Spoilers: Mild, throughout the series and a little of the film.
Notes: I'm so sorry this is late, I've been under the weather lately. Scripts from here. Episode numbers based on part one of the pilot being 1x01 and part two of the pilot being 1x02. Thanks go to danachan and laurelcrowned for the betas ♥
Personal website: the_jenmark
I am going to come out and say it: I love Firefly. I love Serenity. I love the whole ’verse that Joss Whedon and the crew created. I love the whole damn show, can feel it to the marrow of my bones when there’s a sweeping heroic shot, when they show Serenity in all her glory; I love every character moment, every plot twist, I love the look and feel of the series and the film.
Above all else I love about the show, I love my ’ship. Kaylee/Mal/Inara is, for me, a big part of what makes the ’verse so special.
Look At the Pretties!
Kaywinnit Lee Frye, better known as Kaylee, is the mechanic on Serenity, and the most optimistic of the characters. She has a talent for understanding machines, one that was never learned but is instinctive. She is loyal and sunny, the type of person who makes you smile because they’re taking such a joy in their surroundings.
And she likes strawberries.
Kaylee stares, struck speechless, as a waiter passes, carrying a huge BOWL OF ENORMOUS STRAWBERRIES to the buffet table.
MAL: Help me find our man. S'posed to be older, kinda stocky, wearing a red sash crossways.
Kaylee never takes her eyes off the strawberries.
KAYLEE: Why's he doing that?
MAL: Maybe he won the Miss Persephone pageant. Help me look.
KAYLEE: That him?
Mal looks where she's pointing, at the buffet table.
MAL: That's the buffet table.
KAYLEE: How can we be sure, unless we question it?
MAL: Fine. Don't make yourself sick.
Kaylee flashes him a big smile.
Big Damn Hero
Malcolm Reynolds, formerly Sergeant and now Captain, is central to the story of Firefly. Born and raised on Shadow, he fought in the War, on the side of the Independents, who objected to the Alliance trying to take over every planet in the galaxy. He fought for freedom and all he believed to be right. In the first scene of the pilot episode of the series, “Serenity”, before he goes back out of the trench in the battle of Serenity Valley, he kisses the cross at his neck and gives the battle his all. As the Independents are beaten back and forced to surrender, as the Alliance come to destroy the last of them, Mal’s world and belief system are shattered.
A few years later, having fallen in love with Serenity (and named her after that battle where he lost everything, including his faith), he takes his old Army second-in-command Zoe with him to start a life of freedom, taking jobs as they come, never having to live under the thumb of the Alliance. He builds up a crew, and among the legitimate transport jobs they take are … not so legitimate, or legal, jobs.
Mal is a man with a core integrity. He was changed drastically by the War, but he still believes in doing what’s right and not submitting to a superpower who trample on the little guy and try to manipulate people. He can be rough and ready, he likes it when the jobs go smoothly, but there’s something about living on the edge. Having that edge right near where he just might fall off. There’s something in that he gets a thrill out of.
Most of all, Mal is a good captain and leader. He is fiercely loyal and protective of his crew, who he considers his family.
HARKEN: That's a very loyal crew you have there. But then I see by your record you tend to inspire that quality in people -- Sergeant.
MAL: It's not "sergeant." Not no more. War's over.
HARKEN: For some the war'll never be over. I notice your ship's called "Serenity." You were stationed on Hera at the end of the war. Battle of Serenity Valley took place there, if I recall.
MAL: (now let me think) You know, I believe you may be right.
HARKEN: Independents suffered a pretty crushing defeat there. Some say after Serenity, the Brown Coats were through. That the war really ended in that valley.
HARKEN: Seems odd you'd name your ship after a battle you were on the wrong side of.
MAL: May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.
-- 1x04 “Bushwacked”
Inara Serra is a registered Companion, born and educated on Sihnon. She rents a shuttle on Serenity, travels with them and meets with clients where they land. She lends the ship respectability with her social status, and has found in the crew an unexpected family of sorts.
A Companion, as Mal points out at every opportunity, is a prostitute -- but as more of Inara’s life is revealed over the course of the series and film, we see that a lot more is involved in being a Companion than being a prostitute. Companions are educated, wealthy women of the highest social standing. Graceful, elegant, gifted in music and arts, with a finely-tuned talent for seduction. Companions are the ones who choose their clients, and they do so based on the feeling they get from screening those that apply.
