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Disclaimer:  They all belong to Joss.

Rating: PG-13…if this should be rated higher let me know

Pairings: Jayne/River with a tad of Mal/Inara and Simon/Kaylee

Beta: TamSibling
 

Precious Commodity

By

Lattelady

Ch. 3 Falling Without Gravity

River tried to bring back the echo of Jayne’s boots as he’d left Serenity. If she was successful, she reasoned, it would surround her as his big body had while they’d slept, but it didn’t work.  All she found was silence that made her feel empty and alone.  It was as if he had disappeared and taken his warmth with him.  She told herself that he’d only gone to the Med-tent to check on the rest of the crew and see if he could obtain something hot for them to consume for breakfast, but the quiet was unsettling.

 

It made no sense. There was nothing rational about her feelings for him.  She couldn’t quantify it, label it or place it into a neat category for later inspection. The mercenary made her feel safe and secure, even though she knew his presence beside her the night before had placed her in greater danger. She would have given herself up rather than let him be damaged.

 

Jayne Cobb represented one of the oddities in the ‘verse and all her powers as a seer were blinded where he was concerned.  She hadn’t known he was coming, but he had made his considerable presence known when he’d wrapped his arms around her in the Maidenhead to stop her fighting.  She had felt him through and through.  It had saved his life and had brought her clarity when her world had gone insane.

 

With her pistol gripped tightly in her hands she scooted deeper into the storage closet that had become their nest.  She had felt safe there when she’d slept in Jayne’s arms, but now that he was gone fear moved into their space.

 

In desperation she buried her nose in the mattress where he had spent the night, seeking his scent, anything that made his presence real and strong beside her.  Forcing herself to take slow easy breaths, her lungs filled with the smell of leather, gun powder, cigars and man, the distinct combination of fragrances she associated with Jayne.

 

 River felt her mind slow and her muscles relax, as she lay wrapped in the memory of the night before.  She was on the brink of falling asleep when she realized that something was missing.  All night long she’d had the sound of Jayne’s heart beating under her ear to lull her to sleep, but now there was nothing but quiet.  It was the same quiet that had sent her diving into the mattress moments earlier and had filled her with senseless terror the night before.

 

Serenity,” she whispered, as her eyes flew open, but there was no gentle hum in reply.  River rested her hand, palm down on the cold deck.  Usually when her naked skin came in contact with the metal plating of the ship, its unique voice reverberated through her body and touched her soul. More times than she could count its rhythm had helped to ease her confusion and panic.  Now that the ship was a broken thing and lay dying on Mr. Universe’s desolate moon, it said nothing to her.  The silence was a death knell which screamed in River’s mind.

 

“Please, no,” she gasped. Instinctively, her thumb slid beside the trigger guard until she located the safety and disengaged it. Once done she edged carefully out of the protection of her hiding place, leaving behind her discarded boots, blankets and Jayne’s orders that she stay hidden and warm until his return.  With each step she took, River balanced her fear of the Alliance and the Operative who hunted her against her fear that the ship she loved would never again roam the Black.

 

Quietly, gun in hand, she moved along damaged corridors.  She tried to focus completely on her search for a spark that would tell her Serenity still lived, but the Alliance had stolen that part of her brain which allowed her to suppress feelings.  An icy hand clutched at her heart and split her mental focus as her fear of being recaptured threatened to send her running back to the one place she felt safe.

 

“No, no, I must keep searching.” She shook her head in misery. In her fear and confusion the night before she’d been unaware that Serenity was slowly dying.  Now it didn’t matter if she choked and gagged on her panic, she refused be diverted from her task.

 

The girl worked her way to the engine room and ran her hand over its now silent heart.  She tipped her head and listened with eyes closed as her mind searched deep along conduits and power lines for the slightest beat of life. “Yes,” she murmured as her fingers tingled from caressing the red metal of the room.  “Yes, you’re heart is broken, but Kaylee will be able to fix that.”

