Disclaimer and Warnings: Firefly, the 'Verse, and all the characters therein belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, FOX, and Universal Studios. This chapter has some language, and talk of sex, though no actual sex. Rated T.

Scenes of Family Life...

January 2523

It wasn't Dewey's fault. It really wasn't, no matter what anybody said! It was Angel's fault 'cause it's always her fault, but today it was especially her fault. She'd been awful snotty since her brother was born. Now she had that doll he'd bought her—not that she knew he'd bought her the stupid thing—and she was doing that twirly dance thing her Mom had taught her. She was being so girly and gross and annoying, and nobody was watching, so really it wasn't his fault.

Jayne heard Angel crying first. He'd been in the mess with Mal and Zoë going over a map of the ground layout for the next drop site. River had her first bridge duty since she gave birth, and had taken the two-month-old with her. At the little girl's first peal of distress, Jayne jumped up from the table and ran down the aft stairwell.

Dewey was already across the bay and headed up those stairs yelling, "I didn't do it!"

Jayne glared after him, but his first priority was making sure his daughter wasn't hurt or bleeding. "Bits, you okay?"

Her only answer was unintelligible crying with something that might have been words mixed in.

"Did he hit ya?" She shook her head. "Did he kick ya?" Another head shake. "Shove ya?" Shake. "Little Bit, I'm gonna need ya to tell me in real words. I can't read minds like your Ma."

"He—he—" she hiccupped. "He kissed me! Now we're gonna hafta get married!"

Jayne opened his mouth then closed it again. A snicker from behind him let him know Kaylee, with Annabelle perched on her hip, had finally come out to check on the kids she was supposed to be watching. Jayne shot a glare over his shoulder at her.

"I was changin' Annabelle's diaper," she said. "I came out here fast as I could get her cleaned up."

Jayne stood and headed up stairs to find the twerp. "I'm gonna kill that little brat."

"Oh, Jayne! Don't hurt 'im! He's just a kid!"

Jayne ignored Kaylee's advice and Angel's continued hysterics. He ran into Zoë and Mal on his way back up the stairs. "Where'd he go?"

"Dewey?" Mal asked.

Zoë sighed and rubbed her temple. "What'd he do now?"

He pushed past her, and continued on to the mess. "Listen up, brat! Show yourself, or it'll be worse when I find you!"

"Jayne," the first mate warned.

"He's a kid, Jayne," Mal reminded him.

A rustle in the pantry drew Jayne's attention, and he yanked the door open to find Dewey pressed up against the dry goods. Teeth clenched, he nodded for Dewey to come out. Jayne waited with patience he was sure the saints themselves would envy while he stepped forward.

The boy cleared his throat. "You wanted something?"

Jayne tried not to just twist the little shit's head straight off his shoulders. That would be bad. Murdering children bad. He had to keep reminding himself of that. "Okay. Look…." He bent down a bit to look Dewey in the eye. "Listen t'what I'm sayin' 'cause this is the only advice I'm ever gonna give ya, dong ma?"

Dewey nodded fast.

"You never, never do somethin' with a girl unless you ask first. Nothin'. That goes double for Angel. You got that? Triple times. A huner't times when it comes to Angel, shi?"

"Yes," he assured Jayne. "So…you're sayin', next time I kiss Angel I make sure I ask her first?"

That was obviously the wrong answer. Jayne's face went red, and Dewey knew it was time to high-tail it behind his Mom and Uncle Mal. Though why Mom was laughing, he had no idea. This really didn't seem funny, him almost getting squashed by the angry giant.

"My husband, why are you towering intimidatingly over a six year old?"

Jayne looked over his shoulder at River as she and Inara came down from the bridge. Even in a situation centered on intra-crew strife, the Companion still wore the slightly shell-shocked expression she'd had since she and Mal discovered she was pregnant. It looked like Max wasn't going to be the youngest after all.

He pointed down at Dewey like a witch hunter finding Satan himself. "Little…him! He kissed Angel!"

River waited a beat, the hand that was patting Max's back as he lay against her shoulder stilled, as she fought a smile. Finally she asked, "On the mouth?"

Zoë, Mal, and Inara laughed while Jayne scowled. Dewey continued to cower.

"That ain't funny. Angel thinks they gotta get married now."

"Not surprising, as the only couples she sees kissing are married—or living together," River corrected in regard to Inara and Mal, "and she is not versed enough to grasp the difference."

"So I'm just supposed to let him get away with it?" Jayne demanded.

"Yes," all four answered.

"Jayne, they're children," Inara said.

"He didn't mean harm," Zoë assured him. "Did you?"

Dewey shook his head a lot.

River came forward and passed Max into Jayne's arms. "Here, you take your son. I'll go inform our daughter we'll not be negotiating her dowry just yet."

Jayne and Max both grimaced, although for different reasons. Max was just gassy.

"A'right, fine," Jayne groused. He glared and pointed a finger of his free hand at Dewey. "Stay away from my girl."

With that, Jayne headed up to the bridge so he didn't have to look at the red-headed punk.


April 2524. Dirtside—Parthenon…

"Maxy, watch out!"


Max fell back on his rear-end and started screaming.

"Self-Destructo Boy strikes again!" Dewey announced from the table.

River left Inara and baby Alexander in the crash lounge where the two women had been playing Mahjong, and went to collect her son.

"Oh, sweetie," River cooed as she bent down at the edge of the table to scoop

her boy up. He had gotten much bigger in his year and a half of life. An outsider wouldn't have known that he was a preemie. Indeed most were surprised he was only one. "Really, you must watch where you're going."

"Ma-ma-ma! Ooow!" The toddler wailed his pain and distress to her as a red knot

started to form on his forehead from the side of the tabletop he ran into. He rubbed at his squinting blue eyes all squished up in his chubby face. His curly brown hair stuck up at odd angles giving him the look of a wounded teddy bear.

Six-year-old Angel looked up from her second grade level homework and sighed.

"Told you he was going to need a helmet. No one ever listens."

Dewey, seated a few chairs over, snickered. The Washburn sense of humor was strong in him, but the nearly eight-year-old's caustic approach often got him in trouble with the adults and Angel. The girl reached over and pinched him in defense of her brother.

Mal, Zoë, and Jayne walked up the stairs. They'd only been gone a few hours on a milk run, but Angel ran to greet her daddy like it had been days since she'd seen him last.

"Daddy!" she squealed as Jayne swooped her up in his arms with a groan.

"Urgh, Bits. I think you're gettin' too big for this."

"No I'm not." She smacked a loud kiss on his cheek.

Dewey was having trouble with his sixes multiplication table, so Zoë went to see how much progress he'd made on his homework. The Captain headed over to the lounge to share his planning triumph with Inara and Xander. He picked his son up, and held his arm out to Inara. They hadn't gotten married, which worried Mal some, but Inara was on Serenity full time for an extended maternity leave—though it was listed differently in the Guild registry. Mal was determined to be happy with what he could get.

