"Dear ma..."

That was the farthest he'd gotten in half an hour. Two lousy words that didn't really mean much of anything. "Dear ma." Maybe Simon is right, he mused. Maybe I am stupid as a monkey. Can't even figure out a way to dance around gettin' hurt, and it's only a gorram letter. She ain't even here to give me that killer stare of hers, and I still can't manage to hide a tiny little bullet hole from 'er. He paused, frowning even more deeply. Guess that's what makes her such a good ma. Sighing, he shifted restlessly, trying to find a more comfortable position, and winced as he pulled on stitches and tight, swollen skin. Giving up, he let his head drop back against the wall, the worn eraser of his pencil tapping rhythmically against the mostly blank paper. "Dear ma..."

It had started a couple of weeks earlier when Kaylee had bounded down the ladder to his room, carrying post. From the size of her grin as she waved the crumpled envelope impatiently before his half-conscious face he'd guessed immediately who it was from. "Open it!" she'd demanded, barely able to contain herself.

"Wha...huh?" he had spluttered, trying to shake off the drowsiness that came along with being woken from a mid-afternoon snooze. "Girl, can't you see I'm tryin' to sleep?"

"But you've got post, Jayne! And it's from your ma!"

"A' course it is. Don't know nobody else who'd take the time, Kaylee girl." Unless it was explosive or somethin'. Then I can think a' lots would find the time to address me a post.

Realizing that the fresh post was the only thing that had gotten Kaylee excited and that there was no need for him to drag himself from his bed to shoot somebody, he let his eyes slip shut again.

"Jaaaaayne," she'd begged, pawing at his arm. "C'mon, read it, please?" Kaylee pleaded, sitting on the edge of the bed by his legs. "Am I crowdin' ya?"

"No," he replied, letting himself drift. "You're fine." Knowing full well that Kaylee would sit there, staring at him morosely, until he opened his letter and read it to her, he looked at her through half-closed lids. "Why d'you like hearin' my ma's letters so much, anyways? Ain't your folks writin' you?" He angered at the idea that Kaylee's parents might have slowed down on their letters; he liked the special smile she wore on days when she got post from home, and the thought of someone forgetting her didn't sit well with him.

"They write plenty, I guess. Well, it ain't near enough, but how could it be unless I was really home?"

"Then they wouldn't need to write," he pointed out. "You ain't answered my question."

"I just like 'em, that's all. My ma writes like they taught her in school, all kinda tryin' to be proper, but your ma...I mean, she writes like she talks, don't she?"

Jayne laughed a little at that. "Yeah, she does."

"Right. I like that. And besides, it makes me feel close to you."

"What do ya mean?"

She ducked her head a little, smiling. "Well, 'cause we're the same, Jayne. I mean, we're both from the same kind a place. Fields and cows and doin' whatcha can with whatcha got. It's somethin' special. Ain't nobody else on Serenity got that, the same sort of upbringing, like we do with each other." As she spoke she lay her hand gently on his arm.

He stared at her for a moment. "I reckon we do, at that," he agreed quietly. Gorram it girl, you can see that but you still go after that hun dan doctor? Well, I guess mebbe not so much lately, ya haven't been. He's been makin' ya cry. I ought ta rough him up some for that, but it's probably just make ya cry more. Wouldn't do a gorram bit of good for how ya see me, neither. He sighed silently, then squeezed her fingers briefly before moving to open the letter. Maybe it would make them both feel better. "You sure, now?"

"Of course! 'Sides, you always listen whenever I want to read you my letters."

"Did you get one, too?"

"Yeah. But read yours first."

"Alright, but you gotta read your's after," he muttered, trying to sound begrudging and failing, at least to his own ears. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't seem to hide how happy being around Kaylee made him. She reminded him of what it felt like to be carefree, a feeling he'd missed since leaving home. There were worries, there were always worries, but they seemed so much lighter when she was smiling at him. Glancing over to make sure she was paying attention-she was, her eyes riveted to the thick paper in his hand-he read in a voice that would have shocked Simon out of his shoes with it's clarity and ease.

