Drifters and Dreamers

Author: jackwabbit

Fandom: Firefly

Rated: PG-13 for language, adult themes.

Category: Gen (though some Mal/Inara UST may rear up from time to time), Crew, FutureFic - takes place one to two years after the events of Serenity.

Word Count: 20,215

Spoilers: General series knowledge.

Summary: Jayne seeks Mal's help on a job of the family sort. When Mal decides to take it, he gets much more than he bargained for.

Note: A few years ago, I wrote a short story called "Dreamer," set in the Firefly 'verse. That tale centered on a young girl. This is the story of how that girl came to be. It was written for the Jossverse Big Bang Challenge 2010 and is meant as a companion to "Dreamer," but it can stand alone. Warning – major character death off-camera, so to speak.

CHAPTER ONE

Jeremiah had come far - farther than anyone had ever expected him to.

He had his own spread, and it wasn't exactly tiny. He traded in horses, cattle, and sheep, and he did so with a savvy that kept him the envy of most men. Things weren't exactly luxurious, but his family never wanted for anything that mattered, and Jeremiah was happy.

Yes, Jeremiah had come very far indeed - especially for the son of a whore.

XXX

He'd been born in a brothel to a woman who practiced the world's oldest business on a backwater moon. Granted, it had been an upscale brothel - one of most reputable on his world, complete with health care for its "employees" and a rather high-class clientele - but it had been a brothel nonetheless, and Jeremiah's birth in such a place carried all the usual stigmas associated with being the unwanted by-product of a business transaction and nothing more.

By the time he was five, Jeremiah knew that business well. By ten, he was an expert.

That business meant that he slept in the barn's hay loft more often than not and that he was exceptionally good at making himself scarce.

Most in the brothel could forget he existed without trying. He talked quietly and walked even more silently.

His mother had a basic education - not enough of one to leave the only life she'd ever known, but she knew enough to converse intelligently with those clients who desired that particular service. The house saw to that. They wouldn't have had it any other way. So she did as right as she could by Jeremiah. There was no school for Jeremiah to attend, and since his mother's house didn't cater to women, they took no interest in him at all. And so his mother tutored him every afternoon between shifts, as it were. The other women were kind to him most of the time, and he was expected to help with chores to earn his keep, but for the most part Jeremiah was ignored and left to his own devices. He'd never known anything else, and it suited him just fine.

On very rare occasion, clients would spy Jeremiah in the barn as they left by the side door of the brothel. When this happened, the men would always hastily turn away from the boy and ignore him as best they could. Some would shoot him glances of annoyance or shame, but none ever spoke to him or acknowledged him in any way.

This was what Jeremiah had come to expect from the clients, and he thought nothing of it. Their reactions to him amused him, but that was all. Nothing ever changed for Jeremiah, and he figured nothing ever would, but he was proven amazingly wrong one night halfway through his eleventh year in the world.

Jeremiah was standing in the doorway of the barn when it happened.

A client slipped out from the usual exit of the brothel and glanced out over the horizon before beginning the walk to his transport.

As his eyes scanned the landscape, there was no way he could miss Jeremiah. As he noticed the boy, Jeremiah smirked, fully expecting the stranger to look away. But the man did nothing of the sort. He instead did something that none of the other clients had ever done before.

He looked Jeremiah right in the eye and spoke to him. There was no sneer of disdain or practiced indifference. The man spoke to the boy as if he knew him.

"Good evening, son," he said.

Jeremiah was so startled by the man's words that he nearly forgot to answer them, but he knew enough to be polite to the men who put food on his table. He was young, but not stupid, and he knew the ways of his world.

"Good evening, sir," he answered. He even gave a small bow as he spoke.

The man laughed. "Sir? Well, no, that's not me. You can call me… well, it doesn't matter what you call me. But know that I'm just a man, like you."

Jeremiah blinked. He was puzzled. No one had ever said anything like that to him. "I'm a man?"

"Why, yes," said the stranger. He gave Jeremiah an amused look. "What else would you be?"

Jeremiah blinked again, and suddenly he found himself speaking to this stranger in a way he'd never spoken to anyone in his life. The dark-skinned man radiated a sense of comfort, and Jeremiah talked freely.

"I dunno. I never much thought about it. If I could be anything, I think maybe I'd be a star in the sky. Anything that's far away from here."

The stranger smiled. "The stars can be awfully appealing."

Jeremiah nodded. "Yeah."

"Maybe one day you'll travel among them."

The boy rolled his eyes. "Not likely."

"Well," said the stranger, "the world has a funny way of taking things that aren't very likely and making them real, don't you think?"

With that, the stranger walked off into the darkening night. Jeremiah smiled as his head swam with a thousand possibilities that he hadn't considered that morning but that now seemed as plausible as breathing.

XXX

A month later, Jeremiah was gone.

He stowed away on a freighter headed out into the black, and he never looked back. He was found out soon enough, but since turning around doesn't work very well for freighters that have to make good on their cargoes and since he was all sorts of useful in a kitchen, he earned himself a bunk within days. It's amazing what a good breakfast can do to make a captain more compliant, and Jeremiah had been making breakfast for a crew of a different sort since he could walk.

His mother missed him, but she'd never expected him to stay with her long, and when she was honest, she was surprised she'd had as much time with him as she had. She cried a tear for him and moved on. There was nothing else she could do.

Nothing except finally transmit the wave she'd recorded years ago.

So that's what she did. She sent her wave. The one that had sat dormant in her cortex for over a decade. The one meant for Jeremiah's father. The father that was always part of the black, just like the boy was now.