Tian Heping (Sweet Peace) A Magnificent Seven AU/Firefly crossover by LaraMee

"Once they’re terraformed, they dump settlers on there with nothing but blankets, hatchets, maybe a herd. Some of them make it, some of them don’t."

~~Mal Reynolds, Firefly

"Home, family… things worth fighting for."

~~Chris Larabee, Magnificent Seven
Episode: Ghosts of the Confederacy

Disclaimer: I own no rights to either Magnificent Seven or Firefly. I mean no infringement on those who do, and my only profit is hearing from a person or two (or three…) that they enjoyed my little musings.

Universe and Status: I’ve named the universe “Wêixi n Shìjiè” or “Dangerous World”. The main characters of both series, along with a few Magnificent Seven guest stars may appear here. If you’re interested in writing in this AU, let me know!


Warnings: Cursing and bloodshed.

Part One
“Captain, wave for you… want me to send it down?”

Malcolm Reynolds, captain of the firefly class ship, Serenity, yawned and scrubbed a hand over his sleepy countenance. It took him a few seconds to decipher his pilot’s words. Pulling himself up off his bunk and scuffing across the room, he asked, “Wave? Who from?”

“Someone named Buck, comin’ from a planet called… Four Corners… that’s all I know,” Wash replied.

“Buck?” Mal tried to remember someone named Buck that he’d dealt with over the last few years. He couldn’t recall a customer by that name. In fact there was only one man by that name he could think of. Frowning as he tried to decide why that Buck would be sending him a wave, he muttered, “Nah... I’ll be up there in a minute.”


“You got it,” Wash replied. He turned his gaze back to the screen, smiling slightly at the image there. The brunet with the thick mustache peered back at him, his visage grim. “Captain’ll be here in a minute.”

The brunet snorted at the term “Captain”. “So, when’d he promote himself?”

Wash bristled, but it was Zoë, coming up behind her husband, who barked out, “He deserves the title, and you know it, Wilmington.”

Now the brunet grinned wide, his mustache twitching. “Well, Zoë… how are ya darlin’?”

Placing her hands on her husband’s shoulders, silently requesting that he not try to strangle the man through the screen, Zoë said evenly. “I’m fine. You still with that sorry excuse of a human being, Larabee, I suppose?”

Buck’s frown returned as he answered softly, “Yeah.” He cleared his throat asking, “So, where is the captain?”

“Right here.” Reynolds entered the bridge, still buttoning his shirt. As the other two moved away, he stalked up to the view screen. Offering up a smirk, he barked, “So, what the hell do you want?”

“Heard you were nearby,” Buck skirted the question. “We could use a hand… we’ll pay you well.” He added, forestalling the question he knew was coming.

Folding his arms across his chest, Mal asked again, “What do you want?”

“We’ve got trouble… big trouble. I can explain it down here… not sure I wanna air our laundry on a wave.”

“Where is that pusillanimous son of a bitch, Larabee? He with you?”

Looking back over his shoulder, Wilmington replied cryptically, “For the moment.” Turning back to the screen, he asked, “You comin’?”

“I wanna see the payment.”

Another smirk and the mustached man held up a trio of gold coins. “There’s a piss pot full of ‘em. All ya gotta do is help us out.”

Seeming to contemplate the offer, Mal stared at the other man’s image for a full minute. Then he nodded. “Let Wash know where to land.”


A short time later Serenity was setting down on an arid planet, one of the outer planets that gave ‘hard scrabble’ a bad name. Sand and dust blew around the ship as it gracefully landed.

Inside, Malcolm Reynolds and Zoë Washburne were preparing to disembark. The captain looked at his first officer. “You ready for this?”

Nodding, Zoë replied, “Ready as I’ll ever be, considering who we’re gonna go see.”

“Just who, exactly, are you going to see?” Wash asked, his eyes studying his wife.

It was Mal who answered, however, and that was with a simple, terse, “Ghosts,” before he strode off the ship.

Zoë gave her husband a smile and a peck on the cheek before hurrying to catch up with her captain.

The two former soldiers exited the ship, stepping onto the dry earth before they stopped to look around. Just ahead of them was a large, rambling house, obviously cobbled together as circumstances dictated more room. Front and center was the original, two-story home. Rooms branched off helter-skelter to the right and left, all of it single story. Nearby was a large barn, a corral stretching out beside it. Several horses moved around within the fence, obviously agitated by the ship’s landing.

As they assessed their surroundings, the front door of the house opened and a tall, rangy man strode out. He stopped at the top of the half dozen steps, one hand coming up to shield his eyes against the midday sun. Pitching his voice loud enough to be heard, he called out, “Y’all gonna just stand there, or ya gonna come in?”

Xiânsheng àomàn húzi,” Mal muttered under his breath. Turning to the woman at his side, he said, “How is it no one’s killed him before now?”

Zoë simply snorted before the two of them marched toward the house. As they reached the bottom of the steps, they stopped again, watching the man above them.

“Now, we’re here.” Reynolds said curtly. “What is it you want?”

“We need your help, Mal,” Buck replied. “We’ve got big trouble. There’s a jîròu tóu fêngzi tàitai’s érzi named Eldred James. He thinks he owns the whole motherless planet. When we said otherwise, he decided to run us off. We’ve been standin’ against him for a year or more, but this time he’s gone too far. He shot Chris, took two of our boys, and hurt the third.”

“He dead?” Reynolds asked.

Shaking his head, reading a hint of something in the other man’s eyes, Wilmington replied, “He’s bad though… could die, although his pure cussedness seems to be standing him in good stead. Nathan’s lookin’ after him.’

Just then a tall, handsome, black man stepped out onto the porch. “This them?”

Buck nodded, turning to the other man. “How is he?”

The newcomer shook his head as he said, “Not good. He heard the ship, though… wants to see them.”

Beckoning to their visitors, Wilmington said, “C’mon.”

“Now look – “

Reynolds argument went unsaid, however, when he felt Zoë push him from behind. Flashing a frown at the woman, he nonetheless followed the other two men into the house; the woman right behind him.

They entered the house, eyes adjusting to the dimness as they moved after the two men. The quartet moved up the broad staircase to the second floor. There, they turned left, going down the hall. Reaching the door at the end, Nathan strode in, going to the large, four poster bed that dominated the room.

Mal and Zoë entered, their eyes drawn to the bed. A figure lay there, cocooned in a mass of pillows and blankets and swaddled in a sheet. There were rust-brown stains on the sheet; quickly identified as dried blood. The man’s head tossed back and forth on a stack of pillows that had him nearly sitting up. His blond hair was plastered to his head by perspiration, his face devoid of color. Shadows etched his handsome features, accentuating his fragile state.

Standing at the foot of the bed, the captain watched as the black man carefully bathed the injured man’s face with a damp cloth. Nathan whispered something, and the blond’s eyes opened to slits. Bloodless lips moved for a few seconds before he could manage to rasp out, “Mal.”

“You look like w gôngch nánkàn m lù, dìdi,” Reynolds said softly.

Rolling his eyes toward Buck, Chris asked, “They… help?”

“Don’t know yet.” Turning toward the visitors, Wilmington asked, “Well?”

“Don’t know yet, either,” Mal replied honestly. “We need more details.”

“What more do you need?!”

The four people standing in the room turned to find a boy, early in his teens, standing in the doorway, one hand braced against the jamb. He was dressed in an old-fashioned nightshirt, a bandage around his forehead. Thick, dark hair was sticking up and around the bandage, making the cloth look even whiter. Huge, hazel eyes pierced the soul of every one in the room. “Fùqin’s hurt bad; Vin and Ezra’s been taken. They might be dead, we don’t know for sure. You’ve got to help find my Gêges!”

“Son, listen –“

Before Reynolds could finish, the boy launched himself at him, fists flailing as anger spurred him on. Mal stood still, hands up, uncertain of how badly the young brunet was hurt and unwilling to make anything worse. To his relief, Buck grabbed the boy up, wrapping his arms around the narrow, trembling shoulders.

“Take it easy, JD. Calm down now… c’mon, xiûxi l oh. Give them time to suss out what’s goin’ on, all right?”

“But they gotta help, Da! They gotta help!” The boy, JD, dropped his head on the big man’s shoulder, his sobs echoing through the room.

“J-J…D…” a hoarse call came from the bed. “Wh… what’s wrong?”

Leaning down, Nathan said firmly, “He’ll be okay, Chris. You need to rest; let us take care of things.”

“Cry… ing…” Larabee continued to struggle to find out what was going on. He tried to focus on the sobbing youth, straining to pull himself up.

“Buck, take JD outta here. Chris ain’t gonna calm down as long as he’s cryin’.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” The little brunet apologized, fighting to calm himself down, even as he was carried from the room.

Not knowing what else to do, Mal and Zoë followed the two of them out into the hall and into another room. They found Buck tucking the boy into bed, sitting on the edge of the mattress. He stroked the thick mop of hair, softly coaxing the boy to rest.

Turning from the finally sleeping youth, Buck said softly, “Let’s go get us a drink.” Making certain JD was peaceful enough, he moved quietly from the room, the other two following him. They went downstairs, entering the large common room. Buck motioned for them to have seats as he moved toward a cabinet.

Instead of taking a seat, Zoë said, “I’m gonna go get Simon.”

Mal nodded. “Bring the litter, too. Probably need to take him back to the ship.”

Nodding in agreement, the beautiful warrior hurried from the room, just as Buck returned with a bottle and three glasses. Frowning, he asked, “Where’s she goin’?”

“We’ve got a doctor with us… a very good doctor. She’s gonna get ‘im and bring him back here to take a look at Chris.”

Wilmington’s body slumped in relief. He offered up a grateful smile to the other man and dropped down to sprawl out on the couch. “Thank you, Mal,” he said with genuine gratitude.

Nodding, Reynolds said, “So… fill me in.”

“JD was with Chris… all three of our boys were. They were out looking for a couple of horses that had gotten out of the corral. James and those s le xiàng lâdùz of his ambushed them. They shot Chris before he even knew they were around. The boys tried to protect him, fight them off, but they’re just boys after all; JD’s the youngest. They took the older two hostage and left JD to get Chris back to us and tell us the tale. After they pistol-whipped them all. JD thinks Vin may have been shot, too, but he isn’t certain.” He paused, scrubbing a hand over his chin and then downing his drink. “It took him most of a day to get Chris back here to us… tied down to his horse. Kid was barely on his feet himself, but he was bound and determined to get Chris home and get help for the other two.”

“Sounds like a wêixi n huáig k,” Mal offered.

With a chuckle, the big brunet said, “Yeah, he is that.”

“So… he yours?”

Shrugging, Wilmington said, “depends on how you define it. None of the boys are blood kin, but they couldn’t be more ours if they were. They’ve been with us for… Gorram… must be two years now.”

“How’d they come to be with you?”


Before Buck could continue his tale, the front door burst open and Zoë entered, followed quickly by Simon. Not even acknowledging the men, they hurried past, going up the stairs, carrying the equipment loaded litter between them. The men glanced at each other, then stood and hurried after the others.

