BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

REGINAROADIE

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 14
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wash and Shooter discuss death and dinosaurs, Gabriel tells Kaylee about Regan, River brings her family together one last time, and Simon and Kaylee face an uncertain future.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2853    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

Shooter stirred as the light of the morning brightened the living room. He tried to shut his eyes further to block the sunlight that indicated that it was time to get up, which he was determined to delay for as long as possible. After sleeping on the pathetic excuse of a couch Serenity had in the last few weeks, he was nearly in ecstasy as he slept on the Tam’s couch. It would’ve been perfect if it weren’t for the fact that Cliff was sleeping on the floor parallel to him, muttering random statements in his sleep. “Right there. Gimme it right there, baby.” Shooter rubbed his eyes. “Ta ma de,” he muttered to himself. As if on cue, Cliff responded with “I love it when you say that, say it again.”

Shooter by sheer force of will erased the last few seconds of this from his memory and got up from the couch. He looked around and saw the rest of the band members sprawled over the various chairs and couches that made up the living room. It was another clear day and the sun was shining in on the gang. He looked around and decided to head to the kitchen. He was thirsty. Even though there was literally nothing to eat in this depressing place, he was counting on there to be at least running water. He needed a non-alcoholic drink. Hell, he needed a shower. They all did.

As he wandered from the living room into the dining room, he was surprised to see another person up so early. It was none other than Wash, playing with a herd of plastic dinosaurs on the long and expensive table that took up the space of the room.

“Gentlemen, it has appeared that we have entered an unknown land. Quite possibly the end of the world itself.” As Wash spoke, he moved a brontosaurus towards the edge of the table.

“Oh No,” he said again in a falsetto voice as he picked up a triceratops. “How shall we possibly survive in this veneered land? Without coasters, this will all soon perish!”

“Fear not,” the brontosaurus said in a deep baritone. “We have survived against insurmountable odds in our time. We shall survive again in this new land that we call…New Land!!”

“No” Shooter said, interrupting Wash’s narration. “It will be called the Lost World, and I shall bring your story to life through mind-blowing special effects and a weak script.”

“Well where’s the fun in that?” Wash replied. He then brought out a particularly grim looking Tyrannosaurus Rex. “We should make this a fight to the death.”

“Lemme get my camera.” Shooter said jokingly before joining Wash in his chuckle. “Where did you find those?”

“Oh River gave them to me. She found them in a box with all her and Simon’s old toys. She said that I could add them to my collection.”

“If there’s anything you should take with you to the ship, it’s that couch I slept on.” Shooter stretched his arms and groaned in pleasure. “My God, that’s the most comfortable couch I’ve ever slept on, and I should know. I’ve slept on more couches than beds in my life.”

“I was wondering why you were sleeping on the couch in the galley. There’s no reason why you should be in the doghouse when we don’t have a dog on board, not unless if you count Jayne.”

Shooter chuckled again at Wash’s wry comment. “Speaking of which, I saw you and Zoe take one of the guest rooms. What are you doing up so early?”

“I’m usually the first one up on the ship. Old habits die hard, ya know. Didn’t have anything better to do, and Zoe seems more excited about a hot shower than an early romp in bed, so I decided to come down here and think.”

“’Bout what?”

Wash blinked and furrowed his brow. “Strangely enough, death.”

Shooter looked at Wash and replied sardonically, “Jeez, with all the melodrama that’s been going on this week and in the last few years, I figured you’d be the one with the positive outlook.”

Wash chuckled quickly before taking on a more contemplative tone. “I know. But it’s weird.” He sat up and pushed the plastic toys aside. “For some reason, I get this sense that I’ve been given an extension. Like, I should be dead now, but that through some reason or another, I’m still here.”

Shooter was curious about this strange revelation from Wash. He could relate to what he was feeling, since Shooter himself had some close brushes with death. But it just seemed odd to hear it from the normally cheerful man. “Do you think you’ve been given an extension for some reason?”