Inara is a good Companion. Her work is more than just work, it is the way she lives, the way she loves to live. She is skilled at every aspect of Companion life. In this vision of the future, Chinese and Western culture have merged, but in the Companion life there is far more evidence of an Eastern philosophy guiding through it. Inara is a caring, giving person, but reserved, in a way. She lives and sleeps in her shuttle, and sometimes leaves the crew for a few days or weeks to work. Serenity keeps moving, but clients are to be found on planets.
KAYLEE: Hey you.
INARA: Hey you.
There is a sweetness between those two. Not so much with Mal, whom Inara approaches.
MAL: Ambassador, this is Shepherd Book.
INARA: I'd have to say this is the first time we've had a preacher on board.
BOOK: Well, I wasn't expecting to see a state official, either. (takes her hand, bows
Mal laughs. Inara glowers at him.
BOOK: (cont'd) I'm missing something funny.
KAYLEE: (glaring at Mal) Not so funny.
INARA: "Ambassador" is Mal's way of --
MAL: She's a whore, Shepherd.
Book's clearly a little thrown. And disapproving.
KAYLEE: The term is "Companion".
MAL: I always get those mixed up. (to Inara) How's business?
INARA: None of yours.
MAL: (to Book) She is pretty much our ambassador. There's plenty of planets won't even let you dock without a decent Companion on board. This isn't a problem for you, is it?
BOOK: Well, I... no, I certainly...
INARA: (turns to go) It's all right. I mostly keep to myself. (passing Mal) When I'm not whoring.
MAL: Don't you wanna meet the rest of the bunch?
INARA: Why don't you make sure they want to meet me first.
Inara and Kaylee head out together.
KAYLEE: So how many fell madly in love with you and wanted to take you away from all this?
INARA: Just the one. I think I'm slipping.
-- 1x01 “Serenity”
Notice how I slipped in my favourite Kaylee/Inara moment there.
The Buffet Table
There is a lot of subtext in canon centred around the UST that Mal and Inara have. A few times throughout the series, it becomes not so much subtext as actual text:
Mal is coming quietly out of Nandi's room, doing up his shirt, just as Inara is coming from the back hall. He stops, totally busted.
She is startled, but doesn't seem shocked. That doesn't stop Mal from excusifying.
MAL: I was just, um, I had to tell Nandi about the... It's near time to... big fight today.
INARA: Mal. Please.
MAL: Hey, no, I've got, I've been up thinking...
INARA: (sincerely) So you took to bed with Nandi. I'm glad.
MAL: Thinking and pondering the -- glad?
INARA: Yes! She's a dear friend, and probably in need of some comfort about now.
MAL: Well, I...
INARA: (amused) One of the virtues of not being puritanical about sex is not being embarrassed afterwards. You should look into it.
MAL: Well, I just... didn't want you to think I was taking advantage of your friend.
INARA: She's well worth taking advantage of, I sincerely hope you did.
MAL: So you're okay. Well, yeah. Why wouldn't you be?
INARA: I wouldn't say I'm entirely okay. I'm a little appalled at her taste.
Smiling, she turns and exits, leaving him come-backless.
Track across the room to find Inara sitting on the floor in the corner. Sobbing her eyes out.
--1x13 “Heart of Gold”
In “Shindig”, a client has offered Inara a life on Persephone as his personal Companion:
MAL: And you think following rules will buy you a nice life, even if the
rules make you a slave.
Inara turns away, frustrated almost to tears. Then, Mal, avoiding her eye:
MAL: (cont'd) Don't take his offer.
Inara turns and stares at him.
MAL: Don't do it. Because, in the case it comes up, that means he's the fella killed me. And I don't like fellas that killed me. Not in general.
He starts practicing again, unable to look at her.
MAL: (cont'd) I said before I had no call to stop you. And that's true. But, anyways... don't.
