Author's Note: First, the standard disclaimer, Joss, Mutant Enemy, some big important people are the ones with the money, and I get no part of it. Now, on to the good part...
This is set in a somewhat ambiguous timeline. The only sure thing is that it happens AFTER Objects in Space, but BEFORE the movie, and we're going to say that the Tams have been on the ship for quite some time now. It gave River's age as 17, but we're all going to agree that she's had at least one birthday since then, so she can't be looked at as a troubled 'kid.' Also, for some of these ships/conversations, the movie has to be ignored. Serenity made a few ships canon that just aren't contained in this fic. It's got MY favorite ships instead...
Gifts and Good-byes
It felt good to be setting foot on the ground again after nearly eight straight weeks in the air. Their last job had gone belly-up mid-heist, when they received a wave from their buyer. It seemed that at the slightest hint of pressure from a passing Alliance cruiser. He no longer wanted the contraband cattle feed, and most unfortunately of all, he had been overheard when he sent the wave.
So that meant they had so sit on the feed for weeks before they found anyone willing to take it off their hands. It was as if the Alliance had nothing better to do with their time and ships than patrol ranches and cattle breeding facilities. Any gorram piece of rock in the verse with more than one sad cow on it had been searched over, and most of the locals had been frightened off. Mal had dropped the price a few credits and had to fly out to Whitefall before he had a taker. It was the first time in a long while that he'd tried to deal with Patience, but it seemed that she's learned a lesson after the last time she'd tried to cross him, and she came to the drop point with just one other man, driving a Mule to carry the feed.
But it was still enough of a take that they were now set down on a planet much closer to the Core, purchasing supplies and fixin to take on passengers for a real, legitimate job. Mal breathed in the fresh, planet air and crossed his arms. Zoe and Wash had taken the Mule to the marketplace; Kaylee had skipped off to the junk yard the second the airlock doors slid back. Simon had gone to see if there was a place he could purchase medical supplies. Book had taken it upon himself to do Kaylee's usual job of finding passengers, and Inara had left the second they were planet-side to see a client. She was being extra secretive about this one, and Mal figured it had something to do with her decision to leave Serenity for good. He couldn't say he was too rightly pleased about that news, but it would give him a certain peace of mind what with her being out of the way of their criminal activities.
Even River was busy, locked in Simons berth coloring in a book. Last Mal had checked, she was frantically coloring all the people's faces a lovely shade of fuchsia. As he looked in on her, she looked up at him and smiled. 'Have to hide their feelings behind a mask,' she'd said. "Have to show an empty space for more.' Then, her features suddenly sharpening, she held up her pencil box. 'Simon says it's a waste to leave the false feelings and continue to replace the real ones,' she said in a more lucid voice than she'd been using before.
Mal had looked closer and realized that the box was full of colored pencils, at least 50 in total, but each one of them was the same bright purplish-pink that she was already using. Apparently, she didn't like that color, but Simon was refusing to purchase more until she'd used what she already had. Mal then understood what the loud argument had been about, back on Virhall before they'd stolen the feed. She'd spent at least forty-five minutes shouting about how a box had only one feeling.
'Best do as brother says,' he'd told her, and she blinked up at him, hair hanging limply. She frowned, and went back to her book.
And so it was that Mal found himself standing at the bottom of the ramp with nothing at all to do.
He looked out across the shipyards and uncrossed his arms. There weren't as many ships docked as he had expected, being so far in, but there were still plenty more than he felt comfortable with. He saw at least six old 10-04's, and even more of last year's 10-70's. There were a couple fancy new ships, belonging to what looked like rich tourists. Mal watched a couple of them climb off their ship, looking around, pointing, and taking pictures of what they obviously considered a very far-flung, backwater port. Surely they'd go home and tell their rich neighbors how positively rustic everything was, and how they'd really 'roughed it' on their vacation. Mal curled his lip and re-crossed his arms disgustedly. People like that were exactly why he didn't come to the Core.
