BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JACQUI

Adam's Rib Ch 11: A Stitch In Time.
Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lots of work to be done: lives to be saved, engines to mend, mercs to tease and relationships to mend. FINAL IN THE SERIES.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3721    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: Oh, half of them are mine. Not the shiny ones, they're Joss' and FOX's and lots of other people richer than me.

Comments: Sorry this one took so long, Real Life can go jump, that's all I'm sayin'. It's been a fun ride, it really has. This fic turned out much longer than I thought it ever would. There are thank yous and some extras at the end.

Feedback: Ya know, it'd be real nice, for old times' sake wily_one24@yahoo.com.au

***

"We all here?" Wash kissed the top of Zoe's head as he let Book take her weight from him and turned to scan the crowd of people swarming over the cargo bay. "Are we all on board?"

"Yes." Jayne answered, the last person up the ramp, the limp body in his arms hanging loosely. "Get us off this damned rock."

Inara pounded the button that closed the doors and sealed the airlocks. Wash ran up to the bridge with a last look to his wife. Simon, already folding up the sleeves of his shirt, left the stretcher where it lay and turned to gesture Jayne to the infirmary.

"Bring her in, Jayne." He noted with a small amount of relief that the large man had had the presence of mind to pick her up face down without flipping her over. "On her stomach."

Together, they lay her down on the gurney and Simon reached for the sedatives that would hold her under. His eyes picked up the gentle way Jayne's oversized hands smoothed the edges of her skin, tried to comfort the soft arms that didn't respond. Simon placed a mask over her face to help her breathe and attached the requisite monitoring devices before looking at the red, gaping holes across her back.

"Jayne?" He looked up. "I need you and Book to get Mal up on the side gurney and dope him, too. Zoe's going to have to wait."

"She gonna be okay, doc?"

Simon looked up to the windows that surrounded the infirmary and saw them all watching. He hadn't felt like this since his first days as an intern, the supervision, the monitoring. The horrified, intense stares of those who cared about the dying patient on his table.

"I don't know." He swallowed hard and looked down. "Just... just do as I say."

"Doctor Tam?" Simon looked to see a pale, blonde haired boy hovering by the door. "I can help. Bethany and I can help."

It's not like he had much choice. Simon nodded.

***

It stings, drugs burning like volcanoes in her skin, rivulets of fire that pump and throb and pump again. She can't stop it. Can't halt it. Can't give them what they want. Not ever. Never. Wouldn't do to hand it over like a shiny bauble.

They've left her in a room, alone, discarded like trash. Thrown away. Stored until needed. Until there's a question to be asked, even if there aren't any answers. River had answers once, she thinks she did. Knows she did, because they still look for them.

She cries for the blood that was once on her knees, belonged to a man who held her hand, who gave her peace in her head. Peace they stripped away. Each death hers. River has seen them kill and almost wants it for herself.

Kill me! Words shouted at faceless men, masks that hide nothing. They're so angry they don't care. Didn't care when they made her watch as Charles went down. He screamed his last. He still screams in her head. So does Aida. So do they all. Kill me and leave them alone!

Men in the room. Talking, so many words that say so little. Big ideas and fallacies of leadership. The needles in her eyes. What did you see, River? What was in their heads, River? Bark once for yes and twice for no, River. One needle, two needle, three needle, four. Tell us what they won't.

Jonah, she sobs, she can't create any other sounds as she falls onto the bed, Jonah.

Jonah's gone, River. The small voice hits her from the side and she gasps. He's been gone for months now.

She can't do anything but whimper.

You'll be okay, River, I promise. A small hand enters hers, softly and with care, as another hand runs over her back, smoothing the sharp edges and turning her whimpers into small mewls and then nothing. That's what you told me and that's what I'm telling you. You just need a few days, like last time, that's all.

***

River couldn't look away, she sat on the back of the couch, her boots long gone, and stared through the infirmary windows. Her glazed eyes watched Simon without seeing, saw him head bent and hands bloody as he gently lifted the little metal tweezers from somewhere too close to a spinal cord to be anywhere near comforting and dropped the little bullet fragments into the dish that Bethany held.

There were a lot of things floating through the ship right then, most of them dull and aching, heavy fears and silent prayers. The sharp tang of terror had burned off with the haze of fire through atmo. They were drifting through space, literally and figuratively.

Jayne echoed off the walls, edgy and nervous, ricocheting from one room into the other. She felt him drawn to the space by the cargo hold entry, the little window to watch eagle eyed like he had once before, drawn there and then repelled by the twin bodies lying on their stomachs and looking through the glass. Twins in general made him anxious, twins with possible psychic powers made him turn around and head into another room altogether.

Minmei and Binh weren't about to move anytime soon. Daniel sat to the left of River, also watching the proceedings. Bethany and Sebastian handed tools to Simon when he needed them, sponging away blood and debris, reaching over and doing some small thing a second before Simon asked them to. Inara stood to the side, unasked and unquestioned, monitoring Mal, holding his hand in a fever of worry.

Wash streamed into the room and she looked up at him.

"Everyone's keeping vigil now."

He nodded sadly at her then joined Zoe and Book on the other sofa. The three of them made a conglomeration of worry and concern, pain and exhaustion. Fear, impatience and a touch of anger. Book patched up Zoe as best he could and River didn't want to feel it, didn't want to hear the words and terminology that ran through his head, the words of a training that led to other things.

Other things that made Jonah tense beside her to the right. Jonah, whose jaw was already clenched tight, because he couldn't feel her either. They'd tried and they could reach everyone else in the room except the girl on the table.

River leaned forward and looped her hands over the head of the woman sitting on the couch in front of her legs. Kaylee leaned back and looked up, her hands coming up to grasp River's. Their eyes met for an instant and then River rested her chin on the top of Kaylee's head as she continued to look at the small form on the operating table.

"You'll be okay, Alex." River whispered. "I promise."

***

"I never said thank you." Kaylee looked at Jonah. "For being there before."

"They shouldn't have done what they did." He turned to look at her. "I'm not going to say I'm sorry they brought you there, because I'm not. We're all out here now, but they shouldn't have hurt you like that."

It was palpable, hanging thick in the air. Even Kaylee could feel it, she felt it in the slight shift of River behind her, the jolt of surprise that the girl gave. She could see it in the clenching of Jonah's jaw. When she looked around the room, she saw the twins, Bethany and Sebastian looking at Daniel. Daniel looked straight at Jonah.

The two of them stared at each other for a long moment, not moving. It did not escape her notice that Daniel reached out to take her hand, without looking away. It was Jonah who broke eye contact first.

"We'll talk about it later." Jonah looked up again. "Not now, okay?"

"Fine by me." Daniel said, a little more coldly than strictly necessary. "I'm not going anywhere."

"C'mon!" Kaylee said, loud and forcefully bright, as she stood up and pulled Daniel with her. "Let's go find some clothes. I don't know about you guys, but I'm awful sick of these gowns."

