Disclaimer: Joss is boss.
Notes: I would just like to thank those of you who reviewed chapter one, your words are a warm and welcome gesture. Another big thank you goes out to my new beta, torikkusuta, whom this chapter I have decided to dedicate to. Thank you for volunteering to put up with my atrocious grammar skills.

No Power in the 'Verse
by
Uhlume

:-:

Chapter 2

2 months.

It had been 2 months since the day that had twisted the 'verse's perspective for better or for worse.

The day that ended in bittersweet victory…

The day the crew of a Firefly class transport ship lost not only an ally but two crew members.

Except time was an unrelenting and cruel mistress – all bowed down to her – and thus they had to keep going despite the pain. To grieve on the run… that's how it was.

The crew of Serenity had been rushed into the infirmary of the nearest surviving Alliance ship along side a prone Operative. Mal had been in the most grievous of conditions that had left Inara terrified for several hours while unable to see him. He'd survived none the less; the Browncoat had yet to find the man who owned the bullet with his name on it. Simon, too, was injured seriously from the bullet wound to his stomach but managed to be stabilised and returned to recover with the others. It was a happier day when they could be taken care of by the Doc on their own territory.

It was a slow start to piecing together their broken boat. At first only Kaylee, River and Inara could set about fixing the old girl up but as the others recovered work progressed more swiftly. It was two weeks worth of constant labour on the part of all Serenity's crew to finish patching up their home. The funding given by The Operative helped with the work though Mal refused any offer of additional manpower. The endless list of tasks prevented much thought to drift towards their fallen friends and when work did slack, each crewman found something else to pursue.

But soon there was noting left to fix… least nothing on Serenity.

They all had to face what had happened eventually, and each had their own way in which to mourn their losses and move forward into the new, slightly more savage reality.

Malcolm Reynolds, captain and the glue that bound the crew together carried on with life as usual. Like the thousands of others that had fallen about him, the deaths of Wash, Book and Mr. Universe were just expendable to the Alliance's regime. It tore at him, of course it tore at him, but it also impassioned Mal to snub the Alliance twice as much at every corner he could. There was no rutting way that their deaths would be in vain.

Not if he had anything to say about it.

His grief was pushed aside for the rest of the crew, as always the subtle support, the shoulder to cry on. The captain couldn't help but worry for his first mate, didn't want to think back to the time that he'd disapproved of her marriage to Wash. He simply allowed her to work herself hard; it was what she wanted and Mal couldn't deny her that. Inara, too, worried him. She appeared so subdued since she had asked to remain on his boat. What pleasure he had gained from having her back again was lost in the torrent of loss that ebbed off her.

Zoë Washburne did not cry… at least not in public, and certainly not in front of the crew. Not even Mal. The death of her husband had withered away any happiness she carried with her after meeting Wash. Mal would know and remember this Zoë from the war days, no smiles and hardly any sass. She was likely to never recover from this; a shell of her former self, a shell that lacked any lustre. Although it wasn't just the loss of her husband, but also the loss of possibly having Wash's children. It was a crushing blow that didn't bear thinking of. She'd wanted his children for a long time now, pined to be a mother in her own right. She'd even managed to convince Wash to start trying, despite his earlier concerns about the life they led. But through all their trying they had thus far been fruitless.

It worried the crew to no end, her constant living without actually living. The first mate was apparently running on automatic. Her mind was on the job… only on the job.

Inara Serra was coping as much as she could the following weeks that trolled by. What else was there to do? She had been sent a request on behalf of the Guild, in relation to her rapid departure, to attend an informal inquiry. Inara couldn't blame them; it was procedure after such an exit as hers. But the Companion couldn't help but wonder about the snake coiling tightly within her belly.

Was it dread that this was going to end her career?

Or the knotted twists of a lie come to light?

Inara's base of belief in the Alliance and the civil society of the core planets was nothing but an elaborate lie, painted by those corrupted by power to lead their flocks. She couldn't face the idea of coming face to face with one of her many rich clients and smile. It made her wish to vomit. There would be no facing them… not now… not with all those people… dead.

