Set six months after the events of Serenity. Follows the pregnant!Zoe idea which is apparently canon in the extended universe, because the idea is brilliant and absolutely perfect for furthering Zoe's character.
Any featured Chinese is from Google Translate so I apologise for inaccuracies, and if anyone more knowledgeable wants to send me corrections, then I'm all for it. :)
Mal would later look back on how it all started, and say that his often dubious common sense had been thrown off by the only thing more important - money.
He's getting ready to shut the doors and tell River to take off so they can leave the backwater rim planet behind them. Problem is, the moment he goes to do so, he starts upon seeing someone standing on the ramp. He opens his mouth to yell profanities at the girl standing there (it's been a long day and River won't shut up about cats for some reason and he is beyond tired), but somehow she beats him to it.
"Take me with you," she says simply from several metres away, and before he can tell her to respectfully piss off, he sees that in her hands is a sack that rustles in that magical way he has come to know so well but not as well as he might like. His natural reply dries up in his throat and he wonders if he is actually considering this beyond strange and startling request. He's still debating when the sack is suddenly tossed into his hands. Instinctively, he peers inside and sees the kind of money that usually comes from one of their big jobs. Nothing like what a passenger would normally have.
"Where'd you get this?" Mal asks, regarding her with no small amount of suspicion. No kid - or near enough - should have this kind of money. "It stolen?"
"Yeah." The girl doesn't blink. "You're leaving the planet, it don't matter."
"It matters if those you stole from can follow us."
"They can't. I promise." He's good at reading people, and what he sees is sincerity and desperation in the extreme. He doesn't have the time or energy to argue, and with the kind of money now in his hands, he doesn't need to. He can drop her to the nearest planet or moon and walk away with enough money in his hand that he might be able to actually buy a new compression coil for Kaylee as well as enough fuel to last them a few more jobs.
But he wants a few more seconds, just to get a closer read on her, check they aren't signing up for a Saffron of a different kind.
"You're running from something."
"Where you wanna go?"
"Anywhere that ain't here." Her hazel eyes plead with him, and the desperation he spotted earlier starts to seep into her voice. "Please."
He stares at her for a moment longer before closing his hand more tightly around the sack and jerking his head toward the cargo bay. "Get in."
Relief drowns her features and she smiles in a way that isn't happy but purely grateful. "Thanks. You won't regret it, promise, you won't even know I'm here." A tiny, ratty bag over her shoulder is all she carries in with her, and a tiny brightness sparks in her eyes as she takes in the inside of Serenity.
Well, at least if she likes Serenity, Kaylee might take to her and keep her out of the way of everyone else, Mal thinks. She's not much to look at, around River's age and similarly scrawny but with just a tiny bit more meat on her bones, though like River, still quite young with no curves worth mentioning.
"What's your name?"
"Well, I'm Malcolm Reynolds and the captain of this here boat. Follow me." Mal leads her through the ship to spread the word about the new arrival and to make quick introductions.
Jayne is not at all happy at the idea of another passenger - until he sees the money and quickly does a 180 and even asks Aden if she wants him to show her to her room.
Kaylee, unsurprisingly, jumps at the idea of having a new person to get to know, but is instructed by Mal to return to her repair work before she decides to get too sociable.
Inara doesn't seem too bothered either way - the money alone explains Mal's agreement and she has no problem with newcomers.
Simon is mild enough about it but quietly seems worried that a new person might not necessary be trustworthy. Even with River's amazing abilities of self-defence, he still worries about the Alliance threat, though this new girl is about as far from that as possible and even a blind idiot can see that.
Zoe is the most impassive of all, she just makes a comment about finally being able to make some decent repairs to the ship and nods politely at Aden. Six months isn't quite enough time for her to regain her passion for the life they lead, not now that she's going it alone. The pregnancy helps though - he knows that the little piece of Wash that is growing inside her is what gives her some of the fire back in her eyes.
River is different.
