Disclaimer - Quote by Maya Angelou. Character and settings belong to people that are not me. Hopefully they don't mind my hijacking their creations as I'm not getting anything out of it except reviews (wink, wing, nudge, nudge) :D .
It's dinner time on Serenity and everyone is sitting around the table as Jayne regales them with his latest whore house story , this one about the ugliest whore he'd ever met. No one is really paying him any attention, at least not until he says "Still, she's probly been humped more times 'n River'll ever be."
The explosion of sound that follows is immediate and violent.
Mal yells. Crude he can live with, but not cruel. He orders Jayne away from the table.
Zoë sits still, waiting to see if she's going to have to subdue the large man.
Kaylee alternates between scolding Jayne for being mean and Mal for being loud as she goes to comfort the suddenly crying newborn Sarah.
Inara, sitting next to River, decides to offer the younger woman reassurances about her attractiveness and Simon awkwardly tries to do the same while glaring in Jayne's direction.
Not one of them hears River quietly muttering under the din.
Everyone goes quiet suddenly when the lights go dark and the candles blow out in a mysterious wind that greatly unnerves them. For three seconds there is only the sound of baby Sarah's crying and shuffling as people move suddenly. No one will compare notes as to whither or not they'd moved so they never know that none of them had.
The lights come back up just as Mal finishes ordering Kaylee to the engine room to find out what's wrong. They don't notice immediately that Jayne isn't with them any more, but it isn't long before they do.
Mal orders Zoë to find the merc and she's back ten minutes later. She hasn't found him on a cursory inspection of the ship and all the biosuits are accounted for so if he isn't hiding on the ship somewhere, unlikely, than he's dead; a Jayne popsicle (though she doesn't say that).
Almost an hour later Kaylee comes back from checking on the engine. She tells Mal, sitting at the helm checking the various gauges, that there's nothing wrong with the engine that she can find and maybe he could ask the resident psychic where Jayne is.
Mal looks to River sitting the co-pilot's seat, knees tucked under her chin, and asks, "You know where Jayne is?"
"Safe with the Goblin King in his labyrinth and his city." she responds in an eerie fashion that they've all gotten used to.
Mal doesn't ask what she means. He knows that the answer to that question is like to be even more confusing the one he's already been given. Instead he asks, "He coming back anytime soon?"
"They will meet us at Twin Falls in approximately twelve hours."
"So . . . head to the drop-off? No stops?"
"Yes." and she unfolds herself to reset their original course.
Twelve hours and three minutes later they are opening the cargo bay doors on the surface of Beylix, docked in the public ports of Twin Falls, only to have them open upon a man with a lump of something, also vaguely man shaped, at his feet.
Inara sees the clothes he's wearing; finely made and cut long to accentuate his height, tight to call attention to his leanness and yin jing, while being quietly effeminate along with his hair. Her first thought is that he's probably a male companion. The way he storms aboard the ship with no regard for her, Mal, or Zoë divests her of that idea immediately. Companions are trained from the beginning to be courteous.
Mal sees the same fine clothes and ridiculous coiffed hair and immediately thinks the man is rich. When he storms aboard without so much as a glance in anyone's' direction, Mal revises that idea and adds 'son of a bitch' to it before he starts to move towards him, hand on lead, and ready to shoot.
Zoë'd had her gun out and aimed a full second before Mal'd done the same.
The stranger stops fifteen feet into the cargo bay and looks up to the catwalk, "Was this your idea of a joke?" he asks angrily.
Zoë, Mal, and Inara all look up to find River smirking down on the trespasser while dangling her feet off the edge.
"My life has been one great big joke, a dance that's walked, a song that's spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke, when I think about myself," she recites to him as she gives Mal and Zoë a signal they both know intimately from the war, 'all clear'. "Why should I not share the humor?"
"Why?!" he yells and gesture behind himself. "He tried to kill me! He tried to kill a number of my subjects and then nearly fell into the Bog of Eternal Stench! I had to bring him back before he caused anymore chaos in my kingdom!"
Everyone in the bay but River and the stranger look back at the thing that'd been at the stranger's feet. Zoë is the first one to recognize it as being Jayne and she heads for the com to get Simon, all while keeping an ear on what is happening before her.
"I know." River admits with a dismissive shrug.
"There will not be a repeat." the stranger warns/orders her with a glare.
"You have no power over me." she responds quite seriously. The stranger visibly flinches.
"What's wrong?" Simon yells from the airlock on the upper level. He sees the stranger and stops, trying to discern the situation. Other than a glance form Zoë, no one pays him any heed.
Suddenly there's a something in the stranger's hand. Instinctively Mal and Zoë go for their guns again, Mal stepping in front of Inara to protect her. The stranger twirls the ball of, what looks like, glass around his fingers as he moves deliberately towards River who gives them the thumbs-up again. They feel uneasy about putting their guns away for the second time, but both of them have learned to trust the girl.
Once he's at her feet he reaches to hold the glass ball up to her, "And you none over me." he says just as seriously; a lie though Inara can tell the man's an excellent actor and she revisits her companion theory.
No one sees how River's fingers skid over the skin between the stranger's thumb and forefinger as she takes the ball from his hand and no one sees the way his knuckles glide over her ankle just before he turns sharply and moves to leave the ship.
No one makes a move to stop him. They're all too transfixed on River who's staring into the strangers gift like the fortune tellers that can be found at every descent sized port.
After a moment of confused silence Zoë calls up to the doctor, "Jayne's down here. Might want to have a look at him."
"No need," River tells them all absently, "Merely unconscious."
"Zen me le?" Mal demands of her.
"Suitors," she replies with a shy grin while rolling her eyes at Inara as if there's some inside joke there.
She gets up quickly and practically flies down the stairs and into the passengers' quarters with the ball in her hands.