A Note From Me:

Please understand, this story will NEVER be abandoned. I promise you that I intend to finish it. That being said, this chapter is shamefully overdue. Enjoy!

There was a clock ticking somewhere.

It was the first thing she heard.

Slowly her senses returned and she allowed herself to open her eyes, only to be partially blinded by the bright, white lights of the lab. She closed them again as a flood of emotion and sound overcame her. Someone was banging on the closed door and that, and their shouts of protest, were muffled slightly by the thick metal.

Josephine opened her eyes again, this time bringing a hand up to shield them from the light, and turned her head slowly towards the door.

Jayne stood poised in front of the door, gun in hand, ready to attack, while Mal and Zoe whispered anxiously to each other nearby.

Her vision was obscured suddenly by a pair of dark slacks that bent and crumpled as Simon crouched beside her, and the Doctor's worried face came into view.

"How are you feeling?" He inquired quietly.

She ignored his question and sat up quickly despite her body's protests. Her head swam as though the plates of her skull moved independently of each other and she cradled her head between both hands until it subsided... until the only thing left between them was the realization of Simon's startling announcement.

Mal isn't the father.

She had begun to believe he was, that he couldn't possibly not be the father of her child. It wasn't right. It was an unnecessarily cruel end to an already unnecessarily cruel life.

Her eyes sought the Doctors. "Simon," she rasped, her throat dry. "Are you sure?"

Simon knew what she was referring to immediately and reached out to take her hand.

"I'm sorry."

Josephine blinked slowly up at him. "Don't be sorry, just help me. Help me get rid of it."

Simon let her words hang in the air for a moment as his eyes flashed sadly and he set his mouth in a grim line.

"This isn't the time to discuss it." Simon released her hand abruptly and stood, turning towards the others. "She's awake." He spoke tersely and stepped aside so the others could see.

Mal ceased his argument with Zoe and hastened to Jo, where she still sat on the cold, hard floor. He knelt beside her, much like Simon moments before.

"Are you alright?"

Josephine shook her head, her eyes a little wild as they stared at the floor, not really giving him an answer. "Mal... I... It's not..." she stuttered and placed a hand on her stomach.

"I know, but right now I need you to get up and walk out of here the same way you came in, dong ma?"

Josephine registered the faint patronizing tone of his voice even through her daze and frowned. "What's going on?"

Mal glanced at the door behind him briefly. The banging, if anything, had grown more insistent. "Well the natives are getting a mite restless and I think it's time we left," he answered her calmly.

"Mal, I don't know," she hesitated and looked up at him finally, "I don't know if I can put on that act again."

Mal smoothed down the few hairs that had escaped from her pins with his large hand.

"I'd settle for you just being able to walk out of here."

She stared into his eyes for a few moments, searching for any sign that he was experiencing the same anguish and turmoil that she was, but his face was a cool mask. "I'm sorry Mal."

He shook his head quickly. "Ain't nothing to be sorry for. We'll figure it out later. Right now I just want to get out of here."

Josephine nodded. "Then help me up."

Mal helped her stand and kept his hand around her upper arm as she swayed slightly on her feet. They walked the short distance to the door, Mal's hand never leaving her arm, and she was grateful for the support.

The banging had subsided and Zoe, Jayne and Simon looked questioningly at Mal.

"Put your gun away Jayne." The larger man pouted slightly, but put his weapon back in its holster. "We go out the way we came in and we do our best to avoid a confrontation." Mal glanced at Jo, his eyes lingering worriedly. "They'll probably just let us leave," he spoke quietly to the others and Josephine knew she must look pitiful.

Mal ushered her ahead of the others, closer to the door, until it was the only thing in her line of vision.

"When I open it," Mal spoke softly from her left, "you'll have to say something."

"Say what?" she whispered absently.

"I don't know, anything. Ready?" He didn't wait for her answer and opened the door quickly.

