Disclaimer: For fun, not for profit. Joss is boss.
It had happened so fast that it could never have been prevented. At least, that's what she kept telling herself. The day Serenity fell from the sky was the first day she had noticed him and she refused to believe that one had anything to do with the other.
They had come back to Haven. Though they had said their goodbyes to Shepherd Book back in those bad months after Miranda, it had seemed the fitting thing to do. To say a proper goodbye to the place that had sheltered them through many a storm. It was a short visit and bittersweet. The memories she plucked from the air were good ones, but the devastation before her colored them black. The preacher and his flock had loved here, created a mighty fortress with that love, but those walls had fallen to the ground. It all tasted like ashes in her mouth and she was choking on it.
Jayne had noticed her distress, before even Simon had, and she was thankful for that. If there was one thing she didn't need it was his critical eye watching her every move and deciding which smoothers she needed to get through the day. She loved her ge ge, and was glad for everything he had done for her, for all that he had sacrificed, but her mind was healing and all his doctoring did was remind her of the weapon they had tried to forge within her skin.
She had been standing on a hill, overlooking Haven, chest heaving with unshed tears, when he came upon her. She turned towards him, and could see that, for a moment, he had come to cause mischief. To dance the dance which was most comfortable to him: Warfare. When he saw her, however, the light around him changed; brightened with his good intentions and he placed a large hand on her small head.
"Weren't your fault, girl," he said softly "Weren't never your fault and don't ever go thinkin' it was."
"It was," she answered "But thank you."
His hand slid down from the top of her head and rested at the base of her skull, where her head met her neck, and stayed there, cradling her. His fingers moved almost imperceptibly, massaging her neck and he leaned his large body into her.
"Even if it were, we were bound ta end up here. The 'Verse she likes her heroes and it's hard ta be a hero while yer alive. The best of us go first."
"And the worst?"
"Not the worst, just the left behind. We get ta remember. That's what makes us heroes. We remember and the story changes cos of it. "
River stared up at the mercenary and wrinkled her nose.
"Smell something funny, Moony?" he asked.
River smiled. Now they were on territory she recognized.
"Smells like brains," she said "Not a smell I ever expected from you."
Jayne chuckled and smacked the back of her head gently.
"I got surprises you ain't never dreamed of, little one."
He chucked her under her chin and almost went to palm it, but seemed to think better of it and let his hand fall, rubbing his palms against the worn fabric of his trousers. Then he turned and walked away and River was left confused, a strange warmth growing in her chest. A glow that could fast become a burn.
She had never noticed his hands before, had never considered that they might fit the curve of her skull exactly, had never extrapolated the possibility that they might fit other curves as well. Nor, what surprises he might have and if she might like to discover them, like treasures, one by one. And what would they taste like? Sweet? Bitter? Smoky? Salty? Her left her on the hill, extrapolating and blushing to the tips of her toes.
Later, guiding Serenity into atmo, aiming her towards the Black, she found herself thinking on him again. On the way the sun followed the curve of his shoulders, on the strength of his arms, on the way that his eyes could go from hard to soft and what a gift it was to be looked upon with them in that exact moment. On why she had never noticed how his very presence caused her to vibrate to her very core. A core that had been nothing but a void for so very long and she welcomed the chaos of him.
The warning had come too late, she hadn't seen the signature on the radar, nor had the proximity alarms sounded until it was far too late. She had been thinking on Jayne, her new favorite subject, but that had nothing to do with it. Even if she'd been paying full attention she'd never have seen them. She hadn't felt them, either, and that was the part that gave her pause. Her mind was so full of the wonderful, warm, prickly assassin that she completely missed the screaming.
