Shade of the Past – Chapter Epilogue

Don't sue don't sue aint got a clue! I own nothing but the series on DVD, the Serenity DVD, and the Collector's DVD and . . . well you get the idea :) Not my characters, not my idea, not my stuff

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Inara had drifted off the sleep beside River, and was startled when the girl jerked awake suddenly.

"Shade is gone," she said quietly. "Light returns." She turned to Inara, smiling. "They are on their way home."

"All of them?" Inara asked, and River nodded.

"Yes. Zhang has met the wolf, and the scorpion has no more sting," she stated firmly. "Family unit now safe, wolf is happy."

"I assume Jayne is the wolf?" Inara asked with a smile.

"Alpha Male," River nodded happily.

"Don't let Mal hear you say that," Inara snickered, and River grinned.

"Captain Daddy already knows," she said smugly. "But he is secure in the knowledge that Jayne thinks of us all as family, and would not betray him."

"Well, I guess it's okay then," Inara laughed.

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As the shuttle docked with the ship, Mal was still complaining.

"And no more runnin' off on your own, either, Gorramit! We are a crew and we do things as a crew! Dong Ma?"

"I won't Cap'n," Jayne agreed with longsuffering. "This was a special case, is all."

"Ain't no sucha thing as a special case, Jayne," Mal told him seriously. "We're a family. We look out for one another."

"That's just what I was doin' Cap'n," Jayne smiled, handing him the sack filled with the contents of Zhang's safe. "That's just what I was doin'." With that he headed out the hatch, eager to see someone. Mal shook his head, looking into the bag.

"Ai ya!" he exclaimed, eyeing the loot. Zoe peered inside and whistled.

"Damn," was all she could muster. "Oughta be able to fix the ship with that." she commented, then looked up at Mal.

"And sir?" Mal looked up at her.

"You ever lead me through a patch of thorns again, I'll shoot you." She rose and headed for the hatch.

"You'd shoot me, Zo'?," Mal whined.

"In the leg," she nodded firmly. "Not one more thorn, sir." With that she left. Mal looked down at the sack again, then headed for the hatch himself. Had to get this stuff hid, just in case.

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River was waiting when Jayne walked into the galley. Inara had helped her get to her feet, and she stood there, unsteady but determined. Jayne took one look at her and swept her gently into his arms, one hand under her legs, the other covering half of her back.

"Baby, what are you doing up here?" he growled. She felt it through his chest and shivered.

"Waiting for you," she said simply, laying her head on his chest tiredly.

"You oughta be in bed, baby girl," he whispered softly.

"Can't lay in bed when my Jayne is out stalking the beast," she told him.

"That's all done, baby. All over with," he assured her, heading for the infirmary.

"I know," she snuggled closer. "I know." He walked into the infirmary, and gently laid her on the bed. As he slid his arms from around her, she grabbed his hand.

"Stay with me?" she asked, her eyes pleading.

"Forever," he nodded, sitting down beside her. She sighed in contentment, and drifted off to sleep. She dreamed that night, of a large, gentle wolf. One that stood guard over her, challenging all who tried to approach her.

She'd never rested better.

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Dawn came clear and bright over Serenity. Though the ship was actually ready to take off, Mal had declared one more day ground side was needed, all things considered.

Jayne carried River to the galley for breakfast, where Mal told an extremely abbreviated version of the past night's events. Simon and Kaylee had been asleep at the time, having labored for long hours readying the ship for space. Inara knew what had happened, but not the details.

River, of course, knew everything.

The sheriff came visiting soon after lunch, where he found a very distraught Jayne Cobb sitting bedside by the young woman who had been shot just four days previous. The sheriff had gone through the motions of where he had been when the Zhang mansion had 'burned'.

Jayne had explained that he had been right here, watching over his ai ren. River's heart skipped a beat at that, but she didn't allow it to show. He was crumbling again, and she was patient.

The sheriff, satisfied that he had observed the particulars, should anyone care to ask, left. Jayne watched him go, eyes narrowing when the man looked back.

"Jayne," Mal said, his voice full of warning.

"Cap'n?" Jayne turned an innocent face to him.

"Don't go gettin' that look in your eyes," Mal told him. "Man's doin' his job is all." Jayne snorted.

"He'd been doin' his job, none o' this would have ever happened." With that he walked away, and Mal watched him go, hoping that sheriff was smart enough to mind his own business.

If he wasn't, then Jayne was liable to cloud up and rain all over him.

