BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

The DUPLICITY Series: 70. "Closure"
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Badger discovers something he didn't expect. Gabriel decides it is time to disappear. Meanwhile Inara springs a surprise on Serenity's crew just before the other shoe drops for the Captain."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1662    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "CLOSURE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "LEGACY". **CONCLUSION** ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Badger discovers something he didn't expect. Gabriel decides it is time to disappear. Meanwhile Inara springs her surprise on Serenity's crew just before the other shoe drops for the Captain." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"CLOSURE"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

A long time ago this had been a lush green land. Rich grasslands, a few rolling hills, valleys, rivers and somesuch. A thriving rural community made up of ranches and farms with towns dotted wherever there was access to clean water and convenient distance between homesteads. At War's End the Alliance - in a fit of spite - had razed the buildings, trees and crops to the ground. Many folk going up like Roman candles when they retreated to their own houses, thinking bricks and mortar would save them where burning woods wouldn't. The ash had been greasy and more than ankle deep. Not nothing worth saving when the hot dust and thick palls of smoke had settled. The Alliance were nothing if not thorough, reducing the whole world to a ball of smoking ash and ruin. Not no one left alive on it, those captured placed in some distant *jianyu* simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When they were eventually released they found themselves exiled from their homeworld

Badger stared, eyes wide and trying to comprehend. On the journey he had scoured the cortex for every last fact he could find on Shadow and what he saw and read had sickened him. All of a sudden making fun of Malcolm Reynolds had a hollow ring to it and he felt something he was unaccustomed to feeling stir deep in his belly. Shame. Before he could tell Liam to set a different course his brother announced that they had arrived. Not wanting to seem weak, Badger told Liam where to land then mentally steeled himself for the unpleasant sight he expected to be greeting him. What was then and what was now could not have been more different. Liam said what his brother's stunned brain was thinking.

"We sure this is the right place, Steph?"

"Yeah, kind'a takes the breath away."

They stood just outside their shiny new ship and stared. The fields weren't of wheat or barley or any proper crop just open prairie and though Badger would never admit it to a soul, it was gorram beautiful.

"Thought this place had been burnt to a bloody crisp?" Said Liam.

Badger took that in slowly, as if the route to his brain was long and circuitous. "Yeah, me too."

Liam frowned. "They lied to us."

Without commenting on that notion, Badger began wading through the greenery. His brother frowned, a look of puzzlement on his face. "What you doin'?"

His brother paused. "What's it look like?"

Liam glanced around, turning slowly to be sure he hadn't missed anything. "There's nothin' here."

"Maybe, maybe not, but this is where Reynolds' gorram ranch was supposed to be. *This* is what she mentioned in that will o' hers."

Not happy but not willing to fall out with his *wangu* brother over it, Liam locked up the ship and followed him. They walked in silence, Badger checking a hand held scanner to make sure they were going the right way, but there were no buildings. No outhouses, stables, not nothing but open grazing land. It was kind of creepifying having nothing eating up that bounty. Just as he was beginning to think that maybe the land was cursed he noticed something peeking through the tops of the grass to his left. Speeding up, Badger hurried towards it then stopped so quickly that Liam bumped into him not noticing that the birds had stopped singing.

"What the *guai* you stoppin' for?"

Badger's voice sounded a mite subdued. "Ruins."

"*Shenme*? What you talkin' about?"

The little king pin crouched down to look at something on the ground. Badger slowly rose to his feet and took a more critical look around him. Now he knew what he was looking for he realised what this place was. He was standing right in the middle of what was left of the Reynolds' ranch. Beneath his feet bits of long charred wood crumbled beneath his boots, the crunch making him wince as if he was walking on bones brittle with age. Bricks lay at cockeyed angles hidden from casual view by the overgrowth of grasses and spikey bushes. Weeds proliferating at the expense of the dead.

"This here, see? It was a gorram house."

Liam looked down, realised he hadn't been stumbling in the long grass but tripping over all that was left of someone's home. Now that he looked closer he could see that every bit of wood and brick was long blackened. He wanted nothing more than to turn around and leave but Badger was moving again, this time striking out away from the remains of the old ranch house.

"Where you goin'?"

He got no answer. Huffing in annoyance Liam followed in his brother's footsteps. The bit of stone peeking up out the top of the grasses ahead was his only clue that there was some method to his brother's madness. When Badger stopped, Liam caught up then gasped at what he saw. "*Wode ma*!"