Well, people like that and the increased number of Alliance soldiers. He glanced upwards as an Alliance patrol ship flew over head. He had to remind himself that they were here on legal business as he instinctively sucked in a breath at the sight of them.
Mal wanted to go and do something, stop in a bar or even browse through the goods at the market, but he's promised the doctor that he would wait until Book returned, so as not to leave River alone. After what seemed like hours to the impatient Captain, Book finally walked into view. He had no passengers that Mal could see, but he looked pleased enough and carried a small box.
"Afternoon, Preacher. I see that you've booked us a very tiny passenger for this trip." Mal rocked back on his heels and pretended to consider it for a moment, before continuing. "It might cause a few difficulties, what with all of the stairs and gratings and what not all scattered about."
Book laughed heartily, "I'm sorry, Captain. I haven't secured any clients yet, however I did program the screen with our flight plans and I checked around a bit and there's only one passenger ship that's going anywhere near where we are. I am hopeful that alone will endear a few travelers to us."
"Well, I will leave it to your very capable hands, and I will be off to busy myself about this fine port, taking in some of the local sights." Mal smiled and raised an eyebrow as he took a few steps away from the ship, backwards.
Book laughed again. "I'll be sure to let Simon know to be expecting a patient before nightfall."
"You're a good man, Shepard. A good man." Mal turned, and walked out of the shipyards.
Kaylee shifted the weight of the box of parts from one hip to the other as she stopped to look at the pretties in the marketplace. She was on the way back to the ship, and it was a few blocks out of the way, but she just couldn't resist stopping to look at all the beautiful things before heading back to her greasy engine room.
Her delicate fingers softly touched some shimmery purple taffeta that made up the bottom of a dress. The dress itself was something out of a fairy tale, with its layered skirts, corset bodice, and cap sleeves. Displayed next to it was a selection of wraps and purses, and in a glass lockbox was matching jewelry. Taking slow steps, Kaylee made her was down the table, longingly trailing her fingers across the merchandise. There were bottles of pink perfumes and hair bows and mirrored compacts with make-up inside. Kaylee loved getting all gussied up, but in her line of work, it wasn't something she did very often. Opening the lid of a lovely wooden music box, Kaylee remembered the last time she dressed up, to go with Cap'n to the ball on Persephone, but that had ended badly. She sighed.
"You gonna stand there all day, or what? We got places to be." Kaylee whirled around to see Jayne standing behind her, half-smiling and eating a pear. He scanned the table behind her and frowned. "Hell, girl, ain't nothing there worth havin anyhow. 'S all touristy go-se."
"But it sure is pretty." Kaylee ran the tip of her finger along the edge of the mirror inside of the open lid.
"But you're a ship's mechanic! You ain't got no call for girly frippery."
"Mechanic or no, sometimes it's still nice to be girly." Kaylee sighed, and closed the lid of the box. "Still, I'd best be gettin back to Serenity. I got some parts need lookin to before we set off again." She smiled up at him, but there was a sadness in her voice and her eyes that hadn't been there before.
She turned and walked off. Jayne watched her disappear into the crowd as he shifted the weight of the canvas bag he'd been carrying higher up on his shoulder. He just didn't understand girls.
"Do you like the red ones better, or the blue?"
"But honey! C'mon, they're great!"
No they're not," Wash whined plaintively as he held up two different Hawaiian print shirts. One was red with large palm trees and the other was a dark blue with a light blue pattern around the bottom that was meant to be water, and pattern of thick black lines that seemed to be whales. Wash loved these bright patterned shirts, but they were as far from Zoe's fashion preference as Inaras dresses were.
"Baby, just get them both and let's go."
"But we only budgeted for one. Just... Give me a minute to decide." Wash held them out at arms length and pressed his lips together.
"No, really. Get them both. I don't need this shirt, I'll be good with just the pants." Zoe hung a green top that she'd been holding onto a nearby rack, and grabbed both of the shirts from Wash. "I'll go on up and pay."
"No, let me." He took the shirts back from her, as well as the pair of black pants that she had hanging over her arm. "Why don't you go on and pick up the protein bars and I'll meet you back at the Mule?" He smiled at her, and she agreed.