The Reavers had come beneath them, a sword rising to pierce the belly of the dragon. What happened after was screaming and blood and guns and smoke. When it was all said and done, Serenity lay injured on the hardscrabble earth of Haven. All the good work they had done to patch her up had been undone in one fell swoop. Sure, they had the parts to fix her and Kaylee had started on it once her wounds were tended to and the last of the Reavers had been put down, but it was all so discouraging. They had fought and they had won and they weren't supposed to have to fight again. Isn't that the way stories went? Wasn't that the shape of it? Nice and round, not sharp and twisted like the halls of her mind.
All had fought and all were hurt, but none were dead and that mattered most of all. That no more graves of those they loved would be put into this earth, that no more dear blood be allowed to seep into it. Mal had waved Monty and he was on his way with the manpower to help and then the Captain had promptly disappeared, yelling orders as to what was to be done and just who was to do it. He hadn't blamed her, though he should have. It hurt her that he didn't, that he trusted her so much. Never trust a weapon. Without a suitable target, they'd always turn on those who wielded them. Jayne knew this about Vera. He loved his gun, knew his gun, but didn't trust her to protect him. She was a tool, he was the protector. He had protected River, too, when the Reavers streamed out of their ship and descended on Serenity, which had cracked open like an egg. She could hear the screaming then and was trying to block them out, trying to find that calm she had found on Mr. Universe's moon that allowed her to become the weapon. Jayne had stood in front of her, guns blazing, cursing and shooting for the sheer joy of it, never letting harm come within striking distance of her. He hadn't helped her up, when it was all over. He had walked off without a backwards glace, as if protecting her was nothing more than a conditioned response to a set of stimuli. Truth be told, it probably was.
It was three days before Monty was expected and it was on the night of the third that River made her decision. All hands had retired to Serenity, exhausted from a day of putting the ship back together, except for Jayne. He was sitting out in the open before a fire that was burning down to embers, playing his guitar and occasionally poking the red coals with a stick. River came up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. She could tell by the way he didn't jump that he had heard her coming, but he tensed just the same, a small flick of his muscles knocking her hands away. She came around and sat next to him, neither of them saying anything for a long time. There was a storm building on the horizon, she could see the lightning, the air heavy with it, making the fine hairs on her arms stand on end. This was how she felt when she was the weapon, like she was a conductor passing along energy. She thought
If I touch him, I might set us both on fire.
She reached her hand towards him, but he caught it in his own.
"You're a Reader," he said "So how's it you didn't read them Reavers comin' in?"
Her mouth opened and closed, a fish out of water.
"I, I don't….—"
"It's goin' away, ain't it?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"No, it's intact. Just not as prevalent as before. Seems I can turn it off now."
"S'no good, girl. We need you on."
"I'm not a tool," she said.
He looked at her.
"No, you ain't," he agreed "You're just a girl. And for all you've seen and done, you're still….Gorramit, what's the word—"
"Naïve," she said, plucking the word out of the air.
"Guess it still works," he said morosely.
Her hair glowed like a red sun in the dying firelight and her eyes were pools of gold. He held her gaze for a long moment, swallowed hard, and looked away.
"How much do you hear?" he asked "As much as you want or as much as we let you?"
"Both," she answered "Most are more open than they realize. Simon and Kaylee are whirlpools. If I listen too hard, they'll suck me in. Inara is like a song on the breeze that you can only catch a few words of. It takes something big to harden a person. Captain is stone. He's been hard for a long time. Zoe is broken glass. She's new to it, but hate will heat it and temper it and render her insoluble. She will be stone, too."
"You're like a lake. I can see there's something beneath the surface, but don't know the shape of things till I dive in."
He nodded his head and the thunder sounded again, this time closer. They both looked at the sky, the moon now obscured by encroaching clouds. A wind blew between them and a few fat raindrops pelted down.
"Should probably get in," he said.
"Should probably," she answered.
