The Long Night – Chapter Nine

Author owns no rights to Firefly, and no copyright infringement is intended. Fanfic only.

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Mal called Kaylee as the ship came into view. When Kaylee answered, it was short. A minute later, the ramp began to descend. Zoe piloted the mule onto the ship, and shut it down.

"Everything go okay?" Kaylee asked.

"Jayne saved us!" River beamed, jumping from the rear of the mule, and hugging her friend.

"Jayne?" Kaylee's face lit up. "Jayne's here?" Mal winced the bright tone in her voice, and the first smile he'd seen from Kaylee in near two weeks.

"I wanna get off the ground, you two," he ordered tersely.

"Jayne is here," River ignored Mal. "Client was working for the Blue Hands, set things up so they could take me back," River shuddered. "But Jayne killed the Blue Hands, and saved me!"

"Oh, River, I'm so glad," Kaylee gave her friend a fierce hug. "Wish he'd been there for me, like that," she said sadly, and River felt her own joy flame out.

Mal grimaced at that, but stayed quiet. He deserved it.

"He would have been," River assured her. "If he'd been able."

"I know, sweetie," Kaylee sniffed, wiping a tear away. "I know he would have."

"Hey, Captain here, wantin' to leave!" Mal cut in again.

"Mal, do you think you can give them a minute to be human, even if you've forgot how?" Zoe demanded scathingly. Mal huffed at that, but his response was lost as River spoke.

"Vehicle approaching," she said, head cocked to one side. "It's Monty!" she announced, smiling again.

"Monty?" Mal started. "What's he doin' here?"

"Unknown," River shrugged, looking at the approaching hover bed.

A minute later, Monty was sitting at the ramp, smiling.

"Hello, Mal!" Monty boomed, climbing down from the vehicle. The two men with him did likewise.

"Well, Monty," Mal smiled. "What brings you to the backwater of the 'verse?"

"Had to make a delivery here," Monty admitted. "Wouldn't a took it, I knew what kinda place this is, but I'm right glad I did, now. Seein' as how that put Jayne in a position to save your sorry ass." Monty's voice had lost some of it's good cheer as he finished, and Mal's eyes narrowed.

"How's that?"

"Jayne hired on to me right after he quit you," Monty smiled. "He was in town with my niece, gettin' some groceries, when he seen them Blue Hands. Brought her back to me, and then headed out after'em." He looked over to River.

"Glad you're okay, girl," he said gruffly, but warmly. "Ole Jayne was right worried, he was." River smiled at that, a warm feeling settling in her belly.

"You hired Jayne?" Mal asked, almost angry.

"I did," Monty nodded. "He left some gear over here, thought I'd come fetch it for him. Be a nice surprise when he wakes up."

"Wakes up?" Kaylee asked. "He hurt?"

"No, little darlin'," Monty laughed. "But he ran after them Blue hundans on foot, and them in a hover bed. Tired him out some, I reckon."

"He ran?" Zoe asked, shocked. That was a good long way.

"Yep," Monty nodded. "Saw him head out myself, after he brung my niece back."

"You in a habit o' lettin' your niece run around with men like Jayne?" Mal demanded. He took a step back when Monty turned cold eyes on him.

"I 'spected you'd say somethin' o' that sort," he nodded. "Still disappoints me, though. Jayne ain't no threat to no woman, anywhere, Mal, as don't try to kill him."

"And you'd know that how?" Mal demanded.

"He's from Gherbahn, Mal," Monty said quietly, and Mal's face paled slightly.

"Gherbahn?" Zoe asked. "You sure?"

"I am," Monty nodded. "Knowed a few others from there. They're all pretty much alike. Loud, crude, lewd, even rude. Mean'er than a wildcat. But no man from there'd violate a woman."

Mal said nothing to that. He'd hadn't. . . .

"He worked for me near three years, and never told me where he's from, and he works for you two weeks, and you know?"

"Yeah, funny how treatin' a man with just a touch o' respect can have that effect," Monty said snidely. "Now, you mind we get Jayne's effects?"

"Weights is over there," Mal growled. "Spaced the rest."

"Why ain't I surprised to hear that?" Kaylee snarled. Suddenly she looked at Monty.

"You ain't needin' a mechanic are ya, Monty?" Monty nodded to his two men, who moved to get Jayne's gear, then looked at Kaylee.

"You aimin' to leave Serenity, lil Kaylee?" he asked gently.

