TITLE: Mystery Meals Part 2

DISCLAIMER: Nuh-uh, not mine.

A/N: So there was a teeny bit of confusion regarding where River had gone in the first part, and I thought an explanation would tie in nicely with this little idea that I've been toying with. Muchos love to reviewers :)

Liara Zoe Reynolds was sulking. She was hiding in the little compartment that Auntie River had shown her before she and Uncle Simon had left a week ago, and she wasn't alone. Jason Washburne and Kyra Tam were also hiding with her, the three of them barely taking up any room. At 5, Jason was the oldest of the group, but few could match Liara for her bossiness, and Kyra, only 2, followed them both wherever they went. This latest adventure was a result of being shouted at.

Liara hated her Uncle Jayne so much. The stupid hundan (Mama would scold her for using language like that) was always so grumpy and mean to her. Mama had told her again and again that he didn't mean it, that he was just scared and worried about Auntie River, that he loved them all very much. But Liara knew this was a big old lie. Just because she'd teased Lily about having a crazy Mama didn't mean Uncle Jayne was allowed to shout at her. Sure, she'd felt a little bad when Lily had teared up, angrily defending her Mama, but Jayne didn't have to be so damn loud.

Uncle Jayne was always a little on the gruff side, and Daddy had told her not to mind him, since he was just missing Auntie River. But he was being so mean. He shouldn't have threatened to spank her. Jason looked at his little friend warily, knowing she was liable to throw one hell of a tantrum if she was provoked. She looked just like Auntie 'Nara, but her temper and bossiness definitely came from Uncle Mal. Jason was glad Kyra was so sweet and bubbly, she always calmed Liara down. Of course, right now Liara was still sulking.

"It ain't fair, he shouldn'ta been so mean to me." Jason raised one dark eyebrow, his blue eyes looking older than his 5 years. "You shouldn't be teasin' Lily then; you know how Uncle Jayne gets about her." Liara glared at him and Kyra took the moment to let loose a bubbly giggle, louder than their whispered tones.

"Un'cle Dayne is funny!" Liara glared at the younger girl, and Jason thought about how much Kyra looked like Auntie Kaylee did when she smiled. "He ain't funny, he's a mean old hundan, I don't care what Lily says."

Lily was always staunchly defensive of her massive father, and Liara could admit that occasionally it was funny to see someone as tiny as Lily wrapped up in the big tattooed arms of her Dad. She would grow solemn and unhappy when either of her parents was put down, and she had been even more upset when Liara had made fun of Auntie River, calling her a moonbrain. The last word had been what made Uncle Jayne so grouchy, and the big man had looked mighty frightening when he'd told Liara to shut her mouth.

Of course, he wasn't always this grouchy. He was never grouchy with Lily, that girl could get away with anything. Usually she had a long, complicated explanation at hand for doing something he disagreed with, and Uncle Jayne could never hide his smile when she was talking in her serious voice, craning her neck to look up at him. Still, Lily never seemed to push her luck with her father, it wasn't in her nature.

He never got grouchy with Auntie River either. Even when her eyes would glaze over and she'd start mumbling incoherently, he'd just wrap his big arms around her thin body, holding her tightly until she calmed down. When he didn't think anyone was looking he would pick her up and spin her around the cargo bay in his arms, smiling widely as she laughed and giggled, her dark hair flying about. Uncle Jayne loved picking Auntie River up, he would carry her whenever he was allowed, like she was a beautiful doll he wanted close all the time. Even when they were on planet he would have one arm slung over her shoulders, the other holding Lily tightly to his chest or resting on his broad shoulders. The little girl would giggle and point at anything and everything, her Mama smiling and her Daddy tickling her little knees. He loved tickling Lily.

They'd both been sad and withdrawn since Uncle Simon had taken Auntie River to the doctors to run some tests, but Liara didn't think that was any excuse for being mean. Maybe she should tell her Mama about him.

Zoe was looking for her wayward son whilst Inara and Kaylee worked on dinner. She heard Kyra's bright giggle, and walked silently towards the hiding place River had shown them all before she'd left, knowing the adults would need to find their little ones eventually. She moved the grating aside to see two pairs of dark eyes and one set of bright blue orbs staring at her guiltily. She smiled as her son moved to stand by her side, his solemn little face offset by his curls and dancing eyes. Wash's eyes.

Liara was in the middle of a fierce sulk, and Zoe knelt down to face the little girl, amused by the sight of an expression so very like Mal's on a face carved directly from Inara.

