-- --

Aftermath: Epilogue

-- --

" … you're setting me free, and that's what I need. Love you."

Kaylee listened in silence as the recording wound to the end and then replayed, Simon restarting the message from his sister for the fifth time. Swallowing thickly past her own guilt and sadness, Kaylee watched from the doorway to the bridge as Simon stared out into the darkness, slumped into the pilot's seat and listened again.

It was killing him. No one needed special powers to see that. Simon's world had just shattered in an instant when it became clear that River had decided to disappear. And Kaylee had no idea what to do.

As the recording ended for a sixth time, Kaylee held her breath in anticipation waiting for it to start once more. When silence consumed them, she raised her pained eyes back to Simon and released that same breath in a rush of air.

He was hunched forward, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands. She knew how tired he was, how drained. Kaylee knew how much the last few months had taken out of him, out of all of them; it had been one of the most trying times and just another example of the unfairness of the 'verse.

But in the midst of all of that nastiness, she and Simon had found something good and whole. They had found each other and she'd be damned if she let that love, or the man before her, slip away.

Taking a few tentative steps, she was at his side, a light hand running through his hair. He did not start at her touch or change his position, he simply sighed heavily, letting the quiet stay between them until finally Kaylee heard him murmur, "She's gone."

Swallowing thickly, Kaylee knelt beside him, her hands now resting on his knee and whispered, "I know."

Raising pain-filled eyes to regard her, Kaylee felt her own pool with tears. The look of pure anguish on Simon's face was one she had only seen a handful of times before and it managed to render her speechless every time.

"Simon," she breathed, reaching forward and wrapping her arms around him, tightly pulling him to her.

Releasing the heaviest sigh she had ever heard, he melted against her, his own strong arms wrapping up and under hers and holding her tightly. "She's really gone," he whispered again, his voice straining as he struggled to hide his emotions.

"It's gonna be okay." Kaylee kept her voice low and soothing, pressing the lightest of kisses to his cheek and scalp as he stayed locked in her arms. She'd do anything to ease this pain for him now, but there was nothing she could do, she knew that. Nothing she could do, but love him, with all that she was, every part of her, every cell, every fiber. And so that was exactly what Kaylee would do.

"I love you, Simon." She whispered these words over and over again until she felt his body finally begin to shake with the start of his tears. Pulling back from him slightly, Kaylee crawled into his lap, guiding his head to her breast and continuing to hold him until his sobs died down and they were once again sitting in silence.

-- --


A supply room full of medicines, bandages and similar medical supplies was raided in the early morning hours at Ariel General Hospital today. A hospital official, speaking on the term of anonymity, stated that this raid is similar in both size and scope to one that took place no more than eight months ago. No suspects were ever identified or apprehended. An investigation is currently underway.

-- --

Night was descending, making the brown hills and craggy surfaces around them glow with an orange light. Taking a small step forward, Mal edged closer to the newest grave marker, his hand resting lightly on the stone, still warm from the sun's rays.

It had been a nice ceremony, he supposed; peaceful. No one had managed to say anything, similar to when they had laid the Shepherd and Wash to rest. Mal had known he should speak, should manage to share the fond remembrances of his best friend, but he couldn't do it. The minute he even thought of one of the more than five dozen stories he could tell about Zoe, his throat constricted and his hands started to shake. And he was still the captain; that kind of behavior just wasn't right.

Inara watched him from the top of the cargo bay ramp. They had landed fairly close to the grave site and even in the waning light, she could still make out his hunched form. With a heavy sigh, she took a hesitant step forward and then stopped herself. Mal's grief, his final goodbye, was a private moment and she should not intrude.

"I don't know what the hell you're waitin' on."

Grimacing, Inara turned to regard Jayne as the bigger man lumbered forward, his gait still a bit off kilter since River's attack over a month ago. Standing beside her, his big arms crossed over his broad chest, Jayne's eyes followed her gaze and he added, "That man could teach classes on martyrdom, I swear."

"Jayne, he lost Zoe, his best friend." Inara knew there was no reason to defend Mal, not to Jayne. Each man grieved in his own way and that was as it should be. Turning a wry expression to him, she asked, "What would you prefer him to do? Take a swing at you again?"

"Ha." Jayne's barked laugh caused a small smile to grace Inara's lips and she turned, focusing all her attention back to Mal before the mercenary could see it. Letting the silence settle on them, Jayne finally said, "You know he's out there waitin' for ya, right?"

"What?" Inara could not hide the shock she felt at this admission. Coming from Jayne it just seemed … wrong … but also, amazingly credible. "He asked for some time."

