Disclaimer: I own nothing; Harry Potter and the elements of his universe all belong to J.K.Rowling. Firefly/Serenity and the elements of its universe all belong to Joss Whedon. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT – It Has to End Sometime
Harry heard the sound of phoenix song in the distance. He could smell the sterility of a hospital wing and tried to remember what inane idea he'd acted upon that landed him wherever he was.
Nothing much was coming to mind, and Harry's body felt pretty numb. Deciding to bite the bullet, Harry cracked one eye open and flinched at the bright light streaming into the room. He blinked his eyes for ten seconds adjusting to the daylight.
Harry glanced over to the left and saw sunlight streaming in the window. He felt a slight breeze and realized the window was wide open. He turned his head fully towards the window when he felt a strangely familiar pull on the right side of his head.
"Oh for crying out loud," Harry groaned quietly. He turned his head to the right as far as he could and saw River sleeping, draped over the side of his hospital bed.
Harry watched her sleep for a moment out of the corner of his eye, not in the mood to disturb her just yet. He was amazed at how innocent she appeared when she slept. Suddenly his last conscious actions came to mind: catching the E-271 weapon, Fawkes taking them away, the phoenix going through his burning day, getting the bomb into the vanishing cabinet, and the apparent death of the magical hyperdrive spaceship Frank.
Harry felt a gentle nibble on his left ear and turned back towards the window. He felt something shifting and wriggling before a little phoenix head popped up right in front of Harry's eye startling him.
Fawkes was covered in feathers again and warbled a cheerful greeting at Harry. Harry closed his eyes and felt the warmth the phoenix was soothingly sending into his mind. Harry was reveling in the affection Fawkes was showing for him.
"So you're going to be okay?" Harry whispered towards phoenix nestled up by his left cheek.
Fawkes nodded and sent strong feelings of gratitude and pride.
"What've I missed?"
Four distinct flares of emotion came back to back in Harry's mind.
"Four days?" Harry snapped louder than he expected.
Fawkes was highly amused as River woke up suddenly. "Harry?" she asked him.
"River," Harry grumbled at her. "Am I going to wake up with your finger in my ear every time?"
River plucked her hand away from Harry gently and answered. "Maybe."
"I needed you," River smiled. "How are you feeling?"
"Numb, confused, but better than usual," Harry rolled his head around now that he safely could. He leaned forward and saw his left arm was strapped into a plastic harness and covered with a moist towel. Harry grimaced remembering the pain of feeling the flesh melt from his bones and decided he didn't want to see how bad that looked just yet. To be honest, he was pleasantly surprised he still had the arm.
Harry processed what River had said and asked, "You needed me?"
River was frowning but reluctantly nodded.
Harry sensed her hesitation but saw her forcing herself to keep eye contact with Harry. He caught on to the unspoken invitation and plunged straight into her mind.
Harry slid past her shields with ease, but found himself continuing through a second set of shields that River was pulling him through. He looked around and saw the familiar grassy field of her mind but there were two immense shields surrounding them. Trapped in between the two sets of shields was a maelstrom of dark and swirling thoughts that were clearly out of place.
Harry looked over his shoulder and saw a much younger River standing behind him. She was probably six or seven and she reached up to hold Harry's hand with a mischievous smile. Harry just looked at her curiously and the little girl shrugged unashamed. "Oops."
"River," Harry scolded. "You think I'm any less inclined to yell at a six year old?"
River quickly grew to her proper age and size. "No, but I guess a spanking was hoping for too much."
Harry recognized Luna's influence and rolled his eyes. "A little explanation is in order, perhaps?"
River pointed towards the dark clouds and violent flashes of emotion in the sky. "That… that's… probably not supposed to be here."
"I surmised that much," Harry assured her. "Do you want me to figure this out for myself or are you going to enlighten me?"
River shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure what happened, well I mean I know what happened, I'm just not sure how it happened, or how to make it unhappen, or how-"
Harry cleared his throat loudly having not seen her so embarrassed in a while.
River stopped rambling and called up a water balloon. "I'll just show you," she said tossing the water balloon straight at Harry.
Harry recognized that as her preferred way of sharing memories and let the balloon crash onto him as the scenes unfolded before his eyes. He saw a man tied to a chair waking up, about to be interrogated. He heard Algernon and Fullerton justifying the use of Harry's veritaserum. He saw River's weak hold over her temper collapse as anger took control. He sensed a loyalty to him more than anything else and tried to ignore the implications of that. Then he felt her wild Legilimency flare out of control, fueled by her rage. She held nothing back in attacking and ripping every secret and thought out of the man's head. Jack Smith's head, Harry quickly realized.
Then Harry felt River's pain and confusion as her mind was splitting, overcome with the influx of memories, thoughts, and feelings. He saw her calling out for him and felt a little guilty that he wasn't going to be able to help her in this memory.
It was a chaotic series of images as Simon knew what to do and he carried her towards Harry's hospital room. River's memories became clearer as she seemed to finally calm down. It appeared her psyche was still reliant on proximity to Harry as her anchor, and eventually he felt her decide to jam her finger in his ear for old time's sake.
She was able to maintain a façade of doing just fine, when she kept close to Harry. Fullerton and Algernon came in to try and figure out what happened from her point of view. It appeared in seeking out Smith's secrets she had pretty much forced him to relive every moment and thought of his life in a matter of seconds, or essentially as fast as her brain could process and input the information. Smith's synapses weren't quite up to the task though and he was left a drooling vegetable with emptiness in place of his mind. While River was overcome with a lifetime she could do without.
"Is that what happened?" River's voice interrupted Harry's train of thought.
Harry smiled at her. "Were you reading my mind?"
River shrugged. "You were reading mine. I figured that'd be within the rules."
Harry nodded and explained, "That's what I think I saw happening there. Because I know how much faster your mind works, and you certainly fried his brain."
River was smiling in spite of herself. "Good."
"Good?" Harry repeated, hiding his own indifference to the situation. "You've irreparably damaged a human being? Doesn't that bother you?"
"Nope," River shook her head resolutely. "I've seen the kind of person he is. And I'd do the same to the people who put the Pax on this planet and the people who messed with my head."
Harry was fighting a smile at how fixed she was in her convictions, though he found himself agreeing with her. "Anyone else?"
River sighed sadly and shrugged. "Probably."
"So what have you done with Jack out there?" Harry pointed towards the memories trapped between shields. "Besides cordon him off. Have you taken the time to sort through him?"
"A little," River admitted. "But it's just too much. I was hoping you could help because Fullerton couldn't."
"He couldn't?" Harry inquired. "What do you mean by that?"
River shrugged. "My shields are too strong for memory charms he said. And even when I tried to let him in, he wasn't able to pierce his way through them. I think he was a bit offended that a so-called muggle had stronger shields than him."
Harry chuckled. "I'd imagine the mere idea of a non-magical witch being capable of Occlumency and Legilimency didn't sit too well with him."
"Yes well," River admitted. "It appears you have no problems at all getting in here. And since your key still works, you get to help me clean up." She finished with a flourish towards the wild, dark memories.
Harry nodded and agreed. "You ready now? Because I'd like to know a whole lot more about Jack Smith."
River grabbed a hold of Harry's hand and leaped into the air, pulling him with her. They passed straight through the inner shield and were quickly surrounded by memories and thoughts of the man. As they sorted through everything, large buckets appeared near them that they were depositing the metaphysical representations of memories into.
