After anxiously waiting for them to get back from the job, the first thing she hears as she runs out to the catwalk over the cargo hold is plainly not meant for her ears and it makes Kaylee's stomach drop with a sickening lurch. "We can't run the risk – can't say I like it any better'n you do, but Jayne knew the risks when he first signed on," Mal sighs from down below. "I just pray he doesn't talk."
"Who's got the job of telling Kaylee?"
Wash, anxious: "There's still a chance he could get loose, isn't there?"
"If there was, he'd have been here by now. Don't think he's comin' back," Zoë says softly. "Sir, you think Inara…?"
"I'll ask her to handle it."
"But… we still have to wait for that shipment to arrive. Jayne could be here in time for it, right? Couldn't he? I mean, we've always had our differences, but… we can't just leave him," Wash's voice drops to an appalled whisper.
Mal's angry at this. "We ain't just leavin' him. We got no choice in this one – he either makes it out by himself, or he doesn't at all. Soon as we load up, we're gone." Another sigh. "I'll ask Inara to break the news to Kaylee soon as the cargo is delivered – no sense in distressin' her before the final fact. We've had too many people askin' around about Simon and River back there and I don't fancy our chances if we go back and get caught at it."
Zoë's voice is full of acid at this unwelcome suggestion. "So we act like he's out shopping, Sir?"
"If that's what it takes." He's using his Captain voice now, pushing away the responsibility of making this decision behind an expressionless mask.
It's small consolation to Kaylee, who feels as if someone's wrapped a fist around her heart and is squeezing for all they're worth. Jayne…oh, wenshen. My Jayne.
She backs through the door and flees to the bunk she shares with her big merc, one hand going to the chain around her neck where she keeps her engagement ring when she's been working on the engine and doesn't want anything to happen to it. Curling up in a tight ball on the bed where they'd made love this very morning, she gives herself up to the misery that's been welling up inside her ever since she first heard Mal saying that her fiancé was as good as dead.
After screaming into the pillows, she lays exhausted and limp on the bed while holding up the ring Jayne gave her – knowing that, at this very moment, the man she loved more than her own life was just about ready to give up his makes her eyes grow dull. After all they'd been through; the denial, the separation, the heartache and finally coming together again….to have it end like this is unconscionable to her. They'd promised to never give up on each other again, the night he'd accepted her proposal of marriage.
A sudden thought makes her push to a sitting position, and for the first time since she overheard the others talking, hope begins to blossom in her heart. Maybe, just maybe… Kaylee slides the ring back onto her finger and reaches for her Cortex screen to call up the station blueprints. Minutes later, she's pulling on her coverall over the thigh holster that holds Boo, splashing water on her face, and climbing up the bunk ladder with an insane plan that just might work. Keeping her head down as she trots through the galley past the others, Kaylee ducks into the engine room, smears some grease on her face so that all traces of her crying is erased, and grabs up her toolbox.
A few deep breaths, and she puts on her 'game face' as she walks back into the galley where four pairs of guilt-stricken eyes look at her. River just tilts her head and nods slowly. "Hey, mei mei, where you headed to?" Mal asks awkwardly.
She awards him her sunniest smile. "Just down to the cargo bay – Mule needs a tad more work." Kaylee can't resist looking around. "Where's my man got to?"
Wash coughs miserably. "He's gathering up the last of the supplies, but should be back…"
"Shiny. Well, maybe I'll see him first since I'll be in the cargo bay." Without waiting for a reply, Kaylee turns and makes her way through and down to the hold. She's never been this scared before, even when Jubal Early had surprised her that one night long ago, but Jayne would do the exact same for her and that thought keeps her putting one foot in front of the other. Once out of sight of the others, she breaks into a run and punches in the override for the door – by the time they come down to see why the alarm's sounding, she'll be long gone.
