Title: Let's Do the Time Warp Again
Characters: Simon Tam, the entire Serenity Crew
Prompt: #28- Children
Word Count:4,023
Rating: PG-13
Author's Notes:When the rest of the crew are mysteriously turned into kids, Jayne Cobb is forced to play baby sitter.

Dedicated to icalynn, who fed my muse and helped me come up with the premise of this fic. You rock, girl!

The gorram day sucked. Hell, the whole gorram week had sucked. As partial payment for the last job they'd pulled, the crew of Serenity was given the free usage of a luxury cabin on the resort planet of Antar. Right now, the whole stinking crew was out there, having a fine old time on someone else's dime. The whole crew, that was minus one very surly and moody Jayne Cobb. The mercenary had sustained a nasty leg injury on the very same job that earned the crew the fine and fancy holiday. That injury was what kept Jayne cooped up inside Serenity's hull instead of frolicking with loose Antarian woman.

Jayne was furious at Simon. The doc could have fixed his leg in such a manner that Jayne wouldn't be forced to be trapped, lazing about while everyone else got their jollies on. Stupid prick of a doctor.

At least Serenity was quiet. Much to Jayne's surprise, he found himself liking the calm that had settled over the ship with most of the inhabitants off-board and scattered to the winds. It was peaceful like. Jayne hadn't known much peace in his life.

The sudden sound of pounding on Serenity's hatch jarred Jayne out of the slight snooze he'd drifted into.

"Go away." He muttered, closing his eyes.

The pounding didn't go away. In fact, it grew louder.

"Gorram it." Jayne muttered, pushing himself off of his bed. "If I inure my leg again and have to go through all this recovery crap again, there is going to be hell to pay."

He limped to Serenity's hatch, wincing as he used muscles that hadn't been flexed in quite a while. Jayne pushed the button to open the hatch with a growl.

An attractive, dark skinned teenage girl stood at Serenity's entrance, her hand raised, as if she was about to knock once more. A crowd of kids- three girls and two boys surrounded her.

Jayne longed for Vera. She always made him look so intimidating. "Who in the hell are you and what in the hell is your problem?" He growled.

The girl spoke in a timid voice. "Jayne, it's me. Zoe. We have a problem."

To say that they had a problem was putting it lightly, Jayne thought, looking at the crowd of kids that sitting at the dining table. He was the only adult on the entire rutting ship! Being surrounded by a crowd of rug rats, that was most definitely a problem. Jayne didn't like children. He didn't want any of his own, and he wasn't even good at being a kid when he was one. Now he had to deal with six of them. Six very noisy kids.

What had he ever done to deserve this.

He chuckled slightly, recalling a few things that could have been responsible for this load of bull shit, but why did karma have to come and bite him in the butt now of all times?

Jayne found himself missing Wash and the Shepherd an awful lot at that moment. Either one of them would do a lot better job dealing with this motley crew than Jayne was. Shepherd Book would be able soothe the children and make them calm down, and Wash would know how to keep them entertained.

Jayne didn't know how to do any of that.

All he knew how to do was yell.

And yell he did. "EVERYBODY SHUT UP!" Jayne bellowed at the top of his lungs.

The crew grew silent, except for Kaylee, who immediately burst into tears.

"Aww…Gorram it." Jayne groaned, looking at the miniature version of the engineer. "I didn't mean to make you cry."

"It's okay Kaylee Bug." Simon said, hugging the younger girl. He glared at Jayne over her shoulder. "You don't have to be so mean!"

"I can't help it that you crazy little rug rats are seriously disturbing my calm."

"You think this is easy for us?" Zoe snarled. "I've already gone through puberty once, and that was more than enough.

Mal, who was sitting beside Zoe, snickered. "Please, Zoe. It's not that bad!" His voice cracked on the last few words, and his face grew red.

Jayne shook his head. "How old are all of yous anyway?"

River, who was now not much more than a teeny sprite, spoke up with a voice older than she appeared to be. "We were all de-aged almost proportionately, around the same amount, but because we are all naturally different ages, we are still all over the age spectrum."

Jayne's mouth hung open. "Say what?"

