A/N: This fic takes place after Fallout and The Funeral. I tried something a little different with the River section which I hope doesn't seem too odd.

Limbo

Kaylee was sure it wasn't appropriate to be admiring such a pretty piece of scenery at this time but she couldn't help it; it just wasn't in her nature to turn away from a bit of sweetness like the one in front of her. For a brief moment, she allowed herself to become lost in the hazy gold of the setting sun. Back home, she never really paid proper attention to sunsets but, she supposed, living in the black gave her an appreciation for such things. Now, Kaylee thought with a pang, every single sunset she would ever see would bring her back here.

Kaylee's tender heart ached as she looked at her family. The Captain and Inara stood close but, she noted, they didn't touch. Jayne stood a little apart chomping on a cigar looking sad and confused. She glanced at Simon and River standing solemnly beside her. Everyone was so lost. The dreamlike feeling she had been in for the past two days returned. She couldn't believe that Wash was gone. How could this have happened? What would happen to them? Her world was changing…had changed…and there wasn't anything she could do about it.

Squeezing Simon's hand, Kaylee moved a little closer to him. Her heart warmed a little when he squeezed back but chilled again as she saw Zoë approach the memorials.

Unable to watch as Zoë lit the rocket, Kaylee's gaze turned downward focusing instead on the rocky ground. Only when she heard the hiss indicating the rocket's ascent did she look up.

Even as the rocket faded from sight everyone continued looking skyward in silence. There should be words spoken, Kaylee thought sadly. Why wasn't anyone saying anything? No words. No comfort. Shepherd Book, at the very least, deserved some bible words but she didn't know any.

For several minutes, all was still until Inara walked over to Zoë. They spoke quietly for a few moments. Giving Zoë an encouraging smile, Inara touched her shoulder and walked over to Kaylee, Simon, and River.

"Zoë wants to stay here for awhile," Inara said. "Let's go back to Serenity before it gets dark."

Inara walked between Jayne and the Captain until Mal broke away to rest on a rock. Inara and Jayne continued on without him. Kaylee thought that odd until she realized that the Captain wasn't just resting. From his position, he could see Zoë in the near distance. She should have known that he wouldn't leave Zoë out here alone at such a time.

Kaylee, Simon, and River followed behind. Simon's wound slowed their progress but Kaylee wasn't in any hurry to get back to Serenity. As Simon paused for a brief rest, Kaylee looked out over the mesa disappointed to find that the gold from the brilliant sunset was gone.

xxx

After the funeral, Jayne proceeded directly to his bunk. There, he spent his time diligently arranging his personal armory back to normal. Once that task was completed, he found he was unable to stay in his small quarters any longer. Wandering aimlessly about Serenity, he made his way to his next favorite part of the ship: his work out area. After locating the weights that had been flung about the cargo bay, he concentrated on getting his station back the way he liked it. The cargo bay was silent save for the clang of the weights that echoed through the hold.

Once the weights had been set to rights, Jayne felt lost. Feeling lost and confused usually made him all kinds of angry but now the anger didn't come to him. As a rule, Jayne avoided deep reflection of any kind but the events of the past week couldn't be pushed out of his mind.

Sitting on the weight bench, he stared at the spot where he had laid out the Shepherd's body. The spot was almost exactly where Mal and Zoë's war friend had been placed. Bad spot, he decided.

Hearing someone come into the cargo bay, he looked up, relieved to see Kaylee.

"I found some of my fine engine wine that survived the crash," she said. "I think it'd be real nice if we all sat together and enjoyed it.

"Ain't in the mood for a gorram party," Jayne growled.

When Kaylee's eager expression turned disappointed, Jayne instantly regretted his harsh words. He didn't want to direct his anger to Kaylee. She could always be counted on to find some silver lining and Jayne hoped that that talent hadn't been killed with everything else.

"Come on, Jayne," Kaylee pleaded. "Help me and 'Nara get the dining room set up before the Cap'n and Zoë get back."

"You really think Zoë's gonna want to sit with us? With them?"

"Them? Who you talkin' about, Jayne?"

"You know who I'm talkin' about. They're the cause of this mess. Them and the Cap'n."

"Don't talk like that Jayne. I mean it." Kaylee sounded angry. "Now come on up and help us."

Jayne decided to back off the Simon and River subject. "Still don't think a gatherin' is what's called for," he said following her.

"It's what people do. Ain't you never been to a funeral before?"

