Disclaimer: This is Joss Whedon's sandbox. I'm just playing!
They dropped off the mail at the main sorting office, then headed half-way round Harvest to the spice depot.
The crime went well, right up until the last few crates. With Zoë, Mal, Jayne and Simon all humping crates into the cargo bay and River and Kaylee busy in engineering, only Wash spotted the arrival in atmo of Horace Tuttle's real ship, which was quickly followed by the arrival on the ground of men with guns. They didn't bother talking, just started shooting.
Zoë and Simon had just dropped their crates in the bay when the bullets started flying. Simon dived for cover at the side of the bay and Zoë unholstered her Mare's Leg and returned fire.
Jayne, heading out down the ramp, had enough warning to pull out one of his girls and started shooting.
Mal had just picked up a crate and, caught in the open with no cover, could only sprint for the ship, with Jayne and Zoë providing covering fire.
Dashing past Jayne and into the bay, Mal dropped the crate and slapped the button to close up the ramp just as Zoë shouted.
He whirled in time to see Jayne, on his knees, pitch face-down onto the ramp.
"Jayne!" He and Zoë leaped forwards and dragged the merc off the rapidly-rising ramp and through the closing doors.
Simon raced towards them as the intercom crackled to life.
"Hold on to something, going up!" Wash said, sounding a little stressed. "Everyone all right down there? People?"
Mal ignored him, turning the unconscious man over. His vision narrowed to where red bloomed over Jayne's t-shirt, spreading rapidly from a hole in his chest.
"Āiyā! Tiān a!" Mal pressed his hands to the wound, desperate to stop the bleeding.
"Zoë, I need you to go grab the stretcher from the infirmary," Simon said. "Captain? Mal?" When Mal didn't appear to notice, Simon forcibly turned his face towards him.
"Mal! I need you to let go."
Mal shook his head. "Ain't letting him go, Doc." His face was white.
"I can't help him if you don't, Mal," Simon said calmly. "I need you to move back."
With a clatter, River dashed up to them and dropped a bag beside Simon. Opening it, he tore open a pack and pulled out a large sterile dressing. With an effort, Mal lifted his hands away, and Simon slapped the dressing on the wound.
Jayne gave a little cough, and flecks of blood appeared, staining his lips.
"I know, Mal! Where's that stretcher?"
"Hey, anyone down there?" Wash called over the intercom.
River answered. "Jayne does not look better in red," she said sadly.
"Wŏ de mā hé tā de fēnkuáng de wàisheng dōu! We're nearly out of atmo, Mal. Going for burn as soon as!" Wash said, then called down to engineering.
"Kaylee! Get ready for burn."
Kaylee came back over the intercom. "What's wrong, Wash?"
"Jayne's hurt," the pilot said, coaxing Serenity out into the black. "And we have company." As soon as they were clear of the planet, he opened up and let the Firefly run.
With Simon holding the dressing in place, Mal and Zoë rolled Jayne onto the stretcher. Mal didn't much recall how they got to the infirmary, only that as they slid Jayne off the stretcher and onto the bed, he coughed again and stopped breathing. Things got very busy right around then, with Simon ordering him and Zoë around. He was going to remind the Doc that he was the Captain, but he couldn't seem to get the words out.
He remembered little things, like Jayne's yellow t-shirt, now more red, cut into rags and dropped on the floor.
The Doc sticking a shunt in Jayne's side and the bag filling with blood far too fast.
The blue tinge around Jayne's lips.
Zoë standing in front of him, moving him out of the infirmary.
Jayne's blood washing off his hands. He had an absurd urge to catch it in a bowl, take it down to the infirmary and demand Simon put it back in Jayne, where it belonged.
Kaylee came up behind him as he stood in the galley watching the blood swirl round the sink.
"Cap'n? How's Jayne doin'?" she asked.
Mal blinked. He found his voice at last. He was amazed at how steady it was.
"Ain't sure. Doc's workin' on him now." He shut off the water and dried his hands, then turned.
Kaylee gasped. "Cap'n! You hurt?"
Mal looked down at himself in surprise. His shirt and trousers had blood smeared down them. He cleared his throat a couple of times, then managed a quick, tight smile.
"Ain't mine." Gritting his teeth, he left the galley.
Mal paused by his bunk. He knew he should get changed, but in his head, Jayne was still in there, lying on the bed grinning, watching Mal with lust in his eyes. If he opened the hatch, Jayne would be only be lying in the infirmary, his life in Simon's hands. He took a deep breath, then another, and went up to the cockpit instead.
"Mal!" Wash looked round, alarmed. "Tiān xiăodé! Jayne's not..."
"No," Mal said, quickly. "Doc's got him. We good?"
"Yeah, I managed to ditch our company. We're on course back to Greenleaf, should be there in just over a week."
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Concerned, Wash kept glancing over at Mal. At length, he spoke up.
"Are you okay, Captain?" When Mal didn't reply, he continued. "I don't mean to be blunt, but you look like crap. And I know you've had more practise at getting blood out of clothes than I have, but shouldn't you go change, put those to soak?"
Tactfully, Wash busied himself with the controls, rather than staring at Mal outright.
Mal gazed out of the windshield for a long moment before scrubbing his hands over his face.
"Yeah," he said, and got up and left.
He wandered through the ship until he found himself outside the infirmary. Simon was still working. He saw Zoë, her back to him, standing patiently at the Doctor's elbow, blocking Mal's view of anything more than Jayne's feet. Not wanting to see more, Mal sank down on the sofa and settled in to wait. After a little while, River crept out of the shadows and sat with him.
Wash stayed with the controls, keeping watch for any signs of pursuit. Kaylee joined him, curling up in the co-pilot's chair.
"Did you see Mal?" Wash asked quietly. "I don't think I've ever seen him look that bad."
Kaylee nodded, hugging her knees. "I went down ta check on Jayne, but Simon ain't lettin' anyone in." She bit her lip. "When he turned, an' there was so much blood all down him, looked like he'd been shot too, Wash. He were so pale!"
Wash shook his head. "This isn't like Mal. He loves a good shoot-out, makes him all gung-ho. But this was like... like someone died."
"Don't you say that, Wash!" Kaylee said, mouth trembling. "Jayne ain't dead! He can't die!"
"I didn't mean..." Wash tried again. "Jayne's pretty indestructable. He'll pull through, I'm sure. Especially with our very own Core-trained trauma surgeon on board. Any minute now, Simon'll call up to let us know he's going to be fine and Jayne'll be complaining how he isn't allowed to lift weights for a week."
Kaylee managed a feeble smile. "You think so, Wash?"
"Yeah." Wash put on his best comforting grin. "Hey, I bet tea would be good right now."
"I'll go put the kettle on," Kaylee said, brightening. She uncurled and hurried to the galley.
It was nearly four hours later when Simon stepped out of the infirmary. Mal still sat on the sofa, flanked by Kaylee and River, all of them silent. Mugs of tea sat on the floor, one finished, one half-drunk, one untouched.
At the sound of the door opening, Mal looked round slowly, as though the effort of turning his head was almost too much.
Zoë stepped out around Simon, and without a word headed up the stairs.
"He's stable," Simon said, fatigue showing in the tightness at the corners of his eyes and mouth. "At least for now. I've repaired most of the damage to his lung and chest. He lost a lot of blood, and we'll need to restock supplies as soon as possible, but he should be fine."
