Y'all got on this boat for different reasons, but y'all come to the same place.
1. Feeling Gravity's Pull
The idea don't come all at once. It builds each night as he lies in his bunk, worn out from a hard day's work, the clean exhaustion of it familiar from when he was a boy, and healing in its way. Can't sleep, though--too much noise in his head when he don't have the sound of hammers ringing steady to drown out the cries of the dying, the ghosts of the dead.
He takes a blanket outside, spreads it out on the grass, stares up at the stars. Just when he's gotten out of the habit of thinking he has a future, he can see it laying out before him, big as the 'verse.
"We'll get a ship," he says when he's finally got it all worked out. Zoe's lying next to him--they always find each other, even in the dark, and she knows he'd be lost without her. She washed her hair before dinner and he can smell it now, sweet and clean like the grass beneath the blanket, the scent of hope he can't help but feel now he knows what he's going to do. "I've been saving my money, Zoe, got enough now so's we can shake the dust of this rock from our boots and take to the sky." He don't ask if she's going to stick by him--don't want to give her the opportunity to say no. She turns toward him, smiling, eyes bright as the stars.
It's the only answer he needs.
2. Maps and Legends
The ship is old and in need of serious repair, but it's given Mal a purpose, brought back the light in his eyes and the snap in his step, and for that, Zoe will always love it, with its odd, awkward body, its big open spaces and tiny hidden nooks that will become their world, and their ticket out of it.
She teases him about his enthusiasm, but throws herself into the work, pleased and proud at the end of the day in a way she ain't been in years, because Serenity is theirs (his, technically, but what's his is hers, now--always--and he knows it as well as she does) and it's one bit of territory ain't going to be taken from them without a fight.
First time they get her up in the air (Zoe ain't sure when it became her, and when she became home, just knows she has), Mal whoops like a little boy just got told he can stay up past his bedtime. He ain't much of a pilot, so they'll just go for a Sunday drive, but it's a start.
"Let's take her for a ride," he says. She can hear joy in the slight tremor of his voice.
"Okay, Cap'n," she answers, smiling, like it's the most natural thing in the 'verse.
He looks startled for a second, then his eyes light up and he flashes a grin she ain't seen in way too long, and Zoe remembers why she's still with him.
3. Driver 8
Wash knows he's got the pick of any job he wants; it's just a question of finding one that won't bore him to death but is also not so exciting that it gets him killed. It's a tricky balance, but one he's gotten the hang of the past few years. He'll probably take the gig with Renshaw--he's got a decent reputation, even if that ship he's so proud of ain't quite the prize he thinks she is.
But he goes to the meeting with Reynolds anyway. Rumor has it the guy is honest--well, as honest as anyone in this business could be--if a little crazy. War does that to people, and though the rumor mill doesn't specify what, exactly, Reynolds did in the war, all the chatter agrees he was a Browncoat and pretty hardcore about it. Which would explain why he's out at the ass end of nowhere working in illegal salvage. He doesn't ask what Wash did in the war, and Wash doesn't volunteer.
Reynolds' ship isn't much to look at--Renshaw's is newer and prettier--but she's got character. These old Fireflies are canny--got all sorts of hidden tricks only the best pilots could ever coax out of them, and Wash knows he's the best, even if he doesn't always act like it. Wash has a whole sleeve of tricks nobody would ever suspect from looking at him, just like this Firefly. Makes 'em kindred spirits of a sort, and a pilot should always feel akin to his ship.
Wash can tell the first mate doesn't like him; her gaze is measuring and he's surely come up short, but that's just 'cause she hasn't seen him fly yet. He grins at her when they come back into the cockpit, and her eyes narrow just a touch, warning him not to push.
"So," Reynolds asks, absently stroking the back of the pilot's seat, the way a man touches the woman he loves.
"I think we can come to an agreement," Wash answers. He thinks he might like it here. It definitely won't be boring.
4. Life and How to Live It
He comes by her daddy's workshop, and Kaylee can tell right away he ain't like the boys round here. He knows just enough about engines to make small talk, and not enough to know she knows more about 'em than he ever will. That's okay, though, 'cause he's pretty to look at, and he offers to show her around his ship.
She ain't ever been on a Firefly before--they're out of style now, traded in for newer, sleeker ships don't have the same quiet charm. She trails her fingers over the cool metal walls, feels a thrill when he brings her to the engine room, even though the engine ain't turning at the moment, and he ain't sure how to get it started again. She pays attention to everything, storing the details away so she can take out the memories later, when the ship is out in the black and she's working on somebody's tractor in her daddy's shop and daydreaming of a different life.
When Bester lays her down beside the engine, she closes her eyes and imagines it humming like need in her veins; when she comes, stars bursting bright white in the black behind her eyes, it feels like flying.