Inara ignores them all, slams Mal's ladder in and drops down as fast as she can -
INT. MAL'S ROOM - CONTINUOUS
She finds Mal draped like the dead on the floor, rushes to him, fearing the worst -
INARA: Mal Mal Mal Mal -
She goes down, pulls up his head - and he moans - still alive. Unwanted wetness springs into her eyes as she gasps, relieved -
INARA: (cont'd) Merciful buddha...
And she kisses him, once, hard, then holds him to her, collecting herself
--1x07 “Our Mrs Reynolds”
There is also an affection between Mal and Kaylee, shown many times throughout the series -- in “Ariel” when the job is done and they’re back on Serenity, Mal grabs Kaylee and one-armed hugs her just, from the way he does it, for the hell of it.
MAL: You're still the best mechanic floating.
He kisses her on the top of her head. She waves him away, but didn't hate the compliment.
WASH: Captain, don't you know that kissing girls makes you sleepy?
MAL: Sometimes I just can't help myself.
--1x07 “Our Mrs Reynolds”
KAYLEE: We're taking on passengers at Persephone?
MAL: That's the notion. We could use a little respectability on the way to Boros. Not to mention the money.
JAYNE: Pain in the ass.
KAYLEE: No, it's shiny! I like to meet new people. They've all got stories...
JAYNE: Captain, can you please stop her from being cheerful?
MAL: I don't believe there is a power in the 'verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful.
He smiles at her, never stopping working.
MAL: (cont'd) Sometimes you just wanna duct tape her mouth and dump her in the hold for a month.
She grins and kisses his cheek.
KAYLEE: I love my captain.
(And when she says that, Mal gets this I-am-the-luckiest-guy-in-the-’verse look on his face. Which makes me happy.)
There’s a lot of friendship and affection between Kaylee and Inara -- Inara brushes Kaylee’s hair in a scene in “The Train Job”, they spend time together on the planet in “Safe”, there are moments in every episode that show their long-standing friendship. The way they greet each other for the first on-screen time in “Serenity” (quoted above) speaks in just four words and two smiles that these women have known each other and been friends for a while.
So the three of them each have good, affectionate friendships with the other two. But what about all three together?
There’s the scene in “Serenity” when Kaylee is shot by the Fed. Mal and Inara are the first to Kaylee, the most concerned. They are the only characters to call her by any nickname (they both call her ‘mei-mei’ in this episode). As she lies on the floor, and Simon threatens to let her die unless they run from the authorities, Mal has to decide what to do; there is a sense, as he and Inara argue for a few seconds whether to run or if Simon’s bluffing, of them both being Kaylee’s protectors. There is a similar feel around Wash in “Out Of Gas” when Zoe is hurt in the fire; his place is by his wife. When Kaylee is hurt, Mal and Inara’s place is by her side.
Later on in “Serenity”, Reavers follow the ship to Whitefall. Reavers are cannibalistic not-really-human once-people who kill, maim, rape, mutilate, generally are a great big ball of fun. And they are right behind Serenity.
MAL: I want you to get in your shuttle. Get the civilians and be ready to go.
INARA: We can't just leave you here.
MAL: Thought that was the plan.
INARA: Mal, don't --
MAL: We get boarded, you take off, head for town. We might be able to stop them from following.
INARA: They'll kill you.
Just saying her name says more than he probably ever meant to. He puts his hand on the Companion's shoulder. And pushes her gently away.
MAL: (cont'd) Go.
During this exchange, they both have one hand on the door to Kaylee’s room; she still recovering from the gunshot wound and not able to be there, it’s as if this unconscious gesture is including her. They are acting as one unit within this tight-knit crew of nine.
INARA: I see Kaylee is here.
MAL: Girl was crying Cinderella tears. Shoulda seen her, when I said she could have that layer cake she's wearin'.
Inara relaxes a little.
INARA: I think she looks adorable.
MAL: Well, yeah, but I never said it.
In Serenity (the film, not the pilot episode) Mal watches a video capture that Kaylee took of Inara, before she left the ship. Kaylee says “The Captain wants you to stay as much as --” but Inara cuts her off. As much as Kaylee herself does? Later in the film, when Inara contacts Mal, instead of saying that he misses her, he says that Kaylee is missing her. Even though this is a trap and Inara is (held at gunpoint) worried, there is a geniune smile when Inara says “I miss her too.” It’s like a light is shining, suddenly.