Mal stood, careful not to jar River and Kaylee. "I'll stay with him," he said, and walked towards the Doctor.
Simon put up a hand. "That isn't necessary. He's still unconscious. I'll stay with him until I'm certain he won't relapse."
"Might not want ta go thinkin' it's a request," Mal said firmly. "Be grateful if you'd be lettin' me see my merc."
Simon looked at him for a moment, then stood aside. "Be my guest," he said sardonically.
Mal ignored him and stepped inside.
Jayne lay still and silent on the bed. He was pale beneath his habitual tan, and the dark hair on his arms and stomach stood out in stark contrast. Two bags dripped their contents into one arm. His eyes looked bruised, and an oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose. Most of his chest was covered with fresh white bandages.
Mal forced himself to move to Jayne's side. Carefully, delicately, he smoothed the hair off Jayne's forehead, then took his hand.
"C'n he hear me?" he asked, not looking up.
Simon was standing in the doorway, watching. He blinked, gathered himself and said, "No. Not yet. Another two hours, maybe longer."
The infirmary was a mess. A sterile drape was discarded in the corner. The tray of instruments lay on the counter. Half-open drawers displayed contents disarrayed from Zoë and Simon's frantic searches.
With a sigh, Simon opened a cupboard and pulled out a blanket. He handed it to Mal.
"Just cover him up to his waist. I want to be able to see if he starts bleeding again."
Kaylee stood in the doorway, taking in everything with large, dark eyes.
"Anythin' I c'n do ta help, Simon?" she asked tentatively.
Simon shrugged. "I have to clean up in here, but that shouldn't take long. We could all use something to eat, though. I'm sorry, I can't remember who's turn it is to cook."
"Don't matter none today," Kaylee said. "I'll whip up somethin'. Come on, River, you c'n help." She held her hand out to the girl who was standing watching through the window.
"No complications," she said, and Mal stared at her.
"No, mèi mei," Simon said, misunderstanding. "There aren't any complications that I can see. It was just a little tricky."
Mal watched her follow Kaylee upstairs, then looked back at Jayne.
"Sure feels complicated," he murmured.
When the infirmary was clean and tidy, blood scrubbed from the floor and the autoclave humming in the corner, Simon fetched Mal a stool to sit on, then leaned back against the counter.
Startled, Mal looked up to find Simon watching him with clear grey eyes.
"Jayne. He has a remarkable constitution. If previous gunshot wounds are anything to go by, he'll be up and disregarding my advice very soon." He paused, then continued, hesitantly.
"Captain, for what it's worth, I may not understand the attraction, but I'm happy for you."
He pushed himself away from the counter. "If you will excuse me, I'm going to go and get changed, then have something to eat. Let me know if there's any change. I'll be back in ten minutes."
"Huh," Mal said, watching him go. "Guess it ain't just the one Tam as is perceptive."
Zoë discarded her bloodstained clothes as quickly as possible and scrubbed until all of Jayne's blood was off her. She piled her clothes in the sink and left them soaking, then pulled on clean trousers and a top. Finally feeling as clean as she was going to get, she went to find her husband.
Wash was still in the cockpit, cradling his Allosaurus. At the sight of his wife, a relieved smile spread across his face, and he held out his arms.
Zoë settled onto his knees, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.
Wash held her in silence for a little while, then she pulled back a little and kissed him.
"How's Jayne?" Wash asked a few minutes later, resting his cheek against his wife's.
"He'll live," Zoë said. "Doc nearly lost him a couple o' times."
Wash winced. "Ouch! What happened?"
"Got shot through the lung." Zoë stated baldly.
"Tiān a!" Wash gasped. "I had no idea! No-one tells me anything," he said plaintively.
"Tellin' you as soon as I could, husband mine." She sighed tiredly. "Simon needed someone to help operate."
"I saw Mal," Wash said, pulling back so he could look Zoë in the eyes. "He looked..."
Zoë nodded. "I know." She didn't say anything more, but Wash read something in her eyes.
"Gods help us all, he's in love with Jayne, isn't he?" Wash didn't sound surprised.
"It ain't for me to say," Zoë said.
"You don't need to," Wash said, stroking her hair. "I remember that look."
She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"That's pretty much how I felt. When the compression coil blew." Wash went quiet, remembering how desperately afraid he'd been when his wife had taken the brunt of the explosion.
He hugged her close, and she let him.
River set out plates and cutlery as Kaylee hurriedly opened packets and put water on to boil.
"I'm so glad Jayne's goin' ta be okay, ain't you, River?" Kaylee chattered. "Simon's such a good doctor! We're real lucky to have him on Serenity. You too, o'course! The Cap'n looked so awful, I thought Jayne were goin' ta... Well, he ain't, an' I'm real glad."
She looked across at River, who was standing staring at the cutlery still in her hand.
"Are you okay, sweetie? There were a lot o' blood, I know. But Jayne's a big guy. He'll be fine."
River smiled and finished setting the table.
"I know. Simon is very good at fixing people. Other people," she qualified. "It's just such a big feeling that there is very little room to process anything else."
"What is, sweetie?" Kaylee asked, confused. "You ain't scared, are ya?"
"No! Love." River said, balancing on one foot and stretching out the other leg behind her.
Kaylee frowned, worried. "Yer... in love?"
River laughed. "Not me, the Captain!" She twirled around the galley singing.
"I shall find my love - the one Born for me!"
Kaylee watched her uncertainly for a minute, then a hissing from the pan had her grabbing for the wooden spoon and stirring frantically.
Simon paused in the doorway watching his two favourite women in action. Kaylee had a smear of protein powder across her cheek rather than grease, but looked adorable for all that. And River, he was very relieved to see, appeared not only unbothered by the events of the afternoon, but was positively happy.
"How's dinner coming along?" he asked, smiling.
"Simon!" Kaylee dropped the spoon and beamed at him. "Ain't gonna be more'n a couple minutes more. Ya must be exhausted!"
"I am a bit tired," Simon confessed. "I don't want to be away for long. I don't anticipate there being any problems, and Mal's keeping a good eye on him, but I'd like to get back to my patient just in case."
"Oh, o' course," Kaylee said, a little crestfallen. "I c'n bring ya somethin' down as soon as it's done, if ya'd like? Ain't no bother."
"I think I can be away long enough to sit and eat at the table with you both," Simon said with a grin. "I'm going to fetch the Captain a change of clothing first, though. I'm not sure he's going to be leaving Jayne's side any time soon."
Kaylee gave him a sharp look. "You know?" she asked.
Simon nodded. "I figured it out, yes. I'm not always a complete imbecile." He smiled.
"I didn't mean..."
"Only sometimes," River chimed in, laughing.
"Oh," Kaylee said, and smiled too.
Simon climbed down into Mal's bunk. He glanced around, taking in the rumpled sheets and the soiled clothes in the corner. Those aside, it was almost as tidy as Simon's infirmary. He fished in a couple of lockers until he found clean clothes, then pulled out trousers and a shirt. He turned to leave, but a couple of books on the shelf by the bed caught his eye. He reached over and picked them up, glancing at their spines.
"Shakespeare's Sonnets and War Poems! Looks like Mal got his book back, then." He bundled them up with the clothes and headed back up the ladder.
