That Which Shapes A Man
Thursday, January 4, 2007

Jayne returns to his home world for the funeral of his beloved younger brother. The solemn occasion forces him to confront early events that have shaped his life, in an effort to understand the true meaning of family and loyalty.


Title: That Which Shapes A Man 1/13 Chapter One: A Tough Beginning Author: hisgoodgirl Characters: Jayne/crew, ofc, omc, some Jayne/Kaylee – consider it my AU if you have issues with the pairing/timing Setting: Just prior to “Those Left behind”; also, twenty-eight years previously. Warning: PG-15 this chapter, for strong language and implied violence. Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss. Just one woman’s take on the story. No money exchanged and all that.

A/N: From the first time I watched Firefly, I wondered what circumstances might have shaped the character of Jayne Cobb, an exceptionally complex man. This story emerged from the questions I asked.

Thanks to ArtemisPrime for her most excellent beta, and for making me dig deep. Sincere thanks to my dear friend Kristy Bartley, Ph.D., psychologist and therapist, who introduced me to the amazing work on intergenerational family dynamics done by Dr. Terrance Real, and gave me insights into the circumstances that might have created the character we see.

Italics represent internal dialogue, emphasis, Chinese phrases.

Questions, thoughts and comments are sincerely appreciated. Thanks!


Chapter One: A Tough Beginning

Serenity is moored at the interconnected hodgepodge of freight containers and discarded ships generally known by travelers as the Space Bazaar. A chaotic complex of shops and bars and brothels providing a wide variety of services and sundries needed out in the Black, the Bazaar is used by many ships as a regular mail stop.

With fuel cells near to empty and the ship’s larder down to powdered milk and instant protein, Captain Malcolm Reynolds has decided that restocking the Firefly can’t wait any longer. With any luck, he figures, they’ll also manage to line up another job and be on their merry way soon enough. He automatically checks the cylinder of his revolver before holstering the sidearm and slips his arm into the soft, familiar sleeve of his brown leather coat.

Behind him, Jayne, the ship’s hulking mercenary, readies a couple of hand-trucks for hauling much-needed supplies back aboard, while first mate Zoë bends to kiss her pilot husband goodbye. “No flyin’ off without me, Sweet Cakes,“ she teases Wash, grasping the front of his gaudy blue and orange shirt in her fist.

“Or me, either, Honeybunch,” Mal razzes his pilot, the corner of his mouth tucked up in irony. “’Sides, ‘til we refuel, you’ll only get a few thousand klicks out and then there ain’t no way to tow you back.”

“Just my idea of entertaining.” Wash jibes and rolls his eyes. He affectionately pats Zoë’s shapely fanny as she turns to go. “Floating around in the Black, waiting to run out of life support… yep, just wacky fun!”

Kaylee, the ship’s young mechanic, her greasy coveralls snug over a flowered knit shirt, sidles up to Mal and grins winsomely. “Aw, Cap, why can’t I go with you this time?” she wheedles. “There’s always somethin’ new to see and I might even find somethin’ pretty. Plus, I promised River I’d help her find a new dress so she don’t have to keep wearing my hand-me-downs.” The little mechanic smiles luminously and bats her eyelashes at her captain. Sometimes this works.

“Nice try, mei-mei, but you ain’t getting’ off this ship ‘til you change out that filter to the main engine compressor. Ship’s been buckin’ like a mustang with a burr up her tail and I don’t aim to head back into all that Nothin’ ‘til you’ve got ‘er cleared. So get your pretty self back in that engine room an’ start sussin’ out what’s wrong with my boat, dong ma?”

Kaylee pouts, stuffs hands in pockets.

Behind Mal, Jayne ducks his head and snickers. The woman hasn’t yet realized they are all on to how she uses her wiles for getting her needs met. No one has better cause to know that than him, not that he minds. Meetin’ her needs is the best thing that had come about in Jayne’s life for a long, long time.

* * *

Twenty-eight years before…

Bundled into the small iron bed next to his little brother, young Jayne Cobb shivers under the thin blanket that covers them. Mattie’s soft snores and those of Jayne’s younger sisters Rachel and Liza are punctuated by the shrill whistle from the refinery down the hill. Reluctantly, the lanky thirteen-year-old slips away from his brother’s warmth and tucks the rough wool closely around the frail younger boy before quickly pulling on pants, sweater and boots over his too-small and oft mended long johns.

