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Disclaimer: It all belongs to Joss
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Jayne/River, Mal/Inara, Simon/Kaylee
My Magic Beta Lady: cesla…many thanks to you. Any errors missed are mine alone.
Previous Chapters: Ch. 1 - Through The Keyhole Of Time; Ch. 2 - Tentative Beginnings; Ch. 3 - Ghosts; Ch. 4 - Voices Of The Living

Voices and Visions

By

lattelady6

Ch 5 Battles Won Battles Lost



Serenity had been back in the Black for three days. When they’d broken atmo, leaving Persephone behind, the entire crew had taken a collective sigh of relief. The smuggler’s hold was full and locked up tight, so there were credits to be made. A shipment from Badger had arrived; seconds after the last Alliance inspector had cleared the boat for flight.

The ship was five days out of Calderon’s third moon, a dung heap of a world that even Jayne had managed to avoid. They had thieving to do and that was where the credits would change hands. A careful search of the Cortex hadn’t given them any information on the people they were meeting. All in all it looked to be business as usual.

“I’m just sayin’ we need to be a mite cautious, is all.” Mal helped himself to a second portion of whatever the hell fancy named concoction Inara had made for dinner. It was mighty tasty. Though he knew it was mostly protein bit with some kinda sauce and a sprinklin’ of dried vegetables and spices.

“Captain,” River Tam looked up from her place beside Jayne. “I could be of help.”

“You sure can, you’re learnin’ to fly this boat real fine.” He went back to eating, trying to pretend that he didn’t understand what she was really saying or that he hadn’t given it some thought his own self.

“I love flying Serenity, and wouldn’t want to stop doing so, but I have other skills that can be useful, too.”

“I said, no! My ship, my rules.” Mal put down his chopsticks and stared at her. “If you can do your reader thing from the bridge, then it’s fine, but nothing more. Neither you or Kaylee should be havin’ ta defend yourselves by takin’ up arms.”

“We aren’t the same.” The small girl smiled, hoping she could change his mind with reason. “I can’t feel this ship’s pain and know exactly how to fix it. I can’t make the engine sing like Kaylee does, or do magic with a wrench and some wiring, to keep us flying. My magic is with a gun, a blade, or with these.” She balled her hands into fists and shook them to emphasize her point. “And it is very strong.”

“Just because ya can do it, don’t make it right, Little Albatross.” The Captain refused to use her as the Alliance had planned to.

The galley had gone silent when the argument began. The two participants didn’t notice the look that Simon exchanged with Jayne. They didn’t see the resigned expression on the Doc’s face as he nodded slowly in agreement with the Mercenary.

“Ya know, Girlie, may have the right of it.” The Merc offered.

“We’re only out in the Black three days and already you people have forgetting….town hall….ship…big difference.”

“Jayne was only speaking the truth!” River’s chair scraped the deck, as she shot to her feet in anger. “I am a finely trained weapon. The Blue Hands changed me like the War did you. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t right for either of us, but it is a waste of resources to pretend that I am still the soft dancer-girl I was three years ago. I believe you once told me…‘It’s what I do, darlin’!’ Why won’t you let me do it?” She ran to the bridge, her eyes swimming with tears.

“Mal…” As much as Simon hated the idea he knew his sister was correct.

“Not one word, Doc,” he rumbled. The girl had hit too close to home when she talked of the War. “I just don’t want her to…gorramnit!” He grasped his chopsticks with fingers that had paled. Too many had died under his various commands and it was getting’ to be too heavy a load.

“You’ll break them,” ‘Nara whispered as she covered his hand with hers. His angry face swung around to meet hers carefully composed one. For a moment he’d forgotten anyone else was in the room. If it hadn’t been for the deep sorrow in her eyes, he’d have deliberately tightened his grip until he heard the satisfying crunch of wood splinterin’, just to spite her. Then he took a second look and realized she wasn’t just talkin’ ‘bout the chopsticks.

“Sir, if I may?” Zoë asked softly from her end of the table. When her commanding officer nodded she went on. “She must feel like a finely tuned weapon, left lying around to collect dust. Dirt in the barrel, and grime gets around the trigger, until the day you pick it up ‘cause you really need it. Then it doesn’t work at all, just sits there in your hand, useless. It’s not fair to make River feel useless, or punish her because of what they did to her.”

“She’s just so damn young,” he sighed then straightened as he heard the sense in Zoë’s words. “Simon, what you got to say on this?” Mal took a deep breath and looked at the Doc. “I believe I interrupted you when you was gonna put in your two-credit’s worth.”

“Well,” he wiped his lips with his napkin and reached for Kaylee’s hand which had been sitting on his thigh in support, since the argument began. “None of us are what we once were.” He gripped the small hand he was holding, and kissed the back of it. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of what we’ve become.” He looked around at the walls of the room that he loved almost as much as the woman who sat at his side. “I wouldn’t trade what I’ve got now, as ship’s medic, for all the hospital jobs the Core has to offer. You people are very good at keeping me busy, using unique skills for which I was highly trained…”

“Doc, just give it to me in Rim-speak!” The Captain rolled his eyes, wondering why the man couldn’t ever give a simple answer to a simple question.

