BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Coming of Age
Sunday, February 11, 2007

Maya. Post-BDM. Things can turn on a dime ... it's a long piece, but please let me know if you like/hate/rate. We're getting towards the darker stuff now.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1910    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

“Hank, got some research for you.”

“Really?” The pilot turned in his chair and looked at the captain, carrying Ethan in the sling across his chest, and managing not to look stupid doing it. “Something you don’t want Freya to know about?”

“No.” Mal tried to cross his arms but failed. He contented himself with hitching his thumbs in his pants pockets.

“Pity. Could do with being able to blackmail you once in a while.”

Mal found himself sidetracked for a moment. “To do what?” he asked.

“Oh. I don’t know. Maybe a few days break? Somewhere nice?”

“A naked beach?” Mal murmured.

“What?” Hank didn’t understand.

“Never mind.” Mal shook his head. “Look, you do what I’ve asked and I’ll take the days off thing under advisement.”

“Fine. Only you haven’t asked anything yet.” Hank grinned and nodded towards Ethan. “Is this what having a baby does to you? Makes your brain turn to mush?”

“So Freya tells me.” Mal glared down at his pilot. “I want you to check out where there might be a fair, a carnival, maybe a dance … something we can all attend.”

Hank’s eyebrows raised. “Why? And when?”

“17th of this month.”

“That’s a week away.”

“You can count.”

“Been doing that for a while now. And why would I be finding said fair or dance?”

“Because I'm captain and you work for me.”

“Well, yes,” Hank backpedalled. “But I meant more specifically.”

“Just find out, dong mah?” Mal turned to leave the bridge.

“This anything to do with River’s birthday?” Hank’s voice followed him.

“You wanna keep that to yourself,” Mal said, suddenly right at his ear.

“But that’s it?”

“Maybe.”

Hank grinned. “She’ll love it.”

“Just don’t let her find out.”

“You figure she don’t know already?”

Mal stood up. “River’s been very careful not to read anyone lately. Ain't you noticed?”

“Is that Freya’s influence?”

“Some. But I think it’s Jethro’s too.”

“Brave man.”

Mal smiled slightly. “Just don’t you tell anyone else.”

“Not even Zoe?” Hank asked, a little fretfully. “I mean, she kinda ties me down every night so I’ll tell her what I've done, said, heard …”

“Your sex life ain’t any of my concern,” Mal said, holding up a hand. “Okay. Zoe. But that’s it.”

“You got it, Cap’n.”

“And definitely not Kaylee.”

Hank scoffed. “As if I would.”

---

Kaylee scoffed. “It’s all flash.”

Serenity had landed gently next to three other ships, each newer and shinier than the Firefly.

“You think?” Hank said.

She pointed out of the bridge window. “That Humble has a Gertsler – bet their mechanic’s up all hours fixing the atmo feed. And the Vortex there? Shake you outta your lunch before you leave the system.”

Hank looked up at her. “What about the Avocet? I had my first sexual experience on an Avocet.”

“Surprised you survived,” she said, grinning at him.

“Not sure I did,” Hank admitted. “She was a lot older – the woman, I mean, not the ship. And a hell of a lot more experienced. Funnily enough, she was the mechanic too. Only she called herself the engineer.”

“Fancy title don’t mean she was any good,” Kaylee pointed out. “Only thing it’s good for is an extra five percent pay.”

“Don’t even consider asking,” Mal said, coming up behind her. “Else you’ll be going to them and begging for work.”

“Think they’d take me on?” Kaylee asked mischievously.

He put his arm around her shoulder. “One look at those big brown eyes of yours and they’d offer you twenty.”

“I don’t suppose –“

“No.”

She grinned again. “Don’t hurt to ask.” She looked into his baby blues. “So why’re we here? Got a job or something?”

“You looked beyond the ships next to us?” he asked in turn.

“Well …” She peered out of the window, into the evening. “Cap’n, is that what I think it is?” she asked, excitement creeping into her voice.

“Could be.”

“A fair?” She looked up, her eyes bright.

