'Big Damn Heroes'

Title: 'And all our skies are filled with blue'

Author: DreamSmith (DreamSmith AJK on this site)

Rating: T (for violence, mild language and romatic/sexual situations)

Disclaimer: Both Firefly and the Buffyverse were created by Joss Whedon, and I own neither of them, nor none of the characters thereof, neither. Nope, don't own a durned thing.

Author's Note: My first fic in the Firefly setting. More chapters upcoming… and there will probably be some crossover with another Whedonverse character showing up.

Reviews: Please do!

Mal hated the snow and the cold.

Kneeling in the crunchy stuff, as he was just then, trying to keep his fingers from freezing to the metal and ceramic parts of his rifle, really brought that feeling home. He hated the snow and the cold... but you did what needed doing, and saved the complaining for later. That was the only way to get through times like this.

"Do you see 'em yet?" Jayne asked over the radio, and not for the first time, either. Mal shook his head in irritation; for a man who prided himself on his skill as a sniper, the big man could be as impatient as a five-year-old. Of course, the nature of the enemy likely wasn't helping any; Jayne was brave, but also easily spooked by things he didn't understand. This time around Mal could completely understand that feeling; there were a lot of things here he didn't understand his own self. Still, it was a Captain's job to project confidence to the troops... even when he wasn't feeling much of it himself.

"Not yet," he said, never taking his eyes off the mouth of the canyon as he spoke, the radio earbug he wore automatically keying on at the sound of his voice. "Settle down, Jayne. They'll get here when they get here." He hesitated, then gave in to his own tension. "Zoë," he murmured quietly. "Anything?"

"Nothing, Sir," came the calm response. Not that she had a good view of the approach; his second in command was tucked into a rocky niche about forty meters further up the canyon, at the base of the left-side wall. Her hiding place hadn't been chosen to provide a clear field of fire, like his and Jayne's, and he didn't much like how isolated and vulnerable she would be when the enemy finally arrived.

You do what needs doing, and save the complaining for later, he told himself again. Zoë was where she needed to be, to do the job. Still, if only Kaylee had been able to find even another fifty meters of usable wire in Serenity's storage compartments....

Mal lowered his eyes from the depths of the canyon to the small figure standing right out in the middle of the snow, around two hundred meters away. Even bundled up in an outsized woolen longcoat she had a delicate, fragile look. He knew better, of course, just as he knew that she was the best early-warning system they had. When the 'Snow-Reavers' (as the settlers of St. Albans called them) decided to make another try at overrunning the town, River would be the first to see them coming.

Or the first to feel them coming, to be more accurate. That being the case, Mal split his attention between watching the canyon and watching the girl. The last three nights of manning the hastily-built barricades around the town had left him exhausted, but he'd learned how to cope with that during the war. No, he wouldn't have any trouble staying awake, not when it was his idea which had them out here, in the cold and the dark, waiting to meet the nightly onslaught all by themselves. The settlers weren't willing to risk leaving their homes undefended, and he couldn't blame them. Not when they'd already lost thirty souls to the Reavers (which were not true Reavers--Mal had more experience with the real thing than most men in the 'verse, after all).

So he knelt behind an ice-crusted boulder, and tried to keep his hands warm while ignoring the way his knees were wet and freezing, and watched the girl. She didn't seem to mind the darkness, or the wind, or the cold like the rest of them... but then she always had been more than a little crazy.

* * * * *

River loved the snow and the cold.

The whiteness that covered the world turned every tree and stone and bit of ground into something from a fairy-tale, and she smiled in delight at the way the moonslight woke a billion tiny sparkles from the snow.