The station is big; bigger than she's ever set foot on, so it's easy to lose one's way if blueprints aren't on hand – but they are, and she knows exactly where to go. Kaylee blesses the fact that there are several hundred ships docked at present; that means that even if Port Control starts demanding credentials, it will take a lot longer for them to reach Serenity. She whisperers a prayer for luck and disappears into the crowd, on her way to save the day.
Kaylee nearly makes it all the way without being challenged up to the level Jayne is at, and hopes that the plans they all went through this morning weren't changed. The high security holding cells are at the topmost level of the sprawling way station and as she steps into the lift, Kaylee kneels quickly by the toolbox and slips Boo inside so that the security cameras don't see the switch – detectors might pick something up, but she's thought of that too and has brought along several meters to confuse the guards with. Oh, Lordy. What am I doin'? I ain't no good at this.
All too soon the lift stops three levels down and a guard is there frowning at her. "Clearance?" he asks in a tone that nearly makes her wet herself.
"Clearance? Don't rightly think I got one o' them badges," she says apologetically, waving a hand at her toolbox. "I'm kinda fillin' in, an' they told me there's a roto-support compressor coupling needs fixin' up top." Kaylee holds her breath as the guard takes her tools and peers inside.
"A roto…? Never mind. What's this?" he asks, lifting one of her specialized tools with the barrel of his gun.
The impulse to tell the truth, that it's just a wrench, is nearly overwhelming. "It's a coupling condenser," she says cheerfully, like he'd know exactly what that was. "They just upgraded 'em, so that's prob'ly why you didn't recognize it." He just nods, not wanting to look stupid.
"Go on up, sweetheart… don't let 'em give you too much trouble, now," he smiles.
Kaylee uses all her flirtatious charm to get up to the top level, trying not to show how absolutely terrified she is. When she reaches the holding cells, batting her eyes doesn't quite work. "Who are you? Where's your clearance?" the guard asks suspiciously.
"Well, I'm kinda fillin' in, an' I was told that the roto-support compressor coupling-"
"The what?" The man's eyes narrow dangerously, and Kaylee's heart stutters in panic as he reaches for his Cortex terminal. "I've never heard of no roto-compress-thing. Let me just contact maintenance…"
How could he, Kaylee thought, since she'd made it up? "It's part of the air filtration system," she blurts in an effort to put him at ease. On stations this size, there's always something wrong with the climate control.
"Air? Well, sugar, the air pump ain't on this level," the guard says with a smirk, looking at her differently now that he feels a little smarter than she is. He folds his arms and waits for her to ask where the air pump actually is, and smirks again as he gives Kaylee the directions. "Think you can remember where it is then, darlin'? Be glad to walk you over, make sure you don't get lost."
She doesn't like violence all that much, but her fingers are itching to dig Boo out of the toolbox. But it's important that he think that she's just a helpless female who's simply a little lost, so she smiles gratefully at him. "Xie xie." His eyes are still on her as she has to turn around and walk right back to the lift. Maybe I can sneak on past when he ain't payin' attention… Kaylee's hopes are dashed yet again when he suddenly calls out for her to wait and trots over to get in the lift with her.
"I got no one who'll miss me while I show ya round," he says, the look of intent in his eyes plain as day as he presses the appropriate level.
Gos se. It takes nearly all the strength she has to smile back at him and pretend she doesn't mind it when he drops an arm around her shoulders, but slips free of his grasp as she intentionally drops the toolbox. "Oops!" she cries, and hurriedly sweeps the tools back in when she notices Boo's handgrip partially uncovered.
Kaylee glances up at him quickly, wondering if he's seen and the beginnings of the suspicious frown on his face spur her to action. "Hey, what…?"
In a matter of seconds, Boo is securely in her palm and pointing in the guard's face. "Take me back up," she says with a calm she certainly doesn't feel.
"C'mon now, sweetheart – that thing ain't even load-" he breaks off as Kaylee cocks the pistol with the ease of long practice with Jayne, placing it directly between his eyes. The guard swallows a bit nervously at this display of proficiency. "O-okay, what d'ya want?"
"You got a man in lock-up, name of Jayne Cobb?"