"River, this is-"
"The new stray. I know." River doesn't even look around from where she is plotting their course and taking them slowly out through the atmosphere.
"My name's Aden," Aden offers the other girl meekly, and the brunette's head whirls around. Her dark eyes hold Aden's, with so much depth and complexity that Mal is almost concerned for the new girl for a moment, until River nods curtly and blinks, breaking her gaze.
"Yes. That's fine. That's good."
Mal just shakes his head, almost but not quite used to River's eccentricity, and as he and Aden move back through the ship to find some of the other crewmembers, he explains to Aden that River is special, a gift in her own way but a confusing one.
Aden just ducks behind her long, straight hair and says that the same thing could be said about the 'verse in general. "I'm used to not understanding things. Don't imagine she'll be too different."
It quickly becomes apparent that the earnest side Mal had seen in Aden upon their first meeting is far from her usual demeanour. Her quietness almost disturbs him at first, but her tendency to keep to her room makes his job easier and seems to keep her happy enough, so he doesn't complain. He figures the girl's got the right to do what she likes, and if it involves her keeping quiet and not getting in the way of any of the crew, then all the better.
Dinner the night of her arrival is a little awkward, because the atmosphere of family and comradery is now infiltrated by a stranger, who is obviously all too aware of her intrusion.
Conversation continues mostly as normal, and Aden eats her food quietly, finding herself opposite River at the table and the sole object of her gaze. The brunette won't stop looking at her like she's a fascinating book with pages being flipped every other minute.
"So, Aden, is this your first time off planet?" Inara asks politely, and Aden nods and is thankful for a logical reason to look away from the young pilot, because her brain doesn't rationally want to. "What was your home like?"
"Restrictive," Aden replies, and there's something in her calmly reserved eyes that makes it clear to everyone else that she isn't particularly keen on discussing it.
Three days she's been on Serenity. It's been as good as Aden might hope, but the crew are really more of a family than anything else, and it leaves Aden feeling out of place, but since she is going to be getting off as soon as possible, it hardly matters. She has spent most of the time in her small room, reading the same book - her only one - over and over again, coming out only for the meals where she eats silently and makes short replies to the questions politely put to her by the rest of the crew.
But today Aden comes out, finally craving some kind of social interaction even though she is more than used to going days without it. She enters the dining room and finds River in there, passively snacking on a tiny bit of leftover protein. The other girl gives her an unreadable look and starts spouting some wondrous nonsense (which Aden has gathered from meantimes is apparently very normal for her) that one way or another is rather entertaining, so Aden listens and nods, intrigued but unsure how to contribute to the conversation.
"It's okay to not know things, little cat," River says suddenly.
"Little and quiet," the brunette recites while doing a little twirl around the table, "Aloof except not really." Aden's very subtle look of incredulity is apparently enough to make River grin, which shouldn't be a significant action but it somehow is because Aden's stomach does an odd backflip. River doesn't say another word, as if she knows that Aden's mind has inconveniently decided to have a brief malfunction.
So they stand, both silent and staring at the other, and Aden is still stuck between two reactions which both somehow seem natural even though the second one shouldn't. The first option wins out and she doesn't respond at all, but it's okay because already no one on the ship, least of all River, finds her apparent lack of social response to be surprising after three days of being subject to it.
River just smiles again and sits on the edge of the table, humming under her breath.
River understands, Aden realises suddenly. She somehow knows what I'm feeling even if I don't show it. What I heard Mal say is true. She can read people like instruction manuals. That's all kinds of scary. But at least it means I don't have to explain nothing.
Mal walks in then, and surveys the scene, which is Aden eyeing River curiously and River grinning at Aden, and understandably doesn't seem quite sure what he's walked in on. After asking if they're alright and them replying in the affirmative, he leaves while talking under his breath about something that sounds like 'gorram blank girls staring at me on my boat, like one wasn't enough'.
It's later that day that Aden watches from the runways as the incredibly beautiful woman, Inara, teaches Mal to fence down below in the space of the cargo bay. It's entertaining and something to do, so she just drinks it in, watching the completely foreign movements with wide, captivated eyes.
