Simon's got the grease off himself, but he wears his shirt open at the neck. Has a new respect now for the big man's strength; took all his to hold that cutter, let alone wield it for hours. Picks up a jar, looks at it without really seeing it. Sighs, and puts it down again.
"What you frettin' over?" Kaylee peers round the door at him. At the sight of her bright smile, not even Simon can stay glum. He manages a smile back.
"What am I usually fretting over?"
Kaylee's smile wavers a fraction, and she gets a determined look in her eye.
"Heard you yelling at River some. Guess it was about Tyler."
"I..." Simon pauses. "She's my sister. I don't want her being..."
"Pawed about by some lout from the Rim? 'Cos that ain't fair. Tyler's a sweetheart."
"I was going to say hurt."
"All she's done is kiss the boy, Simon. She's growing up."
"I guess...that's just harder to accept than anything else. She needed me for so long, and now..."
"She's always going to need her big brother to love her." Kaylee winds her arms round his neck. "Just...she needs other folk to love her too."
"So I suppose I need to go and borrow a shotgun from Jayne, then?"
"Tyler won't hurt her none."
"He said as much." Simon begins to smile, as he remembers. "Came and apologised for kissing her without asking."
"Hah." Kaylee squeaks indignantly. "Don't reckon a body needs anyone's permission to go kissing folks."
"Really?" Simon grins. "Well, then, Miss Frye..."
Since there isn't a thing you can keep from River, Mal is not surprised to find her hunched in the pilot's chair, and Not Talking to him.
"We got no space on this boat for anything ain't useful. You ain't keepin' him, River."
"Not a puppy." Sticks her lower lip out. "Could be useful."
"Kept Inara around for you." She didn't mean to say that. Mal's expression darkens, and she feels the rage off him. Decides discretion is the better part of valour and makes a huffy (and hasty) exit.
That's a low blow. And one he weren't expecting from that quarter.
Zoe is watching Ilargia make bao. It's her way of showing Mal he's forgiven, for the time being.
The other side of the kitchen, Tyler is using the back of a spoon, covertly checking to see whether any stubble has come through.
"We have to take him back, don't we?"
"Oh, yeah. 'Verse ain't quite ready for two Cobbs." Zoe shakes her head. "Reckon Jayne was ever like that?"
"According to his folks, that's just a younger version."
"Still ain't sure how something that's just a smaller version of Jayne can be kinda...sweet."
"He's Jayne without the hard shell." Ilargia punches some dough with unnecessary force. "I know I've never known him any other way, but Jayne can be sweet, too."
Zoe has a memory. Coming off the night watch, and into the kitchen. And Jayne, shirtless, padding quietly about, a delicate little tea bowl half-hidden in his hand, held careful as eggshell. Since Jayne don't drink anything without a proof rating, she'd grinned, and caught out, the big merc had given a half-shamed grin back, and simply said, "If you're gonna wake the cook, best do it careful like."
'Sweet' still ain't a description that sits well.
"You changed him." Beat. "He changed for you, I should say."
"I'm sorry." Ilargia doesn't look at her.
"For having a life?" Zoe puts her cup down. "'Verse keeps on goin', even when we lose folk. I was a soldier before I was a wife. An' my hurting shouldn't keep anyone from living." Her mouth curves up, a rich, full smile. "Wash would have laughed his ass off to see Jayne in love."
Ilargia is very sorry that she never got to meet the man. He's left a void within the ship greater than the Captain's painted lady, or Jayne's preacher friend.
When Jayne catches up with Tyler, the kid is ready to go round again. Jayne holds down the urge to cuff sense into him - after all, din't work on him.
"I don't want you ending up dead in some ditch, ass end of the 'Verse and your kin in bits 'cos they don't know what happened to you, Ty." Jayne swallows. "I done it to my Ma, and it ain't right."
Ty summons up a cocky grin.
"Ain't gonna get dead, Uncle Jayne. M'a Cobb - we're harder to kill'n roaches."
"Well, I ain't staying on that rock..."
"Ain't asking you to." That stops Ty dead. "Reckon a man's got a right to make his own way. But...he don't want to be too proud to go taking help. Cap'n'll put word out - you ain't shipping out in some rusty space-sieve."
Ty's face falls.
"But...I wanna stay with you. Captain said I did a good job."
