Disclaimer: None of these are my characters. Joss Whedon is the man.

After seeing the scans of his daughter's brain, and listening to Simon's explanations, a shocked and indignant Gabriel Tam allowed himself to be led back to the galley lounge, where Mal served everybody glasses of Kaylee's engine wine. It wasn't very good, but the Tam men obviously could use a 'smoother,' to use Simon's term.

The elder Tam listened in silent outrage and horror as his son told the story of River's mistreatment at the hands of the Alliance, and then of their escape via the underground movement. Afterward, the Captain and River both chimed in to help Simon tell Mr. Tam of their exploits aboard Serenity the past year. They started with Mal opening her box and his false assumption, which gave Gabriel a chuckle, all the way through the Miranda Wave and the Captain's contact with Mr. Tam.

Mal realized at that point that they were all out of wine, and refilled everyone's glasses. The Captain sat down with a satisfied sigh and took a deep swig from his mug, while the other three looked forlornly at theirs. Gabriel, who had stopped speaking near the beginning of the long tale, was still speechless. Simon had calmed considerably in the telling, but poor River looked like she'd been put through the ringer. Mal realized that reliving all these events in such a short time must have taken quite a lot out of her, but she had needed to share it all with her father.

The older man sat back and looked with awe at his children. His gaze switched back and forth between the two, displaying a certain awe at Simon's obvious love for his sister, and perhaps a bit of fear at the thought that his little girl had somehow been turned into a psychic assassin at the hands of the government he has trusted so much until now.

"I, ahh, don't know how to begin to apologize to the both of you," Gabriel began. "If Iher had known, River, I swear to you I would have done anything in my power to help. Can you ever forgive me?" The regret and sorrow in his voice was plain. This man was obviously disillusioned with the government, and unshed tears for his children shone bright in his eyes.

River gave her father a sad smile and nodded. Simon, not feeling the vindication he had expected, looked exhausted. Apparently, the retelling had taken a lot out of him, as well. River, looking up at her father with clear, sane eyes, said, "Ignorance is no excuse, but it is a good start for an apology. Only a reader could have known the truth of the situation, and she was locked up far away. Now she's free, and she wants her daddy back."

The tears began to slide down Gabriel's face at last, and he hugged his daughter to him fiercely as sobs wracked his body. "Oh, River," was all he could manage. When finally he was able to calm himself, the elder Tam pulled back and looked at his children. "You've both changed so much," he said. "Will you come home now that it's all over? I'm sure your mother would love to see you."

"I don't know that that's a wise idea, sir," said Mal. "You see, even though the warrants were officially dropped, you never know when somebody'll recognize these two and remember all the zeros attached to 'em. I'd hate to see somethin' go wrong after all the time I've invested in their safety. 'Sides, Mr. Tam, I got a personal interest in not losin' my doc and my navigator. They're part'a my crew, after all." Mal said this last with a smile at the siblings.

"Well, Captain Reynolds, it seems you're keeping my children safe, in any case. If they're both determined to remain on your ship," Gabriel said with a pointed glance at the siblings, which both nodded at, "it seems the least I can offer is a safe haven, should you ever have cause to return to Osiris. I do wish there was something more I can do, however."

Mal's face took on a solemn, thoughtful look. "Actually, sir, I reckon there is." Simon shot the Captain a wary glance, while River beamed at him once again in that unsettling, slightly worshipful manner. "You know any people might be lookin' to provide a somewhat honest cargo ship some slightly profitable work?"

Gabriel smiled at the Captain in understanding. "As a matter of fact, Captain, I believe I may be able to render occasional aid in that matter. It seems I recall some friends complaining about the loss of profits they've experienced when shipping through Alliance-approved means. It may take some time to divine the mildly honest from the blindly obedient, however. How long are you planning to stay here?"

"Well, the whole point of this little trip was gettin' you three together for this little sit down, but I'm sure I can find some reason for Kaylee to ground us a bit for repairs. How long you figure it'll take?" Mal's money-making smile was plastered all over his face, making River giggle and Simon roll his eyes.

"Oh, I don't imagine I'll need any more than a week to throw together a small banquet for some business associates of mine. One does need good cause for such informal meetings, after all." Gabriel's business mind was running in overdrive, traveling down paths he'd never before given a second thought to.

