Inferno – Chapter Twenty-four

I own no rights here, and claim none, righting only for enjoyment.

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The business of doing business went on, despite the upheaval around the family of Reynolds' Shipping. Inara and her 'crew' pulled out later that evening, making a run to Astra that had already been delayed a day due to the impending return of Private Companion.

Mal hadn't wanted her to go, but business was business. He called Jayne aside shortly afterward.

"Jayne, you did good," he told the big man, smiling. "I didn't know you had it in you."

"I just did what had to be done, Mal," Jayne shrugged. "Best I could."

"And that's the way it always is, Jayne," Mal said simply. "That's all you can ever do. Best you can. I spoke to Simon," he went on. "Zoe won't be able to fly for a while. Maybe a month or more. I was thinking that you, River, Liam and Goldie might take the next run to Astra on Companion. If you're up to it," he added.

"Sure," Jayne shrugged. "When does it leave?"

"Not for two days," Mal assured him. "Inara and Serenity have been moving almost non-stop while you been away, so we ain't that far behind. I. . .I hate to ask you to, Jayne, but we need to get caught up, and I haven't. . ."

"It's okay, Mal," Jayne grinned. "I know how it is. Now, anyway," he added ruefully. "But I want to take River and the nizi into town. I don't want us to have to be aboard ship, at least tonight."

"I don't blame you for that," Mal grinned. "And, while you're gone, I'll have Kaylee make sure that Companion is fit to fly. She'll whine, I imagine, but that's what I pay her for," he chuckled.

"To whine?" Jayne laughed. "And I thought that was Simon's job."

"Take. . .you know what? I'll take you three into town in my ground car if you want. Might be a little cold for the mule."

"To be honest, if there was someplace closer, I wouldn't go," Jayne admitted. "I don't fancy that long trip, myself."

"Then take a shuttle," Mal said at once. "You can land near the office, like you did when you came in from. . .hey, that reminds me," Mal cut himself off. "George fixed it so you and Albatross can 'continue' your honeymoon, whenever you're ready."

Jayne's face split into a grin.

"That's right fine, Mal. Mighty fine. Reckon we'll like as not wait a bit, till the girl's settled some. Be up to River, though."

"Don't want to take the girl along?" Mal asked, feigning surprise. Jayne's mock scowl threw him into a fit of laughter.

"Sorry I asked."

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River set the shuttle down across from Mal's office, showing Chelsa how to power the ship down. The girl was drinking up River's instructions like a sponge.

"Well, ladies," Jayne smiled, hefting their bags. "Shall we?" The two of them giggled, and went through the hatch as Jayne waited for them.

"So, where will we be staying, Zhang fu?" River asked, slipping one hand under his arm, and another into Chelsa's.

"The Bickford Plaza Hotel," Jayne told her. "Mal called and made the arrangements for us. On him, by the way," he added with a grin.

"Leaves more money for shopping," River grinned, and Jayne laughed.

"Always seeing the bright side, xin gan," he shook his head.

"We need to get Chelsa some clothing," she pointed out. "And some personal items. And some 'girly things'," she added. "She has nothing but the clothes she wore off planet, and what little I could find for her at the station."

"I wasn't arguing," Jayne told her, kissing her forehead. "And don't worry about the money. There's plenty to take care of her with. All of us, for that matter."

River looked up at Jayne at that. This wasn't the first time he'd said something along those lines. And while their pay of late had been very good, it didn't make them rich. Or even well off.

"Jayne, we should talk about that," she said softly, and Jayne's face grew pinched. He didn't respond for a long time, and she began to wonder if he would. Suddenly, he smiled, and looked down at her again.

"You're right," he nodded. "There's a couple of things I should tell you. Should already have told you, if I'm honest." River felt dread squeeze around her heart, and Jayne must have sensed it.

"Don't fret," he soothed. "It ain't like that. Let's get you two settled in, and then I have a quick errand I need to run. Then, there's something I need to show you."

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By the time Jayne returned from his errand, River and Chelsa were settled in nicely in their rooms. The three went to eat, then returned. It wasn't overly late, but all were tired, and ready for bed.

Chelsa was hesitant, at first, to stay in a room alone, but once Jayne showed her the connecting door, and then wedged a chair under her own entrance door, she relaxed.

"You'll have your own bunk, aboard the ship, sweetie," River reminded her. "Right down the hall from ours. This is just good practice for that."

"Okay," Chelsa smiled, still a bit uncertain, but no longer fearful. River and Jayne tucked her into bed, and then went to their own room, closing the connecting door, but not locking it.