After she fixes the reg couple, the captain offers her a job, and it's like everything she's ever dreamed of has just been handed to her wrapped in a pretty bow. And Kaylee's seen enough of life to know she's got to take that gift with both hands, before it gets snatched away.
5. Old Man Kensey
Jayne ain't got much gear, which is good, because his new bunk ain't that big. Room enough to stow his kit, though, and the blessing of no one else hanging around, breathing all loud and mucousy when a body's trying to sleep or jack off, which makes it bigger than it seems.
He can't remember the last time he had his own bunk. At home, by the time he was old enough to notice, Matty and Connor'd come along, and they'd shared a room until he'd left. And working as a merc meant he'd often as not be rooming with a bunch of heishôudâng liúmáng didn't always know when to walk away and give a man some peace.
Now, though, he's got his own bunk, and he drops onto the bed in an untidy sprawl, king of the tiny space between these walls.
He figures he's got some time to kill while they're in the air, and without even thinking much about it, he unzips his pants, curls a hand around his cock and starts jacking himself. He don't have to be quiet or pretend no one else is around, and that makes it even better. He closes his eyes, thinks about that pretty redheaded whore on Lilac, who got lubed up whenever she sucked him off, imagines plump pink lips wrapped round his jībā, and comes with a groan he don't have to muffle.
He uses one of his t-shirts to clean himself up, then tosses it to the floor, 'cause he can do whatever he likes in here. It's his bunk, after all.
6. Can't Get There From Here
He tries to ignore the barkers, studies their ships instead. Not much has changed, though some of the newer models are intriguing. He is out of practice, but he scans the crowd, on the lookout for cutthroats and thieves. He hasn't much, and though he knows he shouldn't be attached to worldly goods, he doesn't want to lose any of it so soon after leaving the abbey. He doesn't like feeling like a mark for every pickpocket and grifter in the neighborhood.
Pride is a sin, he reminds himself ruefully. Already falling prey to greed and pride, and you're not two days out of the abbey.
He wouldn't have left at all, but the abbot had asked him to.
"Go," Brother Francis had said, "and take the word of God with you. There are so many who need to hear it."
"I'm not sure I'm the man for that job," he'd replied, taken aback.
"Perhaps not, but the job needs a man like you, the man you have become, Derrial." The abbot sipped his tea. "You can't stay cloistered forever. At some point, you must put your faith to the test outside these walls. It's easy to be virtuous when temptation is on one side of the wall, and you're on the other."
So he'd packed his bags and left, trying to ignore the thin current of excitement running beneath his nervousness, but he learns he is no longer the man he once was--the temptations of his younger days hold no allure for him now. The dangers now will be more subtle, he thinks, trying to be mindful.
He lets himself be charmed by Kaylee, and tells himself these are the kind of people who could most use a reminder of the good word.
Two days later, he is living with thieves and murderers, and seeking absolution from a Companion. He thinks of Jesus among the tax collectors and whores, and laughs. He reminds himself again that pride goes before a fall.
7. Green Grow the Rushes
The calm satisfaction of a client successfully pleased lingers as Inara pilots the shuttle back to Serenity, but it will be nice to get home.
That thought draws her up short.
She's not sure when she began thinking of the ship as home, instead of the shuttle. It's a fine distinction, but Inara has been training since the age of twelve to make such fine distinctions, and to understand what they mean. And she tries to be honest with herself, beneath the mask she presents to the world, the mask that has slowly been slipping in the months she's spent on Serenity.
She takes her meals with the crew, enjoys spending time with them, and has grown to love them--well, Kaylee--dearly. She has begun to relax among them in ways she never has before; she lets her guard down, and now she's thinking of Serenity as home. She shakes her head, because it will never do.
She has been taught to engage and disengage as easily as the clasp on a necklace, but disengaging from Serenity--from Kaylee (from Mal, whispers a treacherous voice in the back of her mind)--is becoming as difficult as leaving Sihnon was. She's well and truly caught, the necklace now a noose, and the more she struggles to get free, the tighter she is bound.
Now she is involved, complicit, in hiding fugitives from the Alliance, in attacking a federal agent, in breaking the law, and like the shepherd, she isn't sure they've done anything wrong.
She isn't sure of anything, anymore.
When River wakes, she hears them talking talking talking, so many new voices, rough and smooth and angry and calm, all in her head, jumbling together like untuned instruments at orchestra rehearsal, an amateurish attempt at the atonal music her mother's friends liked to play at parties. They'd say, "It's the latest thing, Regan," and her mother would give them a pained smile, like the one she usually reserved for River, smiled again when River told them "atonal" wasn't the correct term--"Schoenberg didn't like it"--and that the twelve-tone technique had been the latest thing five hundred years ago. There is nothing new under the sun.