“Sure is.” He smiled at her, at her enthusiasm for everything life put her way, be it a husband and baby, a Firefly, or the prospect of cotton candy. “And a dance. Local celebration over a good harvest, and Hank got us all invited.”

“Ooh …” She was almost jumping for joy. “When?”

“Now. Go get yourself all gussied up. I’ll tell everyone else.”

“Oh, Cap’n!” She couldn’t grin any wider. “This for River’s birthday?”

“It is.”

She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. “I love my captain,” she said, then scampered off.

“If I do something nice, think she’d kiss me like that?” Hank asked, watching her coveralls disappear around the corner.

“You like living on the edge, don’t you?” Mal said, lifting down the com.

“Close as I can,” the pilot admitted. “Gives life a certain … tang.”

“If Zoe finds out you’ve been looking at Kaylee’s rear end like that, it’ll be giving life a certain sense of closure.” Mal smiled and flicked the switch to give the rest of the crew the good news. “This is your captain speaking. It may have escaped your attention, but it’s a certain young lady’s 21st birthday today …”

---

“You look so pretty,” Kaylee said as River smoothed her dress down.

“I don’t feel any different,” the young psychic admitted. “I thought I’d feel grown up.”

“Not sure age has anything to do with that.” Kaylee bit her lip slightly in contemplation. “I don’t feel grown up, and I've got a husband. And a baby, though she ain't one really no more. Not now she’s walking.”

“So what does make you feel grown up?” River asked. “Sex?”

Kaylee grinned. “I guess. In a way. Although my first time I was too discomfited to really take much notice of how I felt afterwards. Although I was a mite disappointed too.”

“Why?” River fixed her friend with her dark eyes.

“Oh, just …” Kaylee thought back to a time before she’d known there were such things as Fireflys. “He was young too, and not much more experienced than me, and I guess he just didn’t know what to do.”

“But you’re not now. Disappointed.”

Kaylee smiled. “Oh no.” The smile faltered. “Don’t seem to be working, though. Still ain't pregnant.”

“It can take a while.”

“I know that, but … I mean, Bethany wasn’t even planned, and now we’re trying nothing’s happening.” She started to pleat the skirt to her dress. “I so want a little brother or sister for her before it’s too late.”

River gazed at her. “Too late?”

Kaylee looked up. “Oh, I know that sounds crazy. But this is sending me that way!”

River sat down on the bed next to her. “I wish I could tell you it will happen soon, but I can’t. Just be patient.”

“I have been!”

“Then you’ve had the practice.”

Kaylee stared, then laughed. “Guess you’re right.”

“I guess the birthday girl’s decided not to go dancing, then,” Mal’s voice said over the com. “One minute, or we go without you.”

“Just coming, Cap’n,” Kaylee shouted, her voice carrying into the cargo bay.

“Better be.”

---

Jayne was wearing his best duds, the black and white striped shirt, the waistcoat that showed his muscles off, and a decent pair of pants. He’d even got the boots he was keeping for a special occasion out and polished them up. He looked suai. He also towered over the heads of most of the other people, so he could see as River and Jethro headed towards the sideshows, particularly one that promised alien life forms.

“They’re usually cows,” Kaylee said at his side.

“Huh?”

She nodded towards the other two. “Them things in jars. Cows.”

He looked down at her. “If I knew what the hell you were talking about, I’d answer ya, but you’re not making any sense.”

“She’s happy, Jayne.”

“Who?”

“You know exactly who. They’ve been talking a lot, and I think they’re getting real close.” She smiled. “I think it’s sweet.”

“Sure.” Jayne tried to keep his tone light. “She told him about her yet? ‘Bout being a trained killer?”

Kaylee punched him on the arm. “She’s not!”

“Niska?” Jayne reminded her. “Reavers?”

“Well, maybe … but she’s River first.”

“Ain’t saying she’s not.” He watched them go into the tent. “So I’m figuring she ain’t said nothing?”

“I don’t think so. She says it’s not the right time yet.”

“No, figured as much. Ain’t heard him running and screaming.”

“He wouldn’t do that.”

“You got a mighty high opinion of him, don’t you, little Kaylee?” He turned to look down at her, all pretty in her dress.

“I like him.”

