A/N: AU. Set a couple of days after the battle on Mr. Universe's moon.

Many thanks goes out to Badkarma00 for the beta!

Description: Inara, River and Jayne on Serenity alone while the rest of the crew are still in the Medship. Relationships are redefined, losses are explored and bonds are formed. River's mind takes steps to heal itself.

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Title: Back from the Edge

Part I – Then There Were Three

Chapter 1

The sounds of distress from one of the passenger dorms brought Jayne to his feet, gun in hand. Crossing quickly and silently to the doorway he slid the panel open. Seeing the dark form thrashing on the bunk, he uncocked the pistol and slid it into his waistband at the small of his back. Sinking into a chair next to the bunk he stroked the dark hair back from the tear and sweat streaked face.

"Easy now, you're on the ship. Everythin's fine. Shhh." His mind flashed back to another time many years back and another form thrashing in the throes of a nightmare.

Inara screamed and lunged forward to sit up, her chest heaving with panic. Her eyes began to focus. "Jayne?" Her voice shaky with the remnants of fear based adrenaline.

"I'm here, alls fine." Jayne's hands were in his lap fidgeting. He weren't quite sure what to do with them. The previous night hadn't been so bad, she'd had some t-shirt she'd borrowed from somewhere to sleep in. Truth is you'd pretty much have to wrap Inara in engine tape to keep her from bein' sexy as hell but she'd gone out and bought some clothes of her own today and she was sleepin' in some wisp of fabric that had Jayne fillin' up with all sort of mixed feelin's on the idea of comforting her.

The nightmares had been a steady thing, for Inara and River in particular, since the fight on Mr. Universe's moon a few days back. Even Jayne wasn't immune like he usually was. Comfortin' womenfolk wasn't something he'd had much cause to do since he'd left home. He'd have stayed clear of the need now but there wasn't anyone else. The rest of the crew was on the medship. That left the three of them onboard Serenity.

He'd been on night duty for both the women and he wasn't sure why he cared. Well, he knew some of it. He'd never had his life saved by a woman before and in a few short hours two different women had saved him. He supposed that Zoe had saved his life on occasion but that weren't the same. Zoe was a warrior woman and with bullets flying hither and yon it weren't that personal. Sides it was her job as a fighting member of the crew, they got in tussles and fought, a certain amount of life saving was gonna happen all around.

When Inara saved his life, it had been different. He'd been grabbing up Zoe to drag her back to the line when that Reaver had him dead to rights. Jayne had known he couldn't turn his gun in time and was dead. Then the fletching of Inara's arrow had appeared in its throat, almost as if by magic, the arrowhead splitting out the back of the creature's spine.

Somehow, it had managed to be very personal. It was obvious who had killed it, which didn't much happen in a gunfight, and it shook him to realize how much courage Inara was showin'. Standing with them, fighting with a ruttin' bow n' arrows as creatures worse than any nightmare he'd ever had, swarmed toward them and she was still having the courage to place an arrow so perfectly.

He hadn't realized it until he heard her having a nightmare as he walked the ship the night before, but something had happened in that moment. She'd become his. Not his woman, just his. He'd heard his ma's voice as he stood outside the room listening to Inara thrash about, "She's your'n Jayne Cobb, she's your 'sponsibility, now get your pigu in there and take care o' that woman."

Inara leaned her forehead against Jayne's shoulder as her breathing calmed. She wasn't sure why Jayne was here but she was grateful for the human presence. She felt his tension, and the small twitching of his shoulder as he fidgeted. She sat up and gave him a small smile. "Thank you, Jayne."

He stood to go, "You ok now?"

"For the moment, yes." She stepped out of bed and reached for her robe. "I think I'll go make some tea and sit for awhile before trying to go back to sleep."

Jayne nearly bit his tongue at the way the thin silk molded itself to her lush body, then flushed with a rare moment of embarrassment, feeling guilty at even noticing her beauty when she was obviously unaware that she was exposing herself. He looked away. "You ok to go up yourself or ya need me to come?"

"I think I'll be fine, thank you."

He waved away her thanks and slid the door shut. Shaking his head in discomfort with the situation, he returned to his spot on the couch.

Inara was surprised to see Jayne sitting on the couch when she opened her door. She raised an eyebrow in inquiry, wondering if he was waiting for her.

He gestured towards River's bunk, "Crazy..." Jayne winced at the vision of his ma's glare and the sharp slap upside his head she would have given him. "River ain't sleepin' much better than you." He shrugged in embarrassment and found something of considerable interest to look at on the wall.

