Characters: all of them are mentioned
Disclaimers: I only own Pichonet and this version of Ma Cobb. And since Jayne needs his Ma and Pichonet is an old man with only some of his teeth, I don't intend to do much with him. LOL.
Summary: "Bet the whole town'll turn out to see the return of Jayne Cobb. Always thought ya'd be comin' back in a box, myself. Right glad to see I was wrong – I had a lot 'a money ridin' on ya.
"Why're you still part of my crew, huh?" Mal whispers angrily. "No wonder the name of this place was so gorram familiar! I swear to God, Jayne, once we're get off of this rock you're gone. No more chances."
Jayne looks at him sullenly. "That ain't fair, Mal."
"Fair? Fair? It ain't fair that my new mule's probably buried. It ain't fair that my ship is probably so gummed up with grit it will take a year of Sundays just to get it flying again. It sure as hell ain't fair that you didn't even warn us about this place when you had the chance." The Captain is right in his face now and his hand is resting on his gun. Jayne looks away from him and shuffles his feet.
"I weren't expectin' the dirt to be this bad, yet. It's only early summer here. Dust Bowl season don't normally set in until end a' August. I din't know, Mal. If'n I did, I woulda said somethin' to ya – honest. Ya think I want to be stuck back on this go se planet?"
They are in a small room cut out of the rock face in the interior of a large underground cavern. Pichonet had quickly had some of the men escort them to 'the bar' and had sent four more above-world to get the rest of Serenity's crew. The few people waiting with them aren't paying any attention to the two men arguing softly in the corner of the room.
"You could have at least mentioned this was your home," Mal hisses.
"Ain't my home no more," Jayne shrugs. "Weren't really my home when I lived here, neither." He runs a large hand across the back of his head and sighs. "I'm sorry, Mal. I was just hopin'…"
"You didn't want anyone to know," Zoë interjects when he stumbles for words. "That's why you didn't say anything. You were hoping we wouldn't find out."
The big Merc looks at her dejectedly, "Ya think Doc would be so easy about me and his mei-mei if'n he knew where I come from? Ya said it yourself, Mal – this is the worst planet ya ever been on. I din't…ah, hell."
"I think the fact you're a ruthless mercenary is probably a bigger hurdle and Simon seems to be handling that pretty well." Mal states. "Wo de ma, Jayne – don't you ever think?"
"Never been one 'a my strong suits," Jayne grumbles. The Captain looks like he's about to say something more when Pichonet hobbles back in. "Come on, come on – ain't got time to spare. Time for the Moles to shut 'er down for the day. I sent word on ahead to your Ma, boy. I'm sure she'll be able ta put ya's up somewhere."
"What about my crew?" Mal asks.
"My men'll meet us at Prospero, doncha worry none," Pichonet grins. "Seems y'all landed near a functionin' shaft, so shouldn't be too difficult to retrieve 'em."
"And my ship?"
"Managed to scrape together a few large tarps ta cover her with. They'll protect your thrusters somewhat."
"When do you think this storm will blow over so we can retrieve the mule?" Zoë asks.
Pichonet chuckles at that. "Well, if'n you're really lucky, it might clear up enough in a day or two so's we can go above-ground and see if we can dig her out. Might even be able to get your ship inta one of the caves then to protect it as well."
"And if we're not lucky?" Mal growls.
The older man shrugs, "Hard to say. A week – two weeks mayhap. Even longer; if'n it's a big dirt devil."
He's leading them haltingly through a myriad of small tunnels as they talk, placing his crutches carefully as he hobbles along. Jayne is bringing up the rear, his face getting grimmer the further in they go.
"Hey, Pichonet," he finally says, "Why's the storm so early? It's only June here, right?"
"That's right, boy," the man drawls. "I forgot you ain't been back since you left – how long ago was it now? Twenty-years or there 'bouts? Storms been comin' earlier every year. The season lasts longer, too – usedta be, we'd only have to worry about 'em from August until the end of January, but now they run from June 'til 'bout mid-February, and even then we still get surprises. Ain't your Ma done tol' ya?"