--The bodies of the dead settlers were bloody and misshapen, hacked and torn in a way somewhat reminiscent of Reavers. She knew, however, from the moment she saw the remains, that this was something different. Something new, and strange, and alien in a way that mere humans, even those driven to madness and beyond, could never be.--

She hugged the coat closer to herself, keeping warm while she waited. A few slow, careful steps backward left a trail of footprints that ended magically, as if a girl had walked up the gentle slope, made her way roughly a hundred meters into the canyon, and then simply vanished. Or perhaps she'd taken flight and flown away. River tilted her head back and gazed upwards, watching wispy bits of cloud cross the stars and the moons, everything blazingly, crystalline clear in the icy air. She sighed wonderingly, lost in the silent beauty of the moment, and simply was.

--The first night, the Reaver analogues had been taken by surprise, unprepared for the heavier weapons and more precise application of firepower that Serenity's fighters had brought to the conflict. Dozens of 'Reavers' had been killed outside the barricades, and those that made it inside the maze of homes and shops and stables had discovered an even less welcome surprise; River herself. Disdaining firearms, she used weapons selected from her steadily growing collection of edged steel. Knives, axes, the long, machete-like saber she'd carried away from that savage melee with those real Reavers, months ago.... She left a trail of carnage behind her, dispatching any enemy she found, concentrating on those who were trying to break into the meeting hall where the children and pregnant women were hiding. They killed so many of the strangers that night, she and Mal and Jayne and Zoë, and only lost another six townsfolk. And the others were all grimly content with that, and happy to have made it through to see the dawn. What they didn't realize, what only River saw, was that while those they had killed were human-like, though twisted and malformed, they were not truly human... and never had been.--

The fresh snow couldn't fully cover the signs on the ground. The marks made by the passage of many, many feet were there if one looked, and that was what had led them here, to this place, and to the Captain's plan.

Personally, River would rather have tried building a wall of snow across the canyon, to keep the bad things at bay; that would have been much prettier. Idly, and with an ease that would have baffled any normal human being, she estimated the span and height of the canyon to within centimeters. The depth of the wall required, given the compressive strength of the snow, and the compaction required to attain a good strength-to-weight ratio quickly followed, along with an estimate of how many cubic meters of building material would be required. Formula flashed through her mind, even as she simultaneously designed a marvelously complex snow castle where she, as the princess of this lovely, icy realm, would then live happily ever after.

She frowned then, when her calculations showed that it would require a minimum of one hundred and seventy-three point four five years to complete her project; assuming that she would have to do it all herself. That seemed probable, as none of the others ever seemed to see the merit in her more ambitious projects. Still, that didn't mean the wall and the palace weren't worth building, and there was no time better than the present to get started. Only....

"I've forgotten my mittens," she told the night, mournfully, while staring down at her small, bare hands. "And after Simon reminded me to bring them, too...."

A moment later all such thoughts were pushed aside, as her head snapped up. There was nothing visible yet, besides the sixty-three meters of open ground between herself and the first turning, but she knew they were coming. She felt them coming. A shrug of her shoulders dropped the cumbersome coat to the ground, and she stepped out of her oversized fur boots before bending to retrieve her machete-sword and the nimble little ice-axe that one of the settlers had given her. Standing barefoot in the snow with only one of Jayne's large sweatshirts (the bright orange one emblazoned with the phrase 'Mercenaries do it better if you pay us more') and a pair of thin homespun trousers to protect her from the cold, she was shivering within moments.

You do what needs doing, and save the complaining for later. That's what Mal was thinking, from his position some distance behind her. And it was true, so far as it went. In her case, however, the sentiment might more accurately be worded as: You do what you were created to do, because it needs doing, and because no one else can do it better.

When the first misshapen forms came into view up in the canyon, she was already smiling.

River loved the snow and the cold, but even more than that, River loved to dance.

* * * * *

"River just changed into her fighting clothes; they must be close."

Mal nodded unnecessarily at Zoë's comment, having already seen as much for himself. He checked the action on his rifle again, checked to make sure the spare clips were laid out close at hand, again, and then settled his cheek against the stock of his weapon. It wasn't the monster that Jayne used, but it was a solid rifle, the same model as he'd used during the war, and he trusted it to get the job done. He trusted Zoë, too, as much as he did his own right arm, and even Jayne, come to think of it.