"So, what happened while we were gone?" Mal asked the crew at large.

"Max ran into the table again," Angel reported.

"The boy does seem to have a penchant for hurtin' himself." Mal looked down into the darkening eyes of own son. "You ain't gonna be such a bull in a china shop, are ya? No. I didn't think so."

Jayne sighed and put Angel down so he could go and check on the walking ball of klutz that was his son. "Lemme see."

River turned so he could get a look at Max's face. There was a big pink goose egg starting to rise on his head. Jayne gently rubbed his thumb across it, and was encouraged that Max was angrier at his owwie pressed on than in serious pain.

Mal and Inara, after sharing a look, took Xander up to the bridge to take off from Parthenon and head into Persephone to meet with Badger for a good old fashioned salvage mission. They were still new enough to parenting that they wanted all the alone time with their tiny little person that they could get. And they didn't want to get in the middle of another disagreement between River and Jayne about the health of their youngest.

"Hey, guys, what's goin' on?" Kaylee asked as she helped Annabelle down the stairs from the engine room. The little girl was dressed in a little pink dress with white bubbles, and her hair was in pigtails. Kaylee directed her to take a seat across from the other two children, and went to see what the business with Max was.

"Ooooh. Think Simon should take a look at it?"

"Nah—" Jayne started.

"Yes!" River agreed.

The two parents looked at each other. Jayne rolled his eyes. "Riv, it's a little lump. He's not gonna die cuz he hit his head. Cobb men are tough. Got hard heads."

"Jayne, he could have a concussion. Or a subdural hematoma!"

"He got bonked on the head."

Kaylee backed away from the squabble unnoticed and went to get her own daughter a snack while the ship heaved herself from the ground.

"Your son is injured." River planted one hand on her hip for emphasis, but immediately had to use it to support her not-so-little little boy.

"He's fine. He'd even stop crying if you stopped babyin' him."

"Max is a baby."

"He's a boy."

Simon walked into the room just as Serenity shuddered through atmo. He was greeted to expectant stares by his sister and brother-in-law. He braced himself for whatever was about to be headed his way.

"Simon!" River rushed over. "We would like you to look at Max's head. He hit it."


At his sister's glare, the Doctor sighed. "Shall I give him a CAT scan, an MRI, the whole work-up, or would a simple physical do?"


Jayne sent his brother-in-law a nod in approval as he headed for the pantry.

"River, Max hits his head all the time. All little kids do. Dewey did—"

"Did not!" the boy in question denied.

"—Angel did, Annabelle did, and yes, even you did as a child. As long as he's not bleeding, and appears to be acting normally, he's fine."

"'S what I said!" Jayne crowed earning a black look from his wife as she carefully set her son down with a few of his toys. "My only question is how did the child of two such stealthy people come out so clumsy?"

Simon watched the lumbering merc paw through the dry foods. "Yes. Stealthy."

"Hey, I'll have you know I'm very stealthy!" Jayne's voice called out of the closet.

"Now boys," Zoë cautioned from her seat next to Dewey.

Simon shook his head and went to see what his own precious progeny was up to. "What have you got there, Bella?"

"Drawing." She looked up at him with smiling blue eyes. She had one of the sketchbooks River had given to her to keep the little girl from doing her art Lasceaux-style with her crayons on the walls of Serenity. Simon looked down expecting the abstract doodles of a four-year old. What he saw was remarkably different.

"Wo de ma….Kaylee?"

Kaylee walked over wearing a confused expression. "What's up?"

"Did you see what Annabelle was doing?"

"No, wha…whoa."

Angel and Dewey stopped working to lean over and look, too. Dewey whistled which drew Jayne and River's attention. Even Zoë looked impressed.

"Sweetie," Kaylee asked her daughter, "is that…?"

"It's the engine."

It was the engine, but only if Serenity had truly become a living being around them. It was half mechanical and half flesh. Annabelle's drawing looked like a clockwork heart. It was fascinating, and more than a little disturbing.

"Good use of shading," River commented. "I like how the aorta was used in place of the dry-feed. It's a good use of comparison and simile in visual form."

Simon cleared his throat and asked, "Where did you…?"

"Saw it in yer cycle-peeda," Annabelle explained. "Heart goes thump-thump, just like the engine. It's neat!"

Kaylee didn't know what to say. Her baby girl was only four—not even a whole hand yet! And yet she was drawing heart-engine-things. It might not have been the most accurate representation of either, but it was close enough. How had they missed this ability? Was it that she was so annoyed at having to scrub purple wax off the engine room wall she didn't notice what the drawings were of?

Maybe it was a fluke. Yeah. That was it.

Simon seemed to want to test their daughter, too. "Bella, xuān niū, do you think you can do this again, but the opposite way? Can you draw a human heart with machine parts?"

Bella shrugged.

"Could you try?"

She sighed as if yielding under great persuasion. "I guess so."

She flipped the page in her sketchbook and started drawing in messy lines, like any preschooler would. Kaylee found it hard to believe that something frighteningly crossed between a heart and an engine might be the end result.

Simon saw the stricken look on his wife's face and pulled her over to the kitchen. "Bao bei, are you alright?"

"I…yeah. I mean…I realize this probably makes me a bad parent, and," she looked at River who had followed them, "this might offend you, but I don't know what to do with a genius child. Should I start buying her educational games? Books! I should get her more books, but she can't read yet. Or can she? Maybe she can read, and I just don't know it like I didn't know she could draw engine-hearts. How did I miss that?"

"Kaylee, Kaylee!" Simon hugged her. "This is not the end of the 'Verse. It might have been a fluke, after all. Or maybe she's just a savant—abnormally good at one thing, but normal in all other respects."

"The worst thing you could do is start to treat her differently," River warned. Her eyes were sad, obviously thinking about what her own childhood was like. "She's still your daughter. She needs you to love her and to treat her like a child. She's not to be locked away like a freak, or paraded around like your medal of reproductive honor."

Kaylee pulled away from her husband's arms to encircle her sister-in-law. "Oh, sweetie, I wasn't gonna do that. I just meant, how do I give her all the advantages her big brain will need?"

"I know you wouldn't. I'm just giving you the advice I wish someone had given my parents."

Kaylee squeezed tighter, and Simon wished once again that he'd punched his father when he'd had the chance.

The moment was broken by Angel's indignant squeal. "Mooooommaaaaaaa! Max is ruining my homework!"

And indeed, Max had gotten a handful of some of his sister's papers and a tug of war was going on.

"How did he even get to that side of the table in one piece?" Simon asked.

"I knew it!" Jayne said. "That whole clumsiness is just a ruse. Boy's got stealth in his genes."

"Please go and stealthily remove your daughter's school work from his hands," River said.

"Dadyyyyyy! They're ripping!"

xuān niū – clever/pretty little girl

March 2526. The Black…

"I'm sorry, Mal," she murmured.

"You're sorry? Six years, and you're sorry?"