"She ain't mentioned nothin' bout it," Jayne mutters.
"Any ideas what causes them?" Mal asks.
Pichonet shrugs, "Breckin – that was the settlements old Doc - said it was on accounta the terra-formin' din't take proper, but we don't rightly know for sure. Makes sense though. Weren't always like this – some of our oldsters can remember a time when the Dust Bowl only lasted one month outta the year and if'n you go through the histories there ain't no mention 'a them at all from when this moon was originally settled 'bout 150 years ago. Watch your step here." He indicates a two-inch ledge in the tunnel, maneuvering his crutches over it carefully. "We're almost at the trains."
"Trains?" Zoë asks.
"Digger carts, actually. Jayne's Pa welded 'em together for us to make transportin' rock and stuff a mite easier. They're also pretty good for transportin' people. Here you go, Ma'am," he says politely to Zoë, "just climb on in here, secure this here strap and hold on. Me 'n the Captain will sit in the front train so's I can control the speed. Jayne – you 'member how to work the brake-grips in the back?"
Jayne just nods miserably.
"Good, good. Well, what are ya waitin' for. Bet the whole town'll turn out to see the return of Jayne Cobb. Always thought ya'd be comin' back in a box, myself. Right glad to see I was wrong – I had a lot 'a money ridin' on ya."
'Ridin' the carts is like being on a roller coaster at a fun fair,' Jayne thinks to hi'self, 'only if ain't fun and it ain't fair.' Sure enough, it seemed purt'near the whole town was waitin' at the train station when they come barrelin' in. Jayne has squeezed the brake-grips so hard he's sent sparks flyin' from a good quarter of a mile away, much to the cheers of the people watchin' from the depot.
He'd only been back for less'n two hours and he was already feelin' claustrophobic. Prospero had grown some since he'd left, but it was still just a really large cave carved inta the middle of an old mine. It appeared they'd made the ceilin' higher, but it was just as dank and dark and pitiful as he remembered it.
His eyes scanned the people swarmin' around him and he sighed again. Not a one 'a them that much over five feet tall. Jayne, the Captain and Zoë towered above them all, with Jayne himself standing the tallest. It had always been this way – from the time he was nine years old, he'd stood taller than every other man in Prospero, 'ceptin' his Pa. Matty was tall too – not as tall as he was, 'a course, but still around five foot eight or so. Made the Cobb boys stand out.
When he was younger, he'd hated it. Felt like a big clumsy ox amongst all the little folk surroundin' him. Never had no friends his own age, on accounta the other mothers was always scared Jayne'd hurt 'em by accident. He hadn't known his own strength and had broken both 'a Jamie Cox's legs once playin' tackle football. His size had also made him a target. Not that any one tried beatin' on him or bullyin' him but they sure had tormented him 'cause he was big.
'Ya got no brains,' they would say, 'on accounta you're so busy growing that body 'a yours. They've done stagnated from lack 'a nutrition.'
He was too big ta work in the mines as a digger, where ya had to be small to get the blast caps in. He was good at carting out rock and such, but had to stop doing that round 'bout the time he hit thirteen. The tunnels weren't tall enough for him no more and he couldn't use the 'barrows when he was all hunched over like a crab. His Pa had taught him how ta weld some, but it weren't work Jayne enjoyed. He hated wearin' the weldin' helmet and how hot the torch made him. He'd get so hot and sweaty and the dirt in the air would just stick to him like cement, caked on so thick and hard he'd have ta scrub until his fingers was raw to get it off.
He'd decided when he was just fourteen he was gonna get offa this gorram rock the first opportunity. He wonders how long he's gonna have ta stay this time.
River's voice cuts off his ponderin's and he stands a little straighter, lookin' for her.
