Weren't unusual for Jayne's stomach to wake him up. Not at all. His Ma'd always said he had some kinda tapeworm in it – Mal went asking the doc once or twice to check for the gorram same thing – but Jayne figured all that ass-kicking he did had to get fueled by something. Not too different from the ship, she burned what she ate just like Jayne did, except her food was all manner of shiny and deathifying.
Kaylee'd mentioned that once, when he asked what Serenity ate. She showed him the fuel cells and smacked his hand right off them when he tried to open one up. He only wanted to know how spaceship fuel smelled. He'd seen diesel and gasoline, didn't figure anything went into the ass end of a gimungous space bug would be no different. Thought wrong there, but then he'd never thought about engines until little Kaylee came along and couldn't lift stuff on her own. Girl started in with a story about Earth-That-Was and nuclear fusion and all manner of horrifying deaths, and the only thing saving him from sleep was them pretty dimples in her face. So what he did was, he said something that got her to laughing and stopped the storytelling, which meant he was back on safe ground where he didn't feel so gorram dumb.
Not that there was much Kaylee-laughing anymore. Or laughing from anyone else. Miranda happened, and all manner of badness with and because and after it, and by the time Mal got them back in the sky where they belonged, weren't nobody even able to crack a smile anymore. Made things too damn quiet.
Jayne stomped down the corridor towards the kitchen. Nighttime didn't mean much out in the black, but it was when crew pretended to be asleep, and that suited Jayne just fine. Boat felt five kinds of empty when everyone on it was trying not to be seen by everyone else. His big boots thudded down the stairs by the table, stomped hollow across the floor into the kitchen, and he knew if anyone heard him they'd pretend they didn't. He set himself to finding food didn't smell like something dead.
When Mal weren't trying to hide his dancing with Inara - and Jayne knew full well what that kinda dance meant, it meant both of them was gonna wind up not-sleeping all alone, with all manner of thoughts wasn't ever gonna happen - when Mal weren't busy making sure nobody saw that, he was watching Zoe, real quiet, from where she didn't see it. Zoe kept busy keeping herself busy, looked like she saw a ghost every time she turned around. Jayne knew ruttin' well who it was, almost talked to Wash once or twice his own self before remembering he weren't gonna get no answer. He'd said the dead man's name once in Zoe's presence, and the look on her face scared him. So he stayed the hell outta her way. Never did try to bug Inara much, that weren't gonna change. Didn't figure her as too likely to stay long this time, so filled his eyes with the pretty when he could and otherwise left it alone.
Jayne missed the preacher something awful, but didn't say nothing about it to nobody. Mal'd said he was crew, right before he died, and Jayne agreed with that well enough. Man carried his weight, kept everyone from killing each other or yelling too much, and knew all kindsa useful things about kneecaps and spices. Things Jayne didn't know, but all Jayne had to do was ask. Book was a good teacher, patient, took as much time as Jayne'd needed for learning. Was a good man, deserved better than he got. Crew coulda used his help now, throw some of his good word into this dead quiet. But his being dead was part of the quiet.
The doc and his sister was keeping mostly to themselves too, and each other, and Simon with Kaylee and River with Mal, learning to fuck and fly, making themselves useful, or at least wanted. So that was all right, Jayne figured, except he still didn't much like them most times. When they used words he didn't know that probably meant he smelled bad. Or when River gave him that look saying full well she knew what he was thinking on, and she only ever did that when he had guns and girls in his mind. Or when Simon put on that voice said Jayne was dumb enough to walk out the airlock without a suit on. Or when Simon used the biggest needles on purpose to stitch him up. They was crew, sure, didn't mean he had to start being nice. Never did learn how to be that anyway. Except to his Ma, but that was more learning how not to get smacked for what came out of his mouth.
All of this left Jayne alone, which was just fine with him, Jayne always did know how to be alone. Kinda always had been, what with one thing and the other, Mattie being sick at home, and a gun hand don't exactly get no kinda hero's welcome on any of the other boats he'd been on. Getting some trim even involved being alone, in a way, since he'd be thinking on the pretty girl and she was only ever thinking on his pretty coin.