"Mal…please don't be this way. It took both of us to get into this situation, not just me. I think you'll agree that—"

"No, 'Nara, I'm not agreeing to anything right now."

"We're not good for each other! We fight all the time. We always have. It's only gotten worse since Xander was born, not better."

"So are you blaming him for this?"

"No, I'd never do that. I'm just saying that the two of us, having a child, trying to raise him like we have for the last year and a half—here for three weeks, at the training house for three weeks—it's not working. It's creating more problems. You want to see him more, but I want to keep him safe with me."

"You don't trust me, is what. That's why you won't leave him here. It's why you won't just stay here. You think Xander's being here puts him in danger."

"Doesn't it? I mean, you're not exactly known for having risk-free plans, Mal. You're Mr. Daring Adventure. Everything has to be the hard way with you, and it always involves guns and violence and near-arrests and goddamn pirates! Serenity almost got taken by pirates! Xander could have been held hostage, or tortured, or killed by those men."

"But he wasn't."

"But he could have been."

"He was safe and hid just like Angel, and Max, and Dewey, and Annabelle were. We weren't none of us gonna let the kids get hurt."

"Na mei guan xi…. I just can't do this anymore. It was bad enough when I only had to worry about you getting hurt. I can't bear to think about something happening to my son. And my worry is eating away at everything we once were."

"Once were? But not anymore, right, 'Nara?"

"Don't turn me into the villain, Mal. Back then, I was…Renci de Fuotzu. I was a Companion bending the rules for love. It's tragically clichéd, really. But I'm a mother now, and that has to come before everything: before you, before my job, before my friends and family. Xander has to come first."

"…What are you gonna do?"

"Sheydra let me know that I would always have a permanent place at the Academy on Paquin if I wanted it. All the girls love Xander when we're there. My odd schedule was always problematic for the Guild. They've been pressing me for a while about taking clients while away from the training house—I haven't, before you ask. But now, I thought I could go to teach full time, and I would just take him with me. He'll like living on Paquin. It's beautiful there, and he'll have the very best education."

"So you're just going to take my son and leave and I'm never going to see him again?"

"No! Never. I'd never do that to you or to him. You can come and visit."

"Visit! I don't want to visit, Inara, I want my son!"

"Are you going to try to take him from me? Are you going to sue for custody? Because I can promise you, no judge on any planet is going to let you take a child away from his mother who can give him the best advantages to live hand-to-mouth on a transport ship flying around the far reaches of space."

"Didn't know you thought so little of Serenity."

"I don't. You know what I mean."

"….I'm not gonna fight you for him. I wouldn't put Xander through that. I just want to have time with him. I don't want him growing up thinking his father's a stranger who comes to visit every so often. And I would try to give him the best life possible, too, you know!"

"I know. And as I said, I'm sure we can arrange something. Maybe something like what we had at the beginning. Eight weeks with me, and two weeks on Serenity with you."

"I want a month."

"Do you really think you can keep this ship going for a month without at least one dangerous, illegal job? Because I have yet to see it."

"...This isn't fair."

"I know. And I am sorry."

Na mei guan xi—that has nothing to do with it

June 2529. The Black…

Xander Reynolds, the dark six year old amalgam of his two parents, rested his chin on his folded arms and opened and closed his mouth making his teeth clink while he waited on his cousin-not-cousin Max to finish his school work. "Are you done yet?"

Max, only a year older, was in just as much of a hurry to get to play with the best friend he rarely got to see. He craned his head back to look at his mother as she started making stew so that it would be done in time for dinner. "Mom, can I please go play? Please?"

River dried her hands on a dish towel and came to look at his homework. When she saw the amount he'd written on the piece of paper in front of him, she frowned. "Maxwell, you haven't even started your spelling."

"It's boring," her son whined.

"Ten words, ten times each. No playing until you're finished," she insisted. River smiled down at the other little boy. "Xander, perhaps you'd like to go up to the bridge with Dewey and play a game on the Cortex while Max does his work."

Xander let loose a mighty sigh, "All right," and sulked off to the bridge.

"Mom!" Max groaned at the loss of his friend.

Jayne walked in with Angel from the cargo bay stairwell in time to hear his son's protest whatever his mother had just done. "What's goin on?"

"Your son and I were having a conversation about priorities," River explained as she returned to chopping cubes of protein for the stew. She smiled as her eleven-year-old slid up next to her to see what she was doing.

Max huffed. "She won't let me go play with Xander even though I hardly ever get to see him. Instead I gotta do my stupid spelling."

Jayne looked down at Max's word list, and grunted "Why don'tcha let him go play? He can do this later."

"He needs to do this now."

"It's just spelling. Ain't like it's that important."

"Yes, it is." She sent her husband a significant look to call for backup on this. "He needs to learn if he is ever going to write a message, read one, issue a warning, look for something on the Cortex. He's seven, and he can barely read even simple words."

Jayne obviously missed the look. "Neither can I, an' it never hurt me."

"And you want your son to be the same?"

"Just sayin' there's worse things than not havin' a big vo-cabulary."

"See!" Max pouted. "This is dumb, and it's making you fight."

Angel left her mother's side and walked to the side of the table Xander had vacated a minute before. She leaned over the back of the chair, and looked into her little brother's blue eyes. "Do you think he needs glasses?"

Max made a face at her, as Jayne and River both considered her question. Angel decided to take matters into her own hands, and stepped a few feet away from the table. He held two fingers up, and asked, "How many?"

"Two," her brother said, bored.

Angel stepped back to the table holding three fingers a few inches from Max's face this time. "Now?"

"Gah!" Max tried to bat her hand away, but she kept it there. "Three."

"Okay, so he doesn't need glasses." She shrugged.

River waved Angel over and had her start cutting the protein while once again she wiped off her hands and came to the table intent on a more direct approach. She settled into the chair next to Max, and made him look at her. "Why, exactly, is reading hard for you?"

Max shrugged and kept his eyes on his knees. "I dunno. Just is. The letters squirm around. Whenever I try to write 'em, they look backwards. Doesn't make sense."

River had a flash of insight, and immediately turned to her husband. "Is that how it is for you?"

Jayne flopped back into one of the crash chairs, and shrugged. The hard, tense set of his jaw was no help when he gritted out, "What's it matter?

His wife sighed, and turned to her daughter. "Angel, would you please stay here, and when you're finished, put the meat on to boil. Max, come with me." She stood up, and held her hand out to her son. He took it, and they stepped back from the table. Then she looked back at the crash lounge. "Jayne?"

"I'm stayin' here," he shook his head.

River gave him one of her looks, and escorted Max up to the bridge. Once there, she apologized to the two boys who were already there. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but would you boys mind clearing the flight deck. I need to use the Cortex."

Dewey logged off the game he was playing hoping she didn't notice. "No problem."

"Can Max play yet?" Xander asked with bright eyes.

"Not yet," River said. "In a few minutes."

