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From the Ashes

A couple of hours later, as Serenity drifted through the black towards the closest planet that was within fuel range while being far enough away from the facility that the odds of anyone finding them there were slim at best, Claire sat on her bed and stared silently at Peter as he sat on the edge of the bed in their cabin on Serenity, his own gaze fixed on nothing in particular.

"Six hundred years…" he said, evidently unable to believe it. "I jumped over six hundred years…"

"And an unspecified number of light-years; I… well, I dozed off when they were announcing how far away we'd be going from Earth when we were boarding the ships and I never got around to asking for clarification later," Claire said, shrugging helplessly as she looked at Peter. "All I know is, it's far; the Company had to discreetly get a dozen people involved whose abilities involved enhanced knowledge to some extent or another- a guy with a tamer version of Sylar's intuitive aptitude, a girl with enhanced memory, that kind of thing- just to make sure the ships were advanced enough to make the trip in the first place, and don't even get me started on what they had to develop to make sure everything was habitable when we got here…"

"Right…" Peter said, nodding in slightly-dazed understanding as he looked at Claire, an apprehensive expression filling his gaze. "And… you're over six centuries old?"

Claire's eyes widened slightly in understanding.

At least that answered the question of why Peter was looking at her like that…

"Side effect of being able to heal like this," she said nonchalantly, before she reached over to place a reassuring hand on Peter's. "Don't worry about me, though; I kept in touch with the old group right up to the end, and I've always been able to call on their families when I need someone to talk to- I generally pass myself off as my own daughter or something like that; I space out my visits enough to stop anyone clearly remembering what I looked like the last time I dropped in-, so it hasn't been too bad."

"Good," Peter said, smiling slightly at her. "I'm… well, it's good to know you weren't alone."

"But…" Claire added, reaching over to place a hand on Peter's as she leaned forward slightly, "even with the ability to live this long, you know the one thing I've never managed to find?"

"What?" Peter asked, looking uncertainly back at her.

"Someone like you," Claire replied.

She knew that she'd changed a lot over the years- you had to adapt in order to survive in a world like this-, but if there was one thing she knew hadn't changed about her, it was what she'd tried to be in Peter's memory; never be cruel, never be cold, and always fight for those who can't…

She wasn't denying that there wouldn't be some parts of her that weren't what Peter remembered- just as there were things about Peter she might have forgotten or 'coloured over' in her recollections of him-, but she was willing to work on them to be with him.

With that, she leaned over and kissed Peter directly on the lips, all thoughts of the reasons why she'd stopped herself from doing this back in the past now abandoned among the ruins of Earth-That-Was all those long centuries ago.

Unlike other people who simply said they'd waited centuries for something to happen, Claire literally had waited that long to reach this stage, and she was rapidly learning that the dreams she'd had in the past were nowhere near as good as the reality was turning out to be…

"No," Peter said, pulling away from her (With, Claire noted with satisfaction, evident reluctance on his face as he spoke; no matter what had happened to him since the last time they'd seen each other, clearly his current protests were mainly made out of habit rather than anything else). "We can't… we're-"

"Related?" Claire countered, smiling slightly at Peter as she raised an eyebrow at him in that slightly teasing way that always made him want to kiss the eyebrow in question. "Maybe that was an issue back when we actually had any family around to give a crap about it… but that's not the case any more."

"But… but it's…" Peter began, looking at Claire in a manner that made it clear to Claire that he was encouraging her to contradict him before he said something he'd regret.

"OK, so anything we do might not be exactly… conventional… but what in our lives is normal anyway?" Claire said, smiling slightly as she leant slightly over Peter, 'encouraging' the chronologically-older man- experience-wise Claire was definitely his elder even if physically they were now about the same age- to fall back onto the bed beneath him. "Besides, you're going to need to stick with me for a while if you're going to actually learn anything about the way things are now- even without the fact that the human race is spread out across several different planets, civilisation's not exactly the same as what it was back when we were all on Earth-, and where's the point in doing that if we're just going to make ourselves miserable by denying ourselves what we really want all over again?"

"But…" Peter began to say once again, his eyes displaying an ever-increasing reluctance to actually continue this line of protest.

"Peter… anyone we could have realistically hurt by doing… this… died a long time ago; who's actually going to know that we're doing anything… like this?" (Claire wasn't going to say anything about their feelings being wrong; without any living family to judge them, as far as she was concerned their opinions were no longer relevant). "Denying how we felt wasn't doing anything for us but making us miserable back then; with everyone who would have objected back then… gone, what difference does it make if we do it now?"

For a moment, as Peter looked silently back at Claire, he wondered if this was really the best idea; just because the people who would have objected to this relationship were gone, that didn't meant that potential issues didn't exist, such as whether he and Claire would be able to have kids (He'd be lying if he hadn't thought about it once or twice) given their close genetic link…

Then Claire's warm, soft lips met his once again, and Peter's mind tuned out any thoughts that might have stopped him from doing what he'd wanted to do since that long-ago conversation in a Texas jail cell.