Harry had gleaned an awful lot, including the fact that Jack Smith was not working for the Alliance in any official capacity on this trip to Miranda. He felt shame when he found the memory of Stephanie Smith, telling Jack all about Harry Fullerton and how her boyfriend and his roommate's heads were messed with.
Harry followed those trains of thought and found out that this was a last minute plan. Jack was responsible for disposing of the E-271 weapon, and he knew that Antonio had hitched a ride with the wizards. So when word came by that a staff was being assigned to work for Antonio, Jack knew he had the perfect opportunity. The man hadn't even checked out his niece from the Matthias Institute yet. He'd been so rushed with getting the weapon to Miranda that he was going to deal with her when he got back.
Harry quickly followed those thoughts further and began to note every family member's face and name. Harry was determining how dangerous or fervent they were about destroying wizard demons. Frustration crept in as he accepted it was simply their careless mistakes and horrible unfortunate luck that led them to this situation. It wasn't the evil and cruel Alliance or a premeditated attack of any sort. The only real enemy in this already had his mind broken.
It had only been one lucky nutcase and a humbling reminder.
Harry glanced over as River was tiredly sorting through thoughts. He said, "I think I've learned everything I want to for now. You want me to cap all of this stuff for you?"
River's ears perked up and she looked at him hopefully. "Cap?"
"Yeah cap," Harry nodded. "Rarely used derivative of a memory charm, only you're aware it's there. And if you meditate inside your shields, like we are here, and focus on the cap, then you can access the memories behind the cap with a bit of effort."
"Please," River agreed.
"It's not terribly easy to get to capped memories, but sorting through everything is going to take forever," Harry explained.
"Got it, got it, don't care, do it," River said nodding her head up and down repeatedly.
"I'm going to need to be boss here while I do it," Harry assured her, knowing that pointing out she had to trust him was a bit redundant. With a fizzing snap a larger dome encircled even River's outer shields and Harry prepared to shatter River's two sets of shields, when suddenly he didn't have to.
River had dropped both sets of the shields, as soon as she realized what Harry was going to do and she felt like shrinking down to a six year old girl again. The vast amounts of Jack Smith's thoughts and memories were swirling and flying all around, while Harry began working his magic.
River sat down on the grass cross-legged and just watched Harry summon the black spectral memories from all areas and collect them into what appeared to be a pirate's treasure chest. It took about five minutes pulling them all in and the buckets of sorted memories were set inside the chest at the top. The lid slammed shut and Harry sat himself down tiredly. He shrunk himself down until he too appeared to be a six-year old kid, though Harry made sure he was still taller than her.
"Done?" River asked him as she was hugging her legs up to her body.
Harry flopped down onto his back looking up at the sky and dome surrounding them. He nodded and added, "My magic felt… different. Just slightly, but there was something off about it."
River looked up and her shield snapped into place inside of Harry's.
Harry let his dome dissipate and sighed. "Thanks."
"Was it in your left hand?" River asked curious about his shift in magic.
Harry looked at his hands and saw they looked normal. "I suppose that's probably it. But it wasn't drained or weakened. If anything I feel a little stronger or maybe just energized."
River beamed at him. "That makes sense."
"Stronger?" Harry looked at her curiously. "Do I really need to be stronger? And why does that make sense?"
"Come on," River said standing up and offering a hand to help Harry up. "It's probably about time for a visit."
Harry saw the bright smile on the six year old River's face and she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. He was about to scold her on the dangers of cooties when a gentle nudge expelled him from her mind and back into his prone position on his hospital bed.
"It's about time," Simon grumbled as saw Harry and his sister were waking from their respective mental trances. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty good actually," Harry began.
"I was talking to my sister," Simon chided with a smile.
"Shush," River snapped at him, knowing he hadn't been talking to her. "And for the record, I'm all better now."
"Good," Simon nodded and looked at Harry. "And what about you? Can you lift your right arm? Any soreness in your shoulder? Aches or pains?"
Harry lifted it up in the air and moved it in a small circle. "Seems okay to me. A little soreness maybe. Did you heal this one, Doc?"
Simon grinned. "I got the pleasure of resetting it into its socket. Something I want you to know was quite fun for me."
"I'm sure," Harry dryly replied.
"It didn't require much healing," Simon continued. "A few scrapes and burns on your back were treated with ointments, creams, and biodegradable glue. We wanted to ensure the extent of the magical healing was only on your left arm and hand."
"I thought I'd tapped myself out before it went black," Harry commented. "If you've been able to do this much healing, then I guess I really was exhausted."
"No complications at first, though you've been getting progressively more resistant to treatment," Simon commented. "Your magic's probably taken over healing the rest of the small stuff."
Harry nodded figuring as much. He thought about the difference between small stuff and big stuff. "So there's still a hand in here?" Harry said gesturing to his left arm that he was reluctant to move.
Simon smirked. "Well it's got five fingers whatever it is." Simon looked up as Fawkes chirped. "And it appears your healers are right on time as usual."
Harry looked towards the window Simon had been watching and saw a flock of eight phoenixes flying in, cheering their own unique magical songs as they came. Different shades of red, brown, yellow, and blue feathers adorned them all. Harry used his good arm to pinch his right thigh, ensuring he wouldn't cry like a baby at the emotional effect their songs were having on him. He could feel Fawkes' amusement at his determination to look manly.
Simon lifted the moist towel off the plastic mold Harry's arm was resting in and Harry got his first look at his arm. He gasped and stated the obvious. "My arm is black! And my middle finger is bone!"
"It was all bone a few days ago," Simon commented standing back as the phoenixes perched on the edge of Harry's bed. The first one tilted its head down and cried half a dozen tears onto Harry's hand. It lingered a moment squeezing out the last drop it could before it took to the air, warbling a goodbye as it flew away.
"I've yet to see the same phoenix twice," River commented. "I didn't realize there were so many here."
Harry was transfixed as he watched the next phoenix in line hop onto the edge of the bed and cry more tears on his hand.
"Apparently protecting Fawkes in spite of him barbecuing your hand earned you some bonus points among the phoenixes," River commented. "They come in groups every few hours."
Harry was trying his best to project feelings of gratitude and appreciation towards the phoenixes, while at the same time pinching his thigh so hard that it too was making his eyes water. He cleared his throat and asked, "So my muscle tissue and skin has all regrown from their tears?"
"Almost all tears," River added with a small grin.
Harry felt Fawkes embarrassment and turned his head towards the still small bird. "What did you do?"
Fawkes sat up proudly and wasn't saying a word.
"Fawkes tried to cry on your hand after only a day," River said ignoring the angry look Fawkes was giving her. "He ended up coughing up something chunky instead."
Harry saw Fawkes had gotten over his embarrassment and was proudly showing the back of his throat in an effort to cough up something more again. "You silly magical fire-turkey."
The phoenix that had been in the process of crying on Harry's hand looked up sharply.
"Not you!" Harry assured the one with dark blue feathers. He pointed over his shoulder at Fawkes who was still snuggled up on the left side of Harry's head. "This one. You, you're beautiful and wonderful and thank you very much." Harry smiled weakly. "Please don't claw my eyes out."
The phoenix in question just snickered and shook one last teardrop onto Harry's hand. It flew away singing a few notes of amusement and warning.
