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FIGHTON4GOD

"Defining Traitor" - Part Four
Thursday, July 21, 2005

Part Four of Four. As happy as Jo is to be back to Serenity, the crew's goal of discovering the truth complicates everything, especially the emotions of everyone aboard the ship.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1449    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Defining Traitor Sequel to Relativity.

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Part Four of Four

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Part One

Part Two

Part Three

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Feedback is always appreciated, folks.

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Serenity attached to a large ship when they arrived at the coordinates specified on the letter Jo had received. In the cargo bay, Mal and Jo exchanged a glance before looking back at Zoe and Jayne. Zoe gave a small nod, while Jayne just looked as annoyed as he always did. They walked out of Serenity, going through the transport tunnel until they arrived at a large metal door to the other ship. Jo stared at the door. While Jo shouldn’t have been nervous, seeing as how she had a strong feeling that this was all a sham, she was indeed nervous. If this was all a lie, what was the point? Why had this person gone through so much trouble to get her here? Yes, Jo was nervous, though she put on an indifferent front. The large doors slid open after a few moments.

A huge chrome room could be seen as the doors opened, a few windows spread evenly over the walls. A young man stood in front of a window and looked out into the blackness of space. The young man was, in fact, dressed all in black, his hands grasping each other behind his back. The young man had thick, wavy black hair to go with all his black clothes. His long black coat hung past his knees, down all the way to his black boots. He turned when he heard his four guests walk into the room. The doors to his ship closed after the four entered, and the young man turned around. He looked at them with his dark brown eyes, and he looked to be about Jo’s age, maybe a few years older. He would have been handsome if he wasn’t looking so solemn. “Are you Josephine Laronn?” the young man asked in a smooth voice.

“Depends on who’s askin’,” Jo replied, as the four of them stopped in the middle of the large room.

The young man smirked. “My name is Daniel Evans. I was the one that brought you here. You should have told me you were bringing some friends.”

“I didn’t think you would mind,” answered Jo dryly. “So where is all this proof you mentioned?” Jo took a small step forward, away from Mal, Zoe, and Jayne.

Daniel laughed. “There is no proof.”

“Gee, what a surprise,” Jo said flatly, frowning and glaring at Daniel.

Daniel took a small step forward. “So you knew I was lying, did you? Well, I’m glad you still decided to come.”

Jo unconsciously took a small step back. Part of her was relieved, knowing that she had been right, that her parents weren’t traitors. But part of her was confused, not knowing why this guy had wanted her here. “Well, now that I’m here, you should probably start explaining why you brought us on this wild goose chase.”

Before Jo could blink, Daniel had a gun trained on the four.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Mal told Jo.

“Oh, try to be positive,” Jo said, looking at Daniel.

“There’s a gun pointed at us,” Mal responded.

“Well, if you say it like that, of course it’s gonna sound bad,” Jo snapped.

“Stop the chat!” cut in Daniel, stepping forward until he was right in front of Jo. He waved the gun at Mal, Zoe, and Jayne. “I want you three out of here.”

Mal gave a little laugh. Not a chance. Mal reached toward his belt quickly.

Daniel lunged to Jo, wrapping his arm around Jo’s neck from behind and putting the gun to Jo’s temple. Jo grabbed the arm around her throat and tried to pry Daniel’s grip loose. Daniel glared at Mal. “Try it, and she dies.”

“I’ll still shoot you,” Mal said, stopping mid-way toward his gun.

“She’ll still be dead,” snarled Daniel, pressing the gun harder against Jo’s head.

Jo glared at Daniel before looking at Mal. “Mal, go.” All that was going through Jo’s mind was the fact that if Mal, Zoe, and Jayne stayed, they were more than likely to get hurt.

Mal looked at Jo. “What?”

“Go, Mal. I can handle this.”

“But - ”

“Look, Reynolds, I think this whole caring thing is sweet, but this is something I need to do by myself.” Uh-oh. Mal knew when Jo was serious, and that was when Jo started using last names. Mal looked at Daniel before walking toward the door with Zoe and Jayne. Daniel followed them, dragging Jo along with him as he kept his gun trained on Mal. As soon as the three Serenity crew members were out of the room, Daniel hit the control panel by the door. The door slid closed and clicked with the unmistakable sound of a lock.

Outside of the room, the three Serenity crewmembers looked at the large metal door. “So . . . how do we get in?” Jayne asked after a moment.

“We’re thinking,” Zoe and Mal responded in chorus. The three were soon back off toward Serenity, toward the extra shuttle.

Back in the room, Daniel let out a harsh laugh. “Now that they’re out of the way,” Daniel said, taking his arm from around Jo’s neck and shoving her away. Jo stumbled before getting her balance and spinning to face Daniel.