Wash and Zoë joined them for dinner. Simon stayed a few minutes longer than planned, enjoying the company, but he still cleared his plate well before the others. They kept the talk light, avoiding discussing the afternoon's events, and Simon was grateful.
He stood and put his plate in the sink.
"Thank you, Kaylee," he said, picking up the bundle of clothing in one hand and a plate of food in the other. "That was lovely. I'll take this down to the Captain."
"Welcome," Kaylee smiled. "Make sure he eats, will ya? Don't think he had anythin' earlier neither."
"I'll do my best," Simon said gravely, and went down to the infirmary.
As soon as he'd left the galley, Wash looked round the table. "So," he said jovially. "Mal and Jayne! Who'd have thought it?"
Zoë and Kaylee exchanged glances. River burst into giggles.
"Oh, come on! Don't tell me you all knew?" Wash protested. When they refused to say anything, he groaned. "At least tell me Simon didn't know!"
River nodded. "He also was unaware."
Kaylee leaned across and patted Wash's arm. "Don't take it too hard, Wash! I reckon the Cap'n weren't too sure hisself what were goin' on. An' I know Jayne didn't, leastways not 'til after Greenleaf."
"So is there anything else I don't know about?"
"Almost certainly, husband mine. But if there is, I don't know about it either." Zoë smiled and took his hand.
Simon trotted down the stairs and into the infirmary, where Mal was still sitting, holding Jayne's hand.
"I take it there hasn't been any change?" Simon asked, putting the bundle and the plate down on the counter. Quickly he checked Jayne's vital signs.
"Nope." Mal shifted on the stool. "Been gone more'n ten minutes, Doc."
Simon nodded. "And I believe you'd have called me if Jayne's condition had changed in those extra few minutes."
"An' if it had, and I hadn't noticed?" Mal asked, a dangerous tone creeping into his voice.
"Then any one of a dozen alarms would have gone off," Simon said patiently. "There's a plate of food for you. Kaylee requested I make you eat it."
"Ain't hungry," Mal said grumpily.
"Then you can tell her that. I don't think I'm up to disappointing her today. I also brought you some clothes, and I'd prefer it if you changed into them. I like to keep my infirmary clean. It reduces the risk of unnecessary infection." Simon said.
"You went in my bunk?" The dangerous tone was back.
"Yes, Mal. I went in your bunk and in the fifteen minutes I was away and also eating and getting washed and changed, I took the time to rifle through your personal effects and read your diary. Now either get changed and eat, or get out of my infirmary before I have to get the rest of the crew to come and help me make you leave. And I really don't want to have to add mutiny to my list of accomplishments for the day. I'd like to stick at crime, surgery and snooping."
He turned away and picked up a clipboard and began to inventory supply levels.
Mal stared at the young doctor, all the fight leaving him. Gently he let go of Jayne's hand, stood up and started to unbutton his shirt.
"You got quite a mouth on ya," he commented, dropping the shirt to the floor and untying his boots. He unbuttoned his trousers, keeping his mind resolutely off Jayne doing that for him this morning. Unrolling the bundle, the books dropped onto the counter, and Mal stilled.
Simon glanced over his shoulder. "Captain? Is everything all right?"
"What? Oh, yeah..." Clumsily, Mal tugged on his clean trousers and pulled on his shirt, fumbling with the buttons.
"I thought you might want your book to read, and the Sonnets was with it. I'm sorry if I should have left them alone. I just wish you had told me River returned it." Simon frowned.
"No, no, that's fine. I, uh... Jayne had it," Mal explained lamely.
Simon cocked his head and stared at the Captain. "Wait, Jayne had it? Your book of poetry? This Jayne?"
Feeling surprisingly defensive, Mal kicked his feet into his boots and scowled. "Yeah, this Jayne, that book. He ain't illiterate."
Surprised, Simon set down his clipboard. "I never meant to imply he was. He just doesn't strike me as a lover of poetry."
"With that kind o' attitude, ain't surprised he didn't 'fess up ta havin' it," Mal said. He took the plate and ate a forkful of something greenish.
Simon scratched his head. "No, I suppose not. This is turning out to be quite the day for revelations. I'm beginning to think I don't know Jayne at all. He's quite the man of mystery."
"Man's entitled to his secrets," Mal said and took another forkful of mush.
Simon nodded. "If it wouldn't be an imposition," he said cautiously, "when you're done eating, of course, I'd be very grateful if you would read some of the poems. It gets very tedious taking inventory, and I'm certain at some point Jayne will be able to hear you."
Mal looked hard at him, making sure he wasn't being facetious. "All right, Doc. Ain't too sure of the selection, though."
"Yeah. I ain't too fond of poems about bullets right now my own self, and the sonnets is a bit... personal."
"Oh." Simon thought for a moment. "I have a few small volumes of poetry in my room. I'll fetch them in."
Zoë came down to the infirmary a while later. Simon, white-coated, was leaning against the counter listening as Mal, sitting beside Jayne, read aloud from a book.
At the Mid Hour of NightAt the mid hour of night, when stars are weeping, I fly
To the lone vale we loved, when life shone warm in thine eye;
And I think oft, if spirits can steal from the regions of air,
To revisit past scenes of delight, thou wilt come to me there,
And tell me our love is remember'd, even in the sky. Then I sing the wild song 'twas once such pleasure to hear!
When our voices commingling breathed, like one, on the ear;
And, as Echo far off through the vale my said orison rolls,
I think, oh my love! 'tis thy voice from the Kingdom of Souls,
Faintly answering still the notes that once were so dear.
She paused at the bottom of the stairs, taking in the scene. Mal looked up and saw her, though, and beckoned her in.
"No need ta stop out there, Zo'."
She walked forward and into the brightly-lit infirmary. "Sir." She nodded to him and Simon.
"He's doing okay," Simon said. "Jayne should be coming round any time now."
Mal looked at her, and she nodded.
"I'll take this, then," she said, and reached for Mal's empty plate. "Kaylee's contemplating making cake."
Simon's eyes widened in alarm.
"No cake!" Mal said, hurriedly.
"Not sure I can stop her, sir," Zoë said drily.
"Tell Kaylee we'll get proper ingredients on Greenleaf, make real cake."
Zoë's lips twitched. "That might do it."
They froze, staring at Jayne. Then Simon hurried forward, taking a light out of his pocket. He lifted Jayne's eyelids one at a time, flicking the light across them.
"Jayne? How are you feeling?" Simon asked.
Mal's grip tightened on Jayne's hand as the big man swallowed a couple of times and opened his eyes a crack.
"There... cake?" Jayne croaked.
"Hah!" Air rushed explosively from Mal's lungs. If he hadn't been sitting down already, he reckoned he would be by now.
"No, there's no cake," Simon said, taking Jayne's pulse.
The smallest of pouts crossed Jayne's face. "... shame..."
"We'll get ya cake just's soon's yer up ta eatin' it." Mal promised.
"Feels like... horse kicked me... inna chest..." Jayne managed. "Can't quite... catch ma breath..."
Simon nodded. "You were shot through the lung, Jayne. You're lucky to be alive. It's going to hurt for a while. If you start feeling very short of breath or if the pain increases, I need you to tell me."
Jayne nodded weakly. "... Mal?"
Mal squeezed his hand. "I'm here, Jayne. Ain't goin' nowhere."
"Good." Jayne's eyes closed, and the rasp of his breathing filled the room.
"Jayne?" Mal asked, anxiously.