“All right,” he smiled gently. “Let her do what she does best. But I’m warning the three of you.” He looked around the table and deep into the eyes of Mal, Zoë and Jayne. “If she gets killed or taken by the Alliance again, I will shoot you.”

“As long as it’s you with a gun, and not your little sis, I’m not all that worried.” The man at the head of the table nodded and took a drink of his coffee.

“I never said anything about using a gun.” Simon smiled, sure of his ability to kill using any number of drugs at his disposal.

“Well it’s like this, Doc; I figure that if Little Albatross goes down, then we’ve already been killed, so I’m still not all that worried.”

“You’re probably correct.” Simon offered his hand to the Captain.

“Good,” Mal took the younger man’s hand and shook it to seal their unspoken agreement. “Why don’t you go get her? She should be in on this too.” This time he didn’t miss the look that passed between Jayne and the Doc.

“I’ll get ‘er,” the big man grunted and put the last dinner roll on his plate, as he pushed back his chair.

“What’s that all ‘bout?” The Captain wasn’t sure which surprised him more, Jayne leavin’ the table when there was still food, or the Merc gettin’ on with the Doc.

“After fighting and almost dying together, it seemed pointless for us to be snapping at each other all the time.” Simon nodded. “We had a chat about a number of things that day you went to register the work orders. It’s amazing what can be settled over a bottle of cheap Sake.”

“Yeah, and he got ya drunk.” Kaylee grinned. “Loosened ya up a bit.”

“I don’t remember hearing any complaints.” The young man blushed remembering how he’d ravished her body in a way that was most unbecoming a gentleman. He was very thankful that it hadn’t been their first time together.

“I ain’t complainin’. I didn’t complain when you wasn’t all….” The Mechanic’s voice dropped almost to a whisper and her eyes sparkled.

“Oh please, you two, not at the table.” Mal cut in. “I’m gonna be sick.” He craned his neck lookin’ for his missing crew members. “What can be takin’ ‘em so long?”

“We’re comin’, hold your horses.” Jayne grouched as he and River entered the galley. As naturally as if he did it everyday, his hand skimmed the top of her head, straightenin’ the occasional loose hair that had flown free from her clip, when she’d run from the table.

“Well, Little Albatross, we agree that you could be a help ta us on the job, but there are some issues that need to be covered.” The Captain’s nod included everyone at the table. “Who’s gonna fly my boat, if you, Zoë, Jayne and me, get into a mite of trouble?”

River nibbled her top lip and kept her eyes on the food she was moving around her plate with one chopstick. “Inara has the most skill with a ship in the atmosphere of anyone at this table. The controls that operate Serenity prior to breaking atmo are almost the same as those in the shuttle.”

“Thievin’ ain’t ‘Nara’s business!”

“Let her speak, Mal, please.” Inara’s soft hand touched his arm. “I’m interested.”

“I wasn’t talking about thieving, just piloting.” The girl responded gently.

Zoë sat quietly, remembering Wash’s sentiments on the subject. ‘Of course, they wouldn’t arrest me if we got boarded. I’m just the pilot. I can always say I was flying the ship by accident.’ She hoped the Captain didn’t remember as well, ‘cause the more she thought on it, the better she liked the idea of River joining them on jobs.

“There is something you need to know before we do this.” She reached a small hand to Jayne’s plate and grabbed the dinner roll he left sitting on the edge closest to her side. She split it evenly then returned half to him, while she took tiny bites out of the portion that was still in her hand.

“Hey, what you doin’, Girlie? That was mine,” he did his best to sound gruff, but it was an old game they’d played and he’d missed it since everything went screwy almost two months ago.

“But it was just sitting there, uneaten, and it was on my side.” She continued taking delicate bites from her stolen food.

“This is my plate, all sides is mine! For a genius, you seem to miss the little things.”

“You interrupted me.” River pointed her nose in the air and turned back toward the Captain. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted.” When the grumbling from her right became too loud, she placed a hand on Jayne’s arm. “This is important for you to hear as well.”

Small giggles broke out all around the table. It was the first normal thing that had happened at a meal in so long it was a pleasure watching the two deadliest people on the boat bicker.

“Do I have to send you two to separate corner?” Mal finally cut in. “I gather you got something we all need to hear, Little Witch.”

“Yes,” she put her roll down and became serious. “I’ve grown adept at keeping your thoughts out. I could do that before…a…before Miranda, but on a job, if you want me there as a reader, as well as another gun, the most efficient thing would be to let go of my filters and just listen to thoughts. I’m almost positive I can block the three of you, unless one or all of you have a strong sudden surge of emotion. Emotion has always been difficult for me to keep out and if I’m not expecting it my walls get knocked down and I will know what you’re thinking. I imagine things can become very stressful if they go badly. If that happens, I will know what you’re feeling and may pick-up some thoughts, as well.”