“I dunno. I kinda have everything I need. I don’t think I’ve been chosen for some higher purpose, so I don’t know why I should be feeling this. Maybe it’s just going to Simon and River’s mom’s funeral. Something like that’ll definitely make you think of your own demise.” After a few moments of quiet contemplation, Shooter broke the silence. “Then again, it could just be déjà vu, or echoes from another dimension.” Both men looked at each other and laughed.

“You’ve been chatting with River about string theory and quantum physics, haven’t you?” Wash pointed at Shooter with a knowing grin.

“Remind me never to ask her what she’s thinking about. Verbal equivalent of looking inside the ship’s reactor. At least not so early in the morning. Is there any coffee in the kitchen?”

Shooter looked apprehensively over his shoulder and then looked back to Wash. “Nope. The magnificent feast we had yesterday at the reception was the last bit of food in the house. You’d have to-“

Shooter suddenly paused. Wash looked behind him and saw Gabriel standing in the door frame in a ratty bathrobe covering the rumpled clothes he was still wearing from yesterday. Both men stood, but Gabriel merely raised his hand to keep them from fussing over him. “Sit..sit down. No need to…” His mind wandered as he leaned against the frame in silence.

Wash and Shooter looked at each other nervously. Wash, ever the diplomat, tried to break the tension with some regular conversation. “Good morning, Mr. Tam. Did you sleep well last night?”

Gabriel looked away, thinking about the answer to that simple question. If he’d managed to just sleep after his talk with Simon, he figured it would be an okay morning. But it was still there. The grief over his wife, the denouement from his son, and the general hopelessness of his whole life in ruins as well as the crushing truth that it was all his doing. A good night’s sleep couldn’t cure that. Nothing could. But no one needed to know that.

“Fine. How about you two?”

Wash stretched and yawned. “Well, me and Zoe had a nice sleep. Never slept in a bed so large and comfy before. My compliments.”

Gabriel nodded at this. He then looked over to Shooter. Shooter courteously replied. “Just took the couch like last time. Everyone else either took spare rooms or camped out in the living room.”

Gabriel squinted at Shooter and then asked, “You really like that couch?”

Shooter shrugged. “Yeah. I said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s a really great couch.”

Gabriel looked straight at Shooter and said in the flattest voice he had ever heard, “Take it.”

Shooter blinked and leaned in a bit towards Gabriel. “Shenme?”

Gabriel shifted in his stance and said in a defeated tone. “Take it. Take the couch, take the chairs, the table and even the gorram hovercar. Take it all.”

At this point, both Wash and Shooter stood up from the table. Of all the things they had expected Gabriel to say, this was definitely one of the last. They looked to each other as Gabriel began to explain.

“I imagine that everything in this house is worth far more out on the Rim that it is here in the Core. And after all that you’ve experienced and shared and done in the last four years because of me you should get some compensation, no matter how small. Consider it my thank you, for saving River and Simon from Regan and myself.”

Wash and Shooter were floored by what Gabriel was saying and offering them and the entire crew. Generosity from him was the last thing they had expected from a man Simon painted as a heartless monster. Before either of them could ask the most obvious question, Gabriel answered it.

“Can’t stay here. Can’t stay in this house. Can’t afford to keep it running, and can’t afford what it all stands for now.” He looked around the dining room and then rested his sight on the plastic dinosaurs of River’s. “Can’t stay here with all the ghosts.” A chill went through them as his demeanor changed to something uncomfortably familiar. “With what little we have, I’ll find someplace that’s cheaper. Smaller. Out of the way.”

Gabriel stood up and looked at them one last time. “If you start now, you might be able to have everything out of here by the afternoon.” He then turned around and lumbered back up the staircase.

In a flash, Wash headed up the stairs as well, and Shooter went back into the living room. Both of them went to wake the others to tell them the news. Fifteen minutes later, they were all in the dining room in various states of dress, discussing Gabriel’s offer. After some debate amongst them, and a response from River that ended the discussion, the nine crew members of Serenity, Shooter and the four members of Signal were grabbing every piece of furniture, art and utilities that could be moved and moved them out to the front lawn. Both shuttles were used to ferry the artifacts of this once powerful family’s legacy from the mansion to the ship. While one was filling up, the other would unload. A shuttle would take a dozens chairs, a few tables, some couches, paintings, statues, equipment and endless bric-a-brac. It was mid-afternoon by the time the last thing was cleared from the once robust mansion. The crew had gone on the shuttle, leaving Gabriel behind. He had sobered up enough to fly the hover car one last time towards the landing pad before giving it over to them.

