Firefly, Serenity, and all series characters are copyright Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, Fox and Universal Studios. I claim no rights to any characters not of my own creation, and intend this story simply for the enjoyment if its readers.
"Tell us the story of when Grandpa Mal fought a Reaver bare-handed, Mama!" shouted the voice of a young girl.
"Aw, come on," complained a tired voice from the corner. "Ain't nobody on this boat wanna hear that story again.
"Humor 'em, Daddy," replied a silky voice from the dining table. "It's their favorite. 'Sides, I thought you loved relivin' the glory days of banditry, smugglin' and crazy passengers."
"Here we go again," Mal groaned. "It's always braggin' about my exploits, and makin' my crew out to be larger'n life. Just a buncha folk, 's all we were."
"Naw, Grampa Mal," piped in a small boy, perched comfortably on the old man's knee. "You were legendary pirates." The boy gave Mal a solemn look. "That's what Gramma always says."
"Well," replied Mal jovially, "who in the 'Verse am I to argue with your Gram?"
"Darn straight," stated the woman in question, as she walked smoothly into the common area. Looking at the little girl, the older woman stated seriously, "You oughta take note, 'Nara. A man needs to learn his place in the 'Verse, and it takes a strong woman to put him there." The woman smiled at Mal then, and continued, "Then, everything's shiny."
Kaylee's smile hadn't lost its luster, even after all the years and all the hardships. She could still light up a room simply with her presence. Mal and Kaylee had been together a long time, though it hadn't always been as lovers. For several years, she had been his mechanic, and his mei mei. They had never been looking for love together but, as things of that nature often do, close friendship had changed on its own into something stronger. It had taken tragedy to draw them together, but once they had realized their feelings for each other, they had stayed side-by-side through thick and thin.
"All right," the younger woman said to the children. "I'll string this one yarn, and then it's to bed with both your little carcasses!" After some minor, obligatory complaining noises, both children settled in for the story. "Many years ago," the young woman began, "before Grandpa Mal and Grandma Kaylee were married, a bigger crew manned this boat."
"Were you born yet, Mama?" the little boy cut in.
"No, Monty," the woman replied patiently, used to the routine, "same as last time I told this. I wasn't born til after. Now. There was your Grandpa, of course. He was the Captain of Serenity. Your Grandma was the ship's mechanic. There was a handsome doctor, and his sister was the pilot. Your Great-Aunt Zoe -"
"The one we never met?" asked the girl.
"The one you never met," her mother confirmed. "She was the first mate, and quite a warrior woman besides."
"Why wasn't Gramma the first mate?" Monty asked. "Grampas and Grammas should always be captains and first mates together."
"Just like ever other time you've heard this story," the woman answered, "they weren't Grandpa and Grandma back then. They were just Captain Mal and Kaylee. Now. There was also a strong and terrifying mercenary -" Mal snorted, as always, but the woman went on without missing a beat. "- named Jayne, and a beautiful Companion named Inara."
"That's my name!" the young girl piped in excitedly. The children knew this routine well, and rarely deviated from it when any story began this way.
"Yes, 'Nara, she's who you're named for." Her mother paused to compose her thoughts, making sure she had everything right in her mind before going on. If she missed anything, or got anything wrong, the children would angrily correct her, and getting them to bed in an orderly fashion would be but a dream. "That was the crew of Serenity back then, just tryin' to fly under the radar of the Alliance and make a livin' for themselves. And they did a fair job of it, as we're all livin' proof."
"Get to the Reavers, Mama," the little boy said excitedly. "That's the good part!"
"I'm gettin' there," the woman answered. "Now the whole crew was out on a job, all 'cept the doc and Inara, cuz their jobs weren't the same." At this point, the woman stared the children down until their urges for questioning subsided. "Meanwhile, your Grandma Kaylee was gettin' parts for the ship, and your Grandpa Mal, Jayne the mercenary, your Great-Aunt Zoe and the pilot, River, were across town, gettin' ready to pull a heist from the mansion of a very wealthy landowner."
"Stealin' for stealin's sake is wrong," Mal chimed in sternly, as he always did at this point in the story. "If'n you don't have a gorram good reason, you don't steal. Dong ma?" The children nodded solemnly as both women chided Mal for his language. They were always correcting his foul language, and he was always ignoring them. The children thought it was a grand game for the adults, who were busily rolling their eyes at each other.
