TITLE: Occasions

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.

A/N: A trip through the year after the BDM, a look at those special occasions in the life of the crew. I have decided that Book and Wash will be alive in this fic – obviously AU, so please don't bother informing me they died in the movie, I know they did! We'll roll with the idea that Book managed to bring down his attackers before they struck the killing blow, and that Wash was pulled out of the way of the Reaver's battering ram. All good? Yes? Let's roll!


It had been about a month after Miranda, after the nightmare that was the Reaver battle and Mr. Universes' moon. They'd made it through, barely, and they were all now recovered, at least in the physical sense. On the surface their bodies were working fine, but underneath was another story. Nobody had come out of that battle unscathed.

Zoe still woke in the middle of the night, envisioning what could have happened to Wash if the seat hadn't given out on impact, visions of him immobile and pale, anchored to the chair by the massive hunk of wood haunted her dreams. Her husband fared no better, his near death experience shaking away the last of his hesitations about starting a family, his mind was made up. Which would have been a positive thing if the experience hadn't terrified Zoe in a way she'd never known before, causing her to reconsider whether she was really able to be a mother, to go through that fear of losing someone twofold. They weren't fighting, per se, but the tension between the two was thick enough to cut with a knife.

Mal was faring little better. Although the Alliance had gone into damage control, immediately issuing statements as to "rogue Alliance scientists", shucking any semblance of responsibility and even providing the crew with medical attention, he couldn't shake his concerns for retaliation. It didn't help that he had no clue as to what was going on with Inara, who had become withdrawn.

The Companion was shaken to her very core, everything she had believed about the Alliance had come crumbling down, and the days she had spent sitting by a comatose Mal had taken their toll on her psyche. She would become flustered in his presence, her usual calm and control apparently evaporating at the sight of his injured form. She didn't know her position on the ship, didn't know what she was to do now, and was too petrified of rejection or ridicule to even contemplate speaking to Mal about it.

Book himself was also shaken, desperately trying to hold on to his beliefs whilst at the same time recognising that theft and violence do not necessarily equate to evil. He struggled to come to terms with his place in the crew now, struggled to reconcile the holy man and the man who had shot down an Alliance cruiser after it had slain his people. He wasn't sure what he would be doing now, but knew there was nowhere else he could go, not with his flock in such turmoil.

Simon was doing alright, tentatively moving through the first steps of his relationship with Kaylee, working hard to look after the physical health of the crew and keep his foot out of his mouth. He'd been exhausted after Miranda, the stomach wound taking a while to heal, and his crew refusing any medical treatment that he hadn't approved making it difficult to rest. Still he'd felt an odd sense of pleasure at their loyalty, at their maintenance that only he could be trusted with their help. Zoe had actually drawn her Mare's Leg with a shaking hand the first time someone had tried to touch Wash without Simon in the room. When Simon wasn't available, they looked to River.

She was the only one to come out completely unscathed from the hell that was Miranda; their youngest crew member had haunted the hospital like a ghost. Staff had complained about her, they had no idea if she slept, and from the looks of her malnourished frame she wasn't eating enough, but they had figured out quickly just to leave her be. She would wander from room to room, sometimes talking to Zoe and Wash, sometimes letting Book read to her from his library of books, sometimes allowing Kaylee or Inara to brush her hair. She would sit silently in Mal's room, even once he'd woken up, but the staff could see that the Captain was comforted by her presence. As he healed he would start telling her stories of adventures from before, her large brown eyes knowing the endings but wanting to hear them anyway.

The crew had found fast comfort in these visits, partly because she always happened to be in the room when a nurse or doctor attempted to treat them. Occasionally she would grab their wrist mid-action.

"Brother knows best." Invariably they would attempt to do what they had planned, but quickly learned that those thin fingers held them in a vice-like grip, and no crew member would allow them to touch or treat until Simon had been consulted. Without fail his orders would differ to what the staff had planned to do, and the prevention of their treatment had actually shaved days off everybody's healing.