"I did like you asked," Dewey reported as he vacated her seat. "I corrected the nav trajectory by .37 degrees every twelve minutes to offset Lisbon's grav pull."

River smiled at the young man. "Thank you, Dewey. You're becoming quite the pilot. It must run in the Washburn family."

"That's what Mom said," the thirteen-year-old murmured with shrug.

After the two boys left, River sat in the copilot's chair and pulled Max up to sit in her lap. She wrapped her arms around the boy and leaned them both forward so she could start typing. A moment later she pulled up the Cortex and typed in her search.

"What are you looking for?"

"When you said that the letters squirm and look backwards, it reminded me of a classmate I had at The Bad Place," she explained. "He couldn't read well, but he could build reconstructions and models with amazing accuracy. He had dyslexia. I think you might have it, too. And I wouldn't be surprised if your father did, as well."

"So I'm sick?" Max asked.

"No, it's not a disease." She scooted the boy sideways in her lap so that she could look him in the eye. "Do you remember when Uncle Simon pulled up the model of a brain and showed you guys all the parts?"


She tapped the side of his head. "What's this part?"

"The temporal lobe," Max recited.

"And what's housed in the temporal lobes?" She tweaked his ear to give him a hint.

"The auditory cortex!"

"That's right! You have a very good memory. Now, what cortex is back here?" she asked this time tapping the back of his head.

"The visual cortex."

"Correct. A person with dyslexia has a visual cortex that is wired differently than most people. You see three dimensions with remarkable accuracy, but when you try to decipher two dimensional images, like letters and numbers, your brain is unable to do so."

"So I'm just dumb."

"No, you are not dumb," she insisted. "Your brain just works differently than most peoples'."

"Like you?" Max frowned.

"No," she reassured him. "What you have, you were born with, and it doesn't make you crazy and have to go to sleep for a whole day. I am going to find the standardized test for dyslexia, and you are going to take it to see if my theory is confirmed. Then we can work on making learning to read easier for you."

"You mean I still gotta do homework?"

"Life is unfair."

October 2532. The Black, going on a 3 week stretch…

Angel reached under her mattress for her diary and found it missing. Or rather, she didn't find it, and assumed it was missing. She had good cause to guess who the little thief would be.

"Maxwell!" she shrieked as she tore through the lower dorms up to the mess.

"Max! I—am going—to kill you—if you don't GIVE IT BACK!"

Max ran up from the stairwell, snickering, blue eyes shining, to sit quietly at the table in front of his Pop acting like he'd been there the whole time. Jayne looked up from Vera's barrel with an accusing raise of his brows. River, having heard Angel scream, left Mal and Dewey at the helm and came down to see if she could avert fratricide.

"What is going on?"

"Max stole my diary! Again!"

Jayne shot a look at his youngest. It was not an entirely unamused look. There was a bit of a smile to the expression of warning his son got.

River was not quite so entertained. "Maxwell?"

"I mighta borrowed it and read some and not put it back. I have to keep practicing 'cause of the dyslexia, an' all," He defended himself causing his Pop to chuckle under his breath.

"You little thief! Mom!"

"Max, you have to return you sister's diary before dinner, and you will not be having dessert tonight."

"Fine, I'll return it." He turned and stuck his tongue out at his sister. "I already memorized the good bits for when I need to blackmail you later."

"Uch! Mom!"

Her father rolled his eyes at the teen's antics. River tried to hold onto her temper, but the glare she angled at Jayne clearly stated who she thought was the real villain behind this.

"Hey, don't be lookin' at me," her husband defended himself. "This is smart-evil. He got this from you."

"That may be so, but you could jump in to co-parent at any time here, zang fu."

"What? He's bein' a little brother. Isn't this what you younger siblings do? Torment the older ones?"

Max sniggered in triumph.

Angel sucked in a wounded breath and glared lasers at her father. "I should have known you'd be on his side! You're not my real father, so why should you stick up for me, right?"

The room reverberated with stunned silence at her outburst. Angel's own eyes widened in horror at what had come out of her mouth. For a moment it looked like she was ask to retract it, but her spine straightened, and she refused to back down.

River could feel the sharp yellow pain leak from Jayne's side like a stab wound. She closed her eyes for a moment against the combined feelings of shock, anger, and disappointment before she could once again face her daughter. "You are not coming to dinner at all this evening. Get your yu zhe de pi gu to your room. I don't want to see you for the rest of the night."

Angel's face crumpled. "I hate you!"

"You're fourteen. You're entitled. Go!"

The girl's emotions broke in a sob before she could flee the room. The ends of her shoulder-length hair fluttered as she ran back down the stairs to the room she shared with Annabelle.

"Times like this, I understand why my parents wanted to send me away to boarding school," River muttered. She pulled in a calming breath, and turned to Jayne. He still wore the same staggered and sad expression Angel inflicted on him. She went around the back of his chair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "Bao bei, she didn't mean it."

"Then why'd she say it?"

"She was angry. And, as previously stated, she's fourteen. The whole 'Verse is against her. I would diagnose it as paranoia if it weren't for the hormones."

"I don't…I don't get it," Max warbled, no longer the confidant trickster. "What did she mean about Pop not being her real father?

"He is her real father."

"Just not by blood," Jayne murmured.

"Not important," River insisted.

"It might be to her now."

Max shook his head. "So, wait. What are you talking about? I'm confused."

River looked at her son and wondered how much he needed to know. Then, after sharing a look with Jayne, she began to explain exactly how their family had come together.


Dewey found Angel talking with Annabelle in the room across from Max's that the two Cobb children had once shared. The room itself was much different from what it had been before her brother moved out and the adult Cobbs moved up to the crew bunks. Angel had painted the walls purple, and the bedding over the new mattress matched. It looked like the room of a calm, sweet girl. Angel was slightly less than calm, and she was only sweet when she chose to be. At the moment, Dewey could hear his girlfriend venting to her younger cousin when he stopped outside the room.

"I hate Max! I hope he gets a debilitating disease that causes his skin to rot from his musculature and his exposed flesh to fester with maggots!"

"Wow. Very creative," Bella complimented.

Dewey leaned against the door frame cleared his throat. Angel quickly wiped the tears from her face before she turned to look at him, but her eyes were still red and puffy. She tried not to look like the spoiled brat she was, but Dewey was in love, not stupid.

"Hey, Annabelle," he asked, "you mind givin' us a minute."

"Sure," the twelve-year-old said as she stood up from her bed. "You two love birds take your time. And before you ask, yes, I'll stand lookout."

She stopped by the door and twiddled her fingers in a wave. As soon as Bella was outside, Dewey slid it shut behind her so that he and Angel could have a minute. They had a good system going with the preteen genius—they had a lookout to keep Jayne from barking at Dewey, and Annabelle was supplied with enough money to keep her in sketch pads and engineering manuals.

Dewey knelt down in front of Angel's bed as she folded her long legs to sit Indian-style. He took a minute to admire the stems her shorts showed off before he got to why he was there. "I heard most of what happened from the bridge. Your mom left me in charge when she heard you screaming at Max. As soon as I heard you run out, I asked Uncle Mal to take over."