“So why did you bring me here?” Jo persisted.

“Because your parents are traitors, just not in the sense that you probably thought,” Daniel answered bitterly.

“What are you talking about?” asked Jo angrily.

“They killed my parents,” said Daniel, raising his gun to point it at Jo’s face. “And I’m looking forward to exacting some revenge.”

Jo looked at Daniel then his gun. She looked at Daniel’s eyes, angry eyes, dark eyes. “And why exactly do you want to kill me?” Jo asked calmly.

“Do you know what it’s like to not have parents? To know your parents were mercilessly killed by some stupid Browncoats?” Daniel sneered the last word.

Jo’s hands clenched into fists. “Don’t you dare talk about my parents like that!” she yelled, lunging at Daniel. Daniel fired a shot at Jo, Jo covering her head with her arms and dodging to the side. She fell on the ground, not feeling any pain anywhere. She felt her coat, her heart skipping a beat as she felt a gunshot hole through the clothing. Jo propped herself up on her elbows to see Daniel, who walked up to stand by Jo and train his gun on her at close range.

“Aww, did your coat get a little hole through it?” Daniel mocked in a baby voice. Jo glared up at Daniel and did a hook kick, hooking her foot behind Daniel’s ankles and pulling. Daniel yelled and fell to the floor on his back, letting out a groan as the wind was temporarily knocked out of him.

Jo made a quick motion of drawing her dagger and going to Daniel. She pressed the dagger to Daniel’s throat. “You know, you would be cute if you weren’t trying to kill me.” Daniel glared at Jo. “Now take it back,” Jo whispered threateningly.

Daniel glared right back at Jo. “Not a chance,” he growled in reply. He let out a hard punch, his fist hitting right on his opponent’s nose.

Jo grunted and snapped backwards, sprawling on the ground. She shook her head, feeling warm blood start coming from her nose. She felt Daniel snatch her dagger away, pulling Jo up by her coat collar. Daniel twisted Jo’s arm so she was facing away from him, and Daniel drew his dagger across her back. Jo felt cloth ripping, though she felt nothing on her back. Daniel had only cut her coat, a symbolic gesture. Jo did a little twist, turning and digging her knee into Daniel’s groin. Daniel groaned, dropping Jo’s dagger so he could fall to the floor and writhe in pain.

“Now,” Jo said, picking up her dagger as Daniel lay in agony. She drew a gun from her coat and pointed it at Daniel, watching him squirm. Blood from Jo’s injured nose was leaking down onto her coat, staining the collar. “I’m going to leave. If you ever think about coming after me, my ship, or my crew, I will kill you.”

Jo and Daniel both looked up as a door across the room opened, a door opposite the one Jo had entered through. Mal came in, the captain holding a gun pointed towards Daniel. Two guns were now pointed at Daniel, and Daniel was trapped.

Daniel stared at the two guns then let out a kick, hitting Jo’s knee. Jo, caught off guard by the force of the kick, fell to the floor. Jo’s forehead slammed against the floor, knocking the girl out momentarily. Daniel picked up his own gun from the floor and Jo’s dropped gun and pointed them both, one at Jo and one at Mal. Daniel looked at Mal with an evil smile. “Nice to see you again.”

“Don’t make the wrong choice here, kid. Just let the girl go and this can all go away,” Mal said slowly. Mal’s gun was still raised.

Daniel was looking furious. “This will never go away, not as long as she’s alive!” Daniel stormed, jerking his head toward the unconscious girl lying by him. Daniel was still sitting on the floor, though he was slowly getting to a kneeling position.

“Daniel, just let her go,” repeated Mal.

By Daniel, Jo slowly blinked into consciousness. She saw Daniel glaring at Mal, both men having guns trained on one another. “No! She has to die! I have to avenge my parents' deaths!”

Mal shook his head. “It won’t help! Just let her go!”

Daniel yelled and lunged at Mal. Since Mal was definitely not expecting this, he was knocked down by Daniel plowing his shoulder into Mal’s stomach. Mal’s gun fell a few inches out of Mal’s reach, and Mal was now staring at the revolver in Daniel’s hand. Daniel was seething, and he cocked his gun. “Then maybe you need to die, too,” he said as his finger found its place on the trigger of his gun.

A shot rang through the room, and time seemed to stop. A door on the other side of the room burst open, Zoe and Jayne entering the room just in time to see Daniel fall backwards. His eyes stared lifelessly upwards, a gunshot wound on his back forming a puddle of blood around him. Mal looked confused until he looked over to see Jo holding her other gun, the gun pointing to the place Daniel had just been.