They reached Larabee’s bedroom to find Chris weakly fighting against Nathan’s firm hold. He was thrashing, murmuring something that only the black man could make out.

“What’s he sayin’, Nate?” Buck asked.

“Same as he says anytime a fever comes on ‘im.”

“Lookin’ for ‘em.” Wilington sighed.

“The boys you were talking about while ago?” Mal asked.

Buck simply shook his head and moved to sit on the bed beside the blond. Reaching down, he took the other man’s hand. “Hey, ol’ son, it’s Buck. You need ta listen to me, pard. Sarah and Adam are gone, Chris. Remember? They’ve been gone for close ta five years now. Remember?”

Larabee’s eyes opened, the lids at half mast, but still they could see him watching his old friend as he continued talking. He seemed to be listening to Wilmington’s words and, after a few minutes, he slowly nodded his head. Then he allowed his eyes to close, his hand still tucked inside Buck’s.

Nathan stepped aside and allowed Simon next to the bed, so he could examine the wounded man. The others stood silently by as he removed the bandage and examined the wound. It was almost in the center of his chest; oozing and foul-smelling. Simon uncharacteristically cursed at the sight, his face grim.

Ze Ç nmáoyang chang ?” He asked the black man.

“Close as we can figure, three days. Took JD a day to get him back to us, and they’ve been here about two days.”

“Was it already showing signs of infection when they got back?”

“Bk x huan zhé.”

Nodding, Simon asked, “How have you been treating it?”

While they discussed Chris’ care, Buck moved away from his now sleeping friend and motioned for the other two to follow him. They made one brief stop to make certain that JD was all right, before continuing back down the stairs.

Once they settled back in the common room, Mal said, “The Doc’s a good doctor. Almost… what’s the word…”

“A prodigy, sir.” Zoë finished for him.

“Yeah, prodigy. If anyone can keep him alive, Simon can.”

“I hope so,” Buck murmured, “I hope so.”

Just then, a large, gray-haired man stomped into the house, knocking dust from his clothes. Wilmington waved him into the room and, after the man had settled onto a chair, he asked, “You find anything out, Josiah?”

“Only that they’re holding the boys somewhere on the ranch. That hóuzi lü James pays too well to get much information from any of his people. As it was, I spent near a month’s wages at the Dirty Dragon just to get that much.”

“Well, hell, ‘Siah, we already knew that much!” Buck growled angrily.

“I know that, Didi,” the older man replied softly. “That’s what I’m trying to say. We’re not going to be able to get any information out of James’ people.”

The mustached brunet blew out a long breath as he stood and began to pace around the room. “Damn it! We need to find out where he’s keeping the boys!”

Mal watched Buck for a moment and then turned to the man who’d just joined them. “We haven’t been introduced. I’m Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of the Serenity. This is Zoë Washburne.”

Nodding, the gray-haired man introduced himself as “Josiah Sanchez. Buck told us he was going to try and get hold of you. He said the two of you were about the only people he knew he could trust to help us out.”

With an ironic expression, Reynolds said, “I wondered about that. Been a while since we’ve seen one another.”

“Since the end of the war… yeah. He said that he and Chris had known the two of you during the war.”

His expression darkening, Mal said, “Yeah… we did.”

Before anything else could be said, Simon and Nathan came down the stairs, Chris on the stretcher between them. Larabee lay as still as death. JD, dressed in homespun ranch clothes now, followed them. His face was pale, his expression determined.

The four people in the common room joined the other, the grim procession moved toward Serenity.


While Simon, assisted by Nathan and Inara, worked on Chris, the others gathered in the ship’s dining area. Buck seemed to have calmed down, and was settled on one of the couches, young JD sitting beside him. One of the big man’s arms was wrapped protectively around the boy and, in turn, JD leaned against him. Josiah sat close by, like a bodyguard.

“Da, we have to go… we have to find my gêges.” He turned toward the members of Serenity’s crew, his eyes settling on Mal. “Q ng, xiânsheng, my Da called you to come help us. If he trusts you, then you must be a good man. Will you help find Vin and Ezra? Will you find them and bring them back? Q ng, xiânsheng?”

Mal looked at the boy; those big, hazel eyes seemed to draw him in. He took a deep breath, but it only seemed to send him farther into the center of the child’s very soul. Suddenly he was…



Mal looked around him, finding himself in the middle of a narrow canyon. Two teenagers were on one side of him. Both of them were in that long-limbed, gangly stage of late teens. One wore his brown hair long, the ends curling loosely below his shoulders. He turned, a smile on his face lighting his bright blue eyes. The boy beside him, perhaps a year or two older, wearing his wavy, reddish brown hair short, turned as well. Clear, green eyes sparkled as he laughed.

Chris Larabee was on the other side of him, whole and well. He was smiling and laughing as he teased the boys.

Just as suddenly, he was in darkness. His vision was blurred, and he found it painful to move. Then he was looking down into Chris’ face. This time the blond was pale, his face twisted with pain. An overwhelming sense of fear and grief pushing everything else aside.

“JD.” The blond was staring up at him, with tear-filled eyes. “JD… please, you’re hurt. Get… get home and … and… get Buck. Get your da. He needs to… go get… Vin… Ezra… Please w de érzi… go home.”

Then he was back… in his own body; his own ship. Rubbing at his suddenly aching head, he stared at the visiting trio, trying to figure out what had just occurred.

With a knowing look, Wilmington said, “It’s a little… unsettling… ain’t it?”

Frowning, Reynolds said, “What the hell was that?”

JD dropped his head and said sadly, “I’m sorry, Da. I just… I just wanted him to know. Wanted him to understand.”

Buck hugged the boy, replying, “It’s okay, érzi. It’s okay.”

Josiah addressed Mal and the others. “JD has a… a gift. He can ‘share’ his memories with others. He is also able to ‘read’ the memories of others.” Seeing looks of shock and discomfort, he smiled. “Don’t worry. JD’s very good at not doing that, as well.”

The boy looked up, weariness pinching his pale features. “I’m… I’m sorry, sir. I just needed you to understand. I needed you to see…”

Serenity’s captain managed a smile. “It’s okay, nánháizi. I do understand, and we’ll do everything we can to bring your brothers home.”


Nathan looked across the narrow surgery bed at the young doctor. “What are his chances, Doctor…?”

“It’s Simon,” The smaller man said off-handedly as he continued to work on the unconscious blond. “I believe we have the wound area cleaned out, finally. I’m going to insert a drain tube for now, to make certain of it. I’m also going to use some broad spectrum antibiotics that should kill the infection throughout his body.”

Nodding, Nathan said, “I was afraid it had spread. I tried to – “

Simon cut the older man off, smiling as he said, “You did well, Doctor…?”

“Just Nathan, ain’t no doctor. I was a medic in the war, and I’ve picked up information here and there along the way.”

His smile broadened as Simon said, “Even more impressive, then. Under these conditions, I wouldn’t have expected him to still be alive. Not even if you’d been able to treat him immediately.”

Smiling in return, Jackson said only, “Chris Larabee’s a stubborn cuss. Reckon even Death’s gonna agree to his terms.”

“So, he and Mal are related,” Inara spoke up.

“Lord help us if your Captain is as bull-headed as Chris,” Nathan remarked.

“Well, if so, your friend should be up and about in a day or so, rather than the month I would estimate it should take to get him back on his feet.” Simon quipped.

“He’s already tried to get to his horse and go after the boys, twice,” Buck Wilmington said as he entered the room. He smiled and nodded toward Inara, but couldn’t find it in himself to flirt with her in any serious fashion.

“Bu… Buck?” The weak call came from the bed.

Wilmington moved to stand next to his old friend. “Hey, hoss, how ya doin’?”

“The… boys?”

The big man heaved a sigh, knowing he wouldn’t be able to deflect the question. Even half dead, Chris wouldn’t be put off. “We’re figurin’ out strategy right now. Mal and the others here are gonna help us out. We’ll have the boys back here before ya know it.”

“Take… taking… s-so long…” Larabee was panting after just those few words.

Buck leaned over the bed, one hand on the man’s shoulder. “We gotta do this right, ol’ son, or the boys are gonna pay. Now, ‘Siah and Mal’s man, Cobb, are doin’ some recon. After they get back, we’ll be goin’ after ‘em.”

Trying in vain to push himself upright, Larabee said, “I’ll… be… re… ready…”

Pressing the man back to the bed, Buck said, “You’re gonna lay still and do what the doctor says, ya stubborn mule.” Buck replied. When Chris started to argue, he stopped him. “Now, you listen to me, stud. I don’t need to be worryin’ about you right now. I need to have my mind on the job, and that job’s goin’ after the boys.”

“Oh God… Buck!” Uncharacteristically the blond began to weep openly. His fear for the two missing boys was overwhelming. He reached up, knotting his fingers in the other man’s shirt. “Buck… you’ve gotta… gotta… get the… boys… Please! Bring my… boys… home!”

Reaching out to brush the perspiration soaked hair off the pale forehead, Wilmington leaned closer, until their noses nearly touched. Staring deeply into the hazel-green eyes he said softly, “I swear to you, Chris, I will bring the boys home, or I’ll die tryin’. Got it?”

A slight, trembling smile wavered over the bloodless features. Then he sighed and drifted off toward the beckoning call of unconsciousness.

Buck looked up to see Simon just extracting a needle from the IV bag. Grinning wearily, he said, “Thanks, doc.”

Simon nodded. “He was becoming far too agitated. I didn’t want him undoing our work so quickly.”

Buck nodded his appreciation. Then he turned toward Nathan. “We’re headin’ out. I’m gonna need you to keep an eye on JD; ya know what a ying tóu hóulóngténg he can be when he gets something in his head. Knowin’ him, he’ll take off first time you aren’t lookin’.”

Nathan couldn’t help but chuckle at that. Quickly sobering he said, “I’ll keep him here, if I’ve gotta tie him down.”

“Mister Wilmington,” Simon broke in, “I’m curious. If these boys are as important as it seems they are, why not just surrender your land? I mean, it doesn’t appear to be worth all that much.”

Buck smiled, but it was a cold smile. When he spoke his tone was frighteningly quiet. “You’re holdin’ my oldest friend’s life in your hands, so I won’t hit ya for that comment.” With that, he stormed from the room.

Inara shook her head at the young man’s penchant for angering those around him. Then she turned and exited the room, in search of the mustached man.

Left behind, Nathan stared evenly at the younger, smaller man. “Reckon you don’t have a lot of knowledge about life out here on the rim. Believe me, we’d have delivered the deed to that hóuzi lü in a heartbeat if it would have brought the boys home. But there’s no guarantee that’ll happen. He’s pulled this sort of thing before; he’s gotten the deeds to several other ranches the same way… convinces the folks to hand over their deed, then goes ahead and kills them or the folks close to ‘em. There ain’t no real law on Four Corners, son, and what passes for it… well they get paid by James and some of the other àomàn lü huángsè dòngwù’s like him. In other words, handin’ over the deed won’t bring Vin and Ezra home. The only way is to go after ‘em and fight for ‘em.”