She sniffed and pushed her hair out of her face. "I can't believe they both took his side."

"Well, you were kind of acting like a real yāo."

"Not you, too!"

"You basically accused your dad of not loving you because you don't share DNA. He and I may not agree on a lot, but you're one thing we do. He loves you a lot, and you were a cu cao de po fu to him." He paused to think about what he just said. "And if you tell him I said anything even remotely sounding like I defended him, I'm denying it."

"I didn't mean it," she mumbled. "It's not like I don't know he loves me. I do. It's just that sometimes it seems like he loves Max more because they do share genetic material. They're always going on about how Max gets this from Daddy, and this from Momma, and no, he gets that from you…" She paused to breathe. "And then Daddy gets that stupid, proud look on his face when Max does something completely annoying, and even when he doesn't say it, you know he's thinking 'That's my boy!'"

Dewey had to agree. It was a pretty stupid face Jayne made. "Yeaaaaah, but I still think you hurt him."

Angel pulled her knees up to her chin, and wrapped her arms around them. "I didn't want to hurt him. Well, not a lot, anyway."

He moved to sit next to her on the bed and draped his arm around Angel's shoulders. He smiled when she cuddled into him. "I know. You're not normally a po fu, just today."

"Thank you so much." She jabbed him in the stomach. The light moment disintegrated when Angel bit her lip and looked up at him. "But Dewey, Max said he memorized what was in my diary."

Dewey pulled away from her to stare at her face, stricken. "What kinda stuff did you put in there?"

"Sort of…everything."

"…Last Saturday under the stairs?"

"Yeah. Well, I mean, nothing much happened. You're probably safe."

Angel kept saying wasn't ready for sex yet, though Dewey sometimes thought he would scream if he had to keep backpedaling when things were starting to get the least bit good. Then last Saturday, Angel finally let him get his hand up the front of her shirt. But if Jayne found out, that hand was going to get chopped off. Dewey was rather fond of having two hands. He'd gotten all used to them now. It would be a shame having to start over.

"How about you leave your brother to me from now on?" he suggested already planning the various forms of torture he was going to enact on the boy.

Angel grinned and kissed him. "My hero. Saving his own neck from my big, scary Daddy."

That reminded him of his original intention for coming to her room, and he looked back at her win all seriousness. "A daddy you need to apologize to."

With a sigh and roll of her eyes, Angel flopped sideways on her bed. She growled something into her pillow then turned over so that she was lying on her back. "I know, I know, I will…." She blew a lock of hair out of her face. "Momma's pretty mad at me, too. She said she didn't want to see me for the rest of the day."

Dewey crawled over her with a grin. "I wouldn't want to see ya, either, but you're so damn cute I keep comin' back."

She giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck to pull him down for a kiss. A few minutes later, light knocking interrupted them just before Dewey's hand rediscovered its new favorite place. Annabelle whispered through the door to alert them.

"Sorry, guys, but I can hear Uncle Jayne clomping down the stairs. I think Dewey ought to not be here when he arrives."

Dewey groaned, and pulled himself away. He made a funny frustrated face at the door that made Angel smile before he ran down the hall to the common room. Angel hurriedly rearranged her T-shirt and rubbed at her lips so it wouldn't look like she'd been making out while Annabelle settled on the floor in front of her cousin. She didn't bother to get comfy; she knew Uncle Jayne would kick her out as soon as he got here so that he and Angel could talk.

But still, before that happened, she had to say, "You and Dewey are really gross, you know that?"

"You're just jealous."

Annabelle stuck her tongue out just as another knock, heavy but hesitant, sounded on their door. "Oh, please, let me get it."

yu je de pi gu—childish butt

yāo—monster, witch, devil

cu cao de po fu—rude shrew

July 2534. The Black…

The whole crew was anxious, but for once it was in a good, happy way. Worry danced with excitement all that week as Dewey packed his belongings. He was accepted into Tenaka's Inner and Outer Atmospheric Flight Academy on Persephone, and would disembark the next morning when they landed.

When he'd come to Serenity as a little boy, there had been an unspoken hope that a talent for flying would run in the Washburn family, but Zoë was careful that he never felt pressured into taking on Wash's role. Since they all spent time on the bridge at some point, all the second generation could fly, but Dewey had shown a true aptitude. And it was something he grew to love. He'd taken his mom and the Captain aside after his Secondary Equivalency Test scores came in and told them of his plans to become a pilot.

Now the time had come for him to actually leave Serenity, and sadness fogged over the excitement that had been rampant upon news of Dewey's admission. No one on the crew liked the idea of one of their own moving away, even if it was for the best. The adults were finally facing the fact that their children couldn't simply stay on the ship forever. They would all have to grow up, and Dewey, being the oldest, had to set a good example.

The only person on the crew who was never happy to hear the news that he was leaving was Angel. She thought her heart would split down the middle when he left. It was coming up on midnight according to the ship. They would be landing in less than six hours. She only had so much time.

Angel snuck out of her room as soon as she heard Max's breathing even out. The ship display showed 00:30. Creeping down the hall to the stairs leading to the upper level, she made sure to keep her footfalls light. Once she had made it to the crew dorms, she popped the hatch on Dewey's bunk (the one right next to his mom's, two bunks down from her parents) easily because he never bothered to lock it. She sent up a quick prayer that her mother was deeply asleep, or at least wouldn't tell Daddy what Angel was up to if she happened to over-feel something, and then descended into the dark room.

Her knees and hands were shaking as she climbed down the ladder. It was funny, she thought. After all the times that she and Dewey had come close to having sex, she was still nervous. Kind of silly really.

Angel tucked a strand of hair back, and closed the hatch. She froze as Dewey made a sound and turned over. He was always a light sleeper. It was something she'd counted on, him waking up once she was in his bunk, but not this soon. She was supposed to have a time to take off her tank top and pajama pants, and crawl under the covers before he realized there was someone else there. She had it all planned out. He was wrecking it.

"Mmm? Who's 'ere?"

"Um. It's me. It's Angel." She took a few steps toward him, her hands fisting and thumbs nervously rubbing her second index knuckle as Dewey pushed himself up on his bed, the t-shirt he wore even in sleep to cover the burn scars on his back rumpled.

"What're y'doin' down here? Something goin' on?" he asked as his voice became steadier. He ran a hand over his eyes.

"No, no. Nothing like that. I just, eh…I was—I wanted to…" She was babbling, so she stopped and took a breath. This might not have started like she planned, but she could still say what she had wanted to. And then get to the most important reason why she was here.

"Dewey, I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you, that you got into flight school. You're going to be a great pilot. I mean, you've been helping Momma fly since you were twelve, and I know she and Uncle Mal trust you with Serenity without question."

"Thanks," he drew the word out. "So, you came down here to congratulate me and wish me luck? This couldn't have waited until the morning, Ange?"

