Two Gorram Days
Mal Reynolds had had a somewhat rough two days, and he almost jumped out of his skin when the doc bleated out Inara's name right behind him. Turning around, he saw that Inara indeed it was, looking fresh as a daisy and a mite put out. Her frown smoothed out when she got a good look at them, and she hurried over. "What happened to you?"
"Mal and Zoe got themselves stole," Kaylee said brightly. "So we came to rescue 'em. Took some time, but we're all safe and shiny now."
"Stole?" Inara looked Mal up and down with a 'why would anyone bother' look on her face, then frowned as Simon tugged on her arm. "Simon, is something wrong?"
"Why are you here? Why aren't you on Serenity?" Doc looked mighty keyed up, for reasons Mal's exhaustion-and-adrenaline fogged brain couldn't fathom.
"I extended my appointment for a couple of days. I did wave the ship, but nobody answered and nobody called back." Inara frowned. "I was a little annoyed, I admit, but I suppose I can't blame you for -"
"You haven't been back?" Simon looked as if someone had just told him that Santa had been killed and eaten by Reavers.
"No, I haven't. Why - "
"Are you telling me that Jayne has been alone with my sister for the last two full days?" Simon sounded nigh hysterical, not that Mal could blame him now that the situation had been explained.
"You left him alone with River?" Inara said, looking downright shocked.
"You were supposed to be back in a couple of hours!" Kaylee wrung her hands. "We thought she'd be fine for that long, and we had to save Zoe and the captain!"
"Then why didn't Jayne answer my wave? Or return it?"
Wash groaned. "He doesn't know how."
Everyone stared at him. "How can a grown man not know how to -" Simon started, frowning.
"Because I told Wash not to tell him," Mal muttered. "Didn't want him sending any waves behind my back, when we first hired him on, so I had Wash and Kaylee rewire the controls a bit so he couldn't use it. I don't think anyone ever bothered showing him since."
"A reasonable piece of caution at the time, sir, but a little inconvenient now." Zoe shook her head. "Since I know for a fact that he can't fly the shuttle either, even when he's in the pink of health which he currently ain't..."
"They've been stranded out there for at least two days. Ta ma de." Mal shuddered. "Inara, you free to leave?"
"As soon as I can power up the shuttle."
"Good. Wash, you and Zoe bring the mule back. Everyone else to Inara's shuttle fastest. Let's hope we're in time to keep one of them from killing the other for food."
Inara got the shuttle up to a speed that would have made Mal less uncomfortable were Wash piloting her. Simon spent the whole trip - a good fifteen minutes even at full speed - muttering over all the things that might go wrong and all the things he'd do to Jayne if they had. Kaylee was trying to reassure him, with less than great success seeing as she obviously wasn't sure herself how well Jayne would handle the situation. Book seemed reasonably serene, but he always did so Mal wasn't inclined to take that as encouragement.
Serenity was still there and looking reasonably intact when they got there. Kaylee's little chair was even outside on a sunny patch of grass. Inara docked the shuttle and Mal beat Simon out the door only by dint of being big enough to push the shorter man aside. He looked around anxiously. The hold looked intact. All their bits and pieces of not-quite-cargo were where they had been when he'd left.
"River? River, are you here?" Simon had erupted from the shuttle behind him, barely restrained panic in his voice.
"You're home in time for dinner!" River's voice came from the galley, and Mal was all but trampled as Simon charged along the walkway towards it.
"I knew it. She killed Jayne and cooked him up for dinner." Mal muttered, following both Simon and a particularly tasty sort of smell.
"Smells more like rabbit to me," Kaylee said from behind him, as Mal all but cannoned into Simon, who'd frozen in place just inside the galley.
There was River, right enough, industriously polishing some shiny little bit of metal and looking just as cute as a crazy button with her hair in braids and Jayne's cowboy hat sliding down over her eyes. There also was Jayne, his injured leg propped up on a chair as he fitted his LeMat back together. There were guns all over the table, and a big pot smelling mighty good in the kitchen. They both looked up as their supposed rescuers hustled in, and River smiled brightly. "I got more berries, Simon. But you can't have any unless you eat all your supper."
