Title: Serenity Ranch
Category: AU, Family, Gen
Characters/Pairing: Mal, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Jayne, Inara, Book, Simon & River
Summary: Kinda funny then, how that road led him right back to ranching, in the end.
Word Count: 2,397 words.
Date Written: December, 2014.
Disclaimer: Firefly belongs to Fox & Joss Whedon. This story belongs to me. For fun, not profit.
Feedback: Bring it. dodger_sister / TheArtofDodger@comcast.net
Author's Notes: I saw this promo photo going around Tumblr of the whole cast on some wooden porch and I thought, “This looks like it needs an AU.” So I wrote one. It was mean to be one of those quick synopsis things that Tumblr gets for AU photo-sets, but it turned into this fic instead. I really like the whole idea of this ranch-world.
Art by me!
Mal’d been raised on a ranch, so he knew a thing or two about ‘em. Had himself a whole passel of family there too, not just his mama. Course, back in those days, he’d always been looking to the road for his freedom, for his future. Kinda funny then, how that road led him right back to ranching, in the end.
Not at first though. At first he’d gone and enlisted, broke his mama’s heart, even if she did support the cause.
“A man don’t never come back from war,” she told him.
At the time, he thought she’d been worrying on him going and gettin’ himself killed out there. Looking back on it though, he realized she’d meant a whole other thing. Because the Malcolm Reynolds who’d lived on that ranch with her hadn’t never come back from that war, that was for damn sure.
After his service was over and his scars were still red and raw, he wandered along that road for a bit more. Too long maybe. He didn’t care much for staying in one place. And he’d take the honest work when he could get it, but that wasn’t near often enough. ‘Petty crime,’ some might have called it. ‘Work,’ Mal called it. At least he had his lieutenant by his side, most days anyways.
Zoe’d always been there for him in the war. Kicked his ass when he needed it, which was more often than Mal cared to admit. But she had just as much trouble staying in one place as he had. Maybe his mama’d been right all along - not just that you don’t come back the same, but that you can’t never come home either, cuz don’t no place feel like home anyways.
But Mal decided to go on ahead and give it a go.
And that’s when he went and bought himself a ranch.
“I’m goin’ to call her Serenity,” Mal told Zoe with a grin as wide as the sky overhead. “Serenity Ranch. Whaddya think?”
“It looks barren, sir,” Zoe told him.
“Nah, that’s just the surface. She just needs some tending is all.”
“You expect to grow here?”
“And grow enough so thems that’s breeding can eat?”
“What’s your point?” Mal asked her and could feel those little lines wrinkling right up on his forehead.
“No, sir, I think you’ve gone and gotten yourself a right good spot of land,” Zoe told him and then burst out laughing.
Zoe never did know gold when she saw it. But she’d learn. She’d learn true enough.
Wash came next and Mal will admit it right up front that half the reason he gave the man a job was just on account of how much Zoe didn’t care for him. Though that went and backfired on Mal right quick.
“I’m good at most things and them what I’m not, I can learn real quick,” Wash told him over the hot bowl of soup Mal had set down in front of the man. Mal knew his manners, after all.
“Where’d you say you were from?” Mal asked again.
“All over. Been doin’ a bit of wandering. Raised geeslings for awhile. Worked children’s birthday parties doing shadow puppets and all. Where the wind takes me. Flying about.”
“I suppose we always got odds and ends need doing,” Mal told him, while Zoe scowled at Mal from the doorway. “How you feel about driving large machinery?”
“I’ll make you pay for this, captain,” Zoe told him later.
“What? He seems like a right nice fellow,” Mal said with a smirk.
“He wears Hawaiian shirts. Ain’t no room on a ranch for a man in a Hawaiian shirt.”
“Just drifting,” Wash told them later. “Might wake up one day and find me gone.”
Mal supposed that day weren’t never gonna come, seeing as how Wash and Zoe were married inside of a year.
It was Kaylee what fell into his lap next. Mal was driving an old beat up truck around town and both Zoe and Wash had been on him trading up for a better model, but Mal liked his hunk of junk, thank you very much. ‘Cept for when it broke down on the side of the road that was.
