Wan joined Bing and Mae, not their true names as the Felcat well knew but it was what the humans called them, on a hunting trip in the lower levels. They stalked their wily prey while it was dark and feasted on succulent rodents as the sun began to rise. Full and content they each found a nice place to sleep. Wan found a nook under some machinery, washed herself and napped.
Wan wasn't exactly certain what woke her later, but she blinked her yellow eyes open and searched the shadowy room. The dim light wasn't a true barrier to her unlike her human friends. She could see the many shapes of machines and there! Her ears twitched forward listening intently. A faint figure slithered across the cold floor.
A wafting stench reached her nose and she sneezed. The figure froze turning an ugly face in her direction. Quietly she moved back not wanting to be seen but still keep an eye on the intruder. It grunted after a time and made its slow progress out of the room and into the corridor.
'Wraith!' Mae hissed.
'Smelled like something dead,' Wan said.
'They always do,' Bing added. 'Though I think it strange the humans don't notice.'
'Their noses are quite primitive.' Mae cleaned a spot on her gray fur.
'They need to be warned!' Wan knew they had to do something.
'It will take us too long to get above.' Bing was upset.
'River!' Wan scooted out of her spot. 'She has heard me before.'
'Will she hear you now?' Mae had hope in tone though doubt also.
Wan concentrated seeing the girl clearly in her mind and sent out a faint tendril of thought. 'The Wraith are in the city. The Wraith are in the city.'
"The Wraith are in the city," River echoed. She uncurled from her position on the floor and headed for the door of the cafeteria. Dr. Weir had sent all the civilians there claiming it was one of the safer places in the city.
"River!" Simon called hurrying after her. "We were told to stay here!"
"I have to find John." She'd reached the door.
"He's busy defending the city," her brother needlessly reminded her.
Explosions sounded and the walls shook. A few shrill cries sounded in the room.
"It's okay," Kaylee soothed the three children who sat near her by one of the walls.
"But he doesn't know," River objected. "I have to tell him."
"Tell him what, little albatross?" Reynolds sidled up beside the pair. He, Jayne, and Zoë were armed and Colonel Sheppard had charged them with the protection of the everyone in the room.
"Wan says the Wraith are in the city and working toward us. The cats are following. I keep getting pictures of their progress."
"Don't want my life sucked out of me." Jayne firmly held his favorite gun he called Vera.
"No more than the rest of us," Mal agreed.
"How'd they get in the city?" Simon asked.
"How does any predator find its prey?" Zoë returned.
Mal nodded following her logic. "Reavers had no problems."
River sensed her brother's and Jayne's shudders.
"From what we've been told," the black woman went on. "They've had years of practice hunting humans."
"I have to tell John." River tried to go through the door.
Mal blocked her way. "Not alone ya don't."
"You can't seriously be thinking of taking her through the fighting to find Colonel Sheppard?" Simon's face held a look of disbelief and anger.
"Zoë, Jayne," Reynolds didn't answer Dr. Tamm. "You two hold this room. Don't let of those varmits in."
"Not to worry, sir." Zoë cocked her weapon.
Jayne smiled and patted Vera.
"Kaylee," Mal raised his voice. "You help come up with some surprises for any unwelcomed guests. Ya hear?'
The engineer waved. "Don't ya fret, Cap'n."
"Countin' on ya." He turned his attention to Simon. "You stay here and do what ya do best. Doctorin'." Mal slipped out the door and then motioned for River to follow him after he checked to make sure the way was clear. She darted out the door, which firmly closed behind her. "I expect he'll be in the control room."
River shook her head. "He'll be where he can fight. Follow me." She headed off down the hall.
"Hope ya know where you're goin', darlin'," he muttered as he picked up his pace.
"McKay!" Sheppard shouted into his comm. "Where's that damn shield!"
"It'll take a few minutes to repair the damage," his voice crackled back.
"We don't have a few minutes!"
A bomb exploded over a corner of the city. Several towers exploded into shards of metal and glass and floated down into the ocean. A dart swooped low, its transport beam snapping up a couple of his soldiers.
"Deadalus! What's going on up there?" John ducked back behind a pillar and snapped off a few shots.
