CHAPTER THIRTEEN

No claim of ownership, and no infringement intended. Too much respect for the man.

FF

Private Companion docked at the nearest available slip to the Port Authority's office. River had made a private call to the Astra PA, and asked them to have a pair of officers standing by, as they were returning with passengers who had caused a disturbance. No, no charges would be made, River assured them, as no damage had been done, but she feared the group might cause a problem on exiting, and the Reynolds Line wished to avoid such unpleasant dealings.

The ship and crew, in fact both ships, and their respective crews were well known at the PA. The people of Reynold's Shipping were courteous to all the PA staff, tipped well for good and timely service, and occasionally shared their cargo when shipping containers were damaged. The goods were unspoiled, but could not be accepted for resale, and the factory could not resell them. It didn't happen often, but when it did, the staff of the Astra Port Authority benefitted from it.

As a result, River's call generated a good bit of interest and attention.

FF

The ramp came down, revealing a quartet of PA Security, and a member of the Capital City Police as well. Jayne looked them over, and shook his head.

Did you call the law?

I did. No sense in allowing this to get out of hand.

Jayne shook his head again, smiling this time. He had missed being able to reach out to River like that.

I have missed it as well, zhang fu.

Blade, Wart and Liam came into the cargo bay, escorting the surly guests toward the ramp. When they reached it, George Flint perked right up.

"Ah, this is timely indeed, gentlemen!" he exclaimed, heading down the ramp toward the assembled officers. "I'd like the entire crew of this ship taken into custody at once. I'll come by your offices to prefer charges later, once I've rested and had a chance to freshen up."

"Uh huh," the supervisor of the PA Security replied. He looked up at Jayne.

"Captain, I understand you needed us here to see something?"

"Yes, Captain," River answered, smiling as she came forward. "This is the fare paid for transit to Argo. A full refund, mind you, with no charge for the meals and resources they used while onboard. Please note the receipt of their fare at time of departure, and the amount in the envelope please. We wish for everything to be above reproach."

He looked at the paperwork, inspected the money, and gave the money to Flint while returning the papers to River. Wart came forward with a bag.

"Weapons surrendered by them at boarding," River indicated the bag, which Wart handed to one of the officers. River provided another receipt. The PA Captain checked this one as well, inspecting the bag, then returning the paper.

"Looks like you're good to go, Mister Flint. You've been made whole, and returned to point of embarkation. That's all that's required when a crew deems passengers an unwelcome presence aboard ship."

"What?" Flint was outraged. "I demand that you take these ruffians into custody! We were illegally confined aboard that ship, and deprived of our right to move about! In addition, that one," he pointed to Jayne, "has outstanding obligations to my family. I insist he be forced to come with us."

"They have the right to restrict movements of rowdy passengers, Mister Flint," the Captain derailed the older man's rant. "Captain's word is law aboard ship, sir. The rest sounds like a personal problem to me. Please escort Mister Flint's group off the tarmac, gentlemen," he ordered his men.

"I demand to see your superior at once!" Flint all but screamed.

"Ain't got one," the man smirked at him. "I'm the Captain of the PAS. You're welcome to see the Manager, I guess, but I'm head of security. I made the trip down here special, just in case you wanted to see me."

"I am a government official, and demand that you follow my instructions!"

"I'm a police officer, and I demand that you pipe down," the city officer spoke for the first time. "You're causing a disturbance. Don't continue, or you'll find yourself in lock up. Understand?"

Annassa took her father's arm, and spoke softly to him.

"We will fight on our own ground, father, where the odds are not so heavily stacked against us. Let us depart. We must make. . .arrangements."

"You haven't heard the last of this," Flint settled for telling the officers. "None of you," he added, looking at River, then at Jayne.

"Heard it before," the officer shrugged. "Git goin'."

"Sorry you had trouble, Cobb," he said, once the others were gone.

"Bound to get one every now and then, I guess," Jayne shrugged. "Appreciate you bein' here."

"Anytime," the Captain tipped his hat to River and Blade, and then sauntered away, looking very pleased with himself.

"Well, I'm glad that's done," Jayne sighed. "What say we head for home?"

No one argued with that suggestion.

FF

"Take me back to the hotel," Flint ordered, once his man had summoned a car. "We have calls to make." He glanced at his daughter.

"I sense a change in your attitude, daughter," he commented, once they were alone. "May I ask why?"

"No one threatens me, or refuses me," she said coldly. "They desire a battle, I will give them one."

"Good," the old man nodded in satisfaction. "It is time you were a partner, and not a follower. I am proud of you. Together, we will see this put right."