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The next two weeks passed without event, Serenity making two round trips and heading away on a third. They were still making double pay, and would until the back log was cleared. After that, Mal and Harwell had already agreed on a contract for the future. The money was less, though still good, and gave Mal first refusal of any job with the company.

As the ship prepared to make orbit over Astra, Jayne was trying to keep his mind clear of what he had planned. River could glean nearly anything from him, and he had to work to surprise her.

But this should go well, he thought.

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On the last trip, he and Inara had gone shopping, and Inara had picked out two very nice dresses she felt sure that River would like, along with matching shoes and handbags. Jayne had insisted that Inara get her some 'girly things', as he put it, while Jayne himself had picked out a very nice piece of jewelry. When Inara saw the necklace, she gasped.

"Jayne, it's beautiful!"

"Has to be," he nodded firmly. "Can't have River wearing just any old thing." She smiled at that. Who would have thought that Jayne Cobb would ever be such a fine 'catch' for a woman? Other than River, she added mentally.

Once done, Jayne had approached Simon about what kind of ballet 'shows' River liked best. Simon couldn't help but goggle.

"Jayne have you ever been to a ballet?" he asked.

"No, but that don't mean I can't go," Jayne answered. Then added, "Does it?"

"No, of course not," Simon sputtered, trying to find a way to explain about ballet to Jayne, and why it wouldn't be a good idea.

"Simon," Jayne saved him, "I don't care what it is, or what it's about, okay? I don't have to like it, so long as River does. Whatever it is, however bad I may think it is, I'll sit through it for her."

Simon was speechless. Jayne really meant it. He didn't care how boring it was, he'd sit through. For her. Simon nodded, and agreed to look at the social pages for Astra's capital city, seeing what was available.

Normally, rim worlds didn't have much to choose from, but Astra was heavily industrialized. As a result there was a good bit of money floating around, and entertainment tended to follow money.

Incredibly, Simon found a production of Swan Lake, an Earth-that-was classic that River had always been partial to. He arranged for tickets, and gave the claim number to Jayne.

"Thanks, Simon," Jayne nodded. "Do something for you, sometime." Simon just shook his head, and went back to the infirmary. Jayne had already done plenty for him, and the young doctor could do no less for the gun hand.

Inara corralled River after the ship was settled, and led her away. As soon as the two were out of sight, Jayne raced to the shower, scrubbing until he thought his skin would come off. He then high tailed to his bunk, dressing in the suit that Inara had helped him pick out. But he had a problem.

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Mal opened his bunk door at the gentle knocking, and was shocked to see Jayne standing there. In a suit!

"Going somewhere, Jayne?" he asked in amusement.

"Taking River out," he nodded. "If you'll help me tie this Gorram tie!" he added, red faced. Mal laughed and started tying.

"There ya go, big man," Mal said, putting the last touches on the tie, and straightening it. "Looks fine."

"Thanks, Mal," Jayne said, then started feeling his pockets. He relaxed when his hands brushed across the small box.

"Nervous?" Mal asked in delight.

"Hell yes!" Jayne exclaimed. "I got it all planned out, o' course, but. . .well, what if she don't like it?"

"I'm sure she'll like it, Jayne," Mal assured him. "Whatever it is."

"Well, we'll see I guess," Jayne muttered. He turned to go, then turned back.

"Thanks, Mal. 'Bout the tie."

"You already thanked me, ya big dope," Mal laughed again. "Now go! "Fore you have some kinda attack."

"Right," Jayne nodded, as if Mal were serious. Mal watched him go, shaking his head.

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"Inara, what is going on?" River asked, as the older woman laid out two dresses.

"Jayne has a surprise for you, dear," Inara said honestly. She wouldn't be able to hide it from her anyway.

"Where did you get these?" River squealed, sounding like the young woman she was. "They're wonderful!"

"Jayne got them," Inara smiled. "He wanted to surprise you. Has a whole night planned just for you, and no peeking," she admonished. "He'd never forgive me."

"He would," River nodded firmly. "Jayne loves you very much. You've been a friend to him, and a good teacher." Inara blushed at that.

"Well, still, I don't want to spoil it, so let's stop talking and start getting you ready."

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Jayne was pacing nervously in the galley. Every time he heard a sound, he looked toward the entry to Inara's shuttle. Nothing. He paced some more. He'd checked the jewelry box so many times he was sure he'd rubbed a hole in his suit. Fear of that prompted him to look down.

No hole. He sighed in relief.

What was wrong with him? It wasn't like him to be so . . .

"Wow!" Kaylee's voice caused Jayne to start. He turned to find the engineer looking at him in appreciation.

"You're all kinds o' shiny tonight, Jayne!" she gushed, taking in his clean shaven face, and new suit.

