Rating: PG-13 - If anyone things this needs to be rated higher let me know and I'll change it.
Pairings: Jayne/River with a tad of Mal/Inara
Beta: My Magic Beta Lady: 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; Ch. 7 - Like Puzzle Pieces; Ch. 8 - In Dreams
Voices And Visions
Ch 9 - Bridges And Storms
The cargo bay was quiet despite the tension of getting ready to go out on a job. Jayne was transferring crates from the smuggler’s hold to the mule. As soon as he’d opened the bay doors, he’d lit the stogie that was clamped between his teeth. He was doing heavy work, so his long oilskin drover coat was slung over his weight bench. Every so often he’d stop and stare at the weather. The storm had let up some, but in his opinion, the moon was a shit hole. There were pools the size of small lakes dotting the thick red mud for as far as the eye could see. It looked like it had been raining for months.
Kaylee was under the mule with a wrench giving the machine a last minute check. She knew there was nothing wrong with it, because she’d been over it twenty times in the last week, but she was nervous and trying not to show it. The small task gave her something to occupy her hands. Everything was different and it was giving her a heavy feeling in her chest. She just wanted them to get on their merry. She’d always felt like that when the Captain, Zoë and Jayne would head out on a job ‘a crime, but today it was worse because River was going with them and Wash was gone. She sighed and rubbed her forehead, unknowingly smudging it with grease, when she thought about the man who had been like an older brother to her. All the hundreds of hours they’d spent together worrying, waiting, never sure if the people they loved would be returning in one piece or even returning at all. It made her sick at heart to know he was one who hadn’t returned despite never having left.
River stood quietly beside the Mechanic’s legs. The girl had put her light gray sweatshirt with the zip front, over the side of the mule, though she doubted it would protect her much in the rain. There was a large automatic rifle hanging from a strap over her shoulder. She had the bandolier which Jayne had cut down to size for her, crossing her upper torso, filled with reloads,. Her long brown hair was pulled back from her face with the large ivory clip Inara had given her weeks ago for working in the conduits. She was wearing the dress she’d worn during the fight in The Maidenhead. She’d had two of approximately the same fit and cut, but she’d been unable to get Reaver blood out of her green one. The overly large dresses Simon had purchased for her not long after arriving on Serenity were inappropriate for hand-to-hand combat.
At the moment she was concentrating, trying to calm the turmoil she felt pressing in all around. It was difficult because everyone was nervous so their thoughts were loud and accompanied by emotions, which slammed into her until it was hard to breathe. She already knew there were going to be problems with the exchange. She’d felt it in the air when the bay doors had opened and had warned the Captain. Unfortunately, she had no clear vision of what those troubles would be.
The weight of her weapon felt familiar and the stiletto strapped to her right thigh was comforting, but they made her feel displaced in time. In an attempt to return to the present, she took a deep breath and watched her finger move in slow circles against a scratched spot in the yellow paint on the mule.
“River,” Kaylee reluctantly got to her feet and took another good look out the bay doors. “I got a rain jacket…River…?”
“Hey, Girlie,” Jayne gently covered her shoulder with his hand. He felt her jump at his touch and looked more closely at her. “Kaylee’s talkin’ ta ya.”
River’s blank expression was replaced with an automatic smile, but the Merc took a second look, ‘cause he knew that her lips may ‘a moved, but the girl weren’t happy. It made him even twitchier when he looked into her eyes and all that stared back was flat dead pools ‘a brown. He’d seen ‘em like that before and it weren’t good.
“I said I got a rain jacket, ya should wear it. It suits this kind ‘a weather better than that gray thing ya got with ya.” The Mechanic grinned back at her friend. “Captain ain’t here yet, so I got time ta fetch it. Be right back.” She headed up the stairs, glad for something to do.
“You okay, Girlie?” The big man kept ‘a hold ‘a her shoulder and took a step closer to her. Somethin’ was eatin’ at her and he didn’t like it one bit. “It ain’t too late ta call it off. You can stay here.”
“No,” she whispered. “I am fine.”
“You sure ‘bout that?” He gave her his blackest glare and cupped her chin so she couldn’t look away from him.
“’If you take muddy water and still it, it gradually becomes clear. If you bring something to rest in order to move it, it gradually comes alive.’”
“Huh!” His head snapped back and he blinked. “You goin’ bat shit on us?”
“Lao-Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and great samurai.” She relaxed and Jayne could see she was back in the moment. “He knew that one must be calm at the center in order to prevail.”
“Well my center would be ruttin’ calmer if you didn’t go spouting all that stuff when we could be needed ya as a gun hand, dong ma.” He wondered if he’d ever understand her.
“All right, but it is necessary for me to concentrate on what is to come.” She stepped away from him and gazed out the bay doors.
“Yeah, Mal told me and Zoë, but I don’t think he’s gonna tell the others. They get a mite twitchy about that kind ‘a thing.” He tried to look irritated, but deep inside it was nice that there were folks that bothered to care ‘bout his sorry ass. “Girlie, if’n it’s easier for ya, don’t worry ‘bout what ya might pick up from us. Just do your reader-thing. ‘Course I don’t want ya to go deliberately diggin’ ‘round in my head.” He shrugged. “Just do what ya got to do!”
“Thank you and it may come to that when we get to the drop site, but until then it is confusing if there are too many voices speaking to me at once.” She already knew how much he hated the idea of her hearing his thoughts, but it was getting harder and harder to keep him out. The others had distinct mental signatures, as she’d told Zoë the day before, but Jayne’s was beginning to blur and surround her. She was afraid there would be a time when she’d be completely engulfed.
“Here ya go, Sweetie,” Kaylee called out as she ran down the stairs carrying a sickly pea-green nylon jacket. “Ain’t very pretty, but it’ll keep the water out.” The Mechanic handed the younger woman the three-quarter length coat. “It’s kind ‘a big, cause we ain’t the same size.” She looked over at the Mercenary pulling on his large drover and smiled. “Since it’s a bit big on ya, it’ll cover all your guns and such. Jayne told me that’s why his coat is big. His weren’t a hand-me-down or bought second-hand at a market stall. He ordered it special.”
