Once upon a time, on a colony far, far away, there lived a kind governor and his wife. They despised the iron-booted Alliance that held sway over everything. They tried their best to protect the people under their rule from the arbitrary injustice inflicted upon them, and were more successful than most.

The people loved and respected them, electing them again and again in real elections, not the puppet ones organized by the Alliance. Then the governor and his wife were blessed with the birth of a daughter. She was perfect in every way, right down to the heart-shaped birthmark on her back. So sweet in nature that a tear never fell from her dark eyes and never a cry was raised, either in anger or frustration, as is the wont of all babies.

Then the colony was attacked by raiders, probably funded by the Alliance though that was never proven. During the battle, the daughter was lost or taken from them breaking the heart of the kind governor and his wife. Though devastated by the loss, they vowed to remain strong and keep their world as a haven for those who needed it from the Alliance.

32 Years Later…

"Gorram son of a gorram ta mah duh!" Zoe swore, ducking the punch aimed a little too accurately.

She jumped back, but the wall got in her way and she stumbled, falling. Rolling to avoid a boot coming fast at her head, Zoe pushed off the tile in a savage leap that landed her directly on one of her opponents. They crashed to the floor and she grabbed his head between her hands, slamming it a couple of times until he stopped moving.

Taking a quick breather, she saw that Mal and Jayne were surrounded, but holding their own. Wash was sitting on the bar counter, a hand pressed to a bleeding temple and plainly out of the fight. Thankfully, none of their opponents seemed inclined to try and drag him back in or she'd have to kill whoever tried.

Simon and Kaylee were backed into a corner, but the girl was keeping the two thugs at bag with a wicked looking fire poker. Simon looked a bit lost, but managed a punch now and again when one of their foes stepped too close. Zoe grinned fiercely and dove back into the fray, tackling one of the men who had Kaylee and Simon on the defense. The larger one, of course.

Then sirens were howling through the air and some kind of netting was dispensed, sending them all to the floor. Zoe snarled in fury and struggled against the trap, but it was no use. The net was made from some kind of metal and there wasn't anything that would cut through it. Well, not that she had on her, anyhow. Looking up at the uniforms entering the bar, she sighed to herself and vowed that next year on Unity Day, they were not going to let Mal talk them into going to a bar.

Again.

An older man, probably in his mid-fifties, with a receding silver hairline and a slight paunch, looked at the havoc and sighed. There were bodies everywhere, some conscious, but most not. The Serenity crew had outdone themselves, that was Zoe's thought. A feeling of pride ran through her so that she was grinning when the officer's eyes fell upon her. The grin faded when his mouth gaped open and he just stared at her.

Irritated, she demanded, "What're you looking at?"

"Zoe, leave off the insults a bit, would you?" Mal called from across the room.

Right. Freedom first, insults after. "Sorry, sir."

"That's all right. Hey, you the guy in charge?" Mal asked.

The officer pulled himself together, though he continued to glance back at Zoe, and went over to Mal. "I am. And you, sir, have done an astounding amount of damage in such a short time. The alarm only came in ten minutes ago."

Mal shrugged. "They started it."

Amusement flickered across the man's face as he said, "And you finished it, as I can see."

"We tend to do that," Mal agreed. "Any chance you can let us up? This thing's kind of heavy."

"Are you going to get violent again?"

"Oh no. We're done for the day."

Clearing his throat from what sounded suspiciously like a laugh, the man made a hand-signal and the netting was pulled off.

Zoe got to her feet and crossed over to Wash, helping him down from the counter and looking critically at his wound. She kissed the skin beneath it and said, "You'll live."

"Really? Cause it hurts a lot. You might have to do a little more than just kiss me to make it feel better," Wash replied, eyes twinkling.

Snorting, Zoe said, "Not now, honey, I'm busy. Go help Simon."

Wash nodded and she swatted him on the backside as he turned to go. "Hey!"

"Just checking your reflexes," she teased with a grin.

"Uh huh."

Snickering to herself, Zoe joined Mal who was in mid-conversation with the officer. The older man nodded to her and she nodded back, wondering uneasily why he kept staring at her.

"So really, it wasn't our fault. We were just defending ourselves," Mal finished.

There was definitely an amused smile on the officer's face as he replied, "I see. And you'll be willing to pay for the damages?"