Jayne popped a few lockers open, found some kinda protein blocks and some kinda sauce to maybe give it some kinda flavor. Put a skillet over the burner, turned it on, pulled out his knife to cut the food with before he cooked it all. None of the other boats had given him free run of the kitchen neither, or crew who'd been sad when some of their own turned up dead. And they was all so busy trying not to be sad that Jayne's run was a little freer than normal. His run was so free right now he was using up the last of Mal's teriyaki sauce, and he knew Mal wouldn't never even yell about it.
Truth was, Jayne didn't know what to do, beside clean guns, lift weights, make his own food at whatever time of night ship said it was, and stay the hell out of everyone else's way. So he said grace in his head real fast, then set to eating straight from the skillet, little quieter than normal, respecting the respect everyone else had for the dead. Was the dodging that came hardest, boat this small was bound to have everyone bouncing into and off of everyone else time to time. He did his best keeping out of the way, except when Simon was around, and then it was just plain fun walking past in such a way that his big shoulder knocked the dumbass fancy boy off his balance. Simon always looked worried at that, didn't have no need to be, after all this Alliance crap was done he weren't worth nothing for a reward.
He heard her bare feet against the floor although she was trying to be quiet, set his teeth for what promised to be a nice bit of irritating in the middle of dinner.
"Can't sleep." Wasn't a question, not the way River said it. Girl just knew.
"So?" Jayne asked, mouth full of protein and something kinda like sand. "M'hungry."
"Simon can give you things," she said. "Make you sleep."
"Don't want none of his fong luh drugs in my head."
"You can have them," River told him, like it was some kinda nice thing she done. "All yours. Need them more than I do."
"Git," Jayne grunted, fork full of protein stuck midway between skillet and mouth.
River smiled and floated out of the room, back to her bunk with her bare toes hugging the floor and her eyes not connected to her head. Little shen jing bing.
It got all manner of quiet again, just Serenity humming which he didn't hardly hear anymore, that and Jayne chasing the last shreds of food across the skillet with fork and fingers. Spent too long being too poor to not eat every last bit of what was in front of him, even if it was protein tasted like sandpaper and wet straw with sauce poured over. Even if ever since the Reavers his body didn't want no more food than the hardly nothing it took to stop feeling hungry. He got up, washed what he used, toweled it down and put it away and took himself out to the cargo hold. Wasn't sleeping, no job until they hit Persephone in a week, and any time spent thinking about the dead left him wanting to show off how dead he wasn't. So he was pacing and being awake and eating and lifting weights, as much as he could when there wasn't other people around anyway, didn't want to bother them. Jayne knew everyone dealt with death different, was the Shepherd had told him that.
Best thing for death was sex, but weren't no girls out in the black, none that would have him anyway, so it was guns and food and weight, least until he got both feet back on some ground somewhere and a sky above him instead of all around and behind and beneath too. Guns he had no use for, not right now, and food he had no stomach for, and weights seemed a bit heavier than they used to, and when he tried sleeping he'd lie there with eyes open in the blackness in his bunk. Time enough for sleep when you're dead, his pa said, and Jayne'd never really believed that, always loved a good night's unconsciousness after a drink and a fight, until he saw what happened when a whole planet went right to sleep and then to dead and nobody even knew.
Clomped up the stairs, right foot and left, stomp thud thud bang, and Jayne thought maybe he was sleepwalking, like awake and asleep didn't have no differences anymore. The lights was down but not off, and he'd got up the stairs and gone across the catwalk without thinking on it, and his foot kicked into one of Kaylee's bottles of homebrew and it slid into her and he didn't notice that neither, and it was only when she made a sound he realized she was there.
Kaylee looked up at him, her chin resting on arms resting on the wire-metal railing, her legs swinging slowly in empty space below. Had a kinda watery look he'd seen on his sisters plenty of times. Drinking wasn't gonna help with that any, probably make it worse, but if Kaylee dealt with death by getting drunk and sad all by her lonesome, wasn't none of Jayne's business.