Mal seemed to understand the query with herself and the harsh reality burning at her relentlessly. The unspoken attraction between the two had only intensified with their separation, and so with it the impending heartache. Never the less, in the good times, it was he who comforted her in the dark corners of the ship with no one to see.

Kaywinnit Lee Frye had lost part of her flare after the death of her friends, but even that tragedy couldn't douse the sunshine that was Kaylee. The state of Serenity had brought a stream of tears to hereyes. They soon washed away the desperation and, the encouraging, if not delirious words of her drugged up captain sent Kaylee into a flurry of work. The confession of Simon certainly lifted her subdued spirits too, and often drew out spontaneous dreamy grins.

Her baby was going to be better than new, and purring like a contented kitten by the time she was through. The young mechanic tinkered and fiddled with her baby's innards, getting to know her al over again in a series of familiar steps. That didn't stop her missing Wash though, nor could it dissuade the pang that echoed in her stomach upon the thought of Shepherd Book.

Simon Tam was a man with a little less weight on his shoulders. The Alliance was further away from him and his sister than they ever had been before. The world seemed a little gentler to him, though Simon wasn't stupid enough to be lulled by this new security. There was a reason such efforts had been made to capture River and the doctor still wasn't overly faithful that they'd allow them to go even with Miranda's secret out.

He had debated, over the course of Serenity's rebuild, whether or not to contact his parents. It was true that Gabriel and Reagan Tam had disowned him after his illegal transgressions, more the doing of his father and mother simply following like a proper wife should. But Simon couldn't quell the fire that urged him to rub the fact that the Alliance was crooked all along. He'd been hanging about Mal and Jayne too much to possibly even consider enjoying the misguided opinions of others.

He'd also admitted his feeling for a certain mechanic. And that was a feeling that had Simon walking on air for the first week. He felt so much less bound by purple tape. True he still acted like a boob, or so River told him, when it came to some things. He didn't understand women sometimes… But there was the good with the bad. He was happy, and content, and wished River to be the same.

River Tam no longer had the silent screams of Miranda's victims' reverberating in her mind. Where once there was a gaping mass of anguish, rage and death, now lay an open oblivion that rivalled the Black. Her own thoughts were no longer drowned out and cast away. But there was always consequence when it came to a great gift. No longer hounded by the thoughts and deeds and others, the young genius had to come to terms with the thoughts of her own mind.

She was wracked with guilt for what had happened to Serenity and her crew, for the death that followed her closely. It had been because the Alliance was after her and because she had had the memories of Miranda in her mind that the reign of death had befallen them. She'd caused the death of all those people. Her, some crazy little girl from the Core.

She'd torn Wash away from Zoë and brought an end to any possibilities she might have had for children. River knew this. Even from across the ship the dark woman's grief coated River like an over stuffy blanket. She had hardly any time to breathe, even with her growing control of her emotions. The feelings of other, especially strong ones still brought instability to River.

Jayne Cobb, a mercenary and all around 'don't-mess-with-me' kind of guy, had a thing about Reavers. He always had; there just something so wrong about cutting up yourself and cannibalising people. At first he'd been told by a certain Shepherd that it had been the nothingness at the end of the 'verse that had sent men into that darkness of insanity. But that wasn't the case now though, was it?

Reavers were made by man and that fact chilled Jayne to the marrow. Man was the greatest devil that could exist and Jayne had been up to his elbows in it, but to have an entire world destroyed? To even cut up the brain of an innocent girl?

That was just plain sin and worthy of worse than Shepard Books special kind of hell.

The burly mercenary had had a lot of new input to think through during the course of Miranda and beyond. And in true Jayne fashion, he thought out each fact one at a time. One of the main items on his mind was the moon-brained girl. That crazy girl had surprised and unnerved him even more, by the ferocious grace she displayed at the Maidenhead. His dislike for her had intensified as he was taken out effortlessly by a can of peaches. But caution and distaste had melted to awed respect the moment those blast doors had opened to unveil the silhouette of a weapon more finely crafted than even Vera.

