Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to Joss. Anything you don't recognize probably belongs to someone else. The particular way I've filed off this tale's serial numbers, though, is totally mine, and I'll be a mite ticked off if someone tries to claim it as theirs. That said, please don't sue me over anything in this fic. I don't even own my own soul anymore, so all you'd get is a bunch of legal fees.
A/N: This freakin' thing just plain wouldn't leave me be. Thanks, sincerely, to the anniversary showing of Firefly on the Science Channel, but it pulled me out of my attempt at horror and pushed me straight into this… whatever-it-is. Be forewarned that this is not a happy story. Don't get me wrong, Jayne Cobb is my favorite character on Firefly, and anyone who knows me knows that I sometimes have a hard time killing the characters I love, but this just would not get out of my head. I know a lot of people don't read deathfic – I rarely do myself – but… I hope this manages to make those who do read such things… Well, 'happy' ain't exactly the right word here, but I hope y'all enjoy it.
This is set a few months after the movie.
It began with a nosebleed.
Jayne startled awake from the same old nightmare to find his pillow practically dripping red and it still nearly gushing from both nostrils. His first thought was, Was I in another tussle last night? before memory reasserted itself to tell him no, he'd not been in another barroom brawl. Serenity was halfway between Jiangyin and Persephone, and even Kaylee was currently out of booze. He had a small bottle of sake squirreled away under his bunk, but it'd been an expensive bottle meant to mark particular dates with a single shot, not his normal hooch, but that was all the drinking liquor currently on board. Unless the others got some stashed, too.
This all flashed through his mind in an instant, even as his right hand reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose tightly shut. A glance at the panel next to the ladder cubby showed it was rapidly approaching breakfast time. Hope it ain't my gorram day to cook. A fleeting thought of the times he'd shared kitchen duty with Shepherd Book flashed through his mind, and he ruthlessly squashed the memories before they could spiral out of control.
Instead of wading through a morass of the past, he pulled himself up his ladder and into the corridor, his head swimming a little from the exertion. Sounds echoing from the galley told him he was neither the first, nor the last, to awaken. As he always did, he pulled the hatch shut behind him and engaged the lock. Last damn thing I need is Crazy Girl to go an' get me in trouble with Mal… again. Though I swear I ain't never left this door unlocked. Dunno how that fengle girl found Tessa, but I know it weren't my fault! Once the bolts had clicked into place, he let go of his nose, only to hastily re-pinch it when a thick trickle of blood flooded over his lip. Luckily, one of the hushed voices he could hear was that of their medic.
Jayne awkwardly maneuvered himself down the short flight of stairs – something that was usually pretty easy to do, but now was slightly harder with the room seemingly tilted at an odd angle to the right and while holding his head bent forward to the point that his chin was nearly touching his breastbone. He noted that the doc and Kaylee were exchanging grumblings over the fact that the only thing left in the larder was molded protein while Zoë stared blankly at a steaming cup of coffee substitute that bore as much resemblance to its namesake as road-mud did with a bottle of twelve year old scotch. "Doc, you get done flirtin' with Kaylee, I got somethin' you need seein'." He plopped into the chair directly across from Zoë and patiently waited for the room to stop its slow rocking motion that appeared to waver in time to his pulse.
Zoë's eyes flicked up for a second, then her entire attention zeroed in on him. "Wo de ma, Jayne! What happened to you?"
Jayne shrugged a little even as a horrified shrieklet came from Kaylee's direction. Hunched over as he was, he didn't see Simon hurry over, but could feel the man's presence when he arrived at his side. "Good question," the doctor said. "Have a run-in with someone we don't know about?" His voice carried that 'I'm-trying-to-be-witty' undertone that tended to set Jayne's teeth on edge.
"Just woke up with it like this, doc," Jayne tonelessly replied, valiantly repressing the urge to knock out a few of the good doctor's teeth. Too bad li'l Kaylee's gone and welded herself to him. Won't take kindly on me bashin' him like he ought be from time to time. Boy been out here over a year now an' still don't know when to shut his gou cao de mouth.
