By:  *Friday

Summary:  The aftermath of Ariel

Rating:  PG

Pairing:  Jayne/River

Spoilers:  Ariel, mainly. (and probably anything before it)

Disclaimer:  Nothing belongs to me… sadly… I'm just playing in the sandbox.

Feedback:  Pretty Please?

            Jayne lay on his bunk, staring up at the cold metal ceiling above him.  He couldn't sleep.  He'd been so shaken up before when Mal had tried to oust him that he hadn't noticed that he'd pulled out his stitches in all of the confusion.  Now the wound was open, and it was beginning to ache all over again.

            He knew that he should probably go get the Doc to stitch him back up, but he couldn't seem to make himself go back to the infirmary.  He didn't want to go.  He didn't want to see Simon and his grateful, worshipping glances.

            Jayne didn't deserve them.  Not after what he'd done.

            Jayne kept turning it over and over in his head, telling himself that that was the reason why he didn't want to go back upstairs—because of the doctor.  But he knew that wasn't it.  He didn't want to see her.  He didn't want to look at her face, into her eyes and remember what he'd tried to do.

            Even as he'd been doing it—betraying her like that—he'd been having second thoughts, and every time he looked at her he had to force himself not to start dragging her in the opposite direction.  Away from the trap.  Away from the danger.

            But he hadn't, and he regretted it more than anything.

            There was a clank of metal against metal, and Jayne sat up in his bed, just in time to see a figure climb down the ladder and into his room.  He reached for his gun, but let his hand drop when he saw who it was.

            "What are you doing down here, girl?" he growled, trying to make his voice as gruff as possible.

            River seemed unaffected, and said nothing.  She began to approach him slowly.  Jayne could do nothing but sit and watch.

            The lights were dim and it wasn't until she was seated on the foot of the bed, across from him, that he realized that she had something in her hands.  He reached over beside him and turned the lights up slightly, their soft white glow moving through the room, and she held the bundle out to him.

            It wasn't very big, and it was wrapped up in wrinkled brown paper.  She held it in both of her small hands.

            Jayne eyed it carefully.  "What is it?"

            River smiled at him, her cheeks rosy even in the pale light.


            Jayne blinked at her and leaned back slightly.  "A present?"

            River nodded and held it out further to him, her slim arms stretched out as far as they would go. 

            "For you."

            He studied her face.  "You brought me a present?" he asked again, not quite sure what to make of the situation.

            River nodded enthusiastically, her long dark hair swaying back and forth in the shadows.  There was a moment of silence until Jayne finally broke down. 

            "Why?" he asked, reaching out and taking the parcel from her.  It was light in his hands, and the paper crinkled loudly.  The sound almost seemed to echo in the silence of the room.  She didn't answer his question, just shook her head and smiled.

            Tearing his eyes away from River, Jayne looked down at the package in his hands and began to pull away the layers of brown paper.  What he saw there made him stop breathing.

            There, amongst the scraps lay a tan t-shirt.  He pulled it out, dropping the wrapping beside him on the bed, and held it up.  It was the exact same shirt that River had ruined only days before.

            But something was different.

            "You brought me back my shirt?" Jayne asked.

            River nodded again and reached out her hand towards the shirt.  "Look,"  she whispered, tugging on it until Jayne could see the front of the shirt. 

            He looked down at it and realized what had changed.

            The hole was gone.  The bloodstains—his bloodstains—had disappeared.

            Jayne looked back up at the girl across from him.  She was staring directly at him, unmoving.

            "You fixed it."  It was more a statement than a question, but River nodded anyway.  His eyes narrowed at her.  "Why?"

            River's gaze fell away from his own, and Jayne didn't think that she was going to answer him.  But then, after a long moment of silence, she began to whisper softly.

            "Simon fixed your chest.  He sewed it back up.  Good as new."  Jayne's eyes narrowed on her face, which he could only barely make out in the dim light, hidden by a curtain of dark hair.  Her eyes were closed, and she continued.  "I fixed your shirt.  Sewed it back up.  Just like your chest.  But it's not good as new.  It can't be.  It won't heal."

            Her head lifted up slowly, and Jayne couldn't stop himself from reaching out and pushing the long strands of hair away from her face, so that he could see her again.  She didn't flinch away.

            "I broke both of them," she said, staring at the wall behind Jayne's head, unable to meet his eyes.  "Your chest.  Your shirt.  But now they're better.  Not perfect.  But better."

            Jayne let his hand fall away from her face, and reached inside the shirt to turn it inside out.  There, amongst the cloth, were hundreds of tiny black stitches where she'd repaired the slash.

            "But… why'd you fix it?" he asked, a sinking sensation forming in his belly.  Jayne's eyes locked on hers.  He felt as though he was being examined from the inside out.  He wasn't too sure that he liked that feeling at all.

            "To thank you."

            That was a kick to the gut.  Of all the crazy things she could have said, it was the one thing that could have stunned him like it had.  She moved to stand, but Jayne suddenly reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her back down onto the bed.

            "River…" he started.  His voice was hoarse, and he almost couldn't make himself talk.  He couldn't make the words come out.  "You shouldn't… you shouldn't be thanking me… I… I…"

            "Jayne," she said, interrupting him.  "It's okay.  I know.  What you did."

            "I… what?"

            "I know.  You called them.  Told them to come.  For me… and Simon."

            Okay, Jayne thought.  I was wrong.  That was the worst thing she could have said.  He felt as though he'd been kicked directly in the stomach.  It seemed like hours before he was able to catch his breath.  All of a sudden, he began to wish that Mal had ejected him out the airlock.  It would have been easier than this.

            "How… how did you know?"

            River just smiled at him, her eyes alight with playfulness, and Jayne kicked himself once again for doing what he did.

            "Crazy," she said, tapping the side of her head with one slim finger.  "Not stupid."  She laughed like a child and Jayne felt as though he was going to throw up.

            Then she sobered.  "But…" she started, then took a deep breath when she could go no further.  "But one day, I won't be.  Not anymore."  Her eyes lifted to his again.  "I just wanted to thank you before then."

            Jayne shook his head.  "I don't think you're crazy, River," he whispered, running his fingers over the tiny stitches in the fabric again and again.  He looked up again when he heard her giggle.

            "Yes you do," she said, smiling at him again.  "But now you understand.  Now you know why I am the way I am.  That gives you hope, doesn't it, Jayne?"

            She didn't say hope for what.  She didn't need to.

            "I… yeah."

            "Goodnight Jayne," she said, standing up and walking gracefully towards the ladder. 

            "River?" he called and she turned back to him.  "If you knew what I did," he said.  "Then why are you thanking me?"

            She smiled at him again.  She was always smiling at him.  If it had been anyone else, Jayne would have been annoyed, but with River it was different.  It was… nice.

            "I'm not thanking you for that," she said, reaching her arms up above her head and spinning around slowly.  He watched her move, transfixed.  "I'm thanking you for staying alive."

            She was gone—scurried up the ladder—before he had a chance to respond.  Shaking his head, Jayne settled back onto his bed and turned off the light.

            "Thank you for staying alive, too, River," he whispered, and closed his eyes.

            Sleep came easily then, as Jayne laid there, with his shirt held in a bundle in his fist.