“Zhe zhen shi ge kuai le de jin zhan,” Zoe muttered, going over to Daniel to quickly check how he was. Zoe found no pulse on Daniel, which she had expected. She rushed over to Mal, making sure he was okay. Mal grabbed his own gun and put it on his belt as he brushed Zoe off, taking Jo’s gun from Daniel’s lifeless hand and going over to Jo.

Jo stood, knees shaking slightly. She was staring at Daniel’s body, her gun clutched in her hand at her side. She didn’t look up as Mal put his hand on her shoulder. “Nice shot, kid.”

“I didn’t know what I was doing . . . I just shot him, it was almost a reflex . . .” muttered Jo.

Mal took the gun from Jo’s hand, seeing that Jo was distraught. “Jo, it was in defense. You probably saved my life, you know.”

Jo sighed, looking down and putting her palms against her eyes. “But it wasn’t just that . . . He said my parents . . .” Jo couldn’t even repeat what Daniel had said.

Mal nodded, putting Jo’s guns on his belt for now. He put his hand on Jo’s back so he could lead Jo toward the door. Zoe and Jayne went for the exit, using the control panel to open the door. “Jo, don’t worry about it. It’s over, okay?” assured Mal gently.

Jo removed her hands from her eyes and crossed her arms tightly in front of herself. “But he was so young. And it’s not like he was that different from me.” Jo bit her lip for a moment. “I had been separated from my parents for so long by the time I heard that they died . . . it was almost like a dream, like they had been dying for years . . . but I could still imagine they were alive, ‘cause it all seemed so removed from my immediate life. He couldn't escape from his parents' deaths, and instead he surrounded himself with them.” She looked up at Mal solemnly. “It could have been me,” she whispered.

“Don’t say that,” Mal told Jo, Mal’s tone firm but still reassuring. “You weren’t like him. You’re making things with your life, not dwelling on the past like that maniac.”

Jo kept her head down, blinking hard to keep away tears. She didn’t even look up as they entered Serenity. Kaylee and Simon sat by each other on a crate in the cargo bay, talking quietly. Inara and Book stood on the other side of the cargo bay, in their own discussion. River was sitting on the catwalk above the rest, legs dangling off the catwalk and swinging below her. Wash must have been still up in the bridge.

Mal let go of Jo’s back to go over to the com and report to Wash that they should get going. Serenity was soon heading away from Daniel’s ship. The crew looked up as the four entered. Kaylee let out an audible gasp when she saw Jo. Kaylee jumped off the crate she sat on and rushed over to Jo. “Oh my, gosh! What happened?” she asked, concern very apparent in her voice.

“Kaylee, it’s nothing,” Jo assured the mechanic. Inara and Simon made their way over to Jo, Book heading over to Mal.

Book looked at the captain. “What happened?” he asked Mal in a hushed tone.

Mal shook his head. “Quite a brawl, Preacher. But it’s over and done with now.”

Book nodded, understanding. He didn’t ask anything else.

Over by Jo, Kaylee was still looking worried. Simon looked at Jo. “Is your nose broken?” he asked in his doctor voice, reaching toward Jo’s face. Jo swatted the doctor’s hand away before he could try to fix her.

“It’s okay, Simon,” Jo assured him. River stood on the catwalk and made her way down the steps.

Inara placed a hand on Jo’s shoulder comfortingly. “Dinner’s ready, if you’re hungry?” she asked gently.

With all her strength, Jo managed a thin smile. She shook her head. “I think I’m going to turn in early. Been a rough day.” Jo looked over at Mal and held out her hand, palm up. Mal nodded and gave Jo back her guns, Jo leaving the cargo bay with no more words to the crew.

River stood next to the stairs and watched Jo leave. As her eyes followed Jo, River spoke. “Doesn’t wanna eat with blood on her hands.” With that, River walked off as well. The crew watched River before Kaylee, Inara, and Simon looked at Mal, all eyes demanding answers.

Mal sighed softly. “Jo had to shoot a guy that was about to shoot me. But no one is to mention it to her, and that’s an order.” He was silent for a moment so he could let this sink in. “Let’s go have dinner.” Somehow, as the crew headed off toward the dining room, Mal suspected that it would not be a very happy meal.

---

After dinner, all of Serenity’s nine crew members went off to what they had been doing before they arrived at Daniel’s ship. Now that it was all over and they were heading back to Persephone, the crew should have been more relaxed. But after seeing Jo, it seemed to everyone that relaxing was all but out of the question.

Zoe, plate of food in hand, walked down the stairs and through the hallway before she stopped at Jo’s room. She knocked lightly on the door.