Annassa was shocked to hear that from her father. She had become assertive, and rather than strike her down, he complimented her?

"Your own attitude surprises me, father," she risked saying. "May I ask why?"

"You have proven yourself to me," he said simply. "I have long awaited this day. You will one day rule this family. You may even be chief," he added. "I am now satisfied that I leave our clan, our interests, in the best possible hands." He looked at her.

"And I will ensure that everything is there for the taking."

"What do you plan to do?" she asked, excited.

"As you said, daughter. They wish a battle. We shall provide them with one."

FF

When they reached the hotel, Flint went at once to the Cortex terminal, and dialed an address from memory. It took a few minutes, then Joseph Many Horses appeared. He had obviously been sleeping.

"George?" he blinked owlishly. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes, many things are wrong," Flint grated. "I have encountered a problem. I want the Five Fingers sent to me, without delay. Have them on their way, today. We will await them on Astra. I have some other work to accomplish here."

"George, the Five Fingers are not meant to be used off world," Joseph protested. "If the Council were to discover. . . ."

"Do not waste my time!" Flint roared. "Do as I say, or I will find someone who will. I will expect confirmation of their departure, and estimated time of arrival before this day ends. Do you understand me?"

"I do," Joseph nodded. "And I will follow your instructions. I must formally tell you, however, that I do so under protest. Protest that I will not withdraw. I will send you your confirmation as soon as I have the information." Without waiting for Flint's reply, Joseph cut the connection.

"Using the Five Fingers is a violation of Tribal Law, father," Annassa spoke quietly. "Joseph is right to caution you against this action."

"I am aware of that," Flint nodded. "No action will be taken against him. He does his job very well, and it is his duty to advise me, as he did. But this is now a matter of honor, as well as custom."

"Ironhorse will pay."

FF

On Argo, there was a homecoming of no small proportion. Warned ahead of time by wave, Zoe had delayed Serenity's departure to await the Companion's return. Jayne had reserved the dining room at Rose's for the celebration. Rather he'd ask Inara to see to it for him, and she had.

The room was spacious enough for all of the people from the company, along with other guests, such as Braz Guilford, and many others who had become part of the world around the family of Serenity.

It was a good night for them, and one that was sorely needed. Food, dancing, laughter, and a real reason to celebrate, and be happy.

During the night, Mal had approached Jayne while River was dancing with Simon.

"Understand you had some trouble this last time out," he mentioned. Jayne nodded.

"Damndest thing," he replied. "People from my home world. A Tribal Chief of all people, tryin' to say my Pa had made a marriage pact with him. Me and his daughter."

"Imagine that went over well," Mal chuckled.

"Well, thing is, I think that was part o' what brought River's memory back," Jayne shrugged. "So I guess, in a way, I owe the old man. Ain't gonna give'im nothin' though."

"Imagine not," Mal agreed. "What's this about a marriage?"

"A load o' bull, is what," Jayne snorted. "See, marriages are sometimes arranged like that among clan elders or rulin' families. They use'em to make alliances, right? Thing is, Mal, I was never Raised. Accordin' to law, I ain't even a man grown without it. For them as ain't from Clan or Tribal ruling families, don't matter much."

"But a full tribal chief don't promise his only daughter and heir to a half-breed, unraised boy. Just don't happen. I don't know what the hell he's up to, but he's lyin' through his teeth about it, I know that."

"Sounds like they're after somethin' to me. Somethin' they need you to get to," Mal offered.

"That's what River said, but I don't see it," Jayne shook his head. "There just ain't nothin' to get. Ain't nothin' left, Mal. It's all gone."

"Gotta be somethin' there," Mal shrugged. "Man don't offer up his only blood, and spend the kinda coin he has, for nothin'."

"Did this time," was all Jayne could say. "I ain't been home since I left, and there's nothin' there for me, neither. Ever'thing I care anything about is in this room, right here, right now."

Mal patted Jayne on the back, and changed the subject.

FF

"What are they doing?"

"Just sitting there right now," the man on the screen replied. "Haven't made a move of any kind. Go out to eat, and come back. Went once to the theater, but other than that, just sittin' there these last three days."

"I see," River paused. "Please continue to watch them. If they leave the planet, find out where they are going. Otherwise, simply observe, and keep a record."

"How long do you want this to continue, ma'am," the detective asked. "Around the clock surveillance is expensive after a while."

"I've given you a very large retainer, which I will add to as needed," River informed him. "You will, of course, document all expenses, and payroll for me. Consider yourself in my employ until you hear otherwise. And do not fail me."