“Hump, mines big ‘cause I’m a big guy,” he grunted, though it was true that he’d bought it the next size up and never wore the liner in it, no matter how cold it was. Getting cold was one thing, getting dead ‘cause he didn’t have an extra gun was a whole n’other matter. “It makes me look all manly and mean.” He straightened the collar and cape on his drover and readjusted Vera to be sure she was within easy reach despite being under his coat.
“Thank you, it is much appreciated.” River slipped on Kaylee’s offering. Once it was in place she could see that there were three small balloons imprinted on the left breast pocket. They were white, yellow and pink. “And it is very much you.” She smiled. “I’ll take good care of it.”
“Ya know the coordinates of the drop?” Mal looked at Inara as she sat in the pilot’s seat. “And that you can’t get any closer than five hundred meters due to the terrain?”
“Yes, for the hundredth time, I know the coordinates and I know about the terrain.” What she didn’t know was how much longer she could keep from losing her temper.
“Keep the communicator handy and don’t let anyone go wanderin’ about or open the bay doors, ‘till we get back.”
She didn’t even bother to answer, just crossed her arms and glared.
“The emergency sequence is…” he reached in front of her and began pointing to buttons.
“I know the emerg…” her angry voice trailed to a gasp as another thought struck her. “What aren’t you telling me?” The Companion was getting a sick feeling in her stomach. She’d seen him in a rushed conference with Zoë and Jayne shortly after breakfast, but she knew they had a tendency to do that before heading out on a job.
“There’s lots ‘a thing I haven’t told ya, but then the same could be said ‘bout you not tellin’ me.” He tried to bluff his way through the situation by coming at her with a personal remark, but it didn’t work. She grabbed the cuff of his coat in both hands. The rolled back lining was soft and smooth against her skin. It made her hope, that like his long leather coat, under his rough scratchy exterior, there was another side to Malcolm Reynolds that he didn’t show to the ‘verse.
“Mal, you know something.” She looked at him with frightened eyes. “You better tell me what it is right now. I’m the one who’s going to have to fly your precious boat to pull you out, if things go pear shaped.”
“Pear shaped, ya know that’s an expression I never….” He looked her full in the face and could see that his stall tactics weren’t working. “’Nara I don’t have time for this.” In desperation he tried to pull free of her grip, but she held on tighter.
“You had time for all the other nonsense.” She stood quickly and yanked his arm closer accidentally hitting her left side with it. She cried out as pinpricks of black exploded behind her eye lids and pain shot from her broken ribs down to her toes.
“Easy darlin’.” Mal gently wrapped his arms around her, afraid she was going to fall. “I got ya.”
“I’m all right. I’m all right,” she gasped, but held on tightly to his lapel with one hand as she pressed the other to her side. She wasn’t completely convinced her knees wouldn’t give way, so she leaned her head against him until she was sure she was under control and her breathing was back to normal.
“Not so much darlin’, white as a sheet ain’t your usual color.” He shook his head as he helped her back into her seat. “I didn’t mean ta do ya harm.”
“We definitely don’t have time for tha conversation.” She quickly wiped away a tear that had filled her right eye and was threatening to overflow. “Please, just tell me what’s happened. I won’t tell the others. Simon would go crazy if he knew that something may be wrong.”
Mal’s shoulders slumped. He couldn’t hide anything from this woman and it irked and pleased him at the same time. He held her hand in both of his and absentmindedly moved his thumbs in tiny circles over her palm. “Little Albatross didn’t say much. Only that things wouldn’t go smoothly. She’s in the bay right now tryin’ to get a better idea of what’s going on. Best as I can recall, from when she’s gotten these strange feelin’s in the past, she won’t know the particulars until it’s almost upon her. No wonder the poor kid was crazy.”
“Thank you,” she smiled, though it took all of her effort and training to do so. “Please try not to get shot this time.”
“I’ll do my best, ‘Nara.” He grinned at her and gave her hand a squeeze before he left. He could hear Jayne bellowing his name from the bay.
The mule had been running for about ten minutes and they still had a way to go. Mal was driving. Zoë rode shotgun, with Jayne and River in the back with the cargo. The Merc had deliberately loaded the boxes so she’d have to sit almost pressed against him. In the past, he knew he would have put one of the crates in the middle and the rest on the floor at her feet, to keep her as far away as possible. He told himself the only reason he hadn’t done that was because it was easier to fit the protective tarp over all of the boxes, if they were shoved together.
The big man looked at the young woman beside him. She hadn’t said a word or moved since he’d helped her aboard. She was leaning forward, staring straight ahead. She hadn’t bothered with those odd goggles she’d become attached to, just ignored the rain and wind as they whipped along. Her hands gripped the seat on either side of her until her knuckles had turned white. She had Kaylee’s coat fastened up tight, but the Merc could see her shivering. Her hair was getting wetter by the minute and rain drops ran down her face and neck. He reached over and turned up the collar of her jacket, wishing it had fasteners like his did. She didn’t move or acknowledge his presence even when he lifted her wet hair out of the way. It was tearing at his gut to see her like that. Finally he reached down and covered her right hand with his left. Jayne felt her stiffen slightly and then relax. She didn’t change her position or look at him, but very slowly turned her hand over and laced her fingers tightly between his.
River was faced with a dilemma. Before the Academy she had been a person, whole and separate unto herself, but to everyone, except possibly Simon, that girl was dead. Then she’d become The Subject, someone who killed with no conscience. She didn’t want to be that woman, but was she irrevocable, and forever The Subject?