"This ain't storybooks, Ty. We got a crew, an' got our places. 'Sides," Jayne shakes his head, "You done made a move on the Cap'n's girl, and that ain't ever healthy for a career."
Tyler's eyes go wide.
"Captain's girl? But he's..." About to say 'old', he stops himself in time. Deflates a little. "Oh."
"Gets the pick, see? Now, you go back an' say a proper goodbye to folks, sign on as regular crew someplace, and I reckon there's girls back on Deadwood would be real keen to meet a spacer..."
"They ain't River, though."
"Well, there ain't many like Li'l Wing." Claps Tyler on the shoulder, but it ain't unkind. "Now, you done real good out there, boy. Reckon we've earned ourselves a beer when we get back dirtside."
"We're goin' to the Cat?"
"You're payin', too."
"Aww, Uncle Jayne..."
They bury the goods under the beacon on Beylix, dig up the box of credits at the pre-arranged spot. Mal takes Tyler and Jayne to do the digging, tells himself it's good to keep the boy under his eye, nothing to do with keeping him out of the way of his pilot.
Fact is, there seem to be an awful lot of little jobs that keep Jayne and Tyler busy, until they land back on Deadwood.
Jayne ain't ready for his worlds to go colliding again. One thing his wife seeing baby pictures, but he ain't ever gonna let Mal or the Doc within talking distance of his Ma.
"We can go out to eat again." River almost skips. "More of those dian xin."
Little twist in Mal. That's one of the bright and secret moments in his mind, a quiet courtyard and a sweet smile.
"Reckon we could, at that." Zoe pats her pocket. "Putnam's Hotel does some mighty fine steak."
"Sounds real good..."
"We have to take Tyler home." Ilargia folds her arms.
The crew watch, amused. Only one thing in the 'Verse can make Jayne back down, and that's the woman squaring up to him. Ilargia is firm; she is not having her new
family blame her for leading any of the menfolk astray.
Mal pays Tyler his wages, and the boy's air of nonchalance nearly comes off; only the wide eyes betray him. And his intention to just shake hands with the crew gets scuppered by Kaylee's hug.
Shakes hands with Mal, and if there is an edge to their eyeballing, nobody pays it too much mind.
"I put the word out. There's a ship, the Cosmos Mariner, docking in two, three days. Captain Mercer is an old acquaintance of mine..."
"Moonshine Mercer?" Jayne asks Zoe, quiet-like. "Mal's bootcamp buddy as used to brew that gorram stumpwater?"
"The same." Zoe raises her eyebrows. "They're about as legal as you can get in these parts. Nobody's gonna be shooting at your boy."
"I ain't worried." Jayne lies. But he settles some. Mercer is a good man.
If River and Tyler have an emotional parting, nobody sees it. Any of the menfolk lacking in sensitivity are hauled away firmly.
Tyler is rather subdued when they leave the ship, doesn't look back, with a very determined air of bravery. Jayne shakes his shoulder.
"You're gonna be fine, boy."
"Reckon so." Ty lifts his chin. "Kinda nice to be home. Even if I ain't staying long." Turns and stops as they pass the Store. "Reckon I should take Ma something."
"We'll have a look." Ilargia gives Jayne a look. "You best go ahead, tell Jolene we're coming."
Jayne sighs. This ain't gonna be fun. But caught between his wife and his sister, a man has no chance of peace or survival.
Jolene doesn't live in the best part of town. Under the shadow of the hangars, south end of the shipyard, the streets are narrower, and like most places where a lot of folk have to live, they've built up rather than out. It lacks the clean peace of the Cobb's home street - nobody has emptied the garbage here for a while, and some of the brownstone blocks look tired - but there is a smell of frying food, clean laundry hanging from the balconies, and a hum that indicates a thriving neighbourhood.
Jayne looks up at the house frontage. Ty reckons they'll catch Jolene between her day job and her evening shift at the chop-house. That had touched him some - his sister getting in from an early shift cleaning, to get breakfast, and then getting changed to go work on her feet all day in the laundry, afore heading out again. Wages they just gave Tyler amount to maybe a couple week's earnings for her. If they can get the kid on a decent scow, then life will get better. He sighs. If he'd had any doubt 'bout stayin', even if Larji had been keen, that would top it. Despite what the Preacher had to say on it, when you come from a poor planet, then crime does pay. It's about the only thing as does.