Frowning, Jayne told her gruffly, "It is still a wonder the two o' you ever got your acts together." Pointing towards Mal, he added, "He's got strong feelin's for you an' while you may think he wants to brood on his own, he don't. Trust me, that man ain't gonna leave that gravesite until you go an' tell him he can." Dropping his arm he said, "He can't get Zoe's forgiveness no more, so he's gonna need yours."

Her eyes widening in shock at his fairly astute observation, Inara asked skeptically, "Since when did you become such an expert in grief?"

Shrugging lightly, Jayne moved away, walking back towards the infirmary as he said, "I've lost a few folks in my day an' most of 'em would prolly still be alive if'n they'd never met me."

With those words he was gone and Inara was dumbfounded. Never in her wildest dreams had she expected such succinct or accurate observations to come from Jayne, the hired gun on their boat. But what astounded her more was that she knew he was right. All of her training and all of her heart told her as much, and so with a new determination, she finally moved to meet Mal. By the time she reached him, she could hear his quiet goodbye.

"I shoulda done better by ya, Zo an' for that I'm sorry." His head turned to regard Wash's headstone just a few feet from his deceased wife's. "Wash, I'm sorry I din't look after her better, but now at least the two of you are together again." Reaching out a shaky hand, Mal rested his fingers to Zoes's name and murmured, "I guess that's how it should be."

Taking a deep breath, Inara moved up behind him and rested a light hand to his shoulder. Squeezing gently, she murmured, "Come on, it's getting cold out here."

Shaking his head once, Mal told her, "No, you go. I'm gonna stay a bit longer."

"Mal," Inara intoned lightly, stepping to stand at his side. She couldn't kneel, the wound in her side making that type of movement impossible, so she had to settle for gripping his shoulder just a bit more firmly. "There's nothing more you can do, ai ren. Let it be." Casting a fleeting glance to the headstone and the holo that flickered there, she whispered, "Let her rest in peace."

"I should stay an' watch over her." Mal knew his words were foolish. There was no more protecting Zoe, although truthfully, she'd always been the one saving his sorry pi gu from one mess or another. "I gotta-"

"You've got to go on with your life, Mal." Inara's voice was firm and determined and he finally raised his eyes to meet her gaze. "You've got to let Zoe go and live your life."

"Without her," he murmured, unaware the words were even coming before they had escaped his lips.

Swallowing hard, Inara agreed. "Yes, without her." Cupping her hand under his chin, she tilted his face back up to meet hers and added softly, "I realize I'm no Zoe, but I'm here, Mal."

Nodding once, Mal rose slowly and immediately pulled Inara into a warm embrace. She was grateful for his closeness and his affection and she snuggled against him willingly even as the added motion pulled at her wound. Hissing slightly as a stab of pain radiated through her side, she felt Mal tense against her. "You all right?"

Refusing to let go, she assured, "I'm fine, Mal." Waiting a beat, she looked up into his face and asked, "Are you?"

Shaking his head no, Mal pressed a light kiss to her forehead and murmured, "Not yet, but I think I will be."

Smiling sadly, Inara rested her head against his shoulder, staring out into the night for a long while. Mal was silent, his cheek resting against her soft hair, his battered spirit and heart taking comfort in her nearness, in her intoxicating scent, in all of her. As the minutes passed, he shifted his hold on her, keeping one arm firmly around her shoulders as they started to pick a path back towards the ship.

Inara leaned into his side, wishing she had more than words to offer as comfort. She wished with all her might she could take his grief away. Placing one slipper-shod foot onto the edge of the open bay doors, Inara was about to step inside when Mal's hand in hers stopped her movement.

Turning to face him with a quizzical expression, she started slightly as he pulled her to him, his mouth crushing against hers. The kiss was passionate, full of desire and pent-up emotion and Inara gave into it, letting her own sadness and her love for the man holding her fuel her actions. Her hands ran up his arms and along his shoulders, finding their way into his hair and slipping through the soft strands, while Mal's moved down to her waist and encircled her back.

Only parting because their lungs demanded the oxygen, they both stood, panting slightly in the tight embrace, eyes locked onto each others. "'Nara," Mal whispered huskily, his voice laced with unmistakable desire. "I told you somethin', when you were out before an' I'm thinkin' I should say it now too, when I know you can hear me."

Nodding imperceptibly, Inara's heart fluttered in her rib cage as she imagined what Mal might say and prayed she wasn't wrong. Still staring at her with the most intense gaze she had ever seen, he breathed, "I love you."

As Inara struggled to find her voice, her breath completely stolen by this handsome man holding her Mal continued, words spilling from his lips in a torrent of profession. "I've loved you for so gorram long, I don't know why I ain't said it 'fore. That was just foolish. I don't want you to go, 'Nara, not ever. I want to love you for the rest o' my life, if you'll have me."