Simon nodded, dropping his head and heaving a sigh. “I’m sorry, I… I didn’t know.”

“No way you could ‘a known, son. Just… next time, ya might want to consider your words a bit longer.”

Part Two

Ezra Standish raised his head from his knees at the sound of movement across the small room. He moved slowly and stiffly, his bruised body protesting the movement. He wasn’t certain how long he and Vin had been here, but it seemed like a thousand years.

Their only source of light came from the cracks near the top of two of the walls. He had studied it for some time, and decided that these cracks were in the foundation of whatever building they were being held in.

And they were in the cellar.

Dropping to his knees beside the curled up figure on the hard packed floor, he reached out to rub the tense shoulders. “It’s all right, Vin. It’s all right gêge.”

As a pair of frightened eyes blinked up at him, through a veil of matted hair, he managed a smile. “Nin zo, lánsè y njings. It’s about time you work up.”

The other teen frowned up at him, his tongue darting out between torn lips to express his feelings.

With a hollow chuckle, Standish said, “Hey, how often do you and JD tease me about being m u kún tóu? Don’t strip me of my chance.”

At the mention of JD, Vin grew still, his face taut with fear. He rolled over on his back, a soft grunt his only response to the pain in his side. He brushed his long hair back out of his face, scraped and dirty fingers catching in the knotted tresses. Tears pooled in his blue eyes, sliding down the sides of his face.

Ezra sighed. It didn’t matter what he said, it was always the wrong thing. “Stop worrying, Vin. I’m sure he’s okay. He knows the way home. He’s probably back there, driving everyone hóuzi dù biàn with those bad jokes of his.”

Vin managed a slight smile, then his eyes speared the others boy’s heart.

“I’m sure jìfìe is fine. You know he’s too tough to die from such an insignificant wound.” He sighed when he saw the worry remain in the other teen’s face. He prided himself on always having a ready comment for any situation. Now, however, he couldn’t find anything more to say.

Deciding to change the subject, Standish said, “Let me look at your side, gêge, I need to see if there’s anymore bleeding or anything.”

Tanner sighed and lay still, knowing it would do no good to protest. He hissed in pain as the makeshift bandage was pulled away from the deep gash in his side. One of James’ men had grazed him during their attack. All he could remember was feeling a burning sensation along his side. The pain came later, though, when James and his men pistol whipped them. The next thing he remembered clearly was waking up, bound to his horse, halfway to the James Ranch. Ezra was slightly better off, bound to his own horse and riding close by. The older teen had given him a smile and nod, trying to be reassuring. He saw through his friend’s ruse, though, and knew they were in big trouble.

There had been very little change since then. Lucas James, Eldred’s nephew, had teased and tormented them mercilessly. He had told them over and over, just how they would die; slowly and painfully. He told them over and over that Chris was dead and that the other men wouldn’t have the courage to come for them.

He knew the words for lies; knew that, even if his Fùgin was dead, the others would come in a heartbeat. They would come for them, and their retaliation would be awesome.

He scarcely remembered arriving at the ranch and had no memory of being tossed into this xi obiàn m y, chông fandiàn of a hole. The next thing he knew, he was waking to pain as Ezra did his best to patch him up.

Vin reached out, grasping the other teen’s hand. When Ezra turned toward him, he offered up a smile. At first the older boy looked shocked, but then an answering smile beamed over his face. Vin gave a little nod, another squeeze of the hand, and sighed.

Seeing the younger teen beginning to relax, Ezra nodded, saying softly, “Your wound is clean, no bleeding, and no infection. So, why don’t you go on back to sleep, gêge, I’ll bi o n de bèi.”

Vin looked as if he wanted to argue, but then his mouth opened and a yawn escaped. Smiling contritely, he shrugged and closed his eyes.

Standish sat quietly, waiting for that total relaxation that meant Vin was asleep. Gently, Ezra disentangled his hand from the lax one as it opened. As quietly as possible he rose and limped back to his little corner where he shifted back to the floor. Drawing his legs up, knees just below his chin, he dropped his head back to his knees and allowed his mind to drift as he, too, returned to sleep.


Six riders pushed their horses as fast as they could. The ground-eating pace took them across the weather-burned prairie quickly, the mounts blowing and winded by the time they reined in. They walked the horses for a while, letting them catch their breath and cool down.

Buck and Josiah led the way, moving toward the hills that surrounded the James compound. Leaving the horses below, they moved up the hill, dropping to their bellies near the top, so they wouldn’t be spotted.

They watched the activity below, counting a good three dozen men and women milling around the main yard of James’ property. Many of them were busy, watching the action within the boxing ring set up n the middle of the yard. Two very large men were busy trying to separate one another’s heads from their shoulders.

“There’s no way we can take on that many people… at least not and live to tell the tale,” Wash observed.

“No, but there might be a way to use this to our advantage,” Josiah observed.

“Think I see where they might be holdin’ the boys,” Buck announced. He motioned toward where two men stood, obviously on guard, on either side of the main house’s cellar door.

All right, me and mine’ll create some mischief down below. While we do, you two go get your boys,” Mal offered.

“What are you gonna do?” Buck asked, still not completely certain he could trust the other man.

Reynolds shrugged. “We’ll play it by ear. Soon as you see the party gettin’ distracted, you two make your move. Take off with the boys as fast as you can; we’ll take care of anyone who gets a notion to come after you.”

Wilmington drew a breath, considering the offer. He was still uncomfortable, putting his trust in this man. Still, anything that would help them get their boys back. Whatever he had to do, it would be worth it. Turning toward Sanchez, he said, “Okay, ‘Siah, let’s go.”


JD sighed and slowly opened his eyes, giving the world around him a chance to settle down. Even after days, his head injury continued to plague him.

He was curled up on the counter that doubled as a narrow bed. He looked across the room, to where Fùqin lay. The blond man was still asleep, more than likely thanks to that doctor’s medicines.

The teen pulled himself upright and eased himself to the floor. Padding over to the bed, he reached out and took hold of one, pale hand. He frowned and touched his other hand to the haggard face. “Fùqin, you’re so cold!” He heard someone come to the door. Without turning he asked, “Why is he so cold?!”

“He’s frightened… lost. He’s hiding, but he doesn’t know exactly why.”

Young Dunne turned, finding himself face-to-face with a young woman. She looked a little older than him, around Vin and Ezra’s ages. Looking into her eyes, he was stricken by a hodge-podge of images; some violent, some happy, some frighteningly vivid. He pressed a hand to his injured head and groaned, “Who… who are you?”

“It’s okay, wáwa shêng, I’m only River.”

JD started at the name she called him. His jaw dropped and his face paled. “How… how could you know that name? Nobody knows that name. Nobody!”

River barely responded to the tirade, and simply smiled at the young man’s anger. “Someone did… someone who meant more than life to you. Only she had to… go away.”

JD’s frown deepened. “You don’t know that. Nobody knows that. You’re m u bù n ozi, bèn nü Ç de!”

River’s smile disappeared, and she whispered, “I’m sorry,” before turning and running from the door.

A moment later, Nathan came to the room. The boy went to him immediately, sighing and slowly relaxing when the big man wrapped his arms around him. “Bóbo Bóshì!”

Holding the young boy tightly, he said quietly, “Calm down, it’s all right, érzi.”

“Fùqin’s so cold, Bóbo; why is he so cold?”

“It’s all right, JD. He’ll be all right. See the blanket over him?” He felt the young man nod against his chest. “That’s a special blanket, to keep Chris’ fever down. It’s okay that he feels cold; it means that it’s working.”

“It’ll help him get better?” His voice was soft and frightened.

Stroking the boy’s hair, he said, “Yes, it means he’s getting better. Are you okay now?”

Slowly pulling himself out of the comforting hold, the teen said, “Yeah. If he’s okay, I’m okay.”

Smiling, the big man said, “Good. Now, come on, I’ve got something for you to eat.”

“But, I’m not – “

Nathan cut him off, gently admonishing the boy. “You’ve got to keep your strength up. I’m gonna need you to help with Chris. He’s going to need all of us to be strong enough to help take care of him. Understand.?”

JD nodded. “Okay, I’ll do my best.”

“Good,” Jackson said, “Now, come on, let’s get you fed.”

Taking one more look over his shoulder, JD watched Chris until they left the room.


Simon found his sister curled up in the corner of her bedroom, nearly fetal as she rocked. Shocked, he hurried toward her, asking, “Mèimei? What’s wrong?”

“Tâ’s bêiâi, Tâ shêng tâ, ài tâ… s… tâmen s… dàijiâ s. Tâ x ng… kû, bù m qin ài tâ. Duôsh o bêiâi? Q ng, dìdi… duôsh o?”

Dropping to his knees beside his sister and pulling her into his arms, he said, “I don’t know, mèimei.” He had no idea of what she was talking about, but wanted to understand, so he could truly comfort her. “Who are you talking about?”

She looked at him then, her dark eyes filled with sadness. “The boy… the dark boy.”

Frowning, Simon murmured, “The dark… the dark-haired boy? JD?”

River nodded. “JD. He has so much sadness inside. So many hurts. The others, they took him in… tried to fix his pain. But they can’t get to all of it. The old hurts… the ones from before… he hides them so deep, that even he doesn’t know they’re there.”

Tam grimaced at the sadness in her voice, as well as the words she spoke. He wondered for a moment if, perhaps, JD had been another ‘guinea pig’ of the government bastards who had nearly destroyed his sister. But, if he was, he had fared much better; he didn’t seem to have the same psychotic tendencies that River had.

Perhaps JD’s demons had been spawned elsewhere.

As River melted against him, sobbing her heartbreak, Simon began to rock slowly, softly singing a lullaby from their childhood.


Josiah could feel the nervous tension radiating from his friend. He laid a hand on one broad shoulder, whispering, “Calm down, Buck. We won’t do the boys any good if we’re ready to jump out of our own skins.”

Wilmington nodded and forced himself to take a deep breath. Josiah was right; he couldn’t finish this operation if he head wasn’t in it. His mustache twitched as he realized how easily his mind reverted to that of the soldier. Pushing that thought aside as well, he concentrated on his breathing, his eyes never leaving the pair of nánkàn hóuzis guarding the cellar door.

Where was that diversion?


Mal and the others stood in the shadows, at the edge of the crowd, watching. Reynolds soldier’s mind coolly calculated the odds, the weapons, the exits… everything he needed to be on top of if they were to pull this off.

“Jayne… you’re a bèn, nánkàn, hóuzi yîndào.”

Cobb’s mouth opened and closed as his temper began to rise. “Now you look here. You’ve got no call to say those things!”

“What… that you’re a bèn, nánkàn, hóuzi yîndào? Yeah, I guess that would be quite the insult to the ape. So, maybe you’re just an nánkàn hóuzi lü`.”

That did it. Jayne’s temper blew through the roof, and he took a swing at the smiling man. It only took a few swings for the fight to escalate, and the two men tumbled out of the shadows, into the yard.

Sighing, Wash asked, “This was the well-calculated diversion we were waiting for?”

