Long Road Home – Chapter Twenty Two

Not mine, not being paid, no infringement intended.


Zoe sat in the lounge outside Serenity's infirmary. Jayne and River were aboard the Companion, and River had told her pointedly that she should be on Serenity.

'No point in denying that you have feelings for him, Zoe,' the little assassin had told her bluntly. 'Go. Danger is past, and Jayne and I will be here.'

So Zoe had gone. Simon and Inara were still working when she'd arrived, so she took a seat in the lounge to wait.

Now, waiting, she again tried to sort out her feelings. She was too old and wise to call it love at this early stage. But there was no denying the attraction between them. Butler Tarrant was a man. Had taken out three attackers with just a knife, even after being wounded himself.

Despite the hardness of that act, there was also a softness there. Zoe had seen it, felt it, whenever she spoke with him. Tarrant wasn't so cold as Jayne, nor so dark. Hadn't likely lived the kind of life Jayne had, she knew. True, Jayne had a soft side, but no one ever saw it except River. The little psychic had the key to Jayne, and she wasn't sharing.

But Tarrant's softer side didn't need unlocking. It was always there, whenever she looked at him, or spoke to him. It wasn't weakness. No one who had done what he'd managed to do during the battle could be thought of as weak. It was simply another side to him. One she had to admit she liked. A lot.

That's what it was, she nodded firmly to herself. She liked him, that's all. She was still assuring herself of that when she drifted off to sleep.


Zoe awakened to Simon shaking her shoulder gently.

"Zoe," he was saying. She straightened.

"I've done what I can," he told her bluntly. "The wounds weren't so serious, except for the blood loss. I'll have to keep a close eye on him for a day, to make sure his system doesn't go into shock. I'm giving him blood slowly, so his system doesn't shut down."

"So he'll make it?" Zoe fought to keep her tone professional.

"If we can keep him stable until his system recovers, yes. He'll be fine. Like I said, the next day or so will tell. Why don't you get some rest?"

"Can I see him?" Zoe blurted, and Simon blinked. Hard.

"Simon," Inara said quietly. "You should rest, at least some. I'll watch for a while, and call you at once if anything changes." She guided him toward the passenger dorms. "Go and rest, Simon. Goldie may need you again." Simon nodded finally, and went.

Inara watched him out of sight, then turned to Zoe.

"Go on in," she smiled faintly. "He's so heavily sedated that he won't know you're there, but you will. Go on. I'll hover here at the door, just where I can see the monitors, but not hear. If you wanted to say something, I mean," she added.

Zoe nodded her thanks, not trusting herself to speak. She rose, straightening her jacket, and crossed to the infirmary, where she stopped.

Tarrant lay on the table, tubes and wires running back and forth. Blood and plasma fed slowly into his arms, and various monitors provided information on his vital signs and body systems. Slowly she entered the room.

Looking down at his peaceful face, Zoe wondered what she should do. Or say. How could she be so. . .she barely knew the man! What was she doing in here?

The thought almost drove her away, but just then Goldie moved. It wasn't much, but it affirmed that he was alive. She sat down on a stool next to his bed. Of it's own volition, her hand reached up to stroke the yellow hair away from his forehead.

"Damn fool," she muttered. "Running off and nearly getting yourself killed like that. Should know better, a man your age. With your experience." She felt a tear slip from her eye, and wiped it away angrily.

"I don't need you, or any other man, watching out for me, dong ma?" she told him tersely. "Been doing right fine watching out for my own self. Ain't no 'girl' to be set up on a pedestal and kept safe. I'm a grown woman. Been a soldier, and now I'm a ship's captain."

Tarrant didn't move. Inara had mentioned the sedative he was under, and Zoe knew he couldn't hear her. But she needed to say these things, and it was better, she figured, that she said them now. Get them out of the way.

"Next time you get the need to feel all heroic, you just get over it, instead of sneaking away and nearly getting yourself dead. You hear me? You work for me, don't forget. That means I tell you to do something, you do it." She smiled at the words, realizing she sounded like Mal.

"God help me, I even talk like him now," she muttered. "No more of this, Butler Tarrant. And don't you dare die. You can consider that an order." On impulse she leaned down and kissed his exposed forehead. Then she rose, and walked out of the infirmary.

Oddly, she felt better.

Behind her, Butler Tarrant slept on, unaware of his visitor. When Inara walked back in to check on him, though, she could have sworn he had a faint smile on his face. Odd.


River watched as Zoe left Serenity, returning to Companion. The struggle of emotions in her was strong, and River sighed. Poor Zoe. So confused.

"What is it, baby girl?" Jayne asked at once, hearing the sigh. River smiled gently at the concern in his normally gruff voice.

"Zoe," she replied softly. "Feel her pain, her confusion. Wish I could help, but she must do this alone."

"Well, Goldie's tough," Jayne commented, placing his arm around her gently. "He'll pull through."

"It's not just that," River looked up at him. "She is unsure of herself. Unsure what to do, and it's not a feeling she is used to. She feels a pull toward him, but cannot completely escape feelings of guilt."

"About Wash?" Jayne asked. River nodded.

"Can't blame her for that," Jayne observed. "Her and Wash were close. Soul mates I always thought."

"Not quite," River frowned. "I think that's part of the problem. She loved Wash unconditionally. But Wash wasn't comfortable with Zoe's choice of jobs. And all too often, jealous of the relationship between her and Ba ba."

"Mal and Zoe?" Jayne looked at her in wonder. "Nah, can't be."

"Wasn't," River assured him. "But the heart can't help who it loves, and Wash was a bit insecure about it. Zoe wonders now if she's being untrue to him by moving ahead."

"That's. . ." Jayne started, then trailed off. River looked up at him again, eyes shining.