There is something between the dark haired beauty and the captain, but Aden doesn't know much about those sorts of things, and so unless it gets obviously private, she doesn't see much harm in her watching.
When River suddenly appears in her peripheral vision and sits down next to her Aden jumps a mile. Having only spoken to her two or three times, the dark haired genius is still a complete enigma. Not to mention, her stomach feels odd again.
"Their hearts sing for each other," River says, her eyes also following Mal and Inara, "But the ears in their heads are clogged up with fluff and excuses."
"I don't know much about things like that," Aden admits, and River's lips quirk, but her head tips to the side.
"It's quite nonsensical," she says, "Brains should be strongest, but hearts do more than they should. And then later, it's about noises and being naked and-" She notices Aden's startled expression and pink cheeks, and giggles. "The little green and red people don't see how silly they are."
"I don't think that kind of love existed where I come from."
"No, it didn't."
It's the sort of thing that could so easily be brushed off as an assumption, but somehow Aden just knows that there's more to it. "How do you know?"
"Your font is tricky but your pages are still open, little cat. Not hard to read if you know how, even if you sit there like a little statue, make them all nervous."
"I don't mean to. I'm just-"
"Not used to being allowed to be heard."
Aden wants to nod, or agree and tell her that she's right, but she somehow can't quite manage it and it doesn't seem like River needs her to anyway. Regardless, River gets up and twirls away, light on her feet, a lithe dancer, with more grace than should be humanly possible. Aden's eyes follow her until she's out of sight, because she's, well, shiny.
"You alright?" A male voice from behind her makes Aden jump yet again, and she spins her head to see the other Tam sibling standing nearby. "I don't know what she said, you just look worried, and River can be...strange at times."
"Don't know enough people to know what's strange," Aden finds herself replying, honestly and gets up, "I'm fine. Thanks anyway, Doctor Tam."
"You can call me Simon," he says, and gives her a funny smile, "Please do, the others will never let me hear the end of it if they hear you calling me Doctor Tam."
Aden nods and moves off towards the passenger quarters. She thinks it might be time to return to her most common pastime, which is quietly reading over the only book in her possession - A History of Unification. She has no sympathy in her heart for the Alliance, but doesn't actively hate them either. Being from a rim planet, it's all just sweet nothings from a place too far away to matter. But she isn't a complete idiot, and is reasonably sure of the browncoated captain and where he stands on the whole thing.
She decides to start the book again anyway. Familiar and rather bland words are better than no words at all. She's at it for ten minutes before there is a knock on her door.
Kaylee's head pops into sight. "Hey sweetie, how's it going?"
Aden shuts the book. "Fine, I guess."
Kaylee steps properly into the room. "You don't say much, do ya?"
"Never had a lot of reason to before."
The mechanic's eyes are soft as they regard the teenager. "Wherever you ran from weren't so nice, was it?" Aden just shakes her head. "What kinda place was it?"
"They called it New Eden, I think," Aden replies, "Dunno what kinda place. Think folks in town called us all God freaks. Said it was like a prison." She draws her legs up to her chest. "They weren't so wrong about the last part."
"Sounds like a miracle you even got away."
Aden shrugs. "I'm good with locks. Stole their money and bolted to catch the first ship leavin'. Turned out to be Serenity."
Kaylee comes to sit beside her. "Well, money'll get you almost everywhere. Captain's finally getting me a new compression coil from your stolen goods, so I just wanted thank ya."
"I'm just grateful the captain didn't say no. They'd have caught up to me for sure."
"You had a whole lotta money, it ain't no problem, and you don't cause no trouble. You're like a quiet little mouse."
"River calls me little cat."
Kaylee looks at the girl with vague interest. "Huh. Dunno if I see it, but she's the reader, not me." That's when she notices the book on Aden's lap. "Ooh, don't let the captain see you with that. He was an Independent Sergeant, you know."
