Serenity glided through space, her back glowing softly as the little albatross gently guided her through the stars. It had been over a year since their encounter with the Operative, and though her brain and dexterity was more than enough to manuever the great machine, Mal hardly left her alone on the bridge, and was often in the co-pilot seat next to her. Her main job was to stay with the ship, and was only called upon to use her reading if they needed information out of a mark, or required her to keep her wits honed in for Reavers. The console was still ordained by Wash's dinosaurs; nobody had the heart to remove them, and they did not feel it was their right to do so. Whenever they were docked, River would often rearrange them; sorting them by color; by size; herbivores and carnivores. The rest of the crew kept to themselves; not straying far from their daily routines. Zoe was a little more sullen but her little bundle of joy kept her quite occupied, and left her bound to the ship, forcing Mal to take Jayne on more jobs than his first officer. Simon and Kaylee's relationship was as strong as ever, and nothing could keep them apart for long. Even when Kaylee was busy mending up Serenity's hurts, the young doctor was often by her side, and his surgeon hands came in great use, as Kaylee taught him how to mend wires and weld plates. The two became quite the team, and Simon's once soft city-boy hands turned rough and calloused, he even lost some of his fancy talk and took to cussin' nearly as much as his mechanic lover. Mal and Inara were on and off; fighting about little things but still there to keep the other one happy. And last was Jayne, who still felt a little out of place amongst all the happy couples, but was very pleased with his almost promotion to Mal's right-hand-man. He would busy himself polishing his weapons, and working out; sometimes for hours. He'd also taken it upon himself to do a bit more of the cooking, seeing as he ate more than anyone else on the ship, it was only natural that he take on a bit of the responsibility. His mama taught him well, though most meals tasted the same, he did his best to keep his crew happy. He'd softened a bit over the year, took to caring for the crew more than he had before, but still tried to maintain his tough guy exterior.
They had just left the small moon of Gem, rightly paid and fuelled up, so for the most part, the crew was in a good mood. Jayne finished polishing his 6 shot revolver Jamie before setting her in her spot by his bed and washing his hands at the fold out sink at the far end of his room. He squeaked the taps on and off, dried his hands, and made his way back to his ladder. In two long strides he was up and out and making his way to the galley. Zoe was there rustling up some canned vegetables for little Hoban and he nodded to her, "How's the little ankle-biter today?" he asked as he made his way to the pantry to grab some protein and canned foods to start dinner.
Zoe flipped her hair over her shoulder, and smiled her dark eyes at him. She said very little to him, and didn't much like talking about her dearly departed husband, or even her son. He was a grim reminder of something she once had, but she did not have the heart to not love him; every time he smiled, his blue eyes looked up at her and she remembered her crazy funny man, "How was the job?" she asked, pushing Hoban to her other knee as she bounced him softly, him giggling and cooing, making her grin in reply.
The merc clanged a pan out of the cupboard and set to frying some fresh ham and eggs they'd got for payment from their most recent caper, "Smooth as gravel. How you and Mal ever got through these without me around, I will never know," he added, throwing a piece of bread into the pan and frying it in the fat with the eggs. It had been a long while since anyone had anything but rainbow colors of protein, and it would be a nice switch to get everyone out of this rut.
The dark woman shook her head and kissed her child's nose, "Small wonder, ain't it?" she answered, standing up to grab Hoban's high chair from the corner and setting it up at the end of the table. After the babe was locked in, Zoe grabbed a stuffed red t-rex from the shelf and used it to occupy her child while she set to work setting the table. The two worked in silence; the ship was far too quiet nowadays.
All of sudden, a laughter like the tinkling of bells rang through the ship, and the familiar sounds of combat boots dashing through the halls echoed into the galley. River, who had been in the engine room, peeking in on her brother and the little mechanic, no doubt, either pinched a tool, or merely saw more than what the pair wanted to share. Regardless, the doctor and mechanic were chasing after the little Reader, through the common area and into the galley. Simon was faster than he looked, but River was spry and very quick to turn on a dime. She bounced off a wall and flipped over her brother, before running behind the stove where Jayne was working. She was very careful not to disturb him, but she could see the merc get a little tensed up as he finished dishing out of the last of the eggs and ham before slicing the bread. Mal came in from the bridge side and leaned against the doorway, crossing his arms and emitting a bit of a smirk. Inara had also joined the crew at this point, standing regally by the Captain in a shimmering blue sari, decalled with gold threads and matching slippers, "Going somewhere nice?" the Captain jested to her, knowing full well she very rarely took clients.
She smiled up at him and gave him a gentle nudge, "Oh, nowhere special," she added before looking at the scene, "What did River do this time?" she questioned.
