Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Summary: Conclusion. A new provisional government is formed, and Mal and the crew of Serenity go back to the Black.
"And why exactly would you think I would be willing to be a member of this new parliament?" Lord Harrow asked blandly.
"Why not?" Mal replied, giving the man his best winning smile. "Peace has been restored, and there's need of good men on every world to represent its people in a decent way."
"I would not call the current climate 'peace' so much as an absence of war," Harrow replied dryly. "But, it would seem that there is a need." He paused for a long time while Mal waited patiently for his answer. Finally, he asked, "And would you be a member of this parliament?"
"No," Mal replied. "For two reasons. Number one, I represent no world. I live in the Black. Number two, there's always the possibility that there are more clones of me floating around as could gum up the works. Wouldn't want a new government to be vulnerable to that kind of thing."
Harrow nodded. "Had you not presented such compelling evidence of it, I would not have imagined the former government capable of such a thing, despite my misgivings about their trade policies."
"That's why men such as yourself are needed to oversee a new beginning. And I can assure you, there are others like you, educated men with the temperament and ability to hammer out all the particulars of how to provide decent representation for each world's citizens without meddling too much in the affairs of their homeworlds." Mal spoke with confidence, thinking of the men who had already agreed to begin the rebuilding process. They included many he knew personally, like Andrew Bridgman and Pete, the former leader of the Underground, and, surprisingly, Gabriel Tam. There were others he did not know, men who had stepped forward with ideas and plans to see the vision of the Independents through in the most practical of ways. Turning his attention back to Lord Harrow, he asked, "So, what do you say? Are you willing to at least meet with them to discuss it?"
Harrow smiled and shook his head. "You really are a persuasive man, Captain Reynolds," he said. "I will meet with them."
"Good," Mal said. "I'll add you to the list, and they'll be in touch when the details of when and where are ironed out."
Harrow nodded, and Mal cut the transmission, leaning back in his chair. "That's the last of them," he said.
River nodded from the pilot's chair. "Knew he'd do it, if you asked nicely." She grinned impishly when she saw him roll his eyes. "Where to, Captain?" she asked, her hands hovering over the controls.
"Sihnon," Mal replied without hesitation. "Time to pick up the kids."
"Been looking for you for the past two hours," Marcus said, a hint of worry in his voice.
Elizabeth turned to look at him. "Sorry," she said softly. "I just needed to be alone for a bit."
"This might not be the best place to wander off alone," he chided. "War zone and all."
"Not a war zone any more," she said, her lips curving slightly. "Peace has broken out. Haven't you heard?"
"B'lieve I might have heard something to that effect," he said, climbing up to where she sat atop a large boulder overlooking Ariel's largest lake. She leaned close to him as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "You worried me a little, darlin'," he admitted.
"Didn't mean to," she said, sighing. "I just….felt the need to come and see this place. I spent a bit of my residency on Ariel, and I used to come up here to clear my head when things got to be a little too much for me."
Marcus looked around. "It's a pretty place."
Elizabeth smiled up at him. "Yes," she said. "One would never know that less than two kilometers away there was a battlefield where thousands of men and women lost their lives."
Knowing there was nothing to say to that, Marcus settled for tightening his hold around her. They sat in silence for a long time, looking at the sun glinting off the peaceful lake. Finally, Elizabeth broke the silence. "I'm glad we didn't die on that battlefield," she said solemnly.
"As am I," Marcus said, his smile slow and a little lazy.
"And it would appear that the 'verse stands a fair chance of turning out for the better now," she added.
"Then why do I feel so guilty about being happy about it?" she asked, looking up into his eyes.
"Because you're human," he said. "Because you care about the people who died here, and the reasons they died. Because you're you."
"Suppose it will eventually stop bothering me, what happened here?" she asked in a small voice.
"Don't know," he answered honestly. "I'm new at this too." He paused. "Best I can tell you is that we need to just keep on livin' 'til we find out."
"Why do I think that will not be as easy as it sounds?" she asked wryly.
"Could be something we could do to make it easier," he replied.
She looked at him blankly. "Like what?" she asked.
"Could maybe take some life-affirming step, or some such," he said, a slight flush rising to his cheeks. He reached into the pocket of his coat and withdrew a small object.
"I repeat, like what?" she asked, intrigued by his behavior.
Marcus cleared his throat. "Some time ago, when I was feeling like life wasn't worth too much, Adam Reynolds told me that I'd be needing this for someone later." He held out his hand, showing Elizabeth the ring resting on his palm.
Her heart began to beat wildly.
"I think he must have meant you," Marcus continued, gently taking her hand and slipping the ring on her finger. As she stared at it in amazement, he said, "See, it's a perfect fit."
Elizabeth looked up at him with bright blue eyes. "Yes, I think it is," she said.
Marcus drew a deep breath. "So then, that being the case, think maybe marrying me might be life-affirming enough to fit the bill, Elizabeth?"
"Yes," she said simply. "I do."