At his look, she amended, "A funeral for a family member? Or a loved one?"

They talked as they walked down the steps to the common area and headed to the stairs next to the infirmary.

"'Course I have. Just didn't see the need for it then and don't see the need for it now."

"Well, I think it's important. We're family and we gotta stick together."

Suddenly, Jayne could see so clearly where Kaylee was going with all this. She needed everyone to be together. He didn't know much about where she came from but he did know the value she placed on this ship and its crew. He decided he wouldn't complain anymore about the after funeral get-together. For her, he would even go so far as to not say anything rude to Simon or River. There was no way he could be friendly with them but he sure as hell could keep his mouth shut if it would help make Kaylee not look so forlorn.

He followed her up the stairs until she abruptly stopped just outside the engine room corridor.

She looked back at him tears welling in her eyes. "I can't believe he's not here anymore. How can he be here one day and gone the next?"

Jayne's only answer was a helpless shrug.

"I just don't understand it, Jayne. None of it. It don't make any kind of sense to me at all."

Jayne understood her confusion. He had troubling grappling with Wash's death, too. He and Wash had never been friendlylike. Hell, they flat out didn't like each other. Little man was annoying as all hell and Jayne never could see why Zoë found his talkativity appealing but the man was a gorram good pilot. And husband. And, by the looks of Kaylee, he had been a good friend to her.

Jayne wished he had some inspiring words like the kind the Shepherd would say. "No, it don't make any kinda sense, but truly, what the Sam Hill does?"

xxx

Simon sat uncomfortably at the dining table. River sat to his right quietly, and calmly, sipping tea. Although his wound bothered him some, his general feeling of discomfort arose from the fact that they were all waiting for Mal and Zoë to return from the memorial site. Simon couldn't decide who he dreaded seeing more: the Captain or Zoë.

After successfully returning the dining room to its pre-crash condition, Kaylee, Inara, and Jayne started drinking Kaylee's engine brew. Not in the mood for drunken camaraderie, Simon refused the beverage he had never really developed a taste for. His refusal came out harsher than he intended which earned him a wounded look from Kaylee and a deadly glare from Jayne.

From his seat at the dining table, Simon could see the airlock to the bridge. It was closed, presumably, to keep out the draft but he knew no one needed to be reminded that Wash died in there. As if anyone would ever forget. Simon had always liked Wash. Well, who wouldn't? The man's humor had many an unbearable day bearable.

Sensing his sister's eyes on him, he stopped his musings. Looking up, he gave her a small smile which she did not return. It wasn't easy having a psychic for a sister, Simon thought humorlessly. But his thoughts drifted to the question of his and River's continuing presence on Serenity. After everything that had happened would the Captain expect them to leave?

Before this mess had started, Simon had challenged the Captain and was ready to leave Serenity. He and River were as good as gone when she had been triggered at the Maidenhead. He sighed. If only she hadn't gone in there. If only he had kept his mouth shut and not left Serenity in anger. If only…

The Captain came in and sat at the head of the table. Inara put some food in front of him which he didn't touch but he did take the drink she offered. Ordinarily, Simon would chastise him for drinking when he should be taking meds for his wounds but Simon was astute enough to know that the Captain would not appreciate his censure at this time. No, Simon didn't want to draw the Captain's attention to him at all.

Kaylee went off to persuade Zoë to come in with everyone. After she left, the silence between Mal, Jayne, Simon, and River was close to unbearable. Inara tried to diffuse the tension with meaningless chit chat and finally succeeded in getting Jayne to talk.

Kaylee returned with Zoë. Zoë sat at Mal's right but didn't look at him or Simon or River.

Inara and Kaylee did most of the talking. Simon suspected that they had already planned on ways to keep everyone together for the post-funeral gathering.

"Kaylee, do you think we might have the com fixed tomorrow?" Inara asked. "I'd like to wave Sheydra and let her know I'm alright."

"Sure thing, 'Nara. The coms are the least of our problems," Kaylee said with a sad smile.

"After you do that, I need you to spell out exactly what we need to get Serenity off this moon," Mal said, speaking for the first time since he sat down.

"It's gonna be a long list, Cap'n."

"I don't know how the hell we're gettin' outta here with one engine," Jayne said. "I ain't mechanically inclined but I do believe we need two to fly. Even Wash won't—"

Simon had seen many expressions on Jayne's face but never stark embarrassment at saying the wrong thing.