Jayne has learned the hard way that lingering next to Mattie’s warmth earns him a cuff from his Pa’s work-hardened hand. He knows he’d best hurry to stoke up the stove so his Ma can ready his Pa’s breakfast and pack the battered galvanized pail that serves Jeddediah Cobb for a lunch box.

Quietly opening the back door, Jayne steps out into the dark. The early morning air assaults his lungs with a wet, sulfurous stink that makes him cough. Seems like almost everyone on Sunderland has some sort of respiratory problem from the pollution, and illnesses like damp lung and asthma are common. The boy goes to the pile of wood stacked back of the house and loads his arm with kindling and a few larger pieces of stove wood, then grabs the coal scuttle. His Ma will fuss for sure if he wastes fuel.

Crouched down before the stove, Jayne looks smaller than his near-six foot height, perhaps because he’s so slender, all gaunt, long bones. The past year he’s really stretched out, and his upper lip bears the faint, dark haze that foretells of whiskers to come. His belly cramps and growls loudly as he carefully arranges the fire and lights it. It seemed like of late, he’s always hungry.

He fills the old blue and white enameled kettle with water from the pump tap, and carefully places it on one of the stove’s eyes. At the latch click and faint squeak of his parents’ bedroom door, he turns his head, and his Ma emerges from the small room, a muslin cap over her hair and a faded pink robe tied over her nightdress. Behind her, his father rises from the covers and reaches for the piss-pot beneath the bed.

Trained as a master welder, Jedd Cobb might have provided comfortably for his family had an accident at the refinery not cost him the steady hand and precision that once made him a crew leader. Now relegated to doing patch work, angry and frustrated, he increasingly stifles his pain with drink and turns his frustrations on his eldest son.

With four young’uns and Jedd’s often spotty pay, Annalee Cobb struggles to feed her brood. A small, wiry woman with striking blue eyes, Annalee might once have been pretty, but hard living and fourteen years of marriage to Jedd have stolen whatever once enlivened her features.

“Mornin’, Jayne.” She lays her hand gently on his shoulder, marveling at how this firstborn child of hers has shot up in recent months. She sees the gap between pants cuff and boot top, the wrists bared by shirtsleeves too short. As she studies his still-smooth cheeks and long, dark lashes, she muses, He’ll be a handsome man one day.

Her eldest is a quiet one, watchful. He’d been a big’un from birth, over ten pounds, and the midwife wasn’t sure Annalee would ever bring him forth. Clever with his hands and sturdy, he’d always struggled with his schooling. After she’d lost the next two babies in quick succession, the whole family had welcomed Liza, loud and demanding, and Jayne became his mother’s helper.

“Can you get me an egg and some smoked fish from the cold box out back?”

Jayne nods. “Sure, Ma.”

* * *

Sunderland is one of a cluster of Rim worlds settled following the fourth wave of terraforming. The terraforming process seems to work differently each time: some worlds gradually develop breathable atmospheres and viable ecosystems; others refuse to take and remain bare, unlivable chunks of rock and ice. There are many decades of climactic and tectonic upheaval before the complex process yields an environment that can accommodate settlement. Predictably, what the Alliance defines as “habitable” covers a wide range of worlds from arid desert to cold, wet, cloud-covered hell-holes like Sunderland.

There, the terraforming liberated large amounts of hydrogen and oxygen from the moon’s crust, triggering an ongoing cycle of rain and snow that has gradually covered a large quantity of the world with ocean. The large amount of free water stabilizes Sunderland’s climate, but results in a world that spends most of its cycle wrapped in thick clouds, cold and wet.

As the sole satellite of a mid-system planet circling a large but dimming sun, the moon is ideally positioned for human habitation and initial survey parties find it to be rich in metallic ores. Such natural assets prove a powerful incentive for colonization by the resource-hungry Alliance, and a call goes out for engineers, miners, foundry workers and welders, offering a settlement bonus to entice those skilled in such work. Many of the settlers who sign on are the descendants of Welsh and English miners and steelworkers from Earth-That-Was and, within a few generations, they establish mines and refineries on all three of the small moon’s continents.