"We're out numbered," came back Caldwell.
"When aren't we!"
Something exploded overhead and he ran for a new place of cover. He had just about made it when several Wraith suddenly appeared.
"My day just keeps getting better and better." He leveled his Uzi and opened fire.
An explosion sounded knocking River and Mal off their feet as a piece of ceiling crashed down. Shards splattered everywhere.
"You okay?" Reynolds yelled.
"Fine." She picked some glass out of her hair and shook her clothes as she got up. "This way." Squeaking noises sounded under her feet as she ran. A door swished open and she ducked in.
"You make good time," Mal commented as the door closed safely behind both of them.
"We have to hurry." She examined the controls. John had explained about the transportation devices. "Here." She pointed at the map. "We have to go here."
"Dead end room," Reynolds observed.
"No." River smiled and pushed the control. Light surrounded them and then they were somewhere else. She led the way out carefully checking their surroundings.
"Know where you're goin'?"
She only nodded and began to run in earnest. There wasn't much time.
"Puny human," the Wraith smirked as Sheppard was forced to his knees.
"Least I put some holes in you," he quipped back.
"They won't last long." It ripped his shirt to expose his chest. The deadly hand descended latching onto tender skin.
"What no questions? No, where is your leader?" John tried to stall for time.
"We will find all of you." He smacked John hard across the face. "I don't like it when my food talks to me."
"Then I need to keep talking. Do you like football? Nay, probably not." He stopped as a pain so intense he couldn't catch his breath invaded his body. Cold marched slowly through his torso expanding like gunfire to every extremity. His eyes dimmed and he wondered vaguely, what it would feel like to die.
Behind him he thought he heard gunfire and felt something damp and gooey splatter on him. He toppled to the ground and something cracked in his side. Vaguely he wondered if some of his bones broke.
"John." Her long hair hung in her face and he couldn't think of when he'd seen her more beautiful.
"Let's go, darlin'."
The colonel frowned. Hadn't he ordered Reynolds to guard the civilians?
She looked up. "Look what they've done."
"He's still alive." Mal knelt down next her and helped John up. River propped him up on the other side.
They adopted a fast shuffled walk and John tried to keep up. Damn! He was so tired. The halls were a blur and he shook his head. Was the lighting dim or were his eyes playing tricks?
A door swooshed open and suddenly Dr. Beckett was there. "Put him there."
He was lowered gently onto the bed. Carson rushed over, checked his pulse and heart beat. "Anything hurt?" the doctor asked.
"Everything." His voice sounded raspy.
"Think you might have cracked some ribs."
Somehow he lifted his arm and clamped onto Beckett. "How bad?"
"I don't know yet. I have to run some tests."
Carson's brogue was thicker. Not a good sign.
"You need to return to your post, Captain Reynolds." Elizabeth's voice. His eyes fluttered open. Had he been asleep?
"Don't take kindly to your orders, ma'am."
"Then I make it a request. Please." Ever the diplomat.
"Guess I'd best go make sure Jayne ain't shot up the room. Comin', River?"
"I'll stay." Her hand slipped over John's.
"How is he?" Dr. Weir and Dr. Beckett slipped to the other side of the room to converse in lower voices.
"He took a lot didn't he?" He wanted to know the truth.
Her hand tightened. "I'll be eighteen tomorrow," she replied.
"I didn't get you a present."
"You didn't know."
The doors blew inward and Jayne opened fire. Zoë covered him from behind some overturned tables. Wraith weapons fired in response. Several women screamed and Simon instinctively tried to protect the children as a several shots zapped overhead.
"Kaylee!" Zoë shouted.
"Almost there!" the engineer replied.
"Give me one of those." Inara suddenly was beside Zoë. The black woman handed the companion one of her guns.
"They don't die." Zoë dropped down and reloaded.
"But we can slow them down."
"Like on Miranda."
"Need I remind you how that almost turned out?"
"Just keep shooting."
"Got it!" Kaylee popped up beside them. "Here goes." She tossed a canister over the table. It hit the floor, rolled, made a poof noise and filled the room with a sickly pale green smoke.
"Kaylee!" Jayne objected. "Phew!"