“Yeah, but you like everyone. On principle.”

“Maybe I do,” she said, looking into his eyes. “I like you.”

“Don’t see why. Ain’t nothing here to like.”

“Now you know that’s not true.”

He shook his head and smiled, just a little. “Ain’t never known one like you before. Seeing the good in everyone, even if there ain’t any.”

“There’s always good, if you look deep enough.” She grinned.

“How you ain’t never gone through your life being disappointed, don’t think I’ll ever figure.”

“Kaylee?” Simon bustled up. “Come on, we’ve got half an hour.”

“What for?” she asked, turning to her husband. “And where’s Bethany?”

“That’s the half an hour we’ve got. Mal and Freya have her so we can have some fun. Then it’ll be our turn.”

Her face lit up. “Ooh, your idea?”

“If I say it was will you hurry?”

Kaylee looked back at Jayne. “Don’t be mad,” she said, putting her hand on his arm. “Just be happy for her. And go and have some fun yourself.” She lifted herself onto her toes and kissed his cheek. “You deserve it.”

“Kaylee, come on,” Simon said, pulling her away into the crowd.

Jayne watched them disappear, then sighed. He almost wished he hadn’t come, but there was no way he was gonna spend a night on his own on board, just thinking. Damn, but he needed a drink. There must be someplace around that sold alcohol, even the piss-poor stuff most planets called beer.

A group of girls walked past him, and he noticed they were looking him up and down as they did so, giggling and whispering. He drew himself up, pushing his chest out a little more, and the whispering grew in intensity. Maybe he should get himself some trim, too. Get her out of his system that way.

---

Mal hadn’t dressed up. He’d shaved, which Freya had insisted upon, and changed his clothes, but he refused to wear his suit. Instead he was comfortable in one of his oldest shirts and his brown leather coat. Which now had a small sticky handprint on the shoulder.

“It’ll come out,” Freya assured him. “I’ll deal with it when we get back.”

“Sorry, Uncle Mal,” Bethany said, held in his arms. She laid her head on his shoulder, the clean one.

“Weren‘t your fault, squirt,” he said quickly. “It was your Pa’s. He should never’ve bought you that cotton candy.”

Freya, carrying Ethan as usual, smiled. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

“It ain’t you that’s gonna have to walk around all evening smelling of sugar.”

“But you’re always sweet.” Freya laughed at the look on his face. “Come on, I want to look around.”

“See, you’re giving Bethany here entirely the wrong idea of what being a couple is all about,” Mal said, falling into step next to her.

“Oh? And how’s that?”

“You telling me what to do.”

She put her arm through his. “And what’s wrong with that?” she asked.

“’Gainst the natural order of things.”

“Which is?”

“A man being the captain of his own boat.”

“We’re not on board your boat.”

“Don’t split hairs.”

“Mal, you know we always listen to you.” She glanced at a small picture frame on a stall, but shook her head.

“Yeah, then go and do exactly what you wanted in the first place.”

She turned to look into his blue eyes. “You know that isn’t always the case.”

“Mostly.”

“Occasionally.”

“Least half the time.”

“Once in a while.”

He grinned, then looked at Bethany, who was staring at them. “See, pumpkin? This is what marriage is all about. Give and take. I give, and she takes.”

“Funny Uncle Mal,” Bethany said, squeezing his neck. She giggled.

“That’s right,” Freya said. “Funny Uncle Mal.”

Bethany smiled at her, then looked past. “Ooh!” She reached out with a small hand.

Freya turned. The little girl had caught sight of a ring-toss stall, and the soft toys hung all around the edge. She laughed. “I think Bethany wants you to win her something.”

Mal looked into the child’s bright eyes, looking so like her mother than his heart melted. “That what you want, squirt?” he asked, and was rewarded by a brilliant smile.

“Rabbit.”

---

Inara turned over the small dish she was looking at, noting the tiny plaque set into the bottom declaring this piece to be from the Ming dynasty.

“Very good piece,” the stall holder said. “Genuine Earth-that-was.”

“How much?”

The man named a figure, but noted the expression on this beautiful woman’s face, knowing she was about to walk away. “But for you, I do special deal. Half price.”

