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Rating: Pg-13
Pairing: River and Jayne, sorry no Mal and Inara in this chapter. To make up for it, I'll be posting a story for them at 'Ifs and Maybes' and my LJ in the next day or two.
Beta: Hugs to ceslas
Previous Chapters: Ch. 1 - Through The Keyhole Of Time; Ch. 2 - Tentative Beginnings; Ch. 3 - Ghosts; Ch. 4 - Voices Of The Living; Ch. 5 - Battles Won Battles Lost; Ch. 6 - Caught In The Moment

Voices And Visions

By
Lattelady

Ch 7 - Like Puzzle Pieces



Jayne was mighty relieved when he heard his hatch thump closed. He sighed and slumped down onto his bed, enjoying the comfortable feel of his girls pressed against his back. What the gorramn hell was he gonna do? More and more lately River was makin’ him feel things he shouldn’t be feelin’ ‘bout a girl like her. She was young, smart, and Core bred, a real blueblood. He was older, with ‘bout as much book-learnin as his ma could pound inta his head, typical Rim-rat. But he’d taken it a mite further than that. He’d done ‘bout anything he could do for a credit in his time. Yup, not the sorta guy ta take up with a gal like her.

He glared at the hook where his old leather jacket was hangin’ and could remember how good it had made him feel to see her tiny green one beside it. “T’ain’t right,” he muttered as he leaned forward to reach for the awl and leather cutter that was sittin’ on his small shelf at the foot of his bed.

He weren’t worried ‘bout Simon’s reaction if he found out ‘bout the way Girlie made him feel nor ‘bout Mal’s. He could deal with those two, if…well…if things were different. What made him want ta puke was the way he knew River would pull back and look all shocked and hurt, if’n she knew ‘bout the ragin’ desire he felt every time he thought ‘bout her.

He’d spent most ‘a last night holdin’ Girlie in the lounge, as she’d slept. He’d done some mighty hard thinkin’ durin’ those hours. It had come to him right ‘bout dawn that no matter how much they teased each other ‘bout bein’ like Mal and Zoë, they weren’t never gonna be like those two. ‘Cause he knew that Mal didn’t shake with need ‘bout the First-Mate, the way the Merc did ‘bout River-Girl.

Restin’ against his girls again he let his eyes flutter closed, and for one moment he imagined what it’d be like to give in to those needs; to look down and see all that gorramn pretty hair ‘a hers fanned out onta his pillow so’s he could run his hand though it anytime he had the urge. What it would be like to feel her soft pale skin as he moved over her and to know the tension in her strong slim muscles as he nibbled and explored every inch. Then finally spread her thighs so’s he could slip into her as they both cried out…..That was where he froze and his stomach felt as if he was fallin’ though atmo without a ship. He’d bet his last credit she was innocent and he hadn’t been innocent since he was fourteen.

“No!” he growled, as his temper took control. Jayne realized he’d dropped his tools and his hands had been going where they shouldn’t ‘a been. He had to stop this, couldn’t let his mind go thinkin’ like that. Girlie weren’t no whore and he couldn’t go treatin’ her like one or thinkin’ ‘bout her like one. She needed someone who loved her like Mal did ‘Nara, even if they was too stupid to get ta the sexin’, and someone who’d take care ‘a her the way that brother ‘a hers was watchin’ over Kaylee.

The Merc would be the first to admit he didn’t know the first thing ‘bout love. He wouldn’t recognize it if’n it bit him in the butt and he didn’t take care ‘a no one ‘sides himself! But if’n things were different and he was like Mal or Simon, he’d take the chance of screwin’ with her vision ‘a the future. Maybe it’d mean he’d catch a bullet afore he was old and gray, if he didn’t take some whore into his life, like Girlie’d seen. But his body was tellin’ him t’weren’t no whore he was ‘a wantin.

His eyes drifted to the picture he’d hung above his dresser. It was the one River had given to him that last night on Persephone. She’d drawn him with a smile on his face as he’d cleaned his guns. He reached for his small shaving mirror and took a good look at the face staring back at him. The features in both were the same, eyes with slight crinkles at the edges, plane of his forehead and cheeks; the right stylish goatee surrounding his mouth and coverin’ his chin. It was how she put ‘em together that made him look younger, gentler, almost as if he could be a carin’ type person, like Mal or Simon. But she’d still drawn him surrounded by his tools ‘a death. It were like she’d said once, he looked better in red.

“Shit, this is just a pile of go se. Girlie don’t see me as nothing but a killer. If she knew ‘bout the way I lusted after her, like as not she’d slip in here one night and finish the job she started that day afore Ariel.”

He looked at the ceiling above him and the pictures of the blonde buxom women he’d preferred in the past and sighed as he reached for his zipper, “Might as well get this over with, can’t leave my bunk in this condition.”
……………………………….

No matter how quietly River tried to close Jayne’s hatch, it still thumped noisily. She was feeling strange and she couldn’t place it. Something had happened in there that left her feeling chilled from the inside out. She tilted her head slightly, trying to figure out what it was, but all she could remember was the Merc sitting on his bunk with her standing between his thighs, and her hands braced on his shoulders.