River.... Well, River was River, and even if she was a mite less crazy these days, she was still a considerable mystery. Now, however, he found himself praying to the nonexistent god that the girl was in an especially deadly frame of mind tonight. 'Cause it was for damn sure that no one else had a chance of surviving what he was asking her to do, all alone up there. If anyone could manage, though, she could. And if this worked, then the settlers would finally be safe.

Well, hopefully.

When he saw the first of the enemy come into view he nodded grimly. It was like he'd thought. They weren't massed, they were coming in dribs and drabs of ones and twos and threes, with the bulk of them lagging behind as they came from wherever they came from and headed down towards the town in the valley. He needed them to be bunched up, and that was why he'd put River up there. If she could only hold them for a few minutes, then maybe....

It tore him up to do it, more than he cared to admit. Fortunately her brother, Simon, was down below tending to the wounded among the settlers. If he'd had any idea of what his helpless little sister was doing up here....

Well, he'd have that fistfight when he came to it. For now, he watched the first of the Reavers slow suddenly, as they caught sight of the lone girl standing there, waiting for them. Moments passed, and the first few worked their way past being confused, and into their usual mode of savage glee. They moved forward again, first slowly, then at a jog, then at a run. He held his fire as long as possible; the plan was to bunch them up, not make them fall back and find another way down. It was difficult, but Mal waited, and waited, and watched, even as three of them charged headlong into one of his crew. The result of that impact was brutal, though not in the way most people would have expected.

Because, he thought to himself as he watched the snow quickly turning from white to red, those there particular Reavers have never met River Tam.

* * * * *

--Slashing the first across the middle with her blade as she sidestepped to the left and brought the axe up in a looping cut that opened the second's face and carried her away from the downward chop it made at her, too late. Leaping back in at the third from behind as its inertia and the slippery snow prevented it from stopping in time to engage her, spinning in midair to wind up and add momentum to her own strength, the head splitter cut performing as required and cutting the cranium in half, killing it instantly. The first, turning around and stumbling after her, ignoring the way its insides are spilling from the cut she's made across its belly, slashing at her with claws that at first glance are artificial but, in fact, are not--

They weren't slow at all; River kind of liked that about them. When she fought someone slow, it forced her to adjust her own movements, to fit her own rhythm to theirs. These, though, were nice and quick.

--A lateral cut with her machete-sword removes the creature's hand before the claws can reach her, and she dances forward a few steps to find clean ground upon which to stand--

The first three had fallen so quickly that the others took several moments to realize she hadn't yet been killed.

That held them back for a brief time, during which their numbers swelled as those further back reached the scene. Then, with howls and growls, at least half of those gathered there started forward. She watched the oncoming tide of death, and resettled the weapons in her hands. When the first of them reached her, she blurred into motion once more, blades flickering faster than eyes could follow.

* * * * *

Mal hadn't ever actually seen this. Honestly, no one had really ever seen this except for a room full of Reavers back on that little glowy moon Mr. Universe had called home, and none of them lived long enough afterwards to share their thoughts about the experience, even if they'd been so inclined.

And even if they had, he wasn't sure he would have believed them. Oh, intellectually he'd known she was a fighting machine, literally programmed to be inhumanly efficient at killing. That, though, was all in the head. Seeing it now, the concept came home in way it hadn't before. It settled into his gut, and made his soul ache just a little. Not for the girl he saw whirling and fighting up there, but for the child who'd had that done to her, the one who'd had so much taken away. He'd seen it before, though, or something near enough like it. In Serenity Valley, and in a hundred other places besides, fighting took young lives and changed them forever, assuming it didn't just snuff them out as if they never were.


Jayne's voice, over the radio. No fear there, just controlled tension, and a very legitimate question.

"Not yet."