“I’m okay with it. It seems like a small price to pay to keep the Captain from getting shot.” Zoë smiled gently. The girl already knew her deepest secret and feelings, so it didn’t matter.

Mal ignored his second-in-command’s dig and thought for a moment about the impact of what the girl was tellin’ em. “It’s fine with me, too. ‘Sides you’ve never talked about anything you’ve picked up when you wasn’t all there, so to speak. Not much new you could learn.” He’d been looking around the table as he spoke and noticed the Doc suddenly blush. It finally made sense why Simon and Kaylee had been sleepin’ in her bunk for the last few nights; despite the fact his bed was larger and would be more comfortable for two. The Doc didn’t want his mei-mei, on the other side of the wall while he was havin’ all them strong emotions.

“Well first rule I’d say would be for Jayne. No thinkin’ ‘bout whores on any job when we got Little Albatross with us.”

“Why you always pickin’ on me?” he grumped. “’Sides I don’t think ‘bout whores when I’m workin’. It’s a good way to get myself killed.”

The slim girl beside him felt a jolt run right though her. It was as if the Mercenary had just read her thoughts. She took a tiny breath to get back under control. She knew she wasn’t jealous, when he spoke of the women he used so casually, but she had a feeling that the time wasn’t very far off when she would be.

“Jayne,” she almost whispered as she looked at him sitting still and quiet beside her. “Is it all right with you, as well?”

“I figure if you ain’t picked up anything durin’ our sparrin’ sessions, there ain’t much for ya to read.” He almost made a wise crack, but the serious look in her eyes made him think better of it. “I’m in too, River.”

“Then I have one suggestion, if it is all right with you, Captain.” She smiled at the man at the head of the table. His fatherly approval was important to her.

“Go for it darlin’, as I believe you said, ‘it’s what you do’.” He grinned at the joke between them.

“The three of you have been working as a team for a number of years now. It might be a good idea to set up some practice sessions in the cargo bay before we get to the drop site.” The young woman looked anywhere but at the Captain as she continued. “We could pull a topography map from the Cortex to get an idea of the terrain. There’s a satchel stashed under Simon’s bed. It contains three more squirt guns. If you still have the one you took from me the other night, we’ll be in business.”

Jayne slapped his thigh and laughed harder than he had in a long time at Mal’s stunned expression.

“I get the feelin’ I just been had,” the Browncoat muttered.
…………………………………….
River Tam began to twitch in her sleep as a nightmare took hold. Her body stiffened and she screamed, just as she was doing in her dream. Finally the noise reverberating off the sound proofed walls of the shuttle woke her.

She’d hoped that being back in the Black, again, would keep the night horrors away. This was the first one she’d had since they’d broken atmo three days ago. In panic she rolled from her bed. Without giving it a thought, she grabbed the worn old blanket that hadn’t been strong enough to keep the cold out. Not bothering to dress, she scrambled down the stairs to the cargo bay in her pajama bottoms and tank top. There she could fight, even if it was only a punching bag, as she couldn’t in her dreams.

As she kicked and hit the bag, she meticulously opened her mind, to concentrate on the passenger dorm. Much to her relief, her brother wasn’t there. She hated that her almost nightly sessions were tearing him apart, but she needed to learn to deal with them on her own, or she’d never be truly free of them. He’d agreed to let her try, but too often, she felt his sorrow mixed with guilt because he couldn’t change the past or erase deeply imbedded memories. Tonight she couldn’t even feel his presence, so she was safe from his emotions.

“Thank you, Kaylee,” she muttered and focused on her movements instead of Simon’s whereabouts. She knew without checking that he was in the Mechanic’s bunk. Tonight she could make all the noise she wanted, and wouldn’t waken him to the knowledge that his mei-mei was hurting.

There had been no nightmares that last night on Persephone, but River had slept in the dress and jacket she’d worn when she’d talked to Jayne. As she’d curled up in her bed, she’d picked up the slight fragrance of leather, gun oil, cigar smoke, and man. She’d pressed close to his scent, much as she’d done his body, when he’d held her in his arms. It had made her feel safe and warm and it had kept the nightmares at bay.

Every night since she’d gone to bed with her jacket tucked against her face, but tonight when she’d pulled it near all she’d smelled was her own shampoo. Too much time had passed. Her protection was gone.

High above, on the catwalk, Jayne Cobb stood in wrinkled cargo pants and T-shirt. His strong hands were wrapped tightly around the railing until his knuckles turned white. Each night he’d stayed up late, cleanin’ his girls, or pretendin’ to read a gun magazine he couldn’t concentrate on, listening for River. He was beginnin’ to think maybe things weren’t as bad as the Doc and indicated in their little talk.

He’d tried to sleep tonight, but only tossed and turned until he gave up and headed to the galley with an arm load of clean laundry. He’d been foldin’ and unfoldin’ his clothes for the better part of an hour, when he heard lightly runnin’ feet flyin’ down them steps from ‘Nara’s shuttle.

