A/N: I'm posting the next two stories of The Little Things series together, as I am a bit behind here at I apologize for the delay, I've been working on other things (like Christmas and hubby's surprise 40th birthday party).

These follow GULLIVER, which can be found here and are number twenty-seven and twenty-eight in the series. For a complete list of all the Little Things stories, you can backtrack through or go to user name writwritewrote at LiveJournal(dot)com and look in the memories folder – they are all listed, linked, in order.

Remember, angst is good.

Title: CRACKED
Author: Michmak
Rating: PG-13
Characters: all of them are mentioned
Pairings: Jayne/River
Disclaimers: Not mine.

Summary: "Gorram, girl, you're timin' is awful."


Cracked

Jayne is behind the house with the Doc and Mal. All three have sleeping bags, so it ain't too bad. The girls had been given the spare room and the attic. Jayne weren't quite sure how those sleeping arrangements was gonna work out. Inara and Zoe were awful different – he couldn't imagine the two 'a them sharing a room. On the other hand, he probably could imagine it if'n he bothered tryin', but that way led to ruin.

He was already missin' his little Crazy-girl something fierce. It was amazin' to him how used to sleepin' with her he'd become in just over a week. Lying by hi'self in his sleepin' bag, his arms felt surprisingly empty and the space beside him felt lonely.

Weren't nothing he could do 'bout it though. Weren't no way his Ma would 'a let River sleep with him. Didn't matter that he was a man growed – his Ma was a stickler for propriety. He wouldn't have his girl wrapped against him in the night until they got off this gorram planet.

Jayne had ta admit Prospero had changed some in the twenty-odd years since he'd left. It had grown – the caverns were larger; the ceilings higher. Still made him claustrophobic but weren't as bad as before, where he couldn't even stand straight in the tunnels linkin' the different sections of the settlement ta the Town Square.

The Square itself was much larger, with the cavern ceiling soarin' a good 50 feet at its peak, giving the town square a feeling of spaciousness. Beside the train station there was a general store and a jail, and across the square was a fair sized bar, a church and a bath house Despite the fact it was underground, Prospero was well-lit with various electrical lights and lampposts. Around the edges of the cavern, where the ceiling sloped downwards to the floor, several tunnel openings could be seen. It was through one of those openin's Ma had taken them that afternoon.

"We live on the East end 'a town," she'd said, loud enough for everyone to hear her. "When Jayne was still with us, we lived on the North end which ain't near as nice. We got a nice little house now with actual plumbin' in it and Pa just added an extension 'bout five years or so ago with wood he scavenged topside from Old Town."

"Old Town?" Inara asked.

Ma Cobb had nodded. "The original settlement here. It was buried by a Dust Bowl back 'bout forty years ago or so. Sometimes, when the winds shift, parts 'a the town are freed from the sand and we can get some useful things. My husbands' family had a right nice little homestead just outside 'a Old Town. Big veranda and an actual vegetable garden where they growed fresh tomatoes and corn and such. Jayne's grandpa would sell the surplus at market on Sundays. That's where I met Jayne's father."

She'd grinned at the memory. "He was helpin' his Pa out at market one day. He was a born salesman. 'Fresh Cobb Corn!' he'd holler. The first time I met him, he told me if'n I played my cards right I'd get to eat real corn on the Cobb one day. Then he winked at me. He was a charmer, that man. Know'd I was a goner the minute he started in with the flirtin'. Jayne's a lot like him."

By the time everyone had stopped laughin' at that, they'd reached one 'a the tunnels. "Watch your heads, mind," Ma had called out. "These tunnels are built for little folk – not tall 'uns, like the most 'a you. Poor Jayne had a hard time maneuverin' through them when he was twelve, he was so tall. They're well-lit, though, so no one should have a problem as long as ya duck."

-0-0-0-0-

Now it was night time – or what the settlers called night time. Underground, weren't no way to tell whether the sun was shinin' or not, even if the weather had been fine. He'd been glad to see his Pa again but had been surprised at how much older he looked. Seemed to Jayne he'd shrunk some and it saddened the big Merc to realize his Pa was getting old. Hell, anyone over sixty-five on this gorram planet was challengin' Methuselah. Prospero had a way of makin' a body old 'afore it's time.