Even though he wasn't religious, Liam crossed himself. They were standing in what had to be a family burial plot. The neat graves laid out in austere defiance of what had been done to their homeworld. Badger didn't seem of a mind to get back to the ship so Liam tugged his arm.

"Steph, you've seen what you need to. Suggest we go now, *dong ma*? Ain't no profit to be had here."

To his surprise Badger just shrugged him off and walked slowly down the line of headstones, his right hand seeming to reach out of its' own accord and touch the last in the line. Smaller than the rest but better cared for or so it seemed. The ravages of time evident on the others had been cleaned off this one, as if it was in some way more precious than the rest. Badger moved closer then hunkered down in front of it to read the worn inscription.

"What you doin'?"

His voice was a whisper, barely there, yet hearing it come from his own lips sent a shiver down Liam's back. What the *diyu* was he afraid of? Not like the dead would rise up and kill him. The thought was not as comforting as it should have been.

"She was on'y seven." Badger pointed. "See?"

"So? What's it to you?"

Badger sighed and got up slowly, pausing to rest a hand lightly on top of the stone. If Liam had been the fanciful type he might have said his brother was saying a silent prayer but that was as likely as a snowstorm in *diyu*. "Come on. Like you said, Liam, ain't nothin' for us here."

Liam nodded and fell into step beside his brother. Hadn't he said that all along? But Badger was silent, subdued, and for once Liam was happy not to be talking. This place was eerie. Gave him the rutting creeps. Empty as it was it seemed to be full of unfriendly eyes, warning them off and telling them they were not welcome. It wasn't until much later - long after they had lifted off and shaken the blackened dust of that world from their boots - when Liam was sitting in his bunk getting ready to get some sleep that he realised something else had been bugging him. Those headstones were old yet every grave stood in newly turned soil, the grass just starting to cover them but that was impossible, *dui*?

* * * * *

He found them by accident and they him. Having little coin to make his way he had worked passage aboard ship after ship, each one dropping him off a planet or two further out. None of the worlds he visited taking his interest over much. They thought he was an odd one but he didn't eat much, spoke less and did exactly as he was told. Only rarely did anyone on any of the crews try to strike up a conversation with him. It was as if they could sense that any friendly overture would be unwelcome.

Now, here he stood on Bernadette. A world he had heard about but never visited. It didn't have anything of interest to him and he seldom travelled beyond where need took him. That had kept him close to home for most of the years of his life. Apart from a brief madness when he was young he had been content to stick to his little sphere of power and influence. And yet here, far far from the place he had once called home, he had the first glimmerings of a Suitable Place.

The man he spoke to didn't smile as such. The scar where a knife had cut through his lips was long healed but it gave him a dangerous, unsavoury air. How strange then to hear educated words fall from those tormented lips? He could not say they befriended him. Tolerated was nearer the truth but he was grateful even for that much. Watching and listening closely it slowly dawned on him who these people were and what they were doing. At last. He had found a way to attone. Here he could find at least a measure of peace. They were not desperate but they were careful, wary, and each of their number brought gifts that helped the whole.

"What can you do?" Asked Roderick Sands.

Trying not to stare at the scars on his face, he lifted his hands and slowly held them out by way of illustration. "I am a surgeon."

They did not ask what he was doing so far from the Core. Or why he was mixing with such as they. Something in his demeanour telegraphing a story familiar to them all even if his circumstances were not the same. "And what do we call you?"

"Murtoch. Andrew Murtoch."

As introductions flowed quietly around the dusty room Gabriel knew no one would question his identity. Each introduction merely a label like his own. Without knowing he had even done so, Gabriel Tam had found the Underground. Those principalled and doughty souls who gave their lives to a cause he had refused to believe in. Until now. Now he knew first hand just what they were up against and with the corruption in Parliament so profligate and Blue Sun having a hand in every decision he was determined that no other children would go through what his had. He might no longer be able to help Simon and River but that didn't mean he couldn't help others. The shock to his system was not that he had found a cause but that it felt so good.