“What?” The voice from inside the room was dull, indifferent, and muffled by what sounded like a pillow.

Zoe opened the door and stepped inside Jo’s room. Jo was laying on her back on the bed, a pillow over her face. Her arms were over the pillow, both hands in fists and grasping the pillow’s fabric. “Hey,” Zoe greeted closing the door behind her.

Jo didn’t have to remove the pillow from her face to tell who it was. She recognized Zoe’s voice. “Hi.” Jo was careful to keep her tone steady and calm.

“We saved you a plate of food,” said Zoe, placing the plate of food lightly on the table by Jo’s bed. Zoe sat on the foot of the bed, looking at Jo.

Jo sighed and sat up, scooting back so she could lean against the wall and remove the pillow from her face. She drew her knees close to her and rested the pillow on them. Zoe noticed Jo’s eyes: red-rimmed, bloodshot, slightly watery. Jo had also cleaned up her nose. Zoe knew the pillow had been for drowning out the sounds of Jo crying. “Thanks,” Jo said softly, looking over at the food as an excuse not to look at Zoe.

A moment passed between the two of them before Zoe asked, “You okay?”

A sad smile crossed Jo’s lips. “I’m glad you aren’t the preacher.”

Zoe gave a slight laugh. “I’m glad I’m not a preacher, too.” She looked at Jo and caught Jo quickly wipe her eye. “Jo, it was defense. You shot the guy to save Captain . . .”

Yeah, Jo had heard that one before. “But he was my age, Zoe. Who am I to say that we wouldn’t have been friends if he wasn’t, you know, tryin’ to kill me?”

Zoe had to admit that Jo had a point, but Zoe didn’t let that opinion show. “You know, I knew a guy who was like you in the war.” Jo looked over at Zoe. Zoe nodded. “Felt guilty whenever he needed to kill someone. He eventually got over it when he realized everyone was doing it and no one else felt guilty.”

Jo rested her chin on the pillow in her knees. “I’ve never felt guilty about killing someone. I mean, I’ve felt guilty, but not like this. The only person I felt guilty – like this, I mean – about killing was the first person I killed. I had just gotten my guns, and it was on one of my first jobs for Badger. This guy I was delivering to didn’t want to pay me. I kept telling him to pay me, and he finally snapped. Tried to kill me first. I killed him then took the money. I think that’s when I started being considered a thief.”

Zoe nodded. “You probably saved Captain, you know that?”

“Mal could’a saved himself.”

“Not the way I saw it.”

Jo looked at the first mate, Zoe giving a small smile. Zoe stood, walking over and opening the door. “Zoe.” Zoe turned to look at Jo. “Thanks again,” Jo said sincerely, looking at Zoe.

“Sure, Jo,” Zoe said with a small smile. Jo gave a smile back before Zoe walked out of the room.

---

After Zoe and Jo’s little talk, Zoe walked through the passenger quarter hallway. Just as she got to the common area, Mal was walking down the steps. They both stopped when they saw each other. Mal blinked and looked down the hall to Jo’s room before looking at his first mate. “Did you just talk to her?” the captain asked, pointing down the hall to Jo’s room.

Zoe watched Mal before nodding. “Yes, sir,” she answered.

Mal opened his mouth once or twice, apparently trying to form some kind of coherent speech. When that didn’t work, he let out a humorless laugh. “Zoe, were you not there when I told the crew not to mention the incident?”

“I was there, sir,” replied Zoe calmly.

“So you just decided to ignore that order?” Mal asked, dropping his voice. He stepped down the next few steps so he was on level ground with Zoe. “This is something she needs to work through on her own.”

Zoe wasn’t so calm now. Mal was making Jo out to be an adult, and Zoe knew that wasn’t even close to the truth. “No, Mal, she’s just a child.” Zoe had dropped her voice as well to fight with the captain. “She seems older, to be sure, but all she needs now is to hear that what she did was right, to have someone that she trusts assure her that she has nothing to be guilty about.” Mal was taken aback at the fervor in his fellow Browncoat’s voice. Zoe continued. “She needs to be able to rely on someone else for a bit, to stop making decisions for herself while she deals with the guilt. She needs someone to take care of her, someone to calm her down.”

“She can calm herself down, Zoe. She’s a thief; she’s had to rely on herself since she was five. How’s this different? What she needs now is to be left alone," insisted Mal.

“No, sir, that's exactly what she doesn't need,” Zoe said firmly. “She doesn’t need to be left alone, she needs the support of all of us, but especially from you and me. She looks up to us, can’t you see that?” Mal thought about this in the moment of silence that followed. “And she thinks she let us down,” continued Zoe. Mal looked at Zoe. Zoe further explained, “She knows that neither of us kill unless we have to, and she thinks that there must have been another solution.”