For a very brief moment, Inara wondered what was going on; however, she was much too exhausted emotionally to concern herself with Jayne's odd behavior. Shrugging, she headed for the galley.

River's experience with the Alliance had cracked Inara's beliefs, but it had been possible to compartmentalize it in the category of an aberration. Something to be blamed on a rogue branch of government, not a basic representation of that government. The Alliance took that belief away with the litter of dessicated corpses on Miranda.

The person she had labored her entire life to become, a Companion, was intrinsically tied to the Alliance through the Guild. Everything she was and had been trained to be and believe was wrapped in the stench of Reaver breath. The Alliance took her sense of self away in that stroke of betrayal.

The violence of the confrontation, Wash's death, the near death for all of them, these images and thoughts thrashed their way through her conscious and unconscious mind leaving no room for much of anything in the way of curiosity for small oddities.

She found herself standing at the counter in the galley staring at nothing. She shivered and began making tea, taking what little refuge she could find in the comforting task.

Jayne had finally dozed off when River's moans woke him. He grimaced and stared at the door to River's bunk. He really didn't want to go in there. Rubbing his face with his hands and feeling the laser like glare of his ma's eyes on the back of his head, he headed for the door. "I'm goin', I'm goin'."

When the blast doors had opened on the figure of the bitty girl drenched in blood and gore, surrounded by mounds of dead Reavers, Jayne's sense of awe had been touched for the first time by another human. He had found god. Well, Goddess more like. The Goddess of Destruction. The perfect weapon.

He understood bone deep, the truth of what her stand meant. He'd survived when he shouldn't have more than once himself, though it was barely a scratch on what she had done. She'd overcome her fear and whatever else had been turning her into a puddle in the floor and put herself between him and certain death. It didn't matter that she hadn't done it for him. Only mattered that she'd done it at all. Besides Jayne liked weapons, and she was the shiniest weapon he'd ever seen.

River unnerved him, but then someone that deadly and a reader besides, ought to unnerve a man, it was only sensible.

He froze as he reached for the door handle, a sudden realization striking him between the eyes with the force of a sledgehammer. Lăo tiān bù. He finally recognized the glare in his ma's eyes. The same glare she gave him when he wasn't treating family right as a youngster. The glare she used as she taught him about his responsibilities to family. After nearly twenty years of a relatively carefree existence, Jayne ruttin' Cobb had family again. Not again, exactly, as he still had plenty back home, but again as in the here and now.

Ta ma de, and what does he get stuck with for family? A crazy girl and a fancy whore. He flinched at the remembered pain of sharp knuckles to the back of his head. "Alright." He muttered to his ma and opened the door.

River was thoroughly entangled in her blanket and had shoved herself tightly into the corner on her bed. She was thrashing against the blanket and moaning.

Jayne lowered himself into a crouch to present himself as less of a threat. Holding his arm out palm down, he approached her slowly, much as he would have a fear crazed colt back on Old Man Tomlinson's ranch. "Easy now C...ni zi, easy. It's just me, Jayne. Easy now." He continued to speak softly and soothingly. "You're just tangled up in your blanket, let me get you loose."

He smoothed her hair back with one hand feeling her tremble under his touch. Gently, he tugged a corner of the blanket loose with the other. She became tense as her bindings came undone. "It's just Jayne, River. We're safe on Serenity."

"Where is Simon?" Her eyes flashed to awareness, darting past Jayne, whether looking for an escape route or looking for Simon, Jayne wasn't sure.

"He's in the hospital, remember? He got hurt, you saved him." Saved us all, he added.

"NO! They'll hurt him, I have to get him out! Bright lights and needles. They'll cut and hurt and take him away from himself we have to save him!"

"He's fine baby girl, Inara looked in on him today. He's just worried about you."

"He's fine?" River whimpered.

"I promise. He's hurt but getting better."

Her eyes narrowed as she glared at him, "You lie."

He flushed at the accusation. "Yea, I do sometimes, but I ain't about this." He'd thought Inara told River how Simon was doing already. Could be River was just disoriented from her nightmare and didn't remember. It was too bad she couldn't go to the hospital to see Simon, it might take some of the edge off her fears. But having her hanging around in an Alliance ship just didn't seem smart.

Seeing her unrelenting gaze he tried to figure a way to calm her. The only thing that came to mind was an idea he didn't like at all. He stalled, trying to think of something else, but as the concern on her face became stronger he could hear his mother's foot tapping impatiently in the back of his mind.