"Anyhow," the young woman continued, "the doctor, Simon," at the mention of the name, Kaylee cringed, as she always did, "- had been on watch on the bridge."
"Is that who Uncle Simon's named for?" Inara asked.
"It's just a name," her grandmother was quick to inject, as she stood to leave the room.
"Continuing," their mother said. "He was waitin' for word that Grandma Kaylee, or Grandpa Mal and the crew, were coming back so's he could open the cargo bay doors for 'em. He was also watchin' for any alarms, so's he could warn everyone." Monty was practically bouncing on Mal's leg, his favorite part coming up. "Suddenly, the long range sensor started blarin', and the doctor saw that a ship with no core containment was incomin' on the settlement the crew was at."
"Reavers!" the boy on Mal's knee squealed gleefully.
"Yes," the woman replied gravely. "Reavers. Now the doc knew he had to get the crew aboard, and quick, but he couldn't fly the boat. So he called the crew and told 'em to high tail it back. But the Reavers were faster. They started comin' down all through the town." The children gasped theatrically. "Grandma Kaylee was the closest. The parts yard she was at was between the town and Serenity, so she just started runnin'. Doctor Simon was at the cargo ramp, watchin' and waitin' for any of the crew. He saw your Grandma comin' in with a group of Reavers on her tail, and they were gaining. So he took up arms, despite the doctor's creed of "Do No Harm," and he started pickin' off Reavers like he was a trained sharpshooter. Likely saved Grandma Kaylee's life that day."
"And I'm grateful he did," Mal interjected, tousling his grandson's hair. "Otherwise I wouldn't have had a bunch of little rugrats terrorizin' my ship all these years."
"Right heathens," Monty quoted, a label used by the adults on the ship for years.
"Shall I continue?" Mal's daughter asked. When prompted by two eager nods, she did. "Grandpa Mal and his crew were trying to make their way out of town, but it was getting harder and harder to dodge the Reaver patrols, who were like to snatch up anybody on foot and do terrifying things to them."
"Why weren't they in the mule?" Inara asked.
"It was broken," her grandfather answered. "We'd crashed into a pylon on our last job, tryin' to outrun an Alliance bounty hunter who was lookin' for our pilot." As the children's faces lit up, Mal hastily added, "But that's a story for another night. Go on, Tammy," he said to his daughter.
The young woman went on. "Just at the edge of town, about to make their break across open land to Serenity, a large group of Reavers happened upon the crew." The children gave another well-timed gasp. "Jayne, as terrified as he was of those horrible savages, bravely told your Grandpa and the others to get to the ship. 'I'll hold 'em off,' he said, 'until you can come back for me'." Mal winced at this, but Tammy went on. "The other three ran for the cargo ramp, which Doctor Simon and your Grandma were still defending. There were at least ten of 'em, and the ship was about to be overrun." Another gasp. "Grandpa Mal and Great-Aunt Zoe tried pickin' 'em off as they went, but the Reavers were fast, and more were comin' in every second. So the pilot, River, ran up behind one and snapped his neck. She took his sword and laid into the rest."
"She was a wonder," Mal said in remembered wonder. "Nobody could handle a blade like her, not even the Operative." When the children looked at him quizzically, he quickly amended, "Another story for another night."
"As the crew finally made the ramp, fighting for every inch, the doctor tripped and fell down." The children gasped again. "His sister stood over him, fightin' fiercely. She must'a taken down about eight Reavers right there before Grandma Kaylee could get to the controls and raise the ramp. One Reaver made it on the ship, though."
"Grampa's Reaver!" Monty shouted in excitement, yawning afterward.
"Yes," Tammy answered. "Grandpa's Reaver. He lunged at Grandma Kaylee, but Grandpa tackled him. They got to their feet, and Grandpa realized he'd lost his gun somewhere on the cargo bay floor. So instead of tryin' to run away, he ran straight at the savage man and started hittin' him with his bare fists."
"They say to never hit a man with a closed fist," Mal interjected. "I learned why that day – broke nearly every finger on my right hand." Mal shook his arthritic hand in remembered pain.
"The fight went on for a full minute, nobody able to get a clean shot at the Reaver cuz the two were so close together. Grandpa finally knocked the Reaver to the ground," his daughter continued. "But when he got up, he had a wickedly long knife he'd drawn from his boot." More gasps from the children. "He charged at your unarmed Grandpa, and surely would have done him harm, but Grandma Kaylee had found Grandpa's gun, and threw it to him just in time for Grandpa to make short work of the savage."