She frowned at him. "That wasn't all I wanted to say. I wanted…I—I love you," she blurted out in a rush. "I love you so much, and I hate that you're leaving me, even for a little while. You've been my best friend since before I can remember, and my duì xiàng for the past five years, and I love you, and we're going to get married someday, so I thought now we could…I want to make love with you. Tonight."

For a few long seconds there was silence. This was not the reception Angel had been looking for, and the longer it took Dewey to speak, the less confident she became.

"Um, are you going to say anything? Or not, I mean we can just on with the sex, if you wanted."

"Jesus Christ, Angel, you've spent too much time around your dad."

"Can we please refrain from talking about either of my parents right now?"

"Angel, we're not having sex."

She tried out what she hoped was a seductive grin. "Well, not yet."

"Not ever," he said, his face serious. Dewey stood and held his hands, palms up, in appeal for her to understand. "Look…what you said, some of it's true. I do love you. And we have been together for years, but we're not going any further."

Angel was in a fog. Her limbs felt weighted and wooden, and there was a vice around her chest that stopped her from taking a full breath. He couldn't possibly be serious. She loved him, he loved her. Why would he be breaking up with her? It made no sense.

"Ange, don't look at me like that," Dewey begged, but kept his distance. "This wasn't like it was an easy decision to make, you know?"

"No. I don't. I don't understand this at all."

He sighed and sat back down on his bed. He ran a hand over his bed-mussed red hair until it truly looked like a small bonfire. Angel loved it when Dewey looked like that—especially when they'd just got done making out—and even now she wanted to be the one to run her fingers over his hair to smooth it down. Make him look presentable.

Dewey sighed, and looked up at her. "We've been together since we were kids, practically since we were babies. And it's not a big surprise. We're all we've ever really had available to each other."

"You could have ditched me for Annabelle," she snapped.

"Yeah, I guess I could have, but even that was slim pickin's," he snapped back. He shrugged. "I'm just being honest, Angel. Face it: We're all we've ever known. There was nobody else here to get a crush on, or date, or mess around with."

"Is that all we did?" Angel threw her hands up and walked in front of him. "Date and mess around?"

"You know what I mean," Dewey muttered. "And that's not my point. My point is that now I'm going to have other options. I don't want to go away for months—longer! Since I'll be getting a job on another boat when I graduate. And you'll still be here, and I don't want to end up cheating on you when I'm gone."

"I can't believe you're actually planning on cheating," she choked as tears stung her eyes and her face burned.

"I'm not planning on it, but I'm not stupid enough to think that I won't meet other women. Women who aren't you, or Annabelle, and the odds are I'm going to want to spend time with them. If we're dating, and you obviously think we're gonna get married, then it would be unfair to both of us."

"We are going to get married," she insisted, jabbing her finger in his face. "I saw it! I saw it like I saw I was going to have a brother, and that he'd be a big doofus. Like I saw Auntie 'Nara leave, and when those men tried to ambush us on Verbena. I saw us, married, and kids. A girl and two boys."

He looked away. "Well, you saw wrong."

She'd never seen wrong before. Sure Angel had been able to avert some of the worse things she'd seen, but she'd never seen something that hadn't at least tried to come to pass.

Could Dewey be right, she wondered. Could she have wanted to see them married and together forever so badly that she imagined a future for them? Angel hated the term "vision" for what she saw, but it was as close as she could come within the limitations of human speech. In reality, it was more like her mind fast forwarded through time to a point in the future and took in the details from sight to smell and texture. When she'd seen herself and Dewey in the future, it had certainly seemed like a genuine experience, right down to the annoyance she'd felt at the antics of her youngest son.

"Please…just go."

Angel realized her gaze had dropped to the floor, and pulled it up to look Dewey in the face since he wouldn't meet her eye. "You mean it. You want me to go. You're breaking up with me."

"Yeah, I am."

She wished she had a shoe on because Angel felt the powerful need to throw something at him. "Why are you doing this now? You've had weeks, and you wait until I come to your room to tell me. Were you going to tell me at all, or just send a Wave once you hit land?"

Dewey's face heated. Angel could see his pale skin pink as she glared. "I, uh, was actually planning on telling you tomorrow morning," he confessed. "Like a bandage, you know. Rip it off all at once with me leaving."

"You rutting bastard," she sobbed, the tears in her eyes finally spilling down her cheeks. "You said you'd love me forever."

Angel ran up the ladder, down the stairs to her room, and didn't care how much noise she made as she slammed her door and flung herself onto her bed. She pulled her pillow to her face as she sobbed.

Dewey left the next morning without saying good-bye to her.

duì xiàng—partner/boyfriend/girlfriend

January 2535. The Black…

Angel called for her family's attention during dessert—strawberry shortcake made with ingredients picked up with money from their last train heist—and everyone waited to hear what she had to say. She's already discussed—and argued—her plans with her parents, and now she was going to tell the rest of her loved ones what she planned to do with the rest of her life. It was Dewey who had led the way, and hopefully in Angel's leaving it would open the pass further for Annabelle whose goals were far grander than Angel's own.

"You all know how I passed my equivalency exams a few months ago. I've been thinking about what to do from here on out, and I made a decision. I want to be a teacher."

Everyone reacted with the expected approval, but her parents already looked like they were bracing to have a broken bone set sans anesthesia. Angel cast a quick glance to her right where they sat, and sent them a smile.

"But wait," Aunt Kaylee said. "To be a teacher you need to get extra schoolin' don'tcha?"

Angel took a deep breath. "Yes. And while I could conceivably take the classes via the Cortex, I decided that if I'm to teach in a school room, I should have some experience in them as a student."

There. She'd dropped the other shoe. The older crew had a moment of silence as they digested the news that the first baby ever to grace Serenity was about to leave.

Uncle Simon looked at his sister. "Are you really going to let her do this?"

"I don't particularly want to," River answered. "We had a lengthy discussion about her options, but I'm still scared for her."

"And I told you," Angel reminded her mother, "if there's any threat from the government, they're probably looking for a Tam. I'm a Cobb."

"And I told you, they have the marriage license on file, as well as the adoption papers your dad signed. They know you're a Cobb."

Jayne jumped in between his two girls. "Thought we already decided? Angel's goin' to one a'them schools she applied to, and she's gonna send us weekly Waves. The second we cain't get in touch, we ride in like the gorram cavalry whether she needs a rescue or not."

His wife still didn't look convinced, though his daughter grinned her gratitude for the assistance.

Zoë stuck her fork into the strawberries-and-whipped cream-covered pound cake with a soft smile of her own. "So, what are the schools you applied to?"

Glad for the change of topic to one that was more supportive of her decision, Angel recited her choices and reasons for choosing them. "I sent in my applications to four schools that have the best courses for my budget; two on Persephone, one on Boros, and another on Parthenon. I'm leaning toward Parthenon right now because their program actually specializes in preparing teachers for schools on the Border or Rim where the equipment and texts aren't as up-to-date."