Awkward silence fell over the room.

"No, I don't think he coulda managed that," Zoë said after a few tense moments. She gave Jayne a look showing she wasn't mad at his slip. "Helluva pilot, he was. 'Spect he wouldn't be workin' no miracles with Serenity as she is."

Zoë's statement seemed to be the opening Kaylee was looking for.

Shyly, she said: "Might not be bad to toast on a most fine pilot."

Kaylee looked to Zoë for her approval.

Zoë raised her glass first. When the others followed suit, she said, "To Hoban Washburne. The best gorram pilot I ever saw. And the best man I'll ever know."

"And the funniest," Kaylee chimed in.

"And the funniest," Zoë agreed, emptying her glass.

The crew, well, Jayne, Inara, and Kaylee, shared their favorite Wash stories. At first, Zoë sat silent but as the evening wore on she not only smiled at some of the stories of Wash's shenanigans she contributed some stories of her own. Mal, Simon, and River looked on not chiming in.

"How did he propose to you?" Kaylee asked unexpectedly.

Zoë laughed slightly, happy at the memory. "Very obscenely."

Simon had seen death before, especially since he left Osirus, but none had affected him personally. Sure, Great Aunt Miriam had passed when he was twelve but she had been terribly old and quite unpleasant. No, Simon didn't have much experience with the aftermath of death. He marveled at how people could, at the saddest time in their life, sit around a table drinking and reminiscing about dead loved ones.

Later, Kaylee tried to tell a Mr. Universe story but halfway into it realized it was a story about someone else. Everyone sat quietly for a moment trying to think of something to say about the non-crew member who died for their cause.

The conversation turned to Book.

"What do you think he did before he was a Shepherd?" Kaylee asked.

Everyone had their own opinion. Jayne figured he was a master criminal repenting for his many sins. Kaylee speculated that his heart had been broken by a beautiful woman and he became a Shepherd vowing never to love again. Inara suggested that he might have been an important businessman disillusioned by his confining corporate life. Zoë thought he might have been an Alliance military man jaded by the war. River and Mal offered no opinions.

Wanting to draw him into the conversation, Kaylee asked Simon his opinion. He shrugged and said quietly, "Maybe he just wanted to be a Shepherd."

Jayne gave Simon a look which he ignored.

River finally spoke up offering her own story about the Shepherd.

"We were fixing his problematic bible." River looked happy to be a part of a storytelling experience. "There was snow on his roof. Heavy snow that threatened to cave his head in. It scared me." She faltered clearly unable to communicate what she wanted. Looking to Zoë for help, River said. "Zoë knows. She was there."

Everyone looked to Zoë for clarification of River's story.

"It's been a long day. I'm turnin' in," Zoë said rising from the table.

River's face fell.

Without a backward glance, Zoë left the dining room. Simon watched as she stepped out of the dining room and turned right heading in the direction of the cargo bay.

Sniffling loudly, River hastily hopped up from her seat and went the opposite direction. Inara looked hesitantly to the Captain and then followed River.

Simon's anger rose. He looked up and met the Captain's gaze. It was the first time Mal had looked at him all evening. Suddenly, Simon's guilt was replaced by a powerful sense of defiance. He didn't do anything wrong. He didn't force the Captain to go out and solve the mystery of Miranda. Everyone blamed River and him but it certainly wasn't all their fault.

As if he knew what Simon was thinking, Mal's eyes narrowed giving Simon a warning look. Not wanting a confrontation with the Captain, Simon offered a quiet good night and went to find River.

xxx

As promised, Kaylee fixed the coms in no time. The next morning, after clearing it with Mal, Inara went up to her old shuttle to wave Sheydra.

"Buddha be praised! I've been so worried about you. Are you alright?"

"Yes," Inara said. Looking at her friend's concerned face, she couldn't stop her tears. "No. Oh, Sheydra. It's so awful. I can't even tell you how horrible things have turned out."

"Darling Inara, I'll contact the Guild and we'll send someone out to pick you up."

"No!" Giving Sheydra an apologetic look for her unintended harshness, she said, "No, thank you. I can't go now. It's just…I can't leave them."

"Them or him?" Sheydra asked.

"It's not about that. I can't leave them. They are a family to me and they are all in such pain."

"What about the Guild? They are aware that an Operative has been here and that you left rather abruptly to escape him."

"I can't think about that now," Inara said dismissing that obligation. The Guild seemed far away and not nearly as important as it had seemed a week ago.