 

As River moved on, she buried her nose into the collar of the old shirt Jayne had given her to sleep in. His scent gave her strength and calmed her worry.  With her senses on high alert and renewed courage she searched for the hum she had normally felt when she’d walked corridors and hidden places, which were now silent. All she’d found was the one small tremble in the engine room.  With determination and the feeling of Jayne beside her, she headed to the bridge. She had heard that a broken heart could be mended, but a broken brain was another matter, one that she was an expert on. 

 

Wash,” she sniffed. Tears filled her eyes when she arrived at her destination and saw for the first time how he had died.  “Oh, Wash.”  She knelt by his body and picked up a fallen dinosaur to return it to its place beside the dead man.

 

Tears coursed down her face as she crouched beside the pilot’s chair.  Jayne’s wool shirt easily covered her legs and bare feet. She hugged the coarse material against her body, as she rested her head against the control panel.  Her friend, the pilot, was dead, beyond her reach, but there had to be something she could do to help his ship.

 

“Please Jayne, come back soon,” River muttered.  In the presence of Wash’s destructive death she needed more than his scent to reassure her.   Adding to her fear of the Alliance and her fear for Serenity, was a fast growing fear that life as she had known it was over.  She felt as if she was falling, surrounded by too many emotions and this time she knew for certain they were all hers.

 

She ran her hands over the controls while her mind dove deep into the brain of the ship. Finally she found a whisper of life.  “I was broken, too,” she answered Serenity’s cry.  “It hurts to be damaged like that, but you will be much stronger once we mend the cracks.”  She relaxed against the cold metal where the controls were housed.  “We shall both fly.  Jayne will see to that.”

………………………………..   

 

Jayne Cobb stood solid as a rock, with Vera’s strap slung casually over his shoulder.  One hand gently caressed her steel body and the other brought a cup of coffee to his lips so he could sip the hot liquid.  All the while he never took his cool blue eyes off of the Alliance Operative ten feet away. It was a deceptive pose, which Jayne had used many times before. He knew that if things turned nasty, his enemy wouldn’t even see the slightest lowering of his shoulder before Vera sprayed death and he sprinted for cover.

 

Both men let the noise of arriving soldiers and waking people flow around them and took the measure of the other.

 

“River? Where’s River?”  Simon Tam tried to sit-up to get a better look around, despite being gut-shot and having recent abdominal surgery to repair the wound.

 

“Simon, you gotta take it easy,” Kaylee cried out, as she grabbed him by the shoulders.  Though she was still dizzy from the poisoned darts the Reavers had shot at her, she supported him as best she could. “She’s gotta be here. Ain’t she?” She looked around and wished her vision would clear.

 

“I got her stuck away somewheres safe.”  Though Jayne’s words were mainly to reassure his wounded friends his eyes carried a different message to the grim black man he was staring down.

 

Wash,” Zoë moaned quietly as she tried to push herself up with one hand while reaching for a non-existent gun with the other.  She knew she was sleeping on her stomach, in a strange bed, and surrounded by Alliance troops.  It took her a moment to remember that her husband was gone.  With a gasp she fell back on the hard cot unsure which hurt worse, the hole in her back from the Reavers or the hole in her heart from Wash’s death.

 

“What’s this all about?”  Mal leaned against Inara to keep from keeling over in pain. He was weaker than he cared to admit and he was damn sure he’d die before letting the gorramn Operative see how badly he’d been hurt.

 

“I would like to speak to River Tam.”  The Alliance man repeated his statement from moments earlier, but this time he addressed Jayne.

 

“Why should we let ya do that?”  Mal glared at his mercenary.  Something was goin’ on and he wanted to know what.  He’d seen his hired muscle use that stance plenty of times, but he was always protecting cargo or money, never a person, and especially not the Doc’s sister.

 

“No,” Simon cried out from across the room.  “I don’t trust him.”