“Sounds like your twin port manifold end-piece,” someone said, as Mal’s engine sputtered out on him again, leaving him standing there, staring at his engine like a chump.
“Yeah, you know about cars?” Mal asked, really hopeful like, and turned to face the voice.
It was a girl. A kid, mind you. Fifteen, maybe sixteen, all baby-faced and big round eyes. And homeless at that. Mal’d spent enough time on the road, with nowhere to call ‘home’, to recognize it when he saw it. There was a smudge of dirt on her right cheek and the world embedded under her fingernails and Mal tried to squash that beating heart of his right down at the sight of her.
“Let me have a look,” the kid said and Mal figured it couldn’t hurt none and maybe he’d buy her a hot dog or something as a ‘thank you’ and that would be enough to make himself turn and walk away.
“Pliers,” she said from under the hood of the thing and he handed them off and shoved his hands in pockets while he waited, standing there on the side of the town’s main street, right outside the post office.
“There you go, all fixed right up,” she said and handed him back the pliers with a smile.
The engine purred right to life, sounding better than it had in ages, to be honest. Mal was a little more ’en impressed.
“Thank you there, sweetheart,” he said. “Let me buy you a bite to eat for your trouble.”
Kaylee shrugged. “Weren’t no trouble, mister. If you know what you’re doin’.”
“And you do? Know what you’re doing?”
“Reckon so. Daddy always said I did. Before the bank took his shop.”
“You go back there often? To your daddy’s?”
“Naw. He’s got enough mouths to feed, I reckon,” she said and looked off towards the road.
“I reckon he does,” Mal told her. “You got a name?”
Zoe rolled her eyes at him when he walked through the front door of the house with Kaylee in tow and demanded she make up a room for their new mechanic.
“Wash, make up a room for our new mechanic,” Zoe said, because she be damned if she was making up rooms for wayward girls.
Kaylee called him ‘mister’ for the first two days, until he said, “Mal. Just call me ‘Mal’.”
But Zoe - still half stuck in the war as she was - was still calling him ‘Captain’ and Kaylee picked up on that right fast. Truth be told, Mal kinda liked it. He was the captain of Serenity Ranch now and that sit alright with him.
Jayne came along next, and quite honestly, Mal harbored a bit of resentment to the locals for awhile after that.
“Got rooms for rent?” the man asked, taking up all of Mal’s doorway. “Lady in town said they were full up, but thought you might have some space out here.”
“She said that, did she?” Mal asked, sizing the man up right quick.
“I got money.”
“Why don’t you give me a price first?” Jayne told him, narrowing his eyes all suspicious like at Mal. If anyone had any reason to be suspicious here, it was Mal. He recognized prison tats when he saw them, after all.
“You watch him real close now,” Mal told Zoe, when Kaylee introduced herself to the man and said, “Oh, cool beans! New family!”
“Not new family,” Mal corrected her. “Just two nights, is all.”
Course, on night two, four men came into the house meaning to kill folk. Mal took out the one and Jayne laid out the other three with a rifle he had pulled from lord knows where, considering Mal had been very specific about the man bringing no guns under his roof.
“You bring your trouble to my door!” Mal raged at him, while Zoe put a comforting arm around Kaylee, just in an attempt to get the girl to come out of the closet and stop crying about the blood on the floor.
“Don’t think it was my trouble that came to your door,” Jayne told him and pulled a photograph off one of the dead men. It showed a slightly younger Mal Reynolds - though still war-worn and weary - outside a considerable size of a house.
Mal recognized which job it was immediately and it weren’t one of the honest ones.
“They were gonna kill you, Captain,” Kaylee said into Zoe’s shoulder.
“Don’t reckon they’ll be stupid enough to send anymore out this way, little one,” Jayne told her then.
Mal looked down at the men on his floor and felt that stupid beating heart of his again.
“Zoe, you get a shovel, help me bury them up proper.”