She hesitated before asking her next question.

"Have you been watching the news feeds? Do you know anything about a Wave about a planet called Miranda?"

"I've seen it. It was quite disturbing but Parliament has dismissed it as a hoax." Sheydra looked closely at Inara.

"Sheydra," Inara expression was serious. "It's not a hoax."

After a few moments of silence, Sheydra finally asked, "Inara, what are you involved in?"

"Don't worry about me."

"Inara, I don't need to remind you of your precarious position within the Guild. If it wasn't for your aunt…"

"Does she know?" Inara asked.

"About the Wave?"

"No. About how I left the Training House?"

"I'm sure she does. The Guild is aware of it."

"Sheydra, please tell her I'm alright. I'll try to wave her when I can." Inara heard a familiar movement near the shuttle airlock. "I have to go now."

"But—"

"Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."

Inara signed off amid Sheydra's protests. She stared at the blank screen willing herself to be calm. She would be alright. Hadn't she been through worse?

"I just waved Sheydra to let her know I was alright." She addressed Mal not bothering to admonish him for his usual eavesdropping.

"It'll be awhile before we can get you back," he said stepping into the shuttle.

"That's alright."

"Has she heard anything about Miranda?" Mal asked anxious for news from the 'Verse.

She didn't answer him immediately. Walking over to the cot she sat down bracing herself for what she had to tell him.

"The first reports are that the Wave is a fraud."

"Cao ni zu zong shi ba dai," Mal viciously cursed.

"Mal, we all know the Alliance isn't just going to admit to any wrongdoing. I would imagine they have their best people working around the clock to solve this problem."

"This problem?!"

He paced the length of the shuttle. Inara could see his anger verging out of control.

"Mal, you have to appreciate that this information will be extremely difficult for people to process. What happened at Miranda is an abomination, but, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I would have trouble accepting it. It's understandable that the first reaction would be one of disbelief."

He didn't answer. Looking intently at the opposite bulkhead, he stood rigid with anger.

"Mal," she said softly wanting to calm him. "There are millions of people happy with the lives that the Alliance gives them. They won't want to believe that the Alliance is capable of …genocide."

Sitting down next to her on the cot, Mal leaned over putting his face in his hands.

"It's gotta mean somethin', Inara," Mal said softly, desperately. "Wash, Shepherd Book, the others…they can't have died for nothin'."

"It does mean something. Maybe people can't believe it now but they will. This is too big for people to ignore."

His bent frame begged for comfort. Wanting to soothe his battered spirit, Inara started to reach out to him.

"Why did you leave?" Mal asked softly not looking up.

Her hand stopped just above his back. Inara gave him an alarmed look. Were they going back to that?

"I mean, why did you leave Sihnon?" He asked finally looking up and into her eyes.

"Mal…" she started. She averted her gaze looking down at her lap.

"Wuo de tian!." Mal's voice was angry again. "Can't you give me a ruttin' straight answer for once? About anything?"

She looked up and met his accusing glare.

"Maybe I wanted to find my place in the 'Verse," she lamely offered.

"That's the preacher's line."

"Well, it fits."

Inara could see that her vague answer was not satisfying him and only succeeded in angering him further but some things were just too painful for words to express. Mal would understand that but she didn't want or need that kind of bond with him. Bond of pain.

Looking down at her perfectly still hands clasped tightly on her lap, Inara remained stubbornly silent.

Mal got up from the cot.

"I get it. Maybe if I paid you you'd be straight with me. Or as straight as a whore can be."

Mal stalked out.

Inara sighed. It always came back to that.

xxx

Stalking out of Inara's shuttle (for, to him, it would always be her shuttle) Mal immediately ran into Kaylee. By her expression, he suspected she may have heard his last words to Inara.

"You got that report for me?" He barked at her. "What do we have to do to get off this gorram moon?"

"Can't do nothin' our own selves." Kaylee's voice was a little on the belligerent side but softened as she spoke of Serenity. "I mean to say there's only so much I can do but I can't get her spaceworthy here without help and equipment."

Mal wasn't surprised. While he wasn't a mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, he knew enough about ships and their workings to know that a ship without an engine would never make it out of atmo.

"We gotta get to a repair facility," she said. "There ain't nothin' I can do 'bout that engine here on this moon."

"Do what you can now. I'll wave someone 'bout getting us outta here."

"Maybe those Alliance people could help."