"Dear son," he began, drawing out the pause so that Kaylee would give him a playful glare. "Got your last letter today, was real glad to see it. Sounds like your doin' just fine, but then you always could make somethin' out of nothin', just like your pa." He felt a swell of pride at that; he may only have been nine when his father died of a wasting illness, but he remembered the man's gentleness and stubborn capability in providing for his family even at his weakest, and to have his mother compare him positively to his forbear was a real ego boost. Kaylee grinned seeing his cheeks flush slightly, knowing from many half-drunken conversations about days gone by how much the compliment meant to the mercenary.

He cleared his throat past the lump that had formed there at the thought of his pa. "We surely did appreciate the money you sent us this past time, like always we put it to good use. It came just in time for Mattie's medicine, so it was a real blessin'." Frowning at the mention of his brother's fragile constitution, Jayne read on quickly, hoping for more news about the wayward youngster. "He's been strugglin' a bit with the winter and all, but you know he always do. Real good about it, he won't cry much cause he says it wouldn't be right to complain when you're out in the cold stars providin' for us all by your lonesome and he can be next to a nice fire near all the kinfolk..."

She saw him bite at the inside of his lower lip nervously. He was always nervous about Mattie during the winters on the tiny speck of dirt the Cobb brood called home, and she knew he was counting the days until the sun would start to warm those distant fields, and in turn his doted-upon younger sibling. "Jayne?" she asked, touching his shoulder gently when he didn't keep reading. "She say anything else?"

"Yeah...when he says that I always wish ya were home, but at the same time I know that there's other responsibilities you got to take care 'a. I ain't a sentimental woman, son, you know that, but I can say with no feelin' of weakness that I do rest easier knowin' you got a family out there with ya. Might not be real kinfolk, but sometimes a body can find somethin' mighty close to it." Since when, Jayne wondered confusedly, had his mother been a philosopher? Usually her letters were brief and to the point, offering only what bare pieces of news she had time to scribble down between running the farm and taking care of Mattie, but this missive ran over two full pages. It was damn confusin'. Then again, it was winter...

"It is winter there, Jayne," Kaylee said suddenly, echoing his thoughts. "Things always quiet down on our farm when there's snow on the ground. Maybe she just had a bit more time than normal."

He raised an eyebrow at her voicing of his internal monologue. "Girl, you keep readin' a man's thoughts that way an' he's like to think you're goin' as crazy as our Moonbrain."

She just shrugged, grinning. Gotcha, Jayne. You called River 'our' Moonbrain. Like it or not, we're a family, and you, me, and your ma all know it. "You ain't done readin' yet," she pointed out.

"I'm real grateful to that captain of yourn that he took ya away from that Marco. I didn't like the way you was starting to sound in your letters when you was with him, but since you got away from that you've been soundin' more like the fine boy I always figured you'd turn out as." He stopped, shaking his head. "Gorram, but this is embarrassing stuff to be readin' out loud, Kaylee girl. I dunno what's gotten in her, writin' all this sappy stuff," he complained.

"Aw, it ain't so bad. 'Sides, she's right on the money." It was Jayne's turn now to glare at her, trying desperately to defend his reputation, but she just smiled back at him until he went on sharing the letter with her. Much to his delight, it turned away from personal insights and towards farm business, catching both of their interests.

"The cows are doin' real good, too. Your Clemma girl, you remember her I know, you raised her right up from a calf, well she's gone and dropped a fine pair of calves for us, a real stout heifer what will give good milk in a couple years and a stocky little bull who'll fetch a nice price at the butchers. He was awful skinny when she dropped him, I was sure right off he was gonna just wither away, but now he's figured out where the chow is he's gettin' mighty ornery. Reminds me a fair bit of you as a youngster."

