...And the angels, having finished their work in this world, went beyond to another, leaving only the stone circle to mark their passing. Someday, so the legend goes, when mankind has the knowledge and the goodness, the circle will open again, and man will step through to the land of the angels.

No, River, I don't know where that land is. Mortals aren't meant to just yet. Well, I suppose we'll be shown the way when the time is right. Yes, possibly by angels -- from the skies, or from among us. Why yes, Kaylee, I do believe there are angels among us. In fact, I believe I'm talking to two of them right now.

No, of course I don't think you're literally an angel, River. I saw what you did to your brother this morning, and you should apologize. But I was making you a compliment, and perhaps speaking a bit of truth. We talked about metaphors and symbols, remember? No, not the metaphor that's a book, a different metaphor. No, River, that's not.... Why don't you girls come keep me company while I make dinner? No, River, we're not having angels for dinner. No, I don't know what they would taste like. Yes, you may have an apple, if you share with Kaylee. And you might want to leave Simon's food alone this time.

Kaylee twirled her parasol for the fun of seeing the sun through the bright paper, and rubbed her belly absently. The baby kicked hard against her hand, startling a squeak out of her, and Jayne appeared at her shoulder instantly.

"You all right? You doing the labor thing? You need me to get the doc?"

"It's all shiny, silly," she soothed Jayne with a smile and an affectionate roll of her eyes. Seemed every man on the ship (and Zoe, come to think on it) was thrown just a little sideways by "little Kaylee" being all pregnant, like it wasn't the most natural thing in the 'verse. But it was kinda sweet to have Jayne hovering all the time and pretending he wasn't, and the Captain making sure she wasn't doing anything too rough in the engine room, and Simon looking at her like she was a queen and an angel and a miracle all rolled into one. "Just the baby kicking again, wanting his momma's attention. Ain't that right, baby?"

Jayne looked suspiciously at her belly, like he'd watch a bomb he wasn't sure if it was gonna go off or not, but went back to cleaning Vera inside the shade of the hold. Kaylee waved cheerfully at a group passing by, making sure to draw their eyes to the screen beside her declaring Three Hills and 'Space Available for Passengers'. One of the women smiled back, but they went on their way without so much as pausing. Kaylee settled back in her chair with a sigh, putting her feet up on the old ammo crate before Zoe could come along and remind her.

A couple hours later, the baby had settled into a real good rhythm of kicking, which she was sure he was enjoying, but was hard on his momma's tummy, and her spirits. "Don't know that we'll have anyone in the passenger quarters this run," she commented to Jayne, who grunted.

"Fine by me. I'm just as happy not having a bunch of strangers around."

"Oh, I don't know, it's been a little quiet lately. We could do with a few new faces, and some new stories. And it's not like a little extra coin would be bad to have." A little knot of five people clinging to the edge of the docking area caught her attention; they looked to be debating something real serious, with occasional gestures towards the ships. Three men and two women, all of them real good-looking, but also kinda tired and beat-up. Their clothes, matching olive green uniforms that didn't look like anything Kaylee had ever seen before, were wrinkled and torn, and most of them looked like they hadn't seen sleep in a week.

Kaylee waved to them. "Are you looking for a ship?" she called out. "'Cause Serenity here can take care of you better than anything else in dock."

They had another quick little conference, then three of them made their way over. "We're trying to get to a place called, ah, Tiān Shĭ. " It was the man with the lighter hair and the glasses talking; Kaylee thought they made him look real cute. "But none of the ships in dock seem to have that listed as their destination."

Kaylee pulled a bit of a face. "Well, ain't much there, is the reason. Mostly farmers on the bits they've got terraformed, but it just didn't take real well. Still," she thought fast, "Captain hasn't lined up anything for us once we leave Three Hills, and Tiān Shĭ's not so very far out of the way from there, if you don't mind stopping over for a bit."

The dark-haired woman with the ponytails spoke before the man with glasses could. "And would there be a discount for a non-direct trip?" she asked with a challenging smile.