Taking a deep breath she stood very straight and tried to convince herself that it had nothing to do with coming face to face with the pictures he had hanging over his bed. It was obvious even to her, what he used them for. Nor did it have anything to do with his cryptic words about ‘verses that he’d traveled that she had not. They were both killers, equally cold-blooded when they needed to be. He may have chosen that life, when someone else made the choice for her, but in the end they were the same.

“Hey, Little Albatross, you get outfitted?” The Captain called from the bridge.

“Not yet,” she jumped at being caught woolgathering in the crew section. “Jayne needs to make adjustments to some of the equipment. We won’t have it for today, but he says it should be completed by tomorrow.” She joined the older man and watched the stars in the distance. It soothed her and calmed the odd feelings that were closing in around her. “How was it with Inara?” she whispered unsure what she was really asking.

“Hmmm….oh the lesson…it’s kinda tough to practice operatin’ a ship in atmo, when we’re still in the Black.” His hands moved through the sequence to put Serenity on autopilot. “I seem to recall you havin’ the same complaints when learnin’ ‘bout pilotin’ while we were dirt-side stuck at Eavesdown repair yard.”

A tiny smile ghosted River’s lips, but she didn’t feel much like laughing, as she battled the lump that was growing in her throat. Strange emotions were tingling down her spine and she didn’t know where they were coming from. It was almost like Jayne was touching her, but he wasn’t in the room.

“Little Witch,” Mal stood and spoke hesitantly. His hands stuffed in his pockets. “Your brother told me ‘bout what you said when you where taken by those folks and almost burned at the stake. He said that you thought of Serenity as home and me as…your…ah…pa?”

“That is correct.” River lost her battle with the tears that had begun in the Merc’s bunk and she covered her eyes with her hand. “There are times I doubt Simon’s loyalty,” her words came out in a rush, high pitched and not like her at all. It was embarrassing that everyone on the ship knew her feelings, but she kept theirs secret.

“Hey, hey, Little One, none ‘a that now.” He patted her shoulders and looked around in distress for someone to lend a hand. What was happening to his boat? All of the sudden the women were gettin’ all teary-eyed. Thank God Zoë was keepin’ it together, though she was the one who had the most right to get a bit soggy ‘round the edges. He didn’t give Kaylee a second thought ‘cause she lived by her emotions. He’d seen her eyes get all swimmy over something as stupid as a tree.

“I am sorry, Captain,” the young woman sniffed trying to get her tears under control. She was making an effort to do better about crying at the least little thing! Strong feelings were coming from somewhere and Mal was only making things harder. “I can understand why you would not want to claim a slightly…ah…odd…ex-crazy person as your…ah…prodigy, even if it were only an…honorary…ah…title. Gab…Gabriel…Tam was often…uncomfortable with the thought, even though I…ah posses some…some…of…his…ah…DNA…and…ah…I…never pointed a…a…gun…at ah….him,” her voice hitched with almost every word but she lost her battle and began to cry openly. Mortified she wheeled around and tried to run from the bridge.

“Whoo there, honey, not so fast.” Mal moved quickly, never giving his safety a second thought. The tiny person he reached for could bring his hulking Merc down in no time flat and he was deliberately stepping into her path of retreat. “I’m real sorry to hear your pa was such a chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo.” He pushed a stray strand of hair off her face and frowned at the stupidity of the hundan who should have been proud of her.

River shook her head and looked up at the man she had so much respect for. No matter how hard she clenched her teeth, she knew her chin wobbled and she was acting very strangely, even for her. “Jayne calls him worse,” she whispered in an attempt to gain control of her overwrought emotions. But as she said the Merc’s name she was stabbed with something so intense it made her dizzy.

“Good for Jayne.” It was all Mal could stand. For the second time that day he pulled a woman close and let her cry on his shirt. But this time he didn’t know what to do with his hands. He finally ended up pattin’ her on the shoulders and wishin’ like hell he knew how to make her feel better. It wasn’t like it had been with ‘Nara, where all he’d wanted to do was touch her, hold her and caress her. That had been easy. How the gorramn hell did you hold a woman who ya didn’t feel desire for? It just didn’t seem right.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” her words were muffled against his chest as she gripped his shirt and pressed it against her face. Whatever the strange feelings she was picking up were suddenly gone and she was able to concentrate on what was happening on the bridge.

“Nothin’ to be sorry ‘bout.” His arms moved tentatively around her and he made odd soothing noises tryin’ to imitate the Doc, but it embarrassed him somethin’ fierce. He felt mighty proud that this little girl looked to him as a father figure, but it made no sense at all. “You just go on gettin’ all those tears out, but you listen to me while you’re doing it.” He almost smiled as he felt her shake her head yes. “I’m right honored that you’d think ‘a me that way, but after the way I treated you and Simon, tossin’ you off the ship and all, I…well…it don’t seem right.”

“You were lost,” he could hear her mutter against him.

