It's back, my wonderfully patient readers! My sincerest apologies that this took so long to update, but my Firefly and Starfox muses have been quarreling rather bitterly over the last few weeks so it's been kind of hard trying to write in either fandom. I fully intend to give my Firefly muse full run of the bridge until this story is complete, however, so please enjoy. And as always, comments make muses deriliously happy...
For anyone wondering where the title for this chapter came from, all credit goes to my boyfriend, who introduced me to the song "Haul Away Joe" by Tommy Makem. When I read the lyrics I realized that they were so...well...Jayne...that it was wrong to not give it a little tip of the hat in a chapter somehow. You may see this song again in a Jayne-centric songifc, you never know.
Wash rolled over with a slight noise, flopping his arm across where his wife should have been laying. Finding nothing more than tangled blankets, he opened his eyes groggily and tried to peer around the dark room without actually moving his head. "Where are you going?" he asked a little petulantly when he spotted her fastening her belt on at the base of the ladder.
"Goin' down to the infirmary real quick. I'll be right back."
"Zoe..." he flopped over onto his back, dropping his arm over his eyes against the faint light that filtered down from the hall when she cracked the hatch. "I just looked in on them before I came to bed. They were both sleeping. Besides," he pouted, "you know I can't sleep without you being close to cuddle with. And you were gone all night last night," he added, raising his head to wiggle his eyebrows suggestively.
"I'm coming right back, I told you," Zoe replied affectionately. A small grin crossed her lips as she spied the purple stuffed dinosaur she had won for him in a carnival shooting gallery a few months earlier. Grabbing it, she tossed it onto the bed next to Wash. "You can cuddle with that 'til I get back," she teased.
"You want me to cuddle with a brachiosaurus?" he goggled. "I would have you know that in real life this creature wouldn't even fit comfortably in the cargo bay, let alone in our bed."
"Yes, dear," she acquiesced, shaking her head as she turned to ascend to the passageway.
"This thing could crush me!" he warned with mock seriousness just before she closed the hatch behind her. Still smiling internally at her husband's antics, she made her way quietly down to the infirmary. As she walked past first Jayne's and then Kaylee's bunk, her mouth twisted upward again. Reckon there might be a bit of house-moving between those two soon enough. Wonder who's bunk they'll end up keeping? Can't imagine Jayne being very willing to move his whole arsenal down the hall. Then again, Kaylee's done an awful lot of work making her space all...pink. Trying to envision Jayne's spartan room being redecorated by Kaylee's paintbrush and passion for pastels, she snorted mildly. If I hadn't figured out that that old line about opposites attractin' was true when Wash and I got married, I'd sure be figuring it out about now.
The infirmary windows glowed a faint greenish-yellow from the monitor lights as she approached. Seeing that someone had closed the door, she paused momentarily and wondered if there might be something going on inside that she had no need to see. Kaylee wouldn't be foolish enough to try and jump him so soon after the kind of hurt he's got, surely, she reasoned finally. Just in case, she peeked in through the glass before reaching for the door and was gratified to see them both sleeping.
She stepped into the semi-dark and made her way to the bedside, glancing up at the monitors in curiosity. Looks better than earlier, she noted approvingly. Still ain't great, but it's better. Good. Wish there was a little light in here that wasn't colored so I could see if he's any less pale, though. Looks like I'd better put another bottle up, that one's gettin' kind of low. With that thought she turned and opened the wall cooler, smiling at the stack of B negative she had placed there a few hours earlier. Jayne's going to be ticked he missed out on all the fun. Guess we'll just have to make sure we have a little on the next job around. Preferably, she added, with nobody ending up down here. Hoping that her silent wish would come true, she grabbed the top bottle and closed the door before all the refrigerated air could escape.