But Kaylee had learned negotiating at her momma's knee. "We'd be making a special trip to Tiān Shĭ for you, unless we can find cargo on Three Hills, so don't know as the captain would be offering discounts. Still, we've got passenger quarters that are clean and comfortable, we'll serve you good food, and you'll be safe as if you were in your momma's arms the whole trip." She quoted them a fair price (subject to the Captain's approval, of course) and smiled encouragingly. Which she had to, because Jayne was standing in the hatch behind her, looking all cranky and dangerous. "Don't mind Jayne, he's here to keep us safe, and he does that real good."

The woman looked like she might be inclined to keep the negotiations going -- just for the fun of it, Kaylee thought, cheerfully ready to take her on -- but another man, with slightly darker hair and harder eyes, who'd been eyeing Jayne in pretty much the same way Jayne had been eying them, overrode the woman that time. "That sounds like we have a deal, Miz--?"

"Mrs. Kaylee Tam." Even after the best part of a year, the words still sounded so good that Kaylee couldn't help but almost sing them out. And she could, now; it'd been 11 months since the last warrant had disappeared from the Cortex. "My husband Simon's the doctor on Serenity, and my sister River'll be your pilot."

"You have a doctor?" the man with glasses asked, glancing behind him at the second woman, a pretty blonde being guarded by the biggest, darkest man Kaylee had ever seen. For the first time, she saw the sloppy, blood-stained bandage on the woman's lower calf.

Kaylee's eyes went wide. "We sure do have a doctor, best in the black. And Jayne's gonna go run and fetch him right now."

"Jayne's not doing no such thing," Jayne objected immediately. "I ain't leaving you here with strangers. Mal'd have my head and my percentage, and I ain't giving up either of them."

"And there's no one blaming you for that, Jayne." Zoe appeared in the cargo hatch and calmly assessed the small group. "Why don't you help get our passengers settled on some chairs, Kaylee, and I'll go find the captain and that husband of yours." It had been months before Zoe had been able to say the word husband; Kaylee was real glad to see that it didn't seem to hurt her so much now.

"We'd be very grateful," the man with the glasses said, and poked the dark-haired woman in the side before she could say anything.

Kaylee grinned broadly, and levered herself out of her chair. Jayne started to come closer to help, but the second man beat him there, handing her to her feet with the same chivalrous strength the captain used. "Welcome to Serenity," she told him, with a cheerful pat of thanks on his broad shoulder. "We're real glad to have you aboard."

I just don't see how any system like this could have evolved naturally. One huge blue sun, two smaller suns, all these moons and planets with terraforming capabilities... as far as I can tell, the only large bodies in this system that don't have the potential to support life are gas giants, and they all have five or six moons that do. Even a blue supergiant could never have naturally captured all of these bodies, much less settled them in orbits that somehow never seem to collide. I think someone must have built this entire system -- chosen a big enough sun far enough away from... well, everything, then somehow moved planets and moons into orbit around them.

No, I can't think of anyone beside the Ancients who could have the technology -- even the Asgard have never given any indications they'd work on this level.

I have no idea, but I'd love to get a look at Serenity's engines, and see if their propulsion techniques are closer to ours or to the Goa'uld or Asgard technology. Some of the nanotechnology is amazing, like those paper computers, but this ship doesn't look nearly as advanced. Maybe if I can see how they work, we'll have an idea where their development began. Thanks, Vala, but I was actually just going to ask for a tour. Yes, I know, we still need to find a way to power the gate if we find it; maybe Mrs. Tam can help with that.

There was only so long Cam could watch two people lift weights, even if the expression on Jayne's face as he struggled to outlift Teal'c, who was doing his best 'blandly oblivious' routine, was pretty close to priceless. But it wasn't like he had a lot else to do on this ship; Ba'al had taken all their weapons, and the two zats they'd stolen on the way out didn't need any maintenance. He'd scribbled down something resembling an after action report in the first two days of the trip; he'd done enough push-ups and sit-ups that he couldn't face doing any more; and he'd let Jackson excitedly bounce ideas about this crazy-ass system off him for way more hours than anyone short of Sam had the patience to listen. Cam didn't even have a laptop to play Minesweeper or Boomshine.