* * * * *

Everyone was excited especially Inara. The Captain drank in their reactions, fed off their overflow of happiness and vicariously exhulted in something that once would have seemed too frivolous to indulge in only weeks before. If he were being truthsome it appealed to the child in him in a way that was almost painful it was so wonderful. Eyes sparkling he watched his crew. It was one of his most favourite things in the 'verse. They weren't just friends, they were family. Simon was busy fussing and doing every gorram check he could think of to make sure that the Captain's recovery was as good as it appeared, not wanting the man to overtax his abused body just when it was on the verge of being completely healed. Mal didn't know it was not his legs the boy was worrying about though he was tempted to shoot him if he didn't hurry up. He had things to be doing and being prodded to death by Simon Tam wasn't one of them.

Laying back on that infirmary bed had been one of the hardest things to do and it made him cranky because, gorramit, he wanted to be with the rest of the crew. He had only caught a glimpse, a tiny stolen sneak peak through Wash's viewscreen before Simon manhandled him off the bridge and into the infirmary. Didn't help that the crew he passed just smiled at him and didn't offer a hand in his escape. Ungrateful, treacherous gorram crew. Then Inara had glided in after him and the protests died on his tongue.

"Came to cut off my escape, 'Nara?"

She smiled, the warmth echoed in her dark eyes. Humour and affection showering down on him and taking his attention off his gorram doctor. Simon was grateful and while he carefully prodded and checked the Captain's legs he probed the man's mind with much greater care. Producing a picture in three dimensions and colour inside his head of the area that had been manipulated. He could see the scar tissue, so very delicate and barely visible yet revealed to his inner sight in a way that made it easy for his thoughts to flow like blood through an artery. The mental component to his healing was much more efficient now and came easier to him, the lesions healing as he viewed them and willed them to repair. The hardest part had been accepting that he could do this. Just a little tidying up and Simon was satisfied. There would be no more headaches, no more flashing dreams intercutting the normal ones the Captain tortured himself with. And with Inara on his arm, Simon was hopeful that those troublesome ghosts of the war would in time fade also.

Inara put a hand on the Captain's shoulder and dropped a kiss on his lips. It was a brief almost chaste kiss that left him feeling cheated. Toyed with. She laughed at the sour look on his face and patted his shoulder. "You don't need rescuing, Mal. Let Simon finish then we can go and join the others."

"I'm ready now, *dong ma*? Been dancin' on the spot since you unveiled your wicked plan."

Her eyebrows rose. "Wicked?"

The grin on his face was boyish and wiped all the sourness and crankiness away as he sat up. Inara held that image close to her heart. She had always loved Malcolm Reynold's playful side. "Don't think I ain't aware that you been plottin' an' schemin', darlin'." The Captain waved a hand across the front of his face, his lips smirking, eyes dancing. "My finely tuned senses ain't fooled."

Simon stepped back from the infirmary bed and began peeling off his surgical gloves. "You're free to go, Captain."

"Everythin' shiny an' in workin' order?"

Simon stared at him and the Captain flushed, quickly swinging his legs round so he could hop down and be gone as soon as humanly possible. "I didn't mean... Don't you go puttin' words in my mouth, *dong ma*? Was an innocent enough remark."

The doctor's lips twitched. "I don't think I could do that."

He paused. "*Shenme*?"

"In order for me to put words in your mouth Captain I would have to forget everything I had ever learnt about sentence structure and grammer."

Mal blinked then began to frown. "You makin' fun of me, Simon? 'Cause I have to tell you I'm still armed."

"I'm not afraid of you and I wasn't trying to insult you. You are fit and well and as healthy as I've ever seen you. There. Was that what you wanted to hear?"

The Captain looked at him for a long minute, eyes boring into the doctor's but finding the man not looking away but meeting his gaze. Inwardly, Mal was proud of him. Always had been. Didn't mean those words ever had to pass those lips. Well. Not 'til he made an honest woman out of Kaylee, or should that be the other way around?

"Mal?" He reacted to the slight sound of concern in Inara's voice. Huh. For a moment he had forgotten she was there. He gave Simon a nod. "*Qu*, it was. *Xie xie ni*, doc. Now get out there an' look after my mechanic. Don't want nothin' happenin' to her, *dong ma*?"

Simon smiled as he dropped his surgical gloves in the bin and made to do just that. As soon as the doctor was gone Inara moved closer.

"Mal? You didn't answer my question."

"*Fang xin*, I'm shiny 'Nara. Now, where's this gorram surprise you promised us?"