 

“I’m not real big on trust when it comes to the Alliance, neither.” The Captain continued.  “But it’d only be polite to let the man have his say, to us, that is.”

 

“Mal, this ain’t no time to….” The big man growled and fought the urge to tighten his grip on Vera and begin shootin’.

 

“I said we was listenin’.”  He glared at his merc.  The captain wanted more information so he could figure out what the Alliance was really up to.  “Let’s hear what the man has to say.”

 

The Operative smiled.  It appeared as if the power had shifted away from the hot-tempered man with the gun and back to Malcolm Reynolds.

 

“All I want is to talk with her.  She is in no danger, I promise you.” 

 

“I can’t conjure why you’d think we’d believe ya.”  Mal’s voice was rough with grief after all the killing that had been done in an attempt to regain the runaway Tams.

 

“If I wanted her dead, she would already be dead.” No one doubted he was telling the truth.  They all remembered staring into the barrels of Alliance rifles, with River atop a pile of dead Reavers, the only thing between them, and the soldiers waiting for a kill order.

 

“Now wait just one blamed second,” Jayne cut in.  “The girl don’t want to see you or any of your people for that matter.”

 

“Be that as it may, I would like to see her.”  The Operative looked into the deadly eyes of a man he knew had no qualms about backing up his words with bullets.  It had been a mistake to think that Reynolds was in charge of this situation, one that he would not make again. “How about an act of good faith, on my part?”

 

“Good faith, like when you had Shepherd Book and his people killed?”  Jayne was gettin’ an itchy trigger finger.  He wanted this over with.

 

“That was a strategy of war.” The black man moved closer to the mercenary. “As I’ve already explained to the Captain, the killing would have ceased as soon as River Tam had surrendered herself.”

 

“Strategy ‘a war, huh, since when does the Alliance declare war on an itty-bitty girl?”  Jayne was enraged that the other man was trying to pin the blame for all the dyin’ on River.

 

“Please, Mr. Cobb, we both know she is no ordinary girl.”

 

“A precious commodity,” Jayne muttered as he remembered how another Alliance agent had described her long ago.

 

“Exactly,” The Operative nodded.

 

“Well she ain’t.  She ain’t a commodity, anyways.” Something in him couldn’t deny that she was precious, but he didn’t want to think about that now. “She’s a person and got a say so in what is goin’ on around here.” His finger caressed Vera’s trigger to make his point clear.

 

Simon lay in pain trying to make sense out of the angry words that were flying around him.  His abdomen throbbed and he was having trouble following what was being said.  Kaylee’s grip on his hand was the only thing that felt real to him.  None of what he was hearing made sense and it added to the dream-like quality of the situation. The man who was most likely to turn them over to the authorities was standing beside them, gun in hand, ready to defend his sister.  Maybe I’ve finally discovered the real definition of going crazy.’ Part of him smiled when he remembered how often he’d believed he’d been at that point and that it always seemed to have something to do with Jayne. 

 

“I was about to suggest an act of good faith, on my part.”  The Operative gave the wounded people his most convincing smile.  When he turned to the Captain and the big man blocking the entrance, he spoke to them both. It was clear Cobb held the power over the Tam girl, but it was unclear how much power Reynolds held over the mercenary.  “Most of you have sustained serious injuries and Serenity has…ah…seen better days.  I have the means, at my disposal, to get all of you and your ship back to Persephone…..”

 

“You expectin’ us to hand River over to ya and go on our way?” Jayne ground out, his eyes deadly pinpricks of blue.

 

“No, you can’t, we can’t,” Simon gasped, but was ignored as arguments broke out around him.

 

“Everyone just quiet down, all o’ you.” Mal looked at his crew and tried to straighten from where he was slumped against ‘Nara. She gently gripped his shoulders to keep him in place and give him reassurance. “Now that’s a mighty temptin’ proposition you’re offerin’ us.”  His mouth turned up at the edges and suddenly he looked as deadly as Jayne.  “But even if I was desperate enough to turn over the person who saved all our lives this time yesterday, why do  you think I’m fool enough to believe you would keep to your end of the bargain?”