River rolled her eyes. "Zoe is now a teenager…"

"I can see that."

"Zoe is about fourteen. Mal's twelve, Inara's ten, Simon's eight, Kaylee's six, and I'm four. Or I appear to be, anyway. I'm still seventeen in my brain."

Jayne turned to Simon. "Was she this creepy, even as a little tyke?"

Simon nodded. "Yup."

"So, do we have an idea how you all got turned into carpet munchers?"

"I think it was Mal." Inara said, glaring at Mal across the table. "He's smelly and yucky, and it had to be him."

"I'll take that into consideration." Jayne tried not to laugh. "Any other theories?"

"I could go back to the infirmary and run some tests. Science can help us, you know." Simon said with a smile.

"Will you even be able to reach the counters?" Jayne couldn't resist the chance to tease Simon, who was now quite a bit shorter than his adult height.

"I'll manage." Simon snapped.

"I'm sure you will." Jayne sighed. "Why don't you go do that?"

"I will. Coming with me, River?" He marched off defiantly. His younger sister trailed behind him.

"Jayne?" Kaylee tugged on his pant leg. "I'm hungry."

He sighed. "I don't suppose I can just give you beer?"

"Sure!" Mal nodded eagerly, while Kaylee, Inara, and Zoe shook their heads "no".

"Great. Just rutting great. I don't cook." He sighed. "Zoe, why don't you and Kaylee here go see if you can find something about sudden time warps on the cortex? Search around a little bit?" He turned to Mal and Inara, seeing Mal shoot spitballs into Inara's long black hair. "Mal…Inara…just get out of my space for a little bit, okay? I'll call all of you back here once I've managed to make something that resembles food."

It wasn't a culinary masterpiece by a long shot, but Jayne was quite proud of his accomplishment- making a large batch of macaroni and cheese. Once the kids were fed, maybe they could get all their little kiddie brains in gear and help him solve the mystery. History was full of legends about kids who solved mysteries and saved the day (back on Earth That Was, that is) : Harry Potter, Scooby Doo and his friends, Nancy Drew, and Veronica Mars. If those kids were able to do it, the Serenity group would be too, right?

Jayne pushed the button for the intercom. "Chow time. You want food, come and get it. You all know the place."

Zoe was the first one to return, idly inspecting her fingernails.

"Where's Kaylee?"

The teenager shrugged. "Like I'm supposed to know? It's not my job or anything."

"I asked you to watch the little one!" Jayne growled. "I may not know too much about kids, but tiny hands and complicated machinery bits don't tend to mix, I know that."

"Take a chill pill." Zoe looked down at the macaroni and cheese in disgust. "Do you have any idea how fattening this crap is? I'm gonna be some old honking fat cow if you keep serving stuff like this."

Jayne walked over and looked the Zoe straight in the eye. "Now listen, and listen to me good. I realize that you suddenly have like a million and three new hormones racing through your body, but I have an enormous amount of stress with no gorram end in sight. So you will sit down and eat this macaroni and cheese with a smile on your face and be happy about it, or I will not be responsible for the consequences!"

Zoe sat down and spooned macaroni and cheese on to a plate.

"You will be here when I get back." Jayne warned, heading for the door. He had five errant children to track down.

As he walked through the cargo bay, he heard giggling, but shrugged it off. He'd go find the Doc and River before looking for the rest- maybe they could help him find little Kaylee.

"I give up." Simon sighed, kneeling on a stool to reach the infirmary's counter.

"Now that's not the Doc I know." Jayne said, standing in the doorway. "I never thought your stubborn ass would give up on anything."

"Yeah…well…I can tell that our cells are different than they used to be, I tested River's alongside some cells I gathered to analyze earlier, and they're appear to be younger, but other than that, they aren't different. I can't figure out why, and I'm bored and this stuff is stupid." Simon seemed to be awfully close to tears.

Jayne didn't know what to do. "I…."
He was spared the awkward moment by the sight of the six year old Kaylee dancing into the room, hand in hand with the tiny River. Kaylee wore a blue silk shirt as a dress (did that shirt belong to the doc?), and wore the special, cunning, knit cap Jayne's mom made him atop her head.

