18. Always

Ilargia, looking down into the darkened cargo bay. No big merc with his weights, just her and her thoughts. Mal imagines they might be a little confused at the moment. No visible marks on her, save some bruising on her face.

Distant sounds of gunfire still, but it ain't their concern. Juno and an increasing number of enthusiasts are hunting the remnants of Wei Fen's criminal organisation through the streets. He certainly won't be back to bother them, 'cept maybe in nightmares. They all got those.

"You don't have a reason to run, any more."

"I know. You throwing me off your ship, Captain?"

"No. Saying you got your choice now, is all."

"I know that, too."

He waits a moment.

"You've seen what he is, now. Seen him kill. Got to have scared you some."

"Seen what I am, too, Captain. It wasn't him that used that knife."

Mal blinks. Took him some time to work Jayne's knife free; a deal of hate put the blade in that deep.

"A long way from where you began."

"Can't be a wilting flower for ever, not out...not here." She opens her hand, looks at it. "I found out how far I will go."

"It needed doing. Our kind of life, well, it ain't too safe, Gia."

"If I'd wanted to be safe, I'd have stayed on Londinium." Smile she gives him is serious, genuine and there's something oddly like peace in her eyes.

"Gia..." Simon's exasperated, "He's awake..."


Jayne has managed somehow to get himself sitting on the side of the medical couch, despite Simon's protest. Even without the blood, he's less than pretty. Strapped up and scowling fit to bust his stitches. One arm in a cast, other one cradling his ribs, body a map of welts and bruises. Can only really see out of one eye, and that fixes on her with a look of purpose.

"I remember someone told me Captains could marry folk back on Earth-That-Was, so that'll do 'til we find us a preacher."

"Jayne..." Sheer surprise stops her dead.

"I ain't foolin'. Kicked about this 'verse too damn long. Been through blood and fire for you, woman." Catches his breath, puts out a hand. Two fingers splinted, knuckles torn. "I ain't much, I know, and my kinda life, well, it ain't too steady, but...I reckon I can be good to you, you let me try. We can get off some place else, try and be regular folk, if you're wanting to, but don't turn me away, Larji - I got no place to be if it ain't near you."

Nothing to do, nothing to say to that. Except to step up and try and find a patch of skin 'tween the damage. Not that he'll have any of that, crushing kiss that makes him cuss even as he holds her.

"I tried being regular folk - drove me crazy. I think I'd prefer to be Serenity's cook." Her wicked grin, as she cups his bruised face in her small hands. "And your woman."


Big, battered wreck of a man, but if his grin gets any wider, top of his head's gonna fall off. Small, neat woman in the curve of his good arm. Mal sighs.

"We got ourselves a cook, then?"

Ilargia grins at Mal, too.

"Reporting for duty, Captain."

Mal points at her sternly.

"No matter how much he begs, you don't go making him chilli 'less we're dirtside, dong ma? Air filters can only take so much."

"I'm going to be sharing a bunk with him, Captain. I'm not suicidal."

"Told you, you can have your own..."

"We're getting wed." Jayne interrupts bluntly. Kaylee goes off like a steam whistle, makes Simon drop the tray he's holding.

Ilargia shrugs.

"I've no objection to living in sin, but my man's...insistent."

"Not having you leaving me, first fancy planet we get to." Jayne grumbles comfortably. "You're my woman, an' I'm keepin' you."

"Oh, that ain't right." Mal moans. Kaylee is all set to squeal their eardrums raw, hugging everyone she can reach.

River elbows Kaylee aside to hug Ilargia, too.

"Can't walk away from this one. Expert tracker." she tells her. "He'll walk right after you."

Ilargia doesn't look too scared by this.

"Talk about a whirlwind courtship..." Zoe murmurs.

"Wrecked homesteads, traumatized and dazed people in the wake...I think the metaphor holds." Simon.

"They are a healthy role model for the observation of emotions." River tells him.

"Oh, no. River, I absolutely forbid you to regard Jayne as anything but an awful warning."

River grins, takes a belligerent stance, growls,

"My heart ain't none of your business...kid."

"See...he's an appalling influence..."

In the centre of it all, Jayne and Ilargia are happily absorbed in each other's mouths, heedless of their audience.

Zoe starts to smile, a full, rich smile. Mal gives her a quizzical look.


"I'm remembering the fuss Wash's momma made when we got wed." (Mal gets it, starts to smirk.) "Somewhere out there, those two people are gonna have in-laws."



Credits; Blink-182, Cole Porter, Stealers Wheels, Depeche Mode, Green Day, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Johnny Winter, Robert Plant, Chris Isaak, Jimmy Hendrix, Dixie Chicks and the Prodigy.

Like Joss, I think names are important; Ilargia is the Basque moon goddess, and queen of witches. And I have a weakness for puns...even in other languages.

Rest of it is a cultural grab-bag out of the unstable recesses of my mind. There's more where this came from. After all, Ilargia has yet to meet Inara. Or the Cobbs.