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After Miranda, River’s mind clears, though not entirely. She’ll never be normal, but she can function beyond “crazy” without the Alliance’s dirty secret haunting her. With that clarity comes a shift in focus.

“What in the-” Mal trips over the wiring strewn across the cockpit from the Cortex at the co-pilot’s seat. He catches himself against the pilot’s chair and frowns down at River. “Albatross, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Don’t think, know,” River answers without looking up from the wires she’s soldering.

Mal rolls his eyes. “Alright, genius, what do you know you’re doing?”

“Tracking. Finding.”

“Finding what?”

“Not what. Who.”

Mal closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. “Okay, finding who?”

“Mine.”

“Your…” Mal opens his eyes and stares at her for a long moment before understanding dawns on him. “Oh… you’re trying to find your Mates aren’t you little one?”

River looks up briefly enough to frown. “Don’t tell Simon.”

“Now why wouldn’t you want your brother to know you’re looking for your Soulmates?”

Her frown deepens. “Still thinks she’s a child.”

Mal grimaces. “Reckon we all think that a bit, Albatross.”

“She’s grown.”

Mal sighs. “We know. But you’re the baby of this here crew.”

“Can’t coddle her.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

 

“Peter!” Gamora snaps.

Peter flinches. “Sorry.”

Her face softens in a way it only does when she’s looking at him. “What’s wrong?”

“Killing my father was supposed to kill the whole Celestial side of me, right?”

Gamora shrugs. “That is what he said, but he didn’t exactly give us a reason to trust what he said. Why?”

Peter shrugs. “I don’t think it’s gone.”

Gamora tilts her head at him.

He sighs and lifts his hand, staring at his palm intently until a glowing ball forms. “I can still do that.”

Gamora gapes. “You didn’t say anything.”

He shrugs. “I don’t know how much is left. I’m scared to test it.”

Gamora frowns and reaches up to brush her fingers along his temple. “You do have a concussion, don’t you?”

“What? No!” Peter protests.

Gamora nods. “You do. You wouldn’t let yourself be so honest if you didn’t.”

Peter deflates. “So what if I do?”

“We’ll worry about it later. What else?”

He closes his eyes. “I keep dreaming.”

“Dreaming of what?”

“A girl.”

“A girl?”

He nods, and when he opens his eyes they’re a little distant. “A girl with dark hair and dark eyes with our Words on her lips. She’s got the whole ‘verse in her head and Reaver blood on her hands.”

“Our Soulmate,” Gamora breathes. “You dream of our Soulmate?”

Peter blinks, eyes clearing. “What?”

Gamora shakes her head and brushes his hair back from his forehead. “You need to rest.”

Peter doesn’t remember the conversation in the morning, but Gamora does. She also remembers a conversation she overheard in a bar on Persephone a few months ago - a drunken group of young Alliance operatives muttering about an impossibly won battle on a planet that wasn’t supposed to exist. 

She spends the next two days on the Cortex, then sets course for Persephone, ignoring Peter’s half-hearted protests and mutterings about mutiny, and sets up a meeting with a low-level middleman she’s used in the past.

Badger doesn’t hide his surprise, or nervousness, at seeing her well. “Gamora, what a pleasant surprise.”

She raises a brow imperiously.

“Right, never were one for small talk. What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for a ship.”

“Heard tell you had one of those.”

She glares.

He gulps. “Specific ship, then, eh?”

“Firefly class. Called Serenity.”

Badger goes very still.

Gamora’s lips curl. “You know it.”

“I might,” he answers slowly.

Gamora rolls her eyes. “Got a Cortex link?”

“Look, they’re not the sort of people you cross. Learned that the hard way.”

“And I am?”

Badger flinches.

 

Mal frowns at the comm screen. “Who the hell are you and how’d you get this link?”

The green-skinned woman on the other end keeps her expression neutral. “My name is Gamora, and I think you may have something of mine.”

 

Mal doesn’t protest when River puts them down on a Rim planet so tiny he’s not even sure it has a name. Zoe frowns curiously at him, used to at least a token protest when the girl follows one of her whims, but Mal brought them to this corner of the ‘verse for a reason. He wouldn't agree to outright meet up with the woman claiming to be one of the girl's Mates, but if they happened to be in the same area and River managed to bump into them, well, what could the harm be in that?

His plan did not include Reavers, but the monsters don’t seem to phase River. The girl - woman, he reminds himself - simply grabs her blades and dances into the fight.

 

After Miranda, River accepts that she will never be normal. She follows the pull in her head to some remote Rim planet, sets the ship down, and lets herself get lost in the dance. Something in her settles in the fight - in the violence and the blood.

Then a man, human by looks, but more and other hums under his skin, enters the fight alongside her, blaster in each hand. He is all gold and red, sun and blood, with a barely contained storm buzzing through his veins. His style is sloppy and loose and blunt, but, like River, he dances. And he sings.

He meets her eyes when she spins around him, and winks. Then continues bobbing his head to the music in his ears and opens his mouth. "If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain, If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain, If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape, I'm the love that you've looked for, write to me and escape."

Despite knowing it was coming, River's world tilts. Then he smiles at her again and it rights. She spins out, kicks a Reaver away from him, then spins back and holds out her hand, and focuses hard on the tense of the words before she speaks. "May I have this dance?"

His smile grows impossibly wider. He takes her hand, kisses the back of it, then spins her under his arm toward the nearest gaggle of Reavers.

When the last Reaver falls, she comes back down from the adrenaline high slowly, planting her feet on the ground and sending her gaze in the direction of the pull in her head.

Looking at the man, her Mate, he still looks human, but she can feel everything else sparking beneath his skin. Thought he was one thing, then learned he was another. Torn apart at the seams and stitched himself back together. 

The woman standing next to him is an alluring combination of green skin and dark red hair. She is a warrior, a weapon. Once a girl, but remade - reforged - into something for someone else to use. Like River.

She shouldn't be nervous - she's already exchanged Words with him, but despite that…

In the end, she doesn’t have to decide if she can make herself approach them. They come to her - right into the midst of the carnage. She tucks her blades lovingly into the holsters Jayne helped her make after Miranda, and turns to face them. 

They’re holding hands, and each offers their free hand to her. She takes them without hesitation.

The woman tilts her head. "What did he say to you?"

River giggles at the blunt question, at the appropriateness to the balance of their future, already knowing that he will be the soft, sappy bits in between everything else. He will be what keeps them together, so it's only right he brings them together. "He sings songs of an old world, makes them dear to a new one."

"River?" Simon calls hesitantly.

She tenses. She is not scared, but she does not want to disappoint him. 

Her Mates release each other's hands, but hold onto hers, stepping to either side, facing her brother as a solid unit. It anchors her in a way she didn't think her mind would ever allow again. She smiles. "It's alright, Simon. I'm alright. They're mine."