He didn’t even bother to lock the doors or set the security codes to the estate. He merely got in the car and took off without looking back at the place he had known as home all his life. The mansion was now empty. There was no evidence of anyone living there. Soon the power would go out, the water would be turned off and the furnace would die, thus plunging the house into coldness. Dry leaves would blow into the house, and mice and insects would be the new occupants. Over time, the surrounding vegetation would take over the mansion and years of abandonment would turn this once proud house into a tomb of history.

It was no longer home for anyone. * * * * * * * * * * After he had parked the hovercar in the cargo bay as the crew and the band began moving the furniture and other artifacts of the Tams, Gabriel wandered the ship. He wanted to get a sense of the legend of Serenity. Wandering from room to room, he ran his hands over the aged metal and caressed the sharp angles of the poorly constructed interiors. His fingertips could sense the vessel's long history. Even though others before him derided the ship and its design, he felt the voodoo of the location. He sensed its grandeur, its majesty and its gravitas. As he saw the stenciled flowers in the kitchen and dining area, he was in awe of how it felt more like a home than his own place. He errantly wished that he could join them in their adventures. To regain what he had lost through his arrogance. But he realized that he was a ghost at best. And that his atonement was to take place here on Osiris. He was standing in the door of the engine room when he heard footsteps from behind him. He turned around and saw his daughter-in-law walk towards him with a smile. “So you’re taking a tour of her, huh?” Gabriel looked around and smiled politely. “I’ve heard great things about her.” Kaylee grinned at him expectantly, “And about me as well, I hope.” “Especially about you.” He said with a forced suaveness that didn’t hide the shame he was feeling. “I imagine you held this together with the bare essentials.” “And even less than that. You’d be surprised how much you can hold together with gum, paper clips and spit.” Gabriel laughed at this, but the stopped as he noted the serious look on her face; he certainly hadn't meant to offend her. He stopped and replied hurriedly, “No, of course not. I’m sure you were hard pressed for resources at times.” Kaylee looked at him, straining to keep her mouth shut, and then burst out laughing. “You’re like your son, such an easy mark.” She kept on laughing and replied. “I ain’t never had to use gum to hold something together. At least not yet.” Gabriel chuckled a little more and then quieted down. “I was hoping I could talk to you personally before you and Simon left.” “What about?” she asked, leaning back on the door frame, shifting her weight from her sore feet to her back. Gabriel stood up and looked at her in regret. “I want to apologize to you, about what I said.” “Aww, that’s okay.” She said, reaching out her right hand and brushing his arm. “You were just goin' through a tough time.” “No, no, it’s not okay.” Gabriel interrupted in an angered tone. He took a few deep breaths and continued quietly. “Ever since I saw that wedding video of yours, I had been angry at you. And for a while, I couldn’t figure out why. I saw that you were intelligent, kind, considerate, funny and well mannered, even if your vocabulary needed some brushing up. And when I saw you were pregnant, I should have been happy. But I was so angry and hostile towards you, and I couldn’t figure out why. But during the funeral, when I looked over at you comforting Simon after he said the eulogy, I finally knew why.” Kaylee shifted uncomfortably with the suddenly serious tone of the conversation. “Why’s that?” Gabriel sighed deeply and looked her dead in the eyes. “It was because of Regan.” Kaylee frowned in confusion. “Why would you be mad at me because of your wife?” Gabriel looked away and quietly pounded the wall behind him with his clenched fist. “You remind me so much of her.” He exhaled and continued. He couldn’t believe that he was about to say something that he had never even admitted to his wife when she was alive. “Regan was the most wonderful woman I had ever met. She could see the positive in everything. She always treated people with respect, no matter who they were or where they were from. She could make you laugh and smile no matter how bad of a time it was. She could do so many things I tried to do, but always failed.” He looked away as Kaylee saw his lower lip quiver. “Oh Hell, now I have to cry.” As he felt the first batch of tears forming, Kaylee reached around the corner and grabbed a rag, handing it to him. He took it, found a somewhat clean spot and wiped away the tears that were coming down his cheeks. “I spent so much of yesterday crying, I told myself I wouldn’t today.” Kaylee placed a hand on his shoulder. “Just let it out. Don’t do no good if you keep it all bottled up.” “Wise words.” he said as he let his tears flow. After a few moments, he calmed down and resumed talking, as he held the rag in his right hand. “And seeing you, like this,” he explained as he raised his clenched hand up and down, “just reminded me how horrible I was to her. How I had the most exquisite woman in the ‘verse for a wife and I treated her like go se. So I called you all those horrible things to convince myself that you were less than Regan. That you couldn’t be compared to her, and that every time I looked at you, I wouldn’t be looking at my failure as a human being, let alone a husband and a father.”