“Well I been lost for a good long time or there’s some folk who say so anyway.” ‘Nara had always said he was lost in the woods and that he enjoyed it.

“But this time was different,” River sniffled. “She carried the light for your dark places in her soul. When you turned to another, it shattered her brightness and cracked her beliefs. She couldn’t go on like that, so she fled.”

“Hey there, don’t go all creepafying-reader-like on me. If you got something to say, just say it.”

“I believe you already know.” She looked up at him. “The answers are inside of you.”

“Yeah, well that don’t mean ‘Nara’s got the same answers,” he whispered and looked over River’s head out into the Black.

“You are many things, but no fool and neither is she.” River pulled out of his awkward embrace. His feelings were so strong she wasn’t sure she could block them much longer, especially after those strange unnamed ones that had swirled around her moments earlier.

“Well it was gorramn foolish the way I treated the Doc in the weeks before the Lilac job. I picked on him something fierce.” Mal was glad to be back on sturdier ground. Discussin’ his feelings wasn’t something he was comfortable doing.

“Maybe, but it was most understandable, because despite the months we had spent on Serenity, Simon still retained much of his Core breeding. He was representative of a society whose actions and values were responsible for taking away all that you held most dear.”

“Not quite all,” he sighed. “I still had this ship.”

“Yes, but for how much longer? Because of us you were faced with the very real possibility of losing her too.”

“Can we move on from dissectin’ my feelings?” He tried to look stern, but wasn’t sure he was able to pull it off. He conjured the girl knew the truth of things and it was a mite disconcertin’. “It just isn’t captainy.”

“One more thing, please and it isn’t really about you.” She waited until he nodded in approval. “If you hadn’t made us leave at Beaumonde, I would have disappeared on my own.” She bit her lip admitting for the first time what she had planned. “After the Reaver attack at Lilac I could feel a great wave of danger coming our way.”

“That’s what you were doing in The Maidenhead. I’d thought you’d plucked the name of the place outta one of our minds and had come there to try to appeal to my better nature, to take you back.” He shook his head at how fate worked. Trouble had been coming his way and no matter how hard they’d all tried to avoid it, they’d been caught up in it anyway.

“No, I was unaware of your presence in the establishment. I had managed to separate myself from Simon.” She looked at the Captain in sorrow but refused to cry again. “I never thought he would look for me in that kind of place and even if he had, I could have remained undetected under normal circumstances. Please don’t tell him. It would hurt him to know the truth.”

“Ya know, Little One, I’m thinkin’ your brother’s got a few more street smarts than either of us have been givin’ him credit for. You didn’t see him when he walked into that bar. The man was calm and knew just what ta do. Though it might be nice if you gave him a break and stopped gettin’ him wound so tight he can’t think straight.”

“That is Kaylee’s job now,” River laughed.

“I don’t want ta hear none of that talk from you.” He shook his finger at her, as his mother had done to him, when she wanted to impress a point. “I’m sayin’ that not just as your captain, but as your…ah…”

“It is all right. You do not have to say the words to me. I can feel them. Just knowing that those feelings are there is enough.” Her brown eyes looked warm and serious into his blue ones. “But she needs to be told. Her fears won’t let her believe what she knows to be true.” River knew he was a man who had problems stating what he felt, unless it was anger. It could cost him much if he wasn’t careful.

“Yeah, honey,” he whispered and gave her a quick hug. “The feelin’s are there for both ‘a you, hell for all ‘a you.”

“Hey, what ya doing, Mal, tryin’ to sweet talk my partner into shootin’ me in the back if’n it looks like you’re loosin’ the little game we got planned?” Jayne walked onto the bridge with a scowl on his face. He’d just caught Girlie huggin’ the Captain. He was damn tempted to punch the man. The only thing that stopped him was the fear that made him weak in the knees when he’d overheard why she’d been in the Maidenhead. He figured if’n she tried to run once, she might try it again. T’weren‘t no way he was gonna let that happen.

“Zoë and I’ll beat the two ‘a you real easy. No need for me to be tryin’ to get Little Albatross to turn on ya.” He nodded to the girl beside him and grinned. “But no doin’ your reader thing and gettin’ in our minds to see our strategy, ya hear.”

“Understood, Captain, I would not knowingly invade your privacy.” Then she turned toward Jayne, hurt that he thought she lacked loyalty. “You, you….” she clamped her mouth closed as all the lovely descriptive curse words flashed through her mind. “I do believe you need to look up the definition of ‘partner’ in the dictionary section of Simon’s encyclopedia. I would be most happy to help you with the task, if you are incapable of doing so yourself!” Her eyes spit fire as she moved quickly past him. They’d worked so well together for almost two months, but it obviously meant nothing to him.

“Not so fast, Girlie.” He held out a leather strap he’d been workin’ on. He didn’t dare get into that argument with her until he figured out what he was gonna do about the idea that she might run away. “I got this here shoulder holster, for ya. I added a few extra notches inta the cinch so it aught ‘a fit ya and the boot is small enough ta keep that water pistol from fallin’ ta the deck if’n it ain’t in your hand.”