Sunderland becomes a significant producer of iron and other metals and the Great Alliance proves to be more interested in stripping the bounty from the small world than insuring the wellbeing of its residents. As a result, the pollution that is a by-product of industry takes a steady toll on the small world’s inhabitants.

* * *

“Best you hurry up now, Jayne, or you’ll all be late for school.” Annalee Cobb wraps four slices of thinly buttered bread in greased paper and tucks them into a gingham sack before adding a small packet of dry smoked fish and an onion.

“Sit still, Lizzy! You’re pullin’ yer braid loose.” Jayne struggles to corral his oldest sister’s wild mass of brunette curls into a fat plait as the girl fidgets.

“Ow! Quit pullin’ so hard!”

Jayne gives up and ties off the braid with a faded ribbon. “Sorry, Lizzy,’ he tells her as she hops down from the stool. “You’re just too gorram wiggly.”

Annalee turns sharply. “Watch your tongue, young man. Ain’t havin’ you growin’ up all foulmouthed like yer Pa.”

“Sorry, Ma,” he apologizes and she smiles in acceptance.

She holds out the sack she’s filled and ruffles little Mattie’s dark hair as he sits at the table near her. “Git the girls on to school, now.” Jayne hesitates, stuffs his hands uncertainly into his pockets, then meets his mother’s eyes. “I’ll walk ‘em down, Ma, so’s they get there safe, but I’m startin’ a job with Mister McKenny today. He’s got an openin’ for a stableboy, an’ I figured we could use the money.”

At first, Annalee’s face is stern and her voice, sharp. “You can’t be quittin’ school this soon, Jayne! Man needs an education, he wants to do more’n work in the mines or refinery.” She knows school’s been a struggle for him. He’s been held back twice because of problems with reading and writing and now he towers over the others in his grade.

Ushering Liza and Rachel out the back door, he turns back to face his mother. “I ain’t no good with schoolin’, Ma. You know that. An’ with Mattie sick, we need the money.” His steel blue eyes look down into his mother’s sapphire ones. “You know I’m right.”

Drying her hands on her apron, Annalee sighs softly, nods in agreement. Where did this tall son of hers come by his sense of responsibility, she wonders? Not from his father, that much is for sure. * * *

“Jayne!” Rachel whines. The tow-haired little girl with the twin pigtails lags well behind. “Yer walkin’ too fast!”

“’Cause my legs is a heap longer than your’n, squirt.” Jayne pauses, holds out a hand to his youngest sister. Although only a year older than Mattie, Rachel is already in second grade. She is the smartest of the four and a natural leader.

Jayne turns serious, his unsteady voice dropping in pitch. “Lizzy, you and Rachel best listen up. Thing’s around home are gonna be changin’. I ain’t a ‘gonna be goin’ to school no more. I’ll still walk ya there in the mornin’s and home again when yer done, but I’m old enough to start workin’ an’ it’ll help Ma out.”

Rachel studies her brother, clearly puzzled. “Who’s gonna hire a kid?” she asks him, rolling her eyes doubtfully.

“Ain’t no kid no more,” Jayne announces, firmly. “Mr. McKenny down at the livery hired me to help him out.” He puffs out his chest with pride. “I’m a man now, so y’all best do what I say and git yer little butts on to school ‘fore that bell rings!”

Liza’s mouth flops open and her gray eyes go wide. “I’ll tell Ma you was talkin’ dirty again!” she threatens.

Jayne just laughs. Silly girls. “An’ I’ll tell her I caught you kissin’ Pat Gunnerson behind the drygoods store. Now git!” He points to the battered schoolhouse at the bottom of the street, chuckling to himself as his sisters turn and run.

* * *

At the end of his first day of work for Mr. McKenny, Jayne is sore and stiff and plumb wore out. He’s moved bales of hay to the stable loft and unloaded a wagon full of 30-kilo bags of feed, before McKenny puts him to work cleaning stalls. When the time rolls around for him to walk his sisters home from school, he’s frankly relieved to have a reason to call it a day.

He leaves the livery stable redolent of horse manure. “Phew! You stink!” Liza pronounces, wrinkling her nose and pinching it shut with her free hand when he meets them outside the schoolhouse. “Are you always gonna smell this bad?”