"All of it?" Mal exclaimed.

"Well, since you weren't the only ones involved, we'll find some way to divvy up the responsibility," the older man said. "In the meantime, I do need to ask you to stay planet-side until this matter is cleared up."

Mal nodded agreeably. "Sure thing. Is if okay if most of the crew goes back, though?"

"As long as you and your first officer stick around, I don't see why not."

There was something entirely too casual about that statement. Zoe stiffened slightly, but didn't otherwise react.

Mal picked up on it though, as he always did, and said, "She's got to return to the ship to keep the others in line while I'm not there. Is that a problem?"

The man looked at her a heartbeat too long, then shook his head. "Of course not, I understand completely. You'll personally have to be bonded until the damages are taken care of, though."

Shrugging, Mal replied, "I figured. Being strangers, you wouldn't just take my word that I wasn't going to duck out without paying."

"Exactly. Thank you so much for your understanding, Captain."

"Not a problem, Officer…?"

"Commander Coren Siikes.

* * * *

Waiting impatiently, Coren demanded, "Do you have the footage yet?"

His assistant, Jara, grinned and touched the monitor. "She's just like her mother."

Coren arched an eyebrow at the young woman then settled in to watch the bar fight and had to agree with the assessment. Long hair pulled back into a utilitarian braid, strong but feminine, Zoe was a sight to see. She was swift and efficient, breaking heads with a savage glee at odds with her professional assessment of who to put down next.

Hitting the stop button, he said, "Forward this to Hiri. She'll want to see this."

Still grinning, Jara nodded and asked, "What're the odds that the long-lost daughter would show up in a bar fight?"

"Given that her mother's idea of a good tension reliever is to bust some bones, pretty damn high," Coren answered dryly.

* * * *

Snuggling up to Wash in their nice warm bed, Zoe sighed deeply and with great content. Aside from Mal having to stick around for bond, it had been a pretty good day.

"Happy, my love?" Wash questioned, kissing the top of her head.

She nodded and agreed, "Very."

"I could make you even happier."

"Bet you couldn't."

"Oh, I bet I could."

She shouted with laughter as he flipped her over and started making obnoxious and disgustingly wet kissie noises in her ear.

* * * *

Simon sighed and asked again, "How long will we be here?"

"As long as it takes them to decide how much we owe for the fight," Mal repeated patiently.

"What if we can't pay?"

"We'll be able to pay."

"But, what if they decide they don't care about the damages and want you in jail instead?"

"Simon, relax," Mal ordered sharply. He wanted to hold the other man and assure him that it would be all right, but there was a force field in the way. Maybe next year they wouldn't keep up the tradition.

Anything that kept him from holding Simon was very bad.

* * * *

At the clicking of heels across the deck, Kaylee looked up from her spot on the floor. She was mostly hidden under a shelf of wiring, having pulled out some panels to check things out while they were on forced stand-down. A tall, dusky skinned woman in her fifties was crossing towards her, a cool, unreadable expression on her face. Frowning, Kaylee wondered if she'd ever met the woman, because she looked real familiar.

"Excuse me? I'm looking for a woman named Zoe," the stranger asked.

Wiping her hands on her pants, Kaylee got to her feet and said cheerfully, "You've come to the right place, Mrs…?"

Dark eyes smiled at her, replying, "Hiri Nayal."

Kaylee nodded and crossed to the comm where she pressed the button. "Zoe! Someone here for a visit."

"Who?"

"Hiri Nayal?"

"Never heard of her."

"She looks rich."

"Be right down."

Kaylee grinned and exchanged a wink with the woman. "Sometimes they just need the right kind of prompting."

Hiri grinned back at her and agreed, "I know exactly what you mean. I'm sorry, what's your name?"

"Oh. I'm Kaylee," Kaylee exclaimed holding out her hand. Then she realized it was still dirty and wiped it on her pants again. "Sorry, I was working when you came on."

With a nod, Hiri asked, "You're the mechanic?"

"Yep," Kaylee answered with pride.

"Aren't you a little young?"

Shrugging, Kaylee answered, "Never got in the way yet."

"Can I help you?"