Daniel allowed her to tug him to his feet, but pulled his hand out of Kaylee's and stood with his arms crossed.

"Yes." Agreed Wash across the room, also standing up. "And I should check the bridge again. Make sure there's no one following us. Or space trash to bump into. Or..."

"Honey?" Zoe looked up, opening one eye from the sleep she had appeared to have fallen into. "Just go. I'll be fine."

"Jayne?" Book called. "Would you like to help me in the kitchen?"

***

River closed her eyes and walked through the eddies of everyone. Her knees lifted at the stairs and she pushed the balls of her feet down on the grills of metal. So many voices and very few of them hers. She didn't want to follow Kaylee to the crew quarters, because Kaylee had questions about what had just happened, but if she stayed she'd have to sit between them.

And between them wasn't a place to be right now. Fire and boil and scars running deep. People would be caught in the cross fire.

She pressed the door open with her feet and slid down the ladder silently, landing softly on her toes. Kaylee stood with her back turned, staring at a shelf of dried flowers, Chinese prints and other assorted oddities.

"It's funny." Kaylee said to the room, without having turned around. "I collected all these so carefully, just to prove I'd been places. That I'd seen worlds fancier than Serenity, that I could have belonged there."

River stepped forward, wrapped her arms around Kaylee's waist and rested her cheek on her shoulder blades.

"And you know what? Every second I was in that place, hell, every second I was on that other planet..." Kaylee gripped River's hands as she spoke. "... all I wanted was to be back here. I don't need no dances, or stupid pink dresses with stupid pink ruffles, I didn't need..."

She stopped and breathed in deeply. River smiled against her back.

"I liked your stupid pink dress."

Kaylee let her breath out in a mix of laughter and a sob.

"Thanks, I think." Something on the wall caught her eye. "Hey, what's this? Is this supposed to be a girl?"

"Yes." River let Kaylee go and brought her face up to the paper taped to Kaylee's wall, her face glowed with pride. "It's me, I'm dancing."

Indeed, if Kaylee squinted and leant her head to the right a little, she could see the line of arms... or maybe that was a leg... was that supposed to be hair?

"It's nice." She said. "Did you...?"

River straightened up and set her face.

"Jayne drew it. It's pretty."

"Jayne?" Kaylee looked back at the picture with wide eyes. "Jayne drew a picture?"

River nodded.

"I can't believe you made him kiss me. You're evil." Kaylee smiled as River tried to contain the small giggle that came out with a restrained sob. "Okay, clothes. I can fit out Minmei and Bethany, I think. But we're gonna have to raid Mal and Simon's rooms for Binh, Daniel and Sebastian."

"Yes." River agreed sagely. "Jayne and Wash are too big."

Kaylee paused, but let it go. River smiled sadly anyway and they shared a look. River's face fell slightly when, as she knew they would, the energies shifted again and she sighed.

"What just happened between Daniel and Jonah?"

***

"Here, Simon." Book pressed a cup to his lips. "It's just water, flavored with a little honey."

He winced at the too sweet taste, but drank it anyway as he continued to sew together the edges of Alex's spleen. It wasn't too far off the glucose mixture given to the surgeons back in Capital City. Dehydration and energy were important factors when trying to concentrate during a twelve hour operation. He nodded in thanks.

"Inara?" Book turned around. "Why don't you get yourself something to eat? Jayne and I have prepared some food. And I think Kaylee might appreciate a donation of spare clothes, she only has so many to spread out. Don't worry, I'll let you know if there's any change."

Inara, who had been about to protest, blushed at the implication and merely whispered her thanks before giving Mal's hand another squeeze, carefully edged her way out of the infirmary and quickly through the common room.

Looking at the two children standing to the side, he saw their gowns marked with blood, and the way they refused to look him in the eye. Book didn't blame them, he hadn't heard their full names yet, but he wasn't sure he wanted that small flare of recognition, the spark of memory that would come and the guilt that followed.

Simon looked up from Alex and tried to breathe through the tension.

"Go." Simon said kindly to Sebastian. "You two need to get some food as well, get a new change of clothes and then come back. I can manage without you for a while."

When they were alone and Book took a pair of gloves and placed them on his hands, stepping up next to him on the table, Simon spared a glance to the common room through the window.

"I don't know which is worse, you and those kids just then, or those two out there now."

***

"You sanctimonious son of a...!" He stopped.

"No, Daniel, please." Jonah prodded. "Go on. Really."

"How dare you?" Daniel seethed. "How can you sit there and let Kaylee fawn all over you, thanking you for, what did she call it? 'Being there'? What did you do? Nothing! It was us and you know it! We stopped Dr. Williams! We got her away from them and kept her alive down in that basement. All you did was lie in a bed for eighteen months."

"I'm sorry." Jonah blinked. "Did my almost dying inconvenience you?"

"Don't bring that bullshit here, Jonah, don't you dare." Daniel couldn't remember the last breath he took. "How long were you awake, exactly? Long enough to allow them to threaten Kaylee? Long enough to allow them to electrocute Alex into a trembling pool of nothing? Was that it? Were you awake long enough to allow them to bring Kaylee in the first place? Or was it longer?"

Jonah didn't answer.

"How long, Jonah? Answer me! How long were you lying down there letting all of us go through hell so that you didn't put yourself in any danger?"

"It's not that simple, you don't..."

"Don't even dare tell me it was the moment the goddess almighty River Tam walked in." Nobody, not even Daniel in the midst of a rant could miss the angry flare that surged into Jonah's eyes or the warning bells that went off inside his head. "You weren't there when they did this to her! God, Jonah, you were alive and they made us watch everything they did, knowing we'd be next. Where were you then? Where were you when she was begging us to just kill her and it took all our energies to convince her to hold on that last little bit? Or when Bethany screamed in pain for three days straight because of what they did after River had gone? Where were you then?"

Just outside the kitchen, at the top of the stairs, Kaylee sat with her back to the wall, listening to the voices that rang through the entire ship. In her arms, River trembled. At the bottom of the stairs, the room had split. Jonah was well aware that Bethany, Sebastian, Minmei and Binh stood behind Daniel.

"Stand down, Daniel." Jonah's voice was deadly serious.

"No." And he didn't. "It doesn't work that way anymore. You've been gone too long."

"You don't have any idea do you?" Jonah remained calm. "None of you do. I thought when you'd found the..."

He paused.

"None of you knew I was there, because I wasn't. I nearly died and they barely kept me alive, kept me breathing, but not conscious. I have no idea why they needed me back, but I have my suspicions, most of which revolve around all of you being dead. Is that what you want to hear, Daniel?"

By the look on his face, no, no it wasn't.

"Yes, I woke up when I heard the twins thinking about River, when I heard them bring Kaylee in. No, I didn't make myself known to you. I had to get out and I had to get out then. I've never let you in my head, Daniel, any of you," at this, Jonah pointed at the stairs, "and if you want to know why, just look what they did to River because of it."