"Ain't happenin', Kaylee."

He started toward the stairs intending to go to the bridge but Kaylee's soft voice stopped him.

"Please, Cap'n. Don't make her leave. Not now."

Mal kept his simmering temper in check. Only Kaylee thought she could get away with talking to him like that.

He turned to respond but she had already disappeared into Inara's shuttle. Sighing he started up the stairs but stopped partway leaning heavily on a bulkhead. He hadn't meant for things to get so out of hand with Inara. Shaking his head, he continued on. Damn woman could keep her secrets - she'd be gone soon enough.

Trudging up to the bridge, Mal hesitated before opening the airlock. Taking a deep steadying breath, he stepped inside. There wasn't a trace of blood or any other kind of gore. Other than the smashed window and missing pilot's chair, the place looked eerily normal. He went over to the co-pilot's station and accessed the Cortex.

Usually, he didn't bother himself to watching news feeds. Finding that all stories carried a pro-Alliance stance, he avoided the news to keep his stress levels minimized. He first scanned the major news channels. There was no news about the Wave from the major news agencies but he did find a bit about the Wave in the recent news items. The piece only confirmed what Inara had told him earlier.

Mal couldn't worry about that now. He had a ship to get working and he already knew who he needed to contact for help.

After twenty minutes of waving, he finally got a response.

"Malcolm Reynolds! You ol' dog you!"

Mal tried to keep his voice light and friendly. "Monty, how the hell are ya?"

"Can't complain – now that I'm a bachelor again," Monty said with a wink. "Married life just didn't suit."

"Beard looks like it's makin' a reappearance."

"You wavin' to jaw about my groomin' habits?" Monty said harshly; the subject of his beard still a sore one.

"No," Mal said then fell silent. It was difficult for him to ask anyone, even Monty, for help.

"Got trouble?" Monty asked, concerned. "Yer face sure looks like trouble met up with it."

"Yeah. We…" Mal didn't know where to begin.

"Hey! Trouble is goin' round these days" Monty said somberly. "Didja hear about the brothers Sanchez? Law must've clued in on them somehow. Took out their entire operation! Both of 'em dead. And their mucky dog, too, I heard."

Mal didn't want to talk about the Sanchez brothers. Two more on his head.

"Monty, Serenity's wrecked and we're stuck on a moon in the Burnham quadrant. Need to get her out and over to the shipyards at Persephone."

"Persephone? That's a trip aways. Ain't someplace closer?"

"I know someone there."

"Well, I do know a guy. He was with the 23rd Hawks. Got him a tow-ship. Though he ain't never had allowance to tow some ship before, if'n you know what I mean," Monty said with a wry laugh.

"Do you trust him? I don't wanna be spaced with my crew."

Monty gave him an offended look. "You think I'd send someone who'd do that? Thought we were friends."

"Sorry, Monty. Just that the last coupla days been tough."

"I'll wave Baba then let you know. How are you on payment?"

"I'm good for it." He still had his cashy money from the Lilac job.

"Alright then," Monty said, signing off. "Wave in a few."

Mal got up and left the bridge not wanting to spend any more time in there.

xxx

Several hours later, Monty waved back and told Mal that his friend would be there within a week. He gave Mal the WaveAddress for the Magdalena telling him to contact Captain O'Riley.

Zoë stood outside the bridge listening to Mal speak with the Magdalena's captain.

"We trustin' this guy?" Zoë asked Mal as he left the bridge. It was the first time Zoë had spoken to him directly since before the funeral.

"Ain't got a choice. Besides, Monty recommended him and he is a Browncoat." He said this as if one's Independent status alone assured trustworthiness.

Zoë gave him a look; Mal knew better than that.

He started to speak but she turned away before he could say anything else to her. Zoë was vaguely shocked at herself for turning her back on him like that. Wash would be so proud, she thought bitterly.

The next week was a busy one and, for Zoë, it passed like a dream. Years later she would look back and not remember anything about this week except vague impressions of despair.

Mal ordered that everyone get to work de-Reaverizing Serenity and preparing her for the tow to Persephone. Zoë appreciated the distraction hard work provided. Truth be told, she dreaded the upcoming trip to Persephone. All that time in the Black with naught to do but think. With Wash, time in the Black was a pleasure in so many ways. Now…Time to get to work.

Inara assumed an intermediary role between Serenity and the few Alliance forces left. Zoë was pleased Inara was there to work with the Purplebellies because God only knows what would happen if Mal had to.