Kaylee/Mal/Inara is, for me, primarily about love. Whole bucketloads of love. Kaylee and Inara could be said to be the two characters who love Mal the most; Mal and Inara could be said to be the two characters who love Kaylee the most; Kaylee and Mal could be said to be the two characters who love Inara the most. As a sidenote and point of personal interest, these three are the most connected to the tenth main character, Serenity herself; in “Out Of Gas” Inara tells Simon she has loved the ship from the moment she saw it; at the end of that episode we see the moment that Mal first saw Serenity, and the look on his face … it’s love at first sight (and it gets me right here); Kaylee loves the ship deeply - witness the “That’s my good girl” moment after the Crazy Ivan in the pilot episode, and Kaylee’s bewildered helplessness in “Out Of Gas” when Serenity didn’t let her know something was wrong. The three of them are also the ones defending Serenity against insults -- in “Out Of Gas”, Mal challenges Zoe’s initial assessment of the ship (“Sir, it's a piece of fei-oo.”); in “Shindig”, Inara berates Atherton Wing for calling Serenity a “flying piece of gos sa”; in “Bushwacked” Kaylee is appalled by a Federal official’s description of the ship:
HARKEN: I want every inch of this junker to get tossed.
KAYLEE: (as they go) Junker?!
MAL: Settle down, Kaylee.
KAYLEE: But, Captain! Did you hear what that purple belly called Serenity?
MAL: Shut up!
This is while they are being arrested. She then proceeds, interrogation or no, to rant about what a real junker would be like, and how Serenity is in no way such a thing.
To Kaylee, Mal and Inara, more than anyone else, Serenity is home. Not just the boat where they live -- home.
My passage to Firefly fandom was similar to a lot of Browncoats’; I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series, and in particular a big fan of Joss Whedon. When I heard he had a new project, one that he loved more than anything he’d done before, I bought the DVD right then. I watched it, and I fell so hard in love with it and every single character in it that I can still get emotional over the opening credits. I watched it knowing nothing about it except ‘space western’ and ‘Joss’s baby’. I followed each twist and turn with wide eyes and an open heart, never wanting it to end. And I’m glad I did.
(Really, though, they had me at ‘Joss’s baby’.)
At first, when I wrote Firefly fic - beyond a few gen drabbles exploring character voices - it was Kaylee/Inara. But the more I thought about them and wrote them, the more I (and they) missed Mal. His presence was always just out of frame, edging closer, and it gradually dawned on me that Kaylee and Inara, as I see them, need Mal to be complete. So I wrote the first OT3 fic, to test it out -- and boom. They fitted perfectly, I loved writing it, and they quickly became my one and only One True Pairing (or One True Piling, perhaps).
To me, Kaylee/Mal/Inara is home. Firefly is by no means my only fandom - in fact, most of my fandom activity in the past has been in Lotrips fandom - and I’m not one, on the whole, for OTPs in their truest sense: One True Pairing. Until Kaylee/Mal/Inara, I saw an OTP as simply a pairing I enjoy, and that is true of all the other pairings I read/write, in all of my fandoms. But when I found Kaylee/Mal/Inara, I found a pairing I love and believe in so passionately that I don’t read or write the characters with anyone else. Twosomes within the threesome, I have a huge fondness for. But nothing completes each of them like the other two, to me. I ship them because Inara is sensuality, Kaylee is sexuality, and Mal is morality, and together they are glorious. I ship them because it works, in my head and in my heart. Most of all, I ship them because I believe in them; because I love them.
Alas, so far I am the only author posting Kaylee/Mal/Inara fic. I created and mod the community for the pairing, buffettable, which also welcomes any pairing within the OT3: Kaylee/Mal, Mal/Inara, Kaylee/Inara.
Other fandom links
Can't Take the Sky
Screencaps by _jems_
Firefly's Glow archive
Whedonesque and its LJ feed, whedonesque
ruttingtownhall, a pairing discussion comm
Full list of Kaylee/Mal/Inara fic
[I’d love to keep this updated, so if you see one that isn’t on here, please tell me!]
Five Things That Could Have Happened When We Kissed [#]