"Mr. Jayne!" Kaylee said, running over and hugging his legs. "I'm getting married!"

Jayne was flabbergasted (and he really wanted his hat back). "You're getting married?"

"Yup!" She nodded her head furiously, and the ends of the cap bobbed up and down. "I'm gonna marry Simon, and we are gonna live happily ever after and have a spaceship of our own and lots and lots of babies."

Jayne glanced at Simon. "You're okay with this?"

"Kids learn by pretending. Play is their work. It's not like we're getting married for real or anything."

"You asked her?"

"Nope. She asked me."

"If that don't beat all." Jayne shook his head. "You hungry, kids? I made macaroni and cheese."

"Oooh, macaroni!" River squealed. "I love macaroni!"

"Okay. Simon, you get your sister and the little missus to the dining hall. I've got a wayward Captain and Companion to find."

The giggles Jayne heard earlier had turned to shouting.

"Mal and Inara." Jayne sighed. "Of course. When this is all over, I am so thinking hefty, hefty raise."

He saw the two over in a corner of the cargo bay, shoving each other and arguing. He approached them slowly, with great caution. He didn't want to get caught in the crossfire.

"You're stupid!" Inara said, moving closer to Mal.

"Puh-leeze." Mal said with a sigh. "You're the one who is terminally dull."

"Terminally dull? I know a million men who would say the exact opposite, Mal Renyolds!"

"A million? I didn't realize you were such a ho."

"I'm a companion. Not a whore!"

"There's a difference?"

"Yes there is, you big stupid ball of stupid!" She reached out and punched him in the shoulder.

"Hey, that hurt!" Mal hit slugged her on the shoulder.

"You're not supposed to hit a lady!" Inara was aghast.

"You aren't a lady!" Mal sneered.

"Enough!" Jayne said stepping in. "It's time to eat." He looked down at the kids. Inara somehow looked elegant, even as if the miniature version of herself wore clothes rumpled from fighting. Mal's hair was sticking up in all sorts of odd angles, and the area around his right eye had taken on a yellowish green tint. It would turn purple in a few hours; the mercenary knew that from personal experience.

"Whoa, Mal!" Jayne exclaimed. "How'd you get that shiner?"

"Inara got in a cheap shot." Mal shrugged. "She's vicious, you know?"

"I've heard that." Jayne patted the boy on the back. "Time to go eat, buddy."

Jayne was absolutely exhausted, and no closer to finding the answer to how the crew had been transformed. Apparently kids needed things like naps, and baths, and frequent feedings…it had been one thing after another. Mal and Inara had been at odds with each other all day, and he'd finally locked the tiny captain in his quarters, to get a little peace. He'd looked at Kaylee's drawings, and laughed as River gave them careful critique. Zoe had been sent to bed without dinner after she smarted off to him; and Jayne panicked when he realized that he'd turned into his mother. He'd used the same words, the same tone of voice that Mama Cobb had used to raise terror in her son. Strangely, it worked.

River had asked for a bedtime story, and not really knowing a story to speak of, Jayne told her the story of their escape from Ariel (leaving out the point where he'd betrayed her and Simon, of course.)

"I like that story." River said with a smile, and shut her eyes.

When she was sane, the youngest Tam could be quite charming.

He found Simon and Kaylee curled up together in the doc's bed, but he couldn't bear to move them. They were actually kind of cute. Kaylee still wore Simon's shirt and Jayne's hat, and was clinging on to Simon like a teddy bear. The young doctor clutched a worn medical text in his hands. Jayne gently pulled it free and set it on the nightstand. He pulled the blanket up over the children and turned off the light before he left the room.

Jayne yawned and stretched, walking out into the cargo bay. The sound of someone sobbing drifted through the air, and he followed it to Inara's shuttle. Jayne knocked gently on the door, and when he got no response, he entered anyway.

Inara was sitting on her opulent bed, her face streaked with tears.

"What's wrong, darling?"

"I'm…I'm….I'm lonely." She sniffled. "I miss my Mommy, and I shouldn't miss her because I haven't even thought about her in years and…"

Jayne sat down on the bed beside her. "Hush, mei-mei." He gently rubbed her dark hair. "We'll work all this out. Don't cry. Shhhh…"

"You know, this actually doesn't totally suck." He smiled up at Zoe. "I'm impressed."

