Part XIX—Full Circle
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters.
Summary: Conclusion. Jayne has a little difficulty returning to the ship, and Mal discovers something he thought he'd never see again.
When Jayne arrived at the docks to look for Serenity's berth, Alliance officers were swarming all around, stopping every pedestrian and searching every ship. Jayne was herded unceremoniously into a line of people waiting to be processed.
"What the hell's goin' on here?" he whispered to the man in front of him.
"Some raid at one of the warehouses went all pear-shaped," the man replied. "Heard tell that 'bout twenty of the soldiers from the garrison got killed, maybe more. Even got the commander of the place, so they say."
The line inched slowly forward, and Jayne spent his time scanning the docks for Serenity or any of her crew. As he got nearer to the Alliance officer presiding over the line, he could see Serenity clearly for the first time. Pleased to see that there were no more Alliance personnel around Serenity than there were around any other ship, he also noted Chau's hovercraft parked far enough away not to be connected with the ship in the mind of anyone who might be looking. Knowing that meant that Zoe and River had gotten the Captain and the Operative safely aboard, Jayne relaxed slightly.
Just as he was devising a story to tell the officer, he was horrified to see Inara striding purposefully in his direction. Giving him a warning look when she saw his mouth open to speak, Inara turned her considerable charm to the officer in charge. "Sir," she said sweetly, "I know that you are quite busy with this terrible tragedy on your hands. Perhaps I could relieve you of at least a little of your burden."
The officer looked at her hungrily, having never seen a more beautiful creature in his life. "How's that?" he managed to get out.
"Well," Inara began, lowering her head submissively, "you see that man right there?" She pointed a delicate finger at Jayne. "That man is my bodyguard. I didn't know all of this was going on, and I sent him out to perform an errand for me. I would never have done it if I had known it would cause you a moment's trouble." She looked up at him through long lashes. "So, you see, it's quite my fault that he's even here. With your permission, I'll just take him back to my ship."
"Which ship was that?" the officer asked politely.
"The one over there," she said, touching his arm as she pointed again. "Serenity. I believe your men have already been on board this evening."
The officer flipped through his paperwork. "Oh yes," he said finally. "The Firefly captained by Zoe Washburne."
"That's right," Inara said, giving his arm a delicate squeeze. "May we go now?"
"Of course," the officer replied, distracted pleasantly by the faint smell of lavender that seemed to float around her. "But it may be a little while before I can give you clearance to leave the dock. I'll do what I can to hurry it along."
"That would be lovely. You're too kind," Inara said, favoring him with a smile that short-circuited his brain for a long moment. Turning to Jayne, she said easily, "Come along."
Jayne followed behind her, almost sorry for the hundan. He'd had no idea what had just hit him.
Mal lay on the smaller of the two infirmary beds, being briefed by Zoe. "Seems as if Peter was right," Zoe said. "From what we can piece together, the Underground folks had been called together by James Chin."
"The man who disappeared a few weeks ago?" Mal asked, still a little groggy from blood loss and pain meds.
"That's right," Zoe answered. "As near as we can tell, he musta' spent some time in Thompson's lab. Called 'em all together for what turned out to be an ambush. Alliance soldiers from the garrison surrounded the building. Only they weren't expectin' John, Peter, and Mei Ling to be there, armed and waiting."
"Did they get out okay?" Mal asked, having a sudden flash of Peter talking about his special girl.
"The three of them did, and about two-thirds of the others. Alliance killed the rest, including Chin, who they say went down protectin' his people. Alliance lost about twenty of their own in the process."
"Where are the survivors now?" Mal asked.
"Couldn't say," Zoe answered. "Just told me they were safe for now, and that they'd be in touch when we get off Osiris."
Mal nodded, feeling a powerful need to close his eyes. "So, what are we supposed to do with him?" he asked, motioning weakly to the Operative.
"Sell him to slavers?" Zoe suggested, her expression bland but a twinkle in her eye.
Mal snorted. "Wouldn't fetch much of a price, unconscious and all." He paused for a moment, turning suddenly serious. "Much as I hate to do it, we need to restrain him in case he wakes up. Ain't got a notion what kinda' go se he's been programmed to do, and I'm not sure I'm up to findin' out."
Zoe nodded. "Already done, sir. We weren't sure either."
Mal nodded his thanks, yawning widely. "Then I guess I'll just sleep a mite, if everything's under control."
"Yes sir," Zoe replied. "Good night, sir."
Simon lay down on his bed, exhausted. "You done good today, honey," Kaylee said, snuggling up to his side.
"Not so sure about that," Simon murmured sleepily. "The Operative's still not awake, and Mal lost a lot more blood than he should have."
"Yeah, well, that weren't your fault," Kaylee said indignantly. "If'n we hadn't had to shove him into that hole in the wall of the cargo bay to hide him when those purple bellies were searchin' the ship, Cap'n wouldn't have started bleeding again."
