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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Third in the short episodes following BIRTHDAY. Jayne and his shadow have a conversation ... Your comments are greatly appreciated, and sometimes acted on!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1861 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
She hadn’t come down for a meal since they’d got back from Osiris, or if she had, she’d sneaked around grabbing something when no-one was looking. Couldn’t be having that. So he waited up, playing card games. He’d gotten fed-up playing Beat the Clock, and had gone onto Patience before she slid around the door frame.
“There’s a tray over there if’n you want it,” Jayne said, not looking up.
“Hungry,” she said.
“Must be. Ain't eating much, if anything.”
Keeping her distance, almost hugging the wall, River hurried behind the counter, finding the food he’d put aside for her and eating quickly.
Jayne concentrated on the cards in front of him, only listening to the sound of her chewing, hiding between the cabinets like a wild animal. After a minute she stood up, looking at him sitting at the table, his bottle of bourbon and two mugs next to him. “Wanna play cards?” he asked, placing the red eight on the black nine.
“Don’t you want me to talk?” River gazed at him, chewing on the last piece of bread before swallowing.
“Nope. Figure everyone else has tried that, so you ain't gonna want me to do the same.” He turned over the next card, stared at it for a moment then placed it down on the small stack. “Don’t look like this one’s gonna pan out,” he added conversationally.
River moved a little closer and looked over his shoulder. “Put this pile there …” She pointed. “… and then you can start a new one with the ace.”
“Thanks. Didn’t notice that one.” He did as she suggested.
“Why are you here?”
He glanced up at her for the first time, seeing the dark shadows under her eyes, the paleness of an already pale complexion, the way her cheeks were sunken in slightly. “You getting all metaphysical on me?”
He saw her lips twitch slightly. “Have you been reading the dictionary again?” she asked.
“Nah. But can’t help but pick up a few long words living on this boat.” He picked up his mug and waved it at her. “Not sure I understand the meaning of most of ‘em, but I can use ‘em as well as the next man.” He took a mouthful of alcohol and felt it burn its way down his throat.
“You didn’t answer.”
He studied her, the loose white top that looked like she’d worn it for days, the tight black shorts, her hair hanging in greasy bangs around her face. “You’re brother’s gettin’ counselling from ‘Nara, so I figured you might just want some company.” He poured a little bourbon in the spare mug. “Here.” He held it out to her.
“Look, if you don’t want a drink, that’s fine. Just being neighbourly.” He went to pour the contents into his own mug but she had snatched it out of his fingers before he could complete the action.
“No.” She sat down carefully on the chair next to him, hugging the mug to her. “I meant why would you think I needed company.”
“Oh, I don’t figure you need anything, moonbrain. You’re too all-fire independent for that. No matter your mind is off with the fairies most of the time, but I know you can look after yourself.”
“I didn’t,” she whispered.
“No, well, on the odd occasion you can’t, that’s what you have families for.” Jayne threw the cards onto the table in disgust. “Ain't working out. Better to start again.”
“Start again,” she echoed.
“Yeah.” He collected the boards and started to shuffle. “Lay ‘em all out again, start from scratch. Easy.”
“Bit like life, I guess.” His lips curved a little. “Had me so many new starts, I kinda lost track. Last one was coming on board here, taking the job Mal offered. Though for the life of me I ain't sure why I did.”
“Bed and board.”
He laughed. “Yeah, guess it was mostly that.”
“But that wasn't the last.” She sipped the bourbon. “Ariel.”
He flushed. “That was … I was stupid.”
“Money was too good.”
“Mal coulda spaced me, was going to, I know that for a fact.” He thought back to that day, standing in the outer airlock, hearing the air whistling past the opening, knowing that, any moment, he was going to be sucked out, his blood boiling out his ears. “But he gave me a second chance. Still don’t know why.”
“Because you repented of your weakness.”
He glared at her. “Now you’re trying to sound like the Preacher.”
“I miss him,” she said softly.
“Yeah, me too, moonbrain.”
They sat for a moment, remembering Book and the odd, hopeful effect he’d had on them all.
“Lots of second chances,” River finally murmured.
“That’s what every day is.” Jayne placed the shuffled deck on the table, aligning the edges carefully. “Chance to make things right. Stop things going wrong.”
“I made things go wrong.” Her voice was so pale it sounded like a ghost.
“Guess you did.”
She stared at him. “That’s …”
“Ain't that what you wanted to hear?” He turned to look into her face. “Most womenfolk I know just want me to agree with ‘em. How come you’re different?”
“You know it weren't your fault, River.” He didn’t reach out to touch her, didn’t take her hand. “Weren't like you said to that Lon, here I am, take me, do with me what the diyu you like. Turn me back into some kinda killing machine.” He paused. “Did ya?”
“Then how can it be your fault?”
“I let him.”
“Just lay there, did ya? Agreed with everything he said? Guess you didn’t fight him?” Jayne shook his head. “I know he took something of yours, took that control you’ve been building up, brick by brick. And it’s hard. I know. Been times in my life I've lost … things, people. Ya asked me once what I was running away from. Well, that’s one. Losing … something.” He paused, pushing his own memories back where they belonged. “And control is something none of us like to give up.”
“I couldn’t stop it.”
“And you woulda, if you could.” Jayne poured the last of his bourbon down his throat. “We all know that, even Mal, and he ain't exactly the sharpest pencil in the box.”
This time a smile actually flitted across the young psychic’s face before she said, “Called me River.”
“That’s your name, ain't it?”
“Never used it before.”
“Well, ain’t likely to ever again, so don’t go getting used to it.”
“Jayne, I …” She sniffed. “Why are you being nice to me?”
“Hell, if it’s that bad, I’ll stop.”
“No, don’t.” She sniffed again. “Just wondered why.”
“I guess it’s ‘cause I missed ya, ya sha gua chun zi. Hangin’ round me, annoyin’ me. Got kinda used to you.”
She stared at him then burst into silent tears.
He gathered the weeping girl into his arms, lifting her up as if she weighed nothing, and carried her over to the easy chair in the corner. Sitting back, he held her, letting her cry until his t-shirt stuck to his skin, letting her purge herself of the pain, the emotion, not saying a word. Eventually she cried herself out, slipping into a dreamless sleep, pillowed against his chest. He could have taken her back to her room, but somehow the thought that she might wake, cold and alone, ate at him. So he just settled himself back, holding the girl to him, and closed his eyes. Just so long as he woke before anyone else came in and got entirely the wrong idea.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 4:35 AM
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