Two feet appeared, slowly, one at a time, followed closely by legs that turned into River. Kaylee was not far behind. If Daniel had needed a release, it was obvious that Jonah did, too, because he was nowhere near slowing down.

"You saw what they were doing down there, Daniel. The very second they solved their little equation, we were all dead. Without them they needed us. I kept us alive by destroying their files. River kept you alive by not telling them. The fact that neither of us could tell them, kept you alive."

He paused to let this sink in. River walked to the middle of the room and stood to the side of them, in the charged space between them, her eyes flicked back and forth between the two. She didn't say anything, she just stood there as Minmei and Binh walked to stand behind her.

"If you or they knew I was awake, you'd be dead. If they got their hands on River again, you'd be dead. If the both of us were gone, they'd need you alive. Does that suit you better?"

Daniel had lost a little of his bravado by this point. Bethany and Sebastian had moved to stand behind River as well.

"Was it hell for you after I was gone? Yes. Was it horribly, unforgivably cruel what they did to River? Yes. Was it unfair that you were burdened with everything after the two of us were gone? Yes. You know what, Daniel? None of it was fair, from the very start. We all got the very shortest end of a very short stick, not one of us made it out of there unscathed."

Jonah's voice became sharp and controlled.

"But as I see it, you're not dead, you're not lying in that room bleeding to death, nor are you so mentally scarred that you can't string a sentence together. You've come out of it a lot better than some. So grow up and get over it!"

River watched Daniel's fist come out of nowhere in slow motion, they all felt it connect solidly with Jonah's chin, felt the reverberation of Jonah's spine hitting the sofa he fell back onto.

"Now," asked Jonah as he rubbed his face, "does that feel better?"

"Little bit." Daniel admitted. "I'm still right, though."

"Yes." Jonah agreed with a grin. "And so am I."

"Men." Kaylee sighed in disbelief as Sebastian reached a hand out to help Jonah up.

Stuck in her place on the far sofa, Zoe had to silently agree.

***

He looked down at the plate on the table in front of him, the hairs on the back of his neck were beginning to prickle and he hated that feeling. Granted, it wasn't the best meal ever cooked up, but they'd had a lot worse. He counted to ten very slowly, then he just couldn't take it.

"It ain't just for show." Jayne snarled. "Either get some and eat it or leave a man in peace."

Two of the kids inched into the kitchen and eyed the room carefully. He pretended to focus on his food and watched them out of the corner of his eye as they huddled together at the other end of the table, reaching out to scoop the food onto their plates.

"So, uh..." He looked up and wasn't sure whether he wanted to meet their eyes. "How's the little sproggit doin'?"

"Getting there." The girl answered him. "Simon's very good."

He allowed himself a half hearted grunt in reply, even though he did agree with her. They were lucky to have a medic on board, any medic, let alone someone who could patch them all up like the doc could.

The boy was watching him quizzically.

"What?" He blurted out. "Whatcha starin' for now?"

"You do realize that you can't really lie around us, don't you?" Sebastian asked genially. "We know you appreciate Simon, you admire his work."

"Don't do that." Jayne pointed at them with his fork. "Don't you be messin' around my head, y'hear? It ain't no place for kids. Y'all are worse than River, you know it? At least she keeps most of it to herself."

"You can't scare us away." Bethany assured him. "We already like you, it's too late."

"Great." Jayne went back to his food. "I'm just thrilled to hear it. Let me eat."

He still felt eyes on him.

"What now, boy?"

"Can I...?" Sebastian faltered for a second.

"Spit it out." Jayne muttered.

"He wants to see your guns." Bethany explained with an entirely smug look on her face. "And then play with the big boy weights."

***

Wash looked at the screen and felt nervous. There was no ship following them and he couldn't understand why. Surely there'd be a passel of Alliance ships tailing them by now, they'd made themselves well and truly known.

He heard the footsteps and knew who it was. It should have surprised him that he could identify everyone by the way they stepped into the bridge, but it didn't. Briefly, he considered ducking and hiding under the chair.

"Thought I'd find you here."

"Kinda hoped you wouldn't." He admitted. "I..."

"What'd they do to my girl?" Kaylee broke in and her eyes flickered over the console. "She sounds different."

"Something." He shrugged. "You'd have to ask Jonah, it boosted us up real nice, though."

Their eyes met and he looked away first.

"Kaylee? I..."

"Don't, Wash." She sat in the copilot's chair and tapped at the paneling until a hatch opened and she could peer into a mess of wires. "I'm just glad you're alright."

"Me?" He nearly fell out of the chair. "What? I'm fine, it's you that..."

Something in the way her chin wobbled, in the stubborn way she set her face and refused to look at him again made him stop and think. He went over the last few days in his head, the guilt when he'd first remembered how they'd taken her, the relief when River and Jonah had come back and told them that she was okay.

"You didn't know, how could you?" It was soft, his realization. "What did the doctor tell you?"

"That, uh... that you were..." She sniffed and fiddled with wires that didn't really need it. "Nothing. He didn't tell me anything. It's good that they got you out when they did."

"No." He said it firmly. "It's good that we got you out when we did."

She seemed to relax a little.

"You guys coulda come earlier if you'd really wanted." She tried to smile as she sat back in the chair. "I wouldn't have minded."

And that, Wash surmised, fulfilled just about the entire quota of serious and emotional talk the both of them could handle in one sitting. He gestured back out of the bridge.

"How's Alex?"

"Simon's still working on her." She shrugged. "River's a little more relaxed now, so I guess it's not so urgent anymore. It's what I figure, anyway. I don't know about Mal."

He rolled his hand in a gesture for her to carry on.

"Zoe's gonna be fine and you know it." She said. "Sheppard patched her up real good, she's still pretty woozy, but she's happy waitin' for Simon."

"I know about my wife." Wash explained gently. "I meant you."

"Oh, me." Kaylee gave a small smile. "I'm a little shook up, bruised some and my leg aches somethin' fierce, but they didn't do nothing that won't mend itself. I better go see to my ship, she's straining a little."

Wash didn't say anything, he didn't need to. He felt it in the way she'd placed her hand on his shoulder when she'd stood up to leave and given him a little squeeze. Only Kaylee, he figured, could accept an apology he hadn't given when she didn't even feel it needed to be given in the first place.

***

The next time Simon looked up, Book had gone and he found himself looking at Jonah and Daniel. It was almost a relief to have them in there with him. He looked at Jonah.

"You can really do it?" He waited for Jonah's nod. "Then pay attention."

He looked down at Alex's body and thought about what needed to be done. When Jonah stepped up and took the weaver out of his hand, Simon allowed himself a breath before changing his gloves and gesturing Daniel over to help him with Mal.

***

Inara looked across the gangway and smiled. Even without her years of training, it was fairly obvious what was happening here. She couldn't help but delight in it, she'd never had it and, in her line of work, rarely ever saw it.

"He's really quite handsome."