Simon sighed, wondering at what point such situations had started to seem normal to him. "Still, it could have been worse," he said. "At least River and Zoe and Jayne came back all right."
Kaylee smiled up at him. "Well now, that was a right optimistic way to look at things," she said happily.
Simon looked at his beautiful wife, her eyes shining brightly in the low light of their bunk, and suddenly the worries of the day were lifted. Pulling her closer to him, he pressed his lips to hers, softly at first, and then with more insistence. Deepening the kiss, he ran his fingers through her silky hair, reveling in the small sigh of pleasure the action elicited. As Kaylee's hands began their own exploration, it occurred to Simon that this might be the perfect time to put his baby-making plans into action.
Mal awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of River's voice whispering somewhere in the room. He looked around to discover the Operative looking back at him, a small smile playing at his lips.
"Hello, Captain Reynolds," he said quietly. "I understand I am indebted to you once again."
"Glad to see you're back among the living," Mal said.
"Yes, thanks to your lovely wife, I think," he said, turning his attention to River.
Mal's heart began to beat strangely. "What did you do, River?"
"Nothing dangerous," she replied soothingly. "Helped him find the way home. Wanted to see the damage for myself."
The Operative shifted uncomfortably. "So, there was damage?"
"Some," River said in a small voice. "Can be repaired, given time and adequate de-programming. Triggers must be removed. Defenses re-built. Balance restored."
"Sounds like a lot of work," Mal said, concerned that River had exposed herself to such potential danger.
She turned her luminous eyes to him and rested her hand on his chest. "Not a problem. My defenses were unbreached." She turned to go, glancing back at the Operative. "Mei Ling will call soon. She will take you to get the help you require. They will care for you because you cared for them."
The Operative nodded, oddly moved by the simplicity of her statement. When River left the infirmary, he turned to Mal. "She told me what you did for the troops, and what you did for me."
Mal said tiredly, "Couldn't just leave 'em all to die. Wish I could have gotten them all out, but I guess River told you what happened on Lilac."
"One hundred lost out of forty thousand is a miracle," the Operative said softly.
"I wouldn't have thought you believed in miracles," Mal answered.
"I'm beginning to."
There was quiet for a long moment. "Yeah, guess I am too," Mal replied, somewhat mystified by the truth of the words. "Will you be recalling the army?"
The Operative pondered the question for a long time.
Finally, Mal said, "You know what your sin is?"
The Operative looked at him in surprise. "What would you say it is, Captain?"
"If you're even considerin' callin' those boys back to die, I'd say it's pride," Mal answered softly. "Or stupidity."
"I don't think 'stupidity' is one of the seven," the Operative replied mildly.
"Maybehaps not, but I'm thinkin' it'd be a good addition to the eighth slot."
The Operative sighed, exhausted from his recent ordeal. "I am, according to your wife, too incapacitated to organize an army. Freedom from the yoke of the Alliance is a noble idea whose time has not yet come. It will happen someday, but perhaps I am not the man who will accomplish it."
"They'll be tightening their grip on everything they can reach," Mal observed quietly.
"Yes," the Operative acknowledged. "But their reach is not infinite, and their vigilance will weaken in time."
The men lay quietly, each lost in his own thoughts and worries about the future.
Early the next morning, Mal was delighted to see Adam toddling into the infirmary, followed by River wielding a breakfast tray. Setting it carefully to Mal's side, River lifted Adam up and sat him gingerly on Mal's lap.
"How you doin' there, little one?" Mal asked, hugging his son with his good arm.
Adam grinned, displaying his newest tooth. "Me yook after Daddy."
"Yes, you did," Mal said, a lump rising in his throat.
Reaching up to touch the bandage across Mal's upper torso, Adam asked, "Daddy hurt?"
"A little," Mal admitted. "But I'll be just fine real soon."
Adam looked at him skeptically, with an expression so much like his mother's that it took Mal's breath away. Deciding his father was telling him the truth, Adam grinned again. "Daddy wanna pway with me?"
"Think I'd best eat my breakfast first," Mal answered. Pulling the tray over to him, Mal started to eat awkwardly with his left hand, causing Adam to giggle.
"Daddy messy," he said. "Mama help."
"Hey now," Mal protested. "It ain't that bad."
River moved Adam over and sat on the side of the bed, taking the fork from Mal and cleaning the dropped food from his chest. "He may be right, ai ren. Let me help."
Mal leaned back against the pillow, thinking about the miracle of the woman and child with him. He knew exactly where he'd been when he'd lost his faith, but he wasn't as sure of where he had been when he found it again. He only knew, with bedrock certainty, that he had found it somewhere in his love for this woman and his child. Like the revolutions of a wheel, Malcolm Reynolds' journeys had led him back full circle to a new beginning.
Author's note: So ends another tale of Serenity's crew. I sincerely hope you enjoyed it, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for sticking with this one to its conclusion, as it was admittedly a rather long read. As always, I especially appreciate those who took an extra moment to leave their feedback. It always makes the writing process that much more pleasurable to me.