Simon finished writing on Jayne's notes, and looked across to where Mal sat. "He's asleep. It's the best thing for him right now. You could do with some too."
Relief flooded across Mal's face, and he shook his head. "Told ya, Doc. I ain't leavin'."
Simon nodded. "Very well. Zoë, would you kindly help me make up a cot for our obstinate Captain?"
"With pleasure," Zoë said. "Be right back." She took the dirty plate and Mal's stained clothing away, returning a minute later with an armful of blankets.
Simon woke on the hour, every hour to check on his patient. He wasn't sure how much sleep Mal got, but several times he woke to the sound of Mal quietly reading poetry to the merc.
In the morning, Jayne's colour had improved, and he woke for the best part of an hour before drifting back to sleep again.
By the afternoon, Jayne was looking remarkably close to normal, and he stayed awake listening to the talk as people came in and out of the infirmary.
Two days later, Jayne was feeling well enough to start complaining.
"This bed's a pice of gŏushĭ, Doc!" he groused. "An' I'm gonna go fēngle if'n I don't see somethin' other'n these walls."
"And here I thought you liked these walls, given the number of times you end up in my infirmary," Simon teased.
Mal came in and raised an eyebrow. "Someone feelin' a mite better?" he asked.
"Mal! I gotta get outta here!" Jayne complained. "Ain't no privacy, 'n' this bed's harder than the gorramn floor."
"I'd be happier keeping you in here for at least another two or three days," Simon said.
Mal perched on the edge of the bed. "The man needs his privacy, Doc. Ain't gonna think on what he wants to do with it, mind."
Simon shuddered. "Right now he isn't going to do anything with it, other than eat and sleep. Jayne, may I remind you that you were shot? Your lung collapsed. You nearly died. Twice."
"Tell ya what," Mal sighed, resting a hand on Jayne's thigh. "How 'bout ya put up with the infirmary fer today, an' tomorrow we'll get ya settled into a passenger bunk."
"How 'bout we make it tonight?" Jayne asked suggestively.
Mal laughed. "If we make it tonight, all you're doin' is sleepin'."
"And that'll be all you do for quite some time," Simon said firmly. "We'll see."
That evening, with much complaining, Mal, Simon, Wash and Zoë carried Jayne across from the infirmary into the nearest unoccupied passenger room, while Kaylee and River watched. Simon fussed around setting up Jayne's drip and made sure his stitches were intact, before finally reluctantly leaving.
"I'm right next door if he needs me, Mal. Make sure you check on him during the night."
"Yeah, Doc, sure thing," Mal said, closing the door behind him. He moved over to sit in the chair beside the bed while Jayne wriggled and shifted until he got as comfy as he was going to get.
"You need anythin'?" Mal asked.
Jayne shook his head. "Jus' glad ta be outta that fishbowl. He looked across at the Captain. "Ain't needin' a nursemaid, yanno. Ya don' haveta stay the entire time."
Mal shook his head. "Promised I weren't goin' nowhere, Jayne. Be just like you ta relapse the minute I head out, an' I'm tired o' givin' Simon excuses ta shout at me."
Jayne grinned. "Couldn' relapse all that much, Mal. Ain't no fun if I ain't awake ta hear him yell."
"Guess there is that." Mal smiled and reached out a hand. Jayne moved his so that their fingers brushed, and they sat in silence for a spell.
"Well, this is cosy," Jayne said. "I'm bored. If yer stickin' around, might's well keep me entertained."
Mal laughed. "What're you suggestin'? I ain't doin' nothin' against doctor's orders."
Jayne rolled his eyes. "I ain't happy admittin' it, but I ain't up fer nothin' like that. Don't seem right, spendin' all this time in bed without gettin' no action."
"How 'bout cards, then?" Mal reached back and snagged a pack from the table.
Half a dozen hands later, Jayne yawned.
"Lights out," Mal said, gathering the cards together.
"Where ya sleepin'?" Jayne asked.
"Right here," Mal said.
"Aw, hell, Mal. Y'ain't sleepin' in no chair. Ya even seen yer bunk the past few days?"
Mal set his jaw stubbornly. "Told ya, I ain't goin' nowhere."
Jayne grinned. "In that case, ya c'n either set up a cot here, or ya c'n come keep me warm." When Mal hesitated, he added, "Know which I'd prefer."
"Jayne... I don't wanna hurt ya."
"Heck, if'n ya do, I'll holler."
Mal kicked off his boots and unbuttoned his shirt. "Fine. But if you hog the blankets I'll do some hollerin' of my own."
Carefully he crawled into bed and lay on his side. "You need anythin', I'm right here."
Sleepily, Jayne reached out a hand, fumbling for Mal's. Hands clasped, Jayne smiled and fell asleep.
Mal lay awake a lot longer, listening to the sound of the big man breathe. He didn't like the rasp he heard, but Simon assured him Jayne was healing well. Still, it was the small hours of the morning when he finally fell asleep.
Offloading the spices went a lot smoother, although without Jayne to help, it also took a lot longer. Mal and Zoë collected the cash without having to offer any violent incentives, and managed to pick up some of the medical supplies Simon wanted, along with...
"Eggs! Real eggs!" Kaylee beamed.
"You'd think she laid them herself," Wash muttered.
"Shiny! I'm gonna make such a nice cake," Kaylee said happily.
"Can't wait," Mal smiled. "You might wanna wait 'till we're offworld, though. I want you in the engine room for take-off."
"Xiè xie, Cap'n!"
"Wash, take us up in ten." Mal left her putting things away and headed down to the passenger dorm.
Shirtless, Jayne was sprawled on the bed reading. He looked up as Mal clattered down the stairs and into the room.
"All go well?" he asked.
Mal paused in the doorway to admire him. Under Simon's care, the bandages covering his chest had reduced to a single large dressing covered in tape.
"Yeah, all good."
"Got my cut?"
"Hah! Yeah, I got it. Figured ya might wanta contribute to replacin' some o' those bandages you keep on usin'."
"Ya did, huh?" Jayne scowled. "I figure it's yer fault I keep gettin' shot, so ya c'n pay fer the bandages yerself."
Mal couldn't keep a straight face any longer. Laughing, he came into the room and sat down in the chair.
"Ha ha. Almost as funny as Wash."
The thrusters fired, and Jayne looked at Mal.
"Where we off ta?"
"Space Bazaar. Be there'n a couple days. See if we got any mail."
Jayne grunted, and looked down at the book he held.
"Still readin' them war poems, huh? Looks like a little learnin's had an effect," Mal said.
"Yeah, an' ya should see ma weapons maint'nance, too."
"Reckon I wouldn't mind seein' that," Mal grinned.
Jayne looked up and closed the book. "Well heck, Mal, why'n't ya say?" He flicked open the button on his trousers and leered.
Mal closed the door. Then locked it.
Kneeling down beside the bed, he leaned forward to kiss Jayne, enjoying the feeling of the merc's goatee against his jaw. He deepened the kiss, but when Jayne pushed up towards him, he put a hand on the merc's good shoulder and pushed him gently back down.
"Nuh-uh. Simon'll start yellin' if ya pull any stitches."
"That mean I haveta jus' lie here?" Jayne asked.
"That means you have to just lie there," Mal confirmed.