The bespectacled man and his companions stood in the corridor, looking surprised that the door had opened so abruptly. The elderly security guard Josephine had seen upstairs stood with them. The two groups stared at each other for a short moment, before Josephine found her voice.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but we're finished now... why were you banging on the door?" she added, almost as an afterthought.

"You were in there for five hours." The elderly guard's voice was just as Jo remembered, soft and unsure, but he looked puzzled when her eyes widened at the mention of five hours. "Arianne was getting worried and couldn't leave her post."

"And we've been sitting out here for three hours," the man with glasses spoke anxiously. "Is everything alright?"

Jo swallowed, forcing moisture into her dry throat. "Everything's fine, thank you." She spoke numbly, her voice a strange monotone that startled her.

He blinked behind his glasses, his face clearly showing his disbelief. He opened his mouth as though to say more, but Mal's grip on Josephine's arm propelled her forward.

The security guard stepped in front of them, muttering something under his breath that sounded like "I'll show you out," and Jo wondered absently if he had been someone's butler or steward in his younger days.

She heard the others following, their soft footfalls echoing down the hallway. She caught a glimpse of her reflection as they passed a large bank of darkly tinted windows and she stumbled slightly in surprise. Her eyes were wide and wild, her skin too pale and slightly waxy, and her back rigid as she shuffled along.

Josephine wavered slightly, her legs suddenly weak as the truth of their situation finally seemed to sink in.

"Mal," she whispered softly and reached around with her right hand until she could grasp his jacket.

He stopped walking and Jo was grateful for the rest as she leaned into him. She heard the old security guard ask "Is she alright?" as she lifted her head slightly to look at Mal. Their eyes met and she saw her own horror and misery reflected back to her. Mal stared a moment longer before blinking.

"I know." His voice was faint but he surprised her be dropping his hand from her forearm and scooping her up swiftly. His hands slid over the silky red material of her dress as he positioned her in his arms.

"It'll be quicker," was Mal's only explanation and Jo clung to his neck, to weak to protest.

They climbed the stairs nimbly and spilled out into the first corridor they'd entered earlier that day. It was much more crowded now and Mal had to maneuver his way through the curious patients and hospital staff.

Josephine squeezed her eyes shut to avoid their gazes and buried her head in the crook between Mal's shoulder and neck. She heard them step into another room that had to be the lobby, but she didn't remove her head from it's comfortable position.

Mal maneuvered them through the crowd as they made their way silently towards the exit, trusting that the others would follow.

A prickling sensation on the back of Josephine's neck alerted her to the many curious gazes aimed at her even though she had her eyes closed and she opened them timidly. Jo found herself staring over Mal's right shoulder and she could see Zoe and the others not far behind. She turned her head slightly and met the eyes of a startled Arianne.

"Wait Mal," Jo spoke softly as she tapped him on the shoulder and then attempted, one handed, to remove Arianne's key card from around her neck. Mal stopped and turned his head, his eyes curious until he saw her struggling with the thin cord attached to the card.

"Zoe." Mal only had to say the first mates name quietly and she appeared before Josephine and lifted the cord from over her head.

Jo looked over Mal's shoulder again, as they started moving, and watched Zoe return the simple white card to its owner, silently wishing Arianne hadn't given it up to begin with. At least then she'd still be in the dark, she could still hope. She saw Zoe's mouth open and close as she said something tersely, but was too far away to hear anything. Arianne nodded to Zoe and glanced at Jo's retreating form, giving her a small, pathetic, looking wave before turning her back and going back to work.

She felt a slight breeze in her hair as they exited the hospital at last and turned her head around, astonished to see that it was still daylight outside. Mal descended the steps slowly, holding Jo tighter to him. When they reached the bottom she spoke.

"I think I'm okay to walk."

Mal shook his head but said nothing as he continued on.

"Really, there's no sense drawing undue attention to ourselves. I'm feeling much better," she tried again but he ignored her.

