Jayne fashioned the boxes out of wood but the women did the rest. Simon smiled wryly to himself as he thought of what his father would say. Just women's work, son, as though it had less value somehow than what men did.

So he leaned against the railing of the catwalk over the cargo bay, Mal on one side and Jayne on the other, not speaking, and watched as Zoë lifted each of Wash's pale limbs in turn and gently wiped them with a soapy cloth, the steam rising from it as if it mattered now one way or the other whether the water was hot or cold.

They could hear her humming a soothing tune, her face carrying its usual expression – that is to say, unreadable – but with an otherworldly energy all around her that the three men standing on the catwalk could feel. The rest of Serenity's women had the same energy too, Kaylee and Inara and River, as they tended to Book and Mister Universe.

Inara lined each coffin with lengths of white satin she had pulled out of a storage chest in her shuttle. Then Kaylee placed a hand-embroidered pillow that she had sewn into each one so they could rest their heads. When the unmoving men had been washed and tenderly enfolded in their winding sheets, leaving only their faces visible, and placed inside the containers, River sprinkled them with dried flowers and herbs she had collected, and finally the lids were lifted into place waiting for Jayne to nail them down.

There was a pause in the activity as the four women finished their work and silently communed with the dead, and after the moment had passed, Jayne turned to Simon and Mal and said, "If any one o' them there angels takes it upon herself to lay me out when my time comes, I'd consider myself a very lucky man," and the doctor and the captain solemnly nodded in agreement.