Jayne would have been recovering just fine if it hadn't been for the crazy-girl's visits. Physically it was just a gunshot wound that kept him bedridden, and despite his hatred for the forced inactivity, he at least knew it wouldn't be required for long. The first time Crazy had come in she'd obviously just showered, her hair wet and tangled, and her skin dewy from the moisture. The Reaver blood she'd been covered in must have turned the water red, he'd thought to himself. It would have been fine except for the fact that she'd changed into a plain white t-shirt that must have been six sizes too big for her. The moisture from her still damp body made the baggy fabric cling to her thin form in all sorts of distracting ways, and he'd growled at her to stay out of his wardrobe and leave him alone.

She'd just looked at him with those big, calm eyes, and sat silently in the chair next to his bed. When she drew her lean legs up to her chest the t-shirt had slipped towards her hips, a pair a small black shorts her only adornment other than those oversized combat boots. He'd growled at her again, and she'd simply stared at him evenly until he gave up and succumbed to sleep. He'd dreamed of tiny dancing girls on his shoulders, and had woken up confused and frustrated. When he woke she was gone, but the chair she'd been sitting in was still warm, as if she'd just left. Not that he'd felt it or anything.

She'd returned the next day, this time in his massive green jacket, and he'd growled again, although it was half hearted. She'd sat with him for an hour, and when she'd left he felt a strange sense of loss. Her visits were regular; as they were for all the crew, but he'd never found someone who didn't speak to be so damn distracting. He had longed for the day when he could get up, get away from her, and hide from those otherworldly eyes.

Once they'd gotten back on the ship he'd become withdrawn, avoiding her, speaking to the rest of the crew in short, clipped sentences. His days consisted of working out, eating, and staying in his bunk. His nights were filled with dreams of slick skin and supple curves, and more than once he woke up in a cold sweat, his sheets stained with the results of these dreams.

River herself was simply floating through the ship, sitting quietly with whoever she found that day, allowing their distraction and tension to wash over her. When Simon had asked what she was doing one day, she had simply replied that she was waiting. When he asked what for she had smiled softly to herself.

"For the sunshine to return."

With the crew so mentally scarred and the tension between people so heavy it was only a matter of time before something happened. That something was Kaylee. Better than anyone, Kaylee had bounced right back, seeing Miranda for what it was. A horrible occurrence that they had survived together, as a family, something that should have been celebrated as a relief and a gift. The family she loved so much was now a quiet and tense group of people barely surviving each day. Dinners were not the rowdy affair that they once were, and people avoided each other, making the boat feel cold and silent. Something had to be done.

She thought hard about what to do, not even speaking to Simon about her concerns, just knowing that the crew couldn't continue like this. It was when she located River that the idea solidified. The younger girl had been lying on the cold catwalk in the cargo bay, her large pink sweater and black shorts making her look even smaller than usual. She'd waited until Kaylee sat down next to her, basking in the glow of acceptance radiating off the other girl. She'd sat up, turning away from the object of her focus, and sat across from the mechanic.

"Seasons come and go, things change. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps along this petty pace from day to day." Kaylee had just nodded, now used to the Reader's strange way of speaking, knowing she was recognising the same problem amongst the crew.

"So what should I do?"

River had smiled. "Bring family together. Single focus, focus of celebration. All Hallow's Eve draws near, an affirmation of joy for all good children." Kaylee smiled, glad she'd come to River to check her plans likelihood of success. She had figured out quickly that checking ideas with River was a good way of planning ahead, and the younger girl hadn't disappointed. She'd nodded and left to prepare her plan of attack.

River smiled to herself, lying back down on the catwalk, once again focussing on the man below. He was sweating, the preacher standing by to spot him, and she could feel the angry flow of his thoughts. She hummed softly to herself, a tune about butterflies and samurais filling her head.

Kaylee attacked at dinner. This was the only way she could think of to bring everybody together, an occasion, a chance to celebrate and think of something other than their own problems. River had obviously agreed, and she was now looking forward to springing things on everyone.

The quiet table filled her with sadness, but she pushed it aside, breaking the silence as she detailed her intentions. The silence grew heavier as everybody stared at her, open mouthed, while only River nodded approvingly. Mal was the first to recover.

"You wanna have a Halloween party?"

A/N: A slow start I know, but I didn't just want to jump in into things. I figure nobody would come away from Miranda without being thoroughly shaken, and that long term recovery would require a spark, something to start the process. Please review :)