Author owns no rights to Firefly, and no copyright infringement is intended. Fanfic only.
Jayne sighed in exasperation as Mal turned down the job. It would have paid a goodly amount of coin, and there was no good reason to say no that Jayne could see.
He followed Mal back to the ship in silence, knowing it was useless to argue. Since Zoe's announcement that she was expecting, this had been the way of it. They took only the easiest jobs, those that practically guaranteed no violence, and, as a result, no real payday. They were flying, and eating, and that was about it.
"What's wrong with you?" Mal grumbled, eyeing the silent Jayne.
"Nothin'," Jayne replied. "Why?"
"You're sulkin'," Mal informed him. "Wanna know why."
"I ain't," Jayne protested, seeing the ship in the distance. "I know what you're doin', and why. I don't gotta like it, and I don't. But I ain't said nothin'."
"You don't like it, you ain't gotta stay," Mal shot back. Jayne thought about that.
After Miranda, Jayne had seriously thought about leaving. He hadn't because somewhere along the way he'd started thinking of the crew as family, and the ship as home. And they'd needed him.
He couldn't say that, of course. Not that they'd believe him anyway. And, if he was honest, he didn't care. He'd never done things with what others thought in mind, anyway.
But Mal had been down, hard, and so had Simon and Kaylee. Zoe wasn't much better. Inara and River hadn't been physically injured, but emotionally they were both wrecks. Jayne had been shot, and had several broken bones, but no one had really cared about that. He was Jayne, after all. Why bother worrying about him?
Jayne hadn't minded that, either. It had been a while since he was around others that cared for him more than they could get out of him, and he didn't mind. He knew what he was about, and that was all that mattered.
Light years away, on a dusty moon that no one visited very often, was a large family. They would have done all right for themselves, if not for a very sick child. A child that needed medicine every day to live. Expensive medicine.
Jayne had been sending money home ever since he'd left that moon, to help pay for that medicine. Thanks to Miranda, and the Operative, and now Mal's hesitancy to do better paying jobs, that money had stopped. Jayne had sent word that things had been slow because of ship troubles, and that he wasn't dead. Once things were fixed, he promised, he'd be sending money home again.
Only it was four months since the ship was flying again, and there was no money to send home. Jayne had stopped spending money on himself, all together, and had sent every cent he could scrounge to his folks, but it hadn't been much.
Mal was as well as he'd ever be, and so was everyone else, except maybe the girl. She had seemed to improve some even in the last month. He figured it was the fact that she didn't have so much of that Alliance poison about Miranda and the like in her mind anymore. Lord knew, it was a terrible burden for a child to have to bear, let alone one who could no longer block the images projected into her mind.
Bottom line; they didn't need him anymore.
As he and Mal walked the last few yards to where Serenity sat, Jayne made his decision. They were on Persephone. This was as good a place as any to get off. If Mal didn't take a decent job this time, when the ship left, it would do so without Jayne Cobb.
River was on the catwalk when the two men entered the ship. She had felt them coming, felt the turmoil running from both men. Mal, disgusted that he couldn't take an otherwise good paying job for fear of Zoe and her baby, Jayne disgusted for the same reason.
She frowned at the sudden color change around Jayne. He'd made a decision of some sort. What it was she couldn't tell, but it had eased his turmoil some. Gave him some peace. An important decision.
Was he going to turn on them? She didn't think so. He had been a solid bulwark while the ship was down and so many were injured. His presence had prevented any idle wanderers from trying to take advantage, and provided a sense of security for both herself, and Inara.
He hadn't been truly friendly, mind, but he had been understanding. Whenever she'd awakened from a nightmare, alone and afraid, Jayne had been there. When Inara had had trouble with a dock worker who fancied her, Jayne had been there. When a passing tough had eyed River, as if recognizing her, Jayne had been there.
There was no tangible to put a finger on, but Jayne had not been the same of late. She didn't know why, and hadn't bothered to question it.
Now she did.
"So you leavin'?" Mal demanded, eyeing Jayne in the cargo bay.
"I'll let ya know," Jayne told him, and started for the stairs. Mal grabbed his arm.
"I wanna know now," Mal said, almost threateningly.
"I don't know, now, Mal," Jayne replied, shrugging Mal's grip off. "I just know that if something don't change, I gotta change. I can't keep workin' like this. Or not workin', I guess'd be more accurate. I got responsibilities, and I need coin to take care of'em."
"Responsibilities?" Mal scoffed. "You?"
"Yeah, me," Jayne tried not to bristle, but it was difficult. "Odd as that may seem to you," he added, his voice calm, and reasonable. He wasn't mad, and was determined not to let Mal's needling make him that way.
"Like what?" Mal demanded, arms crossing in front of him.
"It don't concern you, Mal," Jayne said evenly. "It ain't nothin' to do with your boat, or your crew."