Simon wasn't looking at Harry's chart anymore. He was just watching the magical birds. "That first night after the sky stopped burning, you room was overrun with phoenixes in here all wanting to help. Fullerton put together that tray so that your arm could soak, and we've been alternating between anesthetics and localized magical binds to keep your arm in place."
Harry nodded figuring as much before he realized what Simon had said. "Back up! Hold on! The sky was burning? What?"
Simon glanced at River who reached into her pocket and pulled out Harry's communicator. She kept a sad smile on her face and just handed it to Harry.
Harry accepted the device back and saw the last of the phoenixes had finished crying on his hand. He didn't think his middle finger was covered with more visible sinewy flesh than it had been before, but the charcoal black color made it difficult to tell. The phoenix chirped a sad goodbye to Harry and flew off.
Simon saw the phoenix tears filled the plastic mold and just barely covered the entirety of Harry's hand in the warm tingly fluid. He took the wet towel and pulled it back over, ensuring the moisture wasn't going to dry out before it could be absorbed or do its magic.
Harry wasn't certain what was going on, but he could tell there was a shift towards a much more somber attitude in the air.
"Hey Harry," Mr. Universe's face popped up on the small video screen of the device. "Got a recording for you here. You ready for it?"
Harry suddenly realized just who this recording was going to be of and wondered why he was feeling so angry at him. "Yeah," Harry said taking a deep breath. "Yeah I'm ready."
"I know you Harry!" The voice sounded the same, but the video screen was blank. Harry could tell right away it was no longer Mr. Universe.
"This is Frank in case your feeble little wizard mind hasn't been able to figure that one out yet. I just ordered River to hide the other vanishing cabinet. Knowing you and your ridiculous need to save everyone, I doubt you even considered letting me take this one."
Frank sounded as angry as Harry had been feeling. "That's why it's up to me to keep you from doing something horrendously stupid. Like put that bomb in the only safe place on Earth where it'd likely destroy the only other known magical planet. So before you start getting angry at River or anyone else, know that this was my choice. This was my chance and my opportunity."
Harry could feel Simon and River both staring at him, but he was focused solely on the communicator. He swallowed the lump in his throat and kept staring at the empty screen.
"I know I've got like a minute or two here to say goodbye and all, but I'm struggling to come up with anything catchy enough to put on a spaceship's tombstone. That and there really aren't any good words to rhyme with hyperdrive for a proper naughty limerick."
Harry began to chuckle and Frank's voice came back forcefully, "And no, diaper-drive isn't a word. Although 'swipe her wide' could… never mind."
Harry found himself searching for potential rhymes too when Frank started back up. "Okay, River just reminded me of something that I'm hoping won't matter but I definitely need to wrap this up. It's weird. In a lot of ways, I'm a clone of Mr. Universe, but beyond being intelligent and conscious, I'm also one big thing he's not. I'm alive.
"And that's one of those scary, amazing existence defining concepts. But part of truly being alive means I have to die. Something that I'm proud to say I'm looking forward to. Another new experience for me. And I get to do it saving people. Ahh, who am I kidding? I like a lot of people but really… really it's my friend that I'm doing this for. You could be all alone on that planet and I'd still force you to give me that bomb."
Harry was so focused on the words he didn't even notice the tears streaming down his face.
"So I just wanted to say, thanks Harry. For everything from life to death and in between. And for especially letting me save your ass and giving me the chance to be the big damn he-"
Mr. Universe's face popped up with a grin. "How's that for ironic timing?" He chuckled and said, "I'm going to splice in the full word 'hero' like he wanted but I figured I'd show you the director's cut first."
Harry laughed at Mr. Universe and realized how he looked. He set the device down in his lap and was wiping his face clean.
River was still sitting off to the side and asked softly, "Want me to pinch your thigh really hard?"
Harry shook his head and chuckled.
"I'll do it," River insisted.
"That's okay," Harry said smiling at her. "You'd probably miss on purpose. Hey, did whatever you reminded him of, end up mattering?"
River shook her head. "Not in the grand scheme of things, nope."
"So what was it?" Harry asked curiously.
River paused and Mr. Universe chose to answer instead, "Apparently, in waxing philosophic over existence, he had… umm… neglected to remember to fly away."
Harry looked horrified for a moment before bursting out laughing.
"Don't laugh at him!" Mr. Universe snapped. "He's a big damn hero."
"I'm sure," Harry agreed. "No, I'm happy for him and the fact that we're all here means he saved us all. But it's just funny. And something tells me this may tie in to the sky burning that the Doc mentioned earlier."
River nodded. "Frank made it up and out of the atmosphere and a little ways out into space before the bomb went off."
Mr. Universe continued, "The shockwave aspect of the bomb split apart the hyperdrive engine and exploded with such heat that the casing of the third stage of the bomb sealed shut."
"It's still out there?" Harry asked worriedly.
"Nope," Mr. Universe said. "The explosion just happened to send that piece straight back towards Miranda where re-entry melted the casing enough to make the big boom. An awful lot of gas ignited and burned for a while."
Harry was watching a video play on the small screen that showed the purple and green colors of where Frank had been before it flashed blindingly white and the entire sky was shimmering and whipping with flames.
"I didn't know the sky could catch fire," Harry commented.
"Makes for a powerful visual though," Mr. Universe commented.
"Any casualties?" Harry asked in a softer voice than he'd expected.
"A few buildings are going to need to be torn down and rebuilt, but the only people were the two Alliance Security workers that Jack Smith sacrificed."
Harry frowned harshly. "He didn't even tell them that starting that sequence was going to kill them."
"The goblin wards held up," River answered. "And the air and water treatment facilities were fixed. The fleet took a big hit though."
"Serenity?" Harry said looking up fearfully.
"Inara actually saved Serenity and got her inside the wards," Simon answered and glanced at his watch. "If you're doing alright, I should probably get going."
Harry nodded. "I'm fine."
Simon smiled and left River and Harry alone.
River watched him leave and said, "Kaylee had to go back to work to help them piece together the working ship parts. But he's been checking on the both of us a lot."
"What's happened with Antonio?" Harry asked.
"What do you mean?"
"His staff," Harry clarified. "According to Smith, they didn't know anything about this and were simply coming to start their new jobs."
River shrugged. "None of them were at all involved and we've been keeping them in the dark."
Harry nodded thinking deeply on where to go from here. He reached over pulled the towel off his left arm. He consciously pulled at his magic, trying to locate what had felt so different. River was correct and it was his left hand that felt different. He canceled the binding spells on his arm and lifted it out of the plastic healing tub.
The phoenix tears were thicker than water and the viscous liquid was dripping down his arm. Harry began to rub it into his blackened arm and hand with his right. Just these slight actions reaffirmed his belief that the phoenix tears weren't simply healing his arm but turning it into something else.
"How does it feel?" River asked curiously.
Harry tried clenching his left arm into a fist and felt the skin tightening. "Very strange." He began to softly scratch at the surface and found the blackened flesh was oddly malleable and tough, like well-oiled leather. "It doesn't hurt though."
Harry was running his good hand over his permanently charred fingers, tracing the rough, sandpaper like surface of his middle finger. He didn't understand how it could still work and act with bone exposed.
"Can I touch it?" River inquired with a tilt of her head.