Once the transfusion line was hooked up to the fresh jar, she followed the plastic tubing down to where the needle dove under Jayne's still-cool skin. As she checked that the medical tape holding the line in place was still secure, she felt his arm move slightly, twitching away from her touch. I'm probably pushing on a bruise, she realized, pulling her hand back. His arm's goin' to be tender for a while, as many times as it took to get the needle in right.
"Zoe?" she heard as she turned to leave. Wheeling back, she saw that Kaylee had raised her head from Jayne's shoulder and was staring at her in befuddlement. "What...what time is it?"
"I don't honestly know," Zoe admitted. "Early."
"Everything alright?" the mechanic asked worriedly. Even in the dark the second in command could see her arm tighten protectively around the man beside her.
"Seems so. The monitors are looking better, at least."
"Oh, good," she sighed in relief. A moment later her face lit up in a smile as she remembered what had happened since she had seen Zoe last. "He woke up earlier," she crowed happily. "Talked some and everything. That's good, right?"
"It is," she assured her, feeling strain lift off of her shoulders at the news. I knew you were too stubborn to let one little bullet get ya, she thought triumphantly. "Did you get your piece said?"
Kaylee nodded, her smile softening. "Reckon I'm 'bout the luckiest girl in the whole Verse, too, cause he loves me right back," she shared. "I'm so happy, Zoe, I feel like I could explode or somethin'."
"Best not go doing that," the standing woman warned laughingly. "I don't think Jayne'd be too pleased about it."
"'Specially if you went and exploded afore I even got ya in the sack a few times," a hoarse male voice broke in, making both women jump.
Kaylee recovered first, squealing in delight as she bent down for a kiss. "Oh, baobei, you're awake again! You ain't hurtin', are you?" she demanded, her tone traveling from rapture to urgency.
"Nah, 'm okay for a little bit. Just heard you two gigglin' is all. Wanted to be part of the fun." He hadn't opened his eyes despite speaking, figuring that every ounce of energy he saved by keeping them closed was another few seconds of wakefulness he could spend with the warm girl beside him.
"Don't think you ought to be trying to have any 'fun' for a while yet," Zoe commented playfully, her own pleasure at the mercenary's alertness clear in her voice. "Even if Kaylee does threaten to explode."
"She better not be doing no explodin', least not unless I'm the one makin' her explode," he replied as lecherously as he could manage, smiling a little when Kaylee tittered in embarrassed joy at the thought. He made a face as he realized how parched he was. Ruttin' hate this room. Ain't never enough moisture in the air to keep a person from dryin' out. "There any water down here?" he managed to spit out, suddenly all too aware of the way his tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth.
"Here," Zoe answered, swiftly turning on the tap to the scrub sink and filling one of the small plastic cups they kept in the infirmary out of habit. "Think you can manage, or do you want me to try and rustle up a straw?"
"Ain't got the energy to wait on no straw," Jayne muttered, weakly trying to extend his hand to take the liquid. "Ow," he complained as the tape on his arm kept him tethered to the short transfusion line and prevented him from reaching out fully.
"Relax," Zoe instructed him as she slipped a hand behind his head and lifted him up enough to drink successfully. "Ain't got to do everything by yourself, you know. Last time I checked it wasn't a crime to ask for help when you need it."
"Oh, quit worryin' about your reputation, silly," Kaylee purred as she kissed his forehead. "Zoe's right, ain't no crime in needin' help, 'specially not when it's crew you're askin' for it from. 'Sides," she baited him, "we all already know you're terrible fearsome."
"Damn straight I am, ni zi1," he answered. "Also happen to still be terrible thirsty."
"It's comin'," Zoe told him as she handed the refilled cup over to Kaylee. "I'll grab you a pitcher from the kitchen and leave it on the counter so you don't have to get up every time Mr. Terrible Fearsome here wants a drink," she told the younger woman.
"Thanks, Zoe," she said almost mechanically, her attention riveted on Jayne as she slid her fingers underneath his neck. "Here, honey, you've got ta to be bone-dry," she crooned as he easily drained the small vessel of every drop. "More?"