They both turned towards Zoe and that's when it struck Kaylee. The woman could be Zoe a good twenty years down the line. They had the same face, except Zoe's was a little more fine-boned, the same eyes, even the same way of standing. From the shock on Hiri's face, Kaylee saw she hadn't been prepared for the resemblance and felt excitement hum through her.

"Oh my God," Hiri exclaimed softly.

Arching an eyebrow, Zoe asked, "Something wrong?"

Hiri gathered herself together and explained, "I'm here because thirty two years ago, my child was stolen from me. I believe you're her."

Pursing her lips, Zoe said, "Right. Well, sorry you came all the way down here, but I already have a set of parents, thanks."

"No wait, please, you have to be her," Hiri exclaimed.

"Why's that?"

"Have you looked in the mirror?"

"Lots of folks look alike that aren't blood."

"Do you have a birthmark on your shoulder? A heart-shaped birthmark?"

Zoe froze at the question, eyes narrowing at the older woman. "What about it?"

"My daughter had one."

"Doesn't make me her. Lots of people have birthmarks, even in the same shape."

"At least let me have a DNA test," Hiri pleaded. "At least give me that."

Shaking her head, Zoe said, "Look, I'm sorry you lost your babe, but I'm not her. I have my birth certificate and I know who my parents are. You are not my mother."

"What can it hurt, Zoe?" Kaylee chimed in. The look Zoe sent her promised death and she backed up a few paces. "Uh, sorry. Not my place to say. It's just…you look a lot alike. You even stand the same way."

Both women shifted, in exactly the same manner, and Kaylee grinned. "See?"

"Kaylee, leave."

Nodding, Kaylee left her toolbox and hurried out of the cargo hold.

* * * *

"Come again?" Mal asked, blinking to adjust to the bright sun. For a jail, the place had been pretty damn cushy. He'd gotten more rest on his cot than Simon had, the doctor having to sleep on a hard floor all night.

"We think that your first officer is the governor's daughter."

Mal nodded slowly. "That's what I thought you said. Are you nuts? Tell me that you didn't go to her about this!"

Taken aback, Coren replied, "Well yes. Hiri, the governor, is there now."

"Hwun dahn!" Mal swore. "Get us there. Now."

* * * *

When the men arrived, it was to a fight of indecent proportions. Jayne and Wash were leaning against the walls of the cargo hold, grinning and talking companionably as they watched. Kaylee, Book, and Inara watched anxiously from above. River was sitting on top of the cargo itself, something Mal made a mental note to ask her about later since climbing on weapons wasn't, generally, a good idea; even if they were packed up.

Zoe and Hiri traded blow after blow, going from hands and arms, to legs and feet with incredible speed. Flying kicks. Spinning roundhouses. Left hooks, right hooks, and a few hooks Mal had never seen before. Both women were almost savage in their intensity as they went after each other, and were bleeding from a number of places that he could see.

Glancing at Coren, he mused, "Huh. Maybe she is Zoe's mom after all. Tell you what. I'll lay even odds that Zoe can take her."

Simon slapped him upside the head.

* * * *

A few hours later, once all the new injuries had been dealt with, nothing worse than needing stitches, Zoe, Wash, Mal, Hiri and Coren sat in the cockpit. It was the only place that Mal knew of where no one would be able to listen in. He wondered briefly if he should have brought Book in on it, then dismissed the thought. The man could keep a secret like no ones business, but Zoe would never open up in front of him.

"All right then. Everyone comfortable?" Mal asked solicitously.

Wash held up a hand from his plainly uncomfortable spot on the console. "I am."

Mal shot him a dirty look. "I wasn't asking you. Zoe? I know this is a lot to take in, but from where I'm sitting, you have to concede the possibility. I've never seen anyone fight you to a standstill before."

Mutinous, Zoe replied, "It wasn't a standstill. You broke up the fight, sir."

"The point is, she's still alive and moving around pretty well. That tells me she's pretty determined that you're her girl," Mal said, gentling his voice. "I know you don't want to think bad of your parents, but you don't even know that they were the ones who took you, if this is even true. Which it probably isn't. What we probably have here is some freaky-assed coincidence of look-alike."

Arms crossed over her chest, Zoe said, "My mother bore me, Sir. She bore me, and loved me, and gave me everything I ever needed in my life. There's never been a doubt or question that she was my mother."

