Title: Walk of Shame
Author: Slipstream
Rating: PG
Characters: Mal, Jayne, River
Summary: Mal lets Jayne out of the dog-house post-Ariel.
Notes: Written for challenge 112, "Heroes", on the LJ community fffriday.


It's the look Simon gives Jayne as soon as they all climb out of the shuttle, like Jayne is some sort of gorram hero, that seals the deal for Mal. Ain't no heroes on his boat, just folk and back-stabbin' traitors. The wrench is cold in his hand as he turns to remind his merc of this fact.

Mal leaves Jayne in the airlock to stew a bit, figuring that a spell in a tight space feeling the air growing thin around him and the black pressed up close against his back will hammer his point home. He'd thought briefly about using Jayne's forced lock-down as a chance to call the crew together and tell them just what their hired gun had tried to pull back on Ariel and then offer the button-pushing duty to the highest bidder. But after he's calmed some he realizes that it's a dumb idea. On Shadow he learned to never toss what could be fixed, and if Jayne's apology was sincere, then he might yet warrant some tinkering.

So he showers instead, gets the Alliance stink off of him, and has a nice, relaxing meal in the mess with an inventory pad listing the going prices of everything they've just stolen. He's feeling pretty shiny two hours later when he finally makes it back to the cargo hold. It's not until he punches the button to open the cargo bay doors and feels the rush of cold from the airlock that he remembers that that part of Serenity isn't heated. Oops.

Jayne's chosen method of exiting his temporary airtight prison is a rather graceless collapse. He must have propped himself against the seam, vainly hoping for a whiff of air to leak its way through. He doesn't make any movements towards getting up, and Mal wonders for a moment if he'll be fussed if it turns out that he has ended up killing that ben tiansheng de yidui rou merc of his.

He prods Jayne with his boot, turning him over from his side to his back. There's frost on his beard and blushes of blue showing against the pale, drawn skin of his nose and lips, but his eyelids are fluttering, struggling to open. That's sign enough of life for the captain.

"Get up," he says.

Jayne groans, low and inarticulate around a frozen tongue.

Mal prods him a little harder. "Get up."

Jayne blinks at him for the space of a few seconds and attempts to uncurl himself from his fetal position on the floor. Amazing what a couple of hours in an airlock can do to a man. Big, strong Jayne is cowing on the floor like a whipped puppy. Mal knows he won't stay that way for long. He needs to get Jayne back to his bunk before he regains enough wits and strength to remember that he's a full-grown wolf with lots of teeth.

Jayne has managed to get his hands under him, but it doesn't look like he'll be doing more than that for a good while. Mal reaches down and hauls him up by the back of his uniform. Jayne howls his protest at the sudden change of position. Would Simon could see his shining hero now.

Mal grunts, finding himself supporting most of the larger man's weight as Jayne sags against his side, his head drooping and eyes rolling. Mal grits his teeth and shifts his stance to accommodate Jayne's limp form and manages to keep them both upright.

"Tsao ni zuzong shiba dai, Jayne. If you pass out on me I will dump your sorry ass right here on the floor and leave it up to you to explain what happened when crew starts pokin' around. Now if you don't feel like explainin' the peculiarities of your little side-trip at the hospital, I suggest you get your feet underneath ya and walk to your gorram bunk."

He seems to have gotten through with that one. Jayne makes a concentrated effort to take more of his own weight, but from the way he's planting his feet all wrong it's obvious that he's got no feeling in them. Man walks like he has stumps for legs. But he walks, leaning heavy on Mal 'cause he's gotta, shape he's in, and pulling away 'cause he's resenting it mightily. That's something. Good boy.

Mal reckon's they make it ten steps before the feeling starts coming back to Jayne's extremities. The mercenary keeps silent about it at first, but when they start on the stairs he lets out a strangled groan.

"Mal…"

"Don't talk," Mal snaps. "I don't wanna hear none of your yappin' 'til I say so, you hear?"

Jayne nods, biting his lips to keep his mouth shut. But he stays quiet the rest of the way through the mysteriously empty ship. Jayne doesn't deserve whatever bit of luck has made the rest of the crew absent for his walk of shame.

He's shivering up a storm by the time they reach crew quarters, teeth chattering loud and close enough to Mal's ear to make him consider putting him back in the airlock, where the vacuum of space will silence the sound. But that would waste all the energy he's put into getting the mercenary to this point, so he blindly punches in the entrance code and unceremoniously dumps Jayne down the hatch. Dusting his hands of the matter, he turns to head back to the mess only to find River blocking his path.

"Hey, little one. What're you doin' up here all by your lonesome?"

She ignores him, her gaze boring holes into the door to Jayne's bunk. "Fire," she says. "In the limbs. Cold burn, little knives." She cocks her head to the side, as if listening to a distant storm. "Got stupid. Money was too good."

For some reason, it makes Mal smile. "Girl, ain't nobody get anything by you, do they?"

River stares at him, through him, eyes big and shiny. "Lungs hurt. Like the mines. Dark space and no air." She pauses, and her eyes focus again on the here and now. "He'll be all right?"

"Better'n he deserves, that wúnéug de rén. You watch out for him now, dong ma?"

"Presents," she smiles. "Merry Christmas!" She skips off, her hair flapping, skirt curling around her skinny, bare legs.

Mal shakes his head and turns towards the mess. He'll make some tea--the bitter stuff that they've had sitting in the cabinets for about a year now—-and bring a big, steaming mug of it back for Jayne when he goes to make sure his hired gun's no worse for the wear. Doesn't want the ruttin' sumbitch to die on him, after all that work he's done getting him to his bunk. He's the captain, after all. That means he's got to know how to teach a lesson. And hammering home a point is a lot like hammering a nail: do it too long and it becomes redundant.

Besides, now that he's gotten Jayne down the ladder, he doubts he could get him up it again. He's not about to let a rotting corpse stink up his boat.

And he sure as hell doesn't want to be the one making that particular wave to Jayne's mama.

-fin