Silencing any more of his words with a kiss, Inara leaned against him heavily, her tongue driving through and finding his, their bodies each raging with desire as the kiss deepened. Again breaking apart for air, Inara told him, "I love you, Mal. Thank god you feel the same."

Chuckling lightly, the sound filled the empty bay and with a lightness blossoming in their hearts, Mal and Inara slowly made their through the bay, arm in arm.

-- --


The Prime Minister's office issued a report today addressing the unexpected fireworks display set off from Parliament two evenings ago. According to Prime Minister Dresden's aide the display had been planned for quite some time to mark the Alliance's victory in the Unification War, however a flock of birds chewed through some of the wires and accidentally set off the fuses.

His aide refused to comment on rumors circulating on the Cortex that someone sympathetic to the Independent movement, commonly called a Browncoat, might have been behind the impromptu light show.

-- --

It was the middle of the night on Serenity, or at least what passed for the middle of the night. They had been back in the air for a little over a week now, having stopped off at St. Albans to collect Inara's shuttle. Now they were wandering a bit, looking for work, finding it difficult as most of the 'verse thought them dead.

Simon sighed heavily as he circled the bay for about the fifth time. He had found it impossible to sleep, despite Kaylee's warm presence beside him and so again, for the third night in a row, he'd found himself pacing the cavernous room, trying to exhaust himself to the point of catatonia. River had been gone for over a month now and they had not heard from her once. Simon had known they wouldn't, but he'd still hoped that maybe she'd send him a sign, just one, to let him know she was okay.

But she hadn't, and while this neglect had caused his sadness to deepen during the first few weeks of her absence, he found lately that it simply made him angry. She'd just left, left him to once again clean up after her. Left him, Simon, her brother, her only true family and the one person who had saved her from a fate worse than death. Some gratitude.

Clenching his fists tightly as he felt a surge of anger rush through him, Simon paused, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Anger would get him no where, the rational side of his brain knew that, but the emotional side, it wanted to feel that rage, wanted to lash out at something, someone, so he could express his hostility at the undeniable crappiness of the 'verse.

Taking another deep breath, Simon opened his eyes and found himself staring at Jayne's punching bag. It was a bigger one, one the mercenary had installed after Miranda. It hung from thick chains to the catwalk above. Simon had never before boxed; trauma surgeons, as a rule, didn't endanger their hands, but as he observed the round black cylinder before him now, he felt his hands again tighten and with little warning he cocked back his arm and let his punch fly.

The sound of his fist slapping against the leather reverberated through the bay, startling Simon slightly. He hadn't imagined that hitting an inanimate object would be so satisfying, but with increasing speed and anger, Simon was soon pummeling the bag. His eyes were focused on it, even as it swung back and forth, the chain rattling as each of Simon's blows rocked it harder and harder.

River had left him, abandoned him and Simon's anger over that perceived betrayal was only stymied by his hurt at her absence. She was his sister, his mei mei, and now she was gone, and he was alone.

Simon felt his hands start to throb, knowing that soon they would be numb completely. Not caring, he blinked quickly, a bead of sweat pouring off his forehead and over his eye, as he continued to punch. Panting heavily, Simon's chest heaved with angry sobs even as he gasped for breath.

"Dammit, River," he growled, pulling his right hand back farther than before and letting it sail with reckless abandon. "How could you do this?" Each word was punctuated by a swift blow and Simon felt his knuckles splitting.

"You wanna beat on a real person for a bit?"

Whirling around, Simon's upraised fist was halted in mid-air as Mal enclosed it with his hand. The two men stayed locked in a stare for several moments, neither of them willing to give ground first. As ice cold blue eyes met anger-filled navy ones, Inara watched helplessly from above, her heart constricting as she recognized the pain Simon was in and the precarious situation Mal had just inserted himself into.

"Leave me alone, Mal." Simon's voice was a low growl and with unnecessary force, he wrenched his fist out of Mal's hand, taking a step back as he continued to catch his breath.

Shaking his head, Mal crossed his arms over his chest resolutely and said, "Well now, doc, you know I can't rightly do that."

"Why not?" This wasn't a growl or a snarl, it was a scream, an enraged cry that resounded through the room and Mal simply watched as Simon's chest heaved with anger. "This is none of your business! She was my sister, my family!"


Both men turned at the sound of the pained whisper to see Kaylee standing in the doorway to the dorms, a blanket pulled around her pajama-clad form. With wide and uncomprehending eyes, she stared at Simon. Taking a small step forward, she asked softly, "Simon, how can you say somethin' like that?"

"It's true, Kaylee," Simon bit out, his anger a bit tempered by her presence, but not much. Darting furious eyes back to Mal, Simon stepped forward, getting so close to Mal their noses were almost touching. "You've never given a damn about River or I. Stop pretending like you care just to get into Inara's bed."