But just sitting in one place sucked, so he finally got up and wandered back towards the passenger lounge, stopping at the hatch to peer inside. Sure enough, Jackson was in there with Inara, the 'Companion', whatever that was. (Actually Cam had a pretty good idea what that was, but Inara was too graceful and classy for any of the other words that came to mind to apply, so he was real careful not to even think them.) She and Jackson were having some kind of involved discussion that would hopefully keep Jackson out of trouble for a while, but could conceivably get them into trouble if Jackson forgot and said the wrong thing. Cam figured he'd deal with that when it happened.

Vala was reclined bonelessly on the couch next to Inara, occasionally interjecting a comment that made Jackson's eyes roll or just close in pain. Which was better than last night at the dinner table, when she'd abandoned her half-hearted attempts at seduction with Captain Reynolds and Jayne, and started flirting with Inara. Not that that hadn't been loads of fun to watch, especially once Inara started giving as good as she got; Jackson and Reynolds had been damn distracted for the rest of the meal, and Cam admitted to a few small, private fantasies himself. But still -- trouble.

"Can I help you with something?"

Cam jumped a little; Zoe Washburne, the first mate, walked quieter than anyone he'd ever met short of Teal'c. "Ah, no, ma'am; just checking up on my team. Would you happen to know where Dr. Carter got herself off to?" It had seemed like a good idea not to use anyone's ranks, which tended to get questions asked and, worse, local officials involved. Even Jackson and Carter's titles were pushing it as far as Cam was concerned, but he was hoping the added respect would pay off.

Zoe's lips quirked in something that was pretty close to a smile, for her. Nice lady, in a dangerous kind of way -- and god, she was gorgeous -- but she didn't give much away. "Last saw her in the engine room with Kaylee."

"Of course you did." As if they'd been able to drag Sam out of there for anything except eating and sleeping. And then only because pretty much the entire crew seemed to be focused on pampering the hell out of their hugely pregnant engineer, and Sam wasn't allowed to be near the engines alone, captain's orders.

Zoe considered him with a slight tilt of her head. "She's a big help, your Dr. Carter. It's been a chore finding time and hands to help Kaylee out, now she can't get under the engines herself."

"Well, I'm sure Sam's happy to help," Cam replied in possibly the biggest understatement of his life. "Although I'm not sure your captain would agree with your assessment." In fact, it had taken some damned impressive puppy dog eyes from the young engineer, and a close equivalent from Sam, to get Reynolds to agree and he still hadn't looked real happy about it. But both of the ladies kept appearing at meals up their eyebrows in grease, chattering away about catalytic converters and grav boots, so the captain seemed to have resigned himself.

Zoe quirked an eyebrow, but declined to comment on her captain, which Cam respected. "If you're not busy," she said instead, with a sideways look that wasn't quite pointed, "you could help out by watching River for a spell."

"Watching River? Does your pilot always need a baby sitter, Ms Washburne? And should this bother me at all?"

Another almost smile. "Our River is a fine pilot, but she's a mite worrisome left to her own devices in the kitchen. And she's on dinner duty tonight."

"Oh." Well, yeah, Cam didn't much like to leave Jackson alone around flames and sharp objects either. The man was brilliant, no question, and could create masterpieces over an open campfire. But safe at home, he'd get distracted and almost burn down the kitchen. Twice. "Sure, not a problem. Babysitters R Us."

"We appreciate it." Zoe led him back to the dining area, and addressed the barefoot, pigtailed young woman doing... something mysterious and a little unsettling with the generic protein these people seemed to live on. "River, Mr. Mitchell here's going to help with dinner. Captain's up front, shout if you need anything." Cam wasn't sure who that last comment was directed at, and Zoe disappeared before he could decide whether to ask.