She was being overwhelmed with a vision of the battle on Mr. Universe’s moon, because it was there she’d given up trying to be the person her brother wanted her to be and had slipped back into the Alliance created thing. It had been necessary, if she were to vanquish the Reavers. Her fear was that because she’d resurrected the mindless killer to save her brother and their friends, that she lost herself in the process. The question that ate at her now was did she have the ability to do it again and still remain the girl she had become on Serenity? The girl she wanted badly to be, the girl she had seen in her vision of the future, dying old, beside the man she loved.
She was losing her internal battle. She knew she had the skills of a killer and a very good one. Those skills had been forced into her mind by people who excelled in their professions. In the past she’d carried out mindless orders, much like she had in The Maidenhead. She considered herself lucky that it was only her dreams that were haunted by the things she’d done when the Blue Hands had been pulling her strings.
The closer the mule got to their destination, the more River worried about her past. Then she became aware of rain on her face and large fingers that brushed against her cheek, as they pulled at her collar to get it up, against her neck in an attempt to keep the water out. Once that was done a warm hand covered hers. It rocked her to the core and silenced her inner fear. Slowly she turned her hand over. When their palms lay flat against one another, she laced her fingers through his and held on for dear life. She could feel the leather of his half-glove soft against her skin and the strength of his callused fingers as they held her tightly. For one moment she took what was being offered and let herself sink into Jayne. He surrounded her and brought her peace. The answer was clear. The man who was gently offering her his strength, killed, but he wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. The difference lay with choice. She’d chosen this; deliberately decided to use the skills of The Subject, but she was determined to think as the woman, not the programmed assassin.
River felt her muscles relax. She leaned back against her seat with her shoulder brushing against Jayne’s as she turned to face him. “Thank you,” she whispered and gave his hand an extra squeeze.
“You back with us, Girlie?” He looked her over carefully. He didn’t know where her mind had taken her, but he was ruttin’ sure it weren’t anyplace pretty.
“Yes.” She nodded. As she let her thoughts move out from the warm safe protection he provided her, she discovered that with her skin against his, things were quiet and simple. “The muddy waters have stilled and become clear. My mind is at rest and alive.” She paraphrased Lao-Tzu’s words from earlier and applied them to the ease of which she was able to think while gripping tightly to Jayne’s hand.
“You’re a piece ‘a work, Girlie.” But even as he said it, he ran his thumb over the back of her hand, refusing to set her free.
“Zoë,” River shouted as she leaned forward. “Tell the Captain that there are three extra men hiding behind the rocks to the north of the drop site. They plan to ambush us after the goods are revealed, but before the credits are handed over.”
Mal brought the mule to a halt. “They set up yet, Little Witch?” He looked through the rain and could see the dusky blue outline of the small mountain range they were headed toward.
“Yes,” River squinted as if she could make eyes see, what her mind knew to be true. “But they aren’t watching for you. They believe this moon’s inhospitable weather conditions will make you rush and be careless.”
“All right, here’s the plan.” The Captain had thought for a moment and then looked at each of them. “We’ll leave the goods in the mule, parked at the mouth of the ravine. River, can ya guard it and still feel for trouble, like ya just done?”
“Yes, sir.” She nodded in response.
“Good, when we call for ya on your earpiece, come in right quick, unless Jayne tells ya otherwise.” They all knew she was well able to handle the mule even in these conditions. She had usually driven when Inara had gone on her shopping trips while Serenity had been in the repair yard. The man in the long brown coat turned his attention to his hired muscle. “Jayne you go up, over the rocks and see if you can get em in your sights from above. You got your listenin’ device with ya?”
“Sure do Mal.” He pulled the small receiver and microphone outta his pocket and placed it firmly in his ear.
“Okay, then give a holler when you’re in place. Once this thing goes down, you’re gonna be our look-out. If things appear the least bit odd, let us know and don’t let River drive down the canyon, no matter what ya hear me sayin’, dong ma.” Then he flashed a grin to the woman beside him. “Zoë, you and I’ll walk straight in once we know Jayne’s set-up”
“Such fun, how can I ever thank you?” The First-Mate looked over the side at the deep mud.
“By seein’ I don’t get shot,” he smirked at her and reached to put the engine in gear. “One more thing, all ‘a you. No gunplay if we can avoid it.” Mal looked over his shoulder at the two in the back seat. “An honest day ‘a thievin’ would be a nice change from folks always tryin’ to cheat us outta our share.”
Fifteen minutes later they pulled up to the base of the rocky incline. Everyone but River hopped out and sank into the mud to their ankles.
“You take care, Girlie.” Jayne looked at her sitting high above him in the mule. “And stay outta this stuff if ya can, you’d sink ta your knees.”
“Your quarry is a quarter of a mile in, but part way up the slope.” She had been studying the path the Merc was going to take. “You should be able to stay above them with no problem.”
He nodded at the girl and turned to work his way to the rocks. Thirty minutes later the other two headed out into the mist. River looked over the side of the Mule and shook her head at the mess that passed for solid ground. She quickly pulled off her boots and socks, took off Kaylee’s jacket and jumped over the side. Her feet landed with a resounding plop in the cold red clay mixed with soil. It ran between her toes, and over the tops of her feet and ankles. It was heavy work, sloshing through the mud that sucked at her feet as she tried to lift them. Made all the harder because she was carrying all of her weapons, but she ignored it. She was in hunter mode. Her goal was a large boulder not far from where Jayne had started his ascent. It was optimally placed for guarding their belongings and in the storm she would blend well enough that it gave her cover.
Once she was in position, flat on her belly, curved across the top of the rock, she stared down the barrel of her automatic rifle until the notch at the tip framed her world. Her mind circled until she was surrounded. She picked up eight distinct mental signatures. First there was the familiar warm presence of Jayne, Mal, and Zoë. She felt the sudden hushed silence of the three men who were hiding to ambush her friends. Then there where the other two who were being loud, making no attempt at quieting their voices and their minds shouted their greed.