A weapon was all Jayne could comprehend her as, yet she appeared nothing like that title after her rumble with the Reavers. She just seemed to have switched off that part of her as easily as she'd switched it on. He'd been subtly watching her the following weeks, assessing her every move for a glimpse of River the weapon. And glimpse he did. They were few and far in between; a certain look in her eyes… the odd predatory step in her listless poise. It was something that often filled Jayne's thoughts and when those thoughts were crowded, he did what he always did.

Exercise them away.

And that was where Jayne was currently killing his time, underneath the catwalk steps, methodically heaving his bulk up and down upon the loops there with his tree-trunk arms. The odd grunt and huff clambered out of his thin lipped grimace of determination. The crease of his brow glowed in the artificial lighting under a sheen of sweat as muscles worked on tensing and relaxing.

The moon-brained girl had wandered into his thoughts again. She usually crept in them sometime during the day. Jayne was perplexed not about her so much now, but about how he reacted to her. Jeering at the moon brained pilot had somehow lost its amusement. If anything Jayne had been down right indifferent to her; and that was strange.

Kaylee sat perkily upon a hill of crates just to the left of Janye and his workout. Her hands excitedly dancing over a nonessential part of Serenity that still needed repairing in any case. Her tools lay strewn over the crate she resided on and the odd screwdriver would be flashed poking out of her hair with a turn of her head. She could easily be doing this minor (but no less important) fix in her hammock but Kaylee enjoyed the company of Mal's hired gun. He was like a big old teddy bear when he wasn't trying to be buff. Kaylee had long regarded him an older brother and took endless enjoyment in teasing and relishing his company. It was a support for her now that they were back out in Serenity's element. Something Simon couldn't quite give her through no fault of his own.

"S'good being out in the black again, don't you reckon, Jayne?" the mechanic chirped while pulling at a wire on her contraption and eyeing it dubiously.

Jayne grunted as if in response while still suspending his weight on his arms before allowing his mass to the solid flooring.

"Gorram right it is," he grunted while glancing to Kaylee for a moment, smirking. "Cause now we're away from all those ruttin' purple-bellies, we can get back to doin' what we do best." He paused, thought, "And git paid for it."

Her reply was to flash him a sunny grin that cheered Jayne up something proper. He gripped his fingers about the loops above his head experimentally before hefting himself up for another round.

"Cap'n has a job lined up for us already; I heard him tell Zoë."

Jayne continued with his workout but turned his head to blink at the mechanic.

"What sorta job?"

"The usual kind; where we do some stealin' and cap'n ends up stabbed or shot." Kaylee supplied optimistically and removed a pair of wire cutters cunningly and gravity defyingly roosted within her hair. Jayne had learnt long ago not to question how exactly she did this. Trying to find out about it could give a man a headache.

Both occupants of the cargo hold were unaware as a third person had entered the spacious room and glided noiselessly through cast shadow and crevice to the stairway leading up to the catwalk above the main bay doors. The figure drifted up in a trail of fabric from a loose-cut dress, bare feet kissing the steel grid steps and taking their owner upward.

River had been wandering through the ship as she usually did when Serenity wasn't in need of a pilot. She habitually spent an hour or so trailing after the past thoughts the crew left haphazardly across the ship. It was a softer cry than the active thoughts that pushed at her incessantly from the other crew members. Those loud thoughts still caused a wince, but River was slowly growing to detach herself from them. Serenity sang to her, a constant hum of vibrance that tangled itself about the consciousnesses that dwelled inside her. For River, it was always fun to follow the echoes and discover whose thoughts touched hers. This particular trail had the distinct tang of her brother to it… but there was something else entwined with the straight and analytical thoughts of Simon.