Inara looked at the item again, enjoying the bright, lush colours and the rich decoration. It really was lovely, even if it wasn’t genuine. And still a little expensive, but … “Yes. I’ll take it.” She handed it over for the man to wrap it up and took some notes from her small purse.

“Buying up the whole fair?” Hank asked as he and Zoe joined her.

“A present for River,” Inara explained. “Something special.” She paid and took the dish back. “It’s not every day you reach twenty-one.”

“I don’t remember reaching mine,” the pilot said. “Mainly ‘cause I think I was drunk that week.”

“Is that what you did with your youth?” Zoe asked. “Drink it away?”

“Not sure,” Hank admitted. “I recall the hangovers.” He shuddered. “Lots of them.”

“Well, I’m glad you reformed your ways,” Inara said, patting him on the arm.

“Had to. Risa wouldn’t marry me ‘til I did. What about you, honey?” Hank asked, turning to Zoe. “You remember reaching your majority?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but went on, “And what is all that about being twenty-one? It’s just a figure.”

“It used to mean being able to decide what you wanted to do. Not being a child anymore,” Inara explained.

“Oh, I know that. But why twenty-one? I mean, it ain’t like you’re still growing or nothing.”

“Some cultures used to put being an adult at thirty.”

“Thirty?” Hank was appalled. “You mean they treat you like a kid right up ‘til then?”

“And some people never grow out of it,” Zoe pointed out.

“You insinuating I’m a big kid?” he asked, turning to look at her accusingly.

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m saying it out loud.”

“Oh.” He grinned. “That’s okay then.” He glanced at Inara. “We’re gonna go to the dance, take a turn around the floor. You wanna come?”

“Mmn, sounds good. It’s been a while since I went to a ball. And I didn’t get to enjoy it all that much, then.”

“No,” Zoe agreed, remembering it pretty clearly herself. “But I somehow don’t think it’s gonna be quite like that.”

“Yeah, much more like a hoe-down,” Hank said. He stepped between them. “Then come along, ladies.” He grinned. “You know, I’m pretty sure everyone’s gonna be so jealous of me, two best looking women on the planet on my arm.”

Inara laughed. “Is he always like this?” she asked Zoe.

“Always. You learn to live with it. Eventually.”

“I shall ignore that comment, and escort you to the dance.” He put his arms around their waists. “Now, who’s gonna dance with me first?”

---

“You paid him, didn’t you?” Kaylee accused.

“Pay him? Why would you think that?” Her husband looked at her, his face a picture of innocence.

“So he’d stop this thing up here.” She looked down at the ground. They were very high, sitting in the small gondola at the top of the Ferris wheel.

“I did not pay him.” Simon shook his head, then changed it into an almost nod. “I might have suggested it. And given him a gift.”

“You did pay him.” Kaylee’s lips twitched.

“And even if I had, it was only to get some time alone with my beautiful wife.” Simon pulled her closer along the seat.

“We get time alone.”

“But not here. Not halfway between the earth and the stars.” He lifted his arm up, swinging it around. “Caught between heaven and …”

“Hell?”

“That wasn’t quite what I meant.”

She snuggled into him. “I kinda got used to you not saying quite what you meant.”

“I’m glad. It does seem to me that I always used to put my foot in my mouth when I was with you.” He breathed in the smell of her hair, and felt all his worries drift away.

“You still do.” She kissed his cheek, then peered down. “Do you suppose Bethany’s having a good time?”

“I imagine so.” Simon stroked her head. “She’s got the captain wrapped around her little finger.”

“Got the whole crew like that. And Ethan’s gonna be the same.”

“You know Jayne said he was going to teach him how to shoot.”

“But surely the Cap’ll want to do that.”

“I don’t think it had occurred to Jayne. He seemed disappointed when I explained that to him.”

“Well, when we have a son maybe we’ll let him do the teaching.” She looked up. “I want another baby, Simon.”

“I know.” He tightened his grip on her. “And I will … we will, soon.”

“You’re sure?”

“Whatever it takes, bao bei. I promise.”