"Any idea how long it's been bleeding?" Simon asked, then glanced at Kaylee, who was standing near the sink wearing an expression caught somewhere between horror, disgust, and fascination. "Get an icepack, Kaylee, would you, please?" She smiled at him and rushed down to the infirmary for one of the chemical packs that were specifically designed for maximum cold without any possibility of tissue damage.
Jayne shook his head. "Dunno," he replied. "Like I said, I woke up with it goin' like this."
Zoë held out a handkerchief. "Jayne," she quietly interrupted.
Jayne took the hanky with his left hand and a muttered 'thanks' while the doc nodded at Zoë's thoughtfulness. "Let go for a second," Simon said.
The blood flooded across Jayne's moustache and lips, saved from dripping onto his already saturated t-shirt by the hanky. Jayne pinched his nose shut once more. "Hasn't let up any," he said, his words a little muffled by the cotton fabric. "From what my bunk looked like, it's been actin' like this for a while." He blinked. "Pro'ly gonna need a new gorram pillow."
Simon frowned at the sight of the blood coming from both the large man's nostrils. "You sure you haven't been hit recently? Maybe banged your nose on a cupboard door or something like that?"
Jayne shook his head. "Last time I recall gettin' hit in the face was about a week ago. Was helpin' Kaylee move some parts, and a wrench slipped. Didn't hit my nose, though."
"Well, that explains the bruise you have on your jaw, but I agree," the doctor said, "it doesn't explain this."
Kaylee reappeared, a touch breathless, carrying the bright orange and silver chem-cold pack. "Could be we got the climate controls too dry. Cap'n wanted me to scale the humidity back some, help save on water."
"Nah," Jayne argued, even as Simon nodded thoughtfully. "Grew up on Silverhold, halfway 'twixt River Canyon an' Widestake."
Kaylee handed Jayne the icepack and smiled at him, though it was still tinged with the morbid fascination from earlier. "Really? I didn't know that," she said.
Ignoring the conversation for the most part, Simon's brow furrowed in thought. Though Kaylee had a good point about dryer than normal air being one of the typical causes of nosebleeds, it wasn't likely in Jayne's case. Silverhold was, barring the blackrocks in the 'verse, the driest planet in the system; he recalled a case-study from med-school of a new settler who'd died of dehydration on Silverhold in only sixteen hours. "Well, regardless of the cause, let's see if that cold-pack will do any good. Hold it over the bridge of your nose for a good ten minutes. If it's still bleeding, then come and see me."
"Yeah, doc, I know the drill," Jayne grumbled, moving the handkerchief to his right hand and smushing the cold-pack's shape so it would fit over and around the bridge of his nose. By the time he was done, Kaylee and Simon were both gone. Sighing a little, he slumped forwards more, scooting the chair out behind him, until his forehead rested on the cool surface of the table.
"I didn't know you were from Silverhold," Zoë stated, her voice not much louder than a whisper.
Jayne bottled a wince. Not only had he forgotten Zoë was there, he hadn't meant to say anything about home. Just how much blood have I lost, me sayin' what ought not ta be said? "What of it?"
"Nothing, really… Just you've been with Serenity for almost a year and a half now, and I only just realized I don't know much about you." Zoë's voice held mild curiosity, which was a damn sight better than the flat, dead tone she'd been partial to since Wash died.
"Not much to know," Jayne hedged, staring at his feet. The pack was making his face a little numb, but the room had stopped moving of its own accord. That's good, at least.
"I know you like drinking and whoring and fighting and tall card, and can't play checkers to save your life, but… I didn't even know your mother was still alive until she sent you that hat."
Jayne wanted to look up, to see what expression might be on the first mate's face, because her voice held more animation than it had for anything since the funeral. However, if he wanted the gorram nosebleed to stop, he didn't dare move much from his current position. "'S called a toque," Jayne muttered. "Hats keep the sun off ya. A toque keeps ya warm."
"Toque, then," Zoë allowed. Had Jayne been able to look up and see her, he would have seen the tiniest of smiles pulling the corner of her mouth back on one side. "Who's Mattie?"