"Mal I'm not a child, I don't need to be carried!" she practically shouted and began to fidget restlessly in his arms.

He shook his head again and tightened his grip. "I'm not putting you down. You had a shock back there and passed out." Mal stopped so he could look at her and lowered his voice. "You should see yourself... you're practically white and your eyes are so wide I'm not sure I've seen you blink. I know your not really angry at me but if you need someone to take... the situation... out on, I'm all for it being my fault." He shifted her slightly in his arms. "You can yell and scream at me as much as you want when we're back on Serenity and in the comfort of my bunk," he added more gently and started walking again. "In the meantime, if you don't hold still I will throw you over my shoulder, I promise you that."

Josephine went still in Mal's arms and closed her eyes again. From what she knew of Malcolm Reynolds he wasn't an overly loquacious man, so for him to speak thus was practically a speech. She had no doubt he'd make good on his promise and remained motionless as they returned to Serenity.

Mal sat her on her feet as the cargo bays doors whirred and opened to reveal an uncharacteristically stoic Kaylee. Her eyes shot wide at the sight of Serenity's returned crew and she opened her mouth to ask the question she'd been waiting to have answered.

Josephine stepped around Kaylee and hastened in the direction of Mal's bunk. She felt the mechanic's startled eyes on her back and heard Mal speak softly, "leave her be."

She'd let him answer their questions, if he wanted to. She didn't have the nerve for it and had done her best to push the thoughts away and remain calm, but her body and heart ached in protest, urging her to react.

She descended the ladder into Mal's bunk as though in a daze and shrugged the red bolero jacket off her shoulders, leaving it to lay in the middle of the small room. She pulled the pins out of her hair quickly, letting it tumble down in a tangled mess. Reaching under the bed, she pulled out a bag containing a few items of clothing. She removed a simple cotton dress from the bag and set it on the bed before peeling off the beautiful, crimson-toned, shimmer dress she had worn all day to impress the people at the hospital. Jo slipped the soft, dark dress over her head before retrieving the jacket from the floor, her movements methodical and precise.

She felt Serenity raise up as they took flight once more and carried the jacket to the bed, intending to fold it and put it away, but it caught the light and gleamed up at her.

It was so beautiful and light as silk in her hands. It was perfect.

Too perfect.

There was no room in her life for such perfection.

Before she knew what she was doing her fingers curled around the fabric like claws, begging it to rip and tear apart.

Josephine let out a frustrated cry when her own strength wasn't enough to destroy the material and carried it to Mal's small desk.

Her left hand clutched the fabric while her right searched frantically through the desk for anything sharp. In the bottom drawer she found a small, rusted old knife, too dull to be used for much, but it would suit her purpose nicely.

She held the jacket out in front of her with one hand while the other slashed out. The fabric ripped and tore like paper and she felt a surge of satisfaction wash over her. Her arm continued its precise movement until the red pieces were like ribbons in her hand and she let them fall to the floor.

Josephine stared down at them for a moment, her chest rising and falling rapidly, blood pounding in her ears. She was so angry and she didn't really know why but something in the back of her mind was telling her she had every right to be.

She tore her eyes away from the bits of fabric quickly and grabbed the dress from its place on the bed. She lashed out at it too, nicking her hand with the knife accidentally.

Jo ignored the sharp and sudden pain and the wet splotches on her face as the tears began to fall slowly, not stopping until the dress was in shreds and she let it fall from her hand.

She heard River's voice quietly from the back of her mind in an odd moment of clarity, 'can't give it away if it doesn't stay in one piece...'

"Kaylee... I was going to give this to Kaylee," Jo whispered, remembering their conversation earlier that day.

She sank to her knees besides the tattered remains of the once beautiful dress and began to cry in earnest. She had no idea of the time and wasn't sure how long she'd been sitting there when she felt someone's hand on her own, silently taking the knife from her.