“Okay.” Kaylee smiled. “’N’ it sure is real pretty up here,” she added, looking out at the fair below. “All the coloured lights ‘n’all. Like a fairy tale.”

“Except down there it’s pickpockets and thieves.”

“No, Simon,” she insisted. “It’s a magic kingdom.” She pointed to where they could see Serenity sitting. “And there’s the castle, home to the good king and all his knights in shining armour.”

“Is that how you see us? All noble?”

She looked up into his eyes. “Sometimes.”

“And Mal’s the king?”

“He’s captain. Same thing.”

Simon smiled. “I love you, Kaylee Tam.”

“Good.” She snuggled closer. “Just keep saying that.”

---

“It would’ve been cheaper just to buy the damn thing,” Mal muttered as he tried to carry Bethany with one arm and a enormous green toy in the other.

“Hiya,” Kaylee said brightly, coming out of the crowd.

“Momma!” Bethany called, reaching out to her.

“Hey there, sweet pea. Did you miss me?” her mother asked, taking her from Mal.

“Uncle Mal got me a rabbit.” She looked around at the toy. “Mine.”

Simon eyed the stuffed animal with distaste. “A rabbit?” he asked.

Mal handed it to him. “Bethany here thinks all toys are rabbits - ain’t you noticed?”

“But it’s huge.”

“And it’s staying in her room,” Mal said, patting the doctor on the shoulder. “I see it anywhere else and it’s going out the airlock.”

Bethany’s face fell and her mother immediately said, “Don’t you listen to him, honey. Uncle Mal didn’t mean it.” She turned to him. “Did you?”

Mal sighed. “No. I didn’t mean it.” He looked at the little girl. “Don’t worry, Bethie. I won’t do that to Jayne.”

“Jayne?” Simon asked.

“That’s what she says he’s called,” Freya explained.

Simon looked at the toy, a grin spreading across his face. “I think I’m growing to like this … thing.”

“Okay,” Kaylee said. “Our turn.” She handed their daughter to Simon and helped Freya undo the sling. “He still asleep?”

Freya nodded. “He should be fine. I kept him awake today, and he’s comfy, so there shouldn’t be a problem. And we’ll only be half an hour. Maybe less.”

“At least half an hour,” Mal said firmly. “He’ll be fine.”

She looked into his face. “I know. It’s just -”

“Come on,” her husband said softly. “I got the urge to take you into the Tunnel of Love.”

“Really?” Her eyes brightened.

“Have fun,” Kaylee said.

“Oh, we will,” Mal responded, taking his wife’s arm and leading her into the crowd.

Simon was still staring at the toy. “Jayne?” he murmured.

---

The big man was standing watching, a glass in his hand, and it was obvious this wasn’t his first drink. Most people had found their way to the improvised dance floor, and he could see Hank and Zoe out in the crowd, their heads together, oblivious to the rest. Even Inara was dancing with someone who looked as if he couldn’t believe his luck. And Mal and Freya had just walked in. But his eyes kept being drawn back to the couple in the centre of the floor, being very formal and keeping at least six inches gap between their bodies. River and Jethro.

He tossed the whisky down his throat and turned away, back to the makeshift bar. Banging his glass down he demanded, “Give me another! And leave the bottle.”

The barkeep put the whisky down in front of him and picked up the coin Jayne dropped onto the wooden planking. “Just keep it down, mister,” he warned. “Everyone’s having a good time. Don’t want to spoil it.”

“Ain’t spoiling nothing,” Jayne growled. “Just want me a quiet drink.”

“Long as it is quiet.” The man moved away to serve someone else, but kept glancing back.

Jayne didn’t care. He poured another glass and shot it into his mouth, feeling the raw alcohol burn its way down to his stomach.

“Man shouldn’t be drinking alone.”

He turned towards the voice. She wasn’t young, at least, not a teenager, but a woman, with soft skin and blonde hair. Her body was soft too, a little fleshy under the cotton dress she wore, but all female. “Well, if you drink with me, I won’t be alone.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

He grabbed a spare glass and poured her a drink, refilling his at the same time. She picked hers up and lifted it to her red lips.

“Cheers,” he said.