"Already done quit," Kaylee said sadly. "Ain't safe here, no more. Was aimin' ta go home, but if you need a mechanic. . . ."

"I'll always have a spot for a gifted mechanic, even if I have to fire somebody," Monty assured her.

"Can ya give me time ta get my stuff?" Kaylee's face was bright. Monty nodded, and Kaylee raced off to her bunk.

"How'd you manage that, Mal?" Monty asked, confused. "I'd a swore that girl woulda never left this ship, even if it was beached."

"Things happen," Mal muttered. "That's all."

"I don't suppose you need a pilot?" River asked hesitantly. "Or a gunhand. Or both," she grinned. Monty looked at her.

"Are all o' ya quittin'?" he demanded, lookin' at Zoe. Zoe looked as if she was considering it, then shook her head.

"I'll dance with the one that brought me," she said, then turned and left the bay, heading to get Kaylee and River's pay from the job.

"Well, ni zi," Monty shrugged. "If'n you're half as good as Jayne says, then yeah, I reckon I can find room for ya." River turned and went to her own bunk.

"I'll be with you shortly," she called over her shoulder. Monty shook his head, and looked at Mal.

"Mal, what the hell?" he asked softly. "I thought you had a fine outfit, and all o' ya's was like a family. What's happened?"

"Jayne happened," Mal said crossly. "Wasn't for him, none o' this woulda happened."

"What, exactly, did he do?" Monty asked.

"He was drinkin' with Zoe," Mal told him. Monty waited, expecting more. When there was no more, he scratched his head.

"And?" he asked. "What else?"

"I don't need nothin' else to know what he had in mind!" Mal nearly screeched, furious at the turn of events.

"And what was that?" Monty asked.

"He was after Zoe!" Mal exclaimed. "Only she's still too vulnerable from Wash's death to see it, and I did what had to be done to look after her."

"And you checked with her, first, right?" Monty asked.

"No, I didn't," Mal shot back. "Like I said, she wasn't in no shape to. . ."

"Make her own decisions?" Monty asked. "Mal, what the hell happened to you? You used to not be like this. Is something wrong? Something I can help with?"

"Oh, you've helped plenty," Mal retorted. "Stealin' my crew!"

"Kaylee said she was already leavin'," Monty pointed out calmly. "I assumed the girl was too."

"She was," River smiled brightly as she and Kaylee entered the bay, carrying their bags. Monty nodded again to his two men, and they moved to assist the women with their gear, and Kaylee's tools.

"Mal here says I'm stealin' you two from him," Monty told them. "I wanna know, up front, was you aimin' to leave him or not. I can't rightly hire you on out from under him. If you was aimin' ta quit, that's one thing. But not the other, girls."

"I already asked him to take me home," Kaylee said evenly. "I ain't stayin' here no more."

"I had already informed him that I would be leaving when Kaylee did," River added. "I stayed only for her."

"Well, Mal?" Monty looked at his old friend. "Am I stealin' 'em, then?"

"Take'em," Mal didn't quite snarl. "Don't need a crew that won't stick by me."

"Stuck by you thick and thin, Cap'n," Kaylee replied hotly. "Was you didn't stick, all's said and done. Unless we're just havin' a misunderstandin'!" she said through gritted teeth. Mal's face flushed at that, and he nodded.

"Go on then," he said, softer. "Hope things go well for the two o' ya," he managed to add. Neither girl offered to hug him, but simply piled into the nearly overloaded hover.

"Mal, you need anything?" Monty asked, hating to leave him like that.

"No, I think I had about all the help I can stand, for one day," Mal sighed. "Good luck, Monty," he added. "Fly safe."

"You too, Mal." Monty got back on his vehicle, and drove away. Mal watched them outta sight, then closed the ramp.

When he got to the bridge, Zoe was already there, looking out the window. She'd been humming softly, but stopped as Mal walked onto the bridge.

"I. . .thanks, Zoe, for stickin' with me," he said softly, collapsing into the co-pilot's seat.

"Always have, sir," she said stoically. Truth was she'd been near to leaving herself. That was the reason she'd retreated to the bridge, where she'd spent so much time with Wash.

"What now, sir?" she asked, looking at him for the first time.

"Reckon we'll head back," Mal shrugged. "See can we find new crew, and get another job."

"Mal, how much longer are you gonna be like this?" Zoe asked suddenly.