Zoë, when she wasn't working, ignoring Simon, River, or the Captain, spent her time outside in the desert. Every evening after her various tasks were completed, she wandered out to the memorial site remaining until the sun set and darkness fell. Upon returning to Serenity, she wandered the ship pointedly avoiding her and Wash's bunk and the bridge. Some evenings, Inara or Kaylee would find her and just sit quietly with her until Zoë told them to leave. When she slept, she slept in one of the shuttles.

As promised, Monty's friend arrived within a week bringing a new window for the bridge. Kaylee had informed Mal that they couldn't go anywhere without securing the bridge. With no small amount of difficulty, Mal had asked Captain O'Riley to bring a new window.

To no one's surprise, Zoë volunteered for the job. Mal gave her a look but she let him know she wasn't asking. When he gazed at her with that steady look, the one that had got her through Serenity Valley, she almost conceded her private battle with her closest friend but then Wash's smiling face entered her mind. Remembering the reason for this particular task caused a fresh wave of pain to pierce through her. Without another word to Mal, she turned and headed to the bridge.

It was the first time Zoë had stepped onto the bridge since removing Wash's body. When she first saw the dinosaurs at the console she faltered. She didn't think she would be able to do it. Closing and locking the hatch, she allowed herself to get lost in her grief. Crouching in the far corner, her grief consumed her. Nonononononono

A quiet knock interrupted her. She didn't respond hoping whoever it was would go away.

"Zoë? Can I come in?"

It was Kaylee.

Zoë didn't have the heart to push Kaylee away. Other than herself, Kaylee was the one hit most hard by Wash's death.

Unlocking the hatch, Zoë walked over to the copilot's station and sat down looking away from the door.

"I brought the tools…" Kaylee started. She paused looking desperately at Zoë. "Zoë, please let me do this. You shouldn't haveta…"

"It's alright." Zoë turned to look at Kaylee. "I need to do this, dong ma?"

Shaking her head, Kaylee said, "No, I don't understand. Let me."

"Some things a body just has to do."

Kaylee nodded, her eyes filling with tears. "I'm so sorry, Zoë. Can't believe this has happened. Ain't right. Just ain't right."

"Ain't right but here we are just the same. Now, if we ever want to get outta here we need to get to work," Zoë's tone was soft but she still managed to communicate to Kaylee that work had to be done.

Kaylee left sniffling and Zoë set to work. As she worked, her mind repeatedly played out Wash's last moments.

Over and over she saw that damned pole breaking through the window plunging into her husband. She agonized over what she should have done. She should have ordered him out of his seat immediately instead of letting him rattle on about wind and leaves. Always with the talking. Man couldn't resist taking time out to verbalize when he should have his gorram mind on his job.

Dammit! Mal knew those Reavers were on their tail why didn't he see them? Why didn't he do something except sit back and let her husband get killed? That was his gorram job as their Captain. She'd seen Mal in plenty close situations and the man was a quick thinker. Maybe if his mind hadn't been so set on his mission to stick to the Purplebellies he would have paid better attention to his crew.

Zoe shook her head willing those thoughts away. Wasn't entirely Mal's fault. He had given everyone an out and no one took it. Dimly, she wondered if Wash would have chosen that Port of Call if it hadn't been for her.

Looking up from her welding, she studied her progress. From her position, she spied River drifting aimlessly in front of Serenity. Girl was twirling about as if listening to music. Zoë thought back to her behavior to River after the funeral. She knew all this wasn't Simon and River's fault. Still, didn't mean she wished she had never laid eyes on the two.

As she continued her work, Zoë's thoughts drifted again. She imagined that the pole had veered a foot to the left giving Wash time to get out safely. The only injury Wash sustained was a mild gunshot graze in the battle with the Reavers. It was the type of graze that left the kind of scar that just begged to be kissed. She built this scenario up in her mind to the point that she almost convinced herself Wash was in the engine room helping Kaylee. Zoë was never given to flights of fancy but her brief foray into fantasyland left her feeling more hollow. Best stick to reality.

By late afternoon, Zoë finished repairing the bridge window. Kaylee inspected Zoë's handiwork and proclaimed Serenity was now finally ready to go. As Mal started gathering everyone to get ready for lift off, Zoë wandered off for a last visit to Wash's memorial. Her act of defiance to the Captain was in honor of her late husband.