“Thank you,” the words came out quick and angry as she grabbed his offering and headed to the passenger dorm to change.

“She’s mighty unhappy with you about somethin’.” Mal lounged in the pilot’s seat with his hands laced behind his head.

“T’wouldn’t be the first time and I got a feelin’ it ain’t gonna be the last.” Jayne settled into the co-pilot’s chair and looked at his captain through partially closed lids. “What did ya make her cry for?”

“Me…I didn’t…I know I’m gonna regret this.” He groaned in frustration and explained what Simon had told him that mornin’ and what the River had said as well. It was ‘bout the strangest conversation he’d ever had with the Mercenary and hoped he’d never have one like it again.

“Still don’t’ see why she’d cry.” The big man fingered an unlit cigar, mindful of Mal’s rule ‘bout no smokin’ when they was relyin’ on the air filters. “Ya’d think she’d be happy ‘bout it.”

“Who knows what makes women go all teary-eyed.” He shrugged and wished he had a better understanding of the fairer sex. Maybe it would be easier to fix things with Inara if he did. “And she’s a woman,” he muttered knowing his mind had strayed to the dark-haired Companion who set his blood on fire.

“Yeah,” Jayne nodded to himself. “Girlie sure is.” He didn’t see the odd look the Captain gave him, ‘cause he never took his eyes off the cigar he was rollin’ back and forth between his finger and thumb. “She damn sure is,” he murmured and then took a deep breath before shoving the cigar butt into the side of his mouth and looking at the bewildered man across from him. “So what ya gonna do ‘bout it? If’n she gets a crazy idea to run again?”

“I surely don’t know.” Mal was still trying to process the strange look on his Merc’s face when the big man had been thinkin’ on River. “A body does strange things when it comes to protecting their home. The girl made it mighty clear she thinks on this boat that way and has for a lot longer than I realized.”

“But they’s family, ain’t they.” He scowled at his cigar as he pulled it outta his mouth. He never could figure why the damn things tasted like burnt rope when unlit, but so mellow and pure once ya put a match to ‘em. “You’ve finally come round ta thinkin a the both ‘a them as family?”

“Considering the conversation I was nice enough to tell ya ‘bout, that’s a damn fool question to be asking!”

“Okay, daddy, simmer down,” Jayne smirked. “Just makin’ sure the attitude went both ways.” He felt a mite easier ‘bout the hug he’d seen and was kinda pleased with the sneaky way he’d been able to find out ‘bout it.

“I knew I was gonna regret tellin’ you that.” Mal rolled his eyes. “Considering all the times you’ve tried to get them off this boat, you’re the last one who should be askin’ that question.”

“Maybe, but I figure it’s like ‘Nara was tellin’ me last night, we ain’t the same as we used ta be.” The Mercenary figured he could have got lots a mileage outta what he’d found out, but it would only hurt Girlie. She needed a pa-type in her life and he’d been mighty afraid that was how she was lookin’ on him. ‘Sides it would be almost as much fun ta let the Captain sweat it out, always wonderin’ when he was gonna be hit with a ‘daddy’ comment.

“Have we really changed or are we just sufferin’ shell shock?” It was a mighty good observation and trust ‘Nara to point it out, but it didn’t help much with what was worrying him at the moment. He filed that idea away with the huge pile of things in his mind labeled ‘to ask ‘Nara’ and got down to the problem of the moment. “I see it like this, Jayne, with River’s abilities, if she gets it into her head to give us the slip somewhere I’m not to sure what we can do about it.”

“Ya may be right. I know Girlie wouldn’t deliberately hurt any of us, and it scares her somethin’ fierce that she might by accident. She wouldn’t use the Cortex ‘till she and Kaylee put them filters on it to keep out unfamiliar code.” The big man leaned his elbows on his knees and looked Mal in the eyes. “The big question is how far ya willin’ to go, if’n the Alliance comes after her again or sends another one of them gorramn Operatives our way.”

“Yeah…big question,” he nodded as air rushed out of his lungs. “If she’s frightened like ya say, it could make things tough.” The younger man carefully thought before he spoke. “All warrants for the both of them were off the Cortex by the time I was well enough to check for ‘em, but you’re right. It doesn’t mean that things might not change.” He met the steady gaze of his hired muscle. “I do know that I’d like some say-so in the situation if they do. We all deserve that, just like we did about broadcasting the information we found on Miranda.”

“That’s what I needed to know.” Jayne stood and stretched. “Let me have a go at Girlie. We was plannin’ on doin’ some sparrin’ after we beat you and Zoë in the war games.” He grinned in challenge. “I’ll pin ‘er wings back and set ‘er straight.”

“Ha, given your record goin’ up against Little Albatross, more ‘n likely you’ll be the one getting pinned back.”

“Ain’t gonna happen, but I’d ‘preciate it if’n you could keep Simon outta the cargo bay when we spar this evenin’”

“I’ll put Kaylee on that one.” Mal grinned. “By the way, don’t you mean after Zoë and I beat your asses.”