"Like what?" he replied, looking up.

"Like you've been this past few weeks," she told him flatly. "I. . .I don't know how much longer I can stand it, sir," she admitted. "If there ain't no light at the end o' the tunnel, I don't know how long I'll be able to stay. I can't keep goin' like this."

Mal looked at her, shocked at how much she seemed to have aged in the last few days.

"I'll try and do better, Zoe," he shrugged. "I don't know why. . . ."

"Yes, you do," Zoe told him. "You've been like this since Inara left. Only you let it get worse over time. Kaylee and River had decided that since you wasn't happy, you were determined not to let the rest of us be happy, neither. I don't know that they were wrong, sir."

"It ain't like that," Mal didn't quite huff. "I just didn't want Jayne. . . ."

"I think you've beat that horse long enough," Zoe said coldly. "I'm gonna tell you something. Might shoulda told you before, maybe it would have made you see reason, only it wasn't mine to tell."

"The night me and Jayne was drinkin'," she continued, "he told me why he left home. His fiancé took sick, and the Core-bred doctor in the nearest town, fifty miles away, refused to come treat her 'thout he got paid up front. Her pa didn't have enough money with him, but had it at home. Doc refused, and the girl died."

Mal paled at that. It sounded eerily similar to. . . .

"Same kinda thing what Simon did to Kaylee," Zoe went on. "And you didn't even slap Simon's wrist for it. Wonder Jayne hadn't killed you both. He was sittin' there, with me, helping me avoid what he went through. See, Jayne went an killed the doc. Man ain't seen his family in twenty years on accounta they'll hang him, he steps foot on Gherbahn again."

"Then, he took to the black. That grief inside him, it turned into a ball of stone, Mal. Made him hard. Cold. He was just startin' to thaw, when you started in on him, for nothin' more than helpin' me through a bad time. Somethin' you never once offered to do, I might add."

"Told me they called it the Long Night, where he was from. Grieving period where you had to get used to someone not bein' there no more. I cried till I didn't have no tears left, Mal. And then he carried me and put me in my bed."

"I told you then, to leave it be," she looked at him. "Told you it wasn't a problem. But you couldn't trust my judgement. I wasn't capable o' makin' my own decisions. You had to make'em for me."

"And that led us to where we are now. Alone, on this ship, when a few weeks ago, we had a first rate crew, and everything was runnin' fine. You just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?"

"I didn't know, Zoe," Mal said softly.

"And that's the point, Mal," Zoe shot back. "You didn't know! Yet you still decided it was up to you to make these decisions, not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground! And now, we ain't got no crew. And yet, you still blame Jayne for all that."

"If he. . . ."

"See?" Zoe cut him off. "If that's gonna keep on, Mal, then I'm gonna have to find me another place to be, too. I can't, I won't, take it no more. Dong ma?"

Mal nodded. Zoe got up and walked off the bridge, heading to her bunk.

Inara wasn't dead, Mal thought. But maybe he was goin' through that long night himself. And he'd run off near everybody that might of helped him through it.

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Jayne came out of his bunk at supper time, looking rested. As he walked into the galley, he was surprised to see Kaylee and River sitting at the table with Belinda.

"Hey!" he exclaimed, looking at the two. "You guys come to visit?" he asked, smiling. There was no question he was glad to see them.

"No," River smiled.

"Uh uh," Kaylee smiled too.

"Oh," Jayne looked confused. Then he noticed the. . . .

"Are we in the black?" he asked Belinda.

"Why, yes we are," the girl snarked. "What incredible powers of observation you have!"

"Why are you two. . . ."

"We work for Monty now!" River beamed at him.

"That's right!" Kaylee nodded.

"Huh?"

"Sit down, you old bear," Belinda smiled, rising to her feet. "I saved you some supper. These two have a lot to tell you. And if you behave, and don't interrupt too much, I might, might, have a slice o' pie hidden somewhere around here with your name on it."

Jayne sat down eagerly, almost licking his lips.

"Okay, so how'd you two come to be workin' for Monty?"

As Jayne sat there, eating his supper, and talking with the girls, he suddenly felt a warmth in his chest. Something he'd not felt in a long time. Years in fact.

It was the warmth of belonging. Of family. Of having a place in the world, and being in that place.

Jayne smiled, as he realized that his own Long Night was finally, mercifully, coming to an end.

And that pie? He'd never tasted better.