She paused during a step up, her forward leg dangling above the next step up, the other on the ball of her foot and closed her eyes. Her head tilted up to the catwalk and her head lolled to favour her right shoulder, as if considering the air before her.

Kaylee… her mind resonated to her.

The feeling was warm and comforting, like a field of sunflowers on a summer day, a sensation River enjoyed blanketing herself in from time to time, before the feelings of both her friend and brother intensified to deeper more personal volumes. River shivered as the impressions left oozed over her and paused a moment longer before proceeding on in her dream-like daze.

Jayne's and Kaylee's conversation batted against deaf ears as River calmly made her way to the epicentre of the ghost she hunted. Her skin continued to tingle in response to the abundance of warmth that remained. She paused with a minute crease of her brow as she honed onto the feeling and allowed her body to move of its own accord. It drew her whimsically to the centre of the catwalk and directly over the cargo hold, not that far from where the Mule hung. The frown finally faded away to be replaced by a vague expression.

Willowy fingers clutched at the bar before River's form, this ignition of various hormones and endorphins that now circulated within her blood was somewhat familiar…

"Ya know, Mal ain't the only one out there getting' shot at," Jayne griped as he reached for his towel to mop some sweat off his brow. "I seem to recall a gorram harpoon gettin' shot through my leg. Coulda caught me a world of things, too. Didn't git me any calls of concern." His prodding for a bit of sympathy ended in a near undetectable pout.

Kaylee caught in on it none the less and humoured him with a sympathetic look. She'd felt a little guilty after realising she'd pushed Jayne aside to see if Simon was alright. But it was fast becoming a small joke among the crew of Serenity, and Jayne didn't seem to mind so much anyhow.

"Aww, Jayne. We know ya like to keep the tough guy look. Just lookin' out for yer manly image." She grinned disarmingly and went back to cutting her wire and stripping the plastic coating off the newly exposed part. She'd have this part grand spanking good as new once she was done. It was the least she could do for her girl after the torture she'd been through during the past month of repairs.

Jayne, a grin on his face, went back to gathering his bits and bobs before going to return to his bunk. He felt all kinds of shiny now that he'd worked off the conundrums haunting him earlier. Long as he didn't bump into the girlie again and have her fill his head with her befuddling jibber jabber. Jayne could admit she'd improved, hell, she seemed somewhat sane on most occasions but she still had her moon-brained moments and Jayne somehow always happened to be there when they happened.

Kaylee's triumphant and excited outburst drew him away after his gathering to exit the little overhang and step over to her. She was holding the same dohickey that must help keep them all from taking a stroll in the black and Jayne was sure he'd be as pleased as she about it if he knew what the thing actually did. He smiled none the less, always finding enjoyment from watching her enthusiasm.

But then something caught his eye above Kaylee. Focusing on the slumped mass of Crazy over the rail, Jayne growled and glowered up at her somewhat unnerved. What was that girl doing now?

"Hey, Girlie!" He barked, startling Kaylee and attracting her attention also to the sight over their heads.

"Mei-mei?" No response.

Kaylee turned to find Jayne still glaring at River. "Jayne? What's wrong with her?"

The imploring words snapped the mercenary out of it and he turned to eye Kaylee. Annoyance or not, the girl was still part of the crew, and he sure as Hell wasn't going to rely on Mal to fly this boat.

"Get the Doc," he ordered and dumped his towel and hat before striding towards the stairs in great stooping strides.

This girl was turning out to be the menace of his day it seemed, one minute she was hunky dory and flying the ship and talking like gorram normal folk did and now she was fainting in the most ill of places. She made him think too much and that was something Jayne Cobb didn't appreciate. He liked things simple.

His boots clomped up the last remaining stairs, heavy with his exasperation, and stomped over to the boneless form in the middle of the catwalk. Slipping an arm about her slip of a waist and the other reaching for her shoulder, Jayne stood behind her and prepared to haul her away from the immanent danger.