“Zoe – ” attempted Mal. Mal had no idea that Jo felt this way, and Mal still didn’t fully believe what his first mate was saying.

Not a chance, Zoe wasn’t letting the captain talk until she was finished. “She’s afraid that she lost our respect by killing first then thinking about options.”

Mal was silent. He sighed softly before shaking his head and walking off toward the cargo bay. Zoe walked off toward the bridge with a small sigh.

---

Jo walked into the dining area a few days after the Daniel incident. She stopped when she heard someone in the kitchen, and she looked over to see Shepherd Book making tea. This was probably one of the most awkward situations Jo had ever been in. Book looked up and smiled slightly when he saw Jo. “Hello, Jo,” he greeted. “Would you like some tea? I made enough for two.”

For a minute, Jo had been expecting the Shepherd to be looking down on her. She gave a slight laugh of relief and nodded, continuing her walk to sit at the dining table. Book sat next to her, giving her a cup of tea. “Thank you, Shepherd,” Jo said politely, probably the most polite she could manage.

Book laughed a bit as he took a drink of his tea. “Please, call me Book. You’ve been on here long enough that you can use my name.”

For a moment, Jo looked at the Shepherd then nodded softly. She looked down and stared at her tea.

Book saw Jo’s troubled expression and asked, “Is anything bothering you?”

“Um . . .” Jo was having trouble with how to phrase her anxiety. She pulled her kneed to her chest and hugged them. “Shepherd Book . . . when I hurt someone . . . or even kill them . . . sometimes I feel bad, I feel guilty . . . but other times, I don’t – feel guilty, I mean . . . . Book, does that make me a bad person?” she asked, looking up at Book.

Book looked intently at Jo before sighing softly and folding his hands. “Jo, I don’t believe you’re a cold blooded killer.” Jo looked at the Shepherd. “Am I right? Do you just kill people when you need to?”

Jo considered his question, tilting her head slightly, looking thoughtful. “Just when the situation calls, is all. I mean, it’s not like I kill for fun.”

“Then how can you be a bad person?” Book asked.

Jo smiled softly and was quiet for another stretch of time. The Shepherd and the thief sipped their tea silently for a while before Jo had another question. “Book, what happens when people die?” Book looked over at Jo. Jo cleared her throat softly. “I mean, Mom and Dad were religious and all, they prayed with me at times, but what happened to them after they died?”

“If they believed in God,” Book answered knowingly, “then they would have gone to Heaven.”

Jo nodded. She remembered hearing something about that place. “Book . . . I don’t pray much . . . I mean, not much at all . . . so what happens when I die?”

Book examined the girl, this girl that seemed so little at this point in time. “If you believe in God and pray often, you’ll go to Heaven, too. And you’ll be with your parents. It’s not too late to start praying. You aren’t dead yet.”

“Yet being the key phrase there,” Jo added. Book smiled a little. Jo looked down. “But . . . it’s just . . . I’m not sure how to pray. I remember my parents praying sometimes . . . They used to just shut their eyes and talk . . . I used to wonder if God was actually listening.”

“He was,” Book said.

A moment of silence passed so Jo could take this short reassurance in. “Book, if I talk to God, will . . . will God tell my parents what I say?”

“He’ll do better than that,” the Shepherd assured Jo. “He’ll let you talk to them directly. They can always hear what you say, and so can God. All you have to do is talk to Him, and He’ll hear you.”

Jo bit her lip. “Really?” Book nodded. Jo said nothing for a little while then nodded. “Thanks, Shepherd Book,” Jo said sincerely. Book gave her a smile before Jo stood and walked out of the dining hall. Book went on with his teatime.

---

Mal and Zoe stood near the hatch to Mal’s room, both leaning against the wall as they waited for Jo. The two looked up as Jo hopped up the stairs and gave the two a smile. “What’s everyone lookin’ all solemn for?” Jo asked, crossing her arms and frowning lightly as she saw how Mal and Zoe were looking at her.

Mal pushed himself lightly off the wall so he could stand in front of Jo and hold out his hand. “Give me your coat.”

Jo gave a small jump of surprise and stepped back from Mal. Jo hugged her tattered and beaten up coat to her. “Mal, no!” she protested firmly, gazing at Mal.

Mal sighed softly and made a small motion with his hand. “Jo, just give me the coat.”

“No, Mal, I’m not giving you my coat,” Jo told Mal again, feeling rather cornered when she saw Zoe stand off the wall as well.