The Reavers were still massing. A dozen of them clumped around River, hacking and thrusting with hand weapons, occasionally throwing something barbed and nasty at her. Another dozen crowded close, trying to get close enough to have their own taste of the action. Twenty, thirty, fifty more of them milled around the periphery, still confused by the lone defender who had come out to face them, and unwilling to head on down to the town when something so interesting and unexpected was still going on up here. Still more were streaming into sight from the upper canyon, and the snipers needed to wait until as many as possible were in sight before they started firing.

Not that they could wait much longer, not unless he was willing to sacrifice River. Amazing as she was, nothing human could survive that for much longer.

* * * * *

--Spinning, whirling, blades deflecting reaching hands and tearing claws and weapons made of glittering, sharpened stone and bone and something shiny and pretty like glass or crystal. She struck a spear aside, inches before it would have found her belly, and impaled her foe's shoulder with the spike on the back of her axe. Using that anchor point as leverage, she launched herself up and across, snapping both feet into a face and feeling the resultant crunches more than she heard them, since their screaming and howling had left her temporarily deaf. Dropping back to the ground behind the one she'd shoulder-spiked, she tore the axe free, smashed it into the chest of another, spun through a circle while dropping into a crouch, catching the first across the backs of its knees, then leaping upwards with all her might--to be caught, mid-air, by the one she'd chopped a moment earlier. The chest wound wasn't mortal; the thing snapped at her with teeth set in jaws that were far more prominent than a human's could ever be. The claws on its hands bit at the thin layer of soft flesh over her ribs, and she felt her blood running in warm rivulets down her skin. With a silent snarl of her own she brought her right leg up through the narrow gap between their bodies, and slammed the sole of her foot up into the thing's long chin. Its mouth snapped shut so hard that chips of dirty yellow teeth flew free, and it released her. The edge of her blade took it across the throat as she somersaulted back--and missed the landing as her feet skidded out from under her in the gore-covered snow. She hit on her knees, jarring her badly, and for a split-second she was oblivious to the enraged foes looming over her, already striking down at the suddenly vulnerable girl--

* * * * *


The heavy round crossed the two hundred meters in far less than an eyeblink, neatly holing the skull of the largest Reaver looming over River, and spraying bone, blood and brains from the massive exit wound over several others.

"Now, Jayne," Mal said, already switching targets. The big mercenary, however, hadn't waited for the verbal confirmation.


Two more Reavers fell immediately, while another one spun around, looked uncertainly down at the blood spurting from the side of its neck, and then stumbled away to fall dying in the snow. Mal found another target, started to squeeze the trigger, and then held off, his target partially obscured as a small figure erupted upwards from where she'd been hidden in the jumble of flailing bodies down closer to the ground.

* * * * *

--A moment to catch her breath, and a little room to maneuver; that's all she had needed. The head of her axe smashed and sheared half-way through a massive knee, and the point of her blade speared upwards into a vulnerable groin. True humans or not, nothing that lived enjoyed experiencing THAT particular turn of events.

Surging to her feet, River snap-kicked the one with the damaged knee, bowling it over backwards. She leapt atop it, accepting the uncertain footing there in exchange for being off the slippery snow and for the advantage of height. Laying about with axe and sword, she felled two more, caught sudden movement from the corner of her eye and whipped her lighter blade across and down, swatting a cruelly-barbed throwing dart out of mid-air, noting absently that it's tip had been crusted with something green and noxious.


A fearsome opponent, standing nearly two and half meters tall had been nearly upon her, a massive axe held easily in each hand. She saw the contents of its skull spray in two, slightly divergent directions as the two rifle rounds struck it nearly simultaneously. It fell, and when three of them on that side turned to glance back and watch it collapse, she used the opening to lunge, gut the center one, kick it back to gain some room, and then leap down between the others. A thrust left, a slash right, and then she skipped back to let their counterblows land on each other. The wounds they dealt were survivable, the strikes she drove home before they could recover were not--

* * * * *




The sounds of their firing sounded clear and distinct through the frigid air, except for the occasions when his and Jayne's shots overlapped each other. The targets were bunched so closely he couldn't really miss, it was the strain of shooting so close to River that was making him sweat, even while half-frozen. Adding to the difficulty, the damn girl was bouncing around like a crazed cat in zero-g, and more than once he's come within a hair's-breadth of putting a round right through her--




Mal cursed as he fumbled the empty magazine out and grabbed for a full one. In the distance he could hear Jayne still firing, though the sound had changed slightly.