Harry grabbed the moist towel and wiped his arm clean. He used the sheet covering him to dry it off and extended it towards River. "Go ahead."
River brushed her fingertips over the meat of his palm, before beginning to poke and prod his wrist and forearm. She was using her nail to try and scratch it off like an old lotto ticket. "Hmm," she mused aloud. "I thought it might be hot. Or maybe cold, but other than the color it seems pretty normal."
"I bet it's chewier," Harry commented as he pulled away to sniff his hand. He tried biting down on his middle finger and realized it wasn't as sensitive to pain.
"So what can it do?" River asked.
Harry stopped and looked at her completely dumbfounded. "What can it do?" he repeated.
"Well, it's not normal, is it?"
Harry considered what he knew about his arm. It had been healed by dozens of phoenixes something Harry had never heard of happening. The flesh was probably all due to the magical tears and the solid black color indicated something unnatural at the least. And his magic felt different. Not really more refined or wilder, nor did it seem stronger or weaker, but something had been fundamentally altered.
Harry resigned himself to admitting, "It's as normal as you are."
"You have no idea, do you?"
"Not a clue."
River furrowed her brow. "So it could be anything?"
"Yeah," Harry suddenly realized. "Anything."
River wasn't quite sure what the gleam in Harry's eye meant but had a question on her mind. "Can I ask you something?"
Harry looked at her curiously resisting the urge to point out she just asked one. "You need permission?"
"Why aren't you angrier?"
Harry smiled at her. "Who says I'm not angry?"
"I was angry enough to turn a guy's brain into figgy pudding," River commented. "You're smiling and… introspective."
"I'm sure you've seen the Captain bottle up his feelings," Harry commented. "Part of my mental organization is to often do exactly that. I've been depositing most of my current impulses there, saving up a nice jar full of fury."
"Saving for what?"
Harry knew a lot of his anger was directed at himself but answered, "Someone more deserving of it than you."
"Harry?" Fullerton said cautiously sticking his head into the room.
"Get in here, Fullerton," Harry ordered. "You too, Algernon."
Algernon stuck his head around the corner after Fullerton walked in. "How'd you know I was here?"
Harry pointed at Fullerton. "He looks scared enough that I doubted he'd have come alone."
"I do not," Fullerton indignantly argued.
Harry just glared and a low warning rumble came from the back of his throat.
Fullerton flinched, forgetting momentarily he was trying to not look scared.
"You do have a jar, don't you?" River smiled.
Fawkes was snickering from his half asleep position there on Harry's pillow.
Harry's anger dissipated immediately and he scratched the young phoenix behind the ear. "It doesn't work as well when you're laughing at me." Harry swung his legs off the side of the bed and sat on the edge. He stretched his arms out and yawned.
River stood and stretched her arms as well. She saw Fullerton and Algernon looked a little nervous. "I'm going to go get us a couple meals. You have a preference?"
"Anything's good," Harry answered. "Thanks."
The three of them watched River leave the room in silence before Harry turned to the other two wizards. He saw how uncomfortable they looked and said, "Relax, boys, I'm not angry at you. My brain knows you did the right thing, taking the other cabinet away to safety. I just, occasionally have control issues. So what've you done?"
"Piecing together ships, fixing buildings, repairing and warding the air and water treatment facilities, so far only dealing with the things on the planet that we can," Algernon answered, glad to hear Harry didn't blame him for taking the cabinet away.
"We decided to give you a week before contacting the Alliance," Fullerton explained. "Without… Frank, it's a good two week flight, and we don't exactly have a surplus of ships. We didn't want to show weakness in a wave either, so it's been a communications blackout for now. Duncan's sending over four ships as loaners and stocked them full of fuel. The majority of our fuel reserves ignited and burned away."
Harry sighed. "We really messed this up, didn't we?"
Fullerton winced. "What's done is done. From what River has told us, Smith was acting independently."
"He was," Harry nodded. "Though I think we should modify the memories of all the less active members of your vengeful little secret order of the squib."
"Agreed and speaking of her," Algernon asked. "How in Merlin's name did you teach a muggle Occlumency? Let alone whatever she did to Smith."
"She was already doing Legilimency, so the Occlumency was primarily discipline," Harry replied. "I've seen most of Jack Smith's highlights. Did River tell you about him?"
"She mentioned a few things," Fullerton carefully answered. "But she was struggling to communicate so I wasn't entirely sure how accurate her understanding was."
River chose that moment to return carrying a single tray filled with food. She sat a bowl of jelly soup onto the pillow near Fawkes and joined Harry in sitting on the edge of his bed, with the tray in between them.
She looked up and saw them all looking at her curiously. She grabbed a carrot stick and bit a chunk off with a loud snap. "You're welcome to keep talking about me. I don't mind."
"That's alright," Harry grinned, grabbing a drumstick. "Unless either of these two speaks Tobrik, I'm not sure they'll ever understand you."
River nodded in agreement.
"Considering the Alliance isn't at fault here," Harry continued. "I think I'm going to vent a bit of my anger their way and see if I can't strengthen their resolve in assisting the wizarding world. Any objections?"
"Can I come?" River asked.
"No," Harry answered immediately.
"How are we going to do this?" Fullerton inquired, slightly surprised River wasn't protesting Harry's snap decision.
"No 'we' this time. This one's going to be just me," Harry replied.
"What are you going to do?" Fullerton asked.
Harry flashed the familiar smile that made the others worry. "You've got them thinking I'm a god. I figure I should put a little fear into them." Harry ran a quick test on his magic and found it satisfactory. "And I know just how I want to do it." Without a sound, Harry apparated away.
"I think he's feeling better," River said, demonstrating her gift for understatement. She grabbed some more food and waited for Harry to return.
Harry reappeared about a minute later, grinning deviously and dressed in some of his most comfortable wizarding robes. "Needed to pick up a toy. I'm all set now."
Fullerton got the feeling he didn't want to know. "When are you leaving?"
"After I finish eating," Harry said grabbing another drumstick.
"Serenity?" River asked.
Harry shook his head. "Nope."
"How are you going to get there?" Fullerton asked, getting the feeling Harry knew something he didn't.
Harry looked down as his blackened left hand and arm. "It's been centuries since there have been any advancements or new developments in magic. I think it's about time we started to adapt to the twenty-sixth century."
"What does that mean?" Algernon asked curiously.
Harry confidently answered, "I'm going to take a portkey there."
"A portkey?" Fullerton clarified. "Across planets?"
"Is that possible?" Algernon said doubtfully.
"It will be," Harry assured them. He grabbed the small plastic bowl of grapes and popped a couple into his mouth. He then dumped the last of the grapes onto the tray.
Harry saw they were all watching him. "Interplanetary travel was never anything a wizard needed before but now we do." He lifted the plastic bowl up in front of him, holding it in his blackened fingertips.
Harry closed his eyes and focused clearly on his intentions. "Portus."
Fullerton and Algernon were absorbed in watching the spell and their eyes widened at the sight of the cream colored plastic bowl flaring in a purple flash of magic. Small sparks were sloughing off the sides of Harry's blackened hand and the plastic bowl was now a see-through crystalline blue structure of the exact same shape.
Harry opened his eyes, slightly amazed at how different and filtered the magic felt flowing through his left hand. He knew without a doubt the spell had succeeded but still, the sight of the now glassy-looking bowl surprised him. "Huh."