"'M all right," he said quietly, leaning his face into Kaylee's hand once it moved out from beneath his head. "Just tired."
"Go to sleep, qing ren2," she whispered back. "I ain't goin' nowhere."
"Nuo yan3?" he mumbled against her palm. Need you here with me, Kaylee girl.
"I promise. Now rest, and maybe next time you wake up it'll be time to eat somethin'."
He made a satisfied noise at that suggestion before he slipped back into unconsciousness, leaving the women in the infirmary grinning at one another. "I just knew he'd be fine and dandy once we got him some blood."
"You were right," Zoe acknowledged. "I'm glad you were, too. This boat...well, it wouldn't be the same without him."
"Nope. Serenity needs her grouchy, grumbly Jayne, same as I do. Everything'd be off kilter otherwise. Wouldn't feel right."
"Yup." She leaned in the doorway for a moment longer before she straightened and spoke again, changing the subject. "You going to want breakfast down here again in the morning?"
"Don't really like the idea of leavin' him for long, and the Captain'll yell at me if he thinks I'm eatin' too fast. He always says I'm goin' to make myself sick," she said apologetically. "You don't mind, do you? Bringin' it down and all? I know it's extra work-"
"It's fine," Zoe consoled her. "Don't worry about it. It ain't that much extra work." Be nice if he does manage to eat something come morning. That'd be another good sign. Much as I hate to even think it, this could still go rotten on us. He's still awful weak. "I'll be right back with that water."
As she walked back towards the kitchen, she tried to remember if they had any decent food left over from the last time they'd been paid. Jayne saved the captain's life, I reckon he deserves a real breakfast. That go se we ate this morning wouldn't make much of a 'glad you didn't kick the bucket' meal, that's for sure.
Mal looked up wearily from his seat at the table when she entered. "Mornin'," she greeted him.
"Is it morning?" he asked half-hopefully. "Seems like this day has gone on forever."
"Technically been three days now, at least for you. You need a break? I can take the rest of the watch."
"Might have to take you up on that," Mal conceded. "What are you lookin' for?" he inquired as she began to meticulously search the cabinets.
"Breakfast food," she answered simply, not pausing in her search.
"Good luck. I figured it was all protein pancakes from here until the first planet with a decent market."
"Cao dan," she cursed quietly as the final cupboard turned up nothing. "That figures."
He scratched his head for a moment, looking confused. "Did I forget you and Wash's anniversary again or somethin'?"
"No. That ain't for another three months." Now she, too, wore a flustered expression., crossing her arms as she rested against the counter. "Why d'you ask?"
"Can't figure out why you're cursing about us not having real food for breakfast, that's all. "
"Oh. Jayne's awake."
Mal's jaw dropped slightly. "Already? I'd a figured on him being out another day, at least, what with all that cutting and sewing he went through."
"Well, I just spoke with him, and he was far from incoherent. He wasn't up terribly long, but he managed to get off a joke or two before he fell back asleep. Asked for some water, too," she remembered, reopening one of the cabinets and pulling out a pitcher. "Told them I'd bring this down so Kaylee wouldn't have to get up every time his mouth gets to feeling dusty."
"So...you said he wasn't awake long?"
"Just a couple of minutes. Long enough for me to think he might really be okay, if we stay lucky."
Sounds like I'd better get to work on that apology I owe him, Mal thought. Least I won't have to give it as part of his eulogy. He wasn't a fan of swallowing his pride and admitting that he'd made a mistake, especially not to the person he'd been mistaken about, but in this case doing so was far better than the alternative. "Hey, Zoe?" he called after her as she started to leave with the dripping pitcher.
"You seriously don't mind taking the rest of the shift?"
"I'll take it off your hands, if you want."
"What I want is sleep. And that jug." Standing, he came forward around the table and took it from her. "I'll take it down. Like to...uh...make one more round of the ship, just make sure everyone's all bundled in tight for the night. It's on my way."