She turned slightly and buried herself into Mal's open arms, the rusted knife nowhere to be seen. Jo welcomed the heavy weight of his arms around her back and pressed her face into his chest, her tears turning quickly to sobs.

"Shhhhh ai ren, qie jiang yaoshi hao di. Wo jiang zhao liao ni," Mal whispered softly, raising one large hand to stroke the back of her head.

He held her until she grew quiet, only a few hiccupping sobs remaining, and pulled back slightly to examine her face. Her eyes were closed, wet lashes resting on her red, tear streaked face, and her mouth was open slightly, as though sleep had taken her by surprise.

Mal shifted slightly, intending to carry her to the bed, but stopped when he felt something wet dripping onto his forearm. He looked down to see a few drops of blood on his skin before raising his gaze to find the cut on Josephine's hand.

Cursing softly, he leaned her back until she was laying on the floor of his bunk and reached out for one of the strips of red fabric. He wiped the blood from the cut in an attempt to see if it was deep when she stirred and opened her eyes.

She stared at his fingers for a moment as he deftly wrapped another strip around her hand before catching his gaze.

"Mal, what should I do?" She spoke softly, her voice barely a whisper.

"I can't make that decision for you," he responded, neatly tying the ends together. "What do you want to do?"

Josephine ignored his question and stared past him at the ceiling.

Mal looked down at her for a short moment before speaking again.

"Come on, lets get you into bed, you should rest."

She let him help her up and into his small bed, to weary to protest that it was too early for sleep but to proud to admit she was exhausted. She laid down on the bed fighting to keep her eyes open and stared up at Mal as he dropped a blanket over her.

"I hate it you know... how can I be a mother to something I hate?"

Mal's hands stilled in the process of smoothing out the blanket and met her eyes as he sat down next to her.

"Why do you hate it?" he asked softly, although he was fairly certain he already knew the answer.

"Because it's a part of him... I hate it for not being yours." She sighed and closed her eyes but she could still feel the intensity of Mal's gaze.

"You're forgetting one thing."

Josephine felt Mal's hand on her cheek but her eyes remained closed as she began to drift off.

"What's that?" she murmured.

"It's a part of you too."

Jo sighed again and turned her face towards Mal's palm. "It's a part of me," she whispered before succumbing to her exhaustion.

Mal hesitated a moment, to be sure he wouldn't wake her, and leaned down to place a chaste kiss on her temple. He stood, rubbing a hand over his face, and stared down at the crimson mess all over his floor. Sighing deeply, he stooped over and gathered all the pieces in his hands, stuffing the remains of the dress in the waste basket near his desk.

"Captain, got a wave coming in from Inara. Says it's urgent." Zoe's clipped voice spoke loudly over the intercom and Mal jumped in surprise. He hurried to the source of the intrusion and lowered its volume, glancing over his shoulder to see if it woke Josephine but she hadn't stirred. Satisfied, he pressed the button and spoke.

"What does she want Zoe?"

"I don't know Sir, says she wants to talk to you and Josephine," Zoe spoke again, her voice now almost muted.

Mal looked over his shoulder at Jo again, silently debating on whether he should wake her to speak to the Companion. He shook his head, deciding against it.

She ain't herself, needs to rest he thought quickly and pressed the button again.

"I'll take it on the bridge Zoe."

Mal crept up the ladder and into the crew corridor as quickly and as quietly as possible. He passed Simon and Kaylee in the kitchen, each glancing at him curiously and, Mal thought, with an over abundance of pity, which he didn't much care for. But at least they had the grace and decency to look away when he ignored them.

He found Zoe waiting for him near the controls and River seated, cross-legged, in the pilots chair.

"You need privacy for this Sir?"

"Don't know," Mal answered his first mate as he shooed River out of the chair and sat down, switching on the monitor. Inara's beautiful, yet somewhat somber, face stared back at him.

"Do we need privacy Inara?"

The Companion blinked once in surprise. "No, I don't think so. In fact, everyone should probably know eventually... Where's Josephine?"