“Jayne,” Inara came up behind him and whispered as she touched his arm. “Come with me, please.”

“But, River…is….” He pointed distractedly toward the small girl kicking the old punchin’ bag as if her life depended on it.

“Shhh,” the Companion tapped her lips with one slender forefinger and frowned at him. “It is necessary that she do this, and do it, alone. Trust me.” She shook her head unable to hide her own worry so she settled for pulling on the Mercenary until he gave up his position and followed. “It appears to have been a difficult nightmare. She didn’t bother to change out of her nightwear, so it’ll be a while. But when she’s worked it through, she’ll be up to the galley for tea.”

“How da ya know that?” The Merc grudgingly followed the Companion.

“It’s part of the understanding we have.” ‘Nara stopped in her tracks and wrinkled her nose, when she saw the stack of clothes at one end of the table. “I do hope those are clean.”

“’Course they are. I was just….” The big man fumbled for words that wouldn’t give him away. “My bunk’s kinda cluttered right now…and well…” He glared at the woman who was grinning at him in amusement. “Well damnit all, you been gone for a spell, maybe I’m just doin’ things a mite differently than I was four months ago.”

“Yes…I…was…a…gone…a…for awhile.” Looking around the room she knew so well made her dizzy, as her past and present collided head-on. “And you’re correct, things are different, most things anyway.” She felt a lump in her throat and had to work hard to control her breathing. “We’ve all changed….since…well…Miranda. At least most of us have!” She turned away quickly because her eyes filled with tears. She’d promised herself that she’d cried all she was ever going to over Malcolm Reynolds. That, like so many other promises regarding the man, was useless.

“Ya know, some tea might be okay,” Jayne spoke gruffly. He never thought he’d live to see a Companion cry ‘sides he’d dealt with all the cryin’ women he could stand in the last few days. River had been snifflin’ when he found her on the bridge to take her back to dinner. He’d pretended he hadn’t noticed. “Think I could convince ya ta add a bit a whiskey to the cup. There’s gotta be a bottle stashed someplace ‘round here.”

“Up here,” Inara turned and reached to open one of the high cupboards. “Ohhh,” she gasped and automatically pressed her hand against her side. “What an unusual place to get a cramp,” her words were breathy and laced with pain as she tried to cover her error.

“Ain’t so odd when ya call ‘em what they is: broken ribs.” Jayne looked her in the eyes and reached over her head to get the bottle. “You should be more careful, or they ain’t never gonna heal.”

“That’s what Simon has advised me, as well.” She took a deep breath and then shuddered at the sharp pain just below her heart.

“Well that’s between you and the Doc.” He shrugged as if he didn’t care. “T’ain’t none a my business.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, understanding his unspoken words: her secret was safe. “Would you reach the items needed from the cupboard while I put the kettle on?” Attempting to recover her dignity as quickly as possible, she gave the Merc one of her careful smiles.

“Sounds fair ‘nuff.” He nodded then squinted at the collection of tea containers that were lined up on the shelf. He didn’t remember seeing that many in the past. “Which one of these things ya want?” As far as he was concerned, tea was tea, and unfortunately t’weren’t coffee!

“The Earl Grey goes nicely with a bit of liquor. It’s the one in the grey container. You might find that to your liking. I’ll have the Chamomile-Hibiscus. It’s in the blue tin, no caffeine.” She didn’t need anything hindering the little sleep she was able to get. “Then there’s….”

“I don’t need no ruttin’ lesson on fancy lady teas!” he growled. He didn’t have no patience for waitin’. He wanted Girlie in this room, right now, to be sure she was okay! And was damned if was gonna stand around making po-lite conversation.

“Oh,” Inara hissed. Her eyebrow rose in challenge. “I suppose you’d rather pretend to fold laundry until River gets up here!” Her voice was low and angry as she crossed her arms and glared at him. Years of training and composure slipped away as if they’d never been there.

“I ain’t pretendin’ nothin’. Why’d ya think I was waitin’ on Crazy-Girl?” He didn’t know what surprised him more, bein’ caught, or the fact that ‘Nara had lost her temper. In the past when he’d pissed her off, she’d have come back with a smug superior answer.

“Whatever!” her glare could have melted straight through tritanium, as she slammed the tea containers, he’d just handed her, on the counter. “I’m going to need one more, please, that is if it doesn’t offend your sensibilities to get it for me.”

“Sensibilities?” he grunted. “I ain’t got none of them and you know it.”

“Be that as it may,” each word was bitten out of her mouth. She was tired and hurting. There was only one man she wanted to have words with and he was sound asleep in the Captain’s quarters. In frustration she pointed toward the shelf of teas, “White cylinder that reads Jasmine…White…Tea,” she spoke the name as if she were talking to a third grader.

“Two ain’t enough?” his frown clearly said he thought it a terrible waste to be makin’ three different cups a tea.