“Just give him the coat, Jo, it’s okay,” Zoe told Jo gently.

“Give me one good reason!” insisted Jo. On the bridge, Wash looked out to the hall. The pilot stood, going over and standing by the door to observe the confrontation.

Mal looked at Jo. "Because you know you can trust us."

Jo looked at Mal, her gaze then slowly creeping over to Zoe. Zoe and Mal both looked trustworthy in her eyes. She just wanted this coat to stay with her. She looked down at her coat before sighing. Jo reached inside her coat and pulled her guns out so she could take off her coat and hand the dirty, tattered piece of clothing to Mal. Jo put her guns on her belt while her coat was gone.

“Good,” Mal said. He nodded with a reassuring smile and headed down to his room, coat in hand.

Jo looked shocked that Mal was going into his room with her coat, and she tried to follow. “Hey, my coat - ” she protested. But Jo stopped as she felt a hand on her shoulder. Jo looked back to see Zoe, Zoe’s hand on Jo’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Josie,” Zoe said with a smile.

Jo looked at Zoe, slightly shocked to hear Zoe call her Josie. Jo nodded softly, crossing her arms and waiting anxiously for Mal.

A moment later, Mal emerged from his room, holding something behind his back. Jo looked at Mal, who had a sneaky smile on his face. Mal glanced at Zoe, who smiled a little and stood next to Mal. Mal removed his hands from behind his back. Jo laughed and covered her mouth with her hand. In Mal’s hands, a rip-free brown coat rested in all its Independent glory. “Now, be careful with this one. This is an official brown coat, a real one from the war.”

Jo looked at Mal and Zoe. “Be careful? Mal, Zoe, you can’t be giving this to me?”

Zoe nodded. “Indeed we are. Thought you deserve a real one for what you’ve been through. You know, being related to Badger and everything.”

Jo laughed slightly and looked at the coat. Mal held the coat out to her, Jo taking it and grinning. Before she could even think about what she was doing, Jo’s arms were around Zoe and Mal. “Thank you so much, guys,” she said, pulling out of the hug, slightly embarrassed.

Mal and Zoe exchanged a glance before looking at Jo, each with a smile on their faces. “Well, go ahead, put it on,” Mal said.

Jo smiled and put the coat on. It was rather big, hanging down past her knees. But she didn’t mind one bit. She grinned at Zoe and Mal. “Thank you, again,” she said, shaking her head.

“Our pleasure,” Zoe said with a smile.

Jo gave the two another smile before a thought struck her. “I gotta go show River,” she said before she spun around and dashed off.

“Aww, how sweeet,” Wash said from the bridge where he was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed.

Zoe and Mal turned to look at Wash. “Best be quiet now, husband,” Zoe said with a small smirk as she walked toward the bridge.

“Yes, dear,” Wash said before going back to the pilot seat. Mal laughed a bit and smiled, following Zoe to the bridge.

---

A giggle came from River as she and Kaylee sat at the dining room table. “That picture goes here,” she said, pointing at an empty space.

“River! Kaylee!” came Jo’s voice from somewhere down the hall.

Kaylee gasped. “Jo’s coming! Hide the book, hide it!” she said in a hushed voice. She and River hurried to hide their project, managing to hide it just before Jo ran into the room, a big grin on Jo’s face.

“Guys!” Jo said, looking at Kaylee and River. “Look at my coat!”

Kaylee looked at Jo’s coat and grinned. “Oh! It’s fixed!” she exclaimed, getting up from the table to look at Jo’s coat.

River shook her head. “No, it’s real.”

Jo nodded with a smile. “Yeah, it’s real. Authentic! Straight from the actual war! It’s an official Browncoat! Isn’t it shiny?”

“Really?” asked an excited Kaylee.

“Really!” replied an equally excited Jo. River was already standing up, looking at the coat. The girls had a good time looking at the coat for a while before Jo decided it was time to go to bed. All this being excited stuff made Jo tired. She said goodnight to the girls and headed off to her room. Kaylee and River made sure Jo was out of sight before getting their project out again.

Jo closed the door to her room after stepping inside. She hugged her coat to her and gave a contented sigh before going over to her bag. Jo knelt by the bag and dug around until she found a pocket at the bottom of the bag. She opened the pocket, grabbing her flamingo pin from her bedside table and replacing it in the pocket, the place it was usually hidden. She reached back in the pocket and pulled something else out: a photo. Jo sat back on her feet as she looked at the picture.