He's out of rounds for 'Vera'; now he's using the Hawkins 308. Not as much punch, but it still hits plenty hard.

His eyes swept the field as he snapped the fresh magazine home in his own weapon. There had to be over three hundred of them out there now, and only a scant few more were still arriving up at the bend in the canyon. Almost all of the Reavers were clustered around River, drawn to the violence, the noise of their fellows, and, he supposed, the smell of blood in the air. Luckily, only a relative handful of them could get close enough to attack her at any one time. Unluckily, the girl was in the middle of a small sea of vicious, monstrous men who were determined to rip her into very little pieces.

Also unfortunate was the way some of the ones on the fringes of things had heard the gunshots, figured out what they meant, and were now heading down the canyon at a frighteningly quick run--straight at where he, and Jayne, some distance off to his right, were concealed.




He dropped the first of the approaching runners, and Jayne dropped two more. Over in her melee, River kept going, even without the covering fire they'd been giving her.

"Enough, girl," Mal growled, though he didn't know if she could hear him through her earbug radio, not with the screams sounding so loud in his ears even at this distance. Even so, he said it again.

"Enough; River, it's enough! Fall back, now!"

The first handful hadn't made it through their combined fire to reach his position, though if they'd known where Zoë was hidden they could have overrun her with ease. She couldn't fire in support of River, either, or of anyone else for that matter. Her part in all this was too important to chance being discovered. More of them were turning now, though, and soon there would be a massed charge, River or no River.

"Fall back, girl!"

The next group was coming, at least twenty this time, and there was no way they were going to stop them all. He opened his mouth to give Zoë the word, stopped short when an image of River, curled up in the pilot's chair and staring out at the stars flashed before him, and instead concentrated on firing as quickly as he could.




* * * * *

Blood kept running into her eyes, either hers, or theirs, or both, but she ignored it and kept going.

--Another leap, over a sideways cut from a crystal sword that would have cut her in half, had it landed, and when she came down it was with a double blow that mostly-severed that one's neck--

"Nearly headless Nick!" she shouted gleefully, recalling the ancient books she'd read at age three, even as she somersaulted forward, thrust her blade into a creature's side, then ripped it out as she purposely dropped flat on the ground. The slime of spilled gore and partly-melted snow covered everything, and she kicked both feet into a handy knee, splintering the joint and folding it backwards even as the recoil pushed her between another pair of legs and across a precious few feet of open ground. Rolling up to her feet again, she took a quick look around, saw the evolving tactical situation in an instant, and ran.

At first she made little forward progress; the enemy were crowded too close, and for every step she gained towards safety, there were three steps sideways or back, to avoid flashing weapons and reaching claws. She cut, kicked, punched (though that damaged her hands a little each time, so she tried not to do it unless there was no other option), sliced, stabbed and chopped her way through an endless number of them. Along the way she herself was hurt several times, though she managed to disassociate herself from the pain with the training she had received in the bad place, during the bad time. So long as her body continued to function, pain was only an inconvenience, not a hindrance.



She heard the shots, dimly, as she fought her way closer to the edge of the mass that had engulfed her. Leaping over a not-Reaver that tried to tackle her to the ground, she saw that Mal and Jayne were shooting at enemies that had gotten far too close. The Captain had actually been forced to drop his rifle, and draw his pistol to defend himself from not-Reavers that were nearly within arm's reach. That was far too close, and she saw that the most advantageous moment to execute the final stage of the plan had already passed.