River might be looking cheerful, but Jayne had assumed a deeply injured expression. "'Bout time you showed up," he said sourly. "It's been two gorram days!"
"Yes. Yes it has." Simon sidled almost nervously over to River. "River, I think you should give Jayne back his hat now."
She tipped her head back so she could see out from under said hat. "No. I look cunning." She sounded proud of it.
"You really do," Kaylee said, beaming. "I ain't ever seen you with your hair braided, it looks so cute!"
"Two entire days." Jayne wasn't letting this go in a hurry.
"Yeah, 'cause I can tell you've been suffering." Mal looked around, taking in the mostly-lucid River, the Real Food on the stove, and the mess.
"River, are you all right?" Simon was examining his sister anxiously. "Are you hungry? You haven't had any medicine for a couple of days now. Maybe we should go down to the infirmary and I'll check you over..."
"She's fine." Jayne had gone from looking wronged to looking wronged and insulted. "You think I can't watch one bitty crazy person for two days? She's fed, she's clean, she's learned stuff -"
"Clean?" Simon could reach an impressively high pitch when he was horrified.
"Jayne, you had best explain that right the hell now," Mal said, scowling. Surely even Jayne wouldn't...
Jayne opened his mouth, but River beat him to it. "I swam. A River inside a river, one flowing and one fighting the flow." She smiled brightly at her brother. "I was muddy. But I had clothes on."
Jayne was looking more wounded than ever. "Ain't nobody ever satisfied around here. I keep the gorram girl quiet and amused for two whole days, all on my own, and what do I get?"
"Completely undeserved suspicion. It's real nice that you let River go swimming." Kaylee smiled sympathetically at him, and Jayne preened. "And you with your bad leg, too. I bet it was hard for you to get all the way to the river."
"It was." Jayne gave her his best puppy-dog eyes. "And after I went out huntin' in the morning, too. For real food."
"I shot a rabbit," River said happily. "Myself. And I picked berries. I am well on the way to complete self-sufficiency."
"You shot a - Jayne, did you give that child a gun?" Even Book sounded shocked by that.
"Just a little one. She's been going on ever since you all left about taking care of herself." Jayne shot a glare at the doc. "Did you know he ain't even letting her feed herself?"
"I'm not letting her cook for herself. Something I'd think you'd appreciate, given what she did the last time she picked up a kitchen knife." Simon glared right back.
Jayne redirected his glare at Mal. "And you told her she wasn't allowed to help herself to the dried rations."
"I did not tell her any such thing!" Mal folded his arms as everyone stared at him accusingly. "Never."
"You did, however, tell Saffron not to do it in River's hearing," Book said in his mild way. "Said it was stealing, as I recall."
"I... well, yeah, I did, but..." Mal frowned, trying to remember exactly what he had said. "But that ain't the same. I was makin' a point about personal freedom."
"A difficult distinction for River to make." Book smiled encouragingly at River. "I'm sure the captain didn't mean that you couldn't take food if you're hungry."
River nodded. "I know that now. But we have to do what captain says while we're on the ship."
"Well, captain says you can eat whenever you want to," Mal said, a bit remorseful. He should have remembered that River tended to get a mite tangled up about things. "She been okay, Jayne?"
"She's been a pain in the ass." Jayne didn't sound nearly as vindictive as Mal had expected. "But she ain't been especially crazy or anything."
"Jayne gave me a knife to stick nightmares with," River said brightly.
"I didn't give it to you, I loaned it to you, and I want it back now that your brother's here and I don't have to listen out for you no more," Jayne said, overriding the others' protests. "And if you got any better ideas, doc, you shoulda told me about 'em before you went off and left me to look after her for two gorram days."
"That wasn't intentional, from what I understand." Inara sounded as smooth and serene as ever, but the look she was bending on Jayne was unusually approving. "I'm sorry for leaving you in such an awkward position. I never would have stayed away so long if I'd known you were trying to cope on your own. Still, you seem to have managed admirably." Jayne basked blatantly in this somewhat-deserved praise, and Inara smiled. "Even if you have been helping yourself to my spices."
Jayne pointed at River. "For her!" he said, trying to look wounded and innocent and failing miserably. "A little bit when she got all upset yesterday and some today for the stew."