Mal shrugged, "Hell if I know," he said, stepping into the galley and taking his place at the head of the table, "but if she'd quit being "fast like a freak"," he added kindly using some ancient air quotes, "they might actually catch her this time; no doubt to be tortured by some fate to gruesome to be imagined," he said with a smile, pouring himself some water from a pitcher on the table that Zoe set down. Hoban was busy playing with some mashed goop across from the Captain, cooing and gurgling and reaching out to him. Mal, not being much of a kid type guy, called over his first officer, who immediately responded, taking a clean cloth to cleanse her little man, before unfastening him and putting him in Mal's lap, turning away to finish her work. The Captain made to protest, "Thats...not...what I," and Inara simply chuckled, taking a place at Mal left and taking the baby from him, much to Mal's appreciation.
Jayne had just about finished getting everything in the crocks when the little Reader made her way back behind him, Kaylee in close pursuit. River spun around the merc as he was holding a hot pan of grease who was cussin' at the pair of them, before the mechanic cornered River began tickling her. Simon was not far behind, "Kaylee, no!" he said urgently, making the girl let up a bit but not halt entirely. The doctor walked around the corner, avoiding Jayne as he made his way to the table, grumbling to himself like always, "If you really want her to scream, you got to get behind her knees," he said with an evil chuckle. River was laughing boistrously, begging them to stop between giggles.
That was the last straw. Mal was doing absolutely nothing to stop this childish behaviour and Jayne decided to step in, "Gorramit!" he said, slamming down the last crock and making his way back to where the three were. Mal stopped munching on his fingers and went on the defensive, stiffening up to prepare for an assault should Jayne get out of hand, but began to soften when he felt Inara's palm touch his fore arm as she saw the body language in the young merc; stern but controlled. He stormed up to them, "we worked hard on this here meal, now sit your butts down and eat," he said gravely in a low tone before turning heel to take his spot at the other side of the table on Mal's right. Zoe sat at the far end with Hoban, Kaylee sat beside Inara, with Simon beside her, and River took up the spot between Jayne and Zoe. The group ate in silence, save for the scratching of utensils on plates.
He didn't like her there; she was always trying to eat what wasn't hers, often snitching some of his bread or a piece of vegetable or fruit when it was available. He scowled over to her, shaking his head ever so slightly, and she simply kept muching away until he looked down, to which she politely stuck her tongue out at him before returning to her meal as if nothing had happened. This went on for a few rounds before Jayne faked a head bob, catching River off guard. She looked down to the right and cracked a small smile in apology. Jayne made a move to protest when a green blob hit him square in the face. The table was silent, save for a small giggle from Hoban at the end of the table, his spoon dripping with mashed peas. Kaylee was the first to break. Her small lips tried to stiffle a laugh, but only ended up with her snorting out her nose. The doctor soon followed adding in a little chuckle that was airy, through his teeth. Zoe's chest was quaking from her joy and soon her own laugh was added to the mix. River was nigh uncontrolable, and Jayne stayed stone faced as the last bit of glop slipped from his nose. Mal added a simple "ha ha" before going stone faced and returning to his meal. Inara smiled with her perfect lips, and grabbed a chunk of bread and threw it at the Captain, bonking him playfully in his sniffer. Mal clicked his teeth, closed his eyes and smiled, before opening them and blinking at the woman to his left. Nonchalantly, he grabbed his eggs, squishing them between his fingers and tilted his head like a puppy. Inara's smile vanished as she protested with very quick no's, to no avail as Mal smeered the egg all over her face.
The galley erupted in laughter again as the once regal companion now looked like she had been egged by an adolescent delinquent (which wasn't very far from the truth). Kaylee looked down at her plate where some mashed potatoes lay, and looked up at Simon, who was otherwise distracted, throwing his hands over his face to hide his mirth. She waited until his hands dropped, and pelted him one with a handful of the tuberous dish. A piece fell from his eye brow as he leaned in to kiss her, her arms flailing as she was soon covered in the mashed potatoes. Hoban was flinging his food everywhere, some landing in River's hair, and even one making it all the way over to Mal to hit him in the eye. The table was soon in an all out war, acting like school kids in the cafeteria. Jayne had taken some butter and ran over to Zoe, dropping the bits of fat down the back of her shirt. Mal and Inara were wrestling each other on the ground covered in ham and egg fat. River had ducked under the table, taking bits of bread and stuffing it into any shoe or boot left unprotected, before Jayne grabbed her ankles and pulled her out, only to splash her with the water pitcher. Simon jumped the counter to find cover and started opening some protein tubes for more ammunition.
Mal took a look around the galley at his crew; Kaylee was happier than ever, Simon had loosened up, Inara had let go of her proper exterior, River seemed to be focused, Jayne was beaming ear to ear, and Zoe was smiling more than she had in months. He wanted to cuss out the little babe for starting this, but looked over into the bright blue orbs of Hoban, and couldn't bring himself to do so. The room was filled with joy, and warmth; unbeknowst to them, surrounded by the spirit of their dearly departed friends.
A/N: Should this be a one shot again? Or lead into something more?