"Yes," she said simply. She knew that if something happened to her Jayne, she would have trouble ever moving on.

"I. . ." Jayne tried again, but finally shook his head in frustration.

"Me too, my love," River leaned against him. "Me too."

The two of them stood like that for a very long time. It had been a long road, but they were home. Home at last.


Sheriff Grippen was at his desk, looking over the cortex alerts. He was still fuming at the way things had gone at Guilford's. He'd been intent on forcing Reynolds off world, getting rid of him once and for all. Maybe even arresting that merc of his for Jenkins death, and shipping him off to Astra.

Now that was just off. No way he could touch Reynolds without pissing off Harwell. And Harwell had made it plain that he'd like nothing better than stir up a damn hornet's nest all over the local sheriff. And he had the clout to do it with, too.

Worse, he'd used the damn Jenkins murder to throw both men off, and now he'd admitted in front of Harwell that Ball, who had departed for parts unknown, had told him Withe was responsible for Jenkins demise. So he couldn't use that against Reynolds without stirring up Harwell's wrath.

Damn! He had to get control of this situation! He couldn't let this get away from him. It would undermine the authority he used to keep the riff raff in line, and ensure a steady flow of income into his pockets.

He'd been perusing the cortex all the while he was thinking. Suddenly he saw a familiar face flash by. Backing up, he studied the picture. It was a young woman, really just a girl. Why did she. . .

"Well, I'll be dipped," Grippen muttered to himself. It was the merc's little woman! It wasn't a criminal warrant, he noted sadly, but a bounty poster. Quite a bounty, too, he realized with raised eyebrows. Man could do a lot with that kind of money.

Grippen sat back in his chair, mulling over his newly discovered options. Interesting. Mighty interesting.


Simon was in the infirmary when Goldie groaned. The bigger man's eyes fluttered briefly, then opened slowly.

"Well, Mister Tarrant," Simon smiled. "Welcome back."

"Were've I been?" Goldie mumbled. "Don't recall leavin'."

"Well, you didn't. But your were injured pretty badly. Lucky for you, there's an excellent doctor in these parts."

"Really? Shiny. Love to meet him." Simon laughed at that.

"I think you're going to be okay, Goldie," Simon turned serious. "You lost a good deal of blood, and had a nasty cut across your chest wall, but you're out of danger. My greatest fear was that you'd go into shock. I managed. . ."

"Doc, that's all really interesting," Goldie interrupted, "but I'm starvin'. Reckon I could get something to eat while you go over all this?" Simon smiled. Yes, Goldie would be just fine. Shouldn't have been a surprise, he decided. He was a friend of Jayne's, after all.


Goldie was just finishing up his meal when he felt a presence. He looked up to see Zoe Washburne standing in the infirmary door. Watching.

"Hi, Cap'n," Goldie smiled. Zoe didn't smile back, and his own faltered.

"You don't look happy to see me all awake and feeling better, Cap'n," he said, trying to keep his tone light. "Something I said?"

Zoe didn't answer, but she did almost grin, which was an improvement. She walked into the room and over to his bed.

"You like to died," she finally spoke.

"Well, it wasn't that. . ." he broke off at her glare.

"Don't," she ordered. "I ain't no girl to be comforted by lies. I know what I saw."

"Well, I've had worse," Goldie told her. "Not lately, I admit, and not much. But I have. I'm a tough old bird."

"Don't do it again," she ordered tersely. He looked at her for a long time, searching for something. What he didn't know. But when he saw her eyes, he knew then.

"Do my best," he nodded seriously. He snaked out a hand and took hers in it. She let him.

"Do my best," he repeated, and was finally awarded a smile.


Word of Goldie waking traveled quickly, and soon the crew were drifting in and out of the infirmary, wishing him a speedy recovery, and bringing food items and luxuries. Zoe stayed with him for a while, then eased away as the others began to drift through. Goldie didn't ask her to stay, though he wanted to. Inara had told him not to push. He wouldn't.

"She needs time," River told him, seeing his eyes follow her from the room. "Give her that time. She's worth it."

"Second one that's told me that," he groused. "Is everyone around here of the opinion that I can't figure that out on my own?"

"You're a man," River giggled. "Need instruction on these things."

"How much instruction you give ole' Sha. . .Jayne?" he sneered good naturedly, and cackled at River's blush.

"Had to pursue him," she admitted. "Hard to convince."

"You're kidding me," Goldie's jaw dropped. "You had to convince him? I'd have thought it'd be just the opposite!"

"See? You obviously need help in these matters," River's own laugh was gleeful as well, as Goldie had just proved her point. He grinned.

"Point made," he nodded. "And I'm patient."

"Good," River nodded, and left him to ponder.


The two Blue Sun agents read the message together. The Tam subject had been spotted, positively identified. The larger of the two looked at the astrographic image.

"A great distance," the smaller noted. "Small surprise she has not been spotted in sometime."

"Agreed," the larger nodded. "She still has the large one," he noted, looking to his comrade. "This is a dangerous man. It is the same man, I am sure of it." The smaller sighed. This again.

"Very well," he reluctantly said. "We will make every effort to take him as well. But the Tam subject must be our priority. Agreed?" The larger nodded.

"Very well. I suggest that we enlist at least one other team. This mission has a low probability of success without additional resources."

"I concur. Contact them, and arrange a meeting, here," he pointed to the primary. "From there, we will proceed."


And so another story comes to a close. What a wild ride it's been. Thank God for Excedrin Migraine. And thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on my work, I can't thank you enough. There is another story coming in this 'verse, but likely not until after deer season. I'm a hunter, can't help it. We southern boys eat red meat, lol. The next story will be up soon as I can, but no promises. If I hit the bag limit early, then I'll start posting early. Deal? Until then, Happy Reading, and Long Live Serenity.