It couldn't be real. No. Honestly. This was some kind of trick of the light, either that or he was dreaming. Yeah. That was it. The Captain closed his eyes then opened them again, blinking as he gazed at the impossible. Gorramit, the image didn't change only the happy laughing people spilling off his boat and churning up the blaze of white making floaty white clouds of powdered ice to walk on. Inara pushed fur gloves into his hands. Turning his head he saw that all his crew had winter coats on. Rich furs if he wasn't much mistaken. Why in the nine hells did they have to spend all their cashy money on coats? Didn't they have coats a-plenty inside? River even had fur lined boots on and that brought a smile to his face, releasing the spell the place had cast over him. "What you call this again?"

Inara helped him on with his gloves. "Winter Fair."

"An' this happens every gorram year?"

She shook her head. "No. Only every five or six years. Sometimes a little longer if the snow is too long coming."

He opened his mouth to ask another question when a ball of ice came over Inara's shoulder and hit him in the face, the cold crystals shattering against his open mouth and almost choking him in shock. Laughter sprang all around him and spluttering he tried to find the culprit but too many people were dancing around, the snowball fight in full swing before he could get himself properly armed. It was one of the shiniest things in all the 'verse. The carefreeness of his crew, the childish pleasure of playing in the snow, the pretty lights festooning every gorram tree like all the stars had come down from Heaven to give him and his this one perfect holiday. Then there was Inara. HIS Inara, and how gorram wonderful that sounded. Never thought it would ever happen or that he would welcome the day with open arms but now that he had, he never wanted to let her go. She had once wished him hundreds of fat children. Now. Seeing her laughing and playing as hard as the rest something in his heart ached with a joy so close to tears he didn't want to jinx his luck by naming it. He didn't mind having hundreds, no thousands, of fat children if he could have every single one of them with Inara.

They were cold but barely feeling it, noses like icicles, breath freezing as it hit the air in great white puffs. Inara was half leading and half coaxing them onwards, in and out of little shacks with one side open like a covered stall. Sticky treats, ice planets, foaming candy on a stick. Every confection imaginable and some you couldn't make up in your dreams. Kaylee was in Heaven, her and River in some kind of competition to see how much sugar they could stuff in their mouths and still speak. Simon gave up early but tagged on just on the same. Mal knew how he felt, his hand in Inara's the finest gift he could imagine. Jayne kept disappearing then returning out of nowhere, chewing mightily on something that no doubt had been newly killed. This time he had a hat on with so much fur that he expected it to up and leap off his gorram head. Only when the big man turned his head did Mal noticed it had a tail on it. The Captain didn't like to ask and Jayne couldn't open his mouth without the contents spilling out. So really. It was a win-win situation.

He had no idea where Wash and Zoe had disappeared to and it was only when Book came alongside him that he realised the Preacher had been missing for most of the fun. Before he could ask him where he had been a man pushed forward, his shock of dark hair and familiar eyes drawing Mal's attention. He blinked at the habit then felt shock run through him when the monk gathered Inara up into his arms and swung her around. Mals' mouth dropped open, surprised to see a grin a mile wide on the Preacher's face. Before he could demand to know what the good gorram was going on Inara pulled out of the embrace, a mite reluctantly to Mal's jaundiced eye.

"Mal, I'd like you to meet my brother. Sendhil, this is Malcolm Reynolds, the Captain of Serenity."

Sendhil clasped Mal's hand and shook it firmly, his face alight with joy and something so good and honest that the Captain felt his defences crumble. Immovable object had met irresistable force. "You have no idea how long I have waited to meet you, Captain Reynolds. Anyone who can make my sister as happy as you do has earned my lifelong friendship."

He flapped his mouth. Honestly. Words would not come. Sendhil thought he had done that? Had the poor man been hidden in that monastery so long it addled his wits? He was a bad man and here was Inara's brother shaking him by the hand and complimenting him? Inara's laughing voice brought him out of his shock, her voice warm and affectionate.

"You'll have to excuse them, Sendhil, this is the first Winter Fair Mal and the crew have ever seen."

Her brother nodded and Mal at last found his gorram voice. Liked to think no one noticed that it sounded a mite rough, as if emotion were robbing him of his very fine commanding tone. After all, he was the Captain and this was his crew.

"Real shiny to meet you."

* * * * *

Liam couldn't understand why his brother was so subdued. Upset almost. After all, it wasn't like their home had been razed to the gorram ground. And what was all the fuss with the graves? It made no sense. Liam sucked his bottom lip and waited until they were well on the way to Persephone, the sleek ship now on autopilot until they were close enough to begin the landing sequence.

"You gonna tell me what's got you twisted into a gorram pretzel?"