If things did go that far, maybe their healing abilities would compensate for any potential genetic damage that might result from their shared bloodline; he'd look into that later, when Claire wasn't doing things with her lips that felt so good they might have been illegal even if they weren't happening between relatives…

As Mal sat at the dining table in the main part of Serenity, he couldn't help but be amazed at what had happened to him in the last few days.

Not only had they practically single-handedly shut down a government project to create superhuman soldiers- to say nothing of having made a couple of new friends Mal wouldn't mind seeing again; they might have too much of a 'command presence' to make a prolonged stay on Serenity comfortable for him or them, but they were decent company for all that-, but he'd taken on a man who could measure his age in centuries and walked away alive, followed by the aforementioned psycho being shot in the brain and his body subsequently vaporised by a guy who, according to all available information, was the most powerful bastard to ever live…

And now, here they were, just heading off to another planet like nothing strange had happened and this whole mess had just been another day at the metaphorical beach.

There were definitely times when Mal wondered when his life had gone this weird and what he could do to get out of it…

Then, of course, his mind drifted back to the one good thing that had come out of his aforementioned 'weird' life- a certain psychic with what he vaguely recalled Bennet describing as 'photographic reflexes'- and couldn't help but think that it had all been worth-

NOT gonna go there!

"Why?" a voice said from behind him.

Spinning around sharply, Mal's eyes widened at the last sight he wanted to see when his thoughts were going the way they were going; River Tam, dressed in one of her normal wisp-esque dresses that somehow managed to look innocent while still providing a man with a glimpse of way more than he was comfortable with seeing when his thoughts turned that way-


"You don't have to," River said, smiling slightly at him as she walked into the room, leaning against the table as she smiled at him, her dress displaying far more below the neck than Mal felt was good for his health when the girl in question had a brother with access to various sharp implements…

"Uh… not entirely sure I know what you're meanin' there, albatross…" Mal said, trying to think of a way to leave that wouldn't make his anxiety at the current situation too obvious.

"Your thoughts," River replied, a slight smile on her face as she walked over to the table, smiling at him as she sat down opposite him. "You always keep them off what you want to think about."

"Well… sometimes a man doesn't have the time t'think 'bout that-" Mal began.

"And sometimes he has to," River said, her smile remaining as she leaned over slightly at him, giving him a view of the contents of her dress that was doing his mental state no good at all. "You saved me."

"Well, y'know, you're on my crew…" Mal began awkwardly, already knowing as he said it that River wasn't going to buy that reason for his actions when his traitorous eyeballs kept on drifting down to a point slightly lower than her face…

God, he almost wished this was just a lust thing; the fact that the woman was becoming a lot more stable these days and was displaying an excellent grasp of flying didn't exactly help his attempts to convince him not to start anyth- and what the Hell was he doing thinking about-?

The sudden feel of River's lips against his own cut off Mal's train of thought before it could progress further. For a moment he allowed himself to relax against the gentle pressure he now felt on his mouth- her inexperience showed, but she was definitely improving; that thing with her tongue-, but then he sharply pulled away as where he was and who he was doing this with came back to him.

"Gorram it, what-?" he began.

"Nobody's coming," River said, smiling reassuringly at him as she raised a finger to his lips, cutting him off before he could continue his sentence. "Zoe and Inara are resting in their cabins, Jayne's cleaning his guns, and Simon and Kaylee are doing the same thing as Peter and Claire; they'll all be out of this room for the next few minutes at least."

"That's not what-" Mal tried to say again.

"It's easier for you this way," River said, reaching out to gently stroke his cheek with one hand before reaching back to hold his head in a tender yet firm grip that managed to avoid being tight while still making it clear that he wasn't going to be allowed to back out of this any time soon. "You don't have to worry about being interrupted; just… do what you want to do."

"And…" Mal began, swallowing slightly as he prepared to say something that he knew he was going to regret later if she believed it, "what makes you sure that… this… is what I want to do?"

"I heard it," River replied, that same teasing smile on her face as she leaned in towards him once again. "You can't lie to me, Malcolm; I've been listening and doing nothing for too long… I nearly lost the chance to do anything… and no power in the 'verse will stop me from doing this."

With that, River crossed the last few crucial feet and met Mal's mouth with hers once again, her grip on his head cutting off any thoughts of pulling away as the last barriers of resistance crumbled away at her words.

She was right about one thing; if the Academy or the Company or whatever they wanted to call themselves had succeeded, she wouldn't have been doing much of anything with herself.

This… right here, right now, between the two of them, in their ever-chaotic lives… might be the only chance they had to go for what they wanted…

God, Mal only had to think about Claire to know that sometimes the moment was all you had; it had been centuries since she'd lost Peter and she'd still regretted never taking a chance at being with him.

If it was a choice between living with that kind of regret and taking a chance to get what he wanted now more than anything…

He'd take what he could get and hope that the man with the pointy objects who was in charge of his health wouldn't mind the idea of him and his sister doing… this… too much…