Took a minute before he realized she'd said hi and something else, some kinda innocent question only Kaylee would ask at a time like this. He ground the heel of his hand into the back of his head, thought a second.
"Nah," he said finally. "Can't sleep."
"Me neither," she said after another mouthful of her engine wine, after wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "Too much like." Paused, drank again. "Like them."
Knew what she meant without her saying it. Better if she didn't. "None of that crap on the boat. 'Less you put it in our air."
"Didn't," she said, and Jayne knew any other time that'd have got him kicked or maybe hit. "Might have, way everyone's been acting."
Jayne figured at this point she was expecting him to stay a while, with the rest of the boat asleep or pretending to be, except River who'd only say something real unsettling anyway, and Kaylee didn't need that right now. So he sat down too, took a big mouthful of her engine wine, clenched his teeth as it went down. Leaned back against the railing and watched Kaylee trying real hard not to break down.
"I keep seeing them," Kaylee said after a pause, after a few more sips for each of them. "Before I go to sleep. I see them, and I see me just lying down and dying too. Didn't bother me none first few days, but the black feels awful lonely now."
"Doctor ain't getting you tired enough," Jayne said. Was something wrong with him too, usually he'd have said that in a way to make her mad, but it came out kinda like a question he already knew the answer to.
"He's happy," she said. "I mean. He ain't happy on account of what happened with Book and Wash. But River, she's kinda fixed now, you know?"
Jayne had no ruttin' clue, but he knew that when people got to thinking sometimes they needed to talk, and talking was best done with someone listening like Mal'd done for him a time or few, so he nodded and grunted and Kaylee went on.
"Don't think he ever thought on us as family the way we did," Kaylee said. Took a drink, sniffed, kept on talking. "He had real family here. Has. We ain't got anyone but each other, maybe we reach out more'n he does. Maybe we needed it more."
"You saying he don't miss Wash? Or the preacher?" Jayne couldn't be hearing that right.
"Not the same way we do, which ain't even half as bad as Zoe feels, and that's what's got Mal so worried, and it all comes back to everyone else. Makes it worse."
Another grunt. Yeah, he could see that. They were quiet a while then, finished off the bottle of engine wine, Jayne waited for Kaylee to keep talking.
"And there's nothing can be done, is the thing," little Kaylee said, her voice fit to fall apart. "Can't talk to anyone, can't try to make them feel better and that'd help me."
"That'd help?" Jayne asked, passing the bottle over.
"Think it would," Kaylee said.
"My pa used to say, plenty of time for sleeping when you're dead," Jayne said. "Think I know what he means now. After all this I wanna make some kinda noise, go do things that show I ain't dead too." Preacher had floated that idea, long time ago. Funny how his own being dead proved to Jayne he'd been right.
"When I was little and I got mad about something," Kaylee said, "there was a train track near our house where people'd go to drink. I'd go there and break bottles on the rails and yell. Made me feel better." She looked down, picked up the empty bottle. "Don't got no tracks, though," she said, raising the empty bottle, feeling the weight of it for a throw. She did that, Jayne knew, she'd be picking glass off the floor with her lips for a month. Mal didn't like no messes on his boat, especially ones come about from someone having a bit much to drink.
"Just get mad," Kaylee said. "No reason for any of it, everyone being sad or gone. No way to fix it neither."
"You wanna throw that somewhere Mal's not gonna be mad at you later," Jayne said, watching the bottle in Kaylee's hand.
"I got just the place," she said, and got up, all manner of unsteady. Leaned against the railing, lining her legs up under her, then went downstairs, steps heavy from drink or thought or sad, Jayne didn't know which. He swiveled his head around to watch her cross the cargo bay, bottle still in her hand, and when she got to the airlock controls she glanced over at him. "You coming?"
Jayne pulled himself to his feet, then, walked down the stairs heavily, and by the time he got over to Kaylee she'd opened the cargo door in the middle of the floor.
"We throw everything in here," she said, "all the mess gets sucked clean into space." She raised the bottle, looked at the open space in the floor, tensed her body, then dropped her arm back to her side. Laughed a little bit. "Feel dumb doing this."
