Author owns nor claims any rights to Firefly or it's universe, and writes solely for his own amusement and that of others. Feel free not to sue me;)
Mal walked slowly through the ship, checking each door, hatchway, and opening. It was his usual inspection, usually made just before he turned in for the evening. It wasn't his former military ties that made this round needful, but rather the desire to make sure that everything was ship shape. He had lost too much of late to leave anything to chance.
He made his way through the galley, and out onto the catwalk in the cargo bay. He stopped short as the top of the stairs, seeing someone near the rear of the hold. He realized, belatedly, that it was Jayne. The bigger man seemed not to notice him, and Mal saw Jayne lift a bottle, pour contents into a glass, and drink it.
Gorramit, Mal thought to himself. He can get drunk in his own bunk! Surging down the steps, he started across the bay, intending to give the merc a chewing. As he got closer though, he slowed. Jayne was looking through what looked like a photo album, paying absolutely no attention to anything around him. That wasn't normal for Jayne. He was always uncannily aware of his surroundings.
Mal eased closer.
"Take a seat, Mal, if'n you're a mind ta," Jayne's quiet comment made Mal start. Quickly recovering, Mal tried to bluster.
"I thought we had a rule 'bout gettin' drunk outside your bunk," he stated as firmly as possible.
"Ain't drunk," the quiet voice assured him, Jayne never looking up at him. "Just takin' a taste, Mal. Lookin' back on old times. Thinkin' 'bout old memories." Still without looking, Jayne reached down and picked up another glass, this one with a shot already poured, and held it out.
"Pretty good stuff. Got it a while back. Just take a drink or two every once an' again. Too costly to drink all the time," he shrugged.
Mal hesitated, then took the glass. Suspicious, he lifted it to his nose, wondering if the glass had. . . .
"It's clean," Jayne snorted, as if reading Mal's thoughts. "Ain't so bad as all that, Mal." Chagrined, Mal took a sip. It burned in the best possible way, all the way down to his toes.
"Wow," Mal offered, shaking his head. "That is good."
"Have another," Jayne smiled a bit, offering him the bottle, still without looking up from what Mal could now see was, indeed, a photo album. Mal nodded, poured himself another drink, and on impulse, sat down.
"What's eatin' you?" he asked, his voice neutral. No sense in getting the bigger man riled.
"Nothin'," Jayne frowned, looking at Mal for the first time. "Why?"
"You seem. . .well, moody, maybe. Prob'ly a better word'n that, but I don't know what it'd be." Jayne seemed to consider that, then nodded.
"Yeah, guess I was," he shrugged. "I'll work on it," he promised, and Mal was surprised to hear the ring of sincerity.
"Ain't sayin' it's a bad thing, Jayne," Mal replied. "Just sayin' what it is. Don't often see you in such a way. Just wondered what was on that mind o' your'n, and could I help."
"Ain't no one can help, Mal," Jayne's voice rang with a finality that made Mal want to shiver. "Kindness to ask, though," he added, nodding at Mal.
"You're my crew, Jayne," Mal surprised himself. "Do what I can for you."
"I'm not your crew, Mal," Jayne smiled sadly. "Them others, they're your crew, but not me. I'm a merc. Don't go gettin' soft on me, Cap'n. I ain't sure I could take it." Mal looked at him for a moment, then shrugged.
"Well, if that's how you want it," Mal said quietly. "Thought maybe. . . ."
"Thought maybe what?" Jayne asked, looking right at Mal this time. "Thought maybe that since I helped you with Miranda, ya owed me? Owed me your fabled 'crew' status? No thanks, Mal," Jayne turned back to his pictures. "Don't matter anyway," Jayne informed him. "Be leavin' soon." Jayne went back to his album. Mal noted that now the pages were protecting letters Jayne had received from his mother.
"Leavin'?" Mal was a little startled at that. "Why?"
"Ain't workin' much," Jayne shrugged. "Ain't your fault. . .well, okay, it is sorta your fault, but I can't hold what you did against you. You thought it was the right thing, and went on and did it. But it's cost us work, and I gotta work, Mal."
"Ain't gettin' enough booze and trim?" Mal asked, just short of being snide. Jayne looked at him, and Mal felt a shiver at the coldness lurking in Jayne's eyes.
"That's right funny, comin' from a man with a Companion for a bed mate," Jayne replied smoothly. Mal was angry in an instant, but cooled, realizing that Jayne was making a valid point.
"Okay, maybe I asked for that," he grudgingly admitted. "But we're gettin' by, for now. Work'll pick up. Ain't no need to run off."
"Gotta work, Mal," Jayne shook his head.
"What's got you so all fired het up?" Mal demanded.
"Got bills ta pay," Jayne shrugged. "'Sponsibilities. Need money to cover'em."
