Years ago, when Shepherd Book still flew with them, Jayne asked him to say a few words over his body come the inevitable time that Jayne got shot or knifed and ended up dead. And the Shepherd told him that he imagined Jayne would outlive them all.
Jayne never really believed that. Didn't believe it, 'til it came true.
The Shepherd was the first soldier down. Taken out by the Alliance Operative for the sole reason that he had given them shelter in the past. Jayne didn't have time to dwell on it at the time, but losing the preacher like that hurt something fierce. The Shepherd may have only flown with them a brief spell, but he was probably the best friend Jayne ever had.
Wash went next, and while Jayne and him had never got on, he missed his presence all the same. Seemed like all the laughter died right along with him. Wasn't until they brought Reimer on board as cook three years later that they laughed regular again.
Still, with those two Jayne figured it was special circumstances and that he'd be the next to go. Just made sense. He was the muscle. Muscle always got taken out first.
Probably coulda happened any number of times. Got shot in the shoulder near on ten times. Gut-shot twice but Doc managed to pull him through. River'd saved his ass more than once, even shot him in the leg once to drop him so as he wouldn't trigger a land mine.
Kaylee'd been the next to go which Jayne never really did understand. It'd been eight years since they lost Wash and the Shepherd and things'd been better since then. They had the odd lean times but for the most part work'd been pretty steady. Kaylee and the Doc got hitched and had themselves a couple of little ones. He'd become Uncle Jayne and got used to being crawled over like a gorram jungle gym.
She died in the engine room which seemed fitting somehow. Somethin' had over pressurized and blew. Not an explosion out right, but some such component had blown apart and sent its shards into her head and chest. Doc said that she died afore she knew what'd happened but that was cold comfort. Once again, light left Serenity.
Next went Inara, about five years after that. Some sort of sickness that the Doc couldn't cure her of, though he near kilt himself trying. She and Mal had been together sometime by then and Mal never did get over her loss. Captain didn't wear his heart on his sleeve but safe to bet that he pined after her 'til the end of his days.
Barely two years later Simon came down with some infection that he couldn't shake. Took him almost a year to die, but die he did. Didn't have much heart after Kaylee'd passed and not near enough strength to pull himself through. Left River and Jayne with two kids to raise.
They had got together years earlier. Fooled around some until Reimer came on board and started making his intentions towards River known. Jayne pretended not to care, but every time he saw the cook touch her or push a strand of hair out of her face he either left in a huff or picked a fight with River. Came to a point where River demanded he either step up and be a man or keep quiet. They was married at the next port.
The kids were a blessing. Jayne was in his early 50s by that time and River in her 30s and they had been trying for years without any luck. Neither wanted to admit it, but it seemed to be just one more thing those Academy hun duns took from her. And while they both would have given anything to have Kaylee and Simon back, they loved Derry and Phelia like they was their own and the kids loved them back. After a few years they even started calling them Mama River and Papa Jayne.
Another ten years went by without them losin' anyone. Along with Reimer, they picked up a mechanic, Kronk, who was a bit of a miracle worker. Wasn't in-tune with Serenity like Kaylee, but had more of a mathematical mind like River's and ears that could pick up the sound of one rusting sprocket in the middle of the engine. Truth be told, were a bit unsettling at times.
The kids had growed and both gone off to school. Derry, taking after his namesake, went to Bathgate Abbey to study up on being a preacher. Phelia, like her first father in so many ways, moved to Ariel to attend med school. They both promised to come back soon as their learning was done.
They was on a job when they lost both Mal and Zoe. If they'd just stuck to the gorram plan then everything would have been fine. But they jumped the gun and didn't wait until Jayne and River were in place before they met with the buyers. By the time Jayne had the drop-off sited, Mal and Zoe were already on the ground and the buyers were trying to get away. River plugged three of them before Jayne even got his finger on the trigger. Between the two of them they took out the rest of the team in less than ten seconds.