Jayne lay back as Mal kissed him again. Mal's hand slid down Jayne's stomach to his waistband, and his calloused fingertips dipped underneath once, then again. The merc wiggled his hips, and through their kiss he could feel Mal smiling.
"Stay. Down." Mal punctuated his warning by dipping his fingers further beneath Jayne's waistband.
"Bits o' me - ain't - listenin'" Jayne said, kissing Mal.
"I'll just - have ta - tell 'em again." Mal kissed him back. Slowly he undid Jayne's flies and stopped kissing the merc long enough to pull his trousers down to his knees. To his complete lack of surprise, the merc was going commando.
Turned out, Jayne was right. Bits o' him weren't listenin'. Mal grinned and licked his lips.
"Sure you're up fer this?" he asked.
"Stop, an' I might jus' bust somethin'," Jayne said. "Quit yakkin' an' do me, already."
"So romantic!" Mal curled a hand around Jayne's diăo, slowly stroking it from root to tip.
"Hey! In need o' some nursin', here," Jayne groused, watching Mal's hand move.
Mal laughed softly. "Ain't wearin' no nurse's outfit fer ya, no matter how nice ya ask. Might give you a sponge bath, though."
He bent down and took the head of Jayne's diăo into his mouth.
Jayne groaned. He watched Mal suck him for as long as he could, until the pressure building in his groin became too much and he couldn't keep his eyes open.
Mal cupped the merc's sac and squeezed gently, moving his other hand up and down his length. With a swirl of Mal's tongue over the head and glans, Jayne came, pulsing into Mal's mouth.
"Āiyā, Mal! Yer good at that," Jayne said when he'd regained the power of speech.
Mal grinned. "I'm sure y'ain't so bad yerself," he said. "Lookin' forward ta ya being well enough to find out."
"C'n find out now if'n ya like," Jayne offered, pulling up his trousers.
Mal shook his head. "I c'n wait."
"C'mere," Jayne said, patting the bed beside him.
Mal kicked off his boots and crawled onto the bed. "What?"
Mal snuggled up to Jayne, who turned his head and kissed him, tasting himself on the Captain's tongue.
"Mmm..." Jayne snaked a hand down to Mal's waistband, and before Mal realised his cunning plan, he had Mal's flies open and his hand was inside them, gripping Mal.
"Jayne..." Mal squeaked. "Ain't so sure this's such a great idea-ah!"
"Good job I am, then." Jayne kissed him again, pumping hard.
Mal's hips bucked against Jayne's fist as he moaned. He pulled back. "Jayne, 'm gonna..." He fumbled in his pocket and managed to grab a kerchief.
Jayne took it and kissed Mal again, then bit his lower lip.
With a cry, Mal came, spilling into the kerchief.
Shaking, he lay there until the door rattled, then someone rapped sharply against the frame.
"Jayne? Are you all right in there?" Simon called. "I heard... Oh." There was a pause. "Mal! If my patient pulls any stitches, anything at all, I am going to sedate you until he's better. Dŏng ma?"
"Loud an' clear, Doc," Mal called, and Jayne sniggered.
The day they docked back at the Bazaar, Jayne made it all the way up to the galley for breakfast.
"Jayne! Good to see your brush with death hasn't affected your table manners," Wash said, sitting down opposite the merc, who was noisily slurping a bowl of something mushy.
"Yeah, well I c'n show ya how not dead I am if ya like. I need ta check how sharp a couple o' ma knives is."
"That's almost a proposal, coming from Jayne," Simon said.
Zoë smiled. "Jayne knows better than to put proposals to my husband."
Jayne snorted. "I ain't puttin' no proposals ta that little man. Like 'em bigger."
Mal choked on his coffee.
Kaylee grinned and patted Jayne's arm. "Well I'm sure glad ta see yer mendin', Jayne. There anythin' I c'n get ya from the Bazaar? I ain't pickin' y'up any guns, mind," she cautioned.
Jayne's face fell. "Can't I come?"
Simon shook his head. "It's too crowded. I don't want you getting jostled."
"Mal!" Jayne appealed.
Mal shook his head. "I'm with the Doc on this one. He thinks it ain't a good idea, I ain't overrulin' him."
Jayne scowled. "I got things ta do!"
Mal finished up his coffee. "You c'n make a list, then, an' I'll pick up whatever it is yer after. Won't take long."
Jayne grumbled over the rest of his breakfast, then while Wash docked Serenity, Mal took a trip down into Jayne's bunk and fetched out an armful of his weapons.
"Here," he said, laying them out on the dining table. "Don't get everythin' covered in oil. I ain't fond o' the taste in my dinner. You get tired, you go rest in one o' the comfy chairs. An' if ya feel bad, call an' me'n' Simon'll be back as quick as."
Jayne listened, amused. "Quit fussin' Mal," he said. "Ain't gonna faint or nothin'. I been shot before, I know how it goes."
"Yeah, I know," Mal said. "But this is different."
"Because. It just is."
Jayne grinned. "Yer makin' it complicated again, Mal."
"Guess I am at that."
Mal dropped off the return mailbag with the Postmaster.
"Didn't have any bother, did you?" the man said.
Mal shook his head. "None to speak of."
"There was a report over the Cortex, is all. Seems a Firefly-class transport picked up a spice cargo right before the real transport showed up for it. They were pretty clear one man was badly hurt, maybe killed. Your crew all right?"
Mal looked hard at the man, trying to figure him out.
The Postmaster leaned forwards. "It's just I don't see Jayne Cobb there with you. And I thought he'd be anxious to pick up this." He slid across a cream envelope stamped with Madame Wu's Academy - Official Results.
"I must confess I'm curious as to how he's done. He doesn't seem the studious type, but I admire his persistance."
Mal pocketed the envelope. "Looks can be deceiving," he said with a smile. "He's a mite busy right now, but next time we're here I'm sure he'll let you know." He collected the rest of the mail and distributed it to the crew.
"You got three hours," he warned them. "Expect y'all back aboard by then.
Mal spent an hour doing some necessary shopping before hurrying back to the ship.
Jayne was still cleaning his girls. He had one of his pistols spread out across the table in pieces, laid carefully in order on a cloth. He looked up in surprise as Mal entered.
"Weren't expectin' ya back so soon," he said.
"Couldn't wait any longer," Mal confessed, and pulled the envelope from his pocket. Sliding it across the table, he waited for Jayne to open it, but the merc simply sat and stared at it.
"Ain't ya gonna open it?"
Jayne shook his head slowly. "Ain't sure."
Mal pulled out a chair and sat down. "What is it?"
Jayne looked up at Mal and sighed. "'S just... I been workin' so long fer this, an' that last course? What 'f... What if it ain't a pass, Mal?"
"That's it?" Mal asked, incredulous. "You got shot through the lung, an' you're worryin' about exam results?"
Jayne let out a shaky breath. "Yeah, guess so," he said.
Mal laughed. "Open it."
Jayne reached out and took the envelope, then slid a large finger under the flap. He pulled out a sheet of paper, unfolded it, and frowned as he sounded out the words under his breath.
"Well?" Mal asked, impatiently.
Face impassive, Jayne slid the paper across the table. Eagerly, Mal picked it up and read it.
Dear Mr Cobb,
Your last essay was quite striking and made some very interesting points. I am very pleased to tell you that you achieved a mark of 38 out of 40. You have completed fourteen modules in all, which, as you know, is enough to entitle you to graduate from the Academy.
