Disclaimer: So completely Joss Whedon. Who else could have thought up cowboys in space and done it so well? I ask you.
In the episode Out of Gas, I noticed that Inara already seems pretty sold on Serenity when Mal first shows her the shuttle. And, apparently, even his insults aren't enough to change her mind. This is a little extension of that, an attempt to explain, from Inara's perspective, just how Serenity and the crew won her over so completely.
I've stolen Serenity's specifications here from the Role Playing Game handbook and from fireflywiki. Sure, she's a midbulk transport, standard radion-accelerator core, class code 03-K64 Firefly, but is that ever a mouthful (wink at River).
Trivia! First Impressions was actually the original name of Jane Austen's very famous novel Pride and Prejudice. It has a lot of parallels, I think, with Mal and Inara's relationship, though the roles are kind of reversed. And now that I've exceeded my girliness quota for, oh, about forever, on with the story.
As she made her appearance, a vision of perfection haloed by black curls in an ornate gown, the steely composure and mild impatience she had been studying slipped for a moment. He was a lost cause. "Captain Reynolds," she smiled beatifically, carefully concealing her satisfaction as he blinked blue eyes at her, impressed despite himself.
"Miss Serra," he returned, recovering with remarkable quickness, his nod all business. It was too late; she already knew that she would have complete control over this meeting. She expected for him to help her down the steps of the hover limo, to offer his arm or a flirtation. "Shall we?" he asked instead, and tipped his brunette head in the direction of a somewhat battered looking hunk of metal across the berth from them. He strode away without waiting for her.
Of all the arrogant…! As though she was supposed to just follow him! She debated leaving right then, but when the hún dàn paused and looked back with all-too-innocent curiosity at her lack of progress, she huffed internally and hurried to fall into step beside him. She might as well actually see the shuttle she'd come to look at.
The captain swept an arm out to his ship, running his fingers over its shape and missing the feel of bulkheads as they continued towards it. "Her name's Serenity," he informed her, with reverent pride. "Aught 3 Firefly, rated about speed class 4. If you rent one of her shuttles, she'll become plenty familiar."
"Firefly," she repeated, trying the term as she contemplated Serenity. Blocky, she critiqued, a bird-like gooseneck grafted incongruously to the posterior bulbous engine that lit up and gave the model its name. The hull was dust-covered, pitted, and discoloured. She saw all of this, but also saw, concealed underneath the roughness, something handsome. Captain Reynolds wasn't wrong in his address; Serenity was a lady, beautiful in her own way. "I didn't know they were still made."
"No," he replied, "but a classic don't go out of style. About 40,000 still around." They had reached the airlock by now, were stepping up the ramp. The cargo bay barely looked space-worthy, even dirtier than the outside, with tubing and cables and utilitarian grating everywhere. Some of her thoughts must have been clear on her face, because Serenity's owner felt the need to add, "They're reliable, and I do speak from experience."
Inara refrained from comment; antagonizing the man wouldn't help any. "I've ridden mostly on luxury cruisers," she explained. His expression suggested her comment was rather obvious as he pointedly eyed her silks, and she straightened her spine at the accusation she perceived. "Speaking of reliable, as a Companion, my clients would expect a certain degree of punctuality."
He shrugged dismissively. "Serenity's a transport ship. We ain't fast as some fancy clipper, but our job is gettin' cargo to our buyers in a timely manner. If you can work with our shipping schedule, we can work with you. 'Sides, I got this pilot and this mechanic…" The captain trailed off, glancing over towards the catwalk, and she was surprised to see him smile in affectionate amusement. He stepped disconcertingly close to whisper in her ear, and she found herself frozen. "Well, you're about to meet them. Fair warning, Kaylee's been a mite excitable over your visit." He raised his voice, mercifully stepping away and leaving Inara to wonder over her reaction to him. "Kaylee! If you hurt yourself I'm takin' recovery outta your pay!"
A brown-haired girl in grease smeared overalls and a riotously floral blouse was jumping stairs two at a time in her haste to reach them. "Just shiny, Cap'n!" she chirped, skipping to a stop in front of them. She turned admiring hazel eyes upon Inara and grew a slow, starstruck grin, bright as sunshine. "Wowie… Ain't you pretty! Ain't she pretty, Wash?"
The girl was followed at a more leisurely pace by a tall woman in armor with a dark complexion, her features stoic and wise. Her fingers were entwined with those of a jokester, fair colouration, in a painfully garish tropical shirt, shorts, and sandals. They were a study in contrasts, but at the question the man gazed at the amazon on his arm and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "Beautiful," he agreed, his eyes never leaving the woman, who gifted him with an indulgent smile.
Captain Reynolds intervened before the two most talkative members of his crew could get started. "Inara Serra, meet Kaylee, my mechanic." He gestured to the warrior woman, who reflexively had snapped to attention. "Zoë, my first mate."
"Not to mention my lovely wife," her husband put in eagerly. The captain glowered at him.
"And my pilot, Wash," he finished.
Wash hopped forward with unaffected good cheer and charm, shaking Inara's hand warmly with the one not occupied by Zoë. "Five minutes of Mal's presence and he hasn't scared you off? I think you may be a keeper!" She smiled at the compliment.
"Here for the shuttle?" The first mate guessed, which Inara confirmed. She accepted the answer silently as she examined the obvious signs of wealth and beauty, unreadable except for the warning in her eyes, directed at the captain.
The recipient of the look had the grace to act offended. "I am not scary," he muttered, disgruntled, scowling at his first mate and not his pilot. They ignored him.
"Oh, it's gotta be wonderful," breathed the tiny mechanic, "I betcha gussy up for dances and banquets and plays every night and the boys all fight just ta take ya." She clasped her hands dreamily at the thought.
There was a slight hesitation; the girl's crewmates seemed reluctant to interrupt whatever scenario her imagination was happily working on. "Maybe you can ask her later, 'lil Kaylee," Captain Reynolds eventually suggested, letting the girl down with a brotherly gentleness that Inara would never have expected of him. "No one's seein' any shuttles standing 'round here."
Kaylee wrinkled her nose at him but gave a resigned nod. "Won't keep you from my girl," she told the companion, apparently considering Serenity an important enough interruption. Inara had the distinct impression that, in Kaylee's case, the ship might be the only important enough interruption. "Gotta get back to makin' supper anyhow… Oh! Captain!" Her face lit up again at the idea, hopeful, pleading for permission.
"Maybe," he reaffirmed gruffly.
The girl found that a positive enough response, and bounced in place for one moment of unrestrained joy before she hurried back up the stairs.
"Zoë, see that she doesn't get carried away." Captain Reynolds shook his head fondly at his mechanic, feigning annoyance. His first mate complied with military efficiency, and her husband declared that, being the very picture of moderation, he could help. They were alone again, and Inara was feeling rather overwhelmed. Malcolm smirked somewhat self-consciously at her. "Well, Miss Serra, wha'dya say? Join us in the galley after for some fine protein dining?"
She was a lost cause.