Matty hadn't arrived home 'til after supper but he had grinned at Jayne when he saw him. "I swear you're even taller!" he had laughed. "Gorram, Jayne – it's good to see you."

"How's the damp lung?" Jayne had asked. "Ya got the medicine ya needed to take care of it?"

Matty had shrugged, "Some. Got what Doc Breckin could spare. We ain't had an Alliance ship by here in a coupla years now. Doc's running low on supplies."

"What is damp lung?" Simon had asked. "Perhaps I might have something that would help."

His brother had just smiled, "Nah – no worries, Doc. I'm good."

However, later that evening Jayne had seen Simon frownin' when Matty had started coughin'.

"Doc, you awake?" he whispered suddenly. "Or is ya sleepin'"

"If I was sleeping, I don't think I'd be able to respond to your questions," Simon replied dryly. "What is it?"

"I saw ya frownin' at Matty earlier tonight, when he was coughin'. Somethin' wrong?"

The younger man was silent for a few moments before respondin'. "What do you know about damp lung, Jayne?"

"Not much. S'always somethin' I remember older folk gettin' – not young people like Matty. I know people with damp lung cough a lot; sometimes have difficulty breathing. Ol' Doc Breckin always said it was on accounta the air in the caves is damp and not too fresh, and people get chills and such. Why?"

"You remember anyone ever coughing up blood?"

"You'd have to ask my Ma that," Jayne responded. "I never paid much attention to it. Why?"

"Probably nothing," Simon replied, "but I want to check your brother out tomorrow and perhaps talk to the town doctor. Do the settlers live down in the caves year round?"

"Didn't used to," Jayne grunted. "When I was little, we lived down here from end 'a August until the end of January or thereabouts. Pichonet told me that the Dust Bowl is lasting longer now, and is unpredictable to boot so's I don't imagine no one spends too much time topside no more."

"How do they keep the lights on and electricity working down here year round? Generators?"

"Nah, turbines. Little ones, close to the ground, shaped like propellers. They don't stand upright on accounta the winds get too strong and twist 'em out 'a shape. Instead, they lie flat, like gears. We got shafts that run up underneath 'em with grate covers ta let the sand fall through, and then Moles cart the dirt away on the rail system."

"And the hot water?" Mal asks. 'Pears he ain't sleepin' yet neither.

"Hot springs," Jayne grins. "They feed the bath houses too. One 'a the only good things ya can find on this gorram piece 'a dirt. If'n the opportunity comes up, the girls should go to one for a soak."

Silence, a little longer this time, before the Captain says, "I know we're underground here, but I swear I can see the stars."

"Me too," Simon agrees.

Jayne grins. "It's the mica in the rock. This whole settlement used to be a mine – that's where the original caverns come from. Prospero was one 'a the biggest iron-ore suppliers in the 'verse, at one time – back when things was good and the Dust Bowl only lasted a couple 'a months. When the iron-ore ran out, the operation closed down and no one thought much on the mines a't'all until the Dust Bowl got so bad we had to come underground."

He looks up into the darkness of the cavern and sees the glitterin' Simon and Mal had noticed. "Ma always used to say that Prospero had sky inside – a whole universe of mica chips, shining in the darkness."

"But no shooting stars to wish on," Crazy-girl says in his ear.

All three men start and Jayne and Mal both have their guns pulled before they even realize Kaylee is there as well, along with Inara and Zoe. All of them are giggling, 'ceptin' Zoe who just looks vaguely amused.

"Gorramit!" Mal grits out, "You trying to kill your Captain? Don't sneak up like that!"

"Sorry Cap'n," Kaylee grins. "We heard ya talkin' and decided to come out and eavesdrop."

"I missed my Jayne-bird," River adds.

Jayne looks at her. "Whuzzat?"

"Can't sleep without your heart in my ear. I missed you."

"You did?" Jayne questions again. "You?"

"Something wrong with your ears, Jayne?" Mal snaps.

"No," Jayne mumbles. "It's just that Crazy said she missed me."

"We heard her," Simon mutters. "Why does that surprise you so much?"

"Are you deaf?" Jayne snaps. "She said, 'I missed my Jayne-bird.' None a' that she and her go se she normally spouts, like she's the queen a the ruttin' universe. I and my!" The big merc is sitting up now and he pulls River into a massive hug before grumblin' in her ear. "Gorram, girl, you're timin' is awful."

