Prologue

Funny thing was, he hadn't even been looking for a renter. Of course he'd said he'd been, later, but it wasn't the case. When Kaylee'd first walked through Serenity's hatch off of Persephone, the woman with the long-lashed doe-eyes and black locks (where most folk just had hair) almost floating ahead of her, it'd not been on his mind in the least. Fact of the matter was renters'd always struck him as more trouble than they were worth. Passengers were one thing. Even if they were trouble, it was trouble of a temporary kind. And if the trouble became too mighty, they could always be deposited before their destination. Plenty of other folk out there willing to give them a ride for coin, after all. No, renters were a different breed; they were permanent-like. Not long on board and they started thinking they were crew. Poking into things they got no business poking into. Botching jobs. And that's when some were liable to get hurt. No, renters weren't for the likes of Serenity. Only ones belonged on Serenity were her family.

But then there was little Kaylee, walking up Serenity's gangplank grinning like a cat just eaten a canary, nodding and gesturing at the vision of a woman whose lashes fell slowly to her cheeks as Kaylee yammered, words coming out a mile a minute. "Miss Serra, this here's Malcolm Reynolds, cap'n of Serenity. Cap'n, this here's Miss Inara Serra. She's lookin' to rent that shuttle."

He crossed his arms across his chest, cocked an eyebrow, and smirked at the girl. "And just which shuttle might that be, Miss Kaylee?"

From behind the stranger, Kaylee was making desperate little gestures: she pursed her lips and tugged on an earlobe, rocked back and forth a bit on her feet, cleared her throat. "You know, Cap'n — that shuttle. The one you were lookin' to rent." A beat. "You know. That shuttle."

He couldn't help but grin at the antics of his mechanic, but it did nothing to change the fact that he had no intention of renting a shuttle. He looked admiringly over the doe-eyed, long-locked, red-lipped woman, bedecked in her finery. "Miss... Serra, was it, if you'll excuse me? I'd like to have a word with Kaylee here."

Her lashes batted once in consent, and then her eyes were raking over Serenity's innards. Not in a way he took offense at: no, no, she seemed pleased by his girl. It left a slight smile on his lips as he watched her watching the ship. When he looked down at Kaylee, she was still grinning that cat-n-canary grin.

"I'n't she pretty, Cap'n?"

He rolled his eyes upward and shook his head. "Yes, she's pretty, Kaylee. But I don't rent out my shuttles, either of 'em, and particularly not on account of the renter bein' pretty. You know that as well as the next."

Kaylee pushed her lips out in a pout, her hands on her hips. "Aw, but Cap'n. Can't she stay? Just think about me! All alone on this great big ship without a soul to talk to about..." She nodded. "You know, personal things and the like, and here she is, a real, flesh-and-blood, bona fide Companion. Think about all the stories she'll be able to tell me! And all the advice she'll have for me!"

"Kaylee, it's not as if she's a puppy that you can just bring in from the cold 'cause it be amusin' to you." He quirked an eyebrow. "And no, you can't have a puppy, neither." He shot a glance over toward the woman, who walked around the edges of Serenity's cargo hold, gazing up at her catwalks, something a tad wistful in her eye. He shook his head again. "'Sides, what's Zoe good for if not for your girl-talk?"

Kaylee stamped her foot. "Oh, Zoe don't know the first thing 'bout bein' a girl, Cap'n. Please? Can't you leastways show her around?" She tilted her head and gave a sly smile. "Who knows, maybe you'll even like her."

His sigh was all full of drama, but he was smiling underneath it all. Wouldn't hurt none to show the woman around, he estimated. Not often one had the chance to enjoy the company of those that think they're better'n one, anyway. And showing her the shuttle didn't mean renting it to her. "A Companion, you say?"

The girl nodded enthusiastically. "I told her you had other folks interested. Made it sound s'if we were real anxious to let it out. Try to give a nice sales pitch, won't ya?"

And that was that. He'd shown her the shuttle. She'd insulted her size. He'd insulted her profession. She'd put out her fancy arguments about him needing respectability, which would've been more convincing if he'd wanted a tenant at all, and refused his price, which would've been more clever if he hadn't quoted her a figure twice what he reckoned she was worth. In the end, she conjured it right. He wanted her — on his ship. She — and her smart mouth, and her doe eyes, and whatever in the 'Verse she was running from — would give him something to think on. And sometimes a man needs something to think on.

She never asked him about renters past or future; and it would be some time before he figured precisely what she was doing running.


"Cap'n, why don't you reckon she never told us?"

"That's somethin' I couldn't tell you, little Kaylee."