As she walked away, Wash thought to himself about how gorram lucky he was that such a wonderful woman wanted to be with him.
Simon gave the man behind the counter the number of the slot where Serenity was docked. The man, a representative for the local pharmacy, punched a few buttons on an order pad, and then stuck the whole pad to a metal strip along the back wall. "All of those items are currently in-stock, so as soon as our transport returns, we'll have this loaded up and delivered. Jasin should be back in...oh," the man paused to glance at the time, "twenty minutes or so. I would expect your order to arrive between 4 and 5 pm today."
"That's perfect." Simon smiled disarmingly at the man. He had forgone his usual manner of dress today and was wearing the traditional white coat of a physician over top of a pair of Wash's beat up khaki pants and a dark long-sleeved shirt from Jayne. They both had an ill-fit, but that lent itself very well to the image of a doctor from a poor town that he was trying to pull off. He wanted t distance himself as far as possible from the wanted photos of the clean-cut young man in the fitted, designer suits.
This close to the Core, he was very afraid of being recognized, but he just didn't feel okay with sending a list of necessary supplies along with Wash and Zoe. He trusted them not to forget, but if the list was lost, or the pharmacy was out of some of the things, or there were some new medicines available, they wouldn't know what to purchase.
"Very good," said the rep, as he subtly motioned towards a credit machine on the edge of the counter. Clearly he expected Simon to be paying with Alliance Credits, but Simon instead pulled out a pouch of platinum. He counted out the pieces, and dropped them on the counter. Taking his receipt from the man, Simon walked out the door and squinted into the bright sunlight. It was completely cloudless over the city today and the wide blue sky beckoned. It was strange, he thought to himself, how entirely Serenity had become home to River, and he never could deny her anything. There were so many backwater little worlds that he could have found a place on, found patients on, and made a new life for himself, but River would be heartbroken, so he stayed.
The one person who made life on the small ship was Inara, the Companion, and just last night she confirmed to Simon that she was in fact leaving for good. She had been thinking about it for the past few months and had found a rich gentleman here on Heras whom she had known in the past. He had been searching for a Companion to be exclusive to him for quite a while now, and she was meeting him this morning to discuss the specifics of their contract. The night before when he and Book were helping her pack some of her belongings she had mentioned that she knew it was expected to be a five-year contract.
The floor momentarily dropped out of Simon's world at that point, and the richly colored draperies he was currently folding slid fluidly from his hands onto the floor. It was precisely that moment that he realized he was not in love with Kaylee like he had been beginning to think. Not that he was in love with Inara, no, that wasn't it at all, but he realized that his feelings for the Companion were exactly the same as the ones he felt for the mechanic. It was a friendship, pure and simple to most, but Simon had only really felt that was about River, when they were younger. At the moment, the relationship between himself and River was more like patient-caregiver than brother-sister, but that deep love for her was still there, ever-present.
And he had known that he felt some sort of love for Kaylee, and with his lack of experience with girls, and really, with people in general for the past several years since River went to that Academy, he misread them. He was not generally an emotional person, but there were times that it just struck him, clear as the sky over Heras.
So it was definitely with a heavy heart that Simon began the trek back across town to the ship, where he fully expected to spend the rest of the day caring for his younger sister and helping to pack up the remainder of the shuttle belonging to his best friend and confidant.
He slid his sunglasses onto his face to shield his eyes from the bright sun and crossed the street. He had bent to retrieve the drapes he had dropped in Inara's shuttle, but she had seen already, and though she kept her silence until Book had excused himself to get some dinner, Simon didn't miss her glances. 'Are you all right, Simon?' She'd asked him when they were alone. 'I can tell that something has been bothering you.'
'I'm sorry, Inara. I wanted to make your last days with us as nice as possible, but... I'm really going to miss you. I just realized how I felt for you.'