Both sat there, unmoving. Jayne turned to look at River and started when he realized she was already looking at him, he had been focusing so hard on not noticing her that he actually hadn't noticed her. These months since Miranda had been torture for him. Sharing the same space as her, wanting her and knowing he could never have her, that he was nothing compared to what she deserved. He had seen the weapon inside the girl and now the two were inseparable in his mind. He lusted after them both: soft girl and hard weapon. Wanted to hold them both in his hands. River watched him closely, eyes lucid, and he knew she was listening to the litany of his thoughts.
"Follow me," she said, her voice soft and practical.
She stood and took his hand and it wasn't lost on him, the amusing picture they made, the small girl leading the large assassin through the increasingly rain-filled night. She led them past Serenity, past the dreams that were escaping from there and around the hill they had stood on top of only days before. There, hidden between the hill and an outcropping of rock that dipped down into a canyon, she pulled her to him, causing his weight to fall against her and push her into the wall of rock. A most pleasant equal and opposite reaction. He looked down on her, eyes wild. He was unsure and knowing all at the same time as she was determined and afraid. She stood on her toes and went to kiss him, but he turned his face away at the last second, her lips landing just below his ear, his beard scratching her skin.
"No," he said, breathlessly "Wrong."
"Doesn't matter," she said "In war, all bets are off."
"Not at war," he said, trying to extract himself from her arms.
"Are too," she said and raised one leg, hooking it around his waist and pulling him close.
He gave in at that moment and the sky gave out, rain bucketing down on them. He fisted his hand in her soaked hair, pulled her head back so her throat was bared to him and devoured her neck like he had dreamed of so many times since Miranda. An ocean of lust washed over her, twin tides, his and hers. The girl reveled in this and the weapon forced his head up until it was level with his, assaulting his mouth with her own, waging a war with a few inches of skin.
The water poured off the shelf of rock above them, making a waterfall that enveloped them, and it seemed that they were cut off from the world. All that could be seen and heard was her and him and the rain and the thunder and nothing mattered but them at that moment, in that place, doing exactly what they were doing.
He pulled her dress over her head, the sodden fabric coming to rest in the mud, soon followed by his shirt and he pushed her up against the rock, it cutting into her back and her not caring, bare skin on bare skin being the only equation that mattered. He pulled her other leg up around his waist and she was held there by his strength, his pelvis cradled in hers. He rocked, she the fulcrum, he the lever and she cried out in the night.
With her cry, Jayne lost any semblance of control that he had. He balanced her between him and the rock face and undid his pants, letting them pool around his boots and then hooked his arms under hers, his hands coming up and around to grasp her shoulders and slowly lowered her onto him. She was tight, gorram, she was tight and he went as slow as his lust would allow. The girl smiled at him and the weapon surged down, impaling herself on him.
And it was like all the air had been sucked out of the 'Verse. Both froze, mouths in silent o's and watched the other. They had created a vacuum. No sound, no scent, no sensation other than him filling her and her around him and in that instant the world was perfect. The War had been won. The victors rejoiced in their spoils. And then she moved. Tentative at first and then with newfound confidence and the world swam back into focus. He met her thrusts with vigor, filling her with all of him, worried at first that he might hurt her, this soft girl, but he saw the weapon in her eyes and rejoiced. Hot mouths and wet bodies and flaming lust meeting again and again in the night, in the rain until River felt a star glowing bright inside her. Growing and growing until it exploded into a galaxy of whole new worlds.
He felt her release and fell into his own, pushing her hard up against the rocks until no air remained between her and them as well as between him and her. He thrust hard, raising her up above him and pulling her back down and emptied into her, his head resting on her shoulder, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
He let her down then, her bare feet squelching in the mud and they regarded one another, both flush with new found information; the merc and the girl/weapon, something fresh and brand new-born blossoming between them. He bent down and gathered her in his arms, his broad shoulders protecting her from the rain and kissed her, soft at first and then so hard that their teeth ground together.
"How's the shape o' things?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
She said nothing, but molded her body close to his and took his large hand in her small one, bringing it around to the small of her back and resting it there. In the night, in the rain, man and girl together made new shapes and that was her answer to him.