"C'mon, Crazy-"

River suddenly jerked as a scream was wrenched from her lips and began to immediately struggle like a demon possessed. Jayne had to react quickly before he'd end up with a bloody mess to clean up. He pressed the girl against him, one arm tightly wrapped around her waist in an iron grip while the other snaked about her shoulders to the front. He immediately regretted not leaving one hand free for protecting his John Thomas. This position was becoming distinctly familiar…

"Gorramit girl, quit squirmin'!" He barked, unsure quite what to do, and dragged them both back several steps to avoid the off chance that they'd both fall.

River continued to struggle in desperation, mumbled words stumbling over each other as they tried to escape her mouth all at once. Jayne strained to hear her yapping but couldn't understand the jargon sprouting out. She lurched forward, catching Jayne off guard, before slumping into unconsciousness. Forced to counteract his balance, Jayne trod forward after her, straight for the side of the catwalk. He grunted as he managed to catch them both from a messy end in time for the Doc to crash in with his red medical bag.

"What happened?" Simon gaped at the sight of his sister drooping like a rag doll with only Jayne's support holding her up.

"Your lil' sis's been pullin' a fit of some sorts," was the flat reply.

Simon grimaced and started for the catwalk steps, trying to peer up to the two on the catwalk. What on Earth could have happened? River had been doing so well these past few months. He had started to see a lot more of the brat sister he once knew before the academy got their hands on her. She was recovering… so much so that Simon had begun to wean her off the medications he was administering her, hoping it was sooner rather than later that he wouldn't have to keep sticking her with the objects she abhorred.

"We need to get her to the infirmary, right now!"

:-:

Inara paced outside up and down the walkway outside of the crew's quarters, her prowling only centring one particular door; that of Captain Malcolm Reynolds. She didn't quite know how she'd ended up strolling back and forth like a skittish rabbit outside his quarters. She'd been in the mess, a cup of tea before her, and thinking about the ever changing world. Her thoughts, as always, returned to a certain someone and next Inara knew, she was here. Pacing.

Why did this have to happen to her? The companion considered as she turned on slippered heels for another flyby of Mal's bunk door. Only this time there was a head poking out of it, staring at Inara with open amusement. Inara gasped and jumped in a very unlady-like fashion as she stared blankly at the laugh riddled feature of one Captain Malcolm Reynolds.

"You gonna be knockin' on my door anytime soon or keep with your marchin' exercises." He managed to express through a torrent of stifled laughter. Hell, it wasn't everyday that a bonified Companion was caught flustered from stalking your bedroom door.

"I…ah-" she started but didn't have time to finish as Mal rose a hand to silence her.

"You obviously wanted to talk so jus' come down and we can discuss whatever is botherin' you in private." Inara felt somewhat touched that he had the manners to do this in private. Conversations between them were either in her shuttle (because he barged in) or in range of ears.

Mal's head disappeared from view, soon followed by the sounds of rushed movement. Inara frowned before following him down the ladder and into the domain of man she didn't quite abhor. Her feet touched the ground and turning, Inara swept a keen gaze curiously over the content of Mal's room. She blinked upon spotting the miserable looking end of a pair of trousers stuffed expertly into a corner. It brought an unbidden smile to her lips and quickly she disguised it for something else that had caught her eye.

"I see that you kept it?" She enquired lightly and nodded towards the object hanging on the wall when Mal had glanced at her oddly. His eyes rove over to the area she'd pointed to and rolled his eyes.

"Never could sell the ruttin' thing." He grumbled, "'Sides, it reminds me never to accept gifts off strange womenfolk."

Inara actually laughed as she continued to eye the Lassiter that now adorned an otherwise empty wall. "Oh, I see."

He glared half heartedly at her before plonking himself onto the edge of his bed and gazed at Inara intently. She stared back, any words that wanted to be spoken had retreated from the tip of her tongue the moment they'd locked eyes. Why did he always manage to do that? How?

"So," Mal paused, breaking them both out of the spell the other had weaved. "What did you wanna talk about?"