Mal and the Doc look at Jayne like he's done lost his marbles. "Why are you so excited she's using first-person?" Simon asks.

Jayne blushes a bit and rubs a hand across the back 'a his neck. "Uh…just glad she's gettin' better, is all. I mean, it's good that she knows who she is, right?"

A light comes on from the back porch and everyone turns towards it blinkin'. "What are you all doing out here?" It's Ma. "If y'all plan on jawin' some more, can I getcha somethin' to drink?"

"We're fine, Ma," Jayne replies. "Didn't mean to wake ya."

Ma comes out to join them. "Looking at the stars, were ya?" She smiles when she asks. "Them little bits 'a glitter sure are pretty, ain't they. When Jayne was little, he used to lie out back 'a the house when everything was dark 'cepting the tunnel lights and look at them. Used to pretend they were real stars, I reckon. Think that's why he decided to leave us – wanted to fly in a way he couldn't here in the caves. Wanted to be free."

"Ma," Jayne grumbles. River giggles against his shoulder.

"What? It's the truth ain't it? I 'member you always used to tell me, 'Someday I'm gonna go out inta the black and find myself a ship to call home and a girl to call my own. I ain't never comin' back, neither.' Glad you got your wish is all, son. Glad ya came back, though. Always thought ya would one day."

"I ain't stayin', Ma. Can't stay – you know that." Jayne mutters. "Soon as the weather breaks, we'll be leavin'."

Ma nods. "I ain't askin' ya to stay, boy. You don't belong here – never did. Ya need to be free. Never could tame ya. River calls you Jayne-bird and I reckon she's got it right. Ya need to fly." Her gaze travels across the rest 'a them and she smiles, "Reckon the lot of ya need to fly – that's why my Jayne fits so well with ya. You're the same kinda people, deep down where it matters. I'm glad my baby boy found himself a new family ta take care of. He ain't happy less'n he's lookin' after people. For awhile there, I was afeared he'd lost his way but I can tell he's happier now, since he's found Serenity."

"Ma," Jayne growls again. He's glad it's dark – he can feel the blush under his skin and don't want no one else to see how red he's gettin'.

"Am I embarrassin' ya, son?" his Ma replies. "Can't help it if'n I'm proud 'a ya. Shouldn't be embarrassed 'cause your Ma loves ya."

"Ma…"

"Bet those naked baby pictures I sent made ya blush, huh?" She's teasing him now, all smiles when River and Kaylee start giggling. Even Mal is smiling.

"We had them posted around the kitchen for a while," Simon offers, "before Jayne threatened to rip them up into little pieces. River had to rescue them."

"Put them with her special things," Crazy-girl agrees. Jayne frowns slightly when he realizes she's talkin' third-person again. "She likes to look at her Jayne when he was little, before the world hurt him. Reminds her that there's hope."

"Hey, little Crazy, the world ain't done me no harm," Jayne replies softly, rubbin' her back with one big warm hand. She's crawled inta his lap and yawns against his chest.

"The 'verse made you lonely," she replies. "Made you wander, looking for somewhere you belonged. Like Moses in the wilderness, looking for the Promised Land, thinking you had been abandoned. But it's not true, Jayne-bird. Ma is right – you found us. Took you a while to realize you had a home again. You can be happy now teaching your butterfly how not to be broken."

"You ain't broken," Jayne murmurs. "Just a little cracked."

"Like Ma's ring," she agrees.

"Like me," Jayne responds. "Me and everyone else."


Title: CURRENTS

Summary: "Crazy-girl," he whispers. "So beautiful."


Currents

It was two days before Pichonet decided that an attempt could be made to retrieve the mule and the ship. "Still a Dust Bowl, mind, but softer. The winds ain't so bad and the sand is low. I'm thinkin' we can go git your ship into the dockin' caves and mayhap even find the mule."

They were sittin' around the table at Ma Cobb's, finishin' off a breakfast of powdered egg protein and somethin' Ma called fakon – bacon-flavoured protein loaf molded inta strips and fried.