Mal glanced down quickly, stifling a sigh, before returning her gaze. "Resting," he responded tersely.

Inara stared at him for a long moment, her intuitive eyes delving into his own, and Mal knew at once that she had figured out he wasn't the father.

"Oh Mal, I'm so sorry."

Mal leaned closer to the screen and lowered his voice. "Don't Inara, please... I can't..." talk to you about this, he finished silently.

The Companion nodded quickly. "I'll just get to it then, shall I?" She waited for him to return her nod before continuing. "A few days ago we received a letter at the training house. It was addressed to Josephine..." she paused for a moment. "I'd really prefer to tell her this directly. I already feel guilty for allowing my curiosity to get the better of me and reading it in the first place."

Mal scrubbed at his eyes wearily. "She's had a hard day Inara, we all have... she's resting. I'll catch her up later."

"Very well, I'll read it to you then." Inara pulled a few sheets of parchment out of an envelope in her lap. "And I apologize for not contacting you right away, but everyone was a little surprised when it arrived. No one could account for how it had come to be here and not many send letters anymore... the whole process is a bit antiquated."

Mal studied her curiously. "Why are you stalling Inara?"

"I'm not, I'm just..." she trailed off, surprisingly flustered and uncomfortable. "I'll just read it." She unfolded the papers, her eyes resting at the top as she began to read.

"'My Dear Josephine, I assume by now you know I am not exactly the person I claimed to be. I am in fact younger brother to your late husband Bryce.'" Mal's hands clenched into fists and he leaned forward slightly, knowing at once who the letter was from. "'We share the same father, but that is all we ever shared. When my mother, Kristof Rawley's mistress, became pregnant she was cast off and I was raised a bastard. Please keep in mind I am not telling you any of this to elicit your sympathy. I only wish you to understand why I have acted and will continue to act the way I have. My mother, god rest her, listed Kristof as my father and gave me his name on my birth documents. When she died, and I had learned that Kristof was gone as well, I made myself known to Bryce. He, believe it or not, welcomed me into his life. But when he saw how disgusted I was with his... lifestyle choices, I was cast out again. Now he is dead, your lover Malcolm Reynolds saw to that I believe...'" Inara glanced up at Mal quickly, before returning to the papers... "'and everything should be mine. However, if you know anything of Persephone's laws you are aware that it is you, the surviving spouse, to whom all Bryce's assets and estates will be entailed upon. This is unacceptable.'" Inara shuffled the first page to the back and continued.

"'I also assume that since I have not heard back from Caleb, the young man I sent to the Companion Training House, that he is dead and you are very much alive. This as well could prove to be most unacceptable.'" Mal could hear the menace in his words even through Inara's polished voice. "'Let me be plain with you. I won't allow anything to stand between myself and what should rightfully be mine... my birthright, if you will. However, I'm willing to let bygones be bygones if you assure me that you have no intentions of laying claim to any of Bryce's assets. I'm sure I can come up with something to prove your death, but I have no intention of ending up in a jail cell if you show up to collect. That being said, I promise you I will make no more attempts on your life if you sign the enclosed documents and forward them to the address I've provided. Yours respectfully, Nash Rawley.'"

Inara returned the pages to their envelope and looked up to find Mal staring at her, his jaw dropped in surprise.

He sounded like a business man, Mal thought quickly. The tamade hundan lied to her, tried to have her killed, and yet he writes to Josephine as though it were nothing more than a business arrangement. Mal shook his head in frustration, his thoughts running rampant as the others sat in silence, waiting for his response.

"I want it."

Mal turned in surprise, River and Zoe following suit at the sudden intrusion, to find Josephine standing in the entranceway, one hand on the wall, the other resting lightly on her stomach.

Her eyes were slightly wild and her expression was uncharacteristically fierce.

"I deserve it," she spoke again, raising her voice. "I want it all."