“Maybe?” Jayne admits he’ll have to clean up before their Ma’ll let him in the house. Working is a lot harder than he’d bargained on, but he’s determined. When they reach home, he sends his sisters inside and begins splitting firewood, his usual after-school chore. Satisfied that he’s finally chopped and stacked enough, he walks to the pump at the end of the alley and does his best to wash off, then leaves his muddy boots by the back door. With Sunderland’s short days, it’s almost dark already.

The door bangs shut and Annalee turns from the stove where she’s been stirring the thin soup that will serve as their dinner. The kitchen smells of onions and cabbage. Jayne stands hesitantly on the doormat, his hat in his hands.

Yep, he’s gonna be a big one. She can see it already in the size of his hands and feet, the breadth of his shoulders, more like Jedd’s kin than hers. Much as she hates for him to leave school so soon, the boy is right. With Jedd’s drinking getting worse and Mattie’s poor health, they really did need the extra income.

“Best you hang them smelly clothes on the back porch, son. You can put ’em back on in the mornin’. Bein’ it’s Friday, yer Pa won’t be home ‘til late. Probably best you and the others have yer supper and git ta bed ‘fore then.”

Jayne nods in agreement. “Yes, Ma.”

They both know why.


The crash of a falling chair rips Jayne from sleep. Beside him, Mattie coughs thickly and turns over.

He hears his mother’s muffled voice through the door. “Careful, Jedd, you’ll wake the children. Let me help you to bed now.”

His father’s speech is harsh, slurred - drunk again. “Goddamnit, woman, I can manage my own self. Quit yer fussin’. I ain’t ready ta go t’ bed yet, leastwise, not ta sleep…”

Jayne slides out from under the covers, the floorboards cold under his bare feet. His eyes are wide in the darkness, his heart pounding. Shit, he thinks. Not again.

“Jedd…please…” His mother’s voice is tense with fear.

“C’mere, now, you worthless cow. Gimme a kiss…” Jayne hears fumbling and a bright crash as something glass hits the floor, then Annalee whimpers and that’s enough.

Frightened as he is, Jayne opens the door.

Jedd Cobb looks down through bloodshot eyes at his eldest child. One hand clutches at the front of Annalee’s shirtwaist. A crooked smile twisted his face as the other slowly curls into a fist.

“Howdy, boy. Up a little late, ain’t ye?”

Annalee shakes her head at the boy, her eyes flaring as she prays Jayne will back up and close the door. She can endure whatever Jedd has in mind, but she knows what will happen if her husband turns his rage on their son.

* * *

Jayne struggles out of bed, awakened by the refinery whistle that yanks him from his troubled sleep. Hissing softly between his teeth as he stands, he stiffly turns and makes sure Mattie is still well-covered. Across the dark room, Liza and Rachel are huddled close under the worn yellow quilt their Ma had made when he was born, two small bodies bundled into a single lump in the old iron bed.

Just moving is a challenge. The beating Jedd gave him the night before was no worse than most and less severe than some. The sore, bruised lad searches for his boots, then remembers that he left them on the back porch along with his soiled work clothes. He gingerly makes his way to the door and softly opens it, uncertain of what he’ll find in the room beyond.

He tiptoes across to the kitchen table and fumbles with a match to light the lamp. The remnants of the previous night reveal themselves to his swollen, blurry eyes. One of the wooden chairs that ring the family table lies overturned, and a shattered drinking glass glitters on the floor. He’ll sweep it up once the stove is warming.

He carefully rights the chair and groans softly with the pain. As he does every morning, he fills and lights the stove, the process more difficult for the battering he’s received. The beatings are getting more frequent, always after payday when Jedd goes drinking. Sometimes Annalee can distract her husband from the boy, but increasingly, young Jayne is the target of all his father’s pent-up frustration and inner rage.

What happened to the Pa he knew as a little boy? Where was the laughing man who carried him on his shoulder, who later taught him to hunt and fish? Where did that man go?

Lying curled into a huddled ball beside Jedd’s snoring form, Annalee hears the boy quietly filling the kettle and stoking the stove, and creeps from the room she shared with Jedd to check on her son. Stepping over the broken glass, she reaches up to turn his face toward the light and is dismayed as he jerks away from her.

“Don’t, Ma. It’s just a black eye. I’ll be fine in a day or two.” He studies her solemnly. “Are you alright?” He doesn’t have words for what he wants to ask her.