Jayne and Mal had both looked up and grinned at that. Mal had been ready to leave from the minute they'd landed. He hated bein' grounded – had what his Ma called 'itchy feet' – and even though he'd been unfailin'ly polite and had helped Jayne spruce up the house some, it was easy to see he wanted to go.

Jayne wanted to leave as well, for two reasons. Despite the fact he'd been born here, Propsero wasn't his home anymore. He din't belong and twenty-years away hadn't changed that fact. He still felt like a big, overgrown circus freak when he went to town. People still stared at him or whispered about him and even though the whispers weren't malicious, like they'd been when he was a kid, they still made him uncomfortable.

The second reason he wanted to leave was because he wanted his own bunk back so's River would be sleepin' with him again. Two nights in a sleepin' bag and almost no time alone with her had made him tetchy. His palms itched to touch her; he ached to bury his face in her hair; couldn't wait to kiss her senseless. And even though she still weren't fully there all the time, he was startin' to rethink his position on the whole waitin' to sex her up idea.

She did have wonderfully lucid moments, where she weren't tryin' to distance herself from what was goin' on around her. He had started noticin' a pattern to the way she spoke. When she was tired, or when there were too many people around or she was speakin' with someone new, she never said 'I' or 'me' or any 'a that proper English his Ma had tried to drill inta his head when he was younger. Din't say it when she was excited neither.

Jayne was wonderin' if some of the way she talked was even intentional – mayhap, she spoke the way she did outta habit. He weren't sure, 'a course. But he was gonna test it; discuss it with her and get her perspective on the whole thing. He din't think she already knew why he was waitin' the way he was on accounta she never pulled any 'a the reader stuff on him – at least, not often. That was one 'a the reasons he knew things was real between 'em, because she let him have his own thoughts and work things through hi'self without interferin'.

So yeah, when they finally got back to Serenity and he had his own berth again, he was figurin' things was gonna change some. There weren't nothin' wrong with a little experimentin' and Jayne had been dreamin' 'a her for too long. Time to make some 'a those dreams reality.

Kaylee and Simon, oddly enough, had been kept quite busy while they were here. Weren't no surprise the Doc's assistance was called on – town the size 'a Propsero always had people needed tendin', and Doc Breckin was old.

Simon fixed broken bones and even done an emergency tracheotomy the other day, when one 'a the younger Sawyer boys got hit in the windpipe while they'd been playin' rock ball in the Town Square. Lucky for the kid Doc had been nearby, other wise Jacky woulda been dead. He'd also told Jayne and Mal, quietly, that he was gonna need to use most 'a the medicine on Serenity to vaccinate everyone against damp lung.

"It's a rare disease – Tuberculosis. Very contagious," he'd told them. "It isn't too bad here yet because it's standard to vaccinate against it when in childhood. That's why it's mostly older folks that get it; or people with weak lungs to begin with. But Doctor Breckin told me today none of the children born here in the last ten years have been vaccinated for anything, because the Alliance never brought the medicine. Some of them already have early stages of the disease. Comes from living underground, I'd say. It's damp down here – especially in the North end, where most of the kids with TB come from. It could turn into an epidemic if it's not treated."

"We have enough medicine for this?" Mal had asked, frownin'. "'Cause I don't mind you usin' it if we do. I'd prefer not to have to go steal it from somewhere though, 'cause I don't fancy comin' back once we're gone."

"I think we've got enough," Simon replied. "And Breckin still has a lot of medical credits he hasn't been able to use. I told him I'd get whatever he needed when we left and get it out to him on the next cargo ship coming this way."

"Shiny then," Mal said.

"You'll be able to fix up Matty?" Jayne grunted, "Or is it too late?"

"He'll be fine once he gets the medicines he needs," Doc assured him. "He just needs to be careful in future. His lungs will have some scarring from it."

Jayne decided then and there he was glad they'd come, especially if it meant Simon could fix his brother.

Kaylee had been called upon because she was a gorram mechanical genius – old cargo ships weren't the only things she could fix. Pichonet had hooked her up with Dash Thomas, the only mechanic in town and Jayne knowed she'd shown ol' Dash a thing or two. Even without them supplies stuck on the mule, the two 'a them managed to get several 'a Prospero's mules flyin' again. She'd even fixed the Cortex computer mainframe at the General Store, which meant his Ma would be able to WAVE him once in a while after they left, instead 'a sendin' him letters all the time.