“May your troubles be few,” she said, and sipped the whisky.

“Troubles?” Jayne said. “Ain’t got any of them. Just do my work and get paid.”

“And what work is that?” she asked, moving closer to him.

He could smell her, the warm scent of fresh-cut hay. “Whatever they want.”

“You a gunhand?”

“Yeah.” He smiled at her. “That scare ya?”

“A little,” she conceded. “But it makes me warm, too. You know?” She smiled back.

“I get your meaning.” Jayne put his hand on her waist, feeling her body underneath the dress.

“Have you killed people?”

He shrugged. “Some.”

“More’n some, I’d guess.”

“Maybe.”

“With those hands?”

He looked down. “Sure.”

“Bet they do other things too,” she said, pressing close to him.

He felt his body begin to stir. “Guess maybe you’re figuring on finding out what.”

“Could be.” She reached up and tried to put her lips on his, but he moved his head.

“No,” he said. “Never kiss on the mouth.”

“Why not?” she asked, pouting.

“Just don’t.” He leered at her a little. “Don’t mean I don’t kiss elsewhere.”

The pout turned into a smile. “Like where?” She was as close to him as she could be without actually getting naked.

“Cheryl, you know you don’t want to do that,” the barkeep warned. “You’re only gonna make him jealous, and you know what happens then.”

“Too damn late.”

Jayne was pulled around on his heels to face a man, his face red with anger, who drew back his fist and let fly. It connected with Jayne’s jaw, and his head snapped back as he tasted blood. The man wound his arm up again, only this time found his fist caught in a bigger hand.

“First one you get for free,” Jayne said darkly, pushing him back.

The man staggered. “She’s mine. I ain’t having any big ape pawing her over.”

“If she’s yours then you’d best be keeping a better eye on her,” Jayne said, picking up his glass and drinking. The cut on his lip stung but he ignored it. “’Sides, she came on to me.”

“Liar!” The man launched himself at Jayne again, but the big mercenary was ready. He grabbed hold of the man’s shirt, throwing him against the bar, lifting his fist ready to pummel him into a bloody pulp …

“Jayne,” he heard in his mind. River.

He paused, looking down into the man’s eyes, seeing the fear there, knowing he could kill him so easily … He turned, tossing him away towards the dance floor. The music had faltered, come to a stop, and the dancers had turned to look at him.

Jayne glared into the crowd, finding them easily.

“You did this!” he shouted, his voice carrying easily across the hushed dance floor. “You did this to me! Made me not know who I am no more! Xiong can wang ba dan de biao zi, why couldn’t you just leave me alone?”

He stared a moment longer then strode away, his fists clenched tight, ignoring Kaylee and Simon standing open-mouthed. He was almost running towards Serenity when Mal’s voice stopped him in his tracks.

“Jayne.”

“Leave it, Mal.”

“Can’t do that.” The captain came closer. “You were gonna kill that man, weren’t you?”

“Mal -”

“You need to get yourself together. Can’t be having this sort of behaviour. Not on my boat.”

Jayne turned. “Then maybe it’s for the best I ain’t gonna be on your boat no longer.”

Mal took a step backward. “I wasn’t indicating -”

“No, maybe not. But I …” Jayne stopped. “I can’t do this, Mal. I thought I could but I can’t. She’s in here …” He tapped his forehead. “… and I can’t get her out. I have to get away from it. From her.”

“Jayne, you don’t have to -”

“I do.” The big man seemed to deflate a little. “Don’t see any other way.”

“Maybe once you’ve slept it off -”

“I ain’t drunk, Mal! Least, not that much. I know what I’m saying.”

Mal gazed at him, sympathy and understanding on his face. “You really think there’s no alternative.”

“I can’t be around her, not with him. You saw what I did back there. I know I promised you I wouldn’t hurt him, but I can’t …”

Mal nodded. “At least stay until we get somewhere more civilised. I don’t like the idea of putting you off where there ain’t no chance of you getting another ride.”

“There’s other ships here right now, Mal,” Jayne pointed out. “One of ‘em’ll be sure to take me on, even if I have to pay my way.” He straightened up. “I’m gonna get my stuff, be gone by the time you get back.”