River studied him with a cool, penetrating stare that Cam did his best to return. "Long way from home," she said suddenly, as if continuing a conversation. "Longer way to go to get there. Twisting and turning between the stars." Cam blinked, not sure how to answer that. The girl kept staring, then suddenly smiled a bright, normal grin. "Sorry, but you're very loud. We're having meatloaf. You can peel potatoes."

"...Yes, ma'am," seemed to be the only safe thing to say.

Now, the drop should go just fine. We've done enough business with Newton in the past that he knows he can trust us to do the job. River, that don't mean I don't want you to sing out if anything's about to go to hell. Jayne, Zoe, you'll come out with me, same as always; Kaylee, you keep yourself in the shuttle with Inara until we lift again, and I don't want to hear any fussing this time, dong ma? Yes, I know being pregnant doesn't make you helpless, but it does make me pretty gorram nervous, so how about you be kind to your old captain's nerves. Doc, if you could keep our passengers in the lounge and out of the way for a spell, that'd be a help.

No, I'm not thinking they'll cause trouble, although I'm not as enamored of them as some of you are -- was I looking at you, Zoe? No, I was not. Thank you. I'm still not over the moon about having folk as look like they just walked out of a war on my boat, but they've been helpful and their coin is welcome and I am happy to admit both of those things. Which don't mean the two pieces of our business need to be getting to know each other.

All right, then. River, you go on and get us dirtside; we'll finish this and be on our way.

Things were all going too smooth; had been for a while. Zoe knew well enough that whenever things went too smooth, it was time for the niu shi to hit the fan. It was partly her own fault, she admitted, firing her shotgun at the thug coming up on the captain's blind side. She'd allowed herself to get just the littlest bit distracted by their passengers, one in particular -- Mr. Cameron Mitchell wasn't anything like Wash, except for the core of strength and gentleness she could see in him, and the humor that reminded her of her husband. It wasn't much more than passing thoughts, not when she still missed Wash almost every minute, but they had taken just that little bit of her attention that should have been on keeping these wangbadan from attacking her crew and their client.

"Zoe!" At Jayne's yell, Zoe spun just in time to slam the butt of her shotgun into the skull of the man sneaking up behind her. He dropped hard, but there were two more behind him, and six more still in the fight. The captain and Jayne were fighting hand to hand, too close in for guns to be of much use. Newton and his two gunhands were giving a good account of themselves, but the only escape to be found was Serenity, better than 600 meters away. And as that was what the chŭndan xiăotōu currently attacking them appeared to be intent on stealing, wasn't a real good idea to open up any doors to retreat, even if they could manage to get there without being filled with holes.

Whatever happened, at least Kaylee, the baby and the passengers would be safe -- if River would just lift the gorram ship, which she showed no signs of doing as of yet.

"Why the ruttin' hell are they still here?" Mal yelled, as he got an opening and shot one of his attackers.

"Don't... rightly know, sir." Zoe managed to avoid a punch to the face, and returned it in kind. Her opponent staggered, but didn't go down; if anything, he just looked more determined. "Could be River's got a plan."

"Oh, that idea just fills me with peace and happiness, it does." Mal danced out of the way of a few blows, but couldn't land anything in return.

Jayne kicked someone in the groin and moved on to the next two. "You know what I think?"

Mercifully, his thoughts were left to the imagination, as the distinct thunks of a shuttle detaching from Serenity drowned his voice out. A moment later, the shuttle came screaming overhead, almost drowning out the captain's cursing as everyone dropped to the ground in order to keep their heads from being taken clean off. The shuttle turned on a dime and came screaming back to hover over the fracus. The guo cao de de liúmáng started shooting up at the shuttle, bullets banging off her belly and ricocheting back down; Zoe rolled away just in time to avoid taking a round through the leg.

The hatch opened, and someone started returning fire from inside the shuttle; Zoe couldn't rightly see who from her angle. Odds were good one was River, given that four shots took out three bandits, but then, who was flying the shuttle? If it was Inara, captain would be fit to be tied.