"You got upset yesterday? Mei mei, what happened?" Simon started mother-henning at River again, and Mal rolled his eyes. Girl seemed happy enough now.
"One of my guns has a kinda... violent history," Jayne said, sounding a bit awkward now. "More'n usual, I mean. She got spooked when she touched it."
River had cuddled up to Simon. "The creations of man outlive man," she said seriously. "We leave our imprints on the creations of our hands as they forget us."
Simon frowned. "Okay. Sure."
Jayne snorted. "She says that the things folks make last longer than they do. I explained to her as how things like guns and ships go through lots o' hands, and she shouldn't let their past bother her."
"You understood what she was saying?" Simon looked shocked.
"I ain't had anything else to listen to for two days."
"Would you let the two days go, already? We know it's been two days. We're all very sorry that you were inconvenienced." Mal shook his head. "I'm just amazed you two didn't kill each other."
"I was good," River said virtuously.
"Mostly." Jayne nodded. "She ain't nearly as much trouble as the doc makes out."
"As I... what?" Simon spluttered indignantly. "River has suffered a great deal of trauma, not that I expect you to even be able to spell 'trauma' let alone identify it."
"And you keep on pokin' needles in her and fussin' at her." Jayne actually sounded incensed. "Look at her. She ain't had any medicines for days now, and she's fine. You just gotta keep her busy is all. And feed her. Ain't ever seen her eat as much as she has the last couple days."
"The medicines make me sick." River made a face. "They clear my thoughts but cloud my belly."
"Well, you've been doing fine without 'em."
"Only because there were two peas in the pod." River frowned. "It's easy to be clear when only Jayne is here. When there are many minds in close proximity, confusion results. Jayne's thoughts are direct and don't make mine tie in knots."
"That's because Jayne's an idiot," Simon muttered.
"Jayne says the same thing about Simon." River stuck her tongue out at her brother. "Because Simon is too stupid to ask me obvious questions."
"Like what? What obvious questions?" The doctor was a powerfully funny sight when he got all puffed up with indignation, and when Mal caught Inara's eye he saw those perfect lips twitching with suppressed amusement.
"Like those hands of blue she keeps talking about." Jayne rolled his eyes. "How many months she been talkin' about them, and you ain't never even asked her what weapons they use or if they wear body armour."
Everyone stared at him. "These... hands of blue. They're people?" Mal asked, just to be clear.
"Seem to be." Jayne smirked, clearly proud of himself for figuring it out. "They use sonics, and she ain't sure if they wear body-armour but their faces are exposed. So if you see anyone with blue gloves on, shoot him in the face and make sure they don't have time to get out... well, I don't know exactly what it looks like, but River was going on about a singing box with long ears."
"Teeny-tiny. Pocket sized." River was beaming at Jayne as if he'd done something incredibly clever - which Mal was starting to suspect he actually had. Who'da thunk.
"Okay, so it's a small box." Jayne shrugged. "You just gotta pay attention to her."
"I do pay attention to her." Simon hugged his sister protectively. "I've spent months working with her, trying to help her..."
"The parts always make the whole, even if you put them in a bag," River said, touching Simon's cheek in a loving way that made Mal's throat tighten just a touch. "They get jumbled around with the dirt and they look broken, but all the pieces are still there. You can even add new ones. It just takes time."
Simon looked befuddled. Mal glanced at the gun still in pieces, and then at Jayne's embarrassed face. "Jayne, I want you to be honest with me. Did you knowingly and with intent use a metaphor on that child?"
"A metaphor is a comparison of one thing to another for the purposes of accurate description," River said.
"Oh. Then yeah."
"I need to sit down." Inara sounded positively faint, and Mal was sure she was trying hard not to laugh as she pulled out a chair.
"Jayne, you talked to her about her troubles!" Kaylee hugged Jayne, which Mal was willing to bet made the whole thing worth Jayne's while, especially given what portion of Kaylee his head was level with when he was sitting and she was standing. "That's so sweet of you!"
"I'da called it a perversion of the natural order of things, myself, but sweet works too." Mal shook his head. "Look, smells like dinner's about ready. Why don't we let Jayne and River clean up the mess they made of the table?"
"Okay, okay." Jayne got up, making a bit of a production of leaning on a twisty stick as he gathered up an armful of weaponry. "I'll take these back to my bunk."