With no premeditation, Mal landed a square hit against the younger man's jaw, causing Simon to stagger backward. Kaylee let out a small yelp as she watched him hit the deck hard, rushing to his side as Inara raced down the stairs to join the fray.

"You okay?" Kaylee asked breathlessly, reaching for Simon's cheek and more than surprised when he pulled away from her violently. Dropping her hands to her lap, Kaylee watched with rising terror as Simon launched himself at the captain, tackling the man around the waist and taking him down to the deck.

"Simon!" Kaylee couldn't help herself; she knew she should stay out of it, but she couldn't stand to watch this, two men whom she loved more than just about anyone else as they tried to kill each other.

"Don't mei mei," Inara's soft voice reached Kaylee, the firm grip on her arm keeping the distraught mechanic locked in place, her eyes still wide with fear.

"'Nara, he's gonna kill 'im," Kaylee whispered, her eyes never leaving the scene as the two men wrestled.

Wondering who exactly she was referring to, Inara simply wrapped an arm around the younger woman's shoulders and held her close.

"Gorramit, Simon, you are stronger than I ever gave ya credit for," Mal muttered, as he gripped tightly at Simon's shoulders and swung the man over. Pinning him against the deck and doing his best to ignore the throbbing in his cheek from where the doctor had landed a solid hit, Mal managed to incapacitate the younger man.

Thrashing about for a few minutes, Simon finally gave up his struggle, panting heavily, his eyes burning into Mal with such fury the captain was surprised his head didn't explode. "Are you done now?" Mal asked harshly, noting the way the doctor's nostrils flared as he tried to bring his rage under control.

"Let. Me. Go." Simon's face held the look of pure defiance, his body tensing again as Mal's grip on his shoulders tightened.

Watching from the side of the bay as the two men again stared at one another, Kaylee felt her heart pound against her chest uncomfortably. She could not take her eyes off Simon. He already had a nice bruise forming along one cheek and she could see that his knuckles were bloodied. Watching as his face contorted with a bit of pain as Mal adjusted his grip, she moved forward, saying, "Cap'n, c'mon, let 'im go. You're hurtin' 'im."

Her voice cutting through to his heart like the sharpest piece of glass, Mal did his best to ignore the pang of regret he felt as he said evenly, "'Nara, why don't you take Kaylee back to her bunk?"

Shaking her head once, Kaylee tried to stand her ground. "No, I ain't leavin' Simon."

Tugging at her gently, the Companion steered Kaylee around. "It's all right, Kaylee. Mal and Simon just need to talk."

Unable to fight, her heart and body exhausted from the weeks of stress, Kaylee only nodded numbly, casting a longing look over her shoulder to Simon before they were gone.

Mal watched the two women go, releasing Simon once he knew they had left. Scrambling up hurriedly, Simon rubbed at his shoulders, wincing as his now swollen and bruised hands throbbed. Stepping towards him, Mal took one of the damaged hands in his own, turning it over and getting a good look.

"Well, now that is a mighty fine job you did on them pretty hands," Mal said, his voice full of mock awe. "You really are talented."

"Go to hell," Simon muttered, jerking his hand away as he glowered in the captain's direction. "And get the hell away from me."

"I ain't gonna do that, Simon. 'Sides, I've already been to hell, I really ain't lookin' to go back … least not so soon." Mal smirked, only serving to irk Simon even more.

With a frustrated sigh, Simon paced away, heading past Mal and back towards the infirmary. "Fine, then I'll go."

Dropping his chin to his chest, Mal let out a huge sigh, rubbing a hand along the back of his neck. Ai ya, the hits just kept on comin'.

Giving the kid until the count of ten, Mal turned and followed him, not at all surprised to spot Simon in the infirmary, tending to his aching hands. Observing for a moment, Mal knew the doctor would be unable to help himself; his hands, which were quickly stiffening, could not manipulate the weave. Throwing the bandage to the counter, Simon slumped down onto the stool, cursing quietly.

Without a word, Mal entered the room, grabbing the supplies he'd need. Surprised when Simon did not pull away, Mal cleaned and dressed his wounds, truly impressed by the amount of damage he'd managed to render in a short amount of time.

"Feel any better?"

Not bothering to lift his eyes, Simon simply muttered, "What do you think?"

Stepping back and leaning against the counter, Mal told him, "I think that if you'd asked me if beatin' your hands to a pulp woulda made a bit o' difference, I could have saved you the trouble." As Simon's gaze remained locked on the floor, Mal watched him carefully. He knew the boy was hurting. He'd known from the minute River asked him to watch over her brother that Simon's road back to functionality would be a slow and rocky one. But luckily for the tortured doctor, Mal himself had had a bit of experience with both self-loathing and redemption.