"I'll decided what concerns me, Jayne," Mal glowered.
"Fine, Mal," Jayne sighed. "I'll get my stuff. Be out in an hour or so." With that Jayne started again for the stairs, leaving Mal with a stunned look in his face.
"Wait a minute, Jayne," Mal called after him, but Jayne shook his head.
"No, we're done, Mal," the big man called over his shoulder. "My business ain't yours, no matter what you think. And I stayed this long cause I figured you needed me. But it's clear you figure you don't. And that's good enough for me. I got things I got to take care of, and I need to be workin' to do that."
With that Jayne was gone, passing through the galley, and out of sight. Mal watched him go, still in shock.
He hadn't been trying to push Jayne into a decision. Not really. He'd just felt surly after the job hadn't been right, and took it out on Jayne. But apparently he'd pushed too hard.
"Shouldn't push," River said quietly from the railing above him. He looked up at her.
"I didn't mean to," he admitted.
"Yes, you did," River smirked. "Always pushing, seeing how far you can go. Push too hard one day. He will push back."
"Done have, little one," Mal shrugged. "He says he's leavin'. Soon's he can get his stuff."
River digested that. So that had been the reason for the calming aura. Jayne's decision had been to leave them.
"Where is he going?" she asked.
"Didn't say," Mal told her. "'Spect he'll go to highest bidder," he added with a bit of scorn.
"Doesn't work that way, Captain," River told him. "Worked for you a long time, and you aren't the highest bidder."
That was true, as far as it went, Mal acknowledged. They hadn't made a good haul, made a goodly profit, in months. Since before Miranda, in fact.
"I 'spect that's so," Mal admitted, almost grudgingly.
"He shouldn't leave," River said. "Needed."
"He don't seem to think so," Mal told her. "And said I didn't think so, neither."
"Do you?" River asked, looking at him.
"I. . .I don't know," Mal shrugged. "Long as we ain't doin' nothin' dangerous, I guess not."
"And how long until danger finds us?" River pressed. Mal shrugged again.
"Don't know that either, little one." River turned and left, following Jayne through the door to the galley.
Jayne was already sorting through his things when he heard a knocking at his hatch. He frowned at that. No one knocked on his hatch. Mal pounded on it, Zoe kicked it, and no one else bothered. He walked over and opened the hatchway.
"You are leaving?" River asked without preamble, descending into the bunk.
"You hadn't oughta be in here," Jayne told her, though not unkindly. "Ain't right."
"You did not answer my question," River said as she reached the floor, ignoring his statement.
"Yeah, I'm leavin'," Jayne didn't quite growl. He gave up trying to get rid of her, and returned to his packing.
"I ain't needed here," Jayne shrugged. "Ain't never been, I guess. But I know I ain't now. And we ain't workin' enough to do more'n stay fed and flyin'. I can't do that. I got things gotta be seen too. Mal ain't gonna do anything at least till Zoe's had her young'un, and like as not, won't after, neither."
"So it's money that makes you leave?" River asked.
"I guess," Jayne replied. "I need money, River. My folks need it. I know every body thinks I ain't caring 'bout nothin' but me, but that ain't always the case."
"I know that," River agreed silently. "Had you not cared, you would have gotten off before Miranda."
"'Spect that's true," Jayne admitted after a moment.
"You should stay," River told him, her voice nearly toneless. "Home."
"I ain't got no home, girl," Jayne replied. "My doin', mind, so I ain't blamin' nobody but me for it. Ain't no place for me, an' ain't no place wants me, 'cept when they need me to do somethin'. This here place ain't no different."
"It is," River objected. "People here need you."
"No, River girl, they don't," Jayne said flatly. "There ain't no work on this ship for a merc. And ain't likely to be, I'm thinkin'."
"So Jayne thinks," River teased, and Jayne actually chuckled.
"Once in a while," he nodded. "Try not ta make a habit of it, mind," he added with a grin.
"Thinks more than you'd like us to believe," River replied. "More than some would believe."
"Folks can think what they want," Jayne shrugged again. "Makes me no never mind. Never has. Or at least," he added, softer, "it ain't in a long while."
"How old are you, Jayne?" River asked suddenly. Jayne looked at her.
"Thirty-four," he told her. "Why?"
"Just wondered," River shrugged this time. "Curious."
"Gettin' old for this kinda work," he admitted. "Ain't got too many more years, and I'll be too slow. Someone'll kill me, and that'll be that."
"You don't seem worried," River pointed out.
"No need o' worryin'," Jayne replied. "Know it's gonna happen, just not when. Won't be a surprise, I imagine."
"Shouldn't leave," River repeated. "Safe here."
"River, I ain't been 'safe' since the day before I left home."
"Why did you leave?"