"Don't rightly know who…Jesu, watch where you're pointin' that!"
Kaylee glares up at him, anger overcoming the majority of her nervousness. "Big man, taller'n you an' a gorram sight better lookin'. Take me to him, right now ma shong!"
The lift slides open and Kaylee bends just enough to snatch up her toolbox – there's no way she's leaving that behind – and then motions for him to walk in front of her. She presses Boo into the man's back and urges him forward; he's most likely planning on a way to disarm her, but Kaylee needs to keep him where she can see him. Walking around the curve of the main hall, she sees the cells lined up in neat rows with energy fields being used as walls. Above her head, the fluctuating hum of the generator gives her another idea she can possibly use if things don't work out the way she's hoping that they will.
"You're makin' a big mistake here, girl… you don't know what you're messin' with," the man warned. "You ain't gonna get outta here easily as you got in."
Another warning shake of the pistol silences him once more. "Which one? Open it."
"It ain't that easy, I can't just-"
He moves quickly enough around the main console, tapping out a sequence that makes one of the energy fields lift behind her. "That all you want?"
Kaylee gestures to a pair of force bracelets hanging behind him. "Now put 'em on, dong ma?" She grabs up one of the rags she keeps in her toolbox and gags the guard with it before turning around. Nearly dropping the stunner she'd swiped from the guard who was glaring at her furiously over his gag, Kaylee's eyes fill with tears at the sight of him. "Jayne?" He's hanging by his wrists with his chin resting on his chest and it looks as if he's nearly been beaten to death; cuts and welts decorate his strong body in a gruesome pattern that nearly makes her sick to see it. "Oh, ai ren."
Jayne's head lifts slightly. "K-Kaylee?"
She's by his side instantly, touching his face tenderly. "Sssh, I got you now. Let's get ya home, dong ma? "
"Didn't…didn't think…no one was comin' for me," he stammers weakly through lips swollen and split from numerous blows to the face. "You sh-shouldn't be here."
Kaylee touches the only spot free of blood and the dark beginnings of bruises. "Couldn't let 'em take my man, now could I?" she asks tenderly.
He tries to look around, but his vision is impaired by the swelling around his eye sockets. "M-M-Mal hhhhhere?"
The trussed up guard perks his ears up, obviously wanting there to be more than just the tiny mechanic who's outsmarted him. Kaylee shakes her head gently. "It's just me, wenshen."
The corners of his split lips twitch slightly. "All…all I n-nuh-need."
"Try to stand, bao bei – let's get ya down from there." Kaylee gently disengages the force bracelets from the hook on the ceiling and lets her fingers hover over his lips. "Sssh, don't be tryin' to talk." Jayne stumbles as his legs take his weight, and she slips an arm around his waist to help support him. "Think you can make it all the way back down, bao bei?"
Jayne blinks slowly, bringing up his hands to wipe at a thin thread of blood trickling down the side of his face from a wound concealed by his dark hair. "Think s-so."
"Alright, let's git." Kaylee leads him from the cell and over to where the guard is sitting and glaring at her, and lifts the gun once more. "Really sorry 'bout all this, but we're gonna need your shirt an' the key to these." Having no other choice, the angry guard complies but as Kaylee is gently easing the three-sizes-too-small shirt over her fiancé's bruised skin, he takes advantage of her inattention to lunge forward and slam his hands down on the consol, setting off an alarm.
Kaylee swears angrily and fires at the generator, which explodes in a shower of sparks. Moments later, the energy fields on the other holding cells start to fail and the guard's eyes grow round as the cells' inhabitants orient on him. In the rush, Kaylee helps Jayne over to the lift and the doors snap shut as he slumps against the inner walls.
"How…how'd you…?" he stops, closing his eyes and steadying himself against the doors.
