BOOK ONE: The Beginning
Chapter One: A is for Aftermath
Disclaimer: No son mios!
SUMMARY: Immediately post-Serenity. The alphabet of hope, redemption, and loss. River/Jayne.
RATING: R for the series, PG this chapter
SPOILERS: Through the film, Serenity.
WARNINGS: Eventual character death
Okay, I should SO be in bed right now. Instead, I'm typing. Why? Because they're addictive, that's why. Allow me to present my first ever Firefly fic, and please keep in mind I'm writing this at one in the morning. I beg you, be gentle! This is the first chapter in a series that will be twenty-six chapters long – one for each letter of the alphabet -- broken into three "books." I'm still feeling out the characters, so it might be a bit rough going at first, but I'll settle in eventually. :) Enjoy!
A is for the aftermath, when the worlds somehow kept spinning and the universe expanding while Serenity sailed through the black hollows of space, less one pilot and heaped to the rafters with an ocean of sorrow. River swam through the waves as they buffeted her left and right, and decided (not for the first time) that her name was apropos, as she spent so much of her life drenched in tears; some her own, some from others. It had gotten to the point now that she couldn't tell which was which anymore
She sought him out, a rock in rough seas, because his harbor was a quiet place, his solid bulk a beacon, there to save her from the rocks. At first he tried to chase her away, growling, barking, eventually threatening with the edge of his knife, but River wouldn't leave. Finally he abandoned the effort and let her be. So she sat at Jayne's feet on his bunkroom floor and stared up at him as he actively ignored her and continued to polish his guns.
"Gorram it, girl, why you gotta keep staring at me like that?" he asked one such morning, as she watched him take apart Vera for the sixth time in as many days. "Ain't you got nothin' better to do than eyeball a man like that?"
River watched his fingers deftly take the gun apart. "The girl is drifting in billows of grief," she supplied, resting her chin on his knee, feeling his heat soak into her skin. "She seeks a safe port in the storm."
"I thought you was past all that gobbledygook speak," he muttered, separating Vera's barrel into its component parts and setting about polishing them in due order.
"Relapse," she murmured.
"Ain't you got somethin' that can make you quit it?"
"Oh. Well, shut it then. A man can't think with you yammering all day like a chicken in the barnyard."
"You ask the girl a question, she answers in kind. To deny the answer is to negate the question, and therefore forfeit meaning and waste breath. You are a very stupid man sometimes, Jayne Cobb."
He started sputtering, obviously trying to think of a fitting rebuke, but she cut him off. "Teach me," she murmured.
That shut him up. "What?" he asked, clearly flustered by the sudden U-turn the conversation had taken. "Teach you what?"
"How not to feel."
"Say what now?"
Clambering onto her knees, River rested her hands on his thigh and gazed imploringly up into his face. "All sides it comes, crashing over the Riverboat and swamping her like a coracle in unfriendly water. Over and over, the tears in her head, they won't stop falling, they fill her with salt. The salt dries her out, turns her meat to tough jerky, and the water makes her slosh. She ripples when she walks. She is drowning in herself."
Jayne blinked at her. "What... the gorram hell... are you talking about?"
River moaned softly, then pushed up higher on her knees so they were nose to nose. "Everyone here is so sad," she whispered, as if sharing a deathly important secret. "It hurts the girl's head; hurts her heart. Hurts."
Jayne frowned at her. He was a man of simple views on complex subjects, and things like grieving weren't natural to his thought process. "Just... I dunno, ignore it," he ventured.
River shook her head. "Can't. Won't. No filter. No rice paper sliding wall."
"So what am I supposed to do? What, you want I should whack you over the head with something? I got an assortment can help with that kind of thing, if you want."
"No, many thanks. Please teach me not to feel."
"Look, I don't know what kind of addle-brained go se you're spouting, but I ain't no teacher anyhows. So git if you ain't gonna start talking sense."
It was times like these when River wondered if she really was talking nonsense, or if Jayne was just too dense to understand the words coming out of her mouth. She decided to switch tacks. "Simon and Kaylee find comfort in each other," she murmured, her fingers flexing on his thigh. "Their sorrow is muted and pink. The others... their grief is a chisel. It hacks and it smacks and it chips the girl's thin soul away. Her soul is holey. A holey soul."
"Well then I guess you got a nice shiny ticket to the hereafter, now don't you?"
She ignored him. "So the girl, she tries to find a wall, a place to hide from the quaking and the breaking. She finds it made of steel and chrome, and it keeps the tide at bay." Slowly, her fingers walked up his thigh. She was aware of his eyes watching her as though she was liable to explode any second, maybe rip out his liver, maybe snap his neck. Very carefully, she brought her hand to rest on his arm, admiring the way his rugged, tanned skin looked so dark set against the pale white of her fingers.
