Moonlight & Serenades ~ Epilogue

Sequel to: Tea & a Tango for Two

Author: Brandywine00

Rating: NC-18, MATURE ADULT. Really.

Disclaimer: I don't own, nor do I make any cashy-money from this. Joss is Boss! Thanks Jellie_RayneLuv for the quick and awesome beta!

By special request for BigBadJayne… Happy Birthday, Big Guy!

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Eire moon, on the Rim~

~Ten years future~

A cloud of dust rose in the distance, heralding the pack of riders bearing down on the two-story farmhouse. She knew they'd be coming for her son. She just didn't know if she could stand to watch them ride back down that road with him.

Mrs. Cobb sighed into her dainty white teacup and watched them turn up the long, hard-packed dirt entrance to her family's home. Behind them, across the acres of ripening cornfield, dark purple clouds hovered over the hillsides like angry bruises.

This day had been coming for almost a decade, yet she wasn't sure she was prepared for the reality. What mother ever truly was, she wondered. The scent of rain hovered on the faint breeze, but there'd been none to speak of in the past few weeks, allowing the dry soil beneath galloping hooves to fill the air around them.

She tried to ready herself for what would be just as much a trial for her as for her firstborn. Standing on the wide porch that wrapped around the Cobb homestead, she silently prayed the Sheriff and the three men who rode with him would bear in mind a mother's heart.

Rising as the men reined in their sweat-lathered beasts at the foot of the steps, she studied them from under her hand that shielded her eyes from the burning sun.

The Sheriff, tall and broad and serious on a fierce looking soot-black horse, was reputed to have the fastest draw in this quadrant. She didn't know if that rumor was true, but she knew first-hand that the man was wickedly fast. And deadly accurate. He was a man whose sheer size and bearing commanded respect, even when the shining metal star on his shirt didn't. And those who ignored his powerful build, his manner or his authority were generally smart enough not to ignore the deadly array of firepower he carried at most times.

The polished wood stock of his rifle rode within easy reach of his large, sturdy left hand. The strong, callused right hand, his primary gun hand, she knew, lifted from its post on the butt of his revolver to touch his brim in respect.

Heat that owed nothing to the humid August weather crept slowly up from under her skirts and made its way to her cheeks. After all this time, he still had that effect on her. Perhaps he was trying to use that effect to ease her trepidation. In part, it was a sound ploy, though her heart still lodged itself in her throat.

"Reckon it's time," he said firmly, but with a gentleness that told her he knew what this was doing to her. The knowledge seemed to pain him a bit, though she knew his mind wouldn't be swayed on this matter.

Those who hadn't known him as long as she would never guess the man was closer to three-score years than to the two-score he seemed. Except the scattering of silver at his temples and in his neatly trimmed beard, the only permanent signs of age were the lines around his piercing blue eyes as he squinted against the bright daylight.

"Fetch your son. It's time," he said a bit louder, his sharp eyes peering past her through the dimmed house.

Steeling her spine, she nodded, resolving not to let the unshed tears drop. The display would wound her son's sense of pride, to have his momma crying over him. They all knew this was just the way things were done out here on the Rim. That didn't mean she had to like it.

Turning to do so, she was spared the duty as her son, her only son, her darling son, stepped through the doorway, a pistol strapped to either thigh. Holding his prized rifle at ease across his widening shoulders, he had a small bag of necessities that would see him through the coming days. She'd tried to slip in a few comforts, tea and a decent change of clothing, but he'd repacked.

"Ain't gonna be much call for niceties where I'll be headin'," he'd told her bravely, though in the waning hours of daylight his brilliant blue eyes had carried a bit more concern than he'd like to admit to.

"Boy's ready to face his destiny," called the rider on the Sheriff's left.

Years of hard living, both by fate and by choice, had drawn themselves around the man. But his shoulders were as straight as ever, and a near whimsical laughter played around the corners of his eyes as he watched her son haul his bag over the free shoulder and march bravely down to meet the men. "Fancy he's got any notion what he's in for?"

His words broke through her reverie, poking at a raw spot under her ribs. Breathing slowly, she leveled a hard stare at him, but forced herself not to rise to the bait. She had to remind herself of the attraction she'd once felt toward him, long dead and gone now, due in no small part to the way he'd always found just the right words to rub her the wrong way. Just like now.

Sensing her rising ire, he held up a hand in supplication. "Meant no harm by it," he chuckled, letting his infamous charm seep around the edges of his gruff exterior.

"Still got a way with words, doncha?" A bear of a man growled from behind the Sheriff, rubbing the thick black beard that barely hid his smile. He touched his brim toward her too, adding a gruff, "Ma'am." Had he been here for other purposes, she'd have smiled back at him. He'd saved her life, that of her family, on more than one occasion. But not today. Today, she couldn't dredge up the charitable, polite actions she'd honed for decades. Today, she was as likely to tell the lot of them to bugger off.

"It won't take as long as you think," chimed the last man in precise, cultured tones. Meeting his sympathetic glance, she nodded. Of the lot of them, he perhaps understood her concerns the most, having been reared in similar fashion. Things out here on the Rim were handled differently than life back in the 'civilized' worlds. Yet here he was, part and party to the whole doing, and showing no hesitation in participating.

"Be over 'fore ya know it," the Sheriff's deep voice rolled across her, calming her and exciting her at the same time. "Ain't no sense in getting' worked up, darlin'."

She marched herself over to his well-built form, laying a slender hand gently on his thigh. "I know why you feel he needs to do this, I just don't understand why now? Surely it can wait?"

His eyes grew soft as he stared down at her. Just barely, and not nearly quickly enough to react, she caught the mischief twinkling there as he leaned down and grasped her under the arms.