"Just a lot of luck I guess, wenshen." She stands on her toes to touch her lips to his. "I couldn't let 'em have ya, Jayne… when I heard Mal talkin' about how they couldn't come back, I just… I couldn't let 'em have you," she finishes in a shaky whisper. "I ran outta there so fast without plannin' like I shoulda – don't rightly know what to do now. All I got is Boo, an' when those doors open again I don't think she's gonna be enough." She paces back and forth quickly, trying to think of something, anything she can do… Jayne is slumped back against the wall, fighting to remain conscious. Inspiration comes just as the lift comes to a halt, and she hands the pistol over to her lover. "You gotta act like you're takin' me hostage, dong ma? Don't be goin' to sleep on me, bao bei – we gotta get ya back to Serenity. Can you do this for me, xin gan?"
Jayne nods heavily. "Reckon s-so," he stutters, and fights to close his fingers around the handgrip.
She moves back against him and, reaching back for his left arm, draws it around her shoulders so that she can support some of his weight and it will look as if he's merely grabbing her so that she can't get away. "Follow me," she whispers. The doors slide open and amid the pandemonium caused by the arrival of the other lifts containing escaping prisoners, Kaylee takes a deep breath and starts to babble. "Please just let me go, I ain't gonna tell no one 'bout you grabbin' me, just let me go…" Some of the station guards train their guns on Jayne immediately, but the majority of them are too concerned with trying to round up the ex-prisoners and Kaylee knows they're not likely to fire at him and risk hitting their friends.
Jayne does the best he can, shuffling along behind her and pressing the pistol against her neck – only she knows he's simply propping it on her collar bone because he's nearly at the end of his endurance. They're almost to the main lifts when one of the guards starts thinking he's a hero and comes after them. "Let her go," he yells, and Kaylee sighs inwardly as she recognizes him as the guard who'd been kind to her earlier.
She feels a tremor pass through Jayne's body as he tries to summon the strength to continue the charade. "Don't…think so," he slurs.
Kaylee screams as the other man comes at them in a rush, but a blast from behind them kills the guard instantly, throwing him to the ground. Then Zoë is there, and Mal. "Thought I'd find you up here," the first mate says calmly. "Time to get gone. About time you got loose, Jayne."
"Let's go," Mal warns, shooting another guard intent on stopping them. When they're on the lift and Zoë is helping Kaylee keep the wounded merc upright, the captain looks at them. "Thought you said you were fixin' the Mule, mei mei."
Kaylee glares up at him. "Thought Jayne was out shoppin', Cap'n." She waves Mal's arm away when he reaches to touch her shoulder. "I heard all of it."
"Well, he got out just fine, didn't he?" Mal protests, shifting uncomfortably. Zoë just gives him one of her 'looks'. "What?"
"Simon needs to see him soon as we get back – don't much care for the look of his head injury," is all she says.
To Kaylee's relief they make it back to Serenity without having to kill anyone else, and Jayne is handed over to Simon's capable hands as they scramble to secure the ship for takeoff. Wash goes for full burn as soon as they're clear of the docking clamps, and anyone who might try to chase after them is left far behind.
"They're going crazy trying to round up all the escaped prisoners," Wash crows gleefully as he listens to the frenzied broadwaves. He turns to Kaylee as soon as he returns Serenity to normal speed, plotting a course for their next job. "For what it's worth, I was against leaving him here," he apologizes.
"I know, I heard."
"Is he going to be okay?" the pilot asks softly.
Kaylee nods, holding back the tears that have been threatening due to the intense stress of her ordeal. "Simon says he's got a few bones broken, but mostly bruises an' his head'll be hurtin' him for a spell… but yeah, he'll get right in no time." She breaks off as Mal ducks through the bridge door. "Captain."
"Need t' talk with you, Kaylee."
"Aaaaand this is my cue to leave!" Wash sets the autopilot and edges past their captain to disappear through the door and to safety.
"I didn't have a choice, mei mei. They'd nabbed him, and we had to get before they could catch us… Jayne understands how it works. But when we found out you'd left to find him, Zoë was after you in a heartbeat." Mal's voice grew hard. "I understand how it is 'twixt you two, but you ever pull that stunt again…"
Kaylee rises from her seat, hands on her hips. "You'll do what?"