Shrugging, Zoë turned to her husband. “Whatever works.” The two of them began shouting, calling out, drawing even more attention to the fighting men.


Buck and Josiah watched and listened, as their diversion began to call everyone’s attention. Even the two men set to guard their boys strained to see what was going on.

Their attention drawn away and the sounds of riot drowning most things out, the two men quickly dispatched of the two men, sending them sprawling, blood staining the earth around them. That done, they clambered down the hill and sprinted across the narrow span of yard to the cellar. Buck grabbed hold of the door, only to find it unyielding even to his considerable strength.

“Palm reader,” Josiah observed, as he dragged one of the dying men closer to the door. Grabbing one clenched fist at the wrist, he applied pressure until the man’s hand relaxed. That accomplished, he pulled the man upright enough that he could press his open palm against the screen that was installed near the door. Quickly the door opened, giving them free access to the cellar.

Uttering a prayer for the man as he died, Sanchez followed the other man down the steep stairs. At the bottom, the two men stopped long enough to let their eyes adjust to the darkness.

“Bóbo’s! You’ve come!”

Josiah found himself set upon by an uncharacteristically ecstatic Ezra Standish. Wrapping his arms around the youth, he said softly, “You knew we would, Ezra.”

Looking up, tears in his eyes, the young man said, “Yes, we knew.”

In the meantime, Buck had located Vin, who lay huddled in the corner. Reaching out, he felt the heat of fever and knew that the teen was injured and ill. Gently, he lifted the limp body into his arms, settling him against his broad chest.

Vin came half awake, shifting painfully in the gentle grasp. He managed to open his eyes just a sliver, and then reached a hand to the out-of-focus face near him, touching it and running it lightly over the familiar features. With a contented sigh, he smiled at the man.

“It’s me, lánsè y njing érzi. Are you ready to go home?”

Vin nodded, settling his head against one broad shoulder, a hand clutching the familiar, worn, shirt Buck wore.

Smiling, despite the seriousness of the moment, Buck turned and headed up the stairs, right behind Josiah and Ezra.

Sanchez stopped at the top of the stairs, checking to make certain that their escape was still unnoticed. Satisfied that they were still in the clear, he led the way out.

The quartet moved as quickly as possible back up the hill, Josiah making certain that Buck was making it, the gangly youth limp in his arms. They managed to get to the top of the hill before anyone noticed them. They heard a yell, and realized that their escape was being compromised.

Undaunted, they reached the top of the hill and began their decent on the other side. More and more calls were heard, and they knew their chances of escape were dwindling. But then, just as they were certain that they would be captured at any second, a shot rang out. Then several more shots. Their escape was being covered by the crew of the Serenity.

The topper came when a shuttle dropped out of the sky, landing near their horses. As they paused, staring open-mouthed at the spectacle, a young woman appeared at the open door. “Come on… get in!”

Recognizing the woman from earlier, Buck headed toward the shuttle, smiling at Inara. “Well, hello darlin’! You’re more ‘n a sight for sore eyes!”

“If you don’t get in here, it’ll be more than your eyes that’ll be sore,” Inara scolded.

Josiah urged Ezra forward with Buck, calling out, “I’ll get the horses and join the others. We’ll see you back at the ranch!”

Turning in the hatchway, Wilmington called out, “Bi o n de bèi!” as he entered the shuttle.

Getting back to the horses, Josiah mounted his, and grabbed up the reins to Buck’s. He watched as the shuttle lifted off, heading back toward the ranch. He smiled as he caught sight of Serenity’s crew mounting their horses, while the shuttle effectively scattered the others toward the hills. With a chuckle, he kicked his horse into a run, the other keeping up with them.

Mal looked to see Josiah riding toward them. Zoë and Wash were with him, Jayne just riding up after lobbing a trio of grenades into the swarming mass of people in James’ yard. The six riders converged, taking off at a full-out gallop back the way they’d come.


Inside the shuttle, Buck settled on one of the bench seats in the back, behind the cabin. He continued to hold Vin, unwilling to relinquish his hold just yet. Ezra sat beside him, leaning against his shoulder. Aiming his remark toward the woman behind the wheel, he said, “Seein’ you and this shuttle was sure a pleasant surprise, Miss…”


“Miss Inara. Why didn’t Mal let us in on this part of the rescue?”

With a chuckle, the beautiful brunette said, “Who knows why Mal does… or doesn’t do… anything?”

Smiling as he rested back against the shuttle wall, Wilmington said, “Sounds like he ain’t changed much.”

“Buck?” Ezra’s voice sounded lost and alone.

Turning toward the young man, Wilmington gently moved enough that he could wrap an arm around the boy as he said, “You okay?”

Nodding, Standish leaned into that embrace. Suddenly he found himself crying; hot tears flooding down his pale cheeks as he sobbed. He wasn’t certain why he was crying now. It was over – they were going to be home in a few minutes. Home and safe. Why act like a bèn kû wáwa now? Buck seemed to understand, though. He held him snuggly, Wilmington’s arm slowly rubbing up and down his back. Letting go, Ezra continued to cry.


Nathan smiled when he saw the shuttle return, reattaching itself to the ship. He hurried back through the ship, heading for the shuttle bay. As he arrived, he greeted Buck and the boys, thanking Inara once again for risking her life in helping the rescue.

Wilmington was finding it difficult to carry the still unconscious Vin, while Ezra stuck close to his side. At the same time, though, he was very ambivalent when Nathan coaxed the injured boy out of his arms and headed toward the sickbay. Wrapping an arm around the shaken teen beside him, he said, “Come on, lüvsè y njings. Let’s let Nathan do his job, and me and you’ll go have us something to eat. Okay?”

“Don’t think I could eat right now, Buck. I don’t feel so good,” Ezra admitted.

Squeezing gently, knowing that the boy’s nerves had to be on edge, Wilmington said, “All right, then, but you’re gonna get something to drink, and then rest up a bit.”

Nodding, Ezra allowed himself to be led toward the ship’s dining area.


Nathan carried Vin into the sickbay, placing him on the bench JD had left just a short time ago. He noted the youngest of their brood was sitting on a high stool, beside the surgical bed, one hand holding one of Chris’. His eyes were on Vin, though, relief plainly written on his face, mixing with the worry and fear.

“Is he… is he okay, Nathan?”

“He will be,” Jackson replied, straightening the long limbs on the counter. Carefully he removed Vin’s shirt and undershirt, then gently peeled away the crude, dirty, makeshift bandage. Beneath it was a long gash, a furrow carved in the side of the lean torso by a bullet. It was raw, infected, and looked close to going putrid.

“Can I take a look?” Simon asked, entering the room. He’d managed to coax River into allowing him to give her a shot, calming her and sending her to sleep for a while.

Nathan nodded, moving back from the injured teen. “I’d appreciate it, doc – Simon.”

All business now, Tam began to work on the injury, mumbling and cursing under his breath at the ignorance and indifference evident in the mistreated youth. As he worked, he was shocked to find signs of several old injuries, injuries that looked to be years old. How did one so young acquire so many scars?

As if reading the younger man’s mind, Jackson said, “His parents were both dead by the time he was five. He was on one of the rim planets. Best we can figure, he was bounced around from one place to another; whipped and beaten.”

“A slave?”

Nodding, Nathan said, “that… and worse.”

Simon frowned, glancing over at the big man, but the dark face was closed. He’d get nothing more from him. At least not now. Ducking his head, he returned to repairing the new wound.


A short time later, Vin opened his eyes. Looking around him, he studied the strange surroundings, trying to decide just where he was. Then his sight settled on the familiar man lying nearby. He smiled, the gesture nearly consuming his face. Gingerly he rose, weaving unsteadily as he fought off the nausea. Managing that, he pushed off the bed, and then clung to it as he tried to keep his feet under him. Finally managing that as well, he staggered across the little room, until he reached the bed. And Chris.

Smiling, he reached out, stroking the lax features. Tears rolled down his face as he reassured himself that, yes, his fùqin was alive. One, trembling thumb rubbed over the fledgling beard the blond had grown since his injury, and his smile widened. Then his hand traveled down the bare chest, reaching that point where he could feel Larabee’s beating heart. He nodded to himself… another sign that the man was all right.

After a few minutes, his hand moved to the big man’s hand. His slender fingers wrapped around it, squeezing it softly. Then, he started as he felt the fingers squeeze back. His mouth opened in an “o” at that; his eyes darting back toward the sleeping face.

Not sleeping now, though. Chris’ eyes were opened, at least half way. And he was staring at Vin. With his free hand, Tanner cupped the man’s face, tears flowing faster each second.

“V… Vi… Vin?” Larabee whispered; his voice rough with sleep and pain.

The boy nodded, his smile even broader than it had been, tears continuing to fall. He nodded more and more quickly, his hand squeezing the blond’s tighter. Then, overcome, he dropped his head to the man who’d become his father’s chest. He felt the man’s other arm come up, wrapping around his trembling shoulders.

“My… son…” Chris murmured, as he drifted back to sleep.

Despite the uncomfortable position, Vin, too, drifted back to sleep, safe in the arms of the man who meant more to him than anyone had for many years.

Part Three

Buck stared out at the prairie, a smile lighting his face as he watched the group of riders speeding toward the ship. They had sent a wave a short time earlier, letting them all know that they were close. He heard the sound of someone coming up behind him. Turning, he saw the little, blonde mechanic approaching him. “Well, hello there, darlin’!”

Blushing and smiling at the same time, Kaylee replied, “Hi. I heard the others are on their way back.”

Nodding, Wilmington tilted his head toward the approaching group. “Ought ta be here in another five minutes or so.”

“Good… that’s good,” Kaylee replied.

“Damn,” Buck cursed as he spotted more movement on the prairie beyond. Turning toward the young woman, he ordered, “Better get anyone who can hold a gun and shoot it. Looks like we’re gonna have some company.”

“Xièdù!” The young woman turned and hurried to the comm. unit, sending out a ship wide call. A moment later, those still aboard were making their way quickly to the open bay, weapons in hand.

The mixture of the two groups took up positions around the bay, crouching behind whatever they could find for protection. No one spoke as they watched the riders coming nearer.

As the first group of riders reined in, leaping from the backs of their animals and waving the horses away, the others began firing at the second group of riders. After several of the pursuers fell, the rest drew up, seeming to contemplate their choices. Retreat won out, and they turned, heading back the way they had come.

Buck was the first to leave his hiding place, quickly followed by Book and Ezra. The last smiled and called out as he saw the gray-haired Sanchez move out from behind the boulder he’d sheltered behind.

“Bóbo! Bóbo Chuánjiàoshi!” The young man cried out as he laid his gun aside and rushed out to meet the older man. He couldn’t keep the sigh of contentment that escaped him when the large, muscular arms surrounded him.

“Chuánjiàoshi?” The Shepard asked; dark eyes on Buck. “He’s a priest?”

“He’s a lot of things,” The mustached man answered cryptically as he started off to greet the others.

Wash approached the ship, limping heavily, an armed draped across his wife’s shoulders. The leg of his overalls was stained red, clear evidence that they hadn’t escaped unscathed.