If you can attend the Academy at any point within the next six months, I will be happy to confer on you your degree with first-class honours. If you are unable to attend, please let me know and I will mail you your certificate.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to teach you over the past few years. Your instructional capture on rifle maintenance is still in high demand. I wish you the very best of fortune.
Mal laid the letter down and stared at Jayne.
The big man shifted uncomfortably in his seat and busied himself cleaning a gun piece with an oil-soaked rag, then dropped it with a sigh.
Mal grinned. "I guess we got us a graduation ceremony to go ta."
"What? No, Mal!" Panic flitted across Jayne's face.
"Why not? Ain't every day my àirén gets a degree."
Jayne stopped panicking and stared back at Mal. "Àirén, huh?"
Sheepishly, Mal rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah." He smiled hopefully.
Jayne sighed. "If ya put it that way..."
"Good! That's settled then," Mal said, and got to his feet.
Jayne had a suspicion he'd been played. "Where ya goin'?"
"See if I c'n get us a job that'll take us ta Persephone. Looks like Madame Wu's Academy ain't far from Eavesdown Docks." He headed for the cockpit.
"Mal!" Jayne called him back.
"Yeah, Jayne?" Mal turned, waiting patiently.
"You gonna tell the others?" Jayne asked anxiously.
"Ain't mine ta tell. You goin' ta?"
Jayne shrugged. "Ain't sure. They're only gonna laugh anyhow. This ain't no shiny Core-world degree, Mal, not like Simon's fancy medical academy."
"No, it ain't," Mal agreed. "You ain't gone ta no classes, nor spent hours talkin' things through with yer teachers, livin' on yer pa's money. You've done it all in your own time, with nothin' more'n what they send ya for each course, while workin' hire as a mercenary, an' all the gettin' shot an' stabbed an' beat up that entails. Don't go thinkin' you've taken the easy option here, Jayne. Y'ain't. Might not have a fancy Core academy name on that letter, but that don't mean it's worth any less. In fact, 'n my opinion, it's worth a heck of a lot more.
"I'm proud o' ya, Jayne."
Speech over, Mal went to find a cargo, leaving Jayne sitting at the table staring at his letter.
"Only started it ta get better't takin' care o' my girls," he muttered, shaking his head. Slowly he folded it up and put it back into the envelope, then folded that and stuffed it into a pocket. Picking up the oily cloth again, he went back to cleaning his guns.
"Guess I'm good fer somethin' after all."
The trip to Persephone took three weeks. Mal found them a last-minute cargo of screws and washers, which wasn't paying much, but was better than nothing at all, especially as it wasn't illegal and didn't require shovelling out on a daily basis.
Simon allowed Jayne back into his own bunk. Which, on reflection, maybe wasn't such a good idea, Mal thought as he lay awake for the third night in a row. With a sigh, he climbed out of bed and out of his bunk and knocked gently on the hatch to Jayne's.
He tapped again, slightly harder.
There was no answer.
A sudden fear gripped his chest, and he pushed open the hatch and dropped in.
Still waking up, Jayne had Mal pinned against the ladder. By the throat.
"Mal! What in the ruttin' hell're ya doin'?"
Mal croaked, and Jayne let him go.
"Not that I ain't glad ta see ya, but couldn't ya've knocked or somethin'? Could'a been a knife."
Mal rubbed at his throat.
"I did knock. Weren't no answer. Thought mayhap you was ill."
Jayne snorted. "Naw, just sleepin'. An' come ta think on it, why ain't ya sleepin' yer own self?" He sat down on his bunk and rubbed his chest.
Mal ran his fingers through his hair. "Couldn't sleep," he confessed. "I was wonderin' if mayhap..."
Jayne smiled. "'Bout time, too. Quit yappin' an' lie down."
"Yessir, Cap'n Jayne, sir," Mal quipped, and lay down beside his merc.
"Bìzŭi, or ya c'n go back ta yer own bunk," Jayne said sleepily. He wrapped an arm around Mal's waist and pulled him close. Mal could have sworn he felt Jayne's lips brush against his hair.
"Night," he said, quietly.
"Mph," Jayne grunted, and together they fell asleep.
A couple of nights later, Mal stopped Jayne as the merc was headed for his bunk.
"Look, Jayne... 'Bout this sleepin' arrangement..." he began, uncomfortably.
"Can't sleep on yer own?" Jayne asked.
"Well, no," Mal said. "But-"
"Then yer sleepin' with me," he said, simply. "Yer bunk's bigger. Be right there."
Zoë, passing by, said, "Man has a point, sir."
The crew, for the most part, seemed unconcerned with the change in sleeping arrangements. Alone in the cargo bay one afternoon, Mal sounded Zoë out about it.
"How're the crew takin' it? Me'n' Jayne, that is." He was anxious. "I made it pretty clear I don't hold with shipboard romances causin' complications."
Zoë smiled. "There are comments. Mostly when neither of you are around. And mostly Kaylee talkin' on how cute you are as a couple. Sir."
"Cute? I ain't cute!" Mal protested.
"Even so, sir. Never claimed to understand everythin' Kaylee finds cute."
"Hmph." Mal was only slightly mollified.
"As for the rest, I believe mostly folks are relieved that Jayne's on the mend and you've stopped sniping at him."
Mal opened his mouth to protest that too, then grinned ruefully. "Guess I was, at that. I was a real hóuzi de pìgu, wasn't I?"
"Yes sir." She paused.
"That it?" Mal asked.
"I'm glad to see you happy, sir. That's all."
He flashed her a quick smile. "Thanks, Zo'. You know, now I think on it, I reckon I owe the man an apology. Gonna go give it to him. 'Less'n there's an emergency, we ain't ta be disturbed." Whistling cheerily, he bounded up the stairs in search of Jayne.
Zoë shook her head, smiling. "Don't think I'll ever fully understand that man."
Mal found Jayne in the galley. The merc was once more sitting at the table with Mal's book of poems. This time, though, it was the Sonnets.
He looked up when the Captain came in. "Hey, Mal. How's our cargo?"
"Still sittin' in crates lookin' like metal," Mal said with a smile. "You busy?"
Jayne shrugged. "Keep tryin' ta figure these out, an' I think I'm gettin' there, but it's harder work than humpin' them crates five miles without a mule."
"Come with me, then," Mal grinned and held out a hand.
Curious, the merc stood up and took it. "What're ya thinkin'?"
Mal led him to his bunk and opened the hatch. "I'm thinkin' I need to apologize for being a húndàn. Before. Weren't my finest behaviour."
He climbed down the ladder. "You comin'?" he called up.
Jayne followed him down into the bunk. "Ya were a real jackass," he said, and pulled the hatch shut.
Mal locked it. "Yeah, I was. Couldn't stop lookin' at ya, wantin' ya. Thought I was goin' out of my mind." He reached out a hand and laid it gently on Jayne's chest.
"Yeah, well, we all done things we ain't proud of," Jayne said gruffly. "So, ya gonna apologize, then?"
Mal pushed his suspenders off his shoulders and unbuttoned his shirt. When Jayne made to pull of his t-shirt, Mal shook his head.
"I ain't apologized yet," he said, and continued undressing.
Jayne watched as the Captain dropped his shirt on the floor, unbuttoned his trousers and let them fall. Kicking them off along with his boots, Mal swiftly shed his underpants and socks and, naked, stood in front of Jayne.