 

“All I’m asking, in return for my help, is that you tell River that I would like to speak with her. The decision would be hers.”  He looked directly at Jayne, suspecting he was the key to the girl in these negotiations.  “And please reassure her I mean her no harm.” With a nod to his troops he moved toward the entrance of the tent. “We will leave you to discuss this among yourselves.” 

 

“Just so you understand,” Jayne glared at the man inches away from him.  “The girl is a might twitchy bein’ surrounded by Alliance troops.  If you set foot on Serenity without her permission, there’s like to be some shootin’.  And I ain’t just talkin’ about her takin’ aim at you Alliance boys. If she gets to feelin’ trapped, she’s like to blow her head off.  She’s told me she’d rather die than be retaken.”

 

The two big men watched each other carefully.  Each searched beneath the other’s words to find the truth in his intentions.  The Operative finally nodded.  Given all he knew about the girl he didn’t believe for a moment that he was being lied to.  “You have my word; no one will approach your ship without your permission first.”

………………………

“How is she?”  Simon was frantic with worry, but too badly injured to go and search for River himself.

 

“She’s doin’ better than I’d be, if I was her.” Jayne frowned.  “I was finally able to convince her to clean up and let me tend to her cuts and bruises.”

 

“Thank you, Jayne,” Simon smiled in relief and let his head rest on his pillow for the first time since he’d awoken. “Thank you for taking care of her when I couldn’t.”

 

“Don’t thank me too soon, Doc.”  The big man looked grim.  “Your sister’s got a powerful fear of bein’ taken again by the Alliance.  What I told that Operative was the truth.  She’d rather die than go back.”

 

“We aren’t going to let that happen.” Zoë cut in.  “No more dyin’ cause of this.  I’m sick to death of dyin’.”  She had to turn her face and buried it in her cot to keep the others from seeing her tears.  Wash was the only one who’d ever seen her cry and that was not going to change now that he had slipped on.

 

“Zoë’s got the right of it,” Mal sighed.  “Jayne, you tell River what’s goin’ on.  If she’s willin’ we’ll keep her hidden until we’re back on Persephone.  I’d sure like to take that man up on his offer of help, but I won’t compromise her, not after yesterday.”

 

“Okay,” Jayne nodded his lips grim. “Right now I gotta get the girl some food.  There isn’t anything workin’ on Serenity, and she ain’t had no food since we took off for that damned Reaver planet.”

 

“Jayne,” Simon called as the other man stood up.  “Keep a close watch on any of her injuries.  If they look at all suspicious let me know right away.  I don’t want her getting an infection from…from…” his eyes closed, but no matter how hard he fought to keep them open, the pain was too much and he lost consciousness.

 

“Oh Simon,” Kaylee’s eyes filled with tears as she gently stroked his face.  Part of her wanted to curl up beside him until she was sure he was gonna be okay, but part of her knew that her other love, Serenity, was hurt and needed her too.  Her heart was bein’ pulled in two directions.  “Cap’n,” she looked to Mal to make the decision for her.  “I know I should go and check on ‘My Girl’, but…”

 

“You lay back Little Kaylee,” Malcolm Reynolds spoke gently to her.  “Get some sleep, Serenity will still be there tomorrow.  You’re in no condition to be doin’ mechanic work, yet.”

 

Unable to speak for fear that she’d be overwhelmed by crying, she curled beside the Doc, and pulled a blanket over the both of them. 

 

Minutes later Mal and Inara watched Jayne move out of the tent, carrying rations and a second cup of coffee.

 

“Something seem strange about that to you, ‘Nara?”  The Captain looked into the Companion’s dark eyes as she helped him lay down again.

 

“Are you referring to your hired gun playing nursemaid, or the Operative’s offer of help?”  Her brow twitched at the absurdity of both situations.

