Title: Evolution
Chapter: Win a Battle, Lose a War
Author: ILB (or an ardent rain)
Disclaimer: I do not own.
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: none in this chapter (over-reaching for the story, though, is Rayne)
Set: post-BDM about a month
Written For: the LJ comm 2by2 Fics
Prompts: 1: Green; 2: "Wherefore refoice? What conquest brings he home?" -Marellus; Julius Caesar (I.1.32)

-Notes: I think this may well be one of the best fics I've written. Call me biased (heh), but I really, really like it. I hope my readers enjoy it, as well!

A month had passed since Serenity had been patched up and they'd taken her back into the black. The ship still flew – she was battered and bruised, but with new parts and – Kaylee always teased – the sheer, stubborn force of Mal's will, she would always be flying.

The same could not be said of her crew.

They were all healing, however slowly; Jayne didn't tease the others or make as many thoughtless remarks, but other than that he seemed unchanged. Simon and Kaylee were taking the first tentative steps into a new relationship – lovely and awkward, blooming more and more each day. Mal was friendly in a conscious, over-done way; the loss of crew still haunted him, but the overall sense of rightness pervaded beyond anything else, and he internalized his grief just as he always did. Inara was the least composed anyone had ever seen her. She'd trusted the Alliance and it had failed her. That left her standing on shaky ground and she was suddenly in a situation for which she did not have a ready-made response. She fought harder than ever with Mal, but she was raw – more sincere – and he didn't fault her for her underhanded remarks or her condescension as he once had.

Zoë had tried to go on normally; she'd hidden the pain they all knew she felt. And everyone had let her – no one, not even Mal, wanted to reopen the still-raw wound, but they all dreaded the fallout. She'd broken after three weeks and locked herself in the bunk she'd shared with her husband for three days. Anyone who passed had heard her crying, but they all knew better than to offer any sort of condolence. When she'd finally come out, wearing one of his shirts with bright colors and bold, tropical patterns, she'd presented his dinosaurs to River and said that if the girl was going to be the new pilot she'd need all the help she could get.

River had nodded demurely, taking the plastic reptiles in small, reverent hands and giving an oath to safeguard all their secrets.

Everyone had been happy to see River on the mend. Though unquestionably damaged, her mind seemed better able to cope without the pressure of Miranda's secret weighing it down. She no longer had the wild, destructive fits of her early days aboard; she barely talked at all, instead spending most of her time alone in the dorm she slept in or on the bridge.

It was only at night, when everyone else was asleep, that she dared to freely move about.

She went to the galley, her belly rumbling and her mouth dry. Plucking nervously at her skirts, she walked in and flicked on the light. Something told her she wanted green tea – and she knew Simon had saved her some dumplings from dinner.

No one really trusted her to cook without hurting someone – possibly herself – so they'd never bothered telling her where anything was. But Simon, always the attentive guardian, had gotten her self-heating containers of tea: from a company called "Jade Planet" as she still had trouble with Blue Sun. She dug out the dumplings and pulled the snap on her tall container of fragrant tea. Then, as it slowly grew from cold to hot, she took her treats and scuttled under the table.

A moment or two later she felt another presence – tired but otherwise feeling very little – moving towards her. She held her tea possessively as she watched big feet in holey green socks come padding in. River frowned.

"I see you, Jayne Cobb," she said sullenly, feeling annoyed – though attributing it to him.

His sudden spike of panic squeezed her head. "Wha… Hey! What're you doin' here? Where are you?"

She crouched down low, her chin to the floor, staring at his big toe as it peeked out from the tip of his sock. "Underneath," she said vaguely, her attention wavering from his presence to the internal stimuli it brought.

"You ain't… you ain't possessin' nothin' are you? Not like a ghost?"

She scoffed lightly as she reached out and tapped his toe.

He kicked out reflexively before sinking down to glare at her. "Why the hell you hidin' under a table, crazy?"

It stung to be reminded she wasn't sane, but she felt too many other things for that one little slight to matter. "You came with intent. Thievery. The dumplings are mine."

He scowled in disappointment. "Your brother said you weren't hungry."

She gave him a measured, impatient look. "Simon lied."