Kaylee hugged him as best as she could as he stared blankly ahead. After a considerable amount of time, she pushed him up and looked at him. “I ain't sayin' you didn' hurt me. But I also ain't convinced you were that horrible to her. Jus' that you wanna make amends, not jus' for easy restin', but for doin' what's right, makes you a worthy person in my mind. Won't be quick an' easy, still lotta wounds that needs healin'. S'long you let ‘em take the time an' not go for quick solutions I think you'll manage. Don' drown your sorrows. It’ll only make it worse. Just gotta feel it now an' let it go. I believe one day you'll find that redemption your wife found right 'fore she died.” She then took his left hand and placed it onto her womb. “And if you’re still worried about legacy, don't. We’ll make sure Brooke grows up right. That she can be a Tam you could be proud of.”

Gabriel felt the slight movements of the grandchild within her. He then looked back at her and hugged her again. He hoarsely replied, “Oh fuck, I’m sorry. I’m so incredibly sorry.” Kaylee didn’t hesitate or pull back. She just whispered serenely into his ear, “Apology accepted.” * * * * * * * * * * After a few quiet moments of embrace, the two broke it off and headed back down to the cargo bay. As they entered, Kaylee caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye. She let him go down the steps as she went to investigate. What she saw made her smile. Shooter was filming a high angle shot of the cargo bay, which was now filled with furniture and artifacts from the Tam estate. “Like pieces of a puzzle.” He said to himself before snapping the viewfinder back into place and pocketing the camera with an enthusiastic grin. “I am definitely going to miss this place.” ‘It’s definitely not going to be the same without her.” Kaylee said as she looked down at everyone on the cargo bay floor, her eyes singling out River in an instant. She then looked over to Shooter and said, “You know, we all should be thanking you for this.” “For what? The couch?” Shooter asked in a puzzled tone. “I just said it was a nice couch. Didn’t mean you should take it along with all the furniture in the mansion.” Kaylee laughed at this for a while and then caught her breath. “No, I mean for being there at the right times. Being there on Regina days ‘fore Simon and I got married. Being on Osiris at the wedding with the Tams in attendance. And finding us in time ‘fore Regan died. Weren’t for you, none of this would be happening.” As she said this, Shooter couldn’t help but feel as if he had drastically affected the status quo. Curiously, he asked, “And is that good or bad?” Kaylee sighed and leaned on the railing. “It is what it is. We’re all gonna miss River, but it’s nice to know that she’s out there doing what she loves to do, and being with people who love her for that. And I’m glad that she and Simon managed to get some closure with their family.” She turned around and smiled at Shooter. “We all wanna thank you for all that you’ve done. If there’s anything we can ever do, just let us know.” “Actually, there is.” Kaylee raised her eyebrows as Shooter began digging through his pockets. “While you guys were away, I went looking all through the Cortex to find some things that could help you out with Brooke. It might not mean much now, but it’ll mean the world when she’s older. I always wanted to be a storyteller, especially for little kids. While I may not tell them myself,” he then found what he was looking for, “you and Simon could at least tell them for me.” He then pulled out his right hand and opened his clenched palm. Kaylee saw what it was and furrowed her brow in confusion. “A memory stick?” Shooter shook his head as he continued on grinning. “This isn’t just any memory stick. This stick holds the very best in children’s books, novels, movies and television of the last 600 years. No child should ever go without being exposed to the highest in quality children’s entertainment.” He then took her hand and placed the stick in her palm. “You’d be doing Brooke an immense favor by reading her these books and showing her these movies.” Kaylee looked down at the stick, touched by thoughtfulness that went into Shooter’s gift. “Well, we’ll definitely look through this.” She looked back up at Shooter and gave him a hug. “Thank you again.” Shooter chuckled as he took in her kindness. “I should be thanking you guys. By association, you’ve kept me pretty busy in the last two years. And with Signal, I can finally have my old career back as a real filmmaker.” “Well, you’re welcome then.” Shooter looked over to the cargo bay and saw Johnny