The teenager grinned. "I had to do something. I don't want to be this age, like forever."

"Yeah, but I'm the brains of this operation." River toddled up and sat on Jayne's lap.

"Whatever you say, mei-mei." He chuckled. "You're going to be part of this gambit too. You're going to go with Simon and me to the bar and see if you can pick up anything from the people about how you all got shrunken and stuff."

"I can do that." She said confidently.

"What about me?" Kaylee said, clinging tightly to Simon's hand. "What am I gonna do?"

"You and Inara have a very important job." Jayne said, smiling at her. "You see, you two are going to stay here on the ship and relay messages between Zoe and Mal, and Simon, River, and Me. If anybody gets in trouble, or we find out anything, you'll pass around the message. Without you two, the plan could totally fall through."

"Cool!" Inara exclaimed. "See, Mal? My job's cooler than yours!" She stuck out her tongue.

"Yeah, right. I'm doing the cool stuff."


"Okay, you all ready to go?"

The crew nodded.

"Then what in the ruttin hell are we waiting for?"

Jayne left Simon and River at a table on the corner of the bar, buying them each some of the local non-alcoholic punch. He proceeded to make weave through the crowd, searching for some sort of information that might help them solve this crazy puzzle.

He was talking to a beautiful and stacked blonde when he heard Simon's voice echo out over the noisy crowd at the bar. "My Dad's here! He's a merchant pilot, and he's meeting somebody about a shipment. He left my sister and me here so we wouldn't ruin the deal. He can't leave us alone on the ship because we're too little to be by ourselves, and our mother caught died a couple of months ago…and if you try to take us, he'll get very angry and you won't like him when he's angry!"

A local police officer, having heard several truants and runaways offer the same excuse, wasn't buying it. "Come along, kid, come along."

"No! Wait!" Simon pulled free of the police officer's grip and ran towards Jayne. "Daddy!" He exclaimed, wrapping his arms around Jayne's mid-section. "Don't let the bad man take me away."

"Doc….uh…Son….uh….Simon…." Jayne returned the awkward hug. "Of course you're staying right here with me. Where's this awful man who is trying to take the two most precious things in my life away from me?"

The police officer grew apologetic. "We get a lot of kids with this story, but not any parents. I'm truly sorry, sir."

"Yeah." Jayne growled. "You better be sorry, trying to take my kids away from me."

River ran up to Jayne, and he picked her up. "I've got everything we need." She whispered in his ear.

"Excellent!" Jayne smiled. "Simon, contact Kaylee and tell her to get the B team back on board."

"Cool!" Simon grinned, and the three of them walked out of the bar; the very picture of a family, father carrying daughter and holding hands with his son.

When they got out of the bar, Simon and Jayne dropped each other's hands.

"Doc, when you get back to normal, we will never ever speak of the hand holding again, dong ma?"


"So what's the magical mystery cure?" Kaylee said, twirling the stringy ends to Jayne's orange hat.

"Who cares?" Mal shrugged. "Look at this cool gun that I stole."

Jayne frowned. "I'm not sure I like you playing with guns." He pulled the weapon out of Mal's hands.

"Hey!" Mal protested. "Who's the boss here?"

"Until you reach the age of majority, I am." Jayne growled.

River stood up on the very middle of the table, just so she would get everyone's attention. Young River was quite the attention hog and drama queen. "What we do…is…nothing."

"Nothing?" The rest of the crew shouted.

She nodded, a great big smile on her face. "Nothing."

"We're gonna be stuck this way forever?" Inara's lower lip quivered.

"I didn't say that." River smiled. "We got exposed to some sort of pesticide the Alliance was testing. We aren't the only resort guests that got transformed, but we are the only ones who didn't go to the authorities. Within a day or so it should all wear off and we'll be back to normal."

"It can't wear off soon enough!" Zoe cried. "I think I'm getting zits. Jayne, do I look like a pizza face?"

He shook his head. "You look fine, Zoe."

"Stupid Alliance." Mal muttered. "Always messing everything up."