She lay in the rain for forty-five minutes never moving a muscle. The last ten, as Mal and the leader haggled, then suddenly gunfire erupted. Jayne began to curse and all hell broke out. In an effort to maintain her concentration River pulled her earpiece free and relied only on her mental powers.
“Girlie,” Jayne yelled, as Vera rained fire on the rocks below him. “One ‘a them got past me. Don’t know if he’s headed your way, but watch your back!” The words jumped at her from all directions. She was never sure if the warning came from her mic that dangled against her left breast, or if she had read his thoughts.
Something cold and clammy that had nothing to do with the storm slithered up her spine. She crawled down from her perch until she was protected on all sides. Soon she heard running feet coming from above. Instinctively she reached for her stiletto and whipped around. As the strange man pulled his gun, she threw the blade. It landed deep in his right shoulder and his pistol hit the ground about the same time his body did.
“Oh no you don’t.” She ran and kicked his weapon out of reach and pointed her rifle at his heart. “Your choice this time, live or die?”
“Girlie,” Jayne shouted as he scrambled down the muddy tract he’d climbed almost an hour earlier, but this time he had Vera cocked and ready to fire, unsure of what he’d find when he arrived at the mule. “Cao ni zuxian shi ba dai, Girlie, where the hell are you?” he called into his mic, but no reassuring voice answered in his ear.
Five minutes, and much swearing later, he was almost where he’d begun his climb.
“Girlie, gorramnit, where the hell are ya?” he growled
“Here,” she called, without taking her eyes or her aim off of the man who was writhing in pain at her feet.
“Why the ruttin’ hell ain’t you answered any ‘a us? We been callin’ ya.” The big man moved around the boulder that was blocking River from view. “Mal,” he yelled into his tiny communicator. “Girlie is okay. She wounded another ‘a them hundans. Want we should come after ya?”
“I’ve been occupied, as well.” She moved to the man on the ground and pulled her stiletto out of his shoulder and wiped the blade on his shirt. “You’re gift was most useful, Jayne.” She smiled at her partner.
Half an hour later, they were headed back to the boat. Mal and Zoë had brought the three other survivors of the ambush to the mouth of the canyon. The Captain had given them his, ‘We do a job, we get paid,’ speech. They made the exchange and were on their way just as the rain began to pound down in sharp fast needle-point drops that didn’t look like it would be stopping anytime soon.
Jayne turned to River and he didn’t think he’d ever seen a wetter more bedraggled sight in all his life. She’d pulled Kaylee’s rain jacket on and had just finished letting the storm wash the mud off her bare feet. In the downpour it hadn’t taken long. She was moving to hook her heels on the seat with her knees bent and legs pressed against her chest under the coat, but she was shivering until he was surprised he didn’t hear her bones rattle.
“C’mere.” He reached for her and pulled her across his lap, opening his large oilskin drover. With a practiced flick of his thumb, he unfastened Vera’s shoulder strap-hook and placed her where the girl had been sitting. “Take that wet think off ‘a ya, the rain’s slidin’ down your collar somethin’ fierce. And you’re turnin’ blue.” He was offering to share not only protection from the storm, but his body heat as well. “Some killer woman you are. Why’d the gorramn hell did ya take that thing off ta begin with. Ya look like a drowned rat.”
“If it had come to hand-to-hand combat, I wouldn’t have been able to move freely.” She looked at him sure he would understand and he did. Their eyes met and he nodded as he wound his hand in her hair. The clip she’d been wearing in it popped open and fell onto his thumb. With a quick maneuver he didn’t understand he clamped down on the three-inch long piece of ivory and metal to prevent it from bouncing off her shoulder onto her lap. After he’d pulled the wet chocolate waves off her back and out of his coat, he stealthily put the clamp into his pocket.
“Ya did a right fine job with that fancy knife ‘a yours.” He wrapped both arms around her, pulled at the coat’s deep cape, smoothing it over his shoulders to be sure she was buried under both layers of oilskin.
“I was glad to have had the stiletto, thank you very much, Jayne.” She almost gasped as she absorbed his body heat. It made her dizzy and felt wonderful.
“Glad ta have been ‘a help. Now let’s see if we can’t get this thing closed,” he craned his neck as he struggled with the six inch wide snap-down flap that kept water from leaching through the zipper, but it wasn’t big enough to completely protect them both. “Scoot a mite closer, Girlie. You’re small, but you ain’t child-sized. We can make this fit ‘round the both of us if’n we put our minds ta it.”
“At least there’s one person around here who doesn’t think of me as a child,” she muttered and pressed tighter against him.
“Considerin’ the way I got ya snuggled up against me….” he didn’t finish that sentence and hoped she didn’t hear what he’d been ‘bout ta say. “Just keep ya hands ta yourself,” he gasped to hide his shiver of pleasure as she slipped her arms around his waist. In his fight with one of the men, his shirt had pulled free of his cargo pants and he could feel her touch move over his bare skin as she wiggled her wet body closer.
“It is very difficult, given the…” she looked up at him needing to see reassurance in his eyes, as she turned completely at the waist, plastering her chest against his.
“Yeah, well…just keep ya head down or I’ll never get this thing closed.” He ran his fingers through her hair and cupped her scalp in one large hand as he guided her, until her face was buried in his neck. Not even thinking, he picked up the discarded coat beside him and covered her legs “Almost got it, River,” he whispered in her ear as he hugged her tighter with one hand pressing against her back. It did the trick. The flap met the other side of his coat. He kept telling himself to concentrate on trying ta get the thing snapped and not to think about her nipples pressin’ hard and chilled against him, but he wasn’t doin a good job ‘a that. He finally gave up. The material had very little give in it and it wasn’t gonna stretch ta fasten the snaps least ways not if’n they wanted ta breathe. He figured he’d just have to keep his arms ‘round her tight. His legs were exposed from the knees down, but at least she was covered. “You doin’ okay in there?” he murmured pressing his mouth against the side of her face.