“And what do you think I should say to the rest of the crew?” Mal asked.

“Tell ‘em …” Jayne gave a short bark of laughter. “Tell ‘em what you like. Make somethin’ up. Just don’t tell ‘em the truth.”

Mal sighed. “You don’t have to leave.”

“Yeah. I do.” The big man turned and headed back towards the Firefly.

“Mal?” Freya asked from the shadows.

“I don’t know, ai ren,” he admitted. “I don’t know.”

---

Jayne lugged his big gun bag down into the bay, putting it on the floor to adjust the smaller one on his back. As he stood up he jumped.

“Girl, what’re you doing here?” he asked.

“Don’t go,” River said.

“Can’t tell me what to do,” Jayne replied, standing square in front of her.

“Please. I don’t want you to leave.” Her dark hair, caught back from her face, had come loose as she had hurried from the dance, and now a lock fell in front of her cheek. He so wanted to touch it, push it back behind her ear, but he held himself in check.

“I gotta go, River. This ain’t something’s gonna change.” His voice was suddenly soft. “I can’t stay.”

“You mustn’t. Not because of me.”

“Who said it was?” Jayne shook his head. “You ain’t so important to me, moonbrain. Not that I’m gonna stay here.”

“Then why did you shout that?” She pointed back towards the dance, towards the music that they could still faintly hear. “Why?”

“I was drunk.” He shrugged. “Too much whisky, is all.”

“No. I don’t believe it.”

“That’s up to you.” He picked up his guns. “Just time to make a change. As good a place as any. Been here a long time, and it‘s time to move on.”

“Jayne, please …” She was almost begging him.

“You don’t need me, girl. You’ve got Jethro. And if I’m not here you can concentrate on him.” He shook his head again. “He ain’t good enough for you, but if you want him …”

She put her hand on his arm. “I won’t let you.”

“What you gonna do? Break my legs so I can’t leave? That it?” He looked into her eyes, feeling a burning from where her fingers gripped his wrist.

“Don’t …”

“Decision’s made.” He forced a smile. “See ya ‘round, moonbrain.”

He strode past her, down the ramp and out into the night. She stared after him.

Mal stepped into the light from the bay, the others behind him. “You okay?” he asked softly.

“What did he mean, River?” Jethro asked.

“Stop him,” River pleaded, ignoring the young man. “Captain, stop him.”

“Can’t do that,” he said. “It’s up to Jayne whether he stays or not.”

Jethro moved closer. “What did he mean?”

“But I don’t want him to go!”

Mal put his hands on her shoulders, turning her to look at him. “I told you before, albatross. That you were playing with fire doing that to Jayne. That you might get hurt.”

A fat tear rolled down her cheek. “I thought Jayne was my friend.”

“Now you know better’n that.”

She nodded. “I didn’t want to hurt him. I was leaving him alone.”

“Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do. Talkin’ to him might have been a better idea. Only it’s kinda late now.”

She stared into his face, then ran off towards her room.

“Captain, what’s going on?” Jethro asked. “He meant it, didn’t he? About her breaking his legs?”

Mal looked at the young man. “I think you’d better talk to River ‘bout that.”

“But she couldn’t. Could she?”

Serenity’s captain put a hand on his shoulder. “River’s … special. Thought you’d figured that out by now. And you need to ask her.”

Jethro nodded. “I will.” He followed the young girl towards her quarters.

“Cap?” Kaylee said, holding Bethany close. “Is Jayne …”

“Best get to bed, mei-mei,” Mal said softly.

“But we’re not just leaving him here, are we?”

“We won’t go yet. But I don’t see him coming back.”

“Couldn’t you have stopped him?”

“He’s a grown man, Kaylee,” Freya said, moving up to stand by her husband. “I think River forgot that.”

“Ain’t fair.”

“No.”

Mal shook himself and looked around at the remainder of his crew. “Think it’s right we all get to bed. Ain’t nothing to be done tonight.”

They nodded variously and filed silently past him towards their respective quarters.

“It’s my fault,” he added quietly.

“What makes you think that?” Freya asked. “It would probably have happened at some point.”

