them. She would swear, at times, that Jayne was as much a reader as River was, as they seemed to share more with looks than she and Mal often could with words.

"So when will this new ship be here?" Jayne asked. Mal's face faltered a little. Here was the sticker. Inara tried and failed to hide a smirk. She'd warned him.

"Well, thing is," Mal started, "that is, being this is a used ship, o' course, and not really knowing. . ."

"Captain Daddy wants the three of us to go look at the ship, and fly it home," River finished for him, almost smiling. Almost.

"What?" Kaylee's head snapped up. "Cap'n that's. . .that could take a month," she wailed.

"I know, Kaylee, I do," Mal soothed. "Thing is, mei-mei, I need you to take a look at the engines. They may not be worth anything. And I'll need you to gather what parts you think we'll be like to need and be hard to find out here. River can pilot the ship back, and Jayne. . .well, Jayne will make sure all that happens with a minimum of fuss."

In truth, he knew there was no way River would make the trip without Jayne, and he wasn't overly keen on a month of Jayne without River around anyway.

"But, Simon can't leave the hospital!" Kaylee objected.

"I know, mei-mei," Mal nodded. "But I need you to do this. You know I can't do near the job you can in seeing if the ship is even worth buying. It's one thing to see it on the cortex. 'Nother to see it up close."

"Cap'n you know I'd do near anything for you," Kaylee nearly sniffled. "But I don't think. . .I don't wanna go a month without Simon!"

"Kaylee, I know it's hard to be away," Mal soothed. "But think of the future! All that time on the ground. You can be Simon's nurse. I mean, when you ain't keeping my ships fit to fly."

"Guess we'll have to start calling you 'Commodore', now, 'stead o' plain ole Captain, huh," Jayne observed. Mal glared at him.

"Was just sayin'," Jayne muttered. "Meant it as a compliment." Mal sighed.

"Kaylee, please?" he begged. Kaylee looked at him, sniffling.

"I want a big weddin'," she demanded suddenly. Mal smiled.

"See to it myself," he grinned. The grin faltered at Kaylee's look. "I'll have Inara see to it, I meant." He turned in panic to his beautiful ex-Companion. "Right? Honey?" Inara toyed with him for a minute, delighting in his distress. Then smiled.

"Of course, dear," and Mal winced. He was in for it later. Kaylee, though, whooped aloud, and ran to hug Inara.

"Oh, 'Nara, I just know it'll be wonderful, with you plannin' it. I mean," she hastened to add, "soon's Simon get's round to askin' me."

"He will," River assured her. "Has to observe proprieties first. Drilled into him since birth. Proper courtship time before engagement, proper engagement time before nuptials."

"Proper this, and proper that," Kaylee muttered, returning to her seat with a dejected 'plop'. "If he was anymore proper we'd never even have. . ."

"I can't be hearin' that!" Mal objected.

"Hey, I could listen," Jayne laughed, then 'oofed' as River elbowed him.

"Just kiddin'," he assured her with a kiss.

"You should not be teasing," she informed him. "Especially when you, yourself, insist on. . ." she had to stop when Jayne's hand covered her mouth.

"Cap'n done said he can't be hearin' that," he admonished. She pried his hand away.

"There is nothing to hear about, as yet, since you persist in these old fashioned ideas that we cannot. . ." Jayne's hand once again clamped to her mouth.

"Private stuff, baby girl," he said. She giggled, enjoying his discomfort, and licked his hand. No one would have ever suspected that Jayne would be so. . .proper. But he was steadily weakening, and she was patient.

Maybe a month in the black would be the straw that broke him.

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Simon Tam looked up as he heard the door to the infirmary open. He smiled broadly as Kaylee walkd in, but the smile faltered some at the look on her face.

"Kaylee? Is something wrong?" he asked. Things had been going so well these past months that he had begun to dread that it would have to end.

"We need to talk, Simon," Kaylee said, and Simon's heart plummeted. 'We need to talk' were the four most feared words in any relationship.

"Okay," he nodded, pulling out a chair for her. She sat down.

"Cap'n aims to buy another ship," she said without preamble. "'Nother Firefly."

"Something wrong with Serenity?" he asked. He knew how much the ship meant to her.

"No," Kaylee shook her head. "He just want's to expand, s'all. But, thing is, he wants me to go and check over the new ship, make sure it's everything the dealer says, and make sure it gets back here." Simon frowned as understanding dawned.

"Where, exactly, is this dealer?" he asked, dreading the answer.

"Persephone," she all but wailed. "Me, River, and Jayne'll take a transport out, then, if the ship is good, fly her back."

"That. . .Kaylee that could take weeks!" Simon exclaimed.

"I know," Kaylee replied miserably. "But, Cap'n says once I can train a new engineer, then I can stay on the ground all I want, be his chief mechanic."

"Well, that's something," he agreed reluctantly. "It would be nice if you were here with me all the time, or at least most of the time."

"I thought that, too," she nodded. "If you don't want me to go, though, I won't."

"Of course I don't want you to go," he said at once. "But, it is your job, and I don't feel like I can make this decision for you, Kaylee. And it's not like you're having to choose between me and the ship. I don't. . .I can't imagine being weeks without you, when five or six days is torture. But, if Mal was serious. . .Kaylee, being planet side most of the time could, well, it could make a lot of difference for us. We could think more about. . .well about the future," he finished lamely.

"So it's okay with you? If I go, I mean?" Kaylee asked.

"It's never okay with me for you to go anywhere if I'm not going," he smiled. "But I can't keep you locked away in a closet, Kaylee Frye. You're gifted with engines in a way few people are. If anyone can bring Mal's new ship home, it's you."

Kaylee beamed at his praise. She threw her arms around him, kissing him soundly.

"You're a good man, Simon Tam," she told him. "Even if you are too proper."

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"What's in that pretty head o' yours?" Jayne asked. He and River were packing for their trip. Although Jayne steadfastly refused to, and he put it, 'seal the deal', before marriage, the two still slept together, and enjoyed each other in other ways.

"Thinking about the trip," River told him. "Trying to envision how it will go."

"You got some kinda warning, or somethin'?" he asked warily. His little woman often had dreams and visions of future events.

"Or something," she nodded. "Unsure what it is, as yet. Ebbs and flows, no pattern to discern. Jumbled."

"Think we ought not go?" he asked, voice filling with concern. River smiled to herself. Jayne would think nothing of placing himself in danger, yet balk at anything that might endanger his 'baby girl'. It was one of the things she so desperately loved about him.

"No, we must go," she answered. "There is a crossroads, somewhere, and we must be there when paths cross. Have to let it play out. See what happens." Jayne grunted, not intending to argue. Instead he walked over to the cabinet where he kept his guns, and opened it wide.

"Is this a Vera kinda problem?" he asked seriously. He meant for no harm to come to his little blessing. Ever.