Inara had recoiled at that, shock splashed across her delicate features. Simon! I... I just don't know what to say, I-'
'What? Oh, OH! No, I'm sorry, that came out wrong! I didn't mean that I was feeling like that, I just meant that I've come to see you as a very close friend, and I'm going to miss having you here to talk to.' Inara had sighed in relief and pressed her hand to her heart.
'I'm so glad we're on the same page with this. As many years as I've been living in this shuttle, I rarely interacted with the paying passengers until the day you came aboard. Sometimes in my position, people have certain expectations of how one should act and be at all times, and it takes much time before I can really be myself and be at ease with someone, and know that they're not expecting anything of me. I really feel quite comfortable with you, Simon, and I wanted to thank you for that before I left.'
'It should really be me thanking you. The Captain and the others are all good people, a bit rough around the edges, but still, good at heart, but they're such a tightly knit group that it's hard to become part of it. Kaylee is very sweet, and tried her best to let me in, but I know that I won't be able to have a real connection with her because my feelings for her don't match what hers are for me.'
'Give it time. Kaylee is young, and very much boy-crazy, and you're the fresh face. Soon enough the novelty will wear off and she'll realize that she doesn't love you like she thinks she might.' Simon bit his lips. 'Oh, Simon! I'm sorry, that came out a bit insulting. I didn't mean it to sound like you weren't worth having, just that... You and Kaylee aren't a match, and she'll realize it on her own. But I, on the other hand, have already realized exactly what you are to me, and that is a wonderful friend. I'm going to miss you, Simon Tam, and I would like to extend an invitation for you to visit me every time you are on Heras and for you to send me a wave whenever you feel like it.'
I will, thank you. And please, whenever you find yourself without something better to do, send me a message.' They smiled and hugged and packed a bit more, chatted easily, and after about an hour, they parted ways. Inara went to join Book, and Simon needed to tend to River once more before turning in for the night.
When Simon awoke the next morning, Inara had already left for her meeting, and Simon had needed to see Wash about borrowing some clothes.
On the street now, he faded well into the crowds after removing his doctor's coat. Ordering the new medical supplies had taken far less time than he expected, so he decided to take a look around the town.
Passing a few shops, browsing a bit at a few stands, Simon almost felt like the carefree boy he had once been. No one gave him a second look, he wasn't participating in some sort of criminal misadventure, and he wasn't actively running for his life. Even with his friends' departure, things were beginning to look up.
Nearing the far end of what seemed to be the shopping district, Simon spotted a window display that remained him of Inara, and he stopped to consider it for a moment. He sure was going to miss her when she was gone.
Wash and Inara were just pulling back up on the Mule when Mal arrived back at the ship. Book was standing on the ramp with Kaylee, who was cheerfully talking to a few passengers aboard. There was a family this time, two children, their parents, and their grandmother. The other passenger was an older man, who had told Kaylee that he was on his way to live with his daughter.
They carefully loaded all the supplies, and after giving the passengers the timetable for departure, Mal made his way up towards Inara's shuttle. She had returned sometime while he was gone. On the way, he passed Jayne, who was leaning on the railing looking down into the cargo bay. "Jus' ain't right, Cap'n, flyin with kids onboard. Downright ominous, if ya ask me."
"Well, it's a good thing we didn't ask, then. They're payin passengers, and we ain't got no stolen goods onboard to worry about. Besides, they ain't gonna be with us for but a week, and Alliance soldiers don't like to detain kids. It's bad publicity they avoid if they can."
"I still don't like it. Kids underfoot, makin noise. Don't set right with me." Jayne shook his head and stepped back from the railing. "I'd best go make sure all my things is secured. Kids get into everything."
Mal nodded, and after Jayne walked off, he continued on to Inara's shuttle. As was his habit, he knocked once and walked in without waiting for a response. After two steps, he stopped dead. Inara's things were all gone, packed into trunks or folded carefully. Light flooded into the shuttle from the windshield, which was normally curtained off from the main living area. And standing right in the center of the room was Inara herself, with her arms wrapped around the young doctor.