"That's really an interplanetary portkey, isn't it?" Algernon said, trying to mask his astonishment.
Harry nodded. "Yup."
"Amazing," Fullerton said with a bright smile. "How did you know?"
Harry showed them his black left arm. "This is new. So it's more the fact that I didn't know. And it could be anything."
"My idea," River claimed.
"Yup, her idea," Harry parroted as he hopped off the bed. Harry cracked the tightness out of his neck. "I'll be back." Harry took a deep breath and decided it was time to open up that jar. "Frank," he said activating the portkey.
The three others just watched him disappear, leaving a trail of purple sparks in his wake as he was transported away.
"Well, magical space travel is going to be a nice thing to have," River grinned at the looks on the two wizard's faces.
"Adapting to the twenty-sixth century, huh?" Algernon commented.
Fullerton nodded. "Let's go tell Anna she's going to have a big project keeping her busy."
"Anna?" River asked curiously.
"She's our resident spell-crafter," Fullerton answered. "She'll break down one of Harry's purple interplanetary portkeys so we can see if those of us without phoenix-affected arms can make them."
River nodded and scratched Fawkes behind the ears. She then followed the two wizards out of the hospital room and went to inform the Captain.
Harry was expecting to feel the hook just behind his navel that he always associated with portkeys, which is exactly what he felt for a moment. Then he realized he was being pulled by more than just his bellybutton. The swirl of magic and howl of wind lasted for just a few seconds before Harry was in a vacuum of silence. He could feel the magic tugging at his navel, at his throat, and most uncomfortably, at his bottom.
Harry was holding his breath in the silent swirl of magic, realizing the vacuum was due to traveling through space and he wasn't sure if he even could breathe with the pull at his throat. Just as he began to worry he wouldn't be able to hold his breath long enough, the wind started howling again and his feet slammed into the ground viciously.
Immediately upon landing, Harry sucked in as much breath as he possibly could. He noticed he'd interrupted a small meeting of three people, who were all just staring at him in shock. Harry opened his mouth to greet them but only found his nausea had another idea. The meal he'd just finished eating came right back up splattering onto the conference table in front of them.
Harry glanced up and saw the three other people in the room were running away and screaming. He stunned them all before they could leave and took a moment to adjust. "It couldn't just be a more pleasant way to travel, could it? It just had to be worse than normal portkeys."
Harry caught his breath and looked at the treacherous portkey in his hand. The clear blue crystalline structure just sat there innocently, mocking Harry. "That's it. I'm building a space-broom."
Harry took his frustration and anger and added it to the brimming jar of fury. He cleaned up his vomit, resuscitated the small group, memory charmed them, and left them to their meeting unaware they'd been interrupted.
Harry made himself invisible and used internal point-me spells to locate the first two people he wanted to talk to. He made sure no one was looking and canceled the invisibility. He put a glamour over his robes and his arm so that he wouldn't stand out. He barged into the office.
"Grunner, Stalworth," Harry ordered forcefully. "We need to talk. Now."
Grunner's face was plastered with a sneer and he hadn't even turned around before he began. "Excuse me, but I don't know who you think you…" Grunner trailed off when he suddenly noticed who it was and the extremely unhappy look on his face.
"Let's go," Stalworth answered having already stood and moved towards the door ignoring everyone else in the office.
As soon as they turned the corner out of sight Harry grabbed a hold of both of their shoulders and apparated all three of them right next to the Director of Alliance Security John Bauer.
John's eyes widened and his secretary began shrieking.
"Obliviate," Harry said flicking his wrist towards her, before waving his hand across her face. "Sleep."
The woman whose eyes glazed over at the first spell, slumped forward onto her desk at the second.
"Let's go talk in your office," Harry said barging his way right into Director Bauer's personal office. Harry glanced around the room and immediately sensed what he had hoped to.
"What's happened?" Bauer asked. "What's going on?"
Harry cast a visible ward surrounding the room earning several fearful looks from them.
"What was that?" Stalworth carefully inquired.
"That," Harry explained softly, "was a silencing ward because I'm afraid I will be raising my voice before we're done here."
The others exchanged nervous glances with their backs towards the window all facing Harry who was blocking their only exit.
"We have a problem," Harry began simply.
"Has something happened to Weatherby? Or his staff?" Grunner inquired. "They've not been responding to any attempts at contact."
"Oww," Bauer flinched as he felt something flick his ear. Bauer turned back towards the window in confusion.
"They are alive and unharmed," Harry replied loudly, attracting Bauer's attention forward. "But only because of their ignorance and innocence. Now, last time I met with you, I was doing my best to be kind and courteous. I made no explicit threats towards either the non-magical or wizarding worlds."
"And now as a result of it, a very good magical friend of mine is dead," Harry said softly before his face hardened and he leveled a fierce glare at them. "And my patience is at an end."
Stalworth glanced at the equally confused expressions on Grunner and Bauer's faces. "We don't know anything about what-"
"AND THAT'S THE PROBLEM!" Harry screamed in their faces. He stared unblinkingly at Bauer. "You shirked your duties and told your second in command the truth about Miranda. You left it up to him to dispose of the E-271 weapon."
"I… I haven't seen Jack in weeks," Bauer gulped. "He said he took care of erasing the project and wanted some time off."
"No," Harry corrected dangerously. "No, Jack didn't take time off. He brought along two Security officers on an off-the-books mission. They posed as support and crew on the Merlin along with the staff you assigned. He then used the opportunity of a goodwill tour to sacrifice his two men and set off the weapon."
"He what!" Bauer gasped in surprise.
Harry's jaw was clenched as explained, "He smuggled the weapon onto the Merlin and set it off at a water treatment facility."
Grunner flashed a dirty look at Bauer and argued, "You cannot blame us for the psychotic actions of-"
"Stop," Harry snapped silencing them immediately. "I know very well how disturbed he was and that he was not acting on behalf of the Alliance. When I left you last I was quite certain none of the people I talked to, had any negative impulses they intended to act on. It appears my error was in assuming you were capable of doing your jobs. Jack Smith was trusted implicitly by you and it was your bloody negligence that allowed this happen!"
"He… he set it off?" Bauer carefully inquired genuinely worried for Miranda.
"The planet will survive," Harry explained. "I managed to catch up with the bomb in the mantle and through my friend's sacrifice the damage was minimized."
"The goblin wards held strong while the sky was on fire," Harry replied. "Other than my friend, the only other casualties were the two officers Smith killed."
"What of Smith?"
"His actions upset a dangerous young woman," Harry answered without an ounce of remorse. "His brain was destroyed from her uncontrollable emotional reaction. Not to worry though," Harry mockingly smiled, "she's going to be just fine."
"We're just glad no one else was hurt," Stalworth diplomatically offered.
"Hurt?" Harry snapped. "HURT? Do you even realize how destructive that weapon was?" Harry canceled the glamour on his blackened left arm and held it up in front of them. He tapped his middle finger and the exposed bone. "That's bone! Let me tell you, I've had to regrow probably half the bones in my body at one time or another, but the pain of regrowing bones is nothing compared to how much it hurts to feel the flesh burning off your body."
The appearance of his arm had the desired effect and Harry had no intentions of correcting the assumptions he could tell they had made. If they seemed to think a bomb that big only pissed him off, then Harry wasn't about to disagree.