And, of course, Parthenon was not Persephone. Persephone was where Dewey was, and she couldn't bear the thought of running into him, even accidentally. She didn't want him thinking she was following him.

"But didn't you say you wanted to go with the program on Persephone for learning disabilities?" Annabelle asked.

The adults looked at the fifteen-year-old, and the young prodigy ducked her head. They weren't supposed to know that Angel had run her idea and all of her arguments past Annabelle before she'd presented her plan passed her parents. Woops. She looked up at her cousin and shrugged an apology.

"I do," Angel said. The words were an answer to Bella's question, but her tone was more of an accusation. Then she cleared her throat and explained to the rest, "One of the schools on Persephone offers a course in diagnosing and teaching children with learning disorders like ADHD, or Tourette's Syndrome…or dyslexia."

And there was the real reason she wanted to take that course. Having a brother who constantly struggled to figure out what the simplest news flag or text Wave said had been part of the reason Angel had decided to become a teacher. If someone who knew what they were looking for had been there when her Daddy was little, he wouldn't have been treated like an idiot, and he might have stayed in school longer. He was only 54—still technically middle aged when the life expectancy for a man was well into his hundreds—but his body was already starting to break down after a lifetime of physical strain, beatings, and wounds. Jayne Cobb wasn't dumb, Angel knew, he just hadn't been given much of a chance to do anything that required more brain and less brawn only partly because he was a great deal of brawn.

Both Max and Jayne rolled their eyes at the last disorder. Angel only stuck her tongue out at her brother since Daddy was awfully techy about his reading problem. The rest of the family, however, understood Angel's silent reasoning.

"I was thinking that after I finish school on Parthenon, I could take this course as an adjunct on Persephone."

The Captain nodded. "It's a good plan."

"You're gonna be such a good teacher, Angel," Aunt Kaylee gushed. "Whenever we go into town, the little kids always end up loving you. An' I remember how you used to help Max and Annabelle with their schooling, and Xander when he brought his work with him."

"And speaking of schooling," Annabelle interjected. "Now that Angel and Dewey have both left the nest, so to speak, we can start to talk about what I'm going to do when I take my exams next year."

"We'll talk about this then," her father shot her down.

The teen turned to him making her blue eyes as big as possible, and pleaded. "Dad, come on. It'll be incredibly difficult to get a university to accept me at only sixteen. We have to start petitioning now! Auntie R said so."

Simon glared across the table at his little sister. "Oh did she?"

River shook her head. "I did not! Bella asked what I was planning on doing if I hadn't gone to the other place. I told her how Grandpa Max and I started petitioning for admittance into several universities when I was still ten or eleven. I knew that having a very young student would be an adjustment, so we thought that giving my top choices early notification would be prudent. A few of them were very disappointed when I chose another venue to continue my education."

Simon turned back to his daughter. "And when did this conversation happen?"

Annabelle blushed. "About six months ago."

"Uh-huh. And how many schools have you been in contact with since then?"

She sunk further in her seat and scratched the last tine of her fork against her empty plate. "Three. St. Bertrand on Londinium, U of Alexandria on Bellerophon, and Allied Universities Corps Science and Engineering Department on Bernadette."

"Uh, Miss Annabelle Lee?" the Captain called. "Aren't those all in the Core?"

Before she could answer her godfather, her Dad said, "Absolutely not!"

"Bella, baby," her mom tried to soften the objection, "it's not that we don't want you to go to school and follow your dreams, it's just…the Core is an awful long way from home."

"But the best engineering schools are in the Core!" she protested. "I want to design spaceships. Not one company is going to look at me if I don't have a good education." She turned her stubborn pout on Simon. "If I wanted to be a doctor instead of an engineer, you wouldn't think twice about sending me to the Core."

"Not true. I wouldn't send a daughter of mine anywhere near those phony, hypocritical, money-obsessed, ta ma yao ming planets."

The sudden burst of laughter from the Captain, Zoë, and Jayne seemed rather inappropriate to Simon and Annabelle, but the rest of the crew got the joke.

"It took you eighteen years to say somethin' that damaging about them cushy worlds you come from, but when you finally got goin', you went," Jayne said.

Simon deflated amid the laughter, and with a slightly cooler head, he told Bella, "We'll talk about this again after you take your exams."

"That's not a no," Bella chimed, smiling. "I'll file it under 'maybe' and I'll have Angel help me with winning arguments."

"I'm assuming you helped my daughter with hers?" River asked.

The cousins shared a smile.

Max saw his parents and relatives grimace, and he grinned. "Aren'tchu glad I don't have any higher aspirations?"

ta ma yao ming—damn dangerous

January 2539. Beaumond…

River and Jayne rarely fought as a couple. Argued, yes. Disagreed, absolutely. Threatened each other with sharp objects or guns, occasionally. Actually fought, no; but when they did, it was almost invariably about Max.

"C'mon. A month?"

"Yes, Jayne, a month." River crossed her arms and stared her husband down. He'd been arguing with her ever since she grounded their son after the boy snuck out of Serenity against his mother's wishes without leaving any kind of note, and then did not return until past midnight local time. "He is sixteen. He needs to learn some responsibility for his actions."

"It ain't like he killed anybody," Jayne argued.

"No, he just made me fear for his life."

"Only 'cause you're so damn dramatic," he muttered. "He's a kid. He oughtta be doin' stupid shit like sneakin' out to meet up with girls."

"That doesn't mean he shouldn't get punished for it!"

"A month is too long. Two weeks woulda been fine."

"Two weeks in the Black is hardly anything," River said. "He's gone that long before for much less serious infringements. One month. No Cortex. No music set."

Jayne slammed his hand on the wall above their bed. "Tsway niou!"

River stepped right in front of him. "Excuse me? What part of that was bullshit, in your opinion?"

"You keep punishin' him for the least little thing, and coddlin' him when ya ain't punishin' him, you're gonna turn that boy inta a ruttin' pansy. You want him to end up like your brother?"

"You mean responsible? Considerate? Loyal? Dependable? Fei hua, why would I ever want Maxwell to be anything like that?" she ribbed.

"I mean, someone who's gotta rely on other people the second they step outta their own home. You know this crew carried Simon for a long damn time after he oughtn't'a needed to be carried."

"I didn't realize you still held my brother in so little regard. I foolishly thought you two were friends."

"Don't want Max bein' a burden when he's gotta go out in the world," Jayne clarified.

"Neither do I, which is why he is grounded for a month. What crew or future employer would hire someone who cannot be trusted to take orders, and instead runs off to be…wherever the guay he was!"

"He's a kid," Jayne growled down at her. "Let him be one."

"He's a kid who needs to learn a lesson about consequences," River hissed back, "not a miniature you who gets to live the adolescence you didn't get."