"Jayne-bird – over here!" There she is, standin' at the back of the crowd with the Doc, Kaylee and Inara. Her damn cat is clutched in her arms, lookin' for all the world like she's gonna bolt any minute. Jayne shakes his head. What was she thinkin', bringin' the critter with her? Furball woulda been better off on the ship, away from these people.
She's grinnin' at him like a loon and he feels his chest swell just a bit. She sure looks mighty pretty. She's all dressed up for some reason, in one 'a Inara's old dresses – not the one she'd worn on Gaia – but it's pretty just the same. Her hair is all shiny too, hanging in loose waves down her back and around her face. She's even painted her lips up a bit.
Growling at people ta get outta his way, he starts heading towards her and don't stop 'til he gets to her side.
"Hey there, bao-bei, couldn't' ya have left Junior there on Serenity? She's scratchin' your arms all to shit again."
She leans against him and stands up on tippy-toe, plantin' a kiss on the side 'a his jaw. Behind him, someone hollers, "Looks like ol'Jayne come back with a girl!"
"Ain't she a bit young, Jayne?" someone else calls. The crowd laughs. Jayne scowls and tries to ignore the money changin' hands.
"You know these people, Jayne?" Doc asks him.
The big Merc shrugs, "No."
"How do they know you then?" Inara asks.
"This is Jayne's home," River replies for him. "He was born here." She pulls away from him as she says this, lookin' over his shoulder and grinnin' as she thrusts Junior into his arms. He barely manages to grab hold of the cat before she's pushin' past him, arms open wide.
"Ma!" she's callin' out and Jayne groans, spinnin' on his heel and watchin' as she pulls his mother into a tight hug. "I'm so glad to finally meet you!"
His Ma is beaming, tears streamin' down her face as she hugs River back, before she grabs her by the shoulders to get a better look at her.
"Know'd ya was pretty from the sketch ya sent," his Ma says. "But it sure ain't done ya justice. Leave it ta my Jayne to find the prettiest flower he could ta bring home ta me – always said he would." She looks up at him and smiles. "Come on over here, baby boy, and give your mother a hug!"
Simon looks at Mal and mouths the words 'baby boy?' in disbelief. Mal just shrugs, but Jayne catches his smirk when he walks past him and bends down. He knows all 'a them are thinkin' the same thing when he lifts his Ma off of her feet with the arm he managed to free from holding Junior and hugs her. She barely comes up ta the bottom 'a his ribcage.
"I'm so glad ya come home, boy," she cries. "I done tol' your Pa ya'd be brinin' your girl to meet us. Knew ya would."
"'A course, Ma," Jayne agrees awkwardly, pattin' her shoulder.. "'A course."
His mother turns to look at his friends, standin' behind him, mouths agape and she starts laughin'. "Jayne, din't ya tell your friends ya come from Lilliput?"
"Ah, Ma, don't start that again," Jayne groans, but it's already too late. Simon and Inara are smirkin' at him, Mal is snickerin' and even little Kaylee is grinnin' her big shit-eating' grin.
"Well, what are y'all standin' around for?" Ma demands, before turning to Jayne and admonishin', "If I'd know'd ya was comin', I woulda changed the tickin' in the mattresses. Ya should have sent a letter, boy."
"Din't know if I'd have time to visit," Jayne replies. "Weren't sure if…"
"Knock it off, boy. Ya know ya always got a place here." She puts an arm around River's waist and purses her lips. "You're a mite skinny, child. Need to fatten ya up before ya go poppin' out baby Cobbs. Our boys are big'uns."
Jayne looks at the ground as if prayin' it will open up and swallow him whole. River giggles.
Mal is lookin' at Simon this time. 'Babies?' he mouths in horror. Simon shrugs.
Ma starts back through the crowd, River at her side. Jayne and the rest of the crew follow in her wake.
Mal quickly catches up to Jayne and slaps him on the back. "If your middle name is Gulliver, I will laugh my ass off," he smirks, before addin', "And no babies on board my ship, dong ma?"