"I'll help!" Kaylee started filling her arms as well. "What about that one that's all in pieces?"
"I'll fix it." River scooted over to sit in Jayne's just-vacated chair, her fingers darting around as she started reassembling the gun. "Jayne showed me how."
"You've been teaching her about guns for the last two days?" Simon was all squeaky again.
Jayne sighed, and turned to the doctor with a dangerously-near-the-end-of-my-fuse expression. "Doc, out of the two things that I know you know take up the vast majority of my time and interest, would you rather I didn't teach her about guns?"
There was a long, thoughtful silence.
"I think I speak for all of us here when I say that we're vastly glad that you decided to share the intricacies of gun-maintenance with little River," Mal said, smiling brightly and trying mighty hard to think of nothing at all. "Now why don't you and Kaylee take the guns away so we can eat our dinner?"
"I don't think I want any now," Simon said weakly.
River was giggling. "You have dirty minds," she said, grinning naughtily at Simon. "Especially you."
"Mei mei, I'm not the one who said -"
Book was grinning. "I think I know what she means."
"Do I want to? Is it a thought that will scar me for life?" Mal asked.
"There are two activities that occupy the bulk of Jayne's time, Captain. The care of his weaponry and the one he and I share in the hold."
Simon closed his eyes as the penny dropped. "The exercising."
"Yeah." Jayne grinned. "Why, what'd you think I meant?"
Inara's head was down on the table now, her shoulders shaking. Kaylee was making muffled snorting noises. Even Mal couldn't help grinning, and River laughed a sudden bright laugh the likes of which Mal had never heard from her before. "He pulled your tail, Simon, and you let him." She grinned, holding up the now-assembled gun. "Finished!"
"Your speed's getting better." Jayne took the gun, and limped pointedly away, muttering under his breath about how it was cruel to expect him to climb down that ladder and right back up again in his state.
Inara looked up, and all the hurt from the Heart of Gold was gone just for a second as her eyes met Mal's and they both burst out laughing. "I would never have believed it," she said, still laughing. "Not if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Jayne actually likes her!"
"Likes her? He said she was a pain in the ass!" Simon said plaintively.
"Those are soft words, from the mouth of a Jayne." River looked mighty pleased. "And he made dinner for all. You must all say thank you or you must go to bed without."
"Of course we will, River." Book smiled at her. "Why don't you go wash your hands while I set the table?"
"All right." She pouted but skipped off, Jayne's hat still wobbling on her too-small head. After a second, she popped her head back in, grinning at Simon. "Can Jayne look after me next time you all have to go away?"
"No, Jayne can't!" Jayne's voice came down the other hallway. "Jayne ain't a ruttin' babysitter!"
"No, Jayne is a babysitter with very clean thoughts," River called back. "Behaved with exemplary self-restraint."
"Jayne had clean thoughts? When?" Inara was giggling again.
River's face softened. "Doesn't want to upset the little girl," she said gravely. "Tried so hard to think things that wouldn't scare her. Jayne is softer than he wants anyone to know."
"Jayne ain't soft!" The yell was anguished.
"Jayne is getting a raise on account of actually being a decent human being for two whole days." Mal was surprised to hear the words coming out of his mouth, but he meant them. He'd seen signs that Jayne was changing since Ariel, but this was something special. If he didn't reward it, it might wear off.
"Really?" Jayne appeared in the doorway, looking mighty perky all of a sudden. "How big a raise?"
"Half a percent. And all the babysitting you can handle. Since you're so good at it and all."
Inara was laughing again, a rich laugh full of joy, and it mingled with Kaylee's merry giggles and River's sweet gurgle to make Serenity feel warmer than she ever had as Mal smiled. "Won't hurt you to have something to do out in the black."
Jayne's eyes tracked over to River, looking so cute in his hat, and Mal saw him smile just the tiniest bit. "Well, I guess for another half-percent I could watch her some."
That was just the weirdest thing Mal had ever seen. Jayne actually did like the little monkey.
Fei-fei de piyian asscrack of a baboon.
Feng dian crazy (adj)
Bu lai good, fine
Su xiao lit. quick results.
Ta ma de damnit