Four flights of stairs later, he pauses in front of the door. Taught his little sis to take care of herself, and she's got a mean right hook. Still, he can't go standing in the hall all evening. First knock of his fist near goes through the thin board.
"Jayne!" Her eyes go past him, frantic.
"Got hisself paid, wanted to buy you something nice."
Jayne reckons he's gonna get rust, number of women have snivelled on him lately. But after a minute or so, Jolene's fist smacks him in the shoulder.
"...I figured what he'd done, soon enough. Now, why din't you bring him right back home?"
"Fuel." Jayne says simply. "Hadta keep moving to get paid to get some more."
"Guess I was just waiting to lose him." Wipes her nose and eyes.
"You ain't lost him. Kid reckons on it being his turn to take care of you, Jo." Jayne looks around. Small apartment is scrupulously clean, spartan and functional, a picture over the mantel a bright, pathetic show of colour. She's thin and tired, his sister, smudges under eyes that have lost the brightness of their blue. "Gorramit, sis, why'd you have to be so proud?"
"'Cos I ain't having folks say that I can't take care of my boy."
"Ma'd have a blue fit if she knew..."
"You ain't telling Ma!"
Jayne knows his sis would rather go cutting her tongue out than ask for help, 'specially with Em ready to start looking down her nose - ain't nobody so respectable as the Websters. Only Mattie and Em ever finished school - Jo got Ty 'stead of a school cert, and Jayne, well, he was cutting plate, running with the Arcies. But it's an old war, one with its roots in the nursery. Jolene sighs.
"Can't solve this by flying back and throwing credits at it."
"All I got, Jo." Her big brother looks at her with a steady gaze. This ain't the roughneck gunhand no more; something's changed in him. "Never had the chance...never took the time to get myself an education. There ain't the work here, less'n you got brains or blood to get you in. Couldn't do no good, staying here. An' you can't pretend I was any loss to you..."
"Then you're a gorram idiot. I remember Ma cried for a week solid."
"She cried plenty afore I went, too. Me an' Pa clashing like steam hammers..."
"That's 'cos you're like as two peas. Always gotta be in charge of takin' care of folks."
Jayne lifts a shoulder, scowls unconvincingly.
"Had my fill of taking care of the small fry."
Learnt it from his Pa. You do what you can for your kin. An' if what you do means you gotta be away from them to provide, then you do it. Pa weren't around much when he was growing, but that was 'cos he was working all shifts. What with Ma sick, an' little Emmie-Lou in her plastic box, all tubes...(There's reasons Jayne don't like hospitals - too many bad memories.)
"I know it." Her mouth trembles. "Gorramit, I tried so hard to get him raised right."
"You raised him right, Jo-jo. That's a fine young man you got." Jayne grins crookedly. "Hell, I want him off my ship afore the Cap'n gives him my job."
"Wanted more for him than..." She bites it off. Jayne's grin slips a little.
"Yeah, well, 'Verse don't work like that. Them as got gets more, rest of us have to scrabble for what we can. I brung him back, but he ain't gonna stay. Reckons he's a man now, and he's gonna prove it somehow." Sighs. "Best get him settled on a good ship, afore he takes off and gets into the same kinda mess I did."
"You done okay for yourself now."
"Met some folks in the last year or two gave me a turnaround, sis. I weren't good company to be keeping before."
"Ma reckoned you just needed a good woman to go sorting you out."
Jayne thinks on it. Gia wouldn't have looked at the dirty gunhand Mal had taken on board on Caliban. A mean, untrustworthy piece of go se, as would sell out anyone soon as breathing, or shoot 'em sooner.
"I hadn't got my head straight, wouldn't have met me a good woman, Jo."
The 'good woman' chooses this moment to knock on the door.
Tyler loses his bag of groceries. Ilargia and Jayne scramble to pick up the tins and packets. Ilargia looks to where Jolene is alternatively kissing and slapping her errant son.
"He's going to be just fine, Jayne."
"Reckon so." Jayne lifts his chin. "He's my blood."
Jolene wipes her eyes, and hospitality surfaces.
"What must you think...?"
Ilargia pulls a bottle out of her own grocery bag.
"I thought that we would sit down with a drink, and have the men cook us supper."