"I need to make something perfectly clear to you," Harry explained pulling out the item he had retrieved from his new vault on Miranda. It was a senior Unspeakable's standard issue time turner. Keeping the hourglass hidden in his palm, Harry expanded the chain into a large lasso. He threw over all three other men and pulled them close to himself. "I need you to see something."
One small turn hidden in his hand and the others gasped as they saw a shimmer in the air around them but no visible difference. Since he had them pulled close, he dragged them back towards the corner of the room by the window.
"What did you do?" Bauer asked curiously.
Harry cast a large illusion over them all and silenced the corner of the room. He put up a barrier ensuring they couldn't run out and told them, "Just watch."
Right on cue, they watched as Harry came barging into the room with the three others following behind him.
"What the hell is going on?" Grunner asked worriedly.
They watched in disbelief as the other Bauer questioned what was going on and the other Harry cast a silencing ward over the entire room.
Harry had removed the chain from them and pocketed the time turner once more. "I've just taken you five minutes into the past."
"What?" Grunner repeated. "Why?"
"Because you need to understand," Harry continued. He showed them a small pebble he conjured and threw.
Bauer gulped as he saw it hit the other version of himself in the ear. The other Bauer turned around in confusion wondering what had flicked his ear, while the hidden Bauer swallowed the lump in his throat at the shocking knowledge of what it had been.
They were watching the sequence they had just lived through in shock. Magic was a difficult concept to easily accept. But to jump straight over the possibility of time travel right in to actually viewing it happening, sent them reeling.
Harry tore out a page of a book on the shelf and magically inscribed, "The wizarding world is your ally," across it. He banished it towards the other Grunner's back moments before they saw the group pulled together and disappear from view.
Stalworth turned around and pulled the sheet from the unaware Grunner's back and found himself smiling in amazement.
Harry saw that their doubles had disappeared five minutes into the past. "I don't know if I could take on the Alliance in an all-out war but I suspect it'd be closer than you think if it ever came to that."
"I can assure you it will never come to that," Harry repeated dropping the illusions and allowing them out of their corner. "Timelines are immensely difficult to work with because the smallest changes have far reaching effects that can rarely be prepared for."
Harry stood directly in front of them, making sure he had their complete attention. "The attack on Miranda was a disappointment, but I have not yet lost faith in the idea of the wizarding world and non-magical world working together. It is my faith in the Alliance that is wavering."
Stalworth gave Bauer and Grunner looks that told them they should stay quiet.
"You can call this a threat or a promise," Harry continued. "But if I see any danger towards the wizarding world that I find unacceptable, then I will take the steps I deem necessary to fix it."
"I won't kill you. I won't attack you," Harry said quietly. In his mind, the jar of rage was smashed onto the ground, and Harry's anger was palpable in the air. His voice slowly rose with each word as he explained, "What I will do is go back sixteen years and ensure that the Independents kick your lily-white asses in what history will forever know as the failed attempt at a Unification War. Am I clear?"
The other three were trembling, processing the words, but not wanting to anger Harry any further.
"I have no desire to interfere in the government you've established, nor how you run it," Harry continued spitting every word out. "But if ever the time comes, where I'm forced to make a choice, you can bet your arse that as green as my eyes are, my coat is rutting brown!"
Harry was breathing loudly, demonstrating just how much anger he was holding back. He took a step away from them and growled, as he called up one of his late wife's favorite illusions.
Sharp red horns sprung up out of the top of his skull in a small burst of blood, and thick leathery, crimson wings sprouted from his back. His hands shifted into claws that he used to peel away the rest of his loose skin, revealing the demon growing from the inside out.
"No," Harry snarled in a deep rumbling voice as he stared down the three men. "They are not our enemy."
Without warning the demon burst into flames as the wings and skin burned away into ash that disappeared in a magical wind. Harry remained standing there perfectly normal, looking at his still blackened arm in surprise. "Bloody vengeance avatars," he grumbled to himself. "Couldn't have bothered to heal my arm."
Inwardly, he always loved the way that illusion made Luna smile.
Harry dropped his arm to the side and looked back at the three absolutely terrified men. "I hope that we need never to meet like this again."
Harry was tempted to jump out the window, but figured he'd done enough magic to scare them into obedience. He shifted himself into invisibility, giving the impression that he'd left the room. He silently snapped his communicator onto Bauer's private setup and let Mr. Universe take over.
The large video screen on the wall sprung to life with Harry's head, visibly startling them when he spoke aloud. "By the way, the Merlin was just short of completely destroyed along with the majority of Miranda's fleet. Mechanics are working on fixing it, but there are many other areas recovering from when the sky caught fire and everything outside of the goblin wards was damaged.
"I think it would be an excellent gesture if you were to donate a hyperdrive ship to the citizens of Miranda. And perhaps assign a second hyperdrive towards Weatherby and his office, as the commute can be very exhausting. Considering you have six that are fully operational and another dozen in production, I don't think it's an unreasonable request." With a buzzing snap sound the video screen turned back off and silent leaving three men standing there alone.
Harry silently apparated away, after subtle Legilimency probes revealed that all three were fully prepared to acquiesce with his unsubtle demands.
Harry stole a coffee mug and reluctantly created another interplanetary portkey. He took a deep breath, prepared himself, and triggered the portkey to take him back to Miranda.
Fawkes was enjoying his jelly soup, pleasantly surprised at River's thoughtfulness. He wasn't as surprised to see her in the hospital room again waiting on Harry's return. Fawkes wondered if Harry realized that even after finally finding people from his previous lifetime, people who understood magic and the wizarding world, it was still the peculiar young woman that knew him best. Fawkes decided that Harry needed another reminder.
Harry reappeared right in the exact same place he had disappeared from. His feet slammed into the ground, loud enough to wake the gently sleeping youngest Tam.
"Bugger me," Harry groaned as he chose to stay on the floor for a minute or two.
River walked over towards Harry and pulled him quickly to his feet. "Harry?"
"Ohh," Harry grumbled as he got up too fast and his stomach was not settled.
"Are you okay?" River said, dusting off his robes after rolling around the floor. "You look really pale, a little green. And you're sweating."
"Give me a minute here," Harry wheezed out, not wanting to be sick again.
River took a step back while Harry took a couple deep breaths.
"Aww crikey, Fawkes," Harry groaned. "I don't want to think about a horny phoenix right now."
River glanced between Harry's cringing face and the bird that was twittering in amusement.
"You're really trying to make me ralph, aren't you?" Harry snapped back. "Actually, you know I owe you one of those, don't I?" He walked right over the small phoenix nestled on the pillow, with his chin dripping jelly soup.
Fawkes saw Harry lean over and open his mouth making gagging sounds. He began to think accidentally throwing up on Harry wasn't quite so funny anymore. He hopped from his warm spot on the pillow and started to waddle away.
Harry grabbed onto the little Fawkes, thinking he was probably too small to fireflash away. "It's just like how a mama bird feeds her babies. Come on Fawkes, open up." Harry proceeded to dry heave towards the struggling bird.
Fawkes wasn't sure if Harry was messing with him or not, because Harry still looked pretty sweaty. He decided not to chance it as he bit down hard on Harry's hand.
Harry yanked his hand back. "You little bitch!"
