Aria A Cappella

Part 8

Jayne slung his bag over his shoulder and took one last look at his room. It was strange that, in such a short time, he could come to regard a room as his. He was a drifter by nature, and had never stayed anywhere long. Besides Serenity of course. But he always knew that he would someday leave Serenity. He just hadn't gotten around to it yet. But this room…he was uncomfortable in this finery, he was more out of place in this mansion than most other places…but he regretted leaving. He'd never regretted leaving anywhere after he left home. This room had given him a glimpse of peace that he had never even considered. It was sort of nice.

But it was time to go now. Mal and the crew would be docking in under an hour, and they didn't want to stay on Maat any longer than necessary. Jayne Cobb never was a man for long goodbyes. He took his one last look, and took off down the hallway.

River's goodbye took considerably longer. She had started her goodbye, in a manner of speaking, the first moment she had entered the room. She knew that rushing goodbyes only led to tears, and that dragging them out led to the same. Her goodbye lasted just as long as it needed to. No shorter, and no longer. It was in its final stage now. She pressed her lips gently against headboard and nightstand, light butterfly kisses that lasted no more than a moment, but conveyed her emotion perfectly. She kissed her room goodbye, from the floorboards all the way to the ceiling.

She wasn't quite sure where she had picked up the notion that goodbye meant kisses. She was very sure she hadn't kissed anyone when she left the Academy, but she had certainly said goodbye to that place. Perhaps she had gleaned it from a crew member. Probably sugar-sweet Kaylee, who thought everyone occasion was a good occasion for kisses. Possibly Zoë and Wash, but probably not. Their collective idea of goodbye entailed a good deal more than kisses. It wasn't from Inara, who thought goodbye was cutting yourself off. Nor was it from Mal, who felt the same way. It wasn't Simon. Simon hadn't said many goodbyes yet, but his were generally short and uncomfortable, with no affection involved. It certainly wasn't from Jayne. But maybe it was.

In fact, now that she considered it, it was entirely possible she had gotten her goodbye kisses from Jayne. Not his own belief of course, but a leftover from his mother's teachings. Jayne's mother was very important to him. He didn't say a word, but he screamed it into her brain. It got very loud in her brain sometimes. That's why she needed to say her goodbyes. As much as she would like to carry her room inside her head, there just wasn't enough room in there anymore. It was a very busy place, and the room would just add clutter. So she kissed it goodbye.

When she was done, she left. On her way out, she kissed the doorframe for good measure. She entered the hallway and looked around with a deep sigh. Her lips had a long way to go.

Jayne stood on the edge of the estate. He half-sat on the skiff Madame was lending them again and shook his head. He adjusted his sunglasses and rubbed his nose while he scanned the main door for signs of activity. He had passed River on his way out. She had been very intent on kissing a pillar. He had not paused to let her notice him. Crazy, crazy, crazy girl. And yet, she was beautiful in her fragile insanity.

He scowled and rather unceremoniously spit on one of the somewhat disturbing topiaries that populated the border of the grounds. Those kind of thoughts led to sentimentality, which, in his line of work, usually led to a bad case of dead. Especially if anyone on Serenity got wind of it. Most especially that gorram doctor, who, by Jayne's reckoning, might be crazier than his sister. At least she was upfront about it. He snuck around, being quietly wrong, until he just burst all over everything. Yes, Simon Tam was just as much of a time bomb as River. Unfortunately, Jayne was the only one who seemed to see it.

He looked up again, squinting against the sun even through the tinted glasses, and saw her emerging. The whole picture seemed like a mirage. A mansion, rising up out of plenty of lush greenery, floating above a windy desert world. And in the center of it all, a stick of a girl whose flowered yellow sundress blew around her, making her look tiny inside her own clothing. If he had been a bit more fashion-conscious he might have noted that the yellow did not go well with her pale skin…it made her look more washed out than ever. But it also added to the effect of the cloth whipping and twisting with her skinny legs. If he had been a more poetically-minded man, he might have thought that she looked like a delicate flower, blown about by an internal and external storm. However, he was neither, and to Jayne, she just looked like a skinny girl in a too-big dress.