Kaylee thought that her heart might simply explode with joy as she watched Daniel at play with the other children. She'd been hugging him far too hard and often, and finally he had squirmed out of her grasp with a quick peck on the cheek. "Gotta' play with the others," he'd said, old enough now to get a little embarrassed with his mother's public displays of affection.
And while Kaylee had gracefully let him go, her hands tingled with the need to touch him again, to reassure herself that he was really here with her again and not simply another fantasy of her devising. Serenity had arrived on Sihnon days ago, and still the strong pull to be physically near her son and the other children was almost more than she could fight. She would have felt almost embarrassed by it, but for the fact that she saw the same reaction on the part of all the other adults.
Even now, when she looked up to see Mal in conversation with Gabriel Tam, no doubt talking about her father-in-law's new role in the provisional government, she could see that Mal's eyes never left the children for long.
Breaking her train of thought, Anya flopped down on the grass beside her with a big sigh. "You tired, honey?" Kaylee asked, smiling.
"Not tired so much as just wanting to….talk to you for a minute," Anya said.
Kaylee looked at her questioningly. "Everything all right?"
"Oh yes," Anya hastened to assure her. "Everything's shiny. It's just that….well, we'll be leaving soon, right?"
"Reckon so, soon's Cap'n gives the word," Kaylee replied. "Why?"
"Well," Anya said, her face flushing. "There's this boy…."
Kaylee contained her immediate reaction in favor of a more staid approach. "Yes?"
"And, well, he lives about seven kilometers from here, and we sort of got to know each other, and…." She paused. "And I kind of…like him."
Kaylee nodded. "And here I thought you had your cap set on Pierre."
Anya blushed. "Oh, Mr. Pierre is a really nice man and all, but he's sort of…old."
Kaylee smiled. "I see your point," she said. "So this boy, does he know you're about to leave?"
"Yes," Anya said. "And he doesn't seem happy about it, but he didn't exactly say that, and…"
"Well," Kaylee said, trying to sound mature and wise. "Seems to me this thing needs to be handled carefully."
"What should I do?" Anya asked anxiously.
"Best to keep on getting to know him a little at a time, I think," Kaylee said. "You know, with waves back and forth, and maybe letters sometimes. That way, you'll find out all about him no matter where we are. Sound good?"
"You think Mama would let me wave him from Serenity?" Anya asked, her eyes bright with hope. "I mean, maybe you could talk to her."
"Think it would be better coming from you," Kaylee encouraged the young girl. "But I expect she wouldn't object too much."
"What about Captain Mal?" Anya asked.
"Well now, that might be another story," Kaylee said, laughter bubbling up in her tone.
Mal watched Adam's eyelids flutter shut as he read him the obligatory bedtime story. He closed the book softly and sat staring at his son for a long moment. Adam opened his eyes sleepily. "Glad to be home," he said contentedly. "And glad it's really you."
"And you know it's really me exactly how?" Mal asked, smiling tenderly.
"You got the voices right," Adam replied, yawning widely.
"I see," Mal said, tucking the covers more closely under Adam's chin. "Night, little fella'."
"Night, Daddy," Adam slurred as he curled up on his side and drew his stuffed dinosaur closely to him. "Night, Mama."
"Night, baby mine," River said gently from the doorway.
Mal turned off the small light by Adam's bed and joined River in the hallway. "Wanna check in on Hannah again before we turn in?" he asked.
"She's sleeping," River said, smiling. "But if it will make you feel better…"
"It will," Mal admitted, knowing that River was well aware that he just wanted to see his baby girl one more time. He opened the door slowly, careful not to make a noise, and looked in on his sleeping daughter. Her hair was spread out in wild abandon across her pillow and there was a faint smile on her delicate features. She looked so much like River that it made his heart swell with joy and pride. "She's beautiful," he said. "And strong. And smart."
River nodded silently, and he closed the door carefully. Walking along the corridor toward their bunk, she trailed her hands along Serenity's bulkhead as was her custom.
"What's she saying?" Mal asked, smiling at his wife.
"She's happy," River said. "Happy that she's full again. Happy that she has her Captain."
"And what do you say?" Mal asked, his eyes burning with a profound sense of the absolute rightness of things for just this moment in time.
River faced him on tiptoe, leaning in to brush his lips lightly with her own. "The very same thing," she said before the rest of her words were swallowed up by his kiss.
Author's Note: And so the story of Malcolm Reynolds and how he changed the 'verse with a small band of stalwart souls comes to its end. After a year and five months, it seems fitting to end it here, with a new beginning on the horizon for our favorite crew and their friends. It has been a real pleasure to share this story with you all, and to have you share with me your impressions and thoughts in return. Of the fact that Browncoats are special folks, there is no doubt. What a joy it has been to get to know so many of you through the story as it progressed. I thank you kindly. Also, I would be remiss if I did not offer a most special thanks to Midnight Obsidian for the use of the Hit or Miss crew. Every collaboration with you, kind sir, has been an honor and a genuine joy. As always, happy reading and writing to you all.