"My shutt-"

"CAP'N!" The disembodied call of Kaylee drowned Inara's words. Both looked at each other almost helplessly before Mal removed himself away from their little world to see what had Kaylee so frenzied. This conversation could wait a little longer.

It always had.

:-:

Jayne had carried River down to the infirmary with her brother buzzing back and forth like a gnat. Despite the growing irritation, Jayne did his best to answer the questions as best he could before standing away to allow the doctor to work. He examined his sister painstakingly diligently and often, much to the mercenary's amusement, repeated what he did twice. Kaylee had gone to Mal to tell him what had occurred and the Browncoat called a meeting in the mess immediately.

Simon had been the last to show up; in the end having to be pushed away by Inara, who offered to keep vigil over River. He was currently sat next to Kaylee, his hand wringing about each other and his thoughts racing a mile and minute with theories about what could be causing this. Mal was, as usual, at the head of the table with Zoe silently sat to his right with an indifferent glazed look in her eyes. The captain looked deadly serious, as he always did when his attitude revolved around the safety of him and his. Jayne sat to the back corner of the table, idly glancing from one person to the other waiting for Mal to get this started already.

The captain had had a pang strike his stomach as a panicked Kaylee had rushed onto the bridge babbling something about River having an episode. It pained Mal to admit the spark of anger and dread that had ignited in his belly. He had to quell it for now by reminding himself that she was going to have these lapses anyway, even without the thoughts of those Core hundans drifting in her head. He announced a meeting and sent off his mechanic to tell the others before he had slumped against wall and sighed.

No rest for the wicked, it seemed.

"Well, seems here we've had an incident on this boat concerning our L'il Albatross." He started with a pan glance to his present crew. "Doc? How's your sister doin'?"

Simon ceased his fidgeting, Kaylee's hand immediately slipping into his own, and looked up to find Mal and rest of the crew staring at him expectantly.

"I administered a smoother to River to keep her sleeping for a little while, but I can't tell when she'll wake up." Simon paused and breathed a distressed sigh. "I don't know what's wrong with her either."

Mal sighed and leant back against his chair.

"Jayne? Kaylee? You were there when this happened."

Kaylee frowned as she recalled the scene from earlier. "Well I was just fixin' a hydraulic breaker couplin' and chattin' to Jayne here when he suddenly shouts at River. I turned to look and saw her just slumped over the railin' like there weren't no life left in her. Jayne went off to get her and told me to fetch Simon. You know the rest."

The crew swivelled their gaze to Jayne in one unified motion causing the mercenary to shift under the sudden heat.

"I was doin' some exercise an' listenin' to l'il Kaylee babble on an' fix her do-da when I spots Crazy up on the catwalk 'bout ready to make a mess on the cargo hold floor. I told Kaylee to get the Doc and went up to haul that moon-brain's scrawny behind back. The ruttin' girl wakes up screamin' afore she falls sleep again." He finished and took a swig of the tin cup he had in his hand.

Turning to Simon, Mal lifted his eyebrows in silent question. Simon gave him a flat look that clearly denoted he thought Mal was an idiot. "I can't tell you her condition with just that. River has the psychic gene, not me."

Mal sighed, again. "Well, we have a sweet job lined up that could go a lot smoother if we had a Reader there." He carried on before Simon could protest. "An' seein' as River is out of whack it ain't safe to let her in on this one. We'll jus' have to make do like we did in the good ol' days."

"Zoë?"

The first mate was dragged back from whatever thoughts she'd been buried in and turned to her seated captain.

"Sir?"

"You here with us, Zoë?"

Any trail of befuddlement retreated from her face and the robotic Zoe was but on the game. "Always on the job, Sir." She intoned and watched as Mal pushed back on the chair with the backs of his knees as he rose.

"Good, then you can tell our band of merry men what the job s'all about whilst I get an ETA and prep Serenity for atmo." He nodded once to them all before heading off to the bridge to do just as he'd stated.