Kaylee burst out laughing at that, nearly falling from where she sat perched on the edge of the bed. Jayne looked up at her, his face red now not from pride but from mortification. If he'd thought to read ahead, he would have skipped that line, but he was so used to sharing everything from home with Kaylee that he'd read right through it. Thanks, ma. That's how I want her to think of me, as an ornery bull-calf. Although, he had to admit, the comparison was sadly accurate, since his job description on any and all missions could easily lead him to the proverbial meat-grinder's. Still, he would have at least preferred being compared to a full grown bull, instead of some mewling little calf that no one had expected to make it long.

Giggles mostly under control, Kaylee poked him. "She say any more?"

"Just a little." Don't matter what she thinks of me, anyway, only man she ever thinks about as a man anymore is the Doc, and he ain't half the man she thinks he is. If he was, he'd pay a lot more attention to her. "We're lookin' forward to spring here on the farm like always, hopin' the crops will do good so maybe you can take a break from workin' and come home for a spell. Does a body good to see it's kinfolk every once and a while, and it's been so long since you was home I sometimes wonder if I'd recognize ya anymore. Well, I reckon I'd know ya, you always did take after your pa in looks and I don't guess that's changed none. I sometimes gotta wonder that you ain't hitched up with no one yet, but then I guess that'll come in good time, it's good to be young while you can. Take care of yourself, son, and know that your kinfolk are thinkin' 'bout ya whenever we can. Love, your ma." He glanced at the bottom of the page, reading the note scrawled there, and chose not to mention it. Kaylee, however, was craning her head around to catch a glimpse of the loopy handwriting, and saw the postscript.

"She says to say hi to me?" she asked, sounding surprised. "Why, she even spelled my name right!"

"Well it ain't exactly a difficult name to spell, girl," he half-growled. "And what are you doin', peekin' at other people's mail? Ain't you got your own to gawk at?"

"Aw, you mentioned me in your last letter!" Kaylee squeaked delightedly. "What did you say about me, Jayne, hmm?"

"I just told her ya been keepin' the engines runnin' good. Ain't nothin' special about that. Don't know why she put that bit in there, maybe just so I'd know she done read my note. Gorram it." Realizing that he honestly looked disturbed that his mother had addressed her so directly, Kaylee contained her joy at being recognized by her friend's kin.

"Oh, come on and smile. You always smile when ya get post from home. That's why I brought it to you, you've been so gloomy the last few days I wanted ya to smile some."

"Ai ya, Kaylee, this is one screwy letter. My ma ain't never written all...emotiony...like that," he said, waving the paper vaguely.

"She just misses ya, Jayne. Nobody likes bein' separate from their kin for so long. I bet Mal would let ya have a few days off next time we're near, if you asked him. Maybe even lend ya the second shuttle."

Jayne snorted derisively. "I bet he won't." You and the Shepherd are about the only people on this ship who think I'm worth much, Kaylee girl. I'd never say it to ya, because you wouldn't believe me, but the others ain't too fond of me, I don't think. You and him are the closest to kin I got out here, no matter what my ma thinks. Really just you. I like the Shepherd, but he ain't quite kin. Ain't never had no preachers in our family. Good friend, though; he does rate that, surely.

The corners of her pretty mouth turned down at his tone. "Don't be silly. Mal would understand. You just ask him next time we're close by. You'll see. He can be nice."

"Not to me he can't."

She rolled her eyes, knowing it was pointless to argue when he was in a bad mood like this. "Okay, sour puss. You just sit here and be miserable, then. I thought maybe your ma's post would make ya feel better, but I guess I was wrong." With that, she stood up and headed towards the ladder, preparing to leave.

"...Kaylee?" he'd called after her just before her boots vanished. Her head had popped back into the room. "...Ain't you gonna read yours?" Without realizing it he gave her his best puppy-dog eyes, not wanting her to leave.

She grinned mightily, triumphant, and jumped back to the floor. "I knew post would make ya feel better!"