“Yes, thank you, much warmer now,” her voice drifted up and was almost lost in the sound of the rain.
“Good, this here thing should keep the both of us dry.” ‘That’s all he was doin’,’ he kept repeating to himself, ‘I’m just keepin’ Girlie dry and warm.’ It didn’t help his frame of mind any that he could feel her soft womanly parts pressed against his harder man ones. But over the last few days he’d become a master at lying to himself where she was concerned. He just had ta keep it up a bit longer. ‘Just keepin’ her warm and dry, ain’t enjoyin’ it a bit.’
Serenity was only a darker smudge between raindrops when Jayne felt River begin to cry. It was almost his undoing. Her hands gripped the back of his T-shirt at the waist and he could feel her tears against his neck. As he nuzzled her hair and gripped her tighter, she froze and her back stiffened, trying to put some space between them, embarrassed that she’d lost control when things had gone so well.
“S’okay,” he whispered as he eyed the occupants of the front seat. “I got ya. No one knows but old Jayne.” Much to his relief, she relaxed against him and let him feel the shudders that racked her body. “I’ll give ya a warnin’ before we get home.”
Fifteen minutes later they pulled into the cargo bay. All of them were soaked and Mal and Zoë were covered in mud. The Captain set the brake and shook his head sending water flying. He grabbed his communicator and called Inara on bridge. “We’re all here. Get us outta the world. One ‘a us’ll be up to break atmo.”
“River, where is River?” Simon yelled over the rumble of the bay doors and looked again into the mule, but all he saw were Mal, Zoë, and Jayne.
“Relax, Doc, she is right here and did great.” The Captain stood and turned as he felt his boat slowly take-off. “What the gorramn hell….?” he shouted and covered his mouth to keep from laughing. “You expectin’ or somethin’?” there was a girl-sized bulge in the Mercenary’s coat and long wet brown hair that no one could mistake for belongin’ to his hired muscle trailing down the man’s front. It was Zoë’s snort that made the Browncoat do a double take. It was as close to a laugh, as he’d heard, from his First-Mate since Wash had died.
“Yeah, right, very funny, hardy-har-har.” The Merc grimaced. He’d deliberately given Girlie a few extra moments to get herself together. He felt her wiping her eyes against the neckline of his shirt and at her slight nod he unwrapped her. “Here ya go, Doc, got a present for ya, all safe and sound. But the next time we take her out into the rain, she needs ta be wearing somethin’ that’ll keep her dry.”
“Thank you, Jayne. I appreciate your kindness of sharing your coat with me.” She kept her head slightly bowed as if she were embarrassed, but he knew it was because her eyes was likely ta be red and puffy. “Captain, since the rest of you are covered in mud, I shall help Inara break atmo.” The small woman hopped off the mule and before anyone could say anything, she glided up the stairs in typical River fashion.
Simon glared at the grinning Merc, more out of habit than anger. The Doc knew that the coat his sister had shared with the large man was roomy, but…he couldn’t make his mind go where that ‘but’ led. He settled for shaking his head and slowly closing his eyes. He knew that he wanted no knowledge of what had transpired in the back of the mule. There were some things a brother was better off not knowing!
Hours after dinner, Jayne wandered into the cargo bay. It was quiet and he figured everyone was sleepin’, or should be. Though they’d all been wet muddy messes, when they’d arrived back at the boat, no one had been hurt. They all figured a large part of that was due to Girlie’s reader abilities. It didn’t mean the job had been easy, or that there hadn’t been gunplay, two men had died and others were wounded; but none ‘a the crew had ended up in the infirmary and that was a nice change.
The Merc didn’t think either Mal or Zoë were aware of what the girl had gone through on the way out, but he was, and it worried him some. He was surprised that she wasn’t kickin’ that bag he’d hung for her to keep the nightmares away, ‘cause he’d bet his share of the take that she’d be havin’ them tonight.
Noise from where the mule was chained into place made him start and he reach for a gun that wasn’t on his hip. As his eyes adjusted to the dark corner he realized that River was up there climbing around. “What ya doin’, Girlie.”
“I’m looking for the hair clip Inara gave me.” She stood on the back seat and looked over her shoulder at the man fifteen feet below her. “It wasn’t in my hair when we returned to Serenity. I was hoping it was in here someplace.”
“That mule is still covered in mud. I’ve gotta clean it out tomorrow. I’ll look for your gorramn hair thing then.” He tried not to sound too guilty, ‘cause he knew exactly were it was. It was in the top drawer of his dresser.
“But what if you can’t find it?” She pouted.
“Then I’ll buy you a new one,” he snapped. It bothered him that he’d taken it. It bothered him more that he’d felt the need to. “Just get down before you end up covered in that damn red mud.”
River gave her sweatpants a tug to keep them in place, since they were a bit large and tended to sit on her hip bones, then stepped to the running board, her body facing the mule. She bent at the waist until she gripped the board between her feet and let her legs drop. Her body stretched out as she swung suspended over the deck. Her plan had been to let go and let gravity take over, but suddenly two large hands held her tightly around the waist.
“You tryin’ ta give me a heart attack?” Jayne gasped as she let go of the mule and he supported her slight weight until her feet were on the deck.
“That would not be optimal. Thank you for the assistance, but I climb in and out of it all the time like that.”
“Girlie, you’re enough to drive a man to drink.” He reached for one of the mats they used when sparring and spread it out by a pile a crates on the long side of the room.
“We can’t spar tonight. Inara is in the infirmary. We would wake her. Simon re-knit her ribs since she is no longer sleeping in the hammock.” She smiled at the Merc as he sat with his back resting against the boxes and she joined him. “The Captain just fell asleep on the couch in the lounge, as well, so we mustn’t be too loud.”
“How did ya know that?” He glanced at her sideways.