That was before Blue Sun recreated her, rewriting her until she's almost unrecognizable, a discordant note sounding over and over, unheard amid the surrounding cacophony.
Simon worries--Simon always worries now--but she lets Serenity soothe her when all his drugs cannot.
She presses her ear against the flat, cool wall and listens instead to the ship humming humming humming, vibrating in her chest and belly like an extra heartbeat, percussion without melody. Atonal after all.
She learns to breathe in time with that heartbeat, she and Serenity sharing their secrets as the days pass. She slips into the vents, the crawlspaces, flowing in the bloodstream of the ship, sinking into the marrow of its bones, and the subvocal hum of its thrumming becomes the beat of her own heart, the hiss of her own breath as Serenity imprints herself on her. They hum together in harmony, and when everyone else is sleeping, River can hear Serenity whispering, home home home.
9. Auctioneer (Another Engine)
The infirmary is tiny, and though it looks clean, Simon doesn't really trust that it is, given the state of the rest of the ship. Once he is sure he and River are staying, that the captain isn't going to murder him in his sleep (he's still not sure about Jayne), he spends some time scrubbing the place down, the smell of antiseptic familiar and comforting in this place where nothing else is.
He pretends it covers the scent of Kaylee's blood, pretends he can wash his hands clean of that. He pretends it covers the smell of River's vomit and the sickly-sweet scent wafting from her skin after a week in cryo--her body is still processing the drugs, so it hasn't washed off just yet--pretends he knows how to fix what was done to her when he doesn't, and even if he had the resources of the entire hospital in Capital City at his fingertips, he wouldn't. Here, in this tiny room with its metal walls and meager supply of antibiotics and bandages, he is lost before he even begins.
He spends another day reorganizing the room so he can find everything automatically; there's no time to waste fumbling for syringes or sutures when someone's bleeding out on a gurney, and he works best when he lets his training take over--his body knows what to do even when his brain goes blank.
Simon has never been as at home in the black as River is, and he doesn't think he will ever be comfortable on Serenity, but this room is his safe space, his haven, and he resigns himself to getting used to it.
10. Good Advices
They walk her decks, sleep in her rooms, eat at her table. She cradles them close, protecting them from the cold, the night, the lack of air that would break their fragile bodies. She keeps their secrets, carries their dreams of freedom, safety, love, and peace. She speaks all the words unspoken in the low hum of her engines, and sometimes, they even understand. She gives them wings, and in return, they love her, care for her, make her corridors ring with laughter. No ship could ever ask for more.
11. Wendell Gee
Kaylee leans back in her chair, giggling, one hand resting on her belly over the wound. Though he knows it ain't likely, Mal's afraid it might tear open if she keeps laughing like that, so hard she can barely manage to get the words out. "And the bear says to the guy, 'You didn't come here to hunt, did you?'" she says, between giggles, and the rest of them, even the shepherd and the doctor, start giggling, too, the sound of her laughter contagious even if the joke ain't that funny. It's good to hear her laugh, to laugh with her, after everything that's happened.
Jayne leers at her, but in a way that don't quite make Mal's hackles rise--Jayne knows she's off-limits and he knows better than to force it--and says, "You ever hear the one about the priest and the altar boy--"
Mal shakes his head. "That'll do, Jayne."
"Kaylee got to tell her joke--"
"Are you twelve?" Wash asks.
"I'm asking, are you twelve? Are we going to play 'I'm not touching you' next?" Wash turns to Zoe. "I was always good at that one."
She pats his arm. "I bet you were, honey."
"Oh, you'll know it when I'm touching you, little man," Jayne growls.
"He's so romantic," Wash sighs, fluttering his lashes, just as Zoe says, "I can hurt you," with a smile at Jayne that's sharp as a knife, the smile that says she's joking, mostly, but do you want to take that chance? Jayne's a good man to have in a fight, but Mal wouldn't ever bet against Zoe.
"You got a joke that's fit for the delicate ears of the preacher and the girl," Mal says, glancing over at River, who has been remarkably quiet tonight, "you feel free to tell it. Otherwise, keep your trap shut. 'Less you wanna be the one explains the punchline to River?" Jayne goes pale, and Mal grins at him. "Didn't think so."
"Don't need an explanation," River says. "Though it would be anatomically impossible for the altar boy to--"
"Well, okay then," Mal interrupts. "Why don't you see about getting these dishes washed, Shepherd? Wash, you, Kaylee, and I need to be having a conversation about the nav system's odd inclination for not accepting the courses I plot."
As he walks away, he can hear Wash and Jayne bickering, and Kaylee's laughter floating above it all, and it sounds like home.