"You realize that actin' out like this is eventually gonna scare away lil' Kaylee?" Of course, in the absence of any real options, Mal would play dirty; his mama had always taught him to go for the sure thing, and where Simon was concerned, guilt, especially surrounding the woman he loved, was as sure as it got.

"You can't guilt me out of this, Mal." Simon's voice was even and controlled, but his eyes were still burning as they rested on the older man's face. "I don't want to lose Kaylee for anything, but I can't …" He didn't even know if he had the words. It seemed somewhat ridiculous – a member of the top three percent unable to articulate his feelings.

Taking a deep breath, he finally ground out, "My sister is gone. I have no idea if I'll ever see her again and to top it all off, I'm the reason she had to go."

Frowning as Mal's brain refused to follow the other man's convoluted logic path, he asked, "Shenme? How in the 'verse is River gettin' programmed by scary-ass men your fault?"

Rising slowly, Simon paced across the infirmary, his agitation forcing him to move. He hadn't really admitted the extent of his failure to anyone, not even Kaylee, and he worried now what it would mean if he admitted it to Mal.

"She was my responsibility," he began quietly, his eyes staring ahead unseeing. "It was my job to protect her, to make her well. River's health and well-being were supposed to be my only priority." Turning finally, the sadness that now inhabited the boy's eyes was enough to make Mal's heart hurt. "And I failed her."

Snorting lightly, Mal rolled his eyes and said, "Right. And you're also responsible for the dust storms on Harvest an' the fact that Jayne don't shower."

Studying him quizzically, Simon couldn't form a retort fast enough so Mal continued. "Simon, you ain't responsible for your sis. First off, she's an adult now, eighteen through and through and that immediately lifts any responsibility off o' you." As Simon's began to protest, Mal raised a hand to stop him. "An' yes, I do know what happened to River an' no, I don't think it makes her any less human." Stepping towards him, Mal rested his hands lightly on Simon's shoulders and said quietly, "The fact o' the matter is, River is prolly more human, more truthsome, than anyone we could ever hope to meet."

Unable to form words, Simon could only listen dumbfounded as Mal reasoned, "She's seen more an' experienced more than any person should ever hafta, but she did an' she lived to see the other side. And you helped her through that, Simon.

"That girl weren't more than a sobbin' mess o' skin an' bones when you brought her on board this boat, but Simon." Pausing again, Mal waited until the doctor's eyes were focused on his face as he told him firmly, "Four weeks ago, when she walked outta here, she was more than that – she was a person. A young woman makin' a choice. An' while none of us rightly agree with it, she did what was best for her, an' prolly all o' us, sacrificin' everything she knew in the process.

"An' that kind o' sacrifice don't deserve your anger, it deserves your respect."

Swallowing thickly, Simon slouched against the wall, his knees feeling as though they may buckle. Attempting to flex his hands and only getting waves of pain for the effort, Simon finally murmured, "I just can't help feeling like I wasn't enough."

"You weren't." This confident statement brought Simon's pained gaze back to the captain and Mal hastened to add, "But Simon, ain't nobody would o' been enough. River's gotta do this on her own. She's the only person who can see her through this."

With a heavy sigh, Simon nodded sullenly, knowing the captain was right. The older man hadn't really said anything that Simon hadn't tried to convince himself of over and over again for the past weeks, but hearing it from someone else, from a trusted third party, a man who was a surrogate father-cum-older brother to Simon seemed to ease the blow. He hadn't been enough to save his sister, and that was all right.

"I hate that she's gone," he whispered, his voice a rasp.

Nodding once, Mal told him, "You an' me both, son. She was a damn fine pilot."

More silence stretched in the space between them and Mal found that the brief camaraderie they'd shared was waning quickly. Clearing his throat in an effort to hide his discomfort, the captain stepped back towards the door, turning once more to say, "An' Simon. You hurt lil' Kaylee, an' I'll kill ya."

As Simon managed a weak grin, Mal added, "She's the best damn thing that ever happened to anybody on this boat an' for some unknown reason she is in love with you. Don't mess that up."

Nodding once, Simon felt his courage and his spirit bolstered. Straightening, he said, "Yes sir."

Giving the boy his trademark grin, Mal moved out of the room, seeking out Inara so he could finally go back to sleep – it had been one hell of a night.

-- --

It took Simon over an hour to feel as if he could face Kaylee. He felt undeniable shame for his actions and not just the ones of a few hours ago. He'd been acting like a real heel since River had left the ship, storming around one minute before collapsing into a depressive state that he could not be roused from the next.