The merc grinned. "Ain't gonna get tired o' lookin' ya, Mal."
Mal grinned back, and pulled Jayne's head down to his. He kissed him lightly, then more deeply, trying to put all his feelings into the kiss.
When they broke for air, Jayne was gasping. "Hell 'f 'n apology!"
"That weren't my apology," Mal said, pulling Jayne to him again. He slid his hands under Jayne's t-shirt, running his palms across the smooth muscles of Jayne's back. Jayne wrapped one large arm around Mal's shoulders. The other hand drifted down Mal's side, ghosting over old scars until it reached his hip and rested there.
Lips brushed together, teased, pressed together. Tongues slid in and out of mouths, and when they parted again it wasn't only Jayne who was having trouble with his breathing.
"Can't wait," Jayne said huskily, enjoying the feel of Mal's naked body pressing against him.
Mal smiled against Jayne's neck, then sucked lightly on the sensitive skin there. He blew across it, and Jayne shivered. Mal picked another spot, sucking and blowing his way down Jayne's neck. By the time he reached the hollow at the base of the tall man's neck, Jayne's head was lolling back against the rungs of the ladder.
"Gorramn..." Jayne groaned. "Mal..."
Laughter dancing in his eyes, Mal looked up, and Jayne found his breath being taken away all over again.
"You gonna wear out my name, or 'r' ya gonna tell me what it is ya want?" Mal slid his hands round to Jayne's front, gliding them carefully up his ribs and over the small dressing which was all that covered his mostly-healed wound. Jayne opened his mouth to reply, but Mal's fingers found his nipples, and all he could manage was another groan.
After a while more kissing and stroking Jayne's nipples, Mal thoughtfully stopped so Jayne could answer.
"Tell me," Mal ordered.
Jayne looked at the shuài figure in front of him. Near on as tall as him, with eyes that he knew had seen more'n anyone should, and a soul that still showed through them, battered though it was -
"You," Jayne rasped.
The merc cleared his throat. "I want you, Mal. All o' ya. Not just this afternoon, neither. For 's long 's."
Mal stared at Jayne. He hadn't thought to push Jayne to any kind of declaration, just a long afternoon of really good sexin'. He didn't see himself as being a man for commitment, leastways not to anything more than his ship and his crew. And this? This was surely a huge complication, right there.
But it didn't feel like one.
He swallowed hard.
"'Kay." Tentatively he smiled, and Jayne smiled back.
Quickly, Jayne pulled his t-shirt over his head and dropped it on top of Mal's discarded clothes. He kicked off his boots and pulled off his trousers.
"I was goin' ta..." Mal protested, but Jayne's grin widened.
"Too slow." He stepped forwards and grabbed Mal's ass, pulling them groin to groin. He rolled his hips a little, and at the feel of their diăos rubbing together, Mal hissed.
Mal took a shaky breath and stepped back. "Come here, then," he said, holding out his hand to Jayne. The merc took it and followed him to the bed. Mal tugged him down onto the bed, then set about kissing him from his lips all the way down to his diăo.
When he reached there, Jayne threaded his fingers through Mal's hair and tugged gently. When Mal looked up, Jayne explained, "It ain't that I don't love that, but I ain't gonna last long if'n ya do."
"Really?" Mal said, grinning wolfishly. "Then it's a good job I got ideas for other things we c'n do."
"Oh yeah," Jayne breathed. He watched as Mal crossed to the desk and opened a drawer. He fished around inside, then returned with a small jar.
"That what I think it is?" he asked, voice thick with lust.
"Depends if ya think it's lube," Mal replied, and opened the jar. He scooped out a dollop and closed his hand around Jayne's diăo again.
"Cold!" Jayne gasped, and shivered at the feel of Mal's hand as it slid up and down his hard length until he was covered in lube. Then Mal scooped out another, smaller gob and reached behind him.
"Let me," Jayne said, and tugged Mal forwards.
He took the jar, got a fingerful of lube and gently rubbed between Mal's cheeks. He found the dimple and circled his finger round it. Mal moaned at the sensation. When Jayne pushed against it, he moved himself back. For a moment the pressure was too much, then Jayne's finger slid inside and Mal gasped. He stilled as Jayne carefully worked his finger further inside.
Then Jayne crooked his finger and touched a spot which had Mal seeing lights behind his eyes.
"Lăotiān, Jayne!" he muttered, moving back against the merc's hand.
"Hit the spot, huh?" Jayne said smugly.
"Yeah - ohhhhh, yeah!"
Jayne pulled out slowly and coated his fingers with more lube. He pushed in again, then added a second finger.
Mal would have told him how good it felt, but he rather suspected he was only capable of dribbling incoherence. He contented himself with a wide vocabulary of moans and groans.
At last, Jayne pulled his hand out and pushed Mal's hips down.
Mal reached down and took hold of the merc's diăo, guiding it between his legs until it nudged at his opening. Slowly, with Jayne's hands gripping his hips, he eased himself down, pausing until the burn settled.
"Qīngwā cào de liúmáng! Yer tight!" Jayne gasped.
Mal grinned, and moved his hips.
Jayne managed a "Guuh..." his hands tightening on Mal's hips.
Mal started moving up and down slowly. Jayne trembled with the effort of not thrusting up into him, but Mal leaned forwards and pushed back harder, then harder again.
"Cào!" Jayne's control snapped, and his hips surged upwards, nearly lifting Mal off the bed.
Mal reached down and gripped his own diăo, thrusting into his hand in time with Jayne's thrusts into him. The merc hit that sweet spot again, and again. And with a loud cry, Mal came, spilling over his hand and onto Jayne's stomach. His muscles contracted around the merc, and with a bellow Jayne came too, pulsing into Mal.
For a long moment they were still, panting, hearts slowing. Then with a groan, Mal moved off Jayne and collapsed onto the bed beside him.
When he had regained a little control over his body, Jayne fumbled across the bed and took Mal's hand.
"Landing in five," Wash called over the intercom. Mal hurried up to the cockpit. Eavesdown Docks rushed up to meet them.
"I'm assumin' we have clearance to dock," he said, "otherwise we're bein' a mite eager."
"All good, sir," Zoë said from the co-pilot's chair. "Contact's meetin' us in an hour."
Mal nodded. "You 'n' Wash okay to deal with that? Got another appointment."
Concentrating on the controls, Wash murmured, "Simon can't clear up that rash?"
Mal glared at the pilot. "Ain't that kind o' appointment!"
"Sorry, sorry. Don't hit me or we'll crash and die," Wash said, and seconds later they settled onto the landing pad.
"Ain't flyin' now," Mal warned.
"It just slipped out," Wash protested. Then added, "Nope, not going there either. Wife. We taking care of cargo, then?"
"Looks like we are, husband. You need me to join you later, sir?"
"No, no need. Got Jayne ta watch my back."
Wash spluttered and turned red with the effort of holding his tongue.
"In that case, I think I'll take my husband and go see to our cargo before he chokes."
"Jayne! You ready?" Mal called down into Jayne's bunk.
"Nope," Jayne said morosely. "Then again, ain't never gonna be ready fer this." He stepped into view at the bottom of the ladder wearing a shirt and his best pair of cargo pants. His gun belt was polished, and his gun gleamed.