Jayne opened his mouth to tell his wife how the hell out of line she was when the hatch to their bunk opened. Both Cobbs turned to watch a pair of black combat boots two sizes smaller than Jayne's and still growing climb down the latter. Skinny legs in faded black denim, and the lanky torso in a magenta T-shirt that both his parents hoped he would realize was hideous followed the boots. Until finally the shaggy mop of wood-brown hair crested the opening, and Max himself walked into his parents' room.

"I could hear you from my bunk, so I'm sure Zoë's pissed at the noise. So I, uh, decided to come and finish this particular fight, if you don't mind?"

"By all means," his mother said, her icy veneer warming as she found what Max was there for.

Jayne shrugged with his arms closed over his chest. "Go for it."

Max fidgeted from foot to foot before he got all his words straight. He'd come down with only the vaguest of plans, and now that he was here, he realized how hard this was going to be.

"Okay, so the way I figure the percentage, Mom was more or less right this time." He chanced a quick look up at his parents to see how they took that. Mom was pleased, but Pop looked mighty confused and a bit offended. "I prob'ly shouldn't'a snuck out like that. I was supposed to stay here this trip. I was in the wrong.

"But, uh, Pop's not completely wrong, neither," Max cut in on his mother's self-congratulations. "You do kinda treat me like a baby from time to time."

"Do I?" River winced. She really was trying not to screw motherhood up. She'd done so well with Angel, she thought. Max was just a different bolt on the prow altogether.

"Uh, that would be a yes," Max confirmed. Jayne smirked at River, and nodded to his son for the boy to continue. "It's just that there are times... Look, I was hopin' you two could do a compromise kinda thing."

"Compromise how?" River asked warily.

"I was thinking that I could do your punishment now—the no Cortex, no music, grounded for a month thing—this time. But next time I do somethin' stupid, we get to go with Pop's punishment."

"It almost sounds like you're getting ready to make trouble again," his mother sighed.

"I just know myself purdy well." He grinned and shrugged. "After all, look who my parents are."

Said parents shared a smirk, and Jayne unhooked his arms. He sat down on the head of the slim bed and regarded his son with a wry frown. "Looks like you learned how ta sweet talk last time you went to visit Xander at the Trainin' House."

Max's grin widened. "It's been some very educational trips."

River didn't want to know too much about those trips. She trusted Inara to make sure Max stayed out of trouble, but she didn't want to think about what experiences her son might be picking up from the male Companions-in-training. She preferred to think of him as her baby boy for as long as possible.

"Very well," she agreed. "So long as your next malefaction isn't within your month-long period of grounding."

"Agreed," he said. "Pop?"

Jayne waved a hand in agreement. "Whatever you say."

"Good." He nodded to the both of them and started back up the hatch to his bunk—the one Dewey Washburn had vacated several years earlier. He stopped with a foot on the latter. "I still get meals, right?"

River looked at him like he was an idiot, but a cute idiot whose diapers she once changed.


7 weeks later; Greenleaf…

The job had gone well. No one shot. No high speed chase. No double cross. And no one had said anything about how much the two gun hands looked alike, which was a first. Usually pointing out that Jayne and Max shared a similarity was the first thing the bad guys did, so they knew who to shoot to get the most reaction.

And, best of all, they had the rest of the day off. There was a reason Greanleaf was named what it was. The place was covered in tall forests. It was a perfect place for picnics, longs walks, and a smoke—provided the smoker was careful.

Jayne pulled his cigar out of his inner breast pocket, and dug in his jacket for matches. He rounded the side of Serenity, away from the bay doors as well as anything flammable that might drip from the wings, and found he had company. Max leaned back against the hull taking a long drag of the cigarette he held in his fingers.

"That a new habit?"

The boy sucked in too much in surprise and started coughing. "Ni ta ma de! Pop! Don't sneak about like a freak, will ya?"

"I wasn' sneakin'. You need to get'cher ears checked," Jayne said as he walked over and leaned on the bulkhead next to Max. He stuck the stogie in his mouth when finally found his matches, and lit the end before he turned back to his son "So, you gonna answer my question?"

"Uhhhhh," Max trailed off. He hadn't raised the cigarette to his lips since his Pop came over. "It's sorta new. I picked it up on Paquin."

Jayne grunted. "Well, ya did say you was learnin' all kindsa new stuff when you stayed with Xander."

They were both quiet for a bit while they listened to the birds and cicadas in the trees. A cricket chirped by Max's foot. The wind picked up, and the many leaves applauded the natural symphony. Jayne sucked on his cigar.

Finally, Max couldn't bear it anymore. "Are you gonna yell at me or somethin'?"

Jayne shrugged and looked down—thought not far down—into his son's worried face. "Don't feel I got much leeway," he gestured with his cigar, "d'you?"

Max was willing to go with that. He grinned, and took another drag of his cigarette. When he looked back, Pop was frowning, and Max shrugged. "What?"

"Them ain't those green, toilet-licker cigarettes, are they?"

The teen laughed. "Nah, Pop. Good ole fashioned tobacco."

Jayne nodded his approval, and they lapsed back into silence as they listened to the green world around them. Several minutes later, they heard River's voice from around the front of Serenity.

"Jayne? Kaylee and I are going to g—" She stopped when she saw her son and what he was holding. Her face went red, and she planted her hands on her hips. "Maxwell Thomas Cobb! Wh—"

"Baby, you remember that deal we made?"

River choked on what she was about to say. It bottled up in her as the two Cobb men watched her face get more and more tense. Then she threw her hand in the air, and shouted, "You're both going to get emphysema and die!" and stalked off in a swirl of skirt and salt-n-pepper hair.

As soon as she was out of sight, they both let loose barrel laughs.

Tsway niou —bullshit [ie: (Oh, what a load of) "Bullshit!"

Fei hua—nonsense


December 21, 2539. Recently re-founded Haven mining colony…

"Do you Donald Reginald Washburn take Angel to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and hold, love and cherish above all others, to honor and respect, for richer or poorer, in health and in sickness, during good times and times of strife, for as long as you both live?"

"I do," the redheaded groom promised, though five years earlier he'd protested this event ever happening.

The Shepherd marrying the young couple turned next to the bride.

"And do you, Angel Rosemary Cobb take Donald to be your lawfully wedded husband…."

She didn't hear the rest of it. She didn't need to. She already knew the answer. She'd known the answer since she was four and Dewey had kissed her for the first time. She'd seen it, and she knew she was never wrong.

Angel glanced out at the faces of her family and friends. Her Daddy, Momma and Max sat in the first row. Daddy didn't look exactly happy, but she knew he was. Momma was crying. Zoë and Mal sat next to them. Neither cried, but Angel thought she saw her new mother-in-law work hard at keeping her face controlled. Aunt Kaylee, Uncle Simon, Annabelle, Aunt Inara, and Xander sat in the next row, all shining at her. Then came the rows of new friends she'd made on Haven, and Tamara Cassidy, the other teacher at the small school, who had housed her and help Angel make friends when she first arrived.

She heard the preacher at last end his question, and she turned back to grin at the only boy she'd ever loved, and said, "I do."