and the band start to walk down the ramp. “Whoop. It’s time for me to shove off.” He broke the embrace and started down the steps to the cargo bay. As he walked away, he called out, “If you ever have a boy, call ‘im Lucas for me, okay?” “We’ll think about it.” She called back with a wide grin. Shooter kept walking through the cargo bay and towards the ramp. He had said his goodbyes to everyone else and was satisfied with what he had helped to accomplish. As his feet touched the concrete landing pad, he passed River as she was walking back into the bay to say her final goodbyes. He quickly flashed her the peace sign before standing at the end of the line that Johnny, Cliff, George and Keith had formed. “So this is it, huh?” Shooter asked Johnny. “Yep. End of the line.” “I wouldn’t say that. There is no real end, if you think about it. Just stops along the way.” Johnny nodded at this simple bit of philosophy. A small smile came over him as he suddenly remembered a song by the Irish band whose music they rocked the house with a few nights ago. In his head, he began singing the first verse that now had new meaning for him. “I have a lover…a lover like no other…she got soul, soul, soul, sweet soul…and she teach me how to sing….Shows me colors when there’s none to see…gives me hope when I can’t believe…but for the first time…I feel loved.” As Johnny continued to play the song in his head, he held his ground as they all waited for River to finish her goodbyes. This moment was hers and hers alone. * * * * * * * * * * River walked forward to the lined up crew and stopped. She looked at all of them, unsure for the first time what to do. “I'm not really sure what to say.” She said nervously. “I mean, so much has happened. Don't know how to sum it up in a few words.” As she looked at them again, she realized that she should say goodbye to each of them instead of all at once. She went to the far left to address Book. “Won't be around to fix your books.” She commented wryly. Book replied with an easy smile. “Won't be around to rip at them either.” As River smiled sheepishly, Book took her hands and placed his above hers. “I hope you can find some of the joy you've so readily brought to others, child.” River looked back into his eyes and quietly said to him, “And I hope that like the archangel, you can find forgiveness of your own.” Book's smile changed slightly as River stepped over to Jayne and looked up to the burly mercenary. “I am going to miss you so much.” Jayne began to feel uncomfortable by the obvious emotion she was exhibiting towards him. Truth be told, he was already beginning to miss the little moonbrain who had been the source of so much stress over the last four years. Determined to keep a straight face, he nodded in the direction of the band, and said sternly “You make sure these guys do right by ya. 'Member, 10% o' nothin' is nothin'.” River leaned in and said quietly, “More like 20%. And it's not about the money.” She then stood up on her toes to reach the big man’s ear, leaned in and whispered her advice to him. As her heels touched the metal, Jayne looked at her with confusion. “Don't look? The Hell does that mean?” he said loudly. River merely gave him a knowing smile, and then stepped to face Inara. Inara embraced the young woman. “I am so happy for you, mei mei. You've become such an amazing young woman.” “What can I say? I learned from the best.” River said this as she wrapped her arms around the Companion. Inara fought back tears as she looked into River’s eyes. “It's mutual, River. You've taught me more than you could ever know.” River then leaned in and whispered in Inara’s right ear, “I just went for it. You should too.” She patted Inara on her shoulders as she stepped next to Wash and Zoe. Zoe looked stoic as always, while Wash leaned in conspiratorially to River. “If you ever need a roadie or security, let us know.” “What he means is,” Zoe said to Wash before turning towards River, “is that we're going to miss you.” Wash, ever the one to diffuse a tense situation with a quip, quickly replied “Yeah, I think I'll miss the soup-rubbing the most.” River nodded at this and said in a mock revelatory tone, “I think that'll be the title of our first album.” As Wash and River laughed at this, even Zoe managed to crack a quiet grin. “Rock on.” River said this as she stepped away, leaving Wash as he did a quick air guitar move. River was now staring up at Mal as he looked nervously at her. After a few moments, he finally admitted, “I never thought I'd see this day.” “That I'd be leaving, or that the Alliance would be bankrupt, leaving no more enemy to