“That ain’t gonna happen, either.”

Both men’s laughter could be heard throughout the ship.
…………………………………
That morning Zoë and Jayne had gathered odds and ends from all over the ship, even digging into the sunken storage area. It was where the Merc had stuck the remains of the Reaver ship that had followed so close to the mule that it had been caught in Serenity’s cargo bay when Wash had succeeded in his barn swallow maneuver and Simon had slammed the bay doors.

He’d looked at the First-Mate with doubt when she’d suggested using the material, but had agreed when she’s given him a hard strange smile; whispering that it was only right that something that had taken so much from them should be used to give them an edge in the future.

They’d covered all the various piles with canvas until they had an odd labyrinth spread in the usually empty room.
………………………………….
Since water pistols didn’t do any real damage, it was decided that they needed a referee to call shots either lethal or injury. Simon had volunteered for the job under the condition that no one was allowed to argue with his judgment. The four participants agreed because they believed his knowledge added authenticity that would be missing otherwise. Though it was his natural inclination to favor River in any confrontation, he knew that the best protection he could give her when she went on jobs was total honesty in their practice sessions.

“Is that what you’re gonna be wearing, honey?” Zoë looked the girl over as she stepped into the cargo bay from the passenger dorm. She was dressed in her usual shorts and tank top like when she sparred with Jayne.

“I knew this wouldn’t be proper attire for going on jobs…”

“It sure ain’t,” Jayne grumbled as he came down the stairs.

River didn’t miss a beat she just went on talking as if she hadn’t heard what had been said. She was still angry with the Merc because he’d questioned her loyalty when she’d been talking to the Captain and was trying to rise above it because they needed to work together in the coming events. “I haven’t had a chance to discuss the subject with you,” she smiled at the First-Mate, making it clear who she was speaking to, “Or the captain. I am unsure of the image you wish me to project.”

“Good point, Little Albatross, is it all right if Zoë goes through your clothes and then she and I can talk it over this evening?”

“That would be fine, Captain.”

In the first round, Zoë and Mal were playing the buyers. All four went through the motions of the exchange of goods for credits. But just before payment was to be handed over, Zoë dropped her hand to her holster. Suddenly four squirt guns were pulled and the game began in earnest.

Inara made her way over to Simon, who wasn’t taking his eyes off the action below. “Are you sure Mal’s well enough for this?” She frowned as the object of her worry dove and rolled, just missing a blast of water to the head.

“Of course,” Simon flinched. It had been his sister who had tried to drown the Captain and the Doc was reminded clearly of her saying that she always went for the head. It made his stomach turn.

“But…”

“Not now,” he didn’t realize there was anger in his words, but it was hard to watch River in action.

Kaylee put her arm around the dark-haired woman who had been like a sister to her for the last two years. “Simon didn’t mean ta grouch at ya.” She nodded toward her man. “This ain’t easy on him neither.”

“I know you’re correct, but…” Inara pressed the tips of her fingers against her lips to keep from crying out and took a breath to steady herself. “He almost died Kaylee, right there on the ground beside me. When he lost consciousness, I thought he was dead.”

“We all almost died that day.” The Mechanic looked over at Simon and remembered the words he’d said to her just before the Reavers had broken into their hiding place. But what she remembered most was bein’ dizzy and faint, too weak ta move, as she’d looked on the floor, seein’ blood all over his shirt. She’d been unable ta do anything ta help him but Inara had been there, tryin’ ta stop the flow that was spreadin’ too fast. “Ya need to remember that ‘Nara, the way the Captain looked that day. Ya need to remember it when he does or says somethin’ that makes ya just want ta throw somethin’ at ’im. Remember how close ya came ta losin’ him forever.”

Inara paled. The Mechanic, hated havin’ to say what she did to her friend, but it was the only way she could help her.

“Kaylee’s right.” Simon looked at the two women. The action had ended for the moment on the cargo bay floor. “I’m sure it is the only reason I haven’t been evicted from her bunk, a time or two.”

“Oh that ain’t so, exactly, well maybe just that once.” The girl put her arms around the man she loved and he kissed the top of her head. “Who won that round?”

“It was extremely close, but Zoë and Mal. I’m very glad they were only using water in those guns. I’m not sure even the winners would have survived long enough to spend their ill gotten gains, if it had been the real thing.” He kissed Kaylee again; very glad her job on Serenity had nothing to do with guns.

“Stop kissin’ my Mechanic and pay attention, Doc, we’re waiting on ya.”

“Ahhh the joys of murder and mayhem,” Simon muttered but kept his arm firmly around the woman who brought him such happiness. “Ready when you are,” he called down.

Round two was quick and dirty. Jayne and River were the bad guys this time. The big Merc didn’t even wait for a proper exchange. As soon as he saw the goods, he pulled his gun and began firing. Unbeknownst to the losers, River had tucked hers into the back of the Merc’s belt. From her spot just behind his shoulder, she had it in her hand before he’d pulled his. Mal and Zoë didn’t stand a chance and the other two walked away without getting wet.