His mother stares at the closed bedroom door with something akin to hatred on her pale, lined face. “He’ll sleep ‘til noon, drunk as he was.” She lays her hand gently on Jayne’s arm. “When you’ve swept up the glass, why don’t you sit and I’ll make you some oatmeal and tea ‘fore ya leave for the livery.”

* * *

When Jayne arrives at McKenny’s Livery, he puts on a heavy canvas apron and goes straight to work cleaning the soiled harnesses Tom McKenny pointed out to him the afternoon before. He scrubs dried sweat and soil from the leather, kneading the fragrant saddle soap into the tack. Fast movements make him woozy, so he tries to remember to turn his head slowly. By mid-morning, his left eye throbs painfully and his back and left shoulder ache from where his father slammed him against the door jam.

“Gorram drunken sonuvabitch…” he mumbles heatedly under his breath as he soaps and polishes the supple leather. “If I had me a gun, I’d shoot him…”

“Best not go thinkin’ such things, boy.”

Jayne jumps at the unexpected voice and groans softly at the impact of his sudden movement.

“There’s strong laws ‘gainst shootin’ folk, son, and you don’t wanna spend yer youth lookin’ at the walls of a prison cell.” Tom McKenny is a ruddy, round little man with an uncanny knack with both people and horses.

The bruises that darken the boy’s face tear at him. He is a father, himself – how can a father treat his own flesh and blood this way? Jedd Cobb’s romance with the bottle is common knowledge in the community, and McKenny knew before he ever hired the boy that Jayne was the victim of his father’s rages. Shame, too. Jayne’s not a bad kid. Not much good at his schoolwork, apparently, but strong and responsible and quick to pick up anything involving physical dexterity.

McKenny pats the boy gently on the shoulder. “You jes keep up yer work an’ try not to let yer pa get to ya. I know it ain’t easy, him changin’ the way he has. You done a good job yesterday, an’ I know it’ll help yer ma out having another man in the family bringin’ in wages.”

Jayne looks up at his boss, blue eyes lighting up. A man. Yeah, that was what he wanted to be. Not some broken-down sot who beat up his kid.

Chapter one of thirteen



Friday, January 5, 2007 11:34 AM


Wow, this is fantastic. Of course, I'm biased because Jayne is my favorite, but still. :o)

I hate it when folks brush Jayne off as a dirty lumbering idiot, so it's nice to see someone realize there's a lot more to his character than that.

Friday, January 5, 2007 12:41 PM


Thanks so much for your generous comment. I completely agree with your second statement, and that's what led me to explore the merc on a deeper level.

Saturday, January 6, 2007 8:03 PM


Brilliant work here, HGG! Definitely loving how you're creating a mighty plausible and complex background for Jayne, especially how you're showing him to be someone gifted with physical skills and a sense of innate responsibility...something that's hinted at during the series and movie, but get disguised by his seemingly self-centred ways:D

However, I should point out that it's "Welsh," not "Welch." Though I am the son of a Welshman...I won't take offence. This time;)


Sunday, January 7, 2007 3:42 AM


Thanks for the kind words, BEB, and for catching the spelling blooper. (I HATE "Word's" spellchecker.) I will make the correction straightaways!

You know, behavior that seems self-centered from the perspective of our present culture might, in a more desperate setting, simply be survival-based. At any rate, that's my take...


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A late night gun cleaning session has Kaylee looking at Jayne Cobb in a new way.

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A little one-shot snippit in which Simon learns that that love can manifest in unexpected ways.

A thoughtful Jayne Cobb reflects on how his life has turned out.

Big Fella - 1/1
Jayne Cobb makes quite an impression on a “working girl” from Albion. Thought I’d post this over the weekend 'cause it’s most definitely NOT workplace safe.

Give and Take
A little scene from “Our Mrs. Reynolds” that we don’t get to see in the episode, wherein Jayne contemplates the fine art of barter.

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Jayne’s up late, cleaning his gun, and can’t help appreciating a late night visitor.

Taking Up Arms – Part 3 of 3

Jayne and Kaylee set out to establish a new life together when Mal joins the Rebellion that follows the Miranda announcement. The big man must reconsider his solemn vow to Kaylee to hang up his guns when Alliance raiders hit the rim world of Ezra.