Fawkes took the opportunity to waddle away as fast as he could, jump up onto the window sill and out the window. He was still pretty small and couldn't quite fly just yet, but he was able to glide his way a bit and control his fall.
Harry had run up to the window in time to see Fawkes land safely on the sidewalk across the street. He hurriedly waddled away and turned the corner out of sight. Fawkes was tempted to yell back 'so long suckers,' but feared that would just make Harry chase him.
"Here," River said reminding Harry he wasn't alone.
Harry turned back and accepted the glass of water River had brought him, "Thanks."
"Feeling better?" River asked now that he didn't look so green and pale.
Harry nodded, drinking the water gratefully. He took a breath and answered. "I used to think portkeys couldn't get worse. I was wrong. I was so wrong."
"Still working out the kinks in the new form of magical travel you created an hour ago?" River asked calmly.
"There's room for improvement," Harry agreed.
River nodded. "Come on. Inara offered to cook us a good meal now that you're awake. And I'm sure you've got an interrogation coming too."
Harry and River called everyone up and telling them to meet back on Serenity. With a little time to kill, Harry finished setting up Dilys Derwent's portrait onto the cabinet linked back towards Earth. He then moved Luna's portrait onto the cabinet on Serenity that was linked towards Simon and Kaylee's apartment. Harry had enlarged the dining table and Inara made enough for everyone.
Mal and Fullerton were both anxious to hear what Harry had done and how bad the situation was now.
Harry had been saying he didn't want to repeat this too many times and they were just waiting on Antonio to finish talking to his bosses.
They'd just started eating when Antonio finally arrived.
"Sorry I'm late," Antonio announced entering the dining area. "I just found out the Alliance is sending me a hyperdrive ship to make my commute easier. You wouldn't know anything about this, would you Harry?"
Harry smiled innocently. "Me?"
Antonio rolled his eyes and turned to Fullerton. "I'm also supposed to inform you all about a new technology and the Alliance's gift of a hyperdrive ship to the citizens of Miranda."
"Well that was awful nice of them," Harry commented.
"And just what did you do to inspire their generosity?" Mal wryly asked.
Harry grinned, taking a bite of his dinner. "I threatened them. And I liked it."
Fullerton groaned. "Oh dear."
"Trust me," Harry assured all the fearful looks he was receiving. "They won't ever consider calling this bluff."
"What did you say?" Zoe asked curiously.
Harry lifted the time turner from his pocket. "I took them five minutes into the past. Then I explained to them that I believed the wizarding world and non-magical world could work well together. But that my faith in the Alliance was wavering. And if they didn't get along, then I would go back sixteen years and make sure the Unification War failed miserably. Because I'd think that non-magical world might be more successful getting along with the wizarding world."
"Can you do that?" Jayne perked up in surprise.
Harry shook his head. "Of course not. But they don't know that."
"They believed you?" River clarified.
Harry nodded. "Oh yeah. And I even hit all three with an old hags' hex. Ensuring their dreams for the next week are nightmarish glimpses of a world where the Alliance lost the war. I figure I'll sneak in on them every once in a while and renew the hex."
Total silence greeted Harry's devious plan. Zoe rubbed her chin and shattered the quiet by announcing, "That's a pretty good one, Harry. Mr. Universe's idea?"
"No, it was mine," Harry argued. "Though he's already working on ways to subvert their system and implant subliminal messages all over the place. It's given him a hobby."
Mal nodded at Zoe. "Yup, Mr. Universe's plan."
Harry ignored them and continued, "After I impressed the seriousness of my threat on them, I may have broken out one of my favorite old illusions just to scare them a little more."
"Squiggy?" Luna excitedly called from her portrait.
Harry turned towards her unaware she had been listening to them. "You remember Squiggy?"
"Of course I remember Squiggy," Luna scolded. "I love Squiggy."
"Who's Squiggy?" River asked curiously.
"It's what Luna named one of the illusions I practiced frequently and did as part of my mastery," Harry explained. "And yes, it was Squiggy."
"Show them! Show Squiggy!" Luna clapped.
"Yes Harry," Inara grinned and mirthfully pleaded, "Show us your Squiggy."
Harry stood up ignoring the implied innuendo. "Fine," Harry smirked as he initiated the familiar magical sequence. Red horns exploded in small spurts of blood from his skull and his body appeared to grow while his skin stretched and ripped. Wings unfurled backwards and claws extended. The large red demon pulled the loose skin off his arms and chest, before peeling his face away revealing a mouthful of sharp, dangerous teeth.
"Squiggy!" Luna squealed happily.
Harry, the large red demon, opened his mouth and beat his chest, letting out a primal scream. His forked black tongue was extended out wiggling wildly. "We shall feast on the tears of their virgins!" The deep, raspy voiced declared.
"No," Harry's more normal voice argued with himself. "Now is not the time but soon."
"Yes," he shifted back into his scary voice. "Soon." Suddenly the demon burst into flames and all the oversized flesh burned away, along with the piles of loose skin on the ground leaving no sign remaining the demon ever existed.
Harry always got a kick out of keeping people guessing with that particular illusion. "That's Squiggy."
Jayne's mouth had been opened watching the whole time. He snapped it shut and broke the silence by saying, "Meh."
Zoe shrugged. "I can see how maybe, with the right circumstances, it might be a little scary, I guess."
"Hey," Harry moaned. "Well it's not as scary if you know it's an illusion."
"I thought you were very frightening, Harry," River said patting him condescendingly. "If I had a good pair of boots, I'd be shaking in them."
Two days later the four ships from Duncan had arrived. The citizens of Miranda were all getting back to life as normal on the planet. Six other ships had been repaired and there were even two teams already out hunting Reavers again.
Homes were restored, and many goblin provided wards and protections were added at a very fair price.
Mr. Universe ran a check and managed to locate an M-gene carrier that the Alliance assigned as the pilot of Antonio's hyperdrive ship. Fullerton informed the Alliance they had their own pilots for Miranda's hyperdrive ship.
The crew of Serenity was packing things up pleased to see their presence was not required. Sheriff Rogers had things pretty well in control and Mal had been in contact with Duncan, looking into picking up a job.
Things seemed to be going their way, and it was serendipitous that Duncan was loaning Miranda four ships, leaving him with plenty of work to throw Mal's way. He had four different jobs in mind, letting Mal choose the best one.
"We got us a job folks," Mal announced entering the goblin establishment Eargits.
"It's about time," Jayne grinned. "Shooting people with tranqs just ain't as satisfying."
"What's the job?" Zoe asked Mal, happy to get back in the air.
"It appears Blue Sun made an inappropriate toy for children," Mal explained.
"You mean the Shake 'em Shock 'em Pogo Stick?" Jane asked,
"Yeah," Mal turned to her in surprise. "You're familiar with it?"
Jane smiled mischievously. "I've heard good things."
Mal chuckled. "Right. Because it appears the combination of shaking and shocking has kids holding their sticks a little too close to themselves, quite often in ways they don't really understand. Reports indicate older sisters are spending more time on the pogo stick than their younger siblings who the toy was designed for."
"Another classy job, I see," Zoe sighed.
"Yes, well," Mal shrugged. "Blue Sun's issued a full recall, and they're expecting a transport ship to come haul them all away to be broken down and destroyed. Duncan's got us lined up to make the pick-up and we'll be taking them to a warehouse where he can corner the market on a popular collectible."