"Now, that is a novel idea." Jolene grins. "Been a long time since you cooked me something, Jayne."
"I got better." Jayne is defensive. "Can do more than porridge an' stew, now."
"When he had to put food on the table, then..."
"He cooked it." She remembers. A gangly thirteen year old, already growing into his father's old shirt, ladling out porridge, yelling at Mattie to get out of bed and get his gorram pants on for school. "Spent a lot of time taking care of us smaller folks."
"Still does." Ilargia hands her a glass, and they sit and watch the two large figures elbowing each other at the range.
Seems odd to be going back to the ship without a large shadow on his heels. Mal is waiting on the ramp, counting his crew aboard.
"Admit it, you're gonna miss the little tyke."
"Won't miss mindin' my mouth the whole time." He grins reluctantly. "Reckon we was ever that green, Mal?"
"Oh, yeah." Looks sideways. "Made you feel old, too, huh?"
"Oh, yeah." Jayne flexes his shoulders. "But I got myself a cure for that, right enough."
Ilargia rolls over, and pulls something out from the small of her back.
"I never did open that present your mother gave...aagh."
"What?" Jayne peers into the box. "Aagh."
Both Cobbs regard the offering with fear. There is a hat. But it is tiny. And there is a matching pair of bootees, and a coat.
Jayne swallows. "I ain't ever thought you was keen..."
"You would be so very right." She puts the box down hastily. Then she looks at him, stricken, "I...are you?"
"No." He sags with relief.
"Jayne, darling, I love your family, but I am so very glad we don't live on the same planet."
"You an' me both, mi tao."
Mal peers into the kitchen. River is stirring a pan of something.
"Smells better than the last time." She says, and smiles. Mal relaxes a little; maybe she's forgiven him. Then he frowns.
"Where's my cook?"
"Don't want to know." She gives him a 'dummy' look.
"Oh, for..." Mal sits at the table, head in hands. "They ain't natural."
"Very natural." River reproves him, "Don't sit down, need plates...been playing grown-ups for days, want to play themselves again."
Ilargia comes scurrying into the kitchen, rather flushed and trying to put up her hair.
"River, I...oh, evening, Captain."
"Can you do your shirt up?" Mal closes his eyes. "Not that it ain't a pretty view, but Jayne will kill me, he catches me lookin'."
Jayne himself lounges in, curls a protective arm around his wife. Seems to be a spot under her ear could do with a nuzzle, so he does. River sidesteps them, puts the pot on the table.
The Cobbs are themselves again, released from the responsibility of being surrogate parents.
River looks at Mal, rolls her eyes.
"Fireworks." She says.
Mal reaches down the plates for River.
"We did the job, we got paid, an' we're still flying." And I ain't got a pimply-faced youth underfoot no more. He doesn't stuff that thought back fast enough.
"Didn't have pimples." River glares. "Just razor rash. And hormones." She adds, thoughtfully.
Mal, well aware of Tyler's hormones, scowls. Looks sideways at River. She don't look as upset as he might expect. Then, he ain't ever been too good with girls...
Simon looks at his sister. There is a touch of colour at eyes and lips which is not entirely natural. Her hair is loosely swept back, and clipped up. Not a little girl any more. He folds his arms.
"So...are you going to drag back every unsuitable male in the quadrant for me to disapprove of?"
She laughs back at him.
"Well, I guess this means that I do have to go and borrow that shotgun from Jayne, then."
He worries for her, but it is the simple, human worry of a brother, no longer the life-tearing panic of before. She's healing, taking steps into the adult world.
She sighs, then brightens.
"Perhaps I can find someone at the Space bazaar."
Mal's immediate thought is that they ain't going near the place ever again.
"Could find yourself with someone like Petchko."
"Kick him through a table." She sniffs contemptuously. "Anyway, I've decided. Only going to date officers."
Kaylee hoots with laughter, and both Mal and Simon choke on their dinner.
Serenity sails on through the Black.
A/N ; this was supposed to be a short character piece, and it wandered rather. There are some ideas seeded in here that I'm going to expand on. But I need to get it finished, because the other ideas are stacking up and beginning to make my head hurt.
Coming soon; a cracktastic crossover, some disturbing short stories and quite possibly Jayne on Londinium. After all, how bad could it be?...