Chapter 19

"Tah-shr suo-yo dee-yure duh biao-tze duh mah!" Jayne cursed as Simon finally pulled the bullet free of his leg.

"Stop being such a baby," Simon said evenly, though Jayne suspected he was enjoying this far too much.

He'd lost a lot of blood but Sam and Helo had arrived with the medi kit in time. Jean stood by the table in Serenity's infirmary, smiling at him every time he cursed or growled, as if it was the most precious sound she'd ever heard. It made Jayne feel happy. Which was just weird, but what was done was done. And what was done was that Jayne had fallen head long into love with her. At least, that's what he thought it was. He couldn't be sure, never having even been in like before, really. Maybe he'd ask Inara.

Catching sight of the companion as she lounged outside with the rest of the crew, waiting for news, he changed his mind. She was already giving him knowing smirks, the last thing he needed was to give her more ammunition.

"Alright, I'm done here, and I have a lot more work to do. I'm going to need this table, so you're going to have to get up."

"You just pulled a bullet out of my leg and now I gotta get up and walk?" Simon was unsympathetic.

"Yes, your suffering must be terrible. How unfortunate." Jean laughed at them both and helped Jayne stand, draping one of his arms over her shoulders. He wasn't particularly comfortable putting too much of his weight on her as they limped forward, but he had to admit it felt pretty good to have her tucked up against him.

"You gonna live?" Kaylee asked as they emerged.

"He'd better," Jean spoke as she helped ease him onto a chair that Helo had vacated for him. "I'm gonna be pretty pissed if we bothered to haul his heavy ass all the way back just so he could croak now." Everyone laughed, but any further joking was cut off as Jacob walked in from the hold, arm in a sling, cuts bandaged.

"What's the news?" Kara prodded, leaning forward eagerly.

"Mixed," he said somberly. "We lost a lot people, more than half. But Dadik's dead, the guards who weren't killed have surrendered, and old government officials are moving to fill the power vacuum before some new tyrant thinks to proclaim himself king."

"It's a good start," Book pointed out.

"Yes," Jacob said, smiling. "We have a lot of work to do, but this is everything we hoped for. Everything we've been planning for. And we have you to thank for it, for all of it."

"You did more than your fair share," Mal demurred.

"We're having a celebration out in the village. It would be an honor if those of you who are able bodied would join us. You've earned it." Wash grabbed Zoe around the waste and danced her towards the door as she laughed.

"I always love a good party."

"Hey," Jayne called after him. "Bring me back some food, will ya? Hey!" Wash ignored him, as did everyone else as they filed out. Everyone except Jean who just laughed at him.

"I think food we can manage on our own." She rain a hand through his hair, such as it was, and leaned down to kiss him. This time, flying high on painkillers, Jayne was able to respond more enthusiastically than before. He grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap and she giggled against his mouth, arms coming up to circle his neck.

"Oh Gods. What did I say about doing that when I'm around?"

"Sam," Jean said without turning around. "You're not my dad, no matter how many times you try. Go away." She resumed her task, biting his lips slightly and making him hiss.

"You hurt her, Cobb, and I'll pop your head off like a balloon. Got it?"

"Sam!" Jean shot back, twisting in Jayne's arms to face him. "Go. Away!" But they were smiling at each other, and Jayne had a feeling there was something else happening he didn't quite understand. Which was OK with him, really. Figuring out the interpersonal relationships of everyone else on board wasn't something he had ever tried to do and never would.

"You sure you're not up for the party?" she asked when they were alone.

"Nah. Never thought I'd hear these word come out my mouth, but I've had enough excitement for one day."

"You think maybe you're up for just a bit more?" He narrowed his eyes.

"What do you have in mind?"

"Well, if you're really that tired we should probably get you to bed. And since that involves climbing up stairs and then down a ladder, I think I'm going to have to help you."

