Many...many...apologies. It was just...after the last chapter...I wasn't sure where to go. Then there would be times when I just forgot, times when I wasn't even sure this chapter should BE here. So...totally my bad. I will do my best to make sure this never happens again.
But there was one more plot point that needed to be resolved.
So, without any more ado and delay, here is the final(ish) chapter of Angry Ghosts and Jayne's Shadow!
River sat, staring at the dead man for a very long time, until she heard footsteps approaching cautiously. The newcomer stood beside her, and laid a hand gently on her shoulder.
"So…" said Zoë softly. "It's finished."
"All done," said River.
"The money was enough?"
"More than enough."
Zoë's grip on her shoulder tightened slightly. "I'm sorry, River. I'm so sorry you had to live with this qing wa cao de liu mang."
"It had to be done."
"Yeah. I suppose it did. Now I guess the Cap'n and Kaylee can rest easy, now that their killer's safe in the Bad Place."
River nodded. "I hope so." She looked up at Zoë, up at the sad and strong face she hadn't seen for a year. "Wash says he loves you. We've been talking. He says he loves you."
Zoë went stiff…then she smiled sadly, and pulled River to her feet. "Sounds like my mister."
She folded River into a hug, which the girl returned gratefully. "I've missed you, little one."
"Missed you too, Zoë." River looked up at her former crewmate.
"And I'm hungry."
Zoë blinked, then laughed. River smiled; she'd missed Zoë's wonderful laugh.
"I think I can oblige. And I think I can do you one better than those luh suh beans you dished me last night."
She slipped an arm round River's shoulder and led her into the abandoned camp; the camp that Zoë had in fact cleared out a week before River and Jayne had even been hired for the job.
"Wait'll you see my new ship."
"You got a new ship?"
"Couldn't exactly pilot Serenity all by my lonesome."
"You sold Serenity?"
"…had to, River." Zoë sounded sad, and River could see why. She'd been dead set against Mal's purchase of Serenity, and had been known to complain about the state of the ship quite often. But it had been her home. Their home. "Had to. Left her with Inara. I figured even if she can't go off world, her guild should find a use or five for her. I got a new ship. Little thing, built for one or two. Hummingbird Class. Name of 'Hera'. Takes forever and a day to get from planet to planet, but I get there." Zoë smiled down at River. "And I got room for one more, like I said. Feel like hitting the black again, River?"
"More than anything." River looked up at Zoë and bit her lip. "Hummingbird Class ships are built to accommodate four hundred and fifty pounds of organic life in the main hull. Together, we add up to two hundred and fifty three."
"That's a lot of numbers to be throwing around," said Zoë blankly. "What's your meaning, River?"
"Hummingbird's are have a very low fuel capacity. They're not meant to go beyond a few central planets. Even if you'd converted it to hold additional fuel, it would take fifty one days under good conditions to reach Osiris."
Zoë stopped, frowning. "Osiris? River, I got no plans to go anywhere near the Central Planets anymore."
"I do," said River quietly. She stared at her feet.
"I want Simon back."
Zoë and River were suddenly so silent that they could hear the rustle of the grass being blown about and the caws of carrion coming to investigate Jayne's body far behind them.
"River…River, honey…" said Zoë nervously. She bent over until they looked at eachother eye-to-eye. "I know…I don't like the thought of him bein' where he is either. But…with just you and me…it ain't possible, sweetie. It can't be done. We'd get locked up along with him."
"You won't be getting involved," said River coldly. "Just me. Drop me off, and give me six hours. That's all I'll need." Her fists clenched at her sides. "I won't let them hurt him anymore."
River could hear Zoë considering her words, hear the worries and doubts and counter arguments running through her head. Her mind had changed since Mal's death. Beforehand, it had been something sharp and unbreakable, like the knife she always wore in her boot. But now it was fragile and worried, never quite sure of the path she walked and always just a little afraid to walk it.
River hated Jayne even more for making Zoë's mind so strange.
And she prayed that Zoë would help her. Because if Zoë didn't, River would have to leave. Leave and find another ship to take her to Osiris and to Simon.
Zoë sighed, and River held her breath.
"If we don't dilly dally in port, I think I can shave a couple of days off your estimate. You really think you can make it?"
Zoë sighed again and stood up. "All righty then. I must be goin' crazy after all that time alone. We can eat on the ship, then we'll get a move on. All goes well, we should hit Osiris in a couple month's time."
"And then we go get Serenity," said River happily, as they resumed their walk. She could see a dark, vaguely ship-spaced lump in the distance that matched the shape of the Hummingbird.
"What?! River, I thought you were over your crazy phase!" Zoë sounded completely disbelieving, but River could not for the life of her understand why. "We can't pilot it!"
"The three of us can," said River confidently. "You can pilot. Simon can cook and do chores. And I can keep us flying."
"You sound mighty sure of that."
They'd reached the ship. It was a small one, maybe a tenth of Serenity's size, containing a single room, and configured to carry cargo beneath its hull. Hera. Named for the planet that held Serenity Valley. There were some ties that bound that could never quite be severed.
"I am," said River, and she was smiling. Her life was her own again, free of the burden of revenge It stretched out before her and contained the entire vastness of space.
Right here and right now, River knew she could get Simon back.
Because Jayne was dead and gone, and the ghosts had him. The angry ghosts could rest, and River could move on. And she would move on, with Simon and Zoë and eventually Inara.
They would be a family again.
Zoë opened the door, and River scurried inside and placed her hands over the controls. Her senses hummed.
"We can eat once we break atmo," she said. "Buckle up."
"Yes, ma'am," said Zoë with a wry smile. She sat down and buckled up just as River finished the launch sequence.
Hera whirred to life, and River hurried to the co-pilot's seat as Zoë took command.
"You ready, little albatross?"
"I am. Let's fly."
The Hummingbird Hera lifted off from the prairie grass, and shot away into the endless vastness of space.
I know the ending was a bit ambiguous, but that seemed to keep with the tone of the story. So...was this chapter all right? I really hope you enjoyed! Thank you for your patience!