When they come to the ranch, Mal stands by his doorway and listens to what they say.   After a few minutes, he gestures for them to sit, but keeps them outside on the porch.   

They're very convincing.  He's already heard these arguments, but he's willing to hear them again, willing to weigh the good and bad points with others.  So, he listens to stories of other planets and colonies the Alliance has taken to running, and the way that people suffer for it.   Sometimes he asks questions about tech and services, and they have good answers for that too.

As he listens, he thinks about his life: waking in the dim light of early morning, and checking on the cattle; herding with the hands and the dogs when the nearby land gets a little too worn and it's time to give it a break.  He thinks about the woman who raised him, and how she's sick in her bed but still ornery enough to ask if he has done this or that the right way.  It makes him smile.

They do all right on the ranch, pulling in enough profit to pay the hands and get by.  But Mal's long known that ultimately, they'll need better contacts to get the beef and leather sold.   Out here, there aren't enough decent, honest traders who get the job done.  They've lost entire shipments because of dishonesty, and Mal is tired of it.  He's tired of looking for a reliable crew, tired of wondering if he'll get his money this time around.

If he leaves, the ranch hands won't be able to handle the big decisions.  He figures most of them will join up and fight anyway, leaving an old, sick woman vulnerable and a herd of cattle loose.

He's heard stories of the Alliance and their ways, their restrictions, and he doesn't like much of what he's heard.  But they have a way with law-making and keeping the peace too.  They protect their traders and producers.

The men in front of him know him well.  They've grown up together, and they've worked together to stop raids, steal back what was stolen, and hunt down the few who thought the colony was a good place to cause problems.  He's always been the tacit leader, and he knows that they're working up to offering him some kind of commission, something with a bit of power.

He smiles and nods at statements, but his eyes wander.  He watches the land, the way the green pastures blend with brown cliffs.  He listens for the lowing of the cattle and the barking of the dogs that patrol the perimeters.

When they ask him to join the Independents and offer him a position as a sergeant, Mal Reynolds says no.

* * * *

It seems to Simon that he's been waiting for this notification forever.  

The paper is thick and creamy, bearing the official seal of the school.  It shakes slightly, mirroring the tremble of his hands.  He's already read the words twice, but he can't quite believe it.  His eyes scan the content again, hoping for the words to somehow change.

Dear Dr. Tam.  We regret to inform you that your sister, Ms. River Tam, has passed on.  The circumstances of her death are difficult to for all of us to understand, but we are able to say that after some ill-advised experimentation in one of our labs, your sister caused an extensive explosion in the west wing of our school.  River was a delightful student, an asset to our program, and she will be much missed.

He knows the letter is full of lies, although he doesn't doubt that River is dead.    It's the telling of circumstances that is as false as the last few waves he received from River, waves that came a long time after the letter that told its coded truths.  

After he'd figured the code out, Simon had been terrified.  His imagination offered the worst of what could be happening to River, but deep down he's always known that the truth was far beyond anything he could imagine.   The way his family and friends had slowly turned away from him only meant one thing: government pressures and threats.

He'd tried his best.  He'd broken into facilities, bribed workers, contacted rebel groups.  It had all amounted to nothing but rejection by his family and then an inadequate public defence when he'd finally been caught.

It's surprising that he has been allowed to read this letter, much less learn of his sister's death.  In the prison, communications are strictly regulated so as not to cause disturbances among the inmates.

* * * *

Kaylee spends her free time in the docking yard.  She loves watching the ships come in, full of interesting people and cargo and stories.  Plus, when she's lucky, she can get in on a job helping with repairs, and her daddy's always glad of the money she sometimes brings home.  He calls her his little lifesaver, 'cause she helps keep the ships running safe, and she brings home money when they get low.

So, she's watching when the Firefly lands, and she wants to laugh, 'cause she heard they don't make these things anymore.  The men around her whisper that it's a bucket, likely to fall apart soon as anyone steps on her.  Kaylee knows different.  She can see that the ship loves flying, loves her life.

When the hatch opens, she hides behind some boxes and watches the crew walk out.  They're just like she thought they'd be: strong, beautiful.  She likes the way the woman watches the man who is obviously the captain.  She likes the brightly-dressed man who walks behind them, his face alert.  There's one Kaylee figures is the mechanic too, his shirt covered with stripes of grease.

She wants to walk with them.

It's while she's thinking of possible ways to get on that ship that the news comes.  