"Cease fire!" the big man who seemed to be in charge of the bandits screamed, and Zoe saw with a cold thrill in her stomach that he'd grown enough of a mind to train his gun on Mal. "Cease fire or your captain dies!"

The hail of gunfire stopped, and Zoe braced herself to take a most-likely suicidal run at the chu shie fook. A second later, two shots rang out from behind everyone; the bandit toppled forward onto Mal like a bag of garbage.

"Throw down your weapons!" Mitchell's voice rang out above the shuttle's engines as he appeared to the back of them, the man called Teal'c flanking him to his left. Both had weapons from Serenity's armory leveled. "You are more than surrounded and we will shoot each and every one of you."

The bandits showed their first signs of intelligence and surrendered.

Cleaning up took a mite less time than usual; for once, the local law had nothing but complimentary things to say about Serenity's attempts to save the lives of one of Three Hills' most upstanding citizens. The captain, on the other hand, once he'd been dug out from under the bandit's body, had a few less than complimentary things to say about River leaving Serenity to fly the shuttle and risking the lives of paying customers while doing so.

"It was our idea, Captain," Mitchell intervened, his slightly lazy voice a real contrast to the cool he'd shown under fire. "We've done this a few times before, and we did our best to keep everyone as safe as possible. But we weren't just going to sit back and watch you people get killed, and neither was Miss Tam, here. She did a real good job flying, and she was the one who warned us things were about to get ugly. Although I have no clue how she knew that."

"She's real talented that way." Mal gave in enough to hug River to his side, and plant a rough kiss on the top of her head. His hands were still shaking, Zoe noticed, but didn't point out. "You did a good job, little River, but that don't mean I want you doing it ever again, dong ma?"

"Dong ma, captain," River nodded up at him, which wasn't the same thing as agreeing, but Zoe didn't point that out, either. River would do what River would do, and there was no sense Zoe could see in fighting that.

"I surely do appreciate your help, Mr. Mitchell," Mal continued, extending his free hand. "And your people's as well. Got us out of a spot of nasty trouble which is more than we usually ask of our passengers."

The passengers in question nodded their acknowledgment (both the doctors and Miss Mal Doran had been shooting from the shuttle), and Mitchell shook the captain's hand. "It was our pleasure, Captain Reynolds."

"Of course, if you'd like to show your appreciation in a more tangible way," Miss Mal Doran purred, "I would think a small discount on our fare would be in order."

The rest of her team looked at her with varying levels of dismay and irritation, but Mal just nodded. "I was about to say that very thing. We'll be cutting your fare in half for this trip." And they were going to miss that coin, but Zoe couldn't argue. Jayne looked like he was considering doing just that, but River stepped on his foot before he could get a word out.

Mitchell and Jackson argued the point right up until they lifted, but the captain stood his ground. Mitchell even caught Zoe in the cargo bay to try getting her on his side. "You know, you asked a fair price for this trip and we've got no problems paying it, no matter what Vala tries to get away with."

"Captain's made his decision," Zoe told him firmly. "Be mighty uncivil to throw his thanks back in his face, to my way of thinking."

Mitchell crossed his arms and took a deep breath, then abruptly dropped his head, letting his breath back out in defeat. "You are the most stubbornly proud people I have ever met in my life." It didn't sound entirely like a compliment, but it wasn't much of an insult either.

"Yes, sir, we are." Zoe smiled at him, almost wishing he would be staying around for a while. "Food'll be ready in a few minutes. We'll want to get there in time for our share, or Jayne'll eat it all."

"Well, we can't have that." Mr. Mitchell sighed then, like a gentleman, offered her his arm and began escorting her to the dining area. "By the way, Miz Washburne, anyone I've been in a firefight with? Can call me Cam."

"Zoe, then." Yes, just a little while might have been nice -- but then again, maybe not. Hard to tell, these days. Zoe would take what time she had, and be grateful for it.