Round three took the longest. Both groups had a better idea of what to expect and everyone was being cautious. When water fire began, all four dove behind cover.

River and Jayne had a plan. He was going to move around to the side to get a better shot, while Girlie was to cover him. All was going well, until Mal charged the girl’s position. She shot him, but her gun miss-fired, the water lost power and just grazed his shoulder. She pulled her trigger again but nothing happened.

“Looks like you’re outta ‘a ammo, Little Witch.” the Captain grinned and jumped behind the nearest cover while firing at her. She’d rolled away as soon as she realized what was happening, but she wasn’t quick enough. Mal’s shot caught her left arm and in an effort to get clear of his second shot, Zoë had spotted her. The First-Mate was moving fast to get the girl into her line of fire.

The Merc had seen what was about to happen and it made his gut twist. ‘T’weren’t no way that Girlie was goin’ down,’ the thought rumbled through his brain as he shifted positions and growled. He killed the Captain with a spray of water across his back. When he’d been shootin’ so had Zoë, but not at River. Girlie was unarmed, so the older woman swung around and took aim at the deadliest of the pair first. She got Jayne in the chest.

Without a word bein’ exchanged between them, the falling Mercenary tossed his gun to the Little Killer Woman. She reached up, and snagged it from the air. Acting on instinct she wheeled around, brought the gun into position and shot Zoë in the head with a spray of water, before the older woman could bring her weapon to bear on her new target.

River stood crouched, pistol at ready as her eyes swept the cargo bay for danger. On the inside she was shaking but training prevented her from letting it show.

The second Simon called the game results, Jayne jumped up from the deck. “Way ta go, Girlie,” he called out with glee until he saw her tense stance. He stepped in front of her and gently removed the gun from her hand. Their eyes met and he nodded at her in reassurance. “We did it.”

“Yes, we did,” she whispered and slowly relaxed as she came back to the moment.

“Hooray, Girlie,” Jayne shouted with a grin and placed one large hand on either side of her waist. As she smiled back with a nodded, he lifted her and she gracefully leapt. It was a movement that many couldn’t have done with practice, but they did it for the first time, with no verbal communication. The next thing the startled onlookers knew, she was sitting on his right shoulder, with his right hand placed across her thighs. Her left arm lay gently around his neck and the fingers of their free hands were laced tightly, with palms pressed together so she could lean slightly forward. They laughed as he twirled them around. But neither took their eyes off the other as they spun. Their earlier problems put aside for later in their moment of triumph.

“I was a mite worried. That little toy gun is so light I could ‘a misjudged the toss.” Jayne spoke quietly to the girl whose face was inches from his. Her hair brushed against his cheeks and her scent surrounded him.

“You threw it, I caught it.” She smiled and laughed.

“Sir, how come you never do that to me?” Zoë looked at Mal while pointing at Jayne and River. It was hard for her to keep a straight face. They did the oddest things and it tugged at her heart.

“’Cause you guys don’t win that often,” the Merc called out. “It’s all them plans ‘a the Captain’s.”

“That will be enough of that.” He glared. “How ‘bout puttin’ my pilot back on the ground, before you make her dizzy and she falls and bumps her head.”

“Ya ready, Girlie.” He looked up at her and something pulled at his gut as he felt her hair catch in his goatee.

“Yes,” she whispered, though she wasn’t sure her legs would hold her. She felt intoxicated and strange.

“Then let’s go.” He freed her hand and dragged his fingers lightly over the skin of her thighs as he loosened his hold. She flipped onto her stomach, still balanced on his shoulder, threw her arms in the air and arched her back planning on jumping to the ground. But he had other ideas. His hands gripped her waist and he slowly lowered her to the deck. He was gratified when she placed both hands on his shoulders and smiled. Their bodies slid against one another in a way that made the big man want to groan. To the others the movement was as fast as the first had been, but to Jayne it seemed to go on forever.

“They look like they’s dancin’ again,” Kaylee chirped from the catwalk.

“Yes they do.” Simon didn’t take his eyes off the Mercenary and his sister. He wasn’t sure what he was seeing but was almost convinced he didn’t want to know.

“Girlie and me ‘er gonna move some ‘a this stuff outta the way so we can do some sparrin’.” Jayne pulled his work gloves and hers from his back pocket. “’Sides it’s all gotta be rearranged if’n we gonna do this again tomorrow,” he called to Mal as the rest of the crew headed out of the bay. Kaylee had her arm around Simon and was whispering in his ear. Looked like those two were going to be occupied until at least dinner.

“Thank you,” River muttered with a frown. All her anger from earlier was returning as he handed her the gloves. “I had wondered where these had disappeared to.”

“Didn’t disappear, they was sitting with the rope and sling we used ta get the wirin’ done. He knew she was mad at him, but he didn’t care none. “Just put the gorramn things on and let’s get ta work.”