fight?” River asked in a deadpan fashion. This got Mal chuckling as he realized the vagueness of his response, “Well, both actually.” A few seconds later, he sobered up and asked his youngest crew member in his most serious tone. “You sure this is what you want?” River looked back at him and responded with a question of her own. “Didn't someone ask you that once?” Mal immediately flashed back to the time he was asked that question and smiled at what she meant. “That they did. It was a valid question at the time, seemed fittin' now as well.” “So is the answer.” Mal nodded once, before he pulled River into a tight hug. “You take care of yourself, dong ma?” he asked as he felt her tiny arms reach around his body. A sudden wave of emotion came over him as he felt her head against his heart. River nodded as she fought back her tears. “Watch over Simon and Kaylee and Brooke for me, okay?” Mal was fighting back tears of his own as he answered her. “Don't gotta ask, lil' one. They're all a part o' my crew. Like you always will be.” River broke their embrace and looked at Mal once more. She lingered on him before turning her attention to the last two people in line. “I feel like I've been saying goodbye to you two for a few days now.” Simon held her gaze for a moment and then looked away, ashamed of the tears that were forming in his eyes. Kaylee squeezed his hand and stepped forward, embracing River tightly. "I hate goodbyes," the mechanic confided to her, whispering in her ear as her silent tears fall. "Ain't nothin' good about 'em." River tried to comfort her with a musing of her own. “If friendships never ended, then we wouldn't know how good they were to have.” Kaylee pulled back sharply at this statement and looked River dead in the eye. "Hey now, I don't wanna hear none o' that. This ain't the end o' our friendship. Just the start of a new part of it, dong ma?" River answered with a smile. “Yes. One'll that involve Brooke pleading to spend her birthdays on the road with her rock star aunt and her chain-smoking boy toy.” Kaylee burst out giggling through her tears. “Well, I'm thinkin' Brooke's daddy might have somethin' to say 'bout that." She leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. “But don't you worry any; I'll make sure it happens.” River smiled back to Kaylee, and then seriously stated. “We aren't friends. We're sisters. And you have been the best sister I could ever ask for.” Kaylee was teary again and hugged River for an endless moment, before the younger woman finally pulled away and stood before her brother. The two siblings avoided eye contact for the longest time, unsure what to say to each other. Neither of them could remember a time where they weren’t in each others lives. And now for the first time, they would be an entire galaxy apart. When the silent tension between the two of them finally became unbearable, River spoke. “Simon…I-“ “Mei mei.” Simon interrupted as he lifted his tear-filled eyes to her face. He stared back at her and then finally murmured, “You're going to miss Brooke's birth.” “I know.” She replied quietly. She then stepped forward and ran her fingers through his hair. “But I'll never leave you. I will always be with you. How can I not? You're my big brother.” Simon nodded as he realized the truth in that statement. “You’re right. We're family.” Simon reached over to Kaylee and brought her close to him and his sister. The three embraced in a group hug that was filled with so much longing and acceptance and love. For Simon and Kaylee, they held on with an iron grip, determined not to let this moment go. But as the three held each other in an embrace they were determined to freeze in time, River suddenly heard a soft voice. It was a voice that was so isolated and in so much pain that it interrupted River's connection to the two most important people in her life. “No.” She pulled away from the couple and looked at their solemn faces. “This isn’t right.” She looked over her shoulder and saw in amazement something she thought she’d never see in her life. Gabriel was on the edge of the top part of the ramp. He was only ten feet away from them, but he might as well have been in his own world. His fists were clenched against his forehead, and tears were coming down his cheeks as he began to mutter to himself, “RUNtse duh SHANG-DEE, ching DAIwuhtzo, WUOshang mayer, maysheen, BYEN shr-to. Please God make me a stone.” He dropped his fists and stared with glassy eyes at the floodlights on the ceiling. “Make me a stone, make me a stone, make me a stone.” As a man who finally realized how much he had lost, he repeated it over and over