Mal was taken aback. He knew that the two of them had become friends, but he hadn't realized that it was anything more. He also expected that he would have been more upset about Inara taking up with someone than he was, or that he would've been angry with Simon. But it was almost as if it didn't matter to him at all.
He must have made some sort of noise or something, because a second after he walked in, the two of them sprang apart. "Mal!" Inara said. "I didn't realize you had returned."
"No, I expect you didn't. And it seems that you have some news to share with me?" Mal motioned to the two large trunks and the pile of curtains by the couch.
Inara paused for a moment, gathering her resolve, and then said, "Yes, I do have some news. I have taken a position here on Heras. I am to be exclusive to Dr. Daniel Hannahs. His transport will be arriving within the hour to load the remainder of my things. It has been a very...interesting adventure, renting this shuttle from you, as well as a good business plan, however as I spoke with you about previously, I feel that my time here must come to an end. Dr. Hannahs is quite respectable, and I have had dealings with him in the past. He is very kind and you will be happy to know that he did not take part in the Unification movement."
Inara stopped herself from speaking. She was nearly babbling, she knew, and that went against all of her training as a Companion. She didn't even know why she felt that it was so important for her to make Mal like Dr. Hannahs. They would probably never even meet.
"If you're looking for me to give my blessing for Dr. Hannahs, then you can have it."
"I'm not," Inara replied, but inside, it was as a weight had been lifted. She had certainly wanted to part on good terms.
"You just be careful, because I've seen these deals go south right quick before. If you need anything, let me know, and if I can provide it, I will. I'll just umm, I'll go and see about your security deposit."
"You can send it to me whenever is convenient. I'm in no hurry."
"I don't want you to go off with me owing you something. I wouldn't feel right about it."
"That's fine Mal." The three of them stood in an awkward circle for a few moments until Simon finally excused himself to go check on River.
After he left, Mal said, "If you've been seeing the doctor, you could have just told me. I can handle a woman who's not interested in me."
"I've not been seeing Simon. He's a good friend, and that's all."
"Yeah, it looked real friendly when I walked in."
"Well you won't have to worry about walking in on anything anymore, will you." Inara crossed her arms and glared at Mal. She had to struggle to repress the urge to stick her tongue out at him. There was just something about this man that made her act like she was eight years old again.
"No, I won't!" With that, Mal turned and walked out of the shuttle, slamming the door behind him.
He stalked down the catwalk and turned to go up the steps towards his own cabin. 'Damn that woman!' he thought to himself, 'Damn her and her uppity ways, thinks she's too good for us.'
He pushed the door inwards and climbed down the ladder to his room. On the ground again, he kicked the wall, and swore in Chinese.
"I don't think Dr. Hannahs would appreciate you speaking of his mother in such a way." Mal spun around, hand on his pistol, to see River sitting in his desk chair.
"Gorramit, girl! Are you tryin to get yourself shot? What are you doing here?"
"Simon is upset."
"I expect Simon is often upset, what with his delicate sensitivities and all." Mal re-snapped his holster and moved further into the room as River giggled at his comment. "What did he say?"
"He said nothing, but I can see that his color is goldenrod."
'Goldenrod?' Mal thought to himself. "What's so bad about goldenrod? Gold is always good, and I always figured yellow on bein a happy color."
"It's sallow and jaundiced. Simon should be cobalt, constant and uniform. But he's not blue, he's goldenrod." River climbed out of the chair and walked towards Mal. "He's not in love with Inara. He feels for her the same as you feel, and the same as he feels for Kaylee."
He frowned at her as she twisted the sleeves of her sweater around her wrists. "I thought Kaylee and Simon were sweet on each other. His hug with Inara threw me for a loop, right enough, but I'm sure there was something between the other two."
"She thinks much of my brother, but his feelings for her are not of the same color."
"So what color are they?"
"Umber, raw, rich and compatible, but not like family. Kaylee has scarlet, fast-burning and quick. Won't last. Will fade to burnt if time allows."
Mal thought on that a moment, and decided that he understood what River was implying. Any idiot could see that Kaylee had eyes for the doctor, but that it wouldn't last. "What color are Simon's feelings for Inara?"