Keeping his voice neutral and praying that she didn't kill him, Mal pointed out, "That's because she raised you. You know only what she told you."

Zoe's jaw tightened but she didn't speak.

"I know this is a lot to ask, Zoe, but please. For my peace of mind," Hiri pleaded softly. "Just so I can cross you off the list and keep looking."

"Thirty years later and you're still looking?" Zoe asked, grudging.

Hiri nodded, swallowing painfully. "I'll never stop looking, Zoe. She's my first born, my little girl. She should have been mine to raise and love, just as your mother did for you."

After a long silence, Zoe nodded. "All right. I'll agree to the DNA test. But no what it says, you're not my mother."

Hiri nodded again and agreed, "I understand."

* * * *

Zoe and Hiri walked slowly through a beautiful, blooming garden. The stars were bright against the blackness and all three moons ranged full and heavy in the sky. They'd had a private dinner together, which had been somewhat strained at first, but slowly relaxed with the help of alcohol and neutral topics of the colony's history.

"You've done a lot here. You should be proud," Zoe said awkwardly.

Hiri smiled wistfully. "Thank you. I wish my husband had lived to see us as we are today."

"You must miss him."

"Every day."

Zoe nodded with understanding. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost Wash."

"In your line of work, that's a very real possibility, isn't it," Hiri said, more than asked.

"Not really. He stays on the ship unless he gets some damned fool notion of going on a job. It's only happened once, though, and he was pretty well cured of it," Zoe explained. "It's more likely that he'll lose me first. I'm always out front."

Snorting, Hiri said, "So I saw from the surveillance videos."

"Did good, didn't I?"

Hiri echoed her grin and replied, "I think you accounted for at least half of the hospitalizations."

"Thanks. And where'd you learn to fight, anyhow?" Zoe questioned.

From then on out, the night got a lot more comfortable between them.

* * * *

"It was awfully nice of them to put us up for the night," Simon murmured.

Mal rolled them over on the big, double bed, taking Simon with him so the other man landed on top. Framing his face, Mal's thumbs caressed over Simon's cheeks as he agreed, "That it was."

Smiling broadly, Simon pressed their lips together for a deep, slow kiss that seemed to go on forever. He got reacquainted with Mal's mouth and tongue, even cataloging the teeth for extra fun. Mal's hands massaged his head in a scalp tingling caress that had him hard and moaning. He wondered, vaguely, if he was easy, or if Mal really was just that good.

Then Mal rolled them over again and started sucking lightly at Simon's chest, licking and teasing between the two nipples at a leisurely pace. Sighing, Simon gave himself over to the loving care and was filled with such emotion as Mal paid him homage that tears slipped from his eyes.

"Here now, what's that for?" Mal whispered in concern.

Simon shook his head and answered softly, "I just love you, so much it had to overfill."

"Then let me drink it up so I can fill you with it again."

The murmur went straight to Simon's heart, as did the tiny kisses Mal pressed to his face, licking up the tears and then kissing Simon as if his heart would break if he couldn't.

Working his way down Simon's body, Mal nibbled gently and kissed open-mouthed to show his adoration of the man in his arms. He knew that with their life, things could go sour at any moment, that life was to be grabbed and savored while it could be. He also knew that he was the luckiest son of a bitch in the 'verse to have Simon as his lover and didn't ever plan on letting go.

Mal took Simon's cock into his mouth and traced his tongue over the end and into the tiny hole, along the veins in the teasing manner Simon loved so much. The salty, musky flavor and scent went right to his head and he sucked harder, wanting more. Simon began to move under him in response, undulating in a not-quite thrusting motion as he always did, afraid to choke Mal by accident.

Grinning to himself, Mal slid a finger under his lover and rubbed around the rim of Simon's hole, knowing how much it drove the other man crazy. Simon immediately moaned and gave a real thrust into Mal's mouth, touching the back of his throat. Relaxing his throat, though the rest of his body tightened in anticipation of coming, Mal went down to the root, pulling a shout of pleasure from Simon.

The hips were moving on their own now, and when Mal glanced up Simon's body, it was to the incredible sight of an arched back, an open mouth and hands clutching the sheets in agonized ecstasy. His balls tightened with heat and need and Mal moaned around the cock in his mouth.