"Thanks, Kaylee," Jayne mumbled, blushing.

"Takin' River out on the town, I guess," she teased. He nodded.

"First chance we've had, what with her hurt an' all," he told her.

"Simon told me what you were doing," Kaylee smiled. "I think it's just plain wonderful, Jayne. You wanting to do something she likes, even if you don't. Ain't ever man would do such."

"Want her to be happy, is all," Jayne mumbled again, his blush deepening.

"She will be," Kaylee said softly, kissing Jayne on his cheek. "You're a fine man, Jayne. She's a lucky girl."

"Thanks, Kaylee." Jayne was sure he was going to catch on fire if his face burned any hotter. Just as he was about to say something, Inara's hatch opened. Jayne spun around, unconsciously straightening his suit. His eyes went wide and his jaw dropped at the vision before him.

River was standing there in the green silk dress Inara had helped him pick out. It shimmered in the light, revealing and concealing all at the same time. It clung to her slender form like a second skin, proving once and for all that River Tam was, indeed, a woman grown.

Her hair sat piled gracefully atop her head, held in place by green chopsticks. Earrings dangled from her ears, and the matching heels made her look taller. She clutched the darker green shawl and small matching handbag, a nervous smile on her face.

"Oh, River," Kaylee gushed. "You're beautiful, honey!" She elbowed Jayne, who was still speechless.

"Wow," was all he could manage. River blushed furiously at that.

"I told you," Inara whispered from behind her. "Speechless." River resisted the urge to giggle.

"Um, uh," Jayne stammered, then composed himself. It took an amazing amount of effort.

"You look. . .you're gorgeous," he finally stammered. "But there's something missing." He walked forward. River's face faltered. Missing?

Jayne reached into his pocket, pulling the jewelry box from it. River's face lit up.

He opened the box, revealing the necklace. Gold and stones flashed in the light, and he held the box out, willing his hands not to shake. She looked from the box, up to his eyes.

"Oh, Jayne, it's lovely," she gasped out.

"It had to be," he told her softly. "It was for you." He carefully pulled the necklace from the box, and she turned to allow him to place it on her neck. He stepped back to admire his handiwork.

"Perfect," he smiled, and she blushed again.

"Jayne," Inara hated to interrupt. "Schedule," she prompted.

"Right," he nodded. He offered River his arm. "Ready, baby girl?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Thank you, Inara," she said over her shoulder.

"You're quite welcome, mei-mei," Inara assured her.

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The two walked arm in arm along the street. Dinner had been wonderful. They had sat and talked about many things, especially the future. Jayne had become an accomplished conversationalist under Inara's tutelage, River thought. Though beneath it was still the growling Alpha Male she had fallen in love with, the new polish simply made him more attractive as a. . .mate. The word came to her unbidden, but she knew it was the proper term. Wolves mate for life, and Jayne, her Jayne, was nothing if not a wolf.

"Where are we going?" she asked, leaning her head on his arm.

"Where would you like to go?" Jayne asked her in turn. He had carefully guided them along the way, and they were now walking down the street where several of the better playhouses sat. She was gazing absently at the signs and the lights when something caught her attention.

"Ohhhhh, Swan Lake!" River exclaimed. "It's one of my favorites."

"Want to go see it?" he asked, and she stopped, looking up at him.

"I would not ask you to do that, Jayne," she said seriously. "I'm afraid you wouldn't like it, and I would never ask you to sit through it for me." Jayne felt his heart flitter at that. She wanted to go, he could tell by the look in here eyes. But she would deny herself the joy in order to do something with him.

"Well, I don't mind, for you," he said, shrugging. "Let's at least see if there are tickets left. Then you can decided."

"I'd love to see it," she admitted fondly. They walked over to the ticket window.

"We have reservations," Jayne informed the clerk, handing over his claim number. He heard River squeak in surprise, felt her hand tighten on his arm.

""You're an evil man, Jayne Cobb," she hissed in delight. He grinned down at her.

"It's been said." He took the tickets, and gave them to her.

"A box! You got us a box?" she stammered. "Jayne it's too much! It costs so much!" He lifted her hand, kissing it softly.

"Don't fret," he assured her. "I've got plenty, and then some. And this is for you, baby girl. Not me." With that he led her into the opera house. As he escorted her through the building, he reflected on how blessed he was.

It would always be for her. His blessing. His offering. His grace.

Always for her.

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And thus our tale comes to a close. Is there more in store for the intrepid crew? Will they settle on Argo, as planned, and live happily ever after? Who knows. Stay tuned!