"Kaylee.  It's your daddy."  The boy is her neighbour.  "He's real sick."  He's breathing hard and she figures he ran all the way to fetch her.

Dropping everything, she runs home to find her father blue-lipped and heart-sick.  There's no doctor to help them, but Kaylee does her best.   Before he dies, he looks at her and tells her to get out of the colony, use her skills for some good.

Even as she's crying, Kaylee thinks of the Firefly.

By the time it's all done, the funeral, the mourning, the crying, the Firefly is gone.

* * * *

As he hears the clank of the hatch closing behind him, Jayne figures this is the best stroke of luck he's had since the botched job on Canton.   Following the uppity captain and his ornery woman deeper into the ship, he can't help but smile at his surroundings.  Good construction, probably some interesting cargo in all the hidey places.

"How many crew you got?"

The captain turns to him, his eyes full of suspicions, and Jayne is quick to try and relax him.  "Just wonderin'.  Wanna know about my cut and how the cash is split up, is all."

He gets a nod, and the woman speaks.  "Me and the pilot: Zoe and Wash.  Got a decent mechanic, he's down there somewhere."  The woman's eyes flick to the captain, they both frown a little.  Jayne figures they aren't real fond of the mechanic.

Four.  Easy.  "You got a name?"  He speaks to the captain.

"Mal Reynolds.  Captain."

"Jayne Cobb." He pauses and grins.  "Ain't got no title."


The way the captain looks at him, Jayne knows it's anything but.  He got hired on for one reason only: he tracked them and they like that skill.  Well, plus Zoe and Reynolds didn't want to get shot up none.  "Yeah."  He jerks his chin towards the interior of the ship.  "Gonna show me around?"

The two watch him for a few more moments, and he does his best to look harmless, or at best, real stupid.  It takes a while, but they nod at each other, and turn their backs on him.  Jayne's hand goes down to Vera, and she's out before they take two paces.

He aims for the head.

They both fall, first him then her.  The backsplash of blood catches Jayne on his cheek, but it's not like it hasn't happened before.   Using Vera is overkill, but she needs her workouts.  Anyway, Jayne likes the way she feels in his hand.

He expects the shots to bring someone running, so he hunkers down behind a crate that looks like its insides will be real interesting when he opens it later.  It only takes a minute before he hears running, and some little man comes in.  

"Mal?  Zoe?  I heard shots?"

The shirt the man -- pilot, probably -- is wearing makes him an easy target.  Jayne waits a minute, 'cause there's no use shooting the man if he doesn't get all riled.  Jayne can fly this rig, but why do it if he doesn't have to?

The man looks around, his eyes finding the captain and the woman, face down, their heads blown open.  "Zoe?  What's -- oh god."  

Jayne listens to the string of swearing, and the words like 'love' that follow.  The little man looks real angry and like he's gonna cry at the same time. 

Jayne puts him out of his misery.

Now he's just got a mechanic to find.  Hopefully, the man'll know what's good for him, and will decide to keep the ship flying.

Captain Jayne Cobb.  Yeah.  He likes the sound of that.

* * * *

Zoe never wanted to go to war.  The war came to her, tearing at her land and destroying the tiny life she'd scratched out of nothing.

Still, if the war hadn't come, she wouldn't have met Mal Reynolds, and she can't regret that meeting.  They've been through hell now, finally landing here as part of the massive troop deployment to Serenity Valley.  They haven't left each other's sides since, and Zoe wouldn't have it any other way.

She doesn't know what will happen after the war, but she'll go where Mal goes.  She's known it from almost the start.

When he yells at her to follow him, Zoe does so without question.  Halfway there, she realises he wants to get to the cannon and shoot an Alliance ship right out of the sky.  It's a good plan, and they're almost there when a firefight begins.  Mal turns and yells her name, lunging for her and pulling her down.  

She lies underneath him for long minutes before she realises he's no longer breathing.  Rolling him off, Zoe sits for a minute and ignores the gaping wound that goes straight through his back and out his front.  Then she grabs her gun and rolls towards the cannon, knowing the attempt to get to it is suicide.  As soon as she stands, the shooting will start again.

Mal wouldn't have cared.  He'd have tried anyway.  

Pulling herself up to a crouch, she prepares to stand and make a run for it.  She can shoot that ship right out of their sky.

It's suicide, but Zoe goes where Mal goes.