Simon approached him quickly; pulling the man’s other arm across his own shoulders. “Come on, let’s get you patched up. How badly are you hurt?”

“Just took a bite out of me,” Wash replied through gritted teeth.

“And I’m gonna take a bite out of you, if you ever do anything that stupid again,” Zôe grumbled. The look of worry on her beautiful face belied her stern words.

“Hey, come on!” Wash protested. “I thought that bastard was gonna shoot you!”

“Throwing yourself between me and a gun…” She trailed off, taking a deep breath before she said passionately, “Just don’t do it again.”

“Yes, dear,” Serenity’s pilot promised as the trio disappeared through the access door.

“Boys, you wanna help me get the horses rounded up and taken care of?” Buck asked the two teens. JD nodded his head quickly; the youngest loved working with the horses. Behind him, Ezra heaved a put-upon sigh, scuffing along behind the others. Josiah fell in beside him, laying a big hand on the slender shoulder.

“Physical labor is good for the soul, son.”

“Perhaps, Bóbo, but it plays merry hob with one’s back.”

Josiah chuckled, wrapping his arm around the young man’s shoulder and squeezing affectionately. In a voice that suddenly trembled with emotion, Sanchez said, “I am so very glad you’re home, gui háizi.”

Struggling to keep the tears at bay, Ezra murmured, “So am I, Bóbo.”


Zôe and Simon helped Wash into the ship’s infirmary. The first thing they was young Vin, draped across Larabee’s chest.

“They okay?” Zôe asked.

“They should be, although that can’t be comfortable for either of them.”

“Best medicine either of them could have.” Nathan entered the room, which was becoming more and more crowded. “Maybe we should look to movin’ Chris back to our place.”

“I’d prefer to keep him here for another twenty-four hours, just to make certain that the infection is gone,” Simon said, as he helped Wash settle on the counter that was doubling as a second bed.

“Heard there were injuries. Thought I’d see if I could lend a hand,” Jackson informed the ship’s physician.”

“Just this bèndàn,” Zôe groused, still upset about her husband’s actions earlier.

“But, sweetheart,” Wash returned in a loving tone, “Would you rather I had left you to be shot?”

“Àomàn lü,” the beautiful warrior berated her husband. Her only response was her husband leaning over and kissing her gently. She tried to frown at him in disapproval, but couldn’t help but smile.

While the Washburnes wavered between arguing and flirting with one another, Simon worked with quick efficiency to repair the pilot’s injury. As he worked, he directed his statements toward Nathan. “He really should be lying flat, to reduce the pressure on that wound. I understand that he’d want to be near his father, however – “

“Chris ain’t his father; he’s Vin’s fùqin.”

Frowning, Tan said, “Both terms mean the same thing.”

“Not to the boys. Especially not to Vin. He had a father… mama and grandparents, too. He was born to that family. They adored him. After… well, after he lost them, he drifted a while. Then he found us; found Chris, and he became part of our family. Him and the other boys, too. So, Chris is Vin’s fùqin, not his daddy.” Realizing how much he’d shared, the black man chuckled. “Sorry, too much information.”

“Simon shared a sad smile. “It sounds as if he’s had his share of problems.”

Heaving a sigh, Jackson said, “You don’t know the half of it, Doc.”

Vin chose that moment to wake, carefully pulling away from Larabee. Chris responded with a slight frown and a faint, murmured, “Vin?”

The teen reached out and stroked a hand down the pale face. The injured man sighed and settled once more.

“How’re you feelin’, kûm tiân yning?”

Tanner managed a smile. Straightening, he took a couple shuffling steps before finding himself wrapped in a pair of strong arms. He leaned into Nathan’s embrace, letting the big man hold him for several, long moments.

Finally the dark-skinned man pulled back, looking into the weary young face. “I know you want to be close to Chris, but you need your rest so you can get better. Chris needs you strong, érzi, so you can help take care of him, D ng?” The young man hesitated, turning to look at the supine form. Turning back, he met the compassionate, brown eyes, nodding in agreement.

“Good. Now, there’s a couch right outside here. I want you to come with me and lay down. See? You can watch him from right here. Duì?”

With another nod, Vin allowed himself to be led from the infirmary and settled on the couch. He sank into the cushions, barely aware when Nathan spread a blanket over him.

Wash came limping from the room, Zôe guiding him, his arm over her shoulder, continuing to give him a piece of her mind.

“He all right?” Wash asked, partly to distract his wife, but partly out of concern for the teen.

“Wore out and still feelin’ the effects of the bad treatment that hóuzi lü James and those hoözi xi obiàn y^ ng’érs of his heaped on him. He’ll be up and around in a few days though, I suspect.”

“Will he talk then?” The blond asked. His question brought an impressed look from the healer and a look of surprise from his wife.

“What?” Zôe murmured.

“Most folks don’t pick up on it for a long while. We had one hand, didn’t note it for near a month. He’s got such a quiet way about him that most don’t even notice him, most of the time.”

“How long has it been?”

Shrugging, the big man said, “Near as we can figure, since he was five or so.” He paused, looking down at the sleeping youth. “Ever since Revers hit his home world.”


Since Simon wanted to keep Chris in the infirmary. The rest of the group opted to stay aboard Serenity as well. They gathered in the dining hall for dinner, Josiah and Book presenting the meal they had prepared; one that included fresh meat and vegetables from the ranch.

“Oh, tiânzh… this is great!” Kaylee nearly moaned as she savored a fork full of pork steak.

“Do you eat like this often?” Wash asked. Then, turning to his wife, he continued, “Maybe we should think about staying planetside for a while. You know, put down roots…” Taking another bite of corn on the cob, he finished, “put on some weight…”

Laughing around a mouthful of buttered biscuit, his wife teased, “You get fat, I’m leaving you.”

Ezra and JD sat amongst the adults, uncharacteristically quiet. Vin was still sleeping, so Jackson opted to set some aside for him, letting him sleep as long as he could.

Buck, noticing just how quiet the teens were, asked, “Would you two feel better if we went back up to the house?”

JD’s head snapped up and he protested, “No, Da! We all stay together!”

“Calm down, érzi. I just meant that maybe you two would be more comfortable in your own beds tonight.”

Ezra spoke up then. “We’d be too far away if Vin needed us, and he won’t leave jìfù until he’s well enough to go home as well.”

“Vin will most likely sleep through the night,” Simon pointed out. “He probably won’t even know you’re gone.”

The two boys looked at the young doctor as if he had just grown another head. JD said in a tone of distain, “Vin always knows when we’re gone.”

The exchange got the better of Mal. Turning to the man who had brought them in on this whole thing, he said, “I’m thinking this might be a good time for you to explain how these three fit in with you and how they came to be with you.”

Ezra and JD turned twin, fiery glares toward the ship’s captain. Buck joined in on that glare. “Not now, bèndàn!”

Anger flaring, Reynolds said, “You mind what you call me, Wilmington. This is my ship.”

With a snarl, Buck pushed away from the table. “You haven’t changed a wit, have you?” The two boys hurried to join him as he stalked from the room.

Silence fell over the table, Serenity’s crew looking down at their plates, while Josiah and Nathan looked at Mal.

“Perhaps we should fill you in on just how the boys came to be with us. It may keep things from going too far.” Sanchez spoke the words calmly, despite the fire in his eyes.

With an unrepentant expression, Reynolds said, “Maybe we should.”


“Da? Da, wait up! Q ng?” JD called after the big man. His head was hurting again, making him dizzy and unable to keep up.

Buck stopped, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t alone. Turning, he caught JD just as the teen stumbled. Ezra, close by, reached out to steady the younger boy as well.

“I’m sorry, gâo shuôhuà,” the big brunet apologized. Taking in the sight of the two teens, faces distraught. Pulling both to him, he repeated, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, jìfù èr,” Ezra said softly. “I can see why you don’t like that man. He is an nànkàn niù with a brain to match.”

Buck chuckled at the comment. “Maybe so, erzì, maybe so.”

“So, where we goin’?” JD asked.

“Well, I was goin’ for a walk to cool off, but I don’t think either of you need to be out wanderin’ around right yet. If you feel up to it, how ‘bout we go pick some z sè berries, so they have time to ripen before Chris and Vin wake up? You know how they both love ‘em.”

JD smiled. “I’m okay… long ‘s I don’t move too fast. Let’s go.” Beside him, Ezra wore his put upon face and sighed.


Serenity’s crew sat at the dining table, curiosity keeping them in their seats long after dinner had grown cold. Every eye stayed on the two men, even while they remained silent. Never one to be long on patience, Mal broke the silence. “Seems to me there was promise of a tale to be told.”

Another moment passed before Josiah began speaking, ignoring the Captain’s impatience. His voice was just loud enough to be heard by the gathering, but seemed to fill the room. Passion and sadness filled his tone, while his eyes were focused on some unseen point in the distance.

“We came across the boys about two years ago. We’d gone into town for supplies, and it was sheer luck that we arrived the day they were on the auction block.”

“Slaves?” Kaylee asked.

Nodding, Sanchez continued. “They were being sold as a group… would’ve made good miners, bein’ small like they were. All three of them were near starved; looked ready to fall over on the spot.

“But, one look at Chris and Buck and we knew then and there those boys were comin’ home with us. It was amazing. Chris locked eyes with Vin and… well, it was like the two of them had known one another for centuries. It was almost that strong between Buck and JD that day, and it’s grown stronger since then. Ezra was the only one who didn’t seem to connect…” The older man broke off, seeing that he was losing his audience. Cobb was playing with his knife, while Reynolds had wandered off to get more coffee.

“At any rate, it didn’t take much to buy the boys, sad to say. We left town that afternoon with our supplies, three new members for our little group, and two new outfits for each boy.

“It took near a month to get the boys to understand that they weren’t slaves any longer, but they finally figured out the difference between slaves work and chores. We learned early on, from JD, that Vin doesn’t speak. Most of what we know we’ve learned from JD. He’s not at the top of his game right now, but he’s typically quite the talker. Even so, they were with us for three months before they trusted us with their stories. We don’t call him gâo shuôhuà for nothing. But even he won’t share anything with us unless the other two are in agreement that he does so.”

“So… we finally gonna get to that tale, or you gonna wait another three months to share it?” Mal groused.

“You’re the one that asked for the story,” Nathan reminded him. “Might be you’d want to listen a bit more and complain a bit less.”

“Now, look, you’re here by my invitation, péngyou. Might be you’d want to remember that.”

“Captain Reynolds,” Josiah stepped in and attempted to calm things down. “This isn’t a short tale. I’ll leave it up to you as to whether or not I tell it to its conclusion.”

Unable to continue his tirade; to pick a fight to work off some of the anger that had lingered just below the surface since hearing from Wilmington, Mal sat back. Arms folded across his broad chest, he allowed, “Always did hate to leave a tale before it’s finished.”

Josiah took a moment to compose himself before picking up his tale once more. “Finally, one evening, JD shared their tale with us, with Ezra filling in some of the blanks. Vin did as well, in his own way.