"A what?"

"You know what I mean, Steph. Spit it out. I want the truth now. Why'd those graves shake you so much?"

Badger had hoped to dodge any such question but truth to tell it would be a relief to speak on it. "Just somethin' Cyan told me, years ago." He paused. "About a time she took a break from Companionin'. Never gave it much thought, after all she ain't the first person lost a child."

His brother blinked at him. "Are you sayin'...?"

The little king pin's expression tightened up, his lips flattening. "Ain't sayin' nothin', *dong ma*? An' neither will you."

"We related to that gorram Browncoat?"

To his surprise, Badger threw back his head and laughed nearly dislodging his very fine bowler hat. As he got himself back under control, Badger wiped the beginnings of a tear from his eye, his heart inexplicably lightening. "We ain't related to that *qingwa cao de liumang*."

"But the grave..."

"The year's about right for the one she lost but Reynold's pa had no hand in it. She was already gorram pregnant, see?"

Something clicked in Liam's brain. "You sayin' that's why she took a break from the Guild?"

"Smart man, my brother. She covered up saying she wanted to teach, *dong ma*? Spend time out in the 'verse before retakin' her gorram duties. For whatever reason they let her. I'm thinkin' it was short term, long enough to have the gorram baby but then - had to leave it with someone, see? Couldn't afford to have no Guild official realise. Don't know what tale she spun but seems the Reynolds took the kid in, raised her as their own."

"Why did she die?"

Badger shrugged. "Do I look like a gorram news bulletin? 'Ow should I know? But it seems I wasn't the on'y one to be palmed off on strangers to be raised though she seems to have keep more in touch with them than me." "Up until the child died."

All of a sudden Badger felt old. Worn and weary and no longer wanting to dig into his rutting mother's past. He and Liam had done well out of her will, what did it matter if she had left a scruffy bit o' farmland to Reynolds? Might be pretty now but he had a feeling it would hold too many painful memories for Serenity's Captain to make use of it. "How long 'til Persephone?"

"Four hours."

"Good." Badger rubbed his hands together. "Let's eat then get ready. There's crime to be done."

* * * * *

The Captain stared in shock at the cooler. "What do you mean it's full?"

Before Book could explain Kaylee butted in, her face a wreath of happy smiles. They had been plied with enough food to keep them fed high on the hog for weeks but it wouldn't be worth a good gorram if they couldn't keep it fresh. Book's assortment of fresh meat sat on the table, no closer to being in the freezer than a moment ago.

"It's okay, Cap'n. Got everythin' in."

Mal made a point of looking from the cooler to the pile of meat on the table. Kaylee's face flushed. "Where'd we get all that meat?"

"It's called provisions Kaylee, you know, the food the Shepherd was sent to pick up before we lifted off?"

When she didn't say anything the Captain gave a suspicious frown. "Kaylee, what in the nine hells did you put in my freezer?"

"Ain't much Cap'n, just some treats for the crew."

She was backing slowly towards the door. The Captain cut off her retreat, his eyes narrowing. "Kaylee?"

Shepherd Book tried to defuse the situation. "I could salt some of the meat down, Captain. Some I can cook, make stews, meat pies an' such. It'll keep better than raw."

Getting no explanation from his mechanic the Captain reached passed her and opened the door, his mouth falling open when he saw it was crammed full with tubs of ice cream, lollies and frozen fruit. Turning his head he noticed Kaylee had taken the opportunity to make herself scarce. The Captain and the Preacher exchanged a look. Book sighed.

"I guess I could make some fruit pies too and we can use up a tub or two of ice cream for desert. Should be enough to put some of the meat in."

"And the rest?"

"Book smiled. "Kaylee meant well, Captain, and I can cook a fair few meals in advance."

"But will they keep?"

"Providing we can keep Jayne out of the kitchen."

* * * * *

Patience stared at Red Eye. "Why would they be visitin' that old chapel?"

"Priest said they was askin' 'bout gettin' wed."

The answer made as little sense to her as the question. "*Wo bu dong*. Reynolds has a Preacher on that tub of his."

Her sharp shooter shrugged. "Mebbe they's traditionalists." At her look he explained. "Y'know, mebbe they just wanna get married in a church?"

With no better explanation Patience didn't pursue the matter any further and as the days passed into weeks with nothing untoward happening she slowly lost interest in Paul and Natalie. Holding hands, the two in question hunkered down behind an old semi derelict barn to talk.