“That don’t make me feel any better,” Mal said bitterly.

---

River was lying on her bed, her face buried in the pillow, sobbing.

“Please don’t,” Jethro said from the doorway. “It breaks my heart to hear you crying like this.”

She looked up at him, her cheeks red. “He’s gone,” she said quietly.

“I know.” He stepped inside and sat down next to her, stroking the hair from her face.

“I didn’t want him to leave.” Tears were running freely.

“Did you love him?” he asked, not sure he really wanted to hear the answer.

“Yes.”

“Then why didn’t you tell him?”

“Because I didn’t understand. And then you …”

“Me?” He moved closer. “River, we didn’t know each other.”

“I knew you.”

“No. What you read in my mind that day, that doesn’t count as knowing. Being with someone, learning what they like or hate, what they think … it’s not the same.”

“I knew Jayne.”

“Yes, yes I think you did.”

“Why did he go?” Her voice tore at him.

“Because he couldn’t stay.”

She nodded, swallowing thickly. “It’s my fault.”

He put his hand on her cheek. “River …”

She rolled forward and put her arms around his waist, pushing her head into his chest. He held her close. “Don’t leave me.”

“Ssh, ssh,” he said, feeling her trembling. After a long moment he said, “But I need to learn something now. When he said … when Jayne spoke about you breaking his legs … he meant it, didn’t he.”

She stiffened and looked up into his face, her eyes frightened. “Jethro …”

“What haven’t you told me?”

She stared, then nodded. “So much,” she said softly. “Blood on my hands … from the Academy … Reavers … Freya …”

“Freya?”

River took a deep breath and began. “When I was fourteen …”

not the end

COMMENTS

Sunday, February 11, 2007 5:49 AM

BSCPANTHERFAN


NOT FAIR! Bring back our box-dropping, man-ape gone wrong thing! Shiny writing as always, but leaving off where you did is just plumb mean!

Write more soon.

Please.

Sunday, February 11, 2007 9:46 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh bugger...there goes another of my shiny story ideas right down the commode! 'Least it was stolen by someone with more than small bit of skill with cursor and keyboard;D

Still...this was a brilliant chapter, Jane0904! Between the couples' moments, and Jayne's slow burn and detonation, this was a mighty entertaining chapter. Really gotta wonder, though, how things are gonna go once Jethro has the big picture of River having all these unwanted skills and abilities, along with having a rather big set of affections for the trained-ape-without-the-training mercenary we all love:(

BEB

Sunday, February 11, 2007 1:30 PM

TAMSIBLING


Oh excellent ... I cannot wait to see where the rest of this goes ... maybe River can sneak off the boat in the middle of the night and find Jayne and they can - um, "make up?" Yes, I know, I have a dirty mind, but I love Rayne.

I love Jethro too though which is definitely causing some conflict. Simon and Kaylee at the top of the ferris wheel was absolutely perfect and I do hope Kaylee can get pregnant again ... I am a mite worried it's taking so long ... now, about this angst you speak of ...

Sunday, February 11, 2007 1:51 PM

AMDOBELL


Poor Jayne, like Mal warned River she has been playing with fire only now she realises it. I loved all the moments you gave the crew, Mal with Freya and the baby (loved Bethany calling the 'rabbit' Jayne and Simon's reaction), Simon bribing the barker to stop the ride when they were at the top so he could share a romantic moment with his wife, Hank and Zoe etc. So much good stuff, just hope now that River has come to her senses she can find a way to get Jayne back. Telling him the truth might help. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 6:40 AM

GIRLFAN


Neat story, and good execution. I have to say that I really loved the barkeep. He had a lot of personality for a guy with a bit part, and that lent extra credibility to the rest of the scene.


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"I honestly don’t know if my pilot wants to go around with flowers and curlicues carved into his leg.”
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“His name’s Jayne?”

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Jayne had told him a story once, about being on the hunt for someone who owed him something or other. He’d waited for his target for three hours in four inches of slush as the temperature dropped, and had grinned when he’d admitted to Hank that he’d had to break his feet free from the ice when he’d finished.
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He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

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“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

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