SHINY IN THE BLACK: a FIREFLY Christmas

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Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me
Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me
There's no place I can be
Since I found Serenity
But you can't take the sky from me...

Captain Malcolm Reynolds was usually the first one to exit his bunk in the morning, which, coupled with the fact that he was also usually the last one to retire to his bunk at night, went a long way to making him the way he was. Even on mornings like this one, when the night before he and the rest of his crew had been up abnormally late celebrating a score on Persephone, he was up before anyone else, no matter how much his head throbbed and the metallic taste of too much bad whiskey filled his mouth. But on this morning, as he climbed up the ladder to the hallway and shuffled toward the mess, he slowly realized that he wasn't the first one up this time. Someone was in the mess already, and they were singing. Mal could make out the words – "God rest ye, merry gentlemen..." — and he inwardly sighed. On a typical day, Mal needed at least three cups of green tea before he was ready to deal with Shepherd Book. Today he figured to need six cups before he felt ready to talk to anyone.

"Ah! Good morning, Captain! There's water on the stove, just off the boil, if you're looking for tea." The Shepherd beamed.

"Yeah," Mal said. "I'll get to the tea in just a moment, Shepherd, but just now I'm a bit flummoxed as to why there's a tree in the corner of my mess."

"Oh, that," said the Shepherd. "I hoped you wouldn't mind. Just a little something I picked up before we left Persephone yesterday."

"I didn't notice you bringing a tree on board?"

"Yes, I was worried about how to sneak it onto the ship, when I realized that God had provided me a perfect way to get it past your eyes."

"And that was...."

"You and Jayne were ripping drunk. Zoe and Wash and the Doctor carried you on board. You weren't noticing anything last night."

"I wasn't that drunk!"

"Maybe, Captain, but you got out of bed and came all the way to the mess wearing your gun, your slippers, and a pair of women's underwear."

"Oh." Mal staggered over to the stove. "I think I'm gonna have that tea now, while you explain why there's a gorram tree on my gorram boat."

"There's no need for language, Captain." The Shepherd folded his hands in front of his chest, in that prayerful stance that Mal hated. Of course, Book well knew that the Captain hated it when he took that tone, which is why he did it so much more often now. Mal just grunted as he fumbled in the cupboard for his favorite mug and the tea leaves.

"Hand me the kitchen robe," Mal said.

"Certainly." Book opened another cupboard and pulled out a bundle of cloth, which he tossed to the Captain. This was the 'kitchen robe', a bathrobe that Mal kept stashed in the mess just for situations like this. He put on the robe as his tea steeped, and just in time, too, because that's when Zoe and Wash arrived. Zoe looked all cleaned up and ready to go, as did Wash, even if no one could tell because Wash generally looked all cattawumpus, with his unbuttoned shirt over a tank top, shorts, and sandals.

"Well, this is very nice," Zoe said. "Care to let us know what you're wearing underneath the kitchen robe, sir?"

"I do not," said Mal. "And you can stop laughing. We've all had mornings like this."

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