**********

The celebration was in full swing when Mal swaggered into the square. People were dancing, singing, laughing. There was food and music and general merriment everywhere. Yet it was still easy to spot Inara.

"So, come here often?" he asked, sliding up beside her. She smiled at him.

"It's an incredible thing to see. I'm glad you took this job, Mal. This was important."

"Look, um, about what happened the other night-"

"I'm still leaving." And they were back to that.

"Inara-"

"I told Kaylee." That shut him up. "When we were alone, waiting for wounded to start coming in. I told her I would be leaving soon."

"How did she..."

"She cried. She asked me to stay. She accepted it." She turned from him to stare out at the crowd again. "I know what you're going to say, Mal, but I can't-"

"You're right." She searched his face, confused. "You're right," he said again. "We can't go on actin' like nothin's happened, and I can't...If this is what you need, then do it. Just know that you will always be welcome on my boat."

She leaned in and kissed his cheek softly.

"You're a good man, Mal. When you want to be." He grinned. "Speaking of men who aren't so bad when they try," she continued, "did you see the way Jayne was looking at Jean?"

"No," he said immediately. "I most definitely have not seen anything at all regarding Jayne and whatever emotions he may or may not have managed to actually conjure. Nor do I have an interest in bein' enlightened."

Sharon and Karl wondered by, arms looped around each other. They were happy, sharing drinks with their fellow victors, proud of what they'd helped accomplish. And yet there was a sadness lurking just below the surface, and Mal was reminded that they had a difficult task ahead of them.

Recreate foreign, advanced technology from the scraps they could afford, hook it up to a ship, and start looking for a needle in the biggest haystack there was. He'd given them his word, but it would be no small feat to keep it.

"I'm gonna head back to the ship," he mumbled to Inara, recapturing her attention.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I got some stuff to look over. If anyone asks, maybe I'll be back down later." His celebration had already taken place. He and Zoe had raised a glass to the men and women they'd fought with in the war, the ones who hadn't come back because of Dadik. To them it was closure on an old wound, something to be satisfied with. That didn't mean he felt like partying with everyone else.

As he wandered back up he took a look at his ship. She had a few dings but she had held up. She would fly true. There weren't a lot of things that could be counted on in life, but this ship was one of them. If anything would get them to the Colonial Fleet, Serenity would.

**********

Sam didn't realize anyone was in the bunk until it was too late to back out.

"Sorry," he mumbled to Kara when she looked up. "I didn't know you were here. I was just coming to change." He motioned to his dirt and blood stained clothes.

"Yeah." She motioned to a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. "Me too." They stood there awkwardly, neither really knowing what to say. Sam wanted to apologize again, try to explain once more. But he'd said everything that could be said. He couldn't make her forgive him, he had to let her process on her own.

"I'll go." He started to back out when she called his name. Taking a deep breath she faced him squarely.

"Look, I don't know what to tell you-"

"You don't owe me anything, Kara."

"Would you shut up?" she glared. "What I was trying to say is that I don't know what I feel. I don't know...for some reason I believe that you didn't know. And I guess I can understand why you lied once you did. But I can't act like it doesn't change things. I can't just...forgive and forget. I'm sorry." He shook his head sadly. He'd known that was coming from the moment he confessed.

"It's OK. It's not your fault."

"I am glad you're OK," she offered tentatively. "I'm glad you made it through the fight." Sam grinned a bit.

"Did a bit more than 'make it through'." She laughed before she could stop herself.

"Well, you were always good with a bomb." Her smile was brief and didn't quite reach her eyes, but she was trying, he could see that.

"I'll ask Mal about getting new quarters." She nodded and he moved to leave.

"Sam," she called, stopping him again. He looked over his shoulder and saw her reach into the bottom of one of the dresser drawers. She pulled out the bag that held all her paints and brushes and held it up for him to see.

"What's this?" she asked.

"They're yours."

"The ones I asked you to get rid of?"