“They had been together for five or six years. Their paths had crossed on a little planet called Tiânzh’s Pingger of all things.”

Tiânzh’s lu, more like it,” Wash murmured.

With a smile, Sanchez said, “I take it you’ve been there.”

“Grew up near it,” the ship’s pilot explained. “Heard they got hit by Revers some time back.”

“Yes. The boys were in the marketplace of a little town called Razorback. Each one was there for a different reason. As they tell it, JD was there with his mother, shopping for the household they were indentured to. Vin, already a slave, was there working for his master. And Ezra was there, waiting to meet up with his mother.

“When the call went out that Revers were on the attack, everything became chaos. By sheer luck the boys met up. JD had been separated from his mother who, if his memory can be trusted, was near to term with her second child. He fought Vin at first, when the older boy tried to drag him to safety. Vin knew the marketplace well, including the warren of tunnels that lay beneath it.

Ezra was almost as difficult to coax into the tunnels… our gui nánháizi doesn’t care much for dirt. However, a glimpse of one of those dòngwùs changed his mind.

“They hid in the tunnels for as long as they could, before thirst and hunger drove them to the surface. They found supplies enough to give them back some of their strength. Then, two days after hitting the surface, they were picked up by scavengers and taken aboard their ship. The boys were put to work, treated fairly decently, although looked on as slaves. They stayed aboard for several months, until the crew saw it as more profitable to sell them than to keep them.

“They were bought a sold a few more times. They managed to stay together, and eventually ended up on Four Corners.”

“Where you all lived, happily ever after,” Jayne cracked.


Buck and the two boys were busy outside; picking the large, prickly shelled fruit that grew wild on their land. JD was best suited for the job, being the shortest of them. He could kneel below the tangled canopy of previous growth to find the ripe fruit that had fallen to the ground. With thick gloves and home fashioned tongs he picked up the fruit and rolled it from beneath the bush. Meanwhile Ezra and Buck, likewise wearing thick gloves, would grab up the fruit and place them in the metal tub sitting between them.

“How soon will Fùgin be able to come home, Da?” JD asked.

“Not for certain, son.”

“How do we know that doctor will make him better?” The youngest asked next.

“Just have to trust that he will, I suppose,” Wilmington observed. “He seems to be an upright sort. They all seem decent folk; at least the ones I haven’t met before.”

A shiver coursed through JD as he thought about his encounter with the strange young woman. “No, Da. Not all of them.”

“What makes you say that?”

“There’s a seer on that ship. She’s got the sight… and I think it’s made her yuè bìngle. She came into the sickbay earlier, and…” he broke off, not certain what he wanted to share.


“She said things… told me things that no one else knows.” Sheepishly he looked over his shoulder at the big man. “Not even you, Da.”

Buck smiled. “There’s nothing wrong with keeping some things to yourself, Erzi.”

The young brunet smiled and went back to gathering the fruit. Behind him, his adopted father watched him for a moment before deciding to lighten the boy’s mood.

“So… what did the little yuì bìngle húdíe look like?”

With a chuckle that eased some of his discomfort, JD said, “She looked young enough to be your daughter, Da.”


Chris Larabee was floating, somewhere between heaven and life. He really couldn’t see, hear, touch, smell or taste anything, but it didn’t seem to matter. He found that nothing really mattered; everything was calm and peaceful. He hadn’t experienced such a feeling of bliss before.

He wasn’t certain how long he had been… wherever he was. Time was a concept that he realized was no longer of any use to him. His mind stretched, luxuriating in the freedom from the worries and stress that he could only remember as if they belonged to someone else.

River stood beside the narrow bed, looking down at the injured blond. One hand reached out to stroke down the side of his face. Her eyes widened at the sensations as she stroked along his beard. Then her hand brushed across his forehead and she leaned forward. Delivering the most gentle of kisses to the bridge of his nose, she straightened and moved back. Staring at the lax, peace-filled face, she smiled.

Moving from the little room, she knelt beside the couch Vin occupied. Reaching out, she brushed the chestnut locks from the young man’s face. Suddenly her smile was swept away, replaced with tears. She wept so hard that she could scarcely breathe. Pain, rage, fear, outrage, anger, lonliness, agony. The emotions overwhelmed her. With a single, heart-wrenching sob, she collapsed on the floor beside the couch.

Nestled in the cushions, Vin sighed.


Josiah continued as if Cobb hadn’t spoken. “It was a few weeks before we realized that Vin doesn’t speak. Until then we attributed it to reticence and fear. Since JD often said that Vin told him this or that, we assumed he did his talking when they were out of earshot of the rest of us. JD finally filled us in. Vin hadn’t spoken for as long as they had been together. In fact, it seems that he hasn’t spoken since he was five or six.”

“What caused it?” Simon asked. “Was it illness or injury?”

“Trauma. You see, Vin is a very rare young man. The attack at Razorback wasn’t the first he survived. You see, he’s survived two.”

The room was silent as Serenity’s crew tried to absorb the comment.

Jayne was the first to recover. “Hóuzi guí. Surviving one attack is damn near miraculous. Two? Never happened.”

“Planet named Evenblue, about eleven years ago. Ring a bell?” Nathan asked in a terse tone.

Nodding, Book said softly, “Revers.”

“Don’t mean nothin’,” Cobb argued. “Don’t mean that qióng fêngzi was there.”

The acerbic mercenary was suddenly set upon by a very angry young man, returning unannounced, the reason forgotten at the hateful words. JD pummeled the much bigger man, screaming epithets as he did. Ezra was close behind, doing his best to calm the younger teen.

“Didi! Chêzhàn, Didi! He’s a bèn hóuzi, JD –“

“Hey! You –“ Cobb yelled in response to the insult.

“Jayne!” Mall growled in a warning tone. “Stand down. You can’t get angry when all the boy does is speak the truth.”

An angry glare turned from the little brunet to Serenity’s Captain. The rest of the room slowly filled with laughter at Mal’s jibe at the soldier of fortune’s expense. While the adults focused on the two combatants, Ezra coaxed JD away from the dining hall.

“Come on,” he said softly, “let’s go help Buck shuck the berries.”

Touching his aching head, Dunne said, “I’m tired, Ezra, and my head hurts. I think I’m gonna go lay down with Vin.”

Massaging the other teen’s shoulders, Standish said, “All right, you need company on the walk?”

Smiling wanly, JD replied, “No, I’m okay.”

“All right then, I suppose I’ll have to go help with the chore.” His emphasis on the last word gained him a giggle from his adopted brother. Chuckling and admitting, only to himself, that he didn’t really hate to help out, he strolled off toward the cargo bay.

JD moved slowly through the ship, doing his best to remember the way to the sickbay area. His memory proved as true as ever, and he found himself at a little landing. Below, in the little lounge area, he found Tanner nestled beneath a blanket. Then, with a frown, he realized that someone else was huddled on the floor beside him. His frown turned to an angry glare when he realized who it was.

“You get away from him! Shên nüØér! Zâng n ozi niú!”

River jerked awake from an exhausted sleep, confused and disoriented. Crying out, she leapt to her feet, eyes darting like a caged wild thing.

JD leapt down the stairway, barely touching a step before landing on the floor below. He was screaming like a wild thing himself, pouncing on the young woman. “Hêisè xîn!”

Vin, drawn from a healing sleep, struggled to untangle himself from the covering. Finally free, he did his best to capture his brother’s flailing arms.


The three teens froze, eyes immediately drawn toward the authoritative voice. The boys’ eyes widened immediately in shock.

“Fùgin!” JD hurried toward the sickbay doorway, and Chris Larabee, Vin a step behind him. The two youths reached their adoptive father just as he slumped to the floor, their entire focus on the blond, neither of them noticing River as she scurried away.

“J… JD…” Larabee stammered, the reserve of strength that allowed him to leave his sick bed deserting him now.

“Fùgin, are you all right?”

He forced his head up, blinking rapidly to banish the blackness trying to claim him. “I… I’m f-fine.”

“The hell you are!”

Three pairs of eyes, one glassy and unfocused, locked in on the angry features of Nathan Jackson. “You stupid, stubborn, son-of-a –“


Realizing that the injured man had slipped back into unconsciousness, held up by the two injured teens, he growled. Deciding that helping was more important than venting his anger right now, he hurried across the little room. He knelt down before his patient, reaching out to steady the unconscious man. Taking a deep breath to calm his anger he said, “Okay, let’s get him back into bed.”

The trio managed to get Chris first up off the floor and then back into the sickbay. Settling the blond on the narrow bed, Nathan busied himself caring for his friend. A short time later, he was finally satisfied that Larabee was none the worse for wear. Tucking the blankets closer around the broad shoulders, he turned toward the two young men. They were watching from the corner of the room. “He’ll be okay; he didn’t open the wound or anything. Now, what happened?”

“That girl… that… fêngzi! She was going to hurt Vin!” Then the younger boy stopped, frowning as he turned to stare up at the calm face of the older boy. “But – but she… I don’t trust her… Vin, you don’t…”

Nathan, used to such one-sided conversations, observed, ‘Vin trusts her.”

Obviously upset by his brother’s thoughts about the girl, young Dunne said, defiantly, “He’s wrong! He doesn’t know… doesn’t understand!”

“Érzi, chêzhàn tâ,” the voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper, but it commanded the attention of the others in the room. Larabee’s eyes were only half open, his voice barely audible, and the hand he lifted trembled. Even in such shape, he took charge.

“Fùgin, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“S’okay,” the blond muttered, speech slurred.

“Chris, you need to rest.” Nathan interrupted.

“B-been… res… resting.”

“Chris Larabee, you’re in no shape to argue.” The others could hear the healer’s teeth grinding as his irritation grew.

“Not… arguing.”

Vin came up beside his adoptive father and laid one hand on a bare shoulder. Drawing the man’s attention, he smiled gently, then nodded.

Larabee managed a smile, nodding as his eyes drifted shut. “Okay… you take care… of… things…” and he was asleep once more.

Nathan stared down at the now sleeping man, wondering if those words were meant for him or the youth now gently rubbing his shoulder.  Deciding it didn’t matter he said, “Okay, boys, let’s get out of here and let the man sleep.”

“No.  I don’t want to leave Fùgin,” JD mumbled softly.  Then, turning to Vin, he whispered, “Does Fùgin want us to leave him alone?”

 Cocking his head toward the door, the older boy motioned that they needed to leave.  Beside him, the younger boy shuffled along, head down and shoulders slumped.  Checking once more that Larabee was, in fact, sleeping, Jackson followed the others.

 As they gained the upper walkway from the sickbay area, Simon was coming toward them.  The young doctor’s jaw was set, his brow furrowed.  Meeting the trio he said, “What happened?  What’s gone on with my sister?”

 Vin turned toward JD, seeing the younger man color and turn his angry gaze hit the deck below their feet.  Turning toward Tan, he pointed to himself, adopting a sorrow filled expression.

Eyes darting from the youth to the dark healer, Simon said, “I don’t understand.”

Shaking his head, Jackson said, I’m not certain, Doc, but I think that – whatever happened – Vin feels bad about it.”