"Don't be worryin' on that," Jayne said stiffly. "Ain't nothin' you need in that pretty little head o' yours, no way."
River blushed at the word pretty, glad that Jayne wasn't looking at her. He'd rarely used her name, and never referred to her as pretty. It pleased her, for some reason.
"Best get along, girl," Jayne ordered. "Mal or your brother find ya down here, it'll be unpleasant. No need for that, with me goin' anyway."
"Very well," River said quietly. "Wish you would stay," she added. He turned to look at her.
"No, you don't," he smirked. "But it's a kindness for ya ta say so."
River left without another word. Jayne watched her go, and wondered what that had been about.
Jayne made his way through the passageway and down the stairs, his heavy bags light in his hands. He glanced at his weights, but there was no way to take them along. He'd miss'em, but he'd get more, once he got back on track.
He stopped at the door, looking back into the ship. He hadn't forgotten anything he'd need. He'd left a lot behind, but he didn't need it, and there was no sense in carrying it. The bay was empty.
Jayne smiled softly to himself. Wasn't like anyone would be caring that he was going, anyway. He hadn't expected any tears, or kind parting words.
Turning back to the door, he hit the ramp release, and waited as the ramp settled. He hit the com.
"Mal, might wanna send someone to secure the ramp. I'm gone." He didn't wait for an answer before hefting his bags and heading down the ramp. He headed up the docks, leaving Serenity behind. He hated doing it, if he was truthful. But he didn't have no choice.
Soon the ship was far behind, and Jayne Cobb was once more a gun for hire. No home, no future, and no hope.
Not since the day he'd killed a man for attacking his sister. A man whose father was influential. Jayne could never go home, never see his folks, his siblings, again. Never see his nieces and nephews, watch them grow.
"Lookin' for work, friend?" he heard someone ask, and turned. The man was short, but well muscled. Clean-cut, dressed in worn but well cared for work clothes.
"Might," Jayne nodded. "Depends."
"Name's Taggart," the man offered his hand. "I do a lotta business here 'bouts. 'Fraid a good bit of it attracts unwanted attention. Can always use a good man with a gun."
"And what do you pay a good man, when you can find one?" Jayne asked, eyeing the man closely.
"Twelve percent of the net," Taggart replied. "Better'n most, but I'll have to be honest and tell you. You'll like as not earn it. Trouble seems to follow us."
"Who is us?" Jayne asked. Twelve percent?
"I'm the Captain of the Valkyrie," Taggart grinned. "We usually take jobs no one else'll touch. Started out doin'em just to see if'n we could. Now, well, we just do it for the pay."
"I don't mind working for my money," Jayne said honestly. "What about bunks?"
"Ain't got but six crew, you'd make seven. Everyone has their own, 'cept my first mate and his wife. She's the pilot."
"Sounds like a job, then," Jayne nodded. "When you need this gun hand?"
"Be leavin' soon as we get him," Taggart admitted. "Got a job sittin' in the hold right now, but need to replace a man we lost. He got tired, I guess. Got off here while back, took to bein' a marshal or some such. He was a decent gun hand. Man'd have to be as good as him to rate twelve percent. You got a name?"
"Cobb," Jayne said softly. "Jayne Cobb." Taggart's eyes widened slightly at that.
"Same Cobb what works for Malcolm Reynolds?" he asked.
"Did," Jayne nodded. "Don't no more."
"Want the job?" Taggart asked, as if not daring to believe his luck.
"If'n all you've said is straight, then yeah, I do. I don't much care to be lied to, mind. Ship o' yours a good ride? I ain't looking to ride in no death trap."
"Good ship, and better mechanic," Taggart grinned, showing no signs of being offended. "And good food, too, when we're near to port. Hard to keep fresh food for long," he shrugged. "We make good money, Cobb, just have to work for it, sometimes."
"Sounds like my kinda job," Jayne smiled suddenly. "What say we head over and take a look?"
Down the docks, River had followed Jayne with her mind, feeling him drift further away. She was surprised that he was sad to be leaving. There was something riding him, hounding him, almost. She couldn't see what it was, but knew it was there.
She felt a jolt from him suddenly, and tried to catch a glimpse of him in the crowd. The people thinned long enough for her to see Jayne talking to a man, then the two were swallowed again by the sea of humanity.
River felt Jayne's mind swirling around the offer made him, and felt a flash of satisfaction at some point. There was no way to sense what it was, but it was there.
And then, Jayne was gone. In his place was someone new, someone she didn't know, or recognize anymore. He had reverted from gunhand to merc again.
She sighed sadly, realizing that Jayne would not be coming back to them. She had believed, right up to that very moment, that he would turn around and come back.
Knowing that he would not, she reluctantly closed the ramp, and started up the stairs.
There would be one more empty chair at supper tonight, after all.