“I am tired of everyone always telling me what to do!” She tossed the gloves to the deck with a satisfying plop. She knew her outburst had almost nothing to with the leather objects at her feet. “Complaining about what I wear, not trusting…”

“Now look here, Girlie,” Jayne ground out as he grabbed her shoulders. He was furious at her ‘cause his conversation with the Captain earlier had frightened him. He was afraid that she’d run and he wouldn’t be able to stop her. He was furious with himself ‘cause he’d taken every chance to touch her and enjoyed it when he’d promised he’d keep his hands off ‘a her. “Maybe that’s because you don’t have the sense that God gave a new born chick! I’m sick ta death a havin’ ta watch your ass! Now you pick up them meiyou muquin de xiao gou gloves and put ‘em on right quick!”

“You heishoudaang liumang,” River shouted.

“Sounds like the little Core girl’s got herself some Rim language.” He shot back.

“You’re not upset about the gloves.” She glared at him, knowing it was the truth. They’d had that discussion too often for him to react like this. There was something else going on. Her anger bubbled up to meet his and she felt other emotions swirling off of him but she couldn’t identify them. “Why are you angry? If anyone should be angry it’s me. You didn’t trust me. You thought I’d sell you out to the Captain and Zoë. How could you believe that?” her voice rose and she didn’t care if they heard her all the way to Persephone.

“That’s not true!” He fought back.

“Then why did you say what you did?” She glared at him and poked him in the chest.

“I was just hasslin’ Mal is all.”

“That isn’t it!” She was furious because she knew he wasn’t telling her the truth. “You can’t lie to me, Jayne, I know you too well. I can see it on your face.”

“Sure ya ain’t diggin’ it outta my mind.” It was a low blow and he knew it, but it was his worst fear and he couldn’t help himself.

“Ohhhhhh,” she caught her breath and flinched as if she were deflecting a blow. “I can’t do this. I thought we trusted…I can’t.” She backed away, shaking her head.

“Wait.” His arm flew out and grabbed her wrist. “You told me today that I could tell ya anythin’.” He stopped and worked to get his anger under control. “Well I’m takin ya at your word. I never had no partner before, least ways not one I could trust or who trusted me.” His large callused thumb moved in circles across the top ‘a her hand, but he couldn’t let her go until he knew her reaction.

“It’s hard for me too,” she whispered and stepped closer. “I have some reference points for when we’re all together as a crew, like family.” She bit her lip hating to admit what she knew to be true. “When you fought beside me in the Maidenhead, it was the first time I…ah.... I have almost no memories of when I killed for them, but I know for certain that I always did it alone.”

“Aww, Girlie,” he sighed and brought her face against his chest for a quick, almost-hug. Then he stepped back. “It should be interestin’ two people who’ve always worked alone, workin’ as a team.” He smiled and let go of her wrist. “We did mighty well together today.” He bent and picked up her gloves. It hurt to hear her truths. She’d been all alone for three years ‘ceptin’ for men who’d hurt her or use her ta kill. “I noticed ya kept reachin’ for somethin’ on ya right thigh whilst we was fightin’. Got any idea what it might ‘a been?”

She took the gloves from his hands and closed her eyes concentrating as hard as she could. “A stiletto?” the word came out as a question until the picture in her mind cleared. “I always had a stiletto strapped there.” She shivered at the memory.

“I got a passel of knives, don’t know if any ‘a them are rightly a sti-letto, but if’n ya like we can go through ‘em tomorrow. Seemed ta me you was missin’ havin’ it where ya could get at it.”

“I think I would appreciate that.” She smiled as she pulled on her gloves.

“Let’s get this taken care of. But be careful, we used parts from that crashed Reavers’ ship. Don’t want ‘a get cut with anything from them.”
……………………………..

Twenty minutes later they’d rolled out the mats, taken off their boots and were sparring like they did every night. But tonight Jayne had an ulterior motive. He wanted Girlie as physically tired as he could get her before he talked ta her ‘bout not runnin’ if trouble came for ‘er. It just might give him the edge he needed to keep from getting’ his ass kicked, if’n she didn’t want ta have the discussion he planned and he was damn sure it was somthin’ she wasn’t gonna want ‘a hear.

They’d been going at it for almost half an hour. The Merc had been pushing her harder and harder. River had responded by doing more and more complicated maneuvers. They were both breathing hard and sweat was running off of them, when he saw his chance. She’d let her guard down for an instant and he swept her feet out from under her and followed her down to the mat, pinning her in place with his body.

“Jayne?” she yelped in surprise. She was well trained and could have easily gotten out from under him, but she would have had to damage him to do so. It was something she realized she’d never do. “You’re still angry? I wore the gloves, and…”

“I’m more ‘n angry, darlin’. He reached for her delicate wrists and pinned them to the ground above her head. “I heard some ‘a what ya told Mal.”

“I know, I could feel you standing on the other side of the door.”

His left eyebrow twitched as he listened to her and he decided that part of the discussion could wait for later. “Ya gotta promise me that you’ll never try ta run away again!” his voice rumbled and the ferocity caught her by surprise.