Bethany jumped and turned around, a flush already spreading over her face. Below them, in the cargo bay, Jayne was spotting Sebastian at the weight bench. She made a face at Inara.

"You're very quiet, I usually know when people are there." It was a guilty smile. "I didn't hear you."

"I'm not surprised." Inara's eyes flickered down and up again. "He seems to like you as well."

"Yeah." Bethany smiled down at the same moment that Sebastian smiled up. "He does."

A sudden sharpness stabbed at Inara, gone as instantly as it came and left her confused. A mixture of longing and envy that she didn't want to explore, didn't want to understand why the stark openness and surety of the two made her a little bit empty.

"When you're part of a dozen or so that can read minds," Bethany explained quietly, "it becomes irrelevant to play games and deny what you feel."

"That's..." wiser than I'll ever be in a thousand lifetimes, Inara thought, "... a very positive way of looking at it."

"Oh," Bethany teased, "I don't think it'll take you a full thousand."

Inara ducked her head, her lips still smiled, but her eyes sharpened just a little.

"What," Bethany continued regardless, "with all the people you see in your..."

"I really wish you wouldn't do that." Inara looked up again and met Bethany's eyes head on. "If you have questions, you're welcome to ask me, but please don't take from me what I'm not willing to give."

"I... I..." She blushed and looked away.

"You're human," Inara interrupted. "you're, what? Fourteen, fifteen? You're nervous, even if you can read every little thing in his head. It's only natural to be curious."

"Fourteen." Bethany thought for a moment. "It doesn't feel like it, sometimes. Time played tricks back there. It seemed..."

She stopped speaking and bit her lip.

"I'm fourteen."

Bethany didn't look up at Inara, didn't want to look into her eyes. She could already feel the wave of pity and concern and she didn't want to be drawn into something more, not when Inara had expressly asked her not to. It was second nature to them all now and she hadn't stopped to wonder what others would feel about it.

"Well, Miss Fourteen," Inara coaxed Bethany back into comfortableness, "if you do have questions, my shuttle is always open."

***

Their steps were almost choreographed, River could see it in the way they moved together. She sat crouched into fabric of the sofa, thighs pressed up against her chest and chin on her knees, and stared through the window of the infirmary.

As she watched, Simon held out his hand and Daniel placed a small, sharp pair of scissors in them. Neither of them looked up or made any other sign. Simon's trust given without question, letting Daniel inside his head.

It was like a curse, sometimes, floating on the waves of other people, their comfort and ease. She could see what was and what could be, but she also knew what wasn't and what never would.

Jonah looked up, like she did, knowing and accepting, like she was. She watched him lift his right hand and beckon her to join him and her skin itched to do it, to just give in to him. He knew, just as well as she did, that she couldn't ignore the other people in the room, that she couldn't press down the ache that they bought forth.

River?

She shook her head.

I want you in here.

It's not your operating room, Jonah, not really your choice.

Her feet drifted through the air and hit the floor softly as she pushed herself up. If she concentrated hard enough, she could float past the space in front of her and search through the multitude of people on board. The one she wanted was already in the engine room.

***

It was an eternity of waiting. The ache in his chest had returned and made it hard for him to breathe. The stunner had hit him hard and he was still trying to recover, not that he could complain, not really, considering the alternatives.

He was almost grateful when they finally came. Almost. Book had hidden himself in his berth mostly to avoid causing any unnecessary grief to any of the children, but also to escape his own memories. He didn't want any of them knowing his thoughts, knowing the truth of it.

The knock was soft on his door.

Not that he could stop them if they wanted to find out for themselves.

"Come in."

"Teng."

They spoke in unison and didn't waste any time. Book couldn't help the flood of memories, the instant connect to faces and past assignments, the quick cold motions he'd gone through at the time. He let it roll through his mind like an offering.

"They think we're dead?" Minmei asked softly.

"Yes." There was no point lying or cushioning the impact. "I'm sorry."

"Some people will never be redeemed for the choices they make." Binh said as they turned to go, his eyes met Book's. "And others will spend eternity trying to atone for the choices they didn't."

"And where do I fit in?" He couldn't help but ask it.

"You were only following orders." Minmei said. "We don't blame you."

When he was alone, her words offered no comfort. History, well back to Earth that Was, was already full of men that were only following orders.

***

"Are you trying to be stealthy?" Kaylee asked as she looked into her engine. "'cause I could hear you coming a mile off. And you're usually on top of me before I even notice you're there."

She stopped and thought about her words with a small smile on her face, not that there was much she could do about taking them back.

"Still can be." River teased her with an exaggerated sigh. "If I really must."

"Well, you know, if it's such a chore..." She wiped her hands on her coveralls, her sweet, sweet comfortable coveralls, and sat up from beneath the hulking machine, "... you don't have..."

Kaylee was cut off by the swooping of cloth and a small body pressing down on her, all limbs and small, hot hands. She couldn't help the breathy little half gasp, half laugh as River pressed their foreheads together and forced Kaylee back to the ground.

"Not a chore."

"So I see." Kaylee closed her eyes as lips, soft and warm and quick, landed lightly on the end of her nose, both her cheeks, her brow. "Minx."

When she felt the next downward stroke of a face, Kaylee thrust her chin up and captured River in a kiss. Her hands came up and cradled the small head. There was nothing to do but gasp when River hooked her legs around Kaylee's and rolled them suddenly.

She found herself looking down at deep brown eyes that were beginning to dilate.

"Prefer you on top, though."

That Kaylee could oblige.

"So I see." She kissed her again, long and hard and just a little bit desperate.

They lay there for a second, breathing against each other, skin pressed against skin. Then there was a breath, an inhalation, and the moment was gone. She couldn't have said what it was, a shiver, the way that River trembled underneath her or something deeper. Something that eddied and flickered behind the girl's eyes.

Kaylee rolled onto her back and looked up into the engine.

"You're still worried. I thought the danger had passed."

River closed her eyes and soared through the ship.

"Done all he can, one man in an army of hurt. Time is the key, watch to time and time to watch." She opened her eyes and looked at Kaylee's worried face. "We have to wait and see."

"But..." Kaylee couldn't quite grasp it. "You, all of you, you're so calm now. I thought..."

"Suppress the panic, worry accomplishes nothing." There was something almost robotic about her voice that made Kaylee shiver in her spine. "Focus is key. Complete objectives."

"River?"

"Complete the objective, Kaylee." Shakiness hit River's words, a rapid beat that Kaylee didn't want to recognize. "Objective is to fly away, fly away home, nobody has a home. But we have to keep going. Get away, far, far along the way."

Kaylee reached out and pulled River to her, ran her fingers through River's hair.

"We're going, we're going." She whispered. "River? We're going as fast as we can. That's why I'm here, to make sure the engine keeps us going."

The edginess calmed and there was quiet as Kaylee closed her eyes and let small sounds pass through her lips, soft cooing that made River limp and pliable.

"She's not broken?" River sounded so small coiled up into her shoulder.

