Card Table
A Firefly Vignette
by: June - Copyright 2005

They're on Sihnon.

Her girl is laid down gently on the ground, and River strokes the controls like a cat, like a good cat. Good girl. They have a job here, a good one. They wouldn't have come at all had it not been for the job. There are Alliance crawling out of snake holes here.

Mal takes Inara out for a fancy dance and theater with sparkly things, like Kaylee says, because it's Inara's home world and Mal says something like I'd love to and thinks something like kwong-juh duh.

Before he goes Mal lifts River out of her seat and sets her down gently on the floor, and she can feel her toes against the grating. "I'm giving Zoe some money," he says. For her own good. "So she can have a good time on this rock." So she can buy herself something pretty and smile about it. "And your brother is—"

"—With Kaylee," she finishes for him, and flicks her two fingers at his forehead. "I don't want to go. I don't like the Core."

He gives her a skeptical glance. "Seeing as where it's you were born proper—" She shakes her head, and she smiles at him, and he shrugs archly, and lifts her back into the seat.

They leave all dressed pretty-like, Inara in her pretty flowing red dress that looks like a poppy blossom and her hair done up all nice. River watches them go and waves from the cockpit and her brother and Inara wave back. Simon's hair is slicked back. River doesn't like his hair that way, and has told him so, because it makes him look like a Simia hamadryas, which is a nice way of saying baboon.

River decides to dress up by herself, if for no one's benefit but her own. She brushes her hair with her comb exactly one hundred times, until it shines, and puts on her flower frock, with her brown boots and gold pin. She spins down to the kitchen and she isn't much surprised to see him there, only a little. "You're supposed to be out."

"Ain't nothing that's good out there that can't be had here," Jayne says. He is sharpening his knives. She looks at them with wide eyes, feeling the shadow of another-River slicing-dicing, and shakes her head to clear the memory cobwebs. "Gorram Core," he adds, as an afterthought.

"You made enemies," she sings. "No sense in landing if you don't have family to meet and greet."

He straightens in his seat and begins to say something and then stops, grunts, and goes back to sharpening. He knows enough now to not discourage her from her flights of fancy. That's what he calls them in his head: flights of fancy. She likes that phrase.

She sits across from him and picks an apple from the bowl they have on the table. The apples are slightly overripe and juicy and just a bit brown, just the way she likes them. She chews happily, feeling the pieces mash together under her teeth. "Three Hills."

"Shah muh?" He doesn't like it when she reads his head. Not his brain, not his mind. His head. His thoughts are tattooed on his forehead like blinking lamps.

"Three Hills," she says again, kicking her slippered feet against the table leg. "Your momma's got the younguns and there are lots of hills but three big ones, and you lived in the city on the third one, and there are lots of trees." She likes the sound that chewing apples makes: slush, mash, smack. "We haven't gone there before. Mal knows you don't like it."

"What Mal knows is jack," Jayne says, and his eyes are like little cat eyes, all bunched up. "I don't got nothing to hide."

"I know you don't like it," she says truthfully, and cocks her head upwards toward the skylight. They are all invisibled up in a junkyard and there are birds flying overhead, the only ones to notice them. "Mal knows jack. I've got the queen and the ace."

It's a good long minute before he speaks. "Ain't no use in them seeing me this way."

"I know," she says. "My momma thinks I'm dead, too, only yours thinks so in a different way. She sends you hats." She crosses her fingers over the table edge. "Mine brings a flower every year to the river and never lets my papa know."

"Stop talking," he orders, and she falls silent, and just looks at him polishing the knives.

Until she opens her mouth again. "You can go if you want to."

"No," he says, "there's no sense in that." His voice is distracted, terse. He's not dumb, he's not slow, and he's not dense. He just doesn't think before he speaks and when he does, he's tense and often somewhere else, like her, only not. She's not like anyone else. But he comes close. He has a lot of violence, like Simon says. River has a lot of violence stuck in her and she can't climb out of it.

Only Jayne doesn't want to climb out of it, because he likes where he is, and so does she. She likes where she is, and she likes where he is.


She climbs over the table, over the knives, to poke at his forehead, all flesh and pretty dress and all, and then spins back out over the table and up the stairs and into the cockpit where she spins memory cobwebs and draws pictures of dinosaurs flying and large rooms with guns and knives.