"Umber, burnt. Rich and comforting, deep." Mal considered this for a moment.
"What color are Zoe and Wash?"
"Crimson and spring green. For long, slow burning, forever-lasting, and the potential for new life." River smiled up at him at this last part, and bit her lip. If she listened to the Captains mind, she could hear him processing the meaning of new life, and how it came about. Him thinking of the act of making new life left her feeling breathless, silver and scarlet. She turned away and stepped further into the room to put a bit of distance between them, causing the strange colors to leave the front of her mind. She abruptly changed the subject. "The large one is olive. Simple in his happinesses, and dark, but not dark enough to be bad."
Mal sat on the edge of the bed and looked up at her as she spoke about Jayne. She had another flash of scarlet, and continued speaking, but in a slightly higher voice than before. "The Shepard is grey, shrouded and mysterious. I cannot see any changes there, only moving mists."
"So Shepards got some way to hide things in his mind, even from a reader like you?"
"But you can see the 'colors' of everyone else?"
"Most of the time, yes. The colors are nice. I don't like the screaming, but the colors are beautiful." Her voice had taken on a dreamy quality as she thought about the colors, and taking advantage of her momentary lapse in concentration, Mal reached into his pocket and pulled out a slim package.
"What about the false color in your pencil box?"
Rivers eyes narrowed and her voice took on a low, dangerous tone. "It remains."
"Then you'd best add these to it," Mal said, and handed the box to her. Opening it slowly, she discovered a whole new set of colored pencils, with the despised fuchsia removed and discarded.
She squealed, and without thinking, threw herself at the Captain and hugged him in thanks. As soon as she realized that the silver and scarlet had returned to her mind, she pulled back, but she saw that the midnight blue of the Captain had also been brushed with the scarlet.
As odd as she talked and acted, as disjointed as her conversations with others were, River was still a young woman who wanted and needed and understood the same things as other women. In fact, she understood much, much more, and as it were, she could see without a doubt what the Captain was about to do.
And she let him.
River was nowhere to be found, so Simon made his way back to Inara's shuttle, carrying a bag. It was a pretty pink bag, and the girl at the shop had tied a shiny white ribbon on the handles to close it.
He was quite pleased with the purchase, and couldn't wait to give it to Inara. He entered her shuttle without knocking, as the door was already open. He was shocked to find it completely bare now, when before it had still contained a few trunks, drapes, and a whole couch. Dr. Hannah's men must have come while he was searching for River.
Simon's shoulders sagged. He missed her. He was too late to say goodbye.
He stood and looked at the empty room for a moment longer, and then turned to go. He could always box up the wrap and mail it to her, but he had really wanted to say his farewells in person.
He stepped out of the door, and from sheer force of habit, he pulled it shut behind him.
"I thought I might find you here," said a smiling Inara. "I'm all loaded up, but I didn't want to miss saying goodbye. Kaylee and Shepard Book are waiting in the Bay, but I couldn't find you or River. I thought you would be in the infirmary."
"I went there, but I couldn't find River either. Certainly, she's tucked away somewhere, hiding. It's always harder for her to concentrate when we're grounded. Too many people around. She's much happier in the black."
"You'll figure it out, Simon. You're a very smart boy. If anyone in the 'verse can help her, it's you."
"Thank you for saying it, but most times, I don't know if I'm even looking in the right direction." Simon looked at the floor for a moment, and then gave himself a mental shake. "But what am I doing, whinging on about myself when I came to tell you good bye? I have something for you."
"For me? Oh, Simon! You didn't have to!"
"I know," he said as he handed her the bag. "I just...wanted you to have something solid to remember me by."
"That's so sweet, but you know I would remember you anyway," she replied. She untied the ribbons and pulled the tissue-paper wrapped parcel out. The layers of paper fell away to reveal a beautiful silk wrap, hand-dyed with a pattern that resembled the sari Inara was wearing. It had beading along the bottom edge and a delicate silver pin to secure it. "CHINESE WORDS, it's beautiful!"