* * * * 

When the war first came, Wash battened down the hatches and kept his head out of the line of fire.  Figuratively, that was, seeing as how the fighting itself wasn't anywhere near him.  Still, he took the advice of friends and stayed out of the way of anything related to the Alliance and the Independents.  

At first it was easy, but people started to get more and more polarised.  His captain decided to join up with the Independents, and Wash lost his job.  There were no jobs available to replace it.  Increasingly, ships were being impounded by the Alliance for smuggling supplies to the Independents, or crews were more blatantly choosing sides.

Wash stayed planetside for a long while, eking out a living flying small atmo runs.  Mostly, he got hungry and bored.  It was the boredom which made him start paying attention to the reports on the Cortex, and the stories of the people around him.  Even so, that got dull after a while.

Wash wanted to fly.

He heard stories of the Independents looking for good pilots, people who were willing to take risks and pull crazy stunts to get troops and supplies past the Alliance lines.  He listened to the claims that the Independents would lose if they didn't find the right pilots soon.

Politics had never meant much to Wash.  He just wanted to fly.  

It wasn't long after he started dropping a few subtle hints about his skills and inclinations that Independent recruiters found him.  They challenged him, asked for a demonstration and then  offered him a job flying whatever needed to be flown.

Wash's friends argued that he should fly for the Alliance, that way he'd at least be on the winning side.  But the Alliance had their own pilots, and Wash had never been one for rules and regulations.  He accepted the Independent offer.  They'd let him do it his way, as long as it got done.

And he got it done.  He became a favourite, and stories started getting told about the stunts he pulled.  The Independents gave him a decent ship and a feisty mechanic, and together they wove in and out of Alliance ship deployments.

For months, Wash rode the high.  

He was gearing up to head to a massive landing at Serenity Valley when they got the news that the landing wasn't going to happen.  He asked for alternate orders, and was told to go home, to take the ship and get out of the line of fire.  It was obvious the war was as good as over, but Wash was never good at following orders he didn't agree with.

They talked it over, him and his mechanic, and quickly agreed Serenity Valley would be a bloodbath.  Some of the types they'd shuttled down there would keep on fighting, even if they were outnumbered, rather than risk prison.  If they were going to cut and run, least they could do was fill the hold with as many of their soldiers as possible.

They made it to the planet just after the Alliance ships.  Hidden from view, all energy cut off, they watched as ship after ship entered atmo.  It was an awful sight, and Wash wondered what it looked like from the ground.

It was night when they landed, having calculated the time for best cover.  They went in slow and running dark, picking a place that looked least likely to be occupied by Alliance forces.  As soon as they landed, his mechanic opened the cargo doors and started broadcasting the Independent signal for retreat and passage.

And then they waited.

He'd calculated they had a maximum of 6 hours before they'd have to lift off.  By hour two, he wondered if anyone was left alive.  He pulled his mechanic inside from the post she'd taken up at the doors.

They started to trickle in around hour four, and it wasn't a pretty thing to see.  He watched the first few ones board, then he returned to his cockpit and stayed there.

By hour five, the hold was half-full, and Wash was already thinking of ways he could maybe extend the stay, wait for the others who were slower or coming from far distances.

He managed to wait for eight hours, and then they had to leave.  They used the hazy light of dawn as partial camouflage during the pull out from atmo, and Wash thanked a god he didn't believe in that there weren't any heavily-armed ships orbiting the planet.

He and his mechanic discussed it. She brought suggestions from the soldiers in their hold.  A destination was decided, and Wash set the course.

A quarter of the soldiers died from their wounds before they landed.

Somewhere out there, and Wash will never say where, there's a crappy town half-full of former Independent soldiers, although they rarely talk about the war.  It's a town where he's a hero.

He never visits.

* * * * 

River is fourteen years old, and too smart for her own good.  She knows this because her father mutters it sometimes, when he gets annoyed with her questions and theories.  So it's a surprise when one day he comes home with a package in his hand and a huge smile on his face.  Handing her the package, her father says he's found a place she'd like to go.

It would be nice to be able to love her father the way Simon does.   So River opens the package and finds that inside is glossy paper and pretty pictures.  She reads the description of an innovative, challenging new school and the facilities she'd be able to access.  She reads about the faculty who would guide and challenge her ideas.  