again, turning it into his prayer for annihilation. But his mantra was interrupted as he felt a cool, tiny hand placed over his drenched fists. He looked down and saw River in front of him. He in turn stared in amazement at the calm, composed and ethereal woman who was staring back at him with infinite brown eyes. She clenched his large hand and began to lead him to Simon and Kaylee. He clunked timidly over to the couple, unsure of what was about to happen. He then felt River’s thin arm go across his shoulders and was brought closer. He felt another woman’s arm go the opposite way as both of them brought him closer together. They were now in a huddled circle. River broke the silence with her tiny voice, saying “Now this is right.” The crew then decided to back away and slowly make their way up the metal stairs to give them their privacy. Inara made her way to her shuttle, Book and Jayne made their way to the kitchen, and Zoe and Wash headed for the bridge. Only Mal lingered the longest. He thought he knew what a family was, but this was something he’d never seen before that, in all honesty, amazed him. As River spoke the following, a sense of elation ran through Gabriel and he went from weeping despairingly to weeping bittersweetly. “No matter where we go, or how far apart we are through space and time or what may happen, right here and now, we are a family. And we will always be a family.” As they all held on for as long as possible, the faint hum of the engines started up. Slowly, the four family members relinquished their grasps and straightened up. After giving the couple one last look, River and Gabriel turned and began to walk towards the ramp. As Gabriel stared ahead in a daze, River looked around the cargo bay one last time. “Last to arrive, first to leave.” She said this to herself as her feet left the metal and touched the concrete pad. She looked ahead to the band, Shooter, her father and to the future. As the ramp began to fold up, she turned around and looked up. She felt the wind and heat of the engines whip through her dress and hair as it began to ascend. The dusk of Osiris turned the ship into a silhouette as she stared at her past, slowly shrinking into the sky. When she could no longer see the ship that lived up to its title, she took a deep breath, let it out and turned around. She knelt down, picked up her bag of personal effects in one hand and her guitar case in another. Looking to her new family, she began to walk into the future. * * * * * * * * * * After standing in the same spot, and staring at the cargo bay door for what seemed like hours, Kaylee went to see how the new engine was faring. She was surprised to see that the engine, and all the systems attached to it needed very little maintenance. It was humming just like it was a week ago when she left it. For a while, she wondered if maybe because of this upgrade that she'd soon be out of a job. She walked back to her and Simon's bunk, eager to sleep in their normal bed. But as she was about to open the hatch, she stopped. She leaned in closer, wondering what was causing the sound she was hearing behind the metal. At first she thought that the ventilation system in their room was acting up again. But when she opened the hatch, she saw something completely different. Simon was gripping the metal sink and staring at his reflection in the mirror. He was wheezing and trying to keep himself propped up. “Sweetie? What's goin' on?” Kaylee asked as she quickly climbed down the ladder and moved swiftly to his side. “Are you sick?” Through quick, strained gasps of air, Simon replied. “No...no...I think I'm...having a...p-panic...attack.” Blinking rapidly, Kaylee wondered what exactly she should do. Simon wasn't prone to attacks of any kind, least of all ones that revolved around panic. Running a hand through his hair, she asked quietly, "What can I do?" As he struggled to answer her, Kaylee told him, "Simon, you gotta breathe." Simon looked at her as he gasped for air and held onto the sink. “I know...I know...what...to do. I just...can't seem to do...it.” In an astonished tone, he continued, “I've....never...done this...before.” Doing her best not to join in on his panic, Kaylee moved her hand to his back and begun rubbing in gentle circles. Simon looked over his shoulder and nodded. “The bed. I need to...lie down...on the bed.” Kaylee helped to eased him down, watching as he closed his eyes and did his best to breathe. His face was pale, much paler than normal and she was feeling her own panic rising. Moving back to the sink, she wet a cloth with cool water and brought it back to him. Laying it gently