Shepard Book came around the corner. "Inara, your escorts are packed and ready to depart."
"I'm on my way." Turning back to Simon, she pulled him into a tight embrace. "Thank you, Doctor Tam. I will miss your company. You are a wonderful friend and I love you. Goodbye."
"I do love you, too, and I fear you won't have time to miss me because I'll be sending you messages soon enough. Now you should go. You don't want to keep Dr. Hannah's men waiting. Goodbye." He released her, and stepped back.
With one last smile, she followed Book down the short corridor into the Cargo Bay. He had waited for her at the top of the stairs, and they walked down together. "I wanted to be sure to wish you luck and happiness for your future. I have a small parting gift for you, and I see the young doctor was thinking along the same lines." Book nodded at the small bag Inara carried.
"Yes, he was." She slid it onto her wrist as she accepted the carved wooden box that the preacher was holding out towards her.
She stepped carefully down the first few stairs as she lifted the lid of the box and was quite pleased to discover a cache of dried chamomile. That particular plant was used for both teas and medicines, which were both part of a Companions duties, and it was getting difficult to find. Chamomile was hard to grow on many of the terraformed planets, and it did not grow on this particular one. "Book, this must have been difficult to find! You really didn't have to go to the trouble."
"Nonsense, Inara. There is an order here on Heras that I have visited before. An old acquaintance of mine is there, and I happened to remember that he cultivated chamomile, as a hobby. I took a chance, going out there to see if he had any to spare."
"And I certainly thank you for it, and I thank your friend."
Having reached the bottom of the stairs, Inara re-latched the wooden box and slid it inside Simon's bag to rest within the folds of the wrap. She clasped Books hands in her own, and said her goodbyes to him.
"I know that my lifestyle is not something you are comfortable with, Preacher, but you have been able to look past it to see me, Inara, instead of just the Companion exterior, and for that I will be forever grateful. If you ever stop to visit your friends at the Order, please feel free to stop and see me as well. I'll make you some chamomile tea!" She smiled up at him.
"You are a wonderful woman, and have been an asset to this crew. I am sure you will be very happy with Dr. Hannahs, who my friends in the Order assure me is a very upstanding man. The very next time we make port at Heras, I will send you a wave."
"I look forward to it." She gave him a quick hug and pulled back as Wash stepped forward.
"Your chariot awaits, milady." He made a low, comical bow and extended an arm towards Dr. Hannahs transport. Behind him, Zoe stifled a grin.
After quick goodbyes to Wash and Zoe, and a tearful hug with Kaylee, Inara climbed aboard the hovercraft and left.
Zoe pulled back the comforter of their queen-sized bed as Wash changed into sleeping pants. "It's weird," he said suddenly.
Zoe lifted her eyebrow and looked at him. "Care to elaborate on that?"
Wash shrugged and sat on the bed beside her. "Inara being gone. She's been a part of this ship as long as I have."
"She might've been on the ship with us, but she was never really part of the crew."
"I know." Wash fidgeted for a moment. All around them, the ships engines thrummed comfortingly. "Oh, I almost forgot! I was going to show you which shirt I ended up getting."
"Which one? I thought you were getting them both?"
"I was going to, but then I started thinking about how amazing you would look with this one." Wash reached into the bag from the clothing store, and pulled out the green shirt that Zoe had been eyeing earlier that day. "The way it would hug those delectable curves? Wow!"
"You are the best husband." Zoe smiled at him. "Wanna show me which curve is your favorite?" She eyed him naughtily as she reached to turn off the light.
"Oh, hell yeah," Wash grinned, as he tossed the shirt to the floor, forgotten for the time being.
Kaylee tossed the greasy ratchet into her battered old toolbox and stretched. She'd been sitting cross-legged on the floor of the engine room tinkering with the new parts. Three or four of them were already installed into Serenity's works, but the rest of them had needed a bit of tweaking and shining up first.