"Serenity?" Kaylee smoothed the hair away from River's face and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. "Nah, 'course not."

Letting herself fall away from Kaylee, River felt the steel of the floor on her shoulder blades and thought again about melting into the ship, disappearing and losing all feeling. She wondered if there was such a thing as too much green.

"Jonah really did some work on her, though, didn't he?" Kaylee eyed the coiling wrapped around the core heater. "She's straining right now, we've gotta land sometime soon so I can put her to rights."

River let a shuddered breath rip through her and lifted a hand to run fingertips over cool metal, it was worn and heavily scratched, maybe even beginning to show a little rust at the edges, but strong and well cared for.

"Boosted the ship, brought us to you." She sighed and wondered what would really be said if Kaylee ever followed the thousand different meanings in their words. "A stitch in time."

"Can't argue with that."

Kaylee reached out her hand without looking and a wrench landed softly in her palm. She didn't see the glow of River's eyes as she wrapped her fingers around it, or the way the girl's face crinkled to stop the mewl in her throat.

"Thanks, baobei."

***

"How're you feeling, sweetie?"

Zoe blinked her eyes open to see Wash sitting on the floor next to the sofa. She could feel his hand sweeping through her hair and let herself drift into the motion for a second.

"I'm okay." She managed a small smile for his benefit. "Feel like I was shot, but I'm okay. The Captain?"

Wash glanced back at the infirmary.

"Simon and one of the boys are just finishing with him now. Simon looks happy enough with it."

She raised her brow.

"He looks happy?"

He gave a soft breathy laugh in the dark.

"Well, he doesn't look upset with it." His eyes caught her about to speak again. "Alex is still under, but they've finished working on her now. I don't know how she is."

Good enough. She groaned a little with the movement of her shoulder in the sling Book had made for her and rested her head back.

"Just a little bit longer, Simon wants to take a look at you before we move you to our bunk." Wash placed a kiss on her brow and Zoe breathed in the smell of him. "You scared me, Zo."

She thought about the trek into the hospital back on Orpheus.

"Just paying you back, husband."

***

Jayne watched the boy's veins strain in his arm.

"Okay, that's enough, little man."

He reached out to take the barbell. He'd have to be blind and stupid not to see the fire that passed in the kid's eyes, or the way his chest puffed up.

"My name is Sebastian."

Jayne chuckled.

"Yeah, and I'm Jayne Cobb the third, bleedin' esquire." He handed the boy a towel. "These are my weights and I say you've had enough. Little. Man."

"I can do it..."

"Sebastian." They both looked over to see Jonah standing just inside the door way. "I think Bethany's looking for you."

Sebastian raised his brows, but didn't say anything as he stood up and gave a slight nod of the head to Jonah before leaving. Jayne grinned as he sat down.

"Bethany, huh? That's the red headed one?" Jonah nodded with a blank expression. "The very same girl I've been led to believe can read all our minds an' probably knows the very words we're sayin' right now? She's just drivin' herself crazy searching this ship for that boy? Is she?"

"Yes." Jonah admitted unapologetically.

"Damn fool's wasting her talents then." He gestured for Jonah to sit down. "You want something in particular?"

Jonah picked up a small weight bar and hefted it experimentally, curling his arm up and feeling the strain of his under used muscles.

"Not particularly, no."

Jayne eyed him, the too obviously distracted drifting look of him and his eyes sparked.

"Thought you'd be all hovering together, you an' River."

"She's..." Jonah's eyes lifted up and over the ceiling. "She's busy."

A small, knowing chuckle escaped Jayne's lips. Bulls eye. A man who makes a living as a tracker, hunter and fighter doesn't miss when he aims for a target. Not if he wants to make any kind of a living.

"They make a mighty fine pair, don't they? 'Course none of us really seen it coming." He paused "Always figured Kaylee as a man's woman, you get my drift."

As if Jonah could escape from it.

"Like to drive a man crazy, those two together." Jayne could still feel soft, warm breath in his ear and the pictures it painted. "Sometimes it just ain't fair."

Beside him, Jonah answered with a mixture of a sigh, a shrug and a sad little laugh.

"No, no it's not." He looked at the man next to him. "At least you only have what River told you."

Jayne perked up and looked all manner of interested.

"You get visuals with that head of yours, do ya?"

***

Simon pushed his exhaustion back even further, breathing in sharp and sudden to flood his system with oxygen. His eyes blinked open and closed and he let his shoulders roll. They were nearly done.

Words like trabeculae and endosteum drifted through his brain as he eyed the carefully restructured bone before him, meticulous eyes picking over the thin shining strands that he had fervently prayed to be intact. Only the saphenous nerve had seemed to take any real damage and even then it hadn't been that drastic. He'd have to wait and see if any permanent damage had been sustained.

All things considered, Mal had come out of this luckier than Simon had first hoped. It would take a while, and Mal would most likely have to learn a great deal of patience when it came to recovery times, but the captain would most likely come out of this with nothing more than a slight limp. Not to mention the many new scars Mal seemed to attract like a magnet any time they had a job.

He looked up to see Sebastian and Bethany sitting in the common room, talking quietly.

"They seem close."

"They do, don't they?" Daniel didn't even look up as he held the edges of skin aside for Simon to finish inside the wound. "It's going to be interesting when it develops into something else."

"When? Not if?"

Daniel shrugged.

"We take a lot of guesswork out of life." There was an undercurrent there that he didn't bother to hide, something that hinted at pride and possessiveness and a readiness to strike back at anything that struck first. "They're good for each other, we can all feel it."

Simon put the laser tool down and reached for the dermal weaver, he spared a glance up at Daniel and a thought sprung into his mind.

"You can feel... everything?" He looked down again, unsure if he really wanted to know.

"Everything." Daniel confirmed. "But you learn to sift through most of it, ignore what you don't need. You look the other way and allow them to have their moments. Accept that the others are doing the same thing for you. Otherwise you'd be too embarrassed to do a single thing."

"You let them drift in and out without pausing to examine or care, showers, bathroom visits, sexual thoughts, moments of anger, of grief, pain and humiliation, they're all parts of life. We just share them."

Simon watched the edges of Mal's skin knit together as he heard the words, but he was thinking about River, about the way she moved through the ship and always seemed to know when to avoid the bridge, how she would often curl her lip and smile at Jayne when he hadn't said a word, or the way she'd never seem to burst into his room at the wrong moment, but often minutes after when he'd had time to collect himself.

***

"No ruttin' way!"

"Jayne." Kaylee wheedled with a smile. "It's just for now, there ain't no room on Serenity for everyone."

"There's plenty of room, you just ain't looked hard enough."

She sighed.

"Bethany and Minmei are gonna sleep in River's room, River's gonna bunk with me." She couldn't help the smile that crept over her. "Jonah and Daniel in Simon's room, Sebastian and Binh in Mal's room, which just leaves..."

"I ain't bunkin' with the doc, Kaylee."

River's eyes glowed.

"He'll keep his hands to himself."