"Shhh," Zoë ordered. She readied her gun. The Wraith might use the smoke to rush them.
"Gor'ram." Mal's voice reached them. "Great smoke bomb, Kaylee."
"Cap'n?" She poked her head up. The smoke had partially cleared. Wraith lay sprawled out all over the floor.
"Good job," he complimented.
She shrugged. "Figured if they descended from bugs I'd treat 'em so."
"They dead?" Jayne slowly rose training Vera on the nearest one.
"Don't think so." Reynolds kicked one. "But I think we should tie 'em up and give 'em as a present."
"Where's River?" Simon demanded glaring at Mal.
"Infirmary." His eyes scanned the room. "Think she's going to need you."
The young doctor rushed out.
"Zoë," he pointed with his chin. "Make sure he don't git himself in trouble."
"Yes, sir." She left.
"We got work to do, Jayne."
River glanced up at her brother as he came to John's bedside. One look on his face was enough to tell her it was very bad. Not that she hadn't already figured that out herself.
"How long I got?" John's question caused her to redirect her attention.
"We don't know." Simon at least was being honest.
"All I can do is make him as comfortable as possible," Carson said joining them. "There's no way to reverse the process."
She bit her lip. No one had told John, but she knew he'd probably figured it out himself.
"The Wraith attack?" John wanted to know.
"Thanks to Kaylee's stink bombs," Simon smiled proudly. "We managed to stop those in the city."
"And you need to get well," Dr. Weir added. "General O'Neill may outrank you, but I miss your expertise."
"Did I hear my name mentioned?" Jack strolled in. "Why are you still laying there, Colonel?"
John tried to laugh and ended up coughing. He couldn't catch his breath and River got pushed aside as Simon and Carson tried to ease the attack. His lips were staring to turn blue.
"Help him!" she screamed.
"My bag!" Simon implored.
"Got it!" Zoë answered tossing the red bag that had helped them so many times in the past. She backed out of the way.
"John, you can't die." The girl hugged herself.
Wan bounded in followed by the two other cats.
"Get them out of here!" Dr. Beckett ordered. He grabbed a surgical kit. "We've got to get him some air."
The cat stretched up placing very firm paws on River's leg. "Rerow."
From the tone River knew she needed to 'listen'. She bent down so her eyes were level with the cat's. "What is it?"
Yellow eyes turned to the other female cat. The two seemed to be talking even if she couldn't 'hear' Mae.
"Simon!" She grabbed her brother's hand just before he made the incision in John's throat. "The machine."
"The one you didn't know what it was. It'll save his life."
"River, what are you talking about?"
"We don't have time for this," Carson objected. "John's dying. Let us save his life."
"Simon," River begged. How she wished she could share what Mae had showed her!
Maybe it was the deep bond they shared but he nodded. "Show me."
Together they quickly moved John into the strange machine even as Dr. Beckett voiced his protest. Mae hurried over almost like she could walk the girl through the steps that needed to be followed. Wan stayed close translating as River showed her brother what to do.
"I hope this works," he muttered as he placed his hand on a panel that had slid out in response to something that she'd activated.
Bluish gray light filtered over John's body like gas in a nebula. Almost, it was like his body wavered and then reintegrated itself. Slowly, the odd sheen dissipated and Sheppard lay there intact and young again.
"That's what this machine does?" Carson stared at them in disbelief.
"Wan says that Mae was here while they were experimenting with it." River reached out to assure herself that John really was there. "It has something to do with their ascension research but it didn't work the way they wanted."
"Meaning?" Jack inquired.
"It saved his life." She stated the obvious.
"We can see that."
"I don't really know. Mae's not sure either."
"I'll give him a thorough examine." Carson reassured them all. "Make sure there are not unexpected surprises."
"Thank you, Carson," Elizabeth smiled. "I think when Colonel Sheppard is back on his feet we should have a party to celebrate."
"Tomorrow's River's birthday," John suggested surprising them all.
Her face lit up with delight. "Will there be dancing?"