Brushing her hair back from her forehead, she patted the oxygen sensor and was rewarded with a twitch of the needle. Kaylee smiled. It was like Serenity was talking back to her.
"G'night girl. Keep true and I'll see to you tomorrow." She flipped off the lights and made her way down the darkened hall towards the crew quarters. Stopping in the mess hall for a light snack, she could hear a child crying from the passengers' room. Kaylee unzipped the top half of her coveralls and tied the arms around her waist, revealing the yellow tank top underneath. It was too hot in the halls. She'd have to fix the heaters tomorrow. She hoped it was just the halls and not the bedrooms, too. She couldn't sleep when it was hot, and Cap'n had said she wasn't allowed to sleep without a stitch anymore, especially when they had passengers, ever since that incident where the gravity regulators went out in the middle of the night.
Kaylee giggled as she remembered the look on Wash's face when he'd floated down the hallway to see if he could help out.
As she was finishing her pear, the child stopped crying and she could barely make out the soft sounds of a lullaby. The mother was singing her baby back to sleep.
Kaylee's giggles turned into sighs. She missed her family fiercely, and she knew that at 23, if she'd stayed home, she'd likely have had a husband and a baby of her own by now. Maybe more than one baby. That was the way of it where she was from. Girls married young, and families were large. She herself had several brothers, but was the only daughter. It had irritated her mother to no end when she became so interested in machines, and space travel.
She tossed the remains of her snack into the trash and continued down the dark halls to her room. Pushing in the door, she put a booted foot on the top rung of her ladder and started to climb down when she heard something.
Small, tinny notes rang out through the hall, echoing off of the metal walls.
Kaylee put her foot back on the ground and stepped towards where the music was coming from. She squinted a bit, but couldn't make anything out.
The simple song tugged at her memories; a sense of deja vu washed over her. She'd heard that song recently, but couldn't quite place it.
"River?" Kaylee guessed, but somehow knew that it wasn't the other girl.
"Not even close," came a familiar voice from the shadows. Stepping away from the wall where he'd been leaning in an alcove was Jayne. Held in front of him, top open and mirror dull from the lack of light, was the music box she'd been admiring in the market place that morning. The tiny ballerina spun around in her tiny mesh skirt.
"Jayne," Kaylee said, shocked.
"I got to feelin funny about what I said to you today, how you don't have a need for girly go-se." He shrugged and passed the box to her. "Got to thinkin how pretty you looked when you got gussied up and went to that dance. Got to thinking that..." Jayne pressed his lips together and started again. "Got to thinking how much I like knowing that you're a girl."
He reached forward and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Smiling, he noticed that his finger had traced a grease smudge and realized that she'd been pushing back that same lock all night.
At his touch, Kaylee felt butterflies in her stomach. "Maybe I should get rid of this uniform and remind you again."
Jayne gave her a devilish half-grin. Without warning, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to him sharply. Her cry of surprise was quickly drowned out when he captured her lips with his. She slid the fingers of her free hand around the back of his neck and entwined them in his hair.
When he pulled back a moment later, she said, "Lemme put this in my room, and I'll meet you in yours."
"Hell, girl, let's just use yours." He began to place kisses along her jawline, and Kaylee has a quick vision of the tough, rugged mercenary in her bed, right next to where her ball gown from Persephone was hanging, and she had to stifle a giggle.
"Mine's so small, though, and I wanted to change outta this grease monkey outfit, maybe put on something girly, and- Oh!" She half-screamed when Jayne suddenly hoisted her over his shoulder and walked down the hall. He turned the corner, kicked open his own door, and set her on her feet.
"You don't need no fancy outfit to look girly to me. I can see it already, plain as day. Now climb," he ordered her, and with a saucy toss of her ponytailed hair, she did. He slid down the ladder right behind her, not even bothering to use the rungs, and slammed the door with a bang.
Yay! This is my first finished Firefly/Serenity fic, and I think it turned out pretty okay. I know it's not really in character for everyone, and it's un-betaed (so there might be errors that I just can't see), but I enjoyed playing around a bit. Review please, and tell me what you think!