Figures she'd remember, in spite o' the dead body that wasn't quite as dead as we all reckoned. It wasn't his fault he had to read out loud to catch the sense of anything written – he'd always done better doing than reading about doing. "M'nephew," Jayne answered. He figured a little personal uncomfortableness was a small price to pay to hear something besides that robot-voice coming from Zoë. "My sister's youngest… Well, last I knew Mattie was the youngest. Maybehaps there's more now. Ain't got any post in a while – the toque was the last I heard from 'em."
"Perhaps there will be some waiting on Persephone," Zoë said.
Was it Jayne's imagination, or did she actually sound pleased at the thought? "Might be," Jayne agreed.
"What's your sister's name?"
"Kelly," Jayne replied. Though it hurt to talk about his family, it actually felt sorta good, too, and it was keeping his mind off how numb his nose was and how uncomfortable the drying blood caught in his goatee and in his t-shirt was becoming. "Married ta Harl Impness, outta River Canyon. They got six kids, last time I counted 'em all."
The way Jayne said the man's name was enough to let Zoë know that Jayne did indeed run true to brothers the 'verse over in thinking his brother-in-law wasn't near good enough for his sister. Her almost-smile involuntarily brightened some, and had anyone actually witnessed it, they likely would have died of relief on the spot. "Sounds like you don't like him much," she said.
Jayne shrugged, the motion making the whole table wobble a little. "I don't much care either way. Think Kelly coulda done better, but he treats her well enough, I s'pose." An' he better keep on that way if that yuben de hundan knows what's good for 'im.
"Kelly your mei-mei?"
Nodding made the table wobble some more, and triggered that wavering rocking motion again. Stilling entirely, Jayne replied aloud. "Yeah. She's a coupla years older 'an Kaylee."
Hearing the names so closely together made Zoë's small smile morph some into an unseen expression of comprehension. Though Jayne had flirted some with Kaylee right after joining up – and still did, on occasion – his treatment of her had never been more than that of a big brother looking after a little sister, despite the fact that Kaylee was… well, pretty open with her… affections. Even his flirting had been more in the way of sibling-style teasing than anything else. "Let me guess, she's painfully cheerful, likes teddy bears, pink frilly things, and butterflies?"
Jayne chuckled, which made the slowly-easing twisty rocking motion of the room seem to speed up slightly. He ignored it. "Yeah. Though Kelly's 'lergic ta strawberries. She gets that way over palm-dates, though, so's I guess ya got me there." Forgot how I missed bein' able to talk about her. How come I never did afore? The grin faded. You know why, Jayne. This is the first time since you left you been with respectable folks. Just don't ask what I know you're gonna ask next, Zoë. Please.
His silent plea went unheeded, and Zoë did indeed ask, "You have any other siblings?"
He couldn't hide the wince that time. "Should go see Simon," he mumbled. "This damn nosebleed ain't stoppin'."
Jayne climbed to his feet and headed towards the infirmary, halfway doubled-over to keep the blood pooling in his sinuses from draining down his throat. Because of that, he failed to see another faint expression on Zoë's face – one of confused surprise.
A/N2: Like I said earlier, this was caused, partially, by the Science Channel showing the series. However, it isn't solely to blame for this particular plot-bunny. The remainder of the blame can be laid at the feet of the band Avenged Sevenfold. I was listening to the two albums of theirs that I have when I was selling plasma a couple of weeks ago and each of the songs made music-vids in my head starring the folks from Firefly. Then I hit a wrong button trying to skip to A Little Piece of Heaven and wound up listening to Brompton Cocktail and Strength of the World back-to-back (the former, of course, being where I got the title for this fic). Both of my mental music-vids wound up starring Jayne. A couple of nights later, they somehow managed to merge into a single storyline in my dreams, and I woke up with 'it started with a nosebleed' echoing in my head.
I haven't played around in this 'verse much – nothing worth posting, at any rate – and would dearly love to hear how well I'm doing in keeping characters in character. Thankee kindly aforehand. Oh! And if anyone spots any glaring issues with the Chinese cussing, let me know. I'm trying to use only the curses already shown in either the series or the movie, but I'm not sure if I will be able to stick to that later. Thanks again!