The picture showed three happy people, two adults and one child. The child was Jo, and it was apparent. Jo hadn’t changed all too much from when she was small. Jo was four and sitting in between her parents in the photo. This was the last picture of her whole family that had been taken before Leo and Josie went to war. Jo just sat, staring at the picture for a few minutes before sighing. “Thank you for being such good people,” Jo finally whispered to the picture. “And thank you for loving me. I know it wasn’t your fault that you died, and I know you guys would never be traitors to a cause that you felt so strongly about. I’ll never forget you two, and I won’t forget what you stood for. I miss you, and I love you.” Jo got to her feet and made her way to her bed, lying down without taking her boots or coat off. She fell asleep, the picture of her and her parents clutched to her chest.

---

That night, Zoe was putting her guns away in the room she and Wash shared. The hatch opened, and Zoe’s husband climbed down the ladder. Wash kissed Zoe’s cheek after he closed the hatch. They got ready for bed, making small talk. After a while of silence, Wash took a deep breath. “Zoe, I’ve been thinking . . .”

Since Wash’s tone was serious, which was a very rare occurrence, Zoe looked up after she sat on the bed. “About what?”

“Kids.”

Zoe’s eyebrows raised. “That so?”

“I was watching you with Jo,” Wash explained, sitting on the bed next to Zoe. “You act like a mom when you talk to Jo, you know that?” Wash smiled at his wife.

Zoe’s mouth was slightly open. “Wash, does this mean . . . ?”

“I was talking to Jo about raising kids and leading the life we do,” Wash explained, looking away. “And she insisted that it’s not a bad life for a kid. The way she saw it, the kid would have a great family, what with the entire crew to raise the baby and help take care of the baby and all. Seemed sort of wistful as she said it.”

Zoe looked ready to interrupt, and Wash was quick to prevent her. He knew he had to say this now before he lost his courage. “I know that you’ve been trying to tell me that for years, Zoe, but I guess I couldn't be sure if you were seeing the possibilities clearly, or if it was just wishful thinking on your part . . . on both of our parts, to believe that it might work. Seemed different, somehow, coming from her . . . like she knew exactly what she was talking about, almost like it was a dream of hers. Maybe it could work, having a family here, on the ship . . . .”

Zoe was grinning by now. “So you want to have a baby?”

This was a tough question for Wash. “Well . . . it seems like a better idea than it did before . . . but I’m still not sure. I still need to think about it more. Night, sweetie.” He kissed Zoe before sinking under the covers and slowly dozing off, children on his mind.

But as Zoe lay down under the covers beside Wash, she was ecstatic. Wash was considering it, considering having a baby! Zoe lay awake in her bed, looking at the ceiling and daydreaming about babies and what it would be like to have one. Mental images flashed through Zoe’s mind of what she wanted their child to look like. She thought about what the baby might look like if it was a boy or a girl. As Zoe slowly drifted off to sleep, she imagined the whole crew and their reactions, a peaceful smile on her face.

---

In the cargo bay, Jo hugged Inara and Zoe, saying goodbye to the two with a heavy heart. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep in touch!” Wash and Simon came over as well, Jo bidding them farewell with the best half-smile she could muster. “I’ll miss you guys!” Jo looked at Jayne and held out her hand. “Jayne.” Jayne glanced at Jo’s hand and shook it, nodding once. Jo gave a small smirk. She turned when she felt a hand on her shoulder, seeing Book standing behind her.

“I want to give you something,” Book said, pulling something from his pocket. He opened his hand. A silver cross necklace sat in the Shepherd’s hand. He put the cross in Jo’s hand, giving her a soft smile. “Nian qing de, remember,” Book told Jo, “it’s never to late to start talking to him.”

After looking at the cross, Jo gave Book a smile. “Thanks, Book,” she told him. She looked around, a frown crossing her lips before she looked at Mal, who had been standing off to the side with his arms crossed. “Where are Kaylee and River?” Jo asked as she slipped the cross necklace carefully in her pocket.

Mal looked around and shook his head. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen them since lunch. But we have to get going.” Mal looked at Jo, placing his hand on their shoulder. “You’ll just have to go without saying goodbye to them.”

Jo was visibly saddened by not being able to say goodbye to two of her best friends, but she nodded softly. She walked across the cargo bay with Mal, the hatch to Serenity opening.

“Jo, wait!” Kaylee’s voice yelled from the hallway. Jo stopped and turned. Kaylee and River ran into the cargo bay, stopping in front of Jo. Kaylee had a brown book in her hands and a grin on her face. Jo smiled and hugged the girls, starting to say goodbye. “Wait, before you leave,” interrupted Kaylee, “we made this for you.” Kaylee handed the book to Jo, River smiling. The front cover had ‘Finding Serenity’ in gold letters.

“Um, what is it?” Jo asked, looking at Kaylee and River.