They didn't actually hold the party the next day. It took a couple of weeks and some repeated treatments with the machine before John recovered completely. General O'Neill and General Hammond put Sheppard back on limited duty for a few more weeks. Caldwell landed the Deadalus for repairs after the two attacking hive ships retreated. Kaylee promised to mix up some of her of special 'bug' juice for them to put in a couple of their bombs. The only conclusion they could come to as to why the Wraith had suddenly retreated was loosing contact with their scouts on the ground. Atlantis had lost some soldiers. Twenty to be exact and River didn't know how many had been wounded.
"Quite a party, huh?" John joined her on the balcony. Behind them voices rose and fell with laughter adding a nice mixture. "Thought you'd like some punch."
He handed her a glass filled with a pinkish red liquid.
"Thanks." She took it and sipped it. It tasted sort of tart and yet sweet at the same time.
"Fruit they grow on the mainland takes some getting used to." His gaze shifted out over the ocean. "I hear your brother and Kaylee are getting married."
Kaylee had been ecstatic when she'd told River, Inara and Zoë. The companion would be her Maid of Honor while the other two would her serve as her bride's maids.
"At least you have preacher in your group." She missed Shepherd Book. She hoped there was a heaven and he'd gone there. He deserved to be somewhere nice.
"Never leave Earth with out one." He smiled at some joke he seemed to understand that she didn't.
All three cats darted out and found themselves a sunny spot. They stretched out to enjoy the sun.
"Guess I owe them my life."
"You should thank them."
"I'll put that on my list."
River leaned on the railing, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath of clean if briny scented air. She loved the ocean.
"I think you're beautiful." She opened her eyes to gaze at John. His usual smirk was gone and his face held a serious expression.
"You really eighteen now?"
She nodded. He glanced around as if looking for someone. "Just wanted to make sure you brother wasn't around."
"Cause I don't want him yelling at me for doing this." Lightly his lips touched hers. She'd never been kissed before and she enjoyed her first one. He pulled back slightly. " I could do that for the rest of my life."
"Is that a proposal?" she teased back.
"Almost." He winked at her. "Give me some time." He bowed gallantly. "I do believe you wanted to dance."
She took his offered hand and they danced.
Tera Tamm Sheppard gently docked her ship against Serenity. From the stories that had been passed down in her family, she'd spent the last of the earnings from her last job to fuel up and come out here to find the ship that surrounded so many of the tales she'd grown up with.
"Wow," Mitch commented. "Ain't much to look at is she?"
She good-naturedly jabbed him in the ribs. The two of them had grown up together even if he was a Reynolds. Funny to think he was descended from the infamous Mal and the cultured even exotic Inara.
"We goin' aboard?" Honey colored and so much like her ancestress Zola stood clad all in leather, a gun strapped to her leg.
"That's why we're here," Tera answered. She hit the comm. "You comin'?"
The rest of her crew consisted of three more people and one feline. Sareen Tamm and her younger teen brother, Joseph, plus the only person she had ever met who would admit being sprung from Jayne, Janus. Not that he was a gun-toting mercenary. He preferred a Bible to a weapon.
With reverence they crossed over into the other ship. It was cold and probably hadn't been powered up for who knew how long. The Firefly had been flying during the reign of the Alliance. Their power had been toppled because of what happened on Miranda several decades before.
"Joe, go find us some power and turn on the lights." The teen scampered off. He was an excellent mechanic.
Within minutes they could see the hold.
"What a piece of," Mitch used a very uncomplimentary Chinese word.
"Tsk, tsk," Tera shook her head her long brown hair falling into her face. "Now what would Malcolm Reynolds say. He loved this ship."
"I have better taste."
"Do not," she returned. Her steps clanged on the metal stairs as she climbed up to the bridge. "Can you fly her?" she asked Mitch.
"I can fly anything." He slipped into the seat. One of dinosaurs fell to the floor.
Wan batted at it and jumped up to gaze down at the controls.
Tera rubbed the cat's head. "Bet you're glad to be home." A loud purr answered as Serenity came back to life.
Final note: I've had the ending in mind for this story for quite awhile and was happy when the characters consented to help me work in the direction it needed to go. My thanks to everyone who has commented on this and I hope everyone who has read it has had as much fun as I have writing it.