Zoë stood also and drew her tall form about the table to stoop over the remaining crew members.

"Since the last time we went to Bagder he set us up with Lawrence Dobson, we ain't heard from him since we dumped him in the desert. We've been forced to fish out some other contractors and eventually got us a job to be pullin' on Hermes. The moon has itself an upstart gang that have taken some objects of interest and we're gunna be retrievin' them." She paused as she spotted Jayne's mouth open. "Yes, payin' us something good?" The mercenary grumbled, "I ain't riskin' my hide for some ruttin' keepsakes, dong ma?"

Jayne?" Was the deadpanned inquiry.

"This tough guy gonna be Zoë glared.

"Would the captain take the job if the money was bad?" He didn't reply and Zoë carried on with her briefing. "Now the leader, a fella by the name of Juan Marin, is tryin' to sell off the goods that ain't his, so he's expectin' some people to be offerin' to buy." She turned her gaze to Simon. "That's your job."

Simon didn't get a chance to object, or recount the time in Canton before Zoë was talking again.

"While you keep Mister Marin occupied with the possibility of a sale, the Captain, Jayne and I will be sneakin' in the back way and taking what ain't his. We'll get into more details once the Captain returns."

"Shiny." Jayne smirked and took another swig of his drink; this was turning out to be his kind of heist after all.

:-:

Back in the infirmary, Inara sat daintily on a stool next to the examining table currently occupied by an unconscious River. The companion was silent in her vigil over the dozing girl that meant as much to her as a younger sibling might. What could have happened to cause such a lapse? Simon had, of course, warned everyone that River was still prone to the odd relapse, but those incidents were only minor. This was the first major fit since Miranda…

Her brow creased, distorting natural beauty into a shadow of concern. If River was suddenly getting these episodes again… that didn't mean she had some other secrets haunting her, did it? Who was to say about the amount of blood tainted thoughts had clung to the insides of her mind and were only now appearing? Inara was already in severe doubts about the Alliance that she'd grown to respect. It surprised her how naive she felt was the secret of Miranda now out in the open. At least she was surely not the only one…

The Core planets had been in upheaval over the universal screening of Dr. Caron explaining about the Pax and then getting brutally mauled by Reavers. It was the time of day that children had just sat down to watch their shows on the cortex… and got that instead. The Alliance was near to stumbling over at that point, but somehow they recovered; tarnished, but no less in control of the 'verse. And that idea brought a new kind of fear to Inara.

Her thoughts wandered on and the outside world faded away from her eyes. She missed the slight jerk that consumed River's arm, didn't observe the crinkling of the younger girl's brow as sleep was slowly slinking away. Another jerk, this one a toss of her head was accompanied by a grimace. River stirred again as sleep retreated and harsh whispers bit at her vulnerable conscience. The trails of her earlier dream (or was it a vision?) jumbled together in a tangled mess of words and sounds. One voice rose out of the blue and tore River from what remained of her slumber in one ruthless utter.

"Did you really think you would get away?"

River shrieked and sat bolt upright on the medical chair, her thoughts a mess of things past and present. "Something is sticking in me!" She wailed and bent forward, her hands reaching behind to scratch at her back with panicked movements.

Inara's initial shock of the sudden awakening of River was snapped into action by the pained moan of her nonsense words. The companion quite literally leapt into action as she sprang from her stool, sending it clattering over the lino flooring and reached to press River into a tight embrace.

"Sweetie," she imploring soothingly and attempted to quell the frantic girl's doddering with soft caresses to her back and face. "Nothing is sticking into your back."

"I thought the pea was gone! It vanished with the ghosts but I am haunted again!" River shivered uncontrollably, though her original struggles of panic were ebbing away.

"…the first one died…"

"Hush now River, its ok."

"But I'm not… I'm not alone…"

"No you aren't sweetie."

"…was never alone…"

"Not at all."

River shivered, Argus-eyes staring fretfully at nothing and everything, "The firefly has beaten its wings… now the hurricane ensues."