"Right, captain," she said knowingly, relinquishing the container. "I'll just go check in with Wash while you make your last circle, then."
"You do that, Zoe." Trying to ignore the amused sparkle in her eye as she left him with wet hands and an awkward look on his face, he started for the infirmary. Did ya have to fill it all the way to the top? He mentally bitched as the water sloshed dangerously close to the edge. Ain't like he'd have noticed any different if you'd left an inch of air in there. Would have made my life easier, though.
"Simon better not have left any wires running on the ground," he complained as he picked his way toward the bed where two of his crew slept. "Can't see a gorram thing in these green lights." If I trip and wake him, Kaylee'll have my head. Hell, I'll have my head. He shouldn't be awake already, he needs to rest. Don't need no Core-bred hun dan of a doctor to tell me that the first thing a person needs after they been shot is to rest.
Somehow he made it to the counter without falling over anything, and managed to set the water down with minimal spillage. There. That's done. Now I just got to get back out of here nice and sneaky-like, and I can get some-
He let out a low string of curses, barely managing to control the level of his voice. "Gah!" he ended finally as his eyes came level with Kaylee's. "Are you tryin' to give me a heart attack, popping up like that?" he demanded in a whisper, glancing nervously over her shoulder to where Jayne still slept. He just went back to sleep, Zoe said, last thing he needs is to be woken up again right now.
"Fang xin4," Kaylee whispered back as she realized the object of his concern. "He's real tired, poor thing. Don't suppose he'll wake up 'til he wants another smoother. Hopin' it'll be around breakfast so I can get him to eat something." She looked at Mal hopefully. "We got any real food on board, cap'n?"
He sighed heavily. "Zoe was looking for the same thing a while ago. Didn't find nothing decent, though, so he's gonna be stuck with protein like the rest of us." The look on her face at those words made him feel like the biggest ass in the Verse, even though he knew she didn't blame him for the ship's current shortage of victuals.
"Sure hope he can hold it down," she fidgeted. "Protein don't sit very good when you ain't feelin' right to start with."
"Soon as we get to a planet where Zoe and I ain't just knocked off the local physician, we'll get a bunch of good stuff," he promised suddenly. "Get him the biggest steak that ever grew on a cow."
"That sounds awful shiny, cap'n," she said excitedly, her wide, soulful eyes gleaming at the idea. "Can't wait to tell him 'bout it next time he wakes up. Might help him with the protein some, too, knowin' he's got real food coming down the line a bit."
Mal found himself frowning at that. "It won't be much of a surprise if you tell him about it," he pointed out.
"Don't you want him to know it was your idea?"
"Don't know that it's really necessary. We've only got the money to do it on account of what he did, after all." Same as I'm only standing here on account of that fool move of his.
"Well, I think he ought to know you want ta buy a big feast for him," the mechanic parried easily. "He didn't look too convinced when I told him you was worried 'bout him earlier. Maybe when he hears you put ship money into a steak he'll believe it better."
Mal flinched at that. Can't say I blame him for not thinking I cared. I ain't done much of a job of showing it. Still...I sure as hell hope he didn't hear what I said out there. Hate to have to apologize for that, too. He nodded after a minute. "You tell him if you want to, Kaylee," he said finally. "Whatever makes you happy." He trudged to the door, his exhaustion weighing down heavier with each moment that he tried to formulate an apology in his mind and failed to find one that he felt expressed his remorse. "Take care of him, Kaylee," he instructed her from the doorway, unconsciously using his captain's voice. "You holler if you need something." Number one priority on this boat's getting him healed up and the two of you all settled. He nearly smirked at that last thought. Never would have bet in my life that I would find myself approving of a match between sweet little Kaylee and Jayne, of all people. Just when I think I got this boat under control, damn crew goes and switches things up on me again. He sighed as he headed for his bunk and a few hours of much-deserved rest. Gorram it, anyway.
2Another word for sweetheart/lover