"You sure this is wise, Nat?"

The girl's eyes were shining. She always did like a challenge. "*Dang ran*. That old witch bears watchin' but the good thing about this dust bowl is there's no Alliance."

"Yeah, but settin' up a cell on Whitefall? The Cap'n would throw a fit."

She chuckled and stole a kiss. "Cap'n won't know an' it's a good place to re-route information - or leak it to overly suspicious ears."

Paul shook his head and smiled that crooked smile that made her heart miss a beat. He picked the hay out of her hair. She loved how gentle he was. How open and trusting. Made her feel more than special. "We could get married after all. Solidify our cover."

"You proposin' to me Paul Rinkman?"

"You sayin' yes?"

Her reply was swallowed up in a kiss.

* * * * *

Inara laughed at the sheepish look on Malcolm Reynolds' face when he stopped by her shuttle late that night. She could not believe he had smuggled in a whole tub of double chocolate fudge ice cream. Hadn't Kaylee set up an alarm on her haul?

"Thought you liked ice cream."

She smiled. "Mal, there's enough in this tub for the whole crew."

"Wasn't thinkin' of sharin'."

Her eyebrows rose. "Are you intending for me to watch you eat the whole tub?"

Flushing slightly he hurried to deny any such notion. "That ain't it at all. Fact is I got the idea from Kaylee."

"I'm confused. Kaylee knows you took the ice cream and you're still breathing?"

"Nah, didn't tell her. Heard her seducin' the doc with all the things she could do with chocolate."

It took all Inara's training not to laugh. Mal looked so earnest and she was dying to hear the rest of his plan. "You mean you were eavesdropping?"

"You have a suspicious mind, woman." He paused. "Well, okay, but on'y 'cause I was passin' their bunk. Noise was a mite peculiar - could call it a cross between agony an' ecstasy. That was when the doc cried out an' Kaylee explained that he wouldn't be cold for long..."

Inara shut him up with a kiss, taking the tub from his hands to put it on the side table. "Why don't you tell me while we get undressed."

By the time he was naked Malcolm Reynolds was more than grateful to Inara for her Companion training. The stuff was so cold and the slide on his naked flesh was covering him in goose bumps and cooling his ardour quicker than seeing Jayne lick his gorram knife. That's when Inara's hot tongue got to work, her hands doing all kinds of interesting things that had him close to begging. Had no idea what he was wanting but she seemed to know and fortunately the tub was big enough for him to return the favour. The groaning, odd strangled cry, panting and laughing left them both sated, breathless and sticky in places where the sun would never shine. Laying back in a tangle of exhausted limbs the Captain looked at the way the candlelight illuminated Inara's face and thought that all messed up and sticky was a good look on her. She had never looked lovelier. He followed every shadow with a sticky finger, her protests mumbling away as he licked the trail of chocolate off with his tongue between the shadows of her breasts.

"You are a very wicked woman, Inara Serra."

Her smile of smug content made him chuckle. His chuckle warming her heart. "I can tell Kaylee who stole the ice cream."

"*Wei*! I had to do it for my crew."

She stared at the big bald faced lie but he did not crumble. Instead Malcolm Reynolds crossed his heart with an entirely too sticky finger. "Cross my heart an' hope to die." Inara felt it was her duty to lick it clean, her warm lips sliding over his index finger and making him swallow hard, his eyes wide and darkening in a delicious way. "Not before I finish with you, *ai ren*."

It was getting hard to think. "Had to empty the freezer, she had it so stuffed wasn't no room for the meat."

She licked his ear. His shudder egged her on. Took no time at all before he forgot clean about Kaylee, the freezer, and how all hell would break lose when she found out what he'd done.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book stared at the portable cortex screen. Gabriel Tam's muddy face was such an unexpected sight he was momentarily lost for words. "*Wode ma*, what happened to you?"

"That's not important. I just called to let you know that everything is going to be okay."

The Preacher looked surprised. "Regan forgave you?"

A shadow crossed the man's face. "No, and that's not likely to happen for some time but I've found somewhere to live and I intend to keep busy. I just have one last thing to ask of you, old friend."

"Anything."

"Look after my children, Derrial."

Long after the connection was cut, Book stared at the little device. He had been watching over River and Simon Tam from the beginning. It was why he had boarded Serenity in the first place although for a time he was sure he was on the wrong ship.