"Gotta agree with you there." Jayne sighed.

"So what do we do?" Inara said, twirling a lock of hair around her left index finger.

"We bide time until you all are all back to normal." Jayne said with an air of authority. "If any of you ever wanted a second childhood, now's the perfect opportunity to have one."

Jayne was the last one to fall asleep that night.

Zoe had fallen asleep writing in a journal at the kitchen table. Jayne gently placed her head on a pillow, and removed the pen and journal from her grip. He glanced quickly at the journal, and was not surprised to see that Zoe had been writing about Wash. Maybe this whole experience would help her realize her feelings and deal with the grief that she'd been denying since her husband's death. That would do Zoe good.

Simon and Kaylee had gotten married. Mal had played the minister, and Jayne's knit hat was her veil, Simon's shirt her gown. River had caught the bouquet of spark plugs that the bride had thrown. The newlyweds were curled up together on one of the couches in the lounge. Jayne covered them with a blanket, and turned his attention to Mal and Inara.

He had caught them kissing. It didn't surprise him that much, given the way they flirted for years. In the last day (had it only been a day?) the two had insulted each other, they'd yelled at each other, Inara had given Mal a black eye. Tonight, Inara had been threatening to give him another one when Mal leaned over and covered her lips with his own. They'd kissed for a while; but Jayne had broken up the embrace before they went too far. What they did when they were adults was their own business, but Jayne was a babysitter who used martial law, and the last thing he wanted was more kids at this particular moment.

River was almost asleep when he covered her with a blanket. "You'll be a good father one day." She said with a yawn. "You'll have your own little brook."

Jayne yawned. "You were so cute when you weren't all with the crazy talk."

Jayne spread a blanket out on the floor, and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

"What in the hell am I wearing?"

"What am I doing here?"

"I can't believe I fell asleep at the table!"

Jayne awoke to see his crewmates had turned back into adults overnight. "Praise the Almighty." He popped up and looked around. "Everything's back to the good old crazy version of norma1!"

"What in the hell are you talking about?" Mal said, disengaging himself from Inara.

"You guys seriously don't remember the last two days?"

"We don't. Not anything." Simon said, rubbing his head.

Jayne groaned. "You all came back from your wonderful little vacation jaunt as little ones. I've been a rutting babysitter for the last few days." He chuckled. "You honestly don't remember anything?"

Kaylee pulled Jayne's hat off of her head. "Nope, we don't."

"A teenaged Zoe spent most of her time being a sullen ass pimply pain in the butt, but she did come through in the clutch and come up with an amazing plan to help us figure out what was going on. Mal, you were a pain in the butt, and Inara there gave you that black eye. You were at each other's throats until you swapped spit. Yup, you two finally gave into that sexual tension you've been harboring for like, ever." He turned to Simon and Kaylee. "And you two got married."

"We what?" Simon's eyes bugged out.

"For real?" Kaylee was puzzled. "I wore one of Simon's shirts as a wedding dress?"

Jayne shrugged. "You were a lot shorter. You proposed to him, and he agreed, and Mal married you. It was a touching ceremony, I'll tell you that."

"Mal performed the ceremony?" Simon exclaimed.

"Yeah, so?"

"Mal's the captain."

"Once again, not a news flash."

"A captain can officially marry someone. I got married and I don't even remember it!" Simon pushed his head off of his forehead. "I can't believe it, I simply can't remember it!"

"You don't want to be married to me?" Kaylee fought back tears.

"I didn't say that, bao bei. I've had a ring in my nightstand for a month or so. I'm angry that I don't even remember what should have been the best day of my life."

Kaylee blushed. "We can always have Mal marry us again, real and proper like."

"I'd like that, Mrs. Tam."

"Sounds excellent, Mr. Tam."

Jayne rolled his eyes. "Since you all are back to normal, I am going to go back to my bed and sleep. For a very long time. Whoever disturbs my slumber will face Vera's wrath, dong mei? I have spent the last few days babysitting, and I want lots and lots of time to be by myself and bond with my guns." He strode towards the door, and turned when he reached the doorway. "Mal?"

"Yeah Jayne?"

"I want a raise."