"Hell," Jayne said, "ain't like anyone's gonna complain." He turned around, looked real quick along the cargo bay – found some wooden crate wasn't needed no more. Picked it up, brought it back so he stood next to Kaylee, and he threw it down into the bay. Kaylee watched him, a funny look in her face, something else there behind her eyes. Her hand shook just a little. She threw her bottle. Looked at Jayne. He yelled, just wanting to break the eerie-ass quiet. Kaylee yelled back.
Then it was anything they could find weren't needed no more, boxes and broken bits of Serenity that hadn't been gotten rid of yet, old crates and things that was trash, and Jayne held out stuff for Kaylee to smack with some piece of metal, and they both made themselves a gorram lot of noise. When the tears broke free of Kaylee's eyes she didn't even notice none, just kept throwing and screaming, no words to speak of though Jayne thought some of it maybe started out as things she couldn't say.
One more crash, Jayne kicked some twisted-up shred of scrap with a yell, and Kaylee leaned over and fell facefirst onto him, and she shook so hard with crying Jayne was more than a little scared. He held still though his body wanted to move, put an arm over her shoulders, or maybe on, he hadn't ever had to comfort a woman crying this bad. Looked up to see Simon who was coming their way, mad and confused and worried fighting over which one got to be worn on his clean and proper face.
"What... what is going on here?" Simon's voice rang out from the doorway leading back to the common room.
Jayne wedged an elbow in between the shaking sobbing Kaylee and his increasingly damp front, put a little space between them, loosened her from him and she went off, just like he figured, to go cling to the doctor instead. Simon had all kinds of practice with crying girls, his sister still did it right regular, he'd know better than Jayne how to deal with Kaylee now. Free to move, not wanting to stop, Jayne kicked the last shredded bits of wood into the bay. Behind him the girl and the doc were talking, Jayne didn't hear what.
"Are you okay?" damn fool doc kept asking, like he didn't know sometimes something had to break down before it could think about getting better. Like it was Jayne's fault his girl was acting like this. "What did he say?" Simon asked.
"Nothing's wrong," Kaylee told him, sobbing fit to burst, like she thought Simon would believe her when Jayne knew full well he wouldn't fall for that not even once, "just, just.."
Jayne walked over to the console, punched the red button with the side of his closed fist so the inside doors shut themselves. He hit the other button that opened the outside doors, listened for the hum in his feet that'd mean the outer lock doors opened and shut. Plenty of room in space for all the glass and metal and wood and whatever the hell else they'd found to break. Serenity was already carrying as much broken as she had room for.
"Why are you awake?" Simon asked Jayne, all the Kaylee-gentleness gone. Kaylee looked up at her so-shiny and proper swai Core boy, then over at Jayne who was dark and warm with engine booze and still breathing a little bit from pitching that crate over his head.
Jayne caught Kaylee's eye with his own then, looked straight at and down and into her because right then he knew they were both thinking the same gorram thing. Gave her a little smile even, because Kaylee needed things like that, and weren't no denying Kaylee, not now or ever.
"Time enough for sleep when I'm dead," Jayne said, some of his old swagger and dirty mean come back. Simon looked all kinds of shocked, how can you talk like that when there's been losses, God only knows what's the matter with you, Jayne could see the rant coming but he didn't care none. He glanced down at Kaylee again and a weak little grin pulled her mouth up - that's the way, Kaylee girl, you go ahead and smile at that. She knew it good enough. Knew just what he meant, had to, knew it in her bones and brains.
He turned on his heel, towards upstairs, to a bunk suddenly looking all kinds of inviting, and the always-welcome sound of Simon in full-bore indignant splutter escorted Jayne to the first good night's rest he'd had in too gorram long.
Translations, or No, I Do Not Speak Chinese At All So This Is Probably Wrong:
shen jing bing: lunatic
fong luh: crazy
Footnote, which was as usual written with my feet: This is my first Firefly fic of any length, and it came from a relatively simple idea. I thought that Jayne would have problems dealing with the events of the BDM. Few things bother Jayne, and when it's something that food or sex or motion won't fix, he'd be a bit confused.