This, because Malcolm Reynolds had been unwilling to leave River to die.

--If anything, she was moving faster now than she had been at the beginning. She was wounded, true, but that didn't matter. Nothing mattered except getting free, getting clear, so that the Captain could do what needed doing.

A not-Reaver loomed before her, she took its face off with a swipe of her axe, leaving the hideous remains to stumble away, hands reaching in vain. Two more blocked her path, and she literally ran over the shorter of them, killing it along the way with her sword and blocking the attack of the other with the axe. Not bothering to finish that one, she ducked away from another, landed a looping, hocking stroke to the back of its leg that left it lame and slow, and ran past three more that never even saw her coming until she had slipped by.

Open ground, then, and she shifted her grip on the weapons she held, tucking them back along her arms as she sprinted across the snow. A scattered few, here, also running down towards her crewmates' firing positions, and she didn't pause to kill those, either.

There was no time, no time at all, if it was to work. She simply ran, fairly flying down the gentle slope, the air freezing her throat, her lungs, her very heart itself, as she waited for the sound that must come any moment now--

* * * * *

Mal had been forced to drop the unwieldy rifle, and now he had to throw his pistol aside too, when it ran empty. Two of the Reavers were on him, and the smaller, spare revolver he pulled from the back of his gun belt likely didn't have enough punch to put both of the blood crazed men down before they decorated the snow with his insides.

All of which was forgotten, at least for a brief moment, when he saw River's tiny form leaping and scrambling in long, graceful bounds down the slope, with a small army close behind her.

"Zoë!" he shouted, pulled back to himself by the forced expedient of a long, curved blade that nearly removed his front from his back.

"Ready!" came the instant answer over his earbug.

"Nownownow!" he screamed, taking a split second to shoot the nearest Reaver twice in the head before diving to the ground and covering his head.


The initial sound of the explosions was loud; the follow-up was louder, as thousands of tons of rock and ice were blasted from the canyon walls. The lower detonations actually sprayed rocks and boulders sideways, killing or maiming a fair number of Reavers who had been closest to the sides of the canyon. Far more deadly were the huge masses that tumbled from the upper walls, to come crashing down like the heel of an angry god, crushing the massed enemy in seconds.

Debris came flying or rolling past where Mal lay; icy or rocky, large or small. When it had quieted a bit, a few seconds later, he rolled over onto his back, opened his eyes, and found the second of the Reavers he'd been facing standing over him, short spear already beginning a downward plunge.


Three separate exit wounds blew out of his chest, and the Reaver had a moment in which to look oddly disappointed before his inhuman face went slack, and he fell to the side. By raising his head slightly, mal could see Zoë in the near distance, methodically cutting down the handful that had been far enough downslope to escape the rockfall. It had been she, of course, who had manned the detonator, as she was the one who'd accumulated the most experience with improvised explosives during the war.

"Sir?" she called now, scanning the slope. Even though the moonslit snow gave fairly good visibility, the darkness made detail tricky to pick out. Added to that, now, was the jumble of loose rock and shifting ice, which, fortunately, seemed to have missed out of squashing either him or his second in command.

"Here," he answered her, levering himself to his feet with difficulty. "Jayne?"

"Still alive," came the reply, and he saw the big man limping slowly across from his position on the far side of the canyon mouth. "One of 'em got a little close, stabbed me some before I got a good knife hit into his throat." He paused, looked around, and actually looked concerned. "Where's the girl?"

The three of them looked around, and when that didn't turn her up, they started upslope, calling out for her.

Twice Mal had to use his reloaded pistol to end a not-quite-dead Reaver, and Jayne was doing something to them with his knife that he didn't especially want a closer look at. Zoë, poking around a largish mound of ice at the base of the huge new mound that blocked the passage, eventually called out to them.

"Here! This might be--" She stopped, and took a step back, her rifle raised, as a half-buried Reaver stirred. When Mal and Jayne got there, pistols leveled, they found a bloody, soaked and shivering River, being helped out from under the corpse by Zoë.

