Sorry for the delay. Had a bit of a block on this story. Here's the last chapter.
They burned hard. And in twelve hours they were passing the Haven sign. The first thing Conor noticed was the six new graves that were lined up a half mile from the village. If there had been any fighting it was over now. His heart began to beat quickly. After landing Serenity the crew ran from the ship towards the village.
They all felt the panic rising, unmarked graves were an Alliance trademark. When Conor came up over the small hill and saw his mother walking towards him along with the rest of his family, his knees almost gave out with relief
Zoë was smiling widely at seeing her son for the first time in over a year but when she saw the look on his face her brow furrowed. "What's wrong Conor?"
Conor hugged her tightly. "Greenleaf was destroyed. When we saw the graves…" He trailed off as the rest of the crew raced past them towards their respective families. Amir came up and hugged Zoë as well.
"An Alliance ship showed up yesterday," Zoë told them. "Just a small fighter. Sure didn't expect two ex-browncoats, River, and Jayne. Tell Hobie he can have what he wants from their ship."
Conor laughed, the relief still washing over him. He turned and saw Megan hanging back, a sad smile on her face. Conor leaned down and whispered something in his mother's ear. Zoë looked up and nodded in understanding. Conor reached out his hand towards Megan who walked over to them.
"Ma this is Megan Hast. Megan this is my mother, Zoë Washburne."
"Nice to meet you Ma'am," Megan said.
"Ma'am?" Zoë smiled. "My boy's girl can't be calling me Ma'am."
"Zoë then," Megan said.
"That's better. Well you better go meet everyone else. I have a feeling you all are gonna be here awhile."
"We're out Ma," Conor said. "They sent us home. And we got enough supplies to last for months. 'Sides, I promised Megan a vacation."
"Ain't no better place for that than right here," Zoë said.
That night was a celebration like they had never had before. The residents of the Haven ate the rations Serenity had brought along with their own grown food, drank Kaylee's wine, and danced around a bonfire as big as a house.
Halfway through the night Hobie got up from his seat next to Mia and walked up to Mal. The two of them spoke for a moment before Mal let out a loud whoop and clapped Hobie on the back. From then on they celebrated the impending marriage of Hobie and Mia as well as Reunification.
The celebration eventually broke up as the sun began to rise. People stumbled back to their respective houses while the newly returned veterans found spare beds where they could. The Haven was quiet as sleep overcame its inhabitants.
All the inhabitants except for two.
Zoë had never been able to sleep well the night after her son came home. It had been the same way when he'd been out on jobs. She spent most of the time he was away worrying about him. This last year even more so than normally. When he came back, that first night it was impossible to make her brain stop.
And she thought about Wash. She never missed him more than those first nights Conor was home. Wondered what he'd have to say. Thought about all he'd missed out on. Here at the Haven, as the sun was rising over the desert, this was where she missed him the most.
Today, however, Zoë was not alone in her early morning thoughts. Walking over to the smoldering remains of the bonfire and sat down. "Trouble sleeping?"
Megan looked over at the older woman and smiled slightly. "It's strange not to have the hum of a ship. Or bombs exploding. I was lying there and it was so quiet I was wishing Conor snored."
"Yeah it can get pretty quiet here. But sometimes quiet ain't so bad."
They sat together in silence for a while.
"You know you're the reason my father fled the Alliance," Megan said at last.
"He was a soldier on a space station. He went AWOL after Miranda came out, stayed AWOL the rest of his life. Hobie told me in passing that it was all of you who were responsible."
"Yeah that was us. Seems like a lifetime ago. I guess it was."
"My father used to tell me that the Alliance fed on compliance. That independence and free thought were our greatest weapons."
"Well your father sounds like a smart man."
"He was. Ran away to the Rim straight off. Tried to become a miner. He wasn't any good at it. Mom used to say that for all his big words he couldn't run a jackhammer to save his life."
Zoë smiled. "Conor's daddy used to say he didn't understand how someone like me lived so long in the black and never learned to pilot at all."
Megan was silent for a moment. "They seemed so different," she said after a while. "My mom and dad. But they weren't. The only reason they were different was because of how they grew up. I can't remember them ever fighting. I guess if there's anything I'm glad of, it was that they got to go together." Realizing what she just said Megan's hand flew to her mouth and she looked over at Zoë. "I'm sorry. I wasn't…I didn't mean."
Zoë put her hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "It's okay. I know you didn't mean nothing by it. And I understand. When Conor's daddy died I wanted to die too. And I'd be lying if I said that there weren't days I thought on ending it. Captain…Mal," she clarified, "he lost his faith in Serenity Valley. I saw it in his eyes. Not me though. I never told him but Serenity Valley made me believe stronger some days. But I lost my faith on Miranda. I thought that if nothing really meant anything, then there was no point to living. But when I held Conor that first time I knew there was I reason I'd been left behind."
"He talks about you all the time you know," Megan told her. "At first I thought it was cute, thought he was just a mama's boy. But then living on the ship with all of them. Something ties all of you together."
Zoë smiled and looked off into the distance. Megan followed her gaze and smiled as she saw Serenity keeping guard over the Haven. "She's the tie," Zoë said. "For Coner and the others she's the place they were born and raised. Imbedded into their beings from a life lived aboard. For the rest of us, it's a place of rebirth. New lives began on that ship for every one of us. Even Amir. Maybe even you."
The two women remained sitting together in silence until others began to rise from sleep and make their way outside. Jayne relit the fire with the glowing embers and Kaylee began boiling water for tea.
Megan smiled as Conor came up beside her. He leaned over and kissed his mother on the cheek before kissing Megan lightly on the lips. Zoë walked over to stand with the newly woken Mal and give the two younger ones some privacy.
"So what happens now?" Megan asked.
"I thought we were on vacation for a bit," Conor replied.
Megan poked him in the ribs. "I meant after that."
Conor smiled and put his arms around her waist. "Well there's Hobie and Mia's wedding. And the party for that'll probably last a couple days. After that, well I'm sure there're jobs to be had for a crew of the Independent's finest."
Megan laughed. "Back to the sky?" she said.
Conor looked out over his family gathered around the fire. "Sky's always calling," he replied. "Just not as loudly as of late. Wouldn't be surprised if we start spending more time here. Mal's takin' about raising cows or some such." He laughed. "Sound okay to you?"
Megan kissed him softly. "Wouldn't miss it."
Look for more stories in this universe coming soon.