JD’s eyes flared, he drew himself up to his full height, and glared at first his brother, than his uncle, and then at the Serenity’s physician.  “He didn’t do nothin’.  Me and that moonstruck sister of yours don’t get along.  She’s crazy!”

“JD!”  Nathan barked.  Then he was cut off by Tan.

“No, it’s all right, Mr. Jackson.”  Simon sighed.  “My sister does have problems.  She was experimented on by the Alliance government.  They did things… to her brain…”  He stammered to a stop, tears burning his dark eyes.  He felt a need to protect River, but at the same time, there was a need to explain things. 

“I’ve heard they did such things, but I’d always considered it a myth… propaganda started by the Independents to discredit them.”

“No, no it’s not myth.”  The words were delivered in a mournful voice that turned cold as he finished.  “It’s real, and they destroyed my sister’s mind for their own benefit.”

Reaching out, Nathan squeezed the smaller man’s shoulder.  “I’m truly sorry, Simon.”

 “The Alliance made her like that?”  JD asked, in pain-filled awe.

“Yes, they cut into her brain, JD.  They did horrible things to her.  I’m very sorry that she hurt or frightened you.”

“I wasn’t frightened!” The teen declared boldly.  Then he turned an angry glare on his brother as Vin nudged him with his shoulder.  Seeing the older boy’s smile, he continued, his voice cracking, “I was… I was mad!”

“Well, I’m sorry that she angered you then,” Tan continued, barely hiding his smile.  “I’ll speak to her and, please, if she bothers any of you, let me know so I can address it.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Jackson answered for them all. 

With one arm tucked against his injured side, Vin wrapped the other around the smaller teen’s shoulders and coaxed him from the room. With Nathan following behind, they moved as far as the little alcove. There, the two boys settled in on the couch, side by side.

The healer opened his mouth to argue with them; to cajole them into getting away for some true rest, but then he closed it with a sigh. Ezra bounced down the stairs, striding over to the couch and dropping to the cushions beside JD. The three young men, long used to relying on one another for comfort, huddled together. With the oldest teen acting as guard, the younger two slipped easily into sleep.

Shaking his head, with an ironic grin on his face, Nathan left the three members of his family on the couch, knowing that they would take care of one another.


River Tan was curled up in the corner of her bed, trembling as the visions continued to assault her, as they had since she had touched Vin Tanner’s mind earlier. She struggled to make sense of them; to come to terms with their invasion into her own psyche. She couldn’t. The emotions, so clear and so horribly intense, threatened to suffocate her.

Joy and happiness… playing in a spring greened field with childish glee.

Fear… turning at the sound of cries to see monsters attacking his home.

Rage… impotent feeling, wanting to help but recognizing on some level the uselessness.

Relief… someone older… sister?... SISTER!... running toward him, bloodied and horribly silent.

Shock… a half gone face, the flesh and muscle torn away. Staggering away while reaching for an outstretched hand.


Fear… running, trying to keep up, then pulling a dying sibling forward.

Rage… watching her fall, watching her gasp, half her body hidden beneath blood.

“Promise… I promise… I’ll be quiet. They won’t find me. Quiet.”

Determination… running far into the darkness. Falling down and falling asleep. Run! Climbing to feet torn and aching. Running again… into the daylight. A tiny cluster of shelters. Not even homes, cobbled together from nature.

Relief… falling into the arms of someone. Held gently and carried toward the trees…


She clawed her way out of the boy’s memories to find Kaylee standing at the door. The damaged young woman tried a smile but found it too difficult. “I’m here.”

Ignorant of how meaningful those two words were, the ship’s engineer smiled. “I just wanted to tell you that dinner’s ready. Do you feel up to coming to the table, or would you like me to bring you a tray?”

“Not hungry.”

“It’s real food, not the pro—“

“NOT HUNGRY!” Focusing her anger on the helpful blonde, she threw a pillow in the direction of the door.

Having accepted the erratic moods, Kaylee only smiled as she picked up the pillow and tossed it into a corner. “Okay. I’ll try to save you some back, in case you get hungry later.”

Barely realizing when her visitor left, River curled up even tighter as the stolen memories began their assault once more.


Ezra woke late in the night, taking a moment to figure out where he was. Vin and JD were curled up beside him, Vin curled protectively around the younger boy. For long seconds the world around him seemed to disappear and, in its place, only darkness. The smells of earth and the distant sounds of carnage nearly overwhelmed him and he felt the urge to run. Pushing to his feet, he stumbled a few steps before he realized where he was. Checking to make certain he hadn’t wakened his gêges; he slipped into the little sickbay.

Chris laid still and quiet, his face leached of color. The young man slipped up beside him and rested a hand on the man he considered his jìfìe’s chest. The man’s flesh was cool; the result of the cooling blanket spread over him, and his broad chest rose and fell with slow regularity. He took comfort in that, took comfort in the fact that Chris Larabee still lived.


Smiling as he realized he was being watched as well as doing the watching, the teen said, “Jìfìe. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“What’s wrong?” The man was notorious for cutting to the heart of the matter.

Ducking his head, Ezra said, “I just wanted to see… to see how you… you are.” Even without looking at them, he knew those keen eyes were watching him, intent on the truth. Nodding, he admitted, “I was troubled… thinking about… before.”

Chris reached out, stroking a hand along the down-stubbled cheek. “You’re safe, érzi. No one can ever… take you… away from me. W mende cûnzi…’

“Jîntiân and míngtiân,” the youth finished when his adopted father’s energy failed him. “Until hòutiân.”

With a small smile and a nod, the injured man finished with, “Ài n, oldest son.”

He still found his father’s admission of love difficult to believe when aimed at him, but his heart leapt each time he heard the words. “Ài n, Jìfìe.” He returned the man’s smile, even though he saw that Chris had drifted off again.

Leaving Larabee’s side, Ezra walked back out into the alcove. He was shocked to see someone just disappearing up the ladder; caught sight of bare feet and a long skirt. The teen considered following, but JD chose that moment to wake up. Putting aside his curiosity, he pasted on a smile and spoke to the younger boy. “You need to go back to sleep, JD, it’s still night.”

“I thought…” the brunet trailed off, a look of confusion on his face.

“Thought what, yîng’ér gêge?”

“Thought there was someone else here a minute ago. Must’ve been you?”

“Must have,” he replied vaguely, not wanting to alarm the younger boy. “So, no wàiguó under the covers, just you and Vin. Go back to sleep, now, JD.”

“You’ll be close?”

“Unless you start snoring, then all bets are off.”

The younger boy giggled, yawned and nodded. “I’ll sleep quietly… promise.”

Ezra dropped down onto the couch and propped his feet up on the table nearby. Leaning back against the couch, feeling very old and very tired suddenly, he said, “I’ll hold you to that.’

Soon, all three boys were sleeping soundly once more.

Part Four

Morning found those in the ship already moving around. Nathan and Simon worked together to check on not only Chris, but Vin and JD as well, making certain that every member of the family were on the mend. Tanner’s wound was clean and free of infection, the flesh already looking healthier than it had since the injury was inflicted. JD’s head wound was healing well, and he reported that the dizziness was decreasing. Even Chris was showing improvement, although he was still in serious condition.

“I’d like to keep an eye on him for a few more days,” Simon said. “However…”

“You’ve gotta go where the captain decides to take the ship,” Nathan acknowledged. “If he decides to leave, do you think you can leave me some supplies?”

“Yes, of course. I can leave whatever’s necessary to treat him.”

Looking down at his friend, Nathan asked, “Do you think…?”

“He’ll make a full recovery, as long as he allows himself the chance to heal. Anything strenuous… well, he could…”

“Yeah, I understand.”

“I wish we could stay. I’d feel much better if I could follow him until he’s recovered.” Realizing how that might sound, Simon said quickly, “It’s not that I don’t trust your abilities, Nathan, it’s just that… well…”

“No offence taken, doc, I understand what you’re sayin’. If it were me, I’d feel the same way. And, for what it’s worth, I wish you could stay, too.”

“Well, let me be a little ray of yángguâng. We’ll be staying a while.”

Turning to where Mal Reynolds stood in the doorway, Nathan replied, “You are?”

“Wèi shénmo?” Simon asked in a tone of shock.

Dismissing the surgeon with a look, Reynolds turned to the other man. “I promised JD that I’d bring his brothers home.”

“But they are home.” Simon stated the obvious.

“No, they’re on my ship. The way I see it, they won’t really be home until that arrogant gob, James, backs off or dies. So, until I keep my promise to that nánháizi, we stay put. D ng?”

Nodding, doing his best to stifle a smile, Tan replied, d ng, Captain.”


“This is… ridiculous. I can… ungh… walk,” Larabee protested, groaning when the stretcher he was being carried on was jostled as the others carried him down Serenity’s ramp.

“Shut up or I’ll dump you in the dust,” Buck threatened, dark blue eyes glittering jovially. Like the rest of their makeshift family, he was relieved that Chris was on the mend.

“Da!” JD yelped. “You wouldn’t!”

“He’s only teasing, niánqîng gêge, ignore the bèndàn.” Ezra slung an arm around the other teen’s shoulder, smiling when JD giggled at the jab at Wilmington.

“Now, watch it there, I’m still bigger than you are, nánháizi, I can turn you over my knee!”

“Yes, but I’m faster than you.” As if to prove it, Standish took off at a run toward the house. Vin and JD were quick on his heels, each trying to reach the front door before the other two.

“You three settle down,” Nathan called out in a warning. “Ezra, don’t you wear out the other two!”

“Ah, Doc, let them go. They need to have a little fun.” Josiah chuckled from where he was carrying the end of the stretcher where Chris’ head lay. Looking down into his friend’s face, he winked as he said, “Besides, Vin and JD can both outrun our guì háizi.” His words brought a smile and the laughter of the other members of their group.

Just as the group neared the door, several shots rang out. Buck and Josiah hurried inside as quickly as they could, depending on the others to cover them. As they entered, the three boys met them, looks of concern on each face.

“Bóbo! Da!” JD cried out, “What’s going on?”

“Calm down, it must be James and his men. The three of you hurry, arm yourselves. You’ll need to stay with Chris.” Buck ordered.

“I can – “

“Chêzhàn, we ain’t got time to argue the point.”

Nathan and Simon were in the house as well now. They shut and bolted the door, Tan checking at the front window for signs of life at the ship. Relieved when he saw the ramp rising into the air and closing itself into Serenity, he could focus on what was going on within the house. River was safe.

“Doctor, do you know how to use a gun?” JD asked, holding a pistol out to the ship’s surgeon.

“I’ve used one,” Simon wasn’t going to admit to being a terrible shot. He accepted the weapon and moved toward the nearest window, only to find metal shutters closing over the glass. With a puzzled expression he turned toward Wilmington and Jackson. “How do we…?”

Crooking a finger, Buck said, “Come on over here, Doc.”

The younger man hurried over and was amazed to see that, while the windows were shuttered, small openings appeared in the walls, just large enough to allow a man to site and shoot a gun. Following the bigger man’s direction, he moved into place, his gun at the ready.