She clasped a large, floppy hat to her head, another attempt to go incognito. It didn't do much besides shade her eyes. He probably couldn't have recognized her from this distance if he hadn't known who it was to begin with, but that had more to do with the bright sunlight and the deep shadow of the house covering her. She stood on the cool stone for another moment before stepping carefully into the sun. She walked slowly toward him, appearing oblivious that he was waiting for her. She dragged a suitcase behind her over the pristine grass, but its weight didn't seem to be disrupting her movements at all.

She reached the skiff and looked up at him, tilting her head back so far her hat seemed in danger of slipping off.

"Time to go home." He searched his mind for something to say, but nothing came.

"Yeah."

Simon had been unable to stand still for the past three hours. He stood in the cargo bay, shifting his weight constantly, staring out of the open door into the desert sun. Kaylee came up behind him and rested a hand on his shoulder gently. He jumped in surprise, then, after giving her a nervous glance, returned to his waiting.

"C'mon Simon, standing here staring won't make them come no faster."

"Any faster," he corrected absentmindedly, then shot her an apologetic grin. She patted his shoulder again, unsure of what she could do to calm him.

"Well, what do you think ab-"

"I see them!" He leapt in action, hurrying to the edge of the cargo bay so he could peer out. "Yes, they're coming!" He watched wide-eyed for another few seconds, before realizing that he did not want to be in that position when the skiff arrived, as he was blocking the entry to the ship. He backed up out of the opening, just in time. Jayne and River zipped inside, and the skiff set down.

"River!" Simon hurried to over to the side, holding out his arms to her. River tore off her hat, but waited for Jayne to hoist her over the edge, into her brother's arms. The siblings embraced tightly. Jayne coughed uncomfortably, and tossed their bags out of the transport.

"How was the trip?" Kaylee asked, picking up one of the bags. He shrugged and made a noncommittal noise.

"Did you have a good time, River? How do you feel? Are you feverish?" Simon moved to lay a hand across her forehead, but she ducked away, grinning.

"Had a birthday party and learned some very interesting new things to do with my mouth."

"Mleargh?" Simon said, in response to the last one. River nodded solemnly.

"Oh, yes. And did lots and lots of kissing. Just ask Jayne."

"Blergh," was Simon's only available response to that statement. He looked sharply at the man in question who put up his hands in surrender.

"Don't look at me. Your feng le sister was lip-smacking all manner of furniture, had nothing to do with it." Simon looked back to River for affirmation. She smiled sheepishly and shrugged.

"Had to say good-bye. Despite the lack of mathematical sense in that world, I enjoyed it."

"River, dear." River turned and looked up and greeted Inara with a smile. "Did you like Madame Rousseau? Did she give you lessons?" Inara hurried down the stairs, gown rustling at her feet. She embraced River gently, and the girl responded in kind.

"She was sad. But nice." River stepped back and looked around. "I'm glad to be home."

Jayne sat on his bunk. He was cataloguing his weaponry. Although he had done a full inventory before he left, and he hadn't used anything since then, it relaxed him to know how much firepower he had. Which was slightly disturbing. He had just reached his knives that were between 7" and 12" long when he got a deeply unpleasant shiver down his spine. He looked up to see River, knees hooked on one of the bars in the ladder down into his room, hanging upside-down and staring at him. He tensed immediately.

"What do you think you're doin'?"

"Without x and y, z can't be found," she said, very matter-of-factly for a girl who was the wrong-side up, "it's a matter of mathematics, and good sportsmanship. Not fair to leave one of the variables in the dark."

"Huh?" River gave him a very intense look.

"I'm not finished with you, Jayne Cobb." She curled upwards and hoisted herself out of his room. Jayne stared at the spot where she had disappeared from, a slow and steady dread building in the pit of his stomach. That look had not been very promising for him. Whatever happened, he feared he would be on the losing end. Then again, depending on the game she wanted to play, losing may not end up being such a bad thing.

Author's Note: And, that's the end. Thanks very much for sticking with me through slow and short updates, and sometimes rocky work. I'm sorry for the ambiguous/abrupt ending, but I really had a hard time motivating myself to write this story, and I figured it was best for me to just finish it when I could. So, thanks again for staying with the story, and making it my most "hit" fanfic, and I hope you enjoyed 'Aria A Cappella'.