Hauling her up on his lap atop the great black brute as if she weighed nothing, he settled her side-saddle with one thick-muscled arm wrapped around her. With the other, he reined his horse away from the others. The fiery mount snorted as if offended by the added weight, though she'd always suspected the mare had always bore a bit of jealousy at sharing the Sheriff.

"Vera, behave!" He growled at the beast, his brow furrowing as he tugged the reins for just a moment before he returned his sky-blue gaze at his wife. "We done talked about this, 'Nara. Derry's a full year older'n I was when Pa and my kin took me out on Quest."

Resting her head against his stout neck, Inara breathed in the clean, outdoorsy scent of her husband as she whispered for his ears only. "I know he's in the best of hands, Jayne. No one would look out for him more than you, but he's…. he's still just… he's still my…"

"You still see him as your baby boy," he said softly against her ear, both for the joy of feeling her still-dark curls against his face, and to avoid embarrassing their son in front of the other 'menfolk'.

"That's partly why we do this, sweetheart. He's nearing ten, and already taller than you. Another couple years, he'll be ready to court. Ready to work. Ready to… well, ready to be a man proper. An' us Cobbs tend to get there a bit quicker than others. This here's just a few lessons to help prepare our boy for that."

Their boy, chatting animatedly with his three "uncles", glanced over at his parents. Inara caught the faint blush on his neck, and could nearly hear his chagrin that his Momma thought he was still just a baby.

Letting the tension ease away, she leaned into Jayne's broad chest. He still kept himself in shape, a claim most men past fifty couldn't make. Of all the men she could have chosen to take her son on a two-week survival excursion, his father was the one she felt confident could protect him.

Not that there were many bandits left in these parts. When they'd settled here ten years ago, newly married and just recently expecting young Derrial Jayne Cobb, Eire had been a young world. Its distance from Alliance concerns and eyes had made it attractive to those whose professions leaned toward the less savory.

When the nearby settlement, the very one they'd brought seed and supplies to all those years ago, needed law enforcement, Jayne had applied. Who better to track down deadly thugs than a former mercenary, he reasoned? Especially one familiar with questionable professional pursuits.

Sheriff Jayne Cobb had called on Malcolm Reynolds and their crew from Serenity to flush out the worst of the criminal elements. Paying by the job, the team had cleaned out a more than a dozen vipers' nests. Within six months, only a handful of lesser crooks had remained.

Within seven months, Jayne was a new father dead-set on making their adopted homeworld as safe as possible for the future Cobb brood. It was a task he attacked with a vengeance, ranging out to aid other communities when they called and even working as a bounty hunter on a couple of occasions.

By the time Derry was able to run after his Pa, their little corner of the world was about as safe as any could image for a backwater Rim moon. Safe enough that when Inara whispered her idea to her husband late one night, he'd fallen silent for a long moment then kissed her softly and nodded.

As her belly grew large with their second child, he redoubled his efforts, adding Mal's old army buddy, Monte, to the roster of bad-guy removal experts. As the last of the regional cutthroats left Eire or were planted in the cemetery, Jayne started renovating their simple frame house, adding a second story for their expanding family, and a separate wing of chambers for Inara's business venture.

Within four years, Jayne's reputation as a lawman had spread to other settlements across Eire. The legend of Sheriff Jayne grew a bit larger in the telling. There were times it bothered him, and many a late night he'd hold her close while he dreamed, the words Canton and Mudders slipping from a strained throat.

But come morning, her man donned the star and rode toward town to do his duty. If he felt the title 'Hero of Canton' was undeserved, Inara knew he'd made up for it tenfold as the hero of Eire. Families from other moons and worlds felt safe enough to put down stakes on Eire, and the communities started to thrive.

If Jayne's legend was responsible for making Eire the kind of place folks would want to settle in, Inara's own reputation helped make it a cultural retreat and center for civilized learning. As soon as she was able following the birth of Serra Kaywinnet Cobb, Inara set her plans in motion.

While harboring no residual love for the Companion's Guild, she recognized the opportunity to help young ladies in the quadrant. Life on the Rim rarely held the chance to grow past whatever occupation one's family was involved in. And though Inara held no prejudice toward those who preferred an agrarian lifestyle, she knew the benefits that her cultural expertise could have for those who sought employment closer to the Core.

"How goes the schoolin'?" Inara lifted her head from Jayne's chest at the chipper question from amongst the riders. "Any 'companionable' material?"

"I've told you repeatedly, it's not a Companion training school, Malcolm," she replied, easily deflecting the bait, and a bit thankful for the distracting line of thought. "And it's going quite well, thank you for asking. I've got eight students this term, three of which have come all the way from Border worlds."

"It's so very nice to see girls from this area have the opportunity to further themselves," the understanding rider chimed in. Life in the Black had changed him, hardened him up from the boy he'd been when they met, but Dr. Simon Tam had grown into a his role as frontier doctor after Kaylee had finally agreed to settle on world.

"Love to sit around and chit-chat, folks, but we need to get movin' if we're gonna beat that storm to the campsite," the bear-man interrupted.

"Right, Monte," her husband laughed. "Let's get a move-on, son. Ain't no Cobb gonna melt with a li'l rain, but Doc and the Cap'n here may shrivel up."

Laying a deep kiss on his wife, he winked at her as she slid back to find her footing on the ground. "Don't worry, bao bei," he whispered. "We'll be back before you know it."

Hugging her son tight for a brief moment, Inara stepped back and watched him mount up, taking his place and ride away with 'the menfolk'.

She wasn't ready for him to grow up, but he was doing so nonetheless. He'd come back soon. They both would. And nothing else mattered.