"You do not rise and fall, Jayne Cobb," she murmured, her eyes wandering over him as though he were some new, undiscovered species she had come to document. "Your emotions stay steady as a rock in rough water. The girl is unsteady, and liable to fall." Here, she raised her eyes to find his and fixed him with a stare like a laser beam. "She would appreciate your input on how to stay standing when all factors point that she should succumb."
Jayne stared back for a minute, and she admired his ability to watch her, unflinching. "What you're saying," he ground out after a good minute and a half, "is that everyone bein' so sad that Wash is dead and all, and the Shepherd... It's drownin' you a bit. Am I right?"
She nodded once.
"And you think I can tell you how to not drown. Yeah?"
"What makes you think that?"
She cocked her head. "Because you do not feel as they do. You do not feel."
Jayne frowned again. His disassembled gun lay forgotten on his rumpled mattress. "What makes you think I don't feel?"
"I read minds, remember?"
"Yeah, but you read anythin' else?"
"Minds are plenty."
"Bullshit. All minds do is get you killed from thinkin' too much. I don't trust 'em. You want to know what's really what, you try readin' someone's heart, then you come back and talk to me about feeling things."
She cocked her head the opposite direction, appraising him from a new angle. "Do you feel, Jayne Cobb?" she murmured.
Jayne shrugged uncomfortably, suddenly aware of how much he'd almost come to revealing. "No more'n the next guy," he grumbled, turning back to his gun and beginning to polish the handle.
River stared at him, trying to pierce through the perennial swirls of black and acid yellow which pervaded the immediate space around him. No luck. "I believe you," she murmured after a moment, watching the maelstrom swirl through his aura. The yellow bands of color that shot through the black were spiking like exponential growth on a geometric chart. She recognized now they were emotion.
"Well goodie good, ain't I just pleased as punch."
"I believe you feel, yet do not show it. I would like to learn this, please. I would be a stone, too, please."
Jayne sighed and put down his gun. She watched as he raised his hands to his face and wearily rubbed the palms over his eyes. "Little girl," he muttered eventually, allowing his hands to fall as he stared at her. "You don't know what in the 'verse you're talking about, get me? It ain't right, this talk about... feelings and what all." His face hardened and he sat up straight. "Yeah, 'sides," he added, turning resolutely back to Vera, "what you talkin' at me for. I don't even like you. Don't care 'bout your problems – got enough of my own."
River whimpered softly as he directed his attention steadfastly away from her. She could feel Serenity's sorrow weighing down on her like a ship's anchor, and she moved closer to his side, trying to soak in the black and yellow halo of his aura. "Hurts..." she whispered again, pressing her face into his arm. Tears pooled between them like tiny tide pools. "Hurts so much..."
For a moment there was nothing. Then, very slowly, she felt the hollow empty spirit of the ship sink away as he turned his attention once more in her direction. "Hey now," he said uncomfortably. "Don't go cryin'. Your brother's gonna think I done hit you or something."
She turned tear-filled eyes up to him. "Help me?" she whimpered. Then, near begging: "Please?"
Jayne stared at her for a minute. Then, very slowly, he laid his hands on her shoulders, holding her out at arm's length so he could look at her full on.
"You listen to me, little girl," he said. "This ain't what you want, you get me? You got too many things flying around in that head of yours. You block that off, you're liable to blow your brains out from everything stampeding around with no way to get out. You're soft in the head, right?" He chuffed her lightly on the side of the head. "That there's the big difference 'tween you and me. Cause we both kill, just you got a soft head, and I got a hard one. Hard headed, mean old sumbitch, that's me." He squeezed her shoulders. "And what's right for hard-headed, mean old sumbitches ain't what's right for little girls, you understand? You gotta keep feeling this stuff, cuz if you don't, you're going to go crazy." He paused, then added, "Well, more'n usual."
River sniffled and stared up at him. "But it hurts," she reiterated tearfully.
"I know it does. It's supposed to."
"You don't hurt."
"This ain't about me. 'Sabout you."
He sighed. "Look, you can hide out here if you want, till it blows over. And it'll blow over eventually." He sat back in his chair, releasing her shoulders and picking up a piece of his gun again; he didn't seem to care which one, as he toyed with it absently with no real purpose. "Always does."
River sniffled, watching him quietly for a few seconds. Then, very slowly, she slid down to her side on the floor and curled herself around his feet, hugging his ankles and seating herself firmly in the corona of his aura. The weeping of the ship was silent here, and all she heard was him.
"There now," he said, and she could feel him moving about and going back to his guns. "Ain't that just a whole lot better?"
"Yes," she murmured, sniffling. "It is."