There's nothing out here in the black. It's kind of the point, when one is trying not be found, not to be tied down. Doesn't change the cold hard reality, though. It's empty, a nothingness unlike anything that can be believed by someone who's never been there.

The only thing natural about all this are the pinpoint spots of light in the distance, looking out from the pilot's seat. There's fire, deep in the engine, spreading heat throughout the entire ship. Earth is scarce, small trays of dirt house a plant here and there, where they need something to brighten the darkness, in the cracks of the floor where the mud from their boots has sloughed off and nobody's gotten around to cleaning. Water is precious, bought for more than a pretty penny and re-used wherever possible. Air, re-circulated and filtered to the point of staleness, heavy sometimes when they've been out here for too long, like now, when the vastness of space starts making even the most hardened of captains think deep thoughts.

He's tiny, they all are, the seven of them just floating in a hunk of metal kept moving on the ingenuity of one brilliant, sunny girl who brightens a room more than any lamp, more than any of the masses of fire millions of light-years away. Bodies kept together, kept whole, hearts beating by a young surgeon who fits out here like a cheap whore at a sly bar but somehow he belongs now, as much a part of their dysfunctional family as any, doesn't hurt that he keeps their engineer smiling. He's not sure what the rest of them would do if she stopped, they might just stop with her, though sometimes he's not sure he hasn't lost that ability long ago.

Normally the crew would be relying on his first mate for instruction, a woman so strong he's wondered at times if the beams of this very ship would crumble before her, only nowadays he's finding himself having to be the support, rather than the other way 'round. He knows he's not the only one who can still fell the presence of her husband up here on the little bridge, not the only one who's reached for those toy dinosaurs but hasn't been able to make their fingers touch them. Instead they've all turned to an unexpected source of calm. A little woman, warm like a campfire in the dead of night, her unruly flames tamed in the wake of tragedy, not treading so far as she once did, choosing to learn more of their trade, now she's become more than a token to them all, she's settled, the flames burning lower but the coals brighter. She keeps them sane.

Then there's the girl, a curiosity, everywhere and nowhere when she wants to be. Light as a feather and strong as a tornado. She reminds them what they mean to each other, why they risk so much. She's the reason so many of them survived, any of them survived. They thought they were whole before she came along, and that they may have been but she breathed new life into them, they're more than whole, for all that they've lost, they're alive.

That just leaves him. And a man he's not sure he can describe. They've both seen too much to be anything but grounded, for all the time they spend trying to stay off the ground. It doesn't look right when he isn't covered with dirt and blood. He's solid and steady when he needs to be, playful when the mood catches him, though it's too rare these days. Warm with an unexpected blush when the girls giggle and whisper around him, when the bruises raise to the surface, when the adrenaline from a firefight makes his skin shine, when they're curled up close, refusing to let go.

Sometimes a body needs more than a good doctor to keep from falling apart, and as Zoe silently settles in her seat, taking over watch, Mal heads to Jayne's bunk thinking of washing dirt off wide shoulders, licking water from a strong neck, breaking from a kiss for air, and how what he needs now more than anything is to feed this fire between them.