Simon gave several gasping moans as he thrust hard down Mal's throat over and over, exclaiming, "Malcolm, Malcolm, gonna come, gotta come, oh God! Malcolm!"

The lust and need and release in Simon's voice pushed Mal over the edge, sending him into a mind-blowing orgasm, even as he drank Simon down, sucking in all the seed he could handle. When the pulses stopped, he panted, catching his breath and swallowing the last of the sticky fluid, his head resting on Simon's hip.

Simon tugged limply at Mal's hair, careful not to hurt, just convey that he wanted Mal beside him. Exhausted and completely sated, Mal crawled up Simon's body and collapsed on top of him, throwing a possessive leg over his lover. Overwhelmed by what they'd just shared, still feeling every ounce of Simon's love, he whispered raggedly, "Don't ever leave me, Simon, I couldn't ever take it."

Rubbing Mal's back in slow, soothing gestures, Simon kissed his temple and promised, "I won't."

* * * *

Wash massaged Zoe's shoulders, not surprised that it wasn't really doing anything to relieve her tension. It was mostly to keep his hands busy as they waited. Hiri had been called into an unexpected labor meeting, delaying the test results. The rest of the crew was inside, giving them privacy to get the results when Hiri did arrive.

Leaning back in his arms, Zoe took his hands and drew them around her waist, saying, "Thanks, hon."

He kissed the back of her neck. "My pleasure, Zo. And you know, if the results do say that she's your mom, just remember that you still won't know the full story. For all you know, you're parents found you after you'd been kidnapped."

"Have I told you how sweet you can be?"

"Only when I don't deserve it," Wash replied with a grin.

"You always deserve it," she countered, sighing. "I know we've been having some trouble together lately, but I appreciate everything you do for me, Wash."

He squeezed tighter for a moment, then rested his chin on her shoulder. "Thanks, Zoe. That means a lot to me."

She saw Hiri coming towards them and tensed. "She's here."

They got to their feet and waited, hand-in-hand as Hiri came closer.

"Ah, Zoe? Love of my life?"

"What?"

"You're breaking my hand."

Startled, Zoe let go. "Sorry, Wash."

"No problem. I've got another one," he assured her, just as softly. "No matter what happens here, it doesn't change who you are, Zoe. And I love who you are."

Filled with warmth, and not quite as nervous as before, Zoe faced the newcomer with an almost-smile in place. "Morning. How'd negotiations work out?"

Hiri smiled with relief and answered, "No strike, thank God. We'll have a working holiday season."

"So?" Zoe asked, unable to stand the waiting any longer.

For a long moment, Hiri just stared at her, as though trying to memorize her face. Then she smiled sadly and said, "You're not her."

Zoe sagged in relief then apologized, "I'm sorry. It's not you, Hiri, you're great. I admire you. But…"

"But you're glad you're mother didn't lie to you," Hiri finished for her.

Nodding, Zoe reached out and gripped the other woman's shoulder. "I hope you find her one day, Hiri."

"I know I will," Hiri said with certainty. "I want you to know that, if you were my daughter, I'd be proud to name you so."

Zoe smiled faintly, her tone wry as she pointed out, "Even with my current occupation?"

"Especially with your current occupation," Hiri corrected. "You stand for what you believe in and that's undermining the Alliance every chance you get. On top of that, you're an honorable woman who protects those she loves. When you talk to your mother next, tell her I said thanks for raising you into such a fine young woman. I couldn't have done better myself."

A little overwhelmed, Zoe pulled Hiri into a tight embrace. "Thank you."

After a long minute, Hiri stood back and said, "Serenity is welcome back here any time. Please come back whenever you're in the area."

Zoe's smile grew as she agreed, "We will."

* * * *

Coren joined Hiri at the viewing window of the launch area where Serenity was firing up her engines. He took one look at the sad, slightly bitter face and sighed. "You didn't tell her, did you?"

Hiri shook her head. "How could I? She would forever resent me for shattering her illusions about her parents. This way, at least I'll be able to stay in contact with her and hope that we become friends."

Putting his arm around her shoulder, Coren sighed again. "You're a very special woman, Hiri."

With a faint smile, eyes tracing the path Serenity made towards escape velocity, Hiri murmured, "Like mother, like daughter."