on his forehead, Kaylee watched as he finally let out one slow breath and murmured, "That's better, I think." Smiling sadly, she climbed over him and laid down next to him, putting her head on his rising chest. After making sure his breathing was steady, she asked him, "What were you thinkin' about?" Simon let out a long breath before he answered the question. “River.” Kaylee looked up at him and he caught the look in her eyes. “I know...I know I should be grateful that she's all right and on her own and that she IS safe. But...” “But you miss her.” She said plainly. Simon looked up at the metal ceiling and continued. “I've always been there for her. I've been her protector. I've been her everything. I've been beside her, taking care of her ever since she was born.” He paused as he finally admitted his biggest fear to his wife. “But now she's gone and I don't know what to do.” Kaylee tried to comfort Simon with some common sense. “River's a big girl now, Simon. Don't ya think it was time for her to try bein' on her own?” Simon raised his eyebrows as he answered, “That's what all this was for. So that she could be on her own. I just...thought that I'd still be there.” Simon thought back to four years ago when he'd first grown suspicious about the Academy, and realized what his father had said to him once. “Oh God, he was right. The bastard was right. I do need her more than she needs me.” Kaylee shifted onto her elbows and looked him dead in the eye, trying to put some sense into her husband. “That ain't true, Simon. You love River, an' she loves you. It makes sense that this first bit of bein' apart is gonna be hard.” As she continued, she couldn’t help but feel caught up in the harsh truth of her own words. “We've been livin' on this boat together for the past four years. Now, she's over a three week trip away - that's a pretty big change, pretty fast.” Simon kept on going as he looked to her for support. “And it's not just her. It's them. I've hated them for so long because of what happened. I came home knowing that they knew what happened. One of them dies, the other one's pretty much killing himself because of it, and with all that...” And it was at this moment that Simon felt the most shame. “I can't tell them I still love them. The most I can say is "thank you" to either of them, not "I've forgiven you" like River has. Why can't I tell them that?” Kaylee tried her best to comfort Simon, even though her heart was breaking into a million pieces with every word he said. “You've been carryin' that pain for a long while. It ain't easy to get over somethin' like that.” After a short, but painful silence, she asked him, “Do ya? Forgive 'em?” Simon stared at the ceiling again as he replied. “I don’t know. I think I’ve forgiven her. I just don't know if I can forgive him.” He looked over to Kaylee as he admitted, “I don't know how to forgive people like you can.” Kaylee brought her left hand to Simon’s face and began to stroke his cheek with her thumb. “That don't matter, Simon. I don't know how forgivin' I'd be in that situation neither. And truth be told...” It was her turn now to admit something she had felt ashamed about, “I don't think I can forgive myself for taking you from your momma at that concert so's that I could enjoy myself.” It was now Simon’s turn to try to give solace to Kaylee. “Kaylee, don't. She wanted us to go. Maybe we shouldn't have, but ... it's done now. And she would have felt worse if we'd stayed up there, just for her.” Kaylee was beginning to cry as she pictured Regan wracked with pain and by herself. “It's like Capt'n says. Everyone dies alone. But she shouldn't have. She shouldn't have been by herself after being so alone for so long. She shouldn't have died alone. It ain’t right.” Kaylee held Simon tightly as she tried to hold the emotional dam that was ready to break. “It'll get better, all o' it, 'cause it's got too... right?” Simon looked at her and said quietly, “I don't know.” His voice broke in half as he said once again, “I don't know.” It was at this point that Simon and Kaylee did something as a couple for the first time. In each other's arms, they broke down and cried. The intense sorrow that they had experienced and bottled up over the last week finally came out in a torrent of sobbing. Unlike their other countless intimate moments together, they held each other to keep the other from drowning in their utter grief. For hours, until they finally fell asleep, they cried into each other’s shoulders, seemingly oblivious of the fact that a new life was growing between them.

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