“The last one is for River.” Her eyes dared him to make a further comment, but he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. “I’ve been giving it to her each night. She likes it and it sooths her”

Jayne shook the white container then opened it to sniff its contents. “Ya don’t got much left.”

“That’s why she’s the only one drinking it.” The tea had been the one she’d kept for her personal use. None of her clients had ever been given any. Just River Tam and...She shook her head to be rid of the memory of Mal’s reaction when she’d offered him a cup. He’d accused her of attempting to use her wiles on him and had stomped out of her shuttle.

“You want one of these here pots to brew that stuff in?” The Merc’s gruff voice broke into her thoughts.

“Ahh….No, we’ve been making due with coffee mugs.”

“Sooo, ya been roughin’ it?” he teased tryin’ to bring things back to normal.

“I apologize for being difficult.” ‘Nara’s shoulders relaxed and she leaned against the counter as she filled the kettle before locking it into place over the heating unit.

“S’okay, I kinda started it all.” It was as close as Jayne Cobb came to sayin’ he was sorry. “You was right, I am a mite worried about Girlie, and I’m not good at waitin’”

“Apology accepted.” In the past she would have said more, but it was no longer the past and she wasn’t the same woman she had been. “You may want to get your ‘laundry’ off the table? She’ll be up soon.”

Jayne grabbed his clothes and was about to toss them in the big chair where he’d held River the night before they left Persephone. It was a memory he hadn’t been able to shake no matter how hard he’d tried. He didn’t want anything of his, anywhere near that chair, so he dashed to his bunk to drop them down the hatch.

When he re-entered galley there was steam risin’ from both mugs and ‘Nara was carryin’ ‘em to the table. “Well that didn’t take you long.” She smiled at the big Merc.

“Well…ah…maybe…things ain’t changed all that much around here.” He shrugged his shoulders then frowned. “So, what’s this bargain ya got with Girlie?”

“We’ve been taking care of one another during the long nights. This boat can get…well…” She shook her head to cut off that strange train of thought and handed him the bottle, so he could add his own whiskey. “I promised to leave her alone when she fought her nightmares using the punching bag, if she’d check with me afterward. Once or twice she’s had to waken me, but that was all right. I knew she’d beaten her fears for another night and would get back to sleep easily.” She shrugged and looked a bit embarrassed. “We tried meditation, but it never worked for her.”

“Would ya tell the Doc if she…well…ya…know…lost control?” It’s what he’d done and even though River had been glad, it had worried him some, at the time.

“It would be necessary,” Inara whispered guiltily.

Jayne nodded in agreement. “What did ya do before ya got me to hang that punchin’ bag?” Thinkin’ back, it had been the Companion who’d prodded him to git the old thing outta storage and hang it.

“All I could do was hold her, as she cried and fell to pieces.” She shivered remembering those first nights on Serenity. She and River had clung to one another to keep from going under. They’d had no power so it had been cold and dark. Mal and Simon had still been in the hospital and the rest should have been.

“Cao ni zuxian shi ba dai,” the words rumbled out from deep in Jayne’s chest. “Sorry ‘Nara…t’weren’t referrin’ta you.” He added another generous splash of whiskey to his cup.

“I understand,” she smiled tiredly.

“Why don’t you go on ta bed, I’ll wait for Girlie.”

As tired as she was, Inara felt something was wrong. The usually selfish mercenary had been acting odd all evening. His actions were out of character for the man she’d known for almost two years. “It’s a very kind offer but…I’m a little unclear why you feel it necessary to do so.”

“I can’t give ya answers I don’t have.” He was worried about River and it frustrated him ‘cause it didn’t make sense. That was why he’d argued with the Companion earlier.

“Not so long ago you would have….”

“I know,” he sighed. “It’s like ya said earlier, we’ve changed. If ya ask me, Miranda was just the result of the changin’.” He looked deep into his tea as if he was gonna find the answers there. “For years I’d hear Zoë and Mal talkin’ ‘bout all that War stuff, or see the looks that passed ‘tween ‘em when someone mentioned Serenity Valley. It never made sense to me. Those two are mighty close. I didn’t think a man and a woman could be that close unless they was sexin’ and even then I ain’t so sure.” He heard Inara’s gasp and ignored it, ‘cause he was certain she didn’t realize she’d made a sound. “No matter how close they been, it never had anything ta do with sexin’. If’n they had, Zoë would a taken Wash and left this boat. She ain’t the type to go rubbin’ her husband’s nose in her…whatever ya want ta call it.”

“No, they never…it wasn’t…a…Zoë....” She licked her suddenly dry lips as she remembered standing in a corridor and watching Mal come out of Nandi’s room putting on his shirt. That’s the moment she’d begun to change, but hadn’t known it at the time. Her fingers shook as she poured more whiskey into Jayne’s cup and tried to focus on what he was saying.

