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As the Rooster Crows

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Roosters don’t crow in space. Even if they were born on a farm and had crowed their whole lives through the minute they were on a ship moving out of atmo they’d clam up tight. Most animals adapt to space travel just as much as humans do, but not roosters. As best as scientific folks could figure they’re ornery critters, and nothing but a real sunup will raise their little voices to greet the day. So, space-faring folk had to find other ways to mark the mornings on a long haul through the black.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds walked the hallways and catwalks of Serenity in the wee hours of the morning, long after his night owls had turned in and just before the early risers had begun to stir. Exceptin’ the little albatross, of course, but there was never any way to guess what kind of schedule she was keeping to. Could be she shadowed him on every one of these little walks and he’d never know for sure. His boots were soft on the metal grating in a way they never were during the busy hours of the day, quieted by the peace that settled over the ship in moments like this one. He could walk every inch of Serenity blindfolded, and he could just as easily piece together how the day would start all over again.

Wash would be the first to wake. From his first day on the job the pilot had always risen before everyone else to get in the chair and check the navigation as though there was a snowball’s chance he’d screwed it up when he checked the course six times before he’d gone to bed. He was regular as clockwork, rising from the bed he shared with his wife and shuffling to the bridge in whatever goofy pajamas he’d grabbed without looking. Over the years Mal had seen everything from childish dinosaur prints to matching tropical shirt and shorts to a truly hideous footed onesie with rabbit ears that had been Kaylee’s idea of a spectacular Christmas present. After he’d done his daily check the pilot would, without fail, return to slumber for at least another hour. Sometimes two. Since he and Zoe had gotten together he’d added a stop by the galley to set the coffee pot brewing and make his beloved wife a cup before he’d deliver it to her on his return to bed.

Zoe and the Shepherd would be up next. After she’d sipped that first mug of coffee with her husband clinging to her like a favorite teddy bear his first mate would extricate herself from her spouse and their blankets, shower and dress with long-ingrained military efficiency, and set about her early rounds. Didn’t much need a safety check when they were out in the black, but that never stopped her. Zoe aimed to keep her folk safe as houses, and that meant never letting up on her routine. Mal usually stopped her to say good morning (and give her some inane instruction that he wasn’t all that concerned about but knew would let her know he appreciated her dedication) there in the hall above the bunks before she dropped her mug off in the kitchen sink and headed down the back hall to take the stairs down toward the infirmary.

She’d pass Book when he emerged from the passenger dorms, his hair tied back and the good book clasped tightly in one hand. It was a security blanket, that book, and he’d carry it all the way up to the galley where he’d work his way through two cups of coffee. He never failed to start a second pot when the first ran dry, and he was the one that started the kettle so Inara could have her morning tea. It was always just beginning to whistle when the Companion arrived. As different as they were, the two of them were tailor made to spend those precious quiet moments together every day. Inara’d sit in a pretty pose for her daily meditation while Book would read get some convenin’ with the Lord out of the way before the rest came in to disturb their peace.

Not that Kaylee had ever disturbed anyone a day in her life. Sweet as sunshine, little Kaylee always woke up happy and ready to face the world. She’d skip from her bunk to the engine room first thing, usually humming a little tune that no one could recognize. She thought it was important to say hello to Serenity first thing. There was a whole routine of morning diagnostics that she went through while she alternated between merry dancing and vicious swearing that there were parts that needed replacing. As soon as she was done she’d bounce into the galley with all that joy right there on the surface. The Shepherd would set his book aside to help her when she started breakfast the moment she’d scrubbed all the engine grease from her paws. Kaylee didn’t drink any of the coffee, but she always poured a cup and left it steaming on one end of the counter. It would disappear when no one was looking, gone into the vents or a smuggler’s compartment or wherever it was that River was exploring at the time.

By the time Simon made his way to the galley—prim and proper, with pressed trousers and his shirt cuffs neatly buttoned—Wash would be up all over again. They’d both take a cup of coffee when Kaylee poured one out for them and settle in at the dining table. Simon didn’t panic so much anymore when he didn’t immediately see his sister in the mornings. He’d been learning to let go a little, and she never missed breakfast, so he’d sit at the table and talk to the rest like he was a real boy and not whatever nervous wreck he’d been when he first came aboard. Wash was always good at bringing that out, and when Inara would slide into a chair with her second cup of tea to join them the conversation might even be downright interesting.

The big circus of the morning was always when it came time to call Jayne to the table. The big merc could be awake before all of them if’n a job required, but more than any of them he preferred to sleep in and lay about. If his bunk was still shut tight when Zoe passed by on her way from finishing those rounds she’d bang on the door until he grumbled up the ladder. Other mornings he’d already be gone, poked and prodded out of bed by River. No one knew how she kept getting into his bunk since she never did use the door, but she’d find her way to irritatin’ him when the mood suited her. No matter which deadly woman was his wake-up call, Jayne would stomp into the galley fully dressed but with his boots unlaced and swear at everyone and everything until he’d chugged three cups of coffee with most of his day’s sugar ration.

Mal thought of all of it as he came to a stop on the steps down from the bridge and stared sightlessly down the hall toward the galley. It wasn’t the farmhouse wakeup he’d had as a boy, and it certainly wasn’t the regimented start even the Independents had back in the war. His hardworking little ship had a feel all her own. Underneath all of it, though, from grumbling to routine to cheerful laughter, was something he’d seen both on Shadow and wherever the Browncoats had gone to fight. He’d always hoped he’d see it again when he took to flyin’. Morning with a family.

Metal creaked and groaned, and the sound of muffled footsteps on a ladder echoed softly up into the hall above the crew bunks, shaking the captain out of his musings about the typical routine. Mal smiled when Wash shuffled past him (hot pink pajama bottoms that River had selected and bear claw slippers this time) without seeming to notice he was there. He watched his pilot follow the path to the bridge he’d known was coming, then made his own way to the galley. It barely took seconds to get the coffee started. Just a little gesture to give his crew a hand getting to day going. And if Mal happened to fall asleep shortly after in one of the communal area’s worn-in arm chairs—lulled to dreamland by the familiar murmur of his beloved ship coming to life all around him—well, no one was going to give him too much hell about it. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all, and they always woke him when breakfast was ready.