Jayne rolled his eyes, wishing fervently she would just go back to bed. He straightened up, and quickly River stuffed the remaining dumplings into her mouth, unwilling to part with even one. He fumbled around, and she followed his movements in his mind. He got a few protein squares, dumped them on a plate, and sat down at the table. He pulled his chair intentionally close to the table, hoping in the back of his mind to maybe accidentally kick her. River hissed quietly and slithered back out, taking a seat as far away from him as she could get.

"Why're you 'wake?" he asked through half a mouthful of protein.

She just gave him a one shouldered shrug, staring at her tea. "Could inquire similarly of you."

"Couldn't sleep. Got hungry. Remembered those ruttin' dumplins, but 'pparently I got here a little too late for that." He stared at her for a long moment. "You always up at night? Your gorram brother goes on 'bout how he never sees you no more. Hell, I thought you was doin' us all a favor, but I figure the prissy doctor's missin' his crazy little sister."

River shifted uncomfortably, unwilling to confide her problems in someone with whom she shared such animosity. "Kaylee keeps him busy. They are one and one now. I shouldn't interfere."

Jayne grinned; River wrinkled her nose at him. "Man, those two're like rabbits, huh?"

She took a sip of her tea to avoid responding.

He gobbled up the last of his protein squares, clearly ready to get away from her. With a satisfied grunt, he stood, then dumped his plate in the sink. Scratching his stomach, he stared at her warily. River met his gaze evenly, already hearing the words he was about to say.

"So you really are better, huh? I don't like you –prob'ly never will, but I ain't opposed to anything that'll put you out of a mind to do any more o' that slicin'." He leaned back against a little counter, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Still Rivers run deep," she said cryptically, slowly turning her tall, plastic container of tea in a circle between her hands.

"Huh?" Jayne just stared at her dumbly.

She frowned. "Go to bed, man-with-a-girl's-name."

"Don't you start that again," he growled. She kept her eyes away from him and wiggled her toes, growing increasingly more agitated the longer he stood there. But Jayne didn't leave, instead staring at her. She did not like the flavor of his thoughts. "So. You ain't better."

"The secret is gone," she said tersely. "The girl will continue to improve." But he had caught her. He hadn't noticed that she'd intentionally been avoiding everyone and he certainly didn't care, but he'd managed to perceptively recognize the thing she was most scared of. He was indifferent; there was no pressing force, no strong, willful emotion knocking at her mental door – his mind was like a soft, grassy field, one she could lay down in and enjoy without being overwhelmed. If he wasn't crude, uneducated and anti-association-with-crazy-persons she might have actually appreciated that about him. River sighed. "You are right."

"Knew you were still crazy." He squinted at her speculatively, wondering if she was still dangerous.

"No," she said tightly, the weight of a feeling all her own leaving her a little terrified. "Sanity is coming. Without Miranda at my heels there is no need to keep running away." She took another long sip of her tea, draining the last little bit and setting the deep green container back on the table. "But I feel everything – every burst of hope, every fear, every irritation… And not just my own. Everyone's." She shivered fretfully.

"So? Ain't you always had that t'deal with?" He scoffed at her mentally.

"Yes." She looked down at the table, letting her hair fall around her face. "But why celebrate the end of a lesser evil when it brings a greater one? When the girl was wrapped in her shroud of madness, she only knew that she felt it. Now she is sane enough to know how much it hurts."

"Oh." Jayne shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Well why the hell're you tellin' me? I don't care." She didn't respond, smiling down at the table. He plucked her empty cup of tea from the table and threw it in the waste receptacle. "Ain't you tired yet? Go on; get out o' here."

She rose, running her hand along the smooth wood of the table. "I find your indifference to be a comfort." She titled her head and looked up at him, her eyes clear and the most lucid he'd ever seen them. Jayne swallowed and wondered if, though her words indicated approval, she was finally going to make good on her promise to kill him with her brain. "Appallingly rude. But to be around an empty head is a comfort." She stood there a moment longer, watching as he fidgeted under her gaze. Then she giggled. "Do not worry; played a royal flush when she really had a pair."

Jayne scowled, not wanting to let her know he didn't understand.

"Man-called-Jayne's fears are unfounded." She stretched her arms out like wings and yawned, her head tilted back. "Girl was only bluffing."

And with a haughty twirl, she left the mess, mumbling something about green, green grass and black holes as she walked gracefully away.

Alone at last, Jayne stared at the table in deep thought.

"Well damn," he said quietly, rubbing at one eye. He sighed. "I really wanted more o' them dumplings."

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