“It didn’t start with that Miranda go se. It started to go strange before that. I ain’t sure when.” He shrugged and took a swallow from his mug. “I keep tryin’ to pin it down and my mind won’t settle on it. I trusted Girlie’s word when she was yellin’ ‘bout Reavers when we were robbin’ that payroll station on Lilac. Not sure when that started…the trustin’ I mean.” He shook his head not likin’ where his mind was carryin’ him. The last time he’d doubted her, she’d knocked his lights out with a big can a something. He’d trusted her not to kill him, but he’d been mighty worried ‘bout the trouble that was followin’ her. “Anyway it’s the battle on Mr. Universe’s moon that takes my breath away. I think if’n we’d been like we was back in the beginnin’, we wouldn’t a come back, none of us, even River.”

“You saved Zoë’s life, when she ran from cover to attack the Reavers. Wash’s death was consuming her and she wanted revenge. I don’t think she cared about living then.” ‘Nara shuddered still remembering the sounds, smells and fear of the battle.

“I didn’t even think ‘fore I acted, just followed the Captain’s orders to hold the line. But when you fight ‘long side people who ya know will cover your back, ya do stuff like that, I figure. We’d already changed and there weren’t no goin’ back.” He wasn’t ‘bout to tell her that when she’d left Serenity, all them months ago, it ‘bout undid all the changes that had begun. “We ran onto that moon expectin’ to die and we fought as hard as we could, but t’weren’t hard enough. That bitty girl down in the cargo bay saved us ‘cause she’s a ruttin’ killin’ machine, so if’n she has nightmares ‘cause of what they turned her into, or anything she done, then we gotta be sure she’s okay!”

“I’m sorry I doubted you,” Inara whispered and got up to wash her cup. “River has the instructions for the proper brewing of her tea, so you won’t have to bother with preparing it.” She smiled as she poured a little bit more whiskey for Jayne and then picked up the bottle. “You’re right I am tired. I’ve waited up for her almost every night for the last six weeks. If you’d be good enough to take over for me, I’ll say ‘good-night’.” She smiled and headed for the engine room.

“Night,” the Merc mumbled, but his mind wasn’t on the woman who’d just left the room. He knew that somewhere in his round about way of explainin’ things to the Companion, he’d said something very important. He just couldn’t figure out what it was. His mind kept circlin’ back to Zoë and Mal, but that didn’t make no sense, ‘cause he believed everything he’d said ‘bout them. He didn’t know how long he sat there thinkin’ on the words that had spilled outta him. He was deep in thought when River walked softly into the galley.

“Jayne?” the surprise was evident in her voice. “I was expecting…”

“I sent Inara on to bed. She was tuckered out. She left a tea canister on the counter and told me you knew how to make the stuff.”

“It won’t be necessary.” River ran her fingers through her damp hair and dropped the blanket she’d brought from the shuttle over the back of the chair at the head of the table. “I can’t drink it.” She concentrated on the raspy wool material under her hand, instead of the Mercenary who sat less than an arm’s reach away, to her right. “The tea belongs to her other life. But it’s special, and almost gone.” The girl’s voice had dropped so low it was as if she were talking to herself. “‘Nara will never buy it again, unless he does first,” River muttered, seeing something she knew she shouldn’t be intruding on. But the truth had been soaked into the blanket by the Companion’s tears.

Jayne hardly heard her words, ‘cause he couldn’t take his eyes off of Girlie. Tangled brown hair fell over her shoulders and face. Her pale complexion was beaded with sweat and she was breathin’ raggedly as if she was tryin’ to catch her breath. Her thin white top was almost transparent as it lay against her damp skin allowin’ him to see more of her body than he should.

“Girl,” the word ground out from deep in his throat. “Put on that blanket afore ya get chilled. The way you’re sweatin’, it won’t be long.” She was making his blood hum and he was fightin’ the reaction afore it got outta hand like the other night.

“I know,” muttered, her mind still somewhere else, as she headed toward the sink.

For one terrible second he wondered if she had read his thoughts. Then he noticed that her usual graceful walk was blunted by exhaustion. That did more to calm his randy mood than he would have thought possible.

“But first…this…” River turned on the tap and sluiced her face and neck with water. She ran her wet palms over her messy hair in an attempt to tame it. When she moved back to the table, she dried off using an edge of the blanket before wrapping it around her shoulders.

“Did ya burn off all that extra adrenalin?” Jayne recognized the signs and knew what she was goin’ through.

“Mostly,” she nodded holding onto the back of the chair for balance. The movement of her head sent a drop of water slowly running down her neck. It trailed across her chest, between the top edges of her breasts and was lost from sight.

Jayne bit his lip to keep from groanin’ but couldn’t take his eyes off the damp trail that ran from below her slender jaw to somewhere he shouldn’t even be thinkin on. He had a sudden urge to run his tongue over her skin, followin’ that little drop of water to all her hidden places. Instead he stood and stepped around the edge of the table that separated them. “Might want to close this up a bit higher,” his voice was raspy as he gripped the sides of her blanket to hide the wedge a creamy skin from view. “This boat gets mighty drafty when runnin’ on night power.”

