Title: Breathing

Rating: PG-13 for not so happy themes.

Characters: Mal, Inara, the PCs, Ari

Pairings: Serra/Ari

Summary: A stand alone, PC angst. Set 37ish years post-BDM. Serra at 27.

Disclaimer: Most of the characters (sans the PCs) aren't mine, but the situation is.

For newbies: New Leaf, Brother, Shadow, Mei-Mei, Mischief, Forty, Pirate Children, Mistletoe, Hell-Raising, Delinquent, Barriers, Tough, Echo, Civilized, Breathing

Author's Note: So no where near as fluffy as most PC fics. Rather short, very angsty. You've been warned. It's the most in the future we've seen the PCs, and yes it's a little confusing. But PC isn't posted in order for a reason.

Kacey Washburn, 35

Lolly Tam, 34

Abe Reynolds, 32

Serra Reynolds, 27

Serra has been crying for three days now, and it's destroying Abe. She has every right to cry, of course. The physical and emotional toll of…

But Serra doesn't cry. His Mei-Mei has been shot, stabbed, tortured in her adult life and only a handful of times has she been brought to tears. And never by one of the above.

There's nothing he can do to stop it either. No one to kill or maim.

He's sat with her, rubbing her back or holding her close or coaxing her to drink. To stay alive.

And still she continues to sob.

So he comes to this moment, to keeping Ari, physically, out of the shuttle, shoving the younger man out of the way. Keeping him from the woman they both love above all else in this 'verse.

"He was mine, too," Ari shouts, recoiling, tears wetting his cheeks. "My child, too… My son…"

"She doesn't want you in there. She wants you off the ship."

"Abe, please," Ari begs through wet eyes. "I love her. Our son… We both lost him. Let me mourn with her."

"She said no," Abe stands firm, though he's near tears himself.

"And you always do as she says," Ari sighs.

It's not an accusation; it's defeat.

He sinks to the ground, head against the bulkhead.

"She named… We named him Benjamin."

"I know."

"I only... I've dreamt for the past four months about holding him, singing to him, watching him smile. And now… I only held him once, and he wasn't even breathing…" Ari's voice strangles off.

"She wants you off," Abe says evenly, though the words tear at his own heart almost as much as they must tear at the younger man's. "We land on Newhall in three hours. Pack up your stuff. You're off as soon as we hit dirt."

"I won't leave her."

"You're off as soon as we hit dirt," Abe repeats forcefully. They both know Ari doesn't have a choice.

"Let me see her. Once more. Before I go. Abe…"

"I'll talk to her," Abe acquiesces. "Go pack your things."

Ari stands and trudges off. He wears his anger and anguish on his sleeves, lashing it around. In some ways, it's comforting to Abe, to see one of them reacting. One of them still hurting, still living. All he can do is replay the terrible hours, Lolly at his side, coaching his baby sister through delivering a still-born, too-small baby. Giving her orders, orders she was actually obeying. In med school, they talk about a baby not being a baby until it breathes outside of the womb. Until then, it's a fetus. It's supposed to be a way to distance oneself from situations like this. But there is no distancing himself here. He was a baby, his nephew, his baby sister's son, no matter whether he breathed outside of the womb or not.

Two and a half hours later, Ari is standing in the doorway to the shuttle.

"Don't come any closer."

Her back is to him, but he obeys the order.

"Ser', baby. Look at me. Please."

"I can't," she chokes. "I look at you and only see him."


"I can't live that way."

"Serra, I love you! I can't… I can't live having lost you both. I hurt, too. Let us mourn him together."

His voice is loud, fuelled by the pain of his heart being ripped to pieces.

"I don't want to be with you."


"Get out."

There's not even anger in the words. She's just given up. Her anger, her hatred he could take; he apathy kills him.

"I love you," he reiterates before he leaves.

Inara is on Serenity the moment her ramp lowers, heading directly to the shuttle, to her baby girl. She doesn't even notice Ari trudging down the ramp.