“I’ll help you there, Captain,” Jayne told him. “I put ‘em down, the least I can do is dig ‘em a hole.”
Jayne turned out to be good for the right heavy lifting and a proper show in strength never made a negotiation go bad, that was for sure.
Mal wondered what his mama would think when he opened a room for a whore, but thinking on it a bit, he figured she’d probably approve more than most anyone. Mama always said it was best to offer to those that no one else would.
Inara corrected him right off the bat, that she hadn’t been a whore, before she retired that was. She’d been a professional, high priced, way outside of Mal’s range, for sure.
“And now you wanna live on a ranch?” Mal asked her, right skeptical as he was.
“I’ve made enough to live comfortably, but the city doesn’t work for me anymore. And I am quite good at running a household,” Inara told him and then looked around the kitchen, where Wash and Kaylee were doing more messing around than they were the actual cooking of dinner they was suppose to be doing. “It seems to me that you have quite a full one, Captain.”
Mal looked her over once more. Seemed respectable and upfront enough to him, he supposed.
“You don’t go servicing your clientele here,” he told her though, just to be sure she got that down.
“My clientele wouldn’t stoop to step foot in this place,” she replied smoothly.
“What? What’s wrong with this place?!” Mal cried, offended on all fronts. You don’t insult a man’s home like that, it just weren’t done.
“Nothing at all, for me,” Inara told him. “I quite like it here. Which is why I am asking for a room to rent, is it not?”
Mal made a noise almost like a ‘hhmph’ and said, “Serenity’s a beauty.”
“That she is,” Inara told him and Mal made a face that was almost a smile.
A preacher was not sitting well with Mal at all. Not one looking to spread the word to those that need it, for sure.
“We don’t need it here,” Mal told him.
“I suppose not, but this whole county is full of places too far out for most to go. I suppose they could be in need, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Mal said.
“I can compensate for the room. And I am a fair hand at growing things, if you like.”
“Growing heavenly souls, ripe for the picking?” Mal asked with a fair settled half smirk/half scowl in place.
“I was thinking more along the lines of strawberries,” the preacher told him.
“Woah, Shepherd, did you say strawberries?” Kaylee asked and Mal wanted to grumble at her for always coming in and being all sparkly and shiny while he was riding a hard line, but he never could bring it on himself to do so.
“I did,” the preacher told her. “And it’s Book. They call me Book.”
In the end, it worked out better than Mal would have expected. He never did get much of an answer though as to what the preacher had done in his early years, but Mal was quite sure it wasn’t no tending of the flock.
The captain was starting to realize a few things out here, like that people what were drawn to Serenity seemed to be looking for a new place to start theirselves up again.
Mal understood that better than most would have thought.
The doctor and his sister came to them with their own troubles in their wake.
“Paranoid schizophrenia,” the doctor told him, while the girl balanced on one foot on the porch railing and stared at the clouds liked they held all the answers to the things inside her head.
Mal didn’t know, maybe they did.
“Our parents dumped her in a state run facility. Guess the doctors there took it upon themselves to try out some new treatments on her,” the doc told him. “Messed up her brain something fierce.”
Mal wasn’t stupid, so he knew that weren’t the whole truth of the thing, but he let it slide. Didn’t matter much what the truth was, something was messing with that poor girl’s head and she needed a fresh place, just like the rest of them.
“You can tend to animals, Doc?” Mal asked him.
“I don’t suppose why not. Not to brag,” he said - though Mal found most people who said they weren’t aiming to brag, actually were - “But I graduated medical school at the age of twenty-one. Give me some books and some hands-on experience, I am sure I can get to animals just as well as I can your staff.”
“The girl best not get in the way of my business,” Mal told him with all his captainy authority. “I feel for her and your whole situation, but business is business, you understand?”
“I do, Captain,” Simon told him. “She won’t be any trouble.”
“Anyways, Captain,” River said and leaned herself backwards on that railing, still standing on one leg alone, enough so that Mal reached out to catch her, though she didn’t never lose any balance anyhow. “Business is good.”
“That it is, little River. That it is.”