River looked way up until her eyes were caught in the laser gleam of his. It was like he was looking deep inside her. A part of her wondered why she wasn’t screaming in pain and fright, like when the Blue Hands had used their laser on her. Then she realized the back of his thumb was moving gently against her skin where he held the blanket together. She smelled leather, gun oil, cigar smoke, whiskey and man. Time slowed as she wondered if this was the moment, the moment where it all began. Were they finally taking the first step that would lead them down the long road to the end she’d seen months ago?

She knew he was attracted to her. She could see it in his eyes now and hadn’t missed how his body had responded to hers the other night. The attraction was mutual if the tightening in her stomach and the quickening in odd places in her body were anything to go by. But lust wouldn’t be enough for them to go the distance.

She searched for the answer deep within, but found it, instead, in the gentle expression on his face as he unknowingly caressed her neck. They’d taken that step long ago, but she’d been too crazy to realize. It had been when she’d popped freezing, frightened and disoriented, out of the cold sleep box. Now all they had to do was drift the currents of time and trust in the future.

“Thank you,” she took a deep breath and covered his hands with hers, needing one more moment of touch before they broke eye contact. “You are a nice man Jayne Cobb.”

“No I ain’t!” He looked as deadly as he could and wondered what had been goin’ on in that brain of hers. They’d been starin’ in each other’s eyes, which was a fool thing to do. Even if it hadn’t been for more than a second or two, but she’d seemed ta have been thinkin’ real hard on the situation. And he knew he wasn’t gonna forget it anytime soon. “I’m a mean, cold-blooded, killer!”

“So am I.” She smiled a crooked half smile. “What’s not to like, as I said, nice.”

“Ya got a point there.” He nodded in agreement, the mood in the galley suddenly much lighter. “Them eyes of yours could kill a man in one glance, if ya had a mind to.” Jayne reached for a lock of hair that had fallen across her face and gently tucked it behind her ear.

“Kill with my eyes, kill with my brain, it’s all the same trick.” She grinned at him enjoying the old joke. “Does that mean you think I have pretty eyes?” She teased, already knowing the answer.

“Pretty ain’t in my vocabulary!” he growled.

“Exactly, but you admire things that can kill.” She grinned at him over her shoulder as she put ‘Nara’s tea canister away.

“Admire ain’t pretty, so don’t go puttin’ words in my mouth.” Jayne tried to look mean, but it was hard when he was fightin’ laughter. She knew him better than he thought.

“Well you have pretty eyes.” Her brows rose in delight as he bristled at her words.

“T’ain’t nothing about me that’s pretty!” Though he’d been told that about his eyes before, he wasn’t sure he liked it. But for some reason when River said it, it was easier to take than when it came outta some whore’s mouth. “I’m a mercenary. I’m supposed to look deadly and scary!”

“Well how about this…” She scrunched up her face and thought for a moment. “You’ve got eyes like the twin laser points of a ‘J.A.R.007Q’.” She thought the analogy was appropriate. The rifle was smooth, sleek and very deadly. Its sighting mechanism was the exact shade of blue she was looking into now.

Jayne gasped unsure if he was pleased or upset. The weapon the girl was talkin’ ‘bout wasn’t available even on the black market. It belonged to the Alliance Secret Service. It was a real class act and she spoke of it with a familiarity that was creepafyin’. “Have you…”

“Don’t ask me a question unless you want to hear the real answer.” She carefully studied the odd pattern on his T-shirt as she spoke. Finally she dug deep through residues of adrenalin surging through her blood and memories of night terrors. Her chin rose to look him in the face. “I sometimes lie to Simon, because he doesn’t understand the darkness that is out here. I refuse to hurt either him or Kaylee anymore than I already have. But you’ve seen the ugly side of this ‘verse. You’ve seen it, touched it, smelled and sometimes caused it, just as I have. My answers won’t cause you pain.”

“I told you the other night you could tell me anything,” his voice was a deep rumble like thunder before a summer storm. He didn’t add that it did cause him pain. Real bad pain ‘cause he saw how her eyes were old and flat, as if they’d died a long time ago, instead of the deep sparkling brown pool, that moments ago a man would willingly drown in.

“Then about the ‘J.A.R.007Q’, yes I know for sure.” She stood very straight daring him to respond badly. When he only nodded, she reached for his cup on the table and sniffed it. “Whiskey, may I?”

“Just don’t tell your brother or Mal that I let ya have any.” He watched as she took a deep drink.

“Oww, that’s nasty,” her words were breathy as her throat burned and her eyes watered.

“You should head on to bed, River.” He took the cup from her. “You got piloting to do tomorrow.”

“Not yet,” she held her hand out and he could see how it shook slightly from adrenalin tremors. “I’m going to take advantage of Simon’s absence from the passenger dorm and sit in the lounge for a while. It’s warmer there than in the shuttle and no one will know I’m up. Thank you for your help tonight.”