“But you wanted me gone!” He wasn’t making sense to her and she couldn’t make that promise because she’d never lie to him. “You were angry with the Captain for bringing me back and if I hadn’t knocked you on the head with a can of processed food, you’d have handed me over to the Alliance. You’re not making any sense. Now let me up!”

“Gorramnit, don’t try to dance outta the question,” he growled and pressed his body into hers. “’Sides, that was then and this is now. I ain’t all that sure I’d ‘a taken ya back no matter what I said. I was angry, at ya, at the Captain and the whole ruttin ‘verse. Two days earlier I’d had my ass handed to me by a ninety pound girl in a very public place. My balls was still hurtin’ and I don’t have the calmest nature under the best of circumstances.”

“Jayne…”

“No, you listen to me and listen good. I don’t care if’n you don’t tell Mal or Simon or any other ruttin soul on this boat. But so help me River Tam you try and run away ‘specially ‘cause your worried ‘bout the rest ‘a us, you had better be tellin’ me! ‘Cause if’n you don’t, when I catch up ta ya, I’ll tan your be-hind, so’s ya can’t sit down for a week. And I will catch up ta ya!”

“Do not threaten me, Jayne Cobb!” Her eyes shot fire and she began to struggle against him.

“T’weren’t a threat, Girlie.” His head was swimming from her nearness. This was too damn much like the little fantasy he’d had in his bunk. Her hair was all spread out ‘round her head and he itched to run his hands through it. ‘Specially rememberin’ how it’d felt as it fell across his face and tangled in his whiskers. He could feel her damp body pressin’ against his. It was like every dream and every nightmare rolled inta one. His control was hanging by a thread.

“Please let me go.” Her eyes began to glisten and she was afraid she was going to cry. Having him close was making her head spin and lights flashed behind her eyes. She saw again the image of them lying in bed, old and spent, years and years of loving behind them. Then she knew. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place. She couldn’t run from this man because if she did she’d die, because she’d be leaving her heart behind. When had she begun to love him? She was sure she hadn’t yesterday?

“I ain’t gonna do that ‘till ya promise me.” He could see tears on her face and it hurt him, but he knew it would hurt him more if’n she left. He’d made the decision when he’d talked with Mal, if’n she needed to leave, he’d go with her. Didn’t make no sense, but he couldn’t leave her. He knew she weren’t his and never could be, but he still couldn’t leave her.

“All right,” she gasped.

“Look me in the eyes and say it,” he demanded.

She slowly opened her eyes and looked directly into his. She wasn’t sure she could breathe with him pressing against almost every inch of her body, let alone talk. “I promise.”

“All of it.” He watched her carefully and almost gave in when her lip began to quiver, but this was too important.

“I promise that if…if I have to leave I’ll tell you about it first. But you have to promise you won’t tell Simon.”

“Honey, I talked this through with Mal. He’s for protectin’ ya. He thinks that everyone should have a say in it.”

“I can’t do it then. Jayne, you and I know; the Captain thinks he knows, but he doesn’t.” Tears were running down her face at the thought of leaving all the people and the ship she loved. “I will tell you, but you can’t tell anyone else.”

Jayne freed her hands and ran his thumbs over her damp cheeks. God he wanted ta kiss her. He froze at the thought. He didn’t kiss. The girl was drivin’ him crazy!

“Please, Jayne, let that be enough. I don’t want anyone else to die because of me.”

“You gotta let me come with ya if’n it suits me.”

“All right,” she whispered. She couldn’t fight him on that. It was something she’d seen months ago.

“Promise me, River. Look me directly in the eyes and promise me.”

“I promise,” she cried, burying her face against his shoulder. He’d called her by name! Thinking back she realized that he’d done it before, but it had never meant so much as it did now.

“Then we got ourselves a deal.” He held her for a moment before rolling off a’ her and getting to his feet. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do, but he did it. She was shivering, he’d felt it before and it was worse since she was sitting alone on the mat with her face hidden by her hands. He wanted to go to her and hold her, keep her warm and snug against his body, but he’d promised he’d keep his hands off a’ her. Her cryin’ made it harder to keep his distance. But he was a tough guy and could do what needed ta be done. “Get up, Girlie. Go take yourself a nice hot shower. I’ll the roll up the mats.” He knew it came out gruffer than he’d meant it to, but it was the best he could do.

She nodded as she got to her feet afraid to speak for fear of losing control completely. It was so much harder now that she was further down their joint path than he was. The distance across the cargo bay had never seemed so long and she’d never felt as if she’d walked it so slowly. It took everything in her to keep from running.

As soon as she was out of sight, his legs gave out and he dropped to the mat with his head in his hands. He was gonna need a cold shower, a very cold one after this little go round.

As soon as they had some credits again, he figured he needed to get himself some trim. There was no other excuse for lustin’ after the Crazy-Girl. He’d just been too long without a woman. He’d been too broke and too busy when they’d been workin’ on the ship. Ya, some trim was all that he needed to be back to his old self again. He figured if’n he told himself that often enough, he might start believin’ it. “Damn I’m royally screwed!” he muttered as he rubbed his eyes.

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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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