From the stories Inara and Kaylee have told me about Earth-That-Was... no, Sam and I haven't found any evidence we went through a quantum mirror; we have to assume we didn't, and focus on getting home across space instead of dimensions. Well, yes, that is usually easier. Sarcasm doesn't help, Vala. At any rate, their Earth-That-Was doesn't have to correspond to our Earth; ask nine out of ten civilizations what they call their world, and it will translate back to the rough equivalent of 'terra' or Earth. Earth-That-Was apparently was 'used up' 500 years ago. My theory is that Earth-That-Was was a staging ground, a place for the Ancients to 'store', if you will, the humans they intended to transplant to this system. A job that big couldn't have been done overnight, and wasn't, given the terraforming still in progress. If they miscalculated, if their human colony used up resources too quickly over the course of, say, 10,000 years, they would have to have been moved early. Refugees from Pegasus maybe, or from the Goa'uld possession of Earth. Possibly even a mix.

Yes, that might explain why they all curse like your Chinese delivery guy, Mitchell. An ethnic mix taken from Earth some time after the initial seeding would have carried their culture with them, but developed along different lines. And if they were placed here for safety, with planets deliberately set in range of each other, then there would be no reason to hook them up to the gate network. They really are very well hidden; if the teltak hadn't crashed here after we escaped Ba'al's ship, we might never have found this system at all.

Well, the Ancients might have left a gate here so they could... come back and check on things. Which, I know, isn't a very Ancient thing to do, but maybe this world was created by someone like Morgan or Merlin, who were genuinely attached to the people they were saving. Or maybe they wanted to give the refugees a chance to rejoin the galaxy when their technology advanced enough to allow them to defend themselves. Regardless, once we land on Tiān Shĭ, we'll be able to see for ourselves if their legendary big stone ring is a gate or not. Yes, we're all grateful to you for getting us the money for our passage, but we do have enough now, so please don't pick any more pockets. Because it's not necessary. I don't care if it's fun....

Serenity made landfall on Tiān Shĭ, four days after the fight on Three Hills. Captain Reynolds had even managed to find a small cargo, which made Cam feel better about the cut in their fares. It made Sam feel better too, she admitted; Serenity was a happy ship with a good crew, but it was obviously that crew needed every bit of money they could get their hands on.

Captain Reynolds did them the favor of landing at a small outpost near the stone ring they were looking for -- it was the colony's major tourist attraction, which, for Tiān Shĭ, apparently meant three or four people a month came to look at it. They didn't tell Serenity's crew what they were here for, of course, just that they had business in the colony.

Kaylee had helped Sam cobble together a decent generator with parts from Three Hills without asking too many questions, although it had obviously taking great strength of will. In fact, everyone on Serenity had made a point of not asking any questions (except River, who also didn't ask any questions, but did so in a way that suggested it was because she already knew all the answers. River was sweet, but a little disconcerting).

Leaving the ship was harder than Sam had anticipated. Kaylee started sniffling while she was hugging Teal'c (who allowed it with grace, and slight bemusement apparent only to those who could read his eyebrows), and progressed to flat-out crying as she hugged Vala and Sam. Her husband Simon finally drew her away with a white handkerchief, assurances that she'd be fine, it was just hormones, and a sincere 'good luck.'

The others managed to stay a bit more dignified. Inara gifted them with cheek kisses that were more elegant than Sam could ever hope to equal, yet still warm; Captain Reynolds delivered a round of firm handshakes that Zoe echoed, although the reserved first mate kissed Cam's cheek in a way that had Cam blinking slightly when she pulled away. Everyone else pretended not to notice, despite a few grins that were hastily smothered under Zoe's cool stare.

Sam also didn't think she was supposed to notice when Vala (with a whisper of "For the baby.") slipped the pouch holding the rest of their money to Kaylee, so she didn't. But she would remember to tell Daniel about it later.

And finally they were off, dividing the parts of the generator up between them for the walk through the town (and away from Serenity), and around to the gate. "Oh, man, what I wouldn't give for a nice, light naquadah generator right now," Cam groaned halfway.

"That's not what you said that time we had to carry one up five levels of ladders," Daniel pointed out.