"Ooh!" Mal exclaimed, "a shindig! I do love a good party." Having drawn a chuckle from Gabriel, Mal said, "You just Wave us here with a time and place, and I'll get myself and little Kaylee gussied up for a meet'n greet. I imagine we'll be able to find cause to visit on a fair regular basis, if we can drum up enough interest."

"You just leave it to me, Captain," Mr. Tam said happily. "I believe my wife would enjoy a tour of the ship as well, if you can fit it into your schedule." With a gleam Simon hadn't seen in his father's eye in many years, Gabriel stood up from the couch. "Unfortunately, I should take my leave now, in order not to draw too much attention to your fine vessel. I'll Wave you in the next few days, Captain."

"Well, that would be just shiny," Mal said happily. "We'll walk you back to the docks, and I look forward to the tour." With that, the foursome made their way back to the cargo bay, where Gabriel said his temporary good-byes to his children. He was hesitant, even now, to part from them, but he knew it was safest not to prolong his visit any more. HE promised to see the group soon, and stepped back out into the crowd and was gone.

Mal, a satisfied smile fixed on his face, nearly jumped when Simon fixed him with a glare and a finger in the chest. "You should have spoken to us first," he said, attempting anger but only achieving a false, doctorly frown.

"Oh, don't worry doc. Out of three votes, River and I made up the majority. We didn't need your opinion, since you were outvoted before you were ever told." Mal and River shared a conspiratorial grin, and Simon sighed theatrically. He was trying desperately to show us unhappiness, and failing spectacularly.

River slapped her brother on the arm lightly and laughed. "You needed this as much as I did, lao da ge. Go clean your infirmary or something." She laughed brightly at her brother's consternation, and watched him walk deeper into the ship with a satisfied smile playing about her lips.

Once he was gone, she turned to the Captain and threw her arms around his neck. The surprised man stood stock still, not knowing what to make of it. "Malcolm Reynold, don't ever let anybody tell you you're not a good man. You have shown a soft spot in your heart today that your warrior facade will never live down." With that, she landed a chaste kiss on his lips, and was gone before he could decide if he had imagined it.

XXXXX

Regan Tam's reunion with her children was a tearful one, but happy. The high-society lady was quick in her denunciations of everything Alliance, and vehement in her hate of the Academy that had harmed her daughter. Mrs. Tam swore to do everything in her power to help Gabriel find them work, so that her children would have good cause to visit her regularly.

"Mother, I told you," sighed Simon at one point. "I promise I'll Wave every time we make a stop on Osiris."

"Ma'am, don't you worry," added Mal. "Since we ain't on the run like we used'ta be, we can take a few more risks on trips to the core now. So long as our cargo's legit or easy to hide, we have no cause to hide so far out on the Rim as we used to."

With tearful smiles, Regan looked back and forth gratefully between her children. "Oh, my babies. I'm just so glad you're safe." She looked to Mal next and said, "Thank you so much for protecting them, Captain."

"T'weren't nothin' but what's right'n proper, ma'am," Mal said with blushing cheeks. Gratitude wasn't among the emotions he knew how to deal with. "Unfortunately, we should get you sent off home, afore this little visit starts to look more'n a mite suspicious."

Mal and the Tam siblings walked their mother to the cargo bay. After many hugs and a few more tears, Regan turned to the Captain once more. "Thank you, Mr. Reynolds, for the wonderful tour." The tears were already drying on her cheeks. Damn, this woman could play a part. "I hope my husband finds cause to employ such a sturdy ship often in the future. I'm sure my faith in your crew is well-founded." Then Regan Tam turned around and disappeared into the dock crowds.

Simon turned to Mal, a slight smile still twitching the corners of his mouth. "Thank you, Captain," he began. the doctor was in a much better mood now than he had been when his other parent left. "It was wonderful to see our mother again. I'm grateful to you for your subterfuge."

"Well," Mal smiled, "if by that you mean sneakin' about, you're welcome. I can't say that my aims were purely selfless, though. After all, looks like this wasn't a wasted trip to the core." At Simon's raised eyebrow, Mal chuckled. "Kaylee'n I got a party to go to end of the week. Seems we're like to be haulin' some cargo off this rock."

XXXXX

The Tams threw a fine shindig. Kaylee almost made herself sick gorging at the buffet, but Mal couldn't rightly fault her. It was damn fine fare.