“His mind suddenly became quiet so I checked on him and he was sleeping. I took the blanket from my old room and covered him up.”
“I ain’t even gonna ask ya what he’s doin’ there. It don’t take no reader to figure that one out.”
“I wouldn’t tell you anyway.” She smiled but didn’t meet his eyes.
“You gonna be all right if ya can’t use the punchin’ bag?” Jayne watched her examine her thumb nails carefully. He knew it meant that something was bothering her.
“I don’t know.” She shoved hair behind her ears. In the last weeks she’d gotten used to wearing it neatly clipped back. “I…haven’t attempted to sleep because I am unsure what is waiting for me there.”
“C’mere,” he slapped his legs and gripped her upper arms to turn her around and pulled her down so her head was on one thigh and her shoulders on the other. He knew he was too gorramn big for her to use as a proper pillow. She’d end up with a crick in her neck if she didn’t support her shoulders on somethin’. He gently pulled her hair out from under her back. It was to gorramn tempting, for him not to touch the silky strands.
River reached for his right hand and examined it carefully. “You’ve got beautiful hands. But you always hide them behind those big old gloves of yours.”
“T’ain’t nothin’ beautiful ‘bout me.” He tried to glare but it was hard when all he wanted to do was moan as her fingers ran lightly over his. It was giving him all sorts of ideas that weren’t proper.
“You can tell a lot about a man by his hands,” she whispered.
Jayne raised an eyebrow and looked at her, daring her to say the usual. ‘That you could tell the size of a man’s cock by the size ‘a his hands.'
“Your hands are large, but I can tell from the smirk on your face you’ve heard that one before, so you should know that according to statistics the obvious comparison is based on male boasting and not fact.” She placed her palm against his and compared the difference ignoring his snort and muttered words. “You’re hands are muscular, which means you’re a hard worker. This ridge of calluses is from your weights.” She ran a dainty nail where his fingers met his palm. “You’ve got long strong fingers. In another life you could have been a master of the pianoforte, but in this one you handle large weapons with ease.” She turned his hand over and inspected the other side. “You have clean well-groomed nails and that is unusual in a man who works with his hands. It tells me there is more to Jayne Cobb than meets the eye.”
“Hump,” he grunted. “What would a Core girl like you know ‘bout a workin’ man’s hands?”
“I may have grown up in luxury, but I have always been observant.” She shrugged off his comment and continued her studying. “What fascinates me most is their agility and power.”
“You’re just talkin’ nonsense, Girlie,” he laughed quietly. “Ain’t never heard of a woman who was attracted to hands afore.”
“There’s always a first time…” As she said it all the air left her lungs and her eyes turned flat and sad. He could tell she was remembering today and all that had happened. He’d keep her nightmares away, if he could. He hated seein’ her shakin’ and broken.
“Yeah, first times, you did mighty fine today. If ya want ta sleep, go right ahead. I’m here, it’s the least I can do ta help ya tonight.” He looked down at her, thankful that she had her zip-up sweatshirt on over those tiny tops she’d taken to wearing in the evenings, even if it was only fastened to just below her breasts. It covered her and he remembered all too well how her nipples felt pressed against his chest when she’d been chilled. He didn’t need to be seein’ what he shouldn’t touch.
“But you already helped, more than you know.” She turned her head toward him and her cheek brushed against the sizable limp in his cargo pants that she’d just dismissed as male boasting. Her eyes flutter closed and she took a deep breath.
“All I did was try ta warm ya up and keep ya from catchin’ your death in that ruttin storm.” He wasn’t sure what to do with his hands, but he knew what he wanted to do with them. It was hard for him when she still had a grip on one ‘a his.
“You saw me through two storms today. Three if you count the rain.”
“I did?” He couldn’t stand it anymore, and began running his left hand through her hair. Starting at the scalp, his fingers felt for the scars he’d begun to find yesterday. He explored until he found another, and gently rubbed trying to make it go away. Then he ran his hand down the length of chocolate colored silk before reaching for her head and starting over again.
She laced her fingers through his and looked directly up into blue fire. “That.” She shook their clasped hands. “That was what brought me through the first storm.”
“You weren’t lookin’ so good and shiverin’ somethin’ fierce.” He didn’t want ta remember her the way she’d been as they headed out ta the job, but he couldn’t help it. His hand was still moving against her scars and through her hair. His legs were crossed at the ankles. As she held his palm she began to massage it with both of her thumbs. Her fingers supported the other side. He groaned slightly and hoped she didn’t hear it. He never knew it felt so good havin’ his hand rubbed.
“I know I approached the Captain about participating in our less than legal endeavors. At the time it was a very logical decision. I still believe it was the right one to make. But today was difficult. I had not anticipated being haunted by my past.” She kept massaging as she talked, but suddenly she had Jayne’s complete attention.
“What was ya thinkin’ about?” He never stopped playing with her hair, attempting to keep her calm.
“It was foolish really to imagine that I could use my skills and not remember the battle on Mr. Universe’s moon, not the one with the Reavers, the one with myself.” She smiled and shook her head slightly.
“I remember ya had a gun in your hand and ya kept looking at it as if you’d never seen it afore.” Jayne could still see and hear that fight, but he’d been concentrating on shootin’ and hadn’t paid much attention to the girl.
“If you had known what was going through my head you would have put a bullet in my brain. I remember watching, assessing, processing information, as if I were two people. The part of me who had the skills to have helped you, admired the defensible perimeter you, Zoë and the Captain set up. That part of me was detached and unafraid. I knew exactly what to do with the weapon in my hand. The other part of me, who was still River, was comforted by your abilities; sure that you knew how to keep me safe when living, breathing versions of my worst nightmares were about to attack.”
“Oh God, bâob-River, those chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo, shouldn’t ‘a been in your head.” He gripped the hands that were holding his and put his other one on her forehead. He needed to see her eyes. Were they dead, or the shining brown he admired so? He leaned over until he was inches from her face, relieved at what he saw. “If I ever get my hands on any ‘a those heishoudaang liumang that done that ta ya, they’ll wish they was dead a hundred times over afore I’m done with ‘em.”