Jayne went to his own bag. He had intended to do this, anyway. It was funny how things seemed to work out. He removed a pair of envelopes.

"I want you to read this, first," he told her softly, handing over the letter Book had left him. River was stunned. That letter had been the subject of several debates aboard Serenity since Miranda.

"Sean, are you sure?" she asked, looking up into his eyes.

"I've never be more sure of anything," was all he said, sitting down in a chair to wait. River carefully removed the paper from the envelope, noting that it was stained and creased from much handling.

How many times has he read this? she wondered.

"I've lost count," he replied, never opening his eyes, and she smiled, realizing that she'd pushed her thoughts too hard. She unfolded the paper, and read.

Jayne sat quietly, watching his wife's face as she read the letter. Twice she looked up at him, once with tears in her eyes. But she always went back.

When she finished, she very carefully refolded the paper, and placed it back into the envelope. She rose, and walked over to her husband, crawled into his lap, sitting astride his thighs, and took his head in her hands.

"Thank you," she whispered, kissing him softly. "I. . .I know that it took a lot for you to share that. Even with me."

"No," he shook his head. "It really didn't. Not with you. I've learned a good bit on this little venture of ours. Chief among those lessons is that there are no secrets between husband and wife. I wanted you to see it. To know. It was important to me." She kissed him again, softly, passionately.

"I need to show you something else, Angel," Jayne told her finally. "Before you make me forget all about it," he chuckled. He stood, carrying her with him, and picked up the other envelope. He handed it over without a word.

River opened this envelope, not knowing what to expect. Inside was a small black book, the kind that certain banks used to. . .

She looked at Jayne in surprise.

"Open it," he told her, smiling softly. She looked down at the small book, and turned the cover back. As she looked at the information listed there, she gasped when she reached the balance.

"Sean!" River looked back at him in wonder. "That's. . .this is a great deal of money, Sean," she finally managed. He shrugged.

"When I tell you there's money, I mean it. We're fine, and she will be too."

"Oh, Sean, I knew you meant it," she threw her arms around his neck, wanting to squeeze until she couldn't. "You wouldn't lie to me, I know."

"No, I wouldn't," he agreed, softly rubbing her back as she clung to him.

"Sean, with all this," she waved the book at him, "why stay on Serenity? Why not. . ." She broke off as she recalled the letter she'd read earlier.

"Book wanted you to stay," she answered her own question. "That's what you meant when you were on the hull, with the bomb," she shuddered at the memory. "He wanted you to watch over us."

"Yes," he nodded. "He did. Was all he really asked of me," he added.

"And did you find your own offering, ai ren?" River asked, looking into his eyes. "Your own grace?"

"I did," he smiled, his forehead coming to rest against her's. "I'm holding her in my arms, right now." River's eyes brimmed with tears at that admission. She had hoped that might be his answer, but to hear him say it. . .

"I love you, more than words can ever say, Mister Cobb" she whispered huskily into his ear. "And I have words for everything."

"I love you the same way, Misses Cobb," Jayne replied, nuzzling her neck, walking toward the bed, River still wrapped around him. "And since we can't find those words, we can see about coming up with another way."

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Kaylee and Simon made their way tiredly into their small apartment. Both were exhausted, drained physically and emotionally.

"I'm so tired," Kaylee moaned, falling onto the bed in a heap.

"Me too, ai ren," Simon agreed, laying down a bit more gently beside her. "It's good to be home."

"Home," Kaylee whispered softly. "My family's home is gone, Simon," she sobbed softly. "What will they do?"

"I don't know, bao bei," Simon admitted, rubbing her back gently. "But we'll. . ." He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Groaning, he rose, walking stiffly to the door.

"I have a delivery for Miss Frye," the uniformed delivery man said. Kaylee, hearing her name, walked over to the door.

"What is it?" she asked, signing the form, and accepting the large envelope.

"Can't say, ma'am," the man shrugged. "Just urgent delivery. Have a good evening." The man walked back down the stairs. Kaylee opened the envelope, and removed a small black book, along with a letter.

"What is this?" Kaylee wondered, opening the letter. Simon took the book, and opened it.

"Miss Kaylee Frye," Kaylee read aloud. "This is to inform you that an account has been opened in your name by an anonymous donor at Bickford Cattlemen and Planter's Bank. It is hoped that these funds will prove useful in assisting your family with the costs involved in relocating and resettling after the difficulties they encountered on Aberdeen. The money is available for immediate use, and I look forward to seeing you at your convenience. Lowell Harding, President." She looked up at Simon, who was pale.