Mal made more than a few contacts, too. It seemed Gabriel had underestimated the number of associates he had who were serious about sending good off-planet, whether legitimately or not. Before the end of the night, the Captain had arranged to leave Osiris with the hold stuffed to bursting. Three separate men, representing respectable business enterprises, and one gentleman who had been unable to have his good exported legally, absolutely insisted they be his first customers. The pay was better than Serenity's crew had seen in a long time, and it would be simple enough to hide the contraband among the legal stowage.

Mal and Kaylee left the party late that night with a list of contacts the length of Kaylee's poofy skirts, presents from Regan Tam to her children, and assurances that they'd have all the cargo by the end of the next day.

True to their word, all four shipments of goods arrived by nightfall the following day. First in were the hundred barrels of very fine wine, bound for Persephone, which Mal had to threaten Jayne with bodily harm over. The Captain still wasn't sure they'd all make in safely to their destination, the way the crew eyed them. Next up were five giant crates of mechanical parts, intended for some factories on Aberdeen. Their third cargo was a massive quantity of foodstuffs, to be delivered to the staging station on Bernadette. All the settlers headed for the outer Rim would be using these supplies in their new lives.

Their last cargo was a little more interesting. With their hold already mostly full, they had to squeeze around crates, boxes and barrels to get it into their smuggler's holds. This cargo was all theirs, now. They had used a good part of the shipping fees from the first three cargoes to buy it outright from the seller, who didn't have any specific plan or destination in mind when he agreed to ship it with Serenity. The seller was more than happy to accept the modest price offered by Mal, who himself was excited about the profit potential of his new possessions.

The ship was already stocked for a long run and in excellent shape, thanks to their extended time in-world, so the crew set out for their first destination, Bernadette, in excellent spirits. This truly did look to be a milk run, being mostly legal anyhow.

"Pilot to co-pilot," River smiled over her shoulder as the Captain made his way to the bridge. "We're out of atmo and on course to Bernadette." Mal couldn't remember ever having seen his navigator looking so happy and sane at the same time before. "It's good to be out in the Black again," she said as he walked up and placed his hands gently on her shoulders.

"It is at that," Mal said. "I take it, then, that recent developments are to your likin'?" He smiled down at River from above, while she looked up and met his gaze. She placed her hands over his where they rested on her shoulders, then pulled one around and kissed it tenderly. Mal was too shocked to move.

River, taking advantage of the Captain's temporary immobility, pulled his arms around her in an embrace. "They are. Thank you, Mal." The Captain detected something in her voice, as steady as he had ever heard it, that he wasn't sure he was comfortable with. Between her use of his name, which was unusual enough, and the hug he found himself hesitant to break, however, Mal discovered his uneasiness was, unaccountably, sliding away into an easy familiarity.

Settling himself more comfortably over the back of the pilot's chair, as well as his pilot's shoulders, Mal kissed the top of her head, then rested his chin there with a contented sigh. "You witchin' me, young'un?" he asked with a smile.

"If that's what it takes," River returned, sliding her hands up his arms to link her fingers together on the back of his neck. "May not be old enough to vote yet, but I'm no longer a child, either. Are you comfortable with that?"

"Well, lil' one," Mal said thoughtfully, "I can't rightly say I ever expected this, and I don't know if I'm brave enough to see it through, but give me some time to work it through my mind and I promise I'll give it the thought it deserves." Suddenly River shifted her head to the right, causing Mal's to fall forward. his face was level with hers now, and he turned to look at her. She was looking back at him, meeting him eye to eye.

"Take what time you need," she purred, "but don't leave me waiting too long. A pilot's yoke can only bring a girl so much satisfaction." While Mal's eyes turned into giant saucers, River laughed quietly. Then her head moved forward, pressing her lips against his. The kiss lingered long enough this time to prove in Mal's mind that he hadn't imagined the first one, after all. The River broke the contact and, turning back to the console, became serious. "You should go to your bunk, Captain. You look like you could use a good night's sleep."

Standing up hesitantly, Mal replied, "Oh, I reckon I will head down to my bunk." Kissing his navigator on the top of the head again, Mal turned to walk off the bridge, mumbling just loud enough for her to hear, "Don't expect I'll sleep much, though."

River smiled as she listened to the sound of his boots moving down the passageway. Yes, he would be hers.

lao da ge – big brother