"You're a reader ain'tcha?" He watched her 'dumb question' eye-roll.

"If'n I think real hard about when Inara told me he's ok, you can tell if its true or not, right?"

She nodded, her brow furrowed.

"We'll don't be lookin' for anything else, I'm gonna trust you, ok?" Jayne growled. "Say if you're a reader how come you ain't already looked?"

She grimaced, "Too much turmoil and apprehension can't see past the fog. I will try not to look beyond your stated boundaries."

Jayne grunted, no clue what that meant other than the fog part. "Oh, well, I'll try and think about it real hard so it gets past the fog then."

At her distrustful nod he began replaying the scene of Inara telling him about the crew in his head. River began to calm as she 'saw' the scene playing, then froze with tension as he came to the part where Inara told him about the shots Doc wanted them to give her.

She glared at him. "No needles!"

"You made that plenty clear earlier. I ain't gonna do nothin'. Seems to me that trying to chase you down and restrain ya so I can poke ya with a needle'd be about the worst thing I could do for ya. 'Sides you'd probably hurt me and I'm feeling too good about surviving this last week to wanna risk it right now. You been doin' ok 'cept for the nightmares and we all got them."

She relaxed again, slumping so that her hair drifted down to hide her face. "You can go now, you don't wish to be here and you are afraid of me."

"Am Not!"

She peeked through the curtain of hair and rolled her eyes.

"We'll not exactly anyway," He said sheepishly. "After the other day, I trust what ya mean to do, mostly, especially since I don't mean ya any harm. Just don't rightly trust that what you mean to do and what yer body does are gonna be the same thing yet." Jayne was pretty sure he'd confused himself and he hoped her being a genius and all she'd been able to follow. He didn't want to try and say it again.

She raised her head and looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. "Appropriate response, trust has not yet been established. I am better now, not as much confusion about what is me and what is someone else's desire.

He nodded his agreement and held her blanket up, "You should go back to sleep now if ya can."

She nodded and curled up as he tucked the blanket around her.

"You want me to stay till you nod off?"

She yawned and murmured, "Your presence may be an effective deterrent for the ghosts that wander my psyche."

"Huh?" he grunted.

"Yes please." She yawned again.

He settled to the floor but before he could get comfortable, her soft breathing told him she had already fallen back to sleep.

He rose to his feet silently and slipped out the door.

After making tea, Inara sat at the dining room table for a few minutes. It was too quiet, much too ... dead. She made a cup of tea for Jayne and added a double shot of sake.

She found that the large man was missing from his place on the couch and wondered briefly where he had gone. The murmur of voices from River's room gave her the answer. She put his tea on the table near where he had been sitting when she came out of her room and sat at the opposite end of the couch, her feet curled underneath her and cup held in both hands absorbing the warmth.

When Jayne slipped out of River's room, he was surprised to see Inara sitting on the couch.

Ai ya, every once in awhile Jayne understood why people thought he was stupid. He hadn't even thought to get Inara to tell the girl her brother was ok.

She looked cold. He slipped into one of the spare bunks and grabbed the blanket folded up on the end of the bed. He carried it to her and unfolded it. She didn't acknowledge him other than to look up and then lift her arms so that he could cover her.

He sat down in his spot on the couch with a groan. He frowned when he noticed the cup of tea on the table. "Uh, thanks?" He said, wondering why in the hell she brought him tea. She just nodded. Shrugging he picked up the cup and took a cautious sniff expecting some sort of flowery type smell. His face smoothed over when he recognized the sharp scent of sake. He downed the tea in two quick gulps and leaned back with a sigh. Propping his feet on the table he let his head flop against the back of the couch.

Jayne woke with a start, the smell of gun smoke strong in his nostrils. He looked around to establish his whereabouts. Oh, right, passenger dorms, he thought. As he stretched, he noticed Inara, still curled up at the other end of the couch, asleep, with one dainty, slipper clad foot sticking out from under the blanket.

Throwing his blanket over his shoulder, he reached down and tugged Inara's blanket around and tucked it under her foot. She whimpering and thrashed a little until he stroked the hair back from her face and whispered, "Shh you're fine, go back to sleep."

She nuzzled his hand slightly, then relaxed into a quiet sleep. Jayne looked around quickly as if making sure no one was there to see the tender gesture, then headed for his bunk muttering to himself.