"That girl 'a the Doc's is sure good at tinkerin'," Thomas had said to him when Jayne'd run inta him yesterday droppin' off the hot lunch his Ma had made for Kaylee. "Never seen a body could cross wires and circumvent switches so easy. Wish we could keep her."

Jayne had smirked at that, "Won't happen, Dash. Girl was born to fly. You should see her on Serenity; swear to God that ship talks to her. 'Sides, she's just startin' to loosen Simon up some. If'n she stayed here, Doc might find that pole and shove it up his ass again. Just don't bear thinkin' about."

Thomas had laughed at that, slappin' his knee with his hat. "Well, don't mind me then, when I say I hope the storm don't break 'til she's fixed everythin' that needs fixin' around here."

But the storm had broken; broken enough that they were goin' to go get the mule and the ship. Several 'a the town folk had offered to help and Pichonet had quickly chosen the thirty strongest men and broken them into two separate groups. The smallest group of ten men along with Zoë, the Doc and River were goin' to go fetch Serenity. The larger group – thirty men plus Mal, Kaylee and Jayne – was goin' after the mule.

"I grabbed the transmittin' device before we left the ship," Kaylee grinned at them as they headed out on a few of the recently repaired town mules. "Once we're topside, I can activate it. We'll be able to find ol'Bessie in no time."

"Just hope it ain't buried too deep," one 'a the men had replied. "Can get dangerous diggin' stuff outta the dunes; especially big things. Makes a big hole when it's pulled out and the sand sometimes rushes under it too quickly. It's almost like gettin' caught in a strong current – can suck a man under in no time flat."

"Which is why, little Kaylee, you ain't going near the mule until it's outta the dirt and on solid ground, dong ma?"

"Yes, Cap'n," the mechanic replied. "I already got the lecture from Simon."

"Yeah, well, he ain't the Captain," Mal responded. "You don't have to listen to him. Me, on the other hand – my word is law."

Jayne smirked at him when Kaylee rolled her eyes.

-0-0-0-0-

'A course, the mule was buried - a good five feet down on the one side, although the port thruster was stickin' up outta the ground.

"Sand shifted underneath it," Dash Thomas grinned. "Seems we caught a break, boys. Should be able to get a winch around that and pull her out."

"Easy-peasy," Mal agreed. The squawk-box in his face mask was staticy and blasted everyone's ears when he spoke.

"Gorram," Jayne winced. "Try not to talk, eh? Don't wanna go deaf." He looked around at the other men with them and grinned. They looked a site, with their faces covered behind thick goggles and gas masks coverin' their faces. The dirt was still blowin' around quite a bit, but at least ya could see the odd patch a sky now.

"I'll winch it," he offered. "But I think we're gonna need to dig some first."

He'd been correct in that assessment. The men took turns diggin' around the body of the mule, tryin' to remove the sand from the top of it to redistribute the weight. It was hard work but, with the mules they'd brought cartin' the dirt away it was goin' pretty steady. Jayne tried to ignore the small-talk buzzin' over the squawk-box in his mask. He just wanted to get done and get back.

"Always was a good worker, when ya weren't knockin' inta things Jayne," one 'a the men beside him offered.

Jayne grunted. "Remember the time ya got stuck in that shaft, half in and half out? Thought your Ma would have a fit when Smithy decided he'd need to blow ya out. Funniest gorram thing I ever saw."

The big Merc scowled, "Only funny if it weren't you they was puttin' those little fissure caps around. Thought I was gonna get my head blowed off."

"Wouldn't a hurt ya none," someone else laughed. "No brains there to damage."

Some of the other men chuckled at that, but the man beside him din't. "I think Jayne here was the smartest of the lot," he stated. "He's the only one with the brains to get off this go se planet in the first place. Don't look like leavin' hurt him none, either. Caught hi'self a pretty little girl out there in space."

"Yeah, wouldn't mind gettin' a piece 'a her myself," another voice piped up. "She's crazier than a loon but I bet she's a good fuck."

Jayne growled and dropped his shovel, lookin' around angrily. "That's my girl you're talkin' about. Keep a civil tongue in your mouth or I swear ta God I'll rip it out."

"Like to see you try," came the static response. "Ya don't even know who said it. Gonna hurt all of us?"