"Well, I didn't know then that it could get worse!"

"Sorry, guys," Sam panted under her own load. Simon had done a wonderful job on her wounded calf, but it still wasn't quite up to this. "I'll be happy if this is enough... to open a wormhole; I didn't have time to make it any lighter."

"We are well able to handle the load, Colonel Carter," Teal'c said, striding along under twice what the rest of them were carrying without looking like he was feeling any strain, which had to be a complete lie. "I am sure this device will be sufficient to operate the stargate."

"Absolutely," Vala agreed; she was panting too, which made Sam feel better. "And if it's not, we can sell the parts... buy a ship, and turn space pirate. I'm sure Captain Reynolds... would share some tips."

"You... got that... impression too, huh?"

Vala grinned and hitched her backpack higher. "All of those nooks and crannies? Those don't... happen by accident." She adjusted her pack again. "I don't think they're very good at it, though, or their ship would look much better."

"Well, I don't think any ship with Kaylee and... Inara on it could do anything too bad," Sam thought out loud. "So I'm sure they're... very nice space pirates."

Cam started laughing, which set Daniel and Vala off, which at least made the rest of the walk to the gate seem a little faster.

And it was a gate. They saw it as they came over the rise, the most beautiful thing in the entire universe at that moment. No DHD, but they'd been expecting that, and there was just enough daylight left to assemble the jury-rigger generator. Sam and Vala hooked up the connections, and turned on the power; nothing exploded, the readings looked good, and Sam sighed in relief. Then Cam and Teal'c manually dialed the address for Earth.

As the seventh chevron locked into place, the generator whirred and groaned for a long moment -- then the wormhole splashed into life.

Vala whooped and flung herself into Daniel's arms. Cam held Teal'c's hand up so he could slap him a high five. Sam grinned so widely her face almost burst open. "Time to go home, guys; I don't know how much longer the gate will stay open."

"Right, right." Daniel disentangled himself from Vala and dialed their code, using the jury-rigged GDO Sam had cobbled together with Kaylee's help (she really was going to miss Kaylee). The acknowledgment came back in seconds. "We're good to go!"

Vala jumped through gleefully, Cam and Daniel only a few steps back. Sam lingered behind Teal'c, looking up at the stars beginning to glint in the night sky. Such an amazing little system, and she had to leave it before answering any of her millions of questions. Maybe someday, after the Ori, they'd come back -- to this place, and to all the others they'd left behind. Maybe....

She started towards the gate, and heard a gasp behind her. She turned with her foot on the threshold, and saw Kaylee and River at the edge of the clearing, Kaylee's eyes wide and one hand spread over her stomach. River swung Kaylee's other hand between them, her smile gleeful, but unsurprised.

"Don't get lost on the way," River called over the humming of the gate.

Sam smiled back tentatively. "We won't."

"Yes, you will," River said, with utter assurance, "but you'll find your way back. We'll leave a light on." Sam looked at her in confusion, until River, still smiling, pointed at the ominously shaking generator. "Lights are about to go out here; better hurry. We'll take it down when you're done."

"Right. Thanks -- for everything. Take care."

And as she waved at the girls and ducked through the gate to home, she swore she heard Kaylee call after her, "Bye, angels!"

...And when the angels finished their work, saving Serenity and her crew, Serenity paid them back by taking them to Tiān Shĭ, taking them to where they needed to be to go home. And they went to the big stone circle and when they touched it, it lit up like the surface of a star, all blue and glowing and wonderful. And the angels walked into the light and went back to their world -- but they left the circle behind, so that someday, they could come back, or maybe we could go join them. And so that we could look at the circle and remember them, until they do, or we do.

You remember that, baby Derrial, okay? Cause you're a little angel yourself, so you should know about the stone circle and the angels. Maybe someday, you'll be the one goes through the stone circle and finds a whole new world, and maybe those angels, they'll be there waiting for you.

Waiting for Serenity.



Written for Multiverse 2007. Thanks to Bruce and Kiki for the beta.