"Uh… be real cross with ya. Look, Kaylee – you ain't exactly hired gun material, and we can't afford to lose you. Promise me you won't do nothin' like that again."
She looks at him coolly for a minute. "Long as you look after me an' mine, you got a deal. And by 'mine', I ain't meanin' my tools." Her eyes grow wide as a realization hits her. "My tools! I left 'em back at that luh suh station!"
The comm comes alive as Simon calls Kaylee down to the infirmary, making both of them jump. "He's awake and a little stronger now he's had a chance to rest – I gave him an injection of adrenaline to help keep his system up and running, but when he crashes he'll most likely be asleep for a day or so," the doctor murmurs to her as she runs down the steps.
Mal follows her, and they both know their conversation from earlier is far from over, but that can wait – she needs to see Jayne now. "Hey there, big 'un," she says tenderly, bending to kiss his forehead lightly. "How ya feelin'? You were pretty banged up."
Jayne sighs and squints up at her, still unable to see much because of the swelling. "Reckon I b-b-been better."
Kaylee turns to Simon in alarm. "He ain't gonna talk like that for the rest of his life, right?"
"No," she's reassured instantly. "It's an after effect of his head injury - Jayne will be back to thrilling us with his command of the English language before we know it."
"M-Mal, I ain't told 'em n-nothin'," Jayne stammers in a rush when he realizes that the captain is there, too. "I s-sw-swear I didn't."
Mal, for his part, simply looks ashamed at ever doubting it. "Course you didn't. How'd you manage to get yourself loose, anyhow?"
But Jayne's already fallen asleep, and he doesn't answer.
True to Simon's promise, Jayne's speech holds no trace of a stutter when he wakes up a day and a half later – this is proven by his rather well-articulated yells when the good doctor is loosening the stitches, and Simon sags against the counters in relief as the merc finally limps off in search of Kaylee. She's in the galley with the rest of the crew when he makes his halting way through the door, and she's out of her chair in seconds. "Nice t' see ya, ai ren. Hungry?"
"Nah, them drugs're makin' me feel too sick to eat," Jayne grumbles, looking offended that anything dare come between him and any sort of food.
"Well, look who's back among the living," Zoë smiles.
"Heya, Zo." Jayne settles carefully on the couch in the common area, and Kaylee immediately shifts her supper over to the table closest to him, persuading him to drink some water.
Mal looks over thoughtfully. "So, you never did tell us how you got outta there by yourself."
The big man blinks. "What, she ain't told ya?"
"Huh? Who told us what?"
Kaylee ducks her head slightly as Jayne reaches over to place a big hand on her knee. "Kaylee got me loose."
"Kaylee?" Mal is struck dumb with amazement, but River and Zoë just smile. "Our Kaylee?"
"Came in cool as a grape, pointin' a gun– ya shoulda seen it. My girl's somethin' an' a half," Jayne says proudly.
Later that night after Mal, Simon and Wash have had ample opportunity to express their amazed disbelief at "sweet little Kaylee" actually rescuing a man three times her size, Kaylee helps Jayne down into their bunk and curls up beside him. "Whyn't you say anything 'bout it?" Jayne asks curiously.
"Well, didn't figure you wanted anyone knowin' you needed my help."
Jayne turns his head to nuzzle her, careful of his still-healing injuries. "I love you, sweetheart Wo ai ni, bao bei. I couldn't never be ashamed of that…you saved my life back there."
Kaylee kisses his lips gently. "You'd do the same if it was me."
"Course I would – you're my woman!"
"And you're my man."
"That, too." After she blows out the candle beside their bed, they lay in darkness for a few minutes before Jayne speaks again. "Didn't think I was ever gonna see you again… thanks for comin' for me, Kaylee."
Kaylee pressed a careful kiss to his chest and snuggled against his side. "I'll always come for you."
They fall asleep to the steady thrum of Serenity's engine.