“Open and see!” River told Jo.

As Jo opened the book, she had to laugh. It was a scrapbook containing pictures of the crew and ship. She flipped through the pages of the scrapbook. She saw a picture of Wash and Zoe together on one page, a picture of River and Simon sitting next to each other on another page, a picture of Jayne with a big gun on a different page, and many pictures in between. Jo looked at Kaylee and River. “I can’t take this. You guys should keep it,” she said, closing the book and trying to give it to Kaylee.

River shook her head. “No, making another one for us. Made that one for you. Want you to remember us.”

Jo laughed softly and hugged the two girls. “Oh, I’m not likely to forget this ship or anyone on it anytime soon.” Kaylee and River hugged Jo back, the three saying their goodbyes before Jo put the scrapbook in her bag. “See you later!” she told the crew with a wave before heading off Serenity with Mal. The crew watched the hatch close after Jo then slowly walked off to their own devices.

---

Mal and Jo walked silently through the bustling streets of Persephone. Mal looked over at Jo, ruffling her hair in a friendly manner. “You take care of yourself, got it?”

Jo smiled a bit and glanced at Mal. “I will, Mal. But only if you promise to do the same. And watch your crew, too, keep them out of trouble.”

Mal nodded. “I will. You have to stay in touch, all right? And don’t try to keep in touch through Badger. I think we both have an idea how that would end up.”

“Heh, no kidding,” Jo replied with a small laugh.

Mal looked at Jo. “I mean it, though. As far as most of the crew is concerned, you’re already part of the crew.”

Seeming truly gladdened by this statement, Jo smiled and looked at Mal. “Really?”

With a nod, Mal looked ahead of himself as they walked. “You kiddin’? Kaylee and River have practically adopted you as a sister, and Zoe and Inara love you. Book seems to like you, giving you that cross and all. Simon and Wash think of you as an ally. Jayne . . . doesn’t hate you. I’d say you’re doing pretty well, all things considering.”

“And what about you? You think of me as an ally or what?” Jo asked, not looking at Mal.

Mal thought about this. “Well, you make our trips considerably less boring. My crew likes you, so I figure you’re pretty trustworthy . . . You’re a good kid.”

Jo smiled. “Thanks, Mal,” she said, she and Mal stopping in front of Jo’s shuttle. Mal smiled and held his hand out, Jo shaking his hand. “Um . . . well . . . my regards to the crew. I’ll keep in touch.” With a final wave, the two parted, Mal heading back toward his ship and Jo entering her shuttle.

---

As Jo stepped inside the little shuttle, which looked very small compared to Serenity, and looked around with a small sigh as she set her bag by the door. She walked toward her bed and reached into her pocket for the cross Book had given her. She frowned and stopped, not finding the cross. She felt panic grip at her heart. She was sure she had put it in that pocket. She searched all the pockets in the coat, her hand freezing as she felt something. Jo pulled a picture out of the pocket of her brown coat.

The picture showed four people Jo was very familiar with: Mal, Zoe, Leo, and Josie, all standing in front of a ship. Mal stood to the far left, a half smile on his face. Josie and Leo stood in the middle with smiles on their faces, their hands clasped together and half hidden between their brown coats. Zoe stood on the right, a smile on her face as well. The four just looked like old pals. Jo smiled and reached into a pocket, heart lightening as she pulled out the cross necklace she had received from Book.

Slowly, Jo made her way across the shuttle and sat on her bed. Her eyes closed, and she bit her lip. “Um, God,” she said, not exactly knowing what she was doing, “it’s me . . . Jo. Um, I haven’t talked to you in a while, and I’m sorry about that . . . but I want to start talking to you more from now on. I just want to ask you to watch over the crew of Serenity. They’re good people, God, they deserve to be watched over. So please, keep them safe, keep them out of trouble. And God . . . give my parents a hug from me.”

A sigh came softly from Jo’s lips as her eyes opened. She hung the cross around her neck and walked to her bag. She took out the scrapbook River and Kaylee had made for her and opened it to the last page. Two perfect spots sat empty on the last page in the book. Jo carefully put the picture of her parents with Mal and Zoe in the first empty spot. Jo then dug around her bag, taking out the picture of herself and her parents. She slipped that photo in the last spot and closed the book carefully and hugged it to herself, making her way back over to her bed. She flopped down on her bed, curling up, falling asleep as she hugged the scrapbook that contained pictures of all those she loved.

The End

Chinese translations

Zhe zhen shi ge kuai le de jin zhan. ~ "This is a happy development."

Nian qing de ~ "young one"

Chinese translations from Browncoats.com.

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