She didn't intend to stay so long but, on their last night on this godforsaken moon, she stayed until dawn. Zoë didn't sleep. She just let the stillness and silence of the moon absorb her. Leaning back against Wash's stone, she looked up at the clear night sky. She wasn't quite alone; Mal was close. Zoë knew he would stay the entire night keeping watch over her in case she needed him. She resented him for his thoughtfulness to her.

At the first light of dawn, Mal approached. It was time to leave.

Zoë met his steady gaze still not ready to let him off the hook. She knew she would…eventually. But not just yet.

She sighed and looked over the barren landscape. There was no life here. How appropriate.

Zoë looked at the sunrise wishing Wash were here watching it with her. Until him, she had never really placed any kind of value on pretty sights like sunsets or sunrises. As she looked out at the oranges and yellows of the morning sun, she vowed she would remember to notice these kinds of things.

Jai guru deva om.

She couldn't get that out of her head. The words swirled about her head haunting her. All week, Wash's favorite song played in her head. Nothing's gonna change my world. Damn him.

Sighing again, she touched his picture.

"I'm ready."

xxx

Everyone, except River, was nervous as the Magdalena lifted Serenity out through the ion cloud. River felt no such apprehension; she looked at the tow ship and saw a kindred ship-spirit. The Magdalena would carry Serenity safely; she liked Serenity. They were both old ships. Classics.

The first evening after leaving Mr. Universe's moon, everyone gathered around the vid screen that Kaylee had rigged up in the common area. The Captain started to turn it on but paused giving River a significant glance. River was forbidden from being around the Cortex. She didn't like that. She wanted to be with her family; even the ones who forgot they loved her.

Jayne seemed to take the most enjoyment out of expelling her from the nightly communal watching of news.

"Move further away, moonbrain," he said giving away her spot on the stairs behind the med bay. "We don't know if they're transmitting subliminal sound, ya know."

"Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup," River said unaware that her voice had taken on a sing-song quality.

"Jayne, I don't think that's possible," Inara admonished not paying attention to River's usual ramblings.

"Hey! I'm just playin' it safe. You weren't there. She didn't grab your nuts," he said glaring at River.

"They slither while they pass," River said looking defiantly at Jayne.

Jayne looked at her blankly, obviously wishing she would go away.

"Cap'n, she ain't leavin'. I thought she weren't allowed to be around when we watched newsies."

"River, I don't think I need to explain to you the reasons necessary for you not bein' here," Mal said.

He didn't need to explain. River understood perfectly; her brain was not her own. Someone had made a keyhole of her mind.

As she left, River looked sullenly at the others. "They slip away across the universe."

Zoë started in shock and gave River a harsh look. River shrank back under Zoë's accusing glare.

"Well, just slip yourself right outta here," Jayne said.

River quickly left the community area heading up the stairs to the upper deck. Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my open mind, possessing and caressing me. Jayne was an idiot. Subliminal sound… Could they do that? Suddenly not so sure she quickened her steps suddenly not wanting to eavesdrop on the news feeds.

As she reached the engine room corridor, she paused taking the time to feel Serenity with her feet and hands. Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes they call me on and on across the universe. It felt physically strange being towed to Persephone. Kaylee felt it, too. They couldn't feel Serenity's heart beating. Needed resuscitating. Magdalena carried them on safely but the lack of Serenity's usual vibration saddened her. Om.

Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe. River walked down the few steps to the dining room. She didn't really want to be here. Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing through my open ears inciting and inviting me. Alone. She didn't like this room so much when there wasn't anyone in it. Pretty flowers mocked her. Homey but lonesome.

River continued out of the dining room but paused just outside the airlock. Straight or to the right, she pondered. She couldn't go straight yet. Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns. Soon, but not now. Turning, she tiptoed down the corridor heading to the cargo bay. Before going down the steps, she looked up. It calls me on and on across the universe. Jubal's hatch was open to allow access to Mother Magdalena and, more importantly, to provide oxygen and heat to Serenity. Umbilical cord.

Finding her favorite place to lay on the catwalk, River stretched out. Nothing's gonna change my world. She looked out over the empty bay momentarily allowing herself to feel happy just to be on Serenity. To be alive. Jai guru deva om.

xxx

Lyrics are from the Beatles' "Across the Universe" which I, obviously, found fitting.

Jai guru deva – Victory to God Divine or Thanks to the Divine Teacher

Om – source of all existence that comes from vibration