"Don't tempt me," the big Merc responded. "'Sides, I'd recognize your girly-voice anywhere, Frankie. Would 'a thought you'd 'a hit puberty at some point in the last twenty-years, but I reckon I was wrong. You even able to grow a beard yet?"

More laughter this time, aimed at Frankie. Jayne grinned and picked up his shovel. "Me and you are gonna have a little chat when we're finished here about what's respectable and what ain't."

-0-0-0-0-

"Jayne…Jayne?" Mal's voice rings in his ears, the feedback makin' him wince. "Hold on, Jayne. We're comin' for you."

"Too…dangerous," Jayne manages to squeeze out. "Kaylee?"

"She's fine, Jayne. You threw her far enough we managed to grab her. She's just scared for you, is all."

"It's my fault!" Kaylee interrupts, wailin' in his head. "Should 'a never jumped on the mule like that. I thought she was out."

"S'kay, little Kaylee," Jayne gasps. "Don't cry."

"Jayne, we're goin' to winch it again and try to lift it. Think you can crawl out if'n we do?" Mal's voice is firm, demandin' an answer.

"Heavy," Jayne pants. "Crushin' me. Don't know."

"Try, okay? We're lifting it now."

The heavy weight on his chest shifts and he takes a large gulp of air. Sand slides around him like water. Jayne feels like he's floatin'.

"Jayne? Jayne? Gorramit, Jayne, move!"

The big Merc isn't sure if he replies. Mal is screamin' in his ear but Jayne ain't listenin' no more anyway. His head is full 'a colors and River is in the middle 'a them. He drifts towards her on currents of sand.

"Crazy-girl," he whispers. "So beautiful."

"I'm going under and getting him," the Captain's voice is a million miles away. "Tie that extra winch round my waist and be ready to pull on my mark."

"Ain't safe, Reynolds," Thomas' voice now, swimmin' past his ears. "Could end up losin' you too."

"Ain't losin' no one here today, dong ma? Just be ready."

"Sorry I waited too long," Jayne murmurs. "Should 'a shown ya when I had the chance. Thought you weren't ready."

The weight on his chest shifts again. Jayne grunts.

"Always love ya, little butterfly. Always."

He's almost there now. The colors are blendin' into white, blindin' him to everythin' but the image 'a his girl. "Should 'a had ya naked a long time ago."

Someone is grabbin' his arms and he's too weak to struggle against him. Sand is slidin' around them, suckin' hungrily.

"Pull! NOW!" Mal shouts.

"River," Jayne whispers. "Take care of River."

His body is screamin' in agony now as the Captain holds him. He wants to swim in the white, but the pain is shootin' lines of red-hot wires across his vision and he can't see his girl no more. He can hear men shoutin'; little Kaylee cryin' in the distance and Mal cursin' in his ears.

With a heave he's suddenly on his back, on top of the Captain who is still holdin' him tight, demandin' that he breathe. He thinks his ribs are broken but he ain't sure. When he opens his eyes all he sees is dirt. He ain't never seen nothin' more beautiful in his life.

"Still alive, Jayne?" Mal finally calms down enough to ask, pattin' Jayne's arm awkwardly from underneath him.

"Think so, Cap'n," Jayne groans. "Hurts too much to be dead."

"That's good then," Mal says. "Think you can move enough to get offa me? You're kinda heavy."

Jayne takes a deep breath and moans against the pain. "I'll try, Cap'n."

He shifts enough to free the man, before sinkin' to his back again. The Captain leans over him and Jayne just knows he's smirkin' behind the mask. "Word of advice, Jayne. When you finally get River naked, let her be on top. Think you'd crush her, otherwise."

Jayne would 'a laughed at that, if he could 'a. As it is, he ain't sure how much longer he'll manage to stay awake. "Think I'm crushed…inside…" he grits out, suddenly squeezin' the Captain's arm. "Need Simon…"

"We'll take ya to him, as soon as we can safely lift ya," Mal assures. Thomas is suddenly there with a backboard and neck brace.

"Tell my Crazy-girl…wish I could kiss her again."

"You will, Jayne. Promise ya that," Mal murmurs. His voice is far away and Jayne can't keep his eyes open. The Captain grips his arm, "You will."