"We'll see to it, ma'am," the detective smiled. "I wasn't complainin'. Just wanted to make sure you knew the costs involved. Heck, I don't remember the last time I made such easy money."

"Very well, then," River nodded. "If you can arrange for a record of their cortex use, I'll pay whatever bribe is necessary to get that information. I would very much like to know who they are talking to."

"I can probably do that," the detective made a note. "May take a few days, but it's likely doable."

"I am in no hurry," River smiled. "Thank you for your report."

"Yes, ma'am." The connection was cut, and River sat back, considering.

She knew that Flint was up to something. But he was very crafty. She had been unable to read the man other than surface thoughts. He had repeated his story so many times that it had become the truth, to him. Add to that her still addled abilities, and it meant a more difficult road for the small framed assassin.

The daughter was equally adept at masking her thoughts. There was no doubt the two were committing fraud, but for what purpose, River had not been able to discover.

Hence, the detective. One way or another, she would discover what the father/daughter team was up to. And then she would squash it.

River had only just gotten her family back.

No one was going to take it away.

She rose, and headed back to her party.

FF

"Ready to go home?" Jayne asked, as the party started to wane.

"Home?" River looked at him, puzzled.

"Got a surprise for ya," he grinned. He had planned this as best he could. Mal and Inara had agreed to let Chelsa and Liam stay overnight with them, so it would just be the two of them. River had never seen the house, and he wanted her first night there to be special.

"What kind of surprise?" River asked, suddenly suspicious.

"A nice one," he promised. He grabbed her jacket, and led her out to the waiting mule.

"Where are we going, Jayne?" River demanded, as he started the vehicle.

"I told ya, it's a surprise."

He would say no more, despite several attempts by River to get him to talk. She almost tried to read him, but stopped. Jayne was obviously excited, and she would not deprive him of something that was bringing him so much happiness.

She realized with a start that they were following the road to the property that Braz Guilford had given them as a wedding present, and began to get an idea of what Jayne was up to.

As they pulled into the yard, River's breath caught. The house! The house the two of them had settled on before. . . .

Before I almost destroyed everything, she thought, her joy at the sight before her dampened by the thought.

"Well, you gonna just sit here?" Jayne grinned. "I been dreamin' 'bout the day I could show you this. And here it is." He jumped out and helped her down. Taking her hand, Jayne led her up the walk to the front door. Lights came on automatically as the motion sensors activated, and River had to shield her eyes.

"Sorry," Jayne told her. "Shoulda warned ya."

"It's all right," River replied softly. "Keep going. I'll follow you."

Jayne smiled at that, and opened the front door, leading her inside.

"Oh, Jayne," she whispered, seeing the inside of her home for the first time.

The house was a log home, reminiscent of Earth-that-was. The living room was enormous, with a picture window in front, and a matching one along the back wall. The furniture was hardwood, and looked handmade. A large fireplace decorated the far right wall.

The kitchen opened to the left, along with a connecting dining room. The kitchen itself was large, with a center island sink. Cabinets lined the walls, and cookware hung from a rack descending from the ceiling.

The dining room contained a mammoth dinner table that would seat at least eight people, and probably ten. The wood of the table was a beautiful deep brown, and the chairs matched it perfectly.

"All made from the same tree," Jayne told her proudly.

"It's beautiful," she said, her voice soft.

"Let's go upstairs," he suggested. He led her up the stairs, where the bedrooms were.

"That's Chelsa's, that's Liam's," he pointed to the two rooms along the front wall. "That's the guest room," he pointed again. "And this," he smiled, "this here is our room." He opened the door with a flourish.

Inside the spacious room was a gigantic four poster bed, complete with the overhead drapery and mesh siding. There was a matching dresser, chest, and armoire.

"Walk in closet," he pointed to one of two doors along the front wall of the room. She walked inside, finding many of her things waiting for her. There was a dressing table, and a wall high mirror. Shoe racks flowed around the wall, and her clothes were on racks that revolved from the ceiling. Another door, already open, revealed a large bathroom. Walking in, the first thing she noticed was a bathtub that would easily sit four people. A separate shower unit and twin vanities completed the room, with the toilet having a small room of it's own, off to the side. Tears were trickling from her eyes as she turned to look at Jayne.

"It's. . .it's our house," her voice trembled. "It's everything we ever talked about having, Jayne. It's beautiful." She ran to him, then, hugging him tightly.

"Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you so much."

"I love you, River," he said into the top of her head, and kissed her.

"Oh, I love you too," her voice was muffled by his chest. She looked up at him, eyes twinkling with mischief, despite her tears of joy.

"That bed looks comfortable."