"Look fine ta me. Come on, or we're gonna be late." Mal tugged at the neck of his own shirt, unused to it being done all the way up. And with a necktie tied all the way around it.
Together they headed through Serenity and down the cargo bay. As they left, Mal called over his shoulder.
"Kaylee! No passengers! Not 'less they ain't Feds! Nor Alliance spies!"
"Gotcha, Cap'n," Kaylee called back, hurrying into the cargo bay. Close behind her came Simon and River.
"Are you sure about this, Kaylee?" Simon said. "It's a little... far-fetched."
"Where else'd they be sneakin' off ta, all gussied up like that?" Kaylee asked.
River hung back. "I will stay with Serenity. She also requires company."
"Mèi mei, are you sure you'll be all right here on your own?" Simon asked anxiously.
"I'm sure. We will be all tight and secure and safe until your return." River nodded. She waited until they reached the end of the ramp, then pushed the button to close up the ship.
Mal and Jayne strolled through the docks, walking close together, shoulders almost touching.
"You ever been there?" Mal asked, glancing at Jayne.
"Not all the times you've passed through Eavesdown Docks?"
"Nope. Ain't seen the point."
"She wrote you letters," Mal said.
"Yeah. Nice 'f her." Jayne scanned the crowds around them, tension showing in the set of his shoulders.
They turned down a narrow street. It was still busy, but not quite as crowded. Mal scanned the signs by the doors as they walked along.
"There. That's it," Mal said, nodding towards a shabby blue-painted door set back from the street. They stopped in front of it, and Mal knocked.
The door swung open, although Mal couldn't see anyone inside. Shrugging, he stepped through the doorway.
Several doors down, Kaylee and Simon scurried forwards and stopped in front of the same blue door.
"What the..." Simon read the sign beside it. "Madame Wu's Academy."
Kaylee frowned. "I seen her advertisements in the back o' magazines. She does courses on engine maintenance and suchlike. I thought about doin' one, but I never got round ta it." She turned to Simon. "What d'ya think they're doin' in there?"
"Does she also offer courses in insane marriages?" Simon asked drily.
Kaylee shrugged, and tried the handle. The door opened. She went inside, and Simon followed.
Across the street, Zoë laid her hand on Wash's arm. "I do believe that was Simon sneaking around," she said.
"Are you certain?" Wash asked, surprised.
"It's Simon." Zoë said flatly.
"Right. He's worse at sneaking than I am. Shall we go see what he's up to, wife who is very good at sneaking?"
"I reckon so," Zoë said, and walked across to the blue door, not sneaking at all.
Inside, a dingy corridor led back through the building to a staircase.
"Guess it's upstairs," Mal said. "After you."
"Makin' sure I don't run off, huh?" Jayne grinned nervously.
"Yup. That, an' I c'n watch your butt from here." Mal slapped him on the back, and Jayne walked slowly up the stairs.
Mal took the opportunity to watch his merc's ass until they reached the top. The stairs opened out into a large airy office. At the far end was a very large desk, and behind it was a very small woman.
She came out from around the desk and opened her arms. "Jayne Cobb!" she crowed. "So happy to meet you!"
Blushing furiously, Jayne went forward to meet her. Awkwardly he held out a hand. "Uh... Pleased to meet ya too, Madame Wu."
She beamed and tugged him down until she could kiss him on both cheeks. Round cheeks framing a large smile, she turned to Mal.
"And you are his Captain, yes?"
"Pleasure to meet ya, ma'am." Mal let her pull him into an embrace too.
"I am so glad you bring my star pupil to me!" Madame Wu exclaimed. "Tea?"
"Tea would be lovely, thank you."
Madame Wu brought out a large tray with a teapot and seven cups. Hurriedly, Jayne took it from her and set it down on the low table in the middle of the room.
Mal looked at the tray, then at Madame Wu, who beamed at him. "Pour, please." Mal poured tea into three cups.
Madame Wu stared at him, her smile disappearing. Mal picked up the teapot once more and slowly poured tea into another cup. The smile returned. Mal kept on pouring until all the cups were full.
There was a creak on the stairs. Jayne whirled round, hand going to his gun.
"Kaylee! What'n the... What're ya doin' here?"
Kaylee hurried up the last few stairs, followed by Simon. "Don't be mad! We couldn't let ya do this without us!"
Confused, Jayne looked at Mal. "Thought ya weren't gonna say nothin'?"
Zoë strolled up the stairs with Wash behind her. "Cap'n. Jayne. Madame Wu?"
Madam Wu beamed. "Sit, please."
When everyone was seated around the table with a cup of tea, Madame Wu returned to her desk and collected a file.
"Thank you for coming here to celebrate the achievement of your friend Jayne Cobb."
All eyes turned to Jayne. He blushed crimson and looked down at the table.
"Jayne has been my number one pupil for the past four years. Over all he has one of the highest marks I have ever awarded in thirty years of teaching. Thank you for allowing me to be your teacher, Jayne Cobb." She bowed.
Blushing, Jayne bowed awkwardly back to her. "Uh... Thanks fer bein' my teacher, I guess," he muttered. When it seemed he should say more, he added, "Ain't learned that much from nobody else."
The beam was back. Madame Wu advanced on the table and presented Jayne with the file.
"This is a copy of all your hard work. I am very pleased to present you with this certificate for your literature module." She handed Jayne a certificate like the ones he had on his wall.
"And it gives me even greater pleasure to present you with this degree certificate, awarded with first class honours." She handed Jayne a scroll with a holographic seal affixed to the ribbon.
"Thank you for bringing your family here for this auspicious occasion. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours."
Jayne took the scroll and shook her hand. "Thanks, Madame Wu. Means a lot." He risked a look at his 'family'. Mal was smiling almost as proudly as Madame Wu. Everyone else was staring at him in varying degrees of astonishment.
"What?" he said. "Ain't never seen a degree ceremony before?"
Back on Serenity River watched the feed on the console and laughed. "Top one percent," she crowed. "Top one percent!"
Translations:Kào! - Goddamit!
húndàn - bastard
Lăotiān - My god
shuài - handsome
gŏu cào de lèsè - dog-humping rubbish
gŏushĭ - crap
Wŏ de mā - Mother of God
mèi mei - little sister
dŏng ma? - understand?
Āiyā! Tiān a! - Merciless hells!
Mă shàng! - Now!
pìgu - behind
fēngle - loopy in the head
Hóuzi de pìgu! - Baboon's arse
Dàxiàng bàozhàshì de lā dùzi! - the explosive diarrhoea of an elephant!
tiān xiăodé - in the name of all that's holy
Wŏ zài qiănshì yīdìng rědào shénme rén le ba - I surely annoyed someone in a past life
Wu tou wu nao - mixed up
Liú kŏushŭi de biăozi hé hóuzi de bèn érzi! - Stupid son of a drooling whore and a monkey.
Tā mā de - Shit
diăo - penis
bìzŭi - shut up
Wŏ de mā hé tā de fēnkuáng de wàisheng dōu - Holy Mother of God and all her wacky nephews
Shénme - excuse me
Xiè xie - thank you
àirén - lover
Qīngwā cào de liúmáng - Frog-humping sonofabitch
Cào - fuck
Quotations taken from 'Naming of Parts', by Henry Reed, 'What The Bullet Sang', by Bret Harte, Sonnets III and XX, by William Shakespeare and 'At The Mid Hour Of Night', by Thomas Moore.