But regardless of his behavior, Kaylee had never once wavered. She had never backed away or given up and Simon could barely comprehend that type of devotion. Truthfully, if he hadn't been able to feel it from her, as much as witness it, he'd probably never have believed it.

His feet moving towards her of their own volition, his body, his heart, his mind drawn to her as a moth to a flame, Simon found himself at the door to their bunk. Letting out a silent breath as he slid open the screen, he stopped short at the sight before him. She was sitting up in the dim light, her knees pulled into her chest as she sat against the far wall of the bunk. Looking up as he entered, she did not change her position nor speak, but only followed his every movement with those impossibly deep green eyes.

Those eyes had stolen his breath more times than he could possibly remember; and they had just done it again.

As the two lovers found themselves locked in an intense stare, Simon's heart thudded painfully against his rib cage as Kaylee lowered her gaze first, sniffling slightly, a shaky hand rising to her face and wiping at the tears he knew she was trying to fight.

His body again acting out of inherent need, Simon was next to her in a moment, sitting on the edge of the bed. Cupping a hand under her chin, he raised her face to him, his hands cradling her cheeks. She watched him closely as he touched her so gently, these last few seconds the most intimate they had been since River had gone. Brushing his thumbs along her cheek bones and taking a few of her tears with him, Simon leaned forward and pressed light kisses to both cheeks, before he murmured, "No more tears, bao bei."

Biting her lip in a combination of anxiety and anticipation, Kaylee leaned into Simon's touch, her face nuzzling lightly against his hand. Noting the way he hissed at the added pressure, she immediately pulled back, wrapping one of his injured hands between both of hers and pulling it down to study it.

With fresh tears welling in her eyes, she ghosted her fingers over the weave Mal had applied and murmured, "Oh, Simon."

"It'll heal, Kaylee," he reminded her softly, edging closer and pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "Everything heals in time."

Shaking her head slowly, Kaylee's eyes would not leave her lap as she murmured, "Not grief. Not loss."

Wrapping his hands around her upper arms gently, Simon waited until she was again looking to him before he said firmly, "Yes, Kaylee, even grief."

She knew he was only trying to convince her, to make her feel better so she would not carry around his pain. But Kaylee also knew that her heart would continue to break, a little bit each day, if Simon tried to live a lie. Praying she could convince him to confide in her, to let her in, she moved her hands to his chest, gripping the fabric of his thin t-shirt lightly and told him, "It's okay to be sad, Simon." Watching as his eyes roamed her face, she added, "It's okay to miss her."

Swallowing hard past the lump in his throat, he admitted, "I do miss her, every day." Determined to make things right between him and the love of his life, he said quietly, "But River made a choice. A choice to leave, because she felt it was best." Again meeting her wide-eyed gaze, Simon told her softly, "And I made a choice too."

Leaning forward, Simon's mouth hovered barely an inch from Kaylee's and she inhaled sharply at his nearness. Her emotions, already raging so close to the surface, had her body on edge, and now as she felt the warmth of Simon's breath tickle her cheek, she could feel herself responding to him, could feel the ache building in her core. Her need for him was almost palpable; her need to help him, heal him, her need for Simon to do the same for her.

"I love you," he whispered finally before crossing that minute distance and capturing her mouth with his.

Kaylee felt herself grow a bit faint at the contact, at the pure desire and passion she felt in the way Simon's tongue plundered her mouth, the way his hands wrapped around the back of her head, fisting into her hair and pulling her tight against him. And Kaylee returned every touch, every caress with desire-filled ones of her own. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she leaned forward and pressed herself against him, easily giving her mind, body and soul over to the man who held her so assuredly now.

Forced to part for air, they leaned their foreheads against each other, Simon's hands working down the front of Kaylee's pajamas until he'd reached the hem of her shirt. Tugging it up and over her head, his eyes twinkled at the sight of her perfect upper body, even as Kaylee managed to divest him of his t-shirt, her nimble fingers dancing across his firm chest.

Trailing his fingertips softly along her collarbone and down her chest until he cupped one perfect breast in his hand, Simon moved his lips to her neck, sucking and nibbling on the pulse point he found there and grinning against her skin as she moaned at the contact. Her body was quickly moving from warm and tingly to hot and electric and she found her hands gripping his shoulders tightly, pressing his mouth and teeth even more firmly to her skin.

Drawing a warm, wet line up to behind her ear, Simon's kisses turned light and teasing as he told her, "I have been such an idiot this past month."

At his words, Kaylee's hands stilled in his hair, where she had wound her fingers to better direct his kisses. Simon felt her tense and he paused in his ministrations as well, lifting his head from her neck and meeting her green eyes just inches from his own. "You had no reason to stick by me and yet you did," he told her truthfully. He had certainly given her plenty of reasons to run, but not once had she so much as taken a step back. "You are the most loyal, loving and compassionate person I have ever met," he added softly, moving a hand to her face and tracing the outline of her eyes, nose and mouth with gentle fingers. "And I cannot imagine my life without you."