The children cheered. "That's when they flew back to pick up Jayne, right?" Inara asked sleepily.
"Right," Mal answered in a gruff voice. "We flew back and picked him up, and then hightailed it into the Black before the Reaver ship could catch us." Mal looked down at his lap for a moment, lost in his memories. "Story's over. Time for bed."
After minor complaints and many yawns, Mal helped Tammy herd the children to their beds in the passenger dorms. The two were nearly asleep before the adults could slide the rice paper doors shut.
"You know, some day we're gonna have to tell 'em the real story," Mal commented quietly, as he walked away from the passenger dorms with his daughter.
"What, you mean how their uncles Simon and Gabriel aren't your real sons?" she replied. "How you raised 'em cuz their real daddy and their Grandma Kaylee were lovers, and he knocked her up before gettin' killed by savages from the edge of space?" Mal was beginning to look uncomfortable, but his daughter continued. "How the three of us were named as some sort of lifelong penance you and Ma feel you have to pay? How your sweetheart couldn't be the pilot anymore, cuz she died defending her brother? How Jayne quit bein' your mercenary on account'a single-handedly holdin' off the Reavers to protect your retreat? How you didn't really go back for him?"
Mal could tell this conversation wouldn't end easily, so he grasped on to the one thing he could defend. "Hey, raisin' twins on a spaceship ain't no easy matter, I'll have you know. They're my sons, sure as the worlds spin. They may not share my blood, but I raised them same as you." Mal's tone softened. "Besides, the doc died protectin' your Ma. Don't you forget that. You have him to thank for bein' here today." Mal turned wistful as the two of them walked into the cargo bay. "You should'a seen the way he came chargin' outta the ship, guns blazin'. Weren't for him, she wouldn't'a made it aboard. There's brave men, and then there's Simon Tam. And Jayne Cobb, crazy bastard." They walked quietly for a moment. "He was dead before we made the ramp, or all those Reavers wouldn't'a been behind us in the first place."
"Dead? Or gettin' chewed on?" Tammy asked quietly.
"Jayne wouldn't let himself be caught," Mal answered. "It's the one thing in the 'Verse he'd'a never stood for. If there were Reavers on our tail, I'm sure he was dead."
The two had stopped on the cargo bay catwalk, Mal prepared to go back to the crew quarters, and Tammy ready to head back to her room in the dorms. Mal's daughter gave him a somber look, and then asked the question she'd been waiting to ask her whole life. "Did you marry Ma out of some sense of obligation or loneliness? I know you love each other now, but you were each in love with a Tam before all that."
Sitting gingerly on the catwalk, Mal sighed heavily. "Yeah, I loved River. And your Ma loved Simon in a big way. But when they both died that day, and all that was left of our crew was us an' Zoe an' 'Nara, things between us changed. At first, we were just lookin' for support, grieving together. When she found out she was pregnant, it got harder on her. We had to ground the ship for near on a month, just cuz she couldn't keep it together well enough to maintain the engine. We spent most of every day together, mostly just her cryin' on my shoulder. But one day she sorta just snapped out of it, told me she wanted to do a job. Surprised me mightily, and confused Zoe. It was just a small job, but the night after it was done, while Zoe was takin' a shift at piloting, I woke up and your Ma was sleepin' next to me in my bunk. Never went back from that. Just seemed natural."
Mal stood, ready to end the story and go to his wife's bed. "Why's there three years between my brothers and me?" his daughter asked impulsively.
Mal answered slowly, mildly surprised by the question. "We shared a bed from that night on, when your Ma was about five months gone with your brothers, but we didn't sleep together for nearly a year after they were born. Just didn't seem like the right time. After a while, we realized we wanted a baby together, one we could both rightfully call our own. Took a while, but the practice was worth it." Mal grinned slyly at his daughter's playful gagging face. "Hey, you asked."
Tammy pecked Mal on the cheek. "Good night, Daddy."
A/N: This is the first Mal/Kaylee story I've written, but it won't likely be the last. I hope to expand this into something of a series of "Bedtime Stories", recounting tales of Mal and Kaylee's exploits for the grandchildren's enjoyment. Thanks for reading – I hope it didn't disappoint!