“But you’ve already saved me, don’t you see. Today I couldn’t pull my mind back from that moment and the fears it brought.” She’d unknowingly pressed his hand between her breasts and held it tightly in place. He wasn’t sure he could breathe.
“I…didn’t…all I did was take your hand.” He swallowed and hoped she couldn’t feel what was going on in his pants one inch away from her ear.
“Let me tell it all and then maybe you’ll understand.” River went back to massaging his palm, holding his hand out in front of her, afraid she would break again, if she told anyone the truth and didn’t have something to distract her. “The cold-blooded killer in me stood back and watched as the Reavers pounded on the walls. The me, who was River, screamed in terror about all the voices, but not just the dead on Miranda. They were joined by the darker, colder Killer Woman Subject that was yelling at me to let her out. I knew I had the skills to help you that day, just as I did today, but I was afraid that if I used them, they would control me. I remember crouching behind the barricade and praying. ‘Oh God, make me stone. Don’t let me kill again.' I kept on praying after we retreated behind the blast doors.” There were tears filling her eyes, but she didn’t realize it. Jayne wiped them gently from her cheeks and went back to slowly running his hand through her hair as her soft voice took him back to that terrible day.
“Shepherd Book used to say that God always answers our prayers, but not necessarily as we wanted them to be answered. It was like that, when Simon was shot. My brother had given up everything for me, the least I could do was the same. I took the chance and touched the person who the Alliance had created. I would protect my brother even if it meant the government took me back or that it would be necessary for someone to destroy me.”
“All this was goin’ through your head as we headed out ta the job this morning?” He couldn’t conjure why she hadn’t been screamin, beggin’ the Captain ta take her back to the ship.
“Yes,” she nodded. “When I fought the Reavers both sides of me worked together. The part of me that was River was stronger than I realized because I could silence The Subject as she whispered to me. Trying to tell me that once the nightmares were destroyed, I had six more to kill before the assignment was over.”
“You was close to it that day, I could see it in your eyes,” he whispered.
“Not as close as I feared.” River smiled reassuringly as she was soothed by his touch and the ability to touch him. “All of the sudden it was quiet. I stood alone with nothing but dead bodies. Then there was the rumble of blast doors opening and an explosion of Alliance grappling hooks as the troops came through the wall behind me. Blood was in the air, on my hands, arms and clothes. I remember looking over my shoulder at the soldiers knowing that all I had to do was raise my blades and it would end. No more decisions, no more inner arguments, no more Blue Hands, just death, my death. But something called to me and I turned away from the light, and looked into the room. I saw all of you and knew if the Alliance troops began shooting you would all die. That’s when I won. I let the weapons slip from my hands. I had learned something new. I had killed, but only those who were necessary. I took back control of my life. I was River again, changed, but River. The Subject was only a memory.”
“Yeah, Genius Reader Girl but most of all you’re River.” He smiled down at her and his left hand stilled in her hair. The fingers of the right one curled around her palm. “Today must ‘a been for you, like them gorramn nightmares are for me. The ones where I let the Feds get ya.” He shook his head and closed his eyes as pain shot through him.
“Shhh,” she whispered and rested his hand on her stomach so she could run her nails through his goatee like she had the day before on the bridge. “Our greatest fears haunt us, but that’s all they are, shadows, ghosts from out past. There are only two places they can harm us. The first is in our sleep....”
“Where’s the second?” He could feel her body moving under his hand as she breathed. She was strong, slim and soft. It took all his effort not to curl his fingers under her sweatshirt and feel her skin.
“First times…today was one of those for me.” She smiled sheepishly. “Today I used my skills by choice, made the decisions and was not haunted by my past while I was doing it. That’s why I fell apart coming home. The relief, the relief was almost unbearable, that’s why I cried.” She had to blink quickly to keep tears from forming in her eyes. “It won’t happen again.”
“What if ya’d had ta kill the hundan?” He was worried. He knew the time would come when she’d have to take a life, again, if she kept on goin’ on jobs with them.
“I used the stiletto on purpose. At close range the 358 Magpro you had given me would have torn him apart. After he was down he tried to reach for his weapon, though I’d kicked it out of the way. I stood over him, aimed and ready to fire. If he’d tried anything, he would have died. At that point the choice was his.”
“Could ya have lived with that?”
“Jayne, I’ve just gotten my life back, at a tremendous cost. I’m not going to throw it away because some petty thief wants to cheat us.”
He looked into her eyes. She was an expert at hiding her feelings when she wanted to, though it wasn’t often she bothered, but he’d learned the subtle differences. Tonight he saw warm bright shining pools looking back at him. He could remember thinking once, not too long ago, that he’d like to dive in and die there. The thought made him groan.
“River,” he whispered and leaned closer to her. His hands clenched; one in her hair, the other against the silky skin of her abdomen.
“Mmmmm,” she moaned biting her lower lip and arching her body against his touch.
He looked down unsure what had happened, until he saw her sweatshirt covering his hand almost to the wrist. He shook his head not believing he was touching her soft skin, but unable to stop. With a sigh from deep in his chest, he slid one arm under her shoulders and lifted her until she was sitting with her hip pressed into his thigh. The only time he moved the hand that was warm against her smooth supple abdomen was to keep her balanced and within his easy reach. “River…I…” but words wouldn’t come. For the first time in more years than he could figure, Jayne was with a woman and unsure what to do.
“Yes…yes,” she had no idea what she had agreed to. His thoughts were swirling and confused, though they filled her mind, they told her nothing. She trusted him, so she nodded her head and slid her arms up his until her fingers played with his short brown hair at the base of his neck. Their lips were inches apart. She rubbed her nose against his scratchy goatee and smiled.