Happy tears welling in her eyes, Kaylee murmured, "I ain't goin' nowhere." As he continued to stare at her with an intensity that made her shiver, she added, "You are my life, xin gan. I love you."

Kissing her again, Simon's lips worked over hers, his tongue tracing along the upper and lower lip before gently parting them and finding entrance into the warmth of her mouth. As their kiss deepened, more passion and desire coursing through them both, they again broke the contact, gasping for air. Simon's mouth again wandered down Kaylee's jawline and to the hollow of her neck where it met her chest and Simon tickled the skin there with his tongue, bathing the warm flesh before he moved lower and finally took one nipple into his mouth, laving the small bud and nipping at it lightly until he felt it harden.

Kaylee's body arched into him as he closed his teeth around the sensitive flesh and she again moaned softly, sending a shot of desire straight to his groin. Moving his attention to the other breast, Simon waited for the small gasp and moan before bringing his eyes back to her face. Her own eyes were clouded with lust and want and Simon found the look incredibly intoxicating, his already straining length feeling the confines of his pants even more acutely.

Leaning forward to brush another kiss to her mouth, Simon began, "Kaylee, you are-"

With an upraised hand, she pressed one finger to his lips, silencing him. Giving him a small smile that hinted at playfulness, she leaned towards him, her lips grazing his ear and whispered, "No more talkin'."

Groaning at the pure passion in her voice, Simon found his body again responding to her as her hands slid along his bare chest, one moving low and cupping him through his pants, squeezing just enough to cause him to push towards her hand. Just as she squeezed again, Kaylee's warm mouth and moist lips covered his, swallowing his moan and heightening his need for her.

Pushing him back lightly, Simon fell easily onto the bunk, watching delightedly as Kaylee straddled him, grinding her hips against his covered erection, a feral moan escaping from them both.

Ai ya, she was hot for him. Kaylee could feel her wetness coating her panties, felt her core throbbing as it imagined the fullness and hardness of him inside of her, moving and pulsing and driving her mad. Closing her eyes as the memory sent a ripple of lust down her spine, Kaylee moved against him again, sitting up a bit. Simon could see all of her now and just as he reached to pull her back on top of him, his eyes widened as he watched her move one hand down her navel, pressing her fingers through her pajama bottoms against her core as the other hand moved up and over her breasts, kneading the flesh of one as she more persistently rubbed her covered sweet spot.

Realizing that watching any more of this would cause him to come in his pants, Simon sat up swiftly, reaching for her hands and holding them firmly as he forced his tongue into her mouth, plundering it so thoroughly all Kaylee could do was hold on for dear life.

Panting, Simon pulled away from her reluctantly, his hands moving to her waist, his fingers sliding under the waistband of her bottoms and pulling the material down. Kaylee helped him, shimmying out of the material and causing him to again groan as her movements rubbed against him. Once she was bare before him, Simon laid her back, watching her chest heave slightly with need and anticipation, as he positioned himself between her legs. She spread her thighs for him invitingly, her hands again moving dangerously close to her own center so she could provide herself with a bit of the release she so desperately craved.

Knowing her intent, Simon was determined she not ruin his fun. Hovering above her on strong arms, Simon's teeth nipped at her lips, teasing them relentlessly as he worked a slow string of kisses down her naked body. Kaylee writhed as each touch made her body pool with more need, his name falling from her lips in breathless pants. Each moan sent a jolt to Simon's aching length and he fought the urge to strip down and drive into her. He wanted this to last, he wanted it to be so unbelievably satisfying for them both that they would be boneless for hours, only able to sleep and lie in one another's arms content and sated.

His mouth and tongue having finally reached the apex of her thighs, Simon closed his eyes for a moment as her scent overwhelmed him. He would never get used to this, never get used to how hot and wet he could make Kaylee, never get used to how much she wanted him and him her. It was almost too good to be true.

Moving his mouth further, Simon darted his tongue out and flicked at her folds, managing to taste just a bit of her. She writhed again at this tease, her hands fisting into the bed sheets. As Simon's tongue traced her entrance, this time more slowly, she moaned again, her hips arching off the bed as she tried to get him closer. Moving one hand to her waist, he held her gently against the bed as his mouth closed over her completely, his tongue immediately surrounded by her heat and wetness.