"He better!" Jayne exploded. "Gettin' to be so a man can't even sleep by hisself."

"See?" River turned to Kaylee. "Told you he'd agree."

Jayne glared.

"I didn't agree to nothin'!"

"Jayne?" Kaylee asked, suddenly curious. "Jayne, why won't you look me in the eye?"

"Ah," he searched for a believable response, searched hard, "nothin'."

Yup, he thought, that oughtta do it.

"River?" Kaylee turned a disbelieving glare onto the girl next to her. "He's blushing. What did you tell him?"

"Ah," she searched for a believable response, searched hard, "nothin'."

River and Jayne giggled. Kaylee sighed.

"I don't believe you two!"

***

He let a little groan pass through his throat, the final admission to complete exhaustion as he stepped out of the infirmary. Both Alex and Mal were resting, Simon probably had two or three hours before Mal would make his way out of the anesthetic.

The colors of the common room, even muted in the dark, were a welcome contrast to the starkness of the room he'd just spent hours in. It was quite and Simon tried to remember when they'd all drifted away, slowly, into their own spaces.

The room had seemed always full of someone, at first it had been everyone, watching eagle eyed, then slowly they had trickled away and come back and left again. Different permutations of the same faces staring through the window. Different bodies inside the infirmary, some helping him and some giving blood where it was needed. Eventually they'd all stayed away. At some point, he'd told Daniel to go and rest as well. Only Book remained in the infirmary now, with strict instructions to call him if anything changed.

There hadn't been much to do and he supposed he could have finished long before this, but he'd always been thorough, always had to stay with his patients for longer than necessary, just to wait and watch and hover.

Zoe was sleeping when he made his way to the far sofa and he nodded at Wash, sleepy eyed and sitting there with his wife's head resting on his legs, running a hand through her hair.

"How is she?"

He spoke softly and his hands were gentle as they lifted the bandage to check the wound. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than he'd expected. Book had done well.

"She's groggy, but I think she's good." Wash replied. "What's the official word?"

Simon saw the worry behind the blue eyes.

"I think you're right." He felt Zoe stir as he put the bandage back in place. "Make sure she has some fluid, okay? She lost a fair bit of blood. I'll help you get her to your bunk if you like."

"I can walk." Came Zoe's voice, weaker than Simon could remember ever hearing it. "Just give me a minute."

His head was heavy as he left them to it, eyes all but falling out of his skull. There was one thing he was itching to do before he went to sleep, though, something that made him walk over to the table.

The boxes sat there, smeared with blood, Simon wasn't even sure whose. Excitement scratched at the edges of his nerves, nobody had said anything, but he knew, he knew what it was, had known the minute Jayne had shoved them into his hands.

He reached out to open the first one.

"No, Simon."

Simon jumped and turned.

"River!"

She was standing just outside the common room, in the cargo bay, arms stretched out and holding onto the edge of the doorway. Her hair fell down in a straight line as she leaned back. He saw the way her dress moved, rippling in a gust of air that he supposed must be from the cooling vent.

"You need sleep, Simon." She admonished him with a stern face. He was about to protest when she let go of the frame and stepped into the common room towards him. "Three years in a room, trapped. Rapunzel can wait to let down her hair."

"But..."

"Go to bed, big brother." She set her face stubbornly. "Before you drop. I won't carry you."

"Fine." He didn't have the energy to argue with her. "I'm going, I'm going."

She allowed herself a sleepy yawn and Simon arched his brows.

"Shouldn't you be going to bed, too?"

"I will." She replied and went to stand by the vent again. "When I'm ready."

***

Kaylee heard the hatch creak open and listened to the barely there footfalls of River climbing down. She felt exhausted and was ready to fall asleep and never wake up. She was lying in her bed, her very own, non medical bed, that had never felt this comfortable that she could remember.

"C'm here you." She lifted the blanket up and reached out to take River's hand in hers. "Geez River!"

River practically hummed as Kaylee pulled her deep into the bed, covered her with hands and legs and arms and everything that would keep her in one place and not let her splinter into a million different thoughts and dreams and fears and memories.

"How do you get so cold?"

***

"Ching-wah tsoa duh liou mahng!"

He heard the words before anything else filtered into his brain. Not that it took long for the pounding to start, the throbbing of his head and the soft burn of bullets taken out of his body. He opened his eyes, blinking at the sudden onrush of light and twisted his head as far as it would go.

"You sure took up swearin' quick, doc."

Simon turned away from the screen to look at him. The display glowed an eerie aura around the doctor in the muted light of the darkened infirmary.

"Captain, how do you feel?"

"Just peachy, top three." Mal coughed and groaned through the pain it caused. "How do you think I feel?"

"You need to lie back down." Simon walked over. "Don't even think about destroying all the work I just put into patching you up."

Mal let him press his head back down to the hard bed at the side of the infirmary. Simon's hands began a dance around him, feeling his forehead, checking various machines. Out of the corner of his eye Mal saw a small body lying face down on the gurney, a mask helping her breathe.

"What happened?" He looked up at Simon. "Everyone get out? Zoe? Kaylee? I remember Kaylee."

"We got out. Everyone." Simon looked at the bed in the middle of the room. "Alex, the youngest one, she was shot pretty badly. I'm still not sure if she's going to pull through. Zoe and Kaylee are fine."

"And me?"

"I was under the impression nothing stopped you for very long, Captain." That was when Mal knew he was going to be okay. "Your left arm has a new bullet scar and your right hip needs time to knit properly, but you're going to be fine. You lost a bit of blood."

"Wash?" Mal asked and Simon nodded. "I've got more of his than my own at this point."

"There are a few other odds and ends, some minor scratches that come with the territory." Simon couldn't help but recite the rest of it, giving the report as he figured Mal would want it. "River has a few burns from the explosion, Kaylee's a bit bruised in places and her leg was stunned, Book was stunned all over."

Mal blinked and gestured back to the screen.

"So why are you swearing?"

"That..." Simon stopped and breathed in deeply, his eyes flashed. "They're data disks. From the Academy."

Mal didn't say anything, he wasn't sure what he should say. He was fairly sure what would be on them.

"This one looks to be a log, some basic information kept by one of the doctors. The things he's written." Simon turned back to the screen and scrolled down. "He refers to them as subjects, just subjects. Extreme heat tolerance simulation, exposure to toxins, they were guinea pigs. Termination of subjects..."

Simon's voice trailed off to a whisper, unbelieving and full of cold anger. The kind of soft awe that Mal had heard when people described the horror of battlefields back in the war.

"Everything is listed so coldly." Simon's breath hitched in his throat.

"What?"

"I'm in here." Simon couldn't take his eyes off the screen. "They knew I was searching for her."

He couldn't say it, couldn't verbalize the horror at seeing River's name added as an afterthought to the destruction that was so casually described, the way his whole chest clenched when he read his own father's name.

And those words, at the very start, the most damning of them all.

