CHAPTER 14

The Infirmary was getting crowded. Zoë reclined on the side bed, her foot propped up. River curled up on the bed and fell asleep next to Zoë. It was an unusually intimate position for the two, but given River's behavior of late, they were just glad to see her calm. Kaylee lay on the central bed, doped to dull the pain, waiting her turn as Simon tended to Zoë.

"Baby, you okay?" Wash asked, hurrying in and taking Zoë's hand.

She kissed him as calmly as if the doctor were treating a mosquito bite.

"She'll be fine," Simon answered, strapping a brace onto her foot. "The bullet nicked the bone. I'd tell you to stay off of it for a few weeks, but you wouldn't listen."

"She needs to stay off of it? I can keep her off of it," Wash assured quickly, and then turned to Zoë. "Sweetie, you are hereby confined to bed."

"You can't order me around," Zoë challenged, playfully nuzzling Wash. "I outrank you."

"Rank has nothing to do with it. I have other tactics."

"Yes, and we don't need the demonstration here," Mal said curtly, entering the Infirmary. "Wash, where we headed?"

"Persephone at the moment, Captain. Figured we could use a little re-supply and find work. Were you thinking some place different?"

"I thought we might head for Stolte," Mal answered. "See if we can make a contact about this Osiris run. If the job is still there, we can make a good bit of money. A trip to Osiris might also give us a chance to unload that Lassater that's burning a hole in my cargo hold."

"I'll send them a wave." Wash kissed Zoë's hand before he let go and then headed back to the bridge.

Simon tended to Kaylee's wounds; he did his best to swallow his anger at her attackers. She was covered with bruises, welts, and lacerations. He had yet to find any broken bones, but as far as Kaylee was concerned everything hurt, so it was difficult to assess the true damage. At the moment, he was checking for breaks along her torso.

"How is she?" Mal asked.

"She's in a lot of pain," Simon answered, cautiously. "Some of the wounds … it's amazing she was still walking when you found her."

"Willpower, Doc. She wanted to come home."

Simon shook his head, amazed. Kaylee's hands were burned and blistered, but then lacerated again over top of that. Carefully, he cleansed them in a bowl of water to prevent infection.

"How is your sister?"

Simon looked over at River who was still sleeping in Zoë's lap. "I don't know what set her off," Simon mused. "She just kept setting things on fire and screaming 'It's burning.'"

As he said it, Simon stopped moving and looked at Kaylee's burnt hands. Had his sister been somehow reacting to Kaylee's pain? As much as that didn't make sense in the context of the drawings, Simon couldn't help but wonder if it did make sense to River. As Mal left, Kaylee drifted out of her drug-induced sleep and smiled.

"Why are you smiling?" he asked.

"I'm just glad to have my doctor here," she replied, her voice a sweet melody. Simon smiled back, unable to help himself. Even when beaten to a pulp, she managed to find the bright side of everything. Tenderly, he re-wrapped her wounds. Then he just sat next to the bed, stroked the back of her hand lightly, and watched her.

"Did I miss anything exciting?"

"An epic tale," Simon smiled. He looked briefly at River, wondering how she would have told it when they were kids. Doing his best to hyperbolize, Simon filled Kaylee in on Jayne's heroic rescue of Elle and then their equally heroic quest to rescue her. Kaylee floated in and out of consciousness during the story, but always kept a soft smile on her face.

When he finished, she asked, "So you think Nia was really Elle? Jayne's Elle?"

Simon thought back to the needle in his neck and he touched the invisible wound. "I know most of the crew doesn't think so, but I think she was. She was so … protective of him."

"Like you are of River?"

Simon smiled thoughtfully. "I guess so."

As Kaylee drifted off to sleep again, Simon added, "Like I am of you."

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Jayne grunted loudly as he did chin-ups in the cargo bay. The energy burn was meant to clear his head, but it failed miserably. Book's attempts to engage him in conversation only worsened the turmoil. Since they'd left Three Hills, Jayne had looked up both Nia Stolte and Chelsea to see if he could reconcile their histories to where he'd lost track of his cousin three years ago. Stolte ranked high in both the legal circles and the underground circles and was a known business associate of Jantis. "Keep your enemies closer," his cousin had always said. Chelsea did not seem to exist outside of Three Hills, but was not considered a native. Jayne couldn't help but wonder if Jantis were connected to Max's death. If Jantis had somehow connected his cousin to Chelsea and Chelsea to Max… Jantis had a habit of killing your associates just to let you know he was close. Though Elle was gone, Jayne had to wonder if Jantis was closing in on him. Angrily, Jayne pressed through twenty more chin-ups despite the burning in his biceps. He had to stop thinking himself into this corner!

"Elle made a great sacrifice for us," Book lectured, misreading Jayne's anger. "Her sacrifice will not be forgotten."

Jayne dropped to the floor, landing heavily on two feet. He used the back of his gloved hand to wipe away the sweat glistening on his brow.

"We'll do best to forget her," Jayne said darkly. "Forget her sacrifice. Forget every name of hers you ever heard. Forget she was ever here."

"Jayne, it is okay to mourn her death," Book persisted.

Jayne grabbed his hip flask from the workout bench and took a quick swig, enjoying the burn of the alcohol on his throat. His cousin was not the kind to just go and get dead like that. It was another thing that irked him. If it was some kind of love sacrifice, it had made her sloppy and he hated to think he could succumb to that. The crew's ability to connect Elle to Nia Stolte—whether they believed it true or not—that alone rang as a death warrant in his ears. He grabbed his towel and headed for his bunk.

"I'm telling you, Preach. It ain't worth it."

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Inara walked with Kaylee through the halls of Serenity to the crew quarters. Although Kaylee had been released from the Infirmary early that morning, she'd spent most of the day between the engine room and the dining hall, avoiding her bunk. The memory of the barren, pirate-ravaged walls plagued her. When Kaylee had asked to sleep in Inara's shuttle, Inara had just laughed sympathetically. As the two strolled along, Inara spoke of the past few days.

"Jayne was civil," Inara was saying. She hesitated at 'civil', only meaning it in the loosest sense of the term. "Polite. Helpful. He was a different man—for all of one day."

"I'm sorry I missed that," Kaylee smiled, stopping at her bunk. The door to her bunk was framed with little Christmas lights and decorated with a colorful sign. It was a cheerful contrast to the stark, white walls of the Neptune. Kaylee's breath caught in her throat, grateful for another homey memory.

"Don't know if I'm much ready to sleep," Kaylee said, looking at the hatch as if at a deep pit.

"The doctor says you need your rest," Inara chided. "Didn't you notice him hounding you in the engine room?"

Kaylee scrunched her nose in frustration. "Yeah. Seems the only way I can get him to touch me is when he's playin' doctor."

"Aww," Inara chuckled, putting her arm lightly around Kaylee's shoulders. "Just heal slowly, then."

Kaylee sighed, accepting the sympathetic advice.

"Good night, Kaylee," Inara said, kissing her head.

"Good night," Kaylee said. With that, she tipped open the door to her bunk and climbed down. Her bandaged hands complained a little, but at least she made it to the bottom without seeing stars. As soon as she hit the deck, she froze. There, hanging over her bed as though it had never been missing, was the pink and white fluffy dress she'd worn to the Shindig on Persephone. Reaching out slowly, she touched the soft ruffles and lace in awe. How many of the crew had been in on this? How had they managed to keep quiet? Mesmerized, she sat on her bed and started a recording of classical, serene music. Captain hadn't just brought her back to Serenity, he'd brought her home.

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Post A.N: Comments welcomed and adored. Stay tuned for the sequel: The Osiris Run