"Yeah. I thought you'd want them back later and regret leaving them behind. So I ignored you." She didn't say anything right away and Sam wondered if he had misjudged her. Or maybe it was just different now that he was a Cylon.

Then she smiled.

"Maybe you're not wrong. Thanks."

It was something. A start. She didn't hate him. She didn't trust him, but she didn't hate him. Maybe that's as close as they'd ever be now, but Sam couldn't help but believe that maybe with time things would get better.

He would wait for her. He always did.

**********

Kara wasn't sure what drew her to the bridge. As far as she knew everyone was down at the party. But up she went, and somehow she wasn't surprised to see Mal there, leaning back in the pilot's chair, watching the stars through the front window.

"Not in a partying mood?" she called out.

"Not particularly." She came in and stood by the chair, arms crossed staring up with him. Up in the cold black, somewhere, Adama and the fleet were waiting. They couldn't wait forever.

"How are you handlin' things?" he asked quietly. Kara sighed.

"I've had better weeks, but I'll live."

"Sick of our little world yet?" She laughed.

"You kidding? Spend three years on this boat and tell me you don't love every planet your feet touches, just a little." He heaved himself to his feet and turned to face her.

"We've got a lot of work to do before we can even think about going after your people. And then we have to plan that whole process out. Could be you're going to be her for awhile. Maybe you'd like to tag along on a regular basis." She quirked an eyebrow.

"Are you offering me a job?"

"Technically you're already doin' it, just thought it'd be polite to ask formally. 'Specially since Jayne's likely to be out for awhile until he heals up some."

"So you want me to be your muscle?" His smile was kind, understanding.

"I want you to be part of my crew and do whatever it is you can. We help each other out on this ship. You're problems are our problems, ours are yours, you get the picture."

Kara was used to belonging to a crew. It was how she'd lived for the past few years, how they'd all kept themselves alive. What he was offering wasn't just help. That they'd already been given. What he was offering was friendship, something a lot more permanent. She thought of Athena, Helo, Gaeta and Jean. Even Sam. They would all stick together, there was no question of that. They were outsiders in a strange world and that would bond them even if they weren't friends. But Mal was offering a true partnership and home with people who would be able to back them against whatever was thrown at them next.

"I think I could handle that," she said at last. He held out a hand.

"Welcome to the crew of Serenity, Kara Thrace."

**********

River stood on the catwalk overlooking Serenity's hold. The celebrations still echoed in her head, and she smiled to herself. They were all so happy. She liked it when they were happy. She closed her eyes and let herself go back home, to her family's garden. She loved to dance here, were it was so quiet and she could be happy too. She lifted her arms, pointed her toes, moved into a rhythm that was like breathing. But they were standing on the outside, waiting, waiting to take her away again. Two by two, hands of blue.

Her eyes snapped open and she shook her head violently. Don't close your eyes, don't sleep, don't dream. That's when they find you, creeping in like wolves to eat away until there's nothing left.

"You won't have to be afraid much longer," the woman standing next to her said gently. River could never seem to keep track of when she was there and when she wasn't. She seemed to always be there, but of course that was impossible.

"But you trust me, even though you don't understand." She always seemed to know what River was thinking too. This was an unusual role reversal that River didn't care much for. The woman smoothed her hands over River's shoulders.

"Hasn't everything I've told you to do worked out for the best? Creating a homing signal for the Demetrius wreckage to bring those men, tipping off the Alliance on Persephone. Even shooting Sam. You didn't want to do those things, but you did them because you trusted me. And now everything is falling into place."

Place, pattern, strings interconnected in webs of theory and possibility. She saw. River could only see some, but the woman showed her more. It was all leading somewhere and nowhere and everywhere, and some were the right strings and some strings had to be cut and-

"And we'll make sure everything happens as it should. Don't worry, little one-" she turned River's face and kissed her gently.

The woman in the red dress smiled.

"It's all part of God's plan."

**********

The End