Zoe was already dead when they got to them, shot through the head. Mal had drug himself to her and was trying to shake her awake. If they'd had a doctor on board they might've been able to save Mal but Phelia was still at school and Simon was long dead. As it was, Mal died about ten hours from the nearest hospital. His last words were to River about Jayne. "Don't let bein' captain go to his head. You keep that man of yours in line, Little Albatross." She promised she would and he died, holding her hand, a smile on his face.
Jayne never understood the smile. River tried to explain how finally Mal had left Serenity Valley but the captain hadn't been there in near 30 years so it didn't make no sense.
They went on, as they always did. Jayne became Captain and River became First Mate. They hired a co-pilot and a merc as Jayne was gettin' too gorram old for that go se. The kids returned to the ship, first Derry, then Phelia two years later. Derry came and went, flying with them only when he was between flocks.
River died on a small, mountainous moon near Boros. It was a beautiful place and if Jayne was glad of nothing else, he was glad the last place she saw had woods and lakes and meadows. She died saving Laina, her co-pilot. She was young, Laina was, but damn good at the ship's helm. Flew with a sort of grace. But she couldn't walk two feet without tripping, falling or running into something. Laina had slipped and fallen into a fast flowing creek and River jumped in after her. Managed to get Laina onto the banks before the current stole his girl away. They found her a ways down, washed up on a sandbar, her neck snapped.
Jayne held her for hours. Kneeling next to the creek, not crying or yelling, though part of him wanted to, he held her cold, broken body. Couldn't move, couldn't think, just wanted time and the world to stop.
Phelia finally roused him and got him to come back to the ship. He wouldn't let River go. Took her to the passenger dorm, got Phelia to fetch her favourite dress and laid her out in it. That night he spent lying with his girl for the last time, stroking her face, whispering how much he loved her and how good a wife she'd been. Apologized for not saving her. She was only 54. Too damn young to die. They had all been too damn young to die.
As the sun came up the next morning, he took her body back near the river along with a shovel. He began digging and soon Derry, Laina and Rogers, their merc, were helping him. Phelia, Kronk and Reimer arrived with a crude wooden cross and a crate suitable for a casket. They buried her along with one of Jayne's t-shirts and an albatross figurine Mal had bought her years back.
He came to a decision as Derry read from his scripture. Once the burial ended he took Reimer, Derry and Phelia aside. Handed over captainship of Serenity to Reimer and made Derry first mate. Explained that he was staying on the moon and that they should go on without him. The kids protested, naturally, but he wasn't to be swayed. He'd promised River on their wedding night that he'd never leave her and wasn't gonna break his word.
They left him at an abandoned cabin they found not too far away with enough provisions to last him several months. Every day he visited River's grave and explored the moon. There was a small town about half a day's walk from where he was but he only ventured there occasionally. Jayne turned 73 that fall and wasn't as spry as he once was. His right shoulder bothered him something fierce some days as did the leg that River shot.
Serenity swung by every month or so. Brought him food and entertainment. One of the trips Phelia introduced him to Chang Leung, her beau, who asked Jayne for Phelia's hand in marriage. A month later Jayne gave her away in a small ceremony on his moon.
Life continued on for a few more years, Jayne reflecting that the Shepherd's prediction turned out to be true. On one of the trips Phelia announced that she was with child and on a visit eight months later, he was introduced to Lee River Leung. The Tam must've been strong in her because she was the spittin' image of his River.
Jayne was getting tired and knew he wouldn't be around much longer. He spent most of his time making little doodads for Lee so she'd have something to remember him by. That child had him wrapped around her pinky from the moment he looked into her eyes. When she lisped "Gampa" at him just after her first birthday he thought his heart might explode.
One night, during a visit from Serenity, he went to bed a little earlier than usual. Just tired, he assured Phelia whose face was a picture of concern. He dreamt of River, but that weren't unusual. In fact it was more unusual when he didn't dream of her. She came to him and reached for his hand.
"It's time to go, my Jayne."
"Where to, baobei?"
Smiling, she didn't answer and instead kissed him on the forehead before pulling him to his feet.
She led him into Serenity where Mal and the rest of the crew was waiting for him. Looking down at River he felt total peace wash over him. He was finally home.