"Liara, you got something you wanna say?" Liara shook her head, pouting. "I don't care what Lily says, Uncle Jayne is a big meanie who should be sent straight to the airlock."

Years of working with Mal allowed Zoe to keep her face stoic, but inside she was laughing. The little girl had upset Jayne something fierce when she said something naively cruel about his wife, and Zoe hadn't been surprised when Jayne shouted at her. The big man was still hard as nails, except when it came to his wife or daughter. Apparently they brought out a protective streak nobody knew he had, and it was terribly amusing to the rest of the crew to see Jayne get roped into tea parties or shopping trips with his little wife and tiny daughter. Of course, Liara was only 3, and couldn't be blamed for missing what the adults all saw.

"Uncle Jayne's just missing Auntie River, you know that. Try not to be too hard on him." Liara's eyes grew harder. "I hate him, he's mean and doesn't care about anything." Zoe raised one eyebrow, feeling her son rest his little hand on her shoulder for reassurance. She swept him up as she stood, and held out a hand to Kyra.

"Seems to me you ain't lookin' hard enough." Liara looked curious, following Kyra out as the little girl babbled happily to Zoe, her light brown curls bouncing as she ran.

Zoe led the three children towards River's old room, one hand pressed to her lips as they approached the door. She indicated to the little crack where the sliding door was open, and Liara peeked inside.

Jayne was stretched out on the little bed, his massive form swamping all the available room, and Lily was perched on his stomach, playing with one of his hands while he held a book in the other. The story was one Liara recognised, something about a little girl with a red hood and a wolf.

She watched as Lily began to yawn, curling up like a kitten on her father's chest, and when her breathing evened out Jayne laid one massive hand on her back, the book slipping to one side. With the other he pulled something out of his pocket, a small capture. From her angle Liara could just make out Auntie River dancing in the cargo bay. She would often put on those strange pink slippers with the ribbons and float around the cargo bay like some kind of fairy. Uncle Jayne could often be found watching from his weight bench, and Lily would follow her Mama around, trying to imitate her steps. Liara liked it when Auntie River danced, it always made Uncle Jayne smile lots and she looked so pretty and delicate as she spun and twirled. The capture must have been taken only a few weeks back, as Kyra, still learning the intricacies of walking, could be seen in the corner of the screen wiggling gracelessly in time with the music.

She had never seen her Uncle Jayne look sadder than he did at that moment, one hand clutching Lily possessively to his chest, the other holding the capture as if it would break. His face looked like he'd lost something very special, and Liara finally understood why he'd been so grumpy all week.

She thought back to dinner a month ago, remembering how her Daddy and her Uncle's had all drunk lots of that brown stuff that made Mama pull a funny face. They'd all been laughing and talking loudly about someone called Badger, the little ones all cuddled sleepily on the couch under a big blanket Auntie Kaylee had gotten them. Uncle Jayne had gone quiet for a moment, watching as Auntie River came from the kitchen with a shiny red apple. He'd grinned at her, pulling his skinny wife into his lap and kissing her firmly before taking a massive bite out of the apple.

Liara and Jason had made a noise of disgust, which Daddy had been proud of, but Lily had looked very happy in that moment. She had left the couch, moving the blanket aside as she toddled towards her parents. Auntie River had picked her up, and Uncle jayne had then stood, both girls held tightly in his arms, smiling as his daughter giggled and his wife nuzzled his neck. Liara had never seen him look so happy, his usually angry countenance transformed into one of content. He carried them very gently, and Liara had seen him smile at something Auntie River whispered in his ear, while Lily played with her Mama's hair. He'd looked like he had the whole 'verse in his arms at that moment.

Liara realized then that Uncle Jayne wasn't really mad at her. He just missed Auntie River terribly, and didn't know how to cope without her. She looked up at Zoe, who nodded at her, before releasing her hand.

Liara moved quietly into the room, watching her Uncle glare at her as she approached. She laid one little hand on the arm holding the capture, and she saw his eyes soften.

"I'm sorry Uncle Jayne, I miss Auntie River too."

He ran one big hand through her straight dark hair, sighing deeply. "Sorry I yelled at ya, been a bit grouchy lately."

Liara nodded wisely before withdrawing, noticing a little smile on Lily's face as she left.

Auntie River came back three days later. Uncle Jayne had spun her and Lily around the cargo bay, smiling as his girls laughed and giggled at his antics. He looked like he had the whole 'verse in his hands.

A/N: Please review :)