 

“Both, now that you mention it, little miss helpful.” He tried to glare at her. He didn’t need a reminder of how dangerous a game they’d be playing if they let the Alliance help them, but the image of his hired muscle in a frilly maid’s uniform made him chuckle. “I’m powerful worried about Jayne.”

 

“I need to change my clothes,” she sighed as she thought how little she had in the trunk she’d left aboard Serenity when she’d moved into the training house to teach, months ago.  “I can check on your wayward children at the same time.”

 

Nara,” Mal gripped her hand as she would have pulled away.

 

“Not now, please,” she whispered as tears filled her eyes.  Her memories of being beside him the night before were too strong and she hated that they made her feel weak in the knees.

 

“You building walls again?”

 

“Just enough to survive until we’re out in the Black, and away from this hellhole. I promise.”  She gripped his hand tightly in hers and pulled free. Her insides were churning.  The discovery of the information on Miranda had thrown her beliefs in turmoil.  Too much was happening too quickly.

 

“I’m gonna hold ya to that,” Mal whispered as she headed out of the tent.  He could tell she’d heard his quiet words because she stopped and turned toward him, her eyes large and filled with something he’d wanted to see for a long time.

……………………………

 

“River, where’d you get to girl?” Jayne called as he stuck his head into the storage closet where they’d spent the night. “Damnit girl, I told ya to stay put, not wander this boat, especially without your boots.” He added the last in an angry mutter.

 

Moments later he found her on the bridge curled against the pilot’s station, her gun still clutched tightly in her hand. He was a tough man who had seen death in many forms, but it made his stomach roll when he saw what had happened to Wash. “God damn Reavers, killings too good for em.”

 

“Jayne, help me,” River looked up at him with huge eyes. 

 

“Ahhh, girl you shouldn’t be here.” He bent down beside her but was caught by surprise when she sprang forward and wrapped her arms tightly around him with her face buried against his neck.  The pistol in her right hand dangled over his shoulder.  He quickly re-engaged the safety before he patted her back and ran his hand through her long hair. “There, there, girl.”

 

“We have to do something,” she cried.  “Please, say you’ll help me.”

 

“First thing I’m gonna do is help ya get outta here.” He picked her up with one arm under her knees and the other around her back.  “This ain’t no place for you to be. ‘Sides I’ve got us some breakfast.”

 

“But you don’t understand, we have to do something now, or she will die.”  She kept talking as he carried her through the dark passageway from the bridge to the main living area.  “Jayne, she is broken, we must repair her cracks so she can be whole again.  Simon’s shots won’t work on her.”

 

“I thought we talked on this last night!” he sighed.  It sounded like the girl was off her rocker again.  “You’re just fine, ain’t no cracks or breaks in you. Well least not so that they show, too often.”

 

“Not me,” she dropped her gun in her lap and held Jayne’s cheeks in the palms of her hands.  Serenity, I am talking about Serenity.  When I walk I can’t feel her voice.   She is dying!”

 

“That why you was running around without your boots?” He wanted to frown at her, but when she held his face gentle-like in her small hands, it did funny things to his insides.  Things he knew he shouldn’t be feelin’.

 

“Yes,” River’s sad expression made him stop and hold her closer.  “Instead of her beating heart, there is only a slight whisper in the engine room and that isn’t for me to hear, it is for Kaylee. The crash did terrible things to her brain, that I can help her with.”  A lone tear slipped down her right cheek.

 

“Ahhh, don’t cry girl.” Jayne knelt in the corridor with the petite girl across his knee. It felt so right to him he knew it had to be a sin, but he couldn’t help himself.  He pulled her body tighter against his and let her fill him up with feelin’s of contentment and longin’.

 

“Jayne,” she whispered and she let his emotions wrap around her as tightly as his strong arms.

 

He wound her hair around his hand until he cupped her head in the palm of his hand. The urge to tug hard, exposing her long white neck so he could taste it, roared in his blood, but one look at her bruised eyelids and pale face stopped him.  “River, look at me,” his voice was raw with emotions he didn’t understand.