“Wait,” Jayne called after her. “I still got some of this to drink. Do you mind the company?”

“I’d enjoy it.” She smiled and headed out of the galley. She could hear him turning out the lights behind them.

Once in the lounge, River sat on the couch with her knees up under her chin and wrapped her blanket around her. “May I have another sip?” She held up a slim hand for his cup.

“Thought you said it was ‘nasty’.” He grinned at her and sat beside her, careful to leave space between them.

“It is, but I like the smell.”

“You’re a strange girl.” Jayne laughed and held out the cup. “How ‘bout you just sniff it and I’ll drink it.”

“You would not be the first to make that observation.” She leaned closer to him and enjoyed the fragrance of the liqueur.

“How come if’n you’re always cold, you insist on walkin’ ‘round all the time without your boots?” It had been bothering him since Simon had let slip her reason for needin’ to be warm more than most folks.

“There are worst forms of torture than the removal of warmth.” River leaned against his shoulder needing to feel him close if she voiced this. “There is the deprivation of touch. Our parents were never very demonstrative, but I always had Simon. He never felt it was beneath him to hug his mei-mei, but at the Academy touch was forbidden. I went almost three years without feeling another’s skin against mine. On Serenity I can feel the ship’s touch as I walk in bare feet. She is not human, but I can feel her voice. When we’re on a planet the ground is soothing and gentle. It’s the giver of life and warms me through and through.” She shrugged embarrassed that she’d told him so much.

“Come here, River,” his voice shook as he put his cup down and folded her into his arms. It was the one thing he’d promised himself that he wouldn’t do. Since the night he’d held her he’d been deliberately keeping his distance. It cut him deeply to realize it had been probably more hurtful to her than if he’d slapped her. Without thinking he ran one hand through her long hair as he’d done once before but kept her bound tightly to his chest with the other.

River buried her nose deep against his neck. She was surrounded by him. His scent made her shiver in delight. His reaction to what she’d told him had been totally unexpected. It made her cling to him in relief.

“Jayne,” she whispered and rested her head in the crook of his arm so she could look him full in the face. “Thank you for not asking about the nightmare.”

“I figured the argument with Mal was part of it.” He frowned unsure if he should say more. “Ya know you don’t need to go on jobs.”

“Yes I do. It’s who I’ve become.”

“I understand why you’re not tellin’ Simon things no more and I won’t tell him ‘bout this, ‘less you think I should, but remember anythin’ I can do to help, just say the word.” He looked into her eyes relieved that they didn’t look old and dead, but were back to bein’ pretty shinin’ pools.

“Thank you and you needn’t tell Simon. Nightmares aren’t an unusual occurrence for me.” She smiled at him and buried her face into his neck again. “This is all the help I need,” she whispered as she breathed deeply of the scent of leather, gun oil, whiskey, cigar smoke and Jayne.

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Quotes

The moving finger writes: and having writ Moves on. nor all your piety nor wit Shall lure it back to cancal half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it...The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

If I quiet the voices in my head, I would face the day with nothing to write. - Unknown

I must go down to the seas again the lonely sea and sky...J Masefield

Cinderella walked on broken glass,
Sleeping beauty let a whole lifetime pass.
Belle fell in love with a hideous beast,
Jasmine married a common thief.
Ariel walked on land for love and life,
Snow white barely escaped a knife.
It was all about blood, sweat, and tears.
Because love means facing your biggest fears


The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of...French Proverb

I have drempt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after. They've gone through me like wine through water and altered the colour of my mind ...E. Bronte

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage...Lao Tzu

It takes chaos to give birth to a dancing star ..F. Nietzsche

How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true? But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face...Yeats

Let us go, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky...T. S. Eliot

In that book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapter, that is the day when I first met you, appears the words, "here begins a new life".
La Vita Nuova

Midnight courage of the heart...Jen Kirkwood

The three o-clock in the morning courage which Bonaparte thought was the rarest...Thoreau

Did you say it? I love you; I don't ever want to live without you; you changed my life. Did you say it?
Make a plan, set a goal, work toward it, but every now and then, look around, drink it in, 'cause this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow. - Meredith Grey

Shakespeare is easy, life is hard...Wheels

Don't try to be a great man, just be a man. Let history make up its own mind...Z.Cochron

I had a job to do and I was unafraid...Jack to John Creighton

For I dipt into the future, as far as the human eye could see. Saw the vision of the world, and the wonders that can be...RWW Hipwell

Without diviation from the norm, progress is impossible...F. Zappa

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, In a beautiful pea-green boat: They took some honey and plenty of money, Wrapped up in a five-pound note. The Owl looked up to the stars above, and sang to a small guitar...E Lear

Sweet and low, sweet and low, Wind of the western sea, Low, low, breathe and blow, Wind of the western sea! Over the rolling waters go, Come from the dying moon and blow, Blow him again to me;... Tennison

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn... Keats

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