Okay, I'm new at this, so let me just say that I own none of the rights to Firefly, Serenity, or any of the associated characters, etc. I did this for fun, and don't get a dime put of it. It's just to keep Serenity alive a little bit, at least for me. Hope you enjoy!

Shades of the Past – Prologue

Set two months after BDM

Jayne was sitting at the table in the galley, nursing a cup of tea, when River came drifting in. There had been a time when the mug would have smelled of whiskey, but no longer. After Book's death, Jayne had opened a letter left for him on Haven, written by Book. It was to be opened in the event of Book's death.

No one knew what the letter had said, but the changes in Jayne had been abrupt, to say the least. He no longer mouthed off to Mal, made fun of the doctor, or told raucous tales at the dinner table, nor elsewhere. Mal had commented more than once that Jayne scared him more now, than before.

Jayne had ignored the comments, just as he ignored the fact that the Doctor still treated him the same way, calling him ape, or ape-man, ridiculing Jayne's lack of education and 'low caste birth'. It apparently never occurred to the core-bred idiot that his insults hit home with Kaylee.

As a result, the little engineer no longer chased the good doctor, instead choosing to ignore him almost entirely. Jayne didn't smirk, because he felt bad for Kaylee. And, truth be told, he was sorry she was suffering because of him.

"Can't sleep, big man?" River's voice floated across the room to him.

"Nah," Jayne replied, a slight smile on his face. "Don't know if it's the medicine the Doc gave me for the shoulder or what, but I don't sleep much lately."

"Me as well," the little assassin nodded. She fixed her own drink, and sat beside him at the table. Both drank and reflected in silence for a while.

"You know," Jayne said suddenly, looking at the girl, "I reckon I never said thank you, River-gal, for what you did back there at Mr. Universe's. I should have. I'm sorry you had to, but you saved us all. I'm beholden to you." River's eyes narrowed slightly, but she sensed nothing but sincerity from him. She shrugged.

"It isn't like I can take credit for it," she sighed softly. "It's. . .it's what they made me." She took another sip of her tea.

"Whatever the way or the reason, you still saved us." Jayne's big hand reached out and patted her tiny one. She almost withdrew, but his hand was back on his own cup before she had the chance. Again, nothing but sincerity.

"Your welcome," she finally managed, with a weak grin. He smiled again, a sincere smile, that reached his cobalt eyes.

Suddenly, tears welled in her eyes. Alarmed, Jayne reached out, a hand on her arm.

"What's wrong, River?" he asked, voice concerned. "Look, I didn't mean to make you. . .I mean all I was trying to do was. . ." he stopped his spluttering as River shook her head.

"Not you, Jayne," she sobbed quietly. "All my fault. Wash, Preacher, all the others. All dead. All because of me. All my fault. . ."

"Bi zu!" Jayne's voice was still quiet, but hard and firm. He reached out and took the girl by her slight shoulders, forcing her to look at him. He was shocked she didn't try and fight.

"Now you listen here, girl," he said harshly. "And I mean you listen good! Ain't none of what happened, look at me!" Jayne's voice raised slightly, and the girl looked again into those deep blue eyes, now burning with fury.

"None, and I mean none of what happened, was your fault. You hear me? You didn't ask anyone to take you away, and make you into something you didn't ask to be. To be given a burden no one should have to bear, especially not a kid. You didn't ask any of us to help, including Wash. And Book, well, he would have helped even if he'd knowed he was to die in the doin'. And been hurt if'n you hadn't asked."

"It was the Alliance that did this, River. You hear me talking? The Alliance is to blame, and no one else. Ever drop of blood spilled on account of this is on their hands, and not yours. I never want to hear you say different again. Dong ma?"

River nodded through her tears, and suddenly seemed to collapse in his arms. Jayne grabbed her without thought, and pulled into his lap, where she buried her face into his massive shoulder and cried. Jayne rocked her gently.

"There ya go," he whispered softly. "Cry, River. Anybody in the whole 'verse got a right to cry, it's you. Go ahead and cry it all out. No one will know but you and me."

The big man held the tiny woman for a long time, he never really knew how long, or cared. River cried her pain out that night, soaking his shirt with tears of pain and suffering, the likes of which no one her age should ever have had to know.

Finally, exhausted, she fell sound asleep on his shoulder. Jayne waited a long time, until he was sure she was asleep, then eased himself out of his chair. He debated on what to do with the little woman, and finally decided to place her on the couch. He walked over to the sofa, and gently deposited her sleeping frame onto the cushions, then placed a blanket over her.

Reluctant to leave her alone, Jayne eased into the chair next to her, and made himself as comfortable as possible. He'd slept in worse places. And she deserved the company. Had earned it, to his way of thinking.

Jayne dozed gently as River slept her first good sleep in a long while.

Neither one saw Malcolm Reynolds standing just outside the door. The Captain had watched the entire episode. He had almost interrupted when Jayne had grabbed the girl's shoulders, but was now glad that he hadn't.

He had tensed in anticipation when Jayne had stood, carrying the sleeping girl. Again, he had waited, and was again glad that he had. He was amazed at how gently Jayne had placed her on the old sofa, and watched almost in awe as the merc had covered the girl, then settled into the chair beside her. After a moment, Mal had turned and went silently back to his own bunk.

He knew, now, that Jayne would never harm the girl. And that he owed the man some thanks of his own.