"Sounds like an easy job," Inara grinned.
"Should be," Mal said.
"Should be? What happened to your unwavering faith in successful, simple jobs?" Zoe inquired.
Mal shrugged. "You've met our co-pilot Harry, haven't you?"
"Oi," Harry snapped. "I'm right here."
"We know," everyone at the table echoed together.
"That's freaky," Harry commented at their eerie unison. He turned to Jane, "Are you sure you know what you're signing up for here?"
Jane smiled back. "Captain's briefed me and given me a gun."
"You're coming with us?" Jayne said looking at woman next to him in surprise.
Mal answered for her, "With the Doc sticking around here working in the hospital and supporting Kaylee, I figured we could use a nurse onboard, someone who can treat Harry's gunshot wounds."
Harry resisted the urge to point out he was present again.
"You got a problem with that?" Jane challengingly asked Jayne.
Jayne shook his head. "It's fine by me. Heck, this'll save me a lot of money on whores."
"And people say romance is dead," Jane sighed looking at Jayne.
"Naw, it's not dead," Harry said shaking his head. "But I think I heard a crazy man shot it with a tranq gun."
Mal added, "This job though, means we gotta leave tonight. So get your stuff together and we'll have dinner with Simon and Kaylee."
"Sounds good," Harry said standing up. "But I gotta go make Anna a whole bunch of special portkeys before I can split. I'll catch up with you guys at dinner."
"I'll come with you," River said jumping up to follow Harry. "Dinner at about six?"
Mal nodded and saw the determined look in River's eye. He had a feeling he knew what was on her mind.
River and Harry were walking over towards Anna's office in the premiere government building.
"It's time, Harry."
Harry looked over at River as they walked. "It is, is it?"
River nodded. "Yup. I agreed to put this off until this was all over."
"And this is now all over?"
River nodded again. "Just about, yeah."
"I can't put this off a little longer?" Harry asked.
"We had a deal," River insisted. "You plus me equal date."
"Hmm," Harry considered. "It's not over just yet."
"It will be."
"Well that was delicious, Inara," Simon thanked the chef. "But I should be getting back to the hospital."
"What?" Kaylee whimpered. "You're not even staying to say goodbye?"
Simon saw his fragile pregnant fiancée looked heartbroken. "Sweetie, they're always going to be just right through that door. It will barely even feel like they're gone."
Inara nodded. "You know you'll be over for almost every meal."
River hopped up to hug her brother goodbye. "I love you, Simon."
"You too, mei-mei." Simon hugged her back in surprise. "You know you're only a cabinet door away as well."
"I know," River said letting him go. She turned to Mal, "Captain?"
"Yeah," Mal agreed to her unspoken question. "It's time we took to the sky."
They all got up and hugged goodbyes to Simon and Kaylee.
Simon left for the hospital and it wasn't until he was down on the street that he realized why River had been so emotional saying goodbye. He was, for the first time in years, officially not living near her. If it hadn't been for Harry, Simon probably wouldn't have ever considered leaving her side. He trusted everyone else to protect her and look out for her. But somewhere along the way, he realized he trusted Harry to take care of her. The thought disturbed Simon for a bit, until he realized that wasn't quite right. With Harry around, Simon trusted River to take care of herself. That thought was far more comforting to Simon.
Harry, River, Inara, Zoe, Jayne, Jane, and Mal all climbed onto Serenity after bidding Kaylee goodbye.
Zoe and Inara were carrying some of the leftovers back towards the fridge in the dining area. Jayne and Jane were going back to their bunks, and Jayne unsubtly asked Harry if the silencing wards were still active.
River, Harry, and Mal were all still hanging out on the bridge, while River fired up the engines for them to take off.
"Hey guys," Kaylee called out walking out onto the bridge with them.
"Kaylee," Mal greeted. "Missed us already?"
Kaylee grinned. "Simon's working. The dishes are soaking. I'm bored."
"Fair enough," Mal grinned as he stepped back and pointed down the hall. "If you're curious, the leftovers went thataway."
"You read my mind," Kaylee grinned back and kissed Mal on the cheek as she left the bridge.
"Have fun on your date, you two," Kaylee called back, feeling like stirring up a little trouble.
Mal bit back a smile when Harry groaned and River cheerfully answered, "Don't worry. We will!"
Harry shook his head. "Why do you want to date me? You know how old I am. How creepy that is."
Mal just stood there, unsure if they remembered he was in the room.
"I don't think you need to know all my reasons right now," River snootily answered.
"You've got a lifetime of firsts ahead of you," Harry argued. "I was married for over a century. And you've met the portrait of her and have an idea of what kind of girl she was. There's not a whole lot of firsts after living with her."
"Stop being so selfish, Harry," River scolded confidently. "My firsts, your seconds, or your three-thousand-four-hundred-twenty-eighths if you prefer-"
"Ooh," Harry winced. "She told you about that one, did she?"
River nodded with a slight blush. "Either way, we're still talking about our firsts, not just yours and mine."
Harry turned to the amused looking Mal standing there watching them. "Help me out here, Captain. Does this make any sort of sense to you?"
Mal smirked. "I'm going to enjoy answering this one, Harry."
"Stop," Harry said lifting his hand. "Forget I asked."
"Too late," Mal argued back. "We're back on my boat. I'm boss. And you did ask."
"Nope," Mal assured him. "Because the thing is, Harry, you don't make a lot of sense to me. And River doesn't make a lot of sense to me either. But one thing I do know," Mal said with a vindictive grin, "is that with you River makes a lot more sense than she does without you."
Harry grumbled seeing he wasn't going to have an ally in Mal on this one. He turned forward and saw River still hadn't taken off. "Get us out of here, River. You're right, this is all over. I've had enough of this hero stuff. Let's go steal some kids' toys."
"Gladly," River said firing up the engines and taking off towards the sky. The three of them watched in silence as they flew up through the atmosphere and into the blackness of space.
"This is more like it," Mal cheered liking the feeling of being back home.
Just as the Captain sighed in happiness, there was a sudden whip across the windshield as the ship creaked by the left side front.
"What the gorram was that?" Mal snapped. "I swear to god, if that was the primary buffer panel again, I'm shooting somebody. And it'll probably be you, Harry."
"It wasn't the primary buffer panel," River assured the Captain with a bright smile. She took an intentional pause before announcing, "It was Peeves."
Mal just clenched his eyes shut, hoping to wake up from a bad dream. "Ni ta ma de. Tianxia suoyoude ren. Dou gaisi."
.. oo 00 THE
END 00 oo ..
Author's Note: Goodness. What a long fic this turned out to be. I want to thank all the reviewers whose enthusiastic response and words of encouragement gave me all inspiration I needed to maintain this update schedule. It's been a lot of work, but it's been worth it. Just for the few people I introduced to the world of Firefly from this. Such a great show cut short before it had even peaked. No plans for a sequel at all, nor long epilogues further down the road. The beauty of Firefly is that in the end they just go back up into the sky. I may write an OMAKE or two for my yahoogroup, but I think this little universe is done. Just because I'm nice I'll tell you, one of the two translations I had for the last line of the fic was "Everyone under the heavens ought to die." The other translation wasn't quite as friendly.
If you got it in you, I'd love to hear one more review from you telling me what you thought about the fic, what you liked and disliked, or anything you feel like saying. Thanks again.