* * * * *

The Captain was in shock. The last time he had seen Shadow it had been a burnt wasteland. Nothing left standing, the whole planet reduced to ashes. Even the water was gone, boiled away by the sustained use of mass drivers and heavy aerial bombardment. To see the prairie grasses high and lush was a sight to make his breath catch, a painful ache in his chest. The whole gorram crew insisted on coming down to the planet with him. Inara taking his arm when he stopped in shock and stared at the sight that greeted them. Jayne was loaded for bear, ready to unleash his deadliest arsenal at anyone thinking to cause trouble. Zoe had been tense and jumpy in the hours leading up to landing on Shadow, Wash trying to reassure her and show that he was there for her.

Kaylee couldn't keep the look of surprise off her face, a smile gracing her lips. "Cap'n you never told me it was so *meili*."

He couldn't speak but no one blamed him for it. As the crew hung back, the Captain explored, his footsteps a slow pilgrimage. Inara walked beside him, Zoe watching their backs but careful not to crowd. Jayne and Book kept a weathered eye out. Simon and River stood at the end of the ramp and watched, not wanting to intrude but not wanting to miss anything either. When they reached the graves a small broken cry pressed Inara closer to the Captain, her hand finding his and giving a comforting squeeze.

"What dream is this?" The Captain's voice was hushed and disbelieving.

"Mal?"

"Inara, last time I came here the gorram graves had been dug up. I checked, the bodies were gone!"

Seeing his distress, Inara felt guilty for urging him to come but a tiny voice in the back of her head said that painful as this was he needed to see this. To find closure. The War was over but that didn't mean he had to lose the Peace as well.

Once the others realised there was no threat they retreated back to the ship, Jayne hanging close to the bay door just in case. Inara and Mal spent hours on Shadow, the Captain kneeling to pull up the small straggling weeds beginning to cover the graves. He supposed he should be trying to work out how the bodies of his kinfolk had been returned and the graves restored but he was so damn tired of being grief stricken. Didn't think he could carry that load much further and now he didn't have to. Maybehaps that was the real gift Cyan had given him. Not the return of his family land but the family that used to live on it.

Night was beginning to fall when he and Inara finally walked up the ramp and closed the cargo bay doors behind them. Mal gave Jayne a nod. "*Xie xie ni*, Jayne."

The big man nodded, glad he could do something however small. Everyone had been on tenderhooks not knowing what to expect but now that it was over there was a feeling of anti climax. Wearily the Captain clasped Inara's hand in his and climbed the stairs, calling out to Wash to take them out of the world. On the catwalk Zoe waited for him, the concern in her eyes making him want to smile in reassurance.

"We leavin'?"

"That we are."

Zoe frowned. "What are you gonna do about Shadow?"

Inara excused herself to go and help Kaylee prepare the evening meal. "Shadow can look after itself."

He moved to stand beside her, both of them looking out over the cargo bay below but each of them still seeing Shadow. Zoe had to ask, might not get a second chance. "Cyan gave your land back to you, sir. Could be you could settle down there."

"Why would I be doin' that?"

Seeing his stoic first mate flush, even a little bit, was such a novel experience the Captain wanted to cherish it but Zoe recovered too soon. "Thought you an' Inara might be settlin' down."

He straightened. "Did ya now?"

She hid a smirk. "It's a small ship, sir."

"More'n big enough for me an' my crew."

"An' children, sir?"

"What about 'em?"

"Thought you might want room to move around, sir."

"You were space born." He growled in her face.

A slight smile almost cracked her stoic facade. "That I was, sir."

"You sayin' it's shiny for you but not for me?"

It was on the tip of her tongue to make a sarcastic rejoiner but then she thought of all they had been through. Of all this ship had come to mean to them along with the crew who made it home. She wanted a child her ownself but it was Wash who was dragging his feet, not thinking a ship the best place to raise a family. It gave her a kind of warmth inside knowing that the Captain was more than happy with the notion. Would make things easier for her once she talked her man around. Zoe gave her Captain a nod. "You're right, sir, *duibuqi*. I wasn't thinkin'."

He blinked, surprised at her sudden capitulation then nodded back. "See that it doesn't happen again."