Kaylee was panting, having a hard time catching her breath as Simon continued to taunt and tease her. She mewled sharply as he focused his attention on that small bundle of nerves that was already dying from anticipation. Her body was tightening deliciously and Kaylee knew she would snap soon, Simon was making sure of it and she was helpless to stop it. Of course, she had no intention of stopping it, ever, not with Simon. All conscious thought left her as one of his long fingers joined his tongue, thrusting into her, the pace quickening as Simon felt her getting closer.

Running her hands down to her hips, she reached wildly for him, unable to see as she had scrunched her eyes closed and could not force them open. Curling her fingers around a few strands of hair, she tugged gently and murmured, "Simon, ta ma de."

He loved it when he made her swear – well, in this context. Making her swear during an argument or after he'd done something stupid was a completely different story. He knew she wanted him to join them. Simon knew Kaylee's body, as well as he'd ever known any lovers, better actually and Simon knew that while Kaylee liked to play and tease as much as the next, for her nothing compared to the feel of him inside her. And that made him all manner of proud, in a purely manly fashion.

Ending his internal debate, Simon slid his tongue and finger from her, grinning as she let out a frustrated growl. He knew he'd better move fast or she'd never forgive him for leaving her at the edge and not pulling her over. Sitting back, he pushed his own trousers down, letting out a breath of relief when his hardened length was finally freed. He was so ready for her he knew it wouldn't take long for his own release. Running his hands up her body as he again hovered over her, Kaylee slowly fluttered her eyes open to look in his face. Reaching for the hand he'd had inside her, Kaylee licked the finger clean before she lifted her head slightly and captured his mouth in a deep, slow kiss, tasting herself on his lips.

As they explored each other's mouths, Simon braced himself above her and slid into her, his stiffened length quickly and completely enveloped in her warmth. Kaylee immediately arched her hips to meet the pleasant intrusion, her hands moving down his sides to rest at his waist, giving her purchase as he slowly began to move.

Dropping her head back to the pillow, she knew that she'd be gone soon, floating for that endless moment as Simon's motions and attentions lit her from within. Closing her eyes against the immense pleasure, she felt Simon's lips brush against her cheek, moving towards her ear. His breath warm against her skin, he whispered to her, "Look at me, Kaylee."

With an effort, as her body was quickly losing the ability to move of its own will, she turned her head and blinked her eyes open, meeting his deep blue-eyed gaze. Pausing his movements, Simon studied her face, loving the way her normally tan cheeks were flushed a beautiful shade of pink, how her lips were slightly parted, small puffs of air escaping as she fought to maintain some semblance of control; how her eyes, full of compassion, lust and adoration stared intently into his own.

Brushing a few stray strands of hair from her forehead, he murmured, "I will love you forever, bao bei. I promise."

Her heart, already beating rapidly, sped up a bit at his words and Kaylee ran her hands up from his waist to curl them into his hair. Pulling his face a bit closer to hers, Kaylee whispered against his mouth, "Love you, forever and always," before closing her mouth over his.

The kiss reawakened the slightly cooled passion and Simon found his body again moving. Driving into her, his thick length hit every nerve ending and within seconds, Kaylee was keening beneath him, her body tightening and pulsing around his buried length as she came. Wrapping his arms around her back, Simon held her as she shuddered, waiting until she'd stilled before bringing about his own end.

Kaylee helped of course, her mouth close to his ear, spurring him on as her hands roamed across his back and pulled him tighter to her, gripping his backside roughly as his hot release thundered into her, sending another jolt of delight through her center.

Utterly spent, Simon fell on top of Kaylee and she gladly supported his weight, loving the feel of him still buried within her. Pressing light kisses to his damp skin, Kaylee ran her hands through his hair and down his back until Simon again regained his senses and rolled over. His arm firmly around her shoulders, he pulled Kaylee with him and she snuggled on top of him, her cheek resting just over his heart, one leg wrapped around his so that there was not an inch of empty space between them.

They didn't sleep for a long while, even though they were both emotionally and physically exhausted. Instead Simon and Kaylee, two of the most unlikely lovers in the 'verse stayed awake, enjoying the intimate contact of the other and reveling in the knowledge that they were, forever and always, well and truly loved.

-- --

One Month Later

-- --

NEWS REPORT – Osiris, Capital City

An explosion today rocked the outskirts of Capital City, injuring at least five dozen civilians and possibly killing more. At the height of the day, a dormant warehouse in the city's manufacturing district seemingly imploded, the six-story structure falling with amazing speed. The clouds of debris caused panic and confusion for quite a while until maintenance and fire-fighting crews were brought to the scene.

When questioned, the Chief of Police commented that the warehouse had fallen into disrepair and city officials had discussed just a week ago demolishing the building. Pressed further on the true purpose of the facility, the chief denied rumors that it had once been used as a secret Alliance/Blue Sun consortium. Neither Prime Minister Dresden nor Blue Sun's CEO could be reached for comment.