"Simon, what's. . ." He held the book out to her. Kaylee took the slim volume, noting the date of the account opening was today. The balance was. . .

"Fifty thousand. . .?" Kaylee was stunned. "Simon who could have. . ."

"I don't know," Simon was equally stunned. "I. . .I don't know anyone with that kind of money, Kaylee. Not anymore," he added.

"Well, I sure don't neither!" Kaylee exclaimed. "Oh, Simon! With this my folks, my family. . .they can start over! They can have homes again, and replace their things, and. . ." Kaylee's tears were flowing freely by then, and she embraced Simon in sheer joy.

"Simon, I'm so happy!" she squealed. "We have to go tell momma and daddy!"

"Wait, Kaylee," Simon stopped her. "There's something else we should tell them, I think." She looked at him.

"I think it's time we quit putting things off, Kaylee," Simon smiled. "I think, while your family's all here, we should get married."

People in the infirmary could hear Kaylee squeal that time.

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Jayne, River, and Chelsa returned to Guilford's to find the place in an upheaval.

"What's going on?" River asked Kaylee. The little engineer bubbled over.

"Oh, River! Me and Simon's gettin' married while my family's all here! Ain't it great!" She hugged River tightly, and River smiled, returning her embrace.

"That's wonderful news, Kaylee!" River told her.

"You gonna be my maid of honor, right?" Kaylee asked, and River looked at her.

"You don't want one of your sisters to. . ."

"They'll all be bridesmaids, but you're my best friend," Kaylee told her. "Say you will?"

"Of course I will!" River beamed, overjoyed for her friend, and her ge ge. "I'd love too!"

"And guess what else!" Kaylee squealed. "The bank in town sent me a letter sayin' somebody opened an account for my family to help cover their relocatin' expenses! Fifty thousand worth, River! Enough to help all my folks get resettled!"

"Kaylee that's great news!" River replied.

"I wonder who did it, though," Kaylee mused. "Letter said it was anonymous."

"I wonder too," River murmured, casting a sideways glance at Jayne, who was intently studying the goings on around them.

"Anyway, we're working to try and get everyone settled, temporarily. Some of my folks may even stay here, ain't that great! Simon talked to Sophie 'bout workin' in the infirmary at the plant."

"Hey, that's great, Kaylee gal," Jayne nodded, carefully not looking at River. "Sounds like things is workin' out okay for you."

"Oh, Jayne, I couldn't ask for it ta be no better," Kaylee gushed, hugging the big man tightly. "I gotta go and check on my folks," she said, turning away.

"Companion fit to fly, Kaylee?" Jayne called out.

"She's good to go, Jayne," Kaylee turned, walking backwards. "Need some things on Astra, but Goldie knows what to git."

"Thanks," Jayne called out to her back, but Kaylee had already disappeared into the crowd.

"I wonder who that anonymous benefactor was," River said casually, not looking at Jayne.

"Benny what?" Jayne asked, innocently.

"You know very well what I mean," River grinned, rising on her tip toes to kiss him. "You're a wonderful man, Sean Michael Cobb."

"Don't let that get out," he smiled back. "Ruin my image."

"I think your image can stand it," she laughed quietly. "Shall we see to getting resettled?"

The little family made their way down to the ship that, for now, they called home. Hand in hand, enjoying the day. Oblivious to the turmoil behind them.

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Thus we come to the end of this tale here in Shade land. This story wasn't especially easy to write, and the end was especially difficult, as it bleeds over into the next story. Finding an appropriate stopping point, a dividing line, if you will, wasn't easy. The next story, tentatively entitled THE NINE, will pick up exactly where this story leaves off, sort of the way INFERNO did after BLUE BLOOD.

And for those of you who have been wanting more Shadeness, and more Riverness, it's coming. In spades. Violence ensues, I assure you.

I'm also working on a sequel to THE LAST SPARTAN, which for now has the working title SPARTAN'S QUEST. And yes, how Jayne escaped will be explained;)

Thanks to all of you who read these stories and take the time to give me feedback. Your input, and your encouragement are not just shiny, but help me create better stories. At least I hope they're better. I want them to be entertaining, and worth reading over and over. If they reach a point where they aren't, don't hesitate to tell me, (kindly please, as I bruise so easy). Because if you aren't enjoying them, if they aren't entertaining you, then I've failed.

Hope all of you have the greatest year ever in this new year.