"He's not allowed to join the headless hunt," she informed Mal, very solemnly as she stood. "There's still a half-inch left unsevered. It's a fairly logical reason."

He ignored the babble; it was best not to try and follow her through whatever mazes filled her head. Instead, Mal cradled that head in both his hands, and took a moment to assure himself that she was mostly unhurt. Amazingly, that seemed to be the case. She was bleeding, but then all of them were, except Zoë. Other than a large number of smallish cuts, scrapes, and truly spectacular bruises, the girl seemed intact. He surprised himself, then, and probably everyone else too, by hugging her, briefly, but hard.

"You are one brave... psychotic little nutcase. Anybody ever told you that?"

River had stiffened a little when he pulled her against him, though she relaxed, mostly, at his words. Still, when he let her go she took a step back before giving him a tiny smile.

"You didn't squish me when you should have," she told him in reply. "It wasn't tactically wise." Cocking her head to the side, she considered him from that angle, and then nodded firmly. "It was the correct solution, though: if I had died, it would have been Jayne's turn to cook. There would have been much suffering and discontent among the crew." Mal smiled back at her.

"That there would have," he agreed, over Jayne's sound of protest. "Let's go then, we've gotta get back and tell the others all about our awe-inspiring heroics." He started to take off his jacket and offer it to River, but she spun away and danced on ahead, still barefoot, singing some song about weasels being kings, and never letting the non-Reavers in... or some such nonsense.

"We'll need to stay around for at least a couple of days, sir," Zoë told him, as she helped gather up his rifle and spent clips. "Just to be sure that there aren't enough of them still lurking up there to make another try at the settlement."

He nodded agreement, and waited until Jayne finished bundling up his own rifles, and the detonator Zoë had brought down from her position before replying.

"That we will. Not a problem, though. It gives these folks time enough to scrape together all those furs and pelts they promised us as payment. And a freezer full of venison steaks won't go amiss, either."

"Gorram barter doesn't put coins in my pocket," Jayne grumbled, looking up from his beloved Vera with a sullen scowl. "Nor bullets in my gun. Do you have any least notion of how much the rounds for this here cannon cost?"

Zoë shrugged carelessly, and waved up at the enormous mound of slowly settling rock that covered the Reavers.

"If those miners on Haven hadn't traded us plastic explosives for the goods we brought them, we'd have been in some serious trouble here. Or would you rather have tried using cash money to blow up this canyon?"

The big man didn't have a good answer to that, though he did grunt, and nod to where River was crouching, and fiddling with something in the snow some small distance ahead of them.

"At least she's turned out to be worth the trouble of hauling her around, finally. Between flying the ship, and goin' crazy in a fight--on our side for a change--she's pretty handy to have around."

Mal and Zoë traded amazed looks.

"That... quite the turnaround in opinion there," he said when he could find his voice. "Careful, Jayne; people are going to think you're going soft."

That got him a glare, and the scowl that went along with it.

"It 'taint goin' soft to know when somebody can pull their weight," he insisted, looking from one to the other, then back down at his gun as they walked. "'Sides... she kinda grows on you, if you give her a chance, and so long as she's not cuttin' on me, or gettin' up to some other kinda nonsensical--"


The huge snowball struck Jayne dead-center in the face, hard, and only the fact that it was so big and fluffy kept it from doing real damage. Still, it must have stung, because he roared, and when he swiped the snow from his eyes there was a murderous glare in them. River just giggled, and waved, and skipped back a few paces. When he charged her, moving at the best speed his wounded leg would allow, she laughed louder, and ran on ahead, hair flying wildly around her shoulders.

Mal sighed, and hoped the two of them would have things settled by the time he caught up. Judging from the way Jayne's hastily-made snowball went wide, and River's return fire continued to prove deadly-accurate, he sort of doubted that would be the case.