***

It was empty in the shuttle, the walls were stark and there were boxes stored at random. It was in complete contrast to Inara's shuttle that they knew was lush with silks and satins, trappings of grace and luxury. There was no furniture to speak of, so they sat on the ground. In a circle of five with a hole where the sixth should be.

They didn't speak, didn't make any sound, really.

They just sat.

Separate.

***

Kaylee heard the commotion from the kitchen. A sudden onrush of movement and the clatter of feet rushing through the ship underneath her. She looked across the table at Jayne, their eyes met and they stood up at the same time.

She knew what she would find when she went down the stairs. Simon standing over Alex, his face red with effort, machines sounding alarms, River and Jonah waiting by the infirmary windows, their faces blank.

***

He looks at the numbers in front of him, knows exactly what they're going to do with them, knows exactly how to change one digit here or there so that the whole thing backfires in their faces.

He doesn't.

It's still fresh in his mind, the arc of his back as they pumped the fluid into his veins and traced it on their screens, the way their ears seemed closed to the moans he couldn't bite back, or tears that came from his eyes even as he tried to hold them back, tried not to give them the satisfaction of knowing how it got to him.

One of them likes the pain they cause, the others don't care either way as long as they get their numbers, but Dr. Williams takes great pleasure in making everything worse than it needs to be.

So Jonah gives them the correct data and curses himself for it, but knows that as long as he plays by their rules, they'll at least pretend to play by his. The rest of the children have been operated on, but he knows that they weren't put through any pain because of it.

None of them have really felt pain in months, but Jonah knows how easily that can be taken away from them, how easily he can be back in that chair with the electrodes taped to his skull with them monitoring the spikes of his brainwaves as they make him listen to one of the others scream. They get the best results when it's River and they're not shy of abusing that knowledge.

He knows they have the perfect threat, because Jonah can take anything they want to do to him, take it and stare them in the eye as he does, but he can't take anything if it happens to the others. And they know it.

It's no longer about how much blood they take from him, it's become how much they want from the others.

***

"She's stable." Simon eventually spoke to the people outside the infirmary doorway, even if he didn't look up to meet their eyes. "But I've done all I can do here, she needs more, I don't have the proper medical facilities..."

"Hey, wait a minute." Jayne broke in. "Proper medical means core, means Alliance, means the people who shot at us in the first place. You don't think..."

"What do you want to do, Jayne?" Kaylee turned on him. "Sit back and watch her die?"

"I ain't sayin' that." He glared. "It's just..."

"He's right." Wash answered. "We can't just waltz up to the Alliance all 'here's a twelve year old girl that doesn't officially exist with gun shot wounds from a fight that didn't officially happen in one of your facilities that we're not officially supposed to know exists, oh but don't worry, you should see all of the other guys that we shot down dead while we were there'. We'd all be humped faster than you can say..."

"She knew." Daniel spoke calmly. "She knew the risks, we all did, and she agreed to them. I'm not handing her back when we're so close."

"She's a twelve year old girl!" Inara exclaimed. "She couldn't possibly understand..."

"Death?" Sebastian challenged her. "I think that concept was drilled into her clearly enough."

"I'm not comfortable going to the Alliance." Zoe offered and the room quieted. "But I don't think it's our decision to make."

She looked pointedly at the two figures standing at the window, looking in at the girl in question. As everybody watched, Jonah nodded to River and only half the people in the room understood the meaning behind it. She nodded back and, one by one, the other children nodded in return.

Jonah looked up.

"Call the preacher."

***

"Hey Cap'n."

He opened his eyes to see Kaylee standing next to him.

"Mei mei." Mal eyed the swirl of color over her cheek. "Oh. Look at you."

"Me?" She clucked. "You're the one got shot."

He felt the rapid click of her fingers over his brow, smoothing the sheet over his chest, saw the way her eyes didn't quite reach his and the jerky little tremble of her chin.

"Don't you worry 'bout me, Doc says I'm gonna be fine." He looked over to the empty bed in the middle of the room. "They take her out already?"

"You've been asleep a while, Cap'n." She looked out to the common room. "Book's taken her in the shuttle."

"How'd they take it?"

She rolled her eyes at him.

"How do you think they took it? Ain't one of them happy, but I don't think they had a choice." A pause. "It's not like they were gonna let her die, is it?"

He looked at her in surprise.

"Ain't no one was gonna be left to die, you hear me?"

Kaylee smiled.

"I know that, you fool." Her eyes shone just a little. "I never doubted you'd all come for me. I learned something else though."

"Really?" Mal couldn't help the smile that came at her obvious pride. She was probably the only fool he knew that could take being kidnapped, threatened with Buddha knows what, put through a gun fight and still come out of it with a positive life lesson. "What's that then?"

"I may not know how to shoot a gun or be handy with my fists like the rest of you all are, but I can still take care of myself when I need it."

"Well, that ain't nothing we didn't know before."

Kaylee poked her tongue out at him and he laughed until the pain made him groan.

***

"Hey you." Inara picked up his hand and held it in hers. "You had me worried."

Mal looked her in the eye.

"What?" A smile broke out, he couldn't help it. "You think if I died they wouldn't honor the free rent I promised?"

She squeezed his hand just a little tighter than necessary and he frowned.

"Hey! Ow." He complained. "I'm a sick, wounded man here."

"I won't argue with the sick part."

***

Simon walked over the gangway towards the kitchen and found himself stepping over several bodies.

"River?" She rolled over to look up at him with a smile. "What are you doing?"

River shrugged her shoulders and gave him wide, innocent eyes. Bethany and Minmei appeared to be suspiciously holding back giggles as well.

"Fine." He said. "There's a meeting in the infirmary when you're finished here. I'm just going to tell Wash and Zoe."

He gave them a warning glare and left them to it. As he stepped into the kitchen he heard the distinct rumble of a growl sound far below.

"Quit watchin' me, gorramit!"

***

Mal was not sure what had been going through the heads of the Firefly creators when they made Serenity back in ought three, he had often thought about the ingenuity of the design, but he was fairly sure that no one had thought to build an infirmary to hold fourteen people.

Even if one of them was propped up on the gurney, that being himself, and four others were sitting perched on the outer benches, that being River, Kaylee, Bethany and Minmei, and several others, namely Sebastian, Jonah, Jayne and Daniel were crowded in the doorway, it still left Zoe, Wash, Inara, Simon and Binh to crowd the rest of the space. Mal could barely keep track of them all.

"Guess we have to make a decision." He opened the discussion. "Now, y'all are welcome on Serenity..."

"We're leaving." Jonah announced. "As soon as Book lets us know, one way or the other, what's happening with Alex, we'll find somewhere."

"Don't be hasty." Mal added. "You don't know..."

"We can't go back to our homes." Jonah continued as spokesperson for the group. "Our families either think we're dead, are incapable of housing us, or knowingly made deals with the people who did this. Even if they were to take us in, we'd only be placing them in danger by being there."

"But surely...?" Kaylee began, but stopped when River put a hand on her shoulder.