River tries to imagine the freedom of being able to talk with other people like her, people who won't frown as she explains her theories on the nature of space and its relationship with time.  They'd be people who wouldn't tell her that those aren't suitable thoughts for a girl.

It sounds wonderful.  She wants to say yes, to tell her parents to send her next week, now, yesterday.

But lately River has been reading from some of Simon's texts, the ones he lends her when he moves onto another part of his training.  She has read all about theories on the subconscious and human instincts, and the ideas intrigued her enough that she's been undertaking an experiment of her own.   Can relying on instinct lead to good choices?  Or have humans evolved passed such things?

The last few weeks, River has acted on what her instincts told her, and it has been more than fun.  She likes the way that when she listens to her baser thoughts, they are almost always right.  

River's eyes like the pretty pictures on the papers, and her mind loves the idea of the school.  Her instincts, however, are far from happy with the program.  

She sets the package down and turns to her father.   "No.  I don't want to go."

Her father scowls, but River doesn't care.  

* * * *

Captain Malcolm Reynolds is aggravating in the extreme.  Inara has never met anyone quite so disrespectful of her profession, but then again,  her life has been oddly cloistered in its own way.  It's one of the reasons she has decided she needs to see more of the universe.

She doesn't want to idealise the life of a Companion.  It gets tedious and repetitive, and more than once she's been faced with situations that are dangerous.  Still, she's never had to deal with this kind of attitude.

He calls her a whore, then offers to rent her the shuttle.  He'd given her a hand up the steps, then snatched his fingers away and looked her up and down with disgust.  She can just imagine the way their relationship might continue, what with that kind of beginning.   

Without the veil in front of her eyes, Inara can see the captain more clearly.  It doesn't take much to realise he was on the losing side of the war, even before he mentions it.  She thinks maybe once she could have liked this man, could have found his presence and attitude a challenge unlike the kind she usually faces.  

But as she watches him, she realises he's close to dead inside.  Captain Reynolds might antagonise her, he might show little flashes of caring for her and his ship, but these are residues of a past self.   He's fighting to hold onto them, but even after a brief time in his company, Inara can see that he's losing the battle, and losing it quickly.

Soon, she's certain that he'll sink into his own despair and anger.   He'll become a man who can't truly care about his responsibilities to other people.  He'll have no real reason to keep himself or others safe.  

This is not the kind of passage or captain that she wants.

Inara declines the offer of the shuttle, and shudders as she walks out of the ship.  It saddens her to realise that the Firefly will be dead in space or destroyed within a matter of months.

* * * *

Shepherd Book.  

The name is written inside his Bible in his own handwriting, but sometimes the improbability of it still makes him want to sneer, to laugh a harsh little laugh from his past.  

He's been in the monastery for years now, having retreated there in a moment of weakness that never ended.   The monastery is a place of peace, a place where he learned to be someone else, not the self he'd once so prized.  

His old self has medals and honours.  He is renowned and highly feared among certain circles.  Shepherd Book may have taken that person away, but there are some who still fear his return.

Shepherd Book gives no one a reason to fear.  He's a kindly man, someone who offers hope and solace.  He tends a little garden, ignoring the way that tomatoes in his hands are so close to the colour of fresh blood.

Something is telling Shepherd Book that he should go out into the world, see past these high monastery walls.  After all, the something tells him, he only has someone else's memories of the outside.  He needs to learn for himself.  He needs to teach.

It isn't that his brothers are encouraging him to leave the monastery.  By and large, this is a cloistered order.  The clergy doesn't think Shepherd Book needs to travel the world.   He is welcome, even encouraged to stay in the compound and do local good works.

Shepherd Book knows why he thinks of leaving.  It's him, his old self, who whispers seductive words about the 'verse and seeing what is on the outside.  But he knows the truth: that his old self hates the compound, hates the words of God, hates the Bible and all the peace it brings.

His old self wants out, and Shepherd Book knows once he gets away from the monastery and its order, he'll restart his old behaviours, no matter that the war is over.

Shaking his head to clear it of the temptation, Shepherd Book opens his Bible and says no.

Rating: R
Genre: Gen fic
Pairing: None
Spoilers: The series
Disclaimers: Not my characters
Warnings: Violence
Summary: Sometimes it doesn't work the way fate anticipated.  Snapshots of what might have been. AU.
Notes:  First time posting Firefly gen fic.  Thanks to Stacey for beta and suggestions!

Email me  |  Back to Firefly Stories  |  Journal