"I don't mean nothing by it," Aden says quietly, touching the cover with her fingertips, "Just like reading. This one's the longest one from back home, so it's the one I took."
"Well, maybe there will be a bit of money leftover to buy you a different book so you don't have read this liánbāng lèsè," Kaylee says kindly.
The teenager looks up with newly alive eyes. "Really?"
"If it'll stop you reading that, I bet the captain will even help you pick one out," Kaylee chuckles, and she gets up. "I'll see you tomorrow. You get some sleep kiddo."
Aden watches her go before deciding it is reasonable advice and lies on her cot as her mind goes over the events of the day. Her brain still finds it hard to process that she has truly moved on from the only life she has known, and the fact that she has no real idea what the real world is like is not lost on her. She is all too aware and can only hope for the best and leave it as a problem for another day.
Soon enough, her eyes flicker shut and she's out like a light.
Mal has to stop and immediately frown when he sees the little albatross poking her head into their passenger's room. He comes up behind her and before he can say a word, without her head turning around, her hand comes up and covers his mouth.
"Shh," River whispers, "She's sleeping."
He moves her hand away. "Yeah, she is...so why're you watchin' her?"
"Kitties are cutest when they're sleeping," she replies, smiling as she leans on the doorframe. Mal blinks, opens his mouth to speak, then shuts it again.
"You know that's a girl and not a cat, right? Cos Kaylee mentioned something that made me think that maybe you're a mite confused on this," he says slowly, and River giggles before shutting the door to Aden's room and looping her arm through his as they walk away.
"Well, you know I'm not really an albatross," she says, and he gives her a crooked smile, "It's all in your head, just like she's in mine." She shrugs. "She's just a girl. A stray who needs a home."
They come into the dining room, where Zoe is sitting with a meal of protein and Kaylee is trying to encourage her to eat. The dark skinned woman looks green and shakes her head.
"You alright, Zoe?" Mal asks, and she just sighs and pushes her plate away from her.
"Damn kid's impossible to please, sir," Zoe complains, rubbing her curved belly, "Hate to say it but we need real food. Real soon."
"We're a day from Persephone," River puts in as she wandered through the kitchen, her fingers absently grazing the countertops, "27 hours to be exact. I can set the course."
The three women in the room look at Mal for confirmation and he nods. "Sounds good. We can see if Badger's got anything for us."
Jayne and Simon wander in then. "What's happenin'?" The former asks.
"Landing on Persephone within the next day or so, should get some work and food if all goes well," Mal explains, and Jayne nods, pleased by the prospect of both. The muscular man digs his fingers into his belt.
"Good, can't stand hanging round with nothin' to shoot, it ain't good for anyone," he says, making Simon roll his eyes behind him.
"Persephone's close enough for people to know about Alliance bulletins," Simon points out, somewhat nervously, "People could still be looking for me and River."
"Then if either of you have plans to be leaving the ship, best be quiet about it and not draw any attention to yourselves," Mal replies simply, eyes flicking between the Tam siblings. River just gives him a cheeky little grin that doesn't do much to reassure the captain but he knows better than to try and put a leash on the girl.
"What about Aden?" Kaylee suddenly asks. They all hesitate, having forgotten about the extra female on board. Eventually Mal just shrugs.
"Ain't no one looking for her, or so she says. Girl don't seem like a troublemaker, so I don't see why it should be a problem. Kid could stand to leave her room a little more and get some fresh air."
"We can take the cat for a walk," River muses as she sits up on the counter, making Mal rub his forehead.
"You keep this metaphor up, little albatross, and we're gonna need to have a talk about your fascination with this girl."
His words just make River grin wickedly and swing her feet like a five year old.
I've never written Firefly fic before, and I'm really enjoying it! Please let me know your thoughts in a review, I could really use the feedback.
(Also, I'm worried about the tense just because present tense is tricky so if you spot any errors, again just let me know.)
Thanks for reading, and reviews are appreciated! :D
Liánbāng lèsè - federal rubbish