“Oh Babe,” the words were deep and ragged and came from some hidden place in his soul. He’d never realized his beard was an erogenous zone until River had touched him there yesterday. He pulled her tighter against him, exploring her bare back under her top and sweatshirt. He promised himself that he’d only touch her there. ‘Cause if his hands went where they was itchin’ to go, he wasn’t sure he could restrain himself. But she was slimmer than he figured and as he cupped her side, from behind, his fingers slid under her arm and stroked the side of her breast. They both gasped and froze.
Hot blue eyes stared into warm brown ones. “Large…strong…hands,” she could hardly breathe from his touch.
“Small…slim…woman,” he whispered as he moved to his knees, supporting her as he lifted her so her face was never more than inches away from his. Jayne felt her hardened nipples pressed against his chest and his arms reflexively tightened to bring her closer. With a smile on his face he gently strummed against the sides of her breasts as he would his guitar. Their bodies were pressed together and for a moment all they did was look and feel.
The decision was made simultaneously, both nodded and both moved closer until their lips met. Jayne knew the moment he began kissing her that she’d never been kissed before, least not by a man who knew what he was doin’. Though she moved in his arms, pressing her body against his, tryin’ to get closer, her mouth stayed closed, chaste and sweeter than he’d ever had. She was like silken innocence and touching her took his breath away. Very carefully he ran the tip of his tongue over the seal of her lips. It set her on fire and she gripped him tighter as she shyly opened her mouth to taste him. He rolled them both to the mat-padded deck while never letting her go.
“Taste…Jayne…ohhh,” it came out garbled as she tried to talk and learn his mouth at the same time. She’d always been an astute pupil especially when it was something that fascinated her and he had her rapt attention. His desire washed over her in waves. It wasn’t something she could keep out, even if she’d wanted to. River held on tightly to the big body that covered hers. He’d been her guidepost through three other storms today. She had complete confidence that he would see her through this one as well.
She mewed softly as his tongue searched her cheeks. It made her shake, filled with the need to suck, so she did just that, feeling the warm wetness between her lips as they tightened on the small muscle that was bringing her so much pleasure in such an unexpected fashion. Then with the tip of her tongue she rubbed lightly against his.
When she began suckin’ on his tongue, Jayne lost control. His hands that had been stayin’ away from places he promised they wouldn’t go, gained a mind of their own. He slid one palm around and covered her breast as he rolled her already hard nipple between his thumb and forefinger. It was what caused her to buck her pelvis frantically against his and ironically brought him back to his senses.
“Babe…River,” he murmured against her mouth as he pulled free. She was flushed and her eyes shone.
“What…?” She pressed against him still lost somewhere. The hot blue of his eyes burned her skin and told her one thing, while his fight to put a few inches between their bodies was telling her another. “Why..?
“Hush, it’s all right.” He forced himself to reach for her wrists that were wrapped tightly around his neck. But he couldn’t pull completely away from her, so he kept hold ‘a her hands and pressed ‘em deep into the brown silky fan that was spread out around her. “No more, no more. You’ve had enough firsts for one day.” He kissed her temple and tried not to see the tears that filled her eyes.
She was fighting to get herself under control and hated that he’d seen her cry. Her body was wracked with feelings she didn’t understand and she was sure he had all the answers, but she wouldn’t push him. She knew they’d get there eventually, but hadn’t realized the wait could be so painful. The future was too important for false starts. She’d been allowed to find her way to him, he must find his way to her. “Please just let me hold you for another moment?”
“I guess I can accommodate ya on that one.” He freed her hands and pulled her shirts back down where they belonged, as she put her arms around his neck and buried her face against his skin. He felt her tears, but he knew he couldn’t be swayed by them. She was a young innocent girl and not meant for him.
“The statistics could have been wrong. The comparison of a man’s hands to other parts of his anatomy may not have been based solely on male boasting.” River pressed against him feeling the bulk that had grown in his pants.
“Hey, hey, stop that. It ain’t nice ta tease a body.” He pulled himself onto his elbows, taking her hands with him. She tried to laugh at her poor attempt at humor, but it fell flat. “That’s another reason it ain’t gonna happen ‘tween us. You’re just a little thing.” He couldn’t stop himself from running his hand through her hair as she lay gasping for breath and trying not to cry. His thumb caressed her cheek as he moved to her right to take his weight off of her and the temptation away from him. “I’m a big rough man. I don’t know nothing ‘bout bein’ gentle or careful, like ya’d need.”
She just nodded and craned her neck to dry her cheeks on his shoulder. “Don’t leave me. The nightmares…”
“I ain’t gonna leave ya, we’re partners. Partners stick together no matter what. Look at Mal and Zoë, still together after all these years.”
“I meant now.” She bit her lip and moved closer to him. She was flat on her back and he was on his stomach. His arm was flung over her waist so he could hold her hand that was buried in her hair on the side that was farthest away from him. One large shoulder pressed against her breast and supporting her chin pressed tightly against him.
“I know ya did.” Jayne reached under him and freed her hand that was caught against his chest and brought it to the mat an inch from his face. When she ran her nail lightly through his goatee he growled and trapped her fingers flat against his whiskers. He had to fight to keep from dragging her palm to his lips and kissing it.
“When does the ache go away?” her voice was ragged, but she refused to open her eyes even though she knew it didn’t prevent tears from running down her cheeks.
“Soon, Girlie, soon,” he whispered and he didn’t think he’d ever told a bigger lie in his life.
It was later as he watched her sleep that he remembered that he’d kissed her. He didn’t kiss! The thought knocked the wind out of him. He’d kissed Crazy-Girl…on the lips. He raised his head slightly and watched her deep even breathing. ‘No,’ he thought to himself. ‘I kissed River on the lips.’ Very quietly and softly he moved slightly and kissed her one last time. It couldn’t hurt her, she was sleeping, but it would be something he’d remember the rest ‘a his sorry life.