Mal notices him and nods in acknowledgement. In condolence. But the nod is all he can give. With that, Aristaeus Westgate leaves Serenity.

Inara grabs Abe into a quick embrace, feeling him start to cry in her arms.

"Serra…" Inara says, gently.

Abe nods and guides his parents to the shuttle.

"Mei-Mei," he says softly, hoping she's asleep. She's not. "Mama's here."

Inara sweeps past him, climbing onto the bed beside Serra, spooning behind her. Cupping Serra's cheek from behind, she says: "Hey, you."

Serra loses it, her face crumpling with her pain. Inara cries along with her. She can only imagine the pain, the horror. She understands having a life inside, loving it unconditionally, understands the fear and excitement and anticipation. But those two lives she once held inside her are still alive, still beside her. She watched them grow, saw them smile, felt their love. She watched them breathe. Serra was denied even that.

Abe joins them, face to face with Serra, holding one of her hands and adding his slow tears to the mix.

Mal stands guard by the door, feeling an ache in his chest not caused by his age.

He had been wrong eight years before, when he feared six weeks in an Alliance pen might have been her Serenity Valley. This is it. This is her valley, to have her child only three months away, to have made it through both scary trimesters, to have thought she was home free, and then…

And he feels helpless against this, the most helpless he's felt since his own valley.

So he sits on the end of the bed that was once his, where both she and her brother were conceived, and puts his hand on her knees, watching his too strong baby girl fall apart.

David Ware follows him down the ramp.

"Go to the Tams," the tall Sino gun hand says, nodding towards the direction of the vast Serenity ranch. "Mrs. Tam said they'd set you up for a few nights, 'fore you can passage back to Shadow. She figured you probably wouldn't want to be staying with the Reynolds."

"Thanks," Ari says, hollowly. "That's nice of her."

David grins sadly, "That's Mrs. Tam for ya."

"David, I…"

"Yeah, Ari?"

"Just thanks. Look after everyone, please?"

"That's why they pay me the big bucks."

"They don't pay you very much," Ari says.

"It's an expression, Ari."

"Can I see 'im?" Mal asks, eyeing the tiny lump under the sheet with horror.

"Dad, it's not… It's not pretty."

"That a clinical description, Bubba?"


"I need to see him."

Abe sighs and removes the sheet.

"Ben. She named him Ben."

The cousin killed by the river.

"You carving on my ship again, Leila Lee?" a weak voice asks, trying but failing to bluster.

Lolly shuts off the blow torch and raises her goggles.

"Mei-Mei," she smiles, standing up from her squat and setting down her power tool and gloves.

She's never seen Serra look tinier, more lost and helpless, her skin pale, her eyes rimmed in red and dark circles. Mouth pulled emotionless. Swallowed by the ancient army blanket she holds around her shoulders.

"Just keeping the list up to date, Captain."

She gestures to the list of names engraved into the wall in the cockpit, listing the family of Serenity in order of their arrival.

Serra's voice gets soft and teary.

"Thank you, Lolly."

Captain Malcolm Reynolds

Zoe Alleyne Washburn

Hoban Washburn

Kaywinnit Lee Frye Tam

Jayne Cobb

Inara Serra

Shepherd Derrial Book

Dr. Simon Tam

River Tam

Killian Cobb Washburn

Leila Lee Tam

Dr. Abram Derrial Reynolds

Alistair Caramia

Captain Serra Alleyne Reynolds

Benjamin Westgate Reynolds

Her fingers run over the still warm letters of her son's name, successfully fighting the tears back.

"We can get past this, Mei-Mei," Lolly says softly, hand landing gently on Serra's shoulder. "We'll never forget, but we can keep living."

Her fingers still tracing Benjamin's name, Serra closes her eyes.

"No, never forget."

And though over the last six months, Lolly has never been able to picture it, in this moment Serra is a mother.

el fin