Farthest away from the outer walls, the three boys surrounded the wounded man, each of them handling a gun with practiced ease. The determination that was reflected in each face spoke eloquently; no one would harm Chris Larabee again.


“What’s the plan, Sir?” Zoë asked as she followed the Captain through the narrow corridor. Both of them were armed and, behind them, Jayne was ready for battle as well.

“The plan?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Well, we… go out the far side and… well, we get this James and his people between us and… them already in the house, and we… well, we shoot them.” He gestured broadly as he spoke, as if to make up for the fact that he knew that he didn’t have much of a plan.

“Shoot them?”

“Shoot them.”

“Who, Sir?”


“Who are you meaning to shoot?”

“James… and his people.” Reynolds turned to look at his first officer, with an expression that asked why she didn’t already know the details.

“Are we certain that we can get clear shots? I mean you saw them as well as I did. They’re awfully close to the house.”

“So… we won’t miss.”

With a long suffering look, the woman sighed, “Yes, Sir.”


“Vin… help me… up.” Chris stared up at his adopted son, “I won’t go down… without… a fight.”

The teen’s expression was a mixture of fear, pride and obedience. He shook his head, silently arguing with the man.

“Son, help me. I… need to f-face that… bas… bastard.” He struggled to pull himself up, at the same time reaching out to the young man. Breathlessly he added, “Please…”

Taking a deep breath and, finally, nodding, Vin moved to help his fùgin… the man he knew in his heart as his father. The young man turned toward JD, who sat on the other side of the stretcher, giving the teen a hard look. He only allowed himself a small smile when the brunet moved to aid him. Ezra, dutifully kneeling at the foot of the stretcher, his back turned.

“Ezra,” JD hissed. When his friend turned, an expression of shock on his face, he said, “Fùgin needs us.”

Looking into the green-hazel eyes, Standish grumbled, “Nathan will have our hides for this.”

“I won’t… let him…” Larabee managed through gritted teeth.

Carefully, watching to make certain that the other men were too busy to notice them, the three teens helped the injured man to his feet.


The trio moved stealthily out of a small escape hatch, making certain that none of the attackers were in view. Dropping to the ground and keeping themselves close to the lowest point of Serenity’s belly, the former soldiers and the mercenary moved quickly as they sought out and found the best vantage points. As they did, they could all hear the exchange going on between the rancher and those in the house.

“We aim to have this land!” Eldred James didn’t raise his voice, but no one missed a word he said. He sat astride his horse, his men fanned out on either side of him. With true arrogance, they rode in close to the house, making their stand atop the rise nearest the house.

“Yeah, well I aim to blow a hole in you,” Buck’s voice called from inside the house. “Let’s see who gets their wish!”

“Wilmington! You takin’ over now that the blond bastard’s gone?”

“I’m right here!” Like James, Larabee’s voice was soft, but carried a tone that made his words clear to anyone in the vicinity.

For nearly a full minute, the only sounds that came from the rancher were shocked and strangled noises. Then he called out, “Well, I’ll be damned. Guess that little bastard of yours got you home, after all. Too bad, he just prolonged it. You’ll die today with the rest of those suân dòngwù pìgu.”


Inside the ranch house, Tan, Jackson, Sanchez and Wilmington turned to regard Larabee with varying emotions.

”What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Simon yelled sharply.

“Damn it, you fool, you’re gonna undo everything we’ve done,” was Nathan’s response.

Buck stomped toward his old friend, only to stop when Chris leveled a weak glare at him. However, the big man’s resolve was strong. “You know where you can shove that glare, pard. Now you’re gonna go lay down, or – “

The activity inside the house came to a halt, as gunfire erupted. Time for this later, they had to turn toward the more potentially hazardous event outside the house. Every man, including the seriously wounded Larabee, turned to the gun ports, and began to return fire.


As gunfire erupted from both inside and outside the house, the three ship members joined the fray from where they hid in the rocks and shadows. Soon the air was filled with the thunder of weapons and the smell of gun powder. James and his men realized too late that they were sandwiched in, realized too late that they had underestimated the people they were going up against.

Eldred James stood his ground, yelling at his people and demanding they stand their ground. He fired at the house, ignoring the other front attacking him. One, two, three at a time the men and women who had ridden in with him fell or rode away. Soon he had only a handful standing with him, while it didn’t seem they had dropped any of the people they fought.

“Damn it! Shòule!” He ordered, leading his people away. Before he disappeared over the rise he bellowed, “This ain’t over!”


Inside the house, Chris was slumped between his boys, who carefully held him, moving him back to the stretcher. Simon was there in a heartbeat, intent on making certain that the injured man hadn’t aggravated his injuries. The blond collapsed onto the stretcher with what sounded suspiciously like a whimper. He didn’t make another sound as he was examined.

When Tan raised up, Josiah asked, from where he stood, still watching out for attack, “Is he okay?”

“Miraculously, yes. I’ll feel better when we get him upstairs to his bed, however.”

“Me… too…” Larabee admitted in a raspy voice.


The sun was low on the horizon, but inside the house was lit up like midday. The members of the household – minus the injured Larabee – and the crew of the Serenity were sitting around a long table, enjoying a feast. Serenity’s crewmembers were nearly delirious from all the fresh food, including z sè berry cobbler and hand churned ice cream.

Vin watched as everyone carried on, laughing and telling stories. He smiled, but it was a wistful expression. Seeming to make a decision, he scooted away from the table and moved to the sideboard, where the cobbler and ice cream sat. Cutting a piece and adding some of the ice cream to it, he grabbed up a spoon and napkin. Unnoticed by the others, he moved toward the stairs.

A few minutes later, he reached a closed door at the far end of the house’s second story and pushed it open. Inside the room was bathed in twilight, the figure in the bed barely visible.

“W de lánsè y njing érzi.” Larabee reached out a hand, smiling as the boy came closer. As Vin sat at the edge of the mattress, he said, “What have you here?”

Grinning now, Tanner held out the plate, enjoying the chuckle his adopted father shared with him. Draping the napkin over the man’s upper chest, he cut a piece of the cobbler and added a bit of the softening ice cream to the spoon before he offered it up. He watched patiently as anger, pain and then resignation danced over Chris’s face, lighting his eyes with a quickly cooling fire. Vin’s words were as clear as if he truly spoke them. *I’m going to take care of you, just as you’ve taken care of me since the day we met.*

Outside the door, unseen by the two people as they shared this intimate moment, Buck watched the interaction. He smiled as Chris took the treat, accepting the help he needed from the boy who had given him back his soul. As a wide grin shined beneath his mustache and happiness danced in his deep blue eyes, Wilmington moved away. Things were looking up.


Chris yawned, enjoying the luxurious feel of waking in his own bed. Opening his eyes, he frowned as he realized that someone was standing at his window. “Mal?” His voice sounded weak, causing the frown to deepen.

Turning from where he stood, watching out the window, Reynolds greeted the other man. “Thought maybe you were plannin’ to sleep through ‘til next century.”

“You always were a… humorous… one.” The blond grunted as he moved slightly on the mattress.

Something danced across the Captain’s face, and his expression turned somber. “Yeah, weren’t we all?”

“I appreciate your help. I wasn’t certain you’d…”

When Larabee trailed off, Mal said, “I work for coin, Buck offered coin.”

“So, you’re a… what… mercenary now?”

“I’m the captain of a ship and I work for them that pay.”

Chris heard the challenge in the other man’s voice. Gentling his voice, he said, “I thought I’d… well, thought maybe we should make things right between us. If you’re of a mind to.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Mal said, “The past’s the past, Sir.”

Shaking his head, Larabee responded with, “Don’t ‘sir’ me. That’s part of the past, too.”

“So, maybe the past should just take care of itself… Chris.”

“That sounded painful.”

With a smirk, the man who wore Independence brown said, “Hurt like hell. Look, you’re on the mend, the boys are safe. Reckon it’s time we were on our way.”

Nodding, realizing that there would be nothing more resolved now, Chris said, “You’re welcome here any time you’re in the vicinity.” He raised his hand, offering it to the other man.

Mal hesitated, then stepped forward and took the offered hand. Shaking it, he said, “We’ll keep that in mind… though we never know where our work will take us.”

“Well, we’ll keep an eye on the horizon, nonetheless. Again… xièxie, Malcolm.”

Chuffing at the use of his full name and letting go of the other man’s hand, Reynolds said, “Bié kèqi, Christopher.”

Chris smiled as he watched the other man leave his room, the he settled back on the pillows, drifting back off to sleep.


The Serenity rose gracefully, although she left whirlwinds of dust dancing across the land, and the horses rearing and galloping away in fear. Mal and the others watched from the bow, hands raised in farewell to the members of the family watching them from the porch. They had done what they came to do and more, Mal satisfied that he had kept his promise to bring the boys home and reunite the family.

Turning to Wash, he said, “Everything ready?”

“Yes, sir, we should be at Gou Shoùng in three days.” Wash hesitated and then added, “Are you certain we shouldn’t have stayed a few more days. I mean, James could come back.”

“We knocked a hole in his mùdâns, the game won’t be back in play for a time.”

Frowning, Jayne said, “I hear a ‘and then’ in that statement… ain’t for certain I like it.”

Raising an eyebrow as he regarded the mercenary, Reynolds said, “Don’t recall asking you to like any damn thing.”

“So what is on your mind, Sir?” Zoë asked softly from where she stood beside her husband.

“I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to bring some peace. There’s a good sized armory in Yínjîn Chéngshì. Maybe we could find some things that could be of use to Larabee and his.”

“You sound like you’ve forgiven them.”

Shaking his head, Reynolds said only, “I like the color of their money, that’s all.” Turning back to watch the sky give way to space, he repeated, “I like the color of their money.”


Below, five of the seven members of the ranch on Four Corners went back to business as usual. Ezra, never one to voluntarily get dirty, was working on the midday meal in the kitchen. Outside, JD and Buck were currying the horses, while Nathan and Josiah prepared to carry the dead off in the ranch’s wagon; they would take the bodies into the settlement for burial.

Inside, Vin was sitting on the window sill in Chris’ room, watching the activity below. He had been banned from work for another week, until his wound had completely healed and he had recovered his strength. Normally he would have ignored the instructions, but he didn’t mind this time. It gave him the chance to be near his fùgin. He turned as the sleeping man began to mumble, caught in a dream.

“Sorry… sorry, Mal… I didn’t mean to… I…” The words slipped away, intelligible for several moments. Then, “Orders… just… orders…”

Vin moved to the bed and perched on the edge of the mattress. Reaching out, he gently rubbed along the man’s arm, silently urging him to calm. Then he smiled as sleepy but clear eyes opened to regard him.

Smiling back, Larabee spoke softly, sharing words filled with more emotion than almost anyone could ever fathom coming from the usually taciturn man. “Érzi, I’m happy to see you. It gives me such a sense of peace to have you and your brothers’ home again. I… it can never be home again without all three of you here. You boys bring this ranch something it lacked for so long… peace, Érzi… tián héping.

The End

August 23, 2008