 

Slowly she blinked and her clouded eyes met his.  He could feel her trembling against his body as her hands dug into his shirt.  “This ain’t right, girl.”

 

“But….” She licked her lips with her small pink tongue and it almost made Jayne moan

 

“No, buts about it,” he was confused and his words come out fierce.  He had a warm and willin’ woman in his arms and he was pushin her away. “I got breakfast waitin’ in the mess.  There’s hot coffee and some Alliance ration packs.”  He dumped her on the floor and stood.  She lay small and crumpled at his feet.  It made him feel like tearing somethin’ apart, or pullin’ her back into his arms.

 

“Jayne?” She reached a shaky hand toward the big man.

 

“I’ll be waitin’ on ya.” It took all his strength, but he left her shiverin’ in the corridor and walked away with his body on fire and a dull throb in his chest.

 

River fought to catch her breath.  She was filled with feelings she didn’t understand and a desire she was all too familiar with.  It was what made her want to hit-out, fight, kick, and kill.  It was the trigger the Alliance had planted in her to make her the weapon she’d become. They had given her powerful desires, but taught her the only immediate outlet was to fight and kill at their command.

 

She lay twitching on the cold deck, knowing the curling in her belly and the swelling in her breasts would pass if given enough time.  As her mind cooled she realized something was very wrong.  In the past, when she’d had those feelings, she would go into fighting mode.  It had been how she had been trained.  It was the message that had been sent to her in the Maidenhead.  But moments ago she’d clung to Jayne instead of attacking him.  What was it that she had felt that had kept her from turning into a killing machine?  Was it the same thing that had kept her from killing him in the bar fight?  Why hadn’t she let the man who had been about to stab Jayne in the back bury the knife deep between the mercenary’s shoulder blades?  It would have set her free faster than grabbing the big man’s testicles and there would have been one less person to fight.

 

River remembered the first time she’d picked up desire emanating through Serenity’s sleeping halls.  It had come from Zoë and Wash.  Their desires had been wrapped in a soft demanding cocoon of love.  At first the girl reasoned it was another Alliance trick, a new way to torment her. The time she and her brother lived on Serenity had moved slowly, at first, as days had turned into weeks. Then the girl from the box had begun to become aware of her surroundings and the people in them. It was then she knew that the feelings between the married couple were real, though she believed it to be a unique situation.  Something found in these two people alone.

 

As time speeded up and passed more quickly she became aware that Simon and Kaylee were having the same feelings toward each other, though they weren’t acting on them.  Part of her was relieved.  It was inappropriate that she should know that Simon was having such feelings.  But part of her was sorry that he stubbornly refused to act on what he felt.

 

River wasn’t sure when she became cognizant that there were deep currents hidden in the relationship between the Captain and Inara.  It had taken her much longer to piece together the emotions and desires those two sent flying around the ship. They were mixed up and confused.  Sometimes filled with anger, jealousy and fear, but under all of that was a strong love that kept them from tearing one another apart.

 

Only Jayne felt nothing but raw emotion.  His desires were hungry and powerful and they frightened her, because they were too much like the subliminal messages the Alliance had used in her training.  But the night before, when she had lain in his arms, basking in strong feelings that had made her feel warm and safe, and moments ago, it had been the same until he’d pushed her away.

 

Standing on unsteady feet, River headed toward the Mess.  Jayne hadn’t devoured her when he’d had the chance and she hadn’t killed him when every nerve ending in her body had screamed at her that it was the only way she’d find release from the throws of passion she’d been caught in.

 

The Crazy Genius and the Mercenary needed to have a serious talk.

 

 


Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
soulmeetsoul
Mar. 31st, 2006 02:24 am (UTC)
wow. great update. love the confusion in the rayne relationship--on their side and the crew wondering what's going on. off to read the next part...
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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