Zoe left to join her husband on the bridge and the Captain took a moment to cast his eye over his ship. A thousand memories crowding in but somehow, now when he thought of Shadow he no longer saw the death and desolation in his mind's eye. He saw bright glossy prairie and a world born anew. Out of fire and destruction new life had been born for a new beginning. With a smile he turned his back on the cargo bay and made his way towards the common room, the sounds of his crew laughing and joking, Inara and Kaylee banging about in the kitchen while Jayne tried to steal the food they were preparing bringing a smile of content to his lips. River danced around him as he stepped into the room, the happy babble of her voice for once not crazy, her brother in conversation with Book. River stopped dancing and cocked her head as she looked at him, a slow smile gracing her pale features with its' own kind of ambient beauty. The kind of quiet joy a man could drown in.

"Time to move on." She whispered.

His smile matched her own. It was all the thanks she needed. "That it is, little one, that it is."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*jianyu* = prison *wangu* = stubborn *guai* = devil/ghost *shenme* = what *wode ma* = mother of God *dong ma* = understand? *diyu* = hell *dui* = correct *qu* = yes (lit. go) *xie xie ni* = thank you *wei* = hey! *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *qingwa cao de liumang* = frog humping sumbitch *dang ran* = of course *meili* = pretty *ai ren* = sweetheart *duibuqi* = sorry

COMMENTS

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 1:41 AM

KATESFRIEND


Glad to see they all got a happy ending finally!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 4:00 AM

BYTEMITE


Ooh, super happy ending!

After all the pain the captain's been through, it's good to see the universe make up with him and give his crew a break.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 5:37 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


WONDERFUL! And I'm not just saying that. I loved the last section with Mal, Zoe, and River. I could see it, feel it, and even taste the air in Serenity. I bow before a master storyteller.

Oh and as for Badger...man still needs to die. LOL!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 9:16 AM

AMDOBELL


Thanks for all the feedback, so happy you enjoyed the story. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, July 23, 2009 12:30 PM

SLUMMING


Beautifully done! This story has been fascinating from beginning to end....though the end is really a new beginning, isn't it? The very best kind! :)

Saturday, April 30, 2011 8:26 PM

MALSDOXY


wow, just, wow... that was an excellent, entertaining and captivating series, AliD...you continue to amaze us all with your intricate and engrossing story lines...thank you

Saturday, December 3, 2011 8:29 AM

AMDOBELL


So glad you enjoyed the story slumming and as you so rightly say, every ending is but a new beginning. Where will it lead? Thank you for your comments also MalsDoxy, it faintly amazes me every time anyone stays right until the end of one of my series stories - some do get a mite long but you have to do the stories justice not cut them off without a proper ending. All comments greatly appreciated, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 64. "Be Careful What You Wish For"
The inclusion of what made the Gifted so special was the difference between an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction and one that could be finely honed to frightening precision.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 63. "Everybody Lies"
As he closed his eyes he could feel his body relax, his heartbeat slowing as sleep began to steal over him when suddenly his eyes sprang open as a piercing scream rent the air and set his heart pounding.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 62. "Two Steps Back"
Carefully he made his way back to the spare room he had been given and eased himself down on the narrow bed. He still felt sore and a mite weak plus he had some serious thinking to do. And all before they reached Lilac.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 61. "One Step Forward"
Her smile was the permafrost before glaciers moved. A long way from the ice melt signalling the end of an Ice Age. Minions were there for a reason.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 60. "Big Damn Rescue"
The cloaked vessel had been unable to hide its' energy signature from his high tech craft but of all the possible destinations he had envisioned this one had not been even on the distant periphery of his imagination.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 59. "Fallout"
It was almost comical except it really wasn't. The situation was obviously desperate but the fires had at last burnt themselves out leaving the desolate, charred and broken remains of what had once been the maximum security *jianyu* hidden in the last place any living mortal would look to find it.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 58. "Another Door Closes"
A cloth wrapped around his mouth he stumbled on doggedly and checked the bodies as he went. Five dead so far, three looking to turn critical but for now still breathing.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 57. "As One Door Opens"
A slim manicured hand pointed to the two stricken ships. "The impact will set in motion a chain reaction that will destroy not only the people aboard both vessels but also everyone left on Titan Station. I call that a pyrrhic victory, don't you?"

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 56. "Tangles"
He leaned back in his chair and affected another smile, the kind no doubt those ancient creatures on Earth-that-was extended to their prey moments before their jaws clamped down and crushed in their skulls.

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 55. "Twisted"
...like a fey she was already out of reach, a luminous almost ethereal body half-haunting half-taunting him through an umbical chord that could not be broken.


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