"What in Hell's Half Acre are you responsible for Jayne?" Mal demanded. "You ain't exactly a paragon o' virtue, ya know." Jayne froze for a moment. Then his features relaxed a bit, and he shrugged. Lifting the book, he turned back a few pages. When he found what he wanted, he lifted the book to show Mal a family. A tall man and woman, three tall sons, and a daughter.
"My folks," Jayne said proudly. "And my brothers and sister. J.T," he indicated the tallest brother, "he died in a mine accident. Never even found him. My pa, he was killed by Night Riders when I was fifteen, maybe sixteen."
"Night Riders?" Mal asked.
"Vigilantes," Jayne clarified. "Wasn't so bad at first. They cleaned up the whole area 'round town. But, then they started using their 'status' to settle old grievances. Man named Hiram Bitters, he had sparked my Ma, 'fore she married Pa. Never quite got over bein' cut out." Mal wondered why that name sounded so familiar.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Man accused my Pa of stealing cattle. Well, a cow, anyway," Jayne laughed bitterly. "Thing was, my Pa had just bought a cow and had it slaughtered. So when the riders came, they found the meat in the freezer, and some of it jerked out. Didn't bother to listen to him explain why he had it. Just took him, and hanged him. I wasn't home at the time," he added. "Out carousin' with some cousins." A sadness settled over Jayne at that.
"My younger brother, Jerry, tried to stop'em, and one of the riders shot 'im. Killed him. When I got home, they was gone. Just left poor Jerry layin' there to die." Jayne sighed, leaning back.
"Me and my cousins, we buried Jer, and Pa, then took out after the Night Riders. Trailed'em all the way back to Bitters' place. Snuck up to the house, found'em all drinking hardy and laughing about it. Proud o' what they'd done." He looked at Mal then, and the former Browncoat again found himself suppressing a shudder at the coldness in those blue eyes.
"We started a fire," Jayne smiled coldly at the memory. "Lit the house on fire, then laid out in the dark. When some of'em tried to make a run for it, we shot'em. Well, we shot the one's wasn't on fire. The one's that was burnin', we let burn," he added coldly.
"Anyway, we got everyone who was still there. Only problem was, not all of'em was still there. The one's that wasn't, they decided it had to o' been me that killed their friends."
"They waited until I was gone, workin', and went back to the house. Worked my sister, Mattie, over but good. Ma, too. Mattie couldn't take it, and it killed her. And my Ma? Well, she just plain lost her mind." He turned to another page, where an older looking version of Jayne's mother sat in a wheelchair, staring vacantly out a window. "She's in a home, now. Place that looks after folks who can't function. I keep the tab paid, but it ain't cheap."
"Jayne, she writes you!" Mal exclaimed, having listened in silence up to now. "Tells you how your brother Mattie is doin'! You've read us those letters."
"Yep," Jayne nodded. "I'm proud she can write to me at all. But that shows you how far gone she is, Mal. She can't even remember my sister. The head doctor, shrink or whatever, he says that's her way of copin' with what happened to my sister. With all of it, I guess," he added, shrugging. "I don't understand that stuff, really. Just have to trust the doc's know what they's doin'."
"So what did you do after all that?" Mal asked. Jayne snorted.
"I killed some folks," he laughed bitterly. "The Sheriff, for one. He'd known who was doin' all this, hadn't lifted a finger to stop'em. Killed some more. Killed some of'em slow, 'counta I needed'em to tell me who else I needed to kill. Hard to get information sometimes. You know how it is," he added. Mal in fact did not know 'how it was', but decided to let that go.
"Anyway, killin' the Sheriff got me some planetary attention, and a nice little death sentence. I finally had to get shut o' home. Been in the black ever since. Can't even go see'er, ya know?" He shrugged again. "Sometimes makes me wonder if it was worth it I guess. But I know it was. Them men deserved to die. Needed ta die. I just helped out, that's all." Suddenly, he stood, snapping the book closed.
"Hadn't oughta told you all that," he was suddenly almost angry. "Booze loosened my tongue I reckon. Don't be tellin' that to no one else, Mal," he warned.
"I won't, Jayne," Mal promised. "I wish you'd told me sooner, but I 'spect you had reasons not to. I woulda helped ya, if I could."
"Don't want no help," Jayne told him flatly. "Don't need nor deserve it. I started this, and I'll see it finished. Whatever it takes." He started off, then stopped.
"Keep the bottle, Mal," he said over his shoulder. "Man with a family, he needs a good drink, now an' again." Mal was glad the big merc couldn't see his face. How in the hell had he known about that?
"I won't tell," Jayne promised as he walked away. "Hope it's a boy. Though if it's healthy, that's all a man can really ask."