"It's better if we remain dead to them and they to us." He looked at River. "We can't stay here, either. This ship wasn't built for so many people and we've already put you in more danger than you deserve to be."

"I'm staying." A tear ran down River's cheek and Kaylee leant her head onto River's shoulder. "Splintered again, like a china doll broken."

Jonah looked like he wanted to go to her, but he didn't.

"Book says he knows a place, a quiet little planet." There was still an edge to the way he said the man's name. "We'll set up there for now. As long as we stay together, we should make it through this."

"You'll have to come visit us." Bethany broke in.

"Damn straight." Kaylee told her. "Try and keep us away."

***

He stands tall and stares them in the eye, he can almost ignore the sweat that trickles down his face and between his shoulder blades, the tremble of his arm as he holds it out straight.

It hurts, doesn't it? They ask him, with something he recognizes as pleasure. We can stop anytime you say so.

He shakes his head and thinks of River.

It's entirely familiar to him, the thick sound of blood as each drop falls. His blood. He wonders when he became immune to such things, when slicing open the veins in his arm and risking his own life to save another's became something he did on a regular basis.

We hope River Tam realizes just what you're going through. Their voices drift into the haze that has begun to fall. You've passed every one of our tests so far.

He should know by now just how much the human body can take before it passes into unconsciousness, he should but he can't seem to recall it just now.

A white hot pain slides into the arm and he knows they're finished for now, can't help but wonder how much more he can take. He keeps his mind focused on River and knows he'll take anything else they want to dish out.

Your loyalty is surprising, Dr. Tam. Marcus' voice says in his ear. We'll have your sister to you within the week.

***

Simon looked at the second box sitting open on the dining table.

But he said, Simon, He could hear Kaylee's voice over the com so many days ago. Dr. Williams said they have a drug that can repair broken pathways in the brain.

Experimentation with Expallion42... read the reports on the data disks, promising results in subject Daniel H... initial results have raised hope for the recovery...

He turned to River.

"Are you ready, mei mei?"

***

Haven was a small white planet in the Burnham Quadrant. Far enough away from any Core planets to ensure minimal Alliance interference. The surface is dry and dusty, not much vegetation to speak of, most of the planets' living is garnered through mining the deep core for the mineral rich substances that are sold easily on nearby planets.

Far enough away from the eyes of the Alliance for seven people to create their own haven without attracting much notice. For a Firefly class transport ship to make regular visits without drawing unwanted attention.

Hidden well enough for sixteen people to stand in a clearing, grouped around eleven different rocks that were specially placed. Eleven different names etched into them. Half the group said their goodbyes, while the other half paid respects to people they never knew.

***

River looked up and squinted at the sun. She breathed in deep, taking in the smell of the earth she lay on, the feel of the heavy dust in her nostrils and the lush, damp green smell of it.

"Hey." Came the warm voice next to her. "What're you smiling at?"

She turned to look at Kaylee, lying next to her, and let her eyes drink in the rounded cheeks and the sheen of heat that covered the woman's face. Kaylee glowed, she still glowed, and River couldn't get enough.

"Shh." She whispered. "Can't make a sound."

"Oh, don't you worry." Kaylee grinned as she reached out and traced light fingers over the skin of River's belly. "I'm gonna be quiet as a mouse."

River trembled with her giggles. She slapped Kaylee's hands away and rolled over to lay a kiss on warm lips. Kaylee tasted as green as the earth they lay on and River thrilled to it.

"Now let me concentrate."

River shifted away from Kaylee so that she lay on her stomach, belly and knees pressing into the dirt, careless of the clothes she wore. She took hold of the rifle and looked into the view finder to find Mal leaning on his cane, Jayne with his scowl and the group they were bargaining with. A warm hand rested on the small of her back. As she watched, Mal tipped his head towards a man sitting high on a horse.

"If I make this shot, Jayne has to learn demi-pointe plies tonight."

***

THE END.

***

People have asked and so I researched this when writing this last chapter, the results were pure coincidence and not planned at all, but I think they're rather fitting.

For those interested:

Jonah: Hebrew origin, meaning a dove, a bringer or sign of peace. Daniel: Hebrew origin, 'my judge is the lord', one who serves a higher law than man.

Sebastian: Latin origin, revered one.

Bethany: Hebrew origin, 'house', one who offers security and comfort. Also means 'life'.

Minmei: Chinese origin, little plum.

Binh: Chinese origin, peaceful.

Alexandria: Greek origin, defender of mankind.

***

The reports that Simon read (complete to Report #1105): the reports .

And, as always, the memories in chronological order: the memories.

And the timeline: the timeline .

***

I have to (well, okay, I don't have to, but I'm going to, so there) thank many people: firstly, Miss McKay, for not holding back and pointing out what didn't work and what needed to be changed and also for putting up with my live parodies of 'Adam's Spleen' in chat. Thanks bunches and it's still all your fault, even if I don't know what 'it' is.

Secondly, to thatweirdgirl for naming Minmei and Binh, they desperately wanted names of their own.

Thirdly, thanks goes to many devoted feedbackers because my fragile ego likes to be stroked (including, but not limited to): SB, reallykaylee, thatweirdgirl, Ambodell, Nutluck, Adrienne, Rich, moshpogfahfeng, Artships, Rob, Diz, Rinny, Rinney, Missjasadin, RubyMoss, Kizziecstars, Inalasahl, Patrick, Rachel, Leah, Sheri, Angela and everyone else who commented or emailed. And, gosh darn it, doesn't my spell check love you all?

And, lastly, to anyone who's read "Adam's Rib".

Thanks again.

COMMENTS

Sunday, October 23, 2005 7:50 AM

RINNYPJ


*sighs*

I am so thoroughly satisfied with that ending. The fallout was written beautifully and you covered each character equally and Jayne *giggles* you always know how to treat my favorite man.

Sunday, October 23, 2005 11:59 AM

AMDOBELL


Excellent tour de force. Thanks for a shiny read and a satisfying ending. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, October 23, 2005 2:29 PM

REALLYKAYLEE


wa-wa-wait. it's over? i mean it seemed like it's over . . . it was awesome no wait- it is awesome. but hmmm

can i have a sequel now?

Sunday, October 23, 2005 3:04 PM

NUTLUCK


Nice story but have to agree you need to write a sequel now. i mean to many questions left ect. Hell reasons don't matter just write one. :o)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 6:57 AM

ARTSHIPS


A satisfying conclusion to an excellently entertaining story. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 4:02 PM

AFKAMM


This was really good, couldn't stop reading till I had finished it all. Thanks for writing it. :)

Monday, March 6, 2006 10:37 AM

BURNANDBOIL


Excellent, time to catch up with the newest bit! Yipppeeee! This has been the best read in a long